Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Aunt Betty

In the morning after Thomas and Annamarie have opened their gifts and we have eaten our traditional Christmas cinnamon rolls, we will pack up the car and head to my parents' house in North Carolina. A trip to Grammy and Papa's is always loads o' fun, but we were especially looking forward to this one because Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill, who live in Georgia, were going to be there. Unfortunately Bill has been very sick due to complications of diabetes, and they aren't going to be able to make the drive after all.

Aunt Betty is my Dad's sister, and she never had children of her own, having married Bill at about the age I am now. My brothers and I adored Aunt Betty when we were kids (and still do). She worked for an airline and did a lot of traveling to places which seemed very exotic to us, like the time she took my grandparents on a very dignified trip to Israel.

My own first trip on an airplane was going from Charlotte to Atlanta with my Mamaw and Papaw to visit Aunt Betty. As pass riders, we were required to dress up to fly, which made the whole experience just that much more exciting.

My mom later worked for the same airline, and Aunt Betty would sometimes travel with us when my workaholic dad couldn't get away. Here we are in New York when I was around 14 years old, in this photo that was clearly taken by my youngest brother. Good job, Brett. I wish I this photo was of sufficient resolution that I could zoom in on the pink and green shoelaces in my Tretorns. I was a slave to The Preppy Handbook.

Please notice Aunt Betty's camera. My parents are not (NOT. AT. ALL.) picture-taking people, and I am fairly certain that no photos of my childhood would exist if Aunt Betty had not been around. I clearly inherited a love of travel and photography from Aunt Betty instead of getting my my mom's cooking and gardening genes, which missed me entirely.

Back in the seventies, Aunt Betty lived in an apartment, which seemed incredibly glamorous to me. I have told her that I remember her apartments in greater detail than I remember most of the houses we lived in, because she had so many fascinating items in her apartment, like a liquor cart with metal labels that hung around the necks of the bottles. She had styrofoam airplane models that hung from the ceiling and a board that you could stand on and do the twist, PLUS her apartment complex had a pool. There was nothing we looked forward to more than spending a weekend with Aunt Betty.

When I was about to turn 17, Aunt Betty took me to Acapulco, which was theretofore the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. OK, yes, my Mamaw and Papaw went too, but it was still the first time I had ever been outside the U.S. in my Ralph Lauren corduroy skirt and penny loafers, and I felt very grown-up and special especially when Aunt Betty let me drink margaritas by the infinity-edge pool at the hotel.

I could go on and on. I could tell you about her many trips to Korea to escort orphan babies home to their new families, or about how gently she always treated my grandmother despite Mamaw's often being pretty hard on her, but the bottom line is that my Aunt Betty is the salt of the earth. She is just good people, and she has survived breast cancer cheerfully and freaked out my children by taking off her wig, and now she is caring for her ailing husband, still cheerfully as far as I can tell. My children adore her as much as my brothers and I did at their ages, and I hope that somehow this post will convey to her just how much she will be missed today.

Although she is a terrible lurker (Aunt Betty, that's a person who reads but never posts comments), she is my blog's biggest fan, and it's just one of a million reasons that I love her. Merry Christmas, Betty and Bill. We know you are here in spirit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Altered Cigar Box

This is another gift for an online friend. (Three of us did a handmade swap.) Making handmade things for people is scary, because you put so much work into it and then what if they think it's, as my friend Sandy says, "chumpy"?

Both of the other ladies in this swap make actual non-scrapping crafty things. The recipient of this box sent me a lovely thick, warm scarf, and the other participant makes cool hand-painted glass items. So I, with my scrappy paper gifts, feel a bit like the little drummer boy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teacher Gifts

Sets of six of the cinnamon ornaments Annamarie and I made, with a bag topper I created digitally. I like them!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There's not enough Ruby on this blog

According to Google Analytics, my blog traffic is up over 7200% this week, and I am still getting about 200 views a day from Boo Mama's home tour. It's like crack cocaine! Or crystal meth, which I understand is the crack of the 21st century. I mentioned before that I was thinking up ways to keep the traffic up (because I want the visitors to get the most out of the average 36 seconds they're spending here). I was reminded of that awful news story about people watching a murder live online...or was that on CSI? Regardless, that seems a bit over the top. But maybe a live webcam of a boy in a cage? Ruby was puzzled and concerned about why Thomas was in her crate and wouldn't get out of the way so I could get a good picture of the captive.

(Oh, stop. He put himself in there.) She didn't like this idea much better.

As you can see, she is very high-strung and nervous.

Her many jobs around the home require constant vigilance, especially the 24-hour Squirrel Patrol.

Those pesky squirrels always sneak into our yard while Ruby is doing laundry. In this photo, she is carrying four socks and a bone. Earlier she also had a partially eaten tennis ball in there too. She is an excellent multi-tasker.

It's a dog's life.

All is merry and bright

That title really has nothing to do with the rest of this post at all. I am just really, really sleepy and that's all I am coming up with. I am trying to turn my night owl self into a morning person and stop staying up until 3AM, so I got up at 7:30 this morning and I am about to fall over. What will undoubtedly happen, though, is that I will get a second wind at 10:00 and find many many things that need doing right away and can't wait until tomorrow.

Anyway, thank you so much for your concern about my feather tree. It actually survived the fall quite well and I am sorry to have alarmed you. (This reminds me of sitting by the phone waiting to hear that my nephew, Ford, had been born. My mom finally called, sobbing hysterically, and said something that sounded like, "He's gone." I became hysterical too, shouting, "What happened?" My mom finally got a grip on herself and it turned out that she had actually been saying, "He's born," but for me thoughts of his birth will always have a slight chill of death about them. Thanks, Mom.)

Back to the tree, I straightened it out and replaced the broken ornaments with some of the cinnamon ornaments Annamarie and I made the other day. And, HEY! Now all is merry and bright.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lacing Card Project

I made this for an online friend as part of a handmade item swap. I chose this color combo because her living room is teal and red. Her taste is much more young and hip than mine, so I hope she doesn't absolutely hate this. If she does I hope she gives it back to me because I am really happy with how it came out. The photo mats are loosely adhered so she can replace them if the size doesn't match her photos. For some reason the photo looks really blurry here but if you click it, it's much clearer.

Because this is a gift, I actually finished the backs of the cards because the thread ends weren't pretty. I see that I need to redo the bottom one because the "x's" are a bit crooked.

Christmas Tour backlash

This is what happens when you get all cocky about your Christmas decorating skillz and having 56 comments on your blog in one day. I was walking through the dark kitchen in the middle of the night and tripped on a laundry basket which you might well wonder what that was doing in the kitchen anyway. I stumbled against the table that was holding my delightful feather tree, and you see the resulting carnage above.

My faithful reader Jean (she is totally a stalker; I don't even know her) sent me an email saying that I must be in heaven with all of the comments, and she was oh so right. It's a banner day here when I get three comments on a post, and since midnight Monday I have had hundreds of visitors thanks to Boo Mama's Christmas Tour.

I am bit concerned about what happens after I publish THIS post and return to my normal obscurity. Will I be plunged into depression and sit here drinking whiskey vodka a nice Riesling until next year's tour? Will I resort to desperate measures to attract more readers? I'm not sure what that would look like--posting naked pictures of my 43-year-old self would surely be counterproductive.

I'm going to go decorate more things. Back later.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bloggy Tour O' Homes


If this is your first visit, WELCOME! One of the best things that happened to me in 2008 was discovering Boo Mama's blog, so I am thrilled to be participating in the tour for the first time. If you're one of my (two?) regular readers, be sure to click on the button above, and head over to Boo Mama's to visit more bloggers' homes, but only after you've hung around here a while!

This Hoosier cabinet in my kitchen is one of my favorite things, filled with a few of my other favorite things.

This corner, under our kitchen TV, is not one of my favorite things because of the lovely black cords that hang down. Perhaps I should have painted them red or green to make them more festive.

This cool feather tree sits on a table in the middle of my kitchen.

Just inside the front door is a little saltbox village, one of my favorite new things.

And my other favorite furniture thing, which is red all year. The three angels on top are so cute with their brillo pad hair, and they came from the Wal Marts of all places, a few years back.

I love, love, love these cute little packages wrapped in vintage paper.

No, seriously, this is my favorite thing: the Jim Shore nativity my husband gave me two years ago. Most of the Santas in the Hoosier cabinet above are by Jim Shore too. Now that I think about it, it's maybe kind of strange that the Holy Family is being watched over by a vintage cookie cutter garland.

Last, and maybe least, is a banner that I made on the spur of the moment from scrapbooking paper. It hangs in what used to be our dining room and now houses my kids' homework desk and my 10-year-old daughter's Important Stuff, otherwise known as every blessed piece of paper ever to pass through her hands. Note that I did not photograph that. It is not festive.

Naturally I've got more photos, including one of our fairly run-of-the-mill Christmas tree, but I don't want to keep you too long. I so hope you'll come by again. I'm making Cracker Candy tonight, and if you've never tried it, you can't imagine how delicious this simple recipe is.

Cracker Candy

1 c. sugar
1 c. butter
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
chopped nuts
saltine crackers

Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Arrange 40 saltine crackers in a single layer.

Bring sugar and butter to boil and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour over crackers and spread with a spoon. Bake at 450 degrees for about 5 minutes. Watch closely to make sure it does not burn. Remove from oven and sprinkle on chocolate chips. Let stand to melt. Sprinkle on nuts, if desired. Spread and refrigerate. Break apart and serve.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lights and Music

Friday night we took the kids and our friend Sandy to GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond. Annamarie's "Gotcha Day" (anniversary of her adoption) is on December 15, and for the past few years we have celebrated it with a trip to "the lights" and dinner at Red Robin. We bundle up and traipse through the freezing cold oohing and ahhing at the beautiful lighted creations, then we get hot chocolate. The kids run through a maze of lights over and over (it's not much of a challenge to them anymore) and then we head into the conservatory to see the giant Christmas tree. This year it was decorated in a peacock theme with beautiful blues, greens and purples.

It was a nice celebration of our sweet girl's ninth Gotcha Day. What a long way she's come since that first Christmas with us.

She sang in church today with the children's choir, and she was by far the most enthusiastic participant.

Nine years ago tomorrow was one of the happiest days of my life. I love you, Ree Ree.

Christmas banner

Just a quick photo of the banner I was making in a previous post. This is in our former dining room, which now contains the kids' desk and not much else.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Christmas Checklist

* Christmas tree: Up and decorated since the weekend after Thanksgiving. Despite daily waterings, it is dropping needles at an alarming rate. I hope Santa won't injure himself on our pointy stick with ornaments.

* Handmade Christmas cards: Bought! And mailed! Except for a handful of special people for whom I really still want to make cards. (Read: "People who are also crafters and won't throw away my hard work.") I just hope I actually get them done and don't cause those people to cross me off their lists entirely.

* Shopping: DONE! Seriously, it is so amazing for me to have finished my shopping before December first this year that I can't believe it. I have to interject an amusing story here. Yesterday I told Annamarie to empty her bathroom trash can, and she decided to empty all the ones in the house. Late at night I was craving chocolate and I remembered that there were M&Ms in the bag of stocking stuffers I had bought. All of the stocking stuffers were in a Target bag that I had tied shut and set on top of the waste basket in my scrapping area. It looked like trash, so I knew the kids wouldn't notice it, but I realized that Annamarie had emptied it into the trash bag and carried it out to the garage. Of course mine was the first trash can she emptied, so that bag (fortunately still tied shut) was on the bottom of the big Hefty Bag. I dug through all manner of unsavory things to retrieve my children's peppermint stick and orange. Hey, if it was good enough for Laura and Mary Ingalls....

* Wrapping: Mostly done. I have a stack of gifts on the kitchen counter, wrapped in identical paper, with no ribbons or TAGS. I truly hope that I will remember who they're for by the time I get the tags made. I wrapped one of my gifts in one of these this year, and I laugh every time I imagine the face of the recipient, who asked for something very specific. I will be around to see it opened.

Thomas has been home for one day and is driving me crazy asking, "Where are our presents hidden? You can just tell me, because I am NOT going to look. I'm just curious." Right. This is total divine retribution because I was a terrible gift snoop. My poor mom had to devise codes for the presents instead of labeling them, and one year my assumption that I had figured out the code led to bitter disappointment when the Sony Walkman whose wrapping I slit open and re-taped turned out to be for my brother. Given my own checkered past one would think that my son's snoopiness would just amuse me, but it drives me insane!

Annamarie is right behind with her million questions about how Santa is going to make the sparkly purse she asked for and EXACTLY what time does he come and how does he get in and when will he leave the North Pole and all of this wouldn't bother me except that she is almost eleven. I am so torn between not wanting to spoil the magic for her and wanting to say, "Dude, do you not see any inconsistencies in this story?" And I am trying so hard to make them focus on Jesus this year and if Jesus would maybe just come with more sparkly pocketbooks and video games it would be easier. Annamarie melts my heart when, out of the blue, she says, "Mom, Jesus is my favorite." But recently she has been adding, "Santa is my favorite too." She is clearly hedging her bets, wanting to stay on the good side of whoever is bringing the loot.

Oh, was I making a list?

* Baking
: We made cinnamon ornaments, and they are stacked on the stove waiting for me to go over to the Ben Franklin and get some homespun to tie on them. Everyone who comes over thinks they are cookies and it is just a Christmas miracle that no one has taken a bite of their cement-y goodness. Tonight we made actual edible sugar cookies, most of which I am taking to my Sunday School class in the morning. Mmmm, sprinkles.

That's pretty much it except for last minute details and a lot more talking about Jesus and his birth. And a lot more, "No, I am not telling you. No, they are not in the attic. No, they are not in the garage. I am not telling you."

Scrapping? What scrapping?

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like Christmas preparations have taken over my life, am I? I am certainly not sitting around doing nothing, but I am certainly not scrapbooking either. I am making something really cute for a swap that was due oh, 3 days ago, but I hope my friend will think it's worth the wait.

And look! Here's a layout that I did for November's articles at Busy Bee, but I forgot to post it here. A rare and even decent photo of me and my hubby. I love love love this Urban Prairie line from Basic Grey.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I can simultaneously paint a house and read a magazine

Not only am I reminding you that I exist, I am painting chipboard houses and reading People magazine. People is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, but tonight I couldn't find a catalog to paint on (puzzling, because this close to Christmas we receive approximately 74 a day) so I had to use an issue of People I hadn't read yet. I am just making sure to read each page before I use it as a painting backdrop. I am multi-tasking, yo.

I have room on my desk to do actual projects because I spent yesterday cleaning and reorganizing my scrapping area. I finally broke down and bought a second Clip-It-Up, which is the best storage system I have found. I am not good at using things that I can't see, so having everything (well, most things) out and visible encourages me to use my stash. The best price I found online was oddly from, sold by Ritz Camera.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Re: Puking and pouting

It's poor Annamarie who is doing the former, and me who is doing the latter. I took Annamarie to the pediatrician on Wednesday because a cough was making her asthma flare up, and also because she has had pneumonia the past two years. She did not have signs of pneumonia on Wednesday, so the doctor gave us a new prescription for an inhaler and on we went. On Thursday and Friday she went to school, claiming she felt much better, but not quite seeming herself.

Late this afternoon we were debating whether she was well enough for us to go to our Bible study home group, when she suddenly threw up all over my pillow, sheets, quilt, and the back of my shirt. We decided not to go to home group. She wanted to lie down in her own bed, so we cleaned her up and took her temperature, which was 104. She is sleeping now, but I suspect we will be returning to the doc tomorrow.

My pouting is directly related to the poor child's illness: We were supposed to have friends over for dinner tomorrow night and I correctly assumed they would prefer to reschedule due to the whole fever and throw up-thing. We had all been looking forward to the visit of these very dear friends we haven't seen in ages. We met Jim and Cassie eleven years ago when we were waiting for a birthmother to choose us to parent her baby. We had already been waiting for a long time and were likely to wait a lot longer, and we were beginning to consider international adoption.

Jim and Cassie joined our church just about then, along with their incredibly beautiful 5-year-old Bulgarian daughter. I remember the first time I saw them, and how adorable Mary Anna was in a little red coat, but I didn't get to know them right away. Lumped on top of my normal social phobias was a lot of depression about our infertility struggles and that did not make me very outgoing or friendly.

Every woman who has experienced the hell of primary infertility knows what I mean when I say that when you're longing for a child, every Mother's Day is akin to having red-hot pokers stabbed into your chest. Only worse. So in 1997 I was relieved to be spending that awful day not in church but in New York on a business trip. I came home to find a vase of freshly picked flowers and a card from Cassie, that she had brought to church and given to Ron. For me. I barely knew this woman, but she knew me. She knew from experience how badly I was hurting and she wrote on that card, "Because you are expecting, even if your wait is longer." I am crying as I type this, as I have every time I've remembered that card and those flowers for the past eleven years. It is the kind of gesture that I long to make to others, that I think of making, and am always too scared of reaching out, or I put it off until too late. Cassie actually gets up and does the thing that is going to touch someone's heart.

I have said before that I firmly believe God inserts certain people into our lives just when we need them, and just the flowers and card would have been enough to back that belief up for me. Of course God had a bigger plan in mind. One Wednesday night at church I had just had enough of waiting. I was extra emotional because a friend had died unexpectedly the day before, and I said to Cassie, "I want you to tell me about your Bulgarian adoption." She and Jim were well into the paperwork to adopt their second daughter. Cassie replied by saying that she hadn't wanted to push the idea of international adoption on us, but it just so happened that her attorney had just called and had a child he wanted to place as soon as possible.

We called the attorney the next morning. He told us in his Bulgarian accent that, "This is the best child in the orphanage. He is quiet child, but healthy." He sent us this by overnight mail:

And the rest is history. Holy cow this has gotten long, and I haven't even told you the part about dragging Cassie into the scrapbooking world, and her dragging me into the country music world, or a million other reasons I love and miss her and her sweet Godly husband and her gorgeous (17! and 13! year old) girls. And I especially didn't tell you about the time we went to lunch when Annamarie was four and sick and she threw up in Cassie's purse.