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Birthdays & Gotcha Day

For 18 years (and then another 62) we celebrated our birthdays together. Me on May 7 and Grandma on May 8.  Some years, like this one, Mother’s Day is also in the mix. Twenty years ago, May 2 became our very own Gotcha Day and thus, with this celebratory triumvirate, John Lac and I continue the long tradition of angel food cake with pink buttercream frosting.

May 1955

Being part of that generation that took up the mantra to never trust anyone over 30 I had trouble in the weeks leading up to that birthday but Richard (already in his fourth decade) smoothed the rough edges for me.  Fifty was fun and 60 even better as I knew retirement was close and within a year I developed a detailed four-year plan outlining major tasks to be accomplished before May 2017.  But 70 is being a bit of a mental challenge as I keep wondering how I suddenly got so old.  I may just need more pink frosting.

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Renovations Anon

carpet tack strips in a corner with green and white linoleum, folded back yellow foam carpet pad and two putty knives

Our house was built in 1925 and moved in ‘27. We are only the second family to live here.  In the 1980s, as first time home owners, we undertook a myriad of refurbishing projects.  Our after work evenings and nearly every weekend were filled with stripping layers and layers of paint from wood trim or removing layers and layers of nicotine infused wallpaper, so saturated that when dampened the room smelled like an old tavern.  For a few years, we tolerated ugly orange shag carpet in the former front bedroom, now our TV room, and then put in hours of scraping the black foam backing that had been glued to the maple hardwood floor.  (Who glues down carpet, anyway?!?)  For years, the re-telling of that year’s remodeling tasks was the biggest story in our Christmas letter.  And then the house was finally ours and we were content for two decades.  In 2008, we added the screened porch that is our favorite summertime room, a new garage was built in 2012 and a rain garden replaced the old narrow driveway, and our favorite builder performed a major bathroom facelift just as I was retiring in 2017.

Now, after so many quarantine days, we have decided 2022 will be a year of home projects as we replace the last of the single pane, double hung windows, remove the carpet and lay new hardwood floor in the living room, and re-finish the dining room and kitchen parquet.  Unlike the 1987 remodeling when a construction manager organized the sub-contractors, these projects feel sufficiently discrete that we will coordinate the work ourselves.  Although, as I continue to wait for a call back from the asbestos abatement expert, (damn that 7 foot x 10 foot section of porch linoleum under the living room carpet!) I am beginning to wonder at the sanity of this decision.  I hope these blog posts will help keep me sane.

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Saharastaub – Sahara Dust

As Saharan dust swirls in the atmosphere, European skies look like a special effects canopy created for a sci-fi movie. Gone are the normal pristine vistas.  The Swiss Center of North America recently shared this surreal photo of the Stádtkirche steeples and the Facebook post – “Saharastaub over Glarus this morning.  Last seen in early February of last year, a rare weather occurrence has carried dust from the Sahara desert across parts of Europe.” I’ve added a comparison shot on a clear day and what I remember from my visits to this Swiss town.

Photo credit (top) Swiss Center of North America

Photo credit (bottom): mrsphoto.net

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Food Relief in a War Zone

Fans of late night TV may recognize celebrity chef José Andrés for his witty repartee and tasty dishes but millions more know him because the World Central Kitchen (WCK) helped make sure they did not go hungry.  In 2010 after devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Chef Andrés was on the ground collaborating with local chefs to feed the hungry.  His work on that small island nation inspired the creation of his not-for-profit, non-governmental organization based on the belief:  Food is a universal human right.  

With years of experience and regardless of the conditions – hurricane in Puerto Rico, volcanic eruption in Tonga or the unprovoked war on the people of the Ukraine – the WCK moves with lighting speed to provide food, supplies, and logistical support to restaurant partners and volunteers on the front lines.

When you talk about food and water, people don’t want a solution one week from now, one month from now.  The solution has to be now.

Chef José Andrés

Within a day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the WCK had set up food distribution centers at border crossings and then began working directly in the war torn cities of Lviv and Kyiv.  The WCK news and Twitter feed share regular updates from Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and, of particular interest to me, Moldova.  A Tweet early this month caught my attention:

March 1 – In addition to meals being served in Poland, Ukraine, and Romania, WCK’s first meals in Moldova were provided to children and families at the Chișinău Airport. Local restaurants served fresh plates of baked chicken over pasta with a tomato salad and bread. Working with local groups, we will be expanding our reach in the country as needed. 

And more recent WCK #ChefsForUkraine Tweets:

March 11 – The Carpineni Orphanage in Moldova has suddenly become a shelter for Ukrainian families fleeing home. Housing 100 people, the shelter’s kitchen has relied on donations from the small, surrounding community. Now, WCK is supporting this team to provide fresh meals.

March 11 – To reach Mykolaiv, Ukraine—a city targeted by Russian forces—WCK partner Team Humanity left Moldova before dawn with fruit, baby food & more for families in the city. After distributing items, the team evacuated a group of women & children to safety in Moldova.

March 13 – Inside the Manej Sports Arena in Moldova, hundreds of cots now sit where athletes once practiced. The shelter is housing 600-800 mostly Roma refugees who have fled Ukraine. WCK partner Cafeneaua din Gratiesti is delivering daily meals for families here.

For more information on these herculean efforts or to join me in contributing to this worthy cause visit the World Central Kitchen website. Or follow regular Twitter updates @WCKitchen.

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Moldova Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees

wooden smokehouse sign hanging on a gray stone building

Pre-Covid retirement granted me time to travel and Moldova in October 2018 was distinctly foreign compared to earlier trips to Vancouver, Amsterdam, and Zurich.  In conversations before and following my trip, I discovered many people had either never heard of Moldova or, at the very least, needed a point of reference – – a small landlocked country in eastern Europe, with Romania on its western border and encircled by Ukraine to the north, east and south.  However, as our tour group of American professional women discovered, while Moldova may be small in terms of land mass, population, and economy, its people revealed a genuine bigheartedness as they offered warm welcomes and deep generosity.  That same kindness continues today as tens of thousands of refugees from war torn Ukraine pour over the border into Moldova.

For factual information and an on-the ground, local viewpoint, David Smith’s online newsletter, Moldova Matters includes “quick hits” that offer brief descriptions of what is happening at the moment, as well as “deep dives” on major issues affecting Moldova and that part of the world.  I met David at his American styled ribs joint, Smokehouse, in Chișinău.  (Yes, I know, not the usual Moldovan cuisine but when are ribs ever a bad menu choice?)  David was a Peace Corp volunteer who stayed in country to open a barbeque place and brew pub. 

As the distressful images fill our screens – bombs exploding, long lines of cars leading from cities under attack, or the bravery of a grandmother on a street corner telling a Russian soldier to go home – I want to offer solidarity. Hard to do, thousands of miles from the violence, but we made a small step last night when Richard and I participated in a peace vigil with Ukrainian flags waving and silk sunflowers in hand. For specific suggestions of how to help, David’s February 27 article provides information on how to support Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.  And, thanks to my friend and intrepid traveler, Lani, for recommending this local perspective on international news.

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Last on the Card – February 2022

pink blossoms on a small green Christmas cactus with pot sitting on painted pine table

With a visual nudge from BeckyB of Winchester, I am opting into the challenge set by bushboys world, to “post the last photo on your SD card or last photo on your phone for 28th February.”  Mine is a quick snap (no edits) of our Christmas cactus in its second blooming.  November’s blossoms numbered over 60 and we were thrilled with the burst of vibrant color amidst winter grays.  This is the first time we have had a second flowering just as the days grow a bit longer.  #The Last Photo

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Draw the Circle Wide

I cannot remember the conference city or the name of the hotel lobby bar where I joined my friend for a late afternoon glass of wine but, even after all these decades, my memory of our discussion is clear.  My friend Estelle arrived agitated and ready to resign from a prestigious committee.  As I tried to discover what had caused her distress, she kept telling me I would not understand.  I, of course, argued I would.  Finally, she said “I am tired of being responsible for representing an entire race of people.”  And she had been right, I didn’t understand. 

Even when serving as the sole female on an otherwise all male committee, no one thought I spoke for all women.  But Estelle was constantly expected to speak for all people of color.  As a talented black woman, often the only person of color in a sea of white, she was put in that untenable situation; expected to know of the needs of an entire community as if the rich, complexity of life was a simple monolith and she held the key. 

There is a challenge within every cultural exploration; to learn and celebrate the beauty of that which is different without inadvertently co-opting a tradition not our own.  To not to fall into that misguided complacency that created such stress for my friend.  While I can revel in the lyrical quality of an Amanda Gorman poem; agonize over the brutal reality of black life in white America as portrayed in a cinematic adaptation of an August Wilson play; even get caught up in a who-dun-it following Walter Mosley’s infamous detective Easy Rawlins through the grime and glitter of LA, I must remember – whether fiction or fact – that those descriptions are just a brief glimpse into lives different from my own.

The challenge is to appreciate the uniqueness of each person’s life, to recognize that each difference in upbringing, family food tradition, or the myriad of diverse life choices that make a whole person, is to recognize that the opportunities for personal growth are endless.  That with each book I read, movie I see, or story that I hear, I only hold a very small thread in a rich tapestry of another’s experience.

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. . . and it is racing!

James McMichael – My Uncle “Mac”

Since Formula 1 testing in Barcelona is still 24 days out and we must wait until March 20 for the inaugural F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the Hutton household launched the 2022 racing season by watching the Rolex 24 at Daytona.  The drivers and crews are from around the globe, performing in five different classes of cars, making for fast, faster, and the fastest driving, start-to-finish for 24-hours through the night and in unseasonably cold Florida temps.  This race celebrates a 60th anniversary, but there is a deeper racing history in Daytona.  Certainly not ecologically sane by today’s standards but my Uncle Mac gives me a family tie to an early era of beach racing.

Photo Credit: G. McMichael Anderson

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From the Days of Tire Bags

white Porsche 944 at speed

After numerous Covid related postponements, Richard finally had his PT assessment today.  While the physical therapist approved of our TV room Ekornes Stressless recliners, he recommended more lower back support and so this afternoon I had a craft project.  While I readily admit my skills as a seamstress stagnated sometime after I earned my Girl Scout sewing badge, I did manage to make a small 4 inch x 10 inch lumbar support pillow. 

Most of my remnant stash dates from the mid-1990s when I undertook the translation of Richard’s wearable art (jewelry) into soft sculptures (pillows).  Despite having some lovely high quality upholstery fabrics from which to choose, he picked a left over from our Porsche days. 

Most might consider the Porsche 944 a small car especially since its two back seats would only accommodate very young children before the days of safety required car seats.  But we transformed our 1987 944S two-seater coupé into a station wagon on “race” weekends.  We had enough room for suitcases, cooler, tools, jack, and a complete set of track wheels and tires.  To protect the car’s interior when packing the Bridgestone R1s, I made four large drawstring bags using an easily washable cotton-poly blend that matched the car’s maroon leather interior.  The bags were especially needed for the trek home when the wheels were covered in fine black brake dust after two days of driver education classes at the track.