Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Hobbit's adventures

My seatmate on the flight from Portland to San Francisco, an older (than me) lady who lives in Norway, spent the whole two-hour flight testifying to me of the wonders of socialized medicine.
As she drank three glasses of gratis wine.
And, as she leaned in close, spitted (spat? sput?) all over the right side of my body.
It was insult added to injury.
I defended myself as a card-carrying member of the Tea Party (after she declared that Tea Partiers were cold-hearted, privileged people who wanted to deprive all the poor and mentally deficient of the benefits that they, themselves, enjoy). I told her that I didn't know anyone who felt that way, and that when I spoke of not wanting the government to be in charge of my health-care decisions, I was speaking from a place of experience and not privilege. We lived around the poverty line for years and were without medical insurance as well. We learned to butterfly bandage head cuts and to splint fingers and we paid cash to our midwife. This seemed to take the wind out of her sails, but I doubt it changed her opinion, just as she didn't change mine.
I was very glad when Madame spittle-flying-propaganda-spouting Holland bid me a fond goodbye and I was left in peace.

I found the International Terminal and also a comfy place to sit. I listened to some retired couples talking about their plans. One was going to Australia for a thirty-day cruise around the continent. One was sailing from Hobart, Tasmania to Seattle, Washington on a 38-day repositioning cruise. A younger couple was going to Hobart for two months for the husband's work.
My travel aspirations felt unadventurous by comparison.
And then, boarding the plane, I had my usual plebian qualms as I listened to the calls for business-class and economy-premiere passengers. There is nothing in the world designed to make one feel inferior than waiting for the economy-class cattle call.
And then, watching the very funny Bear Grylls safety video, I wanted to hurl every time he told those same people to brace against their ottomans in the case of a forced landing.
I want an ottoman by my reclining plane seat.

I sat next to a delightful Kiwi couple who had just done a whirlwind diving tour of the U.S. in 28 days, and in front of another couple who were on their way home from a year of driving around the U.S. in an RV.
I closed the shades on the windows, as it was dark outside, and the stewardess, while asking me nicely to open them again, used the word "pedantic". I was "ecstatic".

I watched Parental Control and it was hilarious. Billy Crystal still has his mojo.
Then Hope Springs, which was a little weird but had a good ending and don't-you-dare-say-I-recommended-it-to-you.
Then my eyes felt like they had been blasted by hot sand and so I slept, sort of.
A couple of hours before touchdown I decided to give it up and found (oh joy!) two Dr. Who episodes that haven't made it onto Netflix yet, so I was very happy and finished them right before we landed.
Thirteen hours after we ascended.

The entrance to the concourse at Auckland Airport makes me feel very Hobbit-ish.

Which is better than a plebian.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Happy Birthday to my not-so-baby

I'm off to see my Mum and the rest of my family and peeps in New Zealand next week, so I am going to miss Jeff's birthday and Easter and Charlie's birthday and Annie's birthday. 
Method to my madness, ya think?
Anyway, my kids know not to expect a big fuss every time there's a birthday, but once in a while I like to do a special post for one of my darling offspring.
And this is one of them.

This is for Sam, to prove that I did take some notes on Charlie's arrival! Sorry if it contradicts some of my earlier info, Sam, I had to think a few things through.

Charlie was a surprise. 
Just want to put that out there.
It had been five years since our last baby and, well, we weren't trying not to, if you know what I mean, and suddenly, when Jeff was out of town on a business trip, I discovered I was pregnant.
We were happy about it, but I soon became violently ill, as in raging nausea and vomiting, and then my left leg got swollen and painful again and, by three months, I was in the hospital with phlebitis. My leg was full of blood clots and my longevity was in question. Ten days in the hospital and a new regimen of two Heparin shots a day in my stomach pretty much nixed the blood clots. Jeff struggled along with the other three, with help from friends, and got grumpy again. 
Plans for another home birth were shot and I started seeing a high-risk doctor at Kaiser. He was a doll and as kind a man as I have ever met and I fell half in love with him, what with Jeff still being grumpy and all. 
The nausea didn't abate one whit and I got big red spots in the whites of my eyes from the force of throwing up everything I ate. My growing stomach became bilious shades of purple and green from the subcutaneous shots of blood thinner. I survived, but did not thrive. I sent the three kids off to school each morning and went back to bed until Annie came home from Kindergarten. Jeff cleaned the house and took care of everything as well as he could, with me pitching in when I was able.
We had already planned a trip to New Zealand and bought the tickets before we knew of the pregnancy, so, with permission from my doctor, when I was five months along, we went. I had to travel back home with the three older kids alone, as Jeff had returned to work earlier. The trip included a night in Honolulu, which was not awesome, dragging three kids and our bags back and forth from the hotel. Checking our luggage onto the flight, after waiting in line forever, the handlers refused to lift the bags onto the conveyor belt. I promptly broke into tears and some of our fellow travelers rescued me. I've had a bit of a disdain for Honolulu Airport ever since.
Charlie was due on April 1st and, if I didn't go into labour spontaneously, the plan was to induce on the 2nd. I was determined not to have an April Fool's baby and also didn't want to be induced. I guess I was due for some goodness, because I started labour in the wee hours of the morning of the 2nd. We called Jeff's aunty to let her know, as she was coming to stay with Jonnie and Annie. Bethany was to attend the birth with my good friend, Kathy. Don't come yet, I said, we just wanted you to be prepared. Well, she was over shortly and shooed us off to the hospital. I'd never had to be in a car while I was in labour before, and we had to go all the way into Portland. It was the one time in his life that Jeff actually exceeded the speed limits. 
I was expecting my usual long, drawn-out labour, and when things got kind of intense I got some Demerol, thinking I would never make it through the day. My lovely doctor had just come on duty and I felt like I need to push, but figured it was too soon. Nope, he measured and I was ready. Off to the delivery room we went,  all of us. It didn't take too many pushes and out he came, with his little ears all squished to the side of his head and red patches in his eyes and on his face from coming down the birth canal so quickly, and my dad's dimple in his left cheek. He was so beautiful, and we named him Isaac Charles.
"Isaac?" exclaimed my Uncle Charlie, when I called to tell him. "That's a Jewish name!"
"Hmmm, no, Uncle Charlie, it's biblical," I said.
And I sat and looked at him in the hospital for three days, while they regulated the blood thinner, and tried to call him Isaac.
But he wasn't an Isaac.
So we called him Charlie, which fit him perfectly and made my uncle very happy.

The Marines owned Charlie for his last four birthdays. 
We are so glad and grateful that he made it home to us. I know there are stories we will never hear about his time away, and we are proud of him for his strength and resilience. 

I am sure that having Sam waiting at home kept him sane. And now she, their beloved Wrangler, and baby-girl-soon-to-arrive London are motivating him to work hard and study hard and be the man he was always meant to be.

He is a patient and tireless uncle...

...and a loving son, and we are so proud of him.
We often give him a hard time about the hard time he gave us in his youth, so I wanted to say this, just a little bit early.

Happy Birthday, Charlie!
We love you.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Freecycle and two lovely chairs

You know me, always with an eye for a bargain, so when I learned about Freecycle a few years ago I was very interested in joining our local group. The only catch was, you had to have a Yahoo account, as Freecycle runs in Yahoo Groups, and Yahoo and I can't seem to get along, so it never happened.  

Well, I've been so active in bartering and garage saling (the correct spelling, according to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge) lately that I decided to have another go at it. I somehow managed to navigate the perils of Yahoo Groups just enough to register and get on their email list. To this day, I have not been able to remember my moniker and password, so all I can do is respond to emails, not post anything. 

But I did score two heavy wooden kitchen chairs, made in Yugoslavia, a couple of months ago, with the intent of re-finishing them and taking them out to Vista House. A coat of de-glosser, courtesy of Bethany, five coats of light yellow satin wall paint, and three coats of polycrylic finish later and my lovely chairs are sitting with me out at the house and my heart is happy every time I look at them.

Too bad I didn't take any before photos, but trust me, their varnish was ragged and they had seen some rough times. I should have primed them, hence the many coats of paint and still they were not hardy, so further hence the coats of polycrylic, which is my new secret weapon.

Before the coats of finish, I applied some whimsical transfers that I had floating around the spare bedroom.
Really, I did! 
Proving my husband wrong, once again!

They fit the bird theme quite nicely, and all they cost me was a bundle of hours and about $25 for the can of finish and a good paintbrush. But, as Bethany kindly pointed out, when I use them for my next project, they will be free.
And free is a very good price.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Those rainy days of March

I've been thinking about the day we left Southern California twenty-nine years ago on March 15th in a rainstorm. It took us three days of driving to get here and it rained for a month after we arrived. I was in my eighth month of a very unpleasant pregnancy and developed phlebitis shortly afterwards.
My two little tykes were unsettled and unruly and I recall that I just sat on the couch and cried while they rampaged around the house. The carpet in the living room was a nasty orange shag and the windows were single-paned and cracked from the house being moved onto the lot. They were always covered with condensation and sometimes ice when it was really cold. Jeff had a low-paying job and was working nights. We had no bed (we had to leave it behind because there was no room on the moving truck) and were sleeping on the sofa bed. Money was almost an abstract concept.

Yes, things were dim indeed.

After a weary, dreary, month of March, the morning of April 14th dawned bright and sunny. Jeff was in the National Guard and was gone on his once-a-month weekend duty, but I had heard of a park that was nearby and decided to take my poor wee babes for a walk and a play. This, in spite of the fact that my legs were swollen and painful and I could hardly walk. We started up the road, and when I walk that route now, I shudder to think how long it took us to walk a hundred yards or so. There was no park in sight, so we stopped to ask a neighbour for directions. We were headed the wrong way, which made me want to cry, but we turned around and soldiered on, hobbling a few steps and then stopping to rest. We finally got to the park, although I have no memory of the kids actually playing. All I remember is the painful walk.

That night, I started labouring, probably a result of all that exercise. I sent Jeff off to his Guard duty in the morning, fully expecting to be in labour all day. Which I was, but the midwives called him home in the afternoon. By late evening, Annie made her appearance, all nine-and-a-half pounds of her. I had to push her out all the way to her dainty toes.

I spent the next week in bed with my legs raised above the level of my head, to encourage the blood clots to dissolve. Kind people from church brought us dinners and took Bethany and Jon home to play with their kids, but Jeff was tired and grumpy and I was tired and grumpy and I got annoyed with him for not taking care of me as well as I thought I deserved.

So if I get a little angsty this time of year,  you'll have to pardon me. The inevitable grey days of March somehow tickle my senses and pull me back to that first year in Oregon.

But the good part of it all is that, in spite of the frequent discouragement of that time of our lives, we stuck together and ....

Wait! That makes me think of a song!

Whoa-oh, whoa-oh, stuck like glue, You and me baby we're stuck like glue.
Listen to it. You'll be happy you did.

Melodies that get stuck up in your head. Oh yeah!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The girl is crackers for crackers. Graham, that is.

I've had a long-term addiction to graham crackers, particularly those of the Keebler variety, because they are more redolent of honey and vanilla and, IMO, have a more gentle crunch.
Unfortunately, I've become a compulsive label reader, and the partially hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives and lack of anything remotely resembling a whole grain in the commercial product has pushed my craving for graham crackers over the edge.

Google to the rescue, as usual!
I found this recipe at Smitten Kitchen, and wasn't too happy with the sugar level and lack of whole wheat, so I changed it up a bit. We love my altered version, with its whole grain and no sugar, unless you count molasses and honey! I also simplified mixing directions and am not nearly as picky about the look of the finished crackers. And I don't sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar, although I'm sure Jeff and the grandkids would love it if I did!

Graham Crackers
In a medium-sized bowl, preferably one that has a lid, place 2 1/2 c soft white whole wheat flour, 7 tbs soft butter, 1/2 c honey, 1/4 c molasses, 1 tsp B. Soda, 3/4 tsp sea salt, 5 tbs milk, and 2 tsp vanilla. I also add about 1/2 c of coarsely-ground, soaked and dehydrated nuts, because I like the flavour, nutrients, and texture they add to the crackers, but they are totally optional.
Mix like crazy with a wooden spoon until there are no recognizable lumps of any kind. The mixture should be slightly sticky. 
Put the lid on the bowl or cover with plastic wrap and leave for a few hours. This will allow the dough to mellow. I don't know how else to describe it, but, like soaked bread, the finished product will have a better texture, so don't question or doubt me, just do it! 
After resting, the dough should stiffen up a bit and look like this.

A Silpat or similar silicon mat is essential for this next step, although I suppose parchment paper would work. 
Dust the mat lightly with flour.

Form half of the dough into an oblong.

Roll out to fit the mat, being careful to keep the thickness the same at the edges as the middle, or the middle crackers will be soft and the outer ones over-baked.

I am not too over-zealous about having tidy edges, obviously. When the dough fits the mat, score lightly through the dough to outline the cracker shapes. Be careful to not cut into the Silpat. Lift the mat and dough onto a baking tray.

Bake at 325 for about 15 minutes. The crackers will be a golden brown and they will crisp up as they cool. To be honest, you might have to got through a bit of trial and error on the baking time until you figure out how you like them. I used to bake them at 350, but found that the edges got too dark. 

Repeat with the remaining dough. When cool, break into squares and store in an airtight container.

I have to restrain myself from making these too often, because they are incredibly more-ish, especially when used as a base for butter or cream cheese or frosting or dunked in a mug of hot chocolate. They are not my beloved Keeblers, but they are an acceptable substitute.

Darn it!
But I am happy with how I "healthied" up the recipe. And I think it is fairly forgiving, as I am not very precise in my measuring and they have turned out every time.
Happy baking!

P.S. We're closing on our house tomorrow! Yippee-yi-yay!