Thursday, May 8, 2014


"Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear."

-- Rudyard Kipling

I knew this day would come, sooner rather than later, but I still wasn't prepared to have my sweet dog, Frank, put to sleep.  He's been battling Lymphoma since last August and generally has been doing very well.  Unfortunately, time has a way of tearing apart the body just as much as illness.  He was about 13 years old, past the life expectancy for a dog his size.  He'd gradually lost his hearing and a lot of his eyesight and often seemed a little out of it, like he wasn't sure where he was.  Still, he enjoyed his walks and was enthusiastic about going to "Grandma's house" on Sundays for lunch and loved nothing more than hanging his head out of the window as we cruised down the road.

Back in January I thought I was going to lose him.  He wasn't eating and he was panting heavy and he wouldn't stop pacing the floor.  His back legs seemed to sag under his weight and he refused to lower himself to the ground.  He spent a couple days at MedVet and after numerous tests they diagnosed him with pancreatitis.  It broke me to see this poor dog looking so ill.  I think part of his problem was they had him very doped up on painkillers, but he was obviously agitated, probably not sure why he was being left at the vet's and why things hurt and why he didn't want to eat.  Even after he came home, it was several weeks before he was back to what passed for normal those days.  I swore to myself that I wouldn't put him through that again.  From the beginning my big concern was that he not suffer, that the quality of his days was more important than the quantity.

Last evening he didn't seem himself.  I took him for a walk and he was very draggy and barely sniffed and moved at a snail's pace.  Later I could see that he wasn't eating and I couldn't get his medications in him, even wrapped in a piece of lunch meat.  He vomited and was trembling mildly and couldn't seem to get comfortable.  This morning when I got up early to get my high schooler out the door, Frank was pacing the house, shaking and panting heavily and refusing to lie down or eat.  This was too familiar.  I warned the kids before they left that I was worried about him and it wasn't impossible I might have to have him put to sleep, that they should say their good-byes just in case.  By the time the youngest got on the bus, Frank was obviously in bad shape.  I went to my mother for advice since she loves dogs every bit as much as I.  She thought it was time to let him go.  My husband agreed.

The folks at Village Animal Hospital squeezed him in at 10:30 and couldn't have been kinder.  My husband and I stroked Frank's head as the vet shaved his leg and then injected him.  I had been crying all morning, but even my husband, who is not nicknamed "The Vulcan" for nothing, shed a few tears as Frank slipped peacefully away.

Young Frank with Baby Foghorn
When Frank turned up in the neighborhood back in 2001, neighbors tried unsuccessfully to find his owners.  When that didn't work and none of them were able to keep him, I took Frank, hoping to find a no kill shelter that would accept him.  I was 8 months pregnant and had a four year old son besides.  We already had a spoiled beagle and a cat and my husband kept saying, "Don't get attached to him.  We're not keeping him."  I really did try to place him elsewhere.  One no-kill worker told me they'd take it to their "dog committee," but it was unlikely they'd take him in.  "Unfortunately black dogs of his size are a dime a dozen," she said.  "We don't like to take them because they're hard to adopt out."

Patiently tolerating the pearl bracelet
Foghorn put on him
So, Frank stayed with us and was the best dog anyone could ask for.  He was sweet and cuddly, gentle with the kids and never protective of his food or toys.  He tolerated being bossed around by the beagle and the cat and later another cat and another hound dog.  He put up with the numerous weddings Foghorn staged in the living room, more often than not with him as the groom and dutifully wore a paper ring on one of his toenails.  I poured out my troubles to him, since he (unlike some people I know) looked me right in the eye as I talked and was always sympathetic.  I cried into his fur over everything from death and illness to baseball losses.  My father loved him so much he insisted that the dog's picture be put in his coffin when he died.  I obliged.  Frank was doted on by my mother and sister.  And he adored them in return.  In short, he was the ideal family dog.

Often over the years I've thought of the shelter worker who called dogs like him "a dime a dozen."  Was she crazy?  This dog was one in a million.

Rest in peace, my sweet boy.
You'll never be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


With a little help from my daughter's dolls,
all my gifts were on display at my mother's.
Yep, lousy photo.  Took it with my phone
under bad lighting.
Okay, yes, I know I use that word way too much, but there are times when there is no word I can substitute for groovy.  There's a nuance that isn't there if I say "fun" or "cool" or "awesome."

I wrote after Christmas about how I received this groovy cool American Girl knock-off doll and had big plans for decorating her room (actually the top of a mission style cabinet) in true 70s fashion.  I did the doll bed in January.  After months of anticipation, my 8th 44th birthday finally arrived and with it the most groovy awesome gifts ever!  Some were asked for, some were surprises.  All were GROOVY!

I apologize now for the photos.  I'd like to blame it on my camera, but it's probably just my general incompetence.  Don't hold it against the girls...

In case you're wondering about the Double Mint twins on the left, my mom and sister had to purchase another knock-off doll to act as a mannequin for fittings.  The second from left is Echo.  Foghorn's Kit and Kainani dolls are on the right and were quickly stripped of their clothing after this photo shoot and given back to their owner.

Denim skirt by my mother.
Crocheted hat and sweater by my sister.
An American Girl promotion item from Wrigley
Field and ordered from eBay.  Of course she needed
a Cubs jersey.  Shorts by my mother.

Granny square poncho by my sister.
Jeans by my mother.

Funky fur hat, vest, and purse, as well
as crocheted purple pants by my sister.
Shirt and socks by my mother.

Echo in her new romper and bandana
showing off her green shag foot rug.

Remember those?!?  Echo's tape recorder and record
player.  My record player had Kaptain Kool and the Kongs
on it.

My sister did the tie-dyed shirt and leather
vest.  She wanted to give it Roger Daltrey
fringe but couldn't make it work.
The colors in the shirt remind me of the one
Joe Cocker wore at Woodstock.

Every girl needs a terrarium...and framed David Cassidy album cover.

My sister made the doll jewelry box, as well as the bling inside.

My sister crocheted the ultimate accessories - shag pillow
and rug.  And a chair in my hideously beautiful 70s colors!

Seat lifts for storage!  Perfect place for her to stash her
16 Magazines.

Crocheted doll dress by my sister.

Hooded cape sewn by my mother. 

Crocheted jacket, hat, and purse by my sister.

Socks by my mother.
Duct tape shoes by my sister.

I swear my sister had a shirt just like this
in 1972.  Dress by my mother.  Leather
bracelet (with name etched) from my sister.

Could it get groovier?  My sister crafted an owl necklace
for me and a matching one for my doll.  Oh, my!

Okay, these shoes just came from eBay, but I had a pair just
like them in the first grade!  I can still see myself in my plaid
uniform, flowered shoes, and Scooby Doo lunch box.

Yep, sometimes it pays to have crafty relatives.  You couldn't purchase groovy stuff like this at any price.

And for folks who are interested in whipping up some accessories for their own  daughters' dolls, here are some helpful links:

1)  Instructions for making the socks can be found at Karen Mom of Three's Craft blog here.

2)  Instructions for duct tape shoes can be found at Sew Adollable here and here.

3)  Instructions for the barrel chair can be found at Cobbler's Cabin here.

4)  Instructions for the t-shirt can be found at Second Chance Studio here.

5)  Many of the crocheted clothing items came from Crochet for Dolls:  25 Fun, Fabulous Outfits for 18-Inch Dolls by Nicky Epstein.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


My metal nemesis on the right.
My oven bit the dust last week.  Actually, my oven has been dying a slow, painful, lingering death for years now.  The thing has never baked evenly, necessitating the turning of every cake pan and cookie sheet midway.  Five years ago the electronic display that shows time and temperature and cooking mode started working only periodically.  My husband assured me this was not an issue and I simply needed to press in the display itself a few times until it lit up.  This worked...sometimes.  Three years ago the display went out entirely.  With no idea what the temperature inside actually was, I had to turn it on and then count by fives as I pressed the arrow, hoping that my addition was correct.  Did I mention my husband didn't see this as a problem either?

Six months ago the beast began crying out in pain.  Fifteen to twenty minutes into baking, the oven would started to beep insistently.  It very well may have been displaying some error code that I could have looked up in our manual, but, see, the display didn't light up...  The Vulcan saw this as no issue and explained, with that look of condescension typical of computer engineers and auto mechanics, that if I pressed the up arrow, then the down arrow, then pushed the display in, the beeping would stop.  This worked...sometimes.  With increasing frequency it didn't.  Last time the heating element was replaced I tried to have the display fixed, but was told the good old Magic Chef was so old they no longer made the part.  Still, my insistence on a new oven fell on deaf (and parsimonious) ears.  Had this been, say, the main television set acting this way or, heaven forbid, a computer monitor, it would have been handled long ago.  Not that I'm bitter.

During the holidays I got hollered at during the baking process and it failed to hush more and more frequently when I used my husband's technique of jabbing the various buttons.  This made for an interesting holiday season, especially when I needed to use it for 40 minutes straight for my candied sweet potatoes.  It yelled at me and I poked buttons and it quieted down...for three minutes.  Then it called me again.  Rinse and repeat.  I found myself standing in my living room, screaming at the ceiling so that my husband above in his office would know just how unhappy I was.  He pretended not to hear.

I've spent the last month with children home more often than not, thanks to snowstorms and arctic temperatures.  The Inmates picked January to decide to binge on cake and I baked them nearly as fast as they ate them.  And my temper got shorter and shorter.  No longer was the oven content to silence himself for a few minutes if I pushed his buttons just right.  Now he refused to shut up at all unless he was turned off completely.  If I shut it off all the way and let it sit for five minutes and then turned it on again, it went ahead and finished baking...sometimes.  And that thick-headed cretin my husband simply said, "It works okay for me." 

I am not saying he resembles my husband...
but you feel free to do so.
Why, you may ask, was he so reluctant to get rid of the oven?  Well, according to him, it was a very expensive oven.  He may be right.  It came with the house when we moved in 14 years ago and it was a well used piece of equipment at that time.  It was big and had a convection oven at the top which we never once turned on.  The former owners apparently lived a much different life than the Vulcan and I because after they left we continued to get their catalogs for $300 men's dress shoes.  My husband has a pair of loafers 25 years old.  So, I have no doubt these fine folks bought a really high quality oven.  But they bought it decades ago and I couldn't understand why that meant that if it stopped working we had to keep it.  I guess if somebody had willed us a 1905 Rolls Royce we'd still have it instead of the minivan despite the fact that it had no heat and had to be hand-cranked.  See, it was expensive...

I finally popped my cork last week when even my method of turning the oven completely off and back on stopped working.  I tried to make my grandmother's Swiss Steak recipe and spent hours running back and forth to the kitchen arguing with the oven to keep cooking.  I finally dumped the mess in a crockpot and emailed my husband asking if he wanted to go shopping on Wednesday or Thursday.  Not if.  I asked when.

Monday the Best Buy guys arrived with my new oven.  As they were preparing to haul the old one away, one of the deliverymen said, "Have you been cooking in this this morning?  The 'hot surface' light is on."  I had to explain that the light always stayed on and I hadn't used it since the night before.  He looked the old Magic Chef over and said, "Man, I haven't seen one like this in ages."  They had a good time trying to get it out as it was abominably heavy and bulky.  As they prepared to bring in my new unit, the guy called me out to the truck saying they unwrapped it and it was damaged.  Damaged?!?  Turns out it had a dent in the rear left portion and since it was going to go between cabinets and wouldn't show, I said I didn't care as long as it was functional.  I'm supposed to get a call from the warehouse about a price adjustment, but nobody's bothered to get a hold of me yet...  Not that I'm bitter.

So, the new unit was put in place.  Since the Magic Chef had an attached convection oven, it was a good 6 feet tall and just made it under the cabinet above.  Last time I painted the room I had no desire to try to move that mammoth thing, so I just painted around it, knowing that behind was off-white paint that would have to be covered some day.  What I didn't expect was the flash from the past that awaited me:

"Here's the story...of a lovely lady..."
Our house was built in 1978 and I can only assume I'm looking at a patch of the original wallpaper.  It's avocado and tangerine colored flowers and it's hideously beautiful.  I can only imagine when my entire kitchen was papered in that Carol Brady-style goodness.  As expected, I have a stove's width patch of wall to paint, but I'm thinking that wallpaper is gonna stay.  A groovy little stripe of history right above my range.  I mean, if you uncovered the foundation to an 18th century summer kitchen in your backyard while excavating for an inground pool, you wouldn't just pull out the bricks and discard, would you?  Well, maybe you would, but I wouldn't.  I love historical little bits and when you find something old and groovy that you didn't even know was there, you're obligated to preserve matter what husband or children say about the disgusting colors.

And to my old Magic Chef, I serenade you:

Monday, January 27, 2014


When Echo, my faux-American Girl doll, entered my life on Christmas, I knew immediately what I would be receiving for my March birthday.  A doll that fab has to have a cool bedroom set to reside in and since I'm notoriously hard to buy for, I knew my family would be more than happy to let me pick out these accessories myself.  (Yes, this will be for my 44th birthday.  No, I don't think that's strange at all.  Well, maybe I think it's a little strange, but the 70s bits you can buy for this doll are that I just don't care if I look like a freak with arrested development.)

Groovy, but...ouch!  The price!
While I'm willing to pay the relatively steep prices they want for the record player and tape recorder or the lunch box set, I bristled at the $125 they wanted for the doll bed.  Granted, it has those cool love beads hanging down, but I still thought there had to be a cheaper alternative.  A quick Google search and I found numerous sites with do-it-yourself American Girl beds that probably wouldn't have stretched my limited abilities with nails and carpenter's glue. 

Sitting at my mother's kitchen table having lunch, I glanced to my left and saw her collection of little pitchers on this battered, wooden two-shelf unit.  I immediately said, "I think that would just fit my doll."  I happened to have the doll with me (I was harassing my sister about making Echo a poncho) and sure enough, the shelf was just the right length for her to lie flat and just wide enough.  My mother graciously dumped her pitchers elsewhere and I carted it home. 

Marcia, Marcia Marcia!
I gave the thing a couple coats of white semi-gloss and then went in search of fabric.  My sister assumed I'd want it to be all Brady Bunch girls-inspired.  I've mentioned many (many, many) times that as a kid I was absolutely obsessed with having their bedroom.  Those funky 70s flowers on the wallpaper!  Ah, heaven!  However, Echo is going to reside most of the time in my family room and, most of the time, that room is decorated with my gorgeous retro decor in the avocado-tangerine-marigold color scheme.  I needed fabric that would scream 1972 but that didn't clash with the other chotchkies in the space.  We can't clash.  That would be tacky.

Hobby Lobby let me down, but I found just the thing at JoAnn's:

I knew I had a winner when I showed it to my mother and she literally recoiled from the pattern.  I was hoping to find fabric with owls, but anything with the birdy motif was either the wrong color or too nursery-oriented, or the owls were strange and bug-eyed and not groovy at all.  Mushrooms were almost as good.  And the fabric goes perfectly with my mushroom sign and my mushroom mug...

I'm not a fan of the sewing machine.  I can knit for hours on end, but put me in front that damn Singer and I'm ready to beat myself over the head with it.  I spent all of Friday evening, into the early hours of Saturday, working on the bedding.  Then I got up Saturday morning and spent another hour and a half tweaking it some more.  I have some OCD tendencies and like Monk the detective, I can't stand things that are crooked or asymetrical.  The canopy kept coming out uneven and the bedspread billowed out instead of draping nicely by the sides.  I finally solved the latter by just tucking the whole mess under the mattress.  It's not like the doll is really going to use the bed.  And, no, I don't intend to sit around playing with her.  Even as a child I wasn't wild about dolls.  Loved my stuffed animals, but dolls usually ended up with their heads shaved or on my dissecting table.  (I just had to know what the inner workings of Baby Alive looked like.)

I made quick work of the mattress by using four folded cloth diapers from the basement, formerly my children's burp cloths.  Much easier than trying to cut a piece of foam with an electric carving knife.  The pillow is just stuffed with a wad of fiberfill.

And the result?  Voila!

I'm a lousy photographer with a mediocre camera.  I swear it actually looks pretty cute.

Caught in the act.
I have to say I'm pretty pleased.  Even my sister admitted it looked better than she thought it would.  I mean, she thinks the fabric is horrendous and vomit-worthy, but it totally is the look she knew I was going for.  Unfortunately the doll and her bed reside on a long mission cabinet in the family room, just in front of this window-like opening that goes into the kitchen.  The cats frequently use the table as a springboard to leap through the window and I have this strange feeling they'll constantly bump that bed and ruin the symmetry of the fabric.  I'll probably spend half my life straightening the canopy and making sure there's equal white space showing on each side.  Thank God the motif in the fabric wasn't in straight lines or I'd need some new medication.

The only question now is the love beads.  Do I add them so that it more closely resembles the real thing or would adding beads to the wild fabric be overkill?  The one thing I don't want to be is tacky.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


This has been a bizarre winter.  The Inmates used up three of their allotted five snow days before the end of the year and shot through the other two before they returned to school in 2014.  (Yes, that twitch in my right eye is the result of that two week break turning into a three week break.)  We've had bitterly cold days with subzero temperatures and winds that would sear your cheeks if you didn't have them covered. 

This past Friday was an in-service day and yesterday, of course, was Martin Luther King Day, so the kids enjoyed a nice four-day weekend.  And much to my horror the snow started last night and this morning the text came through that school was cancelled and now it's a five-day weekend.  And  there's this thing called a polar vortex heading our way...  Not that I'm bitter.

I do, however, have a few questions:

1.  Why do my children, who are normally blessed with abundant health and sufficient energy, turn into enervated masses of flesh when it's time to shovel the driveway?

2.  Why do my dogs choose the coldest, iciest, snowiest days to follow me around the house, expectantly staring at their leashes on the hook every time I wander into the kitchen?

3.  Why does my request to leave the video games for half an hour and go walk the dogs with me meet with the same reaction as if I said, "Let's all go for rectal exams"?

4.  Why does my son, who is capable of making crepes from scratch, spend every snow day requesting food from me as if I were a short order cook?  And why does his hearing, which never misses a word when watching Supernatural, suddenly fail him when I holler, "Make yourself a sandwich!"

5.  And last, but certainly not least, why the hell do the snow days have to come at the end of an already long break?!?

This picture a friend sent me this morning sums up the sentiments of every mother I know:

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Foghorn modeling the
Miss Marple Scarf for
my mother
Just as cold January days make one think of soup and hot chocolate, it also makes me think of wool and knitting.  Yes, I have knitting on the brain in the summer as well (and the spring and the fall), but there is something about gloomy, snowy days that just cry out for woven yarn draped across a lap.  Having finished my son's latest pair of socks, I turned to some rose colored tweed wool and a pattern for a Miss Marple scarf for myself.  Although I didn't learn to knit until I was past 40, I longed to do it from an early age, probably going back to grade school when I watched Wilma Flintstone work with a pair of brontosaurus bones chanting, "knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two."  When I was 12 I became addicted to Agatha Christie mysteries and wanted desperately to be like her elderly sleuth, Miss Marple, who could solve a murder while knitting a baby sweater for her goddaughter.

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple,
solving crime in the Caribbean

Once I caught the knitting bug and actually mastered it enough to make something wearable, I began to mentally gather a roster of fellow knitters.  While my husband may find my tendency to publicly knit embarrassing, I know I'm in good company.  Just consider the company I keep:

Joan Crawford -- no man dared tell
her not to knit in public.
 She may not have been Mother of the Year, but Joan Crawford was a compulsive knitter.  She claimed it calmed her "nervous hands".  It had the added bonus of screwing with her acting contemporaries.  Joan famously aggravated the crap out of Norma Shearer during the filming of The Women by sitting out of camera range when Ms. Shearer was filming her close-ups, needles clicking away the whole time.  I'm sure this was merely a woman completely caught up in her handicraft and in no way was meant to break a competitor's fellow actor's concentration.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt is known as one of the most accomplished first ladies in history, champion for the poor and women and minorities.  She was also arguably the most famous knitter for the war effort in the 1940s.  In fact she helped start the whole WWII knitting campaign at a Knit for Defense tea held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in September of 1941.  She went on to become known as "The First Knitter of the Land."

OK, this guy's fictional, but I adore him nonetheless.  Pushing Daisies fans will know him as Emerson Cod, the private eye.  His catch phrase, "Oh, hell no!" is very popular in my household.  When not solving crimes, he likes to relax with a couple straight needles and manly colored yarn.  How can you not love a big, burly detective who can knit his own gun holster?

Christina Hendricks
How can you not love a gal who made curves popular again and showed that not every grown woman has to have the measurements of a 13 year old boy.  As Joan on Mad Men, she wiggled into the hearts of guys all over Manhattan.  Maybe she should take a tip from her real life counterpart and knit Don Draper a nice fair isle sweater.  Maybe that's what has been throwing him into the arms of all those women.  The poor man is just cold.

Dorothy Parker with knitting bag
(and some dude, maybe a husband)
"If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."  How can you not love Dorothy Parker?  I lack her writing talent, but she and I have the same distaste for the domestic drudgery of cooking and cleaning.  (Unlike Ms. Parker, I do those activities, while she reportedly threw dirty underwear back in the drawer with the clean and just let her maid figure it out.)  Like her, I also think "a little bad taste is like a dash of paprika."  I just wish I'd been clever enough to come up with the line.  Anyway, in a bit of a paradox she happened to also have been an avid knitter.  Perhaps she composed all her quotable quips while her hands were occupied with a nice garter stitch scarf and her mind was free to wander. 

The list of famous knitters is long and ranges from Sarah Jessica Parker to Queen Elizabeth.  There are even reports of some men getting in the act.  While I doubt the picture is truly a candid shot from personal life, I at least like the idea of the company I keep...