A last minute decision to make jack-o’-lanterns: This is why I have power tools. I’m impressed with the kids who recognize the cat.
Inspired by my neighbors who gave me some homemade raspberry jam and who assured me that it was easy to make (“Just get some Sure Jell or some other kind of pectin and follow the directions.”), I gave it a try. It was easy, although for one batch I forgot to skim off the foam, making for a cloudy product… or at least I think that’s what happened.
With a number of things to get done before Thanksgiving, I was looking for an even easier way to preserve the last of my harvest. In the past, I used a trick my friend Mary Ann shared. Just put the berries on a plate such that they are not touching. Pop them in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag and freeze. Pre-freezing the berries prevents them from clumping. It works perfectly.
This year I tried something even easier. I rinsed the berries and cooked them down on a low heat to make a sauce. Then I distributed the sauce into ice cube trays. Once frozen, I popped the cubes out of the tray and put them in a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. The raspberry cubes can flavor yogurt, oatmeal, desserts, and – one of my favorites – salad dressing. An added advantage is that there is no sugar added to the cubes. That can be controlled whenever they are used.
There was a website I needed to finish. Then there were raspberries to preserve before a quick trip to Rapid City. Oh, and what to do with the tomatoes? I couldn’t get everything done that I like to do before a trip – mainly cleaning the house. I didn’t sit down at 3 o’clock for a break as planned. Instead, I checked things off the list until the garage door shut and we sat in the alley debating whether to take a bucket of worms from my vermiculture system home for the nephews to see. I would have to find another way to be the fun aunt.
It turns out that wrapping kids up in a blanket and swinging them as if they were in a hammock (Hey! We forgot to say
One for the Money
Two for the Show
Three to Get Ready and
Four to Let Go!
or dragging them chariot-style across the lawn was probably more fun than red wigglers. Until Sioux Falls, I was certain that I would regret leaving them behind; I never did.
In the alley we also considered our route and made guesses as to which was least likely to be choking with straggling rush hour traffic. We sailed west on I-94 for about a minute and 20 seconds before I hit the breaks. It was stop-and-go until south of the suburbs.
Brian has never understood why thoroughly cleaning the house is part of the ritual of hitting the road and from what I can tell from the comedy channels on my Internet radio, he’s not alone (and neither am I!). While I thought this was about the simple pleasure of coming home to a clean house, I’m just realizing that it’s also about the surprise and the feeling of being cared for. While keeping a clean house is an excellent way to care for yourself (or someone you love*), it can be a grind. The laundry is done until I change my underwear. And by the time I’ve dusted a bobble head (ahem) in one room, a spider has begun reconstruction in the next. There is rarely enough time or the distance to enjoy the results of my labor. But if I change the sheets before getting out of town, when I come home not only will there be fresh linens to enjoy, there will be the perception that someone else made the bed (or vacuumed the staircase, or polished the baseboards, or shined the mirror, or washed the windows)…for me.
And then there are those household organizational tricks that you can keep rediscovering because they maintain themselves. For example, pictured here is another use for a desktop storage container, which has the prestigious honor of having not only been spared the Goodwill pile but of being something I did “find a use for someday.” The open bags of cough drops and the flimsy boxes of Band-Aids and other odds and ends that can clutter up the medicine cabinet were driving me nuts. This was a perfect solution. The clear containers make it easy to see what’s what and the rotating base maximizes the corners of closet shelves without compromising easy access. For better visibility, tear off and date the box covers to use for labeling the containers.
*There are many stories I could tell about helping people clean and getting help cleaning my house. Right now I am thinking of Dawn who had the good sense to make me wash the dishes after my dinner party, a distraction from an upsetting breakup. Late into the night, everyone except for Dawn started to file out. She stayed behind to help with the dishes, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I told her that I would take care of it in the morning; I wanted to go to bed. She would have none of it. In my depressed state, she feared that waking up to a mess would send me over the edge. So, she washed and I dried -or the other way around- until everything was in its place.
I’m going to try making some lists, adding to them as I get ideas. I could start with a list of lists:
- What I Like about Him – inspired by my cup of coffee and the sound of the stairs creaking under his weight
- Titles for Letters to the Editor that I’ll Never Write – inspired by an Environment Minnesota canvasser who rolled his eyes at me as he left without my signature or any money – the first thing on the list would be “Do politicians ever do the right thing just because it’s the right thing? Or are we really doomed unless I pony up to counter the pressure you’re getting from corporations? An open letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar”.
- On the Run – How corporations let you know that you’re making a difference – inspired by Monsanto ads on television
- Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter – inspired by a similar list my friend Lucie and I made to cheer ourselves up. She has since moved to Phoenix. It appears that “wool sweaters” moved from “Why I’m Looking Forward to Winter” to “Things I don’t miss about Minnesota.”
- Apps I Might Use if I Had a Smart Phone – inspired by the dead rabbit I saw in the road on the way back from the community garden this morning – I imagined that a city worker would eventually take it away if another animal didn’t get to it first – I thought a person could use a smart phone to identify the location of roadkill, hence creating a map to make such clean-up more efficient
- Podcast Notes – inspired by my plans to produce a podcast – it would have subject and format ideas as well as things I like and don’t like about other podcasts – on the top of “don’t like” would be the inability of many hosts to let a guest (the reason I’m listening to your stupid podcast) finish a sentence.
Why lists? I just like the idea of them. Maybe having a place to put stuff will calm my mind or be a place to go whenever I feel empty and in need of a creative spark. George Carlin was a list maker, wasn’t he? I’m not thinking about The Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television. I’m thinking more about routines like the “Advertising Lullaby“. Unlike Carlin, I’m not collecting lists for the purpose of writing comedy. Oh, I’d love to be a comedian, but I’d settle for being able to hold your attention long enough to tell you something without you checking your text messages or looking up a fact with your smart phone because I mentioned that the corn chowder has chorizo in it and you want to know – right now – exactly what spices are in it.
So this list is “What I Like about Him.” I’ll add to it over time. Look at it as another form of journal writing (this calls for dating my entries, right?).
What I Like about Him
September 3, 2015
Typically when I get up, I have a nice breakfast before I do much of anything else, with the exception of putting the dishes away while the coffee brews. On a rare occasion I’ll be sucked into my computer before breakfast and even before the coffee is done. For example, today I’m trying to wrap up a website for a client and I wanted to get some tasks out of my head and onto a…list. Is it clear that I’m a list maker? …in any case… On those days, Brian might notice that the coffee is done. It’s hard to miss because the coffeemaker beeps no less than seven times when it’s ready, which reminds me of another list I need to make: “Shit that we don’t need!”, to which I will add, “Cars that honk when you lock the doors using a remote”.
…so he notices the coffee is done. In the meantime, I’ve gotten lost in whatever project I’m doing. What does he do? He brings a cup of coffee to me in my office. No matter how many times he has done this, it always surprises me and it’s always a little strange to see him – not a coffee drinker – standing there bare-chested with a cup of coffee in his hands. It’s no stranger than if he had been smoking a cigarette or had served me a McCafe from a drive-thru window. Has he taken note of the official coffee cup order of preference? Knowing him, it’s possible. And typical of me, I can’t say for sure.
Right before I had left my hometown to take a job in Saint Paul, I took a cooking class at my favorite restaurant in Rapid City. Veggies was a venture of Seventh-Day Adventists. Unlike Mary who was the owner of the restaurant and our teacher, I’m not positive that God intended for people to be vegetarians. Nevertheless, Mary did make a compelling case for being one (actually a vegan, it turns out) and eating whole unprocessed foods. She reaffirmed what I had read years earlier in a random book I found. Sugar Blues argued that sugar was a processed drug, not unlike (do I remember this correctly?) cocaine.
Maybe the book was overstating it. But, I’ll never forget the story Mary told us about a school that was having serious discipline problems. She claimed to have corrected the problem by taking over the cafeteria. She got rid of the sugar, the white bread, the dairy and – of course – the meat. She described a transformation where failing students with a penchant for picking fights became model citizens. Before they couldn’t concentrate or sit still. Now they could. And according to Mary, it was about the food. I believed her. After all, the reason I took her class in the first place was because I noticed that I felt better whenever I had lunch at her long-since closed restaurant. A meal there was always totally satisfying.
I still have the cookbook I bought when I took Mary’s class. The Best of Veggie’s has everything from main dishes like croquette’s with cashew gravy that will stand up to the comfort food of my childhood (think Grandma’s roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, sweet carrots drenched in butter, rolls) to vegan mayo and homemade ketchup. So, I was surprised that something as basic as a hummus recipe didn’t hit the mark. Was the ¼ cup of lemon juice a typo? I made it work by adding more beans. But the hummus recipe that my mother gave me last week over the phone is better. From my post-it note to you, here it is with some adaptations:
- 1 can garbanzo beans - reserve juice
- 2 ounces sliced jalapeno pepper (I used one big ass jalapeno from my garden. It could have taken more)
- ½ TSP cumin
- 2 TBS lemon juice
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 TBS reserved bean juice
- The above makes a dry-ish mixture that didn't seem quite right. I added a dollop of peanut butter (I would have used tahini instead if it had been available), a splash of tamari, and a little extra bean juice.
- Hummus (see above)
- Tortillas (buy or make, see below)
- Veggies of your choice: I used cucumber, red pepper, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Black olives, pickled jalapeno and crushed walnuts would have been a good addition. I put crushed walnuts on everything.
- Blend hummus ingredients in a food processor or mash by hand.
- Warm tortilla - I heat mine directly on a gas burner on the stove, turning it with tongs
- Spread hummus down the center of a tortilla and sprinkle with paprika
- Layer veggies on top of hummus and fold tortilla closed. Don't know how? Look it up on YouTube.
Brian knows that anything I cook is accompanied by the “How would I change this?” conversation. With the fresh tomatoes from my backyard shining in this dish, the obvious answer would have been to grow more of my own veggies. It’s easy to grow cucumbers, onions and peppers. Also, I could have replaced the canned garbanzo beans with cooking up some dried ones, which would have taken just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.
A more challenging improvement would be to make my own tortillas using just three ingredients as shown in this video. Is it really that easy? Or will my ambitions go the way of my pasta machine, which is rarely used even though fresh pasta is notably better than anything I can buy with the possible exception of what I can get at Cossetta’s?
The prominent “Handmade Locally” on the package of the tortillas I have in my fridge makes me feel good. The story on the back of the package about the family behind the business is also touching.
“…Together they worked long hours at low-wage job after low-wage job to support their family until they took a roll of the dice and began peddling an unlikely product: fresh corn tortillas.”
Never mind that it is flour tortillas that I have. After reading the list of 20+ ingredients of which I recognize three (bleached wheat flour, water and salt), these “locally made” marketing techniques quickly lose their luster.
A few years ago rainwater got into our basement and damaged a finished bedroom there. To address the source of the problem, I spent a summer fiddling with the grading on the side of the house. This year, with the help of a friend who showed me how easy it was to do, I repaired the the mortar of the cement block walls before applying Drylok. Then, we replaced the old fiberglass batting with a rigid Styrofoam product, bringing the insulation up to code. We had considered using a two-part spray foam because we were under the impression that it is the best product available. However, after reading about some negative experiences people had with chemical sensitivities that caused headaches and, in extreme cases, made homes uninhabitable, we decided it wasn’t for us. The decision saved us the hassle of boarding our cat at a friend’s house while the work was in progress. The contractors assured us that it wouldn’t be necessary to do this. However, our veterinarian disagreed.
We also took the opportunity to insulate the rim joists with foam boards that are held in place with a one-part spray foam. This had been on the to-do list ever since our first energy audit in ’08. The work required taking some panels out of the drop ceiling and moving everything out from the walls. Result? Boxes of books all over the house. I’m anxious to unpack! However, with the basement largely dismantled, I thought it would be a good time to paint.
The Internet is full of tips for choosing a color for a basement. The short answer for our situation (not a ton of natural light, adequate recessed lighting) was to stay away from pastels. They can look drab without enough light to reflect. Also recommended was a saturated color that doesn’t have too much black in it. After a few false starts, we settled on Behr’s Pure Turquoise.
Here are some pictures so far.
Update: August 18, 2015
I’m still enjoying working on this project and try to make progress every day – even if it’s just to tidy up or re-position the drop cloths to get ready for the next thing. Here is some evidence of progress.
Update: August 25, 2015
I just got back from Al’s workshop where he made me some pine boxes I wanted to try as supports for my bookshelf project. I love them! I’m excited to see the whole thing come together! My plan is to use a clear shellac on the boxes in contrast to the shelves where I used amber. I’m so glad that I asked for Al’s help as he steered me away from some design flaws and added some really nice finishing touches. For example, notice the edges on the face of the boxes are rounded. I learned a lot and that was fun!
Last week my friend Lucie who was escaping the Arizona heat came by for a look at the project. I took her suggestion and went with the dark blue accent color for the wedge that is revealed on the side of the staircase. I love how it turned out.
I met this little guy when I first got started on the project and didn’t have the heart to dislodge him. I figured he’d eventually move on. But there he is in the same spot by the window.
Update: November 8, 2015
I’m not sure I would have ever finished painting the “pink room”, had it not been for my mom’s encouragement. Starting with the discovery that paint was coming off of the wall in sheets, that project turned out to be much bigger than I had expected and to some extent out of reach of my particular skills. We hired someone to repair the plaster. Margo Breivik did great work. Then there was the issue of the trim that had several coats of paint and visible drip marks. Too much paint gives a room the “old baggage” feeling, something that Brian and I noticed when we were house hunting. So I scraped. I used chemicals. With the intention of putting a fresh coat of paint on a clean surface, I took the baseboards down to the maple underneath. Then Brian sees the it. He likes it. Now I’m reading about how to finish the trim with a stain and this adds several more steps to the process.
There were external factors too. There always are. At one point I’m staring into the room and telling my mom that I don’t see how it will be possible to finish. She boils it down. Do something every day, big or small, and eventually it will get done. It might be a week from now or years. But, plug away and you will finish. As for the “years” she says, “It’s your house. What’s the hurry? Do what you want.”
The room turned out great. I felt proud when my dad marveled over it. He has high standards. He always does good work.
So, I’ve been plugging away at the painting the basement. There’s much left to do, but I don’t (and never did) have the feeling that will never get done, despite the delays. Here are some highlights.
Stuck on More Color Decisions
For the longest time I was stuck on the idea of making the stairwell two-toned, turquoise on the bottom like the rest of the basement and something brighter on the top near the kitchen. Answer (courtesy of Brian): Use the turquoise on the top and the bottom. It turned out great, but what color for the ledge? You see it there on the left?
To what level do you want to take it?
“To what level do you want to take it?” is a question I kept hearing from the same handyman who told me that I do not live in the Taj Mahal. When I’m doing the work, asking the question is more about what I’m capable of doing; it’s about my curiosity. “How would that look?” It’s not usually about who’s on the clock. In this case, I was second-guessing the color I picked for the ledge in the stairway. What was underneath the 80 layers of paint? As I was getting ready to go out for lunch with my friend Santwana, I literally dropped what I was doing (applying mascara) to grab a scraper to find out. Sold.
I’m not going to lie. Prepping for this job has been a bitch. To what level do I want to take this? Way beyond whatever a flipper might do.
Other Pressing Things
Then there are just the other things that need to be done by a specific time. This is the beauty (and I really mean it – beauty) of living in a place that has four seasons. There are real deadlines. In this case, there was a deck that was in sore need of staining and food to be harvested.
Then there is just taking a break.
And some actual progress…
Finishing the 12-foot pine boards for the bookshelf I’m making was definitely progress. I applied four coats of shellac and by the end it got a little tedious. It was worth it. In addition to moving a step closer to completing the project, I opened up a parking stall in the garage. And that puts me back in compliance with my rule to always keep the garage clutter-free enough to keep our cars in it. I’m not sure such a rule is necessary. We live in Minnesota! Yet I can see that the threat of winter isn’t motivation enough for some people. So, I made a rule in case I was the sort who needed it.
Last year I attended a talk about healthy eating and the one thing that stuck with me was the recommendation to eat a big variety of food, counting spices. Gleaning from similar talks (lectures about nutrition apparently bring in the money at PBS), I picked up that an easy way to incorporate ginger into your diet is to add a pinch to oatmeal. Among other things, ginger is an anti-inflammatory medicine that can ease arthritis pain. Maybe it would make me feel a little less creaky after a day working in the yard? Eventually, I was putting a combination of spices in my oatmeal or warmed with fruit that would be added on top of it or some yogurt. A little ginger, cinnamon and vanilla swirled into a combination of frozen peaches and blueberries that are heated in the microwave for a couple of minutes fills the air with the smell of baked a pie. It’s really good.
Last night, noting that he had picked up some Field Roast Vegetarian Frankfurters, Brian suggested I have beans and weenies for dinner (He was settling on yogurt and fruit – I was in the mood for something hot). Along with The Honeymooners, the dish was the Saturday special when he was growing up and it remains a go-to favorite in our own home. With only a few minutes before the Cleveland-Golden State game was to start, it sounded perfect…only this time I decided to jazz it up.
While it seemed like it could have gone either way, it turned out really good.
- Olive Oil
- 2 Field Roast Vegetarian Frankfurters OR a substitute of your choice, cut lengthwise and then sliced into half circles
- Onion, a handful, chopped
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans, 16 oz can
- Cinnamon, a couple of shakes
- Ginger, a pinch
- Oregano, a pinch - don't overdo it
- Warm some oil in a saucepan
- sauté the onion and red pepper flakes for a few minutes
- add the frankfurters and brown
- add the baked beans and enough water to rinse the can mostly clean
- stir in cinnamon, ginger and oregano
- bring to a bubble
- simmer for 10 minutes
In the past, I’ve tried to make baked beans from scratch because I’m not a big fan of “a can of this a can of that”. They weren’t very good. I’ll have to give it another shot.
It was December 2003. It was freezing cold. My toes hurt. And yes, the Deaniacs – mean spirited though they might have been – had speculated correctly. We were the type that would spend a Saturday afternoon on a tie dye fundraiser that would net a couple hundred tops. We said yes to just about anything as long as you were willing to “make it happen.” This is how you get stuff like “Coatless for Kucinich.” It’s not for us to say where to direct one’s passions.
On this day, we said yes to freezing our asses off because Ted Koppel/ABC had made the decision to exclude the non-viable Dennis Kucinich from a nationally televised debate. We protested KSTP or “big media” as we liked to call it. Nobody cared. Nothing went viral.
I had somehow dragged my friend Lou along. It wasn’t the first nor would be the last time he would move from my sphere of theater friends to the political group. The last time we saw one another was at a precinct caucus in my new neighborhood several years ago. Our state representative rallied the troops.
“Give yourselves a big hand! We all know you could be doing something else!”
The akward self-congratulatory smattering of applause would make way for political maneuvering, with those who understood Robert’s Rules of Order having an edge over the newcomers. With a packed governor’s race at stake, campaigners vied to dominate the district convention rules committees. Not unlike the first precinct caucus I had attended as a Kucinich supporter, it made my stomach hurt.
I haven’t been to a precinct caucus since.
I watch plenty of garbage television shows but the local news hasn’t been one of them since I was in high school. So boycotting something Ralph Nader aptly refered to as “Murder, Sports & Weather” or whatever it is that I’m supposed to do given the most recent offense shouldn’t be too hard.
Faith Kidder, the lead coordinator of MN4K back when we were freezing our asses off, used to insist that we put things in terms of what we wanted and not in terms of what we didn’t want. It could be annoying. She once interrupted me to suggest that I say “situation” instead of “problem.”
“So a person doesn’t have a drinking ‘problem?'” I challenged. “They have a drinking ‘situation?'”
We could butt heads. But we laughed a lot. This was no exception.
With Faith’s predominate attitude in mind, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we completely pulled our energy out of the crap that doesn’t work and put it elsewhere. Find an independent news source that you like and support it. Then forget about the rest of it. Besides, KSTP was never a serious news source anyway, was it?
Brian and I took a walk this afternoon. He was taking a break from writing a report. I needed to step away from writing this letter. We had made it to the river before I had somewhat of a handle on what I wanted to tell you. My grip is already slipping, so let me hurry up.
A few weeks ago, I was preparing to shoot my friends Jeff and Gita pressing the apples that Jeff had just gleaned from an orchard. It was going to be good action footage for the video I was making for their fundraising campaign. They’re opening a winery in Minneapolis and need to raise $20,000 to do it without taking on too much debt.
The red Lehman’s apple grinder sat a short distance from a swing set. It was going to look great on camera. As the press became harder to crank, Jeff used a stick for leverage and pretended to be a buffalo as he pushed it round and round the grinder to squeeze out the last drop of the juice that flowed into a squat stainless steel kettle planted on the grass below.
“I love this.” He said. “I love this.”I had been working on the video for weeks by the time I had heard this particular declaration of passion. I know the story. Jeff has been making wine for 20 years. He’s opening a winery with his wife. They bought and renovated a building on East Lake Street. He has a crazy idea about sourcing his fruit mainly from backyards all over the City. They’re serious. And even though he didn’t shout or pound on his chest when he said it, Jeff is passionate. Instead, it was a quiet acknowledgment of the moment that called me to be present.
“I love this. I love this.”
From the chef at my favorite restaurant to my piano tuner to the guy who’s going to reupholster a chair that has been sitting on our porch for the last six years, it’s a charge to be around people who are deeply engaged in their life’s work. So from the beginning I have wanted Jeff and Gita to succeed because it’s just cool when people get to do what makes their eyes light up. And like packing a lunch for a visitor who is about to hit the road again, there is purpose in taking care to help a person get started on the journey and it feels good to do it.
“I love this. I love this.”
I believed him. I was there to believe him.
As much as “being present” is a lovely idea and a popular subject according to Google (12M hits), I suspect that most of us don’t do this very well because giving something our full attention requires skill. We blame smart phones and texting for our inattentiveness. We used to blame television. These distractions are challenging. But, the main culprit is a simple lack of discipline. Who practices paying attention? I don’t. Would these blissful moments of heightened awareness be less random if we did?
Showing no signs of fatigue after a full day of picking apples, Jeff remarked on the color of the juice. Beautiful. He sent me into the house for some glasses so that we could sample it. By the time I returned from the kitchen, the sound of traffic had been turned up again and in the distance I could hear construction and the whirling of a leaf blower, where before there was nothing but the smell of apples and leaves and the awareness that I was standing next to a man who was internally driven. Jeff was in the zone, a rich deeply human zone. And for a second, I got to be there too.
The Urban Forage Winery & Cider House touches on a lot of things that I care about. Good wine, for one thing. Locally produced wine. That’s really nice. Gleaning fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste? Making better use of resources? Engaging our imagination as we think about how to localize food production? Inviting all of us to play a role? To become an urban farmer? A contributor in the land of the real as opposed to a cog in an abstract system that gives us no satisfaction let alone something we can drink? Now that’s where it gets exciting for me.
It was a pleasure to make a video for Jeff and Gita’s fundraising campaign. I’d like to see them have a chance to demonstrate a new model for making good products using locally grown “crowd sourced” ingredients (It makes me think that another good name for their business would have been “Stone Soup Winery and Cider House”, although Urban Forage is perfect too!). I like to think that supporting this endeavor is an affirmation of the human spirit that increases the probability that we all will be surrounded by more people who love what they are doing and – with any luck – will be one of those people ourselves.
While I know that Jeff and Gita would be thrilled to have your support, maybe you don’t have $5-$50 to help them get going on their winery. Don’t sweat it. But, please do me this favor. Practice giving the thing in front of you your full attention. Make it a point this week to really notice the person who needs help and help him or her however you can. Listen. Notice what is needed and give it. And see what happens. I would love to hear about your observations!
Thanks for giving this your consideration. If you know of others who might get a charge out of Jeff and Gita’s idea, by all means let them know about it. Most of these Kickstarter campaigns are funded by hundreds of backers with $25 donations. So, spreading the word where it makes sense would be helpful.
To see the video I made, learn more about the Urban Forage Winery & Cider House and to make a donation, see Jeff and Gita’s Kickstarter page.
We are having some repairs done to our porch and will no longer need these precast concrete steps with sturdy wrought iron handrails. They will be available for free until Thursday. On Thursday, it may be possible to get help loading the steps onto whatever you’re using to transport them. Since taking the pictures, the steps were moved and one of the handrails was bent in the process. I think they could be bent back into place. Otherwise, the steps are in good condition with no visible cracking.
4 steps with 7″ risers
Width= 59 1/2 ”