Tragedy – No More DIY Costumes at our House

I miss these days.

Today is Halloween, I will be heading off to teach high school English dressed like I normally do which, according to my teen age daughter, is boring.  All of the high school students will also be dressed in their normal clothes: jeans (pulled up or down to varying degrees and with varying degrees of “fashionable” holes), sweatshirts, and t-shirts.  Anyone who dresses up in costume will be sent home to change.

Why? You might ask. Does the administration not have any sense of fun?  They do, but not this day.  Let me explain.  If you’ve gone shopping for teen or adult sized costumes anytime in the past ten years, there’s not a whole lot for guys and all the girl costumes are some variation on a stripper theme.  You can choose to be a stripper nurse, a stripper witch, or sexy stripper pirate chick; you get the picture. The sexier, the better.  It’s not just the girls, boys push it too.  If given the opportunity to dress up, they’ll often stuff balloons down their shirts and become some sort of scary fantasy woman with breasts that would make any normal woman tip over, literally.

Two weeks ago, my daughter and I were in Wal-Mart looking for bright tights.  We found them, right next to a much larger assortment of fishnet stockings. It seems that if a costume isn’t sexy, it isn’t a costume, and hormone-laced high school kids love this.  Hence, the sad ban on costumes.

This makes me miss the days when I spent hours constructing costumes for my kids.  My favorite ever was the rose bush costume.  My daughter was two, and I made her a pink jumpsuit with leaves on it, and then she donned a bonnet to which I glued a bunch of fake rose petals.  She looked like one of the babies in an Anne Geddes calendar.  One year my son was a skeleton, and then on Oct. 30, he broke his foot.  We got to put a break in his costume “bone.”  Another favorite was his 4th grade costume.  He went as Bo Duke of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”  We dressed him up in a plaid shirt and cowboy boots, and I got to curl and feather his blond hair.

I spent hours at my sewing machine making a tiger costume, a dinosaur, a ladybug, and an itsy bitsy pumpkin outfit to celebrate their first Halloween as infants.  I think I still have most of these costumes in a box in the garage, or my sister has them in her basement.

Every Halloween, the kids would get all dressed up for school and then parade around the elementary school gym to the tune of “Monster Mash” before the class Halloween Party which consisted of as much candy and goodies as the room mom could get the other parents to donate.

This is all over.  No more monster mash parades or class parties, and I’m guessing my participation in creating their costumes is over as well. Though there will be dress-up days at school for Homecoming week, its just not the same. They won’t dress up again for Halloween until they leave home, and then I may not want to know what sort of costumes they choose.  I’m fairly sure they won’t dress up as an adorable a rose bush or broken skeleton.

My Man-Child has Cold Feet, Literally

Over the summer, I had the quilt that I normally keep in the trunk of my car, my denim bus blankie, in the house.  When my son saw me folding it up to put back in my car, he asked me what I was doing.  I told him I was putting it back in the trunk.

He had the audacity to tell me NO, take the quilt from my hands, and set it back on the couch.  “That quilt has to stay in the house on the couch,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.  “We have plenty of snuggle quilts in the house.”

“Ya,” he replied,  “and none of them are long enough to cover my feet anymore.”

I stared at him, up at him.  Oh. My. God. I thought.  I’ve watched him grow over the past two years,  from about the same height as my nose, to being able to set his chin on the top of my head.  That is no small feat as I am 5’9” tall, but I didn’t realize how tall he’d actually become.  Somehow, even though I watched it happen, it snuck up on me.

I stood him up against the door frame where we’ve marked his growth over the years, and we measured him.  My baby boy is 6’ 2” and growing, and he’s right.  The only quilt that will cover his feet if he lays on the couch to watch TV is the one off his bed or the one out of my car.

I guess I didn’t realize how much he’s grown.  Either that, or I still think of him as my little baby boy whose favorite thing is to sit on my lap and read stories.  Well, it used to be.  He would crush me if he sat on me now which he still does occasionally just to amuse himself.

He told me that he does not want to be taller than 6’4”.  Period.  And, like a typical sixteen year old, he seems to think that now that he’s made his declaration, he will stop at 6′ and 4″.  “Of course, sweetie.  Whatever you say.”

Now, despite my declaration to stick with wall hangings for a while, I need to create  giant, long quilt to cover my baby’s toes.

The things we do for love.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

A few weeks ago, my husband’s aunt sent me a handwritten letter.  I will be honest here – when I first received it, I opened it up, felt the thickness of the folded up yellow sheets, and inwardly groaned.  I wanted to have enough time to sit and read the entire thing without interruption, but when was I going to find that?  I carried the letter with me for several weeks shoved in my purse or my backpack, but I never got to it during the work week.

I finally found the time Saturday afternoon, and when I finished reading the letter, I felt a huge sense of loss for all the letters I haven’t received or written since email, texting, and facebook appeared in my life.

She had written a ten page thoughtful reflection on one of my blog posts.  She questioned some of my points, reflected on others, and shared several personal stories my words had inspired.  Though nothing sentimental existed in the letter, I almost cried when I finished reading it.  It was heartfelt and addressed to me.  It was more than just a blog comment or a status update.

Two years ago, I finished a giant project compiling all of the old family photos, letters, and memorabilia that my dad and all of his ancestors had saved since the late 1800’s.  In the boxes of stuff he  gave me were stacks of envelopes rubber banded together.  There was one faded and yellowed letter from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.   My pregnant great grandmother had written to her sister in law in Idaho after following her husband north where they sought their fortune in the Yukon gold rush.  She discusses the trials of living there while he worked out at the mine site.  She also lists all the prices of the fruit that had just come in on a boat and her excitement to have some fresh fruit.

Another letter came from my great grandfather to my grandfather congratulating him on his impending marriage to my grandma (the baby born in Alaska).  There were many letters documenting my father’s life from 1956 when he left home to go to college through the mid-eighties.   My grandmother, my Dad, and my mom all saved our family’s written correspondence, so there are letters my Dad wrote to his mother as well as  her responses.  In one series of letters, my grandmother was quite upset at his lack of correspondence.  I never knew that side of her, so they were funny to read.  There are also letters my grandmother had sent home during her travels with my grandfather, and letters my sister and cousins had sent to her.

As I organized them, I laid them all out in chronological order.  These letters provide a fascinating glimpse into all of our lives as well as our nation’s history.  Some of the letters included newspaper clippings with reflections on what was happening.  They are a treasure.  My kids won’t have such tangible evidence of our daily lives.  Perhaps in this technological era they won’t miss it, but the fact that they might not even be aware of their loss saddens me more than anything.

Gary’s aunt reminded me of all of this as I read the first true letter I have received in years. I plan on responding, hopefully sooner rather than later.  I will write my letter by hand on the stationery that I’ve had but neglected for years, address the envelope, and put an actual stamp on it.   And I will save her letter, the old fashioned way, in a shoe box or a drawer.  Maybe she will save mine and someday somebody can go back and read them.  Maybe they’ll learn something, or maybe they’ll throw them away.  But either way, a little piece of me and a little piece of her will be on an actual piece of paper somewhere and not a hard drive.  I like that idea.

The Taste of Fall

Fall brings with it Halloween, falling leaves, football and piles of unripe green tomatoes stacked in our windowsills and piled in bowls on the kitchen counter, all rescued from the impending first frost.  Some of the tomatoes ripen enough to eat or can, but many never make it that far.  Instead, they turn into fried green tomatoes.

I never knew this was an actual food and not just a catchy name for a book and movie until I married, and we planted our first garden. My husband grew up eating these little treats every fall when he helped his grandfather harvest the garden.  I apparently led a much more sheltered life and grew up without ever even hearing of a fried green tomato until the movie came out in 1991.

Now, every year in September before the first freeze, my husband brings in a box full of green tomatoes and reminisces about his Grandpa.  The first time he brought in his box, I thought he’d set them in the window to ripen, but he didn’t.  He cut them up, fried them, and gave me one.  I had never even seen a sliced up green tomato much less a fried one, and I had never tasted anything quite like it.

To make them, my husband slices them about a quarter inch thick, dredges them in seasoned flour, and fries them up in a little butter and oil.  He then salts them like French fries right when he pulls them out of the oil and serves them either plain or with a little ranch dressing on the side.  Sometimes he spices them up with some Tabasco, but I don’t care for that.

I’m not sure how to describe them other than they’re acidic but sweet with a bit of tangy-ness.  They’re yummy.  Now that I’ve eaten them every fall for the past twenty years, that is what they taste like, fall.

I don’t know that I ever realized this until I started writing and became hyper-aware of such details.  What does fall taste like? Smell like? Feel like?  These are the kind of questions I’ve been asking myself, and this past week, I answered one of them.  One thing fall tastes like is Fried Green Tomatoes.

The Liebster Award

A thank you goes out to Claire McA who nominated my blog for the Liebster Blog Award.  This last week, I neglected my blog in favor of Homecoming Week festivities.  As a high school teacher and mom of teens, it was a busy week, so her kind words about my writing and her nomination boosted my writing spirits.

You might be wondering what, exactly, is a Liebster Award?  I was too, and then I found out its a fun way to “pay it forward” to other “newbie” bloggers out there and showcase a blog you think deserves merit and more followers.  (If you have more than 200 followers, you’re not eligible for this award.)

Of course there is no obligation to take part, but if you’d like to show some Liebster Love, here are the rules:

1.  Link back to the blogger who awarded you.

2.  Tag 3-5 blogs to receive the award.

3.  Inform them of their nomination.

4.  Display the Liebster Award image on your blog.

One element of blogging that I have enjoyed has been participating in this community of writers and making connections with others who are on the same writing journey as me.  Just knowing that someone out there is reading my words, sometimes enough to comment or even like a post, has provided validation and encouragement.  I also so enjoy reading others’ blog posts.  I had no idea this whole world existed, and exploring blogs has become a bit of a hobby.

I’d like to nominate the following blogs for their own Liebster Award.  Click on the links and check out these bloggers insightful and entertaining blogs.

1.  Breaking Books – Susan has combined her love of baking and Young Adult novels.  She writes insightful reviews and then “cooks up” some sort of goodie that the book inspires.  She also blogs about parenting and writing.

2.  Wordsxo – This is another blogger I enjoy who chronicles her journey as a writer.  She is funny and insightful.  One of my favorite features is her Sunday morning video of the same stretch of beach on the coast of Maine.  Since I live in the high desert and have never lived next to the ocean, I have enjoyed watching the changing scenery and weather in her videos.

3.  Enter the Between – Margaret hails from the opposite side of the country, the Central Valley in California, where she blogs about writing, spirituality, and her surroundings.  She also frequently posts lovely pictures that she takes as she walks her dairy farm.

Fly Season

Every fall, fly season opens.  Unlike hunting season or the holiday season, it is not a season I look forward to.  The nasty pests congregate in groups,  slow, disgusting and fat, and then they magically multiply.  How do they get into my home in such droves?  I have screens on all the windows; I don’t leave the doors open all day.  I clean my house, and I do not live next to the dump like the Ewell’s in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I can only imagine poor Mayella’s fly problem.

Last week, I left a spoon on the counter that I had been using to stir some soup on the stove.  When my husband went into the kitchen, no less than six flies were on that spoon.  Eeeeewwwwhhh!    Even he was disgusted.

This is a problem that happens every fall.  Starting around the beginning of September through the first or second week of October, the flies come in.  At no other time of year do they behave like this.

Several years ago, my son went on a fishing trip with my Dad.  For the trip, my son used my husband’s fishing creel to store his daily catch.   Each evening, they would take their catch and clean it, except for one lone fish.  Somehow my son, who was around ten at the time, didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of his creel to collect all the fish on the last day of the trip.  Instead, he packed to go and shoved his fish filled creel into his duffle bag, with his clothes.  When he got home, he unpacked and set the creel, with the now rotting fish inside, onto a shelf in the garage.  When I started his laundry, his clothes smelled especially fishy, but I just figured it was because he was ten and had been wiping his fishy hands on them all weekend.  I washed them in hot water.  Problem solved, or so I thought until something began to smell in the garage.

This was the middle of July, and the stench kept getting worse.  Finally, we had a family “search the garage for the stink” party.  Lucky me, I was the one to find the creel.  I opened it up and peeked in only to be assaulted by a sight from a horror movie and an even worse stench.  Flies had found the fish before I did, and maggots covered it; they crawled up the sides of the creel, in and out of the half rotted trout.

I, of course, did what any self-respecting woman would do:  screamed, threw the creel on the ground, and ran.  Then, I got to be a mean mom and make my son go take care of it.  This only entailed picking it up with a shovel and depositing it into the garbage as we decided that we would rather get another creel than try to clean that one out.  (I guess that makes us typical Americans living in a consumable society, but that’s another post.)  I wasn’t touching the maggots filled creel regardless of how wasteful throwing it away was.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen maggots up close and personal.  For that I am thankful, but that leads to the question of all the flies.  Maggots are fly babies.  If I never see the babies, where do the adults come from?  In truth, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.  I do know, that this is the only time that I can’t wait for really cold weather to get here, decimate the fly population, and put a solid end to fly season.

Writing Lessons from an Ugly Quilt

I’ve completed one quilt that is truly ugly, and that is because I decided to use only what I had on hand to make it. It’s hideous; there’s no other word for it. I used a focus fabric that had teals, rusty oranges, some purples, and pops of yellow. I actually liked that fabric. Then I hit my stash. I pulled out a whole bunch of fabrics that I thought would work well with it.

In a pile on the floor, they looked lovely. In the quilt? Not so much. I had not yet learned about the importance of value. The entire quilt is in medium values with one or two darks and no lights. It desperately needed something else, but at the time, I didn’t really know what it needed. I was also trying to save money and make a baby quilt by using just what I had on hand, so I never even visited the quilt store to see if I could fix the problem. Instead, I relentlessly stuck to my goal of not spending a dime on this quilt. Big mistake as I ended up spending money on another (read not ugly) baby gift anyway.

While the experience frustrated and annoyed me, I did learn two important lessons: 1) Do not limit myself to preset parameters as it dramatically hinders my creativity and the end product won’t be what I want it to be, and 2) It is crucial to pay attention to value as well as to color in a quilt.

My ugly quilt still sits in a tote underneath my bed with other quilt tops that are pieced but not yet quilted. I would put a picture of it here, but I can’t. It’s that bad.

A few weeks ago, I pulled it out. As I looked at it, I realized how helpful its lessons have been with my writing. As a writer, I am definitely a planner, an outliner. When I started this whole novel project, I plotted it all out, made outlines, and sketched out scenes and characters. I’ve followed my outline generally, but my characters have taken me in directions I never suspected, directions that I didn’t have on my outline. At first, this panicked me, but then I remembered my ugly quilt lessons: 1) I cannot limit myself to sticking with my outline, and 2) I must vary the levels of tension in each scene I write, just as I must vary the value of color in each block I stitch.

I’m finally thankful for the time and energy spent on my ugly quilt. Perhaps I might even quilt it, hang it near my writing space as a reminder of the lessons it taught me, and also as a reminder that my writing, like my quilting, will improve. That’s a good feeling.