Category Archives: 2021

Family Secrets

Today’s post comes to us from Bill.

Lately, I’ve been going through the boxes of genealogical and inherited material, some of it originally collected by my grandparents and even more accumulated by my parents. It’s the sort of thing I never found the time or will to do prior to Covid. My general aim is to separate the detritus from the meaningful and to secure the meaningful—I use the term generously—archivally in mylar sleeves in 3-ring binders so that they can all fit in a compact space.

The detritus includes photos even I can’t identify, duplicate and triplicate copies of images, a lot of printed dot-matrix family trees from the days before the internet, albums of really bad Instamatic photos my parents took on vacations long after I had left home and just generally stuff that is no longer meaningful. So far so good.

Among the items in the boxes my Mother left behind was a packet of letters from a life-long friend of hers. I knew this friend and her family when I was young, no more than twelve or thirteen, but I have a distinct impression of her. She was smart and witty, outspoken and, I think, unhappy—probably stifled by her circumstances. The letters were written at a time when she was in the process of getting a divorce and still had two dependent children. She wrote to my mother as a trusted confidant.

I considered discarding the letters, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. Her letters are funny and frank and expressive. At the time she wrote them, she was still in her early forties, which seems quite young to me now. They offer a perspective into her thoughts that she would have been unlikely to share with her children at the time—comparable to a diary. I can’t say I’ve ever had a similar glimpse into my parents’ unguarded thoughts.

Using my Ancestry account, I was able to ascertain that this person’s daughter also has an account and has posted a family tree. I wrote her a message, telling her about the letters and asking if she would like them. I told her I wasn’t sure if it would seem intrusive or inappropriate (and I apologized if it seemed that way), but I just couldn’t throw away the letters without asking her first. The letters were written over fifty years ago and the letter writer has been dead for thirty, so it seems safe to let those private thoughts out. I haven’t heard from the daughter yet.

Would you have discarded the letters and let their sentiments stay private? Have you ever been in possession of family secrets? What did you do with them?

Happy Chocolate Cake Day

Apparently today is Chocolate Cake Day.  Personally I wouldn’t have thought the chocolate cake celebration should be confined to just one day of the year, but I suppose January 27 is just a good an anchor as any other day.

While I love chocolate cake, I don’t really have a favorite chocolate cake recipe.  I like to try lots of things.  I’m particularly fond of Anna’s chocolate zucchini cake and I love bundt cakes with tunnels of fudge.  But since I don’t have a favorite, it was easy to try a new recipe a few months back.  I found it in More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin:

Happy Winter Fudge Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a 9 1/2- by 3-inch springform pan fitted with a tube bottom.
  2. Melt 3 squares semisweet chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat
    and let the chocolate cool.
  3. In a bowl mix 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder,
    and 1 teaspoon each baking powder and baking soda.
  4. In another bowl with a mixer mix 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons softened butter,
    cut in little pieces, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt and
    then beat in the melted chocolate.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and add 1 cup chocolate
    morsels, large or small.
  6. Turn the batter into the pan and bake the cake in the middle of the
    oven for 45 minutes. The cake will pull away slightly from the side of
    the pan. Let the cake cool for 30 minutes, remove the side of the pan,
    and invert the cake onto a plate, removing the bottom of the pan.

She suggests adding lots of icing flowers if you’re trying to entice children to eat an “un-iced” cake, but YA and I ate it sans decorations and it was quite rich, moist and fudgy (is that a word?)

Tell me your idea for a favorite chocolate to eat today?  Or do you prefer a different day to celebrate chocolate cake?

Shining Through

During pandemic, one of the ways I’ve been keeping myself busy is by making jewelry.  I’ve done a handful of “kits” from a craft company I like that features glass tiles over various kinds of artwork.  A few bracelets, some necklaces and a good number of earrings.

When I saw that the largest diamond ever discovered in the world was found on this day in 1905, I was intrigued.  The Cullinan was mined in South Africa at 3,106.75 carats – about the size of a baseball. Nothing larger has ever been found.  It was given to King Edward VII in 1907 and was eventually cleaved in 1908 into 9 large stones, 97 small “brilliants”.  The worth of the Cullinan is listed as “about” 2 billion dollars and almost all the diamonds belong to the English royal family and are housed in the Tower of London along with the other Crown Jewels.  

I assume it goes without saying that none of my jewelry kits includes any diamonds.  I would be too nervous to own jewelry that had any significant value, not to mention that I don’t actually care much for precious stones.   Of course it’s just ridiculous that I am making jewelry these days…I suppose I could wear earrings and rings every day but they would just clash with my sweat pants.  Once a month I do wear earrings for my Zoom book club, but that’s it.  Hopefully if pandemic ends, I’ll have some occasions for jewelry again.  

How are you like to get decked out?  Any diamonds in your safe-deposit box?

Bad math

My math was wrong.  When I figured the daily average, I based it on only working on the puzzle every other day.  I completely neglected to take into account my personality.  I worked on the puzzle every day – usually for about an hour.  Then on Thursday, the tipping point arrived and the pieces started to find their way more easily.  Unfortunately, this means I spent about 6 hours sitting at the table and when I went to bed and closed my eyes, I saw puzzle pieces behind my eyelids. 

Took one last hour yesterday morning to finish up.  I was thinking right down to the end that we would be missing a couple of pieces (cat, dog, vacuum…) because there was one spot that I had been searching to fill for days.  But lo and behold, the last two pieces fit together to go right in that spot!

I’ve talked about this silly puzzle to so many folks that I texted the picture to a fair number of people and I am in no hurry whatsoever to take it apart and put it back in the box.  I thought briefly about using puzzle glue to cement it but I don’t have any wall space!  And I promise not to bring puzzles up any more on the trail.

What is something that you are particularly proud of?

Llama Llama Ding Dong

Llamas are “in” – they have been for a couple of years.  Lots of llama t-shirts, mugs, posters, pins, rubber stamps – you name it, you can find it these days.  I even bought a little stuffed llama when I was in Peru; it seemed the thing to do.

YA came to me three weeks ago after finding a local llama “petting farm” in Waconia (she found it on TikTok).  For a fee (relatively small in my estimation), you could pet llamas, feed llamas and even take a trail walk with a llama.  With nothing else on our horizon, we figured why not. It’s apparently quite popular so it took a couple of weeks between contacting them and getting a reservation.  We headed out on Wednesday, the farm being about 30 minutes from our house.

First there was a “llama lesson” with interesting facts about llamas as well as how to tell a llama from an alpaca.  There was another mother/daughter scheduled during our time slot, but they had shown up early; YA and got the llama guy all to ourselves.  This was fabulous because I could indulge myself by asking as many questions as I wanted.  Usually when there are stranger involved, I hold back (go ahead, laugh).  We also brought a bag of baby carrots.  Some of the llamas thought this was wonderful, some of them didn’t.  My llama (Pacesetter) was extremely leery of the carrots, but YA’s llama (Mocha) couldn’t get enough. 

The trail walk was about 20 minutes – without the snow, it would be faster, but the llamas weren’t in a hurry and it was just the four of us (YA, me, Pacesetter and Mocha) so we didn’t have to worry about keeping up with anyone else (or hold anyone else back).   We were there altogether about 90 minutes and the llama guy said we should come back in early May when there are baby llamas (crias) for petting and photo ops.  We came right home and emailed them for that reservation!

When was the last time you visited a zoo/petting farm?

Inauguration Poetry

I’m not an inauguration kind of person.  I know they happen, but political speeches just don’t do it for me.  Even on a day when I was particularly glad that a certain inauguration was happening, I just didn’t want to watch.  Except for the poetry.  I can’t put the whole poem here (copyright issues) but I like this part quite a bit:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

I was surprised to discover that only four presidents have included poetry at their inaugurations: JFK, Clinton, Obama and now Biden (Carter had a poem but it was read at the gala not the swearing-in ceremony).   It will be interesting to see if the other party eventually decides to add poetry to their inauguration traditions.

While I’m happy about events this week, I admit I am still shaken by what the last four years has unearthed and disgorged in our nation.  So here is my haiku for the inauguration:

Breathing easier –

But still worried about us,

Too many crazies.

Any poetry speaking to you this week?  Yours or anybody else’s?

Talkin’ ‘Bout My G-Generation

Last week, the Day After the Madness in DC, my daughter and I had a conversation. We packed a lot into a few minutes, she and I – and that conversation has stuck with me, because of what she asked and how she asked it.

On the Day After the Madness in DC, she said that each of her classes took some time to let everyone talk about the events of the prior day. What were their thoughts, what were they feeling, what might they do (if anything) about it? The sort of questions you might expect, especially in a high school history class (one of her classes that day).

This is what stuck with my daughter: her teachers reminded her and her fellow students that they are the future and they can make things better. And she wanted to know, appealed to me to know if I am honest, if I was told the same thing when I was her age. It was clear she felt the message was that the onus was on her and her peers to figure out how to fix what we did not. She wanted to know if the same demand was placed on me, because her eyes and her person was telling me it felt like too much in that moment – too much for her and her peers to take on alone, unfair that my generation was asking them to repair and change what we could or would not, and not right that we should deny responsibility for the mess that we made or allowed to happen.

I assured her that yes, we were told the same thing – that we could and should make things better. That yes, with each generation some of the responsibility to make change is passed on. We tried our best, we got some things right and some things we clearly did not. There is work that takes more than a generation to get right, change that was started before I was born that still needs our voices and labor to bring to fruition. I did my best to assure her that it wasn’t all on her and her peers’ shoulders, I and my peers would be standing with them.

In that moment I saw her fear that change wasn’t possible, that hatred and bigotry are more powerful than inclusion and justice. All I could do was assure her that we can still aspire to be better, we have been working for and will continue to work for change. That while we have made progress for equity in some places, in others there is still a lot to do and I will be there along side her as the generation before me stood with me in the work of justice and change. I’m not sure it was enough because I couldn’t tell her that there will be an end to when each new generation is asked to pick up the mantle, that maybe, just maybe, she will see real change in her lifetime. Because in that moment, I wasn’t sure that I had seen it yet in mine. (Yes, with distance, I can see that there has been good change, real change, but in that moment it was hard to see.) The kids have picked up the mantle, of that I am sure, but don’t let them carry it alone. We still have time. We don’t have to take our hand off the baton in this relay just yet. We can still make change.

Have you ever felt like too much was being asked of you? What did the prior generation pass on to you that you weren’t ready for just yet?

At Her Wit’s End

I was “that” mom – the one who threw the overdone birthday parties for her kid.  Themes, arts & crafts, fun food, take-home bags.  My theory was that I would only have a short window for this kind of silliness because as soon as Child hit 11 or 12, she wouldn’t stand for it any longer.  I was correct.

Fast forward all these years and I’m still having trouble letting it go.  YA hits 26 tomorrow and maybe it’s the pandemic and shelter-in-place talking, but I clearly want to celebrate more than she does.  After quite a bit of prompting I got her to “allow” Peanut Butter Rice Krispy Bars; I got sprinkles and a little decorating icing to pipe “Happy Birthday” on the bars once they’re done.  I also told her I would order take-out – she hasn’t decided what she would like.  I have a gift all wrapped up and I couldn’t help myself; I made a nice banner (photo above) to hang in the dining room archway along with two balloons (a big “2” and “6”).  I’m pretty sure this is all she’ll stand for but I’m looking forward to it.

Are you trying anybody’s patience these days?

It’s a Mystery

You all know that I turn the tv on for background and comfort; I rarely watch anything “new”.  In the last few weeks, I’ve turned even more to my oldies but goodies.  Not sure if it’s the weather or the holidays being over or even 2021 being a buzz-kill for the time being.

So I’ve been happy that a couple of movies that I really like have been available on demand through my cable company.  The World of Henry Orient is one and two old Agatha Christie’s as well: Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun.  Knowing that these won’t be around forever on demand, I’ve been watching them quite a bit, as if I can fill myself up with them before they’re gone.  Yesterday, I not only watched all three of these while I was working in my studio, I followed them up by watching Murder on the Orient Express (the old one), which I actually own.  I love Agatha Christie, although she breaks one of my “rules”; she almost always leaves out one or two necessary clues for the reader to figure out the mystery. 

YA came into my studio while Death on the Nile was playing and she commented that I should know the whole movie by heart by now.  She might be right – I can do most of the dialog right along with the actors.  One of my favorite scenes contains this bit:

  • Hercule Poirot: Do not allow evil into your heart, it will make a home there.
  • Jacqueline de Bellfort:  If love can’t live there, evil will do just as well.

So melodramatic – I love it.  I’ve searched for a couple other Agatha Christie movies with the library – can’t wait for those either. 

Tell me a movie you’ve watched more than once.  Way more than once??


Today’s post comes to us from Ben.

Kelly and I both took some time off over the holidays and we both had things, “projects”, we wanted to do. Kelly aspires higher than me and she wanted to paint a room or something. I always think that sounds like a lot of work.  

I had two plans: 1) Clean the refrigerator. 2) Clean off the counter in the mudroom.

I did actually manage to get them both done. On Sunday. Before going back to work on January 4th. I laughed at myself that I had to wait until the last minute to get them done.

Neither job was hard of course. Not like painting the living room or anything.

The fridge wasn’t terrible: there was the usual crud on the back of the shelves and bits stuck in the edges. Is there a good way to clean a fridge? The warm water turns cold so quick. The glass shelves scare me a bit because I’m always afraid I’ll knock it off the counter or drop it in the sink. And I didn’t want to take EVERYTHING out at once; I cleared one shelf, then shifted things around as I cleaned and replaced things. I used the vacuum for the crumbs.

Once done it looked very nice and I didn’t even redo the shelves or anything, just put it all back just like it was. I think the layout works well.

The mudroom counter, just the one side, had turned into a catch-all. It wasn’t hard to decide what to throw and what to take out to the shop and what to keep. Then moved that bit, cleaned and scrubbed the counter. Good to have that done too. Easier to keep it clean in the first place, but oh so easy to just set stuff down too. Any horizontal surface turns into a catch all if we’re not careful.

What’s your next quick little project?