Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What problem are you trying to solve?

One of the first questions I ask clients is the title question: What problem are you trying to solve? So many times, they haven’t thought it all the way through so just by asking, we can get a better understanding of the situation. Of course I follow up with a lot of other questions too, but those aren’t the point of this blog post.

See, I wear PJs to bed—not nightgowns or long shirts, but PJs with pants-like bottoms. Except the legs always get twisted and ride up and generally are a pain in the ass leg. To date, all I’ve done is look for better PJs but haven’t solved the problem of the bunchy legs.

The other day at work, someone mentioned that she wears leggings to bed, ones that are like long johns, and I realized those could solve my problem of bunched up bottoms. Today, while out running a quick errand over lunch, I found these Cuddl Dud bottoms. I promise I won’t wear them out in public but I do think they’ll do really well for me at night, with no bunchy legs.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Unintended consequences

We bought a second cat bed to go with the cushion on the file cabinet between our desks, and the cat bed that takes up about a third of the real estate on my desk. We hoped that this second bed would provide a third safe, comfy spot for kitties to claim. Right now it’s on the window seat in the office and ultimately it will go on one of the shelves in the built in portion of the window seat.

Eddie claimed it right away, which pleased us—at least until Wally began hissing like crazy at Eddie and only at Eddie. We are perplexed and can only think that the new bed has an odor Wally finds offensive. We think if that’s the case, the odor has transferred to Eddie and now Eddie smells the same. The hissing and growling has been going on since Saturday and it’s taking a toll on poor Eddie. I’m sure it’s not easy for Chloe or really for Wally either, and it’s definitely hard for us.

In other cat news, while all of this hissing drama was going on, the cat that sometimes hangs out on our air conditioner condenser popped up there Saturday night and banged on the office window! Eddie happened to near that spot as was hissing Wally and wow did they get all riled up. I have no idea what the other cat was doing, but yesterday when taking this picture of Eddie in the new bed, I realized that other cat had hit the window hard enough to leave a smeary little paw print.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ho ho ho!

I am part of a group of eight women friends who mean the world to me. We are a mix of virtual and face to face friends; I knew one in high school and I’ve met two others in real life. The meeting in real life or not as the case may be doesn't seem to have stopped us from becoming friends. We share so much with each other and offer advice, encouragement and best of all, non-judgmental listening ears when any of us are going through tough times.

Last year we had our first ever Secret Santa gift exchange. The dollar limit is low by design—we’re not going for bling or best gift ever, we are going for ways to show the affection we share, demonstrate some creativity and maybe brighten someone’s day. For our first gift exchange, I drew Magpie’s name and sewed up one of the bags I tend to make (you can see a photo here).

This year, I drew her name again! Well I wasn’t going to make her another bag; that’s a little too one trick pony, don’t you think? I had a sense of the kinds of clothing she likes and decided to make her a kind of a vest. Hancock’s cooperated by have patterns on massive sale the weekend after Thanksgiving, which kept the costs down. Otherwise I’d have had to franken-pattern an existing pattern since my friend and I are not the same size.

I picked Butterick 5359, view A (shown in green in the line drawings) because I thought the way the front seams angled down suited my friend’s style. And I used some lovely I don’t even know what to call it but it’s gorgeous and has a lot of colors in it. I’d originally bought it to sew up another New Look jacket, but didn’t because I thought one was enough for now. Then I used a bit to make a bag for another friend, which left me with not a whole lot of fabric. This picture really shows the fabric.

Then I pinged the one friend who’s met both of us face to face to get an idea about the proper size. I figured since Harriet had met me and Magpie, she could offer some relative size guidance. And this wasn’t intended to be a super fitted vest, I had my fingers crossed. I pieced it together from the fabric that was left and here’s the results on my dress form:



If I draw her name again next year, I’ll speak up. She’s been inflicted with enough of my sewing!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sounds of the season

What is your favorite Christmas song? Mine stay fairly constant year in and year out, and are almost always traditional. Past contenders have included Breath of Heaven, usually a version of Carol of the Bells and if it’s particularly clever, then something traditional done with a twist.

My top three this year fall mostly in the traditional category.

First up, this amazing a capella version of Carol of the Bells by the group Straight, No Chaser. Their voices and harmonies give me goose bumps every time I hear it.



Next is this non-traditional version of O Holy Night. I can't exactly put my finger on why I love this version so much; maybe it's the way the line  and the soul felt its worth comes out. I am moved every time.



Finally, the one everyone’s been talking about—Mary, Did You Know? Pentatonix did this and if you aren’t familiar with their music, go Google them on You Tube and prepare to be amazed. I also like this song and this one.



And just for fun, here’s Straight, No Chaser’s version of the 12 Days of Christmas—makes me laugh every time.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

No pain!

You guys! After nearly six months of headaches, and two rounds of antibiotics, and way more Musinex than I ever thought a person could take, I have no headache today. This is huge, amazing and wonderful progress. I think I am finally free of a sinus infection I never quite realized I had.

Better living through pharmaceuticals, I say!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It could have been me (and very nearly was)

This morning, I stopped by the store on my way to physical therapy. I needed some razors and toothpaste and Walmart was on my way to the PT office. I picked up my items and headed to the checkout line. There was a woman being checked out and a man in front of me so I wouldn’t have too long to wait or so I thought. But there was a problem with the woman’s order. We waited, there was conversation, we waited, some people went off to the one other line open at that time of day, we waited, the customer service woman came over and then much discussion occurred.

I finally realized that the woman trying to check out was paying with food stamps or whatever they’re called today, only one of her items didn’t qualify and neither the cashier nor the customer service woman could figure out what it was. People were getting impatient, the customer was clearly uncomfortable and I realized so was I but not because of her.

You see, years ago when my ex and I first returned to the States with two small children and no jobs, we’d had to go on food stamps. It was a necessity but completely humiliating and eye opening to me. I can remember like it was yesterday being the one at the grocery store checkout line, getting my order rung up. I was in nice clothing because I’d just had a job interview, and I had to pay for my non-food items with a $100 bill—the only cash to our names and it had been given to us by a family member. The judgment from the other people in line and the cashier was obvious and complete. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place.

Then fast forward shortly after my divorce was final—I had no job, no money and a lot of debt. I tried then to get on food stamps or some sort of assistance but was denied because I owned a four year old car. I knew if I sold the car. I would have money for a little while but then I’d be trapped with no way to get to any work I would be able to find. That was, no joke, a very dark time for me.

So this morning I could feel tears just under the surface as I watched the scene play out. I asked the cashier how much was owed, and it was under $5, a small amount to me today. I handed over my credit card and told the customer that I’d been in her shoes and I knew it was a hard place she was in.

I’m not sharing this to say wow I’m sure a great person. I’m sharing it because it’s so easy to judge others. I have nothing in common with that woman today, but I do know how it feels to need public assistance and how it feels to be judged for that need. I hope I brightened her day today and didn’t add to any shame or judgment she feels. I hope that most of all because that’s worth more than $5 in my opinion.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A look back

Kent's been taking our group family pictures at Thanksgiving for five years now. While he took pictures in 2009 and 2008, he didn't have his remote clicker which meant no group photos like these.

You can see the kids grow and change and you can also see how incredibly good Kent's gotten with his photography.


2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tis but a scratch

Yesterday I got the results of the MRI I had last week to see if there were any obvious causes for the low frequency hearing loss in my left ear. This kind of hearing loss can be caused by small tumors pressing on the auditory nerve (or whatever that nerve is called) but in my case, there are no tumors. So that’s good but still begs the question of why I have this loss.

My ENT pointed out that I had a small cyst sort of in the middle of my skull, but that the radiologist didn’t think it was alarming. Still, the ENT wanted to take a look. So bam, he squirted numbing stuff up both nostrils and then scoped my nose. It was as yucky as it sounds and not at all what I thought would happen yesterday. He thinks the cyst is left over from having my adenoids removed, probably a bit of scar tissue wrapped around a bit of mucus gland that's slowly grown over time. I didn't know I had it, it doesn't seem to impact me in any way so as far as I'm concerned it can just stay there.

He also pointed out that I had a lot of swelling in one of my sinuses on the left side, and asked me how frequently I got sinus infections. “I’ve never had one in my life,” I replied. Not so, he said, that kind of swelling was indicative of a sinus infection, and probably a pretty bad one. Hmmm.

On the drive home I realized I didn’t really know the symptoms of sinus infections beyond a fever and Technicolor snot—I rarely get a fever and it’s usually associated with a stomach virus, and I never get weird colored snot. So I turned to Dr. Google to find out what the symptoms actually were. I didn’t even click on any links, I didn’t have to:



Of the items on that list, I experience the first four symptoms plus a bad cough at least five or six times a year. In fact, I just went through a fairly bad round of those symptoms last week. I get the sort of face melting headache with extreme pressure, the kind where even my teeth hurt, and a snotted up head that makes loud whistling noises when I blow my nose (when Kent’s around, he will look at me and say “I heard that” after my sinuses whistle), and some dizziness when I move around or shift my position.

What all this means is (a) yes, I do get sinus infections and probably pretty often and more important (b) I need to quit normalizing and not paying attention to what my body is saying. And (Kent will love this) I need to readjust my notion of when I might need to see the doctor. All my life, I've believed that I either need to be actively puking and/or have the runs OR be running a fever of at least 100. Looks like I need to reconsider that framework.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Field tested

And cold weather approved!

Remember this?





I've been wearing it the last five days because baby it's cold outside. Like our high today was 22⁰ F cold. And I've been toasty warm. Take that, winter!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Our house today

It's cold here in the Midwest and even though the snow was a bust yesterday, it's been looking and feeling  as though it might snow all weekend long. Here's what our cats do when it's cold and gloomy:









Admit it, you're sleepy now.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Anyone home?

We believe this is our neighbor's cat; certainly it's someone's cat because he's well fed and just doesn't have that feral look. The kitty loves our air conditioner condenser and has been on there before; usually he just lolls around. Yesterday, he was staring inside and if I didn't know better, I'd think he was looking for our kitties. Maybe he was bored or lonely?

Ohi!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Berlin Wall

In 1981, while still stationed in West Germany, we traveled to West Berlin to go to my brother’s wedding where he and his wife were both stationed. Because we drove and were military, we went through all three checkpoints: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. To say it was an odd experience is a complete understatement.

Because the U.S. government did not recognize the East German government as legitimate and held that East Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union, no military personnel could go through the civilian checkpoints. We had to go through checkpoints policed by Soviet troops and we required special, more complex paperwork. At the time, I worked for the federal Civil Service in Security, Plans & Operations (SPO) and I drafted those documents for anyone traveling from West Germany through East German to West Berlin. While you could take a special train to West Berlin, it was generally a lot more convenient and faster to drive so that’s what most people did.

The Soviet guards had a real history of being very nit-picky with the security documents—they’d reject them for things like an extra space or comma. And if your documents were rejected, then you needed to get them replaced at a nearby American post. So I was extra nervous about the documents as we approached the checkpoint.

Picture the scene:

We had to clear the American security checkpoint first. Our documents were examined and redone; there was some new protocol that hadn’t yet made it out to the rest of the SPO offices but still I was embarrassed. We were to have a full tank of gas (we did), and then the security officer told us that we would have two hours (I think, maybe three) to get to Berlin. If we got there a certain amount faster, we would get a speeding ticket. If we were over 30 minutes late, they would come looking for us. On no account were we to leave the highway.

Then we drove the short distance to the Soviet checkpoint. It was a late December afternoon so it was already dark. The weather was pretty cold and it had snowed recently. Jordan was just a baby, only nine months old, and he and I stayed in the car (as we were supposed to) while Rick took the paperwork and our IDs to the guard house. While he did that, two Soviet guards armed with rifles patrolled in circles around our car, staring at me the entire time. It seemed to take forever before Rick came back out although I’m sure it was only about five minutes. Then we drove to Berlin.

I was struck by the complete absence of any lights—no houses were lit up, no street lights, not even in the distance, no commercial signs, nothing. Plus the road was not in good shape. The pavement was uneven and there were a lot of potholes. But we made it to Berlin within the prescribed time and then went through Checkpoint Bravo. That was almost anticlimactic after having gone through Checkpoint Alpha.

We did visit East Berlin, which meant we went through Checkpoint Charlie. I don’t recall that that checkpoint was nearly so intimidating. I do recall being struck by how gray everything seemed in East Berlin—the walls, the cars, the people’s clothing and even their faces.

In 1989, I was a freshman at KU and was taking my second or third semester of German from a grad student who was herself German. I remember that she managed to get a TV brought into our class and she cried as we watched the Wall come down.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hair

How do you wear your hair? Have you always worn your hair in a similar style, or do you see your hair as more of a changeable accessory?

Personally the most I’ve experimented has been with a few perms and with the length. I used to think my hair was awful and wouldn’t do anything, so I’d get a perm in hopes that would help. But my hair is very resistant to perms, and the curl would never take at the nape of my neck, the crown of my head and my bangs. Weird, huh? So that was a partial solution at best, and really mostly awful because it was so hard on my hair and always stripped it of color.

Active duty
And I’ve gone from super short hair, to just below shoulder length. When I was in the Army (active duty), I had long hair and wore it in a bun per regulations. I cut it the day I went into labor with my first child.

Then in college (and in the Army Reserves), I grew it long again and wore it French braided every day. Yes, I braided it every day. Then one day I realized that wearing my hair up like that was essentially like having short hair, so I cut it off again—quite short this time.

I’ve also colored it for years. I got my first silver hair when I was 21 or 22, and was just appalled. So I started coloring it. Then about seven years ago, I grew out the color so I could see what was under the hood. And while I like the color—it’s a lovely silver—it’s not evenly sprinkled throughout which would be really nice. No, it’s like God smooshed a bunch of silver sno-cones on my head. Very blotchy, and not particularly attractive at all. So I’m back to coloring—as an interesting aside, we lived in Boston when I had my stylist color it again. He’d never seen it colored and he matched the color to my non-silver hair. I was shocked at how dark it was but he assured me that was the color.
Not much change

Oddly enough, my hair style today is remarkably similar to how I wore it when I was a little girl. I like this length on me because it’s not so long as to look silly, but it’s long enough to put up in a ponytail or a french braid. And in a way, I keep it this length as a cost savings measure. My hair grows ridiculously fast and to keep a short cut looking good, I would (and have in the past) need to get a haircut every three weeks.

Hairstyle by Alison

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn leaves

This past Sunday, Kent and I made a start on raking the leaves. We have a lot of trees in our yard—the entire neighborhood is like a forest—so raking can be a year round process. We spent about two hours, filled 11 yard refuse bags and later that day, it was as though nothing had been done. Oh well.

I can never rake leaves without remembering one fall in particular when my boys flung themselves into giant piles of leaves, giggling and exploding out of the piles like little rockets. Of course their shenanigans always messed up the leaf piles, but their joy was infectious plus it wore their little bodies out. That was no mean feat!

L-Jordan, age 5, R-Ben, age 3


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So five years ago yesterday

Yes, that’s when the water main burst. Yes, I’m writing about it again. Yes, for the fifth year in a row.

I deliberately didn’t post yesterday but that day still hangs over me. No one died, and we came out OK in the end. Yet there was so much loss that day, and in the weeks afterward—loss that had nothing to do with water damage but piled on top of our soggy messes, well it was a lot to endure.

I mostly don’t miss the possessions we lost. We were able to restore the four pieces of furniture that did matter to us and we’re using them to this day. I don’t miss the clothing either, with the exception of a couple of items. I had the best winter running shirt and haven’t found anything like it since. Fashions change and today’s running gear tends to be form fitting to the skin plastering degree. My ruined winter running shirt wasn’t a tent but neither was it skin tight. I do miss that.

Occasionally I miss my high school yearbooks. Sure, high school was ages ago, but I still miss them. Plus I think my grandkids would have gotten a kick out of seeing me at that age and I don’t really have many pictures.

I’m very glad to say that I no longer flinch at the tiniest sounds of unexpected water. It’s hard for me to describe how loud and unexpected the sound of rushing water was that afternoon. The cats alerted to it first, but I heard it before it started pouring under our patio fence. At first it almost sounded like a whole lot of rushing feet. Then of course I saw it and then it filled our patio and well you know the rest of that story.

If I never ever hear the sound of those gigantic industrial blowers used to dry out flooded areas, that will be OK by me. And I’m fine with never having dry wall dust from reconstruction clogging my lungs again.

The restoration company assured us the first, second and third times we had severe water damage that fire is worse than water. I hope I never find out first hand.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cat in a window

Again.


We are all loving the weather right now. Yes, winter's coming but for now the windows are open and it's lovely.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A couple of completed projects

Lest I leave you with the impression that all my projects end up as wadders, here are two I've completed recently.

The sweater fabric is from Mood, and I got it last July on our trip to NYC. The pattern is McCalls 6408, which I've made before and blogged about here.

Don't mind my weird expression;
my allergies are kicking my butt and I feel
pretty miserable at the moment.
This lunch bag is my own creation. Inspired by my granddaughter and daughter-in-law, I took apart a paper bag from Bath & Body Works to use as the rough pattern pieces. It's made from the scraps left over from a bag I'd made for Jen, and the lining is from one of Kent's shirting materials. The front flap has Velcro to hold it down. I'm pretty pleased with this. I'd wanted a smaller lunch bag than the one I'd bought a couple of years ago, but it's hard to find a small one plus they're expensive for no good reason. So now I have this one.


Friday, October 24, 2014

It's their favorite time of year

Any time we can open windows or doors, the kitties love it. This is from earlier in the week:


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Good, that's settled

Last Saturday while visiting my sister Martha, along with her beau Jason and her two daughters, somehow the subject of how towels should be folded came up. Yes, that’s random and no I don’t recall how it happened. Just trust me that it made sense in the conversation.

Both men said prior to being in a relationship with their respective Dzur sister, they’d folded towels in squares. Bah, said we two sisters, that’s flat out wrong. They must be folded in thirds long ways, and then folded in half to hang or folded yet again in half to store. Much discussion over towel folding ensued and then we moved on to how socks are folded. The two men each had their own wrong method while Martha and I pair them up and fold them over from the top.

Out of curiosity today, I emailed our other sister Amy, told her the back story and asked her how she folded towels. Here is her perfect reply:
HA!! Of course I fold them properly! If you fold them in squares, then you have to refold them when you want to hang them on the towel rack!! So silly.*  
And of course she folds socks properly too. So there you go, we’ve provided our guide to practically perfect towels and socks every time.

I offer proof of my own folding methodology:

Exhibit A: Towels plus photobombed by Wally.



Exhibit B: Socks.
*Sadly my sister Amy still uses two spaces at the end of her sentences. But that's OK, I just edited them out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Undomesticated and germaphobic?

Last Friday was our 11th anniversary and we (predictably) had dinner at Story. Normally we sit at the bar, have a couple of drinks, eat a small dinner, usually have dessert and just generally enjoy being there. Occasionally we’ll actually make reservations and sit at a proper table. I say all that just to set the stage: we were at a table, so we could see parts of the restaurant we normally don’t see.

I first noticed the man—probably in his late 30s—because he was wearing scrubs and a surgical mask and latex or some other sort of protective gloves. He joined a woman who’d been sitting at a high top in the bar area; she had a small girl who was probably about four years old, and a boy of maybe eight. The man took the mask and gloves off before he came in the restaurant, which is really what caught my eye.

I faced their table so could see the whole scene: both parents wearing scrubs, both children being quite loud and rambunctious and running around, and an older woman (maybe a grandmother?) ineffectually trying to get the kids to settle down.

I should mention this isn’t what you’d call a family style restaurant. You go there for the award winning food, the amazing wine or drinks and the grown up atmosphere. It’s not the kind of restaurant with either kids’ menus or kids’ portions.

The woman finally collected the little girl and left the man, the grandmother and the boy still there. I watched as the boy walked along the edge of the window (floor to ceiling, I might add so he was on the bottom rail) and plastered his sticky hands all over the glass. I could see lots and lots of palm prints where before the glass had been clean. It was, in a way, like watching a train wreck. They didn’t leave for another 20 minutes or so, and when they did, the man put on his mask again, and dragged out the gloves and put them on too.

We moved to the bar after that, to enjoy one more drink together. I said something to the bartender about that family—and it turns out they come in and do this every Friday night. Wow, I was shocked. I mean, seriously, there is no way I’d have let my kids behave like that in any restaurant, let alone a really nice one like Story. And apparently the dad is quite the germophobe! He always wears the gloves and mask.


People are so strange.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For Jen: My tale of wadders

Ah wadders. Those humble pie reminders that my sewing skills are often nowhere near my ability to imagine how an item might look if I sew it out of this fabric with that pattern.

I'm not the only one to have wadders instead of successful sewing projects. You can read here, here, here, here and here. There are more examples in the big wide world of sewing blogs, those are just from the first page of search results. And here are my entries:

  • The grey skirt made of fabric that has symmetrical designed embroidered on it in the same grey. I love the tone on tone look, but the pattern I chose really needs a far crisper fabric than the lovely, drapey grey fabric. So I decided to interline it. Now it’s in the box, partially assembled. I can’t bring myself to do any more work on it since it’s almost certainly not salvageable, nor can I bring myself to throw it away.
  • The coat made of the lovely pinky-corally tweedy material. That one I did to myself. The pattern calls for fabric with at least X amount of stretch (where X equals I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter because my fabric had no stretch). Yeah, I got the back and the front sewn, stitched on the sleeves at the head and then realized nope, it might fit my granddaughter in a couple of years, but no one else I know could wear it.
  • The shirt made from a lovely cotton. I have not yet mastered the full bust adjustment and this shirt is proof of that fact. But gosh, my collar and stand were gorgeous.
  • The pleather skirt—my newest entry in the hall of wadder shame. I made it from the ponte knit that looks like leather. The pattern (the Mabel from Colette) is close-fitting and reviews indicated you should most definitely believe the measurements and that you should use a heavier knit. So I chose the size that would fit my hips and I thought this knit was thick enough. It is not and the nearly finished skirt will never ever ever see the light of day. 

Those are just the ones I haven’t yet ditched and can remember off the top of my head. There are more, plenty more, and Kent’s had at least one or two.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More fun with mice

Wally got fascinated with the new mice, so I put a couple of them on the pet bed on my desk. He spent a lot of time biting their tails, not their bodies, which I thought was pretty funny.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Gifts from afar!

My dear friend Freshhell made me some amazing things, which I got on Friday. Some were for the kitties, but some were for us.

Here's Wally loving on the new catnip mice (which she made and they are awesome):




And here's how mean I was to Wally by stacking things on him:



That's an octopus on him, an octopus pin cushion!

And as you can clearly see, the pillows are cat-tested and approved:



Isn't that fabric the coolest? She said she got it from a thrift store and that it's from the same era as our house. I'm just so impressed and blown away by her talent.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm a little slow

On their grand, cross-country road trip last spring, Mom and Dad brought us two pictures. One is a Charley Harper print they've had for years and that I've always loved. The other is a pastel drawing of my mother when she was 12 years old. I'd always told her she wasn't to throw it away, that if she got to the point where she didn't want it any more, she should give it to me. So she did.

Here they are in new frames, which go better with the rest of our pictures:





Sunday, October 5, 2014

Animals are weird

We gave my mother-in-law’s dog a rubber duck nearly two years ago at Christmas. The duck is wearing a stocking cap and squeaks very loudly when squeezed or chewed on. Arfie (yes, the dog’s name is Arfie because when he barks, he says “arf” very clearly) loves that chicken, and takes it everywhere. But the reason I’m including this in my “animals are weird” post is because every Sunday when Kent calls his mother, Arfie runs off to get the chicken and brings it to my mother-in-law, making the bird squawk the whole way.

In a similar vein, Eddie is a talkative cat all the time, but he saves his loudest, most expressive meows for when I call my mother on Saturday mornings at 8 her time. He will walk down the hallway and come into the office, singing the song of his people the entire way. My mother can hear him very clearly—heck, I think the people down the street can hear him. He’ll do it other times too, of course, but never with as much feeling and meaning as he does when I am talking to my mom.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's alive!

So am I, but I am slammed at work. And because I write at work, I have zero brain cells or desire to write once I get home. This too shall pass, because I have probably half a dozen blog posts written in my head and I will get them down at some point. Plus sewing! And another trip coming up! And kitties! Yeah . . . all that. I'll be back shortly, I swear.

I leave you with a picture of the world's most interesting cat (at least he thinks so):


Sunday, September 21, 2014

What's in your closet?

Have you heard about Project 333? I’ve written about it before although I’ve never participated. The idea has always intrigued me though, and I’d been considering participating this year.

I was talking about it with Kent and it occurred to me that there’s no corresponding idea for men. I don’t think it’s that no man ever hoarded clothes or has a closet full of clothing with nothing to wear. But I do think there are a couple of reasons why this concept is primarily embraced by women.

If you think about it, we women tend to buy into the idea that we need four discrete seasons of clothing—the item change in terms of fabrics or cut and most definitely shift in terms of color. Think of how summer dresses look and feel compared to winter dresses. Or pants vs. those abominations, capris (sorry if you like them, I cannot abide them at all). Fall colors are typically warmer toned than winter colors, and likewise with spring and summer. Even if the palettes are similar, the color saturation is different (think of summer colors compared to winter colors). Summer clothing is as skimpy as can be (and then we freeze in our overly air conditioned offices) while winter sees us putting on the layers.  So we buy seasonal clothing, which stuffs our closets and then we have a hard time mixing and matching what we’ve got.

I don’t see that same situation with men’s clothing. It’s not really much of an option. Sure, in a business casual environment you’ll see men wearing things like khaki pants rather than tropical wool, and some wear those wretched short sleeve “dress” shirts (dress shirts don’t have short sleeves is all I’m saying) in the summer. But overall, men can wear the same kinds of clothing year round.

So before I start the Project 333 plan, I’d rather take a look at my closet and cull the obvious outliers, the clothes that are strictly intended to be worn in one season. I don’t mean I’ll purge my bathing suit, or have no shorts or sun dresses. But I do think I don’t need three months’ worth of either item. I think if I aim for three season wearing out of all clothing items, then I will need far fewer clothing. And if I choose my colors carefully, sticking with the palette I tend to buy all the time anyway then everything will go together.

What about you, how do you approach buying clothing?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A marketing department's dream

I was flipping through the new Ikea catalog the other day, and sort of idly wondering why it is that particular brand appeals to me so much. That got me wondering about the handful of brands that I identify with and tend to stick with, and thinking about why it’s those brands and not others that I prefer.

For example:
  • Membership clubs: Costco always, the rest never. I have tried Sam’s and considered BJ’s because there was a BJ’s near my office in the Boston area but no. I really prefer Costco.
  • Super cheap store: Target over WalMart unless we are in a one income situation.
  • Cars: For years—I mean years—I was loyal to the Honda brand. I bought a Volvo in 2012 and I’ll never go back. 
And then there’s Ikea. I’ve always liked the furniture with the clean lines and generally fun colors or fabrics. And the soft goods like towels or curtains are just wonderful. Plus you can get the meatballs for lunch or dinner with some mashed potatoes and lingon berries as a side—YUM. And this year, you can watch their hilarious ad:



The Kansas City store opened today and in typical Ikea fashion, they opened 20 minutes early because there were so many people waiting outside in the rain. I can’t wait to go, although not just yet. While I love Ikea, I don’t love crowds.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

School daze

A friend recently posted about one of her favorite teachers from 3rd grade, and said that she didn’t remember teachers before that year. That got me thinking about the teachers I remember, and why I remember them.

In preschool, I went to West Nashville Kindergarten (think that was the name although a quick Google search turns up nothing—then again that was *cough* nearly half a century ago so it’s not surprising). My preschool teachers were Miss May and Mr. Gordon. They seemed quite old to me, but not nearly so old as my kindergarten teacher the next year, Miss Sullivan. She had to have been in her 60s, maybe early 70s. Or then again, maybe that’s just how she seemed through the eyes of a five year old.

In first grade, I went to Eakin Elementary School, also in Nashville and it’s still there. I got to see it in 2009 on a visit to my older son and his wife. My teacher was Miss Floyd and I just absolutely adored her. I was beyond ecstatic when she stayed with my class to be our second grade teacher.

In 3rd and 4th grades, I attended Tates Creek Elementary School in Lexington, KY. I couldn’t tell you anything about my teachers, although I do remember attending anti-drug classes as well as getting tested for TB, taking gymnastic for two years (I was horrible at it but boy I sure wanted to be a gymnast) and having a massive crush on Landon King.

Fifth grade was pretty wretched for me. I went to an elementary school in Derby, KS and my teacher’s name was Mrs. Warren. She flat out hated me, and I couldn’t tell you why. But the mean things she said and her obvious dislike and utter reluctance to have anything to do with me are things I’ve never forgotten. About 2/3 of the way through the year, we moved into base housing and I thankfully switched schools. I remember Mr. Amerine being nice, not great but at least nice which was a pleasant change.

In 6th grade, I went to Coopertown Elementary School in Bryn Mawr. Mr. Schultz was my teacher for all but reading and math—he was really nice and well liked. I had Mr. Folmer for reading, and he probably never realized what a huge positive impact he had on me, and how badly I needed the lifeline he offered. I wish I could find him and tell him how much he helped me and what a positive impact he had on me.

After that, I remember specific teachers for some specific classes, but not all of them. The ones who stick out do so for good reasons: At Beaumont Junior High School in Lexington again, I had Mr. Connolly (band teacher in 7th grade), then in Cape Girardeau I had Mrs. Sharpe who taught me several liberal arts classes in high school and was also the speech and debate coach. She was just incredible. My band teacher there, Mr. Ewing, was also good—oh and I remember Miss Myers, my Spanish teacher in 9th grade. She was the one with a wandering eye so I was never sure which eye actually saw me!

Who do you remember, and why?

Preschool, I'm top row, far right side by Mr. Gordon. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

By the numbers?

So. Back to the ALS ice bucket challenge one more time. Yes, I know I’ve written about this twice already but bear with me—I have more to say.

I’m seeing people post snarky poster photo dealies on Facebook that list the number deaths from ALS every year compared to the number who die from lack of access to clean water. No disrespect intended but so what? Is it a contest to find the cause with the greatest number of deaths? Is that how we should decide where we’ll put our charitable muscle or money to work?

Look, I get it that access to clean water is a huge issue around the world. I just don’t see the relationship between that and fund raising for ALS. What if I hadn’t poured my four cups of water, give or take a cup, over my head and donated $100 to ALS research? Would my not doing that have magically helped those living in drought-stricken areas? In fact, isn’t this an awfully lot like being told as a child that I should finish my dinner “because there are children starving in Africa?” How are these related?

Put it another way—what’s the price of a life? Was Spock right, and do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . or the one? Must you have huge numbers of people who suffer from something in order for donating to that cause to somehow be worthy?

Two months before
Jordan was diagnosed
I donate primarily to two causes*. The first one is research for ALS. I do it because ALS has a face for me, the face of a man I never met. The second one is for research into finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. This kind of diabetes accounts for “only” about 5% of the total number of people with diabetes, and it too has a face—my older son. Neither illness gets nearly the funding for research that other diseases get; I will do what I can to help with both causes.

I don’t begrudge those who prefer to donate to causes like access to clean water around the world. Please do me the same courtesy.






*I periodically donate to a couple of other research causes but those are funded a lot better than these two, which is why I generally stick to the ones listed here. 




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dachau revisited

I’ve been to Dachau twice now—the first time was in the early 80s during my first marriage, and of course yesterday’s trip.

The first trip was strange not only because of where we were (let’s face it, Dachau is somber and thought-provoking), but also because it was about a week after my older son had fallen from a window, landed on the sidewalk below and fractured his skull, plus I’d found out the day after Jordan fell that I was pregnant with Ben and to top it all off, my then mother-in-law had just arrived to visit us for three weeks. Whew, that was a lot going on. I recall that the weather was incredibly hot for Germany, in the mid to upper 80s, possibly even 90. There were no guided tours then and the gate was in a different spot than today. The museum had what I guess was a visiting exhibition of shoes because it wasn't there yesterday—an impossibly huge pile of shoes from victims (I think they were specific to Dachau but maybe not). The shoes got me, seeing all those shoes humanized the genocide there in a way that is sometimes missed by blurry, black and white photos.

This second trip was no less moving. This time we did have a tour guide and she really filled in all the blanks. The weather was not great—temps were in the mid-60s and it rained pretty hard, hard enough to soak my not very water resistant coat so that in the end I donated some money to get a plastic rain poncho. But it was appropriate to have not great weather there. At the end of the day, I’d be getting on a bus, then a train and heading to the HofbrÀuhaus for some beer and a late lunch with just wet clothing to bother me.

If you have a chance to go to one of the concentration camps, or to the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., go. We should never forget what happened.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Snippets from Munich

As I remembered from living in Germany in the early 1980s, there’s just no trash here. None. I didn’t ride the subway then (our town had buses and trains, too small for a subway) but there’s no trash in there either and no graffiti.

Trains still run absolutely on time.

We saw several groups with leaflets but instead of shoving them into people’s hands, they stood politely holding them in their own hands, extended so you could take one if you wanted to.

We were on a walking tour about food yesterday afternoon, standing quietly in a small group with our guide when an older lady—in her 60s? perhaps 70s?—began lecturing him. My German is quite rusty any more but I had no problem understanding her diatribe. She never yelled but boy was she vicious. She had a lot to say about Americans, Obama and African-Americans.


Today we’ll go to Dachau. We hope to see a couple of museums this afternoon but it’s also supposed to storm here. We’re hoping it’s not heavy rain.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My turn

I’m a little surprised it took this long but I did get nominated for the ALS ice bucket challenge by my brother-in-law, Curt. To be honest, I was honored because that’s just another sign that we’re family. Love you, Curt!

As you’ll see in my video, I challenged three others and I offered an out. You see, I’ve noticed that some of my friends are refusing to participate because they are afraid that ALS research might use embryonic stem cells. So if that’s the case for you reading this blog post, I challenge you to consider donating to the hospice organizations that support those who need end of life care from ALS. It’s truly a horrible disease and this is a way you can help ease another human being’s suffering.

Also—to quiet any claims of water wastage—the water for my challenge fell on the patio (where it came to a more normal/reasonable temperature before going into the lawn. No wasting here.

So on to the challenges:
  • Amy Dzur—my sister who happens to be a critical care nurse so she’s very familiar with horrible medical issues plus she’s super tough. An ice water bath will be nothing to her.
  • Judith Dzur—my mother who is a retired nurse who did a lot of good work in hospice and is also quite tough.
  • Kerry DeBauge—my best friend and one of the strongest women I know.
Ladies, you have 24 hours. Go!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Take a chill pill

Unless you are 100% unplugged from all forms of social media or news (and in which case, why are you wasting time reading my blog??), you’ve heard about or seen the ice bucket challenge. A fund raising campaign for ALS Association, this started July 29 with a simple premise of either donating money to the association or or dumping a bucket of ice water on your head (and possibly also donating money).

I’ve been a little surprised at the Grumpy Gus responses of some people on Facebook; I’ve read  comments that it’s just an attention-grabbing behavior by whomever does the challenge, it’s a huge waste of water, people are just sick of it for no particular reason and so on. I call BS on all that for a couple of reasons.

First, this disease is awful. I never got to meet my father-in-law because he died from it before I ever met my husband and by all accounts it was a horrible, horrible way to go.

Second, this campaign has been highly effective in both raising the awareness of the disease and in raising money. Last year, the association had raised under half a million dollars compared to nearly $15 million to date.

Third, I don’t care if you dump a tea cup or a trash barrel full of ice water – it’s the idea that counts to me.

The disease is horrible and this viral video phenomenon has raised over $15 $41 million (I wrote this post yesterday and the numbers jumped between then and now). That’s a lot of money that can do a lot of good.

Kent was challenged to do this and you can see how he did it on Facebook (in a hotel with an ice bucket and yes, he's donating cash as well).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A pain in the butt

My own that is, at least on the left side. I think it’s from upping my weight workout and sadly, the discomfort isn’t isolated to just the booty area. I find it funny (not haha either) that pain refers itself elsewhere, as if to spread the joy. So in addition to the pain in my own rear, I feel it at the top of the outside of my left calf up by my knee. And it hurts to sit and walk, but oddly I have no pain going up and down stairs, nor do I have any back pain at all. And my knees are fine too.

I suspect it’s my piriformis muscle, which can get all clenched up and then squeeze the sciatic nerve. It’s painful enough that I couldn’t run Friday—I tried, but it was just too painful. Then Saturday night, returning to bed from a bathroom trip, I smacked the everloving crap out of my upper thigh, same leg of course, on the post of the bed’s footboard. Yeowch that HURT plus the force of the blow made my left hip feel really weird and not in a good way.

Anyway, one way to help relax the piriformis muscle, aside from getting stronger and stretching more (all of which I’m working on), is to roll that part of the bum on a tennis or lacrosse ball. It’s not a pleasant feeling to roll on a ball because basically you’re rolling super tight muscles on a hard object. But I’m willing to spend a few dollars on some tennis balls if it will help. And I doubt it can hurt, or at least not any more than I’m hurting right now.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

They take turns

Mostly they take turns nicely. Sometimes there will be hissing and crying. Today was a hissing/crying kind of day.



P.S. Wally was there first.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chloe has a spot

I have a cat bed on my desk. The boy kitties take turns sleeping in it, or to be honest sometimes they fight over it. Then there's a cushion on the short file cabinet between mine and Kent's desk. That's where you'll find Chloe until the boy kitty who lost out on the cat bed comes and crowds her out.

We have a built in book case in our office and this weekend it occurred to me that if we moved a shelf up just a bit, we could fit in a cushion and maybe, just maybe a kitty would claim that spot as their own.


And she did. In fact, she's the only one who's gotten in there. Pretty sweet, eh?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The ethics of mouse extermination

We have mice. It’s not really a shock since the back yard has lush vegetation from the previous owners – the planting beds make for great hiding places for bunnies, mice and chipmunks. So far, though, only mice have ventured inside.

How can I miss you
if you don't go away?
We think they are mostly in the basement and garage. We’ve seen just one in the house (which I wrote about here), and we haven’t seen mouse droppings or any nibbles on human or cat food inside. We’d put steel wool pads in some holes at the bottom of the garage door that leads outside, and I noticed that a couple have been shoved aside. I’m sure the mice did that. I’ve also seen droppings in the garage, and I’ve spotted several mice in the basement. It’s no coincident that I moved my workout equipment back upstairs – I’m looking for my heart to race from workouts, not mice sightings.


Kent set out a couple of traps in the basement and finally caught two after about two weeks. What I didn’t know was that they are glue traps. He said the exterminators who treated the house for ants and who found the first mouse used glue traps.

So here’s my dilemma. I want the mice gone, completely and totally gone. Catching and releasing isn’t an option because they will come back in. We tried the steel wool in the holes (which we know need to be plugged) but the mice basically laughed. So that means we must use some sort of trap that kills. And that’s where I get queasy.

Years ago, my parents were friends with Paul and Marty. Paul was not really a vegetarian but if he thought about where his meat came from or people talked about butchering and so on, he’d get nauseous. I am much the same way. I know that’s ignoring reality but there it is. And it’s the same sort of thing for me with the mice. I want them gone and logically I know that means they are going to die.

That leaves us with three options: poison, glue traps and spring traps. Poison is flat out: I think that’s a dreadful way to die plus I really don’t want a poisoned mouse to climb up into our walls and then die. That would be both horrible and stinky. I think the glue traps are really awful too. The mouse is stuck, it can’t move so basically it dies of thirst and starvation. And spring traps are no joke either, although one would hope that it would at least be a quick death.

We have very reluctantly opted to use the spring traps. Kent has been tremendous and taken on this awful chore, for which I am grateful. I just wish we didn’t have mice at all.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The grey kitties

Chloe and Eddie both nap on our bed during the day. Chloe usually curls up on the pink blanket a friend made for us as a housewarming gift, but not always. Sometimes she curls up on one of the two folded beach towels at the foot of the bed. Yes, we have two folded beach towels on our bed . . . doesn't everyone? No really, we have them there to help keep the cat fur off the duvet cover. Of course that just means the fur is on the towels, and they have to be washed but somehow it seems like a good idea.

Anyway.

The day I took this picture, Eddie had managed to get very close to Chloe for his own nap. She wasn't completely unaware and what you can't see here is how her tail was whipping back and forth. Eddie finally just put his heavy paw on her tail and made her stop.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A couple of random photos

These are also from my weekend in Virginia. On Sunday, the boys wore the shirts Kent and I made them for Easter. The shirts are getting to be a bit small, which is both good news and to be expected, but don't they look cute wearing their shirts?



And I love this picture. Eli is really into Legos now and spent most of his time building elaborate, always symmetrical ships and space ships and planes.


And the first morning I was there, I got this not so great selfie but I love it anyway because of Colin's expression.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Setting the record straight

The scene: my kitchen in Columbus, OH
The players: me, Jordan (about 5) and Ben (about 3)

I opened the fridge to get some butter, and realized the butter wasn’t quite wrapped. When I unwrapped it all the way, I saw the very distinctive bite marks from my younger son. He had gotten into the fridge, unwrapped a fresh stick of butter and taken a big bite out of it. For years, I just figured he was a butter slicker like me. 

Flash forward nearly 30 years later.

I was at Ben's house this past weekend and somehow that story came up – I think because at least one of his children has his exact same overbite (which came directly from me, sometimes genetics stink eh?). I was teasing him a bit, as family often does, about his apparent love of butter when he said well no, he did it because his brother Jordan told him to.

Wait, what?

Since we live in the digital age, I texted Jordan and asked him, fully expecting him to say no, no, no, Ben did that on his own. Instead Jordan confirmed the story, that indeed he had told his little brother to go bite the butter.

All these years, I’ve thought that Ben just did it on his own and I’ve told others, more than a few others to be honest, about that story. It’s pretty funny to learn otherwise. Now I wonder what else Jordan told him to do . . .


Monday, August 4, 2014

Mission accomplished

We finished the dress yesterday shortly before dinner. Alison did really well and hung in there til nearly the end before she got a little bored. She started asking if the dress was done and got disappointed when it wasn’t (we still had to put in a casing for the elastic at the waist and then hem the dress). To be honest, I get bored at the very end of a sewing project too! But it’s not exaggerating to say that she was involved in a good 90% of the sewing.



Once the dress was nearly done, she got really amped up – although all three of the kids tend to get amped up about 30 minutes before dinnertime. My own kids used to do that;  I called it the witching hour. But her excitement was overwhelming and it was hard to get her to hold still for a photo shoot.

She was so proud to show her daddy.
The entire time I’ve been here, she’s played with and brushed my hair. She’s been determined to get my hair up in an elaborate style and here’s the result of some extreme concentration and effort on her part.



Jen was taking pictures of Alison and me and Colin decided he wanted to get into the action – but as a photographer, not a model!



At first, Eli wanted nothing to do with pictures, but then he came around. Aren’t his eyes just amazing? I love his sweetness, too. Last night, for example, he came three times into Alison’s room where I was reading her a story before bed to ask me to check on him before I went downstairs. He’s a huge snuggler and if you ever get asked to check on Eli, get ready to give that boy some hugs.



And here's a final photo, a selfie of Alison and me.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

I have been busy

I am in Virginia this weekend to give Alison sewing lessons. She’s been fascinated with sewing and her fascination was reinforced by a birthday party where all the attendees hand stitched little bags. That was about the same time as Easter, when Kent and I sewed her and her brothers’ Easter outfits. It’s been a perfect storm, so to speak, in terms of piquing her interest.

Alison and her mother did some shopping before I got here Friday and picked up a pattern and fabric for her first machine sewing project. We’re not done yet but will have no problems completing the dress before she goes to bed tonight.



Unlike her Nana, Alison is using a thimble
 -- a good best practice!

Eli has been fascinated with the process
(never mind his "creepy" face)

She cut out a good 90% of the dress