Lo & Behold crafter, writer, life-liver

On, but never up

She was slowly peeling off the Spongebob stickers. Ann was helping.

It was almost like Ann was sorry she had to fire Rachel. She was acting dour, yet chipper. Punctuating her short sentences with an uninspired ‘heh’ and a half-hearted apologetic grin. An ‘I just fired you but told you I was pressured into it by my boss so that makes it a little more okay, right’ approach.

‘You could put them in your kid’s bathroom’ I blurted out stupidly.

Rachel has just been fired, is sullenly collecting her things, and I’m here trying to give her advice about where she can re-home those garish cartoon wall clings that she insisted on getting for the wall column behind her desk. ‘To make it seem more Ffuuunnn!’, she had exclaimed when I asked at the time, horrified by their presence peering over my shoulder.

Rachel seems resigned, maybe a little relieved. It’s tiring, job jockeying. She’ll walk out, with her box of belongings, and start a new life again. She’ll convince someone else to hire her, that her measly skills garnered over two decades of meaningless work in corporate sales is enough to guarantee her anything. She will move on, but never up, I bet.

Her heels, too tall and too red, clacking on the concrete floor like tinny gunshots. She scoots over for a polite but hearty side-hug, leaning in, looking me square in the eye.

I can tell I am definitely at least her second favorite ex co-worker.

 

ps – i said last time things were going to look a bit different around here. this is the beginning of the renovation. short stories. creative writing. strange blurbs. mind-dumping-on-page. and other kinds of words on paper. as i work to get comfortable maybe i will share more. or maybe this experiment won’t last. either way, at this second, i’m putting personal words down for anyone to see. and it doesn’t matter if anyone sees this or reads this, just that someone COULD.

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Fingers crossed

I let myself down all the time. I’ve been letting myself down since I knew about letting people down.

Case in point, I’m a writer and I have a blog that I don’t write in. A writer that doesn’t write.

Except sporadically, in bursts sufficiently snuffed by my crippling inability to write–and let be. The proverbial red pen comes out! I stop after each paragraph to read, edit and rewrite. I wonder, every single time, what the words I just typed on the page say about me. If I sound too trite, too much of a newb, if what they say is that I really can’t write very well after all.

I’m tired of caring. I really just want to do the things that I’ve learned allow me to scribble outside of the lines, or inside the lines if I please. Things that seal up the rough edges.

It may start to feel a little differently around here soon. My hope, xx fingers crossed xx, is that it will get downright weird.

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Queso Kings Forever

Last year’s Quesoff win was a surprise, but a hard-earned result for sure. There was much hemming and hawing over the approach… a roux-based queso? One with beer? What about getting all gastronomical with sodium citrate? Strong cheese or mild cheese? What KIND of cheese? It was all a little baffling at first, at least for me. But they persisted, and my stomach remained leaden with cheese for the previous few months while testing and trials commenced.

This year they knew they had to come up with a super creative idea to ‘one-up’ their entries from last year: a Baby’s On Fire spicy queso and a Cheezy Hot Gutz meaty queso. Something different, but tasty enough to actually win. And people were definitely skeptical when Brett told them they’d be making a queso ice cream (along with a Cajun Boudain sausage queso) that was real ice cream that you actually ate with a tortilla chip.

ice cream magic (with dry ice)

Myself, and our neighbors/friends Dollie and Alan, along with a smattering of other willing taste-testers, judged queso ice cream attempts for a couple of months. As delicious as it was, a little saucer full was more than plenty. It tasted JUST LIKE queso + ice cream. Brilliant! And the boudain queso was chock full of real deal homemade boudain sausage that Paul cranked out. We had many people coming back to nab another taste.

I’m not sure if anyone else has attempted this feat, but with a little internet searching we definitely found more than a few cheese ice creams. As far as we can tell, The Cream Team is a pioneer in the ice cream world with their queso (the Mexican kind you dip chips in and is usually spicy) ice cream concoction.

makin' that queso ice cream

SPOILER ALERT There were tons of people in line at all times, many asking us if we were the ones with the queso ice cream, and The Cream Team won Best in the Wildcard Category for that entry! And again, for the second year in a row, we win Fun Fun Fun Fest Tickets! Woooo!

See more photos in my Flickr set.

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queso ice cream cup

via Brett Spangler https://www.flickr.com/photos/naz66/

 

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award

 

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Better the Second Time Around

I have so much to write, so much to say here. Too many swirlies… to-do lists… projects to complete..

So, let me say a word about an album I enjoy.

This Themselves remix album, ‘The No Music of Aiff’s Remixed’ is still a favorite, 11 years after it’s release. I memorized every crunchy beat, all the fuzz-obscured lyrics, the picked-apart and reassembled (slowed down, messily speeded up) layers in college.

It’s such a weird album, I admit, and this remix is better than the original album by far – which is rare. I won’t bother describing it further. You can try it out, if you like. It’s keeping my eyes and typing fingers alive at work today.

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Writer’s Workshop Reading Update

Update! The writing workshop reading didn’t go nearly as bad as I had planned to expect. During the drive over to the library, where the writers meet, I just decided not to be nervous. It was as simple as that. I still stumbled over a few words here and there, and I still don’t particularly like the work I read. But after hearing everyone else read, even though my pieces were decidedly not the ‘best’, they were pretty darn good. Good enough no quell my fear of sucking it up big time.

I even came up with the name for our writing group. Perhaps, someday soon, I’ll even share the pieces that were published. You must PROMISE not to scoff, though. Or at least, do your intense scoffing privately.

E. Cesar Chavez Snack Society - Badgerdog Writing Workshop chapbook 2014

E. Cesar Chavez Snack Society – Badgerdog Writing Workshop chapbook 2014

 

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Writer Not-Writer

I’ve spent a lot of years writing. I’ve written about music, offbeat weddings and weirdo-culture, home decor and upscale appliances, fine art publishing, food and restaurants, crafting and DIY, and even web hosting. One form of writing that I’ve eschewed over the years, since my angsty and love-sick teen journaling days, has been creative writing.

I read novel after novel, check up on McSweeney’s regularly, and even dive into the New Yorker when I can. But when it comes to picking up the pen and throwing down some creative words of my own… nu uh. And now I write instructions for a living, so creativity is typically thrown out the window.

(more…)

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No Resolutions

At the beginning of the year, I said I wouldn’t make any resolutions. No one really keeps their resolutions anyway, and I’m a perpetual self-guilter (and I’ve never even been Catholic). I did decide, as I do every year, to really push myself to try new things or to learn something that I’ve always wanted to. I decided to try something new, every month, and do it for each day of that month. I haven’t kept up with that either, but even the beginnings of this process have affected me positively.

In January I decided to try meditation. Now, I’m not a hippie and I’m not very spiritual. I don’t know much about Buddha, raw food diets, or transcendental meditation (and maybe those are all sweeping generalizations anyway). What I DID know is that I was letting stressy moments define my mood, and not just for a bit, but for the entire day.

If my morning started out rough or I got some particularly difficult-to-swallow criticism at work my day was blown. I was upset, exhausted, sensitive, and felt simultaneously bored and unable to do anything productive. It felt like I was having mini bouts of depression… and couldn’t do anything to dig myself out of the feelings I was having at the time. So, I started getting up in the morning, going to pee, and then sitting on the cool bathroom floor with my phone stopwatch running – and attempting to meditate.

sycamore tree in our yard

I am NOT good at meditating. And I don’t do it for very long… and really, I’ve dropped off in the last month in my practice. What I noticed was happening though, is that I was slowly feeling a bit better in the morning (traditionally the toughest time for me). And even though I don’t do it every day, I’m finding that there are instances where I can use my remedial meditation skills to help me manage a bit better.

Sometimes I can’t sleep for worrying. And I worry about EVERYTHING… my work day coming up, my Mom’s health, money (oh, money), staying in touch with family, being a good friend to people I hold dear, making the right decisions about my career and my free time etc. I stress, guilt myself, and constantly feel like I’m not good enough, or not doing enough, or not striving enough. When sleeplessness hits, sometimes spending a little time trying to meditate in bed has actually helped me nod off before 2am!

To me, meditation is a tool, or a ‘Tips and Tricks’ sort of revelation. As I grow into my 30s, I’m finding out more about myself, how I can feel more comfortable in my own skin, and how I can live life a little freer. I’m so far away from actually having a good handle on this stuff, but it feels awesome to take action on things I know I can make better, instead of trying to control things that I can’t make better. (This is a slow process, one that I’ll probably never master – and that’s okay.)

Try it out! Sit by yourself in silence, and take a few moments to focus on your breathing and breath, clearing your mind of all the muck. It won’t make you a new person, but it just might help get you a step closer to happy living.

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Cream Team Strikes Again

The Cream Team is on a roll! Fresh off the Chili Bowl win, Brett and his cohort Paul CZ entered the Mac and Cheeze Takedown at Shangri-la. Weeks of preparation helped Brett refine his ultimate cheesy recipe, and consequently made me utterly sick of it (a feat I never thought possible).

He found his secret ingredient, tested many kinds and ages of cheese, and concocted many different toppings before finally deciding on the right set of ratios and ingredients. A special thanks goes out to our friends Dollie and Alan for being the cheesiest of guinea pigs!

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And whaddya know it? The Cream Team won! They won the 1st place People’s Choice Award, with a haul of kitchen gear (including a 12 qt food processor) as the spoils.

“Cream Team won first place for a delectably smooth concoction entitled “Science B-tches.” The secret ingredient? Sodium citrate, which turned the six-cheese blend of vintage cheddars to a Velveeta-like consistency (the same duo just won the Quesoff this summer, too).” – Austin Culturemap

 

First, the Quesoff, then the Chili Bowl, and now this?! I’m a proud wifey and  the ultimate taste-tester.

Our friend Mary made a DELICIOUS mac and cheese ice cream sundae that knocked my socks off and she nabbed a pretty prize herself!

And just for all you cheesy lovers, here’s the recipe:

‘Science, Bitch’ Mac and Cheese by The Cream Team (Brett Spangler and Paul Czarkowski)

Makes enough to feed 6-­8 people.

Ingredients
530g (about 2 1/4 cups) whole milk
22g sodium citrate
350g Tillamook Extra Sharp Vintage Cheddar, shredded
280g extremely sharp Cheddar (1­2 year old), shredded
140g Gruyere, shredded
454g (about five 16oz boxes) dry pasta of your choice; shells or pasta with texture work great!
1 cup (two sticks) butter, melted
2 large sweet onions, diced into small/medium pieces
4 cups slightly stale sourdough breadcrumbs
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 lb bacon
Fresh cracked pepper
Jalapeno powder
Cayenne powder

Directions
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Pasta

Cook pasta per directions on package until al dente. Drain the pasta and shock it in ice water, then toss with 1/2 cup (half the called-for amount) melted butter. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook over low heat until the onions are caramelized and gooey. Add salt to taste. Mix pasta into the onion mixture.

Sauce

Add the milk, sodium citrate, jalapeno powder, cayenne powder and fresh cracked pepper to a three quart or similar sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Add shredded cheeses to the milky mixture one handful at a time and whisk until melted. Once the cheese has been incorporated into the milk mixture blend it with an immersion blender (stick blender) for 30-45 seconds, or until the cheese/milk mixture is completely emulsified.

Bread crumb topping

We made our own bread, but you can use any high quality sourdough that is a day or two old. Mix the bread crumbs, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and salt/pepper to taste in an oven proof pan or baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees until lightly toasted, about 15 mins.

Bacon topping

Chiffonade, or slice into short little ribbons, the bacon. Deep fry in canola oil heated to about 325 degrees until crispy. Fold the cheese mixture into the pasta mixture until well coated. Salt to taste (ours didn’t need any at this point). Top each serving with breadcrumbs and bacon. Enjoy!

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Bachelorettin’ it up with Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad

This isn’t a food blog. That’s really my husband‘s forte. But I couldn’t resist posting about one of my favorite meals growing up that has stuck with me way into adulthood! It’s easy, cheap, and something I can make for myself when hubby (ahem, the chef of the household) is gone away out of town on business. I actually made this for myself last night, as Chef Brett is in Seattle for business this week. It’s great as a lunch take-a-long as well!

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Now, if you aren’t from Texas you may not understand the importance of the much-revered Ranch Style bean. I will admit, albeit not entirely pridefully, that I’ve eaten Ranch Style beans mixed into macaroni and cheese, with tortilla chips, poured over rice with cheese, and most often in a salad with Fritos. Yes, Fritos. Behold the infamous Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad…

*I’m super intrigued by fave Lisa Fain’s, of the Homesick Texan, homemade Ranch Style bean recipe!

Frito Salad photo from RealMomKitchen.com

from RealMomKitchen.com

Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad

Some variations exist. I’ve noted how WE make it at home, though the traditional recipe is slightly different. I’m sure French dressing would work and straight pinto beans would taste fine… I just prefer it this way.

A big ole thing of salad (mixed greens, kale, spinach, romaine… whatever you prefer)
1 red onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped (or cherry tomatoes cut in half)
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated or cubed
1 can Ranch Style beans (jalapeno or sweet onion variations can be used) — DO NOT DRAIN!
1 small bottle Catalina salad dressing
1 bag (regular size) Fritos

Optional Add-Ins
thinly sliced radishes
fresh corn
chopped avocado
thinly sliced pepperoncinis
jalapeno slices
chopped bell pepper
queso fresco or cotija

Toss the greens, onion, tomato, cheese and other add-ins together in a big bowl. Dump in the Ranch Style beans (including most of the can sauce if preferred – which I DO prefer). Dump in the Catalina dressing and Fritos based on your dressing to corn chip to salad to bean preferences. Using a large spoon or similar, gently toss/fold the wet ingredients into the previously tossed ingredients.

Serve in individual bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of sea salt and several cracks of fresh pepper.

This, my friends, is tasty and trashy in the most southern of ways… I love it! It’s a dish that even this wife, whose specialty is mac and cheese with tuna and peas, can master. Long live Ranch Style beans!

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Reign of the Chili King

Chili is the state food of Texas, and in the Spangler household we revere it as such. Yesterday, right before the 2014 Super Bowl, Brett competed in the annual Chili Bowl held at our neighborhood bar, The Nomad. Last year, his inaugural year competing, he won People’s Choice Award (ok.. mainly because we brought a bunch of loyal friends). This year he wasn’t able to spend as much time perfecting his recipe, but did make his own jalapeño chili powder and used about $80 of prime tri-tip in his brimming crockpot of spicy goodness.

Brett's Chili Bowl trophies

Celebrating his win, trophies in hand (wearing his Cream Team hat from last year’s Quesoff Competition)

The minimal work paid off! Not only did Brett knock  the 3-years-running chili champ out of his #1 spot as overall winner but he also won People’s Choice award again! That beebs of mine is a DAMN fine cook. He even got all blush-y when a famous local pastry chef said he loved Brett’s chili. I think this calls for more cooking competitions… we might just have to get a new trophy case to hold all of the sparkly awards!

Brett and Terry

The former 1st place winner, and the NEW 1st place winner

Oh, and now I’m officially a real-deal adult. Along with my newly-sprouting white hairs, I recently had to get reading/computer glasses. Despite these signs, I’m feeling really good about the rest of this decade… my 30s. Prime time.

Shrie in glasses

sportin’ the specs, droopy eye and all!

 

Now, who wants to invest in a catering food trailer featuring B’s delicious delectables?

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10 years and 5 years

Our first doggie birthday party happened on Clem’s 10 year birthday and Iris’s 5 year birthday. We finally succumbed to the party-pull and did the unthinkable a couple of weeks ago – invited our real-life friends to a party for our dogs in which they were encouraged, but not required, to bring dog toys and treats for showering upon said pooches in a blaze of birthday glory. We are officially THOSE people who treat their dogs like their kids, and well…. aren’t they?

waiting on their guests

Iris in her party hat

Clem in his party hat

We had party hats… OH we had party hats. There were even pup-cakes and a doggy friend (Pugsley) to help the tenacious two enjoy their special day. Our dogs LOVE their people, and that includes people who are important to their parents/pack leaders. The dogs were super pumped to spend the day with their friends and we generally let them misbehave a bit (but of course no begging, incessant butt-licking, humping, malicious stealing of other dog’s bones etc).

Eating their pupcakes

Pugsley won the pup-cake eating contest by a landslide and Iris made our eardrums bleed with the incessant squeaking of her new birthday toys. Clem was his normal self; genial, smiley and generally relishing the limelight. The pups were too pooped to see the last guests out the door, but I’m certain their dreams were speckled with gracious ear rubs, backyard frolicking, and memories of warm friend snuggles.

pupcakes

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Ambient me, please

Erratic beat-punching, grand spacey echoes, digital cries, epic rise and falls. This is what Oneohtrix Point Never’s “R Plus Seven” sounds like, and it’s fueling my morning productivity today.

 

Some other tunes to enjoy include: Kelela – “Cut 4 Me”, Darkside – “Psychic” and Clark’s “Feast Beast”.

Hat tip to Daniel Talsky and Brett Spangler for helping me fix my borked blog. It’s still a work in progress.

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Fun Fun Fun and More Fun

groupshotFFF

I ponied up and trekked Fun Fun Fun Fest for all three days. It was my first time at FFF… and it unceremoniously kicked it’s big sister, ACL’s, hiney to San Antonio and back. Highlights, in order of importance:

Television. TELEVISION.
Deltron 3030 and Dan the Automator, in the flesh
Losing my new iPhone 5C at the end of day 3 in the magical dust in front of the Deltron stage
Finding my phone at the Lost and Found (you, phone-turner-inner, deserve a beer on me)
Brett’s trusty Stanley flask
Sarah Silverman in the hot sweaty comedy tent (or why having USP passes, albeit it for free and by chance, is important)
Shlohmo and XXYYXX‘s beats
Haymaker‘s Green Chile Queso Fries (the remedy to my hungry and sloshing rum-belly)

I’ll be back, Fun Fun Fun Fest, I’ll be back. Hopefully by that time, you will have upped the USP pass ante (this year the perks were a joke!)

shrieloriFFF

Photos courtesy of Christine Aldrich and Lori Malick, respectively.

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The Abominable Forcefield

There has been a weird forcefield at work since I gave my notice. Like there is a thick but transparent bubble around me. Everywhere I walk in the building, past people’s desks and conference rooms with swaths of people having meetings I’m no longer invited to, I can feel myself in this bubble. The people who never really liked me ignore me, my participation is no longer relevant. The Abominable Forcefield.

And I have to admit, there is a degree of awesome about that. Selfishly, I feel like it’s nice not to have to worry about that looming deadline or try to push through a project that I didn’t really want to be doing to begin with. It feels great to be freed from the tasks I truly detested and to let go of the hovering disenchantment I’ve been feeling for a while.

paddling off into the sunset

I’m ready to move on, but there’s still that twinge of sadness, that feeling of a life shift. I’m leaving my laidback, young, weird music ticketing marketing job to dive into the more complicated (for me) waters of technical communications for a hosting company. This is silly, but it feels as if I’m finally leaving all of my youth behind in favor of only adult from here on out.

And I think I’m ok with that. As of Tuesday the 24th I will be Shrie Spangler, Technical Communicator at A Small Orange. I’m not sure what the rest of my future holds, but for now I’m going to dig into this new adventure.

 

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The cheesiest

My husband is a great cook. Anyone that spends any amount of time having drinks and niblets out at a local restaurant or coming to one of our many low-key weekend potluck hangouts knows this fact. They also know that I do NOT cook, like, almost ever.

Since my other half is the better one where the kitchen is concerned, and like myself can be mildly competitive, I’ve been encouraging him to participate in some local cooking competitions. Last year he won People’s Choice for a local neighborhood chili competition but was irritated he didn’t get voted in by the judges.

The Cream Team at Quesoff 2013

photo courtesy of Austin Fusion Magazine

This year he signed us (me, his coworker Paul CZ, and himself) to compete in the 3rd Annual Quesoff at The Mohawk here in Austin as The Cream Team. We, with me serving as project and logistics manager, entered a spicy queso (named Baby’s On Fire) and a meaty queso (named Cheezy Hot Gutz) complete with homemade Texas hot gut-style sausage. There were home cooks and seasoned chefs competing… we didn’t expect to even place.

But alas, after weeks of queso preparation and research, The Cream Team was victorious! We won both the Meaty AND Overall awards! I heard mumblings of us winning the Spicy as well, but I guess they figured two awards to a gang of home cooks was enough to wound the pride of several of the other participants and take the proverbial queso crown.

The Cream Team takes best Meaty and Overall

WAY more people showed up than was expected and everyone ran out of queso very early. Several people hovered around our table, even during the most crowded times, to snag a taste of the rumored best queso. When we ran out, people scraped our crockpots with chips and spoons – it was THAT good.

I’m so proud of my hubs and his trusty cooking partner CZ. They put in the work and made some damn good queso! Here’s to hoping that more cooking competitions are in our future….

Quesoff 2013 Winners

PS – You DID notice that I made a homemade bunting banner, signs for each queso, and team hats right (couple photos here)?! I mean, that’s what I do. Brett cooks, I create, we rule.

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Turning to crayons for comfort

The last few weeks have been challenging. Nothing crazy happened and no one died, but there has been stress, money talks, career figuring, and more. My mind needs a break sometimes. Here are some things I’ve been loving during a week that really needs a bit more squishy love in it!

 

 

Giorgio Moroder Red Bull Select Sound SeriesGiorgio Moroder Sits Down for Lengthy Fireside Chat, Plays Influential Tracks
{see interview/music here}

This guy… this guy. He is a disco pioneer, general music genius, and lover of pop, slanky beats, and dance music. He’s produced and written huge hits for Donna Summer, collaborated with Daft Punk, and inspired a helluva lot of artists in the electro world today.

Ryan Heska artRyan Heska’s art
{see more at BoingBoing}

I am totally in love with Ryan Heska’s art. He has a couple of gallery showings coming up NOWHERE NEAR AUSTIN, so that’s cool. I’ve always loved pinups and artistic nudies, and these cards take that to an oddball extreme not unlike tattoo art.

Natural Wonders coloring bookHruby Sunset page

Indie Rock coloring bookBon Iver page in Indie Rock coloring book

Coloring in my modern coloring books
{like the Indie Rock or Natural Wonders coloring book}

I’ve been turning to my crayons for comfort these days. When my mind gets jumbly and emotions run high sometimes the best remedy is some couch time with my padded plastic rainbow TV tray (from 30 yrs ago), a coloring book out of my collection, and a big honkin’ box of Crayolas (and a cocktail!)

 

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This morning felt magical

This morning I kept waking up before my alarm went off. Every time my eyes would slit open I noticed the dark light coming through the curtains. The rain pit-patted on the pomegranate trees we planted a few months ago, trickled along the edge of the house. I struggled to turn over, I just got some inner arm tattoo work done, and snuggled my face into Brett’s back, my ankle thrown over his.

rainy day

Rain like this is rare in July. I wanted to stay inside in the bed with my pitbull softly snoring against my side, her soft lip stuck up on the side of my calf. Instead, I spoke out loud and broke the morning silence. If I hadn’t, could we have stayed in bed all day with sweaty backs and rustling sheets? Could we have watched endless movies, had tea in bed, forgotten that it was a Monday?

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