Thursday, December 31, 2009

The List

Well it's New Year's Eve, I'm full of pizza and cheesesteak from the local Italian lunch buffet, and I'm tired of packing Christmas decorations so I think it's time to write the list.

You know, the resolution list for the new year. I think we all have at least one item on the resolution list each year. Even those people who say "I don't have a list because I never keep my resolutions anyway." Well there ya go....not keeping your resolutions is your resolution and that's your list. Generally losing weight and getting organized are in the top tier of announced resolutions. Fine, admirable objectives, but they're awfully hard to obtain given that they always seem to be at the top of the list year year.

Here's my list for 2010:

1. Start exercising daily again. I was doing pretty good with this one until about October, when I got super busy with making things for the craft show. Then it was my birthday, Halloween, the craft show, new house, trip to Vegas, Thanksgiving, a whole month of holiday festivities in December and now packing to move. Whew! That's three solid months of busy-ness cushioned with cakes, candy, and cookies. Now I'm feeling more cushioned than I like and it's time to get back to using the elliptical machine again. I'm not going list "I want to lose more weight" as a resolution because that will come with the exercise if I just stick to it, plus I don't want to jinx myself.

2. Cultivate patience. This is a big one with me as I tend to get very hung up on efficiency and productivity within a given time period, whereas my two and a half year old daughter has no concept of "efficiency", "productivity", or even just "time" unless it's associated with naps or snacks. The reality of it is that Ally isn't likely to hurry up and stop dawdling anytime soon, so I need to be the one to change. I need to slow down, let some non-important things slide for awhile, and generally be more patient with her. Taking an occasional nap myself probably wouldn't hurt me. In fact, the dog would be delighted to have company on the sofa and I suspect that my husband would be grateful if I wasn't so dang cranky at times.

3. Make more time for family and friends. Relationships don't form out of thin air. They require time and effort, else they deteriorate and disappear over time. It's bad enough if you lose a friendship through neglect, but sometimes they can be repaired with effort and time if you're lucky. It's really bad when you wake up one day to discover that not only is the relationship gone, but so is the person, and you'll never get the chance to re-establish your friendship again.

4. Focus on my writing. This means something a little more robust than just posting to my blog.

5. Potty training for Ally. Enough said, but this will require a whole lot of Resolution #2.

6. Make the three lap quilts I've already planned and started.

I'll cap off my list at six items this year. I could easily add "Get organized" to my list, but that really means, "Get Ally's baby book completed, organize my digital photos, clean up my crafting supplies, clean out the closets and pantry, etc." No sense in getting all crazy now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas 2009: the Aftermath and a New Start

Whew, it's been a whirlwind of festivities these past couple of days. Much visiting with friends and relatives, many gifts were exchanged, and way too many cookies have been eaten. We have new toys and clothes scattered about the house, but right now we're too tired to contemplate straightening things up. We're all feeling sluggish in body and spirit, in need of some revitalization. Ally has gone down for an afternoon nap, the first in several days, and I should think about taking one, too. Instead, I'm inclined to make a pot of coffee and get to work at getting the house back to normal.

Not that anything will be "normal" for a long, long time. It's time to start thinking about packing up our belongings and moving them to our new home. Thankfully our new house is only about six miles away from our current home, so we can gradually move things over a period of weeks. I'm grateful that we don't need to rent a moving van to transport all of our belongings at once to a destination several hundred miles away. We'll be able to unpack items and put them away in the new house when we bring them over, thus avoiding the whole "walk in the door and stare at the pile of unpacked boxes" associated with most moves.

I'm also very appreciative of this chance to sort, clean, and purge things before packing them up and moving. Nothing identified as something to be sold, donated, or thrown away will be migrating over to the new house. It stays here at our current home, awaiting for an indoor garage sale in February, a trip to Goodwill, or a quick trip to the curb on trash day. No sense in taking all that over to the new house, only to be dealt with on a later date. This will be a fresh start to a new year in a new home. At least, that's the plan.

As I write this I'm sitting on the sofa in our living room, staring at the newly unwrapped toys, piles of old books, many Christmas decorations and of course the Christmas tree. Suddenly I'm overwhelmed by the new toys on the floor, the old piles of books that have accumulated in here, my craft projects that I work on in the evenings after Ally has gone to bed, and the general flotsam and jetsam of the past ten years of our lives in this house. I'm tempted to find something else to do this afternoon instead of starting to work on the packing process, but a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step, and that applies to a move of just six miles, too. I think I'll brew a cup of tea for a change from my regular coffee habit, put a non-Christmas CD in the player, and take a good look at what's in the pantry. One of the boxes leftover from Christmas day can hold any "purge" items I find in there. It's a good place to start and we'll just go from there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sweet tooths, 2009, and Saturday mornings, circa 1979

I've been on a baking binge lately, making cookies for Christmas. So far I've made sugar cookies, cranberry-orange shortbread, and a cocoa-pecan variation of Mexican wedding cookies. Some people call Mexican wedding cookies Russian tea cakes, but I added dark cocoa powder and didn't roll them in powdered sugar after baking them, so these look more like lumps of coal rather than any Mexican or Russian party treats. Also on my list today are jam thumbprints and a pan of blondies. I might make a batch of cheesecake bars tomorrow, and I'll definitely be making a big ol' birthday cake for my father-in-law on the 26th. I like to bake but normally I don't keep a lot of sweets in the house. However, it's been a downhill slide starting with the Halloween candy two months ago. I figure I might as well have a huge dessert blowout before the new year, then try to correct all the dietary damage in January. Plus, we've got three family get-togethers this week and I'm counting on my relatives to make a dent in all this.

At two and a half, Ally is too young to help me make the cookies, but she sure does enjoy eating them. She seems to prefer the old fashioned sugar cookies over the others. I don't think the nut, cranberry, or orange flavors appeal to her sophisticated toddler palate just yet. However, she's all about those red and green sugar crystals on the sugar cookies. Ally's preference for raw sugar over other flavors got Steve and me thinking about some of the things we ate as kids.

I remember being around ten and eating anything sweet, preferably chocolate flavored and the gooier the better. As kids I think we lean towards quantity over quality, and now I can't imagine consuming some of the sugar and fat laden sweets I ate when I was younger. Hostess snack cakes were some of the best treats you could ask for when I was young. Marshmallow covered Snoballs, creme filled Suzy Qs, deep fried and glazed fruit pies, tubular swirled Ho Hos, and of course the ubiquitous Twinkies. Then there were the little bite-sized donuts coated with either powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or a waxy chocolate glaze. Somehow these always seemed to be dry and stale, but no matter, I ate them anyways. And the two-pack of pecan rolls that you could find on the bottom shelves at the 7-Eleven. Pop-Tarts, Charleston Chews, Cocoa Puffs, chocolate milk, and pink bubble gum ice cream. I ate it all and I don't know if I ever would have turned down a second helping of any of it.

I suppose we can claim that our palates are more sophisticated when we're older, that we can recognize the quality of gourmet over plebeian store bought, and that oversized portions are childish and distasteful. In reality, I think it's because we find that most of what we ate as kids is revoltingly sticky-sweet and guaranteed to turn our stomachs at the third mouthful. Now I can barely think of packaged pecan rolls or a breakfast cereal that turns the milk chocolate without gagging.

Both of my parents worked on Saturdays when I was young. Once I was old enough, they would leave me by myself at the house. I'm not sure what they imagined I did alone on those mornings, but I had a grand time rolling out of bed just moments before my favorite cartoons started and then letting my brain rot in front of the TV. I'd sit in my PJs for hours and watch Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, the Smurfs, and really, anything else that came on before the stations started showing old Western movies in the afternoon. I remember that Dad would call around 11:00 am and practically beg me to go brush my teeth and get dressed, which I would eventually do, grudgingly. I'm sure I ate something or other for breakfast, but my favorite thing to do was to make an ice cream sundae.


I'd trudge into the kitchen in my PJs and look in the freezer for any ice cream we might have. Usually it was Breyer's or High's ice cream. Dad preferred butter pecan or butter brickle. Mom and I liked the chocolate varieties. If I was lucky I'd find fudge ripple or something of the like. If it was a primarily vanilla flavor, no matter, because it wasn't going to taste like vanilla by the time I was done making my sundae.


After carving out two or three big scoops into a bowl, I'd start rummaging around the cabinets for anything to spruce up the sundae. Cookie sprinkles or decorations were fair game, along with powdered hot chocolate mix, chocolate syrup, or miniature marshmallows. I'd also add crumbled cookies, nuts, Cool-Whip, or maybe even chocolate chips.

I distinctly remember adding powdered nondairy creamer on the top of the bowl one time. Lots of it.


Then I would eat every last bit of it up, sometimes sitting on the kitchen counter even thought I wasn't supposed to do that. I didn't make those Saturday morning sundaes very often because we didn't always have ice cream in the house. I probably made them no more than three or four times, but the memory of them sticks with me. I can't imagine that these mishmash concoctions really tasted that good, but maybe it was the illicit taste of unsupervised freedom that I enjoyed. Certainly I knew that this breakfast would not garner parental approval and I never would dared to make one of these in front of my parents. I'm sure I had at least a twinge of a stomach ache afterwards, but that might have been more the result of guilt instead of an overdose of sugar, fat, and artificial flavorings and colorings. No doubt some day I'll come into the kitchen unexpectedly and find Ally perched on the counter, her feet swinging in the air and with a spoonful of some godawful combination of desserts, sugar, and syrup halfway to her mouth. I'll recognize that sweet taste of freedom, mourn my long-lost cast iron stomach, and remind Ally to ask if she needs any Pepto-Bismol later that day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Obsessed with a show about obsessions

I'm currently obsessed with the A&E show Hoarders. The show documents individuals and families with the obsessive-compulsive behavior to collect and hoard objects. These are often items of little or no value, sometimes trash or even hazardous materials. Each week I'm flabbergasted to see how people can cram their homes full of junk, trash, garbage, or worse. Sometimes they collect food, sometimes it's new items from the store that never get taken out of the shopping bags, sometimes they take in too many stray pets. Some of the people on the show are elderly, some are my age, and some aren't even out of grade school yet. I realize that the producers of the show must select the worst cases to capture the interest of the television audience and not everyone who hoards is as bad as the people presented on the show. The tortured souls presented each week represent some of the worst cases of compulsive hoarding because watching a show about someone's extensive stamp collection simply wouldn't be as fascinating as the featured elderly couple who had over 70 cats removed from their house, many of them long-dead and mummified. However, under certain conditions the stamp collector may be just as much of a compulsive hoarder as the cat lovers if the philately gets out of hand.

I'm certainly not an expert on compulsive hoarding or OCD behaviors in general, but I do know what an obsession that gets out of hand looks like. I know people who have whole rooms in their house filled with "stuff" to the point that the room is merely a storage area and unusable for any other purpose and there's only a narrow path to walk along among all the stuff. Piles of papers and books stacked on the table, boxes of children's items stacked on the spare bed, and stacks of laundry that never got put away in the dresser or closet. Fabric for a quilt, Christmas decorations from the basement, items for donation to Goodwill. Paperwork and books from the office that don't really have a place in the house, halfway finished craft projects from a month or two back, and pictures that never got hung on the wall. Things piled up on any available horizontal surface. Most of it was put in the room with the intention of doing something with it later, but then older items get buried by newer items and then eventually forgotten at the bottom of the pile.

Oh wait....I just described the guest room in my own house.

I don't think I have compulsive hoarding behavior. I am somewhat unorganized right now with a lot of ongoing projects, limited storage options, a toddler with generous grandparents, Christmas preparations, and an upcoming move next month. I do have a lot of stuff set aside for a moving sale in late winter, and this pile keeps growing as I sort, clean, and organize each room. I do have collections of pottery dishes and glassware, several nice pieces of Native American crafts, and I'm a bibliophile with overburdened bookshelves. But I don't think I'm a hoarder.

I do actually know some hoarders. Pack rat behavior runs deep in my family, and some family members seem to be edging closer and closer to the degree of hoarding shown on Hoarders. I won't discuss those members of my family or what they collect here, but over the years I've seen them go from a benign "merely eccentric person" level to full-fledged "crazy cat lady" status. (And no, my use of "crazy cat lady" does not denote gender or obsession here.)

Maybe part of my fascination with the show is the recognition of how easy it is to start collecting something, become obsessed with it, then slip into full-blown hoarding without any real sense that this behavior is unusual in any way. I watch the show with a little lump of fear deep down inside that there might be a genetic trait to hoarding behavior and I probably hold those genes. There's a little bit of schadenfreude mixed in there, too. I want to grab those people on the show and ask them how could they have possibly let it get to that level where you need to use a shovel in the house to clean out the layers of debris? Why couldn't you just put the trash in the trash can? How could you not know that some of the cats were missing? Or why did you buy all that stuff from Target and never take it out of the bag when you got it home? I don't understand it, but I worry that I could do the same thing without realizing it.

By the end of each show I'm shuddering with revulsion and flooded with the urge to straighten up the house, clean out the closets, and get the floors vacuumed. At least this way the guest bedroom is slowly getting organized again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bah, humbug!

It's the holiday season but I haven't been able to focus on Christmas all that much aside from getting our tree up and pulling out the stockings. I feel very unorganized and scattered this year. I start to work on one project, like decorating the large bay window in our living room, and then get distracted by shopping online only to wind up planning a holiday menu. Sad part is, none of it actually gets completed. The window is only partially dressed, I still have shopping to finish, and I'm not sure what we'll be eating at dinner when the family comes over to visit other than smoked turkey and maybe some cheesecake bars.

But today I managed, with the assistance of copious amounts of coffee, to complete two pine cone swags for the bay window. The pine cones were craft show leftovers spray painted gold and silver. I used a hot glue gun to attach wide burgundy ribbon to the base of the silver cones and a sheer sage ribbon with gold stripes to the gold cones. (Without burning myself, which must count as a Festivus miracle if you ask me.) Once the glue set, I gathered the ribbons together so that the cones hung in a nice cluster, tied a knot at the end of the gathered ribbon, and clipped the free ends of the ribbons nicely. No, the swags don't match in color and the gold swag is bigger than the silver one because I had more green ribbon than burgundy, but the rest of our holiday decor doesn't match either, so there.

Once the swags were done and hanging in the window, I had such a feeling of accomplishment that I decided to finally do something with the dried poppy pods that were also left over from the craft show. I whipped out the tacky glue and decorated the tops of one bunch of pods with scarlet glitter and the second bunch with reddish-gold glitter. Admittedly this is only one step above making angel tree ornaments out of dried macaroni and pipe cleaners, but together the two bunches make a nice bouquet in a dark wood vase.

Feeling pleased with myself I decided to clean up the craft debris and make myself a snack of salsa and chips. It wasn't until I had nearly finished the salsa that I noticed that it looked awfully festive. Sparkly, even. As in scarlet and gold sparkly. I'm not sure how, but some of the glitter wound up garnishing my salsa. At least I hadn't been eating bits of pine cone.

Maybe I should cut back on the coffee tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Babes in Toyland

Last Friday we took our two-year-old daughter Ally over to Blacksburg to see the downtown holiday events. We were hoping to have her meet Santa, who was at the Lyric Theater, and take a picture of them together. As fate would have it, the organizer closed the door to the theater just as we walked up. Literally. The family in front of us opened the door and walked in, the organizer held the door for them but locked it and let it close before I could take the door. I didn't realize what she had done so I banged on the door lever ineffectively a couple of times, making enough of a racket that the organizer came to the door and said Santa couldn't see any more children or he'd be late for the Christmas parade later that evening.

I was furious. The Christmas parade in Blacksburg is notorious for running late each year, but apparently no one running the festivities has seen the need to have two Santas: one for meeting the children and one to ride in the parade. Thankfully we hadn't really talked a whole lot of meeting Santa that night so Ally was blissfully unaware of what she had just missed out on.

We walked up the street and got burritos and quesadillas for dinner at Moe's on the corner. Ally had a grand time watching all the people in the busy restaurant, listening to the background music, spinning around on the vinyl bench seat, and stuffing herself with the chips. And her kid's meal came with a chocolate chip cookie and juice box, so that just about made her evening right there. After dinner we walked in the dark up to the big spruce that the town decorates with lights each year.


The tree is big enough to walk under and Ally was amazed at being inside the Christmas tree with the lights all around her.


We then made our way over to the holiday farmers' market, where we listened to a tuba band play Christmas carols and watched more people. And lots of doggies were out that night. Ally is fascinated by dogs that are bigger than our miniature dachshund, and many of the dogs she saw Friday night were much, much bigger than ours. A colleague from my former department was selling wreaths made with his beautiful dahlia flowers which he had dried. He gave Ally one dried flower fashioned into a Christmas tree ornament, which Ally loved so much that she promptly crumpled it to death. Finally we walked back up to Main Street to wait for the Christmas parade to start.


Once it finally started, Ally drank it all in with big eyes and enormous fascination. The Blacksburg Christmas parade is classic small town, with home-made floats from the various churches, platoons of boy and girl scouts, people in costumes on bikes, and the high school beauty queen in a convertible. We only stayed for about twenty minutes before the cold got to be too much for us.



On the walk back to the car, Ally announced "I tired," in a deeply satisfied way. And I got to thinking at how little it takes to really impress a toddler. I had been very disappointed that we weren't able to see Santa, but Ally was thrilled by all the things she had seen, heard, and eaten that night. The chips and the cookie from dinner; the colorful lights, the dark night, and a tree you could walk under; tubas and doggies; and even all the bicyclists in the street. I know next Christmas will be very different because Ally will have naturally developed her own expectations for the holiday season, but for right now I'm very thankful for the opportunity to see Christmas through her truly innocent eyes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Botanical Ark

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm all twitterpated in regards to my garden. We close on the new house on Dec. 14 and I'm assuming we'll actually take possession of it that day, as opposed to some catastrophic event that allows the seller to back out of the deal and we spend the next couple of months mourning our loss. If all goes according to plan (knock on wood), we'll move into the new house after the holidays and then put our current house on the market in late winter. The crux of my problem is this: I want to take a large number of plants with me to the new house, but February is a really lousy time to transplant. Montgomery County clay is hard enough to work with when it isn't frozen, and I don't particularly relish gardening when it's only 30 degrees and the wind is blowing hard. I've been potting up as many plants as I can this past week, taking advantage of the milder temperatures and workable soil. Thankfully I hadn't cleaned up the garden too thoroughly so I can tell where my perennials are from their dead foliage even though they've died back to the soil. Potting up plants isn't nearly as time-consuming as putting them out in the ground as I don't have to think much about proper sun exposure and soil moisture. I dig up the chosen plant, plop it down in a suitable pot, tamp the soil around it, and then move off to find the next plant.

However, I do need to bury those pots so the roots don't freeze when the temperatures dip down and stay down later on. For this I use the two raised beds my husband built for me years ago. They're perfect for overwintering pots, stashing new plants until I find the right spot for them in the garden, or raising vegetables in the summer. I've been amending the soil in these beds yearly until now it's a nice, dark loam that's a pleasure to turn over with a spade. I spent the greater part of yesterday afternoon doing just that, chopping up the remaining vegetation from the summer, incorporating some leaves from this fall, and digging holes for the plants I've already potted up so far. I feel much better knowing that I'll be able to take these pots out of the raised bed with little difficulty when the time comes to move into the new house.

That thought led me to think of these raised beds as a kind of botanical ark for my favorite plants. As I shoveled the soil around in the beds I wondered how the pilgrims, and later the pioneers, felt about taking plants with them to new lands and homesteads. While survival must have been foremost in their minds, I'm sure some of those people must have felt the need to bring some of their past with them in the form of a plant. Space would have been at a premium, so they probably carried more seeds than live plant material and most of it would have been for crops. Yet I wonder how many women might have collected seeds from a favorite flower or herb to take with them? Something to remind them of home, or perhaps someone special who they were leaving behind?

I was suddenly struck by how many of the plants I've chosen to take with me to the new house remind me of someone else and other places. There are the peonies and rhubarb that remind me of my grandmothers, the columbine from my favorite aunt in Alaska, and the beautiful peach shrub rose my husband gave me last year to celebrate our first date ten years ago. The lavender, coreopsis, and yarrow are all from the original bed I created while deep in the midst of working on my dissertation. They were watered with bitter tears of frustration and anger, but they thrived and gently reminded me of the importance of setting goals and the exhilaration of achieving them. The rose-of-Sharon, day lilies, hostas, and rose campion remind me of Poquoson because that's what my mother grows in her garden there. Then there are the irises. Mom gave me mine and she received hers many years ago from Mr. Snead. The Sneads were an elderly couple who lived across the street from us in Newport News. Mr. Snead had a passion for irises and grew some of the most gorgeous flowers. He shared some with Mom, who also inherited many others upon his death. I cannot think of irises without remembering Mr. Snead, and his memory brings forth all the others associated with our little Cape Cod house in that neighborhood. Suddenly I'm eight years old again, riding my bike all over the neighborhood all day long, stopping by the Sorenses' house for a cookie, hearing Mr. Epps' old-fashioned lawn mower whirring in the early summer morning, and throwing a wet slobbery tennis ball for a beautiful Irish setter named Heather, who lived in a yard with a white picket fence. I played freeze tag and Mother May I with the neighbors' kids on the long front lawns, spent many hours on the beach down by the James River a block or so behind our house, and caught fire flies at dusk. My childhood may not have been idyllic, but it was darn close to it at times, and it only takes an iris to bring all that back to me in a rush.

Sunset comes early in the winter, so I had to stop gardening sooner than I would have liked yesterday. As I put up my shovel and gloves to come inside and make dinner, I realized that not only are my raised beds a botanical ark for my favorite plants to rest in before we move, but my favorite plants also serve as a living memory book, connecting me to other people, places, and times.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Garden Turmoil

So I had planned for a nice, quiet holiday season after the frantic activity leading up to the craft show at the beginning of November. I was going to work on a quilt for my daughter, decorate the house for Christmas, make lots of cookies, and generally enjoy the season. All that flew out the window the Sunday after the craft show. My husband and I don't typically make snap decisions, but we made an offer on a house two weeks ago. Our offer was accepted and we go to close on the house in the middle of December. We weren't really looking for a new house, but I saw an ad in the newspaper that caught my eye on Sunday, November 8. We looked at the property Monday afternoon, did a walk-through with the selling agent on Tuesday, and were in her office on Wednesday morning. The seller accepted our offer that afternoon.

It's a beautiful house with large rooms, an open floor plan, and approximately 3 acres of land. Steve can have his own office in the room above the garage and there's plenty of space for Ally to play in the finished basement. I'm looking forward to having an upstairs bedroom to myself as a combined office and craft room. And there's lots of land for a sizable vegetable garden.

However, I must admit that I've been on the verge of a panic attack more than once since we heard our offer was accepted. You see, we'll start moving in January and then put our current house on the market in late winter. That's a lousy time to dig up my garden and transplant it to our new home, and this has me in a turmoil. I know I'm nuts, but I have a lot invested in my garden. Not just time and money, but an emotional attachment as well. There are the rose bushes I received at my bridal shower and those Steve has given me for Valentine's Day and our wedding anniversary. There are the peonies from my paternal grandmother and the ones my mother-in-law gave me when my maternal grandmother passed away. There are the oriental lilies that have finally begun to produce ginormous flower stalks, the perennial sunflower that has taken years of coaxing to bloom, and the hardy lavender I planted the very first year I started my garden. I've already written about how my garden saved my sanity back while I was a grad student working on my doctorate. No, I really can't leave my beloved rhubarb or the Chinese foxglove I started from seed last year and haven't seen it bloom yet.

On a more practical side, I realize that I could easily get more black-eyed susans, shasta daisies, and daylilies from any garden center, but why should I buy more of them when I can save hundreds of dollars by dividing the plants I already own? Had I known earlier in the year that we'd be moving relatively soon, I would have potted up many perennials, started slips of the butterfly bushes, and collected seeds instead of just scattering them in the flower beds. Of course I can insist that we include a "digging clause" in the contract of our current house which would indicate what plants I plan to remove before the buyer takes possession of the house, but I'd prefer to move my plants long before we put the house on the market. Technically plants and shrubs in the landscaping are considered real property that conveys with the house to the new owner unless their removal by the seller is specifically written into the contract, and writing out which plants I plan to take and where they are currently located would be long and tedious. If only we could keep our current house until spring, when things are coming back up and moving plants would be so much easier, but keeping an unoccupied house for months just so I can save all my plants is an obvious folly. So here I am, at the tail end of November, potting up what plants I can find, cursing the lack of light at 5:30 pm, and hoping that the colder weather please holds off for just a little while longer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Craft Show

Last Saturday Mom and I had a booth at the annual craft show at the Shawsville Middle School. I'm just glad she's still speaking to me after 9 months of preparation and eight hours of craftapalooza.

MomTree, edited

Actually we had a great day. It was the first craft show we've ever done, although we've done a number of yard sales and flea markets together. Somehow back in January I got a wild hair up my butt about doing a show and was able to get on the list at Shawsville. The months since then have been filled with felting sweaters for material, planning and cutting out designs, and stitching items together. I've made wreaths, painted treat buckets, fashioned brooches, and wired bedsprings into hanging lanterns. I've caulked, glued, epoxied, stitched, and tied. I've stained fabric with coffee, glittered felt posies, glued ribbon on clothespins, and wrapped rag balls. I've spent hours cursing at the sewing machine only to be filled with glee when I was able to fix the problem. (Who knew stitch length could be so important?) I scoured the local Goodwill store for votive candle holders on a weekly basis and the nice ladies at the local JoAnn's Fabrics must think I'm a closet hoarder of clearance calico.

Needless to say, our booth was pretty full of stuff for sale.

RightSideBooth, edited

LeftSideBooth, edited

AllyBooth, edited

In the end, the house has been in shambles for months and I'm probably certifiably deranged, but gosh it was fun! And *hoo-eee*, talk about a learning experience.

The Top Ten Things I've Learned While Crafting

1. You should consider getting a tetanus booster shot if you're going to work with rusty metal springs.
2. Glitter will collect in every crack and crevice of a hardwood floor. Vacuuming will not remove it, even weeks later.
3. Some industrial craft adhesives should really only be used outdoors.
4. You won't be able to match colors between dye lots.
5. Profit margins on craft items should always include the value of the time you put into making the item.
6. Never calculate the value of your time while crafting unless you enjoy being depressed.
7. You probably will never sell all of your merchandise at one show, thus requiring the need to sign up for another show to move the merchandise. You will then create new items between shows, thus initiating a vicious cycle.
8. The wise crafter specializes in lightweight items or has a moving team of many, many people to help set up the booth.
9. If you have a unique item, many of the other vendors will spend much of the day scoping out your wares and planning on making it themselves next time.
10. Unsold merchandise makes fabulous Christmas presents.

I also realized that antiques or vintage items are easier to sell in the sense that you might do a minor repair or clean the item, but it's not like you're making that Empire buffet or crazy quilt from scratch. Most craft items require a lot more time to make than you originally thought and you're liable to put more money into the item than anyone is willing to pay for it.

But despite all this, I really enjoyed making my items, preparing for the show, and receiving feedback on my work during the show. It's great when someone really, really likes your work and actually buys some of it. I think the greatest compliment came from the woman who inquired if I had a shop somewhere else. Will I do another show? I'm not sure. I've signed up for a two day show in Floyd next October, but I haven't fully committed to it yet. I think it will depend on who I can rope into working the show with me (seeing how Mom came to her senses during the middle of the Shawsville show and declared that, with God as her witness, she is not a crafter) and what inventory I create between now and then. But for right now I can relax and truly enjoy the holiday season because all my Christmas "shopping" is done for once.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall in Southwest Virginia

Went for walks in Riner and around Pandapas Pond outside of Blacksburg last week. Most of our trees have lost their leaves now, except for the red oaks that still flame red in the sere landscape.

Pandapas Pond, edited

A lonely feather on a misty afternoon.

Lonely feather, edited

I love the color in these late berries.

Not grapes, edited

I suspect this is the exotic, invasive Asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus Thunb.), but it's still pretty.

Bittersweet, edited

I'm always looking for interesting seed pods and plant architecture at this time of the year.

MilkweedPod, edited

FluffySeedHeads, edited

Sometimes the commonest of roadside weeds become sculptural masterpieces at the end of their existence.

Teasel, edited


I always enjoy taking pictures in the spring when everything is fresh, green, and new, but I think I'm about to find fall just as much fun to photograph.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chandelier dreams

We're big fans of the Pumpkin Festival out at Sinkland Farms in Riner, Virginia. It wasn't until our last trip that I realized that the farm has an old barn available as an event center. It's a nice, big structure with a stage at one end of the building. The concrete floors, sheet metal roof, and wooden beams give it a very rustic feel.

But the funky chandelier inside is stunning. It's a massive light fixture made of all kinds of glass bottles and jars attached to graduated iron rings with scrollwork and tiers of electric tapers on the outside. The glass is clear, frosted, and aqua colored. There are Mason jars, patent medicine bottles, soda bottles, and a wine bottle or two.


Underneath is a Japanese glass fishing float with the netted covering.

Chandelier underside

Standing underneath it and looking up into the chandelier....the whole thing makes me think of a big jellyfish.

Chandelier underside 2

I want to rent the center for a dinner party one early summer night just to see it all lit up. I bet it's beautiful.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hello, November?

Seems like I just greeted October yesterday and now it's November. November in all its "I don't want to see another miniature candy bar for awhile and no kidding, winter is definitely on its way" glory. November with its bare trees, frosty mornings, cold rains, and gloomy skies. November with its warm fires, flannel pajamas, and much good food to be eaten. Early November gives you just enough time to finish up the leftover Halloween candy before plunging headlong into the winter holiday season. Late November barrels past you in a rush.

This year I want to make the effort to truly enjoy the change into winter, the holiday season, and the end of the year. I have much to be thankful for but rarely take the time to appreciate it the way I should. This year we'll see the holiday season through the eyes of our two-year-old daughter, and I'm hoping she'll remind me of all the magic and fun this season really holds for us.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ghost Stories

I took my two-year-old daughter trick or treating for the first time tonight. Ally wore a black cat costume complete with a grinning Cheshire Cat face on the front of the black plush front, a long stuffed cat tail in the back, and a hood with cat ears on top.


Initially she was more excited about being outside in the dark than visiting houses in the neighborhood, but it didn't take Ally long to get the hang of begging for free candy. Seriously, the secret to getting a good haul of Halloween candy is to take an adorably cute little girl in a great costume, especially if saying "Trick or treat!" is something of a tongue twister for her. I had to carry Ally's treat bag home for her as it was too heavy for her, but she was very reluctant to entrust me with it. Wise girl, as there will be significantly less chocolate in the bag when dawn arrives.

And now, a ghost story for your Halloween entertainment.

Once upon a time I was a graduate student in the Department of Entomology at the University of Tennessee. One of the retired professors owned a piece of property adjacent to the Cherokee National Forest, almost on the Tennessee-North Carolina state lines, and there was a tradition in the department to spend the occasional weekend at the cabin there. The oldest part of the building was a one room log cabin predating the Civil War. There were narrow slits in the log walls beside the chimney where guns could be fired to ward off marauding Indians or unwanted visitors. Over the years additions had been tacked on the original building, including a bathroom, a kitchen, and another sleeping room. Overall the cabin was in a general state of disrepair, with slanted floors and outside walls that did little to keep out the cold. Not that we minded. It was a great place to visit for the weekend and collect specimens for our insect collections. The owner was too elderly to come out with us, but we'd stop by his house for a short chat and pick up the key to the gate from him on our way to the property. I recall that we usually went in the spring as there were more insects to collect at that time of the year. The property had creeks and seeping springs to explore, open meadows and forest to walk through. It was perfect for a bunch of biology geeks like ourselves. At night you could see the stars clearly with no light pollution. I'd hate to guess how far away the nearest neighbor might have been.

You'd drive forever to get to the cabin, graduating from a main road to a black top road to a gravel road to a dirt road and eventually there would be 50-100 feet of a shallow creek bed before you pulled up at the place in the middle of nowhere. We'd get out, dump our sleeping bags and duffle bags on whatever patch of floor we'd claim for the weekend, then spill out of the cabin into the woods to commune with nature while our advisor and another professor or two would keep company on the front porch. It didn't take long for a substantial pile of green Rolling Rock beer bottles to accumulate on the porch, and after awhile we graduate students would join the professors in the drinking and shooting the breeze. We'd talk about biology and science, office gossip and whoever didn't come on the trip, and of course the upcoming football season. There would burgers and hotdogs on the grill with chips and more beer and more animated conversation. Near midnight there might be a horribly off-key sing along, or the conversation might have turned to how the cabin was supposedly haunted.

Several years before I joined the department there was a female graduate student who said she had seen the ghost of a woman inside the cabin one weekend. The graduate student wrote a description of her experience and left it at the cabin for anyone else to read. The student had been sleeping in one of the rooms when she woke up and saw a woman dressed in white sitting in the rocking chair in the corner. The student said the woman was wearing a long, old-fashioned gown and simply rocked back and forth. I don't remember if the student said the ghost eventually faded away or even if the student fled the room. The student had graduated before I joined the department, but she had the reputation of being a good student with a sensible head on her shoulders, not the type of person you would dismiss as being flakey or ditsy.

One spring weekend I wound up sleeping on the floor of the room where the ghost had been reported. There were at least two other people sleeping on the floor in the same room. Although there were two single beds in the room, we preferred to spread our sleeping bags on the floor instead of disturbing decades of dust and mice poop on those mattresses. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, probably because of someone snoring, but it may have been the creaking floor boards made by someone going outside to pee. While I had admittedly drunk a few beers that evening I was most definitely not drunk or merely dreaming that I was awake. I could hear mice rustling around in the room and the light thump-thump-thump they made jumping across the floor. Slowly I became aware of a soft, white glow several feet to the left of my head, where the rocking chair was located in the room. I'm horribly near sighted and do not wear my contact lenses to bed, but as soon as I realized that there was something white-colored to the side of me just out of my range of vision, nothing could induce me to put on my glasses and turn to see what it was.

I know I was awake because I heard someone knock a beer bottle over on the porch when he went outside to pee. I know there was no full moon that night and the windows were not positioned to let moonlight into that corner of the room even if there had been one. I know the light wasn't from a flashlight someone was using outside the cabin. I know I felt silly and even laughed at myself, but I still could not make myself turn my head to see what was producing that soft, white glow. I know I did not feel threatened or endangered by whatever it was over in the corner. I wasn't afraid of it so much as I just didn't want to face something that I might not be prepared to acknowledge. I finally drifted back to sleep after a good hour or so of lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling of the room and trying to rationalize the experience.

To this day I still do not know what that was in the corner with the rocking chair, or if I would turn my head to look at it if I ever encountered it again.

Happy Halloween, y'all!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Travels with Mom

I recently wrote an entry about traveling to Alaska with my mother in 1982.

I love traveling with Mom and I regret that we're not able to do it as much now. The first real trip we took together was sometime back around 1980. We drove down to Spruce Pine and Mineral, North Carolina, to go rock hunting. We have great memories from that trip about a very large black snake stretching across an old Jeep trail, murderous ducks attacking my feet, a restaurant that offered enormous family-style servings, and us acting like crazed gold miners the first time we spied flakes of mica glittering in the sun. If I remember correctly, we were at the intersection of a medium-sized road when we saw something shiny in the loose soil of the median strip. We actually pulled the car over and scooped up some of the soil containing the mica flakes. Yes, we're nuts. Flakey, even, but I still have the moonstone, amazonite, tourmaline, and all those other rock samples we collected on that trip.

Our last trip together was in in May 1997 when Mom flew out to Davis, California, to drive cross country with me back to Virginia. I had moved there for a long-term relationship that ended unexpectedly and abruptly the previous fall. (Well, it was unexpected to me. Maybe not unhoped for by my parents.) At any rate, I was in a rather fragile state but had finally made the surprisingly mature decision to return to Virginia instead of trying to carve out a life in California. I decided to ship most of my belongings back to my parents' house, stuff my car full of what was left, and drive my tattered soul back home. Mom generously offered to fly out and travel with me so I wouldn't be alone. Despite the circumstances necessitating the move, we had a blast on that trip. We laughed at the locals at the Walmart in Barstow, saw thunderstorms dance across the Grand Canyon on Mother's Day, and ate a five pound bag of carrots along the way. There was the hotel room in Flagstaff that had a bathroom so small that the proprietor had cut a notch out of the bathroom door so it could swing past the toilet bowl to open. There was the all-you-can eat Chinese food and fried catfish buffet in some small corner of Arkansas that had a few six-legged customers dining on the tartar sauce. Nevermind that Mom was convinced that we'd never find the interstate again and would be stuck in Amboy, CA, forever, or that one morning I made Mom leave the hotel room five minutes after I woke up because she was already taking the luggage out the door to hit the road at 6 am. It was a glorious road trip and I'll never forget that Mom wanted to go with me.

That first trip to Alaska with Mom was no less of an adventure, too. Sure, it was off to a shaky start with my unexpected arrival into womanhood, but Alaska is simply a fantastic place to visit and we were wowed by it the moment we stepped off the plane in Anchorage. The scenery, the wildlife, and the history of the state make Alaska a fantastic destination. I can't say that my aunt and her daughter traveling with us had an equally glorious time as we were barely speaking to each other by the time we left. A week in a Winnebago with 3 adults and two near-teenagers will dampen even the strongest family bonds. There was an incident with a can of Cheez Whiz, the refusal to pitch in with communal chores, and that's about all I need to say about that. I wish I had the pictures to share with you, but the one of the us taken at the terribly touristy North Pole, AK, says it all: Mom and I stand at one end of the welcome sign, my aunt and cousin stand at the other, and we're either forcing a smile for the picture or barely containing the urge to snarl at each other. And yet Mom and I still laugh about that trip.

I wish we could take another trip together. Even more, I wish my daughter was old enough to take a trip with us and remember it. As it is, either Ally will have to listen to all my stories about traveling with Granny, or she'll have to come with me to see Amboy (population 13!) all for herself.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Seriously yummy pumpkin bread

There are fat pumpkins everywhere you look at this time of the year and it's time to make two of my favorite treats, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. I've made my own pumpkin puree by cooking down fresh pumpkin, but seriously, the canned variety is just as good and a thousand times easier. Make sure you use pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie mix which already contains spices. I'm sure you could adapt this recipe to using the mix by omitting the spices listed here, but I doubt the result would taste as good as the bread made with your own spices.

This recipe is an adaptation of the pumpkin bread recipe given in Camille Glenn's 1986 cookbook, The Heritage of Southern Cooking. I love this cookbook. The old photos and commentary are fascinating and I can easily spend an hour just leafing through the book. One of the changes I made to this recipe was to use a mix of granulated and brown sugars. I had planned on using molasses for a deeper flavor, but didn't have any on hand when I made the recipe. Another change was to use five spice powder and ginger in addition to nutmeg. You could use pumpkin pie spice or just cinnamon if you don't have five spice powder, but I like my pumpkin spicy. Also, the original recipe calls for water and I used buttermilk instead. (Buttermilk makes everything better.) The nuts could be toasted before adding them to the batter for even deeper flavor. I'd try black walnuts with this recipe if I had them on hand.

This is a tender and richly spiced loaf. Well, who are we kidding? This is really cake, and a yummy one at that.

Fall Pumpkin Bread

1 stick butter at room temperature (life is too short for fake butter!)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup buttermilk or water
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the batter is thick and smooth. Combine the floor, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt in a separate small bowl and stir with a whisk. Add the flour mixture, the pumpkin, and the buttermilk alternately to the creamed butter and eggs. Do not overbeat. Fold in the nuts with a spatula. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased standard loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes, then check for doneness using a cake tester. Don't be alarmed if your loaf takes 90 minutes to bake as the moisture in the brown sugar and pumpkin may vary and increase the baking time. Loaf is done when the tester comes out dry. Remove pan from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes, then turn out of a rack. Cool thoroughly before slicing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Looking at 1982 from 2009

So my encounter with the little girl at the local Chik-Fil-A last weekend has me mulling over my own experiences as a little girl on the verge of puberty. Mom had given me the appropriate books to read and we'd had "the talk" by then, but reading something and experiencing something is entirely different. Like rebuilding a car engine, or say pregnancy. You can read all you want about the topic but it's not until you really do it yourself that you gain a real appreciation of the subject. There I was, prepared as possible for my first period, but woefully unprepared at the same time.

I started early, eleven years old in 1982. I clearly remember it was June because we were packing for a two week vacation in Alaska. Yep, I started my first period the day before we embarked on a 14 hour trip to Anchorage. Lucky me. We were flying on standby tickets and Mom insisted that we wear skirts because our names might not be called if we didn't dress nicely and apparently pants weren't "nice" no matter how much I protested. Never mind that I despised wearing a skirt at that age because 1) I felt awkward in them and 2) I only wore them when I had to so the very fact that I was wearing one made me feel even more awkward. At that age I desperately wanted to fit in with everyone else and not attract attention to myself, which in my mind definitely meant not wearing a skirt. Fitting in with everyone else wasn't easy as I was fairly tall and solid for my age and wore thick glasses for my nearsightedness. There was no way my parents were going to buy me the skintight Sergio Valente jeans popular in the 1980s and they wouldn't have looked good on my body anyways, but I only wanted to wear jeans. Instead, I wore a dark brown calico prairie skirt with several tiers to it, along with a tan peasant blouse with a drawstring neckline, as I boarded the plane. This wasn't too far out of the fashion stream at the time, even though the kids at my middle school called me Pocahontas or Laura Ingalls every time I wore it. A pair of cowboy boots would have really boosted the outfit, but again, I only wanted to wear Nikes with those jeans. Anyhow, there I was, stuck on a plane for upteen hours while dressed in an outfit that I felt screamed "LOOK AT ME!". In retrospect the skirt was probably a much kinder outfit as I was also wearing a rather large and thick sanitary pad wadded between my thighs that would never have fit under Sergio Valente jeans. I was embarrassed, uncomfortable, and so dead certain that everyone who looked at me must have instinctively known I was having my period.

I understand why my Mom didn't feel I was ready to wear tampons, but oh how much easier that would have made things. What I don't understand is why she didn't offer me aspirin to ease the cramping, but she and my aunt were sitting together in a different row of seats than my cousin Mary Catherine and me. (Oh, did I mention that this was something of a mother-daughter trip?) Maybe Mom didn't recognize that I was hurting. It didn't occur to me that I could ask for aspirin for the aching; I just thought that this was something that you had to suffer along with the indignity of wearing what amounted to a diaper between your legs. But the unfamiliar pressure and aching made me feel like I constantly needed to pee, so I nearly wore a trail down the aisle to the bathroom on that flight. There was an older woman sitting between me and the aisle that had to get up to let me out each time I needed to go to the bathroom, and by the end of the flight she remarked in a rather bitter tone that I must have a bladder infection. It must have been an unspeakable hassle for her to have to move her bottomless rum and coke off the meal tray each time I wanted out.

So, fast forward through our vacation in Alaska to a month later. Mom had invited my aunt, Mary Catherine, and our maternal grandmother over for lunch on the back deck. My grandmother wanted to hear about our trip as Alaska was one of her very favorite places to visit. Then, much to my horror, my grandmother turned to me and asked, "So, how does it feel to be a woman now?" I would not have minded one bit if the earth had opened up and swallowed me on the spot. I remember my face flushing in shame, muttering some sort of defensive remark, and then angrily demanding that my cousin pass me the mustard for my sandwich NOW! Mom sharply reprimanded me for my bad manners and rightly so, but I don't think anyone understood my feelings. I didn't have the wherewithal to say it then, but if I ever went back in time to that exact moment I would probably respond to my Grandmother with, "Are you out of your freakin' gourd? What do you mean by 'woman'? I'm only ELEVEN!"

I was eleven. I loved horses, stuffed animals, and eating giant bowls of ice cream while watching Saturday morning cartoons. I was still a child, despite the fact that my body had decided that it wasn't going to wait any longer to get the show on the road. I didn't want anything to do with this new status quo of periods. I felt that somehow I was expected to wear dresses with pantyhose, do my hair and apply makeup each day. Was I expected to find a boyfriend now, and maybe have babies? Overnight it seemed that the world had changed its expectations of me when I was still struggling with all the expectations from before puberty. And if being a woman meant feeling ashamed by my body and physical pain each month, then I didn't want to have anything to do with it, thank you very much.

Every girl has a different experience with puberty. I know my mom tried to prepare me as best she could, and I'll do the same for my daughter when the time comes nine or so years from now. I can't say that I'll do a better job than my mother and Ally will have an easier time than I had. I'll at least make sure Ally knows it's okay to take some ibuprofen when it hurts, and we'll find some nice jeans for her to wear with those sanitary pads the first couple of years.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bad Manners

Yesterday we took our two year old to the local Chik-Fil-A so she could climb on the play equipment as a post-nap treat. Perhaps I should have taken a nap, too. All of us have had a cold, cough, or variant of the creeping crud on and off for two weeks now. Even though I wasn't feeling very sick, I haven't been getting enough sleep as Ally's coughing keeps me awake. I tend to be a light sleeper and jolt awake when I hear Ally coughing in the middle of the night. Lately I've been getting up 4-6 times each night to check on her. Although I'm dead certain that she's coughing hard enough to make herself throw up, the coughing doesn't seem to bother Ally one bit as most of the time she doesn't even wake up as I replace her covers. Regardless, the interrupted sleep is starting to wear on me and tends to make me really, REALLY cranky.

So there we were, sitting in the playground area watching Ally climb in, up, over, through, and down the play equipment. I could have laid down on the bench and taken a nap, but Ally wanted to make sure we were watching her every moment. "MOMMY! DADDY!" she yelled at each observation bubble and tunnel opening, just to make sure we hadn't moved since she last called for us thirty seconds ago. Then she'd move four feet farther into a tunnel and yell again at the next window. We're working on what's an appropriate "inside" voice, but small children don't come with a volume control. I'm pretty sure that's why the play area is in an area separated from the dining room by glass walls and doors.

The play area was a pretty popular place yesterday, with three or four other children monkeying over the equipment. One girl was about 8 years old with long wavy blonde hair and wearing a pink and brown knit dress with flowers, polka dots, and stripes. Clearly she was the queen bee of the playground, directing the other children around, learning the names of the other kids, offering to go get any stragglers up at the top, and asking the parents if she could play with their kids' toys if the kids themselves didn't let her. I didn't care for her bossy nature and blankly ignored her as much as I could, even though she tried to engage me by telling me that those shoes in the cubby were hers and not to let Ally mess with them, and could I please move over so she could sit on the bench with me? Her father was sitting in the restaurant and appeared to be watching her, but obviously wasn't within hearing distance of his child.

A few minutes later the girl climbed up into the play structure, turned around, and told me that I looked pretty. Her comment didn't even register with me the first time, so she made a point of telling me again. Startled, I told her thank you, but didn't say anything else to her. Soon afterwards her father came into the play area to collect his daughter and they left.

Little girl, I'm sorry that I behaved the way I did. I haven't been getting enough sleep and was in a less than stellar mood, but I still could have been more polite to you. I should have asked you your name as you clearly wanted to interact with other people yesterday. I saw a woman with a young baby sitting at the table with you and your father earlier. You probably have a young sister now and are trying to adjust to the new addition in the family. You're also approaching the edge of the cliff that drops off scarily into puberty, and you may be bewildered by the chasm ahead of you. I should have admired your self-confidence instead of dismissing it so lightly as being bossy. I could have at least told you to have a good afternoon as you left, but what bothers me most is that I never even thought of telling you that you are pretty, too.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hellooooo, October!

It's a lovely autumn afternoon on the back deck, warm in the sun but cool in the shade. Cool enough for a ginormous mug of oolong tea that we picked up in San Francisco's Chinatown last November. Thankfully the breeze is keeping any surviving mosquitoes at bay. I hear a hummingbird squeaking over by the scarlet pineapple sage, but I doubt they'll remain in southwestern Virginia much longer. The red and burgundy leaves of the dwarf crape myrtle are almost incandescent in the sunlight, and the purple asters beside it nearly pop with the color contrast. There's a titmouse scolding my miniature dachshund, but Oscar seems more intent on finding the latest trail left by the chipmunk living under the deck. Mr. Chipmunk has taken to boldly running across the deck , cheeks stuffed full of food to cache for the winter, and Oscar does not approve of this. Not at all. Of course Oscar also doesn't approve of the dwindling hours of daylight each day or the sudden drop in temperatures. Can't say I blame her. She doesn't have much of a coat and is practically nekkid on her belly so come winter she embeds herself like a tick in the sofa under the knit throw to stay warm. She's pitiful if we get any snow as her belly is only a few inches above ground and she's a girl dog to boot.

Yep, you read that right. We have a girl dog named Oscar. The original plan was to have a male and female pair named Oscar and Frankie, respectively. Steve surprised me with Oscar the night I defended my PhD almost 6 years ago in October 2003. She was 8 weeks old and barely the size of my foot, but Steve had already gotten an ID tag with the name Oscar on it and so it never occurred to me to change her name to something a little more feminine. She's not much of a girly dog anyways, aside from her dislike of having to pee in the snow. We hadn't had her too long before she woke us up one night, barking her head off and growling. Someone was trying to break into the kitchen window, but he ran off as soon as we shouted about calling the police. The police were never able to catch the guy, but we figure he must not have been too bright to break into a house with multiple cars in the driveway, security lights blazing on the garage and carport, and with a very loud dog inside the house. Oscar only weighed a couple of pounds at the time, but you couldn't tell she wasn't a much larger dog from the volume of her frenzied barking.

So it's times like this, when I spy Oscar digging in the dirt in my flower bed beside the garage, that I try not to get too upset by the crater she's excavating in pursuit of Mr. Chipmunk. Faithful watch dogs should be allowed to express their dogginess every so often, and it's comical to watch her dig so intently. We'll just plop her in the bath after Ally is done, and Oscar can express her feminine side by smelling of lavender tonight.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farewell, September

Ah September, we hardly knew ye. You arrived with bright warm days and comfortable nights, but the mosquitoes were still capable of exsanguinating the occasional victim so I didn't spend a whole of time outdoors. Then somewhere along the way the sun no longer rose over the horizon before 7 am and it got dark before 8 pm. Now September's time is spent, it's windy and cool, and there's a frost advisory for tonight. While I do love fall and the thought of mosquitoes dying by the bucketful makes me smile, I'm not ready for cold weather just yet.

Because of the aforementioned mosquitoes I've been putting off some late summer gardening chores until it turned cooler. I have several plants that I needed to get in the ground and September is a great time to do that, but the mosquitoes drove me up the wall and I kept putting it off. Plus, it had been awhile since we'd had much rain and the ground was hard as a rock. Actually the orange Montgomery Co. clay we have in the backyard turns more into terra cotta than rock when it gets dry and I hate digging in it when it gets that hard. "Later," I kept telling myself but ignoring the calendar. "I'll get it done later."

Well self, it's time to wake up and smell the later 'cause it's the last day of September and the temperatures are dropping down into the mid 30's tonight. I heard this on the radio this morning as I was cleaning out my daughter's closet, looking for her long-sleeved shirts and knee deep in outgrown summer things. My husband, who was working in the basement, could have heard me yelp in surprise.

I'm not ready for frost! I still have work to do outside! Cold weather can't come until I'm ready for it! But I didn't trust the weather to listen to me so I spent most of the afternoon transplanting some asters and joe-pye-weed, putting some blanket flower and Baptisia in the ground, cutting back the Jerusalem artichokes that had toppled over the other day in the brisk wind and generally tidying up a bit. Hopefully we'll still have a couple of weeks of mild weather in October so my transplants can get their root systems established before cold weather settles in for good. As I worked I couldn't help but bemoan the fact that I never got around to turning my compost pile properly this summer, or that my vegetables didn't do as well as I had hoped for this year. I'll probably harbor similar thoughts this time next year, too.

But it was a nice afternoon in the garden all the same. The pineapple sage is coming into its glory with scarlet flowers and the goldenrod is amazing with full, deep yellow blooms. The perennial sunflowers have seedheads now, which I'll leave up along with the coneflowers and the Liatris for the birds. This will be the last week I leave the hummingbird feeder up, but one kept buzzing around the deck to keep me company. Our dachshund had a grand time investigating the swamp milkweed beside the stock tank we use to catch rainwater. The asters are periwinkle, mauve, and purple mounds now. To my surprise, one of my azaleas out front has new flower buds on it but I doubt it'll bloom before we get really cold weather.

Later, before dinner, Ally helped me harvest a good number of eggplant and peppers and she watched with interest as I picked up the pale Jerusalem artichoke tubers from the plants I cut back earlier today. She held out the plastic bag as I dropped the produce into it. Ally was quite impressed by how heavy the bag got as the vegetables filled it up. In another month she'll be doing the same thing while trick or treating for the first time, but she'll be amazed by the candy, not produce, going into the bag. By then the long days of summer will be a memory and we'll all be dressing in layers again. With any luck I'll be too busy raiding my daughter's candy haul to complain too much about the change of the seasons.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The pumpkin festival at Sinkland Farms in Riner, VA, opened this past weekend.

It's a great way to spend an hour or so on a fall weekend.

There are many, many pumpkins waiting to be found in the fields.

Or you can pick out one that's already been picked.

That is, if you can make up your mind about which one you want.

There are weird gourds to look at.

Some pumpkins just want to be sat on.

There are friendly animals in the barn waiting to see you and be petted.

Some of the animals are really, really big.

And there were musicians and kettle corn, pony rides and ice cream, tractors and a corn maze. We'll be visiting again next weekend, I'm sure.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One year later....

Holy schnikes, my blog was exactly one year old yesterday!

I first started blogging because although I enjoy writing, I felt that I didn't have enough opportunities to do it. Writing summaries of endless chemical trials at work just didn't cut it for my sense of creativity. I originally thought that maintaining a blog would ease my way back into creative writing more regularly, but I didn't initially view writing a blog as an act of writing in itself. Boy was I wrong.

A blog entry is nothing more than an essay. Blog entries can be lengthy or just short blurbs, but there's very little difference between writing a blog and anything I ever wrote in high school or college. I still need an idea for each blog and I try to be careful with the composition and grammar for each entry. While each embryonic entry is scintillating in its originality and composition while it's still in my head, I do have to sit down and actually write the thing out, which is where it acquires all of its clunkiness and bad grammar. The act of posting an entry produces no less apprehension in me than turning a paper in for a grade did 20 years ago in college. Is this an interesting topic? Will someone find fault with the composition? Omigosh, what if someone doesn't like it? And yes, these thoughts do still pop up in my head even though I think maybe all of one or two people actually read my blog and I don't think anyone reads it with any regularity. :-D

Friday, September 18, 2009

Go away, Diego, go away!

My young daughter adores the animated series, "Go, Diego, Go!" Every night she asks if she can watch Diego or his cousin Dora in "Dora the Explorer," but I think she prefers Diego because of the animals featured on his show. The show is geared to preschoolers and it teaches some basic information about wild animals and critical thinking.

As I have a scientific background, you might think I would appreciate this show, but in reality I loathe it. Boy do I loathe it. Let me reiterate, I loathe Diego.

Diego, I hate the fact that my two-year-old daughter adores you. I hate the fact that she's going to want to be an "animal rescuer" just like you and that she's going to be heartbroken when she finds out that this is not a valid career choice. She's more likely to become a crazy cat lady with a dozen cats in her house than someone who dashes willy-nilly about the rainforest, miraculously finding and saving the lives of a wild animal each and every day. My daughter is also going to be very disappointed when she finds out that she can't just take a zipline to get to where ever she wants to go each day and that she won't be lauded by talking animals on her morning commute to work.

I hate the fact that the animals talk to Diego and Alicia. Boy, will my daughter be upset when she tries that with our dachshund. I'm deeply annoyed by the talking and singing camera and rescue pack. I find their theme songs as repetitive and inane as a commercial for a children's toy. Oh wait, that's exactly what they are. The very idea of talking lab equipment is wholly inaccurate as none of the PCR equipment in the biochemistry lab was ever helpful by telling me why they weren't working that day, even when I cursed them all the way down to their subatomic levels.

Diego, where are your parents and why are they largely absent in the show? Why do they let you have a baby jaguar as a pet? Keeping a wild animal as a pet is not healthy for the animal and it's certainly not going to be healthy for you when it grows up and tries to eat you. What kind of parents let their 8 year-old-son run around the rainforest without any adult supervision? It's a miracle that you find your way home each episode with nary a scratch on you. Why do they let your older sister, Alicia, drive a car when she's only eleven? Is this some cultural thing I'll never understand because I'm a caucasian living in the US? Honestly, if you have to rely on a talking camera and rescue pack to figure out what animal needs your help and that you'd better take a boat instead of a bike down the river, I'd never let you out of the house.

I hope that my daughter will quickly realize that "Go, Diego, Go!" is naught but a fantasy if only because no one, and I mean no one, on the show ever seems to have as much as a mosquito bite despite the fact that they're living in the middle of the Amazon forest. Even at the tender age of two my daughter knows that you can't venture into our backyard without a dozen mosquitoes homing in on you.

And if my diatribe seems a little harsh for a child's cartoon, don't even get me started on Dora and that damn monkey.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


So I had a rather unnerving experience in the produce section of our local Walmart yesterday. I'm sure everyone who has spent anytime shopping at a grocery store has seen something fall off the shelving all by itself at some point or another. You're pushing your cart (or your buggy, depending on how far south you live) around the corner and suddenly an apple spontaneously falls off the apple pile and hits the floor. Or an elaborately stacked display of citrus will seemingly eject two oranges, which leads to an avalanche of citrus cascading everywhere. Usually this happens with roundish fruits and vegetables that roll easily. Flattish foods, like collard greens or bags of baby carrots, rarely misbehave this way.

I was looking at some tomatoes yesterday when I head something fall from the display behind me. There was a bag of radishes on the floor. I thought it was odd that a flat bag had slid off the shelf like that but I picked it up and put it back. A second later I was surprised to see a plastic box of miniature bell peppers two feet down from the radishes fall off the shelf and break open. Red and orange peppers bounced around on the floor. Dutifully I picked them up and put them back on the shelf. A man and his wife walking past laughed gently and told me that they had dropped a whole box of doughnuts on the floor just last week, Doncha you hate it when that happens? I stammered that I hadn't even touched the radishes or the peppers when they fell. That's when two heads of lettuce bounced off the stand behind us. Mr. Husband looked at the errant produce with big eyes and I decided it was time to go.

I told my husband about the eerie happenings in the produce department when I got home. Steve pointed out that the freezer section is immediately behind that wall of produce and someone was probably slamming the freezer doors a little too hard, making the vegetables fall off the stands that way. That's a logical explanation, but part of me likes the idea of a produce-geist throwing a hissy fit every so often at the local Walmart. However, I'm shopping someplace else if I ever see something similar over in the meat department.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Potty Chronicles

So we're in the midst of potty training Ally, our 27 month old daughter. I know, I know...."training" isn't the politically correct term in favor now and I should refer to it as "potty learning" instead. Whatever you prefer to call it, my goal is to go from diapers to using the potty without the use of pull-ups. I don't see the need for pull-ups, which are only a more sophisticated form of diapers, when all I really want her to do is just start using the toilet. I know we'll have plenty of accidents before she's four years old, but it's time to get the potty show on the road.

Ally is in a great daycare center where the staff spends a lot of time working with the two year olds on using the potty. She's in diapers there, but we change her into big girl panties (the BGP) when she comes home in the evening. Ally is very excited about wearing her BGP with Disney's Ariel on them. She is less excited about using the potty, however.

This puzzles us, as previously Ally was all about sitting on her potty chair or even on the child's potty seat that fits on our toilet. We'd frequently ask her if she'd want to sit on her potty chair like a big girl and often she'd oblige happily but without any of the productivity for which we hoped. Then for about a month Ally would want to get out of her evening bath to sit on the potty. We'd oblige, lifting her out of the bubbles, and she'd hop on the potty chair for all of about six nanoseconds before wanting to get back in her bath. Five minutes later she'd request to sit on her potty chair again. We'd let her, hoping that maybe she was about to get the hang of it, but after alighting on her chair for a mere second she'd want to be back in the bath. After several weeks of this nightly ritual it got pretty old so we'd put her on the chair before and after her bath, but not take her out of her bath just to sit on the chair. I'm not sure who was training whom at this point.

I know Ally is ready for potty training. Ally stays dry for several hours and she will tell us when she needs a diaper, sometimes running back to the changing table for one. She's pretty aware of her bodily functions and will tell us when she's pooped, or if it's just gas. Yes, that's right, my two year old will announce with great confidence that she has gas. Makes for some great dinner conversations, but then again, we're pretty much stuck in the poop, pee, potty, and BGP category for any conversation these days. But within the past week, the potty chair has suddenly become a source of tension. She no longer wants to sit on the potty and will immediately begin to wail if we even suggest it to her. You can imagine the commotion this causes each night when we're regularly asking if she needs to pee so we can avoid an accident in the BGP.

Last night, while trying to convince Ally that there's nothing to fear about using the potty, I reminded her that everyone poops and pees, and that all her friends and family were doing this. Telling her that Mommy and Daddy use the toilet, and that some of her friends were already using the toilet, didn't really seem to have much impact on her. Eventually I invoked the name of "the authority" to convince her that using the potty was perfectly normal. Yep, I told Ally that Papaw poops in the potty at his house. I swear her eyes grew big as she mulled over this bit of information. Then she asked if Granny peed in the potty. "Oh, yes," I nodded my head gravely. "Both Papaw and Granny poop and pee in the toilet." While Ally seemed a little calmer about the potty chair afterwards, she still had no intention of using it last night.

I asked Ally's teacher this morning if Ally ever seemed afraid of using the potty at daycare. She laughed and said no, that Ally would eagerly sit on the potty and would even ask to use the potty. Ally still hasn't actually produced anything on the potty there, but she certainly wasn't afraid of it or avoided it.

Clearly we only have a potty issue at home, and it's probably one we created unknowingly. I don't want to get into a power struggle with Ally over the use of the potty chair, but there's a fine line between being a firm parent and being a control freak. And that line is about as indistinct as the one between being a lax parent and one being played by a two year old.

Even so, we are now debating trying to bribe Ally with a favorite treat (miniature marshmallows, to be exact) just to sit on the potty for a couple of minutes this evening so she can see that there's nothing to fear about the potty. We should know better than to try this. When Ally was only an infant and suffering from what seemed like an endless bout of stomach flu, Steve once blurted out in a fit of exhaustion that he'd give her a pony if she'd only stop throwing up. And she didn't throw up again. I think by now Steve owes Ally a small herd of ponies as he's made this offer to her multiple times for various reasons over the first 18 months of her life. Thankfully he stopped doing this before Ally was really aware of what he was offering her, but I should remind him not to say anything about a pony in connection to the potty training.

We'll probably try the marshmallows tonight, along with a glass of red wine for us. Ally will probably sit on the potty chair for a few minutes just to get her treat, and after some wine we won't really mind that she isn't interested in doing this on her own right now. And that's okay, Rome wasn't built in a day. There'll also be a bottle of carpet stain remover nearby for the inevitable accident in the BGP later on since she didn't pee in the potty, but potty re-acceptance is the first battle. We can tackle actually using the potty later on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fish Tales

I was lucky enough to spend a day fishing with my father off the coast of North Carolina the other week. They say a bad day spent fishing is still better than a day spent at the office, and it's true. Not that we had a bad day at all.

We left Poquoson around 2 am to drive all the way down to the Oregeon Inlet Fishing Center on the Outer Banks. I had woken up around 1:20 am to the improbable smell of bacon and a growling stomach. I dismissed the bacon smell as simply leftover aroma from the fried okra we had for dinner. Little did I know Dad had been up before midnight and had already had his breakfast of bacon and eggs. Luckily there were a few strips of bacon left so I could have a BLT sandwich on the road. I love a good BLT, but this one was tastier than usual because my subconsciousness had been smelling bacon for more than an hour before I woke up.

The roads were dark and mostly empty at 2 am. We spied some deer and what were probably foxes on the roadside along the way in those early morning hours, along with an unbelievable number of police cruisers. Apparently some of the towns on the road down to the Outer Banks fund most of their civic activities through speeding tickets during the summer months. We arrived at the docks a little after 5 am and were on the charter boat headed offshore around 5:30 am.

We didn't catch too many fish that day, but neither did anyone else. Our boat pulled in three sailfish, a couple of dolphins (that's the atlantic dolphin, similar to mahimahi in the Pacific and not related to Flipper at all, so don't anyone get their panties in a wad over this), and one yellowfin tuna.

Theresa enjoying her tuna

Yes, the sea offshore really is that gorgeous shade of marine blue.

The fishing report for August 19 from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center stated, "Offshore boats caught and released 29 sailfish, 10 white marlin and 2 blue marlin. Tuna cosisted mostly of blackfins with one good size yellowfin. Some good dolphin catches were made with several wahoos." Read that about the yellowfin? Now there may have been someone else who caught a yellowfin that day, but I know I pulled one in. Mind you it wasn't a big tuna, probably only about 20 pounds, but it was a fun 10 minutes to pull him in and it was the only tuna we got that day, and boy was it tasty the next night.


But mostly this trip was about spending a day with my dad. There were two other fathers with their children on the boat with us. I say "children" loosely, as Chris was in high school and Samantha was in college, and I'm about to start pushing 40 in another month or two. Although the waves were rough at first, the weather was simply beautiful and we spent the day in good conversation, eating more snack food than we normally would, and taking short naps inside the cabin. Catching the fish was fun, but I really enjoyed watching the fathers take pride in seeing their own kids catch fish. As soon as a fish was hooked, someone would shout into the cabin so we nappers could rush out and watch someone else land it. Once in my teens I would have been wanted to bring in all the fish myself, but now it's just as much fun to watch someone else have fun with it. Age will teach you that, I guess.

Pelican Crew, Aug. 2009

I don't even remember my first fishing trip with him, but I've heard the story about how one time I was out with Dad and my grandfather, who accidently dropped the tackle box overboard and cursed. Apparently I cheerfully chanted "Damn! Damn! Damn!" for the rest of the day, much to the bewilderment of my mother after we got home. I'm guessing I was probably around 5 years old at the time and that might not have been the first time I had been out in the boat. There's been many a trip since then, mostly for croaker and flounder, and sometimes clamming in Poquoson or netting crabs off the footers of the James River Bridge. But as I got older the trips were less frequent, and then I went to grad school and maybe went fishing only once every couple of years. I'm not sure why I haven't tried to go more often over the past decade. After all, I do like being on a boat and I enjoy fishing with my father. All I can say is that I regret we haven't had the chance to spend a day on the water with him more often lately, and I hope we get to go fishing together more often from now on. (Plus I want to catch another tuna.)

Me 'n Dad Fishing, Aug 2009