Monday, October 19, 2009

Cute Overload!

I adore the web site Cute Overload. If you're ever having a bad day, click on over and soak up the adorability.

The site has its own vernacular and some unusual obsessions, including animals' tongue, paw pads and rear-ends ('tocks), but has plenty of warm fuzzies to spare. Just beware of the 'nuffers (judgmental individuals for whom nothing is cute enough).

I've recently submitted a few pics there. I don't know if they'll ever display my parents' pretty pets, but here are some pics just for you. More are available on Flickr.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Article about me!

I know I haven't blogged in forever, and I promise I'll catch you all up soon, but for now, here's a link to an article about me on my university's web site!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Birthday and Hybrids

No time to write it up yet, but I can post the pictures!

Happy Mother's Day!

I know I'm way behind in my blogging, but schoolwork has to come first, and I'm not done yet. That said, I had to post for Mother's Day.

Most years, I send flowers, but this year I saw something on Amazon that reminded me of fun times Mom and I have shared together. I can't think about this thing without hearing my mother's voice and laughing. Unfortunately, the package didn't arrive in time, so I can't say what that item is.

Well, until her package arrives, this essay I wrote for my creative nonfiction class will just have to do. In class, we were supposed to list every pair of shoes we'd ever owned. Then we had to pick one significant pair and write an entire essay about them. I went in another direction. This was first semester, but the story stayed in my professor's head so distinctly that when I told him this week that I'll spend my summer in Iowa, he asked, "Going to try on your mother's shoes again?" Here's why:


As a child in Iowa, I attended the school where my mother taught. She often wore high heels back then. My mother’s clack was distinct from that of any other woman I’d heard. I would hear her steps echoing down the hall and know she was coming to pick me up and take home, when we would sing “You Are My Sunshine,” driving up the driveway of our farm.

I loved to wear Mom’s shoes as a girl. I teetered happily in her heels, hiking up her old prom dress so I wouldn’t trip on the hem. By my teen years, we were the same size. I wore my mother’s navy pumps to my first job interview after college, when all of my shoes were either too casual or too sexy. Her shoes were grown-up shoes, professional.

A few years later, I became a teacher in New York City. One day, when walking to class, I heard a familiar sound. It was my mother, striding quickly down the hall. But it wasn’t. She was a thousand miles away. The sound I’d heard was me, wearing my own high heels, clicking down my own school hallway. The shoes, the path and the pace were mine, but the walk was hers.

This summer, I returned to the farm to stay for three months. I’d been away for years, with only brief stays for holidays. A few years ago, a tornado destroyed our family home, which had been in the family for 120 years. A new house was erected in its place, but I couldn’t picture it when talking to my parents on the phone, or when I dreamed at night. I hoped that a summer in the new house would make it more real to me, make it home.

I would stay all summer and help my parents on the farm. Every pair of my shoes I had that were suitable for farming had been lost in the tornado. Mom loaned me a pair of grungy white sneakers. I slid in my feet and laced them on. I was surprised at how uncomfortable they were. The dips and rises of Mom’s feet didn’t match mine at all.

The first few times I wore her shoes, picking up rocks from the pasture, or helping my dad build livestock pens in the new barn, my feet ached. Day by day, I wore her shoes as I worked the farm, watered the garden, or fed and watered sheep.

By the end of the summer, the shoes fit perfectly. Whether my feet had adjusted to the shoes, or the shoes to my feet, I don’t know. It was time to leave home again. Now I could picture the farm as it stands— changed but still my home.

My mother’s shoes were no longer things of glamor, items that hinted at who I might become. Now, they were tools of daily work, to reconnect with my past and the land. They let me be who I’d been: a girl in her mother’s shoes. I walk new paths, but always carry her rhythm.

Mom, you are strong and lovely and kind. I'm a lucky woman to have such a wonderful mother, and I am thankful for you, always.

Your Daughter

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Check, check, zzzzzzz, check!

I know I didn't do a proper Easter posting, so let me take a moment to say that I hope yours was happy and spiritually fulfilling. I didn't go to church after last year's fiasco. I was going to try to find a new church, but I accidentally slept in. Instead, I just spent some time in prayer and reflection.

This week was like one giant checklist that I was fighting to complete, check-by-check:
File taxes-check. (I did it online last weekend and now await my modest returns.)
Visit doctor- check.
Poetry workshop- check.
History presentation- check.
Student conferences- check (19 times).
Grade papers- check (countless times).
Apply for summer job- Check (after doing the 20 necessary sub-checks).
Find new roomie- check.

But I made it through. The most important items all got checked off (although the "Grade paper" entry has a few more "countless checks" to go). It felt good to get so much done, but there's still so much left to do! Yesterday's mishap didn't help.

When I went to the doctor, nothing serious was wrong, but he did give me a prescription. Yesterday, my nose was really stuffy, so I called the Wal-mart pharmacy to make sure it was safe to take Benadryl with my prescription.

Wal-mart parmacist: Sure you can take it. Benadryl is just an antihistamine.
Me: Cool! Oh, if I get a back spasm, is it safe for my to take my [extremely low dose of] diazepam?
Wal-mart parmacist: should talk to your doctor before you do that. But Benadryl can actually serve as a muscle relaxer.

What I thought: Cool! Benadryl is safe, will clear my sinuses and will relax my muscles.

What I should have thought: 'Benadryl is safe with your prescription, muscle relaxers aren't. P.S. Benadryl is a muscle relaxer.' This suggests a logic problem. Perhaps I should not trust this woman with my health.

Okay, it crossed my mind, but I thought I was being paranoid. I took the Benadryl and woke up many hours later. Coincidence? Maybe, but as I'm not normally a napper, I have my suspicions. Was the Wal-mart parmacist trying to kill me? What if I'd been driving, pharmacy lady? What about that?

Heh. I basically lost my Saturday to a Benadryl coma and the ensuing grogginess. I had things to do yesterday! Oh, well. At least I'm well-rested.

In other news: Thursday, Nikita came by to check out the apartment. She'll be a senior next year, majoring in Spanish. She seems considerate, and she brought her mom. I like that, because now I've seen the source of her rent money. I think her mom has slight delusions of me being a surrogate mommy to Nikita. She asked who cooks, and Rakel announced that I do. "So, do you all share food, then?" I told her, "Only on special occassions."

Listen, I'll make Thanksgiving dinner if everone pitches in some cash. I'll give roomies some cookies from my latest batch. But I've got too much on my plate to become the cook. Not happening. I know some people who run their apartments that way--more like families. Sometimes I'm jealous of their closeness...but I've tried food-sharing roomie-situations in the past. In college, despite being great friends, when sharing food we ended up arguing over triffling nonsense like name brand vs. generic peanut butter. Now I just share food when the mood strikes me. It's fun when there's no pressure or expectation.

Anyway, I'm thrilled I found Nikita. She was the first person to answer the ad. The summer before I moved here brought a deluge of desperate prospective roomies for me to sort through, and I was dreading a repeat performance. Could I have stalled looking for a new best friend to place in the room? Yes, but I could have lost Nikita in the meantime, and ended up with someone less suitable.

Summer update: Last week the school counsellor suggested I apply for the summer English Adjunct position at a local community college. It would be PERFECT for me, so I did. It's a long shot, since I submitted pretty late in their application process, but all I can do is try. It was hard work tracking down references and transcripts from all my universities, but I did so at dizzying speeds. If I get the job, I'll stay here until August. If I don't, I'll probably be back in Iowa as early as June. Although I'd love to come home sooner, this position would look great on my resume, I'd enjoy the work, and it would probably pay better that most other summer jobs I could find. We'll see.

Well, now that I'm wide awake again, there's a new week of tasks to accomplish. I'm off to try. Congratulations to us all on the return of Spring.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maybe we aren't putting our flock to its best use...

I mean, who knew there were so many possibilities?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

French Toast for One and Work Excitement

Enjoy some random recent pictures I've taken at left.

Over the weekend, I made French toast by myself for the first time. I figured out the perfect recipe to make a single serving of French Toast. Here it is:

French Toast for One
Combine one egg, ¼ c milk, a smattering of sugar (1/4 teaspoon maybe?), and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Beat the mixture, and pour it onto a plate. Place the first bread slice in the egg mixture, carefully turning it over to let the mixture coat each side for a few seconds. Then it's "toasting" time. Spray a little Pam on a frying pan (ore use a little butter or margarine), and fry each side of the bread until it is golden brown. Dip the second slice of bread while the first is frying. Repeat the frying process on the second slice.

After frying my two slices of bread, I lightly buttered each, then layered on sliced bananas. I crumbled a few pecans, and sprinkled the pecan bits, too. Then I dusted on more cinnamon and nutmeg, drizzled a wee bit o’ syrup and voila! Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. French toast is so delicious and easy to make! I don’t know why I didn’t figure that out sooner.

Today I continued my cooking streak, making scalloped potatoes and turkey kielbasa. I almost keeled over from the deliciousness. Then I noticed Todd’s bananas were turning brown and stinky, so I whipped up banana bread using Mom’s Bisquick recipe. It was way quicker than my old recipe. Banana bread is Todd’s favorite food, so he’s very happy.

I’m happy, too, but not just about the bread. Today I went in to talk to my supervisor at work. I asked him whether I could try teaching some different classes next year. He agreed that it would look good on my resume, so in the fall I’ll be teaching rhetoric.
I'm looking forward to the challenge of teaching new classes.

In the spring, I might get to teach literature, which I've been requesting to teach since Fall '07. Hooray! Not only would lit be fun to teach, but having three courses (composition, rhetoric and literature) on my resume could only help me find a job after graduation. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

P.S.- Does anyone recognize the plants in this picture? (Click the picture to see it blown up.) They are tiny and grow in my yard, and I have no idea what they are.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Erin Dust

Last Sunday, Todd got back from Florida, where he’ll start getting his Poli-Sci PhD next year. I’ll miss him. I hope I like my new roomie as much. Anyway, we celebrated his academic victory at La Herradura (The Horseshoe?), where we had tacos and daiquiris the size of our heads. Mine was peach, and it was breathtaking.

I had a busy, run-around workweek. I exercised every day, which is a nice accomplishment. On Thursday, I had some therapy because I’ve been depressed this semester. My therapist says I’m hard on myself, and I need to let go of other people’s expectations. I was trying to explain that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Then, she asked why I left my job in New York. As I was talking to her about teaching and the problems with the system, her face lit up, and she went on a tangent about what a great administrator or education policy wonk I’d make.

“Okay, this is what I’m talking about. This is the problem. It’s easy to say that I should ignore the expectations of others, but people just expect things from me…even you.”

She apologized for getting carried away. She says with all my accomplishments and such, I “sprinkle [my] Erin dust all over the place.” Hee! Like I’m Tinkerbelle or something. Well, now that she’s been caught up in Erin-based expectations, she knows what I’m up against. I like her, and I've found our sessions helpful. Sometimes it's just nice to talk to an impartial person.

Friday was the best day I've had in a while. After work, my office-mate Jacqueline invited me over to her house to have lunch, play with her kitty and help her clean out her closet. Free shopping, hooray!

I played with her pretty cat. I tried on the clothes she was giving away and helped her cull a little more. Then we baked cookies using Mom’s cakemix cookie recipe and had supper.

We rushed off to an MFA reading. Graduating students present their work, and this week it was Christian, Andrea and Paula. Their writing was so impressive. Andrea and Christian are in my workshop, so I was already aware of their awesomeness.

Christian’s poems are sharp and modern, and incorporate thoughts and concepts seamlessly. Andrea is a master of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and kayaking, with natural themes prevalent throughout. Paula is the stereotypical Southern woman writer: sweet manners, but a tongue so sharp it could split diamonds.

I felt a twinge of jealousy at their talent and accomplishment, but that jealousy was overwhelmed by my pride in their accomplishment, and my happiness for them.

After the reading, they threw a party. Most of the MFAers were there. They are all such fun, fascinating people to talk to. At the party, I ended up singing karaoke with the program director Sheri Reynolds (her book The Rapture of Canaan was an Oprah book pick). We sang Pink’s “Get This Party Started,” which is not really in my range, but I was game.

I had a lot of entertaining conversations and even got to play with Sheri’s standard poodle Rumi. It’s amazing that Scooter (my parents’ mini poodle) and Rumi are the same animal, as one could knock me flat, and the other would fit in my purse. Not that I’d put Scooter in my purse. Scootie thinks she’s a sheepdog, so being relegated to bag-dog status is an indignity she wouldn’t suffer lightly.

It was good to be out, having fun with my peers, and served as an important reminder: this will all be drawing to a close before I know it. I need to make the most of it while I can!

The school counselor is right:I probably should put less pressure on myself, and I need to let go of other people's expectations. Grandma Carmie gave me a card at Christmas reminding me that the judge I need to satisfy is the woman in the mirror. The thing is, as the Spiderman franchise tells us, "With great power comes great responsibility." I'm not saying I have Spiderman-level power, of course, but I believe we all have unique gifts for a reason and we need to use them to the best of our ability. Well, that's the operative phrase: the best of my ability. I guess the key is to be realistic about what my level of ability is. Time for me to go sprinkle some "Erin dust" around. You go sprinkle your magic elixirs, too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Still raining.

It's still raining. Not with the thunder or lightning I love, just rain--drumming and drumming outside my windows, splashing against the central air conditioning unit in the yard. The rain is loud, dropping straight down from the high second story. (The landlord never cleans the gutters.) That's why grass doesn't grow properly back there: hard rain running off the roof and too much shade.

It's quiet today. Rakel and Todd are both out of town. Rakel's in D.C. for her niece's birthday, and a university in Florida has flown Todd down there. Their PhD program wants him so much that they've offered him $20k per year, flown him down there and even provided a hotel room. In this economy? Yowza. Good for Todd! It's sad to think about what it will be like without him next year. Not only does he drive me around, he's also my best friend here.

At least my parents are arranging a car for me. Mom and Dad are so generous. When J.B. and I graduated from college, we each got to take one of the cars our parents had on the farm. When I moved to NYC, I left mine with Mom and Dad, and the tornado got it. Oops. Now my parents might have a vehicle to spare again. (YAY! Have I written about this already? If so, sorry.) Dad thought he might send the parade car, the awesome '70s car with a working 8-track, to Virginia with me. The thing is, he loves that car, and I'm a little afraid it might attract too much attention (aka CRIME) in my neighborhood. As such, I have requested the slightly-tornado-damaged Buick...assuming it runs well. I have terrible luck with vehicles, so a car with a tempermental engine wouldn't be a good call.

Last week I mentioned my students' recent lethargy . Wednesday I joked, "What do I have to do, bring cookies?" They laughed, and one member of the armed forces perked up so much at the mere mention of cookies that I had to laugh, too. Friday before class, I whipped up some chocolate chip cookies. As I handed out napkins, one student asked with disbelief, "Wait a minute. You didn't actually bring cookies, did you?"

"Would I do that? Would I get up this morning and bake you chocolate chip cookies from scratch?"

The soldier could barely contain himself. "You really brought us cookies?"

"Still warm from the oven," I assured him as I passed out the treats. His reaction made me want to ship cookies to the front line. Hopefully tasty pastries bought me some goodwill, and my students will associate writing and composition class with happiness.

Meanwhile, I'm still home alone, listening to the rain. A train's whistle blows in the distance. Maybe it's headed to where you are.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Portsmouth Reading

I've been back in Norfolk for a week and a half. I guess it's nice to be back to my grown-up autonomous life. I like what I'm learning in my classes, and I like teaching.

My class has been in a weird funk, though, lately. Their attendance has been dropping, and their quiz grades are tanking. Is it me? I've tried using fun videos in class and asking for their suggestions, but nothing seems to fix it. When I asked for suggestions, most students said I was doing fine. (One said we should do all the reading in class. Heh. Good luck with that, kid.) Oh, well. I'll keep at it.

Yesterday, there was an ekphrastic poetry and nonfiction reading at the Courthouse Gallery in Portsmouth. Ekphrastic means (roughly) art inspired by/relating to other art. We were supposed to visit the gallery, pick a piece and write in response to that piece. I couldn't get a ride, so I had to use their web site. They had a few quilts posted, each entitled "Biography," so I wrote a poem called "Quilting Memoir."

I'd never been to Portsmouth before this weekend. It was a glorious, sunny day, and Mary was nice enough to give me a ride. About a dozen people read, and there were even a few people in the audience who didn't take part in the reading. Heh. The gallery accidentally listed the date wrong on their web site, but I'm not sure listing in correctly would have helped much.

We poets joke that we mainly write for each other, because the people who buy poetry are poets. I read recently that only 5 percent of poetry books bought in bookstores are written by living poets. Living poets tend to make the majority of their sales when they give poetry readings...which, like I said, are mostly attended by other poets.

Anyway, it was so Springy out. Recently, it's been COLD. Not Iowa cold or anything, but 20 or 30 degrees below the average temp here. The crocuses and hyacinths have bloomed, and I was afraid they would freeze, but they seem to be doing alright. Trees are blooming all over town. My professor, Luisa, says her daughter calls them dandruff trees, though they look more like snowballs to me. Portsmouth was pretty, and I'd love to check it out sometime.

I enjoyed listening to my colleages and other area poets. Their work is so inspiring. I had to keep my pen in my hand the entire time to jot down ideas for new poems. I was a little nervous as I read for some reason. I try to get in character like I used to in theater, and it didn't work too well, but I don't think anyone could tell.

Afterwords, a handful of us went over to a local German restaurant for beer and snacks. The pretzels, lunchmeat, liverwurst, pumpernickel bread and spicy mustard were surprisingly satisfying. Mushy meat...yum!

All-in-all, it was one of those days that remind me why I'm here. I'm here to interact with other writers, become a better writer, and better connect with my audience. Just sitting at a table full of women, all of us laughing, was worth a lot.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Great grandparents, and a return to Virginia

Sunday, I'd planned to go visit my wonderful grandparents. My dad was even going to come with me. The weather was not on our side, though. The temperature had been dropping steadily since I arrived in Iowa. Northern Iowa was icy. In Woodward (where our farm is), it started out rainy. The rain turned to sleet, then hail, then snow. Days ago, I was sitting in the 70-degree sun. Then, in a few hours the ground was white. Iowa's weird like that.

Since we couldn't travel, I spent half of the day filling Mom's new mp3 player (a generic iPod) with music and half the day helping Dad on the farm, mainly just filling buckets with water. It was actually fun to spend time with him and see the lambs bounce around. Then we went to Unkie's house to take care of our sheep there. (Some have been living there ever since the tornado.) I quickly popped into the house to say hello and get a last round of hugs.

I had rescheduled my visit with my grandparents for Tuesday, but Monday I woke up to weather predictions of an ice storm on Tuesday. I decided to head up there while the going was good. Grandma Carol and Grandpa Kenny met me halfway by coming to Algona, where we had lunch at the Pizza Ranch. Grandpa even cancelled a doctor's appointment because he wanted to see me. Aw!

We sat and talked for hours until we were the last ones in the place. The woman who ran the place didn't mind. I also gave them their Christmas presents, as our gathering was canceled for weather at Christmas, too. It would have been nice to spend more time together, but it was a short trip to Iowa. I didn't even get to see my friends, which was the biggest bummer of the whole trip. (I should have gotten the Pizza Ranch lady to take our picture. I forgot to, so I had to dig out the pictures at left from the summer of 2006!)

After leaving my Gilbaugh grandparents, I got together with my Kiley grandparents (their picture is from summer 2007). Grandpa Russell had been in the hospital for heart trouble. It was very stressful for Grandma Lenora, who collapsed and broke her leg. It's been hard on her, maybe it's kind of a blessing.

You see, Grandma is supposed to stay off her feet and rest. Grandpa is supposed to move around and get exercise. This way, he has to move around to help her. When I arrived, he made me a cup of tea. We chatted while they opened their Christmas presents. At supper time, I volunteered to cook, and made egg sandwhiches for us all. Then I hit the road again, trying to get home before the weather turned.

Tuesday, I tried to catch up on my reading while my parents were at work. Then, I helped Dad with farm work again, filling buckets, moving sheep, and helping Dad to build a new pen. It was cold that day, the temperature plummeting fast. At one point, Mac (the border collie) dropped a ball at my feet, and I stepped on it, sloshing cold water down my leg. I tell you, that is not fun when it's below freezing. I eventually went in to change and get warmer gloves. Nonetheless, by the time Dad and I were done, I was ready to go in and have hot chocolate (though I did linger in the garage for a bit to play fetch with Mac). Mom brought home Chinese take-out, which really hit the spot. Then it was time to pack.

Wednesday morning, I was up before 6 a.m., gathering up my stuff and getting ready to fly home. I even had time to mix up replacer and feed the lambs. I gave my dad hugs and kisses before he went to work. Then Mom and I hit the road. It was 8 degrees F when we said our goodbyes at the airport. My flight was delayed by hours, and I was told I'd have to get a 5 p.m. flight from Detroit to Norfolk. When we got to Detriot at 2, I decided to give it a shot, and ran for my original 1:50 flight to Virginia...which I managed to catch. Boo-yah! I was cozy in my apartment before 5 p.m., and because I'd only used carryon luggage, all my stuff made it, too. It was gorgeous out, 70 degrees and sunny.

Of course, by the next morning the temperature had fallen 25 degrees. Today it is cool and rainy. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a bad-weather magnet. Oh, well. Maybe that will help me focus on my studies.

P.S. I've done pretty well with my Lenten goals, but I slipped today and posted a new Facebook profile pic. Because I usually wear glasses, I've been wanting a profile picture of me in glasses. The thing is, I usually don't wear my glasses in pictures because there's alway a glare. Well, on my trip home, someone snapped a good one, so I decided to post it. It took less than a minute, but my friends were quick to call me on it. Todd even chastized me from London. Isn't Facebooking while on a trip to London as bad as cheating on a Lenten fast? Okay, maybe not. Sigh. What can I say? I'm weak. Well, their teasing scorn has strengthened my resolve. I can do better, and I will!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Family time!

When I got home from Unkie's house (it's hard to say or even type "Unkie's house" instead of "Unkie and Helen's house"), Mom took me to L'James beauty school. There, Mom got a facial and she got me a massage. It was AWESOME! Well, mine was. Mom's? Not so much. I mean, she looked fresh and young, but they got something in her eye. She has the worst luck with that (a student, for example, once shattered a sheet of glass, and got glass in Mom's eye). People need to stop getting stuff in my mom's eyes. It makes her sad and me nervous.

That afternoon, J.B. and Erika brought my nieces, Courtney and Brooke, over. We gave Erika her birthday presents, had some supper, and played. The favorite game is still Peter Pan, and I alternated between being Peter and Captain hook, while the girls were both Wendy. I think it's been a year of Peter Pan, so I'm amazed at Brooke's focus. Mixed in, however, was some Little Mermaid 2. My dad even joined in, being King Triton for a while. Well, done, Dad!

Mom served a scrumptious roast. Then we went to feed the baby lambs. Brooke was a bit shy about it, sitting on Dad's lap and helping him hold the bottle. Courtney was a bit bolder. She was willing to get down on the floor with the lamb. Her lamb was younger and needed a little more help, so Erika helped to hold the bottle, and I helped the lamb to latch onto the rubber nipple.

Courtney even pet the lamb. I think she really liked it, and Brooke, though shy, thought the lambs were cute. It was so wonderful to spend time with them. Each time I see them, they're bigger and more mature. They are such wonderful girls. It was good to see my brother and sister-in-law, too. They've got a nice home, J.B. is great at his job, and Erika is a great stay-at-home mom. I hope that I'm lucky enough to have all that someday.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Iowa, hooray! Sleepover at Unkie's house.

I was swamped with a big midterm due the night before I left for Iowa. I got home and started packing. The next morning, I rushed around, doing my last-minute preparations. Todd had arranged a free ride to the airport...who turned out to be the teaching assistant for the class I was skipping that night. Oops. Anyhoo, before we knew it, we were at the airport. My roommate and I were catching the same flight to Detroit, though I was coming to Iowa and he was going to London. He was a bit mystified at going west to go east, but there's the modern airline system for you. As I was going through security, I got the full treatment, pat-down and all. My security agent (a woman) was so funny: "Just think of it as a free massage, provided by Homeland Security."

Before I knew it, I was in Detroit, running to catch my flight to Des Moines. I made it with a few minutes to spare. It was cold when I left Virginia, but in Iowa, it was nearly 70 degrees! I basked in the sunny breeze while waiting for my mom to get off work and come to get me. It was so relaxing to see my family and pets, and just to be on the farm. As a bonus, it's lambing season, and there were adorable bottle babies in a big box in the garage. Baby lambs were always my favorite thing about the sheep. In fact, as a girl on the farm, they were my main job. My brother was stronger and better at understanding what Dad wanted him to do, but I could mix up bottles and feed the babies.

I hated the grainy powder of the milk replacer (formula) under my nails, but I loved the rest of the process. I would combine the hot water and the replacer in the blender and mix it up to get rid of any lumps. (To this day, the ozone smell of a blender running makes me happy.) I would let the froth and excess bubbles settle out. Then I'd measure it into bottles and test it on my wrist. Then I would feed the babies, tilting the bottle just right to keep them from getting to much air. I was good at getting even the weak, tiny ones to take to the nipple and drink the whole bottle.

Friday, I went over to Unkie's house. He called to see when I wanted to visit, and my cousin Hannah called to turn the visit into a sleepover. When I got there, Unkie was off doing some farm stuff, so I snapped some pictures of my cousin Connor's 4-H pigs and a barn cat, Shaggy --who I call Nuisance. He earned his nickname because he's attention-starved, and always underfoot. He's rather shaggy, though, so his real name suits, too. He is increasingly scrawny and recently seems to be licking his fur off. Poor little guy. I always pet him, and he got so excited by my presence that he attempted to jump onto my body from the fence. Heh. I think I'll just pet you from here, little guy.

I found Unkie on his 4-wheeler and tapped his shoulder. He gave a little shout and accused me of trying to scare him. He always says that when he's not wearing his hearing aid. Heh. He took me on a little ride on the ATV because it was so nice out. Then we went inside. It was my first time in the house since Helen passed away, which was a little bit weird.

Once the kids were home from school, we all went to dinner together, Unkie, Karen (my honorary sister), Lynn (honorary brother-in-law), Connor and Hannah. They took me out to The Machine Shed where I got some delicious ribs and we got to chat. Unkie admitted that my posts about my neighborhood make him nervous. Well, me, too, but it's not like Iowa is immune from crime. Unkie's had stuff stolen from his farm. So have Karen and Lynn. Dinner was delicious, and the conversation was entertaining. On the ride home, Hannah asked to be told the story of The Frosting Fight (which I will tell another time). I only got so far as, "I was just trying to be a good little sister..." when Unkie burst out laughing. Why is that funny? I'm innocent, I tell ya, innocent! Karen said she hadn't heard Unkie laugh that hard in a long time.

We went back to the house and Unkie pulled me into his lap. He teased me about my awesome new lovehandles. (He teases me about being skin-and-bones when I don't have lovehandles, though, so it's more about finding a random excuse to tease than my actual weight.) Unkie is one of the few men on Earth who could ever pray to get away with that combination of actions. Then Hannah joined us in the cuddling. Karen snapped a pic, then had Connor joined us for a group picture.

Hannah reminded me of how to play War, and as we were playing, Connor and Unkie took to throwing something at each other. It was a plastic peach, of all things, and they were throwing it at each other OVER me. I told them not to hit me, so of course Unkie did. I approached him, shaking my fist. When he grabbed my arm, I got nervous, because Unkie's horseplay can get out of hand. Well, I pulled away too hard and...fell backwards. EEP! I tried to fall in a way that would do the least injury. The safest choices are generally to go limp or use momentum. I picked momentum and hit the floor rolling backwards, then rolled forward again to a sitting position.

"Wow," Karen exclaimed, shocked. "Your eyes were like dinner plates...but all your cheerleading and acting payed off, apparently, because that was remarkably graceful." We all laughed for a good long while. Eventually, we all went off to bed, and Hannah bustled about turning on the electric blankets, a core element of any sleepover at Unkie's house. The next morning, Unkie and Connor made us waffles with blueberry syrup. YUM! He's turning out to be a great cook, and jokes about starting his own waffle house. Well, if he does, I know where I'll be having breakfast in Iowa.