Monday, October 27, 2014

ARTSY: Dia de los Muertos Skulls

I'm a huge fan of the Dollar Tree just a few blocks from my house in Vista Village shopping center here in Boise, especially around the holidays. Their d├ęcor is killer, and so much fun to be creative with without costing much at all.


 Last year I saw (too late) these large felt skulls, probably 18" tall by 12" wide in both white and black for a dollar a piece. By the time I thought about crafting them up to make darling Dia de los Muertos skulls and went back to the store, they were all snatched up.


This year I bought three, one each for Lucy, Alice and I to try our hand at. While I originally thought I'd get out my embroidery thread and needles for some cute stitching, I quickly changed my mind because, um, crafting with kids is sometimes hard enough without making it harder (am I right or am I right?). A faster, easier method of getting the same colorful details as thread? Brightly colored Sharpies.


Pull up some sugar skull and face painting images of Day of the Dead from the Internets for inspiration. Add in a few tubes of glitter glue, sequins and leftover Mardi Gras mask making feathers. Voila! Cutest decorations to grace our front window during any Halloween season we've had. (Pro Tip: the plastic hanging hook that the price tag was attached to? Don't rip it off. Use it to hang your skulls on a tiny suction cup hook on your window!) I even ran back to the Dollar Tree to snatch up three of the black skulls to craft up next year before they ran out. Again.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

CULTURE: Of Death

My first one was a suicide.

A middle-aged man overdosed on pills in the front seat of his red pickup truck in a forested area about forty-five minutes outside of Corvallis, Oregon. He'd probably been dead, oh, maybe a day, twenty-four hours or so. He'd left a note on the front seat next to him. I drove the van with the mortuary science student who lived in an apartment connected to the embalming room at the back of the funeral home. The road was dark and winding, it was 2am and I was nervous. And twenty-three years old.

We met the police there, as the undertakers' assistants, like me, were the Girl Fridays of the local death scene. (I was, in fact, the only Girl Friday in town, and there were only a handful of Boy Fridays, I should note.) There was no morgue at the city hospital, so we did the dirty work for the police, doctors, and the like, picking up bodies from all sorts of locations and end of life scenarios, from automobiles in the mountains to attics of houses to nursing homes. We helped the coroner perform autopsies and embalmed and cleaned up messes and held people's hands.

Both dead and alive.


I decided I might want to become a mortician about a year before that, a young girl finding her calling. After having heart-to-heart conversations with funeral directors around Idaho and Oregon that I interviewed, they suggested I get a job in the field first before committing to mortuary science school (I already had two bachelors degrees at this point and getting a third was something I needed to think about) to see, you know, if I had the stomach and the heart for such a gut-wrenching career.

It was so hard, they said. I wouldn't recommend this field to anyone, they shared. It is a calling and a career that can keep you up all night and away from your family on birthdays, they lectured. Funeral directing will drive you to drink, they warned.

They hired me at one of two funeral homes in Corvallis to be a mortician's assistant/night-time removal driver. I had a pager and worked full time during the day, awaiting deaths in the dark of the night. And they came, sometimes more than one a night. And I took off my pajamas and brushed my teeth and threw on some nice conservative black clothing, drove to the mortuary, picked up the unmarked minivan and met the family/nurse/staff/police at a number of locations. Physically, dead weight is hard to carry. Emotionally, it's even harder.

I have stories to tell that will knock the wind out of you, make your stomach churn, make your heart break. People hugged me, screamed at me, said I was too young, too beautiful, too sweet to be doing this job.

You make me feel better, she said. Your kindness is so soothing, they told me. I'm floored that a young woman is here to take my father away but I'm so glad you are, I once heard. I hate you, she cried. Please don't take him away, they yelled down the hall, tearing at my clothes.


In graduate school I found myself studying art and architectural history, continuing to learn about the American way of death. These stories bore a hole in my heart and my mind and my academic research. It can be different. It should be different.

 
Fifteen years later this young, sweet, beautiful girl in California picked up where I left off, and I'm so glad she did. Her YouTube videos, Ask A Mortician, are charming, relevant and on the mark.


Caitlin Doughty is a mortician who's telling you that you don't really need a mortician to mourn and bury your loved ones. Home funerals and green burials and bringing death back to our conversations is such an important movement. She's also founder of The Order of The Good Death and writer of a new book and recently interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR. All of these things are so, so, so worthwhile, friends. Please give them a watch, read, glance. It's kind of a matter of life and death.


And fun! (For real.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

A letter to 226 pounds

Dear well-meaning woman at the DMV,

It all started so well last Friday morning. You called my number and I hoisted my six-month-old baby boy on my hip while balancing a purse and a coffee mug so clumsily. I just knew we should've brought the stroller in with us, but we didn't. You see, my husband Eric and I came together to renew our Idaho driver's licenses together, as they expired on the same day, and we figured one of us could hold Arlo while the other filled out paperwork and got a new photo, but, sigh, we were wrong.

Eight years ago we had just moved to Boise from Minneapolis. We'd left little two-year-old Lucy at my mom's house where we were living in her front driveway in her camp trailer while searching for a new home. It was our sixth wedding anniversary and a hot summer day; my hair was shorter and less silver. I was wearing a cute striped tank top I'd got for a screamin' deal at Old Navy. My license photo was, dare I say, cute. And after pouring over the Idaho drivers manual the night before, I'd just passed the written exam. Whew.

This morning Eric and I stared down at these old licenses we were about to surrender to you with delightful nostalgia. Look at these young kids, we said. So much life lived since then - different jobs, many more babies, a new home.

Not only did we look different - younger - I also looked back at this 30 year old girl with fondness. She was about to get so much stronger than she ever imagined. Which is why, dear lady, when you asked if all the info on my drivers license was the same, I laughed.  Everything is different, I thought. But I said, No, my address is no longer my mother's driveway. It's a house, an important sanctuary I call home. Done, you said. Easy enough. Anything else?

Yes, my hair is no longer brown, obviously, I laughed. Looking at my side-swept silver locks with bright red highlights and back to the wee baby in my arms you seemed confused. Well, what are my other options? I asked. Sandy, red, white, gray......

Gray. My choice.


You eyed my conspicuously. Ummmmmm, okay. Anything else?

Yes. I have not weighed 140 pounds since I first got this license when I was 16 years old. I now weigh 226. No one has ever changed it. I'd like to change it.

You furrowed your brow and would not look up at me. I knew all these proclamations made you uncomfortable and I know you were trying to help, really. No, no, we can just put, how about, 180?

200? I countered.

You changed the subject to sweet Arlo and suggested I hold him down low, at my waist, so his head wouldn't be in the photo. I got to see the image on the screen, not a cute girl anymore, but a wise woman, nearly forty, with a double-chin. You filled out my paperwork for me, as my jiggling arms were full of motherhood and confusion and you cooed.

I didn't have the energy to fight the fight this time. Your 'helpfulness' (lying about my weight) did not really help me, though. In fact, it made me feel bad and shameful when I'm really proud and happy to now weigh 226 pounds.



Twenty-two years ago that 16 year old girl would've never seen this day coming. But she'd be so proud of the big mama I've become. So, eight years from now in 2022 when I renew my driver's license again, maybe you'll listen to me. Maybe I'll speak louder, stronger and demand the 226.

Sincerely,
Amy

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

THRIFTY: 6 lbs of Gummy Bears

A few months ago we happened upon a gigantic 6 pound bag of gummy bears at our local Costco. We laughed about it because it's Dr. Brown's most favorite candy, but it was only about $8, which was really a steal when I started thinking about it. So, much to his surprise, I tossed it in our cart.
 

I knew, however, that if I didn't do something smart and creative and snacks-sized with these treats immediately they'd all be eaten within a week. (The doctor and his two daughters have incredible sweet-tooths. Teeths? Whatever.) So I opened the bag and divided them immediately into 8 oz. canning jars. That bag filled SEVENTEEN of these jars. 17. I was amazed, and thrilled. I doled out one jar every day or two for them to share, hiding the other 16 in a top secret box in the garage. (I'm not mean, for reals. It's just that they would've gone out to the garage and gotten more jars and eaten them all quickly. I'm so serious.) They lasted for weeks this way and if you do the math, each jar came out to something like 48 cents for 8 oz of gummy bears, which is such a deal.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

STYLE: The Best Fatkini


Who in their right mind is going to post pictures of themselves in The Internets in a bathing suit when they are a fat woman, amIrite?! And a bikini, no less. Well, lots of women, including myself. It's pretty much become a movement, really, in fat acceptance and Health At Every Size circles. (And I've written before how I'm proud to part of those circles.) Hell, it's become a movement in any womens' circle, really. And a lot of it started with blogger Brittany Gibbons who, in 2011, did a Ted Talk where she stripped down to her bathing suit on stage and not long after that, posted a photo of herself in a fatkini on her website, and she ain't no thin girl.

 
She inspired us all to do the same. Don't hide under long clothes in the summer. Buy a bathing suit and own it. Get in the water with your kids (which I am doing in all these photos: at Roaring Springs Water Park, drinking beers in a hot springs in the Idaho mountains, tubing in Warm Lake and floating in the river outside of Atlanta, Idaho). Flaunt your fat in the sun. Let sand stick to your cellulite and sweat drip down your cleavage. It's what summer, and life, is all about.


I bought my first fatkini in 2013. It was black and white striped and so darling and fit like a glove, perfectly snug in all the right spots. It was comfortable, and really, barely a two piece, with a high-waisted vintage-type bottom with skirt like scrunching fabric in the front and a halter on the top (a fashion blogger I'm not, obviously). I wore it like mad that year, pushing the bottoms under my growing pregnant belly while I wore it to prenatal water aerobics twice a week for nine months while pregnant with baby Arlo last year. I wore it so much that it eventually wore thin and gave out.


I loved the style and fit so much that I ordered the exact same one again from Walmart.com in a size 2x. It was on sale for less than $30 (a steal!), but only available in red. The suit was recommended by another blogger, Rachel, who ordered the navy anchor print and rocked it on her website (although her image was sadly stolen and used for a diet company's promotion because sometimes people suck).


It's the Catalina Suddenly Slim bikini from Walmart and it appears they are all sold out online now so (I'm kinda freaking out about what I'm going to do when my red beauty gives out, but it's holding up great so far.)

I'm not gonna lie, when I first put on my black and white striped one just over a year ago and wore it to the city pool with my daughters for the first time I was a nervous wreck. I was self-conscious and felt like everyone was staring at me. Turns out, many people (although likely not as many as I first thought) WERE looking at me, because they thought my suit was so cute and I looked great in it. I found this out, as many, many women have complimented me on my suit every time I wear it in public. It really is cute and much more flattering than these images (snapped unplanned by my youngest daughter) show. And it's so comfortable to wear and now I don't really even think about it being a two-piece and whether or not people approve of me wearing it. I feel great in it, it's comfortable, it's darling, and I get to enjoy the water with my family. It's made me brave enough to share unflattering images that my daughter Alice took of us having fun together, just because she loves me. And that's all that really matters.

Friday, September 5, 2014

KIDDOS: Boise Bench Junior Master Gardeners

As School Garden Coordinator for my daughters' little elementary school on the Boise Bench near our home, I have spent the last two years learning about, building, and growing our school's first veggie garden and native plants garden. I wrote (and received!) a $2000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation and received a training grant from the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS) as well. Bringing growing and earth-friendly practices to children has become somewhat of a new passion of mine and has been so much fun to implement.
 

Part of this adventure included learning about the Junior Master Gardener certificate program. It's just like the adult version, but a bit more playful and can be taught as a community club or a 4-H program. Also, the leader can be an invested parent like myself, and isn't required to have Master Gardener certification. All I had to do was purchase the teacher's manual and some textbooks for our kiddos and find some interested children around ages 8-12 and we were set. My friend Kelly offered to be my co-leader, which has been a great help having baby Arlo around, and we quickly got 6 kiddos who were interested. (We could've opened it up to so many more who have expressed interest, but we just can't manage that many with the two of us.)


The curriculum is so much fun and we began meeting for an hour and a half every Thursday during the summer at Borah Park in Boise, where we also rented a community garden plot for our little gardeners. We've organized field trips, like the one pictured above to the Boise WaterShed Educational Center for a wastewater treatment plant tour, and even made some "crop art" out of seeds and recycled wood to enter in the Western Idaho State Fair (we won a third place ribbon!).


The kids have had a blast planting flower seeds, weeding, capturing bugs, journaling in the garden, and doing art projects like pressing flowers and leaves and making them into cards, as pictured above. (Really, the little girl above was having fun, I promise.)


We have invited guest speakers, like Jan the Worm Lady, from Capital City Public Market, to come and teach us all about worms, their importance in our gardens, and help the kids build a worm compost system.


Our crew continues learning and finishing up the projects and lessons in our book until February, when they will all graduate with their Junior Master Gardener certification. Next week we are having an apple harvest party here at my house, picking, peeling, coring and baking an apple dessert from our little urban mini orchard. After that, we are creating a scarecrow for the Idaho Botanical Garden's fall festival Scarecrow Stroll. Soon we'll be wedding and cleaning out our garden and will start meeting in our homes after school each week, but you can bet will still be digging around in dirt, brought inside in buckets.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

KIDDOS: Best Baby Buys {part 2}

 
I had read stellar reviews of Aden + Anais muslin swaddle blankets on several mommyblogs before Arlo was born, so I splurged and bought myself a 4-pack from Amazon and was that ever a good idea. We LOVE these blankets. You can see we brought the monkey print one to the hospital for Arlo's birth and it became a feature in his hospital birth photos and therefore a keepsake. They are the best for swaddling wee babes tightly with warmth, but are very breathable. Perfect for winter and summer alike, I can't express enough how much we use them. Arlo is still wrapped in one every night and there's always one in the diaper bag. They also make great makeshift nursing covers on the go without leaving me sweating like mad on these 100+ degree days. They cost about $34 for a 4-pack, so an average of $8 a piece.

 
 
{photo courtesy of www.target.com}
 


We started using Aveeno natural oatmeal formula baby wash & shampoo when Lucy was just a few months old and fell in love. It seems less harsh than the Johnson & Johnson products and less drying on soft baby skin. It's also tear-free, and since it's a hair and body wash, it's all we use on our wee ones for years (until the girls' hair was long and ratty enough it needed separate intense conditioning treatments). I usually get it from Diapers.com when I order our Nature Babycare organic diapers and it's really not that much more expensive than other brands, around $5 for an 8oz bottle, and you can find it anywhere, like Target, Walmart or Walgreens. 
 
 

{photo courtesy of www.diapers.com}

Another item we've been using since Alice was born over six years ago are these glass bottles from Evenflo. I freaked out about BPA in plastic bottles and started using these when our babies drank milk and we love them. My kiddos never drink more than 4 ounces at a time, so these little bottles are perfect. Some people are afraid of their babies/toddlers dropping the bottles and them breaking, but we've had them chucked across concrete and tile kitchen floors and never had one break at all. You can find these everywhere (again, Target, Walmart, etc.) and at just around $5 for a package of four, they are so inexpensive and worth it (sans BPA).


Something else we've had for over ten years and has been a life-saver is our Baby Bjorn front pack carrier in navy blue. All our babies have ridden close to our hearts in this device, and have viewed the world from the safety of our chests. Dr. Brown (the hubs) loves that it is unisex and easy to put on for daddies as well. It retailed for about $80 then (my dad bought it for us for a baby gift) and they are still pretty expensive, but you can also find barely used ones on craigslist and used baby stores for like $20. They hold up SO well, also. I know there are a million other kinds of baby carriers now, but this has remained a favorite of ours.