10 July 2018

Summer Kitchen

For, I dunno, the past 10 years, I've been saying to my husband that I want an electric oven installed in the garage. You see, I love to bake and I especially like to bake in the summer when there are summer fruits like rhubarb and peaches and other things that demand to be made into cobblers and galettes and pies and crisps. And, in my mind, it's totally logical to have an oven in the garage, because the garage door opens into the kitchen, and the last time the kitchen was renovated (before us), all the cabinets were recycled into a work area in the garage (and another in the cellar).

And the reason that I don't bake so much in the summer is that the house is only very lightly air-conditioned, specifically window units in the two upstairs bedrooms and nothing on the first floor, and who wants to turn on the oven in the summer heat?

Finally, over the weekend, I had a brainstorm. Since it didn't seem like I was getting a real oven in the garage anytime soon because running a 220V line was going to be complicated and expensive, I thought hey, they make big fancy toaster ovens, that'll do.

A modicum of internet research and an online order later, I am now the proud owner of a toaster oven big enough for 9 slices of toast, a whole chicken, or a 13" pizza.

Let the baking commence!

23 June 2018


I engaged in some gonzo gardening today. The quince had grown up and over on one side, and the privet and a burning bush had grown up and over on the other, and the little path of grass down the side of the yard to the lower terrace had become a tunnel. Besides the fact that the grass didn't much like all the shade, the tunnel wasn't quite head high, so it was an ordeal to transverse.

Out came the loppers. Chop, chop, chop and I had a pile of branches to haul down the hill. As I came back up, my heart stopped: there was a bird's nest in the grass, wrenched out of the quince.

I didn't find any evidence of eggs, so I am hoping that it was an unused or vacated nest.

But when I picked it up, my heart sobbed again. Besides grasses and twigs, one of the building materials for the nest was the cellophane wrapper from a pack of cigarettes.

Shall I be glad that the bird was so cleverly thrifty? Or sad that the cigarette wrapper was there for the taking?

The glass, she is half full and she is half empty.

28 April 2018

It Takes Three To Land A Steelhead

Back in 1998, I went on a fishing/camping trip with my father, my husband, three other family members, three guides and a baggage barge guy who set up camp every night. We were on the Deschutes, in Oregon - a beautiful river that flows north from Bend to the Columbia. We traveled downstream in boats, but stopped to fish; fishing is only allowed from the bank.

I'd been skeptical about spending four days on the water, and three nights in tents, but it turned out to be the perfect vacation - there were no decisions to be made except whether to change your underwear. And that was a serious consideration, because it was cold enough that your wet boot laces were iced up every morning.

At one point, we had a hella exciting run with a fish, which my father wrote up for some fishing oriented magazine - but they never published it. Because he was writing for publication, he left out a key detail: at some point we scrabbled into the boat and chased that fish downstream.

A couple of weeks ago, he mailed me a copy of what he'd written, followed by the photos. Since it never did get published, I'm sharing it now.

Here's what he wrote, nearly twenty years ago.

While steelhead fishing on the great Deschutes River in Oregon this past October, my daughter, Maggie, and I had a singular experience with a beautiful, wild, male steelhead. Maggie was fishing upstream of me with Dan Bastian of Rising Trout Guides and Outfitters in Bend, Oregon. We were near Kaskela, about 18 miles downriver from Warm Springs, at the foot of the Mutton Mountains. She was working a brown stonefly nymph with a trailing small green rock worm, tied by Bill Sheppard, who was also guiding with Dan on the trip. The green rock worm was tied on a #2457 Tiemco hook, size 12, with a rainbow crystal bead behind the eye, a light green vinyl body and a grey ostrich herl behind the bead.

Maggie was having some success with the nymphing rig and Dan took the rod to demonstrate how she could cover more water by making longer casts and mending the line. On his second cast there was a terrific slashing strike; immediately, the fish made a heroic, acrobatic leap. Dan clearly saw the green rock worm in the mouth of a beautiful, very colorful, steelhead.

The fish hit the water and took off downstream like an express train. I heard the commotion behind me and looked back to see Maggie and Dan in the river. I heard Dan ask Maggie "are you ready?" and saw him hand her the charged rod. The rod, a four-piece six-weight Sage with a #2 Ross Gunnerson reel, was pointing straight downstream. The reel sang as I watched the line and backing disappearing after the steelhead.

I headed upstream for the camera and as I pulled abreast of Maggie I shouted "raise your rod tip!" She tried but could not. I dropped my rod, vest and wading staff and joined her in the river. Try as she might, Maggie could not lift the rod; she calmly turned to me and said "Pop, the line is all gone." She showed me the reel; the backing was down to the spindle. I took the rod and ran.

I was struck by the fact that the hook, the leader, the line and the backing all held; there was a straight pull between me and the fish. I stumbled downstream and finally began to gain backing. I was able to get out of the river and make better progress on dry land.

At one point, as I ran on, the fish slipped into an eddy downstream and seemed to stop. In a blink the rod shot straight up, the backing twisted around the rod near the tip top and the rod came apart at the top section. In a word - a "mess." Trying to stay calm, I untangled the backing and reassembled the rod; I took up the strain and felt that the fish was still on. Off I went.

As I rounded a bend in the river, Maggie, Dan and his McKenzie River boat caught up to me and the fish moved into a wide, shallow area of calm water. Both the fish and I were out of gas.

Dan got out of the boat, Maggie got the camera and together we landed, photographed and released a very beautiful, wild Deschutes River steelhead.

On examination, we found that the green rock worm was impaled in the pectoral fin of the fish, the tippet on the rock worm was broken and the stonefly nymph was in the fish's tail. We surmised that when the steelhead first jumped, it hit the leader with its tail and broke off the rock worm, only to hook itself on the stonefly nymph. The fish's hectic, powerful rush downriver was explained by it being foul-hooked in the tail. We carefully removed the hooks, rested the steelhead and sent him on his way. We all agreed that it was fortunate that the gear held and we were able to free the fish of the hooks and line.

I hope that this fish will reproduce and put his determination and indomitable will into future generations so that the Deschutes River will continue to be an exciting, as well as beautiful, place to fish in the years ahead.

Thanks, Pop.

16 April 2018

Doulas, Mortality and Racism

Did you read the cover story in yesterday's New York Times magazine? It's titled "Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis" and it is a compelling, and heartbreaking, and horrifically shocking tale of infant and maternal mortality in the US, in particular in black women and babies. Read it. Read it and get fired up. This is wrong. Here are a few excerpts:

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States…Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C.
The reasons for the black-white divide in both infant and maternal mortality have been debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades. But recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.

I don't know about you, but I am appalled. Part of me wants to quit my my job and become a doula, or an advocate for women's health, or a midwife, or something. Since none of that seems all that practical, I searched up the organizations mentioned in the Times article as working in this sphere. I'll make some donations; maybe you want to too. Because I like doing my due diligence, the link to the 990s for the non-profits is included.


BirthWaves provides families with doula services after the loss of their pregnancy or infant. Services will be provided by unbiased, nonjudgmental and caring individuals who are trained to offer bereavement support. BirthWaves does not discriminate based on race, religion, income or any other social or economic status.

Physicians for Reproductive Health

Physicians for Reproductive Health unites the medical community and concerned supporters. Together, we work to improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, especially to meet the health care needs of economically disadvantaged patients.

Sisters Keeper (Mother Health International)

Mother Health International (MHI) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to respond and provide relief to pregnant women and children in areas of disaster, war and extreme economic poverty. We are committed to reducing maternal, infant and child mortality rates by creating culturally competent and sustainable birth centers using the midwifery model of care. We currently work with midwives in areas where the burden of perinatal mortality is extremely high. In each country we have clinics staffed by traditional midwives who work side by side with local nurse midwives and visiting ‘resident’ midwives from around the world.

Sistersong (Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective)

Sistersong’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

The last organization isn't actually a non-profit; it's a collective. They do ask for donations, though, and they are the organization that helped Simone Landrum birth her last child, her third child and fourth pregnancy.

Birthmark Doulas

Birthmark Doula Collective is a birth justice organization dedicated to supporting, informing and advocating for pregnant and parenting people and their families in New Orleans.

Pregnant woman need appropriate health care, babies need to be born alive, and endemic racism has to stop.

21 March 2018

Abstemious Oatmeal

Sometimes you need a bowl of oatmeal. The addition of a bit of flaked coconut bulks it up without adding much in the way carbohydrates. It doesn't taste especially of coconut, and there's an appealing chewiness to the finished porridge.

Coconut Blueberry Oatmeal

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 T. coconut flakes, unsweetened
pinch of salt
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
2 T. 2% milk

Boil water in a little pot. Add oats, coconut, salt. Reduce heat and simmer for about 4 minutes. Add blueberries and cook for another minute or so; you want the berries warmed through and starting to pop. Serve with milk.

17 March 2018

How To Stave Off Ennui

Last weekend, I had the great joy of a weekend away with my sister and her wife and my brother's wife, at a fancy schmancy spa. We spent our time laughing and eating and dancing and lounging. We hydrated the connective tissue of our spines; we practiced NIA; we took an African drumming class. Some of us did athletic things like Tabata and kick boxing; one of us went outside and went snowshoeing. We were buffed and rubbed and oiled and wrapped; we luxoriated in the dry sauna and inhaled in the steam room and soaked in the hot tubs, naked because we've finally shed our modesty as more cumbersome than necessary. We tried water aerobics with a side of in-pool yoga, we tried restorative yoga complete with Tibetan singing bowls vibrating against our hips. And when we weren't spa-ing, we sat in the room with the view and fireplace and read books and did crosswords and drank strong black coffee and fruity herbal tea.

The day we arrived, there was a jigsaw puzzle on a green felt table near the fireplace, complete. My sister and I looked at it, and looked at one another, and looked at it again, and took it apart. Surely it was time to for us to (re)start the puzzle. And what a puzzle it was. No ordinary cardboard puzzle this, it was made from meticulously cut plywood, about a half centimeter thick. The pieces slipped together with precision, it wasn't a rectangle, and the whole puzzle was embued with a sense of wit.

A piece shaped liked a hummingbird fit its beak into the yellow center of a flower.

A piece cut into a pair of cherries hides in the cherries of the puzzle image.

Other guests joined in - we’d come back past after a meal and find a few more bits snugged together. The singing bowl lady took full credit for having suggested the puzzle - “they used to have these crappy cardboard puzzles, I told them they needed an upgrade”. And there is no question that this precise and lovely wooden puzzle is an upgrade from your run-of-the-mill jigsaw. Discreetly tucked next to the puzzle was a little pile of promotional materials - from that we learned that the puzzle come from a company called Stave. And the prices? BREATHTAKING.

Honestly, there are puzzles on their website that cost as much as a small car. This is seriously crazy. The best analogy I can muster is that they are to regular puzzles what flying in a private jet is to the sardine tin ignominy of commercial coach. Both ways are going to get you to Chicago, but do you really want to spend scads of money on the luxe leather-lined jet that takes off on your schedule? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It was a fun diversion though, given that it wasn’t my dime.

10 March 2018

This is why we read the print edition.

Because seriously? You never would have spotted this on-line.

The New York Times 
Saturday, the 10th of March, 2018
Sports section, page B11