Friday, May 17, 2019

flying, flashfloods, and fireballs

Hi World!

The play is over, I just completed four consecutive mornings of (mostly unproductive) writing, and, on the way home from town today, I picked up Vice from Red Box for a date night movie with my lover man and a bag of poblano chiles (from the store, not Red Box) to stuff with cheese and onions and wrap in warm flour tortillas for tonight’s supper (and for my lunch, because I was too excited to wait that long).

Also, I just ate four chocolates, my younger daughter discovered a dead mouse in the trap upstairs (and screamed bloody murder), and there’s a load of laundry in the machine.

Thrills, my life is.


So this is happening:

a baby muscle, yay!

There was a Mother’s Day special — mothers train free for three weeks — so I decided, why not? If my girls can do it, I can, too.

It’s killing me though. Seriously killing me. By the end of each class, I’m flat on my back on the floor, gasping for air, every muscle in my body — arms, butt, thighs, stomach, back — sizzling and burning.

One week down, two to go, heaven help me.


In other news, a small breeze inspired our trampoline to slam itself into a tree and die.

My husband says that's the tree giving us the middle finger for cutting it down — Take that, Murches!

We’ve gone through so many trampolines, I’ve lost count. Anyone have an old one they want to off-load?


Friends came for supper and the kids set off a whopper of a fireball.

Because we like to go all out for guests.


After two years of being on a waitlist to be a ride-along with AirCare 5 Medevac, my son finally got called up.

He got two, back-to-back flights, lucky kid.

And then, upon delivering one of the stroke victims to the hospital, he got to see the doctor insert some sort of thingy into the guy's thigh and then watch on the giant screen as it snaked up through the body on its way to the brain to destroy a blood clot.


Yesterday, my older son and daughter took off to go camping in the boonies for several days.

My son had been planning this trip for a couple months now — the light at the end of the tunnel after all those months of study. (That he considers being far removed from technology and a dry bed and running water "A Light At The End Of The Tunnel" baffles me to no end. Is he really my child?)

I asked them if they had something to read —or playing cards or something — and they were like, Nah.

"But what will you do the whole time?" I asked, distressed.

"Throw rocks in the water," my daughter said.

"Survive," my son said.

Three other guys are joining them tonight. Also, it’s supposed to rain, and since they are camping in a valley next to a river, I made my son read the first couple pages of Jeannette Walls’ Half Broke Horses in which there is a flash flood. Just, you know, so he knows to climb a tree if he hears the ground start to rumble.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.14.18), inclusion, surprise!, driving home the point, the quotidian (5.16.16), Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours, maseca cornbread, a burger, a play, and some bagels, 'twas an honor.

Monday, May 13, 2019

the quotidian (5.13.19)

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

The younger daughter bakes. 

Her recipes rarely work out for me: not sure why I keep trying....

A mean trick.

Helping her create a budget spreadsheet.

Planting tomatoes.

Chopped-up tree + power tools = dream playground.

Full throttle.

Hamburger in the making. 

Girl and her goat.

Studying (haha) for his Kaplan exam.

Surprise! While cleaning out our cupboards (for my Mother's Day present), she discovered a stash! 

Edith Frank and Peter Van Daan.

Friday, May 10, 2019

an honor

In this show (as in all the shows I’ve done), I gain so much from having an audience. Each night, their reactions their gasps and sobs, their laughter and deep silences  teach me more about this story we’re sharing. Their presence is a gift, and hearing their reflections and insights afterward is humbling.


After one of our shows, a friend said, “To think, this is how the immigrants who are living right among us feel. So afraid, never knowing when ICE might knock on their door.”  

She and her husband took us out for ice cream that night. Sitting outside in the cool dark, licking my ice cream cone as the adrenaline drained from my body, her husband told us, in his thick German accent, the story of his pacifist parents in Europe in the 1930s…

...How his father had to flee in the dead of night, leaving his wife and newborn baby behind and walking on foot into Switzerland.

...How the Gestapo came to their home a few days later and axed up their house searching for forbidden documents until the young wife became so irate that she ordered them to leave, and, miraculously, they did.

...How she fled the village with the community’s women and children in the back of a covered truck and, when they arrived at the border and the guards opened the truck’s doors, the stench of shit and vomit was so strong that they closed it up again and let them through.

...How the family took refuge in England for a few years (as Germans, they were placed in internment camps) and then immigrated to Paraguay on a ship that had to go out of its way to avoid the military submarines (and on its return voyage to Europe, the ship, now full of meat, was torpedoed and sunk).


I hear that a Holocaust survivor, a gentleman who had been imprisoned in Belsen during the war and is about the same age Anne would've been if she'd lived, will be attending our show this weekend.


Yesterday I received an alert from our church regarding the impending construction of a new ICE facility in our town. So, following the urgings of the email’s author, I emailed the relevant community leaders to ask that they not sign off on the new facility. Because immigrants are to be cared for, not treated as enemies.

And then I closed with this: “And, if you need a reminder of what happens when one group of people demonizes, hunts, and casts out another group of people, please go to Court Square Theater this weekend to see The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Shameless advertising, and snarky, too, but really, I don’t give a fig. Stories like this one are relevant. We need them.


Below is an excerpt of a message I received this morning:

Bravo, bravo, bravo!  What a wonderful production last night! … I have seen this stage work on a number of occasions, but this interpretation stands head and shoulders above all of the others. Kudos to you actors and to the directors. I felt the joy, the frustration, and the terror unlike I had ever experienced in previous productions. 
I was quite impressed with the detailed thought. In particular, the tactic of keeping you actors on stage during intermission pushed me into a deeper level of thinking. I whipped out my phone during intermission to send a few text messages. As I was freely sending these messages, there was something ominous about simultaneously seeing you actors "locked" in that space and recognizing that this locked space extended so far beyond a 15-minute intermission. Very effective. 
I did not clap at the end. I couldn't. I left thoughtfully, thankfully, and prayerfully. 
Thank you for ... helping to generate such a thought-provoking show. I am grateful.   

Just three shows left.

Peter and Anne

It's been an honor.

This same time, years previous: settling in, the quotidian (5.9.16), the quotidian (5.11.15), immersion, so far today, one more thing, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

our sweet Francie

Last Wednesday, we had Francie, our family dog of nearly fourteen years, put to sleep.

She'd been going downhill for several years. First, she’d developed tumors, and then she went deaf. She had arthritis, too (or something similar), so for months now, we’ve been giving her a baby aspirin every morning along with her food. She’d always been a sweet and docile dog — and more obedient than my own children — but as she aged, she became even sweeter. (I’ll be lucky if I age even half as well.)

Then Monday, she stopped eating. On Tuesday, we brought her inside where she stretched out on the floor, sometimes barely breathing. We thought she might die at any minute, so my older son sat beside her, studying for his semester finals and keeping a close eye on her.

But then she stood up and walked outside.

That evening, she refused to lay back down. For hours, she sat there, trembling and panting, every now and then shifting her weight uncomfortably from one hip to the other.

Wednesday morning, my husband called the clinic and set the appointment for 3:30 that afternoon. The day dragged. In between grocery shopping and kickboxing, chores and finals, the kids took turns sitting beside her, stroking her head and crying.

Seconds before they all dissolved into tears, yet again. 

We discussed where to bury her, and who wanted to go along to the appointment. The boys all wanted to go — my younger son wanted me to go, too — and the girls decided to stay at home. But last minute, as we loaded Francie into the van, the girls, unable to leave Francie, climbed in, too.

The ride to the clinic was silent but for children’s crying. In the clinic waiting room, we were a hot mess, all tears and snot. The staff didn’t waste much time trundling us back to the examining room. The vet, a quiet-spoken older gentleman I’d never met, gave her a sedation shot, and then left the room.

It took only a couple minutes for Francie’s panting to slow and for her to gradually relaxed onto the floor. When the vet returned, my older son lifted her to the table, and the girls left the room. The vet shaved a small spot on her leg and injected her with the medication. Within seconds, she was gone. 

On the drive home, her sheet-wrapped body tucked in the trunk like the grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine, we remembered the first time, thirteen years before, that we’d brought her, whimpering in a crate in the back of the car, to our house — we’d named her Francie on that ride. As we got closer to home, our sadness slowly lifted. The hard, necessary task was finished.

At home, my older son dug the hole. He removed her collar, and lowered her in.

Francie’s death is, by far, the healthiest death I’ve ever experienced with a pet. It left us utterly drained, of course (that evening my older daughter came to watch our invited dress rehearsal, which was, perhaps, an unwise choice: she was so traumatized by seeing the play only a few hours after Francie’s death that she’s refused to come see an actual performance), but there’s not the lingering, piercing sadness we felt after Alice was killed.

This time, there’s just relief that it’s over, and gratefulness for the many years we had with our sweet Francie.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.8.17), Moroccan carrot and chickpea salad, how it is, the quotidian (5.6.13), the family reunion of 2012, my boy, roasted rhubarb.

Monday, May 6, 2019

the quotidian (4.6.19)

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

Once again, the boy made his breakfast.

Safely fenced.

Duking it out with chocolate ganache: biological daughter versus theater daughter.


Sacrificing a favorite tree to save the septic system, sob.

Garden kill.

Taking the lawn by storm.

She loves this.

This same time, years previous: settling in, stages of acting, fence, not what we're used to, rhubarb daiquiri.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

with my children

One of the best parts of this play is that two of my kids are involved in it.

My younger daughter works backstage, setting props, washing dishes, helping with costume changes. And my older son plays Peter — for several months now, I’ve been hanging out with him nearly every evening.

On the car ride into town, he and I work on lines, do warm-ups (beatboxing, tongue twisters, car dances), and discuss our characters’ intentions and motivations, trying to figure out ways to dig deeper into our roles. On the way home, we debrief and give each other notes. Thanks to his astute observations and feedback — “too much breath,” “you sounded whiney,” “that ‘please’ should be a statement, not a question,” “don’t let your voice break too soon,” — I’m much more grounded in my role.

Another fun thing: the role of Margot Frank, my daughter, is played by my older daughter’s dear friend, an absolutely phenomenal actor. Even though Margot’s role is small, she’s a constant presence, and I — both as Jennifer and Mrs. Frank — rely on her heavily for emotional support and connection. The few times that she missed rehearsal, it felt like four people were absent.

Exploring our new (unfinished) home for the first time. 

We opened last Thursday, on Holocaust remembrance day. The night before had been an invited dress, and then that day we had two shows — a morning matinee and the evening opening. Due to a few last-minute glitches, opening night was our first full run-through, but despite the shaky start, we’re now beginning to settle into the space and pick up steam.

The directors and stage manager.

It’s been wonderful to finally have an audience, and the response has been both humbling and invigorating. Last night, after the show was over, the audience just sat there, quietly, for a full minute or two, and when I went out afterward, I was greeted with tearful, fierce hugs.

I don’t find it hard to act a difficult play — I’ve had weeks to work through the sadness and get into the show; and as an actor, digging into that emotional, gritty place is deeply gratifying — but for the audience, they’re seeing and feeling the story for the first time. Carrying them to that raw, open place feels sacred, and afterward I’m both depleted and (quietly) elated. As a result, after the shows I head backstage (instead of joining the rest of the cast in greeting the audience as they exit the theater) where, all alone in the green room, I peel off my sweat-drenched costume and change into my street clothes. Only then, after I’ve had a couple minutes in the cool quiet, am I ready to go back out and face any lingering audience members.

Every night pre-show, he has to re-sew on his star. 

We have six more shows (get tickets here!), and according to tomorrow’s weather forecast, it’s supposed to rain all day. Dark theaters and rainy Sunday afternoons were made for each other, don’t you think? (wink-wink)

P.S. We made the news, here and here!

This same time, years previous: Marta's picadillo, a simulation, the quotidian (5.5.14), creamy avocado macaroni and cheese, the definition of insanity.

Friday, May 3, 2019

freezer coffee cake

After I posted about that sour cream coffee cake, one of my readers (Hi, Mommychef!) shared her favorite recipe with me. Her recipe, she said, makes two cakes — one to bake right then, and the other to freeze, unbaked. That way, when a coffee cake hankering strikes, simply pop the frozen cake directly into the hot oven and — ba-bam! — fresh coffee cake.

I was intrigued. Could I really mix up a batter and freeze it for later? Would the frozen cake rise properly in the oven? And, if it worked to freeze the batter for a coffee cake, then could I freeze other cake batters, too?

Suddenly, I was struck with a vision of my freezer stuffed full with trays of cake batter-filled cupcake liners, pans of brownie dough, and mini loaves of banana bread, all ready to pop in the oven at a moment’s notice. Wouldn't that be lovely?

But I've always thought that cakes needed to go directly into the hot oven once the rising agents were activated (i.e., the wet ingredients mixed with the dry) because if not, the cake wouldn't rise as high. But perhaps that's a myth? After all I do make certain recipes, like refrigerator bran muffins and buckwheat apple pancakes, in which the dough is fine hanging out in the fridge for days on end. And I already freeze raw cookie dough, scones, and pie pastry, so why not cakes?

I still don't know which batters can withstand a period of refrigeration or freezing — there's probably a scientific formula for this — but I'm happy to report that this frozen coffee cake batter bakes up most marvelously. I can't even tell the difference between the cakes made from frozen batter and the ones made from fresh batter. It's magic.

When I told my mother about this frozen coffee cake thing, she wondered if the cake tins might rust in the freezer. Already I was contemplating the problem of tying up my trusty cake tins for an extended period of time. But then I came up with a solution.

I line the baking tin with parchment and then, when the cake batter is frozen, I remove it from the tin (the dough is still soft but it holds its shape) and slip it into a plastic bag that’s labeled with the correct pan size. Then when it's time to bake it, I simply plop the raw cake and its parchment shell, directly into the tin, and into the oven it goes.

I’ve been making this cake on repeat. I’ve taught my niece how to make it during one of her afternoon baking lessons, I’ve made it for our church’s Easter breads breakfast, and I’ve made it for my family (and watched them devour nearly a whole cake in a single sitting).

And then we ran out of sour cream.

But, never fear! This week when I went shopping, I bought a whole giant tub at Costco.

Another coffee cake is right around the corner....

Freezer Coffee Cake
Adapted from reader Mommychef.

According to the recipe, the coffee cake is supposed to be split between two 9-inch cake pans. My pans, however, have lower sides and they nearly overflow. So maybe aim for two 10-inch pans? Or  one springform pan and one small loaf pan? Each time I make it, I seem to do something different.

for the streusel: 
⅔ cup each brown sugar, white sugar, and flour
1½ tablespoons cinnamon
1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it comes together in a glorious crumbly mess.

for the cake: 
3½ cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1½ sticks butter, room temperature, cut into chunks
3 eggs
1¾ cups sour cream

Put the dry ingredients — flour, sugars, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt — into the mixing bowl. Beat in the butter, one chunk at a time. The mixture will be crumbly. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the sour cream a little at a time. Beat on high speed for a couple minutes, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Divide half of the batter between two greased 9-inch pans (see note at the top). Divide half of the crumbs between the two pans. Dollop the rest of the batter over the crumbs and use a knife to spread it smooth. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the cakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To freeze: Line the cake pan(s) with parchment paper. Fill with the batter, according to the directions above. Freeze for one hour until set. Using the parchment paper as handles, lift the frozen raw batter from the pan (it will still be a little soft) and immediately transfer to a ziplock bag. Label (so you know the correct pan to use!) and return to the freezer. To bake, simple remove from freezer, plop into pan (parchment paper and all) and slip directly into a preheated oven. Bake for an extra 5-10 minutes.

This same time, years previous: PUERTO RICO, the quotidian (5.1.17), the quotidian (5.2.16), carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, depression chocolate mayonnaise cake, baked-in-a-pot artisan bread, take two.