Aug 31, 2007

17 eggplants, 20 tomatoes, 5 zucchinis, 7 hot peppers, 2 bunches basil, 3 onions, and 2 cucumbers for: $23.18

I picked the eggplants and tomatoes myself. Now, in my new bargain shopping ways, wouldn't you say that I got quite a lot of produce for my money? Considering that I once paid $9.00 for three tomatoes at a pricey (but gorgeous) upscale market* I feel like I've done quite well here. The way to shop during the summer is to do as much u-pick as possible, preserve tons of what you can't eat fresh, and don't buy any produce between four walls.

This is nice in theory, but I do still have to buy some things in the market like cilantro because no local farms are selling it. This region is very short on fresh grown herbs.

I think Russian accents are way sexier than Italian or British accents.

You weren't expecting that, were you? It's one of those things that is just randomly floating around in my head.

It's already 10:27 and I haven't started my laundry yet, which is a problem because I haven't got any clean underwear. So I should go start a load right now. But there's nothing I feel like doing less.**

That was also floating around in there.

Some good news is that our refinance loan got approved! Yay! So if it all goes through smoothly, we will be able to keep our house, for the time being. Plus there may be a part time job I can do from home, but I won't know if I'll get it for a few weeks.

There are lots of little things nagging at my brain right now. I wish they would go away, but they're like fast fruit flies that are always just ahead of the swatting hand. They slip into shadow where I can't find them until the air is still and then they're right there again, hanging onto the wall of my brain. In case anyone is wondering what it's like to have a clinical problem with anxiety, this is how it is most of the time. Medication really helps with the bigger issues but it doesn't really kill the brain flies. Without constant maintenance the flies multiply quickly. Sometimes I worry that they'll start coming out of my nose. They do often come out of my mouth in the form of random and often inappropriate thoughts being expressed without regard to the company I'm in.

Life is much too messy for a person like me. I feel best when I am immersed in a project that takes absolutely all of my concentration and the hours fill with the drive to see to the task at hand. Which is why I love becoming obsessed with preserving food in the summer. I can temporarily forget all my concerns. As soon as I slow down, like today, all the little threads that need tending start to press in on me and I want to crawl away from them and have someone clean up all the messes while I'm not looking.

At least my burn is no longer leaking.

Zac Ephron (the "hunk" in all the magazines who is in some show I've never seen about a high school musical, which frankly sounds like an awful nightmare to me) looks like a pre-teen. It makes me uncomfortable that such a baby face is being called a hunk in grown up gossip rags. Are adult women swooning over him? Why is he everywhere? He looks like a girl.

More things floating around in my noggin.

I think the word "hunk" should stop being used. I hate it. I think it sounds very course.

Well, I better go get dressed. Lots to do today. Like place an order for oilcloth. Finish up two courage boxes. Take photos for Etsy. Copy some recipes from my well used cookbooks into my recipe box. Make tons of food to can and freeze. Work on a cushion covering project. Work on sending out an Etsy order. And do laundry.

Max's bloody noses are back. I'll leave you with that little bit of brain float. Have a great afternoon!

*For the record, I had no idea the tomatoes were going to be that expensive until I was rung in. I have a problem making a ruckus at check out stands, a little problem of mine, and so I meekly paid for the tomatoes while feeling that I had just robbed Max of his college education.

**Right after I wrote that I decided to drag my reluctant bones to the laundry room with a load and I found my "last" clean pair. That's in quotations because who knows if there's really another pair lurking in that mountain of wrinkled clean clothes?

Aug 30, 2007

The dangerous side of canning
(lesson: don't run with boiling water)

Yesterday Lisa E. and I canned peaches and had the honor to do it while chatting like magpies with the food writer for our local paper, the News Register. Nicole Montesano is a woman who I was prepared to envy professionally. I'm happy to report that I must be maturing in my old age, finally. I ended up just having a great time and can't help but enjoy the fact that Nicole loves cooking and preserving as much as Lisa and I do. Rather than feel any envy, I felt we were all in very good company.

I will definitely invite Nicole to join our canning club if I ever get around to organizing one. She doesn't have anyone to can with and I think that needs to change.

It's difficult to concentrate on this post today because my burn blisters are leaking right now. I generally have the grace of a floating swan, obviously, but my grace must have slipped a disc yesterday while I was toting a pot of hot water to the outside canner because I sloshed boiling water onto my foot. I've splattered myself with hot water before, and hot oil, and hot marinara sauce, but none of those accidents can compare to the doozy I achieved yesterday. The pain was intense. The blistering was instant. I took pictures to show you, but I've decided that I will be magnanimous and spare your eyes.

Most of the time when I've hurt myself I don't feel such a fascination with the injury. I have to admit that this injury has cast a spell on me and I can't stop being aware of it and my eyes naturally drift towards it every two minutes to see what it's doing now. It's a pretty active injury. I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

But let's stop talking about my burn. Let's talk about how peaches, it turns out, are kind of tricky to preserve. This batch was easy to pit, being a freestone variety, but they wouldn't peel with blanching. It seems you can either get the skin off easily, or pit them easily, but not both. Almost every jar oozed out peachy syrup after being removed from the canner making a big sticky mess and lowering the contents of the jars. Today we're going to do the rest of our peaches using the hot pack method rather than raw pack. This way we'll be able to make an immediate comparison and see how they differ.

I ended my evening with many episodes of Alias. I just want to say, for the record, I KNEW LAUREN WAS EVIL. I knew it. I told Philip that if I die, he should avoid marrying any gorgeous blonds because I'm probably not really going to turn out to be dead anyway, and it's obvious that if he marries a thin blond chick she's going to turn out to be an enemy spy. I also want to add that I'm getting just a little fed up with Michael's sad puppy eyes. Let up for crying out loud.

Yes, I'm very caught up in it all. It's such a silly show but I'm completely hooked. I really want Sydney's mother to turn out to have really reformed. I love Lena Olin. I also have warmed up to Sydney's father Jack who has become a much more sympathetic character over the past couple of seasons. Anyone notice how no one really stays dead on this show?

I have a rather rotten head ache and I have papers to sign and send before resuming the peach project. So I suppose I should get out of this office and hop into action.

Here are the other canning projects lining up:

crushed tomatoes
more ratatouille (to freeze)
pickled eggplant (to freeze)
marinated 3 bean salad
dill pickles
apple sauce

No problem. I can do it. School starts next week. I will use that time to accomplish my canning, reorganizing my website, gardening, sewing, cleaning, and breathing. This summer has been brutal. Next summer I'm signing Max up for nonstop camp.

Aug 29, 2007

Ricotta stuffed eggplant

This is what this dish looks like when I'm trying to impress you with my healthy restraint.

This is what happens when I put the camera down and think you're not looking. My dusting of Parmesan turns into a snow peak of cheesy goodness because I don't believe there's such a thing as "too much".

Ricotta stuffed eggplant

This is my own recipe which I want to share with those rare souls out there who are always looking for new ways to eat eggplant. I wasn't born loving this relative of bella donna, for me it was a taste acquired in my twenties when my mom wasn't looking. This dish can be made lower in fat than I have here by substituting the regular ricotta with low or nonfat. You can also omit the egg and not use any Parmesan at all. Though you should know that I will secretly write you off as a cretin.

Conversely, you can make it much richer than I've made it here by adding grated jack or mozzarella cheese to the ricotta, or topping the dish with it and letting it get crusty golden. I am trying to learn to love food that doesn't have melted cheese in it though, so my version is what I'm going to record here for you.

1 large globe type eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
1 small container ricotta cheese (fresh if you can get it!)
1 large egg
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

Fire up your grill or your broiler. If grilling, be sure the flames are on a moderate heat or you will burn your eggplant. Cut the eggplant in rounds about 3/8" thick and brush generously with the olive oil on both sides, then dust them with salt and pepper. Cook each side of eggplant rounds until just browned and getting soft, generally I find five minutes on each side generally does the trick. If they have turned to mush you had better make some baba ganoush instead. When the eggplant is done set it aside to cool off.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl dump out the container of ricotta. Add the egg, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. (I usually use about 1/8 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp salt). The nutmeg may seem strange, and if you hate nutmeg just omit it. I learned to put nutmeg in ricotta from my mother who is not one iota Italian but who lived in Rome for two years as a kid and learned to add nutmeg to ricotta from the Italians themselves. I love it this way. You can add up to 1/4 of a tsp nutmeg, but any more than that and it will overpower the whole dish. Mix up the ricotta really well.

Pour about 3/4 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Take a round of eggplant and in the center of it put about 1 tbsp of ricotta, fold the eggplant ends together to form a roll and place it in the dish. Continue to do this until all your eggplant rounds are used up. You may find the smaller rounds more challenging to roll, instead you can sandwich ricotta between two rounds and place that in the baking dish. The result will ultimately be the same.

When the pan is filled up, add the rest of the marinara to the top of the dish. Cover and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Dump Dust a portion with Parmesan and enjoy!

You know what would be cool? If one of you actually tried to follow this recipe and then tell me how it worked out. Isn't it funny that Diane (in yesterday's comments) was just telling me about lasagna made with eggplant layers instead of noodles? Because I also made that yesterday! Ha, great minds and all other cliches that apply!

Aug 28, 2007

One Hundred Pounds Of Summer

With my new need to budget my groceries more carefully, I'm giving a lot of thought to pantry cooking and meal planning, the only two ways I know of to cook more frugally.

My Crime:

I go to the grocery store several times a week. What happens is that I see a couple things in my fridge and I figure out what I can make for dinner from it. So far, there's been no crime against frugality. However, inevitably, I get it in my head that I want to make a particular dish that I don't have all the ingredients for. This requires a trip to the store. That is how I tend to spend way more money than I need to on groceries. How to solve this little problem is simple.

Thank god, since so little else in life is.

The Solution:

Plan all meals for the week ahead of time, plan one big grocery trip to procure the necessary ingredients for the whole week. Then make those meals as planned. The challenge with this solution is a fickle palate. I may decide on Sunday that a black bean soup would be the perfect lunch meal for a few days, but when it comes time to make it I often find I'm in no mood for it.

Oh yes, I know, "If you're poor enough you'll eat anything." or "Picky eaters are just spoiled rich people. Poor people are never picky" (I made that one up. It's the implied statement people are making when they criticize Max's picky eating. They always make the argument that if I just gave him the food I made for myself and didn't cater to him, he wouldn't choose starvation. You know, they may be right. But they don't know Max if they think he'll surrender to eating food he doesn't like within less than three days of no eating and a torturous emotional hell for that whole seventy two hours. I invite anyone who dares to come and navigate that situation to do it themselves. I'll take a vacation in the meantime, a nice quiet peaceful trip to the local Abby. If Max is cured of pickiness when I return I will embrace this starve your kid to cure him technique. Until then, everyone can back off.)

Oh, pardon me. I guess I might be just a little tired of that argument. I don't even understand how come people get so upset at Max's picky eating. Why does it make them turn into fascists? I think Max's personality in general has that effect on people. His strong sense of self and stubbornness triggers the fierce desire in others to squash it. To put it in it's place. It drives my family crazy sometimes and they are always giving me little mini lectures on how to discipline him, on how he doesn't get enough of it from us. They don't like to be challenged and it makes them itch to quell the fire in him, which they would all deny unequivocally. This is a bit of a hot button topic for me: discipline for children.

This was not meant to be a discussion on parenting strategies. So back to the topic...

What was I talking about? Oh yes, meal planning and how I let my mood dictate what I make and not my plan. This is certainly a question of self discipline. Forget moods, just cook what's scheduled. Right? Because I'm an adult and I don't go in for all that childish spoiled "mood" crap. I eat what's in front of me no matter what...

Oops, just did it again.

So if I don't want to make what I planned to make, there is only one other option available to me if I want to stick to a frugal cooking style: I can fix something up from my pantry. This requires that my pantry be stocked with all the necessary goods it takes to whip up complete meals. It also requires that I wrap my head around the possibilities my rows of canned and jarred goods provide. I don't often think this out ahead of time. So I'm going to do little experiments now. I'm going to plan my meals ahead of time, but anytime I don't feel like eating what I planned to eat, I will make something else without a trip to the store. I will force myself to make something based on what I actually have.

One thing I have a lot of? Dried beans. One hundred and twenty five pounds of various dried beans. So, obviously, beans should be on the meal plan every week. In abundance. I've got split peas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and navy beans. I'm all set. If I'm desperate I can just eat plain beans, huh? Doesn't that sound delectable? Well, they say I'll eat anything if I'm poor enough.


The truth is, I've been that poor, people. So I don't appreciate lectures like that. Not that anyone reading this has offered one up to me. There was a period in my life where I washed my clothes in my bathroom sink with bar soap because I couldn't afford the laundry mat. My room mate Carrie and I subsisted, largely, on grilled cheese sandwiches made with white bread and government cheese that Carrie's mom gave to her. I was lucky Carrie was so generous. We ate plenty of macaroni and cheese from boxes too. Do you know how awful it is to eat government cheese every single day? Of course you're grateful for the cheese if you can't buy something else. But I'll tell you something, just because you're grateful to have what little you have doesn't mean you're a better person for it or that you don't desperately wish for something better.

I hope never to be as poor as that again. I think being that poor is one of the reasons I don't grudge myself good quality groceries now. Once we started making a decent living I absolutely relished being able to buy gorgeous produce and to buy food on whims. I could try expensive cheeses, fine olives, good olive oil. These aren't the luxuries of royalty, just a good life. It's difficult to go back to having to buy only bargain food. I'm not saying you can't get good quality at bargain prices, only that you have to think more about it. You have to shop more consciously. You have to plan more wisely. You have to be much more clever.

I've decided to embrace this challenge. I want to help us save money by learning to cook really good food from the pantry, and by planning ahead and learning to stick with it. Part of my plan is to get a freezer, (finally), and to can and freeze as much as I am able to before the season is over.

This past winter, Lisa E. and I both found that one of the most indispensable things we canned last year were diced tomatoes. Both of us decided that this year we need to at least double the amount we put up. You can open a quart of tomatoes to add to winter soups, winter squash gratin, and tamale pie, just to name a few. Last year I resolved not to buy fresh tomatoes off season and I managed to stick with that resolve. What really helped was having those home canned tomatoes.

Yesterday we picked one hundred and seven pounds of tomatoes and canned about ninety of them. (Several pounds weren't ripe enough to make the grade).

If anyone has ideas they want to share on meal planning or pantry cooking, please do! This is a subject I would like to gather lots of material on to share with others.

I think I better go plan some meals now.

Aug 26, 2007


(This one's for M. Sinclair Stevens and GenX Theorist)

I just took an online personality test based on both Carl Jung's theories on psychological types and on Myers-Briggs research on personalities. I have to say that while some of this seems totally right on target, I found the test irritating because for much of it there was an either or choice where my answer would have been right in the middle. I can't help but wonder what it indicates if the possible answers to the questions don't fit with reality. There's a whole slew of questions that try to place you in either the emotional or the logical thinker camp. I'm neither. When I weigh problems or thoughts in my head I try to take both into account at all times. I am a very emotional person but I'm also a very good critical thinker and I know when emotion is leading my feelings, I always try to figure out if those emotions are anchored by good reason. They are not mutually exclusive.

I rely heavily on my instinct to guide me. Instinct is no more than a finely tuned extremely sensitive emotional response to outside stimulation. Often, I have found, my instinct is based in good reason. It senses when I'm dealing with a dangerous situation and if I respond accordingly, I am responding to my emotions, but later, upon examination, I often find that those feelings were based on calculable probabilities. Ooh, that sounds much me scientific than I am accustomed to sounding. I am on rocky territory when I start trying to sound intellectual.

What I'm trying to say is that I object to anyone who tries to suggest that being emotional and being logical are oxymorons. A person who takes pride in never making decisions emotionally, who takes pride in only being logical, is (in my opinion) a fraud. I am a pretty good debater and the whole logic versus emotional angle that gets thrown out in debates is a pet peeve of mine. It reminds me of my dad and my Grandpa Tom saying things like "It's not personal, it's just business" or "You can't be so emotional when making decisions" or how about this one "You're a bleeding heart like the rest of those liberals". All of these kinds of statements put a premium on using your head rather than your heart.

As though the heart was a weaker organ than the head. My head, however, is only good at processing the incoming information, my heart is quicker to recognize a fraud. My heart, my nerves, my spider senses are much quicker to point out danger, to see curves ahead, and to register a faulty argument. My head sorts out all this information, but my heart gets there first every single time.

It's my opinion that the strongest person, the best scientist, the most powerful business person is a person who uses both their head and their heart in tandem. I'm not suggesting that they make decisions that benefit anyone besides themselves, using your heart doesn't automatically mean you're not acting in an ass-hole capacity, only that you use your instinct as much as your head. Emotions aren't automatically positive, consider greed, anger, revenge, a drive for personal power, all these are emotions or actions based strongly on emotions. A desire for power is ultimately an emotional need, not a logical one.

So in taking this test, I am being guided to put myself in either the logical camp, or the emotional camp. I'm supposed to either enjoy social life, or be a loner. But what if I'm more complicated than that? I love to talk to new people, I enjoy people in general, I love hanging out with friends, but at the same time I need way more alone time than I get in order to recharge, and I hate parties. HATE PARTIES. One question asks if I consider myself a "social butterfly" or a "loner". I don't consider myself to be either. I find certain social situations easy and enjoyable to experience, but I also like to be by myself. I'm not one or the other. I have a certain measure of both.

So, how do I know if these test results are an accurate reflection of my personality? Is it possible that I just can't see the accuracy because I don't see myself as I really am? I always wonder about that. My sister recently said how we always see ourselves so differently than others do. But I'm not personally convinced of this, but is it arrogance on my part to think I often know other people much better than they suspect I do? I am a good reader of people, though often I don't tell others exactly how I read them because most people really dislike feeling like an open book. Is it possible I read others much more accurately than I read myself? Or am I actually not reading anyone well at all?

I would especially love to hear from M.S.S. and GenX on this subject as both of you have studied the Myers-Briggs system and are quite interested in this subject. Tell me your thoughts. Anyone else is welcome to give their two cents too. What do you all think about these questions? How wrong do you think I am? What are your own questions or thoughts on this?

Aug 24, 2007

Self Definition

Instructions for reading this post: Do not, under any circumstances, read this post as a cry for help, a boo-hoo fest, or as an effort to garner reassurance from the world at large. I will be very annoyed if anyone believes I'm looking for an Angelina-gush-fest. OK? This is introspection.

Introspection happens. I think I generally go about my business having a pretty clear sense of self and direction. I know what I love doing, I know what I'm not, I know who I am, and I know what I want out of life. I have periodic crisis' like every other normal-ish human being, such as recently when I closed my store, which I consider to be one of those necessary little glitches in life that give firm foundation to beliefs and ideas by testing them.

Self Definition. When I was seventeen I had a very different idea of what my life was going to be. I can tell you that I wasn't going to get married, I certainly wasn't ever going to be a mother, and I was going to distinguish myself in the world of fashion. You were all going to know my name by now. It wasn't a dream, it wasn't a hope, it was a certainty. I knew that's what I was going to do. I had the fire in me to know I could conquer almost anything. I admit that part of that fire was fueled by anger I'd accumulated from my experiences growing up, but it did it's job, propelling me forward.

This morning I went to an old friend's business website and saw how her business and her world have expanded and is now flourishing, and of course, she is as gorgeous as she was the day I met her seventeen years ago. She's distinguished herself by sticking to her road, providing excellent quality in her field, and by having a great deal of self discipline. Which is also how she's managed to remain trim and fit. I don't grudge her her success or physical health because she's worked as hard to get where she is as I have worked to become ever larger through a very weak link to self discipline and to take the windy path to no wheres-ville.

I have to say it kind of hurts to see her be what I had believed I would be. To see her achieve something so good, so clear, and she's even dressing celebrities. My old friend: dressing celebrities. I am too fat to "dress" myself. I wonder sometimes if I had never quit smoking and never discovered the comfort of beer, if I would have taken a straighter path. Where am I headed even now?

Self Definition.
Most of the time what I want more than anything is to be a housewife. I'm happy being a housewife. I've found peace in that. And writing. But I will write no matter what because it's what keeps my spirit from tanking in the dark. Will I ever distinguish myself? Will anyone ever be glad I kept at it so that I could offer something useful, something shiny to the literary world? Does it even matter? Fame, fortune, and a distinguished life: do these things really matter in the end? Do I need to distinguish myself in order to feel I've been enough in this life?

I got married. I had a kid. A lot of glittery dreams went to the wayside after that. I found home. Home seemed so much better and fulfilling than runways, flashbulbs, or write-ups in Elle magazine. I found myself wanting to champion everyone who stays home. Everyone who makes home a wonderful place to be.

When I was drafting the apron that got accepted into the apron book, I felt some of the old stirrings. The passion to be drafting garments, no matter how utilitarian. I felt the pull to get back to my fashion roots. It was like going back in time twenty years to my design and development class in which I got an A for a line I designed within a twenty four hour time period. (Because I was a last-minute-Jane back then, not as a special design challenge). I felt such a rush designing and doing my cost sheets. I was in my element.

But what does that really mean, to be in one's "element"? Does one have only one element, or does one have many? I am all at sea, not a sensation I'm particularly used to. What is it I'm supposed to be doing with this life of mine? I couldn't go back to just being in the world of fashion because now I have tasted the satisfaction inherent in centering my life around urban homesteading activities. I couldn't leave that.

It's strange to watch a good friend rise in the world to a respected place, a somewhat glittery atmosphere, while I am quietly living in the shadows, not knowing what I'm supposed to reach for. To watch someone you were close to, and thought of as a part of your personal domain, slowly drift into another world feels unreal. She belongs to everyone now. I can watch, like everyone else, how she defines herself.

Self definition.
I have always felt I was put on this earth to give something specific to it. But what is it? My road has been so full of twists, pot holes, intersections. Will I ever even know what it is I'm supposed to do for everyone, or will I do it unwittingly and have it expressed in my eulogy? What can I do to leave this planet a tiny bit better than it was when I arrived? When I was sixteen I thought that perhaps my main purpose is to be a voice for suicides. I thought that if I could help even one person relight their own burnt out spirit I would have done what I came for.

Self definition. The purpose of life is to survive. That's the ultimate answer to the existential question of why we're all here. On a primal level there is no other reason we're here. But on a spiritual level this isn't true, is it? I am always trying to tell people not to worry so much about their purpose. I think it's time I stopped saying that when I myself feel so bound to purpose.

If I let life unwind organically, will I manage to get at the core of it all? It seems that if one wants to actually achieve something specific, one must actually focus on that specific thing and not take their eyes off the road until they reach that destination.

I was just talking with a good friend about these matters the other day. Purpose, achievement, passions. For those of us with a hundred passions, how do you narrow your focus onto just one or two which is really what's called for in the pursuit of success of any kind. The current popular wisdom seems to be that we don't need to limit ourselves, we can do everything. Why choose? We can be everything we want to be, we can have it all.

I contest this wisdom. I have learned that this isn't true. Your power is spread too thin when you try to be everything, do everything, have everything. This is even true of celebrities who reach for it all. What started off as their magic touch turns into a very tired ad campaign for every product imaginable. Beyonce is a great example of this. Music, fashion, perfume, make-up, acting. Obviously she'll do the whole motherhood thing too because if she didn't, she wouldn't be completing the whole picture. The more I see her in ads the less I respect her. Others will grow tired of the Beyonce onslaught too. If she had mostly stuck to music, her power would be stronger.

What is it I'm supposed to focus on? How do I define myself? Here are words I use to describe myself: poet, writer, fat, mom, wife, traditional, rebellious, contrary, designer, crafter, gardener, quick, critical thinker, crazy, empathetic, excited, interested, burning, strong, smart, political, domestic, prickly, cook, deadpan, underdog champion, fierce, obnoxious, urban homesteader, pioneer, awake, screaming at the top of my lungs.

Screaming. My spirit is screaming but I can't make out what it's saying. It's all at once too loud and too far away to articulate. It's been screaming for a long time. There's a flight somewhere waiting for me. I know I haven't gotten there yet. Wherever "there" is. I need to fly but I'm wearing a hundred-weight of crap. Plus I haven't got any wings.

I keep thinking that my job is to live a good life. To make beautiful things. To learn to be a good mom. To find balance, to attend to balance, to nurture balance in all things. It isn't necessary to "be something". What about just being?

But then there's this other part of me that knows there's something else I've got to do. Sometimes I still have the same conviction that I did when I was sixteen: that I write for more than just myself. That I write to help the voiceless. The most ridiculous image is in my head this minute. I am lighting a torch for my mentally ill brethren. Demanding better care. Bringing our spirits out of the dark, away from the fringe. There aren't enough torch bearers for us. But who the hell am I to think I have something valuable to give the clamor of the mad?

Self Definition is a bitch.

Aug 23, 2007

In Flagrante Delicto!!

Meet Romeo and Juliette, discovered in flagrante delicto in the cover of the ugly bush yesterday morning. While initiating a major hack job on an unidentified specimen of a plant that smells strongly of cat piss, probably because it is the favored neighborhood cat marking spot. It may also be a local pet trysting club. While I decided to share this mugshot, I have spared you all the harrowing experience I had several days ago when I separated just such a snail couple and was accosted by the view of snail private parts. Until then I didn't know they had any. Now it is burned in my psyche forever. In a mean moment I wanted it burned in yours too, but then I realized that I don't need that kind of karmic cloud over my head, considering my life in the past two years.

After hours of doing their thing and still not being finished, they were fed to the birds as a pair. At least they got to go together. I'm too busy being glad that their tryst will not result in millions more snails to be sad about their fate.

The bushes in question were huge and beginning to swallow our house whole. I have no time for fine gardening right now (will I ever?) and I have dreams of planning and planting wonderful borders around the yard filled with roses, peonies, callas, lavender, salvias, and verbenas too... but in the meantime I simply want to destroy a couple of bushes I have no use for. The piss bushes. believe me when I say that I fully realize that to many out there this very same bush I despise is beloved and taken care of as though it was a family heirloom. I respect that. By the way, does anyone around here want to buy my Japanese Maple for a few hundred dollars? You have to dig it up yourself and not tell Philip you did it. Or that I told you you could do it.

Here it is with all it's fluff and glory hacked off. Next I must use a saw to bring it close to the ground prior to digging the bugger up. It looks like a real mess right now, but someday, like when I'm a hundred years old, people will stop at my garden and never suspect how ugly it was in the beginning. (I must say though that it wasn't ugly when we moved in, it was quite nice, just not my style.)

Good news: I sold something on Craig's List for $15.00. Do I get to use that for more beer? Today someone is coming to view my elliptical machine and later someone is coming to view my dresser where it resides at the bookstore. I have Lisa E. to thank for listing all my things online because she wants to help me. Thank you Lisa!!!

I'm very superstitious so I don't want to go jinxing myself, but it appears that our friend's loan agent just might also be a financial magician. We are applying for a refinance that will actually reduce our monthly mortgage by $200 while also absorbing our credit card debt. I will believe it when it all goes through, but he tells me the reason we are eligible for such a good interest rate at a time like this (with the economy sinking lower and lower- thank you rich-ass President Bush for making it so easy for all of us small fry to tank) is because our credit is still very good. Also because we have preserved a decent amount of equity in our home. So if you could all keep your fingers crossed for us? We will still be damn poor, but we won't have to sell our house if this refinance goes through as planned. If it doesn't? Bankruptcy would appear to be the next step. sister has suggested that I go to the local nursery to find out if they're hiring. If you work for a nursery you probably get a discount on plants. I need plants to beautify my yard. You know, to compliment they brown lawn we're carefully cultivating. A few more days before my sister goes back to Los Angeles, and then it will be time to buckle down and get some sewing done. Really work hard on getting my business to grow.

Also, not that this is important to know, but if this loan deal goes through, which it probably won't, the loan agent is also allowing for us to put away ten month's of mortgage payments in a "liquid" account (must do research with my bank on that) to avoid a similar situation. Now, there would be enough for me to buy a year's membership to my gym, which I plan to do if it all goes through. I need that. I haven't been able to go with all this nuttiness going on around here but when Max goes back to school I should find it easier to haul my butt over there. It really feels good to do the work out they "designed" for me there. I will be too poor for a long time to be able to afford that monthly, but if I just pay for it all then I will benefit quite a lot. It really helps with my mental health.

No canning projects have been done this week. All has been on hold. I hope to get back into action next week. There are lots of pickles still to be made, peaches to can, tomatoes, and ratatouille to freeze. Not to mention pears coming up and I am out of apple sauce so I will make some this year. I miss canning already. I've been itching to do some more. We've been waiting for the U-pick season to really kick off at Bernard's farm. Should be very soon.

It's really time for me to see to studio business and planning for my day. We are going to pick some blackberries (my mom, sister, me, and Max) and go to the farmer's market. I need to do some meal planning that doesn't involve five pounds of cheese per meal. I'm thinking lots of cucumber tomato salad with vinaigrette, green beans with potatoes and vinaigrette, beets with dressing-garlic-kalamata olives-and SOME feta, corn on the cob, sauteed zucchini, and some black bean stew with fresh salsa on top. Sound good? What else...?

I hope you all have a lovely Thursday!!

Aug 22, 2007

A Brief Moment

In about thirty seconds from the moment this serene picture was snapped, the subject experienced a little internal combustion.

I told the subject that I would like to take a close up of just his eyes. He interpreted this request as a desire to photograph just ONE EYE and proceeded to wrestle one of his eyes closed for almost five whole minutes. While moving around at top speed.

And accosting the photographer.

About thirty seconds after this shot was taken the subject (with a mouth full of Cheetos) engaged in complete calm. It never ceases to amaze the photographer what a hypnotic affect Scooby Doo has on this subject.

Things are progressing here at the Williamson Ranch. Papers are being shuffled. Loans are being discussed. Packages are being sent. Aprons are being worked on for orders. Bushes are being hacked down in a symbolic action (like a prayer) that this house will still be ours years from now. Hell, we're just hoping it will be ours months from now. Corset patterns are being looked up for a very special wedding project for a friend. Business registry numbers are being reinstated. This year's pickles are being sampled.

My head is kind of spinning. The maid job is no longer available. Keep looking. Secretly hoping I won't have to go to work. Secretly hoping tons of orders will pour in, but feel guilty hoping for such when I just had a nice bunch of orders go out.

What the hell is up with this shorthand I'm apparently using? I am amazingly distracted right now. Not a very together person. I'm not acting like my normal pragmatic, grounded, rock of a human being. There is too much to do and I can't keep it all sorted. So I think I'll cut this ramble short and go get some of it under control.

Aug 21, 2007

A Million Little Packages

Hell might look like this. (Isn't it funny how often I refer to "hell" when I don't actually believe in it? I am intrigued by the idea of hell and think perhaps it's everywhere here on earth right next to all the heaven.)

It doesn't look all that different. Except that you can walk around without impaling your foot on a Lego block.

First of all, I need to say a huge thank you to all of you who have placed orders in my Etsy shop. Old pre-blog friends and blogs friends alike have really made my week. Seriously! I know that so many of you are watching your pennies too so...THANK YOU!!!! Most of the orders are going out today.

Yesterday was productive. I have a lot I need to do that I didn't do. But the most amazing thing I did was to clean up Max's room. I don't do this nearly as often as I should, but it's a delicate business. There are always about thirty thousand Lego ships, buildings, forts, ammo sheds, and towers that MUST NOT BE THE SLIGHTEST BIT CHANGED. Since I can't break them apart I have to carefully put them on higher ground and then sort through the loose Lego pieces into several different bins.

I can't stand the mess of his room as it almost always is. He can't stand to have it cleaned. But he didn't put up a fuss yesterday because his carpet has fleas. We haven't had an infestation of fleas in many years. Our cat isn't usually particularly prone. But I guess having five furry beasts living here during a very bad season of fleas made it inevitable.

So I cleaned and sprayed. I am very relieved. Although I'll admit that I don't love spraying any chemicals in my house. Max was worried about that too. I know the fleas were bothering him though because he was imagining that they were all over him. He also started to worry that he had lice because his head was itchy. He was itchy everywhere. I explained to him how once you get some flea bites and see a few of them you can get a serious case of the heebie jeebies and it can make you itch. I worry about these things too so we made sure he doesn't have lice. (He doesn't have lice)

I better keep this one short. I must go apply for the maid job which I didn't do yesterday. Plus I need to look on Craig's list for more possibilities. It would be incredibly awesome if I could just start selling more of the stuff I have. I am so happy to be packing a bunch of orders up today!

Aug 20, 2007

An Etsy Update

I first fell in love with this fabric when I saw it on Capello's blog No Appropriate Behavior. I ended up ordering it in two colorways. I have yet to use it for actual products. So I've decided that I will offer yardage on my Etsy shop of all the fabrics I have on bolts. My prices will be a little more reasonable than most quilt shops since I have to charge for shipping. Usually these fabrics are $8.00 or more in the shops, I am charging $7.00 per yard. Not bad, huh?

I have a lot of different cool fabrics. I only got three loaded up today because Max is really chomping on the bit to get on this computer right now. But check them out!! I'll be listing lots more in the next few days.

I am also listing some other crafting supplies like these silk millinery flowers that are really wonderful quality and handmade (not by me though). They're perfect for hats and bags and hair ornaments. This one is going for $8.00. I'll also be listing some plain match boxes for anyone who wants to make their own match box shrines.

Even though my Etsy link is on the side bar, if you want to check it all out but are feeling especially fatigued today, here's a handy link right here you bon-bon eating Camille!

I don't know who did it, but someone else just bought a Halloween wish box...I'm going to go find out who the heck has totally made my day?!
Some Good Things
(to prove that I'm not a totally negative individual)

Plus: making frugality sound good

Can you believe this sunflower?
That is the color of light when it's happy.

What's good right now:

  • The rain. I love the rain. It smells good outside, not hot and stinky. I was born in the season of rain. Often I think I will die in the heat. No, that's not quite right, often I think the heat will KILL me. I love rainy storms, the kind that blows your door wide open, the kind that erases all other noise. I also love this softer rain that just washes everything clean. The sound is how I would hope heaven would sound, if I believed in heaven. Rain is good.

  • There's a job opening at Hotel Oregon for maids. I've never been one before. I can't say that the idea of cleaning up after people who are being messier than normal because it's not their home and they know a maid will clean things up doesn't actually sound like fun exactly, but from an an anthropological point of view, it could be fascinating. It also probably pays better than working in a coffee shop would. I will fill out an application today. Bring on those used condoms and dirty toilets!

  • Coffee. I have coffee. Coffee is very soothing. When I was eighteen I used to drink about ten cups a day. Of the caffeinated kind. I would go to Zim's, smoke cigarettes, eat "country" potatoes, and put down cup after cup of coffee until my nerves were getting tangled up from all the involuntary shaking. Now I have three cups of mostly decaffeinated. I love hot coffee. It makes me happy.

  • I have wonderful friends both in "real" life and online. The flowers from above are from Lisa B's garden. The light was terrible so I didn't take pictures of the other flowers she brought, her two oldest girls both brought me little bouquets from their own gardens. Plus they brought me a six pack of beer. I know how much of an honor it is to get a huge bunch of gorgeous sunflowers from some one's garden, it's not like she has an endless field of them. Oh how cheerful they are!! I want to grow this kind next year. I almost grew them this year but kept thinking that I really wanted only the classic kind, these ones are a little wild and strange with their myriad tiny petals crowded together in a big ball or orange. I am a changed woman. These flowers are powerfully lovely in a vase on my table. Every time I see them I see how lucky I am in my friends. You can visit her at her blog Morning Glory Essentials and while you're there, don't forget to visit her website where she sells handmade soaps and other aromatherapy items.
  • Lisa E gave me such a good haircut and I cannot say how much that makes a difference when you feel like total crap already. Every day I was waking up with stupid hair and feeling like the biggest frump in Yamhill County. That's really saying something. Thank you Lisa!!!! Incidentally, you can see her gorgeous felted bags at her Lovli shop.

  • Speaking of friends- I have two orders to get out in the next couple of days. One is to Amanda at Pandora's Button Box, who bought one of my Halloween wish boxes, and the other order is going to Karmyn at Dreaming What Ifs... (for which I must make the apron from scratch, so it won't go out for a couple of days yet. ) Ladies: you have perked me up with your support! Karmyn has already bought two Peace aprons so I'd have to say that she's one of my very best customers, right alongside Pam at Pam Kitty Morning.

After all that crying I did on Friday (literally: all day long), I am ready to face what's coming. We are going to try to hang onto our house this time. We had to sell our last house to get out of EXACTLY the same situation. The last house was a beautiful 1930's Tudor-style stucco house with the most gorgeous windows (the originals which we completely restored) and a garden that I loved very much! It was painful to sell the house I thought I was going to grow old in. This time I have a very architecturally boring house but I have a huge yard and I haven't had the chance to make this place really shine. If we keep selling our houses to get out from under then we will never have a house to grow old in. Last time we really had no choice, this time I think there's a possible solution in which we could keep this house.

I want to keep what I have. I want to pay back my debts. I want to start over without having to uproot my five chickens, my son, my dog, and my cat who is going to die in the near future. I really appreciate what I have. Perhaps that's one of the reasons everything is stinging particularly bad right now. It's not as though I am trying to have a mansion, tons of money, expensive clothes, or fame. I just want to make a living and keep the unfancy life I have.

I don't consider myself a particularly extravagant spender. I spent a shitload of money on things you have to have to run a store. Furniture, display cases, registers, fixtures, inventory, advertising, these weren't things for me. So I'm looking at what I spend now since it's beyond tight. Trying to figure out how I can be more frugal. I actually hate that word. It sounds so mean. Here are some of the things that I have recently spent money on and shouldn't have:

  • expensive beer (the good stuff)
  • more plants for the garden
  • reference books (gardening, cooking, and crafting)
  • that damn mandolin (this was an impulse buy that was not necessary)
  • expensive coffee (the good stuff)

Does that look like a person living in the lap of luxury? Clearly I can't buy books right now. I've rectified that by reinstating my good relationship with our local library. I am happy to borrow reference books, even though I especially love having them permanently on hand. I will be trying out a less expensive coffee option found by Lisa B.

Beer, we ended up deciding to simply start by cutting our beer expense in half. We will gradually whittle it down to as little as possible.

No plants for the garden right now. I can plan, I can start seeds this winter for perennials and see how I do. I can ask for plants for presents. I can see how our situation is this winter and if much improved I may be able to buy a few carefully selected things. No kitchen gadgets. I feel very guilty about that impulse buy. Normally I think about these things for a long time first. I really didn't need it.

In some ways this is all good, what's happening. Even though I really don't think of myself as a crazy spender, to have to think in terms of much more bald frugality is not a bad thing. It's a challenge I just might get to where I can enjoy it.

The only thing bugging me right now is how I haven't been managing to go to the gym while I still have membership. I won't be able to sign up again in a month and a half and I would like to get my money's worth out of it. This week I will make better efforts.

Well, I'm off to watch cartoons with Max. Maybe have some breakfast. Take some more pictures for my Etsy shop. Cut out a cherry apron for Karmyn. And make a phone call for information about a possible way to help ourselves into a better debt situation.

Aug 18, 2007

Looking Back

Is that a squash in your patch or are you just happy to see me?
(That turned out to sound dirtier than I intended.)

The last time we were this poor was when we lived in our Sutter Street apartment in San Francisco. I was pretty thin and stylish back then, but not on meds and must admit to having been a pretty moody chain-smoking gin swilling writer type. Yes, I was writing all the time; very serious work like poetry. I was submitting work to publications and had a very well highlighted-bookmarked-dogeared copy of "Poetry Market". I'm not sure how we ever afforded gin but I suppose part of it was due to the fact that we ate a lot of potatoes.

Anyway, I remember looking out of our window from which I could see the city lights flicker on in the early evening, while typing very important works of creative nonfiction (I didn't know that that's what it was called back then). I remember thinking how amazing it would be to own a shop and a house. It's the same common fantasy that almost everyone has. You're either dreaming of having your own little shop or you're dreaming of starting your own quaint bed and breakfast. I would ask myself why I bothered writing because I was never going to be published anyway, why not start a little shop and be cool shop owners?

I also imagined how it would feel to live in a house without cockroaches and mice and not be surrounded by people we didn't know and were reasonably certain we didn't want to know judging by the noises coming from the adjoining walls. All of these fantasies seemed so impossible then. It's great stuff to chat about at the pub over Guinness. We are great dreamers. We are colorful people.

Back then, fourteen and a half centuries years ago, we had everything to work towards. We were two bundles of pure unrealized potential. Philip wanted to be the next Disney. He said this to me one day while we were lying in bed imagining what our future might look like. I remember being a little surprised since he knew NOTHING about computer art. He was a fine artist. It's amazing to remember these times because it illustrates how far we have come. Although Philip has yet to become the next Disney (and I think he's changed course a little since then) he taught himself all the things he needed to know in order to land himself the kind of jobs that could teach him the rest.

I never did get published. Bukowski kept getting published in all the poetry zines I was trying to get into. Damn him. It's possible, I will admit, that that's because he was a better poet than I will ever be. I ended up publishing my own little zine. One printing, one issue. I made fifty of them and it was all typed by me, illustrated by me, copied at Kinko's by me, and handed out to all kinds of unwitting victims, by me. I included a little index card with a postage stamp on it in each copy asking the readers to please send me their critiques, their thoughts, and their opinions about my little publication. I called my printing company "Soapbox".

What young hopefuls we were. We never would have made enough money to save up to buy a house. We bought a house by benefiting from my family's tendency to fall out with each other. My Grandfather, without meaning to, made it possible for us to buy our first home. Because we did so well with our home choices we were able to fund the store adventure with proceeds from our last house. But still, not without going into debt, because of decisions made blindly.

So here we are. We still have equity in the house, though whether anyone will refinance it for us to help us out of this mess is questionable. Yesterday I felt like we had landed right where we were fourteen years ago. Just starting out. I mean, Philip is once again earning what he was way back then. As though he never had a job that paid him almost $80,000 a year. I have been frozen in time by staying home all these years. I never did earn more than $10 per hour and it seems that most of what I'm qualified to do will earn me $8.00. You can't blame me for feeling like we've had all our progress erased.

But if I'm going to be honest here, which I try to do, I have to admit that there are a lot of material differences between now and then. We do still, for now, own our home. That's an asset we didn't have back then. If need be, we can sell it and go back to renting. I can't tell you how desperately I want to avoid that, but at least we have that to fall back on. We had no assets fourteen years ago. I said I still haven't been published, and that's not really true. No, no one has gotten excited about my fiction or my poetry, because that's not what I'm particularly good at writing. But I've been publishing this blog for a year and can't deny that some people have become regular readers. That's not nothing.

But in addition to that, there's my little spot in the apron book coming out in the future. Even though it doesn't pay much, it's quite an honor and it was super fun to participate. I'll always have that to be happy about. Plus, that's more legitimate than self publishing. You know it is. To get picked out of a bunch of talent to be included in someone else's project is more impressive than to write a blog every single day and press "publish" with your pinkie.

Philip may be earning what he was fourteen years ago, but he's working with a very cool company with the potential to earn much more in the future. That's something he didn't have all those years ago. Not only that, he got an illustration published in one of his favorite bicycle magazines. So he's been published too.

We also have a kid. In spite of the fact that I don't think I'm a particularly good mom, I do my very best with it. I can't exactly change who I am for my kid's sake. I'm never going to be a woman who is really jazzed by caring for children. I love my kid. I love that we are a family. But I don't sit around feeling deep satisfaction with motherhood. I feel like it's the trickiest hardest thing I've ever chosen to do. The biggest difference having a child makes on revisiting this whole poor gig is that now I have to worry about providing for an extra person. It makes it much more emotional.

You know what I love about my kid though? He's a real sweetie sometimes. I have tried to keep our troubles from Max over the years because children shouldn't have to worry about the same things their parents are worried about. So I try not to cry in front of him. I failed miserably yesterday. Mostly he didn't notice because he was on the play station all day long, but near the end he saw me crying and heard me telling Philip what our options were and he came up to me and said:

"Mama, you can have all my money if you want. I have a lot of money saved. I have hundreds of pennies. You can have it all mama."

Jesus, it's in moments like that when you really get to enjoy the innate sweetness of children. Mine is as delicious as they come.

Aug 17, 2007

Snail Porn

Snails are like parents, you should never see them have sex.

Unfortunately, I've witnessed both.

What's really weird is to separate two snails in the middle of gettin' it on and then coldly chucking them into the chicken run. I have been scarred by the whole experience.

The only reason why I'm back on the computer again today is because I never actually left it. I'm not good for anything right now. I have definitely been run over by a truck and I'm not getting up soon. I've come to a couple of conclusions, even though we have come to no decisions about how we're going to untangle ourselves from this rat's nest of a life. Those decisions will have to be made under good advisement from qualified third parties.

The conclusions I've come to are these:

  • I suck at business. Everyone who worried about me having a business at the beginning had (obviously) a better idea of the outcome than I did and while I went full force forward with 100% faith in myself, those who did not believe in me 100% were absolutely right not to. That is shaming and humbling.

  • No matter what I've said before on the subject, I regret having gone after my dream. I do. I have not made a habit of investing any energy into regrets but this regret is so big it doesn't even fit in my body which is why it's trying to get out. REGRET. I should never have tried. I should have listened to everyone who said not to do it, who questioned me.

  • My faith in myself is absolutely shaken. Right at the moment I have none left. I no longer have any evidence to support having faith in myself. Or in my abilities. If I am so capable, if my work is so good then I would have succeeded. The truth may not feel good but it looks pretty clear.

  • Snail sex is disgusting. (Oh, sorry that got in there again, it's just the last thing I expected to see and I'm still getting shudders from the image that is burning in my brain of snail private parts.)

  • I am a very bad mom. I'm not saying this just because I feel like the biggest scab on the planet, it's what I believe most of the time. I am constantly feeling sorry for my kid having to be stuck with a mom like me. I just felt more sorry for him than usual. He's a real cool person.

  • I've let my family down. And I don't know how I will forgive myself for doing it.

  • I have spent much of my life dispensing advice to others because I can't help myself. I think I should make a little disclaimer to wear on my clothes that says "I don't know shit". I can put it right next to the label that says "Not Pregnant".

  • I feel as though my life has been a game of chutes and ladders and I've just been shot down the slide that lands you back to your life as it was fifteen years ago.

  • At least I finally have a cute haircut. Turns out the only good hairdresser in Yamhill County is my friend Lisa E. and she isn't even a "professional". She could teach classes to the ladies at the downtown salons.

  • I think it would be best if I didn't work at a job that requires me to be nice to people I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that's all I'm qualified to do.

  • A real clue that I should never try to own a business in which I have to sell things was evident when the very large unpleasant manager at Radio Shack had a little talk with me about how much I totally suck at selling merchandise to people.

Chapter 13

Where, oh where have I left my stoicism?

I am a prickly specimen. While roses may be my favorite flower to cultivate in my garden, one of my favorite wild flowers is the thistle. This particular one cropped up in my garden in the early summer and in spite of it's very vicious leaf needles which grab at my ankles, I have enjoyed watching it's tight porcupine buds develop and then barely open enough to let the pretty silky purple threads emerge. It reminds me of two things: Scotland (my first favorite place on earth), and myself.

A lot of the time I don't like to be reminded of myself. While I am pretty confident in my capabilities, have learned to appreciate many of my gifts, and generally love the life I'm living, I am by no means so in love with myself that I enjoy seeing myself reflected in the world. However, in the thistle I see myself as I really am. I won't appear like a thistle to many people who know me, or think they know me, because I am medicated now. But ask any of my very oldest friends who knew me long before I ever went to therapy, long before I had my own home and found my stride, you will hear about a very prickly person. Hell, just ask Philip!

I used to come unglued if anyone read my magazines before I did, just to give you a little example.

I love thistles for reminding me of my alternative plan in life: to buy this little station house that was for sale in the highlands of Scotland (near the Great Glen Water Park) and cut myself a swath of garden, bake bread everyday, fresh scones, write, and take daily walks up the ragged hills to breath the freshest air I have ever taken into my lungs. The only reason why we're not there now is because we couldn't figure out how to make a living there.

Which is ironic because I'm faced with the same problem now, here in Oregon (my second favorite place on earth). But this is a tiresome subject. Just because I'm afraid of my pile of bills, the ones that haven't yet been paid, doesn't mean anyone wants to hear about my financial woes AGAIN. Unfortunately, my mind is preoccupied with how the hell to unload all this great stuff I have to sell that I seem unable to sell. What good does it do me to have great stuff if I can't sell it? It does tell me something though.

It may be time to accept that selling my used things, and the products I make myself, and the great products I've acquired from others, is not my calling. Seriously. Because the universe has put a protective shield around me that protects me from making money. So what if the only thing I'm really meant to do is write and keep house?

Which would be ironic, since it's truthfully the only thing in my life that I absolutely feel I must do, no matter what. I love to design products, and I design damn fine ones too, but I can't sell them for fortunes nor pennies. Everyone knows it's hard to make a living selling handcrafted goods, but I even had a store. I had a store front with great windows and I couldn't make it work. I have had a website for a year, a really nice one, and I have gotten a handful of orders (Thank you Pam, you wonderful friend! You make up at least a quarter of my on-line business!)

We used Google ad-words, we advertised our store, we even had a huge sale to try to unload most of our stuff and sent out close to 100 newsletters to tell our customers about our 40% off sale and no one came except Louise. Whom I love. If you have a store, and you put signs in the window that you're having a fabulous sale, and you tell everyone on your mailing list about it, and no one comes to shop it, it is clear that you are a loser at commerce.

So what I keep thinking about is whether I ought to close down Dustpan Alley as a business, stop putting time into making things that don't sell, stop putting time into drawing attention to my website, and go get myself a part time job to help pay the bills, get rid of my medical insurance which I can't afford, get debt consolidation which kills good credit but helps avoid bankruptcy, and just write.

I've had Dustpan Alley for three years now. I can't sell my stuff at craft fairs. I can't sell my stuff online. I can't sell it in a store. I can't sell anything worth a shit. Even when I'm desperate. Surely, surely that is a pretty clear message. I haven't lost confidence that I make cool things. I do. I know I do. People seem to love what I make, they just don't want to buy it.

I'm not whining, by the way. I'm just painting the picture. The truth. And trying to figure out what the right next move is. I'm tired of wasting energy on enterprises that go nowhere. More to the point, this last one has brought me to planet broke-ass. Philip has a job, one with a lot of potential, one he's really happy about. But the fact remains that for the time being, it pays about $1200 per month when our bills are about $3500 per month. Anyone can do that kind of math. So what next?

I am obviously going to look for part time work. I'm sorry if this seems weak, but if I'm working part time (provided anyone will hire me for the hours I can work while Max is in school, because, you know, we can't afford any daycare) I can't also work on Dustpan Alley. Not in addition to doing my mom gig, taking care of the house, and writing. The writing can't stop or I'll have to be sent to an institution.

This is all I think about all day long now. How I have so much to sell in goods I bought for the store, now in storage, that I can't even unload for 40% off, and I have furniture that is gorgeous and totally collectible that I tried to sell under it's value that no one wanted to buy off of Craig's list. (But when I decide to bring the price way down people gasp and say-oh but it's worth so much more! Can't seem to win. Besides, I kind of think that even if I try to sell it for dirt cheap, no one will bite.) Next month is coming and we're not even going to have enough for the mortgage.

I guess it's nice to have something other than my fat to worry about huh?

They take your house when you go bankrupt, don't they?

I don't want an empire. I don't want to be filthy rich. I don't want a complicated life. I just want to be comfortable. I just want to make the right choices for once. I just don't want to lose my house. I just want to not be scared every month to open my bills. We don't even have cable. We don't have cell phones. We don't have a second car. We don't have anything fancy. Our hugest splurge is really good quality food and lots of good quality beer, and going out to eat once or twice a week.

It's ironic that we went completely broke trying to make a living.

I'm tired, people. So tired. And totally scared every single day. And too paralyzed with worry to know what to do next. I can't even afford my health care. I cannot stop taking my medications so I guess I better find out how much they are without insurance and weigh that against the price of insurance.

Guess I'll let the kid vegetate in front of the videos again today and go hang out with the plants again. They don't have any answers for me, unfortunately, but perhaps they'll help to bring down the awful panic I feel rising in my chest.

Because I'm so worn out. I'm tired. I'm really effing exhausted.

Later: The more our situation is examined, the more clear it becomes that I will have to get full time work just to be only $1000 short of making our bills every month because the kind of jobs I'm qualified for out there pay about $8.00 an hour. I think the right thing to do is to close down Dustpan Alley as a company and keep it only as a blog. I could get rid of all that stuff in storage by selling it cheap at garage sales. Or maybe I should have someone else sell them who isn't a human money repellent, since I already tried to sell them cheap and no one wanted to buy. Do you think the Universe will be tricked by this ploy? The galloping in my chest is very bad today. We are out of decaf coffee which never helps.

Aug 15, 2007

Coming Up Roses

When I went to cognitive behavioral therapy a few years ago I learned some very important things. 1) You're the best one suited to figure out what's important for your own mental health, no one else can decide that for you. 2) whatever activities you find calming, provided they cause no harm to yourself or others (with emphasis on others), you should be sure to keep those activities in your life.

At the time I didn't find much that was calming. All of my sewing and crafting projects were in a constant state of suspended motion (there were always tons of them incomplete which I found very stressful), I had an eighteen month old very mobile challenging boy, a house in need of lots of repairs, depression had already sunk in for a very nice long run of two years solid, and panic attacks woke me up many mornings. The one thing, I told my therapist, that I found calming was to go hang out with my roses. I enjoyed pruning them and gathering them to arrange in vases. When I would bring them into the house and place them in various rooms, I could be really stressed and then see them, stop to smell them (most of them had strong scent) and although they didn't have the power to erase all the panic, I could feel everything in my chest settle down a little. The world would get a little bit more quiet.

So my therapist suggested I make sure to spend time everyday cultivating this relationship with my plants. I don't really know what it is about roses, I never intended to fall for them, that's for sure. It was accidental. The way you can take in a stray cat because you are a caring person and not really love cats, but over time the cat's charm gets under your skin and you find it hard to give away. In the first house we ever owned we inherited a few incredibly abused rose bushes. The previous owner had pruned them with a weed whacker.

I felt sorry for them. I intended to plant herbs and vegetables and some wild flowers and daisies, but not roses. I always thought of roses as fussy and kind of over-rated. Philip and I started to prune the roses back to a healthy shape and as we did we got more flowers from them until we found ourselves being thanked by these sad roses in a profusion of gorgeous bouquets which we both found incredibly satisfying to arrange and put in our house. We became so enamored with them that in our next place we planted over thirty different bushes, which as any rose growers know, is hardly any at all.

My roses never look perfect. You can fuss over roses quite a bit if you want prize winning blooms with no hint of disease. That's not my style at all. Roses are surprisingly hardy if you don't mind some rust, black spot, and mildew here and there. You don't even have to spray with anything more than dormant oil (nontoxic) to get good results. You'll have some of all of their known issues, but none of the rose diseases will kill them if kept in check by giving the plants healthy growing conditions and picking off black spot leaves when you see them. If a rose becomes overcome with problems you have but to take a little care and it will come back.

In this house we have probably close to thirty roses but only four of them are ones we've chosen ourselves. All of the other ones were already here. Which is really exciting, but also means that I don't know what some of them are (I've figured out a few of them though, I'm a pretty good rose sleuth) and unfortunately almost none of them have any scent at all. Scent is a huge criteria for choosing rose varieties in our house. Part of the enjoyment for us in growing roses is the sensual ritual of walking the rose beds sniffing at the opening blooms. I think the scent has a lot to do with the calming qualities I find in rose growing.

Because of the store, my garden has been tremendously neglected. I don't mind the weeds going nuts as much as I mind that the roses have gone untended. I only got one bed pruned at all this winter and since then it has gone through it's first flush and because it was never dead headed, it has had only meager blooms since then and the bushes have gotten scraggly looking. I mind that a lot. I don't care much what the neighbors think of my dead lawn, my weeds, or anything else about my yard. I don't garden to impress others. But when I look at my roses everyday while watering the vegetable garden I long to go and snip and clean up, dead head, and talk to them.

Yes, I said I TALK TO THEM. I know that most passionate gardeners do this too. I have put in some good time in the studio. It's in working order now, though not finished. So today I plunked my kid in front of a movie (after he declined to join me outside) and went out front to prune the "Hot Spot" roses. I have four of them. The roses are hot hot pink and have almost no scent at all unless put together in a huge mass of blooms. They're very pretty, especially when paired with my orange german roses (can't remember it's name) which grow on the other side of the front yard. It's hot out there. But I pruned all four of them. They desperately need a big soaking so later on I plan to get a big hose at the farm store (with Max on the scooter! Should be fun!) so I can reach them with the sprinkler and soak those bushes for hours.

It feels so good. They attacked me quite seriously, but I don't blame them. Next after soaking them is cleaning up the weedy bed they're in. I have room to plant my two potted roses (a Mr. Lincoln and a Peace rose) so I want to plant those two roses and then plant some rudebekia and more daisies (there's a daisy volunteer there that popped up this spring to my delight) and possibly some more lavender.

I have lots of room to cut out more space for roses along the whole edge of my lawns. Some roses I have had and miss and will get again are:

Peter Mayle
Frederick Mistral
Madame Isaac Perriere
Ingrid Bergman (sadly not too fragrant)
Abraham Darby
New Dawn
Apothecary's Rose

I think I'll ask for them for Christmas and my birthday. In all the hubbub of life I nearly forgot how much I get out of my roses. In spite of the heat I had good conversations with the Hot Spots and they look so much better now. In spite of neglect this past winter, they all have at least one or two brand new thick canes. Are any of you big rose fans and what are your favorites and why? Talk to me about them because I miss my friend Sharon who loves roses as much as I do.

Aug 14, 2007

The Ranch (garden) Report

I would love to develop a cottage garden. "Cottage" has such a wonderfully pretty sound to it. If it's "cottage-y" it must be cozy and lovely, right? But "Ranch Garden" doesn't have the same ring to it. When I think of "Ranch Garden" what comes to mind is a slightly thirsty landscape covered in a nice bloom of dust. I think of arid deserts, cattle, and scrubby plants. Not very cozy and pretty, though I suppose it has it's own charm.

It's convenient too because I can tell you right now that my most recent gardening method has been to parch everything as a kind of test. Whatever plants are still standing at the end of this season will get to left there to rot all winter long-quite a privilege don't you think?

Buttercup squash don't like to be parched so I only have about two maturing at the moment. I am in love with this one right here. You know, I have never actually eaten a buttercup squash but this is the third time I've tried to grow it because I was seduced by pictures of them in the Seeds Of Change catalog. I can't wait to eat this one. The Pink Banana squash, on the other hand, is capable of making it through a nuclear holocaust and is currently taking over my yard. I'm not sad about that because I've got at least five big ones developing and I know they're good because I've had them from my mother's garden.

This is a Caspian Pink, the winner of our first ever Williamson/Evich family tomato taste test of last year. The Black Krim have turned out quite good this year so we'll have to compare the two if a Caspian gets ripe enough before the Krim's are all gone. I seem to favor tomatoes with Eastern European origins.

There's been some good snail eatin' here at the ranch. These girls now expect to be given escargots every single day, unfortunately, now that I really have quite a lot of snails around, I can't seem to find where they're hiding now that they've caught on to what I do with those I find.
I keep Chick out of the vegetable garden. So while I'm watering she stands there looking devastated. She doesn't really want to spend quality time with me amongst the veg, what she really wants is to get out of our yard all together, which is something she can do in two and a half seconds.

Rudebekia are one of my favorite flowers. I love my mom's yard furniture too which we bought from Keith at the farmer's market.

And lastly, poppy seed pods.

So this morning while Max and I were sitting in bed petting an enthusiastic Chick and Philip was trying to sleep, Max said:

"Wouldn't that be totally funny if Chick licked George Bush to death?"

Wow. And then while I was digesting that gem he popped this one into the room:

"No, wait, what if I talked George Bush to death? I would just talk and talk and talk and talk until he just died because I would never stop talking to him?"

Seriously George, even six year olds are sick of your shit.