Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Ultimate Sweating Machine.

The thing i asked hubby for this year was the Ultimate Sweater Machine. As advertised:
The Ultimate Sweater Machine® is the fast, easy way to knit!

Learn today, make it tonight, wear it tomorrow!

They lie.
i've been sweating over it for most of a week now, with my success vs mess-ups ratio at about 50/50. For as the lady on the dvd says, "for some of you, this will come easily, while for others of you...." --here her voice fades out, and the voice in MY head says, "it will be a total b***ch!"

i decided early on, given those odds, i would rise to the challenge and allow myself time to become familiar and perhaps even proficient on said Sweating Machine. i've had moments of sheer brilliance, where row upon row sang sweetly. i've also had looong moments of sheer frustration, where numerous stitches were skipped, leaving me pitchy and tuneless. But i'm gaining on it. The Machine and i are developing a relationship.

Before the arrival of my gift, i imagined myself knitting "600 to 1200 stitches per minute!" while whipping out sweaters with clever cables and perhaps making "a sweater or afghan in two evenings." (That's what the ad says.)

Currently i'm imagining myself completing a potholder in reasonable harmony.

Seriously though, once The Machine and i become true friends, i believe we can do beautiful things together. Until then i have resigned myself to the fact that i fall into category 2, the one for whom the road to success is roughly paved. i have a mental picture of a category 1 long, leggy Swedish model sitting down to her knitting machine and casually (and with perfect teeth and posture) beginning to make a beautifully fitted sweater on her first try. At the moment i am the stubbier and sweatier hausfrau to her right, yarn and hair in tangles, wild-eyed and giggling insanely over her machine.

i'll give myself a few more days. i'm going to master it, really i am. i'll keep you posted.

OH--Skimmer's Recap--
Ultimate Sweater Machine, harder than it looks. Leggy Swedish model (HAH! Got your attention there, didn't i?) with smooth road. Me, old fashioned cobblestones with potholes and too many analogies. (Metaphors? Whatever.)

Day to remember.

Christmas day was lazy for me--years ago, i used to be the one trying to get the potatoes to be ready when the stuffing was ready when the turkey was ready, and remember how the heck to make gravy. These days, and for a number of years past, i contribute in some small way, but haven't been the main chef. This has been due to the fact that my oldest loves to cook, and my youngest daughter's husband loves to cook. Me, not so much. So i'm very happy to be the cheerleader: "Go, team, go! Cook, team, cook!" These days the biggy for me is making cinnamon rolls for whoever is at my house on Christmas morning.

This year we had Christmas dinner at my daughter Corinne's house, where she and husband/chef Luis were in charge of the eating festivities. For appetizers we had a selection of cheeses with baguettes and red grapes. Then we had a tender lamb roast stuffed with sauteed chard and feta cheese, with herbed mashed potatoes, and roasted parsnips and carrots in a maple and mustard glaze. Luis had roasted beets and did whatever one does to roasted beets, and made a lovely salad of beets, watercress, and candied walnuts in a citrus vinagrette.

At not-quite-seven, grandgirl Cassidy loved the sugared walnuts and the dressing, but wasn't so crazy "about the cress." She also wouldn't eat the carrots, but ate the parsnips. Haley, ten, will eat pretty much any vegetable, and has been caught with her finger in more than one dessert, but she didn't like the sugared nuts. What kid doesn't like pretty much anything covered in sugar?

Our family seems to have a gift for overdoing the whole dessert thing, though. We had less than the usual almost one dessert per person--only a one dessert to two people ratio this time around. We all managed to get some of that down. It was a great meal, the 11 of us fit just fine in a small living/dining room, something i think a few of us (namely Corinne and Luis!) were concerned about.

It's a bigtime thankful thing for me, being together like that, especially while enjoying someone else's cooking.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas thoughts.

holly trees
outside my childhood home
sweet smell
of green needled boughs dripping
from mantles
found months later in crannies
each year
of white lights or colored
the new again
of treasured ornaments
the old again
of Christmas songs
the joy
in gifts given in love
the greater joy
of God's Gift

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's a new day, it's a new pill, for me

So, the hard stuff. The doc prescribed methadone. Apparently it's been used as a strong painkiller since the 40's. But what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word "methadone"? That's right--i just say, "and the upside is, i can finally kick my heroin habit." Yup, it's what heroin addicts are treated with.

It's a synthetic, and works like morphine, from the opiate family. (The Opiate family. There's a joke in there somewhere: "And this is our daughter, Poppy. She's a sweet one, but kind of in her own world...") Morphine was Hubby's drug of choice for kidney stones. He'd go from shrieking like a little girl to snoring like an old drunk in thirty seconds. And i'd be left sitting there in the emergency room reading ten year old copies of Sunset magazine.

Anyway, the doctor assured me methadone would be a good painkiller, and perhaps allow me to get going with life again. We're starting super slow, half a tiny little pill at night for a week, then add half a pill in the mornings for a week, then give him a call and let him know how it's going.

So far i've been super sedated feeling--had some days where i slept more hours than i was awake, had some (more than usual) dizzy and brainless days. And all of this has been accompanied by some pretty good pain. And my nights have been ones of waking every couple of hours, meaning not the soundest sleep when i'm getting it. So i'm still waiting around for Poppy to get busy workin' her magic.


What the heck. It's only somethin' like 250 words! Just read it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rules and regulations of the Pain Clinic.

More on yesterday's visit to the Chronic Pain Management Clinic--

There are lots of rules, it would seem, to keep in mind when participating in the clinic's program. One must not focus on one's pain and talk about one's pain. One will instead write an entry in one's "pain journal" once each hour, then let it go. We are learning instead to focus on other things about our lives of a more positive nature.

One will not socialize with other program attendees outside of the confines of the program. When socializing within program time, one will speak of hobbies, trips taken, gardening, and such positive and non-pain oriented topics.

One will not help another program participant--if another drops their pen, it is up to them to pick it up. One would not want to rob another of the victory of doing something for themself.

One will focus only on one's own self, not on others and their issues. These are some of the rules for Pain Management Clinic Program Level 3's 5 weeks times 4 days per week.

One will not give or receive gifts, one will not work even part time during the program. One will only be excused from program for extreme emergencies (i'm thinking death.)

Hubby says that behind every rule there is a story. "I wonder what happened to inspire that rule," he said when we were discussing the "no socializing outside of program" rule. The program being as old as my younger daughter, 27 years, there have no doubt been many stories.

"Well," i can hear the Don't Talk About Pain team saying to each other after married participant A takes up with married participant Q, "we better make a rule to put the kabosh on that. Didn't see that one coming."

"What else are we missing?" another team member says to the others. "Yunno, I'm really tired of picking up stuff for those lazy a** program people. Let's make a rule that says they have to pick up their own stuff! We can make up something about how it made some man feel victorious for picking up his own pen when he dropped it--" They all nod and grin and maybe exchange a few high-fives.

Honestly, i do get it. Truly, i understand that sometimes asking somebody else how they're feeling is a great way to ignore what's going on with me, i understand that someone who waits for other people to do for them will just get more and more deconditioned physically. i understand. i even know that in 27 or 28 years of the clinic they've learned a few things that work. But let's just admit it, one enjoys being cynical, doesn't one?

OH--lest i forget, the Skimmer's Recap:

Pain Clinic Program=No helping, no fraternizing. No gifts, no absences, no working. No pain talk. Rules=stories. Cynical=me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A couple of shades of day.

Today was a fun day, then an interesting and sorta stressful day.

For those of you who *skim* (you know who you are--) there will be a Skimmer's Recap at the end. So you may jump directly there.

Okay, now i'm just hoping there are still others reading the middle--but i shall forge ahead, whatever the reading population is in this Between Land.

Hubby of mine went with me to meet up with daughter Corinne at Ikea. i love Ikea. So much to see, never enough time, or energy. The first time she and i visited Ikea when it was a new and exciting local adventure, at the end she said, "It's like visiting a theme park--you have to park way far away, you spend hours, and then you're exhausted afterward." Ah, but we loved that day, i myself was in retail heaven, and left dreaming of nicely arranged coordinating rooms with no stacks and piles of miscellaneous Living Leftovers.

Anyway, this Christmas we are meeting at Corinne's, and chef husband Luis is cooking. How cool is that? They're pretty excited about it, (as am i!) and planning how to fit 10 or 11 people into a tiny apartment. Since they have small sets of dishes and silverware and such, we looked at plates and glasses and linens. Didn't find much of the things we were looking for, but we each managed to spend some money. Funny how that works. It was fun.

From there hubby and i went straight to my appointment with the Chronic Pain Management Clinic. We met with "the team," which meant i went into the meeting feeling intimidated already. They're nice people, don't get me wrong, but i wasn't sure what to expect. i know at 54 i am considered A Grownup, but i still have a hard time not going before those authority types without trepidation. They asked questions, i answered the best i could, trying to use good body language and not drooling. i think i pulled it off.

Anyway, the next opening for the program isn't until APRIL 22ND!! i guess that's the handy thing about chronic pain, it's not going anywhere, and i will no doubt still have it in April.

One of the doctors becomes my pain medication guy at this point. i decided that instead of trying to manage my pain simply with ibuprofen, i will try the "hard stuff." Rather than being proud (and in pain) i will try being a humble user of something stronger, and hopefully not in pain. i have mixed feelings about that--on the one hand i have feared medications that are habit forming, what with my heritage being of the addictive persuasion. On the other hand, i'd like to NOT HURT SO STINKING MUCH! So guess which hand wins?

i have a mix of feeling that i'm giving up on getting better (some people with fibro seem to get it under control) and of hope. The hope comes from thinking that if these guys at the clinic have as much success as they seem to, maybe my mental/emotional self will allow me to take the steps to be physically healthier.

SO--here's the Skimmer's version, as promised:
Today--Ikea, Fun. Doctors, stressful yet interesting. New pain med, mixed feelings, giving up? hope? We'll see.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Note from husband.

"You write four thousand words and wonder why anybody would skim!!"

Isn't he just too cute for (four thousand) words.

Dream a little dream of--

Well, it was policemen. And rain. And exercise equipment. And incarceration.

My counselor was so good at the whole dream thing, i loved it. She knows all the meanings of the different rooms in a house, even what it means based on how many bedrooms there are in a house you dream about. On these days, after a vivid and weird dream, i wish i was still in therapy. (Well, actually, on many days i wish i was! If i could only carry her around in my pocket for those troublesome life events. "Pardon me," i would say, and nip into the ladies, where i could open my pocket and ask, "So, how do i respond to that??")

i have a website i go to in the absence of a good counselor. i'm not sure it always gives me sound advice, but it gives me ideas and choices. It's, and i at least have fun with it. It's not up to the par of Joseph and the coat of many colors: "The seven fat cows stand for seven years of plenty, and the seven skinny cows stand for seven years of famine." (Yes, i watched Veggie Tales the other day with Adina's 2 year old daughter--you can learn a lot from those things!) But then Joseph got his dream interpretations from God, and that's a whole lot more accurate place to get your info. And i don't have my personal pocket therapist, and frankly i can't picture bothering God with, "so, there was rain, a hospital, and policemen in slickers--whaddya think?" So for now i'll refer to Dream Moods and do my own surmising.

Okay, so, there was also a bit about an exercise room in the hospital basement, all dusty and looking like an afterthought, with a treadmill among other bits of equipment. You could see the pipes in the ceiling, making it look very basement-y. There was also a bit where we were in the back seat of a police car being taken to the hospital. i remember looking out the back window of the car at the street lined mostly with small stores. So, two sections involved looking out the window at the rain and the police in their slickers.

Okay, let me at it:

Dream Moods says about police:

"Police. To see the police in your dream, indicates some failure to perform or to honor obligations and commitments. The police also symbolize structure, rules, and control. A more direct interpretation of seeing the police in your dream forewarns that you should avoid reckless behavior. To dream that you are arrested by the police, suggests that you feel sexually or emotionally restrained because of guilt."

--and about rain:

"Rain. To dream that you get wet from the rain, signifies that you will soon be cleansed from your troubles and problems. Rain also symbolizes fertility and renewal.
To see and hear rain falling, symbolizes forgiveness and grace.
To dream that you are watching the rain from a window, indicates that spiritual ideas and insights are being brought to your awareness. It may also symbolize fortune and love.
To hear the tapping of the rain on the roof, denotes spiritual ideas and blessings coming to mind. It may also suggests that you will receive much joy from your home life."

--and raincoats:

"Raincoat. To dream that you are wearing a raincoat, suggests that you are shielding yourself from your emotions. You are not able to face the nastiness. It also refers to your pessimistic outlook."

Let's not forget the basement:

"Basement. To dream that you are in a basement, symbolizes your unconscious mind and intuition. The appearance of the basement is an indication of your unconscious state of mind and level of satisfaction.
To dream that the basement is in disarray and messy, signifies some confusion in which you need to sort out. It may also represent your perceived faults and shortcomings."

So, now to piece these together into a cohesive idea. (Insert clearing of the throat here.) The things i've been troubled by lately have been the whole idea of being stuck with stupid chronic pain from this fibromyalgia, and never getting well like some people seem to. i have not been successful at getting myself to exercise because, One, i'm in pain, (chronically!) and B, i'm exhausted. Also chronically. Now, never mind the fact that if i were to get my lazy bootie going, i might feel better, or if i could figure out how to eat to lose weight without irritating my IBS, i might feel better. Tomorrow is my appointment (FINALLY) with the Chronic Pain Management Clinic team at Kaiser, where i will be assessed and they will set up my time to start the program (after waiting several more months, it sounds like. But why hurry? The pain is chronic, and not going anywhere.) Oh--and i've been talking to my youngest daughter, who is making huge strides in her life, choosing to make positive changes, and hopefully shed some of the family cement overshoes like frozen anxiety. So using all these things floating about in my head, plus the interpretations courtesy of Dream Moods, here goes.


If seeing police offers choices between meaning "don't be reckless" and not honoring obligations or committments, i'll have to go with the obligations thing, and the structure/rules/control bit. Why? you ask. Because for me, "life on the edge" extends about as far as backing off the driveway without my seatbelt fastened. i'm not the risk taking sort. i'm also not great at rules, but that fits more closely, since i know i need to honor committments to improve the health of my body, and that requires--yes--structure. Rules. Control. (Crap.) The interpretation that involves guilt is right up my family alley too--one of my biggest issues includes taking on guilt. Guilt about my imperfections, guilt about the imperfections i've passed on to my children. Guilt about everything clear down to global warming. It's all me.

And if seeing/hearing rain means renewal, grace, and forgiveness, well, that's a mighty fine thing to follow on the heels of all that NOT honoring obligations, NOT being perfect. Who can't use a little grace and forgiveness raining down on them? We guilt-ridden folk tend to forget about grace and forgiveness. And renewal? That gives one hope. And watching the rain from a window is a specific thing, that of spiritual insights being brought to your awareness. All good!

The raincoat is an interesting element--i was not wearing one, the keepers of the structure and rules were wearing them. So, if my wearing one means i'm shielding myself from nastiness, then the structure-keepers wearing them could mean i'm shielding myself from what i see as their imposing of structure on my life? This leaves me in an uncomfortable place--i strive (after five years of therapy) to not be a victim, but to realize that i am the one to steer my own ship (or in the case of someone not crazy about water or the connected analogies, perhaps my own very large flotation device in a very shallow and small pool?) And the pessimism Dream Moods mentions? i choose to ignore that. (She said pessimistically.)

In this struggle with my body and the outside interveners who say i *should* do these things to be better, i'm afraid it's easy to fall back into the victim mode. *They* don't understand. *They* don't know how i feel. And yet i know i need to steer my own innertube.

This leaves me with the dusty/musty basement with the treadmill and such. If the appearance of the basement signifies my state of mind, i think i may be in deep do-do. "Dusty" and "Musty" sound like two of the Seven Dwarfs of this annoyance that has been named Fibromyalgia. (But that sounds like another post altogether. It amuses me to contemplate that.) And if the disarray means some confusion i need to sort out, or my perceived faults and shortcomings, this fits with where my subconscious lives regarding the fibro. MY fault is i'm not structured enough. MY shortcoming is i don't honor the committments to my body. MY guilt is because of MY faults. MY MY MY.

Hmm. Do i try to take a fair amount of the power away from God in all this struggle? Do i think i'm alone, but for my Two Dwarfs? Okay, so i need to steer, but i can ask for help. And i need to quit thinking of this fibro as something i did to myself and step back a bit.

Or maybe it was just the butler in the library with the candlestick. It's beginning to hurt to think.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Something new for Christmas.

This is not a lovely story of Christmas cheer, rather, this is a story of simply me at Christmas.

i usually am not thrilled about wrapping gifts. My sister got the ability to make neat corners and pretty bows, and the joy in coordinating ribbons and papers. i got the ability of admiring her neat corners, pretty bows and coordinating ribbons and papers. These days my answer to the wrapping dilemma is to find paper i like and buy a bag of bows, hopefully in the after-Christmas sales to use the next year. Oh--and sticky tags. i love those sticky tags. But weirdly, i was in the mood to wrap presents yesterday, so i pulled out my couple of rolls of paper, my sticky tags and bag of bows (from last year's after Christmas sales) and started wrapping.

As i pulled a gift from the box where i'd been stuffing the presents as i'd bought them over the months, i thought, Weird, i'd swear i already wrapped this same thing.

Since it is a gift for my husband, and since he does at least *skim* this blog, i can't get too specific. But yes, i have apparently bought the same thing for him twice this year for Christmas. Guess i must think he'll like it--guess i must have thought a couple of times that he'd like it.

This is something i don't recall doing on previous years--but then, i didn't recall buying the same thing twice, either.

Friday, December 07, 2007

What i like in a blog.

This greeted me on my iGoogle desktop this morning:

"A writer is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." Leo Tolstoy (Russian Writer)

That kind of honesty and vulnerability is what i cherish in friends and blog-mates. That and a little humor, and i'm good to go.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

One thing much funnier when seen on YouTube.

i had actually started to write this post in October, when i lived the moment, but moved on past it and never finished. But yesterday i was reminded--i was leaving friend Adina's house, and there was a light sprinkle coming down. She said, "Just be careful and please don't fall going down the stairs!" For a split second i couldn't think why she would possibly say that--i mean, i'm clumsy and all that, but really.

Then i flashed on The Day, the "funnier when seen on You Tube" day. Picture it: the same house, the same rainy day, the same slippery steps. Me, carefully holding onto the railing, not wanting to land on my butt and be in pain for days. Proudly, i stepped off the last step, and WHAM--i was on my back, laying on the painted concrete pad at the bottom of the stairs. Cleverly, i had raised my head a bit so it didn't take the full impact, and managed to let the other more padded bits of me take it.

Poor Adina, thinking i had been broken right there in her yard, and me thinking, "Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!"

But i was not broken, no. How i could do that and escape unscathed, and yet slip going down my inside stairs and break a toe, who knows?

But definitely, oh definitely, it was one thing MUCH funnier when seen on You Tube.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

(No) self control.

When i woke up this morning, i thought, "i'm going to dinner tonight, i have juice in the fridge, maybe i should do a daytime juice fast." Feeling quite proud of my dietary impulses, i went downstairs to the kitchen. The juice fast quickly became a juice-and-one-peppermint-cookie fast. i mean, i have these lovely cookies my friend Adina made! How can i not have just one?

i continued my day, doing paperwork, drinking water and juice. Lunchtime came. Oh shoot--i have that leftover piece of really good pizza in the fridge--i don't want it to get too old to eat! And my juice fast became a juice-and-one-peppermint-cookie-and-one-piece-of-really-good-leftover-pizza fast.

i'm still going out for dinner tonight.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Borrowed thoughts.

My husband, "the skimmer," commented that i hadn't written lately on my blog. (i think at first he thought i might have taken him off the mailing list due to his skimming offense.) But truth is, all the overthinking and pondering i do on a daily basis just hasn't been terribly interesting. With this cold having a much longer run than many Broadway plays, i haven't felt very bright or deep or pensive. So, possibly the best thing to do is turn your eyes upon the words of others more bright, pensive, and thoughtful than i feel.

Magistramater's thoughts on Giving With Grace, thoughts on giving, for the Christmas season.

Tersie's thoughts on Could This Be Why? addressing the view young people today have of Jesus vs Christianity (or what i like to call "Churchianity.")

And from a day when i definitely was in a deeper frame of mind:
Walking in the Cool of the Day, on spending time with God.

Friday, November 30, 2007

[Bracket} thoughts.

Now that my California cold that followed closely on the heels of my English cold has receded into a mere shadow of its former snotty glory, i feel almost clear enough to write again.

What keeps coming to my mind is the simple clarity of the month spent with my English family--why did that time feel so much more clear? On the most obvious point, it was just excellent to be with them, and enter into their lives, and get to just chat about the everyday-ness of life. But why else did it seem so clear and simple?

Anything outside my normal life has some magic to it, and some clarity. This i suppose arises from the fact of being a piece of time in brackets. You know, {Vacation} {Birth of a baby} Those are finite times with edges. My normal life is open brackets...just some vague dots trailing off...into...whenever...

i think that's one reason i enjoyed the whole baby/toddler/child raising time--it had edges. It had brackets. There needed to be meals, and naps, and baths, and bedtimes. Those were my mini-goals, to make it from breakfast to naptime, from dinner to bath to bed. Small brackets around small bits of my day.

While i was in England, the days were pretty clear--there was breakfast to be eaten, and the dishes from that to be washed. There were grubby boys to play in the garden, and clothes from that to be washed. There was a clear path from morning till night, with chores to mark the divisions of the day. Simplicity. Clarity.

Of course, i must factor in that my daughter has The Gift of Organization. As i've mentioned before, she'd rather wash dishes frequently than save them up and have an overwhelming pile. She'd rather pick up the toys and vacuum at the end of the day than to already have a mess at the beginning of a new day. i suspect she can actually see brackets: {these things go together in this drawer} {this is a logical time to do this chore.} i am challenged in these matters.

Other than the natural bracketing of the meals and naps of child-raising, i tend to be easily overwhelmed by life. i'm not schedule oriented, i enjoy being flexible and creative. But sometimes the open ended-ness of my life is daunting, especially when some of its days are so achy. i think i'm unsure of how to find the balance.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

(Some) attention span.

i just found out my husband "skims" my longer posts.

The only reason he reads them at all is because he complains of "no good email" ever coming to his account, so i said, "Well, i could sign you up to receive my blog." So i did.

i had thought my family (as in grown daughters, husband, sister) would be interested in my life and thoughts. Apparently i delude myself, as my sister is the only willing reader out of all the aforementioned relatives.

Now, this same skimming husband can watch hours of a program detailing the process of applying cotton to a cotton swab, or watch a Bruce Willis movie twice in the period of one airplane flight. But he feels the need to "skim" my posts.

So much for what i so optimistically felt to be my amusing and pithy observations on life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

(Some) impulse control.

Written on Monday--
As i sit in my lovely reclining seat in the First Class cabin of a United Airlines flight home from England, i’m pondering the mysteries of self-discipline and impulse control. And yes, you read that right—First Class. There are some perks to a husband who has spent the last 32 years weathering the stormy seas (skies?) of the airline industry.

Why, you ask, am i pondering impulse control at the end of a lovely month spent with my daughter in England? Possibly because i am relieved i can still wear the same pants i wore on the flight to England, having spent the past four weeks being fed by my son-in-law who loves to cook.

Yes, i did go to be with my daughter so that i could help her in the time surrounding the birth of her third child. And yes, this could have included cooking, i realize, and i went prepared to do that if needed. But i am not a cook—i cook because my family should be fed, and nobody has starved on my watch. i enjoy reading cookbooks and watching others who love to cook on Food Network. But cook myself? Not such a fan. Now, i do have a really nice Bosch range, and some very cool Calphalon pans hanging from a ceiling rack, so my kitchen gives the impression of a person happily sautéing and stirring and banging about with pots. But again, not a huge fan. i’d rather bake cookies. Or knit.

All that to say, i have so thoroughly enjoyed being cooked for that my eating choices have been limited simply by being too full to eat another bite. Coq au vin, lamb roast with rosemary stuffing, thick, creamy soups of winter squashes, or lamb stew. And my daughter had previously been accused (by me!) of “cooking by color” (“well, if spaghetti sauce is red, surely chili powder being red will also go..." That meal, cooked in her college days, cleared the family’s sinuses for a week.) But this trip she made us a salmon pie with a dill sauce and creamy mashed potatoes, clearing herself of all past cooking judgements. (i mean, it has been a decade.)

i also love the whole English tea and biscuits concept. It’s a lovely thing to take a break in the afternoon for a milky cup of tea and assorted dippable biscuits (cookies in the U.S.) Why do i love their biscuits more than the ones in the States? i don’t know. Maybe it’s just the fact that i’m on vacation in a foreign land and feel it’s okay to enjoy them. Maybe it’s because they have buttery, crispy cookies of every description—“digestives,” a basic vanilla type cookie, but topped in dark or milk chocolate, or caramel and chocolate, and the ever famous Hob Nobs, a more grainy, crunchy type of the same thing, or a thin crisp wafer with fruity bits in them, or delightfully dunkable raspberry and cream filled sandwich cookies…the possibilities are endless! The English son-in-law says these remind him of church social times and children’s snacks, but call me a child, i love ‘em!

What i’ve been pondering is my choice of “living to eat” rather than “eating to live,” that seems to symbolize my lack of self-discipline. The thing is, i do have impulse control—many many times i wanted to run my hand across the stubbly head of the passenger in front of me on the nearly four hour bus ride to Heathrow Airport in London, BUT I DIDN’T. And when standing in line at the grocery store behind a lady with the shoulder length gray hair that is probably what mine would look like if i let it go to its natural state, i wanted to ask to drape it over my head and take a picture so i could see what i might look like should i give up on the whole hair-dying annoyance. BUT I DIDN’T.

And now, i’m sitting in United First Class, home of the many-course meal—several starters, salad and bread, entrées that include filet mignon and halibut with lobster sauce, side dishes, and if there is a single bit of space left in your tummy, the possibility of an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce or the cheese and fruit course. Now, i know for the people who have paid dearly for the privilege of excess this is expected. But for me? i just love to be waited on, i freely admit it! If we were paying full price for our tickets we would be in the back of the plane by the toilets, eating boxed lunches of questionable freshness.

i’m thinking that, since this is Thanksgiving week, and the eldest child (who also loves to cook) will have that family meal under control, if i can manage to squeak by without cooking until Thursday and then take home leftovers, i should be able to extend this non-cooking gig for another week.

The next month, i fear, rather than getting my exercise by trying to keep up the housekeeping for a household with two young boys and a baby, and having my meals provided pleasantly and with no work on my part—i will gladly do dishes by hand twelve times a day if i don’t have to cook!—i will need to live on my elliptical and eat a steady diet of steamed vegetables. There will be no drizzle of cream on my morning porridge, and no clotted cream for my non-existent scones.


Pardon me now, i have finished my Haagen Dazs ice cream, and am preparing to lay my First Class Suite flat so i can cuddle up under the quilted blanket provided and take a nap. Ah, the life of a jet-setter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Calling it what it is.

This sign startles me every time i see it here in England-- "TOILET." No "RESTROOM" here. i mean, how much resting really goes on in those places? Personally when i enter a public restroom, my goal is to leave as quickly as i am able, what with the general ambient scent of those places. Here, they call it like they see it: Do you need to use a toilet? Look for the sign, because it will state there is a toilet behind this door. If in a restaurant and struck with a need, one asks for the "loo" or the "toilet." Ask where the bathroom is, or the restroom, and you will get a puzzled look. Let's call it what it is, a toilet.

And how many of us have had a "shot" or an "injection"? Not that the word "shot" sounds all that pleasant, but isn't a "jab" more realistic? "Now you'll feel a tiny pinch," they say. "This might sting a little," they say. Often they say, "You won't even feel this." They lie. It's a JAB. Call it what it is.

Both these signs were spotted in Jon's offices where he is a General Practitioner. Gotta love these guys, they not only have cool accents, they call it what it is.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Gee, seems like i haven't blogged super regularly these last few days...wonder why?

Shawn and Ellie got to come home Friday afternoon--just 2 short days after the rather long day everyone had on Wednesday! Of course that meant we wanted to have the place all spiffed up for Shawn. i aired out the house since it was a beautiful, bright day. That's where the easy part ended. After that i did laundry, including bedding, and vacuumed and did dishes and straightened up toys and cleaned the bathroom. PHEW! i told my friend Melanie that usually i don't do all those things on the same day, i prefer there to be days or even weeks between chores. (Kidding! Well, a little.) But here comes the part i hate about housework--in no time it needs to be done again. *Sigh.*

Fortunately, this particular son-in-law loves to cook! So i haven't really cooked in the few weeks i've been here, which is great since that isn't my favorite chore. i've been blessed to have this one who cooks, another son-in-law who is a real live chef, and my oldest daughter loves to cook. i'm already planning my old age and how i will rotate months between children who cook. . .

On that note, i was just realizing how all three of my daughters are good housekeepers. That's a gift i never received. My mother was a good housekeeper, my sister and brother as well. Maybe it's because i was the baby that i didn't follow in their footsteps, who knows, but it didn't kick in as an adult, either. My kids weren't particularly clean as children, and we found the occasional petrified peanut butter sandwich behind the bed. But as adults, they are inspirational in their cleaning abilities!

Candie, the oldest, can't stand to have more in the house than fits. This means she's constantly going through things and rearranging and getting rid of. Shawn, mom of the new Ellie girl, has an amazingly neat home. Unfortunately, for those of us trying to keep up in her recuperation, she achieves this by doing dishes twelve times a day and picking up toys constantly and doing laundry pretty much nonstop. Cori, youngest of the three, is married to a man who cleans! cooks AND cleans. How cool is that? She is still a neat person herself, too.

i'm a little afraid for my son--he arranges his dvds and cds and games with great care. He hangs his towel and washcloth with precision in the bathroom. The neatness ends there. BUT he is still 19, there could be hope for him yet. Possibly i haven't ruined his chances at future tidiness forever.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


7 pounds and 8 ounces, 19 3/4 inches long...

Elliette Julie Upton
November 7, 2007
It was a bit of a rough one--the initial cesarean went just fine, but Shawn continued bleeding too long. This meant a second trip to the operating room and a redo of her inner sutures, but it's all good now. :-)

Monday, November 05, 2007

The sound of silence...

i was checking my email, the sounds of Peppa Pig playing in the background. Little Euan loves Peppa Pig, and if you listen to the characters on the website, you'll hear how the children's voices sound here with their lovely little accents. :-)
Anyway, Euan was stretched out on the couch watching a Peppa dvd, enjoying his juice. He's a pretty quiet guy most of the time, going to Mummy off and on for a cuddle, asking the occasional question. When Elias is home, it's full speed ahead. Euan of course wants to be everything big brother is, do everything big brother does, and they are constant busy-ness together. While Elias is at school it's a different house altogether--not better, but definitely quieter.

All that to say--i was checking my email, sitting on the floor of the living room with my back up against a chair. All was quiet except for the sounds of Peppa. With just Euan home, this isn't an unusual sound, that of *quiet*. After some time i looked over at Euan, and this is what i saw:
...his hand still clutching his now empty juice drink, completely and absolutely surrendered to a parent's best friend, "Sleep." Is there anything sweeter than the face of a sleeping child? Maybe the sound of their laughter, but who could not love this sight?

i was telling Shawn that the way i see her children, at least in the American description of them, would be: Elias could be President. He's inquisitive, he's an absolute bulldog about something he wants, he's on the move and unstoppable. Euan, on the other hand--he would be the one who wants to facilitate the success of his big brother. "That was a great speech! You look great in that suit. Can I get you a cup of tea?" The loving, adoring younger brother.

i can't wait to see what the next child will be like! These children are amazing, and brilliant, and adorable, each their own unique person. i love this about both sets of grandkids, Candie's and Shawn's, they've been allowed to show their individual personalities. In some cases, be it fortunate or unfortunate, they've developed a bit of their parents' sense of humor. (Senses of humor? Sense of humors? Whatever.) i don't know if it's a matter of the childraising styles of today, or if it's just what happens when parents follow a more intuitive style of parenting, but i love that this present generation of little people is able to learn respect and manners while still being allowed to be their own inquisitive/mellow/busy/gentle/funny self.

For instance, that little cutie Elias, my 4 year old grandBrit--i was knitting on the baby blanket project i brought with me to finish for the new baby. Every time for the first few days he would see me knitting and say, "Grandma Julie--nice baby blankie," and give me his little grin. i love 4 year old humor. Because of it we've pretended to suck up the furniture in the vacuum, and shop the aisles of the grocery store with the car. But speaking of the blanket, i've now finished it!! Here's a photo--
You can't really tell from this photo, but it's lime green, blue and a purple-ish color. You can guess from this that i figured the new baby would likely be another boy, BUT, as Plan B, in the case of a girl, i have a long pink yarn chain to weave in and out of the edging of the blanket. And Wednesday morning, we shall see: pink, or no pink?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

3 Days till we know!!!

In just three days exactly we will find out if Shawn's baby is a boy or a girl--do i need to add the pink to the baby blanket i'm knitting or not? Will there be another boy in the household to play rough and tumble with his big brothers, or will a little sister be kicking their butts?

It's 9:45 a.m. Sunday in this part of the world. In California where i normally spend my days it's 1:45 a.m. But for both of us, come Wednesday exactly this same time of day, a new baby will join the outside world. So if you too are curious to know, watch this space. ;-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

v. ex-haust-ed

Wow. i am so tired--i was going to find a cute little picture of a sleeping puppy to put at the top of this post, or maybe a funny little cartoon picture of a really tired grandma. But frankly, i'm just too tired.

We spent the day in town after dropping Elias at school (in his cute little gray man-trousers.) Shawn had her pre-op appointment this morning in preparation for the cesarean next Wednesday, so we did that and errands until it was time to pick Elias up from school. She's having a much tougher time at 6 days till Birth Day as far as walking/standing/anything requiring energy. So we planned to shop a little, sit in a cafe a little, shop a little, sit in a cafe a little till we were done.

i'm not carrying what looks like an overinflated basketball on the front of me, but i was grateful for the cafe breaks. Euan is the easiest little shopping pal for a 2 year old, reminding me of daughter Corinne in her toddlerhood--she would happily cruise along in her stroller, playing with her little toys, dreamily in her own world, taking the occasional nap as needed, the sort of thing that lulls you into a false sense of parenting ease. (Had my 4th been a first child he probably would have been an only child. i love him beyond dearly, but he was the Energizer Bunny on speed.) Anyway, even with Euan being a happy little guy, a 2 year old is a person with needs: food, snacks, steering, leg-stretching, etc.

It didn't seem like such a big deal in the planning stage, but several shops and two cafes later, i was incredibly aware of why God makes it so that 50ish year old women do not as a rule have the babies. That is a job for the young.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clever monkey.

The day before, we had been playing with Play Doh. Elias and i were rolling snakes of dough and i was coiling them into a pot. The next day the boys were playing with Play Doh at the kitchen table while Shawn and i were in the front room. This is what Elias did! A big, fat coiled pot. i was duly impressed.

Today i went with Shawn to drop Elias at school--oh my goodness, that tiny 4 year old wearing his little man trousers and school sweater, too cute!
And that's a "wellie" planter behind him.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rainy Sunday in Trull.

Today i went to the Parish Church of All Saints, Trull, where Shawn and family have been attending for about 2 years now. It's a Church of England Anglican church, what to me is a properly English looking church. ;-) You know, brick, stone, graves, castle-y bits at the top. As we arrived, an overwhelming onslaught of church bells was ringing. i looked at Jon and said, "i wonder if this is what cacophony means," and made a mental note to look the word up. i just did, and it means "a mix of discordant sounds; dissonance," which i'm not sure quite fits. But the thesaurus said "clamor" and "din." That fit--i mean, it wasn't exactly discordant ("disharmonious") but it sure was a DIN ("a loud commotion.") Bells and bells upon bells, all ringing at once!
This drawing on a wall in the church was of the sanctuary--maybe the architect's drawing? Anyway, it gives an idea of the stone arches, and carved (but incredibly uncomfortable!) pews. Straight backed, flat and shallow seats, one is left to perch on the edge like a bird on a windowsill. But, in all fairness, the building has beginnings in the 13th century, with additions over time. To see more photos and information about their church, follow this link. It's pretty interesting.

i smiled seeing how the teen girls at the front playing the flute and violin were so much the same as i would see at home: a little giggly nervous, nudging each other, and secretly proud to be performing up front.

Their vicar, Adrian Youings, is an approachable, kind humored man, his wife the same, very welcoming. Shawn and Jon have enjoyed their friendship along with that of some others in the church. After a long couple of years without this type of church family they've got a place to belong, and oh how they've enjoyed it! So far the friends i've met have been what i'd call "real"--no illusions of grandeur, no pomposity, just people living out Christ's message of loving others, even on a hard day.

i think that's what i look for in people, and in a church: that approachable-ness that says i don't have to be anything special, just me, to be accepted and loved. Not brilliant, or talented, or beautiful, or have really great hair that doesn't turn into a big puff in the drizzle. It was a comfortable place to be, emotionally as well as physically. They have real weather in England, as opposed to the constant mildness of the SF Bay Area. The parishioners dressed comfortably and practically. For heaven's sake, when the rain is coming in sideways on a rainy Sunday in Trull, rubber boots (i mean "wellies") just make good sense.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday in Bridgewater.

Today we had a family morning at my son-in-law's work. He's a doctor in a practice with four other doctors. It's been a while since some things have been done--i mean, they've been doing their doctor-ly work, looking in ears and throats and wherever doctors are prone to look. But the building is looking somewhat tired and old, so he and the others want to give it a little lift--a new hairdo and a manicure at least.

They are part of the NHS--National Health Services, i think it stands for. Everyone is taxed which pays for their medical needs. It's not a perfect system, but neither is the American one. Unfortunately, what that means is they don't have the Kaiser-like money to spend on cool buildings and giant art for the walls, but they want to do what they can. If this means the doctor takes in his drill on a weekend to rehang the toilet paper holder, well, that's what we do, then!

We did a variety of fun little things--brought back the wood from beneath the layers of hand grime that had built up on the beautiful stairway handrail, scrubbed the steps themselves, covered some bulletin boards in fabric, sifted the assortment of gossip magazines and home and gardening magazines into a manageable amount. Sadly, there were probably two men's magazines in the whole bunch, making those an easy choice to keep.

The two little grandBrits did a great job of keeping themselves happy and busy, playing with the child toys in the waiting room, watching Curious George on grandma's laptop, checking up on mummy and daddy.

And so the process of brightening begins. Maybe Shawn will have this baby soon and i won't need to scrub any more stair treads.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The properly English language.

Here under the beautiful gray skies of Somerset County, England, "English" is not "English" as we in the States learned it in Miss McCall's high school English class.

Tersie at The Road to Total Growth--Body Mind and Spirit spoke about Words the other day. So, being here in The Land of True English, i've been noticing some of the different words these Englishmen (and women) use.

For instance:

Courgettes: We had these in our stew. It's apparently the French word for the squash we at home call zucchini. It's pronounced with the "g" sounding rather like the Z in ZaZa Gabor, or the "j" in au ju. Now, i think "zucchini" is a pretty cool word all on its own, but how much cooler is "courgettes"? "Dahling, pahss the courgettes..."

Here in the land of queens and princes, they do not eat oatmeal, they eat "porridge," or "porridge oats." You know, like the old "pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old," but that one is porridge made of peas cooked in milk. For some silly reason, "porridge" brought up visions of Oliver Twist to me, small children in poorhouses and such. But perhaps i confuse "porridge" and "gruel." i had the above pictured porridge this morning, and it was quite good!

Orientated: Here in England, a person does not get oriented to the new time schedule, he gets "orientated." Here it takes me a good week to get "orientated" to being awake when at home i would be asleep! But then, even when i'm at home i have a hard time being awake when i should be.

Wonky: "Mummy, the leg on this stool is a bit wonky," Elias said. i love that word! i had heard it on British home decorating shows, and i admit to having used it occasionally myself. It rolls off the tongue, say it with me, "Wonky." See?

Swede: At home we call these rutabagas. i have yet to taste one under either name, but Elias and i had a good game of "roll the swede" at the kitchen table yesterday. It's a very resilient vegetable. Oh, that's another thing--

Veg: When at home i sit and watch an old movie and drink a cup of hot chocolate, i would say that i'm going to "veg" a while, but i eat "vegetables." Here in England, you eat your "veg," (rhymes with "hedge") of which the above-mentioned "swede" and "courgettes" are a part.

Also there's the spelling--in the States we use the letter "z" in words like "organize" and "pressurize" but in England, an "s" takes the place of the "z," as in "organise." Oh, and "pressurised" is not necessarily a word for a spray can under pressure, it's also a state of being: "I'm feel pressurised," where we would say "I'm feeling pressured."

Pulse: A "pulse" isn't just something you feel to see if you're going to pass out after exercising, it's a common word for things like lentils, thus, there is a food category of "beans and pulse."

And who doesn't love the pronunciation? Two year olds and four year olds who say, "cah-stle" and "I cah-n't" with the "aw" sound instead of the boring American "a" of "cat," and who call for their "mum."

But saving my favorite for last:

Torch: i hear the word "torch" and think Frankenstein (or my favorite, Gene Wilder and Young Frankenstein) and the crowd of villagers storming the castle with big flaming torches, intent on killing Frankenstein's monster. In my mind, a child with a torch sounds like a recipe for disaster, here, it's a flashlight, as in, "it's dark outside, do you want to take a torch?"

Words are definitely fun!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cheeky Monkey ;-)

Here in England, they use the phrase "cheeky monkey" for children, and today i had a great example of why--

i've been saying to Elias, age 4, "how many times should grandma have to ask you?" --to obey, to stop, etc.--the assumed answer being "Just one," reinforced by my one raised finger.

Today he was sticking stickers on my, um "lady bumps." i asked him to stop a few times, then said, "Elias, how many times should grandma have to ask you?" He did a sly little grin up into my face and answered innocently, "two?"

Cheeky monkey! i've gotta admire his style, though. ;-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things to do on a sunny day in England.

Shawn is such a good "mum." Even at 8 1/2 months pregnant, she has creative and fun projects going. Tuesday she looked up paper boats on the internet and she and i made some for her boys and a friend's daughter. (That first one was tricky, but it went much better after that!) We drove to a park in nearby Dunster where there is a nicely fenced playground with swings and slides and cool stuff to play on. Her friend and daughter joined us to play for a while. i thought my nose and fingers might just fall off, but the rest of them all seemed quite happy. Shawn had them sit at a picnic table and put stickers on their boats, then off to the creek.

Shawn had put strings on the boats so the children could get them back, so they floated and pulled them back until the boats were nothing but soggy paper. Then they each had one to let go, as did we adults. And in beautiful Somerset County, England, there's beauty all around!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Keeper of the Main Event.

i just had to include a picture of the amazingly basketball-like belly on Shawn. And to think the baby has almost 3 weeks left before the due date!

Day in Taunton.

Euan enjoyed the ride into town. (i'm always in favor of a nap!)

We shopped then had lunch outside...

...under a beautiful fall tree
and visited a big bear outside a shop (it was so big it made Elias look tiny!)
When we got home we played with the new Play Doh we bought in town--

How does Shawn look with facial dough?

We all slept pretty well!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

i'm here!

--In England, that is. Among rolling hills, tile roofs, and people with accents. And the accents include the two little blond boys belonging to my daughter. "Mum," they say, "may I have some hot tea?" they say. And mind you, they're 4 1/2 and almost 3.

i flew the friendly skies, given the fact that my hubby works for the (not always) friendly skies of United. Many trips to and from England i've spent in the luxury of First Class. This trip i spent in Cattle Plus. (Otherwise known as Economy Plus.) The differences are monumental. i've always shared with people the food service part of first, it being an entire Event in itself--"Would you care for a starter? We have the smoked salmon, or the goat cheese stuffed mushroom, or the coconut shrimp," the attendant says with a smile. This is followed by the salad cart--your choice of dressings and toppings. An entree follows, again a lovely choice of three, often a filet mignon with roasted potatoes, a pasta and a side of green beans with an almond butter, and the fish option, of course. For dessert? Again the smiling attendant brings a cart laden with grapes, apples, cheeses and port, followed by the ice cream sundae cart with choices of chocolate or caramel topping and whipped cream and nuts. By this time most first class passengers are in a food-coma, sipping their Starbucks coffee or third glass of wine, preparing to stretch out on their fully extending bed--unless they prefer to pop one of the available movies into the individual movie player located at their seat.

Does that set the scene for you? Just hold these thoughts: smiling, pampering flight attendants, meals served in courses on ceramic dishes, drinks in actual glass, the lazy, comfortable feeling of being well fed and well cared for, and the comfort of a lovely easy chair that makes into a bed. Do i want to raise my feet? Massage my lower back? Pause my movie? Have another refill of my soda or freshly brewed coffee? Maybe i'll just rearrange my two pillows and quilted blanket and stretch out for a little nap.

Cattle class, the most familiar of classes. i was blessed with a not-so-full economy class, leaving a five seat row with only one passenger at one end and me at the other. This isn't the case, usually, so being able to spread out was a bonus. The little bitty screen on the back of the seat in front of me was adequate--it was a scary one, "1408" about a haunted hotel room. Scary is better on a small screen. And the food and drink service? Wow. How does one begin to sing the praises of the attendants called on to serve a couple of hundred passengers? i realize it's a huge job, but would a smile kill a person? The quiet man in front of me tried to get the attention of the male attendant in the aisle by touching his arm. "Stop tapping me, I see you there," he barked, then turning to tell the attendant on the other end of the cart they were pushing, "I've got a man tapping me over here."

Maybe that's simply a warning to other passengers, using this meek man as an example. Beware. Ask for my attention and I will Call You Out in front of the other passengers.

When the same attendent asked me which dinner entree i would like, i asked what i supposed was a usual question: what are the choices? "Beef or pasta," he snapped. Um, what sort of pasta? i asked, thinking is it a cheese sauce, a red sauce, a pesto sauce... "It's a tortellini," he spat at me. "Um, pasta is great..." And the boxed dinner hit my tray. That and one soda and two flimsy plastic cups half filled with water did me till breakfast--frankly, i was afraid to ask for anything. i didn't wish to be Made An Example of.

Fortunately with the extra seats between us, we two ladies of the row were able to sleep--i won't call it "stretching out," as that would assume a relaxed repose without pretzel-ed limbs, but we were able to lay down--sort of. And sleep. Sort of. By morning we were ready for the limp sandwiches made of croissants, processed cheese, and some sort of pinkish spread, although i'm not sure anyone is really ever ready for something like that at the end of ten hour flight.

But i'm here! In the land of Sense and Sensibility, where the English Cottage Garden really is a garden outside an English cottage. Where small boys ask for tea, and "boots" are where you carry things in a car, and "wellies" protect your feet from the rain.

Monday, October 15, 2007

2 things i've always loved.

Sunlight through leaves

the colors and grace of fallen leaves.

i'm sure anyone who saw me recently in the Costco parking lot taking pictures of the leaves that had fallen on my car wondered what the heck i was doing--but for me, fallen leaves are like music.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

2 things i didn't know i'd like.

Drying my clothes on a clothesline. Now, i don't have one of the cool spinny kind, or even a retractable one that runs from post to post, i just have a bundle of clothesline that i've run between the posts of our back deck. The unfortunate part is that anyone over 5 feet tall is bound to get clotheslined--literally--as it runs across part of the stairway down to the yard. Nevertheless, i've gotten fond of my moments with the clothes pins and line. Maybe it has to do with the fact that when i hang things out on the line the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, and all is right with the world (and i've learned to duck.) i get the goodness of saving on our gas bill since i'm not using the dryer, and helping the environment and whatnot. i've been lucky, too, no birds have blessed the clean clothing. Towels come out a bit crunchy for me, but then i don't need a loofah at my shower, i just scrub the top layer of skin off with the towel after.

Edamame. Who knew? Back in the day when my mother was telling me, "Eat your lima beans!" after i had carefully picked them out of the mixed vegetables on my plate, who knew one day i'd be eating soybeans and liking it. But weirdly, when i heat them with salt and water in the microwave (i do as much as is humanly possible in the microwave) it's kind of a popcorn substitute. A good "more-ish" thing, as my friend Frugalina says--something you want more of. But healthier.

Who knew.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nearly off!

So, in a couple of days i'll be off to visit the pregnant daughter in England, along with her properly Brit husband and adorably Brit boys. Will baby number three be another boy? Will it surprise us all and be a girl? Only time and a cesarean will tell...

i am sneaking in some little pink clothing, just in case--it's been killing me not to be able to pre-shop here where i can afford things (the exchange rate is the worst it's been in years and years--a British pound is worth over two dollars now!!) If i look at a price in a store there and think, "Oh, 3 pounds, that's not too bad--" i have to remind myself that 3 pounds means 6+ of my American dollars.

And that's only one of the things i need to adjust to there--the other is the fact that it's 8 hours ahead there, so when it's a lovely afternoon in California, it's time for bed in England.

And then they do that thing where their degrees are different--Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. This means that when you set the washing machine wash temperature, you should take that into consideration, or you end up shrinking wool sweaters. Don't ask how i know.

But in that backword time world with funny degrees and worthless dollars, i'll get to see my American girl with the accent, and hear those two cute blond boys call her "Mummy" in that perfectly English way, and hear about the things in their daddy's work day that made him "exceedingly cross." And it will be worth the journey!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Speaking of education...

So i just completed the first of any grapevine education i have had to this point in my life. This brings to mind the fact that i was quite happy to not be a part of the Back To School shopping crowds this year, Jarel having graduated a year ago.

Some of you already know what a struggle school was for him--he was born nearly 3 months prematurely to a cocaine addicted mom (not me--i run more to chocolate addictions.) This combination of unfortunate events caused some learning disabilities for him, and he went through all his years from kindergarten through high school in our district's Special Education program. In the beginning this meant Special Day Class, where he stayed with a group of about 10-13 other children within a year or two of his grade. He would be mainstreamed into a "regular ed" classroom for a part of the day, maybe for Physical Education and math, something like that.

By the time he was rounding the bases toward home and finally in high school, his math skills sort of stalled--his teachers made some attempts to help him, but he obviously needed more if he was to fulfill the requirements the California schools expected of him. i didn't totally understand that--they had placed him in a setting for students with learning issues, some pretty severe. And yet they expected him to compete with the mainstream students and get the scores those students needed to get their diplomas.

Here the adoptive mom (me!) got a little crazy and started writing letters to The Governator, Arnold Schwartzenegger. But she also decided to enlist a little aid--and it just so happened there was a Friendly Neighborhood SCORE! tutoring center. So this mom called and set up an appointment, and explained, "We need him to be able to graduate and get a diploma." They said, "We can make that our goal."

i have to say my boy is a sweet hearted guy, and adults tend to really like him. But these adults helped him more than just improving his math and English skills through the program they tailored to his needs, they were positive with him. The adults, the high school and college age tutors, all who worked with him, made him feel like just another student, rather than the Special Needs guy who has to be in a special class.

Being Special Ed can be tough on a kid--they're singled out, they're *Different.* It's not enough that they struggle to keep up with the requirements for their grades, but they have to run the gauntlet of Being *Different.* That's a lot to deal with, knowing they need the smaller class environment, but being pointed at, laughed at, and made fun of by the mainstream kids.

The people at SCORE! made it pleasant for him to show up, positive for him to be there. They welcomed him, treated him like a valuable person. What it did for his self-esteem was worth every bit as much as the program they made for his academic needs. Maybe more. With the help of quite a few teachers, the SCORE! tutors, us, and lots of patience and prayers, he made it out of high school with a diploma.

He still struggles--as some of you know, he has a job now. He's bussing tables at Fresh Choice. He gets a paycheck, he gets tips. We're still working on the concepts of budgeting with him, but then his dad and i are still trying to get those same concepts and we're waaaay over 19 years old. But it isn't just about the numbers alone, the grades alone, we're trying to help mold a productive and independent member of society here. And he's gonna be a good one.

*this is a sponsored post.
Math Tutors

You never know who you'll run into in a hot tub...

Weirdly, in a hot tub in Calistoga, a couple joined us and the husband was someone who is retired from United Airlines where Dean works--they knew of each other. How strange is that?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stuff i didn't know about grapes.

Today was a hugely informative day.

Aren't these red leaves beautiful? But they're bad. The red means the vine has a virus. Yellow is normal for fall, red is bad.

To get really good grapes, careful pruning is essential. At the Von Strasser Winery, we got some one-on-one time with Dave, who showed us the equipment and the vineyard, and gave us the mini-tour overview. i loved what we learned. The pruning process happens once the leaves have all fallen from the vine. For you out there who are happy and informed gardeners, this probably is not new. For me, a semi-happy and largely UNinformed gardener, this was an "Oh. That makes sense." Anyway, our new friend Dave said that for them to get the best grapes, they will trim those little branches back to two offshoots. Otherwise the branches will go all wild and crazy, growing every which way, and pulling too much of the nutrients from the soil. More unpruned growth means less nutrition per branch equals poor quality grape flavor. (There was a lot more but i won't go all Encyclopedia Britannica on ya.)

Dave sent us over to Charles Krug Winery where i had a lovely chat with Ralph. Everybody at Krug loves Dave--he used to work there. Ralph gave me the lowdown on the difference between hillside grapevines and valley grapevines. Seems the difference in how the sun touches the vines makes a difference. There's the constant outpour on the valley plants, and the gentler change of the sun and breezes on the hillside plants. Those differences even in the same state can make quite a change in the fruit--the milder hillside climate yielding a smoother flavor. Now, i'm sure i've butchered Ralph's explanation all to pieces, but that's the basic understanding i came away with.

He also explained ice wines--made places like British Columbia and Washington state, where the vines are left with grapes still on into the freezing temperatures. This causes the whole ice expansion thing that pops the skins of the grapes, and then when the moisture evaporates, a super sweet low-water/high-sugar grape is left for dessert type wines. In California they use some other process involving a naturally forming mold. Ralph started losing me there, my mind being somewhat full by that point in the conversation. i always thought mold was a bad thing, but apparently it can be part of a good process.

So, just to recap: Those pretty red leaves actually mean something bad. Careful pruning means higher quality fruit. The grapes that grow over a certain amount of feet above sea level will taste different than the ones grown in the valley. And freezing your grapes can be a good thing, as can letting them mold.

Some of this made sense, and some was quite the opposite of what i thought should make sense. Some of it has very clear spiritual application, like the whole pruning thing--"I am the vine, you are the branch. If a man remains in me and I in him, you can bear much fruit. Without me you can do nothing." (It's in the book of John, 15th chapter.) Some of the other i'm still pondering. Still not sure about the whole mold thing.

We're here! We're here! We're here!

In Calistoga, that is--at the top of the Napa Valley here in California. The colors of autumn are outside my window (above): trees covered in shades of yellow, green, orange and red. It rained earlier, so the trees and bushes sparkle in the morning light. Fog is hanging in the top of the dark green hill in the distance. Even the gray of the parking lot, dotted as it is with red leaves that have fallen, adds to the color scheme. These are colors that make my soul say "AHH!" Happy sigh of the soul, i guess.

Yesterday was a feast for the senses--the newness of experiences does that to me. i'm choosing to name it that rather than call it "being overwhelmed." It's that choice, i guess, of viewing it in a positive, non-stressed way, rather than the negative. i think it's easier for me to be positive now that i'm not as worried about my imperfections both real and perceived. Somehow, growing up in my *interesting* household, i learned that I Should Know Everything And Never Make A Mistake. Now, that's a whole lot of pressure for a kid! And whether or not anyone got up in the morning and said, "Hmm, I think we should teach our children that they must never make a mistake," that was clearly what i picked up. When this goes with you in life it makes everything about life more nerve wracking. "Should i have the windshield wipers on? Nobody else does, but it's sprinkling, but i'll look stupid!" (No joke, i can clearly remember the intersection where i had that thought.)

Anyway, back to yesterday's feast--this valley has its own magic. The buildings, the vineyards, the atmosphere of contented visitors (well, except for the one couple with their pre-teen daughter--the adults were making much more of a disturbance than they seemed to think their daughter was, since they felt the need to tell her off--LOUDLY--in the crowded winery gift store. That kid's gonna need therapy.)

Let me show you the sights that spoke--loudly--to my senses:


V. Sattui winery

Peju winery

Copper roof at Peju winery

Gardens, flowers, and foliage:

Peju grounds

V. Sattui gardens

Across the vineyards
from Peju parking lot

V. Sattui

Grapes, up close and personal,
Beringer winery


Cool old truck at V. Sattui

Sign on V. Sattui truck

A real Sattui! George Sattui.

Dean and i!

Now, back out to have more fun--