Sunday, August 31, 2008

Apples to Apples

I'd been hankering to taste the season's first apples and share the delight with my daughter. (The first and only time she tried an apple was last week. It was roasted over a fire, mushy and tart. She grimaced dramatically and grabbed for more.)

The opportunity knocked yesterday. CP was pushing her in the sporty red jogger, the next street down, when I halted before an 8 1/2 x 11-inch printed sign: "FREE APPLES. Rambo and Grimes Golden. Some good for baking, some for eating. No need to knock. We'll try to leave bags under the trees." A map explained exactly which two backyard trees were game.

As we turned to enter the yard, a large, gray-haired lady was coming the other way.

"Are there still apples?" CP asked.

"Sure, I'll show you where to pick," said the apple advertiser.

She led us to two tall, rambling trees, one with red and one with yellow fruit. The apples were small and gnarled, but looked good enough for apple sauce or crisp.

Tonight we're having a couple of friends over for apple crisp and a favorite old movie. And NS will have her first fresh applesauce.

A Heroine Revisited

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publishing of L.M. Montgomery's classic, Anne of Green Gables. Spotting a paperback copy on a library shelf labeled "Read and Enjoy--No Check-Out Necessary," I was seized with a whim to re-read this childhood favorite.

My introduction to Anne came in fifth grade when I received the book as a Christmas gift. I devoured it, then went on to read the rest of the series, plus everything else by L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on.

Like countless young girls of the century, I was instantly infatuated. To my ten-year-old eyes, Anne embodied the qualities I most admired: romanticism (the variety that scorns boy-craziness but idealizes the natural world), imagination, nostalgic reluctance to grow up, spunk, intelligence, optimism, ability to win friends. Her much-bemoaned faults, such as culinary disasters and hair of an undesirable color, only endeared her to me. Here was hope that I, too, could one day grow from an awkward, insecure adolescent into a capable, willowy beauty, beloved and admired by all.

Twenty years later, my perception of Anne of Green Gables--both the book and the character--is completely different. Now I see that it's the marvelously funny and tender account of how a love-hungry, homeless girl and her adoptive adults (a middle-aged sister and brother) come to love each other as family and smooth out each others' rough edges. I was quite surprised to find myself sympathizing as much with the adults as with Anne herself. I chuckled at Anne's antics, perhaps recalling my own experiences as a short-term foster parent or aunt.

Coming from the early 1900's, the book is remarkable in its portrayal of an academically successful and ambitious girl (at sixteen, she wins the highest academic honors in teacher's school and plans to study for a B.A.). The author is female, as are the majority of key characters in the book. Radio show guests in a recent centennial conversation about Anne's literary influence suggested that Anne of Green Gables deserves a place among the Tom Sawyers, Huck Finns, and other mostly male protagonists of classic juvenile literature.

We'd all be better off for it.

Wicked Desserts

I found this recipe inside the lid of the frozen whipped topping which CP and I were finishing off, straight from the tub, for dessert:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

1 Chocolate Graham Crust
1 1/2 pts. [Store Brand] Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups [Store Brand] Creamy Peanut Butter
1 jar of Ice Cream Fudge Topping
8 oz. [Store Brand] Whipped Topping (thawed)

Mix ice cream and peanut butter on low speed. Pour into cookie pie crust. Freeze 3 hours. Top with 1 jar of ice cream fudge topping. Return to freezer. Serve with whipped topping on top of each slice.

Anyone have a birthday coming up?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Basil Trivia

Remember the meager garden I left behind when we moved out of town? I reaped some satisfaction from it, after all. On a maintenance trip back to the vacant house, CP brought back (in addition to a handful of decent heirloom tomatoes) my eight varieties of basil plants in a paper bag.

I feverishly whipped up a double batch of pesto while the leaves were fresh. The remaining whole plants (small leaf variety) I washed, patted dry with a kitchen towel, and froze on a cookie tray for a while. Then I sealed them in a Ziploc bag and threw them in the freezer.

Within the next week I used them all. At first I tried snipping individual leaves off stems, but they thawed quickly and stuck to everything. It worked much better to shake the bag, dislodging the frozen leaves, and pour the leaves out of the bag.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

40 Years

This past weekend Mom and Dad celebrated 40 years of marriage. To commemorate the day, those of us living relatively nearby invited them to a weekend of fun stuff. We took in local attractions like the Ethiopian restaurant (where you eat with your fingers), live open-air music, K's infamous dairy bar, farmers market, thrift shop, and university arboretum. Sunday we went to D, A and H's church where H shared about her recent and upcoming African adventures.

Below are some snapshots, in no particular order.

Campfire with the season's bounty and a few friends:

Telling stories at the arboretum:

Just Chillin'

NS is now officially eight months old. The other day while I was working in the kitchen, she rolled/scooted herself under the sofa, Lego chunk in hand, and spent an hour or so under there on her back, playing her feet on the slats and talking happily to herself.

Friday, August 22, 2008


One of NS' favorite new foods this summer is watermelon.

A certain redundant, dull, and downright ugly song in our music library, which CP greets with glee each time it comes on in the random play shuffle, seems to have inspired NS, watermelon notwithstanding.

Grocery Store Commentary

NS recently graduated to a bigger car seat, the kind that you can't use to carry her around in the store. Yesterday we had to buy some groceries, so I claimed one of the shopping carts with a rear-facing red plastic baby seat attached. She was fascinated by everything in sight (as usual) and, still nap-less at mid-afternoon, was holding sleep at bay with a will. As a result, she looked rather uncomfortable, elbows propped and head craning around for a better view.

Here are some of the comments she elicited from strangers (for once, I didn't see anyone I recognized!):

(Lady in the egg aisle chuckles, calls her companion's attention to NS.) "Look! She's sitting up there like..." ("A princess?" I murmur.)

"She's got some pretty eyes." (I've lost count of how many times we've heard that one...or bright eyes, or big eyes.)

(Elderly lady coming the other way stops to look around at NS' face.) "Lawdamercy! You got a sweet one."

(Older gentleman behind us, admiring NS over my shoulder.) "Now that's happiness."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Neighbor Paranoia, Part II

The neighborly picnic came and went with nary a glimpse of my mysterious neighbor. (She'd called the landlords with her regrets; she was sick and knew that there would be small children present.)

A few nights later, I was nursing NS in the rocking chair at 1:30 a.m. after she'd awakened, crying emphatically. Through the walls came a sound of running water--a toilet? a shower?--and the bang of a door.

My weary gut gave a twist. Oh, no. She's finally had it with being wakened by a crying baby twice a night and is out for revenge.

An uneventful day or two passed. Then one morning I was chasing my nephew NA up the driveway. He was blubbering for his mama who had just dropped him off for a couple of hours with me. At that moment the neighbor appeared, about to get in her car. I seized the moment to march up, shake her hand and introduce myself.

"And this is NS," I pointed to the sweet baby on my hip. "She's the one you've probably been hearing at night."

"Oh, no," said the neighbor mildly. "They have babies upstairs, too, and I never hear them. Besides, I don't mind babies. That's how they are."

I blew an audibly relieved sigh and went about the day with a lighter mind.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Confessions of a Cell Phone Owner

Today I strolled over to the university with CP and NS to get library cards. While CP did some school prep work on his school laptop (on this final day of summer vacation), NS and I lolled about on the grass outside. I had some phone calls to make, so while she inched around, tasting crunchy yellow leaves, I took care of business on the handy new cell phone.

Now, I generally hold in disdain the over-use of cell phones (don't even get me started on the long list of other rampantly seductive electronic media). Aside from the obvious hazards of calling and driving, baking and calling, etc., it's just a messed up way to spend life, that is, trying to be in too many places and dabble in too many things at once so that one never gives full attention to the moment's experience. (Read almost anything on the spiritual life, and you'll get the idea.)

Coming from this mind frame, I felt slightly guilty watching my gorgeous baby explore the world while I made tomorrow's plans with a friend on the phone. I ought to be giving her my full attention. Sheepishly I recalled all the times I've mentally scolded strangers who stroll under a cloudless sky, phone to ear, oblivious to their companions, or broadcast their one-sided arguments over dinner in a restaurant.

When I confessed this to CP, he kindly reminded me that I have to make calls somewhere; I could have been doing so in the living room, but at least I was enjoying the great outdoors and allowing NS to do the same.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Apartment

Perhaps some of you far-away readers can't imagine how we have a pleasant view of the blue ridges from a basement apartment. (Google Earth just doesn't cut it.)

Here's what the front of the apartment looks like (it's at the back of the landlord's house). Kitchen window on left, living room window on right:

These are views from just outside the door. Although at the time of photography the mountains were plainly visible just beyond the rooftops/treetops, somehow they don't show up in the picture. It must have been the light at that time of day. I intended to do a more convincing retake, but wouldn't you know, this morning everything was cloaked in fog. Oh, well. You'll have to come see for yourself.

The Garden

If you read the blogs of any of my family members, you'll quickly realize that we all have the gardening bug (maybe that's not a very apt metaphor!). It's August, but I couldn't resist giving it a go at my new residence.

I've never really done fall gardening, and have wanted to try it for a while. That seemed like a good enough excuse to get rid of the seed collection that moved here with me. Starting a new garden is also a consolation for leaving behind a decent little suburban garden with heirloom tomatoes green on the vine.

One morning, in lieu of a jog, CP got out the shovel and spent an hour or so digging up the thick clumpy grass that covers the rectangular former garden plot, about a quarter of which was then available for cultivation. The other day I tossed in the remnants of seed packets from 2006 and 2007: lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli. I'll be pleasantly surprised if anything germinates.

If it doesn't, maybe I'll throw in the leftover beet and spinach seeds from this year. They only need 45 days to mature.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Neighbor Paranoia

I've lived here ten days and have only seen my next door neighbor three times. Twice she walked past our window talking on a cell phone (she has to pass our apartment to get to her car). Once we exchanged a hurried "hi" when I stepped out of my door as she stepped inside hers. Judging by the absence or presence of her vehicle, she's not the early-to-bed/early-to-rise type (I am).

This near-invisibility in such close quarters makes me nervous. What if she's over there silently cursing me because my baby cries at night? Does she resent my hanging laundry in front of her apartment every day? I bet the previous occupant of our apartment never was up at 6:00 a.m. hacking dirt clods in the garden or tuned in to Click and Clack too loudly on Saturday mornings.

The other day I clutched my courage, along with a little loaf of zucchini bread, and went over to introduce myself. I thought maybe a little peace offering was in order, just in case I and mine had already unwittingly offended.

She didn't answer the door. I knocked twice that afternoon when she was obviously home, with no response. If that's not enough to make a neighbor paranoid, I don't know what is.

The bright spot is that the landlords have invited us to a cookout this weekend along with the next door tenant. That means she'll have to meet me face to face and realize I'm not an ogre, and that my daughter is such a darling that her noise is forgivable.


I just came in from garden planting (that's a separate story) and another rare neighbor sighting. She stepped out, smiled, "Good morning," and kept going. Squatting under the wash line looking at seed packets, I squeaked out a "Hi," and kept going, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wild Weather

It may not hold a candle to Illinois, but this valley has its own version of meteorological excitement. Yesterday the radio happened to be on so that we heard a tornado warning for our county--the second in one week's time. The announcement was followed by a torrent including several minutes of pea-sized hail. Afterward, the temperature plummeted, swooping down into the 50's overnight. NS got to try out her fuzzy blue hand-me-down sleeper (from the IL cousins). Today, with the thermometer still hovering in the 60's, I broke out the jeans and sweatshirt. Let's hear it for autumn in August!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Things Fall Apart: A Foray into Lutherland

This morning CP, NS and I attended a Lutheran church service. It took place in a new multipurpose building as the historic, gray stone church is undergoing renovations. At the door the ushers handed us a thickish booklet containing the complete liturgy for this, the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (news to me).

Before leaving the house, as he was dressing NS in a pink checked jumper, CP had asked, "Aren't there any underpants with this?" No, it was just the jumper. "But what's going to keep the diaper on?" he worried. I dismissed the thought. Who needs matching baby underpants?

Minutes after we sat down in the back row of the church, and NS had been wriggling in CP's arms, he handed her to me. Lifting her onto my lap, I was horrified to see her disposable diaper (which are standard for outings such as church) slipping down around her knees. Closer inspection revealed that not one, but both sides were undone, and soon the whole thing was falling to her ankles. I whispered an alert to CP; we both tried desperately to suppress the giggles while I held NS and her various accessories together and headed out in search of a diaper changing spot. Luckily, there was a pair of pink pants in the diaper bag that I just pulled on under the jumper, and she didn't fall apart the rest of the morning.

Further reflections on the visit:

Numerous people, including both ministers, went out of their way to welcome us, scoring an A+ for friendliness. One of the ushers came up afterward and "mugged" us--handing CP a mug with the church logo, stuffed with cocoa mix, a pen, and literature about the congregation.

Communion elements were deliciously different from what I'm used to: a sip of sweet wine and a cube of homemade shortbread. NS even received a blessing on her head. A+.

The music left much to be desired. It was strictly piano and unison voices (by turns, the congregation, the cantor, and the choir). The music itself was OK; there were a number of hymn tunes and/or texts that were familiar. Some pieces were written specifically for the liturgy, and these the congregation seemed to stumble over as much as I did. C-.

The white-robed minister's sermon came from the gospel story of Peter walking on water. "Instead of asking the Lord to take away the storm, or get me out of here," he suggested, "Why not ask for the ability to walk on the water--to overcome it?" A.

An unfamiliar but refreshing aspect of Lutheran worship is having every prayer, song, change of posture, scripture, and word (except the homily) outlined in writing. The down side is that you have to be quite literate in order to follow along (read music, read the footnotes explaining that bold type is for the congregation to read and a little cross means stand up). The positive side is that this style encourages participation in worship (as opposed to spectatorship, which is fairly widespread in many churches). If you do choose to participate, you end up seeing, hearing, speaking and singing a lot of scripture. A.

If this church were among only a handful of options in a small town, I would probably consider becoming a regular. Under the current circumstances, I'll probably have plenty of new church visits to write about before long.

Shaking it Up

Given the shaky nature of NS's relationship with the media, the following footage is not too bad. It's my attempt to document the fact that, in addition to singing, dancing, rocking, and rolling, my sweet 7-month-old can not only clap her hands and feet, but also play the shaker (although her attention in this case was diverted by the presence of other toys).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Getting Around

These days I'm rediscovering the joy of walking and biking to commonplace destinations. Downtown (library, K's famous dairy bar, live music on the square, weekly farmers market) is only 1.8 miles away. A good chunk of the less-than-a-mile jaunt to the grocery store is marked by a pedestrian/bike/jogging stroller path. The other day I ran morning errands on my bike (I couldn't remember the last time I'd ridden a bike), zipping over to sister H's and brother D's house in a round trip of a whopping four miles. The possibilities are rather exhilarating.

From the Photo Archives

Here's a fun NS series from July.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Pre-crawling: The only gear she knows how to use is reverse!

Playing mechanic: "Hand me that wrench, will ya?"

Making Friends

I met my first new friend in this town last week when we came to clean the empty apartment before moving in.

The apartment's only bedroom has a west-facing double window looking out to a deep window well. The result is what I call a "terrarium" (after the gardens-in-jars that we used to make as kids), 6 1/2 feet deep, 4 1/2 feet long, and about 2 feet wide. The block walls are painted a faded purple and blue. The mulched floor is layered with damp old leaves. Overhead, a heavy grate keeps the landlord's toddler from falling in when she's digging in the flower garden. There are no plants in the terrarium...yet. I have to locate some that love deep shade and can tolerate cold weather.

As I fiddled with the screen to remove it for cleaning, there was her green face, staring back at me with bright red-and-black eyes. I'll call her Salta Ranita (Jump Frog, after a children's book).

After we moved in, I eagerly introduced her to our first guests. Often when I looked for her she was half-hidden under the leaves.

For several days, I didn't see Salta at all. I started to wonder: Could she have fallen through the grate recently? Could she be starving for lack of bugs? Should I set her free? Or has she climbed up the walls with her suction feet?

My paucity of frog knowledge made me uneasy.

The other night as I got ready for bed, a distinct rustling sound from outside the bedroom window caught my ear. Sure enough, there she was. Salta, Ranita!