Sunday, March 26, 2017

April the Giraffe

So the world waits with bated breath. Well, the world is tired of her teasing and started breathing again a while ago. Wake us when she starts pushing, OK?

Who, really, can empathize with poor April the Giraffe? Well, she probably doesn't realize that millions of people keep sneaking peeks at her webcam, she just knows that she's been confined to her (relatively) tiny indoor pen. Partly because it's been cold in New York, partly because that baby's coming annnnyyyyy time now.

There are fake websites and fake YouTube channels (at least two today in top results that claim she was giving birth) trying to pull in the viewers and get ad revenue by copying footage, so I accept only the best: From there, click on the button to the Giraffe Cam.

But it's not just a moment for pregnant women who've reached the last couple months of pregnancy or gone past their due dates, it's really about Hurry Up and Wait.

Who else has been given a strict deadline, a time to get somewhere, a precise moment when you have to do something....and then you get there, flustered, and there are 100 flustered people in line ahead of you. Or you turn in your whatever-it-is in to your boss, editor, teacher, potential boss, whoever and then sit for an age, eagerly awaiting a reply.

And awaiting.

And awaiting.


Of course, when it comes time for me to have to turn something in, I have reasons why I have to keep someone else waiting. It's all in the perspective.

So why are we fascinated by April? Some other giraffe had a baby and that was more "related news" than news in itself. We can find other YouTube videos of giraffes giving birth.

Maybe we're fascinated precisely because we're waiting and checking in on her.We've invested in her. It's become a joke, a meme, and a collective interest. There are copycats and parodies (Did you see the very pregnant woman pacing around her house wearing a giraffe mask?)

98,425 people are watching with me right now as she is doing...something with her head just out of the shot below the camera. Fasssssssscinating.

So just remember.


Don't forget to breathe.

Once it's out of your control, you have to remain calm. Observe it instead of letting it tie you in knots. The vet and the zookeepers are checking on April. Check on your family and friends. Let them check on you.

And hey, look! The giraffe in the next pen is lying down! And she just walked across her pen and seems to be looking out a window!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A little more about bread

Thanks to my high school freshman, we might have had a step forward in our bread. He informed me Tuesday night that he had to do a short presentation in French I about some cultural aspect of France. He's known for a while now that he'd have to do this, of course....

He wanted to do some kind of food. So we went through all the things I knew how to do and we could put together  before Thursday morning.

He rejected Trader Joe's croissants (you get them in the freezer case, let them defrost and rise overnight and they're the closest I've found to fresh French croissants).

So we ended up with baguettes. Because I'm always about the baguettes.

We added a bit of sugar. Just a tablespoon-ish for the triple recipe (it was the last bit in the sugar bag, so I dumped the rest in). I've been avoiding adding sugar because authentic French bakers don't. But the bread ended up just a bit fluffier, so from now on I will.

We also brushed egg on the tops so they ended up browner and crunchier. Water in pans making it steamy and oven set at 450.

We made a triple recipe instead of a double one, so we'd have bread for supper. It didn't really fit in the mixer.

 The blob after rising. It's a lot of dough.

DS2 rolling the loaves out like playdoh.

Baguettes for school and a round loaf for us. Tops slashed even too deeply. Note the shiny egg. I left the round one in longer, but it still wasn't all the way cooked in the middle, so next time I'll lower the oven temp a bit and let it cook another 10 to 15 minutes instead of just 5.

Post baking, he cut 3 of the loaves in servings so he could share with his class. He took the 4th loaf as the demonstration baguette. I told him that if they needed more servings, he could be authentically French and tear it apart with his hands. RAWR!

His dad told him he should have got up at 3 a.m. to be able to take the bread in fresh from the oven and be even more authentic.

And then he asked what was important to French culture about bread. Well, they want it to be good bread. They have it at every meal, no matter what else is on the table. It's.... just what they have. Every day. (OK, not so much anymore maybe, but it's really importantly traditional.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kids and their play dates

How long am I allowed to call my kids' hangouts with their friends "play dates"? Can I keep doing it as long as I have to drive them around for it to happen? Or, like today, talking to my friend, trying to figure out when our teens can hang out together?

Not this weekend, as it turns out.

When we have those friends over, it's all about the Nerf guns and PVC/pool noodle/duct tape swords and then some quiet time playing Settlers of Catan. If we're lucky, most of the loud times are outside. If it rains or they stay until after dark, it gets pretty loud in my house.

My nine year old daughter (how did she get to be nine?) is at a birthday party today and scheduled to stay (and spend the night!) after everyone else leaves. It's really quiet around here already and it's only early afternoon.

In the meantime, my middle child (who's fourteen) has once again produced the miracle of lunch. It was grilled cheese, but with slices of leftover turkey. Really delicious. He needs to work on his timing and sequencing while making a meal, though, because I ended up buttering half the bread and slicing the the cheese, then setting the table and getting out fruit and vegetables. Of course, if I would butt out entirely, he would have to step up even sooner. On the other hand, there are nights that I get the main course and maybe a carb-y side going and completely forget about fruits and vegetables until the last moment.

Maybe when a kid can cook for me, he no longer should have "play dates."

The main consideration, though was if I would let him have potato chips. I bought a big bag of store-brand chips on sale over a week ago and hadn't gotten around to having them as part of a meal....and these chips were making him insane with food lust. They taunted him each time he opened the Carb Cupboard (it holds all the bread, crackers, rice, cereal, sugar, cake mixes, etc.)

Someone needs to mow my front lawn. The tall parts right now are all foxtails, not even nice grass. My oldest (who's seventeen) did the much bigger, terraced, more complicated back yard last week, so I think middle boy should do the front. Since they're not busy with a play date or actually doing homework, I bet one of them could do it.

It's supposed to rain next week, so it will grow even more. Which is good, except for the mowing part.

Maybe if they can mow my lawn, its not a "play date."

And speaking of kids, this juvenile (she still has a fuzzy head) female turkey is wandering around alone these days. She definitely needs a play date. All the grown-ups are off making babies in the woods and she's lost her flock. Last weekend she (or another just like her) was with a crowd of females when the males were on full display and almost getting run over in the street. When they're acting macho, they don't want to step aside for anyone. At all. Not even an SUV.

Turkeys are pretty smart as far as birds go. Which means they're not exactly smart smart.

Like some teenagers I know. (*rim shot*)

The answer for me, is that I don't usually say "play date" out loud except when I am teasing my teens so they will roll my eyes at me, which is one of my favorite things (the lighthearted eyeroll is, anyway. Not so much the one where they are actually mocking me.). My nine year old is still fine with it, though.


Of course, I want you to read all my books, but the one with the most play date-like scenes is The Chevalier, in which Emmanuel, the youngest sibling and only twenty-five and unmarried, is dragged back into the family and exposed to the insanity that is a gathering of his nephews and their friends, all between ten and fifteen. Except the only girl, who's eight and has to keep up with all this crazy boy energy.

In other words, it's a bit like my house, only with swords and cards instead of Nerf guns and Settlers of Catan.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Blueberry Pi Day

So today is March 14th, which in the US way of writing dates, is 3.14.


As a family of nerds, my kids have known what Pi is from a young age. My nine year old can't calculate anything with it yet, as she hasn't started working with decimals, but she knows what it's for and the first few digits. My high school junior was watching a YouTube video yesterday about something complicated with 120-sided dice and co-primes and it averaging out to somewhere around Pi. Or something. Yes, dear.

But I know how to find circumference and area and the volume of a cylinder. I'd have to look up volume of a cone and sphere, though.

And I know how to make a pie!

Sometimes, I am organized and make a pie from scratch. Or almost from scratch. I almost always start with a pre-made crust. I'm not a huge fan of most types of pie crust, especially when I have to make it myself. Usually, I use the rolled up crust from the store and then I leave most of mine on my plate and give the crunchy outer part to whichever kid wants it. If I don't LIKE it, why would I consume those zillion calories?

Facebook informs me this is from four years ago. But this year, I have no canned pumpkin. I don't have extra apples. I don't have pie crust. the back of my cupboard...

Graham cracker crust is excellent, though too much trouble to make myself.

Note that it says 9" pie crust and not that it's a 9" pie plate.That's not how you really measure a pie plate. It isn't even quite 9 inches from one edge of the aluminum to the other.  And yes, I know what diameter is and how big nine inches are.

<Insert size joke>

Anyway, the can of blueberry pie filling (found dented on the clearance table at the back of the grocery store) only filled it about halfway.

<Insert insertion joke>

Go ahead and calculate the volume of the crust and of the tin. I'll wait here. Let me know if you actually care and I'll give you the measurements.

<Insert measurement joke>

I got out the container of blueberries from my freezer that's been in there since last summer, being used a handful at a time in pancakes, etc. I used about a cup of those and mixed them in.

I crumbled two stale graham crackers over the top. Hand crumbled, so it's mostly chunks.

I baked at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, just to make it settle and make the top crackers crunchy. I'm not sure this does anything and I should have baked hotter and for longer. My idea was to get the sugary stuff to cook and bind together, but I'm pretty sure I'm just messing around here. Besides, we're not going to eat it until tonight, so it's not going to still be warm then.

Oh shoot, tonight is registration night at the high school. We can have this after, though that's pushing into my youngest's bedtime. I also need to think about what we're having for supper this morning, because I don't think there are enough leftovers for Every Human For Him/Herself Night. Though they can have quesadillas and sandwiches. Maybe I'll make some bread.

And of course, nothing at all to do with Pi, but you should be reading my books.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Du pain - more about French Baguettes

The thing with making bread is that it's not all that hard, especially with a good mixer, it just takes all day. 

A few weeks ago, I posted about my ongoing saga of my attempts to get French bread right.

The saga is ongoing.

Basic recipe: 
20 fl. oz water (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups flour
4 tsp bread yeast
a splash of oil. Maybe a Tablespoon or so (after it's all mixed, just to coat the outside so it doesn't dry out while rising)

Yesterday, I used 5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 of cake flour and with a few other tweaks, got the closest I've come. Next time, I'll use a bit more cake flour. Remember, we're trying to not use a lot of gluten. Bread flour has more gluten. Don't use it. I'm going to experiment some more with whole wheat flour, but when I tried before, the bread didn't rise well.

I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook. Fancy.

Put water and salt in mixing bowl.
Plop all the flour on top.
Mix on low until the flour is pretty much all wet (NOT LONG)
Cover and let sit for a while. I don't know why, but the French website I got the recipe from said to and it might make a difference. Maybe.
Meanwhile, put the yeast and I dunno, maybe 1/8 cup water, plus a little blob of the dough in a bowl or something (I used the measuring cup) and let it get wet and get started.

Half an hour later:
Scrape the yeasty, viscous, bubbly liquid out of the cup and dribble it all over the dough in the mixing bowl.
Mix until everything comes together in a big ball o' dough. (I dunno. A minute or two). If it's super sticky, add a bit more flour. If it's just averagely sticky, don't. (Yes, this is the part that's going to be left up to your own judgment). Added water or flour at this point is really hard to mix in without going for full-on kneading either by hand or in the machine. Since we're not kneading this dough, be judicious with adding stuff.

Pour your splash of oil down the side of the pan and turn on the mixer for a couple of seconds, then scrape the dough off the hook and sort of roll it around in the oil so it's oily all over. Or if you're mixing by hand because you're a historical re-enactor or you haven't discovered the joy of KitchenAid, put some oil in the bowl and flop it around.

Cover and let rise for a good, long while. Mine sat in the cold oven for over 4 hours yesterday. It hadn't risen enough after 2.5 hours and then the school run happened.

A few hours later:
Cut the dough into 4 fairly even pieces. Roll out on a floured surface like a kid making a PlayDoh snake. Or dangle and tug and roll between your hands like a... um, I'm not going to finish that thought. Anyway, you're making long, skinny baguettes, so make them as long or longer than your bread pans, because when you let go, they're going to shrink a bit. Let's not finish that thought either, shall we?

I have the fancy pans that look like 4 parallel gutters with holes (completely useless as gutters). So lay your 4 floppy phallic loaves in the pans and -- oh shoot, I wasn't thinking the "phallic" thing through -- use an extremely sharp knife to cut 4 or 5 evenly spaced slashes on the tops. Make the cuts deep, like 1/4 to 1/3 of the depth of the loaf.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. The only second rising time this bread gets is the time for the oven to preheat, then it goes POOF in the oven.

I had been using a large jellyroll pan with water on the bottom rack, but wasn't very happy with how the bottoms of the bread weren't getting very brown. So yesterday, I used 2 bread loaf pans with water and placed them near the sides. They're aluminum pans and so don't heat as hot as the steel pan I used before, so there was less steam. Still working on this part.

Anyway, when the oven is hot, put the gutter pans on the middle rack and set the timer for 35 minutes, then warn your teenager middle child that since you'll be off taking your oldest kid to karate that he'd better listen for the timer and take the bread out. Maybe you could set an alarm on your iPod, hmmm?

Come home to a house that smells divine and to half your dinner ready and cooling. Good job, middle child!

My family is now officially spoiled (and my husband not supposed to be eating as much wheat, since it has a fairly high level of oxalates, which is one ingredient in kidney stones), as they only ate two of the loaves for dinner. 

I still didn't get the huge bubbles I really want, but the crust was pretty near perfect. I'm going to think about doing an egg wash on top to get it shinier and browner.

Needs bigger bubbles, but witness the cracking on the side, even with the deep cuts in the top.

As I said at the top, it's not hard, it just takes all day.

So go read some books about France.

They do eat bread in the Chateaux and Shadows series. I don't think they had long, skinny bread yet, then, but it's not clear from the small amount of research I've done. My next experiment will have to be with the big round loaves, les boules.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hidden Figures

Saturday night, I went with a couple of friends and saw Hidden Figures. FINALLY. It's been out for a couple months and now is only playing in a few theaters around here. Heck, last Monday when we talked about setting this up, Google wasn't telling us about ANY theaters showing it after Wednesday. Which sort of surprised me, because reports were that it was still earning a lot of money.

So after we all got to the place a good half hour drive from my house, we settled in. The theater it was showing in was pretty small - like maybe 150 to 200 seats - and was mostly full except for the front rows that are about two feet from the screen.

And what an amazing movie! I think my favorite part is how supportive the families are - with some qualms and conflict, of course, but how, when it comes down to it, their husbands and friends and kids and parents are behind them. And Dorothy Vaughan "borrowing" the book on Fortran from the white section of the library and being the first to figure out the giant computer. And not only that, but teaching the other African American women "computers" how to use it, too, instead of all being laid off.

Some aspects of it were kind of facile and trying to hard to portray some of the white people as heroes of sorts just for being baseline decent and wanting to let the black women work for them. I'm still mulling this thought. Dissecting my white privilege is not really best done with a headache.

One interesting thing was that several people in the audience applauded at the end. As if the actors could hear them, you know? I mean, I can sort of see it on opening weekend, but it's really awesome, but slightly weird, to clap for something in its third month.

Also, it's quite interesting to read the Wikipedia article about it, pointing out the historical inaccuracies, fact-checking the movie (Like: Mary Jackson didn't have to go to court to take engineering classes *and* she was already an engineer by the year the movie is set in. And the Costner character is a composite and no one took a crow bar to the Colored Only restroom signs.). So the movie conflates time and events and people for the sake of drama.

Overall, it was a very good movie with laughing and crying and cheering (internally. This is not a sporting event. See above comment about applauding.). And thinking about the brilliant minds which are discounted and who battle for every step up. Whether it's constant racism and jingoism faced by minorities and new immigrants or all the belittling crap women have withstood since forever. Or the disdain and abuse faced by LGBTQ+ people. All the micro- and macro-aggressions out there can sure mess up your education and career prospects.

Or what came up this weekend:
Q: What did Watson and Crick discover?
A: Rosalind Franklin's notes.

And then multiply that by ten for every societal stigma and voting right taken away.

And celebrate the fierce, brilliant ones who lead the way, but also think about why white men are still the first to get hired and promoted. Just think a bit.

And leave a comment.


ALSO, go out and buy my 17th century French romance/historical fiction.

Here's my Amazon page. 

And they're available from many, many other ebook publishers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March coming in like a lion with a short attention span

For me, the lion is all in the tree pollen. And runny nose. And increased tinnitus. And headaches.

I assumed over the last few years that it's the cherries and peaches and all those fruit trees that make me sneeze, but apparently, it's fairly rare to be allergic to those as the pollen is bigger and less likely to be blown around. Apparently then, I'm allergic to whatever is blooming the same time as those. says Juniper, Alder, and Poplar/ Cottonwood are high right now. And hey look: my pine tree out front is pollen-ing away. Definitely a lion in my head.

So yesterday morning, I woke up at 4 am and nothing was going to get me back to sleep. I turned on my phone at about 4:30 to read a book and discovered that most of Ohio - the place that I am from, not where I live now - was having school bus/commute tornado warnings. That sounds pretty lion-y to me.

But out here in the Inland Valley of California, the weather has finally cleared up and it's spring. I had my teen boys drag my rubber tree plant outside yesterday, because the risk of frost is over.
Poor Whoops is in need of sun and water. Also note at the right: the big dump truck the neighbors' contractor has left in their driveway for a couple of months with the promise of paving the driveway, only it was too wet....So obvs they had to leave the truck there.
Anyway, new month. It's almost time to sign my big kid up for some AP tests. Junior Prom is coming in April, but he's made nary a peep about it. They should be signing up for next year's classes soon, too. Maybe I should start reading the school newsletter more closely.

I'm waiting for comments back from my critique partners on the last bit of my book.

My cat is shedding like cheap faux fur and has also developed dandruff of the back.

The bright sunshine is making me notice I realllllly need to clean my windows. (Or make my kids do them)

And as usual for the last few years, our health insurance situation that we thought was all worked out and seamlessly going from last year to this year, is still in the air. So that adds a certain level of tension.

So anyway, today I'm amping up the conflict between the friends in a book, not going for a walk (I need the exercise, but really don't want to go outside), and making French baguettes (AGAIN. It's been about a week since the last time and they turned out heavy and slightly wet inside). Plus, my daughter's having a friend over this afternoon. I might take them to a park, though I won't be able to breathe much when we're there.

So anyway. My whole work day's gone and so far I've applied for one job online and flitted here and there in my book, in the query letter draft, and on the internet. And still no exercise. And yet I still need a shower.

March came in like it has a short attention span.