Blog Year in Review and Other Thoughts

Looking back, from the vantage point of December 30th at the blog year- lots of ice dying, tomatoes, and recipes. See here , here , and here .

Also graveyards and insects. here and here.

There was like, more going on though- like  battling multiple rounds of super lice, getting tired of Trump’s bullshit, volunteering for the county democratic party and the Beto O’Rourke campaign, working full time, and parenting a toddler, a 9 year old, and a 12 year old. Also loss and travel.  And somehow less cleaning than would be effective but seems like more than should be humanly possible. (I clean all the time. The house is still dirty. It’s my least favorite magic.)

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Favorite picture from 2018

But 2018 was a tad light on the narrative posts, something I kinda intended to focus on when I started this whole thing… with this post really being my only one in 2018: This one right here.

 

At Lake Travis in the early years

Cheers, Baby

Some previous years favorite narrative posts are these: On Meditation and Lettuce , It’s really the easiest of choices, Sweetheart , Talking in My Sleep ,  Birth. A Stream of Conciousness Love Story ,  The Zen of Parenting.  Also this one, which is fiction actually, but I’ve always liked: Foray into Fiction: Goodbye

Are you allowed to say you have favorites of your own work and share them? Because I think you should be able too, but sometimes this kinda stuff escapes me. Like when someone comes by unexpectedly, like a neighbor, and I talk to them from the front door, and then come in after they leave and my husband tells me I should have invited them in… like… how do I not know this stuff? It’s a wonder I have friends at all. Also- something I learned THIS YEAR from another blog- if a mother at school pickup tells you their toddler talks about your toddler all the time- that is an invitation to set up a playdate and be friends. I HAD LITERALLY ZERO IDEA! Do you know how many friends I could have right now?! UGH. What did I do in those situations? Say thanks, that’s so cute, and then walk away going “Sheesh, so many kids talk about my kid- but she NEVER talks about any of them by name. Weird.” D’oh.

Some things I keep meaning to write about/ or that are stuck in the Drafts folder:

  • female travel safety tips (boils down to check your hotel window locks- do you know how many unlocked windows I’ve run across in hotel rooms? Seriously. Check those windows.) But that’s like… the only real tip, so it’s hard to round out to a whole post.
  • Place imprinting- some nebulous idea of what we all associate with “home”- but since we never did move to Denver (thank god.) and have never lived anywhere else it is only conjecture.
  • A blank blog draft that only has the title: Be yourself. Unless you’re an asshole then don’t be that. Not sure where I was going with that one, honestly, but I can guess.
  • Funny events from the past that I always think about while going to sleep or blow drying my hair, but then forget about. Okay- I WILL tell you the one below though because it just came to me!

So when I turned fifteen my mother told me to get a job within two weeks or I was grounded. (Thanks for the character building, I guess?) So I went to the Mill Stores (shopping center in town) and started at the book store on one end and applied all the way around to every store till I got to the furniture store on the other end. (I didn’t get the book store gig I really wanted because I forgot my social security number and made one up. Turns out that isn’t one of those things like a zip code that doesn’t really matter.)

Anyway, I alternated between saying: “Hi. do you have any job openings?” And “Hi, are you looking to hire anyone?” Like the shopkeeps would compare notes and judge me for saying the same thing every time and not hire me because of it. (The awkwardness.. it’s not new with me, dig?) Well, I got 3/4 of the way around and was kinda tired and hungry  by the time I went in the jewelry store to apply. To this day I can CLEARLY see the guy behind the counter’s face as I mixed up my two scripts and said; “Hi, are you looking for any openings?” To which he repeated, slowly, “Am I looking… for any… openings?” You know those moments where maybe you’re a part of some random person’s memory? I bet the guy still talks about or thinks about that occasionally, 25 years later. It was horrifying to all involved. I did not apply at the jewelry store and booked a REALLY hasty retreat.

I did actually get the job at the lingerie store though and so was not grounded. Few stories I may write about from that first job experience:

  • Being the only one to be willing to help fit the drag queens. They were always so nice, except the one guy who was just creepy and mentally ill. May I remind you a store FULL of 20, 30, and 40 year old women/ fellow employees left that one obviously disturbed dude to the 15 year old. The jerks, you know? Didn’t put me off drag queens though, as I wrote about here – a post with one of my favorite post title, actually.
  • Having to fit my grandmother for RACY ass lingerie. Cannot unsee.
  • Seeing one of the schools female coaches walk in with one of the pretty obviously lesbian high school senior girls, see me, and then walk right back out the door. That was… not okay, methinks.
  • And that my coworker set me up to look like the one stealing $20 a shift. I never told anyone I thought it was her. I pretended like I didn’t notice they were keeping me away from the registers. I never told my parents. And the assistant manager called me to bitch me out one time when she came up $20 short on the nightly count. I hadn’t even worked that day. I was in tears. I was 15. I girded up my courage and called the next day to speak to the store manager about the whole thing and the assistant manager answered. When I said who I wanted to talk too and why she apologized and said she’d just miscounted. I actually accepted that as an apology… and never spoke of it again because it took every shred of my courage to make that one call. I saw that assistant manager, years later, as a receptionist at my doctor’s office… I could tell by the way she looked at me she still thought I was a thief. I fantasized about saying something to her… something like “I never actually stole any money, you know. It was Tiffany.” But didn’t and said nothing. Sigh.

I hope to have some more posts with stuff like that in the new year. Projects wise I’d like to figure out some new craft for the 2019 craft fair, work to get my husband’s family private cemetery listed as a state recognized historic cemetery and MAYBE set up a cemetery board and serve on it. My DREAM is setting up a Dia de los Muertos event out there… nighttime, copal incense and candles everywhere, the whole cemetery cleaned up all at once, marigolds… it’d be awesome.

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This place exists in the world… what a glorious planet

And maybe work on being a better, more patient parent. The middle child is having a rougher go of it than her sisters… I wonder is that just part and parcel to being a middle child? But she could use more attention… I’m resolved to do better about giving it to her in 2019. These children… you have to parent them all so differently. It isn’t like riding a bike, you know. It’s like riding a bike, then adding in plate spinning, and then adding sleight of hand card tricks when you have that unexpected third child. It’s developing a whole new skill, every time, and somehow not losing the momentum of the others. Ain’t for sissies, let me tell you.

As for me personally, that 10 pounds my endocrinologist told me to lose is now 25. The metabolism in the year before I turn 40 hasn’t been kind. I feel like I look alright in mirrors… but oh god the pictures! I look like Margaret Thatcher in pictures these days… not a fan. A lot of it is my hair that has also morphed into “mature hair” territory, but the weight is also a thing. (If the camera adds 10 pounds, how many cameras do I have on me?!) So as I wrote about here I’ll be doubling down on my health in 2019, and as I wrote about here in the Why god is this my most popular post- facepalm and here , I’ll be cutting back on the drinking/beer due to weight, health, and aging reasons. Also to not to carry on the tradition of my drunken great aunt at Christmases.

And, in important charitable work territory- I am still contributing monthly to the Desert Flower Foundation to end female genital mutilation in Western Africa, as I wrote about here . If you’d like to learn more or to contribute yourself the link is here: Desert Flower Foundation. It’s based out of Germany, so don’t be put off if the English seems iffy on the website- they’re amazing and I’m so thankful to be able to sponsor 3 girls for their schooling, medical care, and their protection from genital mutilation. The world changes one child at a time, don’t you know.

So anyway, thanks to all for reading in 2018 and for sticking it out for this long and link filled final post of the year. I’ll still be here, in my tiny corner of the internet, if you care to keep reading in 2019! Which just HAS to be a less “kick in the teeth” year than 2018… but that I’ll go ahead and knock on wood for all of us, just in case.

 

 

 

 

New Blog Look… and about that last blog post…

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Sheep (ish). Sidenote- Sheep are honestly WAY more disgusting than this picture lets on.

So, like last things first here… thanks for letting me get that bit of self flagellation out on the last blog page instead of real life.  I feel much lighter, as these things go- not sure we’re all meant to carry our burdens alone- even if those burdens are impossible standards for ourselves.

And just to clarify- I don’t think that one slip means I’m alcoholic- but just that drinking is so damn fraught because I always hyper-analyze it in myself. But it has been on the heavier side lately, and so I’ve lightened up this week and taken it as a lesson. And I lost two pounds, so there ya go.

And how did it turn out, when faced with all the same neighbors yesterday at the Christmas Cookie Party? Not ONE person treated me any differently. They all told us what wonderful parents we were and how much fun the craft show was. We talked and joked, and I had 3 beers and then the toddler got tired and we went home after having a stellar time. So my personal catastrophizing I do where I imagine myself to have been gossiped about or becoming a pariah or anything- yeah, that’s a nope.  So there you go- as Tom Petty said: “Most things I worry about, never happen anyway.”

And weirdly and quasi-embarrassedly, it had to be BY FAR the most read post I’ve ever done- so you know… there’s that.

As for the look of the blog- I’ve looked over the last year for a new WordPress theme to update to, and just haven’t found one I’ve liked… until now. I like this one and am STILL trying to tweak it a bit more. If anyone knows how to do a dropdown link to various post categories please just let me know, that’s what I’m still trying to find.

 

 

 

Pan de Muertos

I know it’s the stereotype and all, but even though I’m female I really hate baking. The cutesy aprons, adorable flour tins, and rainbow cupcake scene just ain’t my bag. Give me pastas and sauces and gravies and roasted veggies and spices. No precise measurements needed- that’s where I’m at home! But baking? Sheesh, recipes have varied instructions based on elevations, and a cup isn’t just a cup… it has to be a sifted cup, or a perfectly level cup, or better yet weigh the ingredients… bah. Also, since I have a generalized disdain for aprons and wear mostly dark t-shirts that much loose flour can be an issue.

But I had pan de muertos to make for Dia de los Muertos. And the thought that the dead wait for no one really kept me to a pretty tight timeline here. Pan de Muertos means BREAD OF THE DEAD!!!!! (but without the overwrought punctuation and capitalization). With a name like that I’m sure a sweet bread that’s great with coffee is like, not what you were picturing. Anyway, I had an offrenda to put this on and so had to make it and did, in fact, quasi enjoy it. I did also, in fact, get flour god damn everywhere.

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I see now I should have made either one loaf or three… two seems like… yeah…

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…like this scene from The Naked Gun, only in bread.

ANYHOO…

Pan/Bread Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup milk

3 Tbsp orange juice

3 cups all purpose flour (don’t get me started on how many different flours there are…)

1 package (1 1/4 tsp) dry active yeast

1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp. anise seed

1/4 cup white sugar

3 eggs, beaten

2 Tbsp orange zest

 

Glaze Ingredients

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

1 Tbsp orange zest

Turn oven on to 325 degrees. Heat milk and butter over medium/low heat till butter melts. Add warm water and a pinch of sugar to a bowl and sprinkle over the yeast to activate it. (Weird bubbling ensues). Zest off the outer peel of an orange with a zester or by carefully slicing and dicing. Once butter is melted into milk remove from heat and let cool a little. In a large bowl add anise seed, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp orange zest, sugar, and salt together and then add eggs, yeast, and milk/butter. This is the part where folks would use a stand mixer, but since they sure as hell didn’t have that in 1932 Guanajato Mexico, I mixed by damn hand with a spoon. Here’s the secret though, get that first cup of flour mixed until smooth before adding the rest of the flour slowly until it’s all incorporated.

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I took the picture so I’ll damn well use it

Once it’s all added together it’s a little sticky and a little shaggy looking. Turn out on a lightly floured counter to knead.

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Turns out that’s an assload too much flour

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Then just knead until stretchy and you’re bored

Once the bread is kneaded (5 minutes or so) put back in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours.

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I took the picture and I’ll damn well use it

Then once the bread has risen, punch it down and form into loaves. I pulled about 1/4 off and set to the side to do the design on the tops and then divided the remaining dough into two balls. I then made the crossed “bones” and knob on the top (stylized skull? Not sure, but it’s the tradition) by forming it like it was playdough. Then I just pressed them into the top of the balls of dough. (AGAIN, though that’s what I did, maybe form into one big loaf or 3 small ones.) Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, place in the oven, and cook for 20-25 minutes.

While the bread cooks, add the orange juice and sugar to a pot over medium heat and stir to prevent burning. Heat until your glaze is lava.

Once bread is done, remove from oven, drizzle on the glaze, then while still hot sprinkle with white sugar.

It’s tasty, and not too anise-y, which I don’t really like, but this amount isn’t too much. I think Mexicans do anise WAYYYY better than the French do, frankly, so really don’t worry about it- you’ll like it. This bread is great heated up the next day, spread with butter and eaten with coffee. And remember- the dead wait for no one, so like… hurry it up.

 

 

 

 

Questions Unasked

In the refrain of my last few years: the world lost another good one recently. (I am not, in fact, talking about John McCain, mind you. This one’s a little closer to home.)

I am both doing well and extremely sad- it’ll hit at weird times. Watering the plants. Picking tomatoes. Randomly this sense of such loss while I wash dishes. I’m fine though, don’t worry. Grief is the price come due for loving others, I get that. And it makes me think of the others I’ve lost too- which hasn’t happened before; this dredging up of all of them together. I’ll think about how I didn’t ask my uncle enough questions. And then I’ll realize I didn’t ask ANY of them enough questions.

How did my grandmother pick her children’s names? Her oldest son is named David- did she know he was the 7th David with our last name in the family line? Was the family name thing important, or was it just Catholic names are a limited pool to chose from? How’d she get into watching basketball? How’d she raise so many kids in a 3 bedroom house? How’d she ever mentally survive burying two daughters? Was she always so funny?

My uncle- that’s the problem with becoming pen pals with him as a kid- perpetually it seems he appeared in the world fully formed as an adult- springing from Zeus’s head like Athena, I imagine. The thought never actually occurred to me that he was a teenager once- so I never asked him anything about it. What did he do? How’d he get into journalism? Or like… what was his favorite pet when he was a kid? Or did he have any? Or how’d he get into golf. Or did he know how vital it was to an awkward child living so far away from him- who grew up as not the golden child of the family- to have someone who spent time writing her and thought she was great? That said child internalized that and held on to it, and unconsciously used it on the path to successful personhood?  I tried to tell him a few times, but I never asked him if he knew.

My father-in-law. He was a Golden Gloves boxer- and yet I never asked him about it? Why’d he stop and when? Why did he love horses so much? How did he end up so different from his siblings- just because he was the only boy, or what? Why so afraid of the doctor? Why so kind and funny when life hadn’t been to him? How’d he find that sweet spot for so long of “taking no shit but causing no harm?”

Or my grandfather… who I sat with late at night once and watched parliament on C-Span.  I remember how we laughed at the insults and barbs and… was a shoe actually thrown? That doesn’t seem too British, so it may just be the brain playing tricks. But I LOVE Churchill and so did Grandpa… but we never talked about him. We missed that conversation by about 5 years because I came to really like Churchill after grandpa was already gone.  Or his brother… Grandpa had a picture of himself, my grandmother, and his brother on the wall in his TV room… but I never asked him about him. How did his brother die? Why my grandfather left home so young as a teenager… I’ll never know.

I range between “God damn it I never asked enough” and “You can’t ever know someone’s complete life so don’t beat yourself up over it.” Back and forth like ping pong. It’s just… the missed opportunity to know someone better weighs heavy. Or maybe it’s the three volume book about Churchill I’m reading. Minutia and details on someone I never met, and yet I’m over here with just a handful of scraps and facts about the people I actually did.

I don’t know. I do know I am lucky.

When we were in the hospital with our oldest we met a dad of one of the other kids on the floor. Con man obviously pretending to be devoutly Christian. Begged money from us to buy his kid a Christmas gift. We gave him $20. I remember thinking- it isn’t only good people who’s children are sick. It isn’t only good people who are here with their dying children over Christmas. But our child was getting better and so we give $20 to someone who’s child was not because what the hell else could you do?

And so, in a similar vein to what I realized about humanity in that hospital; it isn’t only good people who die. To change the saying a bit- the graveyards are full of replaceable men. But man, how lucky am I that all of mine were good ones? That all of mine are the actual irreplaceable men in those graveyards?

I try to be grateful for the time I had with all of them. It’s a conscious effort to stay on that side of it, and not wallow because they’re gone. But i HAD them, they were there. How lucky to have had so many that were so good.

But god damn it- like, what was their favorite color? I know that for literally none of them… you see what I’m saying?

 

Ice Dyeing: Last Night’s Batch Turned Out Like This…

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NICE!

So why are there no white spots, even though these were more tightly crammed in than the previous batch? I may have soaked these more than the other ones… so maybe the white on the previous set were dry parts in the center of some folds? Not 100% there…

Here is the thing- LOOK at the color variability within the batch though!

Here is how one of the first two scarves I was struggling with turned out:

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Meh. It’ll do. But compared to the color on the left…

So those scarves were 40% synthetic and 60% cotton… JUST like the ratios on the pashmina’s I did in the same dye batch. Can you imagine if I had just decided I couldn’t figure this out and thrown up my hands because of those things? Because here is how the pashmina’s turned out:

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From left to right: 80% cotton scarf, 100% cotton bandana, 40% acrylic/60% cotton pashmina, and the original scarf I was playing around with, also 40% acrylic/60% cotton.

Check OUT that color variability from the same dye batch.

So if at first you don’t succeed… try a different fabric!

As to the color: funny how when I was a kid purple was my favorite color but it doesn’t do ANYTHING for me these days… I like the previous set better, but I’m also not a huge fan of turquoise. Blasphemy, I know! But it’s not about what I like best… it’s having a nice range of choices at the craft fair and using all the dye in my collection. I do think they turned out purdy though.

 

IT WORKED! Ice Dying

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IT WORKED!!!! KINDA!

So how about them apples?

So my 24 hour experiment in ice dying with the use of soda ash… rousing success. Aside from the unpredictable nature of the dye itself that is. Let’s be clear- those colors SHOULD have been true blue, black, olive green, and yellow. And we ended up with torquoise, brown, black, pink, a few yellows, and on the 4th one (not pictured, but a gauzier fabric so was already dry and was pulled off the rack at the time of the picture) spots of neon orange.

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The products, even the cocktail salt, are all ordered on Amazon. I can do without a salted rim most of the time but I’ll have to save some for Chiltons. Normal table salt is fine and cheaper, I just ran out

But lord above, I think this whole thing might work out after all. Interestingly, even though all of these fabrics are synthetic and blends, it’s the natural fiber dye that’s working best. And, of course, most of the dye in the stash is iDye Poly instead of just the iDye powder. Sigh.

So here are the steps that led me to this last go round. Make sure your fabric is prewashed. I just tossed all the scarves and bandanas in the washer and washed with regular detergent.

Step One: Brain Folds

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Brains!!!

So I watched a video of a dyer who said the more folds in the fabric the more interesting the ice dying comes out. She said she tries to aim for a brain folds look, which seemed easy enough to emulate. The edges of that ol’ garage sale dish drainer have large holes on the corners so I prop it up with some scrap pieces of 4x4s from when we installed the fence extension. I’m a LITTLE concerned I put too many scarves in this batch and the whole thing might be too tight for the dye to work down… Only one way to find out.

Step Two: Saturate

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Action Shot

So I totally soaked it with water. Some people get the scarves wet before the folding into place stage, but this seems easier to me. Also, maybe some dry spots will be more interesting. And this keeps me from getting soaking wet myself.

Step 3: Sprinkle with soda ash and salt. More than you’d salt food for both  by about 4 times, but no clumps.

Step 4: Sprinkle on dye powder over surface. Particular colors in spots, some overlapping, but not to much- you don’t want muddy colors. So I hear.

Step 5: Sprinkle on more soda ash and salt. I also poured on the dye activator liquid, which as far as I can tell hasn’t done anything yet, but I might as well use it.

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Im using way more dye powder these days than I was before watching other people do it on tutorials.

Step 6: Top with ice, evenly cover surface with about an inch or so depth.

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Collaborate and listen

Step 7: Wait 24 hours.

Tonights batch (the pictures used in the steps above) are Black (was in the natural fiber dye sleeve, but I may have mixed up the bags to sleeves.. or the black from the experiment yesterday was poly dye… I don’t even know anymore.) Poly purple, all the rest of the poly turquoise that has come out denim blue in the past, and a few dots of the brilliant blue natural fiber dye that turned out turquoise yesterday. I went heavier with the black and purple.

Yesterday I only did four scarves, tonight I went with six and two bandanas, but three were gauzy scarves, including the first two I was experimenting on. The poor ugly ducklings are pretty stiff with salt at this point. Fingers crossed for some swans out of those two on the third try.

Now we wait and see. This part kills me…

Not all about Tomatoes!

So we had a VERY impromptu garage sale this weekend. Our neighbor across the street has a pretty regular garage sale, and since she was having one this weekend we decided to glom on and hold one ourselves. (we put our own signs up to help draw more people to the street. I hope the god of the etiquette of garage sales is placated by that and is merciful with us.) Can I tell you how much we love garage sales? My goodness- the enjoyment I get from offloading STUFF and people watching- love everything about it. We held one with some friends of ours many a year ago and they made fun of the bag of wine corks I put out for sale, some very serious ribbing was put up with I tell you. And then the joy the next day when a lady declared that her daughter had forbidden her from getting anything for her unless it was wine corks- oh the sweet sweet vindication! Said friends didn’t sell their tuba rack- so take that, losers.

Anyway, so we worked late in the night on Friday to unpack and stage three SUV loads of boxes from the storage room and we donated everything we didn’t sell at noon on Saturday. And as a bonus, we made enough money to replace the 6 patio chairs that were getting dangerously rusted through in parts with new ones. I’ve worried about those old chairs for the past year. The metal on the underside of the front was jagged in a couple places- it was some stitches and a tetanus shot waiting to happen.

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…I was two and my parents didn’t replace some rusted patio chairs like they should have

After the garage sale we took back the empty bins to the storage unit and got rid of about 5 more boxes worth of stuff and organized it. I hope to one day very soon be able to get rid of the storage unit entirely. We got it to put things in to stage our last house while selling it… and then ended up buying a house with no garage and less storage… so there it has sat for three years- full of junk. Hopefully soon we’ll get the carport and storage room up at our current house- we have the slab poured… hopefully soon.

Anyway, after sweating through some serious heat and humidity with all of that, we then gardened and barbecued outside yesterday and then took a walk with the girls in the evening downtown for ice-cream because screw you, sense of reason. So… sitting in bed in cold AC to write a long blog post might be in order this morning. Might.

To the house first before tomatoes! So our router is on a corner of our kitchen counter, and that also is where the phone charger and fitbit charger are. (18,116 steps yesterday, 7 hours, 17 minutes of sleep. I love this thing.) So that corner looks like this:

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That’s actually better than it usually looks, honestly…

And I got so tired of looking at it it now looks like this:

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Want to hide something you don’t like? Have you tried hiding it?

You have no idea how happy this has made me. So the containers are these old tin flour and tea containers my mom had forever, and I don’t know why I love them the way I do, but they’re two of my favorite things ever. And you see that top cookbook? My Meemaw’s copy of the Joy of Cooking, complete with her handwritten notes.

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They’re in cursive though so they might as well be hieroglyphics. Add chick baths? Oh wait, broth… I bet it’s broth

So anyway, I’m pleased with it/myself, but I also will be replacing the important stuff with other, more expendable things because I keep moving them farther and farther away due to a fear that this whole set up is a fire risk. Which, the router has 6 inches all the way around it and isn’t covered on the top but still. I worry.

On to the garden and pets!

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DO YOU SEE THIS GOOD BOY? Walking on the path my god dogs do not get better than this one I tell you

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Remember how I mentioned I may have misplanted the purple horse mint on the front right corner… yeah…

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I had an entourage today on the morning stroll. Some of the new patio chairs in view

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She runs between your feet to throw herself down right in front of you… should have named her Future Broken Hip instead of Lacey. But she’s the 9-year-old’s cat, so it wasn’t up to me

And no escaping without the tomatoes!

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Sungold, 5′ 4″ tall and growing. Turns out it’s an orange cherry tomato which I really should have put together from the name but I totally did not

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Sweet 100

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HM 1823

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Bobcat

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HM 1823 with Bobcat in the background- look at that pretty fruit set!

The two-year-old has discovered these plants are tomatoes. None have been lost to toddler predation yet but it’s just a matter of time. I’ve told her she has to at least wait till they turn red… we’ll see how long that rule holds.