Mountains and Molehills

Have you ever been driving eastward in the morning and found yourself blinded by the rising sun? Or by the setting sun going westward in the late afternoon or early evening? You put down the visor, you wear sunglasses, you extend your neck this way and that or hold your hand up flat against the piercing light to try to shield yourself from its powerful interference in your field of vision. I’ve done these things a thousand times myself, looking like a chicken that can’t figure out which way her neck should be angled off her body, but it never occurred to me to do what Carolyn did.

She cut out the side of a cereal box, glued it to a paint stirring stick and put it in her car, readily accessible, for those moments when the sun is right in her eyes and too strong. Her no-cost, highly effective solution does the trick every time.

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I watched her do this as we drove from Underhill to Cambridge (Vermont) one bright morning when I was there. I was struck by the crazy simplicity of it.

It made me think about the mountains we make out of molehills sometimes, the money we spend, the time we take, the ways we fret – when the situation has an easy fix. And I don’t mean just sun-shields. Not everything is complicated, expensive and difficult. Oh, if only I’d thought of that! My own clunky, roundabout process (if I even have one, to say nothing of looking like a chicken) seems so un-brilliant in contrast.

If we can manage to get smarter over time (study, read, watch, learn and do the thing that’s helpful/expedient/sensible), we can uncomplicate and unclutter our lives a little. From working in hotel kitchens I learned about CAYGO Clean As You GO – so I don’t end up with a gigantic mess of dirty dishes and pots and utensils at the end (important especially in my tiny kitchen). If something I use can be just rinsed, say, the knife I just cut up the cabbage with, I rinse it and stand it up to dry. If the spoons, beaters and measuring cups are all over the counter, they are going to get in my way. Instead, I put them in the mixing bowl, in the sink, with water and a little detergent, and when I pop the cake in the oven, I do these up quickly instead of waiting till, say, after dinner. Well, most of the time – no one wants to be obsessive, right?

Yeah, but…

Why do some things seem like nothing and others overwhelm us?

The old saying is Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. A mole, the size of a mouse, tunnels in the ground right under the surface, loosening the dirt, creating a slight ridge as it pushes along that might (might!) be half an inch high. Hardly a mountain.

All well and good. All easy to say. All sensible until we encounter something we somehow can’t fix or keep up with so easily.

Like the inside of my fridge. I open it numerous times a day and recently realized there were things in there that 1. Had been in there quite some time and/or 2. I didn’t know what they were. I am not in college. I don’t share a fridge with random people who were assigned to live with me. It’s my fridge. But okay, this is a portion of what I took out (and I’m glad the photo is dark!).

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I don’t remember the occasion I bought Reddi-wip for. I do remember buying/opening horseradish spread for roast beef sandwiches for a neighborhood event maybe four years ago and that’s still here. And that white wine, oh dear. It says 2017. Is it still good? There’s an open can of coconut milk we used for something a month or so ago (or was that right after Christmas?), a re-zipped bag of shredded coconut of a kind I never buy (who bought that? when?), the little lemon juice squeezie-bottle (or is that lime because it’s green, and why do I have it?), small unlabeled mason jars with vaguely sweet substances of unknown origin…

Here I am, Miss CAYGO-CAYGO (and proud of it, thank you very much!), able to keep up with and tout the virtues of washing up the dishes as you go along so you don’t have a big mess at the end, clearly unable to avoid old items, mystery items, no-longer-fresh items in my fridge.

We are so very inconsistent, we humans. Just this week I was thinking about how being organized and efficient in one arena should mean we are organized and efficient in another arena. More broadly speaking, if we exert control over one area of our lives (and most of us can manage this), why can’t we exert it over another? Shouldn’t the same principles apply? Pick a system, adapt it for whatever situation, practice until it’s habit, and voila(!) one less thing to be mucking about in, one less thing to struggle with all the time. Right? Shouldn’t we see the parallels and be able to say A is just like B, so I’ll just do for A as I do for B? Is it that hard? Yup! It is that hard, we are that complicated, situations do vary, personality does plays in, life is complex. We are not little robots that can just see the thing, do the thing and carry on.

And I might need the Reddi-wip!

…All right, fine, I’ll buy more next time…



Everyone needs a job. Everyone’s got a job. Think of it this way:

“See, I think there’s a plan. There’s a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job. And you’ve got a job.”

So says the caring old woman Inman meets in the forest in the film version of Cold Mountain.* I recalled her words yesterday as Samuel and I walked with his ridiculous little black dog on a leash into the health care unit to visit mom.

Coco’s got a job.

We had hardly stepped off the elevator when a resident in a wheelchair noticed her as she was sniffing along the floor (imagine the assault on her senses!!), oblivious to the turning heads and sudden smiles she invokes. “Oh, look at that!” exclaimed the man, clearly enamored and delighted with the unexpected encounter. I stopped and let Coco investigate his chair and the floor around him more thoroughly so he could study her comical shape, flapping ears, short legs, tight body and smooshed face with some leisure. She’s lean for a pug, with well-defined shoulders that taper such that she could boast a waistline if she could boast. Her fur covers her frame as tight as sausage casing, her face says “what?” flatly, her brain is clearly clueless as to why the humans around her are so intrigued.

You’ve seen this silly face before, this sleek body.

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It’s ridiculous. Mom likes to say she’s ugly enough to be cute. My favorite photo is with incognito Samuel. I think it’s her best what-face.

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Jim in the wheelchair smiled big, asked her name, told us about the dog that comes special to visit him sometimes. I picked Coco up and brought her closer to him. What is it about an animal’s warm, lovely, silky fur that is so soothing? He reached for her head instantly and stroked around her velvet ears several times. Much as I wanted to give him a little more time to enjoy her softness, her silliness, her perkiness, her ridiculousness, delighted as I am to provide him these bright and pleasant moments, Samuel’s time was limited. Thinking of Mom’s recent back surgery and ongoing recovery, I closed the conversation with a well-wish. “We’re off to visit my mom. I wish you all the best in your own recovery.”

“Oh, I’m here for the rest of my life,” he said with as broad a smile as he’d had for Coco. “I knew that coming in.” Oh! How I wished protocol didn’t prohibit me from giving him a hug!

Coco’s job is to make people smile. She doesn’t even have to try. Walk her through a health care unit where some people are hurting, some are sad, some are harried, some are lonely – and a remarkable, involuntary thing happens. People smile. They stop in their tracks and smile. Coco doesn’t smile, mind you. She just sticks out her tongue. People smile. Starting with Mom.

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We prepared ourselves for a little jaunt and got on our way with Miss Princess perched on a pillow on Mom’s lap. One man we passed in the hallway on our way to the courtyard looked down, beamed, pointed, laughed and said, “Fang!” Somewhere in his memory bank lives a dog named Fang? Or she looks like she has one? (One fang?) Maybe her tongue incessantly sticking out to one side looks like a fang? We had no time for the backstory but ….  Fang??

Smiles happened every step along the way. Long hallway, elevator, lobby, mail room, corridor leading to courtyard… Every step brought smiles.

Every step except one. You know as well as I do: There’s a grump in every group. Along came Kathy, hunched and cranky. She scrunched up her nose (unknowingly imitating Coco?) and peered toward the object on Mom’s lap as if her disgust reflex had sent a red flag up the pole, the unspoken question being “What is it?” Mom volunteered, “Her name’s Coco.” Grumps are good at grunting, and that’s about all we got in return, making us eager to part company. Grumpy, Grunty, Crusty Kathy shuffled off, obvilious to the pall she took with her, and Mom and I proceeded to the courtyard.

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No one is under obligation to like this dog, pet this dog, smile at this dog. But most do. That’s what makes me think Coco has a job whether she knows it or not. Which makes me think we all have a job whether we know it or not. We might think of a job as the work we get paid to do, or got paid to do, or wish we got paid to do. But let’s hope that’s not all it is. Let’s hope that no matter how we occupy our days, we take a lesson from Coco and somehow bring what she brings – at least here and there – into the often hurting, sad, harried and lonely days of others. Who’s to say even Crusty Kathy didn’t grin as she walked away from us? I’d like to think so! Coco surely worked her magic even if we didn’t see it. 



*Charles Frazier’s outstanding Civil War novel is one of my all-time favorites for not only its story line, but mostly for Frazier’s artful and amazing era/person/region/situation-appropriate use of English. This quote is not in the novel. The old woman, given the name Maddy in the film, says it as she mercifully slaughters one of her beloved goats to provide a meal for Inman, the main character, a soldier on the run, perhaps to lessen the blow of her sacrificial act for today’s sensitive viewers, perhaps to give him a gentle reminder, a renewed understanding of the why of his heart wrenching journey. In the book she remains nameless but infuses her time with Inman with many other thoughtful, wise and helpful words. Do get yourself a copy and slowly work your way through this exceptional book.  Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier, Random House, 1997

It’s Too Early to be Attacked by a Dish Mat

Years ago I owned a house in Maine. Originally built in the 1920s as a rustic getaway for wealthy people from Boston, this solid log home with a 20-foot granite fireplace, a pot-bellied stove in the kitchen area and numerous other very cool features had been well cared for by its previous owners. I wasn’t there long, but always wished I could airlift that house onto my current wooded property Virginia – if only airlifting houses were a thing!

The market fell through the floor around the time I needed to sell that house. It took me five years to find a buyer and I lost way more tens of thousands of dollars than one would ever want to lose. But I sold it and have the paperwork to prove it. So why do I have a recurring dream about owning a house in Maine?

Last night it was so real. There I was in the house, fretting about needing to sell it, troubled by the repairs that an un-lived-in house incurs, desperate to stop the leaks and inevitable other breakdowns while at the same time admiring the old and gorgeous woodwork. In my dream I even hired a chef to prepare a spread for potential buyers – the last thing in the world I would do because …(people don’t do that anyway, right?)… I love to cook!  I woke around 4, agitated by all this, and found myself telling myself that if I owned a house in Maine I would have to be paying taxes on a house in Maine, and I didn’t remember doing that any time recently, so I must not own a house in Maine.

At 630 I awoke cold – 59F in the house as it turned out because it was so warm yesterday there was no heat on and I forgot before going to bed that it was going to dip into the low-30sF during the night. While attempting to avoid having to get out of bed, I also again had to push away the house-in-Maine worries, play the broken record, reiterate reality: “You would have paid taxes, and you haven’t paid taxes, therefore you don’t own a house in Maine.”

That’s it, time for tea. Thank God for a warm robe and my super cute “Haflinger” woolen doggie slippers.


Having run out of propane (that runs my cookstove) the day before, I was grateful they had come to fill the tank and I could turn on a flame and know there would be hot water soon, one of the small comforts in my little world.  My new doggie cup was in the back of the cabinet…

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(do I need a dog of my own one of these days or what? do you see the text inside: “all you need is love and a dog”?) … and having been hounded all night with false-homeowner fussing, I had no kind of temperament at that moment to patiently look for it. A person can take only so much.

Yeah, just when you think you’ve settled the question and it’s time to relax, you turn around wrong and the dish mats make you aware of their presence by somehow poking you. How did they do that? I don’t know. Yes, dish mats. I hang mine on the old dishwasher that doesn’t work. It makes a good hanging place because it has a lever (that presumably locked it for its dishwashing cycle, back when it had such a thing) that acts as a hook. The mats have to dry in between their jobs of being useful for standing wet dishes upon, and here they all were, inexplicably adding to my discombobulated morning.

I said to them out loud, “It’s too early to be attacked by a dish mat!”


One of those days. D’you know what I mean?

The Blooms, Shoots and Peeps of Change

When you have had a tough winter – too sick, too tired, and so sick and tired of icky weather – there’s nothing like the blooms of a magnolia tree to assure you wholeheartedly that spring is here. This one I saw yesterday in Charlottesville begs to be noticed.

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Just down the road a piece, these beauties make their own March magic.

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My own garden is way less impressive right now, though the chives are perfect and were delicious, cut up fine, in last night’s meatloaf (and try mixing a handful or two of asiago cheese, grated fine, into the mixture, yum!).


My daffodils are trying hard – one more sunny day (maybe two) and they will be at peak. Behind them, through the deer fencing, you can see the strawberry plants making their start.


The tiny, tender new leaves of the rose bush leave no doubt that it has every intention of another banner year.

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And the reddish shoots of the peony bush have pushed through the earth – for me perhaps one of the most heartwarming pictures of promise. Brown all around, but winter’s nap is over. Here we come!


A hawk flies by with its massive wings, a redheaded woodpecker inspects a tree for new hole locations and the peepers peep down by the creek. I hadn’t heard them until today.

Have you noticed how quickly things can change? I was watching the PBS series on Queen Victoria recently and chuckled to myself during one scene. Things are in a bit of an upheaval and Albert says to her softly by way of comfort: “Everything changes, Victoria,” – pause – “except us.” Granted, their marriage was rock solid, but little did he know what was coming in December of 1861. As my father would have said to him, “I have news for you.”

Some change is good though. Hardly anyone laments the end of winter and the beginning of spring. I got some seeds planted this weekend, and with them, new signposts installed. Toward the end of February, while we were still wearing the many layers of wintertime, I remembered that my guests often meander through the garden on their own, but if I were doing that, I’d have a hard time knowing what’s what (even in my own garden half the time!). So I thought signs might be good. Sandy cut and drilled some scrap wood, I painted the words, and on a reasonably warm day I polyurethaned them and hung them to dry.


This weekend was the time to attach some of them – peas, lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, garlic, oregano – to metal stakes and set them in their proper places. Let the self-guided tours be henceforth more informative! I think I’ll change the attachment method, but for now, it works. The oregano in front of the sign will fill out this whole corner when it gets going.


I never had garden signs like this before. That’s a change, a good one I think. Sure, not-so-good changes come too, regardless of season, regardless of our plans, and there are plenty of those. Therefore let us ever be on the lookout for the good changes – notice them, applaud them, celebrate them. May they be the counterbalances, the bright spots, the ever-present (if ever-changing) reminders that despite those times when all (or most) seems dark, flowers do bloom in the spring, shoots do pop through the earth to begin another glorious cycle, peepers do peep! 

The Journey Part of Journey Cake

My mom had surgery two days ago, vertebrae-fusing back surgery that went very well (she was walking within four hours!). I wanted to bring her some breakfast yesterday. We all have our go-to recipes, right? Quick, easy, tried and true? One of mine is Johnny Cake, also known as Cornbread, also known historically as Journey Cake. I love my recipe. Last summer I added fresh summer sweet corn sliced right off the cob and made it into “corn muffins at their best.”

This morning I wanted to make it in my cast iron pan instead. The crust comes out so well this way. If you look carefully, you can see the steam rising from this piece I cut for my own breakfast.

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Some things you stop seeing after a while, but when I looked at the recipe, I realized anew that it is called Johnny Cake. That’s how I knew it as a child. “Corn Bread” is parenthetical.

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Somewhere along the line, “Journey Cake” morphed into “Johnny Cake.

I’m glad it did. No way could my version rightly be called or even thought of as a cake you could make on a journey. Think covered wagon journey. Think doing-the-best-we-can-with-limited-supplies. On such a journey (at least in my 21st-century imagination) the chances of having flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, butter AND maple syrup at the same time, to say nothing of the proper pans and cooking fire/oven, seem super slim. Maybe they had a cow tied to the wagon (they would need her when they arrived in Oregon); maybe they had some laying hens, though I expect those became dinner when wild game was hard to find. But baking powder, maple syrup, white flour – no way. I expect they felt right grateful to have cornmeal, water (maybe milk), some salt and a little fat for frying the cakes (think cornmeal pancakes).

I for one am very glad to have all the ingredients at my fingertips.

I get to:

1. soften the butter in the microwave to the perfect melted-but-not-hot stage (30 seconds, then work the back of a spoon against any parts remotely still solid);

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2. put the pan in the preheating oven with a pat of butter in it, let the butter melt, then tilt the pan this way and that to evenly distribute the hot, melted butter and feel the solidity of the pan, watch the different paths the butter takes, admire the ways the light glistens. (We all have our thrills, okay?)

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3. look at the eight ingredients in a bowl, as yet unmixed, and anticipate their utter transformation;

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4. blob the batter into the pan and think about what happens to it in the heat, how the batter finds the corners and changes consistency during baking (I do smooth it out a bit before putting it in the oven);

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5. enjoy the lovely crust, buttery because of the butter I melted in the pan and as dark as I choose to let it become.

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Step by step a thing takes form, simply becomes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the cornbread I’ve made for years or the Ligurian Lemon Cake I found on a found on a fellow blogger’s site recently (doesn’t that look good?!). It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendship or a project. Step by step we walk our unboring paths, touching and serving one another in ways we know and in ways we don’t know.

There were numerous high points with yesterday’s breakfast, including softening the butter, tilting the pan, blobbing the batter. Another was the steaming piece on my plate, fresh out of the oven, drizzled with honey. The best was packing up a basket to take with me to Mom at the hospital. Other people bring flowers – daffodils, begonias and a sweet pink rose adorn her room – but I bring food. How many chances like this do you get? To bring someone a piece of comfort, a taste of home?

I wish the person who wove my pie basket could see how its size and shape were perfect for a large square of my Johnny Cake/Journey Cake/Corn Bread (whatever you want to call it), a wedge of quiche, a couple of real and pretty plates, silverware wrapped in soft napkins, butter in a little dish, jam in a jar and a small cotton towel to serve as a tablecloth. “I feel like I’m in a hotel,” Mom said. My local hospital is great, but they have their limitations 😊.

For me, the journey part of Journey Cake – the journey part of anything – is the fascinating (if at times difficult and maddening) step-by-step that we experience every day.  Any journey has something (or someone) about it that’s wondrous or intriguing or funny or satisfying or lovely. I do not want to overlook that something. The process gets you – if we may borrow images from our pioneer forebears – down the next path, across the next river, over the next mountain. I want to go today where I haven’t been before, do things I couldn’t do yesterday, learn something new, see something in a fresh way. I also want to relish the familiar, embrace those I love, hold onto what matters. Yesterday I got to bake something I’ve baked a thousand times before, enjoy the process, present it in a different setting and watch it work its same old magic – oh, yay and oh, yum!!

Mom is in the hospital after back surgery. She’s not overly comfortable but is facing the mountain in front of her like the champ she is. Each little part of her journey, each big challenge and each little victory, makes her stronger in some way, better equipped for the next step. Whatever I can do, each tiny way I get to serve her – these become steps in my journey, the very journey that I will one day walk through in my memory, like a movie of my life. I want to enjoy the show!

Fraud Follow-Up

Last week I wrote about the scam I experienced with my cottage. A guy wrote, posing as a traveler. He asked to pay directly through his company and I went along. It didn’t smell right when he didn’t confirm an arrival time with me, nor send the check he said he would. When he said the check was going to be for more than the rental amount and he needed me to remit the $2500 balance so that he and his son Nathan could buy the tickets for their flights (the day of their supposed arrival!), I was done.

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I told him I wasn’t doing that. Clearly the scammers have other people to prey on and turned their attention elsewhere because I didn’t hear from him again after that…

…until six days later when he said the check had been sent.

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I did not respond and was out of town, but sure enough something arrived. Sandy stopped at my mailbox that day, saw the card that said something was waiting at the post office for pick-up, and went to retrieve it. When the postal clerk went to get it from the back, she returned saying she could not hand it over because it had been flagged as possible fraud and would need to be sent to the postmaster.

The very kind postmaster called me today and confirmed that every bit of this piece of mail was fraudulent: the check itself, the return address, even the printed-out postage sticker itself. “Looks like a home computer job,” he said. “We see this all the time, but not so much in regard to rentals.”

Of course I feel stupid and wish I could say I was smart enough to see through it earlier. I should have taken the time to carefully consider what was happening. There are reasons I didn’t.

1. When the weird texts were happening, I was in a hurry, I didn’t feel good and I had an appointment so was trying to rush out the door.

2. I did not want to judge him for poor English (“this tickets money”) because there are lots of reasons for imperfect English.

3. The cottage is my livelihood – I want and need the business.

4. I stand more often in the benefit-of-the-doubt, innocent-until-proven-guilty camp. I want to believe people are good. Most of them are. But not all.

I still feel stupid. Four and a half years I’ve been renting my cottage. Four and a half years of wonderful guests and wonderful experiences. Now this. All I can say is Be on the lookout – scammers are out there looking for money any way they can get it.

Yummy Yammy Cheesy Galette

When you first come home from having been away for a week, there’s not much in the fridge. But I did not feel like going shopping yesterday or today, and anyway I was playing tennis this morning, then flipping the cottage, then waiting for guests to arrive – honeymooners(!), repeat visitors Sally and Ryan – how wonderful to see them again!! I was wrapped up in Sarah’s book for many hours as well (while waiting for Sally and Ryan), so it was after 6pm by the time I thought about dinner. Earlier I had taken a chicken out of the freezer, thinking to roast it, thinking we haven’t had one with a teriyaki sauce in a while and that might be nice, but it was too late for that. Maybe tomorrow.

Hmmm, very limited choices then. I could always make mac and cheese but didn’t feel like that either. I said to Samuel, “Can you make a dough?” He is good at making dough even if he would rather amuse us by hemming Coco in with pillows and blankets on the couch, from which she did not care to move so we concluded that she liked it.


By “dough” he knew I meant a pizza dough. I knew we didn’t have any mozzarella so a conventional pizza was out of the question, but my daughter Marie has a recipe for a savory galette that came into my mind. Only it’s been five months or so since I made it at her house and couldn’t remember it well.

I remembered her recipe started with a pizza-crust-type crust. Thus the dough I asked Samuel to make.

I remembered it had butternut squash, but I didn’t know I had one/forgot I had one/didn’t see the one I had till I was all done. But I knew I had yams. That would work.

I remembered it had fresh sage. I knew I didn’t have that, but I do (always) have dried sage.

I remembered it had fontina cheese. I knew I didn’t have that, but I did (miraculously, considering how nearly-empty my cheese bin is right now) have asiago. That would work.

I knew it didn’t have ricotta cheese on it, but I had some of that, and thought it might be good to include.

It might have been good to look up Marie’s recipe then and there but I didn’t (or I would have added more onions).

Samuel made the dough, a regular pizza dough. He grated a big chunk of asiago. I cut up two big sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams) into small cubes and put them in my cast iron skillet in butter and a bit of water over a medium flame to roast (forgetting that Marie’s recipe calls for the squash to be oven-roasted), then remembered the half onion sitting in my fridge and something in me said Add the onion to the roasting yams. I sliced it up thinly, added it to the yams in the pan and covered the pan till the yams were soft, stirring them once or twice with a good spatula; they were done in about ten minutes.

Samuel rolled out the dough, I put olive oil on it and spread it all over the surface with my hand (just enough to cover the surface, not enough to pool). He then salted and peppered the surface. I put small dollops of ricotta cheese on next, using teaspoons to push grape-sized blobs onto the dough (you see the white blobs?), reasonably spaced. Cooked yam cubes and onion slices went on next (well distributed of course), then some dried sage, then the asiago.

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Into a hot (450F) oven the two galettes went for a good half hour until the crust was nice and brown. It was totally delicious. The combination of cheeses with yams with the sage and onion – oh, yummy! Did I need two pieces?? I enjoyed two pieces! And the crust this time! The crust was especially good. We think it might be because Sandy bought King Arthur bread flour last time I was out of flour, which has more protein, which is supposed to make a better crust. We agree it is better. If you can, buy this kind of flour for your crust.

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After we chowed down on this delicious stuff while enjoying Iron Man 2, I found Marie’s recipe, which I will happily share because 1. It has actual measurements and 2. It serves as a springboard to my altered version. You will see that the “pastry” for Marie’s Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette is not a pizza dough. I guess I forgot that too. There are various ways I veered from this recipe. But the basic idea is quite the same.

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It all goes to show that you can look and see what’s in your fridge and maybe not have to go to the store in order to make something yummy for dinner!

A Mad Dash and the Value of Fantasy

At the end of the day yesterday, a beautiful March day in Vermont that climbed past 50 degrees F, a day we had watched the ice in the Winooski River breaking away in pieces…

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…Mom and I were scheduled to fly back home.

When I am sitting in an airport waiting for my flight, and in taxis the plane I will soon be on, and off come the passengers who have arrived at their destination, I feel envious as they walk past me. I want to be them in the sense of I want to be arriving, not leaving. I want the travel part of my trip to be over. It’s great to spend time with the people I love who live far away, it’s good for the soul to see other hillsides and travel other roads and gain new mental images of the ever-changing world, but I wish I could snap my fingers at the end of that and just be home.

Some trips are smooth and easy. The flights run on time and are reasonably unbumpy, and there is enough time to get from Plane A to Plane B without undue hurry or worry. Coming home yesterday was not that kind of trip.

In Burlington Mom and I heard over the PA system that anyone with a connection in Philadelphia would miss their connection because of weather issues, so they might as well find accommodation overnight and try again today. Our connection was in Washington DC, but what weather could affect Philly so as to delay or cancel all connecting flights but not affect DC?? We don’t know and can’t know, but the announcement did not make us feel better about getting on a plane.

Then we were told that the plane that would take us to DC would be landing in Burlington at the same time as it was supposed to take off to DC, and in fact it landed more than ten minutes after that, delaying our start by a good half hour. Try as they did to make up for the lost time, we landed in DC at the same time as our connector was supposed to be taking off. That is, we arrived in DC at 10pm and our subsequent flight to Cville was scheduled to take off at 10pm. We were in row 6, which got us off the plane quicker than if we had been in row 22, but still I had serious doubts. When I showed the flight attendant my boarding pass for the next flight and asked her if we were going to make it, she said to ask the person at the bottom of the stairs. He said You will make it.

What does he know? I led Mom, who is not walking fast these days, across the tarmac toward the door he indicated, and immediately found someone who looked like she worked there and said, “I need a wheelchair for my mother!” I realize in retrospect I did not say it calmly and politely. I did not ask. I said it emphatically, being worried (very worried by this point) not only about our flight but also about Mom going faster than she should or could. To their credit, they moved fast to get her a wheelchair, being prodded, possibly, by the panic in my voice. We went as quickly as possible – the wheelchair driver assuring me all the way that we would make it – all of one gate past the one where we disembarked, watched the guy at the desk say into a phone, “Two more for Charlottesville” (as in “Don’t close the door just yet”) and hustled out the door, across the tarmac and onto the plane. Then they closed the door.

Whew! Once we were in our seats, the reality of the close call hit us and we both felt very grateful for the help we got. Mom worried that her inability to move fast had added to the stress, but I told her that having an 84-year-old, less-than-speedy travel companion came in handy. If nothing else, it called attention to our plight. We were on the plane and that’s all that mattered. Time to relax, right?

You bet. Time to resume The Turning by Sarah Silvey, a new fantasy novel I can hardly put down. The part of me that loves invented characters and their corresponding powers, deeds and foibles – yes, the same woman who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aquaman, The Avengers and all the rest – switched on as soon as I started reading it. Sarah’s fabulous characters and intriguing storyline picked up my exhausted self and plunked it squarely into an imaginary world with far greater challenges and gave me somewhere else to reside temporarily after the harrowing gate-to-gate mad dash. What is making our flight to Charlottesville by the skin of our teeth compared to trying to stop an evil “Other” who can obliterate a small town by commanding the river to overtake it in a flash flood?

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The Turning starts with a young woman named Sienna who is vaguely aware of her unusual abilities, including being able to know what people are thinking. Her village is small, her job of ferrying people across the river is simple, but trouble starts when the blue-cloaked woman with a frightening aura crosses. Enter a brave knight of the Darcean Order who cannot stop the flood but saves Sienna from it, mutants with creepy eyes and grossly misshapen bodies, ordinary folk who chatter cheerfully and care about their companions and a rat-faced villain gathering the mutants for purposes of subterfuge, and you can imagine my current dilemma. I’m home, yes, my bags are unpacked, yes, but it’s time for dinner and all I want to do is read! Brennan, the knight, explained the backstory this way:

…“He was the first Other. Fifteen hundred years ago, Azar united the lands to the east of the desert with his power. He named it Azaria, and together he and his queen ruled the people, masquerading as gods.

“Nobody denies that the things they did were magnificent. Through their power, they made the roads and buildings, many of which were so strong that they are still standing today. By their influence, the yield of crops magnified a hundredfold. Nobody had to work; they only had to worship the Azars and obey their rules.

“Lots of people see these relics and yearn for the wealth and glory of the past, but they have forgotten the Azars’ cruelty. They murdered people for entertainment, made them into slaves, sacrificed them as their divine right. They were depraved. People were forbidden to read and write, to question their god-kings, to meet in secret. Others were employed by Azar to watch the people for rebellion, and any independence of mind or deed was found and crushed. The easy lifestyle and propaganda promoted by the Azars made the people bland and ignorant.

“The Others were insatiable. Masses of people were slain in battles for supremacy between members of the Azar family. Others ruled the cities as well; they played mayor or magistrate, wallowing in luxury and using their power to work their way on people.

“For five hundred years the descendants of the Azars ruled Azaria in blood and wealth, until an assassin found his way into their palace undetected and killed the last king and queen where they slept in their beds. The empire fell apart. Without their gods, the people were lost. They lived in the houses that still remained, but they didn’t remember how to work or think or fend for themselves. Lots of people died, but slowly they learned to survive on their own again, by their own rules, through honest means.

“Today people look at the skeletons of these buildings and they fantasize. They hear tales of gods that walked among men, abundant food, easy lifestyles, and they yearn for those days to be back again. But below the earth, where they cannot see, are the skeletons of the people whom these so-called gods trampled in their lust and greed.”

The evil empire has fallen, its inhabitants are “free again, along with all the responsibility and suffering which that entailed,” but their own history, their own shackles, their own pain, which should guide them to create a better tomorrow, has “drifted into the mythology of the gods. Azar’s name and his power are all the truth that is remembered.” Sienna wonders, “How can people have forgotten something so important?”

Indeed! Why do people forget what’s important? Bravo to Sarah, a fine young writer who gives us not only an engaging story but also a striking window into the risks of allowing ourselves to be led by those who do not, despite appearances, have our interests in mind, but rather, strictly and only, their own power and gain. Oh, and don’t forget how we ourselves, with whatever we uniquely bring to the table, can affect the outcome. Will Sienna develop her own powers and help Brennan take down the evil Others? I hope so, but how will she do it? I don’t know yet, but I suspect I’ll be up till all hours tonight finding out how the story plays out. You’ve got my attention, Sarah, and your wonderfully written story not only entertains me, it conjures up the parallels we all face.

Is there evil in our world too? Undeniably. Are we, to our ultimate detriment, being led? Sometimes. Can we battle all the wrongs? Hardly. Can we think for ourselves, develop our own strengths and avoid some of the downsides of those who would rule us? Of course we can.

May we never forget what’s important and always work for good. And may a good book always serve to take us to worlds we would otherwise not go, and in doing so, help us relax, make us think and/or bring us a fresh perspective on ourselves and our own world. Thank you, Sarah.

A George Bailey Moment (Straw Bale House: Stairs)

When all your ducks are in a row, when you are exactly where you want to be and you feel strong, healthy and content, it’s wonderful. Take away any of those factors – a preferred location, optimal strength, good health or contentment – and the picture changes. For instance, here I am in beautiful Vermont spending precious time with dear family and friends, and oh, I wish I felt better.

Yesterday I woke up to a nasty headache. The first thing in my head was Bother! That’s going to get in the way of helping Lincoln with those stairs. Then I thought, Oh, the stairs, he’s building the stairs today, wonderful!

While Rise and Eppie were with me last week during their school break, Lincoln had walled in the bedrooms upstairs in their straw bale house and moved beds and dressers up there. He did this by way of a ladder, this ladder. Here is Eppie beginning her descent on it.



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Don’t ask me how he got those heavy things up there. He did. And the girls came home to their new bedroom which, as you might surmise, they could reach by way of said ladder. When I said Be careful to Eppie about it the first day back, she said calmly, “Oma, I’ve done this many times,” as she carefully went down.

I have confidence in their surefootedness when they are paying attention. But perhaps you have experience with children who sometimes get distracted. I do. I’m not sure why those boards are sticking out in front of Eppie like that (they don’t belong there), but there’s a rather large unblocked edge up there too. Need I say more? Also, I am not overly comfortable on ladders myself and guess where the bathroom is in this house. So when I first arrived on Sunday I suggested to Lincoln that stairs, soon, would be a good idea. He was not particularly interested in building them just now, having other aspects of this massive project in mind. I might have suggested it more than once and from several different angles. Lo and behold (thank God!) he decided to make them.

The wood for the hemlock stringers was out in the snow, but he pulled it in, scraped it off and brought it inside. He pulled out his computer and fine-tuned his design and measurements. He began notching the 3x12s, which were my happy job to sand with his marvelous Mirka Deros pad sander. By about lunchtime yesterday they were ready.

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After we prepared the place for the landing and the three bottom stairs (right about where Lincoln‘s standing), he moved the long stringers. These are not lightweight.

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Once he secured them in their rightful places, we (i.e., he with me marginally helping) cut and trimmed the treads. More Mirka Deros sanding – what a fabulous tool – to make the edges un-sharp, and the staircase took shape.

There’s a fine line in woodworking between precision on the one hand and as-good-as-it’s-going-to-get on the other, but sometimes static pressure can nudge a slightly twisted board a little closer to the pencil mark it is supposed to line up with. The right-hand stringer was less than optimally cooperative, and Lincoln couldn’t have it that way, but he was satisfied after the clamp did its work.


By dinnertime he had all treads in place and screwed down (let’s hope they don’t dry too fast and warp), as well as railings upstairs and the ladder back in the barn. It was impossible to get a good photo, but a person can now get upstairs without having to climb a ladder and can be up there without worrying about falling from that height. And if you are the Oma, you can relax a bit about the little ones playing up there.


During all of the construction prior to building the stairs, no one had fallen or come close to falling – and the planks were way less stable than the floor up there is now. Chances are very good that if months more had passed with only the ladder in place, all would have been fine. I probably worry too much. I don’t know. That’s where George Bailey comes in.

In the classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is continually frustrated, continually wishing he was doing something else, in his case traveling the world or building big, important things. After he decides that he has wasted his life and the only way to help his family is to absent himself (permanently, by jumping off a bridge), he gets a miraculous look at what his world would look like had he not been in it. His brother would have died, Mr. Gower would have gone to prison, Nick would have become mean, Mary would have stayed alone, Violet would have gone down the wrong path and his uncle would have ended up in the insane asylum.

George had no idea what his presence accomplished, what his everyday actions – bumbling as they were – meant to the people and the community around him, what calamities those actions prevented, what good (and exponential good) they brought.

When I woke up with a headache two days ago, I remembered the stairs but chided myself for perhaps having had too much to say about the need for them. It’s not my house and Lincoln should proceed as he deems necessary and appropriate. But George Bailey reminded me that maybe, just maybe, I am here, right now, this week, for a reason. Something in me said Stairs would be good. Stairs should be next. Maybe that matters for reasons I will never know. Maybe it doesn’t.

Next time you need to push yourself a little to be somewhere when it would be easier to not be there, think about George. Maybe someone needs your smile, or is stronger because you are with them, or makes a choice that is somehow significant (even if you never know how) because of your presence. Maybe you are the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Maybe your vote tips the scales, or your solution solves the problem, or your help allows a thing that couldn’t happen otherwise. 

We can never know what might have been had we not been there. We can never know that because of our being there, X happened instead of Y, or X didn’t happen at all, or Y was more likely to happen. All I know is, stair-making with Lincoln gave me a fresh understanding that where we are makes a difference.



A Cottage Scam

I have a beautiful cottage on my property that I rent out to travelers. This work is perfect for me. I’ve always loved having guests, preparing the space nicely for them, making them feel welcome and at home. The cottage is separate from my house but close enough that I can be there to greet people when they come, give them a personalized introduction to the property and assist with any needs while they are there – ice cubes, a spice they would like for the dinner they’re making but forgot to bring, a brief conversation about what’s so special in this area. For four and a half years guests have come mostly through Airbnb, sometimes privately. Overall it’s been a fabulous experience and I have met some of the most wonderful people.

The cottage sits a mile off the interstate and is – like my house – in the big woods. It’s secluded, quiet and private, with chickens to watch for amusement, a garden to stroll through and a private trail to the beaver pond, and it’s only ten minutes to town, close to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and wonderful local wineries and breweries. In fall, winter and early springtime you can the mountains off in the distance; in summertime you can’t.

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Sunsets can be pretty awesome too.

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Inside there’s a woodstove and an amazing wall of windows…

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…coffered ceilings and a neat kitchen.

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Upstairs a cozy sleeping area.

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Recently I was approached about a private arrangement. The man said he was traveling with his son, asked for certain dates and needed to make payment “by sending you a company check or certified check.” I texted him back and he responded by thanking me and saying he would send me tracking information for the payment. Maybe I shouldn’t, probably I shouldn’t, but so far I trusted.

Whether we think about it or not, we trust all the time. And we trust a lot of people we don’t know. We trust the food we eat in restaurants to have been prepared by cooks who care about quality and cleanliness. We trust the airplane pilot to get us from Point A to Point B without crashing. We trust the auto mechanic not to charge us for something that’s wrong (that he supposedly fixed) when it isn’t.

There’s a fine line in the world of trust. I want to believe the best in everyone – benefit of the doubt, all that. Most people are good and honest. But some people mean us harm. Some want our money.

A few weeks ahead of time, I asked about arrival time. He said there was “a mix-up in the payment sent to you.” Hmmm. He continued, “I was supposed to receive two separate payment one for you and one for my travel agent, but unfortunately the whole sum of these two payments was issued on one check in your name and sent to you.”

This had a whiff of bad (feel free to chide me right here) but I would not be opposed to receiving a check, waiting for it to clear, then sending back the part that is not for me. Mistakes happen. “Thanks,” he said with a smiley face. “I’ll get back to you with the tracking info.”

The day before the expected arrival, I had no check, no tracking information and (no surprise) no good feeling. When I inquired, he said, “I feel very bad about the situation. My vacation planner didn’t put the check out on time. It will deliver to your address later today.” And then (and this really didn’t smell right), “Can we sort out the payment issue first? You can have the dates blocked for me. I’ll bare [sic] the loss for two days until the check clears your bank. And I’ll reschedule my arrival for [two days later]. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for understanding.”

By this point I was confused and in a hurry but strongly suspecting a scam and highly intrigued as to how he would continue with this. The next bit clinched it: “But there’s a problem. He’s supposed to use the extra $2500 included in the check to book our flights so we can take off. But the check is already on its way and would arrive tonight. But if you can help me quickly remit the sum of $2500 to him right now, I’ll be very happy. Then when the check clears, you have the full amount including the rental fee. I’ll be very glad if you can do this. I’ll be very grateful.”

Ah, now I’m supposed to send money before I receive the check. Sure. And I’m not supposed to wonder how they could, at this point, not have tickets for their flights. So we can take off?!

“There’s no way we could come without this tickets money. And that’s why I’m suggesting you remit the funds to him. Then have yourself reimburse[d] when the check clears the bank. My son is already disappointed and I feel very bad right now.” [two sad faces]

This tickets money? Seriously?

These last few texts all took place within a very short period of time while I was madly trying to get out the door to an appointment. I told him plainly I was not going to write a check for $2500 and got going. Needless to say, no response came, no check, no tracking info, no guests. I lost business but gained understanding of yet another way scammers try to fool ordinary, trusting people. They must sit together, scheme together: Which business can we target next?… Individuals who rent out their homes! Sure, why not?!

They got me on the hook, but they didn’t reel me in. And I’m a smarter fish now.