Saturday, December 17, 2011


Day 16 is for thinking about our blessings, what we're grateful for this season. I made a pocket and put my journaling inside, because it's private this year.
Day 17 is about a perfect gift, something we're excited to give or have been given. I feel amazingly "blah" about most of the Christmas gifts I'm giving this year, so I focused on an unexpected gift I was given instead--our four days in Florida last week. It really was wonderful.
I'm slopping around the house in my PJs today, till it's time to get showered, dressed and made up for Todd's office Christmas party this evening. His company is holding the party at the Hampton Air and Space Museum this year, so I think it's really going to be fun!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I did another big catch-up this morning...after mailing ALL my packages and picking up a couple of Christmas gifts. I rule Christmas. So far, anyway.

Day 13 is about music--I used a picture of my new red memory stick dedicated solely to Christmas music. A 4x6 photo goes in the front:

And the journaling goes on the back:

Day 14 is about gifts...I took a photo of the gifts under the tree (before they went into boxes) and added a neat sticker I found at the post office. I thought a USPS sticker might be a nice memento in ten years when we're back to sending smoke signals and telegrams because USPS is no more.

Day 15 is about visitors and visiting. We'll be receiving guests this year rather than being guests. I'm okay with that, except it means I need to clean my house in a big way.

Just got a big box from Amazon plunked onto the front porch by my awesome mailman, so I'm off to wrap presents and maybe have a cup of tea for my scratchy throat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trees present and past.

Day 11 of my "Journal Your Christmas" is always about the Christmas tree. This year we put up our big tree for the first time in several years, and I used all my old ornaments, as I mentioned before, plus gold ribbon and the snowflakes my Grandma Clark crocheted for me about ten years ago.

This page has a fold-out page protector--the side with the tree photo folds out, allowing for two more photos:

Day 12 is about Christmases of the past...I found an old Christmas tree photo from the 1970s on Flickr, and used that as a jumping-off point for writing about the homemade star that was on top of our tree through my early childhood years. My mom made it from cardboard and tin foil, and I've been trying to find one like it (which is of course impossible) my whole adult life.

The two pieces for Day 12 fit into the back side of the Day 11 page protector. I love having all these different sizes and configurations to play with.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Home, and catching up.

We got home from Florida yesterday afternoon and did the usual "get milk and bread, catch up on the mail, unpack a little, sit and chill" routine. I also worked on my Christmas journal a bit last night, and more this morning.

We had an absolutely wonderful time in Florida. We stayed in a hotel right on the Gulf, and then Todd had about a 15-minute drive to the company he was working with. (They're making a part for the project he's been working on for NASA.)

Todd ended up not having to work quite as much as he'd expected, so we were actually able to drive around and do quite a few things...we went to the historic Kenwood district in St. Pete (lots of Craftsman bungalows, which we love) and to the Dali Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. We had dinner at the Vinoy resort on Tampa Bay, a gorgeous hotel from the 1920s, all pink and white like a wedding cake. Our last day there, we drove up to Orlando and went to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom, and then flew home from Orlando the next day. The weather was mostly perfect, especially near the water. A couple of mornings, I sat on the hotel's deck, about 25 feet from the water, and wrote out all my Christmas cards. It was idyllic, to say the least. I was so glad that Todd wanted me to come along with him.

To continue with my Christmas journal, here's Day 6. The theme is "two Christmases," one good and one bad, but I have never enjoyed thinking about bad Christmas experiences--and have fortunately not had many. I saw another class member's journal entry for this day where she wrote about how her son likes to sleep under the Christmas tree at night, and that made me think of lying under the Christmas tree with my glasses off as a child. I loved those blurry lights, they seemed twice as pretty!

Day 7 is a "to do" list. I actually have quite a bit yet to do for Christmas. I wrote down everything I could think of, but I know there's more...

Day 8 is always about the sights of Christmas. This was fun to do this year, since on the 8th we were in Florida and I could get some pictures of a tropical Christmas. This page protector opens out, so here's the two 4x6" slots on the front:

And here's the inside, with photos:

And here's the back side:

Day 9 is about traditions. We simply don't seem to have any--at least not anything we do every year. I wrote about decorating my tree with all my old ornaments, instead of vintage Shiny-Brites, this year.

And Day 10 is always about wrapping paper. Last year I found two rolls from Hallmark that I'd bought the year before on clearance--of course, I didn't find them till I'd already bought paper for Christmas that year! So I knew this year I wouldn't need to buy any at all. I just wrapped a piece of cardstock like a package. I know that lovely ribbon will get squished when I put the page in the album! The tag is from a Trader Joe's grocery bag--they have all sort of gift tags printed on them this year.

Back to Mount Laundry for me.

Monday, December 05, 2011


Today's journal entry is about Advent. For the first time since I was a kid, I have an Advent calendar this year. It's shaped like a tall apartment building with lots of windows and doors, and you open one up for each day. Inside are tiny people and animals doing holiday things. It's just darling!

This entry goes into a vertical 4x6" page protector. I put a photo of the calendar on the front:

And the writing goes on the back:

Last night we went to see Handel's "Messiah," at Hampton University, which is becoming something of a tradition for us. We went with some friends and then had dinner afterwards. The concert is always held on the first Sunday in December, and usually when we go, we're all bundled up and running from the car to the concert hall to get out of the cold wind that blows off the water. This year, we were in light jackets, and actually took a little stroll along the water beforehand. Crazy weather. The concert was wonderful, especially the "Hallelujah Chorus," and dinner was great, too. Lots of good conversation.

We are heading out of town for a few days, so I'll have to catch up with my journal when I get back. Todd has to go to St. Petersburg, FL to do some work, and he found me a ridiculously cheap ticket, so I'm tagging along. Last year we went to the ocean side of Florida, so I'm excited about seeing the gulf side this time.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The more you give, the more you'll get.

We're having a lazy morning today. Todd was out fishing till dawn, and I was up till 2 AM reading Stephen King's latest brick of a book. So we slept pretty late!

The prompt for today is about envisioning your perfect Christmas. This year, for numerous reasons, I want to try to focus as little as possible on what would make Christmas perfect for me, and more on helping other people have a good Christmas season in general. I heard a lyric in a Christmas song yesterday that said, "The more you give at Christmastime, the more you'll get." I thought that was perfect as a mantra for this month.

These pieces will go into the flip side of the double 4x6" page protector I posted yesterday.

And here they are in the album.

Have a great day today, whatever you're doing!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Shoes and fireworks.

In my shoe- and slipper-shopping yesterday, I managed to do the unprecedented and bring home a pair of shoes that was too large and a pair of slippers that was too small.

I got up first thing this morning and rectified the problem, wanting to get in and out of the shopping center before the Saturday + Christmas craziness started, and I succeeded--plus I got a second pair of shoes, so it really was all worthwhile! At least that's what I'll tell Todd when he wants to know why I left with two shoeboxes and came home with three.

Today's journal entry is about Christmas cards. The album I'm using comes with all different shapes and sizes of page protectors, and this one has two 4x6" slots, one above the other. So here are the two pieces outside the page protector:

And here they are in the album. I think this is going to be a fun way to do this journal. Other page protectors fold out, some are large, some are small...very interesting.

Every year I think I should break out of my vintage-style rut and do something really modern and bright for my Christmas book...and every year I fall back into the vintage rut. Except it's not really a rut if you love it. I just think Christmas and vintage go together hand in hand. Plus it's fun finding little odds and ends for the book all year long at flea markets.

Todd had the idea to go to our city's tree lighting and fireworks ceremony last night. And it was a good theory. I didn't realize it, but it turns out that being jammed up against masses of people in a tight pack pushes me toward a panic attack. So we went up on the roof of the parking garage and watched the fireworks from up there. We had no idea it was going to be such a crowd! I don't think I ever want to do that again. I loved him for thinking of it, though. Fireworks with your sweetie--who wouldn't love that? Fireworks with your sweetie and 40,000 others...not quite as much fun.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ready for cold weather.

December 2's prompt is always about the weather. And I am feeling grumpy about the weather this year. The fall has been unbelievably warm, and it doesn't seem like it's going to get cold any time soon. Today it was 63 degrees, bright sunshine, and I had to have the windows down in my car because I was too hot in a long-sleeve tee and jeans. I hate to sweat.

Ah well. Today has been a great day...I went shoe- and slipper-shopping, picked up some Christmas presents, bought three outfits for Angel Tree children at the mall, and had lunch with my friend Tracy. A little sweating was worth it!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Journal Your Christmas.

Well, I don't know what happened to the month of November, but it whooshed by amazingly fast. We had a nice visit from Todd's parents over Veterans' Day weekend, we had a terrific Thanksgiving with our friends Dawn and Dave Pullman, and I don't know what happened to the rest of the month!

Since it's December 1st, that means it's time for another year of Journal Your Christmas. This is a yearly class I take, along with hundreds of other people around the world, in order to make a journal or album about our Christmas season. This year--my sixth year!--I'm using an 8x8" chipboard album with page protectors of different sizes and shapes.

Here's the album cover. I ended up feeling very confused about what to do with a bare chipboard album. I don't like using paint (too messy), and covering it completely with paper (via Mod Podge) is something I never have luck with (and also messy.)

I ended up just making a decorated block to cover most of the front cover, and I'll probably just leave the rest plain. Oh, and I'll eventually make a title block for the spine.

Todd dragged me to a flea market last weekend, and I found that gorgeous old postcard. Seemed like the perfect thing for the cover.

The first of December is always a day where we look ahead and think about what we envision for our Christmas, the things we want to focus on. I'm starting with an 8x8 page today.

We already have so much planned this season, I know December will fly by even faster than November did. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

My mums.

This is the time of year when my chrysanthemums go nuts, and I just love it. I discovered a few years ago that mums do really well in our soil and with our southern exposure. They swell and grow all summer long, getting bigger and greener, and by October, they're really spectacular.

I had two enormous white mums right by the path to the front door that were always at their peak at Halloween, and several years a few of the trick-or-treaters would pet them as they passed. They
did look like big fluffy dogs. But one died this spring, and the other is about half-dead. Fortunately, I have another one nearby that has become just as monstrous this year:

I planted one last year that I think is like the Cadillac of with yellow centers. I'd love to find some more like it:

The last several years, I've been buying mums in pots for the front porch steps and then planting them in the flowerbeds when they've faded. This year all I found were white, yellow and purple, nothing too exotic. In my experience, the white ones really thrive and the yellow ones are more half-hearted. I'm not sure about the purple ones...I don't think I've had any planted long enough to tell yet. I just love a plant that gives you plenty of bang for your buck: lots of growth, lots of flowers, and several years' worth of both.

We had a very nice Halloween; our friends Cheryl and Chris Potthast and their son Matthew came over for baked potatoes and hot cider. We sat on the front porch for a while and handed out candy. Not a lot of trick-or-treaters this estimate was about 40 kids.
This means we have a pile of Tootsie Roll pops to dispose of...somehow.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Go Cardinals!

Sitting here rooting for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series...and scanning the stands for a peek of my brother, who's in St. Louis and at the game tonight. He's a tall guy, but I don't think it will be easy to find him in a sea of umpteen-thousand faces!

I talked to him this afternoon and he was very excited--and it's so much more fun for Todd and I to watch this game, knowing he's there.

We are Cardinals fans by inheritance--our dad is from northeastern Missouri and in fact my brother and I were both born there. (My sister was born in Ohio after we moved there in 1976.) My brother is a die-hard fan...I am more of a casual Cardinals fan, as in "Oh, they're in the play-offs? Cool." But I did catch the last couple innings of the game last night and it was a thrill.

I was sitting here wondering how I learned about baseball: walks, strikes, balls, etc. I don't know all the details of the game, but I do know the main points, and there are virtually no other sports I can say that about. I must have absorbed it from walking through the living room on summer evenings when Dad and Jeremy were watching.

I actually saw a Cardinals game with my brother at the old Busch stadium in 2004. We had driven to Missouri together for our grandmother's 80th birthday party, and we stopped off in St. Louis for a game. We also stopped in Cincinnati and saw a Reds game on the way home. My first two--and only, so far--real live MLB games. They were both so much fun, and the best part was getting to experience it with my brother. Wish we could do that kind of thing more often!

Right now St. Louis is up 3-2, top of the fifth, and David Freese just caught an acrobatic out. Go Cardinals!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Betty book.

I had to run into the library this morning to pick up a book I'd requested, and I stopped to look at the Friends of the Library sale rack just inside the front door.

I never really noticed this rack before--it's in an awkward place between the door and the metal detectors--and I think if I ever did glance at it, it was just a cursory "James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, yeahyeahyeah" kind of glance.

A few weeks ago, I went in with my father-in-law and he stopped at the rack right away and found something he wanted. So now I'm noticing it more.

Today I found this for a buck:

I thought maybe there was a nice dust jacket under that paper bag cover, but alas no. So it's not an awesome find, but I am a sucker for old Betty Crocker books. I have a ring-bound Picture Cookbook (the edition before this one) and I have a hardback cookbook from the 60s that's the same edition my mom had in ring-bound when I was a kid. I used to love to pore over the pictures, and it has some excellent recipes for pound cake and oatmeal cookies, among other things. I have a Betty Crocker Cooky Book from the early 1970s, too. I just love the bright pictures in old cookbooks...they're too bright in a vaguely unappetizing way.

You know, you just don't see radish roses any more, and I think that's a darn shame.

These are the Betty Crocker test kitchens of the 1950's. They tested "new and glamorous" recipes in the Kitchen of Tomorrow...wonder what those would have been? Cheese fondue? Pizza rolls? Sushi?

This link shows the different Betty cookbooks over the ages (if you scroll down a tad.) The first red one is the one I have in ring-bound. The second one is the one I picked up today--that's what the jacket would have looked like. The third one is one I have salivated over on Ebay more than once. And the fourth one is the one my mom had in ring-bound and I have in hardcover.

Beyond those years, I think the editions are not as cute. I have a Better Homes and Gardens book to represent the 80s and beyond--it was a wedding present to me in 1992. Love that one, too--I always have to check it every time I make hard-boiled eggs, as I don't seem to be able to keep the procedure in my head.
It's very useful, but it's not as charming as the old books with their ultra-bright pictures.

This book that I found today is in really nice shape, a few places where the spine is cleaved, but the pages are clean. I always hope for handwritten recipes tucked into these old cookbooks, but no such luck with this one. There's only one page that looks worn and has some liquid damage. It has recipes for cottage pudding with vanilla, lemon, chocolate or nutmeg sauce; cinnamon fluff; cherry carnival; and Iowa date pudding. I wonder which one was the family favorite? Upon reading, it looks like "cottage pudding" is just a plain white cake baked in a 9" pan. That sounds much more appetizing than "cottage pudding," which made me think of steamed cottage cheese.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New look.

I finally took some time today and sat down and figured out how to customize my blog, instead of whining about not knowing how. What a concept, eh? It took longer than I wanted it to, mainly because Blogger seems to have been designed by teenage boys who probably snicker in their cubicles, thinking of all the middle-aged women out there shrieking in frustration. Not that I'm bitter--I could have been wasting those two hours cleaning toilets or something.

The fall picture I found for my header above is one I took almost exactly a year ago, on the Wilderness battlefield in northern Virginia, one of the loveliest, quietest, most blood-soaked spots in the U.S. We were there last year to celebrate my 40th birthday. This past weekend, although I liked the nice round shape of 40, Mother Nature decreed that I must move on, to 41. I dislike odd numbers very much. They seem so jagged and don't fit neatly into slots.

Case in point: 2011, an odd number for an odd year. I'm not sure what has happened to me this year. There have been plenty of normal days, a few really pleasant days, but more dismal, bad and downright crappy days than I ever really wanted. Some of that has been from forces beyond my control...much of it has been self-inflicted. I feel like I've gotten crankier, meaner, more negative--more jagged, if you will. (I never did fit neatly into slots, so I'm not too concerned about that. )

So I woke up on Sunday, the day after my birthday, and decided 41 needs to be different if at all possible. I did great being positive on Sunday--I didn't leave the house all day and I watched old TV shows and did a bunch of research online. Easy peasy!

Monday I did great till late afternoon, when I got a big disappointment and then in the evening, had an anxious conversation with a friend. Suddenly I was feeling snappish and angry again. Todd said, "It's easy to be positive when there's nothing challenging you." So I stomped on his big toe. Kidding!

Today has been a mixed bag. I might have yelled at the neighbor across the ravine that they needed to keep their dogs quiet. In my defense, one of their dogs sounds exactly like a very loud, very hysterical squeaky toy. On the other hand, I said a few nice things to a few friends, and had a couple nice things said back to me. Plus, I got a bunch of laundry done. Tomorrow I'll go for an unmixed bag of positivity, I swear.

Here's a picture of me on my 41st birthday, enjoying a blissful cup of morning coffee at our neighborhood dive, which serves the best and cheapest breakfasts in town. I look pretty positive here, but then--I'm holding a cup of coffee, after all.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stripey Christmas tree.

I've been playing with scraps and thought I'd share my Christmas card prototype.

I cut a whole bunch of strips of Basic Grey Christmas paper. The nice thing about most of BG's Christmas collections is that you can mix and match from year to year. And I have years and years' worth, believe me. I varied the width of the strips from 1/4" to 3/4" and every size in between. (It helps to make lots of strips of each size...that way if one strip doesn't reach the whole way across the paper, you can find another one the same width to put next to it.)

Then I ran a piece of cardstock through my Xyron machine to apply a solid coat of adhesive on one side. And I started laying strips down on the adhesive, scooching them up nice and tight against each other. I used 8.5x11" cardstock and ran the strips across the short side.

From this new sheet of striped paper, I cut a bunch of triangles that measured 2.5" at the base, and 3.5" tall. Then I cut each triangle in half lengthwise. When you have an assortment of triangles cut, put two halves together that are cut from different sections of the paper--so that they don't match up.

I rubbed distress ink on the edges of each half (Frayed Burlap) and mounted on a patterned paper background. Then I added a trunk (snipped from a brown scrap of Basic Grey paper so there's a subtle pattern) and a star and a stamped sentiment. Now I just need to make a few dozen of them!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The calm after the storm.

So it's been five weeks since I was blithely making grilled cheese sandwiches for supper and got a call from my sister that our dad was being life-flighted to Aultman Hospital in Canton, with bleeding in his brain.

The bleeding turned out to be a growth, one that was wrapped around a ventricle in the base of his brain, one that was too dangerous to biopsy, and which required testing virtually every other system of his body in order to try to find other cancerous areas that could be biopsied.

I was able to catch a ride to Ohio with my aunt Kathy and uncle Bill, who had been vacationing in the Outer Banks, and I got home in time to sort of "trade off" with my brother who had been there for two days and was leaving to head for a belated vacation with his family. My sister lives down the road from my folks, so she'd been dealing with everything from the start. She and I went together with Mom to the hospital the first day I was home, and she showed me where the coffee machine was, the lounge, the cafeteria--I felt like an employee on the first day of a new job.

The next three days, I took Mom to the hospital by myself and it was then that I rather rapidly started to fall apart. Well, the falling apart started on the first day I was home, but when it was just me and my mom driving to that hospital an hour away and sitting with my dad...that was when I started to crash.

We weren't even alone that much--we had some visitors, and my sister came out in the afternoons after work, and there were always doctors, nurses and other staff in and out. But for me, it was the first time I had ever had to "be there" for my parents, and I felt like a child in dress-up clothes who has just been told to do some impossibly grown-up task, like drive a car or
cook a gourmet meal. It seems ridiculous to feel that way at 40 years old, but I did.

From the time I got home, I couldn't eat or sleep, and finally crashed on Monday night, went to the ER, got some anxiety medication--which I couldn't take till the next night, since I had to be able to drive Mom to the hospital. My anxiety was about more than just Dad's health, it was about Dad's attitude and my response to it. In a nutshell, he had a very bad, very irrational response when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer seven years ago, and I couldn't face it happening again.

I have a good relationship with my dad, but it's complex, too, and there are things about him that really push my emotional buttons. So I just had this boiling stew of worry and anger and dread and fear and grief and anything else you'd care to name churning around inside me, and...let's just say that it was a blessing beyond measure when I was able to take that first Ativan on Tuesday night and feel some of that churning drop down to a lower level. It was still there, but I wasn't drowning in it.

From that point on, things got better. Wednesday, Dad was released. They still didn't know what was wrong with him, but it boosted all of us to have him back at home. I went out to pick up his meds that afternoon, and came back to find him and Mom in the kitchen, cooking up a stir-fry for supper, just basking in the normalcy and joy of it, and I was so glad.

At the end of the week, I caught another ride back to Virginia with my cousin Alan, who had come up for our annual family reunion (which I hadn't planned to attend, but was able to because of all this.) Six hours of conversation with Alan in the car about wonderful normal things helped me decompress from my week at home.

In fact, when I got home, I terribly missed all the people I'd been talking to, and all the talking I'd been doing. The whole week, I was on my cell phone talking, talking, talking to my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, my aunts, my mother-in-law...and talking in person to my aunt Molly and my mom. That and the Ativan was what kept me going.

My aunts Carol and Kathy both gave me a safe place to vent and say what I needed to say, and Kathy and my sister-in-law Tracy really helped me come to an emotional place that I needed to come to, a place of true compassion for my dad. My aunt Molly was a rock for me that whole week--she fed me, hugged me, listened to me, counseled me, gave me a safe place to just sit and be. My mother-in-law prayed for me over the phone and I was able to instantly see the results of her prayers. I had so many people holding me up that week and I am so grateful.

And I was able to have a couple of very honest moments with my dad. I felt like I was finally able to give him the understanding that he needed. It helped me a lot, and he told me it helped him, too.

So I came home and walked around in a fog for a couple of weeks, wondering what had happened and what would happen and what path would I personally take from there. It was surreal to be plunged into a terrible crisis and then drive right out of it and come home to my regular life, where nothing had changed except me. I'm still processing all of that.

Most people who might be reading this know the happy twist at the end. Dad has been feeling good since he came home from the hospital. He was medicated for his dizziness and also for his depression, and both the meds, and I think, just getting back to his daily life, made him feel tremendously positive and good. And of course, we've all been delighted that he's feeling so good.

Last Monday, he had another MRI, to check the growth, and on Thursday he met with his oncologist. The oncologist told him that the growth--or whatever it was--is GONE. Whatever it was that was showing up in those scans--and through this whole thing, the oncologist has been very careful not to use the word "cancer"--but whatever it was, it isn't there any more.

To say we're all relieved, thrilled, humbled, grateful, doesn't even begin to express it. Five weeks ago, I was very afraid that my dad was going to die. Just last Monday I sent him a card for his 63rd birthday and wondered deep down if I would be sending him a card for his 64th.

Dad is still dizzy, though he says it's not as bad as it was earlier this summer. But he can function normally, he can drive, and he can go back to work. Some of the scans showed tremendous arthritis in his neck and shoulders, and that may be what is causing--and has caused (?)--his dizziness. I would certainly like to know what the meaning was of the thing that showed up on all those CAT scans and MRIs...but if it stays away forever, then I am content not to know.

Dad will, of course, have another follow-up MRI in six weeks, and I'm hoping something can be done to address his remaining dizziness. There is still more to this journey, though it doesn't look bleak now. When Dad was in the hospital having test after test with no real answers, I told Mom that it was like we were in a car with the gear in neutral, looking at a whole array of roads in front of us, and we were just waiting for someone to put the car in gear and move us down a road. So now we've finally done it, we've started down a road and the view is better than we dared to hope for.

When my mom called me with the good news on Thursday, I had been spending the day preparing for a different kind of storm, Hurricane Irene. She blew into town on Saturday morning and sent a tree limb through the roof of our woodshed just like a spear, but that woodshed is the ugliest thing in the world and slated to come down someday, anyway. We were without power for just under 48 hours, and that was that--for us, anyway. It's been a different story for lots of other people. A little boy here in our town was crushed in his own home by a falling tree on Saturday morning...that's the kind of tragedy you just can't understand.

Some people feel like Hurricane Irene was hyped too much, but I appreciated the hype! I appreciated knowing what was coming at me and if it was getting stronger or weaker. As it turned out, it was weaker than predicted at the beginning of the week, but it was still bad enough.

So...a storm comes at you. You try to prepare, but you know there's no way to prepare if it really turns out to be a horrible one. It blows through your life, churns things around, and leaves you a little battered but deeply grateful that it wasn't worse--and deeply mindful that it is worse for many, many other people, every day. That's been the theme of the month of August. Here's hoping September is storm-free!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tuesday morning update.

I feel like I could write a book about the past ten days of our lives, and the story is still not over yet!

Dad was able to leave the hospital last Wednesday and come home, which made him thrilled as well as the rest of us. He plunged right in to working in his garden and starting the summer canning and freezing process that was interrupted by his sickness and hospital stay. He's able to compensate for his dizziness, and the various medications he's taking are helping with that, too and with the headaches.

Dad went back for an appointment with his oncologist yesterday and the verdict was that lymphoma has definitely been ruled out, just as cancer has been ruled out in all of Dad's other system: lungs, stomach, spine, etc.. Dr. Friedman at Duke University seems to be as stymied by Dad's scans as the doctors at home are, but he feels that Dad should get on with his normal life and have regular scans and monitoring. Perhaps at some point the growth in his brain will be able to be biopsied and treated, we don't know.

Still so many unanswered questions, but for right now this is a great outcome. Dad is not a person to be patient with spending large amounts of time in hospitals. He is not a person to be patient with a long, drawn-out treatment program. The best thing in the world for him is to be able to just live his everyday life, and if that's what the doctors want him to do right now, so much the better.

Right now Dad can work in his garden, put up his summer produce, putter in his garage, enjoy the company of his grandkids, and most of all, be with my mom, who loves him so very much. A week ago--two weeks ago--we didn't know if any of those things would ever happen again. He is feeling positive and energetic (hopefully that will last as they lessen his steroid dose) and I say more power to him!

We still don't know where this path we're all on will lead us, but God has been faithful to us these past weeks, and I can't help but believe that he will continue to be faithful and provide for us as he has been doing all along. We are so grateful. Thank you to all of you who have prayed and who will continue to pray--your prayers have been an almost physical presence to us, an army standing right at our backs in support, and we have seen their results in so many ways, both large and small.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wednesday morning update

Yesterday we were able to find out the results of a spinal tap Dad had on Monday. The white blood cell count in his spinal fluid is up a little--not a lot, but enough to be a flag. The oncologist said this could indicate lymphoma. He thought he would have more information for us later in the day from some of the other tests, but though we waited all day, nothing had come through by the end of the day. This was very hard.

Mom and I are heading out this morning and meeting with the oncologist at 9 AM. I'm not expecting that he'll have much more to tell us, but we are expecting to be able to bring Dad home today. It seems like the tests are pretty much done, and now it's just waiting for the information to slowly--so slowly--trickle in. Then we can go on from there.

Again, we are just surrounded with angels in human form who are helping us in every way that they can. We are so grateful.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Update on Dad.

Dad was life-flighted to Aultman Hospital in Canton last Wednesday afternoon, with what appeared to be bleeding in his brain. The next day we were told that he has a mass in his brain. That feels like five weeks ago instead of five days ago.

As of Monday morning, this is where we stand. The doctors are frankly puzzled. The mass in Dad's brain is not presenting like a typical tumor. It's in a spot that's too dangerous even to biopsy. So on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dad's been having a series of MRIs and MRAs to try to find places elsewhere in his body that can be biopsied--cancer in other spots. A few odd spots have turned up, but nothing that's even large enough to biopsy, and as far as I can tell, nothing that appears to be cancerous.

Yesterday afternoon we met with the oncologist. He is going to send Dad's scans to a top neurosurgeon at Duke University to see what he thinks. It was a little discouraging, because that was really the only option he presented at this point. I think Dad has them stumped.

None of the doctors has said the word "cancer" yet. They are still not 100% positive that that's what it is. They've also found that there is no bleeding in Dad's brain. With every new tidbit of information, we don't know whether to feel hopeful or more fearful.

Dad is ready to get out of the hospital and come home. He's hanging on, but he's having a very hard time staying patient and keeping it together. Honestly, we all are.

Dad is getting excellent care from the nurses and doctors at Aultmen, and we have all been just blanketed with love and help from our extended family and our friends. I have felt literally surrounded with prayers and it is helping me to cope. I feel completely inadequate to deal with this situation and to provide the right help to my parents...but I can feel myself being held up by invisible arms. Please, keep praying.

Mom is doing okay, my sister and brother are doing okay. We've fallen apart a few times, but we are doing okay. Please hold us all in your prayers, and also my brother-in-law and my niece and nephew, my sister-in-law and my two nieces, and Todd. Thank you all so much.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I did a little digging around in the closet today and unearthed these fairy cross-stitch pieces. I stitched them when we were living in Idaho, which makes them at least 15 years old. I was more into cutesy designs back then, but after I stitched them and found them frames, they just hung out in various closets.

I had a brainwave a few months ago, realizing that my nieces Natalie and Marissa have a fairy-themed bedroom now, and hmm...that might be my chance to unload these little darlings! How perfect. We're going to see them tomorrow for Marissa's birthday and the fairies are coming along.

It's so odd to pick up an old piece that was stitched ages ago and think about what my life was like when I did it. Back then I never dreamed I would have such riches in my life--not just two nieces, but six nieces! And two nephews!

This is a piece I stitched late last year. (It needs to be re-ironed and framed better, but oh well.) Todd and I were in an antique mall in northern VA in the fall, and they had a darling cross-stitched sampler in the women's bathroom. But it was $12.00, and it was sloppily done on a very rough-weave cloth.

I've never done anything like this before, but I took a picture of it with my cell phone, and printed it out when I got home. It kind of felt like stealing, but I don't think it was...was it? The design was simple enough that it was easy to copy from the printout, and of course I did it neatly, and on a nice linen cloth. Now I just need to get it hung up.

So it's been four months since I blogged, my longest hiatus ever. It's been interesting to check in with myself every so often and see if there was anything I felt like communicating to the world at large. Every time I checked, the answer was, "Nah."

A fluctuating depression problem has contributed to that, but mostly I've just been absorbed in other things. I started Weight Watchers in February, but weight loss is not something I find interesting to talk about. Neither is depression, for that matter. I've been taking walks, and listening to books on CD. I walked a 5K in May, which was my first exposure to communal exercise since high school. It was fun.

I got to the bottom (no pun intended) of the abdominal pain I was having in January and February by having a colonoscopy in April. By that time, most of the pain had subsided, and the procedure showed that I have diverticulosis, which is no big deal. It was a relief to know that nothing serious was wrong. I've been taking a probiotic supplement, and that, along with a better diet, seems to have helped a lot.

I've done some stitching, a little cross-stitch--the first I've done in years--and a little embroidery. I spent a week at home in Ohio in May, hanging out with my parents and other family, which was really great. Time with loved ones feels like such a luxury when you spend your life so far away.

I even got some scrapbooking done--went down to Beach Scrapbooks in Virginia Beach and took advantage of a couple of their day-long crops. That was in March and April, and I'm dying to get some more done. I never dreamed I'd be a traveling scrapper--I always hated packing up for crops--but at this stage of my life, it seems to be the best option.

We're into our horrific hot humid (HHH) summer weather now, so I'm trying to think of more indoor projects to tide me over till fall when I can emerge into the outdoors again. Might be time to clean out under the bathroom sinks, or wash all the curtains, or create a complex shelving system for my books or something. Who knows what mischief I can find this summer?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Small pleasures.

Late winter is a time of small pleasures. When it's cold and gray and (depending on where you live) snowy, and maybe you're not leaving the house as much, and not being as active as you are in the spring, summer and fall, it's a good time to notice little things that can make you smile or give you a pleased sensation, which is what you hang onto to get you through till spring. (Whew, that was a long sentence.)

Here are a few of my small pleasures right now:

--Gain HE detergent--in lavender! I love Gain, but they've only ever made their high-efficiency detergent in the original scent. Which is nice, but sometimes you long for a new smell. I was so happy to find a lavender scent at Wal-Mart the other day (it almost made going to Wal-Mart feel worthwhile!) Plus, they have a lavender fabric softener. My sheets are tumbling in the dryer right now and giving off a wonderful aroma.

--Craig Ferguson. I've seen lots of clips of "The Late Late Show" on Youtube and, and I read Craig's memoir a few months ago, so I've been a casual fan for a while. I've been up late a lot of nights this past month with stomach pain and general anxiety-based insomnia, and so I've gotten to see Craig in real time. And I love this guy. He is ridiculous and goofy, but somehow that goes down better at 1:00 in the morning. And his interviews are a delight. He is really interested in everyone who comes on the show and always manages to make them come off as funny and interesting. And that accent! Love him.

--"Talking" greeting cards. I don't buy greeting cards with those audio chips in them very often, but every now and then I find one that's perfect. I was shopping for Valentine's cards for my nephews and nieces the other day, and I found the perfect one for my 13-year-old nephew. The front says "This little card isn't meant to embarrass you..." and then when you open it this very high-pitched woman's voice shrieks, "Hi, honey! Hi! Guess who wuvs you? I do!" It makes me laugh every time I open it, and it makes me laugh when I picture Tanner's face when he'll open it. I highly recommend this card if you have a teenage boy.

--Sharpie pens. More accurately: Sharpie / Pen. They're bleed-proof permanent pens with a clickie top. I picked them up at Walgreens and they are the black pen I've always dreamed of!
Yes, I dream of pens. Don't judge me.

--Ella and Louis. I mean, Ella and Louis. In my continuing quest to become a senior citizen before my time, I've really gotten into jazz/swing/big band music. Pandora is invaluable for stepping outside your musical rut, because it's a great way to hear a lot of an unfamiliar genre without having to buy a bunch of albums. And then if you hear something you love, then you can track it to Amazon and snatch it up. I was cleaning out the fridge a couple weeks ago and listening to my "Bing Crosby" station on Pandora, which pulls up tons of other stuff beyond Bing, and "Isn't This a Lovely Day?" came on, and I literally stopped what I was doing to listen. I had to buy the CD because this track is not available as an mp3, so I used the Amazon gift card my parents gave me for Christmas. What a great purchase.

What are your small pleasures this winter?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What's wrong with aging gracefully?

I have a morbid fascination with celebrity plastic surgery. Whenever we see an older celeb on TV or in the movies, I'm always searching their faces, looking for the signs. Usually you don't have to look too far--sometimes it slaps you right in your own face. I've never gotten over whatever it was that Steve Martin did to his wonderful eyes ten or twelve years ago; they're a good inch farther apart than they used to be.

Several months ago we went to see a very good movie called "Easy A" which starred young Emma Stone, who is a favorite of ours, and which also starred the not-so-young Patricia Clarkson (age 51) and Lisa Kudrow (age 47.) In all of Clarkson's and Kudrow's scenes, I kept staring at their faces and marveling at how natural and wonderful they each looked.

They each have some wrinkles, but it works for them. They don't have weird cheekbones, their eyes aren't too far apart. Clarkson in particular just glowed on-screen, and I understand they have make-up and lighting people to make them look good, but her face still looks natural.

I think both ladies looked even better to me because we had just sat through a preview for the movie "Burlesque," starring Cher, whom I hadn't seen on-screen in quite a long time.

To be fair to Cher, she is 64 years old, older than Kudrow and Clarkson. And when you find a picture of her where she's holding her face still, she can almost look normal--not 64 years old, but not quite a circus freak yet. But watching her try to move her mouth and talk through all that filler in her face was frankly horrifying.

All this came back into my memory tonight when I was watching this show on PBS called "Pioneers of Television." I've only managed to catch a couple episodes of this, but they take a TV genre and go back and look at some of the key shows and interview whatever stars they can find who are still alive and relatively coherent. It's fun and nostalgic.

Tonight the topic was crime dramas, and there were three women who were interviewed for this show who made me wonder all over again how it is that we've bought into this belief that loads of plastic surgery are the only way we can hang onto the illusion of youth--and that youth is an illusion worth hanging onto in the first place.

Barbara Bain was drop-dead gorgeous 40 years ago, playing a covert agent on "Mission: Impossible." Now she's 81 years old, and I think she still looks terrific.

My mom always used to tease my dad about Angie Dickinson--apparently he had a little crush on her when she was on "Policewoman" back in the 70s. She was beautiful then:

And I think she's held up pretty darn well for someone pushing 80:

And then there was Stefanie Powers, who starred in a goofy little show called "The Girl from UNCLE" in the mid-60's and also in "Hart to Hart" in the 80's.

She's almost 70 now and still looks amazing:

It's not that I believe none of these women have had plastic surgery. We're talking Hollywood here--I think they give you an open-ended coupon for one free procedure when you get your SAG card. In the cheekbone areas, especially, I wouldn't be surprised if all three of them have had work. But it's unobtrusive. It enhances rather than distracts. And most importantly, they left some sags and wrinkles and folds, instead of just polishing their whole face to a smooth flat surface like...well...

I also don't think plastic surgery has been kind to Meg Ryan (age 49):

Or Priscilla Presley (age 65):

To quote Helena Bonham Carter (age 44 and un-plastic surgeried): "You have two choices. You can have the work done and look weirder, or have nothing done and look older. I think the only way I’ll continue to get work is if I don’t get anything done…I can still move all my face muscles! There aren’t many who can still do that."

I think I'd rather look old than weird. Ask me again in 20 years, and I may choose differently, but I think old is okay. And there are so many beautiful older women! They're older, they own it, and their faces are still beautiful. I love being able to see a person's life in their face, not their surgeries.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Checking in.

Can I just say that I am ready for January to be OVER. And for February to be BETTER.

I have been "not myself" this month. First off was the previously mentioned broken toe, then a bout with diverticulitis, which is an infection of the bowel, which required some heavy-duty antibiotics, which made me feel lousy on top of the pain and general lousiness of the infection. And then back pain, which was diagnosed as a problem with my sacroiliac joint, and then more stomach pain, which put me back on antibiotics and then in for a CT scan this week which didn't really help with anything.

I am scheduled for an appointment with a GI doctor in a few weeks, but right now my theory is that it's the antibiotics that are causing this lingering stomach pain. So I am waiting for those to leave my system and then we'll see how the tummy feels. I'm really hoping for an improvement soon.

This has all been very frustrating because I am a naturally anxious person, and being sick and having pain makes me feel even more anxious. Which makes it hard for me to sleep. So throw in a bunch of messed-up sleepless nights and the fact that it's cold and the sun isn't shining and I haven't felt much like doing anything beyond the basics of keeping the household running and my stomach hurts, which makes me feel worried, which makes my stomach hurt even more...urgh. I really, really hate it, and certainly haven't felt like blogging about it. This has been one of my more miserable months of recent memory.

I'm trying right now to get my life back on track, focus on things other than my stomach, eat what I need to be eating, get some fresh air and exercise, and just generally try to work my way out of this web of anxiety and aggravation into a more positive feeling, which will hopefully in turn help my stomach feel better, too.
I don't like to whine on my blog, but this month has been really not fun. Any good thoughts you can spare, I could use them!

Monday, January 03, 2011


I do love that first "normal" day after the holidays are over, when life settles back down into its routine. We've had a little bit of weirdness to go along with the holiday whirl, too. Our "new" car went into the shop on the 22nd to have some things worked on (nothing unexpected--we'd planned for the maintenance work to be done.) We took the other car home to Ohio on the 23rd and stayed there till the 27th. Had a really, really nice Christmas. Just very laid-back and enjoyable.

We came home to about eight inches of snow that had fallen while we were gone (VERY unusual for this area) so there was some shoveling that had to be done, and Todd got two unexpected days off work as NASA closed for the weather.

Our car still wasn't done, so I hung out on Tuesday and Wednesday, getting Christmas presents put away, cleaning and (insert ominous music here) doing laundry. It was while bringing my last load of laundry downstairs on Wednesday afternoon that I slipped and fell at the bottom of the stairs, jamming my foot under the open front door and re-breaking my left middle toe that I broke on a dresser leg in the wee hours several years ago.

On Thursday morning Todd woke up with a major recurrence of the eye pain that had been bothering him off and on for the past week. He went to the optometrist that afternoon, who sent him straight to the ophthalmologist, informing him that he had a torn cornea in his left eye. The ophthalmologist also informed him that his right cornea was badly abraded and that it would have been just a matter of time before that one was torn, too. She said his corneas looked like knees when you fall and scrape and tear them up on a sidewalk.

We're not quite sure what caused the tearing--the assumption is that it's a combination of dry heat and dry cold weather, plus his contact lenses (which allowed the abrasions to heal and then re-tear when he took them out and went to sleep) and maybe also his blood pressure medicine which is diuretic and may be drying out his poor eyeballs.

So the past few days have been very focused on getting the proper drops into Todd's eyes at frequent intervals. My toe has been buddy-taped to the toe next to it, and I have been alternately limping around and sitting with my foot up on pillows.

My brother and his family came on Friday for New Year's and we had a great time with them, with eye drops and limping mixed in just for fun. Oh, and I finally got my car back on Friday. Saturday and Sunday we hung out, played games, ate garbage, and just relaxed. Well, the grown-ups nieces are very much into playing "kitten and puppy," which is just as energetic and full of scratches and rough-housing (and crying when the scratching and rough-housing reaches its inevitable conclusion) as it sounds.

I'm still not at full walking capacity yet, but Todd's eye is healing beautifully, although his days of wearing contact lenses may be over, at least for a while. Today Todd is back at work, and I'm back into my routine, too, with time taken out for the occasional foot-raising on pillows,
with an Advil chaser.