Dear Grandpa,

I miss you tremendously. I can’t fathom a world that doesn’t include you and it hurts to know you aren’t in it anymore. To know I won’t get one of your hugs, with a kiss on my cheek, ever again breaks my heart open. I miss your voice already.

I have so many good memories of us together when I was a kid, but I wish I had more adult ones. I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch better, write and call more, and make it for all the family events. I haven’t had the best examples for making family a priority, but I’ve always loved you.

I’ve taken for granted your, and Grandma’s, constant presence in my life. Every phone call or card were par for the course and now there won’t be anymore. So thank you for loving me in all the ways you knew how. I think being that constant presence was one of them.

I will make sure Wallace knows you were a decent man, a loving person, and that you always got down on the floor to play with every grand kid and great grand kid. We will keep you alive by telling your stories and loving each other.

I remember sitting on your knee while you jostled me up and down, singing a little tune. I remember the smell of your pipe tobacco and the place they lived in your shirt pocket when I was little. I remember when you went to Kroger and asked for help so you could find gluten free flour to make gravy for Thanksgiving that I could eat, too. I remember how easily you smiled and laughed and loved.

Thank you for these hands with their flat nails and sturdy fingers. Thank you for the determination to always put one foot in front of the other. Thank you for the eyebrows that have been trying to grow together since back when tweezers were just for splinters and stingers. Thank you for paying the long distance bill every time Grandma called me in Chicago (and every time since then while I stubbornly hold onto my old number). Thank you for these ears that I only just realized I got from you.

Love, Jennifer

Grandpa and me at a family wedding.
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DIY Pokeball Bike

Wallace outgrew their last bike and so I wanted to get the next size up. The plan was to just get any used bike and maybe give it a coat of paint to make it neat and new. Instead it turned into a massive project that cost almost as much as buying a new bike, but it was worth it!

The blank canvas.

The bike we started with was in way worse shape than expected, so that is where most of the cost came from. But it was free so I was able to make it work. I bought new tires, two cans of spray paint, a kick stand, and one set of break pads. I used tools I had on hand and amazingly the tubes were still intact and worked just fine. I also used grip tape that I happened to have on hand that I grabbed on clearance years ago. It doesn’t have a chain guard, which would be nice to replace somehow. The pedals were really bashed up so I replaced them with ones from the tag-along bike we aren’t using right now (since riding hurts my neck too much still).

Naked bike.

I prepped the bike for painting by taking most of it apart. If they had done a better job on the painting, I probably would have taken more of it apart and done a better job on mine too, but I just needed to cover up all of their black paint. I took off the wheels, the pedals, the break handles, the torn apart handle grips, and took the chain part way off. I used torn up plastic bags and box tape to cover over the parts I left on that I didn’t want painted red. The previous owner had just painted the whole thing matte black without removing anything. Even the chain and wheels. I should have put down more cardboard since I did get some spray paint on the driveway, oops.

I used electrical tape to cover over where the chain goes.
I hadn’t been able to get the left pedal off before painting. Tip for others is the right goes how you’d expect and the left goes opposite. I had some advice online and found an article that explained it with pictures.

My paint job was not perfect, but I was trying to get it done in one coat. I chose a high gloss that looked like it would work for this situation. I did sand down some rough patches from the black paint first, and then wiped it down thoroughly with a damp rag to get any dirt and dust off. I had some drips and some spots that could have used a 2nd coat. It was my first time using spray paint and my arm was feeling it!

I finished up in the dark, so it could dry over night before assembling. Then I had to bring it all in because it was forecasted to rain!

One of the wheels was half painted black and both tires were completely worn out. I decided that since it was going to be red like a Pokeball I should make the wheels white to fit the theme! I taped over the center parts with the gear and the bolts with my same method of plastic bag and tape. My arm was so sore by this point and it was getting dark, so I missed quite a few spots. I went with the “won’t notice on a trotting horse” theory and didn’t go buy another can of paint.

Back together again! It looked so good with the white wheels and black tires.

The next day I got it put back together before Wallace was due home from a week at my mom’s. I got the kick stand installed and the new grip tape on. The next step needed Wallace’s expertise.


My dad had bought Wallace a pack of really nice Pokemon stickers and once this project started taking shape we knew they needed to go on the bike. And not just to cover up my drips and smudges… We spent quite a while deciding on which stickers to put where and get them on as smoothly as possible.

Final touch!

And of course it needed a Pokeball bike basket! I started basing it off of a pattern but ended up making it my own so I plan to turn it into a free pdf pattern. I still need to install the new break pads on the back and the front breaks don’t really work, but it has the kind to pedal backwards anyway.

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Lead is a Really Big Problem

There is no safe level of lead. And yet companies are allowed to do their own testing and reporting in regards to levels of lead in their products. The consumer safety measures that are in place are not enough, in part to lead lobbyists. Lead is bad for everyone and yet it is still allowed in many new items made today in the US and around the world.

The most at risk group are infants and toddlers because they put their hands and many items in their mouths, they are small, and their brains are in a crucial state of development. But companies are allowed to make and sell baby food that contains lead without repercussions and stricter regulations. And there is lead paint on baby bottles that have not been recalled. On top of that, older items intended for children are not recalled because they met the regulations at the time, which were often none.

Products currently being made for children are regulated to be under 90ppm of lead and yet many aren’t meeting the standards. Some because no one is fully monitoring them and others because they are imported and sold by fake companies to get around those regulations (never buy things online that aren’t from a traceable company). It’s all about profit.

There are also many items being sold today that aren’t regulated because they are not “intended for use by children under 12.” Some of the items that are not intended for children but contain high levels of lead and that they interact with regularly include keys, dishes, and Christmas (etc) decorations. Children don’t live in bubbles of only items intentionally made for them that are fewer than 10 years old, and they don’t become immune to the toxic effects of lead when they turn 12!

People have been lead to believe that this is a problem of the past because in 1979 it was banned in the paints and stains of new buildings. We’ve been taught that the only way to get lead poisoned is to be a baby and eat leaded paint chips. This completely disregards all the old and new sources of lead! Even this recently published story focuses a lot on the lead levels of children 6 and under who live in old homes that could have lead paint. This direction of research and reporting disregards the very real low level lead exposure that comes from many sources in our lives, and which can lead to acute poisoning at any time.

Yes, young children in old homes in low income areas are at higher risk, but that doesn’t take into account many of the other factors such as nutrition, water sources, old school buildings, knock off toys, and, a new favorite for remodeled playgrounds, tire mulch. It also doesn’t factor in better off families who hand down old toys and furniture, live in old homes, and use all the same everyday items that contain lead. This would have been my demographic when I was acutely poisoned as a teenager.

If you click on only one link in my post, please let it be this full length film about Tamara Rubin’s consumer advocacy work that is free on YouTube. Start there, watch it, share it, and start looking around your home and community to see what ways you can reduce your lead exposure. Tamara can be found on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok under the name Lead Safe Mama.

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The Card Caddy

Last week I got an email ad for a fabric store and the picture for on sale licensed fabric showed a device for holding playing cards. I knew right away that I needed to make one for Wallace! And since I cut my left pointer finger harvesting basil while under the influence of a migraine, I am on a crochet hiatus, but can manage to sew, which I haven’t done in a very long time.

I remember having a really hard time holding cards as a kid. I would drop them or fumble trying to organize them and it made the whole experience not fun. I remember that we had a few card holders that were round hard plastic circles held together with a spring. They worked okay but were cumbersome for my little hands. And back when I had wrist surgery over a decade ago, I would have loved a device like this. Instead I took the hard plastic piece of a “report cover” and glued it to a piece of cardboard. This allowed me to slide the cards in and out, making them stand up vertically. I was able to keep playing Skip-bo, but due to pain and medications I actually lost sometimes.

The ones we had when I was a kid were similar to this. Not very comfortable to hold…

So far with Wallace, I have either played games where you can lay the cards on the table/floor or I have Wallace lean them against a game box angled away from me. Usually this works but it would be so nice to have a different setup so I was ridiculously excited by that ad.

I looked at the ratings of the tutorial for the one in the ad and kept looking. I decided to combine some elements from this tutorial with the size and shape of this one. I wanted it to be low enough that Wallace could easily see over it when we are playing at a table. I also wanted 3 shallow pockets, velcro, and because I didn’t have a heavy duty fusible interfacing, I wanted the plastic canvas inserts.

I used only things I already had on hand and Wallace helped me pick the fabrics. It was accidental that the pockets look like a stoplight, but it’s colorful and goes well with the super hero comic fabric I really like. It is by no means perfect, but it is sturdy and work well. I decided to skip the plastic canvas in the section on the bottom because it does have two layers of medium weight fusible interfacing and it really didn’t need it.

I haven’t sewn anything more than a few birthday shirts since I was making scrub caps and masks before surgery. It was really fun to make this and to finally get to sew, but it was also exhausting. There was a lot of up and down and back and forth and helping Wallace with math. But there was also measuring and problem solving and learning not to touch my iron to velcro… Oops. It was less stressful and painful on my neck than when I last sewed in May, so that was good!

I think it could comfortably hold 3 cards in each side of each pocket, so 18 total. Hopefully that will be enough for when we play Pokemon TCG, Uno, or Harry Potter Clue.

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The Scrambled States of America Game

For the summer, we loosely focused on reading, games, and geography (while also working through leftover math pages from Math U See Beta). That lead me to searching for geography related books and games and ultimately to The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller. Then I learned there’s a game that came of it! (There are lots of other good books, games, and puzzles out there, but I should probably stick to writing about this one for this post.)

Here’s a link to the GoodReads for the book and a YouTube reading of it. I also found this review of the game by a homeschooling family that focuses heavily on learning by playing games. We checked the book out of the library and I put the game on my Amazon wish list for Wallace. Last week I was searching Ebay for another game I want to get and remembered The Scrambled States. I managed to get a new one for a decent price and it arrived today!

Wallace got it from the mailbox and we immediately opened it and started checking it out. They like to delve into learning the cards and different parts of a game before we play, which makes sense to me, especially for games like this with lots of reading. After we checked out all the cards and they laid them out in alphabetical order on the floor, we read the instructions and started playing.

The Scrambled States of America card game set up on our kitchen table.

The game isn’t too complicated but the suggested way to play is a speed version where you get the point if you find the card first, slapping it and saying the name. That’s not really fair when a grown-up is playing against a burgeoning reader with only a little geography knowledge. So we played the simpler version where each player who has a card that fits gets the point, whether they were first or not.

I think Wallace’s favorite part was the silly state shapes with eyes and various accessories and expressions. That definitely lightens the mood of the game and keeps it from being too seriously academic. We learn best through play, right?! We played two rounds and it was fun for both of us.

Some of the questions are more educational. Such as which states touch a certain ocean or questions that make you inspect the names and capitols and might lead to learning how to read, say, and spell them, while memorizing the capitols/states and getting an idea of where they are located on the map. Some of the questions are simpler or sillier and based more on the illustrations, such as what color they are or if they have teeth/one eye/or a hat.

I’m now in search of ways to add onto the game or use the cards in different ways. We have a giant laminated US map that I got from a thrift store a couple years ago, so I’m thinking we will spread it out and match the cards to the more realistic map. I’m also interested in learning the meanings and histories behind the state nicknames that are on the cards. Some are complete mysteries that I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard before!

I’m open to ideas on other ways to use the cards if anyone has suggestions. Or other ways to play with the concept of the scrambled states. Another fun skill is just remembered is that we were putting our state cards in alphabetical order as we played. I think I take it for granted that I alphabetized books and class lists at a very young age while helping my parents.

(I intend to update this post if we do anything else with the game.)

9/12/21 – I woke up this morning to find the game set up on the table ready to play. I was not expecting that! We played one round after I ate a quick breakfast. We are getting a little quicker with the game, but I plan on keeping it not a race for a while. Then we sorted the cards into types of clues (state name, direction, touches something, etc). Then Wallace got the big map out and matched up all the state cards with their locations. They noted that all the states on the east side of the country are small and they get bigger as you go west and south, which I tried to briefly explain the reasons behind. I found this site that explains the origins of the state nicknames so I plan to keep it open on my phone when we play and read about a couple each time.

Our giant US map on the floor with the Scrambled States cards matched on top. I just realized that Connecticut and Indiana are in the Gulf of Mexico…
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Protected: First Day of 3rd Grade

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Third Grade – Online Public School

I decided that this year I couldn’t handle homeschooling on my own. The Partnership Wallace attended in person for most of 1st grade, we did only part time online last year. And this year it just wasn’t going to work. They aren’t taking the pandemic precautions seriously and my health is too complicated to risk it. For 2nd grade I did math and reading curriculum on my own with Wallace at home and they got two video electives a semester. Those weren’t going to be offered this year and Wallace needed more than 2 core curriculums.

Kind of last minute, a friend told me about an online option funded through school of choice public school. I looked into it, talked to someone, attended an online information night, and worked my butt off to get all the paperwork in and set to go in a matter of days. I’m still impressed I pulled that off!

So far we have the laptop and printer as well as the online parts of the courses. We are waiting for the tangible books and manipulatives and for some little details to get worked out on their end. But Wallace started working on classes Tuesday and so far seems pretty motivated to do them! We haven’t yet managed to complete one set of lessons for each class in one day but they don’t expect us to yet.

I am hoping as the year goes by and we get the hang of how the program works, it will require less involvement from me. That way, when I’m having a really terrible day (like yesterday) or have appointments to go to, Wallace can handle much of it on their own. I decided to only sign them up for the four core classes – math, language arts, social studies, and science – so we still have time to play games, bake, do projects, watch Pok√©mon, read books, and get outside.

I’m already missing the more one-on-one aspect of normal homeschooling and I have been missing all the community events and activities thanks to the pandemic. We used to go to museums, farmers market, classes at the nature preserve, and playdates with friends, but last year it was just us at home all the time. Maybe we will end up liking this and sticking with it, or maybe we will go back to the homeschool program they were a before. There are pros and cons to both, I just hope that this year is good and there’s lots of learning and fewer power struggles.

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10 Years!

Ten years ago I started this blog as a place to chronicle my journey to becoming a single parent by choice. I remember sitting on my bed in my room in the house I shared with others while I chose a name and format and wrote my first post. I was preparing to move halfway across the country and waiting for my ovulation test to come up positive to get in one attempt before the move (it would be 10 months until I could try again).

I don’t write nearly as often as I used to, but it’s still my space. I don’t have to answer to anyone’s algorithms or write to any specific audience. At some points I wrote a ton, at least a post a day, while other times I went months between posts. But I have always returned here. There have been many posts in my drafts that I meant to finish and posts I’ve written only in my head. Sometimes I avoided this space because I didn’t want to face the things I needed to to process.

I’ve learned a lot from having this blog. Just in the act of getting myself to write but also from finding others on similar or parallel paths and following their blogs. But what I have enjoyed the most, no matter what subject I’ve written about, is that I have a record of my thoughts and my life. And of that of my journey to motherhood and the early yesrsbof my child.

I’ve had some rough spots on this blog. I had multiple doctors and a busy-body report me to child protective services in the first year and a half of Wallace’s life. At that point I felt it necessary to put passwords on most of my past and current posts. When that all settled down I went back to no passwords for a while. Then I had a former coworker who found my blog and decided to gossip about me around the office after I left. So I went back to passwords (and I really hope she’s given up by now).

I don’t forsee closing the blog or abandoning it, but I don’t know what the future of it is. It hasn’t become a weekly habit again, which would be nice. And I am conflicted about how to balance my child’s privacy and my storytelling heart. Lately any pictures shared of them have been with their permission, a bit obscure, or under the password. I am open to suggestions and conversation regarding this.

Anyway, I have nothing fun or exciting to do for the 10th anniversary of this blog, but I wanted to mark it! It is an accomplishment and noteworthy in my life. Especially as things have been very tumultuous and ever-changing. So, thanks for being here, the long ago regulars and the lurkers and the friends.

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Alone Time

After a year and a half in pandemic mode and a year since my brain surgery, I’ve been having some very rare time to myself. Hospital stays and doctor appointments don’t count as alone time so this is really my first chance to just be my myself since March 2020. And it’s been multiple days in a row!

At the end of June my mom wanted to have Wallace for a sleep over and I figured she would last 3-4 days at most. The plan was for them to watch fire works, as she lives right by the lake where the town holds the annual display. It was rained out but they were able to do it the next night. She ended up keeping Wallace for a week!

Wallace playing at the beach down the street from my mom’s house.

I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself most days so I took the opportunity to rest, watch some TV, and eat food. I planned to read and crochet but didn’t do much of it. I did have a few appointments and finally got my orthotic so that was awesome!

Just Alice and me hanging out!

A couple weeks ago she asked to take Wallace again, which of course they were super excited about. It took a bit to arrange the timing because Wallace was signed up for an online coding class and I didn’t think my mom could handle that. So after she came over Sunday and we all put together my birthday present and played a game, she took Wallace to her house for four days.

My birthday present! A new table and chairs, with cushions, from Ikea to replace the 1980s second-hand table that had a leaded laminate top.

I’m currently on my 2nd full day of quiet and calm and not doing much. I woke up Monday and was confused as to how to turn off the fan in the bedroom as that is usually Wallace’s job when they get me up. After dealing with landlord drama via a legal aid phone line, I grabbed some snacks and met a friend for a hike at a nature park I hadn’t been to yet. I tackled some steep gravel hills that probably should have had steps made into them! We saw some wildlife and many little fairy houses, then sat and chatted until the mosquitoes started attacking. Without child interruption. So weird.

The only picture from our hike was on my drive in seeing this doe and two fawns hanging out in a field. There was also a groundhog that scurried away.

I stopped at the library on my way home and picked up a Cary Grant movie I thought I hadn’t seen before, The Philadelphia Story. Turns out I had but it was lovely and I only remembered bits of it. The witty banter and perfect delivery were a great addition to my smashed potatoes and sauted vegetables.

Alice trying to eat my dinner.

Unfortunately, after three days headache free, I woke up in the middle of the night with a massive migraine. The first medicine didn’t work, but the ice packs allowed me to get a little more sleep and then tried the second medicine. It’s officially the afternoon and I’m still in pajamas in the relative quiet after listening to an episode of History is Gay, which was appropriately about the hidden gay lives of actors of the early and mid 1900s.

On Saturday I decided that my pain level is just out of control. My sleep is terrible despite my best efforts to improve it, so the pain cycle just keeps growing, the brain fog keeps increasing, and my quality of life is going down. I am making more simple mistakes that could turn dangerous, like turning on the wrong burner and causing small injuries to myself.

So I decided to give the Cymbalta a second try while Wallace is with my mom. I was prescribed it a few months ago when a doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. I was hesitant at first and asked if it would cause me nausea or lack of appetite, which she said no. I went home and did more research, from medical websites to first hand experiences, and was even more hesitant. I decided to try it and took one dose before bed one evening, hoping to not be hit hard with nausea and sleep through any side effects. The next day I could barely eat or drink and had severe GI distress, which caused dehydration and a headache. So I was done and and let the doctor’s office know I wasn’t going to keep going.

I am currently on day 4 of my second attempt and it’s going better than before. I have had some dizziness and wooziness, but not nearly like that first go. I have been able to eat and drink mostly as normal and haven’t had to take Zofean, though I nearly did one night.

I’ve got 2 days until Wallace comes home so I should see what else I would like to do with my time. I also have my 10 year blog anniversary coming up. Maybe I can find the energy to reclaim my space while juggling chronic illness, single patenting, and my little YouTube channel. That’s a tall order but it would be lovely to create a new community around my blog like I had in the early years. Let me know if you’re out there!

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Hike It

We live near a small nature preserve and used to regularly visit it for hikes and classes. The classes were canceled due to the pandemic and hikes weren’t going to happen because my left leg has been declining in function for a year and a half. Last fall and this spring, the best I could muster was taking Wallace there to ride his scooter or bike (on designated paths) while I sat and read.

But! I finally got my orthotic at the end of June and now I can walk! I still have chronic pain and fatigue, but walking is now a more fluid and less exhausting process thanks to the orthotic. As soon as he got back from his week stay with my mom, we went out to the nature preserve to try a mostly flat hike together. It felt so good to move my body and be out there with him finding lots of cool things. Unfortunately, I did not get pictures from that first hike because I was wearing leggings, in order to have a thin layer between my leg and the orthotic, and did not bring my phone. I don’t know how long we hiked but it was mostly flat and shady.

We saw: multiple types of fungus, a few rabbits, a mourning cloak butterfly, an extended family of snails, a tiny emerald green tree frog perched on the top of a plant, many cabbage white butterflies, two painted lady butterflies, and an oriole. We also saw a person and got to talk with them about the fungus they are studying. And we played two rounds of Pooh Sticks.

The next day my plan was to take it easy at home, do some of my PT, as well as wash dishes and play some games with my kid. But as I was eating breakfast I saw a post on Facebook from the nature preserve about a butterfly hike. It was for the North American Butterfly Association’s yearly count to monitor butterfly populations. Wallace was down for it so as soon as we got done with lunch we headed over.

It was a lot of fun and we meshed well with the one other family that showed up. This time I wore jean shorts so I had a pocket for my phone and I took a few pictures. We counted over 80 butterflies in about two hours of hiking at a decent pace! The hike ended up being about two hours long as we toured the various habitats at the preserve in order to see a variety of species. We had a lot more sun than I had expected and I traversed up and down inclines for the first time.

It was fun, but I was completely wiped out after, plus minor sunburn on my shoulders and a few mosquito bites. I could barely function when we got home so we rested, had frozen dinners (Wallace thinks this is a huge treat as fast food isn’t an option due to my Celiac disease and dairy intolerance), and watched a Thomas the Train movie. It felt like every bit of exertion, physical or mental, sunk me deeper into exhaustion. I was very easily irritated by light, sound, touch/movement, and smells, more than my usual sensitivity.

Today I will for real take it easy, especially since it’s going to be in the 80s and the humidity is already oppressive. We plan to play the Pokemon Trading Card Game, make some Lego structures, and hopefully cook a yummy dinner.

Early in the hike. They were enthusiastic with that net and did managed to catch one butterfly so we could ID it.
This type seem pretty common.
I’m hoping to find out what these were. On a steep hill near a creek with lots of shade.
This fallen tree has really started to decompose the last few years! It is a favorite of kids for walking along.
A Greater Spangled Flitterary that I spotted by the butterfly house after the hike.

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