30 April 2012


If we hadn't named the girlchild V, (and if I didn't already have a cousin named Zya), we may well have chosen the letter Z. Look at it: it just looks cool. All N turned sideways, alphabet ending, nothin' more to say Z. In honor of V's almost name, let's make the final entry in April's A to Z blogging challenge a special name edition.

Zillah is the final entry in Edward Gorey's "Ghashlycrumb Tinies" (spoiler alert!): she died because she drank too much gin.
Zuzu: one of the names I liked for V, this is, I'm sure you remember, from It's a Wonderful Life: Zuzu is George Bailey's daughter. She's the one who gives him the flower petals that he puts in his pocket.
Zsa Zsa: I'm not crazy about the Gabor sisters, but I love the name Zsa Zsa. It's sexy and playful and it's just plain awesome.
Zachhaeus: He was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. Any name that packs both a Z and 3 of the 5 vowels is a good name indeed.

Thank you all for reading and commenting this month! It's been fun, and I'm taking suggestions for further daily challenges/themes. Send your ideas toward me, won't you?

You thought I wasn't gonna finish, didn't you?

Yodeling: I have a vague memory of my dad's cousin's ex-wife yodeling in a country-western style when I was about ten. Even before then, I loved the sound of yodeling. It may have started with this awesome Leroy Van Dyke song (which isn't really yodeling, but is so melodic), but we also listened to a lot of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rogers when I was growing up, and that vocal break has always been appealing to my tender ears. With the joy of the internet, YouTube will teach me how to yodel (with Bonnie) if I want, which I clearly do. I'm not quite sure what I'll do with the new, impressive talent I'm sure to develop, but karaoke night in Fargo is never gonna be the same. I sure hope Pepper has this song.

27 April 2012


I loved X the Owl as a kid, but not as much as Henrietta Pussycat. I think that's normal. (I mean, I loved Henrietta Pussycat more than I loved X the Owl, not that Henrietta Pussycat loved X the Owl more than I did. Though that's certainly possible. I always assumed X the Owl was gay, though. Poor Henrietta. Meow meow boys meow).

When we play alphabet games, V and I often resort to saying x-ray fish. They are lovely little tetra fish you can see through, sort of, but I actually like fish x-rays much more. Check out these from the Smithsonian (ah! undulating eel!).
Now, if I don't have a lengthy-ish story to tell, I like to have at least three things that start with the letter of the day, as I'm sure you've all noticed. So I had to look some up, since I didn't want to use xylophone. But how exciting! You and I both get to learn new words!

  • Xylomancy is divination by examining the wood found in one's path. Marvelous! I must learn this and practice it constantly!
  • And I'm embarrassed that I didn't know that a xiphopagus is a set of conjoined twins joined by a band of flesh on the torso (like Chang and Eng!
  • Shaun would likely suggest that around this time of the semester, I am often a xanthippe, an ill-tempered woman. Really, that's a possibility year-round. 
  • I hope I never, in any capacity in this life or the next, encounter a surgeon's instrument for scraping bones, called a  xyster. I guess I'd rather hear my surgeon ask the nurse for a xyster than a bone scraper, though, when it comes right down to it. 
I can tell by the sticks in your path that you're unlikely to be either a xanthippe or part of a xiphopagus. Congratulations! And if you do tangle with a xyster, may it be very sharp and held by steady hands. 

26 April 2012

Double-ewe: a down home collection

Wandering: I love the Tolkein quote, "Not all those who wander are lost," and when my work or home life gets too crazy, I dream of the woods by the Red River, where I used to wander for hours and hours as a kid. I followed deer trails all the way to where the Elm meets the Red, and then I'd turn around and come back. I should really ask Steve Harrington (who bought that land when I was a teenager) if I could wander there again this spring or summer.

Winnifred and Winnifred Turnipseed: My dad used to rent land from this lovely couple, named Winnifred and Winnifred Turnipseed. I know: if I hadn't met Mrs. Turnipseed myself when I was young, I wouldn't believe it either. I believe they used to farm in Traill County, and had retired and moved away and rented their land to us. Mr. Turnipseed died first (I never met him, that I recollect), leaving only one Winnifred Turnipseed. I remember that when I met her, her hair was short and white and she wore a Mickey Mouse watch, which I thought was very cool.

Wood ticks: What with all the wandering I did as a child, it should come as no surprise that I've encountered lots and lots of wood ticks. My two favorite wood tick stories: once, after picking lilacs that grew over by the railroad tracks near my hometown, I came home just covered in ticks. Well, not totally covered (ew!), but I counted until 27, and found many many more after that. My dad had fun setting them all on fire, though. Secondly, the very first time we took V to the lake, she was about six weeks old. She slept in a pack and play beside my bed, and when we woke up in the morning, I noticed a little something in her tiny, tiny ear. It was up on the top, under the crease. And since you've read this whole paragraph, I bed you already know what was there. An attached, insistent wood tick. On my precious, precious baby. I woke up my baby daddy, handed her off, and drove like a woman whose child was being devoured by a vampiric nuisance to the local drug store, where I bought a tweezers and three homemade caramels (mamas need a lot of candy, in the beginning). I removed the offending tick, considered mosquito netting for future visits, and spent the rest of the weekend on wood tick sparked adrenaline fumes.

25 April 2012

Why yes, her name is V

When Shaun and I first talked about having a baby, we agreed immediately on a name for a boy: Dewey David. In that one name, we honor both of our fathers, and there's really no argument to be had. But a girl's name? Without an obvious choice (Myra Mary or Mary Myra just didn't sing for us, and besides, they're both still alive, which makes it complicated), oh, we could not agree. 

I love fancy/old fashioned names. Sylvia, Olivia, Sophia, Zuzu...Shaun liked none of them. Old lady names, he called them, or just too strange. Isabella, Carpathia, Ruth, Eliza, Beverly....no, no, no, no, no....Finally I asked what names he liked. Something simple, he said, like Jill. Or Ann. 

Now, I have nothing against any Jills or Anns, but as a Jennifer, I know how it is to have a name that is completely unmemorable. No way was I going to name my daughter Jill or Ann. 

These exhausting discussions all happened well into our marriage. Years earlier, on our second date, he had shot down the one girl's name I have loved the most. I had wanted, for many years, to name my firstborn daughter Ruby. Somehow Tenessa was there, and told him I wanted a girl named Ruby. He immediately responded, "Ruby's the name of my toilet." 

This raised several questions for me, as you might imagine: "what kind of man names his toilet?" for starters. 

Anyway, it turns out that his toilet really was named Ruby, but that's for some other post.  My point is, Ruby was clearly not an option, though it's a lovely name.

One day, not long before we got pregnant, Shaun came home from work and said "What about a letter?" After my initial confusion, I saw he meant as a name. "You know, S. Epatha Merkerson is an actress on Law and Order. We could name our potential daughter a letter, couldn't we?" (I know now that his logic there was flawed, since her S. stands for Sharon. Harry S Truman, on the other hand, his S was just an S). So I said, "How about V? You've always loved that mini-series, right?"  And so it was decided.

I mean, that part, anyway, for us. There was some weeping and gnashing of teeth by the grandparents-to-be, and we had to chose a middle name, but this, gentle readers, is how we decided to name our daughter V. We love her so.

Kids Sewing Challenge: Days 2 and 3!

I was done with day 2 by day 2, I swear. I just didn't have time to upload the photos yesterday. (I may or may not have misplaced my camera for a day or two). 

 V's class is studying caterpillars/chrysalises/butterflies right now, so when she found this shiny butterfly fabric in my stash, she was certain she needed a dress. It's only a yard, I said. Well, a shirt then, she conceded.
 And because we were in a hurry, and I'm a rebel, and not too bright, I made it without a pattern. I folded it in half, cut a hole for her head, and slipped it on her. Then I pinned the side seams and the arm seams while she wore it (which I doubt she'll let me do again, since it caused a lot of little pokes on the way off), sewed those up, then finished the neckline and sleeve hems with a little foldover-foldover hem, and wa-la. A very pretty, non-skanky, shimmery shiny butterfly shirt.
And day three's project is less well photographed, obviously, so maybe for day 4 I'll try to get more, better pictures of day 3. But I made this hat, via Martha Stewart. It's totally reversible, and yes, that's robot fabric. Again. Anyway, I used interfacing on the orange fabric, since it's just basic quilting cotton, and I really liked how quickly and easily this came together. The brim is still a bit too floppy, but I'm envisioning a whole wardrobe of summery hats for everyone I know.

May your needles be sharp and your fabrics unwrinkled.

24 April 2012

U (yes, u)

U R Kewt: Each semester, I get more and more papers from students that use text-y words. U know? i have put in my syllabus that u cannot use letters instead of words btw, but they still do. I expect it in the first papers, bristle for the second, and by the third papers, I just stop reading the second i get to "u c?" or "cuz".  If I could tell students one thing, I would want them to know that it's insulting to me, as a teacher, when they hand in crap like that.

Undulating: Well, now, that's just a fun word, isn't it? I am afraid of eels and anemones and sea things that undulate. I don't mind strobe lights, though. So now you know. (do you like how I stopped saying u for you? Me too).

Umpteenth: I really like this word, but V prefers googol or googolplex. I try to explain to her that googol is now Google and so  no longer means what she thinks it means, but she doesn't listen to me.  I also like words like eleventeen, lots and lots, and boatloads. I especially like those words when they pertain to cream cheese based food, or time off from work. 

23 April 2012

Kids' Clothes Week Challenge: Day 1!

To take a little break from the A to Z stuff, it's also Kids' Clothes week over at elsie marley. And since I said I'd play along, here I am, playing along. I completely avoided took a break from grading this weekend to sew up a little Simplicity 1903: Toddler and Child's Romper for V. I was a little nervous, as it only goes to a size 8, and V's more in size 10 range these days, so I added the pink stripe on the side. I think it would've been fine without it (romper's aren't exactly form fitting, you know), but I do like the contrast of that pink. 

 It's a very easy pattern, with only 3 different pattern pieces: the ties, the ruffle, and the romper itself, which you cut out in four identical pieces. I'm not sure what move she's doing, below, but it's probably ninja related.
 I was going to make this is a pink linen (the child loves pink these days), but found the Best Fabric Ever at Mill End on Friday. It's an upholstery fabric, actually, from Timeless Treasures. But it feels quite like a heavier linen: it's got a nice hand to it, not too close to denim, but substantial and awesome. It has robots! Orange and pink freaking robots!!! I only bought two yards (and this only took one yard of it) and I may need to go back and buy all the rest. I love it so. Lookit! (I should've matched the print better on the center seam. I hate matching prints, though. Besides, she promptly stained it, so I'm going to put in a pocket, anyway).

Here's V, rockin' the romper to the grocery store. It was chilly out so she needed the jacket,but the thing is roomy enough to wear with a shirt underneath, too. She loves it very much, and so do I. 

I think, no matter what happens the rest of this week, we can call the week a success, just based on this one little romper. What say you?

T is for Teaching

It's the last week of the semester, so I thought I'd go off on my semi-annual teaching rant. I teach at a community college, where students fall all over the spectrum, from very very bright to not so bright at all; from single mothers of six (!) to 16 year old Post-Secondary-Option students to nearly 80 year olds. Many of them cheat, or don't try very hard, or expect me to hand them an A just for showing up 51% of the time. I was all ready to tell you how exhausting it can be, semester in and semester out, to try to motivate people who are here because they believe it will help them get a better paying job, but beyond that they don't see the point in learning much. "Why do I need to know this?" "Will this be on the test?" Ach.

That part is true. It is exhausting. But on my way down the hall to write this post (from my classroom halfway across the college), two things happened that made me change my mind. First, I bumped into a former student, one who is very bright, just naturally. He's graduating next week, and looking forward to doing work besides bar tending for the first time in five years. He has grown so much, since I first met him, and completely understands the joy of learning. He'll go on to get his Bachelor's degree, and I know he will do well. A few minutes later, I passed a student from three years ago, a solid C writer who worked hard on every single paper, and moved herself up in just one semester to solid Bs. She told me excitedly that she's been chosen as this spring's student speaker for commencement. "I had to write an essay, you know. That's how they chose me. You have no idea how much you've helped me."

And so, I come to tell a different story. Many of my students are first generation college students, and many have challenges in their lives I can barely imagine. Many of them don't know anyone who's read Shakespeare, ever. And many of them come with open hearts, to try to learn, to grow as humans, to see the world in new ways. And they do. They learn and their minds expand and sometimes even when they don't want to they learn to like Shakespeare. This is why I teach, why I try semester in and semester out to motivate students who aren't even sure why they're here.

They have no idea how much they've helped me.

21 April 2012


I have a surprising amount to say on the topic of suitcases. Special thanks to my sister and her lovely husband, who reminded me of this this morning.

Samsonite: Oh, Samsonite. The most beautiful of all suitcases, especially the vintage hardsides. I have one in white, red, and pink, and if I find one in orange and/or blue and/or yellow, they WILL be mine. Mostly, after the NYC incident, my Samsonites live in the basement and hold my craft supplies, including fabric, altered book stuffs, and rubber stamp things. I dream of making coffee tables out of a few, and I'm also very fond of the child-sized suitcases, which are easy to move and look cooler than boring old briefcases. There is something magical about the very smell of a well-cared for Samsonite, and when the satin lining is intact? I'll pay up near $7. Check your attic, people. If you complete my collection, I'll put a picture of you on my sidebar for a month.

Duffel bags: I don't really know what inspired me to buy the pattern for that fabric duffel, but I'm so glad I did. I really love making them, and I love using them, too. V's has enough room for her to pack four dolls, clothes for a weekend, plus five or six Rugrats books. Mine lets me pack five outfits for a single weekend, plus two pairs of shoes, my Nintendo DSxl, my jewelry bomb, and maybe some pajamas, if I remember to pack them. Plus, they're adorable. Travelling is even more fun this way!

Carry-ons: So I don't fly very often, but when I do, it's almost always on Allegiant Air. Unfortunately, they just recently decided to charge up to $35 per carry-on. That's right. Per carry-on. Meaning no one who works for the airline even has to touch your stuff, really, but they're going to charge you $35 for the opportunity to carry it yourself. I know airlines are trying to keep fares low, but this strikes me as ridiculous, and so rather than just give in and check my bag, or pay to carry one on, I have big plans. Allegiant's website indicates that each person is allowed to carry on one thing without charge: you know, a laptop, or a medium purse. At least that's what the airline hopes people will carry on. The "free" bag can measure up to 15"x16"x7". You know where this is going, right?  I'm going to use a strong, thin fabric to make a bag of those dimensions, and then all I need to do is make sure I can fit all I need for my next trip to Vegas in that space. Or on my person. It's been years since I read Heidi, but I know she didn't have a suitcase, so she wore all three of her dresses at once when she went to live with her grandfather. If it's good enough for Heidi, it's good enough for me. Take that, Allegiant Air. 


In June, we will have been married ten years. More than a quarter of my life with him. 
 He's never been a flowers and chocolates kind of guy, but he'll put together a gingerbread cemetery with us after Halloween.
 And he doesn't like holding my hand in public, but he can sing a love song that makes me weak in the knees.
He pulls his socks up way too high, but he's a patient, gentle father, and a funny, caring husband. I've got plenty of romance over here.

19 April 2012

Quilting with friends

I write about my quilts and other sewing excitement fairly often here, so it must come as no surprise to you that Q is for Quilts. I considered just directing you to the "Quilts of Our Lives" series, in fact, and calling it good. But then I remembered these photos I took at our last quilting retreat, and decided you probably wanted to see them.

 The first rule of Quilt Retreat is we don't talk about quilt retreat. No, wait. It's that you don't have to take a shower if you don't want to. No, wait. It's that we offer sisterhood and support to each other in a crafty way. Yes. That's the first rule.
 The second rule of Quilt Retreat is it must include some combination of the Johnson Girls and the Sund*seth Girls (the asterisks protect the innocent from unnecessary Googling). My mom was a freshman in college in 1961 when she met this crazy woman, Kathy from Detroit Lakes. They became part of a rough and tumble group of card players and, after graduation, remained close friends. I wrote about them years ago here. And other places too. Anyway, my point is, I've known Jennifer (above, in green), and Emily, (up above, in pink, saying something with passion) for my entire life, and they are like sisters to me and Jess, but without the weird competition vibe you sometimes get with your own sister.
 Married into this tangled mess is Min*ke, above, who provides a calm, thoughtful perspective under the dull roar that is the rest of us. She also is mama to twin sons, who are the oldest of the grandchildren in our group. She once made a king-sized flannel quilt and decided that was enough quilting for anyone, so she added really cool stencils to t-shirts for her boys during our latest festival.
 And here is Meagan, whose name I rarely spell correctly on the first try, and whose figurative adoption into the Sund*seth clan more than ten years ago (How long has it been, M?) has brought all of us so much joy. She is an expert knitter, a beekeeper, and soon a graduate student who fits right into to our crazy little family.
The third rule of Quilt Retreat is to keep it classy. Above, one of our matriarchs, picking breakfast out of her teeth with a pin, I believe. If you don't know how to play cards, Kathy will teach you, and then proceed to never ever let you win. But she'll do it in a classy way, I tell you.
The fourth rule of Quilt Retreat is something mechanical always goes wrong. Here, Em, Meagan, and I have taken apart my poor Shark sewing machine (don't try this at home. I mean it). On the one hand, cool sewing machine innards, eh? On the other hand, we still couldn't fix it. But we sure had fun trying.

 The fifth rule of Quilt Retreat is no drinking until you're done cutting. Obviously, these three had finished for the evening and were on to wine-fueled discussions of music therapy or dog ownership, probably.

There may be other rules, but if you follow these five, you're sure to have a productive, entertaining weekend of crafty goodness. Now pass me the rotary cutter, and make sure to save me some wine.

18 April 2012

Pinterest: my rant thereon

Many of my friends have asked me when I'm going to join Pinterest, and have expressed a desire to follow me (I assume so they can mock my fashion sensibilities). I am honored at the interest, but my lack of a presence on the site is more than just my usual laziness. I have some concerns.

First, Pinterest's terms of service give me great pause. While it is very clearly not all that different from other social media sites, as the Copyright Librarian points out in that link, it frankly scares me. (So do all the other social media sites, but I can't very well just sit at home and only be connected to the non-virtual world, now can I?)

I'm not a professional artist, but I get very upset by plagiarism of all kinds. Presenting anyone else's ideas, words, or creation as your own is bad. The end. But technically, if I pin my work to Pinterest and they decide to mass market it someplace, it's NOT stealing, because I've agreed to their terms of service which gives them the right to do just that.

There have been some demands for Pinterest to change their policies, and to be fair, they have not yet acted in the way I described above, to my knowledge. But they could, in theory, and I don't like it one bit.

Now, the Copyright Librarian (how cool is it that someone likes copyright law so much that she has a blog on the subject?) suggests that it's not as simple as the protesters make it out to be: fair use law allows all kinds of pinning/copying/sharing of information, in all sorts of situations. Facebook technically owns all the photos I've uploaded there, even if I delete them. I share my work, both creative and insipid, on this blog, from whence people could, if they felt like it, steal my pictures, words, or ideas, even though I've written that mean copyright notice over in my sidebar.

At the same time, I have loads and loads and loads of bookmarked pages of inspiration: party favors, kids' clothes, stuffed creatures, paintings, handmade books, quilts, tattoos, recipes, freezer paper stencils, teacher gifts, jewelry, dollmaking directions, and on and on and on. But when I do use one as inspiration, I give credit here on the blog (or tell my real-life friends about it). So often, on Pinterest and sites like it, the original poster gets lost in the shuffle, and giving real credit becomes essentially impossible. This scares me: I want creative people to be rewarded for their work, and I want thieves to have a hard time lying about what they've made, so that the world can be transparent & good and whole. Creativity matters, and the original creators deserve better than this. Even if Pinterest's terms of service are never utilized as they are written, the idea of creative people potentially handing over complete ownership of their work frightens me, and I don't want to be a part of that world.

So...as far as rants go, this one's pretty tepid. I'm hesitant to get on the Pinterest bandwagon, because I don't like their terms of service. But I don't like Facebook's, either, and I'm all over that place. And I'm already essentially practicing pinning on a private level (take that, "P" day in the Blogging Challenge!) already, and it would be nice to share some of those lovely things with you, and see what you've discovered.

In the end, I guess I just want us all to play nice. Make sure the original creator is linked to your pins, as far as you can reckon. And if you post your own creative work, do what you can to protect your ideas, from watermarks to hiring your own copyright lawyer.

The internet is a big place, and some people are assholes. I just wish cool online social media sites didn't have to hire assholes to write their terms.

17 April 2012

My Oyster Story

I've been to New Orleans twice in my life, and hope to go again before I'm 40. So much of what I love is there: jazz, the Mississippi, mausoleums. The first time I went, I was 18, and my college jazz band took a bus trip to the Big Easy. I was lucky enough to have 3 fantastic roomates, none of whom I knew before the trip, and with none of whom I've maintained contact. Anyway, we decided that aside from the Bourbon Street debauchery we were enjoying, we wanted to also experience a little authentic New Orlean's cuisine. Mostly, we ate from the walk-up window at the Chinese grocery down the street, but one afternoon, between concerts, Aimee and Stacy and I went to a bona-fide sit down fancy open air restaurant and ordered oysters on the half shell and a half dozen shrimp.

The waiter sweetly told us how to eat the oysters, and how to first look for pearls (we had one, the size of a grain of sand). Luckily, I'd practiced sword swallowing already, so they were no big thing. The shrimp were served on a bed of ice, and Aimee and I were into our third shrimp apiece before I noticed they still had legs.

"Uh, ladies? I think...I think these shrimp are not what we are accustomed to," I told my comrades. The tiny fork that came with our plate made sense, now, as did the immensely unpleasant crunchiness of these lovely shrimp. We discreetly spit out the bites in our mouths and commenced shelling our very fresh, very crispy shrimp, but not before we noticed our sweet waiter on the other side of the restaurant, pointing us out to the chef as, I can only assume, those hot, mildly stupid Minnesota girls.

The oysters, though, were delicious.

16 April 2012

Nine, needles, nasty

Nine has been my favorite number since the 5th grade. I like it because it's odd, and three squared, and it has two "n"s in it. For ages, I thought I liked nine because I'm the 9th grandchild on each side of my family, but then I realized, a few years ago, that I had counted wrong. I'm the 10th on the Johnson side, and the eleventh on the Johnson side. Oh well.

Needles: aside from the occassional nasty accident, needles are my friends. My sewing machine uses them to magically help me make stuff; my sister knits wonderful things with needles; I love the smell of pine needles underfoot. Certainly one of the most useful of inventions. When I made my quilted duffle bag, I broke ten machine needles in the process: a clear record for me. My sister pointed out that it raised the cost of the final product considerably, but by the time I finished my sixth bag, I had only broken three more, so I think it will even out in the end. In related news, I'm wondering if I should get a serger. Any thoughts?

Nasty is one of my favorite words lately. "The dog smells nasty," "those shoes are nasty," "that is one nasty show." None of this is meant in any semblance of a positive way, unfortunately. "Just nasty."  "Don't be nasty." Nor is this intended to incite the ire or praise of Ms. Jackson. It's just surprisingly fun to say, with the n and the ass and the tee. Try it. You'll feel better.

15 April 2012

And another thing...

(Sunday is the day off from the alphabet blogging challenge. Settle down).

Because I'm crazy, I've signed up for another challenge.  Kids' Clothes Week Challenge, organized by Elsie Marley, is something I've done once before. Of course, it's terrible timing, because my last day of class is April 27, but I want to sew for the girl child before summer, and if I don't do it now, I won't do it until August.

What were your favorite clothes as a child? I loved our Hee-Haw overalls, my blue satin jacket, and my baby blue velour shorts with the horse applique. So much inspiration!

14 April 2012


Mints: You know those cream cheese mints you get at Minnesota weddings and graduation? The kind in the shape of hearts, or bells, or doves, or mortarboard caps, or whatever? I love them. They are cream cheese, powdered sugar, and a little granulated sugar, and if given the opportunity, I will eat them until the roof of my mouth is raw from the sugar. I'm not advocating this behavior, but I thought you should know. If you want to be my friend forever, bring me some cream cheese mints, and I'm yours.

Meteorology: Holy crapbarf, batman. 76 tornadoes across the Great Plains today? I know that there have been other crazy weather days, historically, but today, in the midst of this weirdly warm spring, it seems freakier still. I hope everyone will be safe tonight, and mind the sirens, and put down their cell phone cameras long enough to find safety.

Mama: I'm gonna try to not get too sappy, but once in a while, when V tells me I'm the prettiest mama in the world, I get a little overwhelmed. I think of my own mama, and how I think she, too, is the prettiest mama in the world, and how whenever I feel sick, even as a grown woman, I want my mama to take care of me, and I hope that V, too, will feel so well-cared for by me that when she's grown up, she'll still think of me as a beautiful comfort. I'm not going to say things like motherhood made me whole, because it didn't. But it certainly made me different. I like it.

Languishing (ironically a day late...)

Oh, A to Z blogging challenge.  We were getting along so well. And then I had this busy Friday the 13th, and I was just too tired to do L. So I beg the blogosphere's forgiveness, and press on.
Unsurprisingly, I was going to write about luck for Friday the 13th. But then, as I clicked on the "new post" button, here on the 14th, I remembered that the name of my blog is Languishing, and decided to go that route instead.  And then I thought about how the blog is named after the 'zine, and decided to just print a bit from the Languishing book I've been working on for four years. I hope you like it.

The Subtitles & Bylines

Almost every paper issue of Languishing has a subtitle, that is, a brief statement after the title on the cover, and often a second subtitle on the first inside page. Often the second one is a sort of mini-definition. Well, sometimes. Anyway, it’s just how we’ve always done it. Jen and Nena wrote all of these: sometimes collaboratively, sometimes not. We like to think they reflect Languishing’s love of words, but then again, we’re both nerdy English types.  Taken out of what little context they were in originally, they make sort of a wacky found poem. When read aloud, each should be prefaced with "Languishing: " Of course.

Anatomically Correct and Proud of It.
Coming to the entire universe from Morris, Minnesota, with a wink and a smile.

Languishing was born in1935 in a 2 room shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of a seamstress and a truck driver.
Oh, wait, that was Elvis.

Handmade in Morris with Sparkling Flavor Crystals

Welcome to Spring!  Anyone seen my gopher traps?

This is diet?

Our own little Tropical Paradise.

Winter is for Sissies. Just Say No.

A zine for the common folks, with appetizers, drinks, & dessert all in one

We’re Snuggled Up Together Like Two Birds of a Feather Would Be.

God gave Rock & Roll to you. I think.

To Ease Your Aching Head

Where the Girls Are Cold & the Beer Is Pretty

As if we don't have anything better to do.

A Pocketful of Sunshine

He's a human; you're a mermaid.

If all else fails, use a tourniquet.

Hotter'n Hades but Not as Eternal.

From the Beauty of the Minnesota Prairie to the four corners of the world

A little something for everyone. Well, maybe not you, but most everyone else.
Born and Raised in Minnesota and Still Recovering

Tasty & Fulfilling

Homemade in Hendrum Minnesota Just for You!

Try it. You'll Like It.

Don't be offended. We're not criticizing you directly.

sit on a potato pan otis

It's Hunting Season. Do You Know Where Your Giraffe Is?

Don't pick at it and it'll clear up eventually.

from the great white north to your grubby hands in 10 weeks or less or your money back

Where Have You Been, My Darling Young One?

It's 1997. What Are You Gonna Do About It?

Whatever did you do before Languishing?

A glorious holiday to you and yours from us and ours.

"If not hand in hand to heaven, then hand in hand to hell."

In this issue: everyone gets a pseudonym!

The end of innocence?

12 April 2012

Kickety kick ball

April. 5th grade. It must've been raining, because my class was playing a heated game of kickball in the gym. Mr. Timmer was our teacher, and I was the catcher. William Wainwright, my nemesis, was on third base, and after a decent kick from his teammate, he came toward me with determination. Though I had the ball, and was standing on the base, he put his shoulder down and knocked me up in the air. I came down on my left wrist, and broke both bones in my arm. Ow. That's what...28 years ago now? My mom was teaching at the time, but couldn't very well leave her classroom, so she had her sister Beverly take me to the doctor in Halstad. My arm had quickly swelled up to twice its normal size, and as we waited to see Doc Brown, he decided to spend 45 minutes visiting with an octogenarian in the next room. Aunt Bev and I learned all about Mrs. Alfredson's ferns while we waited.

When the doctor finally saw the x-ray his nurse had taken, he quickly decided it was beyond his expertise: with both bones broken, one badly, I had to go to St. Ansgar's in Moorhead. There I was put under general anesthesia, my arm was set, and I woke up to crabby nun nurses taking my blood pressure in the middle of the night. When they came to pick me up from the hospital, my parents took me out to Nine Dragons, our favorite Chinese restaurant, which I couldn't really enjoy because I was still queasy from the anesthetic.

But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was, with an 8 week cast, I turned eleven at the end of May and could not ride my brand new blue ten speed bike until mid-June.

It was, at least up until then, one of the great tragedies of my life.

11 April 2012

Jalopy, Jennifer, Janitrix

Oh, J, you silly letter. So many names, so few other words....

Jalopy: One of several words I don't know how to pronounce very well. I've long been better at book learnin' than speaking, and though I read a lot of Archie comics, and Jughead and the gang were always driving around in a jalopy, I never learned how to pronounce it. Artisan/artesian are two others, as is epitome. Seriously, epitome? How'm I supposed to to know that's four syllables?

Jennifer: I never minded being named Jennifer, really, though it was the #1 girls name in America for ever in the 1970s. In college (and I may have already told you this story, and if so, I'm sorry), there was a popular drinking game on campus called Jennifer. In Morris, we only had one phone per dorm floor (oh! the humanity! my students are certain they would've died in such a circumstance), so the game was to call any floor and ask for Jennifer. If she answered, you got to drink. If they said "Which one?" you got to drink twice. Spooner top had 4 Jennifers, so we were a very popular floor, phone-wise.

Janitrix: the female version of janitor. Did you even know there was a female version?  It turns out there are lots of fun words like that: aviatrix, proprietrix, legislatrix. Any noun that ends in -tor, really, can be made feminine by -trix.  If I ever have to apply for a new job (heaven forbid), I think I may just have to write Instructrix on my résumé. Or Educatrix. I never knew teaching could sound so sexy!

10 April 2012

Iceberg, straight ahead!

Regular Languishing readers know that my childhood was full of small-town-ness, and personally I've always been drawn to cemeteries, for some reason. On more than one occassion, Shaun has referred to my childhood as "Little Ghoul on the Prairie."

A large part of that comes, certainly, from my father. He loved country death songs, and sang several heart-breaking melodies to us regularly in the car, on the way to or from home, on trips. By the age of seven, I was obsessed with world records and circus freaks, and by 8, I'd read A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, about the sinking of the Titanic, three times. I traced the names of the survivors, the recovered, and lost at sea long before James Cameron thought of making his fancy movie.

Today is 100 years since Titanic first set sail. In four days, it will be 100 years to the day of the sinking of the Titanic. Imagine a centurian anniversary for something you were fascinated with as a child: it's kind of a big deal, right? I mean, I wanted to name my firstborn child Carpathia, for crying out loud. The sinking of the Titanic was very much like that generation's September 11: it changed the way people thought about ocean travel, it caused widespread spiritual crisis, and was used for all sorts of political purposes by the people in, or struggling to gain, power in our country.

What interested me most about the disaster, thirty years ago and today, were the class distinctions that defined so much of the ship, and the survivors, and so much of American society, one hundred years ago. And today.  Cameron's love story was never very compelling to me. But the microcosm that was the Titanic, and the ways in which our world still plays by those rules, keeps me interested in that mighty ship, and mightier ice berg, and history in general.

And that's all I have to say about that.

09 April 2012

Hula, Hendrum, haiku

(Still managing to keep up with the A to Z blogging challenge. Much love to all my commenters, who make this conversation seem so much less one-sided!)

Hula: I've never been to Hawaii, or actually seen hula performed live. But I like the sound of the word, and how it invokes the very motion it describes. The Hawaiian language sounds tropical and lovely to me, too, even "mele kalikimaka." Tenessa and I (and Dan and Shaun) threw a Hawaiian themed party, once, in which we draped our whole apartment in various Hawaiian fabrics, played catchy ukulele music, and allowed Shaun to wear a coconut bra. It was a mostly beautiful thing. I still have approximately 17 yards of Hawaiian fabric to utilize for other projects. Suggestions are welcome.

Hendrum: My hometown, a little blip on the map of the Red River Valley. Hendrum is so much a part of who I am, crafted so much of my childhood, and provided so much to me while I was growing up, that I barely know where to begin. Both of my parents were born in this town of just over 300, in homes right across the street from one another. My maternal grandfather ran Johnson's Fairway, a small, three-aisle grocery store, for over 40 years there; my paternal great-grandfathers helped build the city, moving large buildings across the river with 16 horses, and building shelters at the city park and houses within the city limits. As V gets older, I find myself longing, in some ways, for her to have more of the childhood I had: freedom to roam from yard to yard, knowing all our neighbors, to hear the churchbells and know that it is supper time. There are deep constraints, too, in a town this small with roots so deep: when over half the town remembers her great-grandparents, people she never knew, sometimes a sort of stagnation can set in. In her kindergarten classroom, she has people of all colors, all backgrounds, from Christian to Muslim to Atheist. In Hendrum, diversity amounts to people whose names don't end with "-son." Bake a pie, eat a pie, I guess.

Little poem, precise
simmering words exploding
from my heart to yours.

07 April 2012

Gee. (by V)

I was stumped for today, so V agreed to help me out and tell you a story entirely of her own invention. We hope you like it.

Goose and Grapes
by V

This is a cartoon, but I'm gonna tell the story anyway.

A goose ate some grapes, and the grapes came alive! But after awhile, he became friends with the goose. They got pizza, got ice cream, and they watched tv together with their parents.


06 April 2012

Flying the friendly skies

In 2001, just five months after Dan and Tenessa moved to New York City, Shaun and I decided we'd like to go and visit them. We'd been dating a little over a year, and this was to be our first big trip together. We sat down to plan the details.

"We can stay with my aunt Linda in Michigan the first night," I said, "and if we get up early, I think we can make it there by day two."

"What?" he said, his eyes wide open.

"I have an aunt who lives in Michigan, not far from Detroit. It's not too far out of the way. Or would you rather stay in a hotel?"

"Um, you know they have these things, right? Called airplanes? People get in them and they take them places really fast. So we don't have to drive for 28 hours."

"Oh. Right." I had honestly not even thought of flying.

My people are land-based people. We like to drive places, and 5 or even 10 hours in a car doesn't phase us at all. But an airplane? Hm. How would I get to see my Aunt Linda in Michigan, if we just flew over her? I'm not widely travelled, but everywhere I'd been, I'd driven, or ridden in a bus. New York, D.C., Denver, New Orleans, all were accessible by car. And each time, the journey was part of the adventure.

I agreed, finally, to fly, because though my school year was ending and I had three months off, Shaun still had a real job and didn't want to spend 4 days of vacation trapped in a car with me (the boy has no romance, I tell you).  Several of my students at the time were in the aviation program, so they calmly explained to me that the airplane was indeed safe, and they encouraged me to put my hand out the car window while driving, to help me understand wind resistance and other principles of flight.

Since then, I've flown to New York alone, to Boston for work, and three times to Vegas. I still default to driving, but it is pretty fun to get places in 3 or 4 hours instead of 2 days. Unfortunately, I see a lot less of my dear Aunt Linda....

05 April 2012


Eagles: I so often wonder how we would view eagles if Ben Franklin had gotten his way with installing turkeys as our national bird. I don't think we'd eat them (an eagducken doesn't sound so good), but I don't think they'd be so revered, either. I like to see eagles in the wild, but I also love hawks and herons and flamingos. (Damn. I need to do this A to Z challenge all about birds, obviously). And turkeys, too, come to think of it. And unlike turkeys, eagles mostly eat carrion: we condemn vultures for this, but in the beloved eagle, we just pretend they only eat fresh fish and defend freedom in their spare time. (Apparently I have eagle angst. Hm).

Easter: He is risen indeed. Well, not yet, because it's Maundy Thursday, but pretty soon...I really loved the drama of this holiday in our little Lutheran church. On Good Friday, we strip the alter bare, in acknowledgement of the solemnity of the crucifixion, and we sing sad, mournful songs. On Sunday, the white cloths come out (which I think my family donated after my Grandpa Art died), and the festivities begin. I no longer worship with this or any congregation, but the many years I did left several moving memories behind, and this is one of them. Easter also meant the annual cousins' Easter Egg Hunt, in which the girl cousin and boy cousin who found the most eggs each won a prize. I was at a clear advantage, as I was the eldest of the second round of girl cousins, and Dawn, Jess, Kristen, and Logan never really had much of a chance. There is something thrilling about a search for colorful hardboiled eggs when 10 other kids you've known your whole life are trying to beat you to them. In related news, at least once a year (usually around now) Shaun and I try to watch Jesus Christ Superstar, because we both love it so.

Ether: Did you know that the use of ether as an anaesthetic during childbirth first came into popularity with Queen Victoria, who was knocked out with it in 1853 for the birth of her 8th child, and recommended it? Of course this led to the medicalization of childbirth, and, well, I can't get into all of that here. But the idea of a queen setting such a trend is ... unsettling to me.

May your eagles, Easters, and ether all be administered in appropriate ways, gentle readers. And may the eggs in your basket always outnumber your cousins'.

04 April 2012

Dan Lee

I had an elaborate list of D words: death, dirt, douche, die, deaf, deer...man, the letter "d" is kind of depressing. Ah! De-pressing! But then I remembered my old friend Dan Lee. It's his birthday on Friday, and I finally found a word that starts with d that's not bleak, heartwrenching, or yucky.

Now, if you thought all I had to say about Dan Lee is that he's not bleak, heartwrenching, or yucky, you'd be wrong. I mean, that's true, he's none of those things. But wait, there's more!

I first met Dan Lee at Lauerman's bar in Fargo in 1998. I had fallen in love with his then girlfriend, now wife, Tenessa, earlier that semester in our Margaret Atwood class, and went to meet Dan and the gang (like Kool and gang, but with more Dan!) with our mutual friend Steve. I remember walking in and seeing this guy who looked a little like a roofer or farmhand, standing at the bar in a crowded Lauerman's. He was telling a story, surrounded by people, and everyone was listening intently to him, laughing. "That's Dan," Steve said. I didn't believe him. I knew this guy's special lady friend, and I was SURE he wasn't Tenessa's type.

I'm not sure why that was my first reaction, but once I got over my lack of sensitivity to my new friend's type, I liked Dan right away. He's funny and smart and had read all the back issues of Languishing that I'd forced on Tenessa.

I don't know where to begin to explain to you how much I like Dan. I know here, and in real life, I write about my family of origin, and my own family, a lot. I write about my female friends, too. But I somehow just don't talk much about my male friends. I have several that I hold dear, but none dearer than Dan. I guess I'll just tell you a couple of stories about him.

Once, when Shaun and I were first dating, Shaun dropped his keys into a sewer drain on the street. Seriously: like a movie cliche, Shaun came to my apartment all worried, because the keys to everything in his life (car, work, home...) were down the sewer. I didn't know what to do, so we went upstairs and got Dan. Dan brought a wire hanger, and after seven or eight very tense minutes, triumphantly raised the keys from the depth of Fargo. Both Shaun and I knew then that this man was no mere mortal, but some kind of specialized, hanger-wielding superhero.

After he and Tenessa moved to New York City, Shaun and I went out to visit. I had recently started collecting vintage Samsonite suitcases, and while it's an admirable thing to collect (I think), it's totally impractical to travel with. Still, because I was filling my home with the stuff, I really felt it was important that I show Shaun it was useful! And cute! So I packed the large white hardside, (it looked like the one in the link, but had a handle and wheels built in) and off to NYC we went.

After picking it up at the baggage claim, it was clear I'd made a terrible mistake. Though this suitcase had wheels, they were small, close together, and hard to maneuver. And on an average day, apparently, Dan and Tenessa walked 300 miles just to get from their apartment to the subway and back. Oh, the humanity. And Shaun and I, being at least as lazy and out of shape then as we are now, were in no condition to navigate the Big Apple with such a burden. I should've bought a different suitcase at the damn airport, but instead relied on Dan's skillful maneuvering skills and North Dakota hospitality. (I don't know if I ever told him how sorry I was. And am. Ach).

He taught me how to drink from a glass bottle out of the side of my mouth, the joy of The Big Lebowski, and shares my knowledge (and most of my appreciation) of late-70's/early 80's country hits like Sylvia's "Nobody" or David Frizzell's "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino." V calls him Uncle Danny, because that's what I call him, too.

I hope he has a fantastic birthday, and knows just how much I love him. More than dirt, death, and deer, that's for sure.

03 April 2012

C is for cookie!

I wonder how many other people participating in the A to Z blogging challenge will choose cookie? It's certainly an obvious choice...yet I like the idea of writing about baked goods while getting a solid Sesame Street song stuck in my readers' heads.

A run down of my favorite cookies of all time.

Jumbos: often called chocolate jumbos, or Grandma's jumbos, these rolled out chocolate molasses cookies were my Grandma Beulah's trademark. She cut them with the doughnut cutter, and made a boiled frosting (called, surprisingly, Grandma's Frosting) with cream, and sugar to spread on top. My cousins and I would seriously eat these until we were sick: they epitomize Johnson family Christmas in so many ways.  My mom and sister and I try to make these at least once a year, but they are sooo labor intensive, and sooo addicting, that it's getting to be harder and harder. It's so much easier to make a simple powdered sugar and milk frosting for white cookies. But I swear the work it takes to make them is a huge part of why the jumbos taste so awesome.

Chocolate chip: Yeah, that's right. In a cliche post topic I pick the cliched American Cookie. We go all out here at Languishing. I like the recipe on the back of the Toll House package (remember that episode of Friends where Phoebe and Monica are trying to recreate Phoebe's grandmother's chocolate chip cookies? And Phoebe keeps saying "It's French. Some fancy French name!" And finally they figure out she's been pronouncing "toll house" with a French accent? Good times).  My junior year of college, I lived in a house called the Dollhouse (which doesn't really rhyme with Toll house, strangely), just across the street from campus, and my sister would come visit from the dorms and we would make batches and batches of cookies. She taught me to take them out of the oven early to make sure they were soft, and we watched TV while we waiting for those 9-11 minutes to pass. One of my fondest memories of that house.

Sugar: Oh, sugar. Like jumbos, these have to be rolled out to be really awesome, and I rarely have the counter space. But when I do, I love to make big old sugar cookies, usually in the shape of hearts, get them just browned the edges, and then frost them 'til I'm dizzy. I used to have this great old recipe for sugar cookie frosting that used alum and raw eggs, but I haven't made it since I used older (still edible! I swear!) eggs one time and the frosting ended up tasting like earthworms. Such a waste of a good batch of cookies. Jess and Mom and I like to frost sugar cookies with our kids at Christmas time, and let the kids run the sprinkle application. Everyone goes home happy.

I hope you've enjoyed my stroll through Cookie Memory Lane. What's your favorite cookie recipe?

02 April 2012


B, for our A-to-Z challenge purposes, will be for bags here at Languishing. I have been a life-long lover of bags: since my first Jordache purse bought at the West Acres Claire's with Christine Forseth (it was teal!), I've been searching for the perfect purse, tote, BAG or bags to carry my stuff. I blog about it so much, it should have its own damn category.

Since falling in love with the quilted totes I told you about recently, I've been thinking about how bags come together, how I could use what I already have, and what all I really want/need in a bag. Should it be for work? I'm still using this lovely one, and it's close to perfect. But then I saw this bag, inspired by a movie, apparently, and I needed one that was round. Needed, understand?  And ..well...let's just get to the photos, shall we?

 I adored the star applique on the inspiration bag, but that was not my design, and I've never even seen whatever pop culture reference it makes, so I didn't want to suggest otherwise. I like sparrows for about two million reasons, and found the template through a basic Google search. I enlarged it 200%, then cut two out of an orangish, sparkly-ish vinyl I bought at S.R. Harris on an unattended visit this December (don't let me go to S.R. Harris without supervision, please).

The main bag is made from some heavy burgundy pleather my sister gave me, and I still have 6 yards of it left, so you should probably get used to seeing it, gentle readers.
 For scale, the bag with V. To be fair, she's a large 6 year old, so it might not be as big of a bag as you think. The diameter of the circle was originally 16", and I used over 1/4 inch seam allowance. The strap is a bit too wide and too short, but then again, so am I. It fits over my shoulder with a little finagling.
Here she's showing how fun it is to be jaunty and dancy with my new bag! What's not to like?

It holds up to 30 papers comfortably, and it's lined with a fantastic array of pockets and some pretty fine fabric (but I'm thinking I'll save photos of that for the letter "L." Or the letter "I," for innards.We'll see). It also has 2 large zippers, one on the top, and one across the back. It's kind of making me giddy with a feeling of accomplishment, really. It's certainly the most complicated thing I've ever made without a pattern.

Of course, it's totally an autumn-y bag, not a springy one, and I'm not ready to give up my current work bag just yet. But I feel triumphant, and it will make a good travel bag, when I need something that will hold a journal and a book as well as my camera and wallet.

Blogging from A to Z: A

My friend Nancy suggested I check out a blog challenge for April, the A to Z April Challenge. I'm already a day behind, but that seems about right.  Brace yourself for both A and B posts today! I have no plan, I don't have anything pre-written, so here's hoping your expectations are as low as my preparation. If not, blame Nancy.
A. Big A little a, what begins with A? Aunt Annie's Alligator, A, A, A.

Alabama. I had a client once who was obsessed with Alabama (not the state). (that sentence makes it sound like I had a much more exotic job than simply working with the developmentally challenged). He loved the band, and whenever he heard the first few notes of "Roll On," he would clap and yell "AlaBAMa!" It was very entertaining, most of the time. I tried to get him hooked on the Oak Ridge Boys, but it's just not as fun to yell Oak Ridge Boys!

Aaay: I had a crush on Fonzie when I was little. Fonzie and Hawkeye Pierce. I had a dream once that I was hanging out with Fonzie, and it was all cool until I started to cry on his leather jacket, and then he wouldn't talk to me anymore. It was a pretty traumatic dream for a 6 year old. No wonder I have abandonment issues. Thanks a lot, Fonzie.

Aloysius: I don't talk to my neighbors very often, beyond the ones on each side of us. But several years ago a new family moved in behind us, and we met once over the back fence, while we were both doing spring raking. Her name, I think, was Vi. I still can't remember his name, but I think he said "I'm Aloysius, but you can call me Sylvester." I may have been drunk, now that I think of it, though why would I rake when I'm drunk? I don't understand any of this story.

01 April 2012

Crafty Blitz

As we adjust to a schedule where we see very little of Shaun and we juggle care for V (especially on Mondays), I have lots of papers to grade that I'm avoiding, and my favorite way to avoid things is to sew. And sew and sew and sew. 

 Last weekend, we had a little family-esque craft retreat, where I made 3 appliqued t-shirts (V's and Emmy's, above), and pinned a long-finished quilt top (below, Em and Meagan doing my dirty work).
 I also worked on crocheting a uterus, because I love  combining my political beliefs with crafts. My uterus is complete now, but the oviducts (also, but inappropriately, called Fallopian tubes) are causing me some headaches.

(That's right: I'm using an earring as a stitch marker, so I've pierced my uterus. That's hardcore. )
And then I made quilted duffles. Above are mine and V's on the steps of our cabin at Campfire Bay Resort (awesome place! We're totally going back there!).  V picked her colors (the blue and green polka dots + the firefly fabric) and I picked mine, because that white fabric reminds me of the floor of the Rio in Vegas.

Here are all four of them together: Myra's is on top, and left to right it's mine, V's, and Jess's. Jess' has little yellow stars on a green background. These bags are my new obsession, and if it weren't for my pesky job, I'd have made another dozen by now. They're lightweight, come together quickly, and hold lots and lots of stuff (plenty for a weekend). Plus they provide a good home for all those lovely 1-2 yard cuts of fabric that I buy without having a plan.

I've done more than this, even, but I think this post is lengthy enough. Besides, now I'm just using blogging to avoid grading, and that's not helping, either.