Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chestnuts roasting

Neglected blog, getting dusty and cobwebbed. The house seems unnaturally quiet tonight. Just this morning, it was full of house guests, Austin friends who'd come for a too-short visit. Among the highlights, we stoically stood in line for Giacomo's in the freezing cold and were rewarded by tender calamari and delicious pasta. Maybe that's Giacomo's secret. Their dishes are liberally sauced with both anticipation and triumpth (one dines under the covetous stares of those still in line). We all survived our visit yesterday at the Museum of Science (apparently along with all families in the greater New England region). It was fun sharing Boston with friends (despite the sub-zero wind chills).

And now. Time to get back to the everyday. I'd meant to post this earlier, but didn't have a chance. Ever since first sighting them at Russo's, I'd wanted to roast chestnuts. For some reason, I'd never had them in Austin. I don't recall ever seeing them available, although I'm sure they must have been sold at Central Market. But roasted chestnuts. Ahhh...they're redolent of an old-fashioned winter. Buying them from vendors with carts. Wrapping your hands around their warmth in your coat pockets. And of course, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." What could be more vintage holiday?

So here they are. Thanks to Magdalena for the instructions.

How to Roast Chestnuts:
- Preheat the oven at 375F
- Cut an X on each chestnut. Place them on a cookie sheet. Do not add anything to them.
- Cook for approximately 25 minutes.
- Check one for doneness. They'll be done when they're soft, but not dry.
- VERY important step: when they are done, place them in a bowl, cover with a tea towel, and leave for 10 minutes. This step ensures that they will easily peel.

Verdict? The recipe worked perfectly. Unfortunately, no one liked them, but me. As for me, I didn't love them. Instead, they brought back some wispy memories of Korean roasted chestnuts. The moment felt positively Proustian with chestnuts playing the madeleine's role. Now in defense of roasted chestnuts, I admit that we ended up buying the chestnuts from Whole Foods, not from Russo's as instructed. I was too terrified of the frenzied pre-holiday crush at Russo's. Next year, I'll buy Russo's chestnuts and try again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In search of zinc

Don't you hate it when you have a vision for a space and are unable to source the specific item you need? Years ago, I was on the hunt for billowing dupioni curtains. Nothing to be had other than luxe couture items that were zip codes away from my budget. A couple of years later, dupioni curtains became ubiquitous, found in every mail-order catalogue and suburban mall in America.

Now, I'm on the hunt for zinc wall shelves. Or copper tray shelves. Or any shelves that would look at home in a potting shed. I did find this 19th-century bucket bench with zinc-covered center shelf. This goes a bit too country, and I think that it was an item that had already sold at auction.

Oh, and I need the shelves for the basement bathroom. Why does one want potting shed shelves in a bathroom? Well, it stems from our IKEA Domsjo farmhouse sink.

We'd bought it for our old kitchen. When we moved, I decided I needed a larger kitchen sink. So the Domsjo has been lugged from Austin to Boston and now resides in our attic. It struck me the other day that the Domsjo would be a perfect fit for the basement bathroom. The bathroom is steps away from the walkout door so the Domsjo could double as a mudroom sink, perfect for dirty or chemical-laden washups. With its orange seventies wallpaper (lavished on every surface including the ceiling) and budget motel vanity, the basement bathroom is overdue for a makeover.

The Domsjo sits on the sink cabinet so we won't have a traditional vanity. Instead, wall shelves, in particular zinc wall shelves, would be functional, fit the narrow space, and continue the outdoorsy, unexpected vibe. Because we're using a kitchen sink, I have to be careful of what else to put in the room. For example, stainless shelves might look as if we'd accidentally stuck part of the kitchen in the bath. Very traditional bath cabinetry might negatively accentuate the sink. So to harmonize with the farmhouse sink, I'd like a dark uniform slate floor and potting room shelving. The sink base will be painted an earthy green/putty color.

The one positive to my fruitless search are the wonderful web sites I've discovered.

zinc Pottery Barn lanterns on Katy Elliott's wonderful blog

zinc kitchen island/buffet at Mecox Gardens

Alas, though they referred to zinc-covered materials, none of them had what I need. So...zinc shelves anyone?

A steamy day after Christmas

I'm spending my day after Christmas in a swimsuit bottom and t-shirt. Not exactly the way I'd pictured myself clad on a New England winter day.

Ahhh...a post-Christmas holiday, you think. Or a day at a spa, courtesy of a generous gift-giver?

Not quite. I'm spending some private time with the newly found love of my life. And it's not a mid-life crisis fling. He's little and hard-bodied. He's quite a cheap date (only $55 at Costco). Yes, he does take some time to recharge now and again, but who doesn't? His name is Wagner. Wagner 905 power steamer. And boy, is he steamy. He sailed effortlessly through my first little test, easing off one wall of decades-old wallpaper (and a layer of plaster too...but the steamiest affairs all have unintended consequences).

So here I sit. On the floor of my shower. Steaming away years of old, beyond-hope caulk and grossness.

And all that steam isn't bad for my pores either. It's a spa vacation, DIY-style.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our first Boston Christmas

Our first Christmas here in the Boston burbs was a white Christmas. My very first. It was lovely. After the semi-controlled frenzy of present opening in the morning, we headed out to test our new snowshoes and sleds at a nearby golf course.

The snow on the main sledding hill was pretty worn down, but there was enough snow on a smaller hill to be fun for my sledding novices. They swooped down and clambered up over and over and over, cheeks rosy with cold, faces beaming. My husband, who has edged reluctantly into his forties, flew down the little hill like a child.

And I've discovered something wonderful. Snowshoeing. The rhythmic crunch in the cold hush, the smooth movement. I've missed running so much since my knee surgery. Running used to be my meditation, my heartbeat my mantra. This is the closest that I've come to that feeling of peace. And as a low-impact, no-torque activity, it's perfect for my crummy knees.

And after all of the snowshoeing and sledding and tramping about, the afternoon ended appropriately with a snowball fight. A snowball fight in which we demonstrated why none of us would ever make it to the major leagues. Heck...the minors...or even a competitive Little League team. But despite (or maybe because of) our incredibly terrible aim, it was fun all the same.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Problem of a canine kind

Did you know dog pee freezes?

Yeah. I guess I did too. But I never thought it would pose a potential issue.

The dog pee doesn't just seep into the ground and vanish. No. Not when it's always freezing. And when you have glittering, pristine expanses of white snow, those little frozen puddles and streaks of yellow really catch your eye. And not in a good way.

We'd shoveled our walkways and sidewalks like good citizens. We have enormous mounds of snow lining these walkways. Apparently, doggies do not enjoy plowing through the cold stuff to do their business. Because on our sidewalks and along some of the berms (from neighborhood male dogs), we now have frozen little ponds of pee. Lovely.

Further, we normally let our two shelties out in front. Our backyard is only accessible via the basement walkout or down the frozen deck steps. Since one dog is aged and crippled, it had been easier to let them out front. We're going to have to rethink this. Because now, we have yellow splotches right outside the front door. That just doesn't say "welcome in," does it?

The things I'm learning.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Better off dead

Not really. But you'll catch the reference. Or maybe you'll have to see the movie again. It stars John Cusack so it's not all bad. Or you can just take the shortcut and Google the movie.

Today, I snorted snow for the first time. It gave me quite a jolt, buzzing through my sinuses. Though I was a party monkey in my younger days, my partying was limited to more prosaic stuff. Coke may have been the glamour drug of the 80s, but this girl had never personally experienced its charms. And still hasn't. Because today, I actually snorted snow. Real snow. The light powdery stuff floating through the air. And really. Not so good.

It wasn't on purpose. I was madly shoveling out from under 7+ inches of snow. With my hair frosted in snow. (My husband lost our one and only adult-sized hat.) And with my sweatpants caked with the white stuff. (Somehow I haven't found the time to buy myself snow pants. My children have a couple of pairs each. Go figure.) And sniffling (from the virus that has hit our household). Hence the snow-snorting.

So. Straight from the source. Just say no to snow. Doesn't feel good.

P.S. The white stuff is still falling. It feels like we're living in a snow globe.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Short circuit

I see a theme emerging here. It must be "80s movies week" at Bluebonnet's blog.

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with a heartwarming tale of a robot who has come to life. More prosaically, this has to do with old homes, old electrical systems, and freezing pipes. Yep. A heartrending tale of homeowners' woe. I'm starting to become convinced that in order to own an older home, one must either be handy or married to someone handy. I'm in the latter category.

Those of you who're my Facebook friends may remember the trouble I had with my new Samsung washer a couple of weeks ago. (FYI, Samsung may manufacture well-priced, good quality appliances, but their warranty service stinks. Two plus weeks and no one has contacted me about service. If Will hadn't fixed the matter, I would be highly, highly pissed.) Will solved the mystery of the excessively chirping, non-working washer. The electrical outlet was the culprit. We ran a long extension cord to another outlet as a temporary fix. Problem solved.

Not so fast. I ran a load of laundry today. More chirping, and this time, an error code. I was starting to picture myself scrubbing clothes in the bathtub, hair piled under a babushka, singing laundry shanties. So...this is the deal. The broken electrical outlet wasn't the problem. It was a symptom of the problem. The electrical outlet was tied into a circuit that also fed the garden storage area underneath the mudroom. This was a very important circuit because it powered the heating elements that warmed the pipes in the storage/mudroom areas. The breaker for this circuit had failed. So the circuit failed. No electricity in that area. The temperatures had stayed below freezing (see blog below). With no warming elements, the pipes had begun to freeze. So little water was getting to the washer.

We're lucky the pipes didn't burst. Another temporary fix: space heater in the garden shed area to warm the pipes. Permanent fix: change out broken breaker. (See note about needing to be handy?)

Another glamorous episode in the day of a vintage house. We're very thankful we spent the money to upgrade the electricity in the house. Although they didn't (obviously) replace all of the breakers, they did a great job organizing and labeling. Makes it much easier to fix. Does it sound like I know what I'm talking about? Not a bit. It's all "blah...blah...blah...breaker...circuit...Home Depot run" to me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Less than zero

It's more than a Bret Easton Ellis novel and 80s movie. It's a forecast. According to the Globe, the National Weather Service predicts "temperatures will plunge tonight to near zero in the suburbs and maybe even dip a little below that."

See? Snarkiness always bites me on the ass.

We really are in Antarctica, Toto.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to test the freezing nostrils scenario tonight. Three out of five household members (including moi) have been felled by a virus. So I'm wrapped in blankets and eating saltines. Indoors. I have a funny feeling that there will be another "freezing nostril test" opportunity soon.

And Less Than Zero? Features personal favorites, Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr., and James Spader. I might have to Netflix it. Just for nostalgia's sake.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Riding the T

I love riding the T. The lives that you glimpse for a moment, share for a few stops. Lives that one can invent for people that you see, knitted from a scrap of conversation or a pair of scuffed, well-worn shoes. So many different lives: students, blue collar workers, professionals, young, elderly. Some sit as tightly wound as a spring, practically quivering with tension. Others read. Still others snooze. One very clean-cut young man used his train ride to nap, frankly snoring away. It's the same reason I love to sit by the window in a hotel late at night and watch the city pass by below.

Maybe I'm a fantasist. Perhaps I've watched too many movies. Still I love the idea that here on the T, the lives of complete strangers can intersect, even if only for a moment.

To be frank, my cynical side asserts, I've seen few exchanges between strangers. The two I remember involved very pretty young women...girls, really. One, whose crisply curling chestnut hair was pulled into a carefully careless updo, exuded a certain waifish, slightly bookish charm. The second channeled Alice in Wonderland Goes to College with her long, straight blonde hair held back with a headband. Both drew the attention of hopeful young men (and the eyes of still-hopeful, not-so-young men).

So the reality may be that on the T, as elsewhere, romance is reserved for the young and the attractive. Yes, the reality is that the T is an often crowded, frustrating system with (if reports are to be believed, unsafe) equipment and stations. I acknowledge this. My reality as an infrequent user is very different from those who rely on its caprices for daily transport. Yep. Call me an idiot romantic. It's also a place of infinite possibility.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Freezing nostrils

Now, this is the second time I've heard this. That indeed, it gets so impossibly cold here that your nostrils freeze. Actually, the moisture in one's nostrils freezes. This sounds really, really uncomfortable. The fact that an old college friend delivered this information just adds credence to the whole improbable statement. I say improbable because after all, this is New England and not Antarctica. We are no modern day Roald Amundsen. No one is going to say, "My God. She went to Boston and lived to tell the tale."

But then again, if you can't believe an old college friend, whom can you believe?

So a "happy holidays" from the Boston burbs. I'm hunkering down and readying myself for frozen nostrils and other assorted winter pains. It's a balmy 40 here today so the nostrils can breathe a sigh of relief.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"He's a lumberjack..."

"...And he's okay.
He sleeps all night and he works all day..."

Okay. No skipping, jumping, or hanging around in women's clothing at bars here. But my husband is doing his very best darned impression of a lumberjack, out there splitting logs from a felled tree. We don't have any andirons or fireplace screen yet. As soon as we get them, we'll have our very first fire in the fireplace.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."

All sorts of woodsy, nostalgic songs leap to mind.

Musical Tourette's, as a friend says.

It's darned cold, and we're embracing the New England lifestyle. Splitting logs. Plaid flannel shirts. Moose.

Just kidding. No moose here. Are there even moose in New England? And Will's wearing a Chuy's t-shirt, a shout-out to one of our favorite Austin restaurants. Oh well. One out of three. We're kinda New England-y.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My first snowman

Or snowman gone terribly wrong:

He wasn't supposed to look like this. Darn rain.

Survivor: Snowfall

If you were driving through my neighborhood this morning, you may have seen a woman clad in a magenta raincoat furiously shoveling snow. "Who is that crazy woman, and why in the world is she shoveling snow in the rain?" you may wonder as you carefully slid past.

Let me tell you. She is shoveling snow because she has heard the stories. If you don't shovel the snow immediately, it will melt and then refreeze into a sheet of ice. This last is always said with a verbal flourish implying all sorts of menace and doom. A sheet of ice! Yikes! Further, this sheet will last all winter because it will never completely thaw. If you make that first crucial mistake, you will be paying until springtime.

Well, this Texan wasn't going to make that mistake. Nosirree. This Texan was going to head out there no matter the weather and shovel that snow into submission.

As I started shoveling, I noticed irregular, very loud, dull thuds. Ahhhh...Large clumps of wet snow and ice were dropping from the very tall pines around me. Excellent. It was like playing a video game. Round 1: shovel snow before getting beaned by deadly snowballs. I felt like a Mario Kart character. All I needed was the tinny, synth music. If I got beaned by one of those snow/ice clods, would computer-generated stars circle around my concussed noggin?

Luckily, I never found out. Perhaps I should invest in a helmet? Now that would be a sight!

I noticed a couple of other things. One, I was the only person out there doing this. Two, where was I going to put the snow? It has to go somewhere. I started dumping the snow down the driveway, forming berms around the perimeter. Where my driveway met the snow, there were already little moguls of snow at the corners. Which begged another question: am I actually worsening the situation? Would these berms which would be more resistant to melting than a thinner layer of snow create future issues?

Well. No one to ask. And too late now.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I'm beginning to feel that that the stereotype is true. New Englanders are a rugged sort.

And one would have to be, wouldn't one? In my very short tenure here, I've already raked more leaves and shoveled more snow than I ever did during my nineteen years in Austin.

At least there's a certain romance to the leaf raking and snow shoveling. A sense of living in rhythm with the seasons. Plus there is the added benefit of a decent (and inexpensive) cardio workout. A rake and shovel are relatively cheap. The leaves and snow are free. After a few minutes of shoveling, I had shed my Nanook puffy coat in favor of just a sweatshirt layer. Afterwards, the effects could be felt everywhere from biceps to hamstrings.

Living with true seasons demands rigor and discipline. If you're not physically handling the tree detritus, you're scheduling their removal. You're taking out lawn furniture and bringing it in. Likewise with sporting equipment. You deal with gutters (or if you don't deal with gutters, then you deal with ice dams). You ready yourself with salt and scrapers and sand and blankets while your southern counterparts blithely stroll about in shorts.

Perhaps this is why I've seen more LLBean-clad septuagenarians hiking trails and walking to their daily errands here than I'd ever seen in Austin. Granted, Austin is a very youthful city. However, I was much more likely to see the 70+ set enjoying their early bird dining at Luby's than striding along Town Lake or SoCo.

So this is my new goal. I don't want to age into a scheduled regimen of Botox and discreet lifts. I aspire to be that lululemon-clad septuagenarian. Kidding! That LLBean-clad septuagenarian striding through a keen, frosty winter day, rugged and vital and vigorous, honed by years of living through seasons.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Usage #2 for Starbursts

The candy, that is. Not the shapes.

Excellent for dislodging a stubbornly loose tooth.

What do you expect from someone who has duct tape patches on her floor?

Forecast: snow

I should have seen it coming after those barrels of sand started appearing around my neighborhood. Of course I knew it all along. But now it's imminent and very real. It's December, and snow is coming. Three to five inches of snow. That sounds like a lot!

Yes, I know. What did I expect? But expectations differ from cold, hard reality (or cold, fluffy reality as the case may be). My children thought that the light dusting we received in October was awesome. My son carefully scraped up enough snow from all over the backyard to make two very lumpy and pine-needle-encrusted snowmen. And of course, I went crazy taking photos and posting them on Facebook to show my Texas friends the very odd sight of snow dusted pumpkins.

And now. Three to five inches. Wow.

We have salt. And a snowblower. And a snow shovel. (And two pink little kid snow shovels thanks to a kind neighbor, but I'm not seeing the two little girls making much of a dent on any sort of accumulation.) I'm having visions of being stranded in our house, unable to back our car up the driveway (which is a bit steep). Actually, my husband grew up in St. Louis so he should be fine. It's just me who has never driven in ice in her life. Except for that one time in Austin when I ventured out on iced roads in a Miata. I was young and very stupid.

We shall see...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brookline's 1st Light

Among my many worries about our move were holiday traditions. More specifically, losing our holiday traditions. In Austin, our family's holiday traditions included a walk through the Trail of Lights, a mile of 40+ lit scenes winding through Zilker Park. We'd come a bit early and wait by the Zilker Tree, an 155-foot-tall "tree" strung from the Moonlight Tower. We'd munch freshly popped kettle corn. When the Trail opened, we'd merge into the crowds. And every year at just about that time, I felt a surge of ridiculously sappy, sentimental, misty-eyed emotion.

This year, I was sad to see that the Trail of Lights barely survived the city's budget cutting to emerge as a shortened, half-mile trail re-christened "The Zilker Tree Holiday Festival." And maybe, secretly, I was a little bit relieved. Selfishly to be sure. But relieved to see that things don't stay the same even if one stays in the same place.

But what would we do in Boston? In my most anxious moments, I pictured a dreary month void of all holiday cheer and festivity.

Well, tonight, we went to 1st Light at Coolidge Corner in Brookline. The Coolidge Corner merchants and Brookline entities welcomed the holiday season in style, offering crafts, musical acts, fun freebies of every description, and food. Due to the big guy's guitar lesson, we arrived late and found ourselves tangled in a snarl of traffic. Lesson learned. 1st Light is apparently quite popular. We managed to find a parking spot a bit removed from the main action. The children were worried that all of the good stuff would be gone. They needn't have worried.

They dipped candles in wax, decorated photo frames with paint and glitter, made "gilt" walnut ornaments, and wrote with turkey feather quill pens. They received balloon animals and amazing flashlight/pens and cotton candy and snacks. We watched Indian dancers and listened to a few bands and chorale performances. The streets were full of families with beaming, bouncing, overexcited children and gaggles of exuberant teens. A fun, fun holiday street festival.

Thanks to Tanya for suggesting this outing. I feel a new holiday tradition taking shape.


Austin's forecast for Thursday, December 3, 2009:
High: 49
Low: 32

Boston's forecast for Thursday, December 3, 2009:
High: 68
Low: 40

Austin's forecast for Friday, December 4, 2009:
High: 38
Low: 26
Snow forecast

Boston's forecast for Friday, December 4, 2009:
High: 52
Low: 37

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A time to build

What a difference. What a difference a day makes. And new countertops (budget IKEA butcherblock). And a new faucet (Hansgrohe Metro from Costco). And a new fridge (Samsung from Lowe's). The kitchen looks fantastic. Well. Okay. Ignore the duct tape/aged sheet vinyl patchwork flooring. Other than that. And the halfway demolished cabinetry on the refrigerator wall. Maybe somewhat improved is a more accurate term.

The countertop hasn't been permanently affixed yet. It needs multiple layers of Waterlox, and the sink needs to be caulked. But the fridge is cold and full of food. The water is running. And I am beyond thrilled. So thrilled that I'm about to slap on a white subway backsplash, get the abatement people to just cut around the existing cabinets, and call it a day. Not really, but for now, I'm going to enjoy.

Some photos:

The old version. Note the metal-framed insets of some flimsy plasticky material. The frame trapped crumbs and would allow some to fall through to the drawers below. Ewww.


Friday, November 27, 2009

A time to tear down

"a time to tear down and a time to build..."
- Ecclesiastes 3:3

At our house, we seem to be mired in the "time to tear down" phase.

I don't usually quote the Bible, but this seemed appropriate today. I'm feeling a certain amount of Biblical wrath.

The delivery men from Lowe's are in my house as I write this. They're taking out the too-small washer, dryer, and refrigerator, and bringing in their new, larger replacements. Over the past couple of days, Will tore down the cabinets surrounding the fridge. The enclosure was too small for the larger refrigerator. More duct tape on exposed asbestos tile flooring. Discovered in this process: a newly revealed scrap of very festive wallpaper between two cabinets.

Then the news. The fridge is too large to fit through the narrow doorway to the kitchen. And before I could even say, "Jehosaphat," (I'm feeling Biblical today), Will was tearing out the molding on that doorway.

I'm sick at heart.

Now that pretty molding is chewed up. The one and only entrance to our kitchen is surrounded by splintered wood (can we say, "not safe?"). Never mind that it's original to the house.

Further, Will is going to have to spend more time tearing out trim. Longer than the delivery guys are willing to wait. So we can't even get the fridge today. Talk about a lose/lose position.

I realize that you have to have patience during renovation. Especially during a renovation where money is tight, and one is not just handing the reins over to a general contractor and saying, "Go to town." But this is just one piece of splintered wood too many.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why is it so hard to give?

And I mean this literally.

We're replacing our refrigerator, washer, and dryer. They work perfectly, but are too small for our needs. They came with the house so I don't know how old they are. I bet that they aren't the youngest, shiniest things on the block, but they are completely, fully functional...down to the icemaker in the freezer and the moisture sensor in the dryer.

So we called a nonprofit to pick up the appliances. We don't want them to clutter a landfill before their time. Someone in need could use a refrigerator, washer, and dryer in perfect working order, right?

The first nonprofit is closing.

The second nonprofit...well, a guy actually...isn't taking them.

The third nonprofit, the Salvation Army, won't take any major appliances unless we can guarantee that they're under five years old. Seriously. So according to the wisdom of the Salvation Army, it's better for people in need to have nothing rather than perfectly functional, older appliances. Also, who donates nearly new appliances? I'd guess the very wealthy and folks who're getting rid of problematic, troublesome appliances. I guess it's better to take young lemons rather than older, functional models.

This isn't the first time that I've run up against this. During Katrina, I tried to donate my children's outgrown clothing for Katrina victims. These were name brand (and I'm talking Hanna Andersson and Gap here), perfectly good clothes. No stains. No holes. Hardly any wash wear, if any. Nonprofits working for Katrina victims would not accept them. They only wanted brand new.

I'm not saying that folks in need should accept and be grateful for shabby, run-down, barely functional things. Absolutely not. But it seems that even the world of nonprofits has been bitten by the consumerist bug. The idea that one should eschew the ten-year-old, beautifully tailored coat made of the very best materials for the au courant style, no matter its quality. That only new or nearly new is acceptable. Sad. And wrong.

And for those who wonder, yes, my children wear hand-me-downs. I gratefully accept them from my sister-in-law and friends with older children and even purchase from second-hand sources.

So. Does anyone know of a person who needs a refrigerator, washer, and dryer? They need to be able to transport them. We'll help load. Anyone?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Summer camps

You heard me. Summer camps. Yes. S-u-m-m-e-r.

There's something very wrong with researching summer camp before Thanksgiving. But that's the way things roll. A very popular (and a wee bit spendy) day camp opens to new campers December 15. And apparently fills up very quickly. Lest you think this phenomenon is limited to the hyper-competitive northeast, the ever popular Camp Half-Blood in Austin is already sold out for summer 2010. I was thinking of sending the big guy to Austin for that camp. Oh well. Not an early bird. No worm.

So I'm researching summer camps. After awhile, they all start to look alike. Slick websites filled with images of gleaming, bright-eyed, grinning children. All so happy with their camp experience. And the language promising intellectually stimulating projects, lifelong friendships, nurturing environments, energizing sports and activities. Fun. Fun. FUN! And...the subtext goes...a healthy, balanced, happy child with a posse of good, healthy, balanced, happy friends who will all go to an excellent college of their choice and make their parents proud.


I don't know what I'm looking for, but I don't think any of these camps are it. These camps full of sanitized, carefully honed experiences. Maybe I'm just feeling jaded. Or maybe I'm tired of excitedly typing in a website for a program that sounds oh-so-cool only to find that it's a branch of a national chain of "experiences." That the oh-so-cool factor had been carefully crafted and marketed. Where's the authenticity? The individuality?

I'm going to ask the big guy what he wants to do this summer. Or maybe I should resist signing him up for the ultra-shiny camps for thousands of $$$, and just have him be bored at home. Some articles I've read recently say that boredom is good for kids. These articles seem to subliminally suggest that boredom is the fertile soil from which sprout amazing things. The only amazing thing sprouting from my child's boredom seems to be whining. But maybe that's just us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Butternut squash soup

Another foray into fall veggies. The roasted beets went well. So gathering courage, I attempted butternut squash. They're rather daunting...large and heavy and firm. The recipe I chose was a butternut squash soup gleaned from an online kitchen forum I frequent. It seemed very simple with the minimum of steps and ingredients. I'm trying to stick as best as I can with slow foods/whole foods, and this met the bill.

So here's the recipe:

2 med butternut squash
1 pound cooking apples
2 red onions
2 T butter
1 to 2 T grated fresh ginger root
dash cayenne
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper

Topped with:
maple syrup

Cut the squash in half and place on parchment paper cut side down. Roast in a 400 oven til the skin is collapsing in. Cut the apples in quarters. Core, but do not peel. Peel and quarter onions. When squash is done, remove from parchment w/ a spatula and put the apples and onions on the same paper. Roast till the apples are collapsing. Cool all and pull off the squash peel. Using a rubber scraper, remove the apple peel. Coarsely chop the red onions and saute them in 2 T butter til very soft. Add squash, apple pulp, and enough water to make it soupy. Add juice of a lemon. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Grate 1 to 2 Tbsp of fresh ginger root. Add a very tiny dash of cayenne...a little goes a long way ! Let simmer for about 30 min. Stick blender. Serve with yogurt/maple syrup blend swirled on top.

First thought. Cutting butternut squash in half isn't as simple as it seems. The squash is large and quite firm. It took multiple maneuvers with a chef's knife to accomplish. Perhaps this goes easier when one is more experienced.

Hmmm... problem. I had to use my largest cookie sheet to fit the squash. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a rim, and it looks like there are pools of squash liquid. How to get the sheet out without spilling boiling squash liquid on myself or the oven?? Oh goody. The liquid is now dripping onto the oven floor. Ultimate solution would be get a larger cookie sheet with raised rim.

It took my squash less than 30 minutes for their skins to start developing large bubbles. Very creepy/X-Files/Fringe-looking. Maybe several minutes past this to collapse.

The apples/onions took about fifteen minutes to collapse. This may have been a tad too long. Second thought. Roasted red onions are very difficult to chop because they're soft and slippery. You're supposed to coarsely chop, but I hate large bits of anything in my food so fine mince (or an approximation thereof) it is.

Question as I saute. How soft is "very soft"? The onions were already quite soft from being roasted.

The question I thought I'd have (how much water to add) was actually a non-issue. It seemed relatively easy to eyeball the mixture and add enough liquid for it to seem soupy and not stewy. We'll see in the end if it's the right amount. Added about four cups all told.

Result? Delish! I topped it with a dollop of Fage yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. It was sweet and a bit earthy with a very slight bite from the cayenne. And it was very, very good for you. Hardly any added oils at all. This is an almost perfect late fall soup, and would be great paired with pork chops or a game bird. Mmmm...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Turkey Day Dilemma

It had been all set. We were going to experience living in the little states by driving through five of them. MA to NJ or bust. For those who are geographically impaired like me, that's MA - RI - CT - NY - NJ. What a difference from Texas where one can drive and drive and drive and still end up in Texas. We were looking forward to seeing family and surviving Black Friday in New York City. We had to take our budding scientists to the American Museum of Natural History!

Best laid plans etc. etc. A hosting family member will be going through surgery on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The prognosis is good, but somewhat undetermined. So we were suddenly on our own for our first Turkey Day as yankees.

And now. I'm at a bit of a loss. We're not used to doing the turkey thing ourselves. Before kids, we'd usually travel, either to see family or to just travel. One of the very best Thanksgivings I can remember was spent at Estes Park, hiking the Rocky Mountains. We'd spent another Thanksgiving hiking the Guadalupe Mountains. Talk about driving and driving and driving through endless West Texas!

The arrival of children put an end to the hiking holidays, but we'd still go to someone else's home for turkey. Usually one set of parents.



For some vague, undefinable reason, I'm resistant to doing the whole turkey thing this Thanksgiving. Not that I'm not thankful. I am. And not that I don't love holidays. I do. Perhaps it's because we're new to the turkey thing, and the whole turkey/stuffing/sides preparation seems daunting. Perhaps it's because our kitchen is held together by duct tape. Perhaps it's because it seems silly to spend hours lavishing care on a bird and assorted yummies for the five of us (three of whom would be more likely to appreciate a thin cheese pizza).


Is it so very wrong to just order a premade Thanksgiving dinner and call it a day? No slaving away. Just some reheating and perhaps making one or two things from scratch? And spending the rest of the day watching football and playing Uno and redoing our kitchen countertops if the spirit moves us?

We'd better decide. I think the order deadlines are coming soon (if they haven't already passed).

Thursday, November 12, 2009



Lou telling her big sister (now five!) that big sis can sit in the front of the bathtub because it's her birthday. Who sits in the front of the bathtub can be quite the bone of contention.

Big awwww...

That's huge generosity from a 3.75-year-old. Especially one who watched the birthday girl choose lunch and dinner, select a cake, and open presents.

Love when they're sweet to each other. Which happens fairly often.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The most amazing thing

The most amazing thing about this area is that you can be at the beach and then in mere minutes, be in the woods. Treasures found: two horseshoe crab shells (they molt the shells when they're outgrown) and an enormous piece of driftwood that was a perfect springboard.


Reflections upon leaves

These photos are from our recent trip to the Ipswich River wildlife sanctuary. The largest Audubon site in Massachusetts, this sanctuary offers over ten miles of trails winding through 2,265 acres, mainly wetlands.

The sanctuary's most famous feature is the Rockery, a project commissioned by Thomas Proctor, a wealthy landowner. Designed by Japanese landscape architect, Shintare Anamete, work on the Rockery began in 1902. Anamete stayed on the site during the entire nine-year construction period, overseeing every detail. (From Of Fantasies and Footpaths: Seven Landscapes to Enjoy With Children by Maryann Alberts Malarkey) Enormous boulders, brought in by cart and horse from miles away, form tunnels, ledges, overhangs, and many, many opportunities for excited little guys to climb, clamber, and explore. We had to pry the kiddos away.

Fall color at Ipswich River. Glorious. You don't need to trek to a sanctuary to see the leaves. Color is everywhere. I've had to remind myself to pay attention because I'm gawking as I drive down the highways.

The reflections of the trees shimmering in the many ponds were almost literally enchanting.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kitchen and food thoughts

The kitchen renovation is crawling along. More demo than anything else. And, of course, constantly thinking and rethinking choices. Here it is as it stands now. Note the lovely duct tape flooring. Chic, yes? A touch of the unexpected.

We removed the sagging kitchen desk and the old peninsula. The desk was a miracle of old houses. It was only supported on one side and totally unsupported on the other so it had been gradually sagging. I don't know how it survived these past decades. The duct tape covers the spaces where asbestos flooring has been revealed. So far, the renovation suffers from a severe case of the domino effect. We can't have the flooring removed until all the cabinets and pantries have been demolished. We can't demolish the cabinets until we've decided on the new cabinet layout, the cabinet maker, etc. etc.

So basically, until the spring, we'll be living with duct-tape patched flooring. The glamorous life in a vintage house.

For now, we moved the peninsula against the wall and laid the old counter on top. It's just extra counter space. We brought up an IKEA office cabinet for extra storage. The drawers are very, very useful, but its surface is not food safe. We've purchased some very inexpensive IKEA butcher block countertops to replace the worn, laminate counters. These will only be a stopgap measure, but the old counters simply won't do. The counter's metal-rimmed inserts let crumbs fall through into the drawers and gruck accumulates along the metal. Gross!

Interestingly enough, we've been cooking very well in this makeshift kitchen. Last night, fried eggplant and homemade pizza (with homemade dough). Thin crust pizza with pepperoni, fried eggplant, and lots of cheese...mmmm...made an excellent leftover lunch too. Tonight, garlic lemon tilapia and baked bay scallops with stuffing, asparagus, and baguettes. Tomorrow is beef bourgignon.

Tomorrow we're off on a day trip for cider donuts, a fall delicacy here, and more apples and possibly free range eggs. And hiking. And leaf peeping.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cupcake showdown (Austin versus Boston)

I've had a request for some fall photos. We haven't gone leaf peeping yet (though fall color is everywhere). So instead, I offer this photo of another fall sight. Sugar! Pre-Halloween goodies.

Delicious cupcakes from Sugar bakery in West Roxbury ( Hiding off-camera was the grown-up cupcake: mocha raspberry. Mmmm...

How did they compare to...say...Austin's Hey Cupcake! ( Well, Hey Cupcake has that cool retro vibe going for it. I mean, enormous cupcakes dealt from vintage metal Airstream trailers. What's more fun/funky/Austin weird?

But the one day that I brought my kiddos to Hey Cupcake! turned out to be a disappointment. We were celebrating a minor something. My son protested that he preferred Central Market cupcakes, but we were right by Hey Cupcake! I'd heard about how delicious they were so we stopped to buy some. At $2.50 a pop, they fell into the splurge category, but the cupcake was certainly Texas-sized, an enormous cupcake practically dwarfed by its mountainous crown of frosting.

They were too large. Too sweet. Too much. The frosting was overpowering, and its slick, oily feel was eventually nauseating. I ate most of mine and regretted it. My eldest was both disappointed by the cupcake and vindicated by our opinions.

So I was hesitant to try Sugar cupcakes. My experience with specialty cupcakes hadn't been the best. However, my husband was in the store to pick up some Italian bread, and he brought home these beauties. And oh my! What a difference. First of all, the size was appropriate. Massachusetts-sized perhaps. The price was a bit over $2 each ($12.50 for four cupcakes and a giant loaf of delicious Italian bread plus tax). The children eagerly gobbled their cupcakes. When asked who thought these were the best cupcakes, hands shot up in the air and frosting-smeared lips screamed, "Me!!!" The verdict was unanimous.

The grown-up cupcake. Oh my. The delicately mocha-flavored icing with the generous smattering of coconut. The lightness of the cake. The perfectly sweet dollop of raspberry hiding in the middle. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Thumbs up from us all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pine sap removers that work

I'd meant to post days ago. But time passed, and I didn't. As it's useful stuff, I thought better late than never.

(Other blog subjects that I'd meant to post, but didn't include our trip to the farm, our trip to Arnold Arboretum, and our culinary adventures with peaches and applesauce. Oh well. This just means I'm too busy living life to blog, right? Or just too tired after long days of living life with three children.)

Anyway. After much internet research, we came up with these candidates for pine sap removal.

These are (from left to right) hand sanitizer, non-acetone nail polish remover, and rubbing alcohol.

And after extensive testing of the first two (haven't gotten to the rubbing alcohol yet), I'll say that non-acetone nail polish remover works fantastically. You pour a little onto a clean cloth, dab it generously on the sap, and scrub it off. Then you wash off the area with water. You have to keep moving to a clean area on your cloth because the sap sticks to the cloth. Other than that, it really does work well. I got my hood almost entirely clean in a bit less than an hour.

The hand sanitizer. Well. I tried it on the windows. I glopped the sanitizer directly on the glass, waited a while, and then scrubbed. It worked okay, but the glass didn't come clean as easily as I'd hoped. Now...this was after a long time of working on the hood so my fingers may just have been tired. Or perhaps the hand sanitizer is just not as effective. I keep planning to head back out to the car to finish taking off the sap marks, but a combination of busy schedule and weather have conspired to keep me from it.

It's Friday night, and do you know where your kids are?

It has started. Well. That's being a little overly dramatic. Tonight marks the very first night that a child of mine has gone on his own to an open social function. He has, of course, been dropped off at many a playdate or birthday party. However, this time, he is at a party that's open to all fifth graders in my town.


So it starts. The nights of staying up wondering how your child is doing and when he/she is coming home. Okay. Tonight he's coming home at nine o'clock, brought home by a friend's mom.'s the first step. A big first step. Tonight there's a dj with music and dancing and foosball and pool. Whew!

I hope he has fun. I hope he remembers the values with which he was raised. I hope he doesn't get bullied. I don't he doesn't feel pressured into doing something he isn't ready to do. I hope he doesn't feel he has to get a girlfriend. I hope he just enjoys hanging out with his friends, making new friends, and savoring that first little nip of freedom and responsibility.

A fairly heavy load to be putting on a fifth-grade get-together, right? Right.

I'm already picturing the time when Lucy sneaks into the fifth-grade shindig with Claire. I can see her now. They grow up so fast.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The truth about pine sap

When we researched our Austin to Boston move (which we did extensively), pine sap was never mentioned. Not once. Ice, yes. High cost of living. Poor roads. Standoffish folks. All of these and more. But no one even mentioned pine sap. And when we went house shopping, I never once considered pine sap as a reason for a garage.

But pine sap. What a nuisance! I used to love pine trees. So Currier and Ives. So coniferously charming. I wanted to collect pine cones in the fall and display them in a bowl à la Martha Stewart. But first the pine trees dropped an unbelievable amount of large brown rice krispie-like litter. Then sap. Lots and lots of sap. My new Pilot became generously embellished in sap.

This was our huge mistake. If you're new to the Boston area and don't have a garage, don't do this! We left the sap on the car. Various stores were out of remover, and we didn't hurry to find some. Weeks later, I ambled outside this cool, breezy, bright fall morning to finally tackle the sap issue. Here is what I used.

This lovely, toxic petroleum derivative is supposed to take the tar, pine sap, and other sticky substances right off your car. I poured a liberal amount onto the cloth and wiped at a sappy spot. Nothing. I scrubbed vigorously. Nothing. I scraped with a fingernail. A bit came off. I tried pouring some on spots, waiting, and scrubbing. A little came off. The new, still soft sap wiped off fairly easily. But the hardened, older sap had almost become a part of the finish. After an hour, I had only done part of the hood with very spotty results (pun intended).

So. We're moving on to fingernail polish remover with no acetone. This is supposed to be better. We'll see. I hope it won't strip the finish off of my car. I'd be a bit pissed. Maybe this is just part of the higher cost of living in the area. The professional car detailing budget.

A garage is starting to look mighty tempting. At this rate, the kitchen remodel will never get done!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This morning I spent half an hour battling my nemesis to a not very satisfactory conclusion. I'm so annoyed by this that I'm blogging about it, instead of teaching the little girls how to write their letters.

Here's my nemesis.

Pretty innocuous, yes? Sure. A shower. Albeit a very small shower. So what, you think?

Well...this shower...this aged shower...this not-very-well-maintained shower...has permanently embedded mildew/mold/ucky gruck in its tile grout. This requires liberal use (and breathing in) of Soft Scrub with Bleach. In the three months I've lived in the house, I've gone through more Soft Scrub with Bleach than we used in a year in the old house. (Granted, we had a housekeeper then, but I didn't buy that much Soft Scrub). This ucky gruck is so ensconced that a dousing with Tilex doesn't work. Not at all. One must douse it with Soft Scrub and scrub, scrub, scrub. The gruck on the lowest tiles cannot ever really be removed because one must get on one's hands and knees to get enough leverage. The shower is too small to get on one's hands and knees in it.

At one point, someone decided to paint the gray floor grout with white grout paint. Now it is peeling off so it looks perennially filthy. Not intentional like gray grout, but like very, very dirty white grout.

After all of this, this scrubbing and cursing and kneeling (on the bath rug reaching into the shower), one would think the shower would gleam. No. Not really. It just doesn't look disgusting anymore. We really, really, really need to talk to a contractor.

For anyone worried about an upcoming visit, the children's/guest bath has been renovated by the previous owner and is marble and white subway tile and unlacquered brass fixtures from England. It's just my bath that is the yuck.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I'd read that with this past summer's plentiful rains, the apples this fall would be extra huge and juicy. Yum! I really wanted to apple picking. It sounded so perfectly New Englandy. And I really wanted to go on a weekday when there would be fewer crowds. (Waiting in line for an hour to get a cider doughnut just did not sound like my idea of a good time.) So voila: last-minute trip to go apple picking.

After lots of internet research, I decided on Doe Orchards in Harvard, MA. It was reputed to be non-gimmicky with none of the tourist trap trappings that some other orchards sport. No hayrides. No face painting. Just rows upon rows of beautiful apple trees laden with fruit.

It's a bit of a drive there (45 minutes or so), but we passed by Walden Pond (hello, Thoreau) and some beautiful countryside. There were very few people out this afternoon. It felt as if we had the orchard to ourselves. The kiddos and I took our wagon and our bags and trekked across the fields. Row upon rows of trees stretched before us. Each tree was improbably laden with fruit. Amazing. And beautiful.

I was worried that the kiddos would go into a frenzy of apple picking, and I would have to bring home a bag of wormy, green apples. But no. They were very careful (even the little Lu) to check each apple for worms or imperfections. And they carefully twisted (don't pull...twist) the apple off the branch and gently laid it in the bag.
Such happy, intent faces! The folks at the orchard encouraged us to taste the apples so each girl had an apple in hand, crunching away, as she searched for the perfect apple.

And here is the result of all that labor. A half-bushel plus one peck of apples...a.k.a. 36 pounds of apples!

We've already used about four pounds in an apple crisp. Delicious (with an improbable amount of butter)! Let's say this is a once-a-year treat. I'm planning fresh applesauce, apple butter, and apple pie. And of course, fresh apples for eating. Yum!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Peaches as summer fades

I just discovered this on another blog. Thinly sliced fresh peaches, tossed in a little sugar, and then steeped overnight in dry white wine. You eat the slices with a fork and drink the liquid. Can you say "yum"??? This sounds divine. The essence of summer. But summer here is fleeting, and I'm afraid that it has already passed. I'll check this week for fresh peaches. Maybe I can grab one last taste before we step wholeheartedly into fall.

As the peaches fade, apples surge. Perhaps I should be cultivating a taste for apples. I'm thinking that an apple picking trip is in order. Apple crisp. Apple pie. Applesauce. And perhaps some mulled apple cider. Claire has been asking for apple butter.

I found this recipe for "All Day Apple Butter" on

5 1/2 pounds apples - peeled, cored and finely chopped
4 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

It basically cooks all day in a slow cooker: 1 hour covered on high, 9-11 hours covered on low with occasional stirring, then 1 hour uncovered on low, whisking occasionally. Pour into sterile containers.

This sounds intriguing. And easy. And yummy. But what in the world is a sterile container? Something clinical with the antiseptic tang of a hospital leaps to mind. But I think what is meant are canning jars. Right? That is an entirely foreign world to me. Where does one buy canning jars and how does one sterilize them? Must google.

I've found a few apple cider recipes that sound delish and warming. I'm wondering if I could introduce a little extra warmth in the cider. I've heard red wine (sounds odd), rum (hmmm...really?). I'm wondering about brandy...after all Calvados is apple brandy or perhaps whiskey? So many delicious options.

The leaves have started to turn. Just a bit. And I'm looking forward to fall.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Goy-ldielocks and the three...

Ahhh. That was a sad, lame attempt.

It's the end of a long, hard week. Why am I even attempting to be punny? And is there a word that sounds like "bears" that really means "diagnoses"? Because that's where I was headed. Got a bit stymied by the dead end though.

And this post has nothing to do with Judaism or being a gentile or anything of that ilk. Though I believe that since the sun has set, it is now Rosh Hashanah. So happy new year! In Austin, that gentile town, Jewish holidays didn't seem to impact the general consciousness. Here, the schools are off for Yom Kippur. I have a hankering for pastries, but I'm concerned that my favorite local bakery will be closed tomorrow. My neighbor commented how she is behind in preparing for Rosh Hashanah. And so, my consciousness has been impinged upon, and I feel I'm learning. Always good.


I did go see a doctor. A very nice woman in a very nice nearby practice. They failed to weigh me (excellent because my fat jeans have become a wee bit tightish). They took my pulse (97...ouch!) and my blood pressure (very high for me). And her three diagnoses were:

1. Anxiety (Yeah! Good drugs!)
2. Asthma (Boo! Bad drugs...makes one's heart race!)

And she paused and shook her head. Never a good sign. And said as if to herself, "I really shouldn't even mention this. It's so rare."

See? Like an episode of House.

3. Adrenal gland tumor.

Oooohhh...Tumor. That sounds...well...freaking scary. I gladly accepted the prescription for the good drugs and raced home to google "adrenal gland tumor." Which was reassuring actually because it sounds like the majority of adrenal gland tumors are benign. Which means not the big scary "c" word.

And I learned something else. Did you know that your adrenal glands are located right atop your kidneys? That's right. I assumed that they were in your brain. You know...maybe next door to the pituitary gland. But no.

See? You learn something every day. It means you're alive. Happy new year!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Diagnose me this is just pissing me off.

You may or may not remember my flight to Boston to close on our house. That weird spell that I had mid-flight. I'd written that off as an isolated anxiety attack. It was to be expected, right? I had been stressed for months, and combined with a tighter-than-normal seating arrangement, resulted in an anxiety attack.

But it has happened since then. A few times. For no reason. With no predictable trigger. But the feeling is always the same. The sensation of being unable to get any air. Which gets much worse if I try to lie down. The weird tingling at the back of my scalp and in my hands and feet. My pulse racing. The lightheadness. It feels horrible. Awful. There's no feeling of sudden terror so is it a panic attack? I guess I'm under some stress still, but I'm not feeling particularly anxious. Or not much more anxious than my normal slightly neurotic self.

And now today. It struck while I was being driven home from the mall. Lunch at the food court (Chick Fil A...the children have been asking for this for months), girls' sandals on sale for next summer, some cheapie Children's Place play clothes, and some new sale Dansko clogs for me. Fine. Normal. Everyday.

And then this. But it hasn't gone away. I've been feeling this inability to catch my breath off and on for hours. It has really started to worry me. I googled it. You should never google anything medical. This should be a life rule.

I don't have a doctor here, so diagnose me. What is it? Panic disorder? Anxiety disorder? This is a really great time to develop some psychiatric disorder. Asthma? It seems to happen more when my sinuses are acting up. It seems unrelated to physical exertion because I've been exercising (brisk walking, elliptical machines, bike rides) with no ill effect. And yes, I'll be looking for a doctor. A real one. Not here on the internet.

Now Will googled it and is launching into pulmonary this and sarcoidosis that. Oh my God, I've become an episode of House! Unfortunately, I think whatever doctor I manage to find will be no Hugh Laurie... :-)

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Our last two days at the Cape were lovely. Intense blue skies. Sunny. Just enough warmth so you could emerge shivering from the chilly water and slowly warm up. Cool and breezy enough to be able to take a walk or sit and read without sweating. I realized that's what I dislike about the southern beaches. Sweat + sand. Not a texture I enjoy.

We discovered a beautiful, beautiful beach. Powdery sands (no painful exfoliation here)! Dunes carving toward a clear ocean. Lovely sandbars revealed during low tide with shallow pools that were perfect for carefree splashing. Perfect waves for the big kid to dive through.

The girls and I found the beach. The guys had gone fishing on a charter boat. The boy finally caught his first fish! After trying with his dad at Lake Travis and with my parents at Port Aransas, all to fish-free results, he caught a striped sea bass and a scuppy. He brought them home in triumph. Dad made an executive chef decision to bake them whole (excluding guts and gills, of course). Unfortunately whole meant including the head. Did you know that a fish's eyes turn white after baking. Yes. Creepy. Too creepy to enjoy. I strongly suggest beheading your fish so you won't be dining with that white accusing fishy stare. The sea bass was supposed to taste good. I couldn't tell. The scuppy was yucky. He should have been freed back into the ocean to enjoy another day.

We all went to the beach the next day. Animals spotted: a seal (yes! a seal!), a school of hundreds of panicked little fish being chased by a big fish, and tiny jellyfish (no stings). The guys actually swam through the school of fish as they jumped through the waves. The boy said he could feel the fish brush by him. We played in the sand and splashed and read and stared at the sky and reflected on how absolutely perfect the moment was.

And now we're home. We're already planning next year's trip. I think it will be longer. I think we may take our bikes. If our sheltie is still doing well enough, we may take her as well. I'm wondering if we could swing a retirement home there someday.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Finally! A beautiful day at the Cape.

The boy and I hiked on the beach into Provincetown. Will and the girls joined us in town where we grabbed a quick lunch and wandered down Commercial Street. Lots of fun boutiques and galleries here shoulder-to-shoulder with the usual t-shirt shops. I stopped by John Derian's tiny Provincetown shop. Lovely things. I think that we'll use some of his trays to decorate the kitchen after it has been remodeled. The shop was off on a side street and marked by a discreet sign. I can't believe that anyone would stumble upon it unless they knew it was there.

The boy picked out this mindboggling metal puzzle as a souvenir. We've been playing with it all afternoon. No one has solved it yet.

In the afternoon, dad and son went off to clamber over the entire stone jetty to the tidal flats. The girls and I played on a beach. The sunny morning had given way to a chilly, gray afternoon. The water was freezing, but it didn't stop my stalwarts from playing in the shallows. I have to say that New Englanders must be hearty souls...or at least have hardy soles. (Boo!...sorry!) The entire shore was covered with stones and shells, and after walking across a few times, my tender, city-soft feet were screaming. No Caribbean soft sand here. The sand granules were the size of seasalt...not the fine table salt. Ouch. At least my feet are now beautifully exfoliated.

After an hour, we were blue and shivering and ready for hot baths. After a simple early dinner of whatever was in the fridge, we were back out on the beach in front of our rental, watching sailboats pass and playing in the sand until the sun set. A lovely end to a lovely day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bottom of the food chain

In this episode:

- Will plumbs the depths of Cape fashion...

- Gena is frightened by her footwear...

Another rainy day at the Cape. We'd planned to explore some tidal pools. The kids, especially my naturalist, were very excited. No tame aquarium/zoo experience, this!

The closer tidal pools proved a flop. They were at the end of an enormously long stone jetty built of giant boulders, often perched at precarious angles. Fun for a ten-year-old. Too dangerous for preschoolers.

We decided to drive further in to the Brewster Flats, a two-mile spread of tidal pools and beach. We arrived a bit before low tide. It was gray and raining lightly so we left our camera in the car. It was beautiful. Shimmering pools of shallow water interspersed with clumps of grasses and exposed sand as far as we could see. The swooping flocks of seagulls proved we were at the right place. We flung ourselves onto the sand and eagerly peered into the water. Where were they? The crabs? The starfish? The squid?

The first discovery was an almost invisible school of little fish. Not too exciting. We waded on. We could feel the tide slipping away, and our feet squelched in the runnels of soft sand and seaweed.

An unbroken shell! I bent down to pick it up and show my son. Look! He took it from me, turned it over. "Mom! It's got a crab in it!" Sure enough. A hermit crab nestled inside. I replaced it in the sand. There were so many little hermit crabs, scuttling in the shallow waters. They were tiny, the size of a fingernail. We were entranced, and then worried about stepping on them.

We waded further out. The tide kept receding, opening new stretches of sand. And we started finding the corpses. The empty shells of crabs, the opened and broken shells...the detritus of the seagulls' gorging. We kept forging further out. We found no crab left uneaten, except for the tiny hermits. Finally, my son turned away. "I'm getting creeped out, mom." He couldn't take all those broken bits of crab.

We started heading back in. The seagulls were mostly standing about now, no longer in a feeding frenzy. The sands were splattered with their droppings. It was like being at a park after a particularly drunken concert, the seagull equivalents of beer bottles and cigarette butts strewn about.

Two children and I were chasing schools of fish when Will emerged from a clump of grass. His legs were evenly dark from the knees down. Quite a look...the dark knee socks with shorts. Particularly fetching when the knee socks were made of mud. Apparently a short cut was not quite the solid ground it appeared. Two steps, and he had sunk deep. He lost both shoes and had to pry them out of the squelchy, smelly mud.

He was not happy.

As he was washing, I noticed a thin, dark creature swimming through the shallows. It looked like a small snake. An eel? I started to point and say, "Look! An eel!" when it moved towards me. And quicker than quick, that eel swam into my shoe!!! I was wearing Crocs. I guess probably mistook the Croc holes for nice hiding holes. Eeeek!!! I could feel it slither past my toes. I have idea how it got out, but out it got. Moral of the story: do not wear Crocs in the presence of eels.

The rest of our day was pleasant and uneventful. A stop by a lighthouse. Fried seafood and ice cream for dinner. A walk on the seashore, girls making sand castles and the boy learning to skip stones on the surf. And wind down to bedtime.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh Danny Boy

Ah, Tropical Storm Danny. You were supposed to swing by tomorrow. We'd already planned our day of huddling indoors and hoping we won't get washed away. This was an unforeseen downside to having a rental literally right on the water.

On our way to said rental, we planned to rent bikes and ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail. I was very excited about this. The CC Rail Trail was smoothly paved and car-free. I love to bike, but hate having to negotiate trafficked roads. I find it stressful which erodes those feelings of rhythm and wind and freedom on a bike.

The bike rental went smoothly. We attached the girls' Burley from home, and off we went. The first part of the ride was perfection. The trail was almost completely flat. There were lots of fellow cyclists and some walkers, but the trail was in no way crowded. The weather was a wonderful mid-seventies with an ocean breeze.

We arrived at our first stop, the Cape Cod National Seashore's Salt Pond Visitor Center. It's a short detour away from the trail, but the roads were very well marked. The two-mile ride to the beach from the visitor's center was a bit trickier with tight curves and elevation changes. But to someone used to the Austin hills, it was fine. We arrived at the beach. Bikes filled racks. A parking lot of bikes! I don't think I've seen so many bikes in one place since my triathlon.

As we locked up our bikes and headed down the path to the beach, I noticed something odd. Folks were heading in droves in the opposite direction. Families. Surfers. Away from the beach. Was there a notice? An evacuation? We had barely sunk our toes into the sand when the first drops fell. Then more drops. Tropical Storm Danny may not be here yet, but his approach seemed to be felt early.

Well hell.

Quick rustling up of the little ones. Loading back up. Back down the two miles to the visitor center. The center was the perfect place for a rest stop and snack, looking out to its lovely view. This, by the way, is a kettle, a pond created by a glacier 18,000 years ago. It's physically connected to the sea so it's saltwater.

I had hoped to continue on the trail as far as the Marconi Station, site of the first transatlantic wireless station on the US mainland. But as the rain continued to spit down, sometimes in light drizzles and other times in frank showers, we changed course and headed back to the rental place. It was a good decision. Mid-seventies on a bicycle feels lovely. Mid-seventies on a bicycle in the rain feels cold!

This may be the last year we're able to do this as a family for a few years. The girls are already cramped in their double Burley. We have a trail-a-bike for Claire, but I think it's asking too much for her to ride it for 10+ miles. I'm so glad we got to do it this year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

People 0; Plant 1

A landscape designer came by today to educate us on the plants sprawling across our gardens. We went, literally plant by plant, discussing whether to pull, prune, or leave alone. Later this afternoon, I decided to get right to work on our plans. I especially wanted to pull the plants that were in our future vegetable garden.

There is one particular plant...very tall and stalky with elongated clusters of blooms. The bees love it. It's very lanky and leggy and easily pulled. Well, it apparently has a defense mechanism other than entrenched roots. It burns.

My wrists above my gloves itch and burn. My face, ears, and neck (where I rubbed them) itch and burn. I washed with water. I took a shower with soap. Still they burn. I didn't get all of the plants either. There were too many bees on some clusters so I left them for later. Dang. How am I going to get them out?

You'd never know that living this close to Boston, I live in wild kingdom. The other day, Will took the kids to see the wild turkey and its six poults walking down our sidewalk. Our sidewalk! What a funny sight!

Oh, and we've inadvertently started a compost bin. I had swept up a bunch of pine needles a few weeks ago, and the kids put them in the tall plastic bin. Well, now, it's composting. Earthworms and all. Isn't that cool? Now I'm going to have to read up on how to maintain it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Oh! oh! oh!

I am so disgusted!

And after this, you will be too. So fair warning to all squeamish readers and to those who may be reading before mealtime.

I was going to toss out the leftovers from my husband's birthday cake. I peeled off the aluminum foil and glanced down, preparing to scrape the remains into the trash can. There were these odd little things in the pan. Tiny little dark brown twisted things.

Mouse poo!!!

And in confirmation, one corner of cake/frosting was chewed off.

Ick! Ick! Ick!

What is it with this house! First squirrel pee on the threshold and now mouse poo in my kitchen?!?

Ick! Ick! Ick!

I seriously want to bleach my entire kitchen. And possibly the soles of my feet for walking on that floor barefoot. And possibly all of my plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware. It does not help that my thirty-plus year old vinyl floors are already scarred and constantly dirty looking.

This is just repulsive. I swear that we are not unclean people. I wipe the table and counters multiple times daily. I put away food in appropriate containers and in appropriate places. There are no open bits of whatever just laying about. But mice! Mice infestation! Ugh! And not a polite mouse like Anatole.

For those of you who were thinking about visiting, please don't let this sway you. I promise that we will deal with this mouse infestation. Swiftly and ruthlessly. We will not be serving you rodent droppings.

For now, pardon me while I do the grossed-out dance through my house.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Plus ça change,

plus c'est la même chose.

Our previous house was a tract home, one of several designs offered by a builder who was developing a new subdivision. We worked very hard to personalize the design (by plaguing our poor builder with modifications and details). In the end, it couldn't escape its essential nature. It was a nicely detailed tract home. We longed for something with more character.

Now, we're in our 1935 home that's loaded with vintage charm from its lilting, creaking wood floors to its plaster walls and ceilings. During last Saturday's street party, I chatted with a neighbor who had lived here for over thirty years. She had bought her home from the original owner. Along with the house, she had received from that original owner lots of documents about the house, including advertisements from the 1930s. These ads offered homes in a brand new suburban neighborhood. Like my 1998 tract home, my 1935 Colonial was part of a builder development. The French are right. The more things change...

I recall a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago. I was rhapsodizing over the charming, historic town centers in the northeast. He pointed out that in 100 years, the spanking new, what I denigrated as artificial and inorganic town centers in the Dallas area would be historic. That there was no essential difference between the old and the new other than time. And as much as I hate to admit it (and as much as I argued against it over a margarita), I think he was right. Perhaps the only difference between my much-desired 1935 Colonial and my 1998 tract home is 63 years.

P.S. We're finding that vintage charm has its downsides. Some water from dripping swimsuits in the children's bath found its way to the powder room ceiling below, causing localized, but severe breakage of the plaster. We'd had a similar water issue with drywall in our old house, but it didn't cause so much damage. Just another thing to add to the to-do list.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Boston friendly

When researching our move, I did lots of research. On various online forums and from various people in real life, I heard the same dire message: the folks up north were unfriendly. They were as cold as their winter temperatures and...well...just plain rude. Rude drivers. Rude outside of their cars.

Now, coming as I did from the land of "Texas friendly," this worried me a bit. Not that I needed to hear the life story of every single person standing in line with me at the grocery store. That, actually, I could do without. But as a stay-at-home extrovert, I worried about being cut off from all adult conversation, save my husband and my now long-distance friends.

Well. I've been up north for several weeks now. You know what? It may not be Texas friendly, but it's Boston friendly. And that's plenty friendly. I've chatted briefly with strangers at the checkout lines in grocery stores. With strangers at the local lake. Drivers let me in. Even the folks working at the RMV (that's DMV to you Texas folks) were super friendly and kind.

On a more personal level, we've enjoyed a few playdates already. An extremely kind neighbor is even throwing a barbecue to introduce my son to some of his fellow students at the local school. And I'm slowly forging some connections with fellow moms in my community.

Now, that's not to say that sometimes, friendliness is unexpected. Recently, at a Nordstrom presale (a curtained off, by-appointment-only area for previewing and purchasing sales merchandise before the sale officially begins), I was browsing through an entirely too large selection of North Face outerwear. I was lost among the varying degrees of fleece and puffiness. I politely caught the eye of an older Asian woman and asked, "I'm sorry. I just moved here from Texas, and I wondered which of these coats you think are really useful?" The woman shot me a startled, wary if a chipmunk had addressed her or something equally as unlikely. In seconds, she thawed and began chatting and reviewing coats. I heard about her son's internship and how much I'd like Boston. In departing, she welcomed me to New England. Now that's friendly! Boston friendly.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Warning: the following blog is dedicated to my inner English nerd.

The following are some of my favorite road signs spotted around the Boston burbs. (Note for my Metro West brethren: there are silly signs in Austin as well.)

1. Wait for Delayed Green
If the city didn't post this sign, would it then be okay to go on red?

2. Stay in Lanes
I saw this tonight on a highway. Now this actually made me worry. Am I not allowed to change lanes? For how long? Is this just a reminder that I should not swerve about like a driver in Mexico for whom lane markers are just suggestions? I actually should google this and find out.

3. Thickly Settled Area
Ummm...isn't that true for much of the Boston metro area? My favorite sign of this ilk is in Dover, land of mansions on multi-acre spreads. Yes. Thickly settled, indeed.

Don't get me talking about parking signs in the North End. Yikes! I thought decoding parking signs in the University of Texas campus was difficult. Will and I ended up paying umpteen dollars to park in a lot because we couldn't figure out if we were allowed to park or not. that I think about it, maybe this is a clever way of generating parking revenue from tourists. A win-win situation for the city...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not the bee's knees

I spectacularly introduced myself to the very nice lifeguards at our local lake this afternoon. My eldest was swimming. My two youngest were playing in the sand. I was stepping towards the youngest when I felt a sharp prick and then pain, pain, and more pain. Did I step on a thorn? I turned my foot up to check and found a fuzzy squirming bee attached to my sole.


Can I say that bee stings hurt? And it really hurts on the sole of one's foot? I was trying to downplay my reaction, but lifeguards came running (one kindly pulled the stinger out of my foot because...despite doing some yoga...I'm no longer as limber as I once was and couldn't do it myself). I gingerly hobbled to a seat, and the lifeguards rinsed the sand off my foot and put some sort of anti-sting wipe on the sting. People were staring. Not really the way I'd like to introduce myself to the folks of the town. Hi. Yes, I'm the fool who stepped on a bee. That's me. Perhaps I could reframe the situation. I saved children from stepping on a bee. Fell on the sword. That's me.

Luckily, my husband had taken the day off to run some errands so he could swing quickly by to pick up the children and bring me my crutches. And so I sit, foot elevated and sore, feeling like a complete fool.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A newcomer's review of local groceries

As a sort-of-foodie (claiming full-blown foodie status is a bit much for someone who actually enjoys boxed shells-and-cheese), finding a grocery routine to replace my Austin routine has been hard. Central Market in Austin was my reliable stop. It, partnered with Costco, Whole Foods, the farmer's market, and local grocery, provided perfectly for my family.

Now. Where to go? How to feed my family? My review of some groceries in the western Boston burbs:

Trader Joe's. Love. Love. Love. I don't think I've bought anything from Trader Joe's that's disappointed. We love their boxed shells and cheese, hummus, frozen dumplings, deli cheese, Joe Joe's cookies, pasta sauce, salsa, tortillas, cereal, etc. The cons? It's small. In one shop particularly, the aisles are so tight that it's difficult to negotiate (especially when one has multiple children clustered about the cart). The shops closest to me don't sell alcohol. The produce section is small and doesn't offer much variety.

Speaking of produce, that leads me to A Russo & Sons in Watertown. Ah...the classic love/hate relationship. What a delectable assortment of produce! Not as many exotic fruits as my old love Central Market carried, but an even better variety of Asian vegetables. And fresh flowers and plants splash colorfully across the entrance. Enticing. But the traffic flow! I thought the Austin downtown Whole Foods had a confusing layout (I never did get the hang of that place...even after countless visits). The store is (again) small and crammed with a jumble of aisles. The aisles are so narrow that in spots, it is difficult for two carts to pass. There is no defined flow (well...not that I could figure out) so it's a headache-inducing struggle to get through the store. I'd bet that it would be less headache-inducing without the three children, but...well...with no preschool/babysitter, it is what it is. Having said that, I still stop there at least every couple of weeks and load up on produce.

And Costco. I discovered that each Costco has slightly different merchandise. I was so disappointed with the Dedham store. I had relied on my Costco for a variety of organic foodstuffs, including pasta, canned tomatoes, soups, and chicken. The Dedham store had none of these. I luckily discovered the Waltham store which at least had the organic chicken breasts and thighs. Whew! Other than that, it doesn't have much organic food at all, leading me to believe that Austin, unlike Boston, must really purchase organics.

Baza. What a great little local market. And fun to hear a Russian greeting or good-bye. But aside from the exotic flavor, we've bought our favorite salami, decent deli meats, and breads. A nice place to stop by for last-minute menu fillers.

What about Shaws? Stop and Shop? I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't gone to them yet. I rarely shopped the regular grocery stores in Austin so I've carried that habit here. I'll probably stop by one soon.

Note the recurring theme through this blog is the use of the adjective "little." I've come to realize that there will be no Central Market here. That giant purveyor of gourmet produce, wines/beers, bakery, deli/cheeses/meats/seafood, bath and body care, dry goods, snacks, and so on. It's a different culture. A different use of land. Smaller places. Smaller spaces. But thankfully not smaller taste.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A whole other Newton

Lately, I've been feeling that my kids need a little more organized stimulation than accompanying me to various exciting errands and running wild through our house/basement/backyard. That's wearing a bit thin. So since I'm new to town, I decided to google "children's programs Newton." I was so excited to find that our local library was flying in a biologist from a national wildlife refuge in Iowa to present a program on insects. How exciting! And my budding four-year-old entomologist would love this!

I e-mailed the youth services librarian, hoping that the spots hadn't all filled up. I was so excited to hear back from her that there were still enough spots for all three kids. I went immediately to my local library's web site to double check the date. I looked at the children's event calendar. I couldn't find the event. I checked everywhere on the web site. Maybe it was in August and not July? Maybe it was on the adult events calender? No...Hmmm...I googled again and found the event.

It's in Newton...Iowa...


I just sent an apologetic note to the librarian. I'm such a doof!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More treasures

In our office above the closets is a row of cubbies with doors. Lots of storage and perfect for things that you don't need to access frequently, but that you want to keep out of the attic. I noted that the cubbies seemed to have some leftover stuff so we haven't used them. We've finally come to organizing the office and decided to empty the cubbies. I thought they only held a few things. I was wrong.

In a story, we'd find some fabulous antique something or other carefully stored away and forgotten. Instead, we found:

Eight empty shoe boxes (mostly Vaneli). A plethora of vintage electronic devices including a gigantic "pocket-sized" Epson Photo PC550 that takes high quality 640x480 images still shrink wrapped in box, a laptop that's so old that it doesn't have a hard drive (only a floppy drive), and an answering machine that still uses tape cassettes.

We also found a box with the following:

1. Broken pieces of plaster wrapped in a tissue
2. A broken four-spoke porcelain lavatory handle (with the broken bit)
3. Some random chrome lavatory handles
4. Two hinges
5. Some doorknobs
6. Some odd metal hinged rods with porcelain handles on the end
7. One piece of really thick porcelain tile that had been painted
8. One empty thread spool

Some photos:
What is this?

Broken bits:

Fabulous laptop (can't even boot it because you need the boot disk):

Nothing for the Antiques Roadshow or Sotheby's, but it was worth a few chuckles.