Beyond Ice Cream Cones and Fireworks

Several days ago my son handed me his favorite sweater.  There was a hole. He knows to pay attention to such things as soon as they appear but this was near his elbow, he’s a very active fellow, and he didn’t notice it until it had grown . . . well, you see.

(BIG) Hole in JC's Sweater
(BIG) Hole in JC’s Sweater

I didn’t make the sweater though it was hand knit. A stranger from whom he bought a tractor gave it to him a few years ago because he happened to have it in his car and he thought it would fit my son.

So yesterday, with the late afternoon sun streaming in the studio window (a person needs good light for such projects), I started poking at it.   Fixing something like this is simply solving a series of small problems . . . asking “Ok, what should I do now?” over and over.

And after an hour or maybe two, it looked like this:

The hole is fixed!
The hole is fixed!

Notice that there is no purple pattern where there used to be one. I figured no one was going to stop her or his white horse to see if it was there.

It’s not perfect. The sweater is sun-faded in many places, but it’s his favorite. Last winter I cut off its raggedy, stretched cuffs and knitted new ones. It will get more holes and I will fix them until it’s too threadbare to hold together. Because this is what we do in my family. We fix old things that can still have a useful life.

Other than that, I’m pretty much in a flurry of class preparation for the upcoming cruise. These are 5 new classes I’m teaching. I’m enjoying the process . . . and figuring out how I might share them with all of you who weren’t able to join us. But that’s in the future. There’s this other set of raggedy, stretched cuffs to replace . . .

JC's cuff replacement
JC’s cuff replacement

And this sweater I did make.

You want me to pay for YouTube?!?!

YouTube has a lot of responsibility for a 10-year-old. Five days ago it helped me magnetize a screw driver. That may not be an important life-skill on the grand scale of things, but I needed a magnetized screw driver to rewire my hanging lamp . . . the one that had burned through a wire, sparked, and spit out a screw the night before.

When YouTube was one year old it was sold to Google and the two of them have grown at warp speed.This week’s big change is that Google is starting a paid YouTube subscription service, YouTube Red. Here’s how I understand it . . .

THE FACTS
1) “Regular old YouTube” will still exist. You will be able to watch all your favorite shows and they will carry ads just like they do now.

2) You have the option of paying $9.99 a month to be able to watch all videos without ads along with some other perks like being able to download them to your devices. I’m still not clear about whether this download will be permanent or temporary.

SOME EARLY, RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUTUBE RED
At first I was concerned about this news because Google’s explanation to content creators (people like me) was so obscure that I was worried that my channel was going to “go private.” This is when I cried in frustration . . . when I was trying to find out what I had to do, if anything, to keep my channel up and running. I’m a very good reader. Google needs to hire some retired English teachers, the kind who know how to wield a red pen, to help wring some sense out of their “help” articles.

Lots of people (lots) have started using their iPhones and other “mobile devices” to access YouTube over the past few years. As of May, 2015, “YouTube’s users are up by more than 40 percent, while its mobile growth has surged to more than 80 percent year-over-year.” Ads suck up buckets of bandwidth and that bogs down your device and is frustrating and you didn’t ask for the dumb ads in the first place. Especially the creepy ones that follow you around offering you things you just looked up at Home Depot.

GOOGLE AND APPLE ARE HAVING A FOOD FIGHT
Google makes its money from those creepy ads. Mountains of money. 90% of all the mountains of money it makes is from ads. Then, last month, Apple released iOS 9 and it supports ad blockers. Do you see the arm-wrestling match going on here? Apple is either out to make your mobile experience happier or out to whack Google behind the knees with a fence post. It’s probably a bit of both.

So . . . Google/YouTube is adding the new, paid option partly to make up for the loss of mountains of ad money and to give you an option besides using an ad blocker.

UH . . . WHY WOULD I PAY $10 A MONTH TO BLOCK ADS WHEN I CAN JUST USE AN AD BLOCKER?
The internet is not really “free.” And YouTube is certainly not “free.” It takes mega(giga?)watts of electricity and servers and money for YouTube to store and deliver all those “free” videos you see. So they sell advertising on them. That pays the electric bill and it gives a little bit to us creators (You will be surprised at how little. I was). If you are able and willing to support channel creators in general, you will pay the 10 bucks a month.

I live in a tiny place. I have few lamps. I have poor night vision. When my lamp sputtered and spit I had to do some things like cut off a chunk of overly-twisted wire and rewire the socket. I already knew how to do that. But getting that screw situated at the bottom of the socket would not have happened without a tall stack of books to support the lamp while I worked . . . and a magnetized screw driver.  It’s a hanging lamp, remember? And I had to work going up into the lamp from below. Being able to create one from my on-hand stash of screwdrivers (I live on an island, remember?) was perfect. ERGO: I will pay the $10 a month. YouTube has saved me much time and 100s of $$s by teaching me how to do things “for free.” I want it to stick around.

So what’s your take? Are you willing to pay for YouTube? Do you think it’s a good value or a rip-off? Should everything on the internet be “free”? What does “free” mean to you anyway? I always appreciate your comments.

p.s. I agreed to allow my channel to be a part of YouTube Red because if I had said no? My channel would have “gone private.” Frankly, that “choice” felt a little heavy-handed to me.

Cracks . . . in Ice and a Marriage

Winter of 1976-77. We had one of those Michigan ice storms. You know. The ones that coat tree limbs and electrical lines with 1/2 inch thick or more enclosures of ice. The kind of ice that snaps things off. From weight, from brittleness, just for the gorgeous hell of it.

And it was beautiful. An ice-encrusted tree limb is exquisite in the bitter winter sun. Until one breaks and falls across a wire, the one that delivers you life-giving electricity.

We had “a beautiful home.” Huge by the standards of the time. We could entertain 70-80 people with two dozen pot luck salads and desserts and vats of chili and people didn’t even bump in to one another. It had “good traffic flow” as they say. But when the electricity went out

1)    We had no water.
2)    We had no heat.

We moved to my mother’s house, some 25 miles south. For a week.

I said, “This makes no sense. A home is supposed to be shelter. And in the worst weather ever, when we need it most, this house gives us no shelter. What good is it if it can’t do that?”

When we moved back a week later, Ma came with us. I can’t remember why.

In the process of checking pipes and everything else I opened the freezer door of the refrigerator and it was full. To the brim. With bread dough that had thawed and expanded to fill the entire compartment. I gasped and laughed and Ma said, “Just punch it down and bake it up.”

I baked 5 loaves of bread that evening. Ma took 2 of them home. And I never felt secure in that house again.

Husband #1 was a very good man. He didn’t share my need to live in a small, simple place that would have heat and water even when the electricity went out. Still, I sometimes regret having left that marriage. And smile when I remember that it happened at all.

Dating Jesus

I once performed in an original Easter Oratorio as Pilate’s wife. I went out on a date with the man who played Jesus. I was very happy to tell this to my mother, a devout Catholic who was worried about my relationship to The Church.

He had the driest kisses of any I have experienced outside those of my brothers. He was a baritone. I hoped for something lustier. He had a voice to die for.

A simple holiday season and Pumpkin Bread. . .

My “Holidays” are the simplest of any I know. I made that choice 35+ years ago. It suits me and I want to share what that looks like.

Because I come from a Catholic tradition, my celebration for this time of year is, basically, Christmas. But I resonate with the Solstice, so I celebrate both in quiet ceremonies at home. In the afternoon and evening I gather with family and friends. I adapt to the people around me and my geographical location at the moment, but simplicity is key.

I have one child. I collect things during the year that I think would make his life more wonderful. He is the only person on “my list” so anyone and anything beyond that is optional. [I wrote that in 2009. In 2013 I gained a wonderful daughter-in-law so now I have two people on my list.] Don’t get me wrong. I love giving and getting meaningful gifts . . . but “meaningful” is the operative word here. Everyone I know has more stuff than they want or need. I don’t feel obligated to contribute to their burden of stuff to take care of . . .  but if there is something I can give that is thoughtful and heartfelt and needed? . . . I’m all over it.

I do, however, have one little gift tradition . . . I make Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread for selected friends, family and acquaintances. It’s a tradition that started in the early 1970s with my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Shubel.

She was in her 80s and lived to the north of the first house I bought with my first husband.

first-house-2
My First House as a Grown Up

Mrs. Shubel taught me many things, but only two of them were life-changing:

  1. It’s a worthy thing to have a large, spectacular garden populated with one type of plant that blooms only 3 weeks a year (in her case it was bearded iris).
  2. It’s important to have a really good Holiday recipe to give as your signature gift.

Mrs. Shubel’s recipe was her Pumpkin Bread. She put dates in it and baked it in one-pound coffee cans. You couldn’t miss it. Who else delivered aromatic cylinders as presents?

But I don’t drink coffee that comes in cans and I’ve had years to play with her recipe. My adaptations settled in about 35 years ago to create my Signature Holiday Gift. I traded chocolate chips for dates and baked it in regular pans. And now I gift it to you. Put your name on it and call it your specialty. Use it to simplify your life . . .

MRS. SHUBEL’S  and CHERYL’S HOLIDAY PUMPKIN BREAD waiting for your signature. . .

First . . . it needs to be very cold and beautiful outside . . .
Christmas-Eve-Morn

Well . . . that’s not true . . . but this was the view the morning I started baking my 2009 Christmas bread. The winter sun here is rare and thus precious. I enjoy it at any . . . and every . . . opportunity.

Next, read or reread my earlier post about the basics of making any cake (or, in this case, a sweet bread which is the same process): The Zucchinis are Coming . . . Let them be Cake.

Then get out the recipe:Pumpkin-Bread-Recipe

The original recipe called for a small can of pumpkin which was about 2 cups at the time. Long ago I upped the recipe so that I could bake more at once and I use the larger can of pumpkin. I will give you both sets of numbers. The numbers in the brackets refer to the more ambitious amount.

DRY INGREDIENTS:

  • 3½ C flour [5¼ C]
  • 2 t baking soda [1 T]
  • ½ t baking powder [¾ t]
  • 1½ t salt [2¼ t]
  • 1 t cinnamon [1½ t]
  • ½ t [¾ t] each of ground cloves, ginger and nutmeg

Put all of these into a bowl

PB-dry-ingredand then gently whisk them together.

PB-dry-mixed-ingred

THE WET INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 C pumpkin (small can) [3 C] (most of a large can)
  • ⅔ C water [1 C]

Combine these in a separate bowl.

Pumpkin & Water

THE CREAM-TOGETHER INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 ⅔ C sugar [4 C]
  • ⅔ C butter [1 C]
  • 4 eggs [6 eggs]

THE CHUNKY ADDITIONS:

  • 1 C of  chopped dates OR raisins OR chocolate chips [1½ C]
  • 1 C of chopped walnuts [1½ C]

Start by beating the “cream-together” ingredients with an electric hand or stand mixer. You could even use a wooden spoon if that’s all you had but it’s a lot of work. Soften the butter first. It sat out at room temperature over night (but the room was pretty chilly).

Butter

Notice how it gets lighter in color as you incorporate air.Creamed-butter

Once it’s fluffy start adding the sugar about a cup at a time.Add-sugarand beat after each addition to incorporate the sugar evenly.Beat-in-sugar

Once the sugar is all in you can add the eggs, 2 at a time, and beat after each addition:Add-eggs (Notice the bright orange yoke versus the lighter yellow yolk of the larger egg in front. The bright orange yolk is from my friend’s chicken, the lighter one is store-bought.)
And now you have 3 bowls of ingredients: dry, wet and creamed.

Three-bowls

Some important notes here.

  1. Once you combine the baking soda and powder with liquid, you’re starting the chemical reaction that makes bubbles so you need to get it into a preheated oven (350º) in a hurry. That means your pans should already be prepared.
  2. When you were working with the butter, sugar and eggs, you beat the heck out of it to incorporate air. Now, you are going to stir gently . . . just enough to mix everything evenly. If you beat it, it will develop the gluten in the flour and it will be tough. That’s why we knead bread . . . to give it that chewy texture. However, you want your cakes and sweet breads to be tender and a little crumbly.

Let me back up a little here. My actual order of doing things is this:

  1. The night before baking I assemble the dry ingredients and take the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature overnight.
  2. At baking time, before I start the mixing process I prepare the pans and turn on the oven.

THE BAKING PANS

Mrs. Shubel’s original recipe calls for 3 one-pound coffee cans half filled and baked at 350º for one hour. These are my adaptations:

Smaller recipe: 2 standard loaf pans (9″ x 5″ x 2¾”) OR 4 medium loaf pans (7½” x 3¾” x 2¼”) OR  one standard pan and 2 mediums.

Larger recipe: This is how I usually do it. I use my 4 medium pans plus 3 smaller ones (5½” x 3″ x 2″).

I’m trying to make this simple and I realize that not everyone has 4 sizes of loaf pans on hand, but this is the best I can do with honesty. If you are a novice baker and you like things like zucchini, pumpkin and banana bread, you need 2 standard loaf pans. That’s how I started. These kinds of breads freeze very well and it takes just as much effort to make one loaf as two, so make at least 2 at a time.

Regardless of the size of the  pans, this is how you prepare them.

  1. Grease them with Crisco or butter. That means to take a piece of paper towel or waxed paper, grab a small clump of solid fat with it and rub all the interior surfaces of the pans.
  2. Cut pieces of waxed paper (or baking parchment) the size of the bottoms of the pans.Waxed-paper-bottoms
  3. Once the pans are greased the paper clings easily to them.

Prepared-Pans4. How long you bake them depends on the size of your pans and your oven but I find that these pans need about 45 minutes of baking. You might need to take the smaller ones out of the oven earlier. Just keep testing by inserting a toothpick into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean and not with goopy batter on it, they’re done.

13 things I’ve learned about running a Kickstarter campaign

1. Start with a heart-felt, creative project that will benefit others and a need to share the gift inside you with those who will feel better, just for this moment, just for this day, just because of your work.

2. It takes months of work to pull together a thoughtful, authentic Kickstarter project. Be willing to put in lots of hours of work.

3. Don’t quit no matter what the numbers look like.

4. Enlist a coach. Seriously. You need a person who will remember to post the link to your campaign when you forget and someone to hold you accountable to your time goals. And someone to look at your video and say, “This isn’t working . . . this will.” This person needs to be brave enough to be honest with you.  No sycophants allowed.

5. Rest when you’re tired.

6. Don’t quit even though it looks like you won’t make it. Slow and steady wins the race.

7. It will challenge you physically and emotionally. Eat good, real food and get good rest. Go for frequent walks or get some other kind of exercise. Seek out the company of close friends and family who love you.

8. Most people are embarrassed if they can only pledge a few dollars. Reassure them that the smallest pledge is important and feels like a vote of appreciation. Because it does.

9. Detach from the outcome. It might not work but it won’t be because you gave up.

10. Drink lots of herbal tea, iced and hot depending on the temperature outside.

11. Don’t quit no matter how afraid you are.

12. Don’t quit when someone sends you a stupid email 4 days before the campaign ends consoling you on your failure and offering success on your next try by paying him only $xx, in advance, no guarantee.

13. You need to be brave. You will learn how much you value your work, and even yourself, regardless of whether or not other people contribute to your goal.

Thank you. The end. For now. I’m sure I will learn more worth sharing when the dust settles. And if you want to contribute to the dream I have to provide free, good, knitting teaching? . . . click HERE.

Lactose intolerance

Sexy title for a blog post, no?

In 1971 I taught at the Seoul American Middle School on the military base in Seoul, Korea. It was during the Viet Nam war. My students were, as a group, the most physically beautiful humans I’ve ever been among, mostly because many of them were ethnically mixed. A large number were Korean-American. Their mothers were Korean, their fathers American, most Caucasian, some African-American.

Many of their fathers were in Viet Nam and the children stayed in Seoul, living with and in their Korean families. And this caused a problem in the classroom.

My students who were of European descent complained that the Korean-American students smelled of garlic. My Korean-American students complained that those of European descent smelled like sour milk.

We talked about it and decided, in a respectful way, that they could sit on opposite sides of the room, but there was to be no name-calling or complaints and when we did a project that involved mingling, they would simply have to deal with it.

Just this morning I ran across this in a report from the Food Empowerment Project:

“According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, ‘The pattern of primary lactose intolerance appears to have a genetic component, and specific populations show high levels of intolerance, including approximately: 95 percent of Asians, 60 percent to 80 percent of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80 percent to 100 percent of American Indians, and 50 percent to 80 percent of Hispanics. Lactose intolerance is least common among people of northern European origin, who have a lactose intolerance prevalence of only about 2 percent.'”

Even though I have northern European background, I haven’t drunk cow’s milk in years. I don’t particularly like it and ever since the advent of  rBST, I’m careful to choose dairy products from animals that haven’t been treated with it.

There is a lot of  energy going into improving the food we feed to our children at schools. Milk is a major staple of  the National School Lunch program. Here we have an opportunity to change public policy based on research. What a novel idea!

Saying grace before meals. . .

Catholic Church

photo by foxypar4

I grew up in a Midwest Catholic household. Dad was from French-Canadian stock. He seldom went to church but his sisters were zealots. They frowned a lot. Ma was devout but not as strict as her sisters-in-law. She went to Mass every Sunday, made hundreds of rosaries “for the missions” out of nickel wire and plastic beads and made her children go to church and catechism every week. Also . . . no meat on Friday, not even for Dad, who laughed a lot.

I spent much of my childhood worrying that Daddy would go to Hell for not going to Mass on Sundays. In the 1950s, this was a “mortal sin.”  Ma explained it away by saying he had “a heart condition,” which he did, but even as a kid I wasn’t buying that excuse. He could go to work. That meant he should go to Mass according to Sister Mary Joseph. But Dad was a generous man. The priest would come to our house to have a drink and solicit a pledge for some drive or another. Dad would write a check. I believe these contributions gave him an exemption from eternal damnation.

I left the Church when I left home to go to college mostly because I thought it was sexist and I found the doctrine contradictory. That and I was adamant that I was going to use birth control until I wanted a child.

I am, however, grateful for having been raised Catholic. There was beauty and drama and ceremony and ritual that served my soul. The archaic Latin . . . candles . . . incense . . . changing the priests’ vestment colors with the seasons . . . Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I still value ritual and a sense of reverence.

One of our rituals at home was saying grace before meals: “Bless us Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.”   It rolled out of our mouths like a single word.

My current favorite grace was introduced to me by Beloved Son several years ago. Whenever he and I eat together, we say it and I try to say it as often as I remember. It is from Thich Nhat Hanh.

This food is the gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, and much hard work.

May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it. May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed, our judgmentalness, our fears, our aggression, and our defensiveness. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. We accept this food so that we may realize the path of love and compassion.

cabbage-grower

I’m not “religious,” but I am connected to Spirit every day. Water and food, our most essential elements of survival, are gifts. I like to say thank you for them. I don’t remember to do it all the time. But when I do . . . my world feels clear and grounded.

Beauty is Food, Food Beauty (with apologies to Keats)

There is a story told about Albert Einstein. He was asked by a reporter something to the effect of, “What do you think is the most important question facing us today? “His answer was close to this: ‘The most important question a person can ask is, ‘Is the Universe a friendly place?'”

My answer is yes, this is a benevolent universe . . . and here’s a piece of evidence to support that choice:

Romanesco

Romanesco. It’s a broccoli/cauliflower of sorts. I think I’ll roast it . . . probably over 3 or 4 days as it’s quite large. But for now . . . I’m just going to admire it.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
      Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
                from Ode on a Grecian Urn  John Keats

Too Many Choices

In 1977 my favorite grocery store in the Detroit suburb where I lived was remodeled. It morphed from a regular, human-sized environment into an airplane hangar. It was big enough for weather patterns to form inside.

The first time I went in I skirted the outside edge. I felt safe among the mountains of vegetables and fruits, meats and poultry, eggs and dairy  because I could visually ID them. But my downfall came as I detoured into the interior to get a box of cereal. I went tharn. That’s what happened to the bunnies in Watership Down when they were overwhelmed. It’s the lapine equivalent to a deer being caught in the headlights.

I mean, really . . . have you looked at the number of different kinds of cereal there are? I can’t speak for the 21st century, of course, because I rarely venture into the interior aisles of a grocery store and never to the cereal aisle, but there were too many then and I’m guessing that there are more now. 

I never went back to that store. I found a bakery, green grocer, wine store and a butcher, and they filled all my needs. It sounds like it would take a lot longer to shop at four stores instead of one but it didn’t. In fact it was faster because I didn’t have to ponder the choices . . . the thousands of choices. 

I turns out, I’m not the only one who thinks that too much choice is too much despite our cultural belief to the contrary. There’s a guy who wrote a book about it. He gives a compelling TED presentation here:  Barry Schwartz talks about The Paradox of Choice.