Jun 28, 2008

So Long Henna
(and thanks for all the eggs!)

Henna is the dark reddish brown hen third from the left.

The day opened with a blanket of heat over the city. From there on the day just got worse. I know so many people who are really happy to have the heat here ("at last") but I am not one of them for the following reasons:

Heat makes people more likely to kill other people.

I don't like heat rashes and I've got a real nice one under my boobs right now.

It makes my animals extremely uncomfortable.

Iced coffee isn't nearly as nice a way to wake up as hot coffee.

It makes people sweat. I don't know anyone who wears sweat attractively.

It makes people smell. Because of the sweat.

Plus other malodorous things get really ripe in the heat.

In spite of the heat I was enjoying a little moment of complete contentedness with my house and chatting with my sister who is coming with us in the hot-box* to California tomorrow. All was well in spite of the skin blistering sunshine until Philip came in and told me that our hen named Henna had died.

I don't like it when my chickens die. What's worse is that she died of a mysterious cause. We don't know why. I am thankful that she didn't die from being mauled by a wild beast. But I am so sad to lose one of my girls. She was such a hard worker and such a lovely hen. Chickens are not Olympian animals with really long lifespans so if you keep them you must get used to losing them from time to time.

Philip buried her in the yard. So begins the pet cemetery at the new house. We are leaving and now I'm worried to leave my other girls behind. A good friend is going to care for them and the house but what if I come back to no hens?

I have to get up ridiculously early so I am going to simply say that I hope you all are staying cool and if the next time you see me I'm turned inside out, pay no mind.

Goodbye Henna. Thanks for all the eggs and the excellent company. You will be missed by your family and your flock. We send you love to whatever place chicken spirits go when they die. May you feast on a thousand snails a day and never have to lay another damn egg!

*the car

Jun 27, 2008

A Thousand Words

Some people like to say that pictures are worth a thousand words. Let's test this theory. What can you tell about this girl from this photograph? What do you know about her without having to resort to a written description. If pictures are worth so many words then you should be able to tell me a whole hell of a lot about her.

For example: how old is she? What does her prospective future look like? What kind of a family does she have? What social class does her family come from? What music does she like? Is she popular in school? Is she home-schooled? Has she ever been beat up by anyone? Is she a slut? Does she chew her nails? Is she happy? Is she well adjusted? Does she have enormous fake boobs now? Did she go out with guys named things like "Chip" and "Blane"? Or girls named things like "Butch"? Tomboy or girly-girl? Career as a super-model or mom of six slack jawed children all named "Binny"?

Tell me what you know.

I want you to play.

But you should know that now that you have seen these pictures I will have to kill you.

Jun 26, 2008

A Sandwich Story

Look at that sandwich. Don't you want to eat that sandwich? I want to want to eat that sandwich, but the truth is that I was afraid to eat it. That's right, I experience food fear periodically and somewhat randomly. I'm not sure what happens but there's a little audible *click!* in my head that makes me unable to eat something I've prepared.

Your instinct might be to suggest that perhaps I need to take some cooking classes and maybe I should stop putting Spam in everything. I don't feel an inordinate amount of pride about many of my skills (just get me going on laundry) but I know I am a good cook because my family has a very discerning palate and it took years but they all agree now that I am an excellent cook. The opinions of my family members matters a whole lot more than I like to admit.

No, I don't know why it is but it has always happened. In spite of having been raised as a vegetarian and deciding to remain one, the first two dishes I actually mastered were: polenta with butter and rosemary, and perfectly roasted cornish game hens.

Yes, I have shoved my hand up a cornish game hen's sorry carcass to retrieve the bag of offal charmingly referred to as the "giblets". I have basted dead birds' bodies carefully with their own meat juices and delivered to a few guests what I hear was a very tender and delicious dinner. This is what I prepared for my room mate and a few of our fashion design friends in an effort to make the large nosed Lucca from Florence decide he had to marry me.

Instead he told me how, back home in Florence, all women named Angelina are very old ladies with multiple chin hairs.

Damn him. I've got five of them now.

The bastard knew I was going to have chin hairs, a love of aprons instead of stockings, and become a whole lot more ample. That's why he didn't want to take me home to his mother.

I got him back by calling him "Stallone Pantone" all the time after asking him how to say "stud muffin" in Italian.

I never tasted my own crispy golden cornish game hens because by the time I learned to make them I had decided that I was never going to become accustomed to the revolting texture of meat and it was a waste of time and potentially enjoyable meals to try and acquire a tolerance for it. Making those birds also taught me that I didn't intend to regularly (read: EVER AGAIN) touch dead flesh.

You would think I learned that lesson the day my dad left me a note thumb-tacked to a whole raw chicken when I was babysitting my sister after having taken acid for the first time the previous evening. However disturbing the texture of dead chicken skin is on a good clear day, it doesn't compare to the nightmare of moving undulating pores that it is right after you've come down from tripping on LSD.

Just for the record- I hated doing acid. I don't like psychedelic drugs. Actually, the only drugs I like are beer and cigarettes*. I did acid two more times before I realized that I really truly hated being high. Really. I know what it is to have hallucinations generated by my own wacky brain, what do I need to simulate being miserable for? My brain is a factory of fun all by itself. In fact, as it turns out, I have to take medicine to make it stop tripping all over the place.

Anyway. About the cheese. I made chevre cheese from raw cow's milk. It smells kind of sweet. It smells good yet it's not what I want. I can't bring myself to taste it. So I made this wonderful sandwich for Philip. He loved it. He loves the cheese. The cheese turned out great. But I can't convince myself to go wild and try it.

It isn't feta. I like feta. No, I am obsessed by feta. I miss feta and would happily trade in my shares in the Tillamook cheddar cheese factory for a nice big block of salty tangy crumbly and savory feta. More than avocados, more than lemons, I miss feta. I don't want a sweet cheese. I want it salty and tangy. The same way life comes to me. Feta with kalamata olives is how love tastes when sculpted by the sun beating down on dry soil.

I never taste a dressing until it's poured over my salad. The thought of having to taste a spoonful of any kind of "spread" for sandwiches makes me choke on my own tongue. Double that sensation if the spread has any amount of mayo in it. These are things that once in their designated food melange are absolute heaven.

Sometimes I make something that sounded really good before I actually have it in front of me. Philip will eat these meals and tell me they're very good. I made a lentil soup not long ago and I was craving it until I had the happy idea of putting some basil pistou in it. The second I let the giant spoonful of basil puree drop into the soup I knew I had ruined it. It still smelled good, and I actually did have a bowl of it** and even though most of my senses were telling me it tasted good, my body revolted and wanted to push it back up. Yum. So I didn't eat any more of it.

Philip says the cheese is very very good.

*I haven't smoked in four years so spare me any lectures.

**Purely out of guilt for having such a stupid childish aversion to a perfectly good soup.

Jun 24, 2008

Welcome To My Padded Cell

Getting up at 5am is an ass-kicker. I remember my life as an insomniac, back before I got pregnant and suddenly couldn't get enough sleep and not even the thought of Bush becoming president could keep me up past 9pm. Now I don't sleep as much as I should be but it's because I don't want to go to sleep. I fight it like toddlers do. I feel my lids growing heavy by 10pm and I prop them open with eyelash curlers so that I DON'T EVER GO TO SLEEP AGAIN.

It's truly ridiculous. I want to stay up late because I need to do what I call "unwinding" which consists of drinking beer while watching television episodes on DVD until I literally pass out on the bed and have to wake up later and get into my pajamas. I usually crash out between 11pm and 12:30am. My "unwinding" time is the only time I feel I can sit in a catatonic state not talking to anyone or doing anything besides drooling and pretending not to be half asleep every time Philip comes to gawk at his dozing crazy wife "not sleeping". It's almost as though I need to spend time in a padded cell, but there being no access to one, I do my best to improvise.

Max is not a good sleeper either. Never has been consistently a good sleeper, though for the last year and a half there's been a lot fewer night wakings from nightmares, and he's been getting up later (between 6:30am and 7am instead of 5:30am.) Now he's having a really hard time getting to sleep so he comes into my room to interrupt my very important catatonic state to announce for the thirtieth time in the last hour that he is still awake.

He waits for my response. I'm a solutions type of mom, I almost always have some solution to suggest. In this case I come perilously close to apologizing to him for passing my sleepless genes to him and telling him that there will come a day when the only thing that will interrupt his awful sleepless cycle and prevent him from going mad in a very traditional delusional way will be an extra strong dose of codeine.*

I once went three weeks with no more than one or two hours of sleep a night. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a very unhealthy experience. It is said that if humans go too long without sleep they will go insane and then die. We need to turn our internal computers off. Mine doesn't have a very good off switch. Apparently, neither does Max's. Now, why couldn't I have given him some gene upgrades? What's the use of being capable of building a human being if we can't build them better than ourselves?

I have only experienced one serious bout of insomnia since I had my kid. It was also a three week intense stint. I don't recommend it. I have come to value getting at least seven hours of sleep. Even if it's not quality sleep. There was a guy named Gerard in my dream the other night but don't worry, I didn't dream cheat on my man. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But what the heck?

To be perfectly honest, I like getting up at 5am. It is nicer to see the sun rise after having slept through some of the dark than to stay up through the dark until the sun rises.

So, obviously, the trick is for me to be like my own parent and give myself the sleep smack down: GET YOUR PIG-ASS TO BED OR ELSE YOU WON'T GET TO EAT ANY CHEESE ALL DAY TOMORROW!!!!!! Nothing scares me like a lack of cheese.

It seems I should go to sleep at 10pm. But that's only minutes after my kid has finally stopped interrupting my evening drool-fest.

Suddenly I see our real future: the kid lives at home until he's 43 (that's when he's says he's leaving home, I didn't tell him that only serial killers and/or virgin men live at home until they're middle aged, there's plenty of time to bust that bubble) and the three of us (Philip is unshaven, wearing a "wife-beater" tee and I'm in a Mrs. Roper style Muu Muu and have an impressive perm) and we're all three watching the Price is Right at three in the morning. Eating cereal with no milk. The only non-drug addicts up at that hour.

*For anyone who's suddenly on high alert- I never have taken more than a few sleeping pills in my life. I don't propose or desire that my kid take any unless he ends up experiencing the involuntary extreme sleep deprivation I experienced. I don't advocate a careless or frequent use of sleep aids. But I also don't advocate a sleepless life which is similar to experiencing torture and for any person who experiences routine sleeplessness I think they deserve to do what they need to do to get some rest. Even if they end up hooked.

I also would like to take this opportunity to mention that before any time I have resorted to manufactured sleeping aids I have exhausted all the natural remedies at my fingertips. Except for warm milk drinking because I think milk is gross by itself or with honey or whatever. Yuck. I have tried nearly every herbal, supplemental, physical, and spiritual method of obtaining sleep.

Aside from the times I haven't slept much at all, I generally don't have a good quality of sleep when I get it. Even now.

How sad. Huh? Are you crying yet at this dismal tale? Are you sorry yet that you read my sleep saga today?

Jun 23, 2008

Life Of Sugar

Some helpful hints for living a good life:

  • Don't put lotion on your hands directly before you try to pick up a beer bottle that is sitting right next to your keyboard unless you want to have a sticky "z" for the rest of eternity.

  • Buy your strawberries at a U-pick farm if you don't have your own because they will be infinitely better than what you can find at the store. I just picked 30 pounds of them for about $1.00 per pound. And don't take advantage of the farmers who give us the ability to buy perfect local fruit at affordable prices or I will hunt you down and Krazy-glue all your fingers together.

  • If you have to get up at 5am, it is wise not to stay up until 12am the previous night. It doesn't look good to nod off in the middle of your new job orientation. Especially if you're wearing an ill fitting button up white shirt that bags around your ears and makes a pale sausage link of your hips.*

  • Always leave your switch-blade, your revolver, and your cocaine at home when you clock in to work. No one's going to believe that you "never inhale" and only use your switch-blade to make wooden bunnies for orphans.

  • Don't leave quarantined kittens in a room with valuables. Cat pee, even with generous applications of enzymatic odor "erasers", is as pervasive a scent as... oh hell, nothing is as pervasive as the smell of cat urine. The Kittens have just about cost us $2000 in medicines, vaccines, vet baths, check ups, and a really expensive mattress for them to ruin. We haven't even got our economic ruin stimulus check yet from the government and we already need another one.

  • Don't tease the poor jewelry salesman at JC Penny by showing interest in diamond rings that you will never be able to buy because by the time you pay off the debt you incurred from not having a job bread will cost $14.00 a loaf. It's just mean to let him think you might be secretly rich.

  • Don't pull on other people's corkscrew ringlets. As irresistible as you may find the urge when a carefully coiffed full head of them is floating in line in front of you at the grocery store you must resist the itch. In my experience, the people with coiffed ringlets are almost always really tough old Betties who can snap you like a twig.

  • If you have to move from the state you're in you should look for a town/state that allows the two essentials for living the good life that no one should be denied: it must allow you to keep chickens in your back yard and you must be able to buy 100 proof alcohol to shore up your nerves when the real depression hits. Vodka and chickens. Life is good.

*Which, it has to be admitted, is way better than tucking the extra long offending garment into your trousers. On short waisted people this look is reminiscent of old-men with their trousers pulled up under their arm pits. Don't try to attract a spouse with this look. Soon you will all be able to witness this spectacle in the McMinnville Safeway.

Jun 21, 2008

The Customer is Always High Right
a role reprised

I walk into the job like a character actor walks onto a familiar stage: with my role in my mouth, my lines in my head like crackling lights I catch between breaths, and I bring with me my spontaneous passion for unfurling my anti-nature beneath the heat of the unforgiving Klieg lights that follow each expression with conscious shadows. Work is a show. Work is a place for which I must turn on my character who is affable, quirky, rarely dark (only in thin unexpected shafts of needle truth sent out to surprise the unwary- never enough to lose my grasp on the play) and so cheerful. Always full of light. Full of genuine desire to bring everyone else into the play.

No hint that I often look at large groups of people and see them as collections of penises and vaginas. A collection of animals with gender and hormones dancing around each other like so many cats strutting underneath a full moon. No hint that I strip all people into their elemental parts as an instinct. It isn't something that comes to me in a thought bubble or in a philosophical moment. It's instantaneous and flashes across my mind like a hot bolt of electricity before I can stop it. I always assess people first as an animal does, with my nose and eyes and vibrations in the air.

Going to my work orientation felt like sliding back through all the years to when I had so much less skin. So much less of everything. I am back in my Radio Shack costume working the evening shift with the older Filipino palm reader, wondering how her life brought her into the orbit of the cheap and cheesy electronic retail circuit. How did our lives manage to bisect for one evening just so I could always wonder if palms really do tell our futures, because looking back, I have to say that she told the truth even though she only knew me for six hours:

She told me I would marry an American man, even though I hoped to marry someone from another country. (How did she see in my secret dreams?) She assured me that we would travel together. (We have.) She said that in the middle of my life I would experience a big break in health, but I would come through it and live longer. (My thirties have been marked by so much physical trauma- childbirth, constant colds, new allergies, broken hip...)

I still think of her. Her papery skin over a typically thin frame with a shock of dark hair. Her retail costume as ill suited to her as mine was to me. We were such a great pair of misfits. I adored her. She was all brisk intelligence.

I thought that I had hung up my retail badge when I had a child. I believed that my life had taken a finite turn. That all those days of being trashed on by pinched frugal righteous consumers were over. That in life we move up, ever up, and at some point we take flight from these humble first steps. I believed with all my heart that these hours I put into soothing the frayed infantile nerves of the PEOPLE WITH MONEY was like paying my dues: once paid you keep moving forward and away.

I saw today what I often see from a different angle: that for the majority of my countrymen and women, this is it, you never stop paying. This is the great epiphany. There isn't a place beyond this. Money is the true god of my country and customer service is its greatest disciple.

On the one hand there's a part of me that enjoys this strange exchange between people- like all great actors I relish a meaty role- and for me there's nothing meatier than trying to satisfy the needs of shoppers, to be the person that brings some light to their empty search for product satisfaction, to be the one that gives that extra dose of genuine thoughtful human interaction...

But the dark side is exhausting. Those people trying to squeeze every last cent from their purchases and who will sell their soul to the devil just to get one extra penny from you whether or not you will get fired for losing that penny into their capacious appetite for "good deals", those people are exhausting.

I become uncomfortably aware of social chasms between myself and others. It is evident in how we expect our lives to unfold. It is evident in the things we aim for. I saw myself in all these roles as the starlet who was putting in time until the big break comes.

This may explain my amazing affinity for those popular movies in the thirties like "Stage Door" in which our heroine is always going to make it on a much larger stage than the one on which she gets her start as the understudy.

I always had such big plans for myself. Like all good dreamers, I saw my life open into an endless field of poppies like an inevitability. I never questioned whether or not I would end up doing something extraordinary, even if it meant I died young in an incredible combustion of life-meets-fire. Even if I died young I knew it was going to be spectacular. Isn't that the epitome of youthful hope and ambition? You burn bright.

What I have been coming to realize is that that isn't the epitome of all of youth. There are so many young people in our country who never see beyond the customer service career. They don't have stars in their eyes, they don't have a fool heart aiming for love or bust. They consider themselves lucky to land a position as Radio Shack's newest salesperson. They might, if they are very ambitious, set their sights on management. This work I have always considered the stepping stone that will sink into the ocean of my opportunity as I move forward, is the pearl in a lot of people's professional life. It is the actual prize.

Now that I am here again I can't help but feel the sting of my previous arrogance that I had hoped I would be remembered for my poetry. That I might find my place on the book shelf next to Bukowski, who I've slammed so many times in spite of the fact that I would consider it an incredible honor to have anyone compare my work favorably to his*. Who says that it is less noble or memorable to be an excellent employee in a customer service related job than to write something well?

A life well lived has as many meanings as there are people.

I first look at people as animals with gender and appetites. I first look at life as an epithet on a grave. What will be written on your stone when you're dead? What is the essence for which you will be remembered?

I have to believe that it doesn't matter what you do with your life as much as it matters how much you shine just because you have the gift to shine. I have to believe that in the end it matters less if you achieve honor in a public forum; that at the end of the day what matters most is that you let every ounce of light you have shine on the person who came to you from nowhere, with no name, and needed your light to keep on living.

*I will have to write about naked drunk people a whole lot more for this to happen. I will have to really own sexual filth like a second skin. Want me to try?

Jun 20, 2008

The Parent Trap
(or: how to ruin perfectly good humans)

I remember my childhood summers as a time that I ran wild with friends in Lithia Park, getting dizzy on the merry go round, eating soft serve ice cream with my allowance money, and riding my bike at a ripping speed (without a helmet) through the neighborhood streets. I woke up, I got dressed, my mom made sure I had a good breakfast, and then I would ride my bike to a friend's house and we would play all day. Generally we didn't see our parents much until dinnertime. We were out in the world by ourselves at the ripe age of nine years old.

I don't know a single parent who would let their nine year old out of their sight for a whole day. What's happened to childhood? Most parents I know are trying so hard to preserve the magic of childhood for their kids, to prolong the age of wonder and innocence, generally in direct reaction to their own experiences of growing up "too fast" themselves. It makes me acutely uncomfortable to see the amount of sheltering most kids I know are getting these days.

I should point out that, like our society, there is a widening divide between those kids getting the degree of sheltering I just spoke of and the kids who are experiencing criminal neglect, or worse. The division between the "haves" and the "have nots" is, on every level of life in this country, growing starker.

What I want to know is: what happened to the middle ground? What happened to loving and caring for your child without trying to make their childhood an unrealistic world where only lovely gentle things happen? What happened to letting kids get burned sometimes so that they don't reach for fire? What happened to letting your kid know that the world does not, and will not, revolve around them? Because it doesn't. And it won't.

Childhood isn't supposed to be magical and innocent. Childhood is the period of time children have to mature under the supervision and guidance of their parents. It's the same in the rest of the animal kingdom where the young are not born fully equipped to take care of themselves. Human babies are born vulnerable and unable to care for themselves. They require the protection and help of mature humans to get them through to adulthood.

Kittens are born blind and deaf and without their mothers (or some other mammal's care) they will die. A mama cat engages her cubs in play with the distinct purpose of preparing them to be on their own. They play with string or anything they can find to learn to kill smaller animals to eat. They learn to fight with each other so that they can defend themselves when challenged by other animals. We see them playing and coo and laugh because their play is so cute and they haven't a care in the world, because that's how we see them: innocent sweet little kittens playing. The reality is that if they don't play and fight with each other they will be ill equipped to survive when their mother sets them loose. Part of her parenting process is that the more physically capable they become the less she interferes with her cubs. She sits at a distance and lets them rumble and get into binds and waits to see if they will get out of them.

We had lots of cats when I was growing up. I saw lots of kittens come into the world and I saw some go out of this world as well. It was a valuable lesson in real life.

When I was a kid no parents I knew spent all their time playing games with their kids. Any parents who were staying home weren't staying home just to parent. They were staying home to manage their whole home, to make sure their family had a clean-ish house, good food, a decent place to play in the yard. It was about the whole family life package, not just the needs of the children. During the summer it wasn't just me and my siblings who were let loose on the town, all the kids our age were running around without their parents all day long with the same morning time words said by all the moms "Be home by dinner time."

They didn't know where we were all day long. That world is gone.

Now parenting is a claustrophobic place in which you are expected to want to play children's games all day long and you are expected to orchestrate your child's life from the moment they're born until they leave your home at the ripe old age of twenty three to go out in the world and have a rude awakening. Parents have somehow come up with the idea that they're supposed to be their children's best friend. In my opinion this is wholly unnatural and unhealthy. Children are neither our friends nor are they our chance to live the life we never had. What a great weight to place on the shoulders of young people. To live out our expectations of life and dreams for us.

It's certainly more challenging for parents of only children. They don't have siblings to turn to, to fight with, to hate, to love, to play with, to bicker with, and to spend hours outside with. So they turn all that attention to you- the parent. I clocked in at least 8,432* hours of quality time with my kid in the first five years of his life. I'm pretty sure that at least a thousand of those hours was dedicated to Lego's alone. That was just for the first five years of my kid's life. He had my constant emotional and physical attention. I don't think that's necessarily the best thing in the world for a kid. If he'd had siblings he would not have come to expect my constant undivided attention.

Now that he's older I feel like it's much healthier that he do a lot of his playing with kids his own age. I didn't have a child so I could play kid games for twenty years. Or even ten. He's happier and more positive when he's had a day of playing with peers. I am a mama cat pushing my kid into the ring with other cubs. It's time he stop expecting so much of me. He's seven years old, he's not a baby anymore. He needs to play with other rugged boys. He and I don't even have the same interests. He needs to be with kids who want to do the same things he does.

Next week he starts an all summer long day camp. He'll be playing with other kids all day. He'll get to play outside games and indoor games. He'll go swimming, go to the library, and to the zoo. Do I feel guilty about sending him? No. I would have felt guilty when he was younger because I think younger kids need a much greater degree of parental presence. I have never wanted him to be in day care. This isn't a day care. It's a summer long activity filled camp. I couldn't give him that level of stimulation even if I was a super-mom. Two years ago this would have been too hard for him.

I'm relieved. Relieved that he's going to be busy doing kid stuff all summer long with other kids. I'm not relieved for my own sake. Unfortunately I'm going to be working all summer so it's not like I'll get to laze around doing whatever the hell I want while he's at camp. (Oh boy, wouldn't that be awesome!!!!). I'm relieved for his sake that he'll be getting the activity he needs at this point in his life. Away from mama cat.

There's room for us all to be the kind of parents we each need to be. None of us are going to find the same answers to everything.

*Conservative estimate based on a 14 hour a day job caring for my kid, with a maximum of 2 hours of a break, often less, and generally a seven day a week job, though I calculated only six because Philip took Max on a lot of outings just the two of them to give me a break...and this is not including all the hours spent comforting him at night as well.

Jun 19, 2008

Garden Talk
(and how I want to grow old here)

I have a long response to the stupid rude commenter from yesterday, and it's pretty good, but for now I'm going to leave it unsaid. I do feel that my parenting needs some defending but so many of my lovely blog friends made such good responses that I don't feel the need at the moment to justify why I sometimes put Max in a dark closet when it's too inconvenient to deal with him.

Do I actually need to tell anyone here that I'M JUST KIDDING!!?

I think Pam said it best: SUCK IT.

I was really stressed out yesterday because the sun has come out to scorch all of the plants I didn't get in the ground this past week-end. We have only one hose spigot for the whole yard which is in the front of the house, far from most of the yard. So I need to call a plumber to get another one installed because trying to water your whole garden with a watering can is INSANE, even if it is a pretty aqua color.

When I was done getting my wilted plants and roses in the ground I actually sat down for a half an hour to listen to the hens make their little evening noises like cooing and chirping. I so rarely take the time to do that.

Beware: Boring Garden Talk Ahead...

Now, if only I could figure out a really easy way to get rid of all of our lawn. The problem is that here in the PNW you don't want to have all dirt because dirt+rain=endless mud on the dog and the kid. You have to have something on the ground which costs money. What I really want is crushed granite because it makes a great water permeable surface that suppresses weeds and is soft enough to walk on barefoot and looks really warm and wonderfully Mediterranean. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a source for it in my vicinity and even if I did, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Yet. In the meantime the grass is seeding itself because it's so long and we hate it.

Don't say I didn't warn you. Oh crap. There's more coming...

I am thinking about solarizing my smaller patch of lawn with all the nasty thick black plastic we've unearthed. Now is the perfect time and maybe by next year we could afford something nice for ground cover that isn't lawn. Killing the lawn now, during the warm weather, is a good move. Besides, that bit of lawn is absolutely filled with bindweed. Bindweed actually makes the prettiest flowers but it is so vigorous and like so many pretty things has an ugly choking nature. Let bindweed go in your yard and it will kill everything it can get it's tendrils wrapped around.

Oh Lord...it's a flower list! For garden geeks only...

I got so many wonderful flowers planted: coreopsis, verbena, black eyed susan, Shasta daisies, Grandmother's pincushion, lupine, cosmos, daylillies, iris, million bells, heliotrope, penstemon, and yellow and purple wallflowers. Many of these make great cut flowers. Quite a few of them are perennials so I won't have to replant them. I also have twenty one roses. Most of them ones that I chose for myself as opposed to finding here already. At our last house we had thirty roses and only one of them had scent. We wouldn't have chosen those varieties ourselves though we did learn to appreciate them anyway. This time only four of our roses were already here. The rest of them have been picked out by me.

Now I just have to get some vegetables in the garden and it will feel like home. I realized that part of my elevated stress is due to trying to get my new home established. It's always like this in the beginning. We still haven't got everything unpacked. Close, but still there are boxes and some things have been unloaded into shelves rather carelessly so that finding them is hard enough, putting them away is pure drudgery. The yard isn't ours yet because we haven't had a chance to put our own touch on it (until this week-end) and so caring for it isn't the same joy that it is once we've transformed it into a more personal expression that doesn't include rhododendrons and lawn.

Life philosophy coming up. Isn't that typical?

Settling in means building garden beds, building the chicken run, putting hooks in the house where hooks are needed, and making curtains to replace hideous vertical vinyl blinds. It's work. It takes time. And when you have to spend most of your time looking for work, or have trips to make, it just doesn't get done fast. Especially if you're still fighting against the great tide of inertia created by your body just to make everything extra hard.

I am remembering how it felt the same way at our house on Beaver Street. The windows all leaked, the yard had to be completely worked over, the awful blinds had to be replaced, and we had a baby at the time so everything had to be done almost in slow motion. It was torture at times to be that uncomfortable but within a year everything fit better, worked better, looked better, and we enjoyed the hell out of that house in the end.

I learned a long time ago not to say "never". So I still try to avoid such an impossible word. Intention may not be impressive to most people, all that paving to hades and all, but I think intention is important. Intention is a directional decision. It states where you plan to go.

I intended to grow old and die in my last dream house. The one we had to leave. Here I am in another house I could grow old in. How can I state my intention here without attracting the evil eye of the universe? I've had to move a lot in my life and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of settling into new homes. Tired of rebuilding gardens from scratch. I'm tired of building new chicken runs and having to get used to new kitchens. I'm tired of packing and unpacking.

I want to stay here. I feel like I would do almost anything to keep this house and grow old here. I want to live here long enough to pick plums from my trees. I want to live here long enough to get so bored with my garden layout that I feel compelled to replant it. I don't get bored easily. I'd like to stay here until I'm so old I get to complain about the stairs every day to my caretaker.

Basically it boils down to this: I don't ever want to have to move again. Is that too much to ask? Do people of my generation ever get to settle down? I love it here and I want to stay right where I am until I die.

Jun 18, 2008

Jamming On The Breaks

Peach jam is so good. I can eat up one jar in just a few days.

I took my first ever drug test yesterday. Provided that Safeway doesn't find out that I'm on crack, I have a job. I was amused with myself for not being sure I would pass the drug test. I mean, I know that I have not done any drugs in the past nineteen years because drugs totally suck. I know for a fact that I have never done crack. So I know that I have no cocaine or heroine or pot in my system. So why the reservation? Even if Safeway is waiting for official confirmation of my drug free status, surely I can be sure I have the job?

Just goes to show you how suspicious I have become about opportunity and how it doesn't come my way without barbs anymore. I am a faithless one. Well, Safeway seems like a much better place to work than Joann's Fabric, but they don't start you off with good pay, in case anyone was wondering. It's union, so if you put in enough hours you will certainly get raises, but the start pay is just about as dismal as anywhere else. But, with so few opportunities on the horizon I don't have a right to complain. So, I start training this Saturday.

Just to let you all know, I submitted a book proposal to Lark and I'm sure that if anything I submit gets accepted I will not be allowed to discuss any details...but it should be safe to say that the editor who got my proposal is giving it a good look. If she likes it she may take it to the Acquisitions committee. I won't know anything for at least a month. But I am proud of myself for finally knuckling down and putting it all together. I felt really good about what I sent and it all suddenly seemed so clear to me how it would look, what the projects would be and how to present it.

I'm going to need to find out some industry details such as: if you've mentioned that you have a couple of other ideas to an editor and they say they are already doing a similar project and won't pursue them, can you take it to a different publisher? Even if the first publisher might be considering one of your proposals? I mean, working with different publishers at the same time who might be competitors...is that frowned on? Do you wait until you're through dealing with one completely before approaching another?

Yesterday I came up with another idea. I don't have a lot of cutting edge craft ideas. The publishers want new fresh material and most of what I do can only be described as new and fresh because of the personal style I impose on my projects, the projects themselves aren't anything new. To publish a book of crafts that aren't really fresh but whose strength lies in the unique styling is generally reserved for crafters and designers who already have a known name with which to sell their book. There is one craft I do that I still don't see a lot of around the craft world but which I think is pretty great. I'm not going to tell you what it is, instead I'm going to turn all cagey and secretive on you.

I promise it's only because I need to do some market research. If I want to propel myself out of the situation we've been in I had better get serious about proposing book ideas to publishers. All my life everything has come back to the writing. I have, so many times, made a push to get serious (code for: get published) and so many times I would find that I wasn't ready for it. My skills weren't honed enough. I didn't know what my purpose was. My goal. A writer needs a goal; to tell stories if they are fiction writers. But if you suck at writing fiction and only one in one thousand poems is any good but you clearly have a gift with words...what do you do with it? Where do you take it?

I know now what my nonfiction voice is. It's evident all over this blog. But before I can convince someone to publish my essays, I had better develop a better portfolio of published works. Who will buy a book by an unknown writer spouting off a bunch of random opinions? I have finally actually figured out where to start with the serious creative nonfiction. It's difficult because I don't want to write a memoir exactly. I don't want to write anything that will heavily involve my family who, I don't believe, is ready to be written about. Too much raw feeling still lives in that part of the past. There was a part of my past though that has a provides a rich thick layer of tales to tell and queer light through which to see a life opening up.

The two years I went to FIDM between the ages of seventeen and nineteen. I was mostly disconnected from my family. The stories really don't involve them. It was a time during which I had an epiphany and then the usual anticlimax that follows big moments of enlightenment.

I will start working on that and let it flesh itself out as I go along. In the mean time I will work on my book proposal writing and pitching skills with craft books. Whatever I have in me that's worth presenting I will present. I think I've got three strong titles in me.

Personally, I think publishers and editors will find that while I'm a rather large personality, I'm not at all a diva to work with. I'm very professional. I know I don't sound like a very professional person on my own blog. That's because this is MY CLUB HOUSE AND I CAN EAT CHEESE ALL DAY IF I WANT TO AND CRY INTO MY BEER...

...and wonder what the hell is going on with the Danny/Lindsy plot on CSI? I'm irritated that Lindsy is suddenly turning into a person with issues that prevent her from being decent to Danny who really likes her, and she must be a real dumb nut not to see that he's an awesome guy.

Summer is knocking me flat. It isn't hot weather, because we haven't had much of that. It's the kid being out of school. My friends who home-school are made of much sterner and more maternal material than me. It's only been a week so far and I am just about ready to claw holes in the plaster walls out of frustration. I want some peace. I think writers don't necessarily make the best parenting material. I want to concentrate on my projects like getting a job and writing but the kid wants me to play legos, watch movies, watch him play video games, and is constantly in need of something from me.

Max is signed up with a summer day camp which starts in a week. I hope we're all still alive by then. I may be buried in the back yard under my favorite rose by then. What remains of me...

Jun 16, 2008

Drive Up

I needed cash on my way to the farmer's market. I didn't want to get out of my vehicle and be forced to park it and chain it up...because that would have taken SO MUCH TIME. So I used the drive up. Is that so weird? I got some slack jawed stares. Not an attractive stare, in case anyone was thinking of trying it out. Not a good way to get a bride, that's for sure.

Five reasons to ride your bicycle to do your grocery shopping:

Convenience- Have you ever found yourself cursing the parking situation at the grocery store parking lot? Have you ever found yourself circling like a vulture for a spot closer to the front of the store? If you ride your bicycle you get the best parking spots EVER. Right up front. So close you don't even have to drag your butt for more than a few feet, and since you had to work to get there, you will actually deserve to get such a convenient spot.

Your My fat ass
- Ha ha. I've seen pictures of many of my readers and know that only 30% of you actually have a fat ass like me. Never the less, whether you have a skinny rear end or a cushy one, riding your bicycle to run errands like grocery shopping will help to keep your heart in shape AND at the same time accomplish an otherwise tedious* errand. You need more reasons than that?

- it's really a shame that home economics as a serious subject in school no longer exists. Consider how many miles your grocery store is from your house. Consider the rising price of gasoline. If you're one of those people who clip coupons that save you twenty five cents then you need to stop spending your money on unnecessary gas consumption. So your store is several miles from you? You can totally do it. It costs zero dollars to power your bicycle. Furthermore, a bicycle doesn't need $400 tune ups, oil changes, and its transmission will never go out.

Fresh Air
- if everyone did all their grocery shopping on their bicycles (or walked!) just think how much more fresh air there would be to enjoy. Fewer cars+less exhaust fumes= nicer atmosphere for all those kids everyone keeps having. Anyone who has a kid or any number of kids must want a cleaner and safer world. Don't you?

Cool Factor- you will look way cooler and savvy riding a bicycle than riding in your souped up pumped up stupid mullet-wearing giant sized rumbling vehicle. Seriously. Anyone (apparently) can buy idiotic enormous gas guzzling brand new cars and cause accidents with them but it takes muscle power to zip past cars on a bicycle, something it's getting easier to do all the time what with the traffic every one's so busy complaining about all the time.

I hope to be on my bicycle a lot more this year. It takes a while to get into the swing of bicycling to run errands instead of hopping on my trusty gas-run scooter. But I've bicycled at least fifteen miles this week and it feels great.

*I don't actually think it's tedious to go grocery shopping. In fact, it's one of my favorite things to do.

Jun 15, 2008

Still Breathing After All This Time

I don't know what's coming. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year. This week-end made me feel a little bit like I did three years ago: hopeful, calm, at home with myself. It's almost exclusively because of my house and garden taking shape into the place I imagined it would the first moment I saw it. I can do anything here. The garden is full of things we don't want, as I mentioned, and soil conditions that are pitiful. Kind of like how I felt when I was seventeen years old and facing the rest of my life which I didn't think would extend beyond thirty years old. I looked at myself and I thought "Angelina, you have a lot of potential, if only you could get a few hours of sleep and laugh a little more."

Just because I felt so good this week-end doesn't automatically mean that the universe is going to take it all away. Just because I noticed what a wonderful house I live in and have started putting roses in the ground (which is like burying my own bones in the clay) doesn't mean I will have to lose it all tomorrow. Necessarily. Right?

I don't need fame and fortune because I have my family, my garden, and my hens.

No stupid New York princess* can take my hens away this time.

Stupid New York Princesses are pains in the asses.

I don't need fame and fortune because I have arnica in my garden that will collect dew and heal all of our bruises. Because I made it past seventeen years of age and lived through child birth. Because I have walked the streets of San Francisco at three in the morning and still known who I am in the morning. Because I have blessed dying pigeons and walked into the pacific ocean with complete understanding that she might claim me at any moment. Because the first time I heard my son laugh I thought I might die from the way it ripped open my chest to touch the place where senseless happiness exists simply and without conditions. Because even though I have been plagued with endless visions of death and wishes for it to take me sooner than later, I continually choose life.

I don't know what tomorrow brings. I admit to fear. I am human.

But today was perfect.

*This is a very specific person, not New Yorkers in general. I hope she's surrounded by chickens right now. Morning noon and night. Bawk bawk.

Jun 14, 2008

150 Frogs

Tadpoles are like minuscule vessels of childhood joy. It seems fitting that in this house, one that we love and feel right in, we should find ourselves the lucky recipient of a Pacific Treefrog's progeny. All one hundred and fifty of them swimming and sunbathing in our tiny dirty pond. I was going to clean the pond because the algae died and turned the water blackish. It's cleared up a bit since then...but now I cannot clean it without concern about our little nursery of frogs.

In spite of the fact that I have only given birth to a baby once, and am happy as hell to see my reproductive organs put up a "gone fishing" sign*, I seem to find myself surrounded with new life. Everywhere I turn there are babies. My kittens, though healthy and getting much bigger now, are still my babies. Chick came to me as a puppy and was very much my baby. Our hens were day old babies when we got them- nodding off while standing up and then startling awake wondering where they could find some little snail to ravage. Babies keep entering my life.

Now I have one hundred and fifty tadpoles. Somehow, seeing the tadpoles made me imagine how my garden will change from a wasteland of lawn and dusty "low maintenance" shrubs into a wild tangle of flowers and food. There is so much work to be done to transform it that I feel slightly paralyzed. It's a big yard, for which I'm thankful, but every inch of it is either blanketed in lawn or is laid down with four layers of non permeable plastic and has things I must dig up out of compacted clay. I have never gotten a garden that wasn't a lot of work to transform.

While Philip was putting the roof on the chicken run and I was shoveling dirt into the wheelbarrow for the tenth time all I could think is "I'm too old to be starting over with a new garden. Let this be the last time I start over!"

I want a riot of flowers: shasta daisies, penstamon, verbena, black eyed susans, grandmother's pincushions, lilies, corn flowers, poppies, larkspur, cosmos, sage, salvias, lavender, wall flowers, and violets spreading blankets of sweet flowers under the shade of fruit trees.

Obviously I cannot have enough roses. Some of my old friends need to find place in my small paradise of plants: Frederick Mistral, Abraham Darby, Jardin de Bagatelle, Honor, Oklahoma, and Peter Mayle.

I better go get dressed. I have a lot of digging to do. I hope you all have happy productive week-ends!

*Which, technically, they haven't yet.

Jun 13, 2008


It's been cold here. So cold I had to put my heater back on. So cold I'm constantly putting my sweaters back on. I'm starting to really wonder if I'm premenopausal because I get really warm, take my layers off, then get really cold and put them on again. All day long. I also seem to be on the rag every week. Philip tells me that my cycles are just as they've always been and that I have always been surprised by my periods and suspicious that they've come too early. So what do you think? Memory issues?

As if I haven't already made you uncomfortable enough, how about this? What do you imagine it was like for neanderthal women getting their periods? It must have been how it is with dogs...leaving a trail of blood everywhere they go. Everyone knowing that they are menstruating. But they wouldn't have cared because this was long before In Touch could have caught them on film. Most of them probably didn't live long enough to go through menopause either. I don't think I'd enjoy life back then with even the saber tooth tigers knowing you're on the rag.

Life sure was messy one hundred thousand years ago.

It's been cold here until yesterday. Yesterday was warm. Not hot, for which I'm very thankful, but warm. It was the last day of school. I was finally allowed to tell my son the truth about our feelings about his teacher. Which gave him the opportunity to admit that she hasn't been as bad in the last few days. The sun was shining and by some miracle (for which I still cannot account) my kid has been agreeing to get on his bicycle again. He's been on a bike strike for many months now. So we're pretending that we don't notice that he's been agreeing to cycle around with us for the last week. We're trying very hard not to draw attention to our pleasure.

Philip and Max rode downtown on their bicycles and Max played video games at Philip's work for a couple of hours while I made chevre cheese out of cow's milk, finished cutting the pasta I had made the night before, and filled the car with a load of Goodwill donations. Then I went downtown on my bicycle too. I went to the farmer's market and got strawberries, lettuce, swiss chard, and zucchini. I picked Max up and we visited our friends who live near the downtown. It was such pleasant afternoon. Like a perfect summer day. The kind I like- the kind that don't make roast pigs out of human beings.

After visiting our friends we went back down town to meet with Philip for dinner at Hotel Oregon. We couldn't find Philip but we did find some other friends of ours. Everyone in town was out for a stroll, for a beer, or for ice cream. We sat outside, drank way too much beer, laughed a ton, and then rode our bikes home in the warm evening air. Now that, was a good day!

I don't know what today will bring. I'm not looking for trouble. I'm not looking for bad news. I'm not looking to slide downhill again. I don't have to look, it will happen as if by magic. Perhaps I'll have another reprieve today. I'll make good food. I'll visit our 150 tadpoles!

Have I mentioned the tadpoles? In our little pond there are at least 150 of them and a couple of them are even sprouting legs. They are eating the mosquito larvae which is great. I keep thinking, though, that so many tadpoles in one small pond cannot be healthy. I'm thinking we're going to see some sort of tadpole reenactment of "Lord Of The Flies" soon. Then if even fifty of them make it, what then? Fifty frogs in one yard? No way. Uh uh. My dog would sprout horns in her excitement to catch and eat them.

Incidentally, making chevre is not difficult. So for those of you who would like to embark on a little cheese making but don't know how you can fit that into your full time schedule? In the evening you heat up a gallon of milk, add a culture to it, then you let it sit over night. (Wrap the pot in a towel to try to stabilize the temperature.) In the morning you put the curds in cheese cloth to drain. Go to work, come back, and eat it.

You can, of course, put it in molds to shape it and let it drain more, but it isn't necessary. That is a cheese for the working person to make. If you can't afford, or can't get your hands on goat milk, make it with cow's milk. The culture will give it the characteristic tangy chevre flavor. You just won't get that delightful dusty animal fur aftertaste that so many people love about goat cheese.

It has become plain that I need more roses in my garden. I've got five about to bloom. That's not enough!! Lisa B. brought me a little vase of roses from her garden to cheer me up (and it did!!) which I'm enjoying very much. I have rose greed. I had about thirty five roses in my garden in California and at least twenty five of them were chosen by me for their scent, their beauty, and their history. I don't plant roses with names like "Sexy Rexy" or "Paris Hilton" or "Bubblegum Parade".

The coffee's gone. It's almost lunch time. And I'm not showered. Nice.

Jun 12, 2008


A girl and her bike with some beer.

I can tell that my mental life is in an unstable place by the number of times I check my e-mails a day: over 100, and the number of posts I am itching to write every day: at least 3, and also by the amount of household chores that have been accomplished: 0.

When some people get submerged in a depressive episode they don't get out of bed. I've never been a bed lingerer. Even before I had a child that liked to wake at the butt-crack of dawn. I don't cry all the time either because there's always too many people and I have become very disciplined about not crying in front of people*. Even Philip. So if anyone has seen me cry, you can be sure that underneath the surface there is a vortex of suppressed emotion.

For me a depressive episode manifests itself in an uncontrollable need to write because it accomplishes a couple of very important functions. The first and most important function is that of a pressure valve- it releases words out of my head which would otherwise explode silently and render me brain-dead; it is the grounding for my circuitry.

The second function it provides is that of an anchor for my attention which becomes fractured and I find myself able to focus on nothing while my brain buzzes five hundred miles a minute causing my eyes to slide all over my life and I wander from room to room wondering what I should do. What I "should do" is generally self evident in piles of dirty laundry, dirty dishes, clutter everywhere, and dog vomit that should really be cleaned up right now before it fossilizes into the carpet. Writing is the one thing that can anchor my attention when I'm depressed and/or in panic mode.

I am always close to one of these two states of being. That's what it means to be clinically mentally ill. That's why my blog jags between good days and bad days as fast as Paris Hilton changes boyfriends. You can almost count on getting a dark post soon after reading one that is happy and hopeful. When life is going generally well the jags become less visible to the naked eye, but they're still there. I could have a trillion dollars, two book deals, and my son could suddenly be a calm and non-combative kid who eats vegetables and I'd still be on my own mini mind roller coaster. My emotive state always requires monitoring and work. There is no break from my head because it's attached to my nervous system.

If it weren't for my blog, most people in my life wouldn't see anything I don't want them to see. I've been working on being more honest when people ask me "how are you?" but if I tell people how I am then they'll want to find a solution and I know that ultimately the solution is to ride this out, write it out, and then do it all over again tomorrow. Fixing my life problems will make my life better but it won't make that brain itch disappear. The brain itch is nature's little physiological gift that will keep on giving until I die. Thank god** nature also gave me beer, cheese, and bread. I thank science for giving me Paxil.

Going through this job hunting experience has precipitated a really big depressive jag and the anxiety has also become more intrusive. I have been on the verge of tears for days. I couldn't hold it in several nights ago and Max saw me and I felt awful. He asks me all the time "Why do you look so mad?" or "Why do you have that sad look on your face mama?" and I realized (yet again) how tough it is to be the kid of a mentally ill parent. I want to tell him that I will be happy when I get a job, or when we're not so poor, or that when life gets less stressful I will stop looking so angry all the time. But that's not true. It raises false expectations in my kid, a kid with a mind like a hypodermic needle, sharp with lots of memory room.

The truth is that I find life stressful. All the time. It's stressful when it's going well and it's even more stressful when it's not. Nothing turns it off. Some things turn it down, like medication, happy moments, quiet alone time, and therapy. Nothing turns it off. That's why mentally ill people kill themselves sometimes. It's the endlessness of it.

Mental illness is a lot like laundry, it is an endless cycle of dirty clothes piling up and just when you have all the laundry clean and folded the cats pee on the bed and you have to start all over. Perhaps it's laundry's resemblance to my mind that makes me hate it so much. I can never catch up with it, never get all the stains out, and even after reading Martha's instructions on how to fold the fitted sheets no matter how hard I try they always look like a giant wad of industrial trash.

Yesterday was another bad day. I hovered around my e-mails all day looking for some kind of relief. I wrote a post and then deleted it because it was so negative. Then I finally got into the kitchen and cooked. Cooking has the same effect as writing, cutting vases of roses, and drinking beer has on me: it puts me in a softer place, one where science and art meet; a padded cell where I can taste and experiment in quiet.

The panir I made didn't set up because I didn't press it. The texture ended up being similar to ricotta. I have really missed ricotta since doing my eat local challenge. There's no local source for it. To be able to make it myself is an incredible boon. It's exciting. So last night I made four batches of pasta. I used sheets of dough to make ricotta stuffed manicotti with a marinara sauce. They turned out so good! I seasoned the ricotta with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

I also finally started a chevre cheese. Except that I'm making it with raw cow's milk. I might not like the results because it turns out that raw cow's milk has a distinctly animal aftertaste just like goat cheese. But Philip and every other person I know loves goat cheese so it should certainly be appreciated. I used a chevre culture. This is such an easy cheese to make. You bring the milk up to a certain temperature, add the culture, then let it sit for twelve hours before draining and putting in chevre molds. The only tricky part is stabilizing the temperature. I wrapped my pot in a towel, put the lid on and stuck it in my oven.

The only problem is that for a brief time the oven (which was cooling from use) brought the cheese up four degrees higher than it was supposed to go. So hopefully it didn't destroy the culture. I will find out in a little while when I check under the lid.

Philip saw the wrapped pot in the oven and told me "When I first saw that I thought 'what is a baby doing in the oven?'." This is why I love Philip. He must think, on some deep level, that I'm involved in some very dark arts.

I'm taking today off from job hunting. It's an all consuming task with a whole lot of urgency surrounding it. Today I am doing some cleaning. I will undoubtedly come check my e-mails 150 times and it's entirely possible that I will write a couple more posts. I can feel the compulsiveness of my brain working overtime and I can feel the rest of me trying to compensate.

That's life here in my head. What's it like in yours?

*I'm not saying this is healthy. But if I cried every time I really felt like it I would be an unstoppable snot faucet and my eyes would swell shut.

**Not really thanking god since I believe that nature is god. "God" in this context is really just an exclamation. The more I say "god" the weirder it sounds and I can't help but wonder why any great entity would name itself something that sounded so similar to "gob"?

Jun 10, 2008


I have a few hints for making mozzarella:

  • Don't forget to salt it.

  • Kneading really hot cheese is dangerous, so don't be a cowboy about it.

  • Don't expect it to miraculously roll itself into a tidy ball like you see in the fancy cheese section.

  • Forget about trying to make those tiny little balls you see in extra-fancy cheese sections because hot cheese has a mind of it's own.

  • If you're using pasteurized milk this cheese will get soft and messy if you store it in water.

  • Don't be afraid of it after you've made it.

I think my cheese could have had more flavor but two things must be considered: the first thing is that I failed to salt it, even though I fully intended to and the second thing is that this was a quick recipe which means the flavor didn't have time to develop. In spite of that I put it on this locally made focaccia bread with tomato sauce and a light sprinkling of jack cheese and the flavor of my own cheese was really nice.

The next time I make mozzarella I plan on making it using the longer method in which the curdling is accomplished with the slow action of enzymes added to the milk and kept at a warm temperature instead of doing it in minutes by using an acid based additive like lemon juice or vinegar. My friend Lisa B. did some research and discovered why I wasn't able to make ricotta successfully from the whey left over after making my cheeses. The reason is that you can only make ricotta from whey that has not been treated with acid. So the other reason to take more time to make mozzarella is one of economy: if you let milk and whey separate using an enzyme you can get two products out of one gallon of milk. Ricotta is a byproduct of cheese making.

That's a two for one situation.

One gallon of milk should yield about a pound of mozzarella cheese and a half a pound of ricotta which means that if I make my own it will only cost me $2.53 p/lb*. Tell me, when was the last time you got artisan quality cheese for that price?

Most average cheeses cost between $5 and $8 dollars a pound in my town. Artisan cheese goes for somewhere between $9 and $20 p/lb. With gasoline prices on a pretty steady climb I don't think we're going to see good cheese get cheaper.

*My local milk costs $2.69 for a gallon, plus you have to add the cost of a packet of cheese culture which costs about a $1.00. You can actually get a culture that you can keep alive indefinitely if you learn the art of feeding your enzymes and then the cheese would only cost $1.79 p/lb. I'm not there yet. Milk often costs close to $5.00 a gallon so sometimes this good price might not be possible. You also have to consider the different yields for different cheeses which vary some.

Jun 9, 2008

Middle Aged
(no longer the future, not quite the past)

There were a couple of admonishments I heard quite often as a kid. The first (and most annoying because it's so obviously untrue) was "Don't be so melodramatic!". The second and almost as annoying (because it was indisputably true) was "Don't take everything so literally!". My insistence on using a literal interpretation for nearly all encounters with other human beings was steadfast. My dad once told me to vacuum the lawn and you didn't sit around and quibble about such things with my dad. You did it.

So I did it. What kind of nuance can one derive from such a demand? Is vacuuming the lawn a metaphor for some other kind of activity? Is it a euphemism for something else?

My dad was so nonplussed that I actually vacuumed the lawn that he let out the longest stream of swear words I'd ever heard before and explained to me how what he really meant was for me to vacuum the ROCKS that border the lawn.

Yeah. OK Dad. Because that makes so much more sense.

So semantics became an early passion for me. I really love it when people say what they mean and mean what they say. I do. I am also a writer and one of the most important tools a writer can develop is the ability to say something very distinct without having to come right out and literally say it.

I lead a double life.

It felt safer as a kid to take life literally than risk the truly turbulent unsafe waters of misunderstanding other people and the repercussions of getting it all wrong. In school I was so scared of being wrong that I would not allow myself to sense or articulate the symbolism in the books we were reading in class which is why so many of my teachers thought I was a complete dolt. Inside my mind all kinds of connections were being forged between words and life, life and the impossible task of telling it to others. I was alive with symbolism and seeing into people. I still see into people. I'm not afraid anymore to get it wrong. I have long since learned to trust myself. I understand people much better than they ever think I do.

Which clearly gives me an edge.

I am middle aged now. Yes, and if you're my age then you are also middle aged. (I'm 38 years old). I know that I am middle aged because unless I expect to live longer than the average life expectancy of 77.5 years, which I don't, then I'm just about smack dab in the middle of life. I may be lucky and live longer but considering that I smoked heavily for sixteen years, I'm thinking 77.5 might be a pretty good run. You're not supposed to talk about this because so many people (women especially) think that to be middle aged is some kind of awful sentence and is almost the same as being a corpse.

You can call middle age whatever you want. You can say that "seventy is the new middle age" if you want to. It won't be true, but you can tell yourself whatever keeps you off the bridge. I like the literal interpretation of middle age. I like it because it makes sense when you think about it. It isn't the same as being half dead. I love Wikipedia's definition of it: the period of life beyond young adulthood, but before the onset of old age.

What's so bad about that?

When I was a housewife women would constantly try to redefine that word for me. They did it because they were uncomfortable with the word "housewife". They constantly implied that calling myself a housewife was a crime against the great feminist sisterhood. And there I was thinking the great feminist sisterhood was all about giving women the choice to live the life they wanted to. I enjoyed calling myself a housewife. I enjoyed the literalness of it. I was a wife who took care of my house. I wasn't bored, abused, misused, unappreciated, suppressed, or a drudge. I had an excellent quality of life and a whole lot of happiness.

What's so bad about that?

I'm duplicitous. Can you tell when I'm leaning on semantics or when I've gone off the map to uncharted linguistic territory? When I debate about issues I am stubborn about semantics. I stick to my guns because words have meaning and the only way we can communicate with each other at all is that there is a certain level of agreement amongst us all about the meaning of words and the meaning of things. As I was reading about semantics I have to admit that I was thinking that some people need to get out of their academic bat-caves and live life a little more and argue over the meaning of the meaning of things a little less.

Then I sit down to write and I'm constantly stretching the boundaries of how words can be used and still be understood. I test the pliability of meaning and unravel the rules until they loop out behind me like the messy entrails of an eviscerated beast. When I'm writing I work myself out of the literal universe and into something more flexible and amorphous.

It feels like stripping off the skin of youth and growing into a new body. Like shaking off layers that have grown papery and fragile to reveal a foundation that is stronger. Writing feels like setting an old small mind in a baby's coffin to rest, loved but finished, and letting a newer mind open up into a larger space. One that is unafraid to find out that the universe is limitless.

Beautiful Food

After a winter of potatoes, dark leafy greens, and celeriac, the local farmer's market is a wonderful sight! Here's what I brought home: strawberries, broccoli, radishes, zucchini, fava beans, bread, and fresh basil.

It takes skill and a certain mindset to cook food based on what you have without always running to the market for that extra ingredient you need in order to make a very specific dish you had in mind...it takes a flexible and creative cook to look in the pantry, evaluate the produce on hand, and then come up with a menu that doesn't require extra trips to the store. Forgot to get fresh milk? Cook without it! I have lots of home canned tomatoes left on the pantry shelves, I've been so afraid to run out that I have been very frugal with my stash. Here we are in June and only a month left until fresh tomatoes start to trickle into the market.

Usually the basil shows up at the same time as the tomatoes but this year it's early. So what to do with a gorgeous bunch of basil? Tomato bread soup!! It's such a simple and quick soup to make. I just cooked an onion in some olive oil, added about a tablespoonful of pureed garlic (from cubes in the freezer), and then added one quart of home made tomato sauce and one quart of stewed tomatoes.

I splashed in a generous amount of white vinegar and then when the onions were soft I added a bunch of julienned fresh basil and after a couple of minutes I pureed the soup. I cubed six slices of stale sourdough wheat bread, added it to the soup with salt and pepper. Turn off the stove but let the bread soak up the juices for a few minutes. Done.

For an extra touch I also made a sauce of oil, fresh basil, and a handful of walnuts. Tomato bread soup is hearty yet summery. My version allowed me to make use of pantry goods which is a plus in the early summer season.

Foraged tea: the community garden had a decorative old wheelbarrow planted with sage and fully flowering chamomile that no one was going to harvest. I asked permission and harvested and dried it. They were covered in thrips so I had to wash the buds several times to ensure that I won't be eating (or serving anyone) reconstituted thrips.

On a quest for cheese making supplies my friend Lisa B. and I went to Kookoolan Farms where if you are very lucky you can get raw goat and cow's milk*. Yes, it is legal. I asked about the legal aspect of selling raw milk and found out that there are very stringent laws about selling it in Oregon: you must have a small number of livestock (there are specific numbers allowed) and you cannot advertise your product and you can only sell it direct to customers who come to pick it up at your farm personally.

Raw milk is only dangerous if the people milking the animals don't practice very clean and safe methods. Keeping your operation clean is the main safeguard against any dangerous organisms ending up in your product. This is why large farms aren't allowed to sell raw milk. The more animals you have, especially in confined spaces, the more chance of contaminating your milk.

Pasteurization, in my opinion, is just a way to allow large dairies to cover all manner of sins. As long as you heat the crap out of your product it doesn't really matter how much contamination enters the product during milking.

I don't actually drink milk. Plain milk grosses me out. I won't drink it. But I use it in cooking and now in cheese making. If I could always buy raw instead of pasteurized I would. I couldn't afford to anyway, so it's not a real issue. However, this is one of those things that is a no brainer for me: the less processed your food is when you bring it home, the better the quality.

At the farm I got to meet the three cows who provide my community with raw milk and they are so pretty, gentle, and sweet. I love cows, I always have, and these gals didn't disappoint in their beauty and soulful glances.

I also got to meet two baby goats who played with the kids like puppy dogs. I have always really liked goats as well. As everyone already knows I don't eat goat milk products or eat goat meat. I just like them for their curious ways. If there is any farm animal with a stronger personality I have yet to meet it. Even my hens don't have so much play in them and don't engage in frolic the way goats do. I would love to have a couple of them just for their lawn mowing ability. I was told that one of these little guys is going to be slaughtered for meat. I can't say that that rests easy with me yet it's all a part of our natural role in the food chain.

Have I mentioned recently how much I loath lawn? In California if you don't like lawn it's easy to kill: just don't water it. Dead within minutes. Here in the Pacific Northwest it grows no matter what. You can make it brown from not watering it all summer, but as soon as the rains come in the fall it springs back to life instantly. In the mean time it grows. And grows. Very tall, very fast. We hate lawn. Max is even mildly allergic to lawn so it's not like he's dying to roll around in it. We can never keep up with our lawn. I would like to remove it all and put down some crushed granite paths and turn the rest of the yard into garden beds.

We'll have to wait for that. The weather yesterday was gorgeous so Philip finished roofing the chicken run and I built another four by four raised bed and planted some herbs. I am so relieved to have gotten them in the ground at last. Growing herbs is, for me, one of the most important things I do, with very few ingredients and some fresh herbs you can make almost anything taste good. I planted: tarragon, winter savory, lemon verbena, thyme, parsley (the curly kind is my favorite), oregano, and marjoram. I need to plant a lot more thyme, oregano, and marjoram because all three dry exceptionally well and I use them A LOT.

It's been a great few days for beautiful food and I hope you all have had your share of it too!

*There are long waiting lists for the raw milk because it's so hard to get and is so desirable.