Nov 01 2011

Oh, gourd.

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

Continuing the tradition.

Sadly, the face grew so fragile I couldn’t finish it properly (and had to use toothpick support, which I really try to avoid), but here is this year’s Snape:

Two of the four pumpkins I picked out were fine on the outside but soft of flesh… had I known I’d have saved this one for eldest’s simple jack-o-lantern-style carve and saved the firmer gourd for Snape. (And, of course, I couldn’t figure out where I’d stashed my camera, so this is a cruddy phone photo. My apologies.)

Oct 13 2010

The crazy woman’s guide to pumpkin carving

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

I love Halloween. And by love, I mean LOVE. All of it. Insanely. Especially pumpkins!

Making stencils for pumpkin carving (using Photoshop):

  1. Find a photo–I used two of the new HP7 posters (here and here) to make these two examples–save it, open it in Photoshop. (Keep in mind your carving skill when selecting, as exceptionally complex images may result in a thoroughly mangled pumpkin or a trip to the ER when you slice yourself trying to execute the design.)
  2. Image > Adjustments > Desaturate
  3. Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast (You’ll need to increase both of these, the picture will dictate how much. Contrast will likely need to be between 75-100. Play with the sliders, it’s a matter of mucking around til it seems right.)
  4. Filter > Artistic > Cutout (More sliders. Levels should be at 3, edge simplicity probably 3 or 4 and fidelity in the 2 range, but play with the settings – it’s a matter of still being able to identify the subject while making the design as carve-able as possible.)
  5. Nope–not done: now it’s time to finesse the design. The important thing is to remember that dark areas can’t be in the middle of light ones (as that’s a cutout – get it?) without some sort of support. You’ll need to take your brush tool and adding (or subtracting) black, white, or mid-tone wherever necessary to improve the look or the structural integrity of the design. This will take time, really thinking about the limitations of the medium (dude, pumpkin is not forgiving–once a cut is made you can’t take it back), and you may want to use Image > Adjustments > Invert to see the design differently (in order to identify possible problems for carving). Save different versions, don’t be afraid to tinker with it. And also keep in mind that it’ll need to be big enough and bold enough to be seen clearly cut into a gourd and lit from within.

You’ll need:

  • enough room to work–think kitchen table–and cover the working surface with newspaper, a garbage bag (cut up both sides so it opens), tarp… whatever.
  • clothes suitable for the task (seriously–if you dremel you will be covered in pumpkin pulp)
  • good lighting: can’t stress that enough – I borrow my son’s gooseneck desk light and angle it as needed
  • a large safety pin and scotch tape
  • something to scrape the insides of the pumpkin with: I grew up using a hella big spoon for pumpkin-gut removal, but I’ve found the plastic scraper in pumpkin carving kits works better for scraping the walls clean, as it offers more control (less gouging from varying pressure) and less chance of getting the handle wedged.
  • something to cut with: Those pumpkin carving kits at the shops–you know, the ones with the ‘safety’ knives–do work (they can be less precise, but also less likely that you’ll injure yourself). Remember: a sharp knife is safer than a dull one.
  • Also useful (and have used all of these): a drill (both for piercing small cut-outs in the design and for the initial piercing into which a cutting tool can be inserted to lop off the top of the pumpkin), dremel (allows for controlled removal of layers of pumpkin flesh but requires patience), a nice riesling (for after, lol).
  1. Lop the top of the pumpkin with a large knife or the coarser of the two pumpkin carving tools (remember to go in at an angle so the top can sit back on–ie, not fall in–once you’re done) . De-goop (pick out the seeds – roasted pumpkin seeds are yummy!) and scrape the walls clean, including scraping the bottom flat so the candle/light won’t fall over.
  2. A pencil or ballpoint pen works for drawing on a design (make sure the pumpkin skin surface is dry before drawing)–when I was a kid I was handed a knife and expected to freehand it – but I, a. don’t hand my kids sharp knives, and b. expect drama to accompany mucked-up designs or mis-cuts, so it’s better for all involved to go at this with a bit more forethought (or stock more wine).
  3. When using a stencil it’s a little more complicated: tape the stencil on the pumpkin so it doesn’t shift around on you. Bend the safety pin a bit, so it’s easier to hold like a stylus, and then carefully prick through the paper along the lines of the design (ie, you’re creating a pin-prick follow-the-dot on the surface of the pumpkin). Once you’ve finished prick-tracing every line, remove the stencil (do not discard!), rub a paper towel across the surface to remove any excess moisture, and then write over the dots with your pen so the lines are clearly visible. Use your stencil as a guide if you run into areas where lots of holes converge. Once the line-drawing is in place, X over the areas that will show lightest (ie, need to be completely cut-out), and use a different mark on the areas that will show up mid-toned (gray on the stencil)–I usually just put a ~.
  4. Cut out the X’d areas–just use a straight cut, finessing can be done once the next cuts are in place, so you know where you can trim, structurally, and where you can’t (translation: when the walls of the pumpkin are thick there is more flesh between the light source and the external skin–obviously, yes?–this means that to actually get full light showing through some cuts it’s necessary to angle-trim the pumpkin flesh toward the light source – think arrow-slits in castle walls.)
  5. Next to go are the ~’d areas, but this is where some patience is necessary. You can use a blade or a dremel – the goal is to remove the outer skin and enough of the flesh so the light can still pass through (probably half of what’s there, possibly more if it’s really thick… too thin can be a problem, structurally, so if you need to go part-way and then check it in the dark–lit from within–to see your progress, do). Only after this is done will you know where the weak points are, so as you trim the larger cuts you can avoid collapsing the whole design.

Tip: If you’re carving well-before Halloween, coat all exposed flesh (cuts and pumpkin interior) with petroleum jelly – it’ll help the pumpkin stay hydrated (ie, not shrivel) and keep it from rotting as quickly. (Or put it in the fridge, if you live somewhere very warm this time of year.)

Last year I carved six pumpkins of varying complexity… this is the best, I think:

(Edited 11/1 to add)–And here’s how they turned out (both quick phone shots): The first took a little less than three hours. I was running late and rushed through the second, finishing in somewhat over an hour and a half (I carved a total of five pumpkins this year–my hand is still cramped).

Apr 26 2010


Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

Medievalists: pre-registration deadline is the 28th, after which a late fee will be applied.

Register  now, save that late fee to buy me a beer.  (lol)

Apr 22 2010


Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

I was recently reminded that although I have told this story to friends, in three weeks I’m going to encounter a lot of people (at the Congress) who haven’t heard it, and there will be those who ask about the tattoo on my wrist.

And after reflection I decided to post the story here, too, since I’ve used this platform for other parenting discussions. And also since I don’t want to repeat this, all or in part, multiple times.

Twenty years ago last month (on 3/16) I attended a Jesus and Mary Chain concert in Detroit; opening for them was Nine Inch Nails – I came in mid-set. I was 19 and burning out in art school and it was a fucked-up evening fucked-up by interpersonal fuckwittery—suffice to day, one I would have been happy to forget (and looking back, it was probably the opening death knell of an engagement that was through less than a year later). Except not quite… I came in, slunk against the wall and cold and pissed and looking like something the cat dragged in (with freckles) …and I was transfixed.

It seemed like a good date to get this, my first tattoo.

16 March 2010, immediately after tattoo was finished. (Pardon the lousy cellphone photo.)

The line is taken from a NIN song, but this isn’t about NIN nor about Trent Reznor (not really):

Lights in the Sky

She’s mostly gone
some other place.
I’m getting by
in other ways.

Everything they whispered in our ears
is coming true.
Try to justify the things
I used to do.
Believe in you.

Watching you drown.
I follow you down.
I am here,
right beside you.

The lights in the sky
finally arrive.
I am staying,
right beside you.

I tried to stay away,
just in case.
I’ve come to realize
we all have our place.

Time, time has a way you know,
to make it clear.
I have my role in this.
I can’t disappear,
or leave you here.

Watching you drown,
I’ll follow you down.
And I am here right beside you.

The lights in the sky
are waving goodbye.
I am staying right beside you.

Listen… it’s a quiet one, just piano:

There are a lot of NIN songs, through the years, that have resonated with me for one reason or another. Some still do, and others simply remind me of the time they did (and which I am happy not to be living, anymore).

When I first heard this one I sobbed. Still do, actually.

To understand why I need to tell you a story.

You see, I was a first-gen university student. There was the weight of expectations and the weight of culture-shock and the weight of a total lack of understanding by my parents of this different planet, this academia. I had Responsibility to Do The Right Thing and Make Them Proud (even in the face of being, personally, a pretty odd damn duck). I started in art but switched to humanities double majors/ double minors, got my BA, I stayed for an interdisciplinary MA… I had plans, potential… I gave conference papers, I worked hard (I worked through both degrees, at one point simultaneously half-time university staff, student, and teaching as a grad assistant). I applied for Ph.D. programs; I was accepted into my top choice. But. But it was without the funding needed to move a family out of state. I had money… enough to move just me. But. But I had two children, one of whose impairments we were just beginning to plumb the depths of. And I had a clear choice, one I had to make that I considered one that I could not un-make and I’d better fucking get it right the first time.

Work to reach my full potential, or sacrifice my dreams so Em could have any chance at reaching hers.

Let everyone down—my family, advisers, friends still in the field… even and especially myself—or let her down. All or one.

Watching you drown. I follow you down.
I am here, right beside you.

My choice was for the one.

Time, time has a way you know, to make it clear.
I have my role in this. I can’t disappear, or leave you here.

And as we’ve learned more and she’s worsened in so many ways and the way before us is clearer (but with information comes a lack of room for hope, sometimes) I remind myself that I made a decision. A choice. What happened to her chromosome might have been random, but nothing I could—can—do can be. I was not tricked, I was not trapped, I do not sit around feeling sorry for myself (although I deeply wish she didn’t have these challenges and limitations, and I certainly have days that make me wonder if I have the strength and emotional wherewithal to do this), I made a choice.

I chose her.

And now in addition to that imprint on my heart and mind, it’s on my skin as well.

Certainly there are other layers of meaning for this line I now have on my wrist… in my marriage there has been some very bad, very trying times—times that are past and that we are stronger for having survived. I have another child who struggles for a sense of normalcy in the face of instability, a shortage of ‘normal’. We all have our place.

And yeah, there is this band (this guy who is this band), whose music lent me sanity when I needed it, was the screaming I couldn’t vocalize, was hope (yes, I said hope) that is only possible after recognizing Things Are Very Wrong and, once recognized, opens a way. Who makes me cry, in whose instrumentals I find peace (in the inner landscapes they invoke), whose own journey was so clearly and painfully mapped from album to album (not the same road I was on, but the two sure ran parallel a lot of the time)… and so when I needed out of the bad places I had built inside myself to convince me of my own lack of worth there was a song, a line, a chord to lead the way, shine a light, kick me in the ass. I am loyal, long-term, to very, very few things… so when I realized that very nearly all of my adult life has had this one—one—constant I had to honor that.

And that is my tattoo.
Maybe for my birthday (40!) I’ll do the other wrist – for balance.

Apr 12 2010

Twitter, Congress, and thou

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

The International Congress on Medieval Studies has a Twitter account:


If you’re a Twitter-using medievalist, please follow!

There’s also a designated a hashtag #Kzoo2010 for use before, on-site, and after Congress for Congress-related tweeting and micro-blogging for searching ease.

Let the tweets begin!

(Yes, it’s me tweeting in my significantly more boring official capacity.)

Mar 02 2010

Blog Notable

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

Interesting posts with subsequent discussion re: tenure, graduate school, and expectations over at Blogenspiel.

Post 1
Post 2

Feb 22 2010

medievalists: fyi

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

The Program for the International Congress on Medieval Studiesonline for a month–is printed and has been winging its way through (priority) US and international mail for a week. US bulk is going out in waves (so many thousands of books to process!) and should be complete this week.

Don’t forget to register. See you all in May.

Dec 30 2009


Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

The new Olay Regenerist Anti-Aging Eye Roller … can’t imagine what was on their mind during design.

Well, I’ve heard it said it keeps you young — but if you’re sticking your Pocket Rocket in your eye you’re doing it wrong!

Oct 26 2009

Blogging for Kids with Disabilities (2009)

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

Four years ago I was asked to join seven other bloggers–parents of kids with a variety of disabilities–to blog in an organized fashion on their behalf. Educate. Advocate. Each year since I’ve continued the practice, albeit solo. This year I’ve been joined, again, by a coordinated group (a list to which I will be adding their URLs as they post):

Another Damned Medievalist
Cis Masque
Tamela J

(eta: this is an excellent comment)


Parenting children with disabilities is challenging on a number of levels. In the case of my family, the disabilities are (initially) invisible–mental, emotional–but no less present. I addressed some of those challenges (and the specifics of our situation) last year.

This year I want to introduce you to one of our challenges that you might not initially consider an issue: in addition to our daughter we also have a son. He is neurotypical.

Time did a piece on this awhile back (Autistic Kids: the Sibling Problem) and although Emma is PDD-NOS (atypical Autism) with other issues, the article does cover some of what we have seen.

But not everything.

Colin is a very, very bright seven-year-old. He reads everything he can get his hands on, manages video game strategy better than many adults, and picks up vocabulary like a sponge. He’s also immature for his age, not well socialized with his peers, and has anger-management issues that clearly result from the situation at home. Immaturity isn’t unusual in boys his age—although in many ways he is more mature than his sister, so it’s difficult to know where normal range ends and modeling his sibling’s behavior begins. A tendency to be awkward socially comes naturally, whether he takes after his father or I—neither of us were social butterflies. But how quick he is to anger, how what seems like a normal level of frustration will send him off-kilter, is a side effect of his environment.

It’s not easy living with Emma.

It’s not easy when you’re an adult who understands the context of her behavior and has maturity and experience to draw from when dealing with some of her most extreme outbursts. For a child it must be like living in constantly-shifting reality where the rules and outcomes are never expressed and randomly enforced… where expectations for him and for his sister need to be tailored to the child and the situation, even if we do actively try to maintain some semblance of consistency. He is as constantly under stress as his father and I, but he doesn’t have the skills to cope with it. Even so, he does his best.

As do we.

When he was an infant I had her help me as much as possible, to offer her opportunities for bonding (she loves babies, whether dolls or real). As he got older (and independent!) their relationship began changing. She runs hot and cold, and her random moods and reactions were often directed at him. She tends towards verbal and physical outbursts when her meds aren’t in her system, so the early mornings and day’s ends were particularly traumatic. And it’s only gotten worse as he’s modeled her behavior back to her and as he’s achieved levels of skill that she can’t reach, herself. Despite our breaking up countless arguments/battles, no amount of talking to her changes her behavior, and no amount of talking to him can truly make him understand that Emma going from I love you to I hate you in a matter of five minutes without any outward provocation is just Emma and not him. It’s anxiety-inducing to live with a time-bomb, and it’s depressing to be constantly belittled, insulted, and harassed (I know, because I’m a main target for her abuse, too).

So now we attempt to keep them separated.

I wake him in the morning after Em has left the house for the bus, so he doesn’t have to deal with the shrieking harpy she is when she first wakes up. When they were both in elementary school and riding the same bus, this was impossible… and it resulted in a lot of calls home last year, because starting the day off with verbal abuse and (no other way to describe it) crazy directed at you set him up for a very bad day at school.

She now takes the bus home instead of to the sitter’s house, so he doesn’t have her random moods interrupting his quiet homework time. In the evening we encourage him to engage in activities that don’t involve them playing together (since that just results in screaming arguments), like reading or playing strategy games on the computer. We spend money on devices and computers so they can entertain themselves without actions and reactions resulting in more hurt feelings and rages. We give him constant positive feedback on the areas that most vex him, we take his interests into account and try to give him as normal (what is normal, anyway?) and fulfilling and fun and educational a childhood as possible. We hope for balance. We take one or the other with us on errands so they can have alone time with both parents—so we can run the errands in something approaching peace—and I’ve taken them, individually, to visit my parents.

It’s not ideal.

But it’s never been, and it never will be: It’s our life, we do our best.

And that’s now.

Tomorrow, many tomorrows from now, my youngest child will be responsible for my oldest child. Because we do not know if she will ever live independently as an adult, nor how we’ll be defining ‘independent’. Because we won’t always be there… and yes, by that I do refer to my eventual death. So not only might my son have to help care for his father and I at the end of our lives, his sister’s welfare will become his responsibility. This will be a heavy conversation to have when he turns 18 or when he graduates from college… and when he thinks he’s found the one, whomever that is must, too, know what the future will hold.

But that’s not now.

Now is quite enough, to be frank.

And now mostly what I hear around my house is, “it’s not fair!”

No, it’s not.

And it never will be.

Oct 22 2009

Cognitive Dissonance

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

Today I ended up in conversation with a couple of the grad students about when I first started attending the Congress, as an undergrad (1990).

They called me an old fart. o_O

I regaled them with Back In The Day tales that included that of a thrice-dammed full-sized traction trebuchet I was conscripted to help assemble and demonstrate, and the infamous dance, as it had been (held in a cafeteria, open bar, Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ball).

And I told them of the first time I had attended the dance… it was 1992, a few months before Nine Inch Nails’ Broken came out.

This is important.

You see, I walked into that dimly-lit cafeteria (but the academics inside were already well-lit, I assure you) to see two nuns (Remember, these are medievalists—there are members of many of the orders present every year… in fact, there are staff members who persist in the idea that we’re a Renaissance Festival because they see monks walking around. Rly. Srsly.) on the outskirts of the dance floor (such as it was) dancing—you know, the classic stand-and-sway while moving the arms in a vaguely robot-fashion kind of dancing—to NIN’s Sin.

I turned around and walked out of that cafeteria.

Despite how very much I needed that open bar at that moment (you can imagine how my brain and soul cried for blessed oblivion), I just couldn’t take one more step forward.

I was so very happy when Broken was released—I hadn’t been able to listen to PHM (since that moment in May when my brain broke) without going into blink-blink-shudder-AAAaaaagh every time that song came on.

So I leave you with the cognitively dissonant image of nuns doing the white-people-boogie to the voice of Trent Reznor.

You’re welcome.