Archive for the 'Seasons' Category


where I’ve been

It’s been a busy summer, especially with three weeks teaching at a music camp, and then last week we had the luck and privilege of renting a house on beautiful Lake Michigan in which to stay with friends and family.

Husband’s daughter and son were there for half of the week, First Son and Only Daughter were there the whole time.  First Son made the trip from Cleveland via Greyhound. Text message: “I’ve become really good at discouraging people from sitting next to me.” My reply: “Do you pick your nose and mutter to yourself?” Response: “Only when I’m competing with someone particularly scary sitting across from me.” Plus Husband’s brother and family all the way from Vancouver Island and my bff Jackie and her family from Chicago – a friend who’s more like a sister, who I’ve known since 1987 – stayed the whole time. Second Son had band recording sessions and gigs, and no gas money to drive back and forth, so we missed him. Maybe next year.

It was a beautiful week, and so much fun to spend it with so many people we love. I had a gig the first three days, so drove back and forth from the beach to the gig, and was sad about missing some of the fun. But we took turns preparing delicious meals, drank gallons of wine as well as the occasional gin and tonic or margarita, took dune rides that were “just like roller coasters,” and went horseback riding. Well, the kids and I and Husband’s brother went horseback riding, the rest of the derelicts adults snuck off and went wine tasting, apparently because they were being plagued by someone mowing the grass — at least that’s their story and their sticking to it, but we find it a little suspicious that this wasn’t mentioned BEFORE the horses strolled off in their well-ordered lines. And be careful about telling the “Wranglers” that you rode a lot as a child — I ended up on the biggest horse in the corral, with a back as wide as a Volkswagen, and had some serious knee issues by the time we got back. The woman tells me, at the watering trough, “You can get down now” and I think “Not so much.”

Okay, so he doesn’t look that big in the picture. But the stirrup was at my shoulder, and I somehow managed to a) put my foot into it and b) hoist myself up without falling in a heap in the dust or putting my back into spasm. This is a big accomplishment for me, who thinks of any form of exercise as something I should do more of, but would really like better if it weren’t strenuous or painful in any way. And the woman did not lead us by the bridle the entire time. Just so you know.

Stepdaughter and First Son have become close friends, especially because they coincidentally ended up at colleges 40 minutes apart. What was really fun for me was watching First Son entertain 4 girls 10 and under after Stepdaughter had to leave — countless card and Monopoly games, taking them out to the furthest sand bar on their little rafts. He is so much older than Only Daughter — 21 years old to 10 — that I believe he will just be a faint memory of her childhood, and it was nice that they had a week to hang out together.

There was also a fair bit of Girl Drama. We won’t speak of it here, except to wonder why it seems so necessary, everywhere. We did learn at camp that the Intermediate Girls division is now bigger than all of the boy’s divisions put together, which required the institution to hire extra psychiatrists. I’m not making this up.

I digress.

Of course, there was no Wifi, and my iPhone could only pick up satellite signals about half the time, so we were basically cut off from email and texting and phone calls. This was frustrating once in a while, but really nice for the most part. The hardest thing about coming back to Reality was how much stuff needed to be dealt with on such a persistent basis. I’d really like to live my life more like how so many of the Italians we met do — friends, family, good meals, LIFE! I feel way too much of my time is spent chasing the clock and answering incessant emails and dealing with people who don’t treat me with civility or respect. They probably have that problem in Italy, too.

My bff Jill couldn’t come for dinner on the night we invited other friends for because her elderly and somewhat addled mother fell and broke her arm in two places and apparently spent some time lying on the floor either too injured or too confused to call for help. This is sad. One of the friends who did come for dinner also has an elderly mother in the hospital, waiting for a stay in rehab. My mom is fighting two kinds of cancer simultaneously, which really sucks. I guess we’re all at that age, now, but I don’t want to be. I guess not wanting to be of a certain age hasn’t really been proven to be an antidote to aging, which is really too bad. Something should be done. I’d like to be 43 again, for a really long time.

When we got back there were mountains of laundry to do, and a fridge full of questionable food remains and nothing edible, and then our cat escaped and was missing for four days. I have a pile of mail, although this pile is garbage

and this pile needs to be dealt with.

What’s up with that, anyway? What a waste of resources — fuel, paper, stamps, time. I even started a facebook page once (Stop Sending Me Crap, feel free to join; I think there are 11 “likes” so far, so apparently not a movement that’s spreading like wildfire. Even if it should.) because I got so disgusted by the number of catalogues and unsolicited solicitations. Do we really need constant reminding of all the stuff we can buy that we don’t need?

Only Daughter and I walked all over the neighborhood yesterday putting “Have You Seen This Cat” flyers in people’s mailboxes. It was hot, and really humid, and I stupidly wore flip-flops so ended up with a really bad blister and had to walk the last 1/2 mile back barefoot. We got home rather disheartened, as much by the fact that of all the doors we knocked on, only 2 people answered, and one of them wasn’t really all that friendly. And no sign of Sophie the Evil Cat (she’s a heroin addict, except for the heroin is yarn) anywhere. While we were walking around I looked at the map of our neighborhood on my iPhone and realized there was this little side/private street that bumps up right against “our” woods, so when we got home I printed up a few more fliers and drove there. I noticed that some of my piano students who live on that road were home, so went and knocked on their door, and lo and behold, the mom had just gotten an email from someone down the road who had a Siamese meowling in their garage for the last 3 days, so I drove over there and found her in their back yard. She (the cat, not the mom, that would be weird) then spent the night causing mischief and lurking in the hallway for me to trip over on my countless trips to the bathroom fighting some weird stomach bug I still haven’t fully recovered from.

Also this week I took Second Son shopping to outfit his dorm room, and Only Daughter clothes shopping for fashions appropriate for a 5th grader who is 10 going on 20. (I have to stop saying this, because now, when people ask her how old she is, she says “10 going on 20.” Sheesh.)

The latest questions from her include: Do I ever worry about going out in public when I have a pimple, and, Am I proud of having big boobs. (I don’t, except maybe compared to hers, and I keep telling her they’re only called “boobs” if they’re fake and mine certainly are not. Anyway.) As part of the “appropriate” clothes shopping I bought her a “training” bra. I don’t really know what we’re training here — is there an Olympic event I don’t know about? Do breasts need to do some kind of conditioning or they come in all misshapen or flabby? It’s basically a tank top that ends at her midriff, but she’s wearing it under everything now, and asking me how often she needs to wash it. (She’s also quite convinced that she needs to start using deodorant, but the only thing she ever smells like is shampoo or cranberry juice.)

So here we are. Summer’s over, the academic year looms before me, we all keep getting older, and I renew my vow to grab time for the big important things and not waste so much energy on the little unimportant ones.

I’ll let you know how I do.


summer in Michigan

Set my alarm for 8 a.m. this morning (I know, right!?!) so we could go pick sweet cherries before the forecast 90˚/90% humidity hit.

When the alarm went off I sputtered “yeah, right,” turned it off, and went back to sleep for an hour. When I woke up at 9 I realized why that was so easy to do; a) we stayed up til 1 a.m. watching My Cousin Vinny (loved it! “Yeah, you blend.” Ha!), and b) the sky was darker at 9 a.m. than it had been at 9 p.m.

Thunder, lightening, wind, rain, for about 7 minutes, and then ebbed away. All smoke no fire, so to speak.

By about 9:30 the weather looked promising, and the radar map indicated that the weather would be clear until at least 12:30, so off Daughter and I went.

We drove 20 minutes through beautiful, lush countryside, hills and valleys and quaint barns with fences and horses grazing and a beautiful stone home with a pillared porch and vibrant flower baskets. (sigh)*

There it was ahead, with a hand-painted sign, B_______________ Orchard’s (why the apostrophe? why?). We pulled into a tiny little parking lot, gazed with bewilderment at a set of porch steps I wouldn’t trust not to collapse under the weight of a small house cat, encountered a youngish scruffy man talking on a cell phone and carrying a vacuum cleaner (?), and went into the barn where a woman who might have been older than God was talking to her sister on her cell phone. Not quite Deliverance, and not even remotely as bizarre as our experience buying grapes to make wine a couple of years ago, but still.

Two buckets, a short walk down a dirt road, and two very slimy mud puddle encounters later, we found the cherry trees. The cherries came off by the handful. I suggested to Daughter that she might want to pick several buckets and set up a stand at the bottom of our driveway, selling them for half what those suckers at the grocery store are paying for imported (from Washington) cherries, and maybe earning enough to pay for college (ha!). She speculated whether it would be money better spent at Justice (?) and on iTunes, but I disagree, considering that the money she spends on iTunes is JustinBieberSelenaGomezKatyPerrycrap. We filled two buckets, ~ seven pounds, in about 20 minutes. Which was a good thing, because around minute 21 the sky started to glower, clouds chased each other across the sky in interesting folded formations, (not unlike the ceiling at Severance Hall, which is pretty in a concert hall and quite intimidating in a cloud), thunder rumbled, the trees started to dance in the wind.

Daughter: “Mom! Look at those clouds!”

Me: “Wow! Let’s get the heck out of Dodge!”

We walked, muddily, back, paid, and headed towards the car as it began to sprinkle. By the time we reached the end of the (very short) driveway it was pouring.

The cherries are delicious. I’m trying to decide if we just want to eat them all or if I should make Cherry Cordial.

Cherry Cordial

Poke 3 c. of sweet cherries with a fork and put them into a quart jar. Cover just over the top of the cherries with brandy. Cover and let sit for one month. Strain liquid from cherries, add another cup of brandy and 1/2 c. sugar.


Poke 3 c. of sweet cherries with a fork and put them into a quart jar. Add 1/2 c. sugar, then fill jar with brandy. Cover and let sit for one month, shaking gently every week or so to distribute the sugar. Strain liquid from cherries after a month.

Store in a bottle with a screw top or a cork-lined stopper.

*I’ve given up on the hanging baskets. Bought these at World Market yesterday instead. They’re made of glass, so I can’t possibly kill them, although I could break them.


Confessions of a Plant Murderer

I give up, and hereby turn myself into the proper authorities.

I killed them.

I recently spent $50 for two of these flower baskets:

I bought them 4 weeks ago. They were full and lush and beautiful. When I put them into their special hanging baskets the foliage was so thick I could barely see to get the hanging chains around the pot. When I took them back to the store, 2 weeks ago, I was told that I had underwatered them, and that I should water them twice a day until water runs out the bottom. Now they’re still dead, but they’re also really really wet. I’ve removed them from their hanging locations on my front porch so as not to frighten neighborhood children.

I also bought four of these little mum pots:

These were not underwatered, but, rather, drowned in the water captured by the deceptively innocent-looking, brightly-colored, outer pots after the last big rain storm, a development which went unnoticed by me for a couple of days.

The above were all purchased from a fancy nursery chain, where I paid premium prices.

This basket was purchased at my grocery store for a humble $12, and for some reason seems to be thriving. Apparently my aura doesn’t reach to the back yard.

Go figure.

You’ll also notice the beautiful tomato plant in the background, which has yet to be eaten by the deer, and is, at this moment, the proud bearer of a single green tomato. This is, of course, only a matter of time.

I was under the mistaken impression that the stinky spray I squirt around the yard was actually protecting the daylilies by my mailbox from the local deer population, until I went to get the mail yesterday and noticed that, while all of the stalks are still there (they’re tricky, those rats with long legs), there were only 2 actual blooms remaining. I give them a day, two at the most.

I was visiting First Son in Cleveland over the weekend, and we were sitting outside Presti’s in Little Italy. (If you haven’t been there, get thee hither. And have a buccalati or two, and a cinnamon star, or three, and their antipasti, and a cappuccino. Not necessarily in that order. Their “Italian Sandwich” didn’t look half bad either, and the lemon ice was crisp and refreshing. And no, they’re not paying me for advertising. That’s funny, I almost wrote they’re not paying me for free advertising. Ha!) Hanging over our heads were beautiful flower baskets, not unlike this one:

As I had spent several hours there that day, first eating my lunch and sipping my coffee and reading my book (The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss, I highly recommend it!) while First Son worked his shift, and then again when he met me there afterwards, I eyed them frequently, on the alert for signs of wilting or the loss of the will to live.

I’ve decided my gardening efforts might be better spent with plants like this one:

Although one of the little metal petals (see what I did there?) have been bent by the hose. At least it’s not dying. Not yet, anyway. Give me a few weeks.

Here we see Second Son celebrate his 18th birthday:

First Son was 21 in February. Only Daughter’s a beautiful 10.

Given my record with plants, I guess they should count themselves lucky that I’ve managed to keep them alive for this long.


Merry Christmas!


more thanksgiving

So, my kids are at their dad’s until tomorrow; my husband’s kids are with their mom until tomorrow; tomorrow the hordes descend and we will have 7 people in a 1600 square foot house for 3 days heavenhelpus.

Today, though, we slept in (10), and have been puttering around all morning. The pumpkin is roasted for the pie, the Christmas cake is in the oven (recipe below), hubby is doing extensive research on the life of Saul Bellow after I read a review of his new book of letters in the NYTimes Review of Books.

We still need to wash sheets and towels, clean the bathroom, get the porch furniture off the, well, porch (and the tiki torches; tiki torches still out on November 25!), and I need to practice for hours to prepare for Sunday’s concert (Franck Sonata for PIANO and violin).

But a good day.

I’ve been thinking, as I putter, about the holidays past, especially those of my adulthood, and the wonderful friends I’ve shared them with.

JF and countless Thanksgivings (to her mother’s great chagrin) — we had a tradition of making butter cookies cut out in the shape of turkeys and elaborately decorating them with orange, yellow, red, and brown frosting; then we would make Christmas cookies together and she would take some home with her. Her mother, a terrific food snob, would refuse even to touch the cutouts, and if she wanted a pfeffernuse or springerle or schnecken which happened to be nestled under a cutout, would ask J to move the cutout out of the way for her. Last night J texted me for wine advice for the best stuffing recipe ever (New Basics Cookbook), and when we see each other we go to the bookstore and buy each other’s children books for Christmas, even if it’s August.

Tammyguck (Tammy + Chuck through the mouth of a 2-year old, now 20) — every holiday from around 1986 to 1996 was shared in one way or the other. We were there one Halloween evening while Guck had Phantom of the Opera on really loud on the stereo and some trick-or-treaters were afraid to come to the door. They live in California now (Tammyguck, not the trick-or-treaters); saw Tammy for the first time in 8 years last summer. She looks exactly the same as she did in 1986. Despite this, I was very happy to see her.

These thoughts lead me to thoughts of other wonderful friends, many of whom have gotten me through some pretty difficult times in my life — JK, MS, especially. I don’t know what I would have done without you.

One has only to click here to see some of the articles talking about how psychologically and physically beneficial it is to have close friendships. Even Oprah thinks so, so it must be true. They provide emotional support, honesty and advice and sympathy and recipes, they let you know that you are not alone in the world. I’m very lucky, and very grateful for my friends, and hope that I have been as good a friend to them as they have been to me.

And now for the recipes:

The Best Turkey Stuffing Ever, from The New Basics Cookbook

Cut a large loaf of bread into 1″ squares; spread in a pan for 10-12 hours to dry out. Put in large mixing bowl.


3 c. chopped celery, with leaves

2 c. chopped onions (good if 1/2 is a sweet onion)

in 2 T. vegetable oil over low heat until softened but not browned, ~ 10 minutes. Put veggies in the large mixing bowl with the bread.

Brown 1 lb. bulk sweet Italian sausage in pan from the vegetables, breaking into chunks. Add to mixing bowl.

Add to the bowl:

2 tart apples, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 c. toasted and chopped hazelnuts

1 c. dried pitted cherries

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. dried sage leaves

freshly ground black pepper.

Toss together.

Mix 1 c. tawny port (or Gamay Beaujolais, or Marsala) and 1 c. chicken stock.

Add liquid to dressing and toss, smush together with hands until “stuffing” consistency.

Stuff the turkey (but not until right before ready to put it in the oven), and put the remaining stuffing in a bowl and cover with foil.

Roast the turkey at 325˚ on a bed of celery ribs, carrots and onion, basting occasionally with melted butter + 3/4 c. tawny port or the wine you used above, every 15 minutes for the last hour. Roast the remaining stuffing for the last hour, basting with turkey juices once in a while.

Sheriji’s Christmas Cake (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

This recipe has the unique and wonderful direction near the end; it’s how I recognize that I’ve found the recipe every year when I’m trying to remember which cookbook it’s in (I have several, dozen).

And all candied fruits must be removed from the premises before beginning. It would truly be tragic if any accidentally made their way into this cake, for all involved, directly or indirectly.

Put 2 sticks of butter into your mixer and turn it on at medium speed. Allow to beat for a long time so the butter is really smooth and creamy.

While you’re waiting for this, sift together:

3 c. flour (I use a scant 3 c. of whole wheat)

1 tsp. each: baking powder, cinnamon, grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. each: baking soda, mace, ground cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

When butter is smooth and creamy, add 2 c. dark brown sugar, and beat 3-5 minutes until lighter in color and texture. Scrape the sides of the bowl at least once so that you are sure all of the butter and sugar are fully incorporated.

Add: 1/2 c. dark molasses, and the grated zest and juice of an orange and a lemon.

When well blended, add the flour mixture in 3 parts alternating with 3/4 c. brandy in 2 parts, beating on low speed and scraping occasionally to make sure everything is worked in.

Then add, gently:

2 c. currants

2 c. raisins (regular or golden)

2 c. dried figs cut into small pieces

You can also add 2 c. walnuts and 2 c. dates, but I don’t like either of these, so I just leave them out.

Put into 3 8-1/2″ bread pans that have been well buttered. Bake at 300˚ for 3 hours. “The cake may appear done at 2-1/2 hours; simply ignore this.” It does say that if the cakes are starting to brown significantly at 2-1/2 hours you can make a foil tent over the top of them. I have done this.

Cool in the pan on the rack for an hour, then remove from the pan. Be very careful about this — they tend to fall apart.

These are good right away, but even better if you make in November, wrap them in cheesecloth, and brush the cheesecloth with brandy every week or so for a month to get them good and drunk just in time for Christmas.

Thanks for reading! I have almost 200 regular visits each day now, and am really enjoying the comments and conversation.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

May your turkey brown perfectly, may your champagne fizz delightfully, and may your J, Z, or Q be useful on a triple-letter or triple-word score.

Ah, scrabble. (Click on and watch — it’s one of the funniest things ever.)


Fall 2010

It’s beautiful here this fall. Wish I had more time to enjoy it.

Hope you enjoy these! (Click on each one to see it “full size.”)


Is it finally here?

Apparently, if I want some space in between my photos, I have to write something, or wordpress just bumps them all together.

I love how the sun peeks into the corner of this picture; I don’t love how it made that weird circle in the middle of it though.

I was striving in this one for the focus to be on a deeper branch, with the branches in the foreground and the rail in the back blurry.

I was hoping that the people who lived in the house that belonged to this tree didn’t mind that I was practically lying down in their yard to get this shot.

I won’t tell you how long I stood on the other side of this line of trees trying to figure out how to get a closeup without trespassing; I finally decided it was hopeless, took 7 steps, and then realized that there was a little alley-street on the other side of it. Duh.

I did lay on the sidewalk for this one. Nobody was looking (I checked).


Spring, Closer?

I seem to have developed an affinity for fencelines. . .


It’s almost here. . .

Took a walk today to try out my new camera and attempt to record the world as it wrestles its way towards spring.

Not a lot blooming — some forsythia, daffodils – some shy, some a bit more extroverted, trees starting to show hints of pink or throwing off a faint green light.

The sky wasn’t cooperating, but I guess that’s just part of the “wrestling” process.

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