Making Madeleine Memories

I just recalled this story to a good friend a few weeks ago, and now I’ll share it with y’all. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors, Dr. Liliana Zancu, was teaching Modernism, and one of our first assignments was the first volume of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. In it, the narrator is transported to his childhood by the taste of lime blossom tea and a petit madeleine. Before we knew what was in store in the novel, she walked slowly around the room and put a piece of paper on each of our desks. It was a recipe for petit madeleines. She said, “I’d really like it if someone would make these.”

The class was small, but in that moment, she was speaking to me.

Madeleines require a particular pan, and this was the early ‘90s before I could order that pan off the internet. I spent a fair amount of time tracking one down and arrived the next week with the cookies. The look on her face made the entire experience worth it. I hadn’t thought about those cookies in years, but I went to Starbucks that day for a package. They sell them by the register. I had never been able to find the tea in the past but quickly ordered it online to have the full experience. It does not disappoint.

The cookies, of course, weren’t part of my childhood, but they are definitely now a very fond memory. I made them today for the first time in years.

I still have the original copy Dr. Zancu handed out.
Finished Petit Madeleines.
The passage in Swann’s Way.
Madeleine’s in their special pan waiting to be baked.

Cracking the sleeping code

2020 was a rough year, and like many people, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Unlike my husband, I’m usually a world class sleeper. I even slept well as a baby. It’s in my DNA. Until recently.

I’d get up at 3 a.m. and stare at the ceiling for several nights in a row. Check my mail. Scroll through Twitter. Warning: do not do this. Nothing worked.

However, recently, I think I cracked the code. You ready? It isn’t that fun or that complicated.

First off – exercise. Every damn day if possible. I like to work out, so this isn’t a problem. You don’t have to do hours of exercise. A half hour should work. Work up a sweat or get in a nice yoga session. Do what you like. The point is that your body should feel spent especially if you do not have a physically demanding job. I really like a good 30 minutes on my elliptical. I watch an action movie and spin for 30 minutes. My legs feel like noodles. It’s perfect and easy.

Just water or tea before bed – no alcohol. It’s tempting to break out the Russian Imperial Stout especially in the winter when it’s dark by 5. A good 9.0 ABV brew will knock you out in a hurry, but you’ll be back up when the alcohol wears off. Resist the temptation.

No screens – just a paper book. If you must do screens – watch a show until you pass out. Avoid anything you have to read or concentrate on.

Melatonin. The bottle says take 1 – that’s for wimps. Take 3 or 4. They won’t kill you.

Sleep when you’re tired. If I go past my desired bedtime, so be it. However, the melatonin helps. I take it about 15-30 minutes before bedtime. I’ve been sleeping well for about a month with this routine.

Melatonin from CVS
Melatonin from CVS. Easy and cheep. Get yourself some.

The Most Boise Thing

When I lived in Idaho, people were really chatty at odd times. Odd times for someone like me who largely grew up in the Northeast and who identifies strongly with the cultural norms of the place. I’d be pumping gas in Boise when someone would start a conversation with me. Huh? I’m pumping gas here? This is no place for talking.

Weirdo.

Today, a most Boise thing happened to me while I was navigating the drive up ATM at my new bank. (I just switched. That’s another story.) A guy in the lane next to me started up a conversation about cars. “You know how a Volvo owner knows they’ve been in a serious accident?” he shouted.

I rolled down my window and played along. I drive a Volvo. “No.”

“They’ve been cut out of the car. Those things can take a direct hit. They’re awesome. If you want a car that can handle snow though, you need a Subaru. You remember that 21 inches we had in 2017? I tried to get stuck and couldn’t.”

I laughed at this and then noticed he was driving said Subaru, and it was covered with advertisements for CBD oil, which appeared to be his personal business. Well, these are my people, I thought.

“Nice chatting with you.”

I meant it this time.

COVID “Going Out” Planning

NYU Sweatshirt

Do you remember when smoking was allowed in bars, and you didn’t smoke? You’d start your “going out” planning by deciding what jeans were about ready to wash. What sweater you could part with for a week at the cleaners, and perhaps, what jacket you might be able to tumble in the dryer with a handful of dryer sheets at the end of the night. You knew everything would smell like an ash tray, so you planned accordingly. I feel like that’s what it’s like going out now. You feel when you come back that things might be dirty somehow. I can’t wipe my clothes with Clorox wipes, but I can plan accordingly. I wore this sweatshirt all week and slept in it last night. I wore it to the doctor’s office today. I can now wash it and cleanse any “dirt” real or imagined. At least it doesn’t stink. No harm. No foul.

My last experience with leaches

Last night was the first night I slept straight through without waking at 3 a.m. to stare at the ceiling and then flip through Twitter. (This activity is called “Doomsurfing” if you’re interested.) The last thing I remember before I woke up was washing baby leaches off my ankles with a power washer and telling someone about the last time I had a leach on my skin. This was in the ’80s when my brother and I spent the summer at my grandmother’s resort in Sioux Narrows, Ontario, Canada. The town has 720 permanent residents now. “Resort” is a fancy word for the work-a-day cabins spread around the lake and a now-closed restaurant and bar. The latter closed when my grandmother’s second husband, Frank, succumbed to lung cancer. They ran it as a team, and she could only keep up the hotel portion on her own. A friend of hers gave my brother and I a canoe, and, both being athletic, we quickly figured out how to use it to explore the inlet. There were slider turtles and leaches as I found out when I tried to test the brackish water near the shore. When I hopped up on the dock, an adult-sized one had already attached itself to me. My brother picked it off while I screamed in agony when in truth it didn’t hurt a bit. Picture is me on the dock with a slider turtle. The “A’s” were the t-ball team my brother and I played on, but that’s a story for another day.

Me with a slider turtle in Sioux Narrows, Ontario Canada. Mid 1980s.

Lizzie

Vintage ash tray from Singen, Germany

My great grandmother, Elizabeth, lived above Lengacher’s Cheese House in Kinzers when I was a kid. It’s a vet’s office now, but the steep gable front roof is still a tell as to its origins.

She had no washer and dryer, and the hot water service in the two bedroom apartment was blazing hot owing to the cheese making going on below. My mom and I would travel there weekly to pick up her laundry and chat.

Everything smelled like swiss.

She grew up in Singen, in Southern Germany near the border with Switzerland and France. Her father owned an inn. Her mother died when she was a child, and an uneasy relationship with his wife number two led her to France and eventually to Chicago with her sister, Julie.

Several of her siblings would emigrate in all.

In Chicago, she met my great grandfather Paul “Pup Pup”. He was an engineer and frugal woodworker. They moved with his job and eventually settled in Gap.

Pup Pup died when I was two, so I don’t remember him. My parents lived in Gap when I was first born, and my mom said he would wash the diapers and then deliver them. I guess laundry service was something we shared.

He always wanted to see me, and I was always sleeping.

I still love to sleep.

When my mom was growing up, Pup Pup would talk her into going to a scrap yard near Trojan Boat, where he’d dump salvaged pieces of wood in the back of her MG. He didn’t want to pay for lumber. He made grandfather clocks and roll top desks, all of which are still in my family.

My grandfather always called his mom, Lizzie, and she had a lovely laid back demeanor. Nothing ruffled her feathers. She was even and calm, smart, and funny. She’d burn cookies and still offer them to you without thinking there was anything wrong with them.

Growing up, her middle son complained that the parents of a friend bought him a car. “What did you give me?,” he wanted to know. She replied, “I gave you a big mouth. Now go out and use it.”

Like all her sons, he became a successful business owner and sales person.

Lizzie outlived her husband by another 16 years. She lived alone for that entire time but always attended our gatherings, made trips to Idaho to see her three sons, and entertained German-speaking friends – the conversation altering between English and the language of her Heimat.

She had a stroke in late October 1992. When my mom took her to the hospital, she talked about all the people she would see in heaven – Paul, Julias, and Billy, the son she lost as a toddler. We’d find a locket of his hair when we cleaned out her house.

She lived for about two weeks and died on election day. I only saw her alive once in that time. She wiped tears off my cheek with her good arm as I looked at her limp wrist with the hospital band and the last two digits of her birthdate, ‘99, 1899.

She was the one person I lost outside my dogs that really left a hole. Cleaning out her belongings was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in life to date, but I suspect more hard times ahead. You have to decide what to do with every piece of furniture, every trinket, and you riffle through drawers of scarves and underclothes. Everything you touch feels like a loss.

It took days, and I only kept a few things – a rosary, a red area rug, an ashtray and a calendar from her hometown, and a scarf dotted with coffee stains. The latter probably still smells like swiss.

Home Office

Like many office workers, I’m working from home these days.

It’s a great space. See?

The windows face west and south, so it gets light for a nice portion of the day. All the original wooden windows have now been replaced, but the south facing one to the left in this photo was originally broken when we purchased this house 15 years go. It had a small crack in the right corner of the bottom sash.

At some point, I got a bee in my bonnet and took the sashes out. I stripped both of 80 years of paint, had the glass fixed, and then reglazed and painted the entire thing. I bought new rope, fished the window weights out of the frame, and re-weighted them. They never moved as effortlessly as I would have liked, but it was a good first effort.

My dad is a contractor and can fix virtually anything. He’s an artist. When he was staying at my house a few years ago, he re-weighted all the living room windows while my mom and I went grocery shopping.

He got bored and needed to do, do do.

I share this trait.

I make lists every weekend, and the lines gnaw at me until I finish every last one.

Busy. Busy. Busy.

Why I don’t decorate

This is a shot of my neighbor’s porch pumpkin in early March. As one might expect, it’s been there since before Halloween. I find it amusing as this is entirely something I would do. I’d put it out there and totally forget about it.

WordCamp US 2019

I’ve been digging deep into WordPress this year– attending my local MeetUps monthly and attending three WordCamps – Lancaster, Leigh Valley, and PHL. I’m into it, but even more than that, I love this community.

Given the time I’ve put in and the interest I’ve developed, I was overjoyed to get the opportunity to attend WordCamp US this past weekend.

The event had about 6 tracks instead of 2 or 3 and child care. Much of the other community standards were in place – close captioning, support for people with disabilities, a code of conduct, and plenty of diversity.

Besides the classes, which were amazing, I really enjoyed just talking to the attendees and vendors. I met people from all over the country and many from Canada. Morten Rand-Hendrickson of Lynda.com was there, and I got to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his classes. He literally taught me how to build in WP.

Pam Aungst, who spoke at WordPress Leigh Valley, was there, and I saw Beth Soderberg, who I saw at all three WordCamps I attended earlier. She wasn’t presenting this time, but it would be hard to beat the talk she did on building her starter theme at WordCamp PHL.

I also met up with three of my colleagues from the Lancaster MeetUp. One of them invited me to work with him at one of the Gutenberg Block Workshops. I have only known him for about a month and was so pleased he asked me to join him. I hope I can pay it forward like that some day.

The weekend ended with Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I noticed a few things about it. First off, he’s an inspirational speaker. He ended his main address by requesting the audience give back by donating 5% of their time to WordPress Core development. I’m going to take this challenge to heart.

He also took about an hour of questions and answered them with a calm professionalism that I admired deeply. I found myself wanting to work for someone like that – be their friend – learn from them. It was deeply moving just to see him navigate the questions so respectfully.

As Scott Galloway says, Life is So Rich.

I have so much to learn.

All of this doesn’t matter that much

I’m a huge fan of Million Dollar Listing New York. I barely watch tv outside of sports, but I’ve seen all 8 seasons of this one and all 17 of Project Runway. What those shows have in common is the importance of problem solving and working within a limited window of opportunity. There is only so much you can say to make that construction next door a positive when selling an apartment. Have to make a dress with what you find in a floral store? No sweat.

However, this season of MDLNY is full of sturm und drang because the market for million dollar listings is in the toilet. The brokers the season follows, Fredrick, Ryan, Steve, and Luis, now have to really struggle for every sale. For a group of Type A high achievers, this is a daily struggle against the expectations they set for themselves.

I like them all personally, which is probably why I enjoy the show so much. I read Fredrick’s book, I downloaded Ryan’s, and I have a strong fondness for the searching that Luis allows himself. They feel real to me.

In this season, it’s Ryan who has a really tough go of it, and his wife, Emilia, has to calm him down.

Emilia: All of this doesn’t matter that much. You have to calm down.

Ryan: Every day. Every day. On the fifteen minute mark, I get yelled at because the market is crashing. It’s my fault. I can’t control the market. I can’t control what things are selling for. The things that people say to me are so fscked up. All I want to do is do good work. Do good work.

Emilia: You just said you can’t change the market. You can’t freak out about something you can’t change.

Ryan: It’s just tough right now.

Emilia: It’s always going to be tough. You put so much pressure on yourself. You’re going to have a heart attack. You’re so young. Is this how your dad was? (Ryan nods) Children learn from their parents. This is your safe zone. You should be laughing. Otherwise, when does this end?

She’s right. There is only so much you can do, and it’s not worth destroying the peace of home to make right what is essentially out of your control.

In the end, all of this doesn’t matter all that much.