My Commonplace Blog

Bits of info in bytes


June 2016

The Sentimental Season

hog dog

I really don’t know how to grade this.

Technical fail: Hot dogs have all kinds of not-good-for-you things in them. Ingredients and whatever that one is really not supposed to eat, or at least eat in very limited quantities. And I don’t really like hot dogs except at this time of year.

Heartfelt pass: It’s a combination of season and sentimentality. Grilled hot dogs in the summer with the grand trio of yellow mustard, ketsup, and relish. Can’t say no. And I’m just snobby enough to insist on Hebrew National (Costco!).

And last week while I was in Chicago, I made the pilgrimage to Portillo‘s and did the full-on Chicago-style. So the annual rise above the recommended levels of hot dog consumption has begun. When my mother was elected village clerk (very much a part-time position), I was a pre-schooler. She took me to the office on Fridays, and we’d often go to Portillo’s for lunch. I distinctly remember standing at the window of the ‘dog house’ to place my order.

The nostalgia cools as soon as the days begin to noticeably shorten; I rarely have a hot dog between August and May. Until then, I’ll just enjoy.


Well I Never!

A couple more food grades this week. First up: The rice cooker.

Rice Cooker

A slightly begrudging pass.

Countertop appliances must earn a place in my kitchen. Even pots and pans beyond the basic array are subject to extreme scrutiny. Space and funds are limited, cooking habits rule; behaviors of high frequency do not require new equipment; minor adaptations for one-offs are encouraged. Specialized items must top a pretty high bar.

The rice cooker wasn’t even under consideration. But the hubs saw a category review on America’s Test Kitchen and got it in his head. . . I listened, nodded, and waited. The interest did not pass or even fade. The arguments presented were reasonable. The dogs eat a lot of rice; we should/could eat more rice.

Yes, the dogs were the turning point. Dear Liza was a chubby puppy before she came to us. Her weight and exercise levels are now in the healthy range, but she maintains her exceptional food motivation. Adding rice to her dinner fills her up efficiently. Naturally Iko expects rice too; animals understand food equality. So every week we made two batches of rice in the microwave. Efficient but noisy and a little messy, and more time than I’d like to devote to the task. However overall much less muss and fuss than the stovetop method. The result was a steady diet of rice for the dogs but none for us; it rather lost its appeal.

The hubs extolled the virtues, ease, and low price of a rice cooker. For 30 bucks at Target, meh, give it a try. The ease of filler ‘er up (a week’s worth in one batch), push a button, and walk away was admittedly appealing.

We still haven’t made much rice for us. In time, perhaps. When not in use, it’s stored in the basement and presence is practically everything.

Oh, and the stars aligned on this right before the hubs marked another trip around the sun. Happy Birthday, dear! Shall I put a bow on it?





Orange fabric

The AmeriCorps member at the legal service agency where I volunteer is leaving next week. She’s smart, charming, and really gets my sense of humor so I’m going to miss her terribly.

I thought a tote bag would be a nice farewell-and-good-luck gift. Now all I have to do is pick the fabrics and make one. The orange in front is for the exterior; the others are lining options. I want to go bold but can’t decide which direction of bold to follow. (Yes, this is what bold looks like to me.)

And I’ve grown so attached to my fabric stash that I hate to use anything because whatever I use might go better with something else. The orange is new, a remnant from Ikea; I haven’t yet become very attached. But it is starting to grow on me. . .

This is ridiculous. Truly silly. Flip a coin and get out the scissors.




Peace Out

Peace Road

Is the trip about 300 miles or is it a 328-mile (or insert odometer reading here) trip? That distinction without a difference has generated much conversation over many years about scores of trips along essentially the same route.

The difference is in driving styles. And this trip provided a striking contrast. Going to the cousins gathering, my brother choose a route that took two tollways, two four-lane highways, a quick dogleg between a tollway and a highway, and a few side streets. My brother has always been a car guy. I suggested a route, obviously ignored, that involved two four-lane highways and the bare minimum of side streets. Ahem. He couldn’t understand why I suggested that route, I couldn’t understand why he made the trip so complicated.

I was stopping at my goddaughter’s home on the way out of town; my brother’s suggested routes weren’t complicated but numerous — how to get around construction, highways vs. tollways, avoiding traffic (I was leaving during the Monday morning rush), etc.

Traffic be damned, I took two-four lane highways to the tollway, straight into construction. As traffic thickened, doubt arose. But I rocked the roadways, making excellent time. Then there was getting from the goddaughter’s house to home. Again, many options were offered. That seems to be very much a Chicago thing; drives the hubs (pun intended) nuts. All the better he wasn’t with me this trip.

Fortunately, she offered the perfect route: Plank Road turns into Peace Road which connects to the tollway. Mid-morning drive along a rural two-lane highway. Blue skies, green fields, and just the right amount of gentle turns and rolling hills; nothing could be more peaceful.

I may be related to my brother by blood, but I’m clearly related to my goddaughter in spirit.

(image from Google Maps)






Worthwhile Efforts

Lavender 1

Just got home from a fab, fun time with the fam. We’re a small clan. As my brother says, we could hold a family reunion in a phone booth. With spouses and kids, we might break 20. Speaking of the brother, in the spring he said, You occasionally exchange emails with Cousin 1; why don’t you ask her about getting together. She emailed back, That sounds good, and suggested meeting at her sister’s house. That covers the first cousins. Yes, we are a small clan. Cousin 2 rose to the challenge and we invaded her home on Sunday. Second Cousins 1 and 2, also sisters, joined in.

My big effort for this get together was baking cookies and driving the farthest. Yes, I’m feeling a little guilty right now. . . And the hubs stayed home sick. *cough*really!!*cough*whatever*cough* But it was so good to see everyone, he wasn’t really missed. Sorry hubs, your loss. It may have been the heat, but I even enjoyed talking with Cousin 1’s husband. . .(insert winky emoticon here!!).

Lavender 2

Over the course of the afternoon, just about everyone’s phones came out to share pics — of children, of pets, of home remodeling, of celebrations, of hobbies — but nobody took pictures. We were too busy being in the moment. So these pictures are of my lovely lavender; more about that later.

Cousin 1 and her hubs have put much effort into tracing their ancestry, and we are the lucky beneficiaries of her efforts: She presented each of us with a personalized tables of our lineage. The two of them have traveled around the Midwest and to Germany visiting and researching the places from whence we all came. (One German cousin contributed to the research and has practically joined the family.) Through the afternoon we added stories and details to fill in and expand on the well-researched facts. With more and more sharing about long-lost and long-gone relatives, the table figuratively got more and more crowded.

We’re also not a tight-knit group. We stay in touch, but we’re really, emotionally speaking, arm’s-length Germans. So a rich and full discussion of family was deeply rewarding but a little out of our collective character.

Of course, as we headed out, there was the chorus — We need to do this more often! Personally, I’m just very glad we did this, now. No need to put a weight on the future.

Bits of the conversation played and replayed in my head as I drove home. And just as I was feeling quite content with who we are, the song Que Sera, Sera by Pink Martini began. The song isn’t a favorite, but in the moment it had me all teary-eyed driving down the highway. Can’t really say why that song pinpointed the feeling, but it did. I got so emotional I forgot to curse the guy in Impala who, for the fifth time, passed me and then slowed down. Really dude!!

A brief shower started just as I pulled in the driveway. The rain removed the dust and sunshine that followed made the lavender amazingly vibrant. The modest effort I expended in the spring yielded brilliant results, the same way a brief email exchange lead to a lovely event.

Lavender 3

That makes me one happy little bee.






You say po-tahh-toe

potato 2

Look! He says. Hmmmm, says me.

Potato 1

It’s a rock that looks like a potato! He says. Sorta, says me.

potato 3

You can post it on your blog! He says.

That’s why he doesn’t have a blog. . . .

Honey Locust Don’t Care

When the neighbors up the street felled a honey locust, they offered us the remains. We quickly accepted and trundled the logs to the wood pile in our backyard. Free heat!

Honey locust 2

The honey locust is a hardwood tree. A very hard wood. The hubs spent several hours splitting a few logs.

Honey locust 3

Several instruments both sharp and blunt were employed.

No such thing as free heat.

Food Pass-Fail, The Hubs Edition

Is there an expiration date on this? she said accusingly. Couldn’t find one on this package of spring roll wrappers. These have been in the fridge for literally, actually, factually for more than a year.

Eliminating food waste is a big thing here; the conversation occasionally gets harsh.

An interwebs search revealed no expiration date on this foodstuff. Well, does it qualify as a foodstuff or just an edible mix of ingredients? That’s a slightly disconcerting if accurate thought.

More interwebs searching brought him to Martha and a doable recipe. Chinese cabbage, rice noodles, and onions. Not really a meal, but accomplishes the desired effect of using up the ancient spring roll wrappers.

Wrapping, it appears, is a little trickier than he anticipated.

spring roll fail

Don’t skip the egg wash to seal. This one just fell apart in the pan. Fail!

Spring roll pass

When the wrapper held, he achieved a nice crispy, crunchy wrapper. Pass!

No, we not buying another package of spring roll wrappers so he can practice.

Ow. Ow. And Ow.


Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up, which, incidentally, puts the injuries in chronological order.

The three small gashes from wrist to knuckle are from yanking my cell phone from under the car seat during Iko’s first of two emergency vet visits in one day–extreme bowel inflammation and unrelated allergic reaction. Fortunately, she’s now fully recovered. In almost three decades of being a dog owner/parent, I’d never experienced either situation until that day. And I’d also never previously dropped my phone down that tiny gap between seat and center console before. The string of profanities would make your eyes water.

Lost in the skin fold and the shadow are three bites between the index and middle finger. Two mosquito bites, one diagnosed as a spider bite by Dr. Hubs. I agree with this diagnosis as I noticed the bite shortly after mistaking a large spider in the grass for a small toad. Really. It made the grass move as it crawled. And since I was at ground level weeding, I got a good look at it just before I shot up and jumped back. Only a silent scream.

Finally, the fingertip. From the top knuckle up, significant swelling and hurt like a son of a. . . for several days. To state the obvious, infected. (May I take a moment here to praise the efficacy of Smile’s PRID Drawing Salve? Here at we-don’t-go-to-the-doctor-unless-disability-or-death-is-a-plausibility, we’ll try anything that doesn’t hint of snake oil.) No visible injury but the stabbing pain originates from a tiny spot in the cuticle; the throbbing is generalized to the bandaged area. Likely a small puncture from landscaping work. The finger has reduced to almost normal size, the color now almost normal, and using a keyboard normally is almost possible. A week of persistent, low-grade cussing and frequent exhibition of the facial expression that causes people to back away.

The kicker: I’m left-handed.

What I did to anger the universe I do not know. As my niece says, I shake my fist at you!! And I would, except I can’t clench a fist yet.


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