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Archive for July, 2010

When Do You Let Go?

Although there have been several pets in my life, Charlie is the first that has ever been 100% mine.

During college I worked as an assistant at a veterinarians office. I transferred schools late and was too far beyond the partying stage to be interested in going out to bars or socializing with the other students. I was just at a different point in my life. Engaged to be married and doing my best to hurry up and graduate, with a fiancée in the military I spent a lot of time alone. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being alone, it’s never been a problem for me to entertain myself, but it always felt like there was something missing at home – not to mention that going home to an empty apartment after dark allowed my imagination to run away with me on more than one occasion.

The vet clinic where I worked had had Charlie, and his wandering buddy, for over a year. The two dogs had separately been injured and brought into the clinic to be fixed up, but were never claimed. Perhaps joined by common experiences, they became best buddies, and although we took them out as much as we could they spent a LOT of time stuck in a run in the back of the building. Charlie’s buddy was ancient, and after he passed away, Charlie became obviously depressed. The girls at work did their best to keep  him happy. We always brought him special treats and spent time with him on breaks. One of the techs took him home every weekend so that he could spend time with a family, but the situation was getting sticky because her own dog hated having competition around and was making his displeasure apparent by acting out at every possible opportunity.

I knew better than to agree to taking him home with me the next weekend, but my apartment was pet friendly and no one else would do it. I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving him alone. From the minute that he hopped into the front seat of my car and laid his head on the console I knew that he belonged with me. Instead of driving to my apartment I went straight to PetSmart and stocked up on supplies, not the least of which was a shiny new dog tag with his name and my phone number neatly printed on the front.

Never once since then have I regretted my decision.

Charlie came to me house broken and loving, the most perfectly behaved dog that anyone could ask for. I wish that I could take credit for teaching him a few tricks or instilling in him the manners of a good canine citizen, but he simply came that way. The vet placed him somewhere between 10-12 years old, and in spite of an old .22 bullet in his shoulder, and a broken hind leg that had healed without medical attention making him a half-inch shorter on one side than the other, in perfect health.

My handsome dog loves people. All people. His favorite activity is chasing squirrels that he never catches, and just basking in the sunshine. He’s never once had an accident in the house, and walks on the leash like a perfect gentleman with his little nub tail wagging a million miles an hour the whole time. He only barks for treats, and sits at the door every time I leave just waiting for me to come home. He manages to ensnare the heart of every person that walks by him, offering a sedate lick on the hand before rolling over to suggest a belly scratch. His version of fetch involves watching you go get the ball over and over again, and when it thunders he snuggles as close as he can to my feet because he knows that I will keep him safe.

I missed out on the puppy years with my favorite guy, but he single-handedly raised two puppies for me, having them house broken in less than two weeks and teaching them all of the manners that he already came with. While I worked at the vet clinic he sat at the front desk and greeted everyone that came through, often baby sitting orphaned kittens and other wild life. He saw me through my first marriage, moving to unfamiliar places hundreds of miles from home (he’s not a fan of snow), and was there through my divorce. He kept me company in the barn for late night feedings and followed at my heels on many trail rides. Into my second marriage he’s been as steadfast as ever. The other dogs may greet everyone with equal enthusiasm, especially when its someone else doing the regular feeding and trips outside, but never Charlie. Charlie has been my dog from the beginning and I am the one he comes to first, bouncing in place because he’s happy to see me and wiggling like a pup against my legs until I give him a proper scratch.

From the beginning I asked him to stay with me through my first child, having no idea when that might be. Over two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, but numerous scans and tests couldn’t pin point the location. Without a location there’s no treatment. Life went on as usual. Regular testing showed that the cancer was still present but hadn’t gotten worse. We still couldn’t find it. He never missed a step.

My son was born six months ago, and just before his birth we found a lump under Charlie’s jaw. His lymph nodes were swollen. We had the blood tests run again, still cancer. The vet found a large tumor in his stomach and several more throughout his body. She tried to convince me that chemo was an option.

Working at a vets office, I saw chemo treatments first hand. They were painful and messy, and long-suffering pets often took them in stride, walking out the door with just six extra months on the tab. Some of them recovered fully, the young healthy ones; some, but not all, not even most.

My dog is, best case scenario, 16 years old. His eyes are cloudy and in spite of arthritis supplements and premium food, there are some mornings that he has trouble getting up. He is still the first to meet me at the door, but he doesn’t bounce in place, and his tail wags at half speed. His walks outside are slower and shorter, his limp more pronounced. Squirrels are given a pass these days, he would rather watch them from the window or the porch. He spends most of his time sleeping, but still downs his meals with gusto and finds his way to the water bowl. The weather affects him more than it ever has.

I asked him to see me through having my first child, and unfailingly, Charlie has done that. I have always known that he would not be with me forever, but the when has always been an ephemeral concept. It hurts to think of starting my morning without him, but more and more I am faced with the inevitable choice. When do I let go? When do I say it’s okay for him to sleep? I don’t want him to suffer, I don’t want him to be in pain, but the selfish part of me wants to take advantage of every single day that is left between now and the point that the decision has to be made.

At work, we always said that when an animal stopped eating and drinking, stopped doing the things they loved, then you would know that it was time. To me, that’s waiting a little too long. Charlie loves to sleep. He loves to eat. He loves to have his belly scratched. I don’t want his last days to be filled with hunger and hurting. I want to stuff him full of all of the yummy things he doesn’t get on a regular basis – steak, chicken, doggy sundaes at Bruster’s. I want to sit on the porch and watch the sun go down while he’s cuddled up next to me getting his belly scratched.

I want him to be happy and at peace. I know that he’ll be waiting for me, watching for me to come up the driveway, when it’s time for us to meet again.

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My son is 6 months old, and is finally getting to the point where he can sit up on his own in a shopping cart. As much as I want him to slow down on the growing up I am SO thankful that I don’t have to cart the stroller everywhere I go now. The world is just not ‘stroller friendly’ and I can’t imagine how people who are confined to wheel chairs do it. I can’t tell you how many doors I have struggled to open or how many aisles I have tried unsuccessfully to roll down with that big clunky stroller while doing my best to lug all of my items in a small tote bag and avoid other irritated shoppers. Moving to a shopping cart means freedom! It also means a lot of germs.

I’m not one of those moms that freaks out about my kid getting dirty, and in six months he has never once been sick, probably because I’m not a stickler about keeping him from touching anything and everything that hasn’t been sanitized, but shopping cart seats and handles are as close to a public toilet seat as I can imagine in terms of nastiness. Spend one day walking around Wal-mart watching what people do before they put their hands back on their cart and you’ll agree with me.

Some brilliant mother out there invented shopping cart covers a while ago and thank goodness, but they’re ridiculously expensive and I’m cheap. (Yep, I said it, I’m cheap.) Not to mention that they come in pretty boring colors. Etsy has some cart covers available in fabulous fabrics, but the prices are even more pucker worthy.

Admittedly, I have a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences Education (Home Ec. Teacher, people), but my sewing experience is limited to teaching a class full of eighth graders how to make a gym bag and even that I haven’t done in over five years. Somehow I got it in my head that making my own shopping cart cover couldn’t possibly be that difficult and I made it my mission to dust off the old sewing machine and try my hand at it.

HA.

It’s honestly not -that- hard, but it is tedious and I have the patience of a five year old. All things considered it came out well and I’m proud of it but there are definitely things that I would do differently if I were to make another one. Because I could only find ONE basic idea of how to make one on the internet I decided to create this blog post – hope it helps! (I’m going with the mindset that whoever is attempting this can operate a sewing machine but doesn’t have much more experience, obviously if you’re more experienced you can ignore some of my warnings and forge ahead.) Beware that I am one of those people who doesn’t have the patience to pin and iron all of my folds and seams before I move forward, I have a need to just get things done. If you want to be perfect, take your time and do it right.

*This is the way that I did it, that doesn’t mean it’s the right way, it’s just one option, do whatever you feel comfortable doing and see what happens. You can always take stitches out!*

Supplies

  • Fabric (I suggest using fleece as one of them unless you have a different plan for closing the leg holes after you read this, the other one can be something different or you can make the whole thing out of fleece). I would say 3 yards total just to be safe, but that depends on how big you want to make it and how good you are with a sewing machine.
  • Batting – I use sheet Poly-fill batting, it comes in a huge roll and I can cut whatever size/shape I want. You can use cherry pits if that’s what you feel like using, doesn’t matter.
  • Thread – something compatible with your machine that matches your fabric, or contrasts, whatever look you’re going for.
  • Elastic – I had a 5yd roll of round elastic. I used probably 3.5 yds of it all told but yours might be different, it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around. You can use round or flat, any width, whatever appeals to you.
  • Marking pen/chalk
  • Scissors
  • Ruler or measuring device of some type
  • A safety pin/bodkin/leader for the elastic
  • Sewing Machine (or you can do it by hand, sure, but it’ll take forever)
  • Laundry Basket (optional)
  • A nice big glass of wine!

– Plan to use large sections of fabric. I made mine out of remnants which only complicated things because I had to stitch bits together that wouldn’t ordinarily have needed it. I used a laundry basket as a basic template. with the idea that I’d make it rectangular and roughly 40” by 38” or so, mine ended up considerably smaller just based on the fabric that I had, and I have concerns that it won’t actually fit on a shopping cart. We’ll see. If it doesn’t I’ll add a skirt to lengthen it and rework the elastic, no big deal.

– I chose a cotton flannel and a coordinating polar fleece. Both are soft and washable, and the polar fleece doesn’t need to be ‘finished’ on the edges which will come in handy later. I also used a poly-fill sheet batting (you can use stuffing but it will be lumpy), some ribbon (for toy tabs), and some elastic (I started with 5 yards of round elastic but didn’t use all of it).

– WASH AND DRY YOUR FABRICS BEFORE YOU USE THEM. Otherwise things will fade/shrink/and stretch differently when you do wash it and make your finished product all wonky.

– Go for the pillow case approach. Two identical pieces that you stitch together on all four sides (yep, four) with the part you want showing facing the inside. You want to be looking at the ‘back side’ of your fabric. I tried the tube approach and it left messy seams. The shape and the seams are pretty fluid concepts, remember you’re going to run elastic around the outside so no one is ever actually going to see it stretched out and laid flat. Large and rectangular is all that really matters. If you want to be scientific about it you can always measure a shopping cart at your local store.

– Create a channel for the elastic. You should still be one the wrong side of the fabric. You’re going to need several yards of elastic, no, I don’t know how many, it will depend on how big your cover ends up being. I used round elastic but you can use flat or whatever you have. However wide your elastic is, your channel needs to be wider. Basically, you’re going to stitch all the way around your rectangle again about one inch in from the seam you already created, leaving a gap in one corner so you can run your elastic through. I would not suggest stitching your elastic to the project because you’ll get pulling and bunching before you’re finished, fabric is much easier to work with when you can lay it flat. Trust me on this next part. Snip a small hole in the seam in the corner directly opposite of the gap you left in the channel. Using that nice neat little hole, thread your elastic through. Take the time to do it, before you go any further. They sell something called a ‘bodkin’ at the fabric store that grabs onto the end of your elastic and allows you to thread it through the channel you’ve created, but IMO they’re too long to make the corners. Instead I used a safety pin and pinned it through the end of the elastic, then I ran a piece of tape around the pin to keep it from popping open. It does take a few minutes to fish the elastic all the way through but do it anyway. DO NOT PULL IT TIGHT. Leave both ends hanging out of the same corner. I would suggest safety pinning them to the fabric so they don’t pull through. It’s okay to leave some excess hanging out at this point.

– Now you need to cut your leg holes. Scary, right? I made mine 4” x 4” and approximately 2” apart in the middle. I set them towards the front of the shopping cart cover, keeping in mind that they would be against the front of the cart, not the seat. The bottom of the holes on mine start at about 12” in from the part that will go over the front of the cart. Center them (left to right). You can make one long rectangle instead of two leg holes if you prefer, but that means they’ll touch the cart against their legs. I laid my fabric out flat, used a ruler and marking pen to outline my holes, and then cut through one layer at a time.

– Turn your project right side out through one of the leg holes, making sure your elastic is still pinned in place. You should now be able to access your elastic through the gap you left in the channel you sewed. Fish the ends through. You can leave the tiny hole you threaded the elastic through in the first place, it won’t show, or you can pull it back through the leg hole and stitch it shut if you can’t leave it open. (Presumably, I did mine a little differently and with a great deal of colorful language while I used my seam ripper so I’m having trouble visualizing this method in my head but I -think- it works out right.)

– If you want to add toy loops, this is when I would do it, just cut a piece of ribbon, fold the ends under, and create your loop a short distance above the leg holes. Position your fabric so that you can stitch through only one layer and sew as many as you want. I used a zigzag stitch and mine is a little messy because I didn’t take my time. I didn’t add any pockets to my project, that’s something I would have done before stitching the two layers together and if you already know where your leg holes are going to be you can do your toy loops at the beginning too.

– Lay the cover out flat on your batting and trace the size you need. I used two layers of batting for the whole cover and then placed a third partial layer of batting across the front of my cart cover where my son has the potential to bang his head. Batting comes in different weights so use whatever you feel comfortable with. I cut out my three pieces of batting, stacked them on top of each other and then rolled them up like a sleeping bag. Then, I stuffed my batting in through the leg hole and laid it out flat inside my project.

– I used a basting stitch in each of the four corners to hold my batting in place. A basting stitch is basically an unanchored stitch that you are going to remove later, and I do mine by hand because they tend to be one or two loops through the fabric and are much looser than if you do them with a machine. Machine stitches can be hard to remove so keep that in mind. You don’t have to baste, I just didn’t want my batting shifting while I was working on the rest of it. Making sure that I was a couple of inches inside the project so that I wouldn’t obstruct the elastic channel, I used the machine to throw in a few stitches near each corner to permanently hold the batting in place. It may not be a problem right now but once you start washing the shopping cart cover it will help keep things from getting lumpy. Then I removed my basting stitches. Easy Peasy.

– The leg holes gave me some trouble. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to finish them or what I wanted to do with them. I considered ribbon but I wanted it to be soft. I ended up cutting wide strips of polar fleece (here’s where the part about not having to finish the edges of polar fleece comes into play) to line the leg holes. I stitched the leg holes shut with a zig-zag stitch, cut the excess batting from the middle, and then wrapped each one in a band of polar fleece. Fleece is stretchy, so I was able to sew a constant curve as opposed to trying to fill in a square and I overlapped one end over the other all with a zig zag stitch. As you can probably tell in the pictures, I did not take the time to match up the front side of my fleece loop with the back side and as a result had some double stitching. If you take your time and pin things first you’ll have a much cleaner look.

– Now all you need to do is tighten up your elastic! Tug it through the channels until it scrunches everything up and tie it off with several knots. I measured mine using a laundry basket. I tucked mine back in and sewed fleece ‘caps’ on all of the corners to hide the elastic that was showing from the one spot and to make the corners easy to find when I’m trying to put the shopping cart cover on in the store. You could easily hand stitch the one open corner shut and stuff it down inside and no one would ever notice.  To make the caps, I used a coaster to mark two circles of fleece, cut them out, folded them in half and stitched down the middle twice leaving enough room in between the two lines to cut them in half again which left me with two cones from each circle (four cones, four corners, you get the idea). I fitted each cone over a corner and zig zag stitched them into place but I DID NOT STITCH ALL THE WAY ACROSS. Why? Because I didn’t want to inhibit the elastic sliding through the channel to keep things gathered. I am so glad that I found a textural way to delineate the corners from the rest of the cover, now it’s easy to grab them and pop them into place instead of shifting the cover around one handed while holding a baby in the other and trying to figure out how it fits. If you attempt the cones you’ll see what I mean about it being much harder to sew with the elastic already pulling your project together.

Voila, you have a shopping cart cover!

I’ve included a few pictures of mine. The polka-dot fabric is flannel and the mustard yellow fabric is fleece. I had scraps of both, so to make my two original halves of fabric I had to sew the fleece and the polka-dots together which is how my ‘seat’ is a different color. It’s not hard, it just takes more time and involves more sewing.

GOOD LUCK! Have a little faith in yourself, I promise it can be done. I’ll try to answer questions to the best of my ability. I wish I had taken pictures of all of the steps – if I ever attempt another one I promise I will!

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I bought fabric on sale and used a 40% off coupon for notions. All told I spent about $8 on my custom shopping cart cover and love it!

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I have read five MKA (Mary Kay Andrews) books to date, and savored the first four like a favorite dessert. I can appreciate that she not only sets her books in familiar southern locals but that she is actually FROM the area. Nothing irks me more than people who try to write southern fiction without ever having actually stepped foot below the Mason-Dixon. We don’t all drive pick up trucks or play the banjo, and some of us don’t fry everything we eat for goodness sake. Obviously she is following the old adage to ‘write what you know’ and as a result her first four books were hilarious, irreverent, truly southern novels with strong leading ladies and of course, a little bit of playful romance.

Her characters are imperfect, temperamental, and quirky. Page after page had me laughing out loud. I devoured Savannah Breeze in about 2.5 seconds and fell in love, quickly gobbling up everything else that she had published at the time. I have diligently searched the book stores ever since in search of something new by MKA and, while I liked it enough to finish it (every book gets 100 pages before I make that decision), The Fixer Upper was a decidedly disappointing read.

MKA took a departure from her usual formula to introduce a young and naive character, a recently graduated lobbyist, and sets the beginning of her book in Washington D.C. a far cry from anything even remotely southern. The character as a whole felt forced throughout the book. We’re supposed to believe that she graduated with top honors from high school to undergrad and then finally from Georgetown but that she’s disgustingly oblivious to the political bribery going on around her for the first half of the book until she gets blindsided by a federal investigation, fired from her job, and thrown into a house-flipping situation in a small southern town while inheriting a mean spirited old lady and her dog in the process – all because she had a crush on her much older boss.
Um, what?

I need a little congruity here. You want me to believe that this chick is ridiculously book smart but doesn’t have an ounce of common sense? I had a hard time loving or hating the lead character. I just found her dull and boring. Maybe I’m not a big fan of the constant damsel in distress type, but the heroine in The Fixer Upper has few redeeming qualities. She can’t stand up to either of her divorced parents, her crotchety old roommate, her former boss, the FBI, or anyone else that comes knocking on her door. For the majority of the book, I’d have bet on a wet noodle to have more spine and more than once I caught myself mentally calling her pathetic without feeling sorry for her what so ever.

Throughout the book MKA made obvious attempts to inject her usual easy humor, with the hard-line FBI agents for example, but their pithy one liners were cliche and the character templates themselves too overdone.

Although there were several minor characters worth reading about, a quaint little Georgia town, a glorious old home place, and a bit of family drama I would have loved a more in-depth explanation of, I would not recommend this book to other MKA fans. Her books are generally very entertaining, but this one fell short of the mark.

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Book Review Basics

I’m not a published author or a highly paid critic (I wish), what I happen to be is a disgustingly voracious reader and a strongly opinionated woman. Thanks to the internet, those are the only real credentials I need to slap a review on every book I happen to pick up. Good, Bad, Ugly. If I read it you’re probably going to hear about it and thanks to the lovely used book store not far from my house I’m able to read A LOT.

I credit my love of reading with having helped to develop my vivid imagination and a ridiculously extensive (if underused) vocabulary. I am a stickler for spelling, and have been known to refuse to read a book or watch a movie if the title is misspelled (even intentionally) or if I discover too many mistakes in the first couple of chapters; but punctuation and I have never been friends. Commas are the Devil.

I have read thousands of books. Literally. A two hundred page novel takes me roughly two hours to read and I usually go through at least one a day. Genre doesn’t seem to matter as long as I can pick it up and find myself transported to some other time or place. Everything I read is strictly for pleasure. I don’t look to books for self-help or to glean a lesson. When I read I am looking for a diversion from the every day. I want characters I can identify with and a plot that keeps me on my toes.  I love description but there is a fine line between painting a picture so that I can fill in my own details and trying to cram the minutiae of every scene down my throat. If I can’t envision a room based on a few paragraphs of information, your writing sucks.

I don’t look for hidden symbolism and obscure references to current cultural happenings when I read. A bee is a bee, a bush is a bush, the end. I often said as a teenager that one day I would write a book and when I became famous for writing that book and students were forced to read and discuss it in class, I would attend the lecture and listen while they picked apart every detail and dispelled the simple magic of the story, so that at the end I could stand up and say “No, you’re all wrong, the red wagon in my story is just a red wagon and the old woman does not symbolize death.” I still feel that way, although the chances of my ever becoming a famous writer are slim to none. It all circles back to my procrastination problem, but that’s a different entry.

I love books that keep me guessing, and loathe books that end without a resolution. I don’t have a favorite author(s) as I tend to find someone I like, blow through everything they’ve ever written, and then continue on to something new. I rarely read a book twice, because whatever life station and circumstance made me love that book the first time around are likely to have completely changed by the second read, rendering that experience lackluster in comparison and as a result tarnishing my opinion of a previously treasured book.

Lastly, although this is bound to leave me standing on thin ice within the literary world, I don’t have any kind of deeply ingrained appreciation of ‘the Classics’. In my opinion, nothing should be a certain way simply because that’s the way it’s always been. If that were the case most of us would still have British accents and swear fealty to a King. Ideas grow and change as do the people and situations surrounding them. The paradigm of the world shifts too often to declare what once may have been a jarring social commentary a timelessly applicable work.

Differing opinions are healthy as is the rational discussion of those varying points. Everything found on this blog is simply my opinion and nothing more.

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Cliche much?

Truth be told, the blog title wasn’t my first choice, but it seems as though I’m not the only creative mind out there with a desire to plaster my thoughts all over an online diary. I agonized over what to name this thing, perhaps harboring some tiny flicker of hope that zillions of random strangers will feverishly type the address in over and over jonesing for regular updates (I’d settle for one or two loyal fans that aren’t somehow blood related).

Somehow, even though it wasn’t what I originally envisioned, Beaucoup Baby just fits.

Beaucoup (Boo – Coo for all you non-southerners) means many, ample, much, in abundance, galore and I couldn’t think of a better way to describe my life or the ideas that go whizzing about in my head. My brain is constantly on overdrive, my motivation and follow-through not so much.

I can assure you my intentions are always good, but I procrastinate with the best of them and I have a hard time focusing on any one thing for long. I wish that meant that I could accomplish a million things every day but in reality all it means is that I have a thousand unfinished projects around me at all times and a dozen more ideas crowding in. This blog is going to be an interesting experiment as I’ll be pitting my famously stubborn will against my uncharacteristically voracious ADD.

The Baby half of the title stands for not only a term of endearment but also for very young beings, and as my life currently revolves around a six month old little boy I have no doubt that post after post is going to be filled with my own personal wisdoms on mommy-hood.

Seriously though, it’s not all about him. Like I said before, I have a difficult time focusing on anything in particular and this blog is doubtless going to run the gambit of everything from social rants and product reviews to crafty projects, yard sale finds, and anything else that happens to strike my fancy. I own horses, dogs, and am a halfway decent cook. It’s guaranteed to be random and it will hopefully be amusing as well but it will also be pure, undiluted, me with no reservations and no apologies.

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