Friday, June 16, 2017

Artsy-Fartsy Project

I can share this now that my niece has seen the final product. My sister had an amazing idea for a graduation gift for my niece. Pinterest may have offered inspiration - I'm not sure.

She sent everyone in our extended family a 4x4 canvas to decorate. The idea is for the graduate to hang the whole grid in her dorm room at Penn State. It's a very cool gift and I may be tempted to play copycat when my kid graduates in 2023.

Have you ever had an idea in your head and then your creation turns out almost exactly like you'd pictured it? I do not consider myself to be artistic by any stretch of the imagination. However, I thought I had a pretty cool idea for "my" canvas. I dragged my kid to Michael's and wandered around for what I can only describe as a "very long time." My kid and my husband also decorated canvases. A painted hers and wrote "Follow your dreams." It turned out great. The Mister cut up a comic book and pasted the pictures all over the canvas. I helped out only slightly by applying Mod Podge to seal it.

First, I painted the top half of the canvas yellow. Then I applied some tiny star stickers. Using masking tape, I cut tiny strips of tape to make one of the stars look like a shooting star. I painted the top half of the canvas black. Once that dried, I picked off the star stickers and masking tape very carefully.

Next, I painted the bottom half green and created a hill in the middle. The next hurdle was to create a small replica of my niece. I actually spent a lot of time stalking her Facebook page to find a standing photo of her that I could use as an outline. She refused to cooperate, which was super effing annoying (just kidding, Blondie!). I ended up finding a tiny paper doll on shutterstock and used that for the body. I cut out some floral ribbon to make a tiny little sundress. My niece wears floral sundresses pretty regularly so I was hoping it would work.

The next challenge was the hair. I had picked up some blondish embroidery floss at Michael's. I fashioned it into a ponytail and glued it to the head. I had purchased some ribbon for the ponytail but the ribbon was too thick. So, I improvised with some blue thread. 

I did have a couple glasses of wine while working on my creation, but I was really happy with how it turned out.

So there you have it - my Blondie wishing on a shooting star. I was excited to play a little part in this gift, as we send this talented young woman out into the world. If you see a mom sitting in a white Suburban, parked just outside Penn State's campus, crying her eyes out . . . that's my sister. Go easy on her.







Monday, May 29, 2017

Recent Goings-On

The Mister and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday (we've actually been together for 25 years - the five-year lag is a result of him having very slow reflexes). Guess how we celebrated? We went to the optometrist. I'd nagged him to make the appointment and I don't think he thought about the date when he called. I accompanied him to his appointment because I knew he'd tell the doctor that he is "fine" and "doesn't need anything."  I strongly believed that the boy needed bifocals. I knew this because I'd already passed through the intersection of Age and Nearsightedness myself.  He reads a lot and typically takes off his glasses to read. He keeps leaving them around the house and Grover chewed the earpiece on one side. My husband just said, "It's fine. No one can see it behind my ear."  Because his near vision seemed to be growing worse, I knew he was headed for ye olde bi-focals.

Our optometrist, Dr. K, did seem to wonder why my husband had brought his supervisor along for a routine eye exam. "I'm here to help him choose his new glasses," I said. Because my husband had successfully avoided eye exams for four years, the doctor decided that he needed to dilate his eyes to make sure his eyeballs are healthy. Better him than me. The last (well, only) time I had my eyes dilated, the nausea was so bad that I had to be driven home and I went straight to bed. I feel woozy just thinking about it. Blech.

After the dilating drops were in, we decided to look at frames quickly while he could still see well enough to take a gander at them.  An optician handed us a bunch of pairs for my guy to try. He shrugged at each one so I chose the ones that I liked best. Then I left to race home and get the kid to guitar lessons on time (we had taken separate vehicles). I can't wait to see my handsome guy in his new glasses.

We did celebrate our anniversary in a more festive way, too.  Last Saturday, we hosted a party at my church.  My middle sister and her four kids were in town, so it was extra special to have some of my family members there.  We had drinks and cake and freshly-made guacamole (made by my niece). It was a lot of fun.

The final (and arguably most expensive) celebration will happen in July, when we head to Florida for a week of sun and roller coasters. We are shipping our kid off to Virginia to hang out with relatives. I know she will have a blast doing fun stuff with her cousins.

Speaking of those cousins, here are a few photos from last week's visit. My sister and niece ran a half-marathon while they were here (I loped along at the 5K that was part of the same event).










Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thanks for the memories, Paul

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know how I look forward to our annual cabin-by-the-lake trip. We typically go each August and it's one of the biggest highlights of our year.  We hike, we swim, we relax. The cabin belongs to my friend Paul.

Back in 2000, I worked with Paul at a technology company. He was a sub-contractor and stopped in regularly to drop off his timesheets. He and I were chatting one time that year and I mentioned that I had rented a cabin for an upcoming vacation. "Just use my cabin!" he said. That wasn't really an option because I'd already paid for the other cabin. However, I remembered his generous offer and when 2001 rolled around, I asked if we could borrow it that summer.

"Of course!" he said. "Go up and have a great time."  He gave me directions and we made plans to head up there for a little R&R that summer.  His directions turned out to be critical because the cabin is on privately-owned land inside a national forest. The path to the cabin includes miles of dirt roads and few landmarks. We had a heck of a time finding it that first year.  We took a wrong turn and drove up on a man camping alone in a tent. Fortunately, he didn't shoot us or anything. My husband and I still joke about that poor guy.

Once we found the joint, we fell in love - with the lake, the forest, and the whole area. The lake is four hours from our home but it was worth every minute on the road. My husband and I felt so fortunate that Paul let us use his cabin. I had offered money (that year and every year after) but he would not accept it.

That first year, we learned just how soul-satisfying it is to step out onto the deck and see the lake shining through the pine trees. We listened for the loons, which we never failed to hear. At night, we stared up at the stars, amazed to be so far from civilization that no other light was visible. Humming birds came to the feeder that hung on the deck. If I listened closely in the early morning before anyone else woke up, I could hear the beating of their wings.

Every spring, I would tentatively ask Paul if we could borrow the cabin. "Sure thing, kiddo," he would say. One year, we didn't ask to use the cabin.  We had planned a trip to Virginia and plus, I was always cognizant of not wanting to cross the line between enjoying Paul's generosity and expecting it. Later that year, Paul called me. "Hey, why didn't you go up to the cabin this year?" he asked. I think he truly just loved having families enjoying the cabin. Once A was born in 2005, we couldn't wait to take her to the lake. In fact, her first visit to the cabin occurred when she was just a few months old.

Since Paul would never accept any money for the use of the cabin, we made our own small contributions to it. Whenever I'd go "into town" I'd pick up storage containers or other things that the cabin seemed to need. One year my youngest sister joined us at the cabin and purchased a blender just in case any future visitors might also be in need of a margarita. When we left, we always cleaned it as thoroughly as we could. The cabin was rustic and there were always dead bugs in the windowsills.  One year my dogs found a dead mouse behind the couch. The rustic nature of the cabin was part of what we loved.

Paul and his brothers built the cabin themselves, which made it that much more special. There was a photo of them on the mantle of the fireplace. The harsh winters "up north" did a number on the cabin, so Paul was forever painting the deck or making other repairs.

Over the years, we made so many amazing memories at the cabin. My husband I still laugh about the time our daughter fell in the lake. My husband jumped into the shallow water after her, his cellphone still in his pocket. Sometimes friends or family would join us. The cabin wasn't spacious but we were happy to squeeze in some extra people so that we could all enjoy the crisp air and the amazing view. We received hundreds of mosquito bites and at least a couple of ticks in our annual visits to the cabin. Countless fish were caught and tossed back in. We ate S'mores and drank lots of adult beverages. We played games (the cabin had no TV and no internet, of course, which was also part of its appeal) and read books. We took afternoon naps while waiting for the cooler evening air to drift in. After sundown, which watched bats streak across the night sky.

Recently, I had a dream in which Paul told me that he bought new furniture for the cabin. It was powder blue and looked very expensive. In the dream, I was wondering what on earth he was thinking (cabin furniture usually consists of cast-offs from other dwellings - the main goal is "sturdy" and "doesn't stain easily"). I left him a voicemail recently and was going to tell him about the dream when he called back.

Instead, one of his sons called me after hearing my voicemail. "My dad died this week," he said. I couldn't believe it. Paul was 77 but in my mind he hadn't changed in the 17 years I'd known him. He was involved in pee-wee ice hockey and so many other things - he was very active. When I hadn't heard back from him, I guessed that he might be in Germany. Paul originally went to Germany for a work assignment but made so many friends that he kept going back just to visit them.  He had a lot of friends and I felt fortunate to know him. I remember that he used to wear a pin that said something like, "Men against violence against women." He was just a cool cat.

"Okay, kiddo," he would always say to me.

"Paul, I'm 47!" I would reply, laughing.

I would like Paul's children and other family members to know just how much Paul's kindness meant to me over the years. After our visits to the cabin, I would often send him photos in the mail - of my daughter in the rowboat or my husband fishing off the rocks. I know he liked knowing that friends and family were creating memories in that place that he built.

We'll find other cabins on other lakes for future vacations, of course. And I'm sure we'll have a great time. But, I'll never forget the generosity and kindness of the man who allowed our family to make a million priceless memories. Rest in peace, Paul.

With love from Kiddo.










Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Being selfless is for the birds

Is it wrong to plan a trip out of town - alone - for Mother's Day? How about when you're a mother? I am seriously thinking of doing this next year. A little overnight stay somewhere. I'll pack a bottle of wine and a good book to read. Maybe I'll get crazy and book a massage for myself.

Mother's Day is tough for me every year. I don't know why I get so upset, but I have a minor breakdown every May when this particular holiday rolls around. Maybe it's the price I pay for being an adoptive mom, feeling like I never quite measure up on the momscale. My poor husband seems to know he's going to botch it and probably wishes I would go away for the weekend. This year, our daughter went camping Saturday night. She returned home Sunday afternoon. I am 99.9% sure that she'd had no inkling it was Mother's Day until she heard someone mention it. Later, while I was walking one of the dogs, she signed a card that her dad thrust in front of her and left it for me on the kitchen counter. She spent the rest of the day in her bedroom. I spent the rest of the day washing the smells-like-campfire clothes she brought back from her camping trip. I have to confess that I miss the goofy Mother's Day art projects that she made for me when she was little. I wouldn't mind having a paper plate with some rigatoni glued on it in the shape of the letters M O M.

My husband did get me some gifts. They came from the Pick-n-Save across the street: wine, flowers, and an iTunes gift card. Also, he bought me a Kermit. While I was at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, a stuffed Kermit (the kind with bendy arms and legs) fell off of a shelf in the office/guest room. The dogs chewed it up. On his watch. So, he ordered a replacement for that on eBay.

The gifts were nice. I have no complaints. What I really wanted, though, was for the day to feel different from all the other days. My days, it seems, are an endless cycle of work-cleaning-cooking-laundry. Wash, rinse, repeat. But mothers are supposed to be selfless, right? I'm not supposed to wish for something different.

A lighting fixture in our bedroom is not working properly. It's an electrical issue and God knows we can't hire an electrician. I decided to buy a floor lamp for my side of the bed so that I can, you know, see. I picked it up at Home Depot on my way home from church on Sunday. I dragged the box into the bedroom and proceeded to put the lamp together. You can probably picture what it looks like - a light fixture atop a heavy metal pole.  Pretty standard stuff. As I was looking down at the instruction sheet, the dogs ran through the room and somehow stepped on the cord, causing the pole to crash into my skull.  It hurt like I don't know what.  My husband heard me yelp and came to pull the dogs out of the room so that I could continue. It seemed like a good time for a husband-type person to say, "Hey, I'll finish putting it together. Besides, it's Mother's Day - you should be relaxing!" Honestly, that's all I really wanted . . . just to hear things like, "What can I do to help you?" or "What would you like to do today?" I wanted some sort of acknowledgement of the fact that the people in my home have clean clothes in their closets and two clean toilets in which to poop.

My expectations, I know, are too high. I know the issue lies with me and not with them. I also know that I need to say off Facebook on Mother's Day. I see all of these other moms being treated to breakfast in bed and having all of their favorite things delivered to them - from Starbucks to jewelry. And then I think, "I didn't get any special treatment - it must be a side effect of me being a terrible mother." And so on it goes. I end up feeling depressed and annoyed.  I really need to do something different next year. Maybe I will.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What do you mean, you don't want to hear about my feet?

When my plantar fasciitis was at its worst about two years ago, I did a lot of googling in attempt to figure out how I should proceed. I watched countless videos, perused medical websites, and joined a Facebook group started by fellow sufferers. I visited my podiatrist again and again. I was desperate for help.

So, just in case some other middle-aged chick is googling the same stuff I googled and happens upon my blog, I thought I should provide a bit of information about what worked for me. I am now pain-free.

First off, let me say that plantar fasciitis is no joke. Unless you live in the 17th century and are a member of some royal family who gets carried around and doesn't have to walk . . . you probably have to walk. PF makes every step a nightmare. When my pain first started, I thought maybe I had just overdone it at the gym.  I was hitting the elliptical a lot at that point. You know how it goes.  You get into your mid-40s and when something starts to hurt, the initial thought is, "Oh, I guess this will just always hurt now." You don't know what is fixable and what isn't.

I spoke with a yoga teacher at my gym and described my pain to her.  The pain was primarily in the arch of my foot, close to the heel. She confirmed that it was probably plantar fasciitis. This theory was later confirmed by my podiatrist. In addition, my body reacted to the strained fascia by laying down some extra bone on my heel, AKA "bone spurs." It looks super sexy on an x-ray, let me tell you.

So began an odyssey lasting over a year. As PF sufferers will tell you, the worst time of day is first thing in the morning. At night, we all naturally sleep with our feet somewhat extended (like a ballerina). This shortens the fascia alongside the bottom of the foot. This is why that first step is so brutal - the connective tissue on the sole is pulled taut as soon as the foot hits the floor, and that's very owie. For most people, the pain subsides somewhat after walking around for a bit.

I proceeded to try a bunch of stuff that I read about on the interwebs.

Here are the things that ultimately did not work:

1. Rolling my feet on a frozen water bottle. I did this for months. All I got was cold feet.
2. Wearing a special boot at night . The idea of the boot is that it holds the foot in a flexed position, thereby denying the fascia a chance to bunch up. My right foot was always worse so I just bought one boot (it wasn't cheap) and tried that foot. I slept with the boot on for a few nights. Mostly what I accomplished was to kick myself in the left leg with my right leg and wake up thinking, "WTF?!" every few minutes.
3. Getting cortisone injections. I did this twice, on my right foot both times. It did help to numb the pain for a day or two, but the injection itself hurts like a sumbitch and, in my opinion, isn't worth it.
4. Wearing crocs. My podiatrist recommended that I get some Crocs slides and wear them around he house. I did that for months. It didn't help. Crocs don't offer proper arch support and don't hold the leg and foot in proper alignment. And my God were they ugly.
5. Inserts in my existing shoes. My podiatrist recommended some standard orthotics inserts.  They did help somewhat, but not fully.
6. Arch support bands.  You can find these at most drug stores. They did feel kinda good (it's basically a band that wraps around your foot and provides some cushion to the sole), but I don't have any evidence suggesting that they fixed anything.
7. Standing on a step and letting my heels hang over the edge, thereby stretching my feet.

I should add that I did not invest in custom-made orthotics. I know a lot of people do go that route with some success.  Some people also have surgery to correct PF, but the idea of operating on my feet seemed unappealing at best.

What did work:

1. Investing in shoes with built-in orthotics.  I know that there are several brands that offer built-in orthotics. I invested in several pairs of Vionic shoes. Fortunately for me, they do offer several styles that are not leather. I learned that there are two main features that PF sufferers need to care about when it comes to shoes: arch support and heel cup. I bought some flip-flips, worky-type shoes that I can wear to the office, and some tennis shoes.  (Asics also makes some styles that are good for PF).
2. Babying my feet. I am almost never barefoot. At this point, it actually feels weird when I am barefoot. When I am at home, I am either wearing my Vionic flip-flops or my Vionic slippers. I had a setback last summer after I walked barefoot on the beach while visiting my dad in Ocean City. It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
3. Losing some weight. I guess this one is just common sense but if your feet hurt, it's probably better to have slight less weight smashing them into the ground (if possible).  However, I will also say that I have talked to other people at my gym who are struggling with PF and they were not even a little bit overweight. 

After six months or so without pain, I have now been able to ease back into some "normal" (AKA "cuter") shoes. However, I still make sure that the insole is cushioned (the bone spurs are still there, of course) and that I switch into my flip-flops or slippers when I get home.

The other tactic I use is to roll my feet on a golf ball almost every day. I keep a golf ball in my bathroom and roll my feet while I am getting ready for work. I really try to work the ball into any tender spots so that I can keep an eye on the situation in case it starts to get sucky again.

After wearing the Vionic shoes consistently for many months, I started to notice that I did not have any pain. Now, I will say that it can take a few wearings to get used to these shoes. In fact, the company suggests wearing them only for short periods of time in the beginning. The arch is very exaggerated and feels weird at first. In my case it was worth it to work through the initial weirdness of how they feel.

I think my main annoyance with this whole saga is that my podiatrist did not recommend Vionic shoes (or even some similar brand). PF is very common with middle-aged women so I think it was just like, "Oh, here's another one" and then they handed me a pre-printed list of the orthotic inserts.

I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from wearing cheap flip-flops or flats with no arch support. A lifetime of failing to care for my feet left me limping and in severe pain. I'm a lot more careful now. I even give myself foot massages while I'm watching TV (my family doesn't offer to do it, if you can believe that). I yelled at my dog Grover for stepping on my foot when he came bounding in from the back yard this morning. Doesn't that jerk know what I've been through?

Expensive but effective flippity-flops

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

12 (subtitle: just 365 days to go until I have a teenager in my house)

My baby, my goober, my curly girlie . . . is 12 today.  :::sniffle snifle:::

In the photo below, she is wearing a necklace that was given to her by a BOY! (I know, right?!)

In addition to hosting a birthday party for her and her friends (at an indoor trampoline park), her dad and I got her a ukulele, some new earbuds that she can step on, break, and then hide under her bed, some new sandals, and a birthday shirt. (And by "her dad and I," I mean that I bought her some stuff and then told him what I bought). Gifts have been trickling in from other family members, too.

It's been fun (and a little bit heartrending) to watch my baby girl growing into a young woman. In just six short years she'll be headed off to college. Ack! She both exasperates me and fills me with joy - pretty much on the daily. We are a typical mother-daughter pair, I suppose. We laugh at jokes together and then two minutes later I am yelling at her because she left food in her room (and is rolling her eyes in response). All par for the course, I suppose.  The other day she told me she was buying pizza for lunch at school.  I looked at the online lunch account and learned that she bought ice cream.  Two of them, in fact.  And no pizza. Why do kids bother to lie? They are SO bad at it!

Despite all the hijinks and questionable decision-making, I am so proud of my kiddo.  She has the typical amount of middle school angst, but she has such a good heart. She's the best hugger in the hemisphere. I love watching her musical talent develop, too.  She is taking lessons for the guitar and is learning the keyboard and ukulele on her own. She sings in two choirs and grabs a solo any chance she gets.

Happy 12th birthday to my sassy, doesn't-get-up-on-time, homework assignment-losing, shower singing, beautiful baby girl. I love you with everything I am.


Friday, April 28, 2017

New wheels and such

Last Saturday, I attended our city's bicycle auction, sponsored by the local police department. It's amazing how many lost/stolen bikes they end up with in a given year. Hundreds of them! I have been riding my Craigslist bike for nearly a decade, so I decided it was time to see if I could get something a bit newer. I am not a daily rider or anything like that, so I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike. Me so cheap.

I arrived at the fairgrounds just after 8 a.m. to register for the auction.  They give you an hour to look at the stuff (they also had surplus equipment and stuff like fishing poles and folding chairs). I made my way up and down rows of bikes. I kept thinking of that scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure when he topples a whole row of motorcycles.  Whenever I saw a bike I might like, I added its number to a list I was keeping in my phone. Some of the bikes looked like they'd been run over by a semi, but there were some really nice ones, too. I had my eye on a powder blue Schwinn that appeared to be in perfect condition and another one with an aluminum frame that looked really nice, too. I also listed a few decent back-up selections.

When 9:00 rolled around, I climbed up to a spot on the bleachers. I picked a seat next to an adorable couple in hopes that they might chat with me during the long morning auction. They just seemed interesting, I guess.  They were the best dressed at the auction, that's for sure. What is it with gay men always looking cuter than the rest of us?

The first bike I wanted was number 197, so I had to sit there for an eternity first. They start with number 1, as you might imagine. Auctions are pretty entertaining, though. The auctioneer would rattle off some be-de-be-de stuff in his secret auctioneer language. When 197 (one of my back-ups) finally rolled around, I decided to hold off for 223 - the powder-blue Schwinn.  When that one hit the stage, I waited for the bidding to start and flung my auction bid card into the air. I was having a hard time following what was happening, but what I did discern was that some jackass was bidding against me.  I flung my number into the air a couple more times and then gave up when the bidding went over $100.00.  Up until that point, no bike had gone for more than around $20.  Just my luck.

The couple behind me bid high on a super fancy bike and got it.  Deep pockets on those gentlemen, I guess. Apparently they don't have a spoiled tween at home bleeding them dry. 

The aluminum-frame bike came up shortly thereafter.  Again, the bidding quickly escalated beyond what I was comfortable bidding.  The bikes are all "as is" so I was worried about spending a hundred bucks on a bike and then finding that it needs all new everything.

I climbed down from the stands and took another peek at the other bikes that had been on my list.  I decided they weren't worth waiting around for.  I was disappointed, but I left empty-handed.

Since I already had a bike rack attached to the back of my car, I thought I should take one more shot at getting my hands on a bike.  I ran a couple of errands and then stopped at a used sporting goods store. They had a couple of nice bikes that seemed like a good fit. I ended up choosing a Huffy that's in great condition. Plus, the seat was easy to adjust. A couple years ago, my husband went to the police auction and bought me a mountain bike. However, I've never been able to ride it because he wasn't able to raise the seat. Instead of casting a wider net to figure out a way to adjust the seat (I think it was just rusted in place), he ended up getting annoyed with me about the length of my legs instead. True love, that's what we have.

So, I am the proud owner of new-to-me wheels. My daughter got a new bike for Christmas and she and I are entered in a cycling event this summer. So, that was another reason why I wanted a new bike. So far I've only ridden it around the neighborhood, but I think I made a good decision.

Since Saturday was such a beautiful day, I decided to get Grover saddled up and take him to a recreation trail. We walked for several miles and had a great afternoon together. There were tons of people on the trail because the weather was so nice. Cyclists, walkers, and rollerbladers galore. Grover has decided that rollerbladers, collectively, can go suck an egg. He does not have any love for those shifty characters with wheels on their shoes.

Other than that, there hasn't been much going on lately. Tomorrow is the kid's birthday party. I think we are expected to worship her for the next week, at least (her birthday is on the 3rd). She asked for a Ukulele (which we are getting for her) and, um, a Macbook. You know, just in case we have $1300 sitting around and were hoping to part with it toute de suite. In other news, apparently I am still largely ineffective in my attempt to teach her highness how money works.