Still Life With Hot Sauce

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Move your eyes past the clutter of lace, rose petals, sea shells; past the near invisibility of glass plates, past the strangeness of orange sections on lunch-box lids, and a bottle of hot sauce, accompanied by, of all things, a Costco-sized bottle of honey; past the mess of laundry on the love seat. None of this is the point of the shot.

Actually, this shot had no point, except to take a couple of quick clicks to work on some focusing issues. BUT. Look at the color of the sky, out of both windows.

Maybe the best of lives are made up of such serendipity – a momentary glance through a viewfinder reclaims a perfect shade of periwinkle in the midst of the chaos of a life.

Other things to think about this weekend:

  1. Email apnea. Oh, the sucking, black hole of the internet strikes again. Hat tip to the blog of Gwenda Bond.

  2. Is the ordinary too boring?. This piece discusses the concept of “the unexotic underclass.” They might also be known as “the middle class” and — well, just read the piece. It’s a little longer, but well worth the effort of thought.
  3. Never wanted to go to Australia? Too many things eager to kill you there (even solely via heart attack)? Australia says, “No, really, I’m HARMLESS!” with giant pink fluorescent slugs. No, really. You’re welcome.

The Hobbits wish you a blissful weekend, doing what we love best: finding a quiet corner, a hammock, and a book. Oh, and food. Second breakfast, if possible, and lashings of tea. ☺

Spring Has Sprung, The Grass Is Riz

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Thought we were joking about the lawn, didn’t you.

When you have a 4’x 12′ strip of grass that masquerades as a lawn, it’s hard to become too exercised over it getting longish. It’s full of crab grass and clover, and provides us with tiny yellow flowers, and we rather like it the tangle that it tends to be – but we also try not to scare the neighbor too badly, so we’re bound to try and weed and feed and shoo away the mushrooms that grow luxuriantly in a weird patch toward one edge.

Suburban gardens can be so gorgeous. We’ve got such plans for container gardens and bird feeders (high enough so Evil Squirrel Trio doesn’t eat them all again) and bird baths – as soon as we finish doing yard things for others, and get our deck fixed. OY, the deck has been a long project – made longer still by the fact that this is a rental house, and you have to do acrobatics and stand on one leg to get things done, even if they were promised to be done when you moved in almost a year ago. The project was started then apparently it was abandoned for other emergencies in the cold snap of October, so we’ve had to start over with our property manager, getting bids and such. It’s a real pain, but this time we’re going to follow through with the time-honored NAG so it gets done.

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We’ll have late veg this Spring – but that’s what comes of having to rely on the schedules of others to get your garden in! We’re happy enough to go with containers on the deck, flowers and butterfly grasses and rosemary and such. The prevalence of soil sold in tidy bags (no longer called “compost,” and we’ll miss the John Innes, to be sure) makes it all so easy.

Meanwhile the roses are blooming and blooming and blooming. We’re a little amused and slightly worried that each bush is now rocking two kinds of roses… yes, the rootstock, despite our wholesale whacking back this winter, has grown out. One particularly thorny, scrappy white bush has produced such loveliness in terms of smell – and now the perfectly creamy white blossoms – still way too thorn-ridden for “nice” gardens – are pulling that sweetness into more uniformly perfect petals – somehow a slightly different shade of white. Bone white roses? Who knew. And the reds are showing purples and peach centers, white what were huge pink roses are now also… pink and white. Don’t know what to do about this, or if one must DO anything – we’re just deadheading as fast as we can, and taking pitchers of them to friends and the few family members not currently inundated. Our fig tree is leafing up, but no figs on it just yet – possibly because of The Trio of Evil always leaping around in the branches, but we’re not sure. We certainly have bottlebrush and hummingbirds enough for anyone! The aerial battles continue unabated, as do the nosy visitations – these little upstarts rather like hovering while one is near the roses, and woe be unto you if you don’t fill their feeder fast enough. Between the fox, the raccoon, the woodpecker and the tiny dive-bombing hummers, it’s an active yard.

We’re still in the stage of being aware of just how easy gardening is in these parts – the Isle of Albion has so many shades of green it dazzles your eyes, but we’re pleased with any bit of warmth that brings out the shades of golden brown – and also makes the tomatoes non-crunchy. ☺ Contentment in all things, yes? Yes.

& Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine times out of one hundred, people are okay: definitely quirky, truly strange, undoubtedly weird, and yes, perhaps freakish, awkward, sometimes repellent — but not abusive, not cruel, not insane, not homicidal. Each time I leave the house, I want to remember that. Each time I interact with strangers, I want them to remember that. Each time my eyes meet those of a stranger’s, I want to remember kindness. To that end, I am going to do thirty-one things, ninja-sneaky, to keep faith with peace. Thirty-one things to remind myself that we are people of the light. If we walk in the light, not everyone is out to get us. If we light our lights, we make the night brighter for everyone.

At the New Year we determined that there was something better, perhaps, to focus on in our daily lives than the things the news media wanted us to look at – and while things have continued to happen in news cycles this year, it’s been good to look up and away from where our focus is drawn and to re-see that, around us, most of the time it’s not like that.

Case in point:

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Last Thursday, T. was working on laundry, in a desultory fashion, and between folding clothes and reading realized that she was hearing loud voices and helicopters. She assumed that a.) there was some sort of traffic thing going on, and people were being med-evac-ed somewhere, and b.) that the yard guys for Mrs. Bingham had the radio up really loudly.

Imagine her horrified surprise to go out to get the mail and discover that it was c.) none of the above. There were, instead, nine sheriff’s cars slewed across the road at various angles, cutting off access to the street, and the SWAT team in the driveway of the house across the street.

Ironic that the neighbor had exchanged smiles with us about the turkey antics just the week before. It seemed so odd to now know his name, courtesy of the loudspeaker, and for hours T. heard over and over again, “We don’t want to hurt you. No one wants to go in and get you. Just follow our instructions, and come out with your hands up where we can see them.”

Oh, dear.

From about 2pm – 5pm, this went on, and then as what looked like a tank pulled up and disgorged men in camouflage and helmets, officers began running around. T. almost wanted to take pictures, but was torn between watching, and moving away, unhappy to see crowds gathering on the other end of the barricade that she could see, smoking, and talking in groups as if someone was filming. This is a person’s real life! she railed at them silently, but they didn’t move.

And then, a peremptory banging on her own door. An officer in sunglasses, carrying a rifle, gesturing at her to come out. Another man in camouflage, standing in her bushes, pointing a long gun at the neighbor’s house. A moment of hot panic as T. tried to hurry away, was redirected away from the sidewalk, and cut through side yards and the neighbor’s place, shadowed by an officer behind and an escort in front, still pointing that gun. Relief at seeing D. waiting impatiently at another barricade, in the car.

And, another long, long wait. At least this time we were together. And, D. had stopped by the library, so T. had a book. We sat in the car and cautiously met some of our neighbors, also sitting in their cars. We watched neighbors open their homes to each other, as bathroom and food needs wore on. The police went into homes and grabbed diabetes medication when one neighbor needed it, and spots on the front lawn were generously shared. And we waited. And we waited.

And we jumped – gasped – at the first flash-bombs. And heard the whistle of the gas as twelve canisters crashed through the windows. We waited on edge, in silence. And then… it was done.

The first of the neighbors were allowed into the house on foot at 9:45. We were the last in, at 10 p.m., and then were allowed to retrieve the car from the end of the block at 10:20. Suffice it to say that we were weary beyond bearing. T. slipped into bed and dropped like a stone, while D. prowled the house, watching the activity beyond the bright spotlights, as the officers cleared the scene.

One of us could barely rise the following morning. One of us rose all too early. And thus we have 4 AM Macaroons.

The craze for the 3 Ingredient Cookie has rolled from baby blogs to vegan challenge blogs, and we’ve had various variations on them – oatmeal, banana and raisin, oatmeal, banana, cranberry – even peanut butter. D. went a bit above three ingredients, but the spirit was the same – most of the sweetening comes from banana, and there’s a bit of fiber, a bit of sweet, and a simplicity that works well with a cup of tea.


  • 16 oz. – 1 lb. finely shredded coconut
  • 2 lg. bananas
  • Coconut Banana Maccaroons 1

  • 1 c. Sugar
  • 1/2 c. Flour
  • 1/2 c. Water
  • 1/4 c. Canola
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 2 tsp. Baking Pwdr
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger
  • Chocolate chunks, optional

The beauty of coconut is that it’s spiky, so it’s very easy to mash the ingredients together on this one. It creates a sticky paste, which D. rolled out and then scored with a pizza cutter into tiny, two-inch squares. He then topped each with a chocolate chunk, and baked them at 325°/170° for a half hour on a Silpat. Your time may vary. D. thinks next time he’ll let them brown a little more.

You may think that this story proves counter to the idea that the world is not as dark or bad as the media would have us believe – but it doesn’t. Though they left the house as neat as they could, sweeping the street and clearing away, things were broken when the neighbor was removed from his mother’s house. Friday morning, she stood in the drive and wept, as neighbors gathered round, hugged her, and, with face masks, buckets, and vacuums, took the first few steps to restoring the place to rights. By afternoon, the windows were boarded up, the carpets cleaned, and the beginnings of order emerged. Small doings, perhaps, in the scheme of a life. But, big things, when that life has been so brutally and publicly disrupted.

And though we neighbors were frightened, cowed, horrified and inconvenienced by turns, this was a minor blip in the landscape of our lives. Some people have to live this way all the time. There were dogs and robots and SWAT teams, and no one died. We are unimaginably blessed.

So, we walk on, with hope in our hearts.

EDITED TO ADD: Full story, since many are asking.

Gardening & …Guinea Fowl?!

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From someone who routinely finds typographical errors in all sorts of media, the discovery that the paper misidentified a bird in Benicia as a guinea fowl was a little horrifying.

“But, that’s a turkey!” we protested. And then realized that maybe we’d better have some back-up for our protest, because, after all, we have no biology degrees. Still, the huge, crazy toms currently displaying all kinds of aggro-pretty at 6:30 in the morning on our street don’t look like any guinea fowls we’ve ever seen. And, we’ve actually seen some. In zoos and on conservation ranches, as those babies aren’t at ALL native to this continent – hello, Africa?.

Now, turkeys, oh, yes. They’re from around these parts.

Remember, they were nearly our national bird – eagles do seem a less ungainly choice.

And, anyone in a buckled shoe-and-hat outfit knows that the Pilgrims ate them. (Okay, so that’s a total lie, but work with us, here.)

At this time of year, turkeys are everywhere: moulting, displaying, and viciously protecting that clutch of eggs they MIGHT have secreted somewhere two blocks from here, but next to which YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY STILL WAY TOO CLOSE. All day long, we can hear them making little coughing-barking-chirruping noises, challenging stray dogs, passing cars, and scaring the crud out of pedestrians. Poor tetchy, crazed, irritable wee beasties, being bombarded by our hummingbirds and lambasted by our local skunk (oh, that’s another non-fragrant story. All sorts of excitement going on down our hill on these warm nights – all the windows open – gah!), and glared at by the neighborhood – even at their worst, which has got to be now – (although last summer when they were on everyone’s rooftops may be a close second) – no one’s bothering them. Either we’re all softies, or we can afford to ignore them, in favor of shooing away the non-existent guinea fowl…

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You talkin’ to me? I didn’t think so.

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The odd pattern of rain and weather, broken machinery and other annoyances mean that though the “field” had been turned twice, but none of our “crops” are in — STILL! It’s as if we’ve forgotten how to pull this off! Despite weeks of prep, we have no pictures of vigorously growing plants in our yard – and knee-high lawn and rampant weeds in our backyard, oy, but we’re hopeful that finally we can get that all squared this weekend so we can start enjoying the weekends again, and awaiting the fruits of our many labors. Or, D’s labor, anyway.

We’re looking forward to growing some lovely salad greens and some unusual onions and stuff – fingers crossed that we pull it together! Until then…happy weekend, May the Fourth be with you, and Viva Puebla Day, aka Cinco de Mayo, whereon we raise a well-guacamoled tortilla chip to the sound trouncing of French forces by Mexican soldiers in 1862. Outside we go! There is much to celebrate.



Dirt, Water, Sun, & Time

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For all that we’re citizens of this digital world, we don’t really trust it.

We’ve learned to deal with social media to the extent of ignoring it. We’ve realized that, between them, Google and Amazon have made a pact to swallow up the earth whole. As users, we make an uneasy peace with Craigslist – or Freecycle – and heed the warnings about meeting in busy parking lots and well-lighted places, just in case. Nine times out of ten, everything is fine, and the largely lawless digital world flickers on.

As non-supporters of social media, the Hobbits still view online dating with deep suspicion.

Which only makes sense. By nature somewhat introverted, the whole idea of meeting strangers is, to a Hobbit, somewhat daunting, and on a bad (READ: cynical) day, abhorrent. So, it’s a surprise to us to count the number of friends we’ve made online, despite our distrust of the digital world for making lasting connections.

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There’s Elle, and her brilliant and funny “Sweetie,” with whom we truly enjoy spending all too infrequent time in the North Bay. There’s Kelly, down south, Kansas up north, and Jacquie even further north, with whom we’ve swapped seeds, stories, recipes, and more. There’s Bake My Day and Healing Hands. There’s Nami-Nami with whom we spent time with in Scotland (jet-lagged and dazed) and in Estonia (slightly less jet-lagged, still dazed), there’s Saints and Spinners who met us in an airport and waited with us between planes – the list goes on. We’ve shared so much of our lives with people we haven’t met, yet through swapping recipes or reminiscences about our slightly nomadic lives, we’ve made connections.

This isn’t even counting all of T’s colleagues and writer-friends who also blog. It’s a little crazy, when you count all of them – two of them have made room for us in their homes, sight unseen, and over we came. Just from knowing each other through our words.

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So, it should not have been astounding to have a visit from a not-yet-met blog friend feel so much like having extended family over to visit.

We did all a Hobbit’s favorite things – baking, and eating. Watching things and eating. Playing with kites, and eating. And all sitting in the same room, silently reading … and eating.

We introduced a New Yorker to See’s. She introduced us to Hedonist. We fell into sugar comas.

We talked about all of the things we wish we could do, we hope to do, and we expect to do someday. And tried to put our dreams in some sort of sequence so that they could more frequently meet reality. And planned for our next trip to visit more friends we’ve never met.

We’ve pushed off our trip to Scotland again.

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The plan was to go in May, but we’ll more likely visit in the autumn when the weather is probably not going to be as nice, but we’ll have gotten the garden set up to where we can leave it. It’s a little surreal that we can let go of our plans so easily – plans that, weeks ago, were sometimes all that kept us going, but the reality is that our friends and “family” in Scotland aren’t sitting still with baited breath, waiting for us. (Some of them are actually planning 2014 trips to the U.S.), and we’ve been digging in and trying to make our living here. Life can only go forward, so onward we go. We’re looking forward to outwitting the frequent showers and getting the garden settled in – as soon as the rototiller stops dying. We’re anticipating a few days in Yosemite at the end of the month, reacquainting ourselves with the ten thousand waterfalls sure to be melting and thundering to the valley floor by then, and we’re paging eagerly through seed catalogues and imagining our food dryers and canning jars packed full.

It’s hopeful, these anchors to reality, in the digital world. Some things are still true: friendships. Dirt. Water. Time. Growth.

New. Year.

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The sky is leached of all light — and all color, as we head toward the deepest part of the night. It gets colder, after midnight, as if there’s some cosmic rule about darkest-toward-dawn that means everything always becomes more, before it becomes less. If that’s the case, on the last night of the year, we are both more and less than who we will be tomorrow.

I know I am, tonight, less. And more.

Less, because there is still part of me stunned and caught, stumbling and frozen, ears ringing with the sound of silence as twenty-six souls might make, wrested from this world so terribly too soon. Less, because, like so many people, it has become easier to talk about the mechanics of a thing – law, weapon, institution – than the reality of a thing: hopelessness, brutality, incomprehension. My friend Barb, in an attempt to find for herself sanity and balance in a world where she just wanted to retreat to her bed, has declared a personal war on the dark. She has become a ninja-style hatred-assassin, sneaking about and spreading light. Something as simple as buying a certain type of tea at Starbucks – and then another, for the next person who comes along and orders it, or buying herself a split pea soup at a local bakery, and another for the next person who orders it. As simple as paying her own toll on a bridge, and then for the next four cars. She’s been fun to observe, but more amazing has been those joining her. She’s generating a greater light as tiny sparks are fanned across the world.

Better to light a candle than curse the dark, right?

Someone mentioned wanting to do twenty-six random acts of kindness in the names of the twenty-six people who died in Connecticut a few weeks ago. And then, they reasoned, “there were actually twenty-eight victims,” including the mother of the shooter and the shooter himself. They rounded up, and decided to do thirty-one deeds for the month of January, and in honor of mental health month. I like that idea – but I have names for the other victims which make up the number to thirty-one. Those names are You and Me and Us.

You and Me: we’re the people who think twice about smiling across an aisle at the gas station at the man filling his car. You and Me: we’re the ones who maybe glance with suspicion at the people in the line at the bank, who are inundated with negative media about our fellow humans, Us, who wonder if the world is indeed a more hostile and crazy place.

You and Me: we’re the people who wonder what world we’re leaving to our kids. We don’t know our neighbors, and wonder if they’re crazy, too. We’re prepared to shoot first. We’re prepared to not be the victim, and so the aggressor. We’re prepared to pack up and run, to keep everyone at arm’s length, to lock our doors and ride out the apocalypse, hoarding our resources. It’s not enough that the economy has tanked and we’ve wrangled on politically for the last twelve months, spewing anger and nastiness and raising voices in protests which keep getting batted down. We’ve been ground down before, …and now this???

Individually – you and me – collectively – us: we’ve been hurt, in a thousand tiny ways. How many people wanted to go to work, or send their kids off to school the Monday after this happened? How many people wanted to pull the drapes and stay in bed – not just through Christmas, but through all of these dark days?

I don’t know what else to do but say “NO.” None of us are intended to live this way. And to honor our own mental health, and to honor each other, I think we need to dig in our heels and not be dragged down into paranoia and fear and distrust of our neighbors. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine times out of one hundred, people are okay: definitely quirky, truly strange, undoubtedly weird, and yes, perhaps freakish, awkward, sometimes repellent — but not abusive, not cruel, not insane, not homicidal. Each time I leave the house, I want to remember that. Each time I interact with strangers, I want them to remember that. Each time my eyes meet those of a stranger’s, I want to remember kindness. To that end, I am going to do thirty-one things, ninja-sneaky, to keep faith with peace. Thirty-one things to remind myself that we are people of the light. If we walk in the light, not everyone is out to get us. If we light our lights, we make the night brighter for everyone. Who knows, maybe my small thing will remind thirty-one other people. And maybe they’ll keep the cycle going. Maybe that little spark I bring to their day will be enough to light their own tinder, and they’ll keep the flame burning.

Asking for another diner’s check at a restaurant, and paying theirs, too. Paying a $10 fine at the library, toward the person (identified by the librarian) with the greatest fines. Buying another copy of a book I want, for the next person to come along and receive for free. Giving up a primo parking place, or paying someone else’s parking meter. It’s not for anyone else to see or know about but the receiver. It’s not about the glow for me, but the glow that goes forward.

And so, on this New Year’s Eve, when I know that light must diminish to become brighter in the light of morning — and a new year — I’m signing on not for “resolutions” just for myself, and the usual losing battle with weight, coffee, smokes, booze or exercise, etc. — those are daily, personal battles that must be fought, true, but they’re not as important. Not as much as the battle to fight for my neighbors – for my community – for the you-me-us that makes up my world. Instead, my intention for the year is to cast out fear, embrace love, and lighten the dark.

Thirty-one days… or, maybe three-hundred and sixty-five?

Happy New Year.

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X-posted at T’s blog.

Remember, remember…

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There was frost the second week of October in Cambusbarron. One of D’s coworkers took some lovely photographs, and we felt both envious and relieved that we have not yet had to resort to myriad layer. Autumn weather here has been ridiculously spoiling – mild sunshine, cloudless skies. T. visited her favorite stand of ginkos at the library, and photographed them to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating the effect of their very yellow leaves, viewed against the bowl of blue… they glow. All of the autumn color this year has just been the best. And, except for the endless raking involved, we’re really enjoying having a maple tree this autumn as well.

And, D. would like to point out, except for the endless sneezing involved with whatever autumnal spore/dust thing is going on, he’s enjoying it, too. (We think it’s the raking.)

Sometime last night, we heard the series of arrhythmic pops that signaled fireworks. We looked at each other in bewilderment — fireworks are generally illegal within city confines, and though it was a foggy night, it has been a fairly warm day. “Bonfire night already?” D asked, and for a moment, that seemed to be a perfectly sensible answer… except, no one here has any antipathy against Guy Fawkes, Catholics, or the memory of such, and the wee neds in this neck of the woods are more likely to be blowing up toilets than setting off bottle rockets.

We chalked it up to a surfeit of high spirits, or, lacking that, someone’s significantly big birthday, and went back to reading. But, when we woke this morning we realized: The Giants won the World Series.


Sometimes we are amusingly out to lunch.

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It’s been a weekend of remembering — we’ve been digging through things we haven’t seen since the beginning of May, after all — but more than that, the relentless reporting of the storm reminded us of what some of the last few years were like in Glasgow. Remember the indelicately named hurricane which received international attention? We remember our first winter — and having to plant a foot against the side of our building to yank the door open with both hands — and then having it flipped out of reach to slam against the building, and then being unable to shut it again. We remember the first building we lived in, swaying, one night. We remember hearing pings as hail hit the lovely stained glass windows in the church where we lived — and T remembers seeing the tops of D’s shoes as he fell down the icy stairs in front of that church.

One year, T stood in the cloisters at the University and leaned into the wind… and leaned some more… and leaned some more… until she was literally supported only by the wind. That was scary-exhilarating. We loved the thunder and lightning and the gale-force… until it dropped the mill building in Cambusbarron. And then we realized what could have happened to us.

And so we’re thinking of our friends back east today. Remembering what it feels like to be safe in a storm, and praying that for them.

Turning Leaves

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Okay, not really. We got a couple of days of morning fog and some breezy afternoons, but it’s still quite lovely and warm, and we’re at the peak of harvest. That’s as touchy as Autumn gets for early September. Fortunately. We think of our friends who were flooded out in Bridge of Allan, or so hot in Iowa and Ohio — or flooded in the Southeast, and are sympathetic. And grateful for what we have, and even for our circumstances. Better to be safe and dry and at peace – though homeless – than to be otherwise.

Still, there’s a bit of curling to the edge of the leaves, and it’s only dimly light at 6 a.m. — the last of the recalcitrant have finally started school with this week, and the year is beginning to turn. Time for some hard squash.

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We usually make this as a Thanksgiving side, but it’s so tasty – and economical, as you use quite a few leftovers – that it’s good to make again and again. We’ve made variations using sausage, sweet potato, and leftover naan as fillers, with a sharp cheese and broth instead of milk, or a variation using the delightfully sweet Delicata instead of butternut squash. This time we used butternut, kale, mushroom, carrots, and creamy curried corn, just to add some variation. (The corn was the leftovers from a big pot of fresh corn chowder made with coconut milk and curry – which we appear to have forgotten to photograph and blog. Oops! The creaminess made itself manifest, and was really, really tasty.)

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While we made a large pan, we’re eating it as quickly as possible, since tomorrow we’re embarking on the 21 Day Vegan Kickstart and neither eggs nor feta are on the menu for awhile. The Vegan Kickstart is sponsored by the PCRM – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This is a body devoted to providing common sense alternatives to medication and medical care – by caring for oneself at home… which simply means eating well, drinking a lot of water, exercising, and sleeping. Simple cures are the cheapest! And this time, we hope the best. (This kickoff is a great prelude to the Vegan Month of Food<, which is in October; if you’re REALLY TRYING to be healthier, it’s best to start these things with a support group. And, possibly, a chef.)

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Meanwhile, we hope you’re enjoying the last gasp of summer, are looking forward to changing temperatures, good books, films, games, and the fine company. We’ve been concentrating on old card games lately, and an eighty-one year old friend is teaching us to play Spite and Malice. There’s something particularly hilarious about a relatively sweet person insisting you must play Spite & Malice with her, but we’re enjoying it. It’s good to drag out the games every once in awhile – after all, there’s more to life than watching other people play.

More dispatches as the week goes on.