July 30, 2010

De Ja Vue

Here's the funny thing about this picture. It could really be one of me, rather than one of my daughter. My kids don't look like me at all. They really don't. I've never, EVER had someone say that they could tell my kids belonged to me, but when they see Will, well, I can't tell you how often someone has said "They look JUST like their daddy." Which is fine, I mean, he's a handsome guy :) The only thing about my kids physical appearance that I can claim is their eyes, at least the shape of them and the longer than long eyelashes. Except you'd never know about the eyelashes because as fate would have it, my very long, very thick, come hither, batting my eyes at boys eye lashes fell out after I was pregnant with Briton. Most people loose a bunch of hair, I lost my glorious eye lashes. Which is a bummer but, hey, I got plenty of use out of them.

But personality wise, my kids are very like me. They are like Will too in a lot of ways. But mostly they are me. They are outgoing and a little goofy and slightly over dramatic (only slightly, ok, a little more than slightly) and imaginative. And perhaps it's the personality thing that leads me, quite often to look over and think "Hey, I used to do exactly that when I was 3 (4, 5, 6..)" And although it happens, as I said, pretty regularly, I'm always a little bit taken aback. How is it possible that, without prompting, my daughter woke up with a four year old's passion for My Little Pony. Did she look into my eyes and see those far gone days when I spent hours playing My Little Pony with the kids next door, the hooves of all my ponies marked with my initials so they would not get mixed up, heaven forbid. Is it genetics that leads Briton to spend whole afternoons hunting fairies and gnomes in the garden and making up coded languages with his friends?

I took this photo this morning and really, it could have been me 30 years ago. Wearing nothing but panties - one of my preferred preschool outfits, coloring madly on the floor, hair wild, springer spaniel at my side. It's a comforting thought actually. Because I had a pretty awesome childhood, so I hope that means that my kids do too.

July 29, 2010


I have a rather shocking confession to make. No really, I do!

Despite the fact that I was a vegetarian for a good four years of my adult life (pregnancy killed that plan, Briton really liked meat, even in utero) I had never ever picked up a single Moosewood Cookbook. I know! Crazy! It wasn't like I hadn't heard of them, I knew, even ten years ago, that they were akin to the bible of vegetarian recipes. But somehow I just never tried them. Well, actually, I think I flipped through the pages of one at a friends house, but I guess it didn't jump out at me. What a shame. All these wasted years!

So as you may guess, I'm now in possession of one, from the library, but still, it's sitting on my kitchen island, reporting for duty. And I love it. I mean really, what was I thinking? And no, I'm not planning on turning us all into vegetarians, my poor, Texas born husband probably couldn't take that again. But I have been trying to incorporate more and more vegetarian meals into our weekly menu. For one thing, it saves money. And for another, well, I guess vegetarian food isn't just inherently healthier, but as I pay more attention to things like sodium and cholesterol (gee when did I get so old!) vegetarian options seem to offer good alternatives to our normal fare.

OK, it also has to do with the fact that our favorite dishes at our favorite restaurant in town are pretty much all vegetarian. Which just got me thinking. Although fried Szechuan eggplant is not really that good for you. Still, I'm telling you, it's pretty darn awesome.

Over the past month or so I've been sneaking in more and more vegetarian dishes, and since I don't know many kid friendly, or for that matter, creative, vegetarian dishes, I went to the library for a Moosewood, this one to be precise. Because we've had a topsy turvy few weeks, I haven't gotten to cook too much from it, but so far, so good, and just stilling on the couch reading it makes me want to cook more and more.

I did get a chance to try out a ginger plum sauce that was perfect since I had oodles of plums from an ill-timed food order (what was I thinking ordering a farm share basket when I was in town for only two more days?) which is very yummy over yogurt. This week's menu is peppered with Moosewood recipes to try as well.

So if any of you out there in blogo land have a Moosewood recipe, vegetarian recipe or even a vegetarian cookbook that you simply LOVE and think my children, or at least the one who doesn't eat only beige foods, will eat, send them my way.

July 27, 2010

To Harry

Well first I should say that my father in law is doing well, recovering nicely and due to go home later this week. So that's a big relief. Yay for modern medicine. The kids and I have been at my parents house this week, being pampered and having our nails painted (ok, not Briton on that one, but Evie and I) and all that jazz. Which is great.

But back to Harry, I'm sure you are all wondering who the heck Harry is and why this is for him.

Harry was my great uncle. Actually, to be technically correct he is the cousin of my grandmother which makes him my... I'm not really sure. I guess it makes him a relative that in most cases I wouldn't really know. But this is a special case. Harry was a surrogate for my grandmother, who passed away when I was one and who was his best friend and confidant when they were children in the North End of London. Without Harry, I might never have had the clear and vivid image of my grandmother that I do, she has, for my entire life, lived as a sort of Lucile Ball/ Marlene Dietrich-like Diva in my mind. And much of that is down to Harry. He is the one who wove tales for me when I was a girl visiting him in London, of their adventures and antics. Like the time they tried to cover penny pieces with foil so they would look like they were worth more when they went to the candy store. Or the time they rigged up a tin can telephone stretched from her apartment building across the courtyard to his. He told me stories from the war, how he managed to "borrow" a plane, a pilot and a load of bananas and flew across Africa from the base where he was stationed to the one where she was, because he missed her.

But it wasn't just for my Grandmothers sake that I loved Harry. One of my very earliest memories was of a crackly voice coming down the telephone line at some ungodly early hour, telling me to save up my pennies and come over and give him a hug. And when I finally did just that, saving up all of my allowance and babysitting money to spend the summer of my freshman year in high school out in the distant suburbs of London, he took me to castles and coastal towns and monuments and to Sherwood Forest because I loved Robin Hood. He tried to teach me how to drive, which may account for the reason that I have an easier time driving on the wrong side of the road than I do on the right, and defended me like a lion, even though I didn't want defending, when a way too old Italian guy I met in a park started hitting on my.

For all of my life, Harry has been an integral, if sometimes distant and slightly wacky, park of our family. When Briton met him at two, he hopped off the train in the dead of night and ran right up to him, calling him "Pop" and giving him a big slopping toddler kiss. And on the rare occasions I saw in over the years, it was always as if time had stopped, as if I'd never been away, and we carried on with the weird and wonderful conversations that we were having the last time we were together. He often joked to me that he was only growing younger, and that one day we would meet in the middle.

Harry passed away this weekend. He had just turned 90 which is pretty darn impressive. And while I'm sad that he will no longer be at the other end of the line, with his mad barking dog, his crazy ass birds that could never remember "polly want a cracker" but were excellent at expression like "give me a cracker dammit!" and his ever present companion and tea maker, the only other Gillian I've met who spells her name properly, I'm also happy, because now he's with my grandma, which means everyone else up there better watch out, because I guarantee you they are already up to no good.

July 22, 2010

A pause

I know that I been waxing poetic a lot these days about knitting. And I promise that I’ll quit it soon, really I will. I have to get going on re-doing the Teacher’s Lounge at my son’s school and I’ll show you guys the before and afters and I still have that deck to do (and the house paint to sort out) so I will move on to other subjects, but you’ll have to indulge me a little here today, I’ve had a rough couple of days, the whole family has, and knitting, well, it’s helped in an odd kind of way to keep me sane and steady.

Friday we got a call that Will’s dad was critically ill. As in, throw stuff in a bag and get down here on the next flight ill. So we threw things into a bag, dropped the dog (more like tossed her in the door) at our friends house (who are the best people in the world by the way) and drove like crazy people to the Richmond airport, only to find that our flight was delayed, and then delayed again, and then delayed to the point that there was no way to make our connection, and no other flight until the morning. So we drove home, tired and stressed, and got up again at 3 the next morning to head back to the airport. This time the flight was on time and we boarded the itty bitty plane and took off. Kids started snoozing, we started snoozing, things were starting to feel a little more steady, and then the flight attendant came flying down the asile with a garbage bag tossing everything in and telling people we were going to have to make an emergency landing. And then the pilot came on and said our main engine had failed and he was going to land us at the closest airport to us then pointed the plane down and, I kid you not, flew like hell to Norfolk. I’m not going to lie, I started sobbing. I hate flying. I have since Briton was born. And not because flying with kids is rough. My kids are actually fantastic travelers, especially Briton. The one an only time he has cried on an airplane was when he was 3 and we were boarding onto a Chicago to Dublin flight way late in the evening. I gave him a sucker and he was out before the plane reached cruising level. Even Evie, who hasn’t traveled much compared to her jet setting brother, has turned into a great flyer. So it’s not that. It’s just the fact of kids, the fact that I fear what could be, what could go wrong. Like an emergency landing.

As we got closer, we could see fire trucks on the ground which really freaked me out. Luckily the pilot got us safely on the ground and we were shakily allowed down the steps out onto the tarmac. The airline people got us on the next flight out so we could make a slightly later connection which we did. But I’ll tell you the truth, the only thing that kept me from wigging out on the next flight was that I knit. I sat in my seat and counted stitches. Knit, knit, knit – ignore that bump, you couldn’t possibly have two airplane emergencies in one day. Purl, purl, purl, breath deep, don’t throw up. On and on, till we finally landed on the ground in Dallas to find that Will’s dad was still critical, but not as, which after the whole – put your forehead on your hands and brace for impact- thing, was exactly what we needed. And every day he gets stronger, and life becomes a little more normal.

So please pardon a little pause here. I'll get myself back up and running and tell you all the strange goings on that happen when children are oblivious to drama and just keep dancing in their fairy wings and changing the words to Ba Ba Black Sheep (did you know it was really "one for my master and one for my father and one for my little, baby otter"? You didn't? That's ok, neither did I)

Hug your family

July 16, 2010

House Paint Troubles

Paint is a pain. I mean, painting in a pain of course but also, choosing paint can be such a pain. Ugg, I'm so frustrated! Will and I painted test patches all over the back of the house to decide on what color we would use, discussed the merits of each, dismissed one entirely and finally choose what we thought would be perfect. So I went out and bought a gallon and, as I wrote about the other day, we pulled off a chunk of siding and painted the wood underneath.

And it's not the same at all as the test. AHHHHHH! At first I thought it was just the light, or that it was not totally dry, and that given a day or so, we'd see the color we had chosen on our wall. Except we didn't. The test paint was flat, the real paint is satin, which could account for some of the change, and it is on wood vs. aluminium, but even when painted right on the aluminium right next to the sample and looked at from the side so you can't see the sheen, it's just not right. In fact, it almost looks a little... purple! Which just, grrr, irritates me. What is the point of samples if they aren't accurate? And the thing is, I've been down this road before. Sometimes the samples are just slightly different. Usually it's not enough to really notice, but this time, well, it is. I could go in and have them try to fix the color, but since we're talking about a whole house here, I don't want to have to re-adjust the color with every bucket we buy. And I really, really don't want to paint the whole house and find I don't like it. All I can say is thank goodness we pulled off the siding for a final test before we bought all the paint. One gallon of messed up paint I can deal with, eight I cannot.

So it's back to the drawing board. Which. Just. Sucks. At least out deck is dry again after the rain so we can add another coat of paint to that. Although the paint color debacle has kind of taken the wind out of our sails. Neither of us can get ourselves motivated to get out there to finish the deck when we have to stare at the not-the-right-color section of the house while we are working. Better get that solved so we can move on with this. I can only deal with blotchy house syndrome for so long before it will start to drive me batty.

July 15, 2010

Discovery Sweater

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on a bench, knitting away at my sweater while the kids whooped it up at our local children's museum when no less than four different volunteers asked to see the progress on my sweater. Which means I spend way too much time there, knitting. I have a feeling they are starting to call me the sweater mom or something. But the truth is that my kids can play at the Discovery Museum for HOURS, and also that they don't particularly want me to be playing with them. Which is really fine by me.

I love my kids, and I love spending time with them, obviously, I've been doing it full time for the past 8 years. But its so fun to watch them playing on their own. Although, in reality, they are never alone. They have an uncanny knack, both of them, for instantly making friends in any old crowd. I guess it's not really uncanny, I was kind of like that as a kid, but they are ever more find-a-friend gung-ho.

So while they sell plastic fruit at the pretend farmer's market, or examine the worms in the worm bin, or hunt down the queen bee in the hive, or play dress up in the old log cabin (indoors and real! It's so cool! I want to play there!) I knit. Which is good because I don't have a lot of time to knit otherwise. And I get bored very easily just sitting there. Once I tried to take my laptop - but between having to get up and move to a different part of the building every five minutes and just plain feeling like a terrible mom to be working while my kids were playing - well, I never tried that again. So I knit.

When I was a kid, I spent part of every summer in Redding, California with grandparents. And every year, high up on my list of must-dos, was a trip to Carter House a kids/science museum. I loved it there. I could hold a giant boa constrictor and a soft, cuddly ferret in one visit (not at the same time of course, I'm sure the ferret would have objected to that!) I could look through microscopes and peer into fish tanks and hold real fossils. There were things to touch and see and smell, I remember being permanently fascinated by a fern-like plant that closed it's leaves when you touched it. We spent hours there, much as my kids do at the discovery museum. And while I don't remember my grandma sitting off to the side knitting, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what she did while I ran around and entertained myself with all of the amazing things around me. I never got tired of it.

It moved when I was in high school and then reopened in a newer and much fancier home not far from where it had been during my childhood. And it's better now, I can see that it's a better museum, much bigger, many many more things to do, but somehow, not quite as cool as it was during the summers of my childhood. I wonder if my kids will remember the Discovery Museum like that. If, 15 years from now, they'll say, remember when mom used to take us to that museum like , every day? It was so much fun! Or if it will simply fade away, like Briton's memories of riding the bus in Ireland, or our neighborhood in Portland. Will thinks I have an extraordinarily good memory (about most things, not, sadly about things like taking the trash out or turning the oven off after I use it). And I do remember tiny details, and from a time when I was very, very small. So maybe there is a chance that the kids will remember this summer. When daddy got to play half the day away. When mommy sat knitting while they stood in the giant kaleidoscope, giggling and giggling and giggling some more. I hope so. I know I will.

July 13, 2010


Ok, so it's not really cool, but it's cooler, which is good because I thought we were going to keel over with all this heat. Yesterday it actually rained big fat soppy raindrops which was nothing short of glorious. The kids and I walked up to take the bus to pick up some craft supplies for my next few articles and Evelyn looked up at the sky and said "it is so beautiful today!" That's my girl. Indeed it is.

Taking the bus, always a good way to fill up an afternoon, was highly entertaining. Mostly because Briton, who used to ride trains and buses every day of his life, kept saying "I've never been to a bus station before!" and "What is this cord thing?" while Evelyn, who hasn't ridden public transit since she was a baby, sat in her seat and looked like a pro.

Today it's creeping back up into hotter temps. Not the horrible three digits of last week, but warm none the less. Enough so that playing outside comes in short bursts. So in between playing (Briton informs me that he has secretly been training to be a wizard for the past several years and the red rubber ball he carries with him is actually a force field that protects him at all times. He's telling me now because it's time for Evie to start her training, and he thought I should know what they are up to) we've been baking cookies - this, by the way, is my new favorite recipe, although I add 1/4 rolled oats to it, building pillow forts and knitting up pillow cases for a project I'm writing up this week. Strange, but it almost feels like winter with all this indoor coziness, except that we're all wearing flip flops and shorts.

So here's the funny thing about the pillow cases. When I first started knitting, back in college when I was poor and didn't have much time (not that I do now, in fact, looking back, life was positively leisurely compared to now!) I picked up some absolutely enormous knitting needles at Goodwill. These things were huge, bigger around by far than my thumb. And then I set about trying to knit with regular old, cheapo acrylic yarn, what I now know would be sport or double knitting weight. But of course, then I had no clue that such distinctions existed. I wanted to knit, I had no money to buy anything fancy much less take lessons, so I started to knit. It turned out horribly, all holey an loose. Eventually I figured out that I needed smaller needles and went off to attempts simple scarves and hats. And I've never knit with big needles until last night.

This fall I made new throw pillows for the couch and they are already trashed. Pillows get a lot of use in our house, especially the ones on the couch, and they never last too long. The kids make piles of them to play in or lie on, Will and I bunch them up trying to get comfortable on the couch, even the dog gets into it, pulling them to one end or another of the couch she is allowed on and then kneading it until it's just right. So yeah, the pillows I made are looking pretty ratty. I should probably invest in some better quality fabric so they will last longer, but then again, they might not, so I don't. Since my little knitting crazy began I've been wanting to knit some covers for the pillows, something soft and squishy and definitely washable, so the kids helped me pick out some pretty burnt orange yarn as thick around as a woolly bugger caterpillar (so they informed me) and I picked up some honker needles. Not quite as big as the set I had in college, but thick enough. And wow, do they knit up fast. Who knew (I know, everyone but me probably). I might not have given up knitting if I'd had these babies. Live and learn...

July 12, 2010

And There Goes the Siding

Will and I are a lot alike. Obviously we're not identical, that would be weird. He, for example, can fall asleep the second his head hits the pillow, where as I will lay there staring at the ceiling for a good 45 minutes before I can nod off. Yeah, I'm jealous.

But we do have a lot in common, and one of those things is that once we get something into our heads, it sticks. And really, it's just a foregone conclusion that it will happen, so it's not worth arguing about. Not that we don't try to talk each other out of things, but, generally, once we're in, we're in. This weekend is a good example.

On my end, it was the bike. Yes, I could probably have fixed up my crummy old bike but I didn't want to. It was horrible and uncomfortable, and yes, ok, ugly. And while we are trying to cut down the budget, the whole idea of not using the car much hinged on both of us being able to ride around town easily, so me getting a new bike was one of those things that Will didn't even try to argue about. He just nodded, and let me pick out my pretty new bike ( I can't help it, my daughter is rubbing off on me, I like pretty!) Which I have named Ms. Bennett, by the way. I mean, I name all my cars, so why not my bike? And yeah, if you know me well, you get the name. She's pretty, but not flashy, and sensible without being stiff. If she were too sensible I'd have to call her Charlotte. But I digress.

So I've got Ms. Bennett, and Will, well he ripped off a chunk of siding, which means, in effect, that it will now all come off.

I admit I was the holdout here. We've ripped siding off of a house before so I know that it's a huge, messy pain in the you know what. And I wasn't looking forward to that. But what was really bugging me was the though t that we would loose a layer of insulation on our already freezing in the winter, baking in the summer house. And worse, I REALLY didn't want to deal with getting rid of all that insulation. The last house was much smaller, but I still feel guilty about all those bags of Styrofoam insulation that we sent to the dump. So I hemmed and hawed. But even still, I knew it would come off, his fingers had been itching to get to work on it for a good few months already. So I gave in. And guess, what? There WAS NO INSULATION! Which, you know, explains a lot, but also makes me feel much better. Not that it wont still be a messy pain in the arse, but since we can recycle the siding, the house will look 100% better AND there wont be any Styrofoam guilt.

Of course there will still be issues, like the big hole that was obviously once a window which we found under the small chunk that we removed. Not sure what we'll do there, maybe some kind of on the house cold frame... but anyway, I'm sure there will be more surprises, but with a test coat of the color and sheen on the unearthed siding and coat number one on the deck surface, I'm starting to see what our house will look like. Which now makes me totally impatient to get it all done, NOW! But what's new? I hate waiting. Not sure I have much of a choice this time however, there are some very tall parts on our house, so this should be interesting.

*This picture makes the paint look oddly green. It's really very dark gray, with a hint of blue in the sunshine. Kind of like this, but with a little more blue to it.

July 9, 2010

Dimwit knitwit

Sometimes I think I'm nuts. Really, I do. I mean, I like a challenge, sure. And I love to try new things, especially when it comes to all things crafty. But really, Gillian, why do you do this to yourself?

OK, back up. Remember when I decided I was obsessed with making a sweater? Well I haven't gotten over it. It was 103 yesterday and today is going to be "cool" at 91, and I'm hauling around a giant ball of wool to make a sweater. But since the slippers took me ages to finish, I decided that if I really wanted a sweater, well, I better get knitting. And I really want a sweater. Actually, I just really want this sweater. It invaded my mind, I couldn't help myself. Usually it's books that do this to me. I hear about them and then I can think of nothing else till I get my hot little hands on a copy so I can dive in. So this obsession with a sweater is interesting, to say the least.

The sweater in itself is no big deal. I've knit a sweater before, ok, it was for a newborn, but I'm not intimidated by the sweater portion, it's the cabling.

I've been avoiding cable related patterns since I started knitting again. And during my previous knitting stages I just flat out pretended they didn't exist. But they are just so darn pretty, and, although this sweater had instructions for a plain version, what really drew me to it in the first place was the oak leaf pattern up the center of the back. So in I dove.

Now if I had been smart, I would have tried some kind of simple cable first. A basic twist, on a mitten or something. NOT on a garment that requires 72 plain stitches on either side of the cable section. Or I would have gone to our knitting shop and had them get me started. But no, I just started knitting.

A few days later, when I'd worked my way about 6 inches up the sweater, I looked at my knitting, and then got online and looked at the pictures of the sweater (I only printed out the pages of the pattern with the actual instructions to save paper, not smart as it turns out) and realized that something was TERRIBLY wrong. Really, Really wrong. I'd screwed up somewhere, probably amidst the new stitches that I'd had to look up on You Tube (what did we do before You Tube?)

I knew what needed to be done, but I dreaded it. All that work, the long sides, it all had to come out. Drat. So after shoving my sad bundle of yarn and work into my bag in frustration and cursing a little, I pulled it back out and ripped it all out. All of it. Well, except for the inch of ribbing which I knew was right, I mean, I can knit 1 purl 1 at least. So yesterday I started again. And I learned that I am much better at following a chart - which had looked totally unintelligible when I started- than following the by the row written instructions.

I'm about two thirds of the way back to the point at which I stopped to rip everything out, and it's going much faster now that I have a firmer grasp on what I'm doing. You can even just barely see the beginnings of the pattern in my work. And a good thing too because if it had turned out badly again I think I would have chucked the whole thing out the window. As it stands, I might actually have the longed for sweater by the time the cool weather hits again (please cool off, please cool off)

And on another knitting related note, I'm actually using my slippers despite the heat. Our office has only one A/C vent and if it's shut off the room becomes unbearably hot within minutes. But the vent is directly in front of my toes and my feet have been FREEZING. Even while the rest of me bakes. So yay! for cozy warm slippers, even during the hottest July in my memory.

July 8, 2010

Stalled Resolutions

Well, I'm sorry to say that my new resolution to ride my bike everywhere has not been adhered to very well this week. Although it hasn't really been my fault, so I still have hope. Part of the problem is the triple digit temperatures we've been enduring lately. And for a girl who is Oregon to the core, well, this hot weather is not for me. I heard the weather guy say the other day that we had more 90+ degree days in June than we normally have in A YEAR! So, yeah, it's stupidly hot. And there isn't really an end in sight. Sigh. I miss the rain.

But still, I was determined. Despite the wretched heat, I was going to plow on with the bike riding thing. That's what water bottles are for, right? Plus we could restrict ourselves to relatively short rides - to the library, to the museum downtown. Places we walk to all the time, except biking would give us a little bit of a breeze at least. Tuesday afternoon I loaded up the kids on their bikes, packed my bag, filled up the water bottles, climbed on and pushed off only to have something major fall off in the gear area while at the same time my seat tipped backwards, almost dumping Evie and I into the street. Humm.

Will had taken my bike out for a spin with Evelyn that morning and I was secretly glad he did it because I knew he would come home and tell me I needed a new bike. I've been saying it for ages but I think he thought I was being silly. And I'll admit that sometimes I am, but in this case, nope it's really tim, only 2 gears out of the 15 work, and something on it clicks, ALL THE TIME, and the breaks don't really stop. But you know, saving money and all, I'd kept on with it. So he did, in fact, come home an declare that I needed a new bike, in fact, I think he said something like "Why didn't you tell me it was that bad?" Uhhh.....

But I think he did something to make it worse because the seat was working just fine the day before and the gear thing that fell off, well to be honest, it may have been dangling by a thread for months and I'd never know the difference. But he definitely broke the seat. Or maybe not, I'm not the most technical of persons so who knows.

Because I was already hot and now totally frustrated I took Evie out of her seat, wheeled it over to the office window where he was working and declared "This bike sucks!" with true drama queen flair and threw it down dramatically. Although as it turns out he was in the kitchen when I did this and didn't see. When we came home from (walking) he asked why my bike was in a heap on the grass. All that drama, wasted on an empty room.

So if we want to do this bike thing, we'll be shopping for a new one for me pretty soon. Nothing fancy, all I really want is a comfy, working seat and more than two gears. In fact, I think I found one already that will cost less than replacing the gears, breaks, seat and fixing the clicky thing on my old bike. And this one has shocks on the seat, which is awesome. I don't need shocks on the wheels, but my rear end could certainly use some extra cushioning, so I'm on board. Honestly, tell me that a woman didn't come up with that one! Brilliant!

July 6, 2010

Tea With Jam, Jam and Bread, Jam and Bread

I had an unconventional college experience. I mean, even setting aside the fact that I went to school at the University of Oregon which is, in itself, just plain unconventional, I still did not have what most people would consider a "normal" time in college.

For starters, I wasn't a party girl. I tried it one weekend and decided that was enough for me. I could see how it would appeal to some people, but it just wasn't my thing. And there was the fact that Will and I have been together since my sophomore year, knowing pretty much right away that this was it and treating our relationship as a permanent thing. We were regularly mistaken for married graduate students even though I wasn't yet 21 because, well, we were doing things like gardening in our back yard and saving up to buy a better car together. Well there was that year where we lived next door to the guy who lived in a dumpster and who shouted at us whenever we threw our garbage away. We were more like normal college students that year. After all, we had a futon, a crappy TV and cast off pots and pans like all good college students did back then. But really, we weren't very good at being "college-y".

And on top of that, my parents lived in the town we went to college in because my dad was getting his PhD in the same department where I was getting my BA. Most people would probably hate that, but as I said, I wasn't the type to show up to class hungover, so I didn't really worry about running into my dad in the halls. Besides, I could store some of my junk in his office now and then. And get him to take me out to lunch.

My parents and I have always been close and when they lived in Eugene, I think it made us more so. We lived our separate but connected lives, eating dinner together on Sundays, borrowing lawnmowers (I still owe you for that lawnmower we broke dad!) and making jam.

The three years that we all lived in the same town together my dad and I got into the habit of making blackberry jam in the summer and apple butter in the fall. Although I watched my grandmother make jam during my childhood summers at her house in California, it was really those blackberry and apple canning days that made me into a canning kind of girl. Blackberries grew like weeds around Eugene, filling up every ditch and field and alley that wasn't regularly plowed under, and even many of those were filled with their brambles. Dad and I used to haul old boards along with us on our expeditions and throw them down over the thorny bushes so we could climb out to the centers of the bushes where the berries grew thick and remained untouched by more causal pickers.

Will and I were spoiled, I realize now. We lived stable lives, we had family there to call on when we needed to be told that yes, we should go to the doctor for that nasty cold or no, you shouldn't paint the trim on your rental house when it's below 35 degrees because the paint wont stick. We had a place to go for real dinners and all sorts of tools for our various projects (we were project people even then) And although we ate our fair share of ramen and Pasta-Roni, we also had a cupboard full of jam to gorge on when there was nothing else in the kitchen. In fact, one of my favorite after class snacks was a slice of bread smeared with butter and a big spoonful of blackberry jam, which is what I'm eating, right at this minute.

My friend Tara has a thicket of blackberries at the end of her road and picked a bucket for me this week despite the horrible heat because shes a lovely lady. So while I washed the dishes I also stewed up a pot of blackberry jam. That sounds very exciting, as if I were whizzing around the kitchen mulit-tasking, but really, jam is that simple folks. Especially berry jam. You mash up the berries, you add sugar and pectin, you boil it for a minute or two and you pour it into hot, clean jars. I was especially tickled to make this jam because the rings for my thrifted wire bale jars arrived in the mail today so I got to use the pretty jars for some very pretty jam.

And funny story, I've been picking up these jars here and there but couldn't find a place to buy the rings. I also didn't really know what the rings were called, or for that matter, the jars either. After some dead end searches online I finally found that these are a type of wire bale jar and the rings are, hilariously, called "wide mouth jar rubbers" now I know this is very 7th grade of me but that name has been cracking me up ever since I ordered them. And much to my potty humor delight, the box they came in does indeed say Wide Mouth Jar Rubbers on the front. I'm keeping it on the window sill, just so I can have a little giggle every time I do the dishes.

The Hideous Deck (Not Quite as Hideous Now)

So you know how you can not notice something has changed until you see it in a picture. Like, say, you gain ten pounds, but you look the same in the mirror, and then you see a photo of yourself and think "Whoa Nelly! What happened there?"

Well that's our deck. Not that it had changed, it's just that I've spent the past year (ack! We've owned the house a year next week!) walking past the deck and just not noticing. It was always ugly, beefy and red and looking a little like a tick on the side of the house. But to make matters worse we've been using it as a staging platform for the past year. We cast the concrete counters out there, we've painted cabinet doors out there, we've stored toilets and wood scraps and bags of drywall that need hauling to the dump. And, over time, a lot of crapola has ended up under the deck to add to it's general ugliness. But it wasn't until Will was taking photos a few weeks ago so we could photoshop some house colors in that I realize what a pit it had become. But NO MORE.

OK, so a little bit more. There is still stuff under it. We still need to sheath the sides and finish painting. But still, there is a plan. And white paint. And dark grey with a tad of blue paint that will also go on the house.

It's been hotter than, well I can't really say without being rude, let's just say really hot, and then quadruple that, and you get the picture, but the evenings haven't been horribly humid so Will and Briton and I have been working on getting the white paint on the upper parts of the deck this week (Evelyn has been adding to her collection of chigger bites while we paint by rolling in the grass) and while it's no where near "good" it's at least starting to look better. It helps that we pulled most of the junk away where it awaits various craigslist/freecycle/Habitat Store/dump destinations. And there are large blotches of different shades of blue gray all over the back of the house where we tried out different colors. But still, better.

Tonight we are hoping to do the floor and the base, and next weekend we'll hit the Habitat store to look for something to sheath the sides in so you can see all the bits of wood Will still wants to keep down there. In time we want to add uprights and beams across the top to create a private outdoor space as the rest of our yard is very, very exposed to the street. We like being out with the crowds, but sometimes, like when I want to drink my morning (decaf still, blah) coffee outside in my pj's, it would be nice to not show off my crappy old yoga pants to the whole town.

July 5, 2010

The Wheels on the Bike

Last Friday my parents bought Briton a bike for an early birthday present. And not just a bike. A BIKE. A 21 speed, shocks on the wheels, last him for years type of bike. And it's opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us.

He's needed a bike for about a year, struggling along with the little Schwinn that he got for his fourth birthday even though it was too small. But I didn't even realize he was that interested (he does have a scooter after all). When I mentioned the idea of a bike he told me that he didn't need anything else for his birthday if he could just have a bike.Whoops. Guess we should have thought of that before!

Two years ago this fall, we started biking on the weekends, looking for trails that were easy enough for Briton to ride without gears, and for me to ride with my $20 craigslist bike loaded down with Evelyn's ibert bike seat. There wasn't a lot out there, too many hills for his little legs to deal with on a dirt bike. Even riding from our hour to down town was out because of the big hill that lies in between. But now, man oh man, what 21 gears can do. The kid can ride anywhere.

I remember getting my first geared bike, a 10-speed Schwinn for Christmas when I was in 5th grade. My parents hid it in our root cellar and sent me down on Christmas morning "to get the cinnamon rolls". I was so excited that I almost couldn't speak. Almost. But I also sort of thought they had forgotten that it was down there and that I wasn't supposed to see the bike, so up I came with the cinnamon rolls, shaking with excitement.

Later that day I rode on the icy streets of our Northern Idaho town, feeling very high up on my shiny red bike with it's curly handlebars and its tiny seat, nothing like the purple hand me down with the banana seat that I'd learned to ride on. Having a "real" bike gave me an odd feeling of freedom.

This weekend we biked a lot. We rode on the flat, paved trail that winds along the Rivanna River, we rode around the neighborhood. We rode to the farmers market to bring back fresh blackberries, we even rode to the pool and found that, while it's a little bit of a battle to get there, it's all downhill home. Briton, who I thought would take a while to figure out gears, is already a pro. He tells us "I'm switching to seven now, I'm going back to three! Mom? Are you on one? I'm on one!" He also hilariously called out "fore!" when we were coming up on someone as we rode. When I explained that "fore" was for golf, not bikes he concluded that "for biking, it must be "six!""Evelyn, in her little green seat, is, of course, dying to be on a big bike too, but really just wants to come along for the ride so she can hold her hands up in the air when we come down a hill and wave at everyone we pass.

All this bicycling has me dredging up old dreams of car-less living. I hate to drive. I really, really hate it. I do it, but it's a little like scrubbing toilets for me. It has to be done, so it gets done. Except there's a part of me that wonders how much it really has to be done.

When we lived in Dublin we had no car, and it was fine. Will rode his bike to work, Briton and I rode the trains and the buses or just walked where we needed to go. And I loved it, but Dublin is also a different beast than Charlottesville. You can live your whole life in a square mile or less and have access to just about everything you need. American cities aren't like that. They aren't built for compact living. In Portland we considered it, staying car-less, using bikes and public transit, except we were about to have a newborn in the house, and I couldn't wrap my head around trying it with two kids in tow, one of them a teeny little girl who would not be ready for a bike trailer or seat anytime soon. So we became dependent on the car very quickly.

Over the last three days Will and I have had a lot of discussions about the "if's" and "how's" of living car-lite. We've come to the conclusion that car-free wouldn't work at this point in our lives. Mostly because of the ongoing house renovations, as was evidenced by two separate trips to Lowe's this weekend for paint (Exterior! Yay! more on that later) But we could, we have decided, work on our car usage, cut down a lot, ride a whole lot more. Of course we'd have to replace my bike (how terrible) since it only likes three of it's 15 gears, and Evelyn should graduate to a trailer since her legs are bit long for her seat. If we could find the European style of front mounted seats I'd go that way since I've loved having her in front of me. And if I won the lottery, well, there would be this, which is just so pretty I want to hug it. But yeah, I'm thinking that I'm not going to get to go from a $20 bike to a $1300 one. Sigh, such is life. And then there is the fact that it will be 99 degrees almost every day this week, which, well, I don't think I can handle while riding, but we'll see, maybe I'll surprise myself.

July 3, 2010

Who Needs a Gym When You're a Knitter?

The boots are done. As in DONE! no seaming or trimming or weaving in of the ends to do. Done. They are felted and in the last stages of drying on the table in our office. And let me tell you, the felting was an adventure.

You see, I am impatient. And possibly slightly insane. And I have a front loader washing machine. Which you can't really felt in (well you can, but you can't stop to check on size and since I've been knitting these things for months, I wasn't about to take the chance of over felting them). Now I know what you are thinking, surely I know someone with a top loader. And I do. Except, despite the fact that I've spent almost half a year puttering away at these, and the fact that it is July and next week the temperature will climb into the high nineties with some nasty humidity to go along with it, I suddenly decided at 10 pm last night that I REALLY wanted to get these things done. So I got online and read up on felting by hand.

The first thing I found out was that the boiling water method that I'd used with Evelyn's doll was all wrong. Well, not all wrong, but not the best way. It's notorious for making the colors bleed, which they did. As it turns out, it's not really the hot water part that felts wool, it's the combination of water (you can actually felt in very cold water too, I alternated with hot and cold) agitation and soap. Which makes sense, because you can stand out in the rain all day in a wood sweater and it wont felt on you, but one toss in the wash, no matter what heat the water is, and you're done for. And, you know, it's not like the Mongolians were hauling top loader washing machines around on their ponies, right?

As per the directions I read online, I filled the sink with a few inches of fairly hot water, a few drops of soap and started kneading by slippers. Every 15 min or so I'd drain the water and run cold water on them for 5 min to give my arms a break, because I'm telling you, it's hard work. Like Body Pump hard. Like, I think my biceps are bigger today hard. It took me a little over an hour, or maybe closer to an hour and a half, of swishing, beating, kneading, rinsing and wringing before they got down to the right size, but eventually they did.

I tried them on and shaped them a little, stuffing them with pot holders (by then I was too tired to walk upstairs to get a bunch of towels) and left them to dry. I think they'll be pretty good to go by tonight, I'm thinking of setting them outside to speed the process along a little, although that may be a no-no, I'll have to go check. And then I'm going to crank up the A/C (just for a little bit) and put on my slippers and dream of rainy afternoons and hot mugs of tea. Because, yes, while others dream of tropical islands, I dream of rain, it's the Oregon in me, can't be helped.