Friday, October 20, 2017

another farm, another job

Recently, my older daughter picked up a gig at a neighboring farm, caring for all the animals, morning and evening. This means she gets up early (dark early) to get to work, coming back home just as the rest of us are finishing up breakfast, and then going back up again at the end of the day.

It's so odd, this business of raising people who came from my body and yet aren't anything like me. A job that would require me to haul my butt out of my warm bed and go shovel manure and swing hay bales and fill water buckets would shrivel my soul, but my daughter acted like she had won the lottery.

Ever since she got the job, she’s thrown herself headlong into taking charge. She organized the medicine cabinet, and sorted all the blankets, putting the damaged ones in a separate pile. She wormed the horses and donkeys, but only after re-calibrating the dosages — based on what she’d learned from the two vets who run the other farm she works at, the doses seemed high — and then she sent an email to the owner, notifying her of the changes. I showed her how to use Google Docs, and she’s written up her own chore schedule, as well as medication charts, etc.

Anyway, the other morning after my run (because I do haul my butt out of bed to go running in the dark, #inconsistencies) I trekked over to the farm to see where it is she’s been running off to every day.

My daughter was down at the chicken coop when I arrived. She held up a broken plastic scoop. “I threw them some grain and the cup went flying.”

She introduced me to Tulip, the lame lamb. “She has trouble stopping once she starts running, so she crashes into things,” she said.

She filled water buckets, and then headed into the barn to feed the horses, donkeys, and rabbits. The first time she cleaned out the male rabbit’s cage, he came running at her, stamped his feet, and next thing she knew, she was drenched with rabbit urine.

Finally, still in my sweaty running clothes and now thoroughly chilled, I headed back to the house.

shadow selfie 

This same time, years previous: back in business, a dell-ish ordeal, the quotidian (10.20.14), autumn walk, a pie party!, how to have a donut party, part II, classic cheesecake, rhubarb cake.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

a hairy situation

Let’s talk about hair, shall we? Specifically (and, obviously, because I rule this space), let’s talk about my hair.

Here's the deal: the texture of my hair — lots of body with one part (uneven) wave, one part curl, and one gigantic part frizz — has been giving me (minor) fits.

Maybe you can help?

First, here’s what my hair looks like when I let it completely air dry:

Also, after washing my hair, I usually spritz in some Pureology Colour Fanatic, the first step in battling the wiry-frizz problem. It makes my hair a couple degrees softer. And it smells good, too.

Currently, I utilize two different styling treatments, which sounds complicated, but really, it only takes five to ten minutes.

Straight(ish): When my hair is halfway dry, I use a large wooden brush and a monster hairdryer to blow it out and give it some shape. Then I follow up with some heavy-duty hair-straightening to quiet the persistent frizz. (To protect my hair from the heat, I spritz a little Fructis Style Flat Iron Perfector Straightening Mist prior to ironing my locks.)

Here are the results, back in July, when it was super hot outside and my hair was a bit shorter than it is now:

Curly (ish): When my hair is halfway dry, I spritz in a little Aveda's Be Curly Curl Enchancer to draw out the natural curl. Then once the hair is completely dry, I do a quick pass with the curling iron, focusing on the extra-frizzy and/or straight clumps. When utilizing this method, I have to avoid all combs and brushes which would, immediately and irrevocably, obliterate my hard-won curls.

To tame the poof and keep it out of my eyes, I often twist back the sides:

By the end of the day, the curl has relaxed considerably but so has the frizz, so it sort of evens out:

And on Day Two (I wash my hair every other day), my hair is lankier, the curl even softer.

So here’s my question: Is there any way to get my hair soft and smooth from the very beginning, without all this spraying and straightening and curling? I’m envisioning some sort of serum — just a couple drops of something (that’s not terribly expensive, pretty please) — that I massage into my still-wet hair that magically turns my hair silky-smooth.

Does something like this even exist?

(I have my doubts, but one can always dream...)

This same time, years previous: hair loss (ha! apparently October is Jennifer's "let's talk about hair" month), where the furry things are, the quotidian (10.19.15), would you come?, pumpkin sausage cream sauce.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

practical and beautiful

Years ago, one of my friends went on a trip and brought me back a gift: a hot pad for my cast iron skillet handle. I’d never seen anything like it before and was completely smitten. Ever since, it’s been in heavy use.

But then, o woe, I partially burned it up while making “steek” on the outdoor cookstove the other week. The hot pad was mangy before, but now bits of charred fabric were flaking into the food. It was time for it to go.

And then a few days later when I was making my birthday list, it occurred to me that I could request a new skillet sock. I already had a pair of my cousin Zoe’s handmade hot pads on my wishlist, so it’d be pretty easy to just add a skillet sock, too. But oh no, Zoe didn’t have any skillet socks on her site! I poked around Etsy, and then around Amazon, too, but, nothing looked right. All the skillet socks were either too flimsy or too tacky. Besides, how could I know if they were properly made, durable and thick enough to keep my hand from burning?

On the verge of giving up all together, I decided I could at least ask Zoe if she’d made them before. Maybe she had a secret stash somewhere? Zoe replied that she had tried to make them, but wasn’t pleased with the results. “But I'd be willing to try again for you if you can wait...” 

“Only if you WANT to,” I wrote back.

A couple hours — HOURS! — later, an email from Zoe popped up on my screen: she had two hot pads finished and ready. (WHAT?? ALREADY?!?!)

Even though Zoe sent me photos so I knew what the hot pads looked like, and even though I ordered the hot pads myself (since my husband said it’d be easier), I didn't open the package until my actual birthday, be impressed. 

Turns out, the hot pads couldn’t have been more perfect: thick and sturdy, practical and beautiful. I get a kick out of the subtle humor, too: the chili peppers on the one, the coffee on the other — HOT!

They belong in my kitchen, these hot pads do.

Thank you, Zoe!

P.S. I just checked out her site this morning, and now she has a whole selection of skillet socks for sale, lucky you!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.17.16), rich, that thing we do, deprivation.

Monday, October 16, 2017

the quotidian (10.16.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Asparagus beans, from a friend.

Tied into wreaths and then lightly steamed.


Sometimes my husband complains there isn't enough granola. For his birthday, I shut him up.

Marking time.

Fallen ones.

All day long, dark and dreary.

My people. 

This same time, years previous: a list, the adjustment, the quotidian (10.15.12), grab and go: help wanted, three vignettes: my husband, how to have a donut party, part one, apple cake, 2008 garden stats and notes.

Friday, October 13, 2017

a weekend away, soiree!

The soiree happened again!

the hostess, modeling the gag gift from my mother

As is the custom, we kicked off the weekend with a feast: melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin, Bloody Marys, an amazing Caesar salad with candied orange slices (I know!!!), and salted chocolate caramel tart. Oh, and the soup had a whole dried hibiscus flower floating in the center, delish.

For the afternoon’s entertainment, my aunt rented a pontoon and we boated up and down Cheat Lake. At one point we cast anchor (or whatever you call it) so we could swim. I wanted to get in, and I was already wearing my swimsuit, but all that murky, dark water kind of freaked me out. Who knew what was lurking just below the surface, waiting to grab my feet? Plus, I’d washed my hair that morning. It’d be so much easier to just sit prettily on the pontoon.

all lake photos, courtesy of Cousin Karen

But then my sister-in-law hurled herself into the deep, dark lake, and then my cousin-in-law followed suit. Far too often in life, I’ve refrained from physical adventure, not wanting to deal with the mess and dirt, but that afternoon, I decided, no more wall-flowering. I was on a pontoon in the middle of a gorgeous lake on a brilliant fall afternoon, for crying out loud.


And so in I jumped and it was marvelous.

Normally, deep water makes me feel like I might be drowning (because I might be!), but this time, for some reason, I was completely relaxed. Maybe because there was no pool side to grab onto? Maybe because the lake water contained some sort of mineral that created buoyancy?

In any case, my cousin-in-law and I (my sister-in-law had already gotten out) just hung out there in the middle of the lake, treading water and visiting. When I got tired, I’d stretch out on my back and relax, like I was on my living room couch. From the pontoon, the rest of the gang kept an eye on us, making sure we didn’t float too far away or get run over by passing speed boats, and after a half hour (forty-five minutes?) of water therapy, it was time to move on.

That evening we ate dinner at a restaurant that had the best garlic cream sauce. (I’d ordered charcuterie, but then I ate everyone else’s food, too. Perks of swimming!) And then we went home and sat around the fire pit and drank red wine and coffee and told stories.

The next morning we had coffee in the sunroom, followed by brunch.


One of the topics of discussion: my aunt's killer legs. She took a self portrait when she was young (and no longer a plain Mennonite, obviously) and now the photo hangs in her bedroom.

I'm a fan.

My aunt surprised me with a birthday present (my birthday was the next day): a crazy-heavy, solid marble rolling pin. And then everyone else was like, Hey, no fair! I want the soiree to be held on my birthday!

back home, making pizza

But then, as is her custom, my aunt gave everyone a present.

First, a whole series of nesting boxes with a chocolate in the middle, which we all found hugely entertaining. And then she gave us another box and in it was a silver necklace with two pendants that read “nevertheless” and “she persisted.”

So perfect. Wearing it gives me an emotional kick-in-the-pants.

Before leaving, we took some parting group shots.

look at my mother  isn't she glam?

This same time, years previous: peanut butter fudge, the quotidian (10.13.14), home, roasted red pepper soup, pepperoni rolls, sweet onion corn bake, pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the relief sale donuts of 2017

So, once again, we made a few donuts...

We haven’t yet figured out a way to count the donuts (that’s one of next year’s goals), but one of the volunteers operating a fryer, a thirteen-year-old boy who flat-out rocked his job, kept a running tally. He reported that in three hours he fried 1500 donuts. Going by his numbers, that’s four fryers for three, three-hour shifts. In other words, 1500 times 4 times 3 equals 18000.

However! There were a couple (brief) times when we weren’t using all four fryers, and it did take us about an hour to get fully up to speed, so, to be on the safe side, I’d say we made more like 16000-17000 donuts.

So you know, just a few.

waiting to be filled

The whole process went amazingly smoothly this year. We had no fiascos—

Well, except for that one moment on Friday afternoon when a particularly assertive child insisted that we dump 50 pounds of confectioner’s sugar in the mixer and then try to add the beater and we let it happen, because, Okay, you think you’re so smart? Then here’s a chance for a life lesson, HA. Of course, the giant metal beater got jammed in the mixer and full-grown men had to wail on the parts with hammers. It was so horribly suspenseful — WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THE MIXER???? — that I slumped down on the floor with my back to the mixer (my husband claims I was curled in the fetal position) unable to watch. They dislodged the part eventually (and found a metal burr that needed to be filed off), and everything proceeded as we had originally intended — beater first, liquids second, sugar third— with the children properly subdued and compliant.

no longer stuck, HALLELUJAH

But aside from that, the process was pretty much a dream. And not a sleep dream, either. I was much more awake and alert this year, probably thanks to a four-hour nap Friday evening after supper, courtesy of a glass of wine and one-third of an Aleve PM. The older two kids were both granted permission to work in the night kitchen, so we were all back up at 11:30 to head out the door by midnight.
When we arrived, we flew into action, scalding milk, mixing the first batches of dough, making coffee.

We’d left the heaters running in the little proofing room (and my husband had made a makeshift door with plastic strips cut from a clear shower curtain, as well as wrapped the tops and sides of the proofing box with plastic and nestled an electric blanket in the bottom), so when we arrived, the room was a toasty 110 (!!!) degrees. By the time the first volunteers rolled in the door, there were twelve five-gallon buckets of dough rising at a rapid clip, and the oil was heating in the fryers.

the calm before the storm

My older daughter worked the milk station for the first two shifts or so, scalding 43 gallons of milk with 86 pounds of butter and then blending it into the potatoes, all 172 pounds of them.

There were the typical start-up blunders — a milk over-flow, a sloshed bucket, a horribly scorched kettle — but then she got the hang of it.

exhausting work, that milk

My older son worked the mixing station for the first three hours with an Old Order Mennonite woman. She measured and dumped, and he ran the mixer. He trained the next three women, and then … disappeared? I don’t rightly recall. But those three women! Clustered around the mixer, they reminded me of the three witches in MacBeth, huddled around a caldron, and when I told them so, they promptly commenced to cackling.

We cruised through dozens of volunteers — such thoughtful, hardworking, kind people! — and nine hours of mixing, rolling, frying, and glazing.

Then, right around noon, we realized that we were coming up a little short on glaze (plus, we’d inadvertantly made a little more dough than we could get cut and fried in the amount of time allotted), so with two batches of dough left to go, we had to quit.

and just like that, it's over

Even with our increase in quantity, and even though the relief sale board raised the price of donuts considerably (it was high time), and even though there was another, hugely popular outdoor festival that day, we still sold out, yessss!

Last year we made too few (and took too long getting started) and this year we operated at maximum speed but mixed two batches too many.

So next year, fingers crossed, we ought to get it just right.


P.S. As I've mentioned before, I have a conflicted relationship with the relief sale: that we have to eat tons of food and buy oodles of stuff in order to help people in need strikes me as a little cattywampus. But then this year, a person in our community initiated S.O.S, or Sharing Our Surplus — a station where people could go to give money, no need to buy anything — and that felt good.

This same man went on to write a blog post pointing out that, while the purpose of the sale is to be compassionate to those in need, nowhere at the sale do we hear stories of the plight of those people. Instead, it's all about what we're doing, a competition to raise the most money. Maybe this, that the givers aren't connected to the receivers, is part of the reason the sale often makes me feel uncomfortable?

In any case, it's nice to know that I'm not alone in feeling unsettled about our beloved money-raising tradition.

P.P.S. If you’d like to get an idea of where the relief sale money goes, take a peek at our friends’ blog: simply-told stories and stunning photos of life in Ethiopia. Seriously, the photos are breathtakingCheck out these camel shots!

This same time, years previous: the boarder, party on, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies, happy pappy-style cornbread.