Wednesday, March 16, 2016

On likeability

There is a person in my department who cares not one whit whether anyone else thinks he's nice. This isn't deployed as an excuse to behave assholeishly - rather, it seems like an effort of economization, one where likeability lost out to whatever other three hundred things are more important. I know his partner rather better, and she's a delightful person, so I'm betting that he's got some specifically likeable qualities (I suppose that's a rather generous conjecture - again anecdotally, I know loads of lovely people with awful taste in partners, so... grain of salt, applied!) that don't come across in his quotidian interactions.

If there is indeed something different about general likeability versus specific likeability... I think I probably waste too much time on behaviors designed to perpetuate an impression of niceness. I hope that I'm likeable in specific ways, or at least that those people who matter to me also find my continued presence in their lives mostly more than tolerable.

This is so much of my daily calculus, though. If I were to keep only those behaviors that maximize qualities I value more than milquetoast niceness, would I feel more authentic? Would I have more time for the meaningful, controllable stuff?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Write-to-write, a start.

I've kept many diaries; some of them were gorgeously wrapped things, all of them were purchased or procured in a near-fevered fashion, for I was certain that having the right tool would naturally lead to getting the right words down. The impulse was there, always. But it was clouded, because any words I wrote down were always with some unknown reader in mind, some fantasy other who marveled at my wit, or creativity, or candor. None of these books were filled, to my memory. Quarter-filled notebooks full of overmediated yuck. I remember a self who used to love to write, but I can't actually seem to access that self - so I wonder if that was a bit of a fiction, too. Or perhaps the retelling has muddied things.


I'm going to try to write to write, not write to be read. I mean, the ultimate goal is to be read, of course, but I think I need to practice the messaging-as-such. The writerly is one of the ways that I need to connect, so feeling so very disconnected from the basic practice, from the muscle itself, must be a sign, indeed.

I have figured out that - huh - I'm angry a lot of the time. More accurately, it's just on-the-verge-of it, but this is part of my state, my general being, and I don't really get it. This isn't a comment on the particulars of my life (I'm surrounded by really hilarious awesomeness and lots of natural gorgeousness - truly lucky & I know it), but rather something in the way that I approach feeling in general, or reacting, or remembering. I think part of the rather complete denial has to do with an unwillingness to feel out of control - because a big emotion must surely lend itself to that, yes? - but I don't really understand how I got to being so needy of being in control, so much so that it amounts to me sort of cutting off large-ish chunks of my own reactions, experience, likely memories, too. I wonder what I've buried, what's been cordoned off.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

In the spirit...

... of that fake German that sits as the subtitle for this whatever-this-is, I've been working on divestment. On lightening up.

(I have to remind myself to do things like this fairly often; it's apparently my lifelong lesson, which means I have to learn it over and over again. Or practice the realizations that I had at some point prior.)

So, this means looking at many different aspects of my life and asking simple/hard questions.
  • What have I been saving that has outlived any potential for its use?
  • What have I been holding on to "just in case..."? 
  • Do I have expectations (of myself, of life, of whatever) that I have outgrown? That are holding me back? That are no longer relevant?
  • What habits need to be broken? Begun? 
  • Where do I waste? Where could I save? Where should I expend or give more?
This process is physical and psychical in perhaps equal measure.

I've thus far been bravest in the realm of stuff - much has been donated, some has been tossed, some has been sold. It helps that we're moving soon - the impetus behind stripping down to what we need and enjoy the most is particularly strong and also urgent.

Of the more internal work, I find myself thinking a lot about what I assign as my "shoulds" - and coming to the pointed realization that I need to throw many of these away, too. The next few weeks (months?) are going to be about unburdening and disconnecting from some no-longer-necessary patterns.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 5 - Sweets

Sweet goodies
A* and I have a long history of making sweets as gifts; every season, we've stayed up far, far too late and made a wide variety of skill-testing treats, and this is a practice that we also included when we planned our wedding in February of 2010. This year, we made less of a variety than usual, but definitely found at least one keeper recipe (all of them are good, but the apple cider caramels are amazingly simple and have a short, great list of ingredients).

Apple Cider Caramels
I don't think that Deb Perelman has ever been wrong about anything kitchen-wise. While I often tweak her recipes (I tend to want more spice than she does), this one is perfect as-is, though also delicious, I discovered quite by forgetful accident, even with the cinnamon and salt omitted. We have access to some lovely unpasteurized apple cider here in WNY, but even if you have to use the kind you find at the supermarket, these are tangy and delicious. And it is nice to be able to make a caramel without corn syrup (since the reduction of apple cider ends up creating all the syrup you need).

Macarons Two Ways (Spicy Citrus + Salted Caramel)
I got a bit obsessed with Pierre Hermé's Macarons book and learning how to make these fiddly, wonderful confections. The test batch came out beautifully - everything went right, and I felt a bit like an alchemist, creating golden buttery just-crispy enough and perfectly flat-toppped goodness in my own kitchen.

Unfortunately, the "gift" batches were still tasty, but not nearly as pretty. Apparently I had beginner's luck with those first magical cookies, but got a bit overconfident with the second batch. Regardless, they were tasty enough, and being reminded to be a bit humble (and not requiring that all things be "perfect" to be giftable) is probably not a bad thing. I created the flavoring for the Citrus Spice filling: organic tangerines and oranges, very tart, plus grated peel, grated ginger root, and clove, plus white chocolate and cream. I overdid it on the cream and ended up with a lovely glaze but a not-thick-enough filling. If I ever perfect the texture, I'll bring the recipe back here.

Twice-baked shortbread cookies

Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 4 - Textiles

The best thing about the things that I made for Luka is that he's quite aware that they were handmade, and whenever playing with or wearing said item, likes to say "Mama made it." This is adorable, and makes the making worth it, if that makes any sense.

Play silks
These took a lot of time but not a particular lot of work, and I'm very happy with the results. I found 35" square plain white china silks online, and used some Procion dye that I've had around for ages, and created a rainbow selection for the kid.

The process is simple, and sort of meditative, and only smelly during those last ten minutes. I used some stuff that I had in my stash from ages ago, but would be up for experimenting with more natural dyes, too, just need to read more about non-poisonous fixatives for them. These steps will work well for any fiber reactive dye, for wool or for silk (though you'll want to agitate at a minimum for the wool, so as to prevent felting).

1. Put anywhere from 1 to 5 teaspoons of dye in a 1 quart Pyrex (or other glass) cup. I achieved a very rich dye color, but also probably could have dyed a LOT of more fabric, by using just over 5 teaspoons. A silk can probably end up with a lovely but less bombastic color by using only one teaspoon.

2. Mix in a small amount of cold water with your dye powder, and blend with a spoon (stainless steel or plastic are just fine) until smooth. Add one cup of hot, not boiling, water, to your dye paste. Stir well to dissolve the dye, and then pour into your dye bath container (a large stainless steel or glass pot would be best - but make sure that it's not copper or aluminum).

3. Using the same Pyrex dish (will probably have a bit of dye liquid left in it - don't rinse that out), measure 2 cups of very warm water and add at least 5 tablespoons of uniodized salt. (If you used a much lighter concentration of dye to water, then you can likely use less salt - the salt's purpose is to make the dye particles leave their solution and "drive" themselves into your fabric, so if you want a more lightly dyed piece, less salt will do. However, the salt also helps the end product dye more evenly - something that I'd definitely corroborate, as I played with the salt concentration some in each batch, and certainly came out with more a slightly more streaky silk when I used less salt.) Stir the salt until it dissolves (a good reason for using fine crystals, but even large kosher salt flakes will eventually dissolve) and pour into your dyebath.

4. Add your silk(s). If you plan on making these for more than one child, or want to make more than one silk the same color, this recipe should have enough power for several silks. The general directions are for a pound of fabric, and one 35" square silk at 8mm weighs approximately 1/15 of a pound.

5. Add enough water so that the silk(s) is(are) covered, and can still move around a bit, too. Take tongs (not aluminum; the kind either made out of or covered with silicon are great for this) and stir the fabric in the dye bath, making sure that all of the water gets mixed with the dye solution. Completely cover the silk with the dye liquid.

6. Place your container on the stove, and heat it gradually to a simmer (this will be a different heat setting depending on your stove - you don't want to boil the dye bath all at once, so being a bit conservative is just fine, too). Once your liquid is simmering, set a timer for 10 minutes. Hold it at the simmer for that time, and stir frequently.

7. As your timer goes off, measure out 2/3 of a cup of white vinegar. Pour this into your dye bath. I moved the scarf to the side and then poured the vinegar onto the bath itself, but that was probably not particularly necessary. Stir your dye bath (this is the stinky part), and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Stir only infrequently.

8. Remove your container from the stove, and rinse your silk(s) in hot water. If you have it, something like Synthrapol works really well, but I didn't use this and my scarves haven't seemed to bleed any dye. Rinse, rinse, rinse - first with hot water, then with medium-hot water, then with warm water, and finally with cold. This takes a while - if you progress too quickly to cold, your water will run clean but there will likely still be excess dye particles in the silk, leading to bleeding down the line. I used the tongs when rinsing in hot water, and sort of swirled the silk back and forth around the tongs - seemed to do the trick and avoid burned fingers.

9. Air dry.

10. Play. We're still learning how to play with them; currently, his favorite use is putting them directly over his head and walking around. Capes are still a no-go.

Magic wands
I wish that I could credit myself with coming up with this wonderful idea, but nope: I got it from here (which is, incidentally, an awesome repository of great ideas).  I made one of these for my niece (her brother seemed to like it more), two for the daughters of friends, and a couple for L*, too. He calls them "flags" and (so far) refrains from any bonking with them.

I don't have any necessary points to add to the tutorial, since she does a great job showing you how. I found some reasonably priced 100% wool felt sheets at Hobby Lobby in really great colors, but also made some of my embellishments out of felted sweaters that I've been using for other projects. The thicker the felt, the more substantial the wand (and I wanted these to be able to withstand some vigorous play). I was able to find virgin wool for a reasonable price through Local Harvest, which feels luxurious and seems to fill better than the old polyester or cotton batting stuff I was otherwise used to.

Baby scarves and hats 

Kangaroo + joey "ornament"

Being thankful / being thoughtful, pt. 3 - Body Products

Body Products
I made three types of body products, and I'll probably never spend $ at Lush again since I've learned how to make wonderful stuff at home. (Also, this way, I was able to control my own inputs, which allowed me to NOT include some weird chemical stuff that they happen to use.)

Bath bombs
I made three types of bath bombs: one for kiddos (calming, colored and/or sparkly); one for sore muscles and relaxation; and one initially designed for some pregnant friends of mine, but that also work well for anyone who is trying to heal a wound, plagued by hemorrhoids, or prone to bouts of elevated blood pressure.

The basic recipe is simple:
2 parts baking soda
1 part citric acid
1 part either: corn starch (good for the skin) or Epsom salts (great for sore muscles, stress, blood pressure issues)

The calming ones for kids included corn starch, as well as organic lavender essential oil and chamomile tea leaves. I made some of them pink and sparkly (and also included pretty hot-pink hibiscus leaves in those bombs) and some of them a really nice sea green color.

The basic Epsom salt bombs also included organic spearmint essential oil mixed with organic lavender essential oil, and these smell heavenly in a way that I can't really explain here. Fresh and relaxing all at once, and they make a really pretty stark-sparkly (because of the Epsom salts) white treat.

I am particularly happy with the third variant on this theme. I originally designed these for a couple of friends of mine who are just about to have children, as a sort of therapeutic for what the body goes through, but they’re also just generally healing. Along with baking soda and citric acid, these have a good deal of Epsom salt, which is great for sore muscles, magnesium deficiencies, headaches, and to help healing. I’ve also included three separate types of herbs (which I ground up with the Epsom salt, using an old Cuisinart mixer): oat straw, yarrow, and witch hazel. Oat straw is great if you have anything like varicose veins or vascular issues in general (like high blood pressure), and works well on the skin, too. Yarrow is really excellent for healing hemorrhoids (which is why it was originally in the mama-made ones), for alleviating cramps, and for helping deep/longstanding wounds heal, but it’s also generally a good tonic, which is nice with so many other things that work more deeply in the body. Witch hazel is good at reducing swelling and inflammation in general. Together, they also likely help alleviate pain, and promote good blood flow (and thus, healing). The essential oils are a blend (all organic or wildcrafted) of peru balsam, frankincense, and patchouli. Peru balsam is a good anti-inflammatory and helps with joint pain, plus it’s great for the skin. Frankincense is also really good for the skin, and is another anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic component. Patchouli is a good stress reliever, and good at balancing skin conditions. If you believe the lore surrounding herbals and whatnot, then this mix should also provide a good balance of grounding as well as connecting to deep intuition – which strikes me as a great side benefit for a bath. If you suffer from anything like headaches, nervous tension, or arthritis, this should help.

Hand/body scrubbing salts & sugars
I made two simple scrub recipes, one from sugar and coconut oil, scented with grated ginger and vanilla, and the other from kosher salt, olive and coconut oil, and chamomile leaves. The first is refreshing and generally gentler on the skin (sugar is a great moisturizer), while the saltier version is really good to help you relax and scrub the dry bits from your feet. I packaged these up in some Mason jars, and tied tags to them with the same yarn that I used to wrap the brown kraft paper I used instead of wrapping paper this year.

Like the bath bombs, this recipe is all about the right ratios and otherwise playing with any extra therapeutics or essential oils that you have on hand:

2 1/2 cups of scrubber (sugar or salt)
1 cup of carrier oil (can be coconut, olive, sesame, jojoba, etc., or a mix thereof. All of these have specific therapeutic properties, so your choices might depend on that, and on economics, too. I found really great organic, unrefined coconut oil on sale at Whole Foods, and bought a ton of it - which I then use both for cooking/eating and also for making body items. Being on the lookout for deals like that can really be a great way to save AND to use the quality of ingredient that you want.)
Essential oil, if desired
Tea of your choice, if desired (chamomile is great for scrubs like this)
Shavings of something like ginger or orange peel, if desired

Incidentally, these make an excellent post-diaper-change hand cleanser - your hands end up totally soft, and smelling like sweet goodness, instead of, you know, poo. 

Lotion bars
I have a bit of a confession to make: one of the reasons that I was so keen on making these this season is to see how well they matched up against a favorite product. I absolutely love Lush's "King of Skin" bar, but generally can't justify spending $14 a month on something so non-necessary. For my purposes - soft, pleasantly-scented skin, just-outta-the-shower-ease, general inexpensiveness, and NO crap ingredients or weird non-pronounceables - these are a total win.

I've adjusted the ratios a bit here from my original recipe; the first batch I made weren't quite melty enough, so I dialed back the beeswax a bit, and the cocoa butter scent was a bit overwhelming to me, so I reduced that and upped the shea and coconut oil contents instead. However, you could easily replace any or all of the shea butter with cocoa butter (it tends to be a bit cheaper) and have a similarly luxurious product.

I used a silicon brioche pan for my molds, and it worked very well, creating bars that were reasonably palm-sized but not too slow to melt, either. Each of the 12 cavities holds just over 2 ounces of material, so I planned to make 24 ounces of my lotion bar mixture.

The basic recipe:
4 ounces of beeswax pastilles (these are much easier to get to melt - still no small feat - than the larger discs that you can also get)
8 ounces of coconut oil
8 ounces of shea butter
4 ounces of cocoa butter

Put these ingredients, in this order, in a double boiler (or a bowl that fits well enough over a pot of almost-simmering water). This melting process takes longer than you might think; the coconut oil will liquify almost immediately, but the other two oils will take longer to do so, and the beeswax pellets will only slowly, slowly melt away. Just keep stirring, and try not to let any condensation from the simmering water below make it into your oil bath. If you are using a metal double boiler to melt the wax and plan on adding essential oils, be sure to have a glass bowl (preferably with a pourable spout) handy for pouring your warmed oil into. If you aren't adding essential oils, you can pour directly from your double boiler into the silicon molds.

I also added a mix of essential oils to my bars. First, I prepared a mixing vial (just a little amber 1 ounce glass), filling it about one third of the way with jojoba oil. I then mixed in, very slowly, swirling after each addition, a combination of the following: peru balsam (oh my god, I love how this stuff smells); sweet orange oil; frankincense; patchouli; and the tiniest amount of clove bud oil. These were picked for their general good-skin properties, but also because they promote relaxation without inducing sleepiness - something that I can definitely use as I'm stressed and getting ready for work. Once I found the right balance, I added the entire vial to my warm melted oil mixture (now in glass), stirred to incorporate, and then poured the molds immediately.

Because there is still a fairly high proportion of beeswax in the molds, the oils set pretty quickly, so you want to pour as quickly as you can neatly do so. Place your silicon mold on a baking sheet (or something similarly rigid - this makes it easier to move), and then pour away. Put the filled mold on baking sheet in the fridge for about 20 minutes, and then they should be set. Pop them out of their molds and wrap in wax paper or put in a plastic bag.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Being thankful / being thoughtful pt. 2

We ended up making about 85% of our presents for others this year. This was a bit nerve-wracking (I always spend a lot of time in the planning phase, and then still end up staying up late for days on end making sure that everything gets done; I am not great at the incremental steps that could alleviate this issue) but for the most part, I'm really happy with the results. I thought I would share the range of items here, since I benefited from the willingness of others to share their own ideas.

The purposes of these projects were twofold:

First, I love the "spirit" of the holidays but I absolutely hate the consumerism and the ... weird sense of guilt that wanting to be generous but nearly always being too poor that seems to go with the season. Choosing to give in to that guilt is a bit like being a Scrooge with myself - so I needed something, a practice, to get me out of that mindset.

Second, I've spent this year getting rid of debt (still not done but so, so much closer than I was this time last year), and I didn't want to undo all of that hard, good work in a month of worrying that I wasn't able to get people enough and consequently overspending. These projects became a sort of meditation, in letting them be enough and enjoying the process of creating for the people I love - this is something (much better than guilt) that I'd like to pass along to my kid as part of his understanding of Christmas. Also, this enabled me to give gifts to people I adore but who I wouldn't normally be expected to gift (and I like being able to give when there's no expectation of return).

I made three categories of presents. A* tackled the BIG project for the kid (a fantastic play kitchen), but I tried to take care of most of the smaller projects, and I'm providing notes/recipes/places to go for inspiration below. (If you happen to be curious at all about the cost breakdown for any of these projects, I've done a ridiculous amount of recordkeeping and number crunching, and I'd be happy to provide sourcing information, too.) I'll be posting directions/reflections on these three types of gift in the next three posts (edited from what felt like a too-cumbersome listing all-in-one).