Monday, March 30, 2015

March Pointless Lists

As seen from my favorite Library Park lunch spot last week.

March has been a bit of a hamster wheel in that the more I run, the less I accomplish. I'm trying to embrace and accept, but it's hard because I'm a bit uptight, for one thing, and for another I don't even like to run. I'm a Walker.

At work, we've been putting together a special section that will come out in April--basically four extra newspapers in one fell swoop--and that's been interesting. Last year I wrote stories, but then, still being in the front office, I could leave all the craziness behind once 1 p.m. rolled around. Not this year. I had NO IDEA how much work this project was! The good news is that it's traditionally a much anticipated, very well received kind of ordeal, which makes it worth it. The bad news is that I've already read the thing cover to cover (to cover) and wow, my eyeballs hurt

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the heck out of all of this. Sure, I'm stressed out and tired, but you guys! I get paid to write and edit! Sometimes I still don't believe that. It's easier to believe, though, now that I just got honest to goodness business cards proclaiming my status as a news writer. Totally cool, but I still haven't forgotten when this happened. Well, we'll just keep our fingers crossed on that front, I guess.

With all that's been going on at work, once I get home, I'm pretty much couch-bound. I'm tired of people, I'm tired of reading, I'm tired of writing, I'm tired of everything. Therefore, the house is kind of a wreck. I don't want to complain, but Skilly is a TERRIBLE housekeeper.

You can add a whole string of good intentions here, but until that special section is put to bed, I'm not sure how successful I'll actually be. I just shrugged my shoulders. I guess I'm okay with that.

Abby update:
Abby entered the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) high school essay contest in January, and her essay took District... and then State (made up of 37 districts)... and then Regionals (made up of 7 states). Now her essay has been submitted to Nationals. We thought that the DAR picked up the tab if you won so you could go to the National Convention in Washington, D.C., to read your essay, but it turns out they do not. So you know what? That takes some pressure off choosing where we're going for our vacation this summer--we've been trying to decide if we want to explore Northern California or just go to D.C. whether she wins or not. California it is! (Tab as in Abby's tab, by the way. Why would they pay for ours?)

Also: She got another college letter on Saturday from Westminster College in Salt Lake City--a liberal arts college, which is a nice change of pace from all the other ones she's been getting focusing on the medical field. She wants to stay in Oregon, though, unless by some miracle she can get the funding for Santa Clara, so it doesn't really matter anyway.

Johanna update:
Johanna decided after last softball season that the sport was not her thing. Thank God! Softball is so incredibly boring. So this year she's trying lacrosse. Our neighbor plays, and her mother assured us that fourth grade was the perfect time to learn. Practice begins in April. Jo has been getting used to her stick (and mouthguard. And goggles) and seems excited.

Anything will be better than softball. Let's do this.

And! The girls were on Spring Break last week, which mostly meant they stayed home and worked on various projects. One was tie-dye. I came home on Thursday to a very disgusted Johanna, who was rambling on about how Abby laughed at her but wouldn't let her change it until I saw it. THIS is what she was talking about:

So much awesome!

She ended up making the I into an A shortly after I got home, but wow, you guys, I kind of wish she'd have kept it as is.

Eric update:
Eric decided this month to sell the play structure he made out of used decking material and an old pool slide about 11 years ago. Well, he did purchase new beams and swings and stuff, I guess, but anyway, I thought he was crazy when he listed it for $125. And as it turned out, someone actually bought it for his asking price.

Um, okay.

Now that the play structure is gone, he's making the girls a basketball court. I think really it's that he's afraid to sit down...

Project 333 update:
March 31 marks the end of the winter cycle, and, while I thought at first I didn't really care if I switched out items or not, I've decided that I'd like to swap some sweaters for some of my pretty, warmer weather shirts. About mid-month I brought it a couple tanks and a pair of capris (all from storage), and that really perked up my entire wardrobe... and brought my total to 33 again. Strangely, nothing made it into the donation pile. Maybe I've finally whittled my wardrobe down enough?

Um, but then I happened upon a pair of gorgeous, long black capris (fun fact: I thought they were capris until I looked more closely at the tag, and it turns out they were a pair of ankle-length regular pants. Ah, well. They're the longest capris I've ever owned!) and the perfect little black dress, so I'm ending the month at 35.

This is technically NOT how P333 is run, this willy-nilly editing, but I've been doing this now for a year and a half and I figure I can bend the rules however I want at this point. My closet is tiny. I don't think it matters what and/or when I swap. I've learned my lesson, yo.

I'm kind of excited.

Lent update:
I have totally failed this Lent, you guys, and that makes me sad in my heart. I haven't eaten a lot of things over the 4-ingredient limit (I've had a couple of chocolate bars, okay?), but I have eaten some things that push the line between processed and non processed. Um, like chips. Yes, they're organic, and yes, they have three ingredients, but chips are a definite factory food. And I've plowed through a couple bags this month.

The problem has been that, as my work schedule got crazier and crazier, I got lax. The focus just wasn't there sometimes. And then there's the issue of how I use food to medicate myself when I get stressed (not a great realization to acknowledge), and, when I'm eating my lunch at my desk for the fourth day in a row, I want comfort food. I want sweet and salty. Which is why I've also been chain-popping (kind of like chain smoking, get it?) these mints:

I love you.

They're NOT hot, but they are kind of cinnamon-y, and I dearly miss cinnamon-flavored anything. Plus three ingredients (again). It's a sugar kick, basically, that takes my mind off how tired I am.

In an attempt to make myself feel better about how badly I suck, I will now tell you how much I hate celery and carrots. Answer: A LOT. Is an 85-percent success rate okay? Please say it's okay...

In other news, I'm going to end this week strong. I've got a crap-load of salad veggies, I've got my all-natural poser bakery bread, and I have fresh resolve.

Just keep me the hell away from those mints.

Light update:

My January project of culling my food stores and my February project of morning yoga continue. Both are mainly just about mindfulness and trying to create new habits, which is sometimes easier said than done.

So this month's project of cleaning out my reading retreat (read here) turned out to be a nice change of pace. It was pretty mindless and the results were pretty great. I can actually see the floor and the desk area, so yay!

After giving it some thought, I've decided to attempt a Light Technology month in April. You guys, I'm addicted to Hay Day and Tumblr, and when I'm bored, I'll search around the internets reading stupid articles just to pass the time. I can't even eat a meal without a device.

So: No electronics at mealtimes. That alone is going to kill me, but let's add a time limit of an hour, too, just for kicks.

I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to this one, but I think it's necessary and also, what the heck, let's see if I can do this. Only I should have made this February's project 'cause that was a short month. ;)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Light: Reading Retreat update

To review: We've gone from this...

March 1

...To this:

March 28

That clean floor is a miracle.

Well, that's better.

Something I've struggled with in the past is just getting stuff out of the house. My go-to is our church's annual rummage sale, which is a great cause that I'm happy to support, but it's in June each year, which means the bags really start to pile up after awhile. (Side note: Why do we still have so much crap? We don't bring much in anymore! It's astounding.)

Since my goal was to deal with everything in this space, I wanted to get it another home ASAP. I still ended up with a bag of clothing and random items for the rummage sale that is now residing with the others in our electrical room, but I tried very hard to think outside my box and donate as much as I could as soon as I decided to discard it. And I did! Observe:
  • A stack of three baby/toddler-sized blankets, given to us when Johanna was born, went to a local service and outreach program. Women in need of clothing for their children can pick out items for free. It's not a stretch to think they might need a lovely, gently-used blanket, too.
  • Two hardback books in excellent condition went to the library. The librarian was thrilled.
  • An oil pastel that Johanna made in the second grade went to the frame shop, like I've been planning for the past two years. Cost me double what I was expecting, but you know what? I love this thing. It's now hanging in the living room, which will be its permanent home... but not in its current wall location. I have plans for that, but not this month.
  • I took photos of a couple of items and posted them on Facebook. A backpack went quickly; the wire organizational rack didn't even get a like. Which is why it's in the aforementioned utility room.
  • And Ben in editorial got a couple of my REM cassettes. Yes, cassettes. He was surprised I'd part with them, but the songs I like I purchased from iTunes years ago. I do not need these, too.
Some of the mess just needed to be properly sorted and put away:
  • Awards I thought the girls might actually like to look at in the future went into their designated school container things.
  • Ditto for old school work/art projects. (Johanna especially has some cool stuff.) 
  • Unused envelopes went to Eric's office.
  • All gift bags and boxes and usable tissue paper were put together in one big bag extravaganza.
  • Random items I won during last year's Lioness raffle and other little things I've just been holding on to for some reason went into a "present" bag.
  • Those flour sack towels I purchased to make bread bags? Now in my kitchen towel drawer. Failure project acceptance isn't the worst that can happen.
  • My food drier went to its designated storage closet.
  • And items designated for the rummage sale were put into garbage bags and taken downstairs.

Gift bag sack above, random present sack below. Now what?

CDs, the Box of Awesome, two books I need to get back to
people, a letter from Marlene, and some jar labels.

A lot of stuff was recycled--I suppose we don't need Johanna's "Welcome to Kindergarten" letter anymore, now that she's a fourth grader--and, sadly, some was just tossed. It pained me to do that, but honestly, there weren't other options. It's this kind of thing that makes me really think about what I want to bring into our house... because it's all just future landfill fodder.

Wait, now I'm depressed. Let's take a break while I collect myself.


Is the room perfectly spotless now? Um, no. Well, it was an ambitious project. And frankly, some of the stuff I've unearthed, I'm just not sure what to do with, i.e. my new present and gift bag sacks. Also: Who takes used CDs? I'm honestly wanting to know, since we've got over 100 we haven't listened to since roughly 2009.

Still, I'm extremely proud of myself, if I may be so bold. I chipped away this project a couple of times a week. It was amazing what I could accomplish with 20 minutes here and an hour there.

And since I started with the easy stuff first--the papers and general mess--I saw results quickly, which gave me the will to keep at it. (I get easily overwhelmed by my possessions and that makes me want to quit.)

When the easy stuff was done, I started to tackle some of the harder stuff, like the photographs from my scrapbooking days, when double prints reigned. I expected to feel a little bummed about that particular loss, but instead I just felt relieved. I haven't dealt with those pictures in the 11 years we've lived in this house, and not having those photographs or the storage bin around anymore is extremely freeing.

So overall, I'd say this has been successful. I technically need a second month to deal with the rest of it... but that is another project for another time.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pointless Experiments: Homemade vanilla latte

Me! I did that!

I think we've already established that I am a huge coffee fan. One of my very favorite treats is a vanilla latte, which I get at very fancy coffee shops Dutch Bros.

Look, you don't judge me and I won't judge you, okay? I'm a fan.

Since it's Lent, and I've given up processed foods, vanilla lattes have not been on the menu. I don't buy flavored syrups, so I'm not sure of the exact ingredient list, but I think it's safe to assume there's more than four, plus: High fructose corn syrup. I hate that stuff. Unless you are a major manufacturer of HFCS, in which case, it's great! It just makes me feel dizzy and kind of pukey is all, but that's totally on me.

Um, never mind.

Anyway, the moral of this whole story is that I was missing my vanilla lattes (because some days are just hard) and it finally occurred to me that there HAD to be a way to make these suckers at home, even if I don't have an espresso machine.

Right? How hard can it be?

So I tooled around on the internets for a little while, searching for "homemade latte." Apparently everyone just has espresso machines because wow, that did not go very well at first. But eventually I caught on that what I really needed to be searching for was "latte in a microwave." Bingo! That produced the results I was looking for.

Everything you need. P.S. I'm not the only one who stores my vanilla
syrup in a repurposed whiskey bottle, right?

It's taken some tweaking, but here's how I've managed to pull this off. You will need:

  1. Milk (apparently the higher the fat content, the better, but I buy 1 percent so that is what gets used)
  2. Glass jar with plastic lid (lids here)
  3. Coffee!
  4. Coffee cup and filter cone! And an actual filter
  5. Vanilla syrup (homemade recipe below)

While you boil your water, place coffee inside filter. I mean, just like you'd make any ol' cup of joe, except maybe add a couple extra scoops to give this thing some strength. We like strong around here.

Not much to look at yet.

Time to make the coffee.

It's hard to take a photo one handed.

Time to make the magic milk. Step one: Add to jar, place on lid and shake like mad.

Photo by Johanna. I just eyeball it as far as measurements go.

You truly do have to shake like mad because that's how you're going to get the foam, my friends. That's science! Next, place that in the microwave for a minute.

When it comes out, you get this!

Foamy! I kind of can't believe this works.

P.S. I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that every single time the milk leaks out from the lid and into the microwave. That's just opportunity cost.

Now add some vanilla syrup to your cup.

Again, I just eyeball it. But the more the merrier, really.

Finish by pouring in warmed milk and spooning foam over the top.

I cleaned my counter for this series so you get to see IT ALL.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Meet my best friend, the vanilla latte.

You guys, this is like one of those things that has completely revolutionized my life. Like when I learned to make Naan. Or spice rub. Which is why I'm so excited to get to share it with you.

As a little bonus, here's how I make my own vanilla syrup. The recipe is originally from Paula Dean's website, but I've modified it. Okay, I just add more water and vanilla and have traded the brown sugar for sucanat. What do you want from me?

Vanilla Syrup
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown or sucanat sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons--or a good glug--of homemade vanilla

Stir sugars into water and bring to a low boil; simmer 10 minutes. Is it syrupy? Then it's good to go. Add vanilla. Cool. Or not. Store in refrigerator.

You're welcome.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Out of order

You guys, this has been a good week at work, but a long and hard week too. And I'm totally not complaining because A) so many words! and 2) that's kind of fun. Oh, and C) the words are actually behaving themselves, so yay!

But I'm kind of at my limit as I write this. My plan is to crank this post out (it's Thursday night) and just go to bed. It's 6:46 p.m. I'm kind of impressed I've stayed awake this long, to be honest.

I was going to stay at work and get a couple of my stories (due tomorrow for a special section coming out in April) all wrapped up, but I just couldn't. You know when you can't even think anymore and your eyes are all blurry from looking at a monitor for seven straight hours? That happened. I figured the Universe was telling me to call it a day.

Confession: I was so tired that our dinner was take and bake pizza. Totally processed (sorry about that, Jesus), but it was all I could manage. But the really sad part is that, when confronted with the list of choices, my brain couldn't even process any of it. So I just got cheese.

The girls didn't seem to care.

In conclusion, here's a picture of Skilly being a brat this morning:

"I see you have food! I also enjoy food!"

The end.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bonus Tuesday: Johanna's first screenplay

Last summer, Johanna wrote, filmed and directed her first screenplay. Abby and her friend Lily were the main characters; I had a cameo as the mom and Johanna as Principal George. I wish I knew how to link up video, because Abby and Lily were terrible actors--and they insisted on reading the script exactly as written. It was awesome.

So while I can't give you the video, I can give you the script. Mainly because I found it while cleaning out my reading retreat and I want a digital copy of it before tossing it into the recycling closet. You're welcome, Internet!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Life lessons part III

My grandparents, ages 91 and 92, moved into assisted living on Friday. This was the end(-ish) of a saga that had begun on Sunday, when, while trying to change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time, my grandfather went into his garage for a hammer and nail,* tripped on the threshold, fell and was trapped between the van and the garage wall for who knows how long before Grandma started to miss him. A 911 call, a couple days in the hospital, and one very lucky result--he's bruised and battered and hurt and looks like hell, but he didn't break anything... or tear anything, even.

That's not to say he doesn't have injuries. He is messed up. Luckily I have very strong cousins who came to help once he got home a couple of days later... because there's no way my mother and aunts could have done what needed to be done without their help. When you can't even walk, that's a problem.

He qualified to go to the one nursing home in town, but there was no way any of us were going to let that happen because A) been there, done that, and 2) that place is crap. They're more worried about the fee than they are about the people they're caring for--and I am not exaggerating. My mother had to bust Gramps out. Literally. So that was not an option.

Assisted living offers respite care, though, and, while Medicare won't pay for that, it was unanimous--that was really the only option available.

And lo and behold, Gramps went from being adamantly opposed to assisted living to announcing that "this thing" was bigger than all of them and he needed to go. The catch was that he wanted Gram to go with him--they were a united front on that end, and of course no one thought they should be separated anyway. (Apparently the place had to call corporate because no one ever wanted to have their spouse in a respite room before. Well, they've been married 72 years, you guys.)

So on Friday, several family members got them moved. When push came to shove, the reality of this plan hit everyone hard--it's easy to say they need to go into assisted living and easy even to set that all up, but physically moving someone out of the house they've lived in for 65 years? That's a heartbreaker, although I think maybe the rest of the fam is taking this harder than I am. Mostly I am just relieved and grateful that they're both there, and that it was their own idea. (That's a gift. My Grammie M. was pretty much moved in kicking and screaming, although I think she sort of came around in the end.) 

And! Their rooms are comfortable and full of their own possessions. They've got 24-hour care, and a housekeeper, and meals, and plenty of people right next door to keep them company. Life is going to get a lot better. I don't know that being in a house until you die is the most important thing you can strive for. I think quality of life trumps where that life is lived out.

It's NOT the end of an era. It's the beginning of a new chapter.

*Gram was UP ON A STEPPING STOOL and apparently the nail the clock had been hanging on went into the wall, so Gramps went for the hammer and new nail. This story is alarming on so many different levels I can barely keep the threads straight.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Zero Waste Wednesday: Coffee! part II

Coffee. Mmm! It's not only the reason all my people are still alive, it's also delicious and definitely a health food.

Um, I guess?

So you guys, for years I had the traditional electric coffee pot sitting on my counter, making me my morning (or afternoon, or evening) cup of joe. It never occurred to me not to have one until I started cleaning out my kitchen and suddenly realized that the less I had on my counters, the better I felt.

Well, it's nice not being overwhelmed by your belongings is all.

Pre-coffee cone days.
Ron Swanson is now my work mug. It makes me happy.

Anyway, I didn't think that I had a choice, really, when it came to my coffee pot, even though that last one I had wasn't exactly what you would call a stellar performer. I need coffee to live. That's not even hyperbole. It might be slightly hyperbole. Let's not worry about that right now. The point (wait, what?) is that one happy, fine day, I walked into my local coffee roasters to get my magic jar of beans, and lo and behold, I spied a display of these wonderful pour over coffee cones:

OMG, you guys, Google "coffee cone" and you get A LOT of coffee
ice cream pictures. Life just got way more awesome.

In case it doesn't translate, that's a Melitta Perfect Brew Filter Cone (and FYI, I didn't pay even $4 for mine, so shop around). I wrote about that experience here, in case you feel like reminiscing with me. (Good times!)

In the year-plus I've owned this thing, I have never looked back. I'll get to the pros and cons in a minute, but basically I'd just like to announce this little device has changed my life.

Here's how I make my coffee these days:

Step 1: Good morning!

Step 2: Start water to boil in my tea pot.

Step 3: Liner time. I like getting a bigger filter for the cone, since sometimes accidents happen, my friends. They just do, and having a larger filter helps a lot in these situations:

That's the mug I got on our Very Washington
Vacation. I couldn't resist that thing. The old
siren logo is just so ugly and awesome.

Step 4: Put coffee into the filter. You have a coffee pot. You know how this works.

Step 5: Pour hot--but not boiling--water over coffee grounds. If the water is too hot, it makes a bitter cup of coffee. Let that be a lesson to you, kids.

Step 6: Remove cone, add cream!

The prettiest sight I've ever seen.

Step 7: So that took basically three minutes of your life and your coffee is perfect. Kitchen dance!

...And now you're all, that's great, Trish, but what about when you have guests and want to brew a pot of coffee? Well, that's simple. I have a carafe from my Pampered Chef days that I use instead (although I'm THIS CLOSE to tossing that thing in the rummage pile). But honestly, you can brew coffee in a quart jar, or a pitcher, or whatever. No, it will not stay hot if you do that. That's why God gave us microwaves. Also: That assumes you'll have leftover coffee. And if you do, you're doing it wrong. ;)

Easy to store
Easy to pack
Uses less electricity
Cheap alternative to traditional coffee maker
Less bound for landfill later
...And to the thrift store*
Filters are compostable
Coffee grounds are too
Makes a great cup of coffee, which is the entire point

NONE. The end.

*Have you ever seen the Goodwill coffee pot display? It's depressing as hell.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Life lessons part II

Not Silly. But who can resist this picture?

Johanna turned 10 in December, and suddenly I was faced with a conundrum:

Do I tell her about Santa with Christmas so close, or do I let her have one more holiday where she may or may not believe?

Look, there's no way that she can't know. She's got a savvy class. She's got a smart brain. The whole thing doesn't even make sense when you stop to think about it. I found out when I was seven. I waited to tell Abby until she turned 10 (and it came as no surprise).

But still... Johanna is my baby. And I didn't want to ruin anything for her prematurely, even if I suspected that she already knew the truth.

And now we're closing in on Easter, and the question loomed again. I mean, I'm usually all about crushing dreams, but even I have my limits.

Last week, while tiding up the kitchen after dinner, Johanna and I were talking about Easter. When she approached the subject of baskets, I was like, if there's anything you'd like in your Easter basket, you need to say it out loud so the Easter bunny hears, okay?

And then, based on the look she gave me, I was all, uh, do you know about that?

She put a finger to my lips. Shh, she whispered, tell me when I'm a preteen.

Okay, then. Question answered.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Abby Texts: Bus rides and life lessons

Abby: Tears because this bus smells like pee. Also I decided to just get on a random bus because I don't actually know what one I ride. Adventure!

Me: Sounds kinda exciting.

Abby: Hey, I'm all about living life on the edge, you know? Who cares if I end up someplace weird, at least I'll have a story to tell my future children.

Me: If you live...

Abby: Wow, that took a dark turn quick.

Me: Life often does.

Abby: Wow, that got real deep real fast.

Abby: I might need you to come get me in a sketch neighborhood. ;)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Light 2015: Reading retreat

Remember when I got fed up and cleaned my reading retreat a couple years ago? Well, it no longer looks like this:

The good old days.

I now looks like this:


My food drier does not really live here. Those are
flour sack towels I bought 6 months ago to make into
zero waste bread bags. Oops.

You guys, I can't even.
(Mara, America, The Book is for you.)

Well, at least the books look decent.


It actually doesn't look so bad from this view.

I've either lost my mind thinking I can clean this up in a month, or I've finally been pushed past the brink of despair and into action. Yeah, probably I'm just crazy.

So this is my Light project for the month... and it's going to be tough. My goal is to deal with ALL OF IT. That's been my problem in the past with this room: What I don't want to deal with, I just shove in a corner for "later."

Blerg. Why did I decide this was a good idea again? :/