Crafting, and crafting

Published August 27, 2015 by livinggraciously

About five years ago Ferrett was really getting into woodworking. For Christmas that year, I bought him a set of power tools to set up a shop in our garage.

Those tools sat in boxes in the middle of the garage floor for two years.

In 2013, Ferrett and our daughter Erin took a long weekend and set up the tools. They built an arcade cabinet.

Then everything sat fallow for the next year or so.

Finally, last fall our friend Eric wanted to build some bookcases for his third-floor office. The guys worked on that project, decided they really enjoyed woodworking, and when spring came this year got pretty serious about projects. They now have Woodworking Wednesdays, once-a-week evenings when they craft. They’ve replaced some of the not-very-good beginners tools with better equipment, and are in the process of turning our garage into a working shop.

By this winter, I should be able to park inside again. I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill that is.

But as they are out there, measuring twice (or more) and cutting once, I am in here, crafting as well. I’m making a quilt, Ferrett’s otter quilt. I’m measuring and cutting, then putting the resulting bits back together. When the guys come in from the garage, they chuckle at the parallels of what we’re doing. My sewing machine sat fallow for a while, but I’m crafting again.

What he makes is sturdy and supportive. What I make is soft and cuddly. I am at an advantage, because if my cuts are a little off I can ease or stretch, something that’s pretty tough with wood. In the end, we have one more thing in common: other people see an awesome piece of work, and we see our mistakes. But even with goofs, both our projects bring warmth and a feeling of being loved to the person who receives them.

The 365 project

Published August 24, 2015 by livinggraciously

Today, I removed five dead computers from our house. Some of these computers have been hanging around here, defunct, for more than a decade. Every year our local government have a technology disposal week. Every year I think, “Oh, I need to take advantage of that!”

Every year, I forget. But not this year! Five! Five dead computers gone.

That only leaves three, maybe four dead computers still hanging around. Hey, you do what you can.

Anyway, it’s part of what’s referred to as the 365 project: donate, recycle, or throw out one item from your house every day for a year. Getting the crap clutter out of the house. It’s harder than you think. Oh, I got rid of probably 365 separate items in the last month, clearing out a bunch of junk from the basement, and the computers, old speakers, cables, keyboards, etc. It’s easy to do the big stuff.

The tough part is doing it every single day. It doesn’t matter if you got rid of 50 things on Tuesday, Wednesday you need to figure out something else that can go. That’s when you start drilling down and really evaluating what can go.

We all have way too much junk in our lives. It weighs us down. I’m trying to lessen that weight, lighten the physical burden of life.

Until we moved to Ohio, it was pretty easy. I never lived in one place for more than three years. At least every 36 months, often considerably less time than that, I had to pack everything up, haul it to a new place, and find a new place to put it. When you have to schlep all the crap, you get a lot more ruthless about what you really need to take with you, what you need to find another place to store.

I’ve been in the same house for 14 years now. I have a basement, with big storage closets. It’s easy to keep things “just in case” I need them.

I seldom do.

So now I’m dragging crap back out of the house. Some days it’s, “Oh, crap, I don’t have much time, what can go?” Other days I come across a treasure trove of crap to mine.

We’ll see what things look like by next August.

Cookware

Published August 21, 2015 by livinggraciously

Ferrett and I watch a show called Food Network Star. It’s a contest that selects one cook to become the Next Food Network Star. The only really big star who has come out of the contest is Guy Fieri, but winners (and some runners-up) from other seasons are now perennial favorites on the network.

All contestants must have a viewpoint, the thing that is going to sell them as the next star: Aarti Sequeira and her Aarti Party entertainment show; Jeff Mauro as the Sandwich King. So a few times over the years of watching, Ferrett and I have wondered about what, if we were ever contestants, our shtick would be. I’d never been able to think of one, until I was cleaning up the kitchen today and noticed this:

IMG_3903.jpg

It’s clear: I would be the Cast Iron Queen.

Yes, I have felt the pull of All Clad and its shiny, gleaming silver. I ever have one All Clad skillet. And it’s lovely for omelets. But most of the time, I reach for the sturdy black of my cast iron. I love the way it holds heat, I love how sturdy it is.

I love that it doesn’t require a lot of scouring to look good. And compared to All Clad? You can outfit a kitchen with cast iron for the cost of one All Clad saute pan.

So that would be my thing, on Food Network Star. I’d advocate for heavy cookware–and probably get thrown off after just a couple weeks for lack of sophistication. But if they want down-home cooking, me and my cast iron are the ones to pick.

 

 

The kitchen is reopening

Published August 20, 2015 by livinggraciously

There’s bread rising on my counter.

For those who know me, this used to be a common, multiple-times-a-week occurrence. I baked bread as regularly as breathing.

That all stopped a couple years ago. I honestly can’t remember when I last baked bread. A lot of things about my life kind of came to a halt in the last couple years. I shut down to minimum life support. I bathed, I read, I kept up on clients, and barely spoke to people.

But in the last month or so, I’ve felt like I’m slowly, slowly waking up. I’m working like someone who likes her job, I’m getting exercise, I’m keeping up the house the way I like it kept up.

And I’m starting to cook again. For a while there we were eating out a lot, bringing in a lot of takeout. Now, in the last couple days, I’ve actually felt like cooking for the first time in a long time. And yesterday I felt the need to revive my pour sourdough, to see whether Shelob had survived my neglect.

She had. So today I am baking a loaf of the bread that was the staple of my baking, the bread I can bake without pulling out a recipe, with a minimum of measuring. I am definitely rusty, but it’s rising.

I can’t say for certain that this will become the regular occurrence it was before. After so long of being so subfunctional I’m finding it hard to trust that this new energy of mine will last. I’m still not all the way back–my tolerance of crowds is low, and even the company of my dearest friends is something I can only take in small doses. Some days being responsible and working just feel like they’re going to kill me, like I can’t possibly do it another day. I worry that I’ll fall back into that morass.

But not today. Today I’m baking bread.

Games mortgage companies play

Published August 17, 2015 by livinggraciously

Today, I received mail from one of the many mortgage companies I deal with. It was a request for permission to contact a client of mine directly regarding a loan modification. This is a pretty standard form, so I signed it and prepared to send it back.

That’s when things got a little suspicious. The form instructed me to send it back in the self-addressed, postage-paid envelope accompanying the letter. But the envelope I received had exactly one sheet of paper in it: the form itself.

Well, I thought, human error and oversights can happen. I’ll just mail it myself. I looked the form letter over. And then studied it closely. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Though it’s pretty standard stationery, there is no address to be found anywhere on this letter. No address, no fax number, and no contact number for the person who sent the letter.

I had so much trouble believing this that, even as I’m writing this entry, I paused to study that letter one last time. No contact information whatsoever appears on this letter. I can’t help but assume that this is intentional: a false attempt to appear cooperative while actually stonewalling the borrower.

I wish I could say that such incidences are isolated. But my experience over the years is that mortgage companies are seldom cooperative in the loan modification process.

Whenever a client of mine has prepared a loan modification packet, I instruct them to send it by certified mail, so that someone has to sign for it, and to keep a copy of everything they’ve sent. Because mortgage companies are notorious for misplacing loan modification packets or claiming they never arrived.

In the worst incident, the borrowers had sent in 8 separate copies of the loan modification packet. Every time they finally got acknowledgment of receipt of the packet and began working with a mortgage company representative, that representative would get transferred, someone else would be in charge of their mortgage, and that person would not have a copy of the packet anymore.

By the time they came to me, they were fighting tears of frustration. A short-term layoff had gotten them behind on their mortgage, but because the mortgage company would not accept their payments they were now months behind, in danger of foreclosure, and the interest and penalties were piling up.

Unfortunately, there is very little regulation that forces mortgage companies to act in good faith. There have been some class action lawsuits leading to multi-million dollar settlements, and some borrowers are benefiting from those funds. But as far as actually changing the behavior of these companies on a day-to-day basis, the lawsuits have accomplished very little.

It’s pretty appalling that we as a nation loaned money to these companies, sent none of the CEOs to jail, let them all pay themselves giant bonuses, and are still getting screwed over by them. But hey, corporations own the government now…

The weird granularities of tableware

Published August 14, 2015 by livinggraciously

The food is cooked, the plates are filled. Everything smells delicious. Smiling, Ferrett hands me a fork. I smile back, but apologetically.

“Um, thank you. But can you get me a big one?”

It completely baffles him, but I hate eating dinner with a salad fork. For him, it’s an instrument of delivery for food. For me, it’s part of the food experience. The weight of the fork, the size of the bites, the balance in my hand, they all have a direct impact on how much I enjoy my food.

What I’ve never confessed to him (until now, obviously) is that since we’ve gotten a new set of flatware I often reject the dinner fork of one of the patterns for the dinner fork of the other pattern. This is not a matter of preferring one pattern over the other. No, I actually choose different ones on different days because that one is going to feel better eating this particular meal.

I know it’s silly. I’ve actually been so embarrassed by this at times that I accept the proffered fork from Ferrett, and then sneak back into the kitchen to switch them out. But eating is more than just flavor. It’s an experience for all the senses, and my sense of touch comes into play with the weight of that fork in my hand. Thin, flimsy silverware at a restaurant actually distresses me–but then again so does the stuff that’s overly heavy. Each spoon doesn’t need to weigh a quarter pound. I just don’t want to feel like I can tie it in a knot, either.

Let’s not even discuss bent fork tines [shudder].

Anyone else have odd aversions, ones that don’t relate to the actual food? Or is it just me?

Why I am stupidly happy with Play Boy

Published August 13, 2015 by livinggraciously

Playboy ran an article in early July of this year that was a pictography of “ways of the O” – but worrying about women finding their happy place was not the thing that made me excited (see what I did there?) about the article.

No, the exciting part for me is that half the pictures are with plus-sized models. Go take a look; it’s pretty much work safe (unless you work in a church or a daycare, I suppose). The first five pictures are a very standard, very blonde model, but the last five contain models (two of them) who have a little more meat on their bones than what’s considered the standard of beauty.

This is a delightful development. Considering that most women are at least the size of, if not larger, than the plus-sized models, it’s nice–great, in fact–to see this kind of acknowledgement that we exist, and that men can find us attractive, and can and should want to take our pleasure into consideration. A more realistic view of the female form in all its glory can only be good for us all.

I can, however, anticipate that there is criticism. Those who worship a random idealization of body type undoubtedly think of such pictures as “giving women permission to be fat.” That it encourages women to “let themselves go.”

To them I say, good! The idealized female form in modern society–skinny and young–is achievable by maybe 1% of women. Even that 1% can only stay young for so many years. The constant pressure to be something that we can’t be serves only the beauty business that relies on our self-loathing. Oh, and the $6 billion/year diet industry.

Thank you, Play Boy, for showing women who actually exist in daily life. We’re an awful lot of fun to snuggle up with.

After all, we’re built for comfort, not for speed.

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