Saturday, February 28, 2015

Whew!

What a wonderful, exhausting, frustrating, fun first 24 hours.
  • Kids' Service Team event.  The kids' service team is a great combo of community building and helping others.  We shared pizza, salad, and brownies at church, and then the kids made fleece blankets and the adults tried their hands at knitting.  Sis and a few of her friends joined us and we practiced casting on and knitting . . . and fixing our mistakes.  I learned a few new techniques--the one needle cast-on, how to prevent curling edges in an all-knit piece by dropping the first stitch of each row, how to rework dropped stitches with a crochet hook (over-under, over-under), and how to pull stitches off a needle and put them back on (very carefully, making sure stitches are facing the right way)--with the help of one of the experts.  It was all fun.  But now I have a scarf to finish!  
  • Ice skating!
  • Kung fu!
  • Cookie booth--oh, the stories I could tell.  And so I will.  Of course, the GS cookie booth troubles started a couple of weeks ago when the store that had agreed to host several troops selling cookies changed their minds and we all had to scramble for new times and places and reschedule everybody!  Then today, we our people showed up at a different store, they said we weren't supposed to be there, though we had registered and our contact was on her way to smooth it over.  Well, don't mess with Cookie Moms!  And so we stayed put.  Until we had to move--our shifts were split between two stores because of the aforementioned schedule change.  THEN, a GS mom stationed at the store we'd just been at came over and harassed us for being at our store, saying we were competing with them and ruining their sales and that wasn't supposed to happen (though, there had been another troop at the store all morning--the troop of an older sister of one of our girls.) It happens every year.  EVERY Year.  Novice.  Again, don't mess with Cookie Moms!  But all of our girls worked their shifts, even in the cold, and we sold 40 cases of cookies, which is excellent.  We are very proud of our troop and very grateful to all of our volunteers.
  • The VAGINA Monologues:  Our old church sponsored a fundraiser reading of the Eve Ensler play this evening and I went with a bunch of friends, who first gathered for dinner together.  Veggie lasagna, salad, garlic bread, flourless chocolate cake, and almond cake.  Yum!  And the show, oh, the show was amazing.  I'm ashamed to admit, as both a feminist and a lesbian, that I had never seen it.  But this production was perfect because I knew 95% of the cast, from old church and around town, and there they were saying things like vagina, cum, cunt, orgasm, hair, coochie snorcher, folds, clit, lips, wet, etc etc outloud in public!  And talking about rapes in Kosovo, female genital mutilation, repression, and even dry cotton tampons and cold duck lip specula!  We laughed riotously--at the Angry Vagina and the dominatrix who curated moans of her female clients (and demonstrated several of them, like the WASP moan and the exhausted Zen moan!)--and sighed at the "cellar" and "tulip" and lack of self-awareness (and cheered at the painful, glorious discovery of such), and choked up at the memories of violence.  It really was a wonderful evening.  So proud of the cast of wonderful, talented women, and of the UU church community that brought them together to benefit a women's outreach center nearby.  Well-done!  (It was also great to see so many old church friends, whom I miss often.  Took me awhile to hug my way out the door.  Haven't felt that much love and support and energy in a space, like that, since lesbian coffeehouse in Chicago.)
  • I got home to discover that my BIL had been called back to work a hospital shift tonight.  He was with the kiddos and his sis for about an hour.  They were very sorry to see him go and quite subdued when I got home.  We know he'll try again soon and we'll have a good time and besides . . . . . 
  • It looks like the weather is turning ugly earlier tomorrow than we expected, with anywhere from 1-6" coming (depending on whom you believe) plus ice, and so it is probably best that he won't be on the road tomorrow night.
  • And so we'll see what tomorrow brings weather-wise, along with church, Soup Sunday, and the arts and crafts party.
-=-=-=-=-=-

Solo Almond Bundt Cake

Almond Glaze Topping
1 cup confectioners sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoon light cream

Cake
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
3  eggs
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 can Solo Almond Cake and Pastry Filling or 1 jar of any other fruit filling
1⁄4 cup milk

Chocolate Glaze Topping (no chocolate on the one at church)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa
1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon buttermilk or low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in almond filling until blended. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt until mixed. Add to almond mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Beat until blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack. To make glaze, combine ingredients in small bowl, and stir until blended and smooth. Spoon or drizzle over top of cake. Let stand until glaze is set. Or top with fresh fruit and whipped cream!


Flourless Chocolate Cake

Friday, February 27, 2015

TGIW?

I'm not sure this is the kind of weekend people look forward to when they need a rest, though it will be fun.  Besides the 5F degrees tomorrow, we have this weekend:

  • a kids' service team event
  • ice skating
  • kung fu
  • Girl Scout cookie booth
  • dinner with friends and a play
  • church
  • an arts and crafts party
  • and a visit from Goo.
Whew.

I am the Champion!

The kids have finally found a video game I actually don't mind playing:  Just Dance!

You hold the Wii U controller in your hand and follow the moves of the dancers on the screen as they dance to current popular songs.

Kinda like aerobics videos, but with better outfits and soundtracks.

And you don't feel like you're exercising.

It's fun.

We even get karaoke credit for singing along!

And I win, most of the time.

My secret?  Just worry about the hand with the controller, not all the fancy footwork--the computer can't see your feet, just the controller.

The only downside:  this is a game I will only play with my kids with no one but Mama watching.  Ever.

As Sis says, "It makes you feel a little bit self-conscious."

So only the kids will ever see my Nikki Minaj moves!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Our Great Big Cat Adventure

I will start this post with the end of the story:  we did NOT take in a fifth cat.

Okay, to begin with the beginning of the tail tale.

Sunday morning, when we were outside in the sunshine cleaning the snow off the driveway, our across-the-street neighbor came over.

"You know about cats, right?

The night before, in the cold and snow, a small, young, clean and healthy, tortoiseshell cat "knocked" on his kitchen window. Even though they are not pet people, he had brought the cat inside to his mud room, an enclosed unheated space, not unlike our enclosed porch--probably quite literally saving her life that very cold night.  And he wanted help finding the owner.



Sis gladly helped by taking the above photo of the cat, and with it, I contacted the local lost pet people and the local cat rescue club and I left a message for Animal Control.  And we kept in touch though there wasn't much news.

But the temperatures Monday night were going to be 4 below.  Which means the mudroom would be too cold for the cat.  My neighbor was ready to offload the cat; he'd absolutely done the right thing but was ready to be done all the same.  He'd run out of the cat food he'd bought (and so they'd fed it an egg!); I'm not sure he even had litter.  I think he had expected to find the owner when he knocked on doors Sunday afternoon.  "If we'd wanted a cat," he told me, "when would have already had a cat."

We didn't want to take in another cat, certainly not one who hadn't been tested for disease, but we didn't want it to suffer either.  So we arranged to board the cat at our vet very temporarily and to have it checked for a microchip and different diseases; our neighbor was relieved.

And then Animal Control called.  They couldn't take the cat in, it being healthy and uninjured and probably clearly owned by someone, but they could help find the owner.

And a bit later, the AC officer called back--someone a few miles from here was missing their cat, a recent rescue.  The owner called me and she came over to my neighbor's to see the cat, with her son, a boy a little older than the kiddos.

And it was their cat!  They were so happy to have her back.  And I was so glad, and also relieved that we didn't have to figure out how to take in yet another cat.

As a friend said, yesterday, we were heroes to a cat and her family.

And we hugged our four a little longer last night.

Cold, Cold, Cold

It was below zero again this morning, and cold despite the sunshine.  I think it'll be our last below zero day, but there are still several single-digit days on the way.  And one of them will be the day of our Girl Scout cookie booth!  Whose big idea was it to have outdoor cookie sales in New England in February and March??!!  Door to door sales in January were hard enough--almost every Saturday was bitter and drippy.

But we carry on.  Which is easy with the sun shining.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tea Time

I went to tea with a friend today--cute place, delicious tea, great fun catching up.  Really, tea with a friend is the perfect antidote to the winter's cold.

Thoughts and Prayers

Two separate friends have accompanied their in-laws to the hospital in the last day or so.  Our thoughts are with them both as their loved ones are diagnosed, treated, and hopefully recover soon.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Xing Jia Eu-Ei!

Happy Year of the Sheep, or Goat or even Ram/Ewe (see the NYTimes article on the difficulties of translating the Mandarin)!

But because of the death of Lao Gong, or great-grandfather, we are still in mourning, at least as far as wearing red and having a big party goes, as I understand.

Also, with Ma and Gong out of the country, we aren't obviously going to their house for a big meal and observance as usual.

In fact, we're not sure what we're doing.  The kiddos have been invited to their bus mate's house (her parents are from mainland China) to roll dumplings on Sunday.   Dumplings aren't part of our family's tradition, which is based in Guangdong (which capital is Canton), but it will be a fun activity.  We have lots of snack foods, which we picked in Flushing, but they don't make a meal  (though, they'll be good to send on Sunday to the little friend's house.)

Today, I went to a friend's annual Tet celebration, which is Vietnamese New Year.  She has held a potluck luncheon for several years, with everyone bringing what they can--some get take-out from Chinese or Vietnamese places, others attempt an Asian recipe, and still others just bring something else.  My friend puts out makings for noodle bowls, with rice noodles, lettuce, cilantro, cucumber, sweet and sour sauce, and deep fried egg rolls to cut up over everything.  So good!  (minus the cilantro, of course)  I took dried plums, red plum wafers, and almond cookies, all from Flushing, which Ma helped me choose.

My friend also had coconut sticky rice, which was much sweeter and creamier than Ma's version (I'm surprised to find I don't have her recipe; must get it), but still very good.  She served it with sliced persimmons (we serve it with mangoes.)

So, I give you my friend's version, in case you'd like to make your own little Sheep celebration, and wish you a happy, lucky, healthy, prosperous year.


-=-=-=-=-=-

Miss D's Coconut Sticky Rice

3 cups rice
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients and cook in rice cooker.

Serve with sliced fruit.  Yum!

D.S.

Last Things

Last notes on Gommie's visit, since I forgot to chronicle Mon-Wed:

  • More yummy food:  my simple butter marinara, sourdough biscuits for breakfast, chicken and dumplings for lunch, quiche for dinner.  And Mama brought special restaurant desserts as a treat on our last night:  delicious fudge cake, caramel apple pie, molten lava cake, and blueberry lemon sponge.
  • We started a puzzle together, a maritime Americana puzzle with 1000 pieces.  It was a real challenge (some of the pieces didn't so much connect as abut), but we didn't come close to finishing it.
  • On Monday, after eating a great seafood lunch, we went birding.  First, we drove along the river and actually spotted a bald eagle!  We all saw it and weren't imaginging things.  We also saw some big hawks, perhaps Northern Harrier or Broad Shoulder.  Inspired by this, we stopped at several more places along the river and the shore, marveling at the ice build up and frozen waters.  We did look for a long while for a Snowy Owl and I did think I spotted one in the far distance, but I'm not counting that as a positive identification.  I'll just have to keep looking.  But it was a wonderful activity for us all.  And with Gommie present, the kids didn't complain as much about the cold.
  • We watched Big Hero Six, including all the behind the scenes things.  Gommie really liked it (she doesn't always like animation or fantasy/sci fi), much more than she liked The Avengers!  
  • There was more game playing--spit, solitaire, Rummikub, and Scrabble--and more tangling.
All in all, a great visit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Three Strikes

It's not been the best kind of day.

Gommie left, which is always hard, even with a wonderful long visit.

And then, I got a call this morning that my hospice patient, whom I've seen since late October, which is a long time in the hospice universe, was in active heart failure and wouldn't last too long (more like days, than hours, though.)  So after dropping Gommie off at the train station, I headed to hospice.

Only on my way, I got a call that Mama was headed to NYC--a neighbor had noticed oddness from her parents' house only to find that a hot water pipe had broken in the first floor, damaging both the dining room and the basement (remember, her folks are in Thailand . . . for Mama's grandfather's death and funeral, including 7 days of ritual mourning and then cremation and more days of prayer.  And now it's Chinese New Year, which they can't fully celebrate because of the mourning, if I understand correctly.)  Only the sump pump kept it from being worse.  Thank heavens for the attentive neighbor! But the heat coupled with the water ruined their inlaid wood floor, which buckled.  There is condensation so thick in the house that all the ceilings are dripping and the windows opaque.  And there is a lot of damage to all of the tiles and insulation in the basement's drop ceiling.  So Mama has been there all day with plumbers and heating people.  She might or might not come home tonight, but only if the house is stabilized enough to be left for 24 hours, when Goo can next check on it.

So I went in and sat with my hospice patient for an hour, holding his hand and mostly sitting in silence.  He looks like my dad, but older--same complexion and facial skin and baldness, very similar profile as he lay in bed.   He's not uncomfortable and is receiving a lot of love and attention from the staff; he is very well liked (and the difference in care between liked patients and disliked is vast, unfortunately; I've seen it close up.)  When I left, I said goodbye and that I wished him well if I didn't see him again, that it had been a real pleasure sitting with him these months.  May he be comforted.  May he live with ease.  And die with ease.

So that's my day.  I'm definitely pretty frayed around the edges and PMS makes it worse.  At least there was a little sunshine.

Otherwise, I'm glad it will be tomorrow soon.

My Garden Grows

Can't imagine why my thoughts are turning to flowers . . . . 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cultivating My Crochet Garden


Taking a break from both crocheted Big Granny Square Afghans and from tangling for a bit, I've been practicing a new art:  crocheted flowers.  I must admit to having never paid much attention to crocheted flowers before, though undoubtedly I saw them on baby beanies in magazines and such.  I even picked up a pattern at a yarn store some 15 years ago.  But it wasn't until I purchased a salmon-colored tulip/rosebud (hard to tell which) at St. Paul's Cathedral in London last year, that I realized that I might be able to make crocheted flowers.  (I wore that flower almost everyday we were in the UK; I now have a lavender flower, probably knit with tiny stitches, that I also like to wear.)

So I started searching Pinterest and Ravelry for free patterns, even picked up the basic book on the topic, Crochet Bouquet, and began to practice with afghan remnants.  But Lion Brand homespun, while fluffy and soft, makes a very chunky rose and it isn't the best yarn for counting stitches and practicing new stitches.  

My first few roses were fine, but then I bought some yarn (it's a variegate Patons) in pink and green, which I made into a simple rose this afternoon.  And then I made a leaf from the Crochet Bouquet book to go with it (looks like a stem in this picture, but it's a simple leaf.)  The leaf, while simple looking, had not only the usual chain, single crochet, double crochet, and slip stitch, but also half double crochet, treble crochet, and half treble, plus something called a slip stitch picot, all of which were relatively unfamiliar to me.  Still, it didn't take that long:  both flower and leaf were finished long before I finished watching Big Hero Six this evening with Gommie et al.  (And that was in the half-light or less of a winter's evening.)

Isn't it pretty?  I can't wait to secure a brooch pin to it and wear it with a scarf.  And so easy.  I can't wait to try some of the other flowers--up next, perhaps, a rosebud and maybe a blooming lotus!

My Tangled Owl

My winter-weekend project.  Ultra fine Sharpie on unglazed pottery from Michael's.  Sis added the rainbow loom necklace.

Scarf Love

Continues... and keeps my neck warm.

Freezing

It is BRUTALLY cold outside.  It was -3F this morning, with a windchill around -29F something.

And guess what?  Lambeth, our pipes did NOT freeze!!!!

Mama had gone to great lengths to seal the basement and wrap various pipes, using the guidance of her new thermal camera attachment that shows heat gradients (which is also just fun in general--she's taken photos of the kids, cats, and even a boat of sushi!!)  It was very gratifying to discover that all of her efforts worked.  And we like having a working dishwasher and kitchen sink.

But the sun is out and the snow is beautiful.

Though, Gommie has taken to wearing her thermals 24/7 because, even with our turning up the heat several degrees, she is still just cold.

When we're not focused on the cold and snow, we're still having a great time:


  • We skipped church yesterday because of the 45 mph winds and occasional white-outs from blowing snow, instead staying in jammies to play games and tangle;
  • We did, eventually, go out to a hockey game yesterday, Gommie's very first.  Our local team isn't doing very well--we have lost several of the games we've been to and we're almost in last place--but it was still entertaining to watch.  Gommie was amazed by the force of the body checks and the speed of the game; she couldn't believe the seeming lack of control over the puck, which just went all over the place, quickly.  Surprisingly, there wasn't a single glove-throwing, helmet-removing fist fight, just a lot of heavy body checks and some fouls; it's the first hockey game we've seen without the proverbial blood on the ice.  Otherwise, I finally figured out how to spot offsides--and caught the foul along with the officials a few times!
  • We continue to eat well, as always--take-out from the delicious Italian deli with eggplant parms, seafood salad, chicken cutlet sandwiches, chicken cutlet chopped salad sandwiches, pasta fagioli (soup), arancini, broccoli rabe, nutella wafer cookies, Orangina, and some kind of cooked pastrami dish; apple crumb cake, which we all loved but decided needed the filling doubled; and today, we will be going to Gommie's favorite seafood place;
  • We have been playing lots of non-computer games:  Mama introduced Spit, which has proved popular, after Gommie had revived the interest in Solitaire.  They have also played Qwirkle, Rummikub, and Gravity Maze.  Mama has Ticket to Ride that we're hoping to play later.  (I say "we" when you know I mean "please, please, please don't ask me to play a game.  I still REALLY don't like games, especially when there is a lot of gloaty-snarky smack talk.)
  • The tangling has slowed down in the wake of the game playing and today I'm thinking of crocheting some flowers.  But there are lovely drawings all around the house.  And also a porcelain owl that I decorated (photos later.)
That's about it.  Gommie is here until Wednesday and the kids are off school again tomorrow.

And we're expecting more snow tonight.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-


Miss R's Apple Crumb Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour
1 can apple pie filling--she uses Comstock (frozen fruit doesn't work; We realized 2 cans would have been even better)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all ingredients except apple pie filling and form into a dough ball. Divide ball in two.

Grease a 9x13 pan. Press one dough ball into pan. Spread apple filling over dough. Crumble other ball in teaspoon-size crumbs over the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

We served hot, with creme fraiche.

Miss R

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

TGIF

It's been a rough week on several fronts (grief for Lao Gong, weather, school interruptions, some general malaise) but has ended on a high note with the arrival of Gommie on Wednesday evening.

We have

  • "Tangled," or meditatively doodled, using the inspiration, skills, and materials of my retreat last weekend;
  • baked delicious saltine cracker toffee;
  • gone for a haircut for Bud, who I'd started to call "Bieber boy;"
  • played Mario Kart (despite some 60-odd years of driving, she's awful and spent most of the time laughing too hard to drive), Infinity (Gommie was a good sport, but this is a challenging game if you've never played any video games before), and Zoo Tycoon (essentially, you create and operate a zoo, which Gommie says is more her style and speed); 
  • had take-out pizza, also homemade chicken rice and gravy, scrambled eggs which Sis made for breakfast, Indian buffet lunch when the kids were at school, and gumbo tonight;
  • showed off piano playing and magic card tricks and line-dancing moves;
  • watched beautiful snowfalls yesterday and admired the frozen floe on our local river;


  • walked outside some, avoiding black ice, in 14F cold--and it's going to get colder and snow some more;
  • (grown ups) watched episodes of "Miss Fisher's Mysteries" and "Foyle's War";
  • watched, with the kiddos and Mama, Maleficient (tonight, maybe, Big Hero Six), and without Mama watched The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug;
  • had several lovely chats already;
  • and we still have so much to do:  more movies, ice skating, hockey, and that 1-6" of snow!!

Monday, February 9, 2015

In Mourning

Mama's grandfather, the children's Lao Gong, has died.

We have put away all of our red clothes as a sign of mourning.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Mama and Goo, Ma and her siblings, as well as with all of Lao Gong's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

On Retreat

My weekend was marvelous.  And I'm not even sure where to begin, knowing that the typing up of it might dull the glow that I've carried with me.  I'd actually never been on an overnight retreat before--it's not quite like an academic conference because it's totally lacking in "political" networking or posturing.  It was 48 hours of being completely cut off--I even deinstalled various apps from my phone, so that I only connected with Mama a couple of times a day to check in.  Otherwise, the only part of the outside world I knew about was the snow I could watch falling from inside!


Monastery
Held at one of the largest Catholic retreats in the world, the retreat--sponsored by Copper Beech Institute, a mindfulness non-profit--was surrounded by symbols of Catholicism.  Bud even worried as they dropped me off, "Mom, it looks so religious!"  Yes, indeed, in that post-war, wood paneling, 50s sort of way.  I've stayed in another monastery--one in Rome that ran a hostel that housed my summer school abroad--but that was less-dated looking, though probably older.  The monks were rather the same, though--robed, friendly, very quiet.  No surprise that Rome would have more ambiance than Connecticut!

My room itself reminded me of Agnes of God--a bed, a desk, a chair, a nightstand, and that all-important waste-paper basket.  Whites, browns, red curtain and bedspread.  No Bible, though.  Only a print with a Wendell Berry poem for decoration and a gorgeous view of a snow-covered landscape with gumball tree and statues.

The hall, with numerous other doors leading to replicas of my own room, had that old-college dorm feel, especially with the communal showers and toilets.   Though, there was art on display made by local artists, including one mixed media canvas entitled Silent Weavers by Elisabeth Moss, which became my especial favorite.  I would intentionally pass by it so that I could study it every chance I got.  I saw a veiled woman, possibly an angel with wings, and a little owl (with beak and wing); I emailed a photo to Mama, who saw the Host and Chalice, given its Catholic context.  One of my co-retreatants saw the Virgin Mary.

The rest of the center was huge--three big buildings and practically two of everything (chapels, dining rooms, elevators).  In fact, there was another retreat of about 80+ Catholic men and we rarely ever saw them!  But it was all inside so we never got snowed upon.  I especially enjoyed the little bookshop with sweets, gifts, and books, where I picked up a few things for the family.  I also liked the Solarium, a long thin hallway with seats and cushions  . . . and potted pink geraniums on the sill overlooking a snowy expanse.  There is a labyrinth on the grounds, with a beautiful rock sculpture in the center but, alas, it was under two feet of snow.  No one ventured out to find it.  I'll go back on another retreat and walk the path.

Food
It's a rare place that focuses on vegetarian food, with an animal protein as an after-thought, but such was the case with this retreat.  Lentil salad, porcini risotto, arugula salad, spinach salad, parmesan cheese grits, broccoli frittata, chickpea stew, kale and white bean soup, potato pancakes, scrambled eggs.  So much goodness to eat at every meal.  And it was local and sustainable when possible.  The baked goods were a treat too:  pb cookies, this rich sweet zucchini bread/cake, and these fabulous lemon poundcakes. Snack one day was bowls of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and marcona almonds.  Mmmmmm.  Plus abundant tea and coffee.  And I bought chocolate at the little shop.  What more could I want?  There were some retreatants who snuck over to the buffet line of the Catholic men's retreat--they had meat and potatoes; and it was all okay to choose what you wanted to eat!






Drawing
Of course, the purpose of this retreat was something called Zentangle, a meditative drawing technique that focuses on process as much as output.  Before it was copyrighted, you would've just called it doodling.  I had discovered Zentangle officially some months back when I noticed various drawing pins on Pinterest and also an article in UU World about a doodling minister.  I started playing around with it myself, as you've seen in several posts, and this retreat was my chance to learn more techniques.

We had a whole room to ourselves, stocked with an Art Bar full of materials and tools, numerous displays of the teachers' own work, reference books, and snacks!!!  It was a grown-up candy store.  We even each got a lot of our own goodies--pens, papers, a sketch book, various project materials, and a door prize--mine was a wooden frame that I can decorate.

The initial session was a basic intro to Zentangle--the dots, the tile, the strings, the tangle patterns.  We also discussed embellishments, etc., and some of the concepts--childlike curiosity, awareness of breath and body, staying present, lack of judgement, no erasure, nothing is a "mistake" (just an opportunity!)  I'm more into it for fun, but some of the people are obsessed Zentanglers, who hold meetings and complete weekly challenges.  One woman even flew in from Ohio to take a class with a specific teacher.

Some of the other sessions were beyond me--I wasn't quite ready to design my own unique Tangle pattern and I wasn't that interested in making several paper books to be platforms for my own tangleations (yep, there's this whole lingo.)

In fact, the last session was my favorite:  we learned how to Tangle labyrinths.  We drew four types--basic, the interior of Chartres, the labyrinth at the retreat center, and a concentric circle labyrinth--and discussed all the various patterns that lended themselves to labyrinths.  I had enjoyed drawing labyrinths way before I knew of Zentangle; we used to make them out of painters' tape on the floor!  I hadn't thought to Tangle them before.  I know I'll be filling those little books with labyrinths.

Other Offerings
When I wasn't drawing, I was taking advantage of other retreat offerings.  The first night, I had a thirty minute Reflexology session.  While I've had my chakras cleansed, accupressure, accupuncture, and fascial release, I've never had reflexology, which is focused on energy conduits in the feet (same system as accupressure/puncture, but different "entry" point.  The whole thing was relaxing--dim lights, soft music, sweet lotions and oils--but I couldn't say if the effects were from the qi manipulation or just the rest.  And I'm not sure it really matters.  (Yes, I have become much more open to alternative healings since my back injury, which was mostly helped by Integrative Manual Therapy not traditional meds, injections, etc.)

I also attended an early morning mindfulness meditation session, just like a few I've attended before.  The director (who is the husband of a new friend of mine) led the meditation and has one of those soft, NPR voices and such a calm manner; it reminded me of everything that I love about mindfulness meditation.  (Even though I was down on my mat on a very cold tile floor!)  I liked his metta phrases at the end, "May all beings be happy.  May all beings be peaceful.  May all beings be free from suffering.  May all beings be healed."  I really liked the "healed" part.

I also went to a yoga class!  I don't have much yoga experience, mainly prenatal at home alone with a DVD a decade ago.  Again with my mat on a cold floor, I listened to the soothing voice of the teacher, who chanted beautifully, and followed gently each of her moves to the best of my ability.  I of course especially liked the long rest and then meditation at the end.  I'm not sure yoga will be my thing--stretching is fraught with the possibility of injury for me--but I'm glad I got the chance to try.  I also liked chatting with her and the other students over tea (Big Y's "calming" blend of chamomile and lavender--organic, even--who knew.)

I also went to a music concert the second night, a couple playing guitar, flutes, and singing bowls.  Nice music of a type, but I was so exhausted from sitting all day that I didn't last long.  I wish I could've though; it was tranquil.


I was ready when the weekend ended, even with the good food and opportunities for learning and relaxing.  I wondered how Mama and the kiddos were--with their gaming (mainly Disney's Infinity, and trip to the Winter Festival for ice fishing (they didn't catch anything but got to eat some of the fish someone did catch!  They said the ice was a foot thick.)   Mama's grandfather is dying, which is hard for the whole family (we're getting updates from her parents, who are other in Thailand with him.)

And so, with a snowstorm on the way, I headed back to reality and the grocery store and home, which needed some attention, and now today's snow day from school.  Re-entry is never really smooth.  But I'm glad to be back with the family . . . and I can always take a mini-mental retreat with my sketchbook when I need to.  All told, it was a marvelous experience.

And the painting of the woman with wings hangs in our living room as a reminder.

Friday, February 6, 2015

And I'm Off . . . .

Heading off to my retreat this afternoon.  Be back online after the weekend.

Stay warm and take care!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Snow, Snow, Snow

18" on the ground.

Fluffy flurries this morning.

6-10" more this weekend.

After being pretty quiet, winter is finally really here.

And, while it's beautiful, it does make me edgy to go out in it sometimes.  I was out at hospice yesterday and took a long time to traverse the icy parking lot.  Today, I have a crafters' group and a meeting at the historic house about making an educational video.  And this weekend, I am going on a retreat focusing on meditative drawing, or Zentangle.   It'll be great, except all the snow that's coming.  But Mama will do the driving to and fro and I can stay in the center without worrying about slipping around outside.

Still, I find I like snow much better when all I have to do is stay inside and look at it!  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Of Super Bowls and Sanitation Workers

We have boycotted the Super Bowl this year, the culmination of boycotting all NFL games on television this year.

We discussed it as a family and voted not to support professional football.

Because of concussions.

Because of indifference to domestic abuse.

Because of cheating.

Because of greed.

And so, over lunch today after church (at the fish restaurant, Gommie!  And your char was on the menu.  You can go again in less than 2 weeks!!), we discussed the Super Bowl.  The kids had discussed in RE (religious education) how some jobs get overlooked, the workers ignored--like sanitation workers and postal workers.

And so I asked them, which job is more important to us on a daily basis:  Super Bowl quarterback or garbage man?  Which would we notice more if they quit working tomorrow?  Who helps society more?

And what do they get paid?

Making up numbers, for perspective, we averaged sanitation workers got $15/hour while the quarterback could make $50 million via contract.

Why?

Because in reality, the quarterback makes so much money for so many other people, namely the owners and the NFL and the merchandisers, who then don't care much about the players except to exploit them as money-makers.  Who does the garbage man make money for?  Nobody.  And so, who is "worth" more?

What is worth?  What is value?  What is important?

We acknowledged that nothing we could do would ever change the relationship of NFL salaries to sanitation workers, pop stars to teachers, movie stars to physical therapists.  But we wanted the kiddos to be aware of the discrepancies, to look where the money is, to see through the consumerism and the merchandising and the capitalism, to examine the dominant or majority or popular opinion.  To question it.

To not watch the Super Bowl when tens of millions of people were.

And so Bud rearranged his Lego Lord of the Rings dioramas and put together a new one of Lake Town.  And Sis and I made candles, one of the projects of my Hibernate workshop (we made two rose-scented candles and two "medieval" blend ones, with rosemary, thyme, orange, etc.)

And then, later this evening, we turned on the tv.

I had agreed to watching Katy Perry's halftime performance.  We like her music and the kids wanted to see it.  It was our nod to the occasion.  (When Bud was asking questions earlier about the game, we asked if he wanted to change his mind and watch. I didn't want to be the mom who wouldn't let them watch; I wanted it to be a group decision. "No," he said, "but it was hard not to do what everyone was doing."  So true. Don't get me wrong:  I like football.  I remember my paternal grandparents watching the Cowboys; I went to almost every football game while I was in high school.  I'm from Texas--football is our sport.   So, standing up for beliefs can be so hard, especially when they are unusual or unpopular.  Or have difficult consequences. Or just aren't as fun. But you stick to your decision anyway.  There's a great essay on that somewhere; I'll link back if I find it.)

And that's when we saw the ad about domestic abuse, using that real 9-1-1 call when the woman orders a pizza as a hint to the 9-1-1 operator that she is in danger.  I had heard about the call on FB and so could explain to the kids what was going on.  They had never heard of domestic abuse.  They couldn't fathom why someone would beat another person, or why someone might stay with a person who beat them.  It was delicate territory.  Especially when I explained why the NFL was showing the ad, as a way to make amends for their reluctance to take a stand on domestic abuse.    And even more especially when I explained that the woman down the street was beaten by her boyfriend so badly on Christmas day that the ambulance was called  . . . but that the boyfriend is back in the house (and to stay away from him and to come get us if they hear anything.  And yes we mentioned that the authorities are trying to help her and her kids, but that these situations are hard to understand and are very delicate.)  We even talked about how my maternal grandmother was abused by her first husband but was saved by her brother, divorced the man, and married again (even though she was kicked out of her Catholic church, divorce being quite unpopular in small-town Texas in the late 1930s.)  We talked about our zero-tolerance policy for hitting or violence because we don't want them to hurt others and because we don't want them to think it's okay for people to hurt them.

Fun, no?

Thank goodness Katy Perry roared on the field with that origami tiger right around then and we could cheer to all of her songs.  (And thankfully there wasn't too much in the way of exploitation of women that I had to address, nor cultural appropriation aka Miley Cyrus.  There was even Missy Elliott, always good for shifting paradigms!)   We liked it so much that we rewound it and watched it again.  And then, for good measure, we watched the video of Katy Perry singing with a young woman with autism (and spent some time talking about autism!  Whew.  It was our "inherent worth and dignity" of all people night.)



(We did have to discuss why there was "Pepsi" everywhere, how Pepsi had paid for the concert so that we would like their soda.  But really, what was a bubbly beverage have to do with music anyway?  Really?  Look for the money.)

And then we turned the Super Bowl off so that we could pet our NYcat Mojito, who had been sitting on the couch with me through the whole thing.

(And I'm so glad I didn't have to explain the end of the game, which apparently included a brawl.)

All in all, it was a good game(-less) day.