28 December 2011


When my sister moved into her little house, long before she met Brad, and long, long before either of us planned to become mothers, I told her that the little door under the stairs in her new little house was where the gnomes lived. She laughed politely, then went on with her life, painting over the little door.

Soon after, the gnomes started appearing.

 Most of them live outside, in the garden. A few live in the mini-van. For awhile, they sent her letters, imploring her to find them girl gnomes they could date/court/play cards with.
 I've given her books on how to survive gnome uprisings, histories of gnomes, and so on and so forth. Mostly, I think, she rolls her eyes at me and hopes I'll give up soon, stop defending the gnomes.

I just want her to coexist peacefully with her gnomes. I'd hate for them to start getting mischievious again, showing up in unusual places, rummaging around in places they don't belong...

I'm just saying. Gnomes are serious business.

25 December 2011

Adventures in Gift Making

The 6 year old girl child asked only for Rapunzel-based gifts this year. She received many other things, but she really, really wanted a dress like Rapunzel's. "It doesn't even have to be exact, Mama, so long as it's purple." For you non-Tangled viewers, here's Disney's Rapunzel, in costume:
Such a dress can be purchased, of course, but without special ordering, most stop at size 6x. My 6 year old girl child is in the 90+percentile for both height and weight in her age category, so she has long since outgrown such a thing. Besides, store bought Disney dresses are always made from cheap, crappy satin that runs/deteriorates faster than the child learns to fasten the velcro. So I went to the fabric store and bought 2 yards of lavender knit. "Use a pattern, Jenny!" my mother implored. But why would I listen to her?
 Lace from my immense fabric stash, sewn on the hem of the dress. (I actually attached the lace, then flipped it and topstitched it to make the hem. Because sometimes in sewing, lazy=professional looking).
My sewing machine would like to recieve full credit for this project.
 For the bodice, I chose a dark purple velour from my stash. I would've made the whole dress out of this if I'd had enough. Rapunzel's sleeves have contrasting ribbon sewn on, so I sewed on contrasting ribbon.
 Above, hemming the sleeve (with a gap to insert elastic, which will help the sleeve be appropriately poufy).
 Rapunzel's corset caused me a bit of a headache. 6 year olds don't really need sweetheart necklines, and I'm not crazy about a lacing that can get caught on stuff while she plays/swings/runs around like a crazy princess. My research led to lots of good places (that one there has photos of how the store-bought dresses wear out, along with a thorough how-to) and one of them (I can't find it, but this shows the same concept) showed the ribbons as just stitched down. I went with that. No grommets (which are fun, of course), no fuss. Well, some fuss. I made the top based on a Simplicity top I've made her a half dozen times. Then I sewed on the skirt, made from a rectangle sewn into a loop, pinning a lot.
 I should take one of it on a hanger, but here she is, all dressed up (with a scarf for Rapunzel's hair) in a dress 3 sizes too big. I'll take it in a few inches at the waist, shortening the skirt and the top, as soon as she lets me take it to the basement for a few minutes.
She's wearing it to Grandma's tonight. It was worth staying up past my bedtime for my dear little Rapunzel. Now I need to make a Flynn Rider and Mother Goethel costume for Shaun and me. Yee-haw.

24 December 2011

Holiday Lights

Once you give up trying to control photographing holiday lights, it becomes a lot more fun and Spirograph-like. The first photo is from some house on 8th Street; the last is street, tail, & stop lights on our way home. The three in the middle come from an annual display in Lindenwood park. We're not sure why Santa is riding on a brontosaurus, but we don't dislike it.

23 December 2011

Holiday philosophizing

After a lovely trip to look at the holiday lights and enjoy some Mexican Village food as a family, V and I found ourselves alone in the TV room with a little "Kung Fu Panda." She had some questions.

V: How did the world begin?
Me: Um, well, some scientist believe in "The Big Bang Theory..."
V: What do humans believe?
Me: Uh, scientists ARE humans.
V: Oh.
Me: ...and some people believe that a God created the whole universe and...
V: Yep, that's what I think. I think he made the whole world.
Me: You think there's a god, and that he's male?
V: Yep.
Me: Oh, crap.

Apparently I've not been doing my job as well as I'd hoped. Sigh. Parenting is harder than it looks.

Edited to add: The point of this post is that despite the fact that we are raising V outside of the church, she soaks it up somewhere anyway. I was raised Lutheran, and Shaun was raised Catholic, and as an anthropologist I am respectful of a wide swath of beliefs. I just hadn't expected my own child to adopt such a mainstream point of view without me teaching it to her. I didn't really say "oh crap" out loud to V, but instead told her she could believe what she liked, and everyone had a right to decide for themselves what they believed. But it's hard when your child believes something you don't. That's all I'm saying.

Fancy but blurry

We have a bit of a backlit problem in the TV room, hence these photos have all kinds of problems. But V wants to tell you about them.

 "Okay, we took pictures and did videos. The videos aren't put up yet, but they soon will be. So, as I was saying, the pictures are exciting because they are me dressed up as Rapunzel. So look at them, please.  That's it."

"P.S. Some of them are funny, because they're blurry. And I'm funny. hahahahahaha!"

21 December 2011

Rapunzel, Rapunzel...

V's been growing out her bangs for a bit, now, and usually she gets a side ponytail to keep them out of her eyes. Or sometimes, we just leave it down. But lately the tangles, oh, lord...serious squirrel-nest-like knots across the back of her poor, tender scalp.

So today we went in to Lil Whipper Snippers, where a very patient woman named Monica combed and brushed and detangled, and then cut off a good 4 inches. And then she did a lovely braid, which she called a waterfall braid.
My little post-haircut Rapunzel, weilding a brush like a weapon, because it kind of is. I hope we get a little squirrel-nest-free time out of this.

Now I need to go google "waterfall braid" so I can figure out how to do that.

14 December 2011

Vintage Top Nine List

From the print issue of Languishing, a topical top 9 list. This one is from Issue 5, Volume 4...so around 2000? Somewhere in there. It's not that I don't have new ideas; I just like sharing my old ideas with the internets, hey. V's in public school for the first time, now, and she comes home and says things  like "Why doesn't Suzette celebrate Christmas?" And I'm like, "Suzette? Well, she's probably French..." "No, she's brown." Oh, well, okay. Anyway, I don't know why Suzette doesn't celebrate Christmas, or why she's brown and/or French. But I can offer you this.

Top 9 things to Not Say to Your Atheist Friends During the Holidays

9. Does it bother you that you’re going to hell?

8. Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

7. That’s okay; the pickles are kosher.

6. You know, they used to burn people like you.

5. What’s your problem?

4. How many presents do you get with your no-god having ways?

3. Man, your childhood must’ve been awful.

2. Atheist? So, like, do you eat eggs and stuff?

1. Well then, Happy Kwanzaa.

10 December 2011

Annual Gift Ideas Post

Unlike previous years, when I would barf ideas for gifts up on the page, this year I swear I'm going to be clear and organized and intentional. Stop snickering at me. It's unbecoming.

Gift ideas for your bestest friends:  You shouldn't even be reading this. They're YOUR bestest friends, people: what could I possibly say to guide you? Oh, okay. i'll try.
  • Do something different. If you always buy them a new coffee table book, mix it up. Buy them a new coffee table (check thrift stores. V and I found several funky ones just last week), or some Sanka or something. Is Sanka still a real thing?
  • Buy them a beer sampler (Leinenkugel's has some tasty ones this time of year) and refuse to drink from it. Buy two, if you can't help yourself.
  • Consider purchasing something you can do together. A pedicure or massage, for example, as opposed to an ob/gyn appointment.  Tenessa has, over the years, gifted me things like my 1/2 of the hotel room cost when we go away for a weekend, or paying for us to go away to a meditation retreat. This ends up sort of like a gift card, though, so make sure you follow through and book that trip together.
  • Something matchy. This doesn't work as well if you work together, or if your bestie has fashion rules beyond what this allows, but if you live in different cities & aren't out in public together constantly, having identical scarves or mittens can be a warm reminder of your affection for one another.
Gift ideas for your neighbors whom you don't wish to piss off but don't really care about all that much:
  • Cookies or sweetbreads. You can't really go wrong with baked goods, because it seems like a tremendous effort, so even if they hate your cookies, they will still think you like them well enough. Wrap it up pretty and present it in person!
  • Liquor: Provided your neighbor is at least 21, liquor is often a welcome gift, unless you know they're in recovery or ought to be. A nice bottle of red wine or sparkling wine says "I thought of you. Not a whole bunch, but I did think of you."
Gift ideas for your in-laws or out-laws:  Like your best friend, I don't know your in-laws or out-laws. I will make some assumptions, but please forgive me if I'm totally off-base.  In-law/out-law relationships can be really varied. For example, you may totally adore your mother-in-law but find your cousin's wife repulsive. In this case, they may better fall into other categories (bestest friends and tolerated neighbors, respectively). You have to help me out here, people.
  • If you are new to their family, consider a safe but luxurious option. Plush towels, for example, are often a welcome addition (unless your in-laws have OCD about matching things, in which case, good luck with all that). My mother-in-law once received a cashmere sweater (not from me), which raised the bar all to hell, I tell you what. It was a very inspiring gift.
  • Along those lines, a luxurious throw that matches their couch is a lovely option, especially if their house is cold and you have to wear three pairs of pants at once to get through a family evening without shivering. Sort of a gift for yourself disguised as for them deal.
  • Food. Especially if your in-laws are hosting holiday get-together time, they will appreciate any addition to their larders. I mean, don't buy them a case of green beans (unless that's how they roll), but something that can be added to the food offerings of the weekend might be especially helpful. Consider summersausage, really great cheese, things that taste amazing on crackers. A nice whiskey or brandy or package of licorice is often a welcome offering to the patriarch, again, if'n he's not in recovery. And don't expect him to share: he might, but he might not, and that's the point of a gift, really.
  • Paper products: okay, bear with me here. You may not want to give only toilet paper to your in-laws, but if you're going there to visit, bringing over a 4 pack of TP will be a welcomed thing. Think about it: you and your brood is always going to their house on the holidays, always eating their food, always pooping in their bathroom. Who buys that toilet paper? They do. And it does not grow on trees. (well, you know what I mean). 
Gift ideas for those people you're expected to buy a gift for but just can't think of anything because you don't really know them that well or whathaveyou:We all have these people in our lives, from the mail carrier who knows about your poodle fetish, to your hairstylist who consistently talks you off the ledge every six weeks, to your child's teacher(s) & therapist(s). If you have a go-to gift in this department, I'd love to hear it, because this one tends to stump me. But here's what I know.
  • If you're gonna give a gift card, consider the broadest possible options. My sister, who used to teach pre-school, got a lot of use out of West Acres gift cards, which could be used anywhere in the mall. She got a lot less use out of the Starbucks gift cards. Which is not to say she didn't appreciate them: she just doesn't drink coffee, and it seemed like a bit of an effort was necessary to get herself over to a Starbucks not knowing if they'd have anything she'd really like.
  • At the same time, I'm all for supporting small & local businesses. A Target gift card will certainly get used, but a gift card to Zandbroz will be more memorable.
  • Another gift-card based option is an online one. Etsy's got great stuff, and a lot of etsy shops offer gift cards. Check out these places I like to drool over: a Minnesota jewelry maker, a North Dakota girl, or this shop, from Oregon, that sells prints of animals in suits. Lots of unique,  beautiful gift suggestions just in those three spots. Order soon!
  • As a teacher myself, once in awhile I do get gifts from students. Sometimes it's from an entire class (a Hello Kitty coffee maker!) or individuals (a giant tin of popcorn, a Coke and a small bag of Doritos; delicious holiday treats, food from an international student's homeland, WonderWoman socks). Because I teach college, I never expect a gift, but they are always very appreciated. In fact, I think I just listed every gift I've ever received from a student, in 12+years of teaching. So they're very rare, too.  Which means they're heartfelt. I think.
  • Because I've mentioned it in the other categories, liquor. It might seem a little awkward to present your preschooler's teacher with a bottle of rum, but seriously, if you spent all your working hours surrounded by toddlers, wouldn't you want a drink?
Gift ideas for your favorite blogger, who has an inordinate fondness for sideshows and murder ballads: Truly, I don't need anything. I'm just honored you thought of me.
  • I already have this, but I highly recommend it for people who can stomach creepy music and horrific lyrics. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Murder Ballads was a gift from my friend Dan, and I can't stop playing it, even though it's the most haunting set of songs I have ever heard.
  • If you really want to give me a gift, do some of your holiday shopping through my link at the bottom of the page here. Anything you buy at Amazon by clicking through the link on my page gives me a tiny bit of money. Ever since I put the link up four years ago, I've been raking it in: just under $2 total to date. Amazon won't even let me have the money until it gets to $10. So if you plan to shop through Amazon anyway, why not help me reach my goal?
Gifts for your favorite blogger's partner, who has anxiety issues and cardiomyopathy: Um, yeah. I don't know what to get him. You can't really buy Xanax over the counter (yet), and he's the kind of guy who just buys himself what he wants. Don't you hate that? I mostly farm out the basics (socks, underwear) to our family...which leaves me having to think of something exciting. My ideas so far (Shaun, you should totally not read this part):
  • Fancy salt-free potato chips. These actually exist. I don't pretend to understand them, but he really enjoys having junk food that won't hurt his heart immediately (as opposed to the long-term).
  • A hilarious picture of V. This is sort of a go-to gift for me to him, because she makes him laugh, and he rarely takes pictures of her. I think he's got 4 frames already on his nightstand. Hm. Maybe I need to think of something else.
  • A microwave-safe bowl just for him. We have lots of these, but he eats leftovers almost everyday, and some of our bowls get hot. Would this be a good gift? Or the kind of thing he'd lump in with the shop vac I got him for Father's Day that year? It's so hard to know.
When in doubt, ask for a gift list. Or get a book. Just wandering around a bookstore can often offer you all kinds of inspiration: they totally have books for everyone. Or the aforementioned liquor.

I know you can do it, Languishers! Think different, heartfelt, and lovely. Happy shopping.

09 December 2011

Cookie makin'

Shaun's previous cooking experience has been limited, so for his birthday, V and I got him America's Test Kitchen: Let's Get Cooking for his Nintendo DSi to help him expand his talents in the kitchen. The first recipe we tried was a smashing success!


08 December 2011

And then, out of the blue...

My last post detailed rich memories of home, but it was surprisingly not hard for me to let the place go, really. Unlike so many people, who have to say goodbye to their childhood home because of a divorce or death, my mom is in relatively good health and chosing to leave, so I'm sure that helps make it seem less like a loss.

My dad died back in 2002 (holycrapIcan'tbeliveit'sbeenalmosttenyears), but even then, he had lived in the nursing home for ten years before he died. Sorting through his stuff was difficult, but not in a home-based way. Our loss was palpable and awful, and when the Salvation Army guy asked me if I wanted a receipt I sorrowfully said "Sure, if you want to put a price on my father's life, go right ahead." (I'm their favorite donor, I bet). But it wasn't entirely unexpected, and we had grieved parts of him since the stroke in 1986.

So I was taken aback when, in cleaning out the last nooks and crannies of Mom's kitchen, I found Dad's keys. I mean, I wasn't surprised they were there. It was the kind of thing we'd set aside after the stroke, in case we needed them again. Nearly 26 years later, here they are: keys to buildings that have long since been torn down, to PO boxes we no longer rent, to paddlocks misplaced or cut off years ago.

 Below, the laundromat keys, I think. Certainly those round keys went to the washing machines we had in our basement my whole childhood.
I remember him letting me hold this ring of keys. He showed me the bolt with the tightened nut, which kept his keys lined up the way he wanted (I don't remember what the broken key went to. Maybe the old Pontiac? Probably from before then.). The front one, with the words almost worn off, was for the lumberyard's north door.
 He carried these keys in his pockets for over 30 years, and they, along with a few dollars of loose change, made him jingle when he walked. They are worn so smooth, now, they feel almost soft. Polished metal, made so solely by my father. They were a part of him.
I slid to my knees on the kitchen floor and wept, for him and for all of us.

I miss him so.