Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I'd like to introduce you to Ray, an elderly neighbor of mine. Over time, I hope to introduce you to several extraordinary people I come into contact with.

The short bios will contain fact, but also extrapolations from my imagination. See, I met Ray for only ten minutes in a waiting room, but he totally changed my day last week Wednesday.

I'd guess Ray is about eighty years old, twice married and twice widowed. The latter is a pretty big guess, you might think, but I have such a strange gumption about it. The ladies at work say he's an amateur poet. He definitely has a sprightly romanticism about him, definitely not something you expect from someone his age. Or from a portly man with yellowing overgrown finger nails and a small closet of dirtied shop clothes. He was probably the kind of husband that needed constant reminders from his wife to button his shirt collar or comb his hair. And I'm guessing those women never minded it a bit; might have been the root of the attraction.

The first thing Ray said to me was, "Did you watch that animal show on TV this morning? There was a porcupine riding a skateboard." He was seated about ten feet from me but with a clear line of fire. I had been reading something or another, so so deep in thought, which at that point skidded to a halt. My cartoon bubble at that moment could have read: "Uhhmm. Is he making a joke? Wait. Crap. What was I working on?"

But Ray kept going, "And there was a squirrel that they had on those little skis on the water, he was really good. One time they had a goat climb a ladder. You ever watch that show? It's on in the mornings."

I am a very gullible person, always have been. I like to think anything is possible. But I've been made fun of enough at this point in my life, that I now typically look around for public response (when in company) before issuing any comment. There were two men within earshot, but neither would look above their own two feet. So I had to assume there was a television show.

"I worked all morning today, and most mornings, so I'm afraid I don't know the show you are talking about. Do you know the name of it? I don't have cable." I replied slowly and unevenly.

"They had a porcupine riding a skateboard this morning," he kept going. His eyes never left mine, not sure he even blinked.

Ugh. I just about lost my shit. I don't think knowing that I had just won $10,000 would have elicited more reaction. I hit 10 in one second, like a strongman at a carnival. I thought this old guy was fucking with me, it was so bizarre, but he was dead serious; he just wanted to talk about animals doing silly tricks. I was still looking about the room at the other guys in the waiting area, while I half-gasped half-giggled out loud in exasperation. Neither would meet my request for affirmation. Without, I had to wonder: did something stop, did I stop?

There were other animals and different tricks, but I can't remember them now. My mind was stuck on how or why anyone would train a porcupine.

So, maybe you are not sold still on the charm of Ray. But try reading this post again keeping his delivery in mind. Not a 'How are you?' was uttered, we just jumped straight into his morning funnies on the TV. He was just so wonderfully curious to find out if I had shared in his moment. Or he just wanted to make me laugh. If his motive was the latter, he might have had three wives!

What a man.

The ladies at work said he has come into the office bearing gifts of baked goods in the past. Or maybe he'll return with a poem for me, apparently that's happened, too.

Hope you are having a wonderful night, Ray. And tomorrow I hope you get to watch two dogs in costume dance a waltz together. That would be lovely.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Stompin' & Apple Pickin'

current foliage

"Someone tramped mud, big pieces of mud, all over in the kitchen," scolded my sister. The perp was me. My previously categorized lawn mowin' shoes were dirtying the clean beige floors of my gramma's condo with logo-embossed chunks of dried mud. The mud I must have picked up in the pumpkin patches we stomped through earlier in the day

My sister left work early last Friday to join Gramma and I on our 45 minute drive around lake Winnebago (no bridge over) to The Little Farmer. Apple picking season is nearly over here, except for the Russett variety, which ripen through early November. But we found enough low-hanging McIntosh and Cortland apples to meet our needs. We each filled one ten pound bag with a mixture of the two varities, which were hard for us to differentiate at first, so Gramma just started eating them to try and use taste to identify. Suuuurrreee.

short row of mcintosh trees

Gramma, having lived through The Great Depression, tucked a few apples in her coat pockets. (It's common to use TGD as a means to explain every stingy habit exhibited from the older folks on my mom's side of the family.) They were apples that when placed in (on top) of her ten pound bag, managed to stay put. But you see, I was pulling all of the fruit behind me in a Red Flyer Wagon, which was a' bumpin' all over the place, spilling and bruising the "they will fit" apples. So while it may sound like Gramma was erring on the side of greed - I mean, we did stop twice to make sure you couldn't see the apples bulging out of her Columbia ski coat (she even tried to fit an apple in the front pocket of her white-washed blue jeans) - it was practical, for a person responsible for making pies for my family year round.

gramma and carebear (with wagon)

Pies, muffins, tarts, cookies, breads - you name it, we imagined making all of those warm treats in the three hours we fought the cold while at the farm. But the truth is: one stinkin' apple meets the fruit quantity demands of most deserts. Case in point: last night Carebear came over for an apple bake-off with three recipes in-hand. We succeeded in baking a double batch of apple strudel muffins (add 1/2 tsp lemon zest to strudel mix, toss diced apple with 1 tsp fresh lemon juice before mixing with batter) and spiced glazed apple cookies, all without denting our respective stashes.

I hope everyone is ready for apple literally all year round. Which makes me wonder, who are these people that buy the large 20 pound apple bags (Ms. Ly), and what the heck do they do with it all? Perennial frozen applesauce? Deer bait? (BB gun targets? That could be fun...) I suppose in times before local grocery stores had connections with growers in South America, you needed to harvest and store your seasonal foods to last until the following year; but this is just ridiculous. I actually eat an apple a day, and a banana, and plain yogurt with homemade granola etc etc But Mom already has a five pound bag in the fridge. Ho hum. I'll be setting up the assembly line in the kitchen shortly to prep the apples for the large storage freezer in the basement.

If only there was a way to store/preserve the pumpkin I prematurely carved so that it would last through the holiday. What can I say, other than: knives, guts, guarantee to meet expectations of worst halloween interpretation ever - I was carve-happy. My 'art' is currently sitting out on the front porch next to a terra cotta planter (filled with fall mums) three times its size. I think the dog's wagging tail, which he whips to and fro as he waits by the front door to be let in, is the extent of the recognition it's getting right now. I think I'll bring it indoors tonight and light it on the fireplace skirt. Maybe the light from the candle's flame will attract the hornets that keep finding a way into the house; perhaps negate the necessity to eat and write with a flyswatter in-hand.

My pumpkin is considered a 'size two.' When we first arrived at the farm, after a confusing detour marked not by proper state highway signs, but by low-to-the-ground red wooden markers cut in the shape of apples, we were greeted by a large barn-wood sign explaining the process of picking and payment. I read a few sentences, before grabbing the red wagon and going on my merry way, relating to following pumpkin markers to the pumpkin patch and apple markers to the orchards; as well as, explaining that the cost of the pumpkin is based on the size of the gourd, not the weight. Scattered across the grounds were sheets of plywood, painted orange, featuring four punched-out pumpkin-shaped holes used by customers to identify the size/cost of their purchase. Size two pumpkins cost $4.90 each.

Everything was pretty straight forward, except the markers that were supposedly leading you to either patch or orchard. The color of paint used on the wood was neither a true orange or red and therefore led me way off target, to what I'm assuming was a private patch, because no one else was picking near us, and after second inspection upon leaving the farm, I noticed that I had been following the wrong markers.

me (excuse bad hair), gramma and carebear (with pumpkins)

The patches were just fields of uneven muddy ground, snaking vines and gourds of oranges and greens. [see photo below] I can't say how many patches there were in total on the grounds, but from what I could see, there was one near the entrance by the lawn-parking lot, two small pre-picked lots near the petting farm (no, I did not pet any goats) and my secret patch by the McIntosh and Cortland apple orchards. It was like my own personal one-stop shop picking experience, well it would have been, had I purchased my apple picking bag before hunting for the pumpkin. I didn't read that darn sign. But it was for the best, because having to go into the 'shop' (to buy the bags) is a treat in and of itself; it doubles as a bakery.

After spending twenty minutes looking for pumpkins, we walked back towards the parking lot to the front shop to inquire about the apples. With the purchase of our picking bags, we enjoyed homemade carmel covered apples with bits of nuts and heath bar, and confirmed the time to return for freshly baked apple muffins. Both were very satisfying, although it would have been a better dining experience had there been tables available indoors. It was a tad too chilly to be motionless outdoors. But all the families, some bundled up more than others, enjoyed their treats just the same. Outside, we were privy to watch a farm cat attack a couple aimless peacocks. I tried to take some photos with my cell phone, but I guess my stealth creep had a reverse effect on the animals.

We drove > we arrived > we picked > we ate > we picked > we ate > we paid > we left. I think we've all had enough of the farm, so let's move on.

We drove to Gramma's for chili after we packed the back of my wagon with our goods. The sun was beginning to set and folks were just getting out of the work for the weekend. We drove mostly in silence listening to a CD of Chopin's Nocturnes. I can't say anyone in my family enjoys listening to classical music as much as I do, but no one complains when I play it, which is really nice. Not like when I play KISS-FM on my mom's car sirius/xm player. Mom and I were stopped at a drive-through ATM the other day and 'Birthday Sex' came on, it was a moment.

After chili, coffee and sweets (we always end every meal with a sweet), Carebear and I attacked the pumpkins. Carebear had printed some carving design templates from the local newspaper's website; I just winged it. Pictures below:

I kind of intended to go with two dinosaurs fighting at first, but everyone kept commenting that my dino looked like a wolf (???) and I ran out of space (only so much room on the front) so I just let it be. I added a half moon to give my mouth-agape monster a purpose. I dig it. Next year I need to get a few carving tools; smaller and sharper knives. Carebear won't be laughing then! Yeah right; remember what I wrote above about meeting expectations? Always.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recipe: Mexican Eggs

I made the eggs below last Sunday while video-chatting with Marykate. I positioned my laptop to give her a clear view of my prep and stove work while I pretended to be filming an amateur's local cable cooking show. I only wish I could have shared the deliciousness with her when I finished. Enjoy food with your friends! Perhaps a fun, cheap and quick recipe (like the one below) will fit the bill.

Becca's Mexican Eggs
Serves 3

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large japaleño pepper, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 12 oz can black beans, rinsed
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 lime, cut into wedges

1) In medium saucepan, sauté onion in 1 tbsp oil on medium-high heat until onion is nearly browned (about 5 minutes).
2) Add jalapeño, garlic, cumin and pinch of salt. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
3) Add beans and water. Simmer on medium-low heat for 5-8 minutes till water nearly evaporates.
4) While beans are cooking, heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in fry pan on medium-high heat. When pan is hot (about one minute), add three eggs. (Adding the eggs to a hot pan will keep the egg-white from running.) When the egg-white begins to turn from opaque to solid white, gently flip the egg over and cook for 15-30 seconds, pressing with spatula around the yolk (not on, you will break the yolk) to cook thoroughly. Do not overcook, yolk needs to be runny.
5) Divide beans evenly amongst three plates (about 1/2 cup per plate) and top with one over-easy egg. Dress with cilantro, cheese and lime.

I apologize if step four insults your intelligence or experience, but it is crucial to keep true to an over-easy egg. The subtlety of cooking an egg challenges me several times a week, but I find the simple instructions above always deliver a warm bursting yolk.

And never forget: cheese goes with everything.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Real Life Update

I haven't been contributing to this blog as frequently as I had planned. I apologize to those of you who check back often hoping for some kind of update only to find Gramma's youtube video. It still cracks me up, but I'm partial.

When I first arrived home, every little thing I saw, heard or experienced felt wild and new. I was constantly inspired to document the rockwellian cacophony.

It's not that the new smell has disappeared completely, but I'm more of a local at this point, not so much a visitor. I work a job, drive a wagon (that I own!), I'm a regular at Gramma's game nights, I repeat the recipes I discovered earlier this summer etc etc

And the new crazies (people, places, things) I encounter, don't seem as crazy. My expectations have changed. Also, now that I'm not just on summer va-ca, running through green fields with Cody hopping alongside, I'm trudging through the adult planning stages again.

I'm happy to write that I'm still receiving a ton of support from family, friends and new acquantainces to continue my music studies. I plan to audition with the state university by the end of the month for a second bachelors in Music Education, with an emphasis in General and Choral Music. I am choosing entry into the dept with piano as my instrument, over voice. Singing comes naturally to me, and I need the kick in the butt to get to the level I know I'll be happy at, on the piano. I already completed a piano minor, so I'm hoping I can whip through the degree in less than two years.

I have full support from the local public school districts to student teach in their systems, so I just need to actually memorize a couple piano audition pieces (a chopin prelude and bach fugue, me thinks) and get the paperwork sorted. I've been stalling a bit. My fabulous 'business' career was heading into decent money and an Associate Director title. Now I'll be back in school, not even a graduate degree program, when I turn 30, and taking a job for a mighty piddly salary. I left NY because those kinds of things started to become too important to me, but it's not like POOF! you leave and all the filth rinses off the next day in the shower. I'm getting there, but unfortunately it's a struggle.

So...I'll hopefully be enrolled full time next January, but I might still be living with my folks for a while. Gramma would love for me to stay with her. She lives in a condo only a mile from where I'm staying now. Grampa has been in a home for almost three years with advanced Alzheimers; she gets lonely. And for some reason, as has been previously posted, me and senior crowd get along famously. Gramma and I already hang out half the week: Cary Grant Appreciation Night, Scrabble, Culvers (best fast food ever), Saturday afternoon mass (to be posted on soon, 'Polka Part Two') etc etc So maybe I'll vacation with her from time-to-time, to keep it fresh at home. Hahaha. I sound incredibly boring. I still dance and act silly, promise.

In the meantime, the family friend I currently work for has offered to keep me on part-time while I'm in school, and I will be taking on my first piano student soon! I joined a professional choir (to be posted on soon, 'Big White Bird') which takes up a hell of a lot of time - wow - it's nuts. I'm learning 14 songs, and I'm singing second alto, which is all harmony, for a Fall concert in three weeks. I have to sell tickets for that, crap.

See, it's like NORMAL PEOPLE stuff here now. Another example: I went to the local fabric store yesterday and bought a bunch of fun prints to use in my first QUILT! No shit. I'm going to learn how to quilt, a smaller quilt, with applique (abstract sailboats), for a friend's baby. My mom just died and is hoping to make it to Heaven.

I'm going to an Apple Orchard slash Pumpkin Patch this coming weekend with Gramma. I can't wait to carve a pumpkin for the front porch, which no one will see because we live in the country, but whatevs. I'll take a photo for you. And I'll comment on more fun topical stuff soon. As for now, I have to run; the Packers are playing the Vikings. And I'm wearing a Rodgers' jersey. It's my mom's. There was a Packer theme at work today, so I wore the polyester nightgown over my scrubs. Some kind of comedy every day.