Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloweening, Part II

We made it through the first of what feels like the Holiday Gauntlet beginning this time of year.

We had a wizard, a king/prince and the grim reaper. All costumes were mostly made by the wearer himself using large rectangles of velour which I had been given and which were sitting in a box for a long time (I wanted them all to get dressed up yesterday during daylight hours so I could take a good photo, but it did not work out). This is my favorite kind of costume--home made, with out too much work, with plenty of creative input from the costumed.

M waffled between phantom and dementor for a while before making himself this scythe from wood and duct tape a few minutes before we headed out.

Our friends join us and we travel in the back of a dump trailer-cum-hay-wagon and our trick-or-treat tour takes us around our "neighborhood"--about ten miles of country roads populated by our neighbors and the parents of C's childhood friends. So there's lots of chit-chat, "Oh, C! Look at your boys!! How old are they now?" and so-on. (The trailer saves in-and-out of cars and car seats and seat belts, but is a bit cold, especially on the fast ride home).

We had to stop by C's mother's house to see the papier mache pumpkin coach she made for her miniature horse to pull. Apparently, it made its debut on the streets today (see tomorrow's Kennebec Journal for evidence).

And of course the grand finale is the spooky yard next door to C's dad's house.

I think I have a picture of M in front of the chain saw massacre from every Halloween since he was three (the year he was scared of his own shadow--and his own ghost costume--but was fascinated with the creepy stuff in this yard).

And I have to give equal air time here to all three boys' pumpkins.

C carved them with them last night while I spent a few quiet moments reading.

I love how each one turned out so different.

I hope you had a great Halloween (and happy Samhain to you too!). Can you believe tomorrow is November?

Sunday, October 30, 2011


We woke up this morning to this:

Several inches of snow on the ground, and an apple tree bent over (yes bent, not broken) across our driveway (actually, I woke up quite a lot earlier to the train-like sound of lots of heavy wet snow rushing off the metal roof).

The boys, of course, rushed right out to play in it (after much only partially fruitful searching around for boots and snow pants that fit) and later Z and I went out to cut twigs for his costume.

(Can you guess what he's going to be? I'll give you hint: that silver writing on the broom handle says "Firebolt").

Later, I melted a big coffee can full of years worth of old candle ends to make some lumpy and unattractive candles for our jack-o-lanterns (FYI, I would not recommend using sand dug out of a wet gravel pit and full of small rocks as a base for holding your candle molds, a.k.a. toilet paper tubes, unless of course you want wobbly candles with pebbles wedged in their bottoms).

We dipped leaves in the leftover wax. I have wanted to do this for years, but have never gotten around to it. This hasn't been a great leaf year, so I almost didn't do it again, but figured, what the hey?

As with many of the projects we do, E and Z started out most interested--M was busy coloring diagrams of cells for science class--but then they lost interest and M got really into it, though he was much more into the science of it than the art. The beech leaves curl nicely into bowl shapes, and he kept testing different leaves to see if they would hold water. Then he noticed that the drop of water held on the leaf and repelled by the wax magnified the leaf below. "Are you going to put this on your blog, Mom?" 

I have to admit that he's a little annoying when he gets really into something--he gets so excited he just bounces around the house and he narrates every move and thought out loud. I was picturing him as a mad scientist in his laboratory one day, twirling around so excited by whatever concoction he creates or monster he brings to life.

Z took the bowl concept one step further and molded two beech leaves into a little cup that actually held water, just the right size for a little elf.

 I really had no plans of what to do with the leaves.  I strung a bunch into a garland, which I thought looked stupid in real life, but I kind of like it in this picture. I tried affixing some to a branch (top left corner of the picture below), but that looked even stupider,  so the rest I just piled into carnival glass bowls and glasses. 

AND, I made yet another holiday embroidered kid-art table runner, because I just can't help myself. (See the Thanksgiving runner here and the Christmas runner here)

All of the art was done by the boys at age five (the jack-o-lanterns E and Z drew last year and the bat M drew on a paper plate which I somehow had the organization to date).

This one's my favorite--if I'm allowed to pick favorites?
This is one of those "use what you have" projects--I had just enough white cotton leftover from something for the embroideries, and miles and miles of the orange with black cats fabric, which I bought for a tablecloth when we had a Halloween party years ago (seven years ago, to be exact, when I was pregnant with E and Z, but blissfully unaware that I was carrying two babies, and no one else knew I was pregnant yet, and I kept having to mix pitchers of bloody mary's that I could not drink). I even had exactly the right amount of rick-rack hanging around.

The boys were excited to see their old art on the table--M got into it most of all. I think it's sweet that big fifth grade middle-schooler that he is, he can still get excited about something so simple.

Hope you have a spooky (and not too snowy--we've got a hay ride around the neighborhood ahead of us) Halloween!

(For a how-to on kid-art embroidery, please go here)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dancing Boys and Mountain Views

I should be working on revisions 10 and 9 of stories 1 and 2 (respectively) right now (they need to go in the mail by Thursday--Friday at the latest), but first I wanted to tell you that:

-M went to his first dance Friday night. Fifth grade, ack! When I dropped him off, he just zoomed off into the darkened, crowded gym without a backward glance at his old mom. When I picked him up, they were in the middle of the last dance, some sort of prescriptive number where the singer goes, "jump to the left, turn to the right, etc." (everyone I explain this to seems to know what song I'm talking about, though I've never heard it before). M was about 12 feet behind what was left of the crowd, following along to all the moves (though he'd told me in advance that he was NOT going to be dancing), covered in glow sticks and clutching a big bag of candy he won in a raffle. It turns out he was the only fifth grade boy who went, but he was totally fine with that. I can't imagine how I could have given birth to such a confident kid.

-Saturday was the last day of soccer, thank whatever gods oversee elementary school sports. The season ended ignominiously, with me shivering on the sidelines from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and M's team getting slaughtered (not a single goal in two games) while slip-sliding in (and growing steadily taller from) the mud. I didn't even get any knitting in because I didn't want to drop my yellow sweater-in-progress in the mud.

-Sunday we went hiking at the Kennebec Highlands, where I've wanted to go for a very long time but have never gotten around to it with our friends J, B and O. It was the perfect hiking weather--cool but not cold or windy, sunny but not hot. C and the boys disappeared up the trail--I only saw them at the top of the mountain for lunch and back at the car--and I hung back with J and B, bribing O with lollypops like I used to do with E and Z back when I was doing my hiking blog.

Cracking beech nuts.
Z's arty landscape photography.
M pole-vaulting.
I can't pass a mossy rock like this without laying my head on it. They are the best pillows ever.
A real view!
Of course, I "should" have been home doing housework, but that's no fun. I did manage one load of laundry each before we left and after we got back (so no one had to wear underwear inside-out this week) and made some progress on this month's Total Home Overhaul room (more on that next week).

-Monday night I did something totally out of character and went to go see The Flaming Lips in Portland with a friend of mine who won tickets. I have to say I'm not a huge fan of their music (it takes a lot of energy to pay attention to the radio, remember band names, etc. I just don't have it in me these days) but I had a great time anyway just dancing and screaming. I think I've been needing a good primal scream for a while. When I described the crowd to C as "aging hipsters," M said, "You guys are hipsters, right." Aww, what a sweet kid (though I think he was probably thinking "hippie," and since C does have a pony tail, after all, that would more hit the mark. Alas, "hip" is not a word that could describe either one of us).

-I'll be back with my regularly scheduled blog programming, at least temporarily, next week!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Holy Tomatillos

I think we can officially declare this the summer of the Mexican harvest.

After bringing in the bounty of the poblanos, C harvested all of the tomatillos--which added up to nearly two grocery bags full, after the overgrown and frost-damaged ones were discarded:

Some of these we (i.e. C) planted this year; some of them self-seeded from years' past. That's my favorite kind of plant--the ones that grow themselves. If only there was a way to arrange for the tomatoes and basil and broccoli to grow of their own accord (we did once have potatoes and one sweet potato spring up in our compost bin; they were delicous!)

M helped me peel off their husks, Saturday, then I washed them (they come out coated in a sticky kind of sap) and boiled them just long enough for them to lose their bright green color everywhere but near the stem.

I filled up 10 large yogurt containers and put them in the freezer for winter feasting, gave away two generous bags full to friends and made a big batch of simmered tomatillo-serrano sauce to go with the last of chile rellenos Saturday night.

Tomatillo-Serrano Sauce 
adapted from Rick Bayless

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Add two or three generous handfuls of tomatillos, husked and washed.
Boil until they have lost their bright green color everywhere but near the stem, drain.
Place tomatillos in a blender, along with:
1-3 serrano chiles, stemmed and seeded.

Heat a splash of oil in a large cast iron pan.
Saute 1/2 onion until golden brown.
Add 2-ish cloves garlic, chopped, stir for one minute.
Add onions/garlic to blender, puree to a chunky consistency.

Heat another splash of oil in a pan.
Add tomatillo puree and simmer until thick and fragrant.
Add 2-4 cups broth or water (depending on how many tomatillos you started with).
Simmer 1/2 hour or so.

If you have cilantro, add it at the end. (I've been cilantro-less since July).

Serve over chile rellenos, burritos, fresh tortillas, beans & rice, etc.
Mmmm...tangy and spicy and good!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October This & That

I had been thinking I'd blinked and missed autumn, but then my neighbor told me that the maples had a virus this year and dropped all their leaves before they turned red. It's resulted in a strange landscape where some trees are skeletal bare and some, like the apples, are still green. 

October's been a crazy mix of frosty mornings, rain and hot sun.

The Friday before the long weekend, we were out in winter coats and hats, picking apples with E and Z's class.

(They tricked me into buying a giant pumpkin, which I then had to cart on the school bus).

The next day, we trekked in shorts and t-shirts on a mushroom-finding hike through our woods, with my friend T, who knows quite a bit about fungi. 

While we dissected nascent stinkhorns and lamented the many, many too-far-gone lobster mushrooms, E took a nap on a log, leopard-style, 

and Z built a pot with river clay.

Sunday, we took the ferry to Northaven Island, to visit my friend L, who has the good fortune of spending the school year (and many school years to come, I hope) on the island.

It was an unheard-of 80-some-odd degrees the rest of the weekend. At fist I lamented that I had packed jackets instead of swim suits, but the October water out there off the coast was a tad chilly for even my bones.

Monday, we ate homemade doughnuts in the island church hall and hiked up a little granite knob through this magical sumac-and-fern forest.

And saw the whole world from the top.

Then rode the ferry home and back to reality (I really want to type "fairy" instead of "ferry" every was just that magical there!)

The rest of this month has been very busy with soccer and halloween planning and oh, yes, writing. I'm making good progress on my workshop pieces--#1 is drafted and revised to death and now on to a couple of pre-readers (I live in terror of being laughed out of the workshop room); #2 is still under construction, but going well, I think. The ending needs some work. And the beginning. Those are the hardest bits, apart from the middle, don't you think? All the while I'm frantically reading Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction, feeling a bit like Bugs Bunny landing the plane while furiously flipping through the "How to Fly" manual.

In other news, my life has just gotten one notch crazier, and while I can't really tell you about it here, I will tell you this: When I was 14 and going through the process of being confirmed in the Catholic church, I became a bit fascinated with the lives of the saints (which I read about in a series of books I believe by the same name in order to pick my patron saint). To a melodramatic teenager, the idea of dying for your beliefs was exhilarating (I did not pause to think about whether those beliefs made any sense). The saint I chose, if I remember correctly, was Julia, and while I don't remember how she died exactly (beheading? stoning? burning?), I do remember writing in my report that I hoped to do the same one day. Now, while I've left both teenage melodrama and religion behind, apparently I still believe in standing up for my principles, even if it leads to being burned at the stake. 

Sorry that's cryptic and weird, and no I don't expect any actual flames (though a friend of mine did just say, "haven't you ever seen Silkwood?" so I might be testing my brakes). This is just to say, send all the good vibes you can my way, please. And, also, your tips for relieving insomnia and stress (this evening I put on The Best of New Order and had my own personal techno dance party in the kitchen while making dinner, then walked about 30 laps around the soccer field during the boys' practice--we'll see if that makes it any easier to pry apart my jaws when I wake up tomorrow morning).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Soul Food

It would not be an exaggeration to say that for nine hours every day my soul is wrung from my body drop by drop like spring water squeezed from an old towel.

It's hard to come home and be loving and patient and enthusiastic about anything when you feel like a dry husk, like the exuvia of some animal that has moved on to something else.

I had never really considered the meaning of the term "soul food" before, except, I suppose, for some mental linkage to deep-fried southern dishes (which I never really found very soulful during a brief spell living in Texas).

Then, last night, after coming home from another soul-wringing day, I headed out into the garden to pluck the tomatoes from their vines and pick the peppers, in anticipation of the coming frost.

Our sad, sad tomato plants.
I harvested the tomatoes first, filling a grocery bag with the still-green fruits. Then I moved onto the pepper bed. With each each luscious green chile I snapped from its dark vegetation, I felt another drop of my soul slowly seep back into my body.

C joined me and we filled our bag with big, fat poblanos, and threw a handful of fattening serranos on top (I don't know what became of the jalapenos, but no matter, I still have a freezer full of them from two years ago).

Garden clogs, work pants and tomatillo vines--a fashion statement (the tomatillos should be good out there until November).
Ha! We had finally tricked this glacial northern soil into bursting forth with not brussels sprouts and rutabagas but voluptuous, spicy, sinful and most un-Puritanical poblano peppers.

Inside, we placed the bag on the scale--twelve-and-one-half pounds! Perhaps a record for this northeastern corner of the world (the farmers markets sometimes boast banana peppers, anaheims, long red Italian sweet peppers, and occasional habaneros or jalapenos, but never poblanos).

The harvest.
I haven't decided what to do with them yet. Another meal (or two) of chiles rellenos, oh yes. But also perhaps roasting and freezing the rest. Or making New Mexico green chili (sorry, Colorado, but your green chili has pork in it) to freeze and bring out some cold, dark winter day when the sun and the garden seem impossibly far away.

The self-seeding morning glories still going strong.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

La Cocina en mi Casa

It's no secret that I'm a Southwestern girl trapped in a New England Salt Box. Nowhere is this more evident than in my kitchen which, admittedly, has a bit of the feel of a Mexican restaurant.

Said kitchen was the focus of September's installment of my Total Home Reorganization project (really, by the time I come up with a catchy name for this whole adventure, I'll be done with it).

The most offensive part of the kitchen was this corner which I'm sure was just sucking away all of our chi (in fact I'm starting to blame it for the complete and total suckiness that has been 2011). It was always an odd spot, an abrupt dead zone where the cabinets ended and noting else began. I tried a variety of furniture pieces there, but nothing really worked. Then when C put in the dishwasher five years ago, he just moved the cabinet that was where the dishwasher needed to go down to the end and slapped a piece of plywood on top.

Although the plywood came in handy for things like gluing and painting and cutting with exacto knives, it was never attractive and became one of the biggest "hot spots" in our house (that's Flylady speak for "place crap piles up"). Also, one of the kids broke the door off of it, causing it to vomit out the tupperware stored within. It was bad.

Just looking at this picture makes it hard for me to breathe.
 I've had my eye out for the perfect cabinet/hutch type of thing, with shelves on top and doors on bottom, to fill the space for quite some time, but anything I saw in antique stores was either too wide, too short and/or painted with (no doubt) lead paint. Finally, I gave up on the antique and instead picked up a perfectly-sized piece at the unfinished furniture shop when I was there last spring.

In between soccer games and various other weekend activities, I sanded (C actually let me use the power sander), painted (with some milk paint I had bought long ago for another project that never happened) and clear-coated (on the most damp, humid day imaginable, despite the can's warning not to use it in high humidity--I aimed the fan at it and hoped for the best). Other than a few mishaps with doors and shelves sticking to newspapers while drying (oops), it turned out fantastic (if you don't look too close).

You'll note I placed a small wooden stationary box on the end of the counter for C to store his odds and ends, like charging phones, note cards and the book he reads while eating breakfast...I am not entirely un-accommodating.
There was a tense moment when it looked like C might have to take out all of the cabinets in order to fit it into place (I had measured from the end of the counter to the sill of that window in front of it, and thought I had a couple of inches of wiggle room; it turns out, however, that when C put in the dishwasher, he also had to move the cabinets down, so that the last one sticks out beyond the counter). As it turned out, though, we were able to lift it over the windowsill and had a good solid 1/16, maybe even 3/32 of an inch to spare. Whew. (I think C would have been completely justified in filing for divorce had that come to pass).

I haven't completely decided how to deck out the shelves--I keep rearranging things. On the top shelf I hung a tea towel my mom made me for my birthday, and placed a flowery plate and trivet, along with some vases and my Akro-Agate tea sets--that shelf is now officially the floweriest place in this house.  Other shelves hold more useful objects that we use regularly--syrup and milk pitchers and tea pot. I do plan on making a trip to the antiques barn soon to buy something special for it (and, I must admit I've already ordered some Fiestaware off of Etsy).

The bottom shelf holds the kids' dishes so they can, in theory, set their own places at the table. Inside live the Lunch Bots and water bottles (which were transient before and bounced from cabinet to cabinet to counertop before), as well as all the plastic storage ware I still somehow have, despite my efforts to rid our home of plastic (I just can't throw away "perfectly good" and useful items).

Happily (and not entirely by accident), the color of the new hutch (or is it a sideboard? dresser? whatnot? tell me, dear reader, what I should call it) matches closely (but not exactly) the big one across the room, whose shelves have a bit more breathing room, now that some of their contents have moved to a new home.

The fire extinguisher doesn't add a lot to the appearance of things,
but it's nice that it matches the clock.
While I waited for the paint to dry, I emptied and rearranged every single drawer and cabinet in the kitchen. No kidding. I wanted to do it all at once, and take a picture of everything piled on the table, but that would have involved: a) clearing the table and putting in a couple of leaves; and b) enough time to get it all done in one event. Here you can see the contents of just the bottom cabinets piled on the counters and the floor (which was none too clean, so that's kind of appalling).

I got rid of a few things and moved some other things to more logical locations (which, of course, has left C lost in the kitchen). Everything has more wiggle room now, which creates a feeling of spaciousness.

I also cleaned the oven, the exhaust fan, washed all of the decorative dishes and dusted the shelves, and even dusted in that narrow space above the cabinets (oh, how I wish someone would put up some molding so I never have to do that again!)

Aside from the cabinet, I didn't buy much for this project, other than a pot lid rack (have been dying for one of those for ages), some new dish rags and towels (I demoted the grosser ones to either the rag bag or the camping box), and this cute hook for hanging towels:

And, finally, on the door to the basement (which is situated between kitchen and living room), I created an organization center. C had suggested painting the whole door with chalkboard paint, which horrified me (I'm very much a natural-wood sort of person, aside from the occasional turquoise cabinet), and I have been saving corks to make a cork board for somewhere around 14 years. I initially thought I'd buy a giant picture frame at Goodwill, paint it, get a piece of masonite cut to fit in it, place a divider down the middle, paint one half with chalkboard paint, and glue the corks on the other half. Then, at Goodwill, I found two brand-new chalkboards. I snapped them up, spending half (or less) the money that I would have on the other project and waaay less time. I just painted the frames, glued the corks (waited about a week for the glue to dry--perhaps I used a tad too much) and, voila!

I still need to wash the floor (I was hoping C would do it--I told him it would be sexy, but even that didn't inspire him) and polish the table, but those can wait for a dreary rainy day sometime. The next room in line is the sunroom--I was hoping to get it done before the plants came in for the winter, but with frosts predicted for the next few nights, I had to bring them all in tonight.
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