Friday, August 26, 2011

Grams Made A Book Wreath

Grams and Grandad have lived in the same house since 1984. We moved here just before our oldest child started kindergarten. We weighed our options which were Catholic school or a new house and chose the new house.

We chose the plans for this house out of a book at the architect's office. There are a lot of things that I would change if I could.

First and foremost, I let Grandad choose the kitchen style he wanted, because he was the chief cook in those days. Now that I'm the cook, I hate detest his galley kitchen. It's too small and there is not enough cabinet space.

Our master bathroom is roughly the size of a postage stamp. We bump into each other anytime we're both trying to get ready at the same time. And the door opens into the tiny room, which means, if you're standing at the sink and someone opens the door, you get hit in the butt. As soon as our last child left home, I moved my stuff into their bathroom on the other side of the house. It's bigger and I don't have to share it with Grandad.

We don't have a separate dining room. Our living room, dining room, and kitchen are basically one room with the kitchen separated from the living room by one wall. The dining space is too small for our growing family.

Our kid's rooms are very small. Well really, all our rooms are small except for our great room. The great room is 20' x 20' which has proven to be just perfect. But, now that our kids have kids, the whole house seems tiny when everyone comes home.

For the past 25+ years, I have tried to find something to hang in the space above our entertainment center. I tried several things over the years and nothing looked good there. I've hung photos, paintings, textiles, shelves, and various other things there, but nothing ever suited me. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I started seeing some Pottery Barn inspired wreaths that were made out of the pages of old books. I saw several different styles on numerous crafty blogs and decided that I wanted to make one of my own. I chose this one from Lee La La because she had an easy-to-follow tutorial.

This wreath cost me absolutely nothing. I used an old paperback book that we got from my husband's grandparents' house. We saved it merely because it was old and looked aged. The print was actually in Czech, which was kind of interesting. It was some kind of Catholic almanac, but had no value other than sentimental.

Cardboard, pencil, scissors, glue gun, hatbox lid (for tracing a circle) ribbon for hanging, and book (I only used the smaller one on the right).

Close-up of the finished product.
Here's how it looks above the entertainment center. I love it!
I was so pleased with how the wreath came out. Katy liked it too and I had enough supplies left from the one book to make a second wreath, so she has one hanging in her dining room. It looks great there too.

I'm not going to re-write the instructions from Lindsay's tutorial. Go over to Lee La La and use her's. They're perfect!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Class of 2015

This week, Grams has been enjoying lots of Facebook posts of kids on the first day of school. Those are always some of my favorite photos. They remind me of my daughter's first day of school back in 1984. We had done all the recommended things to make sure the day went well. We had taken her to the school to meet her teacher and principal. She toured the school and talked about how it would be to move from day care to school. We reviewed the procedure for being picked up after school. In short, we thought everything would be fine. We were ready. She was not!

On the first day of school we paused at our front door and snapped a picture, which her brother insisted on joining her in. As usual, we were running late. We arrived on campus and I walked her to the classroom only to be re-directed to the cafeteria. The one thing they didn't tell us when we toured the school was that all students gather in the cafeteria every morning and are then dismissed to their classrooms when the teacher comes to pick them up.

That morning, that cafeteria was crowded and extremely noisy, not at all a place my quiet and somewhat timid daughter found appealing. Even to me, it seemed like controlled chaos. As soon as she heard the noise, she latched on to me and would not let go. And ... she started crying. I stayed with her until the teacher arrived to move them to the classroom, thinking it would help. And, I will point out here that I was not the only mom who stayed. The teacher tried to take her hand and soothe her. She was having none of it. The more I tried to separate, the tighter she held on and the louder she screamed. By the time I finally tore myself away, the teacher was physically restraining her by holding her around the chest as she clutched at the air screaming "Mommie, mommie, mommie!" Needless to say I cried all the way to work that day. This same scene was repeated daily for almost two weeks, until I finally felt comfortable just dropping her off with the staff at the front of the school.

For years afterward, other Moms would come up to me and comment about how difficult that day was. Someone actually came up to me at her graduation and said, "I remember your daughter on the first day of school." I just smiled and nodded. Little did I know that a few months later I would be the one who wanted to latch on and cry when I left her in her first college apartment.

This time of year also brings one of my other favorite things, Beloit College's Mindset List. They compile this list every year to help their faculty understand and relate to the incoming class of freshmen. Here are a few facts from the Mindset List for the Class of 2015.
  1. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could have been their parents.
  2. They have no memory of George Herbert Walker Bush being president.
  3. To "swipe" doesn't mean to shoplift, it's something you do with a credit card.
  4. "Don't touch that dial" has no meaning for them, but they know "Yadda, yadda, yadda."
  5. They may think that LBJ stands for LeBron James.
  6. There has never been an official communist party in Russia.
  7. Arnold Palmer is a drink, not a golfer.
  8. As infants, they were put to bed on their backs, not their tummies.
  9. Sears has never sold anything out of a big catalog.
  10. They grew up wanting to be like Shaq or Kobe and they probably don't know who Michael Jordan is.
  11. When they were 3, their parents probably stood in a very long line to buy them a Tickle Me Elmo.
  12. There have always been altar girls in the Catholic church.
The entire list is 75 items long. These are just a few that stand out for me. I think it's fascinating to watch the progression of each year's class as the world evolves and pop culture changes. I also like to think about how different the world will be for my Grands. I wrote about that here.

And, since the beginning of school always makes me think it should be autumn, I thought I would share our local forecast with you. I copied it from KRIS-TV.  As you can see, we're going from merely hot to "scorching." I'm sure wishing this long, hot summer would be over.

I just keep telling myself that next winter when y'all are all covered in snow and ice, we'll be enjoying 70 and 80 degree weather. It's a trade off.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Updates on Grandad, the Grand-Girls, and Etsy

It's Sunday afternoon. Grandad is playing "Words With Friends" on his new HTC Evo Shift phone while relaxing in his recliner. We both made the switch to smart phones this summer and we're both addicted to "Words With Friends." If you play, hit me up for a game. My name is "v2valenta."  I've just finished watching The American President on television. It's one of my all-time favorite movies. I've seen it many times and I still love it.

Grandad is finishing up his last week of wearing a 30-day heart monitor to verify that he is no longer going into atrial fibrillation. He is still experiencing symptoms several times a week which include tightness in his chest, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and extreme fatigue. However, several months ago when he last wore a monitor, he did not go into a-fib a single time during that 30 day period, in spite of experiencing those same symptoms. The electrophysiologist believes that these symptoms may be caused by another problem that has not yet been detected. So, on September 13, Grandad will have a nuclear stress test to see if they can find anything else.

The granddaughters are growing like crazy. Her Highness is big enough for her baby doorway jumper and she loves it. She started day care this week for the first time when her dad went back to teaching high school English after a summer of taking care of the girls. She did not seem to take right to day care and had a rough few days. You may remember that I told you she wants to be held all the time. This is still the case, and the day care ladies said she cried a large part of the day. But by the end of the week she was doing better and seemed to be adjusting.

Our Little Princess is also getting big really fast. She's big enough now to enjoy arts and crafts. She loves going to day care and spending time with all the other kids. She made the necklace that she's wearing here.

I've been busy sewing. I have an entry in the WholePort Creativity Expo. Voting is a two-step process. First you have to "like" WholePort on Facebook. Then you have to look at the entries and vote for mine by clicking "like" on the picture. Here's what my entry looks like. I would really appreciate your vote. The ten winners will each get a $50 certificate for craft supplies from WholePort. Voting is open through the end of the month.

I also made this kimono-style dress for Our Little Princess. I'm very proud of it. I think it's one of the best I've done so far.

I took two outfits for each of the girls when I visited them a couple of weeks ago. But, since I didn't take photos of the other two, I'll have to show them to you another day. I've asked Katy to send me photos of both of them.

And I have some fairly big news to share with you. For several years now, friends and family have been encouraging me to sell my homemade items. So I've been thinking about it for a while now and I've decided to take the plunge. I'm going to open an Etsy shop. I'm working on getting some stock made and I'm hoping to open it around Labor Day. I wasn't really planning to announce it yet, but Katy told all our Facebook friends yesterday, so I thought I would let my readers know today. I'll be starting out with dresses and clothing for little girls and the summer-weight cotton baby blankets that I've been making for years. I'm hoping to eventually add some items for little boys. You are also likely to see a variety of other crafty items like wreaths and such from time to time. Basically, whatever I feel like making. 

School starts tomorrow, so I'll be back to my substitute teaching gig, probably by the end of the week. The best part of substitute teaching is that I'll have lots of down time. I will be the first to admit that it's been a long summer with no income from me. It's still a few years until I'll be old enough to start drawing on my retirement. If I can get a little income from sewing and crafting, which I love to do, maybe next summer will go a little easier. 

Watch this space for an official announcement about the opening of my Etsy shop. It won't be more than a couple of weeks.

It's still unbearably hot and dry here in South Texas. We don't really expect a change in the weather until around the first of October. We've got a very busy autumn coming up with family reunions on both sides of the family, the family golf tournament and our annual Valenta wive's day out. I'll keep you informed. I hope you've had a great summer and that your fall is cool and colorful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grams Camp

Last week,  Grandad and Grams enjoyed a 4-day visit from Our Little Princess. She's been to stay with us before, but that has usually been for the convenience of her parents, usually because they needed babysitting services. This was a purely recreational visit which I hope will lead up to an annual week-long "Grams Camp." What I envision is that one week every summer, all of our grandchildren will visit and spend a week just doing fun things with Grams and Pop-Pop.

We were in San Antonio for Grams' reunion with old friends, so it was convenient to bring her back home when we came home on Sunday. Honestly, since she's 2-1/2 years old now, I expected some separation anxiety and some crying for her mama, especially at bedtime. I was pleasantly surprised that there was none of that. We kept up her routine of taking her bath, drinking her milk, reading a story, and going to bed and had very few problems getting her to bed. The last night she was here we did have a bit of a problem. She Skyped with her mom and dad just before bedtime and then she cried for them and didn't want to go to bed, but after I rocked her for a while she finally settled down.

Grandad was working in the daytime, so she and I mostly just played at home. We're still dealing with a terrible drought here in South Texas and it's way too hot to let her play outside. By Monday afternoon we were ready to get out of the house and I had to water my plants. I took her out in the front yard with me and when I unrolled the water hose, she wanted to play in the water. So like the white trash neighbors that everyone loves, I just stripped her down to her panties and handed her the hose. You're only two years old once.

On Tuesday Grandad took the day off and we all spent the day at the Texas State Aquarium which is located on Corpus Christi Beach. It's been years since we went there and I must say, it's so much more fun with a little one. Plus they've added a water play area that just opened this year. Needless to say, she loved that. Her favorite part was definitely the water park, followed closely by the Nemo tank. As always, I love the jellyfish tanks. For such nasty little stinging creatures, they sure are beautiful.

Just before we finally took her to the splash park, we took a trip to dolphin bay. It's beautiful and a fun place to take pictures. This is my favorite from the entire day.

She had so much fun at the Splash Park. She absolutely loved it. I walked around with her trying to stay dry since I didn't have my swimsuit. Needless to say, some of the big kids thought it was fun to get me wet.

She had so much fun at the aquarium. This is what she looked like as soon as we got in the car. Seriously, we were not even out of the parking lot yet. You may notice that we also acquired one sparkly pink stuffed sea turtle.

Wednesday, we stayed home except for a short trip to HEB. Then by Thursday afternoon, we were a little bit stir crazy and had to get out of the house. With the temperatures in the upper 90s, it was too hot to go to the park and I can't stand McDonalds. So the two of us went to the mall. We road the train, which at $5 per person for a very short ride is too expensive. Then we went to the play area and finished up with a cookie. La Palmera Mall has a very nice play area for children 5 years old and under. That makes it pretty safe with no big kids running around. And, I must say, she played really well with other kids.

We thoroughly enjoyed having Our Little Princess come for a visit. I'm hoping to make it a summer tradition to have all the grandchildren for a week every summer. Time will tell whether we have them all together or a few at a time.
"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." – Alex Haley

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Grams was one of those students who always dreaded the first day of school because every year the teacher had us write that essay "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." The problem was, we never took a summer vacation. While my friends went to Disneyland, Disney World, New York City, etc., we always went to the exact same place. Every June, as soon as school was out dad took his two week vacation we drove eight hours to North East Texas to visit my grandparents.

My grandparents lived about 30 minutes apart. So during the two weeks were were there we spent plenty of time at both places. Granny, my paternal grandmother, lived way off the beaten path in a tiny house nestled in the piney woods. My maternal grandparents lived near Lake Texarkana (it's now called Lake Wright Patman) where my Grandaddy ran a bait shop.

Those summer visits were so routine for us, that I didn't realize then what wonderful getaway vacations they actually were. There was lots of time for us to just do nothing, which I now know is what my parents loved about it. There was also lots of time to visit with the myriad of aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived nearby. Daddy usually went fishing at least once, which I know he loved.

This summer, we used our vacation budget to go to my niece Andrea's wedding in North Carolina. I've already written about the wedding here.  But as long as we were in North Carolina, it was a must to take a side trip over to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate.

I've seen the Biltmore Estate on television for years and wanted to visit the house that's described as America's largest house. When they call it that, they're not kidding. I knew it was big, but really I had no idea how humongous it is. Seriously, it's bigger than most hotels. Think about it ... 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. There's a swimming pool, bowling alley, and gymnasium in the basement. In addition, the basement also has servant's quarters, kitchens, pantries, walk-in refrigerators, guest quarters, changing rooms, and even unused rooms.

Sadly, I have no beautiful photographs of the interior of the home to share with you, because photography is not allowed. Only a small portion of the home is open to visitors. The family has not lived there since the late 1950's so much of the home has fallen into disrepair and is not safe for tourists. But let me just tell you that it's HUGE. Even the parts that are open to tourists are unbelievably large. I knew the Vanderbilt family was wealthy, but until I saw the Biltmore Estate, I had no concept of how wealthy they were. It was so big that I got tired of walking through it long before we finished the tour. Their website has a short video that shows some of the rooms that are open to the public. I was very interested the displays they had that show how they are recreating the fabrics and wallpapers that were original to the house. They are beautiful and I wish I had photos to show you, but here are some exterior photos that will give you some idea of its grandeur.

After touring the house, we moved on to the gardens where I was able to take pictures. The gardens are spectacular. They were my favorite part of the visit. The house is surrounded by a huge grassy lawn, but the rest of the estate is all gardens and forests. We were very interested to hear that, when the house was built, the entire property was clear cut and all the trees were planted. The forest is beautiful and was amazing to this coastal plains girl. The knowledge that the estate was planned right down to the trees in the surrounding forest really made me understand what an undertaking the Biltmore Estate was and how much attention to detail there was.

I've never seen such beautiful gardens. These photos are from the "walled garden." The prevailing scent when we were there was lavender which I love. I could have just sat in the garden and smelled the lavender forever.

We also enjoyed the rose garden which was also in beautiful bloom. As you can see, some of the rose bushes where as tall as me.

If you have the opportunity to visit Biltmore you should definitely go. But be prepared to walk a lot. Lots of stair climbing is also required. There is an elevator available inside the house, but it's very small and you'll have to wait in line for it. Even the gardens are up and down flights of stairs (not just a few steps). We were all exhausted from the stairs and the walking. 

So, unlike the vacations that my parents took us on, this vacation was in no way relaxing. It took about a week for my knees to stop hurting from the stairs. But Biltmore House really is something to see. I had no idea what the term "gilded age" really meant until I saw this house.

On the day after the wedding, we arrived in Greenville a couple of hours early for our return flight. We decided that we should venture into Greenville and find something good to eat to finish off our trip to the deep south. We searched for nearby restaurants using our navigation system. We knew that Carolina barbecue has a reputation for being different from Texas barbecue so we chose a barbecue place that was highly rated on the navigation system.

The Tom-Tom directed us to Smokin' Stokes. It's such a small place that we drove right past it and had to turn around and go back and look for it. It was kind of funny that once we got there, they offered "Texas beef." The barbecue was excellent. I tried their Cheerwine Barbecue Sauce which was really good. Apparantly Cheerwine is a burgundy red soft drink that's made in North Carolina. The one thing we found consistently everywhere we ate in North or South Carolina is that you have to order your iced tea unsweetened or you automatically get Carolina Sweet Tea. The owners greeted us, took our orders, and served our barbecue. These guys learned to barbecue on the contest circuit. It was delicious. If you're ever in Greenville, SC find this place and eat some Carolina style barbecue. It was the perfect way to end our trip.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reconnecting With The Friends Of My Youth

Grams graduated from Corpus Christi's W. B. Ray High School in 1972. That means, next year my high school graduating class will hold its 40 year reunion. Now, I love the idea of a reunion. The thought of getting together with old friends and rehashing the way things used to be reminiscing appeals to me. But the reality of such a reunion just didn't work out for me. I've only been to one of my high school reunions. That was in 1982 when we gathered for our 10 year reunion. The class of '72 at Ray HS was huge -- several hundred students. I had few friends who were actually in my class. The few kids from school that I ran with were a year older than me, so they were not at the reunion that I attended. Very few of my friends were there.

The reunion committee did a great job planning activities for the entire weekend. The class met at a local barbecue place for dinner on Friday night, there was a family picnic at noon on Saturday, and then a dinner and dance on Saturday night. In 1982, Grandad and I had two small children and not much money. We spent what was at the time a significant amount of money to attend. About halfway through the weekend, I realized that I had wasted that money. These were not my friends. These were not the people I wanted to see again and I was not having a good time. I turned to my husband and said something like "I didn't even like these people in high school. What am I doing here?" Needless to say, we've never been back to another reunion.

When I realized that my 40 year reunion would be next year, I started thinking about it and realized that there is actually a group of people that I would like to see again. I was privileged to belong to a church youth group that was very active and very close. There was a core group of about 50 kids with another 25-50 who came and went over the years. These were the kids that I ran with.

I remember feeling like all most teenagers feel with the kids at school. You know the feelings -- not good enough, not smart enough, not wealthy enough, not pretty enough, and so on. But, with this large group of teenagers at church, I don't ever remember feeling that way. For the most part, we were all accepting of each other. We went to summer camp together, we hung out in the youth room at church several times a week, we dated each other, we took summer mission trips together, and generally we spent a lot of time together. I don't ever remember anyone being alienated, bullied, or treated badly. Everyone was welcomed with open arms.

Don't get me wrong, we were kids.We did the same things all kids do ... we rolled houses, we drove too fast, we went parking, we got into mischief, but the important thing is we liked each other and we were open and accepting to new kids in the group. Now, 40 years later, I realize how rare and wonderful that group was and how fortunate I was to belong to such a group.

This youth group was part of Morgan Avenue Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, which no longer exists. But thanks to Facebook, several of us have gotten back in touch. We started kicking around the idea of a reunion for the MABC Youth Group of the 1960s and 1970s. We spent a few months tracking down as many of our old friends as we could. Then last Saturday, we met in San Antonio for a 3 hour reunion. We ate, we talked, we reminisced, we took pictures and we even sang. It was a blessing. We were also delighted to be joined by Scotty & Thelda Jefferies who were two of our adult leaders. They are the couple seated on the front row.

We're making plans to get together again next year, possibly in Corpus Christi. In the meantime, we'll be working on tracking down a few more of the people from that youth group. Next year we're going to include the entire church membership in our reunion.

If you are a former member of Morgan Avenue Baptist Church, there is an alumni group on Facebook that you should join. The name of the group is Morgan Avenue Baptist Church alums. Nancy Kay Rodman Smith is the group moderator. Nancy also maintains an email distribution list for former members of MABC that is separate from Facebook. If you would like to be included on that list email Nancy at nkrsmith(at)gmail(dot)com.

I can truly say that the years I spent as part of the youth group at Morgan Avenue Baptist Church were wonderful. Every child should have friends like that and adults who care and set such a good example. These people helped make me the person I am today. I am so happy to once again be in touch with these old friends.

Morgan Avenue Baptist Church may no longer exist as a place or a building, but it is alive and well in the friends of my youth.