30 December 2008

Crafty holidays

(thanks for your sweet comments on the last post, and to those who didn't comment but who e-mailed or called. Seriously, thank you).
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
When I wasn't eating or taking pictures of snow at the in-laws, I was watching V dance and crocheting. I've been making dishcloths, and getting a bit tired of squares, so I decided to make a hat. Every so often I held it up to V's giant head...and here it is, modeled by an uncharacteristically camera avoident girl:

It's a bit beret-y on top, which wasn't really what I was going for, but if she ever wants to tuck all her hair up under her hat, this will hold it. Of course, this is more of a summer hat, and by summer her head will probably be bigger. But for now, I'm proud of myself.

Before the end of the semester, I had about half a day between grading marathons and I let myself craft. That's when I made the slankets, remember? Well in looking online for slankets, I found a pattern for a scoodie, a scarf-hood combo that I found irresistable. I must warn you: below is the dorkiest picture of anyone ever taken.

(I told you it was dorky) My scoodie has cuddle-soft lining and quilting fabric on the outside. If I make one again, I would do three things: make the hood smaller (it's folded up here, otherwise it hangs over my eyes), line it (so it would be super warm, instead of just pretty warm), and make the scarf longer. It barely goes around my thick neck twice. I've also seen these with mittens at the end of the scarf, but I think a scoodietten is a little too much multi-tasking for me. Shaun thought it was fine until he realized I intended to wear it in public. Which I do. With pride. Looking just as dorky as I can.

I almost bought the pattern for this, but I'm really really cheap, so I didn't. But you could get me that as I present, if you wanted to.

In other news, my aunt Shirley wants me to audition for this show. I'm kinda chicken-livered, though...what if I had to go? What if they made me hike around the fjords? I'm in no shape for that. I need a scoodie-sewing reality show to try out for.

Hope those of you in the midwest are staying warm. I'm wearing my scoodie and my slanket at the same time, and though it feels wrong, I'm pretty sure it's right.

28 December 2008

Nearly twenty-three years ago, now

January 9th, 1986 was a Thursday. I know this because Thursday was bingo night, and as my mom left to go play, she said “Keep an eye on your dad. He’s not been feeling well lately.” What? I was twelve, in that blissful age before puberty, when I still secretly played with Barbie dolls but acted too grown up for them to everyone else. We’d just gone back to school after Christmas break, and seventh grade was finally starting to feel less scary and more manageable. That Thursday night was the first time I’d thought of my dad as vulnerable. And I did keep an eye on him. I watched him pace, because he was worried. I watched him fold his hands on the dining room table, then move his left hand away, leaving his right hand, unmoved, where he’d left it.

The next morning, Mom woke us up at 6:30, which was unheard of. We always got to sleep until 7. We came downstairs to find both our parents, clearly concerned. Dad was going to Moorhead to see the doctor. They’d talked to him on the phone, and he’d said, “Oh, Dewey, I’m sure it’s a pinched nerve. But maybe you better let me check it out.” Uncle Harry would drive (because my dad didn’t like my mom to drive while he was in the car, because he was sexist that way) and they were leaving right away. Could we get ourselves to school? Of course. I was twelve, Jess was eleven. “Don’t worry,” Mom said. “We’ll call when we find out anything.” Dad was quiet, though. And when he got up to put his coffee cup in the sink, his right arm brushed the jar of jam on the table, and he didn’t even feel it.

We didn’t hear anything until after lunch. I figured this was good news: if it was a big deal, we would’ve heard by now. Instead, during lap 3 of gym class, the high school secretary called for me from the gym door. “Your dad’s in intensive care,” she said, gently. “They’re taking good care of him.” I didn’t know much about hospitals, but I knew nobody went to the ICU for a pinched nerve. I cried a little bit, then, in the gym, but swallowed hard and went back to running laps. “They’re taking good care of him” I said over and over in my head. In the end, my Aunt Beverly had decided to not tell us it was a stroke. She didn’t want to scare us, and didn’t want us to hear it from school personnel.

At the end of the school day, we went to Aunt Bev’s house. Our mom wasn’t home yet, and Dad wouldn’t be coming home for a while. We didn’t know then that it would be 5 months before he could come back to live at home. We didn’t know a lot of things.

My mom came home around 8pm. She brought with her a slim photocopied book called “So you or someone you love has had a Cardiocascular Accident (CVA)?” I read that thing cover to cover that night, and though I learned he had nine of the ten warning signs of a stroke, I still had no idea what had happened to my father. I knew by then, though, that he’d had a major stroke on the doctor’s examining table. If he’d had it at home, 30 minutes from the hospital, he likely would’ve died.

On January 10, 1986, my childhood ended abruptly. Our family’s protector, breadwinner, and comic relief was in a hospital room, and he would never be the same. None of us would ever be the same.

Every stroke is different. They can be caused by blood clots or hemorrhages, and depending on where they occur, they can cause damage to various parts of the brain. In my dad’s case, he had a large blood clot on the left side of his brain. This left his right side totally paralyzed, and his speech was very affected: he now had an inability to speak coherently.

Doctors assured us that we were lucky. He’d been in the hospital when it occurred, and had gotten treatment right away. He was quite young for a stroke victim (55) and was very very strong. I remember one dark-haired doctor assuring me that though my father may never regain the use of his right arm, he would surely walk again, and probably talk, too. But after a week in the hospital, doctors were concerned. Dewey wouldn’t wake up. He didn’t eat or drink any fluids for a day and a half. It turns out that because he was young, his brain had not shrunken as much as older patients, and when it swelled in response to the injury, it put him in a coma. For four days.

Our pastor drew us to prayer. One especially hard day, just after Dad had moved home, Pastor met with Jess and I and encouraged us to believe in miracles. Pray hard enough, be pure enough of heart, and your father will get better. Perhaps this is my flawed memory, but that was the distinct impression I got.

I prayed everyday for a year. I prayed with my whole heart, begging God to heal my dad, to let him walk again, to let him tell me he loved me in clear English. I realize that praying for strength, or patience, or calm might have been better prayers, but I didn’t want those things. I wanted my father back.

He was still my father, of course. In his wheel chair, with a thick plastic brace for his right arm, he spoke to us enthusiastically of things he wanted checked. Did we turn off the basement lights? Did mom’s bike need new tires? Could we get him more coffee? He communicated all these things, and so many more, with only nonsense syllables and the occasionally confused “yes” and “no.” We played a lot of twenty questions, and we all got frustrated often. But we did it.

We cared for him at home for six years. He could feed himself, but my mom dressed, bathed, and toileted him. She became both parent and caregiver, and Jess and I were assistant caregivers. We went to Courage Center a few times, and it was helpful. We all grieved for what we’d lost, and felt guilty because he was still with us, after all. I was a horrible teenager in many ways, and looking back it’s clear that I should’ve had counseling. Instead I got really angry for a few years.

My first year in college, Dad started getting sicker. We found out later that he had near toxic levels of his anti-seizure meds (4% of stroke survivors go on to become epileptic as a result). Because of this, and because I was three hours away in Morris, and because we didn’t want to lose two parents to this stroke, we decided to find him a room in the nursing home six miles away. At first he resisted, but one morning in September, when Mom and Jess were both at school and I hadn’t gone back to college yet, I woke to him yelling. Running downstairs, I found him lying on the kitchen floor, surrounded by hot coffee: he had fallen out of his chair while getting himself a fresh cup. I lay down beside him, and started crying, and said “Daddy, we can’t keep doing this. Okay?” And he agreed, and we lay on the floor and cried together awhile. And then we cleaned up the coffee and called our neighbor to help me pick him up. Within a week, he had his own room at the Lutheran Memorial Home.

Once we straightened out his medications, he did really well at the home. The nurses adored him, and vice versa. My mom spent every day after school with him: as a nurse aide, I knew this was unusual, and I told her one day, “Mom, you don’t have to be with him every single day, you know.” She looked surprised. “But I love him. He’s who I want to be with.”

Eventually, he lost both his legs above the knee from complications of diabetes. Other than that, though, his health was largely stable. He would wheel himself (in the electric wheelchair he got as a result of the amputations) out to our car with us after we visited, and check to see that our tires were properly inflated. He held our hands, laughed at our jokes, and tried to tell us the nursing home gossip. It wasn't a bad life, really.

On June 26, 2002, he and my mom walked me up my driveway to the backyard, where Shaun and I got married. It was a wonderful day, and Dad tooled around town in his chair, and we took lots of pictures, and then went out for dinner.

Less than a month later, on July 25th, he died in a small town hospital after a major heart attack. We were all three with him, and Jess and I stayed up all night, telling him everything we could think of: what we hoped to name our children, if we had any, and how we would tell them all about him. We promised to take care of Mom and of each other. But that’s a story for another post.

This is why strokes are so close to my heart. Thanks for reading all this way. I still miss him. If you didn't know him, it's too bad, because you probably would've liked him.

27 December 2008

Healthy Holidays

We had a lovely Christmas with both sides of our families. There were many gifts, and so much laughter, and food, and game playing. But after both celebrations, things fell apart. We left my mom’s Christmas Day around 8pm, and the stomach flu struck her by 8:30. Emmy, the almost 6 month old, started it, the little germ-carrying bundle of cute. Anyway, at least Myra held off on the barfing until we were out of town. And she’s better now: it’s about a 12 hour thing, as far as we can tell. It seems to have been similar to V's stomach flu earlier this month.

Shaun’s side of the family took things even further. The day after our big holiday brouhaha, Shaun’s mom pulled me aside and mentioned that David (Shaun’s dad) had been feeling heavy on his right side. She mentioned the words “numb,” “swollen feeling,” and “do you think he should go in?” Um, yes. Right now. For those of you who are unaware, strokes are near and dear to Languishing’s heart, and I was more than a little stunned by the fact that he had felt that way most of the day before, but figured he’d feel better after he slept. Please, dear readers, if you or someone you know is feeling numbness or tingling on one side of the body (either side), even if there are no other symptoms, GO TO THE DOCTOR. Do not wait until tomorrow, or until your company leaves, or Tuesday because you were going to town then anyway. Please. Worst case scenario? You slept funny and need to stretch more, and the doctor sends you home with a pat on your head. Best case scenario? They catch a stroke before it scrambles your brain. (I guess best/ worst case scenario is sort of hard to apply here…but I think you’re following me).
Anyway, the doctors do think that David suffered a small stroke on Sunday, though he’s no longer numb and seems to have no lasting effects that they can see. I mean, aside from relentless teasing from his sons. He was also diagnosed with Type II diabetes, which is one of the top ten warning signals of a stroke, so this will cause some major changes in his (and Mary’s) life.

What’s the moral of this story? I don’t know. I guess that our parents are so thoughtful in their respective illnesses that they tried not to let them interrupt the holiday, or maybe it’s that we make people sick in a variety of ways. And certainly we are deeply thankful for David's ongoing health. I do hope, though, that you’ll heed my advice and go to the doctor at the first signs of numbness/ tingling/ heaviness on one side of the body. Please. And have a piece of divinity in my father-in-law’s honor, won’t you? Because he would if he could.

23 December 2008

Capturing snow

This weekend, we went out to Shaun's parent's house and had our family Christmas. It was lovely, with a bit of extreme drama there at the end, which I'll get into in another post. For now, though, some of my photographic adventures. Feel free to vote for your favorite when you get to the end.

At this time of year, I adore snow. Snow was so much of my childhood, every holiday season, that I can't really get in the spirit of the holiday without it. Luckily, this year we've got snow to spare. But even though I love snow, it's really hard to take a good picture of it. It's so...white. Even when it's breathtakingly beautiful in person, in a photo, it just looks blank. I tried photographing things in the snow, like these trees, to show how the snow leaves divots around each tree and goes on forever (that's the lake in the background)...
This snow is right next to the back sidewalk, on the lakeside. It's sculptural and ridged and neat. But the picture? Meh.
Here's the classic "snow in the pines" shot. The lighting wasn't too great, though, but I like how the arc of the snow follows the needles around.

Here's inside the shed, in the front yard. I liked the ridge of snow on the door, and the misty snowy pines in the background. A close up of snow clusters. V is really interested in snowflakes these days, and often presses her face almost into the car to see them close up. A tree with red berries, shot from below. I like this one, even though, again, the lighting could be better.

This one is festive. I like the three wrinkly berries in their little hat of snow.

I went inside to warm up, and came back just after dark. I need you to understand that these photos were taken in -11 degrees, and I can't use mittens/gloves with this camera. So appreciate how I suffer for art, will you? Here's the front sidewalk snow, at night, with the light from the living room windows. It kind of looks like a giant bird head, doesn't it? Still, the ridges of snow are clearer and kinda neat, I think.

Back in the front yard, here's one of my favorite trees, taken from near the shed door, looking up (obviously). The light is odd back here, because there's a streetlight in the yard. I kind of like it, though you can't see any snow here.

Finally, the same tree, just a few seconds after the above picture, this time with the flash on.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

21 December 2008

Getting long in the tooth.

Teeth are fascinating to me. From the first time the tooth fairy visited until this past Friday, when I had a tooth pulled, I find them almost magical, somehow. I mean, I know they're NOT magical (please don't write to point this out), but they are so unusual in the realm of the human body. Little visible bones that grow and break down and hurt and shine in photos and make us look older or younger or poorer or richer than we maybe really are. I find it fascinating that modern dentistry didn't much take off in the US until after WWI, and really became popular after WWII, because soldiers were provided dental care and came to like having their teeth cared for, I guess. Fluoride toothpaste was introduced in the 1950s. I find it compelling that the history of dentistry is linked to industrialization in many ways.

And teeth are BIG. I mean, they don't seem that big, do they? But the molar I had pulled Friday must've been an inch and a half long. How crazy is that? We just yank these things out of our heads? I found a drawing (read: not gross) of a tooth to illustrate my point here. Only that little bit above the gumline, and then it just hangs on to our jaw for dear life.

I have had more than my share of tooth trouble: seven root canals, two non-wisdom molars pulled, a chip from a Leinenkugel's bottle...right now, though, all's quiet in there. I know that drinking large quantities of Coca-Cola does not help me, and I don't floss as often as I should. When we were kids, our dentist was a nice enough man, outside of the office, but in the office he was impatient and not very good at getting novocaine in the right place. He also had really thick fingers, which is normally not an issue for me, but with fingers that thick one really ought not to be a children's dentist. Or a guitar player, frankly, but that's beside the point. My sister was especially traumatized by this guy, and still needs to take Xanax for most dental procedures.

Anyway, I'm very thankful for my new dentist, who I've been seeing for about three years (that sounds romantic, doesn't it?). He pulled my tooth on Friday without causing me pain at the time, let me have some vicodin for the pain later, and didn't make me feel guilty that I didn't want to try to save a tooth that was not vital. I often have felt at the dentist like I do at a mechanic's: I just have to trust that they're not screwing me over, because I don't know anything at all about the field. I trust these folks, which is a good thing, because it's not like I'm gonna stop drinking Coke anytime soon.

10 December 2008

Make your own presents.

A lot of folks in the blogosphere have taken the "handmade holiday" pledge, giving only gifts that they made or someone identifiable sold to them (wait, that sounds sinister. You know what I mean, right?) I like the idea of this, but I also feel like it could go terribly wrong...I hear Sally Brown (Charlie Brown's sister) saying "This year I'm going to make all my Christmas presents. And guess what I'm getting everybody....paper airplanes!"
So no, I'm not making all my Christmas gifts. But Megan, one of my commentors, has asked for more information on my jewelry making habit, so here you go.
I first started making earrings in college, and bought my first computer (a Mac 530 or some such thing: I loved it) with the proceeds. My friend Tami taught me how, and as is my way, I got carried away. So this is how I do it, if'n you're interested.

Step 1: Be organized. Here is my main toolbox of beads. I say "main" because there are other beads rolling around here somewhere, I'm sure.

Step 2: Choose some beads. I originally got my beads from the corner craft store: JoAnns or Ben Franklin, for example. That was back where there were only 6 different beads available to buy. But then I started checking out thrift stores (grandmothers and great aunts have the best jewelry for dismantling) and telling everyone I loved to bring me beads when they went on vacation. My collection grew and grew and grew (see above). Once people knew I made earrings, they saved broken bracelets to give me, or just handed over complete necklaces they no longer wanted.

For a long time, a lot of my earrings looked alike. Three beads, two on either side of one main bead. My friend Nena was really good at thinking outside that pattern, though, and helped me to mix it up a little, so now I spend more time trying out different combinations. Oh, also, you'll need a small pliers with a wire cutter. I bought mine in the hardware department, because the ones in the craft department with the pretty pink handles tend to be crap and more expensive too. Why anyone would pay more for pink crap is beyond me.

Step 3: Make up your mind and cut your wire. I figure for most of my earrings, the headpin or eyepin (what the beads are strung on) doesn't touch skin, so I tend to use basemetal findings for this. They're cheap. As you can clearly see, I use the technical "half a fingertip" measurement for cutting my wire: you'll have to figure out what works for you.

Step 4: Bend your wire into a loop and slip on an earwires. This is one area where I don't skimp on materials. I only use sterling silver earwires or gold-plated sterling silver. I didn't always, but even I started breaking out from basemetal earwires, so I figured I better step it up.

Close up your loop, finish the second earring in the same way, and you're done. Easy peasy.

When I get rolling, I can make maybe 15 pairs in an hour. But that's only if my assistant is napping.

My supplies largely come from this enormous stockpile that 15 years of jewelry making has grown in my basement, but occassionally I see beads at Michael's or JoAnn's that call my name. I order my earwires through South Pacific Wholesale Company, a beading company I discovered way back when and just really enjoy shopping with. Their prices are MUCH better than any craft store, and I just like them a lot. I often order beads or other gee-gaws there, too, because I am easily swayed into unnecessary purchases. Back off.

So there you have it. All the pierced ears in your life can be bejeweled, by you, in time for stocking stuffing! How exciting! If you are going to sell these commercially, you'll need to get a tax license and all sorts of other things that I don't wanna talk about because it's boring. Have fun!

09 December 2008

Hey, nice Slanket.

Thanks for the well wishes for Miss V. She's feeling much better, though she still has a fever so will be missing school today, too. Poor bored little girl. Shaun is certainly under the weather, but he's holding his own, so we're hopeful we can ride this particular storm out.

In other news, several weeks ago, Shaun and I were watching late night TV and saw a commercial for the Snuggie. It was as though angels began to sing. We looked at each other, then at the TV, then at each other. Shaun reached for the phone, but I stopped him. "I can make that," I said. So I did.

Here's Shaun, cozily wrapped up (next to our drafty window, no less!) yet still using the laptop. How conveinent! How comfortable! How stylish!

I also looked at this free pattern, and considered the Slanket, a name I prefer greatly to the Snuggie or Snuglet. Note that the Snuglet is more of a blanket with sleeves only, as opposed to a caftan-style dealio, like the other two. Shaun and I agreed that we wanted that full back coverage. I bought four yards of the flame fabric, and used some leftover orange to make the sleeves. It is not quite warm enough to keep out all the cold from Drafty McWindow, but it helps, and doesn't he look cute?

Now, for the record, the 2 for 19.99 deal on the Snuggie is pretty darn impressive: if you aren't an obsessive do-it-yourselfer, I might suggest you go ahead and order those. The amount of fabric for one Snuggie is gonna cost you near $20, anyway. Of course, I don't know how thick that fabric is, and you can't have fancy prints.

Shaun and V in their Slanket/Snuglets. For V's, I omitted the separate sleeves and just sewed a square of fleece straight up the sides, leaving about 2.5 inches for her hands. She looks a little like a flying squirrel with her arms out.

Isn't this exciting? I love when a craft project actually comes together in a functional way that is at least as good as I'd envisioned.

Now, say "Slanket" five times fast. Isn't that fun?

07 December 2008

Holiday spirit

On Friday night, I made some popcorn, scooped it into paper lunch bags, and warmed up the car. The three of us piled into the Mazda at about 7 pm, excited to have a little drive just to look at lights. One of our nearby parks has a special lights display, and we've been going every year since before V was born.
V isn't often out and about in the evenings, so even the streetlights made her ooh and ahh. And the houses? This one was one of her favorites. (Pardon the blurry photography. Shaun refused to slow the car down for my artisitic pursuits. I kind of like motion pictures, though).

These were all on the way to the park. Once we got there, we gave our $5 donation, turned off our headlights, and drove ahead slowly to see the wonderment up ahead.

Then V threw up.

Seriously threw up. Barfed and barfed and barfed.

Oh, the poor girl. Shaun pulled over, I jumped in the backseat, and started trying to clean her up. She said "I'm not going to do that ANYmore. Let's see more lights." Sweet, lights-loving girl...no, we said, we're gonna go home. We'll come see the lights another time.

Okay, she said.

Friday was a long night, with bedding changed seven times, until finally, at 4am, we gave up and V and I came downstairs. She dozed on the living room floor, curled up around her emergency bowl. She moaned some. She slowly started feeling better. By last night, she was singing along with Ariel on the DVD.

Now, some of you know that stomach flu is much more serious in our house than the average preschooler's family. January of 2007, for example, was darn near the end of us all. In retrospect, doctors were pretty sure we had rotovirus or something equally sinister that week, and since V only threw up about 9 times total in the last two days, we're feeling like we got off easy. So far. Shaun still has this paralyzing anxiety associated with vomiting, but we've been working on it in the last two years, and so long as we can manage to get sick just one at a time, we're hopeful we can handle this like a normal family handles the stomach flu.

But we're not making any promises.

In the meantime, here's hoping y'all can enjoy the lights with no further drama, and may the stomach flu skip your house entirely this year.

04 December 2008

Men Like Meat

Years ago, before I'd even met Shaun, I briefly moved home with my mom. It was the classic out-of-grad-school-don't-have-a-job debacle, and I needed to live SOMEPLACE, and she had a spare room.

It was kinda fun, actually, mostly because it didn't last too long. One of the things I got to do was cook once in awhile: my mom is a really great cook, but I wanted to share some of my new recipes with her. One was Caribbean Black Beans, from one of the Moosewood cookbooks...it's got orange juice and fresh ginger, neither of which were used much as ingredients in my mother's kitchen. I adore these, and when I am feeling most bleak, these are the ultimate comfort food.

Now I know you're wondering, what did Myra think of these? And let me tell you. She didn't like them. Well, she thought they were fine, but she pointed out they didn't have any meat.

Mom: Where's the meat?
Me: There isn't any. It's from a vegetarian cookbook.
Mom: Hm. You know, you could add a pound of ground hamburger. That might be good.
Me: Why would I do that? This food is perfect.
Mom: Well, you know, men like meat.
Me: What?
Mom: Men like meat.
Me: SO? What on earth are you talking about?
Mom: Just that. Men like meat, I'm telling you.
Mom: Well, if you ever meet someone to cook for, he's going to want meat.
Me: What if I fall in love with a vegetarian?
Mom: (snorting a bit) I doubt it.
Though I'm still not sure what she meant by that last thing, in the end, she was right. Shaun's a carnivore, and he doesn't like black beans and rice. I refuse to add hamburger to it just on principle, so we don't eat it very often. Maybe that's why it's my comfort food: it's all mine.

In the meantime, this is one of Shaun's favorite meals. We served it for his family birthday party. Because, you know, men like meat.

Jen's Famous Meat Polygons
(so named because when I first started making them, they were extremely lumpy and far from ball-like)

Preheat oven to 375.
2lbs ground beef
1 cup breadcrumbs (or a bit more. I never measure this)
2 eggs
splash of milk
3/4 packet of onion soup mix
Take off your rings and wash your hands. Using my favorite yellow bowl, put all the ingredients in and then mix them up. Really get in there and squish things through your fingers...you want it mixed up right good.
Form into balls a bit bigger than the size of golf-balls. These just fill the palm of my hand just so. I try to roll them all and stack them nicely on a plate, because it makes me happy to stack things.
Using my big frying pan. lightly brown all the meatballs. You may need to do this in batches. Don't let them scald, but don't leave them too pink, either. This is where the balls usually turn into polygons for me.

When they're nice and brown on the outside, transfer to my pink Pyrex cake pan (already sprayed with non-stick stuff) and dump a can of cream of mushroom soup mixed with 3/4 of a can of milk over the top of the whole lot. And some fresh or canned (and drained) mushrooms, cover the Pyrex with foil, and bake at least 45 minutes. I usually pop some baking potatoes in the oven before I start this process, so everything gets done together. Serve alongside green beans with butter. And don't forget to put your rings back on.

Perfect for impressing your carnivorous friends. Or Shaun. Or Myra, frankly.

02 December 2008

Why more people should take Intro to Women's Studies

Two students standing in the hallway at the college where I work. I overheard them talking.

Boy: I dunno, I think she's a feminist or something.
Girl: Oh? Why?
Boy: Because everytime I ask her for help in lab or whatever, she's all snotty and stuff.

I call them "boy" and "girl" even though they are over 18, because they annoyed me.

30 November 2008

Thankful List V (the final chapter)

Though I meant to get to 100 things of thankful, I guess I'll only make it to about 50. But I'm okay with that. I mean, I'm thankful for way more than 100 things. They just don't seem exactly blogworthy most of the time.
41. Those big bricks of white chocolate that I can melt and dip stuff into, like pretzels, strawberries, almonds, my fingers...
42. I don't bite my tongue very often (knock on wood)
43. Tenessa's cheeseball recipe
44. Our pre-lit artificial tree that only takes about 10 minutes to set up (sometimes practical is better than romantic)
45. Getting comments on the blog. Hint.
46. Being able to shop online on Black Friday, and not have to wait in any lines.
47. V says "I love you" to almost everyone. Our friend Steven, Shaun's developmentally delayed clients, the checkout girl at Target...and, occasionally, out of the blue, me.
48. The Shield. Violent, angry, not for everyone. But for me, it's stunningly done. Television as art, truly. Dang.
49. Shaun's ability to keep a straight face when I read him my hilarious old blog posts.
50. Usually, I really really really love being a teacher. A lot of people I know don't love their jobs as much as I do.

Last minute evening craftacularness

Since 2005 (when V was born), I have these intense, crazy nostalgia-filled waves around the holidays. I could go on and on about this (lord knows...) but today I'm going to focus on just one area of nostalgia: The Advent Calendar. At our house, these were store-bought ones with chocolates or other little candies behind each punch-out door. (Apparently, they haven't changed at all in 30 years. Odd). I seem to remember at least one of them hanging on the kitchen door, and in my earliest memories of them, my sister and I took turns opening doors. This happy holiday tradition couldn't last, of course, and soon we each got our own. I remember one year, I was maybe 8, and the chocolate was sooooo good...that I ate about a week ahead in my calendar. Not a solid week, of course, but two days here, two days there...When my mom found out, she didn't get mad, but just said "How sad for you, Jenny. Now you won't have a chocolate today." I was more horrified at that reaction than if she'd been furious.

But enough about my chocolate-based disobediences of yesteryear. With V being fully excited this year about the holidays, I wanted her to have her own advent calendar. We're hoping to slightly limit her choclate intake, so the old-school paper calendar was out. I looked at this, and this, and this, and wound up just making my own, as usual. I went for simple, lovingly made, and not-too-time consuming. The numbers are hand-embroidered, the wool felt is just what I had in the house (I know the mix of colors is not traditional, and most people would not put burnt orange with dusty purple and rose, but I am not traditional nor most people), the ribbon is brown satin from a JoAnns grabbag, and the stockings themselves are machine stitched and machine-sewn to the ribbon. I cut all the stockings out Friday, sewed the numbers yesterday, and machine stitched it all together this evening. Here's the finished shot of the whole she-bang.

And because I can't bear it when people comment on how cute something I've made is if I have just given a wide-angled shot, here are two of the most wonky stockings:
The silver-y thread did not show up well enough on a couple of the colors, so some of the earlier stockings got re-stitched like on #8. And #7? Yeah, I'm not sure what happened to old #7. If we had a dog, I'd blame the dog. But the truth is? As my sister puts it, I'm "not so much into the fine details."

So, ta-da! Our advent calendar. Now I have to think of something to put in for tomorrow. Any suggestions? And, um, please don't say chocolate, because I think I ate it all.

27 November 2008

Thanksgiving morning

First, as I was putting the turkey in the fridge a few days ago, V had some questions.

V: What're you doin'?
Me: Thawing the turkey so it's ready for Thanksgiving.
V: A turkey is an animal.
Me: Yep. Sometimes people eat animals.

The next morning, she had clearly pondered this.

V: Mama, people don't eat animals.
Me: We don't? What do we eat?
V: Food.

So...this may be our last Thanksgiving as a family of carnivores.

This morning, as I chopped up celery and onions for the roasting pan, here's how things went:

V: You're using the wrong recipe.
Me: What?
V (smiling): You're using the WRONG RECIPE!
Me: Listen, Sprout, I am the mama, so I know what recipe to use.
V: When I get bigger than you, then I will make the turkey.
Me: Okay. When you get bigger than me, you can make the turkey.
V: But what if I forget the recipe?
Me: You can call me up and ask.
V: Like when you call Grandma?
Me: Exactly.

We're watching the Macy's parade and waiting for our company to arrive.

We got some frightening news last night about my Aunt Sharon, and so this Thanksgiving will be filled with lots of thanks for those of us who are still healthy, and lots of prayers for Sharon and her family, and a bit of wonder at the tenuousness of this whole world.

May you have your fill of good food, good company, and safe travels today.

24 November 2008

Thankful List IV

31. V’s excitement at other people’s birthday parties
32. My little sister
33. Holiday Open House at Hornbacher’s (mmm…cheesecakes samples….)
34. Finishing grading a big old pile of papers
35. Coca-cola classic
36. My sewing machine (a Shark. Which strikes me as a funny brand for sewing machines).
37. Janis Joplin
38. Savers
39. The harmonica
40. Hosting Thanksgiving at our house

23 November 2008

Recent overheard conversation

V: "I smell something stinky."
Shaun: "Oh? What do you think it is?"
V: "Mama."

19 November 2008

What's up pimpin'?

Remind me to tell you the story of this post's title sometime. It's hilarious.

So I was playing around on the blog-o-sphere the other day, and noted that a lot of the blogs I read have ads (often because they're blogs about frugality, and frugal people like to make money). I don't like ads, usually, because they scare me or annoy me or make me feel very 1984-ish (like the novel. not like the hair spray and the neon colors and the Wham records).

Anyway, still, I'm trying to blog often, I put work into this little corner of the world, and I also like to make lists of things my readers might enjoy sometimes. To that end, I've decided to compromise the few principles I had left and join Amazon's affiliates team. This means that I post a link on my blog (see it over there to your right? Under "I'm Amazon's Whore"?) and if you click there and buy anything through Amazon while you've arrived through my link, I get a small percentage. It's such a small percentage, it's probably not worth the time it's taking me to type this. But I'm gonna try it anyway.

It's still Amazon's job to make sure you're happy and so forth: don't come crying to me if things don't work out. I just thought, hey, with the holidays and the whatnot and the economy, maybe I can point you towards some interesting gift ideas you hadn't thought of, and get some credit over with my Amazon peeps. Or something.

If you don't have money to spend at Amazon, please don't. We're not destitute, and I don't want you to be, either. But if you were gonna order some cheesecakes or toys or geegaws and doodads there anyway, why not click through me? What can it hurt? (aside from my integrity, and all that?)

Feel free to mock me for this, or offer constructive criticism. I can take it. And if you like the idea, I suppose you can tell me that too. Mostly, I imagine most of you will ignore me, which is just how I like it most of the time anyway.

16 November 2008

The internet is a wonderful thing. As proof, I offer the blog A Year of Crockpotting, by a woman named Stephanie who has posted every day this year with a different recipe using a crockpot. Every day. Now, some of you are thinking, "Whoop-de-doo...I have a crockpot cookbook. Who needs this site?" I'm telling you you do. Seriously. If you don't have a crock-pot (or slow cooker, as "Crock pot" is technically trademarked, I think), it will make you want one.

Some of what she posts is inedible. Well, in looking, I only found one: crockpot crayons. Some of the food recipes are inedible to me because they involves curry or those evil, spicy green peppers. But what makes this different than a crock-pot cookbook is she tries out every recipe, and gives specifics about what works and what doesn't. She takes a picture of her ingredients, so we can see what she's talking about (for you visual learners out there). Also, some (all? most?) of her recipes are gluten-free, and I know several of my readers would find that exciting.

Now, some of her recipes are pretty impractical via crockpot, unless it is your only source of cooking energy. Some of her candy recipes, for example, which only use the slowcooker to melt ingredients, take 1-2 hours in the crockpot but 45 seconds in the microwave. I guess if you're morally opposed to microwaves, this would be good to know.

I just wanted to post this because I love to find new websites to enjoy, and I struggle to think of new things to cook, and thought maybe you would feel the same way. And if you make any of this or this, please remember who told you about this site. And by "remember" I mean give me some.

15 November 2008

Thankful list part III

21. Leinekugel’s
22. Quilting
23. Craft blogs that inspire me to do something instead of just sit around and read craft blogs
24. Jamie, my dental hygienist, who makes me laugh and doesn’t hurt me even after I lie to him and say I’ve been flossing regularly.
25. The last four digits of our phone number spell GLAD.
26. The last four digits of my mom’s phone number spell NAVY.
27. CSI reruns and History channel specials like "Witness to Jonestown."
28. It’s November 16 and we have just a little bit of snow. Every day without a blizzard makes winter seem a little bit more manageable.
29. Teaching V the words to "867-5309" (to continue our phone number theme).
30. Erbert and Gerbert’s chicken & wild rice soup

Oh, the humanity

Warning: the following contains graphic photographs, not suitable for most people.
What: Crime scene report
When: 14 November 2008, 2:08pm
Location: Living room: just inside the doorway
A little further in Further still Over that way And here’s some more The victim (The guy with the orange feet has an alibi). Evidence in the victim’s…bodily fluids… The primary suspect I know. Those of you who read this are not surprised. What kind of idiot mother lets her kid have a bottle of syrup as a best friend? I’ll tell you: a sticky one. With sticky socks, a sticky chair, a sticky floor, and a sticky daughter.

Case closed. Please send wet wipes. And valium.

Oh, and someone should maybe warn Little Debbie to stay out of our house.

09 November 2008

Happy Birthday, Shaunrona...

This morning I pulled this quilted monstrosity from the dryer and presented it to the birthday boy.

I realize the photo is close up, and I don't have a good wide shot, and it's already dark out, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow (at least) for a better photo. It's a log cabin pattern, in the lazy quilter size of 36” per square. I used the large stripes of black to lengthen and set the squares apart (I could’ve made more squares, but, again, I’m lazy). The fabrics (except for the black) are all things somehow connected to Shaun: music notes, Vikings, baseballs, gambling, bumblebees, and ladybugs. The last two are V’s past Halloween costumes, by the way, and not so much Shaun’s own interests. The center fabric is green with dollar signs, $, for how he signs his name (ala Gene Simmons. I know).

Because the last quilt I made him only lasted 7 years, I tried to do a couple of things differently. (I realize those of you who don’t quilt likely could not care less about this, but I know at least 3 of my readers are quilters, so the rest of you can get over it. or skip the rest of this paragraph). This time, I chose higher quality fabrics, and used 100% cotton thread. Apparently when quilts are made of cotton fabric and polyester thread, the thread can eventually cut through the fabric, because polyester is stronger than cotton. Like rock paper scissors, I guess. Also, I quilted this more heavily than what I usually do. I’m a big stitch in the ditch girl, and enjoy the simplicity and lack of forethought such a sewing pattern requires. But Shaun’s first quilt failed largely on those stitches: now, that’s probably a combination of fabric quality, poly thread, and the fact that he slept under it 2,555 nights in a row, but I still wanted to prevent that if possible. So for the first time ever, I did cross-quilting. On each outside corner through the dark side of the log cabin block, I just sewed six ways from Tuesday. I think you can see it in that picture, above, if you look close. I found it to be waaaay less boring than stitching in the ditch, so maybe I’ve expanded my horizons. Back to the birthday excitement: we had a wild party this afternoon, with Grandma Myra, Grandma Mary, Grandpa David, Jess, Will, and Emmy all coming for lunch (meatballs and baked potatoes and green beans...but that's a whole nother post). We had a bit more excitement than we wanted, as Grandma Myra is not feeling well, but all in all I think my favorite 37 year old had a lovely birthday.

Here's the quilt in action tonight already, with my two Vikings fans tucked in on the couch.

Happy, happy birthday, dear man. I love you more today than the day we were married, and I didn't think that was possible. You're awesome. I look forward to many, many more meatball dinners with you.

05 November 2008

November's Thankful List II

11. My beloved friends who know I still love them even when I’m a huge slacker and drop my end of the correspondence responsibility in the toilet. And then wring it out and send it to them and try to blame its lateness on my mail carrier.
12. 99% of my students
13. 100% of my coworkers. Wait, 99%. Let’s be serious. But of the nine I work with most often? 100%. I swear.
14. My crockpot.
15. We are currently cleaning our house, and it’s so much nicer that way.
16. Various antidepressant medications, including but not limited to sertraline, bupoprion, xanax, imapramine, and effexor (these aren’t all for me, mind you).
17. Cream cheese mints, ala my Aunt Barbie.
18. Kringle made by Auntie Bev.
19. Grandma Beulah's chocolate jumbos

20. My mother’s vegetable beef and egg dumpling soup.

Did you see a theme in those last five? Like grocery shopping, one ought not to blog while hungry.

04 November 2008

I have no idea what to title this one.

V has a new quasi-imaginary friend. I say "quasi" because this friend has a physical form, but it's not like a toy or doll or such a thing. V came to play with this new friend on her own: I had nothing to do with it, and frankly, I'm a bit concerned as to how this will all play out. This has been going on since Friday, when she and I were home alone all day. V calls her new friend Lady. Lady is often subjected to V's magic wand (which, not surprisingly, is a small plastic doll head on a stick). V will say Ah Hah KaBoom! very dramatically, and then tell Lady that she has been magically transported somewhere. Sometimes it's a swimming pool, or some dark scary woods, or the TV room. Very exciting. Today, V came home from school and said "Lady! How was your day? I was at school." It's sorta heartwarming. Sorta.

Here's a picture I took of Lady yesterday.

I told V that Lady's full name was Aunt Jemima, but that didn't matter. V just calls her Lady. So, um, what am I supposed to do the next time I make pancakes? Should I go back to the store and get some non-personified syrup? Can I in good conscience empty Lady onto my breakfast? Or will that not matter? And why is my daughter talking to food products?

Suggestions welcome.

Happy Election Day!

I get all sappy and sentimental on election day. No, really. I get John Phillip Sousa marches in my head, along with that song of all the presidents that I learned in 3rd grade (Washington, Adams; Jefferson, oh! James Madison....James Monroe! John Quincy Adams, ooh-ooh...doin' homework with you....) I think back to my first election, in 1992, when I turned 19 and lived at the Christus House and DJ, Lisa, and I hooked arms (because it was winter and icy and also we liked each other) and slid down the hill to some church 3 blocks away where we cast our ballots. It was a tingly-right-of-passage thing for me, somehow, and it continues to give me warm fuzzy feelings, even when I'm scared to death of what the outcome might be some years. I hope you get warm fuzzy feelings, too, and get yourself to a voting booth. Seriously.

I'll be back shortly with a less political post. Have you voted yet? How 'bout now? Now?

01 November 2008

I'm pretty sure this is proof she's already smarter than me.

Every other Friday marks the beginning of a long weekend here at our place. Shaun’s part time job allows him to clock 17 hours every other weekend. And since he works 6 hours every Friday, this means that twice a month, V and I get a whole lot of quality time. Alone. Together. Without a car to drive ourselves someplace where we’d be distracted from our often sizeable mother-daughter conflicts. So, we do projects. I find that if we have something unusual to do, V is less likely to get screechy, and I’m less likely to get screechy back. Sometimes we’ll make cookies, or paint dolls, or work in our studio on fabric projects.

In fact, yesterday was a fabric working day. I’ve been working on a very special quilt for Shaun for a bit over a month now, and V has been helping almost every step. She helped choose fabric. She was there when I cut the fabric, and though I sewed the majority away from her, she helped me lay it out on our dining room floor Friday. Laying out and pinning a quilt is my least favorite part of the process (aside from quilting the middle, shoving all that bulk through a machine…), and our dining room is less than ideal, because it’s just slightly smaller (with furniture) than a queen-sized quilt. But V was great. She pulled the backing taut, and helped roll out the binding, and oohed and ahhhed like a pro when I laid the top down. I started pinning in the center, working my out, and she largely hovered around the edges, talking to me and talking to her daddy’s new quilt. More than once I stopped and said “Now listen. Daddy doesn’t know about this, okay? It’s a SURPRISE. Which means we can’t tell him about it until he opens it on his birthday.”

Yes, she nodded. She just had a birthday, she reminded me, and she remembered being surprised. I was very heartened by this. Of course she knows about birthdays! Of course she knows the importance of surprise!

You all know where this is going, right?

Last night, while I made a run for milk and pull-ups (the two most necessary things in our house right now), V and Shaun sat in the TV room. The TV was off, and V was quietly reading books to herself while Shaun read something online. Suddenly (and Shaun of course told me this story, and he swears up and down that this revelation was unprovoked by him), she got up from her chair to stand beside him, and said “Mama’s making you a quilt. It’s a surprise.”
He looked up and said “What?”

She said “Mama’s making you a quilt. And it’s not a surprise…it’s a present.”

Now before you write in and tell me it serves me right for trusting a three year old with a secret…um, I know. But in some ways, it’s even better that he found out about it this way, rather than that boring open-a-present-and-suspect-nothing deal we attempt every year. This quilt’s story is richer for the way he learned about it, and it illustrates my sometimes ridiculous optimism.

He still can’t see it until his birthday, though. Besides, it’s just pinned. I need to spend several hours shoving that thing through the sewing machine before it’s ready to sleep under.

If you're reading this, Shauners, stop now. Don't look at the picture. I mean it!

For the rest of you, below is an early shot of quilt progress, laid out in our friend Kathy's front yard. I'll post a finished photo sometime after November 9. Unless V beats me to it.

November's Thankful List

Despite the fact that I am mercilessly mocked by my family when I try to get them to say what they're thankful for at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or perhaps because of that, I'm presenting my own list here. I hope to come up with 100 things I'm thankful for by the end of the month. Hopefully it won't be too boring. If it gets too boring, will somebody please stop me?
1. V.
2. #1 is healthy & usually happy.
3. We live near both our families, near enough for daytrips, even.
4. Bacon.
5. The excitement of a new presidential election.
6. Said election will only last a few more days (hopefully).
7. Red maple trees.
8. My nephews and niece and step-niece.
9. We still don’t have snow, and it’s already November (whoo!).
10. $haun, who is usually healthy and occasionally happy.

There. That's enough for now. I'm not saying, necessarily, that bacon outranks Shaun, but then again, I'm not saying it doesn't, either.

What're you thankful for?

31 October 2008

So Jesus, Medusa, and Buzz Lightyear with an alien head walk into a bar...

Six weeks ago, V proclaimed that she wanted to be Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. Luckily, Tenessa had a Buzz Lightyear costume lying around, so that was easy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, V and I were in a thrift store, and she found a mask, put it on, and walked around saying "I am an alien" in a low, freaky voice. It made everyone at the thrift store laugh, so we bought it, if only to entertain ourselves. But then V decided she needed to wear the mask for Halloween, too. Rather than change her plan, she adapted, and decided she'd be Buzz Lightyear with an alien head. Behind her is, um, Jesus. Well, it's Shaun dressed as Jesus. Perhaps I should explain a bit. See, Shaun's main priority in Halloween costuming is ease. For example, the first time I had a conversation with him was at a Halloween party in my apartment, and he had taken a ballpoint pen and drawn a swastika on his head, transforming himself into Charles Manson. Last year, he went as a guy in a funny yellow suit, because he happened to have that in his closet. So I turned to him about a couple of weeks ago and said, "You know, you kinda look like Jesus, with your long hair and long beard." And this year's Halloween costume was born.
I...I worry that folks will find this offensive, but if you know Shaun, you understand the spirit this was meant in. So I'll just leave it at that.

As per the post title, I was Medusa. Earlier today, as we were getting ready to go out, I told V I had to put some snakes in my hair.
"Snakes? Can't you do something else?"
"Why?" She's never been afraid of snakes before, and I couldn't understand what her issue could be.
"I don't like snakes. Isn't there something else?"
"Well, no. I'm Medusa, and she had snakes for hair."
"Maybe you could be Jessie"(the cowgirl from ToyStory 2).
"I don't have a cowgirl hat."
"You could get one."
At this point, she was almost pleading, which is really odd. Suddenly, I realized what she was thinking.
"Oh, honey, I'm not going to use REAL snakes."
"You aren't?" She seems incredulous, and full of relief.
"No! Here, look. Just little plastic snakes."
"Oh, okay. You can do that then."

So I did.