Texting the doorbell ditching
Tuesday May 31st 2022, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life,Recipes

My friend whose husband just got his PhD and they’ve been getting ready to move away…after being so careful for so long, they and their boys came down with covid last week. Thankfully they had all been vaccinated so it wasn’t as serious as it could have been–but.

I offered to bring dinner.

They are well loved; I had to wait my turn.

Y’know, I love a good split pea soup. Celery, onions, green onions, red pepper, chicken broth, halved grapes, an intensely flavored Californian EV olive oil and ham. (Theirs is THE best olive oil out there. It is like the difference between a rock-hard tasteless grocery store peach and an Andy’s Orchard peach.)

It was the first time I’d tried cooking the split peas first in an Instant Pot. There’s no rhyme nor reason to the recipes out there; one said 15 minutes’ pressure, another, 30. Hmm. Risk grit or liquid? Thirty it is. (Two boxes of broth to a 14 oz bag of the peas.) Verdict: definitely the only way to go next time.

The vegetables sautéed while that was going on and then everything into the dutch oven on the stove for an hour or so because I just couldn’t get the IP to maintain the temp I wanted for simmering.

I hauled out the hazelnut chocolate torte recipe. I have two 24-mini-cupcake pans, mostly because I’d forgotten I’d already bought one. Good thing! That recipe was the perfect amount for filling both, and it is way easier to freeze some for future breakfasts in that form.

Aubrie had reminded me that Eric was allergic to dairy, and of course we know that one well. I melted cocoa butter for the butter. Turns out it’s a very stable fat with a shelf life of 3-5 years–I checked, because mine was about a year old. Not a problem. Worked great.

Two paper plates full of those, a bar of freshly made chocolate, a box of Andy’s slab dried Blenheim apricots that they love, some cherries from the Stella–hey! Getouttamytree! I chased away the two squirrels and picked some before they could.

And some fresh juice. Because when you’re sick you have to have juice. It’s the rule.

Chocolate tea for it
Monday May 30th 2022, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Food,Wildlife

We just finished the tempering attempt and the pouring into molds and all.the.cleanup., and the Fiji Rakiraki is waiting to be pounced on in the morning. Making chocolate is the perfect two-person hobby for empty nesters.

A little hot water got the last of it off the melanger pieces but you don’t want that quickly-solid a fat going down your drain ever, so most of it came off by way of vigorous paper towel rubbing first while the thing was still warm and the chocolate smears weren’t set yet. But that last little bit. You just have to.

There’s the drought. Waste no water. Hmm. There’s that dog next door who got onto our side once, so only pour it where it can’t get into.

The azaleas.

I opened the front door and took a step–

–and as I tossed that faintly chocolate water in the bush, something out there rustled and made its opinion known with a snarly hissy sound. Loud enough for *me* to hear, such that my first thought was a startled!ohwaittheoakisgonethere’snomountainlionaboveme. Skunks don’t snarl, do they? (Has it really been three years? We’ll be teasing each other over that one forever.)

But they definitely do come right up to the doorstep, so, hey. Enjoy your chocolate out there. And get the heck away from my miniature apple tree.

The birds and the beans
Sunday May 29th 2022, 9:52 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

(Roasts the cacao nibs, sets to cool, throws in Cuisinart for the first stage. Chocolate with banding time is an old peregrine group tradition, I just add my own spin to it.)

There were two successful San Jose City Hall hatchlings this year, one male, one female on that HVAC ledge on the 18th floor. I almost miss my days being on the cam-op crew.

They got banded a few days ago. Video highlights here. (That’s an update; the original link broke and they fixed it.) Thankfully it doesn’t show the moments right when the biologists stepped off a perfectly solid roof, because rope or no rope, looking straight down from that high up is just not in my comfort zone.

The babies were adorable as they tried to let them know, We are fierce!–well, maybe not, as they got flipped over–You just watch out! Our momma and dad are mad at you!

(Checking the time here, it’s one hour into the conching, time to add the superfine sugar to the churning cocoa mass, runs to the kitchen and gets that taken care of.)

Begin: the rest is easy
Saturday May 28th 2022, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Knit

What was really stopping me. That was the question. Sure, it’s the diving in when I know I’ll be stuck with what I’ve done once I do it and I do not have the artistic ability to fully envision what I want before I draw it with yarn. I just don’t. I am good at critiquing how it should have been after the fact.

But I had at least sketched a preliminary overall view of the start of it yesterday, which is essential, and I really wanted to get to it (and to stop boring you all about how I haven’t.)

I debated making a trek to the yarn store that has the best Malabrigo Rios stock (oh cool she’s got a new website!) and I just wanted to say hi to Kathryn anyway. It’s been awhile and I miss her.

But after I went through my second storage bag of the stuff, all I really needed was a bright blue/green skein, and not for days’ worth of knitting yet.

The truth hit me. It was the winding. I wanted to go to Kathryn’s Cottage Yarns because she and her husband do that for you and that’s why buying new was so tempting. I could not start my first color-pattern row without attaching lots of new strands on the needle and they were still stubbornly sitting there in hanks because I’d done the previous two afghans from cones and hadn’t had to bother with that and definitely didn’t want to.

Which is a really dumb reason for not beginning colorwork you really want to knit.

Edging, ocean floor, rocks, fish (and there’s a Purple Mystery, too.)  They’re not hanks anymore.


Aspiring to justice
Friday May 27th 2022, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Life

I decided to watch a few minutes of the Depp/Heard trial yesterday and the closing arguments today by Camille Vasquez. I was agnostic on who was at fault, going in, and I wasn’t about to spend days mesmerized by the court proceedings but I do have a relative who went through a hellacious divorce from someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, as Heard has been diagnosed with, and I guess I wanted to be able to understand better what he’d been put through.

As his lawyer put it to the judge, Visualize the genders reversed: we wouldn’t be here, because he’d be in jail.

I wondered if Vasquez would eventually say something like that. She left it at “…reversed?” and let the jury fill the rest in in their minds. She didn’t have to say more, it was all right there.

I was blown away at how good a lawyer she was: she anticipated what Heard was going to say, she remembered exactly when Heard had completely contradicted that under oath, she had the photos and the recordings in the evidence right there at her fingertips point by point. She remembered who had testified when and what they had said. She did not allow Heard to talk over her.

At the last she said to the jury that the question before them was, were they going to believe Ms. Heard and her sister?


The names went on and on and on and on of people who had testified in the case supporting Johnny Depp’s version. She noted their professions: doctor. Nurse. Both his and hers. Police officer. Friends, fellow actors, the TMZ reporter Heard had strung along. People who had been there when Heard had said things had happened and they said no they didn’t–or that Heard had done it to Depp, not the other way around.

She explained Borderline Personality Disorder and how the defining characteristic is an intense fear of abandonment. Every time Depp removed himself from the room because of her behavior, she became much worse while demanding he stay right there with her. Taunting him that nobody would believe him that she’d hit him because he was a man. Vasquez played the recording again.

“I Hate You Don’t Leave Me” is a book that explains how such mentally ill people think. I read it years ago when that other case closer to home was going on. It’s not my story to tell, but I will say Heard played that part well both in court and in those recordings from when she and Depp were in private.

I’m so glad he got out, too.

Chocolate again
Friday May 27th 2022, 7:13 am
Filed under: Food,History

The Chocolate Alchemist answered someone’s questions in his latest newsletter, and I learned something new.

A cocoa bean guillotine and why it is and totally isn’t useful. Okay, then.

And hey, Afton, he wrote, “From today through the end of the month, there is a 15% sale off all edibles.  Cocoa beans, nibs, cocoa butter, kits, etc.  Nothing fancy.  Just use 15%off” while saying he doesn’t have sales, he just–and then our favorite chocolate curmudgeon alluded to Uvalde by ending his note with

“Be safe and kind out there everyone.”

He didn’t add, Now go make some chocolate. Go share some chocolate. Go make someone’s day.

But I know someone who’s having a hard time that y’know, that’s exactly what I should go do for her. Since the start of the process takes several hours it’s too late for tonight, but. We haven’t used the *melanger since January. It’s way overdue.

*Wow, that price really jumped. That machine is retrofitted from one designed to grind lentils for Indian cooking and some of the plastic parts are showing their age three and a half years later. If I were starting over, I’d be buying the Spectra machine from John, which was designed specifically for chocolate making.

Although, it was definitely fun getting the Premier and Dandelion Chocolate’s how-to book for $20 plus every last saved-up Amazon point.

Wallace Stegner
Wednesday May 25th 2022, 10:25 pm
Filed under: History

Okay, as long as I’m in a funk over the Uvalde school massacre I’m going to post this link so I’ll be able to find it later.

I know Wallace Stegner was supposed to be a great writer. I know he taught at Stanford, where his name is honored. I’ve read a couple of his books.

And always thought it was somehow my fault that, y’know? I just don’t like this guy very much. I couldn’t make myself read a third one I’d heard a lot about. He sure didn’t seem to be great towards the women in his stories, and they say his books have a lot of autobiography written into them.

But what we didn’t know was–his most famous one, the one I never got around to reading, had a lot of someone else’s autobiography written into it: plagiarized word for word at times, right down to the title, “Angle of Repose,” and letters his character wrote, Stegner did not. Not only that, he twisted the real woman’s good life into something dark and terrible and unrecognizable.

Her family knew who’d borrowed her manuscripts. They knew who’d defamed their grandmother.

He was always afraid someone would find out what he’d stolen–not just the words but the life.

How could Mary Hallock Foote’s grandkids set the record straight?

Someone intended to put on a play based on his novel in the town that, in real life, was where she had lived and–turns out–her descendants still do.

He finally got caught out. Not in his lifetime, but the real writer could finally get the recognition that had been so long denied and the record could be set straight.

A new play was written instead. Based on what Stegner did. He’d earned it.

A modest proposal
Tuesday May 24th 2022, 9:21 pm
Filed under: History

Years ago, when our kids were young, we attended a talk by a neuropsychologist whose career was in brain rehab; his five kids were early elementary to late high school age, roughly ten years older than ours.

He described the growth of the myelin sheath around the nerves in the brain, and how that sheath played an essential part in its maturation process: it was the means by which kids became able, as they reached adulthood, to be able to intuit that if they do A towards B then C will happen as a result further out.

Lacking that, kids live in the moment and react to what’s around them.

He added, half-joking but also dead serious, and this is the direct quote we both remember, “So if your kids act brain damaged it’s because they are.”

One of us asked, So at what age…?

He answered, For girls, generally around 18, for boys, more often 21, some even 22 before they’re fully myelinated.

“Not fully myelinated” became our behind-the-scenes parental phrase to each other out of our kids’ earshot when we wanted to roll our eyes at some dumb thing or other.

All of this came rushing back as the news of Sandyhook 2.0 washed in today. Our hearts are crushed for the good people of Uvalde, Texas.

The shooter had waited for his 18th birthday to be able to buy his weaponry and then got right to it that day, according to one early report.

He was too young physically to have been able to grasp intuitively the enormity of what he was about to do. He certainly knew it was wrong and there’s absolutely no excusing his murderous rampage in any way whatsoever.

But maybe we can learn something from this: what if. Just what if we raise the age in every state whereby a kid can legally have  access to or ownership of a gun to when they’re able to begin to intuit what would happen if they succumb to the temptations of the illusions of power it conveys? To really get it? Case in point: in his diary, one of the Columbine high school shooters thought he was going to go to the prom after all this was over.

What if the kids had to be old enough to have a chance at being fully myelinated first?

So that other kids could grow up to be so, too.

Edited to add: turns out Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who by quite a few reports has serious dementia issues for which many of us think she should step down and let Gavin Newsome appoint her replacement (Adam Schiff! Katie Porter!) actually has it together on this issue: she has an Age 21 bill that would require states to raise their minimum age for gun buying to 21 if they haven’t already. Good for her!

Embroidered Shirt Day
Monday May 23rd 2022, 8:06 pm
Filed under: History,Life

I don’t usually lift other people’s pictures but I wanted to show you this one before it’s sold to show you what I’m talking about.

In the middle of the war, the Washington Post interviewed people and had an article, bless them, on the traditional embroidery and clothing of Ukraine and the women who create it. Vyshyvanka is the word but they said it carries memories of the Soviets’ efforts to erase the village-by-village patterns in order to basically de-Ukraine the country.

So President Zelenskyy simply called the traditional day of celebrating that part of their heritage National Embroidered Shirt day. Simple, to the point, and good marketing for his people.

One mention jumped out at me:

“The designs are often intricate and brightly colored. They represent scenes from Ukraine’s varied geography, which spans forests and steppe, prairies and river canyons.

Many of the keepers of Ukraine’s traditional clothing methods are older women, who receive little support for or income from their embroidering.”

The reporter talked to people who’d spent their time in the bunkers with floss and needle trying to declare beauty in the face of devastation.

In the comments, readers were mentioning their favorite Ukrainian shops on Etsy and assuring each other that yes they do ship, yes they can still get items out.

I wonder just how many people immediately went to Etsy. I know I did.

Some things immediately leaped into my cart Saturday, but I decided to let them sit there till Monday so I could step back from the impulse buying–although I did order a happily bright red jacquard toddler skirt for my younger granddaughter. At two, you can do that for them, and she has a birthday coming up this summer (and Etsy warns that shipping from Ukraine will likely not be speedy at all), while at seven, her cousin’s age, I’d have to check in with the kiddo or her mom first to get a feel for preferences before doing the grandma thing.

Some things learned: linen is the most traditional and common, cotton’s a close runner up–but if it says chiffon, it’s polyester, although the reviewers I saw liked the quality of it. Most work is machine embroidered, and when I was into embroidery as a kid I thought that was a total cheat.

Now, hey, anything that helps them out: you can make and sell a whole lot more in the same amount of time. One vendor proudly shows a video of a multi-needle industrial machine embroidering the design she’d created. Cool.

Not everything is traditional. This sure isn’t but it is stunning, and though I wouldn’t look great in it (nor is it in my budget) I sent the link to one of my daughters, who most definitely would.

This seller’s work is gorgeous. Lots of hand embroidery and traditional blouses there. Here, too.

You can even buy embroidered cotton t-shirts. I’d show you the more formal looking one from another shop but, um, oops, probably they’ll make more before mine gets here.

I really like this blue one. Maybe they’ll have one next month. Because this heavy cotton jacquard skirt (with pockets!) was the splurge I decided on, along with one of those hand-embroidered blouses to go with. (Not that one, but close; I picked one with a tighter neckline for lupus’s sake.)

A 17″ tie would be laughably short on my husband–but if you know someone who likes the one whose picture I swiped, here it is. That handwork definitely deserves a link.

There was another shop that I’d picked a few things out of to debate over today before buying what I ended up with. But between Saturday and today that vendor in Ukraine, with beautiful work and lots of glowing feedback and a number of items for sale–


Um, maybe they simply sold everything? I can wish. Things are being snapped up quickly, though.

But that is another reason why I went ahead and bought what I did: because I could. Because they’re there, now, doing their best while I’m here where it’s safe. I want them to know they have the whole world supporting their every single day in what they create to bless this world of ours.

And because they just plain make beautiful things.

Because of course it is
Sunday May 22nd 2022, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Knit

The first few miles of seed stitch. The partial frame to the future picture of a bed of coral and wooly fish and the waves above.

Reefer madness.


Saturday May 21st 2022, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Seed stitch, 251 per row for the border, and it is slow going but it’s going.

Meantime, part of me has been thinking I really should reapply the grape Koolaid to protect my cherries.

And yet. Let the baby mockingbirds finish learning how to fly.

This morning I saw one that was regressed two days from what I’d seen before: when the parent flew off it hunched down to try to pull off this wing/leg/leap thing; after all, it had managed to land on the fence, but again and again an almost, then a nothing doing. Hunch/unhunch hunch/unhunch. I stopped counting after ten of those. The six inch jump where the top of the fence banistered upwards was way more than it could see over or dare try to get up to.

Then a parent flew in to feed it, and as soon as it flew off the other came right in and did, too, none of this you’re a big kid now–they babied this one. And it seemed to have more down left.

Not the same fledgling. I was sure of it.

The question was settled for good this afternoon when I saw all four of them: the parents feeding the baby on the upper fence and the one I’d become familiar with standing in its usual spot on the slightly lower portion, watching and clearly hoping to get in on this, and a parent did fly over from the one chick to the other.

And then dove into my cherries. Even if they eat mostly insects in the spring while new bodies are developing and fruit in the fall, hey, a little fast food for the kids, right?

I got a couple of clusters into one of those Costco egg carton-ish mango containers for now because I want to get at least some of them turning darkest red for us. When I no longer have babies begging I’ll work harder at discouraging the birds–besides, those parents are doing a great job keeping the squirrels at bay and squirrels don’t eat a meal, they strip a tree. So incentive to keep the mockers hanging around is not a bad thing.

Bugs on the fruit are the best bird baby formula, though. Help yourself.

And a little chick shall lead
Friday May 20th 2022, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Knit,Wildlife

Same spot on the fence. It likes it there. The shrug–its shoulders went no higher–as it looked up at where it wanted to follow its parent to while doubting itself again and again. He tried wagging his tail like his parents, nowhere near as much but still a new thing from yesterday.

C’mon, you can do it. I’ve seen you do it. You know you can. C’mon!

Shrug. No.

Shrug. (Looking up wistfully.) No.

The wind was blowing; not hard, but how do you trust it won’t gust. It was a whole new set of variables and the fledgling had no idea what to do with it and was clearly reluctant to test how this whole flight thing goes when the air fights back.

Suddenly, with the outburst of hungry two year olds everywhere: ME DOOZ IT! It raised its wings to the height they were meant to reach to and took off into that not-holding-still sky. Totally overshot the first limb on the tree, stumbled, but grabbed the next and held on for dear life. Phew!

See? You *can* do it.

It suddenly dawned on me: I’d been procrastinating and procrastinating and procrastinating getting going on my latest project because I couldn’t decide whether to make the coral a three-dimensional effect with waves and wisps of it growing out of the fabric or just go for a flat pictorial version so I don’t have to try to make the fish somehow 3-D too and whatever all else ends up coming in after that, and picturing small grandkids pulling at protruding bits didn’t help–but when you come right down to it, part of me had just never believed I could pull the whole thing off anyway. If I knit it one way I’d probably wish I’d done it the other, and you can always see after the fact how you could have done it better when you’re making it up on the fly. I love my ocean afghan created by googling “pretty ocean fish” but I can sure show you where the mistakes are.

I was being a baby bird. Stop it. Now just go knit.

Room service
Thursday May 19th 2022, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

That one looked a little different and caught my eye so I stopped what I was doing to watch a moment.

Nope, it wasn’t injured–it was just being a toddler. I don’t think it had ever walked on a flat surface before.

Mockingbirds do this thing where they bend down in front a bit and lift their wings up high and then out wide behind in a two-step dance, very formal and ritualistic, and the thinking is that they do it to flush bugs out so they can quickly skewer them.

Or they’re trying to mimic a DeLorean, but never mind.

So this little one had made it up to the fence–meaning it had flown up, not just fluttered down, this is good–and it was waiting for its parents to bring it breakfast.

One flew in, checked that it was okay as the baby started begging, or maybe just told it, hi, I know, I’m working on it, no I don’t have any yet, and flew off.


So it started trying to hunt like its parents up there on that bugless fence but it looked more like uncertain jumping jacks while trying not to fall over on its face. Raise those wings more, kiddo, don’t fluff up your chest. Lift. Out. Lift. Out. Like that. Only bend this much.

It didn’t trip over its own feet walking in the direction Momma had taken off in but it looked like it came close a few times.

Suddenly she appeared again diving into the mango tree, grabbed an ant or maybe a nice big earwig (I saw them on top of the frost covers when I had to use them last week) and brought the kid a bite after all. Yay! She waited while he ate it, then flew to the neighbor’s tree across their fence.

A few more wobbly steps and wing gestures that really didn’t do it and then suddenly–our little one did it! It flew! It overshot and had to grab at the last just before it fell off the fence, but it made it there below her tree.

Just then Poppa showed up with an impressive whole beakful of bugs for the kid and stood there a moment as if stumped: Right here! The kid was just right here, I know it! Where did he go!

Eh. He looked around, gave up, and ate most of it himself.

This afternoon the sun was shining brightly off the new feathers of–that had to be our kid again. In the exact same spot between the mandarin and the mango. Waiting to be fed again, calling for food, finding and eating the one Dad had dropped.

I checked my Sibley’s: yup, the young ones have light brown speckles on their upper chests. So that explains that.

I wanted to see if a parent would come this time, too.  I know they do keep a close eye on their fledglings.

A minute or two and then our baby flew to exactly the spot its momma had this morning in that tree. Still overshot the landing a bit but the flying was definitely steadier and definitely better at going upwards. The parents flitted back and forth, all was well, and I returned to what I was doing.

My first few mango bud clusters this year and even the new stems supporting them were chomped to a total loss.

And then our mockingbirds noticed the buffet. The flowers that came later have been gorgeously bug-free.

I hope the mockingbirds nest here next year, too.

Be fruitful
Wednesday May 18th 2022, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Garden

My Parfianka pomegranate, planted January 2016. The leaves aren’t east coast green but the gaudy reddish orange is fun. (My camera obscures the blossoms a fair bit, sorry.)

The leaves on my fig tree are noticeably smaller than normal, and I counted a dozen little nubs of future figs tonight whereas by now there should be a lot more.

The flowers on my apples, sweet cherry, plum, and peaches were small and surprisingly sparse, but the sour cherry carried on like normal.

The New York Times marveled recently that after all this practice at conserving water, all those warnings that there is no leeway in those reservoirs, Californians used more this past January than the year before, not less.

And my reaction was, DUH. Given climate change, we were trying to keep our much-needed trees alive while there was zero rain in most of the rainy season; we were hoping that past patterns for a last-minute March storm surge would hold. They didn’t. I only watered mine once a month during the winter, three hose minutes equaling 27 gallons per tree, and they’re letting me know it wasn’t enough. Normally I don’t have to at all.

Even this close to the Bay the leaves on my tall trees are going, Where’s my groundwater?

If you live where water is not a problem and you have the sun and any kind of space to garden, this might be a good year to plant one.

There’s a patch of public land by a ramp to an overpass leading over the commuter train tracks not far from here that would be great for guerrilla gardening, if rain could somehow be a sure thing again. Someone once planted daffodils in part of it, which was so charming, but they’re gone now. Someday I want to sneak a pomegranate in the biggest area because they bloom so much for so long for so many to drive past, and then they top it off with fruit that only the most determined critters bother. Or a lemon tree–no raids by mammals or birds on those. Or something, the good rain willing. Something that doesn’t need much babysitting.

Not this year. But I’m not giving up hope. I’ll leave the nursery tag on a limb so the city will see what it is, chuckle, go okay, and leave it there.

The cure
Tuesday May 17th 2022, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Woke up running a slight fever but got up and stayed up and didn’t mention it because it was just a slow-start morning, right? Plus I didn’t want to interrupt his meeting. So he didn’t know.

Finally, no, enough already, and at about 2:00 I went to go lie down, telling Richard, Wake me up in half an hour. Um, maybe forty.

So he tried, but nothing doing. I was not getting up yet.

At the hour, he came in and, knowing I don’t like insomnia at night after too long a daytime rest–

Okay, here’s where I explain about being toddlers and preschoolers in church together sixty years ago. Little kids need movement and song and dance is their thing.

So here’s my 6’8″ husband holding his arms over his head for a sun or a tree, take your pick, singing, Innn the leafy treeTOPS* the birds say good morning. They’re first to see the sun! They must tell everyone! Innn the leafy treeTOPS, the birds sing good morning! as he leaned to the right and stood on that foot, then clapped the other against it then leaned to the left and clapped the right foot against it in rhythm the best he could, swaying back and forth with his sun held proudly high.

You goof!

I hadn’t thought of that song and especially those movements in just forever. I was laughing as I put my hearing aids in.

And then he had to sing it again so I could hear it this time.


*(That’s the highest note so you have to sing it the loudest. It’s the rule.)