Saturday, September 28, 2013

You Want a Cake Shaped Like WHAT?!?

A phone conversation I had with a man, somewhere in my cake decorating years:

Phone rings-

Me:  Good afternoon, this is Stefanie- (smiling)
Him:  Hi, I have a question about a cake I need…
Me:  Sure, how can I help you?
Him:  Can you make, uh…cakes in the shape of, like, real stuff?
Me:  You mean 'sculped' cakes?  Oh Sure, we do those all the time.  I've done flower pots, armadillos, sneakers, ladybugs, sock monkeys, a sturgeon, and even a Sharps rifle (which was AWESOME, if I may say so...see?) 

A life-sized Sharps rifle, with a hollow sugar barrel and everything--loved this!

Me:  So...what kind of sculped cake are you looking for?
Him:  Oh…well…um…it's for some friends… (longish pause)
Me:  (not quite enough info, dude) Ok, 'something for some friends'.  Is there a theme? Are they looking for something specific? If it's a kids birthday, ladybug cakes are really sweet...

Me:  Or, if it's a guy, I did a cake for a guy who shot his elk from his hot tub this:

Me:  Or, a bucket of sugar Corona bottles?  Those are awesome!

Him:  (Nothing) 

Me:  Or, once there was a guy who loves to I made a giant sturgeon:
Him:  Uh, yeah…those are cool.  But, do you do cakes that are, ah…uh…um, hmm…uh…anatomically correct?
Me:  (beginning to think my schedule is suddenly Not Open, while also trying not to sound like I'm not giggling) It depends which part of the…anatomy, exactly, are you wanting?
Him:    (Awkward pause--again.  I think I could actually HEAR him blushing).
Me:  Ok...What kind of party is it for?
Him:  Um, it's a bachelorette party.
Me:  Oh.   (Mind wandering a bit:  What kind of cake would you have at a...?  Oh.  No way.)

Him:  Yeah...

Me:  You mean, 'anatomically correct', as in … ?  (trying to keep a straight face)
Him:  Yeah, um, like...lower torso…you know…they wanted it shaped know…
Me:  (Laughing silently and making a gagging face, while still trying to sound friendly)  Um, yes, I understand.  I think I know what you are looking for, but I don't do that particular type of cake (they're called Naughty Cakes in the biz, and I wouldn't touch one with a 10-foot pole, but I didn't want to embarrass this guy, who seemed like he was already totally embarrassed enough.  Poor guy.  Who put him up to this?? Awkward!). 

Him:  Oh, uh…that's Ok.  Well, could you maybe recommend someone local here who makes that kind of stuff?
Me:  Um…no, not really. Thanks for calling though.  (This would be a totally great place to have referred him to someone as a prank, but I only have funny hindsight I guess.  Like--"Oh, YES…call XYZ Bakery.  They do these ALL the time; ask to see their 'Adult-Themed Cake Album'.  They'll LOVE hearing from you!")
On second thought, maybe it WAS a prank.   Wow.  I really AM slow, if that only just occurred to me, like 4   years   later. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Insomniac's Guide to Fall List-Making

For me, Fall is a season of List-Making.  Actually, I'm always making lists, so maybe it's just me...

I woke up this morning to a solid, steady, even downpour of rain and the forecast of a 40-degree night, which means Fall is so here.  Also, to my phone ringing like four times in a row at the crack of 8:05 a.m., after having a night of insomnia and flopping around from 1:48-3:19 a.m., being too hot and thirsty to sleep, because it's also the time of year when we build a fire before bed, to keep from turning on the forced air heat, and then the house temperature goes to like 85 degrees and we are sweating like malaria patients, even sleeping naked on top of the covers with the window wide open, but I digress, sort of.  What I was thinking about while lying there waiting for the buildup of excess hot air in the room to whoosh out the window so I could possibly sleep, was...well, ok, it's fall.  And I'm a Summer Person.  Not in the sense that I was color draped in the 80s and I'm a "summer" (I was a "winter", in case you're wondering, but I make my own rules) but, in the sense that I more or less disapprove of any season that isn't:  Summer. 


Good-bye, blanket on the grass with a book.  Good-bye hot sun on my shoulder.  Good-bye roses and beach waves and sunscreen and lunch in the porch swing.  When fall arrives here in Idaho, it's pretty much overnight.  Friday it was 78 and gorgeous outside.  Which was awesome, except that I was stuck inside, working on a *cough* wedding cake *cough*.  I won't explain this right now, other than to say, it was  one I couldn't say no to, and it turned out AWEsome, see?

My first wedding cake after 7 months of no cakes.  I still don't miss them, but it was gratifyingly pretty.
 I may explain more later, because there's a sweet but very sad story here, but it doesn't concern us today, other than it caused me to miss the last perfectly blue day of summer, but I'm not sorry.

So, in my 3 a.m. insomnia mode, my mind wandered a bit, and I got thinking of a list of things I like and don't like about fall.  And then I got thinking about lists in general, which made me think about omg I have so many things to remember to DO.  Which made me feel even more awake, and I know myself well enough to know that if I'm that awake at 2:30 a.m., I may as well be doing something productive, so I got up and went out in the living room, put another log on the fire (why in the HECK?? I don't even know--habit, I guess), and sat on the couch and scribbled (with a pen and paper, which was a treat--remember handwriting?two full pages of a list of things I need to do, mostly right now or at the very least this week.  Or possibly next week, or even next month.  I'm actually still remembering things not to forget, which should go on the List. 

But at 2:30 this morning, what started it all was sort of a Yay/Boo list of fall things, like this:

Yay:  Fall boots and scarves!  Boo:  I have summer sandals I didn't even wear yet. 

Yay: I can close up the garden and sit inside and cross stitch without feeling guilty that I'm wasting a gorgeous day NOT outside!  Boo:  I still have a page-long list of things that needed done outside before the weather turned.

Yay:  Pumpkin spice lattes!  Boo:  I HATE pumkin-flavored anything.  Except pie, which is actual pumpkin and doesn't count.  And candles, which make it seem like I made a pie, which is even better than making one, sort of.   What is it with the pumpkin spice things, by the way? Pumpkin and coffee don't belong together, to me.

Yay:  The 23-year-old Celica I now share with my daughter has no A/C, and now that fact totally won't even matter. (People, you haven't lived til you've gone back to a car with no A/C).  Boo:  I'm still sharing a 23-year-old Celica with my daughter, instead of this:

or this:

I need a tissue....

moving on:

Yay:  Carving pumpkins!  Boo:  I suck at carving pumpkins, always have.  The pumpkin-as-art gene skipped me.  I look at a pumkin and I see...nothing.  Remember that dorky jack-o-lantern gap-toothed grinning face with triangles for the eyes from first grade?  That's still pretty much my level. The whole carving a pumpkin to look like an intricate punched-tin lantern or a realistic caricature with a pipe that puffs real smoke just does.not.happen for me.

Yay:  The kids are in school!  I have the whole house to myself!  Boo:  Oh.  Um... 


Seriously, though, I actually do like the changing of each season.  Our seasons here are definite, and yes, each one has reasons to love it.  I try not to miss Summer too much, especially since there are like 10 months of not summer here, so I try to focus on what's beautiful about each season and enjoy each one for what it is, not what it isn't, like:  Fall is just a break *after* summer.  Spring is *almost* summer.  Winter means Christmas (omg Christmas!), then on New Years Day I order spring seeds, and right after that is Spring, which is *almost* Summer! Because what I'm always waiting for, really, is this:

Louis, chilling in the shade of a rose, after a hard day of...nothing. 
 Right now, though, I'm trying to just enjoy the new weather--*glances out the window*--oh look, it's raining even harder, now--and look forward to the joys of each season, because really, every day is a gift, right?
Fall sky here--home of some truly amazing sunsets

P.S. - For some reason, at 2 a.m., I also got totally side-tracked by a list of great 80s music in my head, and some fun things about that decade that I still totally love, that our kids will never know...but that list doesn't belong here, because that would be too rambly.  Soon, though, I can feel a great 80s List coming.

P.P.S.- Let me just say, for the record though, if you're from the 80s--go make a "Def Leppard" station on Pandora right now; you will not regret it...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Beating An Almost Dead Horse--More Journal Notes on De-stressing My Life

I'm just getting over being sick, so this post is a bit rambly, but then, so am I--

Finding myself back at home, out of the wedding industry after slamming the brakes on a 12-year stint as a high-end wedding cake decorator, and back to my Real Life this year, has been a revelation. You can read the original story here and a second update here.  This summer has been a journey about, I don't know--contentment, and finding joy in just being a wife and mother again, in hanging up the working-woman shoes (though I miss the shoes themselves a bit) and being just fine sharing a 20-year-old Celica with my 17-year-old instead of driving a new BMW (though I miss that like heck and look forward to another one; I'm not Mother Theresa, people).

Every day I still marvel at the simple pleasure of waking up WITH my family, having time (not stolen, annoyed omg-I'm-going-to-be-so-late time, but really just...time) to read a book or cross-stitch, or sit and think and watch my hens doing...whatever chickens do.  I have had time to plant and harvest our garden, which I missed so much.  I have had time to start reorganizing some of the house closets that have been on that list of messy things that need tackled--someday.  I have started working on the cookbook of all our family's favorite recipes that I've been promising to write for my daughters, so it will be published and ready for them when they start to graduate and go Out There. 

I got to catch up with some old friends from high school (the only thing Facebook is *actually* good for--more about that later). I got to take coffee and my laptop and my two cat friends out on the back deck to balance bank statements or work on *cough* blog posts, and lay in the sun on the grass at the beach or in the back yard with yet another medieval history book and some Sour Patch Kids, right there on a Thursday afternoon, just because. 

I finally have time to start reassembling the giant file of family history notes, pictures, and emails from around the globe, that I began in 2003 in an attempt to get some sort of all-in-one record to pass down for our kids.  I love family stories and history, and I feel strongly that, if you don't write it down, those people are gone forever.  No one will know that they even lived, so I am working on two posts about both sides of my family history right now, but it's slow going.

I got to take the kids camping and stay all week, not race back and forth while baking and delivering wedding cakes.  We swam and rode 4-wheelers, kayaked, browsed through Sandpoint, shopped at used book stores, and ate Italian for lunch, on a Friday in August, which they can't remember EVER doing. 

I am endlessly grateful that I stopped in time to have this year with them, before my oldest graduates next spring, and so are they.  We have had time to do all sorts of fun/silly/girly and yes, sometimes dumb stuff together, and they seem to appreciate that I never outgrew my dorky 80's self who loved dancing to Cyndi Lauper and Aerosmith and thought that Sammy Hagar was all wrong for Van Halen. It's been fun to have time to be really part of their everyday lives, their ups and downs, and to give sometimes unwanted advice from a years-later point of view, while keeping in mind that I remember that age like it was yesterday.  And sometimes their eyes roll...Mom...thanks, but...yeah...uhh, we actually weren't asking you to solve our problems for us.

I am enjoying of watching the vegetables grow, although now I am watching the weather temperatures and simultaneously the tomatoes, and everything else that will need to suddenly come inside and be preserved, all at once, the minute we have a cold night. There's a whole tree full of plums to pick and preserve still, all the corn, some pickles, all the beets to turn into borscht (Shane's favorite lunch), all the herbs and teas to pick and dry, and minestrone to make and can, but I'm fine with it, because I have time for it now. I may run out of canning jars, though...and I'm sure that it will happen all at once and there's going to be a panicked few late nights of peeling beets and frantically bringing things up to the house in a wheelbarrow, but as long as there's sunshine, I procrastinate.

I am looking forward to the fall, to closing things up outside and putting the gardens to bed, pulling in the hoses, winterizing the chicken coops and the roses, turning off the pond waterfall, and taking down the gazebo roof. There's a yearly rhythm to doing those things, which I love. I love being inside stirring pots of stew and fruit jams while the leaves are falling outside. I love the first fire in the fireplace and the first snow (though I hate snow after January 5th, and I totally *get* the snow-bird thing).  I can't wait to start making candles for Christmas gifts, and baking cookies and listening to music.

I can't wait for Oct 31, or as we call in my house--our Pre-Holiday Kick-Off Day. We have never celebrated Halloween, because I just...don't like it.  Never have, never will.  So, instead we make gingerbread and work on holiday ornaments or crafts on Oct 31.  We drink hot cocoa and blast Christmas music (classic, Sinatra-era, only please!), and leave our porch light off, even though I've had trick-or-treaters only once in 14 years.  And they were alarmly...tall.  Like, bigger than me...umm, hello?

So, other than the car, I never miss cakes, that life, or that schedule.  I mean...never.

 Shane started an absolutely awesome re-arrangement of our garage last night, which we've been threatening to do for several years.  Soon it will look like the picture of a perfect garage that we all have in our heads, not the jumbled yard-sale-is-over, hope-we-can-still-fit-a-car-in-here look that many of our garages end up having. A real, organized grownup garage. This morning, I went out to take out the trash, and there were some of my styrofoam cake dummies (brand new, from the bakery, just in case I felt like decorating a display cake), sitting outside in one of the trash cans.  I stood there holding one of them for a minute, considering.  I stacked them into a cake shape and pondered some more, waiting for any rush of inspiration or angst.  The only thing I felt was--hmm, too bad these are still new, and I put them back in the can and dragged it out.  I hate wasting stuff, but I don't want to be that old cake lady with a storage unit full of cake decorating supplies from two decades ago, who saved all of it just in case, dear.  When I'm done with something, I'm just--done.  So this stuff has to go. Whatever's left in the next few days is going to Goodwill, and tah-dah, beautiful garage.

I still hear that overachiever's sigh of disappointment at some of the things that I so did not get done this year, though.  Sometimes I think it's the devil, throwing in my face all the Things I Failed To Do.  Yes, I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped at knocking down the weeds in the front yard or the pond garden, though we tackled the pond something like four times (what IS it with weeds? Why can't garden flowers be like that??).  The front has been mowed and dead-headed all year and is...sort of tidy...but to me it still looks like an overgrown mess, and the weeds inside the beds have obliterated any sense of dividing line between lawn and flower beds.  You can't even see the edging.  But I'm learning to get done what I can, and put the un-done stuff on the list of Chores Future. 

The rose garden is blooming and looks beautiful, from a distance.  It's also totally still suffering from a pretty bad outbreak of black spot, lack of fertilizer, and surpluss of weeds.  There are 3 roses still in pots, which I haven't been able to find spots for, to plant them out, because I haven't cleared the weeds enough, which points back to weeding again. 

Maybe next spring I'll hire a team of men with names like Renato to come and fix all this.  I could just give them a picture of what the yard *should* look like, and then tell them to call me when it looks like *that*. 

The lawn still needs sprayed to deal with the massive take-over of clover this seaon, and I'm hoping to get that done before it gets too cool, but my hope is dwindling.  At least we have the spray on hand, neatly organized in the garage.  So, next spring I will be totally all over that clover, I promise.

On the plus side, we did just get three of our four outbuildings (both chicken coops and the little storage shed) painted a fresh lovely coat of my favorite green, and touched up the white trim, and they look awesome.  The garden shed is still waiting, but I'm out of time, so it will go to next spring when we paint the house. Plus this gave us a chance to see the green we chose out there on some buildings before we commit to painting our whole house that color.  Aaaahh--What if it's the wrong shade?

I did get to go to the beach one last time, last week, while the kids were at school, right there on a Thursday afternoon again (miraculous).  It's cooling off fast here, and I knew this would be my last lake swim, so I got IN the lake and swam for like 45 minutes.  Around here, all year, the water is always almost too cold to get in and you have to just walk in without stopping, even though you are silently screaming Oh my GOD this is SOFREAKINGCOLD, but once you're all the way in, it's so worth it.  I love water anyway, so any time I can swim, I absolutely do and I'm getting better about what qualifies as "too cold", even if it makes me scream a little.  I tried not to scream, though, or thrash around all out of breath from the shock of it.  I could picture one of the lifeguards watching me, fingering his rescue board thing-y and thinking is that older lady drowning; she's thrashing around and screaming, and the other lifeguard being like, dude, she's standing up.  She's fine--it's just cold, man. 

I have also enjoyed recently weaning off, almost completely, social media (Facebook and Twitter).  I've never been big on either one, and I'm fine being more or less disconnected from the world (we also don't have TV, haven't for years). I like Twitter for news blips, but in terms of, I don't know, interacting with anyone, it's a total waste of time.  The only time I've put a question Out There on Twitter, as in, Hi-I found this possibly lethally poisonous plant growing in my yard.  Can anyone identify it, since I'm feeling a little woozy...I get:  Nothing.  So, eh--whatever. 

And it's sort of a love/hate thing with Facebook.  You want to stay connected to your friends (my list is short because they need to qualify as *actual* friends or family), but at some point you realize, you're not actually connected.  When did you actually speak to any of these people, or see them in person?  Does it really matter what they made for dinner or where they went for vacation? My real friends know where I am and what I'm up to.  And now, so do a bunch of total strangers, too, thanks to this blog...Not sure how I feel about that, but, whatever. I won't go into much more about Facebook, because I've already done that, here but I have found, on days when I don't check Facebook at all, I realize I'm just living my life rather than uploading it, or checking what everyone else is uploading.  I'm on a stint to see how long I can go without logging in.  I doubt anyone misses me, since I don't really post anything anyway, (except hey, guys, I wrote a blog post!) so I'm pretty sure it's all good.  I'd hope if any of my friends had any Real News, they'd remember to just call me anyway.

I'm loving being a little more disconnected from technology.  Not that I don't love my friends--I do, but I'd rather that we call or text each other, or (here's a thought) get together sometime, and also without everyone spending the time together either texting other people or saying "Omygosh you guys, we have to get a picture of this and post it."  What?  I didn't come dressed for a photo shoot.

Yesterday I was sick, or sick-ish, or tired, or both, so all day I sort of just wandered around and laid around half-heartedly reading and trying to nap, and I didn't get anything done except complain about how crappy I felt.  So, I was still lying on the couch reading under a blanket when my oldest got home, and I said, from under my blanket, "I am so glad I'm not doing cakes right now...ugh," and she said "I can't even tell you how glad *I* am, that you're not doing cakes any more.  It's nice to have a mom who's not stressed out all the time, and when we have something come up (sports, school stuff, fun stuff, whatever), that it doesn't have to be scheduled, and it doesn't stress you out.'s stressful to have a mom who's stressed out." 

That made it worth it, all over again.

wow, this was kind of long and rambly.  Sorry.  I blame the flu.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Public Service Memo on Ugly Shoes

I love shoes.  Not in the sense that I will spend lots of money per pair, but in the sense that I have lots of pairs.  I'd way rather have ten pairs of $20 shoes than one pair of $200 shoes, because that just seems boring.  But, they do have to be cute...And I'm not saying I have lots of shoes, as in, I have 5,000 pairs and I had to build a whole room to hold them.  It's more like 100 pairs, give or take, so don't be all thinking I'm a shoe freak.  I also am not against expensive lovely shoes, but I don't have the budget (or the conscience) for that.  Even if I was rich, I'd still probably collect cheap shoes.  I do have a few pairs that were (gasp) over $100 each, but I qualify that by saying that they were way on sale.  I think one pair was so discounted that they were free, or I actually got money back or something.  So, it hasn't broken the bank to collect a nice assortment of fun colorful shoes.  Here's some of the "summer shoes"...

 On a side note, unfortunately, since I quit being *out there* in the wedding industry, I noticed many of my cute shoes this summer sat sadly unworn, because I only went to the beach and the grocery store.  Oh sure, there are the stand-by favorites I always wear (and yes, they're still cute), but they were, brown, or silver.  All the fun colored shoes just sort of hung out, unworn, and now it's September, which means it's time to revert to boots, booties (I have tons of those), and my standby Clark's again.  I have to reverse the shoe hangers in the closet so the Fall things are up front and Summer things are in the back, or stored away til next year.  That's always sort of a sad ritual...

 fall-ish shoes, waiting for rotation to the front
When I was younger, I used to only have like 4 pairs of shoes.  One black.  One brown.  Some cowboy boots.  Some sneakers.  That was pretty much it.  Then I bought some flats for summer.  Then I started wearing heels again, just because I LIKE HEELS and I wasn't packing a baby on one hip any longer...Then I bought some cute sandals, in a couple of colors, to match different dresses.  Pretty soon, I was buying new shoe cubbies for my closet, and that's how it happened.  It sort of...grew.  But if you go in Payless anytime, you're absolutely bound to see something super cute, and they're like 12 bucks, so you think--Sure, why not?
Yay, fall booties!!
 A few years ago, however, I noticed that... not everyone must feel this way, judging from the huge assortment of flat-out ugly shoes I started noticing around me.  So I started sort of paying attention, and I realized...WHY do these shoes even exist?  I get it, that some shoes are just really really really comfortable, or you have to wear a certain shoe for work (like nurses), or they're for safety (construction workers), or you have athelete's foot and don't want your toes showing in summer, or WHATEVER.  But, why wear ugly shoes?  Who's making these shoes? If you must wear a sneaker with mom jeans and a T-shirt (and, for the record...heels will TOTALLY change the outfit.  Just sayin'), then why does it have to be some jacked up, roughed up, scuffed up, clod-hopper of an old no-name "sport" shoe??  Or Crocs (which go especially nice with socks--not). Did you just get off a treadmill somewhere, and forget to bring real-person shoes with you to put on before you dashed in the grocery store on the way home?  Do you seriously not have $12 to go get a cute flat or sandal?  Do you actually just not care?  I always want to ask people.
Rocky beach--yes.  Grocery store--NO!!
I see people in totally normal clothes all the time, and then you're standing there, sort of vacantly looking at them because that's where your head is pointing at the moment, and then your eyes drift down towards the floor (for no apparent reason), and you are startled to aqua-sock-looking orthopedic sandals the size of waffle irons strapped on this otherwise normal-looking woman's feet.  Did she just get back from a not-quite-barefoot hike on the beach and put her nice cardigan and pants on OVER these shoes?  Did she just have open-toe surgery??  I can't help but stare.  Or at least my eyes sort of pop out a little, before I quickly look away, in case she sees me, ogling her shoes.  What are you looking at?  uhhhh, you have...waffle irons on your feet.
They sort of jar me.  They hurt my eyes a little.  Do not mistake me:  I'm not a total fashion freak.  I don't read Vogue.  I don't follow trendy designers, or what the Kardashians have on their feet.  I don't even have TV.  But I know, I just...KNOW...that these shoes do not belong at the grocery store.
(do I even need to say how bad these look?  But I do wear these, every day, in the garden)
Here's an exercise to make my point.  Put on whatever you're wearing today, even if it's old jeans and a t-shirt.  Put on casual shoes.  NO, not those frumpy old sneakers that were great for P.E. in 1987.  Keds, maybe.  Or even a cute pair of flats.  Stand in front of a full-length mirror and view the whole outfit (you should do this every time you get dressed, too, but that's a topic for another time).  Now put on a pair of heels or cute sandals and check the mirror again.  Voila--whole different look! 

See? These are cute AND comfortable...
Now, take it to the next level:  Go put on your highest heels, the ones you wear when you want to rock a dress or an event, no matter how much they hurt, and check again.  See what I mean?  It's shallow, but cuter shoes will make you feel more confident, even in jeans and a t-shirt, I promise.  Try it.
...NOT this:  
I'm not saying you should hit Costco in 5" heels (though I've done it, and yes, it hurt).  But at least try a cute 2" wedge or a jeweled flip-flop.  My old wedding vendor/dressy occasions went without saying, and I definitely pulled out the 5" heels for those.  But I also drove home barefoot afterwards, and usually had flats in the car so I could, if need be, stop and grab milk on the way home without the suffering of high heels, but also without being that lady walking around the store in aqua-socks and a cocktail dress.  Because you know that's when you're going to run into the ex-boyfriend you haven't seen since highschool.  Awkward.  Then you have to talk fast and use lots of hand gestures, while standing behind an end-cap of on-sale BBQ sauce and hoping he doesn't look down.  OMG, do NOT look at my feet!

I. don't. even.--what? Is that horse-halter material??
I know that heels can be very painful to wear (yet, we wear them anyway).  I know that some people can NOT wear any kind of heel or non-supportive shoe, but I also know there are cute options out there.  Just please, leave the gym shoes at the gym (or in the car).  And, if it looks like it has tire-rubber anywhere on it...don't buy it to start with. 
Or, maybe I should just never look downEver--

On a P.S. note:  If you reading this and thinking Geez, lady, there are people in the world who can't afford a SINGLE PAIR of shoes, no matter what they look like; yes, I know that.  You're probably reading the wrong blog, if you came here thinking I'm trying to solve world issues.  The things I muse about here are, by nature, more or less shallow and fun, on purpose.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Things I Didn't Suck At This Year--The Garden in Review

It's still really nice out (86 today, oh yeah!), but being September, it always feels like the end of the garden season.  Maybe I should give myself a month, but here's a little update. 

Of course, as usual, I was insane to believe that I could get our whole property rehabilitated in ONE SEASON (ok, 3 actually...spring, summer, fall), but I have big dreams; it's a gift...which means I'm great at biting off more than I can ever chew.

This spring I was all like, by fall...this whole place will be totally turned around.  Well, reality called.  They want their facts checked.

Instead of beating myself up for the fact that the pond area still looks like THIS:
OMG are those ALL weeds?!??
...I'm focusing on what I DID get done.  See the super cool chicken house in the back of that picture, there, waiting to be unloaded by the old coop?  We had that built for the chicks, and we just painted it my favorite green, and it's totally awesome, so that's one accomplishment.  Check.

The rose garden has rampant black spot (no picture of that, but trust me, it's ugly), but I am still going to focus on what's good, so--  From a distance, the roses *look* great:

I did have to eventually get out the Daconil and spray the heck out of them, plus I sent the kids out to remove and trash any black spotted leaves (again?...we just did that...I thought we were going to the beach today).  There's still lots of spots, but I'm gaining on it.

I also broke down and sprayed 3 full backpack sprayers full of some very strong weed spray yesterday, so I covered the walkways, lawn beds, rose garden walkway, pond beds, gazebo area, and around the garden sheds, so hopefully that will start to look better, in 2-4 days...I have more of it, and I think I'll keep using it til it's gone, or the weeds are dead, or it snows, whichever comes first.  Should have used it earlier, but I'm such a procrastinator...and the beach was SO nice.

We started the new 12 chicks in the spring, and they are giant happy hens now.  The two banties turned out to be roosters, but they are too pretty to get rid of, so they have to just work it out, man.  We have been getting as many as 9 eggs a day from that batch already, which is earlier than ever.  I blame the roosters, but in a good way. 

See the cochin with feathery feet at left, and the classic English banty? Also, up close in the left bottom corner, is "Pearl", my overly friendly Americauna hen, totally photo bombing the shot.  LOL
I found a two-way street with aphids in the yard this year.  I didn't see any of them in the vegetable garden, for which I am eternally grateful.  Downside...the gallica roses were covered with aphids on all the new growth.  Normally I'd freak out about that, but I decided to let the roses take one for the team, and left them alone, and there are still none (not even one) in the vegetables, so...I guess that's good.  The cauliflower are broccoli are clean as a whistle, and if you grow those, you understand how great that is!

I also found a giant bald-faced hornet's nest in the tree on the walkway to the garden, which scared me quite a bit, because they're supposed to be very aggressive.  These ones seem pretty chill, so I let them stay, and I think they have actually been a help in the garden.  Plus I know that they'll be dead as soon as the frost hits, so we're good.  Their hive is so big I could rent it out as an apartment...

Scary and right by a walkway, but so far, we're just living in peace and waiting them out. When I mow lawn under this tree, though, I totally get the they're watching me.  It's bigger than a basketball!
I won't even go into the front yard, where nothing happened.  At. All.  I did get all excited and order $300 worth of fall bulbs to plant out there, way back in May, with the assumption that I would totally have the front yard dialed by September, all ready for new bulbs.  Ummm, that so did not happen, and now I have a giant shipment of bulbs on its way, and the beds they need to go in are still solid weeds and grown-in lawn grass.  I'm trying not to think about it yet...

On the plus side, I've gotten really good at what I call, uh..."weedeater landscaping", which is where I use the weedeater to trim, dead-head (and I use the term loosely) and weed, all in one fun step.  Like a one-woman DIY yard maintenance crew in a full-length ninja outfit, hat and sunglasses, to keep from being killed or permanently scarred by all the flying gravel. (I also hate weed-eating passionately, but there's no way around it except a flamethrower, and those are hard to find).  Did you know if you weed-eat really close to the ground inside flower beds, the green junk leftover from the weeds you just cut to dirt-level, looks like a green mulch.  :D  It's working for now, so give me a break, people...

Moving on.  Stay positive, woman.

The main bonus this year was the vegetable garden, where I really spent most of my time.  It went from this, in May:

to this, in July...

 To September!

I also forgot, when I planted 5,000 square feet of vegetables, that once they are ready to will be canning or freezing them, until they're done.  So, there's been some conflict of interest, between beach desire and vegetable needs.  I also hate canning at night, because that's our family time, and it makes me look like I didn't get anything done during the day, but it's worked out OK.  And, how could you not love THIS:

The best thing is that we are all healthier than ever because of all the wonderful food, and I feel connected to our land again in a way I haven't, since my 10-year detour into wedding cakes.  Also in the sense that I have some of it permanently embedded in my...heels... ack! Garden Feet!  Gross!  What the heck-- I have all these beautiful shoes, and now my feet look like I belong in a Dark Ages documentary...

I'm still working on getting the weeds knocked down around the pond, and the front needs pretty much a complete overhaul, but I'm trying to just enjoy what we did accomplish, and whatever didn't get done this year, can go on next year's To Do List.  Also, I'd be interested in your best offer on a used weed-eater.

Now, if you'll excuse me...I have a giant basket of carrots to peel and can before it gets too much nicer out today, because we had to pick them ALL to save them from the moles after we realized they were mysteriously disappearing...underground.  Buggers.

As soon as that's done, I'm taking a Mike's and my book and going out to lay in the sun and enjoy every second of this lovely still-hot September day.  Because I can rock a blanket on the lawn like nobody's business!    ;)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reserving the Right to Refuse Service, Part 2--We need Yelp for Vendors

Not to rant.  Ok, yes, it's to rant.  But seriously, these PEOPLE.

I'm not even going to go into details, but just let's say, in general, that rude customers deserve their own, right back.  I've said it before, but they just won't give up.

I just had the rudest email from an ex-customer.  I won't go into the back story, because it's longer even than is ok here. 

Suffice it to say, I don't want their business, and I *may* or *may not* have implied this to someone who knows them, because they had him call me (poor guy) to ask me why they couldn't get through to me to place an order.  (what is this, junior high?)  I didn't name names, and neither did he.  He simply said he had 'friends' who couldn't get through on my phone, and I simply said that yes, that could be true, and that sometimes there are people who we decide not to do business with, for various reasons; hence, I don't answer the phone for them.  So, if they aren't getting through...there's probably a reason. 

Ok, so I am totally going into the back story a bit, but you GUYS, this is SO annoying!!

I should also point out clearly here names were mentioned.  He didn't say who he was calling about (or for), and I didn't say who I was referring to, just "some people".  So technically we weren't even discussing this actual person, except that he must have told them what I said, and they immediately jumped right to the conclusion that I was talking about them.  Hmm.  Now, why would she so quickly assume that I meant her and her husband, unless she already had it in her head that, yes, there had been a problem there.  Why would you call a business back, when you already don't like them?  So many things to wonder...

So this woman, who I'll call Barbara, which *may* or *may not* be her name, writes me a long email about how they weren't happy with our service or our product last year, (even though we took her 25% more for free, of what they had ordered, in an effort to bend over backwards and give them what they wanted, even though they GOT what they ordered, but I digress.)  She said that she can't believe we would just 'decide we don't like her and that we won't do business with her' (I'm lost me...what don't you understand about that?).  Then she went on to say that she knows a lot of people, and you know the saying, a happy customer tells 10 people and an unhappy one tells 100 people.

It got me thinking (ranting, whatever) about some possible responses:

1.  Dear Barbara--Well, if I count as #1, and your neighbor who called me counts as #2, you have 98 to go, so I'd get busy.  It's exhausting, I know, because I just told 5 people what a hag you are, and let me tell you, I'm already tired of telling the story, and I'll probably have that martini earlier tonight.  So, thanks for that.

2.  Dear Barbara--Thanks for your promise to tell everyone about me.  I promise to do the same, and I will tell all my vendor friends your name, address, and phone number and what a bitchy customer you are, so they'll be sure and watch out for you, too.  Game on, sweetie.

3.  Dear Barbara--Maybe it's just me, but if *I* told 100 people the same "horror story" about a vendor who 'told me they won't do business with me', I'm thinking that most of them would think a) you're obsessing a bit, or b) you must be a REALLY bad customer, if a vendor had to TELL you they won't work with you.  Your mileage may vary, and of course, if the 100 people are your friends, they might just roll their eyes and go, oh, you know, that's Barbara for you.  Always going off about yet another business who doesn't meet her standards. 

4.  Dear Barbara--Since you were too obtuse to get the message, when I didn't return your multiple voicemails, and I repeatedly finally actually had to answer and then hang up my phone on you, so you couldn't get through, and you STILL didn't get it.  Yes, Barbara, I feel that sometimes people have to use words to convey a message.  So read closely, and I'll keep the words small for you: I. won't. do. business. with. you.  You country and all...

6. Dear Barbara--Please do tell all your friends. If they're like you, we don't want their money either.

7. Dear Barbara--Seeing as how your friend who called only said he had "friends" who couldn't get through, and I simply said that yes, we do sometimes decide not to do business with certain people...I find it sort of...revealing...that you so immediately assumed I meant YOU. (The self-centeredness of some people-- really). I can only guess that this means you already felt that there was a problem here, so again, why would you so persistently try to order from us? Either way, the game is up. An email that rude can only do one thing: clearly reinforce the fact that I was right not to take your call.

8.  Dear Barbara--Thank you for your expert analysis of my customer service, and for confirming that my gut instinct that you are a nasty, rude person to deal with was highly accurate--it's good to know I'm so insightful.  I have blocked your email address, and I look forward to never hearing from you again ever.

9. Dear Barbara---I have signed you up for 10 times more of what you didn't like last year, for this year. We can deliver that tomorrow at 4 a.m. Your total is $3709.98. We accept cash and coin only, so if you could please be sure to go to the bank today and withdraw the exact change in bills, in denominations no larger than a $20, we'd appreciate that. Also the 0.98 needs to have no quarters in it. We will call you an hour and a half before delivery, several times, to make sure you're really awake when the dump truck arrives. You might also want to let your neighbors know, because a loud dump truck unloading at 4 a.m. is usually not what most people want outside their bedroom window, but we could call and let them know that you don't care what they think.  That's just a service we offer, and they'll appreciate that you thought of them.

10.  Dear Barbara--While the general intent of your message came through, albeit possibly without having the desired effect you were hoping for (laughing and blocking your email were probably not what you intended), I found the composition and punctation to be so lacking that it really made the whole email seem less...I don't know...cohesive.  In the future, if you're trying to sound ominous and rude instead of immature and bitchy, please try and use periods and capitalization a little more often.  Like, at all, really. 

Thanks, dear reader, for listening. 

I love that I can get all this off my chest somewhere besides just ranting to Shane about it, because it's his birthday today and Lord knows I don't want to be all, can you believe what this woman just said?!? right now while he's trying to enjoy his Day. 

Seriously, though, I really, really, really DO think that, since customers get to go out there and use our (businesses) names, phone numbers, addresses, etc., to have their say, right or wrong, about what they think of our service, whether it's deserved or not, then we as businesses should have a platform where we can do the same.  Post their name, address, phone number, maybe a picture, and let other vendors know...hey, this lady is a freak.  Nothing you do will please her, so don't bother.  She will only cost you aggravation, time, and money, and will then still write you a bad review.  We could call it Velp. 

And just for reference, dear vendors and customer service professionals--if you're getting these kind of customers in your face, and it's actually, truly just them (if it's you, then yeah, you need to work on that, but sometimes, they're just nasty because it's how they ARE), then here's a thought:  You don't have to put UP with that crap.

People need to be made aware that if they scream and threaten and stomp their feet and act like a spoiled brat, then we can simply refuse to deal with them. There are people out there who actually pride themselves on being rude to wait staff, cashiers, clerks, etc., and this needs to stop.  There are also people who plan to complain, so they will get free stuff while vendors bend over backwards to "make them happy" so they won't (God forbid) complain.  Well, surprise--it's my phone, and if you yell at me and curse and condescend, I will absolutely hang up on you.  Take that nonsense somewhere else.

I know, groundbreaking.  Velp.  Who's with me?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More Polish?--Some Family History Musings

A remembered conversation from when my youngest was little, and some family history. 

Possibly the ship my great-grandfather arrived on, c. early 1900s
My mom's grandparents (all four of them) immigrated to the US from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary from the late 1800s to early 1900s, the men as coal miners.  Both her grandfathers were killed in coal mining accidents, which may explain why I extremely dislike caves...

Her parents (my grandparents) spoke Polish to each other when they needed to keep things secret (like which kid did something embarrassing at school, or what they got the kids for Christmas).  I so wish we had kept this a tradition--whyyyy don't I speak Polish?!? but, then...Shane doesn't, so that would be totally weird and not useful.  Or, I could just talk to myself and be all muttering in Polish in the corner about messy bedrooms and laundry piles.  Yeah, that could be useful...


We always have tried to instill in our kids at least some sense of family heritage (except the language part.  Not that I'm bitter.  Thanks for nothing, Grandpa), so we have always made traditional Polish foods for holidays, or sometimes just because we like Polish food.  Hence, my family is used to, and loves to eat, potato pierogi, borscht, stuffed cabbage, babka, potato pancakes, cucumber salad, and Polish sausage with homemade saurkraut (which I'm canning today as I write this; maybe that's what triggered the memory).  Many of the recipes I use, came from my greatgrandmother and/or my mom's aunts (my great aunts? second aunts? Whatever, anyway, they're OLD), and they're definitely going in The Book (the cookbook project).  In fact, I think we're making stuffed cabbage tomorrow...maybe potato pierogi... *staring off into dreamy space for a minute*..

...Ok, I'm back.

My original point is, that once when the kids were little, we were talking about my family being Polish, and which relatives, way back, were *all* Polish (as in, full-blooded, purebred, non-English-speaking, from the Old Country, yada yada).  And I was like, so, if my mom's all Polish, then I'm half Polish, and you guys (my kids) Polish. 

My youngest (who was probably 8 or so at the time) asked, "So, when we get bigger, will we be more Polish?" 

I love how kids think. 

I also love that the girls actually want to learn to speak Polish, but figuring the cost of the Rosetta Stone language course, the fact that only maybe 3 of the 4 members of our family might try to learn it, and the fact that there's not a huge, uh, call for Polish-speaking college students out there, right now, in the work force, I'm leaning towards, sorry, but the heritage thing's dying out.  It would cost us like $100.00 per "good morning" or "nyet" or whatever, and that would just be disappointing.

Which reminds me...I asked my mom about this once.  Like, why, why, didn't your parents teach you kids the language?!  They grew up speaking it every day.  You heard it every day.  Your grandparents didn't speak English at all.  Why wouldn't they teach their kids their own language?  Her answer was simple, and sort of sad.  She grew up in the 1940s and 50s, and in post-War America, it didn't *do* to seem too...foreign.  Especially Polish. 

I don't they seem like immigrant babushkas to you?

My paternal great-grandmother, Bertha (a.k.a. Boleslawa), who never spoke English.  I wish I could see the colors in the curtains behind her...! but she kind of scares me a little...

My maternal great-grandmother, Mary Simulcik, with one of my mom's aunts and one of her cousins, who looks eerily like one of our own kids at the same age, fast-forwarded to 2000.  I mean, seriously--like Photoshop weird.  Mary looks like a lot more fun than Bertha, though, and she has a cute dog, but...I'm a little concerned about the backdrop.  That is so 1935.  Is that the house?  And what are they standing on?  Maybe it's the plank for the door...

Shane looks at these pictures and is like, "Wow, babe.  You don't exactly come from a family of...lookers, do you?"   ow.

Well, at least they weren't going hungry, though, by the look of it--

Also, is there a genetic tendency to this body shape?  Ok, I'm digressing...

Anyway--the last thing my grandparents wanted was for their kids to be labeled un-American, or foreign-looking or -sounding.  My mom actually got a hard time from her in-laws (my other grandparents, New Jersey society folks, who definitely cared about this stuff), that she looked un-American.  Foreign.  She wasn't blond, with a name like Muffy Buffington, of the Boston Buffingtons.  She didn't play tennis or ride show jumpers.  I think she was cute anyway:

My mom (looking at camera) with her two sisters, Ocean City, NJ, c. 1958

Not surprisingly, her parents specifically didn't teach their kids to speak Polish at all.  They wanted them all to just seem...American.  I understand it.  I'm all for us being a melting pot country, albeit with a single, common language (don't get me started on the "Please learn English if you want to stay here" topic), but I'm also all for carrying on and keeping family roots alive, within families.

So, it's cute that my grandparents spoke in Polish for secrets and in their Christmas cards to each other, but at the same time, it's sad that we lost that language in our family.  Hmm.  I'm not sure I'm OK with that, but I feel like it's too late to learn Polish, so I guess my girls will have to settle for being *less* Polish after all. 

Here's one of the only pictures I have, of our whole all-American, hippied-out family with my mom's parents.  They came to visit us in Idaho in 1978, a year into our "back to nature" move, which is a story for another time.

  Grandma Josephine, mom holding my bro (who's like, 3--is it me or is he too big to be carried?), aunt Patty, aunt Dobi, Grandpa Stanley holding my cousin Oona, and my dad.  That's me on the bike, totally rocking the plaidest bell-bottoms ever.  And of course, now I'm going nuts trying to figure out, WHAT is on my shirt?

Late p.s.:  Is it me, or does 8-year-old me resemble my great-grandma Bertha a little?  yipes