Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's Persistant Stare

Posted on 12/30/2015 11:08:00 AM
Since we moved into this house, I've been slowly trying to decide how to decorate it, where to put our copious amounts of stuff, etc.  In the months before we sold the other house, we had painted every wall, every closet, every baseboard, every window trim piece and every shelf at least once.  The only thing we knew when we moved in here was that despite the fact that the entire thing was painted apartment off-white - and we hate apartment off-white - was that we would be living with apartment off-white for awhile because none of us was interested in painting another wall any time in the near future-perhaps ever.

There has been a wall that begs for art here since the second we saw it.  It's recessed next to the fireplace and over some built-in cabinets with display lighting above it.  One of the things I've wanted to know the most about the previous owners of this house was what the room looked like when they lived there.  Which way did you face the couch?  What did you hang on that hook that comes out of the ceiling that's way too high up for anyone to reach?  What did you do in the stairwell? And, most importantly, what was on the art wall (as it has come to be known)?  I know a little something about the previous owners, but despite that, I cannot for the life of me figure out how they decorated this place.  

Anyway, the "art wall" was the very first thing we wanted to do something with when we took possession of the place.  Despite that, it has proved to be the most difficult.  Every time I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it, I'd sit with the concept for a bit and then abandon it a few days later.  A large television would have done it, but I wanted a little more pretentiousness than that.  So I started browsing art.com to find a large print I liked.  That made the process a whole lot harder. There are tons of painters I like, but I couldn't land on a decision about what the room needed, nor what I could stand to look at for long periods of time.  To make matters worse, I decided it had to be something meaningful too, not just a pretty landscape. So I started trolling the discount stores.  There was always lots of cool, affordable stuff, just nothing that speaks to me.  At some point, I decided if I was going to put artwork there, as much as I love certain famous painters, I'd really like to support actual living artists - not just have a reproduction of something that hangs somewhere else.  Then I started combing Eastern Market and craft shows and art shows for original painters and photographers.  I found a lot of things I loved, but wow, some original art - at least in the size I'm talking - is pricey!  Then I started going out of the box.  But once I opened that box, the decision making process went way out of control.  We thought about making it a gallery wall of some of my photography.  We thought about installing dozens of shelves for The KoH's steel work and my glass work.  We thought about putting photographs of ancestors, We thought of painting a mural.  Hanging several small pieces.  Using printers' drawers and milk crates as shelves for knick knacks seemed too busy for the size.  Combining a mural of a tree and then "hanging" family photos off it's branches, which, weirdly, wasn't an original idea as it turned out.  Installing a wood facade with reclaimed wood, also not an original idea - maybe even backlighting it - good lord, has anyone not thought of my ideas before I have them? 

So for the past eleven months, that wall has sat there empty, taunting me with my indecision.  

Then one night a few weeks ago, some friends were over, one of whom is a really talented artist.  I was remarking after they left how I really liked her stuff and wished she would paint more and The KoH said, "Why don't we just ask her to paint a piece for us for the wall?"

Dawnlight breaks over Marblehead.

So we asked her if she'd consider a commissioned piece.   She immediately said, "sure," and then they follow-up: "What do you want?"  


I was kind of just hoping you'd tell me what you think should go there, wasn't really an answer she was looking for, so I hemmed and hawed about it for a few days and finally said, "I want something indirectly based on The Great Gatsby, specifically, this part of the book that references the billboard.  I've always been obsessed with that billboard."  I showed her some styles and color pallets that I like and she went away and came back a couple of weeks later with original artwork.  I framed it, bought some shelves from a website I've been drooling over for the past several years and then in a few short days, plus eleven months of equivocation, Wall Accomplished!  

This formerly blank wall completed in a manner with which I could not be happier.

I know it's not everyone's taste and more than one person has pointed out that it looks like Harry Potter is looking down on us - thank your father, kids - but everything on this wall has meaning to me and I love having Dr. Eckleburg staring down on me to capture my every action just in case I run over Myrtle with my car.

My thoughts: 

In the Bleak Midwinter

Posted on 12/30/2015 09:45:00 AM
It rained all week but was over 60 most of the time, so no white Christmas for us. We did get a colorful one though.

My thoughts: 

X-mas Reivew

Posted on 12/28/2015 05:20:00 PM
More and more, the success of my Christmas holiday is determined by how little I have to do to accomplish it.  I don't care about the gifts, or decorating, or traveling, or attending parties... I just want a few stress-free days in what is otherwise a stress-filled year.  C'mon, Santa, that isn't asking too much is it?

This year, I insisted I was actually taking off the two weeks off I had while my office is closed.  Usually, my time off goes something like this: I spend days writing out instructions for What To Do If Something Breaks While I Am Gone and even though everyone has received those instructions multiple times in the past and has printouts taped to their walls (I know because I taped them there and no one ever throws anything away), moreover, everyone all has the exact same information in an email from the last time I was gone (I know because no one has ever deleted even the most insignificant email in the past ten years and can easily call up the advertisement for a great deal on a Toyota Camry that was going on in 2002, yet can somehow not find an email from me titled "How to Send An E-Newsletter."  I give the interested parties additional face time training on how to follow the steps in the email.  I ask if they have any questions.  They say no.   I bid a fond farewell to one and all and about sixteen hours after hugs, well-wishes, and promises not to bother me on my vacation are made, I get a call from someone who was not paying attention during the Orientation While Alice Is Out Days and asks me one of two things: 1) something that is clearly outlined on the list attached to their wall, or 2) something that could totally wait until I return.  But then because it's just easier to do it now while I understand/remember what's needed than to have a Giant Pile of Crap To Do And Figure Out waiting for me on my desk when I return, I pull up my email and log into the office remotely to do it.  Then while I'm there, I see nine other things that are really easy to do right now and I could just finish, rather than adding them to the Giant Pile, and while I'm doing that, six more emails come in that fall into the same category and before I realize it that can of worms I've opened has spilled and suddenly, there are worms crawling through the ductwork of my house.  And now I've racked up about six and a half billable hours on this vacation day, which I will not go back and turn into a work day because I'm already into my Use Or Lose Leave and I might as well just pretend I got some time off, either way, it works out the same.

But I digress.

This time, it was different.  

It was twenty-eight hours before someone texted me with an emergency that totally could have waited two weeks.

But I'm getting better about how I deal with that kind of thing and I spent about five minutes confirming that yes, that probably was spam you got and you can just ignore it, then I went back to bed.  

What moxie.

Some of that moxie might have been the food poisoning Santa brought me for Christmas, but either way, I feel I made a stand. Yay me.

The rest of the week has been spent doing crafts with The Caterpillar.

 Great way to use up old magazines, by the way.

Airing my grievances.

It's totally ok, the lights are NEXT to the Festivus pole, not ON it.

And readying the house for Santa.

When I was a kid, I was a crazy early riser on Christmas morning.  I can't remember a Christmas I slept past three am and then didn't just watch the hours DRAG by minute by minute, bored out of my skull because I hadn't prepared enough books or games for me and my brother to play quietly in my room.  It was torture. Finally, unable to bear it anymore, we'd sneak down the hall in the dark and try to spy what Santa had brought.  One of us would be the scout, then run back and report. Then a few minutes later, the other would try to make it out with perhaps better luck.  I have no idea why we didn't just get a flash light, or hell, turn on the light.  Our parents were asleep.  But it was all a part of the experience.  At least until that Christmas when Santa brought a parakeet, and my brother accidentally tripped on the cage and that damn bird SQUAKSQUAKSQUAKED and woke up the entire house and scared the living crap out of the both of us. 

We totally deserved it.

But you know what? Christmas started early that year.

I've always been a bit surprised that my kids didn't pull the same stuff at Christmas and actually slept in until around six. Which isn't late, I grant you, but at least it's their normal daily waking up time.

But this year I counted on it and they didn't.  

Because kids always disappoint you.

Just kidding.  (not really)

No, this year, I'd gotten very little sleep the previous two nights and was hoping to grab a couple of hours when The Caterpillar woke up around 12:30. The KingofHearts put her back to bed.

Then she woke up at 3:00.

I put her back to bed.

Then 3:30. 

The KoH put her back to bed.

Then 4:00.

I finally threatened her and told her to go to her room or I'd find that Elf on the Shelf that we don't use and have him tell on her to Santa.  

So at 4:15, she woke up her sister and then they were both up.


They stayed in their room talking (like we couldn't hear that) while The KoH hoped against hope to go back to sleep for a few minutes, and I, still incredibly sleepy but now unable to stay in bed any longer because that's just how I roll, went outside to try to get a photo of the Christmas tree from the yard.  What I did get pictures of was two naughty girls sneaking around the house and trying to view what was in their presents.


I finally went in and scared them back to bed, but instead they went to our bedroom and bounced on the waterbed until The KoH relented and got up too.  So at 4:45 am, Christmas came just the same.

Santa brought them socks, which he hung by the chimney with care.

I stubbornly insisted on building a fire in the fireplace, by the way, even though it was 76 degrees in the $%^& Fahrenheit.  Then I had to open all the windows to keep from sweating my behind off in my flannel pjs.  Because dammit it's Christmas!  Last year when we didn't have a fireplace, it was snowing on Christmas day.  This year I'm having a fire in the fireplace, I don't care if it's 98% humid outside.

The Caterpillar got an entire bag of pistachios, which she cradled like a baby for more time than was actually acceptable.  

But eventually, she started to enjoy the presents... or at least the boxes of other people's presents.

Frankenstein's monster lives.

The Dormouse did NOT get a phone.  That's a blog post for another day, but suffice it to say her mom is a mean old witch who never ever ever wants her to have anything good and 12-year-old me totally would have agreed with her.  She did, however, get a camera.  Because every time she asked for a phone and I said, "What do you think you need a phone for?", she said, "Take pictures with it."


She was fairly good-natured about her lack of a phone, I must say.

The Caterpillar received yet another gift that I will regret, but at least this one isn't Legos.

Oh I'll still be stepping on all the pieces of this, but they'll be a lot easier on my feet than Legos.

Legos are the Al Queda of a barefooted parent's existence. 

The Dormouse got this nifty thing, which I thought was pretty cool at first until I realized all it really does is turn fruit into a game controller.  Here's hoping she can actually learn something with it eventually.

 Oh and I finally, FINALLY, got their 2015 Christmas ornaments.  

This year with the new yard, we have spent a ridiculous amount of time with trees.  Cutting dying trees down. Worrying that trees will fall on the house.  Making sure trees don't fall on the house. Chopping wood.  Burning wood. Building things with other parts of the wood.  The KingofHearts has plans to use a few of the trees we had to have taken out as building materials for a shed, but until that happens it looks like a life-sized Lincoln Log project is going on in our yard.  

A few weeks after we cut down several of the trees and they were still sitting in the yard, I was staring at some of them, and said to The KoH, "Cut me off some of those branches in thin slices."


 "Because I want to use it."

"Um... okay... which branch?"

"One a little bit bigger than the size of a glass."

And then he started to smell what I was stepping in and the Underland traditional coaster was born.

Since then, I spent about a quarter of my brain power trying to figure out other ways to use the lumber that is both growing on and lying around my property.  We all have.  There are trivets in the works, as well as a host of other ideas that may or may not turn out to be useful or valid.  But we feel good about this level of living off the land, especially since the Great Hickory Nut Gathering of 2015 turned out to not really be practical in making hickory nut butter.  I don't know how the squirrels eat them.  There is much more effort that goes into opening a hickory nut than there is edible nut inside.  You know what hickory nuts ARE useful for? Burning in the fire.  That's about it.  So at least we won't freeze.

Anyway, it seemed only fitting that the Shortlings' Christmas ornaments this year had something to do with trees. 

Here is The Caterpillar's.

 And here is The Dormouse's.

They were only mildly impressed with them, but these are the kinds of ornaments that I love now as an adult - ones that were created from some unconventional material and totally stand apart from all others.  So I'm hoping these stand the test of time. And unbreakability.

Tonight, we are heading out to a Christmas after party.  I'm baking pie. This, after my favorite Christmas Eve tradition backfired on me and I brought a raging case of food poisoning home from the Chinese restaurant, which I'm only just recovering from.  Serves me right for using Yelp to pick the best-reviewed restaurant in the area.  Next year, I'm just going to the first hole-in-the-wall I see.

It's as stress-free as we get.

My thoughts: 

Christmas 2015

Posted on 12/24/2015 02:33:00 PM In: ,
I did manage to get it together to create and order Christmas cards in plenty of time to mail this year and have them arrive in people's mailboxes before Christmas... but only just.  Then the printer was apparently surprised by the fact that this is a big time of year for holiday cards and there was a delay in delivering them to me.  I got them out of the mailbox and within about twenty minutes put them right back in, which might be the shortest turn around time ever.  So some people might have received this card, some maybe not just yet, I don't know.  It seems about par for all my cunning plans this year, so I'm going to just lean into the skid.

Our new next door neighbors came over this year to tell me this was funniest Christmas card they've ever seen, to which, I replied, "Oh honey, this isn't even my best work."

We had a few other ideas for this year's card, but they were all fairly labor intensive and we pretty much ran out of time for accomplishing them.  I'm going to keep them to myself, because I reserve the right to recycle this idea for next year, when we have a ton of extra time on our hands. 

Oh, who am I kidding?  That is never gonna happen.

These aren't great quality because I had to scan the actual card for the blog here.  I took the shortcut and used a format that was already available on the make-your-own -card website instead of, you know, making my own card, and uploading that to the website like I usually do.  Probably won't do that again because of this reason right here. I wasn't particularly happy with the card stock this year and the scans are terrible.  So I'll post the actual picture too, but my eyes are pretty bad right now and there are a dozen or more pictures of us mugging, so I'm just going to upload the most likely candidates.  Plus a few rejected ones.

And then there is this weird one, which, I personally don't think is our family at all.

My thoughts: 

Fauna and Fauna

Posted on 12/17/2015 07:21:00 AM In:
I was raking leaves the other day, before the temperatures here rose to Arizona-type levels in December.  It was still pretty cold and as I looked down I noticed that i had uncovered a little rat snake, all curled up in a knot and almost frigid.  I reached down an picked him up to move him to a safer part of the yard, he was cold. But before I put him back, I regarded him for a little while because snakes are so damn fascinating.  As he soaked in the warmth of my hand, he loosened up and started moving around.  Then we bonded.  The Dormouse came outside around that time and we just sat on the stoop and played with him for about an hour.  And then we loved him, and petted him, and called him George.

I sent The Dormouse in to grab my camera and macro lens and she got this amazing photo of him in my hand.

See? He's smiling.

Our property is a little tiny slice of Mid-Atlantic area forest and we've had quite a few not-so furry friends come around.

This guy was saved from the cats in our basement (and then I'm pretty sure The Dormouse initiated his death later by trying to give him water, but we turned him loose, hoping for the best - read: I have little hope).

I think we decided he was an Eastern Mole or an American Shrew Mole of some sort. He never fully resembled any of the photos we found, so we were pretty much guessing. I named him Burroughs.  

We've also come across our share of frogs, toads and other amphibians.  The Spring Peeper Frogs sing to us in the Spring evenings.


This Big Mean Snake threatened me on my deck one day after work:

But given a little size perspective, he turned out to be a worm.

We have actually found a whole host of snakes this year - all harmless - and I am the official snake catcher of the family because I want to keep them all and carry them around with me or perhaps wear them as jewelry.  I have an ongoing argument about this love of snakes with a co-worker who does not share my affection for them.  She found a snake outside in her yard - nowhere near the house - a few months ago decided the only logical solution was to call her husband and plead with him to come home from work early and deal with it immediately.  Then when he refused to leave early because he was already getting off work in another ten minutes, she went out to keep an eye on it, I don't know, in case it tried to infiltrate her family with a fake wig or something.  While she was watching, it started climbing a tree.  She called back her husband and explained that she could not wait ten minutes until he gets off work because, "IT'S LIKE THE BIBLE OUT THERE!!!!"

I sure hope she never experiences this:

I would love to have kept this guy as a pet, but we decided he needed to live in the back end of the yard where there is abundant food for him.  So we communed for a bit and then I found a tree for him to climb and perhaps tempt some naked lady with its fruit. 

This little box turtle we found in the back yard one day and I promptly named her (we didn't respect her privacy) Mitch because of this fantastic Jon Stewart reference.  Then we put her back in the exact same place we found her because I'd read that turtles have a very small habitat and if you move them too far, they have trouble finding their home again.  

We have not seen Mitch since.  I have continued to search and search, but despite repeated attempts to walk through the yard, staring at the ground while calling, "Miiiiitch... Miiiiitch.... Come here, Mitch!" she has not returned, as least as far as we can tell.  In possibly related news, my neighbors believe I am insane.

I do not have a picture of this one, but one night this spring, everyone else was asleep and I was up reading in the living room.  Suddenly the cats started running around in desperate circles in front of me. I looked up to where they were staring at the ceiling and found a little bat flying circles in the living room.  He finally settled down and roosted (is it roosted for a bat?) next to the chimney.  He was adorable, but refused to let me catch him and love him or even get a good photograph.  I was pretty sure he wasn't going to find his way back up the chimney, where I assume he came in, so finally I got a fishing net, opened the sliding glass door, and sort of just scooted him outside to freedom.  I call him The Count.  And we are now placing bat houses all around the property.

This Canadian goose family lived at the nature center in the neighborhood this summer.

I remember when I moved from Arizona to Oregon, I saw my first Canadian goose in the wild and it was so exciting to me and fellow interns.  It was almost like catching a glimpse of a tiger for us.  Now I live here and they are like stray dogs.  They are everywhere and you are constantly stepping in their poop left on your lawn.  Still, when I see them, even at the cemetery where the ground is a goose poop minefield and they chase and hiss at my kids if they get too close, it makes me happy.

There are also fish living in that pond.  This one still lives, because we catch and release. 

Much like geese, I am enamored by the deer in this area.  I know most people hate them.  But I love that an animal like that can still live mostly near where we humans have taken over their habitat.  I have this argument with a co-worker because they eat her plants and I couldn't care less if the deer eat my plants as long as I get to see them hanging around my window in the morning.  My co-worker has informed me that she often goes out on her deck and yells at the deer, "Get out of here, deer. Go over to the Underground House, they like you there!"

The KingofHearts and the Shortlings have this half-baked idea to get the deer to donate their antler sheds to their crafty cause.  What this means is we are feeding the deer like stray cats.  And what that means is the deer are now treating us like stray cats would.  The other day, The KoH was out in the yard and he heard a crunch, crunch, crunch sound in the leaves.  He looked up and saw a group of deer staring at him from the trees. Expectantly. Waiting. He took a step toward them and they scattered.  Then a few minutes later, from the other side of where he was working he heard crunch, crunch, crunch  again.  He looked up and found that the deer had circled around and were trying to approach him from the other side.  That's when he realized he was standing next to the trough where he'd been putting the grain for the antler shed trap and the deer were trying to get to their breakfast.  He sighed, went over the fill the trough with grain and went inside while the deer enjoyed an uninterrupted meal.

Then about a week later, we came home to this:

So now I have to keep the bird bath full all winter long.

Welcome to Underground where we have officially enabled the neighborhood deer.

My thoughts: 

O Tannenbaum

Posted on 12/15/2015 03:51:00 PM

We've put up the Christmas tree.  Found a new Christmas tree farm close to our new place that makes its own pulled pork and barbecue sauce which made for an amazing breakfast at 9:30 in the morning.  I think if they'd let us, we'd live on the grounds and work for just pulled pork sandwiches. I seriously am not a barbecue fan and I tried to buy a bottle or at least the recipe from them.  The guy who made it apparently had just thrown a bunch of stuff in a pan and had no idea what was in it so my requests were just laughed at. 

This is the first year of our lives together that The KingofHearts and I have had almost no restrictions on the height of our tree. We had pretty low ceilings in the other house and there was always a fan in the way of the only logical place to put the tree.  This year, we knew we could go bigger but almost every tree we liked at the farm was H-to-the-UGE. So we argued about how big a tree we could actually get and I, always the pragmatist, wanted to err on the side of caution.  He wanted a bigger tree, but I wanted to still be able to walk around our living room easily.  We got it home, put it up and I immediately said, "Yeah, you were right. We should have gotten a bigger tree."

Still, it's pretty darn snazzy next to our fireplace.

I like the warmth and openness of our house.  We took a trip up to Fallingwater a couple of months ago and with this visit, as I walked into the great room of that amazing place, I was struck by how much like my own house it felt.  Not that this house, by any means, is as amazing as Fallingwater, but the overall feel of the place... it was just a little bit similar.  We'd been calling our house our "Fake Usonian" since we moved in and this was the first time I actually felt kind of like the title was deserved.

We're still trying to figure out how to decorate and where to put the furniture.  I've taken to a pretty unconventional set-up and people walk in, take a look, and say, "Well, that's interesting..."  To which, I say, "Bite me, YOU figure out where to put the couch."

My thoughts: 

How to be Whole

Posted on 12/05/2015 10:10:00 AM
*Ffffffffffffff* *Ffffffffffffff* Is this thing on?

Hello, dusty old blog.  Long time, no see.

I've taken a bit of a holiday from the interweb this past month because... well... it's a horrible, horrible place and I must spend time on it for work, which is about all I can handle these days.  I'd like to do my part to make the internet less horrible and a couple of years ago, it seemed there were others trying to do the same, but sometimes it just gets the better of you and you have to take a break.  That's where I got to last month.  Basically, the internet is an abusive boyfriend who keeps promising it loves you and it needs you and next time, things will be different, but then you give it another chance and suddenly, you find yourself trapped in that same cycle of abuse and you keep going around and around until one of you just up an leaves the relationship for both of your good.  The internet isn't really going anywhere so....

The intenet is not the only thing like that.  I could name a whole host of things I could do with less of these days: facebook, 24-hour cable news networks, religion, pundits, politics, the presidential race, Barry Manilow albums... I've taken a break from most of these things in the last month.

And then there is the noise.  Just while typing that last paragraph, I was interrupted - had to actually get up from my seat to answer the phone, or referee a fight, or fix an an offending electronic device - five times.  There are only two sentences in that last paragraph.  There is just so much noise in life right now and I'm trying to find a place where there's less of it.

I'm also finding, as most bloggers eventually do, I suppose, that I have less and less about my family to write about publicly as my children are getting older and their lives are more their own story to tell, less mine.  The community on the internet is not what it once was and I kind of miss that.  Perhaps I'm just getting less and less introspective. Or more and more hermit-like, I'm not certain which. 

It is my goal to continue this blog, as I've always said, for myself more than anyone else, but to do it a little more thoughtfully. Because right now, while there's a lot more to say; I think I might be saying a little less.  That whole talk less, say more, thing.  To that end, I share here today, not something that I wrote, but something that The Dormouse did. They have been studying Nelson Mandela and apartheid and they were asked to write a poem.  This is hers:

Half of a Person

All those leadsrs,
Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, 
they create speeches that bring people together.
The crowds watch, while speakers captivate
All these races, all these faces
Crowds got eyes
the size of pies 
as they watch 
and sink into the words
of freedom, of liberty,
of kindness, rights, and truth.
The all speak things
that others might disagree with - 
but those who don't agree
are only part of a person. 
Only half,
because if you're whole
then you won't be so narrow-minded.
You'll be focused on reflections, 
not what is right in front - focused on meaning,
not words - liberty and freedom, not power and money.

Because if you're focused on what's right, 
then you are whole.
But if you're too stubborn,
to not see
to not listen to the joys 
and fears
and beliefs - 
if you won't even hear, then you are not whole.  You're faking it.
You are only half a person - 
and the rest of us 
are waiting around, wasting time
for you to figure it out.
How to be whole.

Here's to listening.

My thoughts: 

Me in 3 Seconds

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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