Wednesday Picture Post: Projects and Objects

Be warned: I'm going to write this post as if you, dear reader, are just as interested in the mundane details of my life as I am. You may not be, and I am prepared to greet your complete disinterest with understanding and acceptance.

This year's cookbooks are finished and in the mail. You should be receiving yours soon, possibly today! Run out to your mailbox, quick! I'm pleased with how they turned out the this year; the pictures of the boys in chef's hats were a big hit with the grandparents.

Here is the gift I'm still working on for Nate. I'm hoping to finish it today during the boys' afternoon nap. It's a t-shirt that I am embroidering with some kind of vintage music equipment. I think it's a drum machine, but I'm not entirely sure.

Here it is next to the picture that I traced to get the image. I know this picture is crap. Here's a link to the actual photo. On the shirt, the papery substance that you see will not be part of the final product. It's a special interface used to embroider stretchy fabrics. You can see I already tore off one corner as a test. I was worried it would mess up my stitches, my precious stitches. But it seemed to work okay. I'm curious/anxious to see how this shirt holds up to being worn and washed. If this project is successful, I foresee a lot of embellished clothing in our family's future.

Next up is my big project this week. It takes a bit of explanation. On Friday we are driving down to visit my grandma, Simon and Theo's Great-Grandma. This will be Theo and Grandma's first face to face meeting.

Grandma is my only living grandparent, and she is special to me for more than that reason alone. I lived with her for two years while I went to school in Southern Illinois. During that time I came to appreciate the depths of her personality and humor. She is amazing and we don't get to see her nearly enough.

Grandma is 81 and lives by herself. She gets around just fine, albeit somewhat slowly. For all of my life, a visit to Grandma's has meant the chance to splurge on her meals. She is a fantastic cook, specializing in food of the calorie-laden, southern-comfort variety. In the last several years, I have noticed that she is more and more exhausted after each meal she makes for us. I have tried offering help, but she generally refuses. I understand that: sometimes in life (especially in the kitchen), when you have a plan, it's easier to do it yourself.

This visit I wanted to give her a break, so I told her we would be cooking all of the meals. The papers you see in this picture are the lists and recipes I have been compiling all week. I had to consider carefully what to make, then make grocery lists, then take note of everything that I could do ahead of time. Tomorrow I will be in the kitchen all day, chopping and shredding and measuring everything possible for these recipes. I find it difficult to cook in someone else's kitchen, so my hope is that preparing as many ingredients ahead of time as possible will make the process at my Grandma's house much easier. Also it should free up more time for visiting.

Because I know you are dying to find out, here is our menu:

Friday Dinner: Curried Quinoa with Carrots and Cashews

Saturday Breakfast: Scrambled Egg Pizza

Saturday Lunch: Beef, Blue Cheese, and Spinach Quesadillas

-Salad with Romaine lettuce, blue cheese, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, and poppyseed dressing. No recipe for this, just mimicing the salad Colin brought to our last potluck on Kedzie Blvd. Did I miss anything, Colin?

Saturday Dinner: Oatmeal-Crusted Chicken Tenders

-Cowboy Mashed Potatoes

-Brussels Sprouts for People Who Think They Hate Brussels Sprouts

-Yellow Squash Casserole (Grandma offered to contribute this)

Sunday Breakfast: Steel Cut Oats with brown sugar and raisins

-Winter fruit salad

Sunday Lunch: Simple Chicken and Oat Groat Soup

-Cheese-Onion Bannocks

I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to cooking for my Grandma, though. I hope she likes the things I've chosen.

I have another plan to make this trip to Grandma's a special one. We'll be bringing down most of the gifts we got for the boys (minus the ones from Santa; he'll have to visit our house). I thought it would be fun for her to watch them open their presents. She doesn't do any decorating for Christmas, so I bought this little tree at Target. Cheap but fabulous! You can never go wrong with fiber optics. Of course, before our trip, we had to try it out at our house for a few days.

We made this cute garland by stringing pom-poms on dental floss. Idea via the thoroughly wonderful Kiddley.

Because the trip to Grandma's cuts our Christmas weekend short, we had an early celebration with Nate's family on Saturday. Here are a few highlights from under their extremely benevolent tree.

A few months ago I was an antique store with Nate's mom. I spotted this bowl, proceeded to flip out and paw it lustfully, then put it down when I saw the price. Nate's mom is a renowned gift giver. She always knows just what you want, and, true to form, she remembered this bowl and went back for it. I love it dearly.

(In the background are some postcards from Janna that I framed. I love those too.)
Here we have our new mammoth food processor.
And Nate is the blissful new owner of an espresso machine. He says this gadget has a pretty steep learning curve, so he is just a beginner. Maybe by the time we have friends visit in January and February he'll be able to pull a perfect cup of espresso.

We also got the 4 cutest espresso cups on the face of the earth.

Theo's big gift this year was his lovey. I am hoping that he'll become as attached to his lovey as Simon is to his.
Loveys are miraculous healers of boo-boos and hurt feelings, so we welcome this new helper with open arms.

Finally, I captured these moments of concentrated play. Simon hasn't touched this toy for maybe 6 months, so I was surprised to see him meticulously lining up his animals this morning.
You just never know when a toy will come back into favor.

This will be my last missive before Christmas. Have a great holiday, everyone! Love to you all.


More Christmas Music

Great X-Mas music abounds on the internet this season:

Christmas mix from Snack and C'mish on Lemon-Red
- hip hop and dance music in a holiday style

More Chrstmas mixes posted by Nick Catchdubs, and hot holiday tracks as well


And probably the best Christmas song you'll ever hear in your life, by the now disbanded



Moms Who Need Friends

It's beautiful here today, sunny and unseasonably warm. I took the boys to the park.

Another mom and her two boys were there. We said hi, then performed the requisite exchange of our boys' ages and names. Hers were 3 years and 16 months. As soon as I told her Simon was also three, she said, "Has he started with the backtalk and the terrible sassy mouth?"

This is my all-time, number-one pet peeve exhibited by parents: talking shit about your kids in front of your kids, as if they aren't standing right there.

One of Simon's preschool classmates has a mother who does this chronically. I only see her and her son for about 5 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, yet here are the things I know about her kid: he's a bad sleeper, he refuses to participate in school activities, and he is picky about the clothes he will wear. She says all of this right in front of him, to anyone in earshot who will uncomfortably pretend to listen to her. It drives me crazy.

When I realized she was divorced, I decided I should cut her some slack. A single mom, no partner to talk to, possibly no time to spend with friends. These are the situations in which you bitch about your kids. With your partner after they are in bed, with your girlfriends when the kids are watching a loud TV in the next room. When a kid is around, the only things you should be saying about them are glowingly positive, nothing that could be construed as even bordering on criticism.

I'm a pretty live-and-let-live kind of person and parent. You won't often hear me say that someone's parenting tactics are wrong, but about this I will say it: Letting your kids hear you put them down in front of other people is THE WRONG THING TO DO. It's sloppy and irresponsible parenting, it's absolutely emotionally damaging to children. If there were classes required to become a parent, this would be up there on the course outline, right after "Feed, Bathe, Clothe," it would say, "Emotionally protect your children: don't talk bad about them while they're around. Refusal to comply will result in the swift revocation of your license." I'm certainly not saying that parents don't have a right to complain about their children's less-than-charming qualities. You need talk about it, definitely. I'm just saying, proper time, proper place. Come on, people. Find a confidant for this kind of stuff, otherwise you end up blurting it out to strangers at the playground.

Clearly, my interaction with this woman started off on a bad note. The first thing I thought about her was, "Good god, she must not have any friends. She's so desperately eager to talk about the problems she's having with her kid." We kept talking, as we were the only ones at the small park. I told her we've just moved and that it's a big change from Chicago. She said they moved about a year ago, from Colorado. She didn't like it at first, but now the mall is much better than it used to be. Also, Champaign's mall is really good, so that helps.

Okay, so, I don't know if you caught that. She made a direct connection between the quality of life in a certain town and the quality of said town's MALL. Strike 2 against this lady.

Before we left she asked if we could exchange names and numbers. She also invited me to ---What else?--- the mother's group at her evangelical megachurch. Goody.

Yesterday I read a post on Cassie's blog complete with pictures of people hanging out at Colin and Brian's new apartment, which I think is right around the corner from our old place. I saw our friends sitting on a couch and I cried for 10 minutes. I miss having friends. Additionally, I feel enormous regret for not having spent enough time with our friends when they were nearby. At the time, it felt impossibly hard to make time for potlucks, dinners, trips across town. We were happy to see friends once in a while, but in retrospect, and in a friend-less town, I feel it wasn't nearly often enough.

Here's the detailed skinny on the friend situation here. We have a couple of friends in Peoria, which is about a 40 minute drive from here. With two kids to get back home by bedtime, that seems pretty far. Still, I have hope that we'll make an effort to see these people sometime. Soon, please. Here in Bloomington, we have no friends and no leads so far. Neither Nate nor I excel at the art of acquiring friends. Both a little shy, both struggling with bouts of awkwardness, it doesn't come easy. With a few exceptions, all our friends in Chicago were friends from high school or college, places I now see were teeming with potential friends, compared to the barren wasteland of friendships-forged that is adult life.

This lady at the park today was offering friendship, or least a trial period before official friendship. She extended herself to me, offering me personal information and phone number. Will I accept her offer? Let's just say, I'm not imagining many happy hours of playdates. In fact, I'm racking my brain for how to turn her down when she calls to invite me to her megachurch. Am I being too picky? Too judgemental? In my situation, shouldn't I be more open to the friendly advances of another woman?

I don't know. Maybe I'm missing a golden opportunity here. But, seriously, malls and moms' groups? Doesn't sound one bit like my scene.

What I need to know is how to meet some young, hip individuals who are smart, politically aware, up on their celebrity gossip, quick with some witty banter, enjoy a good potluck or picnic, and are up for Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble, or an arty movie. Some should be married, some single, most should not have kids (so they can babysit for us), but a few should have kids close in age to ours (so we can feel some camaraderie). So, basically, I want an exact clone of the group of friends we left. You know, the ones I miss terribly and didn't spend enough time with while I had the chance.

Fuck it. I don't want clones. I want the real deal. I want to go home. I want to see all my friends tonight.


Spreading Holiday Cheer

This made me laugh until I cried. If you can muddle through the spelling and grammar, I think it will make you laugh too. Keep reading all the way to the end. This is my Christmas gift to you, via Dutch.


Let Them Eat Cookies

The festivities continue with the baking of our annual Christmas cookies.

We mixed up the dough in the afternoon.

Then we baked and decorated after dinner.
Still on tap we have gingerbread people, cream cheese cutouts, and oatmeal cookies.

During the rest of the year we almost never bake sweets, so the holiday baking is really starting to carry some weight as a tradition.

Speaking of weight, I'm sure these will be very useful in helping me reach my Weight Watchers goals. Oh well. As Bunny McDugal would say, "Tradition is a highly underrated virtue."

At Christmastime, Almighty Tradition must trump the waistline. Better luck next year, pal. Posted by Picasa


Where the Hell Have I Been?

Busy, people, very busy. I warned you in my post about embroidery that I would have to take a hiatus, and I wasn't kidding. I am super busy with holiday fun. I never even take an afternoon nap anymore, though I am continually exhausted. I just have too many fun things to do. I will probably disappear again until after Christmas, but I do have some time tonight to update you on the goings-on around here. First of all, SNOW. It is a blast to see snow through the eyes of a three year old. As soon as he woke up and saw the snowfall on Friday morning, he asked if we could go out and play. We had to wait a few hours, until Theo was down for a nap, then we bundled up and headed out into the beautiful winter wonderland. We made snow angels, made tracks, dug holes, drew pictures with sticks, all the classics. It was incredibly fun.
Here is the only picture I have to represent the crafting I have been doing. I love the look of paper chains, but I wanted something that might actually hold up for a few years. So I cut strips of stiffened felt and used a thread and a button to close each loop. I love them. Totally worth the few evenings I spent working on them.

The craft that has most occupied my time is embroidery. I'm still chipping away at the hugely complicated wedding gift I started. Don't know if I'll finish it on time. I'm also working on a gift for Nate. He already knows about it, but I probably won't post a picture until after I've given it to him. I think it's going to be pretty amazing. I hope.
We attended our first-ever school pagent for our son. We'll have many, many more of these in our lives as parents, but that didn't make the first one any less special. I love watching Simon perform. He's so confident and in-the-moment. He never looks around for assurance from anybody. He just has fun and sings. As it should be.
Finally, today, after the snow melted a bit, we tried to make a snowman. I thought the conditions would be more conducive to the rolling of three big snowballs, but I was wrong. We did our best, though, and here's what we came up with. Small can be beautiful, right? Yes, indeed.

You may have noticed an utter lack of my typical sarcastic or cynical undertones in this post. That's because I'm having a really great time getting ready for Christmas. On the day we put up our tree, so many weeks ago now, I knew that this holiday season would be different. Simon is so joyful and excited. I'm trying hard to make choices that add to his excitement and do not detract. In my estimation, these are the kind of things that can build upon his happiness: playing in the snow, making the house look magical, talking excitedly about Santa (something we debated, but decided to go for), letting him pick out small gifts for the people in his life. Things that do not contribute to his natural jubilation: me worrying about the state of the house (I'm not talking decorations here, I'm talking laundry in baskets and dishes on counters), me telling him that we can play in the snow "later, later" (which is my natural inclination), me exhibiting stress about the holidays instead of joy.

I think you get the picture here. My point is that I'm learning that my child's holiday can be as magical as I allow it to be. That means letting go of stress, embracing pure happiness, and taking advantage of every opportunity to have fun. I'm trying hard to do this, and I feel I am succeeding. As a result, my house has gone to the dogs, but I am the happiest I have been since leaving Chicago. Which, you should know, is a huge deal.

Also, in the last few days, I have been reluctantly following a heartbreaking story in the news. I first read about this story in my craft blogs, because this couple was prominent in the craft world in San Francisco. But I believe it has also been in the national news. James and Kati Kim were travelling with their two small girls, en route to visit family, when their car got stuck on an desolate Oregan road. (I can't link to the story because I'm doing this post in Picasa... it won't let me find a link for you). (Here's a link -Nate) They were stranded for 7 days in the snowy wilderness and proved themselves very resourceful by surviving. On the 7th morning, James left to try to find help. Kati and the girls were rescued 2 days later. James was found dead this morning.

I really try hard to ignore tragic stories in the news. Because, honestly? I have enough irrational fears about something terrible happening to my family without getting wrapped up in all the terrible things that are actually happening to people I've never met. Also, I want desperately to avoid mirroring my mother in this habit. She often calls to tell me about someone who died tragically, suddenly, and then says, "We just never know how long we have on this earth." (Not-so-subtle code for, "This is why you should love Jesus, Laura. Because you could die tomorrow and you don't want to spend eternity in hell, do you? DO YOU???")

Anyway, I don't know exactly why... maybe because I am an outside observer of many in the crafting community, who were personally affected by this loss. Maybe because it seems like something that really could happen to anyone, such a goddamn unlucky break. For whatever reason, this story really got under my skin. I feel enormous sadness for this family, I can't seem to get them off my mind.

Although it's not the reaction my mom might want me to have (you know, repent and turn to Jesus lest I burn in hell after my untimely death), I have had a strong reaction to this family's unbelievable ordeal. Thinking about that mother nursing her girls in the backseat of their car, imagining her soft whisperings to keep everyone calm and hopeful, I find myself approaching my boys with great tenderness in our everyday interactions. As I've admitted on this blog many times, my patience can sometimes wear thin. Sometimes I feel as if I'll either slug Simon, throw a chair across the room, or pull out handfuls of my hair in anger. But for the past few days, with this fellow mother on my mind, my inevitable moments of frustration have been softened by gratitude and appreciation for every moment I have as a mother, be it sweet or infuriating.

As much as I hate to think about it, my mom is right: we don't know how much time we have in this life. But my response is not fear. Instead, I am incredibly, enormously, overwhelmingly thankful for the rich life I have had to this point. To spend every day with three people who I love and who love me... this is not a thing to take for granted. I hope I can hang on to this realization even after my heavy heart for this family is eventually lightened by the passage of time. I want to continue to make time for my family and be intentional about creating happiness in my life, our lives. Right now I can honestly say, who really fucking cares if my house is a mess? I'm playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with my son, who happens to be laughing hysterically. I hope that in a month I'm not back to my old mantra of, "This house is driving me crazy!"

To sum up: say a prayer or send some compassionate thoughts toward the Kim family, then give your own loved ones a kiss.

I'm going back into hiding, probably until after December 25. I can't wait to show you all the things I accomplish in the next few weeks.

Be well, friends. Posted by Picasa


The reindeer remind me of the range/ The icicles remind me of the rings

I was going to do a post about Thurs. night/Fri. morning, one of the most frustrating days of my life, but instead I'm going to post this new mix that I recorded... just shy of 40 minutes of all Christmas music. We're big Christmas music listeners around here. I'm a recent convert, Laura more of a veteran. Every song is Laura approved with the exception of one. (Hint: she's not a big fan of using belching as an instrument.) Download:

Christmas Snow Plow 2006 Mix


Occasionally you encounter a work of such literary genius that you know, after reading it, that your life will never be the same again. Recently I have read just such a work, and although it has no official title, I like to call it BE ADEQUITE, written by Lindsay Lohan.


Tutorial: Making Fabulous Framed Prints Using Your Child's Art

I shocked myself by bringing one of my ideas to fruition this afternoon. I guess I'm not all talk! I really like how these turned out, and Simon will be proud to give them as gifts to his grandparents and teachers.

What you need:
-cheap frames. I got these 50% off at Hobby Lobby.
-mats, pre-cut to fit your frames. These are also from Hobby Lobby, about $1.50 a piece.
-wildly abstract paintings done by your child (or art in another medium)

Grab your mat and move it all around the paper until a pleasing composition strikes your eye.

Then, simply trace around the mat lightly with pencil, and use scissors to cut out your selection.

Now all you need to do is put the mat and the painting in the frame. An optional final touch is to "sign" your child's name. Turn the piece around in your hand, studying it intensely, until you decide on the most pleasing orientation. Write your child's name in small print in the lower right hand corner. I also added the year (SIMON '06).

Again, I think these are so cute. I may be biased as the artist's mother, but I really think that grandparents and teachers will love these. Perfect for the office, the windowsill, or, what the hell, above the mantel.

One idea down, sixty-three to go.

Sure, this turkey looks harmless enough...

But make no mistake, he has a fierce gobble.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Posted by Picasa


Ridiculously Early Birds

On Friday Simon and I put up the tree. I used to have a firm policy of waiting until after Thanksgiving to put up the Christmas tree. But the policy was softened after much pleading from this boy. The few hours we worked on this project were some of the sweetest we've spent together in recent memory. Simon was so excited to see each and every ornament, and he would tell me so, with an enthusiastic, "Oh, this is beautiful! Oh, Mommy, thank you for bringing this ornament!"
This is the first year he is really into the holidays as they roll around. His excitement is contagious, and I suddently find myself bursting with ideas of how to make this time special for him. If I can get these ideas out of my head and into real life, we'll make cookies, put together paper chains to decorate the house, and craft some cute gifts for Grandmas and Grandpas. I don't know if all this will happen, realistically. I'm just happy to have someone spurring me on toward creativity and joy. This will be the first year in a long while that I don't experience the holidays as a jaded adult. Should be fun. Thank you, Simon.

 Posted by Picasa


"Ladies and gentlemen, the gangsta Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has finally arrived."


New Obsession and Sheer Exhaustion

Since I am basking in free time, with so little to do on a daily basis, last week I decided this would be a good time in life to learn to embroider. I've thrown myself in with zeal typical of a new convert. This was my first project. It's a teatowel, and the bird's banner says "tasty," which is a term we have been known to employ. It took maybe 3 evenings to complete; I'm not sure how many hours. There is a relaxing rythym to stitching that I have come to crave. I especially love my new hobby because it can be done while watching crap tv. Now that I have started stitching I do not want to stop. Every chance I get, I grab my hoop and needle and go to it. This means that I am embroidering instead of emptying the dishwasher or vacuuming renegade gangs of dried playdough off the rug. It remains to be seen how my new hobby and my house are going to get along. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a blogging hiatus brought on by this pasttime.

For my second project I decided to throw beginner's caution to the fucking wind. I am working on a huge (relative to the teatowel bird) wall-hanging for a friend's wedding gift. All I have completed so far is the date of their wedding, which also happens to be my deadline for this project. It is far more intricate than the first pattern I worked on... I hope I can finish it in time. If I continue with the same frenzied pace as I am working at now, it should be no problem.

While I'm here, I wanted to complain a little about how tired I am. This baby is now five months old. According to some experts he should be sleeping all night now. But is he, you ask? Is he?
Oh, no, my friends, he is not. He's done it a few times, 5 maybe, but for the last month, a "long stretch" of sleep for me is 3 hours. Just to give you an example, here's how our night generally goes. This was last night's schedule: Theo wakes up at 11 pm, just as I'm heading up to bed. We nurse. Up again at 2:30. Nurse. Up again 3:30. Nurse. Up again 4:30. Nurse. Up again at 7 am. During that last shift, though, Simon woke up at 5:30 to pee. He went into the bathroom himself, but I swiftly followed in order to shush him so the baby didn't wake up (Theo's room is right by the WC). Then Simon got up again to poop at 6:15. I was so tired. I found myself dozing off while sitting on the edge of the tub waiting for him to go. When I started awake, I snapped at Simon to "hurry up and push it out!" What??? This is what exhaustion does to a mother. By this time it was 6:30 am, a time when most normal parents are probably starting their days. Instead, I am yelling at my kid to finish shitting so I can stumble back to bed for 30 more minutes.
You may have noticed that I nurse a lot. I know, I know. I understand that he surely isn't hungry all those times. I nurse because it's the easiest way for us both to get back to bed. Some people might say I'm huring myself in the long-run, that I should just try to comfort him or let him cry. But the comforting sans nursing doesn't work because you better believe he knows exactly what's underneath that tank top I'm wearing. The crying doesn't work because I can't sleep through it. And at 3 am MUST SLEEP are the only words I hear.
I honestly think I'm doing everything right... he sleeps great during the day. I take great pains to keep him well-rested, and the night sleeping is supposed to naturally follow. Since it isn't, I of course start feeling like I must be doing something wrong. Where have I failed as a mother? This is one of the things I can ponder while I pull my embroidery needle to and fro.
In the midst of this excrutiating exhaustion, I'm supposed to be shedding the 50 pounds gifted to me by Theo upon his arrival in this world. Losing weight means exercise, of course. I don't mind working out at all. In fact, I rather enjoy it if I have an ounce of energy. With the current sleeping situation, I don't have any.
What I want to know is this: how many calories can I burn by lifting my right forearm while pulling a needle and thread? Can somebody figure that out and let me know? Thanks. Posted by Picasa