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Snow Sculptures in Town

I had great plans for a big post on all the changes in our lives in the time in which I stopped writing, but I think I’ll just skip over it for now and let you gather up the pieces as they come over the next few posts.

Here’s a crucial bit of information to get you started: last year we sold the house in the woods that we spent 11 years building with the help of our families, and bought a century-old house in town. We moved last spring, and are approaching our first anniversary with our new home. We miss things about the woods to be sure, but our new house is wonderful. Being so close to everything has changed our lives in many ways. We walk to school and to the little market up the street, we can visit our friends whenever we want, and all the girls activities are much easier to manage. We feel, in a way, like we’ve moved to Europe. We’re no longer behind the wheel for hours a day and for me that’s been the greatest and most wonderful change.

Unfortunately, the girls feel like they’ve lost their backyard wonderland and haven’t been playing outside the way they used to at our old house. In the summer we can garden, but a flat lot in town doesn’t have much appeal in the winter, especially when there’s no snow. So a few weeks ago when we finally had snow accumulate over night and it warmed enough by afternoon to make it sticky, we took advantage of it and used up all the snow in our front yard (and some of the neighbor’s too) to build some snow sculptures.

The big girls started with a snow grandma and snow baby.

I spun and crocheted the snow grandma’s scarf from a rainbow batt, with the intent of using it for such a purpose. It’s one of those projects that turned out so homely that it’s irresistible.

Iris and I built a snow “dragon” (horse might really be a better description) complete with slide and then Eva helped build steps up the other side when Iris declared her “little legs were too tiny” to climb up. We got the greatest compliment on this when a passing toddler eyed the slide wistfully and then asked if she could go down it. Of course we let her play on it, and I thought again how these kinds of interactions with the community are so valuable, and still so new and exciting to us.

We built a snow queen on the boulevard, looking rather longingly at the sculptures in the yard. Her face was dyed with cranberries, which I always have in the freezer. Just a gentle squeeze and they work great to color snow pink. By this point it was beginning to get cold and dark, mittens were soaked, and there were rumors of hot chocolate to draw us back inside.

Of course the weather kept warming, and now our sculptures are nothing but icy fragments in a mostly bare yard. And we’re really really really starting to look forward to gardening.

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Our Funny Valentines

I was feeling very uncreative late last night while trying to make the girls their Valentines, so I cheated and got a great idea for mailbox cards off Martha Stewart’s website, made the cards, laid the table, tied the balloons to the chair backs, and went to bed.

This morning Eva and Moira and Iris came downstairs hiding their cards under their shirts, and when Eva saw the table she howled, “What???” and started laughing hysterically.

A month ago, Moira got ahold of the February Living magazine before anybody else and tore out the page for the mailbox cards and in secret she and Eva made me and Jonathan mailbox cards.

The hive mind is alive and well in the Brusko household!

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I hope all of you get to enjoy a good laugh with your loved ones this Valentine’s day.

Even the bananas …

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… are rebelling!

As might be obvious by the complete lack of blogging in almost two months, I’ve been distracted. Busy. Changing up a lot of things. I’ll be able to reveal all in a few weeks (and no, it’s not a 4th baby!). But as a result of the massive ongoing distraction knitting has suffered. Running has suffered. Reading has suffered. It almost seems like I’m not doing anything I love as much as I used to, except tending the kiddos.

Then I suffered a bout of late-night online consumerism and bought a new pair of shoes. This may not seem very exciting to most people, but I have been known to make shoes last a decade or more – I still wear a pair of Teva sandals I bought in 1992. The purchase of these particular new shoes required quite a bit of research and lurking on several running-related forums, my favorite being the Running With Sharp Objects Ravelry group. Knitters do everything better!

Since I took up running again almost two years ago I’ve been suffering various aches and pains, the most annoying being a persistent case of runner’s knee in both knees. I am determined to run the Missoula Marathon this summer with my long-distance running buddy Courtney, but my training willpower is at an all-time low. I joined a gym, I’ve been working on core strength and flexibility, and I’ve been trying to inject some fun into my physical routine but nothing was working. It was all blah, blah, blah. (Maybe that was just due to it being a particularly grim February.) I decided that this new pair of shoes might just be the ticket out of all this misery and went ahead and ordered them. They arrived today. I think they might be magic.

I bought a pair of minimalist running shoes: men’s Merrell Trail Glove shoes, in a snazzy grey and yellow combo, size 7 1/2. This is 1/2 size larger than my big foot (aargh, I have two different sized feet) and large enough to wear with Smartwool running socks. I love these shoes. I took them out of the box and put them on and immediately felt like I’d been wearing them forever. I’ve been working on my gait this spring, and discovered that I naturally have a “barefoot” running style. I land on the ball of my foot, I lean forward slightly so my shins are perpendicular to the road, and I take small quick(-ish) steps. It may seem counter-intuitive to go to a less padded shoe when I have tricky knees, but I believe that my strength has improved enough to have the correct posture to pull this change off without making things worse – plus I spend all my time in the house barefoot, and most of the summer as well. I like to think that I have well-developed barefoot muscles.

The roads have been lousy and the trails are still buried under a foot of crusty snow, but today Browns Meadow Road was bare though a brisk wind was blowing from the west. I cheated and drove down our very long and steep and icy driveway and ran three easy miles on the dry pavement – just a few minor hills. The shoes are aptly named. They do feel like wearing a glove. I took a chance with the men’s version. The women’s shoe has a pleated elasticized heel that was suspect to me, and since I have feet like a dwarf man anyway, I thought I could switch genders. No problems with heel slippage, the toe box is delightfully roomy (no more black toenails!) and the minor cushioning in the foot bed feels like it’s in the right spots. The lacing is really responsive, and I could make the shoes fit tightly without cutting off circulation. On the road I concentrated on my running form, my foot placement, and my ankle stability. I could feel the muscles in my lower legs, ankles, and feet working in a different way, but it wasn’t a painful way. I could really feel the road, and though I was plodding along at my usual tortoise pace I felt as speedy and light as a hare.

I’m glad I found a pair of minimalist shoes that aren’t the VFF. (Apologies to all VFF lovers out there, but I need to wear socks with my shoes. It gets really cold in Montana.) And so thanks to the Trail Glove I take barefoot out of my home and onto the roads. Will it be enough to get me through a marathon? Updates to come!

This Christmas Iris came up with the best name ever. She was playing with the toy tree fort that Santa brought, complete with felt gnomes, swings, the tiniest little beds and chairs, and wooden woodland animals. She quickly claimed a favorite gnome (the one that looks the most like her) and announced that she was going to be calling her the most beautiful name in the world:

“Dingaleena!”

Over the past few weeks the gnome’s name has changed several times (I think she’s going by “Lily the Second” these days), but Jonathan and I can’t let Dingaleena go. We think Dingaleena is the best name ever.

“Here she comes, Miss America 2011, Dingaleena!”

“And our special tonight is the Dingaleena, a succulent blend of woodland gnome sauteed with amanitas and tree bark…”

“Madame President Dingaleena, it’s a Code Red!”

“NASA just confirmed the rumors that the manned mission to Mars is a go, but Bob, we’re a little puzzled by the name. What’s the story behind naming the mission Dingaleena?”

The only Dingaleena that’s lacking is a knitting pattern. If you were going to knit a Dingaleena, what would it be?

Something Eva Can Do

Eva has been suffering for several weeks from “middle child” syndrome. It really kicked in once Moira learned how to roll her r’s and Eva couldn’t do it, no matter how much she practiced. She wasn’t comforted when both Jonathan and I demonstrated (spittily) that no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t roll our r’s either. She began mentioning at odd moments throughout the day that there was nothing she could do that Moira and/or Iris couldn’t do. Bringing up all her wonderful personality traits, her excellent reading skills, her inventiveness and crazy sense of humor was cold comfort to her. She wanted an actual, identifiable skill that she could do and no other kids in this house could. And I couldn’t think of anything. That’s kind of the problem when your older sister is three years older than you. All of Eva’s skills have already been learned by Moira.

Then I realized that there was something I could teach her that Moira and Iris don’t know how to do. And so on New Year’s Day Eva learned how to crochet. Several hours later she’d finished a dish cloth in single crochet with a shell border. And nobody else (well, except me, but luckily I don’t count) in this house except Eva can crochet. I think we’ll leave it that way for a while. She deserves to have her unique talent last for a while longer.

And then later on New Year’s Day (it should have been done on New Year’s Eve, but Moira was sick so we postponed it) we participated in our annual braincell-killing tradition of throwing the lead to predict our futures for the new year. Usually the lead (a lump of solder melted in a tin can over a red-hot stove burner, then tossed in a dish of cold water) forms into a bland lump accompanied by a few smaller generic shapes we call “swords” and “teardrops”. It takes a lot of creativity to predict anything from the usual lump or misshapen ball. Last year my lead looked exactly like a golf club – and I don’t play golf. I raised it up out of the water and declaimed something along the lines of, “Umm … this golf club is predicting that this year I’ll play more games!” When I threw the lead on January 1 this year, I got something different. Something downright beautiful. And I can’t tell you how many times in the past few days I’ve thought of this lovely form as an omen of hope and change. To me, it looks like a flower (a peony, to be exact). And so even though it’s just a piece of melted solder, I can’t wait to blossom. I’m doing everything I possibly can to make my New Year’s fortune come true this year.

Love and Loss

Today while Moira and Eva were at school Iris was holding our little guinea pig Maria Estrella on her lap and watching Mary Poppins. I was working on the computer when she said to me, “Mama, Maria is all stretched out.” I looked over at her, and Maria was dead. She died right on Iris’ lap.

I knew Maria was sick. We had taken her to the vet and she was on antibiotics for a respiratory infection (often fatal in guinea pigs), but she seemed better and we were all sure that she’d be with us for the five to seven years of a regular guinea pig lifespan, not the 18 days we had her.

Death is part of the reason why I think pets are a vital addition to a family. It’s a good way for children to experience love and loss – just the sorts of big emotions they’re going to have in their lifetimes with the people they love. But the death of a family pet is never easy. There is much of parenting that seems effortless to me – or at least guided by common sense – but telling your children their beloved pet has died and finding the right words to explain the cycle of life and death, of love and loss, and to comfort them while crying yourself is not something that is easy to do.

This morning I reassured Iris that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that Maria’s heart had simply stopped beating because she was too sick. I held Iris while we cried, and then Iris carefully examined Maria’s body, looking at her open eyes and her limp legs and ruffling her silky fur. She wondered why Maria’s feet were wet, and I explained that her feet weren’t wet, they were cold. It was so obvious that Maria’s spirit was gone that Iris seemed to be quite aware of the distinction between life and death. We wrapped Maria in a pretty cloth and laid her in a peppermint tea box (she was that tiny) and put her in a safe place outside.

Then we waited for Moira and Eva to get out of school and went through the whole process again.

It’s surprising how much impact a little guinea pig can have in just a few days. Our house feels very empty without her, and yet also still full of Maria. Her orange is sitting on my cutting board, scraps of hay have not yet been swept off the rug where Iris tried to feed her and got carried away, and her empty cage is sitting on the trunk near the woodstove. Over the next few days all these physical traces of Maria Estrella will disappear. I’ll put away the toys the girls made for her, and disinfect her cage, and find a place to save the food and hay. We’ll bury her at my parents’ property so the girls can always visit her grave (they adore solemnly picking flowers to put on our other pets’ graves, none of whom they even remember) and then we’ll get another guinea pig. And we’ll look in her bright eyes and pet her soft fur and laugh when she gobbles and clip her toenails and feed her oranges and start to fall in love with her, too, and all the while we’ll know that she’ll die some day and break our hearts, but having her in our family will still be worth it.