Thursday, December 22, 2011

Passing down the passing down-- Family Traditions

I have decided that one of the best things about being a parent is sharing family traditions and creating new ones.  The very night that I met my husband, not knowing that he would father my children, we found ourselves conversing on parenting and procreation.  I was finishing what would be my "career" as an on again, off again preschool caregiver, a job I'd held through middle school and into my adult life, and had a six year old little brother at home at that time.  I loved those kids, every one of them, but at age nineteen I was burned out.  I had done my time and planned never to have children of my own.

The man that I was to marry looked shocked when I made this announcement and said, "Really?  That's the whole reason for living.  To have someone carry on your name."  This had never occurred to me since I still had the mentality of a kid, myself, but I thought about what he said for a second and decided that he was right.  I changed my mind right then and there.  I would have children one day, passing on my genes and unique character traits, if for no other reason than to live forever through them.  Pretty self-centered viewpoint, but my decision turned into a passion and I soon found myself daydreaming of what these little critters would be like.  Three months later I married that man, and we started planning for a day when we would be ready to have the children that would carry his name and inherit qualities from us both.

Well, those kiddos have been here for a while now and I have loved every second of it.  They are amazing!  I never imagined that they would be this fabulous.  The sleepless nights of newborn motherhood were surprisingly difficult.  The worry that accompanies one of them experiencing an illness or the fear that they could be harmed in some way is worse than I could have dreamed, but the laughter and sheer joy that I experience on a daily basis as a direct result from interacting with them is also much greater than I could have hoped for.  I really had no idea that it would be this wonderful.  I think of having more children, but what I really wish is that I could go back and relive every minute with these boys through all of the stages.  I hang on to them and each phase knowing that they will someday slip through my fingers and be grown men, moving on through life. 

Part of the fun has been passing down traditions that I shared with my immediate family members growing up.  Spontaneous road trips with no destination in mind, holiday menus, party food dinners for no reason in particular, Sunday brunches, leaving for vacation after the sun sets, Florida spring hopping, putting our shoes out on St. Nicholaus Day so they can be filled with treats, hiking sticks for even short jaunts, bonfires, camping-- all things I have passed down to my kids.

From my husband's side, the boys have gained the traditions of deciding on a "secret weapon" fishing lure before family fishing trips and the big fish stories that go along with this form of adventure, hiking mountain trails while discussing the best way in which to handle a confrontation with a wild bear (important, but we have yet to decide on an appropriate course of action if we should ever be unfortunate enough to find ourselves face to face with one), roasting marshmallows over the electric stove burner, making popcorn in the same manner and skipping the air popper method, movies at the theater rather than waiting for them to be released on DVD.  The last is a biggy with Hubby.  He loves the movie theater while I can't help but focus on sticky floors and the hygienic habits of the person who last occupied the seat I must sit in for two hours.

Our own family's traditions have also been created over the years.  Eating out together for lunch on the first day of school while all the other kids are sitting in a lunch room somewhere, just because we can, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade followed by the annual national dog show and Miracle on 34th Street while I finish the food preparation on Thanksgiving Day, annual trips to some of our favorite local mountain towns, backyard camping on Labor Day weekend, spring wildflower hunts, egg decorating, apple, raspberry, and now strawberry and pumpkin farm visits for U-pick fun.  We love them all and continue adding to our list of traditions.

Today is chocolate truffle making day for the boys and myself.  This one started when they were about four and two years old.  We share the finished morsels, but some are added to our German lebkuchen and confection tray that my mother passed down to me that she would use on Christmas Eve in the same manner, when our entire family would gather at our home for holiday parties when I was growing up.  The lebkuchen and German chocolates I buy with my husband and children in a little German town in the mountains of Georgia we traditionally travel to each December for this purpose.

I love traditions, especially around the holidays.  I think my favorite growing up was each Saturday before Christmas.  My dad started this one.  We would drive into downtown Orlando to Orange Avenue, the main street to our old downtown.  On this day, we would shop for gifts for each other in the old Woolworth and the McCrory store that still maintained its mid-century lunch counter.  One year, when I was about fifteen, it was rumored that snow was in our forecast, a rare occurrence for Central Florida.  We had finished our shopping and my dad and I were standing by the city Christmas tree.  Sure enough...snow.  He pointed out that you could just see the tiny flakes in front of the backdrop of the enormous, dark green tree.  More like specks of dust, there they were, twirling around in the gentle breeze.  The best part of family traditions is the memories they instill.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas miracle? We shall see...

Yesterday I went with my husband and boys to a German town in Georgia.  We have gone every year at Christmastime, with the exception of last year, since moving back to the South.  With my husband's work schedule, we just couldn't fit it in last Christmas and the boys and I were not going without him. 

Every time I visit the town and talk with shop owners who have relocated from Germany, I think of my mother and oma and our other relatives from Nuremberg whom I've met over my lifetime.  It's so difficult to hear a German accent from people who speak just like my Oma without tears welling up, but I bite my tongue and enjoy it. 

My oma passed away when I was in my early twenties and I'd give anything to be able to hug her one more time. I have wonderful dreams about her, and some sad.  I dreamed about her just this week.  In my dream, my mother and sister and I were parked outside of the small Florida home my oma lived in my whole life.  I was nervous to walk up to the house to go see her, but my mother and sister encouraged me to go, telling me that it would be fine.  I think I was nervous because it had been so long since I had seen her or even dreamed about her.  I walked up the path while my mom and sister waited in the car, watching.  When I reached the front door, it was open and I could see through the metal screen door that she was right there, inside, and wearing a peach colored t shirt, one she wore often when she was living.  She was so happy to see me.  I opened the screen door and she was in my arms.  I could even smell the fresh linen scent of her shirt. When I reached maturity as a teenager, she found it hilarious that I was taller than her and had to bend over to hug her.  My dream was so real that she even seemed to be the right height.  I hugged her so tightly that she laughed and asked why I was hugging her so hard.  I told her that it was because I hadn't seen her for so long and that I usually dream of her often. In my dreams I take the opportunity to hug and hug her.  It had been too long since I had dreamed of her and I didn't want to let her go.  She laughed.  My mother and sister came in.  Oma said that we were all going to wear wedding dresses that day and she pulled out a big box of them out.  It sounded like a crazy thing to do, but it was always crazy when my mother, her mother, my sister and myself were together, so without thinking anything more of it, we all began to dig through the box.  I passed on several gorgeous, pristine white gowns and in the bottom found a simple, dull and yellowed old gown with pearls sewn along the neckline.  It was perfectly me.  At this point, my husband's alarm went off and I woke from my dream, but it was very vivid and I can still feel her in my arms. 

This year, visiting the little German town was particularly difficult because it was the first time I've visited the town since my relationship with my mom has become so strained that we haven't seen each other for a couple of years.  It has always been understood that we would go to Germany together, now even thoughts of her in a mini replica of her motherland made me feel lost and lonely.  I had a fabulous time with my little family (how could I not?) but Mom and Oma were simply everywhere.  I have been there with both of them, so not only were thoughts of them with me but memories of them in different locations were with me as well.

I noticed late last night that I had missed a call from my sister.  I decided to check my messages in the morning to see why she had called.  It's strange enough to be getting calls from her since our relationship and my relationship with my baby brother and mom were damaged all at the same time under the same circumstances.  When a mutual friend passed away a few weeks ago, my sister called the night before the funeral to make sure I had heard.  She had only learned of his death and was determined to attend the service.  I felt awful for not telling her as soon as I'd heard the sad news.  I had known for five days and had assumed she'd heard, as well, since we have all the same friends and she lived not thirty minutes away from him. 

My sis is hard to get close to.  Think biker chic, tattooed and pierced from head to toe.  In fact, I've just described her perfectly.  She's awesome, but sandpaper to my sensitive soul and to the natures of my husband and children, as well.  Oil and water.  There are a few times in our lives, however, that stand out in my memory as times I've felt love and even nurturing from my older sister.  Her call to tell me of our friend's passing has been added to the list.  She was furious that no one had told her and, I could tell, so hurt by the loss.  She's German to the core.  Doesn't speak, but barks, like my Oma did, but with a soft heart that she refuses to let anyone see.  I was stunned when, at Thanksgiving, before I could call to wish her a happy holiday as I'd planned, she called and put me on speaker setting of her phone so her three boys could yell loving well wishes to me all at once.  I ended that phone conversation shortly because I could no longer speak around the lump in my throat.  Heaven forbid I let my sister know I'm choked up, that was NOT going to happen!

My little brother is a whole other story.  The fact that anything could have strained our relationship still leaves me stunned.  I was thirteen when he was born.  He says I was like a second mother to him.  The only thing I see now that could have come between us is his ill treatment of one of my children, of my sons who thought the world of him.  It happens all the time with everyone.  Family problems.  Not my family.  I was always able to sit and smile politely.  Well, everyone has a line.  I didn't know I had one. I did.  And when I finally stood up to say enough was enough, all hell broke loose and it has yet to calm.

When I saw that my sister had called for the third time in only a few weeks, I began to feel that there was hope.  Obviously she's trying and I won't slap her in the face by turning my back on that.  I've tried with my mother, spoken to my brother once since the Big Blow-up, but with such differences of opinion and my husband and myself feeling the need to protect our children from bullying they don't even get from other kids their age, it's been difficult to figure out how to go about opening doors or deciding at what point we are ready.  A little boy who is furious with the whole situation and deeply scarred by the incident has been another thing to consider.  Furiously protective of each other, these boys don't take mistreatment of the other lightly and even let me know when a punishment administered to the other seems unfair.  I am amazed at this little guy's strength at only age 11 and the level of confidence he exhibits.

As it turns out, when I listened to the message from my sister, it was actually my mother whose voice I was hearing.  I had mistaken her number for my sister's.  She was calling to let me know that my brother is flying in from out west tomorrow and that my sister and her brood are driving up to stay with her for Christmas.  They all want me and my family to come to "just have a jolly time" and that they would not speak of "anything controversial" (meaning homeschooling and what I see as the homeschool intervention that took place two years ago), or if we can't make it, they could all come over here this week.  I don't know what to think, say, or do.  Of course we are going, but I am terrified...just floored because it was my mom I dreamed about last night whose thoughts have been filling my head all day.  Shocked that it was her call I missed.  I was very close to calling her and would have by day's end, but I never expected this or such consideration for our feelings.  There are a few subjects that I have decided are off limits, if and when all of us were ever to be in the same room together, at least until my kids are old enough to hold their own, which they just may be at this point, but the fact that she knows this without me ever voicing my "ground rules" is reassuring. 

I've spoken to my husband, my best buddy in the world, about it.  I wanted to know if he thought I was ready and should risk what is to be a fabulously peaceful Christmas week with him and my boys by opening up this can of worms.  He was so wonderful.  We talked about how much I've learned about myself over the last two years and how much I've changed.  I told him that I hope that I have learned enough to deal with whatever could come of this visit.  He said it would be a good test.  I assumed that he meant it would be a good test to see if I truly have learned as much about myself and keeping my own harmony within myself as I think I have.  He corrected me and said that what he meant by saying that was, that it would be a good test for see if they have learned anything over the last two years.  My hero!   


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A little rant on being introverted...

This isn't really a blog post, just me allowing Carl, the author of the article, 10 Myths About Introverts,  to shout from the rooftops for me what I have always felt like screaming myself.  It's a big sigh of relief anytime I can relate to another human being because, so often, I simply can't.

It frustrates me on a daily basis that my own mother will never understand all of this, that when I told her that I realized that I am a Highly Sensitive Person and that there is a real name for my personality type, she answered wryly, "Is there something you can take for it?"  I don't know if the rift between us that has been there most of my life and has grown tremendously in the last few years, can ever be repaired, for this and for so many other reasons, even though I have begun trying.  My third attempt ended in an emotional pummeling, the same as the first two. Big surprise.  My mother invented the guilt trip.

It's fine that most won't care to "get" who I am, but the fact that she and my siblings only want to "fix" me, insisting that I, and now my children, should BE different than we are, just breaks my heart, especially at this time of year.  I'm tired.  Just one big mood swing, right now.

The fact that I have other relatives who share this personality type, including my own dear father who will also never catch a break from these same people, is consolation.  And it still amazes me that the reason I have a successful marriage is because my soul mate happens to be an introvert, as well.  He says "he knew" the first time he met me that I was the girl.  I knew soon after, once I was able to break through my shyness and actually converse with him and begin a relationship.  We were married three months later.  Now he is my sanity and my oasis in a world of the 75% of those who aren't like us, who think we are strange because we don't throw block parties every other weekend and our kids are more interested in artistic and intellectual pursuits than little league. 

Okay.  Big breath.  I'm done. I can get off my soapbox, for now, and back to my housework and holiday baking without scrunching my eyebrows together while pulling clothes out of the dryer, fretting over this topic.  On this day, I must get my duck house mucked and begin a gingerbread castle with my boys.  One tremendously fun chore, another so detested, it's a good thing I love those silly ducks so much or they would end up the centerpiece of our Christmas dinner table.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A 75 cent random act of kindess can make for a Merry Christmas.

It had been years since I had been home to Orlando.  My family gathers each year, the Saturday before Christmas, at a cousin's home north of my home town, but since I lived with my husband and children on the other side of the country, we were never able to make it to the annual family get together.  When we moved back to the South, we decided one year to head to Central Florida to celebrate the holidays.

After driving all day through the rural South, we crossed the Florida border.  How I'd missed the Live Oaks draped with eerie boas of Spanish Moss, stately palms with their crowns of fronds, the snouts and eyebrows of gators keeping cool just below the surface of the many lakes we'd cruise past before reaching my Grandmother's house where we would be staying.

By the time we were on the outskirts of The City Beautiful, however, I was feeling less welcome by the number of toll booths we were required to pass through just to use the highway, and even to exit when the time came.  I had listened to my father complain for years, while I was growing up, that the tolls had been set up before I was born to pay for the extensive road system and that the tolls collected since the system's establishment could have paid for ten times the amount of concrete and steel that had been laid for their construction.  Rather than the tolls being eliminated, the price to drive a vehicle on Central Florida expressways had gone up.  The money paid by commuters and weary travelers was now only used to "line someone's pockets", as Dad put it.  This made it more difficult for my husband to shell out that $.75 cents at each stop along the road that took me closer to home, albeit much quicker than it would have been to criss cross half of Florida on the small rural roads that lie beneath the toll roads.

We were nearing the end stretch, soon to be jettisoned off the ramp into the familiar territory that edged my home town, when we were forced to slow down for yet another toll booth.  How much money did the toll system generate annually, anyway?!  I imagined some pompous, overstuffed, politician sitting behind his desk somewhere in Tallahassee, smoking a fat cigar while adding up tolls on an old hand crank calculating machine.

Just as we neared the pavilion, a car shot past us to enter it before we could.  This always makes my husband's day, impatient drivers who have to get one car ahead.  What did it matter on a Friday evening?  Hot date?  Racing someone to the E.R., maybe?

When we pulled up to the toll booth window, the woman who would take our payment pointed down the road and said, "He got it for you."  We were confused.  She clarified, saying that the man in front of us had paid our toll.  We sat there longer than it would have taken to pay the toll twice and be on our way, just staring at her.  She smirked, seeing how surprised we were by such a random act of kindness, and said, "Merry Christmas."  My husband thanked her and wished her a merry Christmas as well before continuing down the toll lane.

We were dumbfounded.  It was only 75 cents, but such an unexpected gift.  And to think that we were annoyed with the driver of that vehicle for speeding past us to reach the toll booth first.  He was acting out of kindness, maybe because he saw that we had out of state plates, and it was the most welcoming gesture.  He didn't know that we weren't just some tourists lost in a web of arcing highways and brightly lit toll booths on our way to Daytona Beach or our first trip to Disney World.  Our kind benefactor wasn't aware that I would be sleeping that night tucked beneath sheets in a bed that rested in the upstairs portion of a home that my father designed and helped build when he was only 18 years of age.  A home that sat beside the school I had grown up in, on property that bordered a forest where my other grandmother's home was built just after WWII when she immigrated with her Army sergeant  husband.  There is no way he could have known how lost I felt, having been away for so long, only to return and see so many changes had occurred.

I assume that he meant to say, "Welcome to Florida.  Merry Christmas and have a great vacation!", by paying our toll for us, but what his act said to me was, "Welcome home.  See?  Things may have changed, but you are still welcome here.  This is still your home."  Or maybe it was a kind habit of his to do this all the time.  Maybe he paid too much and was actually in a hurry and told the toll booth operator to keep the change and she paid our toll with it.  I don't care.  And I don't care that it was a gift of less than a dollar.  It was worth millions to me and my family and I'll never forget it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recovery Shake #5 -- Orange Dream

I wanted this to taste like a Dreamsicle.  It didn't, but was good.  I used natural orange extract and vanilla, but I think what it really needed was some ice cream.  But, alas, that would defeat the purpose of making these shakes. 

After his long awaited medical appointment, my husband has learned that he is, in fact, still ill and must avoid fats.  No ice cream allowed around here much anymore.  His doctor wants to see if we can help him to feel better by limiting certain foods.  I'm just very glad to hear that his problems should be manageable even though the diagnosis contains the word "disease", which doesn't sound good at all.  He hasn't tried our recovery shakes, but at least I can give him something delicious, but healthy, when he needs a sweet treat or snack. 

My boys and I will keep working to come up with new ideas.  We are trying to find a way to work chocolate into one of our shakes.  If only there is a way.  I guess we could just buy those chocolate soy protein mixes...I happen to love Spiru-tein in every flavor. I may have to ditch the scratch idea and go for what I know and love when I run out of recovery shake ideas.

Orange Dream Recovery Shake

1 orange, seedless, peeled
2 tsp. turbinado sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. yogurt
1/4 c. skim milk
Drop of orange extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Makes 1 to 2 servings.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Recovery Shake #4-- Tomato Veg.

After a weekend that included pizza and fondant lacquered birthday cake, we felt like we really needed this morning's workout and recovery shake.  I'm almost out of ideas, so today's shake was a repeat of one we had a few weeks ago.  It tasted very similar to V8 juice but only contained four types vegetables and the addition of a dash of red curry powder.  There is only what little protein is found in carrots, celery, tomatoes, and spinach in the shake, which breaks one of my two recovery shake rules.  I intend for there to be protein and fruits or vegetables or a combination of the three in each.  Very refreshing, however, and I think it will double as a detox shake as part of a post-holiday cleanse.

Tomato Veg. Shake

1/2 c. fresh carrots, peeled
1/2 c. celery stalks with leaves
1c. fresh baby spinach
2 c. tomato puree
1 c. water
Dash of red curry powder

Makes 3 to 4 shakes.  My boys said it needed more tomato.  I think next time I'll sub. the water for more tomato puree or fresh tomatoes.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A hustle and a bustle and a Huddle and a shiver.

I love spontaneity.  I love to have a plan, though I continuously set myself up for a fall by expecting there to be more hours in the day than there are, but when my schedule gets waylaid by happy unforseen circumstances it's like being given a little gift.

Yesterday I was feeling so funky in the morning.  Sad and just plain pissed off by the passing of a friend.  No more, "it was meant to be", "he's looking down laughing at us like he said he would", "he's in a better place" kind of crap.  Just plain furious.  I don't why they say good grief.  There's nothing good about it.  I was fed up.  I felt guilty for thinking about him so often which takes my focus off my family, then even more guilty if I pushed him to the back of my mind for being so selfish.  Is it really okay to TRY to get over someone's death?

To say I needed an attitude readjustment is an understatement.  I spent all of November trying to find something every day to be thankful for which really helped my usual "the glass is half empty" mentality.  In the middle of that, Will died.  I was so looking forward to our long chats and intense conversations on life and was enjoying his wit and never ending sarcasm that made those who understood him love him even more.  There just seems to be a great hole in the universe with the passing of this "enormous" person and I can't help feeling like we've all been cheated in losing him.

It's Christmas.  I didn't want to sit here feeling funky through  my favorite time of the year.  The months that stretch from Christmas season to Christmas season seem long enough as it is, that special holiday aura over before I know it, without my mind wandering all the time and a shadow hanging over my head.  And I KNOW he would be furious to know that we are all sad and pining for more of the "Will Experience" as he called it.  Time to buck up and switch gears!  My son's birthday party (cake, and presents at a pizza place with a couple of friends at our local arcade) is today.  I needed to buy cake ingredients yesterday and get the cake baked and fondant made.  That way I could spend a leisurely  morning before the party having fun decorating it.  Change of plans...

I felt the Christmas spirit smack me between the eyes as soon as I walked out the door.  Our front door is located inside a large sun room that we use as a dining room when the weather is mild and that doubles as the room that houses the Christmas tree because it has nine foot ceilings which allows us to get a tall tree, plant it in a five gallon bucket and still have room for the tree topper.  I honestly had forgotten that we already had a tree and decorations up.  That amazing spruce pine forest scent instantly filled my head with images of the season.  We were no longer just in party mode, but smack dab in the middle of the Holiday festivities.

A stop at our local feed store to pick up laying pellets and hen house bedding added fuel to my holiday fire.  The store was all decked out with rows of stocking stuffers, winter farm-hand clothing, scented soy candles...Fa-la-la-la-la...

Next on our list was a trip across the Georgia state line to a mega discount store for cake decorations/weekly grocery supply/Christmas spiriting.  Fun!  We specifically made our way to the garden center, which we had been avoiding since Halloween, where the Christmas decorations and floor to ceiling shelves lined with inflatable lawn ornaments are kept during the season.  Hoho...oh what fun! 

By dinner time, we were headed back across the border.  I needed to have dinner ready by 7 when Hubby came home so we could head back into town and buy our son's birthday presents.  Just as we'd reached the city limits, my phone started ringing.  I never answer the phone while I'm driving so I let it ring.  Another fifteen minutes later and I had the groceries mostly unloaded so returned the call which was from my husband.  Apparently, our town's annual Christmas extravaganza was going on while I was fooling around down in Georgia and I needed to get my butt to Main Street ASAP.  I can't believe I was so dumb not to know when one of my favorite events was occurring!  In goes all the cold stuff, thrown willy nilly into the fridge.  Kids in the van, key in the camera.  Back into the house, zoom down the road.  A quarter of an hour later, we step out into a winter wonderland.

Our town knows how to do it right.  Carolers, lights, decorations, every little shop open offering complementary cookies and cider or cocoa.  Holiday bliss and boy was I feeling it...and the cold.  I was dressed for a 62 degree afternoon in Georgia and was standing on a mountain street corner freezing my butthind off.  Nothing a little hot chocolate can't cure.  A horse and carriage ride later and I couldn't feel my feet.  The wind through my jeans took the feeling in my knees a little while later when the temperature dropped below freezing.  It was perfect.  I already couldn't wait until next year.  You know you have lived in a small town for a good long while when you recognize so many of the faces you see on the street on a night like that.  I felt like Cory Feldman's character at the end of the movie The Burbs.  "I love this street!"  So proud to live in the little town in which life has given us the opportunity to raise our children!

It was 9 p.m. and we still needed to do our birthday shopping.  Two out of four of us hadn't eaten a thing since early morning and were feeling puny, but it had to be done.  An hour and a half later, our purchases safely tucked in the back of our van behind the chicken feed and bedding that we hadn't had time to unload earlier, and we were looking around our small town wondering where the heck we could find a quick meal at that hour.

Huddle House.  Why do we never think of taking our kids to breakfast around midnight in one of those awesome, crappy little all-night diners where we can watch the short order cooks doing their thing and plates are being dealt out like playing cards in a matter of minutes?  Attitude readjusted.  :)  Took me till around 3 a.m. to get my toes warmed up despite slipping them between Hubby's knees all night, no joke, but I don't need to stop for breakfast because I'm still full of hash browns from our midnight snack and can get right to the cake decorating.  It won't be a leisurely task as planned, but it'll get done and nothing keeps me out of a funk like decorating a cake.  It's gonna be a GREAT day!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Recovery Shake #3-- Cranberry

Well, Thanksgiving and my lasagna dinner with Dad is over.  We have only a few weeks until Christmas.  This is the time of year for biscotti, chocolate truffle, gingerbread house, traditional cakes and dinner making...time to work on keeping that metabolism up.

We are still enjoying our nutrition lessons and workouts together.  Yesterday we moved furniture and did some rearranging for Christmas so skipped our usual exercise time.  Today the boys learned about blood oxygenation and aerobic activity.  We finished with a cranberry recovery shake, since the only fresh fruit we have in the house is oranges and apples.  Grocery shopping was unnecessary this week with a freezer full of leftovers.

This shake was delicious but had way too much sugar in it since I made it with the cranberry sauce I made for Thanksgiving.  It would make a nice dessert.  My little guy didn't like it.  I guess he's all cranberried out right now.  I could have used half of the cranberries I put in and it would have been just as delicious.

Cranberry Recovery Shake
1/2 c. whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 c. fat-free, plain yogurt
1 T milled golden flax seed
1/2 c. skim milk

Makes 1 to 2 shakes

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gaslighting. The favorite communication strategy of the narcissist.

I stumbled upon this term a few years ago.  Up until that point, I didn't know there was an actual name for this most annoying and degrading form of manipulation.  Someone says something insulting, then says you are "too sensitive" or "shouldn't take it personally" when you are offended by the behavior.  One of my favorite movie lines for this reason is Will Ferrell playing Ricky Bobby in Taladega Nights beginning a line with the words "With all due respect..."  He thinks he can say anything insulting as long as he begins by using those words.  Boy, has my life been touched by people who are of the same opinion!

Yashar Ali hits the nail on the head in his article, "A Message to Women from a Man: You are not 'Crazy'" when he emphasizes that Gaslighting is an epidemic that is running rampant throughout society today.  It has been my experience, however, that women more than men use this "one two punch" form of undermining the feelings and opinions of others most often.  Nothing irks me more than the little jabs women throw at each other.  I don't know where this need to knock others down a notch comes from.  

Do you ever end a conversation with someone and afterwards feel as if something isn't quite right?  I call it "mud slinging" because when I converse with people who habitually Gaslight to me or speak badly of others I am left feeling dirty, like I need a shower.  My husband is the best at spotting these little "attacks", which he objectively calls "typical bully behavior", and I sometimes use him to filter a conversation or an email for me to help pinpoint what doesn't feel right.  Fortunately, now that I've discovered what Gaslighting is, I can see where and why relationships in my life have gone sour.  The offenders who thrive on Gaslighting who were muddying it on a daily basis now play a very small role in my life.  It's painful to keep them at arm's length, but it is much easier than dealing with the regular onslaught of hurtful behavior that I really don't want or need.

An added bonus to learning about Gaslighting was realizing that I, too, can be a Gaslighter at times.  I'm a "but" person.  I catch myself too often giving praise, then adding a "...but..." and giving my opinion on something.  I rarely do this with my children.  As a homeschool parent I work very hard not to do this because I realize that everything that's said before the "but" is erased once I add the "but".  It's my poor husband, the expert Gaslight spotter, who has to deal with my big but most often.  One of his favorite movie lines comes from Pee Wee's Big Adventure, "Everyone I know has a big but.  Let's talk about your big but, Simone."  I don't know what we would do in our relationship if we didn't have movie characters to relate to.

But...I want to cringe when I think of it, exhibiting Gaslighting behavior.  For a sensitive person, I sure can be insensitive at times.  I guess the first step to changing is in knowing there is a problem, right?  Don't be a spark and the whole thing could blow up in your face!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Recovery Shake #2-- Pumpkin Spice

I have a lot of frozen pumpkin right now, ready for Thanksgiving pies.  I am the only squash eater in the family so I was very happy to find that my boys enjoyed this smoothie almost as much as they like pumpkin pie.  It is sugar free, but the bananas are enough to sweeten it.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie
1 banana
1 c. pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c. fat free plain yogurt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground dried ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 c. water or skim milk

Blend all ingredients.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recovery Shakes- #1 Apple Banana Smoothie

After finding out that my husband is still not well, even after his gallbladder surgery, I have decided that we need to be more serious about what we are doing for our health and what we are teaching our boys.  We have white-knuckled it through the first 11 months of my food blogging, after Hubby was allowed to increase the amount of fats in his diet, but basically went hog wild, literally, for a while there.  No joke.  It's not funny.  His body cannot handle high fat foods and we need to quit ignoring the same symptoms that have plagued him for years, and I am trying hard to dodge breast cancer which has already hit my grandmother and mother.  I won't quit food blogging.  I won't turn this blog into the "Diary of a Health Nut" but when I'm not cooking the occasional exorbitant meal for the food blog, I will be journalling our healthy food choices here.  I have already cut way back on my food blog posts, now that I have the recipe categories I have created looking a bit less skeletal, which has us eating much healthier on a daily basis and more like we were before I began blogging.  Right now our biggest problem is take-out $5 Fun Family Friday Night pizzas.  We used to spend Friday afternoons making whole wheat scratch pizzas, but there just never seems to be time anymore.  I have to make sure there is time if we want a form of our favorite junk food.  Of course there will still be times for fun food.   I refuse to cut all of the fun out of our lives, but will sensibly choose how often to have those foods.

Taking what culinary and nutrition knowledge I've gained in college and over the years, I have started teaching the boys all I know and researching what I haven't learned about healthy eating. We generally take a half hour after chore time, before lesson time, just for exercise.  Three weeks ago we started taking an hour per day, and I have been teaching them about nutrition instead of just telling them at snack time to make sure they grab a piece of fruit with whatever grain food they have chosen to nibble.  I look at them and realize that because my husband's problems are rumored among members of both sides of his family to have been inherited that his sons may have the same problems ahead of them.

We have never had chips and fishy crackers, soda and Kool-ade, cookies and milk around the house for the boys to eat for daily snacks.  They haven't been raised on processed, preservative ridden food, but I have never actually, beyond a lecture here and there, taught them how to think about nutrition for themselves beyond the basic elementary school age Food Guide Pyramid lessons as part of general science education.  I have now begun letting them make their lunches with me, choosing which dairy or meat they would like to have for the protein portion, colorful vegetables, fruit, and a whole grain food for the other areas of their plate.  In addition to this, I have been teaching them about proteins and amino acids and how complex carbohydrates can be combined to create a complete protein.  We have done many lessons on the difference between white and whole grains and how a white product such as rice or flour becomes white, but we pulled them all out of the pantry again the other day to look at the differences, which is healthier to consume and why.

Our favorite part of this increased awareness of what our bodies need to be fueled with, is the recovery shakes we make after our morning workouts.  They are delicious and give us what we need to balance what we may have lost during our exercise.  I am taking a cue from a fellow food blogger who posted a fruit dessert a day for a week and posting the recipe for each of the recovery shakes that the boys and I come up with on a daily basis.  I don't know how many different ones we will create, but I want us, through trial and error, to have a collection of them that we can choose from to keep our workouts from getting too tedious.  A good incentive is knowing that we get a delicious, dessert quality, healthy drink that rivals any high fat, high sugar milkshake from the ice cream parlor when we finish exercising.  We mostly aim to include protein and low sugar, high fiber carbohydrates.  One of them was tomato based, like a V8 by request from my boys, so we eliminated the dairy which goes into the others we have made and had cottage cheese on the side.

All were made in a single serve blender, an off-brand of the Magic Bullet.  It works very well to blend everything but apple cores into the shakes, but leaves them thick and pulpy, which we like.

Apple Banana Smoothie

2c. Golden Delicious Apples, cored, cut into large chunks with peeling left on
1 banana
1c. fat free plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. skim milk

Makes 3-4 servings.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet Williams

When I was a kid, growing up in a teeny tiny school that was started by  my family's church, I was extremely shy.  I didn't "get" other girls my age.  Even in elementary school most of them were mean and catty and I sat watching them with curiosity and distaste.  On any given day you would find me on the playground with the boys in my class discussing Star Wars or playing the War card game.  Our school was so small that the kids I grew up with, the same small clan, were more like cousins to me than classmates.  I was comfortable in this group even though we didn't all get along.

By jr. high I had already learned who I should allow in my life and who was toxic to my sensitive nature.  Between 8th and 9th grade, a sweet girl whom I'd never thought much of as I wrestled with finding my place in the world, transferred with her family to our church.  She was one of the classmates I had known since pre-kindergarten.  We were now seeing each other 6 days a week.  After the painful middle school years, this girl was my best friend, but I was still extremely shy out of the protective circle of a chosen, trusted few.  Another boy I had grown up with who was two classes ahead of us was best friends with her brother.  William.  He had been on the outside of the in-crowd growing up, the same as we had, but had blossomed into the absolute life of the school.  He was the school. My friend's older brother drove the four of us everywhere in his beat up old Ford pickup.  William was fast becoming one of my favorite people.  He was crazy!  We were always getting in trouble at Burger King for making too much noise and wherever William went there was a raucous.  I loved it.  His wild nature soon began to wear off on me and I felt myself coming out the protective shell I had lived behind.  My favorite thing was to get him to scream like a girl.  "William, scream like a girl."  No matter where we were, he'd let out a blood curdling scream to rival that of any female actress being chased by a chain saw revving maniac.  It  never got old.  I always laughed until I couldn't breathe.

William's home was several miles out of town so he bean staying at my friend's house so he could be closer to the school, as his only source of transportation was a little red motor scooter.  This was the least safe mode of transportation on the bustling highways and back roads of Central Florida.  One night, while crossing a busy intersection the inevitable happened and William's unprotected body was struck by another vehicle.  We were all terrified.  Fortunately, though his leg was severely broken and he lost the sight in one eye, after a few months in a cast he recovered.  He was still the crazy center of everything for those who loved him.  I'll never forget the day he squeezed a bottle of mustard, rocket style, in the school cafeteria.  It went everywhere, of course.  People two tables away had their clothes permanently stained after this stunt.  For years after high school graduation, any time we would go to the school which was located next to our grandmother's home, my sister and I would open the folding curtains that separated sections of the dining room, flipping them back to see if there were still stains from William's mustard.  Sure enough. 

After the accident, William lived at my freind's house and rode everywhere in her brother's truck.  Graduation for the class of '88 came and I dreaded it.  What would our small school look like without William?  He was headed to culinary school in South Carolina.  An end of an era had come.  I saw William once or twice after high school. 

For almost 20 years I wondered what became of him.  Any time I'd talk to old friends we'd chat about everyone else.  They had seen so and so at such and such and I'd say, "But what about William?" or "Where's William?"  I had always credited him with being the one who helped me grow out of my shell and into myself with all of his loving kindness and that crazy nature of his that never embarrassed me.  My life changed tremendously after 9th grade and I was no longer the shy little freckled girl who stood watching from the outside.  I would have loved to have the opportunity to tell him that.

My grandmother told me once, in the late 90s that she had run into a friend of mine.  He knew that she was my grandmother and had been wondering what had become of me.  It was William.  I was moved.

The internet came along.  Social networking sprang out of nowhere.  I wasn't a phone talker, not much of an e-mailer, had no interest in MySpace and had only vaguely heard mention of Facebook.  I didn't know what it was and I didn't care.  I had no interest in finding any of my old friends but for William and a few others.  My best buddy had been in my life all along and she was all I needed and we even ended up settling in the same state, miles from our home town.

I had developed an aversion to churches in my late teens and had grown a feeling of contempt towards the way in which I had been raised and questioned everything about religion and my upbringing.  I had no interest in looking back as I was in the midst of trying to decide what it was that I believe rather than what had been spoon-fed to me.  My mother had left my father during my first pregnancy and told me things that I found hard to accept about herself.  It was horrifying to realize that the family life I had known, my family's involvement in the church and school had been a facade.  Her holier than thou attitude pushed upon me, a farce, and I wanted nothing to do with anything from that time in my life.

I was talking to my best friend from high school on the phone one evening, she being one of the few people that I am comfortable carrying on long phone chats with, because she totally gets me, always has, always will.  She told me that "everyone" from our school and church years was on Facebook, that it was so weird to see so many faces in one place all at the same time, that we hadn't seen for all those years.  I hemmed and hawed but finally got around to checking it out.  Sure enough.  There they all were.  Very strange.  And guess who was sitting right there waiting to be "friended"...yup...William.

William became by favorite past time in those first few months on FB.  I was a hopeless insomniac and would find him on FB often in the middle of the night or he'd pop up on my chat screen before heading to his Bickram Yoga class to "sweat his balls off", as he put it. In the meantime we talked about religion and my search for spiritual peace and truth.  He urged me to keep an open mind on all subjects.  We were on the same page, religiously speaking, though the things he believed were so "out there" they made my head spin.  He had always been the most intelligent person I had known when we were kids, a concert quality pianist, one of those wired kids who couldn't sit still.  He was never into sports and was a straight A student, advanced two years beyond his grade level.  The things he said boggled my mind, but his passion concerning his beliefs were what moved me.  I was exhausted after our conversations, but it was just what I needed at the time.  He always called me by my nickname, always said he imagined me as that "little pigtailed girl" from private school in the navy blue and white uniform.  When he told me he was gay, expecting me to do what we were taught to do in our close-minded school, walk away, I told him that I knew, that I had known that before I knew what "gay" was.  He was surprised and touched.

I valued my new friendship with William as much as I had in high school and was so glad to not only find out what had become of my friend William but to have him as an important part of my life.  He confided in me his relationship struggles and how wonderful his daughter was and how important her mother was in his life.  How his wife had been the one who, with love and understanding, helped him understand more about himself and accept him for who he was.  I was so moved that someone had loved and cared for our sweet William all those years. 

During this time, flowers from a seed catalog company that I had ordered months before I had reconnected with William arrived, as the proper planting season had come upon us here in the mountains.  Several of them were Sweet Williams.  I joked with him when I came in from gardening that weekend, by saying that I had planted Sweet Williams to remind me of him. 

Months passed and I treasured our friendship, filled my husband in on all of our interesting conversations.  He had heard about William since we had met and knew how special he had been to me in our teen years, and liked it that I was able to have him in my life again. 

A battle of wits between a friend with a theology degree and William and my "all-knowing pain in the butt" sister (as said theology degree holding friend so hilariously put it) ended our friendship within minutes.  This took place on my Facebook wall while I sat with my jaw hanging.  William left and "unfriended" me saying we should be friends elsewhere because he would never be able to tolerate my conservative friends.

Two years passed.  He contacted me once to apologize.  I forgave him but only talked to him once more after that.  This summer, while our friendship stagnated, I noticed that those Sweet Williams in my front flower bed had popped up.  I wasn't sure if they were perennial or not when I planted them and they had never done much.  I smiled when I saw them and thought to myself, "Well, at least I know what became of William and I never have to wonder again." 

About a month ago, there he was again on Facebook, sending me a friend request.  I messaged him asking how he was, but right above it was his last message from two years before saying it would be best if we weren't friends on FB.  I decided to trust his intuition and take some time to decide if I should accept or not.  My life has totally changed and calmed dramatically over the last two years, the most integral couple of years in my almost forty years, I would say, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for the wonderful, yet all-consuming involvement it would take to have him in my life once again.  During this time I had started yoga, because of his praise of the life-changing effect the practice can have on a person and my daily search for peace and calm, though inspired by him just seemed to be threatened by a relationship with him.  I wasn't ready to think and all he made me do was think.  I loved it two years ago, but really needed to step back and decide if I was ready or not at this time in my life.

About a week later, after skimming through our old messages on FB, I accepted.  He asked me again to forgive him for his earlier behavior.  I told him I had a long time before.  He wanted to tell me what was going on his life. Over the last couple of weeks I've intended to sit down and have that conversation with him.  I've had a lot going on and never got around to it.

This morning, I learned that William went to sleep Sunday night and never woke up.  I'm wishing I had taken the time to ask him what it was he wanted to talk about.  I was afraid to trust that things wouldn't turn out badly like before and now I've missed my chance.  I wonder if I ever told him what he meant to me in high school. I can't remember.  After twenty plus years of wishing I had known where he was so I could tell him, I still not sure I die when I had the chance.  So here it is. 

I have never in my life felt as if someone who has passed is hovering around listening, watching, laughing, and loving from above as I have today with William.  I've had that feeling all day.  I cried my eyes out for most of it, of course, but now even though I'm kicking myself, I really do feel a kind of peace.  It wasn't just me this past month that he reconnected with.  He went almost person to person with those from our past whom he loved.  I honestly think he knew.  He either sensed his time was near or he had medical knowledge.  I am so grateful either way.  So glad to have a record in my inbox of almost all of our conversations.  So thankful for Facebook, something I had no interest in at first, for how it has allowed me to have what little I could of William and all the others whom I love so much.  And I will keep my eyes open when the warm season hits to see if my Sweet Williams will show their pretty faces again.  And I am comforted by William's own words from one of our conversations,"NOTHING HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF THE DIVINE WILL OF GOD." And yes, he posted in all caps.  Love you, William!!  I'll miss you every day of my life!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Keep your hands to yourself!!! No form of domestic violence is ever acceptable.

Just a note to remind all men (and women, even though we tend to be made of less solid stuff) to keep your hands to yourselves.  Anytime a woman is cowed into a corner, pushed, shoved, hit, or even fears for her safety or that of her children by the actions of a man, the situation must change.  A line has been crossed that never should have been approached.  It isn't okay...not once, not twice...not ever!  If that line has been crossed, it is most likely that the behavior will escalate putting the woman and/or her children in further peril. 

According to the article by the staff of the Mayo Clinic, Domestic violence against women:  recognize patterns, seek help., not only is unbidden physical contact identified as domestic violence, but threatening words, control, bullying, and blaming a victim for being deserving of such behavior is considered inappropriate and harmful.  The information in the article also relays the pattern of an abuser's actions.  It is common that a violent partner will apologize for his/her abuse and promise to change his/her ways or insists that a victim's actions or behavior led to the abuse. 

But what if the attacker claims, or indeed does not, remember the incident as a result of alcohol or drug abuse or because of emotional instability?  The online conference transcripts led by Dr. Ronald Potter-Effron MSW, Ph.D., Rage: Overcoming Explosive Anger , explains rage blackouts in its many forms.  If a person doesn't remember performing violent actions on another, does that make the behavior more acceptable than if they intentionally abused someone with all of their faculties intact?  I would think the opposite would be true.  The idea that an individual was so enraged at the time in which they attacked another is even more frightening than if they had been aware of what they were doing.  That would make the person's behavior and potential actions even more unpredictable.  The abuser, to my mind, less likely or willing to change or seek help to change that behavior.

If a person is being abused, and especially if a pattern of abuse is escalating, they must change the situation.  If the person violating a victim's security and well-being is not willing to make the appropriate changes in their life that are necessary for the behavior to end, by seeking professional help, then the victim must remove themselves from the situation permanently, especially if children are involved or witness such behavior.  The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a tool victims can use to get help and information.  The website even features a "Quick Escape" icon to leave the page if a victim who is seeking information at this online location feels their computer is being monitored.  It also provides information for friends of those seeking help for individuals who are living with domestic violence.  

You should never be in danger or even feel as if you may be in danger.  It is never alright to be in a situation that causes you to fear for your safety.  Get up and DO something to change that situation.  It may be frightening to face such an enormous life change but the daily fear that exists with living with a violent person is far worse, even if abusive episodes are few and far between. Once is too often.

Author Linda Rue Quinn in her short story, A Pack of Gum, shows from a victim's point of view, what impact a life of domestic violence can have on a person. 

Wishing love, hope, and safety to all who find themselves dealing with someone who thinks it's alright to abuse or even just bully another.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Basil, Basil Everywhere. Basil, Basil In My Hair.

It's the time of year for my little garden when the basil has grown completely out of control and I make a large batch or two of pesto to freeze for winter use.  It freezes really well.  I do the ol' ice cube tray trick then bag the frozen cubes the same way I used to make baby food for my children.

I have a large amount of basil right now and have been thinking that maybe I'd rather bring it in and try to keep it alive this year rather than getting what I can from it and letting Jack Frost have the rest.  I have also contemplated building a cold frame to keep it and two well developed pepper plants thriving through the winter.

For two full years and then some, I have been trying to grow my hair for Locks of Love.  I figured that it was such a simple thing to do, forgetting that my hair grows so slow that I've never grown it past the middle of my back before giving up and getting it lopped off.  During this time period I have grown and cut my bangs countless times finally deciding that if the general length ever gets long enough to donate they can have it, but I need my bangs.  I just don't look like me without them.  Well, as it turns out, from what I have been reading, natural basil shampoos can accelerate hair growth.  Maybe I should use the rest of my basil to whip up a winter's supply of shampoo.  I picture myself, however, with a lovely plait of green-tinged hair come St. Patrick's Day.

As if to make my decision on what to do with so much basil a bit more difficult, I was walking down the sidewalk in a little town we visited over the weekend while vendors were closing up their tents when a boy ran out in front of me and thrust a plant in a my face.  "Do you want a free basil plant?", he asked.  I've lived in the mountains for ten years this month but I still have trouble on occasion understanding a North Georgia drawl so had to ask him to repeat himself.  Free basil?  I can't resist anything offered for free and all I could think about as the aroma wafted around me was pesto...lots and lots of pesto.  "Sure!", I answered.  "Thanks!" I happily continued down the sidewalk with my prize.  Now really...what to do with all that basil...  It may be time to make pasta...maybe soon it will be time for a haircut.

UPDATE:  I killed it.  I killed it all.  It's dead.  All of it.  GRRRRR!!!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I am a wolf.

So I had just finished a busy morning and emailing back and forth with a friend about homeschool and child rearing frustrations while mourning the loss of the first weekend in ages that I was able to spend some time away from home with my little family when I reached into the pocket of my yoga pants and was reminded that I am a wolf. 

I am a wolf.  I know this because my son told me so.  My sweet, beautiful, kind, thoughtful, sensitive son told me that I am a wolf.  I have felt like a momma bear a few times, I dream of dolphins and swimming with them, maybe even as a dolphin (I love those dreams), four back to back years of breast-feeding and pregnancies made me feel like a mother cow, literally, but I have never felt like a wolf, though I can become quite ferocious when backed into a corner.

But my son told me I am a wolf.  We were in a little gem shop in a faraway town yesterday and there was a wooden bin full of "totem energy" stones with various figures carved into them near the register.  Things of this sort intrigue me if they are historically accurate but mostly I see them as doo-dads that suckers are sucked into buying as silly little mystical tokens.  Well suckered in I was, but it wasn't the accompanying card that did it, the purple and pink hued, almost plaid patterned natural stone that the image of a wolf was engraved into that wooed me, it was my little guy's exclamation that struck me to the core and melted my heart. 

"You're a wolf, Mommy.  Look!  You're a wolf!"  He read the description of the wolf symbol from the card that was provided with each sale of the stones.  It said, "Wolf-- family loyalty, teaching skill." 

This is me.  I love to cook, but this is all I have to offer in this world that makes any real difference.  It nearly made my knees buckle under me and all I could do was to take my sweet baby in my arms and whisper my appreciation.  I promised to buy it and keep it with me at all times and I will.

When life begins to overwhelm me I can take my stone from my pocket and remind myself that my son thinks of me as a wolf.  I can be a wolf every day.  I am a wolf.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have. Woody Allen

Today's blog is in celebration of the little farm that I love so much.  This is because for over a year now, my family and I have considered trading it in.  We have very good reasons for this of which I won't mention, but suffice it to say that I've put far too much energy into looking elsewhere rather than focusing on what I have right in front of me.  This doesn't mean we won't end up leaving some day, but after a summer of problems with this particular piece of property and ongoing problems with the street on which we live, I've sort of had a love/hate relationship with the place, but continue to trust that the major problems will become minor and tolerable and I can grow old in my little cottage on this mini farm as I've always imagined myself doing.

It all started with a frantic search for a new rental, with a possible option to buy.  After years of living in rentals and military housing, my husband and I were desperate to own our first home.  We were confident at the time that the town in which we lived was where we were willing to settle, that it was a wonderful place for our children to grow up.  A teenaged, drunk, bipolar neighbor who was off of his medication is what finally led us to accelerate our search for a place of our own.

I had torn a notice for a house for sale out of the newspaper a few months before and had saved the little slip of paper.  On impulse, I showed it to my husband and he called the number that was provided.  The owner, a carpenter, said he had purchased the house, a dilapidated mess, and the surrounding property with the intention of renovating and reselling it for a profit.  His business had escalated so that he and his crew rarely had the time to drive the 10 or so miles out of town to make much progress on the house.  He had rented it to several people but after problems with renters had decided to leave it empty during renovation until it could be sold.  My husband asked if he was willing to do a lease/purchase.  He said he wanted to sell it outright, but after speaking to his wife for a few minutes, they decided that this was the only way they would be able to sell the home.  They'd had problems with buyers in the past being unable to get a valuable enough appraisal on the house as it was in the midst of renovation.  Lenders would not give any of them a mortgage with it in such an unfinished state.

He gave us the address so that we could see the house and property.  The drywaller was in the middle of plastering the seams in one room, the master bathroom was without a sink, bare drywall covered the shower walls, and the room only had a patched plywood floor.  Doors and a refrigerator were missing, but everything else was functional.  My husband and I were certain that these were the types of renovations we could finish ourselves and the prospect of owning an old farmhouse with land, basically our dream house, was too great an opportunity to turn our backs on. We agreed to rent the house for a year, renovating it at the same time.  At the end of the year we could either buy it or the owner would reimburse us for the materials that we put into finishing it.  Great deal!

A year later, we signed the papers and the house was ours.  We still have a lot of work to do, but we were able to finish it well enough to get an appraisal.  The appraisal was enormously larger than the owner's asking price and the asking price was about half of what we would have paid for a smaller home in town with no property.  We even asked the owners if they were sure they were satisfied with the selling price well before closing day.  They said they were happy to help a couple starting out and would love to just be free of the headache of trying to get the house finished and sold.  Basically, it was a steal!  We have been very grateful for that.

Right away I was disappointed with what had become of the kitchen.  I had always wanted a farmhouse kitchen with old metal cabinets and a black and white checkered floor.  I wondered when I saw the 1950s style of cabinetry and shelving in the butler's pantry if there had once been my coveted metal cabinets with chrome handles in the rest of the kitchen.

Bubble gum pink paint in the pantry and in a utility closet were a sure sign that there probably had been.  It was apparent that the sink, appliances, and cabinetry had been ripped out of the old kitchen.  The owner told us that he had put in counters and cabinets that he had torn from another house he had been working on.  There they were, the same old oak apartment cabinets we had been living with in all of our rentals, completely out of place in a farmhouse kitchen that still had the original plank walls exposed.  The first thing I did was to paint them white and put on new reproduction cabinet knobs and several sets of antique 1940s pulls that I had been saving for my dream kitchen which were waiting in their original brown paper packages for someone to use.  Our red, chrome legged 1950s table was perfect in the new space.

One day my husband came home from to work to find that I had torn up the peninsula which had cut the room in half and turned it against the wall to make one long counter.  It only took my minimal tiling skills to patch the raw edge that had been against the wall that now butted up to the stove and add a tile back splash to the wall behind.  He helped me hold up the upper cabinets while I screwed them into their new positions one Saturday morning, and we worked together to turn an old desk hutch into a plate rack to put over the new counter.

When President Bush handed out money to stimulate the economy with strict instructions that we spend it not bury it in the backyard, we bought the French door refrigerator we had been mooning over at our local home improvement center.

The butter yellow walls I had dreamed of painting my "some day kitchen" became a reality, but changed to deep red, which I loved, until Coke bottle green, an idea I had always toyed with, was added to some to lighten up the space and take it back to a mid-20th century American farmhouse look.  I love it, but am certain that eventually I will again be bitten by the painting bug and will change the color.  I have moved things around a  bit since these photos were taken.

Lighting has changed and a missing cabinet door replaced.  A new, deep, double white sink replaced the old stainless steel one when my husband attempted to change out a drippy faucet and found that the old plumbing had been hopelessly bound in some way to the sink itself.  I love it!  It's acrylic and I can beat it up all day long without leaving a scratch.

The master bedroom walls are a result of watching the movie Under the Tuscan Sun one too many times while I was renovating during the days, hurrying to finish before I headed to work in the evenings.

The doors on the master bathroom were taken from a closet.  They were those sliding track doors.  You know, the ones that come out of the track every other time you open them.  I took them apart and hinged them to door frame so they open in the middle.  They offer enough privacy for the master bath which got an overhaul as well.

The shower I tiled with a fleur de lis mosaic.  I painted the walls with vanilla and chocolate colored stripes.  The floors are covered with those cheap, junky peel and stick tiles that I put down in all the rooms but the ones with the original hardwood floors just in time for the appraisers to get here when we were getting close to closing on the house.  I still need to replace them all with permanent flooring.  In time I will get to them.

White cabinetry was repainted this summer to a glossy black, which we are loving, and an old dresser was converted into a vanity.

We took a stoneware bowl I had purchased from an antique store and used a Dremel to cut a hole for the drain to make our own vessel sink.  I was so nervous that we would shatter the bowl, and it was the first time I'd ever used a Dremel, but we did it!!  A thrift store trip led us to find the brass faucet.

The living room makes me sad.  The window area used to be the entrance to the home.  In the near future, I hope to replace the picture window with a bay window and make a side window the entrance again.  Right now the front door is located in the sun room that is a 1960s addition. 

The actual locking front door is inside that room and people never know if they should come into the sun room or not.  We can't hear anyone knocking on the front door so they invariably come in and there I am standing in my p.j.s.  Another reason it makes me sad is because the owners we bought the home from ripped out the fireplace and covered the wall and opening with tongue and groove molding.  It's beautiful, but I wish we could have had the opportunity to decide whether or not the fireplace should have been torn out or not.  We were a little late for that when we found the house.  I saved an old mantle, fireplace front, and mirror from my days of selling antiques and they are now permanently established in the corner of the room where the old fireplace stood.

The mirror covers a shelf that holds our television and entertainment equipment and a gas insert will be installed into the lower opening at the same time that I finally get the permit and have the kitchen converted to gas.  We still need to add a little door over the mirror to cover the shelf that holds our DVD player so the faux fireplace effect is complete.  It's on the Honey Do List, but Honey's got bigger fish to fry at the moment.

So here is the majority of our little place.  The house was originally a square little farmhouse with only a tiny kitchen, living room, and two small bedrooms.  Over the years, three of the sides that form the square that the original house was have been added on to.  It's interesting.  It's very small, but I got lost the first few days we had moved in.  It's always funny when a worker comes to make a repair and I have to show them again and again how to get around.  I love it.  Not love/hate.  LOVE!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knock me out!

I've been learning more about genetically modified foods and am horrified by the whole idea.  I don't think any sort of gene manipulation is acceptable.  I really don't.  I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl who believes that preserving things from the past is key to the survival of future generations of plants, trees, and even people. 

I have a friend who used to tell me freaky stories about a coming "Singularity".  If you haven't heard of this abominable (to me) idea of some peoples' belief that morphing our bodies and minds with nanobots and even becoming part or all machine is the future evolution of mankind and a path to "eternal life", then look it up online.  Real crazy science fiction kind of stuff.  An idea that I think no one should toy with, even though I don't fully believe that anything of the kind could ever possibly come to fruition.

I believe in saving heirloom varieties of vegetables and flowers for future generations.  Back to basics living is not just a hobby of mine but something I wish to revert to (I say as I type away on my handy laptop while simultaneously discussing on FB the possibilities of social networking with my new iPhone that will be arriving by week's end).  Animal cloning?  Ridiculous! I mean really...why?!!  Maybe someone could explain it to me in very simple language but why is cloning something we should be working the kinks out of?  Just don't mess with Mother Nature!  Then again, I was extremely pleased to find that the American Chestnut will be making a comeback due to scientific advancements involving gene altering.  It's a tragedy that we ever lost this beneficial tree.  Yes, I'm a hypocrite.

I rant and rave about all of these forced and "unnatural" developments.  In the meantime, I glory in the abundance of roses that grow in my front yard.  Red, pink, hot pink, single-petaled, double-petaled, frilly blooms emitting that telltale floral fragrance that grow on thick lustrously green stalks covered in new buds and shiny leaves.  Not a single aphid or taint of black spot mars their foliage.  Even the Japanese Beetles do little damage to them. 

On each end of my little patch of lawn that stretches in front of the picture window of our living room, however, grows a scraggly, scrawny type of climbing rose, barely alive after a scorching summer and pests of every kind that threaten the life of any of the old-fashioned varieties.  Why do some do better than others?  Why do I have ten out of twelve shrubs blooming profusely while the other two just eek there way through life?  Because ten of the twelve are genetically modified Knock Out Rose bushes.  I'm hopelessly devoted to this freak of nature, so "Knock" me out! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Circles and Cycles

I rarely share my thoughts on religion, never openly, and won't be sharing any conclusions I've drawn from years of  research on the subject, here on my blog or anywhere else. Only a few close friends and family members, up until this point, are even aware that I struggle with my beliefs, but what I have decided I believe or have accepted that I don't believe is more personal to me than any other aspect of my life.

In my search for truths, however, one thing I've learned, that I believe is fundamental to human existence, is the factual scientific basis for the belief in cycles and the need to celebrate them.  They are all around us in everything we do.

The cycles of the seasons never fail to surprise me.  Having been reared in an area of the world where seasons are either non-existent or barely discernible, I now find myself noticing every little change in the weather and my surroundings.  There are signs all around that signal the changing of the seasons and even the shifts in the weather from one part of a season to the next are becoming more familiar to me after ten years of living in the mountains.  It's amusing, however, that the changes are always surprising, and if too extreme, viewed as an inconvenience rather than a thing to be celebrated.  The first drop in temperature late in the summer that doesn't burn off by mid-morning is almost taken as an insult.  When the leaves begin to change we are more accepting of the temperature difference, as if the chill in the air is justified and we can hold our tongues and let Mother Nature do her thing as long as we are rewarded with a showy display.

We like the autumn colors, the smell of wood fires that lingers in the air, fall decorations, and the promise of Thanksgiving Dinner at the end of the season, but if Old Man Winter rears his ugly head a little earlier than expected we gripe and groan some more as if it's a mistake when an ice storm hits before the month of December has arrived.  Then if we don't get the picture perfect white Christmas we have always dreamed of, we are done with winter and whine until the tulips and daffodils begin popping up through the soil.

I am reminded of this and our reaction of shock when we step onto our sidewalks and driveways in fall to find a sheet of ice covering the pavement when I think of an incident that occurred a few autumns ago.  We had driven down into the foothills for the day to a little town in Georgia.  It was only early October, but there were snow flurries in the forecast for that night.  We had been listening to the radio so we were aware of this fact, of course, but that didn't mean that all of nature had any inkling that foul weather was on its way.  The roads were fine where we needed to cross Georgia's highest point, but when we climbed further north into the area that would lead us home the snow started.  With no warning, some of the biggest flakes I'd ever seen came drifting out of the sky.  We still had miles of winding, mountainous road to maneuver before we could turn onto the road that leads into our cove, so I was keeping just as close an eye on the asphalt ahead of us as my husband, who was driving.  The boys had fallen asleep, so it was just the two of us staring in awe at such an early display of winter weather when all of a sudden what seemed to be a large oak leaf fluttered toward us in what felt like slow motion.  Just as I was taking this in, it came closer and closer to our windshield until, "Splat!", it hit the glass in front of us.  It wasn't a leaf at all but a disoriented bat.  From what we could guess, the poor thing must have been so surprised by the sudden shower of large flakes that it lost its ability to navigate.  Unfortunately, though we were the only ones on the road that night, this happened just as our van came tooling through its flight path.

I feel similarly disoriented when, on a warm spring or early summer day the temperature rises to an uncomfortable level along with an increase in humidity.   Why are we so surprised when the changing seasons bring the weather we should be expecting?  The funny thing is that when we complain about it, as if there is somebody to blame, we act as if someone somewhere has made a mistake.  We live and die by the calendar, yet are always shocked when it does what it told us months in advance it was going to do.

Another circle that interests me is the circle of female family members.  I have always been amazed by it, but have never felt it in my own life but for fleeting moments.  The fact that whole generations of women can cleave to each other and feel a sisterhood among them is an amazing thing that I envy.  I've always wanted it.  I've needed it my whole life and I have indeed been there, I have experienced existing in this circle, but the members have been like sandpaper or thorny bushes to each other.  "Come close, but don't get too close."  "This is our circle, but don't get too comfortable here, we won't tolerate such signs of weakness."  I have seen other circles of women from the outside and have never failed to be envious while wondering what it is that keeps them bonded and easily existing within their circle.

Only a few days ago, however,  I found myself inside this circle, one that was formed by women I barely know.  It wasn't my mother and sister and other female family members that made up the ring and it has haunted me ever since for that reason.  I found myself within a literal circle of women.  We were giving and taking, sharing, laughing, RELATING in a way I've never experienced.  It was silly and fun, a meeting of moms who homeschool their children.  Of course we had things in common, but after I left I realized why it seemed so out of the ordinary and almost magical.  For a little while we were each others' mothers and sisters, treating each other the way we would like to be treated in a circle made up of those members.  It may not ever be an experience such as this again, our meetings.  In fact, I've never known a group of women to get along together for more than a few months, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  For the first time in my life I'm believing that it is possible.  But really, I don't mind if it never goes off so beautifully again.  The fact that the carefree evening left such a similar impression on all of us says something about the cycles and circles of life.  I can't help thinking that that night of sharing and giggling was something all of us craved more than we could have begun to express and it amazes me that we all could have needed it at the same time.  There is an unseen hand in everything, one that touches the leaves of summer with an imaginary paintbrush and one that warms hearts that are brought together.  For me, there is no denying it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sometimes life gives you a pile of crap. Sometimes you can't find one no matter how hard you look.

Week 5, 6 or 7 (it's all such a blur I've lost track) of searching for our septic tank has every muscle, bone, knuckle, and joint in my body aching.  My husband and I feel like Indiana Jones in the Raiders of the Lost Ark when Marian is asking him where it doesn't hurt.  We don't even bother with that goodnight kiss anymore.

Even hiring a plumber to find it by flushing a camera down both toilets and searching for an attached GPS signal was a bust and we only took that route after probing and digging for the tank for weeks.  His best guess was that it was 6' below one our back patios. could be under our carport.  The master bath is on the roof of the carport so if we have to tear up the concrete below, what's going to happen to the roof and bathroom?

I'm tired of looking for it, researching septic tanks, thinking about it, and having nightmares about the stupid thing.  I've spent what should have been a fun weekend to make up for the time we spent looking for it Labor Day weekend before a series of storms hit, breaking up parts of our concrete patio and digging dirt out from under other parts of various slabs which make up the "patio".  I've always wondered why such a series of different levels of sections of concrete had been poured in different places behind our old farmhouse.  It's a neat little cottage that has been added on to so much over the years that I got lost the first few days inside.  Workers who come to make repairs always get turned around when they are inside.  The outside has more sidewalks, and patios with poured concrete than I'd ever expected to see surrounding a farmhouse in the mountains but shows that the majority of the additions and renos. had been done in the 60s when such modern amenities were popular.

Last week, when we decided to inspect the patio and carport more thoroughly to pinpoint the location that the plumber could only estimate, we beat ourselves up rearranging items that we keep stored in the back of the carport in built-in rooms, and digging and prodding all over the yard again.  We were just beat and had promised our boys that since we couldn't camp with the storms in the forecast that we would have a movie marathon, as well as roast marshmallows and hot dogs over our patio fire.  Before we gave up the septic tank search for the weekend and as we were heading in for the evening, a beautiful breeze came across the little farm from over the mountain that rims the little cove we live in.  I talked my husband into sitting for a minute on the patio to enjoy it.  Neither of us slow down much during the day and we never, ever just sit together.  But when we did, all we could do was brainstorm about the stupid tank.  He was telling me again where the plumber thought it might be, and I told him that there was broken up concrete at the edge of the patio where it met the back wall of the carport, that we could possibly excavate that area a little.  Then I remembered that there is a big hole there as welll that was filled with dirt and was always a problem for me because it has to be frequently swept and the area around it cleaned off.  It occurred to me that it may have been broken for a reason.  I slumped out of my chair, grabbed a hand trowel and got on my knees to investigate.  Sure enough, it was a jack hammered hole about 8" wide by a foot and a half long.  The jack hammered hole lead along the edge to a crawl space door in the side of the house that I could never get open because the vinyl siding had been installed over the edge of the door.  While I dug, he worked on getting that door open.  The door exposed the waste water pipe that led from the house.  We rigged lights and kept working, figuring that the more work we did that day, the more time we would be able to devote to the kids the other two days of the Labor Day weekend just hanging around together.  We didn't find anything, but knew someone had been chiseling at the patio for probably the same reason we were inspecting that location, so we felt positive that we were finally looking in the right place.

The week passed and Saturday morning we continued our search.  I was able to trace the sewer pipe to under one other section of patio above the one we were digging in.  It was obvious someone in the past had removed cinder blocks that makes an end edge to that slab, they had been patched in place so shoddily.  I took a sledge hammer to them, figuring that even if I didn't find anything useful, they needed to be replaced anyway.  Mint grows rampant through the cracks in these sections of slab which drives me nuts.  I love the mint, don't like all of the leaves they drop in this area or stepping over it when I step down from one slab to the other.  One of my planned projects for the fall was to patch it anyway, now I could do it right.  Well, the blocks came off so easily that, as I'd suspected, they had to have been pulled down at some point.  When I was able to dig out the dirt, which was much looser than it would have been if it had been untouched for fifty years, the time period we were told that the additions on the house had been made, I found where the pipe left the house and dug all afternoon until I could trace where it bent and turned to flow out away from the house.  It led to right underneath where I was sitting on the suspicious slab with the jack hammered hole.

My husband in the meantime had dug through the jack hammered hole until our post hole digger could no longer be used.  The hole was at least 6' deep and nothing was found.  He gave up and probed around the yard while I broke up an odd 1' X 3' section of concrete to see what was under that, hoping it was a septic tank lid.  Dirt.

It was getting late and we were supposed to camp in the yard and roast a chicken over the fire since we hadn't been able to for Labor Day weekend.  Hubby went to set up a tent and gather our firewood while I sat on the patio to think.  It suddenly occurred to me that if there was a tank under the patio, even though we had dug straight down and hadn't found it, that maybe who ever had jack hammered the hole had simply quit when they didn't find anything, maybe the tank was under the patio but far under the lip of concrete we had been digging in and the previous owner hadn't jack hammered far enough out into the slab of concrete.  I got onto my aching knees again and started to dig under the section of concrete I was sitting on rather than straight down.  I was able to get about 6" of soil removed, then decided to probe back underneath the slab to see if I ran into something.  Bingo.  At all different heights and levels I consistently ran into something solid, what we have been looking for for weeks.  Content with what I'd found, I gave up to go start the fire.

Tents were a mess, parts missing, I don't even want to talk about that it's so irritating to me, I got the fire going good and hot around 8pm. The four of us sat around it looking at each other, my husband and I literally in pain, he with an ice pack on his back where he'd wrenched it getting the tents out of the attic not long before.  After a short discussion on how late it was, how hungry we were, and how long the bird would take to cook, the boys headed into town to pick up fast food while I tended the fire.  Quality family time, sitting around the fire eating burgers and fries, tossing in our empty cartons and paper soda cups when we had finished.  Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

This morning I was up early after sleeping more hours in one night than I think I ever have before, and was all gung ho to get back at it.  I ended up watching 9-11 memorial coverage until noon.  I still had all afternoon and evening to tackle the patio and expose the side of the septic tank and my husband enough time to finish some contract proposals he needed to get done this weekend.

I made it hanging upside down over that stupid hole with my achy knees on that bare concrete, scraping my wrists, arms, and elbows on the edges of the broken concrete in the same irritated places I had the day before for all of 37 minutes. I realized after probing again several times and seeing that I have another 6" to go that it wouldn't accomplish much.  We talked and faced the truth that the only thing to do is rent a jackhammer to demolish the slab or hire someone to do it and that wasn't going to happen on a Sunday afternoon.  Done for the week.  Going to see what we accomplish before next weekend on this newest phase of our little project here.  Ah...blogging.  It soothes the soul.