Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Grandparents' Day Quilt

I'm happy to report that I have finished all I can do on the lovely Grandparents' Day quilt. As with the breakfast club aprons, I never had enough time to work on this quilt while at work over the past few months, so I took advantage of my post-op downtime to finish up this project, as well. My dear husband helped me out taking a photograph last night (below) after I had basted the edging so, while this is not the completely finished project, it gives you an idea of what the quilt looks like. Now all that is left is for my residents to add the finishing touches (tying the joining blocks with yarn) and then we will be hanging it on the wall in the dining room for all to see. The dining room is the largest common space at our building, where almost all of our activities take place - as well as where all meals are served.  

Let me back up a bit, though. To celebrate Grandparents' Day in September, we had a family luncheon and set up several craft stations for where residents and their visiting family members could get creative together. One of the stations had quilt squares, paint, and permanent markers, and we encouraged them to make a handprint square to become part of a wallhanging quilt we would make to commemorate the day. Some of my favorite features: 

One resident's granddaughter encouraged her to write "love" and "grandchild" in Japanese on their block. This resident is originally from Japan, but has been in the US for approximately half a century. It is always lovely to experience someone's personal heritage and culture, but becomes even more meaningful when they are reaching the end of life transition.

A resident's grandson painted a red heart and then placed his handprints over it, writing below it, "Your heart is in good hands."

One resident's daughter put one thumb over the other and squeezed her fingers together so the resulting handprint looks like a butterfly. She drew a face and antennae on it, writing "butterfly kisses" below the print. 

One of our wonderful nonagenarian resident wrote below her handprints, "This is what my girls used to do in school."

A resident's son kept it simple, writing simply, "I love you, mom" - what mom wouldn't love that??

Next up, I sat down with the completed handprint squares (which, technically, were rectangles) and did some arranging and math, figuring out what size rectangles and squares we would need to connect all these wonderful memories in a visually please manner. Then I made cardboard templates so the residents could easily trace them onto cotton from our scrap bags (and those scrap bags are very full - we get a LOT of donations!). They worked on it during crafts for several weeks, picking the fabric, tracing the connecting pieces, cutting them (leaving a 1/2" seam allowance around them), and deciding where they should go in the quilt. I functioned as "the little sewing monkey" and zipped it all together on my beloved machine for them. 

It was midway into this process that one of our most active residents passed away unexpectedly one evening. When her family came to collect her belongings the next day, her daughter asked me for the quilt square they had made together - it had her and her mother's handprints overlapping on it and she wanted to frame it at her house. Completely understandable, right? Still a bit of challenge to gently snip it out of the pieced quilt top without damaging the square or the quilt, though, but I did it and she was grateful. So how do you replace a square made with love by someone now deceased? I settled on printing a photo of a sunset with the phrase, "till we meet again," superimposed on it. Seemed appropriate. I transferred the photo to a new quilt square using the simple wax paper/inkjet printer/spoon method and then used shimmering puffy paint to outline the words. I'm pleased with how it turned out; a fitting tribute for a lovely lady, but not so ostentatious that it overpowers the rest of the quilt.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Handful of Cherries

Last night I had what is probably the worst night of sleep in my recent memory. Apparently, knocking off the narcotics post-surgery has impacted my body a little more than I expected. So now I'm upright and feeling at a loss for what to get done today. That's the problem - I'm not entirely sure that I can get anything DONE. There are so many things to do and I have so little energy that I find myself just sitting on the couch and feeling overwhelmed. Clearly not the most efficient way of dealing with life, right? 

So in an effort to feel like I'm getting something done, something that will be appreciated, I've dug into the bags I brought home from work last week and pulled out three pretty cherry-printed cottons that have been earmarked since early fall to become beautiful, ruffly aprons for my staff to wear for the special breakfast we do for our residents and staff once a month. Oddly enough, I haven't had time to sew them at work or at home in the past six months. I'm choosing to take that as a sign that I'm working my butt off at work, but that also means that I generally get home exhausted & just want to go to bed. 

I'm using a free pattern I got over at JoAnn, called the Josephine Apron. The pattern is apparently not available anymore, which I discovered while frantically searching for it online this morning before suddenly remembering that I actually already had it. I'm glad I printed it out, but I wish I had thought to put it in the same bag as the fabric when I packed up the detritus to bring home for my fun post-op convalescence time (aka now). What you see below is all of the pattern pieces cut out. As soon as I finish writing this, I'm whipping out the pins and the sewing machine and going nuts. Because really, what feels more awesome than finishing a project?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Some of you already know that one of the reasons my husband, our son, and I returned to the Pacific Northwest from our beloved Texas was to attempt to help both of our mothers clear out decades of stuff from their respective homes. My mother lives in Portland, in a house just over 1,000 square feet (which I'm fairly certain doesn't include the semi-finished basement or attic), encompassing 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, while my husband's mother lives in the suburbs of Tacoma, in a sprawling house of 2,245 square feet (which may or may not include the garage), which has 5 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. My mother has lived in her home 26 years, since my parents were divorced; his mother has lived in her home 34 years, the majority of those with her husband (now deceased), who collected as much stuff as she has. For year, my husband thought his father was the clutterbug, that his parents had so much stuff because he wouldn't let go and kept bringing things into the house. After his death, however, it soon became apparent that my sweet mother-in-law (MIL for the sake of brevity here) has just as many issues with stuff as my father-in-law did. Just, you know, different stuff. While he had a habit of hanging on to decades-old bowling trophies and books and ordering things from infomercials (am I the only person who has actually seen Billy the Singing Bass up close and personal on Christmas morning?) she tends more towards food/kitchen contraptions and shoes. Those are only the main categories for each of them, mind you.

Anyhow, when I took the job in Portland, one of the reasons the boys moved in with my MIL in Tacoma (other than the fact that my husband got a job there) was so my husband could help his mom clear out & do some light remodeling on her house so she can sell it and move down with one of her sons & his wife in Phoenix. Obviously, you can't expect to sell a house when it is crammed full of clutter. But that was 20 months ago, y'all. And while my husband guesstimated it would take a good 2 years to go through everything and get it cleared out, I can tell you that only 2 rooms in the house are ready for sale: our son's bedroom (which was my husband's growing up, aaaaw!) and the main bathroom. My husband's room (which is also my room when I'm in Tacoma, hee hee) was decluttered, but has not yet been painted or had the carpeting replaced. Rooms that haven't been touched? The living room, the kitchen, the dining room, the den, 2 more downstairs bedroom, the large upstairs bedroom (which includes several “attic” closets), the garage, the laundry room, the 2nd bathroom, and a utility room. Oh, did I mention there are also two locked sheds in the backyard, one for her and one for him? My husband once mentioned the last time he saw the inside of either shed was in the mid-80s, and they were both crammed to the rafters. The backyard is also filled with decrepit grills, toys, tools, and various paraphernalia.

So I think I can safely surmise that the decluttering plan has not gone exactly, well, according to plan. So I'm stepping in, gingerly. It's like edging on to a field full of live mines, I swear. While I consider myself an effective organizer in all types of situation, the particular combination of people involved in this clutter (my husband and my MIL, two of my most beloved people in the world) make it very difficult for me to be as ruthless and analytical as I can be with friends, colleagues, and strangers. Common sense and logic hold no sway in this crazy, mixed up, stuffed full world. Forget the 1-year rule; in this house, there's not even a 30-year rule. If you ask my MIL if she would rather have her clutter or the space in her home, she will undoubtedly tell you the stuff. My husband claims it border on pathological. Take, for example, the bedroom that was his father's for the last years of his life. After his death, my husband and 2 of his brothers purged the bedroom ruthlessly, dumping almost everything within days, before the funeral even. They had the stained carpet ripped out, replaced it with easy-to-clean laminate wood, painted the walls and replaced broken fixtures. We returned to Texas feeling confident that at least one room of the house was clean. That was in August. When we returned to visit at Christmas, the room was filled, to the point that you couldn't even walk in. My husband posits that there is an actual fear of space at work here.

I get it, I do. She's a 73-year-old black woman. She was raised in rural Louisiana, the segregated South, and never had enough as a child. She then became a military wife, moving all over the world before her husband retired at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McCord). She raised 4 boys, the fourth of whom (my husband) is nearly 20 years younger than the oldest. Until her husband died several years ago, my MIL had never lived alone. Ever. But I also understand that her stuff owns her. It's keeping her from living the life she says she wants to live (retired in Phoenix with her son & daughter-in-law). It's not healthy. It's not at the point of people feces, like you see on that hoarding show on TV, but as I priced & boxed up some things in preparation for a yard sale today, I found mice droppings. I also worry about my son eating expired/spoiled food. Sigh. Finally, I know that if we don't deal with this situation now, my husband and I will be dealing with it after she dies. It's frustrating, especially since I'm used to being the professional help, but I'm starting to think that we're going to have to bring in some other professional help, someone who isn't related to her. Sigh. Seriously, y'all, help me out. I know what to do when it comes to decluttering and organizing, I just don't know if it's worth it trying to do it in this particular situation or if I should figure out a way to pay someone else to do it. Thoughts?

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Funny Thing Happened at the Baby Shower...

It's amazing how uttering the words, "I had a c-section," completely shuts down a conversation about childbirth. Nobody asks to hear your "birthing story" - is almost seems like, in the eyes of some other mothers, you haven't given birth. Which, of course, is ridiculous. If I didn't give birth to my son, how exactly do you think he got here? He certainly wasn't hatched from a giant blue robin's egg. Nor did we build him out of spare parts, like Frankenstein. It's hurtful when other women assume you have nothing to contribute to a discussion about childbirth because your baby came out of a surgical incision in your abdomen instead of your vagina. Am I supposed to be ashamed of the way my son came into the world? Like somehow, I didn't fulfill my destiny as a woman, or what? And if that is the case, what about the mommies who adopt? Is your effectiveness as a mother dependent on the way your child enters the world? I say no, and I resent the implicit idea that someone who births their child "naturally" is doing what is best for their baby because they love their baby more than someone else. Self-righteous, party of 1, anyone?

Unlike some other c-section mommies I have spoken with, I don't feel as though I was somehow cheated out of my ideal birthing experience. Honestly, I wasn't too hot on the whole idea of a vaginal delivery, and 29 hours of induced labor did nothing to increase my enthusiasm. Yes, that's right, 29 hours. And that is after 42 weeks of carrying my child, 14 days past full term. I have the stretch marks, the saggy tummy, and a 6 inch scar that say I gave birth, no matter what anyone else says. I also had a doctor who decided my 10 lb 9 oz bundle of joy was stuck trying to get through my cervix and it was time to take him out another way. I don't regret having a c-section. I don't regret going through labor. I don't regret having our sweet Monkey Boy. I do regret going so many years allow myself to be shut out of these types of conversations without standing up for myself and our birthing story.

So consider yourself warned, women of the world, when you run into this topic with me at a baby shower, at a mommy's night out, at the grocery store, on Facebook: I am no longer putting up with people expressing negative judgments about any woman's birthing story. C-section mommies of the world, rejoice! We have healthy, beautiful children who could care less which hole they came out of, or even if the hole was in our body or another woman's! How they come out doesn't matter; how we raise them once they're out does. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pancakes & Parties & Knitting Like Crazy

Well, it's been an eventful week. I thought I'd share a few key moments with you. First, I spoiled myself by whipping up some tasty pancakes on Saturday morning. My favorite, fluffy recipe (not useful when the boys are around, as they prefer thin, crepe-like pancakes) that are absolutely delicious served warm or cold with raspberry jam and sour cream. I'm actually drooling just thinking about it now!

Because I love y'all, I'll share the recipe:

Make It Happen Mama's Favorite Fluffy Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoon melted butter
1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk

1. Spray a frying pan and heat it over low-medium heat
2. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the wet ingredients until it is smooth.
3. Spoon about 1/4 cup for each pancake
4. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side
5. Serve with raspberry jam and sour cream - yum!

Saturday night was fantastically exhausting. My dear friend Anne and I have known each other since about 1990 through Highland dancing. Anne is now married with two beautiful children and is ridiculously crafty and creative. She is also a Scentsy representative and has her own custom refinished furniture & home decor store. You may have heard me mention the monthly knitting nights Anne sponsors during the school year - she decided last year she wanted to learn to knit and figured it would be more fun with friends! In keeping with her many talent, this past Saturday, Anne threw a ladies' night crafty/knitting night in celebration of her birthday the day before. I have always loved the fact that Anne is 3 months older than me; it's nice to have a friend who can charge ahead into the next year and report back on what to expect! The party was fantastically fun, and though I chose to sit and happily knit this time, next time I will definitely need to try some of the fantastic crafts my girl had prepared. My favorite was the transferring photos onto wood blocks - so cool!

I left the birthday party a wee bit early to head over to my friend Angie's CD Release Party at Sellwood Public House in SE Portland. When's the last time you had two social events on one evening? It's been at least a couple years for me. Mind-blowing for this mama, seriously. So my husband had asked me to call him back as I left the birthday party. Imagine my surprise when he announced he was in Portland, waiting at my tiny apartment, and could I swing by and pick him up on the way to the CD Release Party - wow!! What a fantastic surprise! Of course we managed to get lost (Sellwood Public House seems to be our personal Bermuda Triangle, seriously) but managed to catch the last 4 songs of Stoneface Honey's set and spend some quality time with some good friends at the party. Angie's music is so fantastic - I wish I were half the talented songwriter she is, seriously. 

Monday I attempted to get a photo of little Monkey Boy catching up on Men's Health on his way to a Highland dance lesson. Sadly, Monkey is much faster at avoiding his mama-razzi than he used to be, hence the closed eyes and semi-closed magazine! Oh well, it was cute seeing him in the rearview mirror, anyway. Monday was also momentous because this particular Highland dance lesson was Monkey's first time taking a lesson from a MAN teacher. The excitement was palpable! Monkey came away with some great tips on having strong boy jumps, manly arms, and trying his first tidbit of the Seann Triubhas - brushes. In super-slow motion and without changing feet, of course, but you gotta start somewhere!

Finally, I've been in crazy knitting mode for the past few weeks, thanks to the arrival of my newest nephew (my sister doesn't like her kids' names on the internet, but I will give you the hint that this one is named after a   body of water - an improper noun), the revival of monthly knitting nights, and the aforementioned crafty/knitting birthday party. Anywho, one of Monkey's teddies helped me out by modeling one of my new little creations for the nephew-who-will-not-be-named. Full pattern link to come later, along with more photos, but let me just say for now that I added about an inch of width and length to this little striped number - new nephew was a whopper at 9 pounds, 10 ounces! Not quite as big as Monkey was (10 pounds, 9 ounces) but I had a cesarean. My sister did a home delivery with this baby, #4, and no medication. Ouch!

I sense this hat will stretch out a little more when placed upon new nephew's head... 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's Not All Bad. Really.

Since it tends to pop up in conversations, I’m assuming most of you already know my husband and I have been living 200 miles apart for the past 17 months. If this is news to you and you are like most people I know, there are probably at least a few questions running through your head, the first of which is likely to be something about the health of my marriage. Good news: Despite what the church mothers at my mother-in-law's church think (secret divorce), we’re happily married. Celebrating 7 years next month, actually. But my job is in Portland and his job is in Tacoma. So now, assuming all of this information has not completely blown your mind and you’re still paying attention, how about this tidbit that makes most folks’ mouths drop open: this is not our first time living apart, it’s our third. In fact, in the 10 years we’ve been together, Mr. MIHM and I have spent a total of 2 years and 9 months living in separate states. Yes, I said states. The first time was 12 months with him in Washington and me in Virginia (approximately 2,700 miles distance) – I tackled my first year of grad school while he finished up his undergraduate degree; the second time was 4 months with him & Monkey in Washington and me in Texas (approximately 2,200 miles distance) – I completed my clinical internship at a children’s hospital in Dallas while he & Monday set up shop in Tacoma, where I was supposed to join them post-internship…until my husband visited me and fell in love with DFW, as I had; and now there is the (relatively) short distance of 144 miles that we take turns traversing almost every weekend. As one of my friends joked, at least we’re headed in the right direction, with the miles apart getting smaller each time. 

So guess what? Although all of my friends and families are co-habitating with their spouses (as far as I know), apparently, Mr. MIHM and I are not alone.  Apparently, there is a name for couples who are together but live apart, whether due to jobs or by choice: Living Apart Together, or LAT for short. So how does one use that knowledge in conversation? As a noun, like, “My husband and I are LAT-ers”? Or is it more verbish, as in, “My husband and I LAT due to our careers”? I’m not really sure, but it seems worth doing some casual research. Another term I’ve found for people in our situation is being in a Commuter Marriage, and more than 3.5 million couples in the US do it. My husband and I join the ranks with traveling salesmen, migrant workers, the incarcerated(!), and soldiers on deployment. 

Anyhow, I bring all this up not to impress you with my research skills or wow you with statistics (although, I’m hoping you love statistics as much as I do), but to share some of the benefits Mr. MIHM and I have found in living apart while still being together. Yes, believe it or not, despite the many obvious (and sometimes overwhelming) negatives, there are some positives to be found!

      1. When we are together, we are more likely to focus on being together

Because our time is limited, I try not to make other plans on our family weekends. When you hardly get to see your family, even running errands (finding new sneakers for Monkey, going to the dry cleaner, grocery shopping) can make for a fun afternoon. And, as my husband just relayed via text message (it's a Tuesday, after all), "Freshness. Feeling like you're dating again, at times." Indeed, we have been on many more actual dates during the past 17 months than probably the entire 5 years we lived in Texas. Makes me feel like we're going to have to try harder when we're co-habitating again!

      2. Less wife/mommy (or husband/daddy) guilt on the weekdays

When I need to work late unexpectedly or have work events in the evenings, it doesn’t affect my family in the same way it did in Texas. When one of my childhood friends hosts her monthly weekday knitting nights, I can RSVP without wondering what my boys have going on that evening. When I feel like knitting a baby hat and watching Ugly Betty DVDs until I’m ready to go to bed, I do. Yes, it’s lonely. But it’s also led to me attempting to have a social life and to indulge in things I may not have time for when we’re all living together. 

      3. More appreciation for helping out around the house

I got to spend a week with my boys in October. One day, while my husband was at work, I washed, dried & folded five loads of laundry. He was thrilled! In September, my husband spent a long weekend with me in Portland. While I was at an all-day Saturday work event, he scrubbed my bathroom & kitchen until they were sparkling. While these tasks all fall within our usual division of labors when we’re living together, it really makes you appreciate the other person when you no longer take that task being done for granted. As I brush my teeth over my currently less-than-luminous bathroom sink this evening, I will think fondly of my dear, sweet husband and his exemplary sanitation skills – and I can only hope he will feel similarly the next time he runs out of clean undies!

      4. Less dancing around the issues

Family weekends are somewhat of a microcosm of our regular family life when we all lived in the same home. We still share the joys, the sorrow, the happiness, the anger – but in shorter face-to-face chunks. For me, a people pleaser and avoider of confrontations by nature, this means that I have had to step up my communication game. It’s a lot harder to go to bed angry with your spouse when you know he has to go home the next morning. So we say what we both need to say, I cry, sometimes we yell – but is generally gets worked out within a few hours. Or at least we can agree to disagree for the moment and to try and work it out more in-depth via Skype or telephone over the next week. 

      5. Week-long foreplay

I know, I’m pretty G-rated on this blog but, hey, we’ve been together 10 years and we have a 7-year-old. Clearly, we’ve been having sex. And, although living apart limits the frequency of our rendezvous, it has also led to an increase in sexting, suggestive emails, X-rated phone calls – in other words, an increase in long-distance foreplay. The drawback? I have to be careful not to let anyone rifle through the photos on my Blackberry. The benefit? Use your imagination, dear reader, and imagine me with a big smile on my face when I say that!

So what about you? Have you ever lived apart from your spouse and/or have you ever wanted to? Do you have friends or family members who LAT due to jobs or by choice? What do you think about this living situation? Since it’s a weekday, I’ll have plenty of time to read your reply after work tomorrow ;-)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm Making the Time

So I may not have this "slow down" lifestyle down pat. After a blissful 10 days up in Tacoma with my family, I arrived home late last Monday night, hurled my bags on the couch, and fell into bed. The next four days were a blur of work and errands, then a big day yesterday with Monkey Boy competing at a Highland dance competition in the morning and more errands and family time with both Daddy & Monkey in the afternoon. My boys headed back North around 9 pm last night, as Monkey is singing at his Granny's church in honor of Veteran's Day this morning. I won't say I'm not sad to see them go (as always), but having today to unpack from my last trip, do laundry, do dishes, mealplan for the week, etc. is necessary, if not the most exciting way to spend a Sunday. So I'm making this my "slow down" day - a little laundry here, a little dishwashing there, all interspersed with some email checking, book reading, paper shredding, receipt scanning, all done to the background of a self-declared Sex & the City Marathon playing on my computer. Am I the only person who still adores that show? I like it more the older I get, actually.

One of my "slow down" goals is to spend more time here, reflecting on what's going on in our little world and trying to keep myself sane and balanced. So I apologize in advance if some of my posts (like this one) are really more rambling thoughts than useful information, projects, etc. What can I say? I'm learning how to put myself first - the ultimate challenge for a working wife & mom.