Sunday Confessional: it’s not my fault my kitchen’s clean

As the morning sun illuminated our cooktop, I realized the gas burner grates were beyond hope of ever being truly clean again. They were blackened by heat, grease, and speckled with intermittent spots of cooked-on gunk. (Yeah, I’m not proud. Sunday confessional, remember?) I went online and found a set of four grates for $77 plus shipping. I told Zippy I wanted to order them. He insisted he could get the grates looking good again.

His online research said to submerge the grates in a pot of water and baking soda and bring the water to a boil then let it sit for a half-hour. He filled our six-gallon soup pot with water, baking soda, and submerged two grates in the concoction. The water boiled. The grates soaked. Some gunk dissolved. Zippy removed those grates and added the other two to the same batch of water. Then, because he was afraid the recipe would be weaker the second time around, he added more baking soda to the boiling water.

Chemical reaction, yo.

Those six gallons of boiling water instantly turned to foam that overflowed the soup pot like one of those vinegar-and-baking-soda science fair volcanoes. A blue-ribbon, first place science fair volcano. Foam flooded the cooktop and countertop, poured into the drawers and down the cabinets on its way to swamping the floor. So. Much. Water. The waves were practically whitecaps as they surged across the kitchen.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to clean up baking soda?

Suffice to say, every surface was wiped down MANY times (with a final vinegar rinse). As a result, the kitchen floor, which was way past due for a mopping, is now cleaner than it’s been in some time. The cabinet doors also look better and the drawers are tidier and less cluttered.

However, I wouldn’t go so far as to call our watery catastrophe a win. The foam seeped into the cooktop and now one of the burners is forever dead. The old linoleum flooring is permanently scarred because of the boiling water and baking soda. Also? About an hour after the cleanup was over, I was making my smoothie next to the sink when I heard running water. Weird. I hadn’t turned on the faucet. Where was the sound coming from? And then my bare foot was wet.

Water was running out of the cabinet below the sink.

Busted pipe. More specifically, one old corroded pipe that couldn’t handle the pressure of baking soda and vinegar dumped down the drains during the cleanup. After Zippy’s many colorful words, his trip to the hardware store and new pipe installation, and his final mopping episode, I asked my exhausted spouse if he wished he’d gone along with my plan to spend $77 plus shipping for four new grates.

He said no. I kid you not.

Twofer Tuesday: mood enhancers

Yesterday was so damned cold I didn’t go outside. By evening, I was anxious and grumpy. Today it’s still very cold, but I just went for a fast 22-minute walk with Zippy and Emma in the sunshine. I feel exhilarated! And as soon as I post this, I’m going to turn up the music and get going on the Massive Photo Scrapbooking Project.

Because as Michael Franti says: Music is sunshine. Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.

I’m gonna double down on the mood enhancement. Sunshine + Music. I refuse to let December’s cold and short days grind the life out of me.

Photo-induced memories

The top left photo shows Doug Chase (and the program director) at the soup kitchen in 1999, our first year volunteering with Grant Avenue StreetReach.

I’m taking a break from writing after writing 50,000 words last month. I intended to do nothing but read and then remembered the enormous stash of photos I swore I’d organize so my sons wouldn’t have to deal with them.

So I started scrapbooking and quickly felt a sense of overwhelm. My family has SO many photos. Then I asked for/demanded help. As a result, Zippy and Zebu have stepped up and helped round photo corners and put sticky tape on their backs while I crop and organize the next pages. It feels a lot better to share the load. And it’s good for me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies.

The page I’ve highlighted here shows Wildebeest playing chess with a man named Steve who taught both sons to play. This page is also bittersweet because it contains the only photo I have of our friend Doug who died in 2009. He was a lovely man and today I miss him all over again.

I frequently curse the number of photos needing our attention, but finding Doug in the stacks was like striking gold.

Today’s special guest

Our guest next to Zippy’s hand for scale.

I spent the afternoon working in the yard in preparation for the winter storm and below-freezing temperatures on the way. I cut back perennials and chopped up greens to add to our two compost tumblers and standing bin. Zippy joined me after his bike ride and made the plants from his vegetable garden compost-ready. As he stood over the bin and chopped up tomato plants, he discovered a guest he’d been dreading all summer: a tomato hornworm.

He showed me and said his friend had told him that hornworms turned into swallowtail butterflies. That didn’t sound right so I checked. In fact, tomato hornworms turn into the five-spotted hawkmoth. Either way, that’s quite the transformation. (I do think it’s kinda too bad the horn gets lost along the way.)

Squirrel for the win!

Zippy and I passed this sculpture on the sidewalk as we walked around the neighborhood with Emma yesterday morning. It’s now 7:15 on Sunday night and I can say with absolute certainty that spotting this cheery little fella was the highlight of a very difficult weekend.

I hope it also brings you a smile.

Throwback Thursday: my year in North Hollywood

I don’t know what prompted me to do so (okay, I’m pretty sure I was procrastinating rather than writing), but the other day I went to Google Maps and looked up an old address. This photo shows a triplex off an alley in North Hollywood, California. I lived in the upper, right-hand studio apartment for a year in the mid-80s. It was my very first place all my own. Up to that point, I’d either been in a dorm or shared apartments (or, in the case of my Van Nuys digs, renting a screened gazebo-like structure in a single-parent’s backyard in which part of my rent included providing childcare).

It’s an understatement to say this was a transient period of my life. The move into my darling little apartment in this building was my 5th move in 9 months. It all began with my boyfriend and me moving into our own apartment in Culver City (leaving behind our former West LA roommate) and then me leaving the boyfriend several months later. It was one of the more difficult periods in my life. However, I have vivid memories of my time on Miranda Street.

Diva & Isis hanging out at home.

I shared the tiny space with two cats. One (Diva) was with me at move-in time. The other (Isis) was adopted and given to me by my sister’s friend who showed up to hand me a cat. Um, okay, I guess?

Isis was an all-black kitten who would wake me at 2:00 a.m. as she galloped around the hardwood floors. She also crawled to the bottom of my sleeping bag (my one and only “bed linen”) and peed.

My major piece of furniture was a futon couch that could be opened to make a small bed.

For a time, pit bulls roamed the neighborhood and the mail carrier refused to deliver. We had to go to the post office to get our mail. One day my downstairs neighbor drove there with me and we were thrilled to discover I’d received a box from my mother that contained a round cookie tin. We hungrily opened the tin only to discover it was filled, not with cookies, but with cookie cutters.

Me at the park when I wasn’t running.

I quit smoking while living in this apartment and an integral part of my kicking the nicotine addiction was to run every day (and then eat a bag of M&Ms at work in the afternoon). I usually ran in the nice park nearby that had a path around the perimeter. That park saved me.

Sometimes on the way back from a run I’d stop to sit on one of the Honda motorcycles lined up outside a bike shop near the park. I liked to pretend the wind was blowing back my hair as I rode fast and free.

Zippy at the park avoiding cat allergies.

This was where I lived when Zippy and I started dating. He lived in ugly old Bakersfield and we’d trade off weekends. He was allergic to cats so weekends at my place were often difficult for him. He’d suddenly say, “Let’s go out somewhere. My throat’s starting to close.” (Fortunately, he’s adapted to cats and no longer experiences suffocation issues).

Zippy was with me the day we loaded a UHaul for my move to Santa Rosa. We’d emptied the place and it was time to leave, but Diva was nowhere to be found. We searched and searched the surrounding area for my indoor-only cat. Then Zippy saw a black and white cat in the yard of a nearby house and grabbed it. A voice yelled, “Put down my cat!” Oops. Diva later revealed herself by meowing from the kitchen drawer she’d climbed into from the open cupboard below. It was a joyous reunion.

I’m not a huge fan of how our personal information and everyday lives are now mined for data, but will say that I’m happy Google Maps provided me with the image of my former home. I never took an exterior shot of the first-ever living space that was all mine. It’s good to remember.

A tale of three cacti

Zippy and I ran on the trails this morning, and when we reached the top of one uphill slog we paused to stretch. I noticed a colorful cactus off the trail in the approximate spot where we’d seen a beautiful blooming cactus last April and so stepped closer to see whether that cactus was in flower again.

Wrong and wrong again.

The cactus that caught my eye this morning was nothing like the one from last spring. Instead, it was a prickly pear that looked something like this:

But even worse was that as I went off-trail I didn’t look where I was stepping and by the time I returned to the trail my shoes were loaded with yet another kind of cactus. These were like tiny footballs with two-inch-long spines.** And as I pulled them from my shoes I learned that one spine had embedded itself in my ankle. Yeah, so that was cool. But I got it and all the rest of them out and started running back down the trail. Stinging pain be damned.

Alas, those little football cacti were a gift that kept on giving. About a mile later I stuck my hand in my pocket and experienced a whole other kind of ouch. Turns out I’d gotten a bunch of tiny spines in my fingers when removing the footballs from my shoes.

But you know what? It was still a good run.

** I just realized that the post I linked to above contains a photo of my shoe with a, wait for it . . .tiny spiny football cactus. So apparently I’m bound and determined not to learn from my mistakes.

Live music is better when people shut up. Discuss.

Last night Zippy and I went to the Bluebird Theater in Denver to hear Parker Millsap. Same as the last time he was in town, Parker put on one helluva show. Unfortunately, also the same as last time there were a bunch of rude people at the general admission/standing venue. So much talking talking talking during the performance. Last year after suffering through two women having a loud conversation in front of us I eventually pointed out that since they weren’t interested in listening and we were that maybe they could switch positions with us. They did, and happily moved their socializing well behind us so we could focus on the singing/songwriting.

Last night it was two men talking in loud voices behind us. When I went over to tell them I couldn’t hear it was incredibly frustrating/rage-inducing to realize that one of the blabbermouths was from the opening act. (In fact, two members of that act were loud and disruptive during the main event). You’d think, that of all people, performers would fully understand proper audience etiquette.

Nope.

Every picture tells a story

This could’ve been a truly awesome photo. Imagine a large white cat stretched out on the backside of the hanging shirts, staring through the multi-colored plastic hangers with yellow-green eyes. Imagine a self-satisfied expression on that white cat’s face as you struggled to understand how he got there. Imagine being frozen in place as he stared you down.

By the time I snapped out of my Marcel-induced reverie and returned with my camera, this was all I got. In fact, this subpar photo was staged. Marcel had already extricated himself from the hangers and jumped down before I could get a shot so Zippy picked him up and put him back on the dresser. (Confession: I was hoping he’d jam Marcel back through the hangers, but apparently my mate and I have different cat-wrangling sensibilities.)

Loki, true to form, remained chill throughout the activities.

In which I conquer my fear

I’m afraid of heights and frequently have dreams in which I’m waaay too far from the ground. My fear is a known quantity in my household. So when I announced before leaving for Crested Butte a couple weeks ago that I was going to ride the ski-lift, Zebu’s response was a skeptical/worried “Really?”

Yes, really.

Then I arrived and watched the lift from our rental balcony. My heart picked up the pace and my chest got tight. Zippy suggested we check it out and then I could decide, assuring me it was okay to back out. We walked to the lift-line filled with people in helmets, body armor, and mountain bikes. Turns out Wednesday evenings allow unlimited lifts up the mountain for bikers wanting to ride the trails to the bottom. I was in line next to little girls not only brave enough to ride the chair lift but to bomb down the mountain on bikes! Those two young sisters listened politely as their dad reassured this grown-ass woman I’d be fine on the lift.

And I was.

On the ride down the mountain (which was much easier and more relaxing for me, to the extent I released my death grips on the lap bar and Zippy’s shirt), we passed the biker girls and their dad riding up the mountain again. We all waved and one of the girls shouted, “Enjoy your ride!”

I did.

Thanks in no small part to their example. Girl power!

 

Group plank

This afternoon I was hanging out in the basement with Zebu, Wildebeest, and Wildebeest’s friend, Kyle. We were sitting on the carpeted floor before Wildebeest and Kyle left to play soccer. When Wildebeest started doing stretches, I asked if he’d done his daily plank yet because I hadn’t done mine. He replied that he hadn’t and begrudgingly agreed to do one then. I hollered upstairs for Zippy to come join us and he (also begrudgingly) came downstairs.

Wildebeest set the timer on his phone and turned up some music as the three of us got in the planking position. Then Kyle joined us.  Zebu, feeling the peer pressure, set down his container of mixed nuts and assumed the position. (Emma and Marcel were also in attendance although their planking form was suspect.)

Verdict? Group planks are more fun than solitary planks. Maybe next time we’ll up the ante and try building a human plank tower.

We all scream for ice cream

I’ve spent the day cleaning my writing room and am getting close to being done. I have a definite “paper problem” and hold on to all sorts of unnecessary stuff which means it’s a relief when I find an expired coupon because . . . EASY DECISION!

I unearthed one gem, though. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be anything special:

I was getting ready to put it in the donation pile when I turned to the last page.
Apparently, Zebu’s one and only favorite rhyme was:
Ice crem smis crem

Makes perfect rhyming sense to me and, in fact, Zebu and Zippy both immediately decoded the inventive spelling when I showed it to them.

(This reminded me of years ago when a friend was plotting a weekend getaway for the two of us and I reminded her of my responsibility to my young kids. Her reply? “Kids, schmids.”)

A tame version of yesterday’s wild

Yesterday as I ran on the open space trails and flax tickled my legs, I wished Zippy was with me. Blue flax flowers are his favorite and they’re at the peak of their bloom right now. Good news for him, our flax is also blooming at home in one of our beds.

Here’s a domesticated memento of yesterday’s trail run.

Happy day to me

I’m so happy Zebu’s graduation weekend coincided with Mother’s Day because Wildebeest came back to help celebrate his brother’s milestone. We haven’t all been together since January.

Here we were on Friday.  The sun didn’t shine much that afternoon, but the happy, proud, and goofy smiles from everyone on the CU-Boulder campus lit up the place.

Twofer Tuesday: running mantras

This morning Zippy and I went for a run on the trails. Trailrunning is great fun because it usually keeps my thoughts focused on the rocky, uneven terrain. My mantra is “Feet on the ground. Feet on the ground.” That helps keep me in the moment so I don’t hook a toe and fall on my face. However, today I struggled with the nasty voice in my head, telling me I was slow and tired and really-Tracy-you-should-just-walk-because-you’re-not-a-real-runner.

So I fought back with two new mantras.

The sky was blue, the temperature was a perfect 58 degrees, and the Western Meadowlarks were out in force, warbling their beautiful songs. There was no reason to feel anything other than pure joy and gratitude for my time out in the open space.  Today’s mantras became “Beautiful day, beautiful day. Birds are singing. Birds are singing. Beautiful day, beautiful day. Birds are singing. Birds are singing.”

Once those went on repeat in my head, the nasty voice was nowhere to be heard.

One year ago

Last year at this time Zippy and I were in Uppsala, Sweden, visiting our son Zebu. He took us to his favorite place to fika. In Sweden, everyone takes a daily coffee (and pastry) break with friends, family, colleagues, fellow students, etc.  Unfortunately, we went during a non-fika time so the place was empty. Still, it was easy to imagine the rooms filled with students drinking coffee and eating enormous cinnamon buns.

As I write this, Zebu is in Colorado finishing up his third final final-exam. He graduates later this week and one of my hopes for his future is that he always makes time for such a mid-day break. Fika strikes me as a very sensible path to health and happiness.

Twofer Tuesday: Cacti edition

Yesterday I went for a run on the trails. While stopping to stretch at the top of what Zippy and I refer to as “the slog,” I spotted a splash of bright pink off to the side of the trail. At first I thought it was a candy wrapper and as I moved closer, decided it was a painted rock. It was neither. Sitting there all by itself was a perfectly round, perfectly lovely little cactus. **

Later, as I continued running, I noticed something sticking out of my shoe. I figured it was grass that’d gotten stuck in some mud in my tread, and promptly forgot about it. However, when I was home and taking off my shoes, I nearly impaled myself. Not on a wad of grass, but on the spiny cactus that had hitched a ride on my shoe.

Now I remember why it’s much more fun to run on the trails than the streets.

(** I didn’t have a camera with me, but when Zippy went out to do an errand, he drove to the nearest trailhead and photographed the beauteous cactus for me.)