Friday, July 31, 2009

The Expert

As you may know, I like floating around the internet looking at other people's crafts, photos, recipes and writing, among all sorts of other creations. I spend more time being inspired to do things than I actually spend doing them. And please, don't even ask about the state of my house.

One thing that seems to be more and more prevalent everywhere I go (including here) is the "comment" button. And of course, 99% of comments are positive and respectful. But every now and again I come across something that is obviously inappropriate. Sometimes it's downright rude and insulting, and you don't need examples of this--we're talking about those people who spend all their time roaming around cyberspace looking for someone to insult because they (mistakenly) think it makes them look smart. This junk annoys me, but since it makes the person who wrote it look dumber than a fencepost, I don't really care. The more damaging stuff is the "constructive" criticism that goes a little overboard.

On one of the sites I visit regularly, I started noticing a pattern of long-winded, critical comments from one person. One that bugged me the most was to a little girl who had made herself a beautiful dress for her prom. She stated clearly that this was her very first attempt at making a dress, and I think that's pretty darned impressive. When I was 17, I was hanging out at the mall with my friends, complaining that the world wasn't handing me everything I wanted in life, wrapped up in a satin bow. So, when I saw, yet again, this same person leaving a list of things this kid could've done better for the whole world to see, I decided to check out her profile, in which she listed herself as an expert. Firstly, for the record, if you were born in the 1980's, you are an "expert" on nothing. Don't get me wrong here. I look at knitting, cardmaking, and craft blogs all the time in which I would consider the creator, regardless of age, an expert. I just don't think you should be calling yourself one unless you have an awful lot of experience to back up your claim.

I don't think people who do this mean to be anything other than helpful (though I do suspect they're sometimes hoping to leave an impression of being terribly knowledgeable, whether they are or not), and there is most certainly a place for constructive criticism. When I studied creative writing in university, there was a lot of critical feedback. People said things about my poems and stories that, even if it made me cringe, taught me to tighten things up and to see things from a reader's point of view. At the time, I wanted to be a professional "writer", so even blunt, insensitive comments were appropriate, if for no other reason than to prepare me for a lifetime of being brutally panned. But when you're just showing off something you're proud of on a craft site or your blog, long lists of improvements you should make are just not helpful, and they're not nice either.

As a teacher, I knew that parents wouldn't appreciate a report card full of harsh comments about their kids, even if their kids were obviously jail-bound. So I used terms like "a goal for so-and-so is..." and "something to work on will be..." and dealt with one or two issues at a time, rather than overwhelming the parent with everything that needed improvement. Putting your heart and soul into a piece of writing, or a photograph, or a prom dress and having it deconstructed at length by a so-called expert is a little like having your child deemed a failure on a report card. Of course it's fine to suggest that this technique or that colour of ribbon might be a great addition to a person's work, but no one is going to benefit from being told, all at once, every single thing that's wrong.

What seems saddest to me is that this kid may never post anything again out of embarrassment from this one incident. I've often thought the same about recipes that have been rudely reviewed. When that happens, no one benefits from what I think is the very best thing about the internet--the sharing of ideas. So, as opinionated as I am on many, many things (and I do thank you all for sticking with me even when I'm completely disagreeable), when I hit "comment" on websites showcasing other people's talent, I make sure to always ultimately leave the impression that I like what I see. When I was a kid, my Mum used to tell me that if I had nothing nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all.

Good advice, indeed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One of Those Days

Yesterday was the Captain's birthday. He's not usually home for these occasions, so I wanted to make this one, you know, a little special.

Since he just got home from a week away on Friday and proceeded to immediately mess up the house and encourage the children to do the same, I had a decision to make. Clean the house, or prepare an elaborate birthday meal complete with his choice of cake. Since it was his birthday, and he's happy to live in a pigsty, I went with the latter.

I waited until after lunch, when the kids would be playing quietly or watching TV. The one room that did need to be cleaned for this task was the kitchen, so I went about the business of loading the already pretty full dishwasher. At our house, if we want to run the dishwasher, we have to make sure the washing machine isn't going at the same time, so we don't overtax the well pump (or something), so off to the laundry room I went to make sure I hadn't put on a load and promptly forgotten all about it. I hadn't, but I figured while I was there I'd pull the dry stuff out of the dryer. When I did, about four broken wax crayons came out with the laundry. The Captain's recently-grubbied duffle bag, instead of being its usual vibrant red, was still red, but with various streaks of colour all over it. After a little investigation, it turned out I had dumped something of Firstborn's in there, not noticing that he'd put a handful of crayons in his pocket. So, before everything was set and forever ruined, I had to rush it all back into the washer with every detergent, color-safe bleach and general stain remover I could find, run it on hot, with a cold rinse, and cross my fingers.

But that wasn't all. The dryer was a disasterous mess, and that took even longer to fix. After several empty five-minute runs on the hottest setting, each followed by a vigorous wipe with an old cloth that I knew would have to be tossed afterwards, some toothbrush scrubbing in those tricky corners, and, despite my blog from just a few days back, a healthy dose of swearing ( I never said it wasn't a great stress reliever!), the dryer was as good as it was going to get, and I was ready to get back on track with the birthday dinner.

Now, because the washer was going to be on for the better part of an hour, I knew that the dishwasher wouldn't be running anytime soon, and whatever was left on the counter was going to have to be washed by hand, something I like to avoid like swine flu. This slowed me down by another ten or fifteen minutes, and by the time I was ready to prepare the cake, I was starting to feel the time crunch. But I still had a few hours, and if the cake went in right away, it'd be cool enough to be filled and iced by the time the Captain walked through the door.

I mixed and blended and greased and floured and got the cake into the oven. About now, it became clear that Rosemary's Baby needed a diaper change, so I whipped the wet one off and ran back to the laundry room for a clean one, to find that the washing machine, which is old and quirky, had shut itself off. Groaning, I pressed some buttons and got it going again, but before I was out of the room, Firstborn's scream of "Mommy! He's peeing on your bed!" sent me into yet another panic.

I raced to my room with the clean diaper in my hand, to find Rosemary's Baby sitting on a large wet stain on my bed, and Firstborn standing there looking at him, hands on hips like an exasperated old man. I pulled off the sheets that had just been washed the day before, and attempted to soak up the stinky wet mess he'd left on the mattress. While that pet odour stuff you can buy at Wal Mart is pretty good for these kinds of things, I think it's safe to say that when (or if) the little monkey ever decides to start going in the potty, we will be burning all the old furniture and replacing it. The only silver lining I could find in this incident was that he did it on the Captain's side.

So, by now, I was alarmingly behind schedule, and realized that if I wanted to prepare this meal without going mad, I was going to have to do some more dishes, and this slowed me down even further. Before long though, the cake was out of the oven and cooling, and I was slicing and marinating a steak for Ginger Beef (the Captain wanted Chinese and there is no such thing as takeout here in the back of beyond). Things were looking do-able. All I needed now was to leave the kitchen for two minutes to look up a recipe online. What could possibly go wrong?!

When I returned, recipe in hand, Rusty--the dog who is never full--was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor covered in crumbs and looking like she'd won the lottery. I was confused until I glanced over at the cooling rack. THE CAKE!!!

She'd eaten the lot, and I had no choice but to let out a horrified shriek, or risk spontaneously combusting right on the spot. When I composed myself (after several more swear words and a little more therapeutic shrieking), I hung my head and slogged back to the shelf for the baking book. You can't have a birthday party without a cake.

By the time the Captain got home, I think I probably looked like the Bride of Frankenstein. The kitchen was a mess, the laundry room was piled high with tomorrow's wash (because I had to get that dishwasher on at some point), the rest of the house was still a disaster and Rusty had a stomach ache. But in the end, the birthday boy got his special dinner and the cake made it to the table in time, so a happy birthday was (eventually) had by all. Thank goodness it only happens once a year.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Irrational Fear

The One Minute Writer has a timely prompt this morning: the irrational fear.

I have recurring nightmare, usually about Rosemary's Baby (because Firstborn is more cautious and calm than his brother). I leave him alone in the bath or swimming pool, and come back to find that he's slipped underneath. I feel a sudden sense of panic and run to pull him out, but when I get there I find him sitting underwater, playing and laughing, and I'm filled with relief. I think this dream is my brain telling me that he's fine and I don't need to worry so much about him (because I do spend an awful lot of time worrying). Last night, I had a different dream, one in which he had a terminal illness. The feeling of having zero control, the terror and the grief was overwhelming, and I was more than happy to wake up to find him grinning at me as he climbed onto my bed for some pre-6AM jumping fun.

I think I'm right when I say that becoming a parent is sort of a mixed blessing emotionally. You feel joy you never realized was possible, but it's tempered with an ongoing fear that never goes away. I have no reason to believe that either of my kids will ever get sick enough to die. Their chances of being in a car accident, or being snatched off the street by a sicko are no greater that anyone else's. But yet these are the things that keep me awake at night.

I've known a few people who have lost their children, and any time I've tried putting myself in their place, my brain has put up a barrier before I've had a chance to really get in there. It's too unbearable a thing to even think about. And every time there's a new headline about a soldier dying way too young, as much as I relate to that as a wife, my first thought is always to feel a little hope that he was predeceased by his parents, because as much as I might fear death, I think it'd be preferable to having to live through something like that.

So, that's my irrational fear these days. It has replaced all the pre-parenting fears of dying, or losing my job, or getting arrested. Though I did also recently have a dream that I was dragged away at the airport for drug smuggling, and just before I woke up, I had a panicked look back at my kids standing all by themselves with the bags. Goodness knows where the Captain was--probably on course or exercise, as usual!

But I'm trying to beat this fear down in my mind. I don't think I can destroy it--there's too much primitive biology going on for that--but I do know that for every minute I spend worrying, I lose a minute that could be spent enjoying my time with them. Sooner than I'd like, they'll be all grown up, out of my control and making decisions for themselves.

And that'll usher in a whole new era of irrational fear.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bleeeep!

Once again, Facebook forces us to look at life's great controversies!

A few days ago, a family member publicly commented on the use of profane language in other people's status updates, and it caused a fair amount of feedback from many directions, including mine. While I can't say I'm actually offended by profanity, I prefer not to use it, and seeing it pop up on my Facebook page does take me aback a little. It's probably safe to assume I'm a fuddy-duddy.

There are, of course, some arguments "for": half the world talks this way these days; we live in a free society where speech and expression are constitutionally protected; it's only a big deal if we make it one; we need to be more tolerant etc etc. And I don't disagree with any of this--though the free speech defense has been severely abused by good old boys and city rednecks alike in defending their rights to call their fellow citizens racist, sexist and homophobic names, so I'd personally never use this argument myself. But I do agree that use of language is a choice.

I just wish everyone would choose to put more thought into it.

I've rarely been bothered by someone throwing a naughty word into a conversation. As long as it isn't excessive, or repeated by my kids, it doesn't much phase me. It's seeing it in writing that throws me for a loop. It isn't potty mouth that bothers me. It's potty keyboard!

In university, I had a wonderful creative writing professor who told us that the real reason to write is to uphold the language, because it is being slowly corroded by the masses. I agreed with him, and took his advice to heart. The real reason logging in and reading "F#*! yeah! I'm drunk!" makes me cringe is because it reminds me that there's an easy way to write something provocative and a hard way, and all too often, like with everything else in our society, we take the easy way.

It's a lot harder to express anger or excitement using words that won't offend anyone (except maybe the person you're mad at!), but in the end I believe that those are the words that will stay with people. The passion that inspired those words will be what remains with the reader, not the choice of specific words. Obscenity is a fad, something that stands out for five minutes and is then tossed aside and forgotten. Real, thoughtful language is the classic that comes out again and again to make that true, lasting impression.

I know we're not all writers, and I'm not bothered enough by saucy updates to remove anyone from my friends list. If you like to spice up your language a little, I won't love you any less for it. I just wonder where the state of our language and literature will be a few decades from now, when our kids have grown up with it, when it's normal to them, and no longer packs the punch it does today. What kind of crazy new words will they have to make up to shock their friends? And how many of them will be able to recognize the short-lived, cheap thrill in throwing out an obscenity?

Will any of them want to take the road less travelled? I sure hope so.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The 'Peg, The 'Peg, It's a Helluva Town!

The Captain is off again, and this morning we all got into the car to drive him to the airport in Capital City. I only make it to the big city about twice a year on average, so the road trip two hours down the highway is something to look forward to. I optimistically see myself dropping him off and then blissfully shopping while my children follow along behind me, smiling and behaving themselves. This, of course, never actually happens, so I've learned to set the bar a little lower. Today's goal was to leave the airport, make one stop at the giant Superstore on the way back out of town and head home for a relaxing evening. Does that really sound like too much to ask?!

We hit the road at around 9:30 AM and argued a little over which radio station to listen to. The Captain prefers what I like to call "unnecessary noise" at an ungodly hour of the morning, and I like something a little more mellow, like 80's new wave, or disco from the 70's. We compromised with classic rock, and the trip was off to a merry start.

On these trips, I like to pack snacks for the kids, and coffee for us. Less than an hour into the drive, I realized too late that this coffee thing was a big mistake. The Captain, being of a military mindset, wanted to be on time for his flight (AKA two hours early). I didn't want to stress him out by requesting a bathroom break, so when it became clear that my bladder was moments away from exploding, I just shifted in my seat every three seconds in the hopes that I'd find a more comfortable position. By the time we were approaching Capital City I was gazing longingly at trees on the side of the road, wishing I could jump out of the car and pee behind them. Finally, to my immense relief, the Captain got the hint and pulled into a gas station, saving me from an embarrassing accident two hours from home.

After dropping him off and getting behind the wheel, I promptly realized that I was completely turned around and had no idea if I was driving north, or west or any other direction, real or invented. I have a fairly decent sense of direction (you know, for a girl) but I swear, I have never made a trip to Capital City and not gotten utterly lost at least once. In retrospect, I suppose buying a map might help.

Anyway, after finding myself at a deserted crematorium with a view of an overgrown field and the distant sound of planes taking off, I briefly considered making an expensive long-distance call to my father, who lived in Capital City some 30 years ago, for directions. Instead, I decided to head towards the city centre and try to find my way out from there. Meanwhile, Firstborn and Rosemary's Baby had been sitting in the back seat for close to three hours, and were starting to get a little antsy. I was, by this point, somewhat frazzled, so I irresponsibly offered them treats and toys if they just kept quiet back there for a few minutes longer. The end result of this was Firstborn taking a fancy to a game of Twister and me buying it for him.

When you're in an unfamiliar city, it's never a good idea to drive too fast in case you miss your turnoff or destination. In Capital City, you don't want to drive too fast because the place is crawling with people who like to take walks in their pyjamas. If you pick up too much speed, you miss the culture and ambience you won't learn about in the tourism brochures. So, I'm sure every car on the road was sick of being stuck behind me by the time I figured out where I was and turned into the parking lot of the Superstore.

This particular Superstore is like no other I have ever visited, and I've lived from one end of this country to the other. They have this bizarre underground parking garage with an entrance situated smack in the middle of the regular parking lot. And when you go inside, there's a strange, bus-station-like concrete walkway with a ramp leading down to the aforementioned underground lot. When you finally reach the grocery store's automatic doors, they're not marked. You have no idea if you're going in the "in" or "out" doors, so you just kind of wander in aimlessly. The layout of the place is, to put it mildly, bizarre.

But things got better when I hit the store pharmacy and proceeded to stock up on every over-the-counter painkiller you can imagine (a combination of weird weather, hormones and barking dogs sent me back to migraine territory this past week, for the first time in years.), and then I went about the business of grocery shopping for the next 40 minutes or so. The kids were great, and the one time they did start to get a little restless, a woman in a lab coat popped out from nowhere and handed us all ice cream samples. She was gone as soon as she'd appeared, but I'm pretty sure she had wings and a halo. Even going through the checkout was a treat. No long lineups, and the very nice lady in front of me in line gave me an extra bag she didn't end up needing. A pleasant experience all round!

But the pleasantness pretty much ended there. After loading back up, and having to make a second trip through the McD's drive-thru because they forgot to give the kids their happy meal toys (the kid in the window was not the sharpest tool in the shed), we were on our way home. Firstborn insisted on listening to the kids' station for most of the trip, until I finally couldn't take it anymore and switched back to mine. He is, apparently, picking up some of his father's more annoying habits.

When we finally made it home, I unloaded the groceries and proceeded to immediately break my half-assedly chilled club packs of ground beef, chicken breasts and sausages into smaller portions for the freezer. The beef, sausages and one pack of chicken were no problem. Then I opened the second pack of chicken. I am no wimp where smells are concerned. I've changed the diapers of two very stinky boys, one of whom still occasionally makes "art" with his poop. I've lived with dogs for years, and I live between two cattle farms. Smells are rarely an issue for me. But when I opened this chicken, the stench was like nothing I have ever experienced. I will save you the details, but after consulting google on the matter, I tossed it. I may be imagining it, but even after cleaning the counters with bleach, I can still smell it throughout the house.

But the day isn't over until it's over, and I'm determined to finish up on a high note. So, how do I salvage a day that included listening to music I didn't want to, nearly peeing myself, getting lost in a strange city, eating cold McD's while I drive, and almost giving my entire family a case of botulism?

Twister, anyone?!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Family Photo


Another through-the-window shot of the whole family. We were under the impression that there was a mother and two babies, but as you can see here, there are actually three babies. I snuck outside afterwards and got a few shots of the mother in the grass, but I just can't get close enough for a decent shot out there. This doesn't mean I'm giving up. At this point, I'm dreaming about foxes. I'll get my shot. I may die trying, but I'll get my shot!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

100!

For days, I have been crouching in the trees out front like Farley Mowat, waiting patiently to get a really good shot of a fox for my hundredth post. But darn it if they aren't the most difficult things to photograph! Every time I get a good photo op, they either see me and head for the trees, or they hear the dogs barking inside and run for cover. It's becoming an obsession of Clark Griswold-like proportions.
Here's the best shot I've gotten so far. As you may note from the backdrop, it's haying season here in Manitoba, there's a new hydro line going down in the field across the highway from us (note the big dirt piles), and the weeds on the driveway the Captain burned with his handy-dandy new yard gadget are swiftly being overtaken by newer, greener weeds.


When the foxes refused to cooperate this evening, I hung around trying to get a picture of one of the many pretty birds that grace our yard in the summer, but no matter how quiet and still I tried to be, I only succeeded in scaring them away too. I must admit, when my hair hasn't been brushed all day, I am a little scarecrow-like.
So in the end, I decided to take pictures of the only things I haven't managed to frighten off: the flowers. We had a thunderstorm or two today, but tonight the sun came out and everything looked dewy and fresh. I swear I haven't enhanced any of the colour or brightness in these shots. They just came out this way naturally.

Peony.


Day Lily.

Does anyone have any idea what these are?!

So, there you are. My great plan to get up close and personal with a (probably rabid) wild animal for my hundredth post didn't quite work out. But if I hadn't started blogging in the first place, it never would've occurred to me to try. Thus, blogging has expanded my horizons. Or possibly exposed me to parasites.

Tune in to the next hundred posts to find out which!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I Think This Is What The Jeopardy People Call "Hodge Podge"

I'm walking around right now looking like I took a sedative or three with a glass of wine. Last week, our latest book order arrived. Bookcloseouts.com had another of their great sales (they're fabulously discounted on a regular day, so when they have a sale, the Captain and I are pretty much clambering over each other to make sure we browse every single possible category for awesome finds), so I have about ten new books sitting by the side of my bed waiting to be devoured. I decided to start with the mother of all page-turners, The Other Boleyn Girl.
After already seeing the movie (which, incidentally, was very different from the book), I expected a trashy romance novel disguised as something a little more legitimate. And that's exactly what I got. But, good lord, I could not put this book down! I read all 661 pages in 3 days. While loading the dishwasher, making lunch, throwing in loads of laundry, I had one hand permanently on the book. After the kids were in bed, I spent all evening and most of the night, promising myself one more chapter and then I was going to get some sleep. But I could rarely stop at one more chapter, and after 3 nights with so little shut-eye, I'm feeling a little like it was my head on the chopping block.

Tonight, I start a new book, some true-crime that I hope will not be quite so compelling (and hopefully a little more historically accurate) and that will allow me to turn out the light by nine. How bad has the addiction gotten when I'm hoping the next book is worse than the previous one?!

***
In other news, things are starting to bloom out here in our little kingdom! Our peony bushes seem to thrive on neglect, and there are summer squash, tomatoes and peppers beginning to pop up in the vegetable patch. Yesterday, one of my wonderful neighbours brought over a big tub of lettuce, spinach and onions, so now I can't wait for our own stuff to be big enough to pick. My enthusiasm will soon turn to misery as I look around my kitchen and see a hundred pounds or more of tomatoes that need to be canned for winter, but for now, I'm at that point where every new thing that shows up out there brings me joy...

***
...except for this. Out back, we have a trampoline. It has a big enclosure/net thing so the kids can't fall off, which really puts my mind at ease, though they're never on the thing without my supervision anyway. But with the enclosure, I don't have to spend the whole time chasing Rosemary's Baby around the perimeter as he runs dangerously close to the edge, laughing gleefully as I shriek in horror. Today we went out there and a huge hole had been chewed in it. I kind of tied up the hole, and it'll do, but I'm starting to feel like the wildlife is plotting to overthrow us, Animal Farm-style. The foxes are getting bolder by the minute, trotting across the front lawn and hanging out on our driveway as and when they please. Last week, the Captain finally had to rearrange his garden hoses to run from the front yard, because something bigger than a mouse and smaller than a fox had been chewing the hose up in the back. Now something--maybe the same something--has chewed a hole in the trampoline enclosure. Firstborn has his own idea of where the hole came from, and since I just don't know enough about wild animals to form my own opinion, I'm buying into his theory. A crocodile did it.

***
And finally, today is the three month anniversary of Future Shop taking my broken laptop from me, sending it away to be fixed, not fixing it when I refused to pay them $650 to do so, and then losing track of it altogether. I'm going to have to go in there and bust some heads, which stresses me out. I hate having to be mean to customer service people. But I have some pictures of the kids and some music on it, and I need it back. Plus, broken or not, it's still my property and they have no right to lose it and then give me the runaround every time I call to inquire if they've found it yet. So, I'm putting on my mean face and going in there to demand what's rightfully mine.
Or, I could wait a couple of weeks and bring them some fresh produce from the garden to soften them up. Wimp.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

There's just something about America.

Aside from a few (major) issues with the health care system, the economy, and that business in Iraq, I'd say that America is one fine and dandy place to be.

When I was almost 11, we returned to North America from the UK, where I was born and partially raised. Our destination was Michigan, a state that looks like it wants to shake your hand, and at the time it felt like it too. People loved our crazy British accents, and asked adorably stupid questions about how hot it got in winter. People on TV tried to sell us watches that played songs by the Jackson Five (fifteen years too late) and the grocery stores were phenomenal--aisles and aisles of sugary, fatty, nutritionless treats. Do you remember what it's like to taste lemon Kool Aid, or a Hostess Fruit Pie for the first time? I do.

And then there were the restaurants. In England, my parents got Chinese or Indian take-out on the weekends after we were in bed, but I honestly cannot remember even setting foot inside a McDonald's the entire time we lived across the pond. When we moved to the States, it was a whole different story. My mom has never been mad for cooking (though, she always made a mean Duncan Hines spice cake!), and this worked in our favour when we moved to America. The fast food alone was an amazing discovery, and pizza was something we never had in Britain either, not to mention all those regional chains serving burgers and milkshakes. The Captain is heading to California on a course next week, and swears he will be finding an In-N-Out at his first opportunity. Jerk.

These days, when I make it south of the border, my main concern is shopping. There's nowhere like the United States for getting a deal. My best deals ever include a $9 brown suede coat I got at Dots, my $7 down vest from a Target clearance rack and my $7 black puffy down parka and $8 wool pea coat, both from the now-bankrupt Steve and Barry's. Wow. That's a lot of outerwear. Rest assured, under my coats, I am clothed in great American deals as well.

Reading this, my U.S.-based readers must think I see their homeland as a non-stop shopping-and-burger-eating experience. So let me also say this. When we visited Sister #1 in Philadelphia a few years back, we were absolutely blown away by the lushness and greenery in that city, not to mention the gorgeous scenery we got to look at on our way there. And America is as full of history as it is natural beauty. I still think combining the two by dynamite-sculpting heads into a mountain is a bit of a questionable enterprise, but I have to admit, I had fun looking at that on one of our big road trips as well. These days, if I had to pick a vacation destination, I'd rather take a historical walking tour in the U.S. than most anything else.

When I think of Americans, I think of the guy who saw our license plate in an Ohio parking lot and took time out of his day to animatedly inform us about a local golf tournament we should go see (we have zero interest in golf), or the lady whose house my parents had just bought who welcomed us in, served us coffee and donuts and chatted with us like we were old friends. Granted, if you go to the wrong side of certain towns, you might get car-jacked, and those cashiers at TJ Maxx kind of give you the impression you've interrupted their day by wanting to pay for your stuff. But all-in-all, it is my opinion that Americans are a darned friendly bunch.

So, my American friends, I wish you a happy 4th of July. Today, I celebrate with you, for the history, the hospitality and the scenery. But mostly for the burgers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Town Fair

I'm a winner! Again! Sort of!

This week, I took the plunge and entered a couple of my crafts at the town fair, which was held today. This is the first time I've done this, and it was a lot of fun. I will likely do it again next year.

First up is a knitting pattern I created out of my own head when my little nephew decided he was interested in all things military. He got the original creation, which had a removeable soldier with arms and legs for extra "play value". For my town fair entry, I tweaked it slightly and made just the top half of the soldier and stitched him in. I did this so that there wouldn't be any issues with him getting lost, and plus I had a deadline, so there was a bit of a time crunch involved. Anyway, this is what my entry ended up looking like:


As you may or may not be able to tell from the picture, my knitted LAV (I couldn't call it a tank because I continue to have trouble making tank treads that don't look weird with the button wheels, if you can make those out on the bottom) placed third in the Knitted Toy category. Sounds impressive, right?! What if I told you there were only THREE entries in total? Yes, it's true. Technically, I actually lost. But that's okay. My "toy" was certainly the least traditional of the three, and the other entries were very cute. And I still won two bucks!

My other entry was in the Jewellery category (incidentally, while we're on the subject, I am aware that I always spell that word the British way. I never learned to see "jewelry" as the right spelling. Just let me have my little quirks, will you?!). Again, there were only three entries, and again the other two entries were lovely. But this time I came SECOND! Here it is:


For those who care about this sort of thing, that clasp at the top is a piece of thick jewellery wire I shaped into a hook, and an odd hoop earring I forced into a ring shape. I love making necklaces, but don't often wear them, so this will dangle from a hanger until I have the rare occasion to wear it. Next year I may enter a pair of earrings if I can come up with something funky enough.

But the best win of the day wasn't mine. Firstborn's kindergarten teacher capped off the school year by entering several pieces of artwork for each of her students, and Firstborn, whose work was up against that of 15 or so others, took second place as well. Behold:


It turns out my child is a paper-plate craft prodigy! Imagine it! Five years from now, after I've secured myself the reputation of "Paper Plate Lady" at Costco and forced Firstborn to practise his skills for three hours every evening, we could be celebrities on the paper plate craft circuit! National paper plate craft competitions! An advertising deal with Dixie! Appearances on Oprah! We'll be stars! Well, until the embarrassing public meltdown, where he exposes me for having referred to Rosemary's Baby as "the one without talent" and compares me to Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. Shudder. Perhaps we'll just stick with the town fair.

I've never much liked competing--though the Captain will undoubtedly differ here, citing several Trivial Pursuit-related "incidents"--and in all honesty, it isn't about the winning. I walked through the exhibition hall looking at quilts and photos and jars of jam and Christmas ornaments and coffee cakes, and I came home inspired to try a few new things. Firstborn was enthralled with some junior exhibits made out of LEGO, and started building as soon as we got home. It's amazing to see what other people come up with, and this little bit of competition pushed people to do some great work.

In total, Firstborn and I won $6.50 in prize money, which I forgot to collect on my way out. But that's not the point. I'm thinking we should spend our cash on some craft supplies and get to work being creative. With any luck, we'll have some fun and come up with some cool ideas for next year.

Paper plate self-portrait with googly eyes, anyone?! I sense a first place win in the making.