The Gift of Presence

I am not covering any new blog territory when I say parenting isn’t always what I expected it to be.

I remember quiet, late night nursing sessions, rocking and watching an impossibly cute and sleepy Thing One snuffle away.  I would let my mind wander to all of the wondrous things I would share with her; teach her.  Introduce her to A Few of My Favorite Things, if you will:  Charlotte’s Web.  Warm chocolate pudding.  Crisp fall mornings.  Winter days so cold and dry your nostrils prickle and threaten freeze shut. Cinema Parasido.  Cribbage.  I am just a simple girl from Vermont, with simple pleasures.

Thing One is now 10 years old, and the reality has been quite different.  She doesn’t really like chocolate pudding.  And lately I am finding that I am the one that is doing the learning.  To be honest, some of it is a little tedious, like re-learning how to subtract 4 5/8 from 6 3/8.  Some of it is completely unexpected;  like finding I love reading aloud The Hobbit, when I couldn’t stand the book on my own.  But most of it involves me simply letting her take the lead, to show me what she is seeing, to take the time and really listen and be present while she tells me what she finds important, what she already knows.

Last weekend, the four of us took a walk in the town forest.  Little Thing Two was hanging and exploring with Dad, and Thing One was back with me, pointing out fungi.  She is just coming off of a botany block at school, so she was eager to share.  Shelf fungus, puffballs, lichen, princess pine moss.  To make it interesting, I said, “Let’s see if we can find 5 different fungi on this walk.”

The woods to me were looking like a pleasant-enough blur of green and brown.  To Thing One, it was filled with fascinating detail.  It didn’t take her long to find 5 different fungi and then move on to other tiny wonders.   Luckily, she was patient with me and waited and answered my silly questions.








The Motorola Console Stereo

When I was a young kid, in the early 1970’s, my parents had a Motorola console stereo.  It sat under the window in our living room, and had my older brother’s and sisters’ framed high school graduation photos on it. Every now and then, not everyday by any stretch, but sometimes, my mother would take the photos off and lay them aside and put on a record. 

I remember the long wooden creak of the lid lifting as she picked an album, the sound of the record dropping onto the turntable, and the rhythmic light scratching right before the music started playing.  My mother would put on a record and could fill the room, the house, the neighborhood with rich, beautiful music. 

I was never, ever allowed to touch the stereo.  Or bump it while it was playing, or put anything on top of it for fear of scratching it.  I never took the picture frames off, lifted the lids or put a record on.  To me, it was the most important and special thing we had.  We had a crappy black and white TV, an old unfashionable car, a house that was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, hell, I remember my mother washing clothes in the ancient wringer washer, but somehow we had this fabulous stereo.  To say it was magical would be cliche, but it was.

My mother spent a lot of my childhood struggling with mental illness which meant we all spent a lot of time dealing with my my mother’s mental illness.  Today we know she has Bipolar Disorder (Type I, I thnk) and is on medication and able to function, but in the early 70’s (and before) it was a mystery to everyone; to me, to her, to us, to the doctors.  I remember a doctor making a house call and his prescription was “you need to pull yourself together”. 

My mother swung between a depression that put her on the couch for endless days, to manic episodes of angry shouting, paranoia and 3 am vacuuming.  But there were breaks as we drifted from one storm to the next, where things seemed normal.  She would leave the house, bake, visit with friends, and sing.

My mother had a beautiful voice and loved to sing.  She was a soprano who sang in church, in the community choir and all over the house.  She would sing while she was making the beds.  She would sing while she was baking chocolate chip cookies.  She would sing while she stood on sheets of newspaper ironing the bedsheets in the basement.  She would sing when we didn’t want her to sing and we would yell, “Ma! Please stop I’m…on the phone, watching TV, my friends are here…”  Sometime she would stop, and sometimes she would just go back to the basement to iron and sing. 

And sometimes she would put a record on the stereo, turn it up the volume and I would sit on the rug and feel the floor shake as I listed to my mother sing.




Motorola Stereo, The Insides

Here are a few more pictures of the stereo. Please excuse the quality, they were taken on my phone and the lighting was tricky!

It looks to have 10 “Golden Voice” tweeters (5 on each side, about 3.5″ diameter), one “Golden Voice” woofer (about 15″ diameter).

And 10 tubes (one big one, 6 medium and 3 small ones).

And a lot of dust.




Speaker bay under turntable:



Center Bay with woofer:


Bay Under Controls:


The Set of Tubes:




New (Old) Motorola Stereo

Just inherited my parents old Motorola Stereo from the basement.  Looks good, plays slowly, and am hoping I can get some advice on what model it is, and what I should do next to try and make some memories with my own kids with this classic stereo.  It has tubes!!








Cookies! Sables and Chocolate Chips

I’ll start with a confession.  Since we entered the early 21st century last week by finally buying a flat screen TV,  I have been watching more TV than usual.  The picture quality is remarkable.  A little overwhelming even.  To my eyes used to watching  an analog TV shaped like a cube, the detail seems almost too much.  It’s like I have hawk vision.

For example, in a scene in an elevator, where the viewer is supposed to be maybe 2 feet away from the actor’s face, not only could I see the downy hairs on her cheek, but I could also see the texture of the wallpaper on the elevator wall 3 feet behind her.  In real life, especially with these 40 mumble year old eyes, I wouldn’t have been able to make out either at those distances.

With all this extra viewing, I happened to bump into the “Cookie Jar” episode of America’s Test Kitchen.  There was Chris Kimball (who has remarkably smooth skin) rolling his eyes with pleasure as he munched on an improved chocolate chip cookie.  For the second recipe, they made sables (French butter cookies) which he proclaimed to be so good, that they landed in his top two favorite cookies.

With endorsements like those, I made both recipes this past week.  With a little on-line searching, I was able to find both recipes.  The sables were here, while the chocolate chip cookies were here.

The Sable Cookies (Sah-blas, if you don’t mind the outrageous accent):

I made two doughs, one plain and one chocolate.  The chocolate one I improvised by reducing the flour to 5.25 ounces and adding 2.25 ounces cocoa powder (the plain cookies had 7.5 ounces flour).  I split each dough in half and made plain ones, chocolate ones and pinwheel ones.  I was particularly proud of the pinwheel cookies.  They looked beautiful (tip:  roll out the chocolate rectangle of dough slightly larger than the plain one) and were very tasty.

The Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are a tricky thing.  Everybody uses the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, and everybody’s cookies come out different.  And everyone likes the one they grew up with best.  So like everyone, my mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies.  Hers are thin, with crisp edges and chewy, bendy middles.  She adds walnuts.  She uses Crisco for the fat, rather than butter (I think this is a growing up in the Depression thing), she greases the cookie sheet, and she sifts the flour before she measures it.  I think all of these things combine to make a cookie with the texture I like.  If there were room for improvement in my mother’s recipe (I’m not saying that there is, Ma), it would be to use butter rather than Crisco.  I have tried this substitution, and I do like the flavor, but it messes with the texture.

Crisco is all fat, whereas butter is a mixture;  mostly fat with a little protein, and some water.  So when I substitute butter for Crisco, I am adding some water to the recipe, and I think that causes the unwanted texture change.

Interestingly, in the America’s Test Kitchen episode, they addressed this very issue.  They used all butter in their chocolate chip cookie recipe but reduced the moisture in the butter by melting it and boiling off the water.  Then they took it up a notch by carefully browning the butter to increase the flavor complexity even more.

The result was a very, very tasty cookie.  Next time, I am going to reduce the flour a bit (to mimic my mother’s sifting) and perhaps cook them on a greased cookie sheet rather than parchment paper.

I didn’t put walnuts in the cookies because “WALNUTS ARE DISGUSTING!”*

So were the chocolate chip cookies better than my mother’s?  The flavor was very good.  Very very good, but I still have to tweak the texture.  Watch your back, Ma!

*Editorial comment by Thing One

The Curious Case of the Panting Chicken

Finally a beautiful day.  No rain, no fog, no clouds, no wind.  Just a beautiful, sunny 70 degree, blue-sky day.  We took this opportunity, Thing Two and I, to wander around the yard and check on things.

Lawn?  Check, green and growing quickly after all this rain.  Garden?  Check, plants don’t appear to be rotting, and some seeds are coming up.  Chickens?  Check, happily in their tractor, hunting and scratc…wait a minute…that one chicken is panting.  It’s Chiffon.

I remember last summer, on some really hot days, the chickens would sometimes do their open-beaked pant when they were overheated.  But it isn’t really that warm today, and I have the tractor somewhat in the shade.

Maybe she is thirsty?  Nope, plenty of water.  Are the other chickens panting?  Nope, just the one.  Huh.  I began to get a little worried.  Chickens, so I read, can be particularly susceptible to respiratory problems.  I took a closer look at this wide-eyed panting chicken and I heard “hee hee hee…shhhhhh….hee hee hee…shhhhhh”.  Then I knew what was troubling this hen.

I opened the tractor, and Chiffon muscled her way past the other hens and made a bee-line for the coop, only stopping a couple of times to peck at something that must have been irresistible.

She hopped up into the coop, and hopped straight into the nest box.  Poor Chiffon was in labor, and she wasn’t about to drop her egg the in ramshackle nest box I rigged up in the tractor.

Just because chickens aren’t the brightest animal in the yard doesn’t mean they aren’t discerning.  Remember your breathing, Chiffon and focus!  You can doo eet!


With the junk in the basement relegated to the shed, it opened up a lot of space in the basement.  Where space=possibilities.

When we first moved into the house it had a finished basement.  The basement had been claimed by the teenaged son as his pad.  Think “Johnny Bravo”.

Immediately after we moved in, our noses led us to believe that Johnny Bravo had a going away par-tay in his pad.  The smell of stale beer, smoke and smokin’ was overwhelming.  So on the evening that we closed, the Husband ripped out the gross carpet and tore down all of the smoke saturated ceiling tiles.  As an aside, he found a few interesting items stashed away above those tiles, but “nothing of any quality” in his words.  The only further change we had made to the basement since those early dark days of home ownership, was to install an exterior-grade door leading to the bilco door.  Johnny must have frozen his nads off sleeping down there, the only door he had between him and the outside air was a leaky storm door.  Groovy.

Unfortunately just clearing out the basement didn’t re-sheetrock the marred walls, cover the cement floor stained with the ghosts of carpets past or add ceiling tiles to the ceiling scaffolding, it just made space.

With a full-on rec room/man cave not in the near-term budget, I made just a few small changes.  I made swings for the girls.  For little Thing Two, it was as easy as buying a bucket swing from Home Depot and installing a couple of study screw-eyes into the ceiling beam.  For Thing One, I made something a little more homey.

I bought a piece of oak about 6″ wide, 2′ long and about 1″ thick, and a length of nylon rope.  First I cut the wood to 18″.  Then I drilled four holes in the wood, each about 1″ in from all sides.  I sanded the board to ease the edges, and gave it some coats of spray polyurethane.  Using strong bowline knots (thanks Dad… the rabbit comes out of the hole, around the tree, and back down the hole) and more screw eyes, the swing was ready!

Both kids love their swings, and have been a great diversion during this exceptionally rainy spring.  Groovy!

The Shed

I have been busy lately.  Too busy, it seems to keep up with my Ideal Blog Posting Scheme of 3 new posts a week.  The best laid schemes…

So here is what we have been busy with.  First off we got a shed.  Typing the words “we got a shed” can’t encapsulate the joy I feel in having a shed.  Let me see if I can try to capture my feelings a bit better….there,  I think this does it.

funny GIFs - For me? You shouldn't have

A shed.  Why so excited about a shed?  We have typical suburban backyard, a couple of gardens, a couple of kids, a swimming pool and a one car garage.  So lots of outside stuff with little outside storage.

This meant every fall, our basement would fill up with pool stuff, lawn furniture, garden implements, bikes, etc etc.  As we would pack the stuff away in the fall, I got the feeling that we were just a few small steps away from having a path from the sofa to the fridge to the bathroom.

So every fall, I would hunt around to try to find a good price on a well-built shed and I would get a couple of leads on some good sheds for the next spring.  But once spring came round again,  most of the stuff in the basement would go back outside where it belonged.  I would feel less shame and start thinking maybe we didn’t really need a shed,  and other things would come along and move the shed down the budget list.  Like a new furnace.  Or painting the house.  Or two 10+ year old cars (really bad planning there).  But then fall would come again, and my frustration would build again and why didn’t we get a shed last year?!

We (I) went back and forth quite a bit over this shed thing.

Big Mac Cats Gif - Big Mac Cats

Finally, there came this spring a golden opportunity.  I found a good shed guy on craigslist. There were no budgetary crises.  The time was ripe!

May I present:  The Shed.

I have so many pictures of this damn thing being built, I could make a flip book.

I was so excited when it was done, I suggested that we sleep out in it before we moved stuff in.  And we did, on a 45 degree night.  It was pine-y and wonderful.

Limeade Recipe

Summer for my daughters means the swimming pool is open for business.

Summer for me means fresh tomatoes.

Summer for my husband means his go-to drink becomes the Gin and Tonic.

For some of us especially, summer can’t come soon enough.

Limes were on sale this week at the grocery store (5 for $3, same for lemons), so I bought 10.  I knew that 10 limes worth of gin and tonics never ends well, so I looked up a limeade recipe so the girls could join Dada in their own way in the celebration of summer.

I’d like to point you to a very cool cooking site that speaks to me when I am just looking for the facts:  Cooking for Engineers.  Check out the recipe tab for a giant list of recipes that have been thoroughly tested and are written in a no-nonsense manner.  My husband is an engineer by training, and he often finds recipes confusing to follow.  He says they’re “too narrative”.  This is the site for him.

I was looking for a limeade recipe that I could make on a cup-by-cup basis and this is where I found it.  This recipe makes a simple syrup with lime juice concentrate which you then dilute with water to make the quantity you want.  Perfect.

Limeade (from Cooking for Engineers)

Limeade Concentrate:

1 cup lime juice (about 6 limes)

1.5 c water

1.5 c sugar

Squeeze the limes to get 1 cup of lime juice and put aside.  Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat a cool a bit and then add the lime juice.  Store this concentrate refrigerated or frozen.


1 c limeade concentrate plus 2 cups water.  (or 1/3 c limeade concentrate + 2/3 c water…I is good at math)

On the site, the commenters suggested adding mint leaves or grated lime peel.  I did neither of these, but they both sounded great!  Adding little mint plus some white rum would make a great mojito-like drink.

Summer can’t come soon enough!

This and That: Vague Recipes and Wine Review

Today was a long day for no exotic or unusual reasons.  Thing Two woke up early, and is still a little sick with a drippy nose.  She is also in the–“I won’t eat anything and will fuss unless I can use my own spoon.  Unless it is yours, then I will beg for your food off your spoon.  Not my own identical food, not my own spoon, not my own bowl.  Your food.  Your spoon.  Your bowl.  My drippy nose — phase”  This leads to a lot of truncated meals for me, and thrice-daily bathing for Thing Two.  I hope this phase ends quickly, I don’t remember how long it lasted with Thing One.

She is also doing a lot of climbing. (I post this picture hoping you won’t call DCF on me.  I had the camera in my hand when I found her like this.)

Her degree of difficulty is improving, although she is still having problems with the dismount.  The feline judge is particularly harsh.  With Thing One, we solved this by lashing loose chairs to table legs and radiators so she couldn’t drag them around the room to use them to climb higher.  I think we are going to revisit that solution soon.

On the meal front, the calendar says spring but the weather still says late winter, so I have been making unseasonal hearty fare.  Here is one I had the other night that was really tasty that I call “The Kitchen Sink”.

I made chicken and rice (rice cooked in broth with spices, then add cut up chicken breast for the last 10 minutes) the other night and it was a hit with the kids…although hard to clean off the chair, table, floor and hair.  I had some left over, so I sautéed some garlic, added a few whole cherry tomatoes and cooked them until they burst.  Then I added chicken stock, a few shakes of smoked Tabasco and left over chicken and rice.  I topped it with a poached egg and it was yummy.  Thing Two thought so too, until I put some in her own bowl and then she wouldn’t touch it.  I think I remember calling this stage the Seagull Stage with Thing One.  Constantly swooping in and stealing your food.

For dinner tonight, it was another off-season meal.  Roasted chicken parts (shh we don’t say that too loudly around Casa de Loco Pollo) and smothered cabbage.  The smothered cabbage recipe idea I got from a Marcella Hazen cookbook, but I am hesitant to tell you how I changed it; I have read MH is quite a stickler for following her instructions.

I’ll be brave though.  First you shred a head of cabbage.  Then you sauté some onion (she said half, I used a whole…please don’t tell).  Add in some garlic, then add the cabbage and turn it to coat in the olive oil (MH said use half a cup (!) I used less than half of that.  Is she lurking?)  Add a little salt and pepper and cover and cook over low for an hour and a half until all tender and melty.  This is where I went a little crazy.  I thought it was a little dry and lacking in flavor (maybe because I drastically cut back on the oil), so at about an hour, I added a cup of beef broth, and simmered it until it was fully absorbed.  It was delicious, but please don’t tell MH, just say I followed the recipe.

I used the cabbage as a bed for the roasted chicken.  Yummy.

But it wasn’t the meal that made tonight’s dinner special.  Tonight, I was all excited because I tracked down this wonderful white wine we had when the adults went to the big city for dinner.  The cheese and meat boards were delicious and the meal was great, but for me the most memorable part was the glass of white wine I had.  I usually don’t enjoy wine very much, and only order it because I am supposed to be a grown-up, but this one was great.  It tasted to me citrus-y without being bitter or acidic and it felt thirst quenching.  I could picture having a bottle of this cooling in a stream as I tended my olive trees in late summer.  Stopping for a noonday break I would get my bottle of wine out of the stream and sit under a tree.  Lunch would be a hunk of bread, a piece of cheese, a pear and this wonderful clean, thirst-quenching wine.

. . .

Sorry I was in a reverie for a moment there.  Here is the wine.

Domaine La Hitaire, 2009, Les Tours.  a blend of 3 grapes.  Pairs wonderfully with cheese, chicken and long days with climbing toddlers.