‘Twas the week before Inauguration 

‘Twas the week before inauguration and all through the city 

Porta potties were in place, in case things got shitty.


The streets were all lined with barricades and bleachers

In anticipation of crowds and sign carrying preachers. 


Inaugural gowns filled the ritziest store,

Bright red is the color attendees adore.


When in front of Old Abe there arose such a clatter

I quickened my pace to see what was the matter.

The memorial front was flooded with workers 

And the sounds that they made was like hordes of berserkers.  


The seating appeared to be quietly weeping 

As worries and fear inside me were creeping. 


Wiping my eyes and turning around 

I glimpsed the Trump Tower and started to frown.


When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a small group of children so tiny and dear.


Their eyes, how they twinkled!  Their footsteps were merry.

(One had the diminutive air of a fairy.)

Small tiny steps and one happy turn of a head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. 

I spoke not word, but resolved to do right.  

As for you, D.C.  Please fight the good fight.

Acknowledgement to Clement Clarke Moore and his poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, otherwise known as the beloved The Night Before Christmas.  I hope my version proves entertaining to you readers. 

Living Nightmare

Public speaking.  I know it’s something that gives some people chills, makes them sick to their stomach and causes dread to course through their body.  Personally, I’ve always enjoyed public speaking.  I like standing in front of a crowd, any size, and delivering prepared remarks, unprepared remarks, or off-the-cuff thoughts.  I don’t know if my ease is due to my years in high school drama, or a genetic predisposition, but public speaking is fun.

Today I had a presentation at 8:00a.m.  Before I got settled at the speaker table at the room’s front I ran to the bathroom, because we were going to be there for two hours between the presentations and time for questions.  My section went really well.  There were some laughs, lots of head nods, and good eye contact.  The other presentations were interesting, and the question and answer sessions provided insight.  It was a really good experience.

I finished and hurried out to get on a conference call with a colleague.  We sat on the floor, because all the chairs we could see were taken, and shared her Apple earbuds to talk and listen.  Then I confidently strode around the exhibit hall learning all about the wide variety of things you find in any conference exhibit hall.  Famished, I texted a friend, and we met up for a crappy lunch at the convention center food court.  After lunch I wandered trying to find the speaker ready room to complete my last speaker task:  making sure they had the right version of my presentation to distribute with the conference materials.

Cue the nightmare.

While I was inspecting a map of the conference facilities a strange man came up to me and softly said, “Your pants are unzipped.”

“Oh, thank you!” I exclaimed and reached down to zip.  The zipper didn’t go all the way up, I could feel the gap, but rather than mess around with my crotch in a busy hallway I decided to duck into somewhere private to fix the issue.  There was a restroom close by, so I pushed through the door, looked up and saw three men.  Crap.  I was in the men’s restroom.

My fly forgotten I bolted out and headed for the exit of the convention center doing math in my head.  Five hours.   I’d had my pants unzipped for five hours.  For most of the presentation I was behind a lectern or a table which was skirted, so probably no one saw my underwear.  The rest of the time?  Ugh.

End nightmare

Whenever someone afraid of public speaking asks me “How do you do it?  How do you get up there and talk in front of everyone?”  I always reply, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”  Now, I’ll have a real world example to share with them.  Once I got back to my hotel room and appropriately dressed myself I grabbed for my phone and started texting my friends and family.  Really the story is hysterical.  I hope I never see any of those three bathroom men again, but thank goodness for the one stranger who was brave enough to tell me about my grooming lapse.  So…uh…yay public speaking!

Sewing Knew Year

Oh, I have knit, I have painted, surely that’s all I accomplished this New Year, right?  Wrong!  On New Year’s day I completed a project to ensure my chickens stay warm through subzero winter temperatures.  I made window blankets for our chicken coop.  What is a window blanket?  It is Mr. Afthead’s brainchild, which I executed.  (Okay, he helped with the grommet hammering part.)  Window blankets are insulated pieces of fabric created with hanging mechanisms at the top, which can be placed over the windows of the chicken coop to provide insulation and protection from our chilly winter days and nights.  They also keep snow from blowing into the coop.  Let me show you some pictures.

 

I think the window blankets provide a nice pop of color in the chicken run too.  Thankfully these got finished before the snow and subzero temperatures arrived this week.

What!?!  No!  These are not just curtains!  Curtains go on the inside of structures and these are on the outside.  Also, curtains must be ironed and sewn with matchy matchy thread, and these do not.  Finally, these might get chicken poop on them, and that’s probably not a concern with your curtains, right?  Totally different.  The only similarities are that they are made of fabric, cover a window, and must be measured with a smidgen of accuracy.

Let me tell you, we may have to patent these wonderful window blankets, because this past week the chicken coop was eleven degrees warmer than the outside when we had the heat lamp on and the window blankets attached.  Without the window blankets the difference was 4 degrees.  So the chickens are staying toastier thanks to my handiwork and my husband’s invention.

It’s the least we can do for these feathery gals who keep giving us eggs and provide us so much joy.

Oh!  You want to make your own window blankets?  Instructions are coming soon…

Painting Knew Year

Lest you think knitting was my only New Year’s accomplishment let me show you my second completed project.  July 3rd I had a cockamamie idea to change the color of our basement bathroom from light Grimace to radioactive sea foam.  The old color was bad but the green was so bright it literally changed the color of other objects in the bathroom.  

Unfortunately, there is nothing like making a bad paint color choice to hamper the ability to make a new color choice.  “What if I pick something worse?”  (Like that’s possible.)  So the paint stayed, but I never took off the blue painters’ tape as an acknowledgement of my terrible mistake.

Then as part of our post holiday stuff-purge Mr. Afthead happened upon an almost full half gallon of paint we had from long ago: a color we both loved, but replaced when our daughter asked for a blue room.   It was eggshell finish, not my preferred semigloss for bathrooms, but I wasn’t going to be picky.  Thus it came to pass that I was sick on New Years Eve – too sick to party but not too sick to take to bed – and upon that night where an old year changes to new I did paint the dreaded bathroom.  It was glorious.  Note the toilet is again white!  A New Year’s miracle.  

If anyone needs most of a half gallon of paint for something that really needs to be seen, even in the darkest night, you let me know.  I probably won’t get to the paint store to recycle it for a bit.

Wow!  So productive!  What else could an Afthead accomplish in the new year?  Just you wait and see…

Knew Year Knitting

Ah the holidays!  Unless you are desperately knitting some gift for someone, which I was, there is not a ton of time for handcraft in December.  My unexpected trip to Washington, DC meant I needed a travel friendly project, and the gift I was knitting and my cowl I will never finish were both too bulky to take.  I needed another option.

I’ve had this Zealana Rimu yarn for awhile now, and have been looking for the right project to make with it.  Zealana uses brushtail possum fiber and combines it with merino wool to make a machine washable yarn.  Yes, I have possum yarn.  Also, the more I read about brushtail possum and the impacts the non-native animal has had on New Zealand’s ecosystem the more I’m pretty sure that I have dead possum fur in my yarn.  I think that’s okay, even though one of the things I love most about yarn is that it’s made from renewable fibers from animals that aren’t killed.  However, I’m helping New Zealand’s ecosystem by providing a market for dead possum, right?  Regardless of the ethical implications of my yarn, the stitch definition is great, but the final fabric also has a really nice halo, thanks to the dead possum’s fur.  The stuff’s not cheap either, so I hope I’m also financially helping out the New Zealand’s ecosystem.

My search led to a hat pattern I was dying to try – not literally dying like the possum – that matched up with the Rima yarn.  The Bath Abbey Hat is adorable, and looked like the right level of challenge to take on a trip.  I needed a cable needle – annoying – but I love knits that I look at and think, “how did they do that?!?!”  Into my bag went two contrasting skeins of Rimu and the pattern.

I started the hat on my flight out to DC and by the time I got home had my first repeat of the dunes done (those are the rounded shapes that make up the majority of the hat.) Non-knitters can skip the next sentence.  There is no fair-isle knitting here: the color work is all done with slipped stitches and cables.  Welcome back non-knitters!  Even through the holiday I managed to knit on it here and there.  As I rang in 2017 on New Year’s Eve I finished the dunes then left my knitting beside the bed.  Bad idea Afthead.  New Year’s morning I found my bamboo needles thoroughly chewed by the tiny cat.  While she has learned to respect the yarn and the knitting, the cat does not respect the knitting needles yet.  This is the third set she’s ruined.  She and I are going to have needle lessons soon.  I continued stitching on a nice sturdy pair of metal needles, and finished the crown shaping today.  I love this hat!  I even snapped a couple pictures of my forehead to show off the loveliness.

The Ravelry details are posted, but my biggest modification is that I only did 5 rows of dunes, not 6.  I just can’t get into the super slouchy hat trend, but if you do love slouchy the hat would be great with another repeat.

One final picture of me in my new hat with the obnoxious needle chewing kitty.  Happy knew year!


Update:  Additional pictures provided that show the full hat, unblocked, and the inside of the hat, so you can get a sense of the construction.

Afthead at the White House

Dear readers.  The weeks before Christmas are chaotic and filled with high expectations, high demands, and fun…fun…fun.  So when a work trip pops up the answer is inevitably no, unless the request comes from the White House.  Yes, my friends, you read that right.  I was invited to the White House.  Now let me get a couple of questions out of the way:

  • Yes, I went on the work trip two weeks before Christmas.
  • No, I did not get to meet the President or the First Lady.
  • No, I did not get to hug Joe Biden, even though that was Afthead Junior’s number one request.
  • No, I did not sit in the Oval Office.  In fact, I didn’t even make it to the White House building.  My meeting was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building or EEOB seen on the right, behind the many fences, in the image below.  It is very close to the White House, and still pretty darn impressive, as you will see.

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After checking in with security, being sniffed by a dog, x-rayed, and being checked by security again I was presented with my official credentials, that I had to return, and the badge I still wear everywhere except to sleep because it is pokey.

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Do you see that?  It says “The White House.”  Then it says “Johanna Levene.”  That’s me!  The weird part about being in the EEOB – I am so official using the acronym – is that once you get through all of the security you just get to wander around this insanely cool old building.  All the important rooms are locked with a badge reader – like the Vice President’s office, so one couldn’t just wander in for a hug – but you can just walk into many of the historic rooms if there isn’t a meeting going on.

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The ceilings are impressive.

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The stairwells are impressive.

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The library is impressive.

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The conference rooms are impressive.  This is part of the Secretary of War Suite.

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The wallpaper is impressive.

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I am impressive (and very smiley, because my badge says White House.)  I cannot believe my Christmas cards were made before I got this picture.  Maybe next year….

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But the computers are archaic.  Just kidding.  Oddly there were flat screen TVs in all the conference rooms, and they looked completely out of place.  However, in the Secretary of War Suite there was also this little set up in case you brought your typing skills, or some ink and parchment and wanted to pen a founding document real quick.

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After my meeting – yes I actually participated in a four hour meeting in addition to taking all these pictures – I ate lunch in the coffee shop (lunch at the White House); tried to get into the Truman bowling alley (locked); and bought a bunch of Christmas presents at the White House gift shop.  As I left I came the closest to the actual White House itself, so of course I took a picture.  Yeah, that’s the West Wing there on the other side of the parking lot.  Wave to President Obama.  Then I turned around and snapped a picture of the EEOB one last time, because you can’t get this angle unless you are a White House visitor.

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This was my first White House invitation in my thirteen year career, and the best part about the meeting is that it was actually important I was there.  This was no gratuitous White House invite.  I briefed my boss’s, boss’s, boss’s….on and on… boss before the meeting, and he used my talking points in his presentation.  I got to speak. I made a call to action.  It was pretty darn cool.  I think I deserve a congratulatory pat on the afthead.


In case you are interested in learning more of the history of the EEOB or White House check out these great sites:

West Wing Tour: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/west-wing-tour

Eisenhower Executive Office Building Tour: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/eeob-tour

 

 

 

Solstice Gift

My husband raced downstairs tonight with happy crinkles decorating his eyes.  “I have a present!” he announced.

My daughter waited in anticipation, but I didn’t even need to ask.  Only one thing could make him so happy:  our chickens laid their first egg a month before we expected it, and on the shortest day of the year no less.  A week after temperatures didn’t reach 0 Rosie decided it was time to make an egg. (Well, we think it was Rosie.  Even though she is the youngest in our flock her comb and waddle are the most developed, which is supposed to indicate egg laying readiness.)

The upside?  Well, the beginning of eggs of course.  The downside?  My chickens have trumped any hope of me being responsible for delivering the true joy of Christmas this year for my family.  I’ve been trumped by a bird.  My daughter is running around singing, “All I want for Christmas is another egg…another egg… Oh!  Another eeegggg.”  My husband semi-jokes that he’s going to sleep with the egg tonight.  There is nothing wrapped or planned that can match the miracle of the first egg this season. 

I think I have a tiny bow downstairs.  Maybe I’ll stick that on the tiny precious gift and call it good.  (Or is that what they call gilding the lily?)
Happy solstice everyone!  May your own families be as lucky as the Aftheads and have their hearts filled with whatever gives them joy this week.  

Bart the Cat LIVES

Two weeks ago Bart the cat headed back to the shelter.  I was going to be out of town and he had procedures planned:  bandage change followed by cardiology appointment.  He was still very sick when I left him sneezing and bandaged.  My soul hurt not knowing if he was getting better, going to be diagnosed with a fatal heart murmur, or dying from complications due to his other problems.  Right before I left on my trip the shelter called: Bart was doing okay, but couldn’t go to the cardiologist until he was 100% healthy, which he was not.  They mentioned he would likely need foster care again, if I was willing when I got home.

I decided I was willing.  From Washington DC I e-mailed to let the foster folks know I was heading home and could pick Bart up if they needed me.  An emphatic “Yes” was delivered to my inbox.  When I arrived last Tuesday he was bandage free, upper respiratory infection free, but his nose was a bloody mess.  Having had a snotty cold for three weeks his nasal passages were a wreck, so I was told to take him home, get the humidifier on him, and bring him back in a week if his nose stopped bleeding.  Only then could he get his heart murmur evaluated.  (He also can’t be actively bleeding at the cardiologist.)

Poor bloody nose.  Ouch!

Well friends, I’m here to tell you that I might not be the cat grim reaper.  Look at this beauty!  Bandage gone, bloody nose gone, fur free of blood, and Bart  cleans up quite well.  Almost a week of damp kitty humidification action and he looks like a cat that will find a home in no time.

I’m so happy.  This was what my foster experience was supposed to be.  The shelter and I worked in partnership to make Bart well.  I’ll take him back Tuesday night and the cardiologist will evaluate him Wednesday.  If all goes well he could be up for adoption Wednesday night.  This boy could have a new home by Christmas, and I’m actually hopeful for the first time in my foster career.  The best part is that even though he loves my daughter I don’t feel like he’s our family’s cat.  While I’ll be sad when we leave him Tuesday it all worked out the way it was supposed to: Bart was sick, we got him healthy and he and his huge purr will make some family an amazing pet.  I still don’t think that this is the best way for our family to help make the world a better place, but I feel healed knowing that our first litter was bad luck, not some kind of horrible cat curse.

If you are in the Denver area and in search of a new cat, drop me a message.  I can hook you up with a winner.  Mr. Bart will steal your heart away.

Afthead Holiday Party

I’ve just finished cleaning up from my third annual holiday party.  Yep, me, the introverted Afthead throws a holiday party every year, but it’s my kind of party.  I pick up five of my daughters friends after school and we craft for four hours.  I am their hostess, their coach and their mentor as they learn new skills making gift for themselves, their friends, and their families.

Every year I have a plan.  I buy supplies: yarn, pipe cleaners, beads, and Popsicle sticks.  In the days before the party my daughter and I make sample projects and test out what is too hard, what doesn’t really come together, and what we can reuse from last year.  The event begins with an after school snack while I casually lay out the demo items we’ve created, showing what they could make for their mom, sister, dad, or grandpa.  Some things grab their attention, and some things don’t, but ten minutes into the party it isn’t about me anymore: it becomes all about them.  I hand them each a gift bag to store their loot and they start crafting.

It is a marvel to behold, an experiment in personalities.  We hand select friends who can sit and craft for four hours with breaks only for food and to find the scissors.  Learning from our past mistakes girls who want to be the center of attention or who can’t sit still aren’t invited back, because there are lots of parties where you can dance on the table, chase friends or wear pretty dresses.  This party is different; I and the girls love it.

This year we hit the perfect mix of guests.  There were two new girls on the invite list.  I taught one to finger knit and she was a prodigy.  Four hours she stood in her snow boots looping yarn over her tiny fingers.  She went home with three scarves.  The second new girl sat on the floor cross-legged making pom-pom after pom-pom: methodically winding the yarn around one arm of the puffball maker, closing it; winding the other arm, closing it; finding the good scissors, cutting the loops; and tying the yarn around the middle.  She’d wiggle the contraption apart and out would pop another pom pom.  Then she’d find another yarn and do the whole process again.

The evening’s transition is magical.  They start the day calling for my help.  Every one of them needs me, my hands, and my expertise.  Impatiently they wait calling out Coach Johanna, Jo Jo, Mom, Mrs. Johanna, but by the end they are helping each other and I am forgotten.  Today, with an hour left in the party, I was unexpectedly called.  They explained that a timer needed so the girls could prepare for a rendezvous.  Having no idea what they were talking about they explained, with the condescension of children, what they are learning about Colorado history right now.  In case you are also ignorant:

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous (in trapper jargon) was an annual gathering (1825–1840) at various locations held by a fur trading company at which trappers and mountain men sold their furs and hides and replenished their supplies.

The timer rang, and the girls set up shop to trade their precious crafts with each other.  There were no fights, no arguments, lots of compliments, and it was all their idea.  I contributed cookies to the event, which they appreciated, while letting me know my presence was not needed.

I learn so much from them.  Beyond expanding my knowledge of western history, I learn perspective about  my daughter’s own strengths and weaknesses in the light of her friends.  I learn more about the challenges and struggles they each have and they have together.  I learn how each of them has grown and changed since I last had concentrated time with them.  But I get to teach too.  I teach them that it is important to be kind to each other.  I teach them that we don’t have and Elf on the Shelf, because our family thinks the elves are creepy, but we don’t judge their family for having one.   I teach about our joint Christmas and Hanukkah celebration.  I teach them the wonder of making something with your own two hands and using your brain to take an idea and make it your own.  I hope I teach them that even as a grown up there are lots of different ways of having fun with your friends.

This is the one party every year when I don’t worry about what to wear, I don’t need a drink to loosen me up, and I don’t want to hide in my basement to recover.  Cleaning up from the event I love the dustpan full of yarn bits and googly eyes.  My daughter, having helped and chatted with her friends, starts her projects in earnest when everyone leaves.  She’s watched her friends and picked her favorite ideas to make over and over.  My extroverted daughter and her introverted momma are both energized when the evening comes to a close.

You can have your cocktail dresses, your high heeled shoes, your signature drinks, and your white elephant gifts.  Me?  I’ll take a group of kids and some glue for as long as they will have me.

If at First you Fail Spectacularly

Fostering cats.  It’s the one thing in life that I can look back on and say, “Well, I sucked at that.”  Last year five tiny baby kittens were taken into my care and four died three different ways.  I broke when the fourth one had to be euthanized and kept the last one to heal my heart.  She has since become a beloved member of our household.


For the past year I’ve held onto this failure.  I have to admit that I have dubbed myself the Cat Grim Reaper.  I’ve lurked on the foster parent group on Facebook and watched litter after litter of healthy kittens grow and thrive under other foster parents care.  I’ve watched sick and hurt cats become sleek and healthy.  Quietly I’ve kept my training up to date in anticipation that I was going to try again.  Once and for all I was going to cement my definition of the kitten event:  bad luck or killer.

Our local shelter just had an influx of animals and needed foster parents to take sick, but not dying, animals home to make room for the new really sick animals.  With little input from my family or friends, I volunteered to take one of the cats.  He has an upper respiratory infection, his leg is bandaged hip to foot, he just got neutered, and he has a heart murmur that needs to be evaluated once he gets over the other ailments.  His name is Bart and he’s a beautiful long haired light grey cat.  He loves my daughter and has a purr that vibrates his whole body when she pets him.


As Bart snores away on the other side of the bathroom door – he is quarantined because of his infection – I’m not confident that he’ll make it.  He hasn’t gotten better in the five days in my care.  We’ve had to change antibiotics, and he’s not eating.  The plan was to take him back to the shelter Tuesday to have his heart murmur evaluated, but already they are saying I might have to keep him longer because he’s not improving.  He is living in a mist of water vapor as I try to keep his nasal tissues from bleeding each time he sneezes.  

Thursday I dreamed Bart was playing with my parent’s cats, and woke with one thought in my head, “This is too much.”  Fostering is just too much for me, for my family, and for my other cats.  I hate saying that.  I feel like some aristocrat looking down her nose at hard work and saying, “Oh no, I can’t do that.  It’s hard and messy and time consuming and inconvenient.”  No part of me doesn’t feel like a failure.  But I’ve had to put a litter box in my bedroom to stop our cats from peeing and pooping on my bed, because the presence of the foster cat near their normal boxes makes them nervous.  My daughter sits stroking his soft fur with tears running down her face. “I’m going to miss Bart,” she says.  I drive back and forth to the shelter to drop him off and pick him up so his bandage can be changed.  I wipe bloody snot off our walls, off of my daughter, and off his fur.  The truth of the situation is that this is not our path, and not our way to help.  Bart will be our last foster and if he dies I will take the mantle of Cat Grim Reaper and wear it, but I will not partake in a third foster experience.  I will find other ways to make the world a better place.

It isn’t all terrible, don’t let me mislead you.  There are moments like this. I hope that Bart recovers and some amazing family gets to enjoy this giant  purr for years to come.

For all those who care for shelter animals, either at the shelter or in their homes, I applaud you. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I wish you all the strength and courage to keep doing what you do.