Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015. On to 2016: Better, Smarter, and Full of Potential and Possibilities


There was supposed to be more time in this day to write this post, but as with most days this year something came up, or there just wasn't enough time in the day, or, as was more likely, blog posts were running through the brain as the body lay all warm and comfortable in bed. Thoughts, feeling, emotions, words, unable to escape into the internet and land here where they wanted to be because life gets in the way (or a comfortable bed).

2015 was an amazing year - amazing good and amazing bad - full of achievements...like graduating from University with academic honors (magna cum laude), having the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling to a few locations in Canada, starting a new career as a self-employed contract worker, growing a great garden and learning more about the ins-and-outs of that hobby, and while we only completed one painting this year, there is confidence that will pick up when our new studio space (dubbed on Instagram [Yes, this year we "finally" got an Instagram account] and Facebook as 'Frankie's Lady Cave).

It was also a year full of seeing friends, like Club Nette (Skittles, aka, Annette Ford) and Synthesised (Cliff) in Toronto at the 2015 Toronto Tweetup (as well as a slew of others who just won't appear here - but shout out to Blonde Calamity!...sorry everyone else).
And then there was the summer house guests like Cool _Jesse (Jesse) and Synthesised (Cliff). And a road trip to Minneapolis to the Minnesota State Fair where we hooked up with Pudding Boobs (Kim) and had a great night of drinking and catching up.
And then in October, Father, and Baby Brother and his wife came to help put up a large portion of the new garage we're building (well, at this point James has been doing most of the building while we feel useless ...at least until the electrical, insulation and drywall is ready to go up, those we can mostly do solo), and Mother and Angry Brother came too. It was the first time the entire immediate family had been together in such a way in over ten years, since the car accident. (current memory cannot recall if every member was accounted for on Baby Brother's wedding day, but if they were it was certainly not in such an informal familial way).
Dad came two weekends in a row and it was really nice spending that time with him. It was great fun cooking for everyone and connecting with some members of the family we haven't gotten to see much over the years. Baby Brother has turned out to be an amazing man of strength and intelligence and wit (he's a grade A smart ass, and we love it), and he and his wife are perfect for each other in ways that are undefinable.

But

The year was also not so great, as the death of our dog came quickly around graduation time. We lost massive hours at a job we were working at and got denied a more permanent position (such is the bureaucracy of a University in this day and age)
Then later in the year the most tragic of all, the sudden death of Club Nette (Skittles, aka, Annette Ford). Nothing has felt the same since, like there's a considerable amount of air and light missing from the world, the sun only shines half as bright. Given our peppered past of people who have suddenly (and not so suddenly) died, like the first boy we ever liked, cousins, uncles, grandparents, friends...we thought this would be easier to get passed. It's not. It was a massive hit to the heart and soul.

From a mental health perspective it's been up and down a lot, definitely some bad, but there's never enough time to write when the mood strikes to define the bad, or work through the bad like we used to - luckily a trunk full of culled coping strategies over the past couple of years mitigates the harm, pushes it back for some reprieve.
Physically we've managed to stay in pretty good shape - though after the death of Nettie there was a severe uptick in alcohol consumption and we've been working on getting back to better levels because alcohol will straight up fuck with your metabolism and any weight loss attempts. During a full physical (EKG and all) the doctor guessed that we must run because of the low resting heart rate. Not really sure if that means healthy, or is just a symptom or catalyst to the poor circulation. In any case, despite the extra pounds we're as healthy as they get. And the plan is to continue that into the new year. The greatest physical achievement this year was establishing a top run time (of an average of 7.04 mph for 30 minutes) - a run time we have not been able to near in awhile even after being in the gym 3-4 times a week, even when traveling. But that just gives us a goal. In addition this coming year at least one 5K, and maybe a 10K, is planned, which has been sort of a bucket list item since losing a massive amount of weight about 11 years ago and keeping most of it off over the years. It's not really a new year resolution, because those beg to be broken, rather a desire, a goal, a hope, that if doesn't happen, doesn't happen, and there will always be the next year.

This coming year is pretty scary, as uncertainty being self-employed causes much undo stress, but if it continues on the path it has been on it will be amazing. This new venture affords plenty of free time for painting and reading in the winter, and gardening and painting and travel in the summer, and cooking all year round. Plus it brings in more money than we've made at any point in our life...jutting us into a new tax bracket. (also scary!)

The non scary part of the year will be when the garage is complete. This project has taught patience this year, as the hope was that it would be fully complete by October. Unfortuntaly the concrete didn't even get poured until then, and then before anybody knew it there was cold, and snow, and the challenges of building a huge structure (and James is not familiar with how things are built in the USA, as building in England are put together differently).
Plus the garage is massive a massive project. In-floor heating, multiple access doors,six windows. a 34 x 24 structure with the back 12 x 24 space (Fankie's Lady Cave) serving as a painting/writing studio, and workout/yoga space, a gardening space (until the garden shed is built), a hangout space, and a guest area for the friends we've made on Twitter so they can have a nice space to relax and sleep while visiting. There are new visitors planned for 2016 too, so hopefully this all gets done in time! :-)

Before the garage
After the garage (34' x 24')
Meanwhile, all year there have been so many topic we would have liked to write about. 2015 was CRAZY - especially in politics and social issues, and we're always paying attention (thanks to social media it's hard not to), but then sometimes it seems like it's all really been said by everyone, because, well, it's the internet and it probably has all been said, or said faster than someone with a job, a spouse, and hobbies has time to compete with. Writing just falls to the back-burner (hence the scant few blog entries here this year compared to other years).
The one thing that's disappointing about classes being over, having graduated, is that it's harder to sit down and write with no grade or deadline looming over the head as motivation. If there's anything we can be hopeful about for 2016 it's that we can get back into writing, and not just sloppy shit like this blog post, but quality content like the academic papers we've shared with you here over the last few years, or travel entries.

2016...it's peeking right around that corner, mere hours away...full of possibilities...full of potential...potential sadness, potential happiness, potential success, potential failure...how you look at those things, how you act on those things is up to you. Make the better decision, the smarter decision, the healthier decision, and just try, day by day, to be a better you, inside and out. No, it's never easy, but what else do you have to do but try?
Don't let the rampant hate that saturated 2015 via social media and mass media and the internet in general leak into 2016 and overtake it. Hope for better, strive for better, be better.

Happy New Year, family, friends, readers, lovers, haters...May 2016 bring you all that you deserve.



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cooking With Frank: Baked Jalapeño Poppers

In an effort to get back into blogging and writing (*fingers crossed*) it seemed like a good idea to start with a recipe.

Traveling, working (two jobs now - more on that another day) and gardening made sitting down and putting fingers to keys a daunting endeavour. Now that fall is here vacation traveling is over, and all but the last bits of the plants have been pulled from the soil in preparation for the fall tilling.
As an aside, the total harvest this year - that actually made it to a scale before being eaten - was upward of 137+ lbs (62 kg)! It was a good year after all and things were still budding and trying to make fruits and vegetable right up to the day they were getting ripped from the ground.

Okay, so back to the recipe. This one was requested by Jessica back in August, and she's been waiting patiently.

These jalapeño poppers also have the benefit of being healthier than average because they are not breaded or deep fried. They are for real jalapeño lovers. They are also pretty gluten free, which deep fried ones are not, you know...if you're into that kind of thing. (You can read our little gluten rant here: Cooking With Frank: Gluten-Free Turkey Lasagna)


Baked Jalapeño Poppers
This is actually going to be TWO recipes, but let's start with the tools and essential ingredient.

You'll need the following tools:
Silicon Baking Sheet

  • baking pan
  • non-stick spray (like Pam) or a silicone baking sheet. Baking sheets are amazing and reusable.
  • cutting board
  • knife
  • bowl or container to put seeds in
  • GLOVES, rubber or whatever.

The essential ingredient:

12 large jalapeños, cut in half, seeds removed and rinsed.

The important thing to remember is to always wear gloves. Not only should you always wear the gloves while handling the jalapeños, you shouldn't touch anything with that gloved hand that you're later going to touch with your bare hand. And if you somehow expose your hands to the peppers, for fuck sake, don't touch any of your mucus membranes...not your nose, not your eye (make sure you've taken your contacts out for the day just in case)...and keep your hands off your genitals.
Also...it may be suggested that you wear a pair of goggles. Because if one of those jalapeños decides to squirt at your face, the last place you want it landing is in your eye. If you have particularly strong peppers you may also consider wearing something over your mouth while you rinse them because the water may cause the chemical to go airborne.
You don't want to be a victim of your own pepper spray attack.

This is all advice from direct experience having not done those things over the years.

Here is some more solid info and tips about handling jalapeños http://www.livestrong.com/article/474739-jalapeno-peppers-skin-irritations

Okay. Now that you've been warned about that we can move on to the safer ingredients.

Bacon, onion & cream cheese stuffed jalapeños,
and basil, fresh tomato and mozzarella salad

Bacon and Onion Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers

1 lb (454 g) cream cheese, room temp
3 slices bacon - you can obviously use more but this will be adequate enough. Make sure to fry out as much of the fat as you can and save it to the side, and set the bacon on a paper towel to cool and remove excess fat.
3/4 c (180 ml) onion. diced (about half a medium large onion)
1-2 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tsp (5ml) bacon fat (you can use any type of fat, coconut oil, olive oil, butter...by why would you?)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Nutrition Information generated using
myFitnesspal recipe calculator

Optional: a small amount of fresh grated parmesan cheese or fresh herbs of your choosing

Preheat oven to 350° F
Cook the bacon as directed and once cooled enough to handle chop it into small pieces. In the same pan use some of the reserved bacon fat and fry the onion and garlic over medium low heat until translucent. Season with salt and pepper (you probably don't need very much at all) Set aside and cool. If you haven't prepared the jalapeños yet this would be a good time for that.
Once the mixture has cooled fill each of the jalapeño halves with the mixture using your gloved hands. Don't overfill them, there shouldn't be an excess mixture, if there is you can disperse it among the peppers once they have all been filled.
Place on silicone baking on a baking pan or spray pan with nonstick spray and line the peppers on tray. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they start to brown on the top. 

-------------------------

Okay. Easy, right?
Now let's get a little fancy.
First, a world on chorizo. It's a sausage and not all chorizo is created equally. [Go here to learn about the differences: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/chorizo or here for more information than the average person needs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chorizo]
The kind you're going to use for this recipe is Mexican chorizo.

The following recipe has the benefit of being much healthier. Almost half the calories and half the fat. But retains the full on deliciousness. Add a salad and either of these recipes becomes an exhilarating dinner!




Chorizo and Goat Cheese Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers

6.5 oz (185 g) goat cheese, room temp
4 oz (114 g)Mexican chorizo sausage
3/4 c onions (180 ml), chopped
1 c (240 ml) sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (preferably cherry tomatoes as they are sweeter, measure before chopping)
1-2 tsp (5ml) bacon fat (you can use any type of fat, coconut oil, olive oil, butter...by why would you?)

Nutrition Information generated using
myFitnesspal recipe calculator
Preheat oven to 350°F
Heat oil in pan and add onions. Cook onions for about 1-2 minutes and then add chorizo to pan. Cook for at least five minutes. 

It should look like this when you're done.
Cool mixture to room temp (again this would be a good time to prepare the 12 large jalapeños by cutting them in half, removing the seeds and rinsing them).



Add chorizo onion mixture to the goat cheese and blend well. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and continue mixing into well incorporated.
Once the mixture has cooled fill each of the jalapeño halves with the mixture using your gloved hands. Don't overfill them, there shouldn't be an excess mixture, if there is you can disperse it among the peppers once they have all been filled.
Place on silicone baking on a baking pan or spray pan with nonstick spray and line the peppers on tray. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they start to brown on the top.



 Prepare yourself for deliciousness! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

She Was...

It was about three years ago, just before the London Ontario Tweetup, that we tried to cajole her to come meet us with promises of hiding under tables and eating Skittles and drinking vodka with her. That year she thought about it but ultimately declined. There was anxiety.

The following year, the first Toronto Tweetup, we mentioned it and then didn't talk to her about it again...and she came! We grabbed her and held her and marveled at the physical being that was her. You know how it is, when you finally meet a friend face-to-face.

The whole "being at the Tweetup" didn't last long. Ultimately we ditched the whole thing, along with James, Nettie, and Cliff, and took off on adventures on our own. (You can read about it here: http://just-call-me-frank.blogspot.com/2014/06/choose-your-own-adventure-tweetup.html)

That weekend, sometime after 2am at a hero Burger on Queen St, eating Skittles off of the table, we're pretty sure this is when Nettie officially became The Skittles. Officially.
We've never spent time with her where she didn't have bags of them stashed in her purse (or where she was stashing them in ours *smiles wistfully*)





Shortly after last summer's Toronto Tweetup we got a message from her saying she would be on her way through the area, off to visit family in western Canada, and could she swing down for few days visit with her man (Don) and Goo (her son), and then stay again on her way back home. This was an obvious treat having seen her not that long ago, so we said yes.

She ended up being here the hottest parts of the summer, and our house has no air conditioning. We ended up spending sweltering days together lounging on the furniture, her with her notebook and pen, Goo with his digital games, just existing comfortably.
Honestly it was so comfortable having her here that we don't even recall how we passed all of the time - it must have been close to six days total - aside from eating home cooked meals, hanging out in the backyard around a fire, and all the excitement that comes with having an autistic (eight year old?) boy in the house for the first time (it was a learning experience!).





Except for one night.

The day had been beyond hot, the air still, unmoving and clinging. You could tell something was brewing, the air had that feel and the environment had that pallor all through the day, turning that strange yellowy green that it does on hot summer afternoons right before something fun happens. You could see pregnant dark clouds inching their way in from the west, eventually they got so close we walked out to the end of the block to marvel at them, which is pretty much the west edge of town, and to see the first pulses of lightening. And then suddenly you could see a wave of dust forming, rolling closer, and the wind all of a sudden just went nuts. This area of the county isn't exactly a stranger to tornadoes. Screaming with excitement and getting hit with the first drops of rain, we all turned and ran for the safety of the house.

We got into the house and the wind kept picking up, the lightening got stronger and closer, the thunder boomed. Then the lights went out. We lit candles and discussed playing board games and pondered at other ways in which we could pass the time. By this time the worst parts of the storm had skirted the town, as it usually does, and we were left in the center of walls of lightening, ominous clouds and considerable wind, because the heat of the day was still contained in the house, and the candles were adding to the stickiness with every minute, we came to a conclusion.

Let's go out and chase this thing around the countryside. It was bound to be cooler anywhere but here.

We all piled into the 4Runner, buckling Goo (her son) into the center of the backseat telling him that the adults were going to do something very silly right now. Chasing storms in the Midwest isn't exactly the safest activity, kids.

And we drove around for what must have been an hour, stopping so Nettie could jump out and take pictures here and there (she loved to take pictures), like at the graveyard at the edge of town where she took some great photos, and speculating on where to go next for great views.

It was a great summer, and that is a favorite memory.

This past June Cliff and Nettie agreed to have a sort of reunion and go the the Toronto Tweetup again. So we went, James happily in tow because these are a few of his favorite people.

We made them dinner at the AirBnb condo we rented downtown, a four course meal with ingredients sourced from St. Lawrence Market. Of course, we all agreed to make an appearance at some of the Tweetup events, but ultimately we ditched everyone (again) and went to other places, quieter places, to drink and talk about music and politics and life and this and that and everything.

The next day we woke up and met for Mimosas at Cliff's hotel room (a tradition) and then walked to the old Distillery District to try out artisan chocolate and eat fancy Mexican food, and walk from floor to floor of the Case Goods Warehouse and Cannery Building critiquing the art that graced the walls. Sometimes critiquing with knowledge and expertise, sometimes with silliness.
That night we walked around town in the dark trying to find random art parties, talking, enjoying each other's company.
The next day, Sunday, we had brunch at the AirBnb condo and sat around, more talking, laughing. We signed the painting we had created for Nettie, which she inspired with her words, and sent it off to its new home.



People must have thought us supremely antisocial whenever we were at Tweetups together, or maybe even rude, but the thing that made this little group of friends great is the independent streak they recognized in each other, as well as shared passion for writing, arts, and a common intellect (though, Nettie was always so much smarter when it came to many things).  We were fast friends from the start, through the years on Twitter, where we met, and the time spent together in the non-digital world.

To be honest other than the times we'd hang out in person there was very little communication, digital or otherwise. And never phone calls. Just random message that said things like "<3 love you ^_^ drive by affection". We understood each other, the exhaustion that socializing tended to cause, the time that living in your own head, so to speak, and being creative, took up.
We enjoyed each other's company from sun-up, to almost sun-up again, whenever we spent time together. And it was a satisfying friendship that we were looking forward to experiencing for years to come.

We were just on the cusp of planning a trip to Viva Las Vegas in April, calendars had been marked, hearts had been sent.

She was amazing, super smart and fun, and full of complexity. And such a patient mom with Goo.
And the way she could spin words; she had such a talent and love for writing, like writing was the only way she knew how to breathe. She paved her own path with words. She truly was a renegade soul.

She was one of the few people we've known that felt genuine.

This last Saturday she passed away in her sleep, just shy of a week from what would have been her 33rd birthday.

Nobody can explain it.
The autoposy rendered inconclusive results. The tox screens will take nearly half a year for anything to be discovered. But like Cliff said...at the end of the day it doesn't really matter what the tox screen says.

It's completely unfair that she's gone. And waves of disbelief will ripple alongside those of grief for years.

Our heart aches for her husband and Goo. Especially Goo. Sometimes it seemed Nettie and he had their own special language. It's hard to imagine the confusion he is going through right now. Hearts ache for Nettie's entire family, friends she had that we didn't know, everybody whose life she touched. And she did. She touched many.

She was just embarking on a new adventure of marketing her writing and her art. You could just tell she was excited by all the prospects of the future, the possibilities, the people (in her own introvert way).

She will live on in the ones and zeros of the digital world, her art and her words live here. Whenever we find ourselves missing her, wanting for her words, the beauty she created, we can find her in the volumes she left behind, the volumes of herself, raw and gritty, beautiful and light.

She was wrong when she said she wasn't a firework yet. She'd always been a firework. But the kind that's safe to hold onto...full of promise and beauty and sparks.

(From her Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ClubNettePrintShop?ref=search_shop_redirect)

Sweetheart. You have been imprinted. We will never forget you. <3

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gardening Update 2015

This is our third year independently gardening. It's been far better than last year when a very wet spring left much of one of the plots under water.

Still, the early spring led to early planting in general and the growing season has been...awkward. The spring came so fast the gardens needed a massive weeding weeks before anything could be planted. And then one weekend it took ten hours to weed. Which made it just go crazy immediately and everything shot up overnight. 

Some things have been producing faster than others (when they should actually be producing slower), and some are just caught in a stalling pattern.

This also marks the first year for starting some plants indoors, instead of buying them all, and then transplanting. Mostly squashes - which was a success - and tomatoes and peppers - which was not a success and yielded two surviving pepper plants and one tomato).

The south plot is officially out of control. At least the squash (we think it's one plant, but it seems like it should be two), and which was added after two of the melon plants didn't take off, so it didn't get recorded on the garden map, has taken up a good third of the roughly 220 square foot garden and is producing at least eight squashes of various sizes. They seem to be buttercups. In any case it's wrapping itself around everything in comes in contact with...potatoes, green onions, eggplants...it's trying to take down everything.

The first eggplant has a bulb, and there should be 7 more by summer end.
We watched a bee pollinate one of the melon plants this morning. It was totally cool. (we have two small watermelons growing, from the seeds of a grocery melon, no less!)

The broccoli was a bust this year. We pulled two of the six up because they just can't stop bolting. Also, spinach and lettuce bolted too fast for the third year in a row, so it seems like it's time to give up on growing that. It takes up too much real estate.

We have a slight pieris rapae (cabbage butterfly) problem. We need a butterfly net. Because chasingbutterflies around the backyard wouldn't look crazy at all...
Not sure if it's them, but something has chewed tiny holes in much of the swiss chard and potato plant leaves.

In the west plot we now have loads of baby tomatoes, some plum tomatoes. The others are starting to ripen. The peppers, sadly, are not doing so well.

The other squash plants are not producing as much (save the spaghetti squash) which has encouraged us to research hand pollination for next year. Yep. We're gonna help the plants have sex next year.

There's more, but we'll wait for another day.

So far this year we've picked:
- Zucchini (not as many as hoped)
- Bean
- Green onions
- Snap peas
- Radishes
- Broccoli
- Green peppers
- Tomatoes
- Potatoes
- Various herbs (sage, basil, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, tarragon)
- Parsley
- Swiss chard

Oh, we used a measuring wheel to determine how much bigger we're making the garden next year. We're adding 228 more square feet, for a grand total of 858 square feet. :-)

And we're considering a small greenhouse to start the plants in...because lining them all up in big totes around the dinning room for weeks on end...with cats in the house...is not ideal.

This has been your 2015 gardening update. :-)

Various Photos From This Year's Garden
(most recent was taken about a week and a half ago)

West Plot


South Plot





Squash Blossoms from the West Plot


Produce







Spaghetti Squash and a Buttercup Squash





Shisito Peppers

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

So You Care About Human Life? An Abortion Rant

Much of what is said here has been said by many others. You've probably read it too. This is our way of saying it.

People who decry abortion because it is potentially painful to the fetus - which is essentially an unfeeling mass of cells until around the 20th week* (do your research, scientific, not from talking heads) - and “cruel”, among a litany of other charges, are confusing.

Those same people are fine with sentencing that same fetus to a [potential] life of pain: poverty, hunger, sadness, mental and emotional anguish from being born into a society that tells them that their mother [or father] is lazy, worthless, and where they are statistically destined to a similar fate. If that child makes it into the foster care system, either at birth, or after a chance at healthy development has passed due to the home life they were born into, they are bounced between families or live in orphanages until they are lucky enough to be adopted. Sometimes the foster care they receive is equally as damaging to them emotionally and mentally. Sometimes they never get adopted. This is cruel and painful treatment.

Never mind the life of the mother.

These same people condemn using their tax dollars for food stamps to prevent hunger, housing that prevents homelessness, and other assorted costs that go into taking care of those less fortunate. Many of which are children born to parents who did not have access to preventative services (and this doesn’t just mean abortion).

These same people are fine with defunding an organization because 3% of what they provide is NON-TAX FUNDED abortions, which also provides contraception - preventing these very social
(Source)
conditions as well as potential abortions - and which also provides much needed and important reproductive health services to low-income women – like cancer prevention.
Yeah. But you care about human life, right?

You can’t make people give birth to something they don’t want. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes accidents happen because of poverty, drug abuse, and mental illness. Often times those sometimes are what the tax dollars you clutch in your hands are paying for. You can’t have it both ways.

But they care about human life. Sure.

Let’s not discuss how usually those same people have no problem with the death penalty (and those people aren’t always guilty, or gun related deaths in lieu of regulation.

Let’s not even get started on how much of your taxes go to funding war which directly results in the ending of hundreds of thousands of lives. Full complete thriving lives that have families, hopes, dreams, jobs.
But no. They care about human life?

---------------------------------------
*The 20th week is generally the cut-off date, in some states it's up until the 22nd week. All but three states have laws against aborting the fetus if it is viable (can exist on machines reasonably outside of the womb

Consumer Friendly Sources: not directly cited, because fuck it, our academic paper career is on hold until we register for grad school, or find a bag of extra free time. Please report spelling and grammar infractions.
Read the sources yourself.