So: only ten?!?!

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I keep getting tagged on Facebook (thanks, fellow book lovers, Stuart and Sheree!) to share the ten books that have made the biggest impact in my life. This started happening right before I went on vacation a few weeks ago and until now, I haven’t had the bandwidth to address to this mind-blowing ask.

Mind-blowing because I have been reading forever—and there are a lot of books that have impacted me. No joke since my mom was a teacher and taught me how to read before I was in pre-school, probably so I would amuse myself while she looked after my two years younger brother. Instead of napping (which I hated), I’d head to my room to read. And stay there for hours. No one ever had to encourage me to go to the library. Teachers never had to prod me to challenge myself—I read what I liked and looking back on it read books I probably didn’t fully understand when I was in elementary school.

But in the past 8 years, I’ve gotten out of the habit. Reading social media posts, blogs, snippets of information, and magazines have replaced the books in my life. TV too. It’s easy to keep looking at screens after looking at them all day. And that’s why I decided to abandon my iPad. Although I love the convenience of having lots of reading material at my disposal, those books and magazines are languishing behind the glass. I forget that they’re there.

A BIG thank you to my sweet friend Melissa for giving me the book Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life (perhaps a hint, but a nice read regardless) because it really and truly was the catalyst to reigniting my passion for reading earlier this summer. And reminding me just how much I really loved to hold a real book in my hands.

Then I read two books (Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s and Divergent) during my vacation and they applied a swift blow to my noggin with the long-lost steel-toed Doc Martins of my youth. “How could you have forgotten us? We’ve been friends for most of your life? We will not be replaced!” they said, speaking on behalf of the shelves of their brethren I’ve plowed through and cast aside. So now it’s back to paper for me.

I’m frequently mocked for being a fast reader. Truth is I’m a reading glutton. If I love a book, it’s a deliciously gooey and decadent feast. No matter how much I get through, I can’t get enough. I will devour that book—sleep, chores, whatever, be damned. If I don’t love it, I know myself well enough that it needs to be donated to charity immediately. Or returned to the library. Or left in an airplane seat pocket. Otherwise, it will languish on a dusty bookshelf until we move to another dwelling.

Yes, my name is Julie and I’m addicted to reading. Now that you know another of my dirty little secrets, you’ll understand why I’m reading more again. It’s a great vice for a middle-aged writer. And it won’t make me fat or put a hurting on the bank account.

Without further ado, here are 10 books I love that influenced my thoughts, perspective on many things, and writing. Admittedly I am cheating just a wee bit with the excesses presented in my list. And my list could change tomorrow once I ponder what I’ve forgotten, but today’s 10 are a certainly a diverse and motley crew:

1. Ogilvy on Advertising: Without a doubt, this is the book that made me realize that advertising was the right career for me. I was given it as a first day of work assignment by my first “adult job” boss and I polished it off in a couple of hours. Then I re-read it. And thought to myself, “One day, I want to work for this guy.” I never got that wish, but many years later, I worked at the place with his name on the door.

2. Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, I love sci-fi. And dystopian fiction. And all of William Gibson’s books. Nerd!

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Canadian content that I didn’t realize was Canadian when I read it back in high school. And more dystopian fiction.

4. Anything by Dr. Seuss. I’m a big fan

5. The Bobbsey Twins entire series/Hardy Boys entire series/Nancy Drew entire series. And I am thrilled that my three little nieces will get to enjoy the ones my mom squirreled away in a box in her garage (they were hers too!) in a few more years.

6. The Little House on the Prairie series.

7. Lord of the Rings series (If it’s not obvious yet that I really, really, really like books that come in series, you may need to know that I also loved the Twilight series and all the Harry Potter books, although not the movies. Also all of the Shopaholic books and anything by Sophie Kinsella. Truthfully, I don’t really like the stories to end and the characters to leave me.)

8. The Diary of a Young Girl. It gave a face to something completely incomprehensible to me. Another book I’ve read many times.

9. The Catcher in the Rye. Yes, I could be a moody teen. I loved all of Salinger’s works and really do hope that he left us a manuscript.

10. tie: The Riverside Shakespeare and New Oxford Annotated Bible. Both of these books were critical to my undergraduate degree in English and what I learned in the classes where I used them has proven to be extremely useful in adult life for a whole variety of reasons.

And if you’re wondering if my book choices are similar to others, here’s a cool infographic.

If you’ve been missing the gratuitous dog photos because I’ve been too busy reading/gardening/working/vacationing/a whole bunch of things I’ll catch you up on later, don’t worry, here’s a cute one:

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George snuggling with Guinness during a thunderstorm

 

PS: In the past few weeks I’ve been reading whole novels in one sitting. Real books, not on my iPad. I’m thinking I’d better renew my library card. I seem to be loving young adult novels: Tuesday night’s was The Fault in Our Stars and I plowed through Divergent on our flight back from London. Both were exactly what I needed to relax and enjoy some time well spent.

So: understanding gifts

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My cousin Ann passed away on July 23 just a month after being diagnosed with cancer. We never lived near enough to each other to hang out a lot and our 10-year age difference probably wouldn’t have made us best buds as kids, even though she always made a point to spend time with me when our family visited hers. Maybe that’s because in addition to sharing the same middle name, we have many similarities, including being what some people call “free spirits.”

Ann spent her life caring for and supporting others as a nurse and also as a laughter yoga instructor. She was a very spiritual person, mediated daily, and built a labyrinth on her property with the help of many friends. S In my adult life, I really enjoyed our email correspondence. And I will treasure the memories of her visit to Toronto with her husband and son. She will be deeply missed by all of the people whose lives she touched.

Today her family is holding a celebration of her life and while I can’t be with her family and friends in person, I will be remembering her today. Hopefully I’ll get a lot of laughs in because that’s what she’d want.

I shared the poem that follows with her son and husband.

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Understanding the gift

Laughing high school student babysitting
An enthusiastic 5 year old.

Laughing working woman mentoring
An angst-filled high school student.

Laughing vacationer reminding
A jaded worker what’s really important

You always included me.
You always invited me.
You always laughed for me.
Because you always loved me.
Even though we were so far apart.

I could feel your laughs
Through your emails
And funny notes.

I could see your laughs
When you shared your dreams
In all their wild glories.

But I only understood your laughs
Once I really thought about them

They were breaths of kindness.
Sounds of compassion.
Exclamations of love.
All verbal embraces.
Freely given.

Precious gifts bestowed on many.
To make them rich beyond their wildest dreams
Not in their wallets!
In the place where it really matters.
The place where love resides.

Your laughter forced hearts open wider
Teacher, we’ll pay it forward.
And whenever we hear our own laughter,
We’ll feel your voice.

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From Ann’s obituary: “Her motto: “Fear less and be fearless ” teachs us it will be okay. Live well, laugh often, “Namaste”.”

We would all be well served to follow her words.

 

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Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.

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Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.

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Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!

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The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:

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Godiva tolerating George

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George tolerating Gadget

 

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Sow: green sauce

Happy July 4th and happy post-Canada Day! It’s the time for celebration! Fireworks!* Parties! Eating!

Remember when you were a kid and the summer was the fun time of year when you could do whatever you wanted to do. Every. Single. Day. Eating ice cream and watermelon (spitting the seeds when your mom wasn’t looking). Riding your bike. Swimming from dawn to dusk. Staying up late. Running around and playing outside.

Even though this grown up is mostly enjoying this summer in the over air conditioned comfort of a concrete and glass box, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine and fun that comes with the season. Like right now: I’m sitting at the patio table (yes, we get wifi outside!), enjoying the sounds of summer (leaf blowers and birds chirping), admiring the jungly Urban Farm and watching the Gs lounge about.

It’s been fun seeing old pals (right, Helen, Christine, Fred and Chris?), meeting new ones (that’s you, Cam, Jon, and Louie), enjoying an amazing harvest on almost a daily basis, enjoying long walks with Bruce and the Gs, exploring new parts of Dallas, and yes, enjoying tasty treats. Luckily for us, lots of yummy stuff is coming directly from the Urban Farm.

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the first tomatillos with their husks still on. in the supermarket the husks are usually pretty dried out and more brown. they are also $2.99/lb at our local Albertsons.

One of those treats has to do with my tomatillo experimentation. I’ve harvested about 1 1/2 pounds of tomatillos  so far with more to come (so about $4.50 worth if you’re shopping at Albertsons). I planted them so I could make jars of homemade salsa verde (literal translation is “green sauce”.)

I’ve never really made it before—or knew how bountiful the plants could be. Usually I just pick up a jar at the grocery story.

When we got the latest issue of Bon Appetit, Bruce mentioned that he saw a simple recipe for salsa verde on one of the first pages of the issue. With almost all the required ingredients, I decided to give it a whirl, literally, as you’ll see in just a moment.

So we had tomatillos, onions, and cilantro leftover from a recipe (it’s too hot for it to grow here right now, it’s a fall/winter/spring herb). And lots of peppers.

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lots of peppers

But we didn’t have Serrano chiles. We have poblanos, jalapeños, and bell peppers. I picked jalapeños as my Serrano replacement, but I guess any spicy pepper would do.

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the recipe inspiration — thanks, Bruce!

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ready for a whirl in the Nutribullet

It was pretty easy to husk and quarter the tomatillos. I peeled and quartered the onion. Threw the cilantro in there too. And I was careful with the jalapeño since sometimes they have a big unexpected bite. I didn’t really bother to chop anything up much because Bruce’s magical green drink blender was going to do all the hard work.

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the finished product: a big jar of salsa verde in mere seconds!

If you make it, grab some tortilla chips and a bunch of friends and plow through it—this is good stuff. We also like it as a sauce on white fish (excellent on cod for example). It’s good on eggs, tacos, grilled meat, perhaps you’ll want to try it on some  veggies or as a quick alternative potato salad dressing. I made it last weekend and  we still have about 1/2 jar left but I bet it’s gone by Sunday. Let me know if you try making it. My next version will be roasting the tomatillos first because I like the smoky char taste.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day is our 4th of July boy George:

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George and his trout (there may also be a tennis ball in his mouth)

 

* Despite my love of fireworks, they’re not allowed at the Mortroski Midcentury. Our sweet Georgie is ours as a result of a fireworks accident. Read more about his story here and here. Please keep your 4-legged pals safely inside tonight if you’re located in the U.S.of A.

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So: paint my pup

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On Sunday afternoon, Bruce and I set off to do something different and explore a new (to us) part of Dallas. It was pouring so it put a little damper (ha!) on our attempts to explore the areas surrounding White Rock Lake. But that wasn’t the main event. You see, I signed us up for a “Paint Your Pet” class at Pinot’s Palette, a franchised drink wine/eat snacks while you paint place.

Even though it’s completely wrong to pick a favorite when you have four dogs to choose from, you may have gathered from my previous posts that George has grabbed a bigger place in my heart than the others. His goofiness, his need to  carry toys in his mouth at all times, and his love of snuggling may have started this love fest, but the fact that he follows me around (the others all follow Bruce), didn’t hurt. So I decided that I’d paint my favorite photo of George. Yes, he has two tennis balls in his mouth. He had three but he dropped one before the photo was snapped.

The whole process was easy. When we showed up, the photos we provided were already printed on the canvas (see above) and they had put brushes, a cup of water and a paper plate with black and white paint on it. The instructor told us to bring our photo and the paper plate and line up to get the rest of the paint we needed. While we were getting paint, the helpers told us how to mix the colors we needed.

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One coat of background green underway

We then went back to our easels to paint the background. I chose a bright green to make George stand out more.

Background done. Time to start painting.

Background done.

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Since we are not framing our “masterpieces” we painted the sides the background color too. Photo by Bruce

After we were happy with our backgrounds, it was time to start creating the shading and definition. The instructor helped us to understand why it was important, but he also made it look too easy. It was actually hard! And mixing the colors was also a little tricky. So I kind of forgot that we were also supposed to be drinking wine while painting. Probably better for the painting though.

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some shading and white underway

Lots of things were really hard to paint: the tennis balls and George’s nose. All three are a little lopsided. But his eyes turned out much better than I thought they would. The pink area is George’s scar tissue where his fur doesn’t grow.

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It kinda looks likes George. Photo by Bruce

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The painting kinda resembles the photo. Not bad for a first timer.

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The finished George painting.

Bruce picked Gidget. As the last to arrive, Gidget doesn’t appear in as many photos around the house, so I think he wanted her to have a nice picture too. He also liked the blue color of her pool as a background color.

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Bruce painting the background.

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Bruce did a great job on Gidget! Photo by Bruce

No gratuitous G photo today—you got to see plenty of gratuitous George and Gidget. But if you’ve ever thought about doing one of those paint and drink wine classes, do it! It’s fun and you get a souvenir to take home.

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So: eating okra

I’m not from around these parts, so plenty of people find it very humorous that I grow okra. Usually these native Texans tell me how much they hate okra, how it’s yucky and slimy. Maybe their moms or grandmas made them eat it, but I never ate it regularly as a kid. My grandmother put it in one of her soups and I always thought it was pretty cool since it looks a bit like a flower, but since I didn’t see my grandparents all that often, it wasn’t on the normal vegetable rotation. Still I always scoured my bowl looking for the “flowers.” She probably thought it was pretty funny that I liked it so much.

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how okra grows

Bruce definitely NEVER ate okra until we moved to Texas, at least not knowingly. In Toronto, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the grocery store except in the frozen section. And while it probably grows in California, my mom never bought it.

So here we are in a climate where it’s super hot and dry. Okra likes both of those things as does Malabar spinach, peppers of all kinds, tomatillos, and black eyed peas.Can you tell  I like being a successful gardener (remember my tomato despair)? That’s why we’re eating what grows locally. Just a few okra plants will produce several meals worth per week for two hungry adults until the killing frost comes in November. Nothing is fresher than heading out to the urban farm and picking what’s for dinner right before dinner!

We’ve already had a couple of okra meals in the past two weeks. In North Texas, most people will fry their okra. A few pickle it—I love pickled okra but it’s still too early in the season to do it. You need volume and that won’t really come until August or September. Some people now roast it or even grill okra. All four of those ways are very good, but since we’re of the age where you shouldn’t consume much fried stuff, fried’s not really on our table.

Here’s how we usually eat it:

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Sauté some chopped onions and a jalapeño or any pepper you have on hand in your favorite olive oil (I use a garlic one from Trader Joe’s).

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Chop up some okra into rounds and add to your skillet.

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Let the okra start roasting, then add some frozen corn (or fresh if you have it). 

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Add a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you have nice big tomatoes) and let the whole thing cook down for a few minutes.

Now you could season it all up with hot sauce, salt and pepper and pour it over rice or pasta or quinoa and eat it as is, but we usually throw in some fish and have a one-pot meal. I’m also going to try it with chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) this summer.

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This is thawed frozen cod. I just put it on top and let it cook until done. No flipping necessary. I’ve also used tilapia and other white fish.

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The finished product served over a quinoa/rice mixture! See all the little flowers? Add hot sauce if you like — I usually do.

An easy-peasy delicious weeknight dinner that we’ll enjoy many times over the months to come. Let me know if you try it and what special touches you put on it. If I have cilantro, sometimes I add that. Or I use salsa instead of canned tomatoes. The main thing is if you are afraid of slimy okra, do something like this and cook it with something acidic like tomatoes. There’s no sliminess at all, just deliciousness. You can make it with frozen okra too—I freeze our okra whole, then thaw and slice when I’m ready to use it.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Guinness and George are snuggling together a lot more these days. Not sure what has brought this on, but Guinness doesn’t seem to mind at all. Photo by Christine Watson.

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Sow: urban farm update

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Lots of amazing stuff is happening on the Urban Farm. We’ve had amazing weather and rain! June’s been cooler than normal at night, but we’re back into the 90°s during the day. Everything’s looking quite jungle-y and very green. The blackeyed peas are getting bigger. The okra is producing and we’ve had a couple of meals from it. The feral tomatoes are starting to turn red. The Malabar spinach is covering the trellises. The basil seems to grow as fast as I cut it. I’ve been picking peppers right and left. It’s a great time of year where I’m not buying produce at the store, except for fruit. And I’ve been giving it away like crazy.

Here are a few photos of what’s been going on:

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We’ve had several weeks of beets now. The Detroit reds have won for best all around flavor so they’re the only ones I’ll grow in the fall. 

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I’ve harvested about 10 of the feral Sweet 100s. After all the tomatoes are harvested I’m going to leave the plants in the ground and see if I can get a second harvest in the fall.

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The feral tomato plants covered with bird net so the birds don’t eat all of the tomatoes

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Since I didn’t know I was growing tomatoes, I had to rig up a way to keep the bird net in place. Hooks on the fence, a couple of tomato cages and some bricks were my solution.

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Okra is well underway

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Flowers on the green bean vines

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Bell peppers are going strong

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A big black and white bug seems to like green bean leaves

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This weekend our pal Fred is going to make some of his famous jalapeño poppers using these beauties. They are amazingly delicious bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed jalapeños that are grilled on the BBQ. I will harvest Friday.

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Lots of jalapeños

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The tomatillos look like patio lanterns. I can’t wait to make salsa verde. The plants are probably at least 4 ft tall. You can see poblano peppers in the background.

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This shot of the blackeyed peas is about a week old. They have doubled in since then.

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Tiny tomatoes turning red

And for today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day, here are my bathing beauties enjoying their pool:

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So: ode to my in-laws


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Some people make jokes about their in-laws or complain that they aren’t liked or appreciated by their spouse’s parents. Not me.

From the moment I showed up at their house on American Thanksgiving 20 years ago, I knew I was welcome. Ed cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, even though Canadian Thanksgiving had been the month before and everyone had already enjoyed the fall turkey dinner together. Marge invited Cathy, Linda, Peggy and their spouses and kids over for another feast and to meet Bruce’s new girlfriend from California.

It was an overwhelming day for someone who spent very few holidays with a big family. My ears rang and my head hurt when Bruce and I finally left that night. My family’s Thanksgiving dinners were tiny, sedate and quiet by comparison. I realized quickly that I’d have to speak up or never get a word in edgewise. It was the first of many excellent lessons, useful in many situations.

Maybe that’s why Ed was always so quiet. With all those females talking at once, there was no space for his words.

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After Bruce and I got married, I always looked forward to Canadian Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. While I really didn’t have to do anything since Ed did all the cooking up until he was not well enough to do it, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping however I could. He taught me how to make his “secret” stuffing recipe. He taught me how to make gravy the old fashioned way with drippings, flour, and plenty of stirring. He made me brussels sprouts because he knew how much I liked them. So I became his helper and dishwasher (up until Marge and Ed got their first dishwasher in the early 2000s).

And I learned that while he had a recipe for his secret stuffing recipe and many other treasured family favorites, he always improvised and added new things. So try as I may, it will never be quite as good as his. The same goes with his potato salad. I have the recipe for that too. Ed liked to tinker and adjust, but he knew that perfection was a never-ending quest and it was through striving that he got satisfaction. Raising the bar each time on the task at hand was an another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Ed gave me more than cooking tips, great food, and recipes. He taught me about other things he loved like Canada, cottaging, boats, and fishing. He gave me tips about plants. He told me about the company he retired from. He told me stories about long gone stores where he and Bruce went when Bruce was a boy and other bits of trivia of the area. He insisted that I visit the historical sights. He showed me things that he treasured and kept around just in case.

He didn’t even mind that one summer day he took Bruce and me out in his boat on Lake Ontario and I fell asleep because my allergy medicine knocked me out. He knew that I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience—and the pollen. Ed taught me that being still and quiet was ok, that I’d learn a lot if I just watched and listened. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Marge and her mother Marie Antoinette

I knew I was loved every time Marge bought me socks and underwear for Christmas. Or a gift card from a store that she knew I liked. She gave me chocolate for Valentine’s Day and Easter. She’d press Coffee Crisp bars on me like I was one of the grandchildren because she knew I loved them and she enjoyed giving them out. She was very kind to me and extremely generous with what she had. She threw me a bridal shower even though Bruce and I got married on a beach in St. Lucia because she wanted people to meet me and she wanted us to have a good start in married life. And while she may have considered the things she did to be expected, they’ve stuck with me. Small gestures can be mean a lot. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

As a newlywed, I also learned about the huge wardrobe in the bedroom that was Bruce’s as a kid. It was crammed full of toilet paper, tissues, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, bandaids. You name it, if it was for personal hygiene, it was stockpiled there. She did the same thing with towels. You see Marge grew up poor and even though she and Ed weren’t exactly rich, she knew that a family of six went through a lot of that sort of stuff. But after the kids all moved out, Marge never really scaled back. While I don’t stockpile on the same scale as Marge did, our pantry is perpetually full. So is our freezer. And our linen closet too, though it’s not all about towels. We always have extras, just in case. Having a backup is another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

But the way I really knew I was loved was that Marge repeated her most treasured stories to me, over and over again, because she wanted me to know them and know how much those memories meant to her. While her kids may have thought the repetition was tiresome, I didn’t. I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with her as we drank cups of the retched instant coffee she favored, she with her little cup and me with a big hand-warming mug so I could put milk in it to cut the taste (and that is why I drink all coffee with milk to this day). Marge just waved the bag of milk over the cup and added the tiniest drop. (A note to non-Canadian readers: in Canada milk comes in a big bag with 4 smaller bags inside. You put one bag at a time in a plastic pitcher and cut off the corner of the bag to pour the milk. The first time I saw one, I accidentally poured milk all over the table.) Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: if something is unfamiliar, ask how to use it.

IMG_4909Marge was sentimental and knew I’d appreciate her words—and just listen quietly. Each time, the story came alive in a new way with additional characters or a layer of detail that wasn’t there in previous tellings. That’s why I treasure having a porcelain tea cup that was part of her mother’s collection—I knew that her mother collected them one by one as she scraped together a little extra money. This collection of cups was one of the only nice things that Marie Antoinette LaPointe Glover had (and yes, Marie Antoinette was French Canadian). I heard family stories, stories about Ed’s Scottish farmer family and their big reunions, stories about the people on the street that didn’t live there anymore, stories about Bruce and Sweet Feet the cat (also known as Toes), stories about waiting up for teenaged daughters breaking curfew to come home. Stories about the grandchildren when they were babies. All of it was very useful to a new person to the family—it was because of those stories that I could follow mealtime conversations and comments made by Bruce and his sisters. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: get the new person up to speed as quickly as possible, then fill in the details after.

I could go on and on with Marge stories. One of the sweetest memories I have was how she would talk about the one place we had in common several times a year. Marge and I bonded over her memories of her trip to California, the day she went to Disneyland, how much she enjoyed seeing Palm Springs, how beautiful she thought the state was. The trip was not especially long, but lingered years later as an important milestone and a common ground with her daughter-in-law.

It’s why sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Hey, I should call Marge and see what she’s up to.” Then I remember, I can’t.

While we said goodbye to Marge in January and Ed left a few years earlier, today, Cathy, Linda, Peggy, and Bruce along with the rest of the extended family will watch as they are put in their final resting place. They’ll be in the cemetery’s mausoleum in the Ontario town where they spent their life together. Whether you call it an “inurnment” or “interment,” it’s not important. After today, instead of the two story brick house with the big yard, we’ll have a new place where we can visit them.

But for me, they won’t be in the carved wood box or behind the marble plate at the cemetery. In my mind’s eye, they’re hanging out on that bench on their porch with our bulldog Daisy beside them. It’s one of my favorite photos (you can see it below) and I hope the happiness that all three of them felt in moment never disappears from my memory.

My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with them. But I believe that we all made the most of the time we had together.

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Today’s gratuitous dog photo is in honor of Marge, Ed and Daisy, our bulldog, may they all rest in peace.

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Daisy, Marge and Ed

Daisy spent a chunk of the later part of her life living at Marge’s and Ed’s house. When Bruce and I decided that I should accept the opportunity to move to Texas, our house sold quickly—to the first couple that saw it. Bruce and Daisy were supposed to join me in a matter of months when Bruce got his Green Card. But that process ended up taking about a year. So Bruce and Daisy moved in with Marge and Ed. And while Bruce’s commute was awful, I think Marge and Ed enjoyed their time with Daisy almost as much as Daisy enjoyed her time with them. I’d like to to think that they’re all together again, Ed throwing the ball for Daisy, Marge feeding Daisy dog treats from the stash in her pocket.

 

Sew: ball of confusion

Like many women of a certain age, my love affair with Pinterest waxes and wains. It’s directly proportional to the amount of time that I need to spend waiting for something or someone. It is a major time vortex. If I’m not careful, I can be in there for hours, pinning recipes I’ll never make and holiday crafts that I’ll remember long after Christmas is past. It’s a late night guilty pleasure, much like some lovely chocolate or some nice leftover snagged out of the fridge.

Pinterest is also my messy filing cabinet. My armchair travel agent. My restaurant critic. My dreams of crafty magnificence. My tentative plans for the big 50th birthday trip I’m planning for Bruce. And of course, a slew of sewing projects for the day when I finally allow myself to get onto the sewing machine and mess around.

There’s also a board devoted to the Gs. And to this blog, though I am massively behind on my pinning (sorry, Frances, and everyone else who loves Pinterest and would prefer to find my updates there).

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Gidget the black and white dog with her partner-in-crime George • photo by Bruce

As you may have gathered, Gidget, the newest G, is the youngest and remains to this day a “handful”. We thought we were done with her  crate (which takes up far too much space in our office/tv room), but every time we put it in the attic, she shows us that she really needs to be in solitary confinement when there are no humans in the house. I assume her four legged siblings are too busy napping to administer any discipline or tell her that she’s an idiot if she pisses off the two-leggeds with the opposable thumbs that can open the magic cold food box, the treat cabinet and the food bin.

In any case, Gidget needs to be busy. And don’t let that sweet and innocent look fool you, she likes to tear stuff apart. Maybe “de-stuff” is more accurate. Dog beds. Dog toys. Stuffed animals. She loves to make it snow fluff all over the house.

So I decided that a ball of confusion might help her with her drive for mayhem. While it’s not really a “sew” project, it’s as close as I’ve gotten in a while:

8. For a dog who loves to tear apart stuffed animals, make a durable activity ball with a Hol-ee rubber ball, scraps of fabric, and treats.

So first, you get a Hol-ee rubber ball (thanks, Bruce!):

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Then you need strips of fleece or some other durable-ish fabric that Gidget won’t destroy immediately. I chose my funky dotted (yet extremely hole-y) bathrobe that I got for free from Ulta when I purchased a whackload of ever-so-necessary cosmetic products around Mother’s Day, Christmas or another important retail holiday.

 

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Next I broke out the wedding gift sewing box that truthfully hasn’t gotten much use in 19 years, except when Bruce needs to fix something of his (sorry, Mom, you know I’m hopeless as a housewife):

 

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Then I started shredding up the bathrobe. The good thing is the sash was already cut to desired thinness. It just needed to be cut into more manageable pieces. The rest of the robe was another story. Let’s just say, we have enough bathrobe to make another ball or restful with clean strips once the current strips are too slobber covered to restuff.

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First strip is wound up and inserted into the Hol-ee ball:

 

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Crammed full of carefully coiled bathrobe strips, ready for Gidget to rip out:

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Once the ball was ready to go, everyone except Guinness seemed very interested because it was a new toy:

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Gidget seemed interested:
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But in the end, the leader of the pack decided to test it out first to make sure it was suitable:

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She was pretty proud of herself:IMG_5286

Since Sunday, there have been strips of cloth all over the house. I keep stuffing them back in. And sweeping up the fringes. While Gidget is interested in this ball of confusion, it appears that Godiva and George are the biggest fans. (Guinness does not play with toys at all.)

And if you’re expecting a gratuitous dog photo today, I’m afraid that you’ve gotten so many in this post that you’re not going to appreciate another. So instead, I leave you with a gratuitous garden photo that’s foreshadowing:

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Black eyed peas: they’re what’s up next

 

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014.

Sow: tree rat vendetta

This is not an ode to the cute, furry and omnipresent squirrel in all its varying colors (ours in North Texas are gray, by the way). If you want that, you’d better go right now to Evil Squirrel’s Nest and have a whirl around that blog. Tons of cartoons and photos. Get your ultra cute tree rat fill. I’m not publicizing those critters here.

No, this is an angry rant. A declaration of war from normally peace-loving me:

“Ok, tree rats, there are now 5 peaches on the huge peach tree. As of Friday, the branches were packed with little developing peaches. Now, there are green peaches all over the yard with one or two bites out of them. If you’re going to steal them and eat them before they’re ripe, you need to finish them. And when you do finish them, you guys keep leaving the pits where Gidget can get them. She’s going to break a tooth just like Guinness did a couple of years ago. We do not need another vet bill for a slab fracture. So as of tonight, every time I see you near the garden, on the fence, in the bird bath, anywhere in the yard, I’m opening the back door and yelling ‘Squirrel!’ Enjoy the exercise, you little bastards.”

I am not kidding.

I am furious there will be no 2014 peach jam. It was going to be the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm’s fabulously delicious Christmas gift. And I was so excited about spending an afternoon cleaning and peeling peaches, prepping them for freezing (it is too hot to make jam in North Texas in July), then finally making jam one afternoon in November when it’s cool enough to break out the canner, boiling water, sterilized jars, and cooling racks. It’s a production that I look forward to. It’s two afternoons of fun. And they’ve been stolen away from me. Bastards.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014.

2013 Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm Precious Peach Jam. Little did I know how precious it would be in 2014. Luckily we have two big jars left.

After my angry post yesterday, my Facebook friends have made quite an assortment of suggestions about how to ensure we have peach jam in 2015. Better dog training. Crown of thorns attached to tree. Metal object hanging from the tree that you switch up when the squirrels aren’t as afraid. BB guns. BB guns with scopes. Air guns. (Remember, we’re in Texas so firepower solves problems, y’all.)

I have defended the squirrels from the Gs since we’ve moved here. No more. I’m thinking the dogs are finally going to get their wish and taste squirrel for the first time.

Here is the gratuitous blood-thirsty squirrel hunter photo of the day:

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Gidget on Saturday between three dog beds, minus their covers (which were in the dryer). Photo by Bruce