Two Out of Three … Not Good

Beekeepers both welcome and dread early spring in equal measure. We are happy to again hear the birds sing and see the snow begin to melt, but spring for us brings a measure of apprehension as we search for proof our bees survived the winter.

It has been a long, cold, snowy one, making it impossible to treat, add food to, or peek at the hives.

Each morning, there’s been a sprinkling of dead bees outside California Girls (aka “The Pink Palace”), which I’ve taken as a good sign because it meant there were still living bees inside.

Of course, it could have just meant they were warmer due to the insulation and so decided to go flying in less than suitable weather, dying in the process.

Outside Buzzers’ Roost and NewBees, there were none.

Here’s a picture of them from my post on 20 November. The view hasn’t changed much these last few months — until today when the temperature rose to nearly 50 F, and the snow began to melt.

This doesn’t mean spring is here or there will be no more snow; it merely means spring is coming … eventually.

More importantly, it meant I could finally check under the hoods of all three hives. It still wasn’t warm enough to do an in-depth inspection, but I was able to take a quick look.

I started with Cali Girls because we knew the hive still had bees, and I wanted to be sure they had food. Also, I wanted to give them some Super DFM probiotics.

Honey bees sometimes suffer from dysentery (diarrhea), especially after a long winter, and I think the probiotics help keep the problem from becoming something more.

Judging by my brief inspection, they seemed to be doing well. I gave them more food and sprinkled on the Super DFM. No picture though. Some were disturbed enough that they began to fly, and I was afraid they’d end up dead in the snow.

Sadly, my judgment about the other two hives proved correct. There was no activity I could see. It’s possible I missed something, but generally when you open a hive in cool weather, at least a few bees will come out to see what’s going on.

Once again, we are entering spring with one hive still living. Once again, it is the Pink Palace. We are hoping that it’s not once again a hive that dies in March.

There is one difference, however, that may work in this hive’s favor. Last year, the Pink Palace was a nucleus hive, split from one of our others, which means it started with a smaller population than this year’s Pink Palace. It struggled into March, but died before its population was replenished.

You never really know what will happen. March is a tough month for bees because the hive begins to repopulate, but there’s not much pollen or nectar available. But the two hives that didn’t survive this winter started with more bees than Cali Girls/Pink Palace.

My thinking is we should probably order another nuc or package while continuing to monitor California Girls. That way, we have at least one hive (hopefully two) this summer. But The Engineer and I will have to Discuss.

To balance out this depressing news, I’m sharing my latest scrap-happy afghan. I like the way its mix of colors and texture resembles a crazy quilt.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Cross your fingers that California Girls will live through spring to become Ohio Girls this summer.

Stuck in the Mead-le with You

In an effort to make our lives more complicated and possibly waste a lot of honey, we decided to try making mead. Well, I decided we would. After tasting the elixir made by Darling Daughter’s Partner, I bought the equipment as a Christmas present for The Engineer.

I bought two books on the subject as a present for myself.

It turns out there are almost as many recipes and methods for making mead as there are ideas on how to keep bees. So after reviewing the books (me) and watching the YouTube videos (both of us), we decided to follow the instructions provided by our local Vine N Hop Shop.

After all, our success would mean they gain two regular customers.

I bought the set-up for a five gallon batch, not realizing most people start with just one.

Go big or go home, right?

But making a lot of mead also meant we’d be able to experiment with a variety of flavors (quite possibly ruining several gallons of it in the process).

We decided to try hot peppers, ginger, and grapefruit (not all together, of course).*

These additions can be made at the start of the fermentation process, in the secondary part of the process, or even when bottling. Or so I’ve heard.

Having initially read that it was best done in the second stage, we missed the opportunity to add it at the start and so decided to add it when “racking.” This is when the mead maker moves the mix from its initial container to a second container, leaving the yeasty “lees” behind.

Today was Racking Day, and we were ready to go — plenty of airlocks (to let out the air from fermentation and keep bacteria from getting in), growlers to store the various mixtures (believe it or not, we had to buy some beer so we’d have enough), and bungs (to seal the growlers).

At least, we thought we were ready.

Unfortunately, we made a major miscalculation in thinking our big growlers held a gallon each when in fact they held a half.

The ensuing mad scramble resulted in a variety of containers (above). Although we weren’t desperate enough to use the vodka bottle and cup — they were for the airlocks and tasting, respectively — my canning jars and a whiskey decanter were fair game.

You’re probably wondering about the rubber gloves.

They’re because we didn’t have any balloons.

I’m not kidding. There are a plethora of mead making instructions that use balloons for airlocks. I suppose that’s in case you don’t want to spend $2 on a plastic one.

But we didn’t have any balloons. What we did have was sterile latex gloves, thankfully powder-free.

And that’s what we used.

When the airlocks stop bubbling, and the mead begins to clear, it will be time to bottle.

Meanwhile, we wait … and drink mead from Honeytree Meadery (Nashville) in the meantime.

*If you’re curious, for the ginger, we made a tinture by chopping ginger and soaking it in vodka for about a week. The pepper was a serrano, quartered and stuck in the bottom with half its seeds. There can be issues with acidity when you make mead with citrus. Supposedly, using only the zest can impart flavor without bitterness, so that’s what we did — used the zest of a single large red grapefruit. We added each of these to the bottom of a growler before siphoning in the still fermenting mead. Will these amounts be too zesty? Hot? Sour? We’ll let you know.

Free, and a Glimpse of Spring

We Are Not Free book cover
Cover from author’s website

I’m in the middle of two books. The first (as an audiobook), Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free, is historical fiction based on the imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent in “camps” during World War II.

The second book is Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods, by Amelia Pang. This non-fiction account of Chinese labor “camps” (also called laogais) explores the circuitous (and sometimes not-so-circuitious) journey of the goods manufactured by the prisoners there. Specifically, the book talks about how they end up on store shelves in the US and other first-world countries.

I was halfway through both when I realized they share a theme — that of being imprisoned by one’s own government for fabricated reasons.

My thoughts about this are somewhat disjointed, and I’m writing this post partly to clarify them for myself.

These books made me think about freedom and how quick people are to talk about someone infringing on theirs, to talk about their rights being trampled, when most of us have no idea what it means to truly lose our freedom without just cause.

That’s thought number one.

Thought number two is a trait I noticed when I was working as a librarian. It’s this: Many people who are very concerned about their own rights are scarcely troubled about trampling those of others. A good example of this is when people try to ban books they consider immoral. Not content to simply choose from the hundreds, indeed thousands, of other books in the public library, they want to be able to decide what was appropriate for all readers.

A second example is the whole Hobby Lobby lawsuit on freedom of religion. At that time, the company had 572 stores employing a substantial number of people, yet somehow the owners’ beliefs in regard to birth control trumped the religious views of all employees expecting the birth control health coverage previously guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.

At the same time, the company was perfectly willing to pay for vasectomies and erectile disfunction.

Think about that for a minute. The whole argument behind this lawsuit was that their religious beliefs are that sex should always be for procreation (and I’m not even going to talk about how eff-ed up and unrealisitic that idea is). I don’t agree with that concept, but one could argue that Viagra might contribute to that goal, if one sets aside the reality that erectile disfunction is more common in older men whom I would guess are probably not interested in becoming fathers.

But, what do I know? Perhaps there are thousands of men in their fifties and sixties who are panting to have a baby in their lives.

However, the fact that Hobby Lobby was willing to pay for men’s vasectomies tends to support my belief that their beliefs are less about the sanctity of life and more about controlling women.

This leads to my first conclusion: Being allowed to exercise your freedom should not adversely affect mine or anyone else’s.

Another thing I noticed while working at the library is that often those that speak most strongly about their rights don’t consider the responsibilities that go along with those rights.

My example is always the parent who says, “It’s my right to decide what my child reads. Now, show me where you keep the good books.” Obviously, I’m paraphrasing, but this is basically what many parents were asking.

Do you see what’s happening here? These parents wanted to exercise their right to say what their child reads, but were unwilling to be responsible for making the decision.

As a librarian, I could guide them to age-appropriate material. I could not say what would be best for their kid because — spoiler! — every kid is different, and the ability to handle different themes varies from child to child.

Any rights we are privileged to be able to claim must come with the responsibility to exercise them with the care and respect they deserve.

And part of that, I think, should be to recognize that we aren’t all the same and to try to learn not to demonize someone different from ourselves.

Like the institution of the public library, a free society must maintain a precarious balance between the needs/wants of the many and the needs/wants of the individual.

America and Americans have not been perfect in this regard. What many view as the “good old days” were indeed good for some, but certainly not for everyone. And your chances of them being good were definitely better if you were a white man.

Please don’t read this as all white men had it easy. They didn’t, I know. But our country has been led by white men for a very long time, which means — intentionally or not — it’s set up to best serve white men.

If white women had been in charge, it would doubtless best serve white women.

And if any other group had been in charge, it would best serve them.

Our own experiences are all we know, so of course we would make things to work best for people like ourselves, and it would probably be done with the best of intentions.

This is why diversity is so important.

My life has been a white life, a middle-class life, not without problems, but those problems are not the same as those I would have faced had I been born with a different color face, a different body, in a different place.

We live in a world where people are imprisoned and enslaved because of their religion, because they look different, or just because they are women who spoke out and dared to ask why their lives were, by law, more constricted than those of men.

Less than ninety years ago, we rounded over 120,000 people because they were of Japanese descent or origin. Forced to sell up their homes and businesses for pennies on the dollar and allowed to take only what they could carry, they were taken away, eventually landing at de facto prisoner of war camps surrounded by guard towers and fencing.

Before reading more about this imprisonment, I believed the reason truly was national security. It wasn’t. As the National Park Services site says, “Many of the anti-Japanese fears arose from economic factors combined with envy, since many of the Issei farmers had become very successful at raising fruits and vegetables in soil that most people had considered infertile. Other fears were military in nature; the Russo-Japanese War proved that the Japanese were a force to be reckoned with, and stimulated fears of Asian conquest — “the Yellow Peril.” These factors, plus the perception of “otherness” and “Asian inscrutability” that typified American racial stereotypes, greatly influenced the events following Pearl Harbor.”*

The labor camps in China are worse, with detainees suffering torture and force-feeding, as well as being used as slave labor. The majority are imprisoned mainly because they lead lives that differ from the preferred Han culture.

Goods produced by these prisons are sold to international companies, and we buy them every day. Nike, Adidas, Apple, Microsoft, and many other companies’ products have been traced back to facilities using these practices.

Made in China offers some ideas on what our governments can do to help end this barbarity. More importantly (at least to me), it emphasizes how changing our “disposable” everything way of life can also change things.

If we consider a few questions when shopping, we can not only save money(!) and reduce our footprint, we can also cut the demand for cheap (or expensive) items that are likely to have parts produced and/or been assembled by prisoners.

Here are the questions, suggested by the author who says they were based on a (now defunct) sustainable shopping site called “Man Repeller”:
“Do I already own something that serves the same purpose?” (I’m thinking of my two winter jackets.)
“Is this item so much better I would feel compelled to donate three things in its place?” (Few of my purchases would make the cut. I’ve always gone on the “One in, one out” idea, but three would definitely be better.)
“If it were more expensive, would I still try to figure out a way to afford it? Or am I feeling an urge to buy this because it’s extremely cheap?” (I definitely struggle with this one, constantly having to remind myself that I don’t need something just because it’s a great deal.)
“If the product I’m considering is an updated version of one that I already own, is my current one working just fine?” (Scoring myself not guilty on replacing my laptop last year.)
“Am I sure I will wear or use this product a lot? Or will this likely end up sitting in storage after one use?” (Unfortunately, I can think of several items to score myself guilty on this one, but I am getting better.)

To circle back to the beginning of this post and what freedom is, I think freedom is simply being allowed to live our lives as we see fit as long as we are not harming others. This doesn’t mean the guarantee of an easy life or even the life we expected. Things change. Our world has changed, and we all need to adjust our lives to accomodate the damage we have already done to it and prevent as much further damage as we can.

Enjoying even this type of freedom comes with the responsibility of sharing this freedom with others, allowing them to live their lives as they see fit, even if that way is not in accordance with our own beliefs.

Only a fool would believe this will actually happen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And now, Dear Reader, as a thanks for sharing my wandering thoughts, here are some photos of the flock of robins that has been dining on berries in the brush beside our house (and leaving the evidence all over our front porch!). The quality isn’t the best (taken through a window several feet away), but when I see a flock of robins, I know spring will come once more.

For more on the Japanese Internment:

For more on Chinese Labor “Camp”:

Or just read the newspaper.

*Addendum: An ironic twist — in early 1943the US government “allowed” Japanese-Americans to enlist in a “special” unit (much like the African-American segregated units). This unit, the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team became one of the most decorated in the conflict. The following year, the US began drafting Japanese-Americans from the camps. Not surprisingly, a substantial minority refused to fight while their families remained imprisoned.

Sixty Things (41-60)

41. Think twice before you say someone “beat cancer.” For one thing, it can imply that people who die of it are somehow losers who didn’t fight hard enough. And for another, no survivor is ever quite sure the disease is actually beaten, and having had certain cancers makes it more likely you will develop certain other types.

42. Sometimes surviving just means you were lucky.

43. And, sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.

44. If you can be both lucky and good, it’s even better.

45. Gratitude has a powerful effect on mental health.

46. Deep love is not the fizzy, exciting feeling you experience when you first click with someone. It’s the warmth you feel inside when you look at your partner or friend or family member with new appreciation or old affection for a trait they possess.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

47. Love isn’t selfish. Sometimes it requires sacrifice. But if you find you are sacrificing everything that makes you uniquely you, then it’s not love.

48. On that note, not all sociopaths are serial killers. There are plenty of them around, devoid of empathy and willing to do whatever it takes — without shame or remorse — to get what they want. They will gaslight you, lie, and make you think you’re crazy, all while professing to love you or be your friend. Yes, I speak from experience.

49. People have different ways of saying they love you, not all of them verbal. The Engineer is not one for unprompted compliments or cards and flowers, but if I break something, he usually fixes it, often without me even asking. And he lets me sip his beer when I don’t want a whole one, even though I know it annoys him. That’s love.

50. When someone does something for you, or makes your life easier in some way just because they can, try to appreciate it.

51. Likewise, try to be that person. Especially, when you can do someone a favor at no great cost to yourself, do it.

52. To quote the song, “say please, say thank you.”

53. If you can afford to, overtip. If you can’t afford even a decent tip, don’t go to full-serve restaurants. In some ways, this is not an issue during COVID-19 since carryout and delivery are the rule. But tipping delivery people is more important now than ever.

54. There’s a difference between surrounding yourself with things you love and being smothered by them. I’m at the point in my life where I’m trying to learn to discern between the two.

55. Every day above ground is a good day. I’m “happy to be here, happy to have hair,” and the second is still optional.

56. Sometimes I think the Golden Rule shouldn’t be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them” because what makes me happy may not make someone else happy.

57. It’s important to find joy in little things because in the end, that’s what you will remember.

58. Referring back to #49, find a way to express love so the ones you love know you love them.

59. “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Supposedly Winston Churchill said that, and it makes sense. When you’re in hell, that’s not a place to break down and stay.

60. Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” = words to live — or at least eat — by.

Bonus: #61. And because it bears repeating, this is my reminder to myself for my 61st year: Try to be kind.

Happy Birthday to me!

Photo by Designecologist on

Sixty Things (21-40)

21. Life is short. Don’t hold grudges. (I know this. I’m just not good at doing it.)

22. Live below your means if you can. If you can’t do that, try very hard not to spend money you don’t have.

23. Everyone was someone’s child once.

24. From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'”

I have had the great advantage to be born into a family with two parents in a stable relationship (at least until I was a teen) with a stable income in a nice neighborhood in a town with good schools. Those same parents raised my siblings and I the best way they knew how. I never went hungry or without proper clothing. My family valued education and expected us to at least try to get a college education.

Also, I’m white, and whether or not you agree, I believe that fact means my reality is vastly different from someone who isn’t, even if all the other conditions are the same.

Admitting this doesn’t take away from my achievements. It doesn’t mean The Engineer and I didn’t work hard for what we have, nor does it negate the decisions we have made to keep us safely on the paths we have chosen.

It just means we were born with a few advantages not everyone has. In some cases, these advantages were provided by our parents. Other advantages were simply by luck — being born in a first world country, for example.

Fitgerald’s words ring true for me, and I think it’s important to remember them.

25. Even now, the US is a good place to live. But I do not believe we have any right to claim it’s the only good place to live.

26. Every family has problems. If yours hasn’t had any, you’re either a liar, or haven’t lived long enough.

27. Every country has problems. Some — climate change, COVID-19, income disparity, crime — are fairly universal.

28. I believe the earth will survive long after we have destroyed its capacity to support human life.

29. I also believe we need to do what we can to reverse, or at least stall, climate change and stop destroying our world. Obviously, I’m not claiming to be perfect in my own efforts, but I’m trying.

30. This one may seem like a radical notion, but I think the world was designed for men, mostly because most of our ways of doing things were designed by men, and therefore men are considered the default. But here’s a newsflash: Women aren’t men. We aren’t even smaller men. Our bodies are different so we react differently to drugs. Heart attack symptoms are different for women, and thus frequently go undiagnosed. We are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident (statistic from Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez) because seatbelts are designed to fit men. (If you’d like to read a good summary of Criado-Perez’s book, go here.)

Don’t even get me started about bathrooms and “potty parity!”

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about: I decided to look up bladders to see if there was a difference in size between women’s and men’s, and look what I found: A diagram entitled “Picture of the Bladder” on WebMD. Spoiler alert: It’s a man.

Our lives differ because women are usually the ones providing unpaid care work including child and elder care. (For many women, this fact and COVID-19 has stretched them to the breaking point.)

Safety is always more of a concern because rape of women is exponentially more common than of men. And if you’re someone who still believes a woman shouldn’t have been in a certain place or shouldn’t have worn that outfit, I’d suggest you look at this exhibition of what women were wearing when they were raped.

This is not whining. It’s merely asking to be included in decisions that affect our lives.

31. Having said that, I believe men can also be hamstrung by society’s traditional expectations.

32. Honey bees are fascinating.

33. If you look hard enough, you’ll find something interesting about almost everyone.

34. It’s good to sometimes shut up and listen — another fact I find hard to act upon.

35. The more things you can do yourself, the better off you are.

36. But sometimes it’s cheaper in time and money to pay someone to do a task.

37. Being educated and being smart are two different things. And both educated people and smart people can act stupid at times.

38. There’s no excuse for willful ignorance.

39. A birdfeeder is a relatively cheap way to add joy to your life.

40. Many times when the world seems overwhelming, it’s because you haven’t eaten.

Sixty Things

I’m coming up on a landmark birthday, and at first I thought I’d share sixty events I’ve seen or experienced.

Photo by fotografierende on

I quickly grew bored with that endeavor. And, besides, who really cares that I am one of millions who lived through 9/11 or the first moonwalk?

Instead, I’m going to share sixty lessons I’ve learned in (nearly) sixty years on this earth.

The caveats are: I may discover I don’t have sixty pieces of wisdom to share, and if I do, you may not care about those either.

That’s okay. No one is forcing you to read my posts. Close the tab, and go back to watching football, reading your email, or whatever else you were doing before my blog flashed up on your screen.

1. It’s important to be kind. Some say it’s more important than being truthful. I don’t think that’s always the case. Sometimes you have to tell the truth, even though it might be painful, which raises the question: Painful for whom? And which will cause more pain in the long run? Which leads to #2.

2. As much as feasible, it’s also important to tell the truth, and think hard about the above questions before choosing not to.

3. If you choose to have children, it’s possible to avoid the mistakes your own parents made because you’ll be too busy making your own. Or maybe that was just me.

4. On the subject of children: Not everyone wants/needs them, and it’s not up to us to tell them otherwise. And, no, we don’t get an exemption from this rule for our children.

5. “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.” — From Jon J. Muths children’s book, The Three Questions, based on a story by Leo Tolstoy

6. While we’re talking children’s books, here are three of my very favorites. All three are lovely stories, and each has something to say about life.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney — When Alice was young, she wanted to see faraway places and live by the sea when she grew old, just like her grandfather. But her grandfather taught her she must do a third thing. This is the tale of how she did all three, becoming Miss Rumphius, and then the Lupine Lady in the process. How could I not love this book with its librarian heroine?

Miss Rumphius

7. My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb — Based on a true story, Arizona is born in a log cabin in the mountains. Like Alice, she also dreamed of visiting faraway places, and though she never made it, she was confident the children she taught would. My father’s family came from the mountains, and my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse. When I read this book, I think of her. I’m also reminded it’s possible to inspire others to achieve what we have not been able to.

My Great-Aunt Arizona

8. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes — Written in 1944, this book is a lesson in compassion and empathy as taught by a little girl named Wanda Petronski.

The Hundred Dresses

9. Learning your family’s history can enrich your life and can, I believe, teach us resilience. Unfolding the story of Sarah Jane Daugherty Feathers Scott (also this post) taught me that those who came before us also lived in divisive times and sometimes suffered loss almost beyond comprehension, yet still managed to somehow continue living. My family’s history includes other tragedies, as well as some tawdriness, and wonder, all adding to my own sense of who I am and where I came from. This leads to one more children’s book, which I bought for my father after he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s to remind him of where he came from. Written by Cynthia Rylant, one of my favorite children’s authors, who also came from the mountains, it’s called When I Was Young in the Mountains, and the prose reads like poetry, ending with
“When I was young in the mountains,
I never wanted to go to the oceans, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted
to go anywhere else in the world, for I was
in the mountains. And that was always enough.”

When I Was Young in the Mountains

10. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

11. Most of the times, when I didn’t get or achieve the thing I thought I wanted most in the world, it led me to a path that turned out to be better for me in the end.

12. Also, the stupidest and most painful mistake I ever made opened my eyes so I could appreciate it when someone better (The Engineer) came along.

13. That said, nothing is a complete mistake if you learn from it.

14. And, if you can, it’s better to be able to learn from others’ mistakes than to make all of them yourself.

15. Loving someone doesn’t mean you always like their behavior.

16. Family members sometimes make choices you may not agree with. They are still family. Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, if you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I think that’s probably the best explanation of family I ever read. However, if that family member is addicted and/or abusive, all bets are off.

17. The older you get, the more important it is to try to be open to new experiences.

18. The older you get, the more important it is to learn new things — a language, a skill, a hobby.

19. Being outdoors can soothe, heal, and bring joy and contentment.

Photo by Valiphotos on

20. Exercise can also soothe, heal, bring joy and contentment. If you can exercise outside (#18), even better.

Kiss, Marry, Kill — 2020 Version

By now, you’ve read a variety of posts/newspaper articles/columns on what the end of 2020 means — what we lost through the year and what we may have gained.

I pondered the year’s events, searching for an apparatus to enable me to coherently articulate my feelings about these events.

The game “Kiss, Marry, Kill” seemed to fit the bill. For those unfamiliar with the activity, this is a “social forced choice question and answer game” (definition courtesy of Wikipedia, which refers to the activity by its more profane moniker).

For the record, I’ve never played this before, but the rules are simple so I felt confident I could handle it. Players are given three names, and must say which of the three they will choose to kiss, who they would marry, and who they would kill.

Admittedly, Wikipedia also notes “The game has variously been described as ‘tasteless’ and ‘juvenile,'” and that may well be true. But since many events that occurred in 2020 (especially in the US political realm) could also be described that way, let’s just say I’m not overly troubled by that possibility.

In my version, I have outlined a series of lists of three items that reflect my 2020 and choosing which I would

KISS (continue my flirtation with),

Photo by Anna Shvets on

MARRY (keep as a permanent part of my life),

Photo by cottonbro on

and KILL (get rid of as soon as I can).

Photo by Brett Sayles on

Ready? Let’s go!

Round One: The easy ones.

Options: Masks, Social Distancing, Vaccine

Kiss: Masks — I don’t love them, but will happily use them as long as needed to protect myself and others.

Marry: Vaccines — I’ll take any injection as often as necessary to be able to hug my mom and daughter again.

Kill: Social distancing — Being unable to hug and touch Mom, visit our daughter, and share an occasional meal with friends was difficult. Cutting back on socializing wasn’t hard. Cutting out socializing was difficult.

Round Two: Not too taxing

Options: Budgeting, Spending Money on a Whim, Thrift Shopping

Kiss: Thrift shopping — I’ve always enjoyed it and think I can indulge as long as it’s for something that fits our long-term goals.

Marry: Budgeting — Confession: I’ve never actually lived on a “budget,” sticking to the idea of not spending more than I had and being sure to save some, but with our impending retirement, it’s time to get serious about limiting expenditures. I’m sure our budget will need some adjustments, but at least we’ve begun.

Kill: Spending money on a whim. No explanationi needed.

Round Three: A bit more challenging

Options: Doom Scrolling, Twitter, Instagram

Kiss (goodbye): Twitter — I gave up Facebook after the last election, and temporarily gave up Twitter after this one. That change is now permanent. Less wasted time. Less anger.

Marry: Instagram — Still enjoying taking photos of things that catch my eye, still avoiding selfies.

Kill: Doom scrolling — In the last four years, I’d gotten caught in an endless cycle of checking my Twitter feed and following links on all the horrible things that were/are happening. Although I still regularly read all my email news updates, I no longer feel compelled to share or dwell on it.*

Round Four: COVID Cooking and Eating

Options: Dining Out Because I Can’t Be Bothered to Cook, Carryout, Forcing The Engineer to Pick New Recipes to Try/Plant-based Meals

Kiss: Carryout — We’ve discovered we enjoy picking up carryout to take home or eat outside somewhere. Bonus: It’s cheaper too, even with a good tip!

Marry: Forcing the Engineer to Pick New Recipes to Try/Plant-based Meals — Involving my husband in recipe selection and cooking and choosing to eat meat a maximum of once a day has worked well for us. Bonus: I’ve discovered he’s a pretty good sous chef.

Kill: Dining out Because I Can’t Be Bothered to Cook — Twice now we’ve inventoried our freezers, and each time we’ve been reminded how wasteful it is to eat out as often as we were.

Round Five: Travel

Options: Camping, No Long Trips/International Travel, Short Trips

Kiss: Short trips — Occasionally escaping the walls of our home have provided nice breaks. These little getaways have mostly been camping, which leads us to the next choice.

Marry: Camping — This year, we got a great deal on a huge tent, which made our camping living space a lot more roomy. We also invested in a Kelly Kettle and a Dutch Oven, making our cooking results more interesting, if not more delicious.

Kill: No Long Trips/International Travel — Oshkosh and our planned trip to France were cancelled or delayed. I greatly look forward to when we can travel further afield once more.

Round Six: Exercise

Options: Hiking/Walking/Cycling, Short Dumbbell Workouts, Exercise Classes

Kiss: Short Dumbbell Workouts — A friend and I made a pact to do short arm workouts three times a week, and we’ve followed through for the most part. I’d like to add some short yoga routines to my efforts, but hey, no promises.

Marry: Hiking/Walking/Cycling — In past years, I’ve walked regularly with a friend, and The Engineer and I have cycled during warm weather. This year, we’ve added hiking during the colder weather.

Kill: Exercise classes — I found I do just fine without them.

Round Seven: Odds and Ends

Options: Homemade Gifts, Drinking/making Mead, Big Christmas Spending

Kiss: Homemade Gifts — As readers know, I made a lot of crochet stars to attach to include with Christmas cards and gifts. I hope to continue this practice.

Marry: Drinking/making Mead — In 2019, we invested in a meadery in Nashville and began exploring the world of “honey wine.” After tasting Darling Daughter’s Boyfriend’s first attempt at making the drink, Santa Kym chose to bring us supplies to do the same. Stay tuned for details on our efforts.

*Sadly, as I write this, armed protestors are swarming the capitol of our nation’s capital because the man who is supposed to be leading our country has encouraged them and is now refusing to ask the people to go home. No doom scrolling was required to see this.

I’m scared about what this means for our country and appalled and ashamed of my fellow citizens.

A Christmas Tradition I Wish We Shared with the Brits

Many British companies, especially those in the retail segment, have a tradition of creating special holiday commercials.

Some of them are rather wonderful.

Now, my husband, The Engineer, will tell you English adverts are better overall, and I tend to agree with him, though this certainly doesn’t mean there are no stupid ones. However, for the most part, British marketing departments appear to give their customers credit for at least a modicum of intelligence.

And when it comes to Christmas … well, see for yourself.

This Christmas will likely be one we remember for a long time to come. I’m sharing these to remind us to make sure some of those memories are happy ones.

Wherever you are and however you plan to celebrate, know that I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, perhaps you can celebrate the dark nights of winter growing shorter (at least in the northern hemisphere 🌞) now the solstice is behind us.

Let me know which ad is your favorite.

On earth, peace and goodwill to all

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 9 – Misc.

And, so we come to the end of my Pandemic recipe sharing. I wish you a happy Christmas and healthy New Year, and hope you’ve found a new favorite recipe or two to keep you through the winter.

Baked Oatmeal Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2-1/2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 9×9 pan or round casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30-40 min. Serve warm with milk and fresh or dried fruit.
This recipe is from a friend who got it from her college roommate who got it from her favorite hometown restaurant in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I make a batch for the fridge, warming it in the microwave for a hot weekday breakfast.

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oatmeal
2 cups steel cut oatmeal 
6 cups water
2 cups milk
2 tbsp butter
2-3 apples (peeled and chopped, optional, might also use raisins or other dried fruit, or none)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp cinnamon
2-3 star anise (optional)
Put all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. This type of oats has a 4:1 liquid to oats ration, so feel free to sub other liquids (oat milk, soy milk, any type of nut milk, water). Can also be cooked on the stove by bringing to a boil and simmering for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. 
I recently made this, adding some whey protein to up the staying power, which meant adding a bit more liquid. I’ve also made this for work breakfasts, served buffet style with coconut flakes, brown sugar, maple syrup, dried fruit, jams, yogurt, fresh fruit. 
Bob’s Red Mill has a great explanation of the different types of oats. 

Photo by Taryn Elliott on

Hot Fudge Sauce
Melt 1/3 cup shortening (substitute butter or ghee?) and 4 squares baking chocolate in a double boiler. Add 3 cups sugar, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, dash of salt and 1 tsp vanilla.
Although this recipe is handwritten in my mom’s writing, it says it’s from her mother, Martha Irene Sholley Armstrong. I remember Mom making this to pour over vanilla ice cream. Delicious, and no wonder — all that sugar!

Hot Spicy Toasted Nuts
I make these every year for Christmas, using a mix of pecans and walnuts. Once cool, the nuts can be stored in a tin for over a week, and I often packaged them in baking cups wrapped with plastic wrap and tied with a ribbon or yarn. The sweet heat of these treats is highly addictive.