Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Into

It's the last day of August. When I was a teenager in Alaska I wrote a song about how that feels. It wasn't a particularly good song, but I remember it, and I remember trying to capture that feeling. It's ominous, the ending of a northern summer, because you know it's not coming back for a good, long time. But it also gives you new beginnings as an academic year starts, and a lot to look forward to if you like coziness and white Christmases and sleds and firelight.

The temperature has dropped from 90 (we think that's hot in Montana, and give us a break, nobody here has air conditioning!) to 71. Clouds are rolling in as I type. I can't sleep with the window open anymore, lest I feel like I'm camping. That feeling has its place, and it's not in my bedroom.

I am wearing my comfy white cropped cargo pants and yellow block-print-floral t-shirt for probably the last time this year. I've given myself a final self-administered summer pedicure in Snappy Sorbet. (Definitely my favorite color of the summer - coral with a little pearliness to it.) I'm on the lookout for a cute, new fall color to which I can treat myself. Anybody got suggestions? I'm thinking maybe something in the tan-to-taupe range.

Fall seems like the time to curl up with a quilt and a book, like Jo in Little Women. I got a Louise Erdrich book to read. I realized that it was twenty years ago I first met this phenomenal author. I read Tracks in my high school A.P. English class. Twenty years is a long time to love one writer. I still love this one. I'm just about a third of the way through Shadow Tag. So far it is as vivid, complicated and moving as any previous books I've read from Erdrich (a lot of them). It's early for this, but I'd already say you might want to pick it up.

I'm reading more because I'm mostly trying to follow the no-screens-on-weekdays rule I've imposed on the rest of my family. (Folding laundry doesn't count.) That's necessary because the kids are back in school, three days' worth. We've taken the back-to-school snapshots. We even have a filing system for papers. Each school kid got a three-compartment file organizer. I labeled them with names, and then "Keep/File," "Work to Do" and "Return to School." After school we sort each backpack out and do homework. In the morning, they can just grab their completed work and signed papers (so many of those papers for Mom to sign the first week of school!) and go. Under each file organizer will hang a backpack hook. I've bought them, but I haven't put them up yet. I'm also hoping to get a big tray for the boots. But we haven't gotten to boot season yet.

Still, I urgently want some Bogs. They're waterproof, insulated, and super cute. You have your choice of colors. I have seen them worn to church, with a dress. I love it. This is the kind of place where you basically flip off any fashion rules you want, anyway. Almost like in Alaska where Sorels and the symphony go perfectly well together. I have shopped around for the Bogs I want, and Amazon's price is the best one I've seen. Just saying. I have cute boots, thanks to my cute professor, but they are not the kind of boots you want to wear in mud and slush. These boots could handle it. If we get the kind of freeze/thaw this winter that we got last winter, that's going to be pretty important.

The storm has hit now, mostly moved on, given everything a fast drenching in big drops. A few rumbles of thunder have been and gone. The sun's shining on the wet streets as the last drops land on my patio roof. My kids need help with their homework. Here comes fall.

Monday, August 22, 2011


When I was about 10, my mom taught me how to make macaroni and cheese. Not the kind from a box. Homemade, with a white-sauce-based cheese sauce. Not baked. Just soft, creamy, cheesy goodness all the way through.

I strayed for a while. I bought the blue boxes. They seemed cheap and easy. Eventually I realized that while my kids asked for these boxes and thought they liked the resulting goo (known to some as the Yellow Death), they never actually ate it. That's no bargain.

I switched back this summer to the recipe I learned as a kid. I might kick it up a little more than I did 27 years ago. But the idea's the same, and it's always a hit. Today I made it for nine little people. It was gone before I could get a picture.

This is not a diet recipe. All my kids are skinny and need to pork up, in my opinion. You can lighten it by using less butter, lowfat milk, and less or lowfat cheese. If you're using less cheese, try a sharper flavor. Maybe some sharp cheddar or parmesan. My mom made some recently using really good Irish cheddar. It was divine.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound dry pasta - any stubby variety will do. Today we used rotelle.

4 tbsp. butter or butterlike substance. Today, Brummel and Brown spread. Even olive oil works, in a pinch.
3-4 tbsp. flour
2 c. milk (skim or 1% is fine; use whole if you really want to fatten up those children so you can eat them later.)
1 c. grated medium cheddar cheese. More or less will still work. Other kinds will also work.

Seasonings to taste:
salt (a pinch is enough; milk and cheese are salty things!)
white pepper (I use about 3 good shakes)
dry mustard (half a teaspoon does me fine)
turmeric (tiny bit, for color only)

Boil pasta in salted water until done. Drain in a colander.

In the same pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir to make a paste. Cook about 1 minute to get rid of the floury taste. Add milk. Whisk constantly until smooth and thickened. Stir in cheese and seasonings. Taste and adjust.

Add pasta and stir to coat.

Serve to cute-faced people. Grapes are great on the side and perfectly in season right now, at the end of one fun summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Last night I dreamed of my friend Mimi, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2007. In my dream, I was a middle schooler, and she saved me from a long walk in high heels by giving me a lift in her car. It was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She let me drive.

I think I'm going to be happy all day.

Monday, August 08, 2011


August is a really wonderful time to be in a northern clime. I always got homesick for Fairbanks about this time of year when I lived in hot places. Now that I am in Montana, it's almost like being there. In some ways, possibly even nicer.

The days are warm, but almost never uncomfortable. (Never too hot to bake if you fancy, for example, a banana cake with penuche frosting after you go over to volunteer at the food bank with a bunch of church people and the director is desperately trying to give out black bananas because what food bank director could stand to waste bananas?) It's in the 80s Fahrenheit. Like a perfect May day in California, except with no pollution. The air is as clear as a polished window. Clearer.

A thunderstorm may or may not roll through in the late afternoon or early evening. Big drops splash on the roof of my patio and make a lot of wonderful noise. Afterward I can smell the spruce trees in the backyard mixing with that clean rain smell and it's pretty near heaven. The birds sing up in those trees and I wish I could see them better. My K, who is now 7, says he can see a nest.

Flowers are tumbling gloriously everywhere, from hanging baskets and beds and anyplace people can put them. It's going to be white and gray here for a long time. Like in Alaska, people in Montana know how to enjoy color and scent in summer. My garden is pretty shabby this year because I was gone so long. Just some salvia and sage blossoms and nasturtiums. Petrovskia struggling along and not blooming. But the nasturtiums are only starting to get good and I sure do love them and look forward to them. My strawberry patch is thriving.

Speaking of berries, let's change the topic to cherries. My sweet 90-something across-the-street neighbor, Louise, called me over after I brought the kids back from swimming at the YMCA this afternoon. She gave me a huge bowl of cherries, and they are not just any old cherries. These sweet, burgundy-black beauties are from the Flathead Valley. They are the best I've had since I was a little girl on a ladder, picking cherries from a huge, overgrown tree in the yard of a hundred-year-old house in Ogden where my family lived for a couple of years. The cherries I ate tonight were picked this morning. You can't beat that.

We went for a family hike tonight up Maud S Canyon which is so convenient to town and amazingly beautiful. It has been a wet year and a lot of plants are still green that would be dried out in a normal year, all nestled in around the big boulders on the mountainside. And there are tons of sweet little flowers, thistle and baby's breath and different kinds of clovers and fireweed and cowslip and other things I don't know how to identify yet. It was pretty spectacular, and to top it off  we got the most amazing sunset.

We traveled a lot this summer. We had a wonderful time. It is good to be home.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Teaching is giving

A short story from Grandpa Tom, who taught band for many years in a couple of different high schools in northern Utah and far southeastern Idaho, told in his voice if not his exact words. (My dad and brother have worked to record many of Grandpa's stories on video, but I just had my leaky old brain with me this weekend, no fancy equipment.)

Mostly on band trips things went pretty well. I don't think we ever had a boy and girl get together, that I knew of. Just the worry about it. Sometimes the boys did a little drinking. But usually there was not much trouble.

One time I took a group of kids to Disneyland. A girl came up to me and said, "Mr. N-----, so-and-so needs you." I asked her what for. She said, "She's taken a bottle of perfume and they won't release her until somebody pays a $300 fine in cash."

Well, cash! I never carried cash. But for some reason this time I had put a thousand dollars in my wallet. So I went and paid the fine. Oh, was she glad to see me.

Here I said, "I sure hope her parents paid you back." Grandpa quickly replied.

Oh, they couldn't have. Her dad had been in an accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. He tried to do some substitute teaching, and the kids were good to him, but it was never enough. They couldn't have paid that fine. But I think she learned something.