Jan 18, 2015

The (Not A) Tomboy Cake, Concluded...

Read the first part here, or the rest of this will make even less sense than usual.

To recap--I had a conversation with a photo on the internet:

Source Link Here

It had lots of steps. Lots and lots of steps:
  • Grease/flour/buttered-parchment-line 3 cake pans. Or, if you are not a friggin' bake shop needed, improvise with 2 cake pans and 1 pie pan.
  • Bake the cake: Make the almond batter. Wash mixer bowl and paddle attachment. Make a meringue and integrate it into the batter. Divvy among the pans and bake cake layers. Cool layers & wrap tightly. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment. 
  • Make lemon cream: make whipped cream and fold into store-bought lemon curd (or make the lemon curd if you really, really want to). Chill overnight. Wash mixer bowl and whisk attachment again.
  • Go to bed.
  • Wake up, jog, make meringue frosting.
  • Trim and assemble cake as follows: cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, strawberry jam, lemon cream, cake, frosting. Wash the ever-lovin' mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Again.

Resulting in this:

And this:

And so, the pros:
  • Each component was amazing. The cake batter was fantastic. The lemon cream was fantastic. The jam I carefully selected from the store shelf was fantastic. The meringue frosting should probably be illegal in my house, it was so good.
  • Using real almonds instead of almond extract makes a huge difference.
  • The cake was not too sweet, which balanced out all the other ingredients, which were almost cloyingly sweet. 
  • The lemon cream tanged up a bit after chilling overnight.
  • Since I frosted the sides--thereby making it not a Tomboy Cake--the cake was very forgiving of all the trimming I did, and it didn't dry out like the reviews complained about. Also, I didn't even need to mess with piping supplies. Which in my case consist of a zip-top bag snipped at the corner, but still. One less thing. 
  • The cake improved on the second day--the flavors were a little more married, or something.

Areas of Improvement:
  • The almonds didn't grind as finely as I hoped. Next time I would grind them first and then blend with the flour, instead of both steps at once. Thanks for nothing, recipe.
  • The cake layers were done way sooner than the recommended 40-45 minutes. I pulled them at 35, and they were still overdone.
  • The texture was less like cake and more like a quick bread; according to Alton, my creaming technique needs some work. 
  • While the components were amazing, the texture of the cake combined with the itty-bitty, not-quite-ground almond pieces made it feel like eating banana bread (but without the bananas) layered with jam & lemon cream and meringue frosting. Not bad, just a little weird. 

Tiny E loved it as-is. His Highness loved licking all the bowls along the way but might have overdone it because he thought the finished product was gross. The Littler One was happy with just the frosting. The Cat Daddy was appreciative of my efforts, but didn't sneak a giant piece while the rest of us were sleeping, which I presume means he thought it acceptable but not earth-shattering.

All told, part of me wants to try this again and see where I can improve it, but then again even if I can make it completely optimally, it feels like a risk due to my family's mixed reactions. Still, if you are considering this, my overall suggestion would be to go for it because, meringue frosting. And YOLO. And you really can't go wrong with more cake in your life.

In particular, I think that my baking friends should maybe give it a try (you know who you are) and let me know how it goes. 

I'm available for quality-control testing, FYI...

Jan 16, 2015

The Tomboy Cake...

Today I would like to talk about a small project I have in progress, and that project is the Tomboy Cake.

If you click the link above, you will see this. Isn't it stunning?

I've not had great success in the past with scratch cakes, but this one called to me. It was all, "Come on, you can bake me."

I was all, "You have a lot of steps. The cake, the lemon-curd-turned-lemon-cream, the jam, the meringue frosting. I have to friggin' cook the meringue frosting."

"Come on. I'll be awesome."

"The reviews say you're kind of dry."

"That's because my sides are naked. You can just frost all of me."

"Labor. Intensive."

"Just split me into steps over a couple of days. You can even buy some lemon curd instead of making it."

"Buttered parchment inside of greased & floured pans."

"You have Baker's Joy. Plus you've watched enough Good Eats to know all about folding in foams to make things light & fluffy. It's bad stewardship not to use the tools you've been given. Seriously. The only thing you actually have to buy is more parchment. And some lemon curd. And eggs, but you need those anyway. Come on, just try. If it's not worth it, you never have to make me again."

"Ugh, FINE."

So I bought the parchment and eggs. I went to four stores looking for lemon curd, and finally found it at Cost Plus/World Market. And these are the things I have done so far:

--Printed the 5 page recipe. To be fair, it is pretty large print. But still--Five. Pages.

--Traced and cut out parchment circles for the pans.

--Made the almond sponge batter. It could use some adjustments technique-wise, but tasted amazing.

--Baked the cakes. I have 2 proper cake pans, so I improvised by using a pie pan for the third layer. I plan to trim the pie-pan-cake edges to match, since I'm frosting the sides anyway.

--Possibly burned the cakes. They were in less than 35 of the 40-45 recommended minutes, so I'm kind of mad about that. But I'm hoping with some creative trimming all will be forgiven.

--Made the lemon cream. Not as tangy as I was hoping. Sad face :(

--Washed my food processor parts once and my mixing bowl and paddle/whisk three times.

Tomorrow I will:

--Friggin' cook the meringue frosting. And wash my mixing bowl/whisk a fourth time.

--Trim, layer, spread, stack, and frost. And whoever eats a good dinner will get a slice. Unless it's a disaster; then whoever doesn't eat a good dinner will be forced to eat a slice (Just kidding. Maybe).

Something about the process really draws me in. Baking is not something I would want to do for a living, but every so often I like to try new stuff, even (or maybe especially) if it is tricky enough to be on the order of a project. I suppose I like the feeling of creating something, especially when it's made of ordinary stuff I already have, but is put together in a completely different way than I've done before. Plus, I really do like making use of the skills Alton has taught me over the years. He makes things look easy, and while lots of things aren't as easy as he makes them look, they are often at least doable.

So I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck...

Jan 11, 2015

Notes: The January Edition...

In the spirit of Thank You Notes on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (which I don't stay up late enough to watch but I have loved every single clip I've seen via Facebook and/or YouTube. I think he is hilarious and uplifting, and a comfortable level of both confidence and self-deprication), I would like to present notes written to abstract concepts and inanimate objects around me--

Source Link Here

Dear Low Side Ponytail: Thank you for being so practical that I can wear you for most anything, yet just different enough to turn my most boring lack of hairstyle into something passing as an actual thing. Thank you for being in fashion while my hair is at its longest. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Polycarbonate Drum Enclosure: I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns. I understand your purpose, what with making older folks more comfortable in a contemporary worship setting, and making it easier to control the sound mix in historically acoustically drum-unfavorable church buildings. But you separate me from the rest of the band, making me feel like a child in the naughty corner who couldn't control herself. You make me rely on (admittedly, really cool) technology to stay with everyone else, instead of finding the groove, watching foot taps, and using my musicianship to control things like dynamics and stuff. I like to think I am professional enough to work productively with you, but your only redeeming quality is that you hide me just enough so I don't feel like everyone is staring at me, which keeps me from being self-conscious. But I would trade that to sit alongside the rest of the band in a low-profile position, which I haven't done much of since 2008. I'm pretty sure you make God sad, and I hope you burn in the apocalypse.  Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Smiley Diary from Korea:  Thank you for providing the perfect mix of practicality and whimsy. I love your colors, your mix of monthly and daily planning pages, your markings with the teeny number-people, your stickers even though I don't know what to do with most of them, and your sweet little positive sayings that brighten my days, even when my children climb the pantry shelves and strew oatmeal through the entire kitchen.  I look forward to my planning time every day. Mostly. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here
Dear Starbucks: Thank you for being sensible most of the time, and for having an easy way to consolidate my gift card balances on one card. I don't even like coffee (and therefore I kind of gag at the aroma when I walk into your store), but I still love you. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Tiger's Blood: Thank you for becoming slightly more mainstream, so that now only 57% of my friends look at me like I've grown a third head when I talk about how fantastic you are, where it used to be pretty much everyone who thought I was making things up. I loved your cherry/coconut flavor in those fundraiser lollipops in high school, but I love you even more in Italian and shave ice. Always and Forever, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Teen Titans Go: You are such a weird cartoon. So, so weird. Like, why do you have Robin along with all these other no-name teen heroes? It is so random and nonsensical. But when I sit with His Highness and watch you, it turns out you are pretty witty after all, and your humor translates to older (albeit slightly warped) audiences. Thank you for letting me relate to my oldest kid, yo. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Source Link Here

Dear Buddies Film Franchise: It turns out you are not pretty witty after all, and your humor does not translate to older audiences. Your only redeeming quality (other than the fact that my kids like you) is somehow procuring a few fairly-famous names, preventing me from poking my own eyeballs out by providing me with a fun guessing game when I hear a familiar voice emanating from a clothed animal. And I think, "I sure hope they got a good paycheck for this job." As for the lesser-known and/or less skilled actors, I think "They sure were lucky to work with those other folks." And as I am not an actor, let's keep it at that. Sincerely, Skerrib.

Seven is a good start. What would you write notes to, and what would you say??

Jan 2, 2015

Hands in the Pants...

Today I would like to talk about something highly dignified: how I came to complete the better part of a 5K bike ride with my daughter's hands in the back of my pants.

It seems so simple in my mind. It was cool out, but not freezing. We wore our sweatshirts and pants to keep warm, and I decided at the last minute to leave my gloves behind, because it felt just that pleasant out. I buckled Tiny E into the seat on the back of my bike, and we rode off.

Maybe a quarter mile in, I realized I wished I had brought my gloves after all. I commented, "Oh, I wish I hadn't left my gloves at home." And Tiny E said, "I wish I had my min-tens. My hands awe cold." And I thought "Oh, how sweet. We are so alike. Biking with my baby is so fun."

Then I heard, "I want to keep my hands warm in your butt!" And I felt a pair of little hands suddenly slip into the top of my track pants and nestle against my butt.

I said, "No! Get your hands out of my butt--I mean my pants!"

She said, "No! Your butt is warm! My hands need to be nice & cozy!"

On and on we went as I mulled my options. I could stop and give her a talking-to and hold firm to the boundary. Or I could bike on and pray that I would be immune to any judgmental stares from passers-by.  The truth was that my clothes were tucked in such a way that the only thing exposed was the bottom of my shirt. And stopping would only prolong the time until I could warm my own hands, so I pulled my jacket a little lower and kept going.

Which would have been fine had Ms Curious not inquired, "What kind of underpants you wearin', Mom?" and attempted to find out. It was there that I drew the boundary. I swatted her hands away and told her that NO ONE wanted to see my underpants, and maybe she could stick her hands up my jacket instead to keep them nice & cozy.  She agreed for, like, 3 seconds, but eventually the little hands found their way back down to my pants and settled in for the duration, and I kept the topic of conversation away from things that would result in curious and/or wiggling hands.

Thankfully, that was the extent of things. Her hands remained warm & cozy, and as far as I know I didn't expose any skin or under-things, so there was minimal awkwardness for anyone who happened to look our way.  But there was still a small part of me that wondered, as we rode along, "How did I get here, to this place, riding my bike with someone else's hands nestled against my butt? And should it bother me more?"

I decided that cavemen probably had to resort to far more awkward situations to keep warm, and that I would consider gloves and mittens the next time, just to be safe. Still, things like this always remind me to be very aware of what I'm saying to people. What seems like a benign sharing of information could, in fact, sound like an invitation to others.

So the next time you leave your gloves home, choose carefully what you share with your friends. You just might end up with someone else's hands in the back of your pants...

Dec 31, 2014

Act: A Year In Review...

My feelings about New Years have been decidedly mixed, but this time I find myself feeling reflective and appreciative.  I chose the word "Act" for 2014, and as I look back over the year, I have indeed acted.

Some of my acts have been fairly minimal and extremely practical, such as keeping a daily to-do list, getting my workout & back exercises done first thing so I have the rest of the day for other tasks, that sort of thing. 

Others have been a team effort, such as being super-proactive about our moving tasks so that we could settle in as quickly as possible for our year-long extravaganza here in Alabama. We are experts at setting up utilities, finding the best local eateries, and wondering aloud how it is that Baby Jesus's arm could break amid all that bubble wrap and packing paper. 

Some have been social, such as staying in a conversation instead of trying to end the agony that is small talk. Engaging and listening more, instead of staying only in my own brain. Taking the risk to be less "generically nice" and more "specifically me" as I get to know people.

And some have been at once so simple and incredibly difficult. Making the calls...again...for help with my weaker areas...again. Like therapy and back care and stuff. Signing on, knowing that each would require a certain commitment of time and effort. Coming to the realization that, at least for now, ongoing help for both is necessary. 

Lastly, my favorite act of 2014 ties into my goals for 2015. I found that while I've been getting help for my back (and probably will for-maybe-ever), I'm also to a point of decent enough strength to pull the trigger on my first half-marathon.  I signed up for the Montgomery Half, scheduled for March, and downloaded a training plan, and started racking up more miles than usual. If all goes well, it will be a nice segue into reaching my marathon-before-age-40 goal. 

I think it's important to note that in keeping this Act resolution, I haven't been any busier than normal. In some cases I've even taken more deliberate rest than I would normally allow myself. I think what it did was to help me be more intentional about which actions were most important to me, so that I did those, instead of my normal anesthetizing patterns of busy-ness. Sometimes, anyway. I mean, I'm still busy...but I feel a little more peaceful about it these days. 

I also think it's important to note the "little" in "a little more peaceful." I haven't overhauled my entire life, or somehow made my kids stop messing up the house (heaven help us all), or anything like that. In fact, I'm probably the only one who notices any sort of difference in myself over the previous year, but even though it's little, I'm really proud of that little step. We can all be proud of our little steps, I think. 

Except with regard to therapy and back care--the results of both of those have been feeling a LOT better. So it's, like, a greater-sum-game, or whatever you call it when you take a little step and end up running down the road with a big grin on your face like you just don't care. Seriously. Go get your help, people.

I'm still mulling over what I might choose for 2015. I could just say "Half-Marathon," but that feels like cheating, both because it's a hyphenated word and because I actually made the goal a while back and the timing just worked itself out this way. Possible contenders are "healing," "kindness," and "don't-assume-intent," but the jury is still out.

Therefore, I wish you a year full of life and love, mostly because that's my own desire, and whether or not you choose a word, or resolutions, or anything at all to accomplish in 2015, it is a good and worthy desire. 

Happy New Year!

Nov 23, 2014

Sunday Cinnamon Rolls...

I feel I need to offer a disclaimer: this post is in direct opposition to the healthier eating goals I've been working on for myself lately. If I had followed my own rules I'd have...well, I'd have done pretty much everything at least a little differently. If you're going to make and eat something like this I think the best thing is to call it what it is, which is a treat for Cheat Day, and remember that we have freedom in Christ. Because you're gonna need it for these.

So let's get on with our cheat treat, yes?  First go read the Farmer's Wife's post for the original recipe. If you do everything she said all your wildest cinnamon dreams will come true.  For our family of five I chose to cut the recipe in half because I didn't want an extra pan of cinnamon rolls trying to intimidate me all week. So here is my ingredient list:

Frozen bread dough--1 loaf
Cinnamon--roughly 2 Tbsp
Butter--1 1/2 sticks
Brown sugar--1 cup total
White sugar--1/2 cup
Vanilla ice cream--roughly 3/4 cup

  • First, thaw your bread dough. This is mostly straightforward, but keep an eye on it and don't leave it so long that it starts rising and getting too big too soon. Then roll it out to about 1/4" on a floured surface.  Get it as much like a rectangle as you can, but don't freak out because it's highly unlikely that it will be perfect. That's called 'character,' folks.

**In my ideal world I would make the bread dough from scratch, but thus far in my life, yeast doughs are sort of an unconquered frontier for me. I haven't worked with them enough to be confident that they will rise the way I hope. So I winced only minimally at buying the ready-made frozen loaves, complete with bleached flour and HFCS (Cheat Day treat!)**

  • Cover the dough with 1/2 stick butter somehow.  The Farmer's Wife said to smear softened butter over it. I chose to melt the butter and pour/spread it.  Potato, Potahto.  

  • Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the butter, and 1/2 cup brown sugar over that. 

**The Farmer's Wife says to "lightly" sprinkle the brown sugar, which I found curious because on my rolled-out loaf, 1/2 cup brown sugar was more like a heavy layer. But whatevs. Again, potato potahto.

  • Next, make it a cinnamon ROLL--roll the dough into a long tube, and then cut the rolls so they are about 3/4" thick. The Farmer's Wife says you'll get about a dozen rolls per loaf. I got more like 16-18, but the ends were smaller due to my dough being not quite a rectangle; this is how I roll. Character.

  • Lovingly place the rolls in a greased 9"x13" pan. You will notice they don't come anywhere close to taking up the whole pan. This is where the magic of yeast comes into play, so arrange them in such a way that they have a little space but also butt up against one another (heh) so as not to come unrolled.

  • Next, put the remaining stick of butter, 1/2 cup each of brown & white sugar, and 3/4 cup ice cream into a saucepan. I added the teensiest bit of salt (1/2 tsp?), but I'm not sure it was necessary. Melt, mix, stir, and bring to a boil for one minute before pouring over the rolls.  Licking the saucepan remnants is optional, but recommended for quality control purposes.

  • If you are baking them that day, let them rise at room temp until they are almost double in size. If not, cover them with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray (or not; I didn't find the cooking spray necessary) and place in the fridge overnight. They'll still rise, just much slower.

  • When you're ready, preheat the oven to 350F, then bake for 25-30 min. When done, let them cool a little, then flip them out onto a cookie sheet to cool the rest of the way before eating. 

**I pulled mine from the fridge around 5:45 to warm up a bit (I was up momentarily anyway; long story), and then put them in a cold oven at 6:30 and set it for 350F. I checked them at 7 and they were done, so I pulled them and let them cool 10 min or so.  I never did use a cookie sheet; we just flipped them straight from the pan onto our plates.

Obviously there are numerous tweaks and adjustments to be tried, depending on your dietary needs and preferences. But if you need a sure thing, this is it. I recommend a glass of milk or some eggs for some protein alongside these so you don't go into a sugar coma. And I would classify these on the smaller(ish) end in the big scheme of cinnamon rolls, so go easy on yourself if you end up eating, say, three.

These were universally liked among the Skerrib family, although the Littler One said he still prefers the iced Pillsbury ones from the tube. So take that for what it's worth--the rest of us LOVED them.

Go forth, give them a try, and let me know how they turned out...

**UPDATED 12/29/14**  OK I've tried some tweaks on this and found I could cut out a bunch of the sugar. Like, in the first round, cut it from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup.  For the caramel sauce you can cut a little of the sugar, but if you cut too much the sauce will be too buttery, and not in a good way. I also tried whipping cream instead of ice cream and it was maybe not quite as good, but still sufficient enough that I can suggest you use whatever you have on hand. Also, don't add any salt to the caramel sauce. It's just not necessary.  Happy rolling!

Nov 21, 2014

Overarching Rules and Thinking In Speeches...

One of the ways the Littler One makes sense of his world is by making overarching rules and decrees upon finding new knowledge. That boy can bend & break the rules like no other, to a point that he appears to have a complete and utter disregard for them. But the truth is he craves and asks for the structure. He wants to know all about the rules...I suspect because he wants to know exactly how far he is bending and breaking them. He was home sick one day a couple weeks ago, and asked how he would put away his laundry since he didn’t feel well, and I said I’d do it for him as a favor. He then sort of straightened a little—in his tiny sweet languishing on the couch way—and solemnly said, “So, whenever I’m home sick, you will put my laundry away; that’s the rule.” To which I replied, “I’m making no commitment beyond today.” 

He’ll do similar things with his friends and siblings. As they work out/fight over a toy he will then declare the conditions and circumstances under which the toy will go to whom, and so on. 

From a grown-up perspective it’s adorable to watch his gears turning as he is finding how things work and making his own categories and framework of the world around him. I was struck today, though, by how similar it is to when I speak and think in speeches. Hence, example #347 of why grown-ups are just giant little kids.

As I’ve done my self-work over these past few months, the cacophony in my brain has quieted quite a bit. I’m simplifying my daily routine and focus, and practicing being in the moment more, and learning how to direct my thoughts better when they try to bombard me. Still, when I’m out jogging or even folding laundry on the bed, I’m continually forming little blog posts in my mind. In the Hispanic foods aisle at the store I had some sort of salsa-based wisdom going. It was brilliant, I tell you. And I think probably at my core I am—much like the Littler One—forming and revising my own structure, trying to make sense of the world around me. 

This is mostly harmless, except that it does keep a sort of white noise going in the back of my mind, and I wonder if in a way it can keep me from being in the moment. Also, I think it actually hinders me from putting anything down in writing because, like anyone, my structure of daily experience is constantly revising, and I think I might’ve convinced myself that I can’t write down anything I’m unsure of, because then if I contradict myself or change my mind it will be too messy to sort it out, and then how will I ever become a real blogger who is able to manage a speaking schedule????

(I’m not quite sure how I always end up worrying about that)

So for today I am learning to see it when it happens and take a breath, and remind myself that right now my goal is a little more structure to my thoughts. They’re going to come no matter what—that’s what thoughts do—but I can learn to handle them and put up limits when needed. And even send them on their way, because that is actually possible (I’m told). And when I have an experience that makes an impression or otherwise moves me, yes it is part of the bigger picture, but maybe some(most)times it is OK to see it for that moment’s lesson and nothing more. To keep it to a sentence or two and step off the soapbox. 

Much like putting away the Littler One's Laundry--making no commitment beyond that day…

Oct 27, 2014

Curious and Open...

On good days, I ask and listen before I throw down the gauntlet of consequences and lectures. No, I'm not talking about time-ins, necessarily. I'm talking about being curious and open.

My therapist and I were talking about curiosity and openness as a way of minimizing anxiety, and the areas where I could practice it. 

The tricky thing about being curious and open is that it's really hard to fake. It doesn't work very well if you tell yourself to ask a question, and even succeed at asking, but then instead of listening to the answer you're plotting your response and how you will SMASH the other person's viewpoint, and possibly the other person entirely. I sometimes have to give myself a little time-out to allow for a perspective-change, and then I can come back and be ready to listen before responding.  But when I can do it, I am sometimes surprised at the answers I get, and how different reality can be from my perceptions and assumptions.

Case in point, and one of my favorite surprising stories about His Highness--

Once when he was about 5, I was putting some laundry away for His Highness. As I opened his drawer I saw that he had dumped the entire contents of his dinosaur bucket inside. Dinos, little plastic boulders, and even some fake vegetation. He was at school, so I couldn't yell for him to "Come here right NOW!!" and he was old enough that I wasn't about to clean out the drawer myself, so I left it for the time being. I didn't know if he was hiding them for some reason, or just being lazy (in a really strange way) about putting them away, so by the time he got home I was genuinely curious as to why...on earth...he had done that. I asked him, "Your Highness, why did you choose to put your dinosaurs in with your socks and unders?" 

He responded, "I thought it would be really cool to open my drawer and have it be like a prehistoric land." 

And then my entire view of the world shifted within about a half second, and of course I replied, "Oh! That's a good idea. I was just wondering." Then I seriously considered borrowing some of the dinosaurs so I could create my own prehistoric sock drawer.

I didn't though, and I didn't ask him about it anymore, and eventually he wanted to play with the dinos and cleared them out of the drawer himself. 

When you think about it, his motivation isn't all that remarkable for a five-year-old, but it was so far removed from my parent-putting-away-laundry motivation that it took me by surprise. And I was really glad that I asked before correcting him, because as I thought better of it, it was very much along the lines of a desk chair on a bed

I think the point is that these kinds of things can happen with anyone, and not just little kids. Perhaps the answer won't be quite as cute so as to make one melt into a puddle of goo over their children's adorable brilliance, but maybe it will be endearing. Or at least, um, not hostile?

It sure seems to work for me. When I remember to ask first and be curious & open...

Oct 21, 2014

Nice Rack...

I've said it before and I'll say it again--I may despise a lot of things about moving, but one GREAT result is the streamlining and organizing of stuff. I love the idea of being active outside, and we are pretty good at it, but the reality of taking the kids out and saying "look at all this beautiful nature; go play" is greatly helped when there are plenty of modes available to facilitate movement. So we have bikes, trikes, big wheels, the jogger, and so on.  And they all make a big, glorious mess in the garage. Fantastic for contemplating life and family and health. Not so great for parking the car in the winter.

The before--sort of. Pay no attention to the X'd out finished rack. You'll see it soon enough.
Of course, you can get hooks and straps and stuff to hang bikes in a garage, but the kids can't work those very well except to rip them out, and that would be counterproductive. And you can buy actual bike racks like they have in schools, except those get heavy and pricey pretty quickly.

So through a series of Pinterest click-throughs I came upon an article from Kids Activities Blog and said "That's it!" Out loud, for all to hear. This thing could be adjusted in size to fit our specific needs, disassembled for moving, AND the cost of materials was under $60.  Badda boom, badda bing. I pinned it, and told the Cat Daddy about it, and bided my time because we were just getting ready to move and it seemed wiser to hold off until we were in place.

The Cat Daddy was skeptical, as usual. But I forged ahead, as usual. Now, I will tell you every time to do your due diligence on any DIY project. You need to go through and consider if you will alter the plans for your situation, make sure all the math is correct, and perform an overall sanity-check. 

I will also tell you that I chose to do none of that this time around, and it cost me two extra 10' PVC rods and two extra trips to the home improvement store. Not too big a deal really, but depending on your distance from said store it could spell disaster, so just make sure you consider the variables here.

I printed out two articles: the original article on Kids Activities Blog, and its source article from the Utah Mountain Biking club, which had some really good diagrams and clarification (I'll link both at the bottom of this post for easy reference).

The plans given will build a 6-bike rack out of 1" PVC pipe and associated parts. You CAN cement the pieces together with pipe dope, but I found that using a rubber mallet to seat them was plenty sturdy for our purposes.

There was a small debate about which tool to use for cutting the pipe. The Cat Daddy recommended our little jigsaw, which I used for a PVC baby gate a couple years ago, but I remembered stability had been an issue. Which is bound to happen when one is using a weight bench for a workbench, but whatevs. The point is, we have a mitre saw with a frickin' laser beam, and why should the Cat Daddy be the only one to use the cool power tools?

I did not account for blade thickness in my measurements, which for the most part wasn't a problem. As long as you're within 1/8" or so you should be good. I had a couple pieces that were off by more than 1/4" (measure twice cut once, people), so I recut them using excess pipe scraps.

Cutting PVC makes you think about a delicious mess of shredded coconut.
My total needed pipe length was on the order of 44'-ish, so I purchased 5 10-foot pipes and cut as follows:
  • 12      18" long pieces
  • 12      10" long pieces
  • 27      8" long pieces
  • 18      1.75" long pieces (connectors)
  • 42      tees
  • 6        elbows 

The supply list with my edits. Source: here.

Actually, first I cut according to the original dimensions given in the picture, where I should have seen that the original 13" dimension was wrong.  I mean, clearly the longest pieces are way more than 3" longer than the 10" pieces.  I noticed the number discrepancy in the Utah article, then I looked back at the above picture and whacked myself on the forehead for not seeing it sooner. DIY projects give me tunnel vision. 

So I headed off to the store and grabbed two more 10' pipes, and went home & cut them into 18" pieces. And then, finally, I was done cutting.

Done cutting, including the original, now-useless, 13" pieces. 
As I moved on to the assembly phase, I soon realized that the measuring-and-cutting phase was by far the longest and most tedious, because the rack came together super-quick. Neither article exactly gave a specific procedure, so feel free to switch things up if you're feeling all crazy and non-conformist.

I went with the main frame first, and did the vertical members. Each rod is an 18" piece and a 10" piece, joined by a tee, with tees added at the top & bottom. Except for the end rods, which have elbows instead of tees at the top & bottom.

You may be able to see in the picture that I lined up the pieces so the red pipe printing is all facing the same way.  You don't have to take the time to do that, obvs, but if you're a bit of a control freak and like your PVC items to look more polished than average, it's worth the effort.

Rods made of 18"s, 10"s, tees, and elbows.
Next I used the little 1.75" connectors to make 6 pairs of rods. Here's where I added gentle taps with the rubber mallet to get things lined up properly. If you don't have a rubber mallet a regular hammer will work fine, as long as you add cushioning (phone book, folded towel, etc) so you don't bust the pipes.

Connectors joined the rods into pairs.
From here I joined each pair with 8" pieces at the tops & bottoms. I got a little excited and moved onto the support arms before I took a picture of just the main frame, but you get the idea. Rubber mallet taps as needed.

8" pieces joined pairs into the frame. I got a little excited and started on the support arms.
Each support arm pair was made of 2 8" pieces, a tee on each end, and a connector between the tees. Except of course for the end pairs which used an elbow in place of one tee.  Tap-tap-tap, went the rubber mallet.

Support arms from 8" pieces, connectors, and tees/elbows

"...38, 39, 40 tees. Hmmmm..."
Here is where I blamed my children for stealing 2 tees before I counted and realized the original list was wrong, and the little thieves hadn't swiped any tees after all. After 40 tees I was short, so I ran and bought 2 more, garnering quizzical looks from the Home Depot staff. 

"Is this all for you today?" 

"Yep. I was two short." 


Done! Thank you, rubber mallet. Note the well-worn printouts, as well.
This was a surprisingly good project to do with the kiddos, or at least with kiddos in the vicinity. His Highness and the Littler One helped with the measuring and marking. I offered to let His Highness do a couple of cuts, but he opted out this time around. Both boys functioned as sawhorses, supporting the long ends of pipe during cuts. And when they got bored with the actual work of it, they took turns with Tiny E, rolling objects down pipe ramps and so forth. Physics!

The Utah article quoted about an hour to build their 3-bike rack, so I estimated this would take about 2 hours. This is accurate in the same way that "30-Minute Meals" with Rachael Ray is accurate, meaning the time required is going to be highly variable. If you work with tools regularly and don't have to make extra store trips, 2-3 hours is probably about right. If you have extra trips, and have little helpers in & out along the way, and break in the middle to make lunch and put the baby down to nap, and take time to shop vac all the little bits when you're done, expect closer to 4-6 hours. 

So organized you could park a car in there.
Once I placed the rack and bikes, I was pleased as punch. Even the Cat Daddy said, "It's not too bad," which in everyday speak translates, "Wow, great job Skerrib! You are a woman of noble character. Eshet Chayil!"

And of course now that I have a baseline from which to deviate, I'm thinking about changes I might make, such as adding more sections and/or spacing out the current sections to leave more room for trikes and sundries between the bikes.

Take a look, and go forth...

Kids Activities Blog post

Utah Mountain Biking post

Oct 15, 2014

Therapeutic Seasons...

I’m a firm believer in seasons of life. While much of it is messy and overlapping, if I step back and sort of relax my eyes a little, I can see lots of time periods that for me have been about focusing on specific themes: learning big lessons, meeting special friends, passing milestones, or whatever. I tend to think of seasons in terms of places we’ve lived, so we have our Ohio season, Massachusetts season, and so on. Our pastor in Wyoming would always talk about God’s ‘assignments’ for us, meaning whatever He had for us where we were, no matter how strange or un-fun it seemed in the moment. As time goes on and we move to each new place, I've come to wonder what is in store for me there, what assignments God has for me, and what chapters that new place will write in my life story.

Most recently I’d been in a season of baby-rearing and back-healing/strengthening, and while I sensed I maybe needed a little help emotionally, I wasn’t in crisis enough to spend the time, money, & effort needed to do counseling/therapy properly, which is to say actually show up regularly and engage, and not blow off the homework.

Well, I factored all the factors and was able to tie up some loose ends, and decided that this is a good season to jump in and do some self-work in the form of counseling. I may have phrased it differently and implied that certain unnamed partners maybe could use some guidance as well…to the extent that such is true of all of us…but certain unnamed partners instead chose things like work, and parenting, and would-rather-an-icepick-to-the-eye-than-therapy-except-in-a-crisis, and we aren't in crisis, so I had to respect that choice.

Besides, within a couple sessions, my therapist and I determined that I had plenty of issues of my own to work on without bringing certain partners into things, anyway. And I may have had to apologize to certain partners for projecting my own issues and putting undue pressure on certain marriages. Or something. Because what I discovered was that, even with meds and healthy habits and stuff, it turns out that I still carry around a great deal of anxiety.

I know. I’ll wait while you sit down and absorb the shock.

Moving forward, instead of “The Cat Daddy needs to be nicer to Skerrib” (which I still contend is a valid and useful life goal), we have steered the focus more toward “Skerrib is a nervous-type and a perfectionist, but there are tools to help with those.”  

Thus I'm expanding my toolkit a little and learning a TON about feelings and stuff that I already like learning about, so it's working out well. As with most things in life, while I've come a long way in a lot of areas, I still have blind spots and/or areas where I'm in denial or fooling myself. So, you know, it's helpful (though not always pleasant of course) to have someone to help me sort thru it all. 

As with any season this too will come to a close in time, but for now I kind of want to go to therapy forever...