Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Windy City Eats

We don't eat out much. Between our strict plant-based diet, our strict budget and the fact that I enjoy cooking (most nights), we probably eat home-cooked meals 95% of the time, if not more.

We try our best to eat on the cheap and healthy when away from home too, and that creates some challenges. Let's see, what are our options?

Chipotle has vegan beans, yippee! Some Mexican food places can deal with our tweaks, which means hold the cheese, the meat, the sour cream and hey, do you have any whole wheat tortillas by any chance? Another option is Thai, most restaurants can accommodate my husband's need to keep his food from being drenched in oil. So that puts us where? Bean and bean burritos with a side of beans, and some Thai dishes served with brown rice, but please hold the salt. It sure isn't easy, and travel adds a bit more baggage to the question of What's for dinner? 

At the beginning of the month we were off to Chicago for another work weekend at the McCormick Center. This was the sixth time for me, the fourth time for my husband. I don't count the time he flew there with me to enjoy the hotel room, the city and the sights, while I limped around proctoring for days on end. No, I don't count that time. 

Working the job we have there has its advantages. There's the fact we get paid, and the hours do add up. We get to stay in a great hotel, work with some super people and see more and more of Chicago each time. There's just one minor detail that makes it hard. It's those horrid wake-up times for the days we work. I didn't get the rooster gene, so any alarm set before 5:30 AM seems positively barbaric. 

Gulp! That's 1:45 AM Sacramento time.

But I get through it. The food helps. It really helps.

Even though we live in the Farm to Fork Capital, Chicago has it all over Sacramento when it comes to vegan food options. A regular Mexican restaurant that has an entire section of the menu devoted to vegan food? Chicago has it. None of this, "Can I have some extra beans on my nachos to make up for the fact I'm not having cheese and sour cream?" La Cantina Grill has a menu that makes us swoon. While Ernst is making his more serious dietary issues known to the server, I'm just going hog wild ordering off the plant-based menu.

Oh. My. Word.
Chili rellenos stuffed with vegan cheese. It made that 3:45AM wake up call all better.

"Meat" tacos.
It didn't taste like meat. That's not the point. It just tasted wonderful.

We were in Chicago for four nights. We went to the Cantina Grill twice. One night we ordered three entrees between us. Let's see - two people, two visits, five entrees. Yep, we love this place!

Our friend Lorena also did her homework for us, and brought us to some great places. One was The Chicago Diner - Meat Free Since '83. This place didn't just have one page of choices, the whole menu was plant-based. Well, maybe that's a stretch, I'm sure some of the entrees had stuff that we would never eat at home. But when in Rome and all that.

My yummy sweet potato burger.

Ernst had the "meat loaf".
He was a happy boy.

I kept myself to only one entree.
But I did order the "milk" shake.
I was a happy girl.

The highlight of our resturant adventures in Chicago was definitely a visit to Revolution Brewing. We planned on just stopping in briefly for a tasting and a brewery tour and then we were headed with Lorena to a vegan-friendly Costa Rican place she'd found. While Ernst and Lorena were going to look for parking, they dropped me off street side. "Beware of the man in the red cape" our hostess warned me as I exited the vehicle. And sure enough, a very interesting man in a red cape was walking down the street. When he entered the brewery ahead of me, I had no idea what was in store inside.

I walked into a brewery full of people in red capes! We had come to the place on a pre-Comicon Kickoff Night, and it was full of interesting characters. It was hilarious fun! There were people in all kinds of costumes, there was a drawing for prizes, and best of all, there was a buffet! A free buffet, or at least we think it was free. And they had vegan burgers in this seemingly free buffet. We never made it to the Costa Rican place.

Beware of the man in the red cape!

Lorena, Hop Head Woman, Ernst and me.
Chicago, we will be back.
We still need to try the Costa Rican place.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Doggie Blanket for Oliver

When I got home in October after my Mom's death, I went into two months of heavy brain fog. Heavy. Brain. Fog. If I compare the grieving for my Dad years ago to grieving my Mom's death, it would be like comparing a marathon to a sprint, a sprint over burning coals. It was incredibly intense, but at least the worst of it was over much quicker.

During the two months of brain fog, I clearly didn't have all my synapses firing. I would forget very simple things. One day I could not bring up the name of a friend of ours. You know one of those couples, let's call them Bob and Sue. You call them Bob and Sue almost like saying Bobbinsue. You can't say the one without saying the other. Well, one day I couldn't remember Bob's name. I said "Sue and........" Nothing. Bob had left my brain. Gone. No Bob. Sue was there, but she was alone. Finally a few minutes later, about to lose my mind over losing my brain, Bob was back, right there where he belonged in my brain with Sue.

Another day, I couldn't remember the name of the Vice President. Of the United States. This wasn't the new one, this was the one we had for eight years. I am a total news junkie. I know who people are. But for a very long period of time, which felt like forever but was probably only about 20 minutes, I couldn't come up with his name in my head. Finally....Joe Biden. Joe and Jill Biden. Barack and Michelle, Joe and Jill, Bob and Sue, I started going through the names of couples, making sure it stuck. Whew, that was scary. My doctor said it was stress, and thankfully she was right because I think I got my brain back.

As Spring approached, I had both some time and cognitive ability to finish the Doggie Blanket for Oliver. Oliver was the pup my sister was dog sitting when my Mom died. That very intense night back in October, Oliver did what dogs do best - they give unconditional devotion and comfort. What happened with that sweet dachshund became Oliver's Story, a Tail of Love. The last photo we have of my Mom is her hand on Oliver's head. He wasn't her dog, but at that point my Mom was Oliver's human. I wanted to make Oliver's owners a little doggie quilt for their amazing little guy. 

I had searched online for dachshund-themed fabric. There are a lot of dachshund lovers out there, that's for certain. I looked and looked, but couldn't justify buying fabric from halfway across the globe for not even a yard of fabric. I don't know what the carbon dog print is for an Etsy purchase from Sri Lanka, but I preferred buying locally. Then I found this, and the Etsy sellers were right here in Rancho Cordova. I could pick it up and save on shipping.

Dachshunds galore!

I had the rest of the fabric, including some cats.
Oliver can chase them in his dreams.
All Squared Up and ready to sew.

Polka dots for a dog with personality.

The furry side.

I rolled it up and sent it off to Connecticut just in time
for the Stella Snowstorm.
And here is loyal and sweet Oliver with his Doggie blanket.
His specialty is burrowing and heart melting.
He excels at both.
Now, what to do for this little bundle of joy?
She clearly needs a coverup.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Things Spring Brings

Spring, glorious spring. As the Winter of 2017 ends, and with it the pounding rains, blasting windstorms and the near catastrophe at Oroville Dam, the Sacramento Valley is in its best shape in a long time. The Sierra Mountains got their snow, the tree roots got their water, the reservoirs will have enough water and we can all flush our toilets whenever they need to be flushed. Life is super.

The irises are popping up, the daffodils did their thing and the tulips are next. Last fall on a particularly hot day, I dug up all our irises and daffodils and redistributed them all over hin and yon. Halfway into that project, with the sweat dripping off my face like water off a dam's spillway, I wondered if it was really necessary. But I'm glad I did, because nothing says hope like spring bulbs. And nothing says garden laziness than iris beds, because long after the blooms are faded, we are left with spiky green plants that need no care. I say cover the world with irises, and I'm doing my part part to make that happen.

After the ground dried out a bit, it was time to do a little walkabout the yard and see how things fared. Not too shabby. There is still a lot of work to do in getting this place in shape so we don't have to do so much work. But that takes work, and the window of opportunity to do that in nice weather is closing soon. Soon it'll be my most dreaded season, summer, when that sweat spillway on my face is in full swing.

First up was weeding. So far I've only tackled the front yard and the fountain yard in back, where we put down mulch. The places in the yard that have yet to receive the mulch treatment are just too scary. I'm just pretending for now the property line ends where the weeds start. It's a coping mechanism, and it works for me. All told, even with the thick layer acting to suppress weeds, I filled a large green waste bin. You can see clearly from the pictures below what a huge difference this made.

Before I weeded
After I weeded.
OK, maybe not worth all that effort after all, it looks just about the same. Moving onward.

The back patio - otherwise known as The Place We Put Stuff That Doesn't Belong. This winter, in trying to avoid the mud pit of the backyard, a lot of stuff ended up on the patio. It was time to tackle it. You can see clearly from the pictures below what a huge difference this made.

Before I cleaned it.

After I cleaned it.
Now there are some good Before and After pictures, wouldn't you say? We had exactly one meal out there, and then the weather turned a bit cooler and we gave up on that for now.

The Alligator-Lizard-Monster Thing
This thing, this abomination of nature, did not appreciate me cleaning the patio. He stared me down. He glared at me. He won that battle. I went back inside. But it's going to be a long summer, Buddy, and we will use our patio. Go live in the weeds for now, the ones in the way back.

Not interested one bit in lowering the Alligator-Lizard-Monster population.

With spring comes the plans for an abundant and amazing veggie garden. All the hopes, the wishes, the visions of cabbage-sized tomatoes ready for slicing, zucchini-sized zucchini that don't go all Lizard-Monster on me, and luscious fruit free from bugs, worms and squirrel bites. It's spring, let me have my dreams. 

A few years ago we planted two cherry trees, and wouldn't you know it, they weren't the kind that, ahem, get along, if you catch my drift. Cherry trees need certain other cherry trees to set fruit, and of course the two we bought weren't the right kind. They needed some cherry romance, another tree with the goods. So we had to buy a third cherry tree, and we're hoping that between the birds and the bees, their pollen all gets to where it needs to be and we get some fruit from these trees. But of course it will - it's Spring and all things are possible.

Don't be shy, come on over and talk to her!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A very long February

February is a chocolate lover's delight. It's everywhere. And after February 14th, it's still everywhere - but now it's half-off! Yummy and cheap is the best combo ever invented, after chocolate and peanut butter, that is.

I blame my decision to give up chocolate for the month of February on just that combination, chocolate and peanut butter. Namely, Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cups from Trader Joe's, First, they're delicious. Second, they're pretty cheap, even if they never go to half-off. Third, they are in a reasonably sized container that doesn't make one feel like there's too much chocolate in the house.

It's that easy-off lid that becomes the kicker in the behind. With just a flick of the wrist, that ever-so-nimble lid can be easy popped off for a "just one more" moment. You know, that moment that happens about eight to ten times. Before dinner.

My sister visited in January, and being the generous guest that she is, she bought lots of groceries from Trader Joe's. This included lots of the aforementioned peanut butter cups, the ones don't need to ever go on sale because they are already so reasonable. Did I mention the easy to remove lid?

By the end of January I had consumed enough chocolate for an entire season. It was time for drastic measures. I decreed a No Chocolate February!

Now some balanced folks would say that I just needed to put a lid on that overconsumption, that it was high time to show a little moderation. Those are the same folks who find sad, old cartons of ice cream in their freezers, as in they forget they have it and never finish it. I'm not one of those folks.

So come February 1st, I packed up all my chocolate (there wasn't much left) and gave it to my dog sitters. And I began the Month With No Peanut Butter Cups. No chocolate covered anything. Not even that sesame seed treat pictured with the little bit of chocolate drizzled over it. I was strict as strict can be. 

So here we are on March 1st. A new month. The rains and winds have stopped. It's sunny outside and the bulbs are emerging. And somehow just having that tiny chocolate-drizzled treat sitting right where I put it in the freezer is good enough. How long does it take to break a bad habit? Some folks say two weeks. I'm not some folks. For me it took twenty-eight long days.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Daddy Shirt Quilt for Baby Oliver

I make upcycled rag quilts. That means taking gently used clothing, unused fabric from the thrift store and donations from crafty friends to stock my supply of fabric, waiting until I get enough of one style or look to make a quilt. My sister sends me boxes, her friends have sent me boxes, my friend Jill of Dolls For Friends sends me fabric, and sometimes I'll come home to boxes of fabric sitting on our porch. The pieces stare up at me like a puppy at the pound. "I'll be good. I'll be cute. Keep me."

Try as I might to keep my quilting supplies neat as a pin, from time to time it's necessary to pull everything out and get it all organized, again. It's then that I find some piece of fabric shoved where it ought not be shoved, I find colors stacked up together that should not be in the same room together, let alone the same quilt, and I usually end up with a few pieces to donate to the thrift store because I decide I'm just never going to grow to like them. 

Last summer was one of those days. And what did I find? A bag of ever-so-perfectly rolled up dress shirts from our friend Jeff. If you can imagine a dress shirt rolled up into a compact shape about the size of a collapsed umbrella, you have the picture. Jeff goes through shirts like no one I know. First, he dresses really well. Second, he's a teacher who dresses really well. Third, he does volunteer work where he dresses really well. Fourth, he likes to eat messy Vietnamese sandwiches that tend to spill on these nice shirts, adding to the pen marks that come with correcting school work all day. These shirts are a rag quilt maker's dream come true. My only complaint is that even with all those Vietnamese sandwiches, Jeff stays slim. If he put on a few pounds, I would have more fabric to work with from his dress shirts.  :o)

The discovery of this stash of shirts coincided with the news that Jeff and Myra were to have a baby! I didn't need to be on my second cup of coffee to put it all together - those shirts were going into a Daddy Shirt Rag Quilt for Baby!

What do you need to make a Daddy Shirt Rag Quilt? 

Cotton shirts from Daddy.
Lots of them.

You need a template, rotary cutter and some scissors.

Avoid the pen marks.
And the sandwich spills.

You may need to press the shirts first.
Oh, the "iron"y.

Cut off the buttons, the many many buttons.
Save them for a purpose yet unknown.

Now normally I would trudge headfirst into sewing the quilt, not finishing until I'm hunched over in pain, the sink full of dirty dishes, the clothes hamper overflowing, the dog feeling like an abandoned shelter puppy. But this time I did it right. I cut out the squares of fabric, threw away the scraps, vacuumed up the mess and put it all away for a rainy day. Or rather a rainy vacation day. 

One of the prettiest settings I've ever sewed in was this little extra nook at a house in Sea Ranch, CA. The weather was perfect for sewing, drippy and wet - wet and drippy. This was the start of the incredible drought-busting Atmospheric Rivers of 2017 that dumped so much water on the state we don't know what to do with it. That weekend away with some friends, I sewed up two quilts and finished crocheting a baby blanket. Storms are great for getting stuff done.

What a view.

What a table! Perfect for doing a layout for the Oliver Quilt.

And I got it done.
The colors were so nautical, so fresh.

Very Ralph Lauren,
Very Old Navy.
Very Jeff.

And we had ourselves a Daddy Shirt Quilt for Baby Oliver!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What is a Baby Drizzle?

Imagine my surprise when last summer, upon hearing the news that my friend Myra was to have a baby in early spring of 2017, I heard the words "I want to throw you a baby shower" come across my lips. But there was no denying it, I said that string of words, loud enough for Myra to hear, and there is no taking back a promise like that. I was down to plan a shower - but I had lots of time, babies take forever to come.

Since every shower these days has an overriding theme that is carefully chosen by spending large amounts of time stealing ideas on Pinterest, by December I was getting into panic mode. No venue, no date, no theme, no shower. So I decided to go for broke and pull out all the stops, this was to be a shower to top all showers. One that would be Pinterested to kingdom come. The oohs and aahs would be heard three counties away. I picked a theme and ran with it. Ran and ran and ran.

Just joshin' ya.
This wasn't the theme.

From the very beginning, Myra was on board with something very practical and doable from her party-phobic friend. In fact, being the World's Most Practical Mom already, she was all for having a Baby Drizzle!

What's a Baby Drizzle, you ask? 

First and foremost, it's easy on the hostess, who in this case has mini-meltdowns just having people over for dinner.

Second, it's easy on the invited guests, because they don't have to wrap up their gifts in fancy bows and baubles. In fact, super practical gifts are encouraged like diapers and wipes and Target baby items.

Third, it's easy on the mom because she doesn't have to spend any energy oohing and aahing so loud it can be heard three counties away. She just gets stuff for the baby. And stuff for the baby is what a shower was invented for, I'm pretty sure.

So with Myra behind the whole idea, we had the basic outline for a Drizzle. But you can't just sit around and watch a pregnant person not open boxes of diapers, we had to have some food. And stuff to drink. And chocolate. And that's when I set into true panic mode. I contacted some friends of Myra and begged them to help me, and they must have read the desperation in my typing, because they graciously offered to help me plan a gathering that would have unwrapped diaper boxes, food of some sort, stuff to drink and chocolate.

We batted some ideas around, mostly me suggesting they do everything, before we landed on the Plan of all Plans. Alicia would set up a yummy and cozy Hot Drink Bar. Portia would do a Dessert Bar. And I would organize a Soup Bar. Who needs Pinterest with a plan like that? We all seemed to have some leftover items from other parties, and we were set to go.

Then Portia had to ruin everything and send us a gorgeous Pinterest-like shot of an "inspiration dessert bar." What??? "We were going low-down on the chow-down, weren't we? Well for heavens' sake, now I have to get tablecloths?"

As in most things I freak out about, everything turned out lovely. I do admit to doing some last minute Pinteresting on How To Make A Soup Bar Look Better In 12 Short Hours, but I didn't really have to. Our neighbor Melene offered to help me set up, and she has ideas, whereas all I have is nervous energy. I only had to get the gear set up for about 15 people to walk into the Drizzle with Crock Pots filled to the brim with simmering soups and stews, and have enough extension cords to keep that soup hot, thus preventing any food poisoning incidents, and have lots of containers to send the extra soup home for Myra and her growing family.

Got ladles?
I did, from the thrift store.

Got linens and things?
I did, from the great-grandmother-to-be.

Got signage?
I grabbed this black poster board from the garage at the last minute.
Portia brought the chalk.
I bet you thought that was a real chalkboard and were about to post it on Pinterest.

Got twinkle lights?
Found these the morning of the Drizzle, while looking for the extension cords.
Melene borrowed the greenery from the venue.

Got soup?
We sure did, but next time...

...hide those ugly cords Jessica.

You can't have a Soup Bar without fixins, that's the rule.

Portia and Alicia came thru big time on their end of the room.
Portia's chalkboard is the real deal.

Some people have talent.
The rest of us make soup.

A very blurry picture of diapers and wipes and
little outfits we drizzled on Myra. 

It's a good thing we had the Drizzle when we did. It landed on one of the few days in January that didn't have a torrential downpour of gushing water from the never-ending Atmospheric Rivers of 2017. And now Myra's little guy is going to come four weeks earlier than planned. But she's set with enough diapers and wipes to handle the first few months of drizzles, leaks and drips. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Shem, Ham and Japheth survived the Deluge of 2017

Do you name your cars? We try to, but some names stick while others don't. In our 25 years of marriage we've owned "Herman" the VW Baja Bug, "Augustine" the VW Bus, "Red" the Mitsubishi Eclipse, "Suber" for the (you guessed it) two Subarus. 

All our other cars just got their generic names, Escort, Rabbit, Dasher, Blazer, etc. Right now we have the very original designations of "Your Car" and "My Car." 

We have the same routine with our trees and plants - some we name for convenience's sake. "Have you watered Landon the Plant and The Little Stones" has much more significance than just "Have you watered the jade plants?" No one wants their jade plants to die or freeze, but you really don't want your jade plants you named after your friend's son and grandson to end up in the green waste can.

Our house currently has four trees we call by name. There is "Little Stevie" who is named after our beloved neighbor Steve. He hates Crepe Myrtles, but he still loves us even though we planted a messy tree between our two houses. The other three trees in our yard with monikers are "Shem, Ham and Japheth" - our majestic yet stress-inducing California Redwoods.

If you're thinking of planting a California Redwood in your yard, and you live in the Sacramento Valley, rethink that decision. These trees get big, really really big. They need water, lots of it. If they get big (and they will) and they don't get water (which they won't in a drought) you're going to end up with lots of firewood landing somewhere on your property. Or on your house. Or on your neighbor's house.

We keep our redwoods watered even in summer, because we can't afford not to. If either Shem, or Ham, or even Japheth were to decide it was time to come down, it won't be majestic. They will either take out part of our house, the neighbor's house, our trailer, our pool house or our pool. There's one small sliver of yard they could fall into and cause only some fence damage, but so far they haven't responded to my emails about it. They've just got their heads in the clouds, growing bigger and more majestic every year.

We just experienced the fourth wettest January in recorded history. Rain, rain and more rain. On this date, January 31, 2017 Sacramento is .90 inches shy of our total rainfall for the whole year. What that number doesn't convey is the gale force winds we got with our January storms. Winds that took the breath out of us. Winds that had us going to the sliding glass door and sending messages of encouragement to our three big trees, telling them to "Hang in there, You got this, Dig deep boys, Spring will be here soon." Standing at the sliding glass door talking to redwood trees, pleading with them to not fall into the point where you're standing may seem a bit crazy on a beautiful day like today, but you just had to experience those winds to understand.

On one particularly windy morning, while standing at the sliding glass door, Ernst let out a sound of distress. "Oh, no. I think Ham is leaning into Japheth." "NO!" I exclaimed, as I ran to the door made of thin glass, watching our massive trees bend from side to side in gale force winds, knowing they would reach that pane of glass should they fall. We stood and stared, trying to recall if Ham has always leaned a little towards the right. I got the idea to check my Instagram history to check if any one was off kilter. Sure enough, whew, Ham was fine, he's always had a bit of a bend in the trunk. It was time to step away from the glass and go check on Little Stevie. 

My advice? Plant appropriate trees. Water them. Prune them. But never name them. 

From left to right, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Standing tall, ready for spring.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to make a killing on Etsy. Or not.

Chicago Cubs winning the World Series?
Definitely a good thing in 2016!
I'm ready to put the year my husband had heart surgery (the second in one year's time) and the year my Mom died behind me. So, I'm more than ready to tidy up the loose ends of 2016. And that means the joy of paperwork. I just totaled up my Etsy earnings for 2016. Gulp.

I recently saw this very interesting list of factors that Etsy sellers should think about when analyzing their shops. It comes from the owner of a shop called Norwegian Wood. She's had 6905 sales on Etsy, so of course my envy meter is in the red. But being a fellow Northern California seller, I thought I'd give her advice a looksee.

Brand? I'm supposed to have a brand? Sounds painful. But I'll work on it.

Define need. And, I'm not supposed to "simply make stuff that I like making"? Oh, boy, I've got some thinking to do on this. 

Ha, Ha, Ha! "Do the math about the time and costs involved..." But that would just make me cry, and the goal for 2017 is less crying. 

Fortunately, in adding up my material costs for 2016, I did pretty well. So many friends have donated unused fabric to me, I've done all right with my expenses. I could purchase more things in bulk, such as my batting, but I just don't want to impact our home that much. So if it doesn't fit in my craft closet, it's not coming in the house.

Repeat laughing from above. Etsy is as saturated with quilts as California is from the Storm of 2017. The ground's wet, the rivers are rising and we're all trying to just tread water.

If I took better pictures, I might do better. Or should I say, if I actually made more quilts, and then took better pictures of them, I might do better. 

But with my particular product, I think I'm much better in person than over the Internet. At the close of my miserable 2016, I hauled in my quilts and hats to a little craft area at my job where a co-worker was selling her quilts. I sold a lot! But they didn't give me the money until 2017. Grr.

From what I've seen, no one else is taking only recycled, upcycled and/or repurposed fabric pieces and turning them into one-of-a-kind rag quilts with unique names and funky descriptions and selling them on Etsy. But since the quilt market on Etsy is so saturated, it's hard to stand out. Hence the need to find some in-person craft shows to do that don't cost more than a bolt of batting.

I just posted two new quilts, Willow and Calico. They took me too long to make and my profit margin is not that great, but I loved making them. Branding, time plus costs plus materials, market saturation, wants verses need, I can't think about that right now. I have some more quilts to plan. 

She never wants the Cubs to win again. Ever.