Friday, October 10, 2014

ModLodge Prog

It makes sense that the room in our house that needs the most help is also the one consuming my thoughts and giving me bursts of inspiration. It does not make sense that so little actual progress has been made.

First there was the new black and white rug (now filthy and in need of replacement), then the white bar stool which I bought from Ikea so the two stools would be matching heights, and then, of course, the fireplace I painted. Not a total waste of the last year, but really disappointing when you consider what might have been.

In the months leading up to the new baby, I've tried to make myself aware of the ticking clock, in hopes it would motivate me to finish another task or two. It worked just the tiniest bit.

For one thing, I decided to do the whole room in grasscloth wallpaper. Why wallpaper? Because my only experience with it thusfar was a total blast. Why grasscloth? Because it costs three times as much as regular wallpaper.

But moreover, the results tend to be stunning.

As a wallpaper novice, it didn't take long for me to realize I wasn't actually sure where someone would go to buy wallpaper. The next time we were at Home Depot for whatever reason (there are literally thousands), I asked one of the employees to direct me to wallpaper section. He pointed me toward the back, past the lighting department. I searched aisle after aisle, not seeing any sort of wallpaper display.  I flagged down a different employee, who told me Home Depot only carries wallpaper online. I fought the urge to rat out the lying first employee who clearly had no soul.

Next, I went to online wallpaper stores and after perusing a few, I decided to order some samples at $4.95 a pop. Yes, you have to pay for them. Who knew?

After collecting 4 in my cart, I went to place my order online but kept receiving error messages or having the next page fail to load... the usual defects with online shopping that make you wonder if you have ordered 0 items or placed the same order 9 times over. I gave up and called the 800 number provided for help.

I expected the typical, tangible-yet-indescribable feel of a call center phone call. Instead as the line was answered on the other end, I could hear a muffled voice say, "Okay then I'll see you later," and then one of those drawn out diinnng donnng chimes you might set off walking through the entrance of a bait shop or a country dairy. Apparently I was calling... a place?

The woman on the other end sounded middle aged and kind. I read off my order, item number by item number, while she wrote it down. "Let me just get a pen, dear." Then I heard her input it into the cash register. It didn't go so far as to make the cha-ching noise, but it definitely had the unmistakeable beep beep beep of the keypad and an audible receipt printer. There was something delightfully retro about ordering anything over the phone, particularly wallpaper samples. I half expected her to offer to fax me a receipt.

Nearly two full weeks went by before the envelope of samples arrived.

Naturally you're seeing what I'm seeing, which is that the blue one is amazing. It's just so vibrant and daring. And, I mean, come on. Look at this potential!

I couldn't get Devin to see my point about this. The best he could do was concede, "Well, I think it's too much but if you feel strongly about it go ahead..." which is the most obvious trap I've ever heard in my life.

Instead I tried to get behind the two beige/tan options, not including this preposterous one I ordered to compare the difference between faux grasscloth and the real thing.

One night after some friends came over to watch Bachelor in Paradise, I had them weigh in on which of the two shades I should choose. (Seen here as top right and bottom right)

The crowd unanimously elected the lighter shade. I felt strongly about the dark. I think the general opinion was something like, "The darker shade will make it look like it was just gross old paper that was here when you moved in. At least with the lighter one it kind of looks like you did it on purpose."

Because everyone involved so far is clearly confused, I've put the wallpaper project on hold until I can make up my mind. (Blue! Blue! Blue!)

In the meantime, I can always make pillows.

Look at this magnificent set.

The green couch, which is actually a futon, lived in Oscar's room until we got him a real, official big boy bed. Then, it was moved to the Mod Lodge, displacing the chairs and resulting in a not-at-all final furniture arrangement. I'm not crazy about the green, but this is the only futon cover I've ever encountered that's truly reminiscent of upholstery. I've shopped around for others and turned up nothing. Plus, this is an Ikea futon which means it's some nonstandard size and if I ever bought a different cover it would turn out to be two feet too wide in one direction, and 5 inches too short in the other. So, for now it stays.

Anyway, the pillows. Aren't they great? They were the outcome of an afternoon of hard work by my friend Michelle and I. She picked up all the fabric for me while she was out getting her own fabric needs met. It started off with her texting me pictures, then it turned into a full on Facetime call with her leading me through the store. Aren't we just a couple of tech-loving millennials?!

Then she came to my house with fabric and kalamata olive dip. We ran out to Jo-Anns to buy 4 pillow forms in varying sizes. And I also planned to cover two longer, rectangular pillows that came with the futon.

Once we set to work, it took like two hours to figure out the first pillows because I sort of forgot how to use my sewing machine. One unexpectedly thrilling outcome of this experimental phase is that we realized we didn't have quite enough fabric to make the backs of both large pillows, so I subbed in a different pattern for one of the flaps.

I wish I was smart enough to say I did this on purpose. I love it.

After Michelle left I told myself I would have to make all of the remaining pillows right then and there because if I shoved the sewing machine back in the closet and set aside the fabric, it would be months before I ever got around to finishing it off. So, I powered through, finding that each pillow took less and less time. I even made one for the chair.

Now here's a look at the ModLodge in its current state. It's like the pillows have changed it all completely. A severely misguided and ill-informed houseguest might even think I intend for the room to look like this. They'd have no idea how in-between it really is! Even if it does look like this for the next year.

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Bearded Beloved

Today is the 5th anniversary of my wedding to Devin. And as I take a moment to reflect on the last five years, or nine years total, I can't come up with one original thought on the matter. All the clichés fully apply here. Time really does fly. And yet the start of our relationship seems like it took place in some alternate universe. We've changed and grown together. And after all this time, he still manages to surprise me. Or, at least, confuse me.

Let me elaborate on that last point. In our marriage, we share everything: a mortgage, a bed, a child. (Nearly 2 children. Seriously, 2 human life forms. Who let that happen?) And this shared existence requires, obviously, a lot of communication. Some of the communication is joyful, much of it's mundane, and a probably unacceptable amount is conducted over text and email. Yet amidst all of this back-and-forth, there's one very valuable shared commodity which operates with almost no communication whatsoever: our Amazon Prime account.

While the account is ours, and the money spent is ours, all the orders and shipping notifications are delivered to my email address. This gives me the foolish notion that I should have somehow been consulted before every purchase and no Amazon-generated email should ever come as a shock. Of course, this is wrong. And just as I regularly place orders without making mention of it to Devin, he too orders freely without my knowledge. It's just... my purchases are really boring. Sippy cups, furniture straps, a shower curtain liner. Devin's, on the other hand, almost always require explanation. Out of nowhere I'll get an order notification for, say, a rock hammer.

And I'll stare at my computer monitor, nonplussed. What is he doing? I'm like that hopeless wife in that scene from Airplane. Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home...

Thus, the Amazon Prime account surpasses dinner conversation and pillow talk as the ultimate window into my husband's psyche. What's really on his mind? What problem is he trying to solve that requires he drop everything to place an order, but isn't so bad that he can't wait 2 days for the solution?

There was season 1 of the Ghostbusters cartoon on DVD.

Random, but harmless.

The Clavicle Support Brace and Posture Corrector.

He now wears it merrily around the house. It looks like he's strapped into some kind of harness, giving the impression he's always ready for extreme sports.

The Heavy Bag

and The Slant Board

These came in quick succession one morning and made me wonder if our account had been hacked by someone planning to open a gym. Turns out, I wasn't far off. When questioned, Devin explained they were "for the gym I'm starting in the garage." Oh of course, that home gym we've been discussing at great length.

But no Amazon order email knocked my socks off like the one I received a few weeks ago.
Beard wax, a beard and mustache comb, and beard oil.  Jim never spontaneously initiates eccentric grooming habits at home. 

Did Devin even have a beard? Well, yes. Obviously. But I'd always thought of it as resulting from a disinterest in shaving. Not an intentional investment. Certainly not something that required styling.

What launched this desire to take such good care of the beard? Had someone told him it looked unruly?

And then came all my questions and observations about the products themselves. Like the beard oil is TWICE THE SIZE OF MOST. There are others? The beard wax is "Amish," but the beard oil is "Mountaineer." Do these two subcultures share the same facial hair philosophies? Do the Amish or the Mountaineers actually get involved with product? Or online retail? And then there is the UK English spelling of "moustache" for the comb. A third, international approach to beard care? Is his beard having an identity crisis? Is he?

My mind whizzed through all of this in a matter of moments and reflexively I hit the "fwd" button on my email to send this to Devin with some abbreviated version of my reaction to it all.

But then I stopped. I thought, maybe a little mystery is a good thing to preserve in a marriage. For years he's remained politely silent as I filled the bathroom cabinets with my own products for grooming and personal care. I've worn my hair long and short, dyed it lighter and darker, and he hadn't asked to be included in the decision-making process. I've come home fresh from a spray tan, orange as a traffic cone and radiating odor, and he hasn't pried as to what the hell I'd done to myself. So where did I get off demanding answers about a few beard care supplies? And really, say what you want about beards, but you can't argue with the fact that they're "manly." And manly is a quality I admire in, you know, men.

I resolved to keep quiet. Then another Amazon email popped up in my inbox.


That evening, Devin had to work late and rang me up of Facetime to say goodnight to Oscar. As his face came into view, it was all I could do to keep from blurting out "BEARD!" How had I not previously noticed this bushy behemoth overtaking his face and extending beyond the reaches of my iPhone screen? Why did I think he just had longish stubble?

Don't ask about the products. Don't ask about the products. 

We made regular chit chat for a while until, finally, I couldn't help myself. I slipped into a peculiar, forced way of speaking, as if I'd just read stage direction telling me to act "fake casual."

Me: So, hey, by the way, what's all beard stuff you ordered?
Him: It's just stuff for my beard.

Don't react. Don't react.

I moved the conversation in a different direction.

When the beard products arrived at our doorstep I resisted the urge to open up the shipping box. I instead left it sitting in the hall and made no mention of it when Devin arrived home from work. Again I adopted the forced casual delivery. "Hmm? What are you looking for? An Amazon package...oh, you know I think I may have kicked a box through the door on my way in. Why, were you expecting something?"

While we gave Oscar a bath, Devin unpacked and inspected all of his new treasures. When arranged together there was something appealing and Wes Andersonian about the whole set.  The tin of beard wax came in a draw string mesh sack like something you might buy at a boutique or spa. The moutasche comb was the exact size of a My Little Pony comb and came stored in a snap-close plastic envelope.

I leaned against the sink, facing Devin, watching intently and resisting the urge to ask too many questions. He squirted a little blob of beard oil in his palm and began rubbing it into his beard. It looked like his face had a Jerry curl.

Me: So, do you rinse that out? Or...
Him: No I think it just soaks in.
Me: Oh. It smells really... piney.

I picked up the bottle and read the short list of ingredients. Essential oils of cedar and fir needles. Well there you have it.

Days later, this beard oil would cause a bit of a disturbance. We were darting around the house in our usual, un-synchronized morning routine, when Devin bellowed from down the hall.

Him: Have you seen my beard oil?
Me: No.
Him: It was in the drawer in the bathroom.
Me: I know. I wouldn't have put it anywhere else.

A minute went by.

Him: It's just, I put it in the drawer and now it's not there.
Me: I honestly don't know where else it would be.

I was picking up on his implication that I was responsible for its disappearance. I began to wonder if I'd unconsciously disposed of it... perhaps in some kind of dream state. But several more minutes went by and it apparently turned up somewhere because Devin called off the search party. I didn't ask for details.

The beard oil gives him a new fresh pine scent, which isn't exactly bad, it's just different from how he's smelled for the last decade so it's a little unnerving. I think it's fair for me to have some objection to this. I imagine he'd take issue if I started rubbing orange slices on my neck before bed or treating my hair with coffee grounds. I said something about it, once, and then dropped it. And in the couple of weeks since, I haven't said a word about any of it. Because, well, there's nothing to be said.

That's the lesson I took from all of this. I discovered I want to leave him alone. I want him to do things with motivations I don't understand. Perhaps that was part of the magic of the early days of dating. I didn't show up at his apartment, rummage through his cupboards and insist on backstories. Things were surprising. There was room to be curious. And maybe that's why I get such a kick out of the Amazon emails in the first place.

Now, because I am sure he'll get around to reading this at some point, I want to direct the remainder of this post to Devin. Happy anniversary, my bearded baby. Mustachioed man of my dreams. May our marriage grow and flourish as mightily as your beard, and be given just as much care and attention. May our communication be as reassuring as an order confirmation email and our trust in one another be as reliable as free 2 day shipping. And for the rest of our future, I promise that I, like Amazon, will always be there, anytime, providing everything you could ever want or need, all waiting for you when you get home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Notes From The Pregnant Kitchen, Round Two

Back during the energetic days of my second trimester, first pregnancy, I got into a bit of a culinary kick. I made things like paella and carrot ginger soup. And with all that free time, why wouldn't I?

Then in life with baby, the kitchen all but closed for business. Nightly, I threw together whatever sodium-laden prepared foods I could. I regularly made spaghetti and lost energy before I could get around to making a salad. I had to launch an initiative to force myself to make better meals. And that was a near failure.

I think I had a few things working against me at that point. For one, I was in the habit of getting home from work, wrestling Oscar to bed, and collapsing on the couch with a glass of wine. Then, it was very very difficult to get motivated.

And also... actually, no wait. That's the only thing that stopped me.

But guess what. I can't drink now so that, combined with weird pregnancy focus, has launched me back into my culinary explorations. Here's some of what I've been cooking up.

Spaghetti Squash

My foray into gardening wasn't a total flop. I did manage to grow a few squash...squashes? Is that how it's pluralized? However you say it, I was sort of drowning in them after a while. Serving them with butter, salt and pepper got tired, so I found a new recipe.

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, roast face down in the oven for 30-40 mins at 375. Scrape with a fork to turn into "spaghetti." Meanwhile, dice some tomatoes, onion and garlic and sauté together in a pan until tender, but not mushy. Throw this in a bowl with the squash, as well as olive oil, whole black olives, fresh basil and feta cheese crumbles.

Delicious! But look, it doesn't taste like a substitute for spaghetti. Anyone who tries to pass this off as pasta is really misguided. Just let it be what it is: you know, squash.

Crock Potting

I've always been drawn to the crock pot's allure of retro modern convenience. To prepare dinner for your family, all you need to do is open cans of things, throw them in a pot, and leave the concoction to stew, unassisted, for 8 hours while you're out at work.

In theory, great. In practice, well, I'd love to know which job lets you leave and return home within an 8 hour timespan. What's that? There are lots of jobs where that's possible? Oh well, I never claimed to be succeeding at life.

So, for me, crock potting needs to take place on a weekend so that nothing gets overcooked. Finally one Sunday, I decided to make chicken 'n dumplings. I have absolutely no idea what possessed me to choose this recipe as I don't tend to gravitate toward anything that ends with "'n dumplings." Maybe because it was a balmy 96 degrees outside with one cloud.

The recipe (after I halved it) called for:
2 chicken breasts
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 chopped onion
1 can of refrigerated biscuit dough, like Pillsbury

To prepare, you throw the chicken breasts, soup and onion together in the pot, then add "enough water to cover." There was something about drowning the whole thing in water that seemed unappealing to me, so I instead used chicken broth. Not that that made the conglomerate any more appealing.

I put the cover on my pot of salmonella and left it alone for 4 hours. Then, it was time to add the biscuits to make the 'n dumplings. The recipe I was working from didn't explain this step other than "put them on top" and while I understood what was being asked of me, I couldn't foresee how this would result in anything other than raw chicken with raw dough. Then I remembered the cardinal rule of crock pottery: "Have faith and walk away." So I sliced the biscuits in half, arranged them on top of the chicken slop, and left them alone for an hour.
Upon my return, the biscuits had somehow cooked. They weren't golden and crisp, but they weren't raw either. They were, I guess, 'n dumplings.

Served up, the dish looked only somewhat more appetizing.
But I thought it was quite tasty, reminiscent of chicken pot pie. Devin ate it obediently and without comment, so I guess I wouldn't call it a crowd pleaser. I only made it again one other time, weeks later, as a late night easy dinner to serve my in laws after picking them up from the airport. I'm not sure what I did differently but this time the chicken was really dry and the flavor was just too... chickeny.

Some time after that, I tried to make crock pot veggie chili by assembling before work and setting for 10 hours while I was away. I got back after 11 hours (sigh) to find the pot completely cold and the onions inside still raw and crisp. I'm not entirely sure how or at what point the pot turned off, but I was basically turned off of crock potting for the time being.


Because Italian cuisine doesn't really do much for me (it's delicious, it's just... eh), I was always a bit indecisive when I found myself at an Italian restaurant. Which shaped pasta with which sauce did I want? Then, I found the "risotto" section of the menu and solved my problems forever. I know, it's just rice, but it's amazing.

I hadn't ever tried making it at home, though, until recently. It turns out, it's actually pretty simple; it just requires so. much. stirring.

The first batch I ever made was a wild mushroom risotto. Though it wasn't supposed to, the whole project took me an hour, start to finish. The result was yummy, but also exactly like the mushroom risotto from the frozen food section at Trader Joe's. So, I guess kudos to TJ's for offering something that tastes just like the freshly prepared from scratch version.

Then, late one night, at a loss for what to make I decided to cook myself another batch of risotto. This time, I didn't follow a recipe and also didn't really have anything to put in it except for lots of parmesan. It only took me 25 minutes and was far superior to my first batch.

A few other random success stories from this culinary explosion include grilled vegetables, prepared by Devin.
Chicken picatta, which is, happily quick and simple to prepare. (Served with leftover risotto!)

And Chinese noodles with pan seared sesame tofu.

In more recent weeks I've eaten a lot of cereal for dinner because I'm starting to lose steam. With about 5 weeks to go before my due date, I should probably capitalize on this time before I fall into the "I have a newborn" dining habits of chips with hummus, thai takeout, or "fuck it let's just go to bed."