Friday, November 28, 2014

A Week Of Thankfulness: Day Four



Yes, I am thankful for this heaping helping of holiday deliciousness. 

But when I look at the scene of my Thanksgiving dinner, I see many more reasons to be grateful:

For my family, who worked together with me to prepare the feast. 
For the financial blessings that put this food on our table.
For this yearly reminder to give thanks.
For the original Thanksgiving feast that celebrated the genuine - albeit short-lived - brotherhood between the Native Americans and the first English settlers.
For this plate, a wedding gift and a celebration of a marriage that has stood the test of time.
For my mother-in-law's silverware, and all the gifts and sacrifices made by the family who came before me.
For a glass of bubbly cider, a simple and inexpensive but luxurious pleasure.
For that spunky little child-made pine cone turkey, reminding me of the happy days of my daughters' childhoods. 

* * * * *

I am thankful for all the details of my life - the tiny threads that create the tapestry of my days, and make each moment truly memorable.

Also, I am thankful for second helpings. 

* * * * *

Read more about what I'm thankful for:

A Week Of Thankfulness: Day Three

I got to the airport way ahead of schedule. Surprised to find the traffic so light on the evening before Thanksgiving, I carefully backed myself into a parking space on the far side of the half-empty waiting lot, and counted my blessings. Settling on a strategy to while away the final agonizing hour before my fourth-born's plane touched down, I opened a game on my phone and threw myself into the challenge

I must say, I distracted myself to the extreme. Because forty minutes later, when my daughter texted to say she was on the ground, I finally came out of my daze and this is what I saw.

These photos were taken near the end of my wait, so there are some open spaces visible across the lot. In the beginning, every inch was full of cars


^ Gridlock. Mass and utter gridlock. 

The entire lot was jammed with cars.

The one-way drive in front of me was doubled up with two lanes of traffic, one headed in each direction.

As far as I could see across the lot, all the other drives were doubled up and jammed in the same way.

At this point, the second and third cars to my right had broken free, and this little Civic was waiting his turn. 


^ To my right, three cars in the adjacent stalls were inched up and obviously trying to exit their parking places.

I quickly joined them.

But we immediately discovered that the vehicles in the lane were blocking us in, and they were not moving. 

At all.

Two cars to my left was a Kia whose driver had not had the foresight to back into his parking spot. Heaven help him, he was forced to enter the chaos in reverse. 


^ To my left, two more cars in parking spaces were trying to get out, but again, they had no room to move.

And I readily observed that even when a few inches would open up, the drivers already in the flow of traffic quickly closed up the gaps. They were not about to let us parking-spot prisoners out. 

My neighbors and I were trapped like rats.

* * * * *

Two minutes quickly turned into twenty. My daughter called to say she had made her way out of the terminal and was waiting for me at the curb.

We chatted. 
I ranted and raved to her about my conundrum.
She listened sympathetically.
I stewed and strategized ways to break free of my dungeon.
I took these photos to show her my pain.

But nothing helped.

There was no solution but to simply wait until the jam broke up, and the lot slowly emptied. 

Eventually, the friendly Kia let me out, and I was set free from the asphalt cage that had held me.

When I finally made it to our designated meeting spot and picked up my patient daughter, she checked our call history to determine how long I'd been trapped. 

Forty-eight minutes.

Grrrr. That was a long time to be stuck.

* * * * *

I'm thankful that the problems in my life, annoying as they may be, are so simple and easily resolved. 

* * * * *

Read more about what I'm thankful for:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Week Of Thankfulness: Day Two


A bridge-builder, 

As the grand jury's decision in the Ferguson case has been handed down, and the world reacts in outrage to the pro-white-man findings, I have a few other irons in the fire.
A teenage girl has been cutting herself. 
A college-age young man is studying abroad and facing his first holidays spent far away from his close-knit family. 
A twenty-something just gave up the career dreams of his youth, and has relented to family pressure that he "grow up and find a real job."  
A little girl cries herself to sleep at night because her hard-working parents don't have time for her.  
A forty-something husband carries a shameful secret - his wife verbally and emotionally abuses him. 
A 25-year-old man wrestles to come to terms his explosive temper, which is driven by the physical abuse and shaming that he suffered through his childhood 
A widow faces her first Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season after the death of her husband.  
A college-age young woman rejects her modest upbringing and experiments with boldly provocative make-up and clothing.  
A forty-something woman who has recently recovered from alcoholism tries to rebuild relationships with her hurt and distrusting family.   
A father struggles to make a connection with his teenage son, whose anger and resentfulness drives a wedge into their relationship.
A young mother has lost custody of her daughter to a physically abusive father, and fears for the child's safety.
These people are all real people in my life. (I've changed a few details to protect their privacy.)

They come from different countries and cultures around the world; some remain settled in their native lands but others are living abroad. For the most part, they are middle class, fairly well-educated, and good-hearted people. If you had a chance to meet them and chat for a while, I'm sure you would enjoy each one's company. I certainly do.

stone-skipper, 

But here is something that many of the racial commentators of the day would point out, with emphasis and significance.

These people have many different colors of skin.

A few of them are white, but most of these people are Arab, black or Asian.

shade-finder

Maybe that matters. Maybe there are some inherent advantages, or white privilege, as the buzzwords go, that make the lives of fairer-skinned folk significantly and unfairly smoother, easier, better. Maybe the pale people on my list - including myself - live their lives with an ease and comfort that we don't even begin to appreciate.Maybe those with darker skin face hardships that I will never understand.

I don't know about that.

But here is what I do know:
Each one of these people is struggling with some kind of pain and suffering that has nothing at all to do with the color of their skin.  
Each one feels hopeless, and fears what tomorrow might bring.  
Each one of them feels isolated and alone. 
And each one of these people matter to me.

and looker-upper. That's the kind of person I try to be. 

So I will leave to others the necessary scholarly conversations and sociological debates as our society works through its need to categorize and stigmatize human beings based on outward appearances. Instead, I choose to walk with the people whose lives intersect with mine and do my best to share with them some much-needed love and compassion. Just as they do for me.

Because I don't care what color you are.

And I don't care what color I am.

We are all here to love one another and that's what I choose to do.

* * * * * 

I'm thankful for each and every person in my life - past, present and future - because they help me understand who I am, and what I stand for.


I grew up listening to music like this. The lyrics fundamentally shaped my ways of thinking about race, and it never, ever occurred to me that the artists' skin was different from mine. 

"I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do."

* * * * *

Read more about what I'm thankful for:

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Week Of Thankfulness: Day One


Walking with Ranger as evening fell, I was passing by my secret place yesterday when I glanced up and noticed the cheery glow from one small square window.

* * * * *

Immediately, I thought of bedtime stories. The romantic notion swelled up inside of me that this light shines out from a bedside lamp; nearby, a clean-scrubbed toddler in cozy fresh pajamas with the blanket pulled up to her precious chin is listening to a story read by her father. In my fantasy, the little girl lies still and calm, her golden hair in a soft tangle of curls on the pillow. She gazes at the book, quietly taking in every detail of the illustrations as her father reads the words, softly and clearly, emphasizing the nuances of the narrative but also lulling her with his gentle voice.

Surely, he is reading the ultimate bedtime story, Goodnight Moon. From years of experience, my brain automatically calls up the long-ago memorized verse, and the words ring out clearly in my head as I picture the scene.

Goodnight moon.
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.
Goodnight light and the red balloon...

Goodnight stars, 
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises, everywhere.

And still within my mind's eye, I see the little girl's eyes flutter shut as her papa closes the book, lays it on her nightstand, and snaps off the light.  By the time he stands up and bends down to kiss her forehead one last time, she is breathing slow and deep, the sure sign of a child who has fallen fast asleep.

* * * * *

Screeeeech.

As I trudged along through the soggy leaves and lengthening shadows, reality crashed into my misty fantasy and shattered it into a million pieces.

Let's get real.

I've tucked many a blonde toddler into bed, and I've read Goodnight Moon at least a thousand times. Oh sure, my daughters were all enraptured with the story of the striped bunny and his going-to-sleep rituals, and they laid still as mice as I read it to them.

But as I whispered the final dreamy verses of the story, never once did my darlings close their sleepy eyes and drift quietly off to the Land of Nod..

At our house, the last words snapped the children out of their story-induced trance and kicked them into high gear. Popping up in their beds, they responded to our story time with energy, enthusiasm, and a million ideas for what should happen next.

"Read it again!"
"Show me the page with the kittens."
"I need to go get some water."
"Where's my bunny?"
"Can we read one more bookie?"

This, I came to accept, is how real children listen to bedtime stories. Like every other part of their lives, they partake in the evening ritual with spunk, stamina and amazing creativity. The rosy-cheeked, pink-flannel-nightgown-wearing sleepy angels of my fantasies do not exist in reality - at least not in my reality.

And once I let that delusion go, I was happier, wiser and much more content to go with the crazy flow.

* * * * *

Do they look sleepy to you?!

I'm thankful for my real-life children, who snapped me out of my dreamy illusions about parenthood, and taught me how to be a real-life mom.

* * * * *

Read more about what I'm thankful for:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

BFFs

In amongst the usual kooky Buzzfeed links, You Know You Were An 80s Kid photos, and gratutious Kim Kardashian booty memes, I've lately run across this sweet sentiment:in my various social network feeds:
There are two types of best friends: 
There's the best friend who shares everyday life with you.. You see each other a couple times per week, and talk almost every day, staying up to date and tuned in to every little thing in each other's lives.  
And there's the best friend who rarely pops up in your life. You don't often get the chance to spend time together, and your conversations are few and far between. But still, you know deep in your heart that that person will always understand you and be there when you need them most. 
Aww. Precious, right? There are times when I would probably find those words to be sloppy sentimentalism, if not estrogen-infused mush.


Today, however, it seems that this wisdom is exactly what I needed to hear.

Of course, just about everyone over the age of twelve has known the joys of the bff. And anyone older than twenty has reunited with a childhood buddy and felt the intervening years miraculously slip away to nothing. At any given time, if we are playing our cards right, we usually have a few close friends in each category to bring balance into our lives.

But lately, I have to say, my friendship scales have been a little bit out of whack.

Over the past few years, each for different reasons, my closest, dearest, most trusted friends - the ones who truly get me - have drifted, one by one, from that first category to the second. Where once they were an integral part of my daily life, we now live our lives mostly apart.


Now I'm not necessarily complaining about that. I mean, sure, sometimes I really miss sharing my life with these people and I treasure the memories of those bygone days. But I also acknowledge that when we do manage to connect, our friendships are every bit as alive and rich and magically bff-y as ever.

Maybe even more so.

Maybe the best friendships deepen and intensify when they are stretched across the distance of time and space.

Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

And maybe, right now, when I am missing my faraway bffs so sharply, is the perfect time to let them know how much they mean to me.

Yep. Just as soon as I finish this important and scientifically valid quiz, that's exactly what I will do.

No Regrets


In case you weren't convinced that last night's tiny apple crisp tasted as delicious as it looks, let me just say that I ate the leftovers for breakfast. 

With ice cream.

And thus fortified, I tackled my day with considerable enthusiasm and endless good humor. 

Which are just two of the remarkable benefits of eating dessert for breakfast. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tiny Apple Crisp


Inspiration strikes in strange ways.

My most recent reminder of this inarguable truth began as I was wandering around the thrift store the other day, and my eyes fell upon a gorgeous splash of ceramic red.


The object in question was a petite red baking dish, and I immediately recognized it as the junior member of a set of three baking dishes, of which my mom owns the large yellow and the medium turquoise versions.

Obviously, this precious dollop was my destiny.

Throw in the fact that the label read Crate & Barrel, one of my all-time favorite housewares brands, and without further ado, I marched myself up to the check-out and slapped down my $1.99 before anyone realized what a steal I was making. 

It wasn't till I got home that I grasped the undeniable truth.

Adorable as my new friend may be, his size is desperately small. Not a single recipe in my retinue would be content to bake in such limited quarters, and I had no idea how I would put the rascal to use.

Still, this was clearly a relationship meant to be, so I waited with confidence, and sure enough, the epiphany eventually struck.

If there are no recipes that fit the dish, then I will need to invent some that do.

Here's what happened next:


I sliced up apples till my dish was full. Three mediums did the trick.

I mixed about a half cup of granola with roughly a tablespoon of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and enough canola oil to bind it all together.

I would have used melted butter but I was out. Whatever.

I popped my creation into a 350 degree oven and baked until the apples were soft, about 20 minutes.

Then I divided the spoils among my party of four, and topped each serving with vanilla ice cream.

* * * * * 

And here is what this little adventure has taught me:

Necessity really is the mother of invention.
Fruit crisps are ridiculously easy to fake.
I'm on a roll. Ain't no telling where my tiny red baking dish will take me next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scent-sational News

I've been having a devil of a time styling my linen closet.

I know. That's a ridiculous statement.

A linen closet is a place to store clean sheets, blankets and towels. The items are to be folded neatly, stacked logically, and left to their own devices until called into use.

The very existence of such a specialized storage spot is a Western luxury, and the notion that I should put time and effort into the handsome good looks of this little repository is arguably over-the-top silly.

But here is something I know about myself. The more effort and creativity I put into making a corner, cupboard or closet look especially nice, the more likely I am to keep the spot organized and tidy.

And if my linen closet is just a ho-hum collection of stacked laundry, trust me, it will go from apple-pie-order to hell-in-a-handbag in the snap of a finger. Trust me, it's happened before.

So that's my conundrum. I need a visual wow factor to motivate the maintenance of my new-found order and so far, I'm coming up short.

However, this afternoon, I had a bit of a break-through. Instead of fussing over how my linen closet should look, I came round to thinking about how it should smell.

Like lavender.

That's a total no-brainer.

So I marched myself off to Target and bought three no-nonsense bars of old-school lavender hand soap.

If you could smell this soap as well as you can see it, you would swear you were standing knee-deep in the blooming lavender fields of Provence. Not even kidding.


I unwrapped them, popped them into my linen closet, here and there among the sleeping stacks of folded things, and breathed deep.

Mmmmmmm.

I'm still not satisfied with the way this dang linen closet looks.

But now, by golly, when I open the door, the sweet fragrance of heaven pours forth and my spirits soar. And that is a lovely improvement indeed.

Ranger supervised the photo shoot and gives this fragrant product a big thumbs-up. 
Whew, that's a relief. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's In A Name


Bob Marley isn't my name. I don't even know my name yet. - Bob Marley


If I'm gonna tell a real story, I'm gonna start with my name. - Kendrick Lamar


What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
- William Shakespeare


The past few days, I've been working on a birthday greeting for a little girl I know. As with many of the cards and banners I make, the design features her name, prominently displayed in bold shapes and bright colors. I've also left plenty of white space so she can add some color too, if she likes.

During this creative process, I've done a bit of musing about names. Here is a random sampling of the thoughts that have been whirling around my brain.

It's strange that our names are chosen for us without our consent at the very beginning of our lives. Think of it. The single word that will describe us and be associated with us for literally every day of our life is chosen when we are a mere day or two old. When you think about it, our names really say more about our parents, and their hopes and dreams for our life, than they do about our own selves. But we carry them with us as a fundamental part of our identity from cradle to grave, and that is truly remarkable.

Most people are ambivalently okay with their names, though others may love or actively dislike them. I personally have mixed feelings about my name. Weirdly, I like that it has five letters, three of them vowels, and I like that it starts with D. D is a good strong letter, and fun to write in cursive. Also, I like that my name is reasonably familiar and easy enough to pronounce. But I've always felt that the name doesn't suit me quite right and I've fantasized many times about shortening it to Ann.

It's good to know the story of how and why your name was chosen. I'm fascinated to hear how names are chosen, and I've made a point to tell my daughters their stories over and over.

My first-born was named for a famous Irish Setter,
my second named after a character in a storybook that my first-born adored,
my third was named after one of my childhood friends, and
my fourth-born's name literally means, "fourth-born."

As for my name, here's how it came to be. My father had always loved the name, Diane, but my mother preferred Carolyn, the name of her college roommate. After much debate, my mother let my father have his way, and Carolyn became my middle name. I wish my mother had stuck to her guns.

It always feels good to be called by name. During my many years of working with kids of all ages, I've tested this theory over and again and found it always to be true. Preschoolers beam, elementary kids come running, even the most disengaged, unemotive, trying-to-be-cool teenager will bust out a genuine smile when you call them by name. And I'll be honest - I light up when someone calls me by name. There's something about hearing another person speak my name that makes me feel known. And loved.

Little-known fact: the name of my blog refers to my feelings about my own name. After years of being a full-time parent, I was so used to hearing my daughters call me Mama, Mommy, or Mom, that I began to think of myself only by those names. As they grew up and flew from the nest, I realized that it was time for me to reclaim myself as a person who was more than simply a mother. It was time for me to be Diane again.

And writing these posts to you has been an essential and perfectly lovely part of my journey.

November Skies


Autumn, you have done your job well. 

You squeezed every last golden moment of warmth and sunshine from the waning days of summer.

You lit the world afire with your color show of yellow, orange and red. 

You sent rains to wash away the faded glory and winds to sweep away every last trace. 

Now the world stands clean and bare under cold November skies, ready for winter to descend. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Inspired Table

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this table of Oak;
And all the half-finished projects that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

-
William Shakespeare (adapted) in Richard III

Hallelujah!

My long list of loose ends has been (mostly) wrapped up, and I'm ready to start a fresh project: a new dining room table.

I've been thinking about this table for weeks, months, years. Decades. Not even kidding. Since my dining room is fairly small, and my family rather large, I've spend untold hours pondering the best size, shape, materials and construction style for our DIY dining dilemma.


To meet my goal of seating ten adults comfortably, this table will be eight feet long. 

Honestly, that's an aggressively large hunk of wood for my tiny dining room. But by keeping the table tucked up near the windows, our usual head count of six can easily sit along the sides of the table and still move comfortably about the room. When we need to make space for more, we will simply slide the table out to the middle of the room and pull up some extra chairs. True, the fully loaded table will clog traffic in the dining room, but hey, what's a large gathering without a little friendly chaos?


To balance the extra length, the table will stay skinny. A sleek 34 inches will make for a moderately cramped spread, but the proportions make sense for the shape of the room.
 

After considering pine, poplar and maple woods for the table top, we decided to go with oak. You know, this family has its roots in the wild oak forests of the American Midwest, and choosing a material that gives a nod to our ancestors just seems like the way to go.

As for the legs, I have been sold on metal hairpins all the way. I grew up taking my meals at a mid-century gem of a table, and I love the idea of going full circle by building a hairpin baby of my own.

Okay, finally, I was done pondering. On Saturday morning, we headed over to Home Depot, bought the lumber, then came home and created a mock-up of my exact specifications. While you may see in these photos nothing more than a few planks of raw wood balanced on saw horses, I see my dreams coming true.


So now I'm ready and raring to go. Construction is scheduled to begin in a few days, and with any luck, the table of my dreams should done just in time for Thanksgiving. Let's get busy!

Tush! 
Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues


- William Shakespeare in Richard III

Stories Of Our Life


Welcome to my family room cupboard.

Pay no attention to that old dinosaur on the top shelf. It undoubtedly belongs in a museum but we call it a fully functioning television. 

But I didn't bring you here to impress you with my cutting edge technology.

Please direct your attention to the three lower shelves. For the past three days, I have been obsessively editing, organizing, and bringing some stylistic satisfaction to their contents. 

 Welcome to our family archive.


^ On the uppermost of the three shelves are our chronologically perfect and meticulously organized photo albums. Starting on the left, with the days before marriage which seemed to mostly consist of Chicago Cubs baseball games and family Christmas dinners, all the way up to my daughters' preteen years on the far right, these albums precisely chronicle every birth, holiday, vacation and party of our lives, not to mention plenty of tomfoolery in between.

Once everyone got a Facebook, the pendulum shifted to each girl keeping her own photo albums online, and my hard copy collections dwindled out. But someday, I may just catch up.


^ On the second shelf, in the black filing boxes, are tons of extra family photos - duplicate copies of my favorites and plenty of outtakes - mixed in with notes, letters and cards that we have exchanged over the years. In sharp contrast to the photo albums' razor sharp timeline, the relatively unorganized chronology of these documents makes for a fun little family soup. I find it endlessly entertaining to leaf through the assortment and find a teenager's contrite apology letter tucked in among her baby pictures, or a sweet tyke's first Mother's Day card filed next to her homecoming photos. 

 Living life with a growing family is a lot like drinking from a fire hose, so some jumbly, misordered memorabilia conjures up the same crazy, disordered chaos. I kinda like it like that.

And on the third shelf, in similarly disordered array, are photos and remembrances from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and our many precious cousins. Sadly, my kids grew up mostly at great distance from their relatives, but during the early years, we kept the snail mail flowing with all manner of cards, letters, postcards, artwork and photos. I kept almost every shred. These relics now are kept in the same topsy-turvy order, with my mother-in-law's newspaper clippings next to my niece's ballet photographs, and my nephew's birth announcement and graduation announcement found back to back.

On the shelves in front of these albums and boxes sit an assortment of framed photos of my daughters over the years. All of them have been on display around the house at one time or another, but most of them were currently tucked away, In a wild burst of enthusiasm, I pulled out every single frame I could find that fits on these shelves, and love the burst the memories that these photos conjure up.

Crazy good times. 

Now I should mention that before my big project, this cupboard was not sitting empty. These three lower shelves used to hold our voluminous collection of DVDs; cherished, can't-let-go-won't-let-go VHS tapes; and a handful of favorite video games.  And we treasure those possessions too, because they tell us stories that we love. I haven't gotten rid of a single one.

But when it comes to deciding which narratives deserve to claim this prime piece of storage real estate, there is no doubt. The stories of our life matter most. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Human

A cord of ugly firewood.

Today, I've been in a foul mood.

Not even going to try to cover that up.

Since I opened my eyes this morning, I've been cranky and out of sorts. I suppose it's understandable, since I woke up to angry phone calls from my dementia-challenged mother. Yes, I know. Her anger is part of her disease and I accept that she is not choosing to act this way. But the accusations and antagonism did not exactly set my day off on the right foot.

And the cavalcade of annoyances and aggravations just went on from there. At least I have the presence of mind to acknowledge that I didn't suffer any major trauma. But the trivial frustrations - innocent comments from friends that set my teeth to grinding - and medium-sized grievances - I wasted $20 on a batch of photo enlargements that didn't turn out as I had hoped - stacked up one on top of the other like a cord of ugly firewood.

Now we all have bad days, but this is not normal for me. Usually, I can snap myself out of a funk, and I'm a natural born look-on-the-bright-sider. It's not like me to feel the blues for a whole day, but this time, my foul mood really got the best of me.

Which only annoyed me even more.

It was during my late afternoon walk with Ranger that I finally got hold of myself. Walking briskly to keep warm in the frosty air as twilight fell and shadows gathered around me, I suddenly realized how human it is to be angry, to have a bad day. I'm not above those things; quite to the contrary, these slumps are a part of life on this planet. If I want to live to the fullest, then I should embrace - and not pridefully chase away - the occasional bad day.

And for crying out loud, I reminded myself, have a little compassion. Rather than beating yourself up, why not try a little tenderness?

So I fixed a delicious dinner, happily straightened and styled a few shelves in my family room, and treated myself to a nice big homemade chocolate milkshake.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still annoyed. But now I'm holding on to the truth that bad days are a part of life, this too shall pass, and after all, I'm only human.



Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I'm on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Knock On Wood

Something strange has been going on around here. About two and a half years ago, Ranger interrupted his long legacy as a dog who loves to ride in the car, and turned into a neurotic freak

That's not the weird part.

Actually, his abrupt transformation made sense because he was involved, with me and two of my daughters, in a serious car accident. Luckily, no one was physically injured but Ranger has definitely struggled with some post-traumatic stress. 

HA. Anyone who has actually kept company with Ranger in a car during the past two years is snorting in with outrage and indignation right now. Because the high-pitched screeching sounds that came out of my post-accident dog's mouth can hardly be described as "a little PSTD." He has been nothing less than an ear-splitting, universe-imploding, stark-raving mad Irish lunatic. 

Trust me, that is the unexaggerated truth. 

Now, this is the weird part. Six weeks ago, without cause or explanation, Ranger's psycho behavior suddenly stopped. 

Not wore off gradually over time. 

I'm saying he inexplicably changed overnight. 

Crickets. Nothing but crickets.

For the past six weeks, my red-headed buddy is back to riding shotty with me, all day every day. He is a pure angel, dozing quietly on the middle seat while I visit my students and run random errands. Occasionally, he stands up to stretch a curious nose out the window. 

But never, ever, ever does my dog make any noise whatsoever while he is riding in the car.

And while I can't explain this amazing change of events, you can be darn sure that I am knocking on wood. 

More Loose Ends

Still whomping away at that to-do list of mine, wrapping up the niggling odds and ends of half-done and semi-forgotten tasks and clearing a way for a new work project to begin.

Recently completed:


^ Found a cool old piece of plywood at the thrift store. It had been assembled into some kind of weird lap desk that held no allure for me. But I quickly feel in crazy love with the beautiful grain of this piece, even though it was lying under what was most likely several decades of dirt and grime. 

After a week or two of hemming and hawing about my deconstruction options, I finally set a plan of action. I ripped off the weird support pieces, sanded down this old relic to pure, clean, bare wood, and sealed it with several coats of matte finish. With a few felted feet attached to protect the underside from damage, this pretty piece of wood is ready to see new life as a landing pad for hot dishes, a gathering place for potted plants, or a piece of art in its own right. 

Done.


^ This painting has been in my head for close to a year, and it took me an absurd number of months to move from conceptualization to action. Early this fall, when I finally had gathered the materials, perfected my sketches, and begun to lay down the layers of color, I was inopportunely called away to visit my mom in Michigan. Then my motivation lay dormant for several more weeks until yesterday, when I finally kicked myself into gear and finished her up.

Done.

* * * * *

There are many indescribable joys in the life.

A baby's toes.
Driving fast on the open road.
A perfectly cooked steak.
Swimming under the stars.
Laughing till you cry.

But ranking among those most heartfelt pleasures is the sheer delight of finishing up long-delayed loose ends, and I must say, I am loving every minute.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Mother-In-Law

It's a modern cliche and an indisputable fact that many women struggle to get along with their mothers-in-law.

I have been blessed with quite the opposite circumstance.

My husband's mother, whose birthday is today, has brought nothing but peace, support, gentleness and tranquility into my life since the day we first met.


^ She may be all peace and gentleness as an adult, but something tells me that as a little girl, my mother-in-law knew how to stir things up. Just look at those mischievous eyes!


Over the many years that we've been family, I can think of only one time when I was even moderately perturbed with her.

* * * * *

When I was planning my wedding, my mother-in-law was gracious and agreeable to all my requests and decisions. She offered up guest list suggestions when asked, produced all the names and addresses I needed, and even agreed to loan me the tiny bride and groom figures that had stood atop her wedding cake, so that they could stand atop mine as well.

That kindness really touched my heart.

But the one thing my mother-in-law could not and would not do was decide upon the color of her dress.
"Tell me what color you want me to wear," she offered. 
I want you to wear a color that you like. Anything is fine with me. 
"But I don't want to clash with your mom. Mother of the bride should have first pick," she sidestepped. 
You won't clash. And I don't even care if you do.  
"It's your special day. I don't want to choose something you won't like," she insisted. 
Please, my dear mother-to-be, just pick a dress already!!
* * * *  

In the decades that have unwound since that day, I can say with certainty that life with my mother-in-law has been a total joy.


  • She has cooed over my babies, supported my decision to homeschool, and sent countless notes and cards of love and support to me. 
  • She has generously given gifts, and has always known my true heart's desires.
  • She has made me feel at home in her home, even when I would show up bleary-eyed and crazy from my cross-country travel with a passel of little girls, a wild red dog, and no husband in sight.
  • She has left a beautiful legacy of goodness and kindness to my daughters, her granddaughters.


I'm sorry to say that my sweet and gentle mother-in-law is now living in the shadows of dementia. I don't talk to her often but I send her notes and cards, and I think of her every day.

And I thank my lucky stars for having the best mother-in-law in the world.


In the end, she picked out a pale lavender dress for my wedding and looked absolutely beautiful. Then she danced with her husband and we all lived happily ever after. 

Loose Ends

I'm itching to start a new home improvement project. 

Something big.
Something splashy.
Something that will bring some excitement and focus to my ho-hum November life.

But here's the problem. I have too many almost-finished projects clogging up my to-do lists that must be ticked off before I allow myself the pleasure of beginning something new.

So. 

This weekend, I worked on wrapping up my loose ends. 


 ^ This simple blue painting has been floating around my bedroom, looking for a place to call home. Finally, I just chose a spot and assigned it a piece of prime wall real estate right here, close to my bed. Done.

Note: I've already moved it. But at least it's still officially hanging on the wall.


^ For over six months, the top of this pie safe in my bedroom has been a barren wasteland, featuring nothing more than dust and the occasional pair of lightly-worn socks. I'm all for a clutter-free environment, but this was a bit extreme. So I went to the thrift store in search of something to add some minimalist style. Found a silvery mirror with clean lines, and an interesting copper vase. Done.


^ On my family room coffee table sits this terra cotta saucer full of candles that I burn almost every night. So I go through a lot of candles, and to keep costs down, I purchase only what's on sale at Target. This adorable but full-priced squirrel-topped gem has been taunting me all fall, and finally got marked down a few weeks ago. But when I brought him home and viewed him in the natural light of my family room, I realized that the coppery color of the furry mammal clashed badly with the metallic cover. Bothered me so much. So this weekend, I went off to the craft store for a matching shade of paint, and a few brush strokes later, all was in harmony. Done

Note: Interestingly, the two elements look to be entirely different colors in this photograph, so you'll just have to trust me that they match in real life. 


  ^ The plants on top of my white bedroom bookcase have long since passed their prime, and this orange painting was crying out for a new green friend. In my head, I held a firm vision of what I wanted, and when I finally dragged myself out to shop, found the perfect plant at Home Depot and my dream pot at the thrift store. Done and done.


^ Okay, a pink piggy bank is fine. But a gold piggy bank to hold my precious savings? That coordinates with my blissfully satisfying gold paper organizers and highly coveted gold Swingline stapler? Now that is a dream come true. So yeah, that lunatic spray painting out in her front yard on Sunday night? That was me. Done.

Note. Yes, this styled-up work station in my office is exactly the space I claimed did not need to be styled. Psh. I lied. Sue me. 

* * * * *

So yes, it's true! My to-dos are definitely shrinking, and I'm gaining crazy momentum for wrapping up the rest of the list as my satisfaction for getting stuff done propels me onward. Remaining loose ends, beware. I will wrap you up.

And get ready, Big Project, because I am coming your way. Won't be long now.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Breakfast Club

Here's a basic fact of life for a hard-core night owl like me: in the mornings, I would always rather sleep than eat.

Which means that I often sacrifice a warm breakfast eaten off proper dishes while seated an actual table for a few bites of something easily grabbed and eaten on the fly.

What can I say. Being an extreme night person is not a choice. 

But this fall, I've been trying to bring balance into my morning routines, and I decided to challenge myself to make a healthy and interesting breakfast for twelve days in a row - with no repeats - and enjoy it in a relaxed and orderly way.

Wanna see what I came up with?


day 1 | frittata with tomatoes, spinach and eggs
day 2 | mango chunks, halfpops and orange juice
day 3 | chia seed pudding made with almond milk, fresh strawberries
day 4 | peanut butter on whole wheat, apple slices


day 5 | chicken sausage and pear
day 6 | air popped popcorn with olive oil and parmesan cheese
day 7 | fresh tomato sandwich on whole wheat
day 8 | naan with fresh tomato and parmesan cheese, toasted, and fresh peach


day 9 | banana bread, red grapes and turkey sausage
day 10 | english muffin with cream cheese and blackberry preserves
day 11 | granola with almond milk, topped with dried cranberries and dried mango
day 12 | breakfast burrito with eggs, turkey sausage, red and yellow peppers, onion, and salsa

* * * * *

Yum. 

I must admit that starting off my day with a delicious breakfast is a habit that agrees with me.

I must also add that the creative process of planning my meal, styling my plate and taking all these pictures was at least as much fun as polishing off the actual food. 

I had a lot of fun with this challenge. 

But I'll also be honest enough to confess that after the twelve days were up, I did not keep up my routine to the same high standards. More often than not, I'm back to eating a handful of grapes as I run out of the house, or holding half a peanut butter sandwich in my left hand while I drive with my right.  

My morning meals will probably never this pretty again.

Still, I'm glad I took this challenge on. In my opinion, I'm now a full-fledged member of the breakfast club, and I couldn't be more proud.