Friday, November 30, 2007

Long-Life Berries

I’ve always thought of raspberries as being very fragile, needing to be consumed soon after they are purchased. In fact I’ve picked many a moldy berry out of a new box.

That’s why I can’t figure out how these berries purchased at Costco a week ago can look exactly as they did the day I bought them. There were no moldy or even mushy berries in that container and they were all perfect – and still are.

They are from Argentina, which means it could have been days after they were picked that they arrived at Costco. I’m always slightly distrustful of fruit from Chile and Argentina, having seen how it was handled out in the countryside 25 years ago. But perhaps something has changed.

This box of berries has adorned my Cheerios for the past week and may likely last another few days. Then I will be back at Costco fighting the growing crowd of Christmas shoppers to buy more berries and the myriad of other family-sized containers of things I seem to buy there.

Can anyone explain to me what they can possibly do to berries in Argentina to give them everlasting life?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Does Cookware Matter?

As I stood there in BB&B drooling over a big anodized stirfry pan with a domed lid, my eye caught the price tag of $234 and I said to myself, “Are you crazy? You don’t need really need another pan, especially at this price.”

Then I looked across the aisle at the knock-offs and saw what looked like the same pan at a fraction of the cost. Hmmm... I wonder if it really matters or not.

I don’t think of myself as a gourmet cook, although I love to cook good food. When we remodeled our house, I made an attempt at modernizing my cookware by adding a few random Calphalon pieces, but not being able to part with many of the early-attic pieces that had served me well over the years.

I remember reading a comparison in Cooks Illustrated before laying out the bucks for the Calphalon. At that point I must have been convinced.

Looking in the first drawer we have hodge-podge #1: several Calphalon saucepans and frypans, a tiny All-Clad (Cadillac) frypan which was supposed to lure me to buy the rest, and a Revereware double-boiler that my husband brought into our marriage.

The bottom drawer is about the same eclectic mess: two Calphalon covered skillets, an Club aluminum skillet, and two pieces of the Magnalite I used before we were married.

The pantry holds more possibilities if I can’t find what I need in drawer #1 or drawer #2, including the ancient Le Creuset pot you see at the top of this post. I am happy to say that pot is still being sold today at $200, so perhaps it has actually appreciated with age. Well no, the enamel interior surface bears the marks of incorrect stirring implements used over the years.

But the question still remains – Is there a “best” pot/pan for every dish? Or is this all just a big ploy to make us spend money? What do you think? Do you have a favorite pot or pan?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sewing Update

I was amazed to find out how much sewing machines have changed in the past 25 years. The $200 machine I picked up yesterday for my RAK give-away project has a lot of features my Bernina doesn’t have.

The new machine is a “Huskystar”, supposedly made by Viking, one of the big names in the industry. For having such a stupid name, the machine is really quite nice.

You might be impressed when I tell you I have 4 sewing machines. But when I add that they range in age from 25 to well over 100 years, you can forget it. I am definitely dealing in older technology.

I always thought of sewing as just the automation of interlocking threads in fabric. All I ever really needed in a machine was the ability to sew forward and backward with a straight and a zig-zag stitch and to do buttonholes. There wasn’t much I couldn’t make with these capabilities.

I suppose it’s like with cars – they wouldn’t sell new ones if they didn’t keep adding bells and whistles. So the Huskystar has a needle-threader, a new kind of zipper-foot, a very cool buttonholer that knows exactly how big to make the hole, dialable embroidery stitches, and many other functions are now automated.

The best news is that it never needs to be oiled. Sort of like the radiators to which you no longer need to add water. So the maintenance is quite low.

The older man at store where I bought the Huskystar spoke affectionately about my Bernina Model 830 as though it were some vintage machine that is still legendary. It has served me well over the years. With my penchant for NOT having the newest technology, I can imagine it will be the last sewing machine I ever purchase.

But for now, I have had my crash course in how to use the Huskystar and am ready to take on my student Glenda, who will become the proud owner of this machine. We will meet for the first time next Monday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Self Help

Yesterday was a day mostly about ME, spent with 4 people for whom I have a tremendous amount of admiration. My only regret was that I went to bed at midnight and had to get up at 6:00, when it was still dark outside, leaving me somewhat sleep-deprived.

At 7:00 I joined Gordon for an hour of silent meditation in the yoga studio on Capitol Hill. He is an old pro at meditation, having done it for over 20 years. We do two 30-minute sits in silence interspersed by a 5-minute walking meditation. I was totally unconscious of what was going on outside as the trash trucks came and people rushed off to start their busy day. I had the sensation of being slightly cold, but otherwise felt myself drifting off to someplace calm and serene during the two sits. Gordon jokingly noted that at the end that calm, serene place was called sleep. I never thought I could sleep sitting up!

After lunch I headed back to town for a massage with Liz at Results the Gym. The nice thing about receiving massage here is that you get to sit in the whirlpool first. Every time I see Liz I realize that she is one of the most naturally beautiful women I have ever seen. Her father is the king of some island in the South Pacific and she radiates the best qualities of Polynesia. What most amazed me was that she picked up our conversation right where we had left off – when we were struggling with having an adult child living at home and my right salivary gland was causing me discomfort. I clarified that the first problem has been at least temporarily resolved and the second one still persists. After a full-body massage, she worked on the right side of my face, trying to loosen whatever it is that seems to be blocking my salivary gland. At the end I suddenly realized I had once again fallen asleep, something that has never happened to me in a massage. I’m usually so tuned in to whatever area is being worked on. I wondered what I had missed, but felt totally warm and wonderful as I dressed.

The highlight of my day was an hour of music with my friend and teacher Bill. We’re working on the Andante from Bottesini’s Double Bass Concerto. This is music that is so beautiful you can almost taste it. Whereas you play Bach in a fairly strict tempo, Bottesini begs for changes in tempo and dynamics make the piece. We spent the entire hour on this 4-page piece, dissecting each section to identify the various themes and to decide how we wanted to play it. Playing music with someone else means you can’t always have it your way! By the time we were wrapping up, the sound of the oboe drifted down the stairs. Bill and his wife both play for the NSO, so a lot of practicing takes place in their house. Before I left I borrowed the music for the other two movements of the concerto, figuring that if the andante was this beautiful the other two wouldn’t be half bad.

I walked down the street to my 6:15 yoga class with Leyla, buoyed by my music lesson, but feeling tired from a long day. I was happy to hear her say the last part of the 90-minute class would be a guided meditation. The theme of the class was compassion for yourself. This meant accepting your version of each pose and not asking your body to go further than it wanted to. The guided meditation at the end as we went into yoga nidra was the perfect way to end my busy day. But by the end I was once again asleep.

It’s seldom that I pack so many self-focused activities into one day, but yesterday was my day to celebrate myself and it felt good, even as I snoozed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Turn to Give

My month for doing a random act of kindness (RAK) is here. Charlie and I are splitting the money collected at our monthly neighborhood meeting last night and we each have about $200 to spend.

Those who had their turns in October and November have reported that it’s harder than you might think to come up with a project and then to pull it off. In both cases specific families were the recipients of the assistance. In October a family with a new baby who had been forced to move benefitted from help to get established in their new apartment. November focused on a Nigerian family in which the father had been injured at work and the mother had to return home for a family funeral. It’s been interesting to hear how these families were chosen and how the gifts were bestowed.

Charlie has a great idea for his money. He plans to donate gloves to the local homeless shelter. The timing is certainly right for this project which promises to benefit so many people.

Since we came up with this RAK idea, I have been thinking about donating a sewing machine to someone who really needs it and wants to learn to sew. I identified an Arlington program for teen mothers, which teaches them basic survival skills. Home-economics is a component of the program. The coordinator is in the process of finding me a promising student.

This morning I tackled the challenge of finding a decent sewing machine for $200. The first man I talked to had a 20-year-old reconditioned Singer for $250. He went to $225 and refused to budge. The next one didn’t sell used machines, but took the time to educate me as to which ones to avoid, specifically mentioning Singer. I knew when I spoke to the man at the Fairfax Sewing Center that I had found the right place. He had two machines – one new and one used, each for $200. I described the recipient of the machine and we determined the used machine was probably the better choice. It’s a Viking, the same brand as those used in the Arlington County School System. When I explained our DT RAK concept, he offered to waive the tax so the machine would go for an even $200.

I will pick up the machine tomorrow. Hopefully I will also get the name of the young woman who will receive it. My plan is to set up a series of sewing lessons with her, take her shopping for fabric, and help her make something useful for either herself or her young child.

In my dreams I see this person finding the same pleasure I have always gotten from using my sewing machine. From the time I was sewing doll clothes for my Ginny doll at 6 until now, my sewing machine has been my constant companion. I hope my student and her Viking will spend a lot of productive time together!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Many Flavors of Grand

I wasn’t quite prepared to see a huge showroom of grand pianos at Rick Jones Pianos, Inc., when I went for my first look today. I was given a “tour” by very knowledgeable Paul Yarish, RPT (Registered Piano Technician) and then turned loose to play whichever ones I wanted to play.

It probably would have been better to do a blind testing, that is with the name obscured. I once again proved what a snob I am, gravitating to the Steinways, which inevitably are the most expensive.

I grew up playing a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet, a respectable piano which is now 50 years old and probably isn’t worth much more than the $700 my parents paid for it so long ago.

After playing the Kawais at Chautauqua, I know there is a big difference in the action and sound of every piano. I don’t like the crispness of the lower-end models.

But I did play a Kawai model NX-40 on sale for $17,000 that was quite nice. I also played a Boston GP-193 for $18,000 which was also more than acceptable. But the piano that stood out was a Steinway Model A for $42,000. Fortunately it was already sold to someone in Connecticut. But in actuality I can’t even consider spending this kind of money on a musical instrument.

So I walked away from Rick Jones Pianos without making a down payment on anything and now understanding why it is so important to play the piano before buying it.

The good news is I have a lead on a Steinway Model S that is being sold privately by someone who needs to get rid of it in the next 2 years before moving to Florida. He is asking a mere $12,000, which now is starting to sound like a real steal. It came highly recommended by the piano tuner of my friend Bill, who is currently my teacher. I have an appointment to see this piano on Friday.

I’m having some difficulty explaining to my husband why an investment in a piano is every bit as good or better than an investment in a new car. I reminded him that his Prius came with a price tag of $26,000. Paul Yarish reminded me that my husband’s Prius will be long gone when my grand piano still commands its purchase price or has even appreciated in value. So I am thinking of buying a piano as an investment – financially as well as in my future happiness.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

After Harry Potter

As happy as I was with the conclusion of the final Harry Potter book, I’m in mourning over reaching the end of this series. I have read all 4,195 pages in the past couple of months. These books have been like a magnet attracting me every time I had a few spare minutes.

After watching this boy grow up and living with him at Hogwarts, at the Dursleys, at the Burrow, and as he is on the run in the countryside, I feel like I’m almost a distant cousin. But I am definitely still a Muggle – no signs of wizardry here.

I couldn’t help but doing a “compare and contrast” with Jesus Christ after the last page was finished. This may sound ridiculous and sacrilegious, but there are some interesting parallels:

– Both had fathers of legendary repute. JC’s father was supposedly God himself. HP’s father was James Potter, one of the finest wizards of all time, who was killed in his prime by Voldemort.
– When they were but infants, both were attacked by wicked men. King Herod sent out a decree to kill all boy babies under the age of 2, hoping to eliminate JC. Lord Voldemort attempted to kill HP, leaving a lightning scar on this forehead.
– JC and HP were seldom outwardly angry, but if they were it was usually over an injustice done to someone. JC was furious about the moneylenders in the Temple. HP was quite angry at Dolores Umbridge and others who tried to have him expelled from Hogwarts for doing magic in self-defense when he was “underage”.
– Both could work magic. JC turned 5 loaves and 2 fishes into enough food to feed a multitude. HP’s whole existence revolved about magic.
– Both are constantly taking pity on others and giving them assistance. JC healed the sick, fed the hungry, and even brought back Lazarus from the dead. HP saved his cousin Dudley from the Dementors and saved Draco and Goyle even as they tried to kill him.
– Both have a philosophy that stresses fairness. JC preached the Beatitudes and stated the Golden Rule. HP supported equality for Muggles, house-elves, giants, and goblins.
– Both accepted their own death so that others might live. JC died on a Roman cross. HP died from the ultimate killing curse.
– Both came back from death. JC came back from the grave for 50 days before finally going up to heaven. HP realized only the part of Voldemort that was within him was dead, so he was allowed to come back from death to be a regular guy.
– Both had a followers who were willing to lay their own lives on the line to save their “master.” JC had his 12 disciples. HP had the members of the Order of the Phoenix and his fellow Gryffindors, who repeatedly went to battle for him.
– The story of both appeals to audiences around the world today. Missionaries have spread the teachings of JC to the far corners of the world. The HP books have been translated into multiple languages and appeal to people of all ages.

And for the differences:
– There was no virgin birth in the case of HP.
– HP never claimed to be able to absolve people’s guilt when they sinned.
– HP married and had children. Although there is a suggestion that Mary Magdalene was the wife of JC, he appears celibate in the Christian Bible.
– JC spawned a religion. HP is just a fictitious story about a boy who helps save the world from evil. It’s questionable as to which one has greater appeal.

I'm at a loss for what to read next. Any suggestions?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Nature vs. the '97 Volvo

Were the weather gods telling me I had too many cars? Yesterday afternoon as the cold front moved in and the wind whipped up, a huge branch fell on the newest of our old cars and left its mark.

Several weeks ago a neighbor noticed a large branch just hanging from this clump of branches, dangling dangerously over a power line. We called the county to ask them to remove it before it put the whole neighborhood in darkness. But no one ever came and we sort of forgot about the hanging branch.

It must have fallen yesterday afternoon during the high wind. But I didn’t notice it until this morning when I went out to get the paper. With great difficulty I lifted it off the car, to discover two really big dents and what appeared to be a small scratch in the windshield. It would have missed the car entirely had I parked a little straighter, but if I had been thinking of the branch I would never have parked the car there at all.

As I went out to do errands later today, I noticed that the small scratch in the windshield was now a series of cracks that radiated from the initial hit. The entire windshield will have to be replaced before the car will once again pass inspection.

For now it is on loan to a car-less friend in DC who is going to a wedding tomorrow. It will be fine for the next few days.

Then on Tuesday the glass man will come attempt to replace the windshield and we will talk about the two dents that should really be repaired.

When I complained to my husband about how much this Volvo costs to maintain, he reminded me that the car had not asked for a tree limb to fall on it. How true.

Then I remembered the story I had heard recently about a 600-pound cow that fell off a cliff onto the hood of a moving car in some far western state. The damage to my 1997 Volvo paled in comparison.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for Good Crust

My friend Bernie, the trivia expert, asked me the other night to name 6 foods most commonly associated with Thanksgiving. I rattled off: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, and green beans with Durkee onions. That’s tradition for you.

Fortunately I am not hosting today and my only responsibility is for the pumpkin pie. It would be about a 15-minute cooking job if I didn’t insist on making the crust. Just the mention of home-made pie crust continues to strike fear in my heart, but I make it every time.

This time was no different. It rolled out quite well. But the first try to get it into the pie plate resulted in a disaster that couldn’t even be pieced together. I’m never sure what to do when this happens, but today I opted to just roll again and the second time was a charm.

I think it would probably work as easily as it did for my Mother if I used butter or Crisco or some combination of those. But catering to my lactose-intolerant husband, I use Canoleo margarine. Maybe that’s not it at all, but it’s a good excuse.

I used to insist on cutting up a fresh pumpkin, but I have come to realize that canned organic pumpkin is probably far superior to the kind that takes a machete to dismantle. So now the filling is about a 15-minute job, following Martha Stewart’s recipe for “Golden Maple Pumpkin Pie”:

One unbaked 11-inch pate brisee shell, well chilled
1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree (I think this is approximately one can)
½ cup maple syrup
1-1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t. ground ginger
½ t. salt

Garnish: a pastry leaf or two or three (baked and cooled)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Put the pumpkin puree in a large bowl and add the syrup, milk, and eggs; mix until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the filling is firm and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before serving. Garnish with a pre-baked pastry leaf, if desired.

Couldn’t be easier once you get past the crust. The most fun is the pastry leaves, which is just dough rolled out and cut with a paring knife to form maple leaves, or any kind of leaves you like.

Thanksgiving will be a little different as we share it with long-time friends but neither of our children is home. Our daughter called from San Francisco in search of a pumpkin pie recipe so she can impress her boyfriend’s family. Our son noted that no one in Hamburg, except possibly other Americans, is celebrating Thanksgiving.

We will always remember a time 19 years ago when our friends’ youngest daughter was born on Thanksgiving night after they had dinner at our house. She will be home from Pomona to celebrate the holiday.

The real benefit of not hosting this year’s dinner is that I can forge ahead on Harry Potter #7, which is quickly drawing to a close.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Simple Salad

Whoever thought salad dressing could make such a difference? I learned a new technique from my long-time friend in San Francisco that results in French vinaigrette to die for!

My first foray into cooking was the summer after my freshman year of college when I lived with my friend and teacher Marilyn. It seemed like she knew just the right way to make everything. She had little tricks, like putting the hot potatoes into a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise when making potato salad.

It’s not that I grew up in a household without good food. My mother was a fantastic cook, not an adventurous cook, but she always made things that looked and tasted good. The problem was that she considered cooking her job and never taught me how to do it.

So that summer with Marilyn I mastered not only potato salad, but spaghetti sauce and California roast and a host of other good things to eat.

That summer all came flooding back as I stood in her elegant kitchen on the 17th floor of a luxury condo overlooking all of San Francisco. She told me what to wash and chop, while she mixed the salad dressing in the bottom of the bowl, a technique she learned from a French woman at Sur la Table. She put in Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, dill, salt, and pepper. Then she added lemon-flavored olive oil until it looked right. Marilyn is from the school of “look and taste”, don’t measure. At that point she started adding the sliced baby tomatoes, red peppers, mushrooms, and mixed greens. At the last minute she tossed the salad from the bottom up. It was the best salad I had ever eaten. (Of course that might have been tempered by the fact that we had walked miles that day in the rain before arriving for dinner.)

Since coming home, I have experimented with this technique, buying flavored olive oil and adding lemon juice. I also use fresh dill, just because I happen to have it on hand. The salad is so good you want to lick the dressing off the bowl.

If you are a measurer, as I know one of you reading this is, you simply have to suck it up and trust your instincts. Some days you may just feel like a little more mustard or a little less dill. You will not go wrong, trust me!

So bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Grown-up Luncheon

Lunch with like-minded women is such a treat! What better way to welcome a neighbor’s mother who has come to town for an extended visit.

Another neighbor invited 6 of us to a most elegant lunch today. Only two of us are still without grandchildren. We’ve all lived in this neighborhood for decades, although one person has now moved away and is only drawn back by a new grandchild and many old friends.

The table was set with the elegance of fine china, silver, and crystal. The meal was tasty but low-cal, preparing all of us for the caloric onset of Thanksgiving. A tasty chicken salad over mixed greens was served with pita. Sorbet with fresh berries rounded out the meal. And there was a choice of wines or cider.

It’s so much fun to drink at lunch time, when you aren’t already tired. But the real fun was catching up on busy retired lives that are going in many different directions. I learned things about these women that I had never known as we sat at swim meets together and walked in the neighborhood 4th of July parades.

A year ago I would have had to pass up this invitation because I was still working. It’s such a different life to be able to enjoy an elegant lunch with friends and not have to think of getting back to work.

And now Kris’s mother Audrey has been reminded about what a great community her daughter lives in. I suppose that’s why most of us have been here for 30 years and have no plans to leave.

Monday, November 19, 2007

That Time of the Year

Don’t most women dread that yearly GYN exam? You know the one that pokes and probes and palpates all those parts of your body that most people never see.

I actually look forward to seeing one of my favorite doctors. He is about my age, with a pony tail and clogs. Instead of alarming me, he is always reassuring, even if he finds something questionnable.

I remember once when he found a growth that had to be surgically removed, he made a wager that it was benign. If so, I owed him a batch of home-made chocolate chip cookies. I was never so happy as to bake those cookies.

Today as he came in my exam room, he took a call. After hanging up, he explained that it was one of their new doctor partners asking him to dress up as Santa Claus for a Christmas party at her house for her kids. He said, “Can you imagine a good Jewish boy like me as Santa Claus?”

Today’s conversation as he went through that checklist of the exam included the following:
– This will be the first Thanksgiving he will not have any children at home. Same for us. And a little sad.
– He gets to learn about Christmas this year because his new wife (of a year) is not Jewish. She has considered converting, but still celebrates Christmas.
– Two of his children no longer speak to him since he and their mother divorced. He misses them terribly, but after psychotherapy for the first year determined that he simply must go on without them in his life any longer.
– He grew up in a “Conservadox” household – almost Orthodox. His parents refused to let him go to dances at the local YMCA. When his baseball team (sponsored by the Y) won the championship, his parents declined to go to the awards ceremony. He went home and admitted, “I did something really bad tonight. I ate HAM.” His mother smiled. His father was furious.

At this point I realized the exam was over. I had been so engrossed in our conversation that I hadn’t even thought about all the poking and probing and palpating.

Before he left the room, he told me yet one more story about how his grandfather had changed the separate seating policy in his Orthodox synagogue by refusing to support it any longer unless he could sit with his wife. Then he was gone to write my yearly mammogram order while I got dressed.

I was sorry to be the reason he had slipped even further behind schedule, but as always I went away thinking more about what we had talked about than the procedures necessary to give me a clean bill of health.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just Like Peter Rabbit

I must say when I was a child I had a hard time understanding why Peter Rabbit got so sick after his escapades in Mr. McGregor’s garden. I couldn’t imagine drinking yucky camomile tea.

But after my experience with the cold yesterday I understood perfectly well how Peter must have felt. For the next 24 hours I nursed my body with tea and rest and felt like staying between the covers all day.

I even gave in and drank a glass of Airborne to ward off whatever seemed to be lurking close by. I call that an extreme measure.

Even though I always allied myself with Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, I still had an admiration for Peter Rabbit, who managed to get out of all sorts of scrapes in his adventures. I was always so happy when he made it home, only to be banished to bed.

The difference in a half century is that I now love camomile tea and can’t imagine anything better than being put to bed with a warm cup of tea.

It is nice to be feeling better once again. However, it was a lesson not to put my body in such a compromised position. Sitting out in cold weather just doesn’t agree with me.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Retail 101

As we waited in line to get a spot, one of the more seasoned Eastern Market vendors guaranteed me that the one thing I would learn today was what it was like to be on the other side of the sales counter. Was she ever correct about that!

I showed up at around 7:30 on a very cold, gray Saturday morning. As I attempted to unload my card table and chairs, an authoritative voice (that of another vendor) told me I could only park there (in the public street) if I had a permanent place. I quickly got my things out of the trunk and moved the car. That was not an auspicious start.

As I walked back to the craft sales area, I noticed a line of chairs stretching from the main door. None of them had a person sitting in it, but I could sense they were significant. My first vendor friend explained the chairs were to establish an order for space assignment, so I put my chair at the end of the line. Soon thereafter a Hispanic man put a brick next to my chair, explaining that he had no chair. I spoke to him in Spanish and offered him the use of my second chair to hold his place in line.

My new friend gave me a rundown on the squabbles that are currently plaguing the market. It seems some vendors are not happy with the way space is assigned, others are irate when new people offer goods at lower cost, and the vegetable vendors would like to take over the craft area. I hoped not to offend any of the warring parties.

It was like a UN of people there to sell everything under the sun. There were Asians, Hispanics, Africans, and people speaking a variety of other languages. I was one of the few Caucasians. It was obvious that for many of them, this was their livelihood.

As we waited to be processed at 8:00, the head guy explained that any first-timers would automatically get last placement, so I really hadn't needed to show up so early with my chair. At 8:30 a senior vendor asked to look at the “wares” of us first-timers to see if they were acceptable. By 9:00 I had a small space for my table and goods. It was actually just opposite the consignment shop on 7th Street.

Whereas some vendors had elaborate tables, stands, and tents which required time-consuming assembly, my simple table was ready in about 5 minutes.

The first dilemma came when I realized vendors had no bathroom at the market. My newest friend advised me to buy coffee at Port City Java across the street, thereby entitling me to the use of their bathroom. For $2, it seemed like a good solution. I asked a nearby vendor to keep an eye on my table while I bought my right to a bathroom.

My greatest good fortune was spotting a member of my piano group trekking up 7th Street with her morning baguette. I hailed her and within a few minutes had made my first sale. I offered her a discount as a friend which she politely declined, paying full price.

My second sale was also to a good friend who took the above picture. At that point I set my goal for the day of selling something to a stranger.

Several hours later I had sold items to not one but two strangers, for a grand total of 4 sales and $87. Subtracting out the $25 fee, that was a whopping $62 for a day’s work. Oops, I forgot to subtract out the cost of the materials. I’m sure I actually turned a profit on the items sold and I do have a substantial inventory left.

Interestingly the only people who were the least bit interested in what I had to sell were over 50 or under 10 years old. The 50+ crowd were however mostly “just looking” and the children were dragged off to the jewelry and purse stalls by their parents.

I had already determined that I really suck at selling anything, but I felt better when I struck up a conversation with the African guy next to me, who said he hadn’t sold any jewelry all day. Many of them called it a slow day and said business was definitely off.

But by 3:30 I was freezing cold to the point where it was difficult to walk when I stood up. I was quickly starting to evaluate my desire to return for another go next week, when it is likely to be even colder.

Several vendors stopped by my table to tell me not to be discouraged and to invite me back again. I really liked these hard-working people who brave the cold and rain and snow Saturday and Sunday every weekend to sell their wares. But I’m thinking the Spring may be a better time to try again.

What an educational day, even if it was painfully cold. Although I am now sure I was never cut out for retail, I do have a better appreciation of just how hard it is to sell a product of any kind. My hat goes off to independent merchants.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Launching a Business

I just realized that in all the years I have been sewing and making things, I have sold very little and never to strangers. Tomorrow will be a first if I am actually allowed to set up my little card table at Eastern Market.

I have spent the week getting ready for this beginning, while attempting to entertain two out-of-town guests. I now have business cards (see above) and a name for my fledgling business, although it is not copyrighted. I have a sign with prices and a small inventory of things to sell. Here are some samples:

Doorknob covers for Christmas and Hanukkah. I learned how to make these when I was a 10-year-old Girl Scout. But are they still in vogue after half a century?!

Sachets filled with either lavender, balsam fir, or rose petals.

Napkins for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I have convinced myself that tomorrow is a win-win situation. If no one buys anything, I can spend next week reading Harry Potter #7 instead of replenishing my inventory. If by some miracle I were to sell out, I would be in the same shape as my business partner, who has sold all her photos and can only join me for moral support and coffee tomorrow.

I have never been behind the scenes at a flea market to see how it really works. I’m hoping for camaraderie with the other vendors, good food and hot drinks nearby, and a perfect fall day. I suppose too I am hoping for people with some money to spend who will recognize the time I have invested in making the things I have for sale.

If this initial attempt proves successful, I have ideas for new things to make: lavender-flax-filled eye pillows, bread basket liners, maybe even small purses.

I also have this idea of doing something that might allow children to decorate an item, like one of the doorknob covers. Parents always love to display something their children helped to make.

But today is only speculation. I will have to tuck my camera in my bag for tomorrow so I can give you a full report on my first day at the market.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Help from Afar

This is a week of scrambling to finish the things I want to show at Eastern Market on Saturday. Today I took full advantage of all offers of help.

My husband helped me print the business cards I had designed. And my house guests pitched in to stuff sachets with lavender, balsam fir, and rose petals. Little did I know that my newest friend Sarah was an expert at craft shows and at sachet making. She reminded me about things like having a cash box and came up with many new ideas of things to make.

But for today I just wanted to finish all the projects already started. There will be time for new “merchandise” if what I have made sells.

As we each worked on our part of this project, we gossiped and told stories of the past. There were even a few jokes. It was that feeling of a quilting bee that makes you glad you have female friends.

This was definite proof that many hands can be a big help, especially when they aren’t asking to be paid!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Time Is It Really?

For some reason the 3-hour time change traveling east is the hardest adjustment for me, worse than coming back from Europe.

This morning when Jake started barking at 6 AM, it seemed like the middle of the night. I felt drugged and totally unenthusiastic about getting up to let him out. I think he actually just wanted to continue our family reunion.

Tonight as I should be going to bed, I’m wide awake and full of energy. I have house guests who are arising at 8 AM, so I really should be going to sleep. Instead I found myself looking through boxes in the basement in search of my kindergarten picture (which also contains one of my house guests). I did find it and we were very cute as we sat next to each other in the first row with legs splayed in total innocence.

I’m sure within a few days east coast time will make sense, but I’m still in that state of limbo where my internal clock just doesn’t match any external clock on the east coast. Do I feel a yawn coming? Please!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just a Little Piece of Heart

Could it be that the reason San Francisco is such a uniquely great city is because everyone who comes there does leave just a little bit of heart behind?

It was a very long travel day today. We were up at 4:00 a.m. to be picked up at 4:55 for a 7:00 flight. By the time you ride on 2 planes and apply the 3-hour time change, the day is gone.

I must say I loved coming into Washington National Airport and seeing the Washington Monument. So most of my heart came home, but maybe that little piece did get left behind on Fillmore Street or on the Golden Gate Bridge or in the Cliff House or the Coit Tower. Who knows where those pieces of heart reside.

One of the reasons I’m happy to be home is one of my best and oldest friends is coming into town tomorrow to play tourist. She and her companion will make use of some of the extra beds and cars we have around these days.

Then there’s Eastern Market on Saturday. I have so many ideas of things I need to do before I will be ready to open up my “shop” of handmade items for all occasions. There are business cards to make, sachets to fill, elastic to be put in the doorknob covers, a sign of prices to be made, ...

I do hope someone shows up to see what I’ve been up to for the past month. If not, my Christmas / Hanukkah shopping is done!

But tonight I will unpack and stash the suitcase back in the attic to await some trip somewhere sometime. I’m home once again safe and sound.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Pinot Blanc

There is something really awesome about the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s definitely the boundary between urban and rural in San Francisco and rural is quite nice.

As we entered Sonoma County, we quickly got off the main drag (101) and headed into wine country, where there were grapes in every direction. We were in search of a pinot blanc, which turns out to be a fairly rare grape. We realized that our map was slightly outdated when we learned at our first vineyard stop that they haven’t bottled a “PB” since 2003. But they recommended a nearby vineyard and even called ahead for us. Meanwhile we tasted the best they had to offer and our daughter bought a red “jug wine,” meaning a mix of several wines.

At the Dulton-Goldfield Vineyard near Sebastopol we found the perfect pinot blanc and learned a lot about the family from which it comes. It turns out that pinot blanc vines are clones of pinot noir vines, which are somewhat unstable, producing many oddities, like the two-color grape in this picture (taken from a computer screen in the tasting room.) We ended up buying a case of the pinot blanc and having it shipped home.

We drove to the nearby town of Graton for lunch. When I say town, I mean a collection of about 6 buildings. But they included 2 restaurants, an antique store, and a gourmet grocery store with samples. Lunch at the Willow Wood Café was well worth waiting for and included a scrumptious apple-blueberry cobbler for dessert.

You get a magnificent view of the city as you once again cross the Golden Gate Bridge. We drove a ways on scenic Route 1, including a tour of the neighborhood of Seacliff, where I spotted my dream house. It probably goes for about $4 million, so it will indeed remain just a dream!

This trip is drawing to a close as we make arrangements to be picked up in the dark for a 7 AM flight. It was definitely fun while it lasted. I can’t wait to come again!

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head

One day of sun may be all we get. Today the rain came around noon and it is still coming down.

Did that stop us from walking uphill and downhill? Of course not. Today we went to what must be one of the world’s largest farmers’ markets at the Ferry Building. It seemed like everything we saw was the best and freshest and most delicious ever.

Chicken fricasse with mushrooms, anyone?

Dogs are allowed at this farmers' market.

A little soulful music to shop by.

A pumpkin weighing in aty 1,292 pounds.

How could I pass up fresh plump oysters for lunch with an espresso on the side?

We were invited to dinner at the condo of one of my college roommates on the 17th floor of a very large building in South Beach. On any other day the view would have been spectacular, but the wave of fog obscured most everything to the point where it just seemed like we were up in the clouds.

We had a lot of fun remembering things that had happened almost 40 years ago when we were both just young flower children. I reminded her that she (being 4 years older than I was) and her boyfriend had taught me how to drink. She also taught me more useful things like how to cook.

Today will be a good test of the old wives’ tale that getting wet gives you a cold. Tomorrow we head out to Sonoma for some wine-tasting.