Friday, January 28, 2011

Screw It Up Yourself

In the three seconds
it stayed on the wall
I missed having an advent calendar for the kids last year.  For this past Christmas I hunted around for one.  In my price-range I found mostly garage-sale-fodder, crappy crafts made by enslaved Chinese nine-year-olds who would probably rather be in school.  And these sorts of things do not make me feel festive.  Apparently I am alone in this.

I checked and found a ton of cutesoid stuff not in my price range.  But! Hark!  What was this?  A 24 muffin tin Christmas Countdown calendar...for $45!!  Golly,  I could buy my own muffin tin for cheaper.  And I did.  A shiny silver one.  The kids decorated circular labels.  We filled each muffin with chocolates and sealed them in with the stickers.  And I hung it up on the wall.  It was festive! and fun to make!  And it only cost me $10!  And then the stickers started falling off one by one and the candy trickled to the floor.  Not yet daunted, I pulled long strips of tape across the rows.  It looked a little less cute, and the Kisses would be harder to pry out, but it was still kind-looking and homey and would do the trick.  And then.  Because all the covers were stuck together, the whole of them fell off at once and Kisses bombed the floor.  And that is because they seem to only make NON-STICK muffin tins these days.  Oh for the aluminum of yore!

DIY marshmellows took on a gruesome look
Then I tried making my own washing machine detergent.  And it was a great success.  For $5 and 20 minutes I get 6 gallons (150+loads, but I only make two gallons at a time) of earth friendly soap.  Considering I have no income and some time, this is a bargain.  It was immensely easy.  And I felt like I'd been duped into buying pre-made stuff.  Really, it's like buying pre-made water.  The recipe is ubiquitous on the net.  And all ingredients are easily found in the detergent section of any old grocery store.  And here it is:  1 BAR SOAP (some people recommend Fels Naptha, but they don't list the ingredients and that stuff stinks to high heaven of toxic crap.  If you use it, you're only supposed to  use 1/3 of a bar) grated on your cheese grater and dissolved over medium heat with 6 CUPS OF WATER.  Mix in 1/2 CUP WASHING SODA (not baking) and 1/2 CUP BORAX until dissolved.  Remove from heat.  In your 2 gallon bucket you have already put about 4 CUPS HOT WATER into which you now stir your soap mixture.  You put in the rest of your two gallons (one gallon plus 6 cups, or add WATER to the two gallon mark).  You can add a bottle of essential oils at this point, but that will more than triple the cost of your soap.  It will gel over-night.  And then you put 1/2 cup per load.  I have heard that the consistency varies.  And it should look like eggdrop soup.  It had the texture of jello mixed with milk.  And it works.  We stink up our clothes really bad around here (Huck with his work, running and soccer, Coyote with his un-potty-training, me with my cows, and Blue just with having those feet attached to her legs) and they come out non-stinking. If you insist on having glowing whites, you should probably rethink that.  A heck of a lot of mercury is released into the environment when it's made.  And maybe my kids aren't the ones affected, but we're all stuck on this shrinking planet together and I'd like everyone to be functioning on as many cylinders as they've got.  The other solution to the whites problem is to just stop buying whites!  I think Coyote's the only one with much in the way of whites and those all get covered by shoes and pants.  And I think white is just about the stupidest color for anything other than snow, milk, clouds, butts, and lilies.  It's also a really stressful color.  And that's how you make laundry soap!

Heartened by this success, I began looking around for other costs to cut.  I've made my own facial toner, a supply which has so far lasted me four years.  I do spend quite a bit on my one bottle of facial lotion, but that's because my face demands it.  And that's my only cosmetic expense.  But what of toothpaste?  Coyote is picky and has to have expensive fennel stuff.  But the rest of us...we could go cheaper.  So I found this recipe: 6 parts baking soda, 1 part rubbing alcohol, 1 part liquid vegetable glycerin, and some peppermint oil, which I already had on hand.  I think some parts of these directions were missing.  I mixed it all up and loaded my pastry bag and leaned it in a bowl in the bathroom.  The next morning, the oil, glycerin and alcohol had all flowed out in to the bowl and a bunch of dry, minty soda was stuck in the pastry bag.  And do you know how SALTY baking soda is?!  Oh my god.  No one will touch the stuff, but me and I'm not going to let my $1/2 go down the drain!  But I could drink an ocean after I brush now.  No...not an ocean, a salt-free aquifer!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I recently read that blogs are all about people tooting their own horns.  This must be a generalization and not a rule.  Because on my blog, I toot my kid's horns and I tell you all about my farm failures, my irregular ass, and my massive existential malaise we're all so sick of hearing about but is on going and has been reduced to one impossible wish: that I were someone else, someone with clear goals, an obvious purpose in life, and lots of mentors.  As it is, I remain me.  And that's not a very good horn to toot, so I don't.

Unless it's GI-related and/or I am very tipsy, tooting is not an area of expertise for me A friend of several years got really upset to read an article about me in the paper detailing things I'd never told her because I just didn't want to seem like I was bragging. But now I'm wondering if perhaps bragging isn't sometimes in the eye of a jealous beholder.  Otherwise, how should I let you know who I am and the experiences that have formed me?  It's not obvious from the life I have now.

I'm watching this in my daughter, and it's difficult to just listen and not grab her by the lapels and shake her, screaming, "NOOOOO!!!!!"  In her robotics class, she's way younger than the team she's on and she mentioned at step 4 that the thing looked crooked, but was voted down as too young to know what she's talking about.  She did not insist.  No, she did just what her mother would do and think.... oh well, no big deal for me if we do it over at step 4 or 18.  She told me they're supposed to work as a team so she didn't push.  But aren't the other kids supposed to work as a team too?  So, the instructor chastised them at step 18 and they have to take the whole thing apart and start all over again.  I asked her if she would do things differently next time and she shrugs and says, "What do I care?  I'm in the class two hours a week whether the things works or not."  ACK!!! THAT is just my style of thinking and it has not gotten me past the starting line!

So, here's a toot.  This fall, I started a storytelling group to do the children's story at our Unitarian Universalist church.  I am so passionate about this and got shot down, ("Over my dead body"), when I first asked if I could help with that part of the service.  I wanted to explain that I'd done them at our church in Wenatchee, but no one had ears on.  After that person was forced out of their power, I approached her replacement.  And this time I asked if I could get more people involved.  I'd love to do them every week but that's a lot of stress on my bladder (I get really nervous and pee 127 times before I speak) and I think church is a place for people to give their gifts, especially the ones that have no other place. And what if other people need to share stories too?  I wouldn't want to hog.  So, I asked around.  I put on a well attended storytelling workshop a couple months ago.  And, at least the technical aspects of this project are all going well!

I am very happy with how my stories have gone (aside from the photographer incident) and they have been well received and I feel that I have united with an important piece of who I am and my purpose here.  So, you see, it's not ALL doom and gloom and 40 years in the wilderness up in my head.

And if you have to go now, I understand.  But if you have a minute more, I'll share with you my latest successful story.  I was flattered to hear that this story had been repeated many times at holiday gatherings.  It is a true story.  From my life.  Blandly named "Sweet Sixteen."  This is written as a telling story, with kids sitting at my feet, for our new member service.


Have you ever moved to a new town?  Been to a new school where no face is familiar?

When I was 15, my family decided it was time to move.  But they hadn't decided where when I left to volunteer in Africa for a summer.  When I left, all I knew was that I wouldn't be coming back to the town I'd known my whole life.  While I was gone, my parents move to South Carolina, on the other side of the country.  I flew from Africa to Florida where I picked up my surprise plane ticket to my new home.

I was a few days late for my new school.  It was my Junior year.  And a couple weeks in to it, my mother said, "So, your birthday is coming up." (Saccharine voice)
"I know." (teen angst voice)
"You'll be turning 16."
"I know." Sixteen is an important birthday in our culture.  It is supposed to be a big party with lots of friends.  You get your driver's license.  The world opens up.
"Do you want to have a party?"
"Who would I invite.  I don't know anyone."
"Sure you do, honey.  You MUST know someone."
"Don't you talk to anyone in the halls?  There are people in the halls, right?"
"Well... let's think.  Who do you have lunch with?  You must have lunch with someone!"
"No one."
"Oh come on now, that can't be true.  Who's at the table where you sit?"
"People who don't talk to me.  People who already have friends.  People who are probably going to have big gigantic sweet sixteen parties."
"Honey, there must be Some One!  Put on you're thinking cap!"
"Nope.  Face it.  You just moved me across the country to a whole different place right before my birthday."  And let me tell you, Columbia, South Carolina is VERY different from Bellingham, WA.
"I'm not having a party."
"Well, would you like to go out for dinner then?"
(Shrug)  "I guess."
And soon my birthday was here.
No one at school seemed to know.  I didn't tell any of the people I didn't know.  But the secretary said, "Happy Birthday," as I passed the front office.  I guess she had access to all that sort of vital information.

When it was time to go out for dinner, my mother had a pounding headache and just couldn't go.  So my father took my sister and I out.  I can't remember where we went, what we ate or even if the waitstaff clapped and sang Happy Birthday through the restaurant with a cupcake.  What I do remember is that it was pathetic and I was bummed.  I moped back home and trudged up the stairs to our apartment.  Not the large farm house I'd known before, but a small, bland, city apartment.  I was trying to be happy for clean drinking water and food.  I was trying to be thankful for family and I was trying VERY hard to NOT cry.

And I opened the door.

And do you know what I heard? Get ready.


And all around the tiny room were faces that I kind of recognized.  Faces from school, from the tables I'd sat at, from the classes and the hallways and even an American friend I'd met in Africa.

It was quite a surprise.  And I'm still surprised to this day!

How had my mother cobbled together this party?  As far as I could tell, she'd made it out of thin air.  But where I'd seen people sitting near me, she'd envisioned friends.  Were I heard a thin "hi," she'd heard, "I could be your friend, if you want."  Where I was waiting for friends, she saw how I could find them.  And she'd called that secretary who'd known my birthday, and she'd asked her to keep an eye out and to report to her every person she saw me talking with and every person I'd eaten lunch near.  And my mother called those girls, and invited them to our new apartment.  Where the cake was chocolate, the balloons were bountiful, and the party of near-friends was only slightly awkward.

And that is the story of how I found a place for myself in South Carolina, how a bunch of girls made room for the new kid, and how, thanks to my loving and imaginative mother, I had a very sweet 16.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who will wear the pants in this family?

Coyote snapped this one
I HATE pants shopping.  Not only are you standing 6 inches from a mirror and analyzing your ass, they no longer make pants that fit.
My body hasn't changed that drastically since hosting babies that something as basic as pants shouldn't fit anymore.  My hinney has dropped to an average setting, which is fine by me.  It always rode too high, like a hunched back.  In fact, I like my post babies body way more than the one of my youth.  So it pisses me off that no one can make pants for it.

With last year's style (maybe that was four years ago), I have to wear a belt because they end at the widest part and can't stay up.  I can pull the pants up for a lovely set of camel toes and belt them there.  Or I can cinch them on my hips where the belt digs into my bones and gets chucked out the car window an hour later.  Now they come out with "skinny" jeans.  You could put Ichabod Crane into a pair and even he'd look like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumb (check out those modern references!  Yeah, I'm name-dropping) trying to cram themselves into a single pantleg.  These are the stupidest looking pants ever.  I tried a purple pair, and craved a platter of baba ganoush.  I tried "shape holding" jeans that informed my body just where some designer wanted to remold my ass.  I tried on "boyfriend" jeans.  Apparently I'm dating someone from the fifties who is a foot and a half shorter than me.  Maybe YOUR boyfriend wears those, meanwhile I'm thanking god I'm off the market.

I've got a pretty severe hip to waist ratio and I've always darted my pants.  But every year it gets worse in the women's department.  At the size that fits over my ass, I could fit triplets in the waistline: an un-dartable chasm.  I have an bodaciously feminine build in the bottom, so how could it be that men's pants are the only one's that fit? What is the world coming to?  Is it the End Times or What?

I was ready for something new, but something new is not ready for me. I finally marched into the old stand-by: Macy's Men's Levi's.

Mom (from who I inherited my bodacity) out for an early
ski while I model my milking/barn outfit: Land's End coat from
12 years ago.  Huck's Carhart cover alls and a Goodwill hat
that falls over my eyes all the time.
I spit nails when I first went shopping with Huck for work shirts. THREE sizes PER SHIRT!  The first time Huck went shopping with me, he was all: Where are the sizes?  Right there, honey.  You mean, that's it? S, M and L? Don't you guys all have different sizes of breasts and shoulders and torsos?  Yes, we do.  That's why I don't buy clothes.  That's why you have to come along and hold my hand.  That's why I hate the universe.  And he asks: Why?  I don't honestly know, but after all the conversations this shopping trip through Hades has spawned, I can't imagine who IS happy with their pants.

In the Levi's, I met the worst "sales" "ladies" ever.  At the other stores, the women knew they had to help me and help me they tried.  But here, they were all about deterents.  "Who you shopping for?"  "Me."  "Are you sure you don't want to check out the women's section?"  "I can't find pants that fit in the women's department."  And they both snarled in stereo and one growled, "I can't see what the problem is.  You're thin enough."  As if I'm the one with the body dysmorphic disorder and not the entire clothing design industry.  Where to begin?  I don't see how she could tell, I was wearing my old Levi's which are all baggy, topped with a huge winter coat.  And Don't EVER comment about other people's bodies, and certainly not while hissing.  And finally, the problem is not with my body, the problem is with the design.  My body isn't runway or airbrush ready, and I've got my insecurities just like everyone, but over-all it's fine for what I need to do with it which can be summed up in two words: NOT MODELING.  No, I'm very clear that the problem is with the pants, not me.
Some jeans that don't feel good and fall off

The Levi's fit great.  Unfortunately, they're the exact same ones I had last time, just in the Gluten-free size. I guess I'll just continue to look like an early 90's dyke, if that's what the fashion industry wants, I don't mind.  It's too bad I can't do with pants what I've done with bras; since they can't seem to make one's that fit and look sweet, I'm just not wearing them (due to staring experiences, policy now excludes all non-vest-wearing moments in public).

Monday, January 10, 2011

fill in the blank

Somebody got (_________________) a book of Pirate
                          name of smallest child in room

(________________)-libs for Christmas this year.

And he (_________________) right through them,
                  verb: past tense                                        

filling in the (__________________) with the typical
                          noun plural

(_________________________)  talk of a six year old.
      name of a bathroom fixture                                              

Most of the blanks were (_______________)-in
                                            verb: past tense

with these three gems, (________________),
                                    6 year old dirty word                

(__________________), and (_________________).
  dirty word                               dirty word

Through this exercise, I learned that (________________)
                                            person in a certain illegal profession

have wooden "weenrs".  Which was possibly the most hilarious

(________________)-lib moment ever

and caused a lot of coarse (______________) later.
                                          verb ending in "ing"

Then, Captain Black Stache, flanked by First Mate Stench, brandished his sword and asked me in a gruff growl, "Do you want to die by fire or sword?!"  I gave up the candy and fled to the barn, where I keep a lounge chair I found on the side of the road that I like to sit and think in.  I eventually decided sword, because it would be quick, if he was strong enough.  And fire just sounds like the worst way to go.  But by the time I'd decided, Black Stache had moved on to snacks.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

break through

Huck bundled me up, packed my fanny pack (yeah... I said fanny pack; what of it?!) full of goodies and sent me off to recover myself from the week.  It was New Years Eve and I would have one last solo adventure for 010.  To Duck Land I trotted.  I've almost made it around the lake before, but in order to pick up my children on time, I've always turned back, curiosity still burning: does this trail go all the way around the lake or what?  And on Friday I found out!

my favorite tree: Duck Land's willow
I followed ski tracks around the lake, analyzing them to determine if they were one skier who'd gone and returned, or two who'd passed this way once, completing the circle.

I remembered how to pee on these trails and worried I'd be found (hint: you don't take off your skis, nor do you leave the trail, nor do you do this at the top of a hill because once before I made a single yellow line all the way down).

I paused for the chocolates, apple and cheese Huck packed, taking my skis off to sit on a log.

And in the 7 whole, entire degrees, my binding froze open.  I spent 20 minutes trying to get it to clamp down.  Huck suggested later that I could have peed on it.  Really?  Just like a man to imagine that would be easy in a foot or so of snow.  But it would take considerable effort, agility, contortionality, and dumb luck to have gotten that steaming delivery where it needed to go and then I'd have frozen pee all over my skis.

I couldn't use the one ski nor the one left over.  I'd broken bindings before and knew that using one ski was worse than none. This could never be as bad as that one time: four miles out in central Alaska,snow thigh high, steaming wolf kill, in the dark.  So I packed my skis up under my arm and headed:  FORWARD, determined to determine if this trail was a loop or not, once and for all!  If it wasn't a loop,  I'd have to walk all the way back from the end, skis slipping from my tired grip.  But if I didn't try it, the question of the loop would burn hotter.  And these ski tracks I followed evidenced no returning pole holes.  It HAD to be every hikers coveted find: A LOOP!!

long shadow with fanny pack
The tracks sloped down, towards the lake, towards the swamp.  There, the ski tracks continued over the frozen wetlands.   The lake ice might be harder, but there were no bipedal tracks over that, just coyote and bunny.  And if it broke... those stakes were too high.  Crossing through the cattailed wetland, the ice wouldn't be so hard, but the stakes would be lower, thigh high at the most.  And these ski tracks I followed, they kept going forward.  But I didn't like their route, so I strayed to more open ice, less climbing around grasses and cattails.  And my plastic soled ski shoe binding slid out from beneath me.  Humbled, I returned to follow the tracks and CRACK! My right foot jammed beneath the ice into the swamp up to my knee.  And then went the left foot.  And the right again.  Whereas skis distribute your weight, plastic bindings consolidate it into a narrow line.  If I kept moving, I wouldn't get too cold.  And forward was by now much shorter than back and the land had to be coming up any minute, and if I didn't fall in any deeper than my knees, and if I could hold on to my skis through all this jolting and splashing and flailing, I would make it to 2011.  And I did.  Eventually, after walking miles and miles and miles and having to go around a new drainage channel.  And I thought: At least I'll have good story.  But I don't.  It's a flat tell.

I tried to regale my co-revelers at the New Years Eve rager but the story just settled at the bottom of the conversation.  It's the sort of story you don't really know how to end.  No ambulances or wolves or pneumonia or frantic phone calls or orbituaries, just a woman sloshing through it all, carrying too many long things, and following fools.  Same old story, different setting.

Blue read Hawksmaid which led us to the Audubon society meeting last month which led her to want to do the Audubon Christmas bird count.  This is dawn to dusk, counting birds.  And so on Sunday, she jumped out of bed at 6 am.  And off we went to join the crew of experienced bird watchers.  I took a class in college, instead of the more hard core biologies.  But that was shore birds: ducks, gulls, and raptors, no song birds.  I have taken the kids bird watching a few times, but had no idea this was going to erupt so forcefully in Blue.  The first bird she spotted turned out to be a very rare warbler that caused our leader to call the rare bird hotline.  It was 10 degrees all day.  And she loved every minute of it.  We had to leave after 7 hours because I was so tired and feeling kind of ill, not yet fully recovered from the New Years celebration.  As we left, our co-birders all said, "I've never even heard of a child that would do this without complaining."  And she was ticked I needed to bail before dark.

I've listened to her recount every sighting for the last two days.  That Heron, oh MOM!  The dipper.  The Cooper's hawk.  The scads of magpies.  She was giddy.  She's still riding high.  I asked if she wanted to join the Audubon society, and she mock-swooned with joy.  And then danced around the house. I don't really get her passion for this, but I'm not going to stand in it's way.  And because I'm the mom, I believe I'm going to learn every damn little song bird in this region.  It's not the worse thing in the world.  At least it's not baseball cards or ice skating.

AFTER 7 hours in 10 degrees


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