Two Parts Nauseating Holiday Craft, Plus One Part Craft Disaster…The Beginning

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The theme for last Christmas was hand crafting with love. Some things worked out fantastically, and others…well…lets just say they were made with lots of love but not so much craft!

Let’s go back to the beginning; namely, our first decision as Krafty Kris Kringles. We had to choose a gift for Mom & Dad and Ian & Deborah that we could actually make from scratch. After some perusing of the Interwebs, we settled upon shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars. Of course, as often happens in life, one decision begets even more decisions, and in this case, those decisions had to do with figuring out what flavor combinations to pursue. We ultimately settled on three:

  • Blood Orange & Basil with Champagne Vinegar
  • Raspberry with Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Kiwi, Lemon & Rosemary with champagne Vinegar

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We used fresh fruit for the first and third, while the middle beverage was created with frozen Oregon berries.

There are two general methods for shrub making: cold and hot. We chose the former, which involves macerating the fruit with sugar for a few days in the fridge, straining it, and then mixing the resulting liquid with the right amount of vinegar. Then you return them to the icebox (or not) to meld for a bit. (The hot method involves cooking the fruits to make a syrup. Surprisingly, the cold method is supposed to yield stronger fruit flavors.)

In reality, for us, that was the easy part. The difficult part had to do with bottling, which completely took over our kitchen — from the boiling of bottles, to the drying of bottles in our dishwasher, to star san-ing the bottles so no one would die after sampling our wares. The two biggest items we had that I hadn’t considered before we began: a) We had a giant stock/canning pot, uber handy; and b) We had a dishwasher, which was maybe the most important thing for staging the bottles upside down at various points of the process. Most handy tip we read.

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After bottling, we ginned up these cute (if we may say so) little booklets for each flavor that included information on the concoction and a recipe/cocktail suggestion. With marketing collateral complete, we packed the shrubs with paired beverages (like Prosecco, sparkling water, and some mixologist elixirs) in a wine box and put them under the tree.

What was our favorite? I would have to say the blood orange poured into a little agua con gas. Tres refreshing!

Lessons Learned:

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  1. We were doing this in winter, so citrus was in season, which isn’t typical for shrub making, but we were very happy with the results.
  2. If you are going to infuse with an herb, take it out after the first day, or maybe submerge it in the fruit mixture with a cheesecloth so it doesn’t get icky.
  3. Straining the raspberries took a lot of work, and a lot of cheesecloth.
  4. We started with the basic recipe proportions of 1 part sugar to 1 part fruit to 1 part vinegar. However, when it came time to add the vinegar, we adjusted the amount based on the strength of the flavors in the fruit base.
  5. Everyone had their own preference for how much shrub they liked when creating a drink. The citrus flavors were definitely more delicate and I used a higher concentration of those when mixing them.

I Know that Floating Shouldn’t Be Competitive, But…

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“Wow, you made it the whole 90 minutes…Generally, a first time floater only makes it an hour.”

I couldn’t help but feel inordinately pleased when I heard these words, all the while resisting the urge to fist pump my triumph, which would have been unseemly for so many reasons, and completely not in the spirit of the experience.

My birthday treat this year? Deprivation — sensory deprivation, that is. I have always wanted to try one of those devices where you float in a tank with no sound, no light, and no movement, just me suspended in some super salty saline. So after a bit’o Internet searchin’, I came up with Mudra Massage, where they not only had a float tank, but they also practiced Ashiatsu massage:

“If you’re in need of deep tissue work, but don’t enjoy the discomfort of pointy elbows and thumbs, then Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy® is the treatment for you. Ashiatsu is a barefoot massage technique in which the therapist delivers deep, broad, consistent pressure while utilizing their feet and body weight.”

We had a winner! Sensory deprivation and then someone walking around on my back. Perfect.

I showed up for my appointment having followed their admonishments not to shave (my kinda place), drink caffeine, or get a tattoo prior to my float. I was ushered into a room with a shower and a giant pod that looked something like an astronaut return-to-earth space capsule. They gave me a few instructions, like where to place my head (near the fresh air input) and to relax my neck and shoulders (first time floaters will often tense to lift their head just a tiny bit to avoid the sensation of drowning).

Then it was just me, the shower, and the space capsule.

After a body wash, it was time to get in. Buck naked, I stepped into the hatch, gingerly, because it was super slippery, and lowered myself to my knees. Using the interior handle, I swung the hatch door down while simultaneously, and unceremoniously, falling onto my butt, enveloping myself in total, complete and utter darkness.

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With a gentle recline, I lowered my back into the water until I was suspended in the briny solution, my head pushed down and my ears fully submerged. I could see nothing and I could hear only my breathing and the sound of my own heartbeat.

My first fluster had to do with where to put my hands. If I placed them along my hips, the buoyancy of the water would push my shoulders into an aggressive shrug — not comfortable at all. When I flipped my hands up and opened my arms wide, the edges of my fingers would brush up against the sides of the tank, which ruined the feeling of weightlessness. Finally, I raised my hands over my head — BINGO! Comfort at last. I figured, at that point, I would relax right into it and enter a Zen-like state.

Nope. No Zen-like state.

Instead, I started thinking about the return air. I wondered if it was working and how I would know if it wasn’t? I started thinking that it might be good to monitor myself for carbon monoxide poisoning…then I began trying to remember what the symptoms were and wished I had a “floating buddy” like I used to have when diving, to keep an eye out for nitrogen narcosis. This led to an entire fantasy about how it would make an interesting death in a James Bond movie to have a villain in a deprivation tank. A crow bar through the handles on the outside and the person inside wouldn’t be able to leave. Then you plug off the exterior air return…a horrible slow death in the space capsule.

As you can imagine, these lines of contemplation were not leading to a relaxing experience.

After what I estimate to be about 45 minutes of obsessive “I am going to die in the space capsule” thoughts, I began to have a mini hot flash. Game over. I decided to open the tank so that cool air could wash over my face. I sat up, and experienced a momentary bit of panic because I couldn’t locate the interior hatch handle! (I had turned in the tank and was not facing entirely forward.) A short burst of pawing in the dark and I pinpointed the handle, pushed it free of the capsule, and propped it open enough to gulp down some refreshing air.

As good as it felt to spring that hatch, to be honest, it also seemed that my need to burst free was somehow cheating…the process…me…I’m not sure. How silly is that?

A minute or two later, I returned to the tank. And what a difference that break made.

I laid back and immediately entered a Zen state, experiencing crazy physical hallucinations. There was a long stretch of time where I would have sworn I was a suspended in a giant bowl of jello…and I would occasionally gently press down on the water, and enjoy moving in the jiggling jello. At other times, I woke myself up with a snore or with body twitches. And later, I believed 100% I was laying on my bed — that there was something physically underneath me more substantial and much harder than the water. And perhaps it was the salt drying on my stomach, but soon after that, I swore a blanket had been thrown over the top of me.

These sensations were not alarming, rather I marveled at them.

This second half of floating literally flew by, until I was brought out of my Zen slumber by soft music emanating from the bottom of the tank. (I bet the astronauts didn’t have that.)

Would I do it again? I don’t know. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Was it a great birthday experience? Yeppers.

And of course, now I’m going to have to talk Tom and the Zs into trying it too!

I Have to Get Up at What Time…and on my Birthday?

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As my birthday is nigh, I have decided to reflect on my celebration last year.

For those of you who know me well, you would all agree it’s not an exaggeration to say that I am really really really not a morning person. As a result, you can understand Tom’s nervousness when he inquired whether it would ruin my birthday if he planned a surprise which involved getting up very early. In the spirit of our trying something new — spending time together instead of spending moolah on a bunch of crap we don’t need — I couldn’t exactly say no.

So I grudgingly agreed to be rousted early on the anniversary of my birth.

The day started with a quick breakfast and advice to dress for a sporting activity. We headed down to the car and I found it was pre-packed with our bikes. Hmmmm. Where are we going, I wondered? (I didn’t bother to ask, as he wouldn’t have told me.)

It was a shockingly gorgeous morning, after days of rain, in late May. And even though it was o;earlysunrise, I truly felt happy to be driving to parts unknown without having had to organize a thing.

Eventually we made it to our destination: The Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail in Mosier, Oregon. I have to say that it is absolutely crazy that this used to be Highway 30, high atop the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, upon which drivers traversed east/west to and from Portland in automobiles. I mean crazy. It barely seems an adequate width as a bike trail, much less being suitable for vehicles.

But the views were amazing, the tunnels fantastic, and the different climate zones pretty cool.

The only part that sucked is that I own a no-gear, sit-straight-up, white-wall-tired, beach bike that weighs about a thousand pounds. So even though the climbing on this ride was not overly steep by most measures, on a super heavy bike with no gears, well, let’s just say that Tom got me up early and treated me to a sweatfest of a workout for my birthday!

But, it came with a homemade lunch, lovely vistas, and lots of love. So it was one of the best birthdays ever! Thanks babe (Official blog thanks, a year late!)

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[Click on photos to enlarge.]

Zelda’s First Protest, Rocking it Portland Style

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What’s a Portland Mom to do when her husband and oldest daughter are away in Medford for a soccer tournament during Memorial Day weekend? Why take her youngest daughter out to experience her first protest, of course!

In the spirit of protesting GMOs and Monsanto, Zelda and I armed ourselves with art supplies, constructed a few homemade posters (pictured above) and repaired to the Lloyd District for some Democracy in action. And, we would be remiss if we didn’t credit Alexander Rokoff for giving us permission to use some of his images from the War on Nature painting series. A huge thank you, Alex, because everyone loved that sign! (Click to enlarge and see the sign on the left inspired by his art work.)

After finishing our stint, I filmed the melee that was the finish line, condensing it down into moments that were memorable for us, including:

  • For my parents, the bee protestors. At 11 seconds.
  • Dude in sunglasses, shorts, and backward baseball cap who takes off running, flips a double bird, and yells, “Fuck Monsanto!” At 15 seconds.
  • The cute older lady with the dog that Zelda and I met riding the streetcar to the protest. At 20 seconds.
  • The guy in the construction/hazmat suit finding love. At 26 seconds.
  • The mad scientists. At 40 seconds.
  • The woman with the pig snout and the bunny ears. At 45 seconds.
  • The Portlandia exacta…a protestor in pajamas (there’s always someone running around in PJs in Portland), and a circus performer contact juggling crystal balls (another Portland staple). At 56 seconds.
  • Alexander Rokoff admirers digging his artwork on our sign. At 1:07 minutes.
  • Requisite drum led chanters. At 1:30 minutes.
  • Protest selfie!! At 1:51 minutes.
  • Matching hazmat suits for this couple. At 2:02 minutes.
  • Corporate exploitation of protest to expose hot thirsty walkers to yerba mate drink. (Which, incidentally, tasted nothing like a real yerba mate.) At 02:14 minutes.
  • Wonderful woman with retro camera documenting us documenting the event. At 02:19 minutes.
  • Free chalk! At 02:27 minutes.

Home Homework is Baaaaack!

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I thought we were safe from intense home projects that parents inevitably get dragged into because both Zs had entered middle school. But, no. Just when I thought it was safe to get back in the water, Zoe, of all people, came home this school year with two large-ish home projects. (Again, belated thank yous to my Mum for all the dioramas she built for me — she was so good!)

The first project was a poster (whew, right up my alley, I’m queen of the posters). Zoe and a friend had to do a social studies assignment in Spanish about ancient China. Awesome! Unfortunately, they spent all day researching and dithering as to what their ultimate topic was going to be, not settling on Wu ZeTian until the 11th hour. Ms. Wu’s story was fascinating and we had some great discussions about her rise from a lower level concubine to essentially ruling all of China from 660 to 705, after her husband was debilitated by a stroke. (Tom and I certainly didn’t know squat about the only female ruler of Imperial China, so Zoe and her friend taught us a lot.)

Of course, the earnest 8th graders didn’t budget much time for the poster building, so it was rather hectic at the end. They did a great job constructing a timeline and describing various elements of her life in Spanish, which can be enlarged upper left.

The second project was very unusual. Zoe was studying medieval times and was supposed to do a project, any project, to demonstrate something from that era. She is an awesome catapult constructor, so she decided to build a working catapult, since they were used to lay siege during battles.

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It seemed a little bland by itself, so at the 11th hour (noticing a theme here), Zoe decided to build a paper castle that she could storm with the ping pong ball flinging catapult. You can see them both here. (Click to enlarge.) I have to say, I really love the scale of the catapult compared to the castle. This is truly a medieval warmongers dream (and, apparently, an 8th grader’s).

Zoe got a high mark for this project because her social studies teacher LOVED the catapult. Zoe had opted for a ping pong ball to be politically correct. But the teacher, who kept it for months, was wont to fling rocks and other heavy items across the room. And over time, people would add to it, stabilize it, put stiffer rubber bands on it…it really took on a life of its own!

Who knew?

The key to getting an A in social studies: construct working catapult.

Zoe Pong!

Zoe went to #OSCON (Open Source Convention) in Portland this July, attending a robotics camp for girls. Since most of the stuff they worked on with Lego Mindstorms she had already done at home, she found the most thrilling element of the conference to be swag acquisition.

She came home with bags of t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, and strangely, a ping pong ball. Yes, a ping pong ball. And not just any ping pong ball! This one came complete with a picture of a little masked ninja face on the side, as you can see in the picture above.

One day, this ball provided her with a flash of boredom-relieving inspiration, and she announced, “I am going to make ping pong paddles.”

“Please don’t,” I pleaded, picturing that ill gotten little ball ricocheting around our apartment, and then into my head. By accident, of course.

Big surprise, Zoe ignored me, and with some tongue depressors, paper, and duct tape, she made two ping pong paddles. Amazingly, they functioned perfectly to allow for a robust game of Zoe Pong on our dining room table, since the paddles absorbed enough of the ball’s velocity to allow the game to scale down just the right amount. I hate to admit it, but both Tom and I became big fans of Zoe Pong, and had some epic matches ourselves! (Okay, we don’t officially keep score. We get so competitive, it could get a little too heated!)

After Tom, the Zs and I all took a turn, we agreed unanimously: “Ian is going to love this!” You can see him taking some shots in the picture here!

Bruise Wheels, Black Eyes & Totally Disgusting Weeping Open Wounds!

We were excited this year when Maker Faire came to Portland, albeit in mini form! The kids enjoyed watching the watermelon launched by the giant catapult with the fancy french name…trebuchet! They made some adorable animals out of sculpting chocolate, pedal-powered their own smoothies on some bicycle blenders, and, of course, went in for some obligatory faire face painting.

Only in this case, it was Trackers style. Yes, that’s right. Trackers, or what I call hippie survival camp, which the Zs love. (The girls said they do a zombie apocalypse camp, how cool is that?)

Anyhow, Trackers had a booth at Mini Maker Faire and they were doing some awesome horrorfilmesque face painting that was a draw for old and young alike. Truth be told, it was a bit strange to see wee little tots in line for fake wounds and bruising!

Of course, the girls were instantly smitten with the concept, and placed themselves in line as Tom wandered off to peruse a few uber geeky booths we might find boring.

Zoe quickly made it to the front of the line (the artist was fast), plunked down in the chair and declared, “I would like an open cut on my arm.” The makeup whiz asked me if I had a kleenex, which I did not. But a bystander offered what I hope was an unused napkin, which she declared, “Perfect!”

This Michelangelo of the Macabre ripped a piece of the napkin, placed it on Zoe’s arm, and then sealed it to Zoe’s skin with liquid latex, leaving a line through the center raised and unattached to Zoe. Then, she began to color over it with her makeup brush from a circular palette she called her “bruise wheel!” It looked shockingly real very quickly, the napkin appearing to be peeled back layers of skin.

The icing on the cake, if you will, came when she split open the raised bit of napkin and filled the resulting trough with her special concoction of fake blood (a formulation of chocolate syrup, corn syrup and food coloring). It was disgusting, as you can see in the staged pictures below.

Zelda was next on the docket, and she requested a black eye. The makeup whiz whipped that thing out in a mere minute or two, explaining in detail to Zelda how the bones shatter and the resulting bruise pattern that occurs with a hard strike to the eye socket.

“I don’t know how to do pretty makeup,” she chatted with Zelda. “When I got married, my friends had to do do all the princess work…I only know how to do the scary stuff!”

With my disturbingly wounded lovelies in tow, we set off to find Tom.

It didn’t take long for the tall guy to spot us from a distance, his face lighting up when he saw us approaching. As we came into focus though, his hand went to his heart and he visibly staggered upon seeing the girls, so realistic was the effect. I thought he was going to have a heart attack, which, naturally, was a bonus in the eyes of our darling children!

The walk back to the car drew a lot of shocked glances and outright gawking. Clearly the highlight of Maker Faire for the Zs, and also an interesting experience, to see how fellow pedestrians interacted with their injured selves.

My View During Geometry…

This is the beach of my late childhood. The beach I could see from my high school geometry class, the one that would mesmerize me into a catatonic state, causing me to lose my train of thought…

Was that interior alternate angles are equal…?

This is the beach where my best friends and I skipped off to during the wind and rain of winter, dodging out on a practice run to go swimming in the cold ass Pacific Ocean, plowing into the surf in our shorts, t-shirts, and knee-high sports socks.

When my New Jersey-born husband first visited the Oregon Coast with me, he couldn’t believe my high school was located directly across the street from such gorgeousness.

Tom still laughs about his inaugural sojourn to the beach of my childhood. We walked toward the sea from my parents’ place, located roughly a quarter mile from the dunes and grasses, emerging onto some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen.

I looked left, I looked right, and said…”I can’t believe it…it’s so crowded!

Now, you have to remember that Tom’s childhood coastal experiences were more along the lines of the Jersey Shore, where a body is hard pressed to find visible bits of sand in the crush of humanity that congregates there.

So, as you can imagine, he found my attitude particularly funny.

Uhm, Michele…there are…what…about five people here?!?

I know…I can’t believe it,” I responded, with no small amount of outrage.

It is lovely for the Zs that this is now the beach of their childhood. They freeze themselves in the water, swimming until their lips are blue. They roll around in the sand (still) until their ears are full of its multi-colored grains. They scramble over the huge piles of driftwood left by surging storms.

Luckily though, they don’t have the resulting drop in mathematical thinking that often accompanied my connection to the beach!

Right…Now, I Feel We’re in Yosemite!

I found myself quite happy with the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite, where we were staying, but I couldn’t help but wonder when we might see the iconic granite slabs of rock and stunning vistas that I had always associated with this national treasure of a park.

It turns out, all we had to do was follow the rest of the fam from the Merced Grove of Sequoias back to the valley floor, to find those very views. The winding road carved into the rugged mountains led us to gorgeous lookouts, such as the long range view of Half Dome, below left. A thunderstorm was gathering and the smell of dust kissed by moisture was thick in the air. The foreground of the lookout was so picture perfect, I almost felt I was on a movie set with lovingly faux finished Styrofoam rocks!

As we continued to follow the switchbacked pavement downward to the river, there were magnificent mountains of black granite across the canyon from our car’s path, which are shown in the center photo below. Without anything to indicate scale, it almost looks like a closeup, instead of the massive stone formation it actually is! Such beautiful lines.

And, as we neared our final destination (dinner with Ian, Deborah and my parents), we were met with evening light, a waterfall, tumultuous clouds, green green grass…a perfect moment. The graceful outlines of these multicolored rock edifices on the valley floor were breathtaking (pix are above left and below right).

Now we’re talking, I thought…this is the Yosemite of my mind’s eye.

Now That’s a Big F#%$ing Tree! (Or, Those are Some Tiny People!)

This is me throwing down the gauntlet at Evergreen Lodge: “I need a trail that is halfway between here and Yosemite Valley, that won’t be packed even though it’s June, and isn’t too hard or too easy.”

Their recommendation, without hesitation, was the Merced Sequoia grove accessed from the Highway 120 entrance to the park. “A smaller grove,” they said, “but it is the least traveled Sequoia trail in the park.”

Bingo! We had a winner. Zelda, the rest of the fam and I set a date to commune with some of the oldest living things on earth on a 3 mile round trip jaunt on what we here in the Pacific Northwest would call a loggin’ road.

These mighty trees did not disappoint. So much so, in fact, that we quickly realized it was impossible to truly capture the scale of this mammoth flora without wee little folks in our photographs for comparison. For instance, in the picture above left, you don’t really process how big the trees are until you notice the positively ant-like Zelda and Deborah at the foot of a mighty Sequoia on the left.

Their bark was a vibrant shade of rusty orange and it felt almost like a padded coconut, fibery and airy at the same time.

All in all, a fantastic outing…well, except for the fact that this hike was 100 percent uphill on the way home. We were sweaty and hot…but still happy to have had such a solitary experience in the Merced Grove.