Category Archives: Life

On Installing a New Kitchen Faucet

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Check out this beautiful new faucet Alex installed at our kitchen sink! The faucet we replaced was a very, very basic builder-grade, chrome-finished number to which we had installed a little flow-control doo-hickey (like this)so that we could get a little sprinkler action going. You can kind of see it in the panorama picture). Thanks to the half hour or so that Alex spent on his back under the sink atop some creatively arranged pillows, I can now remove the end of the spigot, thus extending the telescoping hose, to spray down the sink or bulky items with ease. It’s brushed nickel, to match the hardware on our cabinets, and it totally upgrades the space. I may or may not be stoked to wash the dishes. I’m sure that feeling’ll wear off in time.

I don’t have a lot of kitchen sink stories.

Actually, maybe there’s one.

Once, I froze my finger, and I learned how to react in an emergency.

After I quit gymnastics (I was 10, and had competed for 3 years before a knee injury set me back), my parents encouraged me to choose another sport. I picked swimming and volleyball. I stuck with the swimming, but I proved a bit vertically challenged for the latter. Nevertheless, I played recreationally with some of my classmates for about 3 years in middle school. One day at practice I jammed my pinky finger on the ball.

For some reason, when I was younger and had a minor injury (such as a pulled muscle), I was afraid to tell my parents. I would sneak ice packs from the freezer up to my room and apply them to the affected area, preferrably under the covers of my bed while reading a book, to disguise the fact that I might be injured, and thereby preventing a barrage of questions and parental concern, however warranted it may have been.

So, true to form, as soon as we got home from volleyball practice that day, I snuck a re-useable ice pack from the freezer. This thing was way larger than I needed for just my lone pinky finger, mind you, but I was determined to ice that sucker for 20 minutes so no one would ever know I had been hurt at practice. Luckily, my dad was outside working on the front porch railing, so I was uninterrupted for what I perceived to be the necessary time to make this hurt magically disappear.

After twenty minutes of being entombed in the ice pack, my finger was frozen. I knew this because when I tapped my finger on the wooden kitchen table, it made the same sound that ice would make, if I were to tap ice on the wooden kitchen table. I nervously drummed my other fingers just to make sure there was indeed a difference. There was. Indeed. And so I went wailing out to my dad, trying to explain that actually I had withheld some information when he asked me how practice went. I had jammed my finger during volleyball practice, I iced it like I was supposed to, and now look!

Tap tap tap. On the wooden porch railing. Is this what a skeleton feels like?

While I cried at my foolish fears, Dad ushered me back inside and turned on the kitchen faucet. He ran the water lukewarm and stuck my finger under the running current. After a couple minutes, I could sense the feeling returning to my finger, and was so grateful that I wouldn’t have to have my finger amputated (I had an active imagination, you see).

Once it was back to normal, I’m sure my dad said something like “See? You’ll be fine,” and went back to work like nothing had happened.  And I was fine! More than my finger that was wiggling once again, it was his mannerism, void of judgment or criticism or fear, but full of kindness in a neutral sort of way, that set me at ease. While I don’t remember his exact words, I suppose his actions are how I learned how to react in an emergency (whether it’s an actual emergency or just a perceived one): Remain calm. Assess the situation. Do what you can. But above all, remain calm.

Recently, at one of his favorite dog parks, Nero and another dog crashed into a tree. Nero was happily chasing a pal around the park, weaving in and out of the trees–this is central Virginia, after all, it was a forested area. A third dog wanted to join in the fun, and intercepted them from the side, instead of falling in line behind. Her timing was such that this new dog crashed into a tree and blindsided Nero into doing the same.

I didn’t see the actual crash, but I heard it, and my head whipped around in time to see all the dogs wondering what just happened. It was like when a kid falls on the playground, and every other kid knows the one who took a tumble is about to cry but is trying hard to fight back the tears, and so they linger around, unsure whether to run away or try to help.

Nero stumbled a few steps, limped slightly on one of his front legs, and had one of his eyes half-shut. Alex reached Nero first and the other humans present checked on the other crash bandicoot pup. In retrospect, if this had been a cartoon, I realize that Nero would have had a bunch of yellow stars spinning above his head while he regained his wherewithall. Perhaps he did actually see stars, wondering what evil force had interrupted his delightful afternoon run. We’ll never know.

We quickly checked his vision, gently rubbed his head and his leg (which produced no signs of wincing), and did everything we could do to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, less than 45 seconds later, Nero was prancing around again, fetching his frisbee from the water, and greeting other dogs that entered the park. We nervous puppy parents breathed a sigh of relief. Dogs are admirably resilient creatures.

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Nero’s at home resting now, following Rogue around and making sure all is well in our backyard, and he shows no sign of unusual behavior, thank goodness.

Now I know why my parents were so concerned if I ever complained of any hurt – physical or emotional. Heaven help us when Alex and I have kids of our own.

Tonight as I stand at my new kitchen sink washing the dinner dishes, I will say a word of thanks, for the lesson from the kitchen sink of my youth that clearly helped me deal with what could have been a disastrous afternoon. Reacting calmly is pure instinct now; it’s after-the-fact that I let my imagination get the best of me, and I shiver at what could have been. And as I flip between the stream and the shower setting on the faucet, I will also say I’m sorry, for ever having taken our dogs’ presence and health for granted. They are truly the sunshineiest gifts in our lives right now. If you have furry creatures in your life, be sure to give them a big hug and rub their bellies for an extra long time tonight.

Nero’s out back soaking in the last of the evening sun. I can see him from my kitchen sink.

Awakened

Ordinarily, I despise cloudy days. I despise them for the oppressive way they make me feel sad, cold, and lethargic. I despise them for being so uninspiring that taking a shower feels like I have accomplished a monumental task for the day. I despise them for blanketing the sky in grayness, and for the way I suddenly sympathize with plants at the nursery whose ID tags picture a geometric sun, pleading for warmth and light.

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But today is different. Today’s clouds brought a crisp edge that tickles the lungs when inhaled deeply.  It is 10:30 in the morning, and I have already stepped outside four times just to feel the cold breeze snake its way between the button holes of my pajama set, surprising the bare skin of my chest to a kind of alert anticipation that melts into all kinds of comfort when I return indoors to warmth. I watch the dogs play in what were once neat piles of leaves, sniffing at the mold and decay, then lifting their noses to discern what news the breeze brings. I hear the windchimes clang irregularly, and the giant maple tree shudder farewells to its last leafy undergarments–an eerie soundtrack to the changing seasons.

Today I have hot chocolate and flannel sheets and brioche with apple butter. I have a sweet potato-chorizo soup simmering on the stove, waiting to be ladled into bowls at dinnertime to comfort our bellies with a fiery warmth. I have a stock pot of water coaxing every last ounce of flavor out of vegetable scraps, its vapors steaming up my kitchen window. I have clothes tumbling in the dryer with monotonous thuds.

Today I am thankful, as in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

Today I have found my voice once again.

Hello, friends. It’s been a while.

Yummy Links

Happy Mother’s Day to all those new and experienced moms out there!

Here’s my momma and me at my wedding.

Mom and Me

Copyright Adam Barnes 2011

Isn’t she stunning?

My momma

And here’s the groovy silk scarf I made for her for Mother’s Day! Surprise, Mom! Hope you like it!

Silk Scarf Painting

And here are a few links to things that caught my attention this week, including a couple mom-themed things:

- In honor of moms and grandmas cooking worldwide, this project is inspiring and yummy.

- Add some chicken, and this paleo creamy crockpot cashew curry looks promising.

- Some humbling thoughts about marriage. Especially fitting if you are a fan of The Office and have been tearing up as woefully as I every episode as the series finale approaches, especially along the Jim/Pam storyline. And, well, I suppose it’s also fitting if you are recently (or about-to-be) married.

- So you’ve heard of people talking to their plants. How about plants talking to other plants? Apparently basil is a plant plant whisperer.

- Here’s a nice tutorial for homemade bath salts. An easy way to pamper mom (or yourself).

- I had a blast at my town’s recent arts&crafts festival, and am feeling so inspired by this painter!

Cheers! Have a great week.

In Which I Discover a Weakness in Myself + Yummy Links

I have been out of commission for almost a week now, thanks to a vicious case of food poisoning. Yuck. I wasn’t able to identify the offending foodstuff, but I do know I hope to never ever feel that way again.

Naturally, being limited in my diet has put me in a zombie-like state, dreaming of all the springtime foods I should be eating right now. Rhubarb and asparagus are growing arms and legs in my crisper drawers and putting on a little parade and twirling batons that haunts me when I try to go to sleep. Alas, I have only been able to comfortably digest buttered noodles (often in chicken broth), an entire sleeve of saltine crackers, and rice. And with caloric intake severely reduced, I’ll be working my way back to my normal appetite slowly. Boo.

If I’m ever stranded on a desert island, with no viable source of food, I’ll be a goner. Well, I guess anybody in that scenario would be. But I’ll be first. So. Weak. Without. Food…

I can say that I now have a pretty solid working knowledge of the daytime TV schedule on non-cable TV thanks to the long hours I’ve logged on the couch with two patient pups by my side.

Anyway, here’s a list of links that caught my attention recently to keep you busy while I try to clean up the house and get our lives back in order.

- The latest from Michael Pollan: “…the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

- Seven, chemical-free (and mostly DIY) acne treatments, and why they’re better.

- I ordered this beautiful book by Jessi Bloom and have been daydreaming about chickens in my backyard.

- Speaking of chickens, I adore this blog.

- Now that the weather is warming up, stay hydrated by making your own electrolyte water.

- Do you know table manners in other cultures? Here’s a snazzy game to help you out.

- Ever wanted to cure your own bacon?

Oh, and hey, I’m working on a project and want to know your favorite summer cocktail. Leave a comment and tell me about it!

A Colorado Interlude

Heyo!

Alex and I took a little mini-vacay out to Colorado for a couple days, which explains my blog absence. How ’bout a little photo re-cap so that you can vacation vicariously with us?

Oh, you know, just an elk hanging out with his friends in someone's front yard. No big deal.

Oh, you know, just an elk hanging out with his friends in someone’s front yard. No big deal.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Love the panorama setting on our camera...

Love the panorama setting on our camera…

In our snowshoe gear. Fellow hikers were happy to take photos of us together. I tripped over my shoes nearly every time I tried to get close to Alex.

In our snowshoe gear! Fellow hikers were happy to take photos of us together. I tripped over my shoes nearly every time I tried to get close to Alex.

All of the lakes we passed were frozen over. I was still scared to walk on them though.

All of the lakes we passed were frozen over. I was still scared to walk on them though.

At last we arrived at our hike's destination: Emerald Lake. Wouldn't this be beautiful in the summertime? Apparently the water (when not frozen) is greenish in color. It was significantly colder here.

At last we arrived at our hike’s destination: Emerald Lake. Wouldn’t this be beautiful in the summertime? Apparently the water (when not frozen) is greenish in color. It was significantly colder here.

Alex loves the mountain views!

Alex loves the mountain views!

This is on the way from Estes Park to Colorado Springs. Mountain views never get old.

This is, I think, on the way out of Rocky Mountain National Park. Mountain views never get old. Especially when taken with the panorama setting.

Enthralled by the enormous red rock formations at Garden of the Gods outside Colorado Springs.

Enthralled by the enormous red rock formations at Garden of the Gods outside Colorado Springs.

Happy homebrew husband next to a huge vat of cooking beer at New Belgium Brewery.

Happy homebrew husband next to a huge vat of cooking beer at New Belgium Brewery.

Much beer was sampled. Did Alex make the perfect Belgian pour? (Note the 1-2 fingers-width quantity of foam). Annnd water for the DD in the background.

Much beer was sampled. Did Alex make the perfect Belgian pour? (Note the 1-2 fingers-width quantity of foam). Annnd water for the DD in the background.

In this room, we were introduced to sour beer, which is beer base aged with good bacteria in oak barrels for 1-3 years. It reminded me of kombucha and was quite good. Perhaps we'll join the sour beer cult following.

In this room, we were introduced to sour beer, which is beer base aged with good bacteria in oak barrels for 1-3 years. It reminded me of kombucha and was quite good. Perhaps we’ll join the sour beer cult following.

Panoramic view of Clear Creek Canyon and the city of Golden from atop Lookout Mountain.

Panoramic view of Clear Creek Canyon and the city of Golden from atop Lookout Mountain.

My man loves a spontaneous hike.

My man loves a spontaneous hike at altitude.

Alex and Jessalyn, live at Red Rocks! Too bad we didn't see a show while we were there.

Alex and Jessalyn, live at Red Rocks! Too bad we didn’t see a show while we were there.

Our favorite day was probably our second day which saw us snowshoe-ing in Rocky Mountain National Park – a 2.5-mile hike in the snow up to see the (frozen) Emerald Lake (the majority of the photos above). My east-coast friends chuckle whenever I pass on skis or snowboards in favor of “those tennis-racket things you wear on your feet so you don’t sink in the snow,” but let me tell you, we were not alone in our snowshoeing adventure. Those Coloradoans are super-active and enjoy a good hike in the snow. Plus, snowshoes are so much more sleek and fashionable now than the tennis-racket models of yore…

After that we toured New Belgium brewery–home of Fat Tire and other craft brews. It was a blast. Our tour guide was energetic and engaging and every stop on the tour came with great stories about how New Belgium got started and the fascinating company culture they have created for their employees (and also free beer samples). We left feeling inspired to step up our homebrew game and eager to support New Belgium by purchasing their products when we can find them, especially since they are opening a second location on the east coast in Asheville, NC! New Belgium really set the bar high in our minds for what a good brewery (and brewery tour) should be like, and made our Coors tour (did I mention we also toured the Coors brewery?) pale by comparison.

Any vacation is an opportunity to eat new and delicious foods, and Colorado was no exception. We enjoyed a range from pizza (the new Hawaiian pizza includes not only ham and pineapple but also bacon, mandarin oranges, and cinnamon); traditional Ethiopian with teff, lentils, and spices to warm the soul; custard prepared by the man who holds the fastest Pike’s Peak ascent; and French bistro fare like steak frites and rabbit in a creamy mustard sauce.

It was so nice to take a trip out West with my husband. But it’s also good to be home.

An Evening with Jackson Landers

On our Hawaiian honeymoon, Alex and I had the pleasure of eating opah, a delicious fleshy fish (ours was prepared in a miso broth with some Asian vegetables). The waiter told us that opah was once a fish held in low regard; it was bycatch from tuna fishermen and always got thrown back. Over time, they kept catching so much opah, that they decided to sell it. Now fishermen intentionally catch it, and opah has since become something of an iconic Hawaiian fish.

Opah in miso broth at The Beach House, Kauai

Opah in miso broth at The Beach House, Kauai

The story of how this fish became a culinary star is, I think, one to which Jackson Landers, the unofficial father of the “invasivore” movement, might give a boyish nod of approval. Well, a nod of approval followed by a hunting anecdote or ecological history lesson that tops that, in true storytelling fashion.

And he’s got a lot of stories to tell. Last night I ventured out in the rain to my local independent bookstore to listen to Mr. Landers speak and read from his book, Eating Aliens. Years ago, he decided to do something about the hundreds of species that are threatened out of their natural habitats and toward extinction by the invasive species that compete for resources. But rather than join an environmental organization or research team, he hunts them and eats them. Not in a Bear Grylls survival kind of way (indeed, before the talk he admits to downing a burger from a nearby Dairy Queen), but in his one-man crusade to take action and educate others. Japanese carp, nutria, armadillo, iguanas, lionfish, kudzu…these are but a few of the invasives that have found their way to Landers’s dinner plate.

He is supremely intellectual, tying together ecology with history, economy, and cuisine, but he’s also practical and down-to-earth–he’s a hunter, remember. As he talks, you can almost visibly see the synapses in his brain tying together links, theories, personal accounts, and scientific evidence from these fields. It’s clear that Landers, whom my high school biology teacher might unironically call a science nerd, “gets it.” By “it,” I mean the way that we are connected to the other living beings on this planet and how every choice that is made (by humans) has consequences that ripple through entire ecosystems. I applaud him for living a life that allows him to combine two of his passions – hunting and caring for the environment (or perhaps the two are arguably a single passion) – in a way that educates others.

One thing that hadn’t really occurred to me? According to Landers, it won’t be long before species like armadillo (“possums on the half shell”), a native of Central and South America but invasive to the southwest U.S., may be seen here in central Virginia, thanks to global warming trends that are moving armadillos’ habitats farther and farther north. Aside from opening up a whole host of potential problems (pet armadillos?), the thing about invasive species is that they will continue to invade so long as they don’t have any threatening predators and they can find food to survive. It doesn’t matter that dozens of cartoon movies and children’s storybooks and even science textbooks associate certain creatures to a certain geographic area– our planet is a living, breathing, changing being.

I can’t say that I will be experimenting with invasive species in my kitchen anytime soon, and Mr. Landers assured me that if we are ever in a situation where the culinary world’s demands for invasive species for its menus are so high we face intentionally breeding these plants and animals, he will consider his work a success (and tackle that problem when we get there). But if, like me, you feel compelled to re-evaluate some of your food choices, educating yourself and others is probably one of the most practical things you can do. It might lead you to making simple changes in your kitchen. For instance, Landers suggested replacing your canned tuna for tuna salad with canned mackerel. Tuna is rare; mackerel is lower on the food chain, meaning it is in more abundance, and you won’t taste a difference in the flavor of your tuna salad. I don’t see a reason not to try it.

If invasive species do show up on the menus of locally-sourced restaurants around here, I suppose I’ll do my part to digest them into extinction. Just because they’re invasive doesn’t mean they’re not flavorful. And besides, if all goes well, they won’t be on the menu for long.

Will you eat “aliens?” Do tell.

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Holiday Photo Outtakes with Commentary

Well it’s that time of year again. Some would even say the most wonderful time of the year.

I say photographing two dogs and yourselves by yourself is harder than it looks. We had enough trouble with our 2011 photo, and that only had 1 dog (look how little Nero looks!):

Christmas 2011

So this year I thought I would get a head start. Warning: lots of adorable, anthropomorphic dog photos to follow…

I got Nero all dressed up in his festive bowtie collar and, like a good boy, he obligingly helped me capture this:

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Which Rogue then photobombed, unplugging one strand of lights with her awkward adolescent paws, while likely saying this: “Mom! I can’t believe you’re making me wear this silly skirt! This better not be posted in public!”

Rogue wonders why there is a tree skirt draped over her rear

So we tried a different tactic, this time one dog at a time, and with the help of some props (it’ll make more sense in a second, I promise). Once again, Nero waited patiently while I tried to capture the perfect shot.

NerO

And then Rogue photobombed us again. Here she is being dramatic while Nero looks annoyed:

Rogue, about to do her fainting couch impersonation

But when it was Rogue’s turn with her own prop (and yes, the Christmas skirt again), she initially seemed more interested in doggie Granny’s hand, hoping a treat would magically appear if she nuzzled those fingers enough:

Rogue attempts to be photographed

And of course Alex and I couldn’t get a photo of ourselves without a Rogue photobomb (her record is impeccable, I tell ya):

In which Rogue and Nero actually WANT to be in the holiday photo

Even when I was just setting up the camera and taking a couple practice shots (while testing Alex’s patience), she snuck in there with her dramatic sighs:

I spy a doggie being dramatic

But finally, finally, we got a winner:

Christmas card 2012

I love how it captures Rogue’s silliness and her love for getting her belly rubbed. It also captures Nero’s charm and inquisitiveness. And the photo of us isn’t too shabby either!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays! May your homes and families be filled with joy! Love, Rogue, Nero, Jessalyn, and Alex.

P.S. Have any tips for photographing dogs? Do tell.

P.P.S. Stay tuned tomorrow for a special collaborative post and holiday craft with my dear friend, Carrie!

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