I’d Rather Count My Lucky Stars

As 2020 finally draws to a close I would rather look back on the good things about this year than the bad. The bad is low hanging fruit and is best to let rot on the vine. For the good we have to look a little harder and cherish it, because now we know how bad things can get.

For me the best thing about this year is I got to spend more quality time with Russ and Carter than I ever thought I would have. When Quarantine happened in March, Carter was bound and determined to stay in Boston and ride it out. After two weeks of her being all alone I told Russ that I couldn’t take having her there without any support system. He said, “If you go and get her, she will be home for two months.” That was very optimistic. She was home for four months. I had long given up on having such a long block of time with her. Russ and Carter have been my brightest stars.

Other positives for me were the things I built this year. The fellowship hall at church was not physically built by me, but every brick, board and tile were chosen, supervised and worried over by me. It was probably easier on me to do it without the weekly supervision of other church members. I didn’t get a lot of questions about, “Why that color?” or “Which flooring treatment are you going with?” Now that it is over and everyone can see the whole project my decisions are not up for discussion and thankfully I have not been drummed out of church for them. I consider that building a big star.

The thing I actually built, my garden, with its forty foot retaining wall, 32 yards of fill, seven foot deer fence and eleven raised beds was the hardest thing I have ever built myself. If it weren’t for the pandemic I never would have attempted such an undertaking. As long as I live here I have something big to show for 2020. The garden should be my star that will keep on giving.

I created a couple of spectacular quilts this year, one for my mother and the other a collaboration with my friend Carol on her Africa quilt. Although I don’t have either of those quilts in my house I consider them stars out in the universe shining brightly on others.

The twinkling stars of the years have been the friends I reconnected with this year, or spent more time zooming with than we talked in the last few decades. I have read books with friends, played games with friends, taken walks and needlepointed. Even things done virtually have been blessings.

I hope you have more good to take stock of in 2020 than bad. May the stars shine brightly on all of us in 2021 and may the sad parts of 2020 fade in our memories as we moved forward towards the light.

The New Year Won’t Be Normal on January 1

I can’t think of one person who won’t be happy to see 2020 pass into the history books. We started the year with an impeachment and before our TV’s had even cooled off from watching hours of testimony the pandemic hit us. As if being stuck at home was not bad enough we had the one-two punch of it being an election year so we were trapped with unending political ads and chatter.

We did a good job of flattening the curve in the spring, only to have too many people get the virus now and health systems in every state are struggling. Today in NC we had over 8,500 cases, our worse day yet. There might have been a problem with reporting yesterday where we only reported 3,500 cases then, but even if you average the two days it is still over 6,000 people a day testing positive. Those numbers do not include all the people who are sick, but do not get a test.

We need to get back to being extra vigilant to flatten the huge curve we have now. Our health care systems and workers can’t handle these rates.

New Years Days is day after tomorrow. Yes, we are going to rid ourselves of the worst year in our collective lives, but an additional digit in the year is not going to change anything yet. We will be just 20 days away from a new administration, and for me that will give us a lot to be thankful for, but it won’t solve the pandemic.

Please stay safe. There is no reason to let your guard down now that we have vaccines in sight. Normally January is a down month in terms of travel and celebrations so you wouldn’t normally be missing anything if you stayed home and stayed safe. Keep wearing your masks. Don’t forget to wash them. Stay far apart from as many people as you can. If we want 2021 to be a MUCH better year we need to stay alive and help others to stay healthy. Please don’t feel some false sense of relief because you made it out of 2020 alive.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

For Christmas my family wanted Peppermint Ice cream for dessert. I have made this many years with great success and that is why they wanted it. For the record I actually make frozen custard, since I use eggs, but for simplicity we just call it ice cream. I made the custard base in advance so it could get good and cold then I mixed it with cream and peppermint extract and crushed candy canes and out came a beautiful smooth ice cream of perfect texture. Sadly it tasted like lotion. I only used two drops of my extract, but it obviously had gone off.

I had leftover custard base, because I thankfully only made one frozen bowl of the peppermint ice cream. I asked Carter what other flavor ice cream she wanted because I was not going to let that leftover base go to waste. She requested Butter Pecan. I had never made butter pecan before so I just winged it. Turns out to be the very best ice cream I have ever made. So quick to the blog to immortalize it before I forget how I did it.

This makes about a quart and a half

Custard Base:

2 very large eggs

1 cup of sugar

Big pinch of salt

1 1/2 c. Whole milk

To make ice Cream:

1 1/4 heavy cream, very cold

For the butter pecan

2 T. Unsalted butter

3/4 cup of pecan, broken up

2 T. Brown sugar

2 big pinches kosher salt

A day ahead make the custard base.

Warm the whole milk in the microwave just enough for it to be hot, not scalded or with any bubbles. In my microwave, which is on it’s last legs, it is about a minute.

In a sauce pan put the sugar, salt and eggs and whisk for about a minute until it is like a pale yellow ribbon coming off the whisk. Start to drip In the milk and keep stirring with a wooden spoon. After you have incorporated all the milk put the pan on a medium low flame on the stove and keep sitting, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot the whole time. You are slowly warming the custard to a point that it coats the back of the spoon. You never want the mixture to simmer. It may take as much as twenty minutes of slow heating to get it to the right consistency. It will not be thick like pudding, but just holding together. You know it is right that when it coats the back of the spoon you can run your finger down the middle of it on the spoon and it keeps that cleared path.

Put the custard mix in an airtight container and chill it in the coldest part of your frigid For at least 12 hours. You can do it up to three days in advance.

At the same time make sure you put your ice cream freezer bowl in the freezer so it can spend at least 12 hours getting frozen.

To make the butter pecan part melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the pecan pieces and toast in the butter over a medium flame for three minutes. Take off the flame and add the brown sugar and stir and sprinkle with the salt. Put this mixture in the fridge to chill.

When you are ready to make the ice cream set your machine up with the paddle in the freezer bowl. Take the custard base out and using a fine mesh strainer pour the base through the strainer into the freezer bowl. Add the very cold heavy cream and put the cover on the machine and start churching.

If you have done everything right it won’t take but about ten to fifteen minutes to turn into ice cream. You will see that the volume has increased and if has frozen waves as it churns. When it gets to that point add the pecan mixture and let it spin in the churn about thirty seconds. You just want it to mix in, but not crush the nuts up.

Take all the I cream out of the freezer bowl and out into a plastic quart container with a lid and put it in the freezer for at least four hours. Remove from the freezer and let sit on the counter for ten minutes before serving.

You can see that you really have to plan ahead to make ice cream right, but it is so worth it. Carter says you can taste the toast in the pecans, which really makes it.

Delayed Christmas

Since Christmas Day was so cold, we delayed the visit to my parents until today. It was a lovely day to drive up to farm. This is probably the last time Carter could see the farm, as my parents have sold it and are building a new house down the road.

We sat on the porch, and exchanged gifts. Carter and I wore our masks the whole time. I do not want to be responsible for getting my parents sick. My Aunt Janie Leigh also came up and joined us for our outdoor visit.

My Dad took us to see his new project, the house he is building for them to move into. He is the only 83 year old who builds a new house for himself. It is coming along nicely and he predicts they will move in around April. It is going to be something to move from the farm where they have a big house, a guest house, an office barn and an art barn, two garages as well as two huge tractor barns.

The cleaning out of all those places has not moved at the needed pace. When we went into my Dad’s office barn to say goodbye and to get a photo with Carter I noticed the amount of stuff on the desks and tables was about normal. Covid is not helping this situation.

For Christmas my mother let both Carter and I pick out a painting from the art barn. With hundreds of paintings in her studio space I probably should have taken a dozen paintings, but that was not my gift. Carter did get a painting of Trafalgar Square that she had been coveting. I am happy it is staying in the family. I am getting “Ladies of the links” a water color I have always liked. I have to wait until Dad’s farm workman can bring a ladder to get it off the wall as it was hung 10 feet off the ground.

I hope my parents get the Covid vaccine soon so I can go up and help them organize this move. It may only be down the road, but as it is down sizing some hard decisions must be made. You just can’t keep everything.

No Post-Holiday Let Down

I have finally found something good about the Pandemic – No post-holiday let down. Normally on December 27th I have some sadness about the holidays being over. See, I don’t consider January 1 a holiday.

Every other year all the build up of anticipation for Christmas has ended. The parties are over, the decorations are starting to look tired, the excitement for the gifts I am giving has been replaced with the realization that I have to come up with new ideas for next years gifts.

This year is different. With no parties to give or go to there is no sadness about them being over. We are not sick of eating party food leftovers because we don’t have any. I didn’t have to come up with any cute holiday outfits to wear or even an ugly Christmas sweater. Instead we got to wear the same clothes we wore all through March, November and December, the pandemic uniform of yoga pants and sweatshirts. It makes putting laundry away non-existent. I just rotate the same three outfits on my body or in the washer.

There were no family fights because we didn’t see any family. Any possible political disagreements were avoided as well as old grudges or childhood complaints.

By now, in any other year, I would be bored trying to figure out what to do during these down days between Christmas and when everyone goes back to their normal routines and I get to have the house all to myself. Not so this year. We have no down days, as they are all the same. There is no going back to a routine and I most certainly will not be having the house all to myself anytime soon.

This Christmas was most like every other pandemic day, except that I had Carter home, so it made it like half the pandemic days. With no big up we have no big down. So I consider this December 27th better than my average day, two days after Christmas. I’ll take a win where I can find one.


The job of building the fellowship hall will probably never end. We have had an issue with our hotbox where the new water connection is made by the street. Apparently there is a small heater in the hotbox, which comes on when the temperature goes way down to keep the above ground pipes from freezing. If the heater does not come on it has an alarm, which sends a message to a central station and they call our minister and front desk manager.

The central station has called them at 2:00 in the morning multiple nights. You can imagine that makes everyone unhappy. I have been working to figure this problem out. Today I met the electrician at church and he needed to get into the sanctuary to check that breaker box. Thankfully I have a card key that still enables me to get into all the building so I can take care of these issues.

While the electrician was working on the breaker box I hung out In the sanctuary for the first time since March. As a member of the Church for 22 years it was all very familiar, but it was still strange to be there by myself. Russ and I have regular seats we always sit in, the second row on the lectern side. As I was waiting I took advantage of my alone time to check out what it would be like to sit in another place.

I tried the front row on my side, the middle on the other side, the last row, the balcony and the choir loft. It was kind of like being Goldilocks, looking for the most comfortable bed. I decided that our regular seats are still the best.

When the electrician finished he told me he figured out what the problem was. One of the phases on our 3 phase service from the electric company was not working. Now we are awaiting Duke energy to fix that. They better get it done before the temperature drops to 23 tonight. I am praying they don’t need to go over over to church and bring my card key after I put my nightgown on.

Merry Christmas to You

Our little pod of three plus Shay has enjoyed being together for this holiday. We cooked a lovely leg of lamb dinner for Christmas Eve and enjoyed spending time playing a game around the dining room table. Watching Christmas Eve service on TV meant we had the best seats in the house and didn’t have to worry about getting to church early enough to beat out the infrequent visitors.

Christmas morning brought Santa gifts to everyone except mom, just as SNL predicted. Unfortunately Shay did not like the biscuits from Santa, but Russ and Carter were happy. Thankfully I didn’t get a robe, but did get things for my garden and some wonderful books.

Carter and I did a big Wonder Woman binge. Watching the first Gal Gadot film followed by Wonder Woman 1984. It was five hours of pure ass kicking and very satisfying.

Shay and Russ walked the neighborhood in the cold while we watched. Shay came back to snuggle with us in her winter coat and scarf while we finished the movies.

It may have been quiet, but it was a lovely Christmas, keeping the health of our family at the forefront of our thoughts. The true meaning of Christmas was easy to hold close.

‘Twas the night before Christmas 1972

‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was eleven,

Our house was full of people aged 90 to seven.

Our Christmas Eve party in 1972

had hundreds of friends and their relatives too.

My father he made the famous Christmas Oyster Stew

While Children ate ham biscuits and lots of cookies too.

After everyone left full of Joy and nog

We stoked the fire with one last log.

My father too full of bourbon Milk punch,

Woke me from from my slumber to help him a bunch.

A big wheel from Santa was causing him pain,

He needed my young, less polluted brain.

“Leave off that noise maker,” he said in a stupor

So I threw it away, thinking that would be super.

The next morning when my sister discovered her toy,

She jumped right on it and rode off like a boy.

“It’s broken,” she cried as she rounded a corner

Her sad face gave her the look of a mourner.

“Your sister can fix it. She’s better than Santa.”

I gave him a look that was no hosanna.

So through the garbage and trash, from the party I sorted

The number of liquor bottles should have gotten us reported.

Under the last bit of crackers and Brie I spotted the thingy,

Which made the click sound that made a Big Wheel zingy.

It took me all day to undo all the doing,

To fix the toy that had set Santa stewing.

So the moral of the story is clear you can see,

Don’t drink lots of drinks until all the toys are under the tree.

Christmas Flexibility

This is the year for going with the flow, no matter where that river is taking you. We stayed home and had Thanksgiving via Zoom with Carter in Boston and my Parents alone at the farm. It wasn’t so bad. We had a good time visiting and talking on the computer and then we each ate the thanksgiving dinner we had at our own homes. The good news was we were safe, distanced and healthy.

Now comes Christmas. Carter did come home. She had back to back Covid tests the day before she came home and the the day she flew, then tested again three days after getting home. We have been spending a lot of family time, with Carter doing her job with me close by not doing much, but together.

Our normal tradition is to have Christmas Eve with our dear friends the Toms and then go to church together after between dinner and dessert. We sing silent night and raise our candles above our heads and I am usually brought to tears by the beauty of the whole thing. On Christmas day my family usually comes here for presents and lunch.

This year we are flexible. Tonight the Toms came over and sat on our terrace while we exchanged presents and sat socially distanced, only pulling down our masks to take a sip of our spiked hot cider. We did it tonight because it is going to pour down rain all day tomorrow. We will “watch” church at our own houses after we eat our own dinners, but Lynn and I should be in the candle portion of the video as we went to church earlier in the month to film that for silent night.

We had planned on going up to the farm on Christmas Day to see my family for two hours on the porch with our masks on, no meal, just visiting. Now it is going to be too cold. We are not going to do that since I know people don’t want to sit on the porch when it is freezing. Hopefully another day next week is warmer and we will go then.

I would rather be flexible this year and be safe. It is not the end of the world to not eat together with people other than our tiny living pod. It is not the end of the world to not exchange presents on Christmas Day. It would be the end of the world to lose one of our loved ones to a virus we could prevent if we are smart and don’t foolishly do something unnecessary.

This is the go with the flow Christmas. I know it will make us appreciate future Christmases. So much better to be thankful for what we have then think about what we cannot have. Merry Christmas to all.

Old Pots, Like Old Friends

Carter pulled my soup pot out of the cupboard so I could make clam chowder. “How long have you had this?” I looked at the Dansk stock pot and said, “At least 37 years.” I bought it along with two sauce pans in Williamsburg at an outlet. I have used these same pots everyday for all these years and they are good as new, save some discoloration that serious scrubbing could remove.

Today I got out my middle sized le cruset Dutch oven and realized it too came from an outlet 35 or 34 years ago. It is as good as the day I bought it.

Then I pulled out the only speciality pot I ever use, my rice cooker. My cousin Flo Heyward sent it to me after I asked about hers at her Pawley’s Island House. Her’s was a white enamel pot that was at least fifty years old, but made perfect rice. She sent me a more modern version and to this day it is the only way I make rice as it is perfect every time. The pot is at least twenty years old now, and is good as gold.

I am making a guess that I will never need to buy a new pot. The ones I have most certainly will last me my whole life. They have thick bottoms and strong handles. I am not sure anyone else will want them when I am gone, except maybe the le cruset.

Buying good pots, even though they came from an outlet was a good investment. I think I paid $60 for my soup pot, which amortized over the years, has been a hundredth of a penny per use. I can hardly think of anything else I have that has served me so well for so long, except for friends.

I can think of sweaters I bought that cost double that, which I might have worn twice and decided I did not like them. I wish there was a way to look into the future and see how much use you will get out of something so you can make your decision to buy it based on how useful and how long a life it will give you.

Invest in good pots and you won’t have to think about it again. It’s a good lesson for so many things in life. Like friends, many of whom I made 35 to 45 years ago and I still like them. My investment in my friends has really given me a good return. It was like the pot investment lesson. I learned early on to carefully pick good friends who would last and would be there when I really needed them. So far as I can see I am certain I will keep these friends until my end. Unlike my old pots, I am certain that they will be cherished by others when I am gone.

Christmas Dog, Christmas Star and Tim

Today Shay received a Christmas bandana, with her name on it, from my friend Mary Lloyd. She happily put it on and modeled it all day, posing for photos around the house. She even wore it outside to look at the Christmas “Star” with us.

We went out at around five thirty and looked southwest in the sky and there it was, Jupiter and Saturn very close together shining brightly down on our sad and hurting world. Four hundred years ago they were close, but it was in July and 800 years ago they were close, but it was in March. It is special to see both planets so close together, but extra special this close to Christmas. The great conjoining of the two planets in the sky is sometimes called the Star of David.

So many friends of mine all were out looking to the heavens for the “star” and I got photos from them showing what they were viewing as Shay, Russ and I looked into the sky too. I take this great conjoining as sign for good things to come, like the Star that led the wisemen to Jesus. Please let wisdom reign on our planet and for us all to act as Jesus by being kind to each other.

Yesterday On CBS Sunday Morning I saw a story about how one of the worst things for homeless people is not being called by their name because no one knows them. As Carter and I were out picking up groceries I was stopped at a light where a nice man in his mask held a sign asking for help. I rolled down the window to hand him a bill and I asked his name. “Hi, I’m Tim,” he said. “Hi Tim, sorry I don’t have more cash, but have a Merry Christmas and God Bless you Tim.”

He leaned down and said thank you to me and to Carter and said “God Bless you,” to us. It felt right to call him by his name, to acknowledge him. I was sorry I did not have a scarf with his name on it to give him, like the scarf that Shay wears now so people could know his name and call him by it. I hope that Tim saw the Christmas Star in the sky tonight. I hope he is warm and has food. I hope that kindness pours down on him and us all and that the Christmas Star heroes the start or better times.

A Different Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year in the longest year of my life is not like any Winter Solstice I have ever had. Today is my Grandmother Mima’s birthday. I think that if she were alive she would be a 108, but at my age I can’t quite remember. She always hated her birthday because she said she was cheated since it was so close to Christmas.

She was such a gracious and kind older person that I am sure the dislike of her birthday was a big carry over from childhood. No wonder since she didn’t have a mother and not the nicest father. I am sure that her birthday was not celebrated much. She also lived in Wesley Hills just outside Boston so this day had very little sunlight and most probably was very cold.

Today is also my friend Richard’s birthday and he is as nice as my Mima, so I tend to like December 20th as I like the people who were born today.

In a normal year we would have most certainly been going to a party or two on this day, had gone to church and would be behind on our Christmas wrapping, and preparations for guests on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Today instead, with all our few gifts wrapped already and even the laundry done and the house clean I watched church on YouTube and worked on a 2000 piece puzzle.

The puzzle is of Portofino, Italy. When I finished it this afternoon both Carter and Russ looked at it longingly. “Can we go there soon?” Was Carter’s response to it.

Now we don’t need to plan any parties or dress for any parties or plan any trips or pack for any trips. Usually on the shortest day of the year I would be scouring the Internet for good places to go for a spring vacation. Not this year. Now I just look to see who will be up next for vaccinations and long for a return to normality.

I know that my grandmother Mima would have weathered this year with the same positivity she met every challenge, except her birthday, with. We can’t go to parties or see our friends, but we have our whole little family home, safe and healthy. The darkness might have started early today, but we have the warm glow of Christmas mights throughout the house.

We can’t go to Italy right now, but we have many memories of many previous trips. We have food and heat and a puppy who looks at us lovingly. On this winter solstice we have nothing to complain about. The days will now start to grow longer and eventually warmer. We are on the downhill side of the mountain of this year.

People Came, They Saw, They Clapped

Today was the first opening tour day for our churches new fellowship hall. I was the designated tour guide since I knew each and every little detail about the building. It felt like a normal day at church, except with mask standing far apart from each other. But just seeing people was the most exciting part.

All the ministers were there, greeting parishioners in the court yard as they arrived. John Lockhead, representing fellowship, manned the front door and made sure we only had nine people in each group. Jami Howell, from global missions encouraged people to not forgot that there is need around the world.

It was exciting to introduce our new space to friends who came to see it. Kim Garcia took these picture I borrowed from her of the view looking out the building on to the courtyard. In the old building you could not see out that direction which was really a loss.

People seemed to love how everything looked, which was a relief for me. They also appreciated all the thoughtful touches we included, like the built in drinks station and the thirty plugs for crock pots along the serving line. What really brought us into this century were the rest rooms, with heat! It’s amazing how hard it is to pee when you are freezing.

The kitchen was the biggest upgrade. I can hardly wait to start cooking some big meals. We have enough oven space to cook 25 lasagnas at the same time. I do need to get a step stool so short people can turn the fan on to the hood.

Thanks to those of you who came and saw today and were complimentary of the job we did. I look forward to decades of fun to be had in the fellowship hall.

Don’t Take Your Mask Off to Talk on the Phone

Today I made my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s. I go there because they are very strict about how many people can be in the store at the same time and they also ensure that people have masks on before they let them in. Since it is Trader Joe’s they do it in the nicest possible way so people are not that crabby by the time they get in the door.

I did notice that today there were a larger number of old men outside in the “waiting to get in the store line” than normal. A couple of them were grumbling about having to wait. They obviously had not been to Trader Joe’s in the last nine months because you always have to wait.

The most grumpy was one person behind me and he got it right after me and pulled his cart up to the bananas where I was. Right as he got very close to me, blocking me in, he got a phone call. He pulled his mask off to answer the phone.

As he started to talk, mask free, I stopped him and asked if he could put his mask back on and let me out from the banana area where he had me trapped by his cart. He moved, but kept talking sans mask.

People, you can talk with a mask on. People can still understand you with the mask on. Doctors and nurses have been performing complicated surgeries for decades with masks on. Don’t take your mask off at the grocery store. What don’t you understand about a mask mandate. Especially you very old people. You are already the weak link.

And don’t block people in with your cart. Next time I might just back up by mistake and then you might fall and break a hip and we all know that is the beginning of the end for you old guys. I’m just looking out for you.

Punch List Done

It’s official, the punch list is done and the fellowship hall project closing out just in time for the first tours on Saturday. Yes, five years after the first meetings to determine if anyone liked the old fellowship hall to now. We could have skipped the meeting to find out if anyone liked the old one. The too small a space, the too small a kitchen, the really too small a bathrooms, no heating, no windows not enough seats, at least in the bathrooms.

Did we need this new building, absolutely. Are people excited about it? I think I can say unequivocally, Yes. Sadly, we can’t use the building for large gathering because we can’t have large gatherings, not yet.

I can’t wait to show everybody the new space and I hope you ll love it. There are a few things which are not done. The new furniture is not here yet, the landscaping still has a few plants to come and there are some new parking spaces by the cabin that still need to be paved.

But Saturday we are having small socially gathered tours for people who have signed up in advance. I think there are a few spots still available for this Saturday, but lots of spots for the January 10 tour. I am not posting photos of the inside so you have to come to the tour to see it!

Gingerbread House Day

Making gingerbread houses has been an activity Carter and I have loved doing together for as long as she can remember. We don’t really make the gingerbread house, we just assemble and decorate them.

I waited this year to do my Trader Joe’s house for when Carter got home. She is having a gingerbread house team Zoom event tomorrow and each of her co-workers were sent a house kit from Micheal’s. As Carter is the facilitator of the event she ordered all the houses to be sent to homes of her work team. Then she sent instructions about putting the house together a day in advance of decorating.

Since decorating in front of a camera is difficult her team decided that it will be a contest to see who made the best house so they each had to finish their house before the zoom tomorrow. Not that I am competitive, but I was very excited that Carter could win this contest given her twenty year history of house decorating.

Carter set me straight that as the facilitator she was not allowed to win. This was greatly disappointing to me, but it did not stop us from going to town decorating our houses.

As we squeezed out icing from piping bags and carefully placed tiny candies on our houses we discussed our best house decorating experience. We quickly agreed it was when Carter was six or seven years old. Our club had a house decorating event and they made giant mansion like houses. It took a very long time to fully decorate our house. As I remember it the kids gave up half way through and just turned to eating the decorative candies. I, of course was not about to take home a half finished house, so I guarded my candies and continued working.

The next year the club had learned it’s lessons and did not make such large homemade houses. We all were very disappointed to discover the ranch sized house down grades. It was the beginning of the end of the club as far as I was concerned.

Maybe one day I will try and bake my own house, for now we will be satisfied with kits.

Vaccine Priority List

Talk among my friends the last few days has been where we think we are in line to get the Covid Vaccine.  According to the New York Times interactive estimator I am number 94 out of 100 in North Carolina.  Basically at the end of the line.  

I understand that.  I agree with health care professionals going first.  Lord knows they have sacrificed for all of us and will continue to do so for the next few months.  Old people in Nursing homes should go next or in tandem with front line workers like police, Fire and EMT’s.  Then people with underlying conditions.  How about grocery store  and Pharmacy workers.  

Then it starts to get muddled.  I  wish that we had been keeping tabs on who wore face masks and social distanced.  Seems like people who followed the public health rules should go before the mask or Covid deniers.  How about people who stayed home and did not go to big public rallies, or bars, or giant church gatherings.  Why should people who said the whole thing was a hoax go before law abiding people.  The governor of South Dakota should maybe go last in all the Governors.  She never had a mask mandate, but instead encouraged the Sturgis, SD biker rally to take place.  No wonder South Dakota has one of the highest rates of spread despite being harder to spread in very rural areas.

I am all for the vaccine. I want every person in this country to take it so we can starve Covid out from hosts and kill it. I just wish that rule followers would be rewarded for once. I am tired of having to be nice to the selfish people in the hopes they would care about someone other than themselves and do the right thing.

In the meantime, kept wearing your masks. We have a good long time until we are safe, if you have gotten the vaccine or not.

Easy Latkes

In solidarity with our Jewish friends, my family thought we should have latkes on this fifth night of Hanukkah. Since I had a side of homemade gravlax in the freezer awaiting Carter’s arrival home I thought it was good timing.

Russ had forwarded me a recipe in New York Times cooking for Pure Potato Latkes. I thought it was an interesting technique so I went that direction. I modified it slightly for the size and type of potatoes I had. I will give you my recipe, but you can log in to NYT to see how theirs varies. It worked perfectly.

You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Latkes, but they sure are good with sour cream a a slice of lox. Our house could be called Russ and Daughter tonight. (If you have never been to the lower east side that might go over your head.)


Small Yukon gold potatoes

Salt and pepper

Canola oil

Pre heat oven to 350°

Wash potatoes and dry. I used potatoes that were slightly bigger than a jumbo egg. If you use larger one, adjust your baking time accordingly.

Two small potatoes will yield one large latke. Place as many potatoes as you need in the oven and bake for 17 minutes. You are not cooking them through, they should be half way to baked potato.

Add at least one more potato than you need because you are going to lose a little to the food processor. For us, three latkes each was a meal.

After you have baked them a little you want to grate them in the food processor with the grating blade. You don’t want mashed potatoes, so I put three potatoes in the feeding tube at a time. I just grated the whole potato included the thin skins because they add fiber. If you don’t like skins you can peel them before grating.

After you have grated, let the mixture cool a little. Add some salt and pepper. When the mixture is cool enough to handle scoop out a heaping spoonful and form into patties about a half inch thick. Put the latkes on a plate and refrigerate for at least an hour, or covered overnight.

When you are ready to cook them, heat a fry pan hot with a good coating of oil, add the latkes to the pan and turn the heat down to medium high and fry for about four minutes per side. They should be golden brown, not black.

When done place on paper towel covered plate to let them drain a little.

We had our with a dollop of sour cream and. Slice of cured salmon and a good squeeze of lemon.

Best Ornament Ever

My friend Kathi and I exchanged needlepoint ornaments with each other this year. Kathi came to needlepoint after me and we meet often to share information on fibers, canvases or stitches. She is like a sponge in search of all the water so she can learn everything there is to know about needlepoint. I caution her it’s a life’s work.

When we decided to do an ornament for each other I never expected her to design me something that would mean the world to me. I made her a cute “Merry Christmas” round that I thought would compliment her collection. She made for me an ornament of my Food Bank’s new logo and had my Award monogramed on the back. Kathi’s was so much more thoughtful and meaningful than mine. I loved the one I made for her, if fact I think I want to stitch another one for myself, but it was nothing compared to hers.

Making a needlepoint ornament for someone else is an act of love. I really only do it for my child, and for my other stitching friends who also do it for me. When an acquaintance sees me stitching something they like, I have been asked, “Are you making that for me?” I have not quite come up with the perfect way to say, “I don’t usually give you a two hundred dollar gift that took me many hours to make .” So I have to just say no, without an explanation.

Now I think I need to step up my game in my exchange with stitching friends. It gets harder and harder to find the perfect gift for someone. I am just going to have to go the route Kathi went and design my own canvases. This does step up the stitching game quite a bit.

Saffron Chicken and Rice

Carter is home so we have to make real meals. No just eating leftovers like Russ and I do when we are alone. In honor of Carter’s video on The physiology of comfort food we are having Chicken and rice. Not just any Chicken and rice, but Saffron Chicken. Only issue is that Russ had to send us photo’s of every item on the grocery list to make sure he was getting the right thing. For the record they all were right and he didn’t need to text us the questions.

It is an incredibly simple meal, but so yummy

8 -bone in, skin on Chicken thighs

2 large yellow onions, chopped

4 cloves of garlic minced

2 cups of rice

12 Oz. Bag of frozen peas

4 cups of hot chicken stock

Giant pinch of Saffron

Juice of a lemon

Preheat the oven to 450°

Heat a large skillet on high. Dry the chicken with a paper towel and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Place the skin side down in the hot skillet and cook until the skin is crispy and releases from the pan, about five minutes. Flip the chicken over and brown the other side about four minutes.

Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. You want to keep the skin crispy so do not pile it up, but keep in a single layer.

Add the onions and garlic to the skillet with the reserved chicken fat. Cook on medium for about three minutes, add the raw rice and mix together, toasting the rice. Add the peas, hot stock and saffron, which you rubbed between your fingers as you put in the pan. Bring the whole thing to a boil and then pour it in an oblong baking dish. Nestle the chicken, crispy side up and skin not submerged into the rice. Place in the hot oven and bake for 35 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes. Squeeze a little lemon juice on it then serve.

Sitting is Shit

I don’t have a life where I have to sit all day. I don’t have a job that requires me to be in meetings all day. I don’t spend that much time on Zoom, and when I do it is usually for some fun reason. Today was not a normal day for me. I had a mediation that was an all day thing on zoom. I can’t say what or who it was for, but I can say that I had to sit in one place for the better part of the day. That was hard.

I have new found respect for my poor husband who sits at his home office desk for anywhere from ten to fifteen hours a day. I know this is the world most people live in now, but sitting is the shits.

Sitting is exhausting. I would take working in the kitchen and standing up for twelve hours over sitting in one place for six hours any day. This and I have no form of ADHD a or ADA, or any of those A’s at all. I can not imagine how people who are in the least bit hyper do it at all.

Now I have a great old Herman Miller office chair and it is as comfortable as any chair in our house, but there is something about sitting in one place. The worst thing is I was sitting in the room with my walking desk, but I couldn’t walk on it and be on the zoom at the same time.

To all you desk jockeys, you do not get enough credit for what you do. I am thrilled this mediation got finished today because I don’t think I could have sat there another day. Tomorrow, a lot more walking.

My Cautious Child Is Home

Carter choose not to come home for Thanksgiving, making that decision months before the actual holiday. She said that it was too risky to fly when others would also be flying. I was happy to zoom for Turkey day and stay safe.

Carter determined that flying today would be a good choice in terms of the lowest numbers of travelers. Any students who came back to college in Boston are still there as exams are just beginning. Carter also opted for the middle of the day flight thinking it would be the lightest.

She has free Covid testing at school so she was tested yesterday and was negative, but in a belt and suspenders kind of way she went and got tested again today. That negative test result came back tonight.

Carter went to the airport and took this photo of the practically empty terminal. She said she counted only 10 people in the whole place. I can hardly remember a time when I could get a seat in the gate area at Logan.

Carter texted me as they boarded the plane, all 20 of them on a plane that holds 150. She had her own row with no one in front of her and everyone wore masks the whole time. I picked her up from an empty RDU sidewalk and she sat in the back seat with her mask on an me with mine.

Now she is home social distancing, but at least she is home. She has been gone for six months and I think that is the longest we have gone without seeing each other. She will be here three weeks and since we can’t go anyplace else we will see each other a lot, if at a distance for a while. She still is working full time and has a couple papers to write so she will be occupied.

The weirdness of 2020 continues, but at least the vaccine was approved today and we can see progress towards normality way off in the distance.

Love of Good Heating

As the nights are getting colder it is beginning to feel a little like winter. Perhaps it is only feeling like late fall, as we have had such an unusually warm fall.

Today as the heat from my new HVAC was gently warming my toes in my bathroom I was reminded of what heat was like in my childhood. I grew up in Connecticut in a house that was never meant to be a house. It was two barns that had been put together and converted into our wealthy neighbor’s “party House, carriage house and servants quarters.” We were only the second family to occupy it as a home, the first being a very quirky family of Swedish decent. Being Scandinavian they didn’t mind freezing inside their house.

My southern parents bought our house in the summer of 1967 so they had no idea that the heating in our house was woefully undersized for the drafty barn siding and no insulation walls. The windows were antique, and the ceilings upstairs were twelve feet high at the ridge line so any heat we had was way above our heads.

We had a furnace which I described as “Spot” from the TV the Munsters. Spot was a fire breathing dragon like animal that lived under the stairs. In our house the furnace room had a 10 x 10 foot cast iron fire box with a window where we could watch the fire burning. It was like a bad Hansel and Gretel scene about to play out.

Despite the giant furnace burning up outrageously priced oil, our house was always cold and drafty in the winter. We had many fireplaces and a beloved Kerosun kerosene heater we huddled around while watching reruns of I Love Lucy. But if you really wanted to be warm you would go to the guest room bathroom which sat directly above the Herman Munster furnace.

The tiny bathroom had no heat register in it, but the floor was like a little volcano. You could fill the bath tub up with hot water and stay in the bathroom for hours. Since it was the guest room’s bathroom no one ever really knew you were in there. I can remember sitting on the rug with warmth radiating from the floor doing my homework.

Cold is something I never got really took to living in that house. I am so thankful to live in North Carolina where the number of really cold days is small. I am also thankful for a house and not a barn, real insulation and forced air heating. I don’t ever want to live in a place where a Kerosene heater is required again.

You Shouldn’t See the Tree

I am of the Christmas tree school that it’s all about the decorations. Lights come second and then the actual three is third. My perfect tree is so chock-a-block with meaningful ornaments collected over decade. I like to be able to tell a story about where each one comes from.

This year I downsized my tree by two feet. I thought that would mean that I would finally achieve my ideal tree. Only my most beloved ornaments would be on it and every inch of the tree would be covered in a two or three ornament depth. Amazingly I did not achieve my ideal.

Today I found a bag of a half dozen ornaments I purchased and not yet put on the tree. The one I was most excited about was a sweet blown glass bee hive. As I was strategizing exactly where to hang these newest arrivals, I dropped the bee hive, smashing it on the floor.

I would say I am not even close. It takes about twenty ornaments per square foot of tree to achieve the look. As I sit and look at my tree from different angles I discover more and more bare branches, heavens forbid.

I finished putting the others on and took an assessment of how many ornaments I will need to each tree nirvana. Looks to me like I need at least another hundred decorations of various sizes. I guess it will be at least seven more years before I get there. Check back in 2027 to see if I have my perfect tree.

Three Fun Zooms Today, Feels Like a Holiday

Today was the annual Needlepoint Christmas exchange. It is always the first or second Monday in December where a dozen of us gather to exchange the needlepoint treasure we have made for one special friend whose name we drew out of the hat in January. Normally we have a lovely lunch and give each other little gifts. It is one of the Christmas traditions I look most forward too.

Covid changes everything. This year we had our exchange via zoom which had it’s logistical issues. We all had to bring our gifts to one place over the last week. Then today we had to pick up our individual bags of goodies and go home to have the Zoom at three. Since I was providing the homemade scones and mini jars of jam so that we could at least pretend we were at a tea party I had to get up early and bake.

It felt very festive to package up a pair of scones in a tiny bakery box with a little glassine star shaped window. With a dozen of us on Zoom we took turns opening our ornament that was stitched for each of us in secret. Each person held their treasure close to the camera so we could “ohhh and ahhh” over the choices of stitches and fibers the maker had chosen.

This is the cute one I received from Amy

It was not the same as being in person, even though Ann wore her traditional red plaid turtle neck to make us feel like it was a normal year, but it was fun to be together, each eating our scones and sharing our love of needlepoint.

My second zoom was a group of college friends who had all read the same book. It’s funny how different opinions can be about the story, but my love of these friends makes me appreciate all their points of view. My favorite line from the book was “To end a friendship, it just takes someone willing to throw it away.” I found this to be especially apropos with this group, some of whom I have not seen much in thirty years, but thanks to Covid we have rekindled our friendship. I just love the idea that you are always friends, through time and space, as long as you don’t willing make it end.

My last Zoom was the happiest, the birthday celebration with Carter. Although I had already face timed with her earlier in the day I got the bonus double chance to see her face as she opened her birthday presents that had been accumulating in her apartment. If you can’t be together you can at least make sure she has things to open that will make her smile.

In three days I get to see her in person, but I’m glad she had a fun birthday today.

Three fun Zooms today, feels like it was a holiday.

Tomorrow is Carter’s Birthday

Twenty-two years ago tonight Russ and I could hardly sleep. We were waiting to get up at four in the morning to go to the hospital so Carter could be induced. We had waited a long time to meet her so it was no surprise we couldn’t sleep.

Tomorrow is Carter’s birthday, as Russ says, a day that will live in infamy. I like to think that as it is Carter’s birthday we can reclaim the day, at least in our family as the happiest day in our life.

Carter was an excellent baby. She was a great kid and she was a teenager, enough said about that. But she is a wonderful adult who makes us so proud.

2020 is the worst year of birthdays for everyone, but as Carter says her birthday is especially tough in college as it falls during exams. I hope she can salvage some bit of fun, but messages to her would be lovely.

I am especially proud of her this semester as she has worked full time, while taking a full course load and TAing two classes. It was a more than full schedule, but some free time is in sight.

Happy birthday to my fabulous daughter. Being your Mom is the best job I ever had.

The End is In Sight

Something like three or more years ago I started working on the plan for a new fellowship hall for Westminster. My first job was in choosing a consultant for our Capital campaign, then with my friend Sara, chairing the major gifts committee (I think that was what it was, but hell, it was so long ago I can’t exactly remember.) It did involve having people in groups of 25-30 for dinner at our house, the same dinner, four nights out of five in a row.

Then I was on the committee to choose the building committee. I said I could be on the building committee if I was not in charge, and then I was in charge. That was two years ago. The committee started strong with seven or eight members meeting regularly as we worked with the architect and builders. Thanks to the wonderful Robert Sontolongo and Susan Straw of DTW architects.

Around August of 2019 we tore down the old fellowship hall and began the rebuilding. I will tell you that the last eighteen months have been the rainiest consecutive 18 months ever. Eventually our builders, CT Wilson got a structure out of the ground and we were on our way. Our Project manager Nish Evans, Construction Manager Red Staley and head honcho Chuck Wilson kept everything moving forward. Slowly my committee dwindled down to the ever present Nathen Swiggett, to whomI am eternally grateful for his expertise and me.

The building was scheduled to be done September 1, but thanks to Covid and mostly that record amount of rain it took an extra three months. I had to visit donors who gave speciality gifts, and calm church goers who wanted to use the building before it was done. Along the way I gave talks in church asking people to pay their Capital campaign pledges, and giving updates on the building. Chris Tuttle, our pastor and I have given video tours of the progress just to remind people that a new building was coming, even though they were not allowed on campus to see it.

I have had billions of zoom construction meetings and many walk throughs to discuss choices and designs. I even had a really bad dream last week that the foundation had been ripped out, while the building still stood. I have argued with landscapers and made people mad because of my expectations for perfection. I wore my pink “mean lady” hard hat with pride.

We have been awaiting our Certificate of Occupancy for two weeks now. We have passed every inspection and Friday, when our CO should have been issued I was told it wasn’t because the main building inspector, who has to sign off, was taking every Friday in December off. So Monday! Monday we should get a CO. And Wednesday we have our owners meeting where all the vendors for things like the industrial dishwasher and the big ass range with griddle will teach us how it all works.

Of course just because we get a CO on Monday (god willing) I still will have some clean up work, as we have parking spaces to get finished and landscape to enhance. But the furniture has been ordered. And with the expertise of Tim Vann the wifi has been run. But the end is in sight.

I am thankful for Sharon Morgan our business manager, who has taken care of all the money coming in and going out and for all the Capital Campaign donors. We still need your pledges paid off. This was a very big project, but a good one to do during Covid. I am looking forward to the official unveiling for the whole church. Of course with Covid, it will only be a few people very socially distanced at a time, but it’s a big ass space, so it will be safe.

One day when I was building my garden, Chris stopped by my house for a meeting in the driveway. I told him I was building this garden so I had something to show for Covid. He said, “You have a whole fellowship hall to show.” No, that fellowship hall belongs to everyone. When we gather together there sometime after we have all been vaccinated, I hope people feel at home there because it is a space meant for everyone. My big question is, “What can I build next?”

Is There Such a Thing as a Coincidence?

Yesterday, while the furnace men were replacing our HVAC Carter called and we face timed for a while. She showed me a video presentation she made for a psychology course. It was about the correlation of comfort food and happiness in children. Part of her video had Carole King singing the Chicken Soup with Rice song based on the poem by Maurice Sendack.

I told Carter that I used to read her that poem from a tiny little red book which was one of four in a Maurice Sendack collection called the Nutshell Books. She said she had felt something familiar when she stumbled upon this Chicken Soup song, but couldn’t quite place how she knew it.

Later in the day when I was searching for the lost key to the crawl space I pulled out some boxes on a shelf in my linen press in my bedroom. The boxes contained a lot of random stuff, like all the little envelopes and bags of extra buttons that come with clothes, a dresser set of brushes and powder boxes with the name Daisy, empty boxes that good jewelry had come in and two little red books.

The Books were half of the Nutshell library collection, one, The Chicken Soup with Rice and the other Pierre, a cautionary tale in four parts with a prologue. I don’t think I have looked in these boxes in ten years. What are the chances that I find the very book Carter and I talked about the day she is using it in her presentation?

I FaceTimed her back and read her the book. My favorite part was:

In February

it will be

My Snowman’s


With cake for him

And soup for me.

Happy Once

Happy Twice

Happy chicken soup

With Rice.

Carter Suggested I hang those little books on the Christmas tree. And so I did. I don’t think it was a coincidence, but exactly what it is I can not name.

Merry HVAC Christmas

Didn’t get to travel this year? Spending every waking and sleeping moment in your house? Seems like the right time to replace that ten year old HVAC unit.

Just when I told Russ I didn’t have many gifts for him for Christmas, so he wouldn’t worry about getting me anything, along comes the perfect gift to give each other. A 17Sear new HVAC unit with new and improved duct work.

We could have waited for any of the many wearing parts in the old unit to stop working all together, but given the planned obsolescence of all appliances these days we decided not to chance it and have it break down while Carter was home for Christmas. It might have worked another three years, but that is something we will never know.

Now I have shinny and bright new duct work in my crawl space along with a big maxi filter and a second nest thermostat since this is our second HVAC unit. At least now I can change the temperature settings all over the house from bed.

The only bad thing happened after the crew was here all day working. I went downstairs to be shown their work at a social distant space and as soon as they walked out my back door I shut the crawl space door and it locked from the inside. When Carter went to high school I moved all the alcohol in the house down to that storage place and locked the door and hid the key. Since her room was also down there I did not want her and her friends to be tempted to lift any of it.

I went to find where I had hidden the key and couldn’t find it. I texted Carter and asked her if she knew where the key was. She said she never knew and was never able to take any alcohol. Too bad! I really wished she knew where the key was.

Thankfully Russ came down and found the key. We left it in the door because now we are too old to hide things because it would mean we were just hiding it from ourselves.

Advent Vespers

We have not been allowed to go to church for nine months, until today. My church just started doing outdoor, socially distant advent vesper services. We had to sign up in advance to keep the numbers down. Russ had work and was not going to make it so I invited Lynn to take his spot.

We were asked to arrive fifteen minutes early to sign in for Covid protocol. I was early, but was probably the last to arrive. It was obvious that the small group was anxious to get to see other congregants. Chairs were set up in the courtyard in family group sizes, of four, two or one far apart from each other.

We had a fire pit, but most people brought blankets. Sadly neither Lynn, nor I did that. We had live music from some friends of our youth pastor Alex. It was nice to be with people, even though we all had masks and were far apart.

At the appointed time Chris, our Pastor, stood at a microphone and welcomed us, gave us the instructions not to sing and told us how these vespers would work. The last time I had gone to vespers was when I was a camp counselor at Camp Idlepines in New Hampshire. It was summer and later in the evening as the sun did not set until nine. Tonight we sat in the waining light at five and the cold descended upon us. Chris read us the advent lesson, we had questions to ponder, music to listen to and prayers to say.

After the service we were asked to be filmed in our “family” groups passing the light from candle to candle like we do on Christmas Eve, so the film can be used in our Video service that night. Lynn and I stood side by side in our masks and passed the light from one candle to another lifting our candles high as we always do on Christmas Eve. The woman filming us asked if we were related and in unison we immediately answered, “Yes.” When you share Christmas Eve together every year you are family. We didn’t need to explain how we were related, but we are.

Sadly, due to the restrictions on numbers, that was the only Advent Vespers I can attend. It was a moment of normality, although we have never done vespers at Westminster before. Just seeing familiar eyes and being together was moment of hope and happiness. Just like Advent.

It’s Giving Tuesday

If you are reading this you probably don’t live under a rock, therefore you might already know it’s Giving Tuesday. In case you don’t know, let me help you. Today is a day where people are encouraged to give to their favorite charities and non-profits. It could be a school, a Food Bank, an organization that helps homeless people, one that helps animals, the list is endless.

If you are lucky enough to have dinner tonight and a warm bed to sleep in and a dog to snuggle with and can read and comprehend a book you probably had someone in your life who helped you get where you are. None of us grow up with out the encouragement of some person. It might have been your parents, a teacher, a grandmother, a friend at church, or all those people.

If you had many people who encouraged you, you were lucky. If you were born into a family which did not worry about buying you new sneakers when you out grew your last ones, you were lucky. Now some people say they got where they are by their own hard work. I am not discounting hard work, but no one gets places alone and those who grew up with privilege need to understand that it was just luck that they were born into that family.

For many people non-profits fill the gaps for people who are just not as lucky. They might be as smart as you and as hard working as you, but they might have grown up in a town with a school that was not as good as yours, or they might have had a parent who lost a job at a bad time, or worse, lost the parent.

Wherever you are now, do you have something or someone to be thankful for? If so it might be a good day to donate to a non-profit in that person’s honor as a way of thanking them for all they did for you. Or give because you are thankful for the luck you had and want to pay it forward so someone else might be helped right at a time they need it.

Let’s not waste the potential we have in our own communities because a child is hungry and can’t concentrate on learning. Or let’s try and alleviate the burden someone else has to carry because it is the right thing to do. Give today. It doesn’t matter where, you pick something that means something to you. If you can, give again tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be money. Give again the next day. I promise you it will make your life happier. You may never know exactly who is helped by your giving, but they will always be grateful to you. We all need help at sometime.