Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What We Did Yesterday Diary

Monday gave us the remnants of school, and Tuesday truly slowed. I find that the days start to run together, so with four kids and don't count anymore numbers of chickens, I'm doing my best to make each day meaningful and remember what we (I) did to keep sane.

Yesterday, I met my friend off campus to pick up seven splash marans eggs to start for our annual kindergarten hatch which will be held in my own dining room this year. I fetched MB's kindergarten packet along with a neighbor's daughter's at the preschool, and then went home. Because the kids can't come in, I created the day 1 video for them to see.
Right now marks the first time in four years that I've been a SAHM again--and for all of you moms who have been doing it a million other ways, I salute you. It's hard to mom no matter how you do it, but I have really been missing the home time that I probably misused over the years. Now, I see it as an opportunity to catch up, do different things, and get back to what my hero, Martha Stewart, calls homekeeping.

In the gardening department, I managed to rake out the front garden beds of winter leaves, divide out my lambs ears, spread pine straw, and also dig out enough stones on the property to make a winding border up around the roses I planted last spring. 

Took a break from the yard to do math with the Dawg, my independent fourth grader, who suddenly wants a presence sitting by him to do schoolwork. Then, Marsh and I logged onto Seesaw to watch his teacher read some of James and The Giant Peach, the "chapter book" that they've been reading in class. 

Later, I marinated chicken thighs for dinner, and broke up Peep, and some misguided eighth grade girlfriends, who apparently thought I would allow them to meet up at the movies, which is most probably already closed. This kicked off a phone call to the middle school principal, and a reminder for all on the parent org page that THIS IS NOT A SNOW DAY. 

There are things that I could do all day, but some of the time feels lost to thought or worry. I'm saying this because if anyone I know is reading this and maybe feeling the same way, you're not alone. Something that I think about a lot is how no matter what older birthday you have, you're still basically doing life for the "first time." None of us really know what we're doing, but we're improvising. 

As a Gen-X kid, I did read a thread that gave me a laugh. The gist of it was that we are the original latch-key kids--we've trained to be alone at home all of our lives. For me, that's definitely true. I've spent afternoons with two younger kids who got tired of their big sister bossing them around, done homework unsupervised, and fixed countless family dinners. (If you're reading this, MOM, this is not a dig on how we grew up. Parents did, and continue to do, what they had to do to keep the family afloat. Hardworking, middle class families continue to struggle.) 

I remember developing a big imaginary life while home alone. I watched cooking shows obsessively, and talked myself through the meals that I invented in the kitchen as if I were conducting my own show. There was the summer that I picked all the produce in the garden, packaged it up, and pulled it along in my red wagon to sell to our neighbors. By the time the internet came along, it was high excitement to realize that via compuserve, I could talk to other people my age in different places. Can you even remember a time that having a pen pal, and trusting who they were on the internet was ever a thing? Today, I'd rip the device out of my child's hand, delete the app or change the password and move on. How do I tell them that was how I met my best friend over 25 years ago?

Digressing, I grilled the chicken, served over a dressed slaw with sliced tomatoes, and poured a healthy slug of vodka on the rocks. Let's just call it "preparing for a life without mixers."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Yesterday was the first official day that I would consider us quarantined. Maybe that's because the kids are home. But, it's also the beginning of something--I'm not sure what. There's the part of me that's been scurrying around for three weeks anticipating the mass shut down of life as we know it in the united states. I've watched as-- friends? known associates? have begun spinning their careers into variants of plague savvy influencers, but I'm not sure what any of us really are besides trying. 

I've been met with faces over the past little bit as I've built a home stock of things we might need, and I'm sure much has been forgotten. I'm at a point where I realize I can eat almost anything in a pinch, but my worries are mostly confined to the children who are not intellectually ready to internalize the meaning of staying put or that food selection isn't geared to their whims. We've lived in such a way that not having some semblance of what you think you want within decent proximity sounds insane--and that's the privilege talking. 

After the family, you make sure that the animals are fed. Here that means about two hundred pounds of chicken feed is put by along with the various dog rations. The road to considering six people and over fifty animals for up to three weeks has been long and twisting. The adrenaline of wondering if I've purchased all the stuff, or most of it, or the right stuff is its own high. 

This is the weirdness of coping with covid-19--the slow build, the quiet in between, the wondering what to do for work, the stupid words, the absurdity of the markets. The emails that won't stop from every conceivable outlet that you've ever given your email address to. They all know what to do or are developing policy or different store hours or tasteless discounts. You and I will cultivate our own policies and views. 

This is the place I've come to remember what I do day by day because right now I'm already forgetting the before. Letting go of the three months of uncertainty and ache of betrayal I've felt at the hands of people I never thought would ghost or slap me until I winced. It doesn't matter. Stopping thoughts of how when the year turns it means something about the next period coming. Spoiler: it does not. But, the wisdom is learning that any time you feel yourself swinging impossibly high, the wind will start to blow you back. Sure--you'll swing back and forth really high a few times. Then you'll hear the creak of chain against the hooks of the bar as you slow. You remember that you were not flying. You were held by a quite visible thing. Your feet hit the ground. Dust kicks, and your knees shake with the vibration. The apparatus did not break, but your trust in the person who pushed you might have. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A year later.

The last thing I posted is not something I want to read right now. It's precisely one year later, and I'll be honest: I don't feel any less sad. The moment that Dawn passed from this life felt like a hiccup in the Universe for me. Losing her shouldn't be about me, but I've learned so much about myself through observing my own reactions to her absence. Here are some of my musings.

I had no idea how much I depended on Dawn to simply be somewhere in this world to talk to or check in with. As her husband noted in his most recent post, her smile, joy, sarcasm and generally disarming attitude told me I had nothing to fear. Like a naive child I never really believed she could part from my life. That was a profound gift. She made being sick seem so un-sick to me that I'm ashamed to admit that I confided to a friend that she couldn't possibly be *that* sick. I was that kid sister who needed more and gave less than I got. And, true to form, I found myself petulant in her absence.

This sulk, lack of tolerance or what have you manifested most often where I'd have found Dawn on a daily basis. I began to hate Twitter. I hated everyone who was not her. It was not a place I wanted to be without her. All the words, the new follow requests, the posts about her just overwhelmed me. So much of me wanted to be the person she was to me for our mutual friends. I haven't always been equal to this task.

What would I say to her right now? Never has there been an experience like this before in my life. That last time you were in the hospital I wanted to get in those doctors faces and give them hell because I thought I heard in your voice a little bit of resignation. That scared me. I wanted to scream at them that there had to be answers greater than what they had. I didn't want you in some stupid semi private room with an ineffectual staff giving unsatisfactory answers. The gravity of that stay...the results of that surgery were what jerked me out of denial. Everything else happened too fast. A little over a year ago you talked with me for the last time. You told me to tell you something good. Right after I told my husband, I told you I was having a baby. You said, "This is good. You have 'em for me because I can't." And then you slowly (too quickly) slipped away. One year ago today I sent you one last text message.

Okay, but what would I really want to say to her if she were right here with me? I'd tell her how amazing her boys are--how I saw so much of her twinkly eyes and exuberance in M. That there's an unassuming sweetness but a little spitfire in P.  But she knows that I'm sure. I'd just want to tell her that because I'm glad I got to physically see that all three of her men are in good shape--and that's really important to me. Just as I had unfailing confidence that Dawn would be there for me in a hot second, I know Mike knows that I'm always here for him. And that's the only way I'd have it. My vow to her is that I'll always be there. I'm like a self appointed bossy boots nervous nelly nosy parker who just won't go away. But, I have to repay the debt of gratitude I owe for the love and care she showed me when I never had much to offer but antics.

So, it's a year later. It feels just as fresh as it did then. I miss her all the time. That's the sum of it. Nothing to see people. Move along.

Monday, April 1, 2013

For my friend.

I have not written anything in a long time. This has been about time--commitments, school (mine and the kids'), the remodel, the side business, life, and disinterest. I've been disinterested and disenchanted in blogging since my eyes were opened to how absorbed I had become in a life inside a computer instead of a life in which one actually rolled up one's sleeves and got one's hands dirty.  I credit my husband for finally dropping the hammer on me and forcing me to put down my iphone.

I spent three years without an iphone and I think it helped me a lot.  Being less tethered was a great thing for me, but I will admit that I lost touch of some people who had been really important to me for a long time.  I will also admit that my new found freedom from writing and reading blogs all the live-long day made me somewhat smug and superior acting.  I was so enthralled with THE WORLD and FACE to FACE relationships that I just couldn't imagine what everyone else was still doing blogging, advertising their posts, schmoozing for re-tweets about their posts, etc... In fact, I still think it's pretty silly, but that's because I'm interested in you and your feelings in REAL TIME rather than in some pithy prose that you've written in order to describe your feelings.  Oh! The feelings!

What is my point? Well, it's that there are very few people who I can think of that have gone the distance with me. From 2006 when I was deep in the belly of the proverbial pain body through separation and eventual divorce, and in the in between times all the way to the present there are less than a handful of people who I can think of that had contact with me probably every day.  It could have been just a check-in, to share a joke or it could have been something big like heartache or loss.  Right now, one of those "less than a handful" people is really on my heart. Dawn is moving toward the end of her life right now. As I sit here and bite my tongue to choke back tears and remember what I wanted to say, all I can think is that this sweet, kind woman has done so much for me--maybe more than she can ever know.

She has been the person who I emailed, texted or tweeted with almost every day since 2006.  Dawn is the person who I'd roll my eyes over for always being positive while I served up my trademark piss and vinegar. She's a person who I believe could almost be mistaken for being naive, but a closer look would tell you that she's resolute and pragmatic.  Dawn knows what real problems are, and she would never minimize yours, but she might quietly just tell you it would be okay even if you were screaming in your own mind that it NEVER. WOULD. BE. OKAY.  She won't tell you to shut up---she'll tell you to tell her "something good." She'll implore you to be #moarhappyer, and I promise that by indulging her and coming up with something worthy of that hashtag, you will have your spirits lifted.

I always said that Dawn and her husband, Mike, have the most enviable of online relationships. In fact, I don't know another couple who peacefully coexist on Twitter.  They tease, exchange silly comments and check on each other throughout the day where most couples would be passive aggressively wondering "WHO LEFT THE TOILET SEAT UP AGAIN #husband."  They're a good team.  It's easy to be friends with both of them because though they have separate voices, their messages are essentially unified.

{Again, my point? I'm rambling, I know. I have a million tear soaked thoughts that I want to express right now.}

I think I just want to say that Dawn is kindness, and by saying how she has affected me I mean it to convey her goodness.  The long lasting effects of someone who you've never met face to face are surprisingly powerful.  It's the blessing of this digital age: When we feel so jaded by the real life relationships that sour there is this wonderful, redeeming group in the ether that lifts you up if you so choose to partake of it.

So, I will compulsively check Twitter and Facebook for updates. I toy with sending her just one more text message to say I love her.  I may have minutes of utter paralysis in which I don't know which end is up because of the grief I feel.  But, I would be foolish if I didn't harness what I imagine Dawn would be asking us to do right now. That's to be #moarhappyer---to find more reasons to feel happy than to feel sad.  Failing the ability to truly be happy right now, it might be worth exploring what it means to be #moarkinder or #moargentler or even #moarstronger.

Also, please consider a gift in Dawn's honor through the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Monday, August 6, 2012

food for thought.

It's been a really long time since I last posted. That's not to say that I haven't experimented with any new recipes or put up any food, but it is true that with three rowdy children of various ages, school (theirs and mine), extracurriculars, studying, studying, and more studying, I am less a canner now than I was before.  I have only put away two boxes of peaches this year, and I'm sad to say that I probably wasted a good part of the first box. With that in mind, and the box of beautiful, freestone O'Henry peaches staring me down, I decided to focus on putting up FOOD for a change. I usually do a lot of jams, preserves, and even a juice here and there, but this summer I've been working on deviating from condiments.

When I express my fears that everything will all go to hell, zombies will turn up, and it'll be us, gold, and guns, I've been known to boastfully point to my closet of beautiful jars of preserves. This is usually the point when the husband mentions that none of that is actual FOOD (in my mind FOOD is capitalized and spoken with urgency) in my pantry. This begs the question: In the event of some sort of apocalyptic, life changing event, what on earth will we have in terms of FOOD?

I decided to can peaches, so I consulted this book that I have, but truly, have a love and hate relationship with. The lady who wrote it...well...ummm...sometimes I think she's pretty cool.  Other times, I think she's sort of this faux Southern hack who tries to be some kind of rural that she's not.  DAMN IT. Nobody in the south wants "less sweet" bread and butter pickles. So, this chick has some good ideas about imparting different flavors into food which I have come to appreciate, but some of the stuff in her book is a bit la-dee-da while other stuff is just simply incorrect.  For the following recipe, I've taken the idea of infusing a flavor into my canning syrup, but followed the Fannie Farmer guide for the most part.

The jars have turned out beautifully, and as usual, the last ones are close to perfection. I don't think I packed the jars tightly enough the first time, so there's a lot of dead space in the jars.  That's not a huge issue, but it does sort of seem wasteful to think I could have gotten more fruit into the pints.  I'm really excited about having peaches put away for the winter--especially peaches that are not wrapped in BPA lined cans from the supermarket.

Without further ado, the recipe:

Canned Peaches with Raspberry Essence

You'll need:
as many peaches as you can handle putting up in one session!
raspberry vodka
pint or quart jars
lids/rings as appropriate
bottled lemon juice

Step 1:
Fill a large bowl with cool water and add 1-3 TBS lemon juice
Peel peaches *either by blanch/skin method or with a paring knife/vegetable peeler
Slice fruit into the size you'd like: halves, quarters, etc... and plop them into the bowl of water/lemon mixture to acidulate them. Some people prefer FruitFresh preparation. If that's you, omit the lemon juice.

Step 2:
Prepare the canning syrup.
1 cup sugar to every 2 cups of water.  (I used 8 cups of water and 4 cups sugar which turned out to be a bit much. When I do it next time, I think I'll take it down to 4-6 cups water and 2-3 cups sugar respectively)
1/4 cup raspberry flavored vodka (I used Stoli)
Bring syrup to a rapid boil, then remove from heat.

Step 3:
Drain peaches and pack into hot, sterilized jars.
Press the peaches down firmly, then drain any remaining water out of the jars leaving 1/2-3/4 inch head space.
Ladle syrup into jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head space.

Step 4:
Wipe rims of jars, place hot prepared lids and rings on them.
Lower into pot of boiling water with canning tongs being mindful of the need to cover jars with at least 1 inch of water over the lids.
Process for 20 minutes (pints) and 25 minutes (quarts)

Step 5:
Remove jars from pot, place on cool surface to observe for proper sealing. When you've heard all the "pops" or can see that the jars have sealed, label them and put away for storage. If any jar has not sealed, immediately transfer it to the refrigerator and consume within a week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

playing catch-up...

I hardly know where to begin since I haven't written about any of my summer projects since the blackberries. Since then, I've made a melange of hot pepper slices which I'd call "Nacho Bizness" if I enjoyed puns. Okay, who am I kidding? I totally love puns!  Digressing... I also put up about 20 jars of fig preserves after receiving what I would refer to as the holy grail of phone calls. It went something like this: "Hey, it's Laura. I'm at my Mom's house in Albany and her fig tree is literally weeping with fruit..."

After the figs were the plums, and after the plums were more peaches--a soft set, mild flavored, party pooper of a jam... And then came what my friend Lindsey refers to as "adultcherries"--those boozy, syrupy gals who live in the refrigerator.  Later came a couple of jars of organic cherry jammy glaze.  I deviated from jars for a bit and dehydrated Vidalia onions. Then, in the face of feeling as if I'd missed the end of the peach season while moping around the house during my husband's extremely long, asian business trip, I received the amazing news that there was one last variety of peaches available for just a teeny tiny window of time.

Enter the Autumnprince. He's a handsome fellow--fantastically freestone and delectable. These are easily the best peaches I've had all season.  From this box of 25 pounds I decided that some needed to be frozen and dehydrated because it's like my mother-in-law always says: What are you going to do with all that jam if it comes down to it? You can't live on jam.  BUT, if there were a jam to live on, it'd be the Autumnprince jam laced with Don Julio Anejo tequila.  It's beautifully flame colored, and there's something about the slightly vanilla finish to the tequila that really complements the flavor profile... Wow. I just nearly choked on my own pretension.  So, the jam? It's really good. And it's totally brilliantly reddish orange with a high clarity. You'll love it.

For fabulous tequila spiked peach jam, follow the linked peach jam recipe from an earlier post, but add 2-3 TBS tequila with the lemon juice, and follow as normal.  I've done this with Chambord as well, and it's delish.

Speaking of things delish, go look at the beautiful creation of Erika Jurney, aptly named Delishix. Her recipes are fantastic, and I've already added a few to our weekly menu plan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

large, overdue batch: blackberries

By the time blackberries came in season this early summer, I was pretty excited. I also quickly discerned that my kids were approaching pro-rural status and was ready to test their picking skills. Son, 8, daughter, 5, and baby in a backpack managed to get out to the farm, pick 5 pounds of berries, and get home inside of an hour. We pretty much rock in the produce procuring process.

Blackberry jam making was my first go at making anything beyond a cobbler with this miraculous fruit. I'd been admonished about seeds, perplexed by articles fussing over how to remove them, which mill worked best, and admittedly I as a little worried at how I'd handle them. I made a few missteps, but putting on my black apron was the smartest thing I did all day.

My main mistake was thinking that I could put whole, fresh berries through the food mill. I didn't realize that they really needed to benefit from cooking before the seeds would begin to give from the berry flesh. Let's just say that the squirting of fresh berry juice gave me pause to consider my process. I cleaned out my food mill---and since it always comes up in posts, I'll mention that I use the KitchenAid food straining attachment to my stand mixer. Once I cooked the berries, the mill worked beautifully.

Due to quantity, I doubled my recipe and turned out a fantastic product. I really didn't know it would be such a hit, and now I'm sort of sorry that I waited so long to go for a second pick. Daughter ended up with almost 4 pounds of berries for a good friend, and I came away with just enough for a cold-pressed shrub. No complaints, I just feel bad that I don't have enough as I'd like to go around.

Blackberry Jam

~5 pounds of berries
9 cups of sugar

4 TBS lemon juice

2 pkgs. powdered pectin

1 tsp. butter (to reduce foaming)

Cook the berries in a non-reactive pot over medium heat until they're soft and begin to burst--about 15 minutes. Feed berries through a food strainer, mill or sieve. Discard the solids, and put the puree back in your non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil, add sugar, butter and cook until the mixture boils again. Skim off any foam. Add pectin, and bring to a boil once again. I tend to use a candy thermometer, and would cook until the blackberries reach 220 degrees. Turn off the heat, and ladle into sterilized jars, being careful to wipe rims, then adding lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner for 12 minutes at a rolling boil.

On a side note, this was the first time that my little girl helped in the jam making. She carefully counted out lids and rings to match jar quantities, sorted berries and stirred the pot. We both had a good time, and had 13 pretty, half pint jars to show for it.