Quotidian things

The 1940s-ness of this auditorium is my favorite thing about it.

 Homemade pizza dough.

 View from the (college) president's office.

Breakfast companions.

 This is Margot's favorite place to hang out - under my sewing desk.

With the combo of clouds and late-evening sun, it's a pretty lovely world out there.

Pretty much the best dog's best friend around.


Long overdue

I've missed this blog, this place where I air out my dreamy thoughts and record nice moments. It's all been overtaken by the internal processor that is my brain, the little devil that induces nightmares about real estate and makes it difficult for me to concentrate on the rosier sides of life. It would be impossible to document all the mental tangents of late, but anyone could get a good idea if they only looked through my Google search history. In times like these, when life-changing decisions are in process, my imagination makes me lose perspective. So far this year, I've only read one book, I've barely knitted anything, and this is my fifth blog post of 2015. But I think things are turning around! I've been cooking from a new cookbook, I started a new knitting project, and I am reading a new book - all of which probably means I am finally getting back to using my five senses to take in the world around me, and to my attempts at blogging. A warning, though: This is the first blog post that hasn't remained in draft mode in weeks, and it is likely to be a ramble-fest. Notice there are no pictures. Sorry.

In a nutshell, we're in the process of buying the house we've lived in for the last seven (six for me) years. It's great in most ways: it's truly a charming house in a desirable neighborhood and, after looking at other houses in our price range, it is even more evident just how great we've got it. But it's still a century-old house, and we've lived through many of its problems. As current tenants, we had the luxury (if you can call it that) of having the time to schedule pretty much every sort of expert to check out our place and tell us what we're really getting into: everything from a structural engineer to a mold guy to a roofer to an arborist, not to mention the actual inspection. It gave us a tiny bit of peace of mind about the big stuff we've been wondering about all these years, but lingering anxiety all the same. I'm not exaggerating when I say that we changed our mind about what we were doing about 80 times.

Also adding to the stress level was being first-time home buyers without representation. Our landlady is the kindest woman and we never felt we were getting scammed - on the contrary, we probably saved some money doing it this way - but we still had to learn a lot on our own about how real estate works, and make sure we were looking out for our best interests. (Again, my Google search history is probably hilarious.) I will say that in pretty much every circumstance, our interactions with the involved parties affirmed our faith in humanity. The people we have worked with have been kind and charitable, and in many cases have gone above and beyond what we needed them to do.

We started this whole process back in January, so needless to say I'm ready to begin my new normal. This deal should close - knock on wood -  right around my 33rd birthday later this month. I know that in the years to come, I'll look back on this brief moment in time and feel nostalgic about it, or be glad I'm not that naive homebuyer anymore, or smile when I think about driving around Spokane at night with Joel and the dog as we looked at other neighborhoods and sang along with the oldies station. For now, though, I'm grateful that we've arrived at spring and things are turning into my favorite colors. I have felt a bit dormant around here, storing up whatever energy I had for dealing with my tumultuous mental state, but now I'm ready to get out and have some f-u-n.

Best of all, the thought of being homeowners is finally starting to make me feel happy. I think the loveliest part of going through big decisions and life events like these, as difficult as they can be, is that they serve as a new basis of kinship and empathy with others. You suddenly have this new connection with people you never had before. Trading horror stories and tips and tricks and all this stuff that never mattered to you is now so much more fun and interesting. So, I'll take it.

And now it's time to remember how to use my camera again. Stay tuned!


This place

Walking around the woods along the Spokane River on one of the warmest days of the year, we headed into some shadows and instantly felt cold, as though we had entered a cave. The smell of the pine needles in the brisk air transported me back to that one time I went camping, back in junior high, in Oregon. It was the first time I'd ever slept in a tent, the first time I felt so saturated with nature. I have never been a particularly outdoorsy type, but it's in those moments that I feel I could just remain where I am for a spell, inhaling deeply like some hippie, communing with every living thing around me. It's beautiful around here. I love these outdoors.


One month later...

This has been the strangest way to begin a year. We thought we'd be headed one way, and it turns out that perhaps, very likely, we will be heading down a completely different path. It's been exciting and stressful, and I've been a bundle of nerves and ambivalence due to our sudden entrance into the world of real estate as we move toward purchasing a house. I'll probably spend more time writing about it once we're on the other side of it. For now, suffice it to say that great comfort was found in my old familiar Boise neighborhood last weekend, where I took a too-short trip to celebrate Mom's birthday, talk to my dad for hours about grown-up things like escrow accounts and calculated risks, and relax around the table with family.

Dad and I teamed up to make the birthday cake, using recipes found in his old Betty Crocker cookbook from his bachelor days: black midnight cake and white mountain frosting. He insisted on using the old Hamilton Beach mixer that I remember using as a kid, the one he knows (as opposed to the newer Kitchenaid). He prepared the cake (rich chocolate) and I made the frosting, which is apparently very similar to seven-minute frosting. This was the first time I've ever used a candy thermometer for such an endeavor, and it was surprisingly fun. I might go so far as to say that this my new favorite way to top a cake. So light, fluffy and pretty.

We carried it across the street to my brother's house for the sweet little dinner party. Thanks to my niece Sarrah for picking up the camera to capture some fun moments.


January slog

January is a month in which I feel inspiration trying to make its way out from a heavy fog. As I type this, sunshine is touching my ankles, which is more than I can say for this time last year. Nevertheless, I'm finding myself without aim for this post, so I'm going to take a cue from a few of my favorite bloggers and share a LIST! Partially made of LINKS! It's the lazy person's way to blog and a good way to make me feel like I'm actually doing, making, reading, feeling, eating, etc., because, well, I am.

Winter fruit compote from the slow cooker

Reading: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I unofficially joined this reading challenge, and this fits into the category of "book I've been meaning to read." I'm loving Stegner's style so far and how he sets the stage with a curmudgeonly, physically disabled narrator who is writing a book about his family. I'm a sucker for generational novels, and cranky grandpas, so this just right.

Watching: Where to begin? We're checking out as many Oscar nominees as we can (or care to). I've been carrying out a slow-going Dustin Hoffman film fest since Christmas break (more on that in a future post, probably). Also, we binge-watched "Transparent" over the course of about a week (because that's what you're supposed to do, right?). What can I say about Jeffrey Tambor except that I am absolutely in awe. With the caveat that there is a lot of nudity and sex and potential for discomfort for the average primetime viewer, this is the first show in a long time that has infiltrated my thoughts. I think about it often over the course of a day. What is love, acceptance, gender, family, when it comes right down to it? What really matters in relating with each other? 

Eating: A few weeks ago, I went over to a friend's house and we made pie crusts. Tons of pie crusts. They are all in my freezer now, so if you have a sweet or savory pie filling suggestion, please send it along. In the meantime, I've been satisfying my sweet tooth with a winter fruit compote. This is unlike me to like a fruit compote, but this one is quite good, especially with some plain yogurt and sliced almonds. I posted the recipe over here. Also, SOUP. I am eating soup all the time for lunch lately. Turns out it's easy to make on a Sunday afternoon, it's cheap, it lasts all week, and I don't even get tired of it. I made this one (tomato and chickpea) two weeks ago, this one (carrot, cannellini and coriander) last week, and this week I'm enjoying a lentil and sweet potato soup. 

Making: In my last post I mentioned that one thing I wanted to do this year is to sew with knit fabric. On Sunday, I successfully finished a really fun smocky thing! It's Burda pattern 7645, view A. I've been wearing leggings with a frequency that would make my 13-year-old self squirm, but my 32-year-old self, who happens to be wearing leggings right now feels okay about the fact that the top meets my stringent length requirements (i.e., covers my butt). It looks really cute with a thin belt. It will be great for spring. I'll ask my photographer to snap a photo of me in an easy-breezy pose, like the models on the pattern, so you can see for yourself. 

Writing: I've already noticed an improvement in my handwriting (a new year's resolution), not to mention my mental clarity, through my effort to keep better notes about life. Much as I love my online notes on Evernote and Wunderlist and boards on Pinterest, there is something that will always appeal to me in physically writing things down. I have a daily combo of writing in my Line A Day (at the end of each day) and a bullet journal (throughout the day). And then I read this article in The Atlantic, which highlights what I've long known since starting a blog all those years ago - that there is value in documenting ordinary moments. It's fascinating and you should read it. I was also featured on my friend Cara's blog, sharing a story that continues to challenge me. It was really fun to read and respond to readers' notes! Cara does an incredible job of building community online. She's inspiring.

Listening: While I've felt like I'm falling so out of the loop when it comes to music lately, podcasts are making me feel like I'm in the know about everything else. I just added "Invisibilia" to my weekly listening mix, which is a new one from the NPR folks. The first episode was all about mental health - which I thought would be a total snoozefest, but I was riveted. I'm also enjoying a podcast called "Reply All," which is a "show about the internet." Others in weekly rotation, in case you're looking for new stuff to listen to: Dinner Party Download, Pop Culture Happy Hour, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, The Splendid Table, Death Sex & Money, Spilled Milk, You Must Remember This, To The Best of Our Knowledge, and This American Life.


A new year

Here we are, at the end of my two-week vacation, and here's a small sampling of what I have to show for it. 

A few weeks ago, Joel came home with a surprise bottle of Calvados, not knowing that I had also purchased a surprise bottle of Laird's Apple Brandy - the stuff you have to order all the way from New York City. 'Twas the season to indulge in these things that often start off as gift ideas for the other person but are clearly meant to be shared.

I know that photos like the one above are not entirely appetizing under harsh lighting, but if you're looking for a delicious chicken katsu curry recipe, take my word for it, this is indeed one. I was hoping to cook more interesting stuff like this over the last two weeks, but this was just one of a few dishes that wasn't leftovers of some bigger, tried-and-true dish (rouladen, roast, prime rib...I ate more red meat in two weeks than I'd eaten all year).

 Are you catching a theme here? It's always about what I ate/drank. I did try a new cookie recipe this Christmas - an America's Test Kitchen recipe for real ginger gingersnaps, which calls for browned butter and pepper and everything you'd ever want in a gingersnap, including the extreme snappiness that calls for hot tea.

We were on our own on Christmas Eve. We watched "Home Alone" for the first time in ages. It's such a snarky comedy - and I couldn't believe what a jerk Kevin was to his parents, or how dumb those burglars were to not look before they took a single step. And yet, the musical theme always makes me a little teary-eyed. The night before we watched "Adventures in Babysitting" - a classic I had never seen. We were truly on a roll.
Yesterday (Jan. 2) we celebrated our second full year with this cat. I love remembering the day we got her and the tiny "meows" she made as she explored each new area of the house, and how excited I felt when she found little spots to curl up and sleep. Then there was the moment when we realized that cats are little terrors in the night who knock things over and howl, who walk across your legs when you're in the middle of a wonderful dream. Alas, she's a cat. But she is kind of the best.

And now we are in a new year. Despite the crazy way we celebrated it - leaving a casino a few dollars poorer, but just in time to catch the fireworks rain over downtown - it feels like the most anticlimactic start to a new year I've ever experienced, and I think it is partly because I started some good new habits at various points last year to counteract the bad ones that kept creeping in. Nevertheless, it should be no surprise to you, after viewing the display of food and drink above, that I'm looking forward to leaner months with more tea and fewer cookies. I'm devoted to writing more things by hand, spending far less time on my personal Facebook account (usually just on Fridays, for about 10 minutes) and far more time on at-home daily routines (I'm a sucker for things like this) and getting better at my job. I borrowed a friend's copy of Zero Waste Home and am trying to incorporate a few of her practices in my ongoing quest to consume less. (I'm also really glad to have people around me who are good at this.) I want to travel more this year (like every year) and already have a few trips in mind. I hope to have more people in my home this year for impromptu drinks or dinner or dessert or tea. I have oodles of craft projects in mind, and am venturing into sewing clothes with knit fabrics instead of stiff cotton ones. In summary, those who know me know that my 2015 resolutions are pretty standard Liz fare. Either way, I'm bound and determined to make something out of them. Cheers to this bountiful year!


Winter solstice

It was in the 50s today. December 21. This will be the longest night of the year, but today was the first time we even had a chance to enjoy the day. Sunny, sunny, sunny, after days of rain.