16 weeks

I honestly wasn't planning on documenting very much of this pregnancy, but this week I've been thinking about how much I don't know about my mother's and grandmother's pregnancies, and what if my kid wants to know what I was feeling? And while what I'm feeling isn't always flattering to the kid, and I can't whitewash it, it still might be a good idea to check in once in a while. And nobody reads this anyway, so it's mostly between me and the kid.

Time elapsed: 16 weeks, 4 days, according to my Ovia app. Depending on who you ask, fetus is the size of a dill pickle, avocado, action figure, or Philippine tarsier.

Sex: Dunno yet. We find out on 10/8, assuming the baby cooperates. We're doing the anatomy scan at the perinatal unit, aka. High Risk City, so it should in theory be pretty detailed. 

Feeling: Better than I expected, in some ways. The whole first trimester, I had almost no Crohn's symptoms, which was pretty damned fantastic, but they're starting to return a bit now, which is disappointing. I don't even get nine months off to make up for the misery that's sure to come? What I did manage to avoid was any and all nausea, minus one evening after far too much delicious ramen bar dinner. Yes, I realize how lucky I am on that front. Sleeping on my side sucks, and is painful, and I've given up on sleeping through the night, and my sciatica is a constant presence. but as I tell people, I've been bloated, achy, and exhausted for 18 years - there's nothing different about now.  

I also may or may not have felt kiddo move last night. I can't tell.

Cravings and Aversions: Give me all the fruits, please. The other night Mr. PW made me a smoothie and I'm pretty sure I might have died of happiness. Frosted Flakes are also my jam. This doesn't bode well for the glucose test. On the other hand, get spicy things the f away from me. 

I miss cocktails! Summer is cocktail sipping season and mocktails are no substitute. I have been having a sample sip of Mr. PW's beers here and there. I'm skeptical of the AVOID EVERYTHING stance. Our grandmothers smoked and drank and ate lunchmeat and underdone steaks all through their pregnancies and miraculously everything turned out fine. Although we did get the Baby Boomers out of that...

Fears and Worries: I have to admit I'm disappointed in the experience so far. I know that's pretty verboten for expectant mothers to say. There's a lot that I'm already having to give up - like it's been pretty much decided that I'm having a scheduled c-section, thanks to the internal scarring and damage I have from past surgeries. And after the birth, I'll most likely be put on a cocktail of medications to try to prevent a massive Crohn's flare. While I understand the long-term need for it, I'm disappointed that even the possibility of a normal birth and recovery is going to be taken away from me. There's so little to excite me about this already, and the tiny things I had to look forward to are being taken from me too. On the other hand, I'm more used to major abdominal surgery than other women, so maybe it'll be less of a big deal?

And, vainly, the scars cris-crossing my belly are preventing a cute little round belly. The one time in my life that I'm allowed to be all rotund and cute, and I just look fat and lumpy.

Is there anything fun about this at all?: There have been fun things. Anticipation of anything is fun. Gathering little baby clothes has been hella fun. Seeing how excited the grandparents are and our friends are has been so fun. And I can't pretend like putting together our registry and deciding on a nursery scheme hasn't been very fun too. And yo, I'm wearing jeans with no waistband right now. Someone tell me why I wouldn't wear maternity pants for the rest of my natural life?

What else is going on in our life: Mr. PW have apparently decided to Buy All The Things before our income is eaten up by day care, so we've gotten a new recliner, a new kitchen table (Room and Board scratch and dent for the win) and we're looking for a new camera and new bedside stands. We also need new phones, a new desktop computer, a new front door, a new light fixture for the hall, repair work on a wall in the kitchen, a new door leading to the garage, shelving over the washer and dryer, and about 800 other little things that will probably not happen for years.

Mr. PW's sister is throwing us a shower, which is very sweet, but I only agreed to it because it will also be a sip n' see for Mr. PW's brother's new baby, and is going to take place roughly ten days before Sister PW's own due date. Yep, for a time, I, Sister PW, and Sis in Law PW were all concurrently pregnant. Insert Catholic jokes here. I haaaaaate showers, but I don't think I can get out of this one. I think it's mostly for MR. PW's aunt, who is unreasonably excited that he's going to be a father, and has already dubbed herself Grauntie. I'm hoping there will be enough happening to take a lot of the attention away from me.

Around all of this is the start of a new school year, which means 18 hour work days and total chaos for the both of us.

Could you maybe not complain for a little while?   I know, I'm sorry. I hate when other people complain non-stop. I'm aware of the luck I have in my life - Mr. PW and I both have stable, supportive jobs, and I'm not on my feet all day for mine. We'll be able to survive on just his income while I'm off recovering. Our families are supportive and excited. I'm not bedridden or puking every ten minutes or swollen beyond recognition. Mr. PW is over the moon for our impending astronaut. This will be good.

Bonus photo:

Me at 12 months. Was I cute or WHAT?

Me at 12 months. Was I cute or WHAT?


Late Summer in Wisconsin is....

Eating Black Krim tomatoes from the garden, drowned in balsamic vinegar.

Wrapping up summer orientation activities, looking forward to the first week in September when the Baby Badgers are here for real. Getting ready to greet my new grad students, and all the attendant challenges that come with that.

Cramming in just one more visit from friends, one more weekend to go see family.

Catching a late-season Twins game in honor of my late father in law. Catching my first glimpse of Miguel Sano' in action.

Accepting delivery (from my brother) of my childhood piano (that's been hanging out at my grandfather's house for years). Not yet having said piano tuned. Experiencing waves of nostalgia sorting through all the sheet music in the bench.

Our lower level looks straight out of 1965.

Hauling home as much free (local, organic) sweet corn from my boss as I can fit on the bus seat next to me. Spending evenings blanching and freezing said corn for enjoyment in December.

Losing our minds over spotting a hummingbird in the backyard. Losing our minds again when we realize the goldfinch pair we've seen for the past three years is back.

Beginning the task of sorting through all the equipment and clothing and tasks that go with a new baby, because I'm expecting our first in February.

Hand me downs are the best, yo.

Spending more time resting than I have available to spend, because growing a human is hard.

Wandering across the perfect new kitchen table for our growing family. Not being able to agree on chairs to go with it.

Wearing a coat to work in late August, because WTF, Wisconsin.

Bracing ourselves for the influx of students, and the end of quiet Madison summers.

Northern Spark

Mr. PW and I went to Minneapolis this weekend to celebrate a cousin graduating from high school and since it was our 8 year engageaversary we decided to make a nice weekend of it. We grabbed a room Saturday night in the Hotel Ivy, which was much swankier than we expected it to be. Mr. PW took me for dessert and drinks at a restaurant he used to sous chef at, and we went for brunch at Victor's 1959 Cafe in the morning, with visits to Kitchen Window and Magers & Quinn before we got on the road to home. 

Mr. PW. plotzes over a cortadito.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely, but there was a serious discussion that evolved over the weekend. You may or may not be aware that the political climate's been a bit tense here in Madison; well, it really has been for years, but lately it's gotten pretty bad for us higher-education folks. So Mr. PW and I have been discussing contingency plans - where we would go if we were forced to leave. Neither of us want to go back to our hometowns, and we'd both want to continue working in higher ed; the U of M and Minneapolis would be a serious contender. I even found a bungalow on Zillow that'd be perfect. 

I mean COME ON.

But in the end we'd both be devastated if we had the leave Madison. We have such close friends here, a few who are of advancing age, that we'd grieve over; we're so settled into the town and our life here that it feels like the place we want to be forever. And starting over somewhere would be too hard.

So cross your fingers for us that cooler heads prevail and we don't have to Make It Work.

Thursday, 7:45 am

Lately I've been having dreams of terrible things: fighting a demon uprising in the Nevada desert; all of my gardens and my food turning to slick, rotting messes in my hands; losing loved ones in crowds and panicking. 

I couldn't tell you why. I don't really believe that dreams represent things; more like they're random messes that the brain has to expel in order to rest. I don't think there's actually going to be a rebellion from Hell in the Las Vegas area.

Maybe it's because I'm surrounded by so much beauty right now, that my subconscious won't accept it for what it is; maybe somewhere in my head I'm sure that there's supposed to be sorrow and tragedy in my life to balance it all out, so it's giving me nightmares.

There's stresses and troubles in my life right now, as I'm sure there are in yours. I wish I could take care of everyone around me, and fix their problems. And I can't.

But it's that most ephemeral of paradises, peony season. I was walking past Allen Centennial Gardens early yesterday morning and made myself a few minutes late to work by stopping to take pictures of almost every one.

I hope you have time to find beauty this weekend, readers.


Our yard space is entering the loveliest of times; summer. Never mind that it's honking cold out. We've been getting dip after dip in the overnights - sometimes as low as 38. We covered the already-planted peas and beans the first time, and then shrugged and waited to see what would happen. As it turns out, nothing. 

The Sugar Anns are producing beautifully; we've already crunched through a handful of pea pods. The Green Arrows are right on their heels. It's so fun to try two versions of a plant and see how their growing and producing patterns differ.

Someone finally identified this as camassia for me. It's in the asparagus family!

The alliums, irises, and camassia are all blooming; we also have jack in the pulpits, bachelor's buttons, phlox, and chives showing up. The peonies and poppies will burst forth in another couple of weeks, too. It's a lovely time of year, only surpassed by the sea of lilies we'll have in about 6 weeks.

There are still so many plants in our yard that I frankly have no clue about; little fluffy things here or there, plants that don't bloom but have unusual foliage; plants that the out of control violets are threatening to smother.

On another note, just a pic before it goes out to my still-baking niece or nephew:

I finished a very simple quilt a few weeks ago but haven't gotten it out the door yet, despite the fact that it was made infinitely faster by using precuts. Is that cheating? I'm not sure I care. I've got at least three more on deck that I'm not sure I'll get to before the growing season is over.

I always have more ambition than time or energy.


Black Bart and Brady

I just got the most darling phone call! Yes, I work where I can categorize business calls as darling. Now darling doesn't look like a word. Darling darling darling darling darling.

ANYWAY. Sweet lady, perhaps retirement age, on the hunt for a source for barley straw for her two donkeys that will be arriving in May. She was so excited that she wanted to share everything with me - how she met them, what their names are, the nutritional needs of donkeys, some kind of foot illness they get when they have too much sugar, how smart and inquisitive they are - "people just underestimate them!" - how people use them for sheep guardians - I got to hear it all! But I'm not even mad, because she was obviously in love with her new babies and SO EXCITE. How can my day be bad after that?

You gotta admit, that's a pretty charming face.

Five Feedings a Day

Last night Momma PW Facetimed us to show us the baby squirrels she was fostering for a few days through her volunteer position at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center. She had them in a towel-covered box, and pulled one out to show us:

Now tell me that's not adorable. Except for the disturbingly human-looking ears. Cannot unsee now, can you?

We're not terrible fans of adult squirrels in our house (because we're gardeners) but any baby is cute, and an animal in need deserves care, period. And come on, look at that widdle facy-face. The babies are only a couple of weeks old - the eyes aren't open, they have no fur, and of course they're drinking milk. Momma PW gives them milk in syringes every couple of hours, and after a couple of days they go back to the center where the staff can take care of them. The eventual goal is a full release into the wild, so it's important that staff cares for them as they get older so they don't imprint on humans.

Momma PW loves volunteering at the center! It's so much fun to get a phone call from her after a long day cleaning cages and feeding raccoons.  Sometimes she even gets to interact with rare animals like great horned owls or red foxes. It's really a second career for her, and I think if she didn't have so much family to care for she'd be there more often.

A Nail I can Hang The Day On

I don't normally get coffee in the morning. Our mornings are too compressed, too hectic to fit in the boiling of water, the steeping of grounds, and the packing away of a thermos in my bag. Mr. PW brews coffee in his office but I share my space with two other ladies, so I've refrained thus far, keeping coffee as a weekend indulgence, best appreciated in pajamas, perhaps with a cat or two tucked around me.

Today I happened to pack some cold coffee with me, as a treat, poured into a mason jar with a more than healthy jigger of half and half and a luxurious drip of simple syrup. And I couldn't help but notice that the mid-morning yawns and the after-lunch heavy eyes never appeared. I had a sense of purpose all day, knocking more items off my to-do list today than I have all week. I always thought I was relatively immune to caffeine. I've always been able to get to sleep after a late-night soda relatively easily, but I'm wondering if impending old age* and recent cutbacks in soda consumption have given me a new sensitivity.

And it kinda sucks, and I kind of hate it, because I shouldn't need to resort to stimulants to be competent, or make it through the day without bobbing for apples at my desk. How do you do it? Anyone have any tips for me?  I can't shake the feeling that no one is as constantly tired as I am; that no one struggles to complete basic life functions like I do, that I'm falling father and farther behind everyone I know.

Coffee by McKay Savage

*I'll be 33 in a couple of weeks, guys. That's super old.

It'll be Spring on Friday.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh. 


-Philip Larkin

Permission to Delete

Raise your hand if you're glad the holidays are over. Yeah, me too.

I say every year "Oh! I don't really make resolutions!" and then I kinda do. And then promptly forget about them by February. But lately I decided on something that might work out:

Premise: We have many objects and much stuff in our lives, in our space, and taking up our time. With each object present, we have to ask ourselves: is it important in my life? If it is, I must treat it with importance. If not, get rid of it.

Proposal: I give myself Permission to Delete. My brain panics and shuts down when it's confronted with too much stuff. My house is filled with too much stuff. my pantry is filled with too much stuff. My closet is filled with too much stuff. My phone is filled with too much stuff. My file cabinet is filled with too much stuff. Time to be a little ruthless, and when that little voice squeaks "But what if...?", to bleeping ignore it.

- No Scrolling, Skimming, or Skipping aka I'm Pretty Sure Anna Kendrick Doesn't Care If I Unfollow Her on Instagram. Part of the reason I'm always glued to my phone is because I'm on everything. I'm the social media director at work, which means I'm tuned in to Twitter etc. five days a week for that, too.  But I'm scrolling past half of my subscriptions! If it isn't relevant or I don't care, then I don't need it. Unfollow, Unfriend, Unsubscribe. If I miss it in three months I can add it back.

- No Hoarding, aka That Chumbawumba album Is Probably on Spotify. I remember when I was little, my yiayia would carry around a big purse and into that purse would go little stashes of everything she could grab - paper napkins and ketchup packets from McDonalds, great handfuls of mints from restaurants, little tubes of perfume samples, rubber bands and pens from the bank - anything she could grab and use instead of buying her own. I thought it was weird and frankly, a little embarrassing, until my mother told me that Yiayia was a Depression baby. I remember turning that over in my mind, thinking about what it must have meant to her to once have had so little and now have so much plenty all around her, and how she never could break the habit of just in case. I realized I'd picked it up from her when I discovered hair products that didn't work, nail polish I hated, CDs I never listen to, paper napkins in the junk drawer, years' worth of magazines, rubber bands in the bottom of my work bag, coupons for things we don't buy, canned foods long since expired - stuff all over, and in the past few years when times have been tight I've indulged the need to save, just in case. Lately something's just snapped, like a knotted muscle finally releasing, and I'm looking at things with a more critical eye. Maybe it's visiting friends' gorgeous homes and realizing that my home has no chance of being that way without some major work. Maybe it's the fact that our money woes are easing a bit. Maybe it's because I'll be 33 in April and I just don't have the energy for this nonsense anymore. Whatever - there's a pile in the guest room closet that's going to the charity shop Saturday morning. 

- Treat the things that matter, like they matter. My friends matter. Time to be a little less passive with my friendships. My home matters. Time to get the old stuff updated and make it into a welcoming environment. Mr. PW matters. Time to renew thinking about how my behavior and choices effect him. My time matters. Time to start treating it like the non-renewable resource it is.

Well, now it's out there. I'm probably going to go back on it, then go back to it, then go back on it. I'll start with the cat hair behind the bookshelves, and go from there.


Change of Address

(Note: Wrote this in October but for some reason I haven't been able to bring myself to post it. Maybe it's gotten easier with passing time. I still cry when I see him.)

Last weekend Mr. PW and I, being in Illinois for another event, went to go visit my Papou in his new nursing home. It was unavoidable that he go; he'd had a serious fall in July that left him in the hospital for a while and continuing health issues necessitate supervision. He'd managed to make it to his mid-eighties living alone, quite an accomplishment.


He was happy and talkative, really settled in to his new home. He told us stories about how nice the place was, how good the food was and all the stuff there was to do and how nicely the staff cared for him.


My Papou's lived an incredible life. A native Cuban that left in the mid-fifties to avoid getting sucked into the revolution (the Castros were family friends and to be educated and known by name was suddenly very, very dangerous). A doctor that reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. A second husband to a strong, intelligent (and more than occasionally batshit) Greek woman with a gaggle of daughters who have doted on him and cared for him to this day. The only grandfather I've ever known. The smell of expensive cigars and $10 slipped into my hand every time I saw him. Watching us splash in the waves in Sand Key. Red snapper and fried plantains. A solid, quiet guy that in all my memory has never raised his voice to me.

Someone who's supposed to be there forever.

I've certainly encountered death before. My Yiayia and both fathers-in-law, all gone within five years of each other. I know it comes for all of us. And Papou certainly isn't dying yet.

But suddenly knowing that he is in his last home and that his family is now all Visitors - that's been a shock. I haven't been able to go see him without crying in the car on the way home.

And then we go back to Wisconsin and go back to work and do laundry and shop for groceries, and the fact that we're not bringing him with us hurts, despite the knowledge that we're utterly unprepared and unable to care for him.

I don't know. How do you write about the grief process when you're in the middle of it? And make no mistake, it's grieving. It's grief for the slow loss of vitality, for the loss of a long future taken for granted. It's grief for the knowledge that I will go through this, again and again, with everyone I care for, everyone that means anything to me. The knowledge that I will go through it myself, and if I'm lucky, someone will be there to cry over me.


What's the internet version of a doppelganger?

I get emails that aren't addressed to me. Well, they are, but not me me. They're sent to a woman whose name was my maiden name and for some reason is incapable of giving people her correct address.

I have my Joannamaidenname@gmail and Joanna.maidenname@gmail accounts forwarded to my current email so I don't have to keep signing in and out and occasionally I'll receive a daycare newsletter or emailed receipt or missive from a relative addressed to someone who is most definitely not me. At first I would reply to each email, asking them to contact their Joanna and get the correct address, but I've started just deleting them (except for the sweet note from her grandma; I replied to that one. Grandma deserves to know).

So far I've learned a few things. My namesharer lives in Australia. She has family in London. He grandmother's a sweet lady who seems to like growing roses. She has at least one child. She pays property taxes online. And she seems to be a bit of an idiot if she can't remember her own email address.


And yes, I would totally go in and just close the accounts down. If I remembered the passwords.


Image found here

Perhaps (Vera Brittain, 1919)

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

Blood and Water

 My Mother's Kitchen

I will inherit my mother’s kitchen,
her glasses, some tall and lean others short and fat
her plates, an ugly collection from various sets,
cups bought in a rush on different occasions
rusty pots she doesn’t throw away.
“Don’t buy anything just yet”, she says,
“soon all of this will be yours”.

My mother is planning another escape
for the first time home is her destination,
the rebuilt house which she will furnish.
At 69 she is excited about starting from scratch.
It is her ninth time.

She never talks about her lost furniture
when she kept leaving her homes behind.
She never feels regret for things
only her vine in the front garden
which spread over the trellis on the porch.
She used to sing for the grapes to ripen,
sew cotton bags to protect them from the bees.
I will never inherit my mother’s trees.

Choman Hardi

My mother and brother recently got their DNA analyzed to find out what their heritage was. My mother's was no surprise - 100% Greek - but my brother and I have always wondered if my dad is as Irish as he thinks he is. The results that came back for my brother were confusing and fascinating - 50% Greek, 19% Scandinavian, 10% Western European, 8% Western Asia, 5% Middle Eastern, and 3% Caucasian (from the Caucus region). 

Obviously that 50% Greek is from my mom's side, and I suspect that 10% is the Irish Dad claims, but Scandinavian? We never knew. Mr. PW immediately scoffed and remarked "Vikings, of course." And I suppose that makes sense. But where do the Western Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern come in? I'm having a hard time with the math. It makes more sense that those parts of me would be intermingled with the Greek half out of sheer proximity, but Mom can only be 50% of me. I'll never know how my ancestors moved across Europe, intermingling (or raping), spreading genes and blood and heritage until I emerged in 1982, a red-faced baby with a shock of black hair, the product of a marriage not meant to last, destined to have a single sibling that I don't always understand but always love, sharing this hazy history.

I remember when my brother was younger, he went through a time insisting that he didn't care about his heritage, and that he was just "American". Now that he's a decade older, he's changed his mind. I suppose aging does that - gives you the ability to see the long view and get a better sense of all that goes into the creation of each of us. You also start to realize that in fact, you're not special and unique in a grand, change the world way, but you are special in a more humble way, and you start to think about the legacy you want to leave.

As Mr. PW and I get older and start to think about having a family, I think about sending kids that are only 25% Greek to Greek school, taking kids that are only 25% Greek to a Greek church. Sometimes it seems like there's no point, and sometimes it seems like that's all the more reason to cling to the heritage, despite the fact that I'm a Greek school dropout, can't speak more than a few words, and my first pastitsio was a disaster of epic proportions. Should I bother forcing a culture on my kids that they might only vaguely identify with? 

Who knows how accurate all this testing is in the end. Maybe it's what we choose to be, in the best American tradition of recreating oneself. And maybe we can't escape who we are.  

April, go home. You are drunk.

It's April, and our seeds are started.  Oh, not outside, where as I type the temp is 38 degrees and we're supposedly getting freezing rain and we're still a month away from the last frost date, but downstairs under lights. 

Madison is a town enthusiastic about greenery of all kinds *cough cough*.  We were easily able to find the equipment we needed at a shop called Brew & Grow. 

My hibiscus in the foreground is reminding me that I need to get it some fertilizer so it can start waking up for the season. 

Yes, those are totally red solo cups.  This is how we party in this house.  They're actually really effective, because they don't dry out as quickly as the regular seed cups.  We baby our seedlings, misting them generously twice a day until they sprout and grow sturdy and can handle being watered the normal way. 

We switched to Seed Savers Exchange this year and got a tremendous germination rate.  I think I've only tossed two dead seeds, and we had four or five sprouts per cup this year where we had one or two last year.  I've had to scramble to transplant seedlings into their own cups before they become rootbound with each other.  As it is, I'm hoping the weather warms up for good before the seedlings choke themselves in the cups.  And when it does warm up, I'm not sure where we're going to put all these plants.  I'm terrible at thinning. I feel like a murderer - so we ended up with 13 Amish Paste plants where we only wanted say, five.  I may have to give a few away. 

It's hard to see here, but all of our "black" tomatoes - Black Cherry, Black Krim, and Paul Robeson - have this gorgeous purple tint under their leaves and on their stems. Growing heirlooms is such a treat. 

We're growing all heirlooms this year - it's harder but incredibly enjoyable. I'm amazed every year at the incredibly variety and beauty that comes out of these tiny little seeds. 

Right now we have Amish Paste, Black Krim, Wisconsin 55, Black Cherry, Paul Robeson, Riesentraube, and Isis Candy tomatoes; Parisian Pickling and Marketmore 76 cucumbers; Sugar Ann snap peas; Calima Bush and Empress beans; Green Arrow peas; King of the North and Beaver Dam sweet peppers; and eight sweet Garden Huckleberries. 

We tried huckleberries last year but they died soon after germinating. So to see these guys growing happy and strong where we failed before is very gratifying. 

This is my first year growing peas and I think they're just the prettiest ever.  I couldn't get a straight answer from The Internet about whether peas can stand transplanting or not. Given our minuscule growing season, I thought I'd give it a shot. 

We have plans for putting in two more raised beds and converting our in-ground bed to a raised bed, which should create a fair amount of room, but we've also got carrots, parsnips, beets, lettuce, chard, melons, and kale to fit in there too. 

We may have been overly ambitious, I think. Anyone want a tomato plant? 

Quilt #2

I am a terrible gift giver. 

Mr. PW helpfully models. 

I love giving gifts, but the actual moment of giving it turns me into Awkward Penguin.   I hate being thanked.  The quilt above was a gift for friends who had their baby early Saturday morning.  It's the same pattern as Quilt #1, but a bit thicker batting turned it into a nice tummy time mat or car blanket.  Thing is, when they called last week from Seattle to enthuse over it, my tongue and brain turned to mush and I couldn't think of anything to say in response.  I didn't want to be praised for the work I'd done.  It was hardly even my best work, a bit rushed and shorted.  It simply brings me joy to think about their new baby girl using it, and that's all I want.  That's why I put the work in, that's why I spend the time.  I've been told this is ungracious.  I don't know what to do about it.  Is it a self esteem issue?  Maybe, I don't know.  I know I'll certainly keep making people gifts, keep giving them, and when I'm praised for my efforts, keep feeling like we're all missing the point . 

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

In a Sentence:

Embarrassingly easy flavor, using a few cheats and whatever you've got at hand. 


  • ~ 2 lbs cooked chicken meat. I just grabbed a couple of packages of chicken breasts and baked them as a first step and then chunked them up. If you do this don't forget to season them.
  • Frozen vegetables. I happened to use peas, corn, and pearl onions, but use whatever makes you happy. If you use pearl onions or grated carrot, I'd pre-cook them in a little butter. Aim for 10-15 oz total veggies. 
  • One can condensed cream of chicken soup. This is the only time in my life I will ever say this. 
  • Seasonings. I used thyme and oregano. Pick your favorites. 
  • Optional: shredded cheese, heavy cream. 
  • Crust. I used a package of Grands Homestyle biscuits. If you have the energy, make your own. Or use puff pastry. Or a pie crust. Whatever. 

Equipment: One large skillet, one 9 x 13 casserole dish. 


I don't really do casseroles. I may have been raised in the Midwest, but growing up in a Greek family, they just weren't in the repertoire. But I live in Wisconsin now, married to a good old Minnesota boy, and we're busy. We're taking a class on Sixties Film, two nights a week, and that means two nights that we want to be able to eat at our own pace before we have to troop onto campus and sit through a movie. So I've been trying bigger dishes that we can reheat with ease. Enter casseroles. 

I adapted this recipe from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, but frankly, I made it better. 

Still taking blog photos with my phone. Dealwithit.gif 

Still taking blog photos with my phone. Dealwithit.gif 

Oven to 400. So, if you're going to precook anything, do so now. While my pearl onions were softening and bubbling in their butter, I was shredding chicken and tossing it into our big saute pan with the rest of the veggies. Tossed those onions in, and cracked that can of condensed soup and a canful of water in there too. Toss in your seasonings - no, I didn't measure. Toss some in. You're going to be tasting in a minute. 

Stir that mess up and bring it to bubbling over medium high heat. At this point, taste. Don't be afraid of salt! Add some pepper. Add more of your seasonings. Does it taste good? Great. Should smell good too. 

At this point, turn it all down to a low simmer. If you want to add some shredded cheese, do it. We had some sharp cheddar in the fridge that was getting close to its death date, so I tossed it in. We also had some heavy cream to use up (hardships!), so I tossed a good splash in. Ain't nothing that can't be made better with heavy cream. 

Move all that creamy deliciousness into your 9x13 pan. Add your crust. Tonight I floured my counter and rolled out the biscuits until they formed a kind of pseudo top crust. I never worry too much about how it's going to look. If you want to milk wash the crust, or add some shredded cheese or herbs, go ahead. I didn't bother. 

Bakety bakety for about 20 minutes, or until your top crust is all brown and drool-inducing. Take it out but IMPORTANT - let that sucker sit on the counter for ten minutes. Let all those boiling, bubbling liquids thicken a bit and soak into the other ingredients. 

Eat your face full. 

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Don't be afraid to try random combinations of stuff. Following a recipe is fine, but when you can create something that's yours, that's real cooking. Let me know if you try this, and what you thought. - J

Achievement Unlocked: Quilts

You ever look at a craft or skill and think, I could do that? I do. It's led me to being a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I enjoy myself all the same. I play a little bit of music, know a little bit of trivia on various subjects, cook a little, bake a little, sew a little, embroider a little, do a little handyman work, garden a little. 

I truly have no idea what put it into my head that I was going to make a quilt. Never in my life have I sewn anything more complicated than curtains or a skirt. When my SIL announced her pregnancy last summer I was already thinking about Christmas gifts and maybe that's where it started. I know I was more than a little delusional about the amount of work it'd take. My back can tell you about the many hours crouched over my little machine, quilting seam after seam. Thoughts:

1. Quilting is actually easy! It is. I promise. It's just time consuming. And there's a surprising amount of math and geometry. And as soon as I have disposable income again I'm upgrading my machine. It's served me well for hemming and basic sewing but I need to step up my game now. 

2. My experience was made easier by our sweet cousin Grace coming for a weekend and showing me the basics. She trooped with me to the fabric stores, showed me how to use a fabric ruler and rotary cutter and self-healing mat, and cheered me on after she left as I sent her picture of my progress. If you can get someone to show you the ropes, do it!

3. I think a lot of young people are searching for that sense of accomplishment that comes with making something with your hands. It's why crafts and DIY and 1,001 Things To Do With Wooden Pallets is so popular right now. I can tell you that holding the finished quilt in my hands felt amazing. 

4. Even more amazing was the drop-jaw look of astonishment on SIL's face when I told her yep, I'd done it myself. It's easy enough to buy something but to pour effort into my gift for my first little niece or nephew - well, that was really fulfilling. 

5. I can't say it was flawless work. But who the hell cares? I'll get better. I'm obsessively Pinning modern looking quilts now and making plans for a king-size one for the guest room. I want to learn how to applique quilt. I want to learn how to make my own patterns. I want to do more. 

6. Hand binding is totally worth it. I promise. 


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Draped over a chair, because I didn't want to bother Mr. PW to hold it up for me. Next time I shall, because you can't see the whole Lone Star here, or that fact that it's about 4 feet square. Bonus Charlie butt and electrical cords. This is GORGEOUS blog content, isn't it? 

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I chose these colors because the baby's sex is a surprise. I thought primary colors were just fresh and classic, and it turned out rather Americana. 

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Never point out the flaws to a gift recipient. I can certainly see that the center points don't quite line up here, but what the hell do I care? I am stupidly proud that I figured out center points. 

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And how sweet is this backing fabric? It's nursery rhymes? Anything that includes Hey Diddle Diddle and Baa Baa Black Sheep is a-ok to me. You can see that for the actual quilting part I machine-stitched in the ditch and basically stuck to really straight, clean lines. I don't have the machine for curves and curls and freehanding.  

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Totally worth it: hand binding. You can see where the yellow binding just melted onto the edge, with no seam to be seen. It really made for a great finish and I feel looked a lot more polished than anything I could have done on the machine. 

I did use a book to guide me through, Eleanor Burns' Radiant Star Quilts. Since this is my first quilt, I can't feel qualified to give a real review. I have nothing to compare it to! But I will say that she made it much easier to figure out the geometry of the process, and spelled out a lot of tips, tricks, and must-dos that I might have had to learn the hard way otherwise. I managed to make a much fancier quilt than I would have otherwise, and because of that I really have to recommend her. 

Oh look, another Crohn's post. Yay.

My therapist likes to embarrass me in public.

He believes that a big part of our work is getting me comfortable with the less socially acceptable aspects of my disease, so last time I saw him he cheerfully assigned me homework: write a post about poop.

I know, right? No way. But I took the assignment (gamely, I hope), and went home to think... and couldn't come up with anything I haven't already said in previous posts. Poop is one of those last taboo topics in Western society, yet we all do it, at least a couple of times a week. If you're a Crohnie you may do it a couple of times a day or an hour. I've always tried to be honest when people ask about my symptoms, but I don't go around volunteering the information, because that's a good way to get everyone to avoid you at recess. 

My bathroom habits are about to improve, because I started prednisone again this week, much to my disappointment. You're either groaning in sympathy right now or wondering what the big deal is. Prednisone is notorious with us autoimmune folks. It absolutely does what it's supposed to: it comes roaring in and stomps rampant inflammation into the ground, howling and beating its chest as it turns misery into a memory. But the collateral damage is so high, it's a last resort. Weight gain, fluid retention, uncontrollable appetite, the famous prednisone moonface, acne, bacne, hair loss, thinning of the skin, insomnia, clean-the-kitchen-at-4-am manic energy, aggression, crazy mood swings, high nerves, irritability, auditory hallucinations...... More rare but serious side effects of chronic use include osteoporosis, bleeding of the intestines, Cushing's Disease, diabetes, cataracts, nerve and muscle damage, heart arrhythmia, blood clots, fluid in the lungs.... the list goes on. 

So it's a choice between the inflammation causing long-term damage and the awful but temporary side effects. Even my GI tries to avoid it when possible, but we're out of options now. And I get to be on it for several weeks now, YAY. 

Add a frozen pipe in our house and $600 spent on repairs to the Volvo, and it's been something of a shitty week. All we can do is keep going, right? 

Pete Seeger, to an audience: "No matter how slow I go, don't stop singin'. Just take a new breath and keep on goin', and nobody'll know the difference."

Take a new breath, and keep on singing. 

A fruit held up a bank the other day. It was a strobbery.

"Worrying is like praying for something you don't want."

Is this where I'm supposed to gush about how awesome 2013 was, and how amazing 2014 is going to be? 

Sorry. I guess I could try to be more positive than that. 

2014 won't suck as badly as 2013 did, because it's not possible. As I say that, I knock on wood. A lot of terrible things could happen to make 2014 worse than 2013. And we've got some wonderful things coming in 2014. 

We're going to be an uncle and aunt for the first time ever courtesy of my sister-in-law. Our best man and his wife will become parents a couple of weeks after that. We'll be welcoming a new sister-in-law into the family. And some beloved, generous friends sweetly but firmly decided that we need a vacation, so we're going to OBX in May. 

I'm going to ignore the fact that neither this computer nor our Volvo will likely make it to the end of the year. I'm going to ignore the fact that I'm still mostly housebound and my doc can't seem to help me. I'm going to ignore the fact that neither of us are employed right now, and the fact that my Crohn's seems to make me a liability that no one wants to take on. I'm going to ignore the fact that we'll both be 32 this year with no retirement fund in sight.

We've made a conscious to plan for good things, despite the reality that the universe still owes us nothing. We're planning on putting in two new raised beds in the garden, in the faith that we'll have the time and energy to tend them. We're planning on taking that vacation with our friends, in the faith that I'll be healthy enough to actually go. We're looking forward to rewiring the basement and finally having softened water and a working extra freezer, in the faith that we'll have the money to do that project.  

It's scary to have faith.  Right now I feel like I have to hold my breath and don't make any noise and keep my room clean and be the best little girl that I can so the universe doesn't notice me and punish us more. But I have to let go of the fear sometime.  I'm hoping I can look back in May and realize I can breathe.

Back Comes the Bride, Tom Lovell (1944)

Back Comes the Bride, Tom Lovell (1944)