Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Skip Breakfast And Have An Adventure

We're skipping breakfast again.  I know you were expecting Mr. Willoughby to dazzle you with his cooking skills, but he doesn't feel like cooking today.  He wants to go skydiving.

Yesterday, a friend sent us a link to an article about a new place to skydive in Michigan.  When I clicked on the link, I was surprised to see a familiar face. We'll get to that in a minute.

You may recall that Mr. W started skydiving by taking a tandem jump a few years ago.  With a tandem jump, having a great instructor makes the difference between a fun experience and an amazing experience and Mr. W had Josh Sheppard; one of the best.  Josh is experienced, enthusiastic and passionate about skydiving.  Mr. W had such an amazing experience that he decided to take the AFF course (to learn to jump solo) before they were back on the ground.  

So back to that article, the familiar face I saw was Josh.  He and his brother Abe have started a new skydiving business in Owosso, Michigan called Skydive Owosso.  Both Josh and Abe have impressive credentials and were part of the skydiving team that set the Guiness Book of World Records largest wingsuit formation flight. They are open to all jumpers and have some fantastic tandem packages.  They're lots of fun, too!


Josh Sheppard

Abe Sheppard

I asked Josh if he had a good story about being a tandem instructor that I could share with you and he did.  It cracked me up and I think you'll enjoy it too:

One day a girl came out to Midwest (Midwest Freefall Sport Parachute Club). She booked a tandem for her and her boyfriend. We were in the small plane, Randy's 182. When I told her to get up so we could start getting ready, she starts crying hysterically!! It was hilarious and heartbreaking. We got hooked up after a group hug with the pilot! Lol. I was telling her everything is going to be fine and going over the instructions. The entire time with her crying her eyes out!! We jump with her crying through Freefall! I open the parachute and as we pleasantly fly through a clear blue sky on a perfect Michigan summer day, she is still crying... Trying to comfort and coddle her is not working! She isn't having fun which is becoming frustrating for me. By 1500 feet I need to start setting up to land. The girl is still freaking out and I yell "Hey!! This is fun!! Shut up and have a good time!!" She stopped crying and smiled immediately!! I couldn't believe it. All I had to do was tell her to "Shut up and have fun!"

See what I mean?  Having a great instructor makes all the difference, even if you are nervous.  I already told Josh that I'm planning to visit Skydive Owosso for a tandem jump next season (The anniversary skydive that I told you Mr. W and I were going to do didn't happen. Our anniversary was just a month after my dad passed away and I wasn't ready).    

Our son's girlfriend on her tandem jump
with Josh
If you've been thinking of crossing skydiving off your bucket list, you need to come and see them.  Even if you don't live in Michigan, you should make the trip.  You won't regret it.  I promise.  In fact, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if you become addicted to skydiving like Mr. Willoughby.  And maybe me.

For more information about Skydive Owosso, visit their website or their Facebook page facebook.com/skydiveowosso.  We wish them great success with their new business and can't wait to visit!



Willoughby


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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brrrrrrr!

My regularly scheduled post has been postponed.  Mr. Willoughby was going to demonstrate how to make a breakfast favorite, but he was busy doing something else.

A friend nominated him to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and he accepted! Wanna see?


video



I'll be back soon with the breakfast post.



Willoughby


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gardening On A Budget DIY

This spring we made a commitment to work with supplies we had before buying anything new for our house and yard.  I also wanted to keep the budget for plants and flowers in check (I tend to get carried away at the local nursery), which meant I was going to have to get pretty creative.

I still went to the nursery and got a few flats of annuals, but I found some great free and inexpensive ways to fill in the empty spaces in the yard.  In no particular order, here are some of my favorites.

1. Transplant wild plants/flowers (with permission, of course).  This was easy for me because my mom's house is on a wooded lot and she told me to take anything I wanted.


I had no idea wild snapdragons existed until my sister in law and I found huge clumps of them growing in a flower bed in my mom's front yard.  I dug up a half dozen plants and they transplanted beautifully.




Years ago I had tried to transplant wild black raspberries without success, but this time I made sure to take plants that were growing in the shade so I could transplant them in a shady spot in our yard.  They've done very well.  There are no berries in the photo because it is done producing for the year.




I was going to try rooting a cutting from one of my mom's wild grape vines, but this small vine was easy to dig up.  It wilted and looked dead for a few weeks, but I kept it watered and now it's growing nicely.  I don't expect grapes for a few years.


2. Buy plants at the end of the season.  I stopped at the nursery mid-July to pick up a few more annuals.  I saw that they had all plants marked down for the end of the season, so I snatched up some tomatoes, peppers and herbs.  They may have gotten a later start, but they're producing like crazy.



3. Grow from seed, later in the season.  I haven't had a vegetable garden in years because I don't have a good sunny spot for one in the backyard, but after I bought the tomato and pepper plants, I needed one.   I decided to create one in the side yard, between the house and the driveway.  

Bush bean sprouting


I had some extra space around the other plants so I picked up some morning glories and some vegetable seeds that had been marked down for the end of the season.  I paid between ten and twenty five cents per packet.   You may think that July and August are a little late for planting seeds in the garden, but lots of gardeners plant a second or third planting of things like beans and peas when their first crop has stopped producing.  For such a small investment, it's worth a try if you've got the room.  Also, because we've had a fairly cool summer, I've been able to continue to grow lettuce.

4. Take advantage of plants that reproduce.  There are lots of plants that do this, but in our yard, Rose Of Sharon is the most successful.

White Rose Of Sharon


Pink Rose Of Sharon


Rose Of Sharon seed pods


Rose Of Sharon develops seed pods which break open.  The seeds sprout nearly everywhere they land and can be easily transplanted.  If you don't have Rose Of Sharon in your yard, but know someone who does, I'm fairly certain they would be willing to give you some seedlings or seed pods.  If not, email me and I would be happy to send you some.    

5. Root cuttings of plants you already have or ask friends/family if you can take cuttings from their plants. 

Hydrangea is a good candidate for root cutting propagation.


A little research will help you determine which plants can be propagated from cuttings (and whether you need root powder), but sometimes, you stumble on them accidentally.  When one of my bamboo plants needed a little support, I grabbed a piece of a Weeping Willow branch Mr. W had pruned from our tree.  I used a hammer and pounded it about 6 inches into the dirt and tied the bamboo plant to it.  A few weeks later, the willow branch started to sprout new leaves and, I suspect, roots.  I'm going to leave it in the flower bed until spring and then transplant it.

Self propagating willow branch



Coming up next on our DIY spree, Mr. W demonstrates a breakfast favorite.



Willoughby


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sweet Treat DIY - Chocolate Chip Cookies And A Rule Breaking Technique Or Two

I'm a little behind schedule.  I had a different sweet treat that I was going to post, but I don't have all the potentially necessary step by step photos to show you exactly how to make it.  The last time we made it, I got so into the process that I completely forgot about the camera.  Too bad, because it's a delicious recipe that you would most definitely want to make.  Your friends and family would have been so impressed that you made something this awesome that they would have lavished you with praise and, maybe, large gifts of cash.  It would have changed your life.  Really.

No worries, I'm still planning to share it with you.  Just not today.

Instead, I'm going to share my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I know you're probably thinking that there are a million chocolate chip cookie recipes, so this one can't be all that special or life changing.  But it is.  It comes from years of experimenting with different recipes, changing and tweaking ingredients, proportions and techniques.  I can't tell you how many cookies my family and I have had to eat to create this level of perfection.  I'm just that dedicated.  You're welcome.

A quick note before we begin.  I'm a rule breaker.  I also hate having extra bowls and utensils to clean up, so while most recipes will instruct you to sift (or stir) your dry ingredients together, I'm going to tell you to add the baking soda and salt to your butter/sugar mixture, instead of premixing it with your flour.  Pastry chefs everywhere are gasping at the thought, but it works and will save you a step as well as an extra bowl and make you feel all cool and dangerous.  Again, you're welcome.



Rule Breaker Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips (or dark chocolate if that's your thing)

Most recipes are going to tell you to preheat your oven at this point.  Don't do it.  To achieve the perfect texture, you really need to refrigerate the dough until it is thoroughly chilled.  More on that later.

Beat together softened butter and both sugars in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, vanilla, baking soda and salt and continue mixing until they are fully incorporated.  Gradually add flour.  Stir in chocolate chips.

The dough will become quite stiff after refrigerating it, so now is the time to divide it into portions.  I use a #30 scoop (1 1/4 oz.), but you can roll it into 1 1/2 inch balls or rounded spoonfuls if you don't have one.  Refrigerate the portions in an airtight container or zip top bag until they are thoroughly chilled.

When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.  Place chilled dough scoops on an ungreased baking sheet with a few inches between each scoop.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  They should still appear slightly underbaked, that's what you want.  Allow to cool briefly on baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack or serving plate.  Any cookies that aren't eaten immediately should be stored in an airtight container.  Leftover unbaked dough can be kept refrigerated for up to a week.

For a little variety, you can easily turn these into chocolate, chocolate chip cookies.  Just add an extra tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1/4 cup baking cocoa to the butter/sugar mixture, then proceed with the rest of the ingredients and baking instructions.


Coming up next on our DIY spree, it's either a surprise or I'm just saying that because I don't know what I'm going to post.  Come back and see for yourself!



Willoughby


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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The DIY Spree Continues, Making New Wood Look Old

Earlier this summer, Mr. W and I used some wood leftover from another project to make some planting boxes.  I didn't like the way the bare wood looked, so for the first box, I brushed on some light walnut stain.  It's not bad, but it's not the look I was hoping for.  I wanted something that had the appearance of age.  Like it had been sitting around a potting shed for the last 50 years.

This is my salad box stained with light walnut.  Those are little lettuce seedlings.  

I played around with some other colors of stain we had in the garage.  I made swatches on a piece of scrap wood, but none of them were giving me the aged look, so I searched the internet for some ideas.

Lots of websites had recipes for mixing different colors of stain to achieve an old, weathered look, but I didn't want to buy multiple cans of stain for just a few small projects.  The technique that appealed most to me was using vinegar.  It's super simple and you can make gallons of this stuff for just a few bucks.  There is no guarantee on what your final color will be because it's not really a stain, but a method of speed oxidizing the wood.  I could explain the science behind it, but do you really care?  Bottom line is that you can use this concoction to get a cool, aged look in just a few minutes, but the color will vary depending on what kind of wood you have.

To make this magical concoction, you'll need a container, distilled white vinegar and some steel wool.  You will also need a paint brush and gloves.  I can't stress this strongly enough, DO NOT skip the gloves!  Not because this mixture will burn your skin (it won't), but because it will stain your hands.  Badly.  You will look like you haven't washed your hands since elementary school.  Old clothes are probably a good idea, too, because it will also stain your clothes.

Okay, now pay attention because this gets pretty tricky.  Pour some vinegar (a few cups or so) into your container.  Pull the steel wool apart a little and add it to the vinegar.  Now let it sit overnight.  I've heard you can cover the container, but I didn't bother.  If you think someone in your family may mistake it for salad dressing or a beverage, you might want to.

Application is equally tricky; paint it onto the wood you want to age.  There is no right or wrong way to do this, but you do want to try to avoid drips because they will show once the wood is dry.

Five minutes after painting the stain on the center portion, you can see how much it has "aged".

Now stand back and watch the magic happen.  The wood will age right before your eyes.  It will get lighter as it dries, but it will still look really cool and agey.  Like it's been sitting around for 50 years.

My "50 year old" planting box.


I'd love to hear about your results if you try this.

Coming up next on our DIY spree, a sweet treat.





Willoughby


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vintage Flair DIY

We're going to kick off our DIY project spree with a simple project for your kitchen and/or bathroom.  We're going to make a mason jar soap (or lotion) dispenser.  You've probably seen these all over the internet.  They're pretty popular and there are a number of ways to make them.  If you don't want to do any work at all, you can buy the precut lid with the pump insert and just pop it into a mason jar. You can use a new jar or an old jar, either way you'll get a vintage look.

The method I used is pretty simple.  You will need a mason jar, an empty plastic soap bottle and a few basic tools.

Begin by unscrewing the pump and setting it aside.  Next, cut the top off the plastic soap bottle.  I chose to cut just below the "shoulders" of the bottle, but you could cut just below the threaded portion of the "neck" if you prefer.  A hack saw works well for this.  Just be careful and take your time.




Next, trace the opening of the bottle onto the seal of your mason jar.  Use a sharp nail and hammer to poke holes all the way around the circle you traced.  When you've made it all the way around, gently pop the center of the circle out and slip the threaded portion of the bottle through the hole.  If the hole is too small, you can punch more holes to enlarge it or very gently enlarge it with pliers.

I flipped the seal over, traced the circle and punched my holes on the underside.


Now screw the pump back onto the threads (if the neck is loose in the hole, you can use a bit of silicone adhesive or hot glue to secure it to the seal).  Fill the jar with soap, screw on the lid and it's ready to use.  Trim the pump tube so it just touches the bottom of the jar if it's too long.

I didn't want to alter the vintage lid and seal, but I wanted them to be white,
so I painted a new set.

I also had a few jars that I wanted to paint.  I tried brushing on some latex paint, but the look was too rustic for me.  No matter how careful I was, the paint was uneven and you could see the brush strokes.  If that's the look you're going for, that's fine.  Just be sure to apply a protective clear top coat when the paint is dry.

If, like me, you're looking for a smooth, less rustic finish, spray paint works well.  I especially like epoxy appliance spray paint.  If you use white, the result looks very much like milk glass.  Just be sure to take your time and apply the paint in sweeping strokes.  Multiple light coats will prevent drips and give you a smooth finish. Go light on painting the threads of the jar or you won't be able to screw the lid on!



You can lightly sand over the writing to remove a bit of the paint if you want the lettering to stand out.  I chose not to, but it's up to you.

BONUS PROJECT!

I liked the look of the white epoxy appliance paint on glass so much that I decided to try painting a clear glass dollar store votive holder.  It turned out great!  It gives a beautiful, soft glow when it's lit.



Coming up next on our DIY spree, a fast,easy, cheap way to give new wood an aged look.





Willoughby


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Monday, August 4, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy

Summer is so short.  You've got to make the most of it while it's here, and that's what I've been doing.  Mr. W and I have been keeping busy with all kinds of projects which doesn't leave me much time for blogging.  I started wondering, would anyone else be interested in the projects we've been working on?

I'm going to take a chance and assume they would.  So for a while, I'll be posting some simple (and some not so simple), inexpensive DIY projects.  I'll post photos and info so you can do them, too, if you'd like.

Tomorrow, we'll kick things off with some upcycled vintage flair.  See you then!








Willoughby


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Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's Summer, Let's Talk About Your Backyard

It may not technically be summer just yet, but after the severe winter we had, it's been summer to me ever since the temperature started to stay consistently above thirty degrees.  Now that we've got that straight, let's talk about your backyard.

People always tell me how lucky I am that we have a hot tub and a pool.  I suppose it's true that a little luck was involved, but it certainly doesn't have anything to do with money.  It's no secret that we got both our pool and hot tub from people who didn't want them.  We found them under the "free" listings on craigslist.



It's the hot tub that I really want to talk about, today, because I have a little secret for you if you should decide that you would like one in your yard.  Unless you're buying a new one and having it delivered and set up, you're going to need a strategy for getting it out of it's current location and into your yard and that's where the secret comes into play.

If you find a hot tub on craigslist that is calling your name, you're probably thinking that you need a big truck or trailer and half a dozen big, strong people to help you move it.  The truck/trailer thing, that's true, but you don't need a large group of friends to help.  You can do it with one or two friends and the help of six (or more if you've got them) pieces of six foot long PVC pipe.  At one time, we had multiple hot tubs (long story) and Mr. W used this method to move one from our yard to our neighbors yard by himself.  It's a long, bumpy, grass covered distance and he did it in less than 15 minutes.

Start by lifting the edge of the hot tub just enough to push one piece of PVC pipe underneath with your foot.  Push it back as far as you can, about a foot or so, then set the hot tub down on it.  Repeat with each of the remaining pipes, pulling the hot tub toward you each time to distribute the pipes approximately a foot or so apart.  You will now have "rollers" to move the hot tub to your truck/trailer.  Every few feet you push it, you will need to pick up pipes and move them in front to continue.  Try to keep two or three pipes under the hot tub at all times and you will be able to follow your path fairly effortlessly.  You will need one or two strong people to help you lift it (or tip it, if possible) into your truck or trailer.  When you get home, reverse the process.



One more thing I'd like to add.  We don't find it to be a lot of work to keep our hot tub clean, but you do need to use a test kit (or strips, if you prefer) to monitor the chemical levels of your hot tub.  Some people use bromine, but we prefer liquid chlorine for sanitation.  Not only because we use it for our pool, but it works much faster than bromine tablets.  A skimmer works well to get out bits of grass and other debris, but for anything that sinks to the bottom (dirt, sand) a suction type water shooter (from the dollar store) is useful and fun!


Willoughby


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Do You Do It?

Do it yourself, that is!

In this house, we're all about DIY projects.  There is an immense sense of satisfaction for us in taking something and turning it into something else.  Or starting from scratch and ending up with something you've visualized.

A few years ago, we found this door at our local Habitat for Humanity store.  It was dirty and beat up, but it had its original hardware (love, love, love original hardware) and it was the perfect size for our office.  



We had two pieces of leaded glass that were given to us by one of Mr. W's friends, and we wanted to use one in this door.  We had a little retrofitting and some painting to do, but  here's what that door looks like now:


As you can see in the picture, our office is a pretty narrow room.  There was no way we were going to be able to use pre made furniture and get a good fit, so the window seat and the bookcases were also DIY projects.



For the bookcases, we purchased unfinished wall cabinets (base cabinets would have been too deep) and mounted them on a base to lift them up high enough to use the same baseboard trim we used in the rest of the room.  We built the shelves separately and then installed them on top of the cabinets.  After that, we primed and painted and then added trim and hardware.  They give us a lot of storage for such a small room.

The window seat doubles as a guest bed.  Underneath the cushion, we installed the top of the frame from a cot (the kind you would take camping).  It acts like a box spring would in a bed.  There is more "give" to the cushion/mattress than there would be if it were sitting on a solid piece of wood.  It's very comfortable.  We ordered the foam and had it cut to our specs at a local shop.  I made the slip cover.   The niches underneath have storage bins.



Most of the decorating in the room is DIY, too.  The art on the back wall, above, is a collection of artwork my kids have done over the years, as well as some photos my son and I have taken.  Most of the frames are from the thrift store.  They were all different colors.  I spray painted them all black.

The desk is more a matter of repurposing.  It's an antique sideboard that belonged to my grandma.  I've thought about refinishing it, but I kind of like the flaws it has.  The pictures on the desk, all but the heart shaped frame, are thrift store frames spray painted black.  The doorknob?  We found it laying around somewhere in the house when we moved here.  I just like it.



On the wall next to the door, I have a really special piece of DIY artwork.  It was given to me by a fellow blogger, Joanna at The Fifty Factor.  She's from the real town of Willoughby and picked up this poster for me (along with some other goodies) at a festival.  I matted and framed it in, you guessed it, a spray painted frame from the thrift store.



I didn't want to display my collection of paperbacks in the bookcases, so those are in an old suitcase (I heart old suitcases) on top of the armoire in our bedroom.



There are quite a few more painted frames around the house with family pictures and photographs Mr. W. and I have taken.






Painting frames and accessories black is a simple way to create a cohesive look.  I found a pair of bookends (um, yeah, thrift store, again) that were shiny gold.  I loved the shape and the weight, but the gold wasn't my taste.  I sprayed them with black spray paint, but intentionally left a little gold peeking through.



You would think I had gone through dozens of cans of spray paint, but I only used three or four to paint everything I've shown, plus a half dozen more things that I haven't shown.  I really like the kind that is primer and paint in one.

When I can't spray paint something, I can screenprint it.  This was a leftover piece of deck board.  I white washed it and then Mr. W. and I screenprinted it.



We've done lots of projects around here and I have ideas for lots more.  How about you?  Do you do it yourself?



Willoughby


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Less Thinking Yet More Productive And Oddly More Punctual

We haven't had a home phone for almost ten years.  That's not entirely true, we do have a phone line that plugs into our cable modem (I think that's how it works, you'd have to ask Mr. W), but we don't use it.  I couldn't even tell you the phone number without looking it up.  The only reason that we have it is because we got a better package deal from our cable provider if the phone was included.  It would cost more to get rid of it than to keep it.  How much sense does that make?  In any case, it's not even plugged in.  You can still leave a message for us because the voice mail system works regardless of whether the phone is plugged in.  We don't check the messages, though, because anyone we would actually want to talk to would call our cell phones.   The only calls we get on that line are from telemarketers and political candidates.  Small wonder we never bother listening to the messages, right?

For a long time, we had flip style cell phones.  I loved my bright red Razor.  You couldn't do anything but make and accept calls on it (we didn't have texting in our plan back then), but it was cute.  I had a Breaking Benjamin tune as my ringtone.  We were happy with those phones until they became dinosaurs that dropped calls because Sprint didn't support them anymore.

Next up, we got sliding phones with the text and data plan.  The guy at the store told us they were a great, affordable step toward smart phones because you could access the internet with them.  We thought that would be a handy benefit.  Ha!  We got lost on a bike ride one day and tried to pull up Google maps.  After nearly twenty minutes of "thinking", the information finally loaded, but you couldn't enlarge the screen and I didn't have a magnifying glass in my saddlebag so the whole internet thing was worthless.  The camera worked pretty well, though, so I was able to take a picture of our surroundings and send it to the search party.

About six months ago, we finally caved and got smart phones.  As soon as I figured out how to turn it on and do a little bit of navigating, I heard the sound of angels singing.  Where had this tiny wonder been all my life?  I could go on and on about all the fun gadgets (I used the built in flashlight when we lost power last month), or gush about being able to wax poetic in my texts with no character limit.  I could also tell you how much I love reading ebooks or watching Netflix while I'm sitting in the school parking lot waiting for my daughter or tell you how invaluable this phone has been for managing our shop and staying in touch with our customers when we're out and about.  But the thing I love most is Siri.

Siri is the automated navigation app you can access by voice.  She is my best friend, my personal assistant, my secretary and my alarm clock.  She organizes my notes, finds information on the internet and reminds me when I need to do things.  It's like having an external brain, so much so that I've been considering not using my real brain at all anymore.

Truth is, I still have to think because I have to tell Siri what information I want her to find or what tasks/appointments/deadlines I need to be reminded of.  The down side is that now I have no excuse for being late.  I also can't say "I forgot" when it comes to important things like getting out of bed in the morning or cooking dinner.

Gotta go!  Siri just reminded me I have something to do....






Willoughby


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Monday, April 28, 2014

Sundog

On March 15th, a little after 10:00 pm, my dad passed away.  He had been receiving home hospice care and they had told us he was beginning the process of "winding down" several weeks before, but still, I wasn't prepared.

He had been struggling with a number of health issues for a long time.  Over the past year he had undergone bypass surgery and two amputations and had been bouncing back and forth between the hospital and a rehabilitation center.  When they finally sent him home and recommended hospice care, we knew our time left with him was short.

We were told to expect ups and downs; a roller coaster ride.  Really, though, he had more good days than bad.  He was confused at times and would say things that we didn't understand or would call out for me when I was sitting right next to him.  Occasionally, he would ask about their dog.  "Maggie has been gone for 15 years, Dad."  "I know," he said "I'm talking about the dog that looks like Maggie that comes in and sleeps on the floor.  I don't know her name so I just call her Maggie."  There was no dog but I didn't see any point in telling him.

The whole family spent as much time with him as we could.  We did our best to keep him comfortable and happy.  He couldn't go places and do things, but we could bring him his favorite foods.  The nurses told us we didn't have to worry about keeping him on his diabetic diet, anymore, and that he could eat whatever he wanted so that become much of our focus.  If he wanted pizza, he got pizza.  If he wanted McDonalds, someone would go pick it up.  If he had asked for lobster, we'd have driven to Maine.

We also watched a lot of movies.  He had always loved bad, old movies.  The worse they were, the more he seemed to like them.  We'd pick apart the plot or laugh at the clothes the actors were wearing.  Like food, it was one of the few pleasures he had left.  Sometimes, though, I found it upsetting when the channel would go to a commercial break.  They would promote an upcoming movie, something that was scheduled to air a week or a month away.  I couldn't get it out of my head that my dad would probably be gone by then.

The last good day I spent with him was the Thursday before he died.  He was in a really great mood and seemed to feel good.  My sister in law and I watched movies with him all afternoon and brought him whatever he wanted to eat.  We talked and laughed a lot.  It was such a good day.

It may have been foolish to feel hopeful, we all knew he wasn't going to get better, but we started to believe we had a little more time.  Since everyone was planning to visit on Saturday, I came up with the idea to have a cookout.  There was still snow on the ground and the weather was more winter than spring, but I thought it would be fun for everyone.  I especially thought my dad would enjoy it.

On Friday, my oldest brother said he was going to bring lunch and spend the day visiting, so the rest of us took a day off.  Mr. W and I went shopping to pick up hamburgers and hot dogs.  We exchanged phone calls and texts with the rest of the family discussing what everyone was going to bring to the cookout.  We were all in a party mood.

Saturday, since Mr. W had to work, I prepped the food so we could leave as soon as he got home.  Late in the afternoon, though, my sister in law called and said my dad wasn't doing well.  They had put in a call to the nurse and I should come right away.

He had fallen asleep after breakfast and my mom hadn't been able to wake him up.  We tried squeezing his hand and talking loudly to him, but he didn't respond.  Even on oxygen, his breathing was labored and his color was draining.  The nurse confirmed what we already knew, it wasn't likely he would make it through the night.

We took turns sitting with him, each of us having time alone to say our goodbyes.  I don't know what anyone else said, but I didn't say goodbye.  Not because I thought it would change anything, but because it wasn't what I felt like I needed to do.  I just sat and talked to him the way I would have if he were awake.  A few hours later, we were all at his bedside when he quietly passed.

Mr. W and I stepped outside shortly after.  It was a cold night, but the sky was clear and there was a gorgeous ring, like a circular rainbow, around the moon.  It was unlike anything I have ever seen.  I have no doubt that it was a sign from my dad telling us that he was at peace.

I've since found out that the ring was a sundog.  I didn't know you could see them at night, but I've always loved spotting them because they appear so rarely.  A few days after my dad died, I was driving home after shopping with my mom and I was thinking of him.  It had been cloudy all day, but just then the sky brightened up and a sundog appeared.  I pulled over and took a picture with my phone.  Every sundog I see is not a sign from my dad, I know that, and yet I find an odd sort of comfort in seeing one.



Although I'll never stop missing him.




Willoughby


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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stocking Up On Chocolate Bunnies and Bandages

Easter is coming.  It's about a month and a half away, so it's a little too soon to worry about what I'm going to make for Easter dinner.  Still, I'm a little scared because I've managed to hurt myself in the kitchen on every holiday since last Easter.

Along with the ham, I had decided to make scalloped potatoes.  I was using the mandolin (with the guard) to slice the potatoes, but I was rushing to get it done.  The guard slipped and I ran my middle finger across the blade.  For a split second, I wasn't sure I had cut myself because it didn't hurt.  But then it started bleeding, and I mean BLEEDING, and it hurt like crazy.  I had cut all the way to the bone.  I could actually see it.  Really.  I grabbed a gob of paper towel and put as much pressure on it as I could.  Then I put a bandage on it (which wasn't easy, I was home alone at the time and more than a little woozy after seeing bone), slipped on a disposable glove and finished cooking dinner.  Amazing as it sounds, I only have a slight scar.

On Thanksgiving, I was basting the turkey when I bumped the edge of the oven rack with my arm.  This time it hurt immediately.  I ran the burn under cold water, which probably stopped it from getting any worse, but it still left a nice scar on my arm.

Christmas was probably the strangest injury of all because, while it happened in the kitchen, it was not cooking related.  We were all sitting around the kitchen island after dinner.  My son got up to get something, so I stood up to give him more room to get past me.  He accidentally bumped me and I fell against the stool I had been sitting on.  It came down on my foot, hard.  In trying to lift it off my foot, I lost my balance and fell against it, driving it down harder. The pain was pretty intense and I truly thought I had amputated my toe with the leg of the stool. I asked Mr. W if there was blood on my sock (I had closed my eyes because I was in so much pain).  When he said there was, I was terrified to look.  Eventually, I got up the courage to take off my sock.  Luckily, my toe was still attached.  Crushed, but attached.

So that brings us back to this coming Easter.  Maybe I should just make reservations?


Willoughby


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Cabin Fever

Being indoors all the time is starting to drive me crazy.  Today is sunny and the sky is clear blue, but I can't get out and enjoy it because it's wicked cold outside.  The wind chill bottomed out somewhere around -16 degrees this afternoon.  It snowed for a short time, but instead of coming straight down, the wind whipped it into a horizontal blizzard.

All day long I've felt overdue for a nap.  Sure, there are things I could do to keep myself busy.  I've got a few loads of laundry waiting for me and those tax returns aren't going to do themselves, but I don't have the energy or the focus to deal with either one of them.

Yesterday, we got an advertising circular from a local home improvement store.  The front page was filled with paving blocks, landscaping timbers, planters and hose reels.  Everything about it screamed spring.  It made me feel hopeful and sad at the same time.  Hopeful that spring is coming, sad that we still have five feet of snow in the front yard and nearly as much in the back.

I was working on a custom order for our shop the other day and I needed to find a particular picture to create a mock up.  Going through my files, I got sidetracked looking at pictures I took last spring and summer.  Flowers we grew, day trips we took, our pool and hot tub, summer sunsets.  All the things I've been missing so much during this long, long, long winter.






If spring flowers, road trips, an open pool and summer sunsets don't get here soon, I'll lose my mind!

All work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl, all work and no play makes Willoughby a dull girl.....



Willoughby


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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rotten Tomatoes!

Tomatoes are a total mystery to me.  I buy them, I grow them, I eat them, but I can't say that I understand them.

First of all, why is it so hard to get a good tasting tomato in the middle of winter in Michigan?  I know some tomatoes are imported from warmer places and some are grown in green houses.  Unless they're labeled, I usually can't tell the difference.  Neither one has much flavor and they're usually mushy.

Next, I just don't understand what to do with them.  Whether it's February and I'm getting the flavorless ones from the produce department, or the middle of July and I'm harvesting fresh tomatoes from my garden, I've always followed the conventional wisdom that you should not refrigerate an uncut tomato.  So I don't.  I leave them sitting on the counter.  This poses two problems.  Number one, I like tomatoes to be cold (I don't care that someone, somewhere says they're more flavorful at room temp.).  Number two, they go bad rapidly.  RAPIDLY!

My mom recently gave me some extra grape tomatoes she didn't want.  She had kept them in the refrigerator, so I refrigerated them when I brought them home.  The next day I took them out to put them in a salad.  Here is what they looked like:



On the flip side, I picked up a nice looking hot house tomato from the supermarket a day or so later.  I left it on the counter overnight.  The next day it looked like this:




So which is it, refrigerate or not?  I just don't know.  I guess the best choice is to buy them and eat them the same day or wait until summer and pick them fresh moments before I need them.  Or stop eating tomatoes.


Willoughby


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Winter White - A Photo Essay

The color of the year appears to be winter white.  The snow in our front yard is approximately five feet deep.

Taken at eye level.



Looking toward our neighbor's house.











What is the weather like where you are?   *Warning, shameless plug!*  If you need to keep warm, stop by our shop for some blizzard swag!



Willoughby


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