Friday, June 29, 2018

16: the Dishwasher Anniversary

I like to keep with tradition in gift-giving where I can, but it's not always clear-cut, as with anniversary year traditions. It depends on whom you ask, I guess, but there doesn't seem to be agreement on an official gift to celebrate sixteen years of marriage, which the Bear and I celebrated at the end of May. I looked around the internet a little bit, and while most recommendations follow suit with the chart above, listing individual years through fifteen and every five years thereafter, there are some sources that say the sixteenth anniversary is to be commemorated with a gift of wax. I'm not even sure what that would entail - candles? Crayons? Batik cloth? A set of dummies in our likenesses, a la Madame Tussaud?

We did not gift one another with objects of wax. We did, however, buy ourselves a new dishwasher (apparently, we missed the appliance-gift boat on our fourth anniversary if we go by the chart, but we didn't live here then, and anyway, we had a new baby and had just started living on one income; we weren't buying anything nice). A new dishwasher is hardly romantic, but our old one was on its last leg. It wasn't really old, just very, very cheap. The previous owner of our house installed it just before he put the house on the market; it was only three months old when we moved in. But it was junky, even by our frugal standards. In the nine years we owned it, we'd replaced both racks (one of them twice) along with the motor. We'd also experienced several issues with the electronic control panel. Just before our anniversary, the heating element gave out. We're great believers in fixing things until we can't (my 2006 car is still going strong, and the Bear drove a 1999 until 2016), but in the case of the dishwasher, we had irrefutable proof that it was no longer worth it: the original receipt. We'd already spent more fixing and replacing than he'd spent buying it new. Enough was enough.

Please settle in for some dishwasher blather, fair reader...

The new dishwasher is made by Kenmore. I've been very satisfied with the Kenmore washer and dryer I've had since 2007, so was overjoyed to see that Consumer Reports listed a Kenmore dishwasher as one of their Best Buys. My only hesitation with buying a Kenmore is that we no longer have a Sears Parts Center in New Mexico, but parts can always be ordered online or by phone. In fact, I needed to order a longer drainage hose for the new dishwasher the same day it was delivered; the drain is on the opposite side from where it was on the old dishwasher, and we needed to run a long hose all the way around the back of the new dishwasher to the drain valve. So the new dishwasher actually sat in the open space without being hooked up for a whole week while we waited for the hose to come. The old dishwasher sat on the back porch. I washed all the dishes by hand. Boy, was I excited for that stupid hose to show up.

I was very happy with the new dishwasher and started using it right away. I love the white finish (all of my appliances are white; I know that's not the height of fashion these days, but I don't care. I like the clean, crisp look of them). The handle on the door is nice; it echoes the handle shapes on the oven and fridge, even though they're all different brands. I do love having a stainless-steel lining on the inside of the dishwasher. The old one was all plastic and was covered in stains. It was weird at first to look into the dishwasher because it seemed so dark inside, but I'm used to it now. I like the racks too, they're much sturdier than the old ones, and the whole thing is roomier and has more useful space.

This is my favorite part: the pull-out drawer on top for smaller items. It took me a few days to remember that I had this drawer, then it took me a few more days to remember to empty it when I unloaded the dishwasher. I kept wondering where things had gone to, only to remember hours later that they were still in the top drawer. Duh.

I like having the controls on the top edge of the door, instead of the front. I was always leaning against them and pressing them with my belly. This is only my second dishwasher with electronic controls, mind you; the old one was my first. Before that, I had one with a knob, and before that, I had a succession of dishwashers my own age or older, with lever-locks and push-buttons. This is also only my second dishwasher with a rinse-aid dispenser. I'm telling you, it's like I've entered a whole new world of housekeeping technology and I can't get enough.

There were free samples included, to my delight. Do you love samples as much as I do? I've always been into little bottles and packages of everyday products. One of the first things I ever did when I began using the internet, after making an email account, was to go hunting for free samples by mail. Later on, I found that free samples were one of the best things about being pregnant; everywhere I went, I got something for free. I even still have a little pouch of Dreft that I never got around to using; I put it in a memory box. As for dishwasher supplies, these are somewhat more luxurious than the type I would buy for myself, and they cleaned beautifully, but to be perfectly honest, the old dishwasher was doing a terrible job in its final months and I could use the cheapest products now and still get cleaner dishes. I'm just amazed at how well the new dishwasher works. Everything comes out sparkling. I'd forgotten what truly clean dishes looked like.

I don't normally like to brag on my blog about things I've bought for myself, but I'm just so happy with this thing! It's a surprise, really; I'd never had a really good dishwasher and had no idea what one could do, so this is all new to me. If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking around for my poetic waxing (see what I did there?).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Camping at Villanueva

We've just returned from a few days of camping at Villanueva State Park, which is located on the Pecos River, about two hours north and east of Albuquerque. This was my first time camping here, and my first time visiting this area of the state. It's a very interesting place. The park is tucked in beside sandstone cliffs that run all along the river, which is quite shallow and slow-moving. I was intrigued to learn a little about this history of this area; it was an ancestral Zuni pueblo, eventually explored by many Spanish conquistadors, starting with Francisco Coronado in 1540. I came across an interesting PDF detailing Villanueva's history; it's here if you'd like to have a read

The park is beautiful! It's a desert environment, very dry and hot during the day, but it gets quite chilly at night. The sandstone cliffs were just behind our campsite, as was the river. The kids often played in the water (it's only knee-deep in most areas), getting very muddy in the process. They, and the Bear, did some fishing too, but they only caught tiny ones which they threw back. In the mornings, the sun is behind the cliffs until about eight o'clock, leaving the campground in wonderful, cool shade. I really tried to savor it, since it got brutally hot in the afternoons. There are good shade trees everywhere, though. Lots of cottonwoods, many of which are absolutely enormous, and lots of juniper and cedar, which give the whole place a fresh, woodsy scent. It was windy most of the time, especially at night (when it became almost a little too windy for comfort) but the afternoon breezes were most welcome in the heat; it hit the upper nineties every day.

The water was only a few yards behind our campsite, but I didn't get very close. We could see the kids where they played, which was nice, and the Bear did go over there to play with them a lot, but I was too worried about mosquitoes. I have particularly bad reactions to them and I wanted to try to avoid bites. I got bitten about a million times anyway, so I should have braved it.

We liked our campsite. We had a nice three-walled shelter with a roof, almost like a little house, good for cooking and eating, and getting out of the wind. There was a fire pit, which we couldn't use because of fire restrictions. There were plenty of nice trees, so we were able to set up both tents in relatively shaded areas behind the shelter. We have been using two tents since last summer, one for us and one for the kids. We had a tiny, old tent for the kids before, but we were very kindly given a larger, nicer tent by a friend who no longer needed it. The Bear and I have started using better air mattresses and bringing our pillows from home instead of using inflatable camp pillows; what a difference!

Our first night in the campground was actually kind of awful. There had been an all-day picnic going on just up the road from our site, with lots of motorcycles in and out and much rowdiness. Some of the party-goers were also camping overnight, and a large group was across the road from us, just a few feet away. They stayed up all night long, screaming and yelling, driving in and out, generally just being disruptive and annoying. I think I slept for about an hour between the time they finally stopped making noise, around four o'clock, and the point when the birds started waking up. We were all dragging the next day. The second night was much more peaceful, thankfully; all the rowdies left and the campground was about half-empty.

In the afternoons, we moved ourselves behind the shelter to hang out. Once the sun moved around to the front of the shelter, it was much too hot to sit inside it. We hung our hammock, taking turns using it, and brought our chairs around. It was only slightly cooler back there, but at least we were out of the sun. I love sitting around the campsite in the afternoons, once we've tried different things like wading and fishing, played in the playground, taken walks, and everything else. The work of cooking and cleaning up will start again soon with dinner, but it's nice to have a lull when nothing much is going on.

I cooked everything on the Coleman stove, since we couldn't have a fire or a charcoal grill due to state park fire restrictions. I'd made a huge pot of vegetarian chili (recipe is here) at home, then frozen it in containers to transport in our cooler. This worked really well. The chili was delicious (I've used this recipe for a while and I love it), but it was too hot to be eating chili. We really should have brought cold pasta salads instead. Not being able to cook there is really kind of a hassle - hot dogs, foil packs, or shish kebabs cooked at the site would have been much nicer. It worked, though - there were very few dishes to wash, and I can't complain about that.

Every time we camp, I try to scout out wildflowers. Disappointingly, there were almost none in this campground! I think it must be because of the dry, desert environment there. We have mostly camped in the woods, which are always filled with many species of flowering plants. I came across only three here, though. The lavender flower is a type of thistle, which was rife in the campground. The yellow one is an aster, and then there's the white one, which I can't identify. Some sort of weed, I think, but the flowers were pretty enough.

One really great thing about this campground was the showers and flush toilets! There were latrine huts too, which were exactly like you'd expect them to be (and we did use the one right across from our site many times), but just a short walk away were real toilets, sinks and fairly decent showers. That was a nice change of pace. My shower refreshed me for only about an hour, but what a nice hour that was. Oh, and we unexpectedly ran into people we knew at the campground. We spent a nice couple of hours chatting with them before they needed to pack up and go home. It's a small world.

All in all, this was a nice camping trip. I don't think I would camp there over a Saturday night again, if the wildness of our fellow campers was any indication, but maybe that's unusual. I would also prepare for much hotter and drier weather than I'd been given to understand we would encounter there. But it was a nice time and everyone had the chance to explore, seeing and doing some new things, and of course, and most importantly, we spent lots of good family time together.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Our first homegrown tomato!

Hello, friends. I've been away from my blog for a long time, I know. Thank you for the emails and messages asking after me and my family. We're okay. Everyone is feeling well and healthy. The Bear is fully acclimated to his chronic medical condition, diagnosed late last year, and is doing great. The small Bears are three weeks into their summer break and are having a wonderful time; they've finished a two-week session of swimming and diving lessons (with another session still to come in mid-July), they're attending fun events at the library every week, attending ballet and guitar lessons, and there have been several fun play dates and lunches with friends. Plenty of vegging out at home with books, TV and movies too; we all need to chill sometimes.

As for me, well. It's been a hard few weeks. I used to write fairly often here about my difficulties with accepting and not becoming anxious or upset (sometimes frantically so, as recently) with the behavior and choices of people I care about. I've unfortunately spent the last month or so turning myself inside out over this same thing. I'm surprised by the way it hit me, since I'd been doing much better with it for the past couple of years, but I think it's just been a difficult few months, what with the Bear's medical concerns, a new dietary sensitivity in the family which has completely upended much of my cooking, the general sense of unrest around us all. It has sort of felt like bad news almost every day lately. I know that isn't true, but sometimes it's hard to get out of that way of thinking, the perpetuity of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Blogging was the furthest thing from my mind, which is unfortunate because I started my blog, and maintained it, specifically so that I could remember the good things about my own life while negative ones swirled around "out there." This time, though, I was really beginning to doubt even the goodness of my own life - the truth of it, even. Please know that I'm okay, I'm just getting back on my feet after a hard phase. When I need to, I remind myself that my life is good, my marriage is happy, my home is a safe and loving one. But really, all I need to do is look around, listen and feel: all of this is true, and real, and indisputable. I am learning to let go and remember what matters and what really doesn't. I want to help everyone and be a peacemaker. I want everyone else to have happy, healthy lives. But they have to want it too - I can't make it happen for anyone but me, so I will focus on that.

Sorry for the downer, guys. I know I don't owe anyone an apology for my absence from blogging - my own blog and everyone else's - we're always telling each other that, and it's true. But I've found real friendships here and I thought you should know that I'm okay and that it's just been a hard stretch, but I'm coping and moving forward.

I've been experiencing a technical glitch with my blog. Maybe someone has advice? When last I blogged, I noticed that I was not receiving emails for any comments left on posts (this includes "no-reply" commenters as well as everyone else). I don't know why this would be, and I've investigated it as much as I know how to do, coming up empty-handed. It's not a huge deal, but is a bit of hassle. Weirdly, it makes me feel like I'm fishing for compliments, because I have to make a special trip to see if anybody has said anything. I'm sorry if I've been missing questions or issues that you wanted me to see. Can I suggest, if you have a question you think I might be able to help with, can you email me? You should be able to use the little envelope icon up on the sidebar near the top, or you can send it to thistlebearhome @ gmail dot com (in proper email address format, obviously).

I'm just getting started with organizing a camping trip this weekend. We'll leave on Saturday for two nights in Villaneuva State Park, sort of north and east of here. I've never been to this campground, but the Bear has and he likes it. There are fire restrictions in the park, so I can't have a fire or bring a grill, I have to cook on the Coleman stove. Honestly, this is a major drag. I'm going to make a large pot of vegetarian chili this week, freezing it in containers to pack into the cooler. They should act as ice packs, which will be useful, and once thawed, be ready for reheating at the campsite. No s'mores or roasted marshmallows, unfortunately; I have some snack cakes for the small Bears so they can at least have a little treat while camping. We're all hoping and praying for a good monsoon around here, as usual. One reason is so that we can have our other planned camping trip toward the end of July; that one would be in the Santa Fe National Forest, which is currently closed! Can you believe they closed the forest? They really did. It's too dry and some people have been too careless with fire, so nobody can use it at all. Fingers are crossed for a good start to the monsoon; if we still can't have a fire, maybe we can at least camp with the cookstove up there in a month or so.

I hope you're doing well and enjoying good weather where you are. I'm glad to be back in this space and I hope to return soon. I'd like to tell you about my amazing new...wait for it...dishwasher! I've had it for a few weeks and it's been really fabulous - never in my wildest dreams did I think I could enjoy a dishwasher quite so much. Not that dishwashers have ever really figured in my dreams, but you know.
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