At Least I Can Make Dinner

My daughter said the other day, “We have like three things for dinner,” meaning we do not have enough variety in our dinner menu. This, despite that I just made rice with a homemade Yumm style sauce with peas and potatoes, something I had never tried before, which was, if I may say, even though I made it myself and may be biased or at least have a stake in that particular meal’s success, particularly tasty. Three things indeed.

My son really likes pizza. When my daughter is not around we have pizza at least once a week. What can beat fresh dough that can be garnished with a variety of sauces and toppings and cheeses? I mean, pizza is great, and fresh from the oven? It can’t be beat. So I was going to make pizza, since it has been a couple of weeks since we have had that (I’m sorry did you say three things?). But apparently pizza is one of the three things, so instead I made a pizza wannabe.

I guess you could call it a stromboli. Instead of dough with carefully scattered toppings, I mixed a bunch of stuff together–sauteed shallots and orange bell pepper, chopped spinach, cheddar and parmesan, and goat cheese. The goat cheese was the kicker. I rolled out a huge square of dough, laid out some tomato sauce and spread out the mixed stuff. Then I pulled in the corners and tucked them in to make a square pie. And baked.

And that thing was good. I had never made quite that same dish. I mean, I have wrapped up ingredients in dough and baked it, but never in a square. A square stuffed pizza/stromboli/new thing for dinner. It was hot and savory with a crunchy chewy crust and gooey yumminess in the middle. I may be crappy at other aspects of parenting/husbanding, but at least I can cook up a quality dinner. Dammit. I got your three things. Plus a whole lot more. You want some variety, kid? Bring it.

Stolen Fire Pit

We don’t see a lot of other people these days, at least in person. But we did find a workaround to help. My son had a friend over not too long ago, sort of. They hung out at the end of our long driveway, a good distance apart, but enough to have a long conversation. That worked well to get in some real face time. We have no close neighbors so it was just the two of them.

Not long after that we had their whole family over. The second time they came over we hauled our metal fire pit to the end of the driveway and put that between us. They were on the road side and we were on the house side and it was enough to have a shared experience. After they left we snuffed the fire and pulled the pit off to the side and went back to the house.

My daughter tried this with friends as well. We had three or four fires this way. Then my daughter had a plan to do it one more time. We grabbed some wood and matches and water to put the fire out at the end and headed down the driveway. But we got there and the fire pit seemed, well, missing. Hadn’t we left it right there? We had. It was gone.

There was a pile of cold wood coals. The fire pit was gone, as was the grate that we had set off to the side. Someone had come to our house, dumped the ashes, grabbed the pit with its grate, and taken it for themselves. We were a bit dumbfounded. Who would do that? Especially right now? I mean, I know people steal stuff, but to take it while we are home? During the day? That’s bold.

Missing the fire pit isn’t too much of a problem. It is just a thing, albeit one that brought a lot of joy. My daughter and friends had a fire right on the gravel of the driveway that night. In fact, we have a second metal fire pit. Years ago my wife and I both bought one to give to each other for Christmas. Hers was better so we have had been using that one. I pulled out the second one from the basement and, after way too much assembly, we have another one to use, although we have yet to christen it.

The problem is that someone stole this object that made a big difference during these days of isolation. It was a symbol of how we might come together even when we can’t come together like we would at another time. It allowed for real sharing, not virtual sharing–light across distance. Plus it was a gift, and we had shared many fires with many other people over the years. For someone to just take that? That ain’t right.

Luckily we do have a back-up. I guess we won’t be leaving it at the end of the driveway, however. And I hope that the one that disappeared ends up causing some joy for others, even if it is a soured joy. I hope the sourness wears off, and true enjoyment can be had from our old fire pit. That theft has put a ding in a lonely time for us, so I hope it can take a ding out of someone else’s.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Saturday Bagels

In the past I have gone with the overnight rise. Make the dough, shape the bagels, let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning? Boil and bake. Bagels for breakfast. I went the standard route yesterday, however. I made the dough in the morning, let it rise, then shaped the bagels. One more rise, then boil and bake.

I tried something new with this batch. I have made plain bagels and I have made cinnamon raisin bagels. This time I used some whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour where I have used just bread flour in the past. Flour is in short supply these days, what with all the quarantine baking happening, so I added whole wheat flour to increase the gluten content. And I also added toppings.

I have to admit I had a bit of a fear of toppings in the past. Wouldn’t they burn in the oven? Or fall off? But this time I added Everything topping (King Arthur makes a quality mix) to some, and grated parmesan to others. And I left a couple plain as well.

They were not ready for breakfast, but they were just right for a hot afternoon snack. We had no cream cheese (also out of stock these days) but hot bagels are great any time, if you ask me. And the toppings worked like a charm. So good. Will definitely do that again.

I have said it before, but bagels are easy to make. Letting them rise overnight makes them easy, no doubt, but when you have the time, letting them rise on the counter is just as simple. I am pretty sure my family enjoyed them. My wife almost burned her fingers and her mouth she was so eager to eat one. So quarantine bagels? Doing that again.

School at Home

Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.

This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.

My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.

Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.

Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.

My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.

We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.

Pile of Games

It has been a while since we have all been home together. And it has been even longer since we have all been home together for this long. We all get along well, two adults and two teenagers, so mostly things are copacetic. We help each other when needed and stay out of each other’s way at other times. We watch movies together and eat dinner together and play games together.

LIFE has been a favorite for a while. As you can see from the photo above we have several versions of it. We have a more classic version–the 50th anniversary edition which has updated graphics from the one from the 1960s. We have the electronic banking version–everyone has a “credit card” that uses a card reader to keep track of the dollars.

Then we have the Despicable Me version–branded to match the movies with minions instead of cars for pawns. That one is designed for younger children so it is a quick game. And then we have a more modern version with pets. In this last one everyone has car or a dog in their car and there are cards with specific pet themes (“You’ve won a pet beauty contest! Collect $50,000!) Seems a lot for that but I’ll take it.

The Escape Room games are fun. They are challenging and rewarding, but I can’t deny I find them a bit stressful. The clock literally ticks, with dramatic music that gets faster as the clock runs down. It is pretty great to solve those, of course. Better than winning a pet beauty contest for sure.

Recently we got the retro version of Pay Day. We have not actually played that yet but we seem to have plenty of time to get to it. And we have a whole bunch of other games as well, just not pulled out of the closet yet. So we have plenty to keep us busy. I keep hearing about people doing jigsaw puzzles. We tend to do those when we are away from home, on vacation somewhere, so it seems wrong to do them now, when we are home quarantined.

We are making the best of our situation. We connect with friends as we can. My wife and I encountered several neighbors yesterday when we were out for a late day walk. We chatted with them from opposite sides of the road. For friends who are farther away we use Face Time and Zoom and Facebook video calls and Google Hangouts. We also play video games. And we play board games. We do our best to keep things interesting. And we stay home safe.

Bird on a Wire

We used to have a road trip scavenger hunt. The idea was to check off items one might see out a car window. Stop sign, fuel truck, school, cows, that kind of thing. Whenever we played this game there was inevitably one item we could not find–a bird on a wire.

It was weird. It is not hard to see a bird on a wire most of the time. Even in winter there are birds and they are sometimes to be found on wires. But when we had that scavenger hunt in hand, and this happened many times, we could not find one. It became a joke in our family. We would be out walking in a new place, with no scavenger hunt list to check, and one of us would point and shout “Hey there’s a bird on a wire!”

I have not played that travel game in years but I still think of it, of those road trips, whenever I see a bird on a wire. I though of it today. After a day of way to much inside time, of too much computer work, of too little physical activity, I went outside with a pair of binoculars as the sun was setting. I didn’t have the binoculars to look at the setting sun. That would have been stupid. I had them to look at birds, were I to spot any. I did spot some. And one of them was on a wire.

Actually two of them were on a wire. Two bluebirds, singing their song that sounds like they are just too lazy to sing as boldly as anything like a Robin, flew onto and off of that wire. Blue birds against a blue sky with the low bright light of the closing of day in early spring–good stuff that. It was a beautiful sight and it was good to get outside and to move around a bunch and to listen and to look for our avian neighbors. And those birds, perched on that wire, reminded me of some good trips with my family.

I still think of that game when I see a bird on a wire while I am driving. I am not driving much these days. There is a chance I will do some driving tomorrow but that is still not a definite plan. I am staying home, along with the rest of the crew, most of the time. You know, stay home and stay safe. I mean, if I want to see a bird on a wire, apparently I can do that by walking down the road. No driving required.

Holed Up

Here we are at home. Like everyone else. Holed up. We stocked up before most people–on food and basic household supplies. I am working from home. My kids are doing school online. We have a great house. We live in a beautiful place. We all get along. Still, this is a bit of a drag.

We are trying to be safe. Every day, the news gets worse–more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, more misinformation from the White House. Vermont is locked down as much as is feasible. Yesterday at 5:00 pm a stay-at-home directive began for the state. People can still go out, for necessities and necessary work, but in general we are all staying put.

Just now the governor announced that schools, which closed last week, will stay closed for the rest of the school year. My son is in his first year of high school. The principal called with a supportive message, really impressive, telling students it is OK to feel all kinds of emotions, offering some of his own emotion for seniors especially. For teenagers, this is devastating. Three months before school ends they know there will be no prom, no spring track or baseball or ultimate, no graduation, no AP tests or SAT, no wood shop. And no time with friends face to face. My daughter attends a different high school; they have not closed yet. I am afraid that is just a matter of time.

The dogs still wake up too early. We go out and walk them. The sun rises. Two days ago we got ten inches of snow. Most of that has melted now. The woodcocks, after the snow came and went, starting calling again in the field tonight. Robins are singing their lilting songs. Goldfinches are turning yellow. This afternoon I heard the first wood frog of the spring.

We can’t eat out or get a drink from Starbucks or even go to most stores. Even the hardware store is bringing things outside to customers. Life is not what it was. But the total number of cases in Vermont doubled today to over 120. New York City had more 911 calls then they did on September 11, 2001. This thing is deadly. We are inconvenienced, but we are here.

The sun is higher now. The light shines through the bare woods. The world is bigger this time of year–more light, more sound, more beauty every day. That beauty is a counter to the challenges we face now, and the tragedy that is sure to come. As this virus affects all of us more and more, the world spins into spring. We need to pay attention to both.

No Hitter

Earlier this week we went to see a Vermont Lake Monsters game. My son has gotten into watching and following baseball, so we drove into Burlington for our first Monsters game of the summer. It was warm but not hot, with just enough sun, and not too crowded given it was a week night. Perfect for a baseball game.

The Lake Monsters are a “Class A short season affiliate” of the Oakland A’s. The team is as minor league as it gets. I have watched games where they just do not do well, at least compared to a major league team–errors all over the place. But they are doing ok this year–they almost have a winning record.

The team used to be the Vermont Expos. They were a feeder team for the Montreal Expos. Then the Expos left Canada and went to Washington. The Monsters were a Nationals affiliate for a while, and now Vermont serves California. Lake Monsters is a better name than Expos anyway, if you ask me.

So yeah, a perfect night for a game. I got some Cracker Jack and an over-priced beer (side note: they have one great selection of over-priced beer, the majority of options local). The beer did me right but the Cracker Jack had fewer peanuts than ever. I figured the peanuts must have just settled to the bottom–but there might have been half a dozen of them total. Lame, but I enjoyed the popcorn part.

The Lake Monsters did not play terribly, but by inning seven my son pointed out that they were on the way to suffering a no-hitter against them. They did manage to get a runner on first, but that was due to a fielding error, not a hit. The Aberdeen IronBirds scored seven runs, with five home runs mixed in to make it interesting. My son said at the end, “You know it’s not good when the only numbers you have on the board are two errors.”

So we got to see a no-hitter. It was not for the home team, but it was new for all of us. And it was pretty fun to watch some baseball on a fine summer night. We hope to get to Centennial Field again before the season is up. I would like to see them win but I would settle for some runs on the board. And next time I’ll skip the Cracker Jack.

Christmas Tree in the Snow

One time we went to the Christmas tree farm up the road and wore boots, not for the snow, but for the mud. My son wore shorts. A coat was too much to wear. At least our hands didn’t get numb.

This year we had snow on the ground when we carried our saw out to select a tree. We wandered farther into the firs than we usually do. Typically we find one that is good enough before we get too far down the hill, and we could have this time, but we kept going to see what might be found.  

We might have gotten some snow in our boots, but that’s cool. My son did the cutting. Balsams are not tough when it comes to facing a saw so it was quick. Then we carried that baby over our shoulders and tied it to the car’s roof rack. 

The damage was $30. Not bad for a tree as fresh as can be. I bought a half gallon of maple syrup while I was at it–also a bargain at only 25 bucks. That was just in time as we had maybe a half cup of syrup left. And since we will have waffles on Christmas morning, it was fitting.

Now the tree is trimmed and glowing, ornaments dangling and lights a-twinkle. It is festive in here.  My wife is a decorator with no equal when it comes to making our house look cheery for the holidays.  I am lucky that way.  

It felt good to cut a tree in the snow. We still have snow on the ground now, days later.  Let’s hope it stays for several weeks. It would be nice to have snow on the ground for Christmas. Too often we don’t. I hoping this year will deliver.