Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Elk Rapids Christmas, and Other Such Fun

Last year Linda, Matt, and I spent our first Christmas together in Vegas. It was fun, but not a true Christmas - we didn't decorate (leave a decorated tree at home with two cats?? no thank you), didn't have snow, and didn't get to participate in many of the local events. This year, however, I'm going all out, and I'm taking Linda with me.
Why Knot? The brave pretzel vendors.
Well, sort of. I'm trying to take Linda with me, but sometimes it's too cold. These pictures, for instance, are from the Elk Rapids Community Christmas Celebration. I had five people lined up to go with me, but the 19 degree day (not counting wind chill) scared everyone away.

The Miss Elk Rapids court sang Christmas carols with two tough Salvation Army captains.
No matter. I went by myself into the blustery, blistering cold. I walked down River Street, then almost jogged in an attempt to stay warm. Though I was chilled, the volunteers and characters played their parts with enthusiasm and energy (I think it helped them stay warm).

A little pre-Christmas socializing: Dancer left the North Pole to visit us in ER.
Despite being alone, I had a great time. How many other people get to visit with the elves and reindeer before Christmas?

Our town crier traveled the streets announcing the events and selling mistletoe.
And for the kid in everyone, the Christmas train depot. The owner of a vacant store front graciously donated the use of the space to set up a Christmas village. In addition to the trains, carnival, and Santa, a local volunteer organization was wrapping gifts and another group had cookies and hot apple cider.

Welcome to Elk Rapids!
I really wish Linda had decided to come, but I understand why she didn't. Numb legs don't last long.

Choo, choo!
After I snapped my pictures, I headed right home, ready to warm up and relax. Imagine my surprise to find Matt's car in the driveway, but the house locked up and no one home. I called him to find out what had happened.

"Mary (our neighbor) stopped by to ask Linda if she wanted to go downtown. We decided to come by and surprise you."

Ho, ho, ho!
Well, surprise! I was already home!

Since Linda did eventually make it downtown (even if she wouldn't go with me), I figured it would justify sharing some photos and telling you about our small town fun. I'd had to have a post without any pictures of Linda, though, so here's a look at her favorite kind of winter activity:


Monday, November 25, 2013

Matt's Favorite - Cathedral Windows

Mr. Matt loves sugar. He doesn't just enjoy sweet things; he somehow knows which sweet things have the highest sugar content (and lowest nutritional value) and prefers those snacks. Example - Cathedral Windows. Really nothing more than chocolate covered sugar. These are super easy to make, so I don't mind making a batch. Mr. Matt lucked out this weekend, too - I needed a couple of pictures of my Cathedral Windows for a post on another blog, so I had to throw some together. Whenever I have to do something like this, I recruit Linda as my model.

Really, these couldn't be easier. You start with one back of chocolate chips and one bag of mini, colored marshmallows. I use a large glass bowl to make my own double boiler.

Turn the heat to high, letting the water boil, and stir constantly. You want the chips to melt into a puddle of smooth, chocolatey goodness.

After your chips have melted, add the bag of marshmallows. Mix together until all of the marshmallows are thoroughly coated.

Next, tear off a 2.5-3" long section of waxed paper. Pour your mixture onto the paper. Spread the mixture down the length of the paper, then wrap the paper around your marshmallows (creating a log).

Tuck your log into the freezer for an hour or two (until firm). Or, if you live in the tundra like me, put it outside for an hour. Once it's firm (you should be able to wave it around like a sword), unwrap it on a cutting board.

Now for the fun - making the windows. Slice the log into 1/2" sections. You now have individual windows! (Sorry I don't have a better picture. I gave most of these away, and when I returned to take a picture of the few remaining windows, they were gone. Matt apologizes and said it would be okay with him if I had to make another batch to get a better photo).

This was the first time Linda had made or eaten Cathedral Windows, and now she's a fan too!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

And the crafting continues, snowman-style

A couple of years ago Matt and I bought Linda a ceramic snowman for Christmas. She never got around to painting it, but when I came home the other day she had everything out and ready to go. Problem: after two years those little tubs of paint turn into solid masses of color.

So, about week later we made it to JoAnn's and picked up so more paint. Linda found some pastel and glitter paint that she really liked. Finally, the painting commences.

Viola! A sparkling, pink-coated snowman for the winter season! That's not all, though. Linda also picked up some items to paint for Christmas presents. I'll have to wait to show you those.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Getting Festive

Linda and Matt share a passion for holiday decorations. It doesn't matter which holiday - 4th of July, Christmas, Sweetest Day - so long as they can find a decoration for it. If we can't find a decoration, we don't have a problem making our own.

Recently my sister created a fabric wreath for Halloween:

Growing Up Gabel
We don't celebrate Halloween, but I liked the idea behind the wreath: fabric and a wreath form. What could be easier? Linda and I trotted on down to Joann's to see what we could find for fall and Christmas.

My sister bought 1.25 yards each of five different fabrics for her 16" wreath form, but she had a ton of fabric left, so Linda and I hit the remnant shelf first to see what we could find. We bought five different fabrics for each wreath (a mixture of prints and solids), and we bought 12" forms.

The remnants ranged from 0.33-1.0 yards, then we purchased 0.5 yards of the other fabrics. Based on my sister's experience, I cut my material into 1" x 6.5" strips. DISCLAIMER: My sister used a rotary cutter, but she didn't tell me that. I had to use scissors, which is a MUCH longer process. However, it worked very well to measure a 13" wide section and cut that in half. I then took each 6.5" strip and continually halved it until I ended up with 1" pieces.

It took a while, but I cut strips while watching TV, so it wasn't bad. After I had everything cut, I gave the pieces to Linda and turned her loose. Her fingers would get tired and she had to take a couple of breaks, but she kept at it.

Linda tied the strips to the second ring from the outside (the third largest). When she finished, the wreath was fully covered and there was still a pile of cloth (and I hadn't even cut all of the fabric yet). I had roughly 2.25 yards of fabric for the fall wreaths, and it was enough to make two.

We haven't started the Christmas wreaths yet because we need to buy a couple more forms. She's pretty excited about making more, especially now that we know we'll be able to keep one at the house and give one away!

I'm most excited about the fact that we can make these wreaths for any occasion. As long as Joann's keeps making holiday-themed fabrics, we're in business.

Our chiropractor - Linda decided to give her second wreath to Dr. Brad of Back on Track. You can see it there this month!

Friday, October 18, 2013

More than Sports - Loyalty

To call Linda a sports fan is like saying fish enjoy water. I can't imagine her without a game to watch or a team to cheer. Whereas I enjoy football and will watch whoever is playing on Sunday night, Linda is very particular. It isn't the sport specifically that she watches, it's her team. 

Linda's room - notice the theme?
Linda is a fiercely loyal fan. She won't watch just any football, she watches the Detroit Lions or the Michigan Wolverines. She knows the Tigers' schedule better than anyone I know. If the games weren't on so late, the Red Wings would be a regular fixture in her winter schedule.

One of her many Detroit Tigers shirts (and our little buddy Shep).
When you have Linda's loyalty, you have a lifetime cheerleader. Seriously, I don't think it would be possible to convince her that you make mistakes. Leland has never mismanaged the Tigers - they only lose because of ill-gotten gains by other teams (the term "stupid jerks" is often heard after a loss).

Ready for another game with her best friends.
Her unwavering support often translates into relationships, which can be both good and bad. It certainly is nice to have someone on my side, to know that I can count on her for support and encouragement no matter how stupidly I behave. That is an amazing blessing, but it's also a tremendous responsibility - I can't let it give me a big head.

When you have relative in Vegas, you're an honorary Rebel.
It's tempting to believe that I'm never wrong, but I'm a pretty smart person - no one's always right. Linda's overheard some arguments between Matt and me, she's watched my sisters and I get into some classic disagreements, and she's listened to me on the phone with customer service representatives from Charter. Ask her about any of those situations and she'll tell you: Matt should have done something different, my sisters don't understand, and Charter needs Jesus.

Guess who's excited about the game and who we had to bribe to wear a Red Wings sweater?
I'd love to say that's always true, but I often expect Matt to do 18 hours of work in 12, I'm tired and cranky when dealing with my sisters, and I didn't read the fine print on my cable contract. It would be easy to let Linda convince me that it's not my fault, but it wouldn't be right. I make sure to tell her how hard Matt works and praise him for being good at his job so she and I can stay home together. I apologize for yelling, saying that my tiredness is never an excuse to lose my temper with my sisters. Charter ... well, they are stupid jerks, so we try not to talk much about them.

With her sister-in-law and brother at a Lumen Christi football game - it's tradition!
Linda's loyalty has actually made me more aware of my actions and reactions. I don't ever want to be one of those people who pretends to do everything right. I make mistakes. I want to learn from them. While I'm learning, however, it certainly is nice to have someone around giving me unconditional support. I hope someday to be worthy of it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Family Vacation!

I've been out of town for two weeks, so Linda spent some time with her siblings while I was gone. She used to be a regular at the Lumen Christi football games, but hasn't been able to go since moving north. Everything worked out last weekend for her to travel south and spend a weekend with her Jackson-based brother, Colorado-living sister, and, of course, Lumen Christi football.

Looks like we've all had a great vaca!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Communicating: Tongue-Tied No More

Aunt Linda and me on a chilly July 4th.
I've never met a person more generous than Aunt Linda. Every time we walk past the children's department in a clothing store, she finds an outfit she'd like to buy for every child she knows. She knits hats, scarves, and pot holders for anyone she's ever met (and even donates some to various charitable organizations for the people she hasn't met yet). Some day, when we're rich and frivolous, we'll have fun giving away our money and buying things for people. Until then, we dream about it.

It's important to understand Linda's generous nature in order to understand her actions. There are times when she can't quite verbally express her motivations, so I need to rely on my knowledge of the situation and Linda's personality to know what's going on.

For example, we recently planned a night at the movies with our friends Hope and Nick and two of their kids. We all enjoy the movies, but what we really look forward to are the snacks. Matt and I can share, but Linda refuses to sit next to use (she doesn't like to watch us cuddle), so she gets her own food and sits a row or two ahead of us.

She'll usually buy herself a medium drink and small popcorn, but during this particular outing she ordered a large tub. Matt double checked with Linda that she did, in fact, want the large popcorn (he knows how it upsets her stomach). She insisted. Matt looked at me for some help, but I waved him off. "Okay, get the large."

Here's the thing about Linda - it's hard enough to find the right words to say what she means in every day situations, and when you put her on the spot, she chokes. If I had pressed her and tried to force the small popcorn on her, she would have become upset and frustrated while insisting on the large. Instead, I tapped in to what I know: Hope's family was meeting us at the movies and Linda loves to give. Sure enough, when our friends arrived Linda handed them her bucket. She ate a bit off the top, but the rest was theirs.

Living with a special-needs individual can be difficult if you expect them to think, act, and communicate the same way you do. Instead of trying to force them into your mold, get to know their molds. Linda can't always use her words to express herself, so I have to be more observant. By paying attention and letting her communicate in her own way, Linda and I understand each other pretty well. Now we just need to earn that million dollars so we can hit the children's department.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Watch Your Tone of Voice ... Other People are Paying Attention

Matt and Linda are quite the team.
When I started this blog, I wanted to write honest, insightful observations about having Aunt Linda live with me. I've posted some photo updates and such, but I've avoided the more honest writings. Part of me doesn't want to offend. Part of me doesn't want to reveal too much. The writer in me, however, wants to be genuine. After chatting with Matt, we've decided to go ahead with the blog as planned. Nothing here is meant to offend or point fingers - these are merely observations about our new life.

I've known Linda my whole life. She changed my diapers, gave me bottles, and spent almost every July 4th at our family's house. Growing up with a handicapped aunt, I've never noticed anything odd or uncomfortable about her special needs, and I often forget that not everyone grew up with an Aunt Linda.

Matt and Linda met about a dozen times before she moved in with us. It's been an adjustment for both of them, but they're learning a lot about each other (and I'm learning too).

Generally Matt and Linda get along very well, but occasionally there's tension. The tension usually creeps in after a conversation, and it usually ends with Linda reminding Matt that she's not a child. After a few such episodes, I started paying attention. It didn't take me long to identify the problem.

Though he doesn't mean to, Matt talks to Linda differently than he does to me. If he wants to go to Kmart, he'll simply ask me, "Do you want to go to Kmart?" That's not the case with Linda, though. He doesn't mean to, but Matt's tone changes when talks to Linda. A simple question about going shopping turns into, "Hey, Linda! Do you want to go to Kmart?! We can walk around, see what's on sale. Maybe buy some candy?"

For Matt, like many people who didn't grow up around a handicapped individual, this weird instinct kicks in. My thought: Linda's childlike wonder and appreciation of life leads people to unconsciously talk to and coddle her like a child. Matt doesn't hear it, but Linda does.

There's a delicate balance between respecting her needs and respecting her age. Now that I've helped Matt identify this tension-causer, he's making an effort to change. He's paying attention to what he says and how he says it. We do sometimes need to explain things to her differently, but it's how you say it that matters.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Book Review: Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck

Once Upon a Prince, the first novel in the Royal Wedding series by bestselling author Rachel Hauck, treats you to a modern-day fairy tale.
Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess---just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.
The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.
Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s an ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.
I'm a casual fan of Rachel Hauck, and I love fairy tale love stories, so I couldn't wait to read Once Upon a Prince. I really wanted to like this story. I read it to the end, desperate to find that sweet, unexpected plot point; unfortunately, I never found it.
This is a fun, easy read, but it's quite predictable and slightly juvenile. I could overlook the long conversations about love and politics between the prince and his right-hand man (even though my husband would never talk like that; then again, he's not a prince). The love story itself was a little weak, but it's fiction. What bothered me the most was the predictability. Imagine Princess Diaries 2 and The Prince and Me, smash them together, and this is pretty much the story you'd read, complete with stereotypical characters (although those movies were marketed toward the YA crowd, not adults).
This book wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't what I had hoped. It's not going to surprise anyone, but if you're looking for a light story to pass the time, this book is a perfect fit.
*I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review as part of the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze program. The opinions are my own.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Garden Walk of Death by Melting

This year Matt & I finally made it to the Friendly Garden Club garden walk in Traverse City. Linda got to go with us by default. Any regular day would have been a great day for a garden walk, but this year it happened to fall on the hottest day of the year: 96-101 degrees with 95% humidity.

I could tell you we were uncomfortable, but that would be like saying Dick Wolf has had a bit of TV success. We knew it would be hot, but we wanted to try it anyway. Linda was game, but on one condition - no pictures. (I managed to sneak in a few ... hee, hee).

We toured six gardens despite the liquid heat (including the fairy garden below).

Lots of flowers, lots of plants, lots of fun features.

Without question, Linda preferred the garden flying the Polish flag.

She didn't make it through all of the gardens, but she did enjoy the flora and fauna before the heat got to her. Though she missed three of the gardens, we have photo evidence from the walk so she can forever enjoy the flowers.

Hopefully next year it will be a little cooler and we can all enjoy all of the beauty (and the adorable little frogs riding on the backs of fake ducks).

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Bike (and Horn)

It's here! Linda's bike arrived three days early, but she was not willing to wait to get it going. She kept asking Matt when he would be able to put her bike together (he said it was every hour on the hour - I wasn't here to witness this, but I don't doubt it). He sneaked outside to work on it while she was distracted with the cats.

Aunt Linda picked out a bright pink Schwinn to ride around town. Since everyone in my family likes to make sure others know where we are at all times, she also selected a horn (which she and Matt tested ... in Wal-mart ... multiple times).

It didn't take long for Linda to wonder what happened to Matt, so she came outside to boss, er, um ... supervise.

Almost done ...

Success! She wasn't quite ready to ride it around town yet, but everything is adjusted to her liking and it's ready to go. Now we just need to give her some errands to run ...