Friday, February 28, 2014

Bracing for March

I know that for many people, February is the longest month, and that when the calendar turns tomorrow, it will bring with it a breath of relief.

But, last weekend, when it warmed up to around 40 degrees here, I remembered March. And I remembered that March is my annual Waterloo.

The month defeats me, I think, because I expect too much of it. I remember the March of my childhood, with crocus poking up under the lilac bushes and tulips blooming in the garden out front and the occasional foot of snow, that would be wet and perfect for making snowman and then melt the next day, leaving behind green grass.

But March in Maine is more cold, and more snow, or a whole lot of old, dirty snow, and thawing and refreezing and mud. Not a crocus or tulip in sight. And a sun not especially interested in showing its face.

I try not to be too complainey about winter. I trudge stoically through November-December-January-February, and even find things to appreciate--dare I say enjoy--about the season. But by March (let's not even talk about April).

So, I'm trying to come up with a March Manifesto, something to get me through the month without descending too deeply into the March Malaise. I'm thinking it will involve fresh flowers (those pictured are blooming--or about to bloom) in our sun room right now. A walk outside every day (especially when the sun's shining), no matter how cold. Reading (I have stacks and stacks of books that aren't reading themselves). Knitting (I've come up with a brilliant, IMHO, solution to my cabled hat problem). Spending time with friends (even when I'm feeling cranky and antisocial). Ideally, my March Manifesto won't involve indulging in excessive quantities of either chocolate or alcohol (though I'm not ruling it out).

How will you get through the rest of winter (or do you live in one of those magical climes where spring actually comes in spring)?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Really Getting Somewhere

Okay, I hate to give play-by-play updates on this quilt, but I have been working on the damn thing for so long (3+ years now), that now that it's finally taking shape, I'm getting giddy.

Over the weekend, I finished putting together the top. I was feeling a little cranky about the shortcomings (the points of stars that got cut off, the corners that didn't line up, the star points the angle the wrong way, the secondary starts that look more like squished boxes).

Then I hung it up in the windows, and it took on this luminous, stained-glass effect, that made all of the flaws disappear, and left only starry loveliness.

Now I just need to put on the borders (getting a bit tricky with them to compensate for the short/wide dimensions of the top--should of had another row of stars. Oh well). And pick out a backing. And get it quilted. And sew on a binding. And put a button in the heart of every star.
Where the magic happens--sewing in one corner, writing in another, sleeping in the middle.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Z has gotten in the habit of dropping large wads of cash at our local farm store--pounds of free-range bacon and sausage, all-natural sodas, mints in fancy cardboard tubes, and baggies of herbs off the bulk herb shelf. I don't know why this bothers me--he claims that since we won't let him buy what he wants (an iPod Touch), why shouldn't he spend his money on food. He's a much better saver than E, who spends his money on Lego sets or Big Nate books the minute he gets a chance. M can be a saver when he has something in mind to save up for (his own iPod Touch, or a new distortion peddle), or he can spend flagrantly on junk food and school dances, living from paycheck to paycheck (or allowance disbursement to allowance disbursement). Z, on the other hand, holds on tight to his cash. Or at least he did until recently. And he has a great big wad of it to spend, so I cringe when he drops $60 bucks on food. 

But that's not what this post is about. Or it's only about that tangentially. Back around Christmastime, Z bought several vanilla beans and a bunch of big knuckles of ginger root, and has been begging to make vanilla extract and crystallized ginger ever since. I appreciate his determination (although it's a bit disconcerting to come home each night to your eight-year-old asking if you'd picked up any vodka on the way home), and his interest in potion-making, but December and January were too busy for side projects.

Finally, though, I picked up some vodka last week, and more ginger to replace the roots that had grown shriveled and moldy in our fridge, and Z and I set to work Sunday. We followed Catherine Newman's vanilla extra recipe, and ended up with 20 ounces of extract-in-the making. Enough, surely, to last until Z goes to college. We also have a few leftover vanilla beans, so suggestions on what to do with those would be most welcome.

For the crystallized ginger, I just used a random recipe off the internet, which is:

Simmer1 lb peeled and sliced ginger root with 5 c. water until soft (this took 40-50 min.)
Strain (reserving liquid); weigh ginger; return to pot w/ an equal weight of sugar and 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is almost dry and recrystallized.
Spread on a baking sheet to cool.

We made a half-recipe and it made about two cups of crystallized ginger (which didn't last long in our house). It's the chewiest, spiciest, most delicious crystallized ginger I've ever had, and I highly recommend it (it's not a lot of work to make, just a lot of time).

Both recipes will be in the running for kid-made Christmas gifts next year. In the meantime, Z and I are going to have to think of some other potions to cook up.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Weekend Things--Homebodies

I had been planning to take the boys ice skating this weekend, but after a warm rain Friday, I figured any outdoor  venue would be slush. They had just come off a week of school vacation, which C spent working at home in his basement "office" and they spent running feral indoors and out. The only places they went all week were music lessons Wednesday evening and pizza night at the General Store Friday. And they loved it. 
A Saturday morning visitor.
My boys (all four of them) are such homebodies; they love nothing more than just hanging out at home and doing exactly what they feel like doing, in their own space, with their own stuff. This drives me crazy in the summer, when I want to go to the beach or go hiking or something, but in the winter, I kind of get on board.

So, with the exception of M, who went to band practice Saturday and snowboarding Sunday, and C, who helped his mother out with something in town on Saturday, we had another stay at home weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, when no one wanted to go on a walk with me, I realized I could go on one all by myself. I took my journal along and made it into a little poetry field trip and wrote a fairly terrible poem about this tree:

We call it Owl Tree, because the first winter we lived here, M and I saw a barred owl snoozing on one of the branches on New Year's Day. We've never seen an owl in it again, but Owl Tree it remains.

After this week's cold snap, we might be able to skate on the river, provided it doesn't snow again.

In other weekend news, E got very into making smoothies (using up a huge box of oranges and all the black bananas from the freezer).

C continues to prepare for syrup season.

And E and Z listened to so much of Weird Al Yankovic's "Bye Bye Mr. Anakin Guy" that they had to watch the movie (the fourth Star Wars, which they call the first Star Wars because they weren't around in the 80s), on VHS, no less.

I think letting my kids both listen to annoying songs and watch annoying movies--all on the same day--proves that I'm an awesome mom, don't you?

Monday, February 24, 2014


When I was gone last month, C let the boys watch the Lord of the Rings movies. I personally think those movies are way too violent and scary for eight-year-olds, but I'm outnumbered and outvoted in this household, and also, I wasn't there. One good thing to come out of it, however, is that Z became captivated with Legolas (and who wouldn't be captivated by Legolas?), and started to brush his hair to make it silky smooth like that dapper woodland elf's. Last weekend, he asked me to give him the braids to match.

It's been many years since my own hair-braiding days, so the first effort was a bit messy. The next day, we tried again, with wet, freshly-washed hair, and after I looked online for instructions for making the fishtail, or herringbone, braid. Z has arrow-straight, silky-fine hair (though a great deal more hair than I've ever had), and it tends to slip out of its braids rather quickly, so I've been restoring the side braids each morning before work. Luckily, he was on school vacation all last week, so he could wear his braids without worrying about what other kids would think/say. I asked him as we were putting in yesterday's braids if he would wear them to school today, but he replied, rather matter-of-factly, "No, the other kids would make fun on me."

I was pleased that he had this awareness, but it didn't dissuade him from wearing the braids at other times. I'm also a teensy bit pleased to have hair to play with.

Friday, February 21, 2014


My knitting has been sadly neglected since before Christmas. But last weekend, with not much else going on, I picked up this project that I started way back in July--

An Irish hiking hat made from yarn I bought in Ireland and begun on the train from Dublin to Dingle. After starting and restarting (I always have to begin every knitting project at least three times!) a few times, and letting it languish for a few months, I finally came close to finishing last October when we were in Colorado.

But as I neared the end, I realized I was going to run out of yarn, so I frogged it and started again, using smaller needles and skipping the ribbing along the starting edge, but still I ran out of yarn. So I tore back to the beginning of the decreases and knitted it as a tube, thinking it might make a good neck warmer, but it was too scratchy for that (and also, it developed that weird conical shape...I think my kntting loosened up over time). 

So I ripped it back down to about half-size and made it an ear-warmer/headband (my friend from high school, Claudia, and I used to call these "flowerpots" because of the way our ponytails sticking out the top resembled potted plants).

I have four more skeins of this yarn (all in different colors, of course, so it's no good for making up for not enough yarn), my intention being to make each person in our family an Irish Hiking Hat. So now I need to figure out how to alter the pattern so that the yarn lasts to the tip of the hat. It's quite loose, so I think I can lose a good 16 stiches, but the question is, do I replace every other cable with a rib? Skip the ribs altogether? Or make a four-stitch-wide cable? Decision, decisions...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekend Things--R and R

After our taco party Saturday night, we took the rest of the weekend very slow.

(At least E, M, and I did...

...C, who doesn't sit still, spent the weekend plowing and shoveling snow and tapping trees, and Z ran outside every few minutes to try to catch a turkey).

Mostly, we lay about reading and drawing and playing games and watching movies.

I dragged us all outside at least once each day, for snowshoeing or sledding.

And I picked up a long-neglected knitting project.

It was so nice to park the car in the garage Friday night and not go anywhere near it again until Tuesday morning (at which point it protested loudly about having to wake up on a below-zero morning). Now and then I felt a little guilty for not going somewhere or doing something, but mostly, I just enjoyed the rest.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Weekend Things--Taquisa

We had a little taco party Saturday night.

I had meant to have a party before I started grad school, to say goodbye to my friends before sequestering myself in the library for two years.

But I never quite got around to it, and two years had gone by. It was time.

Perhaps it was just an excuse to buy fresh flowers and use all of my Southwest-themed tablecloths and make Margaritas in the middle of winter.

In any case, it was great fun to cook up lots of delicious, spicy food.

Mexican food is really the only type of food I enjoy cooking.

Partly because I figured out long ago that if I wanted to eat good Mexican food in Maine, I'd have to cook it myself, and partly because I actually do make fairly decent Mexican food, whereas my Thai, Chinese, Indian, or African food is only so-so (and American food interests me not at all!).

Mostly, though, it's that I love to eat really good Mexican food. For the menu, I enlisted my boyfriend, Rick Bayless, and we cooked up: tomatillo chicken, potato and chorizo (both pork and vegetarian), spicy garlic portobello mushrooms, red tomato rice, Mexican pot beans. Plus cheese quesadillas (for the children and less adventurous types), fruit salad, and Mexican chocolate cake (with goat milk caramel sauce instead of frosting, because I ran out of energy and time before I made the frosting, and happened to have a jar of caramel sauce in the fridge).

M and our friend Kevin gave us a preview of their upcoming open mic performance (and this week's earworm) of The Eagles' "Take it Easy."

Z set up a Van Halen and Queen dance party in the basement.

Due to another Snowmageddon event, we didn't get quite as many guests as I had planned for.

But I'm not sure how many more people our house could have taken--plus we ran out of limes (but in a mid-winter miracle, we ended up the night with exactly as much tequila as we had started it with--I think it's a sign that we need to have another taquisa sooner than later).
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