Is the Bear Peeking or Peeping?

Earlier this week I mentioned that my mom, in her house in the woods, always pulled her blinds at night because she worried that a bear might be looking in on her. No matter what, she closed off the view. Mom, really? I teased her. A bear cares to look in on you? But I wonder: Those of you who live in the woods – do you worry about that too? If you live next to another house, do you close the blinds every night? Does it matter which room you’re in? Does it matter if you know your neighbors are home?

I also wonder: While looking into someone’s window is a thing, yes, and maybe a thing the someone should be worried about, is it peeping into someone’s window or peeking into someone’s window?

When I mentioned Mom’s blind-pulling, bear-avoiding habit, I suggested that Sarah – poet, artist, writer, friend – would no doubt be able to draw the scene, probably easily. It would flow like water down a hill for her, the pen setting down lines where lines should go, and in practically the blink of an eye she could relocate the image from her brain to a piece of paper and produce a very recognizable image. I was sure of it, even a mite envious of that skill, wistfully, wishingly thinking Oh, to be able to draw like Sarah!

Sure enough, she did it! And priceless it is! In no time at all she sent me a mom-and-bear post-it-note drawing with window between, each occupied but suddenly aware of the other (or so it seems to me). Uh-oh! they each seem to say. Notice how Sarah went beyond a bear peeking/peeping in – we get his personal hygiene routine, the box of goodies Mom’s rummaging through (always goodies in Mom’s case, never junk), the mutual surprise – only creative people like Sarah think of (and successfully execute) these extras! Don’t you love his paunch?!

You tell me. Is the bear peeping in or peeking in? Is Mom doing either?

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Does peep mean to look in furtively or briefly and does peek mean to look in cautiously or slyly, or the other way around?* Both have the idea of quickness, of trying not to be seen, of some measure of invasion of privacy. Does it matter if you intend to look in, or if something simply catches your eye and you glance toward it? Did Peeping Tom set the connotation in stone forever? Is peep up to no good and is peek benign?

Remember Scout and Jem and Dill trying to look in on reclusive Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird? In Chapter 6, see Harper Lee’s choice and also get a little reminder how amazing this book is (in case you have not read it recently). What are the children doing?

“What are you gonna do?”

Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley, and if I didn’t want to go with them I could go straight home and keep my fat flopping mouth shut, that was all.

“But why in the sam holy hill did you wait till tonight?”

Because nobody could see them at night, because Atticus would be so deep in a book he wouldn’t hear the Kingdom coming, because if Boo Radley killed them they’d miss school instead of vacation, and because it was easier to see inside a dark house in the dark than in the daytime, did I understand?

“Jem, please—”

“Scout, I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home – I declare to the Lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!”

With that, I had no option but to join them.

There are so many elements of this book I would like to talk about – the norms of the time, the things we don’t know, the ways people surprise us, the consequences of actions, the role of fate – another time! For now I wonder if Harper Lee chose peep on purpose. I don’t want to split hairs about meanings, but words can get us in trouble sometimes, and our own understanding is not always someone else’s understanding. I want to know what y’all think about peep vs. peek.

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FYI:

*Merriam Webster says it’s the other way around. They assign “slyly” to peep and “furtively” to peek. Are sly and furtive that different?

The Soothing Power of a Dog on a Tractor

I have mistake-on-the-brain because I made a big one this weekend. The maddening part was Shouldn’t I have seen this coming? The worst part was knowing the work I caused for other people, who themselves are doing me a favor and should not have to backtrack because I goofed and then changed my mind. The good part was that in the end it was a fairly-easily-rectifiable, not-the-end-of-the-world mistake. The best part was the dog on the tractor.

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Sandy called her “Farm Girl.” He took a break from hammering, measuring, sawing and fitting to make some amusement and roped Joe into the plan. Coco has a small brain and I expect this adventure was nothing more for her than Sure, whatever you say. I’ll sit here like a doofus, why not? I did not participate in setting this stage, but was called over when she was propped and perky and please-can-I-get-down-now? I was still, at that moment, in the throes of self-flagellation, beating myself up for not seeing the situation clearly enough in my mind to head off the mistake at the pass.

Nothing like a little silly dog to change the subject and bring a smile! Thank you, Sandy!

Come to think of it, a day or so later, the mistake itself doesn’t matter so much. It’s only a window, right? It’s only the window I’d been waiting more than eight years for (and then five weeks after ordering), the window I thought would be perfect, the window marked on my inside wall with painter’s tape and marked on my outside wall with a full-size template – both of which I had been staring at for weeks. We worked all day to get that window in. It was hot! I wanted to LOVE it!

But I didn’t. It just looked wrong. Too small. How can it look so small? But it was too small. I was up half the night trying to figure out how to make it right, but I knew – though I hated to say it – that the new window had to come out.

Out it came first thing next day. Not a super big deal in the end and thank God for the reverse function on the screw gun, but I internally fussed: Whatever made me think a small window there would be the right window there?

A fishbowl. Now I see. It all comes down to a fishbowl. Here is my five-seconds-or-less Pictionary drawing of one.

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The house I live in is out in the country at the far end of a gravel road. The only other house you can see from it is my own cottage. But my living room did not come with a front window at eye level. The funky 70s triangular window way up high, now removed, did let in light and did sometimes blind anyone sitting in the middle of the room, depending on the sun’s angle, but no one is that tall. I have never been able to look out and see from this room. Likewise, no one has ever been able to look in and see.

Hence, I have never had to worry about being the fish in the fishbowl! Eeks! Adding a window to that wall is a gigantic leap. Nothing partial. No middle ground. No gradually-getting-used-to-this-new-situation. I will go from being unseen and unable-to-be-seen to potentially being seen in one fell swoop! (Whether there is anything interesting to see is another conversation.). Dare I? Do people do this?

My mother is to blame on this one and she knows it – at their house in the woods on four acres she always pulled the blinds at night because “a bear might see me.” No kidding. (I wish I had Sarah’s drawing skills and could draw a bear looking into a window! Her Happy Friday and Purple chinchilla drawings are among my favorites.)

But here I was with a new (small) window with real glass at eye level. How did I think the size would make a difference? Maybe I thought that if it were small it wouldn’t matter? That people would say to themselves Here is a woman who clearly does not want to be looked in upon (otherwise she would put in a big honkin’ window!) – cease and desist! How did I not realize that window glass is window glass and see-through-able regardless? To this point Joe said casually at dinner, “You get something to cover the window for when you need that, a curtain or a shutter or something.”

I do know about curtains and shutters, what they do, how they work, why people use them. Why did it take this simple statement to make me realize that if you can cover a small window, you can cover a big one!

Ah, well, funny creatures, we humans. Fickle sometimes. Not overly able to visualize upcoming realities sometimes. Dense, you say? Thick? Fuzzy? Obtuse perhaps? Lackwitted? Slackminded? Featherheaded? Airheaded? Bubbleheaded? Blockheaded? Myopic? Cabbageheaded? Chowderbrained? Hebetudinous? Out to lunch? Three bricks shy of a load? (Gotta love a good thesaurus!)

Guilty as charged! But a new window is coming – a honkin’ big window! – picked it out and framed up the rough opening already. It will be better!

One Determined Marigold

Various people in my world are struggling. Some have chronic pain. Some have jobs that make them crazy. Some feel creaky, obsolete, scared, unwanted, frustrated or alone. All of them are like my one little marigold.

Apart from certain, strangely-not-completely-out-of-control areas, my garden is a mess this year. I’ve had some perfect veggies, enough for the marginal labor to have been worthwhile, but roughly half of the space qualifies as a jungle. With the front porch project I simply haven’t had the time. Plus this aggravating shoulder of mine, unimproved after three weeks of physical therapy (maybe worse), holds me back.

Still, I like fresh green pepper on my pizza and Samuel said he’d make some the other day. My contribution amounted to walking to the garden for a pepper. The jungle mess did not encourage lollygagging – it wants to get about its wild business without critical observers – so I got my pepper and was about to leave when a spot of gold caught my eye.

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There it was, one single marigold, standing tall and beautiful despite the choking weeds not far away. I had not planted it. I am unconventional in a list of ways, but it would not even occur to me to plant a flower in the middle of a path. One of the seeds from last year’s lovely crop must have found its way to this spot.

In August of last year the marigolds I did plant were huge and just beginning to blossom. My granddaughter Rise, five years old at the time, sweetly gives you the idea how tall they were.

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By September they were so full and heavy they fell over with gorgeous weight.

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This year I planted gourds instead, and some of them are remarkable (see the one hanging in the upper left? it keeps getting bigger!), but no zinnias, marigolds, asters or any other purely-for-color-and-show plants. Yet here is this one flower – standing strong, beautiful in its own way, determined – despite the mess – to have its moment.

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What a lovely parallel. Just like each person I know who is not in ideal circumstances presently, each person struggling with this or that, my one marigold is determined to

Stand strong: It’s hard to endure pain! It’s hard to have no time for yourself, or be far from those you love, or go to a job that feels dead-endish or keep up your end of a deal when those around you slough off. It’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, to remain positive when you feel like crap, to hold your tongue when someone is out of line, to go to the gym when you feel weak, to push through when you want to stay in your comfy little cave. Yet all around me I see people standing strong just like this marigold. It doesn’t care that it’s the only one. It proudly manages feeling like the first grader in the college class, being the newbie on the block, saying the words that are hard to say. Bravo, little marigold!

Be beautiful: See all the green around the marigold? The scene of mostly weeds (other than that one funky gourd) sets the stage for this one determined flower to shine. In our own mess of life, in the chaos or worry or disharmony we endure more often than we would like to, it’s easy to simply become part of the mess, to add to it, to blend in and become invisible. Instead we can choose to be the marigold – at least sometimes – and be other, be radiant, be beautiful.

Have its moment: The older you get, the more fleeting time proves itself to be. Time is so limited. Resources are so limited. So what. None of us will be here forever, or do everything we want to do or reach all of our goals. We are bound by our bodies, our relationships, our location, our circumstances, our education, our wisdom (or lack thereof). Bound. Having a bum shoulder has made me think a lot about the elusive thing we call equality. I can’t do what I want to do! I have a disadvantage compared to people with good shoulders! (Funny how you see things like good shoulders that you didn’t see before!) But this shoulder is mine, for better or worse. I own it. It is unique to me and limits me in ways I wish I could change right now. Alas, we do what we can while we can with what we have. This little marigold will be seen and admired by precious few people before it succumbs to the frost in a few months. No matter. In this season, this year, in this place, it will be like a gem in the dirt, determined to have its moment and do what it can despite its limitations.

I wonder if it grew in this spot just to bring these ideas to me.

Geocache on a Pinecone

Why do people traipse through forests? Hiking maybe? Hunting? Birdwatching? I expected my next foray into the woods to be a search for small dead cedar trees to use as poles. We need some small poles around here. Never before has it been my goal to find a mysterious object, investigate it, write in it, put it back and walk away. But that’s what geocaching is all about.

If you have never heard of geocaching, join the crowd. From the few people we talked to about it last week, it seems you’re either really into it (or know someone who is) or you’ve never heard of it.

My sister Lynn was here for a visit with her daughter Erika and granddaughters Kaileena (11) and Brea (5). We decided to explore some of the pristine lakes in this part of Virginia, having been motivated in part by a free-entry-pass that came in the mail (these promos do work sometimes!). On the way to Sherando Lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Erika mentioned that they had what you could call a mission while in Virginia – finding a geocache in which to put a little “travel bug.” You’re doing what? Mom said.

This is Sherando Lake. Ooh, so perfect.

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Kaileena’s “travel bug” is plastic, the size of a large coin or a key ring and has a cartoony dragon image on it. It was found at a geocache in Southwick, Massachusetts, by Kaileena’s Girl Scout troop leader, Lisa, who handed it off to Kaileena when she found out about the trip to Virginia. The idea is to give this little bug/trinket a ride from there to here to some other place eventually, and in doing so, connect with fellow-geocachers in a worldwide hide-and-seek adventure. Every cache is some version of a little treasure chest and contains a list of who has been there. Some of the caches also contain a constantly changing array of trinkets like Kaileena’s dragon, placed there for the next person to find.

For geocaching though, peaceful and picturesque Sherando Lake was a bust. We had fun there, don’t get me wrong. The weather was splendid, as you can see. Mom clearly demonstrated You are never too old to be silly with a fishing net!

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Kaileena and Brea spent hours in the water — til they were “prunes,” as Mom says. And we watched some people throwing a watermelon around in a water game – one presumes there were rules, but I cannot be sure. See the watermelon? The guy with the open hand had just thrown it. Or maybe he’s trying to catch it?

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Alas, geocaching – along with so many other activities nowadays – requires internet. Zeroing in on a specific cache online gets you exact (longitudinal and latitudinal) coordinates that take you to within 16 feet of the cache. Erika had checked the online global geocaching map and knew there were some caches near Sherando Lake, but of course they are not out in the open – what would be the fun of that!? By the time we got to the lake, we had no signal. She even drove to a parking lot next to the fishing end of the lake, but mountains will be mountains and will sometimes very effectively block signals.

We had better luck at Walnut Creek the next day. A county park closer to home, Walnut Creek is almost as pretty as Sherando Lake.

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The lifeguards told us internet was sketchy here too, but “See those two little pine trees up on the hill? Try there.”

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They are hard to see in the shadow, but Erika, Kaileena and I trekked up toward them anyway …

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… and sure enough, service! Terrible service, make no doubt, but as we all know, one bar is better than no bars. Within a quarter mile, the coordinates told us, up the hill more, to the right and through the woods, we would find the cache. Erika switched to compass mode on her phone and off we went, following the arrow. It tells you almost step by step how close you now are.

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No two caches will look the same. When on the search, as you make your way toward the hidden or not-quite-hidden cache, the thing to look for is something odd, something out of place, something not as it should be. Hmmm, here we were, branches snapping underfoot, clueless about any specifics to look for other than “it will look wrong.” See how on top of the phone it says “One of these things is not like the o…” We knew ahead of time that this cache was a micro-cache, meaning it would be too small to put the bug into, but we were determined to find it anyway (challenging as that might be!).

We got to where Erika’s arrow stopped. “We are within 16 feet. It’s got to be here somewhere.” Miraculously, she suddenly found it – a pinecone hanging at eye level from a branch with fishing line (which is not as pinecones should be hanging from trees). “One of these things is not like the o…” has to mean “One of these branches [from which a pinecone hangs] is not like the others.”  Hanging right underneath the pinecone, a little cache. Ta-da!!

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Closer up, the pinecone looked like this. See the little cache hanging off it? See the fishing line above?

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This little waterproof case holds a paper list of those who have stopped by.

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Both Kaileena and Erika added their info. Erika then re-rolled-up the list, tucked it back in, screwed the lid on and put it back on the pinecone. That’s it, folks! Quite the lovely view we had from the top of that hill…

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… but back to the lakeside beach we went.

What about the dragon-bug, you ask? (I knew you didn’t forget.) The next day, Erika and Kaileena got new coordinates, found a box in a stone wall near the hospital in Charlottesville, deposited the bug and signed their code names. The box was a bit worn and shabby, could stand to be replaced, so Erika added a note to the online info about this particular cache. Someone else will come along sooner or later and replace the box hopefully, and maybe even decide to give that bug a ride and take it elsewhere.

Who knows where it will land next!

 

The Guys in the Shell Department

Today we’re going to talk about shell production – the industrial-level, incessantly-cranking-‘em-out-level production of … (no, not artillery shells! been listening to a little too much Dan Carlin, have you?) … egg shells!

A little quiz today, or think of it as Some Questions for Fun:

  1. When is the last time you saw an egg without a shell? Last time you cracked one (or two or three) to make an omelet or some popovers, right? Duh.

Check out these beauties – that orange is what happens when you give your chickens the scraps from a lobster fest.

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Okay, clearly you need a harder question, even at this hour.

  1. Eggs are so beautiful. I sometimes just stare at them. What perfectly beautiful shapes – though you have to think that middle, fattest, section is the hardest moment for the chicken, just sayin’. What lovely variation in color and size my chickens give me:

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(Yes, that’s my raccoon skin underneath them, in case you were wondering.)

Speaking of size, they do vary tremendously. Here are some measured next to coins.

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And others next to a ruler.

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Oh, right, there were questions happening here! Let’s try again.

  1. What is eggshell made of?

(You science nerds will get this in a second. The rest of us are deeply grateful that there are science nerds in the world to tell us such things.)

The code (is it called a code?), uh, formula? chemical name? is CaCO3, which in English is calcium carbonate. Well, the shell is mostly, as in 95%, calcium carbonate. You always wondered how the shell can be tough enough to protect the growing chick inside it but breakable enough for its 21-day-old beak to poke through. According to Labmate, “The remaining 5% features hundreds of different proteins that affect how calcium carbonate crystallises. It’s this perfectly balanced cocktail that allows mineral crystals and proteins to form an eggshell that’s crack-resistant, then use nanoscale adjustments to change the pliability and let a chick break free when it’s ready to hatch.” Cool.

Fun facts (these from the Exploratorium) also include: a. the eggshell is covered with as many as 17,000 tiny pores that air and moisture can pass through (so the chick can breathe while it’s developing) and b. the shell has a thin outermost coating called the bloom or cuticle that helps keep out bacteria and dust (which is why you don’t need to wash eggs and should use them quickly if you forget this rule).

Question #3!

  1. What else in nature is like an eggshell (in being made up of calcium carbonate)?

Give it a little thought before you read on…

The examples are striking. Who isn’t impressed with the stalactites and stalagmites you see in caves, like the gigantic ones at Luray Caverns?

stalactites at Luray.JPG

Also there’s

  • seashells that are the exoskeleton of snails, lobsters, clams (though NOT turtle shells, in case you were wondering – I knew you were wondering)
  • coral that you scuba divers find in reefs and the rest of us watch on Blue Planet
  • pearls that oysters and clams make, in which the individual CaCOcrystals “are laid down in such a perfect order that the result is smooth, hard, shiny, and sometimes even iridescent, as in the rainbow colors of abalone shells.” Who knew? (Thank you, again, Labmate.)
  • whole mountain chains in the form of chalk, limestone, marble and dolomite. IMA Europe says more than 4% of the earth’s crust is CaCO3, and jrank says 7%, so somewhere between 4-7% is probably right.  And you know how much we need chalk (to raise pH in soils with high acidity, clean pewter, keep screws secure and dry your hands for weightlifting, bouldering or gymnastics), limestone (to make steel, cement, fertilizer and even white paper), marble (from columns to countertops, a most gorgeous building material as is) and dolomite (to make glass, bricks and ceramics).Now back to the chicken eggshells.
    1. What happens when someone in the shell department screws up?

    Screws up? What do you mean screws up? Eggs are eggs, right? Smooth on the outside, kinda slimy (when uncooked) on the inside, invaluable in making delicious food and fabulously nutritious.

    Nope. Eggs are not just eggs. All eggs are not created equal.

    A daydreaming shell maker got a little carried away on these ends – made little warts instead the standard smooth finish because of thinking about his girl maybe (hmmm), or that new car, or those ribs for dinner? Bit too much CaCO3 in those places I’d say. Best have a little chat with this worker about focusing when in production mode. Focus, Jack. We have a job to do here.

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    The one assigned to this day’s lot was confused. Gourds on his mind perhaps?

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    This worker forgot (toward the end apparently) what shape we are aiming for in egg production.

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    Now, back to Question #1. When is the last time you saw an egg without a shell?

    Forget the omelet. How’s this? A wildly woobly egg! An intact egg with NO shell to speak of, though maybe a few granules of the calcium carbonate here and there, a spattering you could call it. The bottom flattened out and the top collapsed a bit, but this egg mostly held its shape, its membrane apparently keeping it from gooing all over the place. When we touched it, it squished in like jello. Oh yes, and whoever the shell maker was in this case tried to cover his tracks and squirted a few squirts of the CaCO at the end (see that unshapely blob sticking out toward the right?) – undoubtedly a last-ditch effort to demonstrate that it’s not a complete bomb and maybe he should not get fired. Really, HR needs to have a conversation with this employee!

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Last question: What’s really going on in the chicken coop???

 

 

Enough is As Good As a [ _____ ]

When Claudia visited in 2016, her first trip to the states in a few decades, we were acutely aware of how rare and precious our time together was. You know how it is – time flies with dear friends. You want to do everything you’ve been talking about for so long: Let’s make that no-knead bread and the homemade mozzarella cheese and a salad so you can dress it the way I love, oh and let me show you how we make our pizza now. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and Witness and The Lives of Others – and have you seen The IT Crowd? (Both stupid and hilarious, for when we just want to laugh!) Monticello is nearby, and Yoder’s, and the downtown pedestrian mall that’s so much like Burlington’s, and don’t forget Barboursville Vineyards with its cool stone ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion. Let’s take walks in the morning when it’s brisk and in the daytime when the sun is warm and in the evening when the sun glows in the western sky – oh, yes, and Humpback Rocks is a great hike, best in the evening (not like Tirol, okay, but for Virginia, a great hike!).

Claudia and me Humpback Rocks Oct 2016.jpg

We had only nine days. And when I had asked her ahead of time what she wanted to do when she came, she replied with one word: “Rest.”

So let’s, instead, be real. Life comes down to choices, right? As I lamented, she comforted: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, which I wrote down on a post-it, duly translated and left stuck on the side of my fridge.

Too much takes away from enough.

You could play with the translation and say Too much is worse than enough or Too much negates enough. The idea made sense – if we try to do too much, the time will not be restful, we’ll make ourselves crazy, we’ll miss the balance. And the German had a nice cadence to it. But the verbatim translation didn’t quite work for me. It stuck in my mouth somehow. And it never occurred to me to flip it around and put “enough” at the beginning.

This past week I got help from Mary Poppins. As I watched my five-year-old great niece giggling her way through this classic, I stumbled on a translation of Zu viel nimmt weg von genug that I’d missed the last, oh, say, five times I watched this movie. After the bit of nursery magic when all the toys and clothes dance and bounce and jump around, finding their way into drawers and cabinets and closets, converting the room from messy to tidy in a few delightful minutes, Jane and Michael wanted to do it again. More magic! More fun! How can that be bad? Mary Poppins drew the line in her practically-perfect, matter-of-fact way: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Click on the link to watch her say it.

Well, look at that! In 1910, the setting for this film, they too were struggling with When is enough? Where is the line? Clearly this is not a new problem. Well before that, people in biblical times were likewise advised about moderation. Have you found honey? Eat only what you need…. (Proverbs 25:16)

The idea of potential excess, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-cross-that-line, comes up all the time.

What fills a day (or nine days)? Activity, yes, but how much is enough to be fun and satisfying yet avoid utter exhaustion?

What fills a house? Stuff, but how much is enough to fend off clutter and inundation?

What fills our bellies? Food and drink, but how much is enough for good health? How much crosses the line?

Decisions. Every day I have to make hard decisions – not every day as in on a daily basis, no, I mean continually    throughout    every    day – what to say yes to, what to spend money on, what to put in my mouth. Abundance has a downside, some would say a curse.

Funny, we don’t have trouble deciding how long to stand there rubbing our hands together with the soap before we decide they are clean enough. We know when’s enough. We’re pretty good about knowing how fast to drive (we value our lives), how much physical space should exist between us and the person standing next to us (how close would be too close), how many toppings we want to put on our pizza (how many would be too many), when we’ve been sitting too long (need to move!), when enough time has passed since we last heard from an old friend (time to send a message). How come that same mostly-good judgment can’t apply so nonchalantly and easily to (pick a temptation, any temptation) shall we say ice cream?!

While standing in line to get ice cream recently, the person next to me ordered a small but said out loud while staring at the price list that looked something like this,

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“I want the super-size.”

Aren’t people the same no matter what year it is!?

A friend who was watching her weight once told me that a small scoop of ice cream didn’t taste better than a large bowlful, and that when she had less, she savored it more – or at least she was trying to train herself to think this way!

Maybe training is the answer. We can train ourselves (or be trained) to do new tasks at work. We adapt to new surroundings or circumstances with a bit of self-talk. It’s an idea.

Hmmm, but I like a feast as well as anyone. (We have only nine days! … That bread is fresh now! … I really like that bowl/table/shirt/game/book/gadget!)

How about mental gymnastics? Maybe I could reconfigure the feast, spread it out over time a bit or have one a little less often?

I hear once again my wise professor’s words. The topic at the time was bacon: Should I eat it? Shouldn’t I? How much? He calmly said three words: Balance. Variety, Moderation. Is it really that simple? Maybe.

Second-Day Pasta

I come from a big family, one of four girls, and for most of my childhood either my grandparents on my father’s side or my grandfather on my mother’s side lived with us.

I am also half Italian, which in our family meant a lot of pasta for dinner. We enjoyed my mom’s great “sauce” on our “macaroni” on Wednesdays and Sundays. Please understand that I mean every Wednesday and every Sunday. There are rules and there are rules. This was a rule.

Not to be confused with the non-meat cheese sauce, onion sauce, ceci bean (chickpea) sauce or marinara sauce we adorned our macaroni with every Friday (good Catholics that we were, in that regard anyway), “sauce” was shorthand for what some people would call red sauce, others would call Bolognese – made with onions, garlic and meat (mostly beef but sometimes pork or lamb) browned up together, with tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper (and the occasional lamb bone or pork bone) added before a long simmer.

Sauce was noted simply as SAUCE on countless pieces of masking tape over the years, marking countless random re-used freezer containers like this. (This photo, by the way, marks Mom’s first sending of a photo via text – bravo, Mom! and thank you, Lynn, for walking her through the process.)

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So, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Practically without fail. That’s a lot of macaroni. You try, of course, to make the right amount so you don’t have a lot of leftovers, but it happens. What do you do with leftover macaroni? You make macaroni pie of course!

You take your cold leftover macaroni/pasta, chop it up, stir in a few eggs and some cheese and salt and pepper, put this mixture in a hot, oiled pan, let it brown, flip it, brown the other side and serve. It’s great hot or cold. It’s great as a main dish or a side dish. And it uses up the leftovers in a very yummy way!

Feel free to embellish however suits your fancy. A few weeks ago I made macaroni pie using leftover pasta made with my own “sauce,” but along with the eggs I added some shredded asiago cheese and left it in the pan a smidgeon longer than usual – to the not-quite-burned-but-almost stage – and Samuel said it ranked among the best ever. This weekend I made it using some leftover spaghetti carbonara, which uses bacon, cream and romano cheese in the sauce. That’s the one I’ll show you.

This is the leftover, which was about 4 cups total, chopped up in a bowl with my three eggs. You can use any sharp knife to cut it up – it cuts easily when cold.

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Adding some extra cheese (a handful or so, grated, whatever kind seems to go with whatever kind of pasta you have) and salt and pepper at this point is a good idea because once it has a crust, it’s harder to season.  After you’ve mixed it all up, put about 2 Tbsp oil in a frypan and turn on the flame to get the oil hot. Mine looked like this.

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Wait about one minute before using a rubber spatula to guide the mixture into the pan . You want to wait that minute because you want the sizzling sound. The sizzling sound of the cold pasta mixture hitting the hot oil is one of those kitchen thrills you cannot explain to the those who have not yet joined the Kitchen Club, made up, of course of those of us who get a thrill from sizzling sounds, gleaming egg whites, bubbling edges (see below) and other such marvels.

Let it cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes. You are not only heating the mixture, you are letting the eggs, which bind it all together, cook through. You’ll see a little bit of bubbling around the edges. Zoom in on the edge if you want the thrill.

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The tricky part of this operation is “the flip,” but a plate makes it easier. Use a spatula to peek at the browned bottom of the pie. Decide if your optimal brownness has been reached and make sure the entire bottom of the pie is loose. Run your spatula under it if need be – but if your pan is nonstick and you have used a bit of oil, there shouldn’t be any problem. The pie should be able to move as a single unit in the pan as you move the pan back and forth.

Then plate a plate on the pan like this.

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Take the handle of the pan with your one hand and place your other, open hand on the plate. Lift the pan to about chest height away from the flame.

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First time trying this – not that I expect disaster! – perhaps move over to the sink 😊.

Tilt the pan/plate while holding the plate tightly against the pan…

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…then quickly flip the whole thing so that your hand holding the plate is now under the plate and the pan is on top.

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Remove the pan from the (now) top of the pie and put it back over the flame. Slide the pie off the plate and back into the pan so it can brown on the other side.

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All this time you are of course oblivious of the begging dog (poor Coco!!) hoping something will fall. Nothing did — this time!

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Give the second side about ten minutes to brown up, then slide the whole pie onto a plate. The crispiness on both top and bottom is as good as the moist and tasty pasta inside.

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Enjoy!

The Truth Window

What if we all had a window that people could look into? I don’t mean a window in our house, I mean in ourselves. What if that window revealed the truth about what’s really inside, the parts we generally don’t want anyone to see – our hearts, our motivations, our secrets, our fears, our housekeeping, our habits. Would we frame that window, call attention to it, put it front and center where everyone could see?

Lincoln’s truth window got me thinking about this. He is building a house with walls of straw – straw bales to be exact…

Lincoln's house July 6 2019 (2)

…which is very cool.* Only of course you don’t leave it like this. Once you’ve stuffed every last chink as best as you can, you apply a kind of pasty goo that hardens and forms into what you might call plaster on the inside, stucco on the outside. Over that you apply whatever weather-proofing or decorative sealant you want – some kind of paint – and ta-da (!) you have a solid wall filled with straw and no one is the wiser unless you tell them.

Or unless you are Lincoln and you add a truth window.

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For all the world to see, no lie, no cap, even once he’s smoothed it out, cleaned up the errant splotches, added the sills and moldings and painted on whatever color they choose – it’s plain as day there’s straw behind those walls.

Lincoln’s window isn’t “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because there’s wood inside those walls too, and standard fiberglass insulation in parts of the house where straw bales didn’t make sense. But it’s a window into the truth. I’ve wondered if sometimes, maybe a lot of times, that’s enough.

I had to write a lengthy report recently. In it, twice, I decided to include bits of information that I could have easily left out, that some might have suggested were irrelevant or best left out. One bit possibly cast some light on a person’s motivation and the other balanced out an otherwise damaging image. I decided it was not up to me whether those bits were relevant or not, but I would leave it to the reader to weigh and discern.

I included those two little windows of truth because to me, without them, the picture is not quite as accurate. Nonetheless, they are just two bits, two little bits in a sea of other bits, any of which may or may not also be relevant. Can I know what matters? Can I know what helps? Sometimes yes, but often not.

Everyone knows there are fuzzy distinctions among the alternately appropriate practices of

Same as I decide what food to put in my mouth, what clothes to wear, what dog I like, I decide what to say, what to do, how to say it, how to do it and what to keep quiet about. I can’t know what the interpretation or the reaction will be, but I reveal the straw in my wall with all those things I do or say or don’t. I reveal my worries, my flaws, my junk, my fluff.

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Look at Lincoln’s truth window again. It’s not pretty. The straw they use to make those bales is a waste product, the leftover stalks after they’ve harvested the edible grain, staks that are sometimes a pain for farmers to get rid of. But here it is – real and useful and strong.

Just as I hope I am – at least sometimes.

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*For anyone who’s wondering, properly constructed walls made from straw bales have an insulating value of R-30 to R-35 and are more flame-retardant than wood construction – this is because the bales are dense and tens to smolder when the ignition source is removed.