Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Of jam making and iPad learning curves

In no particular order because technology has pretty much outwitted me for the last 24 hours or more, I present three photos (I hope) illustrating how Independence Day was observed chez Aurora. Madame Gradka does not so much recognize national holidays, not when there are ten pounds of apricots and three or four quarts of raspberries waiting to be processed in the factory kitchen.

 This year we decided to go for smaller batches but make two different types of jam in the same day. There were challenges--like the large burner which we use for heating the huge canner full of water for sterilizing the jars not working half the time--and distractions (like me using the iPad for taking photos and not realizing that I had it set to take video instead), not to mention the unfortunate discovery, well after we'd finished the whole business, of a dozen or more extra-soft apricots that had been put into the refrigerator for safe keeping. But I insist that this year's output is the most jewel-like ever and we think it taste pretty okay too. 

Apparently, I won't be adding any captions to the photos nor moving them neither. And I'll be learning how to write a post entirely in the HTML window because plain "compose" bounces around madly. I'd kill to know how to get rid of the oh-so-helpful auto-correct feature too. Bon appetit!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What Julia said

. . . it seemed that this desperate power-monger was supported by Texas oil millionaires and that everyone in Washington was scared to death of him. It was beyond me how anybody of any sense of what our country was supposed to stand for could have anything to do with him, no matter how many votes he brought in.

 In the blood-heat of pursuing the enemy, many people are forgetting what we're fighting for. We are fighting for our hard-won liberty and freedom; for our Constitution and the due processes of our laws and for the right to differ in ideas, religion, and politics. I am convinced that in your zeal to fight against our enemies, you, too, have forgotten what you are fighting for.
 --from pages 200 and 202 of My Life in France

I'm reading  Julia Child's memoir of, as the title hints, her time in France. It was recommended to me by the bookseller at Book Larder in Fremont on Independent Bookstore Day and I bought it, in part, because I wanted to buy something at every store I went to that day. In truth, I did not have the highest expectations. The book was put together with, one suspects, coauthor Alex Prudhomme doing most of the work, when Julia was in her early 90s, but it's based on old letters and journals and the like so I expect it's pretty accurate. It isn't the most brilliantly written book ever but I am loving it--in part because who wouldn't love France in the late '40s and early '50s, and in part for the odd bits of cooking instruction scattered throughout, and--in part--because her opinions on the politics of her day could so readily be her opinions on the politics of the 21st century.

 On reflection, maybe that shouldn't be so comforting. But to read her on the topic of "fake news" is pretty damned fine:

"Glad? I should say we are!" Big John thundered. "Why, who wouldn't be? Everybody's glad. But of course you people over there, you wouldn't know how the country feels--all your news is slanted."
   This was hard to take, especially from the man who read only the right-leaning L.A. Times. For the record, Paul and I were avid devourers of the New York Times, the Herald Tribune, Le Figaro, Time, Fortune, The Reporter, Harper's, The New Yorker, even L'Humanitie, not to mention a flood of embassy cables, intelligence briefs, and twenty-four hour wire service and ticker sheets pouring in from around the world. So whose news was slanted? 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A damsel with a dragon

I continue to cough to an absurd extent so today I got as far as the backyard. The backyard, as it happens, was quite rewarding. Not only did I get to watch Shoddy work on the old wooden gutter, I picked enough raspberries to make a raspberry tart. Then this lovely fellow dropped by:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Housiverary 2017 report

Scott notes that I am always blue when I'm sick, and I've been sick for some days now so maybe it's not surprising that I am particularly aware of how pointless and self-indulgent blah de blah blah is when people are being run over or shot or beaten with baseball bats or hell, all of the above. It's an ugly world. It's not right.

And yet I know that some time from now I'll want to know what we did for Housiversary in 2017 and I'll hope to find out by looking at this dusty old blog so I shove all that social consciousness to one side (Cue "Reconstruction Site") and post some photos from this year's adventures.
"Before" shot (midday June 15)

Figuring that this would be about the last year either of us would feel equal to the labor, we opted to finish drywalling the upstairs now, which project included shifting twelve 4x8 sheets of half-inch (because Scott thought we'd never manage the 5/8-inch stuff) drywall from the garage, where Alki Lumber delivered it (along with 4 lengths of 2x4 and a couple of pounds of drywall screws), to the upstairs. The corners are too tight to move it via the inside so we carried it around the house, through the back door, did some fancy 3-point turnings in the kitchen, and then shimmied it up the narrow staircase. Twelve times. In the rain. (Fun fact: this is the first housiversary that has been seriously wet.) It actually went more smoothly than I, for one, anticipated.

 Before we even started moving the drywall I realized I was coming down with something and warned Scott that he'd have to tell me things several times over. I feel it's best to make that sort of thing clear from the outset. Just as he made it clear that the first couple of full sheets placed overhead were going require us to balance the sheets on our heads while climbing ladders. It wasn't until the next day that he told me he had been worried about one of us slipping and us both having our necks broken. Sometimes honesty is good, and sometimes it's best to keep one's mouth shut.

"After" view (after = late on the 16th)
That part went surprisingly smoothly, happily, and while there were some measuring and cutting challenges, and I found it particularly difficult to "lean in" sufficiently while driving in about a million drywall screws, we managed to transform close to all of the sheets into walls. Oh, there's a ton of mudding and taping in our future (unless I can get Scott to agree that we should just stencil "A P O L L O  9" onto one wall and pretend we've deliberately created a space capsule because, by gum, that's what it looks like), but that's certainly not in the immediate future.

We have, unfortunately, a lot of small bits and pieces of drywall left over that I can't see anyone being able to use so I guess it's the drywall recycling in Renton for us some Saturday morning.

 Here (left) Scott is carefully measuring the final space to be filled. (I use "final" somewhat loosely; there's still a large triangular hole for which there is only wood along the hypotenuse (at the bottom); Scott says he has a clever scheme for dealing with that. Me, I'm thinking about curtains.)

 Order is partially restored, meaning I've vacuumed up the worst of the drywall dust and detritus and shifted the Proudfoot Archive back into its corner (a project that was all but derailed when I found the packet of photos that included Ray, age two and a half, in what was supposed to be a dog suit. He looked like a deranged Easter Bunny). Now, when one looks up the stairs, one sees this:

It warms my heart, truly it does. Happy Housiversary, you beautiful old house of Aurora! We love you!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bookstore Day in Photos

In no particular order because it's late and I'm tired:
Self-evident: bikes outside of Phinney Books, our 5th bookstore of the day (about 17.5 miles). It was here that we ran into Bill Thorness who demonstrated his fancy new bike helmet; it has turn signals!
And outside of Queen Anne Book Company (store #3). I bought the new Lyanda Lynn Haupt, but it was Scott's purchase of John Berger's Portraits that impressed the bookseller.
A display of books I found particularly charming at Elliott Bay Book Company (final stop=#8)
And also at Elliott Bay: another display at which I pointed saying, "mine, mine, mine, mine, mine . . ."
Book Larder in Fremont (#6/19.5 miles) where I picked up a copy of "Imbibe" magazine along with a Julia Child book. The clerk told us, "The editor of the magazine is going to be giving a talk here in May" to which Scott replied, "We were just out drinking with him last night!"
It's not all about books and bikes: there were bakery stops (this one at 14.33 miles) as well. Oh Besalu, how I miss you!
Bookshop #4 was Secret Garden where I had to look a good long time to find a book to buy; I finally found the latest (and sadly last) Stuart McLean Vinyl Cafe collection.
First stop of the day was actually a coffee shop: Caffe Umbria on Occidental Square in Pioneer Square. Tres charmant, too. (This was at just over the 6-mile mark, what with the initial attempt at the water taxi; who knew it ran so seldom at this time of year?)
We didn't win any drawings at University Book Store (#7 @ 22.5 miles) but we found some travel books.
First bookshop of  the day; a handful of classic mysteries and "grab bag" containing a couple of ARCs from Seattle Mystery Bookshop
Our rogue not-on-the-official-list bookstore of the day:we stopped at Metsker Maps to get a map so we could find our way down the backside of Queen Anne.
I covet this poster (from the door of Phinney Books).
The fruits of  the day. I am, indeed, firightend to look at the pile of receipts.
Total bike mileage for the day was just about 25 miles; we cheated and took a bus from Mercer to the top of Queen Anne hill and we rode the light rail from the U District to Capitol Hill and then downtown. And yes, a C brought us back to West Seattle. By then it was raining, we had several pounds of books, and Scott's rear light had gone AWOL.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Honey bees make honey; mason bees make food

Plum blossoms, just waiting for apron-wearing bees
It's been a while and, to be honest, my heart isn't so much into writing a scintillating post tonight. It's a waving, perhaps drowning update, mostly to record that we installed twenty mason bee cocoons (some of which had already hatched, meaning some lively bees were coming out of the box I was too impatient to refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes) in the newly relocated mason bee house this evening. The new spot should get a bit more sun, seeing as it won't be entirely engulfed in grape leaves in the next two months (knock on wood). A couple of the already-lively bees obligingly crawled into a couple of the holes in the bee trays, which we take to be a promising sign as well. Fingers crossed and all; goodness knows we've got plenty of blooms on the plum tree that should offer plenty of work for the newcomers. And not only the plum; if I can shift my mind from focusing on wanting to enjoy the fruits of the bees' labor, I have to admit there are other food sources in the yard as well:
This is why it's my favorite time of year chez Aurora. When the sun shines.
In other hasty news, I've updated the Books list to the left to include White Tears and The Bean Trees.* Having just sped-read my way through the NPR review of White Tears, I find that they thought a little more highly of it than I did. It was gripping and a fast, compulsive read, but I felt that I'd read a lot of the book before, and I may have found it less subtle than the NPR reviewer seems to have done.  I bought the copy I read of The Bean Trees on Independent Bookstore Day two years ago. (PSA: This year's Bookstore Day in the US is Saturday, April 29th; go out and support your local bookstores that day--and every day!) I picked it up off a stack of books in Tish's room as I was looking for something relatively short to read last weekend, and it seemed promising. And it was good; just less escape from present-day life than I'd hoped or expected.

"Look at those guys out in the park with no place to go," I said. "And women, too. I've seen whole families out there. While we're in here trying to keep the dry-cleaner bags out of the kids' reach, those mothers are using dry-cleaner bags for their kids' clothes, for God's sake. For raincoats. And feeding them out of the McDonald's dumpster. You'd think that life alone would be punishment enough for those people, but then the cops come around waking them up mornings, knocking them around with their sticks. You've seen it. And everybody else saying hooray, way to go, I got mine, power to the toughest. Clean up the neighborhood and devil take the riffraff. .  . . What I'm saying is nobody feels sorry for anybody anymore, nobody even pretends they do. Not even the President. It's like it's become unpatriotic." 
 -from page 119 of the Olive edition of The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver

Magnolia blossoms against a blue sky
Finally, because it's been a while since I've unloaded photos from my camera, and this at least started with fruit trees, I share that I was surprised to get a package sort of shaped like an aluminum foil box in the mail a few weeks ago. When I was opened it, I was quite pleased to find that it contained swag from The Seagull Project, a local theatre group that specializes in Chekhov to which we gave a chunk of change late last year. Their performance of The Cherry Orchard was quite fine (though I think I preferred their Three Sisters); don't miss a chance to see whatever they do next. Me, I'd love for them to perform Olivier Salad (A Comedy in One Act).
The vodka is an after-market addition for the photo shoot

(This post inspired, at least in part, by Mason Bee Revolution)

* This list should also include the Booker-prize-winning novel, The Sea. A book that clearly made very little impression.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car

Sadly, I can't possibly capture how exquisitely fine F. Tennyson Jesse's A Pin to See The Peepshow  is, though I'll put an excerpt from a late chapter here (spoiler warning!). I wept continuously for the final thirty pages or so of this book; what higher praise can I offer?

 But the thing is, I love that a book can do this--especially a book I'd never heard of before, that I picked up some months ago because it was in the Virago Modern Classics series, and then put aside in a stack of other unread books, largely forgotten until I was looking for something new to read. That such an accidental book, originally published in 1934, can be so surprising and moving: that is the magic of literature. Of words. Of stories.

 Always a pair of these women were with her, always the light burned in the cell, though she was allowed to tie a dark handkerchief over her eyes when she slept; for light had always waked Julia even more easily than noise. Always there was the offer of books, of milk, of bovril, of a walk--now she walked in a different garden from the first one, and alone, save for the officers; a garden from which she could see still more clearly the roofs of free and ordinary houses. She felt it would be something if she could just go back and  walk as she had done before, with the other remand women, in the garden with the circular path and glass-houses; but now, in an irregularly shaped garden with a railing, she wandered aimlessly about and about, on a fine day.
     There were beautiful pigeons that flew about and came down to strut over the earth beside her. They were free, fat and tame. They preened themselves and looked sharply this way and that, so that the light reflected from their beautiful iridescent necks. Julia would watch them walking about, pecking at the grass, eating the bread that she was encouraged to save up for them. She soon gave up this occupation because of the anguish that was hers when the pigeons, with a whirring of wings, rose into the air and were gone. The pigeons might go, but there was something that could not; and that was the view always before her eyes when she exercised--the roofs of houses quite close to her just beyond the prison wall. The  roofs of real houses . . . the devilish cruelty of that glimpse of roofs. It oughtn't to be possible to see smoke coming up from the chimneys of homes. There were people in those houses, people who ate and slept and took baths and clothed themselves after their fancy, who went in and out as they chose, who were so used to seeing the prison as they looked out of their back windows that they thought nothing of it. They might have an increased interest now, as they looked at those grim walls and thought: Julia Starling is in there. She hasn't got much longer. 
    There were people there whose children went to school, whose husbands came home from work; people who made their laundry lists, who did their shopping, who went to the pictures. Oh, Christ! if only she could be one of them, she wouldn't want a lover, she wouldn't want anything but to go in and out of an ordinary house and do ordinary things.
    Every day, when she waked, the roofs of the houses, and the thin spirals from their hearths, hurt her as nothing else hurt her. From the first moment in the morning when she was wakened at half-past six till the last moment at night when she tied the dark handkerchief over her eyes and tried to sleep, after the salty dose of bromide that helped her so little. The night would go in a succession of dozes and nightmares; of patches of bare, bald watchfulness. There would be the change of officers, the pint of tea, the porridge and bread and margarine. Did she want anything extra? Would she like jam, would she like marmalade, or an egg? Anything she wanted, that was the cry. She was allowed whisky and soda with her meals, as many cigarettes as she liked, and a sleeping-draught at night. She could have anything she wanted to nourish and soothe the body they were going to destroy. It was too absurd. Prayers in the chapel . . . nobody had to go to unless they wanted to, and Julia didn't want to.

--from pages 372 - 373 of A Pin to See The Peepshow