Wednesday, November 30, 2005

i'd be lost

My sister wrote a blog entry about a "ladies night out" that she went to, where she was frustrated by the other women who "jokingly" complained about their husbands and how they "deserved" time away from their families. I've shared Kim's frustration in the past as well.

When I mentioned Kim's post to Daniel, he said the best response he ever heard came from his friend Paul. Some guys they were both working with were complaining about their wives spending all their hard-earned money, how easy it is to stay at home all day, etc. In a pause in their conversation Paul said,

"man, I'd be lost without Sue. She takes care of my books. She takes care of the children and homeschools them. She gets the groceries and cooks the meals. She does all the laundry. All of this without complaining. She's always there to listen to me and talk to me."

Daniel said it shut all the guys right up... partly because they knew Paul meant every word he said. It condemned their words without anger or finger-pointing.

I feel the same way about Daniel as Paul does about his wife, but have trouble getting words out in conversation. So I thought I'd work out my words here on my blog, so they would be ready in case I was in a similar situation - or just because I need to remember to tell Daniel how much I appreciate him.

I would be lost without Daniel. He's a terrific husband and a wonderful father. He genuinely loves me and the kids, though there are days I'm not quite sure if any of us have earned that sort of unqualified love.

He goes to work every day, and doesn't complain about having to work, nor about my staying home. He appreciates the work I manage to get done at home (laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, running errands and childcare - though I rarely get more than two of those "done" on the same day) and doesn't complain about the things that are perpetually left undone.

Daniel is a creative genius who has learned to weld, to blacksmith, to do basic carpentry, to build and fly his remote controlled camera rig, and too many other things to list. He has rebuilt everything from trucks to fans to buzzsaws, to make them better, stronger and/or faster. He can diagnose and fix just about anything electrical or mechanical. But he's still willing to do the yucky mundane tasks like washing furnace filters, or chopping wood, or changing the oil in the cars.

He values my gifts and lets me use them. He lets me crop and fix his kite pictures. He asks intelligent questions about why I adjust colors the way I do in Photoshop, and tells me that he doesn't understand it but it really does seem to improve the pictures. When he has to write something, he asks me to go over it with him, and graciously and humbly submits to my endless questions and fine-tuning - and is actually grateful for my help.

He doesn't mind me spending time playing with fonts, or trying unsuccessfully to make soap dough... even when there are still dishes in the sink. If I get distracted for too long, he'll gently suggest that it might be time, for my own good, to put the computer or the craft project away for a few days.

He listens well. He does not get frustrated with or embarrassed by my tears. If he thinks of any solutions to my problems, he suggests them - but he often just listens and empathizes. He is truly my best friend.

He's gentle, kind, patient and loving... and to top it all off, he's really handsome too.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

revenge of soap dough

I intended to post this (and a few other half-composed entries, coming soon) before I left for Thanksgiving, but never managed to.

My tentative soap dough recipe worked fine. At least, it worked fine on the last two bars of soap that have been in our bathroom closet for a few months.

Fresh new bars of soap are another story.

Fresh new bars of soap don't grate like chocolate bars, they grate like colby cheese. I think it's because they haven't been drying out and getting harder for a few months. The long and short of it is that fresh new bars of soap gum up the mixer and can't really be ground into fine powder.

Which is why there are eleven bars of Ivory soap unwrapped and on the washing machine in my bathroom, which hopefully dried out some while we were gone Thanksgiving week.

Over Thanksgiving it dawned on me that I ought to make use of the fact that my dad is a chemist, and ask him what I could mix with soap to make a good soap dough - pliable but not sticky, which will dry out and make a nice soap.

My dad being a chemist is one of the many, many things I'm thankful for. He's made sense of lots of the world to me - from how caffeine is extracted from coffee to what makes a good hair conditioner. When I was younger, his long technical answers to my questions often bored or frustrated me. The older I get the more I enjoy it. Now I'm actually anxious to hear more about what makes soap soapy and how it can hopefully also be made doughy - and why.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Golden November

You might think that late October and early November is a bleak season in the U.P., after the leaves have come off the trees but before the snow falls. Sometimes it feels that way. But then, there's the tamarack.

The tamarack is among my favorite trees. (It's also known as larch, but I don't like the word 'larch', it sounds ugly, and this is a beautiful, if somewhat strange, tree. The Abenaki (Native American) name 'hackmatack' (meaning 'wood used for snowshoes') suits it even better.)

The tamarack manages to look spiny and soft at the same time. The needles come in tufts along the larger branches and singly on the first-year growth. It grows in swamps and needs plenty of sunshine. It's often the first tree to re-cultivate an area after a forest fire.

The whole tree was useful to many tribes of Native Americans: needles were used for pillow-stuffing, spring shoots were nutritious, twigs for decoys, branches for arrow-shafts, inner bark scraped for a flour, bark used for tanning or made into tonic for various illnesses, resin for chewing gum and boat patches, wood for snowshoes and dogsled runners, roots for rope. It's a utilitarian tree, still used today for house frames, railroad rails and fence posts. It largely goes unnoticed among the cedars, pines and spruces -- except for in the fall.

Tamarack is the only conifer which loses its needles in the fall. Before the needles fall they turn a brilliant yellow. I've had these photos sitting on my desktop for awhile, waiting to be blogged about. Now the tamarack trees have lost almost all their needles, and snow has been falling steadily today - and this snow looks like it could be here to stay.

The tamaracks this year, as many years, are the single beautiful thing outdoors that tided me through between the last brilliant red leaf and the first magical snowfalls.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

more mad soap dough science

We tried making our own soap dough again.

Ivory Snow is just as perfumey and gritty as Dreft. Strike one.

A week or so later, I bought Ivory bath bars and grated one with a knife. They grate surprisingly easily... somewhat like a hard cheese, or unsweetened chocolate. I mixed the gratings with 1/4 cup water and a toothpick's worth of paste food color, and stirred with a fork. It was not enough to dissolve the gratings. Kneading with my hands was enough to turn it into a sticky hamburger mess. Two tablespoons of baby oil and a little more water only confounded the issue.

It's now sitting in a remote corner of the kitchen on top of a plastic lid, shaped into a something that vaguely resembles a bath bar, drying until it's somewhat useable. Strike two.

A few days later I grated another Ivory bar. I put the gratings into a blender and ground them and ground them into a slightly sticky powder. I added two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of baby oil. This prevented the blender from being able to process the mixture. I dumped everything into a bowl and kneaded by hand and.... success! An oily but otherwise nice white soap dough, which BigE and Chickie immediately begged to play with.

Spurred on by my success, I decided to try a colored version. And decided to use liquid food color. And decided to try just chopping the bar before blending it, instead of grating the whole thing. And Mac decided to get fussy and demand all of my attention, so I probably added the water and oil before I'd thoroughly ground the soap. And the blender was sticky from the last time anyways.

In short, I changed too many variables at the same time. The blue batch was an oily and lumpy mixture slightly better than Strike Two. Since the blender is now oily and covered in sticky soap bits, I've called it a day.

Here is my tentative recipe for next time, whenever I do enough dishes and laundry to be brave and mess up my kitchen again:

1 bar (4.5 oz) Ivory soap, grated (or perhaps chopped)
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp baby oil (possibly more, but two left the soap dough oily)
small amount paste food coloring (or substitute liquid food color for 1/2 to 1 tsp of water)
Zippered plastic bags or small clean butter/yogurt containers

Grind Ivory soap in blender until it's a uniform and slightly damp powder. Dump into bowl. By hand, mix in water, oil and coloring. Store each color in a separate container.

Experiments will continue after we recover from this last batch. BigE and Chickie have made enough soap for their own baths to last now for several months, but I suppose they can just keep adding to their collection...

Monday, November 14, 2005

made with love and a crayon

After a long break from font-making, I created two new fonts this weekend. Or rather, my kids did.

Chickie wrote out the alphabet with black crayon on paper and then begged me to "put it into the computer".

It's now a Kindergarten Crayon font, and it's yours for the downloading. Extra-large, it looks like...

When BigE saw the final product, he got out his own crayons:

And produced Crayon Curlicue, now yours for the downloading. Extra-large, it looks like...

As you can see, I didn't spend any time touching up the fonts, I just took them as they were scanned. It made my job easy (less than four hours apiece!) and preserved that drawn-by-young-children effect at the same time. What could be easier or more fun? So I have a hunch I'll be making some fonts for Christmas presents...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

overdosing on cuteness

First up, a letter from Chickie to her K'garten teacher who returns to school from maternity leave next week. (Chickie also addressed and stamped the envelope herself - I wish I'd have thought to get a picture of that as well!)

I particularly like her new-to-me version of 'Row your boat', ending with "Ha ha ha fooled you, I'm a submarine."

Next up, a school paper from BigE.

His text is answer-the-question-about-the-story busy work, but I love how the picture shows the girl and her friend being happy. I love the shape of their arms and legs!

And finally: it snowed last night. Guess who's excited?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I don't like feeling closed in. I like windows. I like possibilities. I like options. But there are times closure is a good thing. This is one of those times.

This past weekend Daniel started enclosing our porch. His friend Bumpus came by to help, too.

I will miss our porch and having as much light in our kitchen. But I am thrilled to have a room to put our winter coats and muddy boots in, instead of having them all in our living room.

And I'm excited that we can move our chest freezer onto the porch, and have enough room in the kitchen for all six of us to eat together at the table.

And I'm convinced that when we paint the walls of our porch it won't look so much like we have a deer blind attached to our house.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

November blues

The leaves are, for the most part, off of the trees. My garden is largely dead. Daylight losing time has begun (now that daylight saving time is over) and it gets dark before suppertime. I've got the November blues....

but I'm so very thankful that even blue can be beautiful.

The flowers above are frost-bitten pinks and a bachelor button.

The leaves shown here fell off our silver poplar onto our blue (and frost-covered) ten-year-old minivan. (You can click on either leaf photo to get to the bigger one posted at Flickr.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

leaf recipe

take one yard, four kids, one adult, three rakes, and about a million leaves.

rake well.
mix well.
form a large pile.

lose a shoe.
find it again.
add one plastic climber/slide.