THE NAME JAR by Yangsook Choi

I remember it clearly. I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Adams’ class at Alton Elementary School and I was up next to give a talk about myself: WHO I AM. I collected the usual data about where I was born and what my birthday was, etc. I don’t remember being overly nervous about standing up and talking to my class, but I remember being very nervous…embarrassed…about my name.

Before there was a Greta Thunberg or a Greta Gerwig, or even a Greta Van Susteren – I was the only ‘Greta’ I had ever heard of. And then there was my middle name – the maiden name of my grandmother…Rains. Greta Rains. It seemed like everyone in my class had names like Susan or Roger or Kellie or Kevin. And their middles names were Sue or Allen or Edward.

Even though I was born and raised in the United States, I still felt a lot of empathy for the main character of our book – Unhei.

Unhei had just moved to the United States from Korea when she found herself a week later, standing in front of her new school classmates being introduced as a new student. When her classmates eagerly asked her what her name was she simply replied, “Um, I haven’t picked one yet. But I’ll let you know by next week.”

Her classmates dove right in to help her pick out her name. They filled a suggestion jar with possible names for Unhei to choose from. Caught between the love for her grandmother in Korea (who helped pick out her name) and the pressure of fitting in at her new school, Unhei had a hard time picking her new American name. She sought advice from her parents and even Mr. Kim at the neighborhood Korean market. But ultimately, it was her new friend, Joey, who helped her decide on the name she would be called.

May has been Asian American month. THE NAME JAR is a wonderful way of celebrating our unique and wonderful differences while also recognizing the ways in which we are all so similar.

THE LOVE U GIVE

 

I spent the day reading THE HATE U GIVE. I would like to say it’s eerily ironic that the storyline is so similar to what’s going on in our world today, but it’s not ironic, is it? It’s the same horrific story, repeated over and over again.

This is a powerfully strong book that thankfully is listed as a young adult novel (warning for very young readers, the language is strong.) It should be required reading in all high schools and then reread as an adult. Thank you, Angie Thomas, for filling part of the darkness with truth.

So many things stood out in this book. The main character, Starr, is present during an illegal police shooting. She knows the truth and it forever changes her life as well as the people in her life. One sentence in particular challenged my own thinking as I watch the news:

“Khalil is a suspected drug dealer and unfortunately, the word ‘drug dealer’ will always be louder than ‘suspected’.”

So many people have read this 2017 bestseller but if you haven’t, move it up your list. It needs to be read. And now is the perfect time to challenge your thinking about racial injustice. “Racism isn’t about black versus white; it is about a lack of equal opportunities.”

An underlying element of this story stoked my long-held envy of the intricately knit together group of neighbors, family and friends of the black community. They truly embrace ‘it takes a village’ as they band together and march forward to a better future. We should all learn from their example.

I am left challenged and moved and encouraged and saddened by this book. Written in 2017, it is as relevant as this morning’s newspaper. Thank you thank you thank you, Angie Thomas, for bravely using your voice. #thuglife

Start small.

 

Discouraged. Frustrated. Lost. Broken. How does a middle-class, middle-aged white woman with a janky back who likes to read and mess with plants, make any kind of difference in the world of equality? Days like yesterday – oh so many days… – leave me confused and aimless when considering how to contribute to the good. The equality. The healing of the broken and divided.

This picture is from Ink and Fable ‘s Instagram post this morning in which she talks about going back to the words. Back to the text. Her phrase leapt out and followed me around all morning long.

Oh sure, my big, gigantic, pie-in-the-sky dream would be to own a children’s bookstore. But perhaps a *slightly* smaller step would be to buy, read, publicly review, and donate books written by and about people of beautiful color to my local public schools. We often hear about the importance of POC seeing POC in movies and books in order to recognize themselves in important and significant positions. And I agree. But it’s also important for ALL of us to see people of color in those roles. And at the earliest age possible.

Watching the news at night I keep sighing and thinking we’ll never repair our nation’s divisiveness. And maybe we won’t, as adults. But what if our focus was on changing the minds of our youngest? Enabling, empowering and elevating equality in our very youngest minds? Teachers want to see it happen. Gifting them with the books of diversity might be a teeny tiny way to help change the discourse early on.

Read books from people of color. BUY books from authors of color.

We get overwhelmed with all the things that need to change and wonder how we can POSSIBLY make a dent in it. (Of course we all can to some degree.) But changing the conversation that happens on playgrounds and in curriculum is blaring to me like a foghorn today.

Thank you, Patience, for your thoughtful post. You’ve lit a fire under my frustration and helplessness…

 

Basically I’m Ina.

Pardon me while I become a food blogger… -ha!

Those cupcakes I blogged about the other day? Those are for when family is over or you want to impress your friends with foo-foo desserts.

But after all the guests are gone and your kids are in bed, these are the cupcakes you make just for yourself.

Not only are they decadently full of chocolate, they have a secret ingredient that you really need about right now.

Yep. It’s in the recipe and in the icing.

Quarantine schmorantine.

If you want to tell your spouse about them, that’s up to you. But personally, I suggest disguising a dorm room refrigerator as a shoe storage bin and write down some excuses on the back of your hand as to why you need to keep going into your closet during the family movie marathon tonight.

Irish Cream Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS FOR CUPCAKE

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream Original
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

INGREDIENTS FOR FROSTING

  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3T Bailey’s Irish Cream Original

INSTRUCTIONS FOR CUPCAKES

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set up cupcake liners.
  2. In a mixer bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
  3. Add milk, Bailey’s, oil, eggs and vanilla to flour mixture – mix on medium speed until well combined.
  4. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water a little at a time – beat on high for 1 minute. The batter will be very thin and runny.
  5. Scoop batter into liners about 3/4 full
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. My oven baked right at 20 minutes, but adjust as needed until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR FROSTING

  1. Cream butter and salt until fluffy
  2. Mix in 1C of powdered sugar
  3. Stir in Bailey’s
  4. Mix in remaining powdered sugar until thoroughly combined

I used the star tip to frost these then added some sprinkles for fun. The more cupcakes I taste-tested, the crazier the sprinklers got! 

E N J O Y !!

Lemon Blueberry Cupcake Perfection

I humbly submit to you that I have just made (and this can’t be stated strongly enough) the best cupcakes the world has ever known.

without rival

underrated brilliance

beyond compare

These are the phrases that leapt to mind when I bit into these amazing Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes.

Overstated? Impossible. Mere adjectives do not do them justice. These cupcakes could bring about world peace.

They involve some of my favorite color combinations: blue, yellow and cream cheese!

Below is the recipe. (You’ll thank me)

A bright, light, summer treat.

Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12-15
  • Difficulty: just follow the directions
  • Print

INGREDIENTS FOR CUPCAKE BATTER

* 1 and 3/4 cups + 2T flour, divided
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
* 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
* 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (zest your lemon before squeezing it for juice)
* 3T fresh lemon juice, divided (there’s nothing like freshly squeezed lemon juice)
* 3/4 cup fresh blueberries
* 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
* 3/4 cup granulated sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
* 1 large egg + one egg yolk, room temperature

INGREDIENTS FOR FROSTING

* 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1) 8 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
* 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
* 1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (the good vanilla)
* 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
* 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

DIRECTIONS FOR CUPCAKE BATTER

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl combine the 1 and 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt – set aside
3. In a separate bowl combine the sour cream, milk and 2T of lemon juice. Whisk well to combine – set aside
4. Place blueberries in a small bowl. Add remaining lemon juice and toss to coat the berries. Add remaining flour and toss to coat – set aside
5. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy
6. Add in the granulated sugar and lemon extract and beat until well combined
7. Add in the egg and egg yolk and mix well. Reduce speed to low
8. Add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined
9. Add half of the sour cream mixture until just combined
10. Repeat with remaining flour and sour cream mixture until just combined
11. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the floured blueberries and lemon zest
12. Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake liners, filling them 3/4 of the way full
13. Bake for 16-20 minutes (check at 16 minutes with a toothpick)
14. After removing from oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan before transferring cupcakes to a cooling rack

DIRECTIONS FOR FROSTING

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy
2. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add in the powdered sugar and lemon juice, beating until light and fluffy – about 2 minutes
3. Add in the vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon zest. Beat until smooth. (If the consistency is too thick, add a teaspoon of milk, but only if necessary) The frosting should be creamy and spreadable, but also thick enough to hold its shape.
4. Pipe or spread the frosting on the cupcakes.
5. To decorate: shred lemon zest on top of the cupcake. Add a couple of blueberries and sprinkles of your choice.

Patio, Pups and Projects

Our neighbor had an intrusive tree removed last year that made a lot of sense for her. Cleared up her backyard nicely. But this spring I’m noticing how MUCH more sun we are getting on our back patio (and we got a lot to begin with.) The hardest adjustment to California from the Midwest has been the unbelievable LEVEL of sun rays. It gets very hot very quickly when in the sun. 

So, we decided to rearrange a few things and get a table umbrella to shield a little bit of the intensity.

I seem to prefer neutrals and nature colors on the inside, so it feels like I’ve gone off the rails on color in the backyard this year. -ha. And it all started with a rug.

I love our ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ sun we lovingly bought a few years ago in honor of Charles Osgood’s retirement. (Has it been as good since he left?) I also have enjoyed the ombre growth of this ivy up our fence (old as it is.) We tried to direct the ivy up the fence last summer and some of it has decided to cooperate. Hopefully more of the ivy on the ground will take notice and decide to do a little scaling themselves this year.

I very much like the color blue. However, I rarely use it. I’m not sure why but I’ve never gravitated toward it in my own home – while appreciating it in others’ homes. Something crazy struck me, however, and I fell instantly for this outdoor rug. Everything else grew from that.

Last year we severely trimmed back the oleander bushes. The back of our yard still has plenty (and are currently heavily sagging because the pink blooms are getting ready to break open.) The white bushes on the side of the patio have a sturdy ‘trunk’ so we trimmed them to look more like trees than bushes. And they are blooming beautifully.

Salmon, navy, teal and touches of purple are in the rug so the plants and pillows followed suit. 

(Please tell the person who jimmy-rigged this ‘hanging’ pot to cut off the janky strings and try to make it more presentable.) (aka: it was me.)

I think this sassy parrot is my favorite part of the backyard update. How can you not feel energized by her while sipping your morning chai?

By the way, reader, we are firmly ignoring the nasturiums that I repotted and now they’re acting dead. They’ll come back – they just can’t help themselves.

Is the parrot pillow my favorite thing or is this stunning variegated Japanese aralia? It’s a close call.

Two important ‘life discoveries’ I’ve made (…or recently admitted to…) this spring have been

  • I have done it, lived it, studied it, and now – I’m done with succulents. They are too temperamental. Every time you touch one to deadhead it, the other leaves get knocked off so planting them is a huge pain (think: the delicate Operation game of our youth.) Even though I still have a ton – we will eventually part ways. Melanie – I wish you were here to give them all to. They need youth and patience and I’m sorely lacking on both accounts.
  • And secondly, I am not a flower person either. I have been spoiled by houseplants. They’re strong and sturdy and I at least know how to read them better than flowers in the California sun. Many lessons learned.

It’s all about self-actualization, people. Growth and improvements, right?

Tilly and her old man eyebrows and soul patch. As long as she has a leaf or a dead plant, she’s in high heaven!

The thing about oleander flowers is that they bloom all summer long. Well into fall, actually. They last a long time when you cut them and bring them indoors and their foliage is a staple for flower arrangements. You literally have to throw them away before they die. -ha. 

I love wonky pottery. I found this one years ago at an antique mall and it called to me. This little blue vase (that needs more water, I see) houses our once and done gardenia flowers. What a powerful scent! I love them so much!!

Haddie. Always around. Always on-point and watching all the activity but wanting to play it cool like she doesn’t care. She teases Tilly and loves the attention Tilly gives her. But admitting love is just not in her character. 

If you follow me on Facebook you know we tried to create an area of the sideyard for Tilly to go to the bathroom. But after training her to go outside ANYWHERE, it’s been difficult to condense her to just one spot now. So we are going to try a fence with a gate – cordoning off the patio area as separate from her play and go area. California backyards are small and we were lucky to get a little spot of yard in the back and now we don’t want to give it all over to a new puppy. 

Concessions and compromises! 

On the other side of the fence is our cactus garden. I am AAAAMAAAAAZED at how quickly the cacti have grown over the winter. We started with nothing and they have practically taken over the back of our house. I love the desert vibe they give out and have loved watching a completely new kind of plant grow.

Scott’s BBQ grill is kept going year-round. As much as possible we cook out there!

Dad gave me some castor bean seeds last year that have grown ominously on the corner of our house. They’re about ready to take over our blue agave (Agave Maria)!

I once read that California was never meant to have inhabitants because there are so many natural elements to overcome. It’s interesting how wildlife and humans have adapted to the unique environment of the Pacific coast.

Just like a kid, we do our best to wear her down every evening. She looks happy and satisfied, don’t you think??

What I would normally consider Spring in the Midwest is ending here in northern CA. We are staring summer in the face next week – many 100 degree days scheduled. But this week has been mild and enjoyable. I am learning that California doesn’t believe in easing anyone into a new situation – it just drops it hot and smoldering in your lap. 

We’ll be very happy with our new umbrella shade. 

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!!!

Oroville

We originally planned to head to the Bay area this week but so many of the parking lots are still closed, it would be difficult to get to the beach and even a gamble on whether or not the beach would be open to the public. So we nixed those plans and decided to go northeast instead.

Scott had heard about Lake Oroville from co-workers so we woke up the next day and headed north to Oroville, California. It was the perfect day – overcast for the early part of the day and the temperatures were almost too cool in the mid-70’s. The perfect daytrip weather!

Most importantly, this was Tilly’s FIRST public outing since finishing her PARVO shots. (For new dog owners, you know how thrilling it is when you can finally let your dog walk somewhere besides your own backyard!)

We stopped for a hike at the Bidwell Bar Bridge – a suspension bridge that was the first steel suspension bridge in California in 1855, costing $35,000 for the 240 foot long bridge. It is now two suspension bridges open for foot traffic only. 

Tilly couldn’t get enough of the smells along the bridge! -ha!

I’m sparing you (believe it or not) the 6.7 million pictures I took of these manzanita trees. Their reddish, smooth bark is amazing and the gnarly, twisty way they grow is so interesting! Our hike took us through a canopy of them. (They’d make a great Halloween-inspired hike.)

 

 

 

 

Everything about the trail seemed magical and otherwordly with a beautiful view of the lake. Boats are waiting for all the summer fun.

Gnome or fairy house, maybe??

Being the seasoned hiker that I am – the below picture means we’re heading in a specific direction. North, south, east west…it’s one of those.

Oroville Lake was formed from the creation of the Oroville Dam and winds through the Feather River canyon. The shoreline has been extended to allow for the melting snow from the nearby mountains in the spring. 

There were fishermen out enjoying the gorgeous day. Scott can’t wait to fish here this summer too. We will definitely be back.

How about a little community of houseboats?? Livin the life! -ha

 

 

The foothills looked pretty, but honestly – I really wanted to cut down these dried grasses to bring home for arrangements. But I played nicely… (that, and there was a park ranger nearby.)

We stopped for lunch and a quick restroom break for all three of us. The public restrooms were really nice but THIS SIGN was on the entrance. WHAT?! The surveillance footage of me stooping down to check under the sinks and behind the toilet and all the corners of the room were probably entertaining to someone. -ugh! “She must be from the Midwest.” 

The restrooms had an open air slat system that convinced me that some rattler was ready to pull an Indiana Jones on me at any minute. 

Our picnic basket left a little to be desired but we were going for a 1950’s style lunch. White bread sandwiches with PB&J and maybe a bologna or two for good measure. It was fun!

The Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States at 770 ft. Looking over one side is no big deal. Looking over the other is a whole different thing. – yikes!

The foothills of the Sierra Nevada on a white cloud, blue sky, clear day. 

For those of you who know Monica Smith, the buttes around the foothills is near where she lives and where her brother, Doug, pastors a Nazarene church in Yuba City. It’s always fun to see the wide open areas when we drive to see her.

 

Okay guys. I’m just telling you what they’re telling me. I kept telling Scott, “I’m not buying this” but if it’s on an historical sign – we’ve gotta believe, right? 

In 1856, a judge planted this orange seedling and it has survived all these years (including a relocation), making it the oldest surviving orange tree in California. The Mother Orange Tree.

I know.

I’m assuming someone somewhere has proof. 

 

My family saw the last few years of the Wye Oak Tree in Talbot County, Maryland before its final demise. It had grown there since 1540. 

How do we have proof of all this, people?  But hey – I’m just here for the site seeing.

Still producing fruit all these years later. Impressive, Mama. Impressive.

In the back of my mind – in the neverending list of ‘coffee table books’ I’d like to attempt someday, will be the mid-century buildings in California. They’re just so classic. This was a nature center next to the Mother Orange Tree. If you love mid-century, California offers it in spades.

Admittedly, I had a moment looking at these flags. California has endured. The US has endured. We’ve fought about how and when but there were some moments of national and global unity that I will always hold in memory of COVID Spring 2020. 

This was a BIG surprise for us. On one of our stops we were walking toward the site with other people social-distanced behind us. Just walking along, enjoying the day when we realized we had to go down some steps to get to the sidewalk. All of a sudden Tilly FROZE. She just stopped. She’s never seen or been on stairs before! We live in a ranch-style home so this was a complete first for her and it didn’t even dawn on us. Scott urged her along with the leash while I coaxed her like a soccer mom as people passed us on the stairs. It’s so funny the things that never occur to you about an infant or a puppy. Each step she took was like a new adventure. She tackled it, though, like a pro!

We were feeling all proud of her until…..BABOOM!….there it was again. A rattlesnake alert. This time, we had to walk through a gauntlet of snake heaven to get to where we were going. Rocks and rocks everywhere. I knew they were out there. Each and every one of them curled up and ready to attack!

To make things worse, this was the last sign we saw before entering the rock wonderland…

As I read the sign it says: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAN!, stay on the sidewalk so as to not entice the bevy of rattlers (the end.)

Please tell me this isn’t snake nirvana. I was stepping high and moving fast. Scott and Tilly were on their own! 

(Dear Lord, thank you to the person who left me a little balance reminder in the rocks.)

But it was worth getting to one of the spillways of the Feather River.

(I almost had a perfect view except that one person being that one person enjoying….the view??? ugh – move!) 

There is a fish hatchery streamway that runs along the side of the river. They say (…and yes, I looked hard for some!) that salmon jump as high as 12 feet in the air coming out of this overspill. Oh to be able to fish here!!

Because of the dam (which primarily provides water irrigation, hydroelectricity and flood control), fish migration up the Feather River has been constricted and the controlled flow of the river has affected river habitat. As an attempt to try to counter the dam’s impacts on fish migration, they constructed this salmon/steelhead fish incubator on the river, which began shortly after the dam was completed in 1968.

(no jumping fish today, though)

The river water was SO mirror-like calm up top. I stood there thinking the top was January and February of 2020. Then March happened……

Hoping we are nearing the end of the white water chaos and entering the blue waters again soon. 

(How far can I take this metaphor??)

You were wrong. I can take it a little further…

Where was our siren call about COVID?! Why didn’t it sound sooner???

In all seriousness – the day after we visited the dam, Michigan’s dams overflowed and caused such complete chaos and possibly long-term environmental damage. It was difficult to listen to those news reports and not imagine what it would be like if we were here and the dams broke nearby. They are an ingenious invention until they give way and no longer function. 

 

Manzanitas and oaks, but always-present palm trees.

What a day. I wish it had stayed overcast a little longer. I certainly don’t want to ever complain about the endlessly sunny days in California. But the high sun makes photography challenging. The occasional overcast day is nice too. 

Beaut of a butte. (had to do it)

 

On the drive home we played some travel Scattergories. Musician that starts with a B….

After exhausting the Beatles and Beach Boys and BTO and Beethoven, I won with the best one: Baird. 

img_5958
We suck at selfies. Especially trying to get Tilly in the picture!

 

Maybe we will have perfected it by our next adventure!

We got back home early but were ALL wiped out by 6pm. It was very nice to be able to get out of town safely and enjoy some adventuring again. We’ve missed it very much these past few months. 

Great day. Great company.