Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Things My Dad Taught Me

You know what I just did?  I just threw open all of my windows to let in some fresh air.

That doesn't seem like such a momentous occasion that one might need to sit and write about it, huh?  Well, it is.  It is, because, until recently, we had screens on only three windows in the entire house ~ two in the parlour, and one in the dining room.  There was very little in the way of cross-breeze capability at the new homestead.

Ahhhhhh ~ cross-breeze!  I feel it right now as I sit here in front of the sliding door to the patio.  (We broke down and bought a screen door for that a couple of weeks ago.)  So refreshing!  But, I digress. Remember?  That's what I do.

What I came here to write about are the invaluable lessons my dad taught me, which have stuck with me throughout my life.  They include (but are not limited to):

If something needs to be done, do it.
If you don't know how to do it, learn.

Seriously.  I think my dad could probably fix just about anything.  And, if something broke and he didn't know how to fix it, he would go to the library and figure it out.  Now that we are homeowners, we are trying hard to follow in his footsteps.  I'm lucky, because he actually taught me how to do a few things.  Most importantly, he taught that I CAN do things, even if I don't yet know how.

So, when it started to heat up around here, and we got to thinking, "Dang, it sure would be nice to throw open all the windows without letting in flies," I remembered that my dad had made screens for the little blue house we rented when Kaia was born.  We didn't have any screens, and we needed them, so Dad made them.  He showed me how to do it, and he left the splining tool in our toolbox, in case we ever needed it again.  A few years later, when we were renting a different house, the screen door needed to be re-screened.  I remembered what my dad taught me, and I took the screen off it's hinges, re-screened and re-hung it.  That was pretty easy.  This time, we were talking about making screens from scratch (just like my dad did, for the little blue house).

I'll be honest, the first thing I did was look around and sort of half-heartedly price having someone come make screens for us.  I was seeing a lot of "specials" in the $25-35/screen range, with a 10 screen minimum.  That seemed like a lot of money for something I was pretty sure we could do ourselves.  I kind of remembered how to do it...sorta.  I thought.  So, I zipped around online (I would have gone to the library, but the internet is so darned convenient), watched a tutorial or two to refresh my memory, sent links and tutorials to Shane and, a week or so later, we were making screens.  He did most of the work, and he's going to post pics and blog about the whole thing over at The Low Life, so I won't tell you how we did it, just that we did.

We did it.  And now, there is a fresh, cool breeze blowing through our house ~ all because, when I was a little girl, my daddy taught me one of the most important lessons of my life: I CAN.

EDIT:  Shane explains it all on The Low Life

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Low Life

If you want to know more about our little family, check out our family blog:


If you'd like to know more about the history of our family blog, and read older entries, please refer to our tumblr, which is where we started the whole thing (be sure to read the "About" section ~ you know, to learn what it's about):


If you just want to know what we eat, read our food blog:


Read, share, tell us what you think, but, most importantly, enjoy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Real-Life Zombie That Ate My Brain

I think I am finally ready to write about this.  Maybe.




Well...let's just run it the flagpole and see if it flies, shall we?


That's my diagnosis.

I know some of you have been wondering, because I have been fairly publicly sick and miserable, but I have been reticent to talk openly about exactly what is going on.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps, because I know that fibromyalgia is still so little understood, even within the medical community.  I know that a lot people still think of fibromyalgia as an "imaginary illness."  Still others know only what they see in drug commercials:  "Fibromyalgia makes life moderately unpleasant, but, if you take our pill, you, too can smile like an idiot."

To be honest, I don't know a lot about fibromyalgia.

 "The word fibromyalgia comes from the Latin term for fibrous tissue ("fibro") and the Greek terms for muscle ("myo") and pain ("algia").

Well, there's that, 'though it seems like a bit of an understatement.

But, look, I don't want to spend a lot of times cataloging symptoms and trying to explain what fibromyalgia is.

Here's a link, if you feel like reading about it.

What I do want to do here is to take some time to explain one of the symptoms that, to me, has been most challenging, disheartening and debilitating.  It's a phenomenon that some fibromyalgia sufferers never experience, and many others experience only very mildly, but, for some of us, it becomes quite severe.  It is...Brain Fog.  Yes, the powers-that-be have truly chosen to call this thing "Brain Fog."  Couldn't they have come up with a name for it that didn't sound like an afternoon soap opera malady?  I mean, I know it is hard to take me seriously when I say I am suffering from "Brain Fog."  It sounds like...what?  I'm a little addlepated?  Befuddled?  Spacey, perhaps.  That's all true. But, more importantly, for me, what it really means is this:

profound memory-loss (both short and long term)
loss of concentration
difficulty finding words/communicating
difficulty deciphering language, written and spoken

On a practical level, it means that I don't remember little things, like why I drove to the store, or that I wrote myself a list, because I knew I wouldn't remember when I got there, and it is in my pocket (will I remember to look at it?  Well, that's anybody's guess.)  It also means I don't remember big things, like great chunks of my childhood, most of my education and one of my pregnancies (I kid you not ~ it's all gone.  Every bit of it).  It means I have trouble having normal conversations ~ I lose track, get lost, forget what I (or you) were saying.  This makes me self-conscious, because I know it looks like I am not listening, or don't care.  It means I use the wrong word when I am writing or speaking, so I have trouble communicating effectively.  I confuse people, and I am easily confused.  I have trouble sitting through a movie, or watching episodic television programs.  Sometimes, I have trouble reading.  I might thoroughly enjoy reading a book, but, ask me what it is about, and I am likely to draw a complete blank.  I don't remember names.  I read things I wrote, and it is like someone else wrote them.

I think I have avoided broaching this subject for several reasons:

1.  It's embarrassing.
2.  It's difficult for others to understand.
3.  It makes me sound kind of crazy.
4.  I don't want people to worry about me.
5.  I am not looking for sympathy.

So, why share this now?  Well, several reasons, I guess.  I want people to understand why I have had to make some very tough decisions recently.  I really had no choice.  I also want people to know that I really do care.  If you're my friend, you are my friend, and even if I don't remember every detail of everything we ever did together, I still love you.  I want people to know that I am listening, that you are important to me, and I want everyone to know that, when I have to ask the same question over and over, it isn't because I just wasn't paying attention.  If I forgot something you said or did, it's not because it wasn't interesting or because you are not important to me.

I think another reason I  have avoided this subject is that there is simply no way to write about one's health problems without sounding whiny or needy.  I HATE sounding whiny or needy.  So, let's try to end on a positive note!

My doctor believes that, if we can get my other symptoms (especially the pain) under control, the "fog" may begin to lift.  We are working on it.  So far, the well-known fibromyalgia-specific meds have failed me, so we are looking for other solutions.  Diet and lifestyle changes seem to help, as do regular exercise for both the brain and the body.  Keeping things in perspective is important, too.  You may have noticed that something like, say, a broken arm, can really throw me for a loop.  That's because stress and trauma can both trigger flares in fibromyalgia, so, right now, I'm a little further off my game than usual (wait...what's my game?  I had a game??); but that's a temporary setback.

I don't need sympathy.  This is just part of who I am, and most of you know it always has been.  Now, we all know why.  What I could use, if you really want to give me something (cupcakes!  nailpolish! glitter!!...oh...wait...that's not what I meant to say...), is lots of patience and understanding, and the assurance that, even when I seem like a really bad, inattentive friend, you will try to remember that I really do care, and I am trying very hard to be the best friend/wife/mother/daughter/cousin/sister/spouse I possibly can.

Really.  It's just that I've got this zombie munching on my brain all the time, and sometimes that gets distracting.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wooden Crate Table - DONE! (ish)

I am so sorry I haven't come back to finish this series of posts.  When did I start this table?  Sheesh!  It has been done for some time, but, in the past few months, I

a) got really, really sick
b) got a diagnosis and got to work on learning to live with it
c) bought a house (bought a house!! ~ holy cow!  We bought a house!), and
d) moved.

So, I have been kind of preoccupied, you might say.

I have not stained the table, but we did actually complete it.  I have to go dig up pics of the process and add them later, but, for the time being, I will at least walk you through the steps.

Once the table was assembled, I enlisted the help of the rest of the family.  We wanted this piece to be uniquely ours, and reflect who we are, and I wanted everyone to (literally) make her/his mark on the table.

I started by choosing a favourite quote.  We went with:  "Dance like nodody's watching; love like you've never been hurt; ing like nobody's listening; live like it's Heaven on Earth."  This has been credited to Mark Twain, I believe, and it is one of my all-time favourite quotes ~ perfectly outlines how to live, IMO.

Next, I assigned one line to each girl, and Shane and I shared the last line.  We each wrote our line in our regular hand, then I took then to Kinko's and blew them up (boom!  ~ no, no, no...I ENLARGED them.  Printed them out in a larger size).

I brought home the photocopies and handed them over to Justice, who used carbon paper to carefully transfer them on to the surface of the table ~ one line on each solid side panel.  Then, she pulled out her woodburning pen and burned in the letters.

In my dreams, I will stain and seal the table, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.  We did, hoever, manage to get a glass top for it.  I called 55 Glass and ordered a custom top.  I think it cost me about thirty bucks, but it was totally worth it.  Our table is now easy to wipe up, easy to set a glass upon, and looks super cute.  I am looking forward to filling that big empty space in the center with seasonal decorations, and will be sure to post pics when I do.

I will check back in with pictures of Justice doing her thing, as well as more angles of the table (and hopefully some pictures of the table after it is stained).  In the meantime, feast your eyes on a picture recently snapped of our new living room, in which you can at least see the finished table.

Oh, and here I will try to crop and enlarge that same picture, so you can get a slightly better look at the table.  I think.  Let's see if it works.

Oh, yay!  I think it did!

Oh, and for the record, I also built this shelf, to coordinate with the table:  

Sorry for the complete lack of instructions.  I pretty much just played around with the arrangement of the crates until I like it, screwed them together in sections, stained them, screwed the sections together to make one big shelf and stood it up.  Ta-da!

If you look behind the purple chair, you will see another, smaller shelving unit that will one day coordinate with this one.  Right now, it coordinates with the table, because I haven't stained it yet.  (*grumble*)

Saturday, September 22, 2012


It's been a difficult week.  Month.  It's been a difficult month.  Or was it a difficult year?  Or two?  Or maybe a lot more.  *sigh*  The past month, however, everything has sort of come to a head and I've had to make some very difficult decisions, due to the health problems I have been experiencing.  After much deliberation (and many, many tears) with the support of my family, I will be taking some time off from teaching to focus all of my attention on getting well, so I can be the mom my kids deserve to have.  I know, it doesn't seem like it should have been a hard decision, but it, really, really was.  

I'm not going to spend a lot of time here cataloging symptoms.  I am not self-diagnosing, or looking for any suggestions about what might be going on in my body.  Sure, I have some ideas.  Yes, I am seeing a doctor.  In the meantime, I am focusing on healthy eating/lifestyle choices and trying hard to recover from the effects of the positively horrendous virus that set this latest descent into health hell in motion.  

What I want to talk about here are priorities.  I have felt sick for years, maybe even decades.  All this time, I have been treating symptoms and pushing myself to go to school, go to work…  You know, "get 're done," "the show must go on!" and all similar catch phrases that might apply to my situation.  Then, I would drag my sorry bones home and collapse, too worn out and miserable to do the housework, play with the children, hang out with my husband.  I spent years throwing what little bit of energy I had into doing the work I love, and that I truly do believe is important, even today.  What I didn't realize until recently was that, by the end of the day, there wasn't a lot of me left for the people who are most important in my life.  

People who know me might say, "What do you mean?  You're always cooking, making things, doing projects with the kids…"  It's true.  I do a lot of that.  But I do it like it's a chore.  My heart (and sometimes even my brain) isn't in it.  That's not right.  If I can work with my students enthusiastically ~ exuberantly, even ~ I ought to be able to manage at least that at home.  More and more, as the years go by, I hear myself saying, "Not now."  "Mama is too tired."  "Mama's sick."  "I just need to lie down."  

It's true.  I wake up tired, even after a good night's sleep.  I am just exhausted from constantly feeling ill.  My resources are completely are depleted, and I feel run down, used up, spent.  Recently, it has occurred to me that, if my reserves are so limited, I ought to be channeling every tiny bit of energy and joy and ability I have toward my family and my home.  Then, if there's anything left, other people can have it.  Shane and the kids come first.  

With that revelation, I find I have a renewed determination to discover, once and for all, what is going on in my body.  I truly believe there is an explanation, and that, armed with knowledge, I can work to improve the situation.  If we know what beast we're fighting, we'll know where to strike.  I have to find an answer, because the kids deserve a mom who has the energy to be a mom.  

So, that's my plan.  

BTW, I do not want to host a pity party.  If you want to keep us in your thoughts and prayers, we sure won't mind, but please don't focus too much on my illness.  It has been the focus for far too long.  I have decided to focus, instead, on my health.  If you want to send thoughts our way, let them be thoughts of joy and prosperity, adventure and success in life.  The rest will all fall into place.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sparkle Dress

Recently, I made this dress, and it is one of my favourite projects ever.  It turned out exactly as I planned.  I love that it looks polished and elegant, but was an absolute breeze to make and is just dreamy to wear ~ light, comfortable, not the least bit fussy.  I feel like I am wearing and nightgown, but I look ready for a night on the town.  What more could I want from a dress?

Thanx to Pinterest, some months ago, I fell in love with THIS TUTORIAL

It looked simple (a major bonus, because I have limited skills and, thus, work best on simple projects), and I love the design.  It looks so breezy and easy-to-wear, yet totally stylish and unique, too. Since I first saw it, I have thought I would love to use this design to make a dress.  It seemed to me that, if I just made the panels longer, it should work beautifully.  All I needed was the perfect fabric.

I bounded off excitedly in the direction of my local fabric shop in search of the perfect material for my lovely new dress.  Unfortunately, it just wasn't there.  So, for months, as I was shopping for other projects, I kept this one in the back of my mind.  I decided not to push it.  This dress had to be  the perfect balance of style, grace, elegance and comfort.  When the perfect fabric found me, I would know it.

One day recently, I met a couple of friends at the fabric store, thinking we were just there to shop for them.  It just so happened that I once again came across what I thought might be the most beautiful fabric I had ever seen.  It was a very lightweight knit, with cascades of sparkles (tiny silver dots, hearts and stars) cast in diagonal lines across it.  I had seen it once before, but thought maybe it was a bit too expensive.  However, on this particular day, it was 30% off; and it was just so pretty.  It was still not exactly cheap, but, because I have been frugal, used coupons, waited for sales and shopped from the remnant bins as much as possible, I decided I could afford to splurge a little for a very special dress.

I held the fabric in front of myself, with the selvages at the sides, at just about the position I guessed would be appropriate for the top edge of the dress, and let it fall the the floor.  I wanted a long dress.  Adding a couple of inches to allow for the casing, I settled on this length (no, I did not measure) for the cut.

When I got it home, following the instructions in the tutorial, I held the fabric up across my torso and added a couple of inches, to figure out how wide I would need it to be.  I decided to be generous with this measurement, because I wanted my dress to be very floaty.  The measurement I came up with was about 24 inches for each panel.

First, I folded my fabric with the right sides together, matching the selvage edges and pinning them together.

I measured in 24" from the selvage edge and, using my rotary cutter, cut all the way down the length of the fabric 24" from the selvage edge.

  This left me with two long, 24" wide panels, which I pinned together along the newly-cut edge.  I set aside the remaining piece of fabric, which was just as long as this one and still folded, for later use.

I took the panels over to my machine and stitched up both sides, starting about 5" formt he top and ending about 5" from the bottom.  I did this to form the opening for the arms at the top and a vent on each side at the bottom.  I wanted vents (or slits) on the sides, so I wouldn't have to worry about ripping my dress if I decided to run after a taxi or dance like a fool.  I do that sometimes.
(Please note:  Next time I will make that 6 inches, as I had to rip stitches later to make it fit correctly under my arms.  I was going to tell you I started 6" from the top, but I didn't this time, so I will tell it like it is.  I am not sure how to suggest you measure this.  I did it by trial and error.  If you want to avoid ripping stitching, you can try pinning it and checking the fit, but remember that you will be turning down the top egde to form the casing, so you have to keep that in mind when you try it on.  Alternately, you could very loosely baste your dress, try it, and then sew it properly when you have gotten the fit perfect.)

Next, I hemmed the edges of the armholes and side vents by folding the fabric back along the edge, pinning and then stitching it.

The pic is blurry, but, basically, what you want to do is sew along one edge of the pinned opening, pivot, sewing back and forth across the top (or bottom, in the case of the armholes) of the opening, pivot again, and sew down the other side of the opening.  I hope that makes sense.  Up one side, across, down the other side.  Got it?

Now, it was time to create the casing for the shoulder straps.  I wanted a nice wide casing, so I could use a variety of straps, so I folded down the top edge about 2 inches and pinned it in place.  I did this on both the back and the front of the dress, then stitched close to the edge along the bottom of each casing.

Remember that folded piece of fabric I set aside way back when I cut the two panels for the front and back of my dress?  That's going to be my strap.  Leaving it folded (right sides together), I cut all along the length of the fabric, about 2" from the folded edge.  I pinned and sewed all along the cut edge, leaving the short ends open.

This next part is difficult to explain, but stick with me.  Hopefully, the pictures will help.  I attached a safety pin to one of the open ends.

I pushed the safety pin inside the tube I had created and, pushing it through the tube to the other side, turned the strap right side out.  (See the penguin bandaid?  Heed this advice: respect the rotary cutter.)

I don't have a picture of this, but, once it was right side out,  I folded in the raw edges and sewed shut the ends of the strap.

The part's hard to explain, too, but I will try.  I fastened a safety pin to one end of the strap and fed it  through one casing, then through the other.  (The tutorial I referenced earlier explains this process much more clearly.  It's really and excellent tutorial for a great little project.)

Oh my gosh!  It was starting to look like a dress!

That was it!  I was ready to try on my dress.  The first time I tried it on, I used the self strap at the shoulder, as shown above, and a cute chain link belt I found online at Jewel Mint (it has a cute I.D. bracelet and padlock detail, which I adore) at the waist.  My original plan was to use the chain for the straps and the strap I made as a belt, and I have to say, I do like it that way best (see the very first pic in this post).  It's nice to have options, however, so I think I will play around with it.  I think a wide, sheer silvery gray ribbon would make a cute strap, too.

Justice took these pictures of me outside right after I made it:

On a super-hot day, I can wear it unbelted as a cool and comfy sheath.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Check's in the Mail

Today, I made the very last payment ever on our Bank of America credit card.  We banked with them in Arizona, and, for years, I had a credit card with them, through my college.  When we moved from Arizona to California in 1998, my parents sent us some money to help with our expenses.  The bank "lost" that money.  Initially, they told us the check had not cleared in time to be included when we closed our account, but that they would keep the account open just long enough for the check to clear, then close the account, and mail us a check.  They told us they would mail the check, but never did.

Fast forward a few years.  Shane has just wrapped up a project, and we are on our  way to Amsterdam, to spend 10 glorious days with our little family, before the girls and I return to school and Shane stays on to work there.  As the time for our departure approaches, the producer of the aforementioned project has failed to produce a check, but assures us it will be deposited to our account the day after we leave.  We should go, and have a wonderful time!  We do!  Such a wonderful time.  It is probably the best trip our family has ever taken together, despite the fact that the apartment we had rented has been demolished...and that the check (not surprisingly) never comes through.

It's funny, I guess, that it surprised us.  We are (still) very trusting people.  If you tell us the check is in the mail, we believe you.  Well...sorta.

The year we went to Amsterdam was, as the book says, the best of times and the worst of times.  We did tons of traveling ~ Amsterdam, San Francisco, Northern California, Las Vegas, Arizona...!  There were also some deaths in our families, and some trips that weren't all fun and games.

That check that never came through was worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $26,000.  Sometimes, people wonder why we don't own a house yet, considering that Shane has a good, decent'paying job.  Well, here's the thing:

When you don't have much in savings, and you have to take a couple of unscheduled trips for, say, funerals, and people in the family are ill, and then someone defaults on a $26,000 contract,  it is very easy to find yourself deep in debt.  I'll admit, we made some poor decisions when we were young newly(and, for that first year, not-quite)weds.  The same kind of poor decisions virtually everyone makes, I'll wager (I won't really wager ~ we don't play with our money like that), but I think we had recovered nicely from them, and were right on track.  It was that $26,000 ~ the lack of that $26,000, all at once, that is ~ that sealed our financial fate.

We were in debt.

Thank God we had those credit cards when we needed them.  Otherwise, I don't know how we would have fed our children, paid for gas to get to and from work and school, paid the bills...we tried to use credit only when we absolutely had to, but there were times when it probably literally saved our lives.

Now, I am not advocating wanton credit card use.  That's not what I came here to say.  What I came here to say was this:

We learned a lot that year.  We learned the importance of being true to our word and making good on our debts, because we saw firsthand how deeply debt can affect someone.  We learned to make do with just the necessities.  We learned that family is more important than just about anything else.  We learned not to spend money before we have it in our hand. And, perhaps most importantly, we learned to take the phrase, "The check's in the mail" with a grain of salt.

So, it meant a lot to me, today, when I got to make that final payment.  It is a relief to know that we will no longer be paying out that $140 each month.  While we are not entirely debt-free yet, we are much closer, and having that extra money each month will surely help us get there.  It is a great relief to know we no longer have that debt hanging over us, especially to Bank of America, with whom we did not have a very amicable relationship.

Most importantly for me, however, it felt good to know that, when I say, "The check's in the mail," I mean it.