Category Archives: Uncategorized

Next Chapter

It’s easy to bury yourself in a hole, a burrow of your own creation where it’s safe to look out but you yourself never have to be seen. The internet particularly is a warren of twisted tunnels that all connect but seldom seem to lead anywhere. Where it is possible to read, watch, and gawk, poking your head out occasionally to leave an anonymous comment or an even more ephemeral “click” or page view.

Real life can be a burrow too. One where you become so focused on the daily routine, the List that is impossible to finish. To come out of your burrow seems impossible, impractical, perhaps even a waste of precious time.

My burrow has been lined with old plaster and lath, joint compound, and cut off lengths of two-by-fours. We bought a house last May. A really old (1850) house that needed a huge amount of love. Balancing renos with family life and the day in, day out jobs of a stay-at-home dad has been quite a challenge. With the breakneck pace of it all, it has been hard to poke my head out of my burrow and spend time here sharing it with you.

My community has been rocked by a horrible tragedy in the last few days, the details of which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice to say it is nightmare material. And where the tragedy has nothing directly to do with this post, it has torn at my heart and made me acknowledge that I want to choose connection over disengagement and sharing over hiding. This invention of the internet has done a lot do degrade our social structure, while at the same time making it possible to reach people who we otherwise never could. The fact that my son can have weekly face-to-face time with his grandparents who live on the  the other side of the continent is truly a marvel. I hope that this blog can be a positive place too.

Over the next weeks and months I’m going to try to go back to last May and share the story of our new home. I wasn’t always the best at taking progress pictures, so some of the posts might be a little sparse, but as the year progresses and I catch up with the current time, I hope to do a better job of documenting the things we’re doing in case the process might be interesting or helpful to any of you. Peppered throughout I’ll still be doing posts on recipes and non-sequitur thoughts as they come to me, and hopefully those will be fun too.

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Applesauce Spice Bread

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The impetus behind this recipe was solving a refrigerator issue. There is nothing so sublime as a pork chop slathered in sweet and tangy applesauce, that sweet and savory combo I’ve come to appreciate so much as I’ve gotten older. However, there is inevitably a half jar of applesauce in the door of the fridge that hangs out longer than it should. Applesauce is a staple in our house, something we like to make in the fall when the apples are cheap and at their best. We have found though, that we don’t eat as much as we put up. That’s where this recipe comes in.

Using up a whole cup of applesauce, this moist bread is a perfect breakfast or an even better mid-morning snack. It can be toasted in a skillet and spread with peanut butter or cream cheese.

The Recipe:

2 Eggs
1 Cup Applesauce
¾ Cup Sugar
¼ Cup Packed Brown Sugar
½ Cup Melted Butter
¼ Cup Sour Cream (Or Greek Yogurt)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla

1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour (Plain whole wheat would work too)
¾ Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Nutmeg
⅛ Teaspoon Ground Cloves
⅛ Teaspoon Allspice

The Process:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray one standard loaf pan. In a large bowl, beat together the first 7 ingredients. In another bowl whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold them together just until the flour disappears. Pour the thick batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan.

Blogging Again – The Same But Different

I decided to start blogging again. Actually, I decided a few weeks ago. What prevented me from actually sitting down and posting, is not knowing where to start.

I could have just picked up where I left off, posted a recipe and pretended that nothing had happened. After much thought, I decided that wasn’t a genuine approach. I can’t go forward without acknowledging that I’m not the same person and everything has changed.

The only thing I could think of to write about while I am grieving, is grief itself. I won’t pretend to know what other people go through, I simply aim to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.

There’s no point in going into what happened. This is a public blog and the internet is full of people with their own problems. Suffice to say that tragedy struck and there was no way I could have prepared for it.

The first thing I would note is that there’s no guide book to grieving. There aren’t any stages either. Saying that grief comes in stages suggest that there is some order or process involved. That you will first go through one emotion that will neatly lead into the next. My experience wasn’t like that at all. Instead, the different emotions inevitably came as stabs from a blindingly sharp needle, sometimes one at a time and sometimes all jumbled up. Though it sounds irrational, it is possible to be happy and unbearably sad at the same time. Along with the grief can come feelings of guilt. Guilt for not feeling or for feeling too much. Guilt for not doing something when there is nothing you can do. Guilt for somehow angering God or the universe and bringing it all down on you and your family.

Another side of grief that I never would have expected was in the random arrangement of it all. There are times when I sit down, maybe looking at a poignant picture, and expect a flood of emotion. Instead there is only emptiness and distraction. Suddenly it sneaks up on you like a wild cat, tail twitching, to pounce when you least expect or want it, in the shower or walking the aisles of the grocery store.

Perhaps this is just me, but I am totally unequipped to deal with people who want to console me. In the first few weeks, my worst fear was to be recognized somewhere. That I would be seen away from home and then approached and hugged. As the well-meaning friend would put an arm around my shoulder, I would be searching desperately for a shovel and pickaxe so I could tunnel my way out. My brain understood the intentions of the other person, seeking to comfort, but my body would just seize up.

“How’s it going,” sounds like such a benign phrase. It’s one of the most common ways to greet someone, especially among men. For quite a while it left me stammering. I couldn’t answer with the normal, “Good. How are you?” That would have been a bald-faced lie; I was anything but good. Instead I would stammer, “Uhh.. Okay…” which just piled onto the discomfort of the situation. I finally settled on the oh-so-banal reply, “Hangin in there.” At least it avoided feigned cheer.

In the months that have followed, I don’t really know if I have started to heal or not. Somthing I heard once best describes where things have settled down – that the pain doesn’t grow less with time, you just feel it less often. I’m sure there are as many ways of coping as there are people in the world. I have taken to saying a rosary every weekday, 15 minutes where I can feel things and think, or not, but be free from the distraction of the internet or books or housework. I try to find gratitude even in the worst situations, to be grateful that these changes in my life may have helped me to be a better person.

And that’s that. I’m sure my next post will be silly or maybe delicious and I don’t intend to dwell on the negative in this space, but it didn’t feel right going on without speaking to my absence as well as perhaps a change in tone. I know that I don’t feel the same and that it stands to reason I might not write the same either.

 

100% Whole Wheat Oatmeal Cookies (Master Recipe)

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I planned on posting the second installment of my short story exercise. I even had the post all ready to go. After reading it through, which I hadn’t done in a while, I realized how violent the story was. I don’t necessarily think it’s bad, it just doesn’t really reflect what I enjoy writing or reading these days.  I also worry that some of you who read this might read it just because you know me, and I don’t want to subject anyone to something that makes them feel uncomfortable. I’m still planning on posting story #3, but in the mean time I thought we could all get behind cookies.

There are thousands of recipes for drop cookies out there. Most of them are blessed by being delicious and simple to make. At the end of the day though, you only ever really need one or two. This recipe is meant to be a base for a great oatmeal cookie, into which you can add any of the nuts, chunks, chips or fruit you may want. What makes them even better is that they are 100% whole wheat.

The Recipe:

½ Cups Butter
½ Cups Shortening
213g Brown Sugar
67g Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
¾ Teaspoon Salt
14g Cider Vinegar
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
198g White Whole Wheat Flour
85g Quick Cooking Oats
350-500g Nuts, Chunks, Chips, or, Fruit

 

The Process:

This really is a dump-it-in-and-go recipe. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Blend together the butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, salt, and vinegar until it is nice and creamy.

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“Now wait”, you say. “Vinegar in cookies?”

Yes indeed. It reacts with the baking soda and gives these whole wheat cookies a nice lightness. I also think it tempers the sweetness of the sugar.

Do it!

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Back on track.

Blend in the egg and baking soda then add the flour and the oats. If you only have old fashioned oats you can smash them in a food processor. That’s what I did. Using the old fashioned oats straight will give you a cookie that spreads more.

Now throw in your chosen add-ins. I went with chocolate chips, walnuts, and crisped rice. I’m serious, you can’t go wrong here.

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This is the part where I might do it differently next time. I scooped my cookies right away, and on a warm evening the dough was VERY soft. Putting the dough in the fridge for half and hour would make for chewier cookies that don’t spread quite as much.

So…

Now, or in half an hour, scoop the dough onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. I went with the tablespoon sized scoop. Bigger or smaller works fine. Just adjust the baking time.

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Bake at 350 degrees until brown around the edges and still soft in the middle. Mine took 10 minutes in my oven. The batch made about four dozen.

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Let them cool for a nanosecond and eat, eat, EAT.

Gearing Up

This weekend something shiny arrived at the house. I could barely contain my drool. A brand new laptop! No more banishing my wife from the living room so I can write in the evening (truth be told, she tends to self-banish herself to where there are fuzzy blankets). I figured I’d take a few minutes and talk (brag) about which laptop and what accessories I chose and why.

The Laptop: I picked a Lenovo G500. It’s their bare bones model and one of the lowest price points they offer. Turns out that it doesn’t matter in the least. Why? Because I’m the Sweatpants Guy of computers. Imagine you’re at the gym, and you look at the other people working out. There are muscly guys admiring their pipes in the mirror, also some moms that can run for 6 hours straight on the elliptical trainer. Then in walks some guy in gray sweatpants that look like they’ve never been worn. He takes a few laps around the machines, pokes the “Peck Deck” to see how it works, and then ends up on something like an exercise bike because it actually looks like something from the real world. That’s me with a computer. I don’t even do a third of the things that this computer is capable of, never mind one that could conceivably launch the space shuttle. I haven’t been into PC gaming since the original StarCraft came out. I was in high school and I think there might have even been a 19 at the beginning of the date. I want to be able to run word processing software, check email, and maybe stream a video once in a while. These are all a cinch with the G500.

The Bling: My one and only accessory is a thumb drive, and that has a story with it too. I knew the computer was on its way (UPS actually let me track it from Shanghai), so I stopped in at Best Buy to pick out something that could transfer and store documents from PC to PC. My wife, who is the techie of the family, was with me. When we got to the rack of thumb dives and exterior hard drives, I told her that I needed something that could hold a lot of hefty documents, some over 100,000 words long. She explained to me very slowly(actually very nicely), that in modern terms, a War and Peace sized document, was a peanut of data. I picked up one that can hold 16MB, apparently thousands of documents. Grand total: 10 bucks.

Software: My choice of a word processor was the hardest decision. I’ve grown up with MS Word and it’s always done what I needed it to. Somewhere along the way though, I heard that there might be something else out there. While haunting writing blogs and forums, an unfamiliar word kept on popping up. Scrivener. Let me take a moment to mansplain what Scrivener is. It’s sort of a word processor, sort of a planning tool. The functionality of a word processor is the same as Word, but it’s made so that you can break up a document into lots of small pieces and then shift them around. For a fiction writer, that makes it much easier to move around scenes and see where they fit the best. There are also a lot of features for planning and outlining. I didn’t really plan my current project, but when I get to the editing stage, I think this will all come in handy.

I also decided to go with Libreoffice for a word processor when I want to just do the basics. I’m using it right now to write this post. So far it seems to do the job, but it will take a bit of getting used to because I’m so used to the look of Word. It was free, so then there’s that. It may come to pass that in three weeks I’ll be running around the house threatening dishonor on you and dishonor on your cow, and break down and shell out for Word, but for now, I’m 100 bucks richer and doing fine.

The only other thing worth noting, is that this is my first time with Windows 8. As a person who’s had Windows since the 1993 version, I wonder if they couldn’t have made it a bit more intuitive to use. I know they’re trying to integrate a mobile platform for all devices, but the first time I used an Android it took me ten minutes to figure out. For this thing I had to Google how to shut the damn thing off.

If I make any big breakthroughs or add on new technology I’ll make an update. For now though, I’m just a happy kid trying out a new toy.