Friday, July 29, 2022

Right Now: July 2022

The summer doldrums have given me posting doldrums. I was casting about for some Friday Letters ideas but ... nothing. It finally dawned on me that I could do a Right Now post. When I searched through my archives, it turns out that I haven't done this since August 2021, so the last Friday in July seems like a good time to catch up. 

John's tomato jungle

The bean, cucumber, and zucchini jungle

Making - Things with garden produce. Cucumbers in sour cream, tzatziki sauce, zucchini fritters, zucchini marinara ... and hopefully some ripe tomatoes soon.

Looking Forward To - Visiting my SiL, her husband, and our niece in northern PA next week. We had planned a visit two years ago, but then covid. I still have the vodka and bottles of tonic I was going to take, so all I need to do is get plenty of limes and I'm ready to go.

Grateful For - No longer having to make the drive to MD. When I looked back at past posts, I'm reminded of how much that shaped my life (and how very much I disliked it) for more than three years. I'm glad that chapter in my life is finished!

Look how she's smiling! (I don't think that was exactly how I looked.)

Celebrating - That I'm finally all signed up for Medicare and its associated Parts. I started researching the whole process in April and May of this year, turned 65 in June, and finished the signing-up in late June. They sent me some new piece of information every week, and I finally received my Medicare card earlier this week. You can't do much until you get your card, but once I had that official piece of paper I had to choose a prescription plan and supplemental (Medigap) insurance. That took much of yesterday and I just shook my head at that system - Plans A, B, D, G, K, L, M, N, and each one is offered in NJ by 12 or 13 different insurance companies. I finally found a plan and a company that seem like they will work for me, but I haven't yet been to the doctor with Medicare. Wish me luck in August (and when I decide to sign up for Social Security)!

Found under the stove: 51 cents and a motorcycle.
Justin called dibs on the motorcycle, so Ryan gets the 51 cents. 

Cleaning - My kitchen, quite thoroughly. It started about a month ago when I saw a few little black ants on the counter. I cleaned, sprayed, and put out ant baits. John sprayed outside. Ever since then, these ants have been the bane of my existence. Each time I went into the kitchen it seemed like they had appeared at some new location. I've removed and put away lots of things that were on the countertop, cleaned more and often, and sprayed often (being careful around food and food preparation surfaces). Last night we pulled out the stove to make sure the nest and queen weren't behind it. (They weren't, just a lot of greasy dust, 51 cents, and a motorcycle.) I'll spare you a picture of that whole mess, but I think that everything that can be cleaned and sprayed in the kitchen has been cleaned and sprayed. I even tore out some insulation underneath the kitchen in the basement and sprayed there. I haven't seen any live ants on the counter in 24 hours, only dead ones, so I'm hoping that the little buggers have taken the bait back to the queen and they're all dead. The only good ant is a dead ant. 

Some of these ant names seem less than scientific.

Wondering About - The phrase "bane of my existence". Supposedly the word bane comes from "bana" which means destroyer. The ants did not exactly destroy my life, but they sure caused me a lot of unhappiness and frustration. Someone recently told me that filling ice trays was the bane of their existence and I just laughed at the hyperbole. (Ants are clearly more of a bane than filling ice trays.) :-)

Wishing For -good soaking rain (really any rain would be most welcome). 

What's going on in your world right now?

Have a good weekend and see you in August on Monday!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

What's For Dinner?

Earlier this week, Becky (she doesn't have a blog but is a wonderful commenter) and I were commiserating with each other about the intense summer heat and how little energy we had to prepare dinner in the heat. She wrote about how she was making cold salads that would suffice for dinner, especially if some sort of protein was added. She wondered if I had any new suggestions and then wondered if I might ask you, the readers if you had any suggestions. I've gotten several good ideas for posts from Becky, and this one struck me as another good idea. 

We've both made potato salad, macaroni salad, broccoli salad, black-eyed pea salad, and ramen noodle salad

While I was thinking about this post, I spent some time searching and came up with these possibilities:

I haven't tried these but they sounded good to me. They all use chicken which is relatively easy to grill yourself, and it's also quite easy to buy a prepared chicken (Costco!) and shred it. 

Here are a couple of other new-to-me recipes that I found and couldn't resist giving them a try. We had Raspberry Pecan Chicken Salad on Tuesday and I absolutely loved it. I didn't have any Chinese five spice powder but will try to get some to try it next time. John wasn't sure about this take on chicken salad, but he ate leftover grilled sausages after his first couple of bites, which left more for me.

We had everyone's favorite,
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad on Wednesday, and we both liked it. I didn't grill the romaine because grilled lettuce isn't my favorite, but the anchovies in the dressing made it taste great. 

I didn't want to ask you for help with dinner without providing a possible recipe or two, so now that I've prattled on about possible salad ideas, it's your turn. If you have any ideas, recipes, or suggestions about cold salads for hot weather, especially those that require a minimum of cooking, Becky and I would be most grateful. Thanks in advance and Happy Summer Eating!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/27/22

I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday, with a Baby Surprise Jacket in progress. 

The third time was definitely the charm with this one. With much-appreciated help from Janelle, a useful tip from Sarah to make sure to mark the right side, and some fairly extensive googling, my brain finally grasped the concept. I had read the pattern multiple times, cast on twice, and then got overly confused with moving my markers for the decreases. I simply didn't understand where I should be moving the markers and thought I needed to advance them by a couple of stitches to account for the decreases. On that third cast-on, I took a look at what I was actually knitting and it clicked; I needed to be moving the markers up my knitting so they would always be marking the center stitch of the double decrease. This may be quite obvious to many knitters, but some of us are slower than others and this knitter clouded the picture with overthinking, obfuscation, and frustration. I'm knitting along happily now, at least until I get to the "Center 90". (I shall persevere.)

While the heat and lack of rain continue (no rain on Monday despite a 90% chance of precipitation by the lying weather forecasters), I find it helpful to immerse myself in a good book. This week I finished four of them. Field Study by Helen Humphries is the perfect mix of memoir and field study while Humphreys spent a year at Fowler's Herbarium in Canada. Arranged by season, she writes about each plant section in the herbarium, describing pines, lichens, grasses, trees, chicory, algae, fungi, roses, and more (including spurges and worts!) It's much more interesting than I've made it sound, and the author also writes about past figures who have contributed to the field of botany. 

After seeing a five-star recommendation from Kat I decided to request Blaze Me a Sun from NetGalley myself. I don't read mysteries very often, and the last Scandinavian author I read was Stieg Larsson more than a decade ago, but I have been missing out. In 1986, Sven Jorgensson, a small town police officer, gets a call from a man who says he has raped a woman and claims he will do it again. I won't recount the rest of the plot, but this book is a page-turner and thoughtful at the same time. Christoffer Carlsson subtitled this A Novel About a Crime, and it is that but also so much more. There are layers with well-developed characters, decades of police work, the tolls it takes on some of the families involved, and one of the best fictional endings I've read in a long time.

I also finished another NetGalley pre-publication copy of The Lindbergh NannyBecause I live in Flemington, NJ where Bruno Hauptmann was tried for the kidnap and murder of the Lindbergh baby, The Lindbergh Nanny appealed to me. The Lindberghs are still kind of a big deal around here, with theatrical recreations of the trial in the old courthouse, Lone Eagle Brewery, and a protracted fight about how historic the Union Hotel really is and how much of it should be saved. I read several nonfiction books about the kidnapping when we first moved here 30 years ago, but Mariah Fredericks' historical fiction novel made for much more interesting reading. She places real-life Betty Gow (Charlie Lindbergh's nurse/nanny) at the center of the novel and tells the story of the Lindberghs, the kidnapping, Betty's own story, and the conclusions she reaches. Despite knowing that the kidnapping was coming and how it would end, this was still a compelling read. It seemed well-researched but the author doesn't just recount 90-year-old facts; she treats all the characters as fallible humans who felt real emotions and how so many of their lives were changed or even ruined by the kidnapping. I especially appreciated the author's additions of "The Real Betty Gow" and the extensive "The Lindbergh Nanny: Fact vs. Fiction" at the end of the book. 

The final one is the delightful collection of short stories entitled Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer. I was excited when I saw that Debbie had read this and immediately searched my library for a copy.  I read Hearts and In the Palomar Arms by the same author sometime back in the 1980s but hadn't searched out anything else from the author since then. Even the title of this collection delights me, and the first entry in the book tells the tale of the poor woman in the supermarket. With covid, I have often felt I might someday be that woman that goes mad and it will probably happen in the supermarket. I hope that I am treated kindly by fellow shoppers. The last story, "The Great Escape" is especially poignant because it's true-to-life and Ms. Wolitzer wrote it in 2020.

Some of these stories show their age, but that is to be expected since they were originally published in the 1960s and 70s. Despite being written more than 50 years ago, they are still relevant and contain the extraordinary. As Elizabeth Strout writes in the foreword, "Hilma Wolitzer once told an interviewer, "I don't believe there's such a thing as ordinary life. I think all life is extraordinary." This collection of short stories shows how true that is.

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


Inspired by Kym and Vera, I'm sharing some of my bookmarks today. I had remembered mine as being made by Ryan and Justin, but once I actually dug them out, they were all from Justin. 

I'm guessing these are from about 4th grade. I remember that Justin insisted that I get the school picture package that included these. They were meant to attach to your keychain but with some ribbon added, they make fine bookmarks.

Before he had all the joy of art sucked out of him by a mean and nasty middle-school art teacher, Justin drew a lot. These are from that period. He made bookmarks for almost everyone on his Christmas list and we all loved them and made good use of them.

Here are a few more from Justin's artistic period. I think the downy woodpecker was originally meant for my Mother-in-law, but it made its way back to me after she passed away. 

This one is a bit of a puzzlement. I think the blue circular part was originally the base of a haiku Pokemon figure, but I vaguely remember that the boys were fighting over it and it got destroyed. I think Justin may have upcycled it into a "Love Bond" bookmark. 

These are slightly more recent, and Justin was still upcycling. When he worked on the deer ranch in NY state two years ago he had to go through several old buildings on the property before they were scheduled to be knocked down. I like old keys, so he saved these along with the lock plates (or whatever they're called) and fashioned them into some original bookmarks for me. I use these a lot, but I'm always careful not to use them in library books. It's a bit silly because they're heavy, but I have a real fear of forgetting them and returning books with the special bookmarks still inside. These extraordinary bookmarks are some of the reasons I will always still read real books!

So how do you keep your place in books? Special bookmarks, scraps of paper, bits of yarn, or something else? I hope you also have some special bookmarks!

Monday, July 25, 2022


The conditions are hot and very dry here in central NJ, and I'm sure that's the case for many other locations around the US (and the world). 

We haven't had measurable rainfall for at least four weeks, and the temperatures have been >95° F for the past week or so. Yesterday we hit 100° and that means the temperatures in my kitchen were 87° or more. This makes cooking a bit of a challenge, but I boil pasta for macaroni salad early in the morning, eat salads, and use the grill to avoid heating the kitchen up further. We don't have central air but have closed off some rooms to try and keep as cool as possible with the window units we have. 

The good news is that despite the crispy, brown, dead appearance of most of my lawn, we are not officially in a drought as of now, just "Abnormally Dry". The next stage after Abnormally Dry is Moderate Drought, so that seems to escalate a bit quickly, but we may get some rain from thunderstorms this afternoon. Fingers crossed!

Another piece of good news is that I haven't had to mow for four weeks. That's especially welcome when it's so hot. There is still a strip of green grass in the shade that I've told John we need to leave for the rabbits and deer. I've been cleaning and refilling the bird bath daily, and at one point yesterday I had a dozen birds drinking from it. All of the critters seem to appreciate some green grass and fresh water. :-) 

So while I wait hopefully for rain and cooler temperatures, I'm enjoying reading more, knitting more, and just relaxing. Here's hoping you've got plenty of iced mint tea at hand and things are green and well-watered in your world!

Thursday, July 21, 2022


That's the sound of me cutting the cable TV cord. I've thought about it for at least two years, threatened to do it for at least one year, and finally just bit the bullet and called Comcast last week. 

Our one TV, finally cut loose from cable 

We were late to get cable TV since I viewed it as something I was going to have to police when the kids were young. We did finally give in, and it was fun and educational for a while. But now that the kids aren't here to watch Animal Planet and Discovery Channel,  John doesn't watch sports or much TV at all, and I'm happy with what I can stream, the time had come to get rid of cable TV. 

I was dreading making the phone call to Comcast, but it went surprisingly well. I explained my situation, said I wanted to downgrade, and Pat, the actual friendly representative, explained the options. I'm completely happy with my internet service and definitely wanted to keep that, and Pat checked a couple things to see what my bill would be if I downgraded to really, really basic TV (we already had basic TV) but that didn't help. So I ditched cable TV completely and kept my internet service which increased by $20/month because it was no longer part of a bundle but still managed to save about $75/month. The few times I watched something on cable TV were definitely not worth that price. I returned the cable box over the weekend and I feel freer already!

I have Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu for streaming services and I'm going to have to resist adding lots more. I am considering Britbox for Vera and Miss Marple and maybe PBS Masterpiece so I can watch All Creatures Great and Small. I have finally learned that it's not a big deal to add channels for a month or two and then cancel them when I'm done watching, so that's just what I'm going to do. 

If you have any recommendations for channels or shows I need to stream, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Unraveled Wednesday: 7/20/22

With the exciting baby washcloths all done, I'm joining Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday.

I'll wrap them up with some nice bars of baby soap and send them off to Albany later. First, I need to work on the Baby Surprise Jacket I have planned.

This is all I've done so far, dig out the EZ book that has the pattern and get out a couple of skeins of the yarn I'm using. I'm a bit excited to finally give this iconic pattern a try.

I finished a couple of books last week, an odd little Helen Humphreys one entitled The Frozen Thames and an average historical fiction novel, The German Wife

The Frozen Thames is exactly what the title states - short little fictional vignettes (but based on documented events) about each year that the Thames has frozen. The time frame begins in 1142 and runs to 1927, and the subjects vary from the Black Death, the King being driven in his coach down the frozen river, a stone carver carving a gravestone for a child killed by an icicle, and a composer writing a symphony for the frozen river. Frost Fairs and frozen birds are recurrent happenings. This is quite an original idea, but it is the oddest little book!

The German Wife is inspired by the true story of Operation Paperclip, a controversial US intelligence program that employed former Nazis after WWII. The author has taken a novel approach to telling a story about a little-known aspect of WWII while raising questions of morality, responsibility, and accountability.

I've started reading Blaze Me a Sun (thanks, Kat!) and Fellowship Point. I'm much more excited about these books than the ones I've just finished, but there's always a sense of excitement about starting new books. 

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Read With Us: Sorrow and Bliss and Meg Mason

The summer Read With Us book is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Last week, Carole shared several reasons why we think you should read this book (and join the discussion in September); this week it's my turn. 

From the publisher's blurb: "Martha Friel just turned forty. Once, she worked at Vogue and planned to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content. She used to live in a pied-à-terre in Paris. Now she lives in a gated community in Oxford, the only person she knows without a PhD, a baby or both, in a house she hates but cannot bear to leave. But she must leave, now that her husband Patrick—the kind who cooks, throws her birthday parties, who loves her and has only ever wanted her to be happy—has just moved out.

Because there’s something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time."

What's wrong with Martha is that she is mentally ill and has been for quite a while, and Meg Mason writes about how this illness has impacted Martha and her family. It's sad, moving, and emotionally intense with plenty of highs and lows, yet still has moments of humor. I'm looking forward to rereading it later this summer and also eagerly anticipating our discussion in September. If ever a book cried out to be discussed, it's Sorrow and Bliss

When I'm writing Read With Us posts, I often check out the author's website. Meg Mason has one of the most interesting ones I've seen recently. 

If I'm in someone's house and they have a bulletin board, I'm often fascinated by what they've chosen to pin up. I spent some time squinting at Meg Mason's, trying to read it, but if you go here you can see the photos and clippings clearly, and read Meg's thoughts about them. There are a couple that have to do with Sorrow and Bliss (a line from Max Porter's Grief is the Thing With Feathers and a note the author wrote to herself). There are bits from other authors like George Saunders and Ian McEwan, and enough links to send you down various rabbit holes for quite a while. I've spent over an hour looking at things, including a map of the Hebrides, and still haven't gotten to everything. Maybe a peek at Meg Mason's bulletin board will pique your interest in Sorrow and Bliss

Kym will be doing a post about the book next Tuesday, and you've got plenty of time (eight weeks!) to read the book before discussion day on September 13, 7:00 pm Eastern time. We'll ask questions on our blogs that day and then host the always fun, educational, and entertaining Zoom discussion. How do you determine whether a person's behavior can be attributed to their mental illness or whether it is due to them simply behaving badly on their own? I hope you'll Read With Us and find out!

Monday, July 18, 2022

What Did You Do to This Zucchini Cake?

That was John's reaction when he tasted the zucchini cake I made. I had two slightly large zucchini sitting in the refrigerator that needed to be used before I pick eight or ten more this week. I didn't want to go to the store for the extra ingredients I needed for a zucchini quiche, so I decided to make a zucchini cake. 

I was hungry for chocolate, so I found this recipe and decided to give it a try. While I was mixing the cake, I remembered some Mexican fudge that Ryan had raved about. I quickly looked at a few Mexican chocolate cake recipes and because I like to live on the wild side (not really, I just wanted to try something different), I added 1 teaspoon of chili pepper, and 1/2 a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. When I tasted the batter, it seemed like it was missing some cinnamon, so I added a teaspoon of that, too. 

My verdict: it's pretty good. It tastes a little bit different, "warmer" in some way, but it really doesn't taste hot or spicy to me. John is not a fan of anything spicy (not even the idea) so he just thinks it's a waste of zucchini and chocolate. 

I had a piece after I baked it and decided that some ice cream would really make it perfect. 

It did. Part of experimentation is a careful assessment of results, and even though I liked this, I don't think I'll make it again. I was the only one who liked the cake, which means that I've frozen most of it, and will take some to Ryan for his opinion. I like zucchini cake, especially when it's chocolate, but even I can't (and definitely shouldn't!) eat a whole cake by myself. We'll return to more "traditional", i.e, not spicy zucchini dishes later this week. (I won't even put pepper jack cheese in the quiche.) 

By the way, if you have a good zucchini recipe, I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Friday, July 15, 2022

Museum of Me: July 2022

Welcome to July's Museum of Me installation, where I'll be sharing a somewhat epic Favorite Family Vacation. It's taken the staff a while to put together this exhibit, so I was happy to delay this month's opening until today once Kym announced her Museum was also going to be temporarily closed on the second Friday of the month. 

So please step this way and proceed to the Main Exhibit Hall. The trip that I'm recounting encompassed many miles and is picture-heavy, so it takes up all the available Museum space. This is the story of the Becker family's drive across America.
 You can read the thrilling story of a family fulfilling their dream of driving across the country in an RV to see the sights in a 5,856-mile journey. It's sort of like a modern-day Oregon Trail Game, except we didn't have to caulk the RV to float across the Kansas River and nobody died of dysentery.

John had always wanted to drive across the country in an RV, and I resisted this idea for a year or more. When we plan vacations, I always say that I don't want to do the same things I do at home and have doing them be more difficult. John pointed out that Justin and Ryan were 9 and 11 years old; this would be educational, fun, and a family-bonding experience, and if we put it off much longer, the boys wouldn't want to go with us at all, so I finally came around. We bought a used 23-foot RV, stocked it with all the comforts of home, and planned a trip to Yellowstone. On June 23, 2002, we left New Jersey and drove 240 miles to Bedford, PA. Our plan was to stay in campgrounds with pools so the boys would be happy and we could all relax after a day of driving. 

We did drive and swim our way across the eastern and midwestern US, finally reaching Denver and the Rocky Mountains. 

We spent three days in Rocky Mountain National Park but discovered on the first day that Ryan suffered from High Altitude Sickness when we drove up to the top of Trail Ridge Road at almost 12,00 feet above sea level. We took him back down after a ranger saw how bad he looked and advised us "flatlanders" that it was a serious situation. Ryan was fine later that afternoon and we just stayed at lower altitudes. 

Here's some evidence that he was feeling just fine later; he and Justin tried to convince me that there was a bear behind me. (There was not.) 

I did do plenty of the same things that I do at home, like cooking most days, and I did still have to do laundry in the laundromat at the RV park before we left. But I had the excitement of seeing elk while I did it. That never happens at home!

Somewhere in this trip, Ryan started to do his Vanna White imitation, pointing out dinosaurs, petrified wood, and the antler arches in Jackson Hole. 

Justin continued to look for wildlife, and both boys enjoyed eating breakfast next to Mount Moran. 

This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because we took my all-time favorite family photo on Oxbow Bend on the Snake River.

We finally got to Yellowstone and saw the sights:

After spending a few days in Yellowstone, we visited with friends in Lincoln, MT, and attended a rodeo. 

Then the only thing left to do was to head back to New Jersey. We drove, swam, fished, and rode dinosaurs all the way home. 

It really was my all-time Favorite Family Vacation trip, one that I'm very glad we took.

I originally wrote about this trip in five posts. I didn't want to bore you with too many photos in this one post, but if you're interested, you can see and read more here:

Thank you for visiting the Museum of Me for my all-time Favorite Family vacation. The Museum of Me exhibits will be changed monthly on the second Friday of the month so please stop by again in August for the next carefully curated installation. (The gift shop is on the right on your way out!)