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Burned (#291)

My Chinese-American husband is a fantastic cook. Andy can make any cuisine, from pulled pork barbecue to agedashi tofu.

Andy’s beef Wellington

His eggs Benedict are sublime. Pretty sure I joined Instagram just to make people envious over of his beef Wellington.

I am content to give Andy the cooking crown in our household. I focus on baking, which is my strength.

I stay in my lane.

Andy is NOT staying in his lane. He is veering over into MY baking lane. Maybe it’s because I showed reluctant promise with the crockpot. Maybe it’s because he’s nursing a grudge after I took his neighborhood cooking title and kept it for several years. He stole it back two years ago, but last year we tied.

Maybe he’s trying to redeem his birthday cake failures.

Or maybe it’s because he’s bored and quarantine is a great opportunity to prove he can rule the oven as well as the range. In the last two months, he’s made scones, lemon bars, and even madeleines. All were either overcooked or undercooked just enough that we both knew my baking remained superior.‬ (Okay, his doughnuts were fabulous, but that’s more cooking than baking. It doesn’t count.)

I may have baked a batch or two of cookies just to reinforce my dominance.

‪Andy retaliated.

Suspiciously soon after I put up post on making Shaker bread, Andy presented me with his first batch of baguettes.

“Not bad,” I told him.

“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Andy huffed.

The second batch he shaped too small.

“Did you mean to make breadsticks?” I asked.

Andy glowered at me.

The third batch collapsed before going into the oven.

“The dog loves them!” I assured Andy. The dog growled at me until I gave him another piece. Andy just growled at me.

The fourth batch? Delicious. Almost Parisian, especially with French brie. The only one unhappy with that batch was the dog, who didn’t get any.

Yesterday, Andy made his fifth batch of baguettes. He shaped and scored the loaves like a pro. He checked on his loaves every 30 seconds, spraying them with water to mimic the old French ovens and give them a good crust. Before he spritzed, Andy even laid a dishtowel over the glass in the oven door to keep the cold water from shattering the glass. (This is important when baking at 500 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The first two baguettes turned out brilliantly.

Andy put in the second set of loaves, spritzed them, and closed the oven. “I think I’m getting really good at baking bread!” he told me triumphantly.

“Uh-huh.”

Andy pulled the oven open to spray his loaves again. Smoke billowed out.

The oven was on fire.

Well, not the actual oven. Andy had left the dishtowel in the oven after the last spritz. It was burning.

Andy grabbed the flaming dishtowel and threw it in the sink. I turned on the fan.

“That was almost very bad,” I observed.

“Yeah,” Andy mumbled. “Good thing I have to spray every thirty seconds.”

*****

My friend JM called a little later and asked, “How’s your quarantine going?”

“Well, Andy tried to burn down the kitchen today so–”

Andy yelled, “I was not TRYING. And it was only a TOWEL.”

I took my phone outside as JM said, “Wow. I don’t usually hear Andy yell. Is everything okay? Or at least not still on fire?”

“Everything’s fine,” I assured her. “More than fine. He was getting pretty cocky about those baguettes. But now? Now they’re extra crispy and I am still the queen of the oven.”

The slightly scorched oven.

Andy’s first two beautiful baguettes…and the remains of the torched towel.

When It Ain’t At All About the Ball (#290)

Baby D walked when he was 10 months old—for 3 steps. Then he ran everywhere.

“Soccer,” I yelled to Andy as I chased Baby D around the yard with a cheese stick. “As soon as he’s old enough, he’s playing soccer. Maybe that will wear him out.”

Andy yelled back, “But, honey, he doesn’t care about balls.”

This was true. Baby D did not care about sports.

Baby D only liked imaginary games.

Baby D and his stuffed animal army.

He wanted to pit his army of stuffed cats against my army of bears and of course his cats always had to win. (I considered it a win if I could nap while the cat army built tunnels on the bed). He built forts and ships for adventures. I arranged as many playdates as possible so other kids could enjoy these adventures while I spoke to other adults.

Invariably, a kid at the playdate would wander into the living room and ask something like, “What’s antivenin? Baby D says we need some!”

I gave D a shiny neon soccer ball. Instead of dribbling it, Baby D declared the ball a “jewel” and put his cat army to work guarding it, day and night.

Andy tried to teach Baby D to play catch. Baby D dubbed it the baseball “a bomb” and blew up my bear army.

A houseguest brought Baby D a little Nerf basketball and a small basketball hoop with suction cups from Georgetown University. Baby D turned the Hoyas basket into a jail for his ursine prisoners of war.

Of course our contrary child had no interest  in sports. We lived next to a school with soccer fields, a baseball backstop, and tons of basketball courts. I spent years watching other children attend practices and games. I also spent years muttering about their inconsiderate parents blocking our driveway.

When Baby D was four, we came home one night to discover our driveway again blocked by a pickup truck. As I was taking down the license plate number and dialing parking enforcement, a mom from D’s preschool hailed me.

“Autumn! Is Baby D going to do T-ball, too?” she gushed. “That would be great, Jason would be so happy to have another kid he knows on the team!”

“No, I’m just trying to get into my garage! Is that what’s going on at the school tonight? T-ball?”

“Yes, it’s the parent meeting for the Pony League, where you meet the coach and get assigned volunteer jobs. Baby D isn’t going to play? You sure? Alex’s dad from preschool is coaching and Jared’s dad is the assistant coach.”

“Not a chance,” I scoffed. “The kid doesn’t care about baseball, or any kind of ball—”

Baby D yelled out the car window, “MOMMY! I WANT TO DO IT!”

“What? You don’t even know what a baseball is. You think it’s a bomb.”

“I want to be on the team! With Alex and Jared and Jason!”

I was an idiot. I should have been talking up “playing with friends” to my super-social child instead of “playing with balls.” And now that he actually wanted to be on a team, it was too late. “Sweetie, we didn’t sign up or do tryouts. I don’ think we can be on a team.”

Jason’s Mom said, “Maybe Alex’s dad needs some more kids on his team. Want me to check?”

“Sure,” I told her, but without any real hope. Which I told myself was for the best.  The Pony League was filled with single-minded sports dads who’d been playing catch with their future superstars for years already. Competition to get a foot in the door, even for T-ball, was fierce. I wasn’t sure Baby D could throw a ball.

But just in case, I parked down the block and did not report the illegally parked truck.

Within two hours, Alex’s dad had emailed an invitation for Baby D to play on the Seattle Mariners T-ball team. (Mom Network and poorly placed driveway for the win!)

Baby D was thrilled. Even though he began as the worst player on the team, he loved practicing with friends. He loved game day—with friends. And he especially loved snacks—with friends.

Baby D on the field.

I did not love baseball. Our team was okay, but other parents? The ones screaming at five-year-olds? Insane. Although their antics at least livened up the most boring sport in the world. Andy and I did a lot of yawning. Baby D and the other kids did a lot of standing. He hardly got any exercise.

When the season ended in June, I asked, “Hey, do you want to be on a soccer team this fall? Alex’s mom said she was signing him up for AYSO–”

“YES! And Nate says he wants me on his basketball team this summer and the kids on the block are making a kendama team so I want to do that, too!”

Turns out T-ball is a gateway drug to all the sports balls.

But what the hell is a kendama?

When the Days Are Long, Again (#289)

There’s a common phrase about parenting: “The days are long, the years are short.”

The days ARE long when you have a baby. Especially when you have a baby that only takes a half-hour nap. And when you have a non-napping child and no handy relatives to help?

A day feels equal to a year.

When your baby is sick?

A day feels like a century. Continue reading When the Days Are Long, Again (#289)

Outlast the Lockdown: 10 Historical Mystery Series (#288)

Science Fiction and Fantasy books are my first love. They’re also the best escapism around, literally taking you to another world.

But maybe you don’t want to go to a new world with new rules. Concentrating right now is difficult (unless you’re fellow blogger Ms. Bean’s husband). Let me offer up my favorite historical mystery series, guaranteed to take you to a different time, multiple times.

As usual, I’m listing them by the first book in the series because starting in the middle is just wrong and the name of the series isn’t always helpful.

10. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey. Continue reading Outlast the Lockdown: 10 Historical Mystery Series (#288)

Escapist Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Quarantine Reading (#287)

A few of you have been after me for book recommendations. It’s your lucky day. If you don’t count the world being on fire and shit.

I was filing out my nominations for World Fantasy 2020 Awards and realized I already had half-a-list, which means it’s also half-a-post!

I love efficiency almost as much as I love books.

I like biographies and history, but for quarantine reading? No. Just no. We need something that will take us from our current surroundings.

These are Chocorooms. They’re the devil.

We need books in exotic settings, as far away from the kid howling over the lack of soccer and Chocorooms as possible.

Since our heroics currently consist of sitting on our asses at home, we need to watch someone else save the world. Or the galaxy. Or the universe! Continue reading Escapist Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Quarantine Reading (#287)

One Smug Squirrel (#286)

There weren’t many squirrels around when Andy and I moved into our little house in Southern California. The native Western gray squirrel lives off oak trees and hangs out mostly in forests. SoCal isn’t big on forests.

The few squirrels we did begin to see weren’t natives. They looked exactly like the squirrels I grew up with in D.C. and Virginia. That’s because they were Eastern fox squirrels, brought to Santa Monica by veterans a century ago as pets. These squirrels are savvy little scavengers. They used telephone and electrical wires to colonize Los Angeles County.

They’ve bamboozled numerous elderly neighbors into feeding them peanuts daily. Continue reading One Smug Squirrel (#286)

Hells Bells (#285)

I’m having a hard time working from home. That may seem odd, since I’m a writer used to working at home.

Let me clarify: I am used to working at home ALONE.

My husband is technically an essential worker because his company does top secret work for the government. I stopped asking what he does because there are polygraphs involved and we need our health insurance. Andy’s supposed to be going into work. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, company employees kept testing positive for COVID-19, which meant the company closed down and sanitized every infected employees’ building(s). During this process, the company sent all the employees that normally work in the infected building to other buildings. Not surprisingly, employees in THOSE buildings then became infected and those buildings had to be shut down.

It was an endless, ludicrous game of Whack-a-mole until all the buildings wound up shut. The company had no choice but to attempt remote work. Continue reading Hells Bells (#285)

The Mask Avenger (#284)

Like a lot of Chinese-Americans, my husband isn’t into fanfare. He doesn’t make a big deal out of the delicious meals he cooks. He presents me with seedlings for my garden that I had no idea were germinating in his greenhouse.

I only found out about a huge bonus he got from work when I found it on our checking account.

Compared to all the mediocre white males who constantly tout their non-accomplishments (see the Trump Administration for hundreds of examples), Andy’s reticence seems like an excellent characteristic.

Alas. Information hoarding has a dark side. Continue reading The Mask Avenger (#284)

Easter Won’t Be Easter Without Any See’s Candies (#283)

See’s Candies at Christmas time.

When I moved to California, I discovered See’s Candies. I got really pissed that I’d been stuck with Whitman’s Samplers all my life. I also gained about ten pounds (they give out free samples).

It’s probably not a coincidence that we bought a house a few miles from their outlet shop. Our son also grew to love See’s Candies, and the sales people there grew to love him. Every holiday had some See’s, whether it was a chocolate Santa in his stocking or green shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day.

Due to COVID-19, See’s closed for the first time since World War II in March. Continue reading Easter Won’t Be Easter Without Any See’s Candies (#283)

Quarantine Scenes (#282)

I dunno about everyone else, but I can’t write for shit these days.

There is no concentration in the time of coronavirus. Not with husband and child sharing less than 1200 square feet with me. If the kid isn’t demanding food, attention, or help with school work, the husband has a conference call on speaker phone. (I don’t understand three-fourths of the conversation, but I’ve learned that most engineers have social skills similar to toddlers. Both equate volume to getting their way.)

If the kid is playing an online game with friends (or without friends) there are shouts of anger and despair.

I haven’t been alone in a month. No, not even in the bathroom, because dog and cat know how to open the door. Continue reading Quarantine Scenes (#282)