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.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Home from (and in) Exotic Places

Upon their return to Colorado from a two week East Coast excursion (meeting us in Hilton Head towards the beginning) my mother told me what a great trip they had, and how it had almost felt like visiting a different country, with all the different, foods, accents, and environments.

Southeastern Kentucky.  So not Western Oklahoma.
It sounded silly when she said it, and I would have laughed, had I not just commented, two days before, when we arrived in Kansas City, in a hot haze over 100 degrees with a furnace blasting south wind and bad traffic, that it felt like home.  It wasn't just that the Mister was not alone in his Royals cap and Jayhawk shirt, it was that until then, from the first lunch in Fort Smith, it felt like we were somewhere else, someplace exotic, someplace vaguely foreign.  Grits and green tomato country covered by lots and lots of trees.*

South Carolina Swamp.  Also not Western Oklahoma.
Wandering around the town in West Virginia where I lived for four years didn't feel like a homecoming (except when seeing friends) and I kept muttering, "We used to live here? It's so green.  And so steep and so not like the places I live."  But I did live there.

When I returned to Western Oklahoma there was a similar sense of confusion, "Really?  This is where I live?" (and I never lived in Kansas City, which felt so home-like).  But my cat was here, and our house with its problems and lots of lots of zucchini and yep, I was back where I belong.

Central Kansas in May.  Not Western Oklahoma as well.
It's hard to explain the diversity of the US to people outside of it.  Its hard for me to fathom and I've driven huge swaths of it.  It's a pretty incredible place in so many ways.  So here is my annual celebration of the diversity of this country, and the greatness that can be found across it.  Happy Birthday US of A! With all of you're flaws, you are my home, and for that I am glad.



The Captains say, "Happy Birthday USA!"




*Anyone who complains that driving the interstate across Kansas is the most boring driving around hasn't driven the interstate across Georgia, flanked by plantation pines and nothing else for hundreds of miles.

2015 Americana Cheese photo here and 2014 here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Magic of Baking

Food, as we all know, is magic.

Food, as anyone who reads this blog knows,  is also one of my obsessions (coincidental?  I think not.)

Rhubarb Blackberry Crisp on my birthday.  A magical moment
that otherwise has little to do with this post.
So it really shouldn't be a big shock that I read more than my share of cookbooks, books by people  in the food industry, and books about people in the food industry (if I looked hard enough, I'm sure I could find the name of the sub-genre of chick lit with caterers and bakers as heroines, for me they are just normal novels).  Yet I am sometimes surprised by how much I love books about magical food, from Garden Spells (magical food from magical plants in a magical place) to Bliss Bakery.

Saturday morning I picked up Sarah Weeks' PIE at the library and by noon I was buying groceries for a buttermilk blackberry pie with a cornmeal crust, which we ate Saturday night.  Since I made up the recipe, based on two in the YA novel, it wasn't perfect, but I think I am going to go try again.

Magic indeed.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Travel Lists 1-5

We've returned from the second of our summer trips, with lots to report.  In the unlikely event that you are into lists as much as I am, here are a few:

Nashville
States (15): Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, home. (Now Dianthus wants me to list all of the states he has been to.  It's 29).  Georgia and South Carolina were new to the prairie dog (who hadn't picked up a new state since Arizona in 2013) and me (nothing new since North Carolina and Tennessee in 2008).

Not everyone is excited by state capitol buildings.
Atlanta.  I've been taking capitol dome selfies
since before I had a double chin or a digital camera.
State Capitol Buildings: 3 (all new to me) Nashville, Atlanta and Columbia (other capitols seen, if at a distance: Little Rock, Columbus, Indianapolis, Topeka).  This would be great news for my family capitol competition (I haven't picked up a new one since Annapolis in 2010), if my parents hadn't had a four capitol run (Atlanta, Richmond, Dover, and Annapolis) on their simultaneous trip.
Inside Columbia,
where actual legislating was happening

National Parks: Mammoth Cave, Cumberland Gap, Congaree, and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. This represents no value out of our National Parks Interagency Pass, as Cumberland, Congaree and Seneca Rocks  were free and we paid for the fabulous Domes and Dripstones Guided Tour through Mammoth Cave.  We purchased the pass at Rocky Mountain last June 1, and in the thirteen months we had it, managed to hit Rocky Mountain three times, Dinosaur, Golden Spike, Glacier, Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, Jewel Cave, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Capulin Volcano, White Sands, and Saguaro, in addition to those mentioned above.

Watching Frogs, Mammoth Cave National Park
Birds of Note: Whippoorwills, brown thrashers, brown pelicans*, anhingas*, barred owls* and great blue herons.

Other Animals of Note: turtles, frogs so loud they kept us up at night, lightning bugs, sting ray, horseshoe crab, luna moth, racoon, groundhogs (at which Dianthus shouts "marmot" when he spots one), many small lizards, a skink, newts (and salamanders and crawfish for the boys) and alligators.  Doesn't everyone go to Hilton Head for the wildlife?

*Birds new to my life list, if I had one.

Boy observing lizard
Luna Moth, Cave City, Kentucky






Lizard observing boy (just before fight with other lizard)

First alligator, the small one.

Medium Alligator.   Large alligator was much larger, much
closer and LOUD.  We did not hang around a take a photo.

Skink, Congaree National Park



Why didn't I add milkweed beetles mating to the list?