28 February 2009

Such beautiful light

Little treasures in a shop on Cherokee where I went today with Barb, Joe, and Katy.

27 February 2009

Here come the Daffodils

Look what's popping up in my yard:

The bank that sold us our house (the previous owner went into foreclosure) didn't have any information about the house or the yard. I remember last spring watching with wonder as my yard bloomed. Daffodils were the first surprise, then irises, day lillies, stella d'oro, hosta, lamb ear, etc. I was equally delighted by the honey suckle, wild strawberry, and violets, but I've since learned why other people don't like them.

Spaghetti Mouth

At lunch a day or two ago:

Yes, Dandelion has tomato sauce all over her mouth, but her eyes . . . look at her eyes. She's looking right at the camera. That takes work, I tell you, hard hard work. Dandelion has recently come out of a long phase of being unphotographable. Star too. She used to do these crazy poses and faces, but she's learned how to look a lot less rigid in front of the camera.

26 February 2009


During the winter months I engage with the outdoors only when unavoidable. But yesterday was beautiful so I took a stroll around the yard -- the first of 2009.

Our yard is funny. 81 years of gardeners worked with it before I did. I learned to recognize the evidence of their handiwork last year. Although I have been able to unravel some of the history of my yard, a lot of it remains a mystery.

I have no idea for example, what these two clay pipes were doing out in the middle of my yard.

The hole where they were is about 2' deep. The jagged, spiky end of the larger cylinder was poking up out of the ground. I wouldn't have seen it at any other time of year. The ground surrounding the clay pipe is overrun with Day Lillies. When in bloom they produce so much leafy-green stuff that the pipe remained hidden all last summer.

Even though the ground was soft and wet it took a few minutes with the shovel to get them out. This is where I dug them out of the ground.

What were they doing out in the middle of the yard?

I've extracted all kinds of things from my yard during the past year. We've removed bird-baths, dozens of football-sized rocks, railroad ties, etc. With each excavation I wonder who put it there, what they were thinking, and what would they think of me getting rid of it?

25 February 2009

Rotten to the core

The other day I bought a three pound bag of apples. One of the apples was half rotten, so I cut off the gross part and the rest was fine. Perfectly fine.

Yesterday I tried to do the same with a tomato. Half of it had gone soft--nothing too extreme, just soft. I cut off the soft part, but that wasn't enough. I cut off more and more and more until I realized that the whole tomato was a lost cause. Even though only half the tomato looked bad the trouble was all through the insides.

A few posts ago I mentioned our half-dead lightning-struck tulip tree. Here's a picture, taken a year ago. That's it in the back yard (appearing to the immediate left of the house). The left branch of the Y shape was the dead part.

One of our neighbors was pretty sure that the tree had been struck by lightning three or four years ago. At that time a huge limb fell off and smashed the neighbor's dog house (the dog wasn't in there when it happened, thankfully). That was our main concern actually--that more of it would fall and smash things. It's hard to see, but the tree was hemmed in on all sides; garages, swing sets, garden sheds, fences. During the earthquake last year (and during every storm of any kind) we kept our fingers crossed that it wouldn't come crashing down.

It didn't fall over, but knowing that our luck wouldn't hold forever we called up a guy who takes trees down for a living. Here's a picture of his handywork from back in October.

See? Rotten to the core. I have to admit that I was happy to see how bad it was. It made me feel like the expense of taking down that tree had been worth it.

24 February 2009


Two and a half years ago, I watched from the window as half a dozen men demolished a building with sledge hammers. It hadn't occurred to me until then that such a thing could be done by hand.

By the time I took this picture they had already removed quite a lot of the structure. The white lines cascading down behind the man in the purple shirt are dust-coated rebar--they had already broken all the cement off that part. Over the next few days they took the rest of the house down. I expected that they'd build something in it's place right away, but they didn't. At least, not before we left. When we left they hadn't even hauled the rubble away, and there was a mountain of it. Funny how much rubble can come from such a small building.

Well, as with buildings so with walls, a lesson I learned when I did a little demolition of my own last month. Here's what one wall of my bedroom used to look like:

On the right, the closet door. On the left, the bedroom door. The wall you're looking at there is load bearing, and the 22" x 7' space behind it? Dead useless. quite likely the most pointless closet ever. So I took all the trim off the door, removed it and it's framing, pried the baseboards off, removed an electrical outlet, rerouted the wiring for the upstairs, and then . . . then! The demolition! (over the course of a few days). I hung a closet rod and *presto*

we have a (messy) closet. Hanging the wire shelf/closet-rod combo was absolutely the hardest part of it all.

It isn't done yet (obviously). I'll hang trim around it eventually, and I'll also be building drawers to go along the bottom and a shelf at the level of the old door's header to make all that space up their useful for more storage. Yeah. It's a work in progress.

Oh, and here's some of my rubble.

I've got four of these, and they're full. How did such a small amount of wall generate four huge (heavy) boxes of debris?

23 February 2009

Wet Paint

I found this painting in my kitchen yesterday:

Isn't it wonderful? I love the ooey-gooey richness of it. I love how the colors push right up to and off the edge of the paper, how they bleed into each other, blending and almost blending.

One of the kids painted it. Matthew, do you know which one?

My kids paintings always look best before they dry. Afterward, it is as if the magic of the painting evaporates with the moisture. I wonder if there is something I could mix into their paints that would keep the sheen of wet paint even after it dries--something that wouldn't compromise the water-soluble and washable properties of the paint . . . .

22 February 2009

Blondie Brownie

Yummy. Butterscotch Brownies and Cream Cheese Brownies from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

Butterscotch Brownies

8 T unsalted butter, softened, plus a little for greasing the pan
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract or 1/2 t almond extract
pinch salt
1 c all purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8" pan.
2. Melt the butter over low heat. Using an electric mixer, beat in the sugar until very smooth, then beat in the egg and vanilla, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl.
3. Add salt and then mix in flour. Pour into prepared pan and bake aprox. 20 minutes (err on the side of underbaking). Cool on a rack before cutting.

Salt Dough

Matthew is teaching the girls about ancient Rome. To reinforce the principles of the lesson, he made a batch of salt dough so the kids could form and paint their own artifacts.

In the time it took to upload this picture they've transitioned to the next learning station; probably a home video of a trip we took, but which one? Has he chosen our video of Trier (Romans in Germany) or our video of the baths in downtown Beirut (Romans in Lebanon) or is he showing them the video of actually going to Rome? So many choices . . . .

Here's the Salt Dough Recipe:

4+ cups flour
1 cup salt
1.5 cups water

mix mix mix until it is has the right consistency (like playdough). form it however you want, and then you have choices. You can let it dry out (takes a day at least), bake it on a low temperature, or (what Matthew just did) nuke it. If all this sounds vague, well, it is. But winging it has worked well with this recipe in the past.

After the Orchids

We met up with Katherine and Paul at the Orchid show, which was a visual treat. Orchids are stunning. Each year the show overlaps with the peek bloom season of the camellias in the Botanical Garden's Linnean House. Then it was off to the Climatron where I took this funny picture:

Later on I went to a concert with my parents. That's the Town & Country Symphony Orchestra with Nicole Schroeder performing Sibelius' Violin Concerto (he only composed one, and it's killer).

The Town & Country Symphony is a neat organization. They exist to provide musical opportunities to amateurs and I think they did ok.

21 February 2009

That's my Man

A few weeks ago we took the kids to the library and noticed that one of my favorite children's book authors was going to do a reading in St. Louis at the County Library's main branch. Mo Willams is famous for those books about the pushy pigeon, but the book I love most is the one about Edwina, a dinosaur who didn't know she was extinct.

It is probably my all time favorite book for children EVER.

Mo put on a good show, and while he did, Matthew went looking for books. Who is Matthew? Matthew's my husband. It'll be ten years in November. He lives here at 970 with me and Star and Dandelion, and this is his first official mention on this blog. Yippee!

Matthew has always had a long list of things he wants to read. He was able to find many of them at the library's headquarters. Sadly though, he couldn't check them out. The library's circulation desk was closed. About a week later we went back. The kids played and read in the library's children's section and Matthew went back to the stacks. He found a bunch of the grown up books he was after, but he also got this:

Honestly, I didn't care much. I've never been a big fan of mythology, and after spending half an hour trying to keep two happy children quiet in a well stocked-and-funded library, I was cranky. But once we got back to the house and I had a chance to read through it I was completely taken. The illustrations are beautiful and the descriptions of each goddess are remarkably accessible for young children (though they didn't bore me). Furthermore, they place these women in the staring roll of their own story. I just love it. Matthew does such a great job of finding ways to enrich our kids' lives. He noticed that they were interested in the world pantheon of gods from various cultures and he found a way to nurture that interest.

At the moment he's in the kitchen teaching the girls about Hungarian cuisine while they try out an authentic recipe.

Later on we're going to see the Orchids at the Botanical Garden. Happy Saturday!

20 February 2009

Not a normal day

If this was a normal day, Dandelion would be on her way to preschool.

She's a bit sick with whatever it is that's going around.

Stained Glass

One of the things I love most about #970:

The living room has two of these. They're roughly 18x24", positioned high on the wall, book-ending what was certainly a fireplace in ages gone by. A few posts ago when I said that we replaced almost all our windows, this was why. These had to stay. Though I love my stained glass, my interest in it didn't start here.

Stained glass knocked my socks off the first time I went to Germany in 1997. Most of what I saw there was painted stained glass illustrating bible stories in churches. Even the most unremarkable churches were adorned in this way, beautifying the church but also teaching the illiterate masses through pictures.

When I got back to the US 11 years ago, I enrolled in a class and learned how to cut glass and assemble the pieces. I never made anything that was any good, but I learned enough to recognized construction methods and materials.

Looking around my neighborhood you'll see a lot of windows like mine, but you'll also see a lot of homes that don't have them anymore. You can tell from the architecture and the position of the windows that there was probably art glass in there when the house was built. Over the years a lot of homeowners have replaced the old stained glass with regular windows or filled in the openings with glass blocks.

I'm fascinated by the ones that are still here and I can't wait to learn more.

19 February 2009

Because she hates brushing

Star loves her new not-as-easily-tangled hair.

18 February 2009

Mary Annie get your gun

At about this time last year my sister Barb said to me, "let's take a Tai Chi class" and when the local community college didn't have one, well, why not Handgun Safety?

I didn't grow up around guns. I had never even touched a gun. Never had the chance to either, except for during the summer of 2006 when my father-in-law showed me his gun. I was too scared to touch it even though he had taken it apart. Three discreet pieces were there in his hands and I felt like any one of them (disassembled and without any bullets) might explode right there and maim us all.

Because I wasn't ever exposed to guns as part of a normal life they occupied a sort of hazy indistinct region of my brain. On one side, guns were awful killing machines that ruined peoples lives. The nightly news proved that almost daily. And yet I had always been fascinated by marksmanship. I couldn't help admiring the skill of sharpshooters who could hit a target at 100 yards without even trying (or so it seemed). Even though I had a lot of apprehension about guns in general I also had this fantasy of being a really good shot, as in sniper good.

The class was eye opening, horizon expanding, and awe inspiring. Our teacher was this iconic older guy who had been teaching shooting (and winning marksmanship contests) for decades. He had an amazingly steady hand and I couldn't help envying how much he knew about everything related to guns.

Barb and I were probably the youngest ones in the class. Most of our fellow students brought their own gun(s). Barb and I borrowed the teachers'. Our classmates had enrolled in this class because it was the first of two courses required for the license to carry a concealed weapon. They bought guns because they wanted to protect themselves in their homes and neighborhoods.

I couldn't relate. Sitting in that class I realized I was surrounded for the first time in my life by people who thought having young children in the house wasn't reason enough not to own a gun. I thought that would be a reason no one would question. Not in this crowd.

Anyway, the class succeeded; not in turning me into the world's best sharp-shooter, but in demystifying the whole gun thing. I'm not paralyzed by the sight of a gun anymore. I'm no expert, but I can handle it safely. I can take the bullets out safely, and without bullets it's just an expensive hunk of metal.

A trip to a firing range was included in the price of the class and Barb and I did ok, just fine for first timers.

And then nearly a year passed. Barb and I kept talking about going to the range and talking about it and talking . . . .

We finally went last week. Here's barb at the range:

We were using an 8mm revolver. I like revolvers. They've got weight to them. They're straightforward and old school. They're big enough to feel powerful. I was so glad to go with Barb because I was nervous to be around guns again and she did a better job staying calm and remembering what we learned in class.

We had a great time shooting so we agreed to do it again SOON, and tonight was Ladies Night at the range. They wave the usage fee for the girls. Yeah! Only down side is that we're not the only girls who have figured out that the third Wednesday is the time to be at the range. We waited and waited, and got into the range about 10 minutes before Barb had to leave.

Just to shake things up, Barb and I rented a 22. Compared to the revolver, a 22 is light weight, fires effortlessly, is less deafening. Like other semi-automatics, it spits out the shell with every shot. I think that's annoying. But you can pack 10 bullets into the magazine and 100 of them cost less than $10. Can't say the same for the revolver.

Barb was able to fire about 12 shots before time ran out and she had to go. That left about 88 rounds for me, and I fired them all. Click on the picture if you want to see how I did.

Matthew and I are thinking about a family membership.

Not just a number

Here's #970 as it looked in June 2008.

We bought this house almost exactly a year ago. Since then we've replaced (almost) all the windows, had a gigantic half-dead lighting-struck Tulip tree removed, improved every faucet in the house (repairing or replacing), wrestled with the landscaping, rerouted inefficient ducting, and so on.

I'm surprised by how much I enjoy this work. It feels good to know exactly how different systems in my house function. Anyway, a big part of living @ 970 has turned out to be maintaining it, and where necessary, changing it.

17 February 2009


Here's a letter Star wrote last night:

Who is Azula? Oh my, my, My, MY! She is only the coolest princess ever! If I could give her an Azula doll I would do it, but they don't seem to make one. Not that I couldn't make one. See? I've had some practice getting the outfits right.

In the picture, Star and Dandelion dressed up as Azula and Toph, circa Halloween 2008.

Back to the point: making a tiny doll (with changeable clothes etc.) on such short notice . . . problems. There are problems with this. Scale. Scope. And of course, precedent. There are more teeth left to lose after all, not to mention the impossibility of hiding a palace under a pillow.

In the end she got icebreakers, and believe it or not she was content with that.

Easily Exceeding 1000 words

Yes that is my thesis.