Friday, January 29, 2010

a bit of a ramble--blame the weather

Photo courtesy of bored roommate and reporter in the field Jess.

I never want to work for a place that can't declare a snow day.  Snow days are the most indulgent type of day-off ever.  A snow day is an excuse to wear favorite pajamas all day, cook every single thing that's in the kitchen without doing the dishes, and spend the remainder of one's time in the most frivolous ways possible.  So far today, I slept until nearly noon, drank chocolate milk (pre-snow day grocery store runs are all about self-indulgence too), watched last night's episode of Bones, made and consumed some lunch, and read a bit.  My afternoon if full of more of the same.  Bliss.  If I had some chocolate, I might die from contentment.

I went to the grocery on Tuesday because I was making dinner for my sweet Uncle Don who drove down to Little Rock to take a shot at fixing my broken dryer.  I didn't plan on going back, no matter what the weather might or might not do later in the week, but yesterday afternoon, I had to make another Kroger run to buy orange juice to take to Our House (a local homeless shelter) to go along with the brinner that we were serving last night.  So since I found myself at Kroger with all my weather-concerned neighbors and standing in line for one thing was going to be just as annoying as standing in line for multiple things, I bought the indulgent chocolate milk and the ingredients to try my first Pioneer Woman recipe.

Have I talked about my girl-crush on the Pioneer Woman here yet?  You know the part about my winning a $75 amazon gift card in one of her contests.  And I feel like, without doing the archival research, that I've talked about here other times too.  But maybe you don't know the depth of my admiration/stalking.  P-Dub cracks me up, and I want my blog to be just like hers when it grows up--without the livestock and the fancy camera and the homeschooling.  Her recipe posts are awesome, full of step-by-step pictures of what things should be looking like at each stage.  It's a delight.  So this week when she proclaimed that she had perfected a non-chunky salsa recipe, I was definitely intrigued.

I have salsa issues.  I love Mexican restaurant salsa, but I don't have even a smidge of love for thick or chunky jars of salsa.  The only kind I will ever buy is Tostitos Restaurant Style, which they stopped making for a few years but is now back, I'm happy to report.  But if sensible, frugal Ellen is leading the grocery shopping expedition, impulsive, salsa-loving Ellen doesn't get to pay $2.79, plus another couple of bucks for chips to enjoy a salsa experience.  I don't know why frugal Ellen gets so hung up about this.  I hate frugal Ellen.  She never lets me have any fun.  Luckily PW-loving, cooking enthusiast Ellen can sometimes show frugal Ellen who's boss.
Lucky for all my various personalities because PW's description of her new salsa recipe sounded like everything I wanted in a salsa--and there was very little chopping.  I hate chopping.  It uses canned tomatoes and Rotel and a food processor among other things.  I don't own a food processor, but I decided that all the ingredients were liquidy enough that I could try it in a blender.  So I went for it.  And it is awesome, possibly perfect.  Mine did turn out a bit runnier than hers, due to the blender, I'm sure, but I liked it that way.
  This morning frugal Ellen got curious about the cost of buying all those separate ingredients, so she got got out her receipt and did some math.  I already had the onion, garlic, salt, sugar, and cumin here at home, so the cost of those are not figured in, but the truth is, I always have those things at home, and I used such small amounts of each that the cost seems negligible for those ingredients.  Anyway I made 48 ounces of salsa for $3.78.  The jars of Tostitos are 16 ounces, I'm fairly certain, so technically I saved $4.59 by making my own.  Take that, frugal Ellen.  The only bad spot is that I'm almost out of chips and I'm committed to these pajamas.

In other news, I didn't actually make it to the homeless shelter last night to serve dinner after making that special trip to Kroger for o.j.  Yesterday morning I woke up with a ridiculous amount of pain in my neck from sleeping on it funny.  I tried to let the shower pound on it some, which is usually all my aches and pains need, but this was serious.  When I made the reflexive move of throwing my head back after removing my wet-hair towel, I thought I would hit the floor in agony.  It was bad.  I went to work and whined all day, and after the Kroger run, I decided that I couldn't take it any more.  So I sent the juice to Our House with Jess and made a date with my bed, some ibuprofen, and a heating pad.  I could make myself comfortable in various positions, but when I got up later to eat dinner and make the salsa, it still hurt, and this morning when I finally dragged out of bed, it still hurt.  It still hurts now.  I should probably take more ibuprofen.  Instead, I'm going to complain.  I don't like being old.

Frugal Ellen won another victory yesterday, besides the salsa incident.  Jess and I are moving to a new place.  Last week, our friend Dee told us that the other half of her duplex was about to be empty, so I put in a call to her landlord immediately.  We hadn't seen Dee's place at that point, but we knew she had two bedrooms and we knew she payed $225 less in rent than us.  That was definitely worth pursuing.  We were able to see Dee's house, which is a mirror image of her neighbors on Saturday, and we liked it enough to stay interested.  We were able to see the one that would actually be ours yesterday afternoon, and we're sold.  We're not moving until mid-March, which works out great for the remainder of our lease here.  It's in North Little Rock, which is closer to Shane and closer to work for me, but further for Jess.  She says she's fine with that.  She also says she's fine with the smaller closets, but we'll see about that.  The kitchen is small and has some storage and space issues, but I have too much stuff, so here's an opportunity to work on that.  Anyway, we're excited.  It's going to be fun to live next door to Dee--and not feel too worried that we're being too loud for the neighbors.  And it's going to be a delight to pay $112.50 less in rent every month.  Frugal Ellen's heart sings.

Now I've got to stop this ramble.  More frivolous entertainments await.  Wherever you are, imaginary readers, I hope you're warm and snug and safe.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

hobbies, revisited

A few weeks ago, I told you, imaginary readers, about my friend Philip of a thousand hobbies and how I'm envious of his varied interests and skills. 
Today let me tell you more about my moma and her varied interests and skills.  My moma can sew, smock, embroider, knit, cross-stitch, and she's a crocheting demon.  Her cooking is something spectacular as well.  I admire all of these qualities and skills, but I have not necessarily followed in her footsteps.  I can cross-stitch and sew on the occasional button, and I'm not a bad cook, but I've got nothing on my moma.
Crochet is her big thing these days, especially since the grandgirls have outgrown the sweet, little girl styles at which she excels.  She crochets beautifully and can whip out an afghan in no time.  Eleven or twelve years ago, I got her to teach me how.  I'm sure crochet is like many other skills in that one improves with practice and careful attention.  But patience, then and now, is not in my skill set, so I soon gave up on ever figuring out how to keep even tension.  My moma, wise woman that she is, suggested that I might have more luck, tension-wise, with knitting, so she taught me that too.
Because I dream big, I chose as my first project to make an afghan in a sort of ripple pattern for my future sister-in-law (well, she was future at that time but has now been my sister-in-law for over ten years).  I progressed quite steadily at it for quite some time, but at some point in moving back and forth between college and summers at home or with classes and work and being an irresponsible college student, the knitting project fell by the wayside, and eventually the knitting bag full of a half-finished project and skeins of unused yarn stopped making moves with me.  I'd like to tell you that I was careful to return my moma's circular knitting needles to her when I finally stopped living the lie that I was going to finish the project, but I'm not even sure that I did.
Yes, I feel shame.
 Fast forward to this past fall, when the knitting bug bit and bit hard in my department at work.  Suddenly, knitting was the hot topic, and a couple of my coworkers learned to knit, taught and encouraged by the couple of coworkers who could already knit.  I stayed off that bandwagon for a while, but my desire to be more accomplished and my budding interest in our Tuesday library lunch programs brought knitting back into my life.  So when I was home week before last, I had my moma show me how to knit again.  Older and wiser, once my initial practicing was done, I started on a small project:  a dishcloth.  I started it on Friday and finished it on Monday, and the sense of accomplishment was completely disproportionate to the achievement.  But it is an awfully nice dishcloth.

My new camera and I are still getting used to each other, so I did a whole little photo-shoot for the little dishcloth that could.  The yarn is Peaches & Creme 100% cotton worsted weight.  I don't even know what worsted means.  But I have washed dishes with it already, and it works. The colors are showing fairly accurately on my monitor, so you should be able to appreciate the crazy brightness of it.  And I would like to mention that it's not quite as trapezoidal in shape as this photo suggests.  I just don't know how to use a camera.  And it was still damp from the dishwashing, which had it stretched out funny.

Yeah, that's my story . . . it was damp.  But it looks so nice in this artistic drape.  Don't you think?

This edge is my favorite part, but this picture doesn't capture the texture of what the pattern is doing there.  Also it's as crooked as a dog's hind leg, but it's the damp.

I took about a million close-ups, but I really liked them.  So you have to keep looking--and say something nice at the end.

Seriously, aren't you impressed by this?  This one might be my favorite.

There are at least four more decent close-ups of this thing that I am making myself remove before publishing.  You're welcome.  Or perhaps I'm sorry.  They are really nice photos.

I felt like an inadequate reporter for not documenting the entire process, so I got out my most purple needles and cast on a new project so I could photograph it for you.  Here's a partially knitted first row.  That orange yarn is the same kind that my dishcloth was made from, so I may make another one before venturing into larger projects. 

Then because my commitment to your thirst for knowledge is limitless, I acquainted myself with the self-timer on my camera and caught a couple of action shots.  So full of action . . . can't you feel it?  Also, it's weird to see my hands in photos. 

This one must be an action shot--look how my fingers are blurry.  Probably because I was going so fast.  That's how I roll, er knit.
It's definitely not because I can't operate a camera.  Definitely.

 Now that I'm officially a knitter (and have "borrowed" anything I thought was interesting supply-wise from my moma), you can expect semi-regular updates on my various knitting projects.  Don't however expect to see that orange piece I started tonight.  After finishing the first row, I saw that I had done something weird in the middle, and I pulled it all out again.  But the yarn will rise again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

project 4:4 week three

*******No more promises of when my project 4:4 posts will appear. I'm a 67% failure with meeting my own timeline goals, so I'm not going to put you through the uncertainty anymore.*******

I was not a great daily reader this week. I accidentally read ahead one day, so that threw me off a bit, and then I plain forgot three nights in a row. Sadly, it was an easy habit to break. I'm really praying that I get better at the daily part of the Daily Bible. I don't want to spend the year beating myself up on Saturday nights (or worse, Sunday mornings) because I haven't done my reading for the week. Sometimes it bothers me that the readings for each day are so short. I actually think I might be doing better at it, if I could read bigger chunks. But it's important to me to stay on pace for this church-wide project. The good news is that I did manage to get caught up in time to be a part of a meaningful class discussion on Sunday.

This week we finished Genesis and started Exodus, covering flannelgraph moments from the life of Joseph and early Moses and the first few plagues. In fact, Friday's reading included Moses and the burning bush, which was my younger nephew's Bible class lesson when I was at his church last weekend.

[Cute kid story alert: You really haven't heard the story of God speaking to a man from flaming shrubbery until it's been told to you by a two-year-old. Although small nephew's (let's call him the thumb of the Handful) storytelling style has not yet developed to match his Aunt Ellen's, he did a great job of recreating the pertinent facts through question and answer. The Thumb has an expressive face, giant blue eyes and some serious eyelashes, which he's not afraid to use to his advantage. Having a conversation with him is just as much about his blinks and nods and funny faces as it is about his toddler-appropriate speech impediment. My personal favorite part:

Aunt Ellen (or Aunt Michelle or Nana or Daddy--lots of people asked him about his story): But why did he take his shoes off?

Thumb: Dod told him. (In such a businesslike tone that I got the impression there should be no questioning of why God did that.)

As I have an often inappropriate habit of quoting the mispronunciations of the Handful, I've already caught myself saying "Dod" in my head a few times. I hope this isn't blasphemous. That kid is trouble.]

In my own meaningful class discussion I mentioned earlier, we didn't make it as far as Moses. Joseph's story, with its highs, lows, prophetic dreams, family dysfunction, repentance, forgiveness, and a set-up for some seriously miraculous intervention and nation-forming, was plenty of fodder for us.

Last 4:4 post, I mentioned that Jacob's story makes me wonder about cause and effect when it comes to God's dealings with these folks. Did Jacob lie and connive to get the birthright and blessing because it was God's plan for him to be Israel? Or did God look at the personalities of Jacob and Esau, anticipate the trickery, and prepare to fulfiil the promise through Jacob because he was going to come out with the blessing? Near the end of Joseph's story, I'm brought back to the same questions. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Clearly, Joseph sees the path of his life as God's plan to save not only his own family but the nation of Egypt from famine and death. Talk about a higher calling. But it gives me that pause. Did Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery because God needed Joseph in Egypt? Or did God just work with the imperfections present in the sons of Israel to bring about a best possible outcome? If they'd been more forgiving of a slightly arrogant teenager, would they have died during that seven-year famine? Or would God have worked through another situation to protect his fledgling nation?

Ultimately I have to come down on the side of free will and God making lemonade out of the mess of lemons offered up by the imperfect. And you have to admire that lemonade: the patriarch and his twelve sons and all their offspring riding out a severe drought in a choice piece of land in the most advanced nation of that time. And when a lemon of a pharaoh, who doesn't know Joseph or honor the memory of his service to Egypt and fears these blessed Hebrews, forces the children of Israel into slavery, God spends 400 years preparing a miraculous, emancipating lemonade that will return His people to the land promised Abraham so they can get down to the business of becoming His people.

Because two weeks' readings split the Exodus story, the plagues, and pharaoh's hard heart--and because I have quite a bit to say about that too, I'm going to save most of those thoughts for next week.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

happy birthday, michelle

I'm going to feel bad now because I didn't do a happy birthday post for my brother who turned 33 just a few days after I started blogging last month.  I celebrated though.  I ate beef stew and made him apple dumplings and gave him a present at his early birthday.  And on the actual day, I called him.  I sang to his answering machine (I think).  But I didn't publicly acknowledge the anniversary of the day of his birth.  Sorry, bub.

I also didn't blog about the birthday of my favorite 5 year-old, the pinkie of the Handful, whose birthday was this week.  I asked last weekend when we were together how the parents of my nieces and nephews felt about their kids' names and/or faces going public on my blog, but somehow I never got a definitive answer and I didn't realize that until I got home, so I'll stick with calling him Pinkie.  I'm sure he wouldn't mind.  He also, at barely five, doesn't read much--especially this sophisticated blog o'mine--so I'm feeling pretty confident that he'll never know.  And like his father, though I didn't acknowledge Pinkie's birthday in the blogosphere, we celebrated.  I traveled.  I bought him grown-up camo binoculars just like the Popster's.  I ate cake.  And on the actual day, I called him.  I sang to his answering machine.  I wondered why I always get screened when I call their house.  Sorry, Pinkie, for not acknowledging your day of birth on the blog though.

So now that I've aired all the guilt, let me get to the point:

Happy Birthday, Michelle!

Sorry the picture is blurry, but I love that face.

My favorite sister is turning another year older today, and out of respect for my elders, I won't say which year that is.  When we were together celebrating Pinkie's birthday last weekend, Michelle and I also got to celebrate our birthdays (which are ten days apart).  Due to our birthdays' proximity to Christmas and her penchant for moving cross-country every couple of years, we hadn't celebrated together in a while.  Fun stuff.

Because my moma loves me more than Michelle (or because she was having the most stressful week ever), she made my favorite birthday dessert (chocolate cupcakes with buttercream icing, for those playing the home game) but didn't make Michelle's (lemon icebox pie).  The Handful helped to decorate them all.  There are pictures, but I'm not posting them here.  Maybe another day . . . We took very polite turns opening gifts because we are good, grown-up girls.  And with the few exceptions you see here, we managed to be the subject of some fairly horrible photographs.
I got her the book Becoming Myself, Becoming His by Kay Watson, who is a friend of Michelle's from their time in Florida.  The pictures of that gift-opening are especially hideous because I was telling her the remotely amusing story of how the book arrived, and let me assure you, I should never allow someone to photograph my mid-word.  Scary stuff.  You won't be seeing them here.  For the most part, the Handful didn't express much interest in our gift-opening.  They had been promised a slumber party and couldn't build enthusiasm for the book and kitchen implements that made up the bulk of our gifts.  They had also already had their cupcakes, so there was no chance of bribery either.

I'd like to tell you that Michelle is spending her birthday in some indulgent way, but that's not very Michelle.  Instead she's sitting somewhere watching this:

Rachel, otherwise known as the bird finger of the Handful, has her first Upward basketball game today.  She showed off her skills and uniform for us last weekend.  I kind of wish I didn't have expressed permission to use Rachel's name, because calling her Bird would crack me up every time I did it. 

Here's Rach taking Uncle Shane to school.

And showing off her game face:

I hope the game goes well for Rachel's sake and for the sake of peace and harmony and enjoyment for Michelle.

Let me end with my top 5 favorite things about my favorite sister:

5.  She takes longer to get ready than I do, so rarely does anyone even notice that I am the slowpoke that makes us late just as much as she is.

4.  She married a truly wonderful and hilarious guy.  Will would be my favorite brother-in-law even if he had any competition.

3.  She thinks I'm hilarious.  This is the real secret to a lasting, positive relationship with me.  I'm a sucker for people who think I'm funny.  And Michelle gets me, even when she's not half-hysterical from exhaustion.

2.  Katelyn & Rachel.  Those two little freaks are some of the best parts of my wonderful sister.

1.  Michelle is the bossiest, most over-protective mama-bear of a sister that anyone could ever need.  She's been taking care of me for nearly thirty-one years.  She deserves the credit for at least a third of anything that is good or useful about me.  We don't do mushy speeches, and we sometimes think that words are cheap, but I never have to doubt for a second who we are or what we are to each other.  And I know she'll be on my team for the next thirty-one years too.

So happy birthday, shishter.  No matter what those punk girls of yours say, you'll always be cooler than me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

project 4:4: week 2 or genesis is full of liars

****It is my intention to post on my progress in project 4:4 on Sundays.  I wrote most of this blog yesterday but didn't quite get it finished in time to post on Sunday.  I would apologize to those who were waiting, but since the weekly 4:4 post on Sundays plan was only in my head, I doubt any of you were waiting on this, but here it is--finally.****

I had a very unusual, off-schedule week.  I only worked two days before heading to Kentucky to be with my moma and Grams.  Grams is doing heaps better, finally.  She's alert and more mobile and got released from the hospital today to go to a rehab facility for ten days or so, which is a big load off the minds of my nearest and dearest.
Here's the part where I brag on myself that despite my unusual, off-schedule week, I stayed completely on-schedule with project 4:4 and the Daily Bible.  I've stuck with closing my day with the reading, and the rhythm of it is working for me now.  Since I was still in Kentucky until Monday, I missed out on Chuck's sermons and our class Sunday that tied up the readings for me, so I'll tie them up for myself this time.

We're still in Genesis.  This week's readings cover chapters 24-36:  Abraham, our great man of faith, is gathered to his people (I'm going to start using this expression about people who die).  Esau and Jacob keep Biblical sibling rivalry alive.  Jacob works for fourteen years to become a polygamist and eventually fathers thirteen kids by four women.  Jacob and Esau make amends and bury their father.  Jacob's daughter Dinah is raped by Shechem, and her brothers prove that two wrongs don't make a right.  Jacob's name is changed to Israel, and we end the week's readings with a fairly repetitive genealogical record of Esau's descendants.

Here's the bottom-line of Genesis 24-36:  Everyone lies.  Isaac lies (and follows in Abraham's footsteps) to Abimelech about the identity of his wife Rebekah.  Rebekah conspires with Jacob to lie to Isaac in order to receive the blessing he intends for Esau.  Laban lies to Jacob, pulling the ol' bait and switch and marrying him to Leah instead of Rachel.  Jacob and Laban continue to lie to each other in several dealings with each other concerning their flocks.  Rachel steals Laban's household gods and lies about it.  The sons of Jacob lie when they give their consent to Dinah marrying Shechem.
I guess it's no surprise that God changes Jacob's name.  According to the NIV footnotes, figuratively  Jacob means "he deceives," and for much of his story, he lives down to that name.   I'm not sure "he struggles with God" (Israel's meaning) is that much better, but I do think it was possibly a step to get Jacob away from that deceiving moniker.

Two years ago this weekend, I read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant and wrote about it hereThe Red Tent is a fictionalized account of the life of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, and chronicles the lives and relationships of Jacob's four wives.  In the book, Dinah's rape by Shechem isn't a rape, and Dinah's brothers are even less admirable in defending her honor than the deception and massacre in the Genesis account suggests.  I think this is the first time I've read Dinah's story since reading the book a couple years ago, and it was a challenge to read Genesis 34 without that context.  Either way, Simeon and Levi are definitely following in the family tradition of deceit. 

So I come out of this reading reminded that God uses the imperfect.  He tells Rebekah before the birth of Jacob and Esau that the older will serve the younger.  It makes me wonder whether he intended to fulfill the promise through Jacob all along or just knew that various acts of selfishness and deceit would lead to Jacob receiving the birthright and blessing, despite being the younger son.  However it came about, Jacob is the son of the promise, just as Isaac was, and his twelve flawed sons will be the foundation for the nation of imperfect people that will teach me through countless stories and mistakes for the next several months how loving and patient my God is . . . and long about October, Jacob's fourth son's great-great-great-great-great-etc. grandsomething will teach me about perfection.  Stay tuned for that.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the year in books: skeletons at the feast

Early last week, I was looking for the the perfect book to become my first read of 2010.  I got a few new books for Christmas, one of which was my last book of 2009, but as I have a resolution-ish plan for my year of reading, there was a lot riding on this first choice.  So I hadn't settled on anything yet.
Then I got hooked on our weekly lunch at the library programs (remember the watercolors?), and I decided that the monthly book club's first selection of the year, Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, would be my first read too.  Having made that monumental decision, I proceeded to ignore the book for several more days.  I started Skeletons on Sunday with a deadline of noon Tuesday when the book club met.  I almost made it.  I had about sixty pages to go  by book club time, and I made the decision to go anyway.  I knew the end of the book would be spoiled for me, and I knew that the fates of enough folks were still up in the air that it would be a big deal for me.  And I went anyway because I was afraid that there wouldn't be enough folks for a good discussion.  The Tuesday discussion did yield some spoilers, but I was glad to be a part of the discussion and finished the book on Wednesday.

****I am not a fan of spoilers, so I can promise you that whatever book discussions I engage in on this blog will remain spoiler-free.*****

Having said that, Skeletons at the Feast is set in East Prussia and later across Germany during the winter and spring of 1945.  The Emmerich family, Germans who are members of the Nazi party, flee their farm in East Prussia as the Russian army approaches.  The father and older brothers of the family are fighting, but the mother, eighteen-year-old daughter, and ten-year-old son are traveling with a Scottish POW, who they are hoping will be collateral on their journey westward should they encounter Allied troops.  That sounds very calculated, but the Emmerichs are not the bad guys.  They're mostly kind and sheltered and shocked by the things that they learn about the Reich as they travel.  In their journey, they encounter Uri, a German Jew who escaped the train taking him to a concentration camp and spends two years masquerading as various German soldiers to elude capture.  There's also a parallel story of several Jewish women who are marched westward from their work camp as the Russian army advances. 

Monday when folks reading asked me about the book I said I was enjoying it.  Monday night when the reading was making me so sad and uncomfortable and horrified, I wondered how I used a word as benign as "enjoy" for what that book and I were going through.  I was drawn in and felt connected to the characters and had a heart for the themes, but it's just difficult to read about that time and place and not feel sympathy and guilt and a helpless lack of understanding that atrocities like the Holocaust and other more recent genocides happen.  But despite its heavy content, the book isn't overwhelmingly depressing.  And there's enough suspense and action in the families travels to provide some interest also.

Overall, the book is completely worth my time (and probably worth yours, although I am hesitant about making blanket book recommendations to anyone who happens to read these words).  I started a second book of 2010 on Wednesday, but I may have to pause it and find a lighter read as it has a post-WWII Holocaust survivor cast of characters.  I think I may need a break from that.

Stay tuned for more of my year in books.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

a head full of worry

At this time last night, I was a giant mass of worry. 
My precious friend Monica and my wonderful friend/cousin Tracy lost their grandfather this week.  My heart is hurting for their family.  Say a prayer for the Nickleson/Hartsell clan.  They're good people.
My Grams fell last Friday and has a compression fracture in her back and has been in the hospital since Monday.  They decided yesterday to do a surgical procedure to fix that, and surgery on an 80-year-old is a big deal in my book.  Plus my moma, paragon of virtue that she is, had been worrying and caring for Grams to the exclusion of all else for over five days, and I was worried about her being so exhausted and emotionally drained and an hour away from home at the hospital.  I was also worried about the Popster, who was having to work, take care of Grams's dog, and try to be there for my moma.  Things were getting hairy, and I was 300 miles away feeling helpless.
Yesterday, I kept up a near-constant stream of conversation with my lovely sister, who's also a champion worrier, and that communication brought its own set of concerns, including an eighteen-year-old extended family member of Michelle's in-laws who's dealing with cancer, which of course, brought to mind my friend Lauren, who is starting another round of chemo this week.  Say some prayers for the Reynolds and Setzler families.
On the one hand, all these hurting and struggling folks gave me some excellent perspective on my life, and suddenly my broken dryer and those Christmas decorations that haven't taken themselves down yet seemed like very small potatoes indeed.  Tiny potatoes.  But instead of being bogged down in my own worries, I had all these folks making my heart ache.
So I had a good cry, thanked God that I have a fairly flexible job and a really understanding boss, and started packing.  I can't fix any of this stuff, but I needed to do something helpful (and the Popster needed me here--and actually said it out loud).  I left my house at six this morning and got to the hospital in time to bring lunch and visit with both my favorite girls for a while before they came to get Grams for her surgery. 
The surgery was a success, but the doctor observed that her bones are so brittle and thin that the possibility of similar problems in other vertebrae is strong.  Grams also doesn't get along so well with anesthesia, so she's not as back to normal as I'd like her to be. 
Still I'm glad to be on this side of the surgery and to be here within helping distance.  The geography alone has cut my stress level drastically.
The general upheaval of the week has cut into my blogging schedule, so the book review post on which I should be working will have to wait for another day.  I think, imaginary reader, that you can handle the disappointment.

In the meantime, prayerfully remember my sweet Grams.  She's that tall, white-haired cutie on the left. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

project 4:4: the first week and a bit

This little blog o' mine is getting famous.  I made the PV church bulletin (back page) and the front page (eek!) of PV's website in a list of folks who are blogging the project 4:4 experience.  Considering all I've done is tell a bit about the project, mention that I did the first day's reading, and link to some folks who are actually completing the assignment, I'm not sure I deserve the nod.  Today's post will be an attempt to live up to the hype.

First up, true confession time:  Last night I had to catch up on my reading because somehow two whole days just disappeared without my reading getting finished.  I was disappointed in myself for that.  I haven't found the perfect spot in my day for reading yet.  Mornings are tough, and while I like the idea and feel of closing my day with each day's reading, this week I've been staying up so late and pushing so hard, that I've been too worn to make it work.  If any of my imaginary readers want to share their best reading time, I'm all ears.  In the meantime, this week's priority is staying on track with daily reading.

In the first nine days of the study, we've covered twenty-three chapters of Genesis.  Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts from the week:
  • I thank God (really) that the Bible doesn't start with Numbers.  The Genesis account is fairly user-friendly.  I'm a person who's drawn to story, and I like beginnings.  I don't even mind the genealogies because it names all the players, plus the early Genesis genealogies act as time-lines with the ages of when they had sons and how many years they lived after.  

  • In the first 23 chapters, we've hit several of the big flannelgraph stories:  creation; serpent, fruit, sin; brothers and their keepers; the floody-floody; the babble at Babel; and a guy named Abraham.  Sometimes I like reading these stories and marveling at how much about them I didn't understand as a child.

  • But it's also easy (for me, at least) to read through these very familiar stories and not have a revelation or new insight.  The one thing I've been struck by every time I've read Genesis as an adult is how much isn't said.  I'm all about knowing full stories.  I like exposition and having the full story, and there are so many stories that leave me wanting more, like the mark of Cain (and while we're at it, who did Cain marry?), the Nephilim--read that one measly verse (6:4) and tell me you don't want to know more of that story, and lots more besides.  PV Blogger Keith Brenton (whose blog you should be reading instead of mine) has commented a few times already about the unvarnished narrative, which at least in parts, veers toward a facts-only kind of reporting when readers (or at least this reader) would really like a glimpse of the thoughts and emotions and motivations that are driving those facts.

  •  PV Blogger Steven Hovater (who has blogged even fewer words than me on project 4:4 so far this year, but who has far outstripped me in meaningful commentary) also observed the lack of story surrounding the Nephilim and Nimrod and summed it up so brilliantly that it completely put me in my place:  "the heroes aren't where the story is."

  • And new or old, and even without the all the details that would content my nosy heart, I can't read the story of Abraham and not be amazed and humbled and convicted by his faith, a faith that steps into the unknown and relies (mostly completely) on God for safety and prosperity, a faith that believes a promise that seems medically impossible and waits (mostly patiently) twenty-five years for its fruition, a faith that obeys even when obedience seems to mean losing that original, longed-for promise.  Abraham rocks my socks off.
So I'm thankful for beginnings and examples of faith and looking ahead to the fruition of the promise that saves me. 

Friday, January 8, 2010

too cold for responsible journalism

I had a brilliant plan for tonight.  Jess is gone to be in a wedding in Searcy this weekend, so I had decided to put off kitchen cleaning and de-Christmasing the apartment until tomorrow or Saturday in favor of starting either of the two books I need to crack open, being online and ready to take Pioneer Woman's 90s movie quiz when it went live, doing today's project 4:4 reading, and maybe watching Ugly Betty and Scrubs episodes from earlier in the week.  I had a fast dinner mapped out in my head, so that I wouldn't lose the whole night to being in the kitchen, and nothing was going to keep me at work past six.  And if all those things went as planned, I'd have some time at the end of the evening to blog about my reading project progress.

Things started to head south at work.  I did a Wii game day this afternoon and instead of packing it in at 5 when the kiddos left, I tried out a couple of the sports on our brand-new copy of Wii Sports Resort.  That wasn't frivolous or selfish.  I have to help kids with games all the time, and I needed to know how some of them worked.  Plus there's an unlocking element to some of the game features.  I was playing for the kids.  I also managed to have a mostly intelligent, big decision-making conversation while I was learning to throw a frisbee.  And it's not like I played for hours, maybe 20 minutes.  But then a couple of our teen volunteers came in, and I let them play for a while because I'm a sucker for courteous teenage boys.  Then after I finally kicked them out and with the competent help of Cory the page (whose pagely awesomeness deserves a blog post all its own--in a totally professional way), I decided on a new Wii storage schematic that will eventually simplify my life, but just took up time today.  And there was a fair amount of gathering of personal belongings once I made it back to the workroom, since I was deciding what to leave and what to take of the decorate-your-own-cupcake supplies from Lisa's birthday celebration today (a complete success, in case you were wondering).  So I guess it's actually borderline amazing that I got all of that accomplished by 6:45.  Those 45 minutes shouldn't have broken down the plan anyway.  Leaving work late is not my problem.

I realized when I got home that I hadn't factored in some time spent figuring out if I could fix the non-working dryer that Jess reported before she left.  The answer, curious reader, is of course not.  I did follow over-the-phone instructions from the Popster enough to know that it's not a breaker problem, and I'm quite certain it's plugged in.  The rest is beyond me.  Good thing doing laundry tonight was just a good idea rather than a desperate need.  And at this point in my evening I'm too tired, grumpy, and cold to feel guilty about not cleaning my kitchen, so the rest of my evening was salvageable.  A broken dryer, while frustrating, is not my problem.

Then the cold set in.  Perhaps, unless you've been living in a cave, you've heard that it's a bit chilly here (and lots of other places too).  And though the no-heat challenge has ended in our house, we've been keeping the thermostat set right around 60 and layering.  It is officially too cold for that.

Here are some other things for which it is too cold:
1.  reading--holding a book and turning pages means uncovered hands
2.  fast-forwarding through dvr-ed commercials--again with the uncovered hands
3.  computer usage--I never thought I'd live to see the day that physical discomfort could overcome my internet addiction, but that's the world we live in now.
4.  remembering stuff--I might have convinced myself to stay on the computer longer if the mind-numbing cold hadn't made me completely forget about that 90s movie quiz.
5.  staying awake--I finally lost the bone-deep chill that set in during my walk from the library to the far-away parking garage, and once I was cozy, sleep was too powerful to fight.  I would eventually wake up around eleven feeling too alert to switch from warm and snuggly on the couch to warm and snuggly in bed, which is why you're reaping the benefits of this rambling rant tonight.  You're welcome.

But that brief stint in alertness is fading fast, and my uncovered fingers aren't nearly so toasty as they were when I woke up, so (count your blessings, dear reader) the self-pity and incoherent mutterings end here for tonight.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

i feel like a better person already

My friend Philip has about a million hobbies.  He canoes, knits, name-drops, reads, sews, over-analyzes,  juggles, plays the banjo, cooks, charmingly stalks girls he likes, and volunteers with his church's youth group.  In his spare time, he works in the inter-library loan department and supports the library in every way imaginable.  Every time I discover another of his talents or hobbies, I'm amazed and struck by my own lack of desire to do anything besides watch tv and feed my internet addiction.  Sometimes Philip and his hobbies make me tired, but they always make me feel inferior.

It's not that I'm without skill.  I'm decent at drawing.  I enjoy music and over the course of my life have competently played the piano, the trumpet, and the tuba.  I have a passion for the written word, which manifests in a love of reading and writing (something I'm finally indulging in this charming little blog of mine).  I'm decently crafty, with the ability to cross-stitch, crochet, and knit all locked away in some part of my brain.  I love to cook and bake, and I'm told that I'm good at it.  So I have the foundation for quite a few hobbies, but what I lack is the structure or discipline to make time for any of these things.  Don't get me wrong:  I like watching tv and being addicted to the internet, and I rarely feel like the time devoted to those things is wasted.  But I guess I'd like to feel a bit more well-rounded and to cultivate a few more conversational topics besides facebook, Pioneer Woman, and episodes of Glee.  (But if you want to talk about any of those things, I'm so your girl.)

So some of my activities of late have been about diversifying.  I started writing this blog.  I committed to an online book club where I'll be reading and discussing Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship for the next several weeks (expect a blog on that soon).  And today when faced with the choice to go to double-punch Tuesday lunch at The Flying Burrito with Philip and our friend Bob (which is usually about as good as a Tuesday gets for me) or going to "It's Always Something," a new series of lunchtime library programs, I chose the program, where local artist Sylvia Wilkes taught us a bit about watercolors and turned us loose to make something.  I took some really terrible pictures of my finished project (well, almost finished--I still need to actually mount them on that white background).

We started by doing crayon rubbings of various textures.

I used mostly toothpicks.

And a coil of wire.

Then once we had our textures, we painted over them with watercolors . . .

 . . .  however we wanted to.

Sometimes blank paper terrifies me.

It was intimidating, but I just gritted my teeth and played through it.

Then using a cardboard viewfinder, I selected the pieces of my whole page that I wanted to cut out and highlight, which is why there are five small pieces instead of one larger one.
Did I mention that these photographs are terrible?  Because they are heinous.
While I was at the program today, I also committed to attending the next meeting of the library book club, which is next Tuesday.  We're reading Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, which sounds intriguing.  Expect a review once I finish it.

Apparently the experience got my creativity flowing because after work, when I was doing my pre-snow Krogering, along with three quarters of the population of Little Rock, I couldn't walk down an aisle without getting a brilliant idea for some recipe I wanted to try out.  The sensible, frugal side of me didn't allow that creative genius to go completely out-of-control, but I did come home with some interesting prospective ingredients.  Tonight, I made taco soup (soups are my specialty) and, for the first time ever, homemade applesauce.  I realize those two things don't go together.  The applesauce was more for later, than the soup, but I'm pleased to report that I did a fairly impressive job of both.

And the good times don't stop there.  If I can convince my moma to give me a refresher course in casting on when  I see her week after next, I'll be able to go to the third Tuesday library program (Sit and Stitch) and gossip over knitting needles with Philip and my awesome boss Lisa. 

But I've definitely had enough of my hobbies, old and new, tonight.  Genesis chapters 12-14 are calling my name.  I'm still on track with project 4:4, if you count reading after midnight but before I've officially called it a day as being on track.  I personally do.

Monday, January 4, 2010

on my mind

Back a hundred years ago when I was very young and much less wise, I was a teacher.  Sometimes it's hilarious to remember that as a 22-year-old, I was entrusted with the instruction of about a hundred eighth grade kids.  Even more hilarious is that I was also entrusted with the "instruction" of a couple dozen juniors and seniors, who were supposed to be making a yearbook.  But that's mostly a story for never because I still have nightmares about that yearbook . . .

But I have awesome memories of my brief teaching stint, most of which revolve around hilarious times with students.  I know that teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but I always did.  And I think that teachers who deny having favorites are usually lying.  Just sayin'.

I taught Lauren Setzler for two years and her little sister Mattie for one of those years.  And they are/were my favorites.  I love those Setzler girls.  Lauren is athletic and hilarious and giant ball of energy, and Mattie (as a 14-year-old anyway) was hyper and funny and such a good time.  Nonstop fun, the pair of them.  And I've seen them both in the years since, and they're still nice, wonderful, fun girls.  Lauren's in physical therapy school, and Mattie goes to U of A, and it sort of kills me that they're both adults because in my heart they're still 14 & 18. 

This is the only picture I can find of either Setzler girl from those bygone years.  Those are Lauren's feet and legs on the right and mine on the left.  It's not completely clear from this b & w picture, but we had matching shoes.  I do believe we took this picture with the journalism digicam while we were supposed to be taking pictures at a volleyball game.  I'm sure we took pictures of the game too.

Those Setzler girls have been on my mind.  Last Tuesday, Lauren was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  She's at UAMS and started her first round of chemo on Thursday.  You can read more about her day-to-day condition at her Caring Bridge site, that Mattie is doing an awesome job of maintaining.  I've been having to keep up with them online because I was out-of-town until today, and I'm still trying to kick the last little bit of this cold before I go and visit since sick people are the last thing Lauren needs around her and her weakened immune system right now.  I've been praying for Lauren pretty constantly since I heard the news, and she hasn't been far from my thoughts, but today, she's all I can think about.

I love this girl so much, and I'm heartbroken that she's going through this fight, but I know she'll pull through and be fine.  God and I talked about it.  But maybe, dear reader, you could talk about it with God too.  For me?  And Lauren? 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

resolutions are for amateurs

I don't make resolutions.  Follow-through is not exactly my thing.  You'll see soon enough when I go weeks or months or decades without updating this blog.  I suppose I have made resolutions before, but none that I kept seriously for an entire year, that's certain.  This year I'm breaking my resolution rule in a couple of ways.  One, that I won't tell you too much about lest I jinx it, relates to this gem of a blog.  Perhaps it will just become apparent to you as the days and months unfold. 

The other one, the big one, the one to which I really feel committed is project 4:4.  Under the leadership of the wise elders at my church (maybe someday I'll devote an entire post to my church and its leadership, because I'm really a fan), we are undertaking a church-wide project to read the Bible in one year.  I've tried this once before on my own, but I only made it to I or II Kings.  Besides just getting bogged down in some of the drier passages, I kinda felt like trying to read the Bible on a timetable was perhaps not the best way to go about it.  It just seemed clinical, a task to be completed, a box to check.  I'm sure part, perhaps most, of that was in my attitude, my standard reaction to assigned reading.  I'm more optimistic that this time around I'm going to have a better attitude and a better outcome.  We're using The Daily Bible which is in chronological order with commentaries by F. LaGard Smith, and our adult classes and Sunday sermons for the next year will tie into each week's readings. The idea (besides the benefit of reading the Bible, I suppose) is to connect as many members as possible through this shared experience, build community, and stuff.  For those who are truly interested, check out PV's website for the discussion guides that we'll be using.  I can even give you the member password if you need it.

I know of several folks who are going to blog at least highlights of the process.  And while that's not necessarily my intention, I feel fairly certain that project 4:4 will make some appearances in my ramblings here--or it will if I'm doing it right.  In the meantime, I've read the first day's assignment, the first 3 chapters of Genesis, and I feel pretty good about the whole project and my ability to stay the course, and maybe even become a better person in the process.

Here are a few links to some PV bloggers I'm going to be following over the course of the year:

PV Staffer Steven Hovater (This whole project kinda seems like Steven's idea, so I'm sure he'll have plenty to say as the year progresses.)
PV Staffer Keith Brenton  (I really enjoyed Keith's thoughts today.  If you're only going to follow one link, follow this one.)
My friend Lacey Mauk  (I regularly follow Lacey's blog, and I'm pretty excited that project 4:4 is going to give her a reason to blog more often.)

So stay tuned . . . I've got big plans for the year.