Sounds of Christmas

Actual workplace conversations:

I was playing Philly Brass Christmas between 8:00 and 8:30.

Email from a teacher across the room: “Turn up the music!”

My reply: “But they’re playing Silent Night!”

I did adjust the volume. She was laughing out loud.

Later, during a department meeting:

Me to new teacher: “If the music is too loud for you, let me know. I’ll turn it down.”

Him: “I want you to turn it up!”

So anyway, no complaints here. Falalalala.

 

Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

Post- Thanksgiving News and Views

Ah, Thanksgiving. In the absence of the fairies, we split the responsibilities and managed to put on a good spread ourselves. We learned a few things in the process, too.

Our kitchen needs more counter space. It’s a little like the commercial with the guy realizing he has enough food for his guests, but doesn’t have enough room in his refrigerator. I thought I was brilliant in the way I plugged in an outlet strip and connected the crock pots to it. There they were, spread out on the kitchen counter, heating the mashed potatoes, curried squash soup, two kinds of stuffing, and mulled apple cider. Then we took the turkey out of the oven and realized there was no room to carve it. Chuck ended up setting a large cutting board across two burners (turned off, of course) on the stove and carefully carving the bird there.

La Petite’s stuffing and mashed potato recipes were delicious. She even made small quantities of plain potatoes and stuffing for those family members known for their preferences toward the traditional versions.

When you’re seven years old, drinking mulled cider from a wine glass is really cool.

A traditional holiday is often a good time to create new traditions. We served the holiday dinner on Friday for suppertime instead of on the calendar’s Thursday. It meant more relaxing travel for those on the road, more sleep time for the late-shift person in the family, and all in all simply worked better. We’ll be open to moving Thanksgiving off the Thursday in the future if needed.

On the same note, my birthday and my sister-in-law’s birthday land near Thanksgiving every year. Chuck’s birthday and La Petite’s are in mid-December, just a few days after our niece’s (she of the apple cider wine glass). We were universally not ready with gifts wrapped, but we exchanged presents anyway. After we were all done, the laughter had died, but the smiles remained, we decided that maybe this No Wrapping was a good idea.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful this time around.  Chuck no longer has to fear getting sent off with the satellite truck. When our Packers played on Thanksgiving, that was a very real possibility. Chuck left the television industry about a year ago, and it was a good move. We were all (relatively) healthy. Everyone traveled safely. Most of all, we enjoyed spending time together.

And that, my friends, is the best tradition of all.

The Fairies Return with Thanksgiving!

Have you wondered what happened to the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving? They made an appearance several years ago, along with a Butterball turkey. We’ve been having Thanksgiving over the river and through the woods at Grandma’s apartment for a while, but it’s our turn again. We organized who will bring which dish with a google doc to keep track, and now it’s time to get it all together. It’s time for the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving to come out of hiding and help us again!

 Thanksgiving Dinner? No problem! I’ll call in the fairies. They’ll do everything.

The laundry fairy washes, dries, and presses the table linens, including the cloth napkins. If she’s feeling generous, the sheets and towels might get folded, too.
The turkey fairy will practice her specialty and make sure the bird is cooked and carved just in time for dinner. White meat and dark, it’ll all be moist and savory and leave just enough leftovers for sandwiches and a turkey noodle soup.
The baker fairy will take care of pies, pumpkin and otherwise. He’s an expert on flaky crust, selected spices, and the perfect portion of whipped cream. Don’t let that Simple Simon guy get in the way; the kitchen’s too small for anyone who begs to taste the wares.
The brownie — the cunning little house elf — will clean the home thoroughly, put the leaf in the big table, and get the extra chairs out of the basement.
I wouldn’t dream of neglecting the wine fairy: the sommelier so tiny she only recommends, never lifts, a bottle. Her taste is impeccable. Now if we could stop her before she over-imbibes and falls asleep on top of the piano…
Did I mention the decorator fairy? She’ll fix the fireplace mantel with something tasteful and seasonal before she makes sure the couch and rocker are properly arranged for the annual holiday gladiator contests known as NFL football.
The ambiance fairy keeps the wood fire crackling in the fireplace, the aromas wafting deliciously through the home, and the family discussions neutral and apolitical.
The kitchen fairies: really, there must be a whole crew of these talented sprites. One to do the shopping early and avoid the crowds, another to make sure the cranberries are perfect (and local, of course), and a magical maestro with the potato masher. Then we’ll need a feisty fairy, one with attitude — yes, you, Tinkerbell, you can make the coffees.

Mom, you can send the fairies over to my house now that we’re hosting the annual family Thanksgiving dinner. Let them know that I’ll have their room ready and their favorite cookies baked. If they arrive on Sunday there should be enough time to get everything done.

Wait. What do you mean…they’re…not….real?

Barbershop Competition – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good? That’s easy. Two or three hotels filled with men who love to sing barbershop harmony! Everywhere we went, we saw or heard guys singing. We were in the right place at the right time to hear a singing telegram of sorts for a birthday. The quartet sang well, the recipient was so surprised she cried, and barbershop harmony sounded great in the large atrium lobby. Later on, we were making arrangements for a to-go order  when we heard another quartet singing “Let me call you sweetheart” to the restaurant hostess.

To follow in the “Good” category were the many short but wonderful conversations we had with other barbershoppers. (Get used to it, spell check. In my world, that is a real word.) It was hi, which group are you with, did you sing already today, how did it go, have you been singing long, and more. Barbershoppers are a friendly group.

But then, the bad. We had one bad experience that put all three of us in near-anxiety mode. We ordered from a pizza-type restaurant, getting assurance that the food would be ready to eat soon, and we’d be on our way to hear one of our quartets. Our order wasn’t ready, we were getting tense as we watched the clock, so we decided to ask for it to go and eat later, after seeing the quartet perform. Amigo and I hit the pavement (the Skywalk) and headed for the auditorium while Chuck changed our order and complained heavily to the manager. To make a long story short, we all made it to the performance, but not without some stress on the way. We informed the rest of the chorus of our experience so they wouldn’t be stuck in a similar tough spot.

How about a little more “good”? We decided to make the long weekend a family vacation of sorts. We didn’t rush to get to Rochester, relaxed in our hotel room when Amigo wasn’t singing or watching other groups sing, and there was a Starbucks down the road. Er, hallway. I’m a morning person, where Chuck’s second shift work puts him firmly in night owl mode most of the time. When I woke up Friday morning, I showered, dressed, and strode down the hall to get coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I spent a while relaxing (there’s that word again) and reading the morning paper.

Oh, well, the ugly. We forgot swimsuits. That was okay, though, because we really didn’t have time to swim in the hotel pool. What else – oh, yeah, the Chinese restaurant was never open when we wanted it. That’s not too bad, though, because there were so many other options. Ugly? Amigo’s tux pants are too short. But he stands in the third row, so that’s not serious, either. We can get that fixed later. Maybe there weren’t any truly ugly moments.

As for more good, the chorus placed 4th out of 18 groups. They sang very well, and even went home with the award for Most Improved.

Ah, barbershoppers. They’re a great bunch of guys. So spell check, get used to it. Barbershoppers is a real word.

Apple Cider and More

Once again, we were too busy making apple cider to take any pictures and document the process. The end result is delicious. In fact, even though it’s almost November, I might keep my eye on the orchards that advertise windfalls and “not quite perfect” apples. They would still make delicious cider.

Coming up soon: Amigo and his barbershop chorus are warming up for their next level of competition. Take it from me, folks, these guys are sounding good. I’ve helped out a little here and there by assisting with sectionals (when the guys split up to learn their own parts), donating my homemade goods as raffle prizes, and mainly by getting Amigo to rehearsals. I’m looking forward to hearing the chorus sing next weekend!

It’s All School Field Trip Day on Tuesday. I was ready to go to a planetarium and earth science museum. I chickened out. Seriously, sort of, in a way, because I feared settling into the planetarium and having the world start spinning around me again. It might be a meaningless fear, but I just didn’t feel up to chancing it. Since there were plenty of teachers signed up to go, I passed on the Person-In-Charge paperwork to another teacher and put myself on a different trip. I’ll be going on a hayride, picking up a pumpkin and maybe some apples (woot! more cider!) and having a relaxing and fun lunch afterwards with a few teacher friends.

To summarize, it’s been a busy weekend and it’ll be a busy week, too. And if anyone asks me “How d’you like them apples?” I’ll say “As cider, of course.”

Where I’ve Been

Oh, readers, friends, and family – It’s been a rough few weeks. Call it vertigo, BPPV, labyrinthitis, inner ear version of kidney stone, sea legs on land, crystals out of alignment, or whatever you wish, but I’ve spent the past few weeks so dizzy and lightheaded that walking was difficult.

I saw three doctors: the one in the ER, my primary care doctor, and another primary care doctor in the same clinic. They did blood work, an EKG, an MRI, and basic stroke protocol. Oh, they probably did more, but I don’t need to burden you with the works.

Highlights? Let’s see. The radiology tech asked if I was sure I had a stent in my brain. I replied by telling him which artery. He was satisfied then. The three docs ruled out stroke, tumor, or meningitis. I lost a coworker to meningitis – was it really ten years ago? Oh, my – but anyway, I was relieved when the stiff neck went away and I didn’t need a lumbar puncture. Shudder.

Saturday and Sunday (a weekend, for better or worse luck) were the worst ever. I spent most of the weekend reclining on the couch watching a Harry Potter marathon on Freeform. The dizziness and lightheaded feeling were as bad as they’ve ever been. Chuck found me clutching my head and asked “Does your head hurt?” Hurt? It was throbbing so badly that I wanted an ice pack. Or two. Or three. Or seven. I could only read for short periods of time without getting a headache. That, of course, made me worry about…let’s not go into all the worries I’ve had. The list is almost as long as – well, it’s long. Quite long.

When I woke up Monday morning I sat still for a moment – my new routine, to let my brain adjust to being upright. The floor didn’t tilt, and the room didn’t spin. I sat still for a moment longer, wondering if the cycle would begin again. It didn’t.

I brought my cane to school with me, just in case I needed the balance and support, but I didn’t use it.

I came home and celebrated with popcorn from my favorite local fast food drive-through. Evening symptoms included a mild headache, so I took things easy. I rested on the couch and watched television with Amigo.

There you have it, folks, the recent past in a nutshell. I still have a physical therapy appointment on the calendar; if I don’t need it, I will cancel. At this point, I’m still monitoring the craziness, er, dizziness and hoping maybe it’s done.

Maybe my crystals have realigned themselves. I hope they don’t go traveling again; I really don’t want to develop my sea legs again.

First World Problems, indeed.

It’s a bummer of a day when all of these happen.

I was talking to myself, and my self replied, “That’s a stupid question.”

I pulled up a batch of volunteer tomato plants because they came up in the area in which I want to plant tomatoes next year. I told myself, “It’s October!” in order not to feel guilty for failing to transplant them.

I’m still dizzy, cause unknown, and yesterday’s ER visit had limited success. Limited in that I mean the testing ruled out stroke or brain tumor, but didn’t find the cause of the dizziness. Stiff neck improved with medication, so that ruled out another angle that might have meant some really painful and icky testing. I’m relieved, at least, for crossing those possibilities off the list.

On the good side, I’m still able to laugh. I heard a Miami Dolphins coach talk about building a quality team, and then I saw Jay Cutler at starting quarterback. How could I not laugh?

But then I remembered that Jay Cutler has a job, and Colin Kaepernik doesn’t. That, my friends, is sad. It’s a First World Problem, indeed, but that doesn’t excuse the implicit racism in the situation.

This dizziness makes it hard to pick tomatoes and water plants. I use one tomato support for balance while I pick tomatoes with the other hand. But then I don’t have a hand to hold the container for the tomatoes. Tough life for a gardener, indeed.

Watering plants involves too much bending and turning for my dizzy head. It’s a bummer because the remaining tomatoes need water, the beans are still growing and need water, and the rain barrels are all relatively full.

Speaking of rain barrels, we have three. I filled out the application for a one-time credit on our water bill, and we received a note from the Powers That Be that they needed more information. They included an aerial shot of our house and asked us to indicate where the rain barrels were and how the barrels fit into the storm water flow. The picture was outdated, so Chuck put in a few updates (like the new garage and the second garden plot and the updated landscaping) and indicated all the necessary information. None of that information was mentioned on the application for the rain barrel credit in the first place.

And there you have it, readers. I’m grateful for MRI technology, and I hope my insurance considers the testing necessary. The ER doctor did. In the meantime, I’ll quietly recover, hopefully, from whatever illness inspired this post full of rants.

 

Sub Plans

Chuck picked up a piece of scrap paper in the grocery store parking lot. He intended to throw it in the recycling bin when he got home, but something told him to show me the “list” before tossing it out. The slightly soiled paper said – well, here. You can read it.

Heading: (date in April) Thank you for subbing for me!

  • 8:20 Greet students at bus (front door)
  • 8:30 1st grade class Breakfast
  • 8:40 Art
  • 9:40 Georgy Break
  • 10:00 Math Ruby
  • 10:55 warm up Georgy’s lunch, red lunchbox, chicken patty 40 sec mac & cheese 4 min
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Your lunch
  • 12:00 Kindergarten – bring (unreadable) to bathroom

I don’t see a dismissal time. I hope this substitute managed to find the exit when the bell rang.

I’m guessing this is a plan for a substitute paraprofessional, a teacher aide, likely special education. Other suggestions?

The Trouble with Pickles

Not Tribbles, but Pickles. The trouble with dill pickles, specifically: the pickles have to rest and, well, pickle in their jars for at least two weeks before they’re ready to eat. At that time, if the pickle recipe didn’t work or if I messed it up somehow, it’ll be too late to go to the farm markets and buy pickling cucumbers. They’ll be out of season. Meanwhile, I’ll just hope the new-to-me-recipe for dill pickles is successful.

The trouble with canned tomatoes (diced or chopped, in my kitchen) is that the preparation takes a long time and a lot of effort. Dig out the stem, blanch and peel, chop, and then pack tightly into a jar. All of that happens before I can even consider putting the liquid in the jars, checking the head space, and then actually processing in the hot water bath canner. On top of all this, I have to hope that I packed the tomatoes tightly enough to avoid the perfectly functional but perfectly ugly Fruit Float.

The trouble with bread and butter sweet pickles; my food processor cuts the pickles too thin, so I have to cut them by hand. The food processor just died, so I’m glad cutting the pickles by hand is my usual routine. This one is really no trouble at all.

The trouble with salsa is similar to the trouble with canned tomatoes. Last weekend I convinced Chuck to join in the preparation of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Since he is the main consumer of salsa in the house, it was only fair. Thoughtlessly rubbing his eye after dicing a jalapeno pepper? Well, that was only careless. Ouch.

The trouble with troubles in general? Not much, really. All of these problems are easily solved. All, that is, except the dill pickles. Two weeks from now, people, I will know if the new recipe is my go-to for dill pickles. Waiting…waiting…