Category Archives: Cast of Characters

Learning curve

Rich is off doing his annual guy bonding thing- for the 32nd year in a row the same four men have gone to Myrtle Beach for four days of golfing and catch-up. Despite time and changes in circumstance they insist on doing it just as they did in the beginning. For a number of years they stayed in the same hotel but then that one got torn down and they had to start searching for another one with the same ambiance. I can track his reunion activities by signing onto our online bank account.

Denny’s: 10.46

Tupelo Bay Golf Center: 11:43

Big Daddy’s Roadhouse: 22.91

Damon’s Oceanfront Hotel: 18.93 (his half of a 32.00/night room)

Four days of golf with your guys: Priceless

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After teaching the young folk on Friday, I’m taking this time for a little continuing education of my own with girlfriends. Saturday, I spent the whole day with Cathy taking a torch-fired enamel class at the Morean Art Center. One of the perks of teaching there is that I get a class for every class I teach and I had heard rave reviews about this one. Barbara Lewis, torch fired enamel guru, teaches the class and she was marvelous.(You can find her wonderful blog, Painting with Fire, here.) Artists who teach learn quickly that the key to running a good intensive workshop is organization- having everyone’s supplies laid out and ready and having a scheduled project plan in your head helps make it successful for students. You really only feel good if, at the end of the day, people take home a completed product and a knowledge base that lights their fire. Barbara’s workshop was all of that and if you ever get a chance to take a one day workshop from her, jump on it. It was everything I hoped and more. In stark contrast to my glass blowing experience in Chicago a couple years ago, this is something I can do. You probably don’t remember but I found the combination of weight, coordination and massive glowing furnaces overwhelming. Back in that class the rest of students were college age and the instructor was a burly strong experienced glass blower who kept yelling “DON’T get that molten glass on the edge of the glory hole!!”

(I’m going to spend some time today combining some of these with felted beads and see where that goes.)

In this class,  we worked with torches and beads, heating the metal to a glowing hot red and then adding the powder enamels- essentially ground glass- and refiring it repeatedly to get the desired colors and patterns. Six hours of it was a bit exhausting, partially because of the heat factor: 12 torches firing fulltilt for 6 hours made the room overly hot. But then I had a lovely dinner with friend, Cathy, and then it was home to bed.

Yesterday it was down to Worden Farms in Punta Gorda to learn about goat ownership and cheese making. I went into it thinking I’m ready for a couple of goats and the class was especially persuasive in letting me know that I am NOT ready for that. The more she talked enthusiastically about the joys of worming, fencing, protecting your goats and potentially toxic landscaping from each other and needing to breed them (duh) to get milk production but needing to keep bucks separate from does (two fenced enclosures! It’s getting harder by the moment to hide these hoof stock from the homeowner’s association!) the more I knew that what I really need is a source of good clean fresh goat’s milk. The cheese-making portion of the day was super. In short order she demonstrated and we tasted mozzarella, paneer and my favorite, chevre. Easy, pretty straightforward and delicious, especially with a few herbs tossed in here and there. I can’t wait to start making cheese-I like to think of it as Daniel bait; he comes for fresh chevre- and there’s a farm with dairy goats a short mile walk from the house in Asheville.

Okay- back to online price comparing pop-up drain assemblies. Torch firing enamel, cheese making, plumbing parts- so much to learn and so little time. Have a great start to the week!

Dirt

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood

Call me moody, but I’m in love with this place. I know, I know. Yesterday it was completely overwhelming and I’m sure it will be again tomorrow, but today was a crystal blue and green day with amazing progress. Our contractor returned from a weeks vacation and just like magic, the builders had the lot cleaned up. I did a whole lot of phoning yesterday and when I arrived early this morning, the garden was being tilled, ice-damaged and fallen trees cut and cleared and a truckload of additional dirt was on it’s way. Habitat was scheduled to pick up the old cabinets, windows and vanities first thing tomorrow and a new dumpster and johnny-on-the-spot showed up before lunch.

The main reason for the quick turn around in my mood is the dirt. As absolutely breathtaking as the view is, I still expected the dirt to be crummy. All clay and unworkable. But lo and behold! I have really wonderful dirt. It’s soft and crumbles finely and clearly has been used for gardening for many years. The more time I spend walking around the lot, the more I find evidence of previous garden love side-by-side with wildflowers, dogwood, rhododendrons and azaleas. The yard is abloom with 3 different colors of violets, trillium are up by the creek, daffodils everywhere. There are two incredible wisteria, both getting ready to bloom. I’m moving lots of iris and there are large patches of day lilies that appear to be specialty types as opposed to your basic orange (they have lots of different leaf formations).

I had worked hard to locate a load of really good garden loam full of compost and when that arrived late afternoon I was delighted to see that it was, well, full of shit. Because really, nothing turns me on like good dirt.

I’m missing Rich a lot this trip, despite my friend’s good company and assistance. As things take shape I want to share our new view and my excitement over our future life here. I think we will be back here together in a couple weeks- maybe the windows will even be in!

The hotel internet is hopelessly slow, taking forever to upload and open pages so it’s difficult for me to share all I would like and to get around to visit (and to beat Kenju Judy at Lexulous). I’m looking forward to posting lots of photos when I get home on Friday. Tomorrow is garden planting day so I’ll be up bright and early before the sun gets too high. This is the last time I will stay in a hotel while working on the home remodel; next time the HVAC and all systems will be up and running and even if finishes aren’t done or kitchen installed, we’ll stay at the house on an air mattress. I’ve been lucky that Abby’s college barista and catering job at the Hilton have gotten us rock bottom hotel rates. We’ve joked that no matter what else she does, she has to keeping catering at the Hilton so we can travel in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed. But as of today, I’m guessing her catering days are behind her because…

NEWS UPDATE!

Abby was accepted to the PhD program in Marine Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment with a full five year financial support package, including all expenses, travel and health insurance. She will spend her first year in Durham beginning this fall ( a mere 225 miles from Asheville) and then she will be off to the lab on Pivers Island in Beaufort, NC, right next to the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. Really, she will undoubtedly be spending much of her time continuing her research in sustainable coastal ecology in the Yucatan and elsewhere. Misha will join her as soon as he finishes his degree in business next December; in the meantime we will be sure to have him to dinner several times a week while we’re in Florida and we’ll look forward to frequent visits in NC.

Duke’s program is highly competitive and she was so focused on going to Duke and only Duke, that in true Abby style she didn’t bother applying anywhere else. I thought this was risky business; she was determined. We are absolutely delighted for her and with her. But then, I thought she was pretty great in the old days when she was working for Student Painters and jello wrestling…

What’s cookin’?

Nothing. Everything. This blog is undergoing a major overhaul as I begin a new chapter or two in life. I’ve needed to separate out my felting activity into an actual website now that I’m really running that as a small business. Surprisingly, it seems to be- knock wood- successful. Classes are going well, my own personal work is developing into a process and product I feel good about and wool, fiber and supply sales are picking up. So that part of my life is moving to its own space very soon and I’ll tend to it in a more business-like fashion, with regular updates, product ordering opportunities, tutorials and lots of photos.

Here, in terms of my own stream of barely conscious ramblings, I think the transition to Asheville will refuel my interest in sharing daily news. When I look back over the five years (yup- it was official, 5 years March), it’s evolved and devolved, risen, fallen and risen again periodically along with my social energy. There’s a certain dichotomy I often feel and I’ve expressed before: I enjoy and seem to need a fair amount of alone time but there’s a regular social butterfly in here just itching to interrupt and be the center of attention. I could analyze that for you with one prevailing line (and the accompanying knuckle-rap to the head) from my earliest childhood: “Children are to be seen and not heard” but why bother? I’m done analyzing, for the most part, and I’ve moved on to scooping raptor poop, studying fiber crimp and staple length and starting garden seeds. I will also add that my interest in social networking via the internet has waned substantially as I watch the nation, fed by media slop (the equivalence of an engineered diet of toxic high fructose corn syrup?) deteriorate into mean-spirited, petty yet bloated, self-centered whiners wading about in that primordial political soup, nay, tea, roiling there in DC.  And it seems to be spilling into social networking in blogs and on facebook and I find that discouraging. People who I suspect have many redeeming qualities and are probably regular likable people are reduced to talking/writing in dangerous stereotypes and making distasteful remarks about Mrs. Obama’s physical appearance? Like we’re all so cute. That’s just an example but you know what I mean. What’s happened to people’s ability to just be polite and respectful and NICE?  Anyway, I have a crush on the current first couple and find their White House garden food fare and basketball skills endlessly fascinating. As well as the let’s all be healthy plan.So there you go. Unfriend yourself or whatever but I’m trying to move in a more positive direction.

So, speaking of being nice and starting seeds, here are the best things happening around here:

I planted about 2 dozen datil pepper seeds sent from a really super nice blog buddy of long standing. No sooner did I have them going, tucked up safely against the warmth of the back screen porch, than a busy little gray squirrel go after my efforts and tear through, oh, about 130 pots of seeds. I discovered him just as he dashed off with an heirloom white pumpkin seed, peat pot and all. So now? I have four tiny datil peppers. And I think I see one more sprouting in what was an heirloom pumpkin pot. I am now protecting them like a mother bird, along with my other seedlings. Saturday they will make the trip north to Asheville and that will mark the beginning of a new look here. Excited? I am.The four little seedlings on the right are my datils…the squirrels eat all my strawberries, too.

Speaking of bird mothering, that is going well. Our baby eagle we placed in foster care has become one of the family, falling right in with his two new sibs and getting ready to leave the nest for good. Other than the telescope crick in my neck, it was fun watching minute by literal minute, the process high up in that nest in south St. Pete. The birds at Boyd Hill are all doing well. Recently, we had Wildlife Weekend and yours truly took a bet that she could fund raise 30.00 in one half hour with nothing but a chicken. I raised nearly a 100.00. These are very tough times for charitable causes. Ask Keri or Beverly or any one of your nice blogging neighbors. Go donate 5.00 or two hours to a worthy cause and report back. If you can’t find a cause on your own, c’mon down and volunteer with me at the preserve. Donate, volunteer, add a comment and I’ll throw your name in my Tilley hat, draw a winner and send you this felted bunny. If you  don’t want the felted bunny, I’ll send you a Carolina Wren. Seriously. I’ll wait while you go do that. You have one week. You’re on the honor system here because you make your own karma.Waddles and I fund-raise for the Birds of Boyd Hill

Speaking of Dharma Karma, do those bums have good news or what? Finally! I am so happy for Robin and Roger and I’m challenging them to dueling status updates with photos as we all work on “the home of our dreams.”  Here’s wishing them some wonderful woodsy walks, interesting “pond”erings, and lots of love and peace and quiet.

LOVE and PEACE and QUIET. I’m enjoying that at the moment but we’ve had a busy week and the house has been rocking with laughter. I’m discouraged from writing about my number one child on my blog and he actually deletes the inane FB comments I leave on his page (e.g., “Daniel, I love your hat. And I’ve always loved your curly hair!” Okay, they’re not that insipid but you get the idea) but you know what? This is my blog and he’s still sound asleep so I’m taking liberties. Abby and Misha have been around all week because Dan is here and when brother and sister get together the silliness, the remembering, the happy noise- well, it is something to behold.  I’ve been so happy to have him here these past few days, after eight months. Who doesn’t see their child for eight months, for Pete’s sake? But he was on the road with NOMO and his other musical work, a hundred gigs and life was going on. Now, this minute, he is here sleeping under our roof and I am insanely content. I miss him so much when he’s there- Ann Arbor, France, Vancouver and I’m here. He brought Sarah, a smart and calm and spunky elementary school art teacher and she’s an exceptional painter, too. As in, brought her to meet his mother. (And you know how much I love me those teachers and shapers of young minds.) Here is this cute picture of them that I said I was going to post and he groaned loudly. But he is not the boss of me.Yesterday we all went out with friends into the Gulf. Curiously, although we live here surrounded by water, we haven’t been out on it very much, what with the sun thing and all, but this was a great opportunity and the weather was spectacular so I slathered on the 85 and it was grand. In this boat we went very fast and somewhat slow and we meandered and raced about, in amongst birds and dolphins and mullet.And then when we got back to the dock we saw this fellow and we watched him for quite a long time. I wondered if he/she was just a tot because it’s quite small, I think.

Abigail thrives. She is almost done recruiting Hispanics for Big Brother the Census (that was a joke via Robin on FB. We like the census. As Abby says, “Usted cuenta. Cuento. Todos contamos.”). Then she will move into some other supervisory position or other and this has been a good temporary job for her as she plans her future.  She’s still waiting for her big news that I alluded to (and she said, “Mom! Everyone is going to think I’m pregnant!” which she is not and it’s not really such a big deal except I am always overly proud of my children so you know. I get weird. Abby has applied for doctoral studies at a very prestigious environmental college at a prominent university (I believe they excel in basketball, too) and they want her very much because she is so impossibly delightful actively continuing her research on sustainable coastal ecology as is a professor there that she would love to work with. She is what they call an active candidate but she and they are waiting on funding. And mega grants that provide 5 years of funding (at approximately a quarter million dollars/candidate) are hard to come by, especially now. While that is all pending she is working on plan B, which involves another year interviewing rural fishers along the Yucatan peninsula and that, of course, makes me nervous because there are disease carrying mosquitoes and deep dark diving caves that she tends to fling herself into but she will do whatever she is going to do just fine, without my input, because I am not the boss of her you know.

Rich is fine and busy and doing more traveling recently. He went off to do some research related to children’s television programming and came back with what I refer to as Yo Dumpa Lumpa fever (most of you are way too old to understand this malapropism), seeing as how it was an all new germ pool. And then he gave it to me. And that has been aggravated by 4 standing inches of live oak pollen. Swear to God, Florida has it’s issues. The cats have turned yellow there’s so much of it and I sound as though I’ve been smoking 3 packs a day forever when I never. Well, one time, when I was 16 but I dropped an ash and it melted my bright yellow Twiggy-like styrofoam dress that was all the rage in the mid-60s. Right in my lap, melted the dress. I was on a first date, too and trying to look cool so that backfired in a big way and I quit. Anyway, I’ve been endlessly hacking but I can’t complain because I am healthier than most.

I made a friend recently who hasn’t had good health fortune the last couple years and this friendship feels like something special. This woman lives in NC, right next to a university with a great environmental program and a good basketball team- and great oncologists to care for her.  By some small miracle, since I so rarely update here, she found me and expressed an interest in felting classes. And since sometimes life is short, she was ready to hop on a plane and fly down here for a workshop I was teaching on felted bead jewelry. It was over Grand Prix weekend here in St. Petersburg so there weren’t any hotel rooms and I invited her to stay with us (with just a touch of the same trepidation I felt when I volunteered to push Hoss around Las Vegas for a blogging convention). Well, we had a wonderful time and I’m feeling very lucky to have such a fine new friend and opportunity. We will see more of each other when I’m in North Carolina.

And so, when next you hear from me it will be with photos and more photos of the mountain home under construction. Despite sucky weather, progress has been made and I’m going up next week to supervise plant my garden and make more decisions. I love my builder- he’s taken a deserved week vacation with his family but set up a web cam at the house so he can supervise from a distance. He’ll be back next week, too and I figure we’ll drive each other nuts sorting out budgets and details. Or at least I’l drive him nuts. He’s pretty easy-going.

Phew! Nothing for weeks and now this. Sorry. I have a bit of a buzz going since another really really nice person gave us crack* for Easter and I’m just today finishing it up. Really. She rang the bell an hour before the kids arrived from Michigan and dropped off a whole pie plate of it. I guess she figured, quite correctly, that an extra treat while Dan’s here would be nice. And now that I’ve written this, I’m not feeling so negatively about the online social network.

MOMOFUKU’s CRACK PIE*

Makes two 10-inch pies

• FOR THE OAT COOKIE
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
• 1/2 cup light-brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
• 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• FOR THE CRUST
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• FOR THE FILLING
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup light-brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoons milk powder
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
• 3/4 cup heavy cream
• 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 8 large egg yolks
• Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions
1. Make the oat cookie: Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together all oat cookie ingredients until well combined. Spread cookie mixture in an even layer on prepared baking sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack.
3. Make the crust: Using your hands, crumble oat cookie into a large bowl. Add butter, brown sugar, and salt; using your hands, toss until crumbly and well combined.
4. Divide mixture evenly between two 10-inch pie plates; pat into bottom and up sides. Set aside.
5. Make the filling: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, salt, and milk powder, breaking up any lumps. Whisk in butter, heavy cream, and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in yolks until just combined.
6. Pour filling into prepared pie crusts. Transfer pies to oven and bake until filling is set, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 315 degrees and continue baking until top of pie is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Transfer to refrigerator and refrigerate until cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Wherein I have plastic surgery in Ecuador and the cycle of life comes full circle

Busy, busy. And then I discovered I was even busier than I thought. I had been racing around entertaining guests, teaching workshops, caring for raptors and I was driving home from the aviary thinking, “phew! Night off, getting in my jammies and reading.” As I walked in the door Rich announced that he wanted to go to some live radio theater recording of his baseball buddy’s new one-act play and it started in half an hour, so hurry. (It’s complicated but remind me to tell you about Rich reliving his second childhood, playing fast pitch with the famous Half-Century league. I keep tripping over bats, mitts, sports cups, #27 shirts…) Almost as an afterthought, he commented, “Remind me to give you a check to put in the joint account. We must be overdrawn.”

“Huh? That can’t be.”  I had just checked it yesterday and there was enough for another week in there, plus there’s overdraft protection linked to the account that has ALL of the Asheville remodel funds in it.

“Nope. I was in Panera’s and they looked at me funny and said my card was no good. Must be overdrawn. But hurry or we’ll be late for the play.” (This very comment gives you some idea of how casually out of touch a certain person is to our personal financial affairs. He’s a top notch bread winner but not the person to mind our store. I, on the other hand, have my pulse on every penny around here and notice if even one is moved. We make a team, of sorts.)

I had to walk past the laptop on my way out of the shower and to the closet- it was on the bed-so standing there in the altogether I clicked on the online bank link and AYYYYYEEEEEE!  Okay- don’t think about the visual. Just imagine the sound of me shrieking, panting, hissing and barking all in one breath. Because that was when I discovered that, in a madcap dash through South America, I had leased a Mercedes, bought two computers and a very high-end sound system, bought a whole new designer boutique wardrobe and- wait for it- had multiple plastic surgeries at the Clinica Estetica in Guayaquil, Ecuador. And then, a short half hour later, I stopped for McDonalds right there in Guayaquil.Now, you might think that after the abdominplastia, the blefaroplastia and the mamoplastia de aumento I would be in too much pain to start pounding my head and race around the bedroom in little frantic circles, but no.

Calls and hours later we discovered that our credit card had been “skimmed” at a seedy 7-Eleven in Tampa when Rich made an emergency stop for gas on an airport run. I guess this is a device they put right in the pump and it reads all of your info and then sends it off wirelessly to credit card fraud artists and before you can say “big titties” someone is having fun at your expense. So that was exciting. I will say, as much as banks get bad press, J.P. Morgan Chase gets beaucoup points from us for taking care of this in relatively painless fashion. So far, they have removed all the charges except the double cheeseburger with fries. Good bank.

Some of you already know about all this from my facebook page and you’ve even seen my new look.You like? I mean, it’s one thing to say, “make me look like Jean Harlow” but only in South America can you get the owl implant.

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Eagles go and Eagles come

Down at Boyd Hill we’re all still feeling really crummy about the absence of Spirit and in fact, we’re having a little ceremony celebrating her passing tomorrow evening, complete with some Native American representatives. But then yesterday there was a little bit of “goes around, comes around” when we got the call that a new baby eagle was in need of a foster nest and our nest had been chosen. Well, it’s not really OUR nest, but the one that Boyd Hill aviary folk monitor. It was chosen because it’s already home to a youngster the same age- which we know because we monitor it. Anyway, this new juvenile came from a toppled nest near Okeechobee and was one of a pair. His sister was also relocated a few miles away in another nest but I guess you can only sneak in one youngster before the foster parents, who never signed up in the first place, go WTF? Because really? These are not small babies.Here is the Audubon person from the Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland getting ready to stuff the six-week old in a zippered duffel bag so he can be sent up to the nest. He was quite testy: bit her on the cheek. I’m telling you, eagle wrestling, as noted in previous posts, is not for sissies.Here he is, being dumped into the nest with the current occupant saying, “Hey! Get him the hell outta here!”Bird in a bag

Just to give you perspective. The nest is WAY HIGH up. It took the tree climbing bird guy a long time and a lot of negotiating to get all the way up there. Once he was in position, newly banded baby was unceremoniously scrunched into a gym bag and sent up a rope pulley. This was all done right around dusk and you know how birds quiet and calm down in the dark? Well, in this case, not so much. This was clearly not a case of slipping him in unnoticed and hoping that mom and dad would wake up this morning and think, “huh! Look what the eagle fairy brought!” They were very cranky while all this was going on and circled, swooped, darted and called the whole time.

Over the next few days we will keep constant watch to make sure the new addition to the nest is well cared for and fed and not pushed aside or injured. But eagles, by and large, make good foster parents. Spirit the eagle is gone, but we still have lots of eagle spirit about the place.Dad, watching over the human shenanigans in his nest. (Photo credits: Barb Walker)

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If you had a pig and posted pictures of your pig on your blog and someone left comments like “Some pig” and “Humble pig” and signed them ‘Charlotte’ wouldn’t you catch on? Apparently not.