>Inviting a Blizzard? Moi?

>Remember Chuck’s threat last week? His warning not to take any garden talk seriously, and most certainly, not to go outside and work in the yard?

He gave up.
He noticed our neighbor, our ever-conscientious neighbor, taking care of his yard – and mowing the lawn. In mid-March. In Wisconsin. This, my friends, goes way beyond planning the garden or even buying seeds.
To show you how much this disturbed him, I just need to tell you this: Chuck’s response was in Haiku, followed by limerick.
Garden prep, lawn mown,
Spring is in the air.
Blizzard Marches in!
Description: cid:image002.jpg@01CD01E4.14A325A0
A warm March day in the air,
Lawn mowed, garden planted out there;
Her hubby did warn
Of inviting a storm
Now she’s freezing off her derriere.
I must respond.
Dear husband, the one I adore,
I might play a little outdoors,
But all I will do
Is grow food for you
And can homemade goodies galore!

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>Taking pleasure in the small things


The week ended the same way it began – badly. I spent the drive to Chicago alternating napping and checking email on my phone, trying not to entertain too many work-related thoughts because I felt like I was rocking uncontrollably, hanging on for dear life and wailing “Where am I going, and what am I doing in this handbasket?!”
But after a simple veggie burger and fast food fries for supper with a little Andes mint custard for dessert, my stressed-out stomach began healing and my outlook started facing up and forward, not down and back. Eventually we dropped La Petite at the spare room that was her destination and checked into our treat, a hotel room.
That’s where I began to count my blessings in the form of simple pleasures.

-a lumbar pillow, just the right size to rest my aching back while I read a book in bed
-in-room coffee maker, a personal favorite
– and a little hazelnut flavor to make it go down smoothly.
With simple pleasures like these included in my overnight stay, all must be well with the world.

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>True friendship lasts: The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

>The phone rang just as President Obama started speaking. I thought, “Oh, no! I’ll let voice mail catch it.” Then I saw the caller ID in the corner of my TV (technology is handy that way), and I leaped out of my chair.

It was a close friend calling to tell me that another close friend had lost her father to kidney disease. He’d been failing for a while, and they all knew it was coming, but she needed us. All of us, her closest friends.

We became friends through work and school: five teachers in the same elementary school building earning our graduate degrees together. The others in the program nicknamed us the Fab Five. We car pooled together, we exchanged ideas on projects, rehashed the good and the bad from our weekend on Mondays in the teachers’ lounge. And after our final projects were mailed and graded, after the diplomas arrived, even after I moved to a new job in a different school, we remained friends. We still share the good, the bad, the hilarious, and the traumatic. We email each other. We turn up in each other’s dreams. We still get together to drink coffee and shop, but mainly to talk.

I imagine the ten women who call themselves the Girls from Ames are a lot like us.

The Girls from Ames: a story of women & a forty year friendship is true. It reads like a novel with history and flashbacks, but the back stories are based on scrapbooks and diaries, not an author’s imagination. The book is illustrated with a photos from then and now, but more than that, it’s illustrated with the stories of relationships.

The “Girls” became friends when they were young. Eleven individuals, all unique, bonded with each other during their high school years in Ames, Iowa. Their hometown, a Midwestern college town, provided the kind of stability and small-town atmosphere typical of America’s heartland in the 1960s and 1970s. After their high school graduations, they separated to attend colleges in different states. In a pre-Internet age, without the benefit of email or cell phones, these women stayed in touch and shared marriages, divorces, children, family illnesses, even the death of one of the original eleven.

I’ve heard it said that men take a long time to get to talking, while women take a long time to get to companionable silence. This is a book about women, written by a male author, chronicles the uniqueness of friendships that have lasted more than forty years. Jeffrey Zaslow (also co-author of The Last Lecture) earned the trust of the Girls from Ames and learned from their talk and their silences. He pulled together eleven different life stories into one coherent collection, much like the eleven women still pull together for each other. His book is truly their story: the story of friendship, life, and love.

The Girls from Ames has a companion website with pictures, video, discussion, questions, and other women’s stories of friendship.

I’ll be joining the rest of the Fab Five on Monday to support one of our own friendship circle. Blog readers, as you read The Girls from Ames, I hope you will continue to cultivate your own friendships, strengthening and maintaining bonds for life.

Gotham Books provided me with a copy of The Girls from Ames in order to read it and write this review. I received no other compensation for the review.

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>Photoworks and Baby Phun


Babies and pictures and photo albums go together like a horse and carriage, peanut butter and jelly, or green eggs and ham.

I have a new baby niece, so when Mom Central asked if I’d like to try out the new Photoworks site and build a baby book, well, of course I said, “Please, pretty please, may I?” Then I gathered all the photos I have of our new little sweetie and uploaded them to the site.

Uploading was easy. I created a login and password, chose my book style, and then filled my own photo album with any and all potential book pictures. Placing the photos in the book was as easy as ABC, 1-2-3, do-re-mi, or drop and drag.

As soon as I got started, I recruited La Petite to help out. She’s the most talented photographer and layout pro in the family, so I shared my password and let her go to town. But people, you don’t have to be a tech expert or a professional photographer to make this work. Photoworks albums are simple to make and produce high quality results.

And that just gives me another excuse to visit and take more photos of our cute little dumpling!

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of American Greetings PhotoWorks and received a free photo book to facilitate my review. I feel lucky to be a part of this tour; it’s such good timing for my extended family.

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>Tyler’s Ocean

>For La Petite’s friend Tyler, who is in his last days. Tyler’s Ocean collection is being organized by Tyler’s good friend and former roommate, Eric. Here is Eric’s letter and request.

One thing Tyler really wanted to do again was see the ocean one last time. Unfortunately that is now impossible. However, with your help, we can do the next best thing for him. We can bring the ocean to him. I don’t know exactly how much time we have left but I speak for all of us when I say that I’m not going to just sit around and do nothing while I wait for his time to come. Tyler is still here, this is NOT over, and we can still help him.

So here is the plan. We need ocean pictures. If you have pictures of the ocean, we need them! We are going to take all these pictures and cover his entire room with them. This way Tyler can be at the ocean with all of his friends.

The first way and probably the easiest for everyone is just to email them to an email account I set up just for this. The address is TylersOcean at gmail dot com. This saves people trips and hassles. With your help we can give Tyler something as close to one of his last wishes as possible. With just a little effort you can help us bring Tyler the ocean! –Eric

This is not an anonymous Internet urban myth; this young man is La Petite’s friend. If you have ocean pictures that you’re willing to share, you can send them to Tyler’s Ocean.

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>Climb on the wagon – the spring garden wagon


This wagon was in my inlaws’ garden shed when they moved to their senior condo. Mother-in-law (MIL) knew she wouldn’t use it again, but she resisted giving it away or leaving it with the house. Like many of their “heirlooms”, the wagon landed at our humble abode. Husband suggested putting it in the rummage sale. We don’t need it; we have a wheelbarrow. Our yard is so small; we don’t need to transport brush or leaves any distance, really.

But we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to let it go. I considered setting it up as the centerpiece of a flower display, with the pots arranged artfully inside it and various ivies draping over the sides. With La Petite’s flower expertise and artistic asistance, possibilities abound.

Then Husband cut down the ornamental tree that had gotten too big for its branches, blocking the morning sun and poking its higher reaches into the phone lines. He filled the wagon with brush (while I used the wheelbarrow elsewhere in the yard), and then stacked firewood in it.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

I won’t hazard a guess as to the value of this wagon, with its metal mesh sides and base and the heavy duty handle and wheelbase. It’s probably old, but not an antique. There’s no damage or rust, even after spending the winter next to the garage in the (recordbreaking) snow. Rust proofing on a garden implement? Maybe. Just lucky? Maybe that, too.

But for now, I like it. We’ll use it for firewood or build a flower-scape around it. Cute, it’s not, but it’s solid. This little green wagon has a history, too. I think we’ll keep it around.

Woodpile: lighter colored branches are the fresh pieces.
They’ll weather and dry for at least a year before they’re fireplace-ready.
The “new” old wagon made this process a little easier.

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>It’s not spring yet, honey!

>I tried. I really tried to feel like spring, but Mother Nature did not cooperate.

I spread the compost on the garden and started using the bin again. I had to wear a knit hat and warm gloves while I did it. It’s not spring yet; I had to wear gloves to keep warm, not just work gloves for leverage.

I washed all the blankets and comforters at the laundromat (an annual spring cleaning chore) and put a different, thinner comforter on the bed. Husband was too cold and couldn’t sleep. It’s not spring yet: I had to put the fluffy blanket and thick comforter back. (So much for avoiding those elder-mama night sweats, grumble grumble)

We opened windows just a crack to enjoy a little fresh air, but then we forgot to turn the heat back on. In the morning, with 37 degrees F on the outside thermometer, we piled on the blanket throws while we read the Sunday paper and waited until the hardworking furnace worked hard to reheat the house. It’s not spring yet; we still need heat.

Husband won’t put away the snow shovels. He’s superstitious that way. A coworker talked about putting away his snowblower, “…and we had two major snowstorms the next week! It’s not spring yet!” He’ll take care of the snow tools in May — or June, if he’s really uber cautious. If we put the snow removal devices away, we’ll get a blizzard.

But Husband did give in and work in the yard with me. He took out the chain saw to cut down an ornamental tree that had gotten too big. This was an adventure; the uppermost branches were tangled in the telephone wires. He called AT&T, knowing they wouldn’t want him messing with the wires in any way. After going through all the switchboard options (no, we don’t need service; no, we don’t need billing), he finally got a Real Person on the line. That Real Person told him to remove the tree and call them back; they’d take out any remaining branches that hung from the phone lines. Luckily (I think), the branches untangled themselves and came down as he cut out the bigger branches below.

The garden plot is closer to ready. The sun-blocking tree is gone. The compost is spread, waiting for soil-turning. Unfortunately, it’s not spring yet. But when Mother Nature turns that corner, I’ll be ready. Shhh: don’t tell her I’m ready now!

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>Magic Blankie

>It’s just a blanket throw, offwhite in color, nothing special to look at. But it’s down filled, and cozy as can be.

Magic Blanket comes with us in the car or minivan on long road trips. It lives on the couch most of the time — except when one kid or the other takes it for their own. Amigo will wrap up in it on the den floor while he watches college football. La Petite will nab it for her futon when she comes home to visit.

I always ‘steal’ it back.

I call it Magic Blankie because it is my favorite for naps. Amigo doesn’t get the whole nap concept. “Mom, why do you nap? Why don’t you just sleep in?” “Well, honey, I’m not a teenager.” “Huh?”

Amigo calls it Magic Blankie because it makes him feel better when he’s sick.

Whatever the reason, this ordinary-looking blanket is a keeper. Who says toddlers are the only ones with blankets? Not me. In fact, as soon as I put the turkey in the oven, I’m going to curl up with the newspaper, a cup of coffee, and Magic Blankie.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. May the magic be not just in your blankies, but also in your hearts.

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>When all else fails, bake.

>I’ve been coughing so much my ribs hurt. I slept past noon Sunday, and I never sleep late. Never.
Amigo still has a sore throat from his endoscopic tests. We may have more clues to solve the mystery of the stomach pain, but for now, he’s still coping one day at a time.
A major virus hit our main desktop computer overnight. We are rebuilding from scratch, from what husband and his engineer pals call “First Birthday.” Nothing, but nothing, survived.
I spent 45 minutes cleaning up and responding to my school email — on a Sunday night!!
My world is spinning out of control.
I cope by accomplishing something simple: I bake. This time, I baked cookies. The dough was pre-made, a tub in the refrigerator from a choir fundraiser. Turn on the oven, scoop the dough onto the cookie sheets, and fifteen minutes later, voila! White chocolate macadamia nut cookies.
Bringing things down to a more elemental level helps me feel better in control. It takes the spinning world of emails and illnesses and work-family balance and lets me accomplish something worthwhile in a short period of time. Baking allows me to simplify, to slow down in a speeding world.
No recipe this time, folks. The recipe here isn’t for cookies: it’s for simplifying a complex life, taking down the stress level by focusing on a small success.
I think I’ll go have a cookie now.
Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

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>Pre-op day ramblings

>How to approach this subject without resorting to TMI mode? Metaphors and euphemisms, that’s it. Amigo (age 16) goes to the big state children’s hospital tomorrow for tummy testing. He’s preparing today, with clear liquids and the Pre-op Cocktail designed to, well, cleanse. (Oh, geez, I’m sure the spam will be tremendous on that reference)
I could tell he was nervous because his hand shook as I handed him the first glass. He was relieved it didn’t taste too bad. With the radio set up in the bathroom, he settled in for the duration while I set the timer for 20 minutes until the next dose.
The timing here is either bad or good, but not much in between. I have a nasty cold, stuffed up head, weepy eyes, and painful sinuses. If I didn’t have to stay home with Amigo, I’d probably take a sick day of my own to rest. In short, I’m feeling lousy, in need of rest, and not sure I have the strength to help the teenager deal with his pre-op anxieties. It seems like a classic case of mom taking care of everyone else first, then falling ill herself. Even though I know better, that’s my big weakness.
In between handing Amigo his every-20-minutes glass of Pre-op Cocktail, I’m dosing myself with fluids and vitamin C. I had healthy toast (whole wheat with flaxseed) with local honey for breakfast. I’m inhaling the steam before I drink my coffee; does that count? Eventually I’ll make myself some lunch, but I don’t want to make anything that Amigo will covet, since he can’t eat real food today. Eggs and toast might fit the bill: healthy basics, comfort food, nothing too exciting. Tonight it’s tomato soup and stuffed pork chops, not his favorite either. He’ll have chicken soup (no noodles) and jello. I made two flavors; lime and orange. No strawberry or raspberry; the nurse told us anything with red dye can appear in the tests and skew the results.
Meanwhile, I’ll work in the garden and the kitchen. I have schoolwork in my bag, but it’s too nice out to waste the day indoors. I opened the windows and turned off the heat, and now I’ll harvest the rest of the spinach and a batch of tomatoes if they’re ready. The math facts papers will wait; I can correct them while Amigo’s in the O.R. and recovery.
If Amigo is up to it, he can study for the World History test he’ll miss while he’s gone. After he’s done with his, um, dumping festival, he might stretch out on the couch and read the chapter once or twice. He has an ongoing novel project in the works now, too. He can work on that at the computer, which is fairly close to the Activity Room, so to speak.
We parents, moms especially, seem prone to the thought of “I have to do something! I must make this downtime worthwhile!” I still feel a bit of guilt putting off the math papers until tomorrow. Amigo will let me know if he’s not up to studying today; why can’t I be so straightforward?
Maybe that’s the enlightenment of the day. It’s not the test results tomorrow. It’s knowing that it’s okay to let things slide at work for a little while; the papers will still be there on Saturday. I can take care of myself and my teenager today.

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