Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review - Now with 2012 Resolutions!

This holiday season ate me up and spit me out.  I don’t know where time went and I don’t know how it got so crazy leading up to Christmas.  By the week before, I still had almost all of my shopping left to do, a party on Christmas Eve with no food, and we barely had a tree….  However, by the time Christmas did roll around, the tree was decorated, food was prepared (including some amazingly good mulled wine), gifts were wrapped, and much fun was had by all. 

Now, as I finish the holiday week, I look back over the year and it’s really been a very interesting year.  We moved, things changed, life evolved… And, most importantly, we survived.  In a way, I feel like a twig caught in the currents of my life.  I am buffeted to and fro, hither and yon, swept away by things I cannot see and cannot understand.  I’ve made it through, but I feel kind of overwhelmed and clueless.  I suppose that is a symptom of life as well. 

I am blessed in that it has been a good year, even despite difficulties.  I feel as though I am where I should be.  Even on boring nights at home, where I sit on the sofa with my crocheting or a book, and Big Guy putzes around on his computer while Little Guy plays a game/watches a movie/creates chaos, I feel at peace and content.  I like who and where I am. 

So, what lessons have I learned this year… 

I’ve learned that my tolerance for drama is at an all time low.  I’ve dealt with enough upheaval in my own life that if others want to create or bathe in drama, I can’t handle it anymore. It stresses me out, makes me tense, and I want to run away.  So, I’ve recognized that running from it may be the best option and I do. 

I’ve learned that I need to push myself harder to get things done.  I won NaNoWriMo.  Now I need to push myself to finish the book.  Get it written, get it revised, and get it out.  I have to stop caring whether or not it’s crap.  If Stephanie Meyer can get that misogynistic, cardboard drek published…  So can I. 

So, I resolve to complete my book and submit it for publication over the next year.  It’s grown in scope and I discovered as I wrote that I needed to go back even further.  I resolve to have a fantastic garden and to find new and wonderful opportunities to educate my child.  I resolve to create a peaceful, happy home for my family and to continue to put my best efforts into my marriage and my parenting. 

2011 was interesting and it ended on an extremely positive note.  Here’s hoping 2012 carries on getting better. 



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo - Hot or not?

While I haven't been writing in my blog, I HAVE been writing. I'm over 20000 words into my NaNoWriMo piece and finding myself struggling with certain genre vs character issues. Big Guy has been reading over my work and feels that it's well written over all. I still struggle with being descriptive and not rushing through scenes, so I'm erring on the side of overly descriptive. I can always go back and cut things, I feel. It's harder to add.


However, my book is not some fluff piece of happily-ever-after. The main character is a man (my first big struggle) and the female lead has dealt with some pretty tough things. You have a man coming specifically to woo a queen. This queen has remerged to run a kingdom after nearly a century. She was enslaved and then in hiding, so her view of the world is definitely different. It's harder and grittier. Also, she's not quite the same noblewoman as her peers. She deals with things differently, she perceives things differently, and she reacts to situations differently.

The problem comes when I finally have the characters "get together" in the novel. She finally acquiesces to their connection... It's important, I feel, to show how fully she has given to him. Big Guy does not necessarily agree, thinking that sex, for the most part, should not be part of a true fantasy setting. I think a large part of it depends on the world created. Is it a Disney-fantasy world with gender neutrality and happily-ever-after? In that case, good god no sex please. Or are we dealing with the seamier side of life? And perhaps that's where my descriptions are falling down... This is a dirty place. Slaves are not treated well, rapes and violence happen... Power is acheived through might, whether it's magical might, physical might, or political might. Bad guys aren't just mustache twirling villains... They are evil personified. They go out and kill kittens because they can...
 
There doesn't seem to be a clear answer on how to handle this though. I consulted the great Google machine, but finding an answer when sex and fantasy are involved is rather disturbing. At this point, I'm just going to push through to 50,000 and worry about the revision and sex afterward.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Novels and Scrivener

Tomorrow, NaNoWriMo begins. I'm a bit nervous about it since I have NEVER tried this before. I've been writing my entire life, I've started numerous books and novels, and I have been working on the same book for six years running. I finally decided to buckle down and get one done.

It's not the book I've been working on for six years... Instead, I am going to start a new one to slam out in one month. This is going to be an interesting exercise for me. I have to keep up with an average of 1667 words per day to meet the 50000 word count goal. I want to do it. But will wanting be enough?

Likely not. However, I have to admit that I finally caved and went to a novel writing software to help me. I ended up with Scrivener (they're offering a special trial through December 7th for NaNo writers) and I have to admit... I'm in love. For someone with ADHD, one of my biggest stumbling blocks are the several different documents I have to have open to track characters and settings or scrolling through the story to remind myself how I want things to go.

Scrivener keeps me in one program and flipping through the items is as easy as clicking a mouse. It even comes with a "corkboard" to place idea cards. It keeps my attention focused on the scene I'm writing, preventing me from scrolling through everything I've written to try and revise. I know better than to revise as I write, but I still attempt it anyway. Not anymore! Tomorrow begins a new writing dawn. A novel writing dawn one might even say... (how droll).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Fall

"Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower." ~ Camus

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Brief Post and pictures


I'm coming down with something, so I think today's entry, by necessity, must be short. It's times like these I begin to feel my growing age.  Sleep is difficult, rest is difficult, and I'm not the 18 year old I still see in my mind's eye.  Things ache and crack and pop now.  They didn't always.

It was a busy and pleasing weekend.  We even took Little Guy to Zoo Boo on Sunday and had a blast.  He's going to be Darth Vader for Halloween, so it was great to see him get dressed up.  He was excited to go and, I believe, more excited to see the animals than to go trick-or-treating.






Friday, October 21, 2011

Viva la yarn revolution!

It's been a busy week. After the rally on Saturday, I attended another Assembly on Sunday and I knew it would be too busy a week for me to do much else on the ground. In my spare time, I did get another hat done for the Occupiers and a set of mittens as a special request.
I'm not sure that mitten is what you think it is...

The mittens look like they just should not work. The thumb looks odd, the pocket for the fingers looks way too long, but I tried them on, and they are actually comfortable. They should also do well at keeping hands warm. The oddness comes, I believe, from making this up as I went along.

I tried to follow a pattern, I really, really did. I went and looked at no fewer than 10 patterns, trying to find one that didn't seem ridiculously complicated for a MITTEN. I was unsuccessful in my search. Me being me, I decided the best thing to do was DO IT MYSELF. So I did. I took bits of one pattern and bits of another pattern and decided to fake it. The result, as I said, was odd looking but functional. It won't win any awards for prettiness, but it should keep fingers from falling off.

So how did I make such an...interesting piece of crafing? Well, I started by creating a base chain. I stitched 10 and then started crafting around the base chainUsing the last two as a turning chain, I single crocheted along one side, putting two stitches in the final link and then stitched back around the other side, creating an oval. When I reached the other end, I put two stitches in that too, so I created a increase. It worked. I kept stitching and increasing until I felt the mitt was wide enough and then just crocheted a tube.

The thumb was going to cause me difficulties, I knew it. So, when the mitt pocket was long enough, I pulled a lesson from another piece of crocheting I had don and began to crochet in lines again, back and forth, creatiing a gap to go around the thumb. When it was wide enough, I slip-stitched the edges back together and continued to finish the palm. For the thumb, I went back to my gap and basically did the reverse of the mitt. Instead of increasing, I decreased every row and ended up with a thumb. Even more shocking, it worked. Mind. Blown.

I then attached a cuff to the bottom and voila... A mitten. I'm rather proud of myself. Boy, does it look MESSED UP.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Solidarity

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy South Bend rally wrap-up


The rally I attended on Saturday was awesome.  There's nothing like working with people towards a common goal to make your spirit feel empowered.  I crocheted a hat, made and flew signs, participated in a march, and enjoyed the company of an amazing group of people.  It was truly an amazing experience.  I encourage everyone to get out there and take part.  These people are protesting for your rights. 

The detractors seem to be missing the point of the movement. These are not people looking for a handout, many of them have jobs (some more than 2 or 3), the ones that don't have jobs (lost when the economy collapsed beneath them) have been actively looking.  This isn't about politics.  This is about stopping the progression of our country from democracy to corporatocracy. 

The threatened clean-up of Zucotti park is a prime example.  It's a public park, right?  Wrong.  Even though everyone is TOLD it's a public park, it's owned and run by a private corporation.  Brookfield said that their agreement with the city required the park be used for free enjoyment of the public...  That is, until the public don't toe the company line and then they have to go.  Indiana's toll road is another good example.  It was built with public funds but is now owned by a corporation.

How much more do you want to give to big business?  Tax dollars saved them when they were "too big to fail".  The hope was that by saving them, the government would be saving and creating jobs.  Tell that to the people who have been unemployed for over a year because companies have learned that their workforce is so desperate to keep their jobs that the employees do 5 times the work for half the pay. 


This is what the movement is about.  People are angry about the state of the country.  And they should be.  The government (all parts of it) and the corporations are in bed together.  Companies don't differentiate between Republican or Democrat, they'll give money to both to guarentee that the laws passed benefit THEM. But governments shouldn't work for companies.

Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address that our government was "of the people, by the people" and most importantly "for the people."  When did that stop?  When did the government give up on the people and become "for the corporations?"  We've let it happen.  But as the situation degenerates, I believe we need to avoid violent revolution and take part in non-violent, constitutionally granted ways of changing the system.  An Op-ed piece in the NY Times calls this America's "primal scream."  We need to scream our heads off before things get worse.

Occupy Together

Occupy Indiana: Occupy South Bend

Facebook: Occupy South Bend

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Krafty Kitten

I don't normally bring politics on this blog.  There really isn't a need or a purpose to it.  However, something is going on in America right now that is affecting me and should affect you.  The "Occupy Wall Street" movement is being compared to the riots and revolutions in the Middle East earlier this year, and, honestly, was sparked by the same reasons. 

For three weeks the movement occupied Wall Street with no word from the media.  Twitter, Youtube and Facebook were the only outlets for information (much like the riots in the Middle East).  Once the police started beating and pepper spraying the peaceful protestors, the media started reporting on them.  But the news has been disingenuous at best and deliberately misleading at worst. However, this debacle of reporting has led to something amazing - the spread of the movement across the United States.  There are Occupy movements in many cities across the United States, even here in South Bend, Indiana. 

Now, I have been called a hippie by many people.  I believe in the power of voting and, if that fails, peaceful protesting.  I believe in taking care of the weaker members of society - children, the elderly, and the infirm.  I believe in helping people and working together to create a better world.  I also believe that our society, for all its advantages, has failed to help the people who take part in it. 

We have teachers struggling to teach kids on reduced salaries which were forced upon them due a lagging economy, we have people losing their jobs and having to find new and creative ways to feed their families, and we have people dying because they cannot receive proper medical care due to exorbitant costs and prohibitive insurance.  We also have created a ruling upper class with our democratic society.  We elect politicians based on our belief that they will support their constituents only to discover their masters are really the 1% that controls most of the country's wealth.  People grin sardonically at each other when discussing politics because they are aware that the government has failed.  "But what can I do about it.  My voice doesn't count.  My vote doesn't matter."  So make it matter.  It worked in the 50's and 60's.  It can work today.  But you have to DO something, and this is your opportunity to take your stand.  Find your local Occupy group and, even if you can't protest, show your support.  The protestors need food, water, tents, sleeping bags... 

As far as what I will do for them, this weekend I am going to the protest in downtown South Bend, labeled a dying city by Newsweek.  I am going to stand with my people and protest the injustices.  I strongly believe this is necessary, and I strongly believe we can make a difference.







Occupy Together

Occupy Indiana: Occupy South Bend

Facebook: Occupy South Bend

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Timeline

I'm going to take a break from my usual mommy talk to actually go tech for a bit.  Believe it or not, I am a bit of a techie.  I don't need the latest and greatest, but I do like playing with things to figure out how they work... (That could be taken in so many ways)  Back in high school, I taught myself HTML 4.0 and I have a tendency to poke through programs and find all their secrets.  Big Guy also has me figure out how things work for him because he's turning into an old fogey. 

So, when Facebook changed AGAIN, I was annoyed, like everyone else, but not too put out.  It would take a day or so, but I would get used to it.  However, when they announced the advent of  Facebook Timeline, I was definitely intrigued.  When I discovered that you could actually implement the timeline before it went live, I knew I had to try it. 

I hunted down the instructions and discovered something amazing. 
My Cover Pic and Profile Pic


I love it.  Seriously.  I absolutely LOVE the new Facebook Timeline.  I know people are going to totally flip out when it's officially implemented because it IS a departure from the norm.  But, and here's the thing, the timeline makes your profile more personal by giving you more control. 

You don't just have a profile pic anymore.  You also have a cover picture to help lend a slightly more personal or creative touch to your page.  And the timeline doesn't just go back to when you JOINED Facebook, it goes back to other major events as well...  Like the births of children and siblings.  You can still choose what people see, and you can also feature certain stories on your timeline. 

What Zuckerberg and his team have managed to do with the timeline (impressively enough) is actually make Facebook feel both streamlined AND more informative while avoiding a generic blocky page.  It's smooth, slick, impressive...  How did this happen? 
  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What I did with my weekend

This USED to be a tree

So did this (but I fixed that)
The weekend after Big Guy and I moved in, the mulberry in the backyard leaned into the neighbor's yard. It was rather startling and horrifying for us since we had JUST moved in and we were getting a call about the tree deciding it preferred another yard to ours.  We had several tree companies come out and look it over.  All of them recommended removing the tree entirely.  Apparently, while mulberries themselves are delicious and sweet, the tree is crap.

They removed the tree this week, so our backyard is now treeless and very, very bright.  Big Guy and I cleaned up the wood pieces while Little Guy ran around the yard.  Then we put him down for a nap because he desperately needed it and we needed to not worry about potentially chopping him in half.  We got the logs split, stacked and then enjoyed the evening in the back yard around the fire pit.  Check that.  Big Guy and I enjoyed the fire pit.  Little Guy enjoyed running around the back yard in the dark with his fake pet squirrel.  He loves that squirrel.
Captain Squirrel of the Furred Fleet 5


I set up a website through Google Sites for tutoring.  I'm rather amused, and slightly alarmed, at how thoroughly Google managed to infiltrate my life.  Youtube, Blogspot, my phone number, email, and now my business website are all run through Google.  I hear they are awesome to work for though, so I guess I can throw business at them. 

As we settle in to Fall at the new place, I keep telling Big Guy how happy I am.  Part of that may be the wine, but I really do love the house.  We have a great little porch area set up.  Sitting out there, cup of coffee (or tea) in hand and surveying the neighborhood is remarkably relaxing. The past few days have been warm and relaxing, so I want to take advantage of it while I can! 
A Cup of coffee, a book, and me...  Heaven.



Friday, October 7, 2011

Winter is coming (nerd)

This bush was once green.... 
Fall approaches. The leaves are changing, the heavy, sweet scent of smoke and dead leaves hangs in the air.  Today was warm, but there's still that underlying knowledge that the colder days get closer.  It's nice to be in a place where the walls aren't likely to radiate cold.  (Big Guy complains that is an inaccurate term, but I disagree.  It's a perfect description for the trailer walls.  You could feel the cold winter air pour off of them, even when there were no windows.)
Hey, orang-ish ones!

In an effort to drum up more money for the home, I've thrown my hat into the tutoring ring.  Using Google, since they seem to have all the cool stuff, I designed a website and advertised on Craigslist.  We'll see what I can bring in. 

Other than the usual difficulties, we're settling in rather well.  Our oven went out, but our Landlord has already ordered a new one and it should be installed next week.  The cats seem to be handling this well too.  I was afraid Caitlin wasn't going to handle the stress of moving well, but she's handled it better than Tiger!  Caitlin got here, poked around the place, and then has settled in nicely.  Tiger, on the other hand, yowled non-stop in the car, hyperventilated when we got here, hid in our closet and has spent the days since then trying to get out of the house.
Caitlin wasn't aware Tiger was under her

Little Guy loves the house too...  But he's driving me nuts with the stairs.  He loves them.  He slides down them on his belly or he hops down them, one step at a time.  I am terrified he's going to break his neck.  Big Guy and I are still bumbling our way through boxes, one at a time.  At the rate we're going we may be unpacked by.... 2015. 

Even with the tightness of life, Big Guy and I are thrilled and happy to be moved out of Elkhart and into a house that doesn't threaten to re-enact the house scene from The Wizard of Oz.  Our library is close, we will have heat, and we always make it work.  We always do.




Monday, October 3, 2011

Because we must

Nicole over at The World of My Imagination wrote about writers and blogging... Her conclusion is sound... Writers need to blog. Why?
Writing - copyright J. Paxon Reyes

Well, I firmly believe that writers blog for the same reason they write. They must. It's similar to mountains and mountain climbers. It's there, so it must be climbed. The words exist, so they must be put down. Hell, I've been writing stories since elementary school. In my case, I always felt the stories churning around in my head and had to get them out on paper. It's like a sore in your mouth. You know it hurts to touch it, but you still poke at it with your tongue.

I can't help but write. I get antsy if I don't write, but I also have a love-hate relationship with writing. I'll go through spurts where I write nonstop. I throw every word in my head onto the page and then some.... And then I look at what I've written and trash it because I am convinced it sucks. I feel like it is the worst writing that has ever been since the first caveman (or woman) spit paint around their hand. I understand this is a common problem with writers. We are our own worst critics.

I haven't figured out how to get past that yet. I'm open to suggestions, because I have several half-started books kicking around and random story bits that never seem to get finished. Part of it may be my ADD/perfectionism, though. I have so many partial projects and so few completed ones. It's scary. I think that's where my difficulty in applying to grad school is stemming from as well. What if I get in, and I'm told my writing sucks. I can take constructive criticism, but to be told that I CANNOT write would be horrible.

It doesn't even matter that I know I am at least a passable writer. It doesn't matter that I have had people nag me to finish stories so they could read them... I still am convinced all my writing is horrible... So I hide it away and only let it out occasionally. I want to finish my book(s). I know where I want the stories to go. Unfortunately, I sit down to work on them and end up getting distracted by revising... Which leads me to reading them... Which causes me to think: "This is horrible! No one wants to read this!" And then I abandon writing it for another few months, only to start the process again.

I think, this November, I am actually going to buckle down and do NaNoWriMo... Anyone want to do it with me?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Krafty Kitten is taking a huge leap forward, as you can see.  I've changed the formatting (a bit) and I am hopefully improving the content.  The change reflects (in a way) the changes we've been going through around here.  Aside from the move, Little Guy has started being homeschooled, Big Guy is still the house-husband, and I, the intrepid instructor, am trying to talk myself into going back and getting my Master's degree. 

Right now, my vacation week is winding to a close.  I had a great time at home with my guys.  We were productive indoors since it rained most of the week.  Hopefully, we'll be able to enjoy the outdoors in the next week.  I'd like to have Little Guy look at trees as the seasons change from summer to fall.  I have grand plans that will probably never quite work the way I want them to.  Such is the price of having a Little Guy like mine. 

Tonight, my last night, I am cooking dinner and then showering since I spent the whole day putting together next month's plan for my class.  I have a few new tricks up my sleeve and I really needed this break to recharge those creative juices.  The dinner I put together was quick and relatively easy.  Big Guy had cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast and we had a pan with bacon grease on the bottom of it.  I took chicken breast tenderloins and fried them, onions, garlic, green beans, and spices in the pan.  Then I boiled some angel hair pasta, drained it, and tossed it with the chicken mixture and fresh basil.  It turned out really well though I may have over done the red pepper a smidge. 

The shower will be appreciated since I feel like I'm coming down with a cold.  Perfect timing.  I'll pop some cold meds before bed and hopefully kick this before it starts.  I hate being sick, and being sick while teaching is a full measure of suck.  We do what we must though and I am determined to make this an excellent month. 

One final note, I did get my interview published on Mommy Page.  It even has a picture of me!  SO EXCITED! 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The First Step of Our Homeschool Journey

We've started homeschooling our Little Guy, and I am discovering that it takes a serious change in view to school such a creative and bright child.  Most people who meet Little Guy are shocked by two things. The first thing they notice is that he's small for his age.  The kid is a victim of  maternal genetics.  The second thing they notice, after talking to him for a bit, is how quickly he picks up on things and how much knowledge he's already stored away in that head of his. 
The story of my life - Left behind, while he forges ahead   .

The first step, I discovered, is letting go of my own notions of how his education should proceed.  Big Guy and I struggled with getting him to practice writing his letters.  Little Guy sat there with his pencil and paper and very passive aggressively refused to trace his alphabet.  He doodled, he sang, he made up stories starring his pencil and paper, but he WOULD NOT write his letters.  In response, we cajoled, we pleaded, we threatened, we yelled...  And then, we let it go.  I sighed, shrugged, and told him he could watch a TV show if he wrote five words down.  Any five words. 

And he did. 

It took less than two minutes.  Two hours of fighting over writing and in less than two minutes he wrote five words.  Big Guy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and let it go. Later on as we discussed the difficulties, we came tot he conclusion that we were approaching this the wrong way.  We had to keep in mind WHY we were homeschooling him.  We recognized that he would not handle the stereotypical school schedule well.  He'd rebel and then get in trouble.  We also didn't want him to HATE education, so we knew we'd have to do things differently than they would in a classroom. 

That's where we screwed up.  We approached the writing the way they do in school because that's the way we were taught.  We knew that wasn't going to work with him, and we tried it anyhow.  It worked exactly as we expected; he fought us.  So, we are re-evaluating.  Since he's still a young 'un, we're going to focus more on exposing him to things he'll learn about.  He CAN write, we just have to get him to do it.  Big Guy got him to write me a note while I was at work and left him alone to do it.  I came home to, "I miss you mommy."  We took advantage of Museum Day and took him to the Studebaker Museum and the Center for History. 
To be fair, that word can give lots of people trouble.

We're going to try things while we can and find something that works.  He's got a head start on his peer group; I want to keep him ahead and, more importantly, interested in learning. 


Monday, September 26, 2011

Mommy Page Post

Mommy Page approached me for an interview in return for a post about them here.  I am not one to advertise for someone or something I don't support, so the first thing I did was go to their website to see exactly what I would be talking about. 

They have plenty of coupons and freebies for the financially conscious among us.  I saw coupons for Zulily, Overstock.com and JC Penny.  And with the holiday season approaching, this is probably a very good thing. Big Guy and I have an ongoing contest to see who can get the most and best stuff for the least amount of money.  (I win.  Always.)

There are sections with articles for every stage of early motherhood: from pregnancy to toddlerhood.  Those seem to be the stages that mothers search for the most online.  Once kids hit school-age, you stop worrying about whether or not you're going to break them.  Chances are, you already have, and you know it.

They also have a series of interviews with other Mommy Bloggers.  That's what I find most interesting.  We're always looking for people to connect with and these interviews give you a snapshot into other Mommy Bloggers lives and may give you another person to talk to, read, or connect with. 

Check it out.  Poke around.  See what there is to see.  And, eventually, you will see an interview with yours truly. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

How would my story be told?

The National Public Radio released an article recently on the stories people tell as their lives come to a close. The psychiatrist who ran the study noticed that the stories people tell take a very different tone and focus as they are dying.  That got me thinking...  What would my story be?  Who would I want to have it? 

Everyone wants to believe that they matter.  Everyone wants to believe they made an impact on others' lives.  Why?  Probably because people really are small in the scheme of things.  With 6 billion people on the Earth, it's difficult to say that anyone can make a definite impact on anything.  Most people never write a great novel, sing an amazing song, or paint a spectacular picture.  Very few will become politicians or activists who actually make any sort of impact. 

I've come to believe the impact we make will depend solely on the people we interact with.  I realized that I've had about 400 students pass through my classes.  I've seen many of them succeed and graduate.  Even now, I have former students stop by just to say "hi."  I am pleased that, even if they don't LOVE English, they got something worthwhile out of my class.  I also know I can't reach everyone.  Sometimes, some of my students don't make it.  I hate that, but it is what it is. 

So when it comes down to it, I'd tell my story for Little Guy.  And I would want him to see what I accomplished and what he could accomplish.  I'd want him to know that I followed my heart...  Both in my career and in my personal life.  I married his father out of love, and I loved both of them more than anything.  I would want him to know how much I valued my education and how important critical thinking is.  More importantly, I'd want him to know that no matter what, I'm proud of him.  He's an amazing, brilliant child, and he can grow into an amazing brilliant man. 

I'd also write for Big Guy.  I'd want him to know that of all the unexpected things in life, he topped my list.  I'd try to make him see himself how I see him.  He's intelligent, sensitive, and creative.  I'd want him to have more confidence, to believe in what he can do more than he currently does.  He often sells himself so short. 

My mom would need to get a copy too, just so I can tell her how much I love her.  I like who I am, and I wouldn't be who I am without her.  I wouldn't have been able to achieve this without her...  Though I could have done without the writing addiction.  I blame her for that. 

I may never write the Great American Novel.  I may never give magnificent speeches or go to unique and spectacular places.  But I think I have made an impact.  And I am proud of the impact I made.  I think that's the important part when it comes to the end of life.  Did you do the best you could?  And I think I have.  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Gardening Metaphor

Flowers, flowers everywhere
At Toddler in Tow, Amyables talks about her gardening adventure this year, and I must admit a bit of jealousy.  We didn't have a garden this year.  I decreed at the beginning of the season that we were moving, which meant anything I planted would be left behind in the move.  I refused to let someone else play the grasshopper to my ant. 

Now, however, we are in a place to garden and I intend to garden when Spring arrives.  I'd like to get Little Guy more involved and give him a place to garden as well.  It could definitely work as part of his science curriculum.  We were lucky that our landlord was a pretty avid gardening guy himself.  He had an amazing garden set-up to start with, and I look forward to maintaining and adding to it.  Little Guy already pulled out his watering can to water the flowers in the back yard.  There's a planter near the front door that I may give him some seeds and let him go to town. 

I would love for Little Guy to get the enjoyment and peace from flowers that I find in the dirt.  The past few years were difficult, and my garden really reflected how I felt about where we were.  Dropped into crap soil, we had to fight to survive.  Some parts did.  Some parts didn't.  I'd classify our family as much hardier than we were three years ago, but I suppose that happens when you prune away some of the dead wood. 

Pruning, in life as in the garden, seems to be an ongoing thing.  I unpacked with my mom today and she took 3 boxes and a bag to Goodwill.  She also took a couple boxes home for my nephew.  I feel bad about that because they were baby clothes and I would love to have another baby around the house.  Little Guy is getting so big and, while I know he loves me, isn't at the chubby-cheeked, wide-eyed innocent stage anymore.  Now he's a full boy with snips and snails and puppy-dog tails. 

But, I want our family to survive, so away go the baby clothes and other items we have no intention of doing something with.  I want my soil to be primed and ready because we deserve it.  Like most American families, the economic downturn has hurt.  Big Guy lost his job a year ago and we're limping by on unemployment and what I earn in teaching and writing.  But, we're also very blessed.  We've moved to a place that we intend to be a long-term stepping stone.  We're closer to my work and closer to our friends.  Big Guy has been able to be home with Little Guy and both were able to pack while I worked. 
Every rose does indeed have its thorn.

I believe that this time we have landed in more fertile soil and the garden is a reflection of that.  I look forward to seeing what comes up!


  

Monday, September 5, 2011

Grant me serenity....

Just when you think things are going smoothly, something comes along to trip you up.  The process of moving and squaring things away is a lesson in changing what you can and accepting what you can't because just when you think things are settled, it turns out not to be.  This weekend I discovered my bank sent my rent, not to my landlord, but to nowhere.  They cut a paper check instead of paying his account and sent it to nowhere, literally.  There was no address.  They sent the check anyhow.  This is the problem with automated systems.  A person might have noticed there was no address and stopped the process to figure out what was going on.  The mechanical system, however, just shoots things out. 

I discovered this on Saturday morning after my landlord contacted me to let me know he hadn't received our money yet.  The bank put a stop-payment on the check they cut and said the money would be back in my account in 3 - 5 business days.  In the meantime, I am sending a personal check to cover this to my landlord so that, once the money is back in my account, he can go ahead and cash it.  The next step from there will be to figure out how to do this so it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN

Also on Saturday, we discovered the tree in our backyard was trying to make an entrance into the neighbor's yard.  It's a lovely mulberry tree that just sort of leaned over the fence.  Big Guy would take care of it himself, but there's some sort of line there that the tree is also leaning on, so I think someone professional needs to take care of it to prevent death and/or loss of limb (HA) and property.  However, it's a holiday weekend, and, as with the bank, that means NO ONE is working until Tuesday without serious overtime. 

For most people, this is a relaxing time.  For me, it turned into a frenzy of 'crap I cannot control'. I don't like sharp changes in plans; I especially don't like sharp changes in plans of things I had already marked off my list.  My reaction to that loss of control and inability to change it RIGHT NOW was to take control elsewhere.  As such, Big Guy and I emptied the dining room of boxes and then refilled it with boxes from the family room.  We then sorted the place out and got the furniture arranged (mostly) to our satisfaction.  I need a wireless adapted for my computer before it can go on my desk but then we are settled in the family room.  We have a mishmash of hand-me-down furniture from friends, family and second-hand stores which, surprisingly, almost looks like we planned it and matches the woodwork here beautifully.  I have no idea how we managed both the coordinating furniture and the coordinating woodwork, but go us. 

In the end, this means Tuesday will be a busy day.  I'm OK with that as long as everything gets sorted out.  I want everything back to settled, so I can get down to the very serious business of settling in and sorting things out.  We need to get settled in so I can get Little Guy into a routine and start homeschooling the little booger.  He desperately needs a routine and regular schedule.  This past month has been sorely lacking in that department, and I am starting to feel like a horrible parent.  But again, I need to look at this as an opportunity to change what I can and accept what I can't. 

It's just difficult. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adventures in Moving


We're moved.  I wasn't sure we'd be able to do it, and I must admit I panicked there a bit at the end.  We were truly blessed in the help we received from family and friends.  We finished moving 2.5 days earlier than we thought thanks to them.  That doesn't mean it wasn't an adventure though. 

Class ended for me on Thursday and that's when the moving weekend really began.  The next day we had to travel to the new house to wait for the cable guy.  While we were there, we put Little Guy's bed together and started making his room feel like a real home.  He had been having difficulties and I am positive it was due to all the changes.  His temper was shorter, he tried to push all the boundaries, and he just did not like what was going on.  Big Guy and I thought that getting some familiarity in his new room might settle things down.  So, while the cable guy set up our cable and internet, we set up the bed.  That may have been a mistake though, since he then wanted to spend the night there and we weren't done at the old place yet.  Plus, the bulk of moving was going to be done the next day.

 Saturday began bright and early.  Big Guy and a friend went to get the moving truck while Little Guy and I (mostly the *I*) continued to box things up and get things sorted.  All the electronic items were gone, waiting at the new house, and the entire house was just about done.  At about 10 am, people began to arrive and we started stacking stuff on the lawn and moving it into the truck.  Everyone took a load to the new place while I and two others held back and continued packing.  We were just about done when the truck returned and we finished up our last load for the day.  After that, we headed to the new place and crashed. We still had cleaning at the old place, but what we needed people and a truck to handle, we had managed to complete. 

Sunday, we were sore, we were tired, and we still had stuff to finish.  We went back to the old house to mop, vacuum, and finish wiping things down.  When we arrived, however, we were greeted with a surprise.  Someone had STOLEN our stair railings.  We considered that they may have been stolen for the metal...but someone had left the wrought iron doormat.  They hadn't just stolen the railings either, they broke the bolts getting them off.  Looking out our back window, we noticed that our back neighbors had a suspiciously familiar pair of railings while the guy across the street from them had their old railing.  It was beyond ridiculous.  We griped about it for the rest of the day as we finished cleaning but we got the place in order and went home.  We had a few boxes left that Big Guy was going to pack up the next day when he talked to the office about our missing rails. 

When he went in to the office to tell them someone had stolen our rails, the office's initial reaction was: "That's really not our problem."  Once he explained that we didn't waqnt to get charged on our move out and that we were renters, then they cared.  I couldn't believe it.  Yet another reason why we are so glad to be out of there.  After that he loaded up the last boxes and turned in the keys... And we were done there.  We've been unpacking and organizing and just generally trying to make ouselves at home.  The house is amazing and we love it already.  This has been such a positive move and a wonderful blessing for us.  I am thrilled.  And even Little Guy has started settling in. 



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Month-End Introspection

Grading, fun for the whole family
I have reached the final hours of my month of craziness, and the time has come to really reflect on it.  Was I as successful a teacher, a wife, and a mother as I had hoped to be?  Definitely not.  Some of the things I accept were beyond my control.  I also learned to accept that not all students want to be here.  This is not necessarily a shortcoming on my part, in some cases the student simply does not accept their own role in their education and there is nothing I can do about that.  But even that was such a grab bag of emotions this month that I really need to look back and think about it. 

As an instructor... 
Bad: I think I wasn't as tough on some of my students as I should have been.  I had a student in one class that really brought the dynamic down.  That negativity bred more negativity in other students and led to a very difficult month.  I need to figure out a way to divert the negativity and figure out how my students can channel that energy into something positive. 

Good: The students I could connect with, I REALLY connected with.  And those students, even if other issues prevented them from being successful in my course, will definitely succeed in other ways. 

On the homefront:
Bad: The long hours at work this month left me disconnected from Big Guy and Little Guy.  They also contributed to one tired, stressed, and cranky Kitten as I tried to balance work and moving...  I was not always successful.  Little Guy, in particular, dislikes the long hours that go with a split shift.  He wailed at the thought of me having to go to work a few times.  I had to tell him on my days off that I was staying home.  And Tuesday, Big Guy came in to see me in my off period and Little Guy spent the last half of the visit crying because he wanted me to go home with him.

Part of his clinginess stems from the uproar of moving, I am sure.  But...  I still feel like a crap mom when it happens.  Although moving was the other rough part on the homefront.  By Sunday, this will all be behind me, but the stress of packing and organizing everything fell mainly on Big Guy because, well, he's home to do it.  However, my inability to affect the outcome led to stress and one massive blowout here at the end.  Next time we move, I may drink more heavily.

Good: The house is almost packed.  When we were able to work together, we did WELL.  Not only did we do well, but we were SPECTACULAR.  Plus, we were almost in each other's heads on the organization and planning on a regular basis.  It reiterated that Big Guy and I are definitely partners and definitely have improved our communication skills over the past 8 years.  The entire house is almost packed up and we are almost ready to go.  The house will be a definite step in the right direction (though I think any step out of where we are is "the right direction").  Where we have been living had a purpose, but that is long gone.  Now, we can start a new chapter. 

Overall, the month had its ups and downs, but it was a positive experience and certainly one I can use to gain insight into myself and my life.  Once it truly ends and next month begins with its classes as I live in the new place, I can see what new items I have carried with me and begin the planning for other areas. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Split Shift Ramblings

This month, I am teaching a split shift.  Split shifts are rough on the body and the mind because the spread of the hours is so exhausting.  I have to start teaching at 8:30 am and that runs till almost 1 pm.  I get a stretch of hours in the middle then until I start again at 6 pm and teach all the way until 10 pm.  I'll go home tonight, whine a bit about food, and then sleep.  Luckily, I don't have to teach tomorrow.

Big Guy agreed to let me take his laptop to work with me, so I can sit in the adjunct office during the stretch of time where I don't have class and work on class stuff.  I will find this extremely helpful this month.  The free time in the middle of the day allowed me to get my morning class papers graded already.  I also was able to look at the books and figure out what I wanted to make copies of for my class before they got here.  I ought to plan what I want them to do for homework on Thursday, but I am seriously considering a power nap. 

Big Guy has also been packing a lunch for me for prevention of passing out during the day.  It is something I truly appreciate and I love having a husband who wants to take care of me.  He loves me, wants me to be happy, healthy and comfortable.  Unfortunately, that's not something that often happens over the course of a split shift month.  My program director tries not to give her instructors two split shifts in a row because it's horrible.  You really do put in 14 hour days and can't do anything outside of school on those days.  The funny/horrible part of this month's split shift is we're moving at the same time. Feel pity for Big Guy, who is taking care of Little Guy and packing all on his own.  I'll be able to get some of it done on Wednesdays and weekends, but the bulk of it falls to him. 

Yesterday, he got a ton of stuff packed in Little Guy's room.  It was impressive, considering Little Guy (like his mother) likes to be able to see everything he owns.  I adamantly refused to go in his room because I was terrified I was going to break something.  Last night, when I got home, Big Guy showed me that not only could we walk on his floor now, but there were "See You Later" boxes packed of toys.  Little Guy and Big Guy had decided what was going to be packed.

I'm hopeful that more stuff will be packed today, but my two Guys may decide to nap instead.  The split shift is hard on all of us.  Bleh, reading this over, I can tell my brain is mush right now.  Back to the grind goeth I.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Bad Students

Yes. I teach a super-basic English course. I teach you how to correctly put words into sentences, how to put sentences into paragraphs and how to put paragraphs into an essay. I've been doing this for a long time. Longer than you've been here, and I will probably still be doing it long after you've gone, whenever and however that may be. I work hard to make a very dry and usually boring subject somewhat interesting. I know you think this is a stupid, easy, fluff course, but you would not be in this class if you didn't need it. You took a test for placement and failed badly enough that you are mine. 

And so here we are. You on your side of the desk and me on mine. And guess what? No matter what, I win. For the time you are in my class, I am the most important person in your world. Or at least you should act that way. Why? Because teachers aren't stupid. When we're in the lab and you're tap-tapping away on your keyboard or clicking away at your mouse, I KNOW you aren't paying attention to me. And believe me, I know who you are and I will call you out on it. If you're sitting there, slack-jawed with your book closed next to you as I am lecturing about a chapter, I know it's not English you're thinking about. And it adds up. 

You start as a blank slate in my class. By the end of the first day of class, I have identified the students who are going to be most difficult. You know who you are. You are the student who thinks you're so damn wonderful that you can be all cute with the teacher and she'll fall all over herself to give you an A because you're just that amazing. If you think that, think again. Because, in conjunction with me being the most important person in your world while you are in my room, I also have little to no patience for your "cuteness". Your cuteness is not awesome, it is not amazing, and your winning personality will not get you an A. I don't care if you know this; I don't care if you don't want to do the assignment. If you want your grade, you have to earn it. You do not pay my salary. I earn it. You pay for the amazing opportunity to be in my class.

You are also the student who keeps a notebook of excuses. I'll let you in on a secret... I don't care if your dog's uncle's cat's brother ate your homework. I don't care if your car caught fire and burned all your books inside it. If you didn't call me, email me, or leave me a message, it's an excuse. And, if you do this at least once per class session, I probably don't believe you anymore. If you cared about my course, you'd find a way to make those excuses nonexistent. 

My patience is wearing thin. I've explained something just to have to re-explain it five minutes later because a student was doodling flowers in her notebook and is now lost, and I've done that 5 times in half an hour. When a "cute" student ignores me for the better part of a class only to interrupt me five times as I'm trying to explain the assignment, it makes me want to stab my eyes out with a pen. When I'm trying to explain a concept and a student full of excuses is interrupting me to answer a question on the lab assignment that they are doing instead of listening to me, it makes me want to unplug the computer and throw it through the window. Even worse, it causes a deep wellspring of pity for the students who do care and are trying to learn. Because while I am stuck with them for a month or two (or three), these guys will work with them in all their other courses.

I'm sorry, smart, conscientious students. I am sorry that there seems to be such a vast chasm between you and your peers. Do not fall into their trap. Do not think that because they passed, you do not need to work as hard as you do. Because, at the end of the day (or college career) you can come to me for a letter of recommendation and I will give it. I will not be "too busy" for you. If you need help understanding something in another course, I will be more than happy to sit down with you or act as a go between for you and your instructor. You have fostered that trust and you have earned your place. And it is nothing to be ashamed of, so do not fall into their trap.

The bad students are a swampy morass of helplessness and entitlement. They don't know anything, don't want to really improve their lot if it means work, and don't think they should have to do anything anyhow. They pay their money, they should get a degree. That's not how life works. And, by God, that will not be how my class works. So go ahead. Yell at me. Roll your eyes at me. Grumble beneath your breath about these "stupid assignments" and complain just in earshot about how worthless you think they are. I don't care, and in fact, it makes me giggle a bit on the inside because you'll be doing them again when you fail. Tell me how your cat ate your car and that's why you missed 3 classes in a row. It makes no difference to me. You'll take the course again and I will still get paid. I'm not going anywhere, sweetheart. Get used to it.



Love

An English Teacher on the Edge


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bookstore dreams and wishes

We've been pushing forward on the bookstore idea pretty hard. We've got the market research survey up online and are already receiving responses. Some of the responses have been quite enlightening and surprising. Some of them, not so surprising but identify a particular hazard we will have to deal with in running the store.

I'm already establishing guidelines in my head about what used media we will accept, what condition it must be in, and how we will establish the store credit for it. We have great ideas about what we want to offer, how we want to offer it, and how we want things to work. I think we can really pull it off if we can get the funding. Big guy and I are determined and very excited about this. It's really been all we've discussed for a while. I really want this to work. I'm also thrilled that he seems passionate about doing this.

Big Guy is truly the love of my life, but he will be the first to say that there's very little he cares about enough to fight for. I'm the fighter in the house. I throw myself into everything with a sort of passionate madness that Big Guy just doesn't seem to have. This, however, has lit a fire in him. It's encouraging for me to see because I always worried that he didn't have anything he liked to do that he "loved". I LOVE writing and teaching. When things get difficult and hard to do, I can hold on to my love for both htose things to get past the rough paches and continue on working at them. Big Guy didn't have that in any of his jobs, which meant that when things got tough, he got angry, sullen and bitter. It made me sad.

And if we can pull this off, he's going to need that love and passion. We're going to have to work hard to make this take off. On the bright side, if we can get this to work, this will free us from other bosses. I'd love to get the store going and have it reach a point where we become a staple of life around town. Perhaps we can get it to a point where life isn't a struggle anymore. The hard thing, for me at least, is this dream means putting off the homesteading dream because everything is going to have to be poured into the business. All our energy, any extra money, and our lives for a long time are going to be at the whim of the retail store gods. The place we're considering has an apartment upstairs but no yard space to speak of. I'll be able to plant very little, if I can plant anything at all. There definitely would not be room for chickens. I also recognize that, should the bookstore fail, it will effectively kill our ability to do the homesteading.

This really has to work. I know we have the drive, I know we can push it out.... I just hope it takes off.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bookstore Plans and Dreams

Life is full of surprises. I think (though I am not sure) that thisis a good thing. Life changes and moves and very rarely do things ever stay the same. I am convinced that most of our lives occur for a reason even if we are never truly sure what that reason is. Our life has been moving non-stop and keeping up with the plans we are attempting is never an easy task.

Big Guy, as you know, was laid off in November. After much twisting, turning, and scrambling (and with the much needed and much appreciated help of friends and family) we made it through the holiday season, got our financials sorted out, and are continuing to march forward. I told Big Guy, though, that he needed to figure out what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go from here. To that end, we've started to look at putting the bookstore in order.

This is exciting and nerve-wracking. We've always talked about doing this, but more of a "when we win the lottery" type thing. Never very seriously. Now, we've got the business registered as an LLC and we are moving forward with a business plan and trying to get funding. I have no idea if we're going to be able to pull this off, but I would really like to. I don't even want to end up a nation-wide franchise. I just want a nice, cozy little book store that we can share with friends and family. I know the ultimate goal would be to make money on it, but we also want to do what we enjoy.

If we can do this, it would be a great opportunity for Big Guy to do something he loves. I could still teach on a free schedule, and when I'm not teaching, I can work in the book store. Little Guy can still be homeschooled and still get hands on experience with math and reading. So, we'll bust our butts getting this put together, hopefully give us a chance to move out of where we are and into a better place. I just have to keep reminding myself that everything happens for a reason and, for better or for worse, this is happening too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A simple Friday

My usual Friday plans have been interrupted by the "light dusting" of snow we were to receive.  Apparently, in Indiana weatherman parlance, "light dusting" means "huddle inside your house for warmth".  So, instead I am making more bread and we've got PBS Kids on the television for Little Guy. 

One of my New Year's resolutions this year is to become more organized and manage time and money better.  The rapidly changing schedule is making it more important than ever to do so.  This month, I am working a split shift.  I teach one class in the morning and one class at night.  The week after next, however, my schedule changes for the next month.  I'll teach mornings and afternoons, leaving my evenings free.  I've been teaching nights for so long now, I'm not going to know what to do with myself.  Big Guy will get to be home during the day with our little monkey. 

If we can keep up the work we've been doing, we can survive just fine.  Big Guy and I need to take an opportunity to sit down and figure out a plan for the next few months, like what we'll do if I don't get two classes.  I've got a plan to save up money so that when the break hits, I'll be able to transfer over money to cover it.  Things may be tight and sort of complicated, but luckily we have the communication skills to figure it out. 

We're still looking at getting out of our current rental and, at this point, I am so done living here.  I'm sure some of it is just basic impatience on my part, but living here has not been the best experience.  This place had a purpose when we moved in, but that purpose has long since passed, and it's time for us to move to our new chapter of life.  Our life has changed so much since we moved in that our needs in a place have changed as well.  We're also not under pressure to move, which is a pleasant change.  We have been looking for a good place to live, price-wise and also life-wise.

We're not going to be able to get the perfect place, but we'll be able to find something that will serve us well.  And right now, Big Guy and I are in agreement that everything happens for a reason.  Hopefully the purpose of all of this will become apparent soon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Marriage: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As Singing Through The Rain points out: being married isn't easy.  Big Guy and I have been told that we are "retarded for each other".  We snuggle, we kiss, we do almost everything together.  We are very much in love and it takes work to keep us that way. 

Back after Little Guy was born, our communication issues began to catch up with us.  We realized rather rapidly that if we wanted our marriage to succeed and, more importantly, survive, we needed help.  So we got it.  We spent nearly a year in therapy learning to communicate better, learning tips and tricks to keep us on track, and in the end it was worth it.  We both recognize the benefits that our therapy gave us.  Our communication improved drastically and we began to recognize the ineffective ways we approached each other and dealt with problems. 

This became immensely important when step-family issues reared their ugly heads.  Had there been any cracks in our relationship, they would have turned into gaping holes when the shit hit the fan.  We managed to survive and are still doing really well.  But, it is a process of working at it every day and we try really hard to keep things good. 

One of the keys, I believe, is working at it so that it doesn't seem like work.  Like any job, regular maintenance can make things go smoothly.  So, we go to bed together each night and cuddle before we fall asleep.  We flirt with each other on a regular basis.  We make it a point to find things we both like to do.  We also tend to make decisions based on who needs the most right now.  This month, I've needed a lot of support as I worked the split shift.  He's been pretty good about working with me and not complaining.  This weekend, it shifted as he came down with a nasty cold and I took care of him. 

Do we still fight?  Oh yes.  Our fights tend not to last long though.  Again, I attribute that to improved communication.  Some days are worse than others, some days we stumble in our practices, but we both agree that our marriage is important and worth working at. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Game Day

Today is game day in the Kitten household.  We have friends coming over and I am preparing a rather hearty meal in order to feed the fam and anyone else who chooses to eat.  Game day is always fun despite the nerdiness that generally ensues.  

Big Guy has been running a “GURPS” game for the group.  I apparently managed to cement my nerdiness by commenting that I preferred the GURPS magic system to D&D.  *shrug* It just makes more sense.  Admittedly, it can be a pain to deal with, but magic shouldn’t be easy.  We’ve gone through our fair share of characters already in the game.  

Dinner to go along with game is pot roast, homemade bread and mashed potatoes.  A warm and filling meal to go with the snow-laden day.  I actually began cooking the pot roast last night.  Chopped the carrots and potatoes, seasoned the roast and stuck it in the crock pot to cook on low for 12 hours.  It smells delicious.  I woke up a few times throughout the night and smelled it.

The bread is shamelessly stolen from Oregon Cottage, who shamelessly stole and adapted it from the easy artisan bread in five minutes.  I slightly adapted it myself, mixing the dough in a gallon sized ziplock bag for easy fridge storage.  I think I also may have added less flour than the recipe called for, but I ran out of flour.  I popped it in the oven today and worried because it was definitely more liquidy than the pictures on the website.  I had visions of a flat, black, almost bread.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It puffed up and looks BEAUTIFUL.  Seriously, if the bread tastes half as good as it looks, I am excited.  

The mashed taters will come from a box, but that is because one of our friends prefers boxed, instant taters to homemade.  Meh, whatever makes him happy.