Chicken Eating Pear Noises

I have resigned myself.  I will never be a writer.  A writer must create beautiful grammatically accurate sentences with all the words spelled correctly, on purpose.  They care passionately about prepositions at the ends of sentences, starting sentences with “so”, pronoun agreements, and gerunds (which I spelled gerands before the spell-check wiggly-line alerted me to my error: I am hopeless.)  So I have resigned myself to becoming a story-teller, because no one cares if a story-teller screws up the language a bit.  Sometimes it even makes the story better.  Case in point, the Afthead household had a bag of pears going bad, so my husband and I were removing the moldy bits so we could feed the brown and mushy bits to the chickens.  (Chickens turn rotting food into eggs, which is magic I’ve come to appreciate in our months of ownership.)

Three chickens evaluating pears prior to eating them

I scooped the pears into a bowl and said, with delight, “Now I get to hear my favorite chicken eating pear noise.”

My husband looked at me with that you are a doofus look he reserves just for his beloved wife and said, “I think you mean pear eating chicken noises.”

I was horrified.  Pear eating chicken noises sounded like the noises giant pears would make as they ripped my poor unsuspecting chickens to bloody shreds.  “No,” I insisted, “that’s backwards.”

Leave it to my mom, the retired English teacher, to show me the error of my ways.  “Think of it like a hyphenated phrase,” she said, “Pear-eating chicken noises is what you love.  Chicken-eating pear noises are the terrifying ones.”

Once again my grammar savant engineering husband and English degreed mother found the errors in my word choices.  If I wasn’t so stubborn I’d stop disagreeing with them and just accept my ignorance.  There is a reason I make them read everything I write.  They are good at this English language stuff.

But I am good at the creativity stuff, so I hauled out the fancy markers, grabbed Afthead Junior and said, “Let’s draw pictures of chicken-eating pears!”

My daughter, having witnessed the pear-eating/chicken-eating argument, asked for clarification, “You mean scary pear drawings?”

“Yes.”

Behold, the chicken-eating pears.  They are terrifying.  They are chicken-eating.  They are bloody.  Keep your chickens locked up safe, folks.  You don’t want to see these monsters in your coop.  Nom nom nom,

Afthead’s chicken eating pear.  (Don’t know where he got the roasted drumstick.)
Afthead Junior’s chicken eating pear.  (Look in its mouth!  A head!  So scary!)

Yes.  Thanks.  I know.  It goes without saying.  I am a story-teller, not a writer.  And I am DEFINITELY NOT an artist.  No need to point that out.  It’s just rude.

Now off to go create the world of the chicken eating pears and how they wreck havoc on unsuspecting small farmers and backyard chicken enthusiasts.  Beware the pear!


Just in case you are wondering, the video below shows Rosie making the pear-eating chicken noises that I adore.  Listen close — it’s a subtle sound.

Bloggers are Real People

Ten years ago, I found the SouleMama blog.  I was searching for a knit hat pattern, and stumbled across Amanda Soule’s website.  She talked about crafting and raising three kids; something about her voice and demeanor spoke to me.  I’d return frequently and watch her family and life unfold from afar.  Occasionally I’d comment, and once I submit a piece to her.  But mostly I’d just lurk and read and imagine how if I’d made different choices along the way – like a different husband, because my beloved guy is not a farmer – I could have lived a life like hers.  My baby girl was born right before her fourth kiddo, and my bond with her grew watching our kids grow up together.  Funny how that “kid the same age” bond works with virtual friends too.

 

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Well, Amanda Soule is visiting Colorado this week!  She’s got a new book out and her publisher is up in Boulder, Colorado.  There are a host of events planed and I targeted the Horseshoe Market book signing and an open craft night as possibilities for me to attend.  Luck would have it that Saturday between taking the kitten to the vet, a soccer tournament, and readying our yard for winter I had a sliver of time and was on the right end of town to meet this lady who had no idea who I am, but who I’d known for years.  During the drive I vacillated between feeling like a weirdo for visiting this stranger and being excited about meeting the real live human being Amanda Soule.

After meandering around the market, I found Amanda’s tent and awkwardly waited while another lady chatted.  When my turn came, the introduction went like this, “Hi Amanda, my name is Johanna and I’ve been following your blog for years and I totally feel like a creepy stalker but I wanted to come by and introduce myself and tell you how much I enjoy your work and watching your kids grow up, I mean Harper – isn’t it weird that I know his name – is the same age as my daughter and I’m so glad to meet you.”  That was me.  Spilling out every detail of my life without breathing in hopes that my oversharing would somehow made up for my creepy overly developed one sided relationship with her.

Amanda replied, “You aren’t a stalker.  I put it all out there.”

True enough.  The short conversation proceeded a bit more normally after that, especially as it evolved to commerce.  She told me about the delicious lunch she’d had, and I renewed my Taproot subscription – Amanda is the editor – and bought a copy of her new book which wasn’t officially released until yesterday.   With the magazine renewal I got a free totebag, which doubles as a cat toy.  (Note below cat is not the new kitten who got an emergency visit to the vet this weekend.)

I wasn’t there for more than five minutes, but I did mention that I might bring my mama and kiddo to her last Denver event.  It’s at Fancy Tiger, a nearby craft and yarn store I love.  I confided in her, “Make a budget, because they have beautiful stuff and you’ll spend more money than you want if you aren’t careful.”  United by the call of expensive yarns and notions she thanked me, and then moved onto her next stalker/customer.  That last exchange felt completely real and friendly, and I was glad I had stopped to meet this woman whose writing I have so enjoyed the past decade.  Hopefully, if I make it to the next event, my interactions will be a little more natural.  After all, Amanda and I are real life acquaintances now.

Thrum Thrum Thrummm

Read the title to the beginning tune of The Little Drummer Boy, just so your afthead is in the same mental space as mine.

Welcome readers.  It’s been hot here.  How about where you are?  Hot too?  (Maybe not if you are one of my southern hemisphere friends.)  Well, nothing makes me feel more comfy in the summer heat than some thrummed slippers.

Total lie.  Thrummed slippers are miserably hot summer footwear, unless you are the nine-year-old member of the Afthead family, in which case you have joyfully spent June and July wearing fuzzy crocs and your mom’s thrummed slippers in 90 degree heat.  Not wanting my slippers to get all gross with kid sweat I cast on so she could have her own pair.

My slippers are boring adult brown and yellow, using up yarn I had no plans for and the cheapest non-itchy piece of wool roving I could find at the knitting store, but I had big plans for my daughter’s slippers.  Rainbow plans….

When my favorite local yarn shop, The Recycled Lamb, went out of business, I bought this amazing tube of roving: Three Feet of Sheep in “Rainbow Twilight” by frabjous fibers, because I had a feeling that more thrummed objects were in my future.  The assortment of colors combined with a red Debbie Bliss Paloma from the stash – chosen because it’s “not itchy” – made an exceptionally colorful slipper.

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For you knitters who haven’t thrummed, be warned that it is putzy and not a travel friendly knitting project.  That said, it’s novel and creates a colorful fuzzy finished product that I love.

Luckily I had a 9 hour conference call and laryngitis, so needed an activity to stave off sleepiness while listening but not talking on my work call.  Thrum making was the perfect activity!  Patiently I separated the balls of roving, tore hunks off, unraveled the hunks into lengths which I folded and twisted into thrums.  The cats had to be locked out of the room during this task, because kitties love thrums.

The thrums did not take the whole 9 hours to make, so I started knitting on the call too.  (Really, if you knit and frequently have boring conference calls, may I suggest that you combine the two activities.  I’m much more engaged on my calls when I’m knitting.  Odd, but true.)  I knit both slipper soles first, because I wasn’t sure I had enough yarn to complete the slippers and liked the idea of contrasting pink tops more than I liked the idea of mismatched pink and red slippers.

In the end, I had enough yarn for both slippers because I shortened the top to only four rows of thrums, which seemed better for the smaller scale of my daughter’s feet and legs.  Also, like with my slippers, I modified the pattern to use an i-cord bind off, because I like how the extra weight of the fabric keeps the thrums from escaping over the top.

As soon as the last slipper was cast off, my daughter’s ran outside in them. Screaming after her, “Not outside with the hand knits,” I noticed the lovely contrast between the new slippers and the concrete.  Therefore, I demanded the ungrateful child take them off so I could photograph them before the slippers came back inside to live.

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So we are all set for sweaty summer rainbow feet at the Afthead household.  For you knitting knerds, I’ve got all the details below.  Thrum, thrum, thrummmm……


Thrummed slipper knitting details:

Pattern: Cadeautje by by Ysolda Teague

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Paloma in Red 42015

Roving: Three Feet of Sheep in “Rainbow Twilight” by frabjous fibers

Ravelry Link for mamma slippers:  http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/cadeautje

Ravelry Link for kiddo slippers:  http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/cadeautje-2

If you are a knitter and never thrummed before, I recommend the Yarn Harlot’s blog post about the topic.  As always, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is a knitting genius.

Unexpected Parenting Nostalgia

Being a parent is weird.  Everything is going along great.  You love your kid and she is growing up, doing amazing things.  Then unexpected parenting nostalgia hits.  It snuck up on me after a doctor’s appointment  that confirmed the ear infection I knew my daughter had two days before at the same doctor’s office, but whatever.  The fateful question came as the physicians assistant was writing up the prescription for the magical antibiotic that would allow her and me to sleep through the night.  “Do you want liquid or pills?”

I was surprised.  My 8 year old could take pills?  I mean, we had practiced swallowing M&Ms whole, preparing for this day, but it was really time for pills?

My daughter was ecstatic.  She hates the “disgusting pink medicine” and chose pills.  I, of course, played the part of the supportive mom.  “Oh, wow, you are so big now.  I’m so proud of you.” Inside my heart was breaking.  The medication of her childhood passed through my mind.  I remembered the tiny syringes of dye free cherry flavored Tylenol for late night teething.  I recalled how the syringes grew along with her and provided antibiotics, or bubble gum flavored Motrin.  The doses increased and we needed the big measuring spoons or cups.  Moving to chewable Tylenol, well that wasn’t a big deal but pills?  This was it.  The final step.  Once she took a pill she was effectively a grown up in the medicine taking realm.  She’d reached the pinnacle.  Sure, she might some day swallow down a handful of vitamins, but plenty of grownups take one pill at a time – like her dad.  With no fear or hesitation my daughter swallowed the giant amoxicillin pill and I checked one item off my list of parenting to dos.  For the rest of her life she’ll be able to take medicine without my help.

I’ve gotta admit, I cried a bit that night and then did a scavenging hunt through all the nooks and corners of medicine cabinets and closets and bins of random crap.  I found all the medication tools from infant until now.  I marveled at how far we’d come in 8 years.  I remembered the horror of infant wails and never knowing what was wrong and the guilt when I gave her Tylenol.  I remembered the endless ear infections.  I marveled at how long ago all that was and how quickly time had passed.  Finally, with pride, I put all the tools back in the bin of random crap, wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and thought, “Nice work mom.  When your kid has a wicked hangover in college she’s not going to need you.”  And that’s good.

Lula the Zombie Hamster

Meet Lula, our hamster.  Lover of grapes; loved by the cats who want to play-with-her-to death; and zombie.  Lula came into our family three years ago and became a zombie last year.  Thus, like Stephanie Plum’s hamster Rex, I expect her to live forever.

Lula is a Russian dwarf hamster and the worst pet ever.  Hamsters are nocturnal, so she only plays when I want my child to sleep.  Given that my kid is the worst go-to-sleeper ever they make a bad combination.  Also, hamsters are smaller on the outside than they appear on the outside.  (Similar to the Tardis, but the opposite.)  Let me explain.  The day we got Lula my daughter was playing with her in the locked bathroom while we parents got the hamster habitat ready.  Lula squeezed under a smaller than a hamster sized space below the bathroom door and darted between the startled cat’s legs and under the smaller than hamster sized space beneath the refrigerator.  Two hours later a feast of sunflower seeds lured her out.  From that point on she was banished to her cage and only released into the clear ball of torture, which allows her to roam around my daughter’s room bumping into things and making us laugh.  The cats watch the balled hamster snack through the crack under the door, which really is too small for cats.

Lula became a zombie on a fateful day last summer when she died.  My daughter and I were watching her play when she toppled over on her hamster ramp, twitched disturbingly, hauled herself up to the hamster ledge using her functioning front legs while dragging her back legs limply behind her.  She then collapsed had another twitching fit, and died.  She lay motionless while I consoled my daughter, got her ready for bed and read her stories.  When lights out came Afthead Junior cried that she did not want to sleep with the dead hamster.  I agreed and put the dead creature’s cage on top of the butler’s pantry to be dealt with later.

After our normal 90 minute dance of go to sleep, go to sleep, GO TO SLEEP my daughter finally fell asleep.  Ignoring the dead hamster problem, I went to the basement to watch some TV with my husband.  Before bed I decided the dead hamster burial/freezing/whatever could wait until the morning and be a learning experience for the child.

The next morning Lula’s wheel squeaked with the running of an exuberant undead hamster.  Lula, making a rare daytime appearance was animated.

Ever since her status changed from hamster to undead hamster Lula has been much more friendly.  She’s almost always out before my daughter goes to sleep and runs to the bars of the cage to sniff my fingers if I put them up.  She even races to the cats if they are in the vicinity: like on top of the cage trying to eat play with her.  No doubt she is luring us humans and felines in so we will open her cage and she can leap out and feast on our enormous brains.  In the meantime, I give her strawberries, cherries and blueberries to try and keep her at bay.

When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.

Goodbye Bart

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Ah Bart.  Remember him?  He was my attempt to prove to myself that I am not the cat grim reaper (or cat hospice provider as so many of you sweetly suggested.)  I think it is time for me to write his final chapter.

For those of you who missed the early story Bart was a foster cat our family took in back in November when our local shelter became overcrowded with rescue animals from other states.  Our mission was to get him healthy, so he could go to the pet cardiologist to have his level 2 heart murmur evaluated.  (Heart murmurs for cats are graded from 1-6 with the 1-2 range usually not being a big deal.)  Bart was kind of a mess when he came to us, but oh, he was a lover and had a purr that vibrated his whole body.  Over the month we cared for Bart he recovered from a wound on his leg, a multiweek long respiratory infection, a perpetual bloody nose from the aforementioned respiratory infection, and being neutered.  Just when everything was all better and he was healthy enough to go to the cardiologist a surprise gross abscess burst under his chin leaving bloody puss all over his fur and the floor.

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The shelter people told me to bring him in, that they would evaluate this new wound then check with the specialist.  Even with his new ailment, he was cleared to see the cardiologist, so Mr. Bart went for a field trip to the animal hospital, and I agreed to take him back and get his abscess cleared up before he went up for adoption.  Five more days of antibiotics for Bart at the Afthead house, but he’d get to spend Christmas with us!

December 23rd the shelter called with the results of Bart’s cardiology scan.  He had two defective ventricles.  The shelter vets and specialists conferred and had decided that Bart was going to be euthanized.  His condition gave him only 3 -18 months to live, so he wasn’t eligible for adoption.  Two days before Christmas I got this news, and the extra present was that the shelter said that they would allow me, and only me, to adopt him, but I would have to take him back to the cardiologist and be responsible for his heart medication and quarterly/monthly cardiac checkups.  The single thing that could save Bart was my willingness to take on the time and expense to care for a cat who probably wouldn’t live two years.  I pondered all this while sitting in my study stroking what appeared to be a healthy Bart.

The only person I told was my husband, who doesn’t really care about animals the same way I do, and we agreed that no one else needed this news right before Christmas.  We also agreed that I needed time to decide what we were going to do.  (Mr. Afthead leaves such decisions to me, since I am the one with a breakable heart.)  So I put on my happy face and celebrated the holidays with my family, my own pets, and Bart.

In the back of my head thoughts were churning.  How could this happen again?  Why would life be so unfair to give this sweet cat a defective heart?  Could he continue to live with us?  My cats hated having Bart in the house.  They had stopped entering the basement, which is where their litterboxes are, and had resorted to pooping and peeing on my bed until I put a litterbox in my bedroom.  Could I live with that situation?  Bart was sweet, but a destructive cat and had shredded the chair in my study, his domain, and clawed other furniture when given the chance to explore.  Unquestionably I could have trained him, but maybe not before he died or had a stroke: either likely situations given his condition.  And while we really liked Bart no one in the family felt that he was our cat.  We were doing this so that some other family could adopt this beautiful, big purring cat, not so he would be ours.

There were so many ethical considerations.  Should we tell our daughter about what the shelter had decided?  Should she get to help make the decision about what our family was going to do?  Was it wrong for me to keep the news from my extended family over the holidays?  Was it my responsibility to care for Bart until the end of his life regardless of the cost or quality of his life?  Because I believe in science and medicine I didn’t think the diagnosis was wrong.  If I adopted him he would die.  What should I do?

I searched my heart and my brain but in the end I came to the same place I’d come before.  This was too much.  Without telling my daughter anything except that Bart was going back I took him to the shelter and said goodbye.

For two days I held my sadness in and pretended that Bart might be going up for adoption, or Bart might come and live with us to be fostered again.  Eventually I started to tell my friends and family what had happened.  Because secrets and lies have a way of worming their way to the surface eventually one of my friends told her daughter – a friend of my daughter’s – what happened.  When I found out I knew I had to tell my daughter because kid friends talk.  I didn’t want my child’s trust and faith in her mother to be dependent on the ability of a 9 year old to keep her mouth shut.  I got home from work and said, “I’ve got some sad news.”

“Don’t tell me Bart is dead.”

All I could do was nod.  We cried together about the 8 dead cats she’s known in her 8 years.  She listed each one and the way they died.  Three pets and five fosters all gone.  When we were done with the immediate mourning she told me what I had known all along, “Mommy, we are never, ever doing that again.”  We won’t.  We won’t foster.  We won’t keep big secrets from each other.  We won’t do that ever again.

I love the community at the shelter, and the foster parents.  My foster mentor was so caring when I told her what happened with Bart, and she promised me that my situation “just never happens.”  No one loses 5 out of six foster cats in their first two attempts.  She shared her own sad stories, and even offered to give me a her healthiest foster litter this spring to ensure I have a success.  Behind the scenes I’m sure she raised heck – contrary to the evidence she really thinks I have the potential to be a great foster parent – and a few weeks after Bart died a sympathy card came from the shelter.  It made me cry, but it did not make me change my mind.  This is not my way of helping make the world a better place.  I can’t take any more dead cats.

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Last time this happened I was able to come up with some silver linings, but not this time.  I’m sad for me, sad for my family, sad for Bart, and sad for the shelter and the folks who work there.  Nothing about this was fair or good or worthwhile.  Everyone poured their heart into this experience and the only glint of silver is that Bart was able to live in a warm house with a family for a month, but that seems so pitiful.

In the end, as always, children are the wisest.  This weekend my kiddo told me, “Mom, I think that all our cats that died are part of Adventure now.”  (Adventure is our only foster that lived, and she’s our pet now.)  She started listing out traits of each dead cat and how she saw them reflected in our pet.  At the end of her speech she looked to me for approval and I told her, “Yep kiddo, I think you are right,” because really I don’t have any better resolution.

Goodbye Bart.  We were all pulling for a happy ending, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Knit-auguration 

At last the big day is here, the dawning of a new administration for the toys.  Crowds of historic proportions were expected and arrived this morning: extra Lego sheets had to be added to accommodate everyone.  Tiny Knit Zombie Trump and Tiny Knit Hillary are sitting together and enjoying the pre-inauguration entertainment.  The gathering has a festive celebratory air.  Every toy feels like they have representation in this new government.  Every toy feels like their voices were heard.  Every toy is excited about the changes that are coming, and has confidence in their new leaders.  Let’s go to our on the ground reporter, George Snuffleupagus,  for an up close perspective.

Thanks!  Well before we go to the ground, let’s check out the birds-eye-view.  Crowds stretch from the stage all the way back to the Lego Washington Monument.  The future president and vice president took a risk – there is no security – but so far even the toys that showed up with weapons are peacefully gathering.  It’s as if they just want to express their right to bear arms, but not hurt anyone.  Wow!  Look at the size of that sword down there!

The media is here and busy interviewing toys.  Several polite discussions have broken out when toys nearby had a perspective different from the toy being interviewed.  There’s just so much respect and tolerance, even here in the far back where you can barely make out the swooping hair of Tiny Knit Zombie Trump and sunglasses of Tiny Knit Hillary.   Everyone seems so happy to just be part of this day.

Thankfully with the money this team saved on security they were able to install large video screens so the crowd can see from anywhere on the Lego sheets.  This incoming administration really understands how to make investments where they are needed the most.

Sorry George!  Gotta interrupt you.  It looks like the entertainment part of the festivities is over and Tiny Knit Zombie Trump is going to take his oath of office.  Let’s listen in.  Oh, wait.  He doesn’t have a mouth.  Well, he’s looking very vice-presidential as he moans and nods… and there, he’s done.  The crowd’s reaction is deafening.  There is a palpable excitement from the trolls, vikings, mad scientists, and conservatives.  Oh, now it’s Tiny Knit Hillary’s turn.  The crowd has quieted.  Let’s hear what she has to say.  Ah, again no mouth.  Well she holds herself with a very presidential posture as she puts her hand on the toy plastic book she chose for today.  George, do you think the color of the book has any significance?  George… are you there?

Sorry, I can’t seem to get my emotions under control… *sniff*  This is just such a momentous day.  Two parties putting aside their differences for the good of all toys.  I just….I can’t….

Ah, and we’ve lost George due to the roar of the crowd.  Well, let’s leave him with his emotions, and watch as President Tiny Knit Hillary and Vice President Tiny Knit Zombie Trump hug each other, and then address the crowd with inclusive gesticulations.  I can’t imagine what they must be feeling looking over all their constituents. Oh, look, spontaneous hugs are breaking out all over.  Knits are hugging Legos.  Evil doers are hugging kids, but in a good way, not a creepy way.  Such solidarity.

Well there is nothing more to add.  Today is a day of peace, cooperation, and tranquility and our toy nation is a model that other nations can only hope to emulate.  Let’s pan out to enjoy one last look at the crowd on this momentous day.


 

An unexpected, and tinge late, additional post in a series of tiny knit presidential dilemmas.  See the sixth post here, fifth post here, fourth post here, third post here, second post here, and the first post here.

Thank you to Anna Hrachovec for the amazing tiny knit patterns!  Please visit her site at http://mochimochiland.com/.

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.