Vinyl Record Art!

Today I am supposed to be prepping stuff for a big yard sale at my house this weekend. I have done just 1.5 loads of laundry towards that goal so far.. because it took just one two-second look into the craft room closet for me to get completely off-track. CRAFT SQUIRREL! ūüėČ

Stuff’s happening with my parents’ old record collection. ūü§ď

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I had really good intentions, I promise. Before I began to look in the closet I thought, “I’ll find some craft supplies we aren’t using anymore and sell them in the sale!” but my eyes fell instantly upon my parents old record collection and it was over. Ever since then I’ve been melting and molding old vinyl records into art. It’s so easy and fun to do, and the results can really be beautiful!

Vinyl Record Art
These are just the initial pieces of what will be an wall art installation in our new rec room.

All you have to do is pre-heat your oven to 200¬įF, turn an oven-safe bowl upside down on a cookie sheet, place a clean record on the bowl and let it warm up for about 4-8 minutes, or until you see the record begin to droop with the heat. Then you’ll quickly pull it out and begin to mold it as desired. I say quickly because you really only have a few seconds before it begins to harden again, so don’t hesitate to begin shaping when you get it out of the oven. And don’t worry- if you don’t like your initial design you can pop it back into the oven for another 4-8 minutes and reshape it! Told you it was easy, quick and fun!

I got really excited about this find because it was the perfect excuse not to work on my yard sale. ūüėõ Also, because these are really all the best old records- Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Bob Segar, Golden Earring, Meatloaf, Eagles- the real good stuff. The music of my childhood. The actual records we listened to in my childhood home. My parents loved their 60’s and 70’s rock n’ roll! Forever, I will too. I’m a sucker for sentimental stuff. I knew right away what I wanted done with it.

Vinyl Record Art
This is such an easy, quick, fun, cheap project.

I made five of these today. My daughter and I are going to melt all of the rest of these suckers up and mount them on the wall as an art installation in the rec room she’s going to design this summer. More on that project soon. ūüôā

So, do you happen to have some old records laying around that you’d like to melt and play with? They can be made into some really great things- bowls, wall art, garden flowers, plant pots, bookends, and more. A perusal of Pinterest can show you about 101 things you can do with old records. I can’t wait to show you guys this project, finished and mounted. Likely it won’t be until summer, so check back if you wanna!

Today’s Project: Vinyl Record Art, obvs.. and some yard sale prep.

Today’s Soundtrack: Kendrick Lamar’s new album Damn. Yo. People keep saying crazy things like Kendrick Lamar is the “greatest rapper of all time” lately. I just don’t get that.¬†I’m trying to acquaint myself better with his music so I can decide what I think about it.

I’m Reading: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

A Happy Accident – It’s It Cookie Bars

Creamy, messy, chocolatey, chewy It’s It ice cream bars are just one of those special treats that I really enjoy once in a blue moon. They take me back to happy summer memories spanning a lifetime. I remember saving my change and enthusiastically picking them up at the little mini-mart down the road from my house on hot summer days growing up. Ice cream trucks that sold them were golden. As an adult we get them so rarely- sugar is my enemy.. but YOLO! Here and there I really enjoy one. They’re just so satisfying to eat!

So it was in fact a happy accident when I managed to ruin oatmeal cookies this weekend by leaving out the flour in the recipe (dur)- and used the results of that failure to make cookie bars that turned out tasting a whole lot like an It’s It.

I was aghast when I pulled the trays of cookies out of the oven and found the cookies flat and mushy. What kind of a baker forgets to put flour in the cookie dough?! Me, that’s who. But I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing all of that goodness away. I had used up the last of my mini chocolate chips and walnuts in that darn recipe!

I thought for a few minutes about how I could still use the ruined cookies- they did not rise and wouldn’t hold together in cookie form, but they were still delicious! I decided to press them down into two greased 8×8 square pans and top them with melted chocolate chips. I really thought my family would think it a wasted effort- but they loved them and have requested I make them again.. this time on purpose! And a new recipe was born.

I regret not photographing the debacle turned miracle for you all- but I was in a hurry to bake up a bunch of stuff for our Game Night: 17th Anniversary Edition. That’s right- I’ve been married 17 years! It’s been real, it’s been good, it’s been real good. We had a great time celebrating the event with friends over a dirty game: Drawing Without Dignity. It’s like Cards Against Humanity crossed with adult Pictionary. I can’t recommend that game to you unless you have really chill friends with no filter. Ha. I do. It’s all about the right crowd. ūüėõ

17 Years Ago

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There are some really great photos of our game night here– thanks to the amazing photographer¬†Adam Freidin. ūüôā

But anyway, here’s the recipe!

It's It Cookie Bars - A Happy Accident
A happy accident!

It’s It Cookie Bars
3/4 shortening
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1tsp vanilla
1tsp salt
1/2tsp soda
1/2tsp cloves
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 12oz bag of chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350¬į. Mix thoroughly shortening, sugars, egg, water and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients (saving the 12oz bag of chocolate chips for later.)¬†Grease your pans- I’d use either 2 8×8 pans or 1 9×13. Press the dough down into the bottom of the pans and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cool for 10-15 minutes. Pour the remaining chocolate chips over the top and toss it back in the oven for 4 minutes or so- until you can easily smooth the chocolate chips with a spoon. Let cool completely, until the chocolate topping solidifies, then cut into bars. I put mine in the¬†fridge for an hour or so after the pan had completely cooled to speed up the process. Then, I just cut long horizontal bars and broke those into jagged pieces like candy.


Today‚Äôs Project: Prep for our upcoming yard sale… lots and lots of prep.

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Road Trip on Spotify (recently updated!)

I‚Äôm reading: The Stand by Stephen King¬†(still. My goodness it’s a long book! But soooooooo good. It had been some years since I’d read it.)

Roller Derby Road Trippin’

Last night we got in from a roller derby road trip to Los Angeles, where my daughter Lil Aly Cat’s travel team California Mayhem Girls took on Angel City at Angel City’s Tinseltown Smackdown tournament (and WON!) It was just the latest in many amazing roller derby road trips we have taken in the six years my daughter has been playing junior roller derby.

California Mayhem Girls take the win vs Angel City! #ftw #rollerderby

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Can you imagine it? Kids playing roller derby? It’s not anything I ever imagined for my daughters when I was thinking ahead about what life with kids would mean for us. It¬†has become my single favorite extra-curricular activity they are involved in.

Coach Nacho Mama & Lil Aly Cat #californiamayhem #rollerderby

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I love the game, which is fierce and unique and fun to watch. I love the people who make roller derby happen, they¬†are open-minded, inclusive, intelligent, and creative. I love the events, which are always colorful, lively, and friendly.¬†I love the schedule, which is year-round and usually only requires a couple practices¬†a week.. so¬†my academically-focused daughter can enjoy having the time she needs to keep up with her studies. I love the focus on community service, both¬†teams my daughter is on are active in the area, always doing good and making important connections. I love derby moms (and dads). They are just so cool. They’ve become my family.¬†I love the travel! We’ve been to so many places we never might have gone.

Things that happen in LA!

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And it’s not just good fun and good people, it’s a legit sport these days. When we first started even the kids were wearing fishnets and booty shorts and bout make-up, which we still see sometimes (and enjoy- roller derby is the one sport that celebrates diversity and allows everyone to express themselves.)¬†But in the last six years I’ve watched the sport go from a spectacle to a much more serious sport. Players train hard and show up to compete. They wear professional looking uniforms now, mostly. Coaches innovate. Games are sanctioned, we have rankings and nationals now. We have US teams who travel the globe. You even see roller derby references popping up more and more in commercials, tv shows, movies and some bouts are even televised by ESPN.

I haven’t seen my cousin Ben in yeeeeaars!! Lookit us!

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Our lives would be completely different without roller derby. We had such a blast traveling with our derby friends this weekend. We watched some of the best derby I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT of derby in 6 years. We walked the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and visited Universal’s Citywalk. We met up with family in the area. We ate great food, we made new friends, and we came home spent and broke. So now I’m back to hustling, it’s certainly not easy to afford all of the gear and travel- and we’ll be in Utah in just three weeks! But it’s totally worth it for our family, and we can’t wait until the next roller derby road trip. ūüôā

Butterflies On Your Window – Free Pattern

I love paper. Paper-crafts have always been among my favorite projects to work on and display, and I’ve owned several paper-centric websites over the years. For a while I sold custom invitations and announcements, and once upon a time I worked as a photographer which gave me the opportunity to see my art printed on some of the most gorgeous paper in the world.

I like to make paper flowers and disks, paper corsages, paper confetti, and paper garlands- and you will always find them on display in my home. I find satisfaction in working with paper, and love that I can recycle so many common materials to make beautiful paper art.

What I Did Today

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I have occasionally¬†purchased beautiful and unique papers for use in my paper projects, but for the most part I find that reusing papers found in our home makes for the most sentimental results. My favorite papers come from old family books, travel maps from our road trips, comic books, and envelopes. Each year’s calendar comes down and lands in my paper stash. I found old sheet music that belonged to my husband and his siblings when they were children, and that’s just about my favorite find ever. I like to go through old coffee table books and find beautiful pages to repurpose as art.

The Cats Love Their New Bench

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One of my favorite paper projects to complete with my family (when they cooperate, they are all teenagers or beyond now) is to redecorate our windows with the change of seasons. In fall we put paper bats and leaves up in the windows. In winter we put up snowflakes. In spring we put up butterflies, and they usually remain up until fall comes again. I can often reuse much of the paper pieces from year to ear, only replacing pieces that become damaged. It has come to pass that an undecorated window seems naked and wrong. ūüėõ

The Process

1- Gather materials: paper scissors, scotch tape, used calendars, old maps, old books, sheet music, scrap paper. Hint: if you don’t have these things on hand, you might hit a thrift shop for some old maps, sheet music or books, and you can find calendars at the dollar store year round!

2- Download and print this pattern: Butterflies for your Window – Free Pattern, or draw your own butterfly, fold the paper in half, and cut it out. Use this butterfly as a template to make more. I like to cut out at least 3-5 unique butterfly shapes/sizes to give the final piece some interest and realism. Hint: keep the shapes simple to save your hands and some time- intricate designs can get really bothersome to cut out.

3- Cut out a lot of butterflies! I have a very large front window, and I like to continue my design from that window to the next window over, which also shows from the street. I also like to put some up on my french patio doors. Some years I end up using around 150 pieces, but 25 butterflies in a smaller window is probably quite adequate. Any leftovers you have can be stored in a ziploc to replace damaged pieces next season.

4- Plan your design.. I like to create a swoop or a surge of butterflies that all seem to be traveling in the same direction to give drama and movement to the final result. Sometimes I want to change it up and to gain inspiration I will visit Pinterest and search something like “butterfly wall decoration” to see what others have done with flocks of paper butterflies. I get an idea of how I want it to look and then I get to work.

5- Application: I like to use good old-fashioned scotch tape fashioned in small tubes to affix butterflies to my windows because they do not leave behind adhesive that is difficult to remove. One year I used double-sided tape and had big regrets. I will tear a bunch of tape pieces at a time, or have one of my daughters making me tape rolls to use while I am putting up butterflies. When I begin affixing butterflies to the window I take care¬†to stagger my butterflies so that they don’t look like they are traveling in straight lines, and work to keep their spacing pretty even. I put some up, take a step back and look at them to make sure they are looking like I want, and then return to my work. Sometimes, if I feel that my design isn’t looking like I want I take a nice break and come back later, which always seems to refresh my mind and help me find the next steps to make it just right.

Spring Window

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Project time: when I have to make all new butterflies I might spend an entire afternoon at this part of the project, maybe even two. I always have to take old paper pieces down and store them, clean the windows, and then put new pieces up, so I spend an entire afternoon on the application itself.

Project cost: almost nothing! I can easily kill half a small roll of scotch tape, but because I recycle papers found around the house this is a low-cost or no-cost project!

I’m always so happy to see my butterflies up in the windows because it means warm weather and good times out in the sun! Goodbye and good riddens, winter! ūüôā

Today’s Project: I’m listing a bunch of old football cards on eBay.. it’s destash season!

Today’s Soundtrack: Top of the Charts on Spotify

I’m reading: The Stand by Stephen King

A Perfect Storm : Life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Sometimes I get pretty smug about how well I live my life with a connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. See my post: Swim and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome for an¬†example. I am pretty proud of myself for regaining my health after a long six or seven years spent disabled by the condition.. it took a lot of research, and then a lot of grief, and then a lot of work and commitment to get to the place I’m in now, which is mainly healthy and pretty active. But every now and then I’m humbled by the power of this condition to take complete control of my life when I least expect it.

No matter how hard I try to remain healthy, now and again I get sidelined. Most usually it is stress, or a simple virus, that knocks me down and puts me out of the game of life for a while. I recently wrote about stress and how I manage it, after what was an incredibly emotionally exhausting¬†saga in my life. I know how important it is to manage stress because this isn’t my first rodeo. I knew at the time I wrote that post that I would be paying for that stressful experience, and I was trying to be proactive to minimize the damage. And still, here I am, in severe pain, contemplating a long recovery from what began as a common cold.

As I feared might happen,¬†extreme stress likely led to susceptibility to infection, and a simple annoying cold caused the perfect storm. I caught cold a week ago and it has been¬†pretty nasty. I ended up laying around for several days (bad, bad, bad when you have EDS.) I violently sneezed a lot, which caused me to dislocate my shoulder and aggravate an old back injury. And so on top of a wicked cold all of the muscles in my shoulder and upper back are spasming. There are hot knives in my back and neck now, and it’s hard to sit, hard to stand, hard to sleep, hard to move. I know from experience that I should move anyway, but there’s nothing like severe pain to discourage that nonsense! If I don’t move, my recovery will be longer. If I do move, it’s agonizing and slow. I know from experience that I will not likely feel 100% again for days if not weeks. It’s frustrating.

Another complication of the common cold for me is a flare-up of my dysautonomia symptoms. Dysautonomia is the malfunction of the autonomic nervous system- which controls your “automatic” body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and temperature control. I nearly faint every time I stand, I’m freezing and my arms and legs are ice blocks. My heart races and palpitates. I can’t think clearly, I forget words and sometimes even slur. I’ve been “lucky” to find much relief from this common comorbidity of EDS through swim. But I haven’t been swimming lately, and for whatever reason these problematic symptoms¬†always comes back with a vengeance when I get sick.

So here I am still sick with the remnants of a cold, hot knives in my back and neck- dizzy, cold and exhausted, wondering how long this flare-up is going to last. In the meantime I’m darned near useless as a human being and there’s nothing I hate more than doing nothing. Productivity is very important to me. If nothing else, when I’m down I like to knit- but looking down at my work is impossible when my neck is spasming… and so I read and watch Netflix, taking frequent breaks to stretch- and work hard at being nice to myself. Patience is what I must practice, in times like these.

One thing I have learned is that I will recover, even if it takes a while- I will wake up pain-free once more, I will be back in the pool in time, and I will be smug about my good health again. And then, when I least expect it, EDS will strike again.

Today’s Project: Family history research on

Today’s Soundtrack: Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

I‚Äôm Reading: The Stand by Stephen King. For the third time. It’s been a while.

Limes: Lesson Learned

Last year our new-ish lime tree didn’t produce more than a few pieces of fruit so I was really very excited to see the tree loaded with fruit this year… but alas, instead of making limeade and fresh salsa with our home grown limes we learned a hard lesson instead. Turns out that you are supposed to harvest limes BEFORE they are ripe, while they are yet green, before they turn bright yellow and look just like little lemons. I did not know.

You should pick your limes before they turn yellow. I didn’t do that and now I’m sad. #gardeningfail

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These past few weeks I’ve been utterly distracted from home and garden chores, focusing instead on caring for my ailing mother and maintaining my sanity as thing after thing went awry… so I only noticed the limes this week at all because they had turned yellow. Super yellow. Gorgeous yellow! I thought to myself, “I did plant a lime tree there, didn’t I?” and then I googled. Yeah- limes do in fact turn yellow, and yellow limes are no-good limes. Turns out they get hard and taste bad once they fully ripen. And so this week I will be picking a lot of limes.. and throwing them in the green bin. Bummer.

Lesson learned! I hope, dear friends, that you can learn from my many mistakes. I know I’m always learning- often the hard way.

Today’s Project: Today I replaced some very old and unattractive houseplants with pretty, young, shiny houseplants. Why do I feel so guilty?

Today’s Soundtrack: This is: Otis Redding on Spotify

I’m Reading: Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany by Neil Gaiman

How I Manage Stress

In my last post I mentioned that my mom had been in the hospital one week. One week became two. Then fifteen days. And yesterday, finally, mom came home. I’m here to say that that was THE MOST stressful fifteen¬†days of my life. This is significant as mom’s hospitalizations are not rare. She has been hospitalized dozens of times in the past twenty years, sometimes for good stretches of time. One time she was hospitalized for a month. It’s never easy to see her sick, or to have to visit her in a hospital, but this time was different for a number of reasons.

My mom suffers from a number of complicated conditions including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, peripheral vascular disease, and diabetes. She has suffered almost two dozen amputations. If you cannot imagine that, don’t try- it’s worse than you can fathom. I’ve never known a human being to suffer physically as much as or more than my mom. The amazing thing is that she still has a smile on her face, optimism for the future, and a love of life. She has made all of this easier for us all by remaining peaceful in her heart, no matter how bad things got.

The reasons this hospitalization was so stressful are numerous- she was deathly ill, and many days we weren’t sure if she would recover. She had contracted an infectious disease, and we all had to be careful and wary not to spread it around or catch it ourselves. She was hospitalized in an unusual place- she usually would have been sent to a different facility but they did not have available beds. And then there were the numerous outrageous failures that occurred at the hospital almost every day… she suffered misdiagnosis x2, which delayed her treatment and risked her life.¬†There were failures in training, failures in proper procedure, miscommunications with doctors, every day came with¬†something to worry about!

Instead of merely visiting and supporting my mom and family during her hospitalization, I had to expend additional emotional resources and time fighting with the hospital to ensure she got the care she needed to survive, and to protect not just her- but other patients at the facility. I met with admins all the way up to the CEO of the hospital over several days. I argued with five doctors. Five. When a few of those doctors would not listen to us or help my mom I had to go above their heads to complain and plead for the treatments she needed. It was insanity. I spent every ounce of energy I had these past few weeks, and so today I am simply spent. Emotionally exhausted. DONE.

I know that I need to recharge, so today I will begin to heal my heart and rest my mind by employing some tactics I use to manage stress and protect my health. These are the strategies I find to be helpful:

Make noise. Talking to a friend, loved one, ¬†a therapist (or even a pet) is probably the very first and most important thing I do when I am going through something stressful. Not only does it help me “get it all out” and process events, but it makes me feel like I am not alone, that I have support.

There are times when I don’t have anybody easily accessible to talk to, but I’ve found that simply making noise is also beneficial to relieving tension. A really cool friend of mine taught me this¬†trick,¬†she told me that one of her stress-relief strategies was to “Let it out your mouth”- meaning to speak, yell, groan, shriek, whatever you feel like you need to do to release the pent up frustration you feel. I have found this to be very good advice. In overwhelming moments when I don’t have anybody to talk to I might just simply groan, “uhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” and find some immediate relief. Even though this is a private activity I would do in my car or somewhere where nobody else can hear me, I still felt strange and embarrassed at first- right up until I realized that it helped. Now I have no shame.

Writing. For me writing is an excellent way to unload all of the things on my mind that are bothering me. It’s not always enough to talk to a friend, though that helps and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do that. When I write down my thoughts I almost always feel an immediate release of tension in my body, and those pesky swirling thoughts begin to dissipate. When I read back my writings, I find it helps me to process difficult experiences and come up with solutions to my problems.

In case you do not like to write, I would recommend you try a very simple exercise I learned decades ago from Oprah. Try keeping a gratitude journal, listing just three things a day that you are grateful for. Write those things down, re-read them. Review your entries weekly, allow yourself to smile.

Rest. I make sure I’m getting eight hours of sleep a night at minimum. This often means that I cannot agree to take on extra responsibilities or make fun evening plans with my friends- but when I am rested¬†I feel better both emotionally and physically. Since I get up very early to deliver my daughters to school I must adopt a very early bedtime. Sometimes I struggle to let go of things still undone by bedtime, but the dishes will be there for me when I wake up. As will the laundry, and anything else that I might have to put off to make sure I get enough rest.

Fuel. When life is crazy and you’re running around a lot or exhausted, it’s easy and sometimes even necessary to eat fast food. I did it sooooo much more than usual these past few weeks when I felt that I had no other choice. I didn’t have the emotional energy to care about what I was putting in my body.. in a pinch I selected chicken sandwiches, fries and a soda with caffeine just so I could remain upright. I consumed more than one Snickers bar in a pinch for time and out of desperation for comfort. But I won’t hold that against myself now, it’s done. Now that the danger is past¬†(I’m hoping), I will think more about fueling my body and make healthier choices: real food, real ingredients, very little processed stuff, less meat and more fruits and veggies. I’m never perfect in my diet but I’ve learned that small changes made frequently add up to make big improvements in my health and wellness.

Movement. For two weeks I haven’t been to the pool once. I never felt that I had the luxury of an hour to myself, I always felt that I needed to be ready to be there for my family at any moment. I spent the majority of the time sitting- mostly in my car or in a chair at the hospital. As a result I had no way to burn off stress or remain fit. My body aches, I can feel the high hum of anxiety in my chest. When I regularly swim I notice that I hurt so much less, and I can burn off some of that tension. Tomorrow I will resume my usual habit of swimming 3-4x a week, and I can’t wait. I don’t love having to exercise, or having to go to the gym to do it, but with much experience at it I know that movement is medicine.

Acknowledging reality. Today my¬†mind is racing back through everything that has happened and I recognize that this is my brain’s way of recapping events so that I can make sense of them and put them to rest. I will choose activities that allow my mind to wander so that I can process this important information. Some might¬†believe that NOT thinking the tough stuff through¬†is what is best, but I know that even though it might hurt- acknowledging my problems and thinking through them is the only way to come up with solutions and finding a sense of resolution.

Creativity. As long as everything goes good I should begin to have time to myself again this week to do with what I will. I look forward to posting here about some of my recent projects, and to starting some new projects. It always makes me feel awesome to produce something beautiful and new.

Today’s Project: Stress Relief

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Roadtrip Playlist on Spotify
*Oooh, I need to update this! Maybe I’ll work on that some today.

I’m Reading: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

That’s just the way it goes…

A little over a month ago I resurrected this old blog of mine from the ashes. ¬†I made a plan of action, I set goals, and for more than three weeks I was having ¬†a ball plugging along at those goals- posting project ideas a few times a week,¬†working on the back-end of the site, dusting off my photography skills and equipment, learning to write again, and moving towards monetization. And then BAM life happened. Now I’m off-track and may remain so for a spell. That’s just the way it goes I guess.

So yeah, my momma is in the hospital and she’s in a spot of trouble. It’s been two weeks now since she got very sick and she’s been in the hospital for a week today. Today we are hearing she will be in the hospital at least another week. My poor mom is in a very vulnerable state both physically and mentally so I don’t feel like I can be away from the hospital much. I’m overwhelmed by¬†worries and duties. I’m not thinking clearly so that even when I have a chance to work on this¬†blog I just can’t make my brain work right. Which has made me realize that in the future, when things are calmer, it’s a good idea to work ahead and have some blog posts ready to post in case I get pulled away again.¬†I’m learning still… and will forever be.

I am looking forward to posting about a few fun projects I’m currently working on: Bunny Ears for Easter¬†and Paper Butterfly Art Installations for windows or walls. Both are such easy and fun things to do in the spring. My kids and I get together and make the butterfly art installations together every year just as soon as things start blooming. It’s one of our favorite traditions.

But yeah, life happens, and I’m back to that. I haven’t given up on my goals, I’ll just pick up where I left off later, when I can. See ya around. Wish us luck.

Today’s Project: Get my momma better. :/

Today’s Soundtrack:¬†Classic Rock playlist, because it’s my mom’s fave.

I Finished Reading: Norse Mythology and Orphan Train
Both were excellent- Norse Mythology was a lot of fun, Neil Gaiman is just about my favorite modern author in the world. I love all the myths, but the Norse myths just have to be the funniest and quirkiest around. Orphan Train on the other hand will rip your heart out, in a kinda good way. I read it this week while my mom has been in the hospital though, and that might not have been the best idea. I like to save sorrowful stories for happier times, and read lighter books when life is heavy.

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes
Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

It’s a sad day in the Rhodes household- we have now consumed every last blood orange from our tree (and then a few more we were gifted.) I’m not sure it is possible that we’ll ever grow enough blood oranges to allow for any to be preserved, they’re just too glorious. Pretty, unique, flavorful, nutritious- they are everything that is best about winter.

So far this year I¬†have made three blood orange recipes, two of which: blood orange candy and blood orange simple syrup, are detailed in my blog post titled It’s Like Sunlight In My Mouth. If you haven’t checked it out yet and you have some blood oranges still hanging around, you really must. My kids really love the blood orange candies, they are very flavorful and easy to make. The resulting simple syrup comes in handy too, my daughters have used it in smoothies, my husband has used it in his tea, and I used it to make Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes yesterday.

These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty
These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty

When our blood orange tree proved especially fruitful this year I really didn’t know what to do with them all so I hit up Pinterest for cake recipes- but I just couldn’t find an easy recipe with few ingredients. So many of the recipes I found wanted me to use alternatives to regular flour, or to add other exotic ingredients I don’t have on hand. And I couldn’t find even one recipe for blood orange upside down cupcakes, which seemed a shame- I could just imagine how lovely they would look with a perfect blood orange disk on top! So I decided to try out a recipe I’ve used for pineapple upside down cupcakes, but with my own modifications. Here it is:

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups blood orange simple syrup
1/2 cup water
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix
24 very thinly sliced blood orange disks

1. Preheat oven to 350¬įF, spray cupcake pans well with cooking spray

2. Thinly slice blood oranges and set aside (blood orange juice stains, so be mindful!)

3. Mix together the cake mix, 1/2 cup blood orange simple syrup, 1/2 cup water, eggs, and vegetable oil.

4. Spoon 1 tbsp of blood orange simple syrup into the bottom of each muffin cup. Place a slice of blood orange into the syrup.

5. Pour 1/4 cup cake batter into each cup.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Cool for a couple minutes, run a knife around the edge of each cake, and then invert the pan onto parchment paper.

8. Serve warm, or not! These are lovely either way. Refrigerate leftovers, if you have them.

And that’s it!

Like many of my experiments in the kitchen, I learned a few things that I might want to improve next time. Like: not forgetting to spray the cupcake tins with oil. I also waited a few too many minutes to invert the pans, I was doing dishes at the same time and didn’t think a few minutes would matter- but when you have the equivalent of candy in the bottom of your muffin tins and it’s allowed to cool- ack! So, my cakes weren’t as pretty as they could have been. Thankfully I was just feeding immediate family, so it didn’t matter that they were a little rustic looking. Especially since they were super delicious.

It’s gray out so I made blood orange upside down cupcakes.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I hope you get a chance to enjoy these lovely little cakes! Please, if you have any blood orange recipes you think I’d like, or improvements upon my recipe- I’d love to hear from you! I’m looking forward to next year’s blood orange season already. ūüôā

Today’s Project: Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Today’s Soundtrack: This is: Alabama Shakes on Spotify

I Finished Reading: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism
My quick review: If you know or love anybody with Autism, this is an incredibly interesting history. It was a little long, but well written and interesting until the end.

Swim and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

If you met me today you might think it surprising that I once spent more than three years of my life disabled. I was walking with a cane, slurring my speech, weak and in excruciating pain, grossly overweight, taking pills all day, fainting often, unable to function in the real-world: disabled. But it happened, and the most important thing I ever did was get in a pool.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

It all started when I was born, really. I have a genetic connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that has been present since birth. On reflection it is clear that there were indications of this condition¬†when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I turned 30 before I began having serious health problems. I am lucky, many who have EDS are plagued by severe symptoms all their lives.

For me it started with fatigue, I remember. I felt exhausted all of the time. Pain soon followed. I had muscle spasms, nerve pain, arthritis in my joints, the whole thing, all the time. I was injured around this time; I fell and dislocated my collarbone which violently pulled my whole shoulder out of socket. The stretched ligaments in my shoulder stayed stretched and my shoulder began dislocating frequently, often every day, sometimes a few times a day. The muscles in my shoulder, neck and back would spasm in revolt and I would be stuck motionless until the spasm stopped- sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. Life became hell.

I saw some doctors, and then some more doctors, and then some more. I spent more than six years at getting a diagnosis, and then only found success after a relative was diagnosed with the same condition. In the meantime I was falling apart.

It kills me to think of it now- how much of my life I missed during what I now refer to as the “dark years”. I never once stepped foot in my youngest child’s preschool. Not once. I quit cooking dinners for my family. I quit running my business, with which I made enough money to contribute financially to the household. I was just that sick. Everything came apart.

I took all the medications suggested to me by doctors. I tried various diets and took advice from anybody and everywhere. I saw all sorts of specialists. I even went to spiritual healers and sought help from alternative medicine gurus. I got all the help in the world and did everything I could think of to get better, but nothing worked. I researched endlessly. I became¬†extremely frustrated and disillusioned with the medical system. I began to believe that I may be disabled for all of my life. Year after miserable year passed¬†and yet I just couldn’t give up hope.

Then one day I walked into a new physical therapy office with a pool and everything changed. I mean, it wasn’t immediate or anything- it took some time and I worked for it. But when I was released from water therapy just one month later I was already a changed person, on a path that would lead me to wellness.

Prior to being put in a pool for therapy I wasn’t physically active almost¬†at all because it hurt so bad, and because I was so exhausted. Exercise was near impossible for me. I was in a gloomy place, I was anxious, I was bored, I was weak. During water therapy I began to see improvements in all of those areas. My pain lessened, and with that some of my exhaustion. And it seemed pretty easy work, too! I remember being frustrated a little, I remember it hurting to work in the pool, I do. But mild exercise in the water was nothing near as painful as just trying to get down the stairs in my house. I handled it.

After one month in a pool, seemingly just floating around doing mild exercises, my shoulder was dislocating less frequently. The associated muscle spasms, which were horrendous, happened less. My nerve pain levels were somewhat better. I felt better both physically and mentally. I had even lost a few pounds. But I was still sick. It would take me the next three years to almost fully return to health. I did this primarily with swim.

One thing I want to note, which was a huge contributing factor at the time, I had recently been adequately treated for my pain. I was still in pain, but it was more manageable. Can you believe that I was not treated for pain for years and years of agony? It happened. Being in agony all the time left me without any energy at all. I believe now that had I not *finally* had my pain in some sort of control at the time of this therapy I may not have been successful. Pain is a powerful deterrent to exercise. It is horrible for a can-do attitude.

But back to my story. ūüėõ

After I completed water therapy in the winter of that first¬†year I decided to book lap swim time with a local city program that spring. I went 2-3 days a week for an hour each day. I was slow. I was rusty at lap swimming. The first day it took me an hour to swim¬†just a few laps. I was so weak I couldn’t get out of the pool and was afraid to drive home. But I was determined and I stuck to it. Each day I could swim more laps in less time. Each day!

When that program ended I joined a local swim group for the summer. I went almost 5 days a week for one hour each day, and that is when I really began noticing big changes. Pain, what pain?! The only pain medication I needed by then was some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, just once or twice a day. Nerve pain and tremors? 95% improved. Muscle spasms? Rare. Slurring/fatigue/swallowing issues/GI issues/sleep issues/anxiety/tremors/muscle weakness/fainting- GONE. GONE. Gone!!!! And you know what else was gone by this time? 35lbs of dead weight. And all that fear I was carrying around that I would never be a productive person again.

Since¬†the local city and club groups¬†operated out of an outdoor pool and I’m sensitive to cold weather I purchased a gym membership at a facility with a pool that fall. Ever since then,¬†except for just a few brief periods of inactivity, I have swam¬†just 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes each day. That’s it, and I haven’t used a cane one day since that¬†first spring! I’ve lost 50lbs. I go to all of my kids activities and events. I travel, I hike, I write, I do so many things I had given up in those dark years! I’m fully alive. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I know what it is like to be disabled for years at a time.

So let’s talk about those “brief periods of inactivity” for a second. I should have never done that. It was a mistake. First, I took a few months off swim for excuses not worth mentioning. Within weeks I began losing muscle tone and picking up weight, my pain increased, my GI issues returned, everything began to go down hill. Within a few short months I had to “begin again”. It wasn’t as hard as the first time, but it was still very hard to regain my health and strength and the will to try. The second time I slacked was during a year in which my daughters schedules were hectic and kept me¬†far from the gym where I swim. At the time I felt that I had no choice but to give my gym time¬†up, but I know now that I should have figured it out. I gained back 15lbs during that period and spent more than a fair share of days in a recliner with a heating pad. Each time I learned a lesson. Swim is life.

I think sometimes about how my life might have been different if the first doctor I had seen had put me in a pool. It would have been different too, if I had always been properly treated for pain, I’m sure.

I can’t know your situation, I can’t know what is best for you and your body. All I can tell you is what I know about my situation, and what has helped me. Swim may not be something you can do. I don’t know. But if you are in a bad spot of health, looking for something, anything to try- I suggest getting in the water. For best results I suggest starting with water therapy provided by a professional.

Swim works. Swim works because you utilize¬†and activate every muscle group. Swim works because it whips¬†your cardiovascular system into shape too. Swim works for some people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome because the lean muscle, the strength you gain from swim, helps keep your joints where they belong. Swim works because it releases feel-good hormones into your blood. Euphoria is awesome! Swim works for some people with connective tissue disorders because¬†it is a low-impact sport. I can’t pound the pavement anymore- but you should see me sprint a lap! No pain. None. Ok, it makes me breathe hard and at first I was pretty achy. But just 6¬†years ago I could barely walk across my yard. Swim works because it is amazing how fast your body gains¬†endurance and strength- if you push yourself even a little you¬†will achieve success over time. And time is all we’ve got.

I wish so much I could tell sick-me what well-me knows now. Since I can’t, I hope my experience¬†helps you to avoid your own dark years. Try it, tell me how you do.

And if swim is simply not something you can do- don’t give up. Keep looking¬†for answers. Keep fighting. Don’t give up. I didn’t want to go to therapy that first day. I wanted to cancel the whole thing. I wanted to cancel my life. I didn’t, and it’s everything. <3