Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Slow Trickle of Inspiration

Since I started selling purses and stories on Etsy (Handbag Chronicles--tell all your friends) I've found that actually sewing the purses is not the challenge. Coming up with stories, however, sometimes can be. Often (and when I say often, I mean that it's happened twice since I started selling) I will have a pile of purses to sell, but don't have the original stories to go with them.

And I think that writing a story for every purse--an original story--was probably not the best idea.

However, as I force myself to write, write, write, I've noticed that inspiration is starting to come from  everywhere. I've said this before on this blog and I'll say it again. My favorite writing quote is this:

Write every day. It's easier to keep a patient on life support than to resurrect the dead.
- Janet Fitch. (author of White Oleander)

Writing makes writing easier. Because I'm constantly in writing mode now, I'm seeing story ideas everywhere.

For example, yesterday I was in a craft store looking at potential purse fabric when I heard a page on the loud speaker for the owner of a Honda Odyssey. They said my license plate number too, so I went to the front of the store to see what was up. Seems Petco, right next door, was having a pet adoption event in the parking lot. One of the cats had been frightened and run off. To my car. She climbed up the wheel well and hid in the engine under the hood. The cat was rescued after I figured out how to pop the hood. (it's a new car, okay?) 

As I was driving off I had this thought: maybe the cat didn't want to be adopted. Maybe someone is breaking up a cat family, or even worse, a cat romantic relationship. Maybe the cat's boyfriend is caged up and potentially going to another home. Maybe this was her attempt at escape and rescue, so they could build a life together?

Then today, at Fred Meyer, I was picking out tomato plants for my garden when a woman chastised me. Yes, she chastised me! "Are you sure it's not going to freeze again?" she asked as she saw me eyeing some plants.

"Well, if they've got them outside here at the store, I figure they'll be safe outside at my house," I said.

"That means nothing. Fred Meyer runs these ads to make money. They don't care if the plants live or die."


I grabbed four plants and put them in my cart and as I was walking away heard her mumble, "they'll die if it drops below 50." 

Thanks Lady. By the way, did you know that two years ago I grew HUNDREDS of pounds of tomatoes without any problem? Did you know that I'm still eating canned salsa, tomatoes and tomato sauce from that tomato haul? Do you know I've been growing tomatoes for 15 years? Do you? 

And then there was today, when Robert asked me what year my dad was born. I'm sorry, but I don't know what year my dad was born. Is that weird? Well, I don't. I know when my dad's birthday is and I know my dad is almost 70, but I don't know the exact year. So sue me. 

I knew why he was asking though. A while back, Robert made one of the security questions on my bank account, "what year was your father born?" And every time Robert goes on-line to update our finances, he asks me, "What year was your father born?" 

And I say, "I don't know. Why did you make that one of the security questions if you don't know. Why don't you call my dad and ask him?" And then Robert calls my dad.

And we go through this every time. The thing about the security question is they have to be tricky or someone could figure them out. They have to be so tricky that even YOU don't know the answers to them. 

So we changed all the security questions today. 

Thank goodness.

But I'm now swamped with story ideas. Forcing myself to sit down and start writing has sort of opened up, not a flood gate, but a nice little trickle. It's awesome. 

And I know. Duh! I know this. Probably everyone knows this. 

But still, writing makes writing easier.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Jell-o Project: Tropical Congealed Salad

This one's a shout-out to my Midwest homies. Okay. My one Midwest homie--you know who you are. It's quite similar to  Valentine Crunch, which I understand is sometimes requested in lieu of cake at baby showers in places like Minnesota. So listen up, because I might have stumbled upon a perfect wedding cake replacement Jell-o. You never know.

First things first: the name of this salad must be changed. Tropical Congealed Salad is about the least appetizing name for a salad ever. It's like the title of a PhD thesis: dry, boring, unimaginative. A delicious fruity salad should have a more delicious and fruity name. Like Pina Colada Surprise Jell-o, or Hawaiian Delight Jell-o.

Next, I need to point out that the crust is truly amazing. It's an inspired combination of crushed pretzels, coconut, chopped macadamia nuts, butter and sugar. In fact, I could just eat the crust and call it good. It's the best part of the whole thing. But layer two is no also ran. Cream cheese, more sugar and a whole thing of Cool Whip! Delish.

It's the top layer I have issues with. I followed the recipe exactly, because I didn't feel confident enough to make my own changes. Also, I wanted to see what the original recipe tasted like before I began experimenting. Sort of like my control Jell-o. In case you don't want to look up the recipe yourself, the top layer of this Jell-o salad has, along with many tasty and wholesome ingredients, one of which is the questionable but acceptable cheddar cheese . . . a whole cup of mayonnaise.

I struggled with this ingredient, wondering if I should just leave it out or try and replace it with something else. Why, why, why does anyone put mayonnaise in Jell-o salad? Maybe if someone could explain it to me I wouldn't feel so underhanded and evil in using it.

Not to mention, serving it to guests. (Sorry guests, but the truth had to come out sometime. And it was good, wasn't it?)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Jell-o Project: The Proposal

Finally, my Jell-o is getting the respect it deserves. The recipe that finally broke through the gelatin ceiling? Orange Gelatin Cups. It's simple, it's easy, and best of all, it has no crushed pineapple.

So, cue Pachelbel's Canon in D while I describe what went down:

Jonah: Mmmm! This is so good! I love this Jell-o. I want to marry this Jell-o!
(Jonah stands up, holding his Jell-o plate in his hands like a pillow with a ring on it. I start humming the wedding march as Jonah step-together-step-together-steps across the kitchen floor.)
Jonah: (turning back to look at me) Are you going to put this on your blog?
Me: Duh.

Isaac loved his special serving of this Jell-o I made without mandarin oranges.

Ethan ate it, but not without including a stunning dramatic portrayal of a kid who's forced to eat his own barf.

Robert ate it, but I'm not requiring him to make Jell-o comments anymore because he lacks the ability to hyperbolize.

And if there is anything I need in a blog post about Jell-o, it's a little hyperbole.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Handbag Chronicles

Today I started selling bags and stories on Etsy. 

Handbag Chronicles was the name I came up with after lots of thought, some research and even a small focus group. 

Opening the store was a challenge, due mostly to my procrastination. I always had one more thing I wanted to do first before starting: buttons to sew on, stories to write, bags to sew. I finally decided to let all that go and just do it.

So. That's pretty much all I have to say about that.

Tell your friends!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"The Best $10 We Ever Spent"

Sometimes you do things you never thought you would. Because you get desperate and tired. For example, I never thought we would own a minivan. But, as it turns out, a minivan is really is the best car for our family right now. It makes sense to have good tools to do your job and a minivan is a good tool for the job of being a mom to three growing boys.

My dinner bell is another tool.

Robert said last night that it was "the best ten dollars we ever spent." It's loud and clang-y and probably drives the neighbors nuts. But you know what? Like perfect little Pavlovian dogs, my boys come running when they hear this bell. It probably helps that I don't abuse it. But when dinner is on the table and I don't have time to personally walk around the neighborhood, checking at all the possible houses, then the duck pond, the playground and the forest, while the dinner goes into an ice age on the table, I ring the bell.

I ring that bell as hard as I can out the front door, then walk to the back door and do it again. When I first started using the bell, I felt a little stupid. Maybe a little obnoxious and inconsiderate. But now I don't care what the neighbors think. I get the results I want and it helps me do my mom-job more efficiently.

Is it better than yelling from the front porch?

Absolutely. I could never yell that loud.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Jell-o Project: Oh, What's the Point?

It's hard to tell that it's spring by looking out the window, but Pastel Gelatin Salad makes it look like spring at the dinner table.

I had no illusions that my family would eat this salad. I made it for me. To cheer me up and make me think of brighter, warmer days ahead. I think it would compliment an Easter dinner perfectly with it's citrus flavor and crushed pineapple. I did not add the nuts to this recipe. I would have enjoyed them but the perfectly good walnuts would have been wasted on the rest of the Jell-o Luddites. I did, however, shudder and add the mayonnaise. Just to keep the recipe authentic.

So, how did the family react? Jonah ate the whole thing and said he liked the marshmallow topping the best. Ethan ate two bites and refused to eat anymore. Isaac ate one bite and didn't like it. Robert said he thought it would bother his stomach, which was feeling a little sensitive, and better not have any.

I enjoyed it.

I am starting to think that my family just needs a Jell-o paradigm shift. I don't think they understand what the Jell-o salad experience is supposed to be.

I'm not giving up.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Science Birthday Party

We finally had Isaac's friend birthday party. Only three weeks after his actual birthday. Birthday parties kind of stress me out and so I tend to put them off. But after seeing all the pictures of the science birthday  party on Angela Taylor's blog, I found all the inspiration I needed to get off my butt and get it done.

Here's the cake I made. It's a volcano, in case you can't tell. I used a Pampered Chef Batter Bowl to make the top (one whole cake mix) and two 8 inch rounds for the base. I froze the layers so they'd be easier to work with, then stacked them up with frosting in between and shaved off the sides. Here are the instructions for getting the volcano cake to erupt. My reservoir was not deep enough, so we only got minimal smoke and no lava overflow. 

Check out these goody bags! I got the idea to use rubber gloves on YouTube. I filled them with Pop Rocks, a glow stick, Smarties, a film canister and 4 Alka Seltzer tablets (both of which can be used for a rocket blast experiment). I also included goggles since all the kids would need them for our different experiments.

After the kids arrived and played basketball for about ten minutes, they came inside to decorate "lab coats," which were really t-shirts. I had Sharpie markers for them to use and placed a paper grocery sack inside the shirt so the colors wouldn't bleed through. (Thank you Mrs. Bell for the suggestion!)

Next the kids made structures using toothpicks, cheese balls and gum drops. The goal was to see who could make the tallest structure. Ethan, who was our resident scientist, went for economy in his design and quickly had his structure towering above the rest.

Isaac went for a more traditional model, but found it unstable. It was fun to see the different designs the kids came up with.

The kids really had fun making their structures and probably could have spent more than 20 minutes working on them. Several didn't even want to move on to the next activity: The Popcorn Volcano. This is where we donned the goggles and I begged the kids not to look directly into the popcorn popper. I had imagined they'd all stay back and catch the popcorn as it blew out. But they had a different collection method.

We then moved outside to the rocket launch demonstration. Using a film canister (which you can get for free just by asking at any photo counter) a teaspoon of water and half an Alka Seltzer tablet, Ethan demonstrated how gas can build up pressure and exert a force. He went into acids and bases and talked about how antacid tablets can neutralize the acid in your tummy. 

I don't know where it all came from. He was a regular scientist and the kids ate it up.

He was good to make sure everyone was standing far away and set up the rocket. Then he had the kids count down from ten, slowly. And wouldn't you know it, when the count got to zero, that thing exploded about 20 feet into the air. It was magic. The kid's eyes were saucers. Ethan was a thirteen-year-old science god.

He did the demonstration a few more times and explained that they could do this at home with their parents permission and supervision. And always wear your safety goggles.

Then it was back inside the house to make polymers. Or, as the kids know it, Flubber. Again, Ethan was on with his explanations of the molecules strands and how flubber can act like a liquid AND a solid. He had the kids eating out of his hand. (Actually, one kid did admit to eating a bit of flubber. I reminded him that white glue IS the main ingredient and that he should probably not eat any more.)

I'm disappointed these pictures are blurry, but could not pass up showing them. The kids had a great time with the flubber. I bagged it up and sent each kid home with a big hunk. I'm sure their parents are so happy.


 Here's the cake as it started smoking with the dry ice. It's not a great shot, but I do love the look of anticipation on the kids faces. So sorry the cake disappointed them. But it tasted great. I also made a great punch recipe that the kids couldn't get enough of. I made up a dry ice smoky punch bowl for the punch and it was exciting, but kind of a lot of work.

Best of all, today was a lovely, warm and sunny day. The first since sometime in February according to our weather guy. It would have been so disappointing if the kids had to play basketball and watch the rocket launch in the rain.

Jonah said he wished he'd had a good birthday party like this one. He said his wasn't very good and feels he got the short end of the stick. "You had Ethan do a magic show at your party," I reminded him.

"I didn't want him to do magic at my party," he said.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Generalization

I once heard the statement that men are like butcher knives and women are like Swiss Army knives.

A butcher knife is big and sharp. It's an effective tool and is good at doing one thing very well: chopping big hunks of meat.

A Swiss Army knife has lots of small knives in various sizes for different jobs. You could probably hack through a big hunk of meat with a Swiss Army knife, but it's going to take you a little more time. However, not only can you hack away at meat, you can also open a corked beverage, saw through small branches, file your nails, remove bottle caps, tighten screws, poke holes through leather, cut paper or fabric, tweeze splinters and pick food out of your teeth. And a lot more, I'm sure.

A Swiss Army knife isn't the most effective tool for a single job. It's the most effective tool for multiple, simultaneous jobs.

While I was away in St. George, visiting my parents, Robert was at home, being a butcher knife. He was very effective at one task. And it wasn't cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, taking out garbage or doing laundry. It was buying a car. He did a great job buying a car. (2008 Honda Odyssey)

And so today, I will be a Swiss Army knife.

And not just any Swiss Army knife. I'll be this Swiss Army knife.

Somewhere in my mind I can hear Ty Pennington saying, "Welcome home Afton. Welcome Home."

Monday, April 4, 2011


My time in the desert is coming to an end. It's been six relaxing days of reading, sitting in the sun, eating out and not having any responsibilities. And sun. Did I mention there was sun? Six days of sun and blue skies and warm temperatures. I soaked it all in. Every minute.

And I hope I soaked up enough sun and enough relaxation to last for a while. 

I have missed my family, a little. I will be excited to see them all tomorrow. At their request I got each a little souvenir. Isaac and Jonah have arrowheads and an old coin (1901 and 1903 Indian Head pennies). I got Ethan a dirt shirt made with authentic St. George red dirt. I'm guessing the dirt will transfer to all my other clothes in the wash. 

And for me? 

I am bringing home a lovely knee-high sunburn on the front of my legs. Not that anyone will see it. I hear it's rainy and cold in Portland and probably will be for the next three months. I'll probably be wearing long pants until the sunburn has faded back to a pasty white. But I'll know it's there. And it will remind me of a great six days.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vitamin D

Here is what I did today.

Went for a run. I don't know how many miles it was, but it was about 45 minutes. And part of it was speed walking. But at nearly 3000 feet above sea level, my lungs were burning by the time I staggered up my parents driveway. It felt great.

Sat in the sun. It was about 9:30 am and the sun was so warm and the breeze was so gentle and I honestly didn't think I would ever be able to get up. I listened as lizards scampered across the sand and as quail chirped, standing watch over there bevies. I heard the wings of birds flapping as they flew over head and saw an occasional jack rabbit. I got a little sun burn.

Sat in the house. I read for a while. But after sitting outside in the sun, the house seemed cold. So I snuggled under a blanket.

Sat in the sun some more.

Ate lunch at Cafe Rio. Had the pork barbacoa salad and loved every bite. Spotted several polygamist women getting take out. Cafe Rio is that good.

Got a Chocolate Blast from Baskin Robbins. The default recipe doesn't include coffee here in Utah. Which was nice.

Came home, read, kind of fell asleep, woke up, read some more, checked e-mail and decided to write a little.

I'm back outside now, watching as the setting sun creates dramatic shadows on the red cliffs behind my parents home. The air smells great and it's quiet. Except for the seed packing machine running full tilt in my parent's garage.

I feel like I'm at a spa. A spa that makes custom seed packets.