Zombie Eater Dream Warrior

“Daddy, I get so scared when the shadows come out and stand next to my bed.”

Since Maly was born, there have been a handful of times where I’ve felt completely helpless. This was not one of those times. This is one of those situations where we have a problem, and we need to fix it. Actually, Maly has the “problem”, and all we can do is give her the tools to figure out how to fix it on her own.

I can’t convey this to my daughter, but I’m excited by her newfound fear. Her imagination is working and her subconscious is trying to work out some kind of problem. Now that she has some kind of boogy man, we have to help her find a way to control her own imagination so she knows she’s in control and is fully capable of handling this situation on her own.

I’ve been a horror buff for as long as I can remember and my self-serving side is excited to think that in a few years, my daughter might want to spend Sunday mornings with her dad at the movie theatre watching really bad horror movies. And on Halloween she and I can make our house THAT house in our neighborhood.

In the meantime, we’ve got a ghouly that comes out of the closet in the middle of the night. And it was serious business this past Monday night. Maly came into the living room around 11 p.m. and said she wanted to sleep in our bed. Long story short, we told her “no” and she sheepishly walked back into her room, flashlight in hand, and cried. We let her cry for a few minutes. Elise told her that if she kept crying, we’d have to shut her door. She kept crying. Elise shut Maly’s door. That’s when the waterworks and the shrieks of terror started. After a minute or so, I went into her room to see what I could do to fix the problem. That’s when she told me that she gets scared when the shadows come out. I assured her that the shadows wouldn’t hurt her and that if she needed help, to just call for me. I assured her that I was strong, faster and smarter than any shadow or monster, and that I checked on her all the time when she was sleeping. That seemed to make her feel okay enough to fall asleep.

I went back into the living room and I thought about this new shadow monster problem. My first thought was to take her on a walk the next morning so we could talk about it and try to figure out a way to fix it. I also thought that perhaps on this walk, we could find some kind of magic token (a rock, branch, leaf, etc.) that she could keep by her bed for protection. I thought about taking her to quirky shop in Austin to find a magic token. I thought about taking her to a lighting store so she could pick out her own night light.

So I jotted down on my daily “to do” list for the next morning to “Go on a walk with Maly to figure out how we can fix the scary shadows”. I decided I would follow any kind of lead she might put forth the next day. The subject wasn’t brought up. Elise, on the other hand, scoured the web and our local library’s website to find a child-appropriate book on dealing with shadows and other things that go bump in the night.

As the next day progressed, I decided to hold off on any proactive “help” and see if the problem carried over into the night. She and I had a brief discussion about the shadows after her bath. I reassured her that I was still strong, faster and smarter than any shadow or monster, and, that if there were any shadow or monster that came out of her closet, I would hear it and would be in her room before it had the time to make it anywhere near her bed. She seemed to find comfort in that and fell asleep just fine.

I think this battle might be over, but there may still be a war ahead of us. I could be wrong.

The one thing I purposely did not do is look online for suggestions or help. The way I see it, I was born with a God-given gift to be a parent and part of my job is to help the child figure out her problems in her own way.

Frosted Sugar Cookie Strawberry Ice Cream

They say if you change 3 ingredients, you can call a recipe your own. This strawberry ice cream recipe originally calls for sliced strawberries (we pureed ours because I prefer strawberry ice cream sans the fruit chunks), vanilla extract (we omitted), and we added chunks of frosted sugar cookies to make our own Frosted Sugar Cookie Strawberry Ice Cream!

This recipe was adapted from our Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker’s recipe book [buy ice cream maker from Amazon].

Frosted Sugar Cookie Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 1 pint ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup suger, divided
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3-5 frosted sugar cookies (frozen)
  1. In a small bowl, combine strawberries, lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar; stir and let strawberries macerate for 2 hours.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the whole milk and remaining 2/3 cup sugar until sugar dissolves. Stir in heavy cream.
  3. Blend macerated strawberries until smooth.
  4. Combine cream and strawberry puree in ice cream maker’s bowl.
  5. Mix in ice cream maker for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Add chunks of frosted sugar cookies and stir to mix in.
  7. Pour into freezer safe container and freeze for at least 2 hours.

A date night

Last night Elise and I had an extended date night. My mom drove up to stay at our house and take care of the Zombie Eater for the night so Elise and I could have the night off. Elise booked a room for us at the Mansion at Judges’ Hill. We left the house around 6:30 and the original thought was to have dinner at the mansion, but we were pressed for time and probably wouldn’t have had time for dinner and a movie given that they only had a reservation available for 8:45. I suggested we go to the Domain to have dinner at North and to see the movie Inception.

By the time we found a spot to park and were less than a block from the restaurant, Elise stopped a security guard to ask where the movie theatre was. He told us that it was way off yonder in Phase II of the Domain, which was not within walking distance. He noticed that I had “We are on a dinner and a movie date” written on my forehead, so he said, “you probably won’t have time to eat and make the show. However, the movie theatre does serve food and drinks. You two could have dinner there.”

“You are a fantastic human being, Mr. Mall Security Guard Guy!”

So we walked back to the car and drove to the movie theatre. We had plenty of time, so we walked leisurely to the swanky counter to purchase our tickets. They were sold out for the 9 p.m. show. There were two seats located together for the 9:45 show. So I told the nice young lady that we’d take those two tickets. She told me my total would be $45. I told the nice young lady that I didn’t think she understood.

“You see, it’s just my wife and I that are here to see the picture show.”

“Yes sir.”

“I do not have a bus full of small children that are also here to see the movie with us.”

“I understand. It’s $45.”

Actually, that’s not the way it happened at all. She told me it was $45 and I handed her my credit card. You see, if you told me that a bicycle was $15,000 because it has a derailleur, and you show me a piece of paper with the word derailleur printed on it as one of the features of that bicycle, I will pay because derailleur is a very nice, fancy word.

Elise, on the other hand, would not pay. She said something to the effect of, “OH NO YOU DIDNNNN N’T!” as she pulled off her wig and started swinging.

“What comes with a $22 movie ticket?”

The young lady explained that there are only 40 seats in the theatre, reclining chairs, fresh blankets, pillows, and a private server call button.

I asked if a foot massage was included. She told me “no.” I would’ve had no problem paying $22 for a foot massage and a movie.

So we left, drove back south and bought our movie tickets for the 9:45 show at the Alamo Drafthouse. It was 9 p.m. and Elise was starving at this point, so we walked over to Casa Garcia. They were closed. We walked across the parking lot over to Suzi’s Chinese Kitchen and had 30 minutes to spare. Elise had the seafood combo. I had the scallops. We shared the restaurant with one other table — a couple, probably 30 years our seniors, sitting at the table next to us.

It wasn’t until just now, while I was recounting the events of last night, that I thought about the relationship I have with my wife that I’m guilty of taking for granted. As trivial as making ad hoc plans for a date night, driving all around Austin, finding a place to have a late dinner and going to a movie so close to our bed time is, it reminds me of how lucky I am to have the wife that I have. When I have no problem handing over my credit card and paying $45 for a pair of movie tickets, she steps in as the frugal one. I don’t complain or question her judgement. She fills in in that part where I’m lacking. When I’m stressed and in a hurry, she grabs my hand, holds it and makes us both walk a little slower. When we have dinner at a Chinese restaurant and I invariably tell her, “if I wanted that, I would have ordered it.”, the thought never crosses her mind to reconsider sharing with me. It’s just her nature.

The movie was just okay. The night with my wife was the priceless reminder.

How to build a rain barrel

It’s been a couple years now that I’ve had “rain barrel” on my to do list. When I’m not sending out resumes or waiting by the phone to sell a Bohemian Hose Guide, I’m looking for projects to do around the house. So last Thursday I decided to finally get to work on the rain barrel project.

My inclination was to just buy a relatively inexpensive rain barrel on Austin’s craigslist. As of last Thursday night, I couldn’t find a rain barrel that fell within my price range (I don’t recall what my price range was at that point – maybe $50 if memory serves me correctly). And I didn’t want to spend $100+ for a rain barrel at the local Home Depot. And I didn’t want to have to spend $250 at homedepot.com in order to get a rain barrel that I wanted. Although after it was all said and done, I think I would have made out better by just buying a rain barrel at the Home Depot. More on that later. But keep in mind, this is a project — man work!

After some research, I found Barrel City USA down south in Buda, TX. They sell 55 gallon food-grade barrels. So Maly and I got up early on Friday morning and headed down to Barrel City USA and good ol’ Philip sold me a big blue barrel for $18.

We stopped at the Home Depot (what project doesn’t involve a stop at the HoPot?) for some lumber, deck screws, mesh screening, water spigot, downspout attachments and a gasket kit.

After a stop at Starbucks, a blood letting and lunch, we headed home and the rain barrel project commenced. First I had to clean the dead Russian hooker parts out of the barrel. I jest, but seriously, good Lord that barrel stunk. It didn’t really smell like dead Russian hooker parts, but more like an industrial dead Russian hooker parts cover-up scent. If you’ve ever smelled the scent that’s emitted from the Flamingo Casino & Hotel in Vegas, or spent more than 30 seconds in a truck stop bathroom, then you know 1/10th of the potency of this smell. There was a pink gelatinous goo smeared amongst some industrial grime about the interior and exterior of the barrel that required copious amounts of dishwashing soap, elbow grease and the business side of an abrasive dish sponge.

First I built a two-foot tall table on which to place the rain barrel. The table would elevate the rain barrel enough so gravity would lend me some water pressure, and so we can get a watering can underneath the spigot.

Next I drilled the bung hole. Yes, bung hole. I didn’t have a bung hole bit (The Bung Hole Bits would be a great name for a band), so had to make a quick trip to Home Depot for a set of spade bits. I used a 7/8″ spade bit to drill my hose approximately 2″ from the bottom of the barrel. I used a PVC female adapter and a gasket that I made from the purchased gasket kit to ensure the spigot was water-tight.

It’s worth noting that if you buy a barrel for your rain barrel, make sure there isn’t a top to your barrel, otherwise you’ll have to saw the top off to install your spigot. Philip gave me a clamp for the top rim so I could cover the top with a mesh screen.

Next I used my jigsaw to create a 3″ hole for overflow. A 3″ hole is too big. Another trip to Home Depot to get some PVC parts and my rain overflow was complete.

Next I painted my downspout attachments to match the house. I already had paint from another downspout project some 5 years ago.

So, building a rain barrel is a relatively inexpensive ($99 if my math is correct) and fun project. Here are the parts that I purchased and their approximate prices:

  • 1 – 55 gallon dark colored plastic barrel (I’ve read that white barrels promote UV penetration which will foster faster algae growth.) ($18)
  • 1 – treated 8′ 4×4″ (cut into 2′ sections for the legs of the table) ($6)
  • 2 – treated 8′ 2×4″ ($6)
  • 1 – box 2″ deck screws ($7)
  • 1 – 3/4″ water spigot ($6)
  • 1 – rubber gasket kit ($5)
  • 2 – 18″ accordion downspout attachments ($6)
  • 2 – 60″ accordion downspout attachments ($20)
  • 1 roll of mesh screening* ($5)
  • PVC parts & glue** ($20)

* 55 gallon barrel had a 22″ opening at the top, so make sure your mesh screening or lid is at least 22″ in diameter.
** You could probably get away with just using 3/4″ or 1″ tube for your overflow. Or PVC and gutter attachments that will let you tap back into your original downspout.

And it just so happened to rain late in the afternoon on Saturday, just after I’d pieced together my overflow downspout. We got 4/10″ of rain and the rain barrel was full (and watertight)!

Today I’ll paint the barrel so it matches the house. And I’d also like to get a trash can lid with a cutout for the downspout to cover the top of the barrel. I don’t like the wire mesh hanging over the sides of the barrel.

Photos of the project can be seen here.

Southpark Meadows

Southpark Meadows used to be the large track of acreage way out in south Austin where we would go see big name concerts. Off the top of my head I remember seeing the Dave Matthews Band, Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam there some 15 years ago.

Now it’s a concrete jungle strip mall. Wal-Mart, Target, PetsMart, a store dedicated exclusively to popcorn, among thousands of other retail chain outlets.

Here is a Haiku I wrote about today’s Southpark Meadows:

Southpark Meadows is
a place for you to consume
things. All of your things.

The Black Widow

And a banana spider cameo…

[flv width=”500″ height=”375″]http://www.janicek.com/video/20100708_BlackWidow.flv[/flv]


[flv width=”500″ height=”375″]http://www.janicek.com/video/20100707_Grasshopper2.flv[/flv]

Green thumb in time

Since losing my last job almost three months ago, life has really slowed down — and it’s been a welcome change. I can’t emphasize enough how welcome that change has been. One thing I’ve found comfort in over the past couple weeks is the plants. Just yesterday I sent a photo of our yellow 4 o’clocks, or Mirabilis jalapa to my mom, and we exchanged a series of three emails relating to what have become one of my favorite flowering plants. Maybe it’s a sign of finally maturing. Maybe it’s because I’ve truly experienced hustle and bustle; the stresses of providing for a family and maintaining some kind of semblance of what others might call success. Perhaps it’s something that I want to do, and it provides me with a form of fulfillment.

Just this morning I transplanted a jade pup plant to a new pot for my office. And this afternoon I potted a newly-acquired desert rose with some ice plant clippings from our front yard. Six months ago these moments would have seemed trivial. Now I take a moment to focus on what I’m doing and appreciate what will eventually, with patience, be “explosions of beauty” in the near future.

As I type this I’m looking at my little jade pup plant that sits atop my desk where I spend most of my time. It’s a pup from the big jade in the pot in our backyard. It started out as a pup as well. It was from the original jade plant that my mom gave me 16 years ago when I moved to Austin for college. When I first moved here, the plant-concious part of me that is all mom hadn’t surfaced. I think she gave me the jade plant because it’s relatively tolerant of neglect. And I gave that plant plenty of neglect. We endured a hard frost some 10+ years ago and the jade she gave me was on the verge of total death. For whatever reason, I plucked the only little branch that had an inkling of green life left in it and potted it. And that’s the jade plant that I’ve had ever since. It’s never neglected nowadays. The green thumb genes from my mom are, I guess, finally starting to rear their head. And I welcome that change as well.

John posted a link to Derek Powazek’s post titled “They Don’t Complain and They Die Quietly” on Facebook yesterday, and the timing was just right for a read like that…

These changes don’t happen at internet speeds. You’ll hardly know they’re happening at all. This is one of the gifts plants give me. They remind me to slow down, to take the long view, to breathe, relax, and just wait for what happens next.

Good stuff.

Like a kid in a candy store

Yesterday was just a good day. Elise had an early morning photo gig with a newborn so Maly and I headed out early in search of some garden walking paver stones for my new “Garden of Serenity”, or whatever the hell I’m going to call out little section of backyard that I’ve started “redesigning.”

Instead of just going to Home Depot or Wal-Mart, I decided we’d support the local guy. We drove over to the mom and pop stone yard in Dripping Springs where we were told that they didn’t carry the circular pavers that I was looking for and that we should go to Home Depot or Wal-Mart. Okie dokey. Fadeaway, hook, swish on supporting the local guy.

Instead of leaving right away, we walked around and looked at the fountains, waterfalls, stones and huge piles of rocks. After 20 minutes, Maly’s flip-flops were good and muddy, so we decided to continue on our quest for pavers.

We drove to Wal-Mart. After a quick perusal of the garden section, no pavers were to be found. So we headed over to the toy section. It was about that time that Elise texted me to tell me that her photo shoot was over. She headed back south to meet us. Meanwhile, Maly and I browsed the Barbie and Princess aisles of the toy section.

Elise showed up and we hopped in one car and headed to SoCo. It was lunch time, so we stopped in at El Gallo. El Gallo is the Mexican restaurant on Congress, just across the street from St. Ed’s. I hadn’t been there in 15 years, and Elise had never eaten there. Good food.

Then it was time for the grand finale — the real reason I decided to take my daughter out on a date that morning. We drove a little north up Congress and parked behind Big Top Candy Shop.

Maly was just like, well, a kid in a candy store. She opted for Runts and Pixy Stix. I went for the malted balls and cordials.

Elise took lots of photos of the shop’s interior. Maly and I fed our faces with sugar. After half an hour, we were back in the car where the child quickly conked out and we toured south Austin on a photo location scout.

It was one of those days that just couldn’t have been been scripted any better.