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After listening to this story on NPR last week, I started to think more about our grocery lists.  What could Hillary Carlip, a Los Angeles-based performance artist who develops characters from discarded shopping lists, come up with based on ours?

There are the “regular” lists, typically scribbled on the back of envelopes or other scraps.  These are often written by both of us.  Adding items as we check recipes or remember something else we need.  Deleting items that we discover hiding in the pantry. We include notations regarding the need for containers for bulk items.  After the shopping trip the list will have the tare and plu of the bulk items jotted next to the item name.  If something on the list isn’t available at the co-op, or prohibitively expensive there, there’s a notation to signify we’ll get that item elsewhere.

That’s just the system.  What would she make of the list’s content?

Spam?  Where the hell does Spam fit on that list?!?  Would she think to attribute the Spam to the fact that my family is from Hawaii and my kids love spam musubi?

(Looks like we were making Thai noodle salad, biscuits and gravy and spam musubi that week.)

Then there are the lists I make to get the kids involved.

I started making cards to take shopping a few years ago.  Lizzie was just starting to read and Joshua wasn’t reading at all, but wanted to “help”.  I doodle some pictures on index cards and then divide them evenly between the two of them.  Must keep everything fair, you know.  It seems to help make the experience less frustrating for all involved when they have a job to do.

If I were smart, I would make a master set.  Ooo, I could laminate them, too!

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Say cheesecake to a group of friends and a myriad of images can come to mind. People can get a little, ahem, opinionated about their cheesecake. New York purists vs. proponents of double chocolate, chocolate chip. I didn’t grow up eating cheesecake (mom is lactose intolerant and not much into baking), so I’ve never been too picky. Anything with that much cream cheese? It’s all good to me.

When Brad and I got married, I learned that he has very exacting standards when it comes to cheesecake (and sweaters, water bottles, pens…but I digress). The gold standard of cheesecake? His Grandma Miller’s. I’ve always loved baking, so with the family recipe in hand, I set off to make my husband his favorite dessert for his birthday. The fact that our young marriage survived this hurdle is a true testament to its strength. I worked diligently, following the recipe exactly. The first thing out of Brad’s mouth?  “It’s not quite right”. Bless his everlovin’ heart, tact is not always Brad’s strong suit.

Over the years, I came to understand the significance of the cheesecake in Brad’s family. His grandfather had vivid memories of a cheese torte from his childhood. Grandma Miller then experimented with the recipe until he proclaimed it to be perfect. I never met Grandpa Miller, but from all the stories I’ve heard, he didn’t seem to dole out such high praise often.

Although the first few were not up to The Grandma Standard, Brad was always happy to “suffer” through my attempts. 14 years and many cheesecakes later, I’m pretty sure my cheesecake would even pass muster at a Miller family function.

Happy belated birthday, Brad!

For those of you who don’t know, I was born into a family of math people. Serious math people. My dad just retired after 37 years as a professor at the University of Memphis. He led the U.S. Math Olympiad team, including a gold medal-winning team, to at least half a dozen IMO (yep, it’s the Olympics for high school math geeks). I’m sure his curriculum vitae is a tome. I could go on and on, but I won’t. If curiosity gets the better of you, just Google “Cecil Rousseau” and settle in for a good read. At minimum, the first 3 pages were about him. It is bizarre.

My mom would never claim to be a “mathematician”. She did, however, teach math at the university for many years, mostly remedial courses. My sister majored in math, taught high school math, and is now a professor of math education. I was surrounded.

Just imagine my childhood! Dinners dominated by mathematical problems and solutions. The house littered with legal pads full of incomprehensible graphs and numbers. Apparently, my sister sucked all of the mathematical prowess out of the gene pool. I just suck.

Then I drew a sunflower. I was focused on the petals, until Brad mentioned how much he’s always loved the pattern of the seeds. To which I responded, “there’s a pattern to the seeds?”

Once I paid attention, I was enthralled. A double set of spirals going opposite directions. Lovely. The number of seeds in each spiral are adjacent Fibonacci numbers. Magnificent. I had to try to get the pattern right! After searching through books, on the internet and failing miserably at drawing such things free-hand, I finally ended up with this:

Can you see the pattern? This doesn’t really do justice to the real thing, but I tried.

I guess mathematics isn’t so bad. At least the pretty kind.

Immediately after finishing my Little Red Riding Hood block, Brad decided he needed to try his hand. He sat down and sketched a heron. On the one hand, I can’t begrudge him, since the carving tools I’ve been using are his. I do, however, feel a little shown up by his freehand rendering.

I decided to try my hand with a bird, too. Something more realistic. A move away from my doodling. I had to study our copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds quite intensely in order to get close enough. Here’s my attempt at a black-capped chickadee, what do you think?

My ability to print them is thanks to Anna. She kindly loaned me her box o’ goodies: inks, brayer, baren, etc. I managed to restrain myself from printing immediately upon my return home at 11 pm, but pulled everything out at 7 am to give it a go. My birthday list is already a bit out of control, but these tools may have to be added to the list. Also, want to add Lotta Prints to that list. So. Much. Fun.

I’ve also been trying some watercolors for a touch of color.

I’ve pulled out the Sibley again and am studying a robin. And a loon. Ooo, maybe I should try a chicken.

I’m also refining Little Red, but haven’t printed her yet.

On a completely unrelated note, let me recount a conversation between Joshua and myself as we walked out of the pharmacy:

“What’s in the bag?”

“My medicines.”

“Why do you need medicine? Are you sick?”

“You might say that. One is for high blood pressure. The other one is so I am not sad all the time.”

“Sad? And mad?”

“Mad too, I guess.”

“Good. You are mad ALL the time.”

“Huh?”

“I’m serious. You are.”

Feeling good right now. I’ll be in my room taking several Zoloft, if you need me.

I need to take up another craft like I need a giant hole in the head.  Nevertheless, I got a bee in my bonnet to try block printing.  On my trip to Dick Blick, I was tempted to purchase a starter kit, but resisted the temptation and just picked up some E-Z Cut Printing Blocks and mounted linoleum.  Brad has a set of Japanese woodblock carving tools that I am using, so I didn’t need to buy a linoleum handle and blades.

I am not skilled in the ways of drawing.  At best, I doodle:  hedgehogs, houses, trees, birds, etc.  Little Red Riding Hood has been a favorite doodle subject of late, so she became my first print subject, too.

She’s cute for a first try.  I am not loving the E-Z Cut.  It is too soft and crumbly.  I was a little afraid that the linoleum would be too hard, but based on the leaf I carved, I think I prefer the lino.  I plan to pick up some more of the linoleum and try Red again.  I was trying to manage printing with stamp pads, rather than messing with the ink, brayer, etc.  I think I will have to cave and get some ink and a brayer on the next supply run.

The good thing is that Brad is doing some carving too, so I can claim the supplies are for us both.  😉

As we drove to Madison last weekend for a family reunion, we passed sign after sign touting fresh strawberries.  Oh the sirens’ song!  Friday seemed to be our only unscheduled time for the weekend, so I suggested that we go strawberry picking.  We were joined by Brad’s sister, her husband and their two kids.  A fun, summer activity with family.

Then the rain started.  The brief moments it let up, the kids dashed out to pick “just a few more”.  We were all pretty drenched by the time we left.

Even after eating and sharing our bounty all weekend, we still managed to bring home enough for a batch of freezer jam.  The whole process was quick and easy.  Lizzie helped mash the strawberries with the potato masher.   I hadn’t made jam before, so  I just used the recipe from the Sure Jell For Less or No-Sugar Needed Recipes.  It is true that the recipe calls for less sugar than the recipe with “regular” pectin, but holy buckets, there is still plenty.  Four cups of strawberries and 3 cups of sugar!  I used plastic containers as recommended in the recipe.  I would prefer glass, but the plastic containers were readily available and I couldn’t find lids for our pint and 1/2 pint canning jars.

2 of 6 cups

2 of 6 cups

So far, everyone has given it a thumbs up.  How could you not, with all that sugar?

I’m thinking about going strawberry picking again this week.  Or maybe raspberry picking.

I have already started researching different jam/preserve recipes.  I really would like to avoid all that sugar next time.  I’ve found a couple recipes that use agar flakes instead of pectin and honey instead of sugar.  There is also a different kind of pectin that doesn’t require all the sugar to set.  Here I go, down the rabbit hole…..