Friday, January 29, 2010

It's my party, and I'll play in the dirt if I want to

I had to laugh a bit about this weekend. It’s my birthday and anniversary weekend, and not so long ago what I would have considered an “awesome” way to spend it would have involved a hotel, or a meal involving linen table cloths and a splendid wine list, or maybe a trip to a day spa or something like that.

This year, I’m taking two days off my “paycheck” job and am spending most of the four day weekend grubbing around in my muddy backyard, getting things ready for the spring planting that is approaching like a speeding locomotive.

Oh yeah, party at my place! Bring your gloves and shovels, kids!

Spring comes early out here in the Central Valley. Our average last frost day is around February 10, for Pete’s sake. It’s time to get the seedlings started inside, the back forty(feet) ready to transplant them, to get the winter’s crop of weeds pulled, the compost and fertilizer spread and worked in, the next batch of compost busy cooking.

It’s pretty hard physical work, and it will undoubtedly ruin my fingernails and set my back throbbing and I don’t doubt that I will also utterly destroy my work boots while I’m at it. We’ve had a lot of rain, good soaking rain that has topped off our gray water storage and saturated the ground.

It’s pretty slushy out there right now – which makes it the perfect time for weeding, actually, because they pop out of wet earth root and all much more easily than they do when the ground is dry…along with copious amounts of mud and such.

Pretty far cry from day spas, crisp white linen tablecloths, and wines with “amusing bouquets” or “hints of cinnamon, blueberries and eraser dust.”

But it’s exactly what I want to be doing. We thought about all those other things; this is usually around the time when my parents will watch the kids for a long weekend while we go off to reconnect and enjoy being able to do exactly what we want, when we want – without anybody needing a diaper change, a potty break, a snack, to get out and throw up (it’s great having kids who get motion sick, really).

But this year, well, I just want to be working out in the garden, getting ready for the end of this slow-to-no growth time of limited sunlight and warmth, getting ready for the miracle of watching seeds turn into plants with food erupting off them.

I confess I’ve always been charmed by the way that works, which makes it all the more surprising that it took me so long to get a garden of my own where I could watch it happening all up close and personal-like.

Still…I had to laugh. How things can change over the course of time, huh? There was a time when the “perfect” day off involved room service and pedicures. This morning, I got to “sleep” in (I wasn’t actually asleep, but I stubbornly stayed in bed anyway because it was warm and there was a principle of the thing, too) while the husband got the Denizens off to daycare.

It was awesome.

And then I read the newspaper. On a week day.

Will the luxury never cease?!

And then the rest of the day, and the weekend, and my anniversary day, will be spent yanking out weeds, resetting the “field markers” (remember the string strung around the yard to break it up into smaller “beds” thing?), setting up the trellis system so I can grow pole beans along the back fence, spreading compost, and building a new compost pile.

Awesome.

Go ahead, try to tell me I don’t know how to par-tay…

P.S.: I just bought my seeds for the coming year, from two different places: Gurney’s (which I’ve used before and been very happy with), and Henry Field’s (which is new to me). Now…call me crazy…but their websites are almost identical. Their prices are almost identical (Gurney’s offers more of the ‘buy two or more, pay a buck less each’ thing) (I got some cranberries! They’re supposed to do OK in shade, and I’ve got a tough spot in the yard that is about 50/50 sun/shade, and tricky because it gets a lot of leaf-debris, which is apparently something the cranberries will appreciate. Here’s hoping) (also? I love cranberries. Cranberry sauce, cranberry jelly, cranberry juice, bring it on!). Their checkout screens are almost identical. And my account number is identical, except Henry Field’s has two extra digits at the end.

Coincidence? I think not…

BUT! Henry Field’s had jalapeno-and-only-jalapeno seeds, and Gurney’s didn’t (they only offered a ‘mixed’ packet with everything from jalapeno to cayenne, which isn’t bad mind you but my ‘pepper’ bed is relatively small and I want to make sure I get what I really want, and I can’t tell a jalapeno seed from a bell pepper one, can you?). They also had Christmas lima beans…which I’m planning to grow among the corn and pumpkins this year. Allegedly, they make good neighbors to each other (I know the corn and pumpkins are friendly, because I grew those together last year and they played very nicely together), and the pole beans will use the corn stalks as their trellis, which I think is kinda cool (mostly because it means yay, I don’t have to buy anything else for them to climb!).

Furthermore, each of them (if there really is a ‘them’ and it isn’t just one company with two or more faces…because frankly? All the seed catalogs I got this year looked suspiciously similar…) offered me $25 off a $50 or more purchase. So I split my $100 in seeds and such evenly between them and paid $50 for the whole order, and it didn’t even cost me anything extra in shipping – I checked. Because I am weird that way. Woot.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On my honor, I will try…

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a Girl Scout. Somewhere in a box hidden away with all the other boxes of things too precious to throw away, things too prized to be kept somewhere ‘out’ where children would undoubtedly play with and ultimately destroy them, there is a bright faded green Girl Scout sash, heavy with badges.

If they’d had a “badger your parents until they want to scream with frustration and wonder why they ever thought it was a good idea to sign their highly competitive child up for Girl Scouts, which has a badge for everything and darned if your kid doesn’t want to get every.last.one.of.them” badge, folks, I would have gotten it.

In spades.

Danger Mouse and Boo Bug just joined up, Juniors and Brownies respectively (but the same troop) (unfortunately, they each meet every other Tuesday, which means every Tuesday for me).

I wasn’t exactly thrilled when Boo Bug began pestering me about joining the Scouts. I mean, I have sooooo much to do already. It’s another obligation. I now “have” to work from home every Tuesday, so that I can get whichever one there by 4:30. (Ugh.)

And…the badges. I remember what I put my parents through with the @*^&@ing badges. “I need paint for my Painting Random Stuff badge!” “I need glue for this...oh...uh...wait, cool! NOW I can get my 'Get Glue Off Shag Carpet' badge!!!” “I need to make quilt!” “I need to volunteer 600 hours at a rest home!” “I’ve got to build a suspension bridge across the Grand Canyon using nothing but this ball of twine, a Swiss Army knife, and the contents of a standard Army issue mess kit! Can you drive me dad, can ya huh, can ya, can ya, can ya?!”

I was slightly obsessed with the badges. I earned so many of them my last summer in the scouts that they refused to give me most of them at first on the basis that I must have been cheating. (I hadn’t been. Unless dedicating your entire family’s lives to the process for three solid months is considered ‘cheating.’)

Their vests arrived today, complete with the initial set of whatnots. The troop numbers, the American flag emblem, the council ID patch…the world pin…the “classic” Girl Scout pin…

…oh my…

I sat there and looked at it for the longest time. It looks exactly the way I remember it…only shiny and new, without the scrapes and dings that will come when, say, you fall off a horse trying (though warned with quotations not to) to do a standing up trick…or are crawling on your belly trying to sneak up on a fox (ya, good luck with that)…or you tell the bully to leave that little kid alone and he says, “Whaaaaa, you gonna make me, Girl Scout?” in a tone that clearly leads you to believe that perhaps he thinks a “Girl Scout” is somehow less than impressive, which clearly means it is time to wipe the grit off the pavement with his sneering, moist lips

Yeah, uh…your pin will get a bit messed up. And bent. And maybe, just maybe, your mom will have to replace it. Once. Or twice. Or possibly four times. Or so. Because there’s also the “lost it” thing, which may have happened a time or two as well.

And the annual cookie sales, which in my time meant a red wagon loaded down with as many boxes as you could humanly pull, dragged girlfully behind you as you went from door to door. Hi I’m from troop 702 and would you like to buy some fresh Girl Scout Cookies they’re only $1.00 a box and the money goes to support the many character-building projects and programs of the Girl Scouts. (It haunts me in my sleep, sometimes…but I was one of the best sellers in my troop, y’all. Rain or shine, heat or sleet, I would be out there walking up and down the hills tugging that wagon behind me until I had sold every last box.) (Or my parents had anted up and bought them so I’d stop, already!!)

Funny, the things that will form us. I wasn’t an Uber Scout. I wasn’t even in scouting all that long, maybe five years – my brother, now, he went all the way to Eagle Scout over there in the (pffft!) Stinky-Old-Boy Scouts, thank you very much. It took a lot of hard work and dedication on his part. But my brother? He’s that kind of guy. He’s a straight arrow. He’s the guy you want to call when it’s all going to hell and you just don’t know what to do next. He’ll be there in a flash, and if he doesn’t know how to fix it – he knows a guy, who knows a guy.

Hard to believe he was a rotten, crummy, horrible, miserable, wretched, nerd-geek-goober all those years. (Coincidentally, they were the same years when my parents were stupid, ignorant, mean, vindictive, controlling jerks.) (Weird, huh, how they all got smarter and cooler over time…?)

ANYWAY. I did a lot of cool things because of Scouting. I learned a lot. Sure, I was motivated by the little colorful rounds but those badges required a lot of hands-on learning, reading, and getting out there and doing stuff.

As I was sitting there staring at the pin thinking of those young, young days (a bit wistfully, maybe), Boo Bug came skidding in, saw what I had, and let out a scream that shattered glass all over the house. In a twinkling, she had her vest on and had summoned (through the Mystic Sister Connection) Danger Mouse to my room as well. And she put on her vest and we pinned the stuff that doesn’t need to be sewn or ironed on and they danced and giggled and spun and there was joy and excitement and then they stopped, faced each other, put their fingers up in the Girl Scout salute, and pronounced:

On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout law.


Oh, my. And then, with many a slip and flub, they giggled their way through the Law as well. (I finally had to look it up for them. They were killing me, but I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered it right, either.)

I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
and to
respect myself and others,
respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout.


Wow. Hard to believe how well I do remember it, all these years on. Had it all mixed up and had forgotten the ‘respect authority’ (heh, go figure) but…wow. Thirty years since the last time I said any of that, and yet I remembered it well enough to know when it was going horribly awry from the lips of two Scouts with vests so new and stiff they’d practically stand up all by themselves. (They will not stay that way for long…oooooooh no, they will not…)

But I think there needs to be a separate Promise for the former-Scout mother-of-scouts…

On my honor, I will try:
To quit bawling every time you say the Promise and Law,
To figure out how to sew on badges without bleeding on your vest,
To drive you to meetings without boring you silly with stories of how it was in MY day,
And to show you every day what it looks like, when you live by the Girl Scout law.


On my honor, I will try, my little ones…my children, my daughters, my sisters

(But seriously, guys? Go easy on the badges. Unlike your grandmother, I will not have our lives utterly derailed by your neeeeeeeeeed to get the Save An Endangered Species Single Handedly badge…) (welllllllllllll…unless, of course, it’s an endangered sheep with silky long locks of rare spinning and knitting value, in which case I’m sure we could work something out…)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Specialest of the Special

There are times when I find myself stunned by what special education teachers deal with on a daily basis. You have just got to have a special kind of patience to voluntarily take on that job, y’all…I often marvel that anybody is willing – let alone eager – to deal with what-all goes on in those classrooms.

Last week, Captain Adventure bit his teacher. Bit! His! Teacher!

Now, my first reaction was the usual parental reaction to such things, which was to shriek incoherently, swallow my own tongue, run in circles flapping my arms like a chicken, demand of everybody he comes in contact with if they had any children around who bit because Obviously!, my Widdle Precious would neeeeeever do such a thing (snort!)…and then I remembered which kid this was and went straight into a state of rather great surprised-but-not-surprised.

He hasn’t tried to bite anyone around here (that I know of) for months.

Of course, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he doesn’t bite me anymore because I head him off waaaaaaay before he actually sinks his chompers into me. I see it coming before he even opens his mouth for an attempt – because I’m his mother, which in this case means the person most likely to be bitten / kicked / pinched / scratched by a furious little Captain.

It’s lovely being the “safe” adult, really it is.

BUT, since it’s my lot in life, I’ve learned to see the signs of impending violence and cut him off – diverting his behavior before it begins. If you catch it early enough, nobody will ever know we were ten minutes from a Class A1 Meltdown.

So I was immediately thinking about what signs we might have missed that he was going to have That kind of day, and running through the last 48 hours of his little life looking for where he’d had too much sugar, not enough sleep, been frustrated by something big, etc. etc. etc., when it suddenly struck me how weird it all was.

My son, my five year old, kindergarten-attending son, had sunk his teeth into his teacher’s leg. If one of my typically-developing daughters had done that to her kindergarten teacher? I’m pretty sure there would have been a fair amount of hysteria on all parts. There would have been phone calls and conferences, maybe a few days of suspension, some referrals to anger management therapists specializing in overly aggressive five year olds…

But this…is a special needs classroom. Just like me, his teacher wasn’t freaking out because she had been bitten – she was looking for his motivation for doing so, and incentives that would prevent him from doing it again. Her email wasn’t accusatory in any way – it was like that of a coworker saying, “Weirdest thing happened today, what do you think we can do about it?”

You know…I deal with an autistic kid every day because, well, I had a baby and some time went by and we started noticing weird things and then there was a lot of huff and bother and expense and then we got the diagnosis and now here we are.

I certainly didn’t sit down and say, “You know what I want? A kid on the spectrum. That’d be awesome! Dealing with temper tantrums loooooong after you expect that part to be over, still having to buy diapers five years later, having a kid who just doesn’t ‘grok’ social interactions, having to carry my five year old through the parking lot because he’s still like a toddler when it comes to ‘safety and you’…my gosh, the list of stuff that boils down to ‘having a kid who is perpetually about two years old no matter how big he gets’ just never ends! C’mon, it’ll be great!!”

These saints who work with him every day at school, his teachers and therapists and aides and more therapists and more aides by choice…just really amaze me.

Especially since they often tell me no, no, you have no idea – Captain is one of the EASIEST little guys I’ve ever worked with…

Holy smokes. I find him…challenging. Granted I’m comparing him to my ‘typically developing’ daughters (which is arguably very unfair of me), but I have days when I look at him and think, couldn’t you just, I dunno, snap out of it, already?!

And these teachers and aides and therapists, they put a smile on their faces every day and deal with him and his classmates, with all their wild assortment of oddities – ranging from the relatively ‘so what’ like inappropriate singing or disrobing during class (ahem, yes, they had a stripper in his last class…they couldn’t keep clothes on that little boy with Super Glue and a staple gun…) to children who will gnaw their own fingers bloody, or slam their heads into walls until their skulls crack (!!), or quite intentionally out of pure aggression attack other people for no apparent reason whatsoever.

We had one of those last year, too, in a different class (whew). For that little girl, the special needs immersion was supposed to be her first step to mainstreaming…she wasn’t anywhere near ready and had to be pulled out only a few weeks in after she took a chair and threw it –hard – at the teacher’s head. No reason. No real anger at the teacher. Just a general desire to hurt somebody…oh look! A somebody! {THWAK!!!}

And that teacher came right on back to the classroom, lump on her head still big and obvious. Kept smiling. Kept working with these children, with their varying levels of need. Kept hoping, sometimes against all scientific evidence, that their little clients were about to have a breakthrough – major or minor, didn’t matter.

Dealing with just one autistic child is enough for me. Just one set of hopes and dreams, of triumphs and failures, of progress and regression, oh-oh-oh, he’s got it, he’s TOTALLY go-…oh…never mind, he don’t got it…

I kind of have to hang tough on this deal. He’s my baby, and I love him, and all those other parent-y things.

They don’t. They are free at any time to say, “You know what? This bites. Literally. I’m going to do something else, something that doesn’t involve changing poopy diapers on a seven year old or being bitten by a teenager!”

Not to mention getting away from all of us crazy parents, who have decided that this thing our best friend’s uncle’s cousin’s coworker saw on the Internet is the thing and we want, nay, DEMAND!, that it be implemented !immediately! in Precious Poopsie’s classroom. RIGHT NOW! (And also, by the way, we want the State to pay for it. And if not the State, then, uh, we’re OK with you just sort of…making it happen…)

Seriously, sometimes? It isn’t the kids I think are going to drive away these wonderful people – it’s us.

But…they don’t flee. They stay. They help our children and hold our hands and put up with all our assorted Crazy and don’t make us feel guilty when our kid bites them and in fact talk us down off a fence if we get all hysterical about it.

They are among the specialest of the special.

I am so grateful to them for all they do I can’t find a single word to really express it.

Bless them, one and all. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Money Monday: January 25, 2010

As January is coming to a close, we’re finally starting to see some of the payoff for all the crazy we’re inflicting on ourselves; with both of us doing the heavy-duty commute, the level of insane has reached epic proportions. Through November and December, I felt like I was constantly having to tell myself to be patient. So many days off, so many expenses, miniature paychecks…it felt as though the money were just pouring through my fingers like sand.

I was ready yesterday to start giving myself the patience lecture yet again. Expenses were ridiculous this month, we’ve got a lot of digging to do before we see any daylight anyway, and, well, you’ve just got to stay the course and all those other positive, upbeat sort of hang-on-a-second…

For the first time in more than a year, I’m starting a new month with the entire month’s budget already in the checking account – which means that the income we earn in February gets to stockpile in the savings account for a while instead of zipping through our hands so fast we get blisters on our check-writing fingers.

Now, the biggest factor contributing to this miracle of you mean I have ACTUAL MONEY LEFT OVER?!-ness is, of course, the fact that I now have a full-time paycheck again, but that wouldn’t add up to diddly if it weren’t for the other half of the equation, which is that we are continuing to live as if we didn’t have this second income coming in.

Usually, any increase in income will see a proportional increase in spending. It’s just human nature, I think – we hope for better things, always, and we see that pay raise as being that better thing, arrived at last.

We feel wealthy, so we spend. Even if we said we wouldn’t, even if we said we were going to use this raise to build up savings or get together a downpayment on a house or pay off debts or whatever…there’s just something about that extra money in the checking account.

I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. I’m out in the Real World again, marching up and down Market Street, seeing other people’s Cool Toys and wishing I had something cool like that, deciding that I “need” this or “deserve” that.

Maybe I could take a little vacation this year…maybe I should get myself an iPhone…you know what’s better than one pair of boots? TWO pairs of boots!...a makeover, a wardrobe change, a live-in nanny and housekeeper and a much bigger house to keep them in…

I have no idea how long this contract will actually last, or what will happen afterward. I don’t want to risk becoming dependent on the income, to increase our spending until it matches this new bounty and then be all upset when it suddenly gets yanked out from under me.

Soooooooooo… I’ve based all of our budgeting on just my husband’s income, which means that right now we’ve got less than $300 a month for everything that isn’t a recurring bill.

Yeah. Not going to work out too well, long term. I suppose it might be possible to feed, clothe, transport and entertain a family of six on three hundred bucks a month in California…but I’m really not too game to try. We’re cruising by right now on Christmas present clothing and leftover food, but the day is rapidly approaching when shoes will be worn out (what’s up with that, anyway? I swear to Dog, Captain Adventure can go through a pair of shoes in less than two weeks…wears the toes right on out of them…argh…) and the pantry will be truly bare – I need to have more cash available for Food and Such.

We’d have it now, if I put my paycheck into the main pot, stirred well and spent it if I had it.

But then, we’d become dependent on it for certain. We’d “need” that money just to get by, and I’m 110% sure that we’d find ourselves spending princely sums on everything from food to swim goggles, and then saying, “But we hardly spend anything!” and wondering where it all goes.

Instead, I’m holding my paychecks physically apart. They go into an entirely separate account at a different bank, and they pay for just two things: Work-related expenses (childcare and train tickets, for example), and whatever the #1 Goal currently is.

Right now, I’m building up savings; sooner than I thought, I’ll be cherry-picking debts out of the mix. The first one will give me an extra $275 a month in the “real” budget; it’s still not a whole lot and there isn’t a whole lot of goin’ to the movies in the budget, but it’s a lot more feasible…and because I’m not increasing our spending to match our new income, I should be able to pay it off in about three months and grab the next one – which is another $300.

Two months later, I’ll move on to the next and put another $200 back in the general mix.

And so on, and so on, for as long as the income lasts…the important thing being, when it does come to its inevitable end, we won’t be screaming in pain because we neeeeeeeeeeed! that paycheck to keep the ballet lessons going, the steak on the table, the weekly shoe odyssey, not to mention the cruise we’re planning to take this summer!

All along, we’re living on just the one income, with the comfort-level on it increasing only at sustainable levels.

It’s not always easy to do. There’s a lot of stuff I want to buy, and it seems like something new pops up every single day. It’s hard, right now, trying to keep the spending down that far…harder still when payday rolls around and I feel that surge of Wealthy hit.

Surely I can afford a little pecan tart and perhaps a tall latte from Starbucks today…certainly I deserve a LITTLE something for all this Crazy, say, maybe, a pair of BROWN boots… (I found a pair of great knee-high black ones at the Famous Brands shoe outlet right before Christmas? Fifteen dollars. Woot!) (…but now, I want brown ones…) (seriously? what is it about boots?! I’m not a big shoe person, but I am attracted to boots of all kinds, from cowboy to ridiculous stiletto-heeled monstrosities…)

ANYWAY. It’s yet another case of trying to make sure I get what I really want…which come right down to it, is freedom. I don’t want to be a slave to my paychecks. I want to want to work, and if I don’t want to, I want to have the ability to say, “It’s been swell! See you later!” and jump off the treadmill.

Right now, I really don’t have that. I pretend I do, setting our budget so tight and insisting that we’ll make do (undoubtedly with many bailouts from my purportedly set-aside paycheck – let’s face it, $300 a month? Not too likely to make it through February on $300, folks…shoot, I am now the proud parent of two Girl Scouts and HEY! LOOK AT THAT! IT’S COOKIE-SELLIN’ TIME!!!!) (I am dead meat, people. Seriously. Pray for me.)…but we can’t make do.

The windshield cracked on the car last week. Where would I have gotten the $100 copay – because I’ll tell you what, even with all the food leftover from the holidays, I still burned through that $300 in the first two and a half weeks and was fudging like crazy for the rest of the month.

One doctor’s visit, just one, and that other $200 and then some, is gone.

One two night hospital stay was over $1,600 out of pocket – after insurance had whittled it down from over $16,000.

Yeah. Right now, we neeeeeeeeeed my paycheck.

But I can change that…one resisted box of Thin Mints at a time…

(you have no idea…my daughters, all cute in their little vests…with the little forms and the pleeeeeeeeease, mommy? It’s for courage, confidence and character!”…oh…dear…)

(“In late-breaking news, a mother of two Girl Scouts spent $18,000 on cookies this afternoon, and then gorged herself into a coma trying to hide the evidence from her husband! Film at eleven!”)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Love-marriage, death-taxes, beans-pork…

Some things in life were just meant for each other, know what I’m saying? Pork and beans are two of those things. There’s just something about those two that make them one happy couple.

I first tried this recipe between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was awfully good, so I made it again…with a few minor tweaks. It was even better, so I made it again. And again. And again. (It kept mysteriously vanishing from the fridge and freezer. Go figure.)

Here’s what you need.

2 cups mixed dry beans – rinsed and picked over to make sure there’s no rocks, moth eggs or other non-bean stuff in there
2 quarts water
1 ham hock and/or 1-2 cups diced ham.
1 tsp salt (more or less to taste and depending on how salty your ham is)
1/4 tsp pepper
1-16 ounce can diced tomatoes (juice, too!)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1-1/2 tsp chili pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice (gee, wherever will I get that?!)
Dash of cayenne if you like that sort of thing (I rather do)

(You know what else occurs to me as something that might taste good in this? A dollop of that ‘smoke’ flavoring I’ve never actually purchased but heard good things about, or perhaps some good tangy BBQ or a ‘deep’ hot sauce – like Pepper Plant, with that garlic/bell pepper grounding to it as opposed to the Just Plain Hot a lot of hot sauces [understandably] focus on. Which is part of what is awesome about this recipe, you can modify the flavoring as you please and make it as mild, tangy, spicy, whatever, as you like.)

OK, now, directions. Ready? Pay attention, these are really, really complicated…

  1. Dump everything into a crock pot.
  2. No, I didn’t forget about the part where you have to soak the beans overnight or pre-boil them or whatever. You can just dump the dry beans right on in there. You can soak them if you want, but if you maybe forgot? It’s OK.
  3. I know. I didn’t believe it either. I soaked them the first two times, then was in a fatal hurry so I didn’t and guess what? It worked out just fine. Didn’t even find we had any extra gas problems from doing so – although if you’re particularly sensitive to beans, soak away and we’ll all thank you for it, I’m sure.
  4. Give it a quick stir.
  5. Turn on low.
  6. Go away for at least eight hours.
  7. Come back, turn it up to high, and let it boil for as long as it takes for your beans to be “done” – depending on what size beans you’ve chosen, that might be ‘not needed’ or up to two hours.
  8. If you’ve used a ham hock (or something else with bones), fish out the bone, chop up the meat and return it to your soup
  9. Eat.
  10. You’re welcome.

Now, in terms of what beans to use, I’ve been mixing this up quite a bit. The only “rule” is that you’ll want to pick beans that have about the same cooking time – don’t put big, dense beans in with little mooshy ones and like that. I also didn’t like the ‘staining’ I got when I used black beans – the black kind of darkened the whole thing to a rather unappealing color. (Still tasted good, just looked kind of ‘eh.’)

I buy beans in two different forms: Enormous 25# sacks of your basic pinto / black, and then tiny bags of heirloom or “specialty” things mostly gotten at the farmer’s market or our very own Bean Festival.

It’s perfectly good with “just” pinto or kidney beans, but my favorite version of this so far used the heirloom-y things: equal parts Christmas limas, moccasins, and Stueben yellow-eyes.

None of which, by the way, cost me anything like the $4.95 a pound on that website! I don’t know whether the Bean Festival Pavilion just has extra-special pricing for us or what, but the most expensive for me was the Christmas lima, and they were $2 a pound.

OhmyGAH, so EXPENSIVE!

I know. I should shut up now. But compared to the pintos I buy twenty-five pounds at a time for ten lousy bucks, and considering that I’ll hold out on the ‘fancy’ beans I want at the supermarket until they go on sale for a buck a pound? That’s, like, DOUBLE!! OhMyGAH!!!!!!

But, all kidding aside, if you’ve never branched out beyond the usual supermarket pinto / lima / kidney bean, you really should do yourself the favor and seek some of these out, even if they do cost a little more. There is a whole world of textures and flavors out there – not all beans are gritty, mealy things that taste like whatever they were cooked with, or nothing at all if they were cooked alone.

This has been an awfully pleasant thing to come home to, with the whole house full of the rich scent. I’m going to try to always make sure I’ve got a crock pot of this waiting on the days I pick up my free sourdough (I got in before the ‘bakers dozen’ deal expired last month, so I’m getting one free one-pound loaf a month for thirteen months. Sweet!) (And also tangy! WOOT!)

This is another thing I find to be worth the money: Boudin sourdough is the sourdough, to me. It is one of the first things that pops to mind when people ask, “What’s so great about San Francisco, anyway?”

And a source of constant frustration, because I have never, ever been able to reproduce anything even close here at home. Oh, my sourdough is perfectly OK. We have good yeast cultures out here in San Joaquin – after all, we’re very close to the Gold Country where it originated, yes? So when I take the time to futz around with starting a starter and tending it and giving the bread the extra time it needs to rise from sponge rather than factory-produced yeast, blah blah blah, it’s good.

…but it ain’t Boudin, baby, it ain’t Boudin…

Friday, January 22, 2010

I hab a code eb by dose, but I’b beelin’ gude

It was bound to happen. You can’t go around in freezing temperatures without a hat or gloves, stand around in the rain on train platforms getting your feet thoroughly wet, sit next to people who have the plague for an hour or more at a stretch and not eventually find yourself going, “Ow…why are my sinuses hurting so bad? Owies-owies-owies…{sniiiiiiifffffff!} {ACHOO!}…aw, muckle-festers!

Anyway – it’s been one of Those days today. My first thought upon waking this morning was, Why is there light in here?!

Because when I’m supposed to be waking up – at 4:30 – there is no light. Not outside the window, nor inside my heart. (I am not waking up particularly cheerful right now. Go figure.)

Then my husband (who had woken me up by getting up himself) sang out from the bathroom, in his usual cheerful @*^&@ing way, “C’mon, honey! Rise and shine! Time to get moving! It’s after 6:00! We’re runnin’ late today!!!”

And I lay there for a few minutes thinking to myself that it is a sick, sorry world when six a.m. is really, really late.

Needless to say – I worked from home today. I wouldn’t have been in the office until after 10:00 by the time we got the Denizens pried out of their nice warm beds, poured into clothing, organized with backpacks, socks, shoes, jackets and a cup of hot cocoa. And then I’d still need to leave at 3:45-ish so I could make it all the way home in time to pick them up after school.

This uber-commuting thing? It’s more than a small bit of a pain. Wednesday was, like, the commute day from hell. We left the house at 6:00, and didn’t get into the office until almost 9:30. Then we had to leave at 2:30 because of all the crazy, and didn’t get home until 6:30.

All this, because of rain. It’s such benign stuff (to me, anyway), rain. Just moisture, falling from the heavens. But in California, “mere” rain becomes very serious very fast. It’s like the state just doesn’t know what to do with water, given that it spends most of its time cramped by drought.

Suddenly, we had Lake Don’t Belong sprawling out all around the ACE train through the Altamont, which forced it to crawl along for most of the trip between Livermore and Tracy. Yay, water! (Other places in the state had mudslides and death because of ‘mere’ rain, so, you know, comparatively speaking – we got off pretty easy, huh?)

Furthermore, while I was still cranky and perhaps not thinking clearly, and having forgotten all past history of me and pseudoephedrine…I took The Cold Medicine That Works.

Whoopee! Drunk on cold medicine! AGAIN!!!!!

…but my nose cleared up, so I had that going for me…

But this morning as I settled into my good old comfy home office working chair and fired up the various machines that let me get busy…I had to admit that I am really enjoying my job.

I’ve got a great team I’m working with, full of smart, witty people who work hard, know their stuff, and aren’t shy about saying “thanks” or “here’s how you do that.”

And the paychecks really don’t suck. My pay over the last couple years has been so…part-time, low-level, ‘can you make this banner blue?’ kind of pay, spitting and dribbling into the business checking account in fits and starts.

It’s a bit overwhelming, seeing full-time paychecks bouncing into the account twice a month like clockwork. But overwhelming in a good way, you know? Our net worth actually crawled back into the black this month, which I find a bit stunning when I consider how much spending and time off was involved in the holiday period from just-before-Thanksgiving until just-after-January-1.

This is going to be one of those hard-working kind of years (if the contract lasts out the year – one of the downsides of contracting is the way you don’t actually KNOW if you’ll work the full twelve months in the contract, or only six, or be let go tomorrow, or…). It’s not easy, trying to juggle all this stuff; sometimes (usually) I feel like I’m meeting myself coming and going.

And it’s a little depressing, looking at the calendar and knowing that, for me, there is no time off for the next twelve months. Every single weekend is booked up with something, especially through the spring and summer when I’m still planning to have a pretty robust garden going even though I’m not going to see it in daylight hours most of the week.

I’m kind of working two jobs in parallel. There’s the paycheck job that is giving us such awesome monetary returns, and then there’s trying to get that cottage-craft thing going so that the household endeavors are covering the household needs.

It’s a lot harder to do now that my time is so severely cramped, but it still seems worth working toward. It would be nice, when this contract ends, if I could just step calmly off that particular hamster wheel and pick right up with my “Occupation: Other” thing.

It also gives us a chance to try before we buy, if you will. We’ve been talking a lot lately about pulling up stakes, buying a place with a little land around it and doing more homesteading; call me crazy, but I think that may be nuts.

It’s one of those things that sounds really sweet on paper, but I suspect when you’re actually doing it as a major part of keeping body and soul together…the shine comes off the heirloom tomato pretty darned fast.

I loved gardening last year, and I still love it right now…but I started small and late last year. I didn’t have the back forty(feet) last spring, just two 10x20 beds, one 10x5 bed, and a few containers of tomatoes. Ooooooh, HUGE.

We didn’t get the back forty(feet) ready until fall was really on us, and I planted only about half of it with a few things here and there – several of the beds remained fallow, and a lot of what I planted went into the ground too late to actually get to harvest before the frost took it.

In other words – last year I had all the time in the world and not a lot of crop-growing to contend with. I had just started tinkering with an Etsy shop and putting together a booth for craft fairs; I had almost no inventory to speak of and was still kind of fidgeting around with what sorts of things I’d want to put into such things.

It’s all been more or less on hold while I’ve gotten started on this job, but I’m not planning to just let it go.

I want to know. How much can I do, right here at home, to provide for us? How much can I grow or make, how much of that would sell, and what percentage of our household needs can I provide through things this house can provide us – from the land, from the tools within it, from the skill and heart of it’s people?

Maybe we will find that we love it. Maybe it will be the kind of work that doesn’t feel like work. Maybe I’ll have enough coming in that when this contract ends, I’ll be able to say, “OK, and now I’m just going to do this, which is plenty for us.”

Maybe we’ll turn to each other next winter and say, “You know what? Let’s start looking for someplace with a few acres around it…we love this, we can do this, we would be happy there…”

Or, maybe I’ll be getting on my blog in June using really foul language and talking about how I’ve hired a guy to come lawn over the whole back yard, ALL OF IT, damn those stupid vegetables anyway I HATES THEM and furthermore dyeing is stupid and I hate Etsy for the following forty-seven reasons and you know the only thing worse than that? CRAFT FAIRS, don’t EVEN get me started…!

But I won’t know unless I try. And I have before me a unique opportunity to do it kind of “risk free,” with the only real investment required a little extra-hard work and the giving up of my weekends for a while.

And with that, guess what?

I need to go empty the rain water barrels into the main storage tank (a.k.a., our busted-arsed spa). We might not need all that water right this second, but we’ll be glad of it when these storms dry up (as they will, all too soon) and that stupid front lawn gets all thirsty like it goes…(I am coming to despise lawns, seriously…they’re pretty and they’re nice for playing on and such, but they are hungry and thirsty little beggars, constantly demanding feeding and water and water and feeding and now MOW ME OR FACE THE WRATH OF YOUR NEIGHBORS…)

(I kid, we have really awesome neighbors…they’ve never breathed a word to us about our hippy ways and [ahem] somewhat casual approach to front-of-house maintenance.) (But I’m pretty sure they’ve thought some harsh things my direction on occasion…like, “Are you EVER going to bring in your trash totes, Hippie?” or “Just how many children are you planning to have, Breeder?!” or “Would it KILL you people to do something with that mud patch right in the front of your house, it looks like some kind of miniature mountain bike course!”)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Giving (and Giving and Giving and Giving) Tree

This morning, I raced the rain storm to bring in some food from the backyard – which still charms me no end. I mean, seriously – open the back door, walk out into the backyard, and go produce shopping. How cool is that?!

So I brought in about three pounds of carrots (finally full-sized and not a few of them looking like what you’d find in a supermarket – long and straight and decent-sized diameter) (as opposed to the stunted little 1-2” things I was pulling out of the bed over the summer), two enormous heads of broccoli, a few celery stalks, about thirty Brussels sprouts (the last of that crop), a handful of golden beets that were still somehow holding on, no peas at all (but lots of empty pods scattered all over the ground, surprise-surprise), and 247 lemons.

I’m pretty sure the tree was saying, “It’s about TIME, where the heck WERE you, what, you were all like oooooh, I’m sure the frosts aren’t THAT bad for the lemons?! I mean, I work and I slave all year long to produce these for you, and it takes you for-ev-ah to get out here and take them ya know what? I don’t know why I even bother…don’t miss those three on the bottom there, they actually kinda hurt, bending that poor little baby-branch way down like that…”

(The roses were a little bitchy too. I finally got around to cutting them back for the winter this morning; a few of them were actually trying to bud up in response to, like, half a day of moderate temperatures. Geesh. We’re still in Frost Time, kids, once this rain storm moves out we’ll probably drop back down to ‘ice on windows’ for another few weeks yet…)

The lemons have taken up most of my day today. I picked out the best 40 and set them aside (well, actually, I bagged them up and set them in the minivan in the garage, because they smell awesome and the minivan smells…considerably less awesome) to take to work to share, but the rest…whew.

I skinned the zest from each of the remaining 207 lemons with my new favorite gadget, a Chef’n PalmZester. It works fast, does a great job (with your human eyeballs guiding it along, of course) of getting only the zest and not the pith. I don’t think it would be my number one choice if I were planning to use the zest for decorative purposes (like, say, to dangle enticingly from the edge of a martini glass) (let’s just say…), but for my purposes, which was to shave over two cups of zest from the lemons, give it a quick dry in the oven on very low temperature and then crumble it into “granules” and store it in a tightly-lidded container in the fridge for future cooking, it was perfect.

It did nice, even cuts and stored between three and five lemons worth at a time in its little compartment. And there is a remarkable lack of lemon zest all over the floor where I was working, which is a huge improvement over the last time I did this. (Oy.)

I’m not sure where I got mine, to be honest – it was one of those things that sort of appeared around here one day. I had to go down and look at it again to figure out what brand it was, even, so…I’m not sure what MegaStore you might be able to get one from if you want one. (Oh wait. Looked it up on their retailer-finder: Bed Bath and Beyond carries them. Which is probably where this one came from, probably when I sent the husband to buy something else, like one of those stupid light bulbs for the stupid lighting fixture that doesn’t take “normal” bulbs ooooooh no, not something you can find at Home Depot or Wal-Fart, no, got to be these weird little funky bulbs you have to get from Specialty Retailers™. Gah.)

ANYWAY. At the end of the day, eight quarts of lemon juice was bagged up and put in the freezer for later. Another two cups is about to become lemon curd for scones tomorrow [pause to be grateful for a three day weekend], and a lemon meringue pie tonight [possibly also for breakfast tomorrow. For me. Nobody else. Just me. Because I am mean that way. And also because I get up before anybody else and to the victor go the spoils, ha ha ha].

Oh. And I think there may be a lemon drop martini with my name on it. Purely because this would be an excellent way to test the quality of the lemon juice, you see.

…the things I won’t do in the name of science…

Also, over two cups of dried, crushed zest is in an air-tight container in the fridge, ready for “instant gratification” later.

My hands are raw. The juice began finding microscopic cracks within an hour, and by the end of the day I think the acid was actually starting drilling expeditions into my finger-bones. Ouch.

But! It was worth doing. I go through a ton of lemon juice now that I’ve started canning – it goes in everything from strawberry jam to tomato sauce, cups and cups of it at a time. And I’ve always used a lot of lemon zest for pies and sweet rolls, scones and soups.

Lemons right now are going for between three and four for a dollar; to just buy the lemons our little tree threw at us would have run around seventy dollars.

A quart of generic lemon juice usually goes for around $4 – just the juice would have been around $32.

And of course, the zest is pricy stuff, if you buy it off the shelf. It’s oh-so-convenient for those of us who bake to just crack open a bottle and get the party started, but boy do you ever pay a price for it: $6.59 for a 1.5 ounce bottle at the supermarket when I was there yesterday – and that 1.5 ounce bottle contains about two and a half tablespoons of the zest.

My zesting efforts today got a little tiresome, sure, but I now have about 2-1/2 cups of dried, gently-powdered zest ready for recipes. That’s almost forty tablespoons, which is almost 16 of those little jars, which would have run me over a hundred bucks to buy at the supermarket. (Which I personally wouldn’t, because ouch. Last year I did buy a pound from Bulk Foods, but you know…this zest I just made has a lovely dark yellow-orange color. Usually lemon peel granules are almost white, with just a hint of yellow…I think this homemade stuff is going to add a nice color to things. Guess I’ll just have to experiment and find out. Oh, the horror! The long-suffering trials and tribulations! Now, where did I put that lemon bread recipe…?)

I give this tree a little bit of citrus food twice a year, and it tends to get first shot at the used coffee grounds because it’s so conveniently close to the sliding glass door (and I’m so often in a hurry when it’s time to dump the grounds)…but other than that, well, it gets about nothing. We water it when it seems to need it (frequently with gray water), and last year I did wash one of its branches with some soapy water because the ants were starting an aphid farm there (and everywhere else they thought they could get away with it, including a row of carrots, for Pete’s sake), but by and large…this is just a sweet little Giving Tree that asks for almost nothing in return. It generally repels pests on its own, hasn’t had any leaf diseases to speak of and pretty much just…spreads its beautiful leaves, blossoms up, and showers us each winter with a shameful plenty of sweet, juicy lemons.

And it’s already got a few tiny green lemons on it, and is putting out some new growth as if to let me know it’s OK to take what’s there – she’s already making more.

It’s amazing, what the earth can provide for us. It’s not always a simple kind of gift – certainly spending an entire precious Sunday hunkered over sliding a palm-zester over what seemed like an endless supply of lemons wasn’t exactly a lazy way to spend the day. But unlike some other things (spreading compost comes to mind), it was a sweet-smelling exercise; and the bright lemon color was lovely on a gray and raining kind of day.

Also…lemon drop martinis, with fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Oh yeah. Life is good, people…life is very, very good…

Friday, January 15, 2010

…whew…

Ah, Friday! I was beginning to wonder if it would ever come…this has been one of “those” weeks, you know? One of those weeks when I felt like all I did was work, snarl at the family to quit bugging me while I’m working, drop into bed for a few hours spent mostly dreaming about work (ugh), get up and do it all over again.

I was so tired yesterday morning that I was hyper and shaky, and then we went out for lunch which almost by definition means I ate too much (a kid’s meal is usually about the right amount of food for me, so if I get something off the grownup menu it’s probably going to be, like, double what I actually need or want…but I keep eating because it’s there, and then I regret it bitterly later), and then I went into a kind of food-coma and by 1:00 I was on a downward slide toward brain-death.

HOWEVER. By 10:30 yesterday morning, I was already at the Magic 40 Hours. Because it was also that kind of week…which in some ways is better than the kind where all the crazy is originating from home, because my next paycheck is going to be awesome.

I’m starting my day today already at 46.5 hours for the week. Sadly, my group is not one of the groups with a hard-stop when you hit forty hours. Some groups are, which would have meant that at 10:30 yesterday morning I would have been logging off and wandering down to Union Square or something to wait for the husband’s day to be over. But, no. Overtime is perfectly OK in my team.

Drat.

Still, I’m planning to work easy today – starting late, long lunch, quitting on the early side. Fortunately, the frenzy subsided yesterday, and with Friday being the day the vast majority of us work from home, and Monday being a bank holiday…I don’t really expect things are going to get too crazy on me today.

The Denizens love parental work from home days, too. They get to sleep in just a little bit later, and the out-the-door routine is a lot less frenzied than when we’re trying to make a 6:06 train, and we usually pick them up earlier, too.

This morning, I even had time to make hot cocoa for the kids and put it into travel mugs for them to take in the van. Captain Adventure started to run out to the van (being “first” is really big with him right now), then skidded to a stop yelled, “OH! I forgotted mine cough-fee! I mean, hawt coco-wet! Wha da heck, man?!” and ran back into the house for his mug.

I laughed so hard I almost cried. What the HECK, man?!

And now…it’s 6:59. I’m not planning to log in at work until around 9:00.

Time has been a luxury item for years, but it feels right now like the rarest of treasures. This feeling of two whole hours before I “have” to be anywhere or do anything…it’s almost overwhelming.

…kind of not unlike the number of weeds out in the garden…

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Because self-inflicted pain is the BEST KIND

I stayed up too late last night. AGAIN.

Considering that anything past 8:30 means less than the daily recommended eight hours (which I seldom get under the best of circumstances anyway thanks to my insomniac ways), that’s not exactly hard to do.

BUT, last night I really did it.

SEE, there was this spreadsheet? And to make a really long story short…blah blah data loading, yadda yadda run errors, something about will be finished SOON and then the next thing you know it’s 10:30 and I’m just beginning the process of shutting down for the day.

It was a fourteen hour work day, y’all, with five hours of commuting tacked onto it – only two hours of which entered into the total billed. (And was on top of a twelve hour day Monday. Oh yeah. It’s been a week so far, and it’s only Wednesday!) (On the positive side, though – HI! I AM PAID HOURLY! WOOT!!!)

So not the way I like to work. I prefer to be the person in the group who under-promises and over-delivers, plus also the person who started working on it three days before it was due so that all that crazy ‘this didn’t load / that didn’t run / oh darn we appear to be missing everything from December in this data can you please start the whole frackin’ run over again?’ stuff has time to play out without impacting my ability to jump onto my desk and yell, “TA DA!!!!” when Due Date rolls around.

Oh, you’ve got to try that. Coworkers love it when you jump onto your desk and yell things. ‘Ta da!’ is good, but a rendition of “I’ve got a FIE-YA in my PANT-SA!” is good, too. Or you could try a round of I Wear No Pants…



Oh yeah. Classy! office behavior, right there…

Anywho, this is why I can become cagey to the point of being evasive whenever a manager (especially one that isn’t my direct manager) starts asking me how soon I think X or Y or Z will be done.

It isn’t that I like withholding information, really it isn’t. It’s just that I have a certain history with reports that have been promised within a short timeframe – as in, the data “should” be loaded by such-and-so a time, and it “should” take no more than X {minutes, hours} for me to run the queries that cut the data, after which it “ought” to be no more than a hop, skip and jump to me giving you your data.

Seems like every single time, “something” “happens” “along” “the” “way.”

Which was the case yesterday. Nobody’s fault, nobody did anything bad, nobody blew it…unless I want to consider me using words like ‘should, ought and will’ when I knew full bloody well that there were about sixteen zillion things outside my control waiting to work their wicked wiles on my day.

Oh. And I was so tired by the time I deployed that I made some manual changes to the wrong spreadsheet. Awesome!

…but at least I deployed the right one…instead of the one I went, “Oh yeah!” and did the changes on all last-second-y, which was like two weeks old and furthermore had its data all mucked-with because I’d been playing around with formatting and stuff like that and had whacked out roughly 75% of the data so it would quit taking forty minutes to recalculate all the danged cells.

Yeah. If I’d deployed that one? It would have been what we call in the industry “bad.”

Sorry for the technical lingo, there. But sometimes, there just isn’t a ‘plain English’ word for things, you know?

Sigh.

This is, of course, part of the nature of the business. I don’t actually know very many people who work with databases – whether developers, analysts, or report-writers – who don’t find themselves occasionally up late at night, surrounded by empty cans of soda (or in my case recently, spent bags of tea oozing on plates all over my desk), cussing at a server and muttering, Yes, yes, I KNOW you’re waiting for it, caught your ‘sense of urgency’, please quit pinging me about it I’M ON IT, DAMMIT.

And in the general, overall sort of way, I don’t actually mind. Like I said, it’s part of the job. And when I’m a little better rested, I have to admit it’s kind of the fun part of the job – which in lots of ways is like a long-running role-playing video game.

Some parts of the game are irritating. Some levels are harder than others. Sometimes you get so frustrated you want to quit…but you can’t of course because it’s fun, dammit.

And of course when you figure it out, when things snap together and you get to say, “Ah ha!” and hit ‘execute’ and the data flows neatly into place…well.

BOO-YEAH! (Coworkers also like the Funky Chicken Desk Dance. Seriously. You should try it. Make sure someone videos it, you can put it up on YouTube! Righteous!)

…but I’m awfully tired today. The alarm went off and I just lay there for a while going, …no it didn’t

And then I was cranky and not enough coffee and my back hurts and my hip hurts and my head hurts and I wanna go back to beeeeeeeeed but I caaaaaaaaan’t and I hafta this and gotta that and the train is LOUD and it’s all stupid right now…

But it’ll be better soon.

First of all, my mother-in-law gave me a Starbucks card for Christmas.

Secondly, there is a Starbucks in the building lobby.

Thirdly, I don’t have the same kind of urgency going on for the rest of the week. (Ha! HAHAHAHA! Good one…)

And fourthly, I am still rather charmed by this whole blogging under water thing.

…now if they could just make it like an aquarium, with a clear tube so we could see the fishes and stuff..although of course they’d have to sanitize the Bay first because I’m pretty sure if we could actually see what is actually on the bay floor we’d be all, ewwwwwwwwww! and the real estate values would plummet and maybe the whole area would be condemned as a toxic waste site and then where would we be, huh?

…other than moving to Colorado or something, I mean…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Only partly domesticated

I just spent four hours, y’all, cleaning The Middle Twain’s room. (Yeah, I was going to cook today. Didn’t get the all the shopping for it done, realized I had a better chance of being elected Empress of San Francisco than getting both the rest of the shopping and the cooking done, moved on to cleaning instead.) (Besides, next weekend is a three-day for us. MegaBank is taking the Monday off. Usually I hate that, because for me it’s an unpaid day off…but I don’t think I’ll be complaining much this time.)

Anyway, back to the room…daaaaaaaaaang.

SEE, the thing is, cleaning their rooms is actually a Denizen chore. They are expected to keep their debris picked up, the markers off the wall, the dust to a reasonable level, blah blah blah.

And they…well, they sorta…well. Mostly what they do is cram everything into the nearest drawer or bin and call it a day.

Occasionally we go in there and pitch a fit and they make a brief effort to actually clean. The dust flies, a broom is applied, the toys are neatly put away where they belong crammed into the nearest available space and then they proudly yell “DONE!” and get on with their little lives.

But there comes a time – oh yes, there comes a time – when the (alleged) adult(s) need to take a firm hand.

I find this time generally comes when something truly horrible is discovered, like it was this morning when I walked into their room and started squawking about the mess and the trash and the ohmyGAH, is that BIRD SEED?! and the dust and the cat hair and the boogers on the wall and the…wait…is that…mold…?

This was followed by me uttered the most dreaded words heard around here: Go downstairs, get me a BIG trash bag, a Magic Eraser, and my Cleaning Kit…then get OUT.

The kids usually hate it when I clean their room for them, because generally when I’m doing it, it’s because I’ve warned them the requisite three (3) times that if they do not get in there and make a good effort at it, I’m going to do it my way – which involves a shovel, a large trash bag, and Goodwill.

That’s right. I’m that kind of Evil Overlord. If I’ve told you three times to get your crap off the floor, if I’ve given you the fair warning that you’ve got X minutes and if it ain’t done, I’m-a-gonna-do-it-fer-ya…your stuff is gone.

Because obviously, you don’t actually care about it, right? You had (usually) more than an hour to protect the things you wanted to keep – you didn’t bother to do it.

I’m not sure what bothers me more, that they don’t do it, or that they really don’t care when their stuff gets jettisoned. I’d’ve cried for days if my mother had done the kind of purging I do somewhat regularly with these kids.

So when I issued forth the “Bring forth the Royal Cleaning Implements!” commands…the Twain were bothered. They hadn’t been warned! They hadn’t had a chance (which is not true because arguably they are supposed to keep their room neat and tidy at all times)! And! Their room looked like a bomb had gone off in it, with papers and dolls and doll clothes and new Christmas presents and their clothes and hats and who-knew what-all else…and they know how their mother operates.

It’s like I have a sort of seizure and I start tossing things and…well. It’s rarely a happy thing. (I do tend to spare the Really Special Dolls and Blankies, but everything else, no matter how expensive it was, is subject to at least a lengthy time out in the garage, followed by being put not back into their rooms, but into the Mommy Store. You want it back? Fine. Save up your hard-earned Den Dollars and buy it back. And maybe next time you’ll take better care of it blah blah blah something about responsibility whatever and by the way what’s for dinner because we’re staaaaaaaarving….) (It is a bit depressing sometimes, knowing that as I stand around flapping my gums providing Life Lessons for my offspring, what they’re doing is just waiting for me to shut up so they can ask about food.)

But today, my primary focus wasn’t on punishing them for bad tidying habits – it was the mold on their windowsill. It happens every winter, yet every winter it shocks me when this white stuff starts splotching all over the sills. Ew.

Of course, this also means (to me) that the whole room probably could use a really thorough cleaning. In order to do that, it needs a really thorough tidying.

And if I want that done before the mold is walking, talking and asking me for snacks – I’d better just do it myself.

So I got started, and quickly realized that the way things were organized in general was part of the problem. The wrong things were in the wrong places – stuff they used all the time in hard to reach places (hence they would work at it to get them down, but not bother putting them away again) and so forth.

Sooooooooooooooo…I hauled everything out of where it was, did a quick belongs / doesn’t belong / trash / treasure sort, then had sets of completely empty shelves and bins and closets to start over.

Four. Hours. Later…

It’s a very clean room. Everything from the door frames to the floorboards have been not merely dusted, but sanitized. (No. More. Mold. Thank. You.) Furniture has been rearranged. Big desk = gone. Cute small table hand-painted by their extremely talent Auntie = repurposed into there. Corkboard planned. Shoe cubby planned. New organization scheme discussed. Hugs from grateful offspring received. Giggling overheard. Dancing ongoing. (There’s room in there now, you see.)

…back throbbing…irritable attitude setting in…knowledge that I’ve just totally shoveled a walkway in the middle of a massive blizzard refusing to go away…

…temptation to throw myself on the couch in front of the Wii with a beer for the rest of my sorry life getting stronger…

Domestication, I think, is really only skin-deep for me. I’m not exactly Martha Stewart, you know? (I’m not exactly even in the same species as Martha. In point of fact, I think Martha Stewart might actually have a heart attack and die if she ever saw this place. Between our [ahem] eclectic d├ęcor and our haphazard cleaning and let us not even mention how seasons come and go around here without much more than an ‘oh look, I think it’s Easter!’, we are probably what she sees in her mind whenever she ponders what hell must look like.)

But at least I can say this: Mold is not permitted to grow on anything in the Den at will.

That’s right. The minute I get around to noticing it, it is gone, baby!

…all sixteen windowsills worth…

Friday, January 08, 2010

Jump on in, the Friday’s fine!

Wow.

I mean, wow.

This week went by so fast I think I got a friction burn from turning the calendar pages.

And it ended with the excitement of a car chase!

Well. It wasn’t exactly a car chase. But it was a shuttle bus that was running late driven by a guy who, uh, was extremely dedicated to his mission, and I swear to Dog as we all fell out of the bus at the train station we practically went to our knees and kissed the damp pavement because folks – that was one wild ride.

But hey, he got us there in time. Which was good, because if we’d missed that train we couldn’t have made the Denizen pickup time, and that would have been bad.

Then Eldest made dinner. Which was spaghetti. Because this is one of the things she can make all by herself! (Although it’s still advisable to keep an eye on things, because she has this way of getting distracted and then you end up with a kind of paste instead of spaghetti noodles.)

She did this because I was busy being all DIY-y and fixing my broken paper shredder, with nothing but a pair of tweezers.

MacGyver’s got nothing on me, baby.

Oh. OK. It wasn’t that big a deal. Just a bunch of paper got jammed down in the sensor thingee so it wouldn’t sense stuff anymore. So I got a pair of tweezers and teased it out of there. But it required hand-eye coordination! So. It was, you know, well.

Maybe not all that cool. But! It got kind of exciting when I finally worried the last clump of wadded up pulp free, because the shredder sprang to life and went, “RRRRRRRRRRRR!” and I went, “Yipe!!” and almost dropped it because heh-heh, funny story actually…I thought I unplugged it before I started jabbing at it with a pointy metal object?

But I didn’t.

The printer, though…it was safely unplugged while I was grumbling to myself while jabbing the pointy metal object firmly into the shredder around the sensor thingee – which is probably the only part of that mechanism with anything close to an exposed wire.

Sigh.

And then I got to sit here and think about what the news story would have been like.

Woman electrocutes self with paper shredder – full story at eleven!

And people all around the world would have been asking each other: How stupid do you have to be, to do something like that?! Thank God we’re not that stupid, honey! Aloha to that, too right…

Seems like a Monday sort of thing to do, doesn’t it? Or possibly a Wednesday.

But Friday? Naw. Fridays aren’t supposed to be full of stupid stuff like that – or having an avalanche of paperwork skid off your desk onto the floor, because you may have jerked just a bit when the not-actually-unplugged shredder roared to life and smacked it with your elbow…which wouldn’t actually have knocked it over but then you over-reacted to the smackage and tried to grab at it…which naturally caused a brilliant chain-reaction that pretty much cleared everything right on off your desk.

It’s like my procrastination took physical form and barfed all over my bedroom floor! Awesome!

For my next trick, perhaps I should go cook something! Maybe I could put a Tupperware into the oven, forget all about it and turn the oven on to 450! Or I could try to use the timer on the microwave but hit “start” instead of “timer” so that it can just run empty for ten minutes! Righteous!

It would probably be better if I just went quietly to bed, don’t you think? Yes. Quietly…gently…and without pausing to fix anything…I should go to…

…hang-on-a-second…why is there a towel ring on my desk? Where did this come from? Oh crap, one of the kids pulled it off the wall in their bathroom, didn’t they…sigh…FINE, let me just see if I’ve got a screwdriver in here somewhere…

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZOT!

In other news, a woman somehow electrocuted herself trying to find a screwdriver in an over-crowded drawer – apparently, multiple cell phone, digital camera, iPod and other small electronics chargers, NONE of which belonged in that drawer to begin with, were involved. Film at eleven!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Was that a week going by?!?!

Tonight, I was munching on a box of deliciously hot and salty McDonald’s French fries (what? you think I don’t eat French fries? Oh…I eat French fries…) (you know what else I had? A Big Mac. Because I had to have one. RIGHT NOW! NOW-NOW-NOW, pull this van over and get me a Big Mac if you value your pathetic excuse of a LIFE!...if it weren’t scientifically improbable, I’d wonder if I were pregnant…) while stuck in some of The Most Hideous Traffic Ever when it suddenly hit me: It’s Thursday.

Have you ever had something like that happen to you? You’re all sitting there, kind of bummed out, tired, can’t-wait-for-the-weekend, task-list-from-hell-looming-over-you, and somehow in your brain it’s, like, maybe Tuesday, and then suddenly you realize OHMYGAH, it’s actually Thursday?

…and it feels kind of like the mental equivalent of thinking there was one more stair, but there wasn’t, and your brain is all, Qwaaaaaaang!!!!…?

The really funny thing was, I went from “can’t wait for the weekend” to “holy crap, I can’t possibly finish everything I wanted to finish at work this week by tomorrow! I need two more days!!” in an instant.

Funny how that works.

In case it isn’t obvious – it’s been a helluva week. The guy I was hired to help is on vacation for three weeks, and it is turning out that our many training and hand-off sessions focused entirely on the wrong things. (Or not enough of the right things. Although it does seem to me, now that I’m ankle-deep in Things and very tired of having to say, “Duuuuuuuh…wat u mean?!” all the time, that there sure seems to be a lot more I do not know than I do know, which frustrates me because I hate feeling stupid and guess what? Feeling stupid, an awful lot.)

ANYWAY. Yeah. I blinked, and it’s Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday. Holy smokes.

This morning, I spent my train ride starting to flesh out a Big Cook. It’s a sort of variation on the once-a-month cooking thing, where “variation” should be pronounced “oh my sweet loving $DEITY-of-choice, pleeeeeeeeeeeez tell me that fruitcake-woman isn’t jumping back into some hare-brained scheme or other!”

Which I totally am, of course.

SEE, here’s the problem: I don’t have a weekend in which to cook. I can’t spend Friday arranging my shopping list and mapping out my cooking-day moves; I can’t spend most of Saturday shopping and prepping, followed by a mad dash of cooking on Sunday.

I have nothing on Friday. Not a single second of free time. I have a few hours on Saturday, a few hours on Sunday (with all the chores normally done on Saturday crammed into Sunday, on top of Sunday’s usual and customary chores, which is another way of saying we are SO not going to have clean underwear around here next week)

Soooooooooo…I’m going to be sort of…splitting things up here and there. Baking in both ovens, using the crock pot morning, noon and night, setting up each night that week to make four meals worth of the dinner so I can freeze three of them…

Historically speaking, this hasn’t worked out particularly well.

But, undaunted by piddly little things like lengthy history of disaster…I’m going for it.

AND! Not only am I looking to make dinners…I’m also planning to make a bunch of dinner rolls, pasties, pre-packaged lunches for us (think ‘homemade Hungry Man’), desserts and so forth and so on.

Oh. And also, I have to find time to read through Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. I’m a little worried about the texture – ‘artisan’ bread is awesome for eating and all, but how will it do making a PB&J for a picky five year old used to his mother’s thrice-raised “white” bread (I throw a handful of wheat germ into the mix – don’t tell him it’s not white-white, ‘kay?)? Time will tell…

Furthermore…I’ve abandoned the afghan already. I did four squares, and then I went, Oooh look, something shiny!

Or actually, chenille-y. I pulled out a skein of chenille I’ve had since Stitches West a couple years ago and went, This would make an awesome warm sweater for Boo Bug!

And then I measured her, and I used my knitting software to block out a basic design (plenty of interest in the yarn, doesn’t need much in the pattern), and then I started to unt-ugh…untan-gah…un-ok, WHAT is going on here…?

I swear to Dog, it’s like whoever wound off this skein was…drunk. Or had balance problems. Or secretly hated knitters and wanted to inflict pain on whoever bought it. It was so hopelessly tangled I almost threw it away. But then I remembered that it cost money, so instead I sat down and began patiently working at it.

A few hours later, I dumped it into my husband’s lap and he spent a few more hours working on it.

We both agree: It was possibly the worst yarn barf we’ve ever had in this house. Ugh.

But! It’s making a very pretty, very warm little sweater. Which I’d totally show you, if it weren’t downstairs and me upstairs in my sorry excuse for PJs and a guest still wandering around down there.

I’ll try to remember to take pictures tomorrow. Or Sunday. I think it’s going to be really cute; I also think there should be enough yarn left over for a matching hat. And maybe one for me, too.

Which would be good, because I think my ears are about to drop off my head. It’s cooooold out there, in the wee hours of the morning…

Anyhoo – that’s the what-passes-for-quick update around here. Craziness, commuting, eating strange things that may or may not actually be food, plotting a cooking marathon I can’t possibly actually accomplish, knitting, working oh! And trying to plan the spring garden – which, by the way, is coming faster than we think. It’s almost time to start the indoor seeds for those things we hope to be planting the instant the weather won’t kill them off…geesh, yet another thing to think about…

It is moments like these that make me wish I could just be, you know, normal and maybe get hooked on Heroes or Dances with Tuna or Survivorman v. Beastboy, The Anime Version or something.

But then again, I’d probably just get equally bad ideas from watching the shows.

That’s just sort of how I roll. Hey, you know what would be fun? We totally ought to build a tree house just like that one, and then use it to house chickens! C’mon, it’d be AWESOME!!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Money Monday (Tuesday): January 4, 2010

This week had just as much time for thoughtful self-reflection as I expected it would: About none.

In some ways, I knew it was a doomed exercise (at least in terms of being a one-week-and-done kind of thing) before I even started due to sheer busy-ness. Daycare was closed, visitors were plentiful, stuff is going on, etc. etc. etc.

And every time I thought I was going to get a whack at it, somebody decided to jump into the quiet and fill it with their noise.

Whaaaaaat, in this house?! Quelle surprise!!!

But, you know…it is what it is. As much as I’d love to complain, it’s kind of hard to do so because when you come right down to it…Oooooooooo, what a wretched situation, being so immersed in friends and family and more friends and more family that I can’t get a moment’s peace over these darkest, longest, coldest nights of the year…

See? Kind of loses the whole pity-inducing momentum there.

Another part of the problem is that there is just too much going on inside my head as well. It’s the usual cesspool of self-recrimination, jubilation, wild-eyed scheming and equally wild-eyed bubble popping that always seems to go on when I’ve gotten back in the job-force saddle.

There is no routine yet for me to fit things into. Ordinarily I’ll say I want to do this, and then I look at where I have an available place to put it…but right now, there’s just no space anywhere. There’s no time before work (unless I want to get up a half hour before 4:30 a.m. so I can do some housework before it’s time to wake everybody up)…there’s no time after work either, because by the time I’ve gotten through the homework-dinner-baths-beds routine, it’s usually 10:00.

I’ve got six and a half hours to “do whatever,” grab a shower and get some sleep, because 4:30 is a’comin’ fast.

Now eventually, believe it or not, there will be a stride to hit.

The key is to hit it, and not just flop down and go, “Oh thank GAWD I can siddown for a minute! Hey honey, grab your momma that bottle of wine from the fridge, would you, be a dear…?”

People often ask me how I do “all” that I do. I usually just shrug and say something stupid like, “Wellllll, I dunno, I just…keep pegging away at things…”

And then they shoot me looks of pure venom because how useless an answer is that?

But as I’ve been actually starting the process of figuring out how to wedge an absolutely impossible amount of tasks into a too-short day…I realized (at least in part), how I actually do it.

The trick is to look at your day not in terms of where you’re going to do, but what you’re actually doing, right that second.

Throughout the day, there are usually periods of time that are…perhaps not used with their full potential.

There are the long periods – maybe spending two hours “relaxing” in front of the TV at night. Sure, it’s pleasurable and far be it from me to tell anybody they shouldn’t relax once in a while.

But if what you say you want is a beautifully cleaned home? Sitting on your backside for two hours watching Survivor is not helping you get what you say you want. Your words say “beautiful surroundings!” but your actions say “don’t care as long as it has a telly!”

But just as important, IMHO, are the short periods.

Fifteen minutes waiting for a transfer is time enough to take a peek at your to-do list; thirty seconds is enough time to jot something down when it occurs to you in the soap aisle at the supermarket. Two minutes at a stop light can be an excellent time to collect together car-trash for later disposal.

They’re snatched moments, tiny chunks of real estate carved out of a day that seemed packed too full to allow any such self-indulgent, goal-punting things.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I do it all the time – and the crazier things get, the harder I start looking for them, and the quicker I am to leap on them.

The big pay off for it isn’t actually that I get “so much” done in a day…it’s that, when I am done…I’m done.

If I sat down this afternoon after that girl scout meeting, propped up my feet and turned on CSI:Anywhere…it would have been a tainted experience for me. The shoulda-coulda-woulda choir would have been bellowing inside my head. I would have been fighting to relax, demanding the ‘me’ time, telling myself that whatever it was could wait, because I needed this downtime, here…

But when instead I worked on some planning, and got us ready to hit the road tomorrow with minimal angst, and set up the Wii Fit at last and forced myself to spend thirty minutes making an ass of myself on it (girl can’t ski, oh no she can’t…), well…I’m going to bed now feeling pretty good about my expectations for tomorrow.

I did a lot today, a lot of good things that were mostly in keeping with what I say I want for myself and my family.

And now I get to go to bed knowing that, while things still are a long-shot from perfect…they’re getting better. Every day, little by little, I’m getting more and more “together,” and more and more of the things we say we want to have, do and be are becoming reality for us.

In five minutes or fifty at a time.

Take a look at your day. I know it’s packed – most of them are. But as you go through it, stop every once and a while and ask yourself, What am I actually DOING, right now?

Sure, you’re on a train…aaaaaand…? Getting to work, OK, good, aaaaaaaaaaand…?

Daydreaming? Reading? Knitting? Twiddling with your phone letting your Facebook friends know that the seats are particularly itchy this morning?

Ask yourself if there might not be something you could be doing instead or as well in that moment, something that would be meaningful not to the moment itself but to those things you want to have, and do, and be.

Don’t be conned by the thought that you deserve the rest. You do, and you will get it. Rest is good – inertia is just waste.

Overcome inertia, do away with the waste, and get ready to be amazed by how much you can get done in an average ho-hum day!

(Oh, but do try to remember that’s how you do it. Trust me. People get mighty irate when they ask how Do you do that? and you’re all, breezily, “Oh, I dunno…I just do, I guess, ha ha!!”)