Sunday, December 29, 2013

My brain feels like jello.

What ever this bug that the kids have is, it is not making me happy. I have thoughts slip away like fish that you're trying to grab and my whole body aches. I am reconsidering the cup of coffee I had this morning. I don't think it did much to wake me up. I also think that it is part of the reason why my stomach feels unhappy.

I want to work on the list of articles that I have waiting on Helium but I just don't feel up to it. I'm hoping that after a quick nap, I may feel better. Aside from that, I think that ginger ale and chicken broth are going to be my new best friends. I would really like to feel better in the immediate future, as in with in the next few hours. I have a huge pile of laundry to put away, a sink full of dishes to wash, and grocery shopping to do. I don't have time to feel like this.

Ah well, thankfully it is the weekend. Beloved has been doing a lot to help out with the kids. Cuddle Bear seems to be feeling better. He kept breakfast down and appears to be doing well with lunch. It may be that this evening he will be up for having something a touch more substantial for dinner.

Looking at the pot roast in the fridge, I don't trust that it is still good. I think I will be getting rid of that. Food poisoning on top of this virus would be hellish. I had something else that I wanted to mention but I simply can not recall it. Oh well, such is life. I'll catch up with y'all later.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


So, we have the stomach flu at my place. My eldest came down with it first. He is on the mend, but his brother then came down with it. They've both been utterly exhausted. We've reached the point in the day that I am ready to be done with it all. It's not because they've been bad. I am just burned out from being Mom. I tell myself that I have only one week left to go and then they're back at school. I then go ZOMG! And then question how I will manage not to have my head explode by then.

I did some writing today. I thought that the research I was reading about the effects of meditation was rather fascinating. I don't know if my article is good or not. I literally just submitted it in the last five minutes. I expect I will hear back from somebody on it in a few hours. I have several different articles in the que right now but I look at them and feel black despair.

I feel like an utter hack right now. It's a terrible feeling. I think I may be sliding into a bit of a depressive funk. It's rough having bipolar. I try to keep myself moving forward and being optimistic all the damn time, but it is exhausting. Beloved has been extremely supportive. He tells me all the time how he has faith in me and how important I am to him. One of the things he always says is how he couldn't do this with out me.

When I have the times where I feel like I am utterly wretched and a fraud, I look at him. I remind myself that he has faith in me. I look at my kids and remind myself that I am a good mother and they are the proof of it.

In 30 years, I don't think it is going to matter if the house was spotless. I have a feeling that my crazily high expectations for my writing are not going to have much bearing on the world. If I am persistent and I push forward, even when I am feeling my worst, then I will build that career that I have wanted since I was a kid.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Amazement and awe.

A friend of mine has confided that he is independently wealthy. The way he so bluntly and brutally pointed out the basics of how he runs his business left me in pure amazement.

The thing that has me reeling is the fact that this is someone I know, in the flesh, who is a wildly successful entrepreneur. For some silly reason, I thought that people like that were ones that I would possibly meet by way of Facebook and only be on the perifery of their social circle. Then the Porchcat just completely nuked this worldview.

As silly as it sounds, it tells me something very big. It's not that the old 'nose to the grindstone' work ethic is the way to go. It's not that we can overcome adversity.

It tells me that it could be me next. That success like this is something that I could actually attain. I will be painfully honest, my belief in that possibility was dwindling. I decided somewhere over the last several months and the recent struggles with depressive episodes that I wasn't going to do more then self publish a few books and possibly make pocket change off my writing.

Knowing someone who has accomplished this magnitude of a goal and continues to do so successfully... Not having them be an acquaintance or someone that I still have the occasional question if they're internet trolls (because we all know the first rule of the internet: all people on the internet are trolls)... but knowing them in the flesh and having broken bread with them, it makes the possibility that I can actually do this real.

That kind of reality check was due, I suppose. Gods bless that man.

10 Tips for How to Be Successful in New Year's Resolutions

Every year, countless people resolve to make changes to their lives at the stroke of midnight New Year's eve. A few days, weeks, or months later, those resolutions are forgotten or recalled with crushing guilt and despair. Here are ten tips for how to have realistic New Year's resolutions that you can successfully meet and avoid the guilt trip later on.

Start Small
Often, the best laid plans of mice and men are nothing more then empty talk. People frequently become intimidated by the scope of what they had voiced a desire to do. Some become overwhelmed by the pure magnitude of work required to accomplish their stated goal. Breaking a large goal into smaller parts makes the resolution less overwhelming and easier to accomplish.

Respect Your Limits
Many times, people assume that they must push their limitations in achieving things. This is only true in a few areas. And within those areas, it is only true in moderation. If you desire to improve your weight, for example, it is important to work within the needs that you have and your financial constraints. Failure to consider your dietary needs, in this case, can lead to serious health consequences that could have been easily avoided by merely keeping your limitations in mind. Similarly, making changes in one's life requires that a person incorporates these changes into their existing life. Failing to work with your limitations sets you up for frustration and failure.

Make a Plan for Success
A quick look at the major players in the world, you find that all of them rose to success and fame by way of hard work and planning. Planning incorporates accounting for your constraints and weaknesses as well as how you will utilize your assets and strengths. A good plan considers potential problems and alternate routes to success.

Respect Your Schedule
There are only twenty four hours in the day. As much as one might like to devote all of their time to their resolutions, it is vital that their schedule is adhered to. This allows you to be successful in many areas, including your new resolutions. Proper scheduling helps a person to use their time wisely and more efficiently.

Don't Compete
Often, people are tempted to compare their progress with the progress of others. This sets up false expectations. Judge your efforts on their own merits. Your resolutions are for you and can only meet your needs. The people who have similar resolutions have different life circumstances that will lead their path to success in a different direction then yours.

Do Use Your Support Network
Just as a marathon runner draws strength from their cheering section, so to do people who are striving to accomplish new goals with their New Year's resolutions. Make a point of informing the people closest to you what you are seeking to accomplish.

Ask for Help When Needed
It is difficult to ask for help. Sometimes, people feel that it is a sign of weakness to ask for assistance. Nothing can be farther from the truth. If you are struggling to fulfill your resolution, look to your support network. They can provide you with new ideas on how to approach the problem.

Be Flexible on Order of Accomplishment
At times, a person is tempted to list out their goals as a timeline of what is to be accomplished. The path to success, however, is not always a straight line. Some goals may be accomplished in a fashion that defies the original planned timeline. Flexibility in how one approaches this situation helps a person to be successful because it frees up their mental resources to address the challenges before them. Rather then dwelling on how item A should have happened before item B, the flexible person appreciates that they completed item B and resumes work on accomplishing item A.

Be Compassionate
Being your own worst critic, it is easy to assume that problems and bumps along the path to success are an expression of how you are a failure as a person. When working on accomplishing any new skill or life goal, it is wise to consider the successes that one has rather then the problems. Thomas Edison is a fine example of a person who was compassionate in how they approached difficulties in reaching their goals. When asked about his difficulties in devising a working light bulb, he chose to phrase his response in a positive manner, famously stating "I have not failed a thousand times. I have succeeded in proving a thousand ways it will not work."

Don't Over Share Your Plans
Be careful about who you share your plans with. Make certain that the people who are made privy to your New Year's resolutions and goals are people who will greet this undertaking positively. Surrounding oneself with people who encourage an optimistic and positive outlook on their goals helps to boost one's confidence.

With a little forethought and some careful consideration, it is possible to make lasting changes by way of New Year's resolutions. Treat your goals with the respect that they deserve and do the same for yourself. Ultimately, a New Year's resolution is about what you seek to improve about yourself. Look for the positives and you will astound yourself by what you can accomplish.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday, we meet again.

I wish I could say nothing but happy things right now. I'm feeling too worn out, however, to muster up cheer, even false cheer, for you folks. Today was a very long day. I'm rather dreading how the rest of the next two weeks are going to progress.

All the plans for Christmas have been shot because Cuddle Bear is sick. When I say sick, I mean he threw up four times this afternoon. Three of those times with just water in him. It makes me dread the next few days. Because once he is over this, then Snuggle Bug will get it. I'll be lucky if I walk away with a passing day of nausea. I feel really bad that he feels so awful.

The poor kid just snuggled up next to me on the couch and didn't move. While Cuddle Bear is not all over the damn place like his brother, he doesn't usually sit down and not do or say anything unless he is completely entranced by something he is watching or if he feels horrible. Because we didn't have a parade of chainsaw action complete with garbage truck displays, I would say that he was feeling horrid.

I tried to get the kids to help me clean up. It was about as effective as shoveling snow in a blizzard. It didn't help matters any that every time that Snuggle Bug got mad about something, he pitched things over. I tell myself that this is a phase and that he will grow out of it. It is really hard to keep your cool, however, when the whole mess of train track pieces that you just finished picking up got dumped on the floor moments after you put the last piece in the bin and the offender just walks away.

I truly think that this dumping things is an effort to try and make me do what ever he wants. I'm not exactly sure how to approach this nonsense. Ignoring it hasn't been terribly effective. Cleaning up after him isn't going to do any body any good. If anything, it teaches him that there are no consequences for his actions. I've tried making him pick it up but that just doesn't work.

Time out doesn't work that well on Snuggle Bug either. I'm rather at wits end with him. It's only the first day of winter break and I'm ready for school to start up again. Ah well, I suppose all other parents go through this. I'm going to try approaching tomorrow as a completely fresh slate. I'm doing my best to attribute positive things towards the kids behavior and not let them drive me too crazy. I honestly don't feel like I'm doing a very good job of it. Again, I am pretty sure that is how a lot of other parents feel after a day that is as challenging as today was.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sweater in progress.

So, the lake effect snow machine is going full force. We've got flakes about the size of quarters and dimes coming down outside. I have spent my day indoors. Partly because I really don't want to be out in the cold and partly because I've been working on a sweater for Snuggle Bug. I have the front and the back panels done.
 Front panel.
Back panel.

I'll be making the sleeves out of the green yarn that I used for the outside round. I have really enjoyed using this yarn that my MiL gave me. Her reasoning was since she didn't have the time to make the boys sweaters this year, I could use the yarn to do so. It's part of the reason why I haven't been making squares for the last two months. I've also been working on finishing up Yule gifts.

Next week, I'll be posting up pictures of the boys in their new sweaters. I'm pretty sure that Snuggle Bug is going to like his. Cuddle Bear tried his on after I finished it and was kind of indifferent to it. I still wrapped it up and I'll be putting it under the tree for him. I'll try to write up the directions for how I made the sweaters next week.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Wreaths

This article got rejected because I didn't have a picture to slap up with it. Seriously, it should tell me if they want me to submit a photo with the article. *shakes fist*

It is a little over a week before Christmas and you are missing a wreath for the front door. Is this the time to panic? No! With a little ingenuity, creativity, and a bit of glue, you too can have that homemade holiday charm for pennies.

Styrofoam wreath forms are inexpensive and can form the basis for several truly spectacular wreaths. The first and simplest of options is to wrap green yarn around your wreath form until it is covered. Be sure to glue the ends securely at the back of your wreath form. Add a cheerful, bright red bow for the simplest and sweetest wreath on the block. For greater holiday cheer, you can affix colorful pompoms randomly over your green yarn to suggest holly berries and ornaments.

If you wish for a more complex wreath based on the styrofoam form, you can purchase fabric sprays of holly. Snip the wired ends approximately an inch away from the leaves and berries. Insert into the form at various intervals. If you are concerned about your leaves slipping out of where they are placed, secure them with a dab of glue after inserting. Once you have covered your form with holly leaves, affix your bow with florist wire, making sure that the wire is hidden by the holly leaves.

Instead of holly sprays, you can also cover your foam wreath form with small plastic ornaments. You can glue the ornaments to your form or you can wire them onto it with florist wire. It is important to make sure that your florist wire is securely fixed to your ornaments to prevent them from slipping off. You must use light ornaments for this project because heavier ones run the risk of falling off your wreath and potentially pulling your wreath off of your door.

If you do not have access to a styrofoam wreath form, you can use a grapevine wreath. These provide a more sturdy and durable option. With your glue, you can affix sprays of holly, sprigs of ivy, and miniature boughs of pine to your wreath. You can also cover your wreath form with bows. It is important to use a low temperature hot glue gun for this project because you do not want to melt your bows, if they are made from plastic or vinyl.

Grapevine wreaths can also be decorated with lengths of ribbon and wrapping paper cut into long, thin strips. Remember to fix your ribbon and wrapping paper securely at the back of your wreath. When wrapping your wreath, make sure that your overlap the edges of your material. If you wish to use raw fabric to wrap your wreath, the same technique is used. Before wrapping, pull a few threads off of the cut edges of your fabric to give it a fringed texture.

Children love the prospect of helping to decorate for the holidays. The simplest wreath that can be made after your green yarn one is a paper plate circle with hand print cutouts covering the edges. If you wish to put a message in the center of your paper plate wreath, you can do so with glitter glue to give a touch more holiday sparkle. Paper plate wreaths can also be made with sticky back bows if your child is not ready for cutting paper.

Older children will enjoy cutting toilet paper tubes into one inch lengths and painting them green. These are then glued together into a large circle. It is helpful to run a length of paper inside the collection of paper tubes to secure them together. If you wish to have the paper tubes arranged so that the centers are facing outward from the door, gluing them to a strip of paper and then securing the ends of the paper together is a way to make the process of creating the wreath easier. A benefit of making your wreath in this fashion is that you can place small items, such as bows or light ornaments, into the tubes for added sparkle.

A homemade holiday wreath can be budget friendly and easily made in an afternoon. Even the littlest person in the household can help decorate for the season with these options. A homemade wreath can also make a novel gift.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thoughts on life after Grandpa's death.

I originally wrote this to be submitted for a website discussing grief and how to cope with it. The article was rejected. I still want to share this, thus I am presenting it here.

In August of 2013, my paternal grandfather died due to complications from brain cancer. The news that he had cancer came at the beginning of the holidays last year. A few days shy of Thanksgiving, we had all thought that he had a minor stroke. After a series of tests and a biopsy, the news came that it was inoperable brain cancer. Of all of us, it was my grandfather who took the news in relative stride. Once the initial shock of the news wore off, he set to work learning everything he could about what was happening to himself and doing everything he could to see to it that his wife of 60 years, my grandmother, was taken care of.

The hardest part of it all for me wasn't his death. It was witnessing the way the chemotherapy made this formerly hale 84 year old man into a frail man who was in near constant pain. My grandfather fought his cancer with the same good humor and determination that he brought to bear on stubborn problems with his farming equipment, his beloved airplane, and the challenges that came up as the patriarch of our family. It was inspiring to see, even as it was heart breaking to watch as his body failed to keep up with his indomitable spirit.

The day my grandfather died happened to be my eldest son's birthday. We got the phone call from my parents that my grandfather had developed sepsis the night before. I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach just as I had the day before my grandfather had gotten his diagnosis of cancer. My intuition was screaming at me that this man I loved dearly was actively dying.

In the middle of the night, August 21st, I drove to the hospital. A queer sense of calm flooded me as I looked at that moonlit night. I found myself reminded of one of the last times that I had gone flying with my grandfather. It was a night flight with a waning gibbous. The stars shone like diamonds and the moon hung in the sky like a disc of hammered silver. The hum of the airplane's engine and the roar of the propellers was muted to a tolerable level by the headphones we were wearing.

As my grandfather explained to me how we were using instruments to navigate, my teenage self was enraptured. It was the closest I had ever come to fulfilling my childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. When my grandfather let me take the stick and fly the plane for a minute, I was speechless with delight and wonder. That memory wrapped around me as I drove to the hospital to help keep deathwatch, though none of us dared say it out loud.

At the hospital, my grandfather was heavily sedated and beyond the reach of any of our abilities to communicate with him. He lay in the bed with a sickly pallor over him. I spoke to my grandmother and my aunt, desperately hoping that I was providing them with some form of comfort. As the minutes ticked by, the paper mask I wore to protect my frail grandfather from my germs grew hot and stifling. My body became restless and a part of me wanted to flee from the room.

I did not want to be witness to watching one of the strongest men in my life dying. The child in me wanted him to live forever. I forced myself to stay. I watched as his head jerked in seizures that were still wracking his body, despite the medications that were supposed to halt them. When that became too painful to look at, I looked at his feet. It was a curious thing to realize that I had my grandfather's toes.

Looking back on it, I suppose it was my mind's way of searching for something positive to seize upon. When my grandmother expressed her discomfort with remaining in the room, then I felt that I had permission to leave the room. The last time that I saw my grandfather alive, he had just finished shuddering with a seizure and his heart rate had become terribly unstable. I went home but I slept poorly.

The next day, I was frantic with activity. As I was out getting groceries, a curious feeling passed over me. I felt as though the world had become a touch colder, despite the fact that it was a sweltering day of near record heat in the middle of August. When I got home from my errands, I learned that it was the time that my grandfather had died. The next few days were something of a blur.

I had so dearly wanted to do more to be of help to my parents and my grandmother. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do and responsibilities to my own family kept me from being there with them in their grief. When the day of his memorial services came, I was short tempered and anxious. I had moved from disbelief and shock into anger.

I had mistakenly thought that I had passed through that stage already upon learning that my grandfather had cancer. I was wrong. My husband bore my moodiness patiently and forgave me my waspish temper. I still hadn't wept by this time. Not in the course of the many months between November and August had I truly mourned the situation.

I instead sought to out run my feelings by way of work and staying busy. It was at my grandfather's urging that I wrote the first two books of my adult fiction series. It was because of him that I published my first book. In all of that effort, I struggled with my feelings. I swayed back and forth between shoving them aside and mercilessly picking them apart. I poured my anguish and rage into conflicts on paper. Conflicts that I could resolve with a heroic ending.

I sit here a little over three months after the death of my grandfather. It still hurts, but I find that it propels me forward. The dignity with which my grandfather faced his mortality lent a heroic ending to his story. As I continue to 'write' my own story, I find that echoes of his story come up often. Where this would have paralyzed me and left me a broken mess in the past, I now strive to be like a resonating string on a violin. From the depths of grief, some of the sweetest music may be written. It is this capacity to pick ourselves up and continue on that honors the dead. It is how they live on through us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Brain fried.

I've been writing a whole slew of articles over on today. I finished up five of them. I had this crazy idea that I would get caught up on my writing for the day and possibly sneak in a bit of work on one of my novels. I am totally burned out right now. I'd love to be doing some fiction writing but at the moment, I just want to stop looking at words. I suppose it is a good thing that it is bed time.

I never thought that I'd feel this way. I have been reading and writing since eight o'clock this morning. I think I am going to space out some breaks tomorrow. I know that I can do this whole writing professionally thing. I just need to pace myself.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Reading Programs are Necessary In and Out of the Classroom

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are considered the cornerstone of all education. Pre-reading and pre-writing skills develop at the same time. Reading programs build a student's mastery of the language and directly impacts how effectively the communicate. These programs are most effective when supported with extracurricular reading activity. Literacy and effective communication are the keys to success in the social and professional spheres of life, in addition to academia.

The skills of reading and writing are closely tied together, often considered as being crucial to long term educational success. With out adequate skills in reading, one finds that writing skills are hindered in development. An early reader's success in understanding syllables and phonemes directly translates into skills in constructing words. Similar successes in understanding sentence structure and context cues leads to success in all areas of written communication.

K12Reader, in their excellent article The Relationship between Reading and Writing, note that time spent reading builds writing skills. They additionally note that phonemic awareness allows them to comprehend how to construct new words and to decode an unfamiliar word when presented to them. Reading can be used to build a skill set required for writing to a specific genre, because it familiarizes the student with the methods of constructing the narrative, commonly accepted techniques for transitions between concepts, and related ideas.

Acadia University stated in 2001 that the consequences of poor literacy and language skills can be seen in poor academic performance, lowered self-esteem, reduced psychosocial development of young persons. The impact of poor literacy skills can not only be found in the younger population. The National Comission on Adult Literacy reported that in 2007 of the 30 member nations in OECD, the United States was the only nation that had young adults who were less educated then the older generations. The Huffington Post reported in July of 2012 that the United States ranked 14th in reading skills out of the thirty four nations that participated in the study by Harvard University.

Weakness in literacy skills can be considered a contributing factor to the poor performance that the United States showed in mathematics and science, ranking 25th out of 34. Poor literary skills result in adults having a wide range of detrimental effects in their lives. The Literacy Foundation reports on their website that the top three consequences of illiteracy are:

  1. Limited access to essential information
  2. Unemployment
  3. Poverty

Within the classroom, reading skills are necessary in virtually every subject. A strong set of reading skills benefit students in their ability to decode mathematics and scientific jargon. Reading comprehension is a vital part of one's ability to do simple and complex word problems. It is also important in helping a student to make sense of things such as the scientific method.

Reading programs that are supported outside of the classroom tend to have greater success then those which are not. The success of reading programs that are supported outside of the classroom environment lies in two areas. The first is repetition of the skill set required for reading. With greater repetition, the skills and concepts become more deeply ingrained into the student's mind. The second place that extracurricular reading program support is successful is that it models the benefits and skills for students.

Students are not only learning that reading is important in the classroom, but that it also has “real world” applications. It is ultimately, those “real world” applications that determine the success of a student. Skills in reading and literacy allows a person to interact more efficiently with their environment. It gives them greater access to information that allows them to broaden their knowledge base and to draw upon the knowledge base of others. All of this would not be possible with out a fundamental knowledge of reading that can only come from vigorous exercise in and outside of the classroom environment.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

What to do with this glitter?

I have 15 packets of glitter sitting on my counter. I was wondering what to do with them and then it struck me, I could recycle an old soda bottle and make a Time Out Bottle for the boys. Lots of the instructions I find on the interwebs for how to make these things call for glitter glue. I don't have any of that, but I read that just straight up water works for these things too.

Refrigerator oatmeal success and failure.

We've hit that time of year where a warm breakfast is just what I'm looking for in the morning. Usually, I would go for the instant oatmeal because, well, it is quick and easy. Then I started to read about 'refrigerator' oatmeal. I suppose it was back in the summer when I first encountered this. The premise is that your oatmeal will 'cook' (read the oats will absorb the liquid and plump up) overnight and be ready to eat first thing in the morning.

My first attempt was with rolled oats and yogurt, as the summer recipes were recommending. It was ok, but it didn't sit quite right with me. Something about the texture versus the taste just wasn't appealing. I promptly forgot about it for a few months. Then, last week as I was preparing myself a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, I thought that there had to be a better way, an easier way to make this. I recalled the refrigerator oatmeal thing.

When I found this recipe, I thought I had found the thing that would work best for me. I mean, little to no effort and I get the wonderful texture of steel cut oats in the morning, who wouldn't want that? I regret that I didn't take the time to read the comments attached to that post. I set up four little jars of oatmeal in the refrigerator, three with the last of my steel cut oats and one with my rolled oats.

According to theory, if I let them sit over night, they would be ready to eat the next morning. What I discovered is that the rolled oats were perfect. The steel cut oats, on the other hand, had hardly changed. Deciding that perhaps they needed more time to 'cook' in the fridge, I let them sit for two more days. Nary a thing had changed when this morning rolled around. I was extremely disappointed.

The rolled oats, I did find, not only plumped up and were quite tasty in the morning, I had equal success using milk or water. I skipped the yogurt and used as much liquid as I would normally add if I were cooking them. As I prefer my oatmeal made with water and a pinch of salt, I was really happy with this development.

Now, one may ask, what do I do with my oatmeal in the morning? Since I have it in a pint jar, I can eat it straight out of the jar cold (which I did with my initial experiment in the summer) or I can pop the whole thing into the microwave and heat it up. If I don't feel like eating it out of the jar after heating it, I can pour it into a bowl. Either way, I have taken to pouring a generous amount of maple syrup on it and throwing some diced apples into the mix.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A realization.

For the past week or so, I have been doing something of an experiment with my spinning. I have been spinning exclusively using a distaff to hold my fiber. I have come to the conclusion that I am going to continue on in this fashion at all opportunities that this is feasible. My resulting thread has been more consistently even and I am finding that I have less problems with making it accidentally too thin.

I want to devise a method where I have my distaff in a stand of some sort so that I can sit and spin. (Y'all can stop laughing any time now!) I'm thinking about getting one of those oversized vases and filling the thing halfway with glass pebbles. Then I can just shove my distaff into it and have it supported in that manner. I don't exactly have the means to go out and make one of those fancy wooden holders.

Aside from that, I think that after I finish the stuff that I have on my distaff right now, I am going to try to figure out a way to make myself a stick spindle. There are some really nice ones that are out there for sale, but I don't exactly have the funds to be buying them. Looking at the things, I think they could be fashioned fairly easily from a short length of dowel. The part that will be tricky is the whorl.

Again, I don't exactly have the money to go out and buy whorls. I do, however, have the stuff to make some salt clay. So, I could, theoretically, make my own whorl. I am also considering the possibility of using a bead of some sort, because there is some evidence that bead whorls were used during that era.

Yule craftiness and such.

If you have a small person in your life (or a big person) who is absolutely nuts over fairies, pixies, and such, this is a dirt cheap and painfully simple gift that will just thrill them to no end.

Take a clean glass jar and some glow in the dark paint. Dab spots of glow in the dark paint randomly over the inside of the jar. Allow this to dry. Then take silver and/or gold metallic paint and do the same. Once all of this is dry, put about a teaspoon of glitter inside. Secure the top onto the jar. I used hot glue. Then shake your jar to distribute the glitter. Static forces the glitter to stick to the sides of the jar. Label the jar and add any ornamentation you want to the outside. I put a shooting star sticker on the top and my label reads 'Pixie Dust.'

That's it.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Something interesting & a little food politics

I follow some stuff about urban farming. I really feel that one of the keys to long standing success in the urban environment is going to be some measure of independence on the food supply. As such, I support things like planting fruit bearing groves of trees where it is possible. I am always in favor of gardening.

Then there is the really interesting stuff like this. The thought of having a direct grow to market situation in the heart of the urban sprawl strongly appeals to me. I worry, however, that it will become something terribly expensive and only available to the upper classes. It's not just the upper classes that need healthy food.

Just like math literacy is important and programs to encourage it need to be supported in the impoverished regions of the country (especially the city!) a program that encourages food independence and an urban friendly form of living off the land needs to be instituted. This isn't a matter of doing what is trendy. It is a matter of equality.

Yes, you read that right. I said it is a matter of equality. Access to clean and healthy food is increasingly becoming the 'right' of the upper classes of society. Problems like the obesity epidemic have been proven time and again to be the 'fruit' of the poor eating 'habits' associated with prepackaged and processed foods. It is also apparent that a larger percentage of the obese population is in the lower end of the economic spectrum.

Now, some people will breezily say that the solution to the problems can be found in 'changing their eating habits.' I argue that economic disparity and scarcity of those 'good for you' foods has more to do with the problem then someone's preferences. If you go into a store and the vast majority of the products available to you are boxed mixes of some sort, then you are going to wind up buying predominantly prepackaged and processed foods. If you go into a store and the fresh greenbeans are more expensive then the canned, and you only have enough money to get a small amount of food, you're going to go with the less expensive version because you can buy more of it for the same amount of money. This isn't because of laziness, it is simple economics.

Now, one may wonder why fresh food is so bloody expensive. The answer is fairly simple. Fresh food is perishable. It requires specialized equipment and techniques to maintain it at a fresh state and those techniques and equipment will only work for so long. After that, the food will rot. Getting food from the farm to the store isn't as simple as picking it out of the ground and lugging it in the same day. There is a process in place that requires transport, sometimes for considerable distances. (Avacados from California coming to New York, for example.)

Transport takes time. This time is going to lessen the length of time that fresh product is going to be on a shelf. Simple logistics at play here, there are only so many hours in a day. So, let's say it takes four days for your avacado to ripen. If you pick it on day one and transport it day two, you are left with two days to sell it. Now one of the tricky things about selling fresh produce is that people will assume that produce that 'looks bad' (not like it is just before or at peak ripeness) are bad food. In many cases, looks can be decieving.

Mavis Butterfield talks on her blog about food waste in this country (the USA). She has a lot of really good information there and is really one of my heroes when it comes to thrifty food management. That said, let's go back to that hypothetical avacado. Now, we've got a four day period of time that the avacado takes to ripen. We've used one day to pick the fruit and one day to transport it. By day four, your avacado looks over ripe and no longer is considered 'good'. This isn't saying that the hypothetical avacado is bad. It is no longer an attractive product.

Attractive products are what makes stores and agri-business money. This is why they wax apples (not just for freshness, though it helps some with that) and why there are different 'grades' of agricultural products. "A" grade or "Fancy" grade produce are the ones that look just like the advertisements. They are in no way 'better for you' then the lower grade produce 95% of the time. But once a product is no longer that attractive thing sitting on the shelf, it's sales drop off steeply because modern American consumers operate under the false assumption that if it doesn't look 'perfect' then there is something wrong with it.

While the "A" grade hypothetical avacado may be sitting in your grocery store in the produce aisle, the lower "B" grade ones were used to make that nifty little tub of gourmet guacamole. The even lower grade ones were used to make the cheaper little tub of guacamole. All three avacados have the same nutritional content and can be used in the same fashion. It's just the "A" grade ones look better.

So, how does this shorter shelf life impact the price of your avacado? It's again, a really simple thing. If you have a product that expires quickly, you can not get more sales by having a supply of them on hand that is big enough to sell for the full three days that the avacado takes to ripen. You need to have a refreshing supply of avacados that will maintain the image of 'perfect' produce. This keeps them attractive and the customers interested in purchase.

This makes the expense go up per avacado. No longer are you merely paying for the farmer to pluck it and the trucker to drive it to market. No longer are you merely paying for the store to keep it in the proper climate controlled environment to make it stay attractive. Now, you are also paying for the plethora of avacados that don't make the cut on the store sales floor. Stores need to dispose of the produce that is past the sale by date. Which costs money.

Unfortunately, most stores just throw this useable product away. Some folks, like Ms. Butterfield, will reclaim the produce and pick out that stuff that is useable. Other folks will 'dumpster dive', which is in many cases illegally doing the same that Ms. Butterfield does with the permission of the store.

Now, let's look for a moment at the whole difference between a big grocery store and a little corner mart (which is more prevalent in the urban setting). The first thing you can tell is that the big grocery store is going to have higher operating costs. You'd think that the big grocery store would be more profitable and have a better ratio of income versus expenses compared to that little corner mart by virtue of the fact that they carry more items and have the capacity to service more customers at a time. That they'd make their money on volume of service/sales versus quality of such.

I hate to tell you this, but proportionally speaking, you could argue that they're about the same at the outset. Then you start to factor in things like the costs of maintaining your produce department and your butcher's department. Suddenly, the big grocery store is facing down big costs that those little corner marts don't have. Partly because they don't have the space for those features, partly because they don't have the income to support them. The big grocery store is forced to set higher rates for equivalent items then the little corner mart to cover the cost of the additional expenses imposed by these other products.

The products with the limited shelf life turn into more expensive per pound then the boxed mix that will stay good on the shelf for a year. Why? Because each additional day of shelf life makes the product cheaper to put in the store. It makes the product cheaper to transport. When you put these cheaper, processed items in to the market and compare the price differences between the big grocery store and the little corner mart, suddenly that little corner mart becomes the most economical choice for shopping.

The other factor at play for people in impoverished urban areas is the fact that transportation of food supplies is difficult. If one were to take a bus to a grocery store and buy a week's worth of food, one would simply not be able to bring it all home. As such, you buy what you can carry. This measure of economic scarcity is relieved somewhat in the little corner store because it is closer to your home and you can purchase more food and bring more food into your home because the transportation cost and effort is less.

Thirdly, there is a great deal of ignorance about food, food waste, and healthful eating on a tight budget. The educational system is failing our nation in this respect. The days of the health class teaching people how to eat healthy and home economics classes teaching how to shop in a manner that you get the most for your dollar seem to have passed. Now, these things are brushed to the side as unimportant next to things like sexual education (in the case of health classes) or not taught at all (as some schools have dropped the home economics classes).

So, where does all of this leave us on the matter of food independence and such? I'll break it down to three points.
  1. Financial difficulties and scarcity make it problematic to acquire healthful foods.
  2. Ignorance about how to acquire healthful foods makes it difficult to do so.
  3. A lack of public awareness of this problem increases the number of situations where this happens.
I grew up on a farm. I don't have much in common with folks in the city. Except that I live in an apartment now and money gets tight for us here in town. I was taught as a girl how important it is to have a food safety net. We have about two to three weeks worth of meals put by. Most people don't.

As Nihilspawn said in a conversation we had a little while back, most of this country is about 3 meals away from food riots. Think about that for a moment. It is a terrifying thought. Here's another terrifying thought for you. There are people in this country that are starving. Not the colloquial 'I skipped a meal and I'm really, really hungry' but literally starving right now. Most of them are in the urban centers. With all of that food waste that goes on in this country for the sake of keeping up appearances, we should be ashamed.

When children go to school and the free lunch that they qualify for is their only meal for the day, we should be ashamed. When parents forgo eating so that their children might have enough so that they can sleep with out hunger pains waking them in the night, we should be ashamed. When people are scorned for taking what measures they must in order to have enough to keep body and soul together, we should be ashamed.

I didn't go to bed hungry as a child. But my Mother did. I've been sneered at for using foodstamps when I was clean and dressed neatly. I have been scorned for the fact that I make meals that are not the latest in foodie fads because I can't afford the cost or the potential waste that will come from if that meal isn't eaten.

So, this guy's idea of making urban farming more prevalent, I am 110% behind it. Because I don't want my children to grow up and be left wondering how they were going to pay for their next meal.

I think I like this guy.

Passenger has been getting a lot of air play over in my neck of the woods. To be honest, if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have heard of him before now because I tend to live under a proverbial rock. His song Let Her Go is exceptional. It has the feel of another group that I really enjoy - Fleetwood Mac.

That would be a collaboration that I would love to see, by the way.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Learning something new.

So, my kids drove me to the point where I was just this side of nonfunctional because of how stressed out they made me. Thank the gods that Hubby was home and he handled it. Because of how I am struggling to chill myself out, even with the wonders of modern medicine, I've decided to start another 'sanity' project.

Last time, it was a basic knit shawl. This time, I am going to make a granny ripple one. I think this is how I am going to use up that ball of scrap yarn from making those blankets this year.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Elf on a Shelf...

I see a lot of folks using this 'Elf on a Shelf' thing to persuade their kids to behave during the holiday season. Honestly, I am not that impressed with it. Blackmailing your kids just strikes me as distasteful. I've tried looking at it from the perspective of 'whatever works' but I just can't get behind it.

I realize that the holidays are hard for parents. Between the chaos of the kids getting excited and wound up at school, the stress of paying for the boat load of toys you're expected to buy, and the wonkiness of attempting to plan for all of those get togethers, I realize that parents have a rough time of it this time of year. Heck, I'm a parent and I have a hard time with it all too. You guys aren't alone.

At the same time, blackmail is just not the way to approach this. And that is truly what I think this 'elf on a shelf' thing is. The Free Dictionary defines blackmail as:
blackmail [ˈblækˌmeɪl]
1. (Law) the act of attempting to obtain money by intimidation, as by threats to disclose discreditable information
2. the exertion of pressure or threats, esp unfairly, in an attempt to influence someone's actions
vb (tr)
1. (Law) to exact or attempt to exact (money or anything of value) from (a person) by threats or intimidation; extort
2. to attempt to influence the actions of (a person), esp by unfair pressure or threats
I am using the term in the sense of the verb in the second definition. Is it really that fair to tell a child that if they don't behave that some omniscent little spy is going to deprive them of the holiday experience? That's a fast way to set a kid up with a complex that has them afraid that if they don't do EVERYTHING just the right way, then they are going to lose something big.

It's one thing to sit the kids down and tell them that no matter how excited, they still need to follow the house rules. And if they're too little for that conversation, just sticking with the household rules like normal is a good thing. Think for a moment, the holidays are stressful for you. You're an adult, you have a better grasp on how to handle stress. Now imagine that you're a little kid with out the tools or experience to understand the ups and downs of the holiday season.

Pretty scary thought, isn't it? Now throw into that mix the added pressures of having to use your best behavior all the time. On top of that, put the nebulous consequence of being punished for potentially the slightest misstep and losing out on something you may have been looking forward to all year. It's a rotten place to be.

That is why I just can't get behind the Elf on a Shelf thing.

Monday, December 02, 2013


I don't really have anything terribly interesting to contribute today. So, in lieu of actual writing, here's a picture of a puppy burrito.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Jive candy is actually pretty good.

Aldi's has this knock off version of Twix that they call Jive. At first, I didn't think they'd be that good. Then I was craving chocolate and sugar. Into the cart they went.

Fast forward approximately a month. Random sugar/chocolate craving hits and I discover that this is the only source of chocolate in the whole house, with the exception of baking chocolate. (While I love my chocolate, baking chocolate is disgusting by itself. No matter how desperate I am for chocolate, I will not touch that stuff with a ten foot pole if it's by itself. Did it once, NEVER again.)

So, I opened up a package and munched on some. Aside from the cookie bit being a touch stale (of which I can only blame myself on this one) they were surprisingly good. The chocolate was of an inferior quality, but on the whole it was pretty tasty. I must say, they were not too terribly bad of a choice for an impulse purchase.

(We won't discuss the mexican hot chocolate that I bought. I will only say this: Abuleita hot chocolate needs to say BIG FAT HUNKS OF CHOCOLATE YOU MELT on the package. Also, it should come with a warning, that the cinnamon turns into a slurry at the bottom of the pot and could possibly be used in place of mortar for construction. WORST CHOCOLATE FIX EVER!)