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.