31 December 2010

Last Post o' the Year

To end the year, I thought we'd revisit my birthday list. Now that I'm 37 7/12, let's see if I've made any progress. Visit the original to see the whole thing. I'll just list the ones here that I've completed or made progress on.

9. Let go of all my old shame/guilt for stuff that doesn't matter to anyone but me. This, of course, is ongoing, but generally the last 7 months I've been fairly successful at it. Which is really something, considering Shaun's health and Mary's health and V's hairballs and the whole giant mess.

10. Take $haun to Vegas. Done!

12. Take a few sabbaticals: I've applied for my first. Because my college expanded immensely about 6-7 years ago, many of my colleagues became eligible for sabbatical at the same time. Which has created a backlog, so I would not be surprised if my sabbatical is not granted this year. But at least I've written one. You can't get a sabbatical if you don't apply.

13. Teach a class on circus freaks. This may be a few years down the road, but I did work both the movie Freaks and a lengthy power-point enhannced lecture on the history of the American Freak. So fantastic.
31. Find Tim Johnson and Shannon Welch, twolong lost friends (from college & elementary school respectively). One down, one to go. Via Facebook, someone read this post and told me someone they were friends with who was friends with Shannon. That was very exciting! Now, dear readers, help me find Tim Johnson. C'mon.

32. Watch the series finale of LOST. We did this the the evening of my birthday. It remains one of my favorite shows ever. Plus it was a good way to get a running start on the 37 things.

Since I've given myself 37 years to complete these 37 things, I think progress on four and completion of 2 is a pretty good start.

I've never been a fan of resolutions, but this ongoing list is a type of resolution, I suppose.

Oh, 2010, you've been a royal bear. I sure hope 2011 is much calmer, gentler, and healthier for us all. Languishing wishes all of you a very blessed New Year.

List #12: Things my Daddy Taught Me

Winter storms are dangerous. Frankly, it's a miracle that no one has been more severely hurt yet. It was just over a year ago that I posted on this very theme, but clearly some residents of this area have for some reason not read my blog or have chosen not to heed my advice. So I'm going to spell it out more clearly. I often have this conversation with my students (especially when we have first-time-winter-experiencers, whether from Kentucky or Kenya), because I worry that they don't have anyone to tell them the important elements. Our tri-state area should make some kind of pamphlet for new residents. Here's what I would include:

1. Listen to the weather. This seems obvious, but many of my students only get their weather from Facebook, which scares me. Of course, it's not that much different than just getting my news in college from Kurt Loder, but Kurt Loder never let me wander around in a blizzard.

2. Keep your car full of gas. I know that with gas near $3 a gallon, this is not always easy. But if you end up on I-29 as night is falling, and you run out of gas, what are you going to do for the three hours (or more) it takes the authorities to come and get you? And even if your car has four-wheel drive, you know that you can still go in the ditch, right? It's not like all 100 of the cars on 94 yesterday were just Ford Focuses. An ambulance came from Valley City (60 miles away) last night, and even though they were lead by several snowplows, it took them three hours to get here. Your car cannot run for 3 hours on 1/8 of a tank of gas. Honest.

3. Get winter clothes, even if you don't want to wear them. The guy the highway patrol found on interstate with just shorts on, in a stalled car? See, he would have been a lot safer if he'd at least had freaking pants in his car.  I worry that our access to cell phones has made us all a little stupider, because we feel like we are always within reach of assistance. But just calling for help is not always the hardest part.

4. Get a hobby. It's okay if you have to stay home, people. To make your hobby help your chances of survival, consider becoming a Mormon. One of the tenets of their religion requires that each Mormon family have enough stored food to live 1-3 years. YEARS. See, if you were a Mormon, you wouldn't need to go to Hornbacher's right now.

5. When the highway patrol says no travel except in emergencies, you should stay home. You should not go to Target. And the though I understand the importance of fresh fruit, you probably don't really need groceries either, once the storm starts. We should all plan ahead a little bit, especially since we're listening to the weather more now, per #1. And if you've followed point #4's advice, all your neighbors will know where to come to borrow a cup of sugar.

Okay, I need to stop this list now, and go shovel, because there's another storm coming tonight. I'm not sure if we can get out of our front door. But be safe, people, and stay warm, and try not to be stupid. That's what my Daddy would want you to do.

29 December 2010

Mail call

One thing about sending a letter or better everyday to the same person is I become very concerned with repeating myself. My life is not all that fascinating (said the blogger...ha ha ha...), and though my craft supplies are extensive, I still strive to mix things up in most any way I can think of. Here are 5 recent letters, ready to be stamped and mailed. They come from a boxed set of blank cards I found at Michael's; I love the rich colors. But different colors do not make interesting enough distinctions after a while, I find. So I practice my best penmanship on one address, then make my letters blocky and s   p   r   e   a   d    o    u   t  for the next one. I wish I had mastered calligraphy, or at least practiced more. Or could at least find those fancy pens. Must search through more crafting boxes!

(The return address IS repetitive, I realize, but it's a self-inking kinda thing that I just rediscovered, and it makes me happy. So much for mixing things up.)

ps: I've almost reached my 106 posts goal! Wheeee!

28 December 2010

List #11: The good parts of 2010

As the year whirls to an end, and I try to meet my self-prescribed post quota, I've decided to try to come up with 9 good things that happened this year. Let's see if it works.

9. We got our second car. It still makes me happy every time I drive it, even though it was damaged in the fender-bender on the Worst Day Ever. But let's not talk about that.

8. There was a magnificent wall of mushrooms near Lake Belle Taine.

7. I started using a 35mm camera, and I liked it. Now I just need to find a reliable, talented developer. Suggestions are welcome.

6. V learned to ride her bike. Another step to growing up. For Christmas, I got my own bike helmet, so I won't feel like such a hypocrite when we go for bike rides together.

5. I started my genius list project. (I don't know why I call it genius, especially since I saw a bunch of other folks doing it first).

4. V and I went camping again. I hope we can do that at least once a year until she abhors me, and beyond.

3. The Red River Valley Fair was pretty awesome for us this year.

2. V had one heckuva birthday party.

1. Shaun and I got to go to Vegas together for the first (and hopefully not last) time. And linking to that post, I just realized I never wrote the follow-up post with more Vegas pictures. Maybe we'll do that in February, when things are so cold and so dark.

There were other good things too, like cookie decorating with my side of the family, and spending time with Tenessa's family at (sadly) two funerals, and trips to Minneapolis, and a long visit with Tami, and one or two good hangovers, and my birthday list of 37 things I want to do, and Beth and Chris and Jake moved back to Minnesota, and V went skinny dipping in October, and Crystal and my students had a rocking good art show, and, jeez, I guess there was more good in 2010 than I realized. I love it when a blog post helps me look on the bright side.

What're your 2010 highlights? Aside from reading Languishing, of course. Do tell.

27 December 2010

Marie's Camera

While visiting the in-laws last week (for the first time in months! it was fantastic to see them!), I noticed an older model 35mm NikonF. My in-laws have a general fondness for their digital camera, but neither David nor Mary were, to my knowledge, all that interested in photography. So when I saw a gigantic lens to go with the Nikon, I was even more confused.
But it turns out that David's mother, Marie, was a very interested in photography. We found a receipt in her papers for a camera dated 1948: she paid $208 (which translates to $1,909 in 2010 dollars). The Nikon F was released in 1959, and she must've upgraded around then.

As a family history nerd, this kind of thing normally makes me giddy: my great-grandfather's saw, for example. But I know very little about Shaun's grandmother (she died when he was in college). I know she was extremely frugal, and did not have an easy life. She raised six children without indoor plumbing until the youngest was at least in junior high school. She was not, as I understand it, terribly sentimental, an attribute I tend to attach to everyone in my past, because I am so very sentimental myself. And so, holding her camera, which she took very good care of (she saved the instruction booklet it came with, and had a fine leather case for the camera and her multiple lenses) felt very strange. This woman's grandson is my husband: my daughter is genetically 1/8 her. (Well, mathematically. Or something. I don't know enough about genetics to just leave that sentence unattended). But I just discovered she was a photographer last week. I've never seen one of her photographs, or eaten cookies made from her favorite recipes. I don't know her from anyone. But she raised the man who would raise the man I would marry. It sort of breaks my brain.

I took all the photos in this post on Wednesday, 23 December 2010 with Marie's Nikon F. The camera is over 50 years old, and the original owner has been dead well over a decade. The film was terribly outdated: I found it among the receipts in the camera bag, and loaded it carefully. I had no idea if any of them would turn out.
I never knew her, but I'm grateful, even for just these four photos, and an inter-generational connection I never expected on this gray December day.

23 December 2010

List #10.5: More mediocre but heartfelt gift ideas!

Thanks for tuning in for part #2. If you missed part #1, go here first. Thank you for your patronage.

4. As I mentioned in earlier gift posts, gift cards are pretty lame, overall. But if you're out of time, sometimes it's the only thing you can do. In this case, consider something out of the ordinary. Target & Amazon are really fun, sure, but not especially memorable. I mean, I've appreciated every gift card I've ever received, but I don't remember what I bought with hardly any of them. Consider Sock Dreams, who will e-mail your gift card to your recipient. On the other end of the spectrum, consider an Ax-Man gift card. I'm not sure if they even sell gift cards, but Tenessa once gave me a fancy handwritten slip of paper that said she'd buy me $25 worth of stuff from Ax-man. This meant we got to go together (and do you have ANY IDEA what $25 will buy at Ax-man?) and share the joy. So, so much joy.

3. Perhaps you're broke, or trying to save up for rhinoplasty, or just don't know where you put your wallet. That's okay. Look around your house and find something your recipient would enjoy. Now, I'm not talking about cleaning out your dryer's lint trap for your sister, here, unless she's really into that. But perhaps she has always loved your silver dollar key chain, or has never read your favorite novel. There is nothing wrong with a used gift, especially if it is well loved by all parties. Be careful to avoid lovingly used items such as toothbrushes or panties, though. Wait...it depends on the recipient again. Never mind.

2. Consider simplicity. My friend Joel used to (and may still...we haven't talked about this in awhile) go to a bookstore on December 23rd or 24th and do all his shopping in one afternoon. I adore this idea: any decent bookstore will hold all kinds of inspiration and something for everyone on your list.

1. Go big or go home. This can create all kinds of awkwardness, but really, isn't that what the holidays are all about? Scrimp and save all year and/or take out a new credit card and buy ridiculously extravagant gifts for everyone on your list. Trips are almost always breathtaking, for example, and couldn't your mail carrier use a week in Vegas? Your mother-in-law may only buy you socks and underwear every year, but that doesn't mean you can't get her a 300 carat sapphire pendant that makes that Titanic necklace look quaint. It may raise eyebrows, but I guarantee she'll never forget this Christmas.

Time's a-wasting, people. Get to work, get your gifts done, and then eat some cookies and drink some 'nog. May your gift giving be even more rewarding than your gift receiving.

Six posts in eight days....and List #10: Holiday gift ideas

...is not unlike Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Except there are no brides. Or brothers. Or singing. But otherwise, totally similar.

I try to beat each previous year's number of posts, see. Last year I had 104, and the year before, 106. So I'm shooting for a tie with 2008, which leaves me with 6 more posts to do before the end of the year. Are you up for it, Languishingland? Can you handle that much Languishing in a little over a week?

Me neither. But let's try anyway, shall we?

For the first of six posts, I decided to provide a rambling introduction full of non-sequitors (check) and then go into last minute gift ideas. I know that you're not completely done shopping yet (or, if you're like Shaun, you haven't yet started), so I want to help you. Here're the best ideas I've got this year. For more best ideas, check out this post from 2007.
9. A gift certificate for a salon something-or-other. If you know where your recipient likes to go, that's a good choice, or offer someplace new (and therefore exciting!) Consider, if you're one of my Big City Friends, Tami Holtan at East 42nd Street Salon. I fell in love with Tami 19 years ago in college, and if you don't know her yet, you should. Giving a gift to visit Tami is seriously the one of the nicest things you could do for anyone. In the Fargo-Moorhead metro, I recommend Juliet at Cloud Nine Salon and Day Spa. It's a lovely space, and my sister swears Juliet is as close as she's found to Tami in this part of the world.

8. Consumables. I love clutter, and consider it an afront that those Hoarder's shows haven't come to my doorstep yet, but I also appreciate the glut of stuff so many of us have. These are also good gifts for people who are moving or people you don't know especially well, or can't think of something meaningful for. A bottle of even cheap champagne (I mean sparkling wine) is always fun, or perhaps some fancy ice cream toppings. Go beyond the tins of popcorn or box of chocolate-covered cherries and consider a fancy salad dressing or delightful cheese. Tenessa once gave me a jar of finely minced green olives, and as I mixed them with cream cheese and ate them on crackers, I missed her a little less.

7. Art supplies. I know you're thinking "but jen, my recipient is not an artist!" Ah, I am replying, but maybe he is. Provide a small, nice-quality journal (you can get one for about $5) and some good fine-tipped pens, and her high-school doodling hobby will come rushing back.

6. Go practical. Like #8, these are things that get used up. But these are not edible: think a giant box of garbage bags, or a deluxe jumbo package of toilet paper. Consider, though: How much room you have for gifts in your car, how much wrapping paper you are willing to put into one gift. Pros: You'll look super generous, at least until they open that giant package.

5. Go ridiculous. For a baby gift, I once found a lovely set of chicken salt and pepper shakers. It didn't make any sense, but we all laughed a lot. The best thing about this gift is it can often be purchased at the dollar store. Try Loopy's: that's V's favorite.

Come back soon for #4-1: I need to spread this out a little if I'm gonna come up with another 5 posts this week.

21 December 2010


Oh, universe. I am sorry I've upset you so.

For those of you who've been following our family craptacular, here're the updates.

Myra: the bilateral temporal artery biopsy (used to diagnose Giant Cell Arteritis) did not confirm GCA as a diagnosis. Which is good, we guess, but she may still have GCA, or she might have something else, and no one seems to know yet. She's got several upcoming appointments for blood work and other stuff, and hopefully we'll get some answers within the next few weeks. But you never want to be the patient who stumps the experts. I guess we're just lucky.

Shaun: perhaps because I blogged about it earlier, or maybe it was gonna happen anyway, Shaunsie had a full-blown nervous breakdown this past Thursday. As in an ER visit wherein we discovered they won't admit a patient to the psych ward unless they are psychotic or suicidal. Luckily he was neither, but he couldn't get the help he needed anywhere, it seemed. His amazing therapist, though, stayed after hours to meet with us Thursday evening, and Shaun fortunately had gotten his Christmas bonus a few days earlier, which he put towards a 2 day hotel stay, where he could recuperate and get his bearings back. V and I even got to visit and have a little swim on Saturday. He has another appointment with Amazing Therapist today, and is feeling, overall, much better.

V: Yesterday we had our appointment with the neuropsychologist. As I mentioned in that earlier post, I was nervous as all heck about labels and diagnoses and what it all meant. But it turns out my fears were misplaced: V has been diagnosed with nothing. She is very intelligent, the tests showed, though we already knew that. She also shows some behaviors on the Asperger's spectrum, like sensitivity to light and sudden loud noises, and has some OCD-esque behaviors, like sorting and laying things out in a straight line repetitively, but none of these symptoms manifest themselves as completely "vital" to her: if she gets interrupted, she can often be redirected; they're not severe enough to merit a diagnosis. What does that mean for us? It means we have a strong willed, stubborn girl who knows how to get what she wants. It means we need to consider a different preschool, and consider accepting a really really unsavory diagnosis if we need her to have a para in the classroom. It means a therapist  of her very own.

My non-doctoring ways kick in here, and I think it's silly. But I also know that when I was a little girl, I struggled mightily with many of the things V struggles with today: anger, and reactionary-ness, and sensory integration issues. I remember at 6 thinking if only someone could talk to me, could explain to me in a way I could understand, maybe I would feel better. Shaun, too, had struggles as a little boy, and ended up in the hospital with uncontrollable vomiting (from anxiety, he later discovered) for the first time at 5. If a doctor had just suggested talk therapy, how different could our lives have been? How much less suffering would we have had to endure? That's what we're shooting for here: to help our anxious, stubborn, smart child put those emotions and tendencies where they belong.

Perhaps you find this post self-indulgent. That's okay. In some ways, this blog serves as a quick way for us to get information out to all our interested friends and family, and though it's more public than a personal phone call, it also takes a lot less time, and we can be more thorough and thoughtful. I'm not looking for pity here, honestly (though I was in that "I'm so tired" post, just to be clear). And I know a lot of this stuff is still not widely discussed: mental health issues, especially, still feel deeply personal and a lot of people get uncomfortable with this topic. But therapy and depression and anxiety are major factions of our lives, and ignoring that won't make it go away. This blog, as a reflection of our lives, is going to have to acknowledge those factions as well as the crafty, Rock Band, salt-free cooking factions.

20 December 2010

If you don't think about it, it won't bother you.

I don't really belive this post's title, though I used to practice it pretty hard. But right now, having left up that bleak "tired" post for a week, I'm going to go tangental and I'll come back to the juicy stuff. Here are two photos of the gifts under our tree. This is the first year I've used fabric exclusively as wrappings for gifts.
 I know Shaun thinks I'm a crazy hippie, and I accept that. In the end, though, I really, REALLY like fabric, and I love the idea of less waste (I hate that we often fill 2 giant garbage bags with trash from all the gift wrapping!). And also, most of what you see here are pillowcases, made for everyone in the family (fun game: family, guess which one is yours! No fair looking close to see the tags...). When I went to wrap the first one, along with other gifts for the receipient, I thought, "Hey, this is stupid. I'll just use the pillowcase." So I did. Some of them have small enough gifts inside that I could tie or twist or arrange the fabric to hold itself together. Others are full pillowcase-sized gifts, and those I tied at the top, attaching a tag to the ribbon.
In the upper right in the photo above is a smaller, non-pillowcase satin pouch that I made with some of my favorite fabric: it holds a gift that was so small it would've been lost in a pillowcase. I hope to make a few more like those, simple and pretty, so we can reuse them. And hopefully the pillowcases, too, will get lots more use than just looking like a crazy hippie's wrapping job.

Just a little holiday update from the Languishing house. Ho, ho, ho!

14 December 2010

I'm so tired.

I don't want this to be a whiny blog post. But it might end up that way. Consider yourself forewarned.

First of all, the art show was a terrific success. We had 150-200 people attend, which is phenomenal, and our students were out-frickin'-standing. I was as proud as I've ever been, as a teacher.

Tomorrow, I give my last 2 finals, and then I grade until my eyes bleed, and I'll try to turn grades in by Friday. Please, god, let it be over by Friday.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law has completed 5 of 8 chemo treatments; I haven't seen her since the beginning of September, and I miss her terribly. She's over halfway done, though, and we're all hopeful for the future.

Shaun, V, and I are all recovering from bad colds, and V and Shaun got the stomach flu over the weekend. For V it was just an awful 12 hour deal, but it's so much harder for Shaun with this happens. Hopefully he won't need to be hospitalized, but it is excruciating to see him suffer and not be able to help more.

V went in for testing last week with a neuropsychiatrist. You remember V from such uplifting posts as Our Out of Sync Child and the one about the Holiday Party last year, right? So, she's still got those issues, although in slightly different forms. She seeks structure, she doesn't handle routine changes well, she...she struggles, often, with things that other kids take in stride. One day a couple of months ago, after an especially difficult car ride home, she started sobbing in the backseat. Exasperated, I said "What is it now?!" She said "Mama, am I ever going to feel better?"  We sat in the driveway and cried together. I don't know that she knew what she was asking, but we're trying to find the best ways to help. On Monday December 20, we'll presumably get a diagnosis. So I've been thinking of this a lot, lately, about labels and what they mean, and about how Monday will not change who V is one tiny bit: she will still be our goofy musical actress who can read like a 4th grader. Yet...today, I can still pretend she might outgrow it. After Monday, when this quirkiness goes beyond quirkiness and gets an actual name, well, then it's here to stay, I suppose. Of course, it's here to stay if it's not diagnosed, too: as my friend Todd pointed out, 10, 20, 30 years ago kids like V went to school undiagnosed all over the place, and many just struggled through, got left behind in some ways, and excelled in others. Shaun and I both remember things in our childhood that could have gone better had we had some of the interventions V's had. And so I wait for Monday, and hope I can remember that she's still our V, and not a diagnosis, and so much much more than we'd ever dreamed.

Shaun continues to watch his diet, though he's dropped off in his excercising in recent weeks, to help his heart heal. We're scheduled for a second echocardiogram on January 24, and hoping for good news. And if it's not good news, at least it hopefully won't be terrible news. He feels pretty good (aside from this damn flu), so I'm optimistic. I was going to say "we're optimistic," but Shaun has never, to my knowledge, been optimistic in his life. So I am.

And there's 37 other things occupying my brain, keeping me awake at night, causing the muscles in my neck to bunch up. My mom, for example, has been having new, excruciating pain in her hands these last three days. We're hoping to find some kind of diagnosis for her, or at least pain relief that doesn't lead to hallucinations. V's supposed to bring snack on Thursday. And start kindergarten next fall. And eventually graduate from high school. See? See why I'm tired?

I know I have so, so many things to be thankful for. I know many people have it much worse than I do. And still, I find the time through all this to write a whiny-ass blogpost.

Here's to happy diagnoses, longjohns, and Christmas cookies. And blog readers.


08 December 2010

I teach.

Tomorrow, my students are putting on an Art Show. It's really more of a final project presentation, because I don't teach art; I teach Humanities and English. And in this course (which is actually 2 courses, one of which is taught by the Amazing Crystal), the final project we assigned the students was to create something (we offered them the opportunity to sculpt, paint, direct a brief film, take photographs, create a religion, write a story/poem/memoir/song...) that combined elements of the course in a personal way that could be understood by others. As it turned out, they all chose to create visual art (though a few poems will also be included within larger artworks), and so...Crystal and I invite you to a student Art Show tomorrow from 2-5pm.

But that's not why I'm posting this. I'm posting this because this is kind of a scary thing: normally, my classroom stays semi-private: me and 15-40 students share a learning experience of varying qualities and quanities for 15 weeks, and then we finish up and go on with our lives. But now we're opening up that classroom to share it with the larger public, and with that brings the possibility for criticism, or press coverage, or, worse, no response at all. It's a whole new level of teaching that I don't usually wander into.

And yet, I'm not sorry, even while I'm slightly terrified. These 17 students have created work of which they should be truly proud. They each individually took in the texts we studied, thought deeply about them, and created something completely unique and truly powerful. I am so moved when this happens (and it does happen, quite often, in a good class), but can rarely share it with peers on any full level. But tomorrow? Tomorrow the whole damn town can come see these students, and the beautiful, thoughtful, sometimes disturbing, always intentional things they've created.

I'm very excited. And very proud.

(photos from yesterday's frosty morning, in our front yard)

04 December 2010

List #9: Hobbies o' Mine

Nothing too profound this snowy Saturday: just a list of some of my many hobbies. I'd love to hear your favorite hobbies, too, though I certainly don't need anymore of my own.

1. Jewelry making: I especially love making earrings, because they don't take long and they can be so lovely. This summer we made stretchy bracelets for my aunts and cousins, using stretchy bead thread. If you take your time with the knots, you'll be happier with the result. Cute, fast, and easy, just like me! (um...nevermind)

2. Quilting. You've read Languishing's award-winning Quilts of our Lives series, and I do love to quilt. It's hard for me to get inspired without a scheduled retreat or weekend set aside, because they are labor and logic intensive, and I don't have a lot of either to spare. But when I'm quilting, I'm a happy girl.

3. I make books. I can do more elaborate, formal bindings than those in the picture, and am particular fond of Japanese stab bindings (it sounds so violent! But it's not). They make lovely scrapbooks and guestbooks and journals. I taught a group of 5th and 6th graders to do that form several years ago, and discovered working with kids that age is remarkably similar to college age students, but with less swearing.

4. Crochet. My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about 10, but I lacked any semblance of patience, and it ended when I snapped my plastic knitting needles in half in frustration (Sorry, Beulah!). When I was in high school, my mother learned to crochet, and my sister and I followed suit. Mostly I make dishcloths & scarves, now: a girl only needs so many afghans, and the carpal tunnel keeps me from projects of that size. I like crocheting because, after this much practice, I can do it in the dark of a movie theater or while we're watching something at home, and not feel like I'm being indulgent quite so much.  Idle hands do the devil's work, you know.

5. House plants. I have almost totally failed at this hobby, and I have a dozen dead plants in my house to prove it. But I also have a few (5 or 6, maybe?) that persist in living, and I adore the idea of healthy, happy houseplants. I just don't remember to water them regularly enough.

6. Collage: This is how many of my students spell "college." At any rate, I like to cut things up and paste things back together (which is a lot like quilting, now that I think of it). I use collage to make little trading-size cards, alter books, and jazz up my syllabus. Decoupage is my friend.

7. Card-making: Connected to #3 and #6, this was a natural outcropping. My mom and aunt and friend have a ridiculous collection of supplies, and when I can get there to play, it's a breeze to make cards. Lately, though, I've been sending Mary a card a day, which really ups the ante: I'm trying to keep things interesting but don't have access to the supply mecca. It's been fun, actually.

8, Facebook: Oh, facebook, you evil temptress. I came to this party late, but I find myself checking it time and again throughout the day, almost automatically, like looking at the clock. When I'm bored, I get irritated, and want it to entertain me. Gak.

9. Dexter: We don't have Showtime, but we recently discovered how to run Netflix through our XBox 360, so we can livestream all sorts of things, provided our somewhat pathetic internet cooperates (which, by the way, do any of you, gentle readers, have internet through DirecTV? Any thoughts?). We'd heard about this show, and just finished season 1. I love it: it's like CSI meets Criminal Minds meets the Sopranos. What's not to like about that?

These are some of the things (besides blogging) that I do in my spare time, or in my avoid-doing-what-I-ought-to-be-doing-time, like cleaning and/or grading. What's your favorite distraction?

30 November 2010

More old stuff from my mom's garage, and a little digression for good measure

Even though the comments look kinda paltry around here, I do get in-person comments fairly often about the blog. Usualy 3-4 times a week. Mostly because I ask my sister "Did you read my blog post about that thing?" and she says "Uh-huh. It was good." I count that.

When Languishing was a paper thing, a zine you could hold in your hands (that would not appear properly on your iPod or iPad or iPoodle [great. now I want an iPoodle]), I LOVED getting comments from random people: I'd be introduced to someone, we'd chat a bit, and somehow it would come out that "Holy crap! You're the one who puts Languishing together? I've read every issue!" No lie. That happened to me. Twice. It was fantastic. When that happens now, though, I tend to get shy. The blog, somehow, feels more exposing. Maybe it's because there're more pictures of me and mine, or because it's more frequent (at it's height, paper Languishing came out just 6 times a year), or because I have met two or three people in the last 10 years that I hope to never see or hear from again, and being online reduces my invisibility to them (though at least one of them is still institutionalized, I'm pretty sure). (Do they have the interweb in institutional settings? I suppose it depends...). At any rate, in the end, I love hearing the words "I read about that on your blog..." Even if you  think I'm a doofus, I'm glad to know you're reading.

Whew. I said all that to tell you that I got a compliment on a recent post today, and so I'm going to post more pictures of old crap from my mom's garage. See, if you hated that post and didn't tell me, I have only the compliment to go on. You can change the content of the internet if you just tell me what you like and what you don't like. In the end, this is your fault.

The titles are properly capitalized after each photo.

Chain and Metal Sheets
 Calumet Baking Powder, et al
I love the greenish tint of the mason jars and the orange-brown of the tall bottle.
 Garden Stakes, Fishing Net, Handsaw, Leaves.
I adore how human hands cause wear on tools. The flash here obscures some of that, but I also like how my family just hangs all kinds of stuff from the same nail.
 Another shot of the bottles, in different light, with a different camera, from a different angle. I like the milk jar in the back. I call this one Still Life with Water Stains.
The brown glass bottle reads "Juicy Orange Brand" Orange Flavored Beverage Base. And as you can see, it has no pulp. The rock (or hunk of cement, I'm not sure) I had hoped was a skull: my father had a habit of bringing home animal bones, especially during spring plowing. Part of the joy of my May birthday was I got many a deer jaw as a gift. I call this one Hunting Knife.

There you have it, gentle readers. A second round of photos from one little garage in the heart of the Red River Valley.

29 November 2010

List #8: Places from fiction I wish I could visit

My travelling post made me think of....travelling. Shocking. But beyond that, I want to be an English nerd and work literature into the post as well, so here're places from fiction I wish I could visit.

1. Tolkein's Middle Earth. Duh. I guess I could try going here.

2. Alice's Wonderland. Since V's Alice obsession, it's hard not to find the place compelling. For grown up trivia, this site is entertaining. When V first saw the well-known Disney version of Alice, we had to have a long talk about Baby Jessica and how rabbit holes and wells and other dark places were not really meant for little girls to go falling into. Not surprisingly, V was terribly disappointed.

3. The Fabulon Midway in Geek Love. I love me a good circus sideshow, and the Binewskis did it up right. In a horrific, godforsaken sort of way.

4. Yoknapatawpha County. William Faulkner created not just an imaginary home, or neighborhood, or city. He made up a whole damn county. And it's a spooky, creepy, southern mess of a county. And I love that it's a whole mini-universe (ps: I hate Wikipedia. But it's the best link I could find today).

5. Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory: another nod to one of V's obsessions, I have long loved the idea of the factory from the original film. The chocolate river (Augustus!!), the golden geese eggs, the fizzy lifting drinks...Gene Wilder....Awesome.

6. Oz. What child doesn't dream of waking up in a magical land full of witches and munchkins and flying monkeys and talking tinmen and scarecrows? It's certainly why I so love the book Wicked, and Son of a Witch, and the one about the lion that's been on my nightstand for months because I don't have time to read anything but papers.  Of course, I believed for YEARS that the Wicked Witch of the West lived under my bed. (And she was married to the Incredible Hulk). But I still would love to go over the rainbow.

7. The cave from the Goonies. Even if Sean Astin isn't there to kiss me, it would be an awesome place to play. Remind me to bring along someone with lots of life-saving inventions strapped to themselves, though.

8. The island where the Swiss Family Robinson lived. Alternately, if that's not available, I'll take the island in The Blue Lagoon. For both, I would like to get to the island after the characters have all left, because otherwise I'm just a tourist, and not experiencing the island like I want to (plus, Christopher Atkins creeps me out). At the same time, I hope they leave behind their lovely buildings and machetes and coconut and banana trees. Yum.

9. The Addam's Family house, from the TV show. I love the greenhouse thing, and the nooses, and the gables, and the decor, and....well, all of it. The one(s?) in the movies are quite lovely, too, but the original one makes me giggle.

Howsabout you? Just like on my movie list, I'm sure you, gentle readers, will come up with 15 places that make me hit myself and say "How could I forget THAT?". Bring it on. Let the headsmacking begin.

27 November 2010

Rocket loves Shaun

I love dogs. Love, love, love, love, love them. My whole life, I've had beloved dogs: Toosk, Josh & Cookie, Toosk II & Zoe Johnson, Zuul & Egon....I love how they smell, how they show devotion, how they play fetch. I love dogs.

But ever since Egon, we've been a pet-free home.  And I don't like it. But, I mean, I understand the positives, too: During the school year, I work all the damn time, and though Shaun likes dogs okay, he does not have the love love love that I do for them.  It's much easier not having to train a dog, or clean up during the training, or being home every 4 hours or finding someone else who can be.  But man, I miss having a furball curled up behind my knees (besides Shaun, I mean). I miss slobbery dog kisses and playing tug with rope toys.

Enter Rocket: my sister's family's sweet dog. He looks like an ewok, hardly ever barks, and is a loving ball of chewing fur. And having a dog nephew is almost the best of both worlds: we get to love him up whenever we're at Jess', and we aren't responsible for his training, grooming, or chewing. And once in awhile, when we're lucky, he comes to visit at our house. And snuggles in behind my knees. Ah. It's not as good as my own sweet pupdog, but it's a whole lot better than nothin'.

26 November 2010

Old Stuff in my Mom's Garage, with 3 different cameras.

This Thanksgiving, I wandered out to Myra's garage to take pictures of some stuff. I used my current camera as camera #1, which has a bit too much shake for close ups, Myra's cool little Olympus (I think it's an Olympus) as camera #2,  and Jess' fancy-schmancy camera for camera #3. Mostly, I just like taking pictures of old rusty things. It was just fortunate that I had all those cameras at my disposal.

This is, I think, an oxen yoke. Or it might be for horses. I have no horses or oxen to try it on. It hangs in our garage and has been hanging there my whole life. This photo is with camera #1, with no flash.
By the time I made it to the garage with camera 3, it was dark outside, and I couldn't figure out how to turn off the flash, anyway.
 This is camera #2, and Dad's old ice skates.
 Camera #3, as evidenced by the flash.
 I'm kind of in love with close ups and strange angles. And old ice skates. And camera #3.
 Camera #1, and a banana box my parents "borrowed" from my grandparent's store. They're marvelous, and with a nice thick sheet of plexiglass they'd be awesome coffee tables. But my mother won't let me take them out of the garage. Which is probably for the best, since I don't have room for a coffee table.
Camera #3. I love that the box says "Fargo, N.D. St. Paul, Mn." and "return to warehouse promptly."

22 November 2010

List #7: Things I wish my students knew

I'm probably never going back to college. I mean, I might take a class or something someday, but full time studenthood is all in my past. Still, if I ever do find myself on the other side of the desk, there are some things I would be sure to remember and do differently than I did when I was in school. And some things I knew better than to do when I was in school. This list is for my dear, dear students.

1. Be on time to class. Every time. Don't skip. The instructor notices if you skip. And don't text during class, or sleep. We notice that, too.

2. Be prepared. Every time. Faking the reading does not work in college.

3. Do not assume the teacher doesn't like you/doesn't have time to help you.  Ask questions.

4. Do not assume the teacher likes you and has all the time in the world to help you.  Ask questions, but be polite. And gracious.

5. If you have to miss class, how you word follow-up questions is very important. "Did I miss anything?" is profoundly different from "What did I miss?"

6. If your shit is hitting the fan this semester, do not point the fan at your instructor. Manage your stuff, and if you find you can't get your work done properly while your life falls to pieces, consider withdrawing. I will work with you, but I tell you from experience it is really, really hard to get things back under control once you've spun out. It's okay to drop a class. It's okay to get a C. Or worse. If you're going to be deported if you fail my course, realize that maybe you should've thought of that before you missed 6 weeks in a row.

7. Do not write me e-mails from your hotmail account. All your friends may call you HotCupcake93, but I will not. In fact, I delete all e-mails with the name "hot" or "cupcake," as a rule.

8. I will not get your paper graded in 24 hours. If you ask me, I will put your paper on the very bottom of my grading pile, where it will languish for months.

9. As a follow up to point #6, above, if you do have a personal crisis and you have no one to talk to about it, come to me. I'm not a counsellor, but I know where their offices are, and I will help you find help if you need it. I will keep your secrets, and will fight for you if that's what you need. I teach because I love my students, even if that's not always evident.

We have a winner!

Are you ready? Are you? Ready?
Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2010-11-22 20:23:39 UTC

This means that Jennifer Hines is Languishing's 400 Posts 1st place winner! She will receive a 5x7 of one of my photographs, and her very own Languishing Beastie (or perhaps 2 small ones, since she has 2 small ones to keep the peace between). Jen, this might mean we have to actually see each other for the first time in 3 years. Even though we only live 16 blocks apart. Crazy. (Pick a photo, too, or give me an idea of what you'd like).

And for second place:

Here are your random numbers:

Timestamp: 2010-11-22 20:27:04 UTC

That's Lesley! She wins our second place prize of an 5x7 of one of my photos! Which one do you want, Lesley? I'll have to order it and it will take a little while to arrive, but you can choose.

I found myself not wanting to go the Random Number Generator, because I don't like it when someone doesn't win. Frankly, I suck at Monopoly because I always make trades and sales I shouldn't. I'm a lousy capitalist. But I promised, and Jen and Lesley are our winners! Hurrah! Thanks for reading, everyone, and for those of you who didn't win, know that you're winners in my wee socialist heart.
Come back later today for yet another list.

18 November 2010

List #6: Places I've Been

I am not a widely-traveled woman, nor will I ever likely be. I've always lived within a 150 mile radius of my hometown, and I'll probably die a Minnesotan, ornery and cold. I was just thinking today about how my grandfather moved here from Sweden 90 years ago, when he was 19, and how that move alone marked his life as entirely different from mine.

But I do like to travel, at least in theory, and though I've never been off this continent (except one time when I jumped really high), there have been a few places in my travels that remain close to my heart.

1. New York City: I first went here in college, and we stayed in a relatively abandoned dorm, two vans full of students with the Lutheran Campus Ministries. We went to Harlem and some fantastic church that had a Sunday late afternoon service and rode the subway. We were a bunch of Minnesota kids in awe of this giant city, and it was great. I got to see my first Broadway Show, Miss Saigon, with my sister, and I wore my favorite blue flannel shirt and we sat next to someone in a fur stole. I loved it. Our pastor wore his collar, so everyone thought he was a priest, and he repeatedly said inappropriate things to the young women in our group to see what passersby would do. Much later, I turned 28 in New York, and had a magically good time with Shaun while we visited Dan and Tenessa and Jeni and David and Kelly. I bought flowers in the street and felt very Carrie Bradshaw long before Carrie Bradshaw.

2. Washington DC: another Lutheran Campus Ministries spring break trip, we drove through Pennsylvania in an enormous ice storm that had semis jackknifing around us and the ice built up so thick on our wiper blades I had to reach out the window and snap it off. Jess was with on this trip, too, and during the worst of the storm we ended up in different vans, and I started hyperventilating, getting all Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens over the situation. We visited Gettysburg, created our own mixed drink (named the Minnesota Monument, after the Minnesota Infantry who suffered 82% casualties but still held the line), and saw the great opulence and poverty that is our nation's capital. On this trip, we slept on thin, hard mattresses in a church basement, and ate peanut butter sandwiches and a small green apple for lunch everyday. It was a good way to see the city.

3. New Orleans, Louisiana: I've been to N'awlins twice, both times with my college jazz band, the second time with my kid sister. I totally fell in love with this city, so different from anywhere else on earth, with its own culture and history and stifling humidity. Getting to play jazz in this city will remain one of the greatest honors of my life. We saw the Mississippi Delta, mansions and shotgun houses and razor wire and big dogs that threw themselves at the courtyard gates as we walked by. It drips of decadence and history and it's very, very sexy. It is one of the places I most want to go back to.

After the 9/11 attacks and Katrina, I was starting to feel a little like the cosmos was trying to wipe every major city Jess and I had visited off the map. Which was kind of freaky. She assured me this was not the case. Probably.

4. Las Vegas: faithful readers, you know how I feel about Sin City: I've been three times, and each time got its own blog post or two. And I understand the artifice, and the wastefulness, and the ridiculousness of it all. There are those who love Vegas, and those who can't stand it, and not a lot of inbetween types. By god, I'm glad to be in the lovin' it camp. There is nothing better than being in Vegas with a little money in your pocket, people you like to be with, and a good lipgloss. Nothing better on earth.

There have been other cities, of course: Minneapolis & St. Paul, Winnipeg, Chicago, Estes Park, Colorado...but those first four above were momentous trips, trips I'll be talking about as an old woman, trips that make me want to pack up the Scion and drive. Maybe I'll send you a postcard, sometime.

Where have your favorite places been?

(Oh, and don't forget, there's still time for you to enter the FABULOUS 400th POST giveaway. Comment on that post, not this one. You know you want to. You could WIN!)

17 November 2010


Oh, my darlings. Today is momentous because it is my 400th post on Languishing: the Blog. In my time in blogland, I've seen blogs rise and fall, seen many friends start blogs just to post pictures (which is awesome), seen a few friends kick themselves for not posting more often (which just means they care too much: be like me! Say crap! It's all good), and considered all sorts of pros and cons and ins and outs and stalagmites and stalagtites. I still sometimes read posts old out loud to Shaun and giggle, or shake my head and hover over the delete button, but here we are at Four. Hundred. Posts. That's more than one a day for a year. Except it took me almost 5 years. But still! That's an average of 80 posts a year! Which is more than one a week! Which is a lot better than I'd thought I'd do, considering my extreme laziness and determination to fail at most things.

To celebrate FOUR. HUNDRED. POSTS, I'm hosting a giveaway. It is not enormous, because we here at Languishing are not wealthy people. We are simple people with simple needs, and assume our readers are also simple. So you will get a 5x7 print of one of my photographs, a yet-to-be-determined stuffed creature (do you like voo-doo dolls? Or snails? Because that's what I've got, pretty much), a pair of lovingly handcrafted earrings, and probably some glitter if I can fit any in the envelope I send to you. To win, leave a comment on THIS post, and I will use the Random Number Generator to chose a winner.  One entry per person, please, because we play fair here in Languishingland. Comments will close at 11:59pm on Friday, November 19th, 2010.

But WAIT! Because this is the Four Hundreth Post, I'm going to give away not one but TWO prizes. The second prize will be another copy of one of my 5x7 prints, and extra glitter. TWO PRIZES! 400 POSTS! I was told there would be no math.

To get a bonus entry (BONUS ENTRY!), in your comment, give me an idea for a future post: what do you want me to write about? What is it about Languishing that you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask? If you give me an idea, any idea, even if it's lame, I will count your entry twice (twice!) and, on a lovely piece of stationery, keep track of it all so the Random Number Generator can do its magic and you will have twice (twice!) the chance to win. I'll explain the details of the Lovely Piece of Stationery later, and probably post a photo, too, so no one accuses us of anything untoward.

I love the word untoward.

Anyhoo, get commenting! Big prizes! No whammies! Please, I do this blog for you, gentle readers. Let me give two of you presents for reading. Leave me a comment (with some way I can reach you, if I don't have that already). FOUR HUNDRED POSTS. Seriously. Let's party.

ps: You can win even if you're related to me, because I always think that's sad when employees and families of employees can't win. Plus, I'm addicted to comments.


14 November 2010

List #5: Things I love about V

That last list was kind of a downer, wasn't it? Let's try a more upbeat topic this time.

I know that most every parent thinks their child is the best one yet, at least some of the time. We're no different. Here are some of my favorite things about V lately.

1. She can read really, really well. She uses inflection and reads dynamically and it's really fun to hear.

2. She loves dancing. She just loves to spin and swing her arms and stomp her feet. I know in a couple of years she'll be too self-conscious to dance like that, but for now it's just absolutely beautiful.

3. She draws in that perfect 5 year old way right now. She's just started adding fingers to the circles she calls hands. I very much want to have one of her self-portraits from the last year or so tattooed on my ankle.

4. When she says she really, really wants something (like a new toy), she's completely satisfied if I tell her we'll put it on her birthday or Christmas list.

5. She plays things obsessively, over and over. She's still loving Alice in Wonderland, and lately we've been playing Spirited Away meets Alice in Wonderland meets everybody in the whole world. As you can imagine, with such a large cast, these conversations can go on and on and on and on and on.

6. She is usually kind. She likes to talk about all the people she loves, and we've been working on our holiday gift list lately. She is gentle more often than not, and I love that.

7. She's the least picky eater I know. She's not crazy about chicken, unless it's a chicken leg, but otherwise she'll eat most foods most of the time. Carrots, peas, spinach, potatoes, apples, kiwi, strawberries, bananas, cheeseburgers, smoothies...plus, she's almost always hungry, so this flexibility is helpful.

8. She has an amazing memory. She remembers things clearly from 2 years ago, when she was only 3, which freaks me out a little. She remembers people she's met only once, and places we visited for just a short time.

9. She thinks her Daddy and I are the best people on earth. I have no illusions that this will last forever, but as for right now, it's a tremendous honor. She thinks we know all the answers. I wish we did, for her.

She drives me crazy sometimes, sure. She is an only child, and usually certain the whole world waits for her to show up. But she is gentle and hilarious and silly, and she is ours, and we are so lucky.

13 November 2010

List #4: Things at which I suck

Since no one objected to list #3, and it actually received (gasp!) comments, welcome to list #4.

One of my greatest joys of reading blogs is also my greatest annoyance: I love to see all the cool stuff people do with their homes, lives, hobbies, kids, etc., but it sometimes makes me feel inadequate and lazy. I mean, apparently, while I'm sitting around reading about organization and creativity, other people are busy PRACTICING these things. And in blogs, these little bite-sized pieces of shiny lives, it can sometimes feel like my grungy self is just too lame for blogland.  I don't want you to feel like my life is all glamorous and magical compared to yours.

I originally was going to title this list "Things I love about V" (and I'll do that one sometime, probably), until I realized it would be kinda sappy, and too much  sappy makes me tired. So here's a non-sappy list to help you feel better about your lives.

1. Purging stuff. Actually, I like cleaning (scrubbing the kitchen sink is a favorite activity), but I rarely take the time to do it, partly because I have so much unorganized stuff. When my friend Johanna first came over, her response was "I just want to buy you some baskets or something." I like stuff. I like to have it around me, like a cocoon. A bare kitchen table tends to make me a little nervous. Now, having said that, I know that this clutter is not what's best for the whole family. I'm working on it.

2.  Patience.  I truly am one of the most impatient people I know. When I'm waiting for a train (which is almost every day, in this town), I have to get all meditative and remind myself to take deep breaths. Or do a U-turn and drive 20 blocks to the nearest underpass. And I have to literally sit on my hands when V's learning something new (like zipping her coat) to allow her the extra time it takes to do it. What's wrong with me?

3. Names. I used to be awesome at names. When I first started teaching, I could learn 125 names in a week and remember them all semester and beyond. Now, I'm lucky if I learn 125 names in the whole term, and the day I turn in grades, all those names fall right out of my brain. I still care for my students the same amount: I still desperately want them to succeed and have full rich lives and all that. I just cannot remember their names. The women are usually Amanda or Heather, and the men are all Jake. At least in my mind.

4. Resisting temptation. Though #1 on my list is a need to purge stuff, I am constantly tempted by the lovely thrift shops in our area. I'm also troubled by people who don't subscribe to my thrift store passion. I mean, I don't understand them. My sister points out that when you need something specific for your kids, thrift stores are not the most efficient way to get it, necessarily. But for example, in early October, she and I were both looking for winter gear for our kids. She found two lovely snowsuits (actually coats and snowpants sets) at TJ Maxx for her son and daughter, at around $30 a piece. But I just couldn't bring myself to spend that much. That same evening, I went to Saver's by myself and found brand new (still with tags) snowpants, in the exact size V needs, for $4. I know I was lucky, and this doesn't happen every time (she's still wearing last year's coat, for example, until I find one to go with the $4 pants), but I totally felt like I won. The key is to only buy what we need, and not just embrace every bargain/cool thing I run into. Ach.

5. Voices. This may seem like a small thing, but in this house, the ability to mimic is tremendously valued. Shaun has this skill, and V is exhibiting it quite early. I, on the other hand, can't even do a decent British accent. Or a southern accent. Or anything but a Minnesota accent. Shaun reads to V before bed most nights, and they develop these elaborate characters with which, when it's my turn to read, I just can't compete. Sigh.

6. Practicing Creativity. Well, I don't really suck at this. I just haven't been able to find much time for it. I should sew every day, should be elbow-deep in Christmas gift makings, but instead I just write silly blogposts. In all likelihood, I'll wait to start my gift making marathon until grades are turned in, around December 17th. It is unlikely to end well.

7. Optimism. I'm actually excellent at this, but it often trips me up, because I think it'll all work out in the end, and sometimes it doesn't. This is why I'm disappointed every single time a student cheats, because I'm so certain they won't do it. This time.

8. Coming up with 9 things I suck at. How much does that suck, to suck at describing what I suck at?

There, see? Don't you feel better? Yeah, me neither.

10 November 2010

Makeover reveal

We've done this before. And it was fine. But every time we go from this

 to this
I get a little nervous. It's just...it's such a big change. But man, she STILL hates having her hair combed, and it was starting to get rat-nesty, and her shorter hair is adorable and makes her look like she's ten years old or something crazy. When I was five, and got my long hair all cut off (and I mean ALL), I wanted long hair again for the next ten years. Before falling asleep every night, after I'd said my prayers, I'd wish for a genie to offer me three wishes, and my first one was always, always to have waist-length hair again.

But V is not me (though I hated having my hair combed, too), and though she says she likes her hair, she really just doesn't seem to notice much. She's got her father's vanity, maybe, or penchant for low-maintainence. Whichever. I'm just thankful we don't have to try to struggle through hairbrushing anymore, and she's not obsessively thinking of a magic genie.

At least, I don't think she is.

08 November 2010

List #3: Films I Could Watch Over and Over

What, you're tired of lists already? No? Good. Me neither.

1. The Princess Bride: I know it's a cliche, and I don't care. When I first met Shaun, he had never seen this, and while we were watching it, he poked fun at something or other, and I blew up at him. Apparently I'm terribly protective of my favorite movies.

2. Strictly Ballroom: a gorgeous movie. Truly. Australian. Ballroom dancing. If you haven't seen it, you really should. Fran is so a grand heroine.

3. Harold and Maude: Okay, so not everyone loves this movie, but everyone should. Like The Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life, and The Wizard of Oz, we should all watch this movie at least once a year. It's kind of like Dead Poet's Society, but better. Much better.

4. West Side Story: I mean, obviously. Music, dancing, New York City, Jets and Sharks....

5. Frida: I love Salma Hayek, and I love Frida Kahlo even more. I know this movie is not perfect, but I think it's lovely in many, many ways. I love the gold powder on the trolley.

6. Like Water for Chocolate: A critique of tradition, and in some ways of romantic love. This movie makes me happy when I have time to sit down and enjoy it: the musicality, the humor, the food...

7. Raise the Red Lantern: I saw this in college; it was my first subtitled movie. It is gorgeous and haunting and sad and Chinese.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird: There's not much sexier than Atticus Finch shooting a rabid dog. Or maybe that's just me.

9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: All the others were so serious, I had to add a comedy. This one is so over the top ridiculous, it's hard not to laugh all through this movie. My favorite is how Ron Burgundy curses. For example, "Great Odin's Raven!"  It's brilliant.

I don't get to go to movies very often, so when I do, I'm mostly just happy to be out at a bona fide theater. I enjoyed Beverly Hills Chihuahua, for heaven's sake. But these nine are all very, very dear to my heart. What're your favorite movies?

07 November 2010

List #2: Things I Love About Tenessa

My dearest friend turns 35 today. We had a campaign kick-off for her run for president (which, as you know, you can't be unless you're at least 35) last night, with cheese and cupcakes and meatballs and pumpkin cake rolls and Strongbow. It was all I'd ever dreamed of for a presidential campaign, and I think she has a good shot to win in 2012.

Anyway, I wanted to write another list post today, but every other topic seems silly, since it's TG's birthday and whatnot.

1. She had a Simpson's Rainbow wedding. Really. I didn't get to be a bridesmaid, but still...
2. She and her husband introduced me to Shaun. and Liz Phair. and fresh mozzerella. and Tenacious D. and cider. and our friends Susanne, and Carla, and Andrea, and Kelly, and Sarah, and Robby, and...the list goes on and on.
3. The day I fell in love with her, we were in our Margaret Atwood class and she was wearing a hunter green shirt with dogs all over it. On purpose.
4. When she lived in NYC, she had Margaret Atwood sign a copy of Oryx and Crake for me.
5. When I'm with her, I often laugh until my stomach hurts and my face aches from grinning.
6. When I'm freaking out (which doesn't happen as often as you might think, surprisingly), I can call her (even at work) and she will make me feel better. Every. time.
7. She really loves V, and vice versa.
8. She's in the process of raising 2 awesome sons. They love V too.
9. She's cool, tall, vulnerable, and luscious.

Happy birthday, my friend. Don't forget us when you're President.

02 November 2010

List #1: Inanimate objects that always make me smile

Inspired by this post, from a blog I've just recently stumbled upon. I'm going to make some lists.

1. Our Scion. I can't help it. I feel bad almost everytime it makes me smile, because I think "Love people, use things." But I love that car.

2. Sandalwood candles. It's more about the smell than the sight, here, but I enjoy a nice sandalwood.

3. The peony in our backyard. It means summer has arrived.

4. V's school pictures. I love some of the pictures I or others take of her, but there's something so timeless about school photos, it melts my heart.

5. My sister's family's dog, Rocket. (He's not at all inanimate, but c'mon...). Someday, we're going to get us a dog. Someday.

6. Dead squirrels. I know that this probably means I'll have life-long bad karma, and I don't care.

7. My mother-in-law's massive lotion collection. It changes every time we go there, because she uses it everyday. She has an intervention-worthy obsession with lotion, I swear.

8. A big field of sunflowers.

9. The number 9. It's been my favorite number since 5th grade, when I was student #9 on our classroom list, where we would take the little disc with our name and number on it and move it if we went to the restroom or to get a drink or whatever else we could do unattended in 5th grade. I like it because it's 3 squared, and it's not seven, which is an obvious lucky number, and it's not 10, which is boring. Don't you think?

Trick or Treat, dammit.

This year, again, V and I went to Hendrum to trick-or-treat. Actually, last year I just dropped her off: so this year, I got to go along. I suppose it's normal, since Hendrum is the only town I ever trick or treated in, but it just doesn't seem like Hallween to me if we're not there.
First we had pizza at Jess and Brad's, and then we got costumed up, and struggled to take a group picture (V's feeding Emmy pretend candy).
And then we went. Alice in Wonderland, a dragon, and a puppy ran up and down the wee town's deserted streets, stormed into people's houses (which is okay, since we all know each other, but a little weird), usually said "Thank you" and laughed and ate and said together "Trick-or-Treat!" in that cute sing-songy little kid way.

No, I didn't make V's costume, and I have plenty of mama guilt for it, thankyouverymuch. But we bought it Menard's (you know, the costume mecca) for $9, and I cannot sew a dress for that kind of money, seriously. Besides, she clearly has a bad attitude. I can't be expected to wrangle that AND sew a costume.

My dear little hometown came through with a sweet, fun, candy-laden Halloween once again. Hope yours was good, too!

28 October 2010


I had a boatload of cousins around me growing up, and they were like siblings, but better, because we never had to share a room or a parent. So I'm always happy when V gets to hang out with one or more of her four cousins. Will, at 17 days her junior, is the closest to her in age, and they get to hang out fairly often.

 She is headstrong and determined, but when she's around Will she often lets him lead. Here, they're playing POP THE BUBBLES! which must be spoken loudly and with great excitement. They do a good job trading back and forth, deciding what to play and how, and though they do fight sometimes, they usually get over it quickly. Since V won't likely ever have a brother or sister, her cousins are the ones who will remember her childhood with her.

They really love each other. I'm so glad.

23 October 2010

Pumpkin party!

Our dear friend Carla threw a pumpkin carving party in her garage today, and between us all, we carved 17 pumpkins. No one got hurt (except the pumpkins), we had delicious hot dish, and a whole lot of fun.
Kate, on the left, above, grew and tended the pumpkin patch from whence all 17 came. 'Cause that's how we role in Hendrum.
 Here's Chelsey, who missed a Bison game to be with us today. I remember the day she was born. In fact, I remember the day her parents got married. In fact, I remember the day her father graduated from high school. In fact, oh, hell, this could go on all day.
 This was the first pumpkin V and I carved. I did a lousy job of angling the knife to make sure the top wouldn't fall in, but inside was the loveliest pumpkin flesh I've ever seen. It wasn't slimy at all, but sort of fluffy, and pale yellow.
 I've long been a traditionalist when it comes to pumpkin carving, avoiding those fancy-schmancy cutting kits, but Carla had a whole collection of fantastic patterns. The pumpkin next to Kristen up there, the first pumpkin on the left in the top row? That's ours.
 The second one we carved is the one on the left in the third row, by Chelsey's seasonally inappropriate flip-flops. It's a 5-toothed monster. It was much more complicated (he was supposed to have 6 teeth), but still fun. 
The only picture I got of Carla that she'd let me put on the blog. Actually, I didn't check with her on this one, but since it's not of her backside I figure we're good. Thanks for a lovely day, lovely tatertot hotdish, and lovely company, dear friends. I like how y'all roll in Hendrum.

18 October 2010

When someone you love has cancer: a list of things to do besides scream all day long

As I mentioned here, cancer is not new in my family, but it's never been quite this close to me before.  When my dad had his stroke, when I was 12, he went from the head of the family to needing almost total care overnight, and that's as close of a model as I have for this kind of crisis. And that model sucks, in general, but especially for this situation. My in-laws, Mary and David, are handling the day-to-day details of Mary's breast cancer and subsequent chemo on their own. We live only 90 miles away, but it feels like half a country some times. There is little enough we can do, really, to make a difference, except pray, which we're generally not into. So I've been working on how I can be a loving, helpful daughter-in-law and not get underfoot at the same time. Here's what I've been doing.

1. Sending cards. This one seems obvious, but I've been sending roughly a card a day. At first I bought cards, but that, as you can imagine, gets expensive. Plus the Get Well cards are too close to the Sympathy cards for my liking. So I've been making cards. I went to Michael's and got an 8 pack of pre-cut and folded cards for $1, glued in some of the fancy paper I had lying around the house, and wrote something funny. About 20 times. Well, they're not all funny, and sometimes I found quotes on the internet of hope or whatnot, but mostly I'm trying to brighten Mary's day, which is filled, often, with naps and worry and appointments and, in the last week, the loss of all her hair. Here are some of the themes addressed in the cards I've sent:
  • Beautiful bald people (Yul Brenner, Mary, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, etc...)
  • Good things about chemo (ice cream for breakfast and still lose weight! no need to shave your legs!)
  • Strength (you've done lots of things harder than this: been married for over 40 years, raised 3 crazy kids, taught in public schools, had me to put up with for 10 years, braved downtown Vegas...)
  • Quotes (In one card, I put the quote "If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come" on the outside, and on this inside I wrote "but he'll just shit all over everything, and who'll clean that up?")
I've also tried to remind my side of the family, who love Mary so much, to remember that she does like cards. They're actually pretty good about that stuff, but it helps to hear from me that they're important. Mail really does make a difference when, as Mary said "every day feels like a year right now."

2. Calling. This one can get a little tricky. It's so hard for me, because I talk to my family several times a day, but in Shaun's family it's not unusual to go weeks or more without any contact at all. With Mary having cancer, I've just decided that 72 hours is my absolute limit. For awhile after chemo started, I was calling everyday, just because I so wished I was there and could help, but I think it got a bit much (sorry, Dave). Every 2 or 3 days is good, too, because then we have new things to talk about.

3. Visiting. Even trickier than calling, it's hard for chemo patients to know how they'll feel in 2 hours, much less 2 days. For Mary, her main side effect seems to be exhaustion (and alopecia. isn't that a pretty word?). I would like to drive out and see her everyday, and bring her cookies and tell her knock knock jokes, but that is neither practical nor especially helpful. In the past, before cancer, we almost always stayed 2 nights or more at the lake. It's a 90 minute drive each way, and there's room for almost everyone in the family to stay over at any given time. But just because we can stay over doesn't mean we should.  We are especially careful to check with David before announcing any travel plans. I do hope in the coming weeks we can have some day trips out there and back. Just visiting for a couple of hours really wears Mary out, so I will try to make it so that we're also providing something more: food, for example, or other necessities. I might do the grocery shopping for the week for them, or the laundry. This way I can help David, too, who as Mary's main nurse is working damn hard these days.

4. Presents. Speaking of food, it's often hard to know what to give cancer/chemo patients. Many have little or no appetite, but many also suffer from weight loss, so small, delectable things can be especially lovely. Not too rich, because of nausea, but, say, a nice milk chocolate selection, or a cheeseball. One friend brought ribeyes just before chemo started, when Mary still had an appetite (and totally made the rest of us look bad. You know who you are). Flowers are nice, too, but Mary's allergies keep her from enjoying fresh flowers most of the time. When Dave and Mary couldn't come to V's birthday party, we showed up later that day with party hats in hand: last time we were there, the hats were still hanging on the closet door. Other gifts I've sent or considered:
  • thank-you cards. Early on after her diagnosis, we received a beautiful handmade thank you card from Mary, thanking us for our support and junk. Which was lovely. But I knew that with chemo, she would just not have the energy to maintain production of these, so I sent her a pack of 10 thank yous and two gel pens I bought at Michael's. Everyone loves new stationery, and between naps, she can dash off a note or two as she feels like it. And if she doesn't feel like it, that's okay, too.
  • a silk pillowcase (alopecia often causes a sensitive scalp, and satin or silk is recommended on many websites). V and I made her one from some really nice heavy sea-green silk, and I hope it brings her many sweet dreams.
  • lotions. Mary has a lotion obsession, and even though she's exhausted I'm sure she's finding a way to use good lotions. (I'd be careful of especially smelly ones, though, because sometimes strong smells can trigger nausea, too).
  • silk scarves or kid's hats. My cousin Erin, a two-time cancer survivor, mentioned that she found her wig was totally a waste of time and money, but she felt quite pretty in a fancy silk scarf, artfully tied around her head. And she also said that kid's hats work better on women's heads, especially without hair: they fit better, and just look more cute. V and I have chosen a great one to bring to Grandma next time we visit. Hopefully she'll let us take pictures!
I hope no one you love ever gets cancer, but chances are they will. If so, I hope these ideas help you. It's a whole different thing to be a primary caregiver (like David) than it is to be a secondary support person, but both jobs are so important.  I hope when chemo is over we will all be able to spend long periods of time together, and eat cheeseball, and drink cheap beer, and write a bunch of thank you cards for all the love the family has received on this sucky journey we're on.

I'm off to make some more cards. Suggestions are welcome: we take cancer seriously, but humor more seriously. Thanks for reading.