Monday, April 30, 2012


G this morning had a total meltdown when she asked when the project was over.  For whatever reason (a/k/a I didn't tell them because it would cause unnecessary pain), she wasn't aware that the project is intended to be 11 months long.  She asked how long we've been on it.  I said 95 days.  She said it seems like much longer, and I told her that it just seems like it (a/k/a I wasn't going to count the 3 month trial we did last fall).  But then T reminded her that we had done the trial last fall (thanks) to which I replied, "we sure did the trial last fall and then for the next 40 days, we ate out about 30 times."  And I'm not exaggerating.  Clearly, we didn't stay on the project long enough to change our bad habits.  Hence, the almost-a-year without unnecessary restaurant eating.

And hence the meltdown.  G said that she thinks about restaurant food all time, and she gets jealous of all her friends who get to eat fast food all the time.  I am so very proud of myself that I chose not to point out that that wasn't really something to be jealous about and that it's a pretty first-world problem to have.  Golf clap.  I am an excellent mother and not just because I chose not to pick an even bigger fight.  And then I said that in two months, when she can drive, she can go buy an over-priced, unhealthy meal everyday if she wanted to.  In a loud, judge-y, shrew-like voice, dripping with irony and filled with disappointment at her failing me.  In short, exactly what works with almost-16-year-olds.  Um, you can cancel that Best Mom Ever plaque.

Once she had left for school, T and I discussed the meltdown, and he, very astutely, said that it's about control.  And isn't it always?  Being about the most controlling person IN THE WORLD, I should have seen that coming.  And yes, this project is about controlling what we eat and how much we spend.  And yes, as the only cook in the family, I am pretty much the Idi Amin of our kitchen (although I do take requests).  But it's still control that I have and she doesn't.  Lifestyle change clearly doesn't come easy.  In fact, it sucks.

So then, I began to ask myself, am I really doing the right thing by legislating everything they are eating for an entire year?  Or am I creating food issues that didn't exist before?  As a kid with weight issues who grew up into an adult with weight issues, it's hard to find the line between educating your kids about diet and exercise and just pissing them off, pushing them to eat just to get back at you.  And I still don't know where that line is.   

But I do know this.  When I picked G up from school today, I offered to take her to the new (okay, now, not so new) Schlotzsky's that all the kids were talking about and making her jealous.  And I was seriously okay for her to go, even if it meant having to own up to it here.  I almost wanted her to say yes because I wondered if the sandwich in her head really would match the reality.  But she turned me down.  She said she really didn't want it now.  She just wants to be off the project.  She wants to be able to have fast food once in a while.  But she also said that we aren't very good at once in a while.  So, she thinks she can wait.  She's very focused on our beach trip.  Only 30 more days.  And I may let her choose where we go for Mother's Day.

I love that kid.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Okay, So This Looks Really Bad

So, yesterday, on my pilgrimage of awesomeness during which I shopped at Boggy Creek, helped a friend pack up her house for a move, got a mammogram-O and bone density scan, made quiche, cleaned dishes, watered plants, took kids to tutoring, did errands, and came home, this was on my dashboard:

Yep.  That's right.  On my list were underwear, flea treatments, coffee, toilet paper, and probiotics.  So, all day, while traipsing about central Austin like a total badass, I had a post-it stuck on my dash in full view of the groovy, but fashionable populace which made it look like I had a raging case of diarrhea necessitating new undergarments and probably brought on by too much coffee.  Oh, and fleas.

I'm not even going to tell you about the underwear.  It wasn't for me.  Really.  I swear.

So much for feeling like a badass.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Getting There. Locally.

All the way home from my errands and Costco, all I could think about was Mighty Fine Burgers.  There is a specific taste and smell to the entire place, just the right size burger, no cheese required, crispy crinkle fries, salt and pepper on the tables.  Now, even the quickest glance at the QC will tell you that we have hamburgers quite often here at Casa O - they're easy, they're quick, they're tasty.  And with the lean beef or ground sirloin, not all that bad for you.  But they never quite measure up to Mighty Fine. So, what is the magic to eating out?

I don't know the answer to that question, but it pervades.  G was telling me last week that she dreams about eating out in class.  When I asked her what restaurant she dreams about, she said, "all of them.  I think about it all the time.  Texican, Dan's, Maudies, Taco Cabana.  I spend whole classes thinking about it."  Now, she's the one that wasn't going to be in love with the idea of the project from the get-go, but I have to say that even I can kind of get what she's saying.

Because fast food/restaurant food is absolutely pervasive.  On my circle trip of errands while the kids are in tutoring, I pass the following:

Taco Bell
Mama Fu's Chinese
Mighty Fine Burgers
River City Coffee and Bakery
Zen Japanese
Longhorn Steakhouse
BJ's Brewhouse
Doc's Backyard
Which Wich (I think)
Dickey's BBQ
Serrano's Mexican
Potbelly Sandwiches
Mandola's Italian kitchen
Taco Cabana
Wings To Go
Chuy's Mexican
Firehouse Subs
Kerbey Lane
P Terry's
And that's just the ones I can think of right now.

All of these are located on the maybe two mile loop.   And they were mostly all busy, or at least occupied to some degree.  This business makes money, and a lot of it.  It also, to be fair, employs a lot of people.   Here's the reality, according to the restaurant industry themselves:


  • Sales: $632 billion
  • Locations: 970,000
  • Employees: 12.9 million — one of the largest private-sector employers
  • Restaurant-industry share of the food dollar: 48%


  • $1.7 billion: Restaurant-industry sales on a typical day in 2012.
  • 1.4 million: Number of positions the restaurant industry will add in the next decade.
  • Restaurant-industry job growth has outpaced the national economy in 12 consecutive years, from 2000 through 2011.
  • 93%: Percentage of eating-and-drinking place businesses that have fewer than 50 employees.
  • 7 out of 10 eating-and-drinking place establishments are single-unit operations.
  • 66% of adults say their favorite restaurant foods provide flavor and taste sensations which cannot easily be duplicated in their home kitchen.
  • One-half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives, and one-third got their first job experience in a restaurant.
  • 80% of restaurant owners said their first job in the restaurant industry as an entry-level position.
  • $2,505: Average household expenditure on food away from home in 2010.
  • 38%: Percent of adults who said they would be likely to utilize a smartphone app if it was offered by a quickservice restaurant.
Get more details in our 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast.
Source: (highlighting is mine)

All that food, with all that salt, all those calories, all those preservatives, or not, as far as you know.  I'm not sure if it's a plus or a drawback that you don't know what's going into your food when you eat out.  And maybe people don't care.   If that many people think they can't replicate the taste at home, maybe that's a tradeoff that they're willing to make.  And how can you not think about outside food when you're bombarded with it all the time?

And I'll be honest, I almost packed it in today.  Not for any real reason other than I really, really wanted an over salted, over greasy, over large meal.  But I didn't do it.  Mostly because today was LOCAL DAY!  Well, that, and I'd already made dinner.

Okay, there's no such thing as local day.  I made that up.  But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't kick some locavore ass today.  I started the day with R. at the market day at Boggy Creek Farm where there was chard!  And eggs!  And spring onions!  And little, bitty, baby squashes!   There's only one thing you can do with that:  Quiche!  Squash and onions!

Other than the whole wheat pie crusts from Central Market and the low sodium bacon and parmesan from the Costco, everything in our dinner tonight was local.  The eggs were from JFTB's sister's chicken, the leeks from the farm box and the chard from Boggy Creek.  Our veg was tiny baby zucchini and yellow squash and spring onions sauteed in olive oil.  We did have some multigrain toast from the La Brea bakery, but that's usually a breakfast item, so I'm letting it ride.

T. was home, and we actually sat around the table, all four of us, and ate our local meal at our local home.  And it was wonderful.  But does that mean I'm not going to miss the Mighty Fine?

No, it does not.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Second Harvest: Salsa

I'm beginning to cheer up!  Pulled three of these babies off my pepper plants (the only things that aren't turning yellow in my nitrogen-imbalanced nightmare).  Three peppers aren't enough to can, but they are enough for SALSA!

So, bad light + Iphone + bad perspective =
blurry 4-foot-tall jalapeno.  It was about 4 inches in real life.

Immediately, I had to text SS to get her unreal weekly salsa recipe, which I LOVE.

Her version:
2-3 cans stewed tomatoes, one salt-free (I didn't have stewed)
2-6 fresh jalapenos (I only had 3)
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Blend and cook for 10 minutes.

As usual, I didn't have half of the necessary ingredients, so my version looked like this:

My version:
3 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 onion, quartered (stewed tomatoes already have onion in them)
3 fresh jalapenos
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/4 c/ apple cider vinegar
1 t. salt (my people like a saltier rather than a sweeter salsa, so I added the salt)

I dumped everything in a non-reactive pot and cooked for 45 minutes on medium heat until really soft.  A/K/A I put it on the stove and went outside to do something, started moving dirt, forgot all about the salsa, and came running in to find it almost bubbling over.  Turned out OK.  I think it allowed the more liquid-y diced tomatoes to reduce down.  Blended everything with a stick blender.  Then had to leave, so pot sat to come to room temp for a couple of hours.  It thickened up a little and is now completely perfect.

Me gusta!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gown Day

My best friend L., or more accurately, her dear mama, Miss Judy, is the inventor of what we call here Chez O "gown day."  Okay, some people might call it "playing hooky" or "faking sick" or "unexcused absence," but those people suck.  Grades must be kept up and you can't miss a test, but seriously, school is a 175 day slog and we're on about day 140-something.

As a teacher, trust me, I know the value of each instructional day.  I know how important it is for kids to be at school.  And I know the rules.  I also know that the kid that you most want to be absent every day has had perfect attendance since preschool.  But that's another post.   The system doesn't reward the kids who don't get sick.  They used to give you a bicycle for having perfect attendance.  Not anymore.  Sometimes, they called your name out at an assembly.  Big deal.  Sometimes what you really want, what you really need, is just a day off.

So, each semester, as long as no one's missed a day for other reasons (besides school team sports, which can't be helped), you get a gown day.

The rules for gown day are as follows:
1.  You must remain in your pajamas all day if possible, although dressing to go to the movies (a/k/a homeschool popular culture) or go shopping (a/k/a homeschool economics) or get a pedicure (a/k/a homeschool chemistry) are permitted.
2.  You must sleep late and not wake Mama who as the bestower of gown day is also an unintended beneficiary of same.
3.  You must clean up after yourself because Mama doesn't clean up after you when you're supposed to be at school.
4.  You will probably have to eat cookies or other naughty foods.  Because you can.

I don't know who's more excited them or me.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Way too Emotionally Invested

Ugh.  I'm just so over this garden thing.  It's possible that taking on an enterprise that is subject mostly to the workings of nature, the least controllable force in the world, was not the best choice for me.  I spent three and a half years in therapy trying to conquer my perfectionism and difficulty dealing with items outside my control.  Hmmmm.  Remember that SNL skit from the '90's?  You know, Bad Idea Jeans?  Welcome to my world.

I have always lived my life under the premise that anything can be fixed by just working harder.  That doesn't work?  Work even harder.  Only that doesn't work when you're waiting for things to grow or trying to diagnose one of the 419,762 things that could be making Larry Tomato No. 1 turn yellow all over.

And if Larry No. 1 is turning yellow, it must be because I am responsible.  And I have failed.  Which is completely and utterly insane.  Because I bagged my own dirt, added in turkey compost, fed with organic teas and other exotic fish-smelling atrocities.  Watered effectively, staked appropriately, and personally went out each night, even in church clothes after Maundy Thursday and picked off each one of the fucking caterpillars that are eating everything.  Like I said, farmer may not have been the best choice.

I guess where my failure lies is in feeling like I wasted something.  Is it wasted time?  Wasted money?  If I am looking to this for a sense of worth and value, isn't it just as important that I am feeding my family vegetables whose origins I know intimately, whose life is an open book to me, who didn't have to be trucked in from anywhere?  And isn't it important that I tried?  And that it all looks so pretty?  Sadly, no.

And so here is where you have to get real about personal failure:  so what if nothing fruits?  What's the worst that could happen?  The worst that could happen is that I would have to go to the farmer's market and pick up what I need.  Or the HEB, for God's sake.  There are countless people in this world who don't have that luxury.  Frankly, they don't even have running water.  Or birth control.  Or any food at all.

It may be about time for me to get over myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

First Harvest


Here it is.  The sweaty, dirty, back-breaking, dirt-hauling, caterpillar-killing, soul-sucking drudgery has finally paid off.

With 5 radishes.

At least they were tasty.

Ugh.  I'm so over this.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Garden Party

Another big day at Casa O. today.  I’ve been slaving and slaving away on my pest control project home-canning garden for weeks, and it was time to show it off.  I don’t get to see my teacher friends nearly enough, and all the kids were off school, so DAC and I decided on a garden party. 

It was so nice to take a break from mind-numbing drudgery home gardening and enjoy the day.  We had homemade lemonade, both child and adult versions, toll house chocolate chip cookies, and sand tarts from the 1968 Houston Junior League Cookbook. The little girls hung in there for the front yard portion of the tour, then bagged to hang with the big kids on the back porch.  I'm pretty sure it had something to do with cookies.  Or chihuahuas.  I'm not sure.  I'm willing to consider the possibility that my gardening successes and failures are not all that riveting to the 7 and 9 year--old set.  Or maybe to anyone.  Wait. What?

"I'll give you $3 if you'll be in my picture."

I am rereading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle again (thanks, MWM) and continue to be amazed at her dedication to feeding her family from her own garden and community.  And God bless her.  But good heavens, how in the hell did she do it?   I.  Am.  Absolutely.  Exhausted.  Self-help books talk a lot about mindfulness and being in the moment.  Enjoying nature, accepting that you cannot change what is, look around at the beauty around you.  Fuck that.  I'm sweaty, stinky, rashy, bloody from cuts and scrapes, and so sore from digging and hauling that I can't turn my head to the right. 

But today was a different kind of moment.  It was a lovely, lovely day.  There was a nice breeze under the trees.  There were good friends.  There was vodka.  It was so nice to just sit.  And visit with a dear, special, wonderful friend.  The big girls love running around with the little girls: they had cookies on the couch, a game of Sketch-It, and made bracelets, which left plenty of quiet time for the mamas.  A good deal all around.

And I am really, really proud of how it all came out.  The garden does look nice.  There is actual, real fruit (actually vegetable) on the plants.  That's a baby jalapeno.  I'm a mom!  Those are tomatillos blooming behind it.  All the more special was to have a friend to share it with.  And it was nice to feel like there wasn't anything else I needed to do or anywhere else I needed to go.  Those are the moments that make the sweat, the stink, the blood, and the rashes worth it. 

Things were just perfect until it was time to leave.  T made the terrible error of asking DAC what she and the girls were having for dinner.  "Well, since we’re not on the project, oh, sorry, we’ll probably pick up something on the way home."  G visibly paled when C said "let's go to Schlotzsky's."  A long discussion ensued about why we were on the project and what it meant for us.  Considerable attention was paid to the loopholes by C, who is smart as a whip, and only just a little bit concerned that her mama might want to go on the project, too.  Loopholes only make it worse.  Then, the sweet, little family bade their goodbyes and rolled off into the twilight.  And my kids had leftovers.  Which is just fine.

And, no, I didn't just finish the last of the sand tarts.

Why do you ask?


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I'm Pro-Genocide. As in Genus. Which Comes Before Species.

I consider myself a fairly peaceful person.  I haven't hit anyone recently, and I very rarely think violence is the answer.  I did get kicked out of Brownies in 3rd grade for hitting Ashley Deirker, but I'm pretty sure she deserved it.  Gosh, I hope she doesn't read this.  Well, if I'm wrong, leave a comment.  And anyway, talking about people behind their backs is way more fun than physical violence, n'est pas?  Battery is just so obvious.  So unseemly.

But I had to put all that aside last night to deal with the crisis that has filled my heart with dread every morning since last Friday.  Caterpillars.  I hate them.  They have eaten through an entire basil plant and most of my radishes (which, strangely, appear to be pushing themselves out of the dirt at will - not sure what that's about).  Anyway, this is not okay.  

So, last Friday, I went to the little, groovy organic nursery near my house.

Me:  Something is eating my plants.  And I mean big time.

Nursery guy:  What is it?

Me:  (fighting the urge to say if I knew that, I wouldn't be here) Um.  I don't know.  But whatever it is is big enough to be leaving green poop behind.

Nursery girl:  Oh!  Poop!  It's cabbage loopers.

Me:  What is that?  

NG:  It's a kind of caterpillar.

Me:  What do I need to do for that?

Other Nursery Guy:  You need blah-blah.

NG1:  No!  You need bloop-bloop.

Nursery Girl:  Well, if it's leaf rollers, something, something, but if it's loopers, bah-diddy-bah.

And from thus proceeded a long and very animated discussion of organic pest control that I only understood a fraction of between the three zealous nursery people in the greenhouse.  I realized after a certain point that they had forgotten that I was even there.

So, suffice it to say that I walked out of the groovy little nursery with a bottle full of what's called BT.  It's very safe, a naturally occurring bacterium that is toxic to butterfly and moth larvae but nothing else.  So, I mixed some up and sprayed it over the weekend.  It's supposed to take 2-3 days to work.  Well, what the hell am I supposed to do until then? 

My tennis friend, Jim, asked me last night if I were hand picking off each caterpillar and killing it.  I now realize that he might have been kidding.  However, when I got home, I got out my flashlight and picked off every caterpillar and crushed it under my shoe.  With joy in my heart.  The girls were out there, too, with their flashlights, helping with target acquisition.  It was a bonding moment.  Not sure what bonding over larval death says about my parenting, but I'm choosing to celebrate the bonding part rather than dwell on the death part.

The BT bottle has a gentle reminder that caterpillars someday turn into beautiful butterflies and moths, so we should use it sparingly.  Sparingly my ass.  WE'RE UNDER SIEGE, PEOPLE!!!!  Sparingly went out the window with my radishes and my basil.  This is war.  I will stop at nothing short of total world domination.

Looks like I've kind of refuted that whole Jesus post from yesterday.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Road to . . . Dryer Sheets

I have done 6 loads of laundry in the last two days. 

I have been pondering for years the resurrective nature of laundry. No matter what you do, no matter how close to finished you think you are, unless you do your laundry completely naked (and if so, props to you), you’re never done.  Laundry is a lot like the Resurrection.  Yes, of Jesus.  Now for most people, laundry is not that life changing.  If anything, it’s the opposite. But I like to think of it as something far more eternal than soul-sucking drudgery.  Its very permanence makes it comforting.

And I don’t think laundry is resurrective in an original sin kind of way, as in no matter how hard you try, you’re still a sinner in God’s eyes kind of way.  My God doesn’t roll that way.  He loves me, and I like to think he’s got way more important things to worry about than whether I say fuck from time to time.  Or a lot.  Whatever.  I think it's resurrective in a very tangible and reassuring way.  That no matter what one year brings, whatever successes or failures, whatever attempts and resolutions, whatever messes I’ve made,  Jesus still dies to sin on Friday and is raised for me on Sunday.  No matter what.  Easter still comes.  I am still a child of God.  Just like there's always one more load of laundry.  It's always there for you, too.

Now, there are some folks out there who will say that this is a mighty fine missive from someone who lately has been to church almost not at all.  As in, we've become those people that everyone looks down on, the C&E's, the two-timers, the lesser faithfuls.  And maybe we have.  But my priest and pastor and friend always counsels me that we all have seasons in our lives.  And our duty to God is to live into each season as fully as we can.  You do what you can do.  After almost 10 years of nearly full-time devotion to church work, I had to take a step back a few years ago.  As in I got a full time job as a middle-school teacher, who parents alone during the week, who has kids whose sports last into the weekend, and who needed to find her God in a more solitary setting for a time.

And I pray faithfully.  It's just somewhere else other than a particular building.  But I do feel the call to return to my church.  I will go to church on Thursday night and kneel at the feet of my friends to wash their feet.  I will go Saturday night for the Great Vigil of Easter and to hear the ancient stories and celebrate the return of Jesus to the living.  And I will keep going back.  Because no matter what, it will be there.  Church will be there.  God will be there.  Waiting for me.  Just like the next load of laundry.

Happy Holy Week.