Monday, November 28, 2016

I Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust

It's dry here.  It hasn't rained since September, and at our house, that rain was a spattering, a brief settling of the reddish dust that sifts over everything as the almost constant wind blows.

Everything is dead, or dying.

The tender herbs are gone.  I watered the basil and catnip for weeks, watching as the heat and wind blasted and withered the leaves, making them bitter.  The thyme went.  The lemon grass, the lemon balm, the tarragon.  I finally gave up on the basil when a weekend unwatered left it exhausted and limp.  It curled up on itself and died.


I tried to transfer the spicy marjoram into the big garden, but it withered away.  The squirrels tore the the mulching hay away, and pawed at the chives, desperate for water.  The last bit of chocolate mint alive in the yard sits in a cup of stagnant water on the patio.  I'm afraid to transfer it into the desert the big garden is.

Only the lavender and Mama Rosemary, depleted, are alive in the herb bed.  I water her and worry at the yellow tips of her leaves.


The big garden has been neglected for a month.  One of the blueberry bushes died.  The other droops, nitrogen-starved and parched.


The raspberry bushes sport crisp-edged leaves.  All but five of the strawberry plants are gone.  I bend the leafless branches of the pomegranate tree, wondering if I'm imagining that it bends as if it were alive.  These plants are half buried in hay, the only thing sheltering the soil.  The last Roma tomato is mulching itself as it collapses into decay.  I can't bring myself to pick a single green or yellow fruit, even when frost threatens. The Thai peppers shriveled on the vine.  Maybe I'll harvest some for seed, I think, but I don't believe myself.


There is no fall garden this year.  The rows that should be silver-green with collards and broccoli and lettuce are little sand dunes, marked with pinecones scalped by the damned squirrels.


The muscadines vines feel like brittle bones under my hands.  They need to be moved, staked, pruned.  I'm afraid sand will spill from the cuts my shears make.


The stinkweed stands like an old man in the midst of the ruin, clinging to its wishes.  It will not let go.


 Everywhere, life is passing.  It goes into dust, covered in dust.  It is just giving up, dead before it hits the ground.  Only the hawthorne blazes like an autumn tree should.  I whisper to it amidst the thorns. "Come back," I murmur, pricking my fingers, an offering to a silent god.  The blood is brighter than the leaves.  





As I edit these pictures, sharpening and sizing, I start to lighten them, turn up the saturation to give them more color, the kind of color for which I'm known.  But that wouldn't be the truth. The truth is, there is little color here.  The truth is, I feel colorless:   muted and quiet and slipping into a dusty sort of despair.

Years ago, Will wrote papers about how inspiration was drying up.  He traced the path from Tintern Abbey to Dover Beach and wound up silent and sad in Eliot's Wasteland.  That's how I feel.

My favorite time of year, which is supposed to be full of gentle, spiced winds and damp, cool mornings that energize me and set me to dreaming, is wearing me down.  I smell the smoke from the mountains burning, and watch the fires of hatred kindling again from one shore to the other and feel as if I am ancient.  I am ancient and trapped in a labyrinth of desiccated brambles, chased by the ghosts of wicked men forcing themselves into the present skin of wicked men.

They say rain is coming.  I stand in the wind and spit dust from my mouth and pray it is enough.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Making Thyme...Biscuits

First, I just wanted to say that I'm doing okay as far as the political debate addiction goes.  It almost killed me yesterday when the AP article about the Clinton Foundation was tossed around, but I persevered and posted a picture of the kitten.  Yay!



Whilst trying to avoid writing about poor journalism and the gullibility of society during a political campaign politics, I decided to turn my attention to my herb garden and come up with something good for dinner.  The herb garden has suffered almost as much as the rest of the garden this year with the awful heat and dryness, but Will dumps Frodo's water bowl out every morning over the top of it, so it's a little bit better.  I did lose the dill and parsley (between the zebra swallowtails and summer in middle Georgia, my dill always struggles) and one of the sages, but everything else is at least trying hard.  Only the lemon thyme and lavender are truly flourishing, and so I decided to grab a few sprigs of the thyme to add to some biscuits for supper.

When I first got married, I kept a mental list of all the things I wanted to do differently than my mother, because I was twenty-four and that's what one does.  One of them, for some bizarro reason, was to find a different biscuit recipe.  To this day, I can't figure out why.  My mother's biscuits are small, round pieces of Heaven and to claim otherwise would be to lie like a rug.  I went through about seventeen different recipes before realizing I was being an idiot and going back to her recipe.  I do make a few changes:  I use all purpose flour instead of self-rising and I use buttermilk in place of whole milk.  I also knead the dough lightly eleven times (I don't know why eleven...it's just the magic number) in the bowl and she doesn't knead it at all.  I think it makes better layers to knead it. ANYWAY, I used that recipe (found below) as the base for these luscious little yum yums.

First, I put the thyme on a plate and took pictures of it because it was beaaaaauuuutiful (please sing this as you read it.  I'll wait while you go back and sing.)  Lemon thyme is a more yellow green than English thyme and last year, I actually had a few variegated sprigs in the clump in the garden, although none this year.  Boolaid.   It's still beautiful, really, and it has a nice lemony scent and flavor (but it's not sour, which is always so odd. Like, you expect it to be sour because...lemons, but no.)


Next, I stripped the leaves from the stem.  In a stew or sauce, I might not strip the leaves, but the stems are a little tough from the heat (or something...I sound knowledgeable, though, don't I?) and I only wanted tender bits.  Then I took a picture, because beaaaaaauuuuuttiful!


I minced the leaves next.  Thyme leaves are very small and probably would have been fine whole. However, I really wanted to get as much lemon flavor into the biscuits as possible.  In case you were wondering, I used about a tablespoon and a half of thyme.  I probably will use more, maybe two tablespoons, packed, next time.  Then I cut up my butter and compounded it with the thyme.  (This is a fancy way of saying "smashed it up with a fork until it was all blended.)  Before doing so, I fell on the floor with the beauty of the green leaves against the yellow butter and white plate and red table. When I got up, I took pictures.  YOU WILL NOW SEE TWO ANGLES OF THYME AND BUTTER.  (It's okay, you're going to see two angles of biscuits in a minute.)



Right?  How beautiful is that?  Then I made a car out of compounded butter.  Not really, but it sort of was shaped that way, and so I took a picture of it.  Because I'm not right in the head.


You know it looks like a speckledy car.

After it chilled in the fridge a while, I cut it into the flour of my regular biscuit dough and made the dough normally.  Except that it was kind of speckledy.  And also, I cut the biscuits with a tiny round cutter I usually use for making crackers.  I made them small because if they tasted bad, I figured we wouldn't be as sad if each biscuit was only two bites.  (We take our biscuits seriously.)  Be advised that my hands are always this wrinkly.  They have been since I was a little girl.  I'm finally growing into the age of my hands, I guess.  Huh.  Also, yes, I do always hold my pinky out when I cut biscuits.  Because I am FANCY.



We had these last night with supper along with salmon, rice, and steamed carrots.  They were a big hit.  We decided that they would be awesome with a little cheese thrown in...maybe parmesan or something kind of subtle.  And I think I'll try to make shortcakes out of them to serve with strawberries or blueberries later...it's just adding sugar to the dough, essentially.  I couldn't take pictures because it clouded up around sunset and the light died, so I saved out some really pretty samples for breakfast and picture taking this morning.  I did find that the lemon taste was stronger today, but the texture was the same as next-day biscuits always is (not as great as fresh), so I think I might try to refrigerate the cut-out biscuits covered for a few hours or even overnight to try to let the herb oils get all infused in the dough.  (I don't think "infused" is the right term.  Permeated into? Something like that...) In any case, I paired the biscuits with homemade blueberry jelly and strawberry jam and they were faaaaantastic.  



And beautiful!  Aren't they pretty??  Many thanks to Phil Smith for my inlaid serving board, which I use for everything from staging biscuits to serving cheese. You can find his work and the work of other talented Georgia artisans in the link above.

For those interested, Mama's biscuit recipe (with small changes by me) is below.  Don't even bother trying to find a better one.  You won't and then you'll be sad because of all the wasted thyme.

Get it?  You get it?

Sigh.  Go make some biscuits, y'all.  Add some thyme to your butter and tell me how it goes...

The Best Biscuit Recipe
                    printable recipe
Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (a little less if you're using salted butter)
1/4 cup (half a stick) cold butter
1/2-2/3 cup buttermilk (depending on humidity)

Directions:
1.  Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
2.  Cut butter into cubes and use a pastry blender or fork to cut into the 
     flour.  
3.  Making a small well in the center, add buttermilk 1/2 cup at a time.  Mix
     with a fork, using a light hand.
4.  When the dough is almost completely mixed, but there is still flour on the
     sides of the bowl, knead eleven times to pick up flour and create layers.
     I knead by folding the dough gently in half and pressing it lightly to the 
     sides of the bowl.
5.  Turn out onto a floured surface (I use about 1/8 cup of flour) and roll to 
     about 3/4 to 1 inch thickness.  Cut out with one smooth motion--DO NOT
     TWIST your cutter 
6.  Place on a cookie sheet so that the biscuits are not touching, but are very 
     close.
7.  Brush with melted butter.
8.  Bake in a 450 degree oven for 9-10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Addiction

This morning I got a call from my brother.

"Dude," he said.  "Why?"

That's all he had to say, because I immediately knew what he was talking about, which was that I had engaged in a Facebook political debate with somebody with whom I should know by now I should not.

"It's like a drug!" I wailed, and I was completely serious.

Political debate is, for me, like cigarettes.  I smoked from the time I was eighteen until the year before I got pregnant with River, which is a lot of years.  Fifteenish, with a couple of years off for Jeffrey's pregnancy and the year or so after that.  I didn't enjoy it.  I didn't enjoy the taste of cigarettes at all.  I didn't like the way they made my lungs and sinuses feel.  I didn't like the way they made me smell.  I didn't like the money I spent on them.  BUT.  I also loooooved smoking on the first warm day of spring, driving with the windows down.  I enjoyed smoking my way through long phone conversations with far-away friends or chats around a fire pit.  I liked kicking back with the hubs at the end of a long day with a companionable smoke on the back patio.  BUT.  I knew cigarettes were bad for me, I knew smoking would eventually kill me, and I wanted to quit for years.

I don't enjoy political debates on Facebook.  I don't like it when loved ones call me a "libtard" or smear the candidate I support.  I don't like it when I spend precious minutes researching non-biased information to share only to have the person on the screen say, "You are a shill."  Or "I have to go with my gut on this."  I don't enjoy having people I respect treat me badly or show me sides of themselves that I truly, truly don't think they'd show me in person.  (Because, if they did, we couldn't be friends.)  AND YET--there is a part of me that just craves it.  I crave the clash.  I crave the research.  I crave the moment when I've done my research and the person I'm debating has nothing to say and either shuts up or insults me.

But...it's not good for me.  It's just NOT.

The negativity can drag me down and put me in the dumps all day long.  I can get so sidetracked on researching and coming up with zingers and comebacks that I will look up and realize that it's lunchtime or time to go pick up the kids and nothing has been done around the house.   It's probably not good for business given that I live in a conservative (NOT an insult, just a truth) area.  And I've come to realize that Facebook is just not the place (FOR ME) to have the debates.  Debates should be done in person, with people who are just as informed as you are, and who are not willing to insult you to your face.  I've discussed this before, on Facebook, on the old blog, with random people in Walmart--it's just NOT GOOD for me to debate on Facebook, and yet I keep going back to it.  Seriously, it has to stop.

So, what's a girl to do who loves politics and who, moreover, believes that political discussion is healthy for a growing republic?

I...uh...don't know.

Currently, I've decided that it's best to just stop, at least until the election is over.  I'm going to try to go cold turkey, like I did when I quit smoking the last time.  Just stop it with the political stuff.  Post only about gardening and writing and the HORROR that I feel that the lady who wrote for Breaking Bad  is going to be writing a reboot of Anne of Green Gables.  (I feel like the raspberry cordial scene could go dreadfully, dreadfully DARK.)

Or...my new kitten.  LOOK!  Here she is:



Her name is Lyra and she is about ten weeks old.  She is insane.  She wrestles with my potted plants, is the Destroyer of Lego Worlds, plays with rocks she knocks off my desk, and would STILL make a better president than Donald Trump.  

Recovery is a long process.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Resolved: I Will Overcome the Hartwell Syndrome

It will surprise none of you who know me even a little bit that I do things differently than other people.  It's part of that whole "folded fitted sheet thing."  That, or I'm a total bad-ass rebel.

That, or I'm a little whackatoodly.

It could go a lot of ways, really.

The point here is that, if given an opportunity to go down a completely different path, unless somebody can convince me that I'm not under any threat of A:  spiders, B:  tornadoes, or C:  lately, it's been bears, but it vacillates between those and pumas...well, I'll take that path.

Consider, if you will, resolutions.  I'm speaking of the New Year's type of resolutions, the kind wherein you vow to eat better and lose weight while there are still Christmas cookies in the house and you have to get through the championship games, Valentine's Day, and Easter before the weather heats up enough for you to get out and walk a sensible thirty minutes a day.  I fail at these resolutions miserably, usually, because it's fricking cold for two months and I am too busy hibernating to be any good to anybody, much less MY body.  So in a fit of rebellion (or whackatoodliness), last year, I decided to shake things up a bit.

Instead of pinning my "new year" on the dead of winter, I pinned it on my birthday.

Self-centered, much, Heather?

Yes.  But I think it's OKAY to be self-centered here, because...hello...it's MY resolution, right?  I'm not asking my children or husband to jump aboard my fast train to awesomeness (unless they want to.)  And I'm certainly not going to ask a bajillion other people to join me in starting the new year by shivering and starving.

My birthday is in June, y'all.  Nobody shivers in middle Georgia in June unless she caught some kind of insect-borne illness or her husband turned up the AC again while she wasn't looking.

Also, my resolution is not related to losing weight or getting healthy.  I mean, that would be nice and I'm working on doing that in a hit or miss kind of fashion, but I haven't set it as a goal for myself.   Instead, I am working on unfinished business.

There is a running joke in my family that we trot out from time to time whenever some project gets abandoned.  We call it "The Hartwell Syndrome" after a beloved and procrastinating uncle, and it has been applied to a varied list of half-finished attempts including:  houses, landscaping, out-buildings, swimming pool pavers, gardens, cars, and furniture.  I have used the term exclusively toward my male relatives, but I have come to accept that I, too, suffer from The Hartwell Syndrome.  I'm not sure if there's a cure for this disease, BUT I have given myself a year to try and work that mess out of my system, beginning with the following:


This would be my "cookbook."  No, I am not kidding.  Yes, I wish I was.  It is basically a smudged, sticky, unsorted stack of recipes in page protectors gathered from websites, emails, and magazine pages that grew too big for the binder I put it in. I go back to these recipes all the time and constantly find myself shuffling through the main courses looking for cookies (the ones here, btw, are faaaaanttttaaaassstic) and weeping bitter tears over my lack of organization.  So one project I'm working on is putting all the recipes into one file and getting it printed out somewhere.  Anybody have any good sources for cookbook printing?  I don't need anything fancy, just better than...um...this pitiful display.

Also in need of attention:  


The crochet bag, filled with at least four different projects in need of completion.  The one on top left is a blanket I'm doing for my bedroom.  It's almost finished, but will require that I purchase a few more skeins before it's done, which will mean I'll have to go to a craft store, which will mean somebody will have to come with me to prevent me from getting something else to start a new project.  I NEED somebody to drag me away from the paper aisle.  Volunteers?  The beautiful swirl of rainbow colors is the fabric strips I sewed together to crochet a rug for my kitchen.  Alas, having sewed and ironed the entire thing, I discovered that my giant rug-crocheting hook has disappeared. Because of course it has.  Once I find it, I think I can get this and the blanket finished up before the fall sets in, when I will move on to...


A super-secret cross-stitch project for Will.  I'd tell you what it was, but then I'd have to kill you.  Or at least, you know, yell strenuously at you not to tell him.  I should go ahead and tell you that, yes, that is a King Arthur Flour catalog on the table behind my cross-stitch bag and, yes, one of the recipes within is in the stack of recipes on my desk.  Also, yes, my cross-stitch bag is one of those wine bags you get at grocery stores.  Make whatever assumptions you need to make, my friends.

Moving on:  



This is a two-part Hartwell Syndrome catastrophe in that 1:  the pile of clothes on top of the tub is actually a pile of Jeffrey's old tee-shirts which I will be making into a blanket for us.  I love tee-shirt quilts.  But also, 2:  the tub is big.  It's one of those tubs into which you could conceivably hide the body of a friend who was told about a secret project.  (Gah.  Am I macabre today or what?  I blame the low pressure system sitting over us right now.  Or the chigger's I picked up during the weekend photo shoot I did.)  Anyway, this big tub is filled to the brim with all of the craft junk I didn't throw away during the Purge of the 41st Birthday Resolution (more on that later) and that would not fit into the smaller tubs which are stowed neatly in the office cabinets.  It's got fabric, clipboards, various pieces of felt, doilies, random bits of doodads for jewelry...it's stuffed.  My PLAN is to get it empty by Christmas, but to be honest, I think that I might be feverish when I say that.  Pretty sure I have chiggeritis.

I've set aside an hour a day to work on the recipes (so...many...recipes) and have made myself a Word template and everything and I can work on the crocheting and cross-stitching sitting in the car rider line waiting for the kidlets.  After I tackle the blanket and tub, I'll turn my attention to shoring up projects around the house that are still unfinished, like the laundry room shelving system and the kitchen pantry door.  And then...a year will have passed and I'll be coming up with a different resolution, filled with the pride that comes from defeating a hereditary plague and bringing joy and completion to my loved ones.

Or something like that.

What about you?  Think something like this would work for you?  Hit me up in comments about your most successful resolution strategies!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Reboot

A few days ago, right as the Great Home Overhaul of 2016 began, I sat down at the computer to clear up a few files.  There was actually a problem with a client's photo gallery and I needed to get to the bottom of it, the kids were still asleep, and I had a few hours to spare.  I noticed immediately that something funky was going on.  There was an error message on the screen and it was running all catawhampus. After a few attempts to get rid of the rainbow circle of Mac confusion, I pressed the power button for ten seconds and started over.

At least, I tried to start over.

The Macbook, she was not starting over.  She was, however, doing a great impression of something that doesn't work at all.  Given the vastness of the home projects in front of me and with a sinking feeling, I just closed the cover and got to work emptying the kitchen cabinets onto the kitchen table so we could sand the empty cabinets in preparation for painting.  But, I reasoned, I had just run a diagnostic test, and everything was fine.  I was good, I thought.

I thought wrong.

Wednesday, it came to light that my hard drive had suffered an unexpected, unexplained, and absolutely catastrophic crash.  There was nothing to be done but to replace it.

What could not be replaced, and could not be recovered by the folks at the Apple store, was the data from my old hard drive.

*Pause here to allow everybody to gasp in horror.*

I tried to be light about it:  all of my clients' photos (except for the ones in the messed up gallery) were in online storage for ten years.  Most of my pictures and documents were on disks or external hard drives.  I subscribe to the Creative Cloud, so I still had access to Photoshop, Bridge, and Lightroom, if I ever decide to learn it.  I didn't lose everything in a catastrophic fire.  I didn't lose a limb.  It was okay.

Except, of course, that I keep running into...glitches.  Yes, I have Photoshop, but what I don't have is five or so years of actions and settings that I built as I learned:  all of my photo processing "stuff" is gone and has to be reprogrammed.  Yes, I have MOST of my pictures, but some are mysteriously missing from my disks:  2011 and 2013 have huge gaps in them and in those gaps lurk some of my favorite pics that now can only be viewed via Facebook or my creaky, probably about to implode old Dell (copying those to an external hard drive now.)  2015 and most of 2014 is gone, unless I edited the pictures and loaded them onto the online gallery I built for my family.  All of the pictures of the house I took for my blog and Instagram, the "befores" waiting for "afters..."  gone.   New logos and marketing info...gone.  It's all just GONE.

*Pause for me to clutch at my chest dramatically and cry out to the heavens.*

I gave myself a day to mourn and glump and berate myself for FOOLISHLY not backing up my hard drive every week, after every download from every camera disk, every time I changed my logo, uploaded a product...EVERY TIME.  Foolish, Heather.  Jeez.

Then...I took a deep breath and rebooted.

The truth is, after five years, I was ready to change the direction of my photography business.  I love working with folks, and I adore most of my clients, but I felt my work getting stale.  I fell behind in editing because I was just simply bored and could do it in my sleep.  NOT that my clients weren't beautiful, awesome, great human beings, but because I just felt bleah about doing the same old thing over and over again.  I was already lining up a shift to a new style, a new pricing system, a new delivery system, a stronger marketing plan.  Now, I have no excuses to fall back into the "old way" because the "old way" is gone.  Literally, it is not there anymore.  Heather Ray Photography is officially rebooting and will be launching anew in the next couple of weeks.  (Thankfully, I was smart enough to order the items for my logo design from Creative Market, which offers online access to your purchases for a good long while.)

Another truth:  after years of stops and starts and weird backward loop the loops, I'm FINALLY on track in terms of what I want my home and work life to be.  I've lost lots of links to recipes I've never tried, projects that interested me, self-help articles that I was saving to...help myself.   I've lost bookmarks to sites that I thought would make me more marketable, that would make me sound more hip or smart or whatever.   All I can say is, "Thank goodness."  Those bookmarks and recipes and storage cabinets made out of leftover turf scavenged from golf courses were weighing me down, man.  They were constantly making me question myself, constantly making me try to be cooler or meaner or more tear-inducing.

GAH.  I'm just me.  I say dumb stuff.  I say smart stuff.  I build cool stuff and completely fail at planting cucumbers successfully.  I can crochet a lovely blanket and wind up crying over learning how to knit.  And it's okay.  If you don't love me for my perfect imperfections (sing it with me, now), that's cool.  It won't hurt my feelings and you don't have to spend a lot of time framing a perfect response to something I said that was wrong or angered you or made you think I was a spawn of the Dark One.

Buh bye, bookmarks and websites filled with things that made me want to be more awesome than I already am.  You were cool and pretty, but I've rebooted and I'm doing okay without you.

In fact, I'm doing just PEACHILY without you.  The Willster and I have come up with a one year plan to get the house all spiffied up, the kids and I are working on the garden and planning for chickens, and I didn't eat ice cream for breakfast today.  (I ate it for lunch yesterday, but...you know...protein.)  My forty-second year is ending up awash in productivity.

Now, don't get me wrong:  I've saved the old, crashed hard drive and maybe one day when I become an insanely successful something or other and people are throwing buckets of money at my head to do something fantastic, I will be able to find a tech wizard to get my pictures off of there, because that loss still stings.  But...I lived those moments already.  They will always be with me and I can see them any time I want to by closing my eyes.  Sure, I'd like to show y'all a picture of my table before I paint it and make it faaabulous, but most of you have already seen it in pictures of biscuits I post on Instagram.  Don't follow me on Instagram?  You should totally do it.  You can see pictures of biscuits!  On my table!

Said table currently looks like this:  


 I'm rebooting.

Sometimes it takes a while.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Taking Down the Fence, Part One

That title sounds like it should be a euphemism, doesn't it?

Like:  "Why's Heather so grumpy?"
          "Oh, you know, she and her sister took down the fence last night."

Or maybe:  "Heather sure looks happy!"
                   "Well, she and Will took down the fence, so she ought to."

It could work in a lot of ways, I think.

However, in this case, it actually means "I'm taking down the fence in my backyard."

You may remember last March, Phil Robertson inspired me to clean off the weird concrete pad at the very back of our property.  Since then, it's stayed pretty clean, but the back corner continues to be a dankesque, gloomy, snake-ish looking area and I've decided that I want it to be more open and airy.

The first idea was to chop down the large and ice-storm-damaged Carolina laurel tree that lurks near my garden.  I am generally not in favor of chopping down trees, but this one leans and sprawls and makes forty blue million babies all over the yard AND it's poisonous, so I was okay with it.  Will, however, nixed that idea.

Sigh.

The next idea was to take down the fence that surrounds the concrete slab, making it easier to get in the yard and taking away any number of interesting crevices into which brown widows and snakes can insert themselves.

*Pause to say here: I am NOT anti-snake or spider, per se, but last year a farming family nearby cleared a lot of land and all of the timber rattlers and copperheads that lived in the brush decided that my neighborhood would be a great place to which they could relocate.  And brown widows are fine if they don't do things like build their webs under door knobs, in the tracks of sliding glass doors, and under the edges of patio chairs.  Which they do, so I consider them "not fine."  Unless pressed, I won't shoot, squish, spray, or otherwise harm these guys, but I'm not going to keep providing them places to chill out with kids and dogs running around.

Anywhoodles, below you will find the fence I'm taking down. You'll note that right at the corner, there's a gate.  (You'll also note that there is a slightly overweight beagle snorfling around happily because any time I'm out in the yard doing work, Frodo is convinced I will overturn vast colonies of voles which he can dig up and chomp.)  To the right in this picture is the jasmine vine that is going to be wrestling with me as I attempt to move it to the back side of the fence.  I decided to start with the gate.


 

Roughly four seconds in, I was cussing.



Y'all.  Why?  Why would you hammer two zinc nails into the holes of a hinge to affix it to a gate?  Is this some kind of redneckery that I don't know about?  Is this standard procedure in whatever part of the country from whence the renters here before us lived?  I don't know, but whatever the case, it looked ridiculous.

And it made taking out the nails all but impossible, since they had rusted to each other or were overlapping each other.  At one point in time, I was pretty much wrapped around a post, gripping the handle of my hammer, trying to pry out a nail whose head was mushing all out of shape every time the hammer got near it.  Without warning, the head slipped out of my hammer and, I swear, I clocked myself right in the jaw so hard that I saw stars and my ears rang.  Thank all the stars that I gave myself an uppercut with my fist instead of the hammer.

The nails weren't just zinc.  Also included in the bizarre gallery of fasteners were staples, finishing nails, sheetrock nails, and this bad boy.  I can't even figure out how I got that sucker out.  It appears to be some form of alchemy.



Because of the whackatoodle nailing job, it took me a little longer than expected to get down the gate and one of the panels of fence, at which time I was neck deep in greenbriar and fallen branches and assorted little bushes.  I decided to take a break and work at getting out the greenbriar so that when I got back to hauling out the fence parts, I wouldn't trip and fall and eviscerate myself on a nail I neglected to pull out.

My friend Whitney called while I was working on the greenbriar, and I horrified her by telling her what I was wearing:  a teeshirt emblazoned with the mascot of the school where Will's principal, my polyesteresque, bright green yoga/workout pants, and my doodoo brown muck boots.

"I don't want to even think about your hair," she said.

"It's slicked back, wet with sweat, and probably has spiders in it."

I am a source of great anxiety for my friends, particularly those who are hairsylists with keen fashion senses.

Around lunch time, it started spitting rain, so I called it quits until after the kids got home from school.  I didn't get as much accomplished as I wanted to, but I did get the gate and one panel off, I cleared up some vines and brush, and I rolled a giant log one quarter turn in my quest to get it over to the fire pit.



Frodo was ecstatic with my progress.  Please note the dirt-besmudged nose of a vole-hunting beagle.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trying Out: Kroger's Simple Truth Liquid Dish Soap

Since River's birth lo these nine years ago, I've been pretty crunchy.  Not, like, making my own clothes out of flax I harvest from the roadside crunchy, but at least recycling as much as possible and trying to cut out the number of ingredients in our food and products crunchy.  All this crunchiness is great, but it also is expensive, yo, and sometimes I wind up spending more on products than I would like because the alternative is on my "bad" list.  It stretches my budget pretty thin, the crunchiness.

Enter the Simple Truth line from Kroger.  Think of it as Kroger's organic and natural (although that natural label is easier for companies to fudge) store brand line.  The products I've tried are mostly great and they are also less expensive than name-brand organic and natural items.  For example, the ST organic peanut butter tastes awesome and at around $3.50, is a dang site cheaper than Smucker's and Jif's organic spreads (and easier to find.)

Because I grocery shop almost exclusively at Kroger, I am a Kroger Plus customer, which means that I get coupons just for items that I am more likely to buy every month.  I know that some people think the customer cards are a racket, and that's cool.  I love getting my coupons, and they generally mean that I can save a ton of money at the grocery store, so...whatever.   Last month, I got a coupon for ST Liquid Dish Soap, and since we were running low, I knew I'd probably get some IF the coupon made it cheaper than my Seventh Generation soap, which I can usually buy for around $3.

Note:  I am SKEPTICAL of "green" cleaning products.  I love the idea of them, but I find that if you don't use them quickly enough, they can develop a weird, essential-oil-going-bad smell.  Also, a good many of them just don't seem to work as well as mainstream products.  It's true, at least of the cheaper brands I've tried, because if I'm spending $7.99 for organic beef, I can't spend $25 for laundry soap, ya know?  I like Seventh Generation more than most and feel pretty good about the greenness of the company.

Upon arriving at the Super Kroger (it's kind of like a reverse Super Walmart--emphasis on food, but you can get clothes and organizational bins there.  I love it...,) I discovered that not only was the ST covered by my coupon, it was also on sale, so I was going to pay something nuts like $1.50 for it.  Because the lemon verbena (my go-to natural cleaning scent) was sold out, my choices for scent were unscented and Sweet Olive Blossom.  I went with Sweet Olive Blossom, which...more on that later.


So the thing to know about natural dish soap is that, a lot of time, it doesn't make a lot of suds.  I don't know why...I'm sure it has something to do with the particular combination of chemicals and fats and saponification and pH and other things that I don't know about because I'm an English major.  In any case, it can be a little off-putting because we're used to the idea that bubbles = clean.  The label may PROMISE that you that it cuts through grease, but then you'll put it on your rag and be like, "What?  No bubbles?  THE HELL YOU SAY!!!"

video

Oh, my stars above, can we talk about that video for a second?  The telephone ringing?  The stained aspect of my poor enamel sink?  (Next time, stainless steel all the way.)  The hypnotic "squish, squish, squish" of the dishrag?  Honestly, I could watch it all day long.  It's horrible and mesmerizing.  

Anyway, that's it for the bubbles:  fourteen of them.  That's all you get.  BUT...


video


Check it out!  Despite a disturbing lack of bubbles, there is no doubt that this stuff absolutely cuts through grease like a champ.  Probably (it must be said) even better than my beloved Seventh Generation.   Not only did it power through this grody spaghetti leftover extravaganza, it made short work of the fuzzy, gooey stuff that covered the wire shelves in my laundry room.

Why was the fuzzy stuff gooey?  We dare not ask that question.

Why was I scrubbing the wire shelves of my laundry room?  Dude.  They were fuzzy and gooey.  Try to keep up.

The stuff is cheap, the stuff cleans like a beast...so why am I not able to give it an unequivocal thumbs up?  It's the smell, y'all.

You know how when you walk outside on a chilly autumn day and the sweet olive is blooming and the air is lightly perfumed with a delicately sweet scent and you're like, "Oh, sweet olive, how lovely you are!"--that's great, right?

Yeah, okay, when that scent is just, like, hanging out in your kitchen without the benefit of being surrounded by, you know, the entire planet's oxygen supply, it's...powerful.  Maybe more powerful than a dishwashing liquid scent needs to be.  It's the most powerful, delicately sweet smell you've ever smelled and it's NOT RIGHT FOR THE KITCHEN.

Ahem.

Bottom line:  I will probably add this to my list of Simple Truth products that I buy over and over again, BUT I will not be getting the sweet olive scent again, because I do not think my kitchen can handle all of the delicate sweetness.

*Neither Kroger nor Simple Truth approached nor paid me for this review. 


Monday, January 25, 2016

Come Here and Let Me Give You a Hygge

Hygge is all the rage these days, following a spate of articles that touted the Danish awful-winter-mitigating concept as something that Americans might want to consider, because we're all running around being bitter and tired and discontent.  (Some of us more so than others, obviously.) The concept of hygge loosely translates into something like "coziness" or "contentedness" or "happiness at being out of the crappy bad weather and stressful day-to day-mess we're running around in."  It's a little like Dutch "gezellig," I think, although there seems to be more emphasis on fun in gezellig.  Go here to check out hygge and here to read up on gezellig.

To be completely honest, I have a feeling that Americans might be entirely incapable of grasping what either term means.  We're too busy watching the reality show that is our politics to publicly and proudly value things like coziness.  Seriously.  Snark and sarcasm and snort-inducing wit are how we prefer to communicate, and we wave our money or religion or sports teams around like clubs to beat each other over the head via social media, which appears to be our favored form of communication.  (Last night--don't judge me--Will and I watched Nashville and the entire episode revolved around cell phones.  There was a cell phone in every scene.  People texted as if their voice boxes had been ripped out, which is pretty ironic, given the show.)

But whether I'm truly grocking the meaning of hygge (and/or gezellig), I have decided that I'm going to take that cozy ball and run with it, because all of the folks in the house are feeling a little stretched thin and grumpitudinous lately and I decided we could use a little carved out awesomeness in our days. That's where hygge comes in.

Now, to really get your hygge in full gear, you need to do a few things:
  1. Clean Your House  Ugh.  I knowwwww.  But, seriously, you have to do it. Danes are all about having clean houses, and that makes a big difference in the relaxation department.  It's hard to get all cozy and comfy on the couch when there's a pile of laundry on the end of it.  It's difficult to breathe in the scent of organic lavender candles when they're sharing the same space with the trash your kids are avoiding taking out to the can.  But that stuff is the EASY part of cleaning.  To really be able to fully relax, you need to dig down deep in the corners of your nest and clear out the junk.  A few months ago, I read one of the articles everybody read about the Japanese lady who talked to socks and extolled the virtues of "tidiness."  You can read one here.   It sparked something in me, because our bedrooms really did make me sad with their clutteredness.  So I rolled through those suckers like a Mack truck and wound up taking 25 garbage bags filled with clothes, toys, craft supplies, and knick knacks that we neither loved nor used to a local thrift store that supports battered women and children.  And it FELT.  SO.  GOOD.  I did the same thing a few weeks ago with my china cabinet and office spaces.  Those parts of the house actually FEEL lighter and--bonus--any stuff that winds up lying around because, well, we are still us, even if our house is tidier, stands out like a sore thumb and gets picked up and put away.   This new sense of clean also prevents me from buying junk I don't need while I'm at Home Goods or the thrift store, because I don't want to add to the clutter.   
  2. Pick up some candles  Candles are essential for hygge.  From a Danish perspective, it's dark and cold out, and there's something so warming about the flickering of a candle.  But even here in the smack dab middle of Georgia, where I wore shorts and a tee shirt at Christmas and felt a little dewy, that warmth resonates.  Fire = good, particularly when it's sitting atop a pretty candle in a pretty holder.  I light about six candles in our comfiest spot in the house, but I also have some going in the kitchen and bathrooms.  The kids look forward to the candle lighting, and I have to say that I feel my shoulders come down and a sense of peace come over me when I strike the first match. The ritual of it is just...comforting.  A word about candles:  I was completely unaware that there was controversy surrounding scented candles, but apparently, some doctors have linked them to asthma and even cancer.  The scented candles industry (they have lobbyists and unions, apparently...AMERICA) vehemently denies this.  We're steadily working our way through the vast assortment of scented candles we've collected through the years, and when one is finished, we replace it with an unscented one.  I have read that candles scented with natural essential oils and using cotton wicks are safer, but we'll probably just use the room spray we get from our friends at Olive Forge with our unscented candles.  Of course, you could use those fake candles that use LED lights.  I'll be honest, those things feel more "minion of darkness" than "hygge" to me.  Plastic fire just seems so WRONG.
  3. Set aside a place and time  Now, technically, hygge can break out anywhere and any time you feel that sense of security and happiness.  I feel it in my favorite bookstores, the aforementioned Olive Forge, out in my favorite stretch of pasture back on the farm.  BUT, it takes a little practice, I think, for us bitter Americans to really grab and recognize that feeling.  (Recognition, I think, is part of the whole deal.)  So we have carved out a little smidgen of time after homework and chores and outside time and before dinner to just be together in the library.  (If Will is late, we'll shift it to after supper and before bedtime.)  We read, play board games, work on puzzles, crochet, even play video games as long as we're playing together.   Believe it or not, this actually helps us get through chores and homework and makes the kids happier about coming inside, because they look forward to this downtime.  On the weekends, we try to carve out bigger stretches, and it helps us get all the stuff that's hanging over our heads done faster so we can get to the hygge faster.  
That's it.  There COULD be a fourth item, I guess, wherein I talk about aesthetics and placement of candles and throw pillows, but I think that really starts coming with the practice of hygge.  I will also note that it is entirely possible that I'm thinking about it too much and sort of tarnishing the whole concept, but the truth is that without the planning and thought, I'm not sure our family would be able to slow down and enjoy each other and our time together.

And that would be a shame.  Because as I was looking for photos to go with this post, I realized that...heh...I don't have that many because when I'm getting all hyggelich with my family, I don't pick up my camera.  I'll try to grab some more tonight, but I can't promise anything, because...hygge.

Hyggelich table at Thanksgiving


Because nothing says "comfy and cozy" (and possibly "a little drunk" like Dino and his snazzy loafers.


Frodo clearly is not really into the whole hygge thing.