Archive for August, 2009

Chair Refinishing Project

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

We got this chair at a garage sale for $2. Aside from the disgusting stained seat, I though it was rather pretty. It is more or less sturdy (no wobbly legs) and made of what looks like mahogany—just needs a bit of sanding and some finishing oil. No problem!

We huffed it home and I took it apart to inspect the seat. It had four layers of totally disgusting fabric and about fifty billion disintegrating staples, which I pried out with a screwdriver. Joshua came to check on me an hour or so after I had started and was surprised to see me still bent over the seat-back, pulling bits of metal out and swearing (well, he wasn’t surprised about the swearing). Look at this fabric; can you even imagine the splendor of what once was? The mind boggles.

Here are the seat covers I removed, each more stained than the previous layer. As I picked broken-off staples out of the crumbling fabric, I thought about a lot of things. Ancient diaper leaks, spilled chicken juice, bedbugs; and I ask you: what sort of person picked out the striped yellow fabric and said, “Yes. This is the one.” It gave me the shivers.

Of course then I had to sand it. Because I didn’t have a vibrating sander (left it in Texas), we had to go out to the hardware store and buy one. Then I made Joshua bring home paper because I guess I used all the paper I thought I had at home, or else I lost it. Then I sanded and sanded and sanded out all those nicks and scratches and asked my dad for refinishing advice and discovered that I should sand at a finer grit so I resanded and resanded and with a tear in my eye had to ditch the sander and use my fingers and bent-up bits of paper and I sanded and sanded and bitched and griped about how easy it is to forget how much one hates sanding all those weird little nooks and crannies and that dry scritchy flimsy bits of paper. But then it was finished and I got to apply the finishing oil (I had to go to two different stores before I found the right stuff, naturally). Putting oil on wood is so satisfying, like creating jewels out of dust. I painted on the oil, painted on more and sanded it wet with really fine grit black paper, then wiped it off and painted a final coat the next day.

Et voila! I thought Ronin would dig the fish.

Soooo pretty. Totally worth all that sanding.

Chicken Walk

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Not only do our neighbors have a penchant for home-grown vegetables, but they also seem to enjoy fresh eggs. In our immediate neighborhood there are at least six backyard chicken coops with two or three chickens apiece. Ever since Ronin learned what chickens said, we’ve made it a point to make the rounds of the visible coops so Ronin could look at all the bok boks.

A few blocks up the street we come to the first of the backyard chickens; Ronin actually does not let us walk past this alley without stopping to visit. There are three that live here and they pretty much have the run of the yard. When they see us coming, they usually cluster around the fence hoping for snacks.

Ronin pretty much picked out her outfit today.

The second coop we visited was not opened yet for the day and we couldn’t really see the chickens so we moved on to the third stop, a nice, easily accessible backyard coop with viewing windows.

Ronin discovered that if you run your fingernail down the dingy glass, it makes a sound that makes the mama’s head shatter. What fun!

And the chickens, also hoping for a handout. Every so often I have to prevent Ronin from poking her juicy grub-like finger through the chickenwire.

After I took this photo, the camera decided to totally break. It was bound to happen; five years of very heavy use and abuse. So, now we’re in the market for a new camera. Any suggestions? We’re eying the Canon G11.


Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

I actually have memories of fingerpainting myself. Unfortunately, those memories are not made up of feelings of excitement as my artistic self was awakened, of the infinite possibilities before me as I contemplated my paper and palette. Sadly, the memory brings back a fingers-on-the-chalkboard sort of cringe as I remember how it felt when you ran out of slimy paint and the thin skin on the inside of my knuckle dragged against the scratchy dry paper. I have goosebumps right now as I’m writing this; I’m not kidding.

Nonetheless, I decided quite suddenly the other day that Ronin’s brain was going to shrivel up and fall out her ear if I didn’t get her some Craft Projects immediately. Enter the fingerpaint. Maybe she’ll like it. Maybe it’ll be a mess. I’ll certainly use better paper than they gave babies back in the 70s. Plus, I’ll make pretty colors (I also remember the paints being dark drab colors: forest green, navy blue, burgundy, brown—bringing home papers with a slurry of blended green/brown/black smeared in the middle).

I found this recipe on the internet and cooked up a batch earlier this afternoon. Cooking it was fun—sort of like making cream of wheat where you stir and stir and stir for a million years and still it is just watery milk and then, suddenly, in the span of 15 seconds, all hell breaks loose and you suddenly have a pan full of porridge. Corn starch and water is a very curious porridge indeed.

After it cooled, I portioned it out into baby food jars and added food coloring. That was fun. It’s pretty thick with the recipe above so I added more water to make it a more paint-like consistency and stirred it all up with a chopstick. Even more fun, Ronin discovered the food coloring tubes and how to twist off the caps and while I was off neglecting her, she opened up the red, blue, and purple and squirted the stuff all over her hands. I was sort of flipped out and she repeated after me as I ferried the food coloring tubes out of reach “ssit ssit” (bad mama!).

The setup. All neat and tidy with cool and warm colors separated by dinner plate. I stripped her down and planted her in front of the paper.

Ronin tests the waters. Hmm. Colors pleasing… Paper smooth…

She was a little weirded out by the Stuff! on her hands!! It can be nice having a neat-freak toddler (she is a relatively tidy eater—partly because she doesn’t like to eat) but it is also alarming to take said toddler to the beach all, “BEHOLD: THE BEACH,” and have her totally freak out when a grain of sand gets stuck to her hand. She mellowed out a bit but I got her some tools anyway.

Palette knife and paintbrush.

Paintbrushes are for lamers.

Of course, nothing is better than simply cutting to the chase and eating the paint straight off your palette knife.

I’d say it was a success mostly. I’ll do it again at least despite the fact that food coloring does not just wash off of hands (or anything else) and her fingers are now stained purple-green-pink. Hopefully this fades quickly. I have to get better at ‘letting go’ as far as smearing paint in hair and eating it is concerned but I’m working on it. Ronin seems to enjoy the painting just fine but the real standout is getting to stack and rearrange the plates (between sneaking nibbles of turquoise or fuchsia), dumping the paper out on the grass and then arranging it back on the blue bin. And I sit back and dream wistfully that her future memory of fingerpainting will be happy, cathartic, and with zero spinechills.

Gardens en route to the grocery store

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

This is a garden in an alley near some chickens Ronin likes to visit. The first time I saw it, I called it Lead Garden because it’s planted in some funky paint-and-concrete-dust-crusted dirt in an alley adjacent a flaking garage and mouldering compost pile. At first it was just a long line of puny seedlings but as it grew, sticks and string were added to bind in the garden and allow a scaffold for the climbing plants. Of course, now it is full and luscious looking and there are volunteer tomatoes growing out of the compost pile (Trader Joe’s “grape tomatoes” I think they are) I finally met the guy who tended it and I’m fairly positive he is not one of the land owners. Just a mellow street dude with a serious green thumb.

Leaving the alley we pass the corner house, which is a tiny thing with a big backyard. The people who live here have two 100-gallon plastic containers full of cut-up pieces of stump that have been, um, brewing for nearly a year (at the very least). We wonder what they are making. They also have a nice garden with corn poking up over their six-foot fence.

Continuing down the street is a small front-yard garden. This one got started late but it’s looking pretty good. Sadly though, there are about ten little four-inch containers of root-bound strawberry plants beyond the garden patch near the front steps. I feel like I can’t understand (and yet I CAN understand only too well) why then never managed to get them planted in the real dirt so that they would have some semblance of a decent strawberry existence. Ah well. Moving on.

I don’t know what that little stripe of lawn between sidewalk and street is called but a lot of people around here plant gardens or fruit trees in it. I think it’s awesome but I’d personally be paranoid that dogs would pee on my tomatoes. And WHO is that hot guy with the adorable baby?

This guy must have used homemade compost to mulch his yard because there are tomato plants coming up ALL OVER his flower beds. These ones escaped his fence and are taking over the sidewalk (also Trader Joe grape tomatoes, it looks like). Ronin has a special affinity for this house because they chose to landscape the [weird patch between sidewalk and street] with pea gravel. Ronin LOVES pea gravel. It’s maybe her favorite thing on earth these days.

After 20 minutes and some hysterics, we managed to cross the street to a house owned by an elderly Chinese lady and her large chow mix dog. We see her begrudgingly walking the dog periodically with the surliest expression and the shortest leash. Pesky dogs!

She planted these beans from seed and I watched in amazement as the tiniest, most pathetic little sprouts grew up so huge they ate up the chain link fence and took over the string she laced all through the tops of the re-bar posts.

BEANS! I tell ya.

Another lovely garden planted in the [whateveryoucallit]. They have a serious pumpkin crop too.

Nobody waters lawns here. Only the dandelions are still green.

This guy has a cornfield in his front yard and has also taken up the parkway (I looked it up) with tomatoes and squash.

Alley garden. This is just around the corner from the New Seasons, where we buy groceries and where Ronin feasts upon the myriad of samples they lay out on a daily basis. I love New Seasons.

This house has raised beds that spill over his property lines into the vacant lot next door. Also, he’s planted a tomato field smack in the middle of the lot.

Since we rented a real house with a real yard, we planted a garden as well. We have cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, sunburst squash, chard, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, basil, oregano, sage, chives, thyme, strawberries and raspberries that were already here and established, and a volunteer artichoke. The carrots unfortunately didn’t do well at all; maybe it is the thick clayey quality of our soil. Also, powdery mildew totally attacked the squash and lemon cucumber. I mixed some baking soda in water w/a little dishsoap and oil and killed it and now the squash is doing well. The lemon cucumber was pretty severely disabled and though it is producing cucumbers, they are small and sparse.

The strawberries, tomatoes, and raspberries. The tomatoes are just now ripening and we’re going to have a second crop of raspberries in a few weeks. Ronin loves raspberries provided they come directly off the bush; if you try to feed her fruits (blueberries, plums, whatever) in the house, she shuns them. Therefore, we have to go back out and pretend to pull them off the bush if we want her to eat them.

Just one word: Playdates.

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

[The mama’s eye view.]

Ronin’s increasing playground freakouts were starting to get me worried about her socialization. It’s probably nothing out of the ordinary for your average short, illiterate, toothless (mostly), incontinent person who can’t speak English, but she is so painfully sensitive about having things taken away from her (toys, pine cones, steering wheel on the play structure, personal space, etc.) that I get to thinking (The Internet does not help). Sometimes she just decides she doesn’t like the look of some kid at the playground and whenever that kid comes near her, she just starts crying and flailing accusingly at him. Of course, this leaves the poor kid totally perplexed and a little disoriented. I have to take Ronin off and explain that that kid has a right to be on the play structure too and blah blah what the hell?!

The answer: Playdates. I may as well buy the minivan and sign myself up for the PTA now I suppose.

We have a couple of baby friends we specifically meet up with. Winslow is two months older than Ronin and they actually seem to interact together. We usually meet up at the park and the babies follow each other around, poking at vegetation, stamping around in the wading pool. The stakes are low since there are no specific toys involved and they have always gotten along pretty well. Our new baby friend is Rilke, whom we met at the Tiny Tots Story Hour at the library.

Winslow’s mom actually is the one who “introduced” me to the library story hour or else I never in a million years (well, several at the very least) would have gone there myself. (I know, I know, a library, other mothers, their toddlers! Very scary stuff.) As it turned out, she convinced me to go then stood me up and I was forced to brave the story hour by myself. (Spoiler: I survived, and even returned the next week.)

I still am not sure what to think of it. It’s a room full of toddlers and their parents, there is group singing and participation, there is the highly anticipated story, there are bubbles and a massive bin of brightly colored plastic toys dumped out at the end. Everyone seems to know each other, like they started out in birthing class together and graduated to Tiny Tots. It feels like some sort of group therapy, which makes me nervous, but then everyone is pretty normal and it’s not much of a stretch to realize I’m the freak and that I need to just RELAX. Makes me wonder who is really in need of socializing.

Ronin is still in the observational stage. She burrows into my lap and is probably taking detailed mental notes as the more outgoing kids run amok around the room, crawling over other parents and knocking each other down. All the hands up, hands down, hands all around type stuff pretty much mystifies her. She managed to reach out a finger to pop a bubble and by the second time we went, she ventured forth into the mayhem that was the pile of toys (those tots do know how to party) and only got in minor, swiftly averted scuffles over more desirable articles.

I managed to make a friend too. No thanks to me of course; she was the friendly one and my only contribution was managing not to screw up my own email address.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell