Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How I Spent My Christmas "Vacation"

 How I Spent My Christmas "Vacation"
an essay for Jamie

(The scene opens, and Libby is standing before a classroom full of her peers. She holds her handwritten essay before her and starts her reading aloud in a shaky stammery voice but after about three sentences she catches her flow and suddenly you're watching a feature film play out before you and you don't remember that this is a kid telling a story until the middle when they cut-to a kid in the class asking if he can be excused to go to the bathroom.)

I don't know if it's just a part of getting older or if it's my absolute obsession with gratitude this past year--but 2011 was the year of excellent gifts. Let us not forget the incredible birthday haul I made. And then only a few months later, Christmas! Any time someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I was totally honest. I am a woman in want of naught. And it didn't seem fair since birthday was so recent. I am really too overwhelmed with love to expect/ want/ fully appreciate presents on top of it all. But in true Christmas form--it happened anyway.

Santa Libby hands out lens wipes
and candy canes. Everyone takes
the candy canes.
Mostly I didn't want to share what I got for Christmas because it seemed self-involved and show-offy but then I thought to myself, what could possibly be more self-involved and show-offy than mine own blog where I talk endlessly about myself? Plus, my favorite part of gift-giving traditions is seeing what other people get for one another. Why would I keep you from such a treat? I like hearing the little inside stories or seeing how much someone really understands their friend or family member. Or, better yet, seeing the look on one person's face while another, erroneously believes that they did such a great job. No one will let my older brother live down the time, ten years ago, when our friend Tish gave him something for his birthday and his immediate response was, "Hey! Do you still have the receipt?" Classic Brother.

For me, Christmassy season began the Saturday before when we were preparing to attend the annual I Heard a Lion Christmas party. I made various almond barks and these cheese straws that I keep seeing on Pinterest. I tell you, they could not possibly be any easier (that is--if you pay attention to the instructions on the box of puff pastry dough that say, "let thaw for 40 minutes". Just because you think it can't hurt to thaw for three hours doesn't mean you're right. Trust me. (Side note: what do I love about Pinterest? Finding new crafty/ foodie blogs. Shutterbean is precious.)
The party was totally fun even if 1/2 of the guests were flu-infested. I can respect the dedication enough to not care that I'm about to get sick. We had the party at Doug and Staci's house. Their house, if you haven't seen it, is freaking brilliant. Check out Staci's blog a little bit and you'll realize that you want to chill out there, too. I didn't expect to get presents at all but I really didn't expect to get such great presents. Jamie, I'm posting this photo because I know you're going to love everything about this scarf that Rusty and Kellory (and probably Abbey, too) picked out for me. I found out that Adam reads my blog when I opened up a huge box containing three boxes of Quaker Oat Squares. I laughed a whole lot. And then Doug and Staci gave Ryan and I a gift certificate to eat lunch at Amic's (which is where I take all of my friends who come to visit/ would love hummus).  The El Greco, she is a simple sandwich but she is my favorite.
Ryan and I used another recipe from Shutterbean to make homemade Amaretto for everyone. It was really fun to make and it's such a shame that there's so much leftover. We have a New Year's Party coming up. I'll be sipping African Queens all night. It'll get used. It'll get used. If I do say so, myself, it's delicious.

We had family time on Monday night! Adam and Arryn were taking the kids (via Amtrak) to New Mexico up into the mountains for a memorable week of holidays with Arryn's side of the family. The pictures are always incredible. I'll bet they had the best time.
Monday night, I got off work at 8 and rushed home to open gifts with them before they took off (at 1:00 am that night). When I got there, Amos greeted me with, "we can open presents, now!?!" But Arryn was still in the shower so we had to sit around and wait a little bit longer. Genesis, you could tell, tried so hard to keep herself contained. Walking around like she was cool with everything like she wasn't a six-year-old about to open presents after waiting all day long. Amos was this little jittery ball of energy not running around a lot but sort of vibrating all over the place. And he did everything you told him to--ensuring that nothing would get in the way of opening presents. Arryn told the kids to have a seat while she handed out gifts and I snapped this picture. I think it's perfect. Amos' eyes focused. His body quiet but not calm.

I gave my sisters my favorite gifts. For Arryn, one night when I was babysitting the kids, we took profile photos. It's not easy to get a fifteen month old to stand still. I printed their photos, traced them onto some canvas and painted in the lines. It was terribly easy for as adorable as they turned out. I took this photo with my phone and didn't style it at all so--big whoop. You get the idea. I left them unframed because I knew Arryn would come up with a creative way to display them.
I took to Etsy for Sarah. I got her something to remind her of home while she and her husband adventure down to Texas--courtesy of the U.S. Army. Sarah's from Kansas, obviously. Scott is from Minnesota. They are a good team. I got them these vintage-dictionary screen prints and framed them. Then I threw in a bunch of chocolate--complete with a Terry's orange. Turns out that when I framed them, I did not choose the type with mounting hardware--doy. So they're going to need new frames. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Oh yeah! And a few months ago I commissioned a family of Cyclops hats from the lovely and talented Katie Hurl! Look at all of these guys that she made for Sarah's kids!

Arryn actually got me a very similar gift from a different seller on etsy. A vintage dictionary page--but this one has a color print of two ticket stubs. From another etsy seller, she got me a pair of darling earrings constructed of hardware and buttons. Genesis helped pick them out. Listen to this--Arryn said that she knows I like owls but that I might be getting over it a little bit (she's not wrong). Genesis, who is six, mentioned that these earrings are sort of like owls in certain ways and not like owls in other ways and also because they are ivory and brass, I can wear them with lots of different outfits. She all but said, "it's a neutral homage to owls--befitting your collection and the majority of your wardrobe." She has also helped me in deciding which purse to buy, "well, you already wear a lot of yellow--do you really need a yellow purse? Get a blue one." The rationality you'd expect from at least an eight year old. The rationality that had not so much occurred to me. That girl is an artist--a stylist in the making. She's also learning to play the piano. I've got high, artistic hopes for the girl. But I will keep them to myself so as not to push her... I'm just letting you know.

December 23 (the day of Festivus), Ed and Ange had a party at their place, too. It was super low-key and fun. We ate homemade chicken and noodles and also chili and Rhode's cinnamon rolls. So delicious. We sat around talking and hanging out. Angie gave me a bottle of lotion (I'd borrowed hers once and raved about how it didn't react with my extra-sensitive, wintertime skin) that smells like lemon cookies and a bottle of homemade vanilla extract. I can't wait to make use of this in the spring time when the flavor has totally infused. My mind is already racing with ways to highlight the vanilla flavor itself. I'm feeling maybe a simple vanilla cake? Oh well, there's time to think about it. She packaged it so gorgeously, too. I got her a gift but I ordered it from Etsy. I definitely ordered it in enough time--if it was being shipped in the United States and I'm just ethnocentric enough to assume that it was. But it wasn't. Woops. I'm learning to check that.

The week of Christmas, I worked a lot so that the guys in my department could spend time with their families. As a result (and thanks to a lovely Walmart policy that closes the stores on Christmas Day), my only day off was the day of Christmas itself. It wasn't so bad at all. Ryan's family celebrates the Saturday after Christmas so he was around. I was around. We just hung out all day. I made biscuits and gravy for breakfast and we opened presents. I had decided, maybe a month ago to make him a quilt. A few weeks ago it was becoming apparent that I was in over my head. I got the top finished in time for Christmas. All it needs now is a backing and to be tacked down. I was really upset that it wouldn't be done in time but after a good, old-fashioned panic attack, I got myself together. The holidays wouldn't be complete without one, you know? He doesn't mind. I think he likes it. So far. I also got him a copy of Bridesmaids, also, so there was at least one gift fit for immediate use. He really won at Christmas this year, though, when I opened up an espresso maker and all the trimmings along with the Adele Live at Royal Hall CD/DVD combo (the last big was something for which I shamelessly begged). We spent the entire day in pajamas, watching movies and Christmas episodes of Seinfeld and The Office and figuring out how to work my new toy machine. Favorite latte so far? Two ounces espresso, 1/2 ounce amaretto, steamed milk and 1/2 a hand-full of white chocolate chips. Usually, though, I just put a little maple syrup in the bottom of my cup and throw in the espresso and milk. I'm getting better at frothing. It's been a while since I got paid to do it.
For dinner, we made meatloaf (following a legitimate recipe, this time--makes all the difference) and mashed potatoes and watched Home Alone while Little Sister and Little Brother came over for a chit-chat.

I know it's December 27th but the Holiday Season isn't over, yet. There's still all the fun on Saturday--Christmas with Ryan's family and after that, the Happy New Year/ Bon Voyage, Kasey party!! I was going to clean my house in preparation for that... Fine. I'll get started.

All in all I think I'm learning that, for me, hand-made things are totally the way to go. It forces me to really consider things rather than just running out and grabbing something. Etsy counts. Commissioning a fleet of hats from a friend counts.

What was your favorite gift to give/ receive this year? #firstworldquestions

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sugar, Shoes, Desert Island

You guys, it's 5:30 am in the morning (...is my least favorite way that people choose to emphasize just how early it really is, "it's so early that redundancy doesn't apply to me!") and my brain woke me up. I've become quite the light sleeper these days. I kept trying to fall asleep but then all I could think about were different candies that I can make for Christmas.

The other day, there was a fiasco with the creation of some caramels. So, The Internet kept telling me "do not attempt this without a candy thermometer!" But I didn't listen to her. I said, "Internet, grandmas have been making caramels for centuries before thermometers were even invented!" (Correction: I just learned that the thermometer was developed in the 1500's) So I just went with it, believing that I could trust my instincts about the matter. For the record, that's not the case. The Internet kept saying, "the sugar will go from perfect to burned in a matter of seconds, so watch it closely and take it off the heat when it's golden brown!" So I was very, very cautious to stare at the sugar and not let it burn and to take it off the heat when it's golden brown.
But I was premature. The sugar wasn't hot enough to eventually turn into soft, chewy candy. Science, you bastard! The good news is that I didn't get close to burning it at all, though, so it was still tasty. It was just a liquid. A liquid that's so good on pancakes or in my coffee or warmed up and poured over Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream. It wasn't a complete wash. I just didn't have a huge bowl of perfectly wrapped candies to give to my friends. I was going to sprinkle apple cider mix into them. So, yeah. Now, I can't get candy out of my brain. I want to find a way to turn my favorite drinks into treats.

I made a gingerbread almond bark that kind of reminds me of gingersnaps and milk. Now, I have an idea to make a Mexican hot chocolate bark and a peppermint mocha one. By now, it's not so much that I want to eat all the candy. I just, I wrote to Katie, "want to make molten sugar my b----."

My favorite shoes are a light yellow canvas and the other day they got stained with mud. I'm thinking about painting them. I've wanted a pair of red shoes. Maybe I'll paint them red, today. Maybe now. Maybe I'll wear a pair of red shoes to the Christmas party, tonight. It's so early in the morning. I've had coffee going for an hour. I will need to schedule a nap or keep the coffee going all day.

(Update: This took about 20 minutes)

(End Update)

500 Days of Summer is what I do when I can't sleep. I've blogged about it at least once, before. Probably many more times. The first time that I watched it, it had a major effect on me. Maybe I'll go find that old blog-post and link to it. I like watching it at different points in my life when my brain changes. So I decided to watch it for, probably, the dozenth time. I bought my copy from the video store in town and so there are no special features because it's a particular copy that was intended to be rented out. I wish I could watch it with the commentary.
I'm not the kind of person who can readily think of favorites. I don't have a favorite band or a favorite song or a favorite color, candy, movie, book, section of the newspaper or breakfast cereal. Okay, that's not entirely true--Quaker oatmeal squares is my favorite but I never buy it because it's expensive and there's maybe 3 bowls worth in there. I don't have a lot of favorites but I do have answers for the desert island question. If I was stranded on a desert island and only had one movie, it could easily be 500 Days of Summer. And if I only had one novel, it would be Anne Lamott's Rosie. That doesn't mean that they're the best movies or books--you can't have the most delicious thing for the rest of your life can you? Maybe some people could but it's more important to me to have that comfort zone thing available to me. I don't have a security blanket but I have certain books and movies and songs.

What are your desert island items?

And if I only had one candy it would be the Mexican hot chocolate bark that's in my brain and has yet to be materialized.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Directionless Blog Post is Lacking Direction

Once I said to Ryan, "I'm going to draw you a picture." I got a line way off, so I stopped drawing and laid it down. He photographed it and sent it to his brother who then responded with, "Libby is bad at drawing." That story notwithstanding (I'm still not entirely sure if I ever use "notwithstanding" appropriately but I'm going to just breeze through like it's right and make you wonder if maybe you're the one who doesn't use it properly), I drew some pictures for this blog. I'm not as cool as Katie so I don't have fancy space pens that draw into your computer or, you know, talent. Seriously, just look at Katie's drawie blogs. I just have a pencil and a camera phone. Just like in the olden days.

On Friday, I sat down to dinner with Joshua, Lynnette and Ryan when someone asked, "So, how was everyone's day?" And I said that mine was awesome. And they all looked at me like they were waiting for me to tell them all of the horrible things that happened. I don't know if I just sounded sarcastic or if it's so unusual to hear someone not gripe about their day but Friday really was great. So great, in fact, that I carried around note cards and kept a running list of "Things That Have Made Today Awesome". I really did. I anticipated it early. I will share it with you.

Things That Have Made Today Friday Awesome: A Running List by Libby Parker

  1. Successfully executing a hairstyle that I found on Pinterest
  2. Riding to work with Katie. Participating in the blessed adventure that is being allowed to listen to her speak. That wit! That vernacular! The combination is exceptional, indeed.
  3. Seeing Kasey (link to his website since I'm feelin' linky, today) at the self-check out purchasing anti-freeze. Standing there in his cool guy jacket and glasses. Katie was just standing there, staring at him. Kasey, I should add, is not from very close to here and when he shows up it is usually a highly anticipated event. So seeing him without notice is a treat for all of the senses.
  4. I was doing my paperwork when Justin walked by (yes, I am lucky enough to work in the same building as both Justin and Katie and a lot of other very cool friends). I was already just having a lovely day so I guess I was smiling. I looked up and Justin was staring at me and said, "I don't know what you're looking at on your computer but your eyes are all lit up like you're looking at... Christmas magic." 
    "I just love my job, man!"
  5. Writing my to-do-list for the day in various colors of magic marker. (And, subsequently, crossing off everything on that list before 2:30)
  6. My nieces and nephew as the bell ringers for the Salvation Army between 10:00-11:00 am. I dumped all of my pennies into their bucket and snapped a few photos. So many people came into my area and said, "have you seen those adorable bell ringers?" And I'd say, "they're mine!!"
  7. The way that really old people look at babies in the store. I don't know what the difference is. Lots of people stop and look at babies. A lot of them say, "Oh! She's so cute! How old is she? What's your name??" But really, really old people will look at babies and not say much at all. Just looking and basking, I would imagine, in the newness of it all. I like getting to see it. 
  8. I repaired a woman's glasses and when she left I told her to have a good weekend. Her response, "Honey, when you're retired, every day's a weekend."
  9. Due to impending overtime, I have to go home an hour early, today. 
  10. I added more things to my Christmas tree last night and it made me happy this morning.
  11. Walking into the break-room and sitting down as Justin is telling a story that is very clearly close to his heart. I'm hearing him tell this story and his eyes are tearing up and I start to recognize it. I interrupt, "I'm sorry, but are you retelling the plot line of Up?" Everyone nodded, solemnly. Then he told us about District 9.
  12. Going home early with Katie (who also got off early) and talking about boys.
  13. Eating at Wood Fashion Cafe with Josh, Lynnette, and Ryan before going to watch Melancholia at the Salina Art Center Cinema. I will tell you that my quesadilla at dinner was just delicious and full of so many vegetables (yams??) and goat cheese and that my tea was piping hot and that the prices were perfectly manageable. I will not tell you much about Melancholia, though. Because everyone hates that person who says, "it was amazing" for lack of anything better to say. It was a visceral experience that I'm sure you won't be able to feel if you see it in your own living room. I'm glad that I got to watch it in the theater with the volume at a level that makes the floor rumble. (Yesterday, I said, "It's like Lars von Trier shrunk down and crawled into the mind of Justin Powers and lived there for about four months and then came out and made an end-of-the-world film specifically as a Christmas gift to Justin." I mean the main character's name is Justine.)
  14. Riding home in Ryan's car as he pretends to fall asleep while driving. I'm singing The Smiths songs to him and thinking about how my dad once told me to never get into a car with someone unless you trust them with your life. And I'm singing, "and if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us--to die by your side, such a heavenly way to die." Ryan does not find this song as comforting as I do.
  15. Goodnight smooches and falling asleep in my warm, soft bed and waking up and finding that the world is still here.
Friday was nice.

Today, though, is my day off and since I haven't had one in a really long time, I have a lot to do today. So I will make a to-do-list and update it throughout. Live blogging, you guys.
  • Finish part 1/3 of a top-secret Christmas gift.
  • Clean the litter pan.
  • Walk to The Cook's Nook/ Save and Share and look for bottles for another top-secret Christmas gift.
  • Wrap Genesis and Amos' gifts so that I have something shiny beneath my tree.
  • Wash the dishes.
  • Find and watch an episode of The Virgin Diaries online so I am in the loop.
  • Take out the garbage.
  • Watch a lot of Rick Perry parodies on Youtube.
  • Post a talking-chin video on my blog:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

This is for you, Pat.

Dear Friend,

It's the Sunday before a seven-day work week which means that if anything is ever going to get done, today's the day to do it.
So I'll make something to go into little rubbermaid containers that I will take with me for lunch every day this week. It gets a little monotonous--eating the same thing every day, but it's not so bad. It beats a $5.00 salad slathered in mexi-ranch.
I've been craving macaroni and cheese ever since Pat Robertson said he's never heard of it. Which was way before Thanksgiving. So I'll make some grown up mac and cheese. I do not have a recipe, yet. But I'm sure there will be one by the time I've finished.

First things first, as we all know, begin by streaming This American Life (this is one of my most favorite episodes) while wiping down the kitchen counters. This is the one that I listened to. I picked it from the archives because there's a story about Hoisington, KS. And because it's about prom and teenagery things are always appealing. I predict that things will mosey along pretty quickly.

Macaroni and Cheese (or This is For You, Pat)
  1. Half a box of whole wheat pene (I don't know if there's any truth to it or not but I feel like it's a lot easier to gorge yourself on elbow macaroni, so I always use pene). I knew from the get-go that I wanted to make this fairly healthy-ish. I mean, it's macaroni and cheese after all but I'm going to be eating it for a few days, I have to get my fiber and vitamins in somehow.  
  2. I have a bag of frozen tri-colored bell peppers and onions and a bag of spinach. So, on the back burner I decided to cook them all together to get as much water out of them as possible.
  3. When the noodles were mostly done, I drained them and rinsed them with water to make them stop cooking and to wash the starch off because otherwise they'll get sticky and unappealing.
  4. The sauce part, this is where I start making stuff up. I only really have one pan, so I had to wait until the noodles were cooked before I started on my sauce. I decided to start with the premise of a bechamel. But, like, the most 2011, Midwestern bechamel that ever existed. Butter, flour, skim milk that will be expired in exactly 24 hours. I put three tablespoons of butter in the pan over medium heat. Once it was melted, I whisked in three tablespoons of flour. Whisk it around and it gets pretty thick pretty fast. This, by the way, is where sauce gets saucy. I started with skim milk, I poured that in about 1/3 cup at a time and kept whisking. You don't ever want to stop whisking because it'll burn and be ruined and repulsive. Also, if you keep adding milk and keep adding heat, it seems to always get thicker and thicker. So when I was ready for it to start thinning out just a smidge, I dumped in some white whine
  5. Normally, I would use chicken stock for this portion but I don't have any of that but I do have some wine which has past the point of being drinkable but not past the point of being able to cook with. So, we're putting those hands together. I can not tell you how much liquid to add to this, honestly. Just keep adding and keep stirring until it comes to a texture that you rather like. Then turn off the heat. And start adding your spices. I used garlic salt and black pepper and tumeric (to make it yellow). Also red-pepper flakes. Then I melted in maybe... 3/4 of a cup of shredded cheese? I buy sharp cheddar because you don't have to use a lot to get a big cheese flavor. There's a trick for you.
  6. Anyway, at this point I just dumped in the vegetables and the noodles and stirred them all up together.
  7. I sprayed a glass baking dish, dumped it all in, and sprinkled bread crumbs and parley on top. I haven't baked it, yet. I'll probably do it tomorrow.
I'm debating about whether or not to even post this because it's such a non-recipe and not really that helpful, probably.
In a world where I think things through before I do them, I probably would have used broccoli and cauliflower instead of bell peppers. That was an odd choice.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It Is December, Today.

You know, if you scroll back through time in this here blog you'd probably notice an overwhelming recent theme. Gratitude: it is strong lately. I can't say for sure but some of the earliest posts here were probably pretty tongue-in-cheek gripe sessions. There was a time when I fancied myself a bit of a sharp, quick-witted, sarcastic soul. Now, it's hard for me to be that way. Don't get me wrong, I love to read sharp sarcasm. But what was once my most natural disposition has become a chore to maintain.
I realize that might make me a bit boring at times. But it's nice. Cynicism is... hilarious when executed properly. But it is exhausting to live that way day-to-day. I'm not a teenager, anymore--I am washing my hair with $7.00 shampoo, now. I am waking up hours before I need to be at work. I am not drinking coffee after 5:00 pm. And I am allowed to love things, now--I'm doing it.

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Martin Luther King Jr

Gratitude begot a weepy woman in me. In the past seven days, I have cried at least six times. And only once was because I was frustrated. Last week, I learned that a friend of mine will be moving away for a fun, new, life-adventure. A few nights ago, I learned that another friend of mine is going to have a baby and I teared up a little. On Tuesday, I watched a preview of Adele's Live at The Royal Albert Hall (which is no longer on Vevo--sorry that I can't link it) and I cried a little bit at the end when she sang "Rolling in the Deep" and the glitter fell from the ceiling and you could tell that she was just living out a dream. Not just a bucket list type of thing, either. A far-fetched, big-deal, die-happy kind of dream. And I was really happy for her. By the end of 2012, I'm going to be the lady who cries at Folgers commercials. I'm not trying to make it happen--but I'm not interested in stopping it.

It's December, today. This year is almost over. And (I really am going to try to say all of this without crying--not that you'll ever know) God, it's been good. It's been an incredible year. I remember this time last year when I was feeling very much on-my-own. I was intentionally taking a single-lady stance on life. That is to say that I spent a lot of time pretending like I wasn't lonely. I spent a lot of time keeping myself busy in the daytime and hoping to fall asleep quickly at night so that I didn't have a lot of time to think about how I wanted things to be different. But sometimes I did. This time last year I felt very selfish when I had the secret thought, "I want 2011 to be my year. I want it to be my turn." And I really didn't think it was going to happen but it has been. In ways that I didn't see coming and I didn't think were possible for me.

I have felt my heart stretch and move and tear and break in a lot of ways that I wasn't certain it was capable of. It turns out that a heart has a good amount of elasticity in it. I've learned that a person can feel two completely different ways at once. One month ago, I felt madly, hopelessly, safely in love while at the same time, scrunched up in a ball on my bed--howling in grief. It's quite an exercise. Like any mind-bending exercise, it hurts like hell for a long time but then one day you wake up and realize that you're still here and you're going to be okay--just very different. We're still here and we're going to be okay. Just very different.

When I moved to McPherson in the summer of 2009, my life was very small. It was me and my books and my clothes. And that's what I came into this apartment with. I had one niece and one nephew and Adam and Arryn lived downstairs. And sometimes when I was feeling particularly bold, I would even talk to Ryan, who lived in the basement apartment. Except not that often because our conversations were excruciatingly awkward.

As of December 2011, I have three nieces and four nephews. Sarah lives only a few hours away and Andrew lives only a few blocks away. Adam and Arryn still live just downstairs and... oy, that guy who still lives in the basement apartment is my favorite part of most days. And friends, so many friends. Honestly, when I left college, I thought I'd never find anyone who'd ever truly get me again. But that's not the case. Sometimes you just click with people. And they're everywhere. The internet makes it easy to find them. How did adults make friends before Facebook?

I've been looking through my planner. I like writing little, one-sentence journal-type entries in with schedules. It's fun. Let me take you on a short journey of 2011.
  • Saturday, January 8: I got a little drunk tonight, and a little sad.
  • Tuesday, February 22: I made this weird sausage/ lentil thing for dinner.
  • Saturday, March 5: I went to The W, tonight. I kissed two boys.
  • Sunday, April 10: ...he touched my hands and my hair and at one point I actually considered that I could be dreaming. But I wasn't. 
  • Friday, May 13: All Schools Day! Eat a pronto-pup! ...Did not eat a pronto pup. Ryan and I went to see Bridesmaids, instead.
  • Tuesday, June 21: Mustache Night at Applebees. Make friends with Doug and Staci. I can't wait to be friends with Staci.
  • Monday, July 11: "Girl, take it easy, take it slow. You're a hazard to yourself."
  • Friday, August 12: Secret Birthday parties! Buy gasoline and beer (priorities).
  • Saturday, September 24: Royal plays in Manhattan. It's fun to overhear girls talk about how cute your boyfriend is.
  • Monday, October 10: Go to Kansas City with Alyssa! Have the time of your life.
  • November only says stuff like: Work 9-2:30 in Vision Center and 3:30-6 in layaway. November got kind of boring?
2012 is going to feature some seriously un-fun things. There will be a lot of things to change. If everything goes according to plan, half of my siblings and all of my nieces and nephews will move away to other states (not particularly close states, either). I don't want to think about it too much, because since moving here, I've grown impossibly close to my siblings. Closer than we've ever been, even in childhood. But they're going to go away and that's how life happens. It's certainly not unusual to have family all over the country. It's just a change from what I know, now. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to just keep doing what I do until something presents itself. I'm much less concerned with myself for now--I've gotten the lion's share of happiness. I want to see other people take it, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Did It

I love lists. I'd try to find a way to communicate strictly in them if I could. It's how I get stuff done. It's how I keep myself on task. It's how I remember the things that I have to do and even the things that I want to do.
At work, once all of the regular, has-to-be-done-without-question work is done, I make a to-do list. Otherwise I'll just sit there and stare at people. It's not that there's nothing to do. There's plenty to do but my brain needs a tight reign from time to time.

Yesterday was my day off. I especially need to-do lists on my days off or I'll never get anything done. A lot of people probably think that's the whole point but on days when I just sit around and stare at Pinterest for 8 hours (yes, that has happened--mostly), then I look around my house and I feel pretty bad about myself. So yesterday I went nuts and wrote up a massive to-do list. It looked like this.

To Do Today 11/29/2011
  1. Start the day off right with a healthy breakfast.
  2. Fold up the couch.
  3. Clean up the coffee table.
  4. Take out the garbage.
  5. Wash out the kitty litter pan.
  6. Finish the dishes.
  7. Wipe down the counters.
  8. Do one load of laundry.
  9. Put up the Christmas tree.
  10. Mail bills.
  11. Listen to This American Life.
  12. Shower.
  13. Paint Finger Nails.
  14. Watch New Girl.

Don't judge my to-do list. Some times you have to mix in the super easy and fun things with the stuff that you don't want to do. It tricks your brain into thinking that everything is fun. And you can listen to This American Life while you do the first three things on the list. Which is what I did. But, guess what, when I woke up this morning, my list from yesterday looked like this:

To Do Today 11/29/2011
Kiki: Protector of the Tannenbaum
  1. Start the day off right with a healthy breakfast.
  2. Fold up the couch.
  3. Clean up the coffee table.
  4. Take out the garbage.
  5. Wash out the kitty litter pan.
  6. Finish the dishes.
  7. Wipe down the counters.
  8. Do one load of laundry.
  9. Put up the Christmas tree.
  10. Mail bills.
  11. Listen to This American Life.
  12. Shower.
  13. Paint Finger Nails.
  14. Watch New Girl.

I even did some extra things, like cleaning all of the clean laundry off of my bed so that I would have somewhere to sleep. And making soup and french fries to feed to Andrew and Ryan.

Also, it should go without saying that in order to put up the Christmas tree, one must first listen to Christmas music. More lists!! Yes, but Christmas music is the frickin' worst. And I will stand by that. It's terrible. All day at my job I have to listen to Britney Spears singing "Santa, Can You Hear Me?" And Justin Bieber doing a Christmas duet with Usher. That really ruins it. But I wanted to be in the mood so I went to Spotify and put together a playlist of very nice Christmas songs that, in moderation, are so nice.

So, because my Christmas tree is up and my house is clean enough to satisfy me, I leave you with this. My absolute favorite version of my absolute favorite Christmas song.

PS This is my second most favorite Christmas song.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

People are, Really, Quite Beautiful Things

I'm watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I've seen it before, years ago, but I'm re-watching it. I'm only a few minutes in but I'm struck by this guy's character (and the delicious soundtrack). He's so shy. He wrote in his journal, "why is it that I fall in love with every woman who shows me the slightest bit of attention?" And when she was trying to get his attention on the platform, waiting for the train, he kept looking away.

And I was thinking about how this is the opposite of the kind of men that we are told to love. Growing up, we are told to seek out men who are strong and passionate. Men who take the lead and make the first move. Anything else will leave you pitiful and unsettled and unsatisfied.

But there are men in the world who are shy. There are men in the world who spend a lot of time in their heads and not a lot of time saying things. There are men who don't know where they're going or what they're looking for and should they be turned away on that account? Does he have to have his life figured out if I don't have my life figured out? Is that fair? Doesn't that just pass off the hard work onto him?

I have never had a crush on the type of man who is directive and stern and opinionated. I tend toward the shy, introspective types and I thought that was wrong for a really long time. It's not. I've recently found myself quite a bit in love with a pretty shy fellow. And you know, nearly everything he says to me is valuable. Some of it is BS but even that is nice.

 There are women in the world with various personalities. Some of us are wild and impulsive. Some of us are quiet and passive. Some of us are quietly impulsive. But we're all different and we are all full to flowing with personality and value and humanity.

And men are like that too. Because humans are really quite beautiful things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Temporary Remedy for Twenty-Something Existential Dread (with recipe)

After a long day with a bout or two of momentary, couch-ridden self-pity, maybe a little bit of traditional, twenty-something existential dread, and a dash of money woes, what does a girl need more than a glass of Cherry Coke and a warm chocolate chip cookie? Nothing. There is no cure other than that just described.

And what's a girl to do when there are no sweets to be found in the house? She makes her own chocolate chip cookies. And what does she do when she has no chocolate of any kind at her immediate disposal? She shoves a tenner in her pocket, walks to the gas station on the corner and buys two bags of Hershey's Milk Chocolate Drops. Have you tasted these? She's keeping them out of sight until the recipe tells me to throw them in.

Oh, also her kitchen is a mess and she made a promise to herself and her boyfriend that she would have her kitchen cleaned by 9:00 pm (not because he cares about the state of her kitchen, but because she needs someone to be accountable to--not that he would even hold her accountable but it would give her an excuse to feel the inevitable embarrassment if he came home from band practice and it turns out that she's still not cleaned the kitchen).

Can she clean her kitchen whilst simultaneously making a small batch of chocolate chip cookies while photographing it for her blog all by 9:00 pm? We'll find out. I will need Ira Glass' help. He always helps me to focus.

This episode of This American Life was really exciting. Okay, "exciting" isn't the right word. It was quite heartbreaking. But it held my attention as if it had grabbed my face.

It was difficult to do much of the cleaning but I did get to the important bits--that is the counter space next to the oven. Also I was out of eggs and I forgot about that until I'd reached the point of no return. So I went downstairs and asked my brother and sister-in-law if I could have two eggs. Adam said, "Yes." Arryn said, "Sure." Amos (who is now three-years-old and was sitting on the floor looking, happily, at his Maisey book) said, "No. I need to eat dem." I said, "What?"
"No, Beebee. I need to eat dem."
"But I need to borrow these eggs so that I can make some cookies."
"Ooh, I yike goo-kies!"
"Yes, so if you'd let me have two of them, then I will bring you one in the morning. So can I have them?"
"I guess so, Beebee."
I love that guy. We high-fived it out and I left before I could answer his question about why you'd need eggs in cookies.

When I put the batter into the fridge to harden up a little bit before I scooped it onto cookie sheets, I got some dishes done. But it's hard to listen to This American Life while you're running water and sloshing it around so I tried to be as quiet as possible. Then Andrew came and we ended up talking about--God only knows what. So I didn't do a ton of dishes done but I did get the most important things washed. Coffee cups, forks, spoons, plates, bowls. All that, of course, while making a brand new and more current mess.
But doesn't that mess look delicious? I promise that at the point of this blog's publication, that mess has been eradicated. But I can't say that there aren't a few pots and pans still waiting for a soak in the jacuzzi that is my kitchen sink. That is to say, no, my kitchen is still not clean.

I can say that all I needed was just one cookie and just one glass of milk and just one big laugh with my brother and just one kiss and just one good night's sleep to take care of those overwhelmed feelings. It's incredible all of the things that can get into a brain to start to eat holes into itself--but how little it takes to push those out of your mind for a little while.

Shortly after this photograph is taken, spill the entire cup of coffee, narrowly
missing the electronics. This step is optional and, frankly, kind of annoying.
And then breakfast is delicious. One chocolate chip cookie with 20% Coffee Mate Peppermint Mocha and 80% coffee.

So I made these cookies in a method that I've never used before but I'm going to do for as long as I make cookies from here on out.  The recipe that I got is from this blog--but I'll include the recipe at the end of this post with my own notes, said to melt the butter and then cream in the sugars and then later the eggs (one egg and one egg yolk). Everything about this recipe said "don't get too fluffy, cookies, we want you to be dense and chewy." And it totally worked out that way. Which is awesome because that is my favorite.

Eric Wolitzky's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Eric Wolitzky from Top Chef: Just Desserts Season 1 fame, I guess. I haven't seen it but if I'd known this show existed, of course I would have watched it.)

1 1/2 sticks butter (Melt this butter--I did it in the microwave but I'm sure if you got creative, you could think of tons of less efficient ways to melt butter.)

1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar (no one said these cookies wouldn't kill you)
 Put all of these things in a bowl and cream them together until they're just combined. To get the perfect texture of dense and chewy, excess air is your enemy. But, you know, mix them together well.

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Put all of these things in a separate bowl and whisk them together.

Now, crack one egg and the yolk of another egg in with the butter and sugar. Cream those together, too. Not too much. (Let's get real, if you do mix it "too much" it's not the end of the world, your cookies just might be a little bit cake-ier than I, personally, like them. But when it gets down to it a chocolate chip cookie is a chocolate chip cookie. Just like the old joke about pizza and sex. Even when it's bad it's still pretty good.)

Start adding your flour mixture a little bit at a time. Mix until it's all incorporated and no more. Add a little more. Mix until it's all incorporated and no more. Add a little more. Mix until it's all incorporated. And repeat until most of your flour mixture is gone. You might use it all. You might not. I don't know how to describe when you've got enough. Can I just say "you'll know"? Maybe you won't. I don't know--when it looks like cookie dough? Not too squingy? If you pick up a ball in your hand and it sticks to your fingers a ton, add more flour. If it doesn't but it does kind of puddle out a little bit--that's ideal. This is confusing. I just want to say that you probably can't screw this up. It's chocolate and butter and sugar and then you're going to bake it all together. Just follow the instructions and go in faith, my brothers.  Wait, you're using a mixer to do all this, right? Because if you're just using your arm, it's gonna get sleepy.

The recipe calls for 10 ounces of chocolate chips but I used 2 king sized bags of Hershey's Drops and cut those big bits in half. I like dark chocolate for eating but I like milk chocolate in my cookies. Stir in the chocolate of your choosing and sit it in the fridge while you wash your coffee mugs and let the oven preheat to 325.

I used a regular spoon to scoop out some bits, roll them into balls and then put them onto a cookie sheet. Use a few fingers (your own, borrowed fingers may work just as well) and squish them out a little bit. Don't grease the cookie sheet (every. single. time. that I make cookies, I always have a little panic attack at this point and think, "Do I spray the sheet? Do I not? I'm not gonna." And that is usually the right answer.). Ideally you'll use parchment or silpat to line your cookie sheet but let's get real here. I can't afford that crap. So, I fit about 9 cookies on each sheet. But my sheets are kind of smallish and also I wasn't totally sure how much they would spread.
If you bake them in my oven, you want to leave them in for about 11 minutes. But they get a really good golden-brown on them and if you're attentive, you'll know when they're through. A secret that my mom taught me--don't bother checking until you can smell them. This might not be a good rule of thumb, though, if you have a cold or live in a gigantic house or if you are my friend Timmy who was born without a sense of smell.

Was that okay? Did I cover all of the bases? My recipe made 18 big-ish cookies. I am going to go take them down to my nieces and nephew as promised. Aunt Libby brings cookies at 9:30 am. I'm the best.
Also, remember that you can't ruin them. Unless you burn them.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Libby The (Mostly) Tongue-in-Cheek Style Guru

I'm still reading the October issue of InStyle. The one with Katy Perry with her stupid pink hair* on the cover. I just can not wait until the whole world embraces the brunette and doesn't let go. It's going to happen. I'm still reading it because I love magazines a lot. I love them so much and then I bring them home and I flip through and look at the pictures and read anything that is written in a fake-handwriting typeface and then I put it on the coffee table and forget to read the articles that I really did want to read. But today, I started cleaning my house. And by that I mean, I put a few things into a garbage bag and then found this issue and decided to read some articles.

There's an "article" called "Inside the Files of the Super Stylish" where someone asked "ten top tastemakers" a bunch of questions and then wrote an article in the easiest and most-fun-to-read way. Q&A! I love a good Q&A. It's why I've considered getting a subscription to Interview for four years.

Of course I feel like I'm more than qualified to join the ranks of Vera Wang and Zoe Saldana when it comes to answering questions about how to be stylish and fashionable. What gives me that credibility? Yesterday at Walmart, a woman came up to me and said, "You're a fat girl. I'm a fat girl. But you always look awesome and I look stupid. How come?" And I gave her the best style advice that I could come up with on the spot: I shop the clearance racks at Target and Old Navy.
So... obvi I'm totes the man for the job. Let's QA, shall we?

What's something you hated but now love? Skinny jeans. A few years ago, when I was still in college, Deanna** would wear these incredibly slim fit jeans with her big chunky sweaters. She looked gorgeous and edgy and gorgeous. But I was certain that she was the one in seven-billion who was Audrey-Hepburn-enough to pull that off. I was afraid that everyone was going to start wearing skinny jeans. And they did and not everyone looked so bad, after all (some people did look bad but as with anything--you have to do it right). No one looks as good as Deanna--but they don't all look horriffic. I even just bought a pair that I like to wear with ballet flats and my own big, chunky sweaters. I don't want to appear to be a copy-cat so I have to wait five years to start following trends.
Also, pink. I really used to hate pink but I'm starting to appreciate it. Though I take it in masculine ways--like a men's button down shirt with jeans and flannel boots.

What's the best style advice you've ever received? "Never make your house wear something that you wouldn't wear on your body." This is why you'll never find roosters in my kitchen or wallpaper borders and inspirational phrases filigreed across my wall. Because it's tacky--some much more tacky than others. I have cream and gold velvet chair, off-white, crepe curtains, and a picture frame covered in deep, green feathers all in my living room. Would I wear those things? Probably. But not all at once.

Do you collect anything? Not really. Not on purpose, anyway. When I first moved to McPherson, people started giving me little owl figurines and now I have tons of them in little bits of my house here and there. Also, I've started to develop quite a collection of my dear friend, Joshua Monaghan's artwork on my mantle. When I lived in South Dakota, I said that I wanted to start collecting local art from every place that I've lived. So far, so good.

What one item should every woman have in her closet? White v-neck t-shirts. They make everyone look cool and clean and classic. They go with everything. Not only that but they're sold in three-packs. That way, some day, you might drive your super-pregnant sister to the hospital to be induced and you stop at Starbucks on the way and instantaneously spill 74% of an Earl Grey latte onto yourself. Then you still have two more t-shirts left to ruin. (In this picture I am wearing the aforementioned ruined, white, v-neck.) Also, the thing about white t-shirts is that if your base is pretty basic and classic, you can build up with those cheap, trendy items that you'll only wear for a few weeks before you realize that they're completely insane. Like patterned tights. Or body glitter.

Who's your style icon? Zooey Deschanel, obviously. She is 100% the reason that I cut my bangs and 88% of the reason that I started parting my hair down the middle. Which--I might add, people freakin' love. At work, one day, I was wearing my bangs pulled back into my high-pony and a co-worker specifically requested that I wear my bangs down the next day.
Michelle Williams on her off-day. She makes me seriously consider going blond. And, of course, Adele. But I kind of want to be like her in all of the ways. Confident. Sexy. Chubby. Witty. Classy. Quiet. Vulgar. Gorgeous.

What's your secret cheapie? Wet and Wild eyeliner and nail polish. It's so cheap that you can go nuts and experiment with weird colors just to see how it looks--plus the eyeliner smudges big time which is a good thing. Once you find one that you like, go buy something more quality. But I don't leave weird colors on my nails very long so I'm not going to bother spending $8.50.
Let me tell you about the difference between me and anyone instide of InStyle Magazine. My answer was an item that costs $.99. Vera Wang said, "Swatch watches" which retail for about $50.00 and she says that since they're so cheap you can buy one in every color. What the hell, Vera Wang? We live in different worlds.

What's your fantasy purchase? An old farm house about 15 minutes outside of a decently sized town. Maybe in Oregon? It will have a porch on which I can sit in the mornings or when it rains in the evening and there will be peonies and lilacs in the back yard.

What's your favorite:
Beauty product? Cetaphil face wash. I first heard about this regarding infant eczema and decided to try it. I thought that I might regret this gamble but it turns out that it is a secret thing that I'll never ever give it up. It's $13 for a bottle--which is a huge amount of money for someone who's not Vera Wang. But it lasts forever and it is completely worth it.
Hostess Gift? Yeah, I'm not sure I've ever brought a hostess gift because what's a hostess? Is it something you bring to a party or strictly for someone who lets you stay at their house? I don't know. I like to think that I'm the kind of person who would bring flowers. I love getting flowers. Love. Getting. Flowers. So I really would like to give them to people. I will never give anyone carnations and will only share those cheap-ass daisies in the rarest of circumstances.
Accessory? I like to wear scarves for everything. It really dresses up that aforementioned v-neck and the skinny jeans that I've already convinced you to buy (I get mine from Ye Olde Navy because I only buy cheap things--even full price, $40 for jeans is kind of debilitating for me but Vera would buy four in every color and probably treat them as disposable). The other thing about scarves is that the really fat ones can be used to cover up your gigantic Earl Grey latte stain.
Comfort food? Mrs. T's Pierogies. Stylish people do most of their shopping in the frozen food section. Also, avocados make me feel calm and soft and happy.

That's enough for your stylish and trendy advice. I have to go sleep with a cucumber relish smeared across my face.

Love, Libby.

*For the record, the photographs of Katy Perry contained within this issue are gorgeous.
**Yeah, click on that link. Deanna has a delicious blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birthdays and General Gushing

I was am completely overwhelmed with the response to my last post. Between the comments and shares on Facebook and the seven comments (which does not sound like a lot but when my average comment count is less than one--it's enormous) on the blog itself, not to mention the friends who texted or stopped me when we passed one another on the street on Thursday. You guys--it was touching. It really was. I've always kind of had a fear of death but only because afterwards, there's no you anymore. We spend our whole lives being aware only of a world in which we exist--to imagine that could exist without ourselves is mindblowing when you think of it.
But I think I learned that you're never really gone. My dad will never be gone as long as I'm here and my family is here. As long as there are still people who want to know about him. As long as there are people who have stories about him. As long as I have friends who are not afraid to ask questions and as long as I have the boldness to bring him up. I know that one day after I've died, I'll still be here, too. Because people love me. And if I wondered about that before, I couldn't possibly wonder any longer after this weekend. If you have love, you have infinity.

My birthday was on Friday. I had to work but it was my favorite shift and I also got to eat lunch with Justin. Who could be mad at that? It was a fun day. I told pretty much everyone that it was my birthday. Because I am a child in need of praise. I am 28. Most everyone said that's when they started getting afraid of their birthdays because 30 was so close. Personally, I can't wait to turn 30. I have friends who are in their thirties and those people are awesome. Plus, what with all of the delays in maturity that our generation is experiencing, 30 is the new 20 and 40 is the new 30. So maybe I'll freak out in ten years but I can't imagine that's true. I'm seeing lots of 60 year-old women that I totally want to be when I grow up. I don't think I'll ever tire of birthdays. I like getting older. The key, I think, to enjoying your birthday is to like the person that you're turning into.

So, I got home from work on Friday and before I could even change my clothes, Ryan came upstairs with a present for me. Let's just start a running list of things I learned about Ryan. 1. He's excellent at giving gifts.

He gave me a copy of Bossypants. I haven't read it yet! I know, it's just that I know that I'll get underline-happy with that book so I didn't want to check it out from the library knowing that I'll feel sad to give it back. This man knows that I want to be a Libby version of Tina Fey when I grow up. No, I have not given much thought to what that means at all. He also gave me a bottle of delicious perfume and a pair of earrings. But, you guys, not just any pair of earrings. Let me show you: on my Etsy favorites list, I have this pair of earrings listed as something that I want real bad. I mean, they're only $6.50 but at the time I didn't have a lot of money to go spending on sparkly do-dads. So sometimes when I want new things, I go to the internet and add stuff to my wish-list. It's kind of like online shopping, right? This is why I love Pinterest. It's pretty much the same. Only you can shop the whole internet--even for things that are not for sale. Anyhow, he saw that I wanted these and instead of buying them he made them. He made them, you guys! I couldn't get a picture of them when I was wearing them because it was blury or my neck was huge and washed out or something.
Sweet, huh? I was super freakin' impressed that it even occurred to him to make them, let alone ask people for advice and borrow tools and go shopping in the jewelry section of Hobby Lobby. Anyway, I was in love with them. Still am, I want to wear them all the time always. So far, I have worn them every day. 2. He's pretty good at making stuff.

Ryan said that there was another part to my present that he hadn't quite finished yet but he would finish it on Saturday. But I mostly didn't care because--handmade earrings specifically for me by someone who is wonderful, you guys!

It was decided that we would go get Chinese food. Because what's better for your birthday than the same generic delicious pineapple chicken and crab rangoons that you eat on any given Tuesday night? Right? But first he had to stop at Ed and Angie's house to drop something off. He said Ange had something for me, too, so we should stop by. And we did. And when we got out of the car, I didn't even notice that he didn't grab anything to take inside. I should have recognized that as a sign that we weren't leaving anytime soon but I didn't. I was in bliss and wearing these earrings that my boyfriend made with his own hands!

So we walk inside and you know where this is going--SURPRISE!! My friends were in there!! At first I just saw Joshua sitting on the couch and I was like, "neat--Josh is here." But then everyone yelled and after they'd finished, Amos popped up from the sofa and yelled, "Surprise, Bibi!!" Katie and Kristin were there, Adam and Arryn and all their little ones were there, obviously Ed and Angie were there and there was a banner that read:
Can you tell, yet, just how cool my friends are? Angie cut all of those letters out by hand, outlined them in glitter and then strung them up. Not an easy job. She also made me a chocolate mint birthday cake. PS Doug and Staci and Justin and Kasey all showed up a little bit later. They were all having a photo shoot and being generally awesome. Lynnette came, too! As seen in this photograph. Kind of.

So we hung out and listened to Ed's great taste in music and drank beers and sweet-tea flavored boozie things and talked and said, "that's what she said" until it wasn't funny anymore and everyone trickled out slowly. It was fun. It was exactly my favorite kind of thing. Ultra low-key. No one getting ess-faced and breaking dishware. No one making absolute fools of themselves--unless you count the way that Justin danced me around the dining room. A little bit of me was still really craving crab rangoons, though. One day. Everyone complimented my earrings and I kept gushing, "Ryan made them with his fingers! Can you believe it??"

I did kind of forget that birthdays get parties and presents. I got presents. I'm going to show you what I got for my birthday but it's not because I'm being a Braggey Braggerson. I'm saying, look at how well these people know me. Ready? So I got those things from Ryan and I got everything in this video from Sarah Beth and Alyssa. And then I got:
This apron from my mom. She made it out of the same fabric that I used to cover up the stains on the back seat of my first car. I took several other pictures but, this was the only one to make the cut. Sorry, apron, I know there's a lot more to you and so does everyone else. But you don't need to show off completely right off the gate--give 'em something to want to get to know.

Mom also gave me this little bag-thingy. I'm super pumped about it because I've been looking all over tarnation for an adequate make-up bag and keep coming up short. This is doing it for me.
Something else I've been scouring the world (yes, the world, it's called the internet--look into it) for and coming up short is a new purse. I have been looking for a cool cross-body bag in a neutral color with several interior pockets. I'm ultra-picky about my bags. Arryn got me this. It is not a cross-body bag but it does have straps that will go over my arms without getting stuck or riding up too high or making me feel weird. It is made of a recycled coffee sack! Yes, I'm going to put all of my stuff into this and carry it everywhere with me. I adore it.
Well, Doug and Staci know me all too well. There's little I love more than drinking insanely cheap, insanely sweet white wines.
Joshua gave me one of his paintings. This photo cut off a lot but I love everything about her. The colors and the shine and the wood and how she sits on my mantle. I'm developing quite the JM collection up there. I want to call her Alice, maybe.
Ange let me keep the banner. I want to use it for all of the birthday parties that are not for children.

So after we left the party, it was time to hit the hay and lay in bed and count all of the things I'm grateful for and fall asleep before I could think of them all.

Saturday was a lazy, lazy day. I had breakfast with Ryan and then pretty much sat around the house thinking about all that I should be working on but instead I just took a nap. When I woke up, Ryan came upstairs with the rest of my present. The part that I said I didn't care much about because I was already so happy. But let me tell you--I care about this.
Kate Szabone is my favorite jeweler on Etsy. She has gorgeous stuff that is never too shiny and the diamonds are rough and beautiful colors like grey. Grey diamonds, you guys! Anyway, I found a pair of earrings on there that were absolutely breathtaking and at $285.00, a steal! (Not really a steal, that's an enormous price tag for a girl who has trouble justifying a $6.50 purchase.) So I sent the link to Ryan and said, "I want those for my birthday, k? Thanks." I was kidding but as long as I'm kidding, I should be throwing in something I'd actually want just in case it really happened, right? Right. And he said, "Yeah, that is never going to happen." Or something to the effect. And it's true. He did not buy them for me.

He. Replicated. Them.
Do you understand what I'm saying?
It's basically impossible to take a good photograph of jewelry but I want to tell you that these are gorgeous. I might have cried a teensy weensy bit. 3. He hits the right notes.

And after this weekend, I feel absolutely adored.

I love you and everyone and everything else.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Not a Sad Story: I Want To Tell You About What Happened Ten Years Ago

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. --Plato

It's 3:52 am. I can't sleep. I couldn't sleep when I laid down, either, but my brain's been so heavy these last several days that I couldn't keep it off of the pillow. I can't stop thinking about what life was like ten years ago. So I wanted to write about it.

Ten years ago I couldn't sleep either. At 3:52 am, I was sitting in my father's hospital room on 7SW at Via Cristi Hospital in Wichita with my mother. We had a sort of apartment in town but tonight she was in the rubber-covered recliner and I was on the rubber-covered chair that would fold out into a "twin bed". In the nine months that we'd been there, this was my second all-nighter spent with him. The time before that was last night when he started to need constant attention. Things went from "Fine, except for, you know, the leukemia part," to "What the hell has happened?" in a matter of days. I did not believe that he could die.

I always felt sort of guilty for not having a terribly traumatic cancer story. Some would argue that heartily but I know that my experience was not as terrible as some have been. You know, he really only spent one day throwing up--and that had nothing to do with radiation and chemo as much as it had to do with the fact that he had an allergic reaction to a painkiller that they gave him to combat the "uncomfortable side effects" of chemotherapy. That was one day out of a nine month battle. Many fight cancer for years--even decades. On his worst days he was weak and would say things to me like, "You know I could die, right? I know it's not going to but I don't want you to be unprepared for that if it does happen." One day as I left the hospital to go back to our apartment, I said, "You know I could die out there, right? There's a meth house directly across the street from our apartment." Fun fact, that did not make him feel more comfortable. Life lesson: don't tell your dad that you live in the middle of crack-alley if there is nothing that he can do about it. But he did stop telling me that he could die. I really, truly, did not believe he could die.

So he had a heart-attack in January of 2001. That was scary enough. I was 17 and the phone rang in the middle of the night and we were all too asleep to hear it. But as I was running downstairs, a woman was leaving a message on our machine. She was the overnight desk-clerk at the Red Roof Inn in Salina. My dad was staying there because his work was out of Salina but he traveled all over Kansas so we all lived in Stafford, still. There was, what? A two hour drive between here and there? On the message, she was very calm and asked that we call her back immediately. After she left the message, she hung up and called back immediately. I answered the phone but she wouldn't talk to me--she wanted my mom who was, by then, running into the dining room. She said that he'd had a heart attack and asked her to call 911 and then call us. She did those things and we got into the car and drove to Salina. Those whole two hours, I was picturing what our life would be like without him. I believed that he would die before we reached him. Alone. In a strange hospital bed.

But we got there and he seemed fine. You know, except for the heart attack, part. After a few days in the hospital, they discovered that he was diabetic. And that was when, I believed, our lives changed. He had a serious but manageable illness. We would get used to seeing things like syringes and little vials of insulin and alcohol pads and we would get used to a low-fat, low-sugar diet. And we would like it.

So armed with our new information about how to care for a person who has just had a heart attack and how to care for a person with diabetes, we went home. Happy and with a new zest for life. People from the church brought us meals that we couldn't serve to him but it was the thought that counted. The thought was so kind. Really, my dad was a beloved man. I think that most people who met him liked him instantly. I can't remember a whole lot of pre-cancer Dad but I remember that he could sing--and people loved that. I remember that he prayed with gusto. By now I can remember, without guilt, that he was also just a person with a good many flaws.

So, he was getting better and we were getting in the routine of finding a new normal and after he'd been home for about four days, he woke up in the night and couldn't move. He could move, the tiniest bit. Enough to get to the car so that Mom could drive him to the hospital in Pratt. They didn't even wake us up or leave a note. Mom called the house in the morning and told us what was going on. She said he was moving slowly and weak to the point of concern. She said that when they got him to the hospital, they tried to draw his blood but it was as thick as molasses. They had some ideas about what it could be but until they did some more tests, they wouldn't know for sure. She didn't tell me what those ideas were but I knew that a few years ago a girl in my school had leukemia and her blood cells multiplied rapidly which made it thick. "Like molasses." I didn't share my theory with my younger brother and sister. I just told them that they took Dad back to the hospital because he was feeling weak and they were running tests.
I don't remember what happened next, how we got into the speeding mini-van with my parents but suddenly we were all driving to Wichita.

In the car I was still wondering what it could be, feeling the sound of my theory in my head. I didn't know much and this was still in the days of dial-up so it's not like it even occurred to me to Google anything at all. My dad pulled out his cell phone (something that was still a treasure to me--amazing that it even existed) and called his best friend, Greg. And that's when I heard him say, "they say it could be leukemia, Brother." And then he cried. And all of us in the car sat in silence and terror and the unknown. That couldn't have really been it, though. That was just a worst-case-scenario. Leukemia only happens to little girls. Not to my strong, robust, forty-four year old father. But it was. Acute-Lymphatic Leukemia. This is not the kind of cancer that develops overtime. It is "acute" which was a word that I found confusing because when you first hear it you think, "the most adorable Lymphatic Leukemia that ever existed." That's when I learned that "acute" means "sharp," "fast," "vicious". All of his friends kept bringing him good news. They'd all say the same thing, "I looked it up on the internet and you've got really good odds!" Someone said, "if I had to choose any cancer in the whole world, I'd choose your cancer, Chuck." I didn't care about odds, though. That wasn't so important to me. I really didn't believe he could die. Also, I hated it when his friends would call him "Chuck". I have and uncle named Chuck--it is taken, please refer to him as "Charlie" as that is his name.

The doctor who would become his wonderful, regular (kinda dreamy) oncologist, checked his bone marrow as soon as we got there. Later I asked a nurse how they check someone's bone marrow. I shouldn't have done that. I thought that was the most heart breaking thing that I could imagine a person going through without pain killers. It's not. It's really not. But I was a kid. I was seventeen. And I didn't know that I'd see him go through radiation and spinal taps and more bone-marrow tests. I didn't know what a person was capable of at that point-- and even still it feels selfish to say it but--what I was capable of at that point.

Our new normal didn't feel like much of a challenge or an adjustment. I think it was because I never thought of it as "normal" I always kind of thought of it as something that we were doing, today, and then we'd go home tomorrow. And the next day we'd either go home or stay. Andrew and Sarah were younger than I was and they spent a lot of time staying with our pastor's family so that they could have some semblance of stability. Even still, I can't help but think of John and Becky as a type of personal, parental unit that exists for me. They were there before, during and after--constantly to the same degree which was in full. They already had five kids and they didn't mind the addition. Becky said, "after you have five, really? What's two more?" Sarah and Andrew were 14 and 12 or somewhere thereabouts. It's not like they weren't largely self-managing, anyway. My older brother had moved to McPherson to go to college. I remember feeling so strange that at the time when our family seemed most connected, most combatant, we were all in different places.

So that left Mom and Dad and me on the front lines. Let me tell you, the front line of cancer is by-and-large kind of boring. Except when it's not. I learned a lot of things. I learned which nurses were nice and which were not. I learned that they had an oven to keep the blankets in and I would sometimes sneak in there at night and take one for myself. I learned that the owner of a very large car dealership in Kansas was on the oncology floor. He didn't have cancer but he was terminal and this was the floor with the best staff. He bought new furniture and painted his room so that it didn't feel so much like a hospital. New, leather couches and rugs and lamps. After he died, they were donated to "the grieving room". I thought the concept of that room was quite sad but kind. I felt terrible any time that I saw someone in there. I wanted to open the door and say, "you know, sometimes I can't quite keep it together, either." And that would have been the most human thing to say. One day someone brought us a basket of cookies. Dad couldn't eat them and I didn't want to eat them in front of him so I decided to take them to the nurses station. But I saw an older woman in the grieving room. So I left a note and put the basket directly in front of the door. A few hours later there was a tag that read, "thank you" hanging on the door knob. I learned later that woman was the wife of the car dealership guy and that he had died. Life lesson: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. --Plato

I can't tell you about what happened when or anything like that. When you live in a hospital, the days all run together. I know that it started in February. It ended in October. And between Andrew and Sarah's birthdays in April, he was in remission. I remember that my friends Ellie and Tori would come to visit me at least once a week. They would take me out to bookstores or for coffee or once or twice to a fancy restaurant that played live jazz (even though we could only afford dessert) so that I could get out of the hospital. We'd sit around and talk about anything other than cancer and I needed all of that so much more than I knew at the time. At first I wondered, "they understand that my dad has freakin' cancer, right??" But then I realized that they knew that I needed to free my brain for just a few hours a week and let it breathe. I was so grateful to them. I pined for them when I was most lonely--mostly when I was driving back to our apartment after a long day at the hospital thinking, "I'm seventeen years old. I shouldn't be in this situation." But this is how life happens.

I remember that he started to smell differently. I remember that he started to age quickly. And by that, I don't mean that his face started to look wrinkly. In fact, I feel like he became a little more childish looking. His eyes got bluer--he'd quit smoking. By "age quickly" I mean that he started to wear hats--obviously because of his hair loss, and he lost weight so quickly that instead of buying belts he would wear suspenders. Suspenders. Suspenders and a panama hat. Suspenders and a panama hat and he suddenly loved cafeteria style restaurants--at 4:30 pm. He aged 30 years overnight. I was not embarrassed by that.
I remember that my dad suddenly had more friends than I was aware of. I mean, I knew he had a lot of friends but I'd never seen them all, essentially, at once. He had one friend who had been diagnosed with MS several years prior. This was a huge relief because he knew someone who had gone through--was still going through--something pretty stinking major and was still alive and happy and full of joy. "Profuse exuberance," was what he called it. My dad wanted to be like that.

He had big plans for after he was cured so when he went into remission after only a few months of fighting--which wasn't really fighting. We were all so confused, still, but satisfied to be finished. It was like when I was younger and I'd play Mortal Kombat with my brother and I would win by simply smashing the controller and seeing what would happen. That's what it felt like.

Remission! I thought that meant "cured". He came out to the waiting room after what was supposed to be a round of chemo and told us that the doctor said he was in remission. Strangers even clapped when they heard him say it. Naively, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. He would still have to come back for frequent check-ups but he was in the clear! He was cured! Just like everyone said he would be. Just like I knew he would be. I really didn't believe he could die.

After a week or so of jubilation, he went for a follow-up and we ended up back in the hospital. Remission didn't last for long. Not with this bastard of a cancer, anyway. I began to think of Acute-Lymphatic Leukemia as a person and this person was kind of an a-hole. If this person came to a party, he would drink all of the beer and hit on your girlfriend before puking off the railing, onto someone's car. And then he would drive the wrong way down the interstate and not care that there were women and children in mini-vans. He will crash into an animal shelter and then get out and walk and in the morning he will text you, naked, from a stranger's back yard in a dog house, "wutz up!"

He was doing pretty good by the end of the summer. You know, except for the leukemia part. He wanted all of his kids in one place and he wanted to take us to the zoo. The staff at 7SW was not particularly thrilled with this idea but they let him do it anyway. We wheeled him around in a chair (like a wheel-chair at the zoo isn't demoralizing enough, the ones that the zoo provided looked way more like adult-sized strollers) and looked at animals. I got a picture from behind as my older brother stood at a railing talking to my dad in his chair. At the time, everyone said, you got a picture of the back of them--that's dumb. But it's on display in Adam's house right now and it's nice. I'm glad I took it. We don't have a lot of pictures of us with Dad. The one at the beginning of this post is the only one that I've got. Before we left the zoo, an elephant sneezed on my dad. My father, with the immune system of a premature baby--an African elephant sneezed directly into his face. Sometimes I like to think that's what did it.

Anyway, that day at the zoo was really the last nice day of the summer. After that, Autumn set in and I started to wonder if I'd be spending my 18th birthday in a hospital. I hoped not. I hoped that I could be home with my friends but I didn't get my hopes up because after the zoo, he didn't really stay better. I don't remember the order of events. I remember that several weeks prior, they needed to start radiation specifically to keep the cancer from spreading into his spine which would lead to his brain which would lead to his downfall. Despite their best efforts, that was exactly what happened. No one knew that was happening and they kept it at bay until Mid-October. They gave him treatments and x-rays and they kept a keen eye on it but one day something changed. He was my dad one day and the next day he didn't know me.

One evening, Ellie had driven me back to the hospital and came upstairs with me. My mom and my brother and the doctor were standing in the hallway discussing DNR's and "pulling the plug." Ellie seemed to grasp all of this and she hugged me and asked if I wanted her to stay. But I said no because even then, I didn't believe he could die. They said that the cancer had moved into the spine and quickly traveled to his brain. One day we were at the zoo, the next day he looked at me--unaware of who I was. I could only imagine how scared he was when he didn't know anything at all.

When he was awake, his conception of the situation would change from minute to minute--if he was lucky. He couldn't keep a grasp of anything for more than a few seconds really. He'd need to go to the bathroom and by the time he got out of bed, he'd forget why he stood up and he'd sit back down. My mom needed a shower and a little bit of a break during this time, so I was there with him. I read a magazine and when I saw him stand up and sit down a few times I asked him if he needed to go to the bathroom. He looked at me and said, "Nurse, I need to go to the bathroom." I stopped and we stared at one another and I can only imagine that I looked horrified. I was. I took him to the bathroom--reminding him the whole time of what we were doing because he would ask, often. For the rest of the day he called me "nurse" or "miss" or "why are you in my room" and that night, Mom and I both slept in the room and planned his funeral even though neither of us said the words. In a delirium of 1/3 asleep, 1/3 awake and 1/3 delirium, Dad started to mumble/hum/sing "I'll Fly Away."

The next morning, October 20th, I went to take a shower and drove right back. When I came into the room, I didn't look at Dad. I knew he wouldn't know who I was and I couldn't take it much longer. But he said, in such a deliciously childlike manner with the bluest blue eyes, "Hey! You're Libby! You're mine." And he smiled so big and so wide. And I looked back at him and I cried and I said, "I am yours." And those were the last things we said to each other because by the time he blinked, he was gone again and I was happy with that. I was grateful for it.

In his confusion, he started pulling on tubes and wires. By 11:00 am, the nurses had to give him something that would make him sleep. I didn't know that "sleep" meant that he would slip into a coma and I'd never see him again. My Uncle Jerry and Aunt Judy came into the room while Dad slept. They told me about what he was like when he was younger and it made me fall in love with them. Giving me a gift like that. Our whole family must have already been at the hospital but I didn't see them. They were all in the waiting room. It must have been packed. At around 2:00, Andrew and I drove to a halfway point to pick up Sarah. Me and my twelve-year-old brother driving to pick up our sister so that she can see him before he dies. Truly the most surreal moment of my life.

By the time we got to the 7th floor, the entire family was there. Family. Friends. Everyone. The place was packed with people that I knew and I was confused. A few people handed me birthday cards and I remembered that my birthday would be the next day. But mostly people pushed me into my dad's room and said, "you need to see him." I didn't understand. I didn't know he had died. Andrew went in and ran back out. Sarah went in and ran back out. I went in and I don't remember what happened. All I remember was so many hands on me and screaming, "don't follow me!" And I went into the grieving room and I cried longer and harder and more shamelessly than I ever have since. More than anything I was angry. I did not believe that he could die and before anyone explained what had happened, I was pushed in to view his body. I was angry then but I'm not angry now. There's no right way to deal with this situation. Every single person in that place was heartbroken and weirded out and I can't blame them.

After several minutes of alone time, Arryn came in even though I told her to stay out. She held me and she cried with me. She'd been married to Adam for only a few months and her relationship with my parents wasn't exactly magical but she was still heartbroken and she knew what we all needed because she'd been through similar heartache and loss and she was going to give it to me whether I wanted it or not.

By the time we were leaving Wichita and heading back home, it was dark. Arryn and I drove and mostly it was quiet. I asked her to turn on some music and when she powered on the stereo, this song played. And we chose it for his funeral.  A group of people from the church also got together and played a very, very joyous rendition of I'll Fly Away.

The next day was my eighteenth birthday and I was at home surrounded by all of my friends--sort of like I'd hoped for.

I wanted to write this because I know that there are a lot of people who don't know that part of me and they're too afraid to ask--or don't know if it's okay. It's okay. It really, really is. Talking about it is always better than ignoring it. There are also a lot of people who were there for it and I wanted to tell it from my side, and give my gratitude and share my heart. But mostly, it's been a whole decade and I remember, on that day, thinking, "One day it will be ten years from now, will I even remember my dad anymore?" And the truth is that I still think about him a dozen times a day.

But after I write this I'll be happy to have a day packed full of distraction. I'm not the type to take the day off to mourn because in all reality, it's not sad what happened. It's something that happened that was sad at the time. My life is gorgeous and full and full of love in ways that I am not sure they would be if everything hadn't changed so much. Please don't take that to mean that I'm happy that my dad died--there couldn't be anything more inaccurate. I wish he was here. I wish he could see all of his grandkids and I wish that he could see how much his children love each other. I wish he could see that even my mom is happy and I really didn't know if she would be. But I know that a lot of the things that changed in me, happened as a direct result of the world-shift that occurred on that day. I am excited to live the life that I'm living right now.

I love you and I hope you have a wonderful day.
He was 28 in this picture. I'm turning 28, tomorrow.