Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

It's not a great secret that I've been a somewhat negligent blogger lately.  More randomday posts than usual, less of the daily discipline of thinking coherently about something and writing it down.  I still love writing, and I'm still thinking thoughts both deep and frivolous that I'd like, in theory, to share with anyone who cares to read them.  It just hasn't happened as much lately, partly because it's more of a struggle to find a calm and centered mental place for writing.  I could have made myself write more, but it would have felt inauthentic to push a perky blog-voice on myself when I haven't really been all that perky.  But I'd like to get back to it more in 2015.

I'm not a huge one for New Year's resolutions, just as I'm not a big fan of all the little semi-superstitious rituals we do around holiday times.  I'm not, but then again, I find myself a little at loose ends without them.  I am sitting here at 11:15 p.m. on New Year's Eve and deciding not to do a big post about the year in review, and feeling a bit anxious and unsettled about it.  But hey, it's been a bit more random lately and I celebrate random too.  This evening, for example, we picked up Grandma and took her and the kids to the Petra House Jordanian restaurant.  Then after dropping Grandma back at her place we came home and played board games... Taboo, Clue, and Apples to Apples.  The girls are too hyper to go to sleep but they are heading toward bed; Tertia has had her rubber bands put on her braces and Quarta is at least not talking constantly and is hopefully reading in bed.  Meanwhile I opened a bottle of sparkling peach moscato and am sipping a half glass of it while the fireworks go off all around the neighborhood and the boys watch an episode of Psych.  Steve is too tired to stay up any longer and I would go to bed earlier if I could fall asleep easily.  And maybe I can, but probably not until the fireworks calm down after midnight.  I printed off the final clue in the Grand Illusion mystery, even though I have only finished the first three clues and have quite a bit of catchup to do.

So in brief, a few year in review things:  I read a lot of books, some of them of significant literary value, but have fallen away from reviewing them here.  I'd like to get back to that.  I really plowed my energies into the Duolingo website and app... starting a year ago with Italian on my then-new Kindle Fire, I worked steadily to learn Italian to prove my often-repeated advice that knowing Latin makes learning any Romance language much easier.  It did... I finished Italian in May, and also in May, I flew through a rapid review of my French which had lain dormant for 25 years.  Then I started Spanish, frequently noting the similarities with Italian, and then German over the summer.  I also started Dutch but have not pushed far with it because it is so close to German.  I did finish the German just a few days ago, and I'm setting a general New Year's resolution to advance through Dutch, and add a Scandinavian language and at least one other to my mix.  I'd also like to look more seriously at the Indo-European textbooks Steve got me last Christmas, which will be a little more meaningful with the broader experience of modern European languages I now have.  I haven't figured out ways of writing perky blog posts about language study quite yet, but I'm sure game to try.

I still knit and sew and quilt, but there has been quite a bit less of it at this particular stage of life, and my photography and documentation of my work has been quite a bit less than before.  I'd like to ramp it back up, but perhaps in a thoughtful way that won't overload my patience, if I can figure out the perfect balance.  I find I need to work with my hands to stay centered for the other work that isn't considered optional.  And I need to write down what I am thinking in some format, or life loses some of its purpose.  It's completely secondary whether anyone reads it.

So, kind readers, I wish you all a happy New Year, and that you may find the magic balance between creativity and chaos.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Randomday after Christmas

Somehow it always works out.  Christmas is stressful, we don't take enough family pictures, we eat too much ham and pie and candy, the youngest in the family has at least one meltdown and we become groggy, irritable and lethargic at least once during the evening.  We're not the kind of family that posts gushing Facebook updates about "best Christmas ever" or sends out those perfect family picture greeting cards.  We don't mock you if you are.  In fact, you are the impossible ideal and we have been forced to adopt a policy of admiration from afar.  No, perfection is not achieveable in this life and we aren't trying anymore.   But we still have pretty nice Christmases and they don't last long enough.
 I like this picture of Steve's mom, who joined us about 10:00 am for the opening of presents.  She was a good sport about not getting too many gifts herself and just watching while the rest of the family did their thing.  She enjoyed the homemade eggnog, sampled some of Daniel's plum wine, and I think she won all the games of cribbage she played.
 Peter bought Quarta a set of Minecraft paper animals and she spent most of the day crafting her menagerie.  Steve put together my old bedframe that has been in storage for years and we are going to get her a new mattress since the one she has been using is at least 50 years old.  She also has a Minecraft account of her own now, and fuzzy Minnie Mouse pajama pants.  Tertia has fluffy pink pajamas and a brand new Facebook account.  It may be the beginning of a whole new era.
 Steve gave me a hammered dulcimer for Christmas, which pretty much tops last year's gift of a Kindle (also spectacular), and was totally unexpected because it was, in my mind, in the category of Unachieveable Things that Might Materialize in the Far Distant Future.  I've always wanted one since I first started listening to Celtic music more than 3 decades ago, so I guess now is the far distant future from then.  Apparently in this futuristic world, one learns to play hammered dulcimer by watching youtube videos.  Or, since I'm kind of an intuitive learner, I just dived right in and started picking out things.  I can play Simple Gifts, Good King Wenceslaus, and the Star Wars theme (for Tertia) without too much trouble now.  I'm working on Come Boat me Over and an old harp tune that is NOT called Nonesuch but is similar, only now that I looked up Nonesuch I can't remember it and am picking out Nonesuch instead.  Such is the way my brain works, very prone to distraction.  I won't be earning money playing at dances and weddings anytime soon, but I am managing to make music.
My gift for Steve was a sweater he helped pick out himself when we were shopping at the mall, and the board game Ticket to Ride (Europe).  We played it last night and he, predictably, won by a large margin (yellow).  It's a fun game and I would like to play it again now that I have the feel for it.  I was green, Daniel was black, Tertia was red and Quarta was blue.  Afterwards we watched Peter's video of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Apparently this was the only thing he asked for for Christmas (it was the movie I took him to see on Family Day after Basic Training).  I'm really glad he remembered to ask for it again right before Christmas or I wouldn't have been able to snag the next-to-last copy at Target.  It finished after midnight.

Today was a nice lazy day.  I celebrated my 1 year anniversary of using Duolingo by finishing my German "tree", and Steve and I took a 2 mile walk, and Daniel is catching up on the last few episodes of an entire missed season of Doctor Who (with the girls' help) so that maybe tomorrow we can watch the Christmas special.  I am trying not to eat all my chocolate, and there will be our traditional Ham Pasta dish for dinner, and there are still a few slices of the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie that I didn't make for Thanksgiving.  Soon enough we will start the after-Christmas shopping trips to buy clothes, and the kids will choose their annual "date with Dad."  And soon after that school will start up again and we will need to plan the Last Noel.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Braces and Baby Steps

 Tertia and Quarta had appointments at the orthodontist today. It was Quarta's day to get bands and upper brackets put on. Tertia is now wearing rubber bands to pull her lower jaw into alignment with the upper.  She cannot put them in herself.  I can put them in, but it apparently takes 20 minutes to do it.  I'm hoping to improve that speed.
 Quarta seems a lot taller.   She is also much more verbal than Tertia, and will be sure to tell me if she's in pain.  That doesn't mean that I can do anything about it, of course.  Tertia is nearing the end of her braces adventure: she'll be wearing a retainer then, and biding her time until she can get some dental implants to fill that big gap on top.  With one family member or another, it seems like I practically live at the dentist's office these days.
It's Christmas time, and I'm not really doing anything about it.  I'm taking baby steps on the Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt... this is clue 3, a little more than halfway done.  The mystery link-up is technically for clue 4 but I'm happy to be this far along.  I really like the green and white checkerboard with bits of black.

Here's what I should be doing, but am not: cleaning the house; organizing all the new orthodontic supplies and cleaning the kids' bathroom; baking cookies with no nuts or sticky bits to get caught in braces; writing thank-you notes for all the teacher loot I received; grading and updating the SchoolSpeak database; shopping, cooking, and menu-planning; writing Christmas letters; making New Year's resolutions to be much, much more organized and productive than I have been this year.  Nope, I don't think so.  I'm finding the amount of cooking and cleaning I'm doing is therapeutic, and so is the quilting.  Not going to push it beyond that!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Randomday before Christmas

I'll make this quick.  Christmas is a complicated thing.  We like it in our house.  But I don't necessarily like the production that goes into it.  And here we are, four days out, and only two days into Christmas vacation, and I have no master plan, no clean house, and no real energy to make Christmas happen.  And somehow, that has to be all right.  It's kind of okay for me, but I'm a little worried about the rest of the family.  Okay, a lot worried.  I mean, they're big kids now and all, but somewhere deep down, I'm sure they're all expecting Christmas Magic that I don't have.  I've been using up all my energy to teach Latin lately when, trust me, I'd rather be scrubbing toilets and baking.

Daniel came home from college, arriving late Wednesday evening.  It's great to have him back.  Peter had his training weekend for the National Guard last week and reportedly spent a lot of time standing at attention.  Tertia's class went to see the Nutcracker and she really enjoyed it this evening when we watched "Elf" as a family.  Quarta had her first official orthodontist appointment to put expanders in and then, Tuesday, gets the full treatment for braces, just in time for Christmas. It will be interesting... she does not suffer in silence, unlike Tertia, who if you remember, had a cavernous mouth wound caused by her braces for a week without uttering a word of complaint when we were on vacation last summer.

Steve and I had a date last night, went to the Petra House Jordanian restaurant, and did a modest amount of Christmas shopping.  I'm planning on cooking the second turkey of the year tomorrow for after church.  Kind of a late Thanksgiving dinner for Daniel, and of course, the rest of us like turkey too.  Then next week, a little more shopping and cooking will get done, but I'm not sure about the baking.  I seem to be falling short on the baking and cleaning lately.

I have been trying to get in a little sewing time every day on the mystery quilt; not so much because I plan to get it finished or anything, but because working with my hands helps me stay more cheerful during the stressful Christmas season.  Surely I'm not the only one.

Also, I wrapped up a fun game of Civilization 4 Caveman to Cosmos today; I played at an easy level on the fastest settings and smallest map possible on that mod, and with a random start I ended up as the Canadians.  The units said "eh" a lot.  I conquered the four other civs on my home continent: the Danish, Indians, Slovaks and Phoenicians, and then I had the game well in hand and put myself on the fastest track to navigation so I could sail over to the other continent and fight with the Manchurians.  Romans were also in the game but they weren't much of a power.  I decided to quit in 795 B.C. after discovering chemistry, since there wasn't really anything left to prove.  There's something profoundly satisfying about laying waste entire civilizations and controlling 92% of the world, even if it is a fictitious world.  This is why I will never run for public office.  The temptation to do something dastardly to, say, North Korea would be too great.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Midweek Updates on Quilting and Knitting

It has been a hard few weeks at school, and I have come to realize that I cope with it so much better if I insist on doing some creative work with my hands every day.  So this week has been a little better, so far.  Because I have insisted on going into my little cubby and doing a little sewing every day.  Also, if you haven't seen already, Sew Mama Sew is doing their giveaway week, and that will lift any crafter's spirits! Currently, I'm plugging away at Bonnie Hunter's Grand Illusion Mystery.  I didn't finish clue 1 until yesterday, and now I have a start on clue 2.
 I don't have the same Easy Angle ruler as Bonnie uses: mine is the Fons & Porter ruler designed for flying geese, but I use it for both half-square and quarter-square triangles.  I wavered a bit on which of the three methods for clue 2 to use; I was going to just use the stitch-and-flip method, but after looking more carefully at method 2 I decided I would try it and not have to waste fabric or stress about what to do with my bonus triangles.  So I sprayed the paper template with a few shots of machine applique adhesive and taped it onto the ruler like this, and it seemed to work fine.
 This is how my ruler works cutting the neutral diamonds... you can see I'm using some of my vintage sheets.
 And you can still use it to cut the corner triangles, just don't look at the paper template while you do it.
 I have 6 of my diamond units so far.  I think the rest will go fairly quickly once I get a little more cutting done.  I am loving the color combination in this quilt!  It makes me think of my grandmothers' generation, living in the Midwest in the mid-century.  I'm trying to pick very scrappy fabrics that mostly have a vintage feel.
 This is last week's clue: all finished at last.  Maybe the skull and crossbones fabric is not so vintage looking!
And I am still knitting on Azzu's Shawl, which I started more than 2 months ago.  It only has 10 more rows to go, though.  On the Kindle, I'm still working on reading Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and my daughter is still disgruntled with me for not having finished the latest Percy Jackson book yet.

Now, I've chatted long enough and I need to go do some therapeutic sewing.  Enjoy checking out the other projects on display this week:

Quiltville's Mystery Monday Link-Up
WIP Wednesday

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Randomday with Assorted Holidays

Sinterklaas day: I found this completely delightful assortment of St. Nicholas songs, in Dutch, to celebrate with.  They bring back such fond memories of  my mother, who used to sing almost all of them.  My parents lived in the Netherlands for 4 years and I was born in year 3; a lot of these tunes are familiar from my very early childhood, when the language and culture must have still been fresh in her mind.

A difficult week at school, capped off by what I will probably remember as the St. Nicholas Day massacre, when I intercepted one of Those Notes, spiteful and immature, punctuated by more "lol"s than any decent writer could stand to see in a lifetime.  It was written on a bright neon pink 3x5 card that was supposed to be used for studying Latin grammar rules, but obviously the 4 joint authors and unindicted co-conspirators don't see much value in the study of Latin or have any respect for the teacher.  Funny how they think I won't notice something so bright, passed hand to hand during what's supposed to be quiet work time.  Not since the "pretend to shoot Mrs. Chapman when her back is turned" note years ago have I been as disgusted with a class.  They should get coal in their klompen. It's been 15 years of this, the long dark middle-school of the soul, and I'm teaching kids who weren't even born when I started.  And it's not really any easier.  I don't think the teachers who don't teach the most-hated subject can understand.  "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" is a tragic movie.  Peter O'Toole is brilliant in it but I can't bear to watch it anymore.

Oh well, on to Christmas.  I somehow lost my taste for ballet and so today instead of the Nutcracker I took the girls to see Journey Theater Arts' production of White Christmas.  We know several cast members and it was a lovely production, very professionally presented.  Quarta now wants to watch the movie version sometime soon.  I could do that, I suppose.  Right now, though, we're watching the live Peter Pan recording we started yesterday.  "How old is Wendy supposed to be?" asked Quarta.  "About as old as you, just about ready to become a young woman but still enjoying being a child," was my answer.  That makes one think.  Also today, we went shopping for some Christmas lights and Steve and Peter put them up on the front fence and the gable over the front door.  Sometime very soon I will need to clean the house and figure out how to organize the Christmas shopping.  And here's how you say "bah humbug" in Latin: "Phy! Fabulae!"

I've been working through a translation of Bede's Ecclesiastical History for the Latinstudy group, and we are stuck in the interminable debate over the correct observance of Easter.  That part, as Steve observes, is tedious to read in English.

I did not get any sewing done on the Grand Illusion mystery quilt today.  I did mix up a pflaumenkuchen to take to fellowship tomorrow.  Yesterday I taught Steve how to make fudge.  I hope to have a chance to do more domestic things like cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sewing soon.  I keep hoping!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mystery Monday Linkup on Thursday

I knew, diving into my 4th Bonnie K. Hunter mystery, that it would not be realistic for me to keep up with all the clues.  But that's okay.  I love these mysteries a lot, and for the 4th holiday season in a row, I am looking forward on a weekly basis to the clues coming out, and rummaging in my stash to make them.  I have about 20 more of the half-square triangles to sew, all from my very scrappy stash; but I've only made this one 4-patch of the Broken Dishes unit.  As you can see, I like my fabrics scrappy, that's part of the fun for me.  My big debate is whether to go with the current gold color (I have just slightly less than 1 1/2 yards of it) as a constant, or to just rummage in my yellows the same way I am rummaging in my blues and pinks and blacks.  I may just wait to see what others are doing for the next few weeks and decide later.  You can see more of the participants and their work here.
 (some of my fabrics under consideration for the quilt)
 This is currently the quilt I've got on my design wall.  It was based on Bonnie's Santa Fe String Star, but I'm heading in a rainbow direction with it and very excited about the potential, but a bit nervous about how I'm going to set it.
 I want to somehow incorporate these cute little stars in the setting.
The background is going to be a medium gray solid.  That's all I know so far!  I don't want to take the pieces down from my wall because I'm enjoying looking at them too much.  Oh, for lots more time to quilt!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Randomday: Clearing the Decks (sort of)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday.  I cook like a madwoman for a few days and then get to stay in bed until 7:30 the next few days.  Maybe even 8:00.  And there are leftovers, although not so much as you might think of the turkey and mashed potatoes.  I don't do the crazy Black Friday shopping.  In fact, I think that somebody else should produce Christmas this year.  I produced Thanksgiving, and that should really count for something, right?
Tertia did her part to get the Christmas season off to a festive start at the annual Tree-Lighting yesterday.  It went on despite the rain, combined choirs singing several dozen carols at a good clip, proud family members looking on.  There was a romantic proposal of marriage (didn't catch who, but they seemed a nice young couple) after the choir finished singing, then the wait for Santa and Mrs. Claus to show up and throw the switch.  It's the fourth year Tertia has been able to participate.  Getting to be a tradition for her.  Then we went home and had hot cocoa.

Today started off with promise: I spotted a Latin error in the Washington Post.  Nothing makes a grammar geek's day quite like spotting a noun-adjective agreement problem that slipped past the experts.  For the record, the writer chose to say "alumnus non grata."  Now, "persona non grata" is perfectly fine Latin, the feminine adjective agreeing with the feminine noun, and "alumnus non gratus" would have worked although the play on the more familiar "persona" would have been over the heads of the average Post reader, I suppose.  If you ask me, the appropriate quote for the story would have been "corruptio optimi pessima."  But that would have required 8th grade level grammar.

So for the fourth year, I am planning in on joining in on the Bonnie K. Hunter mystery quilt.  This year, it is Grand Illusion, inspired by the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  The color scheme has a nice "ladies that lunch" vintage feel about it, and I am eager to dive in.  But since quilting has not been happening that much lately, there was unfinished business to attend to.  Another Bonnie Hunter pattern actually -- the Santa Fe String Star that I have been working on for months.  I dedicated the first part of this holiday weekend to seaming the star medallion together, along with the little stars from the extra diamonds in each color.

I'm pleased that the center of the star lies relatively flat.  I pressed the seams open for all the diamonds but it's still fairly bulky with all the strings.
 I really like all the little stars, and hope I can figure out how to use them in the setting for this beast.
 I went out this afternoon and bought 5 yards of Kona medium gray for the background.  I think it will work well.
 I have the large central star and 8 little stars.
 The scrappy string quilting process is a lot of fun... but it leaves the sewing area incredibly messy.
The stars will stay on the design wall until I figure out how to set them in the gray background fabric.  I think it has great potential to be one of the most artistic quilts I've ever made.  But it's far from finished.
Meanwhile, today I started to pull fabrics for the mystery quilt and make the pink and blue half-square triangles.  I have already made about a third of the umpty-hundred I need.  But I don't think I'll run out of fabric anytime soon.  Too bad, really.  I at least need to cull through my little scraps and clean up my working area a bit more.  I will have to return to school on Monday, so my sewing time will be curtailed once again.

Lots of fun movies have been watched over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Sleepless in Seattle on Thursday, Jack the Giant Killer yesterday, and that great classic, Chicken Run, this evening.  We are a little closer to giving the girls a proper education.  Speaking of which, poor Peter is experiencing the less than joyful process of filling out college applications.  They can put paperwork online and they claim that it makes it more efficient, but it is still destructive of the human soul.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


My Dad shared these pictures of my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving.  I remember them, their knotty pine kitchen, and their singleminded intensity about the preparation of good food so well.  On days like yesterday, my big prep day, and today, I feel the presence of a great cloud of witnesses, mainly my female ancestors, as I go about the rituals of preparing and serving the great American feast.  I do it differently, yes.  I throw out the giblets without a second thought; I don't make those noodles in the broth; I make whole-berry sauce rather than the chopped cranberry relish; I don't worry -- too much -- if I have fewer than four desserts; and I do make a double batch of turkey stock with the carcass, to freeze for soups later on.  I don't set the same beautiful table and use all the fine china.  But all the time I am thinking about Thanksgivings past, the story Grandma Maffett used to tell of the bank robbery by an inept branch of the Dillinger gang; the time Grandpa Bogue dropped the pecan pie and then stepped in it; the smells and tastes and memories of a blessed childhood.

 It was a little bit lonely without Daniel.  He's been on the wrong side of the country for three years worth of Thanksgivings now.  We did have a nice Skype session with him after the meal, but it's just not the same.  Tertia is the one who likes to pose for the camera, but she blocked Steve's Mom, so I had to take another one.
Yesterday, Quarta learned how to make cranberry sauce.  This is more or less the traditional whole berry sauce I've been making for years, with orange zest and a little orange juice.
 And the second is a sauce of cranberries and a quart of plums from the freezer, with orange zest, orange juice, ginger, spices and a splash of brandy.  It's a little less sweet but still, I think, quite good.  And for once we have enough leftover cranberry sauce, since we had the mother-daughter cook-off.
The pie-making yesterday was when I was thinking of my grandmothers the most.  I dithered as to whether to make the German Chocolate pie or the Chocolate Bourbon pecan pie, and German Chocolate won, but not before I had braved the morning crowds at Winco and bought a bottle of bourbon for the other.  I could picture my two grandmas up in heaven, one shaking her head about the bourbon, and the other one telling me to make even more desserts.
It's a good thing I didn't.  For one thing, I don't have enough pie plates.  And for another, we were all so stuffed that we have plenty of pies leftover too.

All morning as I worked, I could see the 5-k turkey trotters from the local health club jogging down the street in front of the house.  Justifying their feast later on, I guess.  I'm of the opinion that the women who produce the Thanksgiving feast burn quite enough calories in the production process.  I know it's not the dramatic kind of exercise that all the neighbors can see.  But think about it; it's a long, steady sequence of little tasks that put you under a constant low-level stress, thus building up endurance and all-round muscle tone for anything life might throw at you.  Today alone, I arm-wrestled a nearly 20-pound bird and won.  There was chopping, herb-gathering, pantry-rummaging, lifting, fridge-stacking and re-arranging, mixing, stirring, timing, research into ideal temperature points, whipping of cream, browsing of last-minute recipes, delegating of chores to reluctant pre-teens and teenagers, carving, schlepping, whisking of gravy, and I even opened a champagne bottle for the first time (and ducking the backsplash, but not fast enough).  So, take that, turkey-trotters.  It's a much more enjoyable holiday when you don't fight the feast.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WIP Wednesday - rainbow diamonds

The eight individual diamonds are done for my String Star quilt.  They have been done for about a week but I've been grading like nothing else matters all this time and have only just come up for air.  There are enough extra little diamonds to make little stars that I hope to use in the setting.

Next will be planning the setting.  I'm thinking solid medium gray background fabric, and somehow I need to work extra stars into it.  At some point I also need to clean up the royal mess I have made in my sewing area.  And hem Tertia's jeans.

It will probably be quite some time before I finish this top, but it was fun pushing through the piecing to get to this point.  At least I have something colorful and pretty to stare at now that the weather has turned gloomy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Randomday with Boyfriend Jeans

Last week was finals week for all my classes; after spending an insane amount of time grading I declared a moratorium on any further grading until Monday.

In a non-school moment last week it came to my attention that Tertia's wardrobe desperately needed attention.  She had only a few pairs of pants that fit after the mid-teen growth spurt when kids go from size 12 kids to 14, 16, and adult sizes in quick succession, and I culled two full bags to give away.  Which meant that today was designated as a mother-daughter shopping date day.

We hit Cascade Station, which I had never done before, thinking it was just a light rail station by the airport.  I guess I've been a fairly mediocre shopper for the last several years, or I wouldn't have needed someone to tell me it was a good place to shop.  She started giggling immediately after we pulled into the parking lot about the name of the store: Banana Republic.  Then we were looking at jeans and I read one tag that identified the style that fits her best: boyfriend jeans (because they have a cuff rolled up as if borrowed from a taller boyfriend).  We found a petite size that was the perfect length for her.  She hasn't really stopped giggling since.  "Boyfriend!  That's such a funny joke!"
 We bought a few more things at Ross and then hit the new Goodwill Outlet, where you buy by the pound.  We found two pairs of jeans that fit her perfectly, except for the length...
... I will need to hem these before they can be boyfriend style, or maybe just turned under like regular jeans.

Sarah Palin posted this sweet quote from the surgeon who performed her son Trig's eye surgery, and her thoughts after:

 "Compare his eyes to a 'normal' child's. Get a magnifying glass. Look deep. Their eyes are captivating inside! They're different, they're colorful, they sparkle. Surely God made these eyes to reflect what heaven must be." 
If only we all could see into and through the eyes of the innocent! They're God's sons and daughters who may not meet man's standards of perfection but will certainly meet His. Their enduring childlike faith and their patience with the rest of us can teach us what is important. Maybe if we look with those eyes, what a wonderful world we will see. 

It is a never-ending privilege to look into those eyes every day.  If I pay attention, I do learn what is really important.  And sometimes, it's shopping for jeans.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

No Place for An Election

One of my earliest memories is being taken along with my mother to the polling place in Akron, Ohio, an enormous school gym with the smell of polished wood floors mingled with the smoke being puffed by the election workers, and the hum of rustling papers and hushed voices.  I asked who my mother had voted for afterwards, and she said it was not something you told everybody; it was special, something you thought about very carefully before doing.  Voting was obviously a sacred ritual of American civil religion - more important than the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance I would join in later; less noisy but more momentous than the Fourth of July.  It meant something.  I wasn't sure yet what, but it meant something.

A lifetime later, and I am feeling rather disconnected from the physical reality of Election Day.  In Washington State, we no longer go to a polling place to vote.  All elections are conducted by mail-in ballot.  There is no satisfying drop of the heavy paper ballot into the ballot box, no smell of gymnasium floors, no pleasant repartee with the retirees manning the tables for the precincts.  It's virtual voting, if you will, in the comfort of your own home, with only the standard-issue voter's guide, also sent in the mail, and chatting with whoever else in your household wants to share the voting chore with you.  This is all done in the name of making it easier for people to vote, and trying to ensure greater participation.  I'm sure these are all good things, but it feels less exciting, even less important somehow.

Now, it's not a Presidential election year, and Washington State has no Senate race this year.  I maintain that local races are important, of course. I will be interested in watching the results in other states, I suppose.  But I can't help also feeling that we are missing out on something by not going through the shared minor hardship of driving to the local polling place, waiting in line with our fellow-citizens, deciphering the ballot then and there, and seeing our own ballot join the ranks of others.  It gives you just that much more confidence, that we are all citizens of the same country and we all have the same basic concerns no matter what party we favor.  It's not that I'm afraid the ballots won't get counted (although there is always that nagging feeling that they might not be if no one is watching the polls, because there are no polls to watch).  It's not that I don't care about the races I voted for.  But I think that something vital is lost in our common culture when we don't ever learn to do even one thing as a community, at the same time.

When was the last time that everyone in America was doing the same thing at roughly the same time?  September 11 maybe?  Maybe watching Presidential election returns or debates, but more likely a major sporting event.  Mostly, we go our own ways, living lives of personal peace and affluence, skipping the hardship as much as possible.  Sometimes, on an uncomfortable airline flight, I have had the surreal experience of looking around and thinking, "are these the people I'm going to die with?"  But at least there were people there, and most of them were Americans.  It's a little the same with elections; it's a shared experience, and even if a great tragedy occurs, in the air or at the polls, it is our experience as Americans and we will go through it together.  This all-mail balloting tends to lead many people to see elections as major nuisances, and our government as something that is somehow anti-social.  Political ads are increasingly more strident and divisive, and it's a little easier to tune them out or write them off now.  We are more cynical when unsolicited ads, calls, and ballots show up at our residences.  We stop seeing government as something that we change, a series of real tasks facing real people in a real world.  And we tend to care only about the big races, forgetting that every big race started out as a little one, with people in it who were once unknowns.

It is at times like these that I like to think of the time I physically met our Congresswoman, Jamie Herrera Beutler, when she was still a state representative and spoke at the Cedar Tree groundbreaking, and little toddler Tertia tried to climb into her car which was parked right next to ours.  The physicality of it may not take away my nostalgia for the smell of polished wood gymnasium floors, but it tells its own story of connectedness in an increasingly isolated America.

We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Design Wall Monday

This is on my design wall this Monday (and you can click on the link to see what others are doing).
I am almost finished with those big diamonds to form my string star.  Three are done, the other five have four rows and are waiting for the fifth, and I have pieced most of the individual small diamonds that I will need.  It just needs about an hour or two of uninterrupted time.  Ha Ha!  I need to start thinking about the background fabric and the design... I'm pretty sure I want to do little stars with some of the extra diamonds, but how I'm going to set them I don't know.

The 9-patches and blocks draped off to the right are for that "low volume" quilt-along I joined yay long time ago... when I sat back down to finally do some quilting back in September after a long hiatus, I thought I would piece a few more of those Burgoyne Surrounded blocks, but I ended up getting drawn into the diamonds instead.  It's always an adventure in the quilting area.  I totally should do this more often.

I also bought four black fat quarters in preparation for the Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt coming up later this month, and because I liked them.  I should technically log them as part of a stash report, but I fell off that bandwagon some time ago -- not because I bought too much fabric, but because I nearly stopped blogging altogether.  I'll just stick to piecing diamonds for awhile yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Randomday on Sunday

I have not been random for some time.  Or rather, I have not been random on my blog.  I have been having trouble sticking to any schedule other than the school one.

Peter officially turned 18 today.  We celebrated yesterday since today was the church annual meeting and fellowship dinner.  New York strip steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus, salad and apple pie.  Pretty much the ultimate classic American meal.

Friday was Reformation Day at school and there was also a special party at church.  I didn't have to teach Friday but caught up on my grading, then in the evening I portrayed Marguerite of Navarre in a "Name that Reformer" game show.  She's pretty obscure today, but I enjoyed reading up on her... a Renaissance woman indeed.

Thursday Tertia had a Halloween dance at her school,  On my theory that all the best costumes are made with stuff on hand and at the last minute, I spent an hour or so in the afternoon whipping up this Weeping Angel costume:
Don't blink!  She was the cutest one at the dance, especially when it was time to sing along with "Let it Go."
It has been a difficult couple of weeks.  I had a crown put on my molar that had a crack and had lost some of its filling: the appointment itself went fine and the novocaine went in the right place, but when it wore off the temporary crown was extremely painful to chew on, and even after adjustment has not been pain-free.  Then my sister in Scotland had a nasty fall and broke both bones of her leg at the ankle; she was hospitalized and had surgery to insert pins and a plate and after a week is now housebound in her walk-up flat, unable to do stairs for 4-6 weeks.

Our van had a nail in the tire that damaged the wheel rim, and new tires were ordered but we were given a timeline of 7-10 days and it has been 8 days now of less than ideal transportation arrangements.  Also, the garage door broke, and we are on day 3 of the 7-10 days to order its replacement.  Of course, the garage door is for the other car, and the control for the working garage door is marooned with the van at the shop.  So life is rather inconvenient right now.

Teaching this year is an interesting mix; my students are livelier and have more adolescent energy than I ever remember having before; combined with the fact that I have several students who are new to Latin and have to somehow be integrated into the program while keeping them and their parents happy, and although I personally have good confidence in my own ability as a teacher, I'm never sure how much the people who really matter have in it... and that might explain why I'm perpetually stressed and tired.  It's a little like Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.., the people started to question whether their way of life could really go on forever.  I would be tempted to insert a quote from Ecclesiastes here, but I really must go to bed and prepare for the hard labor at the galley bench.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WIP Wednesday at Long Last

It has been so long since I posted a WIP Wednesday link-up, I had almost forgotten about most of my quilt projects.  A busy summer, an even busier start to the school year... well, I have been getting back to some of my quilt habits just to stay sane.  Not much knitting has been getting done; that seems to be the tradeoff.
 I have been working on my variation of a Bonnie Hunter pattern, the Santa Fe String Star quilt.  I have made enough diamonds to begin piecing the larger diamonds one row at a time.  I'm working very carefully and trying not to tug at those bias seams too much.  So far I'm partway through the third of the five rows.
 When I'm done I'll have eight diamonds to make the big central medallion star.  And then I'll have to figure out how to set it... I already know I don't want to do flying geese.
Here are the extra diamonds for the last two rows: I still have some more to make, but I'm making them at the same time as I'm seaming the rows together so it's progressing nicely.  I'm thinking about making smaller stars for the setting, to break up the large stretches of what will probably be gray background fabric.  I'm getting excited about it!
 I haven't shared these two quilts that my Mother-in-Law had me pin for her.
I especially like this one... so cheerful.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


School: Six weeks down, three left in the first quarter.  I am a little bit more used to the schedule but I still find myself utterly exhausted by early afternoon, every single day.  Students progressing acceptably; parent-teacher conferences approaching next week.  Cleaning the house is not happening, dinner is happening, but not always prepared by me.

Family: Daniel doing well at college, Peter is having his first drill weekend since Basic Training, and experiencing normal Senior year stress.  Cross-Country season is almost over for him.  Tertia went bowling with her class this week and continues to get up early and get ready to meet the school bus every day with a smile on her face.  Quarta... just won a writing contest for the local library, and you can read her goofy detective story here, along with the other winning entries.  We went to the awards ceremony with author Blythe Woolston, who writes the kind of YA novels I don't really ever read, but who gave one of the best author talks I've ever heard, full of humor and insight despite her preference for bleak storylines.  Quarta received a personally autographed copy of Black Helicopters, which I hope she doesn't read for quite some time yet.  Yeah, that difference between J and YA is a wide gulf.  Personally, I like children's literature to be for children, but it is quite interesting to hear about the different trends in publishing.

I have been quilting a bunch in the time when I'm not teaching; it has been a lot of fun to see my rainbow string star grow bit by bit.  I still haven't taken any pictures of it.

Steve bought a dehumidifier to combat the ever-present damp... the heat hasn't been turned on yet this fall but the moisture keeps building up.

I have an appointment Monday afternoon to put a crown on my cracked molar.  Better then than Thursday as originally scheduled, which would be right during parent-teacher conferences.

The girls and I went shopping for a horse costume for Quarta's school play, without too much success.  We went to Goodwill, Party City, JoAnn's, and I finally found coconuts at the third grocery store of the day.  Yes, we are going to attempt a Monty Python approach.  Power of suggestion, although we did get a brown shirt at Goodwill and Quarta can probably come up with a yarn tail and some cardboard ears.  I'm trying to convince her that the clopping coconut shells will be a brilliant touch, appreciated by all adults.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Randomday Birthday

It is Randomday... and my birthday.  I turned 47, but for most of the last 3 months I had the vague idea that I was already 47 (I'm a language person, after all, not math!) so it didn't seem to be a painful birthday.  I hope I can manage to forget my age again in 3 years.

Because I was born in Europe at a few minutes after midnight local time, my birthday technically begins on October 10, so we celebrated yesterday.

Steve's mom was hospitalized October 9 for testing after chest pains.  There was not evidence of a heart attack, so they released her yesterday.  Steve picked her up, filled her prescription, and brought her here for her first meal out of the hospital, which he proceeded to cook -- Pad Thai, my standing birthday request -- and it was delicious, and we ate in reasonably good time, and had the "signature prune cake" from Chuck's, which was also delicious, and then Steve took his mom home so she could rest.  Pretty eventful early birthday, but it went pretty well.  Kudos to Steve for managing all of that.

At school we had a team of accreditors visiting all the teachers in all the classes on the 9th and 10th, so it was an extra-stressful week.  My classes went reasonably well in 7th and 8th grade, but 6th grade was, shall we say, sub-optimal. But I think we passed, so that's all to the good.

This week Tertia's school has been having school spirit events leading up to homecoming... so she has been dressing in themes all week.

Today Peter had to take the SAT.  I got up to fry him a couple of eggs for breakfast, then went back to bed to read for awhile.  After breakfast (which Steve cooked again!) I did some language practice on Duolingo and then took Tertia (who had a birthday a few weeks ago) shopping for birthday girl stuff.

Then I came home and did some sewing... for the first time in months.  I worked on the rainbow string star, I now have all 8 strips of this 5-diamond sequence, the first of the 5 strip sets I need.  It was fun.  I should work on quilts more often.  And blog about them.
We went out for dinner at the Golden City Chinese restaurant, which was lovely.  It used to be my lifeline when I was pregnant with Quarta and Chinese was the only thing that I could think about eating.  Then it was home to watch Dr. Who with the girls (and fluff up Tertia's pillow with good dreams afterwards, because mummies are her biggest fear).  Now we have The Big Sleep going.
And I am blogging.  And thinking about having a snack on some leftover Pad Thai.  It's been a pretty good birthday.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Yarn-Along (First in A Long Time)

It has been quite awhile since I posted a yarn-along post.  I haven't been able to clear as much time for knitting as I used to do.  It's quite sad, actually.  I have these dishcloths to show for the last several weeks of summer and the beginning of Fall.  If I was knitting at all it was on these.
 Have you ever had one of those experiences where it felt like people all around you were morphing into rhinoceroses?  Eugene Ionesco, my favorite Theatre of the Absurd playwright, wrote just such a play, and I am reading it now.  Rhinoceros.  It's symbolic of the rapid descent of European society into fascism before World War II, and makes a good counterpoint to Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I am also reading.  But there are certain parallels with teaching middle school Latin, I suppose, if you don't get too literal.  This is going to make me want to re-read The Chairs.
There are two new yarn stores in town!  The closest is just a hop skip and jump away, and that is where I bought this lovely skein of Madeline Tosh Merino Light in "Chickory."  (Sure about that spelling, are we?   Sorry, it's just that I think it should be "Chicory.")  It's a very moody melange of blues and grays and I am working on Azzu's Shawl with it.  My other knitting projects have had no attention for months, I am sad to say.  Since school started there has been a lot of falling into an exhausted but restless sleep at 8:30 p.m., waking up with insomnia at 3:00 or 4:00 and reading about the Night of Long Knives or the Anschluss, and then packing lunches and getting Tertia to brush her teeth before the bus comes.  And then it's off to school myself, where I dish out nouns and verbs and try to avoid being wounded by the "Grammar Nazi" label.  I mean really, some perspective:  if the subjunctive mood is the worst obstacle your kid ever has to face, that's better than ISIS or Ebola, right?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Randomday... with Grapes

I picked this bucket of grapes this morning and spent the rest of the day making grape pie filling.  Most of them were Concord grapes, with about a gallon of green seedless grapes that I'm going to try to turn into raisins.  I baked 3 quarts of the pie filling into 2 pies (this is the one for church tomorrow):
and there were still 4 quarts for the freezer for other pies later on.  But it pretty much took the day.  Anybody who wants the grapes that are still on the vines can come and get them, because I'm done.

Now Steve and I are watching Forrest Gump with Peter, who loves the soundtrack.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New School, New Adventures

Tertia has been in High School now for a month, and last night I finally had a chance to meet her teachers.  Some of them, anyway.  Everytime when Steve or I introduce ourselves, we get "Oh, I LOVE Tertia!"  This is a great thing to hear, and I think it is genuine.  It makes it easier, putting her on a bus at 6:50 and sending her to the great unknown down the street.  Here's what we do know: she's supposed to be in an "intensive academic" special ed classroom, but it's really more "life skills" in emphasis, which would make me uncomfortable if that was the only place she went.  But I like her teacher a lot.  And she is the only girl in her class, which is a little weird, but apparently she's taking that and running with it.  I hear about her empathy, her love of drama, her ability to navigate her way around the school.
 She dressed up for her birthday.  It is really early when she has to get on her bus.  Some of the paras gave her presents and a chocolate cupcake... she was a little embarrassed to let me see the Disney princess presents, because she knows she's supposed to have outgrown them.  But I don't mind.  She is in a "learning support" reading/literacy class -- the teacher whispered in my ear "she probably works harder than any of the others!"  And she is in the concert choir, which is her favorite class:
I worry about her ability to blend in with the group and follow the music.  She is excited about her music and wants to do her best.  She also has an art class with the general population.  I have been so pleased with how she is getting herself up and even packing her own lunch some days.  Maybe we can keep this schedule up.  It has been a hard month, with catching up from travelling, and teaching being exhausting and demanding.  I even missed the Down syndrome Buddy Walk, something we've participated in for the last 3 years and loved.  Sometimes it felt like Tertia is having to take a back seat to other demands in my life, and I hate that... even though she doesn't ever complain.
 Birthday number 15 was celebrated with spaghetti and a chocolate cake, garnished with strawberries.  A deep breath before blowing out the candles.
Somehow 15 years ago I never foresaw High School.  I don't know why.  The beginning of the Down syndrome adventure was all about babies and medical tests and therapies, combined with a lot of worry about the future.  But somehow, I never knew the future would be so endearing.  She's going to be okay.  She's rocking High School.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  We'll try to make it a good one for her.