Monday, November 30, 2009

blog-bandonment

well, its not like i just forgot. what happened was this: tuesday night i came down to find that the computer area reaked of beer. i lifted the keyboard to find a huge puddle of what can only guess was the last third of my mirror pond pale ale. it was all over the floor, too. george is the likely culprit. i cleaned things up but the keyboard was kaput...only the mouse still worked so i could check emails and bookmarked tabs like facebook but i could not type text. wednesday i considered doing a title-less photo blog with me holding up hand-written messages that said "keyboard broken" "smells suspiciously like beer" "happy thanksgiving"...but something in me said let it go. so i did. then thursday passed and friday...then the whole weekend. i hardly touched the computer at all, even though michael brought us a new keyboard on thanksgiving. so my blog posting month ended with a leave of absence but i'm not sorry. i think the quality of my content was dwindling anyway...better for me to leave it at three weeks of solid wholesome blogness, than to subject you to one last week of blather. but trust me, milk and ink has been revived and i will be a more attentive. keep me in your readers, Readers!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

putting the ink in 'mik and ink': the new ink

.....continued from yesterday:

2009:as a "symmetrical" person i always knew i'd like a tattoo on my right forearm as well--in the same shape and similar composition as the left arm, only this time a tribute to isadore. we had found the name isadore in a book of names from around the world, arranged by origin--and we thought that "gift of isis", the goddess of fertility, was a fitting name for a girl who was concieved earlier than expected on a day i should not have been fertile. (TMI alert: isadore is how i found out i ovulate more than once a month like most women, possibly on demand!) isis is in both greek and egyptian mythology. the name to me has always had a vintage sound, maybe because of isadora duncan, an american dancer in the early 1900's. also linked to this is the popular artistic style of the time, art nouveau which has greek and egyptian mythological elements. perhaps the most well-known artist of this style is alphonse mucha, who draws these dreamy, strong yet feminine figures. (nate was the first to introduce me to Mucha, wanting to incorporate some vines of that style into the left arm piece.)

so i had all of these elements i wanted to fit into the frame on my right arm: a mucha-goddess, with the wings of Isis, with the features of Isadore. her birthflower--a water lily--would round it out, to juxtapose the chrysanthemum on the left. blake and i both thought the man to pull this all off was our favorite artist in portland: james kern at no hope no fear. james worked at optic nerve arts, when nate had passed away and we had seen his amazing work (like large pieces of alex grey's art) first there. now he has his own shop down the street from nomad and is normally booked out for months. sunday, it was finally all realized, bless his heart for pulling all of my ideas together. it needs one more session for color and shading but its everything i wanted and possibly more.








the view i see

left and right
i can't say i have anymore tattoos in mind, but i also know well enough to say that i am sure that will change. i feel very lucky to have had access to so many amazing artists--spoiled really, as my mom observed--and forever wear their interpretations of my ideas on my body, for my own enjoyment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

putting the "ink" in 'milk and ink': history

1998:my first tattoo was definitely an exercise in asserting my independence--it was almost immediately after my 18th birthday and was simple cursive "L" (for my name) done at Uncle Bill's Tattoo Parlor in Bend, OR. i had no further plans at that time for tattoos so putting a tiny tattoo on the large surface area of my lower back seemed fine to me. (later i discoverd it best to save the large areas for larger tattoos, and the smaller ones for small spaces.)

2000: next just before marrying blake, i had the word "Grace" in traditional letttering applied the space just above the elbow on the back of the arm, a spot that i still find to be a very sexy place to have a tattoo--i had that idea when i spied a girl in the library at OSU with a word tattooed there (it said "vegan.") the concept of grace means a lot to me--not in terms of elegance, but in decency, generosity, and gratitude, and later it was given to mayan for her middle name. a well-known artist did it for me, really for blake as a favor since its probably the smallest and simplest piece he'd done in ages but i'll never forget the look the two of them exchanged when he (the artist) asked me if i planned on having any other tattoos done in the future and i said "no, i don't think so." it was like a "yeah right. you're young. just wait." exchange of glances.

2003:then when mayan was a year and a half, i knew i wanted to honor our romantic beginnings and mayan's conception story with a tattoo of the ruins where we were wed. at the time, our good friend tracy, a piercer, had begun a new studio with her partner nate, a gifted artist and tattooist, called optic nerve arts. i had met nate at their home 6 weeks after they had their baby, isabella, and he was a kind and soft-spoken man that had pulled himself out of a troubled past and was beginning a new life. i knew immediately that i wanted him to do the work. i brought him photos of our trip to mexico and specifically the temple of kukulkan, the tree under which we were married and the view of the yucutan jungle taken from atop the pyramid. i also brought an example of a chrysanthemum, my parents wedding flower and our wedding flower to incorporate into the piece which was designed to be on my left forearm. we drove to portland to have the outline and shading done which was stunning on its own. nate and i discussed whether or not to keep the piece black and gray, or to make it full color, and decided to wait--we'd schedule another session soon for completion and decide then. a few months later i found out i was pregnant with isadore so everything was on hold--i didn't think i'd be ready to be tattooed again until she was at least a year old. but when she was 7 months old, tracy called to tell us the awful news: she'd found nate that morning in the bathtub--he'd had a heart attack. he was only 31 and apparently had had an undetected heart defect. i could not imagine her devastation, and listening to nate's friends and family share their favorite stories at his memorial it was clear what a giant hole his passing left in thier lives. and like others there i felt honored to have a piece of his work on me, even if it was unfinished.

2006: i struggled with that fact, since i knew that tattoo needed some closure but i didn't want anyone else to touch it--also i still hadn't made the decision to go color or black and gray. but a year later, as the anniversary to nate's passing approached, something fell into place that felt right. a tattooist friend, hawk (and his dear family) had relocated to bend from san francisco, with our encouragement who had a gift for bold color work. i asked hawk if he would finish the piece that nate had begun and he kindly obliged. color brought a whole new life to the piece, a perfect balance of pinks, yellow, greens, and blue--while leaving the centerpiece, the temple, flesh-toned. people comment on my arm everywhere i go and i point out the location of our ceremony and tell them how i was 24-hours pregnant with our daughter at the time, and named her Mayan Grace. it brings me much pleasure to gaze at the finished work everyday.



2007: the time came cover my first tattoo, my babies were weaned, i had been working hard on my fit, yoga body, and i had our good friend hawk at my disposal. i told him that i wanted to cover the "L" with something big and bold, but to avoid the common "lower back piece" shape. i didn't have anything meanful to incorporate--i just wanted to use styles that i'd always liked and reflect my own taste and personality. it had to be fun and sexy! i decided on traditional sparrows at the top and cheery, clean japanese style flowers. hawk drew it all out so that the sparrows met on my lower mid-back (masking the old tattoo) and then the flowers cascaded down, following my curves, all the way to to the bottom of my bottom--so really it was two tattoos flanking my backside and not meeting in the middle. a few starbursts drew the two styles together. we broke it up over five sessions--the outline, then four quadrants--and it was so much fun to see it develop, plus working with someone i knew outside of the shop, whose family we spent so much time with made it more relaxed--good thing too since it was my bum that was exposed the whole time! here is the post about getting this done. (ps: hawk still works in bend, at 932 tattoo!)

tune-in tomorrow for part two--putting the "ink" in 'milk and ink': the new ink!


is there a tattoo that you've been wanting?? do you have story of the greatest or worst tattoo you ever got??

Sunday, November 22, 2009

i'm such a tease

i'm cold, and hungry, and tired...and i didn't take any pictures during my tattoo. its still wrapped up so you will all have to wait to see it. it's awesome!!!!! not completely done, but the outline and the flower. just wait 'til you see it! now i need cake and wine and a movie and sleep, in that order.


xoxo

Saturday, November 21, 2009

the big recital




it is so awesome to see your kids work so hard at something new (not to mention my own effort put in, encouraging and sitting through nearly every practice, five days a week!) and reach a goal, like today's piano recital.

i love hearing mayan play--she's grown so much over the last 9 months since her lessons began, and her pieces have been getting progressively more complex, plus she's written her own compositions. she now self-guides herself through the daily practice and has a natural confidence that i admire.

this is isadore's first recital and has only been playing for a few months--the progress is much slower so i've had to really be patient, but it always pays off! just when she feels like giving in, something clicks, and she beams with accomplishment. she must have played "mary had a little lamb" 10 times a day for the past few weeks! amazing since at one point she was like "forget it! i'll never get it right, i'm quitting piano!" she just needed to do it on her own time. she was very nervous but faced the recital (and she was the first to play) with bravery and grace. they were both so beautiful! aw, shucks....we were proud parents today!



isadore's 'mary had a little lamb' (duet with teacher)


mayan's 'trumpet song' (duet) and 'rainbow colors'


blake's mom was able to make it, which was nice since she bought us our piano and has such fond memories of her own childhood piano lessons

Friday, November 20, 2009

and my 20's come to a close....

better things to do today than sit on the computer, so i am "phoning this one in." blake and i dug up this song a few weeks ago, neither of us knew the other one loved it. seemed appropriate for a birthday blog post. i noticed that it came out three years before i was born.

enjoy....and don't you DARE make fun of their hair!!


(PS: MOM, make sure dad sees this!)


Thursday, November 19, 2009

29 by 29 update

i did it. workout #29 complete, and tomorrow is my 29th birthday. too wiped out to be excited. lost one pound after complaining about gaining 7. wish i had done more on the calorie-intake front while i did this. all regrets and bitterness i am sure will be swept away in the shower--i'll give myself that long to be disappointed. then i will step out renewed, toned, glowing with accomplishment, and grateful for my health. because that's how i roll.

:-)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

on the menu: 11-18-09

i just figured out a new regular feature i can do when inspiration (or time) is lacking--tell you what i'm eating for dinner! thrilling for some, mind-numbing for others.

tonight i will be out knitting so i need to have something warm and ready when blake gets home to feed three kids solo. sounds like a split pea soup situation with some tasty kids-will-love-it protein on the side.


simple split pea soup:

(there are never any leftover of this in our house, the kids go nuts for it)

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups water
  • 4 cups organic chicken broth
  • 2 cups green split peas
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 6 ounces diced ham, or cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preparation

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Stir in carrot, celery, pepper, and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 45 minutes or until peas are tender and soup thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in juice. Serve immediately.


maple and pepper pork chops (or in my case chicken thighs):

(this is swiped from the blog Eggs on Sunday and more detail including step-by-step pictures can be found here-- the best part other than how delicious it tastes is that the ingredients are pretty on-hand)

Ingredients
4 pork chops, bone-in or boneless (I like ones that are about 1 inch thick, and as always, if you can find a local purveyor of humanely-raised meat, please do choose that.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (I prefer Grade B or Dark Amber)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Pat the pork chops dry and season them well with the 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Rub the salt into the surface of the meat.

3. Preheat an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the 2 tablespoons of oil (it should shimmer.

4. Place the chops into the pan, presentation side down. Leave them to brown on this side for a few minutes. You can tell they’re ready to flip when the meat releases from the bottom of the pan when you gently lift up an edge.

5. Flip the chops over, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of one of the chops, and put the whole pan into the oven to finish cooking.

6. When the chops reach 145 degrees F, take the pan out of the oven and place the chops on a plate. Cover with foil and set aside.

7. Return the pan to the stove. You should have about 1-2 tablespoon of fat remaining in the pan; if there’s a lot more, pour it off before putting it back on the stove. Add the shallot, thyme, and another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Cook over medium-high heat until the shallot is softening and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.

8. Add the vinegar and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen the bits of fond on the bottom of the pan. Simmer for another 1-2 minutes, then add the maple syrup and ground peppercorns.

9. Simmer the sauce for about 8-10 minutes, until it’s been reduced by about half, to a syrupy/glaze consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

10. Spoon over the pork to serve.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

welcome back, nomad 2


we've been making do with one car for a few months now--and while doable, its annoying. come on, now: three kids, a business that is open 6 days a week, and no easily accessible public transportation near our home. not to mention our one car (the beloved suburban) is a giant white beast and diesel hog (although not as bad as you think) that is not fun to park downtown. its really best suited for towing boats, road trips, home depot outings, or adventures with all five of us on board. we missed our sturdy, diesel, daily driver to cover all those other times. blake had purchased this cutie off of craigslist in june and we got two months out of it before the tranny went kaput. thanks to the fine folks at MBI motors inc, our little beauty is back in action as of today!

welcome back, Noamd 2!

Monday, November 16, 2009

29 by 29

me with my broth containers--thanks to MG for taking my picture!


so you facebookers may know that i challenged myself to do 29 workouts before i turned 29--at the time, this gave me about 11 weeks which seemed like plenty of time, especially since i was basically going from 0 exercise, to about three times a week. i began the first few weeks with uphill walks around the neighborhood, and then started doing my favorite denise austin video, fat-burning yoga--one good hour of strength training and stretching (plus a killer ab workout), but not a lot of cardio. then i finally popped in the Shred Level 2 workout that Breana gave me, and boy am i glad i didn't just watch it first because it might have scared me off for good. i survived the intense 20 minute workout but decided that i would rather push myself extremely hard for half the time, than go back to my not-as-demanding but full hour routine. a mother's time is precious! the shred workout is crazy because you are working multiple areas at once in three circuits: stength, cardio, and abs. almost enough to make you want to die but just enough so you can survive the 20 minutes. its hilarious, too, because i don't have real weights so i scan the pantry before each workout for something to hold, usually some 2 pound broth containers!

so where am i at now? well, i've done 26 workouts and my birthday is on friday. that means i have to now bump it up to everyday this week, from my usual tues-thurs-sat routine, and i will reach my goal (and i won't have to workout ON my birthday, i hope!!) the results have been totally unexpected--i'll be honest and say i thought i would have dropped at LEAST ten pounds, i was hoping for 15. but nooooooo. i've GAINED 7!! i know its muscle, that is obvious since i feel way stronger and have a new definition to my arms and legs that was not there before. but its disappointing. i wanted to be down a size and into clothes that i wore pre-george. i also thought the working out would "kick-in" some natural weight loss, now that baby Geo is 18 months and barely nurses. oh well. it is what it is. maybe i'll keep it up through the holidays....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

mama's little fashionista

for as long as i can remember i've had a passion for fashion. the highlight of my childhood was pouring over department store catalogs. i'd spend countless hours creating lists of "dream wardrobes"--each list at different price points, like the if-we-won-the-lottery list, the $250 list, and the bare minimum i-couldn't-live-without list. i was the youngest of four children and our income was modest at best so this must have driven my parents crazy. once a week, my mom had her nails done at the JC Penney salon and i would get to spend the whole time browsing the childrens clothing section by myself, marveling at the coordinated sets, and fingering the fabrics, and if i had time try on different outfits. this must have driven the sales people crazy. this love for clothing has alwasy been my favorite pasttime--anytime we go on vacation i want to see the boutiques and vintage stores, every birthday its how i want to spend my day, any extra money that comes our way, i immediately dream up an afternoon at anthropologie. if we are going to go somewhere special like a concert, i will spend the weeks leading up to said event looking for the perfect thing to wear. this, of course, can drive blake a little crazy, too.


when i think back to my childhood, the things that stand out the most are not birthday parties or sports or school...its wandering thorugh malls and admist clothing racks. once, when i was about nine, my sister gave me $100 and i asked my mom to take me to the emporium where i proceeded to choose an assortment of cotton pieces with the most mix-and-match potential to maximize my dollars. i especially remember a pair of paisley print leggings with grey, turquoise, and purple tones that i wore until the knees faded.

and its weird how something is just "turned on" in your brain. my parents were not particulary fashionable people, and i can't think of anything or anyone who influenced me in that direction. and although clothing is material, its wasn't a desire for material possessions or or the status of designer ware. nor was it vanity--i wasn't so much whether i looked beautiful or fancy. the pleasure came from putting something together that was aethetically pleasing. like seeing amazing architecture or being in a room designed in fung shui, fashion is taking color and texture and cultural context and making a wearable expression from it, and i couldn't turn off that awareness if i tried.

it must have been about a year ago that i noticed something. blake and mayan have always had this deep connection--they share all the same interests, you can pretty much bet that if blake is into it mayan will become a fan as well. as she gets older their love of mutual things gets more intense, and its like this "aside" from the normal parent-child relationship, a thread of a common connection that looks more like friendship. its sweet and in the past i have been somewhat envious of their bond. so this thing i saw a year ago surprised me a little bit. it sprung up and suddenly it came to me that i might get to have this connection with another child: isadore. the two of us have always had an easy time getting along, but now a new development in our realtionship emerged: the girl loves fashion.


it took me a while to see this because it started as a love of dress up. not unusual for kids to love to dress up, but she took to dressing up all day, everyday. i began to expand our dress up box...or boxes, with thrift store finds. she would watch a movie and then immediately go to the box and create a look similar to the main character. it never had to be JUST like the character either--she happily worked with what she had, so if the character wore a puffy white shirt and vest, any old white shirt and an indian print vest turned inside out would do.

i will never forget the moment though that i knew isadore had my affection for fashion, the same mindfulness about clothing that i possessed. we were at the dinner table and mayan brought up egypt, and how she would love to go there for a family trip one day. we all agreed and then isadore sucked in her breath and proclaimed "i know exactly what i would wear when we got to egypt!" i just about died. i tried not to have a huge reaction but i looked right to blake with tears welling in my eyes, and his smiling look back told me "she's definitely your daughter!!" i just had to pull her into me then and laugh through my tears. ah, someone who understands!

on her 5th birthday, totally stoked on her new look

since then its been a pleasure watching the passion grow in her and her own style develop. everytime isaodre comes downstairs dressed she looks totally put together. she sees something in an article of clothing that i would miss--there is one pair of jeans in particular that she has loved to shreads, and no jeans has been able to replace them, something about the exact fit that captures her (she calls them her "sarah" jeans inspired by the character from the movie Labrynth.) not long ago, i bought her a pair of basic old navy boot cut jeans and she took them and thanked me politely. later she sighed to me how when she's older she will design a jeans that fit close to the legs, and she used her hands to show me how they would hug her legs. "sweetie," i said "they do make those. they are called skinny jeans." "They do?!" she replied ecstatically and the hunt began for the perfect pair of skinny jeans.


this is one of her first creations--using a diaper and a yoga strap, its a corset-style top...and of course with her beloved "sarah" jeans. where did she learn to work the camera like that??

our good friend Halle, who is a designer, came to visit this summer and she let Issy (who lived in her swimsuit pretty much the entire month of august) try on her "warrior" jewelry


its gotten to the point that i actually am inspired by HER. she is just so fresh and her look is aethetically clean, which i love. its not a bunch of randomness, she dresses with purpose. i have been teaching her different names for clothing, like the different types of jackets. she loves this character called carmen san diego who wears a red trench coat, so she's alwasy on the lookout for a red trench. she'll point something out and say "that's kind of like a carmen coat" and i say "thats called a pea coat" and we'll talk about the differences. while a small part of me has always critizied myself for what can seem like frivolous time spent talking about, looking at, shopping for clothing--i mean couldn't my energy be better spend on something more constructive?--but what i know, especially by watching it in isadore, is that you can't turn off a passion, you could stop shopping altogether (i practically have) and stick to jeans and a t-shirt everyday...but you would never stop observing and having a reaction to fashion. i know its like that for anyone's passion: you can ever really turn it off. so i am teaching isadore how to have balance. we don't need oodles of clothes, and we don't have to spend a lot of money on them either; we can't hold up the family looking for the perfect outfit, sometime we just have to be comfortable and move on. and when we do find that great look, we can give one good look in the mirror and pat ourselves on the back, but then lets go out in the world and be good people. not vain, not shallow--those things are not synonamous with fashion.

the latest look: vintage cat-eye glasses, a flowy feminine shirt, the ragged yet beloved "sarah" jeans, and sneakers


i've been looking for something special to do with isadore lately, since mayan, who loves music tens to get to go to the concerts (she can sit still a lot longer...) and i know isaodre can feel lieft out. imagaine my glee, when i saw in the paper that a fashion show called junk to funk was going to be all ages at the crystal ballroom. this event is a contest for designer to use trash, or materials that could be reused, to create fabulous couture and is sponsored by SCRAP. i knew my friend halle, who is a fashion designer, would be here in portland (she relocated from bend on novemebr 1st!) so we made a date, and isadore was SO excited--her first fashion show, AND it would be for a good cause, and to promote environmental consciousness.

the night of junk to funk: ready to rock it

last night was a blast--we got decked out and stayed up late, and being under those lights and right up against the runway was something neither of us will forget. each creation was inspiring and amazing...and the materials used were incredible! construction cones, tampon wrappers, tyvek mailers, inflatable matresses, coffee filters.....it ended being a great way for isadore to enjoy one of the reasons we moved here: culture, and also for us to bond over our love of all things fashionable. oh, my little fashionista, it was the first night of many, i hope!

left to right: andrea (halle's friend and favorite model), halle my-friend-who-loves-all-thing-fashion, me, and isadore (trying so hard to squeeze in she's making a face)

the outfit i voted for, made from construction site materials including a cone and barrier fencing. that is her real hair wrapped around wires!

me and my girl kickin' it on the runway, discussing the last set

Saturday, November 14, 2009

six hands are louder than two

i've got a big post brewing for tomorrow about fashion and isadore. so here's just a little something to fill todays slot.....


Friday, November 13, 2009

the kid lens: 4

*more pictures that showed up my camera, most without my knowledge*

this is a classic

*as seen on mayan's blog--bandit the hamster

hey, everybody--it's vaughn. hi, vaughn!

uh-oh, we're busted looking at hybrids...

i am trying to teach george how to take a picture....

...obviously the boy knows what he's doing;)

i can't tell if mayan took this herself or if she had Issy do it, but i know she's fake sleeping

oh, lovey face!

this must be mayan's doing b/c this is at nomad

Thursday, November 12, 2009

my butt hurts....

...just looking at this egg!

blake joked that we might have an ostrich. i think one particular hen is just getting all the good scraps. the funny....okay, maybe not funny, maybe more like the gross thing, is that last week we got another big egg, not quite as big as this one but huger than all the rest....and it had dried blood all around it like the chicken had to strain really hard to get it out. EW!!! apparently she's all stretched out now 'cause this one was nice and clean. (i know, i know, EW!!!!!)

the one in his right hand is an average-sized large egg. the left is like uber-jumbo-ass-kicker-sized.


there's a good chance its a double-yolker but we're saving for something extra-special!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

scrabble with MG


i taught mayan how to play scrabble last winter, and we had a few great fireside games. sure, i give her advice on how to better play a word and help her build words if she's stuck, but i also make her add up her own points. its a well-rounded home-school activity: spelling, math (addition, value, and intro to multiplication), stategy, and of course, vocabulary. i was amused by the results of last weekend's game, as there were some...how should i say...grown-up words. i put down "sex" (i think mayan believes the origin of this word is from that show "sex and the city") and she turned it into "sexy" for 14 points. we both had a chuckle over "fart" (my play, actually.) and while i was hesitant, i could not resist the huge score on the right side of the board despite to potential uncomfortable explanation. luckily though, it began as "abort" ("you know like 'abort mission!', to cancel or call off..." i explained) and the next turn i happened to have an "ion" and no questions were asked. plus i got 30 points for it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

when they are old and i'm older

i was trying to capture a baby-eats-lime moment, and ended up with a classic slice of life. we don't film our children very often ever since our video camera died years ago, and this made me remember how precious that footage can be. and while its not the most exciting footage ever, something like this will bring endless smiles and tears years down the road, when i can't believe that my babies were ever babies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

i'm a firestarter

last year, as summer was ending and the cool weather lay ahead, blake and i made a decision: we were going to challenge ourselves to NOT turn on our central heating system. our first year here, the heating bill was insanely high--not surprising since we have a very large home, with an above-average amount of windows, none of which are energy-efficient. one aspect of central heating that we've never liked is the even-ness of heat around the home--we were always battling over the "perfect temperture"--in our classic opposite natures, if one of us was hot (blake!) then the other was cold (me!) we alwasy felt "dried out" and anytime the heat would kick on blake would complain its was "blaring"....sigh.

we decided to experiment with heating main living area with wood, and use space heaters in the bedrooms. seemed like a simple switch but actually proved to require a fireplace remodel. our a-frame home is graced by a dramatic external cement-cast fireplace and 30 feet of piping shooting past the all-glass face of the our home, toward the sky. the fireplace opening is of course in the inside of the home, was originally set-up for gas but we planned on just burning wood. we decided to consult with an expert to see if our ridiculously tall chimney would need any maintainence before the first burn. this is how we met Buck. he owns Buck's Stove Palace on Foster Road and really deserves a blog post all his own: he's a kookie, amish-bearded, stove genius who charges one dollar for a housecall. he leaves messages that begin with "Hi, from Buck!" and then ends with "Well, 'bye' from Buck!"

when Buck came to see our fireplace he descibed it as "a rich man's dream"--architecturally stunning but completely inefficient. for starters the stove piping was single-walled, added to the fact that the unit itself was outside of the home it equaled massive heat-loss. he suggested installing a cast-iron fireplace and running new piping up through the old, turning the old place into a sort of hearth for the new unit. well, that wasn't in our budget--a new jotul wood stove, although beautiful and long-lasting, runs for thousdands of dollar--so we spent some time discouraged.

by october we'd done nothing for heat and dealt with extra layers and wool socks. but upon returning from our seattle vacation, we found a surprise in our living room--Buck had, with the help of breana and our extra house key, delivered a gorgeous chocolate brown cast iron stove to our living room with a note that explained that he'd just recieved this unit used (a rarity) and he'd like us to check it out--no obligation to buy--but that he would really like to help us and we could work something out. we were pretty stunned that he'd gone through all that trouble for us and we'd only given him a dollar so far! once i saw the fireplace in the living room, i was smitten with it--it grounded the sleek and modern existing fire area with a traditional and functional warmth (no pun intended.)

we ended up having it installed, piping and all, which was a massive undertaking requiring extensive scaffolding to feed the pipe down from the top, 30 feet in the air (remember, in an a-frame house there is no roof to stand on since the sides are so steep.) buck barely charged us for materials and the fireplace was a fraction of what it would have cost new--and he gave us a year to pay it off.

by november, the very night we had houseguests arrive for the thanksgiving holiday, it was ready for a fire. it was exciting to have our extended family with us for the first blaze and we huddled around it, mesmorized by its light. the area soon became the hub of activity, where our guest would come to warm up, since the back sections of the house remained cool, and we would set up the kiddie table and play games like mancala, or read or do a homeschool lesson near the "heat box".

we soon learned that heating a home by wood was a sort of lifestyle. everyday we'd gather wood from the wood pile and bring it in, hopefully enough to last the day. we'd split kindling daily. we were alwasy grabbing extra newspapers. the ash box had to be emptied every few days. we would look at the dead trees in the backyard and see them as next years cord of wood. blake took to cooking our morning eggs and potatoes in a frying pan on the top of the stove and we'd set our tea cups there to stay warm. we became wood stove people. we would only start a fire if we'd be around to tend it so some days we'd come home from a long day of errands and the house would be cold, but blake would start an evening blaze while i made dinner and by the kids' bedtime, we'd have something cozy to sit by. once a fire is lit, there is this potent energy in the home that has to be tended, mothered even, like one of my own children. and this became part of my routine, periodic checking, stirring the hot coals, adding a log, fanning a dying flame, putting on boots and jacket and walking to the wood pile for a few armloads...the fire needed to be kept healthy, kept alive! i fell in love with its presence in my home and the discipline it evoked from me.

i'd always had fireplaces in our homes growing up and remember watching my father build and stoke many a fire. i felt like if i had to start one myself i'd do fine--i understood the gist of fire-building. having one in our home now gave me the opportunity to really build this skill. keeping it alive once it got going was a quick learn for me, but starting one myself was not a consistant success. some would take off and others would fizzle leaving me frustrated that i'd lost time and starter materials. i was not exactly sure what i was doing wrong, so at first i just asked blake to always start one before he left. this was fine for a while but busy mornings happen to busy people and sometimes there just wasn't enough time--and it seemed that the way we were starting them took a lot of time and tending just to establish a decent layer of coals. i will never forget one cold day when there was no fire and blake was at work, my hands were full with the baby and two children--i wanted a fire quickly and didn't want to waste time with a failure. i decided to call the neighbors, and see if rich (breana's husband) could come over and start one for me, which thankfully he did. this time, i watched how he did it closely. i am perfectly at ease with traditional roles, and leaving certain work "to the men"--blake brings home the bacon and i tend the hearth--now quite literally--but what kind of hearth-tender would i be if i couldn't build a decent fire! i felt very grateful for rich's help, but i also decided that i didn't want to have to call him again--i needed to master fire-building.

i spent the next few months perfecting the initial fire-starter set-up, and also experimenting with the different types of wood we had. the first two cords of the season were a varied mix of hard and soft wood, but the final cord was all fir, which took a lot of time to adjust to. fire after fire my confidence grew. i am happy to report two things: first, we met our goals and we never did turn on our central heat, and second, this year i am the official fire-starter in our home, with no more failed attempts. i decided to take pictures of the process during 2nd or 3rd fire of this year, to cement my confidence that after taking off the summer months by fire-building skills had not waned, and also in case someone else out there lacking this skill wanted to be enlightened (ha, more puns!!) so here's how i start a fool-proof fire:


you've got to have your essential items: newpaper, dried twigs, pinecones, smaller-sized fir kindling, a few soft wood logs...oh and a lighter!

first layer: newspaper. i prefer a combo of the twisted-like-a-log and just a plain old crumple

second layer: sprinkle with some pinecones

third layer: a handful of dried twigs, layed out all willy-nilly in different directions

fourth and fifth layer: kindling sticks layed down in an "x" pattern, with the bigger logs on top, also crossed. you want air (and then flames) to be able to make its way through your pile to ignite more material. resting the larger logs on the little metal log holders can help to keep the "upside-down pyramid" balanced...

light 'em up. i prefer a long lighter like this, and also i like to light three points of the newspaper--left, front, and right.

now i close the doors, but crack the bottom vent causing an updraft of oxygen that feeds the flame, and really makes it blaze hot to catch all of that material on fire. this is actually the ash pan on my fire-place but the other vents on the sides don't do the job the way this does...

here we go--everything is catching

a quick peek a few minutes later reveals that, yes, the logs have caught fire and things are progressing nicely

at this point i had walked away for a while, and had not yet added any logs since that initial start-up. but no fear, a nice hot bed of coals is forming that will ignite any log you throw on top. i might take a poker and flip that red log before adding two more and closing it up.

so i did just that, and things are getting very hot. once i see all the logs are caught and there is that layer of hot coals, i can close the bottom and let things burn more slowly.

once things are fully established, this is what the inside looks like. as each log burns down and turns to glowing red coal, i just keep throwing on fresh, dry logs, adjusting the hardwood logs as needed (they are much denser and sometime need a flip)


do you have any wood fire tips or memories to share??

Sunday, November 8, 2009

meet prince and princess snottyface

saturday is isadore and george's day to keep each other entertained, and last saturday they both had to same snotty, sneezy cold. now that george is old enough to actively play with the girls (or at least be dressed up and forced to play) he finds himself in all sorts of roles. isadore convinced me to put this shirt on him, over the fleece jacket he was already wearing, so the result, all you seinfeld fans, looked much like the infamous "puffy shirt." aren't they a comical pair.....too bad you can't see the crusty snot smears on their faces, that was the cutest part.


here, prince geo looks like he's relieving himself in the royal bushes:

officially over it, despite the princess' pleas

Saturday, November 7, 2009

a warm smile

this morning, i was battling a case of the "a.m. grumpies", dispite having been woken up to my honey delivering me a hot cup of tea in bed. while huffing around the kitchen, i got upset with blake for leaving something at work that i needed for today. he offered to run to nomad and get it and bring it back, and before he left he reminded me that my breakfast was being kept warm in the oven. a few mintues after he'd gone, i looked in the oven and saw this:







needless to say, i felt like a perfectly ungrateful poophead. but it immediately turned my attitude around. nothing like a warm smile to cheer you up, right?

Friday, November 6, 2009

my fridays

day so long, computer so slow.

this will be my first (of many i'm sure) day of half-assed blogging. i want to get into pajamas and put the kids to bed and eat ice cream while watching an alfred hitchcock movie.

friday is the busiest day of the week. i try to cram all errands into this day so that i can stay home, and save gas and money monday through thursday. here was today's day, start to finish. maybe next time i'll take pictures....like a day in the life, part two: out-and-about!


6:30 george wakes up and i put him in his room with a snack and sippy cup. he plays and i go back to bed. this is what happens every morning. he's the best baby ever. blake comes and gets him when he's woken up but Geo usually plays happily for 1 to 2 hours without a peep. i know, best baby ever.
8:30 i hear blake getting george and looking for wipes. i tell him where they are. then ask for 30 more minutes.
9:30 i wake up for reals this time. put on my sheepskin house boots and make the bed. i like to start the day with a made bed.
9:40 finish the dishes in the sink, make breakfast (ham, freshly-layed egg, cheese on a sprouted bagel--a common morning-starter), and start a cup o' irish breakfast. mayan unloads the dish washer.
10:00 alternate between eating breakfast/drinking tea, feeding george some egg, and checking email and facebook, and solidifying grocery list.
10:20 sit in living room and finish cold bagel and cold tea while listening to the practice piano.
10:30 blake gives the "lets be gone in 30 minutes"announcement, so i head upstairs to get dressed while barking orders: gather piano books! gather library books! put ice packs in the cooler! shoes, shoes, shoes!! NO, not those ones! where are your sneakers?
10:55 dressed and loading car. run back in to grab iPod.
11:20 roll up to fred meyer for "red drink" (tropical recharge) and other fred meyer grocery items. (it is one of three or four grocery stores i shop at every friday) put perishable groceries in cooler in the back of car.
11:55 deliver blake to nomad just in time. he peirces a nose right away and use the phone to call danielle (see what she'd like for dinner) and then my friend halle (to make sure she's bought the tickets to the fashion show we are attending next week end.)
12:20 pop in a new audiobook for the kids and i--"the gooney bird books" by lois lowry. head to new seasons.
12:30 mayan wants to stay in the car to keep listening to the story so i take the baby into new seasons for groceries: part two. its the only place that has the bagels i can eat. also the 'enjoy life' chocolate chips for the kids. spendy items but essentials. also i like the ground pork. feed george rice puffs while we shop to keep him occupied.
1:00 return to car, get the what-did-i-miss-in-the-story update while unloading cart, give the kids some free samples i scored inside. count my cash, and return the cart, stopping to give the epileptic homeless woman on the corner two dollars. i don't do this very often, i'm always back and forth about whether its really helpful at all. but today, i can spare two bucks, so whatever.
1:17 next stop trader joe's. we all get out. get TP and essential gluten-free things unavailable at any other stores. find "appleface" the stuffed cat they hid in a different place everytime (kids get a treat if they find him.)
1:45 get back to car, rearrange back of suburban, feed everyone turkey sandwiches.
2:00 stop at woodstock library to return books and get a new pile. this week lots of easy read books for isadore, magic tree house books for mayan, an alfred hitchcock dvd and two randomly picked mucis cds for me and b, and our first edith nesbit book for all.
2:40 ha, the choice to hit the woodstock library was a stategic move on my part--the only taco cart in town that is soy-free is in the parking lot next door. i order two tacos and let the kids look through our new books in the car while i wait. clean out my purse. the fresh tortillas are to die for--so soft and fluffy!
3:00 arrive early to the girls' piano lessons. george has fallen alseep! perfect timing. eat my tacos. listen to the skippyjon jones cd that came with the library book.
3:15 escort issy to her lesson. come back to car and read mayan some nancy drew (the bungalow mystery)
3:45 isadore comes out and mayan goes in. read to issy. try the two new cds i got from the library--they both suck really bad. then listen to iPod--regina spektor, soviet kitsch.
4:20 mayan is back from her lesson and we head straight home.
4:35 girls and i unload groceries and put them away while i start to make burritos. george is up and grupmy--keep him out of trouble while the girls ride their bikes before it gets too dark.
5:30 finalize and assemble burritos and put half in the oven to warm. whip up a small batch of guacamole.
5:55 pack up four toastly burritos and guac to deliver to danielle. load up kids in car and make sure i turn off all the lights in the house before we go.
6:15 get to D's, leave kids in car whle i run her dinner to her and then stand in her doorway chatting for 10 minutes. have her call blake and tell him i'm on my way (and running late)
6:45 arrive at nomad. pick up b.
6:55 stop at freddies again b/c i forgot to buy beer.
7:15 get home and heat up burritos. have girls clear their library pile off the counter and then set the table. crack a negra modelo to go with my food.
7:35 finish dinner, have kids help clean up. opne a second beer, go to computer and discuss/mull over VW TDI wagons. then i start this blog post.
8:30 realize the kids are getting rowdy and blake is in shower. walk ways from the computer and start getitng them ready. they brush teeth. i wrap up geo and nurse him down in no time. lay him in his crib. head to the girls' room, go up in mayans bunk and read half of "the deliverers of their country" by edith nesbit. give lots of kisses and sweet dream wishes.
9:30 head back downstairs. start blogging again. get the how-long-will-you-be-clicking-look from blake. assure him i'm wrapping things up.
10:03 really wrap it up. try to remember where i left that beer.


all in all, this one wasn't so half-assed. what did you do today?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

lumpias!

.....are freaking delicious. ever had one? they are like lighter, crispier egg rolls packed usually with tender meat and tasty vegetables. these irresistible delights made their way into our family history at some point, and i did some asking around to find out exactly how by talking to my mom and sister.

i've always known that the mere word "lumpia" caused a sparkle in the eye or a lick of the chops whenever it was muttered by a family member. apparently, in ketchikan, the small island in southeast alaska, where my parents were raising their four children (me being the youngest), had a fair-sized filipino population. my mom's comparison was that the lumpia to filipinos are like what a taco is to hispanics. she was introduced to them by her brother kerry's wife, teresa, who was half-filipino. what my sister and i remember was that finding the lumpia wrappers, the ultra-thin crepe-like piece that holds all the filling, was a special treat because the wrappers were not available that we knew of on the island. so if someone in the family, like my dad or aunt, were going to visit seattle, they would try and bring back the wrappers, and then a lumpia feast would ensue. my mom and i wondered if either we didn't know about the "local lumpia wrapper source" or if the local filipino families were just making them from scratch. hard to believe because they are so incredibly thin and delicate to handle. my mom told me that when her brother passed away, and teresa remarried she was kind enough to invite our family to the wedding. there teresa's filipino relatives cooked all the food for the wedding, including piles and piles of lumpias which they fried right there in front of the hungry guests.


this was all just a mere memory for me though since i was five when we left alaska and six when we settled in bend--and remained for over 20 year. by the time i was grown, i was aware of what had become really "the legend of the lumpia" but had never made them myself, i assume since no markets in bend carried that rarity of the wrapper. i recall once, on a road trip in my late teens, stopping at a cafe on the coast for brunch, and seeing, amidst the normal omelette and benedict fare, a special sheet announcing the available lumpias! i excitedly explained to my traveling companion about the elusive fried treat. i can't remember actually eating them there, so either i ordered them and they were unremarkable or i stuck to my french toast and tight budget.

fast forward to last year, here in portland, where i decided i wanted to start a chinese new years feast tradition and have all of my favorite chinese-american dishes, which i am unable to eat now due to The Allergy. (my basic approach to cooking foods that normally contain soy is substitute it with a fraction of salt.) this led to an exploration of the vast array of asian food markets along S.E. Powell Boulevard. i found this to be an awesome cultural experience, if not somewhat dizzying due to the huge selection of products with unreadable labels. blake and i realized that (if you don't care about whether your food is organic) a $20 bag of groceries gets you days of delicious meals, our favorite being our homemade seafood ramen that we've been prefecting over the last year.

back to my original plan, the best market we found is called An Dong Market on S.E. Powell and 55th, and it has everything from two aisles of noodles, a clean and exotic (to us) meat department, and fresh produce popular to chinese cooking. while shopping for my chinese new year feast, i meandered past the freezer section, and lo and behold, what do my eyes land upon but a box of lumpia wrappers! i was tickled and for only three dollars a box, i snatched one up. since my mom and dad were the guest of honors to our first attempt at this new tradition, i was excited to show my mom what i'd found. she helped me through the process of the delicate wrapping and gave me tips about stacking them so they don't stick together, and even fried them up. they were just as good as everyone had remembered--it was very hard to stop eating them!!

three nights ago, when we were preparing to satisfy another ramen fix, i decided to grab another box, and whip up some lumpias to go along. this time, feeling more free about what should go into them. i have both the recipe my mother has passed on from teresa, and the recipe from the back of the box (including the sweet and sour sauce which is so good for dipping!). the recipe i have settled on is somewhat between the two, but this is one of those things that really, once you are comfortable, is a flexible, whatever-is-on-hand type of food, and doesn't require specific measurements.

*****
first i give you the original recipe that came through our family, from teresa:

*chicken breasts
-boil the breasts until done, then cool, and finely dice. set aside.

*vegetable oil for sauteing
*bean sprouts
*green cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
*carrots, grated
*green onion, chopped

-saute the vegetable in the oil. also add:

*dash of garlic salt
*soy sauce, to taste

-when soft, remove from heat, drain, add chicken to mixture, and let cool.

when the filling is cool, take your thawed wrappers, and one by one gently separate, fill with large spoonful of mixture, and wrap, wetting the last bit to seal. keep lumpias in single layers, using wax paper to add more layers, until you use up all the filling. deep fry in oil or fat on low controlled heat until golden brown.

teresa's sweet and sour sauce;

1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
ginger root, julienned
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp soy sauce

--cook all ingredients in a pan until thick. serve warm with the lumpias!


********
and now my version, which is soy-free, and has the best part--a nice crunch inside provided by water chesnuts and also no pre-cooking required:

toss together in a large bowl the following:
*1 pound ground pork, sauted and drained
OR dark chicken meat, cooked and finely chopped
*1/2 cup carrots, grated
*1 cup mung bean sprouts AND/OR cabbage, shredded
*1/3 cup mushrooms, chopped
*1/3 cup yellow or white onion, finely chopped
*1/3 cup water chesnuts, chopped OR turnips, finely chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

mix in a small bowl:
*2 large eggs
*3 tsp tapioca starch

add to meat-veggie mixture. season with:
*1/2 tsp pepper
*1 teaspoon salt

toss well! then begin rolling (my lumpia wrappers have a nice diagram on the back of the box to help you along) basically: fill, fold sides, and roll, wetting the last bit to seal it closed. place on a platter in layers, using wax paper bewteen each layer to prevent sticking. i fry them in canola oil, using about 1/2 inch of oil in the pan, so when submerged the lumpias are not quite covered and can be flipped, until both side are golden brown. set on paper towels briefly to absorb excess oil, and serve with sweet and sour sauce.

the sauce:

3 Tbsp vinegar (white wine or apple cider both work well)
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp tapioca starch
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp oil

place in a small sauce pan and heat until thickened.


****

so tell me, readers, have you ever had a lumpia? got another recipe to share? also let me know if you try one of these and, of course, the result....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the perfect boot finale

part one and part two are here.

a new season! a renewed sense of hope of finding the perfect boot! in typical fashion, the world of fashion has caught up with me--every time, for as long as i can recall, if i've searched despearately for an item, there is always a plethera the following year. this is why i was studying fashion merchandising in college before i dropped out, to fulfill my own needs of having access to the clothing i wanted before it was easily available, and to use my knack of being one step ahead of the world of ready-to-wear, and get paid for it.

a sit-down on the zappos site and confirmed a large selection of tall leather boots, both functional, quality, and stylish. i quickly settled on two pairs and convinced blake to let me max out our credit card and order both, see which one is better, and send the loser back. you will recall last time my saga took place over january, so most of the boots my size and color choice were sold out. i was just a wee bit paranoid about that happening again. but here i was early in the season, with all these hot boots fresh for the picking!

last year, when i gave up the search, i ended up surviving the rest of the wet season with a fine pair of black rubber rain boots with laces up the front that i found for half-off online. they are great but don't live up to many of the criteria of that "perfect boot." the perfect boot, just for review, needs to be leather, an appealing shade of brown, have secure tread for slippery surfaces, and (the toughy) needs to have a large enough circumference in the calf (sadly, my calf is the same circumference as last year dispite my efforts to lose weight.) plus it has to be pretty.



pair #1:


the franco sarto telluride. mmmmmm.......this boot gives me the chills. its seeeeeexy, but would be even sexier broken-in, like a true leather boot. the buckle (which i'm usually opposed to) is just the right touch, not too tough, just there. the shade of brown--warm, reddish, yummy. the zipper was beefy and industrial and, the twist, on the outside of the shaft--oh, yeah.

the fit: a no-go. shit, shit, shitty-shit. not big enough around the calf, and stretching would have been a risk at that price. and in the foot area: ow. ow. ow. very narrow with stiff leather. one trip around the living room and i was wincing. with a sigh, i printed the label for their return.

besides all of that, its still my favorite looking boot i've seen all year. i guess it will remain "boot porn," and i can imagine wearing them in my dreams.


pair #2:
i gave another pair of timberlands a shot. these were $100 more than the timberlands of boot search part one, so i knew the quality would be better than those cheap-o's. i liked the color, too--very different. almost a grey or green hue to them in person. compared to the tellurides the style is....um, bland. but the beauty of these is that the style could go either way: a little country, a little rock and rock, a little boho...they are a whatever, wherever and don't make a huge statement. the tread: respectable. the fit: a clear, clear winner. they went on like butter, had a roomie, comfortable footbed and didn't squeeze. the calf was just enough with no room to spare, but a small hidden panel of elastic to make them work. phew! the relief!!

what i've discovered it that the best bet for a larger calf is a pull-on style boot--these are meant to, on a smaller-sized calf, have space between your leg and the boot top so it can be pulled on and off without the need for a zipper. no harm done if your calf fills up the extra room--especially nice if there is a small section of elastic at the top for comfort and ease.


the leather is soft and does slouch a bit now that they are worn-in, but not so much that it affects the tallness of the boot, or kills the shape of my leg--i still have an ankle, but also they are easy to wear, not stiff at all. i can run errands and crouch and carry kids, and my feet don't hurt at the end of the day. my look has been these with opaque black tights and a sweater dress almost everyday: my fall look is complete! and to think, i have all of the remainder of fall and winter to enjoy my perfect pair of boots...isn't that how it should be? only time will tell if they last more than one year, but until then, after all i've been through in my search, i am already getting my money's worth.