Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to hang a quilt

How to hang a quilt

Nico was gifted with an amazing handmade Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt last year and I've always intended to hang it in his room since he still doesn't use blankets. I poked around online looking for good ways to hang a quilt and finally decided to follow the steps outlined below. I had my mom sew a long strip of fabric to the backing, along the top, to serve as a pocket for a length of 1/4" diameter PVC pipe. I had this genius idea to wrap picture wire at each end of the pipe and then fashion a loop to hang on hooks on the wall.

But I made a few mistakes that hopefully I can save others from repeating.

Mistake #1: buying a house with 1940 plaster walls. When I removed the previously-placed picture-hanging hook -- as carefully as I could -- it popped a huge divot of paint and plaster out of the wall. Then when I tried to drive in new small nails for the loops, they bent in half and also left divots. Immensely irritating.

Mistake #2: the tube pocket (okay, that sounds gross) was too high up on the back. I couldn't use proper picture-hanging hooks because they'd show above the edge of the quilt.

Mistake #3: trying to forge ahead with the picture wire, which was a giant pain in the ass and eventually sliced open my pinkie finger.

After I gave up on the wire, I tried running a length of quilting thread through the pipe and tying loops at both ends to hang on the nails, but I couldn't get the loops close enough to the pipe ends. Finally, I stitched small safety pins upside-down at the top corners and used them as loops.

So far so good, though I'll be checking periodically to make sure the pins aren't pulling or damaging the backing of the quilt. If that happens I'll try re-stitching them to the pipe pocket instead. I really hope this works, though, because I'm kind of ready to be done screwing with it. Plus I can't ever take it down, because now there are three big ugly divots in Nico's bedroom wall. Dammit. But the quilt does look pretty amazing, so I suppose it was worth the hassle of hanging it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Polly Wolly Doodle

A few months ago I got this harebrained notion that I wanted to raise tadpoles with Nico this summer. Not for any major reason, other than it seemed like it might be a fun, easy thing to do that he would like. We had some at work last summer and it was really neat watching them transform into frogs over the weeks. I bought a 10 gallon aquarium off Craigslist for five bucks and started hopefully eyeballing puddles and murky swimming pools, but to no avail.

Then today I was at the bait shop to buy a dozen minnows to feed to the snapping turtle we keep at the office. The shop we usually go to is a tiny rundown mom-and-pop type operation alongside the highway. There's usually at least one boat somewhere on the property, despite being miles from the nearest body of water. The proprietor is pretty much exactly what you're going to picture when I tell you he's a 60-something guy who runs a ramshackle bait shop alongside the highway. When he handed me and my coworker the bag of minnows for the turtle, he told us he'd thrown in a free polliwog, too. "You know what a polliwog is?" he asked, and we replied that we did but were shocked to see not a cute, twee little tadpole swimming with the fishes, but rather a stonking huge mean-looking sunken-eyed four-inch-long bullfrog tadpole. I called dibs on the tadpole and rather than feeding him to the snapper, my coworker kindly scooped it into a to-go cup for me once we got back to work.

Since setting up the tank is the boring part, I waited until Nico was in bed and then got everything ready. I used some dechlorinating drops from work and filled the tank about half full, then put the new pet into it. I must admit, I'm feeling a bit of consternation over how much tadpole crap was in the bottom of the travel bowl after only five hours. I hope this thing doesn't turn out be higher-maintenance than expected. Oh, and we're apparently supposed to feed it boiled lettuce.

It's ridiculous how excited I am about this. If Nico is nonplussed when he sees it tomorrow I will probably be sad. I hope I'm not setting myself up for failure. (It's okay, tadpole, my kid thinks you're lame but I still think you're the coolest!) And as a highly amusing bonus, the tadpole scared the crap out of the dog while I was typing this out just now. Indy wandered near the tank and then did a full four-feet-off-the-floor startle when he saw the tadpole moving around inside its tank. He gave it the side-eye for a few more seconds and then sidled off upstairs to sigh deeply over my poor taste in spontaneous roommates. To be fair, it is kind of an ugly mug.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So happy together

As I mentioned recently, I've had the same best friend since Kindergarten. There are others I'd consider best friends now in addition, and of course several other best friends have come and gone through the years, but the bibliophile and I have pretty much been hanging tight since 1986. Now that I have a kid, I ponder the origins of our friendship a little more than I did in the past. I don't remember our meeting, but the bibliophile and her slightly freakishly good memory tell me that we were assigned as buddies by our teacher for playtime during the first week of school. We must've hit it off or expressed to our mothers in some way that we liked each other, and our mothers -- perhaps recognizing even then that their offspring were somewhat socially awkward and not destined to be the kind of kids who racked up dozens of friends easily -- clearly made an effort to get us together frequently enough that we became real friends and stayed that way, even after the bibliophile had to change schools after 2nd grade. It's probably more remarkable in that I don't think our moms really have all that much in common. They were always friendly to each other, but they were never friends. Perhaps it was growing up knowing each other from such an early age or perhaps we were just destined to become friends, but for whatever reason I do think the bibliophile and I have a lot in common.

My sister, she met her oldest friend when they were two years old. The friend in question lived less than a block away and somehow we met her at some point. Because they were two girls of the same age -- and probably in part because her only-child friend had some kickass toys -- they kept hanging out and kept hanging out and are friends to this day despite only going to the same school for one year in high school and having almost nothing in common. I don't think they see each other as often as the bibliophile and I see each other, but my sister accompanied her friend and her family to Florida on vacation just this past winter, so clearly they're still tight. Perhaps one day Nico will have an even more impressive early-age friend acquisition tale, since he has been acquainted with two of his buddies almost literally his entire life. Right now the lines between "Nico's friend" and "child of my friend" and "other only child of appropriate age whose mother I get along with" are pretty fuzzy. We're getting to a point where Nico seems excited to see his playmates, but they're not even to the point where they really play with each other rather than beside each other, so it's probably premature to really count them as his friends. Who knows, though…perhaps one of them will be like my sister's friend and invite Nico on vacation when they're in their twenties.

Friendship has been on my mind this week because the bibliophile got married this past Sunday and our whole extended gang of high school and college (and in one case middle-school) friends gathered for the occasion. Since several had made the trip from faraway lands, we milked it for all it was worth and it was awesome. MB and I hosted a game night on Friday, J Dog's dad and stepmom invited us all over for a cookout on Saturday, and then we had the reception on Sunday. I was shamefully lax at documenting my cute kid, but I think he had fun, too. I feel really good about him growing up surrounded by this incredible, random, funny, loving crew of friends who might as well be family. I have the best friends in the world, seriously. I feel so lucky to have all of them and as tiring as it was, this weekend was so fabulous.

Digging in the flowerbeds at the cookout, with the hostess's blessing.

Reading:  Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Playing:  Songs of Anarchy

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012



Yesterday I got word that my college writing mentor is terribly ill. I knew she was sick from a photo she posted on facebook last November of herself with all her hair gone. She almost never posted anything and there was never any other information. I guessed it was breast cancer and naively assumed she would come roaring back after treatment because I couldn't imagine a world in which she didn't. She was always the most fearlessly unique person I have ever known, funny and brilliant and gorgeous. She wrote novels and essays, traveled the world with her artist husband, started an "alchemy, magic, and mysticism" liberal arts capstone class at my college. Then, yesterday, words I never expected. P is dying. Pancreatic cancer. In hospice. Won't be long, now.

This isn't one of those stories where the student and teacher have remained close friends after graduation. I hadn't spoken to her in years. We never had a close friendship kind of relationship, and that was always okay. Despite our lack of recent contact, the news left me shaken, heartsick, nauseated and dizzy and on the brink of tears any time I paused to think about what I'd heard. Part of it is that I just can't imagine a world without P in it somewhere, being wonderful and slightly eccentric and awesome. Part of it is that of all the teachers I've had throughout my life, she's probably the one who most directly shaped the course of it. My first choice of major was geology, but I also knew I wanted to keep writing, so I signed up for the introductory creative writing course during my first semester and ended up in her class. The next semester, I signed up for her fiction workshop. The first semester of my sophomore year, I enrolled in a class that was actually designed as a capstone writing class for seniors. I don't remember why…maybe it was the only writing class that fit into my schedule. Maybe it was the only writing class she was teaching that semester. That's where she turned to me one day in class and told me "You should major in English." I protested - I already had a major, I liked it and didn't want to drop it, I didn't want to teach and wasn't sure what I'd do with an English degree. She kept encouraging me, and by the end of the semester I'd looked into it, realized I could actually do it with only one extra year of school, and I'd committed to it.

My career path has always been on the science side, but at my first real job I always felt that I used my writing degree a lot more. Above and beyond that, when I look back on my much-beloved college experience, while I enjoyed my geology classes and the friends I made in that department, the defining academic experiences of my college career almost all happened in creative writing classes. The synergistic moments and the part of school I still miss so badly sometimes that it aches, those were the writing workshops and the quirky liberal arts classes that I took. Geology was my major and I loved it, but writing was my passion and I lived it for those few years, all because of P's encouragement. I still have reams of stories with her comments written in the margins, pages I still get out and read sometimes, daring to hope that one day I'll finish something, publish something, but knowing that even if I don't, it was none of it a waste.

And now, somewhere, she's dying and I'm listening to the CD I always meant to copy and send to her because it has a song based on her favorite poem, "Innisfree" by Yeats. I'm trying to come up with the words to tell her how much she means to me, what her influence has meant in my life, to fling a last carefully-crafted manuscript onto her desk before it's too late and the boatman comes to guide her away. I'm remembering the time I forgot to go to the final for my creative writing class because I was so wrapped up in studying for another final, only to have her wave it off and gently tease me about it for years afterward. I'm remembering how the following semester, I brought cookies for my class on the day of the final and she ate one and then said that the cookies made her so happy she wasn't even going to give us the final. The time she told the class in gleefully scandalized tones about finding glitter all over the toilet seat in the faculty restroom, meaning one of her colleagues was wearing body glitter in very personal places. The readings, the workshops, her laughter. The hug she gave me at my wedding, me in my silver gown with my hair tumbling down my back, her telling me, "I always knew you were a fairy princess." The framed print she gave me that day, one of her husband's, depicting the Mayan rabbit scribe. It now hangs on my dining room wall and has always been one of the most treasured and touching gifts I have ever received. When I unwrapped it, I felt like she was saying to me, Yes, you. You are a writer.

What do you say to a person who took the clay of your life in her hands and shaped it to form something you never thought you could become?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012



We had a very low-key Easter-day this year, with everyday cereal for breakfast, a trip to the grocery store, some yard work, and a long toddler nap. Nico got a simple Easter basket, which definitely paled in comparison to the swanky loot-hauls I saw posted all over Twitter. Good thing my kid does not have a Twitter account is all I'm saying. Anyway, he was beyond pleased with his two cheap plastic cars and his previously-purchased cheepy bird.

Around 4:30 we headed over to my aunt's house for the family dinner and kids' egg hunt. The egg hunt used to be a much more epic affair, with a dozen or more kids hunting plastic eggs in the grass. I have so many great memories of the annual hunt, some of them somewhat hilarious (like the time my dad stepped on an egg by accident and made me take it even though it was cracked…I was scandalized…or the time I was beelining for an egg perched in the branches of a tiny tree, only to have a taller cousin reach past me and snag it at the last second). My family is big on fairness and no one has ever frequented those awful egg hunts you read about where people are knocking kids down to get the loot. Instead, somebody adds up all the eggs contributed by all the aunts and then divides by the number of kids hunting. Only two of my first cousins are still young enough to hunt eggs anymore (and we had to twist the 13-year-old's arm) and there aren't that many cousins' kids yet, so this year we only had 7 kids hunting. Because of this, they each were tasked with finding 26 eggs.

At first, Nico was just thrilled to be running around outside with the bigger kids.

Then the hunt began and he was typically skeptical.

"You want me to do what with the what?"

Eventually he grasped the concept.

As my mom predicted, he started to get really into it just as we ran out of eggs. He kept saying "Find Easter eggs!" so I chucked about ten of his eggs into the grass and let him re-find them. Then two of my cousins came back outside with over-quota eggs their kids had picked up, so we tossed those out and let Nico find them, too.

At the end I made him stand still with his basket for a few photos. I got a gorgeous shot that I have fallen in love with, but I've already posted it once, so here's a skeptical one, dedicated to the bibliophile, who seems to appreciate Nico's skeptical face as much as I do.

"What the hell, Mama?

Once again, I find that holidays are way awesome with a kid. Way, way awesome.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Opening a vein

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My first journal was a fill-in-the-blank Ramona Quimby diary that I received as a gift on my eighth birthday, but by the time I got it, I already wanted to write. After I filled that journal, I bought another diary, and then another, and then another. I used the little lined diaries with the teeny locks and keys. I used a hardcover journal with a hideous cat picture on it that I probably bought with my allowance at a school fair of some kind. I had a Lisa Frank diary with a puffy plastic cover. In college I had a diary with an artsy fairy drawing on the front. I had a handmade paper blank book. My favorite of all time might've been the small spiral-bound book with a very cool gothy tree on the front that I bought on clearance at Hot Topic. That may have been the one that I started on September 11th, my shock and fear pouring out onto the pages. I filled their pages, one after the other, then started a new one. I wrote almost every night about almost everything - exciting things, banal things, things that seemed so very important at the time but now would probably seem ridiculous. All the diaries are in a box in the attic right now, so I hope there's nothing really awful in them that I've forgotten about. I still have blank books tucked away all over the house even though I no longer keep a longhand journal. Maybe someday I'll go back, maybe not.

Sadly, I've never been great at writing practical things. A college application essay or resume or (dread!) cover letter has always had the power to stump me for days. I used to be really good at writing papers for school, and I'll sometimes open up an old file on my computer and read a paper I wrote in college and be a little surprised that I actually wrote it. And oh, it was easy in those days. I could crank out a five page paper in no time flat and almost always got an A. Whipping up winning term papers is not a skill I use much these days so I've lost the knack for it. The weekly letters I wrote without fail to Danger in college have fallen by the wayside and now that my mother-in-law has started writing me letters, I'm finding I'm a bit rusty at putting pen to paper. Hopefully it'll come back to me, though. Surely years of scribbling in diaries will back me up, here. I sometimes miss writing journals and fiction longhand, filling the neat lined pages with my handwriting - sometimes precise, sometimes careless - of being able to write and write without getting a cramp or writer's block. Typing on the computer is in some ways so much easier and in other ways so much less-than.

I love blogging, I have since the beginning, but occasionally I fret that it's not the same. I once had aspirations of growing up to be a capital-w Writer. My path took another turn, though, and instead I'm a putterer, a navel-gazer, an occasional fiction-venturer, a (so far) faithful monthly-baby-letter-typer. I think it's okay, though. It still counts. I'm still a writer, even if my w is decidedly lower-case.

DISCLOSURE: I was compensated for writing this post, but the words and opinions are my own.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

First, second, third

What an absurd amount of difference a year can make.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The stuff I was doing while I wasn't blogging

I have attempted to post about six times in the last two weeks and ended up dozing off with nothing written. Today I'm home early-ish because I had to let the exterminator in, so let's see if starting to write at 4:45 is a little less sleep-inducing than trying at 10:45. (Except I predictably got distracted by dinner and Nico and bedtime and now it's 10:00 again…but I'm still awake, so let's see what happens.)

Speaking of the exterminator

I called him because I've been finding little black ants in the house, usually just one, but one more than once exceeds my acceptable level of in-house ants. Mostly they've been in the upstairs bathroom, which is better than in the kitchen, but I have seen a few in the kitchen, too. I always get self-conscious when the termite service guy or an exterminator is in the house, worrying that he'll judge me for my not-spotless house. I realized today, though, they probably see a lot worse than my house. And then, as if to confirm it, the guy was telling me it's going to be a bad year for ants and said, "I went to a house the other day, and well…let me just say the floor was supposed to be white. It was black. With ants." Gentle readers, let me assure you I would move. the fuck. out. if that ever happened to me.


I was happy to trade a birthday party for a chance to throw a surprise game shower this year, but it seems some of my friends had other ideas. Danger, evilducky, rabid monkey, and the bibliophile showed up last Tuesday night with a cake and intention to play dominoes. Which we did, for quite some time. It was pretty awesome, and not just because the cake in question is the cake I'd choose if I could only eat one kind of cake for the rest of my life -- Danger's carrot cake recipe with pineapple and chopped nuts.

Road trip

We spent the most recent weekend visiting MB's family. The trip was not without its (probably somewhat typical) stresses - an impending divorce, a once-robust grandparent's flagging health, an upcoming surgery. We got home hours later than planned, I found a tick on the baby right before he took a crap in the bath, and there were several other moments when I just wanted to resign my adulthood card for a day. But we ate homecooked food until we were stuffed, we had a nice time visiting with people we don't get to see as often as we'd like, and Nico got doted upon and played outside until it got dark two nights in a row. Overall, a winning weekend.

Big Exciting Spring Plans™ update

I went yesterday to have a bit more hair cut off, and it was definitely the right decision. I don't feel like it's that different, but it's enough that I really love it now. Unfortunately it won't stay this way for long, but I'm pleased and hope it doesn't grow back out too fast.

I also started the garden overhaul last Thursday with some unexpected help from MB. Evilducky had offered me two blackberry plants and I wanted to get a spot ready for them before we went away for the weekend. The place I picked should be good for thorny, sprawly plants, but unfortunately it was buried in a pile of mulch left from a years-ago project plus a cut-up holly bush and some scrap wood that had been dumped on top. I want to know who decided holly was an acceptable landscaping plant so I can drive to that person's house and punch him or her in the face. I probably will be picking dried-up razor-sharp holly leaves out of that corner of the yard for the rest of my life. I spent about two hours bagging up the trash and trying to get all the holly out of the mulch. On the bright side, I had expected the mulch underneath the trash to be rotted away, but I salvaged an entire outdoor trash can full that was perfectly usable. While I worked on that, MB -- who has never been hugely invested in past garden projects -- cleared dead scrub and weeds along the whole west side of the perimeter and build a new raised bed along the back fence.

how it looked when MB started

how it looked when MB was done

The blackberry plants arrived Friday evening, so I went out Saturday morning to edge their new home with bricks, plant them, and put the salvaged mulch back in place. I have a metal fence-ish frame-ish type of thing someone else gave me that might work as a trellis, so that may be this next weekend's project.

horrible mulch pile of shame

happy little blackberry plants

Nico helping me water the berries

There are allegedly some strawberry starts coming my way, so last night I went out and cleared the original raised bed that I built in Spring 2009. There are so many metaphors applied to gardening, but this was completely gardening as atonement. I did two hours of penance for being dumb enough to fill a raised bed with grass-infested yard dirt and then dumb enough later to let it go wild for two years untended. Once the dead grass was cleared off the top, I took the top row of bricks off to pull grass out from underneath, and then I had to turn over all the dirt in the bed with a shovel and pull out the clumps of grass roots. Finally, finally, I mixed in two bags of composted manure that Nico and I had picked up at Home Depot earlier in the day. Now I must be vigilant against grass re-infestation for the rest of the year.

I haven't filled the new bed that MB built yet, but I think we bought enough dirt. Dad and I also got another half-truckload of free bricks yesterday, so we may get a little more bed-building done this year than I'd dared to hope. Time will tell. I'm definitely only up for gardening in short bursts of two hours or so…spending an entire day out there does not sound at all enjoyable. Of course at this point, it's more reclamation than gardening.

Just for fun, here's a picture of Nico helping me push the cart at Home Depot yesterday. The photo doesn't really do it justice -- it was probably one of the cutest things ever.

Reading:  The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston

Playing:  an old mix I made for a friend