Thursday, March 29, 2012


Shame on me!  I can not believe how long it's been since I've shown the blog any love at all.  I've been pretty busy doing a variety of things, many of which were blog worthy, but I never seemed to be able to find the time &/or energy to write the posts.  I haven't even had the time to read other peoples' blog posts!

In knitting news,since I last posted I've knit three scarves and knit & frogged one skein of yarn over & over & over again.  That skein simply refuses to tell me what it wants to be.  I thought it wanted to be a Hitchhiker scarf but it said, "NO!" about half way through.  We both thought it might want to be a scarf of my own design which was a looooong thin triangle like the Hitchhiker but with ruffles, but once again, the yarn decided against that.  I tried making it into a shawl, two different shawls actually, but the yarn wasn't pleased with either of those choices either.  Finally, I spoke sternly to it & put the yarn in a time-out where it still sits.

Next, I knit a couple of dish clothes, but I was so disgusted by the other yarn's behavior I decided not to knit at all.


Instead of knitting, I'm making felt Christmas tree ornaments.  Because you know, everyone wants Christmas ornaments in March.  I'm telling myself I'm preparing for Etsy's  Christmas in July hoop-la.  Besides, the ornaments could be used for other things because honestly, there's nothing particularly Christmassy about them.  They are just round felt things.  They could hang around the neck of a wine bottle or over a drawer pull, or hang off a zipper pull, or a keychain or even a dog's collar.  So yeah, I'm not totally wasting my time making Christmas ornaments in March.

On the non-crafty side of life, we went to the zoo with a group of homeschoolers.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this zoo.  The animals are so much closer to the public than at any other zoo I've ever been to and, best of all, you can feed & pet the giraffes.

I won't take the time to load all the photos here, but if you're interested, you can go check out my Facebook page.  Most of them can be found there.   And if you are ever having a bad day or just feel the need for some stranger love, head to the Metro Richmond Zoo.  Those giraffes are just the coolest and will cheer you up in an instant.  Watch out for the big one though.  He's a bit of a bully and a food hog.

Another activity I'd like to mention is that after a year of sitting on the couch whining about how I miss running, I've finally started running again.  Well, running is not exactly correct.  It's more like I'm back to my original slow stumble.  But one day soon, I'll be running.  I've only been out for a few runs so far, but I'm rather impressed with my progress.  Seems like I'm progressing much quicker than I did when I first started out a few years ago.  My first trip out, I only traveled about 1.5 miles & "ran" in 20 second increments.  My legs were definitely feeling the recent inactivity and tired quickly.  The next day, okay, the next two days, I could barely walk.  The second trip out was 4 miles with 1 minute spurts of running and my legs didn't start to feel tired until the third mile.  That time, it was my breathing and the knowledge that I needed to be able to walk the next day that limited the time spent actually running.  Since then, each time out has been a little easier & my legs have felt tired the next day, but not sore.  Yay!

Sarah dragged me off to see Hunger Games the other day and I have to say, I'm so glad she did.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I'd loved the book, but I could only imagine what Hollywood would do with all the violence.  I was not looking forward to watching a bunch of kids viciously kill each other.  I was amazed at how well it was handled though.  The violence was sort of blurred & the screen shots jumped around from one shot to the next so quickly that while you understood what was happening, you didn't really see it happen.  It was a very pleasant surprise!

Besides all that, I've been on a reading kick.  I read a few more books from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series,   The Happiness Project, and some other book who's title & subject matter escapes me.  Must not have been a very impressive book.  I'm also still slowly working my way through The Principles of Knitting.  I can't believe I'm reading that huge book like a novel.  What a geek!  I'm learning a lot though, so I'll keep reading.

Besides all that, there have been many, many trips to various bowling alleys (will my son ever get his drivers license??) and Hubby has kept me unusually busy running errands for him.   And now, since I finally posted here, I'm going to go celebrate with ice-cream.  Can't remember the name of it, but it has peanut butter & chocolate bunnies in it.  Yum!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The South will rise again!

The South will rise again!  Or did rise, actually.  I hope.  Remember the Civil War era shawl I was knitting for a friend back in the fall of 2011?  I don't think I ever showed pictures of it because it was an epic failure.  The Civil War era knitting terminology was slightly different from todays wording and I had no idea what I was actually supposed to be creating.  I only had the black & white picture taken from a Civil War era magazine or newspaper to go buy.  I thought it was supposed to cover your upper back & the front pieces crossed the chest & tucked into the woman's apron.  Shows how much I know about historical fashion.  It was supposed to cross the chest & wrap around to the back and tie.  Not to mention as written, the large would barely fit a Barbie doll much less someone of today's stature.  Anyway, the whole thing was a disaster and I've been feeling bad about it ever since.

I recently came across another pattern which was written slightly better, or at least in more understandable terms, and knowing a little bit more about what the final project was supposed to look like, I decided to try again.  This time, it worked.  I think.

Ok, so it's not knit with the requested colors, but from what I've seen, brown & pink was a fairly common color combination back then.  This one also had a bit of pattern in the knitting which made it much more enjoyable than the first attempt's simple garter stitch.

See how this one reaches around & ties in back?  Yay!  Although I'd think a button would be more comfortable.

I shipped this baby off to my friend late last week & she should be receiving it today or tomorrow.  Can't wait to hear if it looks anything like what it's supposed to.   I almost hope it doesn't because it was sort of fun to knit.  I wouldn't mind trying this one again.


Monday, March 12, 2012

What to show your homeschool evaluator...

What does an evaluator want to see?  I'm sure that each evaluator has their own personal wish-list of things they want you to provide, but I also imagine that the lists are basically the same.  I can only speak from my own personal experience.  We have always used Dr. Teresa Williams as our evaluator and if you are interested, her contact info is:

Dr. Teresa Williams
5155 Cold Harbor Road
Mechanicsville, VA 23111
804 239-7626 (cell) 
Besides encouraging you & your children & filling you all with confidence, Dr. Williams specializes in portfolio evaluations, educational testing, consultations for special-needs education (multi-categorical) K-12, face-to-face assessment/testing, consultation in alternative instructional and behavioral techniques, and learning styles assessment.  
Most years, she has come to our house but there have been a few years where we’ve gone to hers.  While I’ve referred to her as Dr. Williams throughout this blog series, I really call her Teresa.  She’s not stuffy at all & does not insist that you call her “doctor.”   She’s one of those bubbly people with whom you instantly feel a deep friendship.
You will need to prepare several things prior to your meeting with Dr. Williams.  She always wants to see: 
  • a list of all text books or core books used during the year, including the publisher
  • a list of all books read by or read to your child including audio books
  • a list of educational TV shows & movies your child has watched.  Don’t forget, Jeopardy is educational as well as cooking or craft shows.  It doesn’t have to be on PBS or the History Channel to qualify as educational.
  • a list of outside activities your child participates in.  This list can include everything from co-op classes to weekly play dates.  This list will not only show her what types of things your child is interested in, but she can also refer to specific things you do outside of the house in her written evaluation to show the school board that you are socializing.  
  • a list of field trips you’ve taken & don’t forget to include touristy things you did on vacation or that spur of the moment time when the bank teller gave your child a tour of the vault.
  • a list of games (board, video, sports) your child enjoys.
  • a brief written description of your school year, including what grade your child is in.  What subjects you studied, what your child excelled at, & what your child struggled with.  Any concerns you have & any plans you have to correct those concerns.  
The written description serves several purposes.  First, Dr. Williams will glance over it before she starts the evaluation (if your child allows her the time. LOL)  It gives her a heads up on what you’ll be discussing & any areas you are concerned about.  It also allows her to spend more time interacting with your child instead of taking notes on what is being discussed.  I have found that I enjoy writing the description because it helps me to realize that we have in fact accomplished something that year.  
Another thing Dr. Williams will want to see is samples of work from the beginning, middle & end of the year for math & language arts.  She’ll also request that you and your child each pick one or two things that you are most proud of to show her.  This could be an art project, a history project, something the child wrote, an A+ on a math test.....  During our more organized years, I kept the kids’ school work in giant notebooks.  I’d simply go through & put a Post-It on the pages I wanted to show her.  If I was really organized, I’d write on the Post-It what I wanted to point out - that it was a poem, or that the hand writing was particularly good, or that there was an interesting sentence in paragraph #2, or, “Look!! Zack finally figured out the difference between spelling ‘witch’ & ‘which’!!”  (He struggled with those two words for years!)
Depending on your child’s age & abilities, she may want your child to read to her. Your child gets to choose what to read so he can practice in advance if he wants.  She may also ask your child to write his name.  I don’t ever remember her asking Sarah to do that, but she did it with Zack several times, perhaps because of his fear of pencils...
As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. Williams does not give a hoot as to how you present what your child has learned.  I take that back.  She would like you to provide copies of all those lists so that she can take them home with her & refer back to them when she’s writing the formal evaluation.  But other than than, she does not care how the info is presented.  I know families who create museum quality scrapbooks to show her, while we once showed up with a paper grocery bag overflowing with crinkled, balled up, unorganized papers.  The presentation does not matter. She’s not grading you on your scrapbooking skills.  She doesn’t even grade you on your organizational skills.  What she does is make you and your children feel wonderful about yourselves and your accomplishments. 
No matter how long you’ve been homeschooling, you are pretty much guaranteed to be a nervous wreck during the days leading up to your evaluation.  Once it’s over, you’ll laugh at how silly you were to be so nervous.  
Once the evaluation is over, Dr. Williams will go home & write up her report.  Generally, she mails the original back to you within a week or so and you are then responsible for delivering it to your local school board authority.  The final report will be fairly brief & to the point.  It will simply state that Dr. Williams met with your child & she saw evidence of progress.  If your child is excelling at something, it may be mentioned briefly.  If your child is way behind in some area(s), your plan of correction will probably be mentioned.  The report will also probably reference some routine out of the house activity that your child does just to prove to the school board that you are not keeping your child chained up in a closet.  Okay, don’t even get me started on the need for homeschoolers to prove that we socialize.  We might actually be able to get our math done in a timely manner if it wasn’t for all the socializing we do.  But that’s a whole other blog post.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Homeschool Evaluation or Portfolio Review

I’ve been asked to relay my evaluator/evaluation/portfolio review experience, so here goes:
It’s beginning to be that time of year when homeschoolers start their annual panic over what to do about showing proof of progress.  We fret over testing vs. hiring an evaluator and we worry that we haven’t taught our kids enough.  Our family has 11 years of homeschooling experience under our belts & we have chosen to go the evaluator route all but two of those years.  As you’ll quickly learn for yourself if you stick with this post, I’m quite passionate about meeting with an evaluator vs. taking the CAT test.  I’ve mentioned my dislike of the CAT, in detail, elsewhere so I won’t go into all that again.  This post is going to be about hiring an evaluator.
We have always used  Dr. Teressa Williams . (She’s way, way down there at the bottom of the list.  It’s alphabetical.)   And we have loved her since day one.  We met her when she was just getting started as an evaluator, in fact, we were her very first customer.  Eleven years later, that first evaluation is still fresh in my mind.  It was one of those hard to forget moments in time.  
The evaluation process started a week or so before we actually met.  I began frantically compiling samples of my son’s first grade work.  Samples of beginning, middle & end of year work were required for math & language arts.  Math was no problem.  We had used only one workbook all year.  Language arts was another matter.  It seemed we’d been through about 20 different curriculums trying to find something that both my son & I could tolerate.  I gathered the 20 different workbooks & teachers manuals.  I gathered hand writing samples and pictures Zack had drawn.  I gathered spelling tests and reading lists.  Oh, the reading list!  I needed to come up with a list of all the books Zack had read or had read to him over the year.  
Next, I had to decide how to present all this information to Dr. Williams.  I’d seen samples of a friend’s portfolio.  Her portfolio was a museum quality scrapbook of her children’s school year.  I had 20+ half used workbooks.  A museum quality scrapbook wasn’t going to happen for us.  I went with a milk crate full of workbooks.  Actually, I believe it was several milk crates.  
The night before Dr. Williams was to arrive, I stayed up until about 4 a.m. trying not to vomit from nerves and organizing the workbooks over & over again.  Even though we had 20+ workbooks to show, I was convinced that I hadn’t taught my child a single thing, he was dumb as a box of rocks and Dr. Williams was going to immediately report me to Social Services for causing my child to be a complete moron.  
The next morning, the nerves were no better.  I decided to start a loaf of bread in the bread machine so that the house would smell good when Dr. Williams arrived.  Plus, don’t all homeschoolers bake their own bread?  It would be my little secret that I was using a machine instead of doing it by hand.  
Dr. Williams arrived and got out of her car looking a little scared.  We were her first customers.  And then there was our house.  We had just moved into a very old farm house that had yet to be painted on the outside and the majority of our belongings were piled up on the front porch because they didn’t all fit in the house & we hadn’t yet decided where to put stuff or what we’d keep & what we’d get rid of.  We looked like the Beverly Hillbilly’s redneck cousins.  
I greeted Dr. Williams at the door with each of my kids clinging to one of my legs.  I think my kids were almost as scared as I was.  The only difference was, they didn’t realize that Social Services would soon be removing them from my care.  I should probably mention that while my daughter was only 4 & not yet officially in kindergarden, I was still worried about her reaction to Dr. Williams.  She was shy.  No, she was SHY.  As in, she didn’t speak to anyone outside our immediate family.  The pediatrician had even started talking about putting her on medication because she was so shy.  Zack, my first grader was generally outgoing, but if he decided to cop an attitude, there was no forcing him to speak.  I was a total nervous wreck.  I just knew the process was going to be a total disaster.
Dr. Williams entered our house & Zack immediately began handing her workbooks to look at.  Sarah immediately disappeared but quickly came back wearing her Cinderella costume & proceeded to force Dr. Williams watch her dance.  And both kids began psyco-babbling to her.  They told her about art projects and trips to the library.  They told her which books were their favorite.  They told her about a few of our history projects we’d done.   Meanwhile, Dr. Williams repeatedly asked me what grades they were in.  Each time she asked, her voice got stranger & stranger.  I began to think that either this woman has a serious memory problem, or I’ve been teaching my kids pre-school level things all year rather than first grade subjects.  Oh gosh!  My kids are dumb as rocks & Social Services is on their way!
And then the kids brought out the volcano.  We’d made a volcano that you could put vinegar & baking soda in so that it foamed up & made “lava”.  The kids began to tell Dr. Williams all about putting the “chemicals” into it to make it foam.  
Dr. Williams turned to me and with a look of shock on her face & said, “Chemicals?  What grade did you say these children were in?”
Oh, Lord!  She’s calling Social Services because I’ve been letting my kids play with chemicals, I thought.
In the end, it turned out that my kids were not dumb as rocks.  In fact, they were little geniuses.  Dr. Williams had just been shocked that kids that age knew the word “chemical”.  Apparently that’s an advanced vocabulary word.  She’d also repeatedly asked me what grade they were in because all of the things we’d done were rather advanced for a normal first grader.  
And the praise and pats on the back began.  Dr. Williams complimented both kids repeatedly and best of all, she kept telling me what a great job I’d done.  I was an excellent parent!  I was an awesome teacher!  She even thought I was organized!  My nerves finally calmed down long enough for me to remember my manners.  I offered Dr. Williams some coffee & the now ready bread.  
Somewhere around two hours later, after my kids had each shown her their rooms & every toy they owned, after my kids had talked themselves hoarse, they finally let her leave.  I promptly got on the phone & called every friend and relative I had to tell them that Zack had passed, that I was a Homeschooling God, my kids were both geniuses & Social Services was not going to be removing my kids from my care.  That evening, still pumped from all the compliments & encouragement, I broke out the Rainbow Resource catalog & started planning the following year.
And each year since has been basically the same with a few minor differences.  The kids never hid behind my legs after that first meeting.  They always ran out to great Dr. Williams in the driveway.  After all, they’d been anxiously awaiting her return since January.   Some years I made brownies instead of bread.  And then there was the year that our “portfolio” consisted of a bunch of crumpled up papers crammed hap-hazzardly into a grocery bag.  As I said, a museum quality scrapbook is just not my style!  But the thing is, Dr. Williams never cared how I presented the information.  My scrapbooking abilities, or lack of, was never questioned.
One other year stands out in my mind & probably should be mentioned because it shows how an evaluator is so great at seeing the educational aspects of ordinary tasks.  One year was affectionately known as The Year From Hell.  It was comically awful.  One of those times when friends would ask how I was holding up & I’d start giggling weirdly.  Maybe I should start at the beginning...
I get rather overly excited about Christmas, I always have.  I get so excited that there’s no way I can concentrate on school work in December so we’ve always taken the month of December off for the most part.  The kids will still read and they’ll occasionally write something, but we don’t do official text booky school work in December.  And actually, we don’t do all that much in November.  As I said, I get excited.  
So there we were, Christmas Eve morning, we haven’t done a lick of school since Halloween & the doctor tells my dad he has lung cancer.  By Jan. 1st, Dad was in the hospital & told he had a week to live at most.  Luckily, the doctors were wrong about the 1 week thing.  He started daily radiation & an 8 hour, once a week chemo program.  I was elected to drive him each day because I didn’t work & had “nothing else” to do.  Now, don’t get me wrong - I am SO glad I got that time with my dad, but there was the issue of homeschooling.  But really, I was so involved in Dad’s health that we weren’t going to get any school done anyway.  The kids tagged along to the radiation appointments because they were relatively short, only 30 minutes or so, and the doctor’s office had a super cool turtle tank in the waiting room.  We learned about turtles & one day, the nurses took my kids back to the radiation room & showed them the machinery & the weird mask thing Dad had to wear during the treatment.  The kids learned all about radiation therapy.  Meanwhile, they were also learning a little about chemo and a lot about cancer.  The chemo affected  Dad’s heart so the kids also learned about cardiovascular things.  
Meanwhile, my mom went blind due to macular degeneration.  She’d had problems with it before, but one day she simply woke up blind.  The kids learned all about eyes.  They got to go with Granny to the eye doctor’s appointments & see scans of her eye and the blood vessels in her eye. 
My dad passed away & the kids learned about grief.  They also learned compassion.  They helped Granny move into an old folks home and when a month later, the old folks home burned down, they learned about fire.  
Not long after the fire, Gaston hit Richmond.  Remember Gaston?  We had 10 feet of water in the house.  The kids learned to paddle a canoe & boating safety.  They learned about the force of flood waters & what it can do and how it affects the wild life.  They learned how to live without electricity for 6 weeks.  They learned how to live without drinking water for 8 weeks.  They learned about mold.  
Meanwhile, while all that was going on, Great Grandma who had Alzheimer’s was living with us.  The kids learned to babysit her.  They learned more & more about compassion.  They learned to look in the knife draw if they wanted the telephone & they learned to search the couch cushions for the knives.  They also learned not to leave their books laying around because Great Grandma always tried to cook them.  (Don’t ask!  Let’s just say it was an interesting time in our lives.)
So yeah, the year from Hell.  Dr. Williams shows up in June or July and we literally have not done any school work since Halloween.  Not a single bit.  I KNEW this was the year she’d be calling Social Services.  But once again, she proved me wrong.  If you look back over that list of everything that went wrong, you’ll see that the kids learned a TON of science.  They’d just about gotten a first year medical student’s worth of science!  They’d also watched .... I forget the show’s name now but it was a US history cartoon that used to come on on PBS.  So they’d gotten in some history.  And while they’d sat in a zillion different medical waiting rooms, they’d read to themselves and played cards.  Reading  & math!  They’d written a zillion get well cards.  Handwriting!  They’d even gotten some socialization in during all those conversations with various medical personnel.    
As Dr. Williams started listing all their accomplishments for the year, I was utterly amazed.  I really had thought that we’d done absolutely nothing.  Once again, I was a Homeschooling God & my kids were geniuses!
There are other brief snippets of various other evaluations that come to mind when I think about how great Dr. Williams is.  There was the year when Sarah refused to speak in English & would only answer in Japanese.  Never mind that she probably only knew 3 words of Japanese.  But Dr. Williams never complained.  Instead, she complimented Sarah on her knowledge & patted me on the back for allowing her to follow her interests.  There was the year she asked Zack to read a page from Harry Potter (Zack’s choice of books to read.)  Except Zack was determined to read the entire book to her.  There was the year Sarah forced her to watch her ballet recital dance.  The year Zack played song after song on the guitar with the amp turned up to full volume.  Those are just a few of the examples of crazy behavior Dr. Williams has joyfully put up with from us.  I’d love to know what things stand out in her mind about us. Or maybe I wouldn’t. 
But the evaluation process has not always been rosy.  Over the years, my kids have given me plenty of things to be concerned about.  Real things, not Social Services things.  Sarah’s ability to learn math skills came to a screeching halt around 6th grade, until Zack turned 10 or 11, he cried when asked to pick up a pencil and his spelling.... don’t even get me started on how bad his spelling was.  But each time I had a concern, Dr. Williams was right there to help.  She would give me ideas & suggestions for ways to fix the problem or to work around the problem.  She never once made me feel like I was a bad teacher or that my kids had any kind of problem.  She has always been supportive.  And complimentary.  In fact, one year I was absolutely cringing because of Zack’s failure to improve his hand writing.  It was so bad that he couldn’t read it himself most of the time.  But Dr. Williams pulls out a sample of the previous years’ writing & showed us both that he had made some progress.
I can not speak highly enough about the process of a face to face meeting with an evaluator.  Yes, after 11 years, I still stress for a week or so before the meeting.  Yes, I still stay up all night before thinking I may vomit from the stress of worrying about how horribly bad our school year was & how little my kids learned.  Never mind that each child now has two or three milk crates worth of “school” to show off.  I still feel like we accomplished nothing.  But ten minutes into the evaluation & I start to feel like Super Woman.  Super Woman, the Homeschooling Goddess.  We’ve had years where we followed a boxed curriculum to the T, we’ve had years where we unschooled & there was the “medical school” year.  No matter what our style of homeschooling was for that year, Dr. Williams has always looked positively at our progress and she’s always been forthcoming with her praise.  Like I said, she makes me feel like Super Woman, the Homeschooling Goddess.  And that wonderful feeling carries forth into the following year & gives me the strength & courage to not only homeschool my kids, but to do so willingly and with excitement.  
The CAT test does not leave me feeling that way.  Not at all.  But that’s a whole other story, one that I may or may not tell again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

No photos

I've got no photos to show.  None at all, actually.  I'm quite distressed.  Three years worth of photos were hanging out in my i-photo program.  Three years of un-backed-up photos, I should say.  The other day I went to retrieve an old  photo and nothing.  Nothing!  Nothing before 2012.  Granted, most of the photos were of knitting projects, my daughter's tongue or my son with his hand in front of his face.  There really weren't all that many "special" pictures in there, but still, there were a few.  And they are gone.  Just plain gone.  No where to be found.  Just. Plain. Gone.  I'm so heartbroken I'm speechless.

In knitting news, there isn't much I can talk about at the moment.  I did finish the green lacy shawl that screamed daffodils and summer gardens at me.  I believe you can see it up there in the little shop photo thingy there at the top of the page.  I was quite pleased with the finish results.  It was nice and big - 72 inches across if I remember correctly.  I loved the colors and the planned variety of plain rows between the lacy rows.  Of course, I don't get to wear it because I put it in the shop.  If I can get more yarn, I may have to make another one for myself.

I also finished the secret stealth project mentioned in the last blog post.  I'm pretty excited to be done with it for many reasons.  Mainly because it was loooooong over due.  It turned out to be one of those procrastination projects where I DREAD starting it, but once I do, I get on a roll and crank it out without a hitch & in a much shorter time period than expected.  I have a love/hate relationship with those projects.  I love that they turn out so well and I always scold myself for procrastinating on it in the first place.  I tell myself I'll never procrastinate on anything ever again and then the next dreaded project comes a long and a year later, I'm still procrastinating.  Do you think I'll ever really learn the lesson?

It's just occurring to me.....  I've already packaged the stealth project up to be mailed tomorrow but I forgot to take decent photos.  Oops.  I have a couple of blurry shots in bad lighting but that's all.  Oh well.  I'm not going to unpack it and destroy the mailer just to get better photos.  I probably should, but I won't.  Maybe the receiver will take some photos and send them to me.  Anyway, I'll  post the bad, blurry pics in a few days.  Got to give the mail a little time because I would like it to be a surprise.  Although honestly, the project is so overdue, the recipient would probably never realize it was for her if she saw it here first.

In Etsy shop news, I finally broke down and bought a shop banner.  That was another one of those procrastination projects that has been on the to-do list since August of 2011.   I'd attempted to create my own but never got very far with that idea.  I had a very vague idea of what I wanted but no idea how to actually capture the image.  I'd thought about assigning the project to my kids, but I never could seem to remember to discuss it with them when we were both awake and at home with time to work on it.  I'd been kicking around the idea of hiring someone to make it for me, but who?  I finally asked my Disco Ball team on Etsy. (Don't ask.  Just know they are a FANTASTIC support group with a great sense of humor.)  In less than 24 hours of asking if anyone could recommend someone, I had a brand new banner sitting in my email inbox.  And a new avatar.  The avatar was a freebie that came with the banner & I wasn't planning on using it, but it turns out, I really, really like the avatar.  So, if you find yourself in need of a banner &/or avatar & don't feel like making it yourself, go talk to Jak.  She was super to work with!  And she's a Pirates of the Carribean/Johnny Depp fan.  Can't ask for more than that!