Monday, October 29, 2007

The Dead Would Be Proud

My neighbors and I pulled off an outstanding Dia de los Muertos party in our courtyard last night. A lot of the night was spent gushing to our friends and family about how lucky we are to have such a tight-knit and dreamy complex. I have no doubt we will all look back on this time living here, whether it's three years or thirty, as one of our most glowing.

A lot of my favorite moments of the party were centered around the ofrenda. I put it together in the center planter on top of the lemon balm that grows wild there. It was made out of storage boxes and covered in a bed sheet and on top our family photos and marigolds and candles and salt water were placed. When people asked, I told them who were in the photos and explained that the salt water clears the air and represents ongoing life. It's my favorite point of Dia de los Muertos, the often forgotten fact that we're still alive (so, live it, fools, live it!) During the course of the party, more photos just appeared on the ofrenda. They were sparked with energy because I was always drawn back to the ofrenda when another photo arrived. My five year old neighbor Diana asked her mom about the whole set up. Her mom explained that it was a special place to celebrate the people we love who have passed on. And Diana shouted, "We have some of those!" And Leonard, my eighty-one year old neighbor who has lived in his apartment thirty-six years pulled me aside at the beginning of the party. He is frail, inches shorter than I, but his hair is perfect and full and he sports Clark-Kent glasses. He said, "This was a great idea, the honoring idea, I mean. I'm so glad you did that." Moments later I noticed a picture of Leonard’s wife on the ofrenda. The photo is from the 1970's and she is standing near the ruins of Central America. She is sketching on a pad and two local children, shirtless and barefoot, are stealing peaks over her shoulder. I stared at it for a long time.

I was able to put a photo of my grandmother on the ofrenda, which was monumental for me since I hadn't had a decent picture of her until only last week. This woman was my life preserver as a kid even if I didn't see her as much as I had wanted. I spent a lot of time begging god in my mind to see her more. She died when I was fifteen, a little young I thought to lose my foundation of emotional support, but maybe she knew I'd be ok. And though I didn't know her when she was this young, that stare in the photo pounds at my heart. Wow, I miss her, but I think I'm doing her proud.

On to the living, fools! So, yes, we dressed for the party. Here I am as La Calavera de la Catrina. I think most people know Catrina as an icon for Dia de los Muertos, but the initial sentiment behind José Guadalupe Posada's 1913 drawing of La Calavera de la Catrina -- which means fancy skeleton -- was that no matter how rich you are or how fancy or important you think you are, you will still die. Don't just live, fools, live well; do good.

As usual, Mandy and Melissa came fantastically correct. This photo needs to be made into a gigantic wall mural.

Here's my neighbor and good friend Molly as a beautiful butterfly. She made a quinoa salad for the party that kicked serious ass.

And oh lord, did I bake for this party. I baked my ass off; four days straight. I still have Halloween baking to do for the office, but here's my best foot forward:

These were actually for Mina's class party on Friday. The tombstone is vegan fondant-covered amaranth graham cracker. I think fondant is nasty, but the kids loved it! Because they'll eat dirt and poo mixed with lots of sugar!

The pies came out great. Ironically, the pumpkin pies especially. I figured out that my original pumpkin pies weren't setting because of the lil' mini tins in which I was first baking/experiementing. I can't explain why the filling wasn't setting in them, but whatev. I got it now. Molly said, after my many attempts, "Now that's perserverance." Here's the vegan Cobweb Apple Pie:

And the pumpkins. The Picado Pumpkin Pie was raffled off at the party.

And finally, the cupcakes . . . Fondant skulls and flowers (and designs in edible pen!) on top of lemon cupcakes.

Life is good, fools.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Extreme Make Over

Bear with me as I make the new look fit. Two and a half years on the blog and I'm finally taking it to the beauty shop.

Almost done . . . P.S. the banner was made by my girl Kristen of Plaid Valentine. She was awesome to work with. Thanks Kristen!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stomp It with Your Thoughts

This is a photo taken Monday two blocks from my office in Orange County. I was working from home that day; safe in my ocean-side pocket of smoke, surrounded by the Malibu fires to the north and OC fires in the south. Needless to say my office was evacuated. It feels like my beloved state is burning to the ground. Maya and Mina are kept indoors during P.E. and recess. The smoke has been ridiculous; the sunsets spectacular and eerie. The weather is strangest of all. It is in the 90's. The hot Santa Ana winds have died down, but the autumnal heat feels unnatural and put upon us. Californians always make myth out of the Santa Ana winds as it is. We rumor that they blow in earthquakes. We are always cautiously silent about the fire hazards caused by these winds; like we're simply waiting for an ignition. Typically I love the Santa Anas just because of the mysterious feel; they are pleasant and haunting. But who can not feel belittled by natural destruction.

My good friend Rebel Girl's house is in serious jeopardy; it may have already been lost. It's hard to tell with the media coverage and no solid news. She updates frequently here. They have been displaced for three days. Her husband and four year old son keep her hopeful though they have no exact word on the condition of their house. Hope and too much TV coverage have been cruel. She says she's burned down the house three times in her mind. Putting her family's face to the 500,000 evacuees uneases me. This is the second largest evacuation in our country's history; the largest in our state. Lives spared is a great thing, but starting over seems overwhelmingly exhausting and daunting. A hard punch to the ground. I'm sure at times it can feel cleansing too, and that's one of the best traits that living creatures possess; a sick resiliency.

Good thoughts. Send us your good, cooling and drenched thoughts.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

We Got a Break from Lessons Today

We learn a lot of lessons when we lose. During the last few Tae Kwon Do Tournaments, we've learned quite a bit. So, it was nice to have a winning day. Maya won gold today at the California Open, and Mina won silver. The best part was when Maya peeled off her gear post-match and she said, "I'm proud of myself." I said, "That's the best thing you could say, Maya. " I choked up and couldn't say much more.

Here are my favorite pictures of the day.

Taking off her gear

Maya wins gold!

Women warriors waiting

Mina wins silver!

Waiting to Compete
A few more pictures are in the Flickr.
Man, these girls were great.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

She's Crafty

With my internet down for three days I managed to bake enough things to feed a population of third and seventh graders; and make these nifty cupcake earrings to the left there, and I came up with a plan for world peace. The peace plan involves baking. The earrings on the other hand are our idea for this year's Tae Kwon Do fundraising scheme. With Mina now competing and Maya training more, the expenditure is . . .well, it's worth it, but high nonetheless. Tournament session has started for us and we recently found out that next February's U.S. Open (one of Maya's biggest international tournaments of the year) will be held in New Orleans. I'm' excited about the experience. Earlier this year, if you remember, we had a tough run at this very same U.S. Open in Orlando.

Initially, I just made the earrings for myself. I was coveting all the sweet cupcake stuff I had seen on Flickr. I just decided to make some stuff myself, since the internet was down and all. When the girls saw the earrings, they threatened me with violence if I didn't make them some too; then at school all their homies wanted some --immediately! So, the fundraising idea kind of created itself. It's accidentally brilliant, I suppose.

I made these too:
I've been practicing fondant roses for the Dia de los Muertos cupcakes I plan to knock out of the ball park. We're throwing a DdlM/Halloween party in a couple weeks and I've been planning for a month to bake spectacular cuppers. Anyway, it kind of made sense to make the roses out of clay for earrings too. Maya stole these from me this morning.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I was without the internet for three days, which was kind of liberating. I had so much to blog about the minute it crashed, but it has all evaporated on my fingertips since.

Here's something, though: For Room 6's Treasure Writing Assignment Mina wrote:

"Dear Mr. R.
If you want to come to my treasure hunt just meet me with a black outfit and a sword. Meet me at Blue Plate [our local diner]. I will get my map and meet you at Blue Plate at 11pm on Saturday. We'll go by car to Denver then we'll go by train to Canada. We'll go by bicycles to Alaska. Finally, we'll go on a boat to Russia and let's find an "X" in Us Kut and take a trolley there. My treasure is $100, an old cell phone, magic dust and two boxes of gold.
From, Mina"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pie Town and Third Grade

It's not like I have a contractual agreement with Pie Friday. And believe me when I say I've messed up a couple pies in the last couple weeks. But here's the latest great one. Strawberry Pie. Simple and pretty f'ing good.

Maya took some to school to give to her friend, Palmo. Maya shared half the pie as they walked to school in the morning and promised the other half to her at lunch. Maya then made up some story about how she left the rest of the pie in her locker so Maya could eat it herself. I don't blame her.
The pie that's trying to beat me down is pumpkin. I've failed at if a few times. It's the first time I've converted a non-vegan recipe to vegan that's not working out. The crust is great. The flavor of the filling is great. The filling doesn't solidify while cooking. I've added all kinds of thickeners, tried different things. When I first tried making it, I felt so cocky about pie. I baked me some humble pie instead (That was too easy!) All I kept thinking as I looked at my hot, runny pumpkin filling was, "What's gone wrong in Pie Town?" Anyway, I'm not done trying and experimenting. Pumpkin pie ain't got me beat yet.

Maya went to a school dance last night. Nothing really to report about that except that she's found herself the perfect, special go-to outfit. It's comfortable and beautiful. She hung a little multi-colored tapestry purse over her head and across her chest. I told her, "You can't ask anything more of an outfit. This is perfection."
We bought the little dress last week at a thrift store. If fits her like it was made for her. She beamed beauty and confidence.

Maya and Emma Ready for the 7th Grade Dance, 10/07.

I haven't told you about third grade. Mr. R is Mina's new teacher. So far he may be my favorite teacher that either girl has had during their academic careers. The rumors were abuzz before the school year even started about how demanding he was. And strict. And heavy-handed with the work load. The rumors are not rumors at all. They're all true, but he is also wonderful and funny. He's like a genius child himself; a former attorney that worked in a Manhattan firm until he drop kicked litigation to work with eight and nine year olds. The homework he assigns is about two and a half times the work Mina had last year. He requires that the parents are held accountable for everything too. Our signatures are needed nightly on every page, every list; initial here, sign there, make them redo this, and correct that. On top of that, twenty minutes of reading is required, 7 days a week, during breaks, holidays and sick days. I don't mind any of this. And the best part is that neither does Mina. We plug away and fumble around with time management and prioritizing. Maya's right there with us at the dining room table doing the same managing and prioritizing with her own very weighty seventh grade load. We're all about flashcards and redoing and reading through the toughness. I've always believed that there's no secret formula to hard work. I'm exhausted to be honest, but I'm encouraged and thrilled that Mina's on board 100%.

Yesterday, Mina told me she "spaced out through the window" during her math test. She froze when something felt too challenging. She put down her pencil and stared out the window for the rest of the time. Mr. R had her go into another room and with an aid's help Mina finished the test. Mina told me this on our walk home, and as she was shyly telling me the story, my heart was swelling and cracking. It was the first time this year that I've seen evidence of the self-doubt she had mildly contracted in second grade. It caused me panic.

Like a lunatic, I emailed Mr. R when we got home. It was a garrulous email pretty much pitching Mina; how terrific she is; please don't misunderstand her or judge her or think she's a bad student or that she can't do this. I told him we were working hard! All this residual emotional shit that I thought was flushed came gushing out on poor Mr. R. I did make the email a bit funny so he didn't think I was a complete freak. I hit send and had immediate remorse. Husband came home and I told him what had happened and I cried my eyes out for the first time in a million months. Husband said, "Jesus, it's ok if she struggles a little." And I stopped crying and thought, "Oh?" He said, "She's ok, Mami." Embarrassed, I wiped my cheeks with the palm of my hand.

This morning I received a response from Mr. R. I almost didn't want to open it. The first sentence read: "Wow!" Which made me laugh. He said he was impressed that Mina tells me all about her day and that the math test wasn't that big of a deal. He said he knows she can do the work and that she's a good girl and that he's happy she's in his class. He said Mina is certainly not the only kid that spaces out from time to time in his class. "She's fine. We'll make it through together," he wrote. And the world floated off me. I felt part of a team, Mina's Third Grade Team, and I then skip-skip-skipped to flash Mina some times-table cards.