Gun stuff

Published February 20, 2018 by livinggraciously

I can make a colorable argument that I once defended my life with a shotgun.

I was still a newlywed, and John and I had purchased a house in the woods north of Wasilla, Alaska. I was home alone, out in the yard splitting wood, when a car came down our cul de sac, turned around, and left. This wasn’t completely unusual; we were one of only two houses out that far, but people sometimes take a wrong turn. I noticed them come back around, driving more slowly this time. Maybe they were looking for a different street.

The third time they came around, they stopped, blocking my driveway, and sat there staring at me.

It was two men, but I couldn’t see any details beyond that, the driveway being about a seventy-five feet long and the car dappled with sun and shadow.  I was suddenly aware that there was no one else within half a mile of me. I stood there with the splitting maul in my hands, looking at them and making sure they knew that I knew they were there.

When they didn’t budge, I walked in the back door, picked up the shotgun, and walked out onto the front deck, ostentatiously ratcheting a shell into the chamber and taking a wide, alert stance.

They took off, not to be seen again.

Maybe they never would have worked up the nerve to get out of the car. Maybe their intentions weren’t actually dangerous. But the maybe balancing the other end of that scale is quite dire. And I never again chopped wood on my own without that shotgun sitting within arm’s reach.

From that, you might assume that I am a great advocate of guns as home defense. But let’s unpack the incident just a little bit more.

If those men had been motivated victim-seekers, I would never have stood a chance. They could have driven right up the driveway, gotten out of their car with a friendly greeting, and I wouldn’t have even moved toward the house until it was too late.  A gun is rarely an effective deterrent–it’s far more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

Furthermore, my gun was a Winchester Defender repeating shotgun. I had five slugs in that thing, which would do plenty of damage to any would-be assailants. I was not in need of a semi-automatic weapon to protect my life and property. The notion that anyone does need such a weapon is ridiculous and one more straw man in the attempt to intelligently discuss gun control.

I do not fear guns. Living in Alaska, they were tools, protection against wild animals and a method by which meat came home for many. I do not believe that we should confiscate all guns. They do have their place.

But I strongly believe that we can and should regulate the hell out of guns. There are weapons that should be illegal and should be confiscated or bought back. There should be registration and insurance requirements. Background checks without loopholes. If a gun I own is used in a crime, the police should be showing up at my door and asking some pretty tough questions: if it was stolen, why didn’t I report it? If I sold it, why didn’t I do a title change? If I don’t have good answers, then the claim for damages goes against my insurance.

Yes, there are millions of guns in the wild that will be hard to track. But there are thousands of meth labs in the back woods that police can’t locate and no one throws up their hands and says, “Oh well, I guess there’s no point in laws against them.” Laws we make now won’t pay off this year or this decade. But they will pay off for our grand children.

It’s time to get real about the future.


Appliance hell

Published February 12, 2018 by livinggraciously

My washer and dryer failing me is a nightmare I don’t want to visit. You see, my current set came with the house 17 years ago, and were already 5 years old. The one set of appliances I’ve never bought is a washer and dryer–I’ve always purchased houses where they’d been left behind by the former owner, leaving me with comfortable but forgettable machines.

For the first time in my life, I’ve lived in a house for more than three years. Until now, I skedaddled before my washer/dryer had a chance to wear out. Now? I’ve been in this house for 17 years. Seventeen. Talk about things I never thought could happen! And since the “average life expectancy” of such appliances is about 15 years, I was alarmed when my dryer buzzer refused to stop buzzing–was it going to cost me money, and would it cost enough that replacement made more sense?! Fortunately, I was able to enact a minor repair and avoid a crisis.

But it made me think, for the first time, about the end of the useful life of those two appliances. For most people, that’s an unfortunate expense–maybe even a time to be excited about getting something new for the household. But not for me.

Because I am a fabric dyer. And fabric dying means handling a lot of dye in my laundry room area. Dye is messy. Dye looks like a wee drop of something, but when you swipe a damp rag over it becomes a swath of intense color that requires multiple rinsings to expunge. Dye means that even after you’ve done what you think is a commendable job of cleaning up the mess, you are likely to come across surprise disaster bombs of color–one teeny speck of concentrated dye on the back of a glove translates into large smears of mess.

I am blessed with a big, double laundry room sink, but I have no real work table in the laundry room. So the top of my old, white enamel washer and dryer end up serving as a work surface. This works well. They are relatively easy to clean, durable under the force of water, and large enough to hold a multitude of process containers.

It also means they are regularly a mess of dye. When a process is finished, they get a washing down. But there are streaks down their sides that refuse to come off, things I missed despite a careful inspection. And I shrug that off as okay, since they are my old and battered appliances.

The new ones are SO SHINY!!!! Stainless steel lunar launch vehicles that stand on their own podiums. Sometimes the podiums are, themselves, separate washing machines. Or spaces to store away unsightly cleaning supplies. Or maybe tanning booths and spas–it’s hard to tell these days. How could I possibly splatter such temples with dye and soda ash and Synthrapol? It borders on a mortal sin.

Oh yes, I do know that I could buy some baseline white enamel machines. But it’s like car shopping–the stainless steel model that looks less like a washer and more like a jet engine is SO TEMPTING!!! Buying the white enamel ones that would make more sense–flat tops to serve as good work areas like my current ones–seems like buying a Studebaker when for just a few dollars more I could get a Tesla. I’m not sure I’m up to resisting the temptation.

And so, for the moment, I will be relieved that my appliances still function. And hold onto them as long as I can.


A slice of the past, preserved for the future

Published February 4, 2018 by livinggraciously

Did one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done: I cut up my mother’s wedding dress.

Now, Mom always *loathed* her wedding dress. Her mother talked her into a waltz length, ballerina-y dress, and she never enjoyed looking at her wedding pictures. She put it in her cedar chest and never looked at it.

I inherited that cedar chest.

The things in that chest have some memories for me, but not many. They will have many fewer for my daughters–they were not close to my mom. So when I go, and they inherit, they shouldn’t have to wade through more junk than necessary. So today was cleaning out that chest.

A lot of it was easy to get rid of. The few things I kept are no longer lost in the detritus; they are the ones who have meaning for me.

And then there was the dress.

No daughter or granddaughter would ever wear it–mom joked that she’d never inflict that on any of us. But if I gave it away, it would end up as someones “Halloween horror” costume. I mean, seriously:


It was a terrible dress, but it was my mom’s. It deserves more than that.

Then I realized: Mom’s great-granddaughter, my niece Brianna, is the one girl child of that generation who was close to Mom. And when Brianna grows up and gets married, how wonderful would it be for her wedding quilt to include something from her beloved Nana?

What was worth preserving for that project is the lace from the bodice. So I decided to cut up the dress and save that lace.

I wandered back and forth in the basement, scissors in hand, for twenty minutes. I phoned a friend. I wept a few tears.

But then I did it.

I had to sit down with my head between my knees for about ten minutes afterward. But it’s done. The bodice is tucked safely back into the cedar chest. The layers of netting and taffeta looked so much like a beheaded body that I had to just stuff it in a trashbag and get it out of the house. It took everything I had. But I did it.

And now I need a glass of wine.

Playing hurt

Published January 22, 2018 by livinggraciously

We have been a house of virus this part weekend. I can’t say “flu,” because while Ferrett had a bad cough and sore throat, I’m not 100% sure it was actual influenza and not just some other nastiness going around (yes, we have had flu shots).

In an unusual turn of events, Ferrett was sicker than I. I am usually the one to go down hard. Instead, this course of viral misery has been much more like parenting a three-year-old: if I sat still and quiet, it pretty much ignored me, but if I tried to do anything it was hanging off my arms and demanding my attention.

Nevertheless, life is filled with Things That Need Doing. So Saturday I set out in the morning to run errands–dropping off a package at FedEx, taking boxes of books to the used bookstore, making a quick Costco run, stopping by the comic book store to pick up our “pull” order.

In hindsight, none of those things seem like the kind of rush items demanding me to leave the house while feeling dreadful. Why, at the time, did they all seem imperative?

The problem with illness that isn’t all-consuming is that it’s boring. But it also impairs my ability to make good decisions. This is not new. When I was fourteen and recovering from viral meningitis, I baked my brother a cake from scratch because it was his birthday. I literally had to drag the mixer and the ingredients off the counter and down onto the floor because I was too weak to stand up. Nevertheless, I made him a nice chocolate cake. Frosted, too.

Running these errands? Why not? I got to sit in the car and recover between each one, right? Costco was a bit of a challenge, but I only needed a few things.

I was wiped out by the time I arrived home. Those three-year-olds were having a temper tantrum at me. I needed a nap.

Of course, within half an hour of lying down, I felt not-so-terrible again. And bored. Clearly it was time to sew.

I got a fair amount done, but it reminded me very much of sewing when the girls was little. Feeling sick was this continual nag of middling misery, trying to get my attention. Unlike the girls, illness can’t be distracted by being allowed to pull all the fabric off the shelves, or preoccupied with a project of its own. No, illness is focused and undeterred. It was definitely going to outlast me.

But I knew that stopping was only going to make me feel marginally better, and continuing (within reason) wasn’t going to harm me. So I pressed on. Not for too long, and I went to bed early and got a decent night’s sleep, like a person who’s fighting a virus should. And knowing that I spent a little time making progress on a project makes me feel better about a rather glum weekend.

A lot of life is like that. There’s something nagging, a small stumbling block that makes accomplishing something just enough tougher that it’s easy to give up. I’m not talking about the serious things, just the little ones: I’m tired and don’t want to cook; I’m sore and don’t want to work out. I’m preoccupied and don’t want to take a moment to pick up after myself. And yet everything about my life works better when I press through those little things. Sometimes when those things come up, I become the cranky three-year-old. I don’t WANNA! It’s not FAIR!

It’s not always fun, having to adult my own inner child. I’m usually happier, though, when I do.

Swinging into the final third

Published January 21, 2018 by livinggraciously

I went to the cardiologist the other day, and my numbers all look good. LDL cholesterol is still a wee bit high, but trending in the right direction. I’m exercising, eating right, doing all the things I’m supposed to be doing.

But I had an odd thought. I turn 60 this spring. Ferrett and I have lived in this house for almost 20 years. Going by average lifespans, I can really only bet that I will continue living here going forward for as long as I’ve lived here thus far.

And wow have those years gone fast. I really felt my mortality in that moment; this is all going to be over with in a blink of the eye.

So I’m going to do what it takes to try and extend those 20 years into 30 or 35. But I’m thinking about how best to spend my final stretch. Several things come to mind.

  • I’m done with reading “important” books that just make me depressed. I’ve read some amazing books over the years thanks to lists like The Big Read. But I’ve also slogged through books that I felt I should read. And now I wonder if there is any point other than bragging rights. So when The God of Small Things was just making me sad, I thought, “Nope. ” This may mean I read a lot more fluffy romance, or urban fantasy, or fantasy from the pre-everything-is-gritty era. And the world will not crumble.
  • I have too much sentimental stuff, and my kids shouldn’t have to deal with it. Without a doubt, when they carry me out of here toes-first my girls will have a ton of junk to dispose of. But right now there is a cedar chest in the basement that contains my mother’s wedding dress (unwearably awful 1050s waltz-length dress that she always regretted her mother talking her into), and albums of birthday cards from when she was a child, and all kinds of other stuff that means almost nothing to me and will mean far less to my girls. They are going to have enough to deal with deciding what to keep from the things I cherish (mostly quilts, I suspect); they shouldn’t have to deal with my parent’s and grandparent’s and great-grandparent’s things–at least not the ones to which I’m not terribly attached. Great Grandma’s tea set and music box definitely stay, but I need to make some of the wrenching decisions, instead of leaving them all to the kids.
  • I have too much stuff, and it’s time to get lighten the load. Our stuff really does own us. And I have way too much of it. This is a continual source of tension here–vacant is restful to me and stressful to Ferrett. We both make compromises, and we mostly make it work. But I’m going through my stuff and paring down. I did this a couple years ago, and we are still much better organized. But it’s a constant war against atrophy.
  • I’m allowed to walk away from the news for a while. One of the best ways to get depressed these days is to read the news. Even better? Read the comments sections of articles. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, the bile and vitriol is unhealthy, but it’s also a train wreck that’s hard to ignore. I get to turn away. My participation isn’t going to change the dialogue, and my absence for a day or two won’t change the course of history.
  • I have to fight against content isolationism. I love my house. I love my sewing room. I love reading and quilting, and can happily stay in the house for days and days. We used to have people over a lot, and we don’t these days. We used to go visit a lot, and that’s slowed down, too. Any one day is fine, but too many of them and some day I will be lonely and sad. So I must remember to fight inertia and get my butt out the door.
  • I have so much to be grateful for. I love my husband. I love my job. I love my house. My kids are amazing. My extended family is fabulous. My friends are the best. I’m white and financially secure and have a safety net. That’s a lot to be grateful for. It’s easy to become cynical these days, and fearful as well. Everything can look very dark. But there is light, too. And it’s beautiful.
  • I’m going to pay attention. All of us have a limited number of days, evenings, weekends. I’m more aware of that fact now. It’s super easy to lose entire weekends to staring at the TV or a computer monitor. Sometimes that’s fun and intentional–a movie marathon, for example. A lot of times, it’s, once again, inertia. I can choose to watch ten episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress” and another seven of “Tiny House Nation,” but I want to make it a choice. Would I rather be sewing? Reading? Am I content, or just bored? The dog would appreciate a walk; wouldn’t that be better time spent? I’m going to check in on myself.
  • Ultimately, I don’t matter. And that’s okay. I will leave very little mark on the world–a few people will remember me fondly while they live; someone might stumble across my journal now and again. But I’m going to be one of the masses of anonymous people who lived their lives and left no mark. I’m comfortable with that. It means I get to choose my level of happy, choose my own adventure, if you will. And I like the adventure I’m on.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to start the final third of my life.


I am the camel

Published January 17, 2018 by livinggraciously

At the very end of 2017, I wrote about my lovely new sewing space and how much more work I’m getting done in there. One of the pictures I did not include was the view into the rest of the family room:


As you can see, there is lots of lovely space in our library.

I want more of it.

Like the camel with its nose in the tent, I look at this and see opportunity. Currently, it’s a bit of a squeeze right behind my sewing machine. And I don’t really have a place for a design wall. So I’d like to move two of the bookcases further down the room and gain that extra three feet of floor space. That doesn’t seem that unreasonable.

But secretly, I covet a long arm frame to really go to town on free motion quilting. That’s another twelve feet (yes, 12 FEET) of floor space. It’s also somewhere north of $5000 to actually get a setup worth having, so I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon. Nevertheless, I daydream about it. In case, you know, I look into the pocket of an old coat and find a young fortune I forgot that I’d stashed there.


All this means that Ferrett sees me eyeing the bookcases and starts getting worried. He loves our library. It’s filled with things that give him comfort. He looks at it and sees happy memory.

I look at it and see real estate.

I am sure that happy compromise can be reached. I will, perhaps, move the bookcases around. I have ideas involving that cedar chest. But they all take time and energy to enact, and right now my time and energy is focused on actually sewing.

I’m still going to make him nervous, though, checking them out….

Get up, get up and get down

Published January 10, 2018 by livinggraciously

I work from home, and the marvelous company for which I work gave me a VariDesk standing desk. I can adjust it to either a standing position or a sitting position, and I do so multiple times per day. Sitting now being the thing that’s going to kill us, I try to make sure I don’t just sit like a lump all day. It’s also better for my back–but I can’t do it nonstop because that is terrible for my back. So it’s good I can go back and forth.

I’ve noticed a weird thing, though: I can read, and I can do basic editing, and I can write simple emails while I’m standing. But as soon as I have to do any serious thinking/writing? I have to sit down. I don’t even think about it; it’s automatic. “Oh, this is a serious thing that needs my attention. Better sit down and take care of it.”

Part of it may be that the standing desk is just a wee bit short for me (which makes me wonder about really tall people; are they just used to working at a bad angle?). But I think a lot of it is just habit: as a student, and up until I got this desk, I had to sit down to handle problems.

My brain apparently thinks with my butt.

This is slowly improving, and I managed to stay on my feet through some minor “thinky” work yesterday. But I have a long way to go before I can truly “think on my feet.”

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