Out of the mouths of babes
Sunday January 10th 2021, 11:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

We might not be able to fly there right now, but today we got to see Lillian in that very brief stage of toddlerhood where she gets what this talking thing is, she wants to, badly, and she’s putting her all into it.

If you ask her a question and the answer is yes she nods her head so hard her nose points to the ceiling, then the floor, in slow motion as she watches you to make sure she got that right and that she has your full attention, and then she does it again.

We nodded our heads.

She nodded hers, so happy.

She picked up a book. We said, “Book!” Her eyes got big: we knew about those, too? She wanted us to read it but didn’t get that we couldn’t through the screen while she wandered, but she liked that word and she tried it again and again, pursing her lips as far out as they could go to make the sound and really leaning forward along with them but didn’t lose her balance. OOoo. (There may have been a b and a k in there too but I didn’t hear them.)

When her brother cried briefly she ran over to him, wanting to make it all better–and it helped. He wasn’t feeling well, but a hug from his mommy helped, too.

I was trying to come up with good questions to ask a three year old going on four come April to help out, too, and came up with, “What’s your favorite color?”

He told us green: because when it’s green again outside it makes everybody happy.

It just staggered me. How did he already know this?

(Update1/11: Turns out he’d heard his daddy talking about back in Alaska, where Mathias was born. A color that makes people happy? What better could you ask for?)

The celebrations rolled over
Wednesday December 30th 2020, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

Last Saturday I was actually starting to feel like baking something festive, y’know, try out that new yarn ball cake pan at last (I’d been avoiding the calories), or make some caramel sauce like my mom always made this time of year and all the possibilities of what I might do with it. Mom always poured it on homemade figgy pudding, but what if I lined my new silicone mini-cupcake molds with chocolate (so they could pop right out after cooling), poured in some cooled sauce, added ganache and chilled it with a raspberry on top…

The oven mitt stockings that a friend laughed and called “The most 2020 thing yet!” came down from the mantle.

The doorbell rang. It was a Christmas present order both for me and for the sake of the local bakery that my kids remember fondly and want to have still be in business when they come back into town.

The youngest on the phone later: Was it from…? Me: Yes. Him: Oh good!

I do believe that was the owner of the bakery himself, masked and handing it to me from arm’s length. He retreated down the walkway and turned: clearly he was hoping to see the look on my face when I opened the box and saw what they’d created. He definitely got what he’d hoped for–my jaw dropped. I looked back up his way and went, Wow!! THANK you!!

He drove off with the biggest smile on his face.

When there are that many calories hanging over you you don’t go making competing ones.

The photo doesn’t quite get the height and depth of the thing. The box stretched across the fridge. It was huge–and very good.

My sweetie enjoyed it for breakfast these past five days; I’m not a big breakfast person and couldn’t bring myself to touch all that sweetness before eleven a.m. but I sure did then. We had it for dessert a few nights. Snacking happened.

Finally, somewhat reluctantly, we watched the last morsels disappear after lunch today. It was time.

I found this recipe tonight and thought, someone was thinking like I was thinking. Maybe I should stuff those chocolate shells-to-be with whipped ricotta instead? Y’know, fewer calories?

Nah. I still want some of Mom’s caramel sauce.

Someone Merry Christmased the whole city
Saturday December 26th 2020, 9:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,History,Life

You know those monoliths that have been popping up, starting with the metal one in the Utah desert?

Someone set one up on top of, where else could be better, Corona Heights hill in San Francisco. Made of gingerbread. (BBC link.) Frosted around the edges and gum drops for nails.

At sixteen months
Saturday December 26th 2020, 12:09 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

There’s got to be a word for the type of wide shipping box that opens like a lid and closes with flaps at the end tucking inside their slots.

Turns out that if you’re little enough, and the present is still inside the box after the lid has been opened all the way and it’s heavy enough to counterbalance you, you have an impromptu slide just your size and then you do it again because that was fun and the people on the screen are clapping and cheering you on and this box is the best present ever!

The phone is being its usual slow self re photos but meantime here’s last night’s glamour shot of our Christmas stockings before the Chocolate Cherry Fantasies and Sugar Plums from Andy’s got tucked in there.


Give them a hand
Thursday December 24th 2020, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life

With the neighbor’s trees overhanging our house gone now, the holly has berries for the first time in so many years that I’d forgotten it could.

The Christmas tree isn’t up: a few years ago we bought the widest-but-one, fullest, heaviest tree at Balsam Hill for its lack of allergens but this was just not the year for struggling with it.

Which means I didn’t go sorting through the ornament boxes in the garage to find the one with the stockings in it. I asked him his feelings on the subject and he said, apologetically, Well actually bah humbug?

Oh good. Neither one of us had to feel guilty about it, then. (The lights but one have burned out in the garage so it would be one hand on a flashlight and one hand moving and opening boxes.)

We did have a great time of a Christmas Eve, though, wishing Maddy a happy sixth birthday, talking to Mom, and later Zooming with her and my aunt and a whole bunch of cousins–one of whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding in the early 80’s. Aunt Joyce has always thrown a Christmas Eve party for whoever in the family could come and now we all could from wherever we were.

Emily played The Holly and the Ivy on the piano and it was all I could do not to burst into unexpected tears: with her fingertips gone, there were missed notes–but there was so much feeling, so much living, so much rejoicing in those notes, so much forever the musician no matter what and it was a privilege to be able to witness.

Writing that just now led me to Alison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma’s beautiful Wexford Carol rendition–I have that album. But my CD player did the 2020 thing and repairs have to wait till after the pandemic and yes of course computers and all that but I’ve simply gotten out of the habit.

It hit me that I have needed more music. It has been missing, and a bit of me with it.

As for the stockings: I had to have something, because I’d bought some great treats at Andy’s Orchard to put in them and whatever with the garage, they refused to be denied.

I was standing in the kitchen…

When in Romaine do as the Romaineians.

It’s awfully handy of oven mitts to come with a loop for hanging them. A few long paper/wire twisties that the vegetable crisper doesn’t need anymore, the long thick wire under the mantle we always hang the stockings from waiting for the new set-up, and there you go. No Santa that doesn’t mean your cookies are in the oven and you have to take them out yourself but thank you for offering to help.

I was leaning over the chair taking a picture of the mitts and smashed the back of the rocker into the underside of my nose because 2020 is into slapstick comedy like that.

Next year will be all about the grandkids. As it should be. I can’t wait.

A concrete example of a good Christmas card
Monday December 21st 2020, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Family

The other thing that happened yesterday.

With socially-distanced love from our niece, who texted us afterwards to tell us what she’d done to make sure we would see it before the next rain. Surprise!

Happy Birthsday!
Sunday December 20th 2020, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life

Today my mom is 90 and our oldest grandson is 10.

Parker got a promise of one toy on the way that had gone late in the package crush out there, and one copy of Sibley’s new What It’s Like To Be A Bird. He plunked down with it and was reading it and showing us things from it by Zoom.

I asked him about loons, just so his daddy could tease me later, and he eagerly looked them up and showed me the large, detailed picture.

There was some surprise in my voice as I said, “That’s beautiful!”

For Mom, all her generations were invited to a family reunion by Zoom where we talked about our favorite memories of her.

I talked about studying her hands as a kid, fervently wishing mine could do what hers did as she knit an aran sweater for my older sister. Of her teaching me how to knit at ten on a car trip around the country and all my dropped stitches going back and forth between me in the far back of the station wagon and her in the front seat for help, and then at 16 when I picked something out of her knitting magazine and asked her to make it for me, she told me, “It’s not your turn. Go make it yourself!”

I was a teenager. I was not about to admit I didn’t remember how.

I did admit I couldn’t remember how to cast on, because there was no getting past that deficit, but after that I went in my room and tried to remember how her hands did it–surely I should know! I used to do this!–and fiddled around till I got it.

Having no idea I’d invented my own way that was completely different from hers–but that would serve my hands much better later in life in terms of arthritis and repetitive motions: I grab and drop the yarn with my right hand every single stitch. Open and close thumb and forefinger lightly, no wrist-twisting and less motioning.

If you’ve ever watched Stephanie Pearl-McPhee knit you know that any claim of my way being just as fast as anybody else’s is absolutely laughable–but against most knitters, I do a definitely respectable pace. But whatever, it’s what works for me to be able to keep going so I’m glad I didn’t ask for help way back when. I could never have known that then.

Mom never gave the slightest hint that I was doing it wrong or even that I was doing it differently because clearly it worked just fine.

Mom didn’t just teach me to knit.

She taught me to see a ball of plain string as all the things it could become–and then to narrow the choices to one, to put in the time and work to make that vision into a real thing and then to use the outcome to bless others.

She taught me that creativity requires perseverance to live up to its potential. That it both teaches and demands ever more learning. That it is worth ripping back to get it right and even that how easy that is depends on what you’re working with.

I’m thinking of her description of buying two sweaters’ worth of pure plucked angora yarn in postwar France, having no idea what that would have cost her back in the States, starting to knit my sister a sweater in the round, finding the yarn felting just from running through her hands and rustling around in her knitting bag–and then finding out she was knitting an inadvertent mobius strip. The world’s softest most incorrigible mobius strip. But she did it, she frogged it. It took her awhile. You see the little moth-eaten yellow ball at the top of this blog and the three scarves I knit out of its leftovers after boiling them in dye to kill the little monsters? That was the last of that angora, decades later. Turns out one of my sisters was allergic to her sweater.

I remember the January in high school when the school district decided to save money by turning off the heat. I had glommed onto Marian’s regretfully handed down (she loved it, she just couldn’t wear it) green angora sweater and walking around in a cloud puff of fur, marveling at how warm it was while everyone around me shivered.

Mom stormed the gates at district headquarters by phone and demanded they turn the heat back on in those schools–and they did!

To this day when joining stitches in the round, be it hat or sweater, I think, no rabbit-hair mobius strips, okay?

Mom looked around at all those gathered around their screens, her children (except one who was out of cellphone range), most of her grandchildren, some great grandchildren–Mathias waved hi uncertainly at all the strange faces and Lillian with cheerful certainty and charmed the socks off everyone for their few moments onscreen–and Mom marveled at how nice we all are. To her, to each other, to everyone. Nice, nice people.

Of course, Mom. You knit our lives together with love. You never said an unkind word about anyone. We’re still all hoping to be like you when we grow up. Happy Birthday!

And Happy Birthday, Parker! You can play some loony tunes on the piano next time we get to get together.

Well what would you call them?
Saturday December 19th 2020, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

People who live in glass houses (floor to ceiling along one and a half walls of this room, but at least it’s double-paned)…

Him in his standard daily year-round boring blue oxford shirt this morning (white on Sundays), surprised: You’re wearing two sweaters!

Me, surprised back, guffawing: I always do. I’ve been wearing two sweaters every day for what, six weeks now? It’s cold.

We’ve both been here all day every day thank you pandemic and it wasn’t like I was sneaking them past him. Men are so funny. I’ve been randomly chuckling all day. I think this particular combination is going to go down as Two Sweaters, linked forevermore.

Clafoutis for all that ails you
Friday December 18th 2020, 12:14 am
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Family,Food,Friends,Recipes

At 9:55 this morning there was one customer being helped and three clerks, the easiest December post office run ever. I told Anne her apricots were on their way and she told me those are the best she’s ever had, she can’t wait. She made my day.

That was just the start.

This afternoon I got a text from a friend: he’d heard Richard was sick; how was he doing?

Definitely getting better, thanks.

Next thing you know there was a second text saying he’d dropped off a little something for us.

I opened the door. He was already gone–which makes sense, because, exposure. There was a bag with eggs, veggies, grits, butter, juice, milk, just because he could. Wow! I was gobsmacked, and so was Richard.

His stomach’s still a bit tender, eggs are easy on it, we were running low, and now we aren’t.

A little history: years ago I got sent to Urgent Care with what was clearly the start of a Crohn’s flare. It’s not like I didn’t know what that was at that point.

To my great surprise the doctor who saw me was dismissive of anything I had to say about that; all he wanted to know was, had I eaten raspberries.

A day or two ago…

He insisted I had salmonella poisoning from Mexican raspberries (who says they weren’t US grown? There was no recall nor mention in the press in either case) and he sent me home without doing anything about the Crohn’s, which is indeed what it was. My GI doctor rolled his eyes with a bit of suppressed indignation at that when I ended up in his office, which made me want to say oh thank you thank you.

So. I found myself thinking, well, you know, though. My husband does not have Crohn’s and he did eat a lot of raspberries when I didn’t.

We had more of them. I wasn’t taking any chances–I baked them into a clafoutis, with some blueberries to get it up to four cups of fruit. Cook’em. They’re probably innocent but this way I wouldn’t have to worry about it.

The recipe calls for whole milk. I substituted the last of some cream 50/50 with the 1% that’s always around and was surprised at how much of a difference it made–it definitely improved it over my usual low-fat ones.

And it’s a good way to get fruit and protein down a whiny stomach.

Thanks to our friend, if Richard wants more, and he’s quite fond of it, I have whole milk in my fridge now and I can make it come out that way again tomorrow.

Clafoutis recipe: butter a 9″ deep-dish pan, not smaller, whip three eggs a goodly while, add 1/2 c sugar, beat, then 1 c whole milk, still beating, a small pinch salt, 1 tsp vanilla, a tbl melted butter, still beating, and then at the last beat in 1/2 c flour. Pour it in the pan quickly, put the fruit on top, bake about 40 minutes, 45-50 in my ceramic pan or till a knife in the center comes out clean. (Ed. to add: oven at 350.)

And then try to wait till it cools, but I won’t blame you if you don’t.

A fortunate mistake
Thursday December 17th 2020, 12:07 am
Filed under: Family,Food

We seem to have talked the hand splint people into restocking. Good, and thank you for the help. If my husband should ever happen to step on one and explode the beads everywhere I know where to go, and I’m glad others can get those, too.

Meantime, I walked into the main post office about 4:00, looked at the long line of people stretching across inside the building and starting to double back, masked, but, Nope! Nope nopeity nope, not today.

My family of origin does a round-robin at Christmas, one sibling each each year. There are six of us.

I can never remember whose turn is whose–except that Morgan, when offered, loved the idea of a peach tree for his new house last year and proudly told us this summer that he’d eaten his first three Kit Donnells from it already: they were small but great.

One of my older sisters had a huge pine fall in a big wind storm a few months ago. It missed the main part of the house but there was a crane involved in lifting it off the destroyed patio awning and they did some remodeling in the aftermath.

So there was this big bare newly sunny spot in her back yard.

I asked her what she thought and got a good bit of enthusiasm back and so a bare-root Baby Crawford peach tree will be coming her way, a variety that ripens a few weeks off from Morgan’s so they can extend each other’s seasons in the sharing–and I sent her a pound of Andy’s dried extra-ripe Blenheim apricot slabs to hold her till it comes in a few months.

That Baby Crawford variety exists thanks to Andy. My siblings have/will have the varieties I most love from his farm.

So. I was all done with the Christmas shipping and I recycled a bunch of boxes I’d been saving just in case anything else popped up.

My little sister happened to mention on my birthday Sunday just to make sure I knew it that it was my turn to give to her this year.

Wait–but I thought–

–she was right.

Thanks, no trees for her–what she *really* wanted was some of those apricots. She knew how good they were.

She clearly had been really looking forward to them.

I’m quite glad I got it wrong because trees need all the head start you can give them and I would have wanted to give that one anyway and Christmas gave me an excuse, so, no regrets–more like total glee that two of my siblings get to grow their own peaches now, three, because the oldest already has her own.

And that is how I ended up back at Andy’s today.

I picked up a bottle of poison oak honey there, too, because that deep caramel not too sweet flavor and how else would she ever find out it existed? Or trust that with a name like that it would be okay to even try?

I don’t know how often the Honey Ladies rescue bee hives from that particular plant or want to and that is the only variety of honey I’ve ever succumbed to utter squirrelhood over: there’s a half gallon bottle of it buried deep in the cabinet to make sure I never run out.

Which I keep sure of by occasionally buying another small jar to actually, y’know, eat. But this one’s going to Anne.

Tomorrow. Along with three pounds of apricots. Hopefully there’ll be a less busy hour to ship them out.

Sock it to him
Tuesday December 15th 2020, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

Maybe I should add to that last post that after 40 years of marriage we’ve learned we each know best what we want and so “go buy it and it’s from me” is the norm here re gift-giving. Yes it’s great fun finding that one most perfect thing–but there’s no reason to sweat over it.

He was working again today, sitting up. His feet were getting cold, so I’m going to give a shameless plug here for my friends Ron and Teresa’s bison silk socks, because they were that one most perfect thing I found a few years ago and after trying them out he asked for more. He had a pair blended with merino, no silk, but after that first softer upgraded pair that was all he ever wanted on his feet again. Socks for Christmas was a longtime in-joke between us–until those. It’s still an in-joke but with definite appreciation thrown in now.

You can throw them in the dryer as well as the washer, but I don’t, and they were hanging where I’d left them drying waiting for him to be up to needing them again. I ran and got him a pair.

It was nice to have something so easy to do to make him so much more comfortable in his day.

My 6’8″er is a big guy and he’s been walking around the house in those pairs of socks since our quarantine began in February and they show no signs of wearing out. I’d say that over time they’re proving less expensive than wool ones.

Monday December 14th 2020, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Did anybody watch that trailcam video of a possum shoving a skunk into a pond and running away that I linked to yesterday?

Although really, that was just for me. It was that kind of a day and I needed anything to make me laugh. My husband woke up so sick–I spent the day trying to get fluids down him and increasingly wondering whether I should be calling for help, having gone through dehydration a few years ago so bad I ended up at the ER myself.

You really don’t want to go there right now if you don’t have to.

The kids called and I told them how it was. My friends Phyl and Lee came by with a birthday cranberry coffee cake, not coming in, not coming close other than to hand it to me outside and we visited a moment. I confessed to feeling overwhelmed at that point.

A whole lot of prayers started going up besides my own.

At 9:30 pm to my astonishment he sat up and drank a bit of apple juice and even ate a little bit of soft food. He wanted custard? Absolutely, and I ran and made custard. He ate a little. Today he finished off the lot of it as he worked.

The doorbell rang in the afternoon with a birthday present. He helped me eat some of that, too.

Deep breath.

Oh wait. I forgot to tell him that Sak had a pandemic-induced $75 postpaid price on that gorgeous tooled leather zipped tote that is as close to replacing my beloved cabled-knit-stitch-embossed one that is just too far gone now as I am ever going to find and did he know he got me a really pretty purse for my birthday? A bit hippy-dippy but then so am I.

Let me run go tell him that. He’ll feel great knowing he got me something so cool.

(Runs and tells him.)

He grinned and joked and teased and laughed and man it’s good to see him feeling that much like himself again like that.

Christmas tree farm in flour
Wednesday December 09th 2020, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

My husband grew up making spritz cookies with his mom and siblings every Christmas: most often done with the Christmas tree mold, green food coloring in the dough for that certain parched-pine look and red hots for stars. Add sugar glitter.

It was a wonder to him that my family had done no such thing. I didn’t even know, when we got married, what a spritz cookie was. Oh, that’s the name for those. Oh okay.

Food coloring and kids was enough of a potential and a few times actual disaster (on the bathroom cabinet! On the outside wall! It’s paint on wood!) that–yeah, and so most of the time when he wanted his Christmas spritz he got them because he went out and bought that food coloring and he made them with the kids himself. Me, I’m more the chocolate chips in oatmeal or cranberry-pecan pie bar type. I did at least pitch in occasionally, but most years they did it all.

We went through at least three different spritz makers, including a battery powered one to shoot them out of at one point so they could mass-produce them faster to take to the neighbors, but getting them not to come out too thick was hard and the more easily controlled hand-press type was just the way you do it and the imposter was abandoned.

But the best part, always, always, was making paper plates of them and ringing the neighbors’ doorbells and seeing their faces light up that the kids had done that for them.

The next generation has now taken on the task and declared it good. You put the stars just so.


If you give a mouse a cookie in the kitchen…
Tuesday December 08th 2020, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Remodeling goof number one: twenty-seven years ago, the latest fad from Thermidor was to put a pop-up vent behind the cooktop. Someone we knew had that and she liked it. What sold us was the contractor saying that it would be far quieter than your standard hood because the motor for it would be on the roof and far away, and with my hearing, a lack of background noise is something to be highly sought after.

What he didn’t know is that the sound would reverberate all down that shaft, making it a lot louder than a standard one would have been. And when the part down at stove level refused to retract and close anymore it became a source of very cold air in the winter.

Goof number two: the architect’s specs called for a 30″ stove, but Richard wanted five burners. Okay, so, 36″. It wasn’t till the contractor installed the cabinets that he realized that he hadn’t changed them to match.

Meaning, our cabinets have overhung the stove from both sides all these years, which is great for the finish. Not.

And you can’t put in an overhead vent now because it would have to hang from below the cabinets and that would not leave room for the pots, much less stirring or seeing into them.

Unless you can put in a 30″ vent for a 36″ stove and I imagine the county would not be real happy with that idea.

So then the choices are to find another cooktop that shallow or look in the back of the yarn closet to see if we still have the leftover Corian piece (I’m not sure we do) and try to find someone to seam it when it’s 27 years old and make it still look good so we could have that 30″er. Or just replace the entire countertop, vent, cooktop, and did I mention the fridge is that old too and has been fixed several times and is leaking and just needs to go?

Nobody seems to make cooktops that shallow because they don’t make those vents anymore. With good reason: by pushing the stove forward the way it does, I have caught my sweaters on fire twice. You know how they say wool extinguishes flames? Let me tell you, it does. Angora got shaved close so it’s your friend too and that sweater looked like it had had a major procedure done at the vet’s but in both cases the fire went out before it got up to my chin and it didn’t take hold in the sweater, just blackened and shriveled the fuzzies on the surface.

Yeah. Fun times.

Apparently you can get a better, longer lasting finish on the wood of the cabinetry now than we were allowed then. With ours, you can see where the sun came through the skylight directly.

Lots of end-of-year sales, and a hubby going, One more month at least. We have to have the vaccine first before we let people work in here.

We really don’t want to re-remodel the kitchen. We just want a working stove.

Well at least I don’t have to stir on the stove right now
Monday December 07th 2020, 11:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

We’re going to have to replace our gas cooktop. Like, asap.

We remodeled our kitchen 27 years ago with high-end Thermidor appliances and they were a disaster: the low-cycling burners were designed so that they fused shut and never worked again if you were ever to turn them to high (as explained afterward by the repairman, who was sympathetic, with the warranty getting us nowhere with the dealer) and both ovens’ motherboards fried just outside of warranty, with a quote of $850 plus labor for each. Same quote as the stove. We replaced the double oven and kept the half-dead stove. The other half actually outlived the average stove by a dozen years.

Another repairman later noted that self-clean ovens tend to fry their motherboards and that one should not use that feature.

So. I’m suddenly trying to learn everything I can about 36″ cooktops.

A Thermidor will never come in our house again–he felt as strongly about that as I do.

My problem is, scrolling around, there was one and only one whose looks stopped me in my tracks–I LIKE that one. Bluestar? What’s a Bluestar?

So I went looking for the price, rolled my eyes, said well of course it is, but still: more expensive than Viking? Yow.

I would dearly love to hear anything anybody loves or hates about theirs, any size or brand. Consumer Reports in my experience has become less reliable than some of the appliances they describe, other than obliquely by letting people publish reviews on their site.

For reliability, I’d be going with Bosch, whose appliances I’ve actually been consistently happy with–except that they don’t make one. (EDIT: Lowe’s has one! And for $1200 less than the Bluestar!)