Friday
May252007

That's the kind of house we live in, and I hope we never leave it.*

La Fabulous Carmen asked me weeks and weeks ago to take photos of the results of last year's house renovation. I've been putting this off, since little things still aren't done, like finishing painting the backsplash. But since she's in the process of saving my knitting bacon with an express package from London and an emergency trip to Paris's La Droguerie, and since right now my house is as clean as it ever gets, I figured today was the day.

Taking these photos reminds me of that scene in Blade Runner in which Harrison Ford's character is using his computer to mine clues from a snapshot. But I'll try to get over it, since we aren't harboring any replicants at the moment.

Grrrr--Blogger is not letting me space the photos and captions the way I'd like to. So in case it's not clear, each caption goes with the photo directly above it.

Looking west from the threshold between the den and the living/dining room (between what used to be the living room and the dining room/kitchen)

Looking northeast from the corner shown in the first picture

The new cooking area is where the old kitchen table used to be.

The island with cookbook bookshelf

I spend quite a bit of time in this corner.The new fireplace--this is in what used to be the dining room. The hallway to our bedroom is on the right. We store wood in those little boxes under the seats.

I'm leaning against the new corner sink to take this photo. We still have the Frank Lloyd Wright windows; now they flank two groups of plain windows instead of being all in a row.

Here are the pocket doors between the living room and the den.

Here's the new den/old living room. I guess we should take out the newspapers.
This is taken from the left corner of the photo just before.

And from the right corner

The window seat and door to Christian's new room/old den-guest room are on the left.


The window seat hasn't changed, but since it's one of my favorite spots in the house, I had to include it.

The outside; please remember that the garden is still in the 'Before' stage of Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition.

The new deck is made out of ipe wood.


I feel very, very lucky to live in the house of my dreams (not the childhood dream where I fantasized about living in a Fotomat booth; the dream I had after I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts & Crafts Movement). It is modest-sized by today's McMansion standards, about 2,000 square feet. But it's the perfect size for us and suits our needs exactly.

Anyone contemplating building a new house or renovating an old one should read Sarah Susanka's The Not-So-Big House; it influenced our design tremendously. Patrick gets all the credit for figuring out the new 'flow' of the downstairs. He also gets all the credit for financing the project; thanks, honey!

*I'm not quite sure what Ted Geisel was up to when he wrote There's a Wocket in my Pocket! It's my least favorite of all the Dr. Seuss books--nowhere near the caliber of The Sneetches or The Sleep Book, for example. But I do like the last line.

Thursday
May242007

Birchmount Stadium, Home of The Robbie

Something bad happens to my brain when I don't get enough sleep. Oh, yes, there's the crankiness, but my baseline a.m. grump level is sufficiently high so as to render any temporary spike imperceptible.

No, the bad thing to which I refer is the complete lack of mental cohesion I experience. This is why I didn't write at all for the twelve years I was either pregnant or nursing. I can't string two thoughts together for the life of me when I'm this tired. Today, don't call me Ishmael; instead call me 'Randomina.' Or 'Randomella.' 'Randi,' for short--but make sure to dot that 'i' with a little heart, or I'll subtract points for misspelling.

Someone who has been a close friend of mine for 19 years, yet shall remain nameless so that I can pay finger service to preserving his illusion of privacy, sends me links to unusual websites once in a while. It used to be that when he did this, I would think, "Where does he find this stuff? And, more importantly, why?"

I don't wonder anymore, because now I know the answers to both questions. It's the wonder of that random place we call The Internet. Can you fathom the magic, the wizardry, the genius of something that rewards you for typing the words 'watermelon sculpture' into a little box with something like this?

No, it cannot be understood; it can only be shared. My friend didn't send me this latest link, by the way; I found it in a comment over at RaJ's place.

I'm going to brunch this morning at groovy gal Kara's house. Kara is great at co-piloting flights of random thoughts when it's just the two of us, but today there will also be in attendance a bunch of really smart moms whom I have not met before. I'm very concerned I won't make a good first impression. And apparently they are all dieting, which means I can't win them over by bringing Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins, or something similarly brunchy and delicious.

Do you think that if I quickly Bedazzle a T-shirt with the message "Please Like Me" and wear it, they'll obey without noticing? Of course, I'd have to get my hands on a Bedazzler first...perhaps I need another plan.

Speaking of Sour Cream Blueberry Muffins--Ann Hodgman, the funniest food writer ever, once dedicated a cookbook to Keanu Reeves. I'm reasonably sure that a) she doesn't know Keanu personally; and b) Keanu has some sort of eating disorder that would drastically limit his appreciation of Ann's culinary brilliance. Whether or not my suspicions are true, her quixotic gesture endears Ann to me all the more.

And now, I offer you a recipe. Not for the muffins; that belongs to Ann. But following in Ann's footsteps, I dedicate this recipe to someone whom I admire from afar. Ed Robertson, this one's for you.

Birchmount Potato Salad

8 medium potatoes (not the waxy kind, for the love of Mike)
3/4 pound Jarlsberg cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound pre-cooked sausage (I used this.)
5 stalks celery, peeled and chopped
1 big handful fresh parsley, chopped
5 green onions, chopped
8 cornichons, chopped (optional, but good)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, pressed
salt & pepper

Peel and cut up the potatoes; put them in cold salted water and boil them until they are cooked through. Drain and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Add the cheese, sausage, celery, parsley, onions, and pickles. Mix up the remaining ingredients in a measuring cup, then pour over the potato mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour. (Or eat it warm, if you don't live with Another Person who has Definite Ideas about the Correct Temperature of Potato Salad.)

If the salad seems dry when you take it out to serve it, mix up another 1/2 cup each of mayo and sour cream, pour in, and mix. Taste the salad and add salt and pepper at your discretion. Serve on plates lined with lettuce or curly endive, if you want to get fancy. Serves seven, with ample leftovers.

Wednesday
May232007

That's me in the corner/That's me in the spotlight


One of my favorite Sesame Street ditties goes:

Three of these things belong together,
Three of these things are kind of the same.
Can you guess which thing just doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game!

When I was a kid, contrarian that I was, I liked to find a way in which that fourth thing did belong with the others; it was usually possible, if I got creative enough.

I have a really smart younger brother; he double-majored in Physics and Math in college, and now he’s an engineer. He’s a great dad and husband, an all-around cool guy. If I tell you that he is a Buddhist and a strict vegan, what would you expect his political orientation to be?

Well, he’s not a Democrat, as I found out to my shock in the heated months before the 2000 Presidential Election. I’m sure he was similarly surprised to find out what a huge Al Gore fan I was (and am), since most devout LDS homeschooling-type moms aren’t what you would call liberal. But we both probably should have expected it; incongruity seems to run in our family.

Those who know me are used to my eclectic proclivities. They appreciate that I know all the words to Wire: 154 and Schubert’s "Der Erlkoenig"; that I can watch The Parent Trap (the original) and Fanny & Alexander back to back; that I savor both Marcel Proust and Mary Balogh, both stale Red Vines and ripe Epoisses. But even those closest to me couldn’t figure out what I was doing when I made a certain career choice in February 2004.

It had been a bitter winter, and I was uncomfortably pregnant with young Master Daniel. I was tired, depressed, withdrawn, and heartily sick of being all three. Was it desperation or inspiration that made me call my darling friend Jenna and tell her I wanted to join her Mary Kay team? Definitely the latter: it was the right decision for me at the time.

Jenna and I had a marvelous time together; we both won cars and became Sales Directors pretty quickly. I came out of my shell and formed new friendships. It was satisfying (and lucrative) giving people makeovers and helping them feel attractive. Mary Kay was like a sorority, and I was ‘popular’ for the first time in my life.

In January 2005, I received my National Sales Director’s monthly newsletter, which listed the mid-year leaders for the coveted Queen of Sales position (the MK year runs July to June). There are two Queens of Sales each year in any given National Area: the Consultant Queen and the Director Queen. I was surprised to see that I was in first place--on the Consultant level, since I was debuting as a Director February 1st.

I was also surprised to see that my sales figures were higher than anyone’s on the Director level. Since I’m a tiny bit competitive (stop snickering, Patrick), I decided to see whether I could take the Director’s crown for the year.

Here’s where my inner geek kicked in. I made an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the top Directors and their numbers for the first six months. Every month after that, I painstakingly logged in updates as I got the newsletters, always on the lookout for potential dark horses like myself. For the last month of the year, our NSD (she's the stunning blonde in the photo with me) kept the stats to herself, but by June 30th, I was pretty sure I had it in the bag.

In August we all traveled to the mother ship in Dallas for Seminar, the annual awards ceremony. The minute I checked into my hotel room, I had my confirmation: I had been upgraded to a gorgeous suite containing chocolates, Perrier, and a note of congratulations from my NSD. The limo ride, the banquet, the ceremony, and the sumptuous royalty reception were all part of a great lark. Receiving the 5-carat amethyst ring was a hoot, but the most enjoyable part of that was letting other women try it on and seeing their eyes light up with hope and determination.

My first year as a Sales Director was great, but I gradually realized that it might be time for me to move on. I made sure that that I didn’t neglect my family and my church work despite the fact that I was working pretty much full-time (though from home and with very flexible hours). God, Family, Career: those are the famous MK priorities, and I worked hard to keep them in order.

But that Career thingie left almost no time for me to do anything else. All of the things I write about in this blog got almost none of my time and attention. I only read or knitted when I was on an airplane; the garden languished and I had little time for music or cooking. And after years of not feeling up to writing, I was finally getting that urge again.

It was a painful decision; I worked closely with a group of wonderful women who depended on me for leadership and guidance. But after a lot of pondering and prayer, I called my NSD and told her I was going to retire. I just walked away, Renee. Mary Kay filled a lot of needs for me; I look back on my two years with the Company fondly. But I don’t regret my decision. My life as it is feels just right.



Incongruity: here’s my big ring on my hand with my baking ‘tats,’ as my chef friend Mike calls them, and super short fingernails (necessary when you type as much as I do) a bit stained from gardening. Obviously, I never wear that ring anymore. I’m not really a jewelry girl, wearing only my wedding band and the diamond studs Patrick bought me in The Netherlands ninety-nine percent of the time. I’ve thought about selling the ring and giving the money to Heifer, but I’m afraid my daughters would freak out. Maybe they can figure out some way to timeshare it when they’re grown up, or maybe they'll agree that feeding the poor is more important than a owning a bauble; we’ll see.

So that’s the story behind yesterday’s photo. What incongruities do you have hidden in your closet?

Tuesday
May222007

Celebrate good times, come on!

Here's Daniel with his birthday loot. All three of his presents--giant stuffed sea turtle from us, play camera and drill from Ma & Pa--were huge hits. Before I tell you more, let me acknowledge that I am on (in) a Pop Song Blog Title roll (rut).

Big fun was had at Daniel's shin-dig last night. As promised, I'll recount the making of the Chocolate Lace Cake.

As I have mentioned before, I take as my primary source for cake recipes Rose Levy Beranbaum's peerless Cake Bible. I have no use for flimsy genoises which must needs be infused with syrups simple or otherwise. No. Give me instead either the Downy Yellow Butter Cake or the Chocolate Butter Cake: rich, moist, and yes: buttery. Then frost with Rose's Neo-Classic Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Ice the top with fluffy flourishes, but keep the sides smooth. This is your result:
Then sprinkle edible gold dust over the fresh frosting and blow gently to disperse the dust:

Melt a 3.5 oz. 70% cocoa chocolate bar; load the melted chocolate into a sandwich-size zipper lock bag and close. Cut the tiniest end off one of the bottom corners of the bag; drizzle the chocolate onto a prepared sheet of waxed paper. (Prepare the sheet by drawing a line equal to the circumference of the cake pan; a 9-inch cake pan's circumference is ~28.5 inches. Then draw a line 5 inches long perpendicular to each end of the long line. This is your guide.) Your drizzle should look something like this:
Now you must wait for the chocolate to harden; the time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen. You'll know it's ready when it loses its gloss. Don't wait too long; it needs to be able to hold its shape, but still be flexible enough to wrap around the cake. Once it's ready, fold the bottom edge of the waxed paper under so that the chocolate is right on the edge.

Banish all potentially distracting persons from the room. Carefully lift the paper up and set it on the cake plate right next to the cake. Press it very gently to the cake as you wrap it. Then, while reciting childhood prayers under your breath, peel the paper away from the chocolate, easing the chocolate towards its frosting home as you do so. You will then have this:
That photo is not blurry; it is your eyes, which have misted over with pride and wonder at your accomplishment. Put the cake in the fridge so that the chocolate and frosting can set. As little as a half hour later, serve the cake to a suitably impressed audience:

Ta-da!
Other big news in celebrations:

1) This cool writer I know just won a medal--the Best in State Fiction Award! I'm so proud.

2) Four bloggers I (stalk) read daily have recently won The Rising Blogger's 'Post of the Day' awards; Judd clearly has excellent taste, as Radioactive Jam, Bub & Pie, Mental Tesserae, and a-muse-ing are among the best blogs I've found.
**UPDATED: Adriana at What I Made for Dinner is The Rising Blogger's winnner today! Congratulations! And good use of fiddlehead ferns! Yum...

3) Have I mentioned that #1 son Christian got the highest grade in the whole eighth grade on the NY State science test? Or is it just that I am tempted to brag about it every five seconds?

4) Last but most miraculously, I won the Haiku Contest! The competition was fierce, but friendly and hilarious. Here I am, waving to the adoring crowd before walking down the staircase to accept my award:

(Not really. That's me two years ago winning something else. The photo is here mainly to make the fabulous pezmama happy.)

I'll go celebrate all these victories by eating some leftover cake!

Monday
May212007

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On


If idle hands are the devil's workshop, I should be demon-free for the next several weeks. We've got all kinds of doings on the agenda here at the Perkins Homestead. Here's an update on activities recently past and in the immediate future.

Saturday I had huge success tracking down details about my cousin Albert Vanderveer (above) and his family. When I work on genealogy, I feel like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Lara Croft. Just can't get enough.

My favorite living writer, Mark Helprin, had an Op-Ed published in yesterday's New York Times. Read it here while it's still free. It's so great to read something non-fiction of his that I agree with; he and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Today a certain sweet toddler turns three. I'll be making my famous Chocolate Lace Cake in his honor this afternoon (I'll post photos tomorrow).

What with the cake, the Weed Dragon, the Trek, the book, not to mention Little League, dance, the piano recital, and several Memorial Day social engagements, I'd better get on the stick right away. I'll be back soon!