Ye Olde Thanksgiving

You guys, I know the holidays are upon us. No more pretending we have plenty of time to dust windowsills or shop for those weird onion things we only use on the Green Bean Bake. We need to get ‘er done, now. But also Be Thankful! And think about Christmas! And don’t screw up the Pecan Pie!

I’ve been thinking about what I want to say about Thanksgiving. There is much to be afraid of, in our world today. There are politicians to rally behind or wish plagues upon. There are racist, homophobic, ignorant people (some of whom are likely to be with you at dinner tomorrow). There is murder and heartache and terrorism… And of course there is wonderfulness and lightness and happy bloggers and lovely vintage dishes to find at thrift stores if you just had an hour to your self. I know. It’s a lot.

I tell you what, though: when both your parents have died and your divorce is final, Thanksgiving is a lot more low-key.  So mostly lately I think about what I wish I had known, the last Thanksgiving with my mama, or Thanksgiving of 1985, less than 2 months before my dad’s stroke.

Just to be clear, I hope this is NOT your last Thanksgiving with your mama, and I hope your dad doesn’t go and have a massive stroke that leaves him with aphasia and hemiplegia and a seizure disorder for good measure. Lord, I hope that so much.

But maybe, just thinking about it being possible, even just a little bit, will help you overlook some of the more grating parts of family gatherings. Maybe instead you can talk about your favorite Thanksgiving memories, or take time tomorrow to get your favorite recipes: your dad’s chocolate cake, for example, or in my case, Myra’s vegetable beef-dumpling soup.

My first fall without my mama, I suddenly realized I never got her recipe for  soup.  I’d gotten the banana bread recipe, and Grandma Beulah’s frosting, and the potato dumpling recipe. But somehow I never thought to get the soup. I was devastated: for me, there was nothing better when I was sick than Mom bringing fresh soup with fluffy white egg dumplings. She made some for me after V was born that seriously boosted my milk production and made me strong again. It was magic soup.

I called my sister, half-panicked. “Do you know how to make Mom’s soup?”

“Sure,” she said. “A knuckle bone, some vegetables…it’s not that hard.”

“Yeah, but did she WRITE IT DOWN FOR YOU?”

“Well, no.”

I almost hyperventilated.

A few days later, through a happy, coincidental exchange on Facebook, out of the blue one of Myra’s good friends said “Say, girls, I have a couple of knuckle bones in my freezer that your mom liked to use for soup. Do you want them?”

I thought, Want them?? WANT THEM?? You just saved my life! Instead I said, “Yes, please. Do you know how to make the soup?”

“No,” she said. “Didn’t she tell you?”

You could hear my heart break from 27 miles away.

Then, through some crazy twist of fate, my Aunt Barbie, who only seems to be on Facebook about once every three months, joined in. “The vegetable soup with the egg dumplings? I know how to make that. Grandma Beulah taught us all.”

Relief flooded me. I sat and cried. It’s a year later, and I still haven’t made the soup, but knowing now that I actually can do it, from an authentic recipe, brought me so much peace. I am so grateful it’s not lost.

Tenessa had a dear friend a few months ago whose mother was given just a few weeks to live. It was devastating news, and my only suggestion was “Get the soup recipe. Right now.” It seems crazy, but trust me. In the midst of all the heartache and awfulness, it will seem like it doesn’t matter. But it does. The food we give each other is magical.

You don’t have to tell your family it’s because you’re afraid they’ll die soon, if you don’t want to. But instead of the usual fighting over the last piece of lefse, consider what it is from tomorrow, or from years past, that you want to remember always.

NPR is on board, and has a project going for just this purpose (well, not so much the soup purpose, but you know what I mean). There’s literally an App for that! Check out NPR’s Listening Project here.  Download the app, look at their suggestions, and please, whatever you do, get the soup recipe if you can.

When the time comes for grieving, hopefully many years from now, you’ll have one less loss to ache over.


Posted in Dad, Family, Grief, Hendrum, Love, Mama, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

Xtreme Terrariums

Oh, Pinterest. You are a wicked temptress, bringing me into even more hobbies I lack the time to master. One day, I stumbled across the idea of a terrarium party, like this, and I knew I needed to make this happen in my life.

Where to begin? Well, first, I needed to know how to put a terrarium together. My mother was a damn master gardener, and had lovely houseplants when she died, most of which I’ve managed to destroy since I inherited them. Without her to guide me, I’m not sure I can make anything grow. But I read this and this and this, and took a deep breath, and started collecting the pieces necessary for a successful terrarium party. So many pieces.

My thrift store shopping really paid off in this respect. So many glass containers, from cups to vases to glass bowls, can be had for just pennies. I ordered a few, too, primarily from Zulily (affiliate link. Sign up, order something, and I get a little store credit. Which I desperately need, because I spent all my money on my terrarium obsession). They have some terrarium kits right now, like this one. And if you’re wondering what I’d most like for Christmas, may I suggest this lovely piece, because apparently I have a terrarium problem.

Oh, but what a glorious problem! Since July, I’ve been gathering glass containers, pouring over Pinterest, perusing publications on plants…I even interviewed my friend Randy, who knows all sorts of stuff about plants. Eventually, I bought five plants at IKEA and ordered a pile of succulents from Zulily.

But terrariums are not only glass containers plus plants! No! Let me tell you, they can be so much more. This websites shows how to make tiny terrariums in magnet form, and this Etsy seller offers a Hobbit-based terrarium that is so cute I could throw up. Remember summer before last when we planted fairy gardens with Myra? Terrariums can be like indoor fairy gardens, if’n you want.

So I found some wee deer on Etsy, and made some gnomes from air-dry clay (which I have no idea if it will withstand terrarium conditions. I’ll let you know), and found a few small animal figures at my local JoAnn Fabrics. Because Myra took us there to shop for fairy garden plants, I went back to Baker’s Nursery for the correct soil and for charcoal, which is so important in keeping terrariums fresh and healthy.

I do want to have a full-on terrarium party, but my luck with plants is spotty, at best. So instead of a full-blown deal right out of the gate, I recruited my dear friend Crystal. We met at her house this morning to make the magic happen. She added in some sweet figures from around her house, and her husbo Todd joined in on the fun, too.


This is the one Todd made.


And here is one of Crystal’s. She found the lovely, wide glass bowls at a local shop, on clearance. She is my people. And a gnome found a home there, along with an owl!


Look closely here, and you’ll see another owl, cleverly hidden. What a hoot.


A stoic Easter Island statue alongside both a plant from IKEA and one of the Zulily succulents. The statue seems happy, don’t you think?


And this little gnome lady, snuggled in beside some Hypoestes. She’s wearing new lipstick and hopes you like her hat.

We had so much fun! Suddenly everything we look at becomes possible terrarium fodder: wee Kewpie ™ dolls, a marble we found on the street…and couldn’t we take a cutting or two from that plant in the dentist’s office? No one would miss it, right? Must. Find. More. Window space.

Now, we just planted these today. I am as always an optimist, but I know they could all be dead by next week. But if that happens, we will figure out what went wrong, fix it, and resume terrariuming. It’s gardening plus playtime plus arts and crafts. What’s not to like?

PS:  there’s this guy, who sealed his terrarium in 1953 and has watered it only once since then. Personally, I would not have the self-control to not open up that bottle and look inside every five or ten minutes, which is probably why I don’t have a 62 year old terrarium yet. But just you wait. That gnome is going to see to it that good things happen up in there.

Posted in Craft, Grow, Love | 1 Comment

W is for Tammy Wynette

Shaun and I honeymooned in Wisconsin Dells, officially, but before the official honeymoon, we went to Winnipeg for a weekend. At our hotel, we found karaoke night in the bar, as was our way, and I sang first, as was also our way. Unless you’ve heard Shaun sing, trust me. You don’t want to follow him.

We took pride in surprising each other with songs, and refused to share our selections before we got on stage. While I appreciate folks who have “their” karaoke song, Shaun’s so spectacular at karaoke, I don’t know that I heard him sing more than two songs more than once in our fifteen years together. I am not so spectacular, but I tried to find my wheelhouse every time. (Mostly my wheelhouse is Loretta Lynn and Dusty Springfield)

So we’re in Winnepeg, karaoke-ing for the first time since getting hitched, and I think “Hm. Romantic song? Nah. Let’s go the other way. It’ll be funny.” We both submitted our slips at the same time, but I made clear that I got to sing first. Soon after, I belted out the lovely Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” This was a song that haunted me as a child, though my parents remained happily married until my dad died in 2002. As a blushing new bride? I found it hilarious. So I sang it, and sang it well.

And Shaun got up and sang some Billy Joel love song. I can’t remember if it was “She’s Got a Way,” but I do know it was absolutely the most romantic thing anyone has ever sung to me in the history of time.  I felt weak in the knees, but also like a shrew and an idiot, for my song choice. Good job, wife.

I tell you this not because I really think my song choice led to the end of my marriage thirteen years later, but because I needed a topic for my W entry, and I’ve been thinking about our D-I-V-O-R-C-E lately, as it will become final in the next few weeks.

Here’s the thing. Our divorce is consensual, and necessary, and good. We’ll all be better off for it, in the end (though V may never see it this way). But the worst part? You wanna know the worst part of getting divorced? (Not counting the whole shattering of our hopes and dreams and eternal resentment toward the concept of happily ever after and also we’re breaking our sweet daughter’s heart? Not counting that…) The worst part is, I have no one to help me hide the bodies.

Yeah, you read that right.

Of course, I don’t mean HUMAN bodies. But I was mowing the lawn today, which I do once a month whether it needs it or not, and found a dead robin in our front yard. I have always been a sucker for robins, and dead ones make me cry. I can’t explain it. They just do. So I mowed around it and later went back and moved the body, gingerly, into the trash can. This used to be one of Shaun’s (frankly few) jobs: there’s something dead? He’ll take care of it.

I am a feminist, and a proud one at that. Spiders, mice, bugs of any sort don’t bother me. But dead birds make my heart hurt for some reason. So I called in back up, when I could. Now that I’m the sole grown up, though, it’s my job, and I don’t like it.

But wait, there’s more.

After the unpleasantness that was the front yard, I went to the back, and mowed in a big square, smaller and smaller, until I was about halfway done, when suddenly I noticed, in nearly the center of my yard, a dead squirrel.

You may recall from earlier posts that squirrels are not now, nor have they ever been, my favorite. I rather despise them, and wish I could build a squirrel-proof dome over my backyard so as to keep them all at bay. I once ran over a squirrel on a rural road, and honestly felt no remorse whatsoever.

But this? A dead squirrel in the (ahem) dead center of my backyard? I did not rejoice. I might have, had Shaun been in the house to come and move it. But instead I had to get the snow shovel, and scoop up a mid-sized rodent, and dispose of it in the trash. This meant I had to look, really look, at the squirrel. She was sort of lovely, with a tail tipped in white, all around. Some poor, middle-aged squirrel, ending her life unceremoniously in the backyard of a known squirrel enemy. I was, dare I say it, sad. I don’t know what she died from, but I was sorry she’d met such a mediocre end in my overgrown grass. Having to move the body meant I had to acknowledge her life in a way in which I had grown unaccustomed, when I had Shaun to help wield the shovel.

I still don’t care for squirrels. And I don’t care for being the sole grown-up at this house. But I suppose it was good for me, to have to face the apparently untimely death of an enemy. And to take care of all the things, all on my own.

Tammy Wynette should’ve written a song about that, if you ask me.

Posted in $haun, Family, Grief | Leave a comment

V, revisited

I wrote Saturday’s post with V’s permission but it rings hollow, because what I really want to say, what I most want to tell her is more like this.

Holy fuck, child, this is not the life I had planned for us when I was a little girl dreaming of a daughter of my own. This is not where I thought we’d be on your tenth birthday, the two of us rattling around in a cluttered 4 bedroom house except every other weekend when you’re with your dad. I never imagined any of this, including your brilliance or passion or terror. You bring light and hilarity every day, and humble me with it.

And I am so sorry. I loved your dad with everything I had and he loved me too and it still wasn’t enough. I don’t want to say this to you because you are ten and I want you to believe in magic and true love and hard work because all of those are real and good but sweet Jesus even with all of them together sometimes it’s not enough.

So many times I’m impatient with you or too tired or busy grading to play. I want to show you how to unlock and discover all the good in this world (within and without of yourself) and I am trying my hardest to be healthy and brave alongside you so we can see it all, taste it all, be it all.

I’m sorry for the broken spots and the mighty rough patches.

I am grateful for your life. I love you so.

Posted in Daughter | 2 Comments


Tomorrow, V turns ten. Ten! The day after tomorrow, she starts fourth grade. While I try to get my brain around how time works, I thought I’d write her a letter in honor of her first decade. But it all seemed either too explainy–nothing like what I’d really say to her–or too inside-joke-laden, because that’s most of life these days. So I’ll just talk about her, and see if it makes a post.

In the last month, she’s come to love Gilligan’s Island. I wanted her to see some of the shows I grew up watching, and this was the one that stuck. Two weeks ago I went to tuck her in to bed (and take away the iPad) and she said “Just a minute, Mom. I’m watching Family Feud with Gilligan’s Island vs. Batman.” I confess to creating this monster, and proudly. She’s developing an animated reboot of the series, but this time she wants to be on the island, too. “It has to be animated, Mom, ’cause most of the actors are dead.” Okay, darlin’. Whatever you like. To balance the tale of a fateful trip, we’ve also got healthy doses of Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, in mostly equal measure. And the movie of our summer was clearly Inside Out, which, if you haven’t seen it yet, we’d both prefer you get on that.

She loves many Japanese things. There’re several anime that she’s found and loves (including Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Fairy Tail). She’s been teaching herself Japanese words and phrases, and we have fallen in love with our local Asian market, with all the coconut flavored things. We share a love of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and speaking of films, she wants to audit my World Cinema course this spring semester. I would be honored to be her teacher.

Here’s hoping ten ushers in new adventures, and we enjoy some calm, in English or Japanese. This first decade has been a fantastic ride, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment


Finally, the annual mushroom post you’ve all been longing for. I guess it’s been a few years since the last one, so I’ll try to make this one all the better.


This is the Yoda of mushrooms. He’s old and wrinkly and tired. But kickass, too.


Leaning tower of mushroom. Most of these are so tiny. Notice the size of the grass, people. Let this be your guide.


This is a giant, almost plate-sized mushroom on a stump. It’s brilliant yellow, and I think it’s growing while I take the photos.


The underside of the yellow plate mushroom. Note the bokeh.


And a better lit underbelly. It’s just the loveliest shade of yellow.


A side shot. I may be obsessed with this mushroom.


Ruffly mushrooms. These are neighbors to my lovely golden plate mushroom.


This looks like a marshmallow in the grass, or maybe a very white stone. Nope! It’s a fungus!


Like an umbrella turned inside out. So pretty.


Lanky stalk, ruffled underneath…again, note the grass. You’ve stepped on a lot of these, I guarantee it.


Mushrooms often come up in twos or more, and I assume it’s to stave off the loneliness. In taking photos, I sometimes move grass or sticks, but I never disrupt another mushroom. I can’t be responsible for the heartbreak.


Here’s our final entry in this year’s [first?] mushroom post. It is a tiny mushroom, photographed during complete, thick cloud cover. Unlike all of the others here, it’s grey, and more delicate than any of the ones pictured here. My favorite of the bunch.

Posted in Belle Taine, Mushroom, Photography | Leave a comment

Treasure hunting

My dad was a hoarder. He taught me the value of free stuff (though, to be honest, he didn’t mention the costs…but that’s for another post) and that there was no shame in making use of what someone else found useless. Clean up week was better than Christmas (and it still is!) and when friends ask “Hey, I’ve got some stuff. Do you want it?” I am just now learning how to be, shall we say, discerning.

I love to make stuff, and when I have the time and energy, I don’t want to be bothered by something pesky, like having to shop for supplies. Don’t get me wrong: I love a craft store as much as the next crafty girl. But when I wake up at 4 am itching to make a multi-pocketed tote bag with gingham trim, I don’t want to have to wait for a fabric store to open. I pride myself on having most anything one could need for most craft projects involving fabric, zippers, interfacing, ribbon, elastic, beads, paints….you get the idea.

So today, one of my bi-monthly Saturdays without V, I took myself to a morning movie (Trainwreck, but that’s another post…), then drove around to the dumpster behind JoAnn Fabrics.

Now, settle down. I know Dumpster Diving isn’t for everyone (though Lisa Ling seems to think it’s okay). And as I mentioned, I have no shortage of craft supplies in my house, and honestly I can afford most of the supplies I could want. But I also hate the amount of waste America produces, hate how disposable everything is, and I especially hate how wasteful stores are of perfectly good merchandise. If you wander around YouTube, you can see all kinds of people finding all kinds of things in store dumpsters, and there’s something extraordinarily satisfying of pulling something useful out of the jaws of overflowing landfills.

Today, I found 92 patterns in the dumpster. There were many more, but I got tired of pulling them out. (I only picked ones off the top, for those of you who find dumpsters squeamish…but really, there’s not much for sale at JoAnn Fabric to get yucky). If I’d waited for them all to go on sale, at best, I could buy them for $1 each, roughly (though the It’s So Easy patterns never go on sale, and are always $2.99 in my experience). Now, some of these patterns are not my style, or V’s style. 32 of them are duplicates.


Grown up clothes, above.


Accessories and home decor.


Kids’ clothes.

What with the internet, a lot of times when I sew I don’t even use patterns  anymore, or I already own the patterns I like most for things like pants for V, or skirts for  me, or backpacks or tote bags or baby shoes. Some sewists don’t like using commercial patterns, because they can be confusing and they are often sized by drunk turkeys: you not only can’t go by the size on the package, but you have to measure yourself, the pattern pieces, and calculate for seam allowances, among other things.

I’m not an expert seamstress by any measure, but Mrs. Malme, my home-ec teacher, made sure I could read a pattern, and what with the internet’s handy videos, I can almost always figure out that which I don’t understand. And though I love the internet, I can’t always picture how things come together if I can’t hold a pattern in my hands. So I’m very excited by this windfall, and I recognize how awesome my timing is, because I start teaching again in nine days. I have a lot of sewing to do before then.

But, gentle readers, perhaps you do, too! Because I got 32 duplicates, and because even some of the non-duplicates will not be useful to me, I’m going to give away some patterns! What would you like? I’ll mail out packages of patterns to up to 5 people who have use for them, however many you’ll take. Comment here or send me an email (removing the asterisks, jennife*rloyga**nyo*@*icl**m)/contact me through Facebook, and I’ll try to be fair and helpful if there’s some crazy mad rush for these. I’ll take requests until Tuesday, 18 August, after which I’m donating all the patterns I can’t use to the thrift store, where they STILL won’t likely end up in a landfill until someone can make use of them.

Whew! Are you excited? Me too. Here’s what’s on the table.  Remember, sizes run small in most patterns…and I’ve linked all the ones I can find to the Simplicity website. You can click around and look at the back of the pattern envelope/see other information through those links.


For women: Simplicity 1416, (formal dress, sizes 4-12) 1497, (short formal dress, sizes 4-12) and 1482 (cute tops, sizes 6-14)


More women: These three are all XXS-XXL, or about a size 2-24. Simplicity 0419 (tops with a cute back inset), 0424 (JUMPSUIT. You guys, we should all totally have matching jumpsuits. I have 2 extra of this pattern), 0818 (infinity dress. You could make all your bridal party dresses just from this pattern. If you don’t put them all in jumpsuits, I mean).


It’s so Easy! Simplicity 1398, unisex XS-XL (these really are easy patterns, and a good place for a new sewist. Shorts and shirts for sleeping). It’s so Easy! Simplicity 1530, unisex XS-XL (pajama pants and shorts, knit long-sleeved tops), and Project Runway Simplicity 1585, sizes 12-20 (cute swingy dresses).


It’s so Easy! Simplicity 1312, (animal hats with attached mittens, in 4 different sizes. Adorable).  Simplicity 0425, one size, infinity scarf, other embellished scarves.


Back to women’s: Simplicity 1620, (sizes 20-28, cute separates). Simplicity 1430, sizes 4-12; these pants look to be more complex (there’s pockets AND a zipper), but I believe in you. You can do it.


Simplicity it’s So Easy! 1313, lunch bag and snack pack.  Simplicity Sewing for Dummies 1579 Alphabet pillows. And  Simplicity it’s So Easy! 1275 Tree skirt and Christmas stockings.


On to little ones: Simplicity 1710: Baby shoes. Oh, mercy, you guys. Little shoes! For little feet! Simplicity 1448, baby dress, pinafore, pantaloons. Pantaloons! Sizes XS-L. And Disney’s Simplicity 1432, with leggings, tutus, and tops. They want you to buy the Disney appliques, but I’ll keep my eye out for them in the dumpster, if you like.


More little girl options: Simplicity 0421, fancy tutu dresses. sizes 1 1/2 -4.  Simplicity 1478, girls’ sizes 3-6, using that fancy ruffled fabric.


For slightly older girls (Sorry this picture is blurry). Sewing for Dummies 1455, size 7-14. I have sewn this pattern repeatedly, for V, mostly. I’ve only made the top, (and the top into a dress, here) but it’s adaptable and really truly simple. Simplicity 1625, size 8 1/2- 16 1/2: Girls plus separates. V’s hopefully going to get some school clothes out of this pattern. And another Simplicity 1478, this time in sizes 7-14.


Finally, back to women…The first two here are from the Multi-taskers for Simplicity line, where pieces are made to be a top and a skirt, or a skirt and a poncho, or some such thing. I like the idea, but have no idea how they work in practice.Both are XXS-XXL. Simplicity 1259,the one with the skirt/dress/poncho…Simplicity 1257, with miniskirts, a slouchy top, and some whatnot. Also pictured is  Simplicity 0420, which I really wish I could find a link to. It appears to be a reissued vintage pattern, and comes in sizes 6-14. It’s a really cute sleeveless dress, early to mid-60s, by the looks of it. It also says “Simple to sew using 5 main pattern pieces.”

So there you go. Let me know, and I’ll update the post as patterns get called for. Again, it’s first come, first served, based on time/date listed on however you contact me. And if you’re in my area, you won’t count as one of the 5, unless you want me to mail stuff to you. Aaaaannnndddd…go!

Posted in Blogland, Craft, Dad | Leave a comment