It Gets Better

So, Aubrey has been home for a little over a month now, and has seen Karen four times. When she first came home, she was a lifeless curled up ball who sat next to me playing solitaire on her tablet for hours on end. Now, she is waking up every morning, doing all the “activities of daily living” without being told, working a couple of days a week, and being creative and productive. She went from drawing mandalas on a page to making three dimensional mandalas, otherwise known as Ojo de Dios or Eye of God.

I’m sure you remember the ones you made in grade school by crossing two sticks and wrapping yarn around them? Yeah, these are closely related, but nothing like that at all. She uses four dowels, giving her eight spokes. Because one set of dowels sits on top of the other, it gives it a dimensional quality that one does not see with just two sticks. She is able to weave in and out, under and over. They are amazing!

the first try

She learned a lot from the first one, so she moved on to making one that would match my rather cheery pink, green, and white paisley quilt. However, as she got near the end, she started to hear pops, until finally, the center collapsed. It still looked pretty cool, though.

what happens when one breaks

She had to take it apart, count the number of winds per color, the pattern that she used for that color, and if it was over or under or a little of both. After she remade it, it looked like this:


Never one to just throw something away, Aubrey used the broken sticks and made two smaller ones. They looked like this:

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake

and this:

Black Forest Gateau

Of course, being Aubrey, she names the designs after food, particularly desserts.

The large ones are 18 inches in diameter, while the smaller ones are a little over eight inches in diameter. She wants to work up to a full 36 inch diameter design, with 12 to 16 spokes, but she’s still working on perfecting the smaller ones.

I’m thrilled that she seems to be getting happier every day, and stronger. Yesterday, she did something she thought she could never do, and it proved to her that she’s making progress. She’s been waking up at 5am in order to shower, get dressed, take her meds, and make her bed, all before Ron has to be awake and start getting ready for work. We all agreed to put off school until summer session, because she still has a lot of stuff to work on. We don’t want to have to be standing over her saying, “Do your homework!” She’s not 12, or 17, she’s not in junior school or high school. Sadly, we’re a little late on teaching her self-motivation, but better late than never.

“Time is a healer, but we can’t see how, when you’re caught in the moment, and the hurting is now. We don’t wanna see that maybe some things weren’t meant to figure out.”


Feed the fire, fan the flame

I just saw a youtube video by Lauren Zuniga, and strongly felt it must be shared.

Lauren Zuniga is my hero; i want to be like her, to use my words to make a change, to see my face cause people to stop. and think. think about what they are thinking, what do they really believe, and is this what God meant when he said to love thy neighbor? i do not feel loved. i feel reviled, hated, despised. i feel less than a person. i am less than a person. an Embryo takes precedence over my thoughts, my feelings, my needs as a human being. an Embryo is a person, but i am not. without a voice, my voice, all women’s voices, soon I will have no rights. Men argue and say that we are making a big deal out of nothing. indeed, i will make a big deal out of the nothing that i am being granted. i will raise my unheard voice, i will join it with other unheard voices, until WE are heard, until WE become the people that WE once were, just a few years ago. i do not want women’s rights to be something that my daughter only reads about in a history book. or my granddaughter. or my great-granddaughter. i will not wait for a few years to turn into a few more, and a few more until we are completely forgotten. i will not sit back quietly as i am told to do, as they wish I would, as even my own husband asks me if I have ranted enough on facebook. WE will speak out now, WE will make our stand, WE will show that WE are worth more than just an incubator. WE will make them see that WE are people first, that without us, there will be no more, no others, no one to carry on. will we be raped into compliance with a plastic wand? NO, WE will not lie down upon that table and spread our legs for more injustice to be done. hold an aspirin between our knees, they say. yes, WE will clench our thighs, and they will call us bitches and cockteases, and they will force them open, but it’s okay because we asked for it. no, I will not be silent, behave, be good, be what they tell me to be, be seen but not heard. They do not hear us whisper to each other that we know we are at war, that we are fighting for our freedom, fighting for our families, fighting for our chance to make a choice, a choice that i have made but would not make again, yet would not take away from someone else who might choose as i once did. our whispers will rise from a quiet hum to a Battle Cry as we wage this war for our own bodies. yes, i wish that i could be like Lauren Zuniga, that i could use my words to make a change.

“Through the dustbowl, through the debt, Grandma was a suffragette. Blacklisted for her publication, blacklisted for my generation. Go Go Go.

Tea for Two

I love tea. Not just any flavor, though. While Ron loves Earl Gray, the citrus makes my stomach turn and cream curdle. For me, tea is a comfort food, even if it is not technically a food. Although I like regular black tea, cinnamon is what I crave when it is cold outside. When I was a kid, Bigelow wasn’t available in South Texas. As soon as the first cold front came through in the fall, I would wake up to my mom making tea by boiling cinnamon bark from Mexico in a pan on the stove. She would make a huge pot, and we would heat it up throughout the day. She would sometimes use it as a base for oatmeal (which is a million times better than just adding powdered cinnamon to regular oatmeal), or my favorite, rice pudding. If it was a school day, she would put some tea in a thermos for me to have at lunch.

It was such a treat because the bark was rare to us, then. It required a trip to the border, or had to wait for a visit from my aunt who lives in Mexico, or a visit from some other family member who would go down to see my aunt. Either way, it usually was accompanied by cajeta, which would disappear long before the bark was all used up. Cajeta is a caramel made from goat milk, and the kind that we would eat came flat, stuck between sheets of an edible rice-like paper. I loved to pull pieces off the discs and hold them in my mouth until the paper melted, and then I would suck on the caramel until it disappeared.

Now as an adult, both cinnamon tea and cajeta are readily available. Bigelow is my cinnamon tea of choice. It’s nowhere near as good as boiled cinnamon bark, but it is a lot faster. I don’t like my cinnamon defiled with other flavors, so Cinnamon Stick is the only one I’ll drink. Now, Aubrey heats a cup of water in the microwave, and throws the bag in after. I add cream and five (yes, FIVE!) packets of Splenda. Although I will drink my regular black tea with just two or three packets of Splenda and cream, cinnamon requires extra cream and extra sweetener. I think it’s because when I was a kid, I drank my tea with tons of sugar, so it just doesn’t taste right without that creamy, sugary goodness.


Today, on a day when it is chilly, dreary, and wet (the South Texas version of winter), Aubrey made us tea for breakfast to go with some leftover gluten free pumpkin pecan muffins from yesterday. I ate eight of them as they came out of the oven, until Aubrey hid them somewhere in the kitchen. Pumpkin is gloriously gluten free, and we use it for all kinds of things; muffins, custard, pancakes. I love it when Aubrey bakes. It’s another cozy bit of my world when she is putzing in the kitchen and the warmth and smells from the oven waft into my bedroom. For her, baking soothes her when she is stressed, and after an emotional afternoon, she needed soothing.

So we are snuggled on my bed, watching Fringe, drinking cinnamon tea for me, vanilla chai for her, and eating muffins. After my shower this morning, I bundled up in sweats and a long-sleeved t-shirt, and wrapped up in my favorite shawl (my New Year’s Eve shawl that I crocheted in 2010 to wear to Ron’s aunt and uncle’s yearly open house). While we may not get anything done around the house today, days like these are my favorite. When people ask me how I could possibly want to live up north, this is how. Cold weather leads to tea, coziness, and crochet.

“And two for tea…”

I Am Strong, I Can Do Anything…

It’s no secret that our budget is constantly taking a hit (and not in a good way). A new year means a new deductible, and I am always having medical procedures. Then it was $500 to get Aubrey home (which was a BARGAIN, trust me!! Truly, it was a gift from a friend…). Then there’s Matt’s tuition, my books, Matt’s books, paying for work on the house to someone that bailed…all this adds up to BROKE. In response to our current fiscal crisis, my husband issued an executive order that until April 1st, I am not to buy anything for the house. I am to spend nothing on the house. As he said, teeth tight, jaw clenched, voice deathly quiet, “NOT. ONE. CENT.”

Normally, I would just say “Uh huh” and do whatever. But this time, I know he’s dead serious, and I know he’s absolutely right. We are cutting it ever closer every pay period, and we do need to gain some control. So instead of getting pissed off and thinking (or saying), “Fuck you,” I decided to turn it into a six week long challenge, and blog about every project that Aubrey and I manage to do with only what is free, given to us, bought with a gift card (I have a bit on a Lowe’s card from returns), picked up on craigslist curb alerts, traded for, bartered for, or that we already have. For the average person, that might be really difficult. Fortunately for us, we have a LOT of crap and we’re really good at tetris-ing stuff into our car.

Not only did we move from a three bedroom with two living areas into a two bedroom with two living areas, but when we moved in here, we inherited two decent sized sheds, one of which was full of stuff. The people before us liked to think they were home improvement experts, and left behind various cabinets, pieces of wood, hardware…in the house they left hideous curtains, curtain rods, mini-blinds, and a whole lot of ugly.

While I don’t believe I will finish my house in six weeks, especially since I’ve been working on the bathroom for going on eight weeks now, and still I’m nowhere near the end, I do believe we will get a lot done, organized, built, fixed, and generally dressed up a bit. Although I usually only post to this blog, I have decided to start another: The Upcycle Shed (

All of the posts for The Upcycle Shed will either be about a project, a product, how-to, etc… There will be pictures, instructions, and helpful tips (I hope!). There will be a lot of sacrificial IKEA furnishings, as I mutilate my current furniture into something else. Yes, I just may chop up that $150 ebay Anthropologie duvet, two standard shams, and two euro shams…I’m not sure.

The only rule is that I cannot spend ONE CENT for anything, no matter what I may need. This is going to require some creativity; fortunately, Aubrey and I both have that in spades. We will be whipping out the sewing machine, the pry bar, and racing around the city to get various free objects. We are not experts, and I can guarantee we will be doing things in ways that will make Bob Vila cringe. At some point, someone will require a trip to an emergency room. Indeed, I can guarantee there will be blood. There will be many posts with the warning, “Don’t try this at home!”

Along the way though, you might just learn something new, be inspired to create something new from something old, or just read in horror and think, “Oh God, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!” One never knows what one will find in The Upcycle Shed!


You’re So Vain

Home improvement is awesome for building one’s self esteem. Considering that building Aubrey’s self esteem is my full-time job at the moment, what better way than having her help me with all the house projects, as well as whatever other projects she wants to work on? She took over finishing up her room, which is great since I already have a ton of stuff to do, and not enough energy or muscle capability to get it all done. Her first project for herself is to make a vanity, so she has a place to store her makeup, hair stuff, and the electrics like her hair dryer and straightener.

I scour craigslist every single day, multiple times a day. That’s how Aubrey got a free haircut from a very expensive salon, btw. Anyway, I’ve been keeping an eye out for a vanity, but they all run about $100. Sometimes they show up for $50 or so, but those are rare. However, back in December I had stopped at a house down the street that I thought was having a garage sale. It turns out they just have a ton of stuff in their carport, but the guy let me look around. I saw that he had two side bits, so someone obviously chopped one up. Since they actually belonged to his friend, he couldn’t sell them to me, and I said I’d come back, then promptly forgot.

Last Friday, they actually DID have a garage sale. I asked about the sides and the woman running it said I could have the two of them for five bucks. All the veneer is coming off because they’ve been outdoors, but Aubrey doesn’t care, because she’s going to paint it anyway. We also have a ton of scrap stuff in the shed (obviously), so she can easily make a top.

Today though, she worked on the mirror part. When we last went to IKEA, we went to the as-is section and she found three of the KRABB mirrors (the four separate squarish wavy ones) for $3. Because it was missing the fourth mirror, she saved $17. Not a bad deal. Using some boards that were weird leftovers in some laminate storage closets that we put in the garage at our old house, she started with drawing out a frame. These boards are long and narrow, so it took four boards to fit all three mirrors onto the frame. Because she’s still nervous with any power tool bigger than a Dremel, I cut the frame out for her using the jigsaw. In case you’re wondering, using a jigsaw is a lot like sewing, except the machine moves and the material stays put. It’s rather addictive; once you use it, you start looking around for other things to cut up.

After everything was cut and dusted, Aubrey laid it all out on the office floor (I really need to get the shed cleared so we can use it for the messy stuff, instead of the office), and dry-fit the mirrors. Dry-fit is when you just put it in place to make sure it’s going to go the way you expect it to, before you start gluing stuff down. The mirrors fit perfectly, so it was time to glue them. Even though the frame was in four pieces, it wasn’t an issue because the glue on the mirrors would hold it all in place. We chose Loc-tite, because it is cheap, dries fast, and fits in a regular caulk gun.

Working with a caulk gun takes a little bit of practice, but really, it’s not much different than piping icing on a cake. You want about the same thickness and evenness, which requires an even pressure on the “trigger” part of the gun. I showed her how to screw down the press-plate until it hit the inside of the glue tube, and let her figure out the most comfortable way for her to hold the gun. If there is one thing Aubrey can do, it is ice a cake, so after a couple of false starts, she got the hang of it pretty quickly.

It’s important that you zig zag your glue so you get enough on there without having to worry about globbing. It has room to spread when you press it. Aub had about two inches of zig between her zags, which is just right for what she was doing. For this project, it was also important to put the glue on the mirror, not on the wood, because the wood wasn’t a solid piece. Once she flipped the mirror onto the wood, she had a few seconds to wiggle it into exact position, and then the Loc-tite started to hold. Because she couldn’t use anything super heavy on the mirrors to press them down, she used my yarn for two of them, and a bucket of makeup stuff for the third. That was just the right amount of weight.

Depending on what glue/caulk/sealant you use, it will usually have the cure time (the time it takes to REALLY set up) written on the tube. If not, give it around 24 hours at the minimum. Some sealants, like those used for laminates, take up to a week to cure.

Tomorrow, we are expecting a sleet storm, so we are prepping by putting all the stuff we want to work on into the shed. Aubrey plans to start work on the vanity sides. Scraping off the veneer won’t be hard, but sanding down the paint that’s left over on the parts without veneer is going to take some work. This will be the first time we’ll use the Dremel for sanding the details on a piece of furniture. This very thing is what made me want a Dremel, years and years ago. They would show the commercials on HGTV, and I would sigh with lust. I finally bought it for cutting rings for making chain maille jewelry, so I wouldn’t have to cut my rings by hand anymore; there really was no choice, as I no longer have the hand strength to do it…right?

Stay tuned for the next installment of “How to make a vanity for $8.” Over the next six weeks, Ron has ordered me to not spend a single cent, so you will be seeing a lot of posts on “Projects done from crap we found in the shed, on the side of the road, or from curb alerts on craigslist.” If nothing else, it will be one hell of a challenge. The good news is, I have one hell of a lot of crap in my shed, so…bring it!

“You had one eye on the mirror…”

Hey Baby, I’m Your Handy Man

There is something about a toolbelt. On a man, it can add instant sex appeal (if they know how to use it, that is). On a woman, it is empowering. There’s an immediate sense of capability, creativity, strength, and “Men? We don’t need no stinkin’ men!” Seeing the end result of creating something from bits and pieces of nothing is pretty damned incredible, too. Considering that most of those bits and pieces are junk from out of our shed…well, there’s no other feeling like it.

I blame and Not too long ago, my house could pass for an IKEA catalog, but I’m trying to move past that stage of our lives. Now I want cool, funky, different. The beauty of is that it shows how to take common IKEA furnishings and turn them into uncommon, but useful, new objects that don’t look so…IKEA-ish. Of course, instructables is really my downfall, as they usually show step by step how to construct or destruct something. All the pictures look so easy! Add in my recent lesson in power tools from the evil one who deserves no name, and we were ready to go.

Our first project was to design a standing desk from an old coffee table/entertainment center by adding legs and casters. The Vika Curry legs do not have holes for casters, so they all had to be pre-drilled. Unlike most men, Aubrey and I mainly use her inexpensive tool set that I bought her for school, and another inexpensive rechargeable screwdriver set that my bff gave us as a housewarming gift (actually, we stole it from him). Yes, we are working with a $15 tool set from Big Lots (it’s on the table in the picture below), a $10 screwdriver set from Harbor Freight, and a $20 Black and Decker drill bit set. Almost all of our hardware is random stuff out of our shed, or recycled from something we’ve destructed. So we used a screwdriver bit that is actually a long, tiny drill bit for pilot holes, made all the pilot holes for the casters, then used casters that we’d taken off another piece of furniture. After the first screw hole, I learned that it was much easier if I made the pilot hole, then screwed in the actual screw, then took the screw out and did the same for the other three holes. THEN the caster was much easier to handle and the screws didn’t slip around so much.

The layer of dust and the mess permeate the entire house.

Aubrey and I both think the standing desk is fabulous, although I haven’t yet bought any stools to use with it. Ron deemed it a useless disaster because it is too high. I had intended to use it anyway, but our second project rather led to the decision to destroy the standing desk and use the table bit of it elsewhere.

Our second project was to use the closet system that was taking up a LOT of space in the shed. We used the headers, standards, and brackets. Because we screwed directly into studs, we didn’t need any anchors or molly bolts (butterfly bolts). Once all the hardware part was installed, we moved on to destructing a cheap white melamine/mdf bookcase that is about $25 at Walmart. That gave us two shelves that are 72 inches long, and 5 shelves that are 30 inches long. Both sets are 12 inches deep. We used the long shelves horizontally above where our little loveseat sits, and used the other shelves vertically from ceiling to floor.

Two sides of a cheap bookshelf make two 72" long shelves!

I had originally planned to paint all the shelves, but then I started to put all my white IKEA boxes and magazine holders on the shelves, and realized it looked like an IKEA idea room. I’ve always wanted something like that, but could never quite get it to look so clean and neat. So quite by accident, I got a look that I never thought I could accomplish. The blue tape on the large KASSETT box is holding it while some Lock-tite cures, as these boxes are so big, they tend to bulge out unattractively.

Of course, while all that sounds super easy, it was actually quite difficult because we didn’t have a drill. We OWN a drill, but the chuck key has been missing for ages. All we had was that tiny pilot hole bit on the small rechargeable screwdriver. Fortunately, we also had self-tapping screws, so once the pilot hole was drilled, we again screwed in the screws, took them out, put up the header/standard/brackets and screwed them back in. Once we had it figured out, we moved pretty quickly.

While we still had a leftover header, four 48 in standards, and three more bookcases to destroy, we didn’t have any brackets left, so we had to stop. Yesterday, we headed to Home Depot to get more brackets, some strips and clips to install in the bathroom cabinet that the evil one started but didn’t finish, and we got another two headers and two more standards. We also wanted to get some simple aprons, so we could each hold screws, a pencil, a screwdriver, and a level without the constant, “Where did I put the…” and “FUCK!” when we dropped screws. We found the perfectly functional $.77 aprons sitting at the bottom of the toolbelt shelf. Talk about slick marketing! Aubrey found a small toolbelt she really liked that fits on a regular belt. I went up a notch and got one with the belt attached that is essentially two of the ones that Aub picked, as well as a single pocket in between, and a holster for a drill/screwdriver/hammer. We did get two of the little aprons as well, for when we’re painting or doing other small projects.

At some point in the near future, we are painting the window trim and the fireplace in the office. Then we are installing more shelves above where Ron’s desk will be. We are taking the casters off the Vika Curry legs, taking the legs off the standing desk, and attaching them to a Vika Amon tabletop that I had picked up on our last IKEA run. I know, that’s an extremely common combination, but it’s what Ron wants for a desk. I’ve decided to use the coffee table/entertainment center that we originally started with, and attach it to the bottom bits of what Ron was using as a desk, because it will be perfect for the printer, scanner, paper, and other office supplies. I’ll use the top from that desk as my desk top, but put it on brackets on the wall. We’re destructing another desk for another 2 72 in horizontal shelves, and the rest for another five shelf vertical sytem that will be above my desk.

Considering we’ve been under a “spend no money” mandate, we’ve accomplished a lot. Of course, we had to spend a little bit, and I need to make another IKEA run, but all in all, I’m super happy with our “use what we have” solutions. Let me know what YOU think!

“I’m not the kind to use a pencil or rule…”

Halfway Down The Stairs

I’ve wanted to write this post for the last three days, but the fibro-flare that I had been holding off through sheer force of will beat me to it. As I sat in front of my computer, my eyes continuously closed against my every effort to stay awake; everything hurt, and I couldn’t lift my arms because my shoulders were screaming. I took some tramadol, which did nothing. These are the days that I break out the TENS unit. I don’t need it all the time, but when I do need it, I NEED it. Between the tramadol, the TENS, and riding out the exhaustion by just staying in bed and sleeping, I’m finally feeling somewhat human again. It will be a few more days of taking it easy before I’m fully functional, though.

Aubrey got home Friday night, accompanied by a giant truckload of stuff. Fortunately, Leigh had stopped to pick up her brother when she hit town, so including Ron, there were four people available to unload the apartment-sized pile of boxes, bags, and luggage. After Leigh and Andrew went along their merry way, Aubrey and I sat down to discuss the rules and make some plans.

Rule 1: No dating for at least six months. Right now, anyone she would choose would be a bad choice. People tend to gravitate towards others of the same mental health; the last thing she needs is someone who will feed her negative self-esteem. In six months, hopefully she will be in a much better place emotionally and psychologically.

Rule 2: At least three Al-Anon or Alateen meetings a week. No, no one in our family is an alcoholic. However, any kind of childhood trauma can cause the same aftereffects as those of living with an alcoholic. Poor relationship choices, low self-esteem, internal anger, shutdown of emotions are all common in victims of any kind of trauma.

Rule 3: No vegging in front of the computer for the entire day. Whether it is an art project, a sewing class, a chore around the house, or some therapeutic task, she has stuff to do. TV and video games serve the same purpose as any other drug. It numbs your feelings, and occupies your thoughts so that you don’t really have to think about anything. It also offers a fantasy world where everything is perfect. While it is fine for a little bit each day, Aubrey needs to learn to live and function in this world.

Rule 4: She doesn’t have to pay rent, but she will be doing housework in lieu of rent. She’s eighteen, so no free rides.

Rule 5: She has to see a counselor once a week, every week. Now that she’s no longer a minor, anything she says is totally confidential. That’s a tremendous diffence from when she last saw Karen, so hopefully it will allow her to open up more easily.

Rule 6: Every night she must make a to-do list for the next day. Anything she doesn’t finish gets put on the list for the next day. This serves two purposes; it is teaching her organization and giving her a track to follow. It also helps to build her self-esteem as she sees how much she is accomplishing each day. On Monday night when Ron got home from work, he complained that she had not done anything all day. She very proudly whipped out her list and showed him all the stuff that did get done. There are several everyday tasks that are on the list, such as making her bed, taking her meds, and showering. When dealing with severe depression, even the little things are important.

Rule 7: No electronics in bed, other than her Clip. When it is time for bed, she has to put her phone, computer, and tablet in a drawer in my room. She gets them back in the morning, but we have to break her habit of texting incessantly through the night.

Those all sound pretty simple, and it wish it was all so easy. She’s actually been extremely cooperative, especially with her list, which was a huge surprise. I was expecting more resistance.

We agreed that she can get a part-time job as long as it doesn’t interfere with any of her therapeutic tasks. No school until summer. In the summer, she wants to take vocals, music theory, and hip hop dance. In the fall, she will take another light load, and then in the spring, we will try a real load of Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry, Biology, and vocals if she decides to continue with it.

It’s tough when you have an offspring who is far from a child, but obviously not yet an adult. She’s halfway up the stairs. Now if we can just get her to the top.

“Halfway up the stairs is the stair where I sit. There isn’t any other stair quite like it. It’s not at the bottom, it’s not at the top, so here is the stair where I always stop.”