Friday, April 22, 2011

Too Much Stuff

I hate standing up to eat. I did it today though, so I could see the ocean while I had my breakfast. There it is, that little sliver of blue just above the hedge.

We're cleaning out my parents' beach house so it can be rented. They've owned the house for about fifteen years, maybe longer. Over the years lots of family members have stored their belongings here. Belongings they no longer want or have space for but didn't want to part with. Now Pete, Sarah, my brother and I are dealing with those things.

Yeah, it's not fun. So much stuff that people thought they needed or wanted. Much of it is still in good condition.  Some of it is new. Most of it has gone to the local thrift store. Dad hoarded batteries, Mom has a thing for tablecloths. More than one couple in the family never opened some of their wedding gifts.

In the linen closet we discovered that mice had gotten in to one of those buckwheat filled microwaveable neck warmer thingies. Actually, Sarah found out the hard way. She had volunteered to reorganize the linen closet. She went to pull some cushion covers off a shelf and a living mouse came flying out of them. Needless to say we've vacuumed, washed all the linens and scoured the shelves.

We've been "cleaning out" a lot in the last several years. First when Mom and Dad moved to California, then when Pete and I sold our house in Brookline, then in California after Dad died. I guess this current instance falls into the "after Dad died" category too.  That's probably part of why it sucks so much.

It's also kind of difficult to see so much high-quality, expensive stuff just go. Things that I wouldn't have chosen for myself, things that I couldn't afford to buy myself, things that should belong to someone whose home is a showplace.

These things are the detritus of divorces, deaths, bankruptcies, dreams that never manifested, dreams that came true but then ended.  I'm finding it difficult to confront all this stuff. Over and over again. I keep more of it than I should because I don't want it to "go to waste" and because I could never afford to buy anything that nice and there it is for free. Maybe I'm also trying to rescue part of those dreams.

Someday I'm going to have to clean out my own house (next week?) Then what am I going to do?

At the moment our place is something of a warehouse. We have bags and boxes full of other people's once cherished possessions, as well as our own cheap junk.  Pete and I are both too engaged in our own pursuits to take the time to make decorative vignettes. Our living spaces are small so there isn't much room for vignettes. Also, who wants to dust?

We should probably have an auction.

Managing all this stuff is difficult for someone like me who has terrible organization skills to begin with. Plus it's so much more than just managing stuff, it's also dealing with change.

Yesterday Sarah did something that was really helpful and that I hope has changed my perspective: she re-organized the kitchen cupboards.  There were too many dishes in there. She streamlined and made things logical. She didn't just get rid of stuff, she improved the infrastructure.

This is how we can shape the change that happens to us. We can assess the loss, look at what remains and figure out what else needs to change so we can make what remains into something new and good. 

I guess it's like a good pruning job: you don't just hack stuff off the top, you revitalize the whole plant. We might have to cut off the old branches that once served us well but are now getting in the way of the new growth. The tree will look different than what we were used to but it will be healthier and more productive.

Not that it's easy to do that.

My brother and Sarah left early this morning. Now it's just Pete, Fay and me. There's still a lot of cleaning and organizing that needs to be done before we go. Even then the house won't be ready for rental. I'll need to come back a couple more times to finish up.

This poor place needs more than a clean out though.  I think I'd feel better if I could revitalize the whole place, not just the kitchen cupboards. All in good time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not Bad

Despite a not very promising beginning (nightmares all night, then feeling as though I'd been hit by a truck when the morning came) today has gone pretty well.

Some of my fears about the onset of spring involve the overwhelming tasks that need to be tackled in my garden. SO MANY WEEDS TO BE DEALT WITH - SO MUCH MULCHING TO DO!!!! Evil grass to be eradicated, problems to solve, LIVES AT STAKE!!!! Plant lives, and those count to me.

Today I was able to walk around the garden and make a huge, multi-page list of all the things I could see that needed to be done. I know I missed some and that even more tasks will become apparent as time goes on but I just wrote down everything I could see today.  Then I broke the list down into three sections based on importance, urgency and logistics (i.e.: pull weeds then mulch) Finally I listed every task in the order in which they should be done.

Some tasks clearly require more energy than others (like assassinating all the brambles versus moving a vine support) so in the interest of getting everything done I should do one difficult/urgent thing in a day then some less taxing/important things.  I think I'll get to the end of the list more quickly that way without killing myself.

I feel much better now that I have a sensible plan. Now I just need the weather to cooperate. I know that I'm very unlikely to accomplish every task to my satisfaction but that's just part of gardening. Hell - it's part of doing anything. Some things you just have to let go.

Another thing I did today was try out my cupcake maker. I bought it last summer from Think Geek (who doesn't sell them anymore but they do have this really cool customizable pocket knife)  because it was cheap ($20) and I wanted cupcakes but since it was summer and really hot, I didn't want to turn on my oven. Since last summer bit so hard I never had the time to try out the machine. Today was finally the day.

There it is, baking away. You can also see my nifty, beloved new silicone-tipped cooking chopsticks (from - or jlist if you're feeling porny) which were excellent for getting the cupcakes out of the machine.  The machine is basically a waffle iron with divots instead of a waffle grid. Fill the divots with batter, close the lid and in eight minutes you have seven mini-cupcakes. 

The cupcake maker is not a time saver. You can cook something like two-dozen mini cupcakes at a time if you use a real oven and a mini cupcake pan. (I could go look at my pan and count exactly how many you can make but then I'd have to get up) Making only seven at a time makes the baking process more like making cookies - you have to do batches. But, as I said before, the cupcake machine doesn't heat up your house. Also, Fay has no interest in attacking counter-top appliances. The same cannot be said for the oven. I got to make these cupcakes in peace and she didn't have to go to jail. The machine works well. The cupcakes didn't stick at all and they're delicious, home made cupcakes. 100% win.

Naturally not all of the cupcakes made it into this photo.  Pete and I had to do a little sampling first. Then I ate all five of the frosted ones you see here. I had to. Well, okay, maybe I didn't have to. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Second Loaf

I returned to Vermont four days after having stunk up the house with my seasoned pizza stone. The house still stank. Pete had gotten used to it so he couldn't tell but the stink took the wind out of my sails.  Other times I've stunk up up the house with my cooking the smell has dissipated by the middle of the next day. I wasn't sure I wanted to put us all through the horrible odor again.

Today we ran out of bread. So what the hell - I tried again:
This one's much prettier since I used more flour to shape the dough and I remembered to slice the top before putting it in the oven. We opened most of the windows in the house right away. The stone still stank (this time) but I think a little less, and it never smoked. You can even get a hint of the nice baked bread smell if you're lucky.  So I have hope that one day the stone will stop stinking even though I don't have a self-cleaning oven.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Dread Season

Today was the first warm day of the year, both in Boston and in Vermont (at least, the first warm day I've experienced up north this year)

I think that's why I was feeling doom-y all day. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I even had a nice day planned - lunch with my sister-in-law followed by a trip to Penzey's spice store. My kind of fun and yet I just felt this strong undercurrent of dread. I didn't sweat it too much since it's not entirely unfamiliar. I just went on with my day and we had a good time.

Throughout the day I actually got a lot of green lights. Literally. I made all kinds of traffic lights that are usually red when I get to them. Things went really smoothly today. Still I couldn't shake the unease.

On the drive up to Vermont I suddenly realized that I'm scared of summer. I wish I was joking but I'm not.

I have a friend who hates New Years. She says it's not about her getting older, it's about change and the passing of time, about good things going away. I wonder if my fear of summer is something like that? I mean there are plenty of practical reasons why summer is not a good season for me (sunburn, humidity, especially delicious blood...)but none that explain the dread.

No matter though. Tonight Pete and I sat out on our patio with a couple of beers and some wasabi cheetos. We listened to the first owls and spring peepers, saw the first bats circling overhead, watched the half moon disappear behind rain clouds rolling in and felt unexpected zephyrs waft by. I began to come to terms with the oncoming change of seasons. I still felt as though doom is coming my way but I kind of got fed up and yelled out loud, "well okay then, come and get me!" That made me feel better. That and the nature and remembering the things I like about summer.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bread Update

Subtitle: Do Not Season Your Pizza Stone

I had to leave Vermont on Friday so I only tried a tiny piece of the bread before I left.  I thought it was a little bland and gluey but the crust was nice.  Still, it's only the first try and I intend to try many more times and make lots of different recipes from the book.  I just tried the basic, white loaf.

Plenty of stuff could have gone wrong.  For example I might have over-handled the dough because I didn't realize how sticky it was. Also, the directions say to put the loaf in the oven before it has fully preheated as that will be hot enough to start and it will get there eventually. My oven is bottom of the line and also lacks a calibrated knob so I have to guess where to set the temperature* (it never seems to be the same place on the knob twice either so I really rely on my oven thermometer) This time the oven did not get hot enough so I had to crank it part way through. Next time I'm going to wait until the thermometer says what I want it to say. The dough's flavor may also become more complex over time. And, as usual, room temperature in our house is sixty-two degrees so the dough may not have risen properly.

All of that said, Pete says he likes the bread and that it toasts well.

He also says that the house still stinks and that it was really sad when he dried off after his shower because the stench had infused his towel.  That is so wrong. A house in which bread has been baked should only smell delightful

He told me that members of the band that are up there now have also had problems with a stinky pizza stone so I did some googling. It turns out that, contrary to the instructions, pizza stones do not need to be seasoned and if you season them they will smoke and reek. They say that if you open all the windows in your house and put the stone in the oven set to self-clean you can burn the stench out of the stone. Of course my oven doesn't have the self-cleaning feature but I'm hoping that I can still burn the stench out over time.

Yeah man, I'm not giving up! I'm going back for more! It's just my nature! I'm only glad that it's now warm enough that we can reasonably open all the windows in the house.

*It's a miracle any time any of my baked goods come out okay because temperatures fluctuate fantastically in that oven.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's Just My Nature

My secret weapon for today

I am a rebel. My hair is large and in charge. I'm wearing a black bra. Everyone else here (at the reservoir) is exercising - I am eating an eclair. I can tell they're all jealous. Also, I recycle - TO THE EXTREME!!!!!

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011


Yay! I got to go out with Michaela last night. It was a very satisfying girls' night which included prosecco and "Death By Chocolate." Such a cliché but what are you going to do?

Yesterday I mixed up my first batch of no-knead bread dough from the book, "Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day." Today I baked a loaf.

This being me, there were a few incidents:
  1. The new olive oil in the bottle I just bought (Hannaford brand - I should have known) which says "use by 11/17/12," smells so rancid when you heat it up. I used it to oil my pizza stone when I baked the bread so now the whole house smells like hot, rancid olive oil.
  2. Towards the end of the baking time my eyes began tearing and stinging. It turns out the house was filling with smoke. The bread was fine, not burnt.  I have no idea what what caused the smoke. The cornmeal? Some weird drip in the oven that I didn't see? The crappy olive oil?
  3. As you can see in the photo above, I forgot to slash the top of the loaf before I put it in to bake.
Three "incidents" isn't so bad.  This was my first attempt at this method so it doesn't bother me that the loaf is misshapen because I didn't put enough flour on my hands when I was shaping it. I have a five-quart tub of dough in my fridge so I'll have plenty of chances to practice over the next two weeks (which is how long the dough keeps)

First I have to track down that smoking substance though!

The loaf is cooling now (and faster because I opened up so many windows to let the smoke out) It smells good - against the odds - so hopefully it will taste good too.

Maybe next time the house will smell like fresh baking bread instead of reek and stench.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Here is an amazing pair of shoes that I will not be buying for myself:
They are from Modcloth, Jeffrey Campbell. They are so cool! But no. Can't have everything.

And, while we're at it, how about these from John Fluevog?

So beautiful.  Oh well...  Lots of new stuff on the Fluevog page. Irregular Choice is at it again too:
Little bears stuck to 'em.  As usual, many other mad and delightful styles popping up on the Irregular Choice page. I'm watching this pair to see if they come out in another color.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Last week I was whining that Life could be more direct when it's trying to tell a person something. A couple of days later the message was received.

Things have been confusing and I've been trying so hard to function to my best ability. Trying to keep working hard, take care of myself, figure out what the new normal is. I was frustrated when my best efforts kept failing, when I tried to do everything right and still everything went wrong.

Finally I got the idea that maybe the new normal is: Duh, Life's a pain in the ass. Just plow through. Do the  "right" thing or do the "wrong" thing. Whatever - just do what you have to do get what you want done.

Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes it's not meant to be.  Sometimes you fail.  Sometimes you luck out and sometimes you win. If life pelts you with crap, smack it back. It might even be fun.

That's my attitude this week. We'll see how long it lasts.