Friday, March 27, 2015

Two Certain Things in Life

Yesterday Youngest Daughter pointed out that I haven’t posted on the blog for a “really long time.”   In her view, photos of snow, as populated my last post, are not real posts.

“I’ve been very busy!” I protested.  “I have to do the taxes!”

When one is self-employed, one always has to do taxes.  I don’t necessarily object to paying the taxes, but to the filling out and sending of forms that is ever hanging over my head.  These days I am responsible for more people’s tax documents than my own.

I added, “But you know, I have five or six blog posts floating around in my head all the time.  I don’t get to write them down, and eventually they float away and disappear.”

YD:  “Mom, that’s so sad.  You should put off the taxes and write on your blog.”

Me: “But the punishment for not filing your taxes on time is pretty severe.” 

YD:  “It couldn’t possibly be as bad as a disappearing blog post.”

That’s the spirit.  Accountants, make way for the writers!  (I hope accountants do not take offense.  We are extremely grateful to the accountants who prepare the tax returns for all our elderly relatives.)

The truth is, there is way more to do around here than tax returns.  There are two sure things in the life of the Common Household:  taxes and Passover food.  Folks, Passover is almost upon us.  It’s time to pull out the special recipes and baking materials. 

I didn't have a gold medal, so the
matzo meal has won the Celtic art medal instead.

In the Great Baking Race that is the Common Household preparation for Passover, the three top contenders are matzo meal, cake meal, and potato starch.   Matzo meal gets the gold medal: while most Passover desserts require cake meal and/or potato starch, traditional Passover meal recipes usually call for matzo meal.  You cannot make matzo balls of any size without matzo meal.

For some reason, these matzo balls remind me of
alligators lurking below the surface of the water.

In Passover cooking, eggs get their own category.  They are the heavy-weight champs.  It would be nearly impossible to have the expected Passover without eggs.
For some reason, egg whites at stiff peak do not
count as leavening.  Good thing!

A successful Passover cake, but, according to my husband,
 never as good as my mother-in-law's cake

Passover will be different this year, because we are not having a seder at our house at all.  No cooking of brisket will occur here.  But still, I should get busy baking our family’s three favorites:  Passover lemon squares, Passover brownies, and Passover bagels.

So if you are looking for me, you can find me either at or in the kitchen.  Because it would just be wrong to lie around all day reading Barbara Pym novels and eating bonbons.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Avalanche Manor

A cautionary tale of engineering gone wrong

You thought these were for Mardi Gras, but they are also for Purim.

Purim is the Jewish holiday that comes with costumes, alcohol, revelry, and something called “shalach manot” bags (pronounced Sha-LAKH mah-NOTE  BAGS), which are filled with fun gifts such as hamentaschen, chocolate, potato chips, oranges, and Mardi Gras beads.   

A plethora of hamentaschen, for the Shalach Manot bags

Shalach Manot bags, all ready to be given away!
“Shalach manot bags” is a phrase which, when texted to the Common Household Husband, gets auto-corrected to “avalanche manor bags”.

It turns out we live in Avalanche Manor. 

Outside, on Erev Purim, it got warm enough to cause a dripfest, from melting snow and ice and dripping directly from the sky.  Inside, on Erev Purim, the dripfest partied all the way into our basement.  The Common Household Husband was out, of course. 
This was just the beginning of the flood.  It got more impressive.
I did some quick investigating, and concluded that the water must be coming from melting ice dripping from the deck directly into the house via the doorway.   I supposed that there was a crack between the deck and the house.  Solution: shovel the deck, at least the part right next to the house.  Younger Daughter’s job was to take the photos.  (I had a feeling our efforts should be documented.)
The Common Household Mom, fighting
against nature.
Shoveling the deck turned out to be not so simple.  There was a layer of impenetrable ice under the snow.  I fetched the Shovel for Hacking at Hard Things.  Alas, the ice was unhackable.
The shovel for really tough jobs.
YD and I put our thinking caps on, and decided to try to channel the water away from the supposed crack.  YD fetched some plastic bins and an aluminum roasting pan.  
YD setting up bins and roasting pans.

There was so much water dripping from the gutter above us that the bins were already full by the time we got the whole thing set up.  It became evident that we needed to put something underneath the bins to tilt them away from the house. 

The Army Guys bin
I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could use the Army Guy toys to do this job?!” YD agreed.  It would be like the National Guard coming to our rescue!

I fetched the Army Guys bin.  Much to my surprise when I opened the Army Guys bin I saw this:
Is there a scene in Toy Story in which the Army Guys
get routed by the Polly Pockets and Barbies? That seems
to be what happened here.

Okay, then, Polly Pockets to the rescue!  We randomly pulled out a few pink unicorns and tiny dolls in plastic clothes, and stuck them under the bins.  I am sincerely sorry that we do not have a photo of the Polly Pockets, midriffs bared, heroically holding up the bins.

That really did not do the trick.  Aha!  We’ll use a tried and true Boy Scout solution:  the tarp!  I plunged out into the dripfest again, moved all the bins and Polly Pockets, put the tarp over the crack between the deck and the house, and put the bins back into place.  Just in case the tarp didn’t fully work.  
Tarp, bins, Polly Pockets (underneath the bins) -
the whole Megillah!

Then the temperature started to drop to below freezing again.  I started having second thoughts about our engineering marvel, thinking that it would all freeze and be stuck like that for weeks. 

Just then, the Common Household Husband arrived home.  He examined the situation in the basement.  He said, “That insulation up there is wet.  Let’s push it back so that it is not right above the basement door.”  We did that, and within three minutes the basement flooding stopped.  He went onto the deck, said a few choice words about our clever set up, and removed the whole thing before it got frozen.
It never occurred to me to feel the
insulation (ick) to see if it was wet.

And that’s what we did on Purim.  The weather was so awful that all Purim festivities at our synagogue were cancelled.
You are saying, “That was a mini-flood, not an avalanche.”  Well, yes, but we have several other water-related issues in our house, so it feels like an avalanche.  I might tell you more about those issues later, but right now it’s time to make a pie.  Tomorrow is 3.14.15!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Icicles We Have Known and Loved

Left ice, left ice,
Right ice, right.
Icicles in the morning,
Icicles at night.
How many, many icicles in sight.

Victorian witch-hand icicle scene.

The same icicle, taken with the flash.
Now you can see all the cute baby icicles.

Icicles to right of them,
Icicles to left of them,
Icicles in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd...

This icicle was attached to a huge sheet of ice pasted to the
 front of the house.  Yesterday the whole thing crashed to the
ground and made a spectacular noise. No one was injured.
That's because people have given up going outside.

This poor bush. 

All the icicles have melted and are gone, but before they departed, they caused a scene inside our basement.  If I can ever get out of this Land of Winter Doldrums And Laziness I am stuck in, I will tell you about it. Until then, you can imagine an icicle party, with drinking and loud noises.  That would be appropriate, because it's Purim!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Lord's Prayer for a Snowy Day

Underneath the back steps.

Our Father, who art in heaven, which is not the same thing as the sky which is currently dropping snow on us,

Holy is your name, which we may have taken in vain as we hacked at the two-inch sheet of ice that formed right in front of the door;

Thy springdom come, preferably before March 21st,

Thy will be done, which we would lobby to include sending our excess moisture to the parts of the earth that need it;

Give us this day the chance to get our daily bread, milk, and toilet paper before the snow arrives.

Forgive us for doubting the forecast, as we forgive those who forecast against us;

Lead us not into the temptation of drinking a gallon of hot chocolate in the pretense that it will keep us warm,

But deliver us from yet another school day.

For thine is the kingdom, the power for the furnace, and the glory of (although we complain, we must admit it is) a beautiful landscape of snow stretching on forever and ever. 


Somewhere on those trees there must be leaf buds.

The Senior Snow Fairy had to shovel this twice today,
because Teen Snow Fairy was away all day.

I finally got the sheet of ice next to the back door cleared.  Mostly.
Younger Daughter wrote those last two lines, because I was too cold.  I argued that what the parents want is not another day of closed schools, but quite the opposite.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Office Space

Last Monday I leased office space for four hours at a rate of $350 per hour, and got my car fixed for free.  That’s how I like to look at it.

It all started last Saturday, when the Common Household Husband made the mistake of riding in my car. 

When I ride in his car, the conversation usually goes like this:

Me:  Your car is making a strange noise.

Husband:  Oh.  Let me turn up the radio. 
(He proceeds to ignore the noise for months until the axle breaks.  True story.  And let me tell you, when the car axle breaks, the car does not move.)

But when it’s MY car, this is the conversation:

Husband:    Your car is making a strange noise.

Me:   Oh?

Husband:  Yeah.  It’s much louder than it should be.

Me: It’s always that loud.

Husband:  And the floor is vibrating. 

Me:  It’s a moving vehicle.  Of course the floor is vibrating.

Husband:  You’d better take it in to be looked at.

I made an appointment with the dealer, with the nebulous symptom of “excess road noise,” to which the appointment-maker-person said, “How old are your tires?”

Monday afternoon I showed up at the dealer’s service area, walked toward the receptionist, and was immediately confronted with not one, but two Very Large Dogs (plus a person I presumed was their owner).  I panicked and walked into a different area, approaching a person whom I knew was not the receptionist.  I said, “I have an appointment to have my car looked at.”  The person said, “You want to go over there,” and pointed toward the dogs.  I said that I would wait until Those Dogs left, and why on earth would anyone bring their dogs to a car dealer?

Eventually the dogs entered the waiting area, so I carefully sidled over to the receptionist.  Soon I was standing before Service Advisor Mike.  I sheepishly said, “My car is louder than usual.” 

I bet if my husband were taking in the car, he would have said, “My wife says the car is louder than usual.” 

Mike, who was young enough to be my son, smiled congenially and promised expert mechanicsmanship.    He invited me to take a seat in the waiting area.  I said, “No way.  Not until those Two Very Large Dogs leave.  I can’t believe people bring dogs to the car repair place!”  Mike said, “Actually, a lot of people bring their dogs here.  But if you go past that area, and turn left, you will find an alcove with a table. You could wait there, far away from the dogs.” 

And so I did.  The alcove turned out to be blissfully quiet, with a table I had all to myself.  I got out my computer and started working on crop economics.  After a while Mike appeared. His mechaniscmanship was indeed thorough, as he found not one but four things wrong with the car.  Three of them were dire, as in, the engine will fall out, or the engine will have a nuclear meltdown, or the wheel will seize up.  All the suggested repairs came with dramatic prices.

I called the Common Household Husband, who told me to shop around for a better price. It is not easy to get a car repair quote over the phone, but after 45 minutes, I managed to get some information. Much to my surprise, for two of the repairs, the dealer’s price was competitive.  So I told Service Advisor Mike to do those two repairs, and I happily settled in to my new quiet, dogless office space to try and earn back a fraction of the car repair expenses. Several hours later I left with a new timing belt, water pump, wheel bearing, and some other car parts that sound made-up to deceive common housewives, like “tensioner” and “yaw rate sensor.”

I have decided in the future to follow my husband’s practice.  If I hear a strange noise in the car, I am just going to turn up the radio.

I am looking forward to getting a smaller car,
but we still need this large one for several more years,
for transporting college students and their stuff.
I also included this photo to remind us that
short-sleeve weather has occurred in our lifetime.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Liquid Dinner and Dessert

Tonight it was just Younger Daughter and I at dinner.  We finished off our leftover Valentine’s Day shrimp bisque soup (it’s pink!).  Then I asked her, “Would you like some tea?  Or hot chocolate?”

Younger Daughter enthused, “Oooh!  I would like some of that hot chocolate you made the other day!”

While she did the dishes (yes!) I went to find the recipe.  I measured, stirred, nuked, stirred, and served.

YD:  “If I ever have children I am going to give them this hot chocolate.”

Me:  “Yes, this hot chocolate alone could be a good reason to have children.”

I have The Crislers to thank for this wonderful recipe, except their version makes enough for a whole army of pink-cheeked post-sledding youngsters. If I have that much hot chocolate mix sitting around the house, I will have hot chocolate at every meal and even in-between and will eventually get swept away in a river of hot chocolate.  (Considering how cold it is, that might not be a bad thing.)

I entered the recipe into a spreadsheet to calculate the amounts needed for a single serving.  Curse you, you cumbersome English system of measurements! The amounts I came up with do not add up to 2 Tablespoons of substance, but my recipe is only 3 WW Points Plus, and it tasted very good to me, so I’m sticking with it.

Kristy did say the recipe originally belongs to Martha Stewart, but The Martha’s web site does not have photos of post-sledding youngsters.  Still, I feel that if I ever get to have grandchildren, I will owe a debt of gratitude to both The Crislers and The Martha.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix for One

Put into a large mug:
2 tsp sugar (white, granulated)
1.5 tsp cocoa (I used dark cocoa)
dash salt

Stir in 1 cup skim milk.  Heat in the microwave for 1 min 30 seconds.  Stir thoroughly. Taste to see if it is hot enough.  If needed, microwave for an additional 10 to 20 seconds.