dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
April 29, 2014Posted by on
Yes, we celebrated Easter last week, complete with eggs, bunnies, chocolate and not least of all, our Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life for us and was resurrected so that we might be able to live in loving relationship with Him in Heaven. That said, we went to church on Sunday morning, the little people dressed in bright dresses and Mom and Dad in comfortable shoes—the better to chase around said little people. Church for us is two blocks down the street at the park. Blessedly convenient and fun, too. There were coffee and pastries and fruit, and the obligatory Easter egg ‘hunt,’ which really consisted of laying (pun intended) out a hundred or so plastic eggs on the grass and then saying ‘Go!’ to the kids—an Easter egg dash, to be more specific.
Before church, there were Easter ‘baskets’ for all the kids. Since we can’t really afford cheap and breakable colored baskets, and I abhor that Easter grass that gets everywhere and sticks to everything, we improvised. I used paper bags, some nifty alphabet stamps, a few ribbons left over from presents and boxes of chocolates, and a sheet of repurposed yellow tissue paper.
We bought small bunnies and a bag of chocolate eggs to split amongst the kids and called it done. Really, that’s all they need. The chocolate will be nibbled at for the next few weeks, and the bunnies will be beloved for a week or so before they are added to the motley family of stuffed animals that grace the bed, or the toy basket or the futon in the twins’ room.
And that was just in the morning.
In the afternoon, Dad went for a bike ride, Mom worked on a school paper (boo) and the kiddos napped and relaxed. We do this everyday in hopes that Mother will stay sane. Just before the small people woke up, I wandered down to our lovely apartment courtyard, where everything is in bloom, and ‘hid’ about 20 plastic eggs containing absolutely nothing.
The kids didn’t care, or even, uh, notice. The hunt was the fun part. We met up with our neighbors, who just had to walk out their front door, and the smallest people wandered around looking confused, until a parent directed them to exactly where an egg perched in some foliage and then pointed to it.
‘Hunt’ isn’t exactly an accurate description, but fun was had. We sat on some steps and scarfed popcorn, pretzels, cheddar bunnies and raisins (Destitute Style Chex Mix, without the Chex) and drank a bit of juice before the younger kids ran around chasing the big one and managed not to obliterate the landscaping.
I don’t know what we feasted on for dinner, but it wasn’t ham. I made a call up to the relatives, talked to my uncle and to my dad and wished everyone a Happy Easter. Daddy-O and I put the kids to bed and watched some totally unrelated-to-the-holiday-movie—‘Catching Fire,’ I think.
Happy Easter to all and to us!
April 15, 2014Posted by on
For Ms. Destitute, the sound of spring is the crack of the bat, the static of the AM radio and the voice of John Miller. Of course, we’re not tailgaters with season tickets (though we do have family friends who are very generous about sharing their tickets—thanks Steve and Karen!) but we express our fanaticism in our own way.
On the San Francisco Giants’ opening day last week, I dressed my smallest baseball fans in their Giants onesies to show their pride at the local playground. Oh, okay, so it’s really me showing where my loyalties lie, and using my children as adorable accessories… but, really, aren’t they adorable?
Since we don’t have cable television, for reasons both of principle and money, we listen to the game on the radio. And since we’re so strapped for cash, we don’t even listen to it on the internet—you have to have a paid subscription to ALL the games in Major League Baseball. I don’t care that much about any of the other teams to make it worth it, even if I did have the money.
So we listen to the radio talents of John Miller, Dave Fleming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow on KNBR.
Ahh, that to me says SPRING! It isn’t just the score and the game being played that make my eyes tear up a bit (allergies not withstanding) but a touch of nostalgia as well.
I can remember lying in the back of my family’s 1972 Buick station wagon (complete with brown naugahyde interior) and driving home from a family road trip with the sound of John Miller’s voice coming through the single speaker. I was born in Virginia and lived there until I was almost seven, and in the early 80’s, John Miller was the radio broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles. I never became an Orioles’ fan– that would have led to much disappointment and eventual disillusionment– but I’ve always been a fan of John Miller’s voice. It lulled me to sleep in the back of the car, it was the soundtrack to my teenage days of (topless!) backyard sunbathing, and now it keeps me company in the kitchen during my favorite months of the year.
Here’s hoping that the recent World Series champs will make it to the end again, not only because we love our local boys (when did pro athletes all become younger than me?) but because it gives us that much longer to turn on our trusty little transistor and listen to the guys in the broadcasting booth.
Happy baseball, everyone, and GO GIANTS!!
Other fun and Spring-y stuff:
December 13, 2013Posted by on
How do the destitute celebrate Christmas? (That really depends on what they believe in.) At our house, we put up colored lights and decorate a Christmas tree. This year, it’s a tiny tree, because it has to be out of reach of four eager, uncontrolled and mischievous little hands. It’s festive, but not terribly fashionable. Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Ree Drummed nor Elle Décor had any influence on our choice of tree trimmings. Mine and my husband’s childhoods had the most influence—Jim Henson, Kiwiana, the grunge era and a love of jazz and good bass players. There’s nothing on my front door proclaiming, ‘It’s Christmastime and we know it!’ You can’t see our tree from the front window—in fact, you can barely see our tree from across the room. But we know it’s there.
I like to put on Christmas music, because despite the fact that I believe in the original meaning of the celebration (a day, not necessarily historically accurate as the 25th of December, to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Son of God, who was eventually crucified and rose again to save me from my sins and allow me to spend all eternity in heaven with Him when I die) it’s really the only time of year I listen to Christian music. That’s due to musical taste, not an aversion to the message.
Here are a few of my favorite Christmas tunes:
‘Ave Maria’ by Chris Cornell and Eleven (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
The tune is a familiar one, but the voice is unusual for what is usually sung in an operatic style. But being the grunge-child that I am, I love it. The song is a great tribute to the Virgin Mary, who is a minor star in this whole Christmas story, and being a mother, I cannot help but wonder at this young woman who gave birth to the Christ child in a stable, amidst rumors of scandal. What a woman. Chris Cornell’s voice gives the song the kind of grittiness that I think goes properly with such a birth scene.
‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ by Whitney Houston (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 1) This is Whitney Houston and modern gospel music at its finest. This was the kind of music she was born to sing, not sappy love songs for a scumbag like Bobby Brown. Brings tears to my eyes, not least of all because I will never be able to sing this great classic nearly as well.
‘O Holy Night’ by Tracy Chapman (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
This is my favorite Christmas carol, regardless who sings it, or especially the red-headed woman named Anne who used to sing with the choir at church when I was growing up. If she sang this one at the Christmas Eve service, the whole evening was a hit. I love the lyrics to this song, by turns praising and in awe of such an event as the birth of Christ and then tender and sweet. Tracy Chapman’s sweet smoky voice and a simple guitar is all it needs.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Jingle All the Way
This is a family tradition that my husband and I adopted all our own, because who doesn’t need a little throat-singing and banjo-playing to shake up the likes of Bing Crosby and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Give me Bela over those ol’ stiffs any day.
John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
This album (and I mean LP, until it was replaced by a digital version in the new century, though we still have the slightly scratched vinyl edition) is a tradition from by mine and my husband’s childhood. John Denver can’t be beat for writing songs from the heart, and any time I hear ‘A Baby Just Like You’, I get all teary. Denver wrote it for his son, Zachary, thinking of Jesus as an infant and all that must have meant to both His father in heaven and to Joseph. It reminds me of my children and it reminds me of my brother, who was a baby when the song came out. My mother used to change the line Merry Christmas, Little Zachary to fit with her baby son’s name. I insert any or all of my children’s names, even if they’re not so little anymore.
And on a lighter note, the asides of Miss Piggy in ‘Christmas is Coming’, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ are hysterical.
What are your favorite Christmas tunes? Are they family traditions or ones you’ve started on your own?
November 19, 2013Posted by on
Our style here in the Land of the Destitute and Obscure is what I like to call eclectic-vintage bohemian. What does that mean, you may ask. Good question. It means that we get innovative, wait patiently, watch ebay, craigslist and garage sale listings with an eagle eye and even get lucky. As for the rest of our eclectic-vintage bohemian philosophy, even with a tight budget, we follow these loose guidelines to achieve the look:
Buy or Accept it Used:We rely heavily on hand-me-downs for the small people’s clothing options, and since they come from a variety of sources, we don’t worry much about matching.
If the long-sleeved onesie is polka-dot and the pants are flowered, at least they’re both pink, and if a yellow hat is all we’ve got, then that’s what we wear. When you’re the size of the average retriever puppy and your skin is that soft and rosy, you can get away with just about anything.
Handmade Goes With Everything…If it was made with love, it goes with everything, whether it’s a purple cardigan from Grandma or a headband sent from overseas, show your gratitude (and patriotism) and wear it with confidence.
Since I am currently limited in my crocheting and knitting abilities to the two-dimensional, I pair my funky knitted scarves with thin, thrift store silky ones and then I’m both warm and colorful. Then I decorate my couch with blankets made from hand-me-down yarn.
Accessorize with Confidence and Freedom: Whatever you feel your accessory must be, either an Afghan necklace made from silver coins (one of my favorites) or an inflatable butterfly, let your personality shine. Don’t let the circumstances dictate the level of accessorizing either. I may only be going to the park, but sometimes I need to wear a velvet top hat.
Even though you may only be sitting down to breakfast, there may be times when a morning tutu and striped beanie need to accompany syrup and pancakes.
Or perhaps, you may need to don a string of ducks and do your best bellydancing—pigtails optional.
Inspire Others: Encourage your friends to break out of those fashion constraints—fairies, apparently, sometimes need to wear sunglasses, too.
Wear the Unusual Every Day: I have jeans with embroidered butterflies, and skirts paneled with old saris. When I wear them with a simple top, they are a little less overwhelming than some of the combination my eldest puts together, but the outfit remains interesting. I don’t save a whole lot of my clothing for ‘special occasions.’ I don’t really have those; we don’t go out to fancy parties, and every day is worthy of being special. All the outfits above (with the exception of the fairy dresses, plastic shoes and ducks) go out—to school, the park, the store.
We splurge every now and then—the big girl gets new rain boots at Target, and I go bonkers on ebay, collecting cute, little used leather crib shoes on my watch list. I manage to buy a few, too. The truth is, I don’t need any more clothing, with the possible exception of bras that fit properly. I can go ‘shopping’ in my own closet and find things I forgot I owned, and pair them with items that desperately need an update. We manage here to keep our style unique with what we’ve got, because there is no price or monetary limit on creativity.
Just for fun, let’s take a poll. Which one of The Divine Miss M’s outfits was your favorite? Check out the captions for the photo numbers that match.
October 3, 2013Posted by on
Think the cupboard is empty? It’s amazing what you can make when you really look around the kitchen. You can make something out of nothing. Here’s what I do when I want granola: Granola is one of the most expensive over-rated items on the grocery store shelf. Do you know how easy it is to make? So easy, really. And the variations are endless. The only two things you must have are oats and oil—peanut or canola oil is best.
My grandfather used to make his own granola with these basic pedestrian ingredients, but you can swap out the peanuts for almonds or the raisins for cranberries, or any other chopped nut or dried fruit, depending on how fancy you want to get, or what you happen to have on the shelves or in your nearly empty pantry. Put it on yogurt, eat with your favorite cereal and dairy or dairy substitute or heat it up to make fancier oatmeal. Plus, when you make it, you get the added benefit of having your house smell all toasty and cozy when it’s cold outside.
Here’s my Grandpa Alden’s list of ingredients for granola:
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped peanuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup wheat germ
½ cup bran
3 ½ ounces flaked coconut
½ cup peanut oil
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
As you can see, the ingredients are cheap and healthy, though not for the peanut allergenic. I made this recipe for my family, and my husband thought the peanuts were weird, because he has a somewhat European sense of breakfast food. I don’t particularly like flaked coconut, either—it’s a texture thing. We also happened to have a rather large amount of flax meal, leftover from a pumpkin pie recipe gone terribly wrong.
So here’s what I did to make my own granola recipe:
4 cups oats
1 cup chopped almonds (to replace the peanuts, though they do cost a bit more)
1 cup flax meal
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup canola oil (to replace the peanut oil, since that’s what we’ve got)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup (to replace ½ the honey, because we were poor in honey but rich in syrup)
½ t. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dried apricots
As you can see, any nut or dried fruit can be swapped out, you can add any number of lovely fall spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves) to the dry ingredients and the ½ cup of honey can be traded for any sort of sweet, sticky medium—agave, maple syrup or any combination of what you’ve got, provided it doesn’t get too weird. The flax meal or bran could be any combination of these or some other roast-able ingredient to add a bit of flavor, health and digestibility.
Once you’ve got your ingredients all decided on (I always pull everything out and put it on our tiny acreage of counter before I begin, that way I don’t discover that I’m missing something halfway through the process) here’s how you’ll mix it up:
Combine oats, nuts, flax meal (wheat germ, bran, etc.) and coconut (if you like it and have it) and spices (if you choose) in a large bowl. Heat oil, honey (or other sticky stuff to equal ½ cup) and vanilla to just below boiling—you’ll start to see bubbles form on the bottom of the pan, when you do, take it off the heat.
Pour your sticky stuff over the oat mixture and toss/stir it all to coat the oats and stuff thoroughly. Spread it all evenly into two (or three) roasting pans (in my Grandpa’s recipe they call them ‘jelly roll’ pans, which just make me think of Leadbelly songs… but I digress).
Roast it all for 30 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees, stirring it up every 10 minutes to have it cook evenly, or until it’s a light brown (or a little darker as I prefer, or if I’m in the middle of changing diapers and forget to take it out in time). Remove from the oven and let it cool, then stir in the dried fruit.
Voila—your very own homemade granola!
September 18, 2013Posted by on
We were busy this summer. Here are a few of the things we did:
We went to a couple summer camps and had a few camp-like days at home—including Stalactite Experiment week (inspired by this awesome magazine called Alphabet Glue), Insect Experiment week, featuring ladybugs and pill bugs (and the gorgeous and rare albino praying mantis below), and Flower Experiment week, which just included lots of coloring.
I taught a belly dance class and managed to wait precisely four days after the last class to break my pinkie toe. And then I began class again in the fall just five weeks later, giving it just enough time to heal. I learned what it feels like to break a bone—my first. Like many things in life, it was painful, and then annoying, but I managed just fine and life went on as usual. Which, I might add, is different then the morbidly popular ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ Whatever it is could, however, leave you mangled, paralyzed or disfigured beyond recognition—let’s not go looking for pain in search of strength or toughness, okay people? Pain will come to you as part of life—learn to cope and then move along with grace.
Anyhow, enough of the toe, and philosophies on pain.
I applied for yet another blogging job to add to these two and failed to get it due to technical issues that had nothing to do with my wit, charm, abilities or experience. So fear not, we still have both feet firmly rooted in both poverty and obscurity and these blog posts will keep on coming.
We learned that it is better to use a hair clip than scissors to rid ourselves of that pesky lock of hair. We learned to walk, and we learned that just because we’re not walking doesn’t mean we have hip dysplasia (thank God!).
We grew a few things on our balcony garden, learned to love nasturtiums and hate aphids (ladybugs to the rescue!) and ate pesto, strawberries and parsley-riddled spreads thanks to our miniscule garden.
We learned how to do more on our bike than just ‘coast like toast’ and now use our pedals, and we learned to put a book down and return it to the library when it sucks… oh no, wait, I’m still learning how to do that.
This summer we lost a dear friend too quickly, though she had a good run at life and in the end, she wasn’t going to stick around and have people care for her. She cared for others all her life, people and plants alike, and now she’s in a better place, tending a celestial garden and loving everyone there without judgment or fanfare. Now we are learning how it is we explain death to someone not yet six years old.
We’re still learning how to drink out of a cup without sending it all down our chins, but at least we’ve decided to drink cow’s milk, which makes it easier on mama.
We’ve spent quality time with imaginary creatures, furry and hairy, including Babe, Mercy Watson, Elmo, Chester Cricket, and Bunnicula and enjoyed their company. Thanks to the wide spacing of kids, some of them are on their second round of introductions and others will get reintroduced in a few years.
This summer was spent living and learning, and no doubt the fall will be full of more of the same. Summer is a wonderful season, and we are enjoying this season of our lives.
Okay, class—tell me what you learned this summer. Type your answer in the comments section below.
June 13, 2013Posted by on
All hail the crazy, lazy days of summer—depending on your employment and child-rearing position in life. What is summer for? The beach? Sure. The movies? Maaaaaybe. But books? Darn Tootin’!! Here’s what’s currently trying not to accrue late fees on my library card:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez— listening to this one as an audiobook; I multi-task my commutes and my runs with some literary interludes.
One, two, three! by Sandra Boynton—You can’t go wrong with Sandra Boynton board books for kids, or calendars for adults. Her quirky cats and dancing hippos can charm the socks off young and old.
This Little Chick by John Lawrence
Little Lion by Giovanni Caviezel
Only You by Robin Cruise—a sweet little surprise/love poem book.
For the bigger kid:
Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows—if you’re not familiar with Ivy and her friend, Bean, you should be, especially if you have kids kindergarten through about grade 3. Something modern and fun while your waiting for them to get old enough for Harry Potter.
Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White—Okay, this is cheating a little bit (we actually returned this book about a month ago) but this is the best, best, best book for beginning chapter read-alouds. Yes, there’s Charlotte’s Web, but Trumpet of the Swan is even better. It doesn’t get nearly enough coverage as its big sister, Charlotte, but it is every bit as quirky, clever, amusing, heartwarming and poignant (and all those other book-describing adjectives) if not more so. Read it to your kids, or even just to yourself.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback—A great little story with fun illustrations and Jewish culture to boot—excellent. I am not, however, the first to think so. It won the Caldecott Medal.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman
For future reference, because I know she’s a good writer, and I’ll need something for the big kid once she’s into grade school:
The Runaways by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Drucker—It was time to read another view of parenting, though in truth, it’s a non-view kind of view.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen
The Annotated Brothers Grimm
The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger—an illustrated number, not so much for the children.
For research on writing prompts for the Iron Horse Women’s Writing Group (led by yours truly):
Naming the World: and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer
The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones
And some others:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury—Recommended by Uncle Jeremy. I love Ray Bradbury and hope that I will be able to get to it soon, after all the homework’s done.
How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too! Sal Severe, MD – Because I liked the title.
It’s Twins!: Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence by Susan M. Heim—Self-explanatory reasons.
Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker—For a school project, sort of and because I couldn’t remember the names of the Buddhist temple guardians (Fudo).
Happy Summer! Happy Reading! And be sure to let me know what’s on your list. (So I can add it to mine when I’m done with this one.)
May 31, 2013Posted by on
Only, it doesn’t exist– yet.
In my wildest blogging fantasies, I dream of hosting a cooking show. But wait—not just the same old ‘here’s a nifty dip to serve at a barbeque.’ And definitely not ‘let’s watch a professional chef verbally abuse people for your entertainment.’ Let’s imagine a nicer mix of the two. I’d like to believe that this new cooking show– something friendly, funny and helpful– might make for good ratings. I’m no television expert—we don’t even have cable—but I know what it’s like to cook and I try to practice my daily acts of kindness and beauty and bumper-sticker philosophy (okay, to a point—some bumper-sticker philosophy just gets ridiculous).
What I want to offer viewers in my new cooking show, is the chance to learn to cook better, while getting a peek inside an American household (we’ll go international, of course, once it catches on) and adding that irresistible flash of hot, charming celebrity. It would be a whole new category of helpful reality television. I recommend choosing families from all demographics, geographical regions, socio-economic status, gender partner pairing (tripling or squaring) marital status and generational mixing. If we’re going American, let’s really represent America. In the end, it will try to have nothing to do with politics.
Here are the ingredients:
1 family cook and his or her family
1 family recipe (not taken from a chef/restaurant cookbook)
1 celebrity cook/chef (my picks: Pioneer Woman— Ree Drummond, Anthony Bourdain, or Bobby Flay. If you have any other suggestions, please chime in below.)
Invite celebrity chef of the week (preferably, a different one every week for added variety) to a family dinner. The family cook prepares the meal and serves it to their own family plus chef and any guests. Everyone enjoys the meal.
Then, celebrity chef and family cook sit down and discuss the merits of the meal and constructively discuss possible improvements. This would be a nice time to talk about the significance or history of the family recipe.
Finally, the celebrity chef and the home cook make the meal together, implementing many or all of the improvements to the meal. They all enjoy it together and the family cook has learned from a pro.