Friday, May 20, 2016

Do It Now

I've been a bit preoccupied over the past many months with worries and near-crises (some financial, many medical), and I think that because of this I've gotten scared. I don't try new things, even if there is little to no risk, and I make decisions and choices out of fear and anxiety. I've never been the fearless sort of person that would contemplate skydiving or summiting Everest, but I feel the need for a change.

I saw this on facebook and it got me thinking. The changes I'm making may be tiny, incremental, and possibly even unrecognizable as changes to other people, but they are changes nonetheless. Here are the things I've meant to do and am doing now.
  • Plant a bunch of bleeding hearts - I dearly love bleeding hearts and admire a large planting in a neighbor's yard every day on my walk. I've always told myself that I shouldn't invest so much money in perennials that will take a long time to grow, might die, ... but two weeks ago I bought eight bare roots, planted them, and most are growing lushly. One of them already has buds, and they are bringing me much joy every day.
  • Knit another Hitchhiker - When I'm ready to start a new knitting project I always think, "I should knit something besides Hitchhikers." I occasionally do, but I when I was trying to decide what pattern I should knit with one of my favorite stash yarns, I kept coming back to my perennial favorite. I have an idea for a slight modification so it's cast on and I love it.
  • Join a KAL - I've failed at every KAL I've attempted (about five or so). Once I quit before I even cast on! When Kat presented her ingenious idea, I knew this was meant for me. So instead of dithering endlessly between yes and no, I joined and am excited about it. Motivation! Cocktails! Recipes! A KAL where the only requirement is that there is no requirement! This one is easy to just do now.
  • Write a letter - A local high school teacher is in real danger of losing his job because of an email full of inappropriate language that he sent to a parent and the district superintendent. Both of my sons had this teacher multiple times, and he had an especially large impact on Ryan. I told myself that he did do something wrong, if I wrote a letter of support it wouldn't really matter, and so on, but I finally saw that he had taken lots of time to have a big positive influence on my kids, and I want to support people that make that kind of effort. I know this man to be an excellent teacher and wonderful human being so I said that in my letter, sent it off to the board of education, and asked others to consider supporting this teacher. The decision about his firing is still not made, but I am glad I did the right/write thing. 
  • Read a book just because it sounds good - Maybe even judge a book by its cover! Usually I read reviews and carefully consider my next book for its value. Is this book worth spending money on and it is worth my limited reading time? This is fine in moderation, but I'm tired of making this be my main criterion. I picked The Last Painting of Sara de Vos because it sounded unique and had a mysterious-looking cover, and was rewarded with one of the best books I've read this year. I chose my current book, LaRose, because of its utterly compelling story line. 
It's been freeing for me to stop overthinking and being so apprehensive, and just do things because I want to. I can also see the dangers in too much self-rewarding and not thinking about consequences, but I'm tired of being afraid, worried, and petrified. I'm going to just Do It Now and be happier.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Major(ette) TBT

It's interesting what you come across while trying to organize photos, and these are some of the most entertaining ones that I've discovered in the past several weeks.

Let's return to 1974. There is an energy crisis with odd-even gas rationing; construction begins on the Alaska pipeline, Nixon resigns, and Stephen King publishes his first novel, Carrie. There is also this:

A cheerleader and a majorette in the same family! Their parents must have been so proud to take a picture of these lovely young girls, cheering and twirling in the living room.

A year later, it gets even better. Bonny has clawed her way up through the competitive group of majorettes to become captain. It may have also been the case that nobody else wanted to do it and the title meant absolutely nothing except she had gold tassels on her boots instead of purple, but the exact circumstances have become a bit fuzzy 41 years later.

We can see the skill and precision that Bonny demanded in her corps. Many Some of them are even facing forward at the same time!

If only there were more photos of these talented young girls in action!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On the Bright Side

This ...

to this ...

with lots of pauses along the way to look at it and ask, "Do I really like this?"

On the bright side, I guess I do. It's cheery and wearable. I'm not sure that I love the variegated jumble of colors. I like them much better when they are distinct and discrete in the skein. I fell for the skein without thinking what it would look like when knit.

I do like longer and narrower shawls, but I may do some more math and try to knit my next one longer and narrower without the making the points quite so big. They almost disappear even after blocking. Lessons learned!

Ravelry details here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ten on Tuesday

The Ten on Tuesday topic for today is 10 Ways to Help a New Mom. We've had a few babies born in our family during the past year, and we're expecting another one later in October, but we are all scattered throughout the country so I wasn't close enough to help directly. Here is some of the help I received (and greatly appreciated!) or would have loved as a new mom myself.

  1. Bring meals - My mother-in-law brought us food for the first two weeks after both of my children were born. It wasn't every day, but it was absolutely wonderful to know that there were casseroles, stuffed shells, and meatloaf in the refrigerator if I couldn't manage dinner on my own. (Like those days that I could barely brush my teeth or take a shower.)
  2. Hold the baby - So the new mom can brush her teeth and take a shower. 
  3. Offer help with laundry, washing dishes, or vacuuming - My mother came over a few times to take care of some of the laundry. I was determined to use cloth diapers, so the help was terrific.
  4. Take the older kid(s) off her hands for a while - A nap for mom while the baby sleeps is much easier if you've taken the older kids to the library for a bit.
  5. Run some errands - Do some quick grocery shopping, stop by the dreaded post office, or pick up the dry cleaning. Any of these would benefit the new mother's whole family.
  6.  Ask the new mom what you can do to help - She may suggest some things that you wouldn't have thought of, and it's always nice to have your help actually be helpful.
  7. Text when you're at the drug store, Target, or Costco - "I'm at Walgreens right now. What do you need?"
  8. Gift the new mother with something soothing and pampering just for her - Lavender shower gel, good hand cream, cocoa butter, or maybe some really delicious chocolates and tea could help deal with some of the sleep deprivation.
  9. Help with seasonal jobs - Depending on the time of year that the baby is born, you could mow the lawn, rake leaves, shovel snow, bake Christmas cookies, or wrap some gifts. 
  10. Knit - This one has to be planned ahead, but I can't leave it off the list. I think all babies (and new moms) deserve at least one hand knit item. 
It takes some time for a new mom (and baby) to adjust to the big changes in their lives, even if the mother has done it before. With a little help, they can ease gently into their new life together.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Still Life in Brown and Green

I hesitate to post these photos because they sure don't look like much, but this is the beginning of the garden this year. We planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, Napa cabbage, and Brussels sprouts over Mother's Day weekend.

If you squint just the right way and use your imagination, you'll see some turnips, chard, spinach, beans, and peas in this muddy expanse. Spring weather has been quite variable here -- first it was warm and dry and the peas and beans didn't germinate even when we were careful about watering, then we had ten days of cold and rain so the seeds just rotted in the ground. They've all been replanted, so fingers crossed!

We had lots of extra plants that I had started from seed, so we planted our "offsite" garden at my mother-in-law's with more tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, and watermelons.

Five varieties of tomatoes are planted, caged, and mulched.

I have a little bit of space for flowers within the fenced vegetable garden and I'm especially excited that my columbines seem to be doing well. I started them in pots from seeds last summer (wrong time, they're meant to be sown directly in the fall) and they weren't ready to plant outside last year. These are small and also don't look like much now, but they have grown, and I have even more that I started from seed to plant outside.

These bits of green in muddy brown soil are underwhelming now, but I'm thinking of them as the "Before" photos to compare with the hopefully more impressive and verdant "After" pictures in a month or two.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Older, Wiser, and Happy Birthday!

Nobody is more deserving of a rare Sunday post than this kid. 

Today is Justin's 23rd birthday, and while I can hardly believe how fast the years have flown, he has grown into a young man that I'm exceedingly proud of. He's charming, funny, able to think for himself, solve problems, and do the right thing, even when it's not the easy thing.

Justin is interested in all types of wildlife, from large-mouth bass (always catch and release), to bears, chipmunks, and horned lizards that shoot blood out of their eyes to deter predators.

He taught himself how to taxidermy rattlesnake skins (which I think is pretty darn cool).

 He also has a fine appreciation of sunrises, sunsets, and the beauty of nature.

In a recent Messenger conversation he said, "Work hard, learn something, take pride in your work, and good things will come." Justin does all those things and I wish only good things for my wonderful son!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Ten on Tuesday

Today's Ten on Tuesday topic is a timely one for me -- 10 Ways to Welcome Someone New To Your Neighborhood. Our next door neighbors are selling their house, so we will be welcoming a new family to the neighborhood in the near future. After seeing the parade of prospective buyers looking at the house over the past several weeks I suggested to my neighbor that I should have approval of any buyers before the final papers get signed, but for some reason he didn't seem to like that idea. So, I guess I will just have to try some of these welcoming ideas.
  1. Introduce yourself (with some fresh-baked cookies) after the new neighbors have had a chance to settle in.
  2. Take them some food -- something that they can heat and eat if they haven't yet unpacked the kitchen or freeze for later. Lasagna, ziti, or casseroles have been big hits on our block. 
  3. Consider delivering the lasagna or casserole along with disposable plates, napkins, and utensils.
  4. Bake a welcome cake. This is a good one. 
  5. If you're not a cake baker, maybe muffins or some cinnamon rolls might be a good idea. I welcomed one of our neighbors with zucchini bread and now she demands it every year (in a friendly, neighborly way, of course).
  6. Gift them with a nice pot of cheery flowers, something to make the front porch look welcoming.
  7.  Prepare a list of useful neighborhood information -- emergency numbers, trash and recycling collection days, the good pizza places, coffee place, closest grocery store, doctors, dentists, libraries, the good mechanic ...
  8. Don't forget to include your own contact information along with pertinent neighborhood details.
  9. A bottle of wine is almost always a good idea to help deal with the stress of moving and unpacking.
  10. Let your new neighbors know that you're available if they want or need help (waiting for the cable guy or phone company, accepting UPS packages, etc.) but don't be a pest. 
I live in a neighborhood where we wave hello, chat a bit when we're shoveling or mowing, and occasionally enjoy a beer together on the front porch, but we don't intrude on each others' privacy.  Being a good neighbor can help make your neighborhood a peaceful and friendly place, and who wouldn't want to live there!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

Mother's Day was a low-key affair here, which is to be expected since the kids that call me Mom are currently living their lives 1700 and 1900 miles away. This is fine, and as it should be, but I can also hear my grandmother saying, "Be careful what you wish for."

When the boys were young and my life was full of diapers, mashed bananas and Cheerios, trucks, trains, and diggers, strep throat, and plenty of sleepless nights, John would ask what I wanted for Mother's Day. My usual wish was for a day off. Ryan and Justin were wonderful children, and are now wonderful young men, so it wasn't that I really wanted to be away from them. I just wanted a day to myself to read, knit, think a complete thought, drink a warm cup of tea that hadn't been reheated seven times in the microwave, and enjoy an uninterrupted shower without someone crying or barging into the bathroom.

And that's what I have now. While I do enjoy all those things I wished for above every day, there are also some instances when it feels like I might have too much time by myself. During those times, it's easy for me to look wistfully back on those child-rearing days through rose-colored glasses. I really don't have any desire to relive not sleeping more than four hours for an eighteen month stretch or worry about how daredevil Justin was going to get injured next. I do miss those handmade Mother's Day cards, and sometimes I just miss knowing exactly where my kids were. Where they were was with me.

I'm still involved in their lives, often on a daily basis through phone calls, texts, and facebook messenger chats. I'm the one that Justin calls when he can't locate enough glycerin to taxidermy rattlesnake skins (Amazon will send 2 quarts to the wilds of TX with Prime shipping.) I'm also the one that Ryan calls when he's perched on top of his refrigerator because he doesn't have a ladder tall enough to change the flickering fluorescent fixtures on the vaulted ceiling in his kitchen (Contact an electrician, and because you're a poor graduate student I'll even pay for it.) Some of these calls make me laugh, some make me fearful, and some just make me shake my head, but they all make me glad that I'm still a part of my children's lives. My wish now is that I don't have too many days off from still being their mother.

Friday, May 6, 2016

One More Sign

After April showers bring May flowers, there is one more sign of spring that I look for.


I usually see the first one in our back yard where the does from the resident deer herd seem to like to tuck their fawns for the day. This one was curled up at the base of a tree near John's workplace, about 20 yards from some rather noisy road construction. I do hope its mother finds a less busy and more peaceful place for her fawn tomorrow.

Wishing everyone a peaceful weekend with plenty of signs of spring -- hopefully you'll even see some sunshine!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Looking beyond dreary

This post was supposed to be about the lovely, bright Hitchhiker I've been knitting. I even had the photo composed in my mind -- pinned on the clothesline, blowing gently in a spring breeze, with a brilliant blue sky as a backdrop to show off all the colors.

Two things prevented that from happening. The main reason is that I'm not quite done with the project, and we've also not seen a brilliant blue sky here for about nine days. All we've had is rain, downpours, showers, grey skies, and cold, dismal weather. I'm getting tired of it, along with everyone else, and more of the same is predicted for the next seven days.

While I was filling the bird feeders during the ten minutes it wasn't raining, I took a look around and discovered that despite all the grey dreariness, there were still quite a few bright spots in the form of blooming flowers. These aren't all mine, and most of them are soaking wet, but a quick walk around the neighborhood produced enough bright spots to keep me happy for a while.

I hope your day is full of bright spots no matter the weather!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

It's a Prize-Winning Pod!

Way back in February, I posted about my knitted narwhals and asked people to cast a vote or two for them if they were so inclined. The contest seemed to last forever (even I was getting tired of voting), but it did finally end in March, and I found out just a few days ago that I won! Big thanks to everyone that took the time to vote, thought about voting, cast virtual votes because they wisely aren't on Facebook, or even sent good thoughts.

My sister deserves a huge thank you because she went above and beyond to nag encourage all of her many friends to vote. She put more work into this than I did knitting the narwhals, so she is certainly deserving of some (or all!) of the prize.

That baby and all the Pooh characters are even cuter than narwhals.

I've always meant to knit a purple narwhal to join the rest, so that may be my plane knitting when I head to Fort Collins. Ryan has the rest of the pod in Colorado, so it would be nice to clutter his house present him with another member for the prize-winning pod!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ten on Tuesday

Today's Ten On Tuesday prompt is 10 Favorite Foods Your Mom Used To Make. My mother didn't enjoy cooking very much, but she did prepare dinner for the four of us almost every night. She was happy to hand off some of the food preparation to my sister and I when she got a job, and I appreciate her infinite patience when I called her at work to ask for instructions on how to make meatloaf. Even though cooking wasn't her favorite thing, childhood foods that Mom used to make have a special place in my heart.
  1. Chef Boyardee Pizza - This was a kit with crust mix, sauce, and "cheese" topping that came in a box. I remember that the crust was difficult to stretch out and it probably wasn't the world's best-tasting pizza, but my mom, sister, and I made these together, so the camaraderie was part of it.
  2. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese - The classic stuff in the blue box with the bright orange powder was a childhood staple. The only time I didn't like it was when Mom put sliced-up hotdogs in it. Hotdogs should be served alongside macaroni and cheese, never in it. 
  3. Tomato soup - My father traveled a lot and when he was gone, my sister and I alternated choosing what to have for dinner. I almost always picked delicious Campbell's tomato soup; my sister chose bean with bacon (yuck!)
  4. Grilled Cheese - You have to have grilled cheese with tomato soup, and my mother's grilled cheese were the best. .
  5. BLCT Sandwiches - This was the ultimate choice when my father was away - bacon, lettuce, cheese, and tomato sandwiches, served on Wonder Bread, of course. I didn't know the classic came without cheese until I was a teenager.
  6. Fish sticks - Call me crazy, but I liked them. Maybe it was the tartar sauce.
  7. Spaghetti - In our house this was plain spaghetti with Ragu and Kraft grated parmesan in the green container, but sometimes not fancy is good.
  8. Meatloaf - This was the one meal that my mother prepared without a recipe, and I do it the same way. Your choice of ground meat, a couple eggs, some ketchup, and whatever else you feel like throwing in.
  9. Magic Carpet Cookies - My mother might not have enjoyed the drudgery of day-to-day dinner preparation, but she was the queen of Christmas cookies. She made dozens and dozens, storing them in huge Charlie Chip cans. (Imagine my surprise when I searched for a link and found the company is actually Charles Chips! We always called the delivery guy that came once a week Charlie Chip.)  My favorites were Magic Carpet Cookies and Mom made them for me every year. It wasn't until I grew up, inherited her recipe box, and made them myself that I appreciated what fiddly, pain-in-the-butt cookies they were to make. 
  10. Martha's Company Casserole - This was honestly not one of my favorites, but it's indelibly linked with my mother. I have no idea who Martha was, and I've only made this twice in the past 35 years, but the second time was just last Saturday because John requested it. The spots and stains on the recipe card have to mean something!

I grew up in the 60s, so it's probably not fair to judge these foods by today's standards. My grandmother always said that everything tastes better when someone makes it just for you, and I think that is certainly true with all these favorites that Mom made for us.

What are your Mom-made favorites? I'm looking forward to some childhood deliciousness and maybe even a few new recipes!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Right Now (or it was a few days ago) - April 2016

Let's just pretend it's still April.

Worrying About - Justin, just like in March. He's killed three or four Western Diamondback rattlesnakes, including one that he had to beat off with a stick. He was also kind enough to send me a video of a scorpion in his house. "Don't worry, Mom. The only species with fatal stings live in Arizona, not Texas."

Spending time - In the hospital waiting room. A family member (who would be mortified if she knew I was writing about her) spent lots of time in the hospital with some serious cardiac problems. They are not resolved, but she is home now, and we shall see. A big thank you to everyone for all the good wishes, healing thoughts, and hugs that you sent. The only thing worse than dealing with aging parents is not having aging parents to deal with.

Knitting - The same Hitchhiker. I had to rip out quite a bit when I made some mistakes I couldn't live with, but hopefully I'll be done soon. A baby blanket has also been started.

Learning - Math with Khan Academy. I have struggled with trying to teach myself calculus through Coursera, but after several months I admitted I just don't get it and what I need first is some algebra review. Khan Academy seems to be working for me and it's also fun. After I complete a thorough review of algebra I'm going to give calculus another try.

Reading - Imagine Me Gone (Kindle), The Gene (Kindle) and The Beautiful Miscellaneous (audio). The first two are "thinking books", meaning I can't just whip through them quickly, and I have high hopes for The Beautiful Miscellaneous. It's written by Dominic Smith, the author of my favorite book (so far) this year -- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. Do yourself a favor and read it, or better yet, listen to it. Edoardo Ballerini is the perfect narrator for this book.

Drinking - Tea (always) and there have also been a few Bloody Marys and some wine.

Avoiding - The box of Thin Mints in the freezer. Justin put them there before he left and it would be nice if I didn't eat "his" cookies. Yes, I have contemplated eating them and replacing them with another box, but I can't find any Girl Scouts selling cookies now. Isn't their motto "Be Prepared" (to provide Bonny with Thin Mints)?

Looking forward to - A trip to Fort Collins in less than three weeks. We'll get to see Ryan defend his thesis (he's still working on his PhD, but decided to get a master's degree along the way so he can publish his results), drink some good beer, eat some good food, and hopefully have a great time.

Wishing - That the weather would cooperate with our gardening. Spring so far has consisted of a week or so of really warm temperatures nearing 80, another week of really cold temperatures in the 40s and freezing at night, and now we've settled into 50s but endlessly rainy and damp. We planted peas, spinach, kale, and turnips in the garden but nothing has germinated so far. I'm afraid the seeds may just be rotting in the ground with all this rain. The seeds I started indoors are looking good and tomatoes will be planted outdoors this weekend no matter the weather.

What's going on in your world right now? (Hopefully good books, tall tomatoes, and no scorpions!)