House full of people
Food and fun >> small oven fire
All out of words now
PS I need a new pecan pie recipe that is less likely to set my oven on fire. Favorites?
I almost missed the furnace guy this morning. We had the routine maintenance visit scheduled for this morning, but I wound up taking Elwood to work and forgetting about the appointment, and if we hadn't been delayed by a couple of minutes I would have been on the road instead of backing out of the driveway when the van pulled up. These guys have been servicing our furnace ever since we moved here, so I didn't think twice about letting the tech in and running Elwood to work.
It was just a cleaning, after all.
When I came home I stopped in the basement. "How's it going?" I asked nonchalantly. "...Not so well," said the guy. "You've got a cracked heat exchanger." It turns out that a replacement heat exchanger for our 25-year-old furnace costs $2200 and is not especially easy to track down. It also turns out that if your heat exchanger is cracked, they shut down your furnace with stern warnings. Like, if you choose to turn this furnace back on, you can only do so after you sign a waiver and they leave the premises. Like, you're not going to want to run it at night, at all, because carbon monoxide is too sneaky for you to take any chances.
I said, "I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for FIFTEEN PEOPLE tomorrow. Also my brother is bringing his children here tonight and I do not want to send them home either charred or poisoned."
He said, "I'm afraid you're going to need a new furnace."
So you guys, here is a weird little tidbit about me: for as long as we have owned a house I have been a little stressed out about the furnace. Is its exhaust working right? Is it going to catch on fire? Is it going to fail in this particular cold snap? When it needs to be replaced, will we have to refinance the house to afford it? Would it be more environmentally responsible to look into geothermal? It's not a high-level anxiety that keeps me up at night, but it has been niggling at me steadily for a long time.
This is lesson #6447813 in the Dread Is Dumb files: God is good. Good in nudging me to schedule the maintenance when I did, good in keeping us safe with a potentially dangerous defect lurking there. Good in helping us to find non-scammy furnace guys whom I trust, who sold us a 96% efficiency furnace at a far lower price than I was expecting. Good as in this morning's kerfuffle was resolved before 3:00 this afternoon-- old furnace out, new furnace in, bill paid. No angst, no decision fatigue, and weirdly, unexpectedly, no stress. It wasn't even all that loud. (Do you hate it when people are banging on your house? It stresses me right out.)
And I am feeling grateful. We had just replenished our house fund (and I mean just, as in last week) after last year's home maintenance adventures, but hey-- we have a house fund. I had been feeling a little uneasy about the mix of people we're expecting tomorrow, but we will welcome them to a warm house.
This morning I woke up at 5 and I couldn't get back to sleep. I was worried about one of my teenagers, and worried that our second car would need new tires, and I finally decided to get up and pray the Office and make pastry instead of lying in bed catastrophizing. The car tires are fine, it turns out. The teenager is much better. None of the things I was fretting about have materialized. When the situation I had been worried about for years suddenly plopped in my lap, God's grace was ample.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow. One of these years I'll get that figured out.
Hmm, internet, I am not sure how it came to be 9:43 here. Things on my list to do tonight:
Warping the space-time continuum in 3-2-1...
My house smells like cornbread. We are expecting 14 people at Thanksgiving dinner (must buy forks) (also, internet, what can I put under the card tables in the living room that will shield the carpet from spills and be a little less unattractive than a shower curtain?) and I am trying to plan ahead. Ergo, a double batch of The One True Cornbread for stuffing.
The smell is more attractive than the appearance. It will be fine in stuffing, moistened with butter and stock, but I didn't measure the yogurt and so it's not what you'd call beautiful. It's a metaphor, I think.
One of my children, when he was small, used to love to unpack the groceries. "Oh, Daddy!" he would exclaim. "Light bulbs! Thank you! Toilet paper! Thank you so much, Daddy!" He wasn't digging through the bags in search of Captain Crunch (I'm not sure he would have known what Captain Crunch was); he was just happy with whatever treasures he unearthed.
Another of my boys tells me all the time how glad he is that I'm his mom. And I am grateful, of course, but I am also humbled. I am keenly aware of my shortcomings. (Chief among my guilt-inducers right now: this boy wants to cook his way through Honest Pretzels. Why, Mollie Katzen, why must each recipe use twenty-eleven bowls? Why did you think it was a good idea for small children to make tortillas by hand when their mothers know nothing about tortilla-making? I get a little irritated about messy unfamiliar kitchen tasks. Irritation is not the right response.)
I also have a child who is quick to point out my shortcomings, and you might imagine that this does not spark the happiest of responses in me. I get defensive. I get accusatory. I get...more aware of my shortcomings.
To a certain extent, I think, gratitude is a personality characteristic. But it's also something we can cultivate -- should cultivate. I can say, "Oh, the cornbread smells terrific and the stuffing will be great and I can't wait to see everyone." I can say, "It looks terrible and I feel grumpy about it. And I bet people will grind stuffing into the living room carpet where it does not belong."
One of those is clearly a better option.
Yesterday I thought I'd work on the Christmas letter, but I quickly got tired of it. It's hard to get a Christmas letter right, isn't it? I'm sure you've gotten your share of braggy letters and letters that needed an editor. I don't want to write either of those. I said to my oldest, "What should I say about Joe?" He answered immediately: "That he turned into a duck this year."
He offered to write the Christmas letter while we were at Adoration. It contained plenty of tidbits like the following:
☭. The child we had previously called Pete has now changed his name to ☭ (UTF-8
e298ad) in keeping with his new, radically communist political philosophy. He
has also annexed several local farms to create a workers' paradise, and, apart
from a few minor gulag issues, seems to be doing quite well for himself.
So...yeah. Maybe I'll just print up a card with names and ages.
"The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated," according to a report from the NIH National Cancer Institute.
You might recall that I spent half of my childhood in Raleigh County, West Virginia, home of the mine in which 29 men died in 2010. (My high school pal Chris took this picture for the NYT.) The explosion was caused by blatant safety violations; an independent investigation laid the blame at the feet of the owner, Massey Energy.
Don Blankenship, Massey's CEO, was in the New Yorker earlier this week. He set up a nonprofit, see, and with staggering irony called it And For The Sake Of The Kids. He used this organization to buy himself a state supreme court justice, contributing $3 million dollars to the campaign of one Brent Benjamin.
Benjamin did not recuse himself from hearing Blankenship's case when it came before the court. Can you guess who won?
Hint: not the kids.
I have posted before about the impact of toxin exposure on West Virginia kids. This time I have been thinking more about my friends from high school. The newspaper kids and the yearbook kids used to hang out together. One of those boys died recently after a long battle with cancer. The yearbook editor has been Facebooking her breast cancer treatment. Another Facebook friend is relieved that her breast cancer is in remission, but she has such extensive nerve damage from chemo that she can't walk. Trying to be upbeat, she shared a story about trying to drive her wheeled cart through Walmart and crashing into a display.
I'm not laughing.
Exposure to mining waste is associated with a significant increase in cancer risk. Don Blankenship's corner-cutting has real costs and he is not being held accountable for them. West Virginia wants to call itself "open for business." That shouldn't have to mean "closed to the sufferings of its citizens."
1. Instead of "when I go to sleep" she says "when my eyes turn black."
2. One day I said to her brother, "I think Stella just has music inside her." She said, "Yes, I do. When I sing, I let it out. But then it comes right back."
3. This morning she said, "I don't want Joe to scold me [about feeding the guinea pigs]." I said, "Where'd you learn that word?" (It's not one that comes up often at our house.) She said, "When I was a little girl and you read me that book about the elephant who was a king." Remember when Arthur and Celeste get in trouble for running away?
4. She thinks that cracking a joke requires the speaker to sprinkle the word "underwear" liberally across her attempt.
5. She still produces fractured versions of words she uses a lot. "Stop derrupting me!" she tells her brothers regularly. "That's usgusting," she says about food that is green. She's also a fan of Carcass Stone, a game that is not nearly as grisly in reality as it sounds in her rendition.
6. Long ago I blogged about the way she said "meed" and "mee" for "need" and "knee." She can get it right if she thinks about it, but mostly she still meeds things.
7. She is a little bit interested in Return of the King, but she wanders in and out. Tonight after the boys and I finished our chapter she brought me our graphic novel version of The Hobbit and we read for a while. She thought it was hilarious that one troll called another a booby, and skipped around saying "You're a booby" until bedtime. I'm hoping that fades away by Monday, because I'm not sure the kindergarten teacher will be consoled by my explanation that she's talking about the blue-footed bird.
Today's post was going to be about Don Blankenship, but I was reading the siege of Gondor chapter to the 9yo and the 12yo and when they asked me to keep reading I couldn't say no. How could I pass up a chance to intone "Grond crawled on" to a captive audience?
So I am giving you a recipe instead. Crescent Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian has a delicious fall lasagna recipe: pumpkin, garlic, kidney beans, cabbage, ricotta. Sounds a little weird, maybe, but it's so tasty. It's also kind of a pain. I had a pumpkin that was getting a little soft in the pantry and half a head of Chinese cabbage, so I re-imagined her lasagna as soup.
Coarsely chop a bunch of garlic (6-8 cloves) and seed/peel/cube a small pumpkin. Brown them lightly in oil or butter or a combination. Stir in finely ribboned cabbage, a can of petite diced tomatoes, a can of rinsed/drained kidney beans. and a pint of stock. I would have tossed in a glass of white wine if I'd thought about it, but I didn't. Simmer until the squash is tender. While the squash is cooking, fry sage leaves in butter until crisp. Serve soup with sage leaves and Parmesan.
Act I, Fall 2011. I assign a semester-long project to my grad students. I offer them feedback on topic selection in advance, but that's it. I am crushed under the weight of the grading, staggered by the magnitude of the task and the direness of the papers. I cannot even see the goodness of the good papers clearly because the bad ones are so blindingly awful. I stumble into mid-December certain I will never assign a project like that again.
Interlude, Fall 2012. NO SEMESTER-LONG PROJECTS, NO SIRREE. DO I LOOK STUPID?
Act II, Scene i. August 2013. I do a summer workshop on designing my fall course. I think, "This course needs a semester-long project." But! this time! I will offer them Formative Feedback along the way! I will show them their errors and they will fix them! Fairies will caper along the unicorn-trodden paths of Learning Together and we will frolic there!
Act II, Scene ii. September 2013. I grade until I am an old woman.
Act II, Scene iii. October 2013. I grade until I am an older woman, stooped and shriveled but still clutching her red pen.
Act II, Scene iv. November 2013. I post about my gray hair, failing to connect it to the ETERNITY of grading this fall has brought me.
Act II, Scene v. December 2013. I think I might die of grading. If I don't die of grading, I might die of futility-- I showed them their errors and a substantial fraction of the class said, "Yeah, whatever." I am late submitting grades to the registrar because SO MUCH grading. And also despair. SO MUCH DESPAIR.
Act III, Scene i. August 2014. At a workshop on student writing I say, "I almost died of grading last year. Penna-rubra-tosis, they call it, when you stab yourself through the heart with your red pen because you can't face one more comma splice." The workshop leader raises an eyebrow. She says, "Let's talk about your formative feedback."
Act III, Scene ii. November 2014. I have told the students I will give them advance feedback on selected parts of their semester-long project. Two parts are required submissions; two more parts are optional. All parts get a preliminary grade, which will be incorporated into the final grade. "Making good use of feedback" is built into the rubric as well, with a hefty penalty for people who disregard the comments I have labored over. I require them to get structured feedback from a classmate and from an outside party, and to tell me in detail how they're making use of that feedback.
I'm trying to make it a project they can really learn from that also leaves my will to live intact.
It's still a lot of grading.
P.S. I love 90% of my job and my students are awesome.
In the fall of 1968, when you were approximately the size of a grape, a knitter named Elizabeth Zimmerman published a pattern called the Surprise Jacket. When I heard that Brice had come to live with you, I knew right away that he needed his Aunt Jamie to make him a Surprise Jacket. (That's what he was saying that one time he wouldn't settle down: "Where is my jacket? How long does a guy have to wait around here?")
The thing about a Baby Surprise Jacket is that it looks more like an Amoeba or perhaps a Series of Drunken Errors than a jacket. The pattern warns the knitter: it will look "v. odd, indeed, but trust me, and press on." I have wondered if this might explain part of the BSJ's popularity. On the website where I keep my online knitting notebook, there are currently 22,499 BSJ's logged. That's a lot of amoebas, is it not? I think it's one of those knitting-is-like-life things: sometimes the idea that an intractable baby or toddler will actually grow into a person who is capable of shaving and voting and operating a motor vehicle seems at least as implausible as the idea that an amoeba could become a cute little retro garment. But both those things are true. If ever you are having a bleak day, I suggest that you trust and press on.
When we lived on Simpson Street, on any given day you'd be wearing black and I'd be wearing green. I striped this jacket in black and green on purpose, thinking the black would make it easier for you to dress in clothes that matched the baby (come on, you know you want to!). But there's a bit of metaphor there too: it's mostly black, because the work of raising this baby will fall mostly on your shoulders. But the smaller stripes of green are there because I hope also that you feel enfolded in love and support from people all around you, some of them nearby and hands-on helpful, others sending love and good wishes from far away.
Knitting and parenting are both tasks that call for patience and willingness to take the long view; they also call for determination to keep on learning and to accept one's shortcomings. When I finished the fun part of the jacket, I got stalled on the finishing. While I was finally wrapping it up I figured out a new and better way to tackle a technique I'd been using for years. One last thought on knitting as parenting metaphor: you never know when your task will teach you something unexpected. You never know when something frustrating will turn into something deeply satisfying. I am wishing you a lifetime of deep satisfaction, and fruitful frustration, and learning together.