Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts While Making Dumplings

I recently made 27 apple dumplings. And soon I'll be making about a dozen more. It was my opportunity to put on some Christmas music (thank you and do some good menial tasks in silence. Delightful! Almost as good as the morning I drove from our house down to Cambria along my very favorite country road (Santa Rosa Creek Rd) to get some chocolate sauce and other gift items to send back east. The dumplings remind me of my grandma and great-grandma, and maybe that's why I love making them. Also, they cannot be rushed. It is slow work making the dumplings - peeling, coring, filling, then wrapping and baking. It makes me slow down and gives me time to think. And did I mention the quiet? Except for the music, of course - side note: when you choose "Chieftans Holiday" music as your station, you get some great Celtic-style Christmas songs and, occasionally, a hilarious holiday Irish drinking song thrown in (there's one that tells the story of an Irish man who couldn't make it the whole way home on Christmas Eve and had to sleep in a church and woke up during midnight mass, for example). My other favorite thing about making dumplings is that there's not really a recipe. When I asked my grandma for one, she didn't know it, and just started making them, saying, "Well, you just do this, and then add some of this, and then do this, and then sprinkle on some of this...." so I gathered the info on my own, frantically writing down what I saw her doing. And they turn out all right! Just like having your own personal apple pie, and even better with ice cream. The taste of Christmas, to me.
In the slowed-down-ness of Christmas vacation, we are also finding time to play games and watch some of our favorite holiday classics ("Home Alone", "A Christmas Story"), and to enjoy some things that only happen around Christmas, like the Garden Farms Holiday Parade (truly a sight to behold!). Last year, Jamey got to dress up like Santa and lead the way. This year we got to dress up Sandy the '62 Rambler and drive her in the parade. I have to admit, the car was pretty cute with all of the decorations that Grace and her friend Shelly put on. There was also an assortment of old trucks, tractors, wagons, a wheelbarrow or two, a couple of horses, and a Porsche that I didn't even know my neighbor owned (what a show-off!). The parade started at one end of Walnut Avenue and proceeded all the way through the neighborhood to our neighbors' garage (which looks like an actual garage from the outside, but has couches, a wood stove, and a beer tap - probably for home brew - on the inside) for grilled sausage and tri-tip, because in Garden Farms, we're always on the lookout for a reason to enjoy some barbecued tri-tip!
Later that evening Jason and I went down to SLO for the annual Christmas carol sing-along at our church, which I love. If you are not yet in the Christmas spirit, try reading the verses of O Holy Night (2 is my favorite) or What Child Is This? I secretly sing these two songs to myself when impatient or greedy people in cars or stores make me forget momentarily what Christmas is really about.
In the words of Tiny Tim (the Dickens character - not the odd 60's singer), "God bless us, everyone!"
Hope you all have a wonderful, meaningful, peaceful Christmas!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've been thinking about "the Thankfulness Game", an activity I used to do with my kids when they were younger, but also something I do by myself whenever I find myself complaining too much (that means "often"). It's really good for us to reflect on all the things we can be thankful for - big, small, important, silly. A friend of mine just found out that her breast cancer is in remission (big!). Grace made it through the whole football season without a knee injury. Jason just got a "10 out of 9" on a math test (extra credit). Jamey and I had a wonderful, safe trip to El Salvador and back to visit our students, and my mom and dad were able (and willing) to come and be cooks and chauffers for the kids. This morning, about 15 ladies and I filled 60 boxes with food for needy families in our community, and there was enough food leftover for 10 more boxes. Jamey finally was able to get rid of the mole in the yard (yes, all of that damage was caused by one tiny rodent - impressive!). Grace has been driving around town for four weeks without incident. All kinds of things to make me grateful! And once you start playing the game, there's no end to the things you can come up with. We are sometimes so good at it that we can turn negatives into positives. No walnuts on the tree this year? At least I can buy a bag of them - already shelled, roasted and chopped, for my convenience. My son can't name one single thing he wants for Christmas? I am thankful he's not greedy! The house is really cold? Hey, no problem - we now have our choice of using the heater or the wood stove. The clear coat is coming off of our old Camry in a very unattractive pattern? Awesome! I really never worry about a tiny scratch on it - or that it might get stolen, for that matter. A recipe for stuffed acorn squash was deemed "gross" by the family? Woo hoo! No overeating for me! Perhaps my favorite: I found several gray hairs the other day , but I am thankful because my blonde hair makes them less noticeable, and because the gray ones are much thicker than the otherwise baby-fine blondies. See how good this can make you feel? Amazing! You might want to start keeping a list for yourself. It can make you feel humble and good, and grateful. And remind us all of why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful one!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fall and the joys & ironies of owning a dog

Orange is for fall, and finally on October 1 it began to cool off here.  One morning it got all the way down to 34 degrees!  So just when I got my more finicky plants over the heat, it has almost started to freeze at night.  We even turn the heater on in the mornings.  Now that's cold.
Crisp fall mornings are my favorite time to go out for a run, but lately I've been running alone, because of a knee injury to my faithful canine running buddy, Max  (in fact, Jason is the only person in our family who hasn't blown out a knee, but watch out - basketball season is just around the corner!).  We have given him the nickname "Limpy" (except when he trees a squirrel, or when the UPS man drives down the street; then we call him "Barky") and it makes me feel so guilty to watch his sad face in the mornings when I leave that I have taken to driving the kids to school, then parking somewhere, then running, then driving home.  Or having Jamey drive me somewhere and then drop me off so I can run home.  Horrible!  
We are waiting for Max's knee to 'calcify' and kind of heal itself where the cartilege has been torn.  I know this because I saw the xray.  Dog xrays on Max are quite a production, because the vet has to put him under to do it, and then he acts loopy from the anesthesia for a while.  Oh, and it costs us $220, which is why we tried to put this one off for a while, but the injury (alas) did not "heal over time".
So, as the vet explained, our options are: 1) A $1700 surgery (no), 2) a $3000 surgery (never), or 3) keeping Max as comfortable as possible while his knee heals itself, for free (bingo!).  To help, I actually purchased, on-line, a large bottle of  "Roast Beef Flavored Canine Buffered Aspirin" (gross).  The vet told me (with a perfectly straight face) to inspect Max's droppings (I can't believe how much of my life involves other creatures' poop in some way or other) for blood, which would mean the aspirin is too hard on his stomach.  This is the ironic part.  I'm pretty sure that Max's original injury came from maneuvering his way into and out of  the compost pile that I no longer have, so that he could eat our rotten old food.  And this is the dog that I had to train not to eat horse poop while we are out on a walk.  This is the dog who once found a fried chicken leg by the side of the road and ate the whole thing.  And, as his grand finale, over the summer, he ate an entire beef rib bone.  Crunched up and swallowed the whole thing (I was pretty sure that night that I would be taking him to the vet, but no!  Not even a little discomfort).  Oh the irony of that nasty tank of a stomach being taken down by a small aspirin.
So I'm left to run past the turkeys, deer, and cows on my own, while Max spends his days recuperating in the sun, keeping guard over the yard, and happily licking chicken poop off the back porch.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Echoes Of Gardeners Past....

I could have sworn last week that I heard my grandfather's voice coming out of my own mouth.  We were getting ready to grill some hamburgers and I grabbed a tomato from the garden and began to slice it.  Now, if you've ever seen or enjoyed a home-grown tomato, you will know exactly where I'm coming from.  But the sight of the insides of it just about brought tears to my eyes.  Red all the way through, not too hard or chalky, not too soft or mushy.  It was perfect.  It was kind of a tiny affirmation to me that I am living my life right.  Yes, I am doing my part to tend the earth, and to be a good steward (it sounds melodramatic and silly when I write it out, but I think things like this sometimes.  I'm a little absurd this way.)  
And then, as my son watched on, I uttered a phrase that I distinctly remember my grandfather saying time and time again, and that I suspect is said perhaps more than any other during the summer.  I pointed to the plate and said, "Now, THAT"S a tomato!!"  Jason, of course, rolled his eyes.  He and Grace have way more important things to do than listen to me gush about tomatoes, or peppers, or pumpkins, or plums.  Oh well.
For all of you gardeners, I have a hilarious book to recommend.  It's by William Alexander and it's called (and here it's frustrating because I don't know how to make it underline, so I'll just put the title in quotes - I know it's not grammatically correct), "The $64 Tomato".  My favorite chapter was the one on deer and other garden enemies.  As Jamey and I battle moles in our yard, I can definitely relate.  A great read at the end of the summer.  Now I'm off to go check on the tomatoes.....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Corona as Currency In Garden Farms...

A few years ago, we cut down about 15 trees in our backyard.  Yes, 15.  These trees are called "trees of heaven" by arborists, but we consider that to be a huge irony since they basically spring up quickly and then, when they reach about 10 feet in height, simply die and stand there looking hideous in the yard.  They are more like giant weeds on steroids.  So "Charlie The Tree Guy" (it's his real name) came and cut them down, but because 1) I am a cheap miser, and 2) Jamey loves his tools, we thought we would do the rest by ourselves.  It saved us money and Jamey got to wield the chain saw, so it was all good, until it came time to actually move all of the debris off the property.  Too much stuff to move one truckload at a time!  Enter our neighbor, "Mike The Dump Truck Guy" (yep, that's his real name too, and yes, my neighbor has a dump truck.  Full-sized and everything) who agreed to come down and take away the offending branches to the dump.  His price?  A case of Corona.  No kidding!  We thought at the time that this was rather an anomaly, a one-time occurrence, but apparently Corona is worth more than I would have thought, because it was the price of another service this summer.  This one involved Jamey's beach-wagon, Sandy, and a part that he needed to have something done to (I can't even begin to explain it.  I just know 'she' had to go up on the racks for a couple of days.)  I guess a case of Corona will buy you some car parts and service or a dump truck.  You might try it on your own mechanic the next time you need some work done!  
Besides Corona, which I would prefer never to drink or buy, there are other items that are frequently bartered in the neighborhood.  One of the favorites is eggs, which can be traded for homemade bread, jars of jam, or pretty much anything from the farmers' market.  Of course surplus produce is always handy to trade - tomatoes for walnuts, persimmons for apples, etc.  Except the dreaded zucchini, which is like old pennies in the neighborhood currency.  Everyone has too much of it (the annual zucchini game is on - see June 18, 2008 blog entry).
Note - Sandy the beach wagon was having work done to prepare her for her debut in the famous 'El Camino Cruise Night' next Friday.  This is an annual Atascadero event where some people with really nice cars, some people with really old cars, some people with really unique cars, and some people who probably have spent way too much real money on Corona, drive their vehicles up and down El Camino Real, while other people sit and watch, ooh and aah, occasionally snicker, and smell lots of carburetor fumes.  I will be in a chair along the route, hopefully with camera in hand, ready to snap some pictures of the big event.  And in my other hand, probably an icy cold coke zero.  Or perhaps an A & W root beer float.  But definitely not a Corona.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pappas Clan vs Mickey, Minnie, and friends

Let me start with some you may know (see July 15, 2008 - "The Cat's Big Adventure"), Hunter the cat got whipped by a crazed raccoon and will no longer enter/patrol/chase mice out of our detached garage.  In addition, our chicken coop, containing a huge 40-lb container of delicious poultry lay pellets, is attached to the back of said garage.  And, most recently, cat number 2, the unfriendly but astute-hunting "Oreo", disappeared and was never seen again (it happens in our neighborhood).  So, when a pair of field mice apparently entered the garage a couple of months ago, they obviously found a wonderful cat-free home, with abundant food, soft bedding (car rags, beach towels, wet suits) and fun things to scamper over (paint cans, camping supplies).  And the humans on the property were quite oblivious.  Enter one Jamey Pappas, a few weeks ago, to get some old car rags.  This is where the story gets pretty gross.  For when he pulled them off the shelf, several hundred (thousand, perhaps?) mouse droppings scattered all over the garage floor.  It seems that Mickey and Minnie can have an awful lot of babies in a really short amount of time.
One of the worst jobs in the entire world, I've discovered, is "mouse exterminating".  Ironically, I collected mice as a little girl...who knew?  Sticky traps are so far my weapon of choice, although removing them involves donning rubber gloves, a bandana around the mouth and nose (can you say, "hanta virus"?), and poking the trap with a long-handled tool that also doubles as a weed-picker in its other life.  But it seems the mouse army is getting smarter - I have had several traps just up and disappear.  I'm imagining a group of mice, all working together to push the thing under the wall or big shelf, or even down into the creek.  Lately everyone has been helping out with a different job.  Grace's job is "scream".  Max's job is "catch mouse and toss it about before eating it" (he has 2 so far).  Jamey and Jason have (with a little too much excitement, perhaps) taken to heading outside late at night with headlamps and a bb gun.  They have also bagged 2 beady-eyed vermin.  Sadie the kitten (our latest addition - still too small to be outside all the time, and not-yet-spayed) is a "hunter-in-training".  She has the killer instinct, but because of the hawks' nest in the sycamore tree out back, she is honing her skills on flies and moths that get inside the house.
I kind of like it that the big event on my weekly planner is "visit hardware store, browse rodent removal section and ask advice of older clerks".  Keeps me from being 'uppity'.  And if it's not the mice in the garage, it's the birds trying to eat our plums and grapes.....always something out here in the neighborhood!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fun Things That Happened This Year...

Top photo - Jamey got to surf in El Salvador with some of our
 Cal Poly students over Spring Break
Second photo - It snowed....A morning in February at our house
Third - Jason and Gretchen got to go to an Oakland A's game - and they won!
Bottom photo - Gracey up on top, cheering the AHS Greyhounds into the 4th quarter

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

So next week, Jamey and I are heading to San Francisco to celebrate our anniversary.  We do this almost every year, because it is our favorite city.  It has many things that we both like - fog and eclectic coffee houses for me, antique electric rail cars and raw seafood cups for Jamey.  Really old-fashioned hardware stores, architectural antique centers, amazing Chinese food, NO DRIVING (I seem to have taken up a semi-permanent residence in my truck, for all of the hours I spend in it.  Safe and efficient public transportation ROCKS!!), staying in a nice hotel so I can watch ESPN in bed....Hooray!  I can't wait!  
Jamey and I have now been married for 20 years.  Unbelievable!  I didn't think I was old enough to have been married for that long.  Last night we went to our first wedding of the season (when you work with college students, you go to a lot of weddings) - it was at a winery in Paso Robles; very beautiful setting, wonderful ceremony, great couple, awesome dinner (bbq tri-tip, of course - what else on the Central Coast?).  And as Jamey and I listened to the couple and their friends, and chatted with our friends at our table, we realized.....well, what we realized is that we were such immature babies when we got married!  We both remember feeling so mature at the time (I was almost 23, so I was no child bride, or anything), but looking back, we realize what children we were.  Doing 'life' together makes you grow up, I suppose.
Now we have a child in Drivers' Ed (I for one cannot WAIT until she can drive herself to all of the places she needs to go) and a child eagerly awaiting his promotion into junior high.  And Jamey and I still like hanging out with each other!  Wow.  When I think about my marriage, the same thought runs through my mind that runs through it when I think about my kids, my friends, my family, and my home, and that is: "God has been really, really, really nice to me!"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Really Ugly

At our house, we are being reminded lately that life is fragile, mostly but not always wonderful, sometimes difficult, and occasionally downright stinky.  Some good things have happened - Grace made the varsity cheer team, Jason and I went to an Oakland A's game (and they won), our yard looks beautiful and slightly unruly, and we had an alumni event over the weekend that allowed us to see and catch up with many former students and friends.  The chickens are laying eggs again, and Max actually caught 3 gophers and laid them in the grass where we would be sure to see, much to Jamey's delight.  
But, as we know but don't always really have to think about, life isn't all good - it is also difficult.  A friend left a note for his wife explaining why we was leaving her (and his two absolutely beautiful children.  A note.  Coward.  But that's another story....).  An amazing boy who graduated from Atascadero High School last year recently died of leukemia.  Sad.  Hard.  But at the same time, our very wise daughter noted, "We are bummed because we miss him, but it's hard not to be happy for him, too" (he had been battling leukemia on and off for 12 years, since age 7).  He was a pretty spectacular human being and it was humbling to be around him (check out and click on "Clayton McDonald" for more information about his life).  On a very much smaller and way less important scale, there are always worries about Grace's knee, Max's limp, when our cars will need major fixing (Camry - 250,000 miles and still going strong....), Jason's little league team's hitting slump, my allergies, etc.
Of course, right before all of these difficult things happened, I was working on a Bible study and ran across the phrase "If _________happens, God is still God."  We were supposed to fill in the blank with the worst things we could think of.  The point is, and I have to remind myself every day, that God is always God, even when things stink, and even when I don't see Him at work.  He always listens and hears, always loves, and is always at work, even (perhaps most of all) quietly behind the scenes.  This is what we need to remember when life is less-than-beautiful. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baseball, Barbie, and Random Thoughts

The following conversation actually took place one night at our house:
News Anchor: "These are some of the stories we will be covering tonight on the news - First, a woman has a tantrum over an order of McNuggets.  Second, a middle school student starts an anti-cussing club.  And third, could it be the perfect bra?"
Jason Pappas: "Those are the stories they're going to have on the news?"
Gretchen Pappas (thinking, 'This is why I don't watch the news"): "Yep."
Jason Pappas (pumping fist): "U.S.A.!  U.S.A.!"

Allergy concoction update:  My allergies are starting to bother me at night - the vinegar/honey mixture  either a)has not kicked in yet, or b)is completely worthless, so I'm starting to take my medicine, which semi-works.  But when you are a little league team mom, scorekeeper, and snack-bar worker, you have to be outside, so you do what you can.

Speaking of little league, my self esteem took a major hit last week at a scrimmage game when I showed up wearing jeans, Ugg boots, and one of Jamey's giant sweatshirts (my goal was comfort - I had felt really sick earlier that day.  Plus it gets really cold at the field in the late afternoons).  Then a mom from the other team showed up.  She looks like Barbie.  Really.  She is just beautiful, and she is a really sweet person to boot, so you can't even dislike her.  She's really nice to everyone.  She was wearing a very fashionable coat-dress and high-heeled black boots.  I would take a picture so you could see how annoying it is to be in the same stands with someone so cute, but that might be considered stalking, so you'll just have to take my word for it.  It was okay until I heard one of Jason's teammates say, "Hey, is that ______'s mom?"  and the 11- and 12-year old boys stopped to gawk at her.  I just gave myself the little self-esteem pep talk that I give my students: "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me..."  I'm actually doing fine, even though Jason told me recently that my Steelers' jersey makes me look fat.  He's probably just jealous because he doesn't have one.

"Sandy" update:  Jamey velcro-ed the little hula girl to the dash and has been driving 'her' around town.  Yesterday while he was parking downtown, an older man said to him, "Nice Rambler.  She purrs."  Oh, happy day!  
Countdown to Grace getting her driver's permit: about 7 months.  I mention this because she has emphatically vowed that she will NOT be driving Sandy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Signs Of Spring

Today I began cleaning and re-arranging the front porch.  Swept off the last of the dead winter leaves and put some budding cherry branches in a big old milk bottle full of water.  Hung up the hammock (for a day, anyway....chance of rain tomorrow) and took the tarp off of my grandma's old glider.  The dog and cat are happily lying in the sun and the chickens are pecking away in the gravel driveway (they've started laying eggs from roasting for another year!  And yes, I would eat my own chickens.  Quite happily).  While I was trimming the branches, I heard several bees in the flowers, and this is a great thing, because we are having a honeybee shortage, apparently.  They've actually been advertising for people to 'host' hives on their property (no way....our yard is not big enough!) to try and build up the local bee population.  I will do my part by purchasing some local honey at the farm stand I drive past almost every day.  This year I am going to try fighting my horrible seasonal allergies (alas, I am allergic to tree pollen and I live in the oak capitol of California on Walnut Street, which is off of Pine Street....not good) with a daily dose of local honey (for the pollen) and organic cider vinegar (sounds gross, but I am determined).  I got the recipe from "Mary Jane's Farm" magazine, one of my favorites, even though my kids refer to it as 'that hippie magazine'.  Hey, nothing else has worked well so far, so I figured I'll give it a try.
Jamey has finished work on the Rambler and is currently driving it around, causing quite a stir in town - people pull up beside him at stop lights and give him thumbs up, or peace signs, or ask, "What is that?"  If I can figure out how to, I'll put some pictures here for you all to gaze upon on admiration.  It really does look great.  For a 1962 station wagon.
Jamey is my current hero, though.  He knows the way to his wife's heart - for Valentine's Day I got a Mean Joe Greene jersey.  The classic black one.  Yes, it's big, and Jason told me that it does, in fact, make me look fat, but I don't care and I will be wearing it quite a bit come September.  
After Valentine's Day is Saint Patrick's Day, one of our family's favorites, and everyone knows that always comes with NCAA March Madness, so it seems that Spring really is almost here!  Hooray - even this rain-lover is happy to see the sun and the flowers coming up!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dumb Dog At The Beach

Tomorrow is MLK Day and a holiday from school and work.  You might think, it being JANUARY and all, that it's too cold to go to the beach, but alas, it was 80 degrees down there today, so that's where we are all headed in the morning.  Jamey is taking kids, friends, skimboards and surfboards to Pismo where the sand is soft and there are snack bars and restrooms.  I am taking myself, my running gear, and my dog to Cayucos.  A friend of mine is - no joke - turning 80, and for her birthday she is going paragliding off the Cayucos cliffs, and some of us are going to go watch, take pictures, and pray.  Just so there's never any question...when I turn 80, a nice baseball or football game would be great (with me as spectator, not participant).  
Now I know that some of you live in cold places (20 degrees in Pittsburgh today.  That's a high.  Farenheit.)  So lest you be jealous of our warmth, let me tell you that it is not always a delight to take the dog to the beach.  The first time we took Max, we didn't think to bring along fresh water for him, poor guy, so of course he gulped and gulped quite a bit of salt water.  When we left the beach, we all hopped into the car (yes, all of us in the camry, wet dog included) and began the drive up the windy road to Atascadero.  About 2 minutes into the trip, I heard what I thought was Jason spilling water all over the back seat.  Actually, it was Max throwing up about a gallon of salt water and, amazingly, over 40 apricot pits (yes, we counted).  It seems he had been eating apricots off of the ground in our back yard for a few days. So probably in an ironic way, the salt-water-induced vomiting actually helped his digestive system (you never know, though....that dog once ate my compost pile with no ill effect).  I thought that was a bad smell, but it was nothing compared to 'dead seal.'
It just so happens that we live in an area where there are harbor seals, sea lions, and elephant seals.  And of course, from time to time, one of them dies and washes up onto the beach.  On a normal beach, this is a bummer, but on a dog beach, it's extra-extra-gross.  No one knows why, but apparently it is impossible for any canine to walk past a rotting seal carcass without rolling in it (who knew?).  Max is no exception.  Mmmmmm, you haven't experienced all that life has to offer until you've driven 20 miles on a windy road in an un-air-conditioned car (these things never seem to happen when we drive our truck) with a putrid-smelling dog.  The other night one of our 'family discussion questions' was, "What is your least favorite odor?"  This is mine by a mile.  Once it makes its way into your nasal passages, it doesn't leave.  It's like it's a dreadful living creature all its own.  I feel sick just writing about it.  Yuck!
So, see?  Those of you living where it is freezing cold can indeed feel blessed.  These kinds of things don't happen in the snow.