Monday, August 15, 2016

It's a Family Tradition

Dianthus believes in family tradition.  If we did something last year, we'd better well do it again.

So, for the third year in a row we went camping and too a self timer of us in front of the tent.
July 31, 2016

For the fifth year our of the last seven, we took the boys over Trail Ridge Road and marveled at the animals (elk, mule deer, marmots, and pikas)

For the second year in a row, we ate baked Alaska to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Dianthus (he is now SEVEN).
SEVEN!


July 2015



















For the first time, we rode the train to a Colorado Rockies game.  It rained, the sun came out, the Rockies won and much junk was eaten by Aster, Dianthus and their cousins.  Expect complaints if is doesn't happen exactly that way again.

Rocky Mountain National Park, from
Trail Ridge Road.  August 7, 2016




Sunday, August 14, 2016

Circumference Divided By Diameter 2016

The [My Family] Pie Workshop happened!

Three of my cousins and I baked pies last weekend!

That's a peach between the Pi and the 2016
First suggested in 2000, when my parents were in China and I baked pies at my grandparents for a larger family Thanksgiving gathering, the [My Family] Pie Workshop had reached mythical someday status.  We agreed we were going to bake pies together . . . someday.

And then last Saturday we did.

We baked two buttermilk and two peach pies, whipped cream, made several bad math puns and laughed a lot.  All (pies, puns, and company) was excellent.

The technique will remain a secret*, but I present here the

Summer 2016 Lucky** Pie Crust Recipe

1/2 C unsalted butter (8 oz., 1 stick)
Members of [My Family]
1 spoonful Crisco
1 1/4 C flour
3 Tbs. cornmeal
1/4 tsp. salt
3-7 Tbs. ice cold water


*Ha!  Keep cold.  Freeze the butter.  Squish-knead the butter into the flour.  Chill as a disk. Chill before rolling.  These are not actual secrets.
You can read them in many books, including those that I use: The Gourmet Cookbook, Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts (the 1980s version), The Pie and Pastry Bible, The Sweet Life, and Betty Crocker.  The Buttermilk filling was based on Martha Stewart and the peach from the Gourmet Cookbook.


**Somehow I've had better luck with pie crusts this summer than I have in years.  While this is probably attributable to the fact that I have made more pies this summer than I have in years, or maybe that I've watched a great deal of The Great British Baking Show, I think that it may be the addition of cornmeal (and sometimes a teaspoon of powdered sugar) and I am not about to mess with these ratios that work.

Chick Lit and Another Bird Book

Savannah
I gave my mother Mary Kay Andrew's Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze, both "beach books" with a healthy dose of Southern charm as preparation for our trip to the beach near Savannah.  Like Andrew's other novels (of which Save the Date is probably my favorite among the five or so I've read) both Savannah novels follow flawed female protagonists through wacky adventures and some of them fall in love.

As we were recently discussing them (I was reading Katie Fforde's Love Letters at the time), Mom kept comparing them to (or confusing them with) some other fun, if formulaic, chick lit beach read, (Mary Simses' Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe, which I haven't read) which made me laugh because all of the women in these kind of books are quirky bakers/caterers/florists/decorators/gardeners, not just in these three novels.

But I came to a stunned revelation after talking to her and looking at my MiL's collection of books.

Some people do not read these kinds of books.

Okay, that is not actually surprising.  More accurately, I was surprised to realize that some people who both read novels and would really enjoy such books, do not know that a whole category of them exists.

Beach in South Carolina.
No, we did not sit around reading on the beach, but I suggest
many good books should you ever find yourself in a
position to sit on a beach reading.
I'm not sure of the true category title- someone in the industry should help me out here.  It's the intersection of "Beach Books" (anything plot driven and easy to read), "Chick Lit" (written for women), romance, and contemporary comedy.  These are not bodice rippers.  The women have jobs, brains, confidence issues, money woes, and sometimes disappointing sex.  They are not Oprah Books.  Dysfunctional families are rarely redeemed.  They are not the sagas of the glitterari of Daniel Steele and Jackie Collins (compared here 5 years ago).  These books are smart, if light, and I really really like them.

I view the authors as women who fully get Jane Austen, Nora Ephron (particularly When Harry Met Sally) and Tina Fey.

So, Jennifer Crusie, Katie Fforde, Mary Kay Andrews are smack in the middle of this genre and I have enjoyed many of each of their books.  What are your favorites?

As a side note, I was contemplating how to write about these books when I realized that "chick" is a bird term.  I can write about all the chick books I want this year!

Speaking of bird books (and pies*)-- I recently read Alice Hoffman's Nightbird.  It is hard for me to be objective about a book that is so many things I enjoy: well written YA, magical, about people who bake, about people who garden, and about birds.  Suffice it to say that I recommend the book for those of you also into magical food books that contain gardens and birds.

*Okay, I wasn't exactly speaking of pie, but I seem to have quite a bit recently.

Monday, July 25, 2016

More Baking Magic

Five layers of coconut pecan deliciousness (an Italian Cream Cake) for a FIVE year old Aster.

And more buttermilk pie.  Because it is the summer of buttermilk pie.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Apology to Three Elizabeths, Third Try

I have not read Eat, Pray, Love,  About this I have been foolishly proud,  And I should apologize.

I must first apologize to Elizabeth Gilbert. Somehow I've been okay with mocking Elizabeth Gilbert for some time.  I absolutely could not stomach the premise of Eat, Pray, Love (and honestly, when described as a memoir of a woman getting over a bad divorce by eating her way through Italy until she finds herself by falling in love with a Brazilian in Bali, it does sound repulsively entitled and simplistic).  But I should have learned long ago that people are more than a plot synopsis, and in this case, not only was the book recommended by one of my best friends, but I've also had ample evidence that Elizabeth Gilbert was more than Eat, Pray, Love.  Among other things, she wrote one of my favorite adult novels of the last few years (Signature of All Things, which I discussed here) and I found her political commentary spot on.  Yet I was smugly not a fan,

I should have noticed some cognitive dissonance when I discussed Signature with my sister-in-law.  When I mentioned that Signature was great in spite of the author, SiL asked if she'd given up her perfect life on the farm.  Once I realized that SiL was talking about Barbara Kingsolver and was still annoyed with Barbara Kingsolver seemed to be enjoying preserving food, I became defensive.  Barbara Kingsolver (Animal Dreams, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees . . . among my very favorite authors) was so different than Elizabeth Gilbert ("just run away and meet the right new man and everything will be okay!"). But SiL had actually read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Pigs in Heaven while I was basing my disdain on what?  The fact that the book sold well?

Which brings us to Elizabeth Hagan.  Rev, Hagan (a.k.a Pastor Elizabeth) was an interim preacher at my church in Oklahoma.  I always thought that she was great for our church, but I was unsure if I liked her, perhaps because I was unsure if she liked me.  I'm older than she is, but in the context of the church we fell into the same small demographic group. We were the only two young (humor me), blonde (humor both of us), smiley, professional women in the congregation, and we may have been uncharacteristically stiff with each other,

After Elizabeth moved on from our church, we became Facebook friends and I started following her blog and her writing.  She's great!  I'm ashamed that that surprised me.  As I was recommending her thoughts on something recently (why Mother's Day and Independence Day shouldn't be celebrated as church holidays), it occurred to me that I may have missed out on a deeper friendship because of petty envy.  As if there isn't always room for more thoughtful smiling women in the world. [Rev, Hagan has a newborn and is working on a new book, so probably will never read this, but if she does: Elizabeth, I'm sorry I that I was surprised to find your writing so good and I'm sorry if my insecurities prevented us from becoming better friends,]

So as part of some compensatory act, penance for judging women harshly for being able to fun things that I'm not (in other words, for doing just what I wrote against doing here), I paid extra close attention to Elizabeth Hagan's recent book suggestions and checked out Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (keep humoring me, somehow this makes sense in my mind).

Committed is wonderful (more on that in a moment).  Which made me think that I should apologize to the aforementioned Elizabeths and also to my best friend E, who not only stood in line to get me a signed copy of Signature of All Things, but who also told me, years ago, that I would enjoy Eat, Pray, Love.  E, I'm sorry I didn't listen to you the first time.  You know me quite well and I should know that.

About Committed:  For about a week and a half, I spoke to anyone who would listen (mostly The Mister and My Mother) about Committed.  It is the most thoughtful discussion of marriage I have encountered, and fun reading as well.  Like Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, I think everyone should read it, but like Operating Instructions, I have no idea to whom I would recommend it.  A happily married woman has no place giving a book about a happily [if reluctantly] married woman to a single or less-than-happily married friend, and the recently engages probably don't want to hear it, just like the recently pregnant don't want to about the the struggles of having a newborn and actual parents of newborns are too sleep deprived to read Operating Instructions and recognize it for the humorous masterpiece it is.
Eleven years two hours and six miles from
the point of public commitment. 

Withing a period of two weeks, I read both Anne Lamott's Some Assembly Required: A Journey of My Son't First Son and Committed,  Both authors have a core subject and both take some rather lengthy tangents (Lamott considerably more so).  In each case, I wondered, "Does anyone really want to read about your travels in the middle of a book about . . . ?" and in both cases, the writing is so good that my answer is "Yes!"  Yes, I wanted to know about Lamott's insecurities and weird trip to India and Gilbert's bad times in Cambodia*, just because they are so skillful with words.  I hope someday to be so skillful.  I need to practice.  Thanks for putting up with my practice.

And, as far as personally committed goes, The Mister and I recently celebrated our eleventh anniversary (steel and fashion jewelry!) by attending a wedding and going shopping together for spatulas.  As you can see from the image, we even color coordinated.  This fact was shockingly much commented upon.

*Okay, not only does Liz (we are suddenly on a first-name basis) have great skill with words and fun taste in subject matter, she is the sister of Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of the fabulous Dairy Queen YA novel.  I would be embarrassed by how much that raises E. Gilbert in my esteem, if I didn't think it happened the other way more often.

Apology to Three Elizabeths

I have not read Eat, Pray, Love.  About this I have been foolishly proud.  And I should apologize.

I must first apologize to Elizabeth Gilbert.  Somehow I've been okay with mocking Elizabeth Gilbert for some time.  Based on premise, I absolutely could not stomach Eat, Pray, Love (and honestly, if you say that the book is a memoir of a woman getting over a bad divorce by eating her way through Italy until she finds herself and falls in love with a Brazilian man in Bali, it does sound repulsively entitled and simplistic).  But I've long known that Elizabeth Gilbert is not all Eat, Pray, Love.  Among other things, she wrote one of my favorite novels of the last few years (Signature of All Things, which I discuss here) and I've read some of her political commentary and find her spot on.  Yet somehow, I was smugly not a fan.

I should have noticed some sort of cognitive dissonance when I discussed Signature with my sister-in-law.  When I mentioned that Signature was great in spite of the author, and SiL asked if she'd given up her perfect life on a farm or not.  Once I realized that SiL was talking about Barbara Kingsolver and was still annoyed with Barbara Kingsolver because Kingsolver seemed to enjoy preserving food, I became defensive; Barbara Kingsolver (Animal DreamsThe Lacuna, The Bean Trees . . . among my very favorite authors) is so different than Elizabeth Gilbert ("just run away and, meet the new right man and everything will be okay!"). But SiL had actually read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Pigs in Heaven so was basing her opinion on something.  I'm not sure where mine came from.

Which brings us to Elizabeth Hagan. Rev. Hagan (a.k.a. pastor Elizabeth) was an interim preacher at my church in Oklahoma.  I always thought she was great for our church, but I was unsure if I liked her, perhaps because I was unsure if she liked me.  I'm older than she is, but in the context of the church we fell into the same (small) demographic group.  We were the only two young (humor me), blonde (humor both of us), smiley, professional women in the congregation, and we may have been uncharacteristically stiff with each other.

After Elizabeth moved on from our church, we became facebook friends, and I have started following her blog and her writing. She's great!  As I was recommending her thoughts on something recently (why Mother's Day and Independence Day shouldn't be celebrated as church holidays), it occurred to me that I may have missed out on a deeper friendship because of petty envy.  As if there isn't always more room for thoughtful smiley women in the world. [Rev. Hagan has a newborn and is working on a new book, so probably will never read this, but if she does: Elizabeth, I'm sorry that I was surprised to find your writing so good and if my insecurities prevented us from becoming better friends.]  

So, assuming she would never have any knowledge of it, I recently checked out Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage because Elizabeth Hagan recommended it, as a sort of compensatory act.

Committed is wonderful (more on that in a moment).  Which made me think that I should apologize to the aforementioned Elizabeths, and also to my best friend E, who not only stood in line to get me to a signed copy of Signature, but who also told me, years ago, that I would enjoy Eat, Pray, Love.  E, I'm sorry I didn't listen to you the first time.  You know me quite well and I should know that.

About Committed: For about a week and a half, I spoke to anyone who would listen (mostly the Mister and my Mother) about Committed.  It is the most thoughtful discussion of marriage I have encountered, and fun reading as well.  Like Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, I think everyone should read it, but like Operating Instructions, I have no idea to whom I would recommend it (a happily married woman has no place giving a book about a happily [if very reluctantly] married woman to a single or unhappily married friend and the recently engaged probably don't want to hear it, just like the recently pregnant don't want to know about the struggles of having a newborn and parents of a newborns are too sleep deprived to get just how funny Operating Instructions is).

Eleven years, two hours and 6 miles from
the official point of  public commitment
Within the period of two weeks, I read both Anne Lamott's Some Assembly Required: A Journey of My Son's First Son and Committed.  Both authors have a core subject, and both take some rather lengthy tangents (Lamott considerably more so).  In each case, I wondered, "Does anyone really want to read about your travels in the middle of a book about . . . " and in both cases, the writing is so good that the answer is, "Yes!"  Yes, I wanted to know about Lamott's insecurities and weird trip to India and Gilbert's bad times in Cambodia, just because they are so skillful with words.  I hope to someday be like that.  I need to practice. Thanks for putting up with my practice,

And, as for a personally committed, the Mister and I recently celebrated our eleventh anniversary (steel and fashion jewelry!) by attending a wedding and going shopping together for spatulas.  As you can see from the image, we even color coordinated. It was shockingly much commented upon.






Monday, July 11, 2016

But There Are No Chiggers On A Dream Trip

Despite being best buddies, Aster and Dianthus have the sibling habit of caring way too much about what is befalling the other.  Good things are sweeter if one can gloat that the other didn't get it.  Bad things are worse if the punishment is not shared, whether deserved or not. Unequal distribution leads to an uproar, even if one or the other doesn't particularly like whatever is being shared.

In other words, they are human.

I bring this up for two reasons.  The first is that I have an aunt who thinks that my brother and I didn't bicker in the back seat.  I don't know what evidence she used to conclude that, but I certainly don't want to mislead anyone about Aster and Dianthus.  I'll be clear-- Aster and Dianthus have abundant charms, and they can be really annoying individuals.

Secondly, I have witnessed this behavior too much in adults recently.  When hearing about things other people are doing: taking maternity leave; going on a long honeymoon, competing in long distance races; there have been responses of, "well, I didn't get any paid leave," or "knees don't really hold up after 50" not so much as a point of discussion but with an implied attitude of, "I didn't get to do that, nobody else should either."  Although it is just as unseemly when adults do it as when my kids declare that it is no fair the other gets to carry the towel bag (really), I've caught myself coveting when I read of friends taking a year or two to live in Mexico, or overlanding from Alaska to Patagonia, thinking, "Well, I couldn't up and leave for two years," as if that should have stopped them (read their blogs Slobe Family Adventure and When Sparks Fly, and for discussion of how to do it yourself, see The Practical Overlander).

So from the first day of driving in the rain across Arkansas, when I thought, "Wow, we are doing it again.  We are living the dream," I've wanted to write about the recent journey with my family.  And I keep getting stopped by the voices in my head telling me about all of the problems in the world and all of the problems faced by my friends.  There's a vague background chorus chanting, "Must be nice."

And the truth is, it is nice.  It is nice to have the Mister who wants to eat around the world with me. It is nice to have a job where I don't work in the summer.  It is nice to have the means to travel. It is nice to have great parents and in-laws who want to meet us in interesting places so they can hang with their grandkids.  It is nice to be able-bodied.  And I know full-well that having this combination is not the norm and will not last forever.  And my not appreciating it will in no way solve the problems of my friends or the world, nor will a lack of appreciation extend my window of opportunity.  So I'd better get over any hesitation and enjoy it while I have it.

So, we took a four-thousand-plus mile road trip (it is not as far to Hilton Head, South Carolina, as it is to Vancouver British Columbia, where we drove last year).  We saw, did, and ate lots.

One stop on our journey was a professional conference at which I was presenting.*  Strangely (for an academic conference), there was an option to camp and, also strange for an academic conference, one could sign kids up for a nature and art camp when one registered; which is how this whole trip came to be ("while we are going to Kentucky for the conference, we might as well go to West Virginia to see our old neighborhood.  While we are there, we might as well attend the folk festival.  Oh, there is time between conference and folk festival? well, we might as well go to the beach . . .).

When we arrived on Sunday night, late, having taken a wrong turn and driven the windy roads of southeast Kentucky twice, we weren't sure exactly what our reception would be.  A super-nice woman was willing to re-open the registration table, only to tell us that the road to the campground was impassably muddy, but if we would pull out our camping gear, she'd send somebody to shuttle us there. We were tired, cranky, swarmed by gnats and unloading our minivan in the mud






to pick out the camping essentials to be dropped off who knows where across a creek.  I commented to the Mister, while wondering how far I was going to have to slog in the mud in order to give my professional talk, "Yeah, camping with the family at a conference.  May go on the list among the craziest things I've done.  You'd think I'd know better."

Someday they will legitimately be able to say, "When I was young
we would go on vacation and there wasn't even a t.v.  So we played
barefoot in the creek all day.
And then it became magical.  The frogs were so loud they kept us up at night.  The freshly cut hay and the mountain magnolias left life smelling fresh and vaguely sweet.  If one stayed up late enough, the stars and the lightning bugs were amazing.  Dianthus and Aster bonded with the four other children in the kids' camp, and for four days they were inseparable, racing to establish their own table in the dining hall, helping each other on hikes, and playing barefoot in the creek for hours.
Little kids in big spaces

It was every bit as idyllic as it sounds.

Same spot: enlarged to show texture of trees
I know enough of the craft of storytelling to know that readers don't want uninterrupted sweetness.  But our trip overall, and our time at Pine Mountain in particular, was truly lovely, and nothing would be gained by sullying those memories.  Which is why I'll leave the discussion of the constant scratching of giant swollen chigger bites on both boys' genitalia off of this post.

*For the record, my severely budget constrained institution did not pay for any travel and I am never compensated for my time while attending summer conferences.