Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Slept in today for the first time in a week. If the last two days hadn't been so hectic and overwhelming, I might feel more guilty about ignoring my blog throughout them. However, now I have my cup of coffee and my cinnamon roll (made from scratch Thursday morning), and I'm ready to write.

We hosted Thanksgiving Dinner this year. My parents moved to the area about seven months ago, so they joined Mark's parents and us. My little brother, Brian, and Sally married five months ago and had Thanksgiving lunch with her parents in north Houston, then joined us for desserts and games. All told, we had eight people for dinner and ten for desserts and games. For a little perspective on eight people eating at our house, here's our dining room.

We enjoyed a few firsts this year:

First time to smoke the turkey (somehow, we managed not to get any photos of the actual turkey in the actual smoker). Mark used lemongrass, rosemary, wood chips soaked in Jack Daniels, white wine, and pretty much anything else that sounded good. The turkey was juicy, flavorful, divine. Perfect.

First time to celebrate with my parents at our house; I think it's only the second Thanksgiving we've spent with my parents since we've been married.

First time to celebrate with my brother and sister-in-law, and first time to have them and my parents over at the same time.

Julia's first Thanksgiving; why yes, that is two vegetarians posing behind a turkey.

First time to make everything from scratch.

Mark insisted on putting a plastic "lid" on the turkey even though it was too small to really trap any heat and it looked like the turkey had enjoyed a particularly libatious time in the smoker. The salad placed front and center is not just adorned with flowers, either. Those are nasturtium, an entirely edible, slightly spicy flower that Mark grows in his garden specifically for salads.

That's right, everything. I made a batch of whole-wheat tomato-basil rolls and mini-loaves Wednesday afternoon. These have a crap-ton of basil in them, so they taste best after sitting for a day or so. They were divine by Thursday evening. Thursday morning, I woke early and made another batch of bread dough. I used half the dough to make cinnamon rolls (there's only one left, and the girls are asleep; I wonder if Mark wants to take care of it), and the other half to make whole wheat rolls. A little later, I taught Julia how to make a batch of bread, and we used half of that dough to make a spinach and feta roll-up (cinnamon roll style, but not sliced) with tomatoes, cream cheese, and walnuts. Julia used the other half to practice her bread-rolling technique and made four more mini-loaves of whole wheat bread. Even after sending everyone home with bread, we still have enough to last us a while.

In the midst of the bread-making, I also made a double batch of butternut squash soup. I had eaten butternut squash before, but never in soup. I worried that it would taste horrible, have a bad texture, rise up in anger and destroy us (I've always thought butternut squash looks like a little alien baby pod. Just saying'), etc. Obviously we have not been destroyed. The soup on the other hand . . . decimated. I think it was the most delicious thing I ever have put in my mouth. Well maybe not, but I love being delighted by new foods.

I peeled and boiled sweet potatoes, chopped nuts, and mixed up a batch of sweet potato casserole. Mark smoked the turkey (starting at 7:30 AM), Julia made red-skinned mashed potatoes, and I rounded it all off by making a chocolate chess pie, two buttermilk pies, and two lemon meringue pies.

I made sweet iced tea, southern style, to drink and asked family not to bring alcohol. After dinner, my brother and Sally arrived, and we sat down to play Curses. We almost didn't play because as I set it out, my mother said, "Oh honey, Brian still has to go to the storage shed and then back to San Antonio tonight; I don't know if we're gonna have time to play anything." As I started to put it away, Brian came into the room and said, "Curses? Sounds like my kinda game! Let's play! Will my time in the Navy give me an advantage?"

If you've never played Curses, go out and get the game right now. It's a very simple game with two decks of cards. One deck contains challenges such as, "You are an anchorman; predict the weather;" or "Sell insurance to the person sitting next to you." The other deck contains curses such as, "You are a leprechaun; whenever someone touches you, protect your cards and yell, 'You're always after my Lucky Charms!'" or "You are Count Dracula. Speak like a vampire: 'I want to suck your blood,' etc."

For each turn, the player first pulls a challenge card and performs the challenge. Then the player pulls a curse card and gives it to another player. That player must perform under the curse throughout the rest of the game including through his or her challenges, getting up to get a glass of water, breaks, etc. If a player breaks a curse and gets caught three times, the player is out of the game. Last person out of the game wins.

We played for about an hour; I had the vampire curse, the "speak like a french person" curse, and the "speak in a high-pitched falsetto" curse. It was hilarious. I also had to imitate everything my brother did (cause of great hilarity when he tried to kiss Sally), and Julia had to keep her wrists stuck to her chest all the time. Sally couldn't bend her elbows, but she had to pinch her nose whenever she spoke. So every time she wanted to talk, she'd jump up and run to my brother, who would hold her nose. And I had to imitate everything he did (poor Sally).

Eventually exhaustion and impending travel won out, and everyone departed. We had a lovely time though, and even after staying up late to clean up the house, we were in bed by midnight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The house smells clean. Bookshelves are dusted, coffee tables cleaned, floors vacuumed and swept (Thank you Julia). Dishes are washed, piles of homeless crap sorted and put away, china hutch, sideboard, and microwave cart are dusted and cleaned (thank you Burgundy). Guest bathroom almost done (just the sink and toilet remain) (thank you Julia); master bath in the same boat (thank you Burgundy).

Last night I sat down with Burgundy and listed out all the work she needs to do for school along with the due dates. She has to read three to four chapters a day of Dickens' Great Expectations; that's about three hours a day. That's on top of reading in her science textbook, working on her Algebra II, working on her Debate poem, working on her Science Fair, and working on her two different assignments in AP Human Geography. We scheduled and listed in the planner what she would have to do for each subject each day, and every evening, we will sit down together and check her progress on each task to make sure she isn't falling behind.

I caught the laundry up to a manageable level. We probably still have three or four loads of laundry outstanding, but I think that if I wash, dry and fold one load a day from here on out, I'll be able to stay caught up. The laundry detergent I mixed up seems to be working well.

We planned to smoke our Thanksgiving turkey this year; unfortunately, I bought a 16-pound turkey, and most of the instructions I've found say you should be careful when smoking turkeys over 12 pounds. I found one that talked about roasting the turkey at 400F for 30 minutes before starting the smoking process to kill off surface bacteria, so I'll look into that some more and see what we decide.

This afternoon I will make the pie crusts and possibly even the pies, finish cleaning the library, and if I have anything left in me at that point, I'll also make the cranberry sauce. It was so awful last year that we just did without. I can only pray this year's batch turns out much better. If I make it tonight, I will have time to go buy the canned crap (I used to think the lines in the sides were marks to help you slice it straight).

I think that's all the output I have for today. I have photos I planned to post and blog about today, but I don't have the cord to connect the camera. Alas!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Holiday Plans

Yesterday was a little better. Mark and I met for lunch at Mogul's, a local Indian buffet. I love that place so much, and I can't afford to eat there every day, and that makes me sad.

Things are steaming along for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I bought the turkey last night for $0.25/per pound at HEB. I had to spend another $20 on groceries; I had done NO Thanksgiving shopping, so that wasn't a problem. I picked up green beans, cream of mushroom soup, fried onions, Greek yogurt, the cheapest real chocolate chips they had, V8 juice (I'm going to make tomato basil bread), unbleached all-purpose flour, and a bunch of other stuff. All in all, a good haul of groceries. I spent about $30 for the turkey and all the other groceries; the turkey was $4. All in all, I'm satisfied.

We have two vegetarians in our house this year, so the only meat-based food we'll have is the turkey. We will have six other meat eaters, so I have no doubt that the turkey was $4 well spent.

I plan to cook the turkey, try my hand at cranberry sauce yet again (last year was an epic, face-puckering, life-altering FAIL), fresh rolls, something with sweet potatoes and something with butternut squash. Mark's mom is going to make salad and the dressing, Burgundy will make green bean casserole, Julia wants to make the mashed potatoes, and I will also make our three desserts: lemon meringue pie, chocolate chess pie, and buttermilk pie. Finally, I will ask my mom to help me with the gravy. This year we won't serve alcohol at the dinner for a variety of reasons; that's a big shift in our world.

Meanwhile, we're gearing up for Christmas. As I posted before, I'm doing a lot of crafts for Christmas. The neat thing is how excited I am this year versus previous years. I think it's because so much time and love has gone into the gifts this year. Very exciting stuff.

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally tree-hunting day with a little bit of manic Black Friday shopping thrown in there based on Mark's preference. I don't know if we'll do any shopping or not, although the online Apple store is rumored to be having a big sale. Previous years apparently have been a let-down in terms of the amount of discount, so we'll see.

Our usual plan is to finish cleaning up from  Thanksgiving (while Mark goes out and kills a little bit of a sale), then we pile into the Civic and drive to northwest Houston to the tree farms. We try to find one with a bonfire and cocoa, etc, so we can pretend we don't live in a sweltering tropical hell.

After we pick out the tree together and spend a little time on impulsive fun stuff, we head home, set up the tree, and retire for the evening. Saturday and Sunday are spent piling all the decorations out of the attic, decorating the tree, and being generally festive.

Somewhere in there, we'll print out and sign our letter to friends, Soren will step on it, and we'll mail those early in December. Always assuming I finish writing it. Speaking of, I guess I have work to do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Times are Tough

Well, we've hit a rough patch at home. I know that our little family will make it; I know that faith and grace will carry me. I also know that we are in for a long, brutal ride.

I've been working on a black cabled sock using Cookie A's Ellington Pattern. I'm knitting it in all black, and it looks very elegant. I tried taking a photo of it, but the "all black" part makes it difficult. I haven't been able to get a photo yet that showcases the cable work in any usable way.

Mark and I took a bread class Saturday morning. The woman who taught it does not charge for her classes, but I think she could. She is a really good teacher, and my first batch of bread after the class was really good. One of the loaves has a big, scary hole in it, though, because I took it out of the oven too soon. My dough still is a little dense and chewy, so I think I need to knead it longer. I'll keep experimenting and see what happens.

Burgundy and Julia are out of school this week, but they have plenty to do. Mark and I made a list a mile long of all the things Burgundy needs to work on, and although I left for work this morning before either of my girls even thought of getting up, I left a note taped to each of their doors explaining what I needed each of them to do for the day. They both readily agreed to Thursday's cleaning plan, and I made significant progress myself yesterday on the laundry and the library.

Burgundy tried out yesterday for the narrator role in our church youth choir's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I didn't get to see her try out; she went in just to see if they'd let her, and when she and Julia came out, she had already performed her audition. I was bummed, but Julia said it was a really awesome try out. I know that night before last, she was practicing the "Jacob and sons" song and knocked my socks off. We'll see what she gets.

Because of this stuff going on at home right now, I'm quite relieved to have the job to distract me. I don't think I could handle being at home today.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We Need a Car

Oh my goodness! I just realized I haven't posted yet today. I've been working on an internal Wiki for the organization I'm leaving, and it's taken over my free-time thoughts, too.

Since I hurt my leg, I've been driving Mark's car. I knew it was pretty bad off, but I think I hadn't really understood how bad off it was.

Before I ever climbed into it on the first day I drove it, I asked Mark to put more power steering fluid into it. The car is a 1986 Toyota Celica; you would think something so small would be okay without the power steering, but it isn't, let me be clear on that.

With enough power steering fluid, my attention was free to notice other problems with the car.

The first problem to really catch my attention was the collection of gentle plumes of smoke escaping from beneath the hood as I waited in line at Starbucks. It wafted from the left side of the hood, and it's a testament to my Profound Cheapskatery that my reaction was not the expected, "ZOMGWTFBBQ," free-for-all as I tumbled from the car to escape the obvious impending explosion. No, I looked at it for a minute then decided it was just fluid of some kind dripping onto the hot manifold and smoking off. I picked up my latte and moved on with a shrug.

Next I noticed that on sharp corners, I could hear a pretty disturbing knocking sound. Now I've driven my fair share of beaters, and I've endured my fair share of knocking. I know what a bad tie rod end sounds like, and this ain't it. No, this knocking sounds like a yard gnome caught in the spin cycle. A deep, throaty thump, rhythmic with a slight echo. Happily, most of my route to work is a straight shot, so I grimaced a little and kept driving.

On the last road before turning into the Johnson Space Center where I work, the speed limit (once you're past the school) is 45 mph. The moment my speedometer hit 40, the steering wheel started to shake. Not shimmy as though it needs an alignment, no. That would be a gentle, steady rhythm moving the wheel no more than a fraction of an inch side to side as I drove. No, it shook, displacing inches with each back and each forth. It made the fat on my arms jiggle until my skin itched.

Ironically, the brakes seem to be in pretty good shape, and the air conditioner works. We Texans have our priorities.

My little brother climbed into the car a couple of days later for a ride. We came to a stop light, gently slowing until we rested. My brother, a 24-year-old Veteran of both Iraq and Djiboutian conflicts, looked out the front windscreen and said, "Mel, is your car smoking?"

"Yep," I said, "But I own it. Besides, I think it's just power steering fluid or something."

"You might want to get that looked at," he responded.


A few minutes later, I wrenched the wheel (it needs to have another 1/2 quart of power steering fluid every couple of days) around and pulled us into my drive. Brian climbed out. "You mind if I have a look?" he asked. Brian is nothing if not polite. He even opened my car door for me. Sweet kid.

He didn't even pop the hood. He leaned over, sniffed the still-wafting smoke, and said, "Yeah. That's oil."

Now my first instinct is to take this car and our little emergency fund down to the dealership and combine them to buy my dear, long-suffering husband (you really wouldn't believe how much he doesn't complain about that car) a spanking new slightly used car. Spend ten grand or so, put the roughly six grand we don't have on a small note, and pay it off in two months.

It is painful to know that DH is going to have to get an only slightly upgraded beater rather than the fairly nice car we were hoping for just four months from now. But we agreed: no more debt. And we're sticking to our guns. Maybe we can make the Celica run until February.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Countdown Is On

Because my two-weeks' notice technically ends on Thanksgiving Day (and believe me, I'm grateful), I specified in my resignation letter that my last day would be December 2, giving the company a day shy of three weeks' notice. As of today, though, I have 13 days left.

In other news, I have dignity; therefore, I did not photograph my house for today's post.

I live in a filthy, stinking pit. It's a nice house, don't get me wrong, but the carpets are manky, the trim in the rooms with Pergo is unfinished (especially noticeable in the hallway), we have Giant Cobwebs of Doom hanging from the cathedral ceiling in the living room, and the bathrooms don't usually get scrubbed until I realize I'm not willing to use the sink to wash my hair.

I could go on, but I refer you to my aforementioned dignity.

I would love to defer the impending cleansing until I am employed only part-time; however, I invited everyone over for Thanksgiving Dinner, and I fear they'd refuse to dine if they saw my house in its current state. My plan is to divide the rooms among our home's inhabitants and assign each person the task of making their room perfect (including dusting!) and maintaining perfection through Thanksgiving.

The worst is the front room, our library. All the books actually live in the Living Room, but we call it the library anyway. It's strewn with papers, mail, magazines, books and worse from my desk and DH's. It's also housing a bathroom vanity, my daughter's bicycle, and a drawer full of computer parts; its home chest takes up garage space. That room will belong to Mark and I jointly. Mostly because he does not approve of my method of cleaning up his stuff. He disagrees about what constitutes trash.

The living room ostensibly is in much better shape. There are only two major surfaces to purge, and those can be done quickly. The sofa cries out for its cleaned cover to protect it from our nasty dog, and the bookshelves haven't been dusted in at least a year; otherwise, it's mostly cluttered with stuff that has a home but never gets put away. That room will belong to Julia.

The kitchen and breakfast area are easy to clean; everything has a home, and if people would just stop cooking and eating, we'd have no trouble keeping it clean. Burgundy will be responsible for this area. She knows where all the utensils, bowls, etc go, an important trait in consideration of next week's cooking frenzy.

The bathrooms are revolting. Honestly. Because I don't want Julia to know just how gross ours is, I'll assign their bathroom to her, and our master bathroom to Burgundy.

Finally, there is the fine layer of grodey dog hair that covers everything we own. I'm so sick of the dog. I'm sick of his hair, his stench, his appetite for dirty panties and socks, his oops-i-ate-too-quick dog barf, his wild, uncontrollable tail, his growling song of delight when we come home and try to talk to each other. I. Am. Sick. Of. That. Dog.

All the same, I adopted the damn thing, and I can't handle the guilt of getting rid of his manky butt. Also, Burgundy might never forgive me. Mark already vaccuums all the carpets, so I'll give him the job of vaccuuming pretty much every day. I hate the way everyone else sweeps and mops, a neurotic obsession courtesy of My Beloved Mother. So I'll take sweeping and mopping.

Aside: I also hate the way everyone else folds clothes; therefore, I take on the job of folding all our laundry. This, too, can be tracked back to My Sainted Mum. Problem is, I blinking despise folding clothes. It's a timespan of just being stuck doing something that NOONE APPRECIATES and that my family will render completely useless the moment they decide to wear the shirt or use the towel. Laundry is the ultimate existential conundrum. Why? WHY I ASK YOU?

Anyway, I think that pretty much settles the housecleaning. Of course, that assumes that they all will do as I say.

I don't know if we'll get to the few outstanding things: finishing the paint job in the bathroom, hanging the towel rack in the bathroom, and hanging the new mirrored cabinet in the bathroom. Installing the rest of the baseboard trim around the house. Cleaning the back patio, planting the [ridiculous number of] fruit trees that DH bought. Moving one of the bookshelves into the library to open up the living room a little bit. Installing a ceiling mount for the projector to get it off the bookshelf. Ugh. Now I feel overwhelmed and useless again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

So I Quit My Job

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I had big news to share. All the right people have been told; this won't surprise anyone who reads it on the internet.

For the last ten years, I've worked full time for contractors in the space program in Houston. I've worked in safety for the Shuttle and the Station, in quality assurance for the Station, and on Constellation for the Orion Project.

Orion is our next vehicle; it's a descendant of Apollo. With Orion, we plan to haul humans into space, to the Space Station, and to the moon. For the last two years (almost to the day), I've served as a meeting coordinator, technical writer, event logistics manager, and general Jill-of-all-Trades on this project. And last Thursday, I handed in my notice in order to accept a part-time, short-term position. I still will serve in our space program on the Constellation Program; however, I'll be working in Mission Operations, a completely different project.

I know many people out there think, "Why, in this economy, with so many people hurting for money and jobs, would you quit a long-term, secure, full-time, well-paid job?" Well, I'm so glad you (sorta) asked.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted about becoming debt free? Remember how I said that we are completely free to decide how, where and why we spend out money? Well, an ancillary product is that we also are free to decide what level of income we want.

I know, that sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean, obviously, everyone wants a very high level of income, right? Well, Emily at Under $1,000 per Month has really helped me to articulate a long-simmering, sub-concious belief: We choose who we will be, how we will live, and what we will do regardless of income. Even with only one full-time income, my husband's, our monthly income is more than 2.5 times higher than her family's. And that's after the cost of health/dental/vision insurance, higher taxes imposed, retirement savings, long and short term disability insurance costs, etc. Yet Emily is living our dream. Oh sure, we would do some things different. We want a farm, for one. I'm not interested in living in a tiny space for another. For a third, based on our apparent infertility, we won't have a large family, and we'll minister to the world around us as foster parents. So our missions and choices would be vastly different, yes.

The only difference between Emily's family and mine is what we chose to do with our potential income. Emily chose to trade her potential income and disposable wealth for the value of being at home with her children. Mark and I, for the last few years (understanding that as a single mother in the beginning, I had far less flexibility to choose than I do now; someone had to make money) have sold our time with Burgundy and our purported values (green living, frugality, time lavished on those we love) for disposable income.

Let me say it much more simply: Emily bought the opportunity to live out her values using her potential income, and I sold that same opportunity.

Not to say that we've gained nothing from the sale. We're debt-free and have only our house for which to pay. We live in an excellent neighborhood, and our daughter attends one of the very best high schools in the state of Texas. I have expensive hobbies (you don't even want to know the value of the stuff in my craft room). Burgundy will not require student loans for college (indeed, she watched us go through FPU, and she's committed to staying debt-free for life. Burgundy's amazing fiscal responsibility is another post though). A real, intangible benefit has been that my husband, who is far under-earning his potential, has not had to deal with the stress of having it all on his shoulders. That's been nice as we've tried to work out integrating our family. One less thing to stress him out and argue over.

Which brings me to my next point: If we value the time with our family and the benefit of having me at home, why am I only going part time? Why not quit entirely?

A couple of reasons: First, I don't want to quit entirely. Part of this new-found freedom is the opportunity to really examine our values. My family is first, of course. But with a teen, I don't need to be at home all day every day while she's in school. The new job will allow me to continue to bring in a very good income (more on that later) while only being absent from the house while my daughter is at school (excepting the summer, but more on that later, too).

The second reason is that I think Mark is not quite ready for me to quit entirely. Our mortgage payment would be a little high (38.5% of take-home), and who wouldn't be concerned about suddenly being the sole breadwinner? It feels like tight-rope walking without a safety net. And taking care of his peace of mind and well being is important, too.

As for the change in income, because the new company offered me a significant hourly increase (about 20%), my actual take-home pay will decrease by only about 40%.

We are very excited about this. The kids (I genuinely think of Julia as my kid) and Mark are excited about folded laundry and homemade meals. I'm excited about a clean, organized home and decluttering. We're all excited about having more time together that isn't spent doing chores and playing catch-up. This is a wonderful, amazing thing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Field Trip Report

I feel overwhelmed this morning. I have paperwork to complete, work to do (the paid kind) including an internal Wiki to develop, all kinds of holiday functions coming up; I need to bake more bread (Mark didn't refrigerate the last loaf, and it's growing mold), make more blueberry muffins, make a dessert for a potluck tomorrow, and fold the heaping mound of laundry currently languishing in my corner of the bedroom.

Burgundy's 9th grade Region band auditions are tonight; she has an Algebra II major exam tomorrow (and she doesn't understand the material); she has a big opportunity with beta testing some music education software; I have a swap package to mail, two sold yarn packages to mail, and another swap package to compile. I feel overwhelmed.

In light of that, I'll write about last weekend. In 2008, I planned a field trip for our local knitting group, CLACK (Clear Lake Area Crocheters and Knitters). We planned to stay in one of those places with a cheesy euphemistic name; this one was called Canyon Lake. At the time, I couldn't remember the name, so I called it Camp Light and Eagle Fart. It stuck, and we referred to it as Camp Eagle Fart. The retreat centered around a moderately sized fiber festival held annually in Boerne, Texas called Kid N Ewe. Cute, huh? Last year was a shopping extravaganza of epic proportions, so I started saving my spending money very early this year.

I started planning Camp Eagle Fart II several months ago. Last year's accommodations included brown water, a spider in the shower, a creaky bed, a creaky pull out couch, scary bunk beds, and a 30 minute drive to Boerne. This time, we decided to stay in Boerne at a hotel or motel.

The festival was fantastic. We shopped until we literally were dropping from hunger, then ran off to lunch.

I scored two skeins of Buffalo Gold Lux after negotiating:

An ounce of cashmere fiber for spinning:

A skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in the Petal Shower colorway:

A batt of 3 oz of Suri Alpaca, Silk, and Cashmere from Butterfly Girl

A drop spindle - also from Butterfly Girl:

And a hank of undyed 3-ply wool, ready to dye, for a swap I'm participating in. I don't have a good picture of that, and anyway, it's just yarn.

Last year, the Dodging Duck was a huge hit on our trip. Great food, great beer, great service. This year? Not so much. I have a big post brewing about the perils of small-town visits, but I'll save it.

The next day, we rose early and drove to Austin. After a quick breakfast at Mozart's Coffee, we went over to South Congress for some proper shopping.

Our first stop was Creatures Boutique. I know, it looks like you'd have to pay a cover charge to shop. My goal was to try on their Fluevog Shoes so I could figure out my size and then buy a pair online for much cheaper. I tried on a size 6.5 and 7.5 flat Mary Jane with a square toe. The 7.5 shoe fit perfect, but in turquoise, it wasn't my favorite. Certainly not for the price. So I went on to the sales girl about how it was too bad they didn't have black ones in my size. My goal was to politely leave without purchasing. However, score 1 for Foul Temptresses: She called the store owner, and they offered me a 30% discount on the shoe in my size, color red. I fell down hard, and now I own these, only in Red.

After that, we browsed. I knitted while the rest of the gang shopped at Hill Country Weavers after lunch, and then we relaxed at Hey Cupcake before starting the next long leg of the journey to Paige.

We arrived at Yarnorama about 20 minutes after their official closing time, but the owner, Susan, had graciously agreed to stay open for us. While there, we all learned how to buy a proper spindle, and we learned that most of us bought unbalanced spindles the day before. I put a dot of hot glue on the bottom of mine when I got home, and it helped. I'm looking forward to trying it out again this evening. Susan showed us how to spin on a charka, and several of the girls bought new spindles.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Am I Here? Navel-Gazing.

I started "blogging" in 2002 when a friend of mine introduced me to LiveJournal. LJ was a great place to start blogging because I could slowly branch out and create a community without opening myself up to the Whole Wide World. I have written on LJ with fair consistency ever since. I have made amazing, wonderful friends. Even though I knew him personally before, I became more intimately acquainted with and more personally interested in my husband through LJ. It's a little bit of a home on the Internet for me. In the last couple of years, Ravelry has begun to serve the same purpose.

However, I've also been more and more interested in broadening my audience and in sharing our life and all its ups and downs in a more public way. I believe that we learn and grow as much from watching others as from our own experiences, and I want to be hope for someone who needs it. Whether it's a fellow middle-classer who's drowning in debt or has lost their sense of meaning, a single mom who can't believe she'll ever get ahead, or a teenager who looks at the world around and wonders, "why bother?" Perhaps I'm being arrogant in thinking that I can help, but somehow I doubt it. I've been helped too many times myself. I have something to give, and I'll start here.

When I moved to blogspot, I assured myself I would write and publish every day. I created an outline of posts falling under various subject headings and even assigned planned writing dates to some of them. The idea was to have a cache of posts to pull from on days when I don't have time to compose. You all see how well that worked over the weekend.

I have a big piece of news this morning, but I can't post for about it for a few hours yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Making Babies

Mark and I have a teenage daughter; she'll be 14 in December. I was single when Burgundy was born, and I remained so until I met Mark. I think I dated three men in six years, all of whom I knew from the beginning were not right. Each of them probably could justify his own post, but that isn't why I'm writing today.

I met Mark when Burgundy was six, and we married when she was eight. By the time we married, we were barely scraping by financially. Mark needed to finish college, and I was the main breadwinner.

By the time he finished college, we had too much debt for his salary to support us, and we had always agreed that with future children, I would stay home for their early years. So we agreed that we would pay off our non-mortgage debt before having more children. Eventually, we scaled that back to say that we would pay off enough non-mortgage debt to live on just Mark's salary.

By the time we reached the magic number, Burgundy was 12. We started trying in March, 2008 and conceived immediately. On May 2, 2008, I miscarried. We've never since been pregnant. Inexplicably, we appear to be infertile.

I'm heartbroken and relieved all at once. We definitely want more children; however, with Burgundy almost grown, I'm all manner of ambivalent* about more children. I fear that it will feel like having two separate families.

Burgundy always has been almost my second self; I can't bear the thought of feeling like she isn't fully a part of the new family. Given that we'll almost definitely need intervention to get pregnant, she'll likely be 15 or 16, a sophomore or junior in high school, by the time a sibling is born. Old enough to feel well-defined outside her nuclear family. Old enough to feel more like an aunt than a sibling. I don't want Burgundy's childhood to become a secondary memory or to be replaced by the new memories. I want her childhood to be a part of the new memories, and I want her to be a part of the new family. Instead, she'll be working on college and her plans as an exchange student. Her brother or sister will have no memory of the amazing, wonderful older sister living in the house, loving him or her daily. Only the distant figure off to Germany, off to college. We'll have two distinct families.

I also knew I wanted a large family from the moment I felt Burgundy move inside. I'm heartbroken to think I might never hold another babe of my own. Mark might never look into his own eyes or comfort his own child. Mark will never know the joy and agony of confronting himself in his own child. Not that Burgundy hasn't confronted him, but it's different when you know it's your own young self staring back in fury while you do what you know is right.

Our reproductive endocrinologist is covered by my insurance, and we can get most of the testing, if not the treatment, we need paid for. The RE has ruled out male factors, PCOS, and a wild range of other possible female problems. Now she wants to do a laparascopic surgery and push dye through my tubes to see what's going on inside. We'll have this done. We'll probably do it this year. I'm a little worried about the slippery slope of infertility. I don't want to go in for an exploratory procedure to figure out what's wrong with my girly bits (if anything) and wake up 10 months later $20,000 in debt with mini-me growing in a test tube. I'm counting on that ambivalence to keep me in check.

*ambivalence often is used incorrectly. It does not mean that a person doesn't care either way. It means that a person has simultaneous, conflicting feelings about a situation, thing, or person.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fatty Fat Fat

I am hungry. It’s 8:30 AM; I ate breakfast two hours ago. And I’m ravenous, which is hilarious considering how fat I am. How does a person who stays hungry all the time end up fat? It’s the worst possible catch-22. I’m miserably hungry while dying of over-nutrition.

Well, not literally dying this very minute. Factually speaking, I’m healthy as a horse, low cholesterol, etc. But “dying of over-nutrition” sounds a lot catchier than, “at increased risk of various nasty diseases due to over-nutrition.”

I’ve been pondering this conundrum a lot lately. I’ve discovered several bloggers (starting with Kate Harding* and Jezebel; Kate Harding seems the most . . . rational) who are decidedly fat-happy, who insist that our culture is more fat-phobic than it is actually concerned with healthy living. To support themselves, they cite scientific studies that supposedly disprove the links between heart disease and obesity, diabetes and obesity, high blood pressure and obesity, osteoporosis and obesity, etc. I only say supposedly because to be honest, I didn’t read the cited studies.

Why not?

For starters, I’m lazy. There, now you all know my dirty secret. Dirtier even than the fact that I read all three Twilight novels. Dirtier even than the way Soren eats only my and the girls’ underpants, not Mark’s. I’m lazy, and I don’t want to wade through the studies myself. But you know what? I’ve never read the studies that supposedly prove the links either. Why should I take the media’s word for one side of the debate but not the other?

Add to that my current reading project, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and I started to think that the “Fat Acceptance” (FA) arguments make a whole lot of sense. For starters, no one I’ve read in the FA community argues the correlation between obesity and the various diseases. They’re arguing the common belief in causation. That’s basic statistics: Correlation /= Causation.

For general hilarity, see XKCD.

To me, this makes perfect sense. The idea that highly processed, genetically modified, mass-produced foods could cause a host of diseases and problems in the human body, including obesity, makes perfect, genius sense to me. The idea that a person can exist outside the Government-defined normal body type and be healthy also makes sense to me.

For years, I have told myself that dieting is about my health, not my weight. Yet when I have been at my healthiest, I have continued to berate myself for not making the scales move. I rode the MS150 twice, and during that time I believed I was unhealthy because I weighed 30 pounds more than the top of my acceptable weight range. That is simply delusional. One can not ride 167 miles on a bicycle in two days if one is unhealthy.

It made me think: What if I say, “To hell with dieting?” Some of the healthiest people I know eat real butter. Drink whole milk. Feast on nuts of all kinds, fatty avocados, and choice cuts of beef. They eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and put real butter and homemade jam on their homemade bread. Likewise, I know incredibly unhealthy people who live on Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and peanut butter *cough* my husband *cough* who are incredibly skinny.

An aside: Actuarial tables don’t lie. They’re used by insurance companies to price life insurance. DH is 70 pounds underweight, while I am about 50 pounds overweight. DH’s insurance is significantly more expensive than mine specifically because he is underweight.

It’s a frightening decision for me to make. I don’t want to get any fatter, but the truth is, I’ve been dieting for years, and I’m still getting, well, fatter. I think what I’m really afraid of is the problem at the heart of any success: personal responsibility. I’ll have to be responsible for my food choices.

I’ll have to make real changes that look an awful lot like a diet but actually fly in the face of dieting “wisdom.” I’ll have to eat things like avocados and walnuts instead of Powerbars and diet sodas (with which I have never defiled my body, but that's a post for a different day). I’ll have to stop drinking the soy milk I’ve loved for years and convert to raw, whole milk (I can't drink the pasteurized, homogenized stuff). I’ll have to cook daily and pack my lunch; no more Lean Cuisine. I’ll have to make my own sweets to get the corn syrup out of my life, and that means no more Kit-Kats, 3 Musketeers, or toffee from the candy bowl in the secretary’s office. Because if I’m feeding myself poison, what does it matter if I do it in moderation?

The biggest decision I have to make is, “Am I willing to be fat if I am healthy?” Because there’s not much chance that eating only whole, unprocessed foods will make me thin. No more chance than there is that dieting will make me thin. Because seriously? Diets don't work. And I don't want to go there. I want to be healthy, and I don't want the size of my ass (large or small) to get in the way of my pursuit of health.

I have no answer here; only thoughts on where to go. I like the idea of eating whole foods exclusively. I don't know that I like the idea of accepting being fat, but I'm so tired of fighting it.

*Uh, fair warning: Kate Harding comes with a healthy dose of obscenity. Her points are cogent and well made. And laced with profanity. Right, carry on.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oh, and About the Cost

Materials were not cheap. I think I paid $105 for lye, coconut oil, palm oil, peppermint essential oil, vanilla fragrance, shea butter, grapefruit seed extract, and beeswax enough to make a little over two batches of soap and shipping for all of those. Then we also purchased distilled water and olive oil separately for $25; there was enough water for four batches and olive oil for three.

So if I engage in a little fuzzy math and round out the number of batches to 2.5, the cost comes to $52/batch of soap or $1.11 per bar. Probably not super-frugal; however, we didn't add the value of the chemistry lesson for the girls, and when you consider the cost of buying handmade soap as a gift, it becomes incredibly cost-sensitive.

Thanks to Miss Hannah for the instructions and help getting supplies!

Also, it looks like another mutual friend found a local option for buying supplies which would cut out the exorbitant shipping costs.  The first list of supplies was $27 to ship, which added $10 to the cost of each batch or about $0.21 to the cost of each bar. Apparently, the local option also is less expensive for the supplies, as well. Win on all fronts!

Clean as a Widow-woman's Washboard

We made the soap Sunday for the Christmas gifties. I ordered supplies through and used a tutorial written by Hannah of Miss Hannah's Soaps. Naturally, the soap came out great.

Julia and Burgundy both helped with the experiment, and we have lots of Dr. Horrible-style, goggles-on-the-forehead photos to prove it. I think I'll get all three of us the XKCD t-shirt that says, "Science, it works, bitches" and has data from the COBE Mission on the back for Christmas. I'll get those photos added tonight or tomorrow.

Julia slowly spooned the lye into the distilled water while Burgundy measured out the oils by weight. I melted the beeswax into the a little oil, and when the large mixture went over 120F, I added the melted beeswax/oil combination. Then I melted the shea butter and combined it with the peppermint oil and vanilla fragrance. When the temperatures were right, Mark poured the lye-water into the oil mixture. I used the stick mixer to bring it to trace, then added the shea butter and fragrance.

Together, Mark and I poured it into the form and let it sit for 24 hours. When I poured it into the mold (also provided by Hannah), the reaction continued, and it got hot enough to completely liquify the soap. It became almost gelatinous. I panicked and called Hannah, who was trying with little success to REST because she was sick. She assured me that my soap is Ohh Kaaaaay. Don't panic.

Last night, I took it out of the mold and began slicing it. I spent a lot of time with a knife and a ruler trying to cut uniform bars of soap. I'm pretty pleased with the result.

See those goggles? I made Julia wear them the whole time. She had a raccoon mask when she finished with the lye. I'm not sure why there was cereal on the table though. I assure you that noone was eating it. Ew!

The kitchen smells so delicious now; we used a combination of peppermint essential oil and vanilla fragrance, and the combination is stunning. I keep sniffing my hands. It's nice though, because for the first time in ages, when you open the door to my house, it doesn't smell like wet dog. I'm loving the change.

Eventually, I got it all sliced. We used a four-foot mold, and I was able to get 47 more-or-less 1" bars of soap from it. Y'all, that is a lot of soap.

I eventually arranged it carefully on two cooling racks and put it on the china hutch. I just couldn't have half my table consumed by soap for the next five weeks. And there it sits, quietly curing.

Which is kind of a relief, I guess, as loudly curing soap would unnerve us all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Damn Achilles! Stupid Weaknesses.

I had a plan. Plan development is Dangerous Business in my world. It invites Uncle Murphy over. He likes to mess with plans.

I play soccer with a team called the Dirty Leprechauns. Betcha can’t guess what our primary team color is. Anyway, I play defender, and day before yesterday, our team had a game at 10:30.

I’m not a natural redhead, by the way.

Last week when I played, I developed a nasty cramp in my left calf due to inadequate stretching and warm up. I had to sub myself off the field, stretch it out, have Mark rub it down, and although I continued to play, I took it easy for the rest of the game.

Notice the significant weight loss over the previous week. The camera lies.

This week, I was smarter. I started with a good, long stretch of each leg and a brisk walk before the game. I started this week, and went out there and worked myself up. So far, so good. After a little while, I subbed off to catch my breath and stretch a little more. After maybe five minutes, I went back on to play right defense. It’s apropos of nothing, but I usually play left d.

Anyway, I jogged back onto the field and made a few runs. After about five minutes, my calf suddenly seized in the same spot very painfully while I was running. I slowed my pace, and at the end of that play tried to stretch it out a little without leaving the field. A couple of minutes later, I began to sprint downfield to support; on the second step, I felt a significant “pop” inside my leg accompanied by a sound that in my head was a cross between a “thock” and a snap. I might have imagined this, by the way. I was on a field by a major road with lots of yelling teammates nearby. I put my foot down and promptly died of the pain.

Yes, death totally flattened my hair. And my butt really is that big. This stands as my most life-like self-portrait ever.

I had to be carried off the field by teammates, and K (the one I mentioned before? The one who’s trying to get away from sick people?) had to come and drive me to the Urgent Care (after driving me to the high school to let them know I wouldn’t be able to keep my commitment to judge at 12:45, then home for my phone charger, then to Wendy’s so I wouldn’t die of starvation [is not impossible], then back to the soccer field so I could get my purse out of my car and pay for the urgent care, noting on the way that I had forgotten to get my purse, but not my knitting).

Urgent Care confirmed that nothing broke, but the doctor thinks I tore my Achilles tendon. He said we’ll have to see an Orthopedist and get an MRI to know for sure. In the meantime, he put me in an Airboot and gave me crutches. I have a standard transmission car, so I can’t drive. Poor Mark has become my personal chauffeur, which is seven levels of awesome in my book. Mark doesn’t necessarily agree.

Are you laughing at my crutches?

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Best Cake Ever

So last year I planned a surprise birthday party for Burgundy. While planning, I employed my google-fu to find cake ideas for Burgundy. At one point, Satan prompted me to google "DIY Guitar Hero Cake." I can't imagine how else it would occur to me to type those exact words, for which this is the second entry. The moment I saw the cake, I knew that, a) I had no choice but to make the cake, and b) it was gonna be easy-peasy. Quit laughing.

So while dropping Burgundy off at Tabby's house Friday evening, I used a big piece of paper that Tabby had lying about to trace the outline of her husband's Guitar Hero guitar. Then I went to Michaels and bought fondant. And then I went home and set to work.

The immediate and brutal fallout from the inaccuracy of assumption b immediately went to war with the fundamental truth and reality of assumption a. In other words, this cake was a stinging, vicious, 8th-grade-girl bitch to make, and I still had no choice but to finish it.

I used three boxed double chocolate fudge cake mixes (cakes from scratch are all fine and good, but I only had about 18 hours to make the cake, and I needed to sleep, too!) and four tubs of double chocolate fudge icing.

I baked the first two cakes, then used the guitar shape I had traced to cut around the cakes. I iced and layered them, and on the 7th day I rested.

At this point, I realized that I could not use the detritus from cakes one and two to form the neck and head. Off to Kroger I went, where I picked up more cake and an extra couple of icing tubs just in case.

I baked the third cake, and from it I cut the neck and the head. I added a layer of boards next to the guitar on the cake board (in fact a leaf from our dining room table covered in aluminum foil) upon which the neck could rest. I did this for two reasons. First, everyone knows that the neck is not as thick as the guitar. This thing had to ring of reality! Second, I did not have enough third cake to make a two-layer neck AND head, and I could feel my insides threatening to explode at the possibility of baking cake number 4.

I put down the neck and head, iced them, and made yet another trip to Micheal's as I realized that at noon the day of the party, I did not have time to make an extra batch of chocolate fondant and dye it black for the neck, head, and accents. I bought a box of fondant with black, brown, tan and "skin-tone pink" fondant. An aside: The picture on the box showed a cake decorated with faces in brown, tan, and pink, all with black hair. So how come the brown and tan weren't marked "skin-tone brown" and "skin-tone tan"? Grumble.

Made it home and realized I had nowhere near enough black fondant to make a black neck, head, and decorations. I decided that the neck could damn well be made of wood because I needed a nap. So I used brown for the neck and black for everything else. Then I dyed bits of the remaining white fondant bright rainbow colors for the "buttons" on the neck. I used leftover black to make the knobs on the head, and then I made the knobs for the guitar and used a lollipop stick covered in aluminum foil to make the whammy bar.

I dusted the white portion of the guitar with edible pearl dust to make it shimmer like a real guitar, then I mixed more pearl dust with lemon juice and painted it onto all the black parts. That made them actually shine under the light instead of lightly shimmering. The results:

More pictures from the birthday can be found here.

Rethinking My Approach

Warning: This might be a little TMI

I've recently experimented with making my own menstrual pads, and I think I've found a design that I genuinely like and will stick with. It's very simple, and I think I can just layer terrycloth between two layers of flannel, draw the shape onto the top layer of flannel, pin it all down, then use my sewing machine's "overlock" stitch to stitch around the outline on the flannel.

This will allow me to use the overlock stitch more effectively. If I cut the pieces out first, the overlock stitch bunches up the edge and looks bad. I'm looking forward to trying out this new plan when I get more free time.

Meanwhile, while looking for design ideas and options, I stumbled across a thread where people were discussing the use of cloth handkerchiefs. I have always preferred cloth hankies, but I've never been willing to shell out the money to buy them. So I'll make them.

I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but my house is crawling with large scraps of fabric. I have a nice cotton bedsheet that ripped a while back and has been waiting to be repurposed. I have half a pillowcase likewise waiting for a new purpose. I can't count the number of quilt fabric scraps that are too large to trash but don't really "go" with any of my projects.

I plan to whip out some nice, pretty hankies for my girls for Christmas using the quilt fabric, and I'll use the pillowcase and sheet to make them for me and Mark. The pillowcase was a new one, so I'll decorate those carefully and give them to Mark for Christmas. The sheet hankies will just be for regular use and to get the family used to the idea.

I hope my family doesn't get angry with me for making so much of their Christmas. I have a few really exciting handmade gifts for my girls.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blessing in Disguise

My good friend, K, is pregnant. Her husband has the flu. K moved in last night, and in her honor (and so she could actually walk into the room), I cleaned up my craft room.

I'll give you a moment to catch your breath.

Okay. Ready?

I kind of wish I’d taken a “before” shot to convey just how terrifying a state it had reached. I had semi-permanently relocated my sewing machine to the kitchen for the past month for all my Renaissance Faire, Christmas, and general housekeeping sewing projects.

One could not walk normally or in a straight line once inside the room. I would open the door, shimmy sideways between the bookshelf and the guest cot, step over the bags and wiggle between the cot and the sewing desk, take two steps diagonal left and one diagonal right, step over the picture frames, wiggle behind the suitcases, and stand on tip-toe to reach a book on the bottom shelf of the wall shelves hung five paces from and directly opposite of the door.

Most of the clutter wasn’t mine (honest! I swear it!). Julia’s two giant suitcases will go into the attic. The four IKEA shelves should be hung in Burgundy’s room. The unused camping cot should be stored in the garage. The guest cot, while it belongs in my room, does not belong in the middle of the floor blocking the doorway. The picture frames should host photos and hang on the walls.

So I took care of the miscellany, put away my baskets and boxes of yarn and piles of quilting fabric, and voila! I once again have a craft room. Feels shiny. I can find, show off, and store my ridiculous number of bags, and I know where to find my jewelry making supplies now:

I once again have my yarn and fabric quickly to hand in my closet:

And now I can find the old sewing machine that only sews straight lines. That's very useful. And that old ice cream maker motor. And the baskets of ribbon. Because I really use those and need access to them:

But the best part is that I can once again walk in, sit down, and spin for a few minutes:

Good stuff. Not to be insensitive (me? Never!), but thanks for getting booted out of your flu-ridden sick-house K! I needed the kick in the pants. And if you ever need the motor for an ice cream maker, you know where to find it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Being Debt-Free

Mark and I are 35 and 34, respectively. We have been married five years and two months, and two months ago today we made the last payment on our last non-mortgage debt. We liberated ourselves.

We started our journey three and a half years ago in January 2006. We had been married about a year and a half, and that month, Mark started his first professional job out of college.

Our income doubled overnight, and I feared that we would end up broke all over again because we were so unaccustomed to having any money. So I asked around, and several people recommended that I try Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. So we signed up at the church. Money was so tight that we had to ask the church to cover the $100 cost for us. At that time, we had no commitment to being debt-free. It was a kind of pipe dream for us: something everyone said you should do and no one believed you could do.

During the second or third class, we watched the “Dumping Debt” lesson. If you never watch or read anything else by Dave Ramsey, watch him teach that lesson. You actually can buy just that lesson here. This lesson gave us our first glimmer of hope. I went home, pulled all our bills – from $45 owed to the dentist to $24K owed to student loans – added them up, and found that between us we owed $63,754 for cars, furniture, student loans, medical bills, computers, and general living.

Dave says that, “Children do what feels good. Adults make a plan and follow it.” By his standards, I guess we’re teenagers. We made a plan and more or less followed it. In fact, we even paid it off ahead of our original schedule; however, we could have gone even faster if we’d been a little less impulsive. For example, my husband encouraged me to buy a spinning wheel. We bought a laptop. We ate out.

All the same, on September 4, 2009, Citifinancial Student Loans debited the final $1,501.01 from our checking account, and we went to bed that night free of all debt except our mortgage. When we started, we had so many monthly payments that we could only pay $50 a month extra on our debts. By the time we focused on the final debt, we made a consolidated $2,500 payment each month on that debt.

I thought I could imagine how it would feel to be debt free, but I was wrong. It’s more liberating than the sweetest siren song could make it out to be. More importantly, our dreams have gotten much, much bigger. Four years ago, I could barely entertain the notion that people could live without consumer debt. Now we have a real dream: we plan to pay off our house.

Of course, paying off the debt really just brought us up to the starting line. We still have plenty of Responsible, Grown-up Things to Do. Right now, we’re working on our three-month emergency fund. After that, we need to replace Mark’s car, a decrepit 1986 Toyota Celica. We anticipate replacing the central heat and air system (including extensive duct work) and insulating the house. We plan to complete all of these without using debt by June 2010. Then we'll pad the emergency fund to cover six months of expenses. After that, all our extra money will go toward Burgundy’s college and paying off the house.

Get that: We have the freedom to decide what we want to do with our money. We can sell the house and live in a yurt. Buy cashmere goats. Carve totem poles and sell them on Jamaican cruises.

Anything. We. Want.

Note: This is a lightly edited post originally published on my old (mostly locked) livejournal account. Apologies to readers who came here from there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Family Profiles: Myself

It’s 9:37 AM, and I just bit into a Dove dark chocolate bar. Julia’s fussed with Mark over discipline; Burgundy’s weepy and devastated over the not-boyfriend’s latest asshattery; Mark persists in his belief that his perception of reality is the only one that counts; my hormones have just polished off the last morsel of my sanity, and I just bit into part 1 of 5 of a Dove dark chocolate bar. For breakfast.

I think a “conventional” American story really no longer exists. Most everyone I know has been abused in some way or another. My friends are a conglomeration of extremists from religious to homesteaders to financial whiz-kids. I can’t call mine an unusual story except in context of those defining moments in my life, the ones I say make me who I am. Oh, cliché much?

I just polished off part 2 of the chocolate. It’s one of those effeminate, slender wisps. You know, chocolate for waifs. Made to look like A Candy Bar for a Lady. It’s divided into five bite-sized morsels, and because I believe it my duty to take lady-hood to the next level, I am taking each morsel in at least two, preferably three bites. Pop and snap; it melts everywhere.

All things must be equal in my world. I worry that I give too much attention to Burgundy and not enough to Julia. I worry that Julia has too much freedom and Burgundy is being hen-pecked. I worry that I will cut the slices of toast without uniform thickness, and Mark will have less toast than I even though he’s underweight, and I’m, uh, not.

Precision and efficiency drive me and make my family crazy. I watch Burgundy get ready in the morning and point out that if she fixes her hair and makeup before getting dressed, she won’t have to use the lint roller later, and her makeup won’t get smeared. Better yet, just put your hair in a ponytail and don’t wear makeup. See, wasn’t that faster?

I haven’t worn makeup regularly since high school. Nasty stuff. I held Burgundy off makeup for years by telling her she could wear it any time I wore it.

I argued against Halloween decorations this year because we’d have to put them all away afterward. I time different routes to common destinations at different times of day to find out which route is most efficient at which time. I argue with Mark when he challenges me.

I have polished off part 3. When I started, I did not intend to eat the whole thing, but [TMI REDACTED], and I want chocolate. Challenge me on this; I dare you.

A candy bar of so little substance hardly stood a chance with me, by the way. I will decimate it. I've never really been much of a lady.

At this very moment, I have a desk in the office of my full-time job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. I work as a jill-of-all-trades here; my primary currency is that I know everyone, and they do as I say. Thus, I get stuff done, a rare commodity in a Government institution. Happily, I’ve been able to negotiate a part-time position, so I’ll be moving to a new project and a new employer (still with JSC, though) within the next three weeks; I'll let you know when it's official. I enjoy working outside the home; I enjoy bringing home bread. I also enjoy parenting my teens, reading, knitting, taking care of my home, cooking, and generally being a mom. I’m well aware of the privilege I have in being able to do both.

I’m nibbling my way through part 4.

I’m a short, blonde Viking. I have blue eyes, a razor tongue, and I’m a chicken, twisting myself into agonies of self-contradiction over every perceived slight within, against, and from my family.

It does all come back to my family, though. More than any event, they are my formative experience, every day, every minute. I am blessed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Planning for Christmas

We always fill our weekends with way too many activities, plans, and goals. This weekend was no different; however, I accomplished so many things that I’m beginning to feel giddy. I finished making the jam two weeks ago, and I made three loaves of bread and a batch of yeast rolls Saturday. I finished another Morsbag, and we took the girls to Houston Grand Opera for the second weekend in a row, this time to see Lohengrin. We really enjoyed it, but I don't think I will see live opera two weekends in a row again anytime soon. Especially not when one of them is Wagner. Holy cow.

I’ve now completed six out of twelve Morsbags for our Christmas project. Basically, I'm going handmade this Christmas. For all our parental and sibling sets and for our close friends, I'm making each family a Morsbag. So far, I've made one bag from fat quarters I had, four from a large-ish scrap of cloth I found in my craft room, and one from an IKEA pillowcase. The remaining six probably will be made from the rest of the IKEA sheet set. It cost $1.99, and I bought it to use in place of fabric on a different project.

We'll stuff each bag with a jar of homemade local jam, a bar of homemade soap, a hand-packed beer bread kit, hand-dipped chocolate spoons, homemade hot cocoa mix, and a mini-loaf of my homemade bread. If the girls feel like it, they can bake cookies or brownies or cookie bars and add those to the gift bags.

The Morsbags are by far the most time-consuming aspect of the gifts. Each one takes about an hour to make by myself, and neither of my girls knows how to sew or how to iron precisely enough for machine sewing. Of course, after a while, my ironing isn't terribly precise, either.

In the spirit of the Under $1,000 per Month blog, I calculated the cost of our gift bags vs. their value. The fabric for the bags themselves I consider free for two reasons. First, I already had the fabric in the house; likely, I've had it for a few years. Second, by using up the fabric, I'm saving on the cost of a decluttering professional to save me from my crafty hoarding tendencies.

  • Reusable grocery bags are usually on sale 10 for $10 at the grocery store, so I'll call it $1/each. My cost: $0.
  • A half-pint of homemade jam probably could fairly cost $3. My cost: $1.88/jar (including the cost of the jar)
  • A bar of homemade soap from Miss Hannah's Handmade Soap would cost $5 - $7, so we'll call it $6 even. My cost: About $2 (and many thanks to Miss Hannah herself for her kindness and generosity in teaching me.
  • I last saw beer bread mixes sold at a craft fair for $7 in a baggie or $10 in a beer bottle (a cute gimmick to be sure). I'll call that $7 because I won't be using beer bottles. My cost: $0.25
  • A six-piece chocolate spoon set was $6.50 on Etsy. My cost: $0.60
  • I found a three-serving set of hot cocoa mixes on Etsy for $6. My cost: $0.31
  • Finally, it disturbs a bit to say, but I found homemade bread on Etsy for $12 a loaf. Mine are mini-loaves, so I'll call them $3 a loaf. My cost: $0.34
So I will spend about $5.38 per family while giving each family a gift valued at $32.50. My family will love receiving these handmade gifts that they can eat and enjoy. Most of our family and close friends are very green-conscious and will love having their own Morsbag. And noone has to coo over another Christmas figurine that they didn't want and now can't re-gift.