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Midland, Texas, United States
I write. I make stuff.


Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Facebook Me!

I finally got around to signing on to Facebook but then forgot all about it and didn't do any of the networking stuff until, duh, today. Sheesh. That would be the whole purpose, right? So if you're there, too, make me a friend! Once I get a clue and spend some time there, maybe it'll all start to make sense. . . .

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thinking About the New Year?

Here are some questions that might help you sort things out.

Last Give-Away of the 2008

I've got one more of the large landscape Hand*Book Journals. It's black but otherwise looks like the larger horizontal books in the back on the left.
Post a comment, tell me what you'd put in it. I'll pick on Friday, as usual. You'll check back on Friday so that, if it's yours, you'll send me your address lickety split so I won't whinge. No one wants me to whinge.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Things the Grackles Bring

Where do they get this stuff? Sure, we feed the birds random stale cereal and chips and cookies, but we've never fed them anything like any of this. Is there a house around here where the people are putting out candy? Breakfast pastries? Maybe there's a whole Bird Buffet we don't know about. Here's what they brought yesterday, leaving it on the back patio.

A piece of white bread (we don't eat white bread):

A piece of cinnamon roll:

A caramel:

Notice where it appears to have been stabbed by a beak:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How to Get Superglue to Turn Loose of Your Skin

Maybe you've heard that super glue is used to hold wounds together during healing, yes? Maybe you read about midwives using it to bond perineal tears after childbirth.

I use it to mend those cracks on my thumbs--I get them when I use a lot of glue, especially in the winter, when it makes your skin crack. Just a tiny little crack, but it hurts like fire.

Enter the super glue. A little dot on the cracked skin, and it holds it together until it has time to heal. I've never had any problems. So the other night, tired of trying to keep my thumbs covered with bandaids and carbolated Vaseline, which is the other way to heal cracks, I got out the super glue.

It must have had a super glue clot in the end. At first it wouldn't come out, and then it just poured out. I was trying to get it off my thumb and didn't realize it had run all the way down my hand. It glued my thumb and forefinger together; and, on my left hand, it glued my ring finger and pinkie together AND glued a kleenex to them.
We're talking Serious Gluing, as in "cannot pull my fingers apart." If this happens to you, do NOT try to just pull the skin apart--the glue is stronger than your skin, so guess which will tear away first?
Thank goodness I remembered (!) that acetone is the solvent for super glue. Acetone is most commonly found around the house in fingernail polish remover, unless you have the non-acetone kind used for acrylic nails (the acetone kind will loosen the glue used for the nails, of course).

It worked, although I'm still finding dried glue on my rings, around my nails, on the table.

So: if you use super glue, make sure to keep a bottle of nail polish remover handy. And NEVER use super glue around your animals--my mother once had a drop of it drip down and land in her cat's eye--the cat was sitting on the floor, watching my mother glue stuff. Fortunately, she grabbed the cat and washed out her eye with lots of water--the vet said that was the perfect thing to do--but I don't think she ever had super glue in the house ever again.

That's some powerful glue, let me tell you.


For almost every single Hallowe'en, Christmas, and Valentine's Day for my whole entire life, my mother would bake me cookies. And not just any cookies, but those cut-out-iced-and-decorated ones--hearts for VD, witches and ghosts and cats and pumpkins for Hallowe'en, stockings and trees and santas and snowmen (the same cookie cutter as the ghosts, just slightly altered) and stars for Christmas.

It wasn't about the cookies, of course. Over the years, she'd quit making the icing and had begun using canned frosting, which tasted great to me (I'm the one who can't tell the difference between butter and margarine, remember). It wasn't about how they tasted, but that she made them for me. And to me, they were always fabulous. A cup of hot coffee and an frosted orange witch = what more could you want?

The first year she was gone, my friend Wendy sent me a box juts before Christmas. I opened it up--and there were cut-out-and-iced cookies. And both years since, just a couple days before Christmas, there's a box in the mail.

The other morning, before we ate them all, The EGE took this photo for me to show you. I adore the colors, of course. I let The EGE eat Texas. And then yesterday I read Wendy's blog, and whoa! Ooooh, synchronicity! Pretty cool, huh?

Next year I'm hinting for one of those groovy polar bears. But with eyes! Wendy, he needs an eye! I'm thinking a mini chocolate chip. . . .

Christmas Present

Not a bunch of photographs this year. The light was really bad, and my little camera just wouldn't get good shots. The EGE did get a couple, in between listening to his brothers and laughing; and I've got one of Clay and his son, Christian.

Here's Clay, remember:
Here he is with his son. Christian had hair at Thanksgiving. His mom said she was trying to cut it and had one of those hair cutting things where you suddently find WAY more hair gone than you'd intended.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Oh. My. God. Run!

Got this from the blog of the Fabulous Kelly Kilmer, and all I can say is: and I thought I was the Worst Singer on the Planet. Holy crap: I was wrong!

I personally think it's the perfect ending to our most overdone holiday of the year, summed up with such deep feeling. See if you don't agree.

And prepare to snort.

Christmas Not-Quite-So-Past

Although 32 years is still pretty damn past, isn't it? Yikes. Thought you might enjoy seeing what life was like Before Digital Photography, back in the days when you never knew what you'd got until the film was developed. And then, within just years, everything started to change color and get really funky. Why does it all get orange? Huh.

This is Christmas 1976, when The EGE's family took me in and, kind of like the guest you invite for dinner and then can't get rid of, I just never left.
This is what it looked like right before midnight on Christmas Eve every year back when Pops was alive: he always had everyone meet at midnight and open gifts.
Here are The Wives. That's The EGE's momma in the middle, holding one of her grandsons, surrounded by the wives of her four oldest sons. I'm not yet technically A Wife here. I'd just turned 20. I'm wearing the necklace The EGE gave me for Christmas that year and keeping an eye on the scary baby. Kay, behind me, is still in the family. The other two are not.

And the three oldest Zachery Boys. Remember, people: 1976 = Hair is In!

All The Guys, with grandson Trey in the middle and their Uncle Boone in the lower right corner.

Christmas 1977.

And 1979.

Here are Klaesha and Clay, who are not brother and sister but just cousins. Hard to believe. They're playing with Pops' guitar. I think their expressions tell that they knew this was something they probably shouldn't have been doing.
Here they are again. Just hideously cute kids. Both married now, each with a son.

Clay was the last baby I really held. I tell him that we got along just wonderfully until the time he threw up at the dinner table. That was pretty much it for me until he was way, way too old to be held. We had fun with him but never, ever babysat until he was much older and didn't require diapers, which I do not do. He was one cool baby and is now, sadly (but funny-ly!), being Punished by Fate with what he claims is the worst baby on the planet (this is the one who, at 2, has already gotten a note from the principal at his daycare).
Yep, he was one cute baby.

This is What I Have to Put Up With

Yeah, yeah: "that with which I have. . ."

So The Ever-Gorgeous Earl is making banana pudding to take to his mom's this afternoon, and I'm in the kitchen setting up the little ladder.

Huh? Well, Princess of the Entire Universe Lennie Lulu is entranced by the sound of the mixer. Because: it's a sound she hears only once a year, when The EGE makes banana pudding. It's not like anyone else in the house ever actual uses the mixer. And so she wants to see what it is, and I got tired of holding her chubby little self up so she could watch. So I set up the ladder for her.

And I looked over and saw this.

It's banana pudding, but what's that over there?

I say, "Eww. That's MY coffee cup!"

And he says, "And?"


And, as a Holiday Bonus Photo, check out this sign that made my whole day--and was I glad I had my little camera!

Personal Watermelons. Now there's something that gives you a LOT to think about.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mewwy Fugging Chwistmas.

Yeah. You guessed it: I have a cold. Enough said. Thank goodness for electric blankets, brandy, and books.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Past

I loved the childhood Christmas photos on Wendy's blog so much that I thought I'd dig out some of my own. I don't know when they were taken, except one that has the date at the top. Yeah, yeah--my mother and I should have sat down and labelled them all. Now there's nobody to ask, but that's OK--there's no reason I need to know exactly what year it was. It's not like I'm going to be President and have Official Biographers (but just in case you, for example, are: sit down right now and get things labelled so we'll know exactly what year you sported that dorky haircut).

That vague fuzzy thing in the lower right-hand corner is a giant pink teddy bear. I still have him out in a bin in the storage building along with a couple others, including one of my mom's bears that's over 80 years old now. I'm guessing I was 4 here and one very happy camper--
When I was three. That stocking is the only thing my mother ever knitted, as far as I know. We used it every year until she died. It held an enormous amount of stuff, which she always fake-grumbled about (but she went out and found a comparably large stocking for her son-in-law, of course) and alwaysalwaysalways had a coconut in the toe, along with money and a stray filbert or almond. This one is when I was 3, in 1959--it says so on the photo--
See that blue giraffe and the purple hippo? There was a whole set, and when I found this photo today I remembered them. I'd LOVE to have them still--the bodies snapped apart, and the legs and head and tail were separate pieces, so you could interchange them--a tiger with a hippo head and giraffe legs and monkey tail, for example. Wonder what happened to them? I never lost or tore up anything, so they were probably given away to someone when we got married.
Here maybe I'm five or six, with Dress-Up Big-Girl Underwear (which I was allowed to wear ONLY when playing dress-up, you can rest assured: Jon Benet Ramsey didn't live in our house). I think I had a whole evening gown outfit but was most entranced by these. I'm growling and clawing at the air in my best Monster fashion. Red lacy underwear = ferocious monster. Of course.
Watching out the window with binoculars, looking for Santa Claus--I was the oldest kid in the world who still Believed.

I also found these two photos in the box--taken when I was 9 days old, it says on the back. Not Christmas photos (September in Arkansas, in fact), but pretty cool, nevertheless.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Week Before Winter

A little late, but here are photos from last week. Just for a reference: it was 71 degrees here in Saturday.

(It hasn't gotten above freezing since, if that makes you feel any better.)

I took my little camera with me when I took my late afternoon walk. We're Famous for Our Sunsets (My Cousin Vinnie: "We're famous for our mud.")

Friday afternoon out on the back patio--you can see a little of Larry''s fur, where he's sitting in my lap.

Here's Larry in my lap.
Monk loves my toes, even when they're not painted Christmas Red.

Lennie Lulu and her brother, Moe, in the window catching the afternoon sun. They lie together for a while, and then Moe will decide he needs more room and will bathe her head and ears until she jumps down and runs away.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Green, Green Solstice. Thanks to Snotty Girl.

Happy Solstice! I hope it's warm and sunny wherever you are. Here? It's sunny, but it's assuredly not warm: it's 32 degrees at noon, and the sun's been shining for hours, doing its best to get things up this warm.

I've been thinking a lot about my parents. This is the first Christmas they're both gone, and it makes me sad because they both adored Christmas. My dad would always take a couple weeks of his vacation at Christmas. My mother would spend the day baking cookies, and my dad would Do the Lights, inside and out. Apparently they'd also take secret periodic breaks to go shopping, because when I'd come home from school those last few days before Christmas break, there were always a couple new additions to the stack of boxes under the tree. The lights were twinkling, the house smelled like cookies, and there was a fire in the fireplace. It was fabulous.

As you know, we've been doing the Fire Thang, too, building these fabulous fires in the chiminea. I love it absolutely--although I liked having a fireplace growing up, I never thoroughly enjoyed indoor fires because of the inevitable odor of smoke that lingered forever. Plus a lot of the wood made me sneeze (oooh! sneezing! It's Foreshadowing!) But outdoors! It's perfect: you get the fire and the warmth, but the smoke stays outside. Well, except for what you bring in on your clothes and in your hair. But that's why god invented washing machines and shampoo, right?

Preparing for a morning in front of the chiminea is an involved process, let me tell you. I go out first and start the fire--The EGE says I'm great at building fires, and he's great at keeping them going. This is true. I get the fire started and then haul out all the assorted paraphernalia. We begin with two plastic lawn chairs--those larger ones meant to look like Adirondack chairs. Between them is a big, low, square glass-topped table. On it, I put the CD player and box of CD's, the coffee and tea and cocoa and latte, the books and magazines and the morning's newspaper, the stitching, my journal, glasses, pens. A Volkswagen. The kitchen sink. Parts of Jimmy Hoffa's corpse.

But first!: the blankets and quilts for the chairs. I go into the storage building and haul out the padding: old quilts and bedspreads and lengths of polar fleece (for the cats to sit in our laps) and pillows (for padding for my butt) and just a veritable shitload of stuff. Getting all this stuff situated is akin to preparing a rocket for launch. It takes forever, and everything has to be just so. But once it's ready, ahhhhhhh! It's fabulous. The blazing fire, the drinks, the sun coming up over the house and warming that whole corner (there's the "L" shape of the storage building and the attached lawnmower building, both tall and steel and blocking the wind from the north and east. The house blocks it from the south, and an 8-foot fence helps from the west. By noon, that patio corner is toasty, even without a fire.

But we have the fire. The EGE tends it. We sip, listen to music, talk, pet the cats. At some point, Snotty Girl comes and gets in The EGE's lap.

When the last litter of kittens was born, they all got a respiratory infection. The first six months of their lives were filled with rounds of antibiotics and eye ointment. Finally, finally, they all got well and have been fine. Except Snotty Girl (aka Pearl Bailey), who has Green Sneezes. Seriously horrid snot-filled sneezes that terrorize everyone. Her brothers and sister have clumps of dried snot in their fur--she shakes her head when she sneezes. Now, this is truly disgusting--I'll spare you the details of how she cleans herself up, but think of The Horrible Woman in Houston, the one who sat in front of us at the quilt show. Or don't. Don't think of her!

Anyway. Snotty Girl is otherwise healthy, chubby, happy. Her eyes are bright and clear, her appetite is stellar. Every once in a while we put her on another round of antibiotics, which helps marginally for a while, and then it's back to the sneezing.

So when she comes and asks to sit in The EGE's lap, he pulls up the neck of his shirt, over his mouth and nose, and puts on his wrap-around sunglasses, so that his whole face is covered. Because when she gets happy and begins to purr, she's going to start sneezing and shaking her head.

This morning it took longer to get settled in. It was really cold, so I had to keep adjusting the blankets, adding more, making myself a toasty nest. And then Snotty Girl jumps in The EGE's lap and starts sneezing. I hide behind my blanket so I can't see her. She sneezes and sneezes and sneezes, and finally The EGE tells her she's going to have to get down. I lower the blanket and reach to pull it up around my shoulders.

And get a wad of snot on my hand.

Yes, I did squeal. I scrambled in my pocket for a kleenex to wipe it off, but that, of course, wasn't enough. I jumped up, dumping all the blankets and quilts and pillows and the dining room table and the lawnmower and whatever other crap I had piled up on top of me--all dumped on the ground, and I ran into the house--running in my socks through the bird shit on the sidewalk--to wash my hands. And wash and wash and wash. Snot: omigod. It's a wonder my hand didn't fall right off.

So my hands are clean, but my stomach hurts, and I know I'm not going back out there and getting under that blanket, which is now Infested by Snot. No: I'm going to have to wash the damn blanket. And if I'm going to have to wash it, then the other, Also Possibly Snot-Infested blankets, are going to have to be washed, too.

Good grief.

I put a load in the washing machine and take off my Possibly Snot-Infested jeans and sweatshirts--I do OK most of the time, but once I get freaked out about something like snot having gotten on me, the only hope is to start from scratch--and figure I might as well just go ahead and take a shower while I'm at it--it's time for that whole shave/shower/shampoo thing, anyway, so. . . .so I get in the shower and get wet and realize that, in my Snot Panic, I've forgotten to shave my legs. Quelle horreur! Not only Snot-Infested, but hairy, as well!

I have shaved my legs virtually every single day since I was 11 years old. Sure, I've missed a couple days, like when I was so sick I didn't get dressed. But those days were very, very few and very, very far between. Even when I felt like crap, I'd manage to haul myself up long enough to shave my legs and take a shower. When they did the hysterectomy and punctured my bladder and kept me in the hospital for a couple of days, The EGE got a basin of water, a razor, and some shaving cream and shaved them for me. Mostly, though, I manage to do this on my own. Except today. I'm in the shower, realizing I've forgotten and going, "Goddamn." I turn off the water and stand there. It's cold. I'm wet. I do not want to get out, dry off, shave, get back IN the shower and then, when I get out, have that already-damp towel to use to dry off. Sure, I could get another clean towel, but this towel hasn't even been used yet--I'm in the middle of doing laundry today--and I don't want to have two damp towels already. That's just dumb.


I get out, get the razor and shaving cream, get back in the shower, and begin. Now, our shower is a tiny little thing. Our bathroom is a tiny little thing--it's just microscopic. The other bathroom is easily twice as large, if not larger. This one was carved out of something when they added our bedroom onto the back of the existing house in 1953. Maybe at one time it was an outdoor closet? A lawnmower shed? We have no idea. It's tiny, though, OK? Very, very tiny. And when we had it remodeled, we had to get the tiniest shower we could find so we'd have room for a larger sink.

This shower is NOT made for shaving one's legs, especially if one has long legs. It was like trying to get dressed in a phone booth. It's a wonder I didn't slice myself to ribbons.

Which reminds me that maybe it's time to replace the razor.

Anyway, so I made it. I'm clean and snot-free. The EGE is still out by the fire, and I'm envious. But not enough to go out and start all over. The Solstice is all about heat and light and lovely greenery, but I prefer the green not to get anywhere on my actual body.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Passion for Food

We just this minute got home from the annual UU Church Christmas Party/All Church Circle Supper. If you know UU, you know that there are monthly circle suppers, where small groups meet for dinner and conversation. These are wonderful. The Christmas party, where everyone gathers in a fabulous house (with an indoor swimming pool that, this time of year, is festooned with twinkly lights and lined with all the plants that thrive on a warm, humid environment), is truly a joy. And every year I find myself sitting in the same room--the library--in the same chair, next to David, listening to him talk about food.

Now, y'all know I care next to nothing about food. I like my food to be very simple and limited to, oh, the handful of things that do not disgust me. I don't cook. I don't own cookbooks. I don't read recipes. I don't watch cooking shows. In short, I don't give a rat's ass about most foods and cannot imagine spending any time talking about food.

But wait. Listening to David talk about food is like listening to Leonardo talk about painting. Like listening to Pavarotti talk about opera. It's listening to someone talk about their passion, and I could sit there for hours, entranced. Tonight he brought a bunch of stuff, and among the things he cooked were these cookies. Spice cookies, which normally I would not eat. I do not like spice cookies. But: if David cooks it, I will try it. Anything except meat.

So I tried one of these cookies. I had a little red wine left in my glass--some cheap OK wine--and I drank a little, absent mindedly--normally I would not mix wine with something sweet. And omigod! It was fabulous! The cookies, which included Chinese Five-Spice Powder, went so perfectly with the wine that I went around to everyone else, urging them to try it just so I could watch their faces as they mixed a sip of wine with the cookie in their mouths. We could have started a riot right there.

But mostly we sat and listened to David talk about cooking. David is a complete omnivore. There is no food that makes him scowl. He waxes equally rhapsodic about bacon and New Orleans oyster po' boys and 45-ingredient chocolate cake from the Hill Country. It doesn't matter: it's food, and it's fabulous. He's not stuffy about it, like some people who fancy themselves gourmet chefs who cook only Gourmet Recipes get all snobby about it and look down their nose at you if you eat macaroni and cheese. He's as happy talking about deep-fried ice cream as he is talking about caviar. And it's not that he's obsessed with food--he's not fat. He just loves the whole process of taking raw ingredients and making edible works of art and then serving them to people and talking about it.

And listening to him talk about it is pure joy. He's about our age, maybe a little older--it's not like this is something he discovered last week. His wife told me that, with him, this is a true passion. And you can tell. Sitting and listening to him talk about food makes you high, like you've had a hit of some euphoria-inducing drug. You've felt that if you've ever listened to someone who's truly in love with something--food, painting, clay, words. Whatever. It's like you should pay for the joy of listening to them talk about it, and then some of their happiness about the whole thing rubs off on you. Never mind that you hate paint or don't understand clay. It's their love of it that gives you that buzz.

So tonight I'm happy about food. I may not like to eat much of it, but I love hearing about it from someone who appreciates every nuance, every possibility. As we walked to our cars, he and his wife were talking about what he might offer for the annual UU auction in February, where he always auctions something like a 5-course dinner with wines. And where we are the first two to sign up, not even paying attention to the menu. He could serve nothing but Pork Products, and I'd pay to go and listen to him talk about the process of preparing pork loins and be happy (albeit a little hungry, 'cause you know I wouldn't be actually eating any of them). It's that wonderful.

May you all be blessed with a conversation with someone who cares as much about what they love as David cares about preparing food. A joy, indeed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Kinds of Kindling

No metaphors today. And aren't you glad? Me, too. They're just exhausting, aren't they? Might as well be writing epic poetry or trying to explain Bad Touches to your 4-year-old. Thank god for metaphors then, right? Well, similes, as least. . . .

So let's do lists. I adore lists. Remember, I'm the one who cheats on daily To-Do Lists so that I can have lots and lots of stuff to cross off.

So. Kinds of Kindling. First, the concrete kind.
1) doodles in your journal. I say "doodles" because "sketches" is so scary to those of us who Do Not Draw. Notice I didn't say "can't draw." We theoretically could draw. We just choose not to. Like I choose not to do brain surgery and sing at the Met. I could, of course. Theoretically. So here we're talking about any of the various marks you put in your journal. And, since I mentioned journals--

2) your journals. Notebooks. Sketchbooks. Spiral. Pocket planner. Whatever you call that place where you put notes and Doodles and clippings and articles and all that stuff you have to dump out of your brain to make room for more. This is excellent kindling, indeed.

3) your stash of books and magazines. In fact, this probably qualifies as literal kindling, as well, so store it carefully. Don't become one of those people who has stacks of this stuff so high in every room that walking through their house is like walking a maze of reading material. Not that I've ever seen such a house. I'm just saying. It's why I have those magazine organizers and walls full of bookscases: so I won't end up living like that and get lost among the stacks and starve to death.

4) blogs and websites

5) movies like Dark City and Fifth Element and Amelie and whatever other movies make the ideas whir in your brain. If you've got a list of movies like that, check for excellent used copies to have as reference. You can get many of them (not Amelie, not yet) for less than $3 plus shipping (another $3, but, hey! Cheaper than going to a movie, and you won't step in weird sticky stuff on your way to your seat).

6) activities, like walking or sitting in the sun (ahhhh) or lying in the grass or mindless stuff like ironing tablecloths (as if I know anything about that) or mowing the lawn (ditto) or picking fleas off your cat (hey!). You know.

7) hard physical activity--chopping weeds or running or whatever you do that makes you work sweat.

8) classes--nothing like a class or workshop in something New to You to make your brain compensate by forming new little neural pathways.

and then less-tangible Kinds of Kindling--and I see now that there could easily be a lot of overlap between these two lists, but just go with me, OK?

1) meditating--and you don't have to sit cross-legged in from of a candle, either: whatever you do that clears your mind of all the little nagging things that are always chattering at you. This could tie in with #6 and #7, above.

2) some way of giving space to your ideas, some way of honoring them, admitting that they are valuable and not just random clutter. And this is the biggie and where I can slip so slyly back into metaphor (OK, so I lied; but I didn't really lie, because I had no idea a metaphor would pop up and ask--nay, BEG--to be included. You decide if I should have said no): you've got to let in the oxygen. Kindling is small, it's not dense, it's a handful of sticks or bark or whatever. And in a handful of stuff, there's plenty of room for oxygen. And oxygen is the key. It lets breath into things. When you create space for your ideas and admit, "Hey, these are important. They're valuable and deserve to be considered at some length," you're letting in the air, letting things breathe, opening up to oxygen. The metaphor's not working for you? Then think about the opposite: when your brain/mind/head is all crowded with work/dinner/laundry/family/carpool/taxes, and there's no room and it's stuffy and tight and it just can't breathe. There's not one iota of space in there for anything new.

Take 3 really slow, really deep breaths. Imagine those going into the crowded room that is your brain and gently pushing everything aside to create an open space. Imagine letting your ideas for projects flow in and settle lightly in that space. When I do this, I see a light, as if windows have been thrown open in my head, creating a bright, sunny space with 3 or 4 ideas set in the middle of it, sparkling like jewels. Or like those prisms in my window! Yes! Oooooh--those could be the physical representations of ideas for me! And I could make little paper labels, like "quilt about sun" or "wall piece about teeth" and I could get a tiny little brush and put some glue on the back and glue the labels to all the prisms, so my ideas would be sparkling in the sun!

Or not. Eh.

But you get the idea, right? Well, let's hope it's kind of a more coherent idea when it comes to you, without the random tangents and visuals of tiny little tags glued to old Christmas ornaments,something my anal-retentive brain is now gnawing like a pig foot, going, "But why not? It could be fun! You could print them in different fonts, and with colored paper! And you could maybe use colored thread to tie them on instead of gluing! Come on! It'll be fun! Pleeeeeeeeeeze?!"

And I'm like, "No. Just get up and walk away from the printer. Back away slowly, and put on your shoes, and go out for a walk. And, no, dammit, you CANNOT take your little label maker!"

I don't actually HAVE a label maker, but I'm suddenly just one step from that 40%-off coupon for Hobby Lobby, where I seem to vaguely remember (snort) that the label makers are right next to the display of Pigma pens on aisle 2. Help me.

The Logical Side of my brain thinks it's plenty to just imagine that the prisms represent projects I want to do. It's the other side, the Wacko Side, the side that is still pouting because I won't let it count things and because I refuse to buy it any organizational materials beyond Post-It notes, that's lying on the floor, banging its feet in a full-blown temper tantrum, going, "But I wanna make the labels!"

Time for a time out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kindling: A Metaphor

The Ever-Gorgeous Earl and I have been spending all our weekend mornings out on the back patio with a toasty fire in the chiminea and a table piled with cocoa, latte, the CD player and jazz, the newspaper, stitching. The cats in our laps. It's completely lovely, and we've begun to prepare for the rest of the winter by laying in firewood.

I grew up living in houses with fireplaces. In the Rocky Mountains, in Oklahoma, California, Texas--there were always fireplaces. Building the fires was my parents' job, and I didn't learn how to build a fire until after I was married and we lived in a mobile home that had a fireplace. What taught me about fire wasn't the hours I spent sitting in front of them, watching the flames and occasionally poking a log back into place. Watching and looking at fires didn't teach me anything beyond how lovely they are.

What taught me about fires, about what makes them start and what makes them burn, what they need more of and what they don't need at all, was learning how to build them and, even more important, learning how to collect the kindling.

Because kindling is the key. You can have a cord of the most beautiful wood in the world, and it's not worth a damn unless you've got a way to get it started. Oh, sure, you could use a blowtorch. Or a gas jet, in one of those fireplaces where you really don't actually have to have a log at all: you can just light the jet and sit there and listen to it hiss. There are all kinds of artificial ways to have a fire--our local museum, the one I walk past every day, has a holiday display with a big, comfy chair sitting next to a fireplace. Inside the fireplace is a tv, and on the tv is a video of a burning fire, complete with crackling audio. I go and stand and stare at it, horrified on so many levels.

If you want a good fire, without artificial anything, that fabulous Yule Log is going to need some help. And that's the kindling.

To build a fire, you're going to need a place for the fire. It's nice to have a layer of ash. Next, a few sheets of newspaper, loosely twisted and laid across each other, in an X. Then a few firestarter sticks--we found these on sale one year long, long ago and bought all they had. They're some kind of treated stick that catches fire quickly. Then, over that, you'll need The Real Kindling--the sticks and pieces of dry bark and bamboo roots that you've collected in a bucket. Then you'll need your logs, from small to large-ish.

You start with the newspaper, but it's not enough by itself. Newspaper burns quickly, catching fire and flaming up just like you'd expect of something so immediate and transient. It's not going to last, but it's good for a spark. You need that kind of spark--something quick and temporary that helps set off everything that follows. It's like the article about herrings that sparks the idea about living underwater that carries you to your fabric stash for a handful of blues and greens. Alone, three paragraphs about herrings isn't going anywhere. But it's the spark, and if it has the kindling to back it up--the book about fish, the dream about mermaids, the photos from the beach at Maui--it can start something big.

The logs aren't enough by themselves, either. They're big and heavy and important--they're the only things that are going to keep that fire going for long enough to let you sit back and drink that latte. If you try to make a fire out of kindling alone, you're going to be feeding it pretty much constantly until you're exhausted. So, yeah, you need logs, the heavy, weighty, meaty, solid part. The logs are what will carry you through. But you can't get from the spark to the burning log without the kindling. Kindling is what holds it all together, what takes the spark and provides the heat to get those ponderous logs to start burning.

The thing to remember about building the fire is that you never lay on the logs until the fire's going, burning strongly and centering itself. If you put them on too soon, they'll smother the flame. They're too big and heavy, and they'll crush the little twist of newspaper sparks and cut off the oxygen and kill the fire before it ever gets started.

You know the metaphor here, of course, don't you? If you try to move right into the meaty heart of the idea before you've done the thinking and the planning and the sketching, made the maquette or the muslin or the pattern, nothing's ever going to catch fire. While sometimes it seems as if that bright hot burst that comes at first is enough to carry you through the whole project, it's not: it's going to flare up and die out without the constant tending that any good idea requires.

Kindling is a wonderful thing. I find myself obsessing about it, looking for dead trees in the alley when I take a walk, digging up the roots of the pesky bamboo back in the corner of our yard (bamboo/cane roots smell faintly of coconut when we burn them). Our kindling bucket contains twigs and roots, sticks and slabs of bark off larger logs. It's got slivers from the logs The EGE splits with an axe, and it's got the smaller branches of the chinaberry tree that die and fall off in its struggle to stay alive after The Evil Chemlawn nearly killed everything in our yard. We collect kindling the way some people collect ephemera or pieces of rusty metal. We look for it while we're out, and we save whatever we find. We sort it and store it where we can get to it easily.

Kindling is the bridge. It's the bridge between the quick spark and the slow-burning log. It's the bridge between an idea and a project that's going somewhere. Those little bits of nothing--dried-out twigs and sticks and scraps of bark, mixed in with bits of dead leaves and chips of wood--they're what make the whole thing possible. They catch the spark and move it inward. They hold the log up off the ashes, letting in the oxygen, without which nothing will ever happen.

If you collect kindling and have enough of it, your fire is going to work. It will get things hot enough to ignite the big logs, and it will keep things going when one log burns up and you're trying to get the next one to catch. With a good supply of kindling, you can keep the fire burning as long as you need it.

What is kindling? Am I telling you to go out and collect a bunch of junk like you see on those shopping blogs I'm always ranting about? Of course not: kindling is not a tangible thing. Your bucket does not have to be an actual bucket. Because your fire isn't anything so small and insignificant that it can be confined to a fireplace or a chiminea. Your fire is an amazing thing, just waiting on that initial spark and a bucket full of just the right ideas.

Stand by Me

This fabulous video made my whole morning, and I'll be playing it over and over and over all day long.

And to prove the point about everyone being connected, here's how I got the link: Toni Brown posted it to one of my yahoo groups. She found the link on Judy Wise's blog. I'm here, Toni's in Arizona, Judy's in Oregon. We've never met, but Judy's in my next book.

Plus I've been to that street on Santa Monica (when I did the Authors at Google gig), and The EGE and I have spent many, many hours listening to Grandpa Elliott --that man can play the hell out of that harmonica.

Don't you just love it when the world seems really, really small and we all feel like cousins? And, hey: if Barack Obama and Dick Cheney are 8th cousins, well, then--you're surely a cousin to me!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Here's One of the Things I Did Today

This is the cardigan I bought for $2.99 at the Salvation Army the other day. It was the color of the buttons--kind of a dusty rose-ish color, which of course didn't do it for me at all. "Dusty"--that shouldn't ever be a part of the name of any color. It should be, in fact, Against the Law to have colors that require the word "dusty" to describe them. I can talk: when we bought this house, it was all Country Blue and Dusty Rose. And yet I lived to tell about it. Huh.

Anyway, so I dyed it. No, not the house, damnit! The sweater! Pay attention here! I dyed it in a bucket, since it was just the one thing and I try to save water (yeah, right) and, besides, a load of orange was in the actual washing machine. Still. So--I dyed it in a bucket set in the sink--I could just see the cheapo bucket, which has been out in the sun Forever, springing a leak with hot pink/fuchsia dye in the kitchen. There are some adventures that I can just skip, you know?

So: dyed in the bucket in the sink. And it was done. And it was good. And I took a shower and got dressed in my groovy new sweater. Only: it had gaps. Between all the buttons, it gapped open. Ick. So tacky. So annoying. That's the kind of thing that will still, even in my New & Improved State, will still drive me absofuckinglutely nuts. Nuts!

So I stitched it. I've done this on the machine in the past, but not on knit. On knit it would look terrible. So I stitched by hand, and although there are minor puckers, it doesn't gap any more, and I like it a lot. Maybe new buttons? I don't know--I'll have to see if I LOVE it; merely Liking It a Lot is not justification for 1) shopping for buttons 2) buying buttons 3) removing old buttons 4) sewing on new buttons. Especially since the buttons are now, by dint of my stitching, purely decorative.

Eh. I think I'll hold off on groovy buttons for a while. If I love it enough to wear it every day for a week? Then we'll talk buttons.

Winter Recipe

"What the fuck?" you're saying, choking on your morning coffee. "Ricë with a recipe? What's next: Laura Bush's Tips for Crafting with Sequins?" ('Cause you know she's going to have to find something to keep her busy, stuck in Dallas with The Failed President.)

Yeah, you do have a point--but wait! This isn't like a Recipe with Ingredients or anything. It's like something you put together--people who know me say I don't cook, I just Put Things Together.

So here's my Winter Staple of Things Put Together. It's Good For You! Make up a whole slog (that's like a Really Big Batch) for the whole week.

Steam some vegetables--I cut up broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots (such a rip-off, but they are cute!), winter squash and zucchini. I cut up a lot of these--a veritable shitload (two colanders full). I steam them for a long time--raw crunchy vegetables hurt to chew (remember: I still have baby teeth, for crying out loud! I have the Right to be a Dental Weenie).

While those are steaming, cook up a package of Thai Kitchen Spicy Thai Chili Curry Rice. We've been buying ours at Central Market when we travel, but I found this this morning and think it's actually cheaper on-line. Wow.
So cook that according to package directions. It has some coconut in it and smells just divine.
When the vegetables are done, heat some olive oil in a skillet. Chop the steamed vegetables into really small pieces and sauté (omigod: did I just use "sauté" in a sentence? I don't fucking know from "sauté"--I mean: heat the vegetables in the oil in the skillet, OK?)
Season with garlic salt, sea salt, onion powder.
When the rice is done, dump it in with the vegetables. Add a little more oil. Lower the heat and cover and let simmer for a while, so the flavors mix.
You can add tofu to this--either blackened tofu or grilled tofu or however you like your tofu cooked.
I make this with one batch of the vegetables (I make two batches every Monday). With the other, I do the same thing with the vegetables--chop, put in the skillet with the oil--but I season it with jalapeno salt and onion powder, and instead of putting in the rice, I add leftover Tex-Mex cheese sauce, the kind with the chiles and stuff in it. Let it simmer, and the vegetables will take on a nice Tex-Mex flavor, great for eating with cheese and bean and rice nachos. You could add Spanish rice, too.
Mmmmmm--my favorite winter food! You, of course, knowing how to actually cook, will think of many more varied sauces and additions to make the vegetables taste like, well, virtually anything. Me? This is pretty much my whole entire repertoire. Bijou du Jour I'm not. Alas.

What's Making Me Happy This Morning

We found twin-sized electric blankets on sale for $30 at Target, which doesn't sound like a good deal until you realize we had been looking for a warming throw, which we used to be able to find everywhere, forever, with no luck. I stay cold from about November until May. It was difficult to find even the blankets--no throws to be found anywhere. So we bought a blanket for me and brought it home and set it up, and of course the cats went nuts. So we bought two more--one for the living room couch, where The Guys sleep (not together--they're not really friends, but it's a long couch) and one for Garfunkle's bed on the front porch. Yeah, yeah, yeah--the instructions say NOT to let animals on the blankets. And not to put them outdoors. But My Friend Wendy has used an electric blanket on the front porch for her outdoor cats for years with no problems, and it seems safer than a heat lamp, which is what The EGE has out in the Cat Palace in the back but which would be risky in the smaller enclosed bed.

So, anyway, everyone's warm, even though the windchill is below 20 this morning. And what's making me happy? The twin-sized blanket is a perfect size for dragging around with me, so it's out here in my chair, where I can wrap it around me while I'm working. Ahhhhhh! Finally, I can set the thermostat on 77, rather than 80. I try to lower it and be at least marginally green--snort--, but when I get cold, I can't function. My fingers ache, and I can't think. My nose runs. Wear more clothes, you say? I'm wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and socks--if I wear more than that, I feel like my clothes are choking me (I tried to take a walk yesterday in a pair of tights under my jeans, a big thick long-sleeved t-shirt with a heavy sweatshirt over that and another sweatshirt over that, an earband and two hoods and a pair of gloves. I froze my butt off and was STILL miserable, trapped under clothes that weighed about as much as I do. I couldn't even fucking bend my arms.

So, anyway: the electric blanket. I know there are reports that the electricity in them is harmful, but screw it. She's making me very, very happy. I'm warm, the heat is lower, the cats are happy. I think everyone should have one of these in their desk chair. Warm butt = a happy office!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Little Bit of Winter Sparkle

Here's one of our two tiny west-facing windows. In the summer, the sun doesn't come through much. In the winter, though, the afternoon sun comes in and catches these and makes rainbows all over the room. If you spin these just a little, it's positively psychedelic. Like, groovy, man!

Of course, it's impossible to get a good photo. Sheesh. I just realized I haven't yet removed the screen--I take it off in the winter so more light comes in--the cats lounge here every sunny afternoon.

Some are plastic Christmas tree ornaments a friend gave me (knowing I love Sparkly--that one shining brilliantly in the photo below is an El Cheapo plastic ornament, probably on clearance after the holidays for mere pennies), some are prisms for chandeliers (both old and new), some are pieces of jewelry--old earrings, bits of anything prism-y--all tied to a curtain rod with thin monofilament (fishing line). I've been adding to it for years and am almost out of room. If you've got a window that catches the winter sunlight, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meet Al. AKA Joe.

I don't think I did a very good job of explaining this trip I'm on, this search for What I Want to Do Next. It must have sounded as if I'm stuck, or blocked, or bereft of ideas. That's not it. It's about a path, about what I want to make--and it's not that I'm searching for something to make; it's that I don't want to make things that look like the things I've made before.

I'm not blocked. I'm not feeling at a loss creatively. It's nothing like that.

I'm obviously not good at explaining it. Isn't that how it goes with trying to explain interior states?

Kansas, for example.

Anyway, so this is what I made this week. It was a blast, and it was a very good exercise. Can you tell why?
Here is where I got some inspiration. And here. Can you tell what inspired me? It obviously wasn't the use of natural colors or stitching angels with cute faces.

Anyway, so this is Al. Also known as Joe, my imaginary friend/alter ego/shape-shifting doppelganger. The moustache was one of my favorite parts--it was the fringe on the sleeve of the green sweater. The teeth are my absolute favorite, one of the many challenges I gave myself: I didn't have any idea where this was going. I started with some sweaters from Goodwill. I washed them and dried them and cut them up, and in looking at the body of the green sweater, the part where I separated the shoulders looked like ears. For a couple of weeks, this part sat around, looking like ears. Last week I picked it up, picked some embroidery thread, and started stitching. No plans, no patterns, no ripping out. You can see that the nose had some alteration--since I didn't rip out anything, I had to go from wherever I was to somewhere else. It began as a sort of beak-ish nose, but then I figured out how to make the mouth, which is actually a little box in there, so something could fit inside, like a package of gum, or a small cell, or my finger. So I had to change the nose, but I didn't rip it out or start over.

I'd never made anything 3-D before. When I made dolls, they were always two flat pieces sewn together and stuffed. Figuring out how to make things with more parts to create dimension was another challenge. I didn't make a pattern for that, either. Since I was using felted wool, I just started stitching and then cut when I had too much left.

I used only what I had here. I bought nothing to add. Except I did buy 1/4 yard of wool/rayon felt to wash with the sweaters the second time I washed them, just to see what would happen (it picked up some pink from the red jacket and got kind of wonderfully funky).

I didn't use the sewing machine for anything.
I did hand stitching, felting/fulling, and needle felting.

I didn't look at any pictures of anything remotely like a stuffed creature once I started thinking about this--no cruising the web for ideas. At first, it was a rabbit sort of creature. Then it was looking like a puppet. I thought for a while it might have a body and arms and legs. Then just a neck and arms. In the end, this is what happened. I sat him beside the bed over night, and when I got up the next morning, I knew to give him lower eyelids and add the felt balls, and then I knew to change the mouth to make him look a little less forbidding--for a while, I was thinking Adolf Hitler had come to roost. But once I'd made those last changes, I knew I was done.