Pre MIL Sparkle


“Human beings fail the way all complex systems fail: randomly and gradually. As engineers have long recognized, simple devices typically do not age. They function reliably until a critical component fails, and the whole thing dies in and instant. A windup toy, for example, works smoothly until a gear rusts or a spring breaks, and then it doesn’t work at all.” 

In the end, what makes life worth living?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is about growing old, about facing terminal illness and death, you know, uplifting stuff like that. Death is not pretty but perhaps it is possible that there are priorities beyond simply prolonging life at any cost.  Gawande took the time to find out what his patient’s biggest fears and concerns were, what goals were important right now, what trade-offs the patient was willing to make, and he began to see that sometimes the imminent, the day after next, is the most important.  One woman simply wanted to be alive long enough and be well enough to attend a wedding in a few days. That meant not performing the invasive surgery; it meant instead doing the minimal to make  being at the wedding in two days a possibility.  Sometimes it is possible to make life more comfortable without necessarily doing the herculean thing.

For the elderly what kept coming up time and again was the desire for independence and freedom.  ”What level of being alive is tolerable for you?” One man answered, “If I’m able to eat chocolate ice-cream and watch football on TV, then I’m willing to stay alive. I’m willing to go through a lot of pain if I have a shot at that.”

The three plagues of nursing home existence  are: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. Nursing homes that have discovered the  benefit of bringing in cats, dogs, birds, and live plants to stimulate and motivate the residents have found residents feel fulfilled, there were stimulating reasons to get up in the morning and patients did better.

 My mother-in-law is an outlier. She is the rare older person who doesn’t desire independence nor freedom. Her greatest desire is to be cared for and to sleep. Me being on call round-the-clock was taking its toll.

At the salon my stylist, told me things; she told me that my “sparkle” was gone. And she told me she saw it leave when my mother-in-law came to live with us and I began to care for her. She used the word “sparkle” and I was flattered that I  was once “sparkly,”  shocked to realize  the “sparkle” was gone. I wanted it back.  I was stunned. It was true; I was emotionally exhausted. I was burnt out. When I told Andrew that his mother was killing my sparkle, without hesitation, we knew that I needed to quit being primary caretaker. It took ten months but I was spent.

So now she is living a short drive away in assisted living. And I tried to feel guilty about the move but they have some fun stuff there like a 50′s style soda shop where residents can go to get a root beer float. And they have an in-house hair salon. And the dining hall is set up like a restaurant; the residents can order from about 7 choices on the menu each meal. And I keep her in-room fridge stocked with yogurts and fruit for between meals. And all of that, as it turns out, makes her feel like her life is worth living.

And now my life is my own again and figuring it out will take time.

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The Old Becomes New


 

Paintings, paintings everywhere. I did a class recently and ended up with two of the same painting so I decided to paint over one of them. In the end, it was so much fun resurrecting old canvases into new paintings that I covered up the second one too.

lurking beneath this painting is the demo

And the painting progressed.

And soon I had transformed the canvas:

And ta da! A new painting to hide the old.

And ta da! A new painting to hide the old.

Both are currently for sale.

It was so much fun I did another!

Both are currently for sale. They measure 16″ X 20″ For Pinkpeppers readers they are $95/each. At Fine Art America they are $150/each.

Here is a little peak at my art in Moscow, Idaho; it’s still up if you’d like to go buy a piece; they are mostly small works,  at Bucer’s- 201 S Main St, Moscow, ID :

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“Nothing Sacred”

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Small flower on black

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Grapes on cloth

 

Acrylic Painting- Summer Art #3


 

 

Mimosa and Masterpieces in the Morning


Perhaps you’ve heard of the classes that combine wine and a painting lesson. I was asked to teach such a class but the catch was that it began at 9:30 AM and unless you want to appear questionable in your drinking habits, wine seemed over the top. So we came up with “Mimosa and Masterpieces in the Morning.”  The ladies picked the flower painting and I walked them through it; each woman picked her own choices of color using just three colors- red, blue and yellow.

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With red, blue and yellow (and white and black) they mixed every color under the sun.

With red, blue and yellow (and white and black) they mixed every color under the sun.

I supplied all the painting gear and the hostess supplied the mimosa and snacks.

This was the example I painted and they went from there.

This was the example I painted and they went from there.

 

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Wassily Kandinsky- Week #2 Summer Art


Kandinsky- one of the first purely abstract artists has an intriguing style full of tension, interplay and color. He was our muse for art week #2 this summer. I’m sure you are familiar with his circles. They would be a ton of fun to paint on a larger canvas with acrylics:

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 The circles were Fox’s inspiration. And the great thing about them is the less perfect they are, the better. I wanted the the other three to work on the ideas from the more complicated designs like this:

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So with various found round objects- lids, tape rolls, etc and pencils, rulers and paper, they let their imaginations take over. When the objects in their design were looking a little too much like the real thing, I had them change it a bit and make it a little more abstract. Canon’s snake looked too much like a snake so we decided the head should be a triangle instead of oblong; Anwyn’s dragon should have trianble scales not perfectly formed rounded scales; Athan’s waves also needed more angles instead of roundedness.

They ended up spending a few hours on their designs (Excpet for Fox who, after penciling in the circles, opted for Legos and Picasso Tiles.

 

Gyotaku- First Art Class for the Summer


Gyotaku -Japanese 魚拓, from gyo “fish” + taku “rubbing”

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Bascially the art of gyotaku involves a dead fish, ink and a sheet of paper or a piece of cloth. ” Credit is given to an emperor for having an image of a large red snapper made by first adding paint and then touching paper to it. He hung the art and ate the fish!” “Gyotaku came to America in the 1950s when a Japanese fish scientist (ichthyologist) Yoshio Hiyama,(also spelled with an “n”) shared his fish rubbings with American scientists. He presented them as scientific illustrations of Japanese fish species.” Link

We used acrylic paint because it is more vibrant than watercolor and cleans up with water. We used hand made Khadi 100% rag paper from India; because it is 100% rag, it gives and allowed us to mold it to the fish without tearing.  Simply paint the fish and then carefully, without moving the paper about, press every area firmly into the paper. When you are sure you’ve got it all, lift the paper and you have a monoprint of a fish. Ours is a blue gill.

But you don’t have to wait until you go fishing- and catch a fish- to do this; you can buy a rubbery fish that can be reused. Click on any of the photos to take you to a shopping source for your own Gyotaku fish.

Just click on the photo to purchase.

Just click on the photo to purchase a maleable fish.

Before the paint dries on the fish, you need to make the rubbing.

Before the paint dries on the fish, you need to make the rubbing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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They all painted eye details and added grass and then used a wine cork for a stamping the fishes bubbles.

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 And then the final touch was a fake Japanese signature that they painted on.

Uh, Do You Want to See Our Summer So Far? Oh, Wait, It’s Not Summer Yet


Our family is all over the map this summer. Allow me to share some links, photos and video.

Jarrett just got back from successful presentation at a glass research seminar where the finest glass engineers gathered. When he got home to Penn State he had a flying fox bat in his house.Click on this link:  This is 29 seconds of hilarity.  

Stunned by a pillow case.

Stunned by a pillow case.

Next up for him is Brazil. He was invited to attend conference with all expenses paid. The trick is getting the doggone visa. It’s like the DMV on steroids to maneuver that maze. In the end he’s required to #1. fly across the country from Pennsylvania to San Francisco for a scheduled appointment… or #2.  hire an expert, hand over all your original documents, pay a fee, and hope they come through for you.  He chose door #2.

This is Aileen’s photo:

First class to Hong Kong.

First class to Hong Kong.

Oh, Aileen is in Hong Kong presenting a paper to scientists from around the world on her PhD research. And then? Oh, off to Beijing for more heady stuff. And then what?? On to Puerto Rico for yet more enlightening of the colleagues.

Meghan? Meghan really thought it would be a fun thing to sell her perfectly appointed house and buy a mid-century modern untouched treasure that she could bring up to its former retro-glory. Eric is beginning to see the potential.

Erin? Just gutting and fixing about five places at once and running a B & B which was named one of the top 5 coolest in D.C. You can check it out here. (Hers is the Capitol Hill Rowhouse)

Taite? Landed a sweet internship at a laboratory. Following in her dad’s scientific nuclear steps.

Matthias? When a kid doesn’t need to study for finals because, well, you know,  then what that guy needs is some serious hands on hard work. He’s heading back to the miles and miles of beautiful ranch land to work sunrise to sunset. Here are some shots from his last year adventure.

Hell's Canyon

Hell’s Canyon

Hell's Canyon

Hell’s Canyon

Caitlin?? Oh, just creating a NEW LIFE!! Yes! (And continuing to renovate her massive Victorian house, and keep up with the cattle on the ranch). Hurrah for grandchild #11!!!!

Andrew? Every two years the nuclear plant shuts down for a total check-over and clean-up. That means suiting up in protective gear and heading straight into near range of the beast. He lives for this.

A yellow "poop suit" goes on over everything.

A yellow “poop suit” goes on over everything.

Me? I am so excited to be a part of the Moscow ArtWalk again this year! Come to Bucer’s and say, “hello” the evening of June 12.

Small enough to be affordable!

Small enough to be affordable!

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A few landscapes

A few landscapes

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The Receiving End of Help


Too often we really don’t care until it touches us, our own heart, our own life. In some God-thing circuitous way, I was talking to Diane at Seattle Children’s Hospital; I don’t even know how the telephone-transfer-train delivered me to her phone because the point of my call was all about appointment details, but there she was on the other end telling me that there is help available to defray the costs at the hospital.

“Well, not for us, though,” I said, “I mean, we’re fine.”  I then  booked a hotel and began to  scout out restaurants in Seattle, slightly pitifully, trying to pretend we were heading towards a bit of a vacation when reality was, we’d  rather be at home mundanely  living  life. It kicked me in the gut like this sort of thing  does- it is way easier to be on the giving end than the receiving end of help. Way easier. I humbled myself and called Diane back. Hardship makes a person realize she isn’t the island she wishes she were.

I was, still am, overwhelmed by the generosity of people who purpose to give and make a difference in the lives of people they may never know or meet just because they care, and they can. As parents, we would sacrifice everything to provide all we can for our children. And then an angel enters your life and relieves the burden.

Two books resonate with me for honesty and simplicity, Clay, Water, Brick by Jessica Jackley and A Small Cup of Light by Ben Palpant.

Clay Water Brick is uplifting, about how sometimes lives can be changed forever with a hundred bucks. Have you been there? Do you believe that? With just a few hundred dollars, Katherine the fishmonger depended upon just $500 to substantially increase her business, Eunice Alupo needed a mere $300 to grow her used clothing business, Betty Obote needed $500 to buy cows and open a butcher shop…

By way of story, Jackley tells you how she was moved to do something, how she managed to elbow into some of the best situations and places that could give her advice about helping, how she did do something. And in the telling, you come to realize it isn’t rocket science, that you too could be that help that someone else needs. You have to care enough to go do it.

Then you get to read of Shona the Sculptor (and yes, I researched her after reading of her to see the amazing success that her company has become-  shonaquip), how her love for her own child’s wellbeing turned into help for thousands, for both employment opportunities in South Africa and help for disabled who need a better fitting posture support device.

A Small Cup of Light  is pure honesty.

I always knew it was okay to be honest with God, to tell Him where I really stand with what He’s thought to be for my best. I always knew bargaining with God was a foolish game- if you heal me, if you heal her, if you clear up this awful mess, if you make things blissful, I will work harder to serve you better.

Ben Palpant’s writing is crystal clear and it rings true because he has suffered, and come out on the other side, not necessarily the brighter side but rather the side of knowing more fully who God is, who we are, who He wants us to be. “God did not give me suffering so that I might only look beyond it to some happy vale of future delight. He gave me suffering as a gift to be held in the present moment, just as he has given me happiness as a gift of the here and now.” Because let’s just be honest, sometimes things don’t hit downward for a time and then end ‘happily ever after’ and then what? Who is your God then?

God wants for us much much more than our happiness, “He is after a sustaining joy and he will give us that joy by giving us himself, whether through the small gifts that bring us gladness or through the dark night of suffering.”

“For nearly three weeks after my mind caught fire, the dilemma that kept barking at the back door of my mind was this: A good God is fine when life is tropically blissful, but what when the hurricane comes? Where is the safe haven then? What are we to do when chaos bangs against the windows and when the roof of reliability is ripped off?”

And the hardest lesson, I think, is to realize that God doesn’t need us to work harder, be stronger, look happy no matter; He gave us suffering so that we would find “true freedom and wholeness only in the lap of God.”

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Modesty Police, Halt!


So… it’s getting to be summer and you know what that mean, swimsuits! And you know what that means, the summer modesty police! Yes, you know, those posts that go up right around this time of year to tell you for the sake of the men- your sons, your brothers, your neighbor’s husbands- cover up, mind the cleavage! But here’s the problem, you can’t really head to every last beach in the entire world and demand that women cover up “for the sake of the men;” now can you? No, you can not. So, embrace the summer, give women a break; heaven knows every last woman beats herself up enough for not having the perfect body and then she  finally finds a swimsuit.

I found a really sweet piece, well, yes, a swimsuit but also a piece  written by Sarah Condon on getting over the legalism of swimsuits. She did it in such a kind way and still lets you know that, no, it really isn’t your place to put her in her place about her swimwear- or any wear. (Click on quote to read the entire post.)

I’m ready to enjoy the summers I’ve been blessed with and just shut up about swimwear. If you’ve got some rules in your head then might I suggest yelling/praying them away in a Kohl’s department store. Run from the rules. Tell them to go sit on a tack. Better yet, lay them at the feet of Jesus. I promise he’ll give you something more interesting and life-giving to think about.

May we all be given the grace to pick out something that just makes us feel nice (for me, that means polka dots), and jump off the diving board. Happy Summer, everyone.

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Imagine modesty policing every last person here!

 

 

Glamorous Camping?


Andrew was working 12 hour shifts all weekend and Matthias was sick; so Taite and I abandoned them for Mother’s Day weekend.

If you have not heard of “Glamping” it is “glamorous camping.” Oh, no, Taite and I didn’t do that but Caitlin’s in-laws have the most amazing glamping location you could ever dream up. Set on the edge of Hell’s Canyon you can rent a teepee and wake up to the awe. They also have 2 indoor places to rent, but now, that wouldn’t really be glamping now would it? We took a little trip from Caitlin and Zac’s up to see the set up going on for the upcoming season. Zac and his brother, Jordan were putting up the teepees.

After a little picnic, Caitlin, Taite, Jude and I headed back to town with frequent stops to hunt for morels. Success was small- just six. Jude promised to hold on to them and even when he fell asleep, he did not release his grip.

 

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Caitlin inside the very roomy teepee. They come with futons so you can sleep in luxury.

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Occasionally they have performances out here under the majesty. This day we used it for a picnic spot.

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A Good Wife Always Knows Her Place


Available June 30th

Available June 30th

“When you live overseas, it becomes easy to mythologize your native life: all the things you imagine you’d be doing if you weren’t an expat in a foreign land, all the ways you could be thriving.” Tracy Slater, although not exactly qualified, agreed to travel to Kobe to teach Korean and Japanese executives English and the intricacies of American business. After a few days of being these men’s teacher she is asked, “Could you… talk more… quietly? Perhaps? Show less confidence? You know. Be more shy. Like women are supposed to. Like the students are used to.”

She falls in love with Toru, though he can barely speak English and she speaks no Japanese, and she has to decide if she can live in Japan, become, as her marriage certificate labels her, a shufu- a housewife.

The Good Shufu, is Tracy Slater’s real life story. It is very well written, the nuances of the cultures are clear in her eyes because as she travels back and forth between Boston and Osaka, she sees over and over again with new eyes the differing cultures. She has left her teaching job as a college professor; she has left her teaching job to inmates; she has left her newly formed group; Four Stories, she has left her home of forever, Boston. And she wonders if it is worth the sacrifice to become a good shufu.

And then a rabbit trail led me to this little gem of an article from Housekeeping Monthly May 13, 1955.  60 years ago, this is the advice you could read for wives in the USA. (Actually I could refer you to a current day book that offers this same advice but, well)  If you can’t read the fine print, allow me:

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*Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favorite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

*Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

*Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

*Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

*Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dust cloth over the tables.

*Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

*Prepare the children. take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

*Be happy to see him.

*Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

*Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

*Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

*Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

*Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.

*Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

*Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

*Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing, pleasant voice.

*Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

*A good wife always knows her place.

My Secret Life with Emu Oil


Don't you be extracting my oils!

Don’t you be extracting my oils!

Emus give off oil?! And where? I wondered. I mean, do they secrete it from some awful and obscure gland? Emu Oil, for dry skin?  I had to do a little research. And then I discovered that, “Unadulterated emu oil can vary widely in color and viscosity anywhere from an off-white creamy texture to a thin yellow liquid, depending on the diet of the emu.”  And, “Emu oil is oil derived from adipose tissue harvested from certain subspecies of the emu.” Add to that,  my sample was a little on the cringe-like yellow end of the spectrum. Be sure to shake well before use and then slather all over your body!

Some might not know that I have a secret on-line life of reviewing stuff for Amazon, gobs of stuff, so much stuff that I haul some of it to Goodwill. The most often asked question is,  ”How do you get people to send you gobs of free stuff?”

I don’t; they kindly request me. About a year ago I quit ingesting stuff for review; those requests get deleted now because seriously, how many fish oil pills, Coq10, muscle milk, organic all natural vitamins, protein powder would you be willing to consume? Okay, I take that back, I just forced bacon/cheese spaghetti sauce on my family. Oh, and freeze dried apple slices (they were surprisingly good.) And chocolate biscuit sticks (very tasty.) So, okay, just nothing overtly healthy. The other thing I simply delete are the countless self-published books with awful cartoonish cover art. I am certain that you can judge a book by its cover.

The other question I am asked is, “What is the best item you’ve ever been sent?” I don’t think I have a best, well, maybe it has been the little two seat mustard yellow Mustang, but besides that I am glad to have been introduced to quite a few things that I would never have thought to buy on my own.

For starters, here are the  best toiletries:

If you are in the market for make-up brushes, these are a great deal. Twenty at a great price. Okay, I may have taken them up to my painting studio and used them for painting too.

You want just one big monster brush? This is it. Check out the review.

Perfume. My all time favorites are Chanel #5, First, and Opium and I figured three signatures was enough, but I’ve added Obsession to the line-up. It is a sophisticated powdery with a touch of vanilla,  mandarin and  bergamot.

Dry skin and want to feel really pampered? Well for heaven’s sake, don’t make it Emu oil. Try L’Occitane Shea Ultra Rich Comforting Cream

And good old organic coconut oil, which seriously, when it’s 100% organic coconut oil, why does the jar say, “Do not ingest?” Oh, and, “Do not use on chickens or animals.”

For the face, I have liked this Vitamin C serum. I am especially happy that it is made in the USA because things we ingest and things we smear on our skin should be extra safe; I don’t trust China for that.

But my ultimate top-of-the-line favorite is L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Cream. I liked it so well that I was reluctant to throw out the empty jar hoping to get one more little dab from it.

Jouer makes a nice moisture tint. I am really happy that it is SPF 20 especially be very light-skinned and coming late to the idea that I should protect it.

A suspicious sort of product that I’ve tested a few times is Micellar Water.  A little research on this makes me think it’s the new snake oil elixir- buy it and believe!

Most amazing mouth wash in the world? This stuff is it, it’s not the minty covering your sins sort of stuff this actually works so well that you wake up without “morning breath.” True.

And while you’re at it, if you want a toothbrush that doesn’t cost a hundred bucks and sits boldly all over your bathroom counter, if you want a cleaner, sleek look in your bathroom AND a toothbrush that works, this one will do the trick. Also made by Sonicare, this one takes AA batteries.

If you have not yet discovered Moroccan Argan Oil for hair, you should. It is made of Moroccan argan oil, macadamia oil, shea oil, jojoba oil.  A little dab’ll do ya so it will last a long time and make your hair feel softer, less dried out.

My favorite shampoo and conditioner for testing has been Fekkai. It is formulated to be kind to color treated hair.

 

Wherein “chicken coop” and “swank” meshed


And there was even a hand-written card from our daughter waiting at the table for us.

And there was even a hand-written card from our daughter waiting at the table for us.

We do not go away alone together so amazingly, there we were heading to a “posh, we’re so country in a very pampered way” inn. We were staying in the Chicken Coop; in my mind “chicken coop” and “swank” do not mesh but they did right there. We poked around our cottage a bit and then left for our reservation at a fine restaurant. Stepping through the door, behold,  the host is a beloved friend.

“Whaaat!?” I said and ran up to give him a hug.

He’d perused the reservation list the week before and when he spotted our name decided to be there that evening to greet us. I told him it felt like a little taste of heaven, in a strange land,  a delightful surprise, a friend I love stands there to greet me.

We were early and planned to sit at the bar to wait for our table. “No problem; in fact, Caitlin and Zac got word of your reservation and bought you a bottle of champagne.”

Whaat!?

Of course the best thing with champagne is fois gras with a bit of quince jelly on the most divinely light toast, so there we perched chatting with the bartender until our table was ready, by which point I felt we knew our bartender well enought to invite him for dinner.  And then we (really I, because Andrew is always standing by like, “there she goes again”… in a loving way, mind you) invited the host to come too, bring a group. Alone at our table I asked Andrew what we (in all honesty, really he) planned to make for these guests.

The next morning I bashed my toe, the toe whose toenail had almost grown out from the last time I bashed it against a brick, that same toe totally ended my little dream of death marching Andrew around a cute town to shop for things we did not need to drag into our house. I was hobbled.

Headng home, we were keeping track of our nephew’s progress from Montana; we were meeting him and his friend for lunch. Fascinatingly this friend has a master’s in creative writing- poetry in particular- and I scribbled furiously on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt while he cited the names of books and authors of poetry that he admired. Then he asked to borrow my pen because I actually had mentioned something he wanted to note. He stopped and held up my pen mid-word to exclaim how well it wrote, which made me wax lyrical about the search and final triumph of finding the perfect pen, a pen so perfect that when it was once left at Aileen and Jason’s I emailed, texted and finally called them to make sure they kept it safe for me. Aileen texted back that they were keeping it safe and had in fact separated it from the other pens in their house so it would not run wild. It finally returned home unscathed.

The next morning Taite and Matthias drove off to Caitlin and Zac’s ranch in Hell’s Canyon to help brand cattle and ride into the sunset on horses.

Andrew and I jumped in our truck to pick up some wine we’d ordered. The great thing about buying 16 cases of wine all at once from a single winery is that the owner/winemaker will come out to your rickety old truck to see who in the world is carting this stuff off. And then Andrew will get to stand there and talk about the chemistry of wine, the best longitude and latitude for growing wine grapes, the best rocky arid soil for growing wine grapes, and the subtelties of each particular variety of grape. And I will stand there too and be like, “Yup, what he said.”

We carted all those down to our, ahem, cellar and Andrew kept wishing Matthias were home and not branding cattle so the carting of it all would be easier. But he got my help instead.

Then, yes, we jumped in our car and headed the opposite direction to be at our sister-in-law’s suprprise birthday dinner that Gretchen and Matt managed to pull off- Doris was surprised.  And I was totally thrilled to sit across the table from two great artists whose work I have hanging in my house and ask them all sorts of beginner questions about painting.

The next day we were at Aileen and Jason’s church as they became members and the kind greeter at the door, Patch, once again told us what a pleasure it was to have us there again. I did say, ” You are so kind, do you not know I have quite a reputation?”  He replied, “I know nothing of that.”

A final hurrah for the week at  Matt and Doris’s for a barbecue and then the whole wonderfully frenzied week would come to an end. But lo,  a message on my phone from our pastor’s wife inviting us over when we got back to town. YES!  The perfect end, the four of us around their table, relaxed and unwinding.

There is even still so much more to that week, there is the night before getting our cases of wine, sitting and sharing a bottle of very fine wine at a cozy little bar with very long-standing fast friends, followed by a dessert event where I was able to meet the ravioli party Kelly’s parents and hang out with Meghan and Eric and see snuffly little Aoife. There was me stopping in a frame shop and there in the back was Wolfgang, his first day on that job, and still he came out, we hugged, and then talked for half an hour about life. And earlier that day, Hannah making me her last stop before heading off for her summer job bringing coffees to sip and to chat. And the most encouraging email from a woman who is thankful for what I sometimes write on this little blog.

I was totally blown away by God’s gracious hand in my life. Food, wine, friends, the whole week has seemed like a foretaste of heaven.

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Ravioli Party


Kelly said she knew how to make ravioli, I said I liked a party and thus was born a ravioli making party. In a huge way it was really easy; dinner did not need to be ready for the crowd because they were making the meal. Beforehand, I bought the ingredients and then just before the party made sure to have everything out and on hand. (Recipes are at the end of the post.)

And once again all the amazing photos are pilfered from Meghan’s site: Bluefilter

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Butter, butter, butter, cream cheese, heavy whipping cream…

Everyone slicing , dicing and chopping requires multiple cutting boards.

Everyone slicing , dicing and chopping requires multiple cutting boards.

 

So, I've had a pizzelle maker forever. and never used it. Ever. An Italian meal is the perfect time to use it or toss it. Forever. So I made pizzelles for dessert topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

So, I’ve had a pizzelle maker forever. and never used it. Ever. An Italian meal is the perfect time to use it or toss it. Forever. So I made pizzelles for dessert topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

Super photo! Now get back in the kitchen and get to work!

Super photo! Now get back in the kitchen and get to work!

 

A little Aoife moment.

A little Aoife moment.

 

Renée has her granddaughter too!

Renée has her granddaughter too!

Turns out Austin can cook! He and Andrew made all the filling.

Turns out Austin can cook! He and Andrew made all the filling.

 

Two stunning gals in black.

Two stunning gals in black.

Thanks to Kelly we had a super fun dinner party.

Thanks to Kelly we had a super fun dinner party.

 

Andrew and Dave take care of the perfect wine pairing.

Andrew and Dave take care of the perfect wine pairing.

This momma can make an alfredo sauce like you wouldn't believe. She had to make more because before ravioli were even ready, people were sneaking over to use it as a bread dip.

This momma can make an alfredo sauce like you wouldn’t believe. She had to make more because before ravioli were even ready, people were sneaking over to use it as a bread dip.

 

Yes. Yes, this will be perfect with the alfredo sauce.

Yes. Yes, this will be perfect with the alfredo sauce.

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This is my 75 year old flour tin from my grandma.

This is my 75 year old flour tin from my grandma.

Renée mostly rolled the dough in the right direction. And at the right setting:)

Renée mostly rolled the dough in the right direction. And at the right setting:)

 

Four times through at different setting and it is ready to be made into raviolis

Four times through at different setting and it is ready to be made into raviolis

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Ya know, picking out the perfect wine is a lot of work. Dave at rest.

Ya know, picking out the perfect wine is a lot of work. Dave at rest.

Just some great peeps.

Just some great peeps. (Dave still at rest.)

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Amazing weather, yay!

Amazing weather, yay!

My recommendation, should you want to throw a ravioli party are:

1. Definitely have the dough ready to roll.

2. Possibly make the filling ahead of time too or at least get started on that first off.

3. Have copies of the recipes to hand out to the cooks. Depending on the group size, you may have to double or triple the recipes.

Here are the tried and true recipes:

Ravioli Filling (8-10 servings)

1 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage     1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced       1 pkg (8oz) cream cheese, softened

1 pkg. (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (press through strainer to remove as much excess liquid as possible)  We used fresh spinach.

2 C. shredded mozzarella       1/4 C. Grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. each, salt and pepper

In a large skillet, brown sausage with onion and garlic. Drain and cool. Pulse in a food processor with spinach. Pour into a large bowl; mix together with cheeses, salt and pepper.

Alfredo Sauce (8-10 servings )

1 T. EVOO

4 cloves garlic, pressed

1 pkg. (8 oz) cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes

2/3 C. Fresh grated Parmesan cheese (more if desired)

1/2 C. Butter

1/2 C. Whipping cream or half n half (I find the latter is plenty rich!) 1/8+ C. Milk (optional, for thinning)

In a large sauce pan, heat the EVOO over low heat; cook the garlic lightly (DO NOT BROWN!!). Add the cheeses, butter, cream and milk, whisking constantly until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, you may want to add a little milk.

Marinara Sauce (8-10 servings)

1 can (29oz) tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

1 T. Dried minced onion    2 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 1/2 tsp. parsley flakes        2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tsp. sugar   1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. pepper

Mix together in a bowl. If you want, you can simmer it for a while to get the flavors going, but that can wait until the pasta party.

Pizzelle

6 eggs            1 1/2 cups sugar

2 Tablespoons  vanilla extract             1 cup butter, melted

3 1/2 cups flour                            4 teaspoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar until thick. Stir in vanilla and melted butter. Stir in flour and baking powder just until blended and smooth.

Depending on your pizzelle iron place about 1 Tablespoon of the batter into the center of the iron, close and lock. Bake for about 3o seconds.

I made and froze these the week before.

I served these flat on a plate with large amounts of whipped cream and sliced strawberries (slicing of the berries were one more assigned task at the party.)


 

 

You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets


 

Andrew is having pinkpepper withdrawals and wanted me to write something again here. We just celebrated 35 years together. It’s a long story but if you meet some girl with her little baby and they look like a hot mess beyond hope, pray for her, invite her in and trust God for her future; it might be brighter than anything she’d ever dared dream of.

In 1980, the year Planned Parenthood began, I walked into a doctor’s office unmarried, pregnant, and hoping this doctor could make this, this situation all go away. He did not. Thank God.

I was in college interested in a BSN; I had been accepted to Boston University pre-med program; my parents were thrilled.

“The call” to my parents is forever etched in my mind. Shattering the dreams of your parents is a heavy burden. I told them I was pregnant and that the father of the child and I were planning to get married; I would be dropping out of school. I was 1500 miles from home, my parents did not even know what this guy looked like (this was prehistoric to the internet, before fast photos); I could come home and live with them, have the baby at home, they told me. But I was determined maybe madly stubborn; especially since bets at college were against longevity of the union. I am not even kidding; there were bets. We got married.

My new husband graduated; we put all our worldly possessions in our ancient Vega and drove from Kansas to Massachusetts to be at my sister’s wedding (the only family wedding that was supposed to happen that year.) We were out of money after making the trip; by default we stayed, and settled into my parents’ basement- an unfinished cement-floored, bare-walled basement with a full-size bed in the corner.

Right before our daughter was born, we got a one-bedroom apartment in a filthy building downtown. Andrew worked his day job, came home ate dinner, and I left for the night shift at a nursing home- including weekends. Even hustling with two jobs, we lived well below poverty level.

Walking downtown, an advertisement on a storefront window  offered “energy assistance,” I walked in; they took one look at the teen-aged mom and her thrift-store clad baby in a makeshift stroller that I had resurrected from someone’s trash by hand sewing a sort of sling onto the frame for the “seat” and I was deemed eligible to receive government assistance. Weirdly they just knew. Money was so tight that a big night out was walking to Dunkin’ Donuts to each buy a single doughnut maybe every two weeks.  It is true; there are people who do not even have spare change as a buffer against poverty.

We knew we should attend church, so we went. The church, mercifully, offered us the custodial job; we cleaned the church for our weekend fun and then turned around and tithed that money right back the next day. Our Vega, by this point, was guzzling oil so that when we’d get to the church the next town over, we’d have to pour a bottle of oil back in to get home again. But a bottle of oil was cheaper than a new car or repairs, so we always had a bottle of oil in the back.

Nine months later, I walked (I walked everywhere back then) into a Planned Parenthood clinic with my nine-month old daughter to wait in the hard plastic chair in an unfortunately full waiting room hoping for salvation from Planned Parenthood. I received their information and left. (Do you see how these people are always there waiting and wanting to “help?” Evil has a way of being there for you.) I did not heed the advice and our second daughter was born eight months later. Right then I would have slapped you down if you’d have told me we would go on to have five more children for a total of five daughters and two sons. That would have been crazy talking right there.

So here we still are celebrating 35 years  today. We are blessed beyond anything those two pitiful kids could have even dreamt up had they dared to dream. And the bet? I won.

Sterling, Kansas right before the trek across the country. (not our motorcycle)

Sterling, Kansas right before the trek across the country. (not our motorcycle)

"So… this kid's gonna be raising me!?"

“So… this kid’s gonna be raising me!?”

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This guy rocks!

This guy rocks!

Being in the Zone


Like the witch in the Wizard of Oz it began melting, melting, we stared as the biodegradable cup began to do just that right before our eyes. Andrew grabbed it just in the nick of time and salvaged the coffee back into the original vessel- Starbucks paper cup, Americano, Venti. We’d have to share from a single cup afterall as we waited for our pager to alert us that the wait was over and we could find out about Taite in recovery.

On the trip home Andrew wondered aloud to me what I might write about our last few day, I mean, if I did write about it. I told him I’d probably write about how I totally understand how a couple facing serious illness or worse of one of their children gets through it. And then gets a divorce.

I know, doesn’t that sound just awful?

Remember Baby Jessica, the 18 month old who fell down a 22 foot dry well and was trapped there for 58 hours back in 1987? I was pregnant with our fourth daughter at the time and everyday I was glued to the news, praying for that little girl to be rescued from that deep well. Her parents divorced a few years later. I remember being totally shocked; their little baby girl had been brought back up from the pit of darkness to the light; she was alive and safe in their arms; how could they so pettily divorce after all that? Wouldn’t it seem to the casual observer that the absolute relief would pull the whole family together forever, and ever, amen? I get it now. And the answer is, “No.” Hard stuff that parents go through with a child does not necessarily make the bond stronger. Sometimes it severs what you thought was strong.

We, Andrew and I, have discovered that we deal with stress differently.

My way is that in the car, in the hotel, in the restaurant, everywhere I need, need to have control because I cannot control the outcome in the hospital but I sure as heck can control whether we should be turning right. Or left, damn it. And I can control the coffee in my life, for Pete sake, right!??  Finding out there will be no coffee maker in the hotel room or the lobby sends me ballistic.  Andrew doesn’t do stuff like that.

We also discovered that I (and it turns out Taite as well) deal with the really hard things by “being in the zone.” We treat hard stuff, like illness and hospitals, like a sport- mentally focusing on the one event. Everything else gets shut out. So no, I do not want to discuss social nor political issues of the day right there in that blessed sterile curtain drawn cubicle. I want to be left totally alone and I do not want to talk to anyone about anything. Or be touched.

Perhaps we are attracted to our spouse initially because opposites attract. It can be a happy little humorous thing when life is happy and humorous. It can get on your nerves when things get sad and messy.

It’s easy to think, “We went through hard things, and now we are so eternally thankful for the things left intact that we will always be grateful and life will always be perfect. We promise.” And it can and should be like that, but it takes understanding, compassion, love, respect. And a lot of prayer. Lots of prayer. Lots of give and take. Lots of living with understanding.

So, if you are there; I understand.

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Betty & George


93 years old. She says it feels so long ago that it doesn’t seem like her life; someone else lived all that.

I long ago gave up the idea that me visiting someone would “bless” them; because long ago I learned that I am the one who always walks away amazed, refreshed, “blessed.”  So it was shear laziness that made Andrew and me think that maybe no, we didn’t want to drive 2 hours for a quick visit and then another 2 hours a bit later to catch our flight home. We got on over ourselves and made the trip. When I tell Betty that  she is an inspiration, she tells me, “you know, I’ve lived a hard life.”

This amazing woman was in her third year of law school when she met and married the man of her dreams. World War II was just beginning and this newly wed bride followed her husband every place he was assigned in the U.S. Soon she was toting a baby in a basket in the backseat. And then one day Wills shipped out. They sent a constant stream of  letters to each other and then she said,

“I knew. It was so abrupt. They just stopped.”

Her husband was killed at Anzio; she was a 22 year old widowed mother who had to find work. Everyday when she came home she had this, she knew crazy, idea that Wills would be there. Everyday her hope was shattered.

Sadly she stuck that baby back in his basket and headed back to the midwest. She picked up a guy thumbing a ride and sped on until she was stopped by a cop for speeding. He took a look in the back and warned her about minding the speed and keeping her baby safe and let her go. She said she’d have lost it right there if he’d said a mean word to her. She drove until she landed back in Nebraska where she found work.

Everyday when she was done working and hopeful for Wills, this other guy, 11 years her senior, was there instead perchance when she came home.  She married Mac and they both taught, combining their incomes for a total of $6K a year. When they heard that they could each do better by a thousand a year in Wyoming, they went. Soon they were having to move because Mac continually got  ”into trouble.” Another big move for another grand each a year and that is it, Betty declared, when they landed in California, “I will not move from here; this is where I stay.” She will not tell you, but her life with Mac was very hard.

That little baby in the backseat basket grew to be 16 years old and then devastatingly died in a motorcycle accident. Nothing remains of that first life that she lived.

Mac and Betty continued teaching and living in California, Mac was teaching convicts at Folsom prison when cancer took his life. Betty soon married a former convict, 11 years her junior, and they lived, still live together apart. She has her house and he has his; in the evenings he’d go back to his own house and that is how it’s been for 35 years. It has worked but now George is spending nights at Betty’s because at 93 she has fallen a few times in the night when she heads to the bathroom. She needs him.

So that day last week, Andrew and I were privileged to visit with Betty and George. When we showed up she told us we were going out for lunch and she would not need to bring her purse because it was our treat to treat her. And George would not be coming- he had a dentist appointment he had to keep. She could sit in the backseat, it didn’t matter. But it did matter, I told her, because she needed to direct us to her favorite restaurant. She sat up front.

After a 3 hour visit, she told us we needed to get going or we’d miss our plane.

Betty and George married 35 years and going strong!

Betty and George married 35 years and going strong!

 

 

Makoto Fujimura- Wine and Word


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I have been a fan of Makoto Fujimura’s work since I read of him in World magazine in 2005. I love his work. Who knew that his art extended all the way to Walla Walla, Washington on the label of a bottle of wine?

There we were Andrew, Jordan and me sipping wine at Flying Trout & Waters winery chitchatting with the owner/winemaker, Ashley Trout, when Andrew alerts me that he just heard the words, “Makoto Fujimura” across the room. And I stop mid sip, cutting off whatever important conversation I’d been in and to the woman across the way hand sealing bottles with wax, I asked,

“Did you just say ‘Makoto Fujimura?’”

Why yes, she had. In fact, she finished the wax seal and turned the bottle round to reveal the art work of Makoto Fujimura on the wine label. Without a second thought, I said,

“I’ll buy that bottle.” (The purchase showed up later that month on the MasterCard and let’s just say this is a bottle we will cellar and drink at a very special time.)

Makoto Fujimura uses an old Japanese method of painting, Nihonga, the art of his ancestors. As an art student at Bucknell University, Fujimura received a scholarship from Japan for foreigners studying in Japan. He apprenticed with the master painter, Kayama, who will only admit one student per year to study with him. At the close of his studies, Fujimura was honored to receive, but declined, an offer to stay on as Kayama’s assistant.

This Nihonga method uses raw minerals for color, carefully ground and applied to the work surface. It also uses gold and silver with the silver over time tarnishing. This tarnishing needs to be kept in mind when silver is used to the right effect.

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When I saw that he had illustrated the Four Holy Gospels, I was anxious to get a copy of this Bible.

It is oversized and beautiful. I kinda thought it would sit prettily on my coffee table to merely glance at, to know I owned it. And then my husband brought it to bed for his nighttime reading! I kind of fretted about the bookmark getting frayed and the pages getting, well, read. Honestly though, it should be read, perused, used and enjoyed. It is printed on heavy quality paper and can bear the burden. So there he lays at night reading the Holy Gospels from the most amazing Bible we could own.

I love the gorgeous illuminated letters that begin each chapter and the thoughtful art on the sides of the pages. I also am so happy not to have chapter headings- simply numbered verses very discreetly presented.

You think it’s too expensive? Heck, I’ve been putting seven kids through college, have you seen the price of a text book that gets used for one semester?! Buy a Bible artfully made with Makoto Fujimura’s work. It’ll last longer than the outdated engineering book.

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Inklings Into Thoughts Into Words


“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967.

“The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”

And that is why if you have never read anything by John Updike, you owe it to him to do it now. Olinger Stories would be a great start, a little pocket book you can tuck and take with you. John Updike’s writing is rich like a good bottle of wine, layers of insight come at you in subtle beauty;

“There was a time when I wondered why more people did not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean for use one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are paths worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts.”

And dirt, who could so eloquently decribe dirt, its worn paths, and earthiness. I am so thrilled to have found this writer.
The Olinger Stories- John Updike

The Olinger Stories- John Updike

 

 The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

“She should’ve known that after all these years of working at the hospital, of being the best g**d*** psychologist on his staff, when Cummings saw her, he still saw a black woman married to an Indian immigrant who taught at the university. God, how she hated working in this lily-white town. What did Cummings expect her to do- walk into the patient’s room and announce, ‘Hey, guess what? We’re both married to Indian guys. So you can trust me, sister’?”

Maggie Bose meets Lakshmi Patil when Lakshmi is admitted to the hospital for attempted suicide. Lakshmi is sitting on her bed, “looking at this wall, which look like myself inside- white and empty and blank.” Maggie is asked to assess her for release to ensure Lakshmi will not repeat the attempt.

Bit by bit Lakshmi worms her way into Maggie’s real life, her after work hours life, her life that is supposed to remain separated from her work and her patients.

Thrity Umrigar has written a story that is so compelling, so thoughtful, so thoroughly insightful of each character’s thoughts, motives and actions. I wait for books like this to come along, a book that makes me steal every little bit of time to read until I am done.

Thrity Umrigar, Story Hour book cover montage 2014

 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

And I am surely late to the party with this one already having over 1100 reviews. It is delightful in the Mma Romotswe way, if you’ve read No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It’s a comfortable, have a spot of tea while you read sort of book. Major Pettigrew is a droll sort of Brit who, late in years, sees the constant folly of this new generation of upstart kids and the foolishness and pretense amongst the upper crust.

Major Pettigrew’s wife died six years ago and his brother Bertie has just died leaving room for the two rifles that were divided between the two brothers to be reunited- if Bertie’s wife will allow. When Major Pettigrew gets behind the wheel to drive to his brother’s funeral, he finds he is paralyzed by the shock and can not even turn the key. The Pakistani shopkeeper, Jasmina Ali, sees him sitting there pale and still and offers to drive him.

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

 

Back to Reality


 

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It’s been party central here for weeks. Great fun, lots of feeding of hordes, working our way through our pantry supply. And drink inventory.

Before Christmas, Jarrett had the grand idea to host a white elephant alcohol party. But then it occurred to me, in the dead of night when I do my best thinking, that he’d invited an awful lot of Baptists to a drink exchange party.

“Yah, they drink anyway.”

They did and it was fun.

At long last after Christmas on a Sunday afternoon after the Seahawks game, I decided to veg out on the couch with Netflix and watch Advanced Style, a documentary about women 65 to 95 years old who still dress smashingly. It was kind of sad that when the entourage of old stylish women went to the New York fashion show, the 95 year old literally dropped dead and fell to the floor in the middle of the show. And then the documentary ended with her legs peeking out of the ambulance at Bryant Park.

I closed my iPad stood up, walked to the kitchen and  through the kitchen door walked about 12 people all smelling of smoke.

Like a trained monkey, I went straight to the freezer pulled out some egg rolls and began frying them up and exclaiming, “I’ll feed you, sit, sit, I feed you.”

Monday happened innocently enough. Andrew came home from his day of saving the world from nuclear disaster and I had a chicken soup simmering away for dinner. But over there on the counter, was also the prep work for pizzas,

“Because,” I told the weary worker, “We’re having a party here tonight.”

“Whaaat?”

My mother-in-law has been shocked by the multitudes and really went into hiding all through Christmas. The night when she thought it was safe to come out, she sat leisurely sipping her soup and, I mentioned the next party in a few hours. She wrapped up dinner and scurried away.

And then it was New Years and  we partied with Down North at the OK Theatre. When we thought the party was over we began walking home until I remembered I was freezing because it was 5˚ and my sweater was somewhere in the OK. We zipped back there to discover the party had resucitated, so we threw off our coats and danced until 2 a.m.

The next morning the temperature still refused to rise to double digits but we went sledding anyway, Athan exclaiming how he and grandma had gone so fast down the hill on our sled. Gauging by Aileen’s car, we were going about 25-30 miles an hour on a mile long run! The thrill of it!

Jarrett chased bobcats with dogs all over Hell’s Canyon. Then collected cattle with Zac and Caitlin.

It was just kinda hard to come home and calm down, lose Jarrett to the east coast again. Thankfully Caitlin and Zac are making their way here right now with the kids.