cabin in the woods

I love movies. LOVE. I grew up in a very small town, way out in the woods and I spent all day outdoors. But on weekends, my best friends and I spent almost every after-dark hour watching rented VHS tapes. I still love movies and though, with young kids, I don’t get out to the theater much, I still watch my fair share on Netflix. When I can stay awake late enough.

But my sensitivity to certain themes has changed a bit as a parent, so I’m going to add my own personal rating (SBHK) to let you know that “Something Bad Happens to a Kid”. You might not choose to watch these movies as a parent if you’re the sensitive sort that I am. You may be better at compartmentalizing than I am, but if not, be forewarned. Before I had kids I was more disturbed by “Something Bad Happening to a Dog”, so I’ll let you know if I recall anything like that as well. I’m not a fan of overly gruesome movies (unless it’s really campy) or anything along the lines of the torture suspense genre like Saw. I enjoy scary movies with monsters, not monstrous people. So, without further ado, here are some free (for now, on Netflix) Halloween movies for you, in no particular order:

1. Pumpkinhead (SBHK). My favorite movie with Lance Henrikson (though I can’t remember what else he was in, to be honest). A vengeful, backwoods Dad makes a deal with a creepy backwoods witch to extract some pain from some horny kids. It’s kind of the formula, but Lance elevates the whole thing a bit, and the monster is truly scary.

2. Cabin in the Woods: I love this movie. Joss Weadon is the producer and it’s clever and funny and has some truly scary moments as well. It’s a bit of a spoof on scary movies, but in the spirit of love (like Shaun of the Dead) and respect vs. just mocking. Watch it.

3. Land of the Dead. I think a lot of zombie movie lovers were a little disappointed with Romero’s fourth movie, but it was still pretty great. As always, he throws in a little social commentary. This movie takes place in a future where the zombies have taken over pretty much everything, and we find an outpost of humans behind barricades and walls, some living in abject poverty in the streets while others live almost as before, in some secure high rise luxury condos.

4. Nightmare Before Christmas. I loved this movie as a teenager and I still love it today. It doesn’t feel dated to me. Maybe a bit too creepy for some kids, but the stuff I find frightening and twisted about Tim Burton’s movies doesn’t seem to feel that way to my kids. Not streaming on Netflix right now, but if you get the DVDs in the mail, Frankenweenie is also worth watching.

5. John Dies at the End. Though not technically a horror movie, this is a great, weird, twisted movie based on the John Wong book with the same name. Which is also worth reading, by the way. Sci-fi, monsters and a drug called soy sauce that opens doors to other dimensions. There is a scene where a dog drives a car and a monster made of meat. If that doesn’t convince you, then I’m not sure what will.

6. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. This movie is awesome. A twist on the traditional redneck-psychopathic-killer genre, starring Alan Tudyk from Firefly/Serenity (another Weadon connection).

7. Paranorman. We watched this animated movie with our four and six year old, and they did ok, but it’s probably best for kids who are a little older (it’s PG). The zombies are a little scary and the animation is really different and a little creepy. I loved it and it was one of those great kid movies that’s still clever enough for adults. A really good story as well, and I was touched by the ending.

8. Carrie: A horror classic. Sissy Spacek is too pretty (in her odd way) to really be the ugly-duckling character from Stephen King’s book, but she pulls it off wonderfully anyway. It’s the ultimate comeuppance film for everyone who felt picked on or unpopular at some point. And there’s lots of pig blood and John Travolta. (if you consider teenagers kids, then this also carries my SBHTK warning).

9. Strigoi, the Undead: A sort-of Zombie movie filmed in Romania. The acting is good and the story is weird. Not terrifying, but super interesting and atmospheric. Drink a glass of wine and feel a bit classy watching a foreign (horror) film.

10. Slither. Starring Nathan Fillion, this movie is both funny and smart and a little scary. (another Firefly/Weadon connection). SBHK, but it doesn’t feel very disturbing.

11. Let the Right One In. I’ve seen the American and the Norwegian movie version of this book, and I prefer this one (the foreign version), though both are good. A bullied boy befriends a strange new girl and lots of weirdness starts to happen. This is another book worth reading, and it’s even stranger and scarier than the movie (which is saying something). SBHK, but they kind of have it coming.

12. Pontypool. I finally gave in and watched this one after seeing that Netflix had been recommending it for years. Netflix was right. I loved it. This is not a monster movie in the usual sense, but is brilliant at creating a sense of foreboding and paranoia. Most of the movie takes place in a radio studio located in the basement of a church, but I didn’t feel bored for a moment. Stephen McHattie stars in this movie, and I had never heard of him before. But he’s a brilliant actor and had me totally engaged.

13. The Host. I don’t want you to avoid watching this one because there is a kid in peril, but you need to know about it. Watch it anyway. This is a great South Korean horror film, but nothing like the darkness of Audition (which still creeps me out). SBHK

14. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: This black and white movie came out in 1920 and still manages to be pretty creepy. I first saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin with a live (and very creepy) band playing.

15. Nosferatu (1929). Silent, and still very scary. This is no charming vampire. Just a terribly weird monster. Rumors abound about this movie and the actor who played Nosferatu, and after watching you’ll see why. At a time when special effects and makeup were pretty primitive, this guy is truly scary. Shadow of the Vampire is also a good movie, about the making of Nosferatu.

16. American Horror Story. Ok, this is a TV show, but it’s really scary. And nice if you think you’ll fall asleep during a full-length movie. SBHK.

17. Troll Hunter. Another Norwegian movie, but this time there are Trolls. Giant, disgusting trolls that the government is trying to keep under wraps. It’s better than it sounds, and you just have to trust me.

18. Rambock: Berlin Undead. A German zombie movie. Please trust that I’m not a huge foreign movie nerd, but it’s really nice to see some fresh perspectives on these (somewhat tired) genres like zombie and vampire movies. This one features a lovesick guy and a teenage plumber’s assistant who  have to stay alive as the city is taken over by zombies.

Other: 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Audition, World War Z and all the Romero zombie movies. Return of the Living Dead is probably the only Punk Zombie movie ever, and it’s the best.

pendulum

by Nikki on August 3, 2013

In the early weeks grief is smothering. It cries out for comfort. It leaves your eyes scratchy and sandy, your stomach burning and sour and your heart pushing out through your ribs and skin. You come up for air in gulps and laugh and drink too much and then sink quickly back down.

After the first couple of months, there is some relief. You start to work. You move a bit more confidently in the world, though you still feel pain and longing and often feel completely awkward socially. Happy hour with friends is both wonderful and terrible… it’s so good to be with people who care, people who know what has happened. But it’s so hard to be with normal people. Who aren’t broken inside. But overall, the pendulum moves upward, out of the deepest parts of your pain. You even have good days… days of productivity and joy!

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But then all this “you” becomes “me” again… and here I am, feeling the pendulum swing downward. And I’ve been on this ride long enough now to know that I can’t resist it. My psyche is beautiful and brilliant and it’s only giving me what I can handle, but in it’s wisdom, it has decided that I’m ready for more. I’m ready to remember my mom’s long, long months in the hospital, dying then not dying. Then dying again, then not dying. Dozens of surgeries and tubes and wires and endless pain. Then recovery and then a sudden and misplaced death. Without me there. Hours away and lost and robbed of the one person who loves me the most. My psyche in it’s infinite wisdom is now allowing me to remember seeing her at the funeral home and kissing her head and breathing in the scent of her hair. For the last time. The smell of Mama and comfort and childhood and everything good. And she was finally so beautiful, with all the wires and tubes and pain gone. All those lines etched and then somehow gone from her brow.

I have moments of wonder. Moments of joy. But I have to accept that this isn’t over. That the pendulum of grief is not still and I don’t know if it ever will be. And for now, in this moment, the darkness of my mom’s death – the ugliness of it – is back for a visit. And I let it wash over me when it comes. I don’t fight. I am a yogini of emotions, flexible in despair and rejoicing. Flowing with whatever exists in my heart and knowing it won’t last. The joy will slip into longing and sadness and then the pain will slip into wonder all over again. And all I am is what remains.

Wonders

by Nikki on July 17, 2013

“If you’re really listening, if you’re awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly. In fact, your heart is made to break; its purpose is to burst open again and again so that it can hold evermore wonders.”  - Andrew Harvey

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I have never in my life been more in touch with my feelings. Sometimes they rage and roar, and I dig my fingernails into my palms trying to maintain my cool with a tantrum-throwing four year old or a belligerent six year old. Or a fight with my husband leaves me feeling hopeless. Or (like today), I have a split second impulse to call my mom and then feel floored all over again when I recall that she’s gone.

Other moments I’m so deeply connected and full of peace. I feel grounded and whole. Connected to an infinite source of love and compassion and wisdom. I feel strong and kind. Gentle and wise.

And then it all shifts again. But the moments of joy are new to me, and they almost seem to open up in tandem with the pain. It’s like the pain has completely broken me down and left me open. My heart hurts so much sometimes. I’m so much more painfully aware of my own mortality, and that of everyone I love. But at the same time I feel more open to love. I stop more often and truly see my kids. I feel my heartbeat. I feel the sun on my skin and my dog’s soft fur. I feel it all.

Harvey’s quote above is ringing true for me and I feel ready to hold “evermore wonders”. And I know now that I’m strong enough. My heart is big enough.

learning to swim

by Nikki on June 17, 2013

Losing my mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. This is what I’m learning:

1. Sometimes grief feels like getting punched in the gut and it happens when I’m not expecting it. Warming up a burrito. Driving. Cleaning. Unloading the dishwasher. Watching my kids play. Brushing my teeth.

2. I am an open wound and everything feels intense. My friends’ kindness causes me to weep with gratitude. A fight with my husband feels like the end of the world (or our marriage). Yelling at my kids makes me feel like the most horrible, abusive mom on the planet.

3. You can actually damage your eyes from crying so hard. I thought I had wrecked my contacts that day after my mom died. I drove for about an hour feeling like someone had smeared Vaseline and sand in my eyes and finally had to pull over and take them out and put my glasses on. I tried to put them back in, and the feeling was the same for about three days. I thought my contacts were trashed, but it was just my eyes. After a few days I could wear my contacts again. (Eyes heal faster than hearts, it seems.)

4. Lots of my friends have grieved. I had no idea. I wrote earlier about being in limbo and the club you don’t want to belong to – the club of women who have lost their moms. I’m now in that club and though I wish I wasn’t, the company is good. Many of my friends who have experienced deep grief and loss feel that part of the meaning in their pain is their ability to help other people through it. That in itself is a beautiful thing.

5. I am deeply confused. About everything. What to wear. How to get dressed. Why I walked into the bathroom. What to eat. How to talk to people. Where I put my journal. Everything.

6. I am often deeply resentful and envious of my friends and family who still have their mothers and grandmothers. This is an ugly feeling, but there it is. I see their photos on Facebook and I feel like I got screwed over. Because how is it fair that they get to keep their moms and I don’t? I realize that it’s petty and not very enlightened. And let me be clear: I want my friends to keep their moms around as long as possible. I just wish I had mine too.

7. I am clumsy. I drop things. I bump into things. I burned myself with a curling iron for the first time since I was in Junior High.

8. I don’t want to eat, but I feel like puking if I don’t eat. I’m endlessly puzzled about what to eat. Something that I didn’t even think about before is now baffling and unnatural.

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9. My Mom was my best friend. At one point in our relationship she was talking to me a lot about her relationship with my Dad. This made me really uncomfortable and wasn’t really helping me have a good relationship with my Dad. I asked her to stop and she was respectful of that. But because of that, my mind thought of her as “mom” and not “friend”. But now I’m looking back and feeling this huge hole in my life. This amazing woman that I spoke with on the phone almost every single day. We texted pictures back and forth almost daily, of kids and sewing projects and other things we found beautiful or interesting. My phone is still full of her text messages. She was my best friend and I’m just now clear about this. My mom was the best friend I ever had. (And that’s saying something, because let me tell you… I have some pretty spectacular friends.)

10. Wisdom and grace come from unexpected places (and I cry – everything makes me cry). A high school friend sent me the following words that have been a huge comfort to me:

You know our society gives us a few days for bereavement, and then people seem to remember that you’re hurting for a few months, and then after that, its like the expectation is that you should be over that by now. Which is ridiculous but it still puts pressure on us because we think we should be stronger, and able to just keep going as if nothing’s happened, when inside all you want is for the world to stop and let you get off for a bit. And what happens is we start to try to suppress the grief in order to conform to what we think everyone expects of us, and that is really not healthy. We are not designed to do that. Used to be, people went into an official mourning, when they wore black and didn’t go to dances or parties or whatever for a period of up to 2 years after losing a parent, or a close family member or a spouse. And that was actually a very good practice because it sort of gave you the ‘time out’ that you needed. Wearing mourning clothes was a signal to the outside world that you were grieving and it sort of gave you the space you needed. Now of course we don’t do that anymore and we’re expected to just bounce back immediately.

So that was one of the most helpful things I learned to let go of all that expectation, and just be real about what I was going through. Don’t let outside pressure get to you. You’re going to feel sad and depressed, you’ll lose interest in things that normally you enjoy, your eating habits will be effected, and you’re going to be absent-minded to the point you’re going to seriously wonder if you’re losing your mind. I mean, like putting milk in the cabinet or locking yourself out of the house or just forgetting things that you’d never forget. But don’t worry there’s nothing wrong with you when that happens, because that’s part of the fog. It will last at least a year. Also try and avoid making big decisions/purchases right now if you don’t have to, because that kind of stuff is too much to deal with. It’s hard to think clearly and be totally rational and you may end up making a big mistake. Just take things very easy and very slow. Try not to think too hard about anything you don’t have to deal with immediately.

 

loss

by Nikki on June 4, 2013

I lost my mom on May 20th, sometime in the evening, between phone calls from my brother and phone calls to my mom’s best friend. She was in a hospital about five hours away from me, and I was sitting at home having a glass of wine. I can’t find the right adjective to convey the pain, the deep longing ache, this caused. I always thought that when something really awful happened, I would vomit. But I didn’t. I just kind of felt like I might. I gasped for air. I cried until my eyes burned. I couldn’t eat or sleep or stop hurting.

The next morning I drove down to be with my Dad and my brother. To try and be of some help, but mostly just to be present. To witness their pain and be with the two other people, besides me, who were missing her the most deeply. Every little memory just ruptured me and grief constantly leaked out of me. I know these words aren’t pretty, but my grief wasn’t movie-grief. It was ugly, sobbing, miserable grief that woke me up in the middle of the night crying out for my mom. Crying for comfort from the only person who could soothe me, who also happened to be the only person who wasn’t available to me anymore. I recently read The Fault in our Stars by John Green and I kept thinking of a quote: “The only person I really wanted to talk to about Augustus Water’s death with was Augustus Waters.” My version is this: The only person who can comfort me while I grieve for my mom is my mom.

mom and nikkiI found this photo while going through pictures at my parents’ house this week and it caused me such immediate joy and pain. I found so many photos that were cuter and captured me at a less awkward age. But this one is the one that touched me most deeply. That beautiful woman holding that little sad girl is gone. But look at her… she is totally in her element. She loves me so much. She was made of love and made to comfort me. I was born of her body and made to be comforted by her. What a gift to be loved so intensely by someone so full of light and beauty! I don’t know what I was sad about in this photo… maybe I was just sleepy. But for now I try and think of her like this. With me snuggled up against her warm body, feeling her radiate love and peace. Telling me that she loves me and that I’m strong and that everything will be ok. I want to believe that.

what’s missing

by Nikki on May 12, 2013

This Mother’s Day I feel like I’ve joined a club that I didn’t really know about, and wouldn’t have wanted to be a part of. The club of women whose mothers are gone. And I’m actually not even in the club really… I’m just in limbo. Missing my mom and not knowing if I’ll miss her the rest of my life, or if I’ll be lucky enough to look back on this time as a trial that deepened me as a person and made me even more aware of how much my mom means to me.

Because right now I want to call my mom and tell her how much I love her. I want to send her photos of the necklace Hugh made for me out of potatoes (!) and beads, and the beautiful corsage Rosemary made for me, along with her sweet Mother’s Day card. I want to tell her about the framed print Brian bought for me, from a local artist, that quotes one of my all-time favorite kid books and reads “Love You Forever, Like You for Always”. I want to hear her voice and know if she liked the pennant and quilt I sent and if she’s listening to the CD I made for her. I want to hear her voice. And at least I can hope that these things will happen someday. But my heart is breaking from missing her, and it’s breaking for my friends who’s mamas have left this world for good. And I realize that Mother’s Day is a time to remember, and not just celebrate.

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So this Mother’s Day I’m full of gratitude. For my children and my husband and my mom. For all my wonderful friends who continually support me and teach me how to be a better mom (while loving me even though I’m a very imperfect one). I’m grateful that my mom gave me the kind of unconditional love and approval that I read about in my psychology textbooks in college. And because I had her love, being a person who is kind and empathic is easy. Her love made me feel safe in a confusing and sometimes scary world, and now as a grown up and a mom, I can assure my own children that this is a beautiful place to be. But the love she gave me was so big that it’s absence has left a gaping hole in me. It’s left me strong and weak. Vulnerable and powerful. It has made me who I am.

This is one of my favorite quotes, and it has rang especially true for me in the last two months:

“If you’re really listening, if you’re awake to the poignant beauty of the world, your heart breaks regularly. In fact, your heart is made to break; its purpose is to burst open again and again so that it can hold evermore wonders.”
― Andrew Harvey

I don’t want to be in pain. I don’t want to grieve and worry and watch my mom suffer. But if there is a silver lining here, it’s this: that my heart has broken open over and over. And even when I feel like I’m coming undone and my heart is covered with fractures, the pain is pouring out and love is pouring in. Love from everywhere. Love from people I didn’t realize loved me. And beauty from everywhere. Even in tragedies, the love that surrounds them is what I see most clearly. The reaching out. The vulnerability. The tenderness of being human in this world.

Crazy Making

by Nikki on May 9, 2013

Sometimes it’s hard to explain what’s hard about being a parent to people who don’t have kids. And it’s hard to grasp the kind of stuff that will be normal for you after you have kids. At least I didn’t really get it in the days before I had kids. But to illustrate, here’s a conversation I had with Hugh (4) today on our way home from Target (where we argued about getting toys and popcorn):

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Hugh: (as we drive into our neighborhood) Are we back in Denton now?
Me: We never left Denton. Target is in Denton and so is our house. (we have discussed this at least two dozen times… this concept of places being contained within cities/states/etc.)
H: Target is in Denton?
Me: Yes. So is school and the grocery store and most of the places we usually go.
H: Wimberley isn’t in Denton.
Me: That’s correct.
H: Let’s go to Wimberley!
Me: That’s five hours away… we need to plan a trip there and we’re not going today.
H: Is Disney World in Denton?
Me: No. It’s in Florida.
H: Can we go to Disney World.
Me: No.
H: But you said we would GOOOOOO!!!!
Me: I said we would go someday, but we’re not going today.
H: WHY NOT???!!! I WANT TO GOOOOO!!!
Me: It’s very far away and we have to save money and make plans to go. When we go we’ll stay for about a week.
H: Why are you laughing?
Me: Because a car was driving on the wrong side of the road.
H: Where did it go? What happened?
Me: It just drove around me. It was going slow. It’s gone now.
H: I’m hungry.
Me: It’s too early for lunch, but I’ll make you a snack.
H: I want hotdogs!
Me: We’re out of hotdogs.
H: WHY DID YOU EAT ALL THE HOTDOGS??!!
Me: I didn’t. You did.
H: Can I watch a movie?
Me: No. We’re going to have a snack, then you can play, then we’ll have lunch, then a nap.
H: I want hotdogs and Nemo.

This happens for hours every day. I can feel my brains running out of my ears sometimes. But then, after his nap, we snuggled on the couch and I put on Nemo (it’s a rainy day here). And I watched his beautiful face while he talked. He asked me to stay with him during the part where the “daddy’s friend disappears” (the barracuda eats Nemo’s mom) and when the “diver takes Nemo away from his daddy”. He holds my hand.

So there’s the thing that’s hard to explain… he melts my heart AND my brain.

Mother’s Day Modified

by Nikki on May 7, 2013

My mom has been in the hospital for nearly two months. I haven’t written about this here, because I’ve just been too busy traveling back and forth (we live about five hours apart) and trying to juggle my life in the time that I’m back home. It’s a long story, fit for telling another time, but for now I’ll just say that it’s been exhausting. My mom is my best friend, and I haven’t been able to talk to her since Spring Break in early March, when she went in for her first surgery. It seemed to go well, but then it turned out that she had a massive abdominal infection. She lost touch with reality and had a second surgery to try and correct the damage. She was heavily sedated for weeks and underwent more surgeries before finally stabilizing enough to be taken off the sedatives. Several times we thought we were losing her and she’s not out of the woods yet (as doctors and nurses are fond of saying).

So how to celebrate Mother’s Day? My mom still can’t talk since she has a tracheotomy supplying oxygen. She’s confined to bed and will be for weeks to come. So things like a new purse or jewelry or a mommy-daughter date are out. She loves to read, but can’t even hold a book right now. We’re also on a tight budget, so I can’t fill her room with flowers and balloons.

This is what I came up with:

IMG_3395You Are Loved. I tried to think of other things to say about healing or peace or comfort. But the biggest feeling I have for her – the biggest gift I can offer – is my love. My huge, sometimes painful love. She is like the sun in my family, with my Dad and brother and myself like planets in orbit. Since she lost consciousness so many weeks ago, it feels like we’re all drifting out of orbit. I’ve aged. I often feel like a small child who just misses her mama.

IMG_3396The blue fabric is my favorite… my mother in law and I spent HOURS using a pattern to make a little sundress for my daughter when she was about a year old. I was new to sewing then and the whole project took us all night and possibly a bottle of wine to complete. She only wore it a couple of times, but seeing that cheerful little print still makes me smile.

IMG_3397My sweet brother is going to hang this in her room. I’m also making her a CD that will include some of her favorite songs. She’s a huge Willie Nelson fan, so everything from Stardust will be on there.

Sometimes nothing is enough. I want a gift that will prove my love, heal her body, bring her comfort and let her talk to me. On so many levels I’m still a selfish kid who just wants to be comforted. But I hope she can see this hanging on the wall and be reminded of love and color and happier times ahead.

 

The Hardest Work

by Nikki on March 2, 2013

This afternoon my  three year old son cried for nearly an hour, in protest of taking a nap. I realize that some kids outgrow a nap by his age (he’ll be four in two months), but not this one. He takes a nap every single day, rarely with any protest. He usually just walks into his room, lays down and goes to sleep (yes, I’m grateful). But today was different. Maybe he was picking up on my anxiety, maybe he’s coming down with something, maybe he’s excited about a party we’re going to this evening. Who knows. But he chose to fight and cry and kick and scream, alternately wanting me and pushing me away. 

During all of this I didn’t get angry. I didn’t lose my temper (though sometimes I do that too). I just felt deeply sad and deeply tired. I just wanted to hold him and stay in his bed and have him fall asleep next to me, warm and safe. I wanted to sleep too and feel safe and loved and meaningful. My own life feels hard right now. It feels heavy with too many unknowns. Everything takes too much effort. And during my son’s tears this afternoon, I remembered when my daughter was about two and my son was just an infant, and how exhausted I was. I remembered her fighting me every single day about naps. She has always been a fighter and a sensitive little person. Rides in the car that would have lulled other toddlers to sleep caused her to scream at us to slow down… a normal car ride felt like a roller coaster to her and she would beg us to get out and walk and leave the car behind. She resisted trying anything outside of her 4 or 5 food comfort zone. She hated going to sleep, and woke up startled and upset, way too early.

The work I’ve done as a mother is the hardest work of my life. Being present with a child’s pain and discomfort and enormous feelings is absolutely exhausting. Setting aside all my own bullshit and just being there for them often takes more than I have. Meeting physical needs is a ton of work… don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I run the dishwasher two or three times in one day and feel like all I do is prepare meals and snacks. I remember having two babies in cloth diapers and changing them countless times (because who wants to count things like that?). And it’s not just cleaning and cooking, because part of my job as a mom is teaching them how to live successfully and happily in this world. So it’s not just spending 30 seconds cleaning up their dirty dishes… sometimes it’s spending 15 minutes or more getting them to do it themselves, and explaining why it matters. Why other people matter, and why we all have to do our part.

But by far, the emotional work is the biggest for me. It’s the part I never really expected. Because who could really explain to me how big a child’s feelings can be? And that they don’t have 20+ years of practice and understanding. That they don’t know how to contain the little volcano that they feel inside when they’re frustrated or angry or just sad or hurt. That they need me to be a shelter in the storm, and that it’s not ok for me to lose it and become the storm myself. It’s ok to say that my feelings matter too… that I’m hurt by their words or angry that they’re not listening or frustrated by their choices. But it’s not ok to be a volcano too. It’s not ok to explode the way I sometimes want to. With the very little people who can push my buttons and trigger me in a way that no other human being can.

And in all of this, I have to be careful. In all of this containing, I can’t lose myself or my own feelings and vulnerability. So here I am today, being strong and being firm. And trying to be vulnerable too, on this page. Trying to be the shelter and not the storm. And this is the hardest work of my life.

Jack’s Easy Afternoon Dog Blanket

by Nikki on December 10, 2012

Our dog Jack has it pretty good. He eats fancy-schmansy Hill’s Prescription Diet dog food. He sleeps a lot. He lounges in the sun when the weather is nice, but scurries back inside when it’s rainy, cold or unpleasant in any way. And for Jack, it’s cold when the temperature dips below about 75 degrees. He’s a tropical dog at heart.

Jack on the right, with his friend Bootsie on the left.

We don’t normally do Christmas gifts for pets at our house – at least not since we had kids. But this year I thought Jack needed something special – something to keep him warm.

First, I made him a doggy shirt. But he promptly peed on it and I scrapped that idea.

Next, I decided to make him a blanket, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I wanted something simple, warm, washable and attractive, since it’s going to be living on the couch. I wanted to integrate some fleece, because it’s so warm and practical, but I’m really not fond of the look of fleece. Or how it gets kind of rough when I (inevitably) put it in the dryer. I also wanted to spend zero cash on this gift, because seriously… I love him, but he’s a dog. So here’s what I came up with…

Using fabric I already had on hand, I made a sort of simple blanket, with the ugly fleece I already had sandwiched in between the pretty (yet still manly) fabric on top and the cream-colored knit fabric on the back. And let me confess something here… I have made a few quilts, but I have never done a proper quilt binding. It seems entirely too tedious to me. I like quilting for the same reason I like working with stained glass – it’s like a puzzle. But the binding is just so myeh. So I went back to a technique I learned in my very first quilting class, which allows you to finish the edges of a quilt or blanket without a binding. (Here’s a better tutorial with photos). The very short explanation goes something like this:  Lay down your to fabric (in my case the floral) face up on the floor. Then lay your backing fabric face down on top of that. Then, finally, lay your middle fabric on top (batting, or fleece, in my example). This seemed weird to me the first time I tried it, because the batting/fleece is supposed to go in the middle, right? Not on top! But trust me… it all works out in the end. You get out your scissors and trim around all the edges, making sure that the pieces are the same all around. Then pin it and stitch around the edges, leaving an opening maybe 6 to 8 inches across to turn it right-side out. Reach into the sandwich, between your two outer layers (for me this meant sticking my hand in between the floral fabric and cream knit fabric) and then pull it right-side out. Use a chopstick or knitting needle to push out the corners and then smooth everything out. Fold in the edges of the opening, and then pin it closed. Top stitch around the edges and you’re done.

Or rather, I would have been done, but this quilt is fairly big, and I wanted to quilt it somehow in the middle, so that the layers wouldn’t shift around too much. So instead of actually quilting it (remember, I’m in a hurry here), I did a little initial in the middle to hold it all together. I used some chalk to draw a freehand “J” on a scrap of old t-shirt, then cut it out. I placed that on top of a scrap of orange flannel and pinned it down. I then topstitched around the edge of the “J”, securing it to the flannel rectangle. (Knits are awesome this way – they don’t fray, so you can just topstitch and then when you wash the edges will curl up a bit – it’s a good look.) Then I cut around the “J”, leaving about a half inch of orange all around. Then I reset my machine to a zig-zag stitch and centered the initial in the middle of the quilt, pinned it down, and did a fairly tight zig-zag stitch all around. I sew almost every day, and I was able to finish this in about an hour. But even if you’re new to sewing, this would be an easy afternoon project. And a smaller blanket wouldn’t need the initial in the middle, so it would be even quicker.

I didn’t really think about taking photos until it was finished, but there are loads of good tutorials out there with lots of photos if you want to make something similar. (Blankets like this with a simple flannel backing make great baby gifts too, and they’re so easy to make.) Please let me know if you have any questions!