Six or More Reasons I Love The Gym

I started going to a gym recently. My mother was confused. You need a gym now besides everything else you do?? Good heavens, girl!

I have never been a gym person, was always more active in the hauling-brush-to-make-a-burn-pile kind of way. I can’t tell you what the gym machines are called, how they work, what you are supposed to do with them or why they are useful – other than the obvious: they make you stronger somehow. To demonstrate my cluelessness, I will tell you that at the gym there’s a thing you sit in that has a flat part you push up with your legs, but before you do that, you load the flat part up with weights that are round and flat and have a hole in the middle (like big and heavy smooshed flat donuts) and fit on a metal bar behind the flat part, which makes it harder to push, thereby theoretically challenging you more and making you stronger if indeed you can repetitively push the flat part up. When I got home I told Samuel they put one disc on there for me – one, and he tells me one weighs 45 pounds (the guy after me put six for himself). Plates, Mom, they are called plates. Oh.

Why am I doing this now? Samuel’s gentle persistence paid off. He has been telling me in various ways, numerous times, for over a year now: It’s important to stay strong, Mom. He reminded me of my college writing prof Peter Sandman who always said that if you have a good point to make, tell it to your audience three times in three different ways – maybe one of the ways will stick! Samuel convinced me that working with someone who knows (considerably more) about strength and fitness (than I do) would be smart. One could also ask: Why do we have to get weak before we start saying, Yeah, maybe I need to be strong…

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The Gym in Charlottesville not a foo-foo gym. It’s a serious-about-getting-strong gym, and I love it for a lot of reasons. Did I just say I love a gym? Yes, I just said I love a gym. Wait, who said that??

Reasons:

1. The owner, soft-spoken, rock-of-a-human Justin Tooley, says plainly that getting strong isn’t just about your body, it’s about your life and about everything in your life. Being strong in life is important – I know that. Un-strong people get blown around. I love that he’s telling people why being strong is important and he’s practicing what he preaches.

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2. It doesn’t matter what you wear. I wear a comfy pair of pants that Samuel calls my “inside-out pants” because the flat-felled seams are visible and the drawstring is on the outside (how outlandish is that!? who puts the drawstring on the outside – he is very hung up on that). But nobody cares what you wear. It’s not about what you wear. It’s about getting strong. I showed up the first day wearing jeans, a sleeveless top and flip-flops, thinking I’d just watch, and Toni, best first impression you could ever imagine, was unfazed. She’s so terrific, included me so beautifully and left it up to me whether to do the run-with-kicking-your-heels-up-toward-your-backside exercise in flip-flops (I did) – she made me want to come back.

Both she and Josh, who has worked with me twice since that first clueless day, have been super-accommodating of the facts that a. I have a shoulder injury I am being careful about and b. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. They make me feel like it’s the most fantastic thing in the world that I came, like they have been waiting for me, like nothing makes them happier than helping me figure out how to properly step up on a big box or how to thrust a kettle ball for maximum benefit to my butt muscles (which I know have a name…gloots?). I use a baby kettle ball. You can see it (kind of hiding) among the other kettle balls of higher-strength-requirement status.

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3. They have the most wonderful dogs walking around – perfect muscle dogs, perfect gym dogs – that are gentle and sweet and even some comic relief sometimes. This face tells you everything’s gonna be okay.

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4. They have a huge American flag hanging in there. I like that! God bless America. This is the entrance. I told you—not foo-foo.

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5. Many people inspire you. Look at Leslie – she’s totally beyond amazing! That pole she’s holding on her very strong shoulders with her very strong arms has weights hanging on each end by way of very strong rubber bands that are not only very heavy (no baby weights for her!), they are not very stable. She said it’s really hard. Ya think? She doesn’t just hold the pole – she holds it while walking across the floor and back with knee-to-floor-touching-lunges! I was probably too astounded in watching her to be able to get a single, not-blurry-in-any-way photo and I’m sorry about that because she should not only have a great photo, she should have a prize!!

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I’ve been to The Gym three times now – one cardio class and two lower-body strengthening classes (I’m right now shy of too much upper-body work on account of my bad shoulder). Samuel goes at different times. He (who did all the registering and everything) went on Friday after my third time and said they sheepishly asked him my name. He said they’ve just been calling me Mom (don’t you think Clueless would be a better name?!). Not knowing/using a person’s name is one of the cardinal no-no’s of the hospitality world I worked in for so many years – if you don’t do anything else right, at least use the guest’s name! But it didn’t matter a bit to me whether they knew or used my name or not. They did everything else right. Everything.

Josh even made me try this rolly thing that I hated, cuz, you know, maybe I’d like it, maybe it would be my new favorite toy and he had to find out. Let me repeat, I hate this rolly thing. It’s very heavy, crushingly heavy. Josh said everyone hates it. I hate it more. You are supposed to place it gently (trust me, you have to do this gently) on your thighs and roll it slowly toward your knees and back again. Abby smiled mid-roll for the photo.

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How she can be smiling I have no idea, unless it’s a smile of pain – you’ve seen those. How she can even consider drinking her coffee or checking her phone while doing this is unimaginable. I repeat, I hate that thing. But Josh didn’t make me do it the second time. Maybe, remembering my ordeal first time, he had the tiniest bit of sympathy? Probably not, probably he just forgot. I want him to forget that thing every time.

6. There’s a big container of chalk next to the weights. Do I know this from personal experience? Am I spending time near the dead lifting area? (Or is it the deadlift area?) Hardly. Samuel discovered the chalk during his own workout and said it sets this gym apart. Here’s why: Chalk is a mess. Some gyms don’t even let you bring in your own because they don’t want it all over stuff (which they then have to clean). But if you are serious about lifting (so says Samuel), you need chalk. This gym is therefore serious.

Another thing (7.) I like about The Gym is that even though I’m sure I don’t fit their typical profile, they are excited that I come. They don’t just say hi in passing while they occupy themselves with other important stuff – they make you feel like you are the important stuff.

I’m guessing that for Justin and Toni and Josh, it’s like the message about the value of strength training is reaching beyond the people who would already be there. When you love a thing that’s so good for people, that’s so easily adaptable to different starting points and different bodies and different goals, that’s so far-reaching in its benefits, you want everyone to do it and see why it’s so cool. Toni was so excited the first day I went because her mom also came. Who wouldn’t like such a warm and genuine welcome?

They clearly want to keep making it even more welcoming. I’m excited for them that they have a plan/hope/goal to enhance the already great experience of The Gym.

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I like the whole thing – the people, the atmosphere, the energy, the careful and personal attention (to make sure, in my case, I don’t hurt myself), the non-foo-foo-ness of it. The whole scene seems to say: give people everything they need (including the non-tangibles) so they can get down to the sensible, serious and important business of getting strong and have fun while doing it. I’m never going to carry that pole with the weights (or have legs like these women) but I don’t think that matters. I want to go to the gym anyway. I like it! Wait, what? You like going to the gym? Wait, what? You WANT to go to the gym?

Clearly a massive mental adjustment is happening here. I almost feel like I am somebody else when I tell you I want to keep going there, like when you catch yourself saying something you absolutely never would have said at any other point in your life, and you say, Wait. Who just said that?

Am I a gym person now? Did this gym change me already? That same college prof of mine used to say 1. You don’t change people’s behavior or actions until you change their attitude. 2. If you want someone to do something, grab hold of something, begin doing something they have not previously been in the habit of doing, you cannot (absolutely cannot) expect them to do it until and unless their attitude toward that thing is changed. If you can be the agent of change regarding their attitude, you will then be the agent of change regarding their behavior/actions. 3. Change attitude first. Behavior will follow.

Well, how about that? Samuel got me through the door and Justin, Tony and Josh make me want to go again. Good for them. Good for me.

My Regurgitating Gas Tank

My life flashed before my eyes yesterday. Not literally, but almost. What seemed like a run-of-the-mill task – filling my car with gas – turned into an ordeal that lasted hours, included the fire department and two tow trucks and showcased sadly questionable workmanship as well as the outstanding contribution of a random passer-by.

All I wanted to do was get gas. Sam’s Club sells it cheaper than most places and I happened to be there, so, no brainer. As I got out of my car, went through the credit card motions and stuck the nozzle in, I noticed the attendant standing off to the side. He was just standing there. What do those guys do all day?

I found out. Every time I tried to squeeze the handle to get the flow of gas to start, it clicked backwards as if the tank was already full. I did this four or five times. Not being a woman of infinite patience, and imagining that the idle attendant would prefer to do something rather than nothing, I asked him for help. John was kind and chatty and filled the tank for me. So far nothing to write home about.

Gas stations smell like gas, and you always have this vague understanding that not all the gas makes it into the tanks of the cars and trucks and the containers that people are filling for their lawn mowers. Some gas spills out and makes a perpetually gassy situation – a little like when someone keeps forgetting that you shouldn’t give the dog dairy products!

Smelling gas at a gas station is generally not alarming, but the smell I smelled just as John squeezed that handle to get the last bit of gas into my tank was alarmingly strong. It was coupled with a sudden outpouring of gas from underneath my car! Gas did not pour out of the tank from where the nozzle was stuck in, oh no. Somehow, deep within the bowels of my car, gas was going in the wrong direction, was not staying put in its tank until called forth to put the car in motion, was internally regurgitating.

We suddenly saw a flood of gas on the ground, moving quickly forward past my rear tire. How many gallons of gas had to issue from my tank – from somewhere between the nozzle’s entry point and some hidden and clearly not-securely-tightened joint – to make a spill that traveled several feet in front of my rear tire? We watched it seeping slowly, probably not an overly brilliant thing to do, but I wasn’t thinking maybe I should get out of the way of a highly flammable substance. I was thinking I just spent $14 on gas that’s now on the pavement! (You with large and hungry gas tanks, eat your hearts out – I drive a Prius!) Still, it’s $14!!

It reached as far as it could, as if the tank expelled however much was above whatever spill line we couldn’t see, and then settled down. We realized no more was coming, a rather anticlimactic moment, to be honest. John, the man for this job, as attentive as an attendant could be, went and got some absorbent stuff that looked like dry, chewed up cardboard and he shoveled it on the gas. This is what it looked like when I took a picture a little later after the gas had evaporated. Where does gas go?

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“Can’t drive this car now,” I said to John, lamenting the cheese, ham and lettuce in my car that would not get to my fridge quickly. (The case of wine I was not worried about!) But okay, not the worst thing that could happen. I called AAA. This nice man dutifully took my info and then told me he was sorry but he could not authorize a tow until the fire department had determined that the leak was no longer active. He could not take my word for it, nor John’s. Okay. Let’s not mess around when it comes to gas. Is the gas at this point hazardous? Should we not even be standing here?

How do you call the fire department for such a thing? 911 gets you “What is your emergency?” to which I replied, “It’s not an emergency but I do need the fire department.” Which is also about when Sandy arrived, happy to leave work for a little adventure. We put my groceries in his air-conditioned car.

The three guys from the fire department came in the big fire truck, all like Seriously? Sorry, guys, the AAA guy made me call you! They took out their flashlights and got down and looked up and under as best as they could. No active leak here, ma’am, call for your tow. I don’t know what they were doing before coming to Sam’s gas station – playing cards maybe, watching a training film or a funny movie, washing the truck? – what exactly do firefighters do when they are not fighting fires?

On a scale of 1-10 of fire experiences, this one probably makes it to 0.5, but hey, we all play a part, right? Come to think of it, that old name for them – firemen instead of fire fighters – might be the better term right now for them (and they were all men) since it’s more general because it is (you have to admit) a stretch to say they are “fighting” a fire here at Sam’s. I guess you could say they are “fighting” the possibility of fire. They are the guys who know about fire – if only we could call them firepeople to allow for the brave women who also choose this profession…

Hey, don’t leave yet, I thought, and then said, “Maybe don’t leave yet? What if the AAA guy doesn’t believe me that you said it’s okay and has to talk to you directly?” Sure enough, the AAA guy didn’t believe me and had to talk to the firefighter directly. Then he authorized the tow.

Attentive John, all this time, is clearly happy to have some excitement in his morning. A lady in a purple dress with a car full of groceries and a regurgitating gas tank, a call to the fire department, tow truck on the way – even having to shovel out the absorbent stuff! – this gives him a story to tell, right? It’s not his favorite ball player driving up in a Ferrari, I know. It’s not an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, where’s-a-superhero-when-you-need-one moment. But it’s better than just standing there!

For you lucky ones who have not had to wait for a tow any time recently, I can pass along that there is one new development in this process that can help pass the time, if such things enthrall you. AAA sends you a link that takes you to a screen that allows you to see where your tow truck, en route to your location, currently is. And not only that, like a little toy on a little track, the truck moves on your screen as it advances to your location! See the little truck on Route 64? I’m sorry I can’t make it crawl along 64 for you.

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This enthralling image let me see that my truck was coming from Waynesboro – good heavens, why Waynesboro?? Meaning we would be a while. Meaning we had time to pace, time to contemplate/ fumigate over: Why does gas pour out from underneath your car when you are at a total standstill and are just filling the tank? It happens – even I who know nothing about cars can tell you – when the person who installed the $1200 brand-new gas tank on your car not long ago doesn’t quite finish the job, doesn’t securely attach one thing to another (the vent hose to the filler neck, as it turns out) and over time, with vibration, and finally, with that last surge of gas going in, it pops off. Gush, gush, gush, out comes the gas.

So, yeah, I suspected shoddy workmanship. Umansky is the name of the dealership where I had had the work done. I called them to say what happened and that I was waiting for the tow truck and that they could expect my car there in a short while. I called the lady who had told me to call her directly if I ever had any problems, which she had told me after I had problems there the last time. Just about then a guy in a very white shirt driving a car with a Umansky plate and dealer stickers on the window drove up to fill a reddish Honda with gas. Sandy and I guessed he was a sales guy. I strolled over and asked him if he worked for Umansky. Yes, he said. Oh, how ‘bout that, I said, I just called them about this car of mine. He was clearly not interested in my story, even when I got to the part – which I promise you was 25-words-or-less – about having this problem because of what looked like a workmanship issue. Sorry, he said flippantly and off he drove, doing not the slightest thing to improve my impression of this dealership.

A few minutes later another Umansky vehicle drove up to gas up, this time the courtesy shuttle driven by a lady. After my experience with the white shirt, I didn’t approach her, but maybe she read the this-is-Umansky’s-fault banner written in invisible ink behind my I-bet-you-don’t-care-either look. Maybe she is just a good person. Whatever the case, she appeared interested and then asked what was going on. In no time she was on the phone with her boss trying to help. In the end, because of Audra’s caring actions, I canceled the AAA tow truck (see that CANCEL ASSISTANCE button? came in handy) as she told me to and waited for the Umansky-sponsored Charlottesville Wrecker tow truck instead.

My phone rang and it was a lady from AAA verifying that I had indeed canceled. Yes, ma’am, thank you, I am being assisted by the company that should be assisting me. Only she forgot to call the driver, who showed up while the Charlottesville Wrecker guy was tightening the straps that would keep my non-leaking car from falling off his flatbed.

Audra not only made the tow truck happen. I have a feeling she had something to do with the rest of the story, which was a simple, prompt and no-cost-to-me fix of the detached vent hose. Audra’s bosses will hear from me. Her praises I will sing! The dealership can’t give me back the time I lost. They can’t calm my recurring oh-God-what-if-that-hose-had-popped-while-driving-along-at-70-mph fears. Visions of fearsome and fiery wrecks are not their responsibility, I understand. But they can commend (and hopefully reward) this woman who went above and beyond her job description and made an otherwise maddening situation far more tolerable.

VENT HOSE IS NOW SECURE, my $0.00 receipt says. They fixed it – I hope! We are required to trust some things in this life, things we don’t understand, things that have to work right in order for them to be safe. Accidents happen, I know. But here’s one that didn’t, and I am breathing a little easier.

You only have to see your gas tank regurgitating once to never want to see it happen again.

Bouldering? Really?

The things we do can be divided into four categories:

  1. We did the thing and we’re glad it’s over. High school comes to mind. Potty training. Ill-fated relationships. Recipes that bombed. Escapes from terrible danger. Costly mistakes. Profound embarrassment.
  2. We did the thing and would love to do it again. We maybe even do it again, or do it over and over again. Being on a grand adventure with someone wonderful. Making a new friend. Spending time with an old friend. Listening to favorite music. Reading masterfully written words. Creating something to be proud of in the kitchen or workshop or garden or studio. Reaching a physical or athletic goal. Making someone smile.
  3. We never did it and would like to. We all have a bucket list, even if we don’t call it that. A place to go, a food to try, a goal to reach, a person to meet, a book to read, a concert to attend, a wound to mend, a house to build, a difference to make.
  4. We never did it and we have no interest, desire or compulsion. This is the category that interests me today. For everyone, just as there is a wish-list, there’s also a no-wish-list. Just as there’s a magnetic attraction to some things, there’s a repelling with others. Just as some things call our name, others appeal to us in no way, shape or form.

Like Mom with superhero movies. I say Mom, really, the characters are interesting – some are even well developed. The graphics are amazing, the story lines engaging/ hilarious/ thrilling, the settings larger than life. She says Nope.

Like Samuel with building stuff. I say, Samuel, really, the sense of accomplishment you feel from making this precise cut and watching the board fit perfectly next to the one before it – it’s great! He says I’m going for a run.

Like Lynn with a good movie. She says I’m going to bed.

Like Fred with blogging about golf. He says Writing’s not that fun for me. I’d rather just play.

Like me with climbing, a.k.a. bouldering. Samuel loves it. Lincoln loves it. Julia loves it. Rise loves it. Even Eppie, who’s not quite big enough, loves it.

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I’m happy to watch – I loved watching them! How are they all that strong?!

But I don’t get the thrill. I’m not interested. It doesn’t jazz me. I need to remember this the next time I try to convince Mom to watch the latest Spiderman, or the next time I imagine Samuel is helping because he wants to, or the next time I suggest a movie to Lynn or tout all the blogging benefits to Fred.

Yes, yes, the beat of their own drummer, all that. However, I also need to remember that when I was younger, I didn’t help my mom in the garden. Now I wish I had – I would have learned a lot that would help me in my own garden! This photo is from last year – the strawberries weren’t anywhere near as good as these this year. Help!

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Not very long ago, I didn’t get anywhere near power equipment, which would include any shop tool that was plugged in. Mainly I made food and acted as gopher for those who were building anything involving lumber. Now I use the chop saw and the drills/drivers on a regular basis and I can usually get the nail hammered in with fewer than 20 hits! (And wow! We’ve come so far on the porch since June 4!)

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I didn’t like small dogs. Now I smile big when I look at Coco! Ridiculous dog!

 

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I won’t use names here, but you know who you are — you who didn’t used to eat Mexican food, you who made naan bread recently because of your success making pizza, you who wore a sundress and a big funny hat to a Derby party — y’all did things this year that you’ve never done before. Bravo! Who else braved the newness of a thing? Who else pushed the envelope? You know you feel good about it! 🙂

I can’t imagine being interested in bouldering, but down the road, hey, you never know… And even if I never climb those walls, that’s okay. I’ll do something else!

Not-Kiwi Ice Cream Cake

Today is Eppie’s birthday — the Big Five she is! Before we get to the cake, a word about the present.

Naturally, when there are chickens at Eppie’s house and chickens at Oma’s house and Eppie is celebrating an important birthday, she surely needs another chicken for a present 😊 This one let’s call Silkie Boy – the bad hair day making it a silkie and the red things resembling the wattle that only the (male) roosters have. Seeing as there are no roosters at Oma’s house (none, zero) and the ones at Eppie’s house were recently “processed,” this fellow just might find a special place in her heart. You never know.

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Six days pre-birthday, i.e. this past Saturday, at the War Memorial Park in Martinsburg, West Virginia, I asked her (after she opened the chicken present) what kind of cake she would be having on her special day. She and Rise and Lincoln and Julia would be on their annual family vacation with Julia’s family this week, and I knew that somebody would surely be making her a cake.

Eppie was swinging on the swings as she answered matter-of-factly, “Kiwi.”

“Kiwi?” I was sure I wasn’t hearing her right, what with the squeaking of the swing as it swung back and forth. (I almost wrote swang, so baffled am I even now, even thinking about kiwi and cake as having any connection at all with each other!)

“Kiwi,” she repeated.

“Kiwi,” I repeated. Kiwi cake? Wait, kiwi? First, when I was five, I’m sure I didn’t even know what a kiwi was. Second, how does it come about that a child wants a kiwi cake? But okay, why not. It’s a new world. Onward we go.

Today, on her very special day, she is looking particularly angelic… (Thank you Nancy/Nana for the lovely photo!)

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And she is getting ready to eat her… (you knew this was for real)… kiwi cake! True confession here: When Eppie said kiwi cake, I imagined a light green batter flecked with small seeds perhaps (kiwi seeds of course). I did not imagine this awesome, surely delicious layer cake Kelley made with sliced kiwis (the fruit) between the layers and a super impressive image on top of a kiwi (the bird) done with frosting. See the additional slices of kiwi for decoration – and is that a chocolate-dipped kiwi slice besides??!! That’s a kiwi cake if ever there was a kiwi cake! (Eppie darling, you are very much loved!)

And sure, I knew kiwis were birds, native of New Zealand they are, smallest of the rattites (whatever that means), coincidentally the size of a chicken…. Sure, uh, everyone knows that…

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So I, in my not-functioning-well-in-this-heat-wave brain, somehow had thought that Eppie would be here tonight, which of course she isn’t. But in that delusion I had – not yet having any clue as to the monumentally incredible kiwi cake that was to come, not having any clue what a kiwi cake even is – decided to make for her a simple ice cream cake with two of her favorite flavors. And this, despite the clear inferiority of my offering, I share with you for two reasons.

  1. I meant well.
  2. It’s super easy and anyone can do it (whereas your average Joe might be oh-so-slightly intimidated when it comes to monumentally incredible kiwi cakes, hats off to you, Kelley!).

This is Not a Recipe for Ice Cream Cake. It’s only kind of a recipe. It’s more like assembly instructions.

Start by taking out the ice cream from the freezer. It spreads better if it’s a little soft. This part of the instruction presumes you do not get distracted with an unexpected phone call, a natural disaster, or by reading or having to reread Mona’s hilarious/gross blog post about Cystifus (click at your own risk). Meaning the ice cream should sit out about 15 minutes (give or take, depending on how cool/warm it is in your kitchen at the time).

The crust is made with thin, crispy, dark, crushed-up chocolate wafers. I use Nabisco. I crush the whole package (9oz/255g). You should use the quantity that best suits that size of pan / amount of ice cream you are going to use.

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Crush these up fine, either in a food processor or with a rolling pin. If you choose the rolling pin (quieter and less clean up, plus muscle-building) method, put the cookie wafers in a gallon zip-lock bag first. Reserve some of these crumbs for later (¾ cup or so) and put the rest in a bowl with ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup (½ stick/ 55g) soft butter. Mix crumbs, sugar and butter together and press (with your fingers) into a pan of your choice. This time, I used my wonderful squarish springform pan, which happens to be 9”/23cm across. A pie plate works fine. A 9×13 baking dish works fine – your call. How much ice cream do you have? Use your finely honed spatial reasoning skills to determine pan size.

After you press the buttery/sugary crumbs in the pan, gently put flattish scoops of ice cream in the pan. In this photo you also see my reserved crumbs in the small bowl.

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I used up the whole container of chocolate for the first layer, gently pressing and flattening as I went. The back of a big, flat spoon works well. Eppie told me she “loves” chocolate, so regardless of chocolate being my own personal favorite, it was a safe bet for this cake. I can’t remember how that came up in the conversation about the kiwi cake, but it did, and I am clear on this fact: Eppie “loves” chocolate.

For your ice cream cake, you pick the kinds of ice cream you like best. For some flavors it might even make sense to use graham crackers instead of the chocolate wafers in the crust (everything else would be and be done the same way).

So, yeah, the whole container – which isn’t as much as you think, certainly not as much as it used to be. They used to put ice cream into containers that held half a gallon. I’m not sure when they started making the containers smaller – and charging the same price, but I was onto that scheme and it made me mad. You have to pick your battles though, right?

So the whole not-half-gallon of chocolate ice cream, smoothed out, looks like this. Don’t be anal about how smooth this is.

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On top of the first layer, sprinkle your reserved crumbs.

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Right away (time is of the essence here), add the second layer. While still on the swing, Eppie, thankfully for me, named another flavor she “loves” and I stopped right there, didn’t need to hear more because, well, mint chocolate chip works because 1. It pairs with the plain (rich) chocolate well and 2. Because it is right up there with the not-as-good-as-chocolate-but-in-their-own-ways-amazing other flavors that I happily eat (sometimes). How handy is that! Bless you, dear child, for not naming butter pecan or some similar ugh-worthy flavor…

The second layer goes on quicker because you are able to move faster because the ice cream is softer, having been sitting out longer. This is where my mother would say, “Don’t dilly-dally!”

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For those of you who associate mint chocolate chip with an ice cream that is not only minty but also green, rest assured this is minty just the same.

Now for decorations. I added some chocolate chips because, remember, Eppie “loves” chocolate, so why not. And because it’s for her birthday, I also added some happy sprinkles. Do note that these are the multi-colored sprinkles, not the chocolate ones. I want credit for that.

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Chips and sprinkles are random on top because by now I am really in a hurry to get this thing popped into the freezer. You don’t want the ice cream get to the point of being cold soup – it just won’t freeze back up right.

To serve, I put this on a pretty plate. When the time comes, after we’ve enjoyed our homemade pizza tomorrow, I will light the five candles and burst into song as I emerge from the kitchen with my simple masterpiece in hand – hardly a kiwi cake, I know! (I am still so in awe of that!) Nonetheless I have not only made something that is 1. surely yummy (chocolate + mint chocolate chip, yeah, yummy) and 2. likely to be enjoyed (we shall see, but I’m pretty sure), I’ve also shown you how easy it is so you can make one too!

Eppie darling, don’t forget how much Oma loves you! Happy Birthday!

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A Midsummer Garden’s Dream

Thunder grumbles in the distance as the darker sky approaches. More rain is coming, more manic wetness to quench the parched ground. Dimmer it gets as the wind begins to kick, then rest, then join with allied forces for a full-on offense. Best to wait this one out, hunker down and lull myself into fantastical daydreams.

Ah, yes, in my midsummer dream, in my wistful escape from the searing heat followed by the blinding storm, there’s none of this barbaric pelting, none of this furious, unhelpful, lashing-thrashing wind, none of the blazing, burning, unforgiving sunshine that preceded it. Only gentle rain falls, only kind rays shine.

In my fantasy, all the ambitious and infiltrating weeds get cropped out (I mean pulled up!) and the perfect ratio of rain and sun, day and night, cool and warm produces loads of spectacular lilies like this one that was smart enough, lucky enough, to have peaked between weather furies.

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In my imagination, there are dozens of prize-winning gourds (not just one) like this one that was clever enough to have climbed the fence and is curvingly perfect enough to stir feelings deep within…

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…and hungry enough to take all the nutrients it needs. Just ten days ago it hung a good deal higher.

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In the realm of garden perfection, in my visions of careful tending and consistent attention, the humans would take their minds off their silly porch project and clear out all these nasty, choking, unwanted grasses.

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They’d spent less time smacking tennis balls down the driveway for this young, endlessly tennis-ball-chasing, furry, golden, retrieving creature and more time making the rest of my expansive spaces resemble the reasonably well-kept row of rudbeckia. We’ll ignore those driveway weeds for the time being.

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(Now get the dog out of the way and show them how pretty a rudbeckia can be.)

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These daisy-like perennials are having a very respectable year, all except for this poor trampled thing at the end of the row. Looking on the sunny side, at least it’s not choked out!

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In my tender garden heart, all the gladiolas would be upright…

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…like this one…

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…instead of sadly horizontal like this one, a storm victim to be sure, though trying valiantly to show off its glorious blooms despite its precarious position.

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Lastly, if I had my druthers, I would make sure every growing thing in my dominion were as healthy, as vibrant, as unattacked, as simply lovely as this impatiens.

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I can dream, can’t I?

Assembly Line Rou-LAH-den for Dinner

Judging by the number of views on my recent Umpteen Salad Dressings post, a fair portion of people like vinegar – or at least don’t mind it. If you like vinegar, pickles, pickled anything, vinegar-y salad dressing and you like beef – any sauerbraten fans out there?? – you just might like Rouladen (pronounced roo-LAH-den). It’s a traditional German dish that any “praktisches Kochbuch” (Practical Cookbook) will include. Here’s mine, published in 1974, a gift from my dear friend Claudia a long time ago!

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And in case you are interested, this is the recipe from the book.

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But as you might expect, I do it my way – this time combined with Claudia’s way 😊

I think of these as Assembly Line Rouladen because you get all the innards ready, lay out the thin slabs – let’s call them flats – of beef and systematically sprinkle/spread/place your innards – one at a time – on the flats. Once you’ve got each flat loaded up, you roll them tight, secure each one with a toothpick or two, sear in hot oil, add water and cook until done. If you want, you can then thicken the gravy.

One of the most important things to know about (why) this recipe (tastes so good) is that it contains bacon. As you may well agree, it’s hard to go wrong with bacon. I loved it when the servers at the Bluegrass Grill in downtown Charlottesville wore t-shirts that said “DON’T WORRY – WE HAVE BACON.” They even have bacon jam! Also, their corned beef beats all, but I am going onto a track I did not intend – ah, the power of food! Back to the bacon! Oh, right, back to the rouladen!

I generally use a bottom round cut of beef for recipes that involve slow cooking in liquid (a.k.a. braising), but you will find recipes that say to use top round. I have found that the meat department at my grocery store decides – they pick a cut, slice it thin (1/4-inch) and package it as “Beef for Bracciole” (what you could call the Italian version). Depending on where you live, it might even say For Rouladen. When in doubt, ask the butcher.

The prep for rouladen is like the prep for tacos in that you do the chopping/ preparing/ finding of this and that, put each component in a bowl or a jar or on the counter – get everything ready for assembly – then boom, boom, boom, done! (Okay, maybe there are a few more booms, but you get the idea!) Besides the thinly sliced top or bottom round, you will need mustard, bacon, onions, pickles, carrots, salt and pepper.

Mustard: I like spicy brown mustard, some people prefer Dijon – just use the one you like best.

Bacon: The leaner the better, allow one slice of bacon per piece of beef. I cook mine first to get some of the fat away, and crumble it so that as I spread it on the meat, the flavor is more evenly distributed, but you don’t have to. These will come out just fine if you simply lay the slice of raw bacon on the slab of raw meat and assemble and cook it all together.

Onions: Your call whether to lightly sauté your chopped-up onions in a little bit of olive oil before putting them in. I do because it softens them and makes the beef easier to roll. Approximately one tablespoon of chopped onion per piece of beef. I like onion, so I probably use more than that.

Pickles (dill, not sweet): For ease of spreading, you’ll want to finely chop the pickles or just get/use (pre-chopped) pickle relish, the kind you’d put on a hot dog. Allow a teaspoonful per piece of beef. You use the pickles, not the pickle juice, so try to drain the liquid from them.

Carrots: Hardly essential, but an element of color, nutrition and a tad of sweetness to balance out the vinegar. Claudia suggested adding carrot sticks a few years ago and I love it! Allow 2-4 thin sticks about 3-4 inches long for each.

Salt and Pepper: To taste.

Here are my various innards: You can tell I’m making a lot (24 to be exact) and that I like a lot of onions. My bacon and carrot sticks are in bowls and my pickles are chopped up in the jar.

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Lay out the meat on a clean, wide-open surface and put a squiggle of mustard on each one.

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Then spread the mustard out, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put a spoonful of pickles on each.

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After you spread out the pickles, put a spoonful of onion on each one. Spread out the onion.

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Next come the bacon crumbles.

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Then the carrots.

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Start at one end of each piece of meat and roll it up carefully, trying to keep all the innards in! Secure with toothpicks.

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Put a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a good frypan and sear the rollups on a medium-high flame till they are brown most of the way around. Add water to reach about halfway up the sides of the rollups, cover, turn down to a low flame and let cook at a simmer for about an hour.

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I like to take them out of the pan, set them in serving dishes, then make the gravy and pour it over top.

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It’s a good idea to take the toothpicks out (this is easier for you than for the person trying to eat it at the table). To make the gravy, figure out how much liquid you have left in the pans by pouring it into a large measuring cup. Then for each cup of liquid you have, melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, whisk in one tablespoon of flour until this is smooth, then add the liquid, whisking gently until it is mixed in and looks like a thin gravy. (The gravy method is easy to remember if you keep it proportional: 1 TBSP butter plus 1 TBSP flour per 1 cup liquid.) Pour gravy over top, cover with foil and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. These also freeze well.

Very yummy served with egg noodles or spaetzle!!

*One of my favorite parts of the praktisches Kochbuch from Claudia is the title page. In it she wrote “ – KOCHEN MACHT FREUDE – und dasselbe wünsche ich DIR” – “- Cooking brings joy – and this I wish for you.” I love that it’s in her handwriting because that makes it real and personal. I love that it’s fading because that means the gift came long ago and our friendship has grown and flourished all this time. I love that to this day, one of our favorite topics of conversation is what we made for dinner 😊

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My Imperfect Home

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Do you have a top three? Are you there now? Have you ever been there? Does that place appeal to you because of the people who already live there or the people you would be with if you went there? Do the politics draw you? What about the culture? The natural beauty? The economic opportunities? Would you go because of the proximity to hiking trails, golf courses, excellent restaurants? Did you get where you are somehow and happily (or complacently) just stay, or did you firmly and purposefully decide that’s where you want to be?

I came to Virginia when I needed a job. We had been in Vermont many years, then moved to Maine so I could attend grad school. You get more for your dollar in Maine. I traded a standard raised ranch in Vermont (which, to be fair, we had made very nice) for a very cool log house in Maine. It was on the first fairway of a golf course, had three interior staircases, two driveways, a 20-foot granite fireplace and exposed logs in the living room…

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…and access to a pristine, private lake. (Oh, did I ever wish I could airlift that house to Virginia when we moved here!)

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Winter of 2004-05 in Maine was a snowy one. I was not unfamiliar with snow – we got plenty of it in Vermont as well. But we did not have a plow for shoveling the driveways, instead had plain old ordinary snow shovels. One morning as I was leaving for school, the snow was so deep I had to take it down one layer at a time, three layers deep. That means I took as much onto my shovel as I could once… twice… three times in order to get to the asphalt. That’s a lot of snow. When the time came to choose a new place to live, I think it can be understood that part of my reasoning was Yeah, maybe not so much snow.

Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey and I wanted to be a reasonable car ride from them, so as a starting point I drew a one-day’s-drive-from-them circle around their location and decided that anywhere within that circle was acceptable – point being, I did not want to have to get on a plane to get to their house. Their health was okay at the time, nothing alarming, but I look ahead. When a job came up in Charlottesville, Virginia, I remembered that some Vermont neighbors had moved there and had said nonchalantly one time that the daffodils bloom in February.

Daffodils in February?? After thigh-deep snow that sounded heavenly. Plus it was “only” a seven-eight hour drive from Mom and Dad. Okay. Virginia it is. I took this photo in February of 2017.

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As it turns out, this part of Virginia has a lot going for it. We get all four seasons – glorious blooming spring (oh the redbuds!)…

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…a longer growing season than up north (you can harvest spinach in December!), colorful foliage in the fall (okay, maybe not as spectacular as in Vermont, but still breathtaking) and real snow in the winter (though half an inch in the forecast causes school to be closed).

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But we are far enough west from the Eastern seaboard to avoid the more serious downsides of crazy coastal storms (winds usually dissipate by the time a storm moving north up the coast gets this far inland – which applies to both hurricanes and winter storms). And being on the eastward side of the Blue Ridge Mountains means that storms coming from the west or southwest are interrupted in their movement by those mountains and we get a lesser version of their fury and usually less snow. Summers are hot but there’s air conditioning and c’mon, with a/c it’s tolerable. When I am gearing up to complain, I try to remember that a/c is a relatively new comfort – imagine living in the South when there was none, and people were not so free to choose airier, lighter and less body-covering clothes.

So, yes, the climate has pluses. Also, the University of Virginia is in town, there are resorts and wineries and historic sites nearby for my visitors, and Washington DC is a two-hour drive away. I’m very happy in my neck of the Virginia commonwealth. All good, right?

Nope. No place is perfect. Everywhere, every place, has some negative to it, some imperfection. I didn’t say Overwhelmingly Imperfect. I didn’t say Intolerably Imperfect. But Imperfect nonetheless.

Funny, on Saturday afternoon Samuel and I were driving together talking about places to live and why a person would go here or there. “They have scorpions in the Southwest,” I told him. “I’d hate that.” New Orleans might get flooded again, Austin has tarantulas, California has some serious fault lines and the North is so darn cold.

Then, on Saturday evening, Sandy was driving out past the chicken coop and thought he saw a black snake in the driveway. You might recall from a previous post that I am not fond of snakes, even black snakes that are supposedly the good ones. On closer inspection, this snake was not a black snake. It was the ultra-nasty, potentially deadly kind called copperhead. He chopped its head off with a shovel (thank you, Sandy!) before coming to get me and Samuel. For least fifteen minutes we stared at it and took some pictures before our Disgust Sensors reached their limit and it was time to pitch the body and the head over the hill into the woods. Despite the amount of time since the head had been severed, those jaws were still in chomping mode and that body was still twitching. Ugh! Mega-ugh!

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As we walked back to the house, I said to Samuel, “Why do I live in the country?”

He replied, “How long have you lived here?”

“Eight years,” I said.

“And how many copperheads have you seen here before today?”

“Zero.”

Not that others hadn’t seen them. Not that Sandy hadn’t killed five the first year and Bradley hadn’t seen a black snake eating one the second year. But they are rare. We’ve seen bear once on the property and so has our neighbor. I’ve seen a black widow spider once. We hear the coyotes frequently. There are supposedly wolves again in the Blue Ridge and I’ve heard of rattle snakes around here too. All these creatures are possibly deadly. Hey, we even had an earthquake a few years ago.

My Airbnb cottage guests sometimes say this place is a slice of paradise. In many ways it is. But no place is perfect. No place is without some negative. It may get to twenty below in Vermont, but you don’t have deadly snakes and spiders – they just can’t tolerate the cold. You might have an occasional monstrous earthquake in San Francisco, but you don’t need a sub-zero parka.

By extension, the same applies to a job, a church, a relationship, a pet, a car even. I LOVE driving a stick-shift, always chose that option when I could, but when I was in the market in 2012, the most reliable car with the best gas mileage was a Prius and there was no option for 5-speed standard clutch. It just isn’t made that way. So yeah, I drive an automatic now.

Imperfect is the norm, and that’s okay. Imperfect is enough work, enough trouble, as it is. I shudder to think how stressed I would be if I upped the bar and expected perfection of myself, of my home, of the people in my world. I’d make myself crazy, or miserable, or both. No, thanks.

Oh My Gourd(s)!!

Every year the garden is different. Every year something or other does spectacularly well. This year, on a whim, I picked up some packets of gourd seeds. Never grew gourds before, but oh my! They went crazy!

I’m not sure what use gourds are – you can hollow them out to make birdhouses maybe? Wait for the seeds inside to dry and then shake them to make a rattling sound? Mostly they are just cool to look at. They are the punkers, the hipsters, the goths, the we-will-not-look-like-everyone-else garden produce (and so what if we’re not edible!?). With their own funky style, whether bi-colored, bumpy or (hey, it’s a stretch but someone might also think) sexily curvaceous, gourds are worth their salt just for the entertainment value.

Within the jungle of vines, here are a few of my beauties. I wonder why the yellow part of this kind is closer to the stem. I get that to some people the line between yellow and green might look like a stock report, but I see the profile of a mountain range.

This one takes the prize for Strength of Color and for Best Imitation of a UFO.

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This one, preferring the shade, wins Least Pretentious. The vines were so thick, it was tricky getting close enough for an up-close photo.

This one’s going for Bumpiest-Oh-Yeah!

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This one wants to be a child’s rattle when it grows up and dries out. A big child’s. It comes with a built-in handle.

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Going for the Audrey Hepburn waistline (though she’d never allow those hips!), this one has a sensuous streak.

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And finally – there’s one in every crowd – drum roll please! See if you can spot it from afar. I’ve labeled a few things to make it a little easier to find your way around.

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Well, this last gourd, the one I’m calling attention to, I know it’s there and I can barely see it myself in the big picture photo. So I won’t hold it against you if you can’t find it. Hint: Look carefully at the part of the gourd vines that decided to climb the fence, near that upper gourd arrow with the brown tarp tent in the background… How’s this for a beauty!!??

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I know, I know – takes First Prize, right?? You be the judge…

Sixty-Four and One-Quarter

Sometimes, when we have no clue how to do a thing or no clue how it works, we pass it by.

Eh. There it is.

It’s just a thing. We don’t and can’t appreciate what goes into it or what went into it.

Phones come to mind. The electronic inner workings and technological wonders of smartphones aside, even pre-smartphones were a thing we just used. There was no need to understand them – what components were assembled in what manner to produce a device that allowed me to talk to Claudia on the other side of the big pond. We just talked on the phone when we could – and it was wonderful! (Even if it cost a dollar a minute back then!)

Maybe it’s when you have the tiniest bit of know-how or even curiosity that appreciation begins. Maybe the more you know and the more your knowledge grows over time, the more you look in awe at those who have mastered a craft or a skill. The more I learn about bread (and we have been experimenting with a bread that beats anything I’ve ever made!) the more I marvel at bakers. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I admire those who make plants grow beautifully and productively. And the more I measure, cut, level, plumb, square, hold, hammer and saw, the more I stand in awe of builders.

Lincoln comes to mind. On a recent visit, he gifted me with some of his time and expertise. We are putting a roof over the new front porch and, well, most people are fairly clueless about how to do this, myself included. I caught him staring at it on the first day. Can you see his wheels turning?

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Sandy and Joe and Samuel and I had poured the footers and put the posts up (hopefully placed correctly because there would be no moving them!) and laid enough decking boards to be able to stand on.

This is the front view of what it looked like just before he started.

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And here’s beautiful Willow (and another angle) the day they arrived. The siding is still up, the old, upper, single-pane triangular windows still in, even the gutter and fascia boards still attached.

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First Lincoln pulled down the fascia board that had hung over the old porch and took out the old windows…

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…then he secured the first horizontal 6×6 connecting the house to the new porch. If you look carefully you can see him staring again. All that staring is not for nothing.

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At one point he took a break for a Coco-hug, and Eppie and Sandy looked on, so I snapped a photo showing some siding down, windows out (and just sheetrock on the inside), roof rafters in over the old porch and some upper horizontals secured in their notched places.

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Within a day or so, all of the upper horizontals were secured and plywood covered the old window openings.

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I thought it a lovely (if sun-splotched) image: the framework framing cutie-pie Rise and Eppie dancing/posing on their last day here. Maybe it’s just lovely to me because I love these girls so much!

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But I still didn’t see the thing that made me gasp in awe a couple weeks later. Sandy and I kept going after Lincoln left. I laid the rest of the decking boards with some help from Joe and removed the remaining siding and got myself a shiner in the process! (Damn cat’s paw tool came back at me just a bit too fast…)

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Sandy finished the roof over the old porch, prepped/shored up all the soffit boxes and mounted the ledger board and angled (principle?) rafters for the front roof (they attach to the house). We used house wrap as a moisture barrier (not that it had any under that old cedar siding for the last 45 years, but hey, moving forward in a better way…) and tidied up a bit. I began laying out possibilities for half-round steps to soften all these straight lines everywhere.

Just prior to beginning the forward-pointing front roof rafters, Sandy and I were staring at the house from a ways back. In particular, we were checking to make sure that everything (ignoring the windows that will go away) looked centered and correct. We were doing the every-now-and-then long view, an ostensibly purposeful way to pause when it is hot and you need to do something else.

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My eye caught the place where the two outer horizontal boards meet in the center. It might be hard to see, but trust me, there’s a line there.

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Up a little closer now. See?

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That horizontal “board” (singular) is actually two boards (plural) “married” to each other, double thickness for strength (in case you were wondering how two boards could just meet end-to-end like that). The outer one consists of two boards meeting end-to-end in the middle; the inner one spans the joint.

“Just curious,” I said to Sandy. “Is that the exact middle of that span?” I had to measure.

What do you think? Yup! From where the two outer boards join together, moving left to the next post, is 64 ¼” and from where the two boards join together, moving right to the next post, is 64 ¼”. Both lengths are sixty-four and one-quarter inches. Exactly.

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And NOT ONLY THAT. We took a level, laid it across to the ledger board that’s secured against the house behind the horizontal married board(s) (and it was level of course, which is part of why you can’t see it at all), squared it up to the house, made a mark, squared that up vertically toward the peak of the roof and made a line. See that thin vertical line? Lo and behold, dead on! Perfectly centered. Perfectly vertical. Perfectly square.

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Maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s just what builders do and maybe they are equally astounded when perfect bread comes out of the oven. I allow for that. But I applaud Lincoln! You don’t learn how to do this overnight. You don’t reach this skill level without putting in a lot of hours, making some mistakes, figuring out how to do it right the first time or how to fix it when you mess up. I am sooooo impressed!

On Saturday Lincoln sent me a photo. “One year ago today,” was all the caption said. A year ago he had just started building his pentagonal, straw bale house in Vermont. From the pile of dirt he was standing on, this is what he saw on July 6, 2018.

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On the same date in 2019, from the same angle, a house stands, a house he built almost single-handedly. It’s not finished because of the many unconventionalities they wanted to incorporate – e.g. most people put up regular siding and a composite shingle roof, and Lincoln has yet to “mud” the outside of the bales and skin the roof with diamond-shaped metal shingles, to say nothing of building his own windows – but they are happily living in it.

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I never have been (and never will be) the Queen of Exactitude when it comes to cooking but my, oh my, you don’t build porch roofs or pentagonal houses or anything else without respect for numbers and the knowledge of how to use them.  To Sandy, to Ernie, to Joe, to Bradley, to Billy, to Mark and in this case to Lincoln especially – to all you guys who build things – WOW! You have my eternal admiration!

The Oddfellow Bench Comes Out

Eight years it sat in my basement. Eight years not seeing the light of day. It had fit in the old house, but not in this one, so when we moved here, it waited for the outdoor roof now over the old part of the porch. Finally, my bench has a home. Finally, it serves a useful purpose again – a place for Coco the Queen to survey her domain apparently! Between that and my granddaughters’ sweet welcome messages plastered in their style on the door, the entrance to my house evolves more and more to my liking. (Next comes a window above the bench…)

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In my mind and in my everyday trot, people are more important than things. But sometimes things tie us to people. Easily more than 200 moons ago, sometime in the 90s, maybe even 80s when we still lived in Vermont, several times a year we would go visit my Aunt Judy and Uncle Richard in southern New Hampshire. They were always warm and welcoming, always made us feel special. They brought out the water toys at the lake or took us all out in the boat or made special meals that I didn’t make at home. Lobster comes to mind, especially Richard saying to my wide-eyed kids, almost in a whisper, just as he was about to plunge them in the boiling water: “If you listen closely, you can almost hear them scream.”

Richard and I used to go garage-saling together on Saturday mornings. As was evident from the wonderful hodge-podge of interesting objects in their house, he liked finding something unique, something you don’t see everywhere. I liked being with him. Richard was funny and respectful and curious and unpretentious. You know how you can be yourself more with some people than with others? Yeah. That’s the way it was with Richard. I miss him so much.

One Saturday, in the days before your GPS told you how to get there, we were tooling around, going from one sale to another. Some people set up their stuff on tables on their front lawn. There were lots of old kitchen items usually – I remember getting a perfect, cake-size, cut glass plate for 10 cents (which unfortunately broke when I stupidly put a hot macaroni pie on it right out of the pan) and a brand-new-in-the-box Atlas pasta maker for $5 that I still have and use. Some people say, “Just go poke around in the garage – you’ll find stuff in there.” Old tools maybe, rusty or obsolete, cracked leather cases, lots of dusty books. This one farmer said, “C’mon with me out t’ the barn.”

On your walk out to the barn, traipsing through grass he probably should have cut some time ago, you wonder what you’ll find in the old barn of an old farmer in southern New Hampshire. This farmer had a barnful of benches – stacks of them. If there was one, there were fifty, maybe more. “From an Oddfellows Hall,” he said.

I should have known. Right then and there, I should have known that a ten-foot-long, solid oak bench in my possession henceforth would have to have come from a place with “ODD” as the main descriptor. It is not a far cry, not even a stone’s throw, hardly a long shot from “odd” to “unboring”!

He wanted $10 for the bench. Thus my association with Oddfellows began. Richard bought one too. We somehow strapped them to the top of the car. He turned around and sold his the following week for $75. I spent time zip-stripping mine, sanding, refinishing, putting a new cover on the seat. We used it in the dining room for years. The navy blue fabric above is second generation under me already, and will change again soon.

For the uninitiated, Oddfellows date back to 18th century England when the major trades like weaving and stonecutting had guilds, kind of an early form of unions. Enter rivalry, pomp and snobbery. The “Masters,” having established successful businesses, wanted/needed to protect themselves from “the lower orders” and set about enforcing new rules about what you had to wear to the meetings – expensive outfits that wage-earning “Fellows” could not afford. Among these Fellows, the more minor trades, the miscellaneous “odd” trades that didn’t have enough people to form a guild of their own, banded together. According to “The Oddfellows: Making Friends, Helping People,” a UK-based website, “In smaller towns and villages Fellows from all trades in a town banded together to form one Guild. The Guildsmen could be called ‘Odd Fellows’ because they were fellow tradesmen from an odd assortment of trades.” Today they call themselves “one of the largest friendly societies in the UK.”

Clearly, Odd Fellows use “odd” in the sense of “varied” rather than in the sense of “weird,” or at least they did back in the day. I have to think that the odder folks among them chuckled at (or even took pride in?) the secondary meaning. Weird works for me!

Who knew? I love that the group of them is not called just “Odd Fellows” but alternatively (no, not Odd Balls!) they use the term “Oddfellowship.” I’m not kidding – this is great stuff! What’s more, its internationally recognized triple-link symbol represents Friendship, Love and Truth. Who can object to that?

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I should probably look into membership. Last night I found out that there’s even a chapter in my area. Let’s hope I can bypass at least one of the undoubtedly rigorous entry criteria on account of having lovingly refinished that bench years ago, enjoyed and protected it all this time and now proudly display and use it once again. That has to count for something.

According to [citation needed] Wikipedia, “To this day, beyond recreational activities, Odd Fellows promote philanthropy, the ethic of reciprocity and charity,” (totally admirable) “albeit with some grand lodges implying Judeo-Christian affiliation.” (fine with me) “Still largest, the American-seated Independent Order of Odd Fellows enrolls some 600,000 members…” (holy cow!) “…divided approximately 10,000 lodges in 30 countries, inter-fraternally recognized by the second-largest, the British-seated Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity. In total members of all international branches combined are estimated in the millions worldwide.” (millions!) 

Come join us for some oddfellowship, won’t you? Ha! We do an odd assortment of things in my little world. We come from an odd variety of backgrounds, find odd things amusing and interesting, make odd things to eat, have odd experiences continually, wear our hair in odd ways – not that I wear a flag in my hair every day.

flag in hair.2mp.jpg

Yes, there is a flag stuck in my ponytail! A barbeque at Westminster on July 4th calls for silly oddity, don’t you think? Anyway it might help me qualify. Right??