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AM4M: Hyding and Hoping December 29, 2014

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Yesterday Tim rallied, and we left the house and drove a half hour to the Hyde Collection, a place that always astounds me with their permanent collection, so close to my own home: van Dyck, Thayer, Bellows, Bierstadt, Picasso, Hassam, Whistler, Eakins, Rubens, Homer, El Greco, Rembrandt, Cassatt, Renoir. I love to wander through the Hyde House, its music room reminding me, with its iconography, of trips to Italy, its view over the courtyard most pleasing. We saw a fantastic traveling exhibit (while its Pennsylvania museum is under renovation and expansion) of signature works from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Tim barely coughed at all.

But he got worse again overnight, and even though I don’t really believe a doctor can do much for whatever this monthlong monstrosity is, my fingers are crossed that he will see one today before he heads home again, that there is something out there that can help him get better faster.

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H4H: Cookie December 24, 2014

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Maybe it’s because I no longer have a desk at the Major Client’s office, so I’m barely there. Maybe it’s because so many of my friends eat gluten-free now. Maybe it’s because one of my neighbors wrote a book about going a year without sugar and now we’re all cutting back just a little. Maybe it’s because Tim and I have been sick off and on for weeks. Maybe it’s because I’ve been avoiding giving sugary gifts the past couple of years—because there was always so much sugar everywhere—and opting instead for ornaments or something savory.

But on Sunday, the winter solstice, as I was delivering a couple of nonsugared ornaments to neighbors, I happened to remark that here it was, four days before Christmas, and I had not yet had a holiday cookie.

Emily, who is nearly 10 now (I think), overheard this and mentioned that she and her grandmother had just made cookies, and did I want one?

Of course.

It was gingerbread. The round and yummy, chewy, flat kind. It was really, really, really good.

Last night, scrolling through Facebook, I discovered she’d been at it again, this time with Eugenia, this time shaping men.

(Photo blatantly stolen from LB)

(Photo blatantly stolen from LB)

Maybe He Likes Me December 23, 2014

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My husband sent me flowers yesterday. Just cuz.

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AM4M: Secret Santa Score December 22, 2014

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Had a holiday breakfast with coworkers this morning, and we exchanged Secret Santa gifts. There was a $15 maximum, and I was überexcited about my score at a consignment shop: silver-plated pineapple place card holders. Four for $14! And when I got to the register, it turned out they were half price, so I was able to grab the other four I’d abandoned for the sake of monetary restriction. Eight of these! Score!

The recipient seemed to like them. And I got a bottle of wine. Win. Win. Win.

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So!stice No L (tweet for Jenny) December 21, 2014

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So few bright hours, but now, in winter, the turning, and maybe soon noticing. Snowfoggraywhite days, shivery nights, dark ice hour predawn.

Fish Club December 20, 2014

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Welcome to Fish Club. The first rule of Fish Club is: you do not talk about Fish Club. The second rule of Fish Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fish Club!

They followed the rules. I did not hear a thing about Fish Club, and it was happening for a month or two—or at least that’s the story I was told.

A few days ago, Laura called me and opened with “I’ve got great news.” Given the state of the world, hearing those words is intriguing, and I was in desperate need of something good.

She proceeded to tell me that there had been a supersecret group of people who were getting in on a deal: Someone knew someone who weekly went to the coast, bought fish, and delivered it to restaurants between here and there. This small supersecret group of people had gotten a cut of that action, ordering fresh fish every week.

Of course, Laura was among them. Laura is Always On the Inside.

But those fishrunners were looking for a farmer’s market. A bigger, popular one apparently turned them down because the fish (obviously) isn’t local. But not our market. Our market wants fish.

And as soon as it was official, Laura called me with the great news.

So here’s how it will work: I sign up. On Thursday, I’m texted two choices for order. I have a certain amount of time to reply. The order is delivered at market Friday night.

Market is eight doors down from me.

I signed up last night.

First delivery, Pisces willing, will happen sometime in January.

Limoncello December 19, 2014

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You learn something new every day. Yesterday, when I ran into a friend at the liquor store, she mentioned a wine she was looking for, and I mentioned that I was looking for grain alcohol, and she told me that buying grain alcohol in Vermont is next to illegal, that the liquor store doesn’t have it, that you have to sign all sorts of papers to order it, etc. As I’d never looked for grain alcohol before, I didn’t know this. But a talk with the owner confirmed it, and he said you could only use it for very particular things, and you could be checked up on at any time by the authorities (the authorities being, I presume, whomever receives all the paperwork).

I wanted to make limoncello.

Sergio, years ago, wrote out his family’s recipe for creamy limoncello, and in all these years, we’d never made it. I decided I wanted to try.

I was steered toward 100-proof vodka as a grain substitute. Some recipes I’d looked at online used vodka instead of grain, so I was prepared for this.

(A subsequent Internet search was very confusing. I can find nothing definitive about grain alcohol’s legality. My favorite wine/liquor store in New York has it, according to their website, and another source says it’s illegal to sell it in New York. Some sources suggest that the brand Everclear is legal at its slightly lower alcohol content, but not at 190 proof, which is what Sergio’s recipe called for.)

I next went to the grocery store and was looking for bags of lemons, which are slightly cheaper than buying individual lemons, because I needed lots of them. I had trouble finding them, because there were only two bags left, mixed in among other bags of citrus, and as I was picking them up another woman came up behind me and said, Oh, there they are! and she wanted them because, she said, they were smaller than the ones being sold individually (they really weren’t), and then she said, You didn’t want both bags, did you?

Um . . . I said, Actually, yes. I’m going to make limoncello.

At that, her eyes glazed over. Limoncello! You can make that? Oh, she’d had it in Italy, and it was divine. Perfect for sipping on a hot summer’s day.

I told her that I hoped I could make it, that I was using my Italian friend’s recipe, that it was a creamy limoncello, and that I hoped it would be good for the cold winter holidays. And that usually I wouldn’t be insistent on wanting both bags of lemons (between my true generosity and overall spinelessness, neither of which I mentioned), but I needed to keep the cost down slightly, and . . .

But I had her at limoncello. The sweet and generous woman had no problem letting me have both bags for such a noble cause. I thanked her profusely and wished her a very happy holiday.

Last night Tim helped me get the lemons zested, and the jars are sitting in the dark for four days or so.

I hope this works.

Here is Sergio’s recipe, which is close to what I’m doing, but not exactly:

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P.S. As you can see, all royalties go to Sergio.

Toaster December 18, 2014

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A few weeks ago, I bought a new toaster.

So what? you may ask.

You’d be amazed how long I’d thought about doing this before I did it.

The main reason for delaying purchase was that we don’t eat that much bread; therefore, we don’t eat that much toast. It’s hard to make a priority out of an appliance we don’t use often. In fact, the toaster we had was stored on kitchen overflow shelves in the mudroom, and if I wanted toast, I would go and fetch the toaster, then move it back when I was done. We just don’t have the counter space for an appliance we barely use.

I had given away a toaster oven because of its size and because we never used it.

But our toaster was substandard. It wasn’t expensive. It was fine, but, like most toasters, it didn’t really toast well—that is, we could put it on the highest setting, and when the bread popped up, it wasn’t dark enough for our tastes. So we’d go for round 2. Except often—maybe usually—the toaster wouldn’t allow an immediate round 2, so we’d have to hold the lever down ourselves until the toast was as dark as we wanted it.

This was a drag.

I’d halfheartedly look for toasters, but there are a lot of expensive toasters out there, and remember: We don’t eat that much bread. Did I really want to spend $100 on a toaster? And what if it didn’t work any better than the cheap one?

Tim is convinced that it’s against code to manufacture a toaster that can get hot enough to toast bread. A friend noted that indeed, toasters are notorious for catching fire. Again, if that’s the case, would spending $100 make a difference?

I asked around. One neighbor had a toaster that her family really liked, and I wrote down what it was and looked for it online and confirmed the model. I recently found that e-mail from nearly two years ago.

I’d walk around kitchen stores and browse the toaster section. There are a lot of beautiful $100 toasters. Breville has some gorgeous ones at about $180. Toasters. Did I mention that these are toasters?

In October, my parents generously sent us a check for $100 as an anniversary gift. I sat on it awhile and then decided to buy a toaster.

I found that one that my friends have at a local kitchen store for $80. A Cuisinart. I brought it home.

It has lots of settings. It can allegedly defrost (Tim said it worked well when he tried it). The highest toast setting—7—does not get our bread quite dark enough. This is disappointing.

But when we push the lever down for another round, it stays down.

H4H: Stick Shift December 17, 2014

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Over the weekend, my next-door neighbor, Lynda, bought a brand-new car: a VW Jetta sedan. It’s beautiful. Her decade(plus?)-old Passat needed new tires, and it had a bazillion miles on it, and it was time to think about not getting new tires but trading up (especially after getting stranded during last week’s snowstorm). And despite considering used-new, she opted for new-new, and I’m very excited for her.

But what I’m most excited about? She bought standard transmission.

Is my excitement Freudian? Probably. Is it tribal? Possibly. Is it snobbish? Yes.

Two years ago, when Tim traded his 11-year-old Honda Civic in for a new one, I nearly wrote a blog post titled “How Old Is Too Old to Drive a Stick?” We had owned seven cars in our lifetime together, and not one of them was an automatic. Had we stayed in the city, no doubt we would have given in—Tim’s back could not take a standard T in traffic, and even I admit it’s a total drag. But we moved to Vermont just in time, and I was adamant about manual transmission. It feels like you have so much more control. It feels like you’re actually driving. It feels cool.

It turned out that the car Tim was buying two years ago was not even available in manual transmission. The other day someone told me that Subaru isn’t making Outbacks with manual transmission anymore. I have not looked into this. I don’t want to hear it. (Lalala, I’m not listening!)

For the last couple of months, since I read someone’s post about needing to replace a clutch, I’ve been thinking about polling my Facebook friends to see how many people own stick shifts. I suspect it’s almost no one.

And then Lynda went and bought one.

And I think that is so cool.

Discomfort and Inconvenience December 16, 2014

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I am tired of being sick. It’s amazing how achiness and congestion and fatigue can make a person miserable. I miss getting more accomplished. I miss exercise. I miss booze.

I miss feeling good.

I am miserable, and it’s not even that bad. It feels bad, but I know it’s not bad. Tim had it worse with a fever. Another friend has a cough that’s building her six-pack abs. People with strains of Whatever This Is report getting better, then getting much worse.

And my plumber won’t call me back. The fixtures and plumbing of my kitchen sink need attention. Soon. I’ve got a call in to a new guy, but may have to call another new guy tomorrow if I can’t get an appointment. I want it fixed by the weekend. By god, it better be fixed by Christmas.

But it’s merely an inconvenience, crawling under the sink to turn the water on and off each time I want to do dishes, then wiping up afterward.

I was too sick to do anything nice for Tim for his birthday yesterday. This probably matters more to me than to him.

But here’s what has not been happening with me: I do not have a fever. I do not have a racking cough. I do not, thank the gods, have a stomach flu. My boiler, despite the recent scare, did not go out. I have not lost power. A crazed PTSDer did not make his way around my town killing his ex-wife and her relatives, causing school lockdowns (this happened yesterday in the community of a friend, a teacher in Pennsylvania; the shootings happened in private homes, but one of the victims was a freshman at her high school). There has been no hostage situation in a local café. I do not live in a place where more than 130 children were killed in a school attack.

I have a roof over my head and oil in my tank and running water and electricity and enough food. I even have a Christmas tree.

I am a very, very lucky person.

I am uncomfortable. I am minorly inconvenienced.

I am tired of being sick.