Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our Pumpkins

About 10 years ago, my husband discovered a talent for carving pumpkins.

Actually, I discovered a book of templates and carving do-hickies at Michael's. Charlie began to explore his carving proclivities, and the rest is Halloween history.

Serrated knives -- check.
Pointilist wheels -- check.
Templates -- check.
Junior Mints (to keep up one's strength) -- check.

This is my all-time favorite template. The mouth reads Naperville. Our carver, however, does not like to duplicate himself. Ergo, we can only have this carving every two years in order to stay fresh and inspired.

The only step in the process that I am involved in is drawing the circle around the stem. (It's a lot of responsibility.) Charlie does all the actual carving. 

Raise your hand if this makes you queasy.

The results, however, are always worth it.

And now, with the advent of on the iPhone, one can carve whilst listening to the Eagles play Dallas and take one's time while outlining witch hair. (Football on a phone. That is some kind of magic.)

And tomorrow night, we get to go trick-or-treating with Buzz

and a blue-eyed Lady Bug.

Have fun tomorrow night.

Come check out our pumpkins.

Bring candy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


At last year's Halloween party, the psychics arrived late because they couldn't find the house.

I prefer my psychics all-knowing, all-seeing and packing a GPS at all times.

This year, they got the message because Julia was prompt and ready to offer readings during the second annual, all-witchy house party. (Love me a blue cocktail filled with eyeball ice cubes.)

I'm always a little reluctant to bare my palms to strangers, but bare I did. Here are the psychic's observations, followed by my unspoken responses:

Your lifeline shows you living beyond 80 -- 82, 83, maybe.

Thank you! That is a bodacious lifetime. Time to reign in the chocolate, the red meat, the Chardonnay and the chocolate. Maybe ride Charlie's bike? Run like Connie? Definitely get better gym shoes. Find an inexhaustible Labrador Retriever. Oh, look! Our hostess is bringing out spider brownies. Yum!

I have a sense that you work with computers.

I do. That is freaky. I've been putting images in search engines since 2001. Of course, everyone works with computers.

There is something about farms surrounding you?

My husband's family. They've been southern Illinois farmers since Heinrich left Germany and started plowing up Clinton County before the Civil War. And our daughter teaches riding at a barn. So, yes, we are literally down to earth, now that you mention it.

Lady, you've got your esp on today. I will give you that.

You've lost someone fairly recently. And there have been marriage break-ups?

Yes and yes. My family. His family.

There will be change next year. A big change. Possibly a move. 

St. Barth's sounds like a plan.

Do you have any questions for me?

(Other than Lotto numbers?) What about my career? Will I have one? Is it too late?

I see that you had a career, a very strong one. But it was blocked. Blocked by you.

Interesting choice of words.

And then I went in search of a cocktail.

Nearly everyone I spoke with was a little uneasy with the psychic's specificity. It was a bit otherworldly. 

Next year, I'm definitely going to ask for Lotto numbers, especially if I've got all those many, many years ahead of me. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Giddy With the Giddy Up

All I ever wanted at Halloween was candy. Who knew pony rides were even an option?

Zach rode Rhiannon, Chuckie and Windy, above, Saturday night. On each trip, he asked his mom to not walk beside him.  When one is 2 1/2, one must do what one can to blend in with kids many inches taller.

His legs may not reach the stirrups, but his heart is most definitely in it to win it.

On a random, non-equine note, this blog turned 2 on Saturday. Not sure how we got here so fast, but I'm glad that you're along for the ride. (Okay, that was sort of an equine note.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Casting Purls Before Champagne

My friend Carol, a faithful Naperville Now follower, asked if book club would be interested in learning how to knit. It is an art that she has thrown herself into with such verve, she has enough needle poundage to defend a small country.

During book club, we generally enjoy several tots of champagne, so learning a new skill and mixing it with alcohol sounded just about perfect.

By the end of the night, no one had made this baby bonnet, though Carol did a few weeks ago and presented it to our 8-week-old granddaughter, Charley.

I know, right?

I like this champagne/yarn vignette. It reminds me of Hannah Hart's insanely funny My Drunk Kitchen, wherein she does a brilliant job of cooking badly and drinking splendidly. We managed to do pretty much the same thing, only with sharp needles.

Notice Sharon coordinated her sweater with her yarn.

This is Beth eschewing yarn for floss. (We may be more competitive than I realized.)

My goal was not to embarass myself too much, so I watched 400 knitting videos on You Tube. (A lot of people are confused by left and right.  I find that troubling.)

And while I was striving to create a dignified potholder, Carol showed us "how easy it is" to make this scarf:

In as much as I would love to sew with cobweb threads, I think I must stick with the potholder plan.

Freddy, our mascot, pronounced the brut exceptional and the "My Drunk Knitting" players ready for prime time.

Thank you, Carol, for your expert guidance and unfailing good humor. Thank you, Kaki, for hosting. Sorry you were stuck cooking for the troops.

Let's do it again next week. I'll bring the Taittinger.

Sounds a little sewy, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dog Patch

I am in the throes of binding a quilt upstairs in the salon. The whole process sets my teeth on edge because my sewing machine hates me. Math also hates me, and there's a lot of math involved in the binding process.

This afternoon, while measuring and chewing my nails, I turned around to glance at the quilt and saw this:

Bear in mind, our dog, Bandit, has been unable to power up (or down) the stairs in over a year, so we carry him up to bed at night and back down each morning. The porch step is problematic. Acorns on the sidewalk trip him up. He's been known to leap into the storm door, believing it open because, well, isn't it?

For a dog who has to sniff my foot to figure out which one of the two adults living in this house I am, Bandit apparently still has a few surprises up his paw.

His burst of athleticism was rewarded with a stroll in the court. Acorns were everywhere, but he managed. The sniffs were plentiful, the sun was just starting to peek through and the temperatures were perfect for someone in a fur coat.

Treats are on the menu tonight. Our boy turns 18 years old this week. We adopted him from the Hinsdale Humane Society 15 years ago. He cost $10.

A few weeks ago, Charlie and I counted up the number of near-death experiences this poor dog has suffered -- mouse poison twice, cracked vertebrae three times, mouth sores, one almost drowning and, two weeks ago, one staircase plunge onto concrete.

He is either the luckiest or the most accursed dog in the land.

Happy birthday, old man. May all your turkey and liverwurst dreams come true.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Conflicted Part II

And two weeks later....

"See? Told you. Didn't hurt a bit."

"La la la. Not listening."

"Right side, we've talked about this already. It's easy. The wind comes along and our leaves get whisked away into piles AND into art projects involving waxed paper. Everyone wins."

"Listen, sticks, just because all the leaves are falling doesn't mean I have to. Look around. There are plenty of trees still leafy and green. I'm going to hold out as long as I can. Besides, I can tell you're all shivery and need my protection."

"Thoughtful, right side, but I'm doing okay. Really."

"You look painfully thin to me."

"A momentary silhouette. In a scant 6 months, we will be an arborist's dream."

"Six months is a long time."

"So we'll take long naps. And dream about next year. Just like the Cubs."

"Don't get me started on the Cubs."

"I love it when you go all scarlet."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Because It's the Law

A visit to Johansen's pumpkin farm is a rite of passage for anyone under the age of 10 living in DuPage County. In fact, I believe it is a law that one must plunk down one's cash for the honor of feeding the goats, killing holding baby chicks, imitating roosters and searching for hand sanitizer.

It's just what we do around here. Keeps our minds off what we really want to do at summer's end, which is to keen and wail in the knowledge that winter's inexorable fury is bearing down.

Johansen's has gotten very fancy since we took our children here. Inflatables, a corn maze, bounce houses and miniature horses are new on the farm menu. 

Our little guy was momentarily interested in the animals.

But, since goats don't have wheels and tractors do, this got his attention.

His quad great-grandfather farmed in Southern Illinois before the Civil War, which is clearly why he looks at home behind the wheel. (And it would not surprise me a bit to find one of these machines moldering in an outbuilding on the property today. Nothing was ever thrown out.)

Meanwhile, blue eyes enjoyed the shade of the tent and puzzled over that black cylinder being waved in her face.

What do you remember when you were 2 and a half years old?

Even better, what is your earliest memory?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Joyce's Quilts

My pal Joyce is a textile artist.

Everything she knows about quilting she learned from me.

Actually, that's a big fat lie, but it sounds good, doesn't it?

For many years she has been taking the ole 9-patch quilt process and reimagining it into something so much, much more that I burst into tears when I saw her recent exhibit in St. Louis.

That is how good she is.

Some of these projects I've seen through the years (Joyce will not be rushed), so it was with great anticipation that I saw five of her gorgeous projects hanging in the Regional Arts Commission gallery in University City. It's on Delmar, so drive down there pronto.

These are two of her works being inspected by two women. I made Joyce hang around and eavesdrop on the comments people were making about her work.

She was less than enthusiastic in going all PI on these private conversations. We journalism graduates, however, are not above leaning into a private discussion.

My favorite comment was "Joyce Briscoe. We must remember that name."

Here's the quilt that made me cry. It is the first piece you see entering the gallery.

Connection has been toted all over the country, including my house, changing with Joyce's thoughts, mood, and cares. My pictures in no way begin to show the beauty of this quilt. It must be examined.

She writes:
"...Over the many years it took to hand applique and hand-quilt it, it came to be about connection -- how we separate ourselves from each other and how we sometimes find subtle paths that lead us back together again."

Joyce is also a writer, incorporating very personal stories and quotes into her finished quilts.

These two are glimpses of a larger piece with my Joyce's mother's images incorporated into the story. It is called Mom's Shadow.

Cried at this one, too.

Definitely take tissue when you go. Just saying.

This work, called Remembering, is complex and requires a post in itself to describe and explain the organza envelopes, the words of author Marilynne Robinson, a Japanese grandfather, and the fear of forgetting words.

I get this.

Joyce's passion for story telling is evident, touching and beautiful.

What are you working on these days?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Wrong Turn

Bandit, our 17-year-old dog, and I were out for our usual, excruciatingly slow stroll this bright afternoon. On our route we saw a gaggle of itty bitty girls on the playground practicing a cheerleading/pom routine. (We never had anyone on a Mighty Mite team, so my understanding of the cheerleading/pom/football paradigm is very limited.)

While Bandit was slowly making the turn toward home, I had time to watch these maybe 6- and 7-year-olds follow a young woman demonstrating a dance routine.  The girls were very cute and very bouncy. And they were dancing and singing to the sanitized version of Cee Lo Green's hit "F**k You.

The song goes like this:
I see you driving 'round town
With the girl i love and i'm like,
Forget you!
Oo, oo, ooo
I guess the change in my pocket
Wasn't enough i'm like,
Forget you!
And forget her too!

I'm not a hip hop fan, but I know the song from watching Gwyneth Paltrow sing it on Glee. And I've watched Cee Lo sing it on YouTube. It's catchy. And bouncy. And rhythmic. And I can maybe see where one adult might hear pom routine and another would say, "HELLO, LYRICS?"

Words are important, especially if you are dancing to them. Especially if you are little.

The whole thing was disconcerting, I must confess.

Frankly, my dears, I'd like to know what you think, so leave me a comment.

(I will add that I am quite certain this is a private, non-school sponsored club.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011


For two people who rarely go anywhere or do anything, Honey and I have been busy. New York, St. Louis, Lisle. If all this gadding about keeps up, I'm going to have to change the name of this blog to Now, in the interest of geographic fidelity.

But because our youngest bought a house in St. Louis (built about the time I was starting high school, so we are talking old here), we drove down to check out this ranch home equipped with aluminum wiring, knotty pine paneling and some of the ugliest wallpaper borders ever created. Because the 94-year-old homeowner swapped out the wiring, we got to take care of the rest.

Whadya think?

(This beguiling fixer-upper is actually just south of Odell, IL, off I-55.)

This is the real house:

Clearly, the what-I-think-may-be-a-Japanese-Maple is trying to swallow the house whole, which dovetails nicely into a Mothra movie and not so much into an episode of Curb Appeal.

This is, of course, the kitchen.
Cleaning supplies? Check.
More cleaning supplies, especially Clorox bleach? Check.
Candy Corn and Bagel Chips waiting on counter for our dinner? Check.
Dog who fell down the basement steps and lived to tell about it? Check. (For those who missed out on Bandit's previous near-death experience in St. Louis, you can read about it here.)

Imagine, if you will, floor-to-ceiling paneling. Very dark, very dusty, and now gone, thanks to the incredible hand strength of two men and a nurse. (Why wait for a crowbar, when you can yank and hurl?)

Here is our girl, going after wallpaper glue:

In AJ's hands, the house will be absolutely darling, just not immediately. We explained that following every home purchase, elation turns to horror. This is textbook. And not a little scary.

But once the dessicated squirrels and dusty window treatments are cleared away and thought and paint are added to the walls, it will get better. I promise, you will not have to wear rubber gloves inside your house forever, only while you are working at the hospital.

Many thanks to Aunt Joyce for showing up with lunch and demonstrating her amazing technical skills by removing the faux ceiling beam in three wacks. When she was done with that project, she effortlessly moved on to paneling screw removal.

Ever remodeled a house? Tell me about your reno shenanigans in the comments section. I'd love to read about your experiences, and I know AJ will be encouraged and inspired.