18 November 2015
six or so weeks ago, we moved. oh, not that far. seventy miles, just about directly north. i’d felt for quite a while that it was time to go. but it never quite seemed to work out. the market tanked. job offers came (and went). finally, things fell into place. we sold our home to a nice couple, who appreciated the TLC we’d tried to give it. as the moving trucks pulled away, i went to close the front door, taking one last look inside of the home we shared with mom.
i pictured her snuggled in the prairie chair with a good book, reading glasses not exactly on the bridge of her nose. a cup a coffee nearby, the fireplace burning. i saw her in the family room, watching the national news and commenting on the state of the union or firmly stating her political POV. i remembered her at the dining table, enthusiastically engaging in a strategic game of Monopoly. i thought about the times she scolded Winnie for planting herself in front of the pantry, demanding a biscuit for immediate delivery. i recalled the times that were infinitely harder: when she could no longer concentrate on her beloved books. or became frustrated when she’d forgotten where she left something, and we’d all spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find it.
i miss all of those things.
we found a smaller place (with huge picture windows, ma, just like the ones on Harwood Road) where we could feel cozy, and Elroy could live out his doggie days absorbing what are, apparently, very interesting smells and going for mature dog strolls. every now and again, a great blue heron lands in our new backyard. or flies overhead. and i know mom is with us, wherever we are.
this day and always, giving thanks for you, little bird. with gratitude and love.
home alone? not eva.
18 November 2014
yesterday afternoon, i sat down in front of one of those Hallmark channel original movies (don’t judge me). the plot: expected. but unexpectedly, laugh-out-loud funny. i looked over at your photo, perched in its prominent place on the credenza, and knew how much you would have loved watching it with me. i can’t tell you how i miss those moments. when i’m out and about, i spot something totally you. a cute, cozy hoodie. one of your favorite ice cream flavors at Snow Goose. the park in Bellevue where you generously walked Winnie, the adorable bull terrier, on our first cold, rainy mornings in Washington. surprisingly (or not, because i’m a sap), i get a little teary-eyed. on that childlike level, i imagined you’d always be here. for me. for all of us. but your little student has come to learn, you are.
oh yeah, i can see a single, disapproving raised eyebrow when i’m not quite on track. a nose wrinkle when there’s bluegrass on the radio or i serve some variation on a chocolate-chip cookie (because you just may have forgotten you’ve come to adore them). that crooked smile and knee-slap when you tell a joke that you know is completely hokey. a great blue flying by much lower than one might expect.
today, like every day, little bird, i remember you. and even though you’re not sitting on the couch right next to me, i’m never home alone. love you always. see ya on the flip side.
angel dog, devil dog
17 February 2014
about 16 years ago, we welcomed a new member into our family fold. soft and adorable, we instantly fell madly in love with her.
we created a cozy little area in our dining room, where she could hang out during the day with her toys or catch a nap in her crate. early one Sunday morning, i noticed she wasn’t in her designated space. me: hey, is Winnie with you? Tootie: no, you mean she isn’t with… i ran around the corner into the living room to find her chomping on my Stickley coffee table with her tiny, razor-sharp teeth. yeah, the ones that left puncture wounds like a rattlesnake’s. and so, our adventures with Winnie, the English bull terrier, began.
we carted Winnie off to obedience training, where the trainer threw up her arms and said, she’s completely untrainable. and sent us to the back of the classroom to work independently. she oozed charm (when she felt like it). looking up with her little, almond-shaped eyes, she could implore nearly anyone to open the pantry to get her a little treat. oh yeah, Winnie was a consummate manipulator who was training us to do her bidding. and, admittedly, we let her wrap us around her little paw.
feisty and fearless, she could tunnel through a few feet of snow, bound across a mountain meadow (with me flying behind on the other end of her lead) and leap into the air, performing a dare-devilish spin. when professional life dictated relocation, Winnie was confidently at-the-ready:
- do you have my bed? √
- food? √
- toys? √
- can i sleep on the bed at the hotel? √ √
sure, she enjoyed her downtime. like when she’d grab a little snooze under a big shade tree or on the chaise lounge on the back deck.
most often, you could find her flopped upside down—all four feet dangling in the air—in one of her many comfy beds. a dedicated volunteer, she often offered to wedge herself between me and the kitchen counter in case she could lend a hand when i dropped a tidbit during dinner prep. sometimes she’d even let me give her a big hug (if i asked nicely and promised a Wet Noses biscuit in return).
it’s been a year since Winnie’s passing. i still walk over to where her dish once sat to give her a much-anticipated meal (she knew to the seeming second when breakfast, lunch and dinner should be served). i look longingly at the spot where she’d take the long, dream-filled naps of older dogs. she was our lovable, high-spirited diva. that perfect balance of angel dog and devil dog. playful. stubborn. sweet. outrageously funny. compliant, with a ‘tude.
Tom Springfield said and The Seekers sung it best:
i could search the whole world over
until my life is through
but i know i’ll never find another you.
wait for me in front of that heavenly pantry, pumpkin. miss you, love you always.
little bird: pure sunshine
4 February 2014
long before Dunkin’ Donuts’ seemingly complete domination of Boston (much like Seattle’s Starbuck’s on every corner), my dad and i would trek to our suburban Dunkin’ to pick up a dozen for our little family. what can i get you, the clerk would say. and dad would consistently reply, yeah, give me six lemon-filled. lemon doughnuts were mom’s favorite. i have no doubt that, given the opportunity, she would have eaten them every single day. they became my favorite, too (copycat), so dad made sure his girls had enough to go around.
prior to the lemon curd shortage (an apparent byproduct of today’s less-than-generous approach to doughnut-making), mom was able to get a healthy portion of filling with nearly every bite. she’d look up at me, a little bit of powered sugar on the corners of her mouth, which she’d pat daintily with her napkin. giggle. then, consume the only remaining bite. delicious!, she’d proclaim.
like the very best attributes of a lemon—bright and zingy—mom exuded a warmth that others were drawn to. basked in. i can’t tell you how much i miss that sunshine. when she came to live with us in the latter part of her life, i’d occasionally trot home with lemon-filled doughnuts. sure, she enjoyed them. but never as much as when dad arrived triumphantly with a dozen under his arm.
to celebrate what would have been mom’s 92nd birthday, i’ve assembled a menu i think she would have liked:
a nice loaf of challah (best eva!)
brussel sprouts (simplified this recipe)
meyer lemon hand pies (crust recipe)
here’s to you, little bird. it’s never as sunny without you here. sending you love and smooches. catch ya on the flip side.
spice girls forever
18 November 2013
i lost my mom exactly three years ago. since little bird’s passing, the thanksgiving holiday (ever our family’s favorite) has become more of a time of reflection than of feastivity (yeah, not a typo). i stopped preparing that lengthy to-do list and detailed menu that served as the countdown to turkey time (in fact, turkey no longer makes an appearance at our table). i don’t strategize about what time the night before i need to prepare the brioche dough. or when i should bound out of bed the next morning, so the pecan rolls will be ready when everyone else rises for coffee and televised parades. what remains the same is the sense of gratitude i feel for having had her in my life.
both of my zingy girls (mom and Winnie, the adorable, devilish English bull terrier) are gone now. they each had larger-than life personalities, equally huge hearts and generous spirits. more than once, i caught mom bending down and saying to Winnie, “you are one hot spud.” even in her twilight years, Winnie would respond with much tail-wagging, a few crisp barks of agreement and several speedy laps around the family room. then, of course, would demand a treat—and take a well-deserved snooze. they loved food, me and each other. maybe not exactly in that order.
little bird and Winnie had a zest for life. i’m dedicating this little number to my two, feisty, spicy gingers. until i see you again, keep each other company. love you to the moon and back…
a recipe from flour by Joanne Chang
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups unsulfured molasses
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
- preheat oven to 350°F.
- butter and flour a 9 x 13–inch pan.
- using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2 – 3 minutes); scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure there are no lumps.
- in a small bowl, whisk together the grated ginger and eggs until blended.
- with the mixer on low speed, add the egg mixture, and beat until just combined.
- scrape the sides and bottom of bowl, then beat on medium speed for 20 – 30 seconds, until mixture is homogenous.
- in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, pepper, cinnamon and cloves; set aside.
- in another medium bowl, whisk together the molasses, boiling water, and baking soda.
- on the lowest mixer speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixture already in the bowl, then beat until incorporated.
- pour in one half of the molasses mixture, and continue to mix at the lowest speed until combined; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- on the lowest mixer speed, add half of the remaining flour mixture, and beat until incorporated.
- add the remaining molasses mixture, and beat until incorporated.
- stop the mixer, and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- add the final flour mixture, and beat on low speed for about a minute.
- scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
- bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the middle.
- let cool in pan on a wire rack.
serve with vanilla-bean whipped cream. let your dog lick the whipped cream off the whisk. give your mom the biggest, bestest piece.
where apples fall
15 October 2013
yesterday, i went shopping. it’s something i do now only out of necessity. when mom (a.k.a. little bird) was alive, we went frequently. persistently. at times, ad nauseum. i had to force myself to remember that, to mom (who spent more than 25 years in upscale sales), retail felt like going home.
no matter where we shopped, she proactively sought out sales people in every store—as if they were family. most newbie retail associates tried to avoid her enthusiastic advances (and eye contact). but seasoned comrades, much to mom’s delight, engaged respectfully in conversations. and she took their parting words to come back again soon like invitations from dear friends.
my solo retail outing (mission: to replace ratty old sweaters with new, unratty counterparts) took a surprising turn. i found myself drawn—clearly by some mysterious, magnetic force—to a retail outlet and to a sweater nearly identical to one little bird used to wear religiously. yeah, ok, hers didn’t have a hoodie. and she didn’t wear mens’ sweaters, except for dad’s when she felt a little blue. and i have no intention of wearing a brooch on my sweater. but other than that, we could have been twins. i grabbed the sweater, hugged it tightly to my chest and grinned a big toothy one. even the newbie sales guy at the register seemed to feel the excitement of my discovery and pride in being part of a shiny, new-store family. i think mom would have liked him.
as the years go by, i catch myself sounding—and looking—just a little bit more like mom. a lilt in my voice (with only a hint of New England accent). a facial expression. a wicked-lame joke. an affinity for a handsome, black and white sweater. and i think (with some modicum of panic), i am becoming my mother. well, dear, the apples don’t fall far from the tree.
if you’re in the mood, crank up Glenn Miller’s rendition of People Like You and Me, get out the flour, and whip up a nicely moist apple cake (recipe just below).
mom would have liked it with a double-dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream. or maybe some vanilla ice cream. or both. from our gene pool: when it comes to dessert, always shoot the moon.
endnote: sincere thanks to those who’ve continued to stop by during this quiet time. losing our beloved Winnie on 17 February left my creative spirit squashed. appreciate your patience as i get my juju back.
Family Tree Apple Cake
based on a recipe from pinch of yum
for the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup oil (i use sunflower)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chopped apples (i used a mix of Queen Cox and Bramley; if you don’t have access to these, try a nice, tart Granny Smith)
for the topping
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
2/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons butter
- preheat oven to 325°F.
- butter a 10-inch square pan. (if you don’t have this more unusual size [mine is a Emile Henry Urban Colors square baking dish], you could use a 9 x13-inch pan, but the cake wouldn’t be as lofty.)
- to make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, flour, cinnamon and cloves.
- using a pastry blender, cut in the butter (leaving some larger lumps) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.
- to make the cake, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt.
- in the bowl of a stand mixer, with beater attachment, beat brown sugar and oil until combined.
- add egg, buttermilk and vanilla, and mix until throughly incorporated.
- add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
- fold in the apples.
- scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading out evenly.
- sprinkle the topping evenly over the cake.
- bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 45 minutes.
- let cake cool in pan on rack, but it’s great served warm.
little bird: belle of the ball
18 November 2012
this morning, i grabbed your favorite mug, made a cup of tea and settled in to look through our family photo boxes. two years ago, you would have been sitting here next to me. and i would have been saying something like, oh, remember that snow storm?? you would have been saying something more like, oh, i loved that outfit! i’ve always thought we each had our own unique spin on the world. but with the passing of time, i realized we were much more alike than i ever imagined.
sure, you had impeccable taste. and style (like in the above photo. seriously, who looks that put together at the bowling alley??); i, while clean and tidy, am at home only in flannel and Levi’s. you enjoyed travel on the high seas; i’m completely content paddling along the shoreline. you were the belle of every ball; i prefer to watch the ball in some 40’s film. yes, on some levels we were seemingly incompatible. on what matters most, we were of one mind.
over the last 24 months, i’ve missed sharing our common ground. lively conversation and well-articulated wisdom (on your part, of course). family and food (today, consumed lobstah tails in your honor). long, brisk walks (we slowed the pace over the years, but our spirits sprinted). marathon shopping excursions (your stamina far exceeded mine). curling up on the couch with good books or to watch classic movies (i bowed to your seniority and bragging rights because you’d seen them in the theater).
i now grasp why you might have worn your fleece vest in the house, when the thermostat was set on 73 degrees. or you left that 1/8″ of half and half in a pint container. or closed the blinds at 3:30 in the afternoon, on dreary November days. i embrace my inner Fran, when i do the same. and silently (well, sometimes i just shout it out, and the dogs roll their eyes indulgently) express my gratitude for your lifelong guidance and unconditional love.
can’t wait see you on the flip side, little bird. until then, bowl a 300 game. cut it up with dad on the dance floor. and keep sending the big blue heron my way. with infinite love and smooches.
31 August 2012
i’m an early riser. seven days a week, i spring out of bed (ok, sometimes i groan and roll) at the crack of dawn to begin each shiny, new day. in the state of Washington, it’s mostly each dreary, new day, but you get the drift. during the week, i sometimes schedule 6:00 a.m. conference calls with an east-coast design colleague. and i usually begin the calls with my i-haven’t-talked-with-humans-yet disclaimer. (Michael, the designer and stalwart friend, is always patient with my initial incoherency.) but there’s something sacred about the morning stillness that beckons me to haul myself up to be a part of it.
for the past few early Saturday mornings, Tootie and i have driven an hour north to Bellingham, where we like to stroll through the farmers’ market packed with just-picked organic produce. before we head to the market, we stop for tea, then take brisk walks along the bay near Boulevard Park. last week, we jumped off the interstate and headed toward the boardwalk. just before our turn, my eye caught a brown state park sign: Larabee State Park, 7 miles. as many times as i’d driven on that road, i’d never noticed that sign. hmmm. me: want to go on a little adventure before the market opens?? Tootie: sure!
i maneuvered quickly into the left turn lane, heading south on Chuckanut Drive. each twist and turn in the road brought a new delight: a large property overflowing with brightly colored perennials. two does and three spotted fawns bouncing lightly along the tree line. ancient, moss-covered trunks embracing the roadway, their branches forming a welcoming arch as we traveled toward the park. soon we spotted a sign for the park’s boat launch. ever-inquisitive paddlers, we turned west toward the bay. in minutes, we pulled into the lot at Wildcat Cove.
the early-morning fog hadn’t completely lifted. a brisk wind slapped the choppy water against the shoreline. the small, rocky beach spilled over with the empty orange shells of Dungeness crabs. i looked up toward the cove’s southern-most point and then i saw her standing in the shallow water: a great blue heron. seriously? compelled by the bird to take an unplanned jaunt to the park that morning and specifically to the cove? well, i like to think she was the beak-in. certainly made me feel like mom is never too far away. i didn’t have my camera with me, but Tootie managed to take a blurry shot with her phone’s camera. mom would never have passed up a photo op.
we went back to the cove the next week. the sun shone; the water, calm and glassy, lazily lapped the rocks. ho-hum. ma? she wasn’t around. but this big boy sat atop the tallest pine in sight. majestic, to be sure. but not as cool as the great blue heron. we hiked through the park, then went up to the farmers’ market. we stuffed our bags with Ailsa Craig heritage onions, heirloom tomatoes and Krimson Lee peppers. with our booty, we made enough zingy tomato sauce to top future pizzas and pasta and to deck out some eggplant parmesan and lasagna. while spicy sauce has always reminded me of my dad, i imagine when i eat this Italian fare, i’ll be thinking lovingly of little bird.