Mess… Mess… Neat!

Do you remember playing Duck Duck Goose as a child? A random number of children formed a sitting circle. One got up and walked slowly around the circle, tapping the head of each sitting child as she (or he) walked, saying “Duck” with each tap. Then – and this was entirely the choice of the walking/tapping child – the tapper said “Goose!” with a tap on one chosen head. Both tapper and goose sprung into action in that moment – the goose jumped up and the tapper then ran like mad around the circle, trying to get back to the goose’s now-empty spot and into a sit before getting tagged by the chasing goose. If you made it to that spot, you were safe and the goose became the tapper. If you got caught, you were the tapper again. And Duck Duck Goose (!) started all over again.

Eppie’s shirt made me think of this game, only in her case it’s Duck Duck Moose. (How cute is this t-shirt!? They live in Vermont where you very well might see a moose stroll through your yard. How cute is this sweet country girl?!)

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Funny how one Instagram photo can spark a parallel thought. Yesterday I saw that picture and realized that Duck Duck Goose or Duck Duck Moose is the way it is around my house – only it’s Mess, Mess, Neat!

I am very nonchalant about most of the messes around here – I can ignore them for years! – until I get into my head that one of them has to be addressed. Then I spring into action.

There are lots of messes. Generally I don’t take pictures of them, but here’s one.

A big tree fell over in the forest while Rise and Eppie were here in early August. See those very large clusters of leaves on and near the ground? Those had been high up in the sky the day before. Or maybe a few days before. I don’t know when it fell. But some of the leaves were still green.

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A little closer in, you can see the vertical remains of the trunk. It just snapped. The girls and Coco are completely unconcerned. Nor should they be. The tree’s not going anywhere.

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We’re not going to get to this mess any time soon, especially if the last fallen tree is any example.

The one you see below fell at least five years ago, i.e. it occupied that bit of the hillside for at least five years. Its core was rotten when it fell (which is why it fell). See it lying there, practically buried by years of fallen leaves?

In March I had compost delivered. You see it spread on the ground to the left. Compost was the promise of real grass in that area, not just whatever could survive, but a real yard maybe. That eyesore (Mess) of a rotten log had to go.

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First clear the uphill side. The advantage of living on a hillside with only forest down below is that you can rake those leaves and then deposit them as far down the hill as you can. Out of sight. The earth will take care of them.

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Then more raking to expose the downhill side. It was a lot of raking. I remember being tired at the end of the day(s).

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But the guys with their chain saws (bless them!), and some more raking, made all the difference. That tree in front of the log had to come down too. Quite a difference for that hillside.

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Not bad, eh?

But “Mess… Mess… Neat!” (per se) didn’t come into my head until Eppie’s shirt came up on my phone yesterday AND I was deep into it with the liriope.

In March I had made up my mind that once and for all, the front garden was going to be nice (Goose! Neat!). I cleared it out, put stone along the foundation, planted hellaboris, gave the liriope room to grow. You can see them if you look carefully – the green stuff that looks like bunches of grass among the mulch. At the far corner is an azalea bush.

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It was a bad idea. All that work, and then Hank Browne made me a drawing of what a new front porch could look like, and it was all over. I’ll come back to Hank’s drawing another day, but the bottom line was that if the old porch was going to be replaced in any way, that front foundation wall – a Duck I have been nonchalantly walking past, a Mess I have successfully ignored for years – must be fixed first. Thus the upcoming Big Dig. As in Big Digging Machine Coming Soon.

Liriope multiply rapidly, like rabbits. A month or so ago I moved a bunch of them, along with the hellaboris, to the curve of the driveway. No point not saving them.

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But there were more. Lots more. On Friday, because of Hurricane Florence’s very slow track, it was not raining here yet, but still we had postponed the Big Dig. Over the weekend it rained only intermittently, so I decided to take the opportunity to relocate the remaining liriope that would be in the way of (and possibly not survive) the excavator when it finally gets going.

Having neglected this garden for months now (because why bother?), that corner looked like this. Mess. Embarrassing. Really quite unacceptable. You can’t even see the remaining liriope, there are so many weeds.

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But I wanted to move them, save as many as I could. The tapper tapped me on the head and I got going! I chose to move them along the front of the garden, which looked like this pre-liriope.

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The deer fencing makes it impossible to weed-whack along the edge, so it tends to start looking, you guessed it, Messy!

But time + no rain + a shovel resulted in first a trench.

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Then a trench with manure by the end of Friday. The distance between posts is 8′, FYI. You can do the math as to how long the trench is. And that’s clay I’m digging into, Play-Doh-like clay, mixed with rocks.

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The liriope were in by the end of Saturday,

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which means a dug out front garden bed, much more ready for the excavator (who will move the azalea with the machine, thank God!). I didn’t save all of them, but we can’t save them all, can we? (I’ll let you think of parallels for that truth.)

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And finally mulch on either side of these happy plants, mulch which covers the buried plastic weed barrier that went in yesterday, Sunday, with Sandy’s help. Thank you, Sandy.

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Mess, Mess, Neat!

It’s entirely the choice of the tapper in the game as to which child to gets designated the Goose. It’s entirely my choice around the house as to which area next becomes Neat (acts of God and nature excepted, and time and means considered, of course). In the meantime all the other children (the Ducks) sit and wait. In the meantime all the other areas in need (the Messes) sit and wait. But sooner or later, I’ll get a bug in my bonnet as they used to say, and there will be action!

Coco, The Pug in Our World

It is usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. That didn’t stop me and my sisters eight years ago from giving my dad the cutest little black pug you ever saw.

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Why a pug? Growing up, we had always had German shepherds, beautiful, loyal, trainable dogs. First we had Jesse, then Adam. When Mom and Dad got a pug some years later, we thought they had gone foo-foo, but of course that was their prerogative. Foo-foo is an option. Daphne entertained them for many years. They loved her. They enjoyed her. Then she died and they said, That’s it, no more dogs.

A few years went by. Dad’s 75th birthday was approaching. One of us had the brilliant idea to give him a puppy, a pug again since they had loved Daphne so much, but a black pug this time. In retrospect I am not exactly sure how we justified this, since it is, I repeat, usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. I think we said, Ah well, if he really doesn’t want her, one of us will take her. Not overly risky. We are not big risk-takers.

The little black pug was born in Virginia. It’s a 7+ hour drive from my home to where Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey, and at the time I had a job with crazy weekend hours. It was hard to find a time to drive up there to present her, which of course had to be a surprise. So this sweet puppy stayed with us for a few weeks. She was a neck-nuzzler. Fur like velvet. Puppy adorableness. How could he not like this gift?

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We finally arranged a time to visit, in no way hinting that we were bringing a life-changing animal. Samuel, still a teenager then, held her as we walked through the front door and greeted two very surprised people. Not only surprised, but resistant.

Dad’s exact (deadpan) words were, “You have got to be kidding.”

But she won him over quickly. Within 24 hours you couldn’t have taken that dog from him for anything (and whew! the plan worked!). They named her Coco after Coco Chanel. It warmed our hearts to see him cuddling with her and whispering silly nothings to her, though Mom had a little trouble with the new order of things. For her it was a Hey, remember me? situation. Wife of 50-some years, the one who takes care of you, the one who’s been here all along? But she let it be. His little schmoozer, his little gizmo was almost always curled up on his lap, scrunched between him and the arm of his chair, parked at his feet on the ottoman or sprawled across his chest with her head tucked into his neck. If she was not bodily next to him, she either 1. needed to go out or 2. had to be hungry.

My sister Lynn remembers that if Coco sat in front of him and stared unblinkingly at him while he was in front of the television, he would say, “She has to go out. Can someone take her out?” He said this even if she had been out five minutes before! Sometimes he himself took her out. It was hilarious to see him carrying the doggie poop bag dispenser on his wrist like a little purse. Only for this dog would he have done such a thing!

dad with Coco

My sister Joanne remembers taking Coco out one dark night, getting no farther than the driveway and hearing a growl which very well could have been a bear (not uncommon there) so she hightailed it back into the house. When she breathlessly explained what happened, she soon realized that Dad was not the least bit concerned that his firstborn daughter might have been mauled by a bear, but much more concerned that his little doggie might have met her demise. Is she ok? Is she ok?

He held her on his lap at the table while he ate. He fed her off his own fork! It didn’t even matter if friends were there. Lynn’s friend Tracy witnessed this off-the-fork thing too. Dad made sure Coco ate at 4:00pm on the dot because, I mean, look, anyone can see that dog is starving. That 22-pound dog! The vet was always telling them to put her on a diet. Mom tried, really she did, but she couldn’t stop Dad from giving her morsels of his own food or chips or peanuts or whatever snack he had at night.

This is the same man who trained our German shepherds to stay out of the dining room and living room (because those rooms had the good carpeting) and to stay in the yard without our having an electric fence. God help them if they crossed a paw over the line! Dad was an excellent trainer. He just didn’t apply it to Coco. And you know what happens when you let a dog get anything it wants. She quickly became a brat. Mom called her Brat-dog all the time. Dad didn’t care. He loved her just the way she was.

In this family photo taken three or four years ago, you can see who is closest to his heart. Let no one come between man and dog!

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And no one did. She was with him till the end. After Dad passed away in February 2016, Mom preferred not to have to worry about walking Coco in the snow. Joanne was willing to take her to her home in Arizona. But Samuel wanted her. He had had a special attachment to her since she was a puppy. And because of him, only because of him, she is not a brat anymore! Coco’s transformation began in Burlington, Vermont. I said transformation and I mean transformation.

First of all, poor little baby who didn’t want to get her paws cold in the snow, sorry, this is Vermont in February and the ground is frozen. And she had to go out in the very early morning because his job started at 6am. Also her whole Oh listen, other people in the house are up, surely it’s time to get up – not a chance.  She learned to get up on Samuel’s timetable, not her own. She learned to sleep in her own bed. She went on walks measured in miles, not in how many houses you walked past. The extra poundage, the table scraps, the continual treats – those days are over, little girl. He put her on a steady diet of high grade dog food, makes her wait for her dinner until after he has had his (and it doesn’t matter what time that is), makes her sit and wait until he says “okay” before she can go to her bowl and eat, reduced the treat frequency to “occasional” and got her down to a swole 16 pounds. (I just learned that word. Swole is the new buff.)

Interestingly, in an age when mixed breeds are often in need of homes and it is a point of pride to have adopted one (and bravo to all those who do that!), Samuel felt looked down upon as he walked this purebred through the streets of Burlington. I told him to consider her a rescue and never mind about those stares. Mom didn’t want her, and even though Joanne was willing to take her, he is the one who gladly opened his heart and his home to her. I think she knows this somehow.

Oh, the bond they share. She snuggles down in the chair with him when he’s reading. She stays out on the deck with him when he’s doing his yoga. For three months of this year, Samuel was away and Coco stayed with me. Every night, to get her to come into my room (where her bed was) at bedtime, I had to pick her up and carry her in. Her bed is in his room now, as it was before he left. He just calls “Coco!” when he wants her to come to his room at night. And off the comfy couch she goes. Trots right in there. She knows who the alpha is. My human, I go with my human.

She adores him as she did my dad, maybe especially when he makes her look super cool,

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and even when he lets little children (Piper in this photo) reach out to touch her pink tongue that doesn’t seem to fit in her mouth.

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It’s a different life with Samuel, certainly more active, possibly more amusing. Now you want me to do what?

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And these chickens? she says. Why are they here?

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And here?

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But she still finds the sun spots.

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And she still has one lap she loves more than any other. It’s a very good life for this little black pug. And we love her just the way she is.

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Best Onion Soup Ever

I never planted onions before, but this year I went big: one hundred sets each of white, yellow and red. I never planted rosemary with success before, or thyme at all. But these essential ingredients for the best onion soup ever all grew well this year. I know this isn’t the fullest rosemary bush in the world, but for me, it’s phenomenal.

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The thyme might look like a weed, but those perfect little leaves strike joy in my heart.

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Onions, well, onions sit in the dirt. They are a mess when you bring them in and put them in the sink to clean them.

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But what’s inside the mess is glorious. They glisten like jewels.

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I learned how to make onion soup when I was 16. That year, I wanted to make a trip to Germany to meet Claudia. She and I had been pen-pals since we were 12, having met through my great aunt Lina, who was her father’s cousin and my mother’s aunt by marriage. Claudia used to say that she and I were related “around nine corners.”

Here we are during that trip, posing with two other (closer) relatives between us on top of a mountain we hiked in what I think was the foothills of the Alps. (Claudia, help me here, what mountain was that?) I didn’t plan this Onion Soup post to fall on this date, but I’m so glad to be able to say: Happy Birthday, Claudia!!

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This ties to my onion soup because I needed money to pay for my trip. For the nine months before my trip, throughout my senior year of high school, I held a weekend job at a French restaurant called Picot’s Place. It was there that I observed the chef making onion soup week after week. I have since made it myself countless times the same way he did. I LOVE onion soup, and I have never been disappointed in how mine turns out. Somewhere, I got the right kind of crocks long ago, and have always made it with the bread and melted cheese on top, the way it is often served in restaurants.

Nothing wrong with that. Well, except for how difficult it can be to eat it with the cheese adhering to the bowl the way it does, on and under the rim. And sometimes, when you get it in a restaurant, they put too much bread in there which soaks up all the broth, or sometimes too much cheese so that you are eating just gobs of melted cheese before you can get to the soup.

This past weekend, at the Inn at Mount Vernon, I had onion soup that was BETTER than mine. Not only was it better, it was better in a way that I thought I could duplicate, so I did, thinking there might be some onion soup fans out there. How was it better?

  1. The onions were cut up smaller than you often get it, meaning we did not deal with trying to get long floppy pieces of onion onto our spoons.
  2. It had been thickened! Never had onion soup except with a clear broth before, and this change was amazing.
  3. The bread-cheese on top was cheesy croutons – bread cubes on which cheese had been melted prior to simply putting them on top of the bowl of creamy, rich soup.

I promise that the fact of it being a nasty, rainy day this past Sunday at Mt. Vernon and our being finally inside, out of the weather, and into the warmth of the dining room had nothing to do with how good the soup was. On any day, this soup would be judged (by me, anyway) as outstanding.

For my version, I started with that bowl of onions above, minus the red ones, which turned out to be 5 full cups of chopped onions. Chop them as fine as you want. I asked Samuel to cut them up, which was rather a pain because they are so small and therefore it took a long time. All I said regarding what size to chop them was “not insanely fine,” which he interpreted as meaning the size could fall anywhere in the huge range of possibilities between no-longer-whole and minced. I realized my communication error, my inexactitude, when he asked me to confirm that he had judged “not insanely fine” correctly, which he realized he hadn’t when I simply stared at his pile and did not verbally approve in a glance.

All to say, cut them as big or as small as you want. Just don’t leave them whole.

Put the five cups of chopped onions in a large pot (my Dutch oven came in handy again) along with a stick (1/2 cup, or 113 grams) butter. Turn this on low and let it cook for about 45 minutes, stirring now and then. It will look like this in half an hour or so, but leave it a little longer, about 15 minutes longer, on real low for those onions to get super soft and transparent. They are like gold to me.

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Next I veered from onion soup tradition and added half a cup of flour, and stirred it in, making a pasty roux. Making a paste like this is the basic way to thicken something without ending up with lumps. Stir that flour in (a whisk works well) till the paste is smooth, then add four cups of chicken broth/stock and stir it up again. Then add four cups of  beef broth/stock and stir again.

That’s 8 cups of liquid total, and I split mine between chicken and beef broth because that’s how I was taught. You can use all chicken stock, homemade or purchased, or vegetable stock, or all beef stock or whatever combination you want. You can use 8 cups of water plus 8 bouillon cubes (4 chicken, 4 beef) if push comes to shove and that’s all you’ve got.

Then add half a cup of cooking sherry. I was running low and had only a quarter cup of cooking sherry so I added another quarter cup of this fine port, which is possibly why it turned out to be the best onion soup ever. I cannot be sure.

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If you happen to have a bit of leftover pork gravy from a roast you recently made, or beef or chicken gravy, feel free to put that in. I had about half a cup of pork gravy. Whether this contributed to it being the best onion soup ever, I also cannot be sure. But I think maybe.

Then add your herbs. My handful for this pot of soup looked like this. I picked the parsley because it looked so pretty, thinking I might use it in the soup, but I have never put parsley in onion soup, so in the end I used only the rosemary and thyme. (The parsley came into play later with chicken piccata.)

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Quantities of herbs: If using fresh, use the leaves of five 6”-long sprigs of rosemary, plus the leaves of five 5”-long sprigs of thyme. (I am trying to be exact here. A little more or less will be fine.) If using dried, use 1 ½ tsp each of rosemary and thyme. In my pot after adding the herbs, it looked like this.

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Let all of this cook for about an hour on a low simmer. That means the heat is high enough for there to be some bubbling along the edges of the pot but not a full boil. Salt and pepper to taste.

While all those flavors are working their magic in the pot and the soup is becoming delicious, you can make the croutons. Choose bread you think would make good croutons. A small baguette or a firm white loaf will work. I would avoid anything with seeds. I happened to have this lovely darker bread in my freezer, which might have had some rye flour in it, but I don’t know because I didn’t make it. It was small, only about 5 inches across.

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I let it thaw, then cubed it like this,

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then put the cubes on a cookie sheet, buttered them with a little melted butter (with a brush as you would butter corn on the cob), then sprinkled parmesan cheese on them. The butter is both for flavor and to help the cheese stick. You could probably use a different cheese like cheddar or swiss, as long as it’s finely grated.

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I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and baked the croutons for 20 minutes. Then I turned the oven off and left them in there. Leaving them in as the oven cools draws more of the moisture out of them and makes them crispier without being darker. Finished they looked like this.

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They are marvelous and would be marvelous on almost any soup, but on/in the onion soup, oh my!

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We were all in heaven. Samuel used four verys to describe how good it was, as in “very, very, very, very good.” I told him I’m not sure he ever used four verys before about anything I’ve made, and he said something to the effect that he was too overwhelmed with how good the soup was to bother with finding better descriptors.

The superlative soup found yet another use this morning. When making myself some scrambled eggs, I used a slotted spoon and took up some of the onion/herb part of the refrigerated soup and heated it up in a skillet. Then I added a handful of spinach chopped up a bit. Let that cook a couple minutes till the spinach got soft. Then added my two beat-up, positively orange-yolked eggs. How many verys? I’ll let you guess.

A Tattered Quilt

A most fabulous event occurred yesterday in my family – a new granddaughter was born! She is perfect and healthy and blessed to have such wonderful parents, though she is as yet unnamed. Piper is her two-year-old sister, so Brad and Beth have been calling the baby P2 up till now. They said they have to look at her a while before they decide on the name. Fair enough.

My own name, to all my grandbabies, is “Oma” (not Grandma or Grammie or any other sweet name for grandmother). I love being Oma.

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I got it in my head some time ago to make a quilt for this little baby. I finished it and mailed it off yesterday, pleased with how it came out but at the same time kind of nervous. I chose the fabrics. I chose the colors. I know Beth is partial to purple and liked a simple green receiving blanket I had made for Piper. I found a friendly, happy daisy print that’s got purple, green and yellow and decided to build the rest of the quilt around that one.

But colors are funny. Think of the variety you see when you go to buy paint – how many different reds, greens, blues, etc. Colors can be warm and inviting or cold and off-putting. They can make you feel comfortable or give you the creeps. They can calm you down or make you want to want to run in the other direction. So how do you choose? Will they like what I have chosen?

Comfort came unexpectedly from my neighbor Tracy. “I have a quilt my grandmother made for me and I used it until it started falling apart,” she said. “I hope they love yours just as much.”

That’s when I flashed back to two quilts I made many years ago and gave to friends who had had babies. The images that came in my head were of meeting up randomly with both of these moms and their babies after some time had gone by, maybe a year, maybe two. Both quilts that I had so carefully sewn together were right there with each child and both were in tatters – I mean ragged edges and stuffing coming out. Can’t get rid of it, both moms told me in different ways. “She loves this quilt! This is the one she wants.”

A little bit like The Velveteen Rabbit learns from the Skin Horse, right?* I know I’ve referred to this story before, but it’s pertinent again.

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“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Sometimes.” For he was always truthful. “When you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I don’t know if any of them – Brad or Beth or Piper (who has a dolly-size quilt to match) or especially the new baby – will like the colors and the pattern I’ve chosen. Hopefully they will not want to put it in a drawer under a bunch of other stuff! But Tracy’s words about the quilt her grandmother made gave me an image of the quilt I just made, only with its colors faded and its edges worn and its fibers super soft from use and time. By then the colors and the pattern are no longer important. What will matter, what I hope will override any other impression this quilt gives, is the love that went into it, the deep, inexpressible love in my heart. Nothing will make me happier than if it serves as the vehicle of that love, if it speaks to it and of it, and is someday worn, thin, tattered, Real.

Think what you will of the colors. These are the fabrics I chose.

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This is the pattern I chose.**

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First you make a plan to evenly distribute the three yellows, three purples and three greens, using the daisy print to tie them together. This was my plan. I messed it up by the third block, but was able to recover.

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Then you cut out all the squares with a rolling blade.

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You have to pay close attention during the first block or two. Before trimming, it looks like this, which throws you a bit.

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Same block after trimming (ah, that’s better):

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Then you make the other eight blocks and move them all around until you are happy with the balance and distribution of color. It’s never perfect. Lots of the corners are not perfectly joined. I did the best I could with the balance of colors.

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Then you add cross-pieces to hold it all together. I used the same purple (flannel) as the four triangular corners of each block. I hope Beth still likes purple!

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Then you add a middle layer of batting and a backing and you bind it all together. I found a soft green flannel for the backing. From the back it looks like this. Nothing fancy. I am no expert. But it will serve.

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I had enough leftover pieces to make a small dolly-size quilt and I thought Piper might like it.

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Can you imagine it years from now, faded and tattered? Stained maybe? Much used? Much enjoyed? I hope so!

 

*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and illustrated by David Jorgensen, Alfred A Knopf Publishers, New York, 1985

** from 501 Quilt Blocks, Better Homes and Gardens, Meredith Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa, 1994

Lobster Yolks

On Labor Day I went to a Lobster Fest and came home with three bags full of claws, heads, bodies, guts and other assorted lobster leftovers. I give everybody who comes – no, not lobster leftovers! – I give all family and friends and all cottage guests the chickens-eat-everything spiel, so I put it to the test. Will chickens eat lobster? You bet they will!

(For future reference, do note the color of the lobster shell.)

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Let’s be reasonable though, one bag at a time. If I hadn’t been worried about how long it would take leftover lobster to start stinking up my downstairs fridge, tightly tied up though the bags were, I might have allotted half a bag at a time. But a predetermined plan to do that wouldn’t have mattered. By the time I emptied half the bag, I knew they’d get it all. The chickens in most cases get super excited when you give them food (any food will do!) and that keeps you giving them more and more if you can. Poor babies – you’d think they were half-starved the way they beg! Plus, the bag is icky and all you want to do is finish giving the Sewing Circle half the bag and the Bridge Club the other half, and then throw that bag away!

Yes, Sarah, thank you – I love your names for my two groups of hens. Traditionally, ladies sewed in small circles and ladies formed clubs to play bridge together, and my hens are ladies. Besides the eggs that put them in the female camp, I can call them ladies because they are mostly quiet but sometimes squawk, they walk gracefully around thinking/knowing/showing how beautiful they are and they tend to form little groups or clubs among themselves (and not always for benign purposes but sometimes, like Wives of Atlanta or Wives of New York, to establish and maintain pecking order, which is not always pretty, thus the fence between the two groups!). And some of them, like my silkies, are having a bad hair day every day. You may recall.

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I like Sewing Circle for the brahmas, cinnamon queens, Rhode Island reds and the lone araucana (old Miss Gray) – the white ones to the left in the first photo – because some of them (the brahmas and the cinnamon queens) have distinctive darker feathers on their heads like a hood, which makes a kind of circle around their necks. I like Bridge Club for the silkies, black copper marans and lone d’uccle because some of them (the silkies and the d’uccle) are in that distinct grouping of chickens called Bantams (lightweights). My brain, along with everything else it remembers and processes, can make short work of Sewing Circle: circle and Bridge Club: Bantam. I think it’s brilliant.

As previously blogged, the Sewing Circle dove into the first round of lobster leftovers with a vengeance, but the Bridge Club was strangely reluctant. It’s all the same to me. Who am I to say that anyone or any chicken should eat lobster or some other decadent, succulent, protein-rich food? Chickens love bugs. They hunt all day for them, prize them, devour them. And what is a lobster but a big, waterbound bug?

But I think the Bridge Club came around. In fact, I have the idea that one chicken lorded it (ladied it??) over the others and got the lion’s share of the meat, and the guilty party is Miss D’uccle. Here she is. Does that look like a face you want to mess with?

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Why do I think this? Miss D’uccle is small, the smallest of the smalls. This does not stop her from being possibly the most obnoxious of all the birds, yakking all day long. I sometimes remind her that I ousted the roosters on account of their noise! Nonetheless she is a contributing member of the flock, though it stands to reason that she would also lay the smallest of the eggs. Can you pick out which one is hers?

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That’s right, it’s the whitish one near the top next to that speckled one. That’s some variety of color, size and speckledness, no? I think they are so beautiful!

For the contrast, I broke the huge whitish one first (it is actually pale greenish, but my lighting is poor and doesn’t make the subtle difference clear). Then I broke the d’uccle egg. Guess who’s been hogging the lobster! Or maybe just got more than her share?

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I broke three or four more eggs, all of which were more orange that the huge one but none as orange as Miss D’uccle’s. When beat up, however, they made this rich color. You hardly ever see the likes of that when you are about to scramble eggs. (I promise I did not retouch this photo – I’m lucky I know how to insert them!)

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Now I ask you – are my chickens eating better than most chickens? Better than the chickens whose eggs you eat? Granted, lobster for dinner is a rarity, especially for chickens. But we take what we get and I took the lobster. Kinda makes me want to ask for more leftovers, whatever they might be…

The Certainty of Uncertainty

At the moment it’s very quiet here. The trees are not swaying, thrashing, bending. Not a leaf moves, even flutters. The ticking of one of my clocks I can hear. Coco’s sleepy breathing I can hear.

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That’s soon to change. If you couldn’t smell it in the air, you’d hear it on the news. We are in the danger zone of Hurricane Florence, though not as dangerous a zone as some are in. Will the pelting rain and fierce wind come? Yes. This much is certain. What’s uncertain is the storm’s exact path and intensity.

Will we flood out? Probably not, as my property sits up on a hill.

Will we lose electricity? Most likely.

Will one of my giant trees fall? Let’s hope not.

“The most precious thing about life is its uncertainty.”

Thanks to Paul Sunstone, I have been introduced to Kenko, a 14th century Japanese writer who produced, in his retirement, 243 essays collected into the classic “Leisure Hour Notes,” including the line above. Paul added, “I think that was what kept him from boredom.” He’s right. Uncertainty is as certain as death and taxes! And it does keep you on your toes!

Last night a young woman who lives along the Virginia coastline booked my cottage because she has to evacuate her area. She was not planning to come here this week, but wants to keep herself and her two dogs safe. The coast will get lots of rain and wind, so will we. Will she be safe here? One thing is certain: I will do everything I can to make sure she is. Starting tomorrow and until Saturday, Miranda will be next door. She – who was unknown to me 12 hours ago – will be my neighbor.

I love thinking of my neighbor as der Nächste, German for “the one next to me.” This doesn’t have to mean a literal “next to” – you can think of co-workers as neighbors, or friends you have contact with through email or texting or blogging, or the people you rub shoulders with in your community. But in the case of Miranda it’s literal, and neighbors look out for each other. Forgive my tangent, but if all of us would truly abide the “love your neighbor as yourself” command, imagine what the world would be like.

So while the storm looms and Miranda is here, much will be – hour to hour – uncertain. Knowing that you don’t know everything is the beginning of wisdom. True, true. But…if you know that you don’t know everything, but you also know that you know some things, you stand a better chance of getting through with less trouble. While storms do sometimes change course and turn out to sea, they sometimes don’t. We will do what we can to prepare. Then ride it out.

My little house in the big woods is as solid as a house on a wooden foundation can be, the wooden part being questionable, but we are getting to that.

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The storm is still out to sea, but supposed to hit us at the end of the week. Ironically, this coming weekend had been set aside to begin “the big dig” at my house – a long-awaited project to investigate why my foundation seems to be bowing inward in one area (not a good sign) and then to do necessary repairs. I ordered the materials last week, a lot of materials because after the big dig we will replace the very old front porch. (I’m glad I ordered last week — what do you think will happen to the price of lumber after the storm?)

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The uncertainty of the storm puts us in a kind of holding pattern. Hold off on big dig projects and hold onto your hat! At the very least, cover your lumber.

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Will the bricks hold the plastic down in a strong wind? I hope so! How strong will the wind be? I am uncertain! With no wind blowing right now, that many bricks seems reasonable. Possibly I will find myself incredulous that I didn’t double this number or use cinder blocks as Sandy suggested. Maybe cinder blocks are a good idea after all….

Today, in the calm, various interpretations of battening down the hatches seem important, including making sure we have enough batteries for the flashlights and enough jugs of water in the event that my electricity goes out (in which case my water also goes out because electricity runs the pump). I have a gas cookstove in both the house and the cottage, so we will eat. And it’s a nice temperature outside so not having AC or heat will not be an issue. What am I forgetting?!

Uncertainty is part of the unboring path we walk. We can watch the news all day (you can, I won’t), we can change out the bricks for cinder blocks or go all out and just add them, we can stockpile supplies, we can put some milk in the freezer now so it’s maybe cold later if we lose power, but we can’t be certain what this coming weekend will bring.

We’re pretty smart though. We can have an idea. And we do. According to our best projections, we can fairly well know what won’t happen, what might happen and what will happen:

In my case the weekend will not include a large and loud excavating machine. Canceled that. Sadly, it will not include Joe, who will operate said machine (unless he comes around anyway, which is fine by me). We will not be

  • digging large quantities of dirt from along the front of the house
  • discovering just exactly what is the problem with the foundation and how extensive the fix needs to be
  • relocating liriope and azalea
  • mixing cement
  • setting footings
  • bracing posts.

We might be (this is the uncertain part)

  • hunkering down
  • watching the trees dance wildly (hoping that if they fall, they do so far from any structure or power line)
  • putting less-than-sensible chickens in their coop (because they are too dumb to go in by themselves!)
  • using matches to light the stove because the electric ignitor is nonfunctional
  • playing board games by lamplight as we wait out the storm. I have a couple of wonderful oil lamps that come out at times like this. Their glow, the swirly patterned shadow they make on the ceiling, their faint scent of burning lamp oil – all combine to create a scene that makes you appreciate what it was like for pioneers. We should do this on purpose now and then just to induce an extra prayer for those in the bucket trucks who keep our lights on, and this weekend in particular for those who will be out in this nasty storm getting fallen limbs off high wires as we sit inside checking our phones for notification that the power is back on.

We will be

  • taking care of one another
  • comforting the dogs who get unsettled in howling wind and torrential rain
  • keeping a close eye on trees, chickens and other outdoor things for signs of trouble
  • praying for safety for all those affected by the storm
  • staying in touch with other neighbors in case we can help in any way
  • enjoying good eggs! More on lobster yolks tomorrow! Oh, how tempted I am to give you a sneak preview, but: YOU are uncertain about lobster yolks (MY lobster yolks, at any rate) and if, to paraphrase Paul, uncertainty keeps us from boredom, I had best wait. Come what may, I aim to keep things unboring!

Lasagna Pizza Galette

Oh, look, ricotta. What can I do with that?

I came home from being away for a few days and opened the fridge to see what might be possible for dinner, and there was a container of ricotta, front and center, staring at me, practically begging. You know you want to use me. I did, not only because I had an idea brewing, but because it had been in there almost too long.

Two experiences contributed to the new concoction I made tonight. New for me anyway.

  1. While in D.C. this past weekend, we stopped for a bite to eat at a pizza place and were intrigued with the one that had pickles on it! That’s right, pickles along with ham, pulled pork, feta cheese and a bit of mustard. They call this a pizza, and I’ll play along. It has a crust like a pizza, is round like a pizza, and has creamy, melted cheese on it like a pizza. The rest is a stretch, but it didn’t matter because it was totally delicious. The server described it as an “open sandwich.” Put whatever you want on a pizza crust. Hmmm.
  2. Claudia and I had a conversation about pie vs. galette. I think of galette as the free form version of pie, I said. To me pie has more fruit than galette, she said. Deeper maybe, ok, fair, I said. Look at us, she said. 🙂 Claudia made a plum pie. The sticky dough made with gobs of butter was hard to work with, hard to make pretty, but oh how amazing it must have tasted. I could only dream about it because she lives in Germany. I’m sure it’s long gone.

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So here I was thinking free form and wanting to do something with my must-be-used ricotta when I saw it in the fridge. That’s all there was at first.

Okay. Start with a pizza dough, which we have discussed in my pizza pile post https://anunboringpath.com/2018/07/31/pizza-pile/. While the dough was resting I gathered basil and oregano from the garden (oh, how glorious basil and oregano are in August!!) and cut it up, took out the ricotta, looked for mozzarella but didn’t happen to have any so settled on a small chunk of asiago (it’s a stronger cheese – don’t need too much, but the flavor works), grated that, chopped up a red pepper and a couple handfuls of spinach, defrosted the half a can of Don Pepino pizza sauce I had put in a jar the last time we made pizza, and took out the jar of grated parmesan that I keep ready to go in the fridge. I oiled the pan with olive oil and sprinkled cornmeal on it. I’m hungry, worked fast.

Ready. I rolled out the rested dough bigger than my pizza pan by about 4” all around. Truth be told, that’s just how big it rolled out. Looked good to me. Not overly picky when I am hungry. I set the pan on the first thing that caught my eye on the counter that would raise it up high enough for the dough to hang down, which happened to be my teapot without its lid waiting by the sink to be rinsed, which you cannot see in this photo, but trust me, the teapot is under the pan and the dough is hanging down the sides.

True confession: I was just making dinner for me and Samuel. That’s all. This is the point where I realized the idea might work and it might be yummy and I ought to be taking some pictures so I could share it!

Here it is with the pizza sauce, then the spinach, basil and oregano, then the red pepper, then small blobs of ricotta.

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Next came the salt and pepper and parmesan.

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Then the grated asiago. I began flipping the sides up. This is the part that reminds me of a galette. Wherever it lands, it lands. After it’s done, the whole thing is fabulous, but the part encased in the dough all around the edges is extra fabulous. But I am getting ahead of myself. And I know I’m being terribly UN-EXACT this time. So sorry. Been away. Hungry. Slacker!

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When all the sides are flipped up, it looked like this.

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And when it has cooked until it’s almost done, it looks like this.

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I like mine a little darker and the bottom crust a little crisper, so I slid it off the pan right onto the oven rack and in five more minutes ended up with this.

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Seems to be a combination of pizza, Stromboli, calzone, lasagna and galette.

  • Round, thin crust, creamy cheese on top like a pizza.
  • Crust enveloping cheese like a Stromboli or calzone.
  • Ricotta to remind me of lasagna or calzone.
  • All in a free form that still reminds me of a galette.

I have no idea what to call this! But it was divine. Note past tense verb was.

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Being Not Wishy, But Washy

Not many people have heard of Washy Custis. His full name was George Washington Parke Custis. I did not expect to meet him, but there he was. You may remember that George Washington (yes, that George Washington) married a widow named Martha Custis, whose late husband was a man named John Parke Custis. Martha’s grandson was Washy, and he grew up at Mt. Vernon.

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(It is, by the way, historically accurate for him to be carrying an umbrella, which we all needed to do on this rainy Sunday. When I asked about that, I was told that the Egyptians had umbrellas. “A palm frond on a stick is not rocket science,” I was told.)

Washy guided us through the historic property, pointed out the “necessary” (the privy) but discreetly saying very little about it; gentlemen don’t need to talk about such things. He described the winding paths that led to the house, each flanking the “bowling green” – which was not for bowling but for bocce balls (which, if you haven’t played it recently, is a really fun game on a flat lawn). The paths were designed to look like they meandered naturally but were in fact quite specifically planned that way.

He explained about the cupola, affixed to the roof of the house not to ornament it, but to provide a much-needed escape for the hot air of the summertime. You opened the first-floor windows and the cupola windows, and the hot air went up and out (some of it, anyway, let’s hope most of it).

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He took us to the greenhouse, where Washington’s tropical plants, such as this key lime tree, live during the winter. Washington’s only trip outside the continent was to Barbados when his brother was ill; it was there he developed a fondness for things tropical.

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The formal gardens, seen behind the tree and in the next photo, are comprised of boxwoods carefully shaped into fleur de lis (to honor the French and their help during the Revolutionary War), the freemason’s symbol (General Washington joined this elite organization at the age of 20) and something that resembles a dog bone but does not represent dogs, even though Washington had several. Funny how you sometimes remember what a thing isn’t, but not what it is!

Hats off to the gardening staff at Mt. Vernon!

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(Did I mention it was raining? Our feet were soaking, our umbrellas were dripping through. The view through the window of the boat, this boat,

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during the river cruise we took that had nothing at all to do with Washy (to whom we shall return) looked like this. Not the nicest day for a tour.

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When I worked at Smuggler’s Notch ski resort in Vermont one winter and the wind chill factor one day made the temperature feel like 50 below, and people were getting on the lift to go up to the top of the mountain to go skiing, I remember thinking Fools! No, actually I realized even then that, well, this is their vacation, this is their day. If they don’t go today, they don’t go. I used to think I would have stayed by the fireplace, but there I was today out in the rain with all the others – all the other fools! It was my day!)

We followed elegant, amazing Washy all over the place, into the stable courtyard, through muddy paths, across soaking wet grass. He cut a dashing figure, bow in the hair and all. His jacket in the back is joined with buttons at the sides, which of course he could undo when it came time to get on a horse.

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Washy, what a name. He was a trip, continually referring to what his grandpapa would have thought or said or done. At the smokehouse, a squirrel interrupted his spiel, walked right through the eight or ten of us carrying its baby into the (unused for smoking hams anymore) smokehouse.

Coming through, folks. Baby duty. ‘Scuse me, to your left. Coming through…

“Never share the stage with babies or animals,” he said. “They one-up you every time.”

Botanical Beauties

I never want to see all there is to see or do all there is to do. (Not that I could if I wanted to, but that is another story.) Don’t get me wrong, I want to see a lot, do a lot, fill my world with fun, challenging, delightful, worthwhile, interesting amazing and beautiful things and activities. I want to use every moment I can wisely because you never know what’s around the next bend.

But if I could see it all and do it all, what would be left? In my world, there’s something new every day. The reason for this seems clear: Otherwise I might cease to be astounded at the diversity and majesty of the natural world around me as well as the artistry and cleverness of my fellow humans. Standing in awe at the wonder of creation or the ingenuity of people keeps me on my toes, which is one way to keep things unboring.

Yesterday, for instance, a quick walk through the botanical gardens here in Washington, D.C., included lots of green, lots of spikes, lots of color. None of that is what struck me first though. As you walk in the door, the very air embraces you, tells you a story, encourages you to keep moving forward. It both feels and smells fresh, sweet and in its own way intoxicating. I kept going.

Maybe you have seen how coffee grows, how shiny green its leaves are, but I hadn’t. They might be plastic for as perfect as they looked to me. The staff added those few broken brown edges just to make it look real, right?

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The beans seem to like to hide. Shy maybe? Hoping to escape detection? See them in there?

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Some of these plants have a very effective way of protecting themselves. Don’t even think of touching me! says the cactus to anyone or anything that comes by. We get the message!

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Some plants are aptly named. Botanists sometimes get the fun of assigning a name. Do you think this name works? It’s the “devil’s dagger.” The little heart-shaped green parts looking remarkably like harmless leaves are a bit misleading. They say You know you want to touch me, while the spikes are waiting patiently, in just as plain sight, for you to try it. Just try it!

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Whoever named these little babies clearly did not have a sense of humor, so I am choosing to call them “sausage cactus.” What would you call them?

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I did not see a name for these beauties, but a fairy who is bent on housekeeping would surely carry one around as she goes flitting from crystal to crystal on your undoubtedly gorgeous but unfortunately dusty chandelier, happily revealing the splendor under the dust with her “fairy duster.”

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And who could look at the Cabbage on a Stick without wondering who had the fun of naming it?

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Here’s another great name: parodia warasii. It looks healthy, wispy – don’t those hair-like things look wispy? soft even? It’s very interesting and, yeah… don’t come any closer.

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It’s great to see where fruits come from. My education today included papayas. Who knew they look like this when they’re growing on a tree? I admit I didn’t.

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This handful of plants is but a drop in the bucket (or a drop in the ocean!) of what’s out there in this marvelous world of ours. Knowing that, taking a moment to grasp the enormity of that, makes me happy to be a part of it, even if my part is just looking and not touching!

One more — bougainvillea. How beautiful is this?? And who can’t love a plant with a name that rolls off the tongue like boo-gan-viya?

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A Blow Out on 66

Some people have all the luck. Today, I didn’t. I was on the way to Washington, D.C. to pick up a friend at the airport. I time these things well in general, so that I arrive not too early and have to sit there, but early enough that I am not stressed about getting there on time. I allowed enough time for a little traffic, but didn’t anticipate too much of it since it was already mid-morning when I approached the D.C. area.

I like to sing in the car when I am by myself, so when I have some time, I put in an old CD and cut loose with Kelly Clarkson (the trouble with love is… … it can tear you up inside…), Girls Aloud (JUMP! For my love) and Norah Jones (…my glass is a-waitin’ for some fresh ice cubes), off the soundtrack from Love Actually. Think what you will of my taste in music, this stuff is serious sing-along material! There I was, singing (if you can call it singing) when I decided to stop at Wegman’s in Gainesville to stretch my legs. There I noticed a little light on my dashboard. It turns out to be the low tire pressure light. This light. Sorry it’s blurry. I think my hands were shaking when I took the picture later.

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Oh, that’s nothing. I’ll worry about it later.

Bad decision. About ten miles later, while traveling at full speed on I-66 eastbound, my car started bouncing. I thought maybe the road was uneven, in need of new paving. Wrong. The car really shook, and then started to smell like something burning (this is bad, I know), but I had nowhere to go. The road had those solid barricades that block the shoulder, so I had to keep going until there was a break in them. I don’t know how long I drove with that bumping and burning going on. I just knew: It’s not the road that has the problem here!

I totally forgot that when the weather is very hot — and it has been very hot lately — the tire pressure goes down. My tires have had their pressure go down before in very hot weather. It just hasn’t happened often enough to have imprinted strongly in my brain. Perhaps I will remember this correlation in the future, now that there has been a consequence?

Safely off to the side of the road as quickly as possible, no mile markers in sight, no road signs, no way to know my own whereabouts for sure and be able to tell someone where to find me, I discovered that AAA can figure out where I am. They did. While waiting for help to come, I discovered this,

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which looks bad from this angle. In no time, it seemed, Sirri arrived in his big tow truck. (Word to the wise, and I can’t know for sure, but I think the stress in my voice when I called AAA helped them make mine a “priority” case. He arrived within about 20 minutes.)  Blessed man, he got to work with a good spirit.

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Yeah, I blew the tire.

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Perhaps more impressive from the top?

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Just last week I had been bragging that I never have problems with this car. It’s the truth (mostly!) but maybe I should be more careful what I brag about. Needless to say I did not get to the airport on time, and simply met my friend at the hotel a little later. My heart did finally stop beating at increased speed, though I did not take the well-intended advice to try “scotch and chocolate” to calm down. Instead, we hit the ground running: National Archives, Spy Museum and Ford’s Theater. Did you know there is a stack of books about Abraham Lincoln that’s three floors high?

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I wonder if just plowing ahead – you have to take advantage of every minute in D.C., there is so much to see! – maybe helped mitigate the stress. The Spy Museum is very cool too, by the way. I loved how they showed perfectly honorable people like George Washington absolutely dependent on the intelligence gathered from his spies, the part where they reviewed the qualifications for being a spy (sense of adventure, willingness to take risks, patriotism, etc) and – this being especially interesting after a car adventure today – the ways people have hidden within (and sometimes under!) cars to escape detection getting through checkpoints. I was so distracted and engrossed by all of the fascinating exhibits– and in the case of Ford’s Theater, positively, emotionally moved — that I forgot all about my tomorrow…

Tomorrow, right. It’s a Saturday, possibly a rainy Saturday, and after a tour of the Capitol, we will set about finding a garage that will have a couple of new tires for me. They will have the ones I need, right? And there’s nothing else wrong with my car? That oil we saw under the car in the garage when we went to check the tire size was from the car that was in that spot before me, right? Not my car. And I will be able to get home on Monday as planned? And… and… good thing the stress is gone!