Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Plans for the weekend -- crafting and eating

Long weekends are wonderful in the winter.  It's too cold and wet outside to work in the garden (or feel guilty about not working in the garden), and the prospect of trying to complete a house project in the damp and dreary weather is not in the least bit appealing.  Instead, we tend to retreat a bit.  I do big "winter cleaning" projects, seeing what else I can remove from our closets and house and donate.  Honey works on computer projects.  We both read.  I craft.  We eat...and sometimes we wish we were bears and could just hibernate. (Days like today -- cold, wet, windy -- are generally responsible for the hibernation urges.)

Yesterday, knowing that we have a long weekend ahead of us and happy to know that it will just be the two of us for the weekend, I started a list of recipes and craft projects to tackle.  The craft projects are, of course, the priority because the December holidays are nearly here and I need to have Christmas and Hanukkah gifts ready. Thanks to my obsession with Pinterest, it was a bit difficult to decide what, exactly, I would craft for gifts this year -- I've pinned way too many good ideas.  (And if you don't know about Pinterest, watch out -- once you start, you can't stop.)

Craft Project List

  • Embroidered family portraits (thanks, Martha Stewart!) -- this idea has inspired a baby quilt idea, too, but that will have to wait until after the holidays.
  • Mixed-media family tree -- I haven't found an idea to replicate mine exactly, but I have found some inspiration here, which is close to what I had in mind.
  • Circle scarves -- I've made a couple already and received positive feedback, so a few more are in the works.  So easy! 
  • Fireside coffee or cappuccino mocha mix 
  • Coffee cozies -- I've seen a number of designs, so we'll see what they look like in the end. Perhaps something like this?
  • Ornament vase (this may be experimental and not for a gift -- we'll see how it turns out) or perhaps just some painted ornaments.
  • Button bracelets and washer necklaces for the kiddos
  • Bottle cap magnets
  • Felt ornaments and lavender sachets
  • Felt Christmas tree bottle covers for gifts of wine
  • Fake canvas art
  • Bottle cap wine charms (just an idea floating around based on bottle cap magnets...we'll see if this turns out
  • Note cards -- I haven't made any for a while, but I've been gathering supplies for the photo note cards I make, so I'll probably make themed sets.

Obviously I'll just make a dent, not be able to finish everything in a weekend.  But at least I have a list!

Of course the holidays are times that we eat. A lot. We definitely have a lot to be thankful for this year and every year, living in a place where we can eat our fill.  Honey and I don't like the traditional Thanksgiving foods very much, and we really don't like the idea of stuffing ourselves until we're uncomfortable, but that always seems to happen when faced with a Thanksgiving table (even on the last two years, where I've limited myself to one plate, period). Since we are on our own this year with no obligations to make a turkey or stuffing or anything like that, we're keeping simpler recipe plans.  And most plans for this weekend involve vegetarian meals, since that is what we prefer.

Recipe List for the Long Weekend
Obviously we won't make all of these for Thanksgiving, but I do want to try my hand at making everything on this list by the end of the weekend.
  • Crab Rangoon dip -- I tried making this last night to see if it would work for a holiday party next month. It turned out rather well, although in the future I would add more Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and maybe a bit of ginger. It's really good with celery!
  • Cranberry jam -- I base it on the Williams-Sonoma cranberry relish recipe that Honey loves.
  • Asparagus -- my favorite way because it's easy: lay asparagus on the plate, add a pat of butter, a bit of minced garlic and some soy sauce, cover in plastic wrap and microwave until done. Yum!
  • Spinach salad -- also my way: spinach, croutons, goat cheese, and cesar salad dressing.
  • Cheese & crackers as snack foods
  • Pumpkin pie (of course)
  • Hubbard squash and potato gratin
  • Eggnog cheesecake bars -- I've never tried this before, but the combination of eggnog and cheesecake is just too tempting!
  •  Pumpkin spice granola -- I haven't tried this, either, but I'm always looking for ways to incorporate pumpkin.
  • Potato-asparagus soup -- I love potato soup and the idea of incorporating asparagus is lovely. I especially like that this recipe claims to take about 30 minutes from start to finish!
  • Knock-off Chick-Fil-A sauce (the best in the world so I hope this turns out!) and nuggets (which should be fried in peanut oil but I don't want to contaminate the fryer in case we ever have someone over with a peanut allergy)-- I really, really wish we had a Chick-Fil-A in this state because I am obsessed and only get it when visiting my sister!  Time to figure out if I can feed my own craving.
So there you have it, folks.  Plans for a productive and happy Thanksgiving.

Happy holidays!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Silver linings

The Teenager moved out last Tuesday, November 15. I've hashed and rehashed it all in my mind and know that I cannot do anything about the situation or the choices made by others.  What I can do is learn from experience and look for silver linings.

I had to talk with Honey about silver linings last week.  I learned that it can appear, when I focus on the positive in situations, that I am not thinking through all the ramifications, that I don't truly comprehend the downside.  That's not actually the case, I just don't choose to dwell in negativity.  Learn from things and move on and find the silver lining -- because there is always a silver lining.  That's a motto in my life.

So what did I learn from the situation?
1) Be clear and have consistent boundaries.
2) Expect realities, like family members who won't or cannot be mature adults, teenagers who make poor decisions, and people who don't appreciate you.
3) We can love people without liking them and without wanting or needing to be around them.
4) When it comes to family, at least my family, less is more.
5) Love yourself and make decisions that are good, healthy, and right for you.
6) Prioritize your spouse.
7) You don't have to fix everything.
8) Sometimes the lesson is supposed to be hard so that it will be memorable.
9) All the love and consistency in the world won't help a person (or family) to change if that's not what they want to do.
10) You are not responsible for your family or their decisions.

What is the silver lining?
1) I feel good about giving someone a chance -- and know that it's that person's decision what to do with the opportunity given.
2) I've demonstrated love and consistency and it may be the only "tough love" The Teenager experiences.
3) Honey and I are going to take a few steps back from all family -- Honey will like the holidays better as a result and I will enjoy some piece of mind.
4) My guilt that drives me to help the family is gone.
5) Honey and the pets were very supportive -- Honey by coming home and working from home the next afternoon (having realized from an e-mail that I was probably a bit down in the dumps), the cats by forming a kitty-blanket on my lap.
6) The Teenager's bedroom is now my long-desired craft/sewing/gift-wrapping/office room.

It is, perhaps, number six that I am most excited about, since it is the most tangible change.  I spent the entire weekend working on this transformation.  When The Teenager moved out, he and Crazymaker just gathered most of his clothes.  The rest of his room was left as-is, with them saying they'd be back on the weekend to gather the rest of his things.

That did not happen.

And since he never cleaned his room (and I am a strong believer in giving teenagers a space to call their own and have it be their responsibility -- even if messes drive me nuts), this is what it looked like:

It actually looked worse in person.  Trash and belongings everywhere. And perhaps it was telling, too, that when I repeatedly offered to get him a real bed frame or move the chair and rocker out of the room that he turned down those offers.  Looking back, it seems like he really didn't want to be here, regardless of what he said...or perhaps his ten years of living in a state of upheaval took its toll and this is just a symptom of much larger issues.

I took several hours on Saturday to box and bag everything and move it to the garage.  While I wanted him to clean up his own mess, the desire for a clean room, a workable space, was stronger.

The first thing that I did was make the old desk, my grandmother's desk, into something I'd enjoy.  I'd been saving newspapers from Obama's inauguration for a collage and so the desk now became that collage.
It may be silly, or, as Honey says "Well, that's very patriotic of you," but I like it.  When I look at it I am reminded of all the hopes and dreams we had on that day, tempered by the realization that we elected a man and not a superhero, so not all of our dreams would come true.  But that day was one of the happiest in my life as I sat and watched generations of dreams become reality.  It's good inspiration for a working space.

Saturday and Sunday I worked on gathering all of my various crafting and sewing supplies scattered around the house.  Without a place to call my own, a place to work, supplies just landed wherever.  Not a good feeling for someone who likes organization and cleanliness.  I knew that things would have to get worse before they could get better:
I now have desk drawers sorted and organized with supplies, a closet that houses my gift wrapping supplies, yards of fabric, and all the miscellaneous things I collect for craft projects that may or may not materialize.

My grandmother always had a craft room.  Always.  It was a magical space and she loved spending most of her time there.  As a child, it was one of the best places to be.  I have my own space now -- not cutesy, like those of my dreams that I see in Blogland, but functional -- and it already feels like a retreat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Well, they're not wrong...

I'm currently reading Philippa Gregory's new book, The Lady of the Rivers, about Jocquetta, Duchess of Bedford, who married her squire, had fourteen children, and whose daughter and granddaughter both became queens of England (pre-Henry VIII).
A number of these books involve "wise women" and a bit of what some people might call witchcraft.  Or magic. Or psychic powers.  Whatever.  I find it fascinating to read.

I have been curious about tarot for a while, and so after reading about it in this book I decided to do a bit of searching online.  I discovered there are different types of tarot and various decks with different meanings.  Some people believe that you can learn lessons from spirit worlds by using the cards.  Since I don't know much about tarot even after reading a bit, I won't say yea or nay to this idea (even though The Crazymaker has assured me all my life that things like tarot are straight from The Devil).  I will say that after going to and just checking to see what it had to say about me based on my date of birth, it is remarkably accurate.  
"When it comes to accumulating wealth, you're so good at seeing things through others' eyes that it's easy to get their financial support. You can seem so cool and reasonable, but underneath burns a desire that won't quit until you get what you want. It's this ability to stay calm on the outside while being so passionate on the inside that leads you to prosperity.

You get such great results because you know which buttons to push without coming across as pushy. Your ability not only to read people, but to read situations, makes you a master at strategy. Patience is one of your allies, because you understand the importance of timing.

When you're as committed to reaching a goal as you are, there's no doubt that you're going to succeed. While some people might give up, you're so focused and committed that you'll stick to it for as long as it takes.

Your psychic powers are at their strongest when engaged in some artistic activity like writing, dancing or playing music. It's as though your third eye is opened when you are exposed to beauty.

You do your best creative work when you are immersed in gorgeous surroundings - you might feel like you are channeling messages through your pen, paintbrush or musical instrument. Your Neptune in Sagittarius gives you a special appreciation for art from other cultures. There's a good chance that you get strong psychic messages when traveling through unfamiliar places.

If you don't have any creative hobbies, you should take one up as a means to develop your sixth sense. You'll be amazed at how much stronger your instincts become after you've been sculpting, sewing or scrapbooking for just a few minutes. Working with an intimate partner can also strengthen your psychic abilities, as having someone to talk with can help you see issues in a whole new light. The more versatile your outlook, the more perceptive you'll be."

I find that interesting. Perhaps I should test it with Honey to see if that reading is the same.

Sometimes difficult decisions are suddenly easy

As I mentioned in a previous post, for several days I have been anxious about the situation with The Teenager, wondering if I should or would hear an apology on Tuesday and decide that he could still live here.  Honey and I talked about it before I picked The Teenager up from school and determined that if it looked like he was penitent, like he wanted to continue living here, then we would take that into consideration.  Either decision, at the time, seemed very difficult...and then we had the conversation.

It did not go well.  Can I be surprised that he was not in the least bit apologetic for his actions when he is a person who believes deceit and manipulation are acceptable, even laudable behaviors?  Can I be surprised that this is the way the conversation turned out when The Crazymaker was sitting there by his side justifying his actions, saying that all teenagers lie and manipulate and so she wasn't sure why we were making such a big deal about this?  I'm not surprised, just heart-sick.  And I wish that I had family I could respect and trust and want to be around, but that does not appear to be my lot in life.  

Our home is childless once more.

Yet every dark cloud has a silver lining, and ours is this: Honey has a quiet house back and I have a room for crafts (or at least I will this weekend once all of The Teenager's stuff is packed and moved).  Life will return to normal.

The past eight months have been extremely difficult.  This is not the only situation that has caused stress.  Since March I have finished a dissertation, argued with a university over receiving my diploma, tried raising a surly teenager, had another brother move in with us for a few months at the end of the summer, had yet another (teenage) brother prove, through a series of actions, that he is totally untrustworthy, lost a best friend who decided that sleeping with a child was more important than our eight year friendship, lost my job and started job searching, gardened and harvested and learned new skills, lost extended family members to illness, and have taken classes to try to discover the inner me and some spiritual gifts.  Rather a lot to handle, I'd say, and I'm always tired.  The trees and plants outside are preparing for winter, for a rest in preparation for another growing season, and I find myself relating to their efforts.

To that end, I think that this year will be the first year Honey and I refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving with any members of the family (from either side).  For a number of years we rotated through the families, sharing Thanksgiving with the in-laws one year, my family the next, until about four years ago when we moved in to our current house and it was large enough for me to host my family and Bestie #2's family here. I worked hard to put Thanksgiving together each year since.  This year will be different, perhaps even the start of a new tradition -- me and Honey alone, eating what we want (which is not traditional Thanksgiving food -- except pumpkin pie, I must have pumpkin pie), and enjoying each other's company instead of dealing with family nonsense.  I think it could be a worthwhile new tradition.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Owl ornament

My sister and I had big plans to craft while I was visiting her. Unfortunately, between a pregnant woman (sister) and an exhausted woman, and all the playing with kids and big days we had, we were far too tired to craft.  We did try making felt ornaments.  This was my first attempt at an owl and I think I'll make more in the future!  It took forever but it was fun.


This long weekend (the one beginning on 11/11/11, a date that I love because of its symmetry) has been filled with ups and downs.  The ups are numerous because I am visiting my sister and her kids and it is so nice to be able to play with and cuddle my Awesome Possum and Abi-Gansta.  The days are packed and seem tiring yet more relaxed at home, perhaps because I am only cooking dinner and doing minimal cleaning and I have the rest of the day to talk and be with people I love.

The downs from the weekend come from The Teenager.  We've been struggling for months with attitude, responsibility, respect, and the like.  All of the normal teenage behavior magnified by 16 years without any decent training or upbringing and compounded by the idea that I am in a parental role without being the actual parent.  Honey wonders why I thought this would work at all.  My heart is too big, my head too naive, too trusting.  I always want to believe the best about people until I'm proven wrong.  I want every situation to work out.

But that is not always the way life works.

I left for the airport early Friday morning.  The plan at home was that Honey would take The Teenager over to The Crazymaker's for the weekend -- he'd been asking to go, the timing worked for her, we planned this for over a week.  Friday night through Sunday night he would be there.  On Friday at noon The Teenager sent Honey a text asking to go to his sister's (Jo-Cool) for the night. He'd take the bus, put the dog in her crate before leaving the house. Honey asked what time he wanted to leave, offered to drive him, and said he'd need to communicate about the change to The Crazymaker, to which The Teenager responded he liked walking in cold weather to the bus, he'd text Crazy, and that he'd leave around 4PM. Honey got home at 4:30 and the dog was loose in the house (thankfully not having one of her massive panic attacks that she's had ever since out house was broken in to 20 months ago).  At 6PM he sent a text asking if The Teenager had made it to Jo-Cool's safely.  No response.  When I called Honey at 6:30, he mentioned this to me and I said I'd call Jo-Cool.

Jo-Cool had no knowledge of this. She was not even home from work yet. I called The Crazymaker -- did she know what was going on?  I called The Teenager twice, no response. Sent multiple texts, no response.  Asked Jo-Cool to try, no response.  Called and sent texts to the Leprechaun (another sibling), but no response. I was picking up Tin Man from a wedding and so had him try reaching The Teenager -- and apparently he eventually did by promising not to tell me where he was, just say he was safe. (Let's leave aside that I feel like I've been completely betrayed by Tin Man -- at least he let me know the kid was safe.)  I did hear from The Teenager about 24 hours later, saying "I'm sorry that I lied but I was tired of people making plans for me when I had other plans."  Let us be clear: that is not an apology.

The Teenager was already on a trial basis at our house.  I love living with him even though he drives me crazy.  I thought that his attitude and other things were improving.  Honey disagreed.  And it seems, through this event, that Honey was right.

The problem:
1) A direct, bold-faced lie -- one that neither Honey nor I understand because every time The Teenager has asked to go to a friend's house, we've always made it work, regardless of what else was going on in our lives. Our only requirements: finish your homework and chores and let us know where you'll be and where/when to drop you off/pick you up.  Quite reasonable, I think.  (But then again, I'm not a teenager.)

2) Refusal to respond to any texts or calls, which shows a severe lack of respect -- especially since this is an issue that's happened in the past and we've talked repeatedly about it and why it's a problem and what expected acceptable behavior is.

I can handle a lot of things.  But a direct lie destroys all trust and respect.  And since this was a trial period and things have already been on shaky ground, this seems to be the last straw.

I felt much more strongly that this was the last straw earlier in the weekend.  Now I am losing my resolve, wanting to forgive and move on and let things be as they are (or were).  I want to have the serious conversation and then let him stay with us.  Up through yesterday, I was very firm in my belief that he needs to learn about life through a bit of tough laws and enforced expectations; he needed to return to live with his mother.  Why am I now losing my resolve?  I think about the good things that I saw with The Teenager living with us and I worry about him going down the really wrong track when with The Crazymaker.  I worry that he'll think we abandoned him (when in reality these are the consequences of his choice and playing a victim should have no part in this).  I worry he will lose all the progress that he made.

My sister tells me it's not my responsibility.  It's his mother's responsibility to raise him.  I've done what I could.  But I still wonder if there is more I should be doing.  I wonder if I'm making the right decision.

Currently, our plan is: I fly home Tuesday morning.  The Teenager going to the local community college all day that day.  I will pick him up at 5PM and bring him home to speak with me and Honey about what the consequences are and why, and to hear him talk about his reasons for his actions.

I wanted The Crazymaker to be a part of this.  I called on Saturday and could not reach her.  I called and sent several texts on Sunday asking to speak with her; the one time she spoke with me she said she was tired and would call before noon. Instead, around 6PM I get an angry call from Honey, "[The Teenager] is here!" (This after my e-mail, "I need to speak to you!" to the Crazymaker said that The Teenager was to stay with her until Tuesday, not return to the house until I was home.)  He handed the phone off to Crazymaker, who gave about a million excuses as to why she hadn't returned my call and said she brought The Teenager there to apologize.  My brain kept screaming, "This is why he is like this! You're a horrible example! And you always play the victim!"

Honey did not let The Teenager apologize.  Instead, the kiddo grabbed his schoolbooks and headed back out the door with The Crazymaker and I spent the next two hours listening to rants from Honey and then excuses from Crazy.

I sent The Teenager a text saying that I loved him and I was looking forward to talking with him on Tuesday.  I never received a response.

But still...I feel like the mother.  I feel the weight of responsibility.  I want him to be successful and I want to give him every opportunity for success.  I wonder if I'm overreacting.  And I feel completely miserable every time I think about it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Birthday Wishes

Like many people, there are days when I struggle with insecurity, days when I feel like I am just making up memories and accomplishments.  Today is not one of those days.  It is a good day.  My birthday.  And to celebrate my birthday some of my former students sent me well-wishes.  Most were of the "I hope you have a lovely day" variety, but I've decided to keep some of them here so that I can look back and see what they had to say on those days when I need just a bit of encouragement.
I wanted to write you on your birthday and let you know how glad I am that this day exists. Without you I wouldn't have discovered a true passion of mine, I wouldn't have faith in the education system anymore, and I wouldn't believe that a teacher would have the capability to care beyond a test. I'm so glad that out of all the possibilities in life that you were born and happened to be a part of my life, because I am truly a better person for it. 

I hope you know how much you are adored by all your former students. I also hope that today is everything you hope for it and that you get a chance to relax, a contrast to your perpetual need to help others. 

Have a wonderful day.
(Luke B.)

Happy birthday!!! Hope your day is as amazing as you are :-)
(Brittany J.)

thank you is not adequate to explain how grateful I am for all that you have done and continue to do for me, I was telling one of my kids the other day that the reason I do so much for them is because when I was 18 and needed someone to talk me down that I had people like you, so thank you. happy birthday.
(Rebecca D.)

[And then a note from earlier this week but not a birthday wish....]
I will never forget something you told me in a past post, "Sometimes people from your past dissapear because they don't belong in your future" Not said exactly like you said it, I couldn't find the post. But I will always hold true to that. Thank you for always commenting on my statuses, you have such wise things to say that help me so much with the hard times I am going through. Thank you.
(Gabby P.)


I keep telling my kids that I appreciate all of their kind words, but they are the ones that inspire me to work hard and help others.  I love my kids!

Update: A student posted a day late after realizing her birthday wishes were not saved on FB (stupid FB), so here's another one I should save:
I hope this new year brings you great things (and a killer job!). You are an amazing person who gives so much to everyone. You are a true role model and a wonderful inspiration. :-) I am so happy I had you as a teacher.
(Alisha F.)
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