28 February 2010

Why Squirrels Are Not Our Friends

Truly devoted readers will recognize the following rant from the second issue of Languishing (the old school version, in paper form) EVER PRINTED, ca. 1995. The photos are new, from a recent weekend at the in-laws.

Many of you, dear readers, spend time on college campuses, where for some reason squirrels tend to be more plentiful than in other places. This article is vital for you: for you and your loved ones' safety, read on.

Squirrels are wild animals. They pretend they're not, but they are. People even build them little chairs which they nail to trees and set corn cobs on. As if giving them their own furniture will keep them from chewing out the baby's eyes if you give them a chance.

Squirrels have eyes on the sides of their heads, and they will sit and watch college students on both sides of them all day long. They are actually really really bitter that students are always walking on their lawn and sidewalks. It's only a matter of time before they snap and invade our dorms and classrooms. I will not be responsible for the ensuing carnage. You have all been warned.Squirrels have big sharp teeth and jaws built to gnaw. Just think of how many squirrels have come dangerously close to your ankles. Need I say more? Well, I will.

Squirrels are rodents. Rodents will eat their young. And that is just not right.

Now, I'm not saying we should annihilate squirrels. I'm just saying we need to be more careful. Don't feed squirrels. They just want to gain your trust: it's just a matter of time before they move from their chair on the tree to your LaZBoy. Protect yourself. Wear thick socks all the time. Walk fast, or better, run or skip.

And never, ever, fall asleep outside. It's just not safe, I tell you.

24 February 2010


I haven't spent much time thinking through this post, so bear with me.

Tenessa, my dear friend, called yesterday to tell me her father died. It was unexpected, and he was only 57, and they are understandably heartbroken. He was a kind, loving father and grandfather, and the world is truly a darker place without him.

And it sucks, knowing someone you care for is hurting on that profound level. It's hard going about my day, making grilled cheese sandwiches, thinking of Tenessa and her brother picking out funeral songs. It's hard listening to my student explain that he's just too busy to come to class when someone I love is writing an obituary.

I really think we should talk more, as a society, about how hard it is to lose a parent. Grandparents are hard, too, but they are people you expect to lose, really, before you yourself are old. But parents, gak. There's just such an ache left behind, a feeling of something missing, and it doesn't seem to ever go away. When my dad died, I kept thinking "Why didn't anyone tell me how hard this would be?" Maybe people had, but it's one of those things you don't really understand until you experience it.

When my Grandma Beulah, my mother's mother, died, I was 16, and I remember being genuinely sad, but also relieved. She had been ill, near the end, and her suffering was over. I pointed this out to my mom soon after the funeral. I can still hear her response. "I know, Jenny, but golly, I miss her."

I'm so sorry, Tenessa and Tommy and everyone else who is hurting today. I'm sorry, and it's awful, and I'm glad I got to know your dad, just a little bit.

21 February 2010

Rusty winter things

I've never taken a photography class. In fact, the only art class I've taken of any sort was bookbinding, and though I absolutely loved it, I knew even then that I was way out of my league. I can't begin to talk about texture, balance, sight lines....not in any real way. But I'm trying to learn. I look at flickr, and The Pioneer Woman, a blogging icon, has some great stuff on self-taught photography on her photography page.
And I take pictures. Lots and lots. Weekends at the lake, I sometimes take 400 photos, and of those, maybe 20 are worth keeping. If I'm lucky.
Family is an obvious topic, and I have lots of pictures of V and her grandparents and her aunts, uncles, and cousins. But sometimes I want to wander outside and see what I can see.
My untrained eye is never sure where to start, but I like to look for things that aren't normally something I focus on (like vacant churches), and in the winter, I try to find texture among all the snow. I've tried photographing individual snowflakes, which is an admirable goal, I think, but ridiculously hard to execute. So when I was at the in-laws last weekend, I gravitated toward the old clothesline posts.

I know these photos are far from perfect: there's often distracting stuff in the background, and some of the angles are so wonky it's distracting.

But I like the rust, and all the textures and colors. I love the frayed rope, and the aging knots, and the light of the early afternoon.

More than anything, that's why I like taking pictures. Because I like them. I may not win any awards, or illustrate any semblance of expertise, but I still like what I've captured here.

Car culture

We've been a one-car family since the Buick Century blew a head gasket in '07 and would cost $1100 to fix. We just couldn't stomach that kind of repair on a car that wasn't completely necessary. V was still wee then, and Shaun was a stay-at-home dad with part time work, and my teaching schedule helped us just trade off the Mazda. It meant that when Shaun worked weekends, V and I were either stuck here or had to break out the stroller, and when I was teaching, Shaun and V had to wait for me to bring milk home after class or walk the 8 blocks to Hornbacher's.
But then V started pre-school (a year and a half ago, now) and my classes started coming around 1pm instead of 3, which made things considerably more complicated. Plus V wanted to play with folks on the weekends, and when Shaun was working, V's friends either had to come here or we were out of luck. And when we did travel anywhere, to the cities or the in-laws, for example, I was a little bit nervous in the Mazda: I bought that car new in 2001, and I still love it, but with 174,000 miles on it, it just seemed like too much of a gamble sometimes, being 200 miles from home with a child in the backseat of that car. So I consulted with my car-loving cousin, Jonathan, and we talked about what we wanted in a car (a bit more room, but not mini-van level; reliability; low miles), what I wanted (something unusual, with good mileage), and what Shaun wanted (an automatic!). I found this 2008 Scion xB at a dealership 34 blocks from our house, and after test driving Beth and Chris (Shaun's sister and her husband)'s Scion, I was pretty well sold. The Scion xB is listed as a wagon, but it's kind of like a shrunken mini-van: the seats are upright, and the backseat is way roomier than our Mazda Protege, which is hugely important when your 4 year old is taller than average and has a kicking habit.
It's the kind of car that people either think is repulsive or awesome; I'm in the awesome camp, though many of my closest family members disagree. I'm just happy that I can go grocery shopping now anytime I'm not at work, regardless of where Shaun needs to be. And this gold color is soooo easy to spot in a parking lot. I just really like it.

At the same time, I feel totally indulgent and also grateful that my job allows this new expense. I promise to take good care of it, and if any one of you needs a ride, you should let me know.
Now, with this fancy car, I found myself drawn to the car accessories aisle at Target. There I found lots of extra cup holders (which we don't need), CD cases (which I bought), and a fabric trash holder for $17.99 (which I find ridiculous). So I came home and made one instead.

I like the idea of a fabric trash bag because I would do anything to keep this car reasonably clean, and I have that serious fabric obsession we've discussed. Plus, unlike the Target version, I could chose colors and materials myself, and get the exact size I wanted. I chose a mid-weight upolstry fabric for the outside, and some rip-stop nylon for the inside, all of which I had in my sewing room. This made a tough, lovely bag that was also totally washable. What's not to like about that? I gave it a pocket (because who doesn't love pockets?) and I sewed on an elastic loop to connect it to the back of the passenger's headrest: I can easily reach it while driving (and V can keep her area tidy, too).
Here you can see the rip-stop lining. Rip-stop is fairly thin but totally durable, and even if I toss my scissor collection in there, it won't ruin the bag.

What I liked about the Target version was that it had a rigid circle on top, so it's easy to throw small or large things in. But how to replicate that at home? At first I thought I'd wrangle a wire hanger, or even bend some thin plywood. But down in my craftroom, I found an oval embroidery hoop that was the perfect size. I just unscrewed it and slid it through the casing, then screwed it shut again. And then, though the lining is waterproof, I thought "Why not use the other half of the hoop, and make cleanup even easier?" and attached a plastic grocery sack. It's not as aestetically pleasing, I think, and I try really hard to use reusable grocery bags, so we may run out of these as liners, but for now, I'm awfully proud of myself.

And since I saved $17.99 on this project, I think I'm going to try to find a nice hula dancer for the dashboard. Or something. Maybe if I took some of that leftover easter grass, and V's unplayed-with barbie doll....

18 February 2010

Quilty McQuilterson

I am prouder of this quilt than perhaps any other one I've ever made. It is the first one I ever designed myself, and I made it in 2001, at the first quilt retreat after 9-11, and slept under it on Saturday night (this is a big accomplishment, non-quilting people). It's based on the bullseye quilt, with layers of fabric sewn on top of each other, with seams left ragged. Like the bullseye, it looks way more complicated than it is. The fabrics are 100% cotton, with a cotton batting, making this a medium to light-weight quilt.
Within a year of making this quilt, Shaun and I got engaged, bought a house, Shaun got fired, we got married, adopted a dog (who rudely chewed three holes in this quilt, which I promptly patched) and my dad died. It was a wild year.
And now this quilt is almost nine years old. Nine years! I've slept under it every night I've been home since that first night at quilt retreat. The blue and yellow are for Sweden, where my grandfather proudly hailed from. I'm more of a red-orange kind of girl, but I wanted something soothing for my bed, and this quilt brought me many sweet dreams.

It's far from perfect: some of the squares are glaring at me even in these photos (gold check, I'm looking at you) and you can see it's finally falling apart. I doubt it will make it to age 10. I should start work, soon, on a replacement for it, because it has served me well.

14 February 2010

So many posts, so little time...

Oh, dear readers. I know you feel neglected. It's not that I'm not interested in you, honest. On my camera right now are photos for 4 or 5 new blog posts. In my head are the start of several more. But the work laptop got sick, and then we went out of town, and here we are, a full week of no posts and more days to go.

In the meantime, I'll tempt you with upcoming topics.
1. We got a new (to us) car! It's shiny!
2. I'm obsessed with finding the perfect airfreshener and making accessories for #1.
3. Myra had a birthday party.
4. Winter photos of rusty things. Because it's that time of year.
5. William Carlos Williams references. And maybe some Charlie Daniels. And a little Janis Joplin and Frida Kahlo, to show how balanced I am.

So stay tuned, Languishers! There is more to come! And when I can provide photos again, I won't have to rely on exclamation points to keep you reading! Think of the adventures we'll all have together!

07 February 2010

Wolf Moon

Last weekend was the Wolf Moon, the brightest full moon of the year. V and I were on our way to Grandma and Grandpa's while the moon was rising. I know the landscape is dull here, but it's the best shot I got of the moon. (And why would I crop for you? You think I have nothing to do but make your experience here easy??)I love the whole moon-through-the-trees shots. Which wasn't easy, considering I was taking photos while driving. (I don't recommend this). This one's obviously too blurry, but I like that you can see the snow-covered branches. And this one shows just how brilliantly bright this moon was. Wolf moon, indeed.

Okay, okay.

Winter, we get it. You're the toughest season. You can make us stay home, strand us in a ditch, or even kill us. You're relentless. And those 5 years or so of mild, little snow-producing winters when we first moved into this house? Just meant to get us good and lazy. Now we can barely open the door, and the birdfeeder in the backyard is buried under 3 inches of new fluffy snow. I can't find the shovel (it's buried, too), and my 4 year old is bored out of her skin.

Okay? You win, winter. 6 more weeks of you, and then you and your sidekick spring will likely flood us all to hell again. But maybe if I give you credit for your brutishness, you'll back off a bit. Or at least let up for a couple days. I'm starting to get claustrophobic.

05 February 2010

Life skills

We bought an old typewriter for $5 the other day. It has its own case, and a good ribbon, and came with instructions.So V is learning to type, in case her singing/recorder-playing career doesn't pan out. She types like she plays the piano: quickly and enthusiastically. Accuracy be damned.

I think that may be how Virginia Woolf started, actually.