Entries in friends are family too (37)


the story of a fairy, a door, and the magic of pretend - part 2

yes, these wee mugs really have our name on them; they were an impulse buy from my mother, found at a tourist shop on the coast(read Part 1 here)

When Peri moved into our house, she built her home inside the living room wall. But with all our talk of home improvement projects recently, shewanted in on the action. She decided to move out of the walls and into one of the built-in bookcases in the living room. Which meant she needed a new house.

Or, being an urban fairy, more of a studio apartment.

A shoebox was just the thing, but it took some time to find the right one. Then there was wallpapering to be done, and floor covering to put down, a ceiling and an exterior to paint. Then, the fun part: decorating! Peri is a very thrifty and resourceful fairy, and expert at repurposing, so nearly everything came from stuff we had. A new bed (with a bit of fabric designed by my friend Neva for the bedspread), a repainted bookcase, a treasure chest for all the gifts from Miss S last year. Mugs for me and Sal and artwork from Miss S for the wall. I even happened to have a seamstress mannequin that Peri used for the dress Miss S and I made for her last year. (The only item I purchased was a wee copy of The Little Princess, one of my favorite books ever. Because obviously.)

Of course, moving out of the wall meant she also needed some camouflage for her house. Fairies need their privacy, too, after all. And I thought, what better than books to hide a house built in a bookcase? They're the perfect cover. ::rimshot::

With so many crafts these days utilizing old books in some fashion, it wasn't hard to find someone on Etsy willing to send me cut off book spines from one of their repurposing projects. Some wooden shims left over from an IKEA project and lots of heavy duty glue turned them into facade sure to fool anyone who doesn't know not to judge a book by its cover (oh yes, I went there). Some LEDs and a bit of wiring (finally, a chance to put that engineering degree to use!) and a few other little details and the house was finally complete.

Just in time for a visit from Miss S....

(see the full photo gallery here)


the story of a fairy, a door, and the magic of pretend - part 1

We have a fairy door. We've had it for about 8 years, in a quiet corner of the living room near one of the built in bookcases. It just appeared very coincidentally one day after I read about the urban fairy doors of Ann Arbor. Most people don't even notice it until they've visited a few times.

Miss S first noticed it during a visit a few years ago*. She and her mom had built a fairy garden at home, but she was very intrigued by the idea that we had a resident fairy who lived in our walls instead of our yard. She knocked on the door repeatedly, but no one answered. Where was the fairy? she wanted to know. On a business trip, I told her. She's a career fairy. A Professional Daydreamer, a very important job. Miss S tilted her head and squinted at me, trying to decide if I was yanking her chain.

*(Miss M, interestingly, has only recently asked about the door, even though it's been there since before she was born. I'm sure she noticed it at some point, but she must've just figured that of course a fairy lived at our house, because I am her fairy godmother and therefore, duh.)

When Miss S visited last March, she knocked very politely on the door, but no answer. She tried the doorknocker but still no answer. The fairy, unfortunately, was on vacation at the coast. But since Miss S was herself headed to the coast the next day, maybe she'd see her on the beach! (She had her mom text me from the beach the next day to ask if the fairy liked playing in the water, because she was pretty sure she'd seen the fairy swimming in a tide pool. That might've been her, I agreed. Tide pools make excellent swimming holes for fairies.)

During her visit, I'd bought her an activity tube from SCRAP -- they fill old tennis ball tubes with odds and ends for kids to get creative with, usually with some kind of theme (ex. everything in one color or sports-related bits and pieces; Miss M's was full of blue things) -- and following the creation of a scavenger hunt game within minutes of opening the container, Miss S decided that we should make a dress for the fairy with some of the pieces of fabric from the tube.

So without sewing or needles or scissors or thread, we made a "dress", complete with a belt made from a scrap of ribbon and two little blue "jewels". Other items in the tube soon became part of a gift basket to be left on the fairy's doorstep (a milk jug cap served as the basket), with the hope that the fairy might share the secret of opening the door. She also included a note that the belt went with the dress, just to be sure the fairy knew what to do with it.

On April Fool's Day, I texted a picture of a new package -- an empty dental floss container tied with a pom pom string -- waiting on the fairy's doorstep that I had been instructed to send to Miss S. (I recognized that pom pom string. It had come off a pair of my slipper socks, then disappeared before I could sew it back on. Apparently, the fairy had taken a liking to it....)

ipod shuffle included for comparisonA few days later, a text with pictures. Someone was very excited to receive a special package wrapped in a pom pom string from a slipper sock. Inside were gifts of a very fairy-like nature: a pink feather, a shell from her beach vacation, a pretty button, a ship charm, a shiny bead, and lots and lots of star confetti. And there was a letter from the fairy, introducing herself at last to Miss S -- Periwinkle Mapletree, Resident Fairy at Hall House and Professional Daydreamer -- along with ::gasp:: the key to her front door!

Next up: Part 2, wherein we build, furnish, and decorate a house for a thoroughly modern urban career fairy.



my unintentional year in review

It's both coincidental and not that the last post on this here website (7(!) months ago) was a reflection about how blessed we are. It would've been a good stand-in for the obligatory end-of-the-old-start-of-the-new year post, and I suppose still is, since everything I wrote about then is still true. But on the whole, 2013 was a hard year, and by the end, I wanted nothing more than to see it in my rearview mirror. Hence the dearth of posting.

I've had a lot to share. I have drafts of posts I never got the time to finish, loads and loads of pictures to upload, bentos pics to update, and of course Hall House projects to finish writing about. But things were busy, like they always are, and as the amount of things to post about built up, it started to become A Thing.

And then November happened. Well technically, the end of October to the end of November, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was apprehensive about 2013 from the beginning, and as soon as I returned to work from the holidays, found out I had good reason to be.  From the first day back, we were faced with some big challenges at the office that ended up taking months to resolve, a friend received terrible news, and it was looking increasingly likely that the plans I'd made for my milestone birthday would have to be cancelled. By the end of the first month, I had fired January altogether and put 2013 on notice.

at Manzanita, looking toward Neahkahnie MountainThankfully, my birthday plans didn't have to be cancelled, after all. I celebrated my 40th in several ways, with family and with Sal and with my own quiet little sojourn. And later, with the Albino, whose birthday is just a month after mine, and our mutual friend, Twinklebugs. A year in the making, we celebrated the entry into our fifth decade with a Girls' Weekend in Manzanita. We rented a house on the beach and when we weren't just staring out the windows, we were out on the sand and shopping and eating ridiculously good food and staying up very late talking.

the rapiers are the prettiest, but the longswords are the most funSigns continued that 2013 might not be so bad after all. In April, I attended the first ever Swords for Scribes workshop put on by my friend Kim and her partner. I got to handle swords and machetes and rapiers, oh my, and practice three different sequences and learn all the awesomely gruesome physics of blades in battle. We then vanquished a melon army and watched a live duelling session between people who know what they're doing. I also learned that I am madly in love with the two-handed long sword.

Lake Quinault LodgeOur summer technically kicked off in May, when we spent a long weekend at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula, which I planned to post about in yet another brilliantly-written-only-in my-head post. We lucked out with temps in the 80s all weekend and a cabin room with an unparalleled view. We dangled our feet in the water and snapped pics of an otter swimming around the dock and climbed the roots of an ancient Sitka spruce. We took an epic 5 mile trail hike, up ravines, past waterfalls, and through a wetland.

My mom and grandmother came out for a visit for five days at the end of May, and we ran them (gently) ragged, to rose gardens and the forestry museum, Powell's and a plant nursery. We enjoyed dinner at the OCI restaurant so Grandmother could eat the food Sal teaches his students to make, and we enjoyed dinner at our own humble kitchen so Grandmother could eat the food Sal masterfully creates. We made a trip down to my office, so she could see where I work at my "very grownup job". And we spent a significant time doing my Grandmother's favorite thing of all: Visiting. (My family doesn't just talk. We visit, which is talking taken to the level of an Olympic sport, because my family are world-class caliber visitors.) We started a list of the things we'll do during her next visit.

summer vacation in OceansideAt the end of June, we took our summer vacation to Oceanside and enjoyed a nice bit of time off together. We celebrated our 17th anniversary in mid-July with a driveabout, something we hadn't done in a long time. Our destination? The Arctic Circle in Prineville so we could have a Bounty Burger and fry sauce like the ones we had at the Arctic Circle in our hometown back in the day.

Crooked River Canyon, looking eerily similar to our Wyoming homeOur driveabout led us to the Crooked River Canyon and we had the best, best day of adventure, windows rolled down and singing to our favorite road music at the top of our lungs and making it to a gas station juuuuuust in time on the way home. We capped off our wonderful day with a romantic dinner of takeout pizza by candlelight and talking until late into the night, hands held and maybe tears of gratitude a time or two.

it's been more than 13 years since we'd last had a Taco Johns softshell, and it tasted just like we remembered(We made a similar nostalgic fast food daytrip on Labor Day weekend, this time to TriCities, which we'd never been to before but happens to be the nearest location of a Taco John's. Because sometimes, you just gotta drive three and a half hours for six pack and a pound.)

rain, rain, glorious rainThe beautiful weather that started in May continued almost unbroken through the first half of September, which is how I found out there really is such a thing as Summer SAD and wow, do I have every single symptom. If there ever was any doubt that the PNW is my homeland, this summer cleared that up definitively. I actually like summer okay, and Oregon summers are pleasant and mild for the most part. But I do battle insomnia and loss of appetite when the weather turns warmer and this year, they came with a low burn anxiety that had me agitated and restless by mid-August. But the rains finally came in mid-September and we crossed into blessedly cool and wonderful autumn at last. It took a few weeks, but I started to feel like my old self again.

Really, 2013 could've been an okay year, my struggles with the summer notwithstanding. But there had been one particular shadow casting a long silhouette across everything all year, and in the back of my mind, I knew something very hard was coming.

Back in January amidst all the work stuff, my dear friend and colleague and mentor, Geri, received terrible health news. The kind of news that measures time in weeks and not years. The kind of news that brings everything else to a stop. Two months, they said. Maybe three.

She leaped into a battle for more time. Not time for the sake of it, nor time increasingly occupied by specialists and last-ditch treatments. She was determined to have good, quality, make-the-most-of-it, leave-no-regrets time. And warrior that she was, she wrested eight extra months of time from that initial diagnosis and in true Geri fashion, she packed a whole lot of living into it.

I was one of many incredibly fortunate beneficiaries of that extra time so fiercely fought for. We met for lunch regularly and I visited her at home when treatments left her tired. We texted all the time. We played epic rounds of Word Feud and Draw Something until well past either of our bed times. She regaled me with tales of a life well-lived, of a fearless woman who blazed trails and kicked asses left, right, and center while wearing very fashionable footwear. I showed her whatever artwork I'd recently finished and told her all my funniest stories and caught her up on the latest goings on at the office. I got to visit with her and laugh with her and hug her and hold her hand. I got to make sure she knew, every time, how important she was to me.

Her partner very kindly notified me the morning she died, and my colleagues very kindly shouldered the responsibility of figuring out how best to notify our staff, and my husband very kindly asked me what did I need. It was a pretty fall day, season of my heart, all blue sky and autumn colors ablaze in technicolor intensity, the kind of day that's so brilliant your soul feels too small to contain it all, and as I sat looking out our kitchen window, I knew it was a day to be outside, breathing that air and digging in the earth, connecting to life in a profoundly simple way.

the lilac my mom bought for my new homeIt's a tradition in my family to plant something to mark events and occasions and to remember those we love. A lilac for a mother's day, perhaps, maybe a pretty clematis for a birthday. A favorite rose bush to mark a great grandmother's passing, a silver leafed tree to mark a daughter's graduation, a willow for a significant anniversary. Geri was a gardener -- she would appreciate such a tradition. A tree would honor her well.

At the nursery, as we wandered among maples and oaks and birch and ash, I thought a lot about her, touching each trunk -- was this Geri's tree? This one? Maples are my favorite, but the birches kept drawing our attention. The birch is a symbol of renewal and strength, the first to leaf when spring hasn't yet taken firm hold, quick to repopulate after the ravages of fire. Resilient in times of adversity, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed, a symbol of hope and a reminder that the dark days will brighten. Yes, that was Geri.

Geri's treeWe decided on a birch variety called 'royal frost', which has red and burgundy leaves in spring and summer, turning gold in fall, and striking salmon-colored bark until it matures. We made a prominent place for it in our back yard near the stump of the old apple tree we had to take down last year, tucked in among ferns and bleeding hearts and snowberries and heuchera. That pretty salmon bark stood out beautifully, the last few leaves burning dark burgundy against the late October sky. Damp dark earth, sharp scented bark mulch, a hummingbird hovering nearby as if to oversee our informal little ritual.

The serenity of that day became a touchpoint of calm in the weeks that followed. There was the office remodel that became both a logistical and scheduling headache, the abrupt demise of my laptop a week before my clients' websites needed their monthly updates, the scramble to get the house ready for an appraisal for a refinance that moved faster than expected. There was my granddad in the hospital, and a week later, my dad. My granddad's surgery went well, thankfully. Dad's surgery did, too, but there were complications and days of worry and frequent check-ins, waiting to hear if everything was going to be okay.

There was Geri's memorial. There were the hard days that followed.

There was a health scare for Smaug that saw us at Dove Lewis (emergency veterinary hospital) at 1 AM on a Monday night, where we waited for nearly five hours through a series of tests and scans, ending in inconclusive results and us returning home long enough for an hour nap before our regular vet opened for more tests.

There was me forgetting the disk with the scans from the hospital in the rush to get out the door, which meant Sal had to bring them to me instead of getting a couple of hours sleep before work, and all of that complicated by a financial snafu that threatened to derail the refinance, which Sal heroically straightened out while we waited for the vet. Afterward, there was a mad dash to the office for a meeting, still in my clothes from the night before and barely able to keep my eyes open. There was a text from Sal when I got out of my meeting that his laptop stopped working because of course it had.

the day Smaug returned from her ordeal at the hospital and the vetSmaug's recovered, thankfully, from what turned out to be an e.coli infection. But she and Hobbes will be 18 in a few months, and she doesn't bounce back like she used to. They've been slowing down a bit this last year, but she seems to be aging quicker since this last incident. I have a feeling that this was probably our last Christmas with her, and as close as she and Hobbes are, wouldn't be surprised if he follows her soon after. They both seem okay, but something seems to have changed, and I feel like she's giving us little signs to prepare ourselves. Maybe for months, maybe for longer. Maybe not.


So we make extra extra sure to enjoy our time with them each day, and continue to be grateful for the many years of joy and immeasurable love they have brought into our lives. We will let them go gracefully and painlessly when their time comes, whenever it does. I don't know how I will face those days, or a home without their delightfully demented and crazed little selves. This is the price we pay for love.

But if the month of November was heavy with grief, it was not unrelenting. ProcrastiGirl got engaged and her obvious happiness is an infectious sort of joy. The appraisal exceeded our hopes, the refinance closed successfully, and we'll be able to start some long overdue projects soon. The laptops were replaced (after a not insignificant amount of sturm und drang, but compared to everything else, it's hardly worth a mention), and I was fortunate enough to borrow one from work in the meantime, managing through two months of client website updates without a hitch despite the disarray of our technology while we waited for our new laptops. Family and friends provided support and encouragement throughout the chaos. We squeezed in time for little diversions to relieve the stress. We enjoyed our annual Hall-Smiley Thanksgiving Extravaganza of laughter and fun and food and love.

And even after she was gone, Geri was still working her special magic. It was thanks in part to her that reconciliation came from an unexpected quarter, renewing a lost relationship. That loss was an old wound, deep, but long since moved past. But she healed it just the same, as if to remind me that she's still got her eye on me. On all of us. That was the kind of person she was, to have an impact on all the lives that surrounded hers. Renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed. Yes indeed, that's Geri.

Christmas Eve fogHeading into December, I think 2013 decided we'd had enough. December came with spectacular bouts of fog and downright frigid temperatures, conjuring something akin to the winters we grew up with -- as close as you can get in the PNW, anyway --which it made it feel more festive somehow. We had some much-needed time off together, in which we baked cookies and listened to Christmas music and watched every single one of our Christmas movies. A few days before Christmas, we dressed up for a nice night out -- dinner at Veritable Quandary followed by the tree all lit up at Pioneer Courthouse Square and enjoying being out and about in our city all dressed up for the holiday. We went to all the movies we wanted to see and took walks through the neighborhood and brewed beer and spent time in the studio making glorious artistic messes.

winter vacation in OceansideBetween Christmas and New Years', we made our winter pilgrimage to Oceanside, enjoying unusually warm days, a bit of sunshine, and the sounds of the waves soothing us to sleep at night. Sal found four intact sand dollars, the first time we've ever found one intact, let alone four, and that seems like a good omen. And we ended the year the same way we started it, with our Smiley family and all the little traditions we've created together for the last day and the first.

That's by no means all of our highlights -- nor all of our lowlights -- of the complicated year we've just put behind us, but they're the parts I wanted to share here, to memorialize. I won't remember 2013 fondly, but I do want to remember that so many good memories happened this year, too, and maybe 2013 was a lesson in taking comfort in those things amidst the difficult ones. To remember the symbolism of Geri's tree: of renewal and strength, spreading beauty and comfort where they're most needed.




your perfect chaos is a perfect fit

Today is a post of odds and ends, wee tales of empowerment, quirkiness, and adorableness. Also, food.

A Tale In Which Our Heroine Gets A Sign From the Universe. Literally.

On the way to the store a few weeks ago, there was a handmade sign stapled to a lightpole saying "Go Brittney Go!" An unexpected exhortation to hurry, hurry to the store? Words of encouragement for braving the hordes in the produce section when I got there?

No, just a remnant from the Portland Marathon a few days before (the route brings participants across the bridge and down Willamette, which is the street I was on), one of many homemade signs of cheer and support along the route. This one was on neon pink posterboard and featured stars and glitter.

A little further on, another sign: "Brittney You Go Girl!" I grinned and said to myself, "Yes, Brittney, you go girl!" And then after that, "YOU ROCK BRITTNEY GO GO GO!" I nodded and pumped my fist a little, "Yes, Brittney, you do rock! Go, go, go!"

It was the most empowering trip to the grocery store I've ever had.

A Tale of What Makes This City Uniquely Fabulous

On the way home from that same trip to the store, I saw what would've been the most awesome thing that day, if I hadn't already taken the grocery store errand of champions just before.

In the bike lane on the opposite side of the street, a cyclist caught my attention from a few blocks away, which is saying something, since cyclists are ubiquitous in this city of that's a haven for bike lovers. It wasn't that he was an older man, nor that he was riding an older-style bike that forced him to sit more upright, nor even that he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt instead of sporting the hipster-biker and/or Serious Biking Enthusiast gear that's more common. No, it wasn't any of those things, because you get used to seeing all types when bikes make up as much traffic as cars do.

What caught my eye was the white fur stole wrapped around the man's neck and shoulders. I kept staring as I got closer, trying to puzzle out this unusual fashion choice. Was it for warmth? It was a gorgeous 70 degree autumn day, so that seemed unlikely. And fur-anything is a rare sight here, the headquarters of Liberal and Vegan and Environmentally And Socially Conscious.

It wasn't until I passed him that I finally realized that it wasn't a fur at all.

It was his beard.

Parted in the middle and thrown over each shoulder.

I wish every trip to the grocery store was that awesome.

A Tale of What's Red and Black and Adorable All Over

Sister reported the following conversation between her and the Fabulous Miss M regarding favorite colors:

Miss M: And Aunt Bitty's favorite color is purple, like me!

Sister: Yes, and yellow.

Miss M: Mommy, what's Uncle Sal's favorite color?

Sister: I think he likes black. And red.

(I was impressed that she remembered that, by the way.)

Miss M: Uncle Sal is a Ladybug Man!

(And now you know why we spoil her rotten. When you're that adorable, it's a requirement.)

A Tale of Bento Catch Up

But not bento ketchup. Although that would be rad.

Super behind on posting bento pics, but there were too many good ones not to feature them here, and also, NEW BENTO BOX WOOT WOOT! In my search for non-plastic boxes, I've finally added a glasslock box called a Wean Green, which is a pyrex type of glass with a locking plastic sealed lid. This one is square and holds 490 mL, so it's a good in-between size with a nice depth. (For the locals: New Seasons sells them alongside the Lunchbots.)

10/15/12 lunch -- Ms. Bento

  • chicken noodle soup made by Chef Sal
  • carrot sticks
  • green beans
  • Cox's Orange Pippin apple with cashews as gap fillers
  • chocolate pudding

10/16/12 breakfast -- pink WeanGreen

  • molded egg
  • cashews
  • Honeycrisp apple
  • cheese cubes


10/16/12 lunch -- bento colors purple

  • King David apple with cashews as gap fillers
  • chicken teriyaki meatballs
  • steamed broccoli
  • carrot sticks with honey peanut butter for dipping


10/18/12 lunch -- pink Natural Lunch

  • chicken teriyaki meatballs
  • steamed carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
  • molded egg half
  • Anjou pear


10/22/12 lunch -- french bistro

  • crab
  • peas and carrots
  • King David apple with cashews as gap fillers


title from "Get On the Road" by Tired Pony


in which we try to save our souls with a good deed

As of approximately 10 PM Saturday night, I'm pretty sure that Sal, Sister, Guy, and I are all going to hell.

We spent four hours playing Cards Against Humanity* (link may be NSFW) and laughed so hard that our faces hurt, our ribs ached, and there were multiple near-choking incidents. This game is seriously demented and wickedly awesome and so very, very wrong. Like, you-need-to-take-a-Silkwood-shower-afterward wrong. We realized within the first hour that A) there's no one else we could play this game with, and B) it will feature regularly in Hall-Smiley family get-togethers.

*(If you haven't heard about it, it's basically Apples-to-Apples, if it had been created by an unemployed alcoholic uncle with a penchant for raunchy, politically incorrect jokes. Apples-to-Apples wishes it were this much fun.)

Aside from playing horrifyingly inappropriate and evil card games until the wee hours of the morning, we also took the Fabulous Miss M to her first-ever movie at a theater. I'd originally wanted to take her in June so her first theater movie would be Brave, but after seeing it, worried it might be a little too intense and scary for her, especially for a first-time theater experience. Luckily, Finding Nemo was just re-released in theaters, which she's seen dozens of times on DVD so I thought that would be perfect since the whole theater-going experience was going to be pretty overwhelming on its own.

We got popcorn with extra butter and introduced her to Reese's Pieces and plenty of sugary drink to wash it all down, because hello, Aunt Bitty and Uncle Sal are the awesomest. (You're welcome, Sister.) She sat wide-eyed from start to finish, enthralled by the huge screen and stereo sound and trailers for movies that aren't even out yet.

So we had a ridiculously fun time and Sister and Guy got a couple of hours of free time. Which would ordinarily earn a nice bit of good karma. I'm afraid, however, that after Saturday night, our karmic debt looks like the Greek government's balance sheet.

lunch, blue bunny & moons

  • stir fry (chicken, onion, garlic, leek, rainbow chard, baby bok choi, orange sweet pepper, fennel, broccoli, corn, secret sauce) with sesame seeds for garnish
  • jasmine rice with carrot hearts for garnish
  • Bartlett pear half and cashews
  • dried cherries

on the nature of the unintended hiatus

You know how you get behind on something, and then you finally get a minute to do that thing, but you're so behind that you don't know where to start so you don't? And then you just get more behind and it seems like too much to even begin, and the whole thing just kind of snowballs into a big icy ball of Do Not Want?

Welcome to the last two months of website non-updateyness.

We have been busy, yes, but not significantly more than our usual Hamster Wheel O'Crazy, so it's not attributable to some new escalation. And some of those busy things have included many fun and exciting things. Things which include adventures and hilarity and sometimes even photographic evidence! Things that are, in short, terrific website fodder. The radio silence is therefore also not attributable to a lack of material about which to post.

So we will chalk it up to a case of needing to cut something out for awhile in order to maintain sanity. Also: laziness.

In any case...hello! I have many things to tell you about! I will probably tell you about most of them! If I feel like it! I will probably forget something I meant to tell you about! I will include pictures! If it's not too much work! It will probably be too much work! Because I am lazy, as previously established! Some of the topics I plan to tell you about if I'm not overcome by an overpowering desire to do something else:

  • The Great Gallstone Adventure of 2012!
  • Why family is totes the best!
  • Sal's birthday!
  • All of the many movies we have seen recently! See also: geeks are the greatest.
  • That time I was 20 feet from Gary Lightbody and totally didn't lose my shit! Except for maybe a little bit!
  • Girls' Road Trip!
  • Girls' Art Weekend! Launched with an actual Mad Hatters' Party! Because I am the raddest.

So, you know. Those things might be stuff to look forward to hearing about. Although that really puts a lot of pressure on me to make them interesting, and I don't need the stress (see also: gallstones), so I make no promises. Also, vacation starts in two weeks so I am a kitten distracted by shiny objects right now.



erin go braugh

Sister and Guy and the Fabulous Miss M joined us for the weekend for a bit of family time. Saturday being St. Patrick's Day, we of course had to pay proper deference to our Irish ancestors. Soda bread and Dubliner cheese for an appetizer, pasties and Guinness for dinner, and a very precious bit of a 22 year-old Bushmill's whiskey that Guy brought back from Ireland with him 10 years ago. Short an Irish pub, an Irish fiddle and tin whistle, and a bunch of drunk Irishmen singing "Danny Boy" in the corner, it was just about as Irish as you can get without a plane ticket.

breakfast, cute animals sidecar:

  • gala apple slices
  • roasted almond butter* for dipping


lunch, laptop lunch:

  • homemade pasty, courtesy of Guy (handmade crust, steak chunks, turnips, potatoes onion)
  • carrot sticks and broccoli
  • gravy (for the pasty)
  • raw pumpkin seeds
  • Gala apple slices

last Tuesday's lunch that I forgot to post, bento colors purple:

  • herb roasted turkey breast
  • carrot sticks
  • peas
  • sunflower seeds and almonds
  • cheese wrap (cheddar, lettuce, flour tortilla)

*I one of the (many, many) things I love about New Seasons is that their bulk foods section includes a place to make your own nut butters. They have different machines all loaded up with different nuts and you just run the grinder thingie and fill up whatever size container you choose. Straight nut butter, no sugar, no salt.


brother-sister weekend ftw

This weekend was a Brother-Sister Weekend, when I was on deck to host Guy for a weekend of wacky fun. Because when people think of me, "wacky" is totally the first adjective that comes to mind.

WE HAD THE BEST TIME YOU GUYS. We unleashed Guy's inner Picasso and marathoned a TV show and stayed up WAY too late both nights playing Zombie Fluxx and Nerts and slept in ridiculously late and ate all the things and and aaaaaaaand it was pretty much the greatest. Also, there was a care package of chocolate, chocolate, and chocolate from Sister as consolation for the package lost by FedEx. Because she is a wise woman who knows that chocolate is the healer of all things.


lunch, matryoshka:

  • stir fry (chicken, broccoli, carrots, onion, collard greens, baby bok choy, garlic, secret sauce)
  • jasmine rice
  • sesame seeds for garnish

in which the room fairy transforms a little girl's room with magic

The Fabulous Miss M turned four late last summer, and it was officially time to graduate from a toddler's room to a little girl's room. But this is the Fabulous Miss M, and we are her godparents, and so this was not to be just any room because she is not just any little girl. I am her Fairy Godmother, after all, and so there had to be magic and treasure and copious quantities of pixie dust.

the 'before"Her room was a bright, deep jungle green with pale green on the ceiling and in the alcove created by the bay window. Fantastic colors for her nursery, which was decorated with a mixture of the bright colors of Kenya (where her mother spent part of her childhood) and the lush green of Ireland (where her mother and father spent a very formative 6 months together), reflective of their love for travel and world cultures.

But it was time to make the room reflective of her, and Miss M has very decided opinions about what she likes. Which meant pink. And purple. And sea turtles. And stuffed animals that include a rhino and a seal and monkeys and a frog and Pooh and of course, the requisite teddy bears. And books. And dragonflies. And yellow. And ladybugs. And all of those wonderful decorations that had adorned her walls before -- the handpainted sun and moon from Mexico, and the cloth doll from Africa and the vibrant metal gecko from South America. There was the antique doll in a silk-covered egg from her grandma and the big pink piggy bank wearing a tutu and tiara and the origami crane folded from rainbow paper from her father. And the artwork from Uncle Sal and Aunt Bitty commissioned on the occasion of her baptism and commemorative of our solemn vow to become her godparents.

I was gifting the bedroom furniture (bed, dresser, desk, and bookcase) that was mine when I was little, which is kind of a cream color with yellow details and canopy, along with a full set of bright yellow curtains to match (a pair of princess curtains, another pair of full length curtains, and a shorter pair for a smaller window, all with tiebacks and ruffles), which meant yellow also needed to be incorporated (a color she likes, thankfully). Yellow, pink, and purple can go together quite well, so I felt pretty confident about coming up with a design that would work. And I added a fourth color into the mix -- the mint green on her ceiling and in the bay window -- to finish out the palette and give it a nice balance to keep it from being too cutesy.

The key would be finding bedding that would incorporate at least three of the colors. Luckily, we found not one, but two great options pretty quickly: each of them incorporating three of the four colors. We took Maddie with us to help us narrow it down -- and of course, she loved them both. Nice to have options! Sister picked the one with ladybugs and flowers with pinks and greens and yellows, and it arrived as a surprise from Santa on Christmas morning. (The bonus was that it was a full bed-in-a-bag set, so it had the comforter (reversible, even!) and sham, along with the most adorable pink polka-dotted sheets and pillowcase ever. AND there was a collapsible pink laundry hamper with a flower "lid" as a matching accessory! How cute is that, I ask you?)

When we were there for Christmas, we broke out the paint color wheel and decided on wall colors. I narrowed down the pinks and purples and let Miss M pick her favorites of each; we settled on a pale pink for the walls, with a medium pink and medium purple and the mint green leftover from the ceiling as accent colors. (The yellow would all be coming in on the fabrics and furniture.)

color blocks in progressI'd also proposed a simple color block design for the walls, both because it's easy to execute and it's not too young, so it should grow with her for awhile. Update the bedding and change out some of the accent decorations, and it can still fit her well into grade school.

Sister and Guy did the work of getting the room cleared out the weekend before we were scheduled to come, along with getting the walls painted with the pale pink base color. I'd also asked Sister to get me detailed measurements for the room so I could figure out the room's layout. Or more precisely, so I could mock it up in Google Sketch up and try out furniture configurations.

You're laughing at me right now, aren't you? Mock me if you must, but aside from being super nerdy, it has the advantage of letting other people see what I picture in my mind.

So we arrived on a cold and wet Saturday with a moving truck full of furniture, armed with paint brushes and blue tape and ready to get down to business. We got all the color block areas masked and with the four of us painting, managed to knock the painting out that day. While we waited for paint to dry, we settled on the final room arrangement -- having the 3-D model of it made it easy for me to show them different configurations and the pros and cons of each.

color blocks finished!Part of the room makeover wasn't just to make it look pretty, but to make it work better for Miss M (and by extension, Sister and Guy) in terms of storage and space. They have a nice organizer for her toys but weren't using the closet because the bifold doors were too bothersome for Miss M to open so the organizer was just pushed up against the closet doors. They had a really nice bookcase, as well, and a dresser, but both were packed to the gills, so they clearly needed more.

I suggested removing the closet doors and using one pair of the curtains to cover it, which would be much easier (and prettier) for Miss M to access. Then we could put the toy organizer in the closet, along with plenty of room leftover for an inexpensive closet organizer system for more storage. I also incorporated a couple of large underbed storage drawers to move puzzles and games out of the bookcase but still keep them accessible. The desk could hold all of her art supplies (previously stored in the computer room and kitchen), the bookcase could hold more books and tchotchkes since it's taller than the one they were using, and the dresser has three huge drawers that could hold all of her clothes with room to spare.

I'd come up with an idea early on in my planning to turn the alcove in the bay window into a secret little nook for reading books and playing pretend and hiding out from mom and dad. Thanks to all the curtains I had, I could use the shorter pair for the windows themselves and the princess pair over the opening, since they swag low. I didn't say anything about it to Sister and Guy until we arrived to start painting because I had to be sure the curtains would be wide enough to cover the opening. They loved the concept so they were really excited once we got started hanging curtains.

I hadn't decided yet on cushions for the nook by the time we got started, figuring I could get some inexpensive throw pillows if I didn't come up with a better idea. But when we'd opened up the closet to see if the organizer would fit inside, I noticed two body pillows on the shelf inside and asked if I could use them. Sister was only too glad to put them to use, and we scored a great pair of inexpensive body pillow-sized cases with zippers at Fred Meyer. Instant cushions! (With washable covers!)

i know, right? how could we not have that rug???Also at Fred Meyer: the underbed storage drawers, a drawer organizer for the top desk drawer, an adjustable desk lamp in purple, a small white ceramic table lamp with plain white shade, inexpensive "jewel" earrings (figured I could poke holes in the lamp shade and bejewel it with star-shaped "gems"), and an impulse buy that was a must-have...a hot pink shag rug with silver sparkles. (When I showed Sister that it was both machine wash and machine dry, she agreed it was a must-have, as well.) Along with the paint and the truck rental for moving the furniture from our house to theirs, that was the entirety of the expense for redecorating the room.

Curtains hung, it was time to clear out all the tools and miscellaneous paint supplies so we could move in the furniture. By that point it was after midnight, so the plan was to get the furniture in place, the canopy up, then get some rest and finish the room in the morning.

But what kind of Fairy Godmother would I be if Miss M didn't wake to a room completely transformed? I couldn't very well have her get up in the morning and find her room partially put together, which none of the finishing details that actually pull it all together. We promised room fairy magic, by god, and there was going to be room fairy magic, dammit.

gem encrusted lamp, fit for a princessSo I sent Sal, Sister, and Guy to bed, and then I stayed up to finish the room. Organized and merchandised the bookcase, made the bed, hung pictures and decorations and small wooden shelves, created a reading nook, and just generally pulled it all together. (I bejeweled the lamp shade the next morning.)

Miss M was very good about not sneaking a peek in the morning before we were all up to see it with her. (And actually, I was more impressed that Sister didn't peek, since she was at least as excited as Miss M, if not moreso. But she said she feared my wrath if she did, so clearly I have her properly trained.)

Once we were all up, we traipsed down the hall together for the unveiling, urging Miss M to open the door and see what the room fairy had done to her room. She went in...and promptly shut the door behind her! Oh my god, that kid. Cracked us the hell up. She wanted to see it by herself first, dammit! We laughingly pleaded through the door for her to let us in so we could see, but she was having none of it. The room fairy came for her, not for us plebes.

Eventually, I was allowed to come in. She was just all grins and barely-contained excitement. We walked around the room to see all the "magic". "Aunt Bitty, it's my bed from your house!" she told me. "I know!" I said. "The room fairy came to my house and brought it down here so you could sleep in your bed all the time!" She showed me her desk, and all of her books in her new bookcase, and the dragonfly garland that used to hang over her bed. And then I showed her the nook, which she hadn't yet realized was there until I lifted the curtains a bit and helped her climb up. I'm betting there'll be many hours spent in that cozy little spot.

Finally everyone else was allowed in, and the looks on Sister's and Guy's faces were nearly as priceless as Miss M's reaction. I suspect Sister kinda wished it could be her room there for a minute. To be honest, I kinda wished the same thing.

see the full transformation

I love how the room turned out. I love that Miss M loves it. I love that Sister and Guy are happy with it, and that Sal is always game for these adventures in interior decorating with me, and that our Smiley family allows us to come into their house and slap paint on their walls and rearrange their furniture and turn it all into an episode from a TV design show.

But most of all, I love how much fun we had together doing this, and all the good memories we made that weekend, and that Miss M believes in Fairy Godmother magic, and basically, that we are an amazing and wonderful little family.


despite needing 20,357 hours of sleep, i feel surprisingly good for a monday

It's because I (we) had a really terrific weekend. We spent it with our Smiley family, doing a wholesale makeover of the Fabulous Miss M's room. I'll have more about the makeover in a future post (hopefully tomorrow) once I've had a chance to organize all the pictures, but the basic summary is that we had an outstanding time together, one of the best family weekends ever.

Friday evening, Guy came up to help me get the moving truck we'd need for all the bedroom furniture before the rental place closed. After we dropped it off at home, I took him to the Lucky Lab for dinner, since we haven't taken them there yet and it's one of our regular haunts. And the reason it's one of their regular haunts is because their pizza is hands down the best. (Guy will quibble that it's not quite the best, and that some pizza place in Moose Jaw, Montana has the best pizza, but he is clearly cracked in the head.) Had a great time visiting and devouring pizza (and he reported that their beer was also terrific), then home to relax while we waited for Sal by playing a hundred thousand hands of Nerts, which I taught him how to play at Christmas.

Saturday morning, the guys got my old bedroom furniture that we were gifting to Miss M hauled up out of the basement, down the stairs of death to the truck, while I gathered up my various decorating supplies and tools, and by late morning, we were on our way. We spent the day working on her room (taping, painting, putting up curtains, moving in furniture), music cranked up and laughing ourselves sick while Miss M did a marvelous job of keeping herself occupied with Disney movies, puzzles, and coloring books in the middle of the floor. After a really long but productive and hilariously fun day, everyone headed to bed around 1 AM.

Everyone except me, that is. I stayed up while everyone else went to bed, because I wanted to finish the room and have it all ready for Miss M when she woke up. I finally dropped into bed around 4 AM, utterly exhausted but pleased with the finished room and excited for her to see it.

She loved it. LOVED. IT. She remembered my furniture from "her room" at our house (it used to be the guest room furniture, where she's slept during her visits since she was born, and she has always considered it her room because of it) and the little reading nook I created for her was a huge hit. The hot pink sparkly throw rug may have also caused a bit of excitement. And the lampshade dotted with star-shaped "gems".

Sister and Guy loved it, too, and thanks to all the storage we added and a few easy changes, they'll be able to contain more of the kid chaos, which should make their lives a little easier. And Miss M now has a room that more properly befits a little girl who loves pink, purple, dinosaurs, books, sea turtles, cooking, and princesses.

So even though today I'm sore and exhausted, I'm walking on pink and purple-colored sunshine, because seriously, after a weekend like that, how could you not?

lunch, Ms. Bento:

  • rad nah (the rice noodles are underneath) with sesame seeds for garnish
  • green leaf lettuce, carrots, and sunflower seeds with a simple vinaigrette hidden under the lettuce
  • Braeburn apple slices
  • almonds

vacation thus far

Sal @ Lovejoy Bakery, contemplating life, love, and the intricacies of laminated doughsOur WinterFest Vacation crossed the halfway mark a few days ago, which means we have successfully developed amnesia about all things work-related and managed to cram in a buttload of seriously awesome fun in the last week and a half or so: four days at the coast, WITH the cats, and no one ended up in handcuffs or a morgue; homemade gifts completed on time and delivered intact, and eventually gifted successfully; Smiley-Hall Christmas 2012 celebrated in the usual grand and entertaining style, with said homemade gifts exchanged during the festivities; a day of utter slothfulness that involved reading in the library with a cat on each lap and staying in our pajamas all day; full seasons of Dexter, Parks & Rec, and Sherlock (re)watched; and today, a Day of Portland that included Powell's and two(!) bakeries. And there are still four days left!

Powell's a complete madhouse today, by the way. We avoid anything that even hints of shopping in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but apparently, a mid-week afternoon three days afterward is still a time to be wary. Holy buckets.

I did, however, come out of there with two new bento boxes, of all things. The "Syrup O'Clock" line is new to me, but clearly adorable. They had locking two tiers that went with each of these designs, as well as a nesting set of square boxes for each, but I managed to resist. I do have some willpower, you know.

These are each 240 mL, which will make them perfect for my "Greek yogurt mixed with fruit" mornings. (The 300 mL sidecars are too large for a portion of yogurt and the 100 mL mini sidecars are too small. These are, therefore, the Goldilocks of my bento box collection.


our usual holiday tradition

Thanksgiving at our house was the usual, which is to say: fun, quiet, and comfortable. And delicious, of course!

It's nice having a "usual" when it comes to holidays, a personal tradition that's familiar and easy, and family (Sister, Guy, and the Fabulous Miss M) to share it with. We've got the menu and preparation down to a science, share around the tasks of cooking and baking and cleaning, and no one has to get up at the ass crack of dawn to put a turkey in the oven. There's mostly playing and relaxing and sleeping, and whole lot of mouthwatering deliciousness.

What we do not do is venture into the Black Friday melee. I mean, the stress of all those people and all those cars and all that stuff is enough to make me break out in hives, but ye gods and little fishes, it's a freaking battlefield out there these days! Pepper spray? Shootings? Trampling and riots? What could possibly be so enticing that you'd literally take your life in your hands to buy it? And don't even get me started on the poor folks who have to work on what should be their holiday, too, just so Shelly Shopper can get a good deal on a cheap waffle maker. Screw them as long as you save $20 on that XBox, eh? I obviously don't get the attraction of the annual free-for-all, and to each their own, I guess, but surely there's a better way?

lunch, French bistro:

  • beef stir fry (tip steak, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, kale, secret sauce)
  • brown rice
  • kiwi
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • dark chocolate-covered raisins

This lunch is the result of having cleaned out the fridge and eaten up leftovers in preparation for the feast (and the need for space), and then eaten up (most of) the leftovers from said feast, as well as being at the tail end of our last produce delivery. Which is to say, a tad short on veggies and color, but that should be remedied shortly once I get home tonight and unpack the organics bin that will be waiting on the porch.


sometimes, you just need a good scare

Despite some questionable choices for entertainment, we had a lovely weekend.

Originally, Sister was supposed to come for a Girls' Weekend, during which we had planned to spend being all arty in the studio, then spend the evening watching scary movies and eating junk. Slumber party ftw!

Okay, about the scary movie part: I don't consider myself a scary movie person, but in reflecting on how many movies (and shows...Dexter, The Walking DeadAmerican Horror Story)  I enjoy that do have some scary element, it seems I'm into a good scare more than I thought.

I'm definitely not a horror movie fan (although I've seen my share), and want no part of the really gruesome torture-type horror movies that have been all the rage the last few years. But! I do love a good suspense flick, and grew up on Hitchcock films thanks to my mom, who is a fan.

the cat creature from that episode of Scooby Doo...even looking at it now give me a shiverHowever. I am also seriously afraid of the dark, and basements, and I live in an old house, which is the holy trifecta of terror, and I have an intensely active imagination. No, I mean a really active imagination. Like, so active that an old episode of Scooby-Doo gave me a recurring nightmare well into my adolescent years. Scooby-Doo, you guys! So if there's a movie that has a reputation for scaring people, people who are generally pretty jaded about scary movies and not easy to freak out, that is a movie I will add to my "Do not watch this movie on purpose or by accident for that way lies badness" list.

Two such movies that I have therefore assiduously avoided: The Ring and Paranormal Activity. When the TV previews are enough to make you freak out, that's a good sign that the movie in question is not for you.

But I, in a sudden burst of inspiration for something fun to do, proposed to Sister that we should watch these two movies together. We are both very much alike in the scary movie department, which means we spend most of the movie with our eyes covered and ears plugged. Yet somehow, I thought to myself, "You know what would be really fun? To watch a scary movie with someone who gets just as freaked out as I do, and be cowards together and then not be able to turn off any of the lights. HEY I KNOW WE SHOULD TOTALLY WATCH THOSE TWO MOVIES THAT ARE GENERALLY AGREED TO BE PRETTY DAMN TERRIFYING."

Brain damage. It's seriously the only explanation I have.

In the few days leading up, I was having serious second thoughts. I even offered Sister an out -- under the guise of concern for her, not admitting my own trepidation, oh no -- but when she replied that she was really excited about it, I started to realize I may have made a big mistake.

A last minute change of plans may have saved me from myself, however. When a friend offered to take the Fabulous Miss M for the weekend, Guy joined us for a fearsome foursome of fun times. It meant that Sal would have someone to do fun stuff with while Sister and I were holed up in the studio (the fun stuff, as it turned out, being a pub crawl for most of Saturday afternoon) but more importantly, it meant that Sister and I would not be watching the aforementioned scary movies by ourselves, AND even more importantly, that neither of us would be relegated to sleeping alone in wide-eyed terror, paralyzed in fear at every stray noise and imagined monster.

So the movies weren't quite as terrifying as I'd long feared. The Ring was scary and disturbing, but won't scar me for life, thankfully. Paranormal Activity was scary, too, but there were long stretches of boredom and annoyance (and if you've seen it, you know why) that diluted it -- basically, all the same problems that The Blair Witch Project had minus the shaky handicam.

Which is to say, we survived! No nightmares, no sweat-soaked sheets, no shaking awake of our long-suffering husbands in the early morning dark with terrified whispers of "Did you hear that?" Maybe they'd been built up far more than they could live up to, or maybe we're not as easily affected. Are we getting braver? Less easily-scared? More mature?

Probably a combination of all of those things. I mean, my fear of the dark is far less acute than it used to be, and living in an old house means getting used to unidentified noises if you want to keep your sanity. Plus, all those movies and shows have probably built up my tolerance levels.

But I won't be going into the basement any time soon.

tomorrow: Part 2 of our lovely weekend, which will include a recipe from Chef Salvatore.


sure of you

I have a lifelong friend. Literally, lifelong. As in, the only people who have known me longer are my family.

I first met her in kindergarten. She has only a vague recollection of knowing each other then, but I remember our first meeting very clearly, in the basement playground (where we were sent for recess when the weather was too bad to be let outside). We became the sort of best friends that can only happen in kindergarten, which is to say playing together at recess, except when we didn't.

I moved to a different school at the end of that year, the first of what would be several moves to several different schools. She moved, too, so that we were ships in the night until we finally crossed paths again in fifth grade when we both landed at the same school for the first semester. Then it was another move for me, and another move back, ensuring that in the seven years of elementary school, we never had a complete school year together.

The summer before our freshman year, the year when it really, really helps to have a familiar face amongst the scary crowds of upperclassman, she moved far, far away, all the way to the other side of the state. Somehow, we managed to maintain our friendship with only letters and the occasional visit when she was in town. Other friendships fell away and new ones started up, and we weren't always so consistent in our correspondence, but by some divine blessing, we stayed in touch.

The same summer I happened to be working as a nanny, she moved to the same town where I was working. We were the only people our age we knew there, and by then we had the benefits of drivers' licenses and actual things to do, which meant a summer of adventures and hilarity, the kind of inside jokes that become a secret language. But the summer ended, and I had to leave her behind to a new school for her senior year, and I have rarely felt so badly for leaving someone behind as I did then.

In the years that followed, we had years together and years apart. We went to the same college and she helped me get a job where she worked. I later had a chance to return the favor. We commiserated over classes and relationships and job woes and all the other travails of being in those difficult stages of adulthood when you still feel like life is just going to pass you by.

But life most definitely did not pass us by.  Marriages, houses, careers, families.... And always, the constant move, from this apartment to that one, this college town to that one, this state to that one. Moving has been a constant for us both, but throughout it all, this friendship has been the constant, the important thing that remained no matter where we were in relation to each other or anything else.

Earlier this week, her daughter started kindergarten. A difficult time for any parent, yet my friend has steered through this transition with the wise and gentle grace that makes her such an inspiration. As we talked about it recently, we both laughed and marveled at how long our friendship has lasted, despite everything. She said that despite all the bittersweetness of sending her beloved daughter off for the first day of school, one of the thoughts that consoled her was that perhaps her own daughter would be meeting her lifelong friend. She could not, she said, hope for anything more blessed than that.

A few days ago, a care package arrived on my doorstep. Inside, there were all the necessary tools of the first day of kindergarten: markers and crayons, colored pencils and watercolors, glue in my favorite color and a pretty notebook with page after page of tantalizing lined paper just begging for my most innermost thoughts to fill them up.

"Happy Friend-iversary!" the card said. Signed, my lifelong friend.


Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Yes Piglet?"
"Nothing" said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. I just wanted to be sure of you."
                    -- A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner



lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • sausages
  • cucumbers
  • green beans
  • tomato
  • apricot
  • pluot slices
  • Babybel cheese
  • cashews and dried cherries

celebration and mourning

Mother Nature seems to be making up for the lack of spring and summer by making every day of August so heartachingly beautiful that you feel like your heart might burst from its perfection. Every day for the last two weeks has been comfortably warm but not hot, still and fragrant and clear blue sky, and if the extended forecasts are to be believed, we're set to continue like this for the next two weeks or more.

August is also the time for two important birthdays: Sister's and the Fabulous Miss M's. They're not actually until tomorrow and Wednesday, respectively, but Saturday was the celebration for Miss M's, so that was the centerpiece of our weekend.

One of the perks of having a chef for a godfather is that you get beautiful and delicious cakes for your birthday. One of the (many, many) perks of having Sal for a godfather is that he will make your beautiful and delicious cake extra beautiful and extra delicious, even when you are turning four years old and your only requirements are that it be pink and girly.

His original plan involved fairies and flowers and lots of pink and purple, since those are Miss M's current favorite things. But reality collided with good intentions, and a fourteen hour day necessitated a quick reworking of those plans. He arrived home from work Friday night with enough layers for two round cakes (vanilla flavored "with a kiss of cocoa), a ginormous bowl of chocolate Italian buttercream, a smaller container of plain Italian butter cream, and a blob of handmade molding chocolate. The chocolate was for the roses and leaves he was determined to sculpt, but he wasn't sure what to do for the rest. I suggested tinting the plain icing pink, and doing it up in pink and chocolate brown for a more sophisticated take on girly.

It takes a surprising amount of skill to make a cake look clean and deceptively simple. It takes a significant amount of skill to do so without disguising your mistakes with a heavy slathering of icing to even things out.  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader as to the level of Sal's skill. Except to also point out that the chocolate roses and leaves were sculpted by hand, and the wording was done with straight tempered* chocolate. Oh, and to note, yet again, that Sal normally has the handwriting of a serial killer, but put a pastry bag in his hand and suddenly he's got the penmanship of an 19th century Victorian aristocrat.

The cake was well received by the birthday girl, who asked to view the cake repeatedly while it was still in the box, well before it was actually brought out and served. The pink feather boa from Aunt Bitty was also a big hit, particularly since Miss M and her young guests spent the better part of the party playing dress up in their finest princess couture. (The biggest fashion hit of the day, however, belonged to one her friends, who put together a pink dress with a set of swim goggles, a dozen bracelets, orange flip flops, and a beaded Mardi Gras necklace that featured miniature plastic beer mugs. Wish I'd gotten a picture of that one.)

Since we'd spent our Saturday partying, it was time to be grownups yesterday and do some straightening and other such chores around the house. Sal tackled the apple tree in the backyard, which we finally conceded this spring would have to come down. We've known for a few years that it was inevitable, but this year, when the roots on the upper slope had actually come loose from the soil, we knew it was time.

Still, we hate that it has to go. It provides such a lovely green canopy over our patio, and is perfect for stringing lights through for our famous backyard parties. Not to mention the thick privacy screen from the attic window, so that when you're up there in the summer and you look out the window to see nothing but heavy green foliage and bright green apples, it feels like you're up in a tree house.

It's the also the last of the apple trees that were originally planted on our lot and the one next to it. The people who built our house, you see, had an apple orchard. Yes, that story from the Cathedral Park Chronicles is based on real history. When we moved into the house, the orchard next door was long since gone, replaced by the apartment building that's there now, but there were five apple trees in the back yard that remained from that orchard. We had to cut down four of them because they were diseased and in danger of falling on the house or the neighbor's. It killed us to do it, but we saved the healthiest one, and hoped we'd have it for years to come, even if it was too late to give it the care it needed to make the apples edible.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. And although we were fortunate enough to enjoy it for nine years, and we'll keep parts of the trunk to use in the yard the same way we did with the cherry tree that had to come down, it was hard to watch it come down bit by bit yesterday. We'll have to have an arborist to come in to finish the work, but I'll schedule it for a day when I'm not at home, so I don't have to watch.

Instead, I'll be at the nursery, looking for a new tree to plant. Not to take its place, but to honor its memory.

lunch, pink Natural Lunch:

  • Parmesan breaded chicken
  • rosemary roasted potatoes
  • carrots
  • peas
  • cherries

new boxes + family fun = happiness

There are many things to be excited about today, but two things that are bummers. Bummer the first: I was sick yesterday and still don't feel so great. Well, sick-ish. Not full-blown sick, but just kind of meh and I figured that was A Sign. I still feel sort of meh, but knew if I didn't get into the office today to at least simmer down some fires, it'd be a full blown conflagration in no time. My job title should really be "firefighter".

Bummer the second: New Seasons will stop doing grocery deliveries in a couple of weeks. This is totally a first-world, problem, I realize, so I hesitate to use such words as "devastated" to describe how I feel about it, and yet.... It's only because of New Seasons' delivery that we have had food in the house for like, the last seven years. The thought of having to somehow fit regular trips to the store into our crazy schedule just makes me want to curl up in a fetal position.

Onward to the good things! Firstly...new bento boxes! I updated the Bento Gear page so you can see all the specs on both of them. Because of no bento yesterday, and they're both smallish, I'm using them both today for a kind of early lunch/afternoon snack combo. Aren't they delightful?

lunch, french bistro:

  • ham, Cotswold cheese, in sun dried tomato wraps
  • carrots and snap peas
  • my famous potato salad -- potatoes (those small creamer potatoes from the bin), dill, oil, apple cider vinegar, with some fresh chives for garnish

snack, matryoshka:

  • two molded eggs (haven't seen those for awhile!) and a couple of snap peas for garnish
  • tangerine
  • cherry decadence trail mix
  • sea salt for the eggs in the small container

The other good thing...a wonderful, fun-filled and inspirational weekend with Sister for a Girls' Arty Weekend, in which we shopped 'til we dropped and made big messes with paint and crayons and glitter, oh my! Because we are secretly twelve, she brought her allowance, I brought my birthday money, and we proceeded to fill bags and bags with art supplies.

She came up right after work on Friday and we hightailed it over to Collage to get a headstart on the shopping. Then on to Pizza Fino, where, despite 40 minutes on the waiting list, the delicious meal that followed more than made up for the wait.

Saturday, we stopped across the street from the art store for a quick bite and coffee/hot chocolate at Caffe Umbria. Then it was on for a tour of the wonderousness of Utrecht, where I proceeded to give her a tour of all the different kinds of mediums and tools. AND! She bought her very first acrylic paints! A basic color theory set, along with a starter set of brushes, palette knife, gesso, and gel medium. (And other things, too, of course.) And later that night, we did a little tutorial on the basics of acrylics and then I just set her loose and she's officially in love with acrylics now. SCORE!

Their inventory sufficiently decimated by our shopping spree, we headed over to SCRAP. For those unfamiliar: it's a non-profit that takes in donated (mostly used) items to be used for arts and crafts and sells them for cheap, cheap, cheap. They have everything -- fabric, yarn, thread, paper (omg the paper), paints, crayons, pictures, tiles, calendars, old books, old electronics, old craft kits, glass...well, you get the idea. They take a lot of stuff that isn't even art supplies, but that artists end up turning into something really cool.) I thought poor Sister's little head would go kaplooey at all the stuff to see and look at. Many things are sold by the handful (ex. crayons are 25 cents a handful) or by the inch (old photos are 10 cents an inch, meaning how high your stack is. I get a lot of ephemera there for my mixed media collages and art journal, because I can walk out with a bag full to the brim and only have spent 5 bucks. Oh SCRAP how I adore you!

thanks to birthday money from my momSo here was my haul for the day:


  • new set of acrylic alphabet stamps (most expensive item I bought there)
  • 2" alphabet stencil pack
  • 3 gel-ly roll pens (white, purple, black)
  • 1 blue Tombo dual marker (forgot to include it in the pic)
  • 1 pink Sharpie paint marker (also forgot to include it in the pic)
  • 5 little wooden stamps (including one of a grasshopper for Miss M) that were on sale


  • a set of 4 black PITT pens with different tips, which I've wanted forever
  • a set of technical/design pencils (5B to 5H) -- for sketching, especially working on faces
  • a tube of dioxazine purple acrylic paint -- I have a good range of colors now and of course can mix purple, but I use so much of it that it's just easier to have this one as its own tube
  • a tube of alizarin crimson acrylic paint -- same as above
  • a new offset oval palette knife with a nice wooden handle -- I have my old straight palette knife but I'm doing so much work at table level rather than on an easel that having an offset knife is useful
  • a wee (like 2" high) wooden easel to use for my business cards at work :)


  • two metal printing plates from an old greeting card maker (SO COOL OMG)
  • a large acrylic stamp w/block (I don't care about the stamp, just needed the block part)
  • a partially used white pigment stamp pad
  • some random thermal set letters from an old print shop
  • a big handful of used stamps cut from envelopes (10 cents per handful!)
  • a big assortment of photos and promo cards, various sizes
  • an old slide of a lakeshore
  • a negative sheet of random photos
  • an old sheet music booklet (sonatas and concertos, mostly)
  • a vintage women's jacket and skirt set sewing pattern for collage backgrounds
  • a set of 10 transparencies from an astronomy teaching book
  • 4 random upholstery fabric swatches
  • a small bit of really pretty rainbow yarn
  • a small ball of ugly orange/yellow/brown yarn (I wanted something that I didn't care about the color, since it gets covered with paint and glue to use as texture for a collage background)
  • a small stencil with two stars on it

We spent the rest of Saturday happily creating our little hearts out in the studio, then a late night viewing of Tangled, which she hadn't seen yet (WHAT), and then when we were headed to bed, got sidetracked with more fun in the studio. Hee. After pancakes the next morning (made for us by Sal), it was time to bid her adieu. Goodbyes are never fun, but I'm so, so thankful that we get to do these weekends, and that Guy and Miss M and Sal are so accomodating to make them possible. In other news: Best. Family. Ever.


more like daylight suckage time

I'm normally not a strong Daylight-Savings-Time hater, but in the days immediately following the spring switch, I can understand why others are. Yesterday was all out of whack; today isn't quite as bad, but combined with a tight schedule, I think it's going to take me longer than usual to adjust.

Sister, Guy, and the Fabulous Miss M were here for the weekend, so that actually did make it a nice weekend despite the time change. While they were at the Shamrock Run yesterday morning, we played with Miss M, then per our now annual tradition after such things, they returned bearing treats. Specifically, a box of Voodoo Doughnuts. Hence the appearance of a few odds and ends in today's lunch. Then they left with an extremely sugared up and overly exhausted 3 year-old, and I'll admit, I prayed for their sanity. I haven't heard anything on the news about them being committed for psychological observation so I'm assuming everyone survived the remainder of the day.

After they left, we hit Rejuvenation to pick out hinges and handles for the new cabinet doors we're having done for the display shelves in the kitchen. I haven't talked about that much yet, but it's part of the project to get the attic eave closet doors done; the contractor we chose didn't charge much extra for these three cabinet doors, so we figured it was a good time to scratch that little side project of our list, as well. Afterward, we stopped at Miller Paint to pick out a pretty color -- the doors will have glass inserts and we're going to paint the shelves and interior to reallly make it spark. But you'll have to wait to learn more about the color, because you know how I am about the big reveals....

lunch, blue bunny & moons:

  • wee potatoes with cheddar heart
  • teriyaki chicken meatballs
  • steamed broccoli
  • Fuji apple half with heirloom carrot sticks
  • a few random bits of Voodoo doughnuts: buttermilk bar, powdered sugar doughnut, peanut doughnut leftover from yesterday

dinner, pink Natural Lunch:

  • ham, barrel pickle, and cream cheese in a sundried tomato wrap
  • heirloom carrots
  • Fuji apple half

and the anchorperson on tv goes la de da de da de diddy diddy da

the opening act for Saturday's concert, a group called Mountain Man; they were absolutely phenomenal

(Yes, that is the opening line of the chorus of "16 Military Wives" and yes, it will be relevant later.)

I have the worst headache this morning. I think my brain is melting from all the fabulousness of the weekend. Totally worth it.

Friday, Sister and I met at my office for a Girls' Night. My office is not-quite-halfway, and its proximity to various restaurants and shops makes it a good meeting point for these evenings. I showed her around my office, then took her to George's Giant Hamburger, my stomping grounds for workday lunches with Kurt, ProcrastiGirl, and K back in the day. ProcrastiGirl and I still make the occasional pilgrimage, but it's just not the same since Kurt moved away.

Anyway, I was excited to introduce Sister to the George's love, which she duly appreciated. Unlike Sal, who was unimpressed the one time I took him there. Sister and I determined that he is clearly cracked in the head.

We walked it off by browsing through Michael's, doing our best to quell the art supply wants despite the enticing discounts and generally solving the problems of the world while we were at it. As one does. Then it was a nightcap of sorts with a trip to Peachwave for a frozen yogurt toppings bar bonanza, where we decided that pomegranate frozen yogurt and chocolate sauce aren't the best combination, but pretty much everything else is. We lost track of time talking and laughing and crying (in a good way) and finally said our goodbyes well past her usual bed time.

Sal spent Saturday at the Expo Center judging desserts for a high school cooking competition so I spent my day mostly in the studio making a grand mess with every art supply I own while I waited for Sal to get home and then for The Decemberists concert later that night.

And you guys. YOU GUYS. Okay, I'm biased, I admit. I love them utterly, it's true. And I have seen them in concert repeatedly, including not even six months ago when they played MusicFest NW. And every time, they are A.MAZ.ING. So I am predisposed to swoon over them, I can admit it.

"Down By the Water", from their latest albumHowever. Saturday's concert was, hands down, my favorite of any time I've seen them. We had seats in the balcony and were even closer than we were at Pioneer Courthouse Square. The Schnitz is a great venue anyway, and showcased them perfectly. It was a sold out show, of course, and they have such a diverse and dedicated fanbase that the energy is electric and they feed off that well. They played most of the "The King Is Dead" (which I got for my birthday from Sally), as well as a nice selection from the rest of their discography (set list at the end of this post).

"The Mariner's Revenge". Live. O. M. G.But the best part? OMG YOU GUYS THE BEST PART. The encore. Okay, so they made us really wait for the encore, like I thought people might start rioting, the cheering and chanting was so loud. And then finally Colin comes out just by himself and does a sweet acoustic rendition of "Red Right Ankle", and Jenny popped out just long enough to do the keyboard bit. And then he sort of left the stage and the lights went down like that was all they were going to do. AND THEN. AND THEN. They all came out, and they're all clustered right there in the front of the stage instead of taking positions at the keyboard and drum kit and everything, and Colin says that this next song requires a bit of participation (which we'd already done on other songs), and I turned to Sal and squealed, "OMG MARINER'S REVENGE" and then Colin said, "You'll need to sound like you've been eaten by a whale" AND THE CROWD WENT COMPLETELY APESHIT.

They put that song on hiatus for live shows sometime during the tour for The Crane Wife, and Sal and I were starting to despair that we'd ever get to see it live. AND THEN WE DID AND IT WAS OUTRAGEOUSLY FABULOUS AND OMG I MIGHT HAVE DIED REPEATEDLY FROM JOY. Greatest concert experience ever*, Y/Y? IN CONCLUSION THE DECEMBERISTS HAVE MY UNDYING DEVOTION FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.

*WITH ONE GLARING EXCEPTION. And seriously, this is a lesson on "What Not To Do At A Concert Lest the Person Behind You Have A Smartphone And A Website". There was this woman sitting in front of me, you see. Now, you should understand that there's some sort of law of the Universe that because I am short, I am forever doomed at any venue -- whether it's a concert, a movie, a play, whatever -- to be seated or stand behind the tall person, or the kid who stands in the seat, or the moron who doesn't take off their hat, or the chick/dude who has teased their hair ten feet above their head. Sal and I will usually switch seats, although even this doesn't always solve the problem -- the person will move, too, or all of a sudden the person sitting next to them will decide to kneel in their seat or some other sort of fuckery.

Anyway, the woman sitting in front of me was a little taller than average but not a lot, and since the balcony is stadium seating, it shouldn't have presented a problem. Shouldn't have. However. This woman was apparently desperate to participate in the concert and demonstrate just how truly into it she was because she kept leaning forward in her seat, thus screwing up the entire eyeline/angle purpose of stadium seating, AND, rocking spasmodically left to right for Every. Fucking. Song. so I couldn't even just lean to one side to see around her. Her companions seemed to be mildly horrified by her behavior and her husband appeared to ask her to settle down repeatedly, but she was all, "I'm in the groooove."

I persevered, however, and managed to enjoy the show despite these perturbances. Not content to somewhat detract from the concert experience for everyone around her, though, she spent the second half of the show intermittently raising her freakishly long tentacle arms above her head and clapping OUT OF TIME with the music in a motion that spanned the chair widths on either side of her. Still, I managed not to rip her tentacle arms off and beat her with them.

my view of the stage when Tentacle Arms stood up for the first half of "16 Military Wives"And then. The first cords of "16 Military Wives" started up and she...stood up and dancing like a brain damaged jellyfish. She is clearly blocking my view and is the only person in our entire section standing up**, and the entire time, I'm wondering to myself why she isn't bleeding to death from the daggers I have stared into her back.

**I love dancing at a concert as much as anyone, but when it's a seated venue, you expect that you're going to spend at least part of the concert with your butt in the seat. Sure, you'll be rocking out, but unless most of the crowd stands up, you do your rocking out WITH YOUR BUTT IN THE SEAT.

She did finally get the hint that the rest of the section (or balcony or crowd, for that matter) wasn't going to take her lead and she sat down. But there was a moment, right when they were getting going on "Mariner's Revenge", when she acted like she was going to stand up again and I said, "Stay down". I don't think she heard me, but I was ready to pitch a hissy if she made any motion to stand up. Because if she had in any way blocked my view of the stage during the song I've been waiting literally years to see live? Oh yes, there would have been a throwdown. Thankfully, she kept her inconsiderate ass in her seat and her tentacle arms mostly in check and no one had to die.

lunch, black strawberries

  • panko-breaded chicken breast, steamed broccoli, carrot sticks
  • Bosc pear, with dried cherries and cashews as gap fillers
  • yogurt-covered raisins

Set list:

  • California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade
  • Calamity Song
  • Rox in the Box
  • Los Angeles, I'm Yours
  • The Crane Wife 3
  • The Sporting Life (with a bit of "This Charming Man" by The Smiths, which I had to look up because I couldn't remember where it was from)
  • January Hymn
  • Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
  • The Rake's Song
  • Don't Carry It All
  • Down By The Water
  • Rise to Me
  • 16 Military Wives (with an audience participation bit from "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers)
  • This Is Why We Fight

1st Encore:

  • Red Right Ankle (acoustic with Colin Meloy and Jenny Conlee for the keyboard bit)
  • The Mariner's Revenge Song

2nd Encore:

  • June Hymn

and it's lincoln's birthday, too

I took today and Monday off as a little gift to myself for my birthday. It's not a milestone birthday or anything, but it has slowly morphed into an extended extravaganza-ish thing.

It started yesterday, actually, when ProcrastiGirl and my assistant treated me to lunch at La Provence. It was delightful! The meal was delicious, ProcrastiGirl had her first Monte Cristo, and instead of a cupcake at the end, they had a wonderful fruit tart brought out with a candle to blow out. And because they like me, did not sing to me. Bless.

Today included a facial and massage, my gift to me, the arrival of two packages, one from Cat, the other from The Albino. And a haircut, which made it an Inadvertent Day of Beauty. I'll be spending the rest of the evening playing in the studio in between snuggling on the couch with the kitties and watching S2 of Parks and Recreation (OMG CAT I STILL LOVE YOU FOREVER THIS SHOW IS OUR TRUTHHHHHHHHH).

Tomorrow, the actual official day, will be spent with Sally. He has plans, but they're mostly a surprise. I know that the day starts out with breakfast at Gravy and includes an overnight stay at a downtown hotel, so it will be a pretty great day all around. Gotta love that guy for being such a thoughty hubby.

Feeling downright spoiled this year, as a matter of fact, since a joint birthday/mutual-Valentine gift is tickets for The Decemberists concert next weekend, and my gift from him was enrollment in Write Around Portland's 10 week "Prompt" writing workshop. AND, we'll be spending part of Sunday with Sister and the Fabulous Miss M for park picnic.

See what I mean? Seriously spoiled.


handmade christmas

Uncle Sal, showing Miss M the proper way to wear her new bike helmetAt last, the long-overdue post about all our handmade gifts from our delightful Christmas!

As most of you know, several years ago, we started opting out of the gift-giving hoopla during the holidays for a variety of reasons. It has made the holiday season infinitely more peaceful and enjoyable for us. (::waves at mom, who isn't convinced this is true but we love her anyway::) We do make exceptions for kids -- our nephew and nieces when they were younger and now for the Fabulous Miss M, and of course for Toys for Tots and the like -- because hello, party time!

For the Hall-Smiley Family Christmas this year, however, we decided we'd make homemade gifts for each other. Aside from being homemade, the other rule was that our gifts had to be made with things we already had on hand, if possible. So no going out and buying a bunch of supplies or some kind of paint by numbers kit or whatever. And you guys! As with everything that the Hall-Smiley Family does, our Handmade Christmas seriously kicked ass!

Guy's handmade gifts:


  • for Sal -- a case of beer composed of each brew Guy's done over the years
  • for me -- a half dozen of his homemade pasties, complete with packets of organic brown gravy mix, frozen and packaged so that I have an easy, yummy, homemade dinner on those nights when time is a hot commodity OR to go in a bento. AND! He even created a little treasure hunt for me to find them on Christmas morning, because he is an evil genius.

Sister's handmade gifts:


  • for Guy -- making and decorating (with Miss M's help) a ceramic mug for his morning coffee (no pic, sorry)
  • for Sal -- a wooden recipe box containing not recipes, but her memories of the meals we've shared as a family, everything that was served at the meal, and why it was memorable to her, along with blank cards to include the many future meals we'll share
  • for me -- a handmade card, which explained that my gift is a Girls' Art Weekend together, complete with an itinerary and meal plan, and including activities like a visit to an art museum, shopping at an art supply store, an afternoon of arty crafty time together, and then staying up late to watch movies and eat (good) junk food

Sal's handmade gifts:


  • for Sister -- a full quart container of homemade fresh mozzarella
  • for Guy -- his own special blend of a spicy nut mix, including a blend of different nuts that he toasted and lightly caramelized with brown sugar, then tossed with a carefully-tested combination of black pepper, coriander, thyme, sea salt, and Worcestershire
  • for me -- a little pencil sketch he did of garlic cloves, framed, with the words "Not just garlic, but also love" (it's a long-running inside joke/term of endearment)

Brittney's handmade gifts:


  • for Guy -- a book safe made from an extra copy of a book I had, complete with a bookmark made from ribbon and a little key (I can't remember how I acquired it, but it was already well-loved by the time I got it -- a big chunk of middle pages had come undone from the spine, it was missing its dust jacket, and had obviously been loved hard by its former owner, and I was only using it for a shelf display so I didn't feel too bad about cutting a big hole in the middle of it)
  • for Sister -- a collage piece about the what she means to me, done on a blank canvas I already had and other odds and ends from my various collections of crafty things (the quote is the KJV version of the "whither thou goest, I will go" verse from The Book of Ruth)
  • for Sal* -- etched beer mugs; I bought some inexpensive 20 oz. beer mugs from IKEA, so it wasn't technically using something I already had on hand. The rest of the materials were, however. Using some old contact paper, I made word stencils for the four basic ingredients of beer: water, yeast, grain, and hops. (I drew the words on the contact paper, stuck the contact paper to the glass, then cut out the letters with an Exacto knife.) Then I used this glass etching stuff I'd bought several years ago to use on the bathroom window (that I ended up deciding not to do) to etch the words into the glass. I'd never used it before and it was pretty old so I wasn't sure if it would still work or how well. Turns out, pretty great! The stuff is seriously scary so you have to be careful with it, but it works fast and was actually pretty simple.

*[Sal's was the hardest because there was no way to do it without him seeing it during the process, so I just had to lie to him that it was actually Guy's gift, that the book safe was Sister's in addition to the collage, and that his gift was the mysterious box that made a satisfying thudding noise when you shook it (thanks to the weight I stuck inside the empty box to make it realistic). (Seriously, do not mess with me about gift-giving subterfuge: I come from a long line of women who have made it an art form.)]