family


Wild violets, nature photograph by Tara Fly.

If these blog posts aren’t worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, I have to lay partial blame to the ridiculous childrens’ television program playing in the background. 😉

Yes, I’m guilty of using Nick Jr. for entertainment… especially on too-hot-to-play-outside days.
Although 80% of the time, the kids run off into another room, to plot mischief or merely to raise my blood pressure with their squeals and giggles…. (Aargh, what are they doing NOW?!)…
And I’m left in the room – alone – listening to Dora, Kai-Lan, or *shudders* worse yet, the Backyardigans.

How can someone possibly compose a masterpiece, when yellow penquins and hippos are singing:

“I want my river back, I want my river back
Fresh water’s what I lack, I want my river back…
For one thing I feel thirsty, or another thing I feel hot.
And some folks like to feel that way, but I myself do not!”

What’s going on with this crazy weather anyhow? 😛

I’ve had to double-check a few copies of published 2011 calendars, to see whether or not last month was officially removed from the roster.
It certainly seemed as if Mother Nature was in a temper, and substituted 2 months of April’s showers severe storms, instead of the usual balmy breezes of May…

Spring itself suffered from neglect, except for a few lovely days in February, where 70+ degree temperatures convinced the bulbs and buds to sprout early.

Magnolia tree blossoms, photo by Tara Fly.

I was lucky to capture the local advent of cherry and magnolia blossoms in March, even though my afternoon walk through Funkstown was accompanied by a downpour of rain.

I love taking photographs during rainshowers!
Not only do I get to practice those popular “water droplet” macro shots, but without the harsh contrasts from the sun, the colors of nature are richer and more vibrant in the diffused light.

wildflowers taken by Tara Fly.

You can see more photos from my Spring Walk series on Flickr… 🙂

Over the last few days, our temperatures have spiked into the triple digits…. *melting* …and the window fan in my art studio wasn’t adequately keeping the room comfortable; testing my dedication to remain long enough to get anything done. LOL
So we installed another air conditioner, to match the metal boxes hanging from each bedroom window.

To help offset the increase in electricity, I’ve taken further steps towards greener living… by putting the clothes dryer into semi-retirement.
Yes, friends, we’re drying clothes on the line!

Hanging clothes on the line

This was a common practice for us, while living in the country, but I gave up line-drying laundry over five years ago when we moved.
I’ve already left clothes hanging during rain showers, and overnight!

The towels sometimes feel like sandpaper, and everyone in the family thinks I’m crazy because I like my towels that way!
Bone dry towels seem to absorb more water than the expensive, fluffy ones.

We spruced up the front garden with a few additions – including a bleeding heart bush, a rosebush, some forget-me-nots, pinks, and phlox… the coleus bulbs which grew last summer will be filling in the front again this year.

TaraFly's garden

One aspect of gardening I don’t particularly enjoy is weeding, but not for the reason you may think.
I don’t mind getting my hands and knees muddy (and my feet too!) while digging around in the soil.
But determining which plants are “attractive” enough to let live, and which ones must be ripped out by their roots to starve to death, seems akin to mass slaughter: The Hitler of wild plants.

Woodland fairy garden of clovers

I realize that an overabundance of weeds can choke the nutrients from my pretty flowers, and some culling needs to be done. But I’m not aggressive about removing weeds altogether.

Small batches of clovers can stay, as well as wildflowers… and I love the wild berry vine growing along the back wall, even though its vines encroach on my other plants and need to be pruned back. It does a marvelous job of camoflaging the ugly plastic drain.

Drain pipe covered by a wild raspberry bush

Another project in the works is to grow some food. Our first batch of lettuce and green pepper seedlings were ravaged by kids and cats… but we’re trying the experiment again.

Our strawberry plant has been a big hit, though! Even if the toddlers are impatient to eat them, not fully understanding the concept of ripeness.
We’ve been through the discussion of green vs yellow bananas many times, so I pointed out that red strawberries can be eaten, and green ones need more time to grow.

Jake and the strawberry

Recently, Mia began excitedly ‘babbling’ about the strawberries… which was odd, because her vocabulary is usually quite clear.
I asked her to repeat herself, which she did – emphatically, but I still couldn’t understand what she was saying.
Over and over, she insisted upon using these words… and her confidence was unshaken, as I tried to suggest other possibilities.

“Hongsuh” and “bluesuh” sounded like total nonsense, but I let it go.

Until a few days later… sitting right here, at my desk, attempting to work, I overheard the words again.
Jake and Mia were eating lunch while watching “Ni-hao, Kai-Lan”; bits and pieces of the annoying catch-phrases crept through my selective sound barrier:

“Let’s Find… (clap, clap)… Out why!”
“You make my heart feel super happy!”

And suddenly, there they were! The two words she’d been using for the strawberries:  ‘hóng sè’ and lǜ sè

They were learning Mandarin Chinese colors – green and red.

Mia eating a homegrown strawberry

She knew what she was saying all along! I felt guilty for discouraging her, and realized perhaps I should start brushing up on my Nick Jr. 😉

But not today… the weather is tolerable, so we’re hitching up the wagon and heading to the park.

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Photo of horseback rider taken by TaraFly at Bellasana Stables.

Bellasana Stables, located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

On Saturday, the weather was balmy and gorgeous, and we were itching to get out of the house.
Desiring a new destination rather than our usual jaunt to the local park, we piled into the car for a road trip into the mountains of West Virginia.

My friend Carolyn operates a horse farm, Bellasana Stables in Shepherdstown, where she rescues neglected and abused horses to aid in their recovery. She also takes in retired show horses, race horses, and camp trail horses, and leases space for boarders.

Bellasana Stables in Shepherdstown WV

She gives riding lessons, and “equine facilitated therapeutic lessons” for people with disabilities – for which she received her 4-year college degree.

The kids love to visit her farm… there are goats and chickens to feed, huge horses to gawk over, and children to play with…. although we don’t get an opportunity to travel in that direction as often as we’d like.

TaraFly drawing horses during field trip to farm

I took along my sketch book, and managed to capture a few rough drawings of horses carrying riders.
I needed the references for gentleman cat portraits I have in mind.
We also captured quite a bit of video while we were there… also helpful for later drawing references! Especially now that I’ve learned how to grab single frames from video! 😀

When we returned home, I edited a few clips together to create this new YouTube video.  I saved my favorite bit for the ending:
Check out the horse who untied his lead rope! ;D

Joe also brought along the camera, and we took turns photographing goats, horses, birds… and children frolicking in the grass.

making new friends at the farm

Mia, at left, was happy to make a new little friend...

This was only Jacob’s second visit to Bellasana… and he doesn’t remember his first experience as a six-month-old.

He made a couple additional appearances while still inside my womb, and fortunately survived one disastrous encounter when a horse’s hoof connected with my upper thigh, mere inches away from my very pregnant belly. :/

Artist TaraFly and her two-year-old son at horse farm.

I was standing off to his side while grooming him, and apparently picked a sensitive scab…
I didn’t realize that horses can karate chop kick sideways!

I think the surprise and fear were stronger than the pain, although I had a huge, blackish hoof shaped bruise across my thigh for weeks.

Needless to say, I’ll always prefer animals that can fit comfortably on my lap.

But I can proudly cross it off my list…
“Stung by a hornet? Check.”
“Bitten by a stray dog? Check.”
“Kicked by a horse? Check.”

“Broken any bones?”……

*silence*
(Still waiting….)

Although Joe and I are both leery of these monstrous beasts, their powerful legs, and huge teeth…the children have no fear, and wanted *real* pony-rides.
Carolyn was busy teaching lessons to her regular students, though, and we had to content ourselves with being spectators.

girl horseback riding at Bellasana Stables

Her summer riding camps are starting soon, however, which means more trips to the farm are already in the works. 🙂

If you live near Shepherdstown, WV and would like to check out the farm for yourself… you can contact Carolyn using this form.
You can also catch up with Bellasana Stables on their Facebook business page.

Digital Painting of Phantom Cat by TaraFly

We dance delicately in this transparent masquerade.

Since it’s 3:00AM, and I haven’t gone to bed yet… I thought it might be an excellent time to draft a blog about a serious topic.
Which may or may not get published later today when I wake up.

So many of my drafts never make it.

We, bloggers, are faced with a difficult decision every time we sit down to type.
The decision to share or not to share. And it’s a doozy.

Many of the blogs I love to read involve sharing glimpses into someone’s personal space:

how they decorate their homes, how they manage their time, how they run successful (fill-in-the-blanks), and even how they cooked dinner last night.

If they share the recipe, even better!

Some blogs go a few giant steps further by sharing too much information… but perhaps topics which seem unnecessarily sensitive to me are precisely what someone else needs to hear.

Whenever I consider sharing something deeply personal, I always ask myself whether anyone might benefit from reading it.

And then I ask myself whether anyone might get hurt by reading it.

Because we are not blogging into a vacuum, our words being sucked into cyber oblivion… even though it may feel that way at times. Especially when staring at numbers on a Dashboard.

Someday… somewhere…. someone will read our words.
What impact will it have on them?

Freedom of Speech may grant us the unalienable Right to say certain things, but does that mean we should say them?
It’s an ethical question, without an easy answer.

This post was inspired by a blog I’ve been following, written by a jilted ex-wife who has been recounting every painful experience of her divorce, along with her husband’s rebound marriage to his lover…
You can well imagine all the lovely fodder that goes along with that sort of drama, sprinkled with a heaping tablespoon of custody and parallel-parenting issues.

Although she never mentioned the ex or his new wife by name… various innocuous clues she has scattered across her posts could lead any curious (or bored) web surfer off on a merry adventure to find these abominable sinners.
I was curious and bored one evening, and found them quite easily using a combination of People Finder, Classmates Alumni, and a few other search results…

I had more than enough information about the parties than I cared to know. Thanks Google.

Now, granted, you know I’m not a malicious sort of person who would stalk and harass complete strangers to show my loyalty to a blogger (who is also a stranger to me). Nor do I blindly accept every accusation made against them…
Having dined at both ends of the table in my own relationships, I can assure you, the truth usually takes a seat somewhere in the middle.

Apparently other readers lack the courtesy I take for granted, and have left nasty online messages for the couple.
A form of cyber bullying – from adults, no less! Juvenile behaviour which prompted the couple to take the blog authoress to court, asking that she “cease and desist” from writing about them, and thus provoking her readership.
And apparently the judge denied their request.

The defense maintains that her blog is “helping” women to cope with the aftermath of messy divorce, by sharing terrible personal experiences and their outcomes, and serving as a model for wives wanting to reclaim control and reinvent themselves.

My blog, too, has become a personal reinvention project; an online journal where I can sort through my feelings, and reach out to sympathetic individuals who might be facing similar circumstances.
Perhaps one reader has already fought a battle I’m currently engaged in, and they’re willing to impart some of their hard-won knowledge…
And perhaps I’ve learned a couple of things worth passing along as well.

I’ve sat here at this desk many, many times… questioning whether or not to spill juicy bits.

And most of the time, I don’t spill. Sorry guys!

And here is why: most of these experiences involve not only me, but family, friends, co-workers, exes… a whole cast of characters, in fact… none of whom auditioned for a starring role in my made-for-internet soap-blog-drama.

I may joke about the ex who dumped me because the Hale-Bopp comet was interfering with his brain… or sigh with relief over the breakup with the obsessive man who texted me 156 times per day, and demanded I answer each text.

But did I give you all the dirty details? Do you really know anything about these people?

Nope. And I plan to keep it that way.
For their sakes, as well as for mine.

Once upon a time, only celebrities needed to worry about their private lives being exposed.

Normal people didn’t have an audience willing to devour the embarrassing published photos from paparazzi, the sordid memoirs of ex-lovers, and the unauthorized biographies of their estranged family.

We didn’t need a PR representative to maintain our “image” for us, working tirelessly to put out every fire, tracking down credible sources to refute the allegations.

But unfortunately, the internet has created a new breed of celebrity… and not the media attention-seeking teens like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black.

Normal people are becoming famous simply by sharing too much information, and everyone associated with them will be dragged along for the ride, kicking and screaming in protest.

Mr. Comet Man could potentially become something beyond his control, a symbol of a man whose brain is easily manipulated by extraterrestrial influences.
And I’m sure he would thank me for that bit of disclosure. 😉

There are certain sensitive topics, especially pertaining to my childhood, which I’ve hesitated to lay bare… even though my stories may speak to someone, because they also have the potential to inflict a great deal of pain and embarrassment on people who aren’t prepared to handle the repercussions.

A couple of these people are no longer with us, and therefore unable to give their testimony.

One non-life-changing example involved a post concerning my mother’s aversion to owning pets.
My description of her attitude towards caregiving, which I feel is accurate (at least in my eyes), landed me in serious hot water!
She had never visited my website or read my blog until that moment… Coincidence or karma?

The issue I have with many bloggers is their total lack of consideration for the feelings of others, as I struggle each day with being considerate myself.

Balancing precariously on a very thin tightrope, taking one cautious step at a time… to avoid falling into the “Tell All” temptation which may feel like liberation for a few seconds, but in reality is a free-fall to the ground without a safety net.

In the case of this jilted wife – she and her ex have children… and all this mud-slinging and negativity will not help them develop a meaningful relationship with their father (who shares custody).

Whether her accusations are true or not…. Whether she is within her Rights to speak freely or not…
Publically disrespecting and humiliating the man who is actively helping to raise her children is the equivalent of a mortal sin under the Commandments of Divorce.
(I have cement copies of these stone tablets serving as bedroom nightstands, so I know they exist).

And the poor kids caught in the middle of this verbal assault will be the ones who ultimately suffer.
I know this also, sadly, as a fact…

I can hit the “fast forward” button 20 years and predict their futures… the emotional barriers, the jaded attitudes, the broken bonds of trust…

I’ve walked barefoot in their shoes for a long, long time…

Before reality TV created stars who were famous simply for being famous.

Before our neighbors were filming YouTube music videos and auditioning for American Idol.

Before divorced parents had blogs, and the internet.

We still had our words…
and words can hurt.

To share or not to share.

A question of ethics.

Christian A. Harvey tribute

Christian Harvey, November 15, 1976 - March 20, 2011

Sometimes life throws an unexpected gut-wrenching twist into your predictable routine, and like the first ice-cold blast of water shooting from the shower faucet – in that instant when your mind is cruelly jarred into alert panic, you realize the water heater is not working….

Then the dread creeps in, frozen fingers tickling your spine, as you contemplate how long you’ll survive without the comfort and convenience of warm water.

Freezing water is just the tip of the iceberg, pun poorly intended.
We take nearly everything in our lives for granted – the things which give us pleasure and amusement, the things which keep us safe and healthy, have all become such an integral part of our environment that we cannot imagine life without them.

We may romanticise life in Colonial America or Regency England, but I doubt whether any of us would survive one week in such primitive conditions, without having a nervous breakdown and subsequent re-evaluation of our priorities.

When we strip all the excess finery away, we’re left with humanity’s basic needs. One of those needs is companionship and social interaction with other human beings.

The greatest technological achievements of mankind were developed specifically to connect people to one another.
Transportation to bridge the gap between towns and families, telecommunication to send messages farther that people could easily travel, and the invention of various appliances meant to ease our workload – presumably so that we would have more time to socialize.

Christian Harvey, Lorrie Whittington, Tara Fly Facebook conversation

Friends react to my horrible confession... I follow Martha.

 

People need people.

Yes, it’s corny… and I cringed writing it, because I can just hear Barbra Streisand’s voice crooning in my head:
“…are the luck-i-est peee-ople…”

(Go ahead, I won’t tell… you know you want to sing it!)

But it’s the truth.
And sadly, people are one of the ‘things’ we tend to value the least.

We get short-tempered with the incompetence of our sales clerk or waitress.. and vise versa.
We belittle our spouses when gossiping with our co-workers… and vise versa.
We lose our patience with our children, our parents and in-laws, our supervisors and “The Man”… and sometimes even wish
We could escape from them all.

We desire a quiet island or mountain-top, to sit and meditate, to commune with our own thoughts.. a place free from those blasted people who dare intrude into our lives and demand our attention.

However ignoring people comes with a heavy price. When you shut people out, it’s like turning off the hot water heater.
You don’t notice anything has changed, until… you turn on the faucet to take a shower.
Then it hits you, the icy frigid water, the lack of heat…
The lack of human company.
Suddenly everyone is… gone.

Christian Harvey and filmmaker John Waters

Chris and legendary filmmaker John Waters (from his FB album)

I lost a friend over the weekend, someone very special to many of us, but unfortunately I can’t say I knew him as well as I should have.

He and I had both managed large departments for a global, evil retail super center (Toys and Grocery, respectively)…
We made small talk in the company break room and during group functions.

I knew that he was passionate about charitable and environmental causes, that he grew his hair long and then cut it off for Locks of Love (at least twice that I can recall), he had an anti-establishment view towards government and authority.
He listened to punk rock and heavy metal bands, worked in his spare time as a sound technician for local rock bands and theatre groups, and generally considered himself a misunderstood outcast.

Christian Harvey technician in recording studio

Christian in the studio, courtesy of his Facebook Tribute page

He struck me as having a somewhat esoteric nature, that I wanted to get to know better but my reserved nature held me at bay.
Nevertheless, when we both gave up our jobs in order to pursue other careers, I decided to locate him on Facebook to “keep in touch”.

And as I imagined, we clicked right off the bat, and he became one of the most engaging and entertaining commenters on my somewhat mundane posts.
Each morning when checking my e-mails, I’d see a notification that “Christian replied to your post”, and I knew I was in for a real treat:
“This will be good; get ready to laugh!”

Christian Harvey, Sarah Phillips, Tara Fly on Facebook

He was always quick to reply with a quip.

 

Occasionally, I’d post something especially bizarre knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to respond; he was also one of the few people on my friends’ list who could appreciate the morbid side of my humor.

Christian Harvey, Michelle Ahlstrom, Tara Fly joke about meat cleavers

For the serial killer who has everything: sterling silver meat cleaver earrings?

 

But while we teased each other with observations and witty cracks, it was still the online version of break room small-talk. I never took the time to dig beneath the surface of Christian’s charming exterior, to examine the personal demons that he kept chained in the basement.

Christian Harvey Facebook photo album plaque

He was the 'nice guy loser' in his mind....

 

Despite how far we’ve progressed in the year 2011, how easily we can communicate and share every bit of our lives with the rest of the world, people are still keeping each other at arm’s length. We still maintain this level of privacy and anonymity, and are very selective about who we let into our inner sanctum.

The trouble is, we have so many “friends”… but we don’t really have any friends.

Who are these people anyway?
We collected them because we wish to know them better… but many of us never make that effort.
We just string them along on our social networking sites, leaving breadcrumbs for them to follow and nibble on, and pat them on the head with our thumbs up of praise.

When it comes to a matter of great importance, a matter of life and death, could we depend on them?
And could they depend on us?

The news of Christian’s death, knowing we had just chatted on Facebook days earlier, made me keenly and painfully aware that I never really knew what was going on in his life.
I wasn’t checking in with him regularly, and paying close enough attention to the changes in his mood and behaviour.

Instead, I was performing my joint roles as wife and mother, obsessing over my silly website portfolio malfunction, worrying that my allergies and the full moon were hampering my creativity… truth is, I’ve been completely self-absorbed.
And sadly, this revelation doesn’t come as a surprise, as I’ve been introspective for years.

Christian Harvey Tara Fly facebook conversation March 17th

Complaining about my allergies on March 17th... three days before

 

But I lost someone who mattered to me, and it was someone I didn’t even realize mattered so much to me… until he was gone.
Like turning on the faucet and fully expecting to get hot water….

And as I contemplate what happens next, and pine over the lost opportunity to reach out, and dwell in darkness over how his mother must be suffering to lose her precious child…

I’m also making a vow to myself.
And to my son and daughters, my husband, my relatives and friends – both off-line and on-line…
That I will be more attentive in the future.

I will take those extra few moments to write back, to click your profile and read your messages, to give you more lap-time and cuddle-time (if you live in my house!), and make sure that everything I say and type is expressed in a kind, compassionate manner.

It won’t be easy for me.

I’m one of those people who craves “space”, and that ever-elusive “peace and quiet”….

But anyone who has lost a family member knows how depressing that “peace and quiet” is, which comes with an empty house, an empty room, an empty chair…
In all that newfound space, you’ll see shadows moving, and you’ll turn to see – hopeful and still-expectant to find your loved one standing in the doorway, alive and smiling.

All the technological advances, greed, and ambition in the world cannot replace what we need most…. other people.

Without love, we are nothing.

So I give you my love. All of you.
Oh, and a can of SPAM too!

Christian Harvey, TaraFly joking about SPAM cans

Sharing some crazy craft project ideas...

 

Those of you who read these words, those of you who don’t… and even the ones who are too young to read, but are sitting on my lap watching me type. You get kisses instead. Unless you’d rather have SPAM. 😉

Let’s hug and embrace each other, reconnect, and share who we really are.

[And on that note, I’m going to confess share that one of my favorite songs was written and performed by Metallica.
I’m dedicating “Nothing Else Matters” to Christian, even though he preferred Pink Floyd.]

Little girl in Radio Flyer wagon at the post office

Mia wants to visit the post office every day!

One of the nice things about living on the fringe of the Funkstown community is our convenient proximity to the local postal branch. The traffic is light and neighbors are friendly, in sharp contrast to our former residence on a busy route near the main post office building.

Trips to mail my artwork once involved stressful bumper-to-bumper congestion and driver road rage… other drivers’ rage, not mine.
You could park along the busy street, and risk getting mowed down by a harried motorist as you attempt to exit your vehicle… or else face a stand-off in the crowded parking lot, and watch your back in case somebody isn’t watching theirs, and slams you in reverse.

The lines of customers inside the building were often very long, unless you visited early in the morning. It wasn’t unusual for these trips to take almost an hour.
The building was less than 10 minutes away.

Little boy riding in red Radio Flyer wagon

Bumping up and down in our little red wagon

Last year, we crunched some numbers in our budget and decided to become a single-car family, with Joe using it primarily for commuting to work. We juggle all our personal appointments around his schedule, and I’ve started walking again.

My autumn walk in the rain, to mail my “Queen of Cats” painting to her new owner, was taken while he remained at home with our children.

I’ve never liked dragging my children on errand runs, and after two botched attempts to bring them along while conducting bank business, I realized it was easier to wait until Joe came home during his lunch break… so they could be left behind.

Taking the kids anywhere has always been a circus act, with the usual performers: leaking sippy cups, forgotten baby wipes, hats and shoes that get stripped off and lost, toddler mood swings, motion sickness, and the myriad of toys and games that insist on tagging along.

Little boy in sweater holding sippy cup.

Mia gets crabby after 10 minutes in a car seat, and Jacob loathes being strapped into a stroller…
They are both too impulsive to walk safely beside me on the sidewalk.

But I don’t like relying on Joe’s flaky work schedule… what if he gets detained in a meeting, or is required to attend a court hearing that lasts all afternoon?
It was important and necessary for me to reclaim my independent mobility. And my freedom came to me unexpectedly during an after-Christmas shopping trip to Toys-R-Us.

The answer to my prayers came in the form of a red Radio Flyer, with two fold-down seats, a storage trunk, cup holders, and a detachable canopy top.
Yes, this is my alternative to the mini-van. 😉

Little girl sitting in radio flyer red wagon.

Mia is all dressed and ready to go.

I purchased it on sale, brought it home, and let the kids grow accustomed to it by allowing them to pull each other around the living room. But they were looking forward to testing it on the open road.

The weather finally climbed into the 60’s (F) this week, and a recent customer’s art purchase required a trip to the post office. They were excited to ride down the sidewalk in their new Mommy-fueled convertible wagon!

Little girl and boy riding in red wagon

Of course the highlight to our afternoon outing involved the detour we took afterwards. We passed the Memorial Park on our way home, and I took a right hand turn, guiding the wagon towards the spiral slides and monkey bars.

Little girl sliding down spiral slide.

Mia showed me her skills climbing the curved ladders, and Jake discovered a deep mud puddle.

Boy covered in mud at playground

Mom, I've changed my mind about this mud stuff.

As an off-road vehicle, through melting snow and over rough terrain, the flyer’s rugged wheels navigated beautifully.

They may eventually grow weary of this novelty, but for now, we’re looking for more excuses to take walks into town.
And even without errands to run… who can resist a trip to the park for fun’s sake?

Children playground park jungle gym

School Girl Cat on Football Field 50 Yard Line by TaraFly

“I have not had the pleasure of understanding football.” – @writershouses

Writers’ Houses on Twitter echoed my feeling towards the panicked momentum leading up to Sunday’s Big Game.

Michelle Scott @mscottdjh followed up by tweeting:
“Incremental victories are coupled with exuberant celebration and punishing admonishment.”

“Is such an indiscriminate display of force by the stronger sex truly necessary? Indeed, it does them a disservice.”@rosannecash

And thus heralded the Sunday night Twitter phenomenon affectionately known as “Jane Austen at the Super Bowl”, a title coined by Rosanne Cash (singer/author, and yes, daughter of Johnny) to politely mock the brutish sport in a manner befitting our beloved 19th century gentlefolk.

Whenever football season rears its ugly head, Joe and I lock our doors, turn off all the lights, and hide in the hall closet… until the yellow and black banners slowly disappear like melting snow from windows and porches around our neighborhood.

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
@WesleyStace (John Wesley Harding)

Pittsburgh street celebrating Steelers

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Maryland does have a football team of its own … wait, let me Google it… yes, the Baltimore Ravens.
And of course, the Washington (D.C.) Redskins, whose reputation is legendary even to those of us who aren’t following their career.
Are they winning again??

However, since Hagerstown sits on the Pennsylvania border, with its close proximity to Pittsburgh only a few hours drive, many of our neighbors feel excused to switch their allegiance in favor of the golden Steelers who have already won six Super Bowls and can “beat the crap out of everyone” (or so I’ve been proudly informed).

“One wonders whether the gentlemen’s actions will rival the braggadocio on display.”
@CrossHare (Hisao Yatsuhashi)

“Are they to be murdered on the field?! Such an ill-advised display of manhood is indeed alarming.” – @rosannecash

Terrible Towels Pittsburgh Steelers

What are these terrible towels all about? Photo: Wikipedia

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for terrible towels.”@asavwms (Asa Williams)

What the heck is a Super Bowl anyway?

I blogged about my retail in-experience with football madness two years ago, as a grocery manager forced to deal with Event Planning for the Big Game.
I joked that it was taken as seriously by food-connoisseurs as Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts… with elaborate spreads of “finger foods” and dips being prepared.

“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love your Buffalo Chicken Pizza.”
@heymrmiked (Michael Dunn)

“No one knows how I suffer. Such flutterings of my heart and pains in my head. Perchance too many jalapenos.” – @anamcara1004 (Jen Nash Humphrey)

Apparently, America does indeed consider Super Bowl Weekend to be a national holiday, even if the government hasn’t officially declared it so. And Wiki claims it is the second-largest day for food consumption, after Turkey Day.
(No wonder I was feeling stressed, while Frito and Pepsi displays devoured every square inch of my salesfloor!)

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”
@katekilla

“Super, you say? I have a far superior Bowl at Chawton – Jasperware decorated with the most delectable chinoiserie.”@WesleyStace (John Wesley Harding)

Last weekend, I couldn’t have honestly answered the question “Who do you think will win?” because I didn’t know which team was opposing the Steelers. It wasn’t obvious from my trips into town, where only yellow and black paraphernalia were on display and for sale in shop windows.

“The men, all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all.”
@mfortuin11 (Matilda)

Finally on Saturday night, I overheard someone in the grocery store griping about the lack of local support for the Green Bay Packers.
The other team.

My only recollection of the Packers involved a high school friend (Bobby) who was craaazy about them, wore their green jerseys everywhere, and got teased by the other guys for it.
He also poked gentle fun at my mother, because as a Minnesota resident – she’s a Vikings fan by default (because my stepfather is).
I gather the Wisconsin Packers and the Minnesota Vikings don’t like each other… *shrugs at the understatement*

I was so tired of hearing about these blasted Steelers, that I hoped the Packers would win, just to shut everyone up!
And to brighten Bob’s day, of course… 🙂

“I’ll not leave this house until its been universally contradicted that you intend to paint yourself green, Miss.”
@BusterBNYC (Bill Buster)

Plastic cheese head hat Green Bay Packers Wisconsin

A cheese hat, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

One funny thing about the team from Wisconsin, a state infamous for its cheese production: all the die-hard fans wear cheese!

Yes, they really do.

Well, it’s plastic molded into cheese shapes…
but still…

“A cheese bonnet!” exclaimed Mrs Bennett unexpectedly. “I have always wanted a splendid cheese bonnet!”
@WesleyStace

“Some ladies are determined to sport bonnets made of cheese. I must take to my bed.”@rosannecash
“And other ladies have made corsets of cheese. Very shocking indeed!”

Continued Mrs Bennett unadvisedly. “There is nothing so merry as a ‘chapeau de ‘fromage'”@WesleyStace

The silly state of the Packers’ fans’ attire sent the entire network of Janeites twittering…

“The cheesehead wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.”@abroshar (Abroshar)

“The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could in their cheeseheads.”@janinelaporte (Janine Laporte)

“All in all, an unusual display of circuses. Presumably bread was also available”@dan_ad_nauseam (Daniel Reitman)

Although Sunday night was as quiet and uneventful as nights could possibly be with 3 young children… and football was banned from Joe’s 42″ flat-screen pride and joy… the glimpses of Super Bowl fever that I caught on Twitter almost convinced me to sneak into the bedroom to catch the action…

Not the gaming action, mind you. The entertainment!

It began with pop-siren Christina Aguilera flubbing our national anthem in a moment of extreme emotion.

Kathryn Bass was concerned over the poor girl’s health:
“One wonders at the unexpected ululations of Miss C____ A____. Is she quite well?”

“I believe the misspeak by Ms Aguilera greatly vexed many. Perhaps the result of too many excessive diversions.”@anamcara1004

“You have delighted us long enough, Miss Aguilera.”
@Julian_West

“Before she could reply to entreaties that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded by the other performers.”@Amyloo (Amy Bellinger)

The other hot topic of the evening centered around the half-time performances. Just like our favorite night at the theatre, football games have intermissions. During the break, attendees will be treated to a live show of musical guests.

In the earliest shows, the entertainers were typically college marching bands… but over time, the producers realized that big stars would gain better publicity.
Past celebrity performances included: Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Queen Latifah, Aerosmith, Britney Spears, and Janet Jackson (who accidentally lost a bit of clothing during her number).

“One hopes the unfortunate incident involving the lady’s corset is not repeated on this occasion.”
@rosannecash

For Sunday’s spectacle, fans were treated to a live show by a hip-hop group called The Black Eyed Peas. It was a futuristic montage of flashing lights, silver jumpsuits, glowing dancers, and well… you get the idea.

“Regarding the Legume Chorale, it grieves me to note that the spectacle exceeds the musicality.”
@rosannecash

The poor Peas, now officially dubbed the Legume Chorale by Rosanne, received a public thrashing all around.

“Legume Chorale, you have delighted us long enough. Let the football teams have time to exhibit.”@janetrutter (Janet Rutter)

“Devil take those young dogs! How they are singing out! Stop your confounded pipe or I shall be after you.”
@itsthebunk (Liza Bernstein)

“They resumed with relief, and perhaps a mutual desire of never meeting the Black Eyed Peas again.”@abroshar

People watching at home are also entertained by the commercials played on TV during halftime. Apparently, the Super Bowl is one of the highest rated programs on television. According to Wikipedia, this year’s Super Bowl attracted 111 million viewers and has become the “most viewed television broadcast of any kind in U.S. history”.
Yikes!

So advertisers pay hefty sums of money (think $3 million) to have their commercials aired during the game, most notably at halftime.
These ads are usually major productions themselves, with people tuning in just to see the spots.

We didn’t. But Joe later admitted that he was tempted to check out the ads.

“The commercials are tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
@dkrobledo (Danie Robledo)

“Though I find the sport itself coarse,” said Mrs Cawthon, “still I must admit to enjoying the advertisements.”@briantedjones (Brian Jones)

Brett Favre Green Bay Packers

Mr. Favre, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite the humorous parodies being flung about, it was obvious to an observer that at least a few of these literati were actually watching the game. And knew what was going on, and who was involved with whom.

“I cannot think what is the matter with me!” said Mr Rodgers when his legs were removed from under his body.”@itsthebunk

“There will be several embarrassed gentlemen in white if the gentlemen in green are the victors.”@dan_ad_nauseam (Daniel Reitman)

“Mr. Favre was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by concussions.” – @dylanw (Dylan Wilbanks)

“I do not wish for opinions of men wearing stripes when the actions of a man w/a pigskin have spoken so plainly.”@avb (Ashley Van Buren)

“I may boast that no gentleman of my acquaintance would be in a position to be called for unnecessary roughness.”@pcarlson001 (Pam Carlson)

And as we’ve all heard by now, unless you’re still hiding in your hall closet…
The Cheeseheads from Wisconsin won the game.
My friend Bob was notedly ecstatic. It’s safe for us to emerge and wander the streets again.

“I will not say that your Steelers are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”
@janiceharayda (Janice Harayda)

“Lydia’s low spirits upon the regiment vacating Merton were revived upon sighting young swains in green and yellow.”@elizabethkarr (Elizabeth Karr)

I wanted to compile a list of all the witty and remarkable tweets from the #JaneAustenAtTheSuperBowl discourse, earlier in the week, but many honorable ladies of the Austen blogosphere were burning their midnight oil and beat me soundly to the finish line. 😉

Here are a some of my favorite random quips:

“I do not perceive the greatness in this ball, there being no dancing and the gentlemen acting too much with wine.”@EFAmericana (Andres Rojas)

“Such lust for possession of an inanimate object so entirely lacking in aesthetic merit does not bode well.”@HumidCity (Humid City)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, a single man in possession of the pigskin must be in want of a touchdown.”
@dandavenport

“It is your turn, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the shotgun formation & you ought to remark on the snap count.”@Ohiofoodlovers (JPoleon)

“What a commotion! There runs a man with a ball as if something were after him! He’s lost all sense of decorum!”@BusterBNYC (Bill Buster)

“A cheerleader, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”@andevers (A.N. Devers)

Perhaps next year, I’ll invite you to take a turn with me around the sidelines, as I hear the sport can be quite refreshing!
The gentleman and brutes can admire us much better from their positions on the field.

Purchase, where might one procure a bonnet and corset made from cheese?

canned vegetables and food pantry

Getting a peek inside our cupboards...

Last week, I wrote a fairly difficult post (for me, anyway), confronting my prejudice against the criminally insane… and how I’ve struggled to change my perspective on judging others.

It’s extremely easy from where we stand, to look at people in less fortunate circumstances, and blame them for their own misery.
I was raised to think that way. And I still believe in personal accountability.

The year 2011 is not even 1/12 over… and already I see a pattern emerging: this is shaping up to become the year which tests my faith and personal convictions.

Beginning with prejudice.

I carry around quite a bit of prejudice, typically towards people who moan and complain about being victimized.
Society is against them.
Their employers are against them.
The government is against them.
They just can’t get anywhere in this world.

You know people like this. You might even be one of them.

I’ve encountered plenty of obstacles in my short lifetime, but if I failed to overcome them or find a work-around, I attributed it to a lack of motivation or laziness on my part… not on some conspiracy designed to hold me back.
“Where there’s a will…”

Like many people who have never lived without, I’ve frowned on the “abuse” of the welfare system.
I’ve never applied for food stamps, subsidized housing, or the like; it looked like a joke being played on a naive bureaucracy. Don’t those silly state workers know “single mothers” have live-in boyfriends?

But before you angrily grab your keyboard to respond how misguided I am… let me finish, mkay? 😉

This year, changes are taking place around here… too early to be discussed yet.
But in the last week, I’ve stared the possibility of poverty square in the face, and it scared me. So I’m re-evaluating where I stand.

When you have $0.00 in your bank account, after getting work hours cut and paying some large bills, and with two weeks looming until next payday… you begin to panic.

You think about the last full gallon of milk: it won’t survive a week with three kids. It won’t survive 2 days!
You think about that 1/4 tank of gas in the car. The diapers, the cat food, the laundry soap…

You also begin to think irrationally, and your choices suddenly multiply: you could beg for money, you could steal, move in with relatives, or apply for welfare.

Or you could get creative.

That’s the decision I made.

a nearly empty freezer with popsicles and tostitos

Joe has anxiety attacks when the frozen dinners are gone

Taking an inventory of our cupboards and fridge gave Joe migraines, but we had to look past our convenience “Go-To” foods – to see the full potential of what we had stocked away.
You know those boxes of pasta lying around? Elbow, Bowtie, Spaghetti… cook them!
The canned veggies that nobody wants to eat… find a way to serve them. (Bwahahaha)

Our biggest concern was the milk situation. We hadn’t anticipated that we’d be broke, and didn’t stockpile on our most frequently consumed beverage.
The apple and orange juice disappeared very quickly, so I made sure to conserve our milk exclusively for the kids to drink.
Which begs the question: What did we cook with?

When I first became obsessed with homemade baked goods, I went crazy in the Baking Aisle of the grocery store, and purchased everything I might ever need:
Brown and white sugars, all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda and powder, packets and refrigerated yeasts, condensed and powdered milk

When the milk alternatives ran out (every recipe seems to require milk!) we moved on to the heavy cream that Joe had purchased over the holidays for my homemade eggnog. We still had an entire pint of cream leftover!

I Googled “milk substitution” and one Know-it-All posted an article that you could NOT substitute heavy cream for milk.

However, I knew that 3/4 cup of milk + 1/3 cup of melted butter could be substituted for heavy cream, if you had none on hand.
So why not the reverse??
Since our butter was also low, and every recipe wanted butter, I tested the theory.

I made our pancakes with heavy cream replacing BOTH milk and butter, and guess what? It worked! Haha
The pancakes were still fluffy and delicious, and the kids gobbled them up without complaint.

So screw the Know-it-Alls. Don’t listen to them! ;P

The kids are huge junk-food fiends. Mia’s favorite snack is the Pop-Tart, and she can go through an entire box within days.
So once the two boxes of strawberry and cinnamon flavored Pop-Tarts were gone, despite our best efforts to teach a 3-year-old about conservation, Joe looked up recipes for homemade variations.

And we found an excellent one here, but you can Google “homemade Pop Tart” also…
Basically, it’s just a pie crust recipe rolled flat, cut into rectangles, and filled with jam, jelly, applesauce, a brown sugar cinnamon mixture, or whatever you like. 🙂
It turned out light and flaky, and reminded me of a Toaster strudel.

A handmade baked pop tart using pie crust and jam

Joe and Lydia's initial tasty attempt at Pop-Tart baking

We had a nearly full jar of strawberry jam in the fridge, and we also experimented with cinnamon applesauce.
It’s an easy recipe, with very few ingredients. Joe and Lydia made the first batch together.

Little girl hanging upside down on chair

Some days I measure my worth by those empty baskets... sad, huh.

My obsessive goal to keep up with our laundry was put to the test, when our industrial size bottle of detergent decided to run dry at the worst possible time. Sure, I tore apart the top of the container and rinsed the residual soap from its plastic sides into our machine. But it wasn’t enough.

That green box of Borax sat on the shelf, mocking my laziness.

Last year, a few soap sellers in the Etsy forums helpfully posted links to their favorite recipes for handmade laundry detergent… but they involved shredding mild hand soap with a cheese grater and boiling the scrapings into 5 gallons of boiling water.
I had all the ingredients, including the 5 gallon metal pail, but who wants to cook soap shreddings?? Not when detergent is more convenient. 😉

With no other alternative, I spent one afternoon boiling soap. It wasn’t terribly hard, and the loads came out smelling clean, but I won’t be using the grater for food anytime soon. LOL

“Going green” and “living sustainably” are hot buzzwords that many of us equate with expensive energy-star upgrades or tree-hugging communes. Those folks who ride bicycles in 15 degrees farenheit, trying to avoid snowdrifts.

But in reality, sustainable living includes finding creative ways to cut expenses, and being frugal with your resources.

Growing your own crops, canning veggies, using cloth diapers, boiling your own detergents, upcycling clothing, and making your foods from scratch (instead of buying factory processed Pop Tarts)… are just some of the ways to ultimately save your family money.

It’s terribly easy to become complacent when money is lining your pocket, and those microwavable chicken nuggets are tempting you.
I can totally sympathize – remember, I’m the girl who worships the clothes dryer! (Who wants stiff laundry crawling with spiders?)

But perhaps we can help out our less fortunate neighbors by teaching them to live sustainably, helping them to stretch their meager incomes.

You feel less “poor” when you have control over your environment.

I’m adding the decision to live frugally to my personal goals this year.
When our tax return arrives, the bulk of it will go directly into an emergency savings account, and we’ll continue to “live poor”.
Not starving and devoid of milk, mind you, but really taking to heart the recent lessons we’ve learned: Utilize everything we have, and find alternatives to save money.

Even if it means a bit of elbow grease… or in this case, grating soap! LOL

Do you have any awesome money-saving tips you’d like to share with me?

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