Hard Work and One Spectactular Weekend!

In my last post, I mentioned that I was burning the candle at both ends and then I fell off the face of the earth.

Not having time to sit and blog is surely one of life’s little annoyances -at least it is for me.  Taking time to sit and write about life’s everyday occurrences is something I really look forward to.  Today, I have mounds of crafting to do before Christmas, but I just had to sit down and write.

The last day I blogged was my husband’s 30th birthday.  We didn’t do very much to celebrate because I had super-de-duper secret plans in the works that had taken up ALL of my spending cash.  I did manage to get a cheesecake together and take it to his work, which I told him I would do.  He told me not to because they might be busy, so I shelved the plan.  Then he called me the morning of his birthday and told me to go ahead with the plan.

I sighed a great sigh because I filled my day with other plans on account of his CANCELLING his birthday cheesecake.  Instead of saying “GAH!” I said, “I love you.”

He read the “GAH!” through my tone.

The cheesecake was made and delivered in the end.

That evening, we had the opportunity to watch our daughter perform in her first EVER tumbling meet.
As the class began their stretching, the teacher would have the go through that actions of “making cookies” in a way that would stretch their little bodies out.
“What are you going to put on your cookie?” She’d ask the students, one by one.
“Jelly beans!”
And then there was my daughter’s reply…

To finish up their stretching, the teacher had them turn into “rocket ships” and “fly” different places.
“Where do you want to fly?” The teacher would ask the students, one by one.
“The ice cream store!”
And then there was my daughter’s answer:
“The Land of Oz!”

She waited patiently on the wall between routines.

First she did a floor routine, then a beam routine, and lastly: a trampoline routine. Her beam routine:

The next day, Thursday, was the only day I had to get things done before we left to start celebrating my husband’s big birthday bash, and I was busy from sun up to 1 AM.
I made monkeys and cleaned and cleaned monkeys.

I had to get them finished before we left because I wanted to deliver them to their rightful owners. Once I got those three done, I started on another one. He’s the cute little guy on the far left.
I wanted to try and give him a persona before I gave him away to my husband’s brother. He’s an unabashed monkey lover, and I’d joked with him earlier about making an Adolf Hitler-themed monkey. I decided to give it a try.
First came the ‘stash and angry eyes.

Then came the authoritative black hat with hand-stitched swastika.

Then I stitched his arm up at a permanent angle.
Then I took a picture of my children stuffing their shirts with the monkey stuffing.
“Santa Clause!” They cried out, “Santa!”

Then I added the armband.
Not so cute now…
But definitely worth the time it took to make it!

I wrapped and packed the monkeys that night. Hitler Monkey was packed up with a pair of homemade monkey pajama pants that I had also made that day and which I was tempted to put on and never take off.
Ahhh….. PJ pants.
We woke up early on Friday morning and packed the car up. By lunchtime, we were at Aunt Darah’s house. We dropped our kids off and turned right back around. We drove two hours in another directions to get to my husband’s secret birthday spot.

The England House.

My husband took me there for our anniversary in September, and he hadn’t stopped talking about it since.
As we crawled in bed one night, he started talking about it again.
“How badly do you want to go back?” I asked.
“Real bad,” he answered, “Just as soon as we can.”
So I started working hard. I babysat, I crocheted, I made aprons, I taught preschool and piano lessons, I played piano at the high school… and somehow it all came together.

I was also able to snag us reservations at my husband’s favorite restaurant, The Cottage Place. It’s been voted the best in town for years. Before checking into our room, I had my husband stop off at Wal-Mart so I could pick up some much needed cosmetics. I ended up spending $40 all at once because I hadn’t bought eye shadow or mascara in months. I put off buying these kinds of things, you know, on account of money. Then I have to buy them all at once and I end up needing to really spend a hunk of money, so I turn to Wal-Mart instead of JC Penney. Besides, if you get eye shadow, you need to get glitter. And if you get glitter for your eyes, you should probably buy the shimmery body lotion.
And then you’ll probably end up hating yourself for it all once they ring you up.
But only if you’re a cheapie like me. However, I HAD to have that crap! I haven’t been able to get dressed up for a date in ages!

As I got dressed and ready for dinner, my husband tried to visit with me. He didn’t do a very good job on account of the headache he’d had for four days straight. He was quiet and tired -I felt really bad for him, and I hoped that he would start to enjoy his weekend getaway as much as I was able to enjoy it.
We pulled up to The Cottage Place a few minutes before our reservation time. They were running behind, but it didn’t bother us at all. We didn’t have anywhere to be, and we didn’t mind waiting.
We ended up waiting so long that the restaurant management gave us a complimentary appetizer.
Four of the FATTEST shrimp I’ve ever seen!
They were swimming in anchovie sauce, which I thought would disgust me out of my brains, but it was SO good that my husband and I literally mopped up every speck up sauce with our complimentary bread.
Our meals arrived shortly thereafter. He got the artichoke chicken and I had the seafood pasta. My dish was filled with a few more of the fattest shrimp I have ever seen, soft scallops, and the best salmon I’ve ever EVER had! I’d never tasted anything like it.

The restaurant put us up in a cozy corner table -very cut off from the rest of the restaurant. We were surrounded on two sides by window panes that let us watch as soft snowflakes started to fall outside. I watched as my husband’s mood lightened, and I was so glad that we had come. He fed me his chicken and I fed him my seafood, and we were so full we couldn’t muster room for dessert (probably because we had each eaten six hot wings a few hours prior).
LOOK at those SHRIMP!

My dish, my dish, my dish…

After we were filled to the brim with holiday cheer and OUTSTANDING food, the waitress snapped our picture.
You can’t see it, but I’m wearing heels. I never, ever wear heels so I had to make note of it. At 5’8″, I never, ever heels. Especially because the man I’m sporting is 5’11” (but if he asks, tell him I told you he’s not an inch short of 6 foot).

We pulled back into The England House around 11 pm, and snow was falling all around. I snapped a picture of the back of the house.

I loved the way the camera’s flash reflected off the snowflakes. We nestled into our soft, warm bed and SLEPT SO HARD. When we woke up, there was a soft covering of snow.
The England House was decorated for Christmas, and there was a big, beautiful REAL tree in the front parlor. It hadn’t quite been decorated, but it was so full and fragrant that I had keep from hugging it. The best part? They paid $20 for it. $20! For the best BEST tree I’d ever laid eyes on!

Before we checked in, I could smell that tree from the porch outside. As the owner opened the door, the smell of Christmas wafted around us, and we settled comfortably into “vacation mode.”
Breakfast on Saturday morning was delicious. My body was still digesting dinner from the night before, but I was powerless to resist breakfast. Powerless.
Banana crumble served in a ramekin and a baked egg souffle!

As we ate, a fire crackled in the fire place next to us, and snow continued to fall in large downy snowflakes. The flickering taper candles on our table topped the atmosphere off perfectly.

Our second stay at The England House was as perfect and picturesque as the first. Of course we’ll go back. Of course we’ll love it. Of course the owners will treat us like we belong there. Of course I’ll be responsible for eating most of the chocolate in the candy dish set out in the kitchen.

Here’s the back of the house after the snow.

I love nothing more than escaping reality with my husband. Our reality is really as good as it gets, but it’s still nice to sneak away now and then.
One of the greatest things about The England House is that the rooms don’t have televisions in them. No television means we spend more time talking and more time listening. By the end of our stay, we’re always 100% reminded of why we got married, why we’ll stay married, and why we’ll be back to visit The England House again and again.

After checking out, my husband and I were able to get some Christmas shopping done. We hadn’t shopped together at all this season, and we won’t be able to again -so we had a GREAT time wandering the aisles of Target. By this point in the weekend, my husband’s headache was nearly gone and he was back to his teasing self. I couldn’t get ENOUGH of him!
We bought the kids all sorts of little goodies here and there -nothing too expensive because we’re poor as church mice these days. Luckily, the kids are too little to notice or care.
The drive home was peaceful.
Then the drive home got foggy.
Then the drive home got REALLY foggy.

I kept joking to my husband that I felt like Russel Crowe in Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World.
“I feel like we’re going to get hit on the port side at any given second,” I said. Then I’d imitate a sailor’s whistle.
Then he’d turn his podcast up.

We made it back to Aunt Darah’s house much later than I had anticipated, and I can’t express my THANKS enough for what she did for us! She made it possible for my husband to have the best birthday yet.
I was able to pay for all of it which my husband felt more than a little weird about, but it was SO nice to be able to take care of him for a change! I almost forgot to take my wallet with me just about everywhere we went because I’m so used to him paying, but it was 100% worth all of the work that went into it.
Which -by the by -still isn’t done. I’ve got loads of monkey socks waiting for me on the couch and two little kids that both woke up with coughs and cute croaky voices.

Here’s to a day filled with humidifiers, orange juice, sock monkey stuffing, and a traditional family sing-a-long tonight that I will be attending solo.
Thanks in advance to the husband who has agreed to stay home with the kids so I can play and sing tonight!

Later on tomorrow, I’ll blog about our family get togethers. Last night, we met at Aunt Lil’s house for a smashing Christmas dinner with the tastiest bruschetta this mama’s evah had.
Tune in tomorrow (the other side of three sock monkeys).

Christmas Memories, Sock Monkies, and Gratitude

Last night, I stayed up late making a sock monkey.  I started it around 9 pm, and I stitched as my son watched “Iron Man” and I stitched as my husband replaced “Iron Man” with audio-reading podcasts of the Book of Alma (chapters 30-37) (he’s determined to finish before the year’s end, and he will).  As my husband followed along with his scriptures, the kids grabbed their blankets and snuggled up on the floor, and I stitched and stuffed.  Soon enough, my husband was done reading.  He put the kids to bed and I stitched after helping change the kids into their PJs.

My husband went to bed and I stitched.

Finally… at 11:30, the monkey -sans eyes -was finished.  I thought about stitching buttons on, but I was tired.  I knew an alert eye would better handle a needle than the tired I eye I was using.  I sat back and looked at the monkey, and then I looked up at the clock.

Sitting next to the clock in a homemade stocking was the sock monkey my great-grandmother had made for me when I was a little kid.  Looking at that monkey always takes me back, and it’s impossible to feel anything but warm inside.  Grandmothers have a special way of doing that, you know… making you feel warm.  I took a moment to think about my great-grandmother as I stared at the sock monkey.  As I’ve stitched my own sock monkeys, I’ve often referred to my monkey.  I’ve studied her stitches and tried to decipher her techniques.  I wonder what she thinks of me as a 25 year-old, still cabbaging onto a sock monkey she made out of her husband’s old red heel socks.

Then I remembered the date.  It was December 13th.  December 13th…   And again, I went back.

December 13th, 1996 was a red letter day for me.  It was my brother’s birthday, and per tradition we were going to buy and put up a tree that night.  I looked forward to that day ALL Christmas season.  We always put up a real tree, and it was my brother’s (the birthday boy) job to pick a tree out.  He was very particular and always came home with the BEST of what was left in the Christmas Tree lot.  I knew what was to come…Dad and the brothers would stand the tree up and adjust it to fit JUST RIGHT in the tree stand.  Mom would pour a mixture of 7up and water into the base of the tree stand.  Then came the lights -multiple colors -and then mom would pull out the box.

It was a beautiful red Christmas cardboard box, and it was filled with ornaments of all kinds.  There was the green construction paper one I made with my school picture on it. The homemade wooden ornaments that Sister McLaws had hand painted for all of us.  The birds mom made out of ribbon, the little bear ornaments that were given to us so long ago that I don’t have a Christmas memory without them in it.  The singing plush gingerbread man.  The singing plastic snowman.  How we loved to make them sing together -of for no other reason than to drive our sweet mother mad!  Lastly, we would top the tree with strands of glittering icicles.  The colorful lights would glint off of them as they swayed to even the SLIGHTEST change in air movement.

What a night I had to look forward to!  I stepped into my classroom and was there named Student of the Week for being so bubbly.  Could the day GET any BETTER?!  I happily made my way to the old school bell where they took my picture (Polaroid) and within a few minutes, my picture was placed on the bulletin board where it would remain for the ENTIRE week.  How I had coveted that spot for weeks, and now… NOW IT WAS MINE!  It took all the courage I could muster not to ask to use the bathroom, just so I could walk by and see my picture with my name under the words “Student of the Week.”

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mother about it.  I couldn’t wait to get home and anticipate tree decorating.  I couldn’t WAIT to get HOME!

But once there, my mother pulled us all together and let us know that our great-grandmother had passed away.  It didn’t come as any great shock, really.  We all knew it was coming, but it still affected me.  I was born excessively sentimental -an affliction that persecutes me to this very day.  I didn’t want to cry in front of my older brothers -what great foddery for teasing that would make.  I bit my lip.  I looked down.  I tried to take the news cooly.   I looked up to see how my brothers were taking the news.  I looked first at my oldest brother.  He had a slight grin on his face.

“Are you going to write this in your journal?” He asked, teasing. His teasing sent my tears over the edge, and I escaped to my room where I did indeed write in my journal that my great-grandmother had died.

In the months proceeding her death, she had been miserable.  She had taken such good care of her mortal body that death seemed to evade her, much to her disdain.

“Don’t take such good care of yourself,” she’d advise me.  And I’d laugh.

“I took much too good care of myself,” she’d say.  And then she’d tell me how badly she wanted to die.  Having always been a very capable woman, living with her children wasn’t an easy thing for her to do.  They all lived conveniently within a block of her home, and she would spend a little time with one and a little time with another.

Before she lived with her children, I had spent a lot of time at her home.  Once a week on her daybed, she’d given me crochet lessons.  The skill she taught me has almost singlehandedly paid for my husband’s 30th birthday gift, and I know she wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve tried to think of ways to thank her, and only one thing comes to mind: teach others.  I know that’s what she’d have me do.

I missed our weekly meeting together, and so I’d visit her as she moved from home to home.  I decided, one day, that she deserved something she’d given to everyone else but never saved for herself: a sock monkey.  Even as a child, when I got an idea I was pretty determined.  Nothing really stopped me, even if in the back of my mind I knew it was going to turn out much less than perfect.  I sifted through my socks and finally found a pair of worn purple socks that I thought really fit the bill.  I cut and stitched and guessed at how to make a monkey.  I wish I had a picture of that monkey, I really do.  My very first sock monkey, and how awful it was!  It didn’t look a thing like a monkey, and I knew that… but it was all I had.  I also knew that my Nunna had something of a blind eye when it came to gifts from her grandchildren, so I took it to Uncle Doyle’s house (where she was staying) along with a note I’d written in EXTRA EXTRA LARGE lettering on account of her sight which I had reckoned was pretty near gone.

When I proudly presented my monkey to her, she cried.  She hugged me and she cried.  I didn’t know how to respond because I had envisioned that she would praise my crafting expertise… not cry.  Looking back, I can see why a gift of a haphazardly sewn sock monkey could make a woman cry.  Aside from inheriting my grandmother’s knack for writing and nearly-daily journaling (yes, even as a elementary school student), I had inherited her sentimentality.

I didn’t realize, as I journaled away the days of my life back then, that my great-grandmother also journaled away the days of her life.  As I read through her journals this summer, I found an excerpt she’d written about a visit she’d taken to a doctor’s office.  As she sat in the waiting room, she engaged conversation with other patients waiting.  They related to her the story of their ills.  She recorded her sympathy and went on to say that she could never be a doctor -she was always to concerned with the people themselves.  I smiled when I read that because I’m exactly the same way.

And as I sat there last night, staring in turn at the monkey from my childhood and the monkey in my hands, I was grateful for my great-grandmother.

What better way to show it than to write it in my journal?

Nunna, you would have made for a champion blogger.  I love you, and I’m grateful for you.  Your ability to inspire has reached far beyond the grave. 
If this monkey doesn’t get eyes soon, my daughter is going to have a conniption.