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!).

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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.

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?