Friday, October 29, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Sweater

Reconstructed sweater I made this week:

And the back:

I've been obsessed with felting/fulling old woolen things and remaking them into other things (
hats, mittens, blankets, stuffed toys) for a long, long time now (13 years?). But these days, both felting old wool and reconstructing clothing are all the rage--to see what I mean, just go and Google "reconstructed sweater" or "refashioned sweater," or for some real fun, go browse the archives at Wardrobe Refashion.

The sweater above and others I've made over the last year have been particularly inspired by
this etsy seller and this one here--though I'm considerably lazier about my construction than they are. Katwise and Movie Boy Productions? That's some high sweater reconstruction art right there.

Still, my sweater is super warm and cozy, and I can't get the idea of spiced pumpkin out of my head when I look at it. It's like all the fall color I could ever need, in one sweater.

I'm adding pictures here of the sweater actually being worn.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


On the left, we have the jug from which the apple cider came. It was full to the brim when I started my journey to reduce it to apple cider syrup. On the right, the finished "syrup." It went a little longer than it should have.

Sharp-eyed observers will note that the jar on the right is upside down. It's been that way for a good 24 hours now--I just wanted to see if the substance inside would move. The answer Not at all. It has not budged.

Now, in my defense, this stuff actually tastes pretty good (like spiced apple caramel or taffy). If you can scrape it out of the jar. I suppose I could set it in a pan of hot water to melt it a little, and then reconstitute it a bit by adding water or apple juice to it.

But that sounds like so much work. I think I'd rather ship it to Lis's brother and sister-in-law in Schenectady, so it can live at the back of their fridge and commune with the apple spackle Lis made while she was there. You don't think they'd mind, do you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

•when you forget, you forget•

In my mom's group (which includes a few good stay-at-home dads, too), we have a tradition. If someone has a new baby, I organize a dinner brigade for them. Two weeks of dinner-on-the-doorstep, every other night. Awesome idea, right? Super fun for all, no? Except when the (half-assed, remember?) organizer forgets to show up with a meal on her night! Last night, my poor friends with their toddler and brand new infant went hungry on my account. What to do, what to do? Obviously, Thai delivery tonight... xox

Friday, October 22, 2010

•good people, bitter pill•

I like people. Really. I like them very much. I accept that some people love god, for example, and since I love the god in people, I can jive with that. Go, religion! Get down with your bad sect. What I am having trouble accepting is the lack of importance placed on food in America. Why, to be specific, are there people in this wealthy, suburban culture with college educations, happy homes, and beautiful children, who still eat plasticked food from VoldeMart and McDrone-ald's?

My kid just started preschool in what most people confidently refer to as a "hippie town." We live in Davis, California, the heart of the garden of frickin' organic Eden. And what do I see the littles eating for communal snack? Goldfish. Graham Crackers. Block orange cheese from Target. All provided by parents. I've been bracing myself against the wind and the storm, but man, I am pissed. Yes, everyone is busy and has a dying family member and a break-neck job. Yes, most people have 17 children and just lost their job. But seriously, would it kill them to bring vegetables? To choose life? In this town, all you have to do is take a quarter mile walk outside your door to find overflowing fig trees. It's pomegranate season. There are still Asian pears to be found. Good, actual, real food is available for free in this town, and still the preschoolers get cardboard. One of my friends had to put her foot down at her son's cooperative nursery school, because she didn't want him snacking on bagged Ore-ida french fries every Monday. "But the kids really look forward to Monday fries," the director whined. The kids are two and three years old. They don't know Monday from Doomsday, and they will live without potatoes and grease before naptime.

Am I crazy? Gaaaaagggghghhhh!!!! (Amy, this is why you are glad you have DOGS.)

I am not going to take this lying down. So far, my reaction has been relatively private. I've defensively signed up to bring cupcakes to the Halloween party... but I'm not always the first person to the sign-up sheet. Who knows what Costco-concoction the other parents are going to bring, and how will my pumpkin and cream-cheese mini cuppies compete with neon-green frosting?

The Anti-Costco.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

This Just In

This evening, while I was hanging out reading books with Penn (and mere hours after I'd read Lis's hilarious story about the evil, scary monkeys), Penn looked at me with an earnest, worried expression on his face.

"Do you have any stories about nice monkeys?" he asked.

"Hmm..." I said, "I don't know. Let's look."

The best I could come up with was a book about Curious George going to the hospital. Now, I'm not an enormous fan of Curious George or the weird Man with the Yellow Hat, but it has to be said that George is a nice enough little monkey. So we read the book, which was all about George's ill-advised eating of a puzzle piece, necessitating surgery and a hospital stay. It's a gentle little story about children in the hospital, and it's populated with lovely warm nurses and doctors, and plenty of other children to hang with. Plus bowls of ice-cream to eat.

At one point, Penn and I realized that while two or three of the children in one of the illustrations were given actual character names, five others were not. I asked Penn what he thought the unnamed children should be called. He was a little quiet and noncommittal at first, but he rose to the occasion and pointed at the first little girl.

"That's P.S." he announced.

"Okay," I responded, just kind of rolling with it. "What do you think this other little girl's name is? You know, she has red hair--who do you know who has red hair?" And he named one of his (several!) little red-haired friends, whom I shall here refer to as...oh, Talya. (Why not?) We agreed that the little girl in the picture could be called Talya.

"Okay, so that's P.S., and that's Talya, and who's this boy?"

"Koo." said Penn.

"Okay, and how about this boy?"

"That's Talya-Boy."

"Um, okay, so we have: P.S., Talya, Koo, and Talya-Boy? Hey, what about this other boy over here on the bed?"

"That's...that's...Talya-Boy II."

Okey-dokey, then.

I'm Guaranteed to Write More About This at Some Point

Last night, as I was finally getting around to cleaning the kitchen after far too long, I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR. Terry Gross was interviewing an actor named Jason Schwartzman, whom I don't know at all, although he's apparently been around for a while, and is currently starring in a show on...HBO? Maybe? About a writer turned private investigator.

Anyway, Jason Schwartzman seemed like a totally lovely guy, with really interesting things to say, but the thing that really got me was a story he told about writing the theme song for the...let's just call it the HBO show for the sake of convenience, okay? (Okay, I got over being lazy and went and looked it up--it's called Bored to Death.) Schwartzman's a musician as well as an actor, and he was asked to submit a song for consideration as the theme for the show. And he introduced this story with a good deal of embarrassment, confessing that he kind of hated telling it because it would "expose [him] as a sort of low-key liar."

And the story was that during the time he was supposed to be writing the song, he was finishing the filming of a movie, and he was so busy that he just wasn't writing the song at all. And every week, the folks at the show would e-mail him and ask how the song was coming, and every week, he would tell them it was really coming along, and he'd make up some detail of it to sort of prove he'd been working on it--the walking bass line, for instance, or some other element. And at the end of the movie, he knew he had to get the damn song written already, so--in order to make good on his promises--he went back through all the e-mails he'd written, and collected all the elements he'd made up to appease the show's producers. And then he wrote the song based on those elements. In ten minutes.

Ten minutes. Now, he can say he was "lying" about his progress on that song, and sure, he sort of was. But it seems to me this story also illustrates something mysterious and amazing about the creative process, about what our minds are doing when we think we're just procrastinating/not getting anything done.

Creative people seem to have a more-complicated-than-average relationship with procrastination and productivity, and it's hard to know sometimes if we're really wasting time, or if there's some sort of slow cooker thing going on at the back of our brains. Personally, I pretty much always leap to accusing myself of wasting time. But the truth is, if I jump into a project too fast, just because I need to prove to myself that I'm not wasting time, the results are often disastrous. And let's just say that disastrous results are not the most effective way to get yourself all fired up about the next creative project.

I've been going to acupuncture regularly for the last several years for some chronic health issues, and one of the results I've noticed is that I'm getting better at being able to tell when what I'm feeling is due to my energy being stuck, and when it's due to my energy being deficient. I'm still not 100 percent accurate--it's not so easy to tell the difference a lot of the time. But there are subtle clues, and I'm learning to read them, and that's useful, because if I know how my energy is unbalanced, there are things I can do to help re-balance it.

It seems to me that creative energy is probably the same--sometimes I just need to get moving on something to get myself unstuck, and other times, I really need to cut myself some slack and go relax, or stare at other people's art or writing, or go on a fun field trip or something to refuel. But--how to learn to tell the difference between stuck and deficient creative energy? I guess, for one thing, it's easy enough to sit down at my work table or try to write for awhile, to see whether I start to move into the productive space, or whether I start to feel anxious and antsy and miserable. The trick then, is to cut myself some slack when it's the latter--and, of course, to stop pushing myself before things go entirely pear shaped. (How much easier would my life be if I finally, once and for all, fully integrated the idea that the trick is usually to cut myself some slack? So much easier.)

It takes faith in the creative process to understand the slow cooker thing and how it works (and, let me be very clear--I don't always have it). It takes faith to keep from beating up on yourself for "procrastinating" because sometimes, the beating up on yourself is the thing that gets your creative energy all stuck in the first place. In other words, accusing yourself of procrastination might be just the mean-spirited thing that will prevent you from being the kind of super-productive artist who can compose a TV theme song on your brain's back burner while you're doing some other fabulous thing across the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

•no more monkeys jumping on the bed•

"I don't like monkeys," Penn says. "OK," I say. We are in bed, and he has woken up sad from a dream in which he didn't get to stay very long at His Beloved Preschool. "They get angry," he concludes. "Come here, KooKuh. You want me to cuddle you?" There follows some fussiness about how exactly KooKuh would like to be cuddled. With my arm creating a rainbow above his body, apparently. Not super comfortable at 2:30 in the morning.

No monkeys for Penn. This came up a couple weeks back, and the breaking news immediately made the rounds on Facebook. "Tomorrow, when the sun comes up, I hope that there is a farm with no monkeys outside," quoth Penn, and suddenly my boss was inquiring after his mental health.

He is entitled to be wary of monkeys. We all have our faves and naves. I like lemurs, for example; not so much, chimps. I'm not exactly a fan of the zoo or the circus, as a general whole, but perhaps that is because I abhor clowns. I thought that was pretty much a universal truth, but not so. Witness this gift to Penn from a well-meaning admirer:


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

•tasks, part 1•

Washed my car this morning. Call it an annual ritual. I wouldn't have, but there was this oily film from the last rain. Disturbing on many levels. One of the pleasures of renting a home with a garden hose is I can "wash" the car without leaving the carport. I used BioKleen's dishwashing liquid, which is grey-water safe. And oh, how the off-pouring water was grey.

Waiting now for a much-anticipated call from Charlotte. After that, my pre-work tasks are
a) put every single article of clothing away
b) write 10 Halloween cards. (ha)

I don't have the drugs to sort it out... - The National, "Afraid of Everyone"

Friday, October 15, 2010

•when half-assed kills•

How to turn a perfectly simple art-on-wall project into a colossal time suck.

Half-assed. It giveth, and it taketh away.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

•memory: what a beautiful, ferocious thing•

My friend Cassie is gorgeous, with thick blond hair and the confident gait of a pole dancer. She was modeling a pair of pants the other day, and the subject skittered from torso length (hers long, mine short) to height (hers towering, mine diminutive). "I'm five-eleven," she said, and... suddenly I was transported back to high school. Five-eleven. I caught my breath. This is a story about a guy.

I asked Cassie if she had any old flames. You know, unrequited loves she thought about from time to time, whose memory brought back an arresting pang of loss. "Not really," she said. "I did pretty well." I guess that shouldn't be surprising, given the way she wears those pants. But--really? Not even a speck of unconsumated infatuation? Incredible. I can't imagine my life without unrequited love. Which, now that I've said it, seems a little weird. I've certainly enjoyed more than my share of reciprocation. But I kind of like that I loved and lost. I'm grateful for the fierce crushes that never came to any good. Though ancient history, they still shape my life and fuel my work. I'm not sure longing has made me a better person, but desire is certainly a great motivator. It's why I'm typing right now.

I had a couple "someones," when I was younger. Their names have too much power to type in a blog. I am stopped in my tracks every time I remember them, and I never know what will bring it on: a certain smell, a slant of afternoon sunshine, five feet eleven inches.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Further Adventures of a Thrift-Shopping Auntie

The pair on the right is for Lovely Girl Toddler (different from Lovely Boy Toddler who lives here at this blog), and the pair on the left is for Lovely School-Age Girl Child--both children of close friends. Lovely School-Age Girl Child has been hankering for some boots. Last year, I made her this refashioned sweater dress...

...which means I've been hankering for boots for her as well. I'm pretty excited they come with flowers on them, and I'm pretty sure she'll approve.

The other pair is for Lovely Girl Toddler, who, conveniently, has something of a Thing for Shoes. Sadly, they won't fit her yet, but on the bright side, they're too big, and she's growing right into them by the hour. I made her a dress last year as well, and the pictures of it are just as lousy as the pictures of the sweater dress above:

Now that I've thought about it, I'm kind of flipping out at the idea of her wearing that little sundress with these boots. To give you a sense of the ridiculously adorable size of these things, here's one of them on my hand:

They need a good cleaning/polishing, but they're pretty much my ideal boots. Which is to say that if they were anywhere near my own size, Lovely Girl Toddler and I would have to duke it out for them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Internet: Where You Just Might Bump Into Yourself Around Any Random Corner

So a while back, I edited this cookbook for the Davis Food Co-op, where both Lis and I worship work in various capacities. We did a leetle print run at, and the thing took forever to sell out, and I don't think anyone at the store is in a big ol' hurry to reorder more books. (Though I still really quite like the cookbook! As do all my mother's friends. So, you know, it must be good.)

Then, just now, I happened to Google myself to figure out something unrelated, and this here Amazon link came up. I mean, who knew Lulu books automatically wound up on Amazon? (Though...maybe they don't? Maybe our former marketing director had something to do with this?)

The best part is: My book is currently ranked the 6,528,445th best selling book on Amazon. You have to admit, that's not bad for a girl who didn't even know she had an Amazon sales ranking. (And the half-assedness just keeps on keeping on.)

•bustling with half-assed activity•

I am a half-assed gardener, among everything else. Yesterday, I put "plant winter crops" on a to-do list, and tried not to laugh. (My real goals for this pre-rainy season are to uproot the tomato plants and fold away the hammock.) Today, I yanked several otherwise-beautiful bushy things with irritating fuzzy burrs that live in the midst of a not-so-strawberry patch in our front yard. Why the not-so-strawberries? I don't know. These wood strawberries look the part, but taste like the absence of taste. The previous tenants preferred ground cover to food, perhaps. Anyway, I uprooted the flowering-bush-burrs, and also managed to sprinkle some scarlet flax seeds on a patch of... let's call it earth. This was long, long overdue. So overdue, it nearly never happened. The wind, oddly, has been a call to action for me. The past couple of days have been blustery, hot and fierce. Tornado-y. A tree fell on a car in the Coop parking lot yesterday afternoon, and by the look of it, today is all about one-upmanship. My response to the apocalyptic weather has been to bustle around in a flurry of putter. Tidy this, scrap that. Fashion lists, skip steps. I've been doing dishes, uploading photos, and procrastinating with greater zeal than usual.

I've had this bouquet of scarlet flax flowers since May. My friend Airy cut them from her garden for a wedding I helped decorate, and when I ooed and awed my thanks, she said to keep them, let them dry, then crush the remaining pods and sprinkle the debris wherever I want flowers. They're essentially weeds, she intimated, and thrive by being ignored. My favorite kind of plant, I thought. I've been putting this off, but something about the heinous wind today struck me. Why bother giving the flax even a fighting chance? If the seeds are so resilient, why not toss them into the gale-force wind and see what they're made of? That, and it occurred to me and I had five minutes to just do it, or risk staring at that dried bouquet for years.

I am so proud of myself for this knee-jerk bit of gardening. And what is a blog, if not an enumeration of proud moments? Half-Assed Mama is no more than a list of achievements, really. How Amy And I Still Manage To Impress Ourselves. In spite of... everything. Last week, I so half-assed some apple butter, it came out like fruit leather. Gummy snacks, actually. The chunks would have made excellent rubber balls, if only I'd thought to shape the sauce, before over-baking the life out of it. I left the inedible apple-spackle in a glass jar in my brother's refrigerator; I fully expect to find it, still there, on my next visit to Schenectady. Oh, when I think of the gorgeous Cortlands that went into making that stuff... The size of a baby's head. The peels were so long. At the time, I congratulated myself for not making some sort of garland--"Kill the dream, Lis, kill the dream" sang Amy's voice in my mind--but now I wish I had something to show for Operation Apple Putty. I do have a photo of the scrapped apple peels. My nephew Simon is in the background, assessing the situation.

So my brother Art, the reason for my visit to New York, is a ridiculous over-achiever with two boys and a baby. He is one of my dearest friends, but, man. His idle speed is my race pace. He managed to concoct three delicious dinners while we were there: pasta with gorgonzola cream sauce, homemade pizza with ham and veggies, and maple-breaded salmon, whatthef^%k. Plus separate kid-meals (which I applaud but don't approve). Three full meals at home, with green veggies each night, is a caliber I can barely manage with my one child and part-time job. Art is on it. Last week, he was also somehow able to rake and mow his gigantic yard, while working full time and manifesting an additional nephew for me. An achievement I maybe should attribute to my sister-in-law... but hey. I didn't know our brother Erik had a fourth baby due (yep, another over-achiever) in a matter of days, until I heard it from Art. Erik lives in Bronnoysund, Norway, which is remote to say the least, and so far away from any metropolitan area that his partner, Elisabeth, had to be air-lifted (a term I love, by the way, for conjuring an image of an elephant or a whale, hoisted by helicopter) to a hospital. The Cesaerian would have happened a few planned days later, had she not gone into labor. Which makes her an over-achiever, too! So. The happy phone calls from various grandparents came while we were in Schenectady, announcing Ingvald, at nearly 10 pounds. A fair bit smaller than his predecessor, Konrad, who was 12 and a half at the time of his (vaginal) birth. OverAchievers 'R Us.

It was a great visit, even if I did feel like I was on mute the whole time. I'd wanted to hit a few Halloweeny notes... pumpkin bread, spooky cookies, jack-o-lanterns, spiced apple something. I managed all but the pumpkin bread, but it was still like I was standing, um, still.

Everything pales in comparison to Art and Jess, who "manage" their three (3) boys, two (2) professional careers and approximately one hundred kick ass neighbors in their kick ass suburban neighborhood of, wait for it, Niskayuna*-- and all before 9:30pm, which is the time every night that they have dessert by themselves, because their school-agers have turned their lights off and their baby sleeps 11 to 12 hours a night. It was humbling, though completely lovely, to bask in their glow and enjoy a mildly rainy New York autumn-ber while Penn lost his mind over his cousin's Lego collection.

I do have a tendency to expect too much of myself. ("Ya think?" Amy would say.) While I didn't make it to Dunkin Donuts for a seasonally-appropriate donut and a bag of my co-blogger's beloved coffee beans, I did check out a Thursday morning farmer's market in downtown Schenectady, and an independent bookstore that charmed Penn with its childrens' nook and tiny chairs. ("Forklifts, Mommy!"). We got to talk to a city worker down a man-hole, and marveled at the hundreds of backhoes and asphalt spreaders scattered around the Stockade. Schenectady is one of those perfectly broody, Nor'eastern American cities that sparkle when you visit them in the fall. Blue-collared and cool, with rain-bright foliage and sunsets that leave the city on fire.

*As if Schenectady weren't hard enough on the tongue.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nervous Little Dogs

This incredibly mellow looking dog is currently a wreck from the sound of the wind. The wind here is intense in October, and sometimes also in April, as if it's sweeping out the season that was to make room for a new one.

Doggles (Lis's nickname!) isn't normally this anxious about wind, though she does go out of her mind at the sound of, say, a smoke detector with a bad battery--that sound pretty much makes her try to climb inside Brian or me, which, as you can imagine, is less than conducive to getting things done.

This morning, as Doggles and I were discussing why she was such a nervous little dog, I asked her whether she'd been busy with the espresso machine before Brian and I got up. She denied everything.

•it's not that I don't have a heart•

It's just that, oh my, it's preschool, people. Would it kill you to be friendly? xox

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall Hike

Hike in Cold Canyon, just west of Winters, California.

Fall is so different here than back East, but I've been here a little more than a decade now, and the changing slant of the sun signals a shift in season to me more than it used to.

And, of course, this time of year, there's far less water than there will be in just a few months. This is the creek bed right now:


And despite the dry, warm, non-Eastern fall, if you look for color, you'll find it. (I don't know what these leaves are, but I love that they look like pumpkins.)

Happy hiking doggies:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


A few weeks ago, on my husband’s birthday, Lis asked Lovely Toddler whether he wanted to do something fun for Brian for his birthday.

“Yeah!” responded Lovely Toddler, “Maybe, get him a digger.”

“Okay.” said Lis. And then she asked where they might begin to look for a digger.

“I think…” Lovely Toddler thought about it. “We could go to a yard sale for a digger present.”

Lovely Toddler has clearly internalized both our particular community’s commitment to the reduce, reuse, recycle ethic, and also that old chestnut about giving people presents that you would want to receive. (Lis tells us that a clarifying discussion ensued about how yard sales are generally not held on Tuesdays, and a thrift shop might be a better bet.)

And then, this past weekend, Brian and I were at a yard sale, and look what turned up:

Monday, October 4, 2010

•this is now•

This weekend, we romped and camped at Full Belly Farm. Our annual dose of pumpkins, hay, dust, delicious beer (Valencia Wheat!), good friends, "silly goats" (the ones with their feet up on the fence), and lots and lots and lots of forklifts.

Dancing to the lovely Rita Hosking...

Friday, October 1, 2010