Category Archives: Family

Knitting for the digital age: Minecraft sweaters

The most awesome Mincraft creeper sweater ever.
The most awesome Minecraft creeper sweater ever. The eyes and mouth are pockets.

My kids are crazy for Minecraft. After I made Duncan a Minecraft creeper sweater (OMG, I did not blog about this. It is the most awesome Minecraft sweater ever), Berry initially wanted a similar sweater in skeleton form. But by the time I got ready to knit it, she’d gone off the idea.

custome Minecraft skin
Berry’s Minecraft skin

So after I finished Duncan’s Pikachu sweater and it was her turn for a hand knitted garment, she asked if I could knit her a sweater featuring her Minecraft skin. If you don’t know what a Minecraft skin is, it’s basically how your player (the person you move around in the game) looks. You can customize your skin to look however you want.

After some deliberation about how it would work, I realized it’s basically already laid out like a knitting pattern. I explained to Berry I’d have to stick with more basic colors – red, orange, yellow, blue, white, pink, grey and black – without all the slight shade variations. She assured me she was OK with that.

20150509_183337I’d stocked up on the main color yarn – Bernat Li’l Tots in All Blue – with the idea of knitting her a plain sweater. For her Mincreaft skin sweater, Berry wanted to have half sky and half grass, but the greenish color (Honey Dew) didn’t look right, so we went with an all blue background.

It was a fairly easy intarsia knit using a basic scoop neck pattern (that I keep in my head based on the gauge and desired length and width). I had all the other colors in about the right weight yarn in my stash – mostly Cascade Pacific (the white, grey and black from the rejected skeleton sweater) and some leftover red, yellow from Pikachu, a little Bernat Satin (Teal) some pink acrylic and Cascade orange from the Moshi Monster sweater (both were a little thin, but it worked fine)

For reasons I don’t yet understand, my neck openings have been a bit large on the last two sweaters I’ve knit the kids. I may have to go back to following a pattern again until I get it cemented in my brain.

20150604_162621It was a reasonably quick knit in nice, soft yarn, resulting in a cuddly, warm sweater. Berry loves it. She wears it all the time – eating frozen yogurt, making s’mores. It’s a sweater for any weather.

20150625_195110Adam says I should display my video game-themed sweaters in a gallery or museum someday. Perhaps once the kids have grown out of them, if there’s anything left, they can become retro relics admired behind glass.

My horrible sickness and an awesome play date

Last night i was puking everywhere! it was not very fun. Now I’m homesick from school! I was watching Netflix and now I’m writing this post.

Yesterday i went and played with Flynn. He had another play date and he was going to go to his house. His friend was going to pick him up. When Flynn’s mom, Victoria  said that he was going to come soon, Flynn said: “Can’t Berry stay until he comes?” I thought that was very sweet, and so did Victoria. But Victoria said that wasn’t the proper way to greet people. Then Flynn asked if after their play date that he could have another play date with me. Victoria said that would be fine if my parents would let me. Sure enough, they did.

After his play date, he came over to my house. Then he told me about how that at their play date the gerbils got loose because they by accident they left the top of the cage off and then the rest of the play date they were chasing the gerbils around trying to catch them.

Emma, my sister, also had a play date. Her play mate’s name was Ella. She was funny.

Then, me and Flynn played in the basement. Duncan came and played ‘White floor’s  lava’ and Duncan claimed the hard part of the basement. I claimed the moving island (the treadmill) and I could choose whatever speed i want and could do up to 3 mph to keep unwanted people off.

That’s all for this post, BYE!

The best Valentine’s gifts — kind-hearted children

“We’re bringing home report cards for Valentine’s Day,” the 9-year-old told me after school recently. “My teacher said it’ll be your Valentine’s gift.”

I always look forward to report card time, because I like to see how the kids are officially doing. Unofficially, they seem to be doing well — all but one of them actively enjoys going to school, and even she’s usually happy she went by the time she comes home.

So while I hope to see columns of Ms and Es for the younger kids who don’t yet have grades (meets and exceeds standards), it’s not my primary concern (although I can’t deny being glad neither kid had any Ns for “Doesn’t meet expectations” this term).

What I really love about report cards are the teacher comments. Specifically the ones that say things like this: “Berry is a creative, polite and good-hearted student.” And, “Duncan is a kind-hearted, bright and respectful young man. Duncan is kind and caring toward others.”

The Ms and Es are great and all. I want my kids to be child geniuses just like any other parent. But knowing my kids’ teachers see their kind hearts is what makes my eyes well up with joyful tears. That, more than anything, is my Valentine’s gift.

What also gives me moments of mushy Mummy happiness is when I realize they’re not alone. Their friends are kind, too.

As I sat on the playground after school, absorbing their report cards, I watched the kids play in the fading sun. They’d made up a game on a weird piece of playground equipment, but there was only room for four kids. Currently, that was Duncan and three of his male classmates. Berry, two grades younger, a slight girl in a pretty green dress, stood beside them, becoming more and more forlorn as the biggest kid bossed the others around.

When she climbed up to join in, he told her to get down.

“Get down, Berry, there’s no room for you.”

I saw her face crumple and called her over for a hug (combined with some potential solutions: call out the bossy kid on his bossiness, ask Duncan to play a game with her, find other kids to play with). Somewhat renewed, but still reluctant, she went back.

It turns out she didn’t need to speak up for herself. One of Duncan’s friends advocated for her instead.

“It’s Berry’s turn next,” he kept insisting. “Berry needs to have a go.”

After repeating himself a few times, and Berry reassuring the big kid she was up for it, she happily enjoyed the bumpy jostling game, then took her turn to jump up and down to bounce the next kid around. (I can’t adequately describe this playground oddity — interconnected, hinging bars covered in padding that go up when you jump on the opposite side).

That’s what matters, I thought. Kindness. What a good kid. I’m so glad Duncan has kind friends.

How do kids learn kindness? This article in the Washington Post suggests that we as parents (gasp!) teach them how to treat others. And given the number of times my mother has accidentally slipped out of my mouth, I know that’s true.

How we are to others — especially to our kids — imprints them with the behavioral patterns of how they learn to be themselves. One day, perhaps next week or years from now, our words and tone will come out of their mouths. We almost can’t help ourselves from becoming our parents. Or our children from becoming us.

During bath last night, Berry complained that her brother doesn’t properly understand The Golden Rule.

“Duncan thinks that if someone is being mean, then that means they want people to treat them mean, so you should be mean to them!” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that. It’s about leading by example.” (My seven-year-old really does talk this way. Ask her about the meaning of life sometime.)

I know where she’s coming from. Duncan and I have gone over this concept a bunch of times. He doesn’t seem to get it, no matter how many times I explain that The Golden Rule is only about yourself — treating others as you want to be treated, not changing other people but changing yourself. He doesn’t quite get it, although he wants to understand, he really does.

And yet, he’s kind, anyway.

I can only take partial credit for this kindness, and that’s mostly genetic credit. Perhaps a bit of genetic predisposition encouraged. After all, what we focus on matters.

I could push the kids’ competitive buttons so they become more academically driven. Or I could belittle and shame them and help them tune into potentially latent mental health issues. They have those things inside them as well (and so do I — I actively filter my parents from coming out of me). Or I can instead focus on and praise acts of kindness, of community-mindedness, of caring — in themselves and those around them.

And that Golden Rule? They’ll get it eventually. Berry understands it intellectually and acts on it more and more as she matures. And Duncan — well, even his teachers agree, he’s a kind-hearted kid, caring toward others. In the end, isn’t that what counts?

A Christmas Miracle – our year in review

Given that I’ve been ill with a viral respiratory infection and then pneumonia since around Thanksgiving, pulling off Christmas at all this year has been a minor miracle. Sending out Christmas cards? I’d almost given up on the idea, but apparently I’m just too stubborn to let it go. I’ve sent out Christmas cards with a yearly update since 1999 or 2000.

IMG_9977It took a while, but we managed a family photo when we were all in the house at the same time together and I didn’t look like death warmed over. Aren’t we lovely?

And so photo + Christmas letter written by Adam (the computer programmer) = Christmas cards to a handful of friends and family. If you didn’t receive one this year (sorry), read on for your update on our year.

Dear friends, relatives, and hangers-on,

We had another exciting year in the Miller-Bartlett-Gustina household. For starters, we weren’t satisfied with our pittance of four children. This summer we welcomed Honoka Sako into our family, a Japanese exchange student who is going to South Eugene High School. She’s quiet, well-mannered and generally helpful, and brings a love of Japanese boy bands and cake decoration into our home.

Joanna continues to herd children and assemble a career out of odds and ends. She writes regular copy for a handful of clients, about weird things she previously didn’t know much about. Joanna has also worked diligently on her memoir, finishing a first draft and trying to decide on a tattoo she promised herself as a reward. She’s currently recovering from pneumonia after a particularly horrible cross-country airplane flight, on the mend but still pretty wiped out.

Berry continues to grow and excel at school, regularly demanding that we make math problems for her. Her interests range from Power Rangers to the video game Terraria, and she can often be found drawing pictures of her favorite Teen Titans Go! characters.

Duncan continues to extoll his love of Minecraft, convincing all his friends to join his hobby and making us watch his favorite YouTubers. He is probably the most social of all of us, with weekly sleepovers and play dates.

Emma started middle school, and greatly enjoys it. She’s picked up the flute and regularly draws anime-style characters. When she’s not hanging out with the rest of us, she can be found on the treadmill, watching videos or listening to music.

Sam suddenly decided to take up wrestling, returning from practice bruised and sweaty most nights. Not entirely succumbing to the jock lifestyle, he also plays online video games with friends and maintains a mostly A grade at school.

As for Adam, he continues to keep things from falling apart at work, making sure the doctors are paid and the web site doesn’t completely crash. He treated himself to a new computer to maintain his nerd cred, and continues the tradition of elaborate weekend breakfasts for the horde of children.

May the next year find you well and healthy.


Adam, Joanna, Honoka, Sam, Emma, Duncan and Berry

Flying sick and the importance of breathing

I knew, finally sitting on our long flight across the country, shivering and shaking under our pile of coats, that I’d face repercussions for this. I didn’t know what else to do, other than fly home sick with the kids. But I knew it wasn’t going to just be OK.

“This isn’t terrible,” I tell myself. “This isn’t pleasant. But it’s not horrible. It’s uncomfortable, that’s all.” Shivering, unable to get warm, kids watching movies on either side of me.

In San Francisco we wait endlessly in the stifling plane to slowly file out. “Excuse me, can we squeeze by? Our connection leaves in 5 minutes,” fell on ears so reluctant they were deaf. One person moved. The next? “Where do you want me to go?” So we wait. Anxiously. Silently. Kids still half-full of sleep.

Released from the plan, we run to our next gate. The kids great sports, running even though they’d just been sleeping minutes before. Berry’s back pack half unzipped, opening further with each step. A cup falls out. I stop to pick it up. Down a moving sidewalk. Turning right down a new hall. Endless numbers to gallop past, chest bursting, body just not able to keep going. But we keep going, the kids making it first to gate 79, squeaking in just in time.

In Eugene, my feet drag toward the baggage claim. I can’t make them move any faster even though my brain says I should be able to. One step, then another. I know, then, I’ve reached my body’s limits. At some point it will simply stop and fall to the floor. And yet we aren’t done. The suitcases on the baggage carousel, wet and heavy. I drag them off and we head out but I can’t pull them both. Too heavy for Duncan. Pull one, push the other, out to the mini-van, heave them inside. Then home to my blissful bed.

That first night is so sweet, asleep in clean soft sheets, against my husband. For a little while, at least, until my coughing ousts him from the bed.

The next days blur. The kids are up in the morning, so he takes them to school. I insist they go, even though Duncan wants to sleep more. But they had to go. I pick them up in my PJs, hanging onto the steering wheel, willing them to see me. The next day, my mother-in-law gets them. And by the next, I’m at Urgent Care. Five days of 101+F fever. It’s time.

Taking my temperature. Elevated, but only 99.something. Coughing through the mask Adam puts on me upsidedown as we came through the door. The nurse practitioner gets the basic story. Sick since Sunday. Fever. Flying on Tuesday.

“Did you wear a mask?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I didn’t have one. And they may have not let me on the plane.” I’d felt bad at the time, but then I listened and heard coughing and sneezing all around me. It hadn’t occured to me a mask might have protected me from other germs.

“It’s everywhere,” she said.

She asks questions about onset – sudden or gradual. Then, “Breathe. Deeply.” I couldn’t. I try and come out gasping, coughing, unable to get more air in.

Does anyone else cry when their body stops working properly? Or when people ask too many questions that are too hard to answer? Well, I do. And it was too much, all the waiting to find out what was happening, the probing and performing. Plus, I couldn’t breathe and that freaks me out.

“What’s going on?” she asks. Like I can say.

I hold up a finger. “I need a minute,” I whisper. Through the mask. She couldn’t hear. So I cried and held my breath, trying to calm it, letting it through in wisps rather than gasps.

“I need a minute,” I try again. Just a minute to myself, in my head, to calm down, to get control of this rebelling body. That’s all.

I explain what happened, where it hurt, how I couldn’t breathe and was scared, just needed time to calm down and be OK.

She frowns at me.

“Does she usually get like this?” she asks my husband.

I don’t know what he says. I breathe. Just breathing was all I needed to do. And not cry. Wiping my eyes and nose on tissues and the sleeves of my gown. Unable to actually look at anyone full in the face or it might start all over again.

“I’m going to order a nebulizer treatment right now and see if that helps,” she says, eyes still scowling. “Then I want a chest x-ray. I want to make sure I’m not missing anything.” She leaves us in the room together.

A nurse with nebulizer and tank enters, delivering them with brief instructions. Breathe deep, even if it makes you cough. And it does. The coughing is awful. But I suck it in through tears, willing it to reach into my lungs and calm the creaking of my exhales.

Later, the xray. Chest against the plate. Deep breath. Hold it. Release. Coughing and crying. Why is it so awful to cough, propped up on medical equipment in a hospital gown?

“How long have you felt unwell?” the tech asks.

“Since Sunday.”

“That’s not fair,” she says. “Your hair looks great. And you sound so bad.”

I did shower today, I think. This is how my hair usually looks after a shower.

She takes pity on me and manuevers me into a wheelchair to roll back to the exam room. I curl up on the bed with my fantastic-looking hair, wanting to be back home.

The nurse practitioner hands me my x-rays as she glides in the room along with some words about a cluster of spirocites in my right lobe. In other words, pneumonia.

“I thought you’d tell her she had a virus and to go home and rest,” says my husband, looking pleased.

The last time I looked at a chest x-ray, it was my mum’s. Her lungs were full of cancer-laden cotton balls. Mine just have some unwanted beasties hanging out that we can kill off. But still. Three weeks after I saw inside her lungs they took their last breaths,

“Do you have any allergies?” she asks.

I manage to successfully list my ever-growing antibiotic allergy collection.

“Azithromycin,” she says. I nod. I know that one. And OK. “5 days, Take 2 pills today, then one a day for 4 days. Plus an albuterol inhaler. Use it if you start wheezing. Lots of rest, and fluids.”

I’d seen the consideration in her eyes, whether to send me home or to the hospital. But we were dismissed to home, weaving our way to the car, to the couch, to bed. Kids come home from school with Grandma Sue.

“Hey, have you seen these pictures of inside your mom’s body?” Adam asks the kids, making light of it all. Later he tells me, “Take it easy, OK. You’ve got an illness people sometimes die from.”

The weekend commenced. I’m not sure what happened.

Days pass and I measure progress in small victories. On Monday I manage to get dressed for the first time in days. On Tuesday I get kids from school. Wednesday I drop them off in the morning — a bad idea, I learn, as I stop to rest on the way back to the car, gathering an unintended crowd of concerned parental friends.

Client work piles up and I tackle it in small bites, resting in between short sessions or working from bed. It’s one of the benefits of self-employment, considering there’s no paid sick leave.

My cough continues, reminding me with each sudden, explosive exhalation that I’ve given birth to two children and perhaps I should have paid more attention to doing my kegels after all. I’m going to need to buy more pantiliners soon, but there aren’t any local grocery stores that deliver. I checked one night when we ran low on essentials, before the husband headed out into the night.

I dislike being a pale imiation of myself, wan and weak, unable to run a household and feed a horde. But I know I can’t will energy into myself, any more than I could two decades ago when I first fell ill with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfuction Syndrome and Fibromyalgia (I like to use the longer name, as it sounds more important than simple tiredness).

A friend posts an inspirational photo saying on Facebook. Something about acceptance. Ah, yes, acceptance. Sometimes what is just is and we get to deal with it, no matter how we may personally feel about the whole thing. So I remain at rest, lying down in between episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix and bouts of working. Perhaps when I get really dizzy and tired, I think, my body is trying to tell me to lie down.

My book sits resting, in the middle of editing, two chapters in the process of being combined into one and fleshed out with vivid memories brought back by my trip to my regular old bar in Rochester, of all places. Rochester in winter is nothing like the Caribbean, but still echoes of similar experiences ring forth. Small things trigger memories.

All I can really do is breathe. And listen to my lungs crackle as the last of this illness releases itself from my body.