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The Conversion of A Night Owl

The night, la nuit, la noche. It is one of the best times to be alive. Ask any nocturnal creature and you will be told that the night is a special time. La luna, my son’s favorite spectacle, appears in the night, to quiet us all with her loving glow. I, being a night owl from birth, love to stay awake with the moon, and the beasts of the dark, and my solitude. But life has a way of making small changes in our lives without notice. I am no longer a creature of the night. I have been converted.

Indeed, all of the hours have their merits. 9:00 a.m. is a wonderfully productive time, while 9:00 p.m. is a stern, but understanding hour. The ten’o’clock hours are equally cheerful, while noon and midnight are mischievous. I like to be awake all of the time, and usually wake from a nap feeling as though I have missed something. You might call it a joie de vivre; I call it the luck of the twenties mixed in with the screams of young children. In any case, I don’t sleep very much and my affections for the later hours are waning.

Now I wake with the birds and the sun. It is an optimal time to water flowers and vegetables, and coffee has an especially enticing smell at 6:00 in the morning. All is quiet, bathed in soft blue light, patiently waiting for sleepers to rise. I don’t usually beat both kids out of bed, but it is still a peaceful time. I am not exactly sure how this transition began but I have a few ideas on what has happened.

Obviously, having kids doesn’t give me much lazing about time but in the beginning, I found myself staying up way too late and dreading getting up for the baby. This wasn’t fair to either of us, but it continued for a while. Kids will wake you up, however, so I haven’t slept until noon since before my first pregnancy (this doesn’t count mid-morning naps, which I have succumbed to from utter lack of energy). Having two children has been the biggest factor in my conversion from night owl to earliest bird.

It is an ongoing process, however, because a love for the night is a personality trait of mine. I have found a few things that help me to rise earlier, including making my bed, cleaning the kitchen before bed, and eating throughout the day rather than before sleep (a terrible habit of my husband’s. He often eats another helping right before bed and later complains of an uncomfortable “full” feeling.)

I am a reluctant cook, and no expert on nutrition, but I have strong opinions on what I eat and what I feed the people in my house. Breakfast requires coffee (more than two cups), cereal, nuts, and other grains should be snacked on throughout the day, fruit and sugars are delicious, dairy is dangerous but heart-warming, chicken is okay, and red meats or seafood are to be avoided.

I’m not a vegetarian or vegan (by any means!), but I carry with me many videos of animal abuse at the hands of the farmers that feed us. I no longer eat pork, and don’t choose beef on my own. I can’t change my husband’s tastes (or yours), so beef is often a main course when he is home. I also love a perfectly seared, slightly pink steak, but abuse is not appetizing, so red meat turns my stomach. I must add here that I do (rarely) purchase nitrate-free bacon from the co-op. I have talked to the farmer though, and am confident that she cares for the pigs properly and with dignity.

My opinion on seafood is this: it is disgusting. The ocean is littered, full of who-knows-what, and I am not interested in chewing on shrimp. The textures of the ocean appall me and I don’t think it’s healthy (shrimp has a ton of cholesterol). I would never eat anything that slithers on my plate or is cut from a helpless animal, no matter how worthless they may seem (shark-fin soup you disgust me!). But my point in talking about my views on food is this: it matters what you eat and I feel less weighted when I stick to things that come from the ground. Jumping up in the morning is easier when your stomach is not focused on the tacos, pizza, or hamburgers you ate at 11:30 p.m. I have no designs for a new diet plan, I only caution that you pay attention to yourself.

This brings me to alcohol. Skip it if you want to get up early. I drink occasionally, but it’s just not fun anymore. I have my own kids so I won’t parent you, but I’ve learned from experience that hangovers are not conducive to being my best in the morning.

These days, I’m trying to make my bed more often (there’s more of a finality to it when you climb into a made bed at the end of the day), and clean up my kitchen before heading off to sleep. The day has been reset when I close up my kitchen for the night and I feel ready for an early morning.

If you need to leave quickly the next day, make your coffee the night before (don’t turn the pot on obviously, just get it ready), organize your papers, and try to fix your hair. I have a big issue with my hair so it’s something I attend to the night before for days that require a decent appearance (I’m practically a hermit). If you have kids, don’t even think about going to bed until you have their things ready.

If you really want to change your schedule, change your outlook on time. Instead of damning the hour, appreciate what it brings. Each hour goes by quicker than the one before it, so find something in each to love. Whether you watch shadows with the owls or smile at the morning dew with robins, sleep when you can, enjoy the time we have, and wake up to live it.

Composting with Critters

If you read my posts on composting, you might think: “So, you have a big pile of food in your backyard, and a smaller pile of dog shit?” Yes, I do. I have seen some passerby look at it, too. But I don’t care. Call the city. I would fight them on this. I would even throw food in my yard right in front of you, if it came to it. Also, the piles are separate. There are so many good reasons to compost, but I don’t get paid to do research, so I won’t list them here.

The dog shit pile is getting much smaller because we only have one dog now. This dog, our thirteen-year-old Westie, is a crazy dog, and I wouldn’t recommend the breed to first-time dog owners.

He barks incessantly, especially if we aren’t following the “rules” of the house. It’s my house, but my mom lives here and so, in the mind of her faithful companion, her rules are to govern. (He WILL bite you for horseplay, even me, his favorite).

He, his name is Joey, disappears occasionally, to be found on the front doorstep. “What a good boy!” we exclaim. We praise his achievement, only to find later that he was gone for hours. Much later we find that he was playing at a local football practice, wandering around the vet’s office, or (about two years ago) impregnating the female dog of a neighbor. We had a good laugh with Roger (the neighbor) and good homes were found for the puppies.

Joey also has a problem with…overeating and throwing up? I don’t think it’s bloat related (something that I have researched, and that you can find here on the AKC website) because he has done it throughout his life and survives. We always fed our dogs separately, as a way to combat this, but he continues to do it. We joke that he is bulimic, but it’s really not funny (for either species). Well, since I started the pile of food in the backyard, Joey has had a problem.

Joey won’t stay out of that damn, rotting food. I don’t care what it is, he’s out there in it. He, like most dogs, stays away from the dog poop, but he just can’t help himself with the leftovers and has had several tummy aches over the last few years. It really worries us, as it probably should. I rub Joey’s stomach, pat his back, and try to get him to burp before he vomits. This has helped in the past, but doesn’t always.

Also, I noticed a small skunk rounding the corner of our shed the other night. Joey and I were on the screened porch, the door locked. Joey didn’t see it, so there was no problem. I love skunks and leave them to their own devices. Joey loves them too, but they’re not allowed to fraternize.

My point is this: dogs and compost don’t mix. In addition, expect other animals around the pile. The birds love compost, as well as chipmunks, squirrels, skunks apparently, and who knows what else? I suspect a coyote has come around once or twice and I don’t even want to mess with the raccoons. I need an inventive solution and I suspect some chicken wire will do the trick. I don’t want to keep the birds from their feast, however. The raccoons will probably be able to tear down whatever I devise, and the coyotes can just stay away. My main priority is Joey, who is aging and eats just fine inside.

Watch your dogs around piles of rotting food. They shouldn’t eat it for the same reasons we shouldn’t. And fights around the pile aren’t safe either (I didn’t even talk about wild cats, one of which injured Joey’s eye a couple years ago). Dogs are pretty tough, but if you do suspect something off-limits has been eaten, take a list (mental or physical) of recent compost items to the vet with you. Check out the information from the AKC website about bloat, a serious condition that I have never witnessed but have often heard stories. Watch for bloat in all of your bigger dogs, as the AKC article states, and in dogs that tend to eat quickly. Please don’t allow your dogs to eat items that are not compostable: such as plastic bags, candy wrappers, other trash that ends up in the pile, or anything containing residues of chemicals or poison.

IMPORTANT: COOKED BONES DO NOT GO IN THE COMPOST PILE. Cooked bones can shatter within the body of the animal that ate them. Please dispose of these in the garbage. Other than supervising your dog around unsuitable food waste, composting with dogs and other animals around should go off without a hitch.

Eggs for Breakfast

As someone with a sweet tooth, (it may be more like the fang of a saber-tooth tiger) I love breakfast. There is always syrup, fruit, sugar, butter, and my life’s essence: coffee. Cooking breakfast has its challenges, however. The pancake bubbles never seem to do what the packaging claims they will, bacon is a splattering mess, and omelettes require chopped ingredients.

Eggs have become my go-to breakfast. Eggs are relatively easy (after you learn a few important tips) and there are several ways of making them. Before I begin, I will say this: don’t ask about poached eggs. My mother has sworn to me that they can be made in the microwave, but more eggs have exploded in my microwave than I care to admit. Terrified of third-degree burns, I say “Poach your own eggs.” Poaching an egg is an enigma to me, and hardly worth the trouble.

On the other hand, anyone would eat my scrambled eggs. They’ve caused fights between my son and my nephew, a child that has refused scrambled eggs many times in the past. Here are the tricks:

  1. Buy cast iron. Seriously, it works like they say it does. There IS care involved, so don’t buy cast iron if you’re not ready to work. Cooking with cast iron also takes some practice because the heat distribution is different than the frying pans we’re used to. I bought my favorite from an antique store, but there are many on the market that are well-seasoned and not too heavy to carry. The particular cast iron that I use for eggs (I have several cast iron pans, including a dutch oven from Holland) is small and well-used. This brings me to another important point: I only use the egg pan for eggs, and my other pans for searing or frying meat. Now that we have discussed the means of cooking, here is how I do it.
  2. You may have read that oil is needed to cook eggs. This is entirely correct. I don’t use butter because it always burns the eggs. Fill the bottom of the pan with oil and wait for it to heat. I watch for the smoke or pass my hand over the pan to feel for the heat. You may be thinking: that’s a lot of oil. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and you shouldn’t have to worry so much. When everything feels hot enough (Cast iron does get hot, so be careful), you can toss in your eggs. Everything should sizzle, a sound I’ve come to love because it means I’ve got the temperature right.
  3. Now, I’ve been forced to learn to cook eggs sunny-side up. This is my least (after poaching) favorite way to cook eggs. This is the only way my husband likes them, however, so I have practiced to the point of near-consistency. To cook eggs with an unbroken yolk on top, follow the steps to follow. If you’re ready for scrambled eggs, follow your process for those and continue on (I don’t add milk or cheese to scrambled eggs, only salt and pepper. However you do it is just fine, I’m sure).
  4. Anyway, once your oil is HOT (heat is even more important for eggs sunny-side-up because you want a nice “sear” on the bottom of the egg. It won’t be flipped so your egg will cook from below), crack in your eggs. One side note: crack your eggs in a separate bowl, please. You can fish out shells that way and it’s not so messy on the stove-top. The eggs will sizzle for a time. Have some patience and watch for the white part to turn opaque. To keep that yolk from breaking, put down the spatula and use a spoon to baste the yolk with oil from your pan. Sprinkle black pepper on top and, once you’re sure the egg white is cooked, carefully remove from the pan. That’s it. It has taken years for me to perfect my eggs, but that’s all there is to it.

There are a few other pieces of advice that I have. One, eggs should be served with something, so start toasting bread when your eggs go in the pan. Two, omelettes are much easier if you use pico de gallo from the night before. Three, clean-up is something that I think, especially with eggs, should be performed throughout the task of making breakfast, so put your bowls containing raw egg into the sink as soon as you can. Finally, eggs are tricky and these tips don’t ALWAYS work. Sometimes the oil isn’t as hot as you think, or a slight breeze breaks your carefully guarded yolk. Life gets in the way too, and she’s not a good cook. Once, black peppercorns spilled into the entire pan of eggs I was making when the top of the grinder broke off. Another time, the salt turned them wonky. Still, eggs are good, easy fun for breakfast.

Parenting Sex and Gender: It’s really none of your business

I have a son, Sergio, and a daughter, Marisol. I didn’t believe in the whole ‘gender’ thing, being one of many that was educated in Gender and Women Studies while in college. I thought gender roles to be an invention of patriarchy. Still, I am not an expert in the sexes or gender, and would never dare to make assumptions. I’ve only noticed a few things.

There are real physical differences in male and female children, but you can do your own research if you wish. There are huge differences in the personalities of my children, and I’ve recently stopped thinking about it altogether, unable to combine what I’ve learned in the classrooms with what I see in front of me. Gender, I still believe, is yours for the choosing. Each of our bodies are our own, and no one can, or should, tell us how to treat or view them. Sexuality would be an entirely distinct conversation, and is already happening. I have nothing new to say on the matter besides leave people alone.

What I have noticed is that my son truly is wild. He likes to play rough: boxing, throwing himself on the floor, pulling hair (NOT MINE) until it’s no longer funny. He also has a problem coping with the word “no,” and is just a tad needy (sound like any men you know? Sergio is three, however, and will learn what “no” means). He’s got incredible hand strength (already taking the tops off of everything!) and is a funny guy all around. I love him, but he surprises me with his masculinity.

Marisolita, on the other hand, is mostly quiet, very agreeable, and incredibly social (already laughing and smiling constantly at five months). Sergio is social too; they really are more similar than dissimilar. Also, I am not encouraging a gender-free environment, so maybe the little people of our home are already learning about our society. I do have rules about respecting gender, sexuality, and the like. I do not tolerate slurs or disparaging comments about any group of people under my roof. That goes for everyone. But there is a division of labor in our house, one that adheres to society’s current rules. None of us can do everything, so my husband and I agreed upon our terms and signed the contract at the courthouse.

In my opinion, it is not our business, as parents, to worry about who our children will be in the realm of sexuality and gender. I don’t know how these things are chosen, I only know it’s not my choice.

We must, however, do our best to educate our children, to the best of our abilities. Sergio and Marisol with learn, at the appropriate times, about the realities of sex and gender: their importance as a biological process, the anatomy of intercourse, the necessity of consent, protection, and what “love” supposedly means. I hope to make my explanation so technical and boring that their little curiosities will be dispelled, until they are of the ages to care and choose for themselves with sufficient knowledge.

For now, I’m focusing on creating a great childhood for my children, and foundations for critically-thinking, healthy minds. I have some time to prepare for the awkward lecture, and Sergio and Marisol have a lot of growing still to do. Focus on observation without judgement, creating a loving bond with your children, and minding your own business when it comes to things that are out of your control.

Tips on Painting with Toddlers: Don’t Toss Out That Easel Just Yet

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

Sergio and I like to paint. Not every day, because you can imagine how messy and time-consuming that would be. But, on rainy days like today, we like to fire up our creativity with a few art projects. I am not a creative person when it comes to colors, paints, or anything visual. I’m still learning, I suppose. However, I am one of those stay-at-home moms with nothing better to do than cook up ideas for the kids. Painting is one of those ideas that always sounds fun. It can be frustrating for mom or dad though, so here are a few tips to keep it fun.

I am interested in researching how to recycle paint, and which paints are better for the environment. For now, we paint what we can (old jars, rocks, pieces of wood, and of course, paper) with what we have. This keeps the price for materials down (canvases look great, but are incredibly expensive).

Washable Crayola paint, watercolor palette, brushes, and a recycled jar to put rinsing water in

I love trays. This one is made from silicon (I think? It doesn’t say on the bottom) from Aldi. It has handles and is lightweight; Sergio can lift it also when helping to clean up. Trays tend to keep everything together, easy to reach, and this particular tray doesn’t mind a few spills. Other good options are available on Amazon.

Set up your area, including snacks, utensils and paints, mediums, and whatever else you want to add, before telling your son or daughter about the day’s activity. I have made this mistake many times, and am often followed frantically by an excited, chattering three-year-old on my quest for supplies.

Something else to consider is where you and your little artist will paint. I like to set up a spot outside, so that stubborn paint stains can be pressure-washed from concrete areas or, more ideally, absorbed by the grass and dirt underfoot. For me, painting can have calming effects, which are multiplied when practiced in the open air. I have a screened-in patio, so making a paint station outside is easy for us. If you have a few more obstacles in the way, think creatively, and hoard some cardboard or old linens to use for covering important spaces in your home.

Once your area is clean, covered with an old tablecloth or piece of cardboard, arrange your tools of creativity and make sure the child can reach everything. I also use this easel (I love that it is not made largely from plastic and is easy to carry from room to room) to give Sergio ample access to his work. This is not a fun activity for the children if you don’t allow them to explore and grab their own materials.

On this note, painting is an excellent way for toddlers to dabble in colors, shapes, and textures. It’s a good time to practice vocabulary, so don’t forget to talk about whatever they’re doing. (Today Sergio said the words “dark” and “star” while painting.)

I practice my own creative efforts while spending time with my son.

Mistakes and spills will happen, making supervision necessary. Young children are prone to tasting, smelling, and smearing things all over the place. While working with paints (washable or not) supervision is very important. While sitting next to Sergio, I looked away for one second, and turned back to see a blob of blue paint in the tin of rocks still to be colored. My son had opened a paint jar by himself, and dumped everything out; at least it wasn’t on the floor. Another good reason to use washable paint.

We quickly found a solution by simply painting the rest of the rocks blue. Painting is a nice way for children to explore their surroundings because accidents can turn into artwork.

Another tip is to slyly remove items or tools that are not currently interesting your child. Too many objects to use or things to do can be overwhelming for young ones, and you might have less mess to clean up if you secretly take away the less exciting stamps, stickers, or glitter. Please don’t let them catch you doing this, and remember: I am not liable for any tantrums that occur in your house.

Don’t forget to have fun and don’t worry about cleaning up: everything is much easier with a tray to toss it all into. If you and your artist made it outside, there should be even less to worry about cleaning. Stick your brushes in a jar of water (mineral spirits or paint thinner for acrylic and oil-based paints), and go take a break. You’ve earned it. Keep that easel for the days when you’re not sure what to do, or those times when inspiration strikes.

Plans for a gallery of Sergio’s work are under way because displaying your toddler’s artwork is just as important as making it.

Lemonade Without the Plastic, Please

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

I love you, Simply Limeade, but I don’t know what to do with the plastic bottles that contain your citric concoction. I have used the bottles as watering cans, but inevitably I throw them away because they’re not the most visually appealing garden accessory. This irks me, because I am concerned with stretching the lifespan of all plastic that enters my home (I paint old jars or coffee canisters to use as miscellaneous receptacles, cart compost to the pile in single-use plastic containers, and let my son use old shampoo bottles to practice ‘pouring’ and ‘dumping’ skills).

A few weeks ago, my husband suggested we make limeade the ‘real’ way, by squeezing our own limes and adding the juice to water with some sugar. I shrugged my assent, and gathered supplies. Lime and lemon are reversed in English and Spanish. Lime is limón and lemon is lima. Limonada is a beverage made from either, but my husband is usually referring to limes. When in doubt, you can always use colors to describe the correct fruit (amarillo vs. verde). So, I asked my husband to run for a bag of each, interested in trying homemade limeade and lemonade. When my husband returned with one of those mesh bags (made from plastic, I fear) of limes, I decided that I would find a way to make the beverages without touching a single plastic bottle or bag.

This may seem an obvious way of making lemonade, but as a millennial, I have been trained to search for the cheapest, most convenient options when grocery-shopping for my family. This often means that I buy food wrapped in plastic packaging. That’s all there is anymore. These days, we have to seriously commit to leaving the plastic behind. I am doing this in small ways, one change at a time. Limeade without plastic is my most recent exciting discovery on my way to a sustainable life. I am inventing my own solutions.

What You Will Need

  1. In order for this recipe to matter as an alternative to plastics, some items are necessary. I have a plastic pitcher, but I stopped using it when my mother brought home an authentic, Blenko glass water pitcher. It is a beautiful green, pictured right. I am lucky to have received this gift, but other glass pitchers are easily found. This pitcher is what inspired me to continue my green-living journey with ambition.
  2. Gathering the limes yourself, and placing them into a reusable, preferably cotton or canvas, sack eliminates the need for those plastic, pull-down bags at the store (My worst enemy. I despise to see them on my counter). I found sustainable options on Amazon.
  3. Visit your local co-op to find vegetables and fruit that are not trucked from miles away to your nearest Walmart. I have yet to see limes or lemons at the co-op where I live, but you never know who is growing what. If you have a bright green thumb, and maybe a greenhouse, you just might be able to grow your own in a few years (My lemon tree experiment failed horribly).
  4. None of the utensils pictured are made from plastic, except the lemon squeezer. However, I’ll cut the contraption some slack because, without it, I’d be squeezing limes and lemons all day. It’s not single-use either, so it’s okay.
  5. Keep a large glass or ceramic bowl around for the spent limes. This can go to your compost pile, where they avoid the plastic bag of the garbage can.

Some Tips on Selecting and Squeezing los Limones

  • Look for limes with smooth skin. The smaller the ‘pores’ appear to be, the better. My husband, a connoisseur of cerveza and tequila, knows quite a bit about limes, and has relayed this information to me.
  • Wash the limes beforehand. I always wash what I am about to cut into because bacteria (and probably insecticides or preservatives) can be transferred to the inside by way of the knife.
  • Roll those little green limes around your cutting board before halving and squeezing. This helps loosen the juice, I guess.
  • Squeeze the limes cut-side down in the juicer. You can use any method here, however.

The Amounts

  • About one pound and a half of limes (or lemons), you may have to gauge this
  • One cup of sugar (you can control this, too)
  • Two cups of freshly squeezed lime juice (any more and you might cauterize your mouth)
  • As much ice and cold water as you’d like (pro tip: don’t use bottled water. Remember, stay away from the plastics by using tap water or a water filtration system) This pitcher holds about 2 liters of liquid. It doesn’t have measurements so I have to guess. If something seems off, simply change your amounts and try again
I even use a wooden spoon. See ya, plastic

As for freshness, the sooner you drink it the better, but its great taste has lasted in my fridge for about two days. Other drink recipes are possible, so be on the look-out for ways to use glass pitchers, cotton sacks, etc.!

Tantrum in the Salon- How to Get Your Toddler’s Hair Cut

We cut our son, Sergio’s, hair for the first time almost two years ago. His father did it with an electric razor and Sergio was perfectly fine. I kept some hair. Some of the baby’s hair went around the base of my favorite garden member, helping the sickly hosta to grow strong and beautiful, with smooth, bright green leaves. That’s a totally different story, though. No, today I’m going to talk about the temper tantrum in the hair salon.

My son is a great kid, and I don’t mean to sound like all the other moms. Really, he’s way smarter than I am, more friendly, and overall more hilarious than I could ever be. However, he’s got some of my faults in him. He’s very cautious about trying things that could result in pain (maybe not a fault), he gets frustrated easily, and he cries or whines all the time, just like I did. He’s a hoot, and a wonder to me.

Like I said, he’s had a haircut before. Several, in fact. His papá is no hairdresser, however, so most recently, we took him to a local hair salon. My mother was referred to this hairdresser and she does a nice job. Referrals, as most of us probably know by now, are a great way to find your car mechanic, hairdresser, or next favorite book.

As a new mom, I think I know what I will need to bring. Half of the time I’ve got the basics. I forget one thing or another every time. So here’s my list of things to do or bring for the next haircut.

  1. Book your appointment. Duh. Call the salon. Make sure they can schedule your appointment for a time that works for you, (the salon might need notice, too) or ask if they accept walk-ins (not all do). Make sure they can cut children’s hair. After the tantrum I witnessed today, I’m surprised our lovely hairdresser didn’t just throw up her hands and kick us out. She had experience cutting children’s hair, but some may not.
  2. Ask a friend or family member to go with you. My grandmother also wanted a haircut, so she came along for the ride. I have two children now, and I think people often underestimate the difficulty of taking them places. If you have someone to go with you, ask ’em. At least you won’t be embarrassed alone.
  3. Charge your phone! It didn’t help this time, but it might have. Nothing is worse than a dying phone in the hands of a thoroughly entertained toddler.
  4. Pack your bag or purse with the stuff you will need: candy (yes, as a bribe), an extra diaper if the toddler is not potty-trained, (If your tot is potty-trained…well, aren’t you special), an extra T-shirt because there will be hair, a favorite snack (don’t rely on the stale stuff they may or may not have at the salon), and some water to cool everyone down after the fight. I also needed to bring the baby’s bottle, her diaper necessities, and an extra muslin blanket. She’s perfect so I didn’t need toys for her (she is interested in everything around her). If you have two (or more) rowdy babies with you, I’m sorry.
  5. Wash your hair. Or the child’s hair. Whoever is getting a haircut should have clean hair. You don’t want to be gossip for the next client.
  6. Prepare for the worst. I thought everything would go smoothly, since Sergio has done this before, but I was so wrong. He screamed and tried to push her hands away as she combed his hair. He almost wriggled out from my arms as she clipped and snipped. Afterward, he continued to scream and beg for candy. As previously stated, I always forget something.
  7. Don’t forget that this is something new for your son or daughter. Try not to get upset, it can only worsen the situation. As my son stood, yelling into my face in front of the surprised hairdresser, (“He’s got some lungs, don’t he?”) I wondered why I had even bothered. His dad could just do it. But I took Sergio outside, knelt and spoke to him at his level, and he calmed somewhat, better able to cope with the unknown situation. I have to remember, before everything else, to bring along my patience and look at things from Sergio’s point of view.
When all was said and done, he took to a hat.

Make Your Own Damn Salad Bar

I love making salad. I’m a white person, so I like the plain stuff (my husband mexícano always looks at it like, “But what did you cook?”). Rather than discuss the fine culinary skills of my ancestors, I’d like to just say this about something I’ve made a lot. You can make your own salad bar at home. Just chop stuff up, put it in the bowls, and leave it on the counter. I mean, am I late on this? I’ve been making salads for years and never thought of it before. Well, here’s how I’m doin’ it from now on, or at least once in a while, because we’ll be having un caldo, las calabasitas, unos nopales, and maybe I’ll try my hand at gorditas this summer (my husband loves those).

  • That’s resting chicken, seasoned with the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder
  • Jalapeños from my garden (hot as hell, by the way)
  • Block of cheese I grated
  • Celery
  • Chopped Almonds (those things really fly away when you chop ’em)
  • Croutons (I love croutons but they make it kind of like a posh salad for me, I don’t know why. If you can’t eat a salad without croutons, get out of the game).
  • I always put broccoli and zucchini (calabasita) in a salad. Zucchini has a great texture but alas, it’s not in this picture.
  • And a green apple from yesterday that Sergio wanted, but then didn’t want. It was fine, and clean. But have you had fruit in a salad? It’s really good too, I swear.
  • We also had Pita bread, which I warmed and cut in half. Then you can open it up into a kind of pocket, to fill with what you choose. You can skip this or add something else!

A person could make so many salad combinations this way, at home. It’s a lot of bowls to wash, I know, but it encourages everyone to help themselves. The family liked it, and they ate, so my salad bar’s closed for the night.

The Luckiest Dog: A Fortuna Update

Lucky indeed, was the female German Shepherd we surrendered earlier this year. I recently received word of her progress and am pleased to report that she has improved greatly, with the help of Maddy Holden, her new foster mom. Fortuna has been attending training sessions with Maddy, hiking on trails, and meeting new people with a newfound, canine friend.

Her reactive episodes of barking and growling are over and she can walk calmly on the lead beside other dogs. She can perform a multitude of obedience tasks including heal, stay, down stay, and sit stay.

Fortuna is just as pretty as ever and her true curiosity is shining through. One day she will be leaving Maddy, to find a forever home. For now, she’s gaining important skills and becoming more comfortable with herself and the world we live in.

All photo and video credit goes to Maddy Holden. Thank you again for all of your hard work.

Create A Path

Entering the flower garden. Or exiting, whichever you prefer.

A path is a beautiful thing. A hidden, or mysterious path is even more enchanting. A path is difficult to build, however, and takes a bit of creativity and an inventive eye. The path I created is pictured above and has cost me a lot of hard work, time, and a little bit of real money. I built its foundation by clearing a large, overgrown thicket of Japanese Honeysuckle (according to the locals this invasive plant grows everywhere here) and thick grapevines that must have lived on the property for some ten to twenty years. The vines of both the Honeysuckle and the grapevine had strangled a few small Mulberry trees and were sucking nutrients from some ornamental bushes that had been lost or forgotten over time. I’ve dug out countless roots and destroyed at least one pair of loppers (every time I chop with them, the handles slam together on my knuckles. Its very painful but I don’t understand the problem). The Mulberry trees have grown by inches, stretching out their cramped and twisted limbs in glee. Mulberries are falling now in the spring, when previously the trees had been too choked to produce anything. The soil is mostly made up of clay and hard-packed and the ground slopes down into a drainage ditch, which fills up to the top with fast moving water after heavy rains, an arroyo of sorts. This is where my compost comes in handy and I’ve purchased a lot of mulch. Flowers are finally growing here and their root processes are helping to change the concrete-like soil.

I love paths of all kinds, especially hidden and untouched deer paths. As my path began to evolve from my many trips through the disappearing thicket, I thought up some ways to improve it. Here are some of my “Must Haves” when making your own path.

Exiting my path. The compost pile is just to the left and behind me, across a little creek that funnels rain to the ditch.
  • Its gotta lead to somewhere. This one leads you through my rehabbed flower garden and around the back of our shed (and incidentally, towards my compost pile).
  • It also needs something interesting to look at on your way. I’ve planted a mix of perennials on both sides of the path: lamb’s ear, peppermint (an invasive but fragrant herb), plenty of hosta, spider-wort, and a few more of our favorite flowers. I have tentative plans for a hidden fairy garden, a bug hotel, insect watering holes, and uses for broken pots or dishes.
  • It needs to be somewhat defined. We first placed those pieces of wood as a border for the path. I plan to remove them but for now they help me keep the weeds where I want them and the mulch in its place. Also, those pieces of lumber have helped immensely in reminding me of my vision for the garden: where plants should go, where they shouldn’t, how far from the path, etc.
  • Its nice to walk on something solid. I salvaged some unused stepping stones from neighbors and re-positioned some large, flat river rocks from the yard into a gentle curve. I also used some square paving stones that were under my outdoor water spout. I have yet to dig around the stones and set them into the ground. Along my path-creating journey, I found a childhood heirloom and decided to place it in line with the other stepping stones.
A stepping stone my mother and I made when I was little. That’s my hand print and some old rocks I really wanted to add.
  • You may be wondering where a person might stop to smell the flowers on this makeshift walkway. Indeed, I am missing a sitting area in this garden, along my path, but I have some solutions in mind. One involves an antique bench, painted lime green by the previous owners. For now it rests in the shade in the front of my house, a favorite spot of my husband and son, who like to sit and chat there when the weather is nice.
We bought this from a local antique store. Its missing an arm but is still a nice seat.
  • Finally, your path needs someone to walk on it. I initially cleaned up the huge pile of brush, tangled in with the invasive vines, the jutting roots, and the poor, straggled limbs of the Mulberrys as a way of removing hazards for my adventurous and outdoor-loving two-year old. It was a massive project from the start but its become a lovely, calming place for me and my family, though we still have a lot of inventing to do.

And nothing quite beats watching my son, now three, jump from stone to stone, reciting his numbers along our path.

An Avocado for My Toast

Have you tried it yet? No, not the famed avocado toast (its good, we know). Have you tried stabbing an avocado pit with toothpicks, setting it in a small glass jar, half-filled with water, and waiting impatiently for a sprout? You know I have, and I’ve had quite a bit of success! Sadly, I’m still buying avocados from the store. Here’s why.

Last year I saved three avocado pits (is that the technical name? Anyway, you know what I’m talking about) and set them each, facing upwards, in small glass jars filled halfway with tap water. A couple of toothpicks are necessary but those are easily found. I then set the jars (recycled baby food jars work perfectly) on a dark shelf of a bookcase in my dining room. The large bookcase sits on the same wall as the French doors that lead to my patio, so all light enters the room from behind the bookcase. I then left the pits alone for about….three to four months (it took a very long time). The water would need changing about every week, but other than that I didn’t pay them much mind.

Anyone who has researched growing avocados from seed probably knows that an avocado bears fruit only after the avocado tree is mature enough to do so. I was prepared for the long haul and when I finally saw a taproot cracking through the seed to reach for the water, I was elated. Everyone in my family knew of the taproot’s progress and I soon had three taproots, growing at various rates (two shot out, the first was extremely reluctant to begin). I was extremely protective over them. Little green stems creapt out from the tops of the seeds. “Put it outside,” my husband, equally excited, would tell me.

“Not yet,” I would respond. “It needs to have some leaves first.”

Well, two of them started to grow a leaf. I still wouldn’t put them outside.

“When there are two leaves,” I said.

Finally, my plants had two leaves and I carefully planted them in their pots. The third plant soon ventured outside and all was well. Until my son, Sergio, became extremely interested in the spindly, would-be avocado trees.

The surviving avocado plant.

I have always allowed Sergio to water the plants and flowers. For me, it is a test in patience. For Sergio, a delightful experiment in one of Earth’s greatest elements (and he has learned a lot from this play but that’s another discussion). Well, there we were, gardening as a family. Sergio controlled the hose while I tended to other chores (probably composting). Papá was watching but apparently, not close enough. My three avocados were grouped together in their individual pots, a cluster in one corner of my raised garden beds.

Now, I had nurtured these seeds (pits) for about….SIX MONTHS. I had defended them from the dogs, from the intrigued toddler, even from curious family members (the most difficult foe at times). In about ten minutes, however, two of the three young trees were wiped out. I mean torn from the dirt, with leaves plucked off, skinny stems broken in half.

Sergio had moved on by the time we had noticed the destruction. I bounded across the yard when my husband called to me and asked what had happened to them.

“What did happen to them?!” I exclaimed. It was obvious what had happened to them but too late for any kind of action. I picked up the two pits and tried to replant them. Neither would go on to live. I moved the only survivor out of the hose’s path and to a more secluded spot of the garden.

Only I watered the avocado from then on. It survived that summer and almost all of the fall. I brought it in, placed it near a window and wrapped a rug around the pot (I guess to keep it warmer?). It was kept in our guest room. Unfortunately, I discovered its demise, once again via my husband’s questioning, some weeks into November. I threw up my hands and vowed to try again one day.

A fresh avocado pit, germinating in a bit of water.

So, I’m back to square one with another avocado seed. Let’s see if this one makes it and in several years from now, I just might have a homegrown avocado for that toast.

A Composting Confession

My compost pile has existed for almost three whole years now. I feel relief thinking about all the food I am keeping from the landfill. I’ve even used the dirt consistently this year: filling holes, building up the land around my pile, etc. But now, I want to do more.

Recently, I’ve been taking multiple, full buckets to the pile. These buckets are filled with all kinds of fruit and vegetable waste, leftover pasta and pizza, coffee grounds, expired dry goods, and some paper products (I won’t lie, I threw some shrimp pasta in, too). I am picky about the cardboard that I add because I’m not sure which boxes are treated and with what, or if they can be composted naturally. However, I’ve been somewhat ambitious in resolving another problem.

From the beginning I was faced with a dilemma that any pet owner is all too familiar with: what to do with, well…dog shit. We are supposed to pick it up and throw it away, right? And I usually do that, unless the dog relieves itself in a hidden or less traveled area. But it appalls me to pick up dog poop with a little (sometimes dyed or scented) plastic bag, wrap up the bag and tie it, and then throw it into the trash can, destined for the landfill. How will it decompose there? How will the flies reach it, or the air? Or the sun and rain? What happens to the poop inside of the plastic bag after five, ten years? These questions are disgusting to ponder but entirely interesting to me.

I know it is not safe to add a large amount of dog poop to the compost pile. An instinct of some kind tells me NOT to do it. What is seeping out of the dog poop? Will it mix into the dirt that I add to the vegetable garden? For those reasons, I don’t put the dog shit there. I started thinking of a place for a poop pile.

New grapevine grows around and over my dog poop pile. A few vines stretch toward a blue-painted trellis (bottom right).

After a lot of thought (I’ve actually been thinking about this for years and years), I started putting the dog waste at the back of the yard, in a separate area, beneath an old grapevine tangle and some junk trees, eternal victims of the invasive grapevine. Its darker here and the weeds grow where they can beneath the grapevine. As of yet, no one has noticed the new cloud of happy flies and I’ve kept a few warm, plastic bags out of the landfill.

The thing is, poop has been decomposing on Earth for…..well, I’m not sure how long, but there has to be a responsible way to do it. I’m just trying to do what I can.

The Story About a Dog Named Fortuna

In February of 2018, I lost my beloved Bull Terrier named Isabella. She had come into my life when I was thirteen and left me when I was twenty-five, married with two kids. She had seen me through all of my milestones, had followed me to every new apartment in Minnesota, to the motel in Arkansas. She helped me welcome my firstborn. We were so close we breathed in sync sometimes. But at 12 years of age, tumors in her mammary glands were destroying her and she no longer had much will to continue living. We hired a local vet to come to our house and euthanize her. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life and some days I still don’t feel whole. I have her ashes now in a box in my closet. I am looking for the perfect urn for her. But that’s not my story today. This story is about the lucky dog that came after her. The lucky dog named Fortuna.

Bella was not my first dog, though she was the first dog that I handled and finished in conformation dog shows. I trained her with the help of several mentors in the dog world and she became Champion Crescent Silmaril’s Quixotic. As a small girl, I helped my mother raise and sell two litters of American Bulldogs. Right before I got Bella, as proof of my responsibility and resolve, I helped rehab a Cocker Spaniel, obedience and house training her so that she was able to move to a forever home. I have some experience with dogs. In fact, I’ve never lived without one. My mother’s Westie, Bella’s oldest friend, is sitting at my feet as I type. Working with dogs, I learned some important life skills: responsibility, professionalism, loyalty, compassion. But Fortuna taught me more than the rest of our old companions combined.

After Bella was gone, I grieved in a strange way. I drank a little too much, argued with my father, and gave up on my studies. Then, I convinced my husband and mother (she lives with us) to cough up money for a German Shepherd puppy that we’d spotted in the newspaper. “We need a new puppy in the house,” I claimed. “It will help me remember Bella.” Though my husband was not ready for another dog, he was enchanted by the idea of owning a German Shepherd. He likes the breed but has little knowledge of it. I thought I knew enough. So we got the puppy. We named her Fortuna.

She was a beautiful dog but was under socialized and awfully scared. We thought we could easily build her confidence by taking her to the dog park, travelling to see family with her, etc. Joey, the Westie, seemed to help her settle in. Everything was more difficult than we anticipated, however. Fortuna, named after the little girl from Spirit: Riding Free on Netflix, was acting very aggressive and scaring everyone in our neighborhood with her barking. I was terrified she would hurt someone. I soon found out I was pregnant with our second child. My son was only two years old. Fortuna made me nervous but I thought it was due to my own shortcomings.

This is Fortuna as a young dog, sitting in one of my garden boxes. She had to be chained because she would leap over and out of the yard to run after squirrels.
This is Fortuna as a young dog, sitting in one of my garden boxes. She had to be chained because she would leap over and out of the yard to run after squirrels.

Indeed, I was not doing my best for Fortuna. I was tired in my first trimester. Extremely so. I didn’t walk her like I should have. I didn’t get the training done. This is not to say that Fortuna was not well cared for. We loved her and wanted her to be a part of the family. So we contacted some training professionals and sought their help. They explained that she was fearful and possessive; not a good combo. We started working on some small obedience tasks. I had the baby and Fortuna seemed to improve. I was feeling pretty good.

Fortuna soon decided her own fortune.

As I was standing in my laundry room, sorting laundry, my son talking a mix of Spanish and English to me at my side, Fortuna sidled in. Now in my house, for a time, there was a rule about being in the laundry room with Fortuna at the same time. The door could not be closed, the baby could not be in the room, and food could not be out. Fortuna would freak out in that room, we don’t know why. I broke my own damn rule. Fortuna freaked out. At my son. She growled and snapped at him. I grabbed her throat and shoved her backward out of the room. I walked her right to the kennel and slammed the door behind her. My baby was crying. I chalked it up to my irresponsibility and tried to be more vigilant until I could speak to my mother face to face. I knew we had a problem. My mother arrived back home some days later.

The night my mother arrived at my house, we sat on the porch, catching up. We talked about the dogs, the kids, and the garden. I held Fortuna’s leash firmly at my side, occasionally correcting her with her pincher collar. Suddenly, the French door swung open upon my dining room and Sergio burst out onto the porch. Before he could shout “¡Abue!” Fortuna leaped into the air growling towards my son. If she had been loose….well, I try not to think “What if?”.

I kept Fortuna in the kennel for a while thereafter except for walks or feeding times. When she was outside, no one else was allowed outside. I called the professionals the next day. They offered me a few names of shelters but all were full. I called the Humane Society and they said I could bring her in. I wanted rid of her. I couldn’t look at her the same and it was beyond irresponsible to keep her at this point. She was dangerous.

When I took her to the Humane Society I was turned away. She scared the volunteers working that day and I would have to wait until someone with more experience was there to bring her in. They didn’t have high hopes for her and I was sobbing when I left. I called another number they gave me. A voicemail was all I got.

I felt like a failure when I brought that dog home. I had failed my children by having a dangerous dog in the house. I had failed the dog by letting her confidence issues get out of control. And I had literally failed at getting rid of her. So I would wait another two days, I thought. I walked Fortuna and put her in the kennel for the night. She looked at me like I was a traitor.

The next morning went as usual. Everyone was kept at a safe distance from each other. I was on high alert. Until I received a text from a girl that said she worked at the professional boarding and training facility that I had sought advice from. She wanted to give Fortuna a chance but already owned a male dog. I said I would give her some money towards the spaying. We agreed to meet at 3:00 p.m. that day. I readied Fortuna’s things and her food. The girl arrived.

“Thank you so much. I’m so glad she’s going to someone who will know exactly what she needs,” I said after we had talked about Fortuna and she had introduced herself (with some barking and growling on the part of the German Shepherd) to the dog. She was not afraid and knew what she was doing. She took control immediately of Fortuna and led her to her car where she left her in her kennel with the car’s hatch open. We stood and talked some more.

“Do you want to know the main reason I was so interested in Fortuna?” she asked.


“Well, do you know what Fortuna means?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied and explained that we speak Spanish at home and that my son loved the show on Netflix about the girl and her horse.

“Well, one side of my family is Italian. And in Italian Fortuna means lucky too. That part of my family also raised German Shepherds and the craziest part is their last name is Fortuna!”

I couldn’t believe it. But it saved her life. And it taught me to follow your rules. “No big dogs around little faces,” my mother says. It also taught me to do your due diligence but know when to throw in the towel. I thought I knew enough but you can never know enough.

This experience even taught me the importance of properly grieving for someone you’ve lost. I never should have tried to replace Isabella because she is irreplaceable. Each dog is unique in personality and needs. I’ve also learned that dogs are great but kids ALWAYS come first.

Ironically, I learned, above all, the power of a good, lucky name.

My Composting Journey

I want to start writing about my compost pile. What a topic, I know. But composting is something I love to do and now that I have had some success at it, I want to write something that I can read again one day, when I am no longer capable of traipsing out to the pile, a 5-pound bucket full of rotting food scraps in tow. I also have found a few interesting things, and I am sure I will find more. Hopefully this log will continuously remind me of all the glory in it.

So about two years ago I was reading things on Pinterest about composting. What to toss in, what to leave out. How to build a system for it. Ya know. Well, I became so excited. I come from a farm in Northern Illinois. My mother would toss things out, to the dogs, to the elements. My grandmother, who is originally from West Virginia, composted all of her vegetables by throwing them out the back door into the wooded area next to her house, which was in the middle of a nice neighborhood in Rockford, Illinois.

I wanted to compost! But we were renting a small duplex, in a small town in Southern Illinois. Our house was one of the first on the block, and there was not much of a yard or any trees to camouflage a pile of rotting food. Too bad, I thought. Mother Nature doesn’t care about curb appeal. So I started collecting some old food while I searched for a suitable vessel. I guarded the tomatoes carefully, and still do, because I once read that if not allowed to “breath” and decompose properly, tomatoes release methane gas. I would have to confirm this with some research, so don’t take my word on it. However, this scared me into putting my foot down and vowing to help all food that entered my house to leave it in a natural way.

I quickly spied a container for my tomatoes, and some old frozen hash browns, and a pile of newspaper. Our trusty neighbor Roger, who lived across an empty lot that occupied most of our block, had some old plastic bins sitting outside of his garage. When he got home that night, I asked him for the big, gray one. “Of course!” he laughed, before changing the subject to his new litter of bastard puppies. I scooped up the bin and brought it home. My “material” quickly went in. I placed the bin behind my house. It was one of the first things a person would see as they drove onto our street.

So it began! I was the curator of a plastic bin of rotting organic material and I loved my position. When it rained heavily, I would sneak to the back of my house and dump out some of the brown, smelly water. Flies buzzed all around me as I added all of the “green” and “brown” I could get my hands on. A lot of times, so no one would suspect, I would clean out my fridge on Wednesday nights (garbage pick-up is Thursday ’round here), and take the rotten spoils to the bin in the dark. In the hot, summer daytime, a stiff breeze would threaten to bring about the downfall of my whole operation.

The bin was full and heavy by the time we decided to move the hell out of there. We found a place with a great yard, one of our main wants in a home. On moving day, my husband and mother gave me pleading looks. “What do you want us to do with the ‘dirt’ you’re making?” they asked, fearing my answer.

“Well, I’m not leaving it behind,” I said, with a shrug and a sheepish grin. I had worked too hard on that compost to dump it out now and leave it behind. My dear, dear husband, lifted the smelly cocktail into the back of our truck and drove it the fifteen miles to our new home. I unpacked it first, sieving off some of the water before dumping the entire bin over onto a pile of brush and weeds.

I still have the compost pile and its bigger than ever. I’ve also still got that gray, plastic bin.