ginger beer: sweet and spicy!

Following up on my summer goals, I recently made another batch of home-brewed ginger beer. Sweet, spicy, with a wicked kick, ginger beer makes a refreshing drink on its own or mixed half-and-half with lemonade. For an evening highball, try a Dark & Stormy: ginger beer with a splash of black rum and a squeeze of lime. Mmm, you can feel that summer breeze drifting your way, can’t you?

This is an ersatz ginger beer; real ginger beer requires a ginger beer plant, a symbiotic colony of yeasts that carbonate the drink through fermentation. I decided not to buy or culture my own ginger beer plant. Instead, I followed Dr. Fankhauser’s instructions for fermented yeast carbonation, which gives a nice fizzy lift to a syrup-and-water base.

For my long-ago first batch of homemade ginger ale, I followed Dr. Fankhauser’s directions carefully. The resulting drink was tasty and fizzy and exactly what he promised, but not spicy and dark as ginger beer should be. For my recent batch, I brazenly modified the ingredients and the prep technique to produce a richer spicier drink, but the brewing directions remain the same.

A few improvements I made: cooking the ginger and spices with the sugar extracts more flavor and also eliminates the need to dissolve the sugar after it goes into the bottle. Adding the lemon zest, cinnamon, and clove results in a more complex flavor profile, and the peppers and peppercorns add bite and snap. Straining the syrup makes a cleaner, less cloudy ginger beer that’s far more pleasant on the tongue — no shreds or ginger to tickle your throat! I also added a bottle-sterilizing step for extra safety. Continue reading

For sale

This is the second weekend selling our wares for the people of Perth, and the people, they just aren’t showing. Granted, we haven’t advertised it well so it’s our own damned fault. Let me back up a bit by telling you that we’re taking to the road again, which is no big surprise, hey? If you know JM and me, you’re aware that we’re never in one place for long. We’ve been married for 11 years and the longest we stayed put in one place was a brief experiment in homeownership in Baden, Switzerland. We’ve been in Australia for over three years which is 21+ dog years of accumulating stuff. Please, please come buy it so we can take off again.


This will tell you all you need to know about our housekeeping:

I heard a ghastly rumbling whoosh from the upstairs apartment and cast my eyes upward, wondering what the hell was going on up there. The Great Dane scrabbling on the floor? Radiator pipes clattering and flushing? Some new Wii game?

Oh. They’re vacuuming.

the end of any messy tale

We buy a roll of paper towels every few months, whichever roll is cheapest and, though I know it pains the manufacturers and designers, with no attention to the prints — oh, I’m sorry: the “eclectic little ‘story-based’ vignettes that spell the end of any messy tale.”

But while wiping up spilled butter, I just noticed the motto adorning the paper towel in my hand: “You can bury a lot of troubles digging in the dirt.”

I cannot be the only person who immediately reads this as advice on disposing of the body.


With practice, it’s possible to find moments of joy and grace in almost any chore, no matter how mundane or tiresome. For example: I hate doing the dishes. I hate it so much that dirty dishes have been the trigger for most of our (rare) household fights.

The height of the counter and the depth of the sink seem almost to conspire, like malevolent creatures, to tweak my lower back and my strained shoulder. The dishes are fragile and haphazardly stacked, sometimes with tiny crusty bits, sometimes a bit slippery. Once in a great while, my tender fingers find at the bottom of the pile the shattered (and sharp) remains of a dish I loved. The metal dish drainer marks the dishes; the wooden dish drainer rots. The water chaps my hands.

And there it is: I hate doing the dishes. This idea,  firmly entrenched in my head, repeats and repeats and wears itself a track in my brain, until it seems absolutely true.

But it isn’t. It’s only a thought. I’m training myself to see other thoughts, to find reasons to enjoy the small necessities of daily life. Here’s why I love doing the dishes.

– The high citrus scent of the natural dish soap makes me smile. With the orange scent sold out, we had to buy apple scent this time. Turns out apple makes me smile, too.

– The soft floursack curtain hanging on a rod over the kitchen sink. The odd positioning of our windowframe made it impossible to use a traditional curtainrod in our kitchen, so I thought and thought and then rigged up a simple solution for a few dollars. The best part: because it’s a floursack towel, when it gets dusty or spattered or tired-looking, I can whip it down and hang a replacement from the stack of towels. It makes me feel like a genius, in a teeny tiny way.

– Bubbles. I love the tiny stray bubbles that occasionally break away from the spout of the detergent bottle, floating in the still air of the kitchen or catching the breeze from the open window.

– Filling the rack and emptying the sink. How many tasks offer that simple visual metric of accomplishment? For the same reason, I enjoy laundry: if you’re doing it even half-right, you’re quickly rewarded with obvious progress.

– The old set of silver flatware, no doubt the wedding silver of a distant great-aunt, passed diffidently on to me by my mother. I love using these pieces, I love the feel of them in my hand. I love to polish them (using the baking-soda/boiling-water method), but I also love to use them even when they’re coated with tarnish. I love to scrub and soap and rinse them, I love to slot them into their little drawer. I love them.

– Breaks. When the dishes are stacked and towering and too numerous to face at once, I wash a batch, then take a break to let them drain. It’s a chance to sit peacefully with a coffee, a book, the laptop, or the phone, but still retain the virtuous illusion of doing the chores.

– A meandering mind. I do a lot of my clearest thinking during a mindless, mechanical chore. A great many of my big a-Ha! moments come while I’m doing dishes. I exploit this for academic writing by scheduling writing breaks during which I can wash a half-sink of dishes; I load up my brain with the subject matter, examine it carefully every which way, then take a break and do some dishes. As my hands scrub and rinse and my mouth hums a song, my brain ticks away in the background the whole time, poking at the dark corners of a thesis and looking for a new path.

I love doing the dishes. I should try to remember that.


Do you ever have that dream where you find a new room in your home? If you have, you know the one I’m talking about: you’re trundling along doing your daily household chores and then — buWHA? — you walk past a door that was never there before. You open it and find a new room, open and fresh and uncluttered. It’s empty, but full of possibilities.

Sigh. I love that dream.

The Fella and I have been kicking around a new floorplan for our dollhouse-sized apartment. And by that, I mean I’ve been graphing out rooms and layouts, and he’s been nodding at them and cheerfully saying, “Sounds great!” and “Whatever you want!” and “I’ll move everything!”

This isn’t as gendered as it sounds, with the suggestion of the fussy little woman who wants to pretty up the house and the gentle lug who silently moves every stick of furniture just a skosch to the left. Indeed, our situation flips some gendered expectations on their heads. I can easily maneuver imaginary items in imagined three-dimensional space and translate graph layouts into actual rooms of furniture, and he cannot, which makes design discussions impractical for us. He’d much rather jump in and move stuff around.

(Of the two of us, I’m also the one with the toolbox, who knows where the hammer is, who got all excited about the cordless drill, who has a nodding acquaintance with the folks at the hardware store, who takes stuff apart to see how it works. When a recent guest remarked that he’d finally got the hang of our awkward bathroom door, The Fella proudly piped up “No! It works now! Elsa fixed that!”)

Still, this new plan does require us to move just about every item of furniture in the place, and by “us,” I mean “him”; even if my back allowed me to drag furniture around, my husband will not. If the new layout doesn’t work, we’ll he’ll have to move every item of furniture back, too.

But for the past day or two, whenever I examine the graphed-out floorplan or look around the rooms and imagine them re-arranged, I get that odd floaty sensation, as if I’m dreaming. As if I’m dreaming the dream of the extra room.

clean sweep

The whole house feels warmer thanks to our new Swiss chimney sweep who came by this evening. After he cleaned out the chimney and started a roaring blaze, we enjoyed an evening of conversation that bounced back and forth between English and Swiss-German. In one fell swoop we’ve found an excellent new acquaintance and brought warmth and luck into our new home. I couldn’t be happier.

bridal blog

morning, indeterminate time:
Rise hazily out of sleep. Wonder what time it is. For the first time in months, you have awakened without the wedding to-do list blaring itself into your consciousness. Sigh happily and fall back asleep.

morning, later:
Wake up for real this time. You still have no idea what wedding chores you have slated for today. Freedom, horrible freedom!

Today is the RSVP deadline; surely the outstanding 25% of responses* will come pouring in by nightfall. Laugh hollowly.
*That percentage is not really fair. The Fella’s co-workers need to see their completed schedules before they can accept or decline, so we expect some of their responses to come late. It’s the other 15% that rankle ever so slightly.

Have a cappuccino and a peanut butter toast. Vow to have no more caffeine today; you’re on edge during the day and restless at night.

Search for camera. It’s around here somewhere, right in plain sight. You’ve lately been suffering from an odd inability to recognize common objects even when you’re looking at them. Mentally label this phenomenon “object aphasia.” Aha! Found it!

Upload venue images from camera to email; send to your brother overseas, who foolishly agreed to take some photos on the wedding day. Prepare similar emails to send to other volunteer photographers.

Check email for RSVPs. Nope.

The Fella leaves for the gym. You are sitting on bed writing emails and making lists for self-catering.

The Fella returns to get ready for work. You are sitting in exactly the same spot, writing feverishly. Do not even consider looking at the table chart; everyone will just have to fit into the rented hall, which once seemed enormous but is suddenly a tiny mousehole.

The Fella calls from work to announce that [friend] and his family have sent their regrets. You both say, “Awwww, that’s too bad!” and you mean it. From the corner of his mouth, The Fella adds, “…but that’s four seats right there,” and you mean that, too.

Hanging up, decide that you have just time to drop into the cheap salon and get a haircut. You’re overdue. Just have a quick shower and you’ll be on your way! You deserve a treat!

The toilet overflows. This is not the treat you had in mind.

Intermittently plunge, dose the bowl with detergent and hot water, and search the internet for advice, which is both plentiful and suspect.

So much for your pretty haircut.

More plunging. Think how much nicer this would be with a tiara. Maybe a trip to a bridal shop is in order after all.

Admit that the the cup plunger is not working. It always has before; something might be seriously wrong. Try not to think about snakes and plumbers.

Head to the local hardware store. Hustle, because it closes at six and you move slowly when your back is wracked up. A) Stress and B) jerky movements exacerbate your back problem. The plugged toilet and vigorous plunging qualify nicely for A and B.

Check the mail for RSVPs. Nope.

Hurriedly rounding the corner, you stop, back up a step to the lilac bush, and breathe in deeply. If ever you needed to stop and smell the flowers, this is the day.

On your way, notice: the wobbly girl on roller skates, who waves and almost falls over as a result; the kids racing on their bikes; the fresh dark dirt in the schoolyard garden; the Rowantrees creamers in the antique store window. This is nice, this is okay. This is nice, this is okay. Keep telling yourself this. You’ve been prone to anxiety lately.

Notice your shadow. With the purse on your shoulder and a big soft scarf wrapped around you, you look like a lumpen hunchback. Your limp intensifies the image. Wonder if the devastating body consciousness from which you have been suffering will end after the wedding.

Ask yourself earnestly what the heck wedding-related tasks you were supposed to be doing today. The remaining tasks are either so small that you forgot them or so large you lost sight of them.

Realize that you haven’t eaten since your morning peanut butter toast.

Intent on your mental list and your body horrors, you shot right past the corner for the hardware store. Double back, double quick.

Hey, the local hardware store is open ’til seven! Good to know!

The clerk shows you right to the plungers and helps you find one with a proper flange lip on it. It’s nice and cheap, too.

One the way home, stop by the local grocery and pick up some essentials. And some inessentials, too. Have a nice chat with the butcher, his friends, and the cheese lady. The checkout woman calls you “Dear.”

Stop near the corner and smell the lilacs.

As you round the corner to head home, the bells a few blocks away start ringing their carrillon. This is nice.

More plunging and hot water with detergent. This is getting discouraging.

You are a genius. A plumbing genius. A tenacious, stubborn, very sore plumbing genius.

Preen and revel in your smug cheer. Now, for the love of all that’s holy, pee.


Unpack the cake and Dr. Pepper you got at the neighborhood store; lie down with an ice pack on your back and another on your shoulder; have cake and soda for dinner. Toilet trouble trumps your resolutions to eat better and drink less caffeine, just for tonight.

Reflect that you’re no pretty pretty princess bride, but you’re pretty handy. Feel like maybe you deserve The Fella after all.

edited to add: Erik wrote me to say:

I loved your ‘bridal blog’ post. I read it all in Google Reader where there wasn’t any formatting, just the times were bolded. The lack of formatting really added to the hectic stream-of-consciousness feel. It’s cool when a computer error accidentally makes something better.

I took a look at the Google Reader text, and it exactly mimics the pressed, unstructured anxiety I was feeling. Thanks for pointing it out, Erik! (This comment is posted here with Erik’s kind permission. He also suggests “P.S. Maybe your comments could use some prodding with that fancy new plunger? :-)”

To which I can only respond: word.

curb appeal

Looking into real estate? Don’t overlook the useful resources to be found at It’s Lovely! I’ll Take It!, where you can find gems like:
a Photoshop phantasy tour;
– a NYC studio with
seXXy mottos and song titles emblazoned stuck on the walls (potentially NSFW, and tragically halfhearted);
– a housefront adorned with mattresses, and a prominent warning of transients on site (note the plural: “transients“);
– an ominous gathering of clouds over the presumably doomed listing.
Once you’ve splurged on your new property, no doubt you’ll be looking to save on the furnishings. Check out Vintage Microwave, a site reviewing selections from Craiglist’s free section. VM’s motto: “Free may not be cheap enough.” They’re not wrong. Is nothing too much to pay for:
a badly burned, partially melted, quite rusty moped?
a mangle!?!
a filthy decade-old trampoline riddled with holes and missing some springs?
– everything you need to set up your own naughty* nurse’s exam room? And I mean everything, including a hospital bed, four — count ’em, four! — dirty old medical lounges, an old colposcope, at least seven and possibly eight expired enema kits, assorted unspecified “sophisticated surgical equipment”, and an outdated but still functional X-ray machine. Old-fashioned X-rays for everyone, YAAAAAAAY!
*where “naughty” may extend to include “criminally insane.”

To Whom It May Concern

I am horrified in retrospect. I applied for a job two years ago and just now looked at the cover letter I attached to my resume. It began “Dir Sir or Madam”… I suppose I was still so caught up in German at the time that “dir” (meaning you) completely slipped my notice. Hey, you sir, you are not dear to me.

Am loving the new place so much. It’s not the high life we had in Mandurah, but I am so completely happy, especially with all the garage sale/second-hand store finds. Today I bought a jarrah bookcase for $30 at a market in Dallyelup (or however it’s spelled–everything ends in ‘-up’ around here.) Tomorrow we’re calling the removalists to see if our goods from Alice are arriving. They’re supposed to be here before Christmas and I’m counting on that because some friends are coming down for New Year’s which is also JM’s and my tenth anniversary. Ten years. Holy cow. So much to unpack, so much to celebrate.