Thursday, September 24, 2009

small things

Noting the crumpled state of her homework after school lately, I offered Daughter a deal: Come home with your homework nice and neat in its folder, and you'll get a special treat. I don't care if she's supposed to do this without being asked; I'm a huge fan of bribery. Alas, she proudly opened her backpack as soon as she got off the bus to show me how tidy everything was. So, she got her treat:

Wish I could say these peanut butter cookies were homemade, but no - store bought and pre-cut. All I had to do was bake 'em. My mom used to make the most AMAZING peanut butter cookies from scratch, and she'd always add a little design on each one with the tines of a fork. I'll have to get the recipe from her.

Today I paid a visit to my favorite local thrift store, where I found a cat carrier that would have come in very handy week-before-last when Rosa developed a post-spay UTI and had to go back to the vet. Now we have one just in case, and it only cost a few bucks! I picked up the chairs, too. We've been needing some extras for when company comes over, and the kids are looking forward to customizing these with some bright acrylic paints. That way, they can each have one for sitting and putting on their shoes in the morning, setting their backpacks on in the afternoon, etc. Plus, I think the chairs will make the foyer look very homey and folksy. I'll post a picture when they're done.

Let's see. I recently traded soap for some hollyhock seeds, so those will go in the ground this weekend. The neighbor who has the seeds is a master gardener, so I've also been hitting her up for advice on what kinds of trees to plant in front of the house and how to stop the local prairie dogs from feasting on the roots. I'll post a picture of the hollyhock experiment results next year. (I did mention that I have a black thumb, right?)

The new horse shelter is coming along, though there have been a few hold-ups between my contractor dealing with the county, footer cement that doesn't want to dry quickly enough, etc. I'm hoping most if not all of it will go up tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

calgon, take me away

This weekend, in a fit of winterizing, The Boy and I took this:

...and turned it into this:

I know, I know. You're terribly impressed. You're thinking, Oooooooooooo.

That's a heat lamp and a sled on the back wall, so you know we were serious. I even built a mini-stack, mainly because I was too plum tuckered to carry the last of the wood into the shed:

It was not an easy task peeling myself from the bed this morning, let me tell you. But, after a mug full of bracing "cowboy strength" coffee and a little Mary J on the radio (don't need no hateration, yo) while driving the kids to the bus stop, I was good to go.
Oh, be sure to go comment on the soap giveaway post (the one under this one), so I can get that bar in the mail!

Friday, September 18, 2009

friday soap giveaway: the return

As promised, I have decided to officially reinstate the Friday Soap Giveaways here at AWAAR. There's going to be a bit of a change in the ground rules, though. In order for the giveaway to work each week, there must be at least six comments by different readers in the comments section of each giveaway post. This will, hopefully, prevent bars from constantly going to the the same two people (I'm talking to you, Maiden and Ken). Do be sure to let me know if you're having trouble commenting, or if the process just seems too laborious to make it worth your time.

Oh! I've opened my Etsy shop, too, so go check it out. There you can behold a picture of yours truly in the mid-1970's in my Brownie uniform and all my buck-toothed glory. In fact, go check out Etsy in general if you haven't done so lately. It's chock-full of cool creations by all sorts of amazing artists!

This week's giveaway bar celebrates two things: 1) The opening of my Etsy shop (it's the first type of soap I listed); and 2) The coming of the autumnal equinox, which happens in just four days (squeee! I love fall!). Here's what's up for grabs:

Interested? To play, simply leave a comment on this post describing one of your favorite fall memories.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

on being crafty

There's a conversation I've had with artisans, crafters and artists over the years, and it goes something like this: How do you create, market and sell handmade items in a market that is so often flooded with repeats of the same things (I'm looking directly at you, tole painters)? Is it a matter of trying to find and make something nobody's ever done before, or is it more a matter of having your own take on things, your own "look?" I cast my vote for the latter, personally.

I was having this conversation again today, probably since craft show season is upon us and I'm getting back into soap production. Somehow, despite the popularity of soap making just about everywhere, I've managed to do pretty well with the soaps over the years. They're a fun, creative outlet for me, and I do love making something that other people find useful, enjoyable and for which they're willing to pay me money to boot.

With this in mind, I finally opened an Etsy shop, and I'll link to it as soon as I have more items listed (I'm a bit shy at the moment with my one bar of soap hanging out there in EtsyLand). Various people have been telling me to do this for a while, and I guess there's no time like the present - especially since one of my main holiday craft shows won't be held this year.

Oh, look for the return of the Friday soap giveaway, too - maybe as soon as this week. I've been revamping my labeling technique and working with some new color and fragrance combos, so I should have some interesting offerings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

what I remember

I remember signing on to AOL, which was my main source of morning news at the time, since we didn't get cable out on the prairie and weren't set up for satellite. I remember seeing the picture of two really tall skyscrapers in NYC, one of them emitting an enormous plume of black smoke. I remember seeing the headline: America Under Attack, and thinking little more than, Huh?

I remember doing a quick brain calendar check to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day. But it wasn't: It was September 11th. I must have read the breaking news story and then gone into the kitchen and turned on the little counter radio. I must have called my family and then checked on my son, who was a toddler by then. Those minutes immediately after getting my bearings and starting to understand just what that headline meant are a little foggy. Probably because the information was still foggy at that point. I do remember wondering, "Is it an American who did this?"

A few hours later, the death toll was estimated at up to 20,000 between the collapse of the two towers and the Pentagon crash. From my family in the Bay Area there was talk of the Golden Gate Bridge being shut down, and of armed security everywhere. I stopped at the main Interstate truck stop in our area on my way to the Flagstaff Riding Center, which was managed by some horse trainer friends and clients at the time. It's also right near the Navajo Army Depot, the entrance of which was under heavy guard. A group of Middle-Eastern men was standing in the parking lot of the truck stop having an animated discussion, and I remember the red flags going up: By then, I'd heard the new name Al Qaeda on the radio at least half a dozen times. I'd heard the reporters talk about someone I'd never heard about, someone named Osama Bin Laden. I also remember thinking about all the Persian and Arabic friends I've had over the decades and wondering what it must be like to suddenly and out-of-the-blue be a source of concern and suspicion.

That day was a rude awakening. It was a hard lesson in shock and disbelief, followed by a sense of national fellowship and grief, followed by a national tearing asunder as the political and racial divisions began. It was too much to take in all at once. In some ways, I find that it is still too much to take in. And I was insulated. I was safe all the way across the country as the events unfolded. I didn't lose anybody that day. Today, my heart goes out to all those who can't say the same.

What do you remember?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

an abundance of plums

Plums are in season right now, and I had a lot of plums yesterday. Too many, really. An overabundance of plums is what it was.

So, I decided to do something. I decided to take control of the situation. I went online and found the recipe for something called a Rustic Plum Tart on Then I made some pastry dough.

I love making pastry dough. There's something so homey and simple about it. I once wrote a line in a novel about Willie Nelson and "that voice of his which was all man, but also as comforting as someone’s big-bosomed grandmother with freckles on her arms and pastry dough stuck to her fingers." That's how much I like pastry dough (and Willie). And I've been waiting a long, long time to unpack my pastry cloth and rolling pin and finally put them to good use. The plums gave me the perfect excuse to do just that.

After I'd mixed the sliced plums with sugar, cinnamon and ginger, there were concentric circles to make, and much folding to do at somewhat careful angles. It was like plum geometry, and I was never much good at geometry. Also, I definitely managed to put the "R" in "Rustic."

But, oh, it smelled so good as it baked. Apparently, some random critter thought so, too, because doesn't it look like a little mouse or something (something like a blogger with the munchies, perhaps) got a little too into sampling the result with its little, bloggy fingers?

In fact, it smelled, looked and tasted so good that when daughter and her BFF got off the school bus, they were most interested in helping me use up the rest of the plum/sugar/cinnamon/ginger mixture. So, we made a second tart, which went home with BFF when her dad came to pick her up.

Here's the sunset we saw from the front yard after they drove away and before we dove into tart #1, decimating half of it in one fell swoop.

Sadly, this morning I woke up with a head cold. The good news is there is still half of a rustic plum tart sitting on the counter. And plums have lots of vitamin C, right?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

not a g-rated post

So, the cat's in heat. Which means she's snaking around the house, crouched down on all fours like a new Marine recruit doing that thing where they have to hit the dirt and go under all those wires on their bellies. Also, she pretty much sounds like Ethel Merman undergoing an invasive dental procedure without anesthesia ALL. NIGHT. LONG.

And before you jump all over me for not getting her spayed, she has an appointment next week (which may now have to be postponed because of the raging hormones). The vet actually wouldn't spay Rosa when we first adopted her, because her little, um...kitty titties?...were still too swollen from nursing (the cat's, not the vet's).


Aside from the kids going, "Mom, why is she doing that?" and aside from trying to remove from my head the image of something called the "Q-Tip technique" (which I read about on a feline chat thread about how to calm a cat in heat), this is what my life looks like at the moment:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"I'm thinking how happy I am."

After many, many years, I have re-watched a movie that I will always consider one of my very favorites: The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I loved Kundera's novel when I read it as an undergraduate, and I loved the movie the first time I saw it during that same period.

I remember, as an early twenty-something, seeing the movie through the lens of possibility and eros. There was some sadness, yes, but mainly the story struck me as one of relationships between daring artists and thinkers.

This time I saw it through a different lens. This time, I saw it through the lens of understanding just how long - and how filled with fear and sorrow - the road leading to a single moment of grace can be.

And how that single moment is always, always, worth it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

our crazy, crafty, creative labor day weekend

Like a horse moved to a new barn, or a dog rescued from a shelter and taken to a strange house, I think I've been in the process of realizing that this little, postage-stamp-sized farmstead on the mountain is Home. I'm pretty sure this process started happening back at the end of June, when it looked like escrow was actually going to close without too much of a hitch. And I'm pretty sure that a new part of this process - maybe the final part - happened during this long Labor Day weekend, which we kicked off by going to the Fair - an inevitably and creatively sensual experience that must have dislodged something that's been stuck for a while way down in my psyche. Friday night we were all exhausted, but on Saturday we decided to bake a double batch of Tollhouse cookies:

Why, yes, that IS a Siamese cat sleeping in the background, completely unimpressed by our culinary endeavors. Want proof?

On Sunday, one of the kids started talking about what kinds of plants we might enter in the Fair next year, so "Come with me," I said. I told them that I'd been eyeballing the property, trying to come up with the best place to plant a garden. The spot I tentatively chose has southern and eastern exposure, but it's blocked on the west and the north. It's where the entrance to the crawlspace is located, and our big, steel water cistern is buried nearby, too, so there's no chance we'll put a deck or other addition there. Plus, the previous owners left some heavy duty steel "planters" buried in the ground, and I figure those could come in handy for growing herbs. Right now, the spot is weedy and untended, but give us the winter to dream up our garden wish list and the spring to build raised beds, and there's no telling what kind of life we might breathe into that patch of ground:

I told the kids we could actually get started on the garden now, despite the fact that we'll soon be heading into fall and the already short northern Arizona growing season is getting close to being over. They were all excited, until I told son to grab the wheelbarrow and follow me and daughter while we walked the property and tossed as many old, dried out cow pies in as we could find (our land is on open range, and apparently, the last owners didn't close the front gate. Bovine visitors were clearly abundant). Actually, it didn't take the kids long to get excited even about that. It's amazing how fun it can be to collect petrified cow crap. Try it sometime. Afterward, we dumped the patties on the space I'd built for our compost pile. I used a bunch of cinderblocks that were left over after the little horse barn blew away in that rogue tornado:

Throughout the day, daughter would ask if I had anything that she could throw on the pile. Such a little Earth Girl. Go figure.

Today, we'd hardly gotten up and eaten breakfast before the creative urges struck again. It started with a big bag of apples that's been sitting on my counter all week, threatening to become compost fodder if I didn't do something quick. So, with the kids' help in the mashing phase, I batched up a quick pot of homemade apple sauce to serve with chicken sausage and my favorite Trader Joe's Basmati rice blend topped with mushroom sauce for dinner:

Have you ever done this? It's the easiest thing in the world! Four ingredients: Apples, water, sugar and cinnamon. Take a few minutes to peel and core the apples, cut them into quarters, boil all the ingredients together for a while, cool 'em down and mash 'em. Voila! Warm, homemade applesauce with an amazing taste and texture that will leave you feeling a little bummed out the next time you have to use storebought.

We even held back the peels and rings to dry for this year's Homemade Christmas:

I did mention that I was basically Martha on roids this weekend, right? Lizzie was as unimpressed as the cat. That's daughter's abandoned apron and son's abandoned artwork on the floor:

I was willing to overlook the increasingly daunting mess, though, since just about every time I checked on the kids, both of them were feverishly working on stories and pictures and even paper sculpture creations like this cat/kitten/bird/egg/watermelon/garden combo created by daughter:

I don't know what the heck was in the water around here for the past few days, but whatever it was...give me more.

Friday, September 04, 2009

fair's fair

The 60th annual Coconino County Fair is in town, and today was the official "school day," where all school-aged kids (and their teachers, chaperons, etc.) get in free. I volunteered to help chaperon first grade, and it was big fun. Well, for the most part it was big fun. By the time we hit the poultry barn it started to pour, so our group made several passes by all the cool chickens. I was, of course, especially drawn to the Silkies, which will always be my first "poultry love." I may finally be getting over the loss of my flock last year enough to think about re-flocking. This time (probably not until spring, when the Easter chicks hit the feed store in town), I'd like to add Americaunas and maybe some Rhode Island Reds to the mix, since both are supposed to be great layers. Silkie eggs are yummy, but they're small, and it would be good to have regular and large-sized fresh eggs next summer. Of course, I'll have to build my coop first.

I always love touring the Home Ec. building, too. In past years I've entered things like soap and fudge in the fair, and I was inspired by the cookies and cakes this year. I'd also like to think I will finally plant a garden again, now that we're getting settled in the new place, so I can maybe enter some herbs, tomatoes and pumpkins. Alas, though, that, too, will have to wait until spring. Still, it's something else to look forward to...

Last weekend, I judged the horse show portion of the fair. I'm not sure why they hold the horse show a week before the actual fair opens, but they do. That was a good time as well. Unlike other horse shows, the County Fair show is always sort of an "Elly Mae Clampett meets Chad and Muffy from the Country Club" affair. You have 4H kids from all over the region, including the Rez (who have been practicing in their back yards), mixing with the more well-to-do kids (who have been working with their trainers), and I love the fact that hard work and natural talent always trump a fat bank account: You can't buy raw skill and a handy horse-rider pair, whether it's over a course of fences or in a reining pattern.

By the time the school buses pulled up to the front entrance today, it was pouring again. Our group found the closest tent under which to wait out the deluge. Turned out it was the Scientology tent, which meant that we got to read all about L. Ron Hubbard and Thetans as the rotisserie guy across the way tried to keep the rain off his grill and the technicolor stilt walker hunkered down under a tent of his own.

Hey, when it comes to the fair, there's room for all kinds.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

good morning

Here's something to watch the sunrise and monsoon-ey clouds for those of us drinking our coffee in Northern Arizona this morning.

Brings me back to my first year of college, when my roommate in the dorm would wake me up at dawn each morning by blasting Cat and the Dead.