Monday, April 21, 2014

Songs from the Past



This weekend, Chicago Cousin, Kira, and Dorothy all came back home to celebrate Easter. We had a big family gathering, ate a TON of food, and had time to reminisce about college.

All four local girl cousins were at the University of Iowa at the same time -- I was a freshman, Kira was a sophomore, Chicago Cousin was a junior, and Dorothy was a senior. A few years later, Hawk got in on the Iowa City action. Only our mega lame oldest local cousin, Eagle, didn't go to Iowa -- he went to Iowa State just like my father.

*rolls eyes*

One of the big hits while we were in college was "No Scrubs" by TLC. For some reason, TLC kept coming up over and over throughout the weekend, and it kept getting funnier. In fact, Kira just texted this morning to tell me "No Scrubs" was playing on the radio in the Omaha airport.

OK, OK, Universe. I hear you. You want me to blast "No Scrubs!"

I obey.

Turn it up!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Growing


I am so relieved that Little remembered to get our Annual Christmas Napping Photo this year right before they left to go home. That's my girl!

Recently, my niece Little turned 10. She's officially hit double-digits, which is amazing. Just the other day, we looked like this:


I can't hold her like that anymore because of my bum back. I make her climb up on a chair or something to give me face-to-face hugs now. Those are the best hugs. And her little smooches on my cheeks make my world explode with happiness. But I wasn't always this excited about the wee tot. Let's be honest. Learning how to be an aunt is hard.

When Little was born, it scared me. Well, let's go back even further. When Dorothy got pregnant, I got scared. I was 25 years old, and I'd already had enough change in my life, thank you very much. I was suddenly supposed to be an ADULT and HOLD DOWN A JOB and BE RESPONSIBLE. It was awful. Even though I fought fiercely for my independence, there was still a huge part of me that wanted to stay a kid and not have anything change, ever. My sister getting preggo? That changed EVERYTHING.

It was already enough to have to deal with a new Brother-in-Law. Suddenly, this Other Person had joined my family, and now I had to actually consider what he thought about our family goings-on. Even though my sister and I had already spent holidays or special events with boyfriends over the years, I still wasn't sure about this whole marriage thing. I have to share my sister with a whole different family??? Come ON!

Oh, the early-20s. They are such confusing years, aren't they?

So then Little was born, and our entire world changed. I was obsessed with my wee twin right from the beginning, but I still struggled to understand my place in this new family dynamic. A few years in, my live-in boyfriend and I broke up, so I suddenly became the Extra Wheel at Blonderson family gatherings. This was very difficult for me, and I didn't always handle it well. (We created the Crying Tally at Christmas as a direct result of my behavior.)

I was never jealous of Little as Little. But I will admit that I was jealous of how my parents changed. I lost some of the attention and focus. I felt like the Three of Them were always in the spotlight and got first dibs and had their needs and wants considered far above mine. I felt Less Important compared to their nuclear family. This was just my perception -- I'm sure they had their own views about the way our new, larger family worked. Hindsight is 20/20, so I'm able to see my jealousy now. I did NOT see it back then. I just saw my sad/angry feelings.

Time went on. As Little grew, I fell more and more in love with her. I also fell more and more in love with Beloved (my BIL) and my sister. I started to see Dorothy in an entirely different light. She went from being My Sister to being A Mother and A Wife. And my parents turned into Grandparents. (They were made for that job. They're extremely good grandparents.)

I don't know exactly when things changed for me. Perhaps it was maturity, age, or all of that therapy I had, but I shed my jealousy. I started to learn how to compromise and think about my sister's family's needs as well as my own. Sure, there were some growing pains, but I figured out how to be a Sister-in-Law (there's no manual for that) and how to find special time with my parents that would make up for the times the wee family needed our support. Over the years, I developed a fun, sibling-ish relationship with Beloved. He's no longer an Other Person. Now, he's officially Mine Too. (Poor guy!)

And Little? Oh, my sweet Little. She still steals the show as the Most Interesting of all of us, but that's exactly how it should be. And now that she's older, she's able to give instead of just receiving. Now, she will tuck me in if I need a blanket. She will comfort me if I cry. She will make me a little project just because. She has become so grown up. I love it, but I also long for her to be tiny again. I'd love for her to de-age so I could dress her up like a little doll and rock her to sleep in my arms. Those baby years went so fast. Sigh.

I recently wrote to one of my aunties that I wanted to learn more from her about how to be a good aunt. She's been SO good to me, so I thought she might have some advice. She told me I was already doing a great job, which meant the world to me. And then she said this about family:

"We must always cherish our family and give each other space to be ourselves. Family is a place to learn how we can be there for others and accept each other as we are, warts and all."

I love that. It's so true that we have to learn how to honor and respect each other, even when we are so very different. Beloved, Dorothy, and even Little, are far different than me. I'm so grateful that they stuck with me through my growing-pains years and have come to accept me just the way I am. It's amazing to me to think back and realize how awkward I felt the first time I held Little. I didn't understand anything about her back then except for this: She is going to change my family. The unknown was so scary to me. But now I can say that yes, she did change my family -- in the best way possible.

Today, I can't picture my parents as not being grandparents. I can't picture Dorothy without Beloved and Little. And I can't picture myself without all of them. We make a very good unit. I feel extremely blessed to have them in my life (even when they drive me batsh*t crazy).

Big events, like turning 10, are always a time for reflection. Beyond thinking about my own growth, I'm able to stop and think about how everyone else has grown with me. I think we've done a damn good job so far. And I look forward to all of the change and growing and learning that are sure to come.

*cheers to the next 10*

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ollie Gets Furniture


Ollie is slowly introducing me into the world of half scale miniatures, and BOY ARE THEY CUTE. It's really hard for me to imagine scale in my head, so it wasn't until the furniture started appearing that I truly "got" half scale. It's very tiny. And adorable.

Morrigan told me about Scale Designs, which is a great resource for 1:24 scale. The strange thing about miniatures is that half scale has never really caught on. Quarter scale (or 1:48 scale) is far more popular than half scale. It's even easier to find 1:144 (or micro scale) goodies than it is to find half scale ones. I'm not sure why, but half scale is totally the b*stard child of miniatures. It's really a shame because it's very fun to work with it.

Anyway, what you see above is the Single Rope Bed Cassidy Creations Kit from Scale Designs. There is also a little bed steps kit in the photo. I'm not sure if I'll use the steps for the bed or not. We'll see if Ollie needs stairs elsewhere. I have a plan to make this a kind of nest/bed, but first I need to stain it. Baby steps.

Then I was wandering around eBay and saw the most wonderful, little sofa in the world being sold by Small World Minis. It reminded me so much of Ollie's deceased wife that I HAD TO HAVE IT. Luckily, I was the only person who bid on it, so I won!

Ollie tried it out for me in his still-under-construction home:
 

He's now even more impatient for me to get moving on his house because, seriously, how can you resist this comfy couch:


It's hard to "show" you how small it is, so I took a bookshelf photo to give you a better idea. Can you find it?


I KNOW! SO FREAKIN' CUTE!

Now that I have furniture, it's time to speed up production on Luna Lair. I'm trying, Ollie. I really am.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

De-Stashing the Canterbury


Many years ago, when I first started miniaturing, I bought an old Canterbury kit off eBay. I was attracted to it because I love a good tower. If I had the money, I would buy every single Good Tower Dollhouse out there. Seriously.

This was the very first kit that went into the stash. I opened the box to inspect the innards and promptly put the kit under my bed in a little plastic box where it stayed for the next... 8 years? Something like that.

I know, right? Poor, little Canterbury.

But here's the thing. The Canterbury is a Greenleaf house that is no longer made. When you see a discontinued kit that you really want, you should get it if you can because you don't know when you'll see it again. All clever miniaturists know this. I haz a clever.

For years, I've been wondering what to do with the Canterbury. I've come to realize that I enjoy theme builds more than anything else, so this house needed a theme. I thought about it for an excessively long time.

Then, one late night, I saw this Little Rat Riding Hood girl by HandmadeByNovember on Etsy:


It was true love the moment I saw her. How can you resist this face?


She has such an adorable little cape and tail:


The poor thing had to travel all the way from Russia to get here.

Do you know the way to Grandma's house?


Well, well, well. It just so happens that I DO have a house for you, Little Rat. Come right in:


Nothing beats a good Mouse House build -- or a Rat House, I suppose. It's true what they say about dollhouses: If you wait long enough, the kit will tell you what it wants to be.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Talking About Death With Your Parents


Recently, my parents and I have been having some painful -- yet highly important -- conversations about the future. Though we've had many conversations about death before (Ma has told me exactly what she wants to happen since I was a wee girl, much to my chagrin), we've never gotten into the nitty-gritty details. These aren't things that anyone wants to talk about, but they're important. Once your parents are seriously ill or gone, you can't ask them about their wishes.

I learned about a few of these issues because of simple circumstance. For example, after Pa's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had to be moved into a nursing home for her own safety, my parents got nursing home insurance. I was still in high school then, but both of my parents sat me down and explained that they wanted to be put in nursing homes if the situation was called for.

My young brain couldn't process this information, but now that I'm older, I appreciate my parents' planning skills. What if we'd never had that conversation? What if Pa got Alzheimer's, and the guilt of "putting him in a home" was too much for me? Now, I already know that it's OK. He wouldn't want me to try to nurse him. He would want to be in the right facility. Sure, it would still be hard if we ever come to that place, but knowledge is power. Both of my parents released me from the Big Guilt long ago.

Last week, I sh*t you not, Pa and I drove through the cemetery so he could show me where his plot his. Well, our plot? Apparently, there's room for me -- if I want to be cremated.

*crickets*

Yes, we've gone this far. We have to. Time is ticking, people. No one is getting any younger.

I'm making light of the situation because it's SO hard to talk about. There have been tears and some pre-mourning. It would have been far easier for all of us to never talk about this stuff. But now that we've gone through it all, I'm relieved. I have the information I need regarding long-term illness or sudden, unexpected death. Well, I know the basic outline.

I realize that my family is unique. I don't know many people who have nursing home insurance or even know it exists. I also have cancer insurance, which is another thing I had never thought about needing back when my parents got it for me. (Thank you, parents.) But once again, we only know/think about all of this because we've been there. So in the spirit of sharing, I want give you some things to think about. Perhaps you can use this post as a jumping off point for a discussion with your own parents or loved ones. If I help just one person to not be incredibly lost when the time comes, I'll have done my job today.

I'll address these questions to "you" to keep them general. They're designed to get a conversation going. This isn't about snarfing up life insurance policies or forcing your loved ones out of the world or starting a decades-long feud with your second-cousins, it's simply for information-gathering purposes. I firmly believe it's better to know than to not know.

These questions are very direct, but I'm assuming you'd be gentle if you asked them. Just sayin'.

Later-in-Life Planning

  • Do you have a living will? If so, where is it at, and what does it say?
  • Do you want to be resuscitated if you are brain-dead or unable to support your own life without the aid of machines?
  • Do you want to go to an assisted living or nursing home facility if your health is compromised?
  • Do you want to come live with me/my family when you are older?
  • How do you feel about moving or selling your home if it becomes hard for you to move around in it/clean it?
  • How do you feel about long-term illness treatments, such as chemotherapy, if you are at an advanced age? (To be clear: Would you want chemo if you're 89, or would you prefer to refuse treatment?)
  • Where are your important documents (or things like safety-deposit box keys or lists of usernames/passwords) if I ever need to see them? Are you hiding anything anywhere in your home? Does anyone else know where this is, so I can ask him/her?
  • Is there anything else you want to tell me or that I should know about?

 Death Planning

  • Do you have a regular will? If so, where is it at? Who is the executor?
  • If I am the executor, and I can't handle it or don't know how to deal with it, who would you chose to replace me?
  • Do you have a funeral plan in place? Is it pre-paid or already arranged in some way? 
  • Do you have a preferred mortuary?
  • Do you want to be buried or cremated? 
  • Do you want to be buried/cremated with anything specific, such as jewelry or personal items? 
  • If finances are an issue for burial, is cremation OK as an alternative?
  • Do you have specific religious services that you want to be performed? If so, who is your pastor/priest/religious leader who I should contact? Do you have any religious/cultural death ceremonies that I need to know about?
  • In case of an accident, do you have umbrella insurance or something similar?
  • Is there anything else you want to tell me or that I should know about?

General Queries

  • Do you own this house/this land/a random farm somewhere?
  • Do you have outstanding debt beyond the basics of monthly bills or credit cards?
  • Is there anything you want to be destroyed upon your death (such as old journals) for your privacy?
  • Is there anything personal that you'd like me to help you resolve in this lifetime?

-----------------------

I know. It's brutal, right? It SUCKS to even think about it. But now that most of this is on the table with my parents and sister, I really do feel better. I don't want to be surprised by anything or regret not asking these questions when my loved ones were alive.

On the other end, the living end, there are a few more things to think about...

When my Gran passed away, she was living in Arizona. I was a freshman in high school, and we weren't as close as I was with my local grandparents. Ma went to Arizona by herself to help my aunt take care of arrangements. Later on, my family went to Gran's apartment to pack up her things.

To this day, I don't feel like Gran is dead because I never saw her body.

Gran was cremated, and I can't even tell you exactly where she's buried. I'd recognize the name of the place if Ma mentioned it, but I can't remember right now. Anyway, not seeing Gran's body has led to a lifetime of thinking she's still out in Arizona. I know logically that she's dead, but it never really hit home. I'm still lacking closure in that sense, all these years later.

This led to a really awkward conversation with my sister on the phone the other day. I had to tell her that I wanted to see her body BEFORE she gets cremated. Yes, I said it. I meant it. I explained myself, and she acknowledged that she'd never thought about this kind of thing before. She does now! (Sorry, Sis.) 

Dorothy: Do you want to see Beloved's body, too??

Me: Yes!!

*awkward silence*

But again, I meant it. It's part of my mourning process. My brother-in-law has become my brother. He's a huge part of my family, and I'd want to see him one last time. It would hurt me greatly if either my sister or my brother-in-law was quickly cremated, and I had no chance to say goodbye. When you think about it that way, it's less awkward. Well, it's still awkward, but at least they know. I want the opportunity for a viewing, plain and simple. If this is also something you want, speak up now. You never know what's going to happen.

Well, that was awful, wasn't it? Yes, I agree. I've had a few mental breakdowns and crying fits and anxiety attacks while going through all of this information with my family. It hasn't been pretty. But I also feel stronger, more empowered, and a tiny bit closer to being at peace with the future. I know that no matter how much you prepare, any illness or death is still a shock. But I'm far less likely to fall apart now that I know part of what will happen. And I feel extremely blessed that my loved ones were so willing and open about talking about it with me -- while they're still here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ghosts of Friendship Past


Do you ever have a strong yearning for the people from your past? One so strong that your heart starts to flutter, and you get transported to a different time and place? I can smell Iowa City in the summer. I can feel the clumsy couch tip back against the wall on the front porch. The sun is setting, and I am happy. I can powerfully sense the comfort I once felt. The memories swoop in quickly, surge all at once, and then they're gone. I look around my little house in Farmsville and wonder who I am now. Where did that girl go?

I started thinking about my old friends because I'm now reading Rama Revealed, and this book makes me think about so many things, ask so many questions, and dive back into so many memories. It's the best kind of book -- entertaining plot for sure, but it also takes you outside of the story into your own world. I've had to confront the a$$hat-ish truth about the human species. I've had to think about my own morality and choices. And, along with Nicole (the main character), I've had to stop and reflect. Which portions of my life were most important, and why? Who were my own main characters? 

Sometimes, I feel like an impostor here in Farmsville. My closest local friends know very little about my former lives. They don't know about my cities, joys, hurts, loves, losses, college glories, or career highlights. They would be shocked to learn some of my truths, and they certainly flat-out wouldn't believe others. I am a good storyteller, after all. It's my job.

We're all like this, of course. The farm path goes both ways. I know very little about other people's lives as well. Unfortunately, I've learned that this is just another part of aging. It wouldn't matter if I were living in a city or on an island. People become busy or distracted or lackadaisical about their friendships. We run out of time -- time to just sit and visit. To simply be in each other's presence and let the conversations flow.

When I start to reflect, I miss my college male friendships the most because they were so interesting. There was always so much to talk about. We were all learning, growing, and being challenged to think about new ideas and ways of life. We were struggling to become adults while still rebelling against our parents or society or whatever was bothering us at the time.

To be sure, I spent very little time in college talking about my feelings with my male group of friends (that was reserved for my very few female besties), but we did spend a lot of time talking. I miss having long conversations about books. I miss questioning the political stances of historical figures or secretly wondering what a new vocabulary word someone dropped into the conversation means. I miss being righteously smart in our own brains as we decided what "should" happen to correct some ridiculously large social problem (one that could never actually be solved by chest-puffed, swollen-headed college kids). I miss drinking a beer in the middle of the day with my pal just because I can. I miss candlelight and records players. I miss being unaware or unfazed by my own mortality.

Most of all, I miss men who value and are attracted to the intelligence of a woman. I had so many male friends back then. If one had to leave for class, there were 10 more who might walk in the door. I had plenty of options, and each friend had a special talent or skill that intrigued me. They were all solid individuals that each shone with incredibly bright lights. Every so often, something would happen that would remind me I was a female, but most of the time, I was included as a genderless equal. It's hard to explain. Yes, we were men and women, but we were also academics. Our gender didn't matter as much as our minds. Our ideas freely flowed without our genitals making a difference.

As I've aged, gender has become an incredible force to be reckoned with. I first knocked into it in the workplace as a young woman. Then, it became more obvious in my friendships. As time went on, lines got drawn. Males separated into one group, and females went into the other. Couples formed, marriages happened, and more lines were drawn. Then came the kids -- the fully-formed Families. I wouldn't even call them lines now. They're walls. Big, ugly walls with no handholds.

I can't even tell you how many times I've gotten in "trouble" or gotten a male friend in "trouble" with his wife for talking to him -- in a public place. This is because I'm a single woman. I've gone from being someone to talk to to a FEMALE WITH A VAGINA.

SHIELDS UP.

Sure, I have a small handful of female friends who don't mind if I talk to their husbands. I can't tell if these women are specifically comfortable with me or if they are like this with all other women, but I do appreciate it. I'm able to have pseudo male friendships via my married close girlfriends. But even with my besties, I think it would still strike them odd if they came home and found me and their husband having beers on the porch. It just wouldn't look right -- to any of us, myself included.

So as I sit here and reminisce about my old college friends -- those main characters from an extremely important part of my transition into adulthood -- I think what I miss most is simply the male companionship. I appreciate and adore all of my female friends, but there's something special about the way men look at the world. I am interested in how they process experiences and ideas -- maybe because of our gender differences. It's hard to put it into words. It's just different.

I'm not sure if I'll ever have more than one really good male friend again. I worry that the gender lines are permanent. As a single woman, I'm warned to stay out of other people's marriages, be aware of boundaries, and generally stick to the women's business. Sure, I can be friends with single men, but those are few and far between these days. If there were more single men, I could just get married already and properly align myself within the herd. Instead, I'm suddenly aware of the disappearance of men from my life -- physically and mentally. It's truly a shame. They were so very fascinating.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Benefits of Building


Sometimes I feel guilty about my dollhouse hobby. I've learned how to do it inexpensively by making my own things or using non-standard materials, but there's no denying that my hobby can be expensive. Right about this time of year, I start to have The Panics about taxes. As a freelancer, I've never figured out how to best pay in my estimated taxes and still, you know, eat food each day. I've gotten better at making it work. I've learned and grown. But I still have back taxes, and I still owe new taxes. Same situation, different year.

So when I look around at my dollhouses and think about buying a new bottle of paint or more X-Acto blades or furniture kits, I start to feel guilty. My childhood Lutheran Guilt rears up and begins to heavily punish me.  

You shouldn't be spending money on that. You should sell everything until you have paid off your taxes. You should sit in your house. Don't leave or go to dinners or get a cocktail or drive anywhere or see anyone until you have a perfectly balanced spreadsheet. You should just sit here. Alone.

I know this is unrealistic. Logically, I know this. But my internal Punish Blondie button gets pushed HARD this time of year.  

You failed. Again. You're a loser.

So I was sitting around beating myself up about Luna Lair and how I really didn't need it when I bought it. I was overwhelmed by guilt, and my chest was pinching. I'm also having back problems again, but I'm out of pain medicine or muscle relaxants, so I've been taking Advil until I can see Dr. Back. You know what happens when you pump a steady stream of Advil into a wonky stomach system? You get REALLY BAD HEARTBURN.

Then, because you have anxiety, you start thinking about your stomach ripping open from the acid problems. (It can happen. For reals.) The anxiety? Makes the back worse -- and the heartburn worse. Pretty soon, you're not working on any of your dollhouses. You're sitting there with back pain and heartburn pain and mental pain. You're staring at the things in your house and realizing you can't sell any of them for more than a few dollars anyway because you got it all at thrift stores. And people who buy dollhouses don't want half-built kits. You're realizing how little money your life is actually worth -- except the tax part. It's excruciating.

(Welcome to my depression. Fun here, isn't it?)

But then something interesting happened.

I read an article called "This is your brain on knitting" by Jacque Wilson.

Highlights from the article:

  • Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging.
  • "When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life," Csikszentmihalyi said during a TED talk in 2004. "You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger."
  • The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation, says occupational therapist Victoria Schindler. Science has shown meditation can, among other things, reduce stress and fight inflammation. Our bodies are in a constant state of stress because our brain can't tell the difference between an upcoming meeting with the boss and an upcoming bear attack, Schindler says. The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that "fight or flight" response.

I don't know how to knit. I crochet. But I can only go in a straight line. I don't focus on it at all. I can actually watch television and make a whole scarf without really having to look at it. So I do not get in any kind of "zone" when I crochet.

But dollhousing? Yes, there is a zone there. Yes, it is like meditation to me. I can get lost for hours, days, or weeks in my projects. I do feel a surge of dopamine. And ever since I've started taking my hobby seriously -- working closely with other miniaturist friends, learning new skills on the forum, and reading back issues of dollhouse magazines or old books -- my life has improved. I think if you had a conversation with my parents, who have watched me closely since moving back to Farmsville, they'd tell you that I've become "happier" in the last year or so. I'm less likely to get fixated on old hurts. I'm less likely to fall into my Dark Times. I'm less lonely because I have like-minded friends who encourage me and take my hobby seriously. I'm a bit brighter.

It's not a fix-all by any means. Look at how quickly I can spiral down into a Shame Monster attack about my hobby during the tax season. Clearly, I still need to work on the old, ingrained pathways in my brain that lead to that particular place. Me and fight-or-flight? We're still VERY good friends. Even about things, people, or places that I like. Even about miniatures.

Reading one article doesn't pop me out of my guilt. It's not that easy to stop the Titanic. But it did get me thinking about my dollhouses in a new way. I've always considered them a form of art therapy, but now I need to also see them as a stress-reliever and true mental health benefit. I need to think of them as new, wee Shrinkydinks.

It's true that when I started siding the Beacon Hill last year, I completely forgot about all of my Real Life worries. It takes slowness, time, and patience to glue on a bazillion pieces of siding. I found it strangely comforting. Many people get frustrated and annoyed with siding their builds, but I got more and more relaxed as I went. I think that's why I stalled on finishing it. I wanted it to keep going because I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I think that's why I regularly stall on the Beacon Hill. I like knowing there is still work to be done.

You could say I bought Luna Lair to stall on the Beacon Hill. Or you could say I bought Luna Lair because I wanted it, plain and simple. Either way, I do see the mental health benefits. I'm not going to punish myself about it anymore.

(She says it, not really believing it yet. But she'll get there.)