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August 2012
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October 2012

Blog your Heart

Following Stephanie's lead, Untitled
I am blogging my heart tonight—writing what I am really pondering, without much of an attempt at filtering my thoughts.

Friday was an adventure. Kendell and I went on a 35-mile-long drive on a dirt road in the mountains, with views like this:

Spr fall no3

and it was such a perfect day. The weather, the drive, our conversation, the two tiny hikes we veered off on. Seeing the place where I grew up from an entirely different perspective, which made me feel like I'd found a lost piece of myself. When we got out of the mountains we stopped by my mom's so I could pick up the antique sewing machine that belonged to my great grandma Amy, whom I am named for but never met, and there is something, just something I can't name yet, about having it here in my house. (Even though I haven't found a permanent place for it yet.)

It was a perfect day.

But when I went to bed I found myself terrified. Terrified. Imagining over and over what bad things might happen in the morning. Jake & Nathan were both off on a scout camp out, which always makes me anxious anyway, so I was conjuring up horrible accidents for them both. Picturing Kaleb falling off his bike and Haley getting in a car accident and Kendell's heart valve crumbling away. And other, darker images. A montage of all my deepest fears kept me from sleeping. I was certain, certain that having such a perfect day was something I shouldn't have experienced because soon I'd have to pay for it with something as monstrously opposite as possible.

And I hate that I feel that way.

I think it shows some of my weaknesses. That deeply-rooted belief that the really good things are the providence of other people. A lack of faith. An inability to feel that I deserve perfect days. It reminds me, strangely enough, of my mom, who is almost 70 years old and still wants to lose a few pounds. When I hear her talking about dieting, it makes me sad. Isn't there ever a time when we are old enough to simply be happy with who we are? It makes me wonder. When we can relax and breathe and feel comfortable in our own skin? (Even if it is wrinkled.) The same goes for me: when will I be old enough to cast off the old belief that I am not good enough to deserve the bone-deep, blissed-out, surprisingly gentle happiness my day in the woods brought me? Or that I should hold on to what is hard, rub my tongue over it as if it were a sore tooth, savor its bitterness as a sort of protection against other, harder things?

When I woke up this morning, I took a deep breath. I remembered those two feelings: the certainty of doom, the brightness of joy. I held them both in my heart, and then I tried to let go of the fear that had troubled my sleep. I can't say I let it all go. I still worried my way through the day; I still exhaled hard when the boys got home from their camp out, dirty and smelly and full of stories; safe. But I tried to let the other wash in behind, the light in the trees, the sound of boots shushing through fallen leaves and tires over gravelly dirt, the new perspective. Tried hard to believe it would be OK.

And it was.


One of my favorite scrapbooking tools is the Silhouette cutting machine. I've had mine for a long time, so it isn't the newest one that will cut 12x12, but I still love it. In fact, I sometimes feel like my layouts lately could all be seen as advertisements for what you can do with a Silhouette!

Here's a sneak peek of my layout for the October WCS gallery:

10 2012 oct sneak

And yes, it's got a lot of stuff on it that I cut with my Silhouette! I think the reason I like it so much is that it saves me from digging through a supply drawer for the thing (whatever the "thing" is) I'm looking for. Which means I use fewer things from my embellishment drawers but more patterned paper.

Do you  have a favorite scrapbooking tool?

Here are some more WCS October gallery sneaks. Make sure you stop by for the full reveal on October 1. (Well, if you're of the scrappy sort, of course! Some of you are rolling your eyes right now I know!)

Monika (who has a give away on her blog today as well!)

Sugar Twine Pumpkins

One year for Easter when I was a kid, my mom made our Easter baskets. They were delicate, egg-shaped things made with pastel string stiffened with sugar. She lined the opening with matching ribbon and lace, and then we had our baskets. They lasted for only two or three years—such things are hard to store—but oh, my. I loved them while they lasted. They seemed magical to me; they evoked that Eastery feeling of the freedom of spring and the happiness of seeing green again. 

The sugar-string baskets are one of the things from my childhood I wish I had a picture of.

When twine (which is the same as string, except for prettier) started become a Thing in the scrapbooking world, it reminded me of the string baskets. Only I didn't want to make a basket—I wanted to make string pumpkins because as much as I love spring, I love fall even more. Especially anything orange. When my friend Monika hooked me up with some twine from The Twinery, it was time to make these:

Twine pumpkins no1

To make your own, you'll need:

  • twine or string (15 yards at least for each pumpkin; more if you want bigger ones.
  • balloons
  • hot water
  • sugar
  • assorted bits & pieces for the stem and any decoration

1. Blow up the balloons to the desired size. Don't fill them completely full; it's easier if the balloon has a little bit of give.

2. Tie a length of the twine around the tied end of the balloon in a bow.

3. Start wrapping the twine around the balloon. You can wrap it messy (like my light orange pumpkin) or more carefully (like the dark orange one), but try to cover the majority of the balloon with twine. Wrap it tight enough that it grips the balloon to stay in place. If you’re making more than one pumpkin, finish them all before moving on to the next step.

4. Boil 1 cup of water, then dissolve 3 cups of sugar in it. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. (I did this step in an 8-cup glass measuring cup; I just boiled the water in the microwave.)

5. Dip the twine-wrapped balloon in the sugar syrup. Drizzle it all over. You want that twine coated!

6. Tie something longer through the loops you tied in step #2. I tied a length of curly ribbon on.

7. Find somewhere you can hang the pumpkin where it can drip and not make a mess. I hung mine up by putting a heavy glass dish on top of the curly ribbon that I’d laid out in the microwave, and then I closed the microwave door. I put a cookie sheet on top of the stove top to catch the drips. (If I were not a midnight crafter I could have taken pictures but this project, as with almost all my crafty projects, was done very close to the witching hour.)

8. Let the pumpkin dry. Depending on how much twine you used, how big the balloon was, and how thick your syrup is, this will take about a day. If it’s hot outside, hang it out in the sunshine to speed up the drying time.

9. Finally! You get to do what you’ve been wanting to do all along: pop the balloon! It will make as satisfying a sound as you’ve imagined.

10. Fish out the guts of the shattered balloon. Cut the tied end off, along with the two loops you made in step #2. Add a stem of some sort (you can see I used a twig for one and a curled up length of friendship bracelet for the other) and some embellishments if you want. (I’m thinking my pumpkins look naked and need a few leaves, maybe. Or a bow made from a very thin ribbon. Or perhaps both.)

11. Find somewhere cute to put them! I haven't decided for sure where mine are going, but I tried them like this:

Twine pumpkins no2

with some other pumpkins and that is pretty cute. We'll see where they end up for good. My mother-in-law gave me this cake stand when she was cleaning out her house to move. She said she knew I would love it, which makes me happy because she was right. It’s just the right sort of kitschy for me.

If you make a sugar twine pumpkin (or even if you hold on to this idea and make sugar twine Easter baskets), make sure to let me know how they turn out! But in the mean time, you can check out The Twinery's twine, which is really soft & lovely, here; you can also see a layout I made using twine as the embellishment at Write Click Scrapbook today.

01 amy

PC History

I think I was sixteen the year we got our first PC. ‘87 or ‘88. It had one of those green-tinged enormous monitors with a tiny screen and it used 5.25" floppy discs, which I think would hold about ten WordPerfect documents (because back then everyone used WordPerfect, with the blue screen, remember? and the templates over your F keys?). I’d learned how to save and organize files and how to use WordPerfect in tenth grade (perhaps the only skill from high school I still use, aside from the making of cheese fondue, an abiding love of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and of course driving), so as soon as it was home and plugged in, I started using it. We kept it in the basement, in the bedroom that used to be my sister Michele’s but which we took to calling the computer room. I wrote hundreds of bad poems on that computer; plenty of proto personal essays, a bunch of short stories, and a few homework assignments. I printed stuff off on the dot matrix printer and then enjoyed ripping off the feeding edges of the paper.

I still have one of those floppy discs in a box somewhere, just for old times’ sake.

I’m pretty sure, though, that my first interaction with a computer came way back in the sixth grade, when my history teacher Mr. Johnson (apparently ahead of his time in the inclusion of technology) taught us how to program simple commands into a mainframe. How did he have a mainframe in a public school in 1984? No clue. But I still remember the satisfying thrill of typing in the code and then seeing the computer do what I told it to do. (Even if I don’t remember the code anymore.)

Right out of high school (actually, before I was even officially done with high school, even though I really was done with high school) I started working at WordPerfect. Everyone I knew was vaguely computer-nerdish. I even went ahead and married a computer nerd.

All of which is to say: I have a hard time envisioning my life without a computer (or two) in it. And it’s also my explanation to the fact that sometimes when I’m working I find myself completely astounded at what people don’t know about using a computer. Basic stuff like accessing files and using email. In my head I’m thinking really? while I’m struggling to keep my face neutral and helpful.

Yesterday I tried to help a library patron, Karl, who told me right up front that he thinks computers are soulless and that is why he’s never learned to use one, but he also wanted to make sure that everything about him, his family, and his property on "that Internets place" was correct. At first I was exceedingly frustrated because he was a rambler and I couldn’t get to the point of what he wanted and because he wanted me to find all of his personal information and verify it all and that’s not how it works. We don’t have enough librarians to provide a personal research assistant to everyone who wants one.

I struggled to keep my neutral, helpful face on.

After teaching Karl how to use the mouse (including how it interacts with the cursor) and finding some useful maps, I told him my time was up and I had to help other people. He sighed and said, "I’m sorry, I know I’ve taken up your time, I just really, really hate computers." And I did something I almost never, ever do at work: I said what I really thought. 

"You’ve really only got two choices here, Karl," I said, kindly as I could. "Whether you like them or not, computers are the way things are now. So you can learn how to use one, or you’ll be limited in which information you can access." I don’t know how he took that; maybe it seemed harsh, but it is also the truth.

I keep thinking about this encounter. I can tell it as a funny story (which I did to Kendell and Jake when I got home). But it’s more than funny. As I listened to this patron and tried to imagine his life, it was like seeing two different layers of reality. As if Karl and I live in completely different worlds even though we live in the same town.

I can hardly imagine my life without a computer. My journal, our pictures, my writing, and of course there’s email and Facebook and my blog. Recipes. Directions. Instructions. How to clean off the big blue monkey someone drew with Sharpie on our vinyl fence once. (Magic Eraser + hair spray.) I listen to music on my computer and watch movies, read the news and find new books to read. Then there’s cell phones, MP3 players, tablets, laptops. Technology seems completely intertwined with modern life.

But Karl reminded me that it doesn’t have to be. He’s not the only person I’ve helped who doesn’t use computers, either. Every time I work in the Internet area I help someone who doesn’t know how to access digital photos other than just looking at them on the little camera screen or that you don’t have to press the Enter key at the end of the line when you’re using a word processor. And once I work through my frustration, annoyance, and surprise, I find myself a bit uncomfortable. Questioning, I suppose, how thoroughly technology is tangled into my existence.

I mean, on one hand, what I told that patron yesterday is true: it is inescapable. The people who need help because they don’t know how to get their resume from their computer at home onto the website of the company they are applying for seem, in my opinion, to not have many options. How do you find a job when you can’t use a computer? It’s a basic reality of our world whether you like it or not.

On the other hand, though. I can’t help thinking: what would it be like? To be off the grid, I mean. Mostly not a presence on the Internet, nowhere to be found online, and if you wanted to talk to me you’d have to call me. Or even stop by my house. Certainly I’d have more time for some things—reading, and even housework—without the tug of technology.

Really: I don’t want to be like Karl. I am grateful that my life brought me plenty of technological experiences so that I can function comfortably in contemporary existence. I don’t take my knowledge for granted nor overlook the fact that it is because of those experiences that I can function, technology-wise. I don’t want to lose out on opportunities because of computer illiteracy.

But I know, deep in my heart, there is something to be said for the simplicity of life that must exist without so much technology so deeply embedded. I know I waste too much time putzing around online. I know my kids do, too. So whenever I encounter someone like Karl, I try to use it as one might an encounter with someone from another planet. What can I learn from this being who lives so differently than I do? And sometimes that knowledge is this: back off, unplug, live more, click less.

on Getting in the Frame

A few months ago I was doing laundry when I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I was hanging up a load of blacks and I looked at all those black clothes and thought...hmmmmm. I wonder how long I could go wearing a different black shirt every day. I decided I’d try it in September, and then in my head I was writing blog posts about black clothes and sharing photos of myself in said black clothes, also on my blog.

But when it came right down to it, I couldn’t do it.

Not the black clothes thing. I’m nine days into my black shirts and still have some left. (On days I haven’t worked or left the house except to drive the carpool, I’ve just worn whatever, since I’ve learned I don’t have a lot of hanging-out-at-home black clothes.) But the picture thing.

Partly this is because my skills at taking an arms’ length photo are dismal. Partly it’s because there’s just not a good place in my house to take self portraits in the mirror. Partly it’s because the self-portraits aren’t matching up with the photographs in my head, so then for a couple of days I turned the camera over to my kids. But that was, somehow, even harder. I couldn’t relax and got all fake-smiley and those things started repeating in my head: you’re being silly, isn’t a photo of yourself everyday a sort of diva-ish thing to do?, who will want to see all those wrinkles anyway? Etc, etc, etc.

So I gave up on the picture thing.

Which is a little bit discouraging to me because I really, really believe that we moms need to be in the picture more often. Even with our ________________ (wrinkles, chubbiness, grey hair, unplucked eyebrows). I believe this because I wish I had more pictures of myself with my mom when I was a kid. And with my dad.(Remember this post?) I believe it because of how happy I am to have photos of my kids and me together, how they help me remember how blessed I am to be a mom to those four unique people. And I believe it because I know that while "mother" is often an essential part of our self definition, it’s not the only part.

And really: it’s ok that the black-clothes-photo thing didn’t work out. (Even though I still have the wish to document my silly little clothing collection.) Because even though I feel silly asking, and even though those things start repeating in my head (silly, selfish, weird), I still know that photographic proof of myself is important. It helps me remember things better and makes me feel more involved. And sure: not everyone gets it. Just because I’m thinking "how can I photograph this?" in almost every situation I find myself in doesn’t mean that the whole world thinks like that, so a spontaneous photograph-of-Amy isn’t likely to happen all that often. I’ll always have to ask. Despite the awkwardness, though, it is worth it. If I hadn’t asked, for example, Kendell to take my picture during a recent hike, I wouldn’t have this photograph

Cascade saddle
of me doing one of my most favorite thing in the world. Sure, I would still remember that day on that mountain, but having an image to return to—seeing myself in that setting, with the sky so low you can almost touch it and the darkness in the clouds hinting at rain, those peaks and trees—all of that sheer visualness of the image combines with memory to make the memories stronger.

How do you get yourself in the frame?

August in Review

Back when we were just a few days into the summer break, Haley was complaining about the heat, and I said (in my sagest, English-teacheriest voice), "ahhhh. But if summer comes, can fall be far behind?" and then she rolled her eyes and wondered if that was part of a poem.

It's hard having a geek for a mother.

But it's finally here, September. Fall. The leaves on our mountains are already bright red and I am yearning to go hiking in their color. But before I get too immersed in fall, one last look back at summer, through the lens of our August:

  • At the beginning of August Kendell and I had a date night in Salt Lake. While we were waiting at our table at Red Lobster, I made him come outside with me and walk across the bridge that goes over the freeway. He doesn't love heights so he didn't love it. But I wanted to be able to look at the bridge, next time I drove under it, and think about us walking there, just the two of us, talking about nothing important.
  • Then we went to visit my friend Chris. Totally impromptu hanging-out-for-a-few-minutes. I don't see her enough!
  • I started working on my goal of not having sugar for two months. I had two little slip-ups but made it. One month to go!
  • August was the month of shopping at Dillard's. There were three different extra-30%-off sales. We got almost all of the boys' back-to-school shopping done at these sales, and I might have bought a pair of shoes, and I even talked Kendell into buying some new shirts for himself.
  • Nathan had his special night at Burgers Supreme. It didn't go as smoothly as we'd hoped, given a BYU football game I forgot to plan around, but we still had fun.
  • With three kids in junior high/high school, we spent more on school fees in August than we do on Christmas.
  • All four kids started back to school: Haley, senior; Jake, freshman; Nathan, 7th grade, Kaleb, 2nd grade.
  • Haley got asked to Homecoming. We found her dress, shoes, and earrings the very same day. (We rushed to the mall that Saturday because it was the last day of one of those Dillard's sales; we ended up finding her dress at JC Penney, but the shoes & the earrings were Dillard's clearance, woot woot!)
  • I ran 70 miles.
  • Jake worked every Saturday morning at his summer job. He helps one of my librarian friends with her yard. (I don't think I've said this but I LOVE that he has this! It is so good for him.)
  • We played miniature golf twice. And I went laser-tagging for the first time. (It wasn't what I expected, although I didn't really know what to expect.)
  • I ran into an old friend, Tracey, at Target. We talked for a half hour while Kaleb tried to decide which Imaginex toy he should get. Our daughters are only one day apart and they used to live right across the street. I miss them but it was good to see her again.
  • On their way to Seven Peaks, the kids locked the keys in the car. Not the best afternoon.
  • Kendell and I made two attempts to get to the saddle of Cascade Mountain. We made it the second time. More on that in a later blog post I hope!
  • I made thirteen layouts.
  • Jake, Nathan, and Kendell went to help my mom move some furniture on Saturday afternoon.
  • My mother-in-law discovered she has breast cancer.
  • Haley colored her hair brown.
  • Jake discovered the joy of longboarding. (Can you guess what he wants for Christmas?)

Sort of random, but a good August nevertheless. How was yours?

Book Hoarder

Honestly: I don't know why I do this to myself. Right now, I have 23 library books checked out for myself. In that total of 23 there are three poetry books, four essay collections, one book about writing, the non-fiction book Unbroken for which I've been on the hold list for over a year and so can't bring myself to crack open, two books about shade gardening, one recipe book, and eleven novels. 

One, The Gilly Salt Sisters, I just finished reading last night; it needs to be written about and returned. 

The poetry books are either in the bathroom drawer or in the car (for small moments of reading of course) and will likely get finished. 

Who knows on the others.

Plus there's this fact: On the list I keep in my email of books I want to read soon, there are 127 novels.

Having books you want to read is, I'm starting to think, a form of hoarding. The fact that for the most part they're only titles on a list (and hence take up no real, physical space) doesn't make a difference to the psychological impact all that wanting-to-read has. All of those novels form a sort of psychic weight in my soul. It's silly, but they call to me: come. sit. ignore your life. Sometimes I think: I need a surgery to recuperate from. Something that required me to lie around for the vast majority of my day, for a good six months. Maybe then, if I had no one to take care of but myself (and my incision) I could read all those books.

And then I remember that is sort of crazy, because taking care of other people makes life good, and that's what I mean about my want-to-read list being almost as dangerous as a hoarder's mounds of trash: it could, if I let it, take over my life.

Isn't that odd? Reading is good. Reading is awesome. It is the longest-running affection (excluding my mother) that I've had in my life. "Loves to read" is a life-long part of who I am. But, like all things, it requires moderation. And while I'm able to moderate the time I spend reading, I am hopeless at not adding to the list of books I want to read. You know—after my surgery.

 These are all books that are coming out sometime in the fall which I am adding to my I-want-to-read-this-book booklist: 

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. A man who's lost everything becomes a hospice worker and ends up on a road trip. What really, really made me want to read it is Evison's essay about the book on the Amazon page. There are holes in our lives that can never be filled--not really, not ever. And yet, we have no choice but to try to fill them. We must drive on in the face of debilitating loss, crippling guilt,
overwhelming hopelessness. Because to give up is to be dead.
You should read the essay (down in the reviews section) even if the book sounds hopelessly awful to you.

The End of Your Life Book Club. Nonfiction about the writer's mother, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, and the conversations he had with her about books. If I am ever dying of cancer I want to have conversations like these, most likely with Becky. I'm being flippant there to cover up the fact that the book description gives me a lump in my throat and chills up my spine.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. What? What?!?! A new book by Barbara Kingsolver? Shut the front door. I don't care what it's about; I will purchase it. Then I might set it right on top of my still-unread copy of The Lacuna. Remember: it's not only lists of books I want to read. It's also actual piles.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. I probably won't buy this one, even though I love the cover's very 70's-ish
feel; it makes it look like a book that's been sitting in someone's attic for twenty years and now is sitting on a table at a yard sale. You know it will smell very dusty-bookish, which is of course one of my favorite scents.

Ancient Light by John Banville. I  usually don't like books about movie stars. Of course, I don't think John Banville will read like, say, Judith Krantz.

The Turning by Francine Prose. Francine Prose writing a YA novel? I'm not actually certain how many teens will like it. But I will.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. Jasper Fforde writing a YA novel? I will like this. Teens will like it too.

This is How You Lose Her by Oscar Diaz. This is a collection of interconnected short stories, so not everyone will love it. I, however, will.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Maybe this will be the Kate Morton book I actually finish? I love her books  in concept. They just never make it to the top of my pile.
Are there any new releases you're looking forward to? And how do you feel about book hoarding?