DIY yogurt

I’ve been making homemade yogurt for about a year now, and the easiest and most reliable instructions I’ve found are in the book Kitchen Creamery: Making Yogurt, Butter & Cheese at Home. (In searching for the book just now I found the author also has a Tumblr!)

The thing that really made my yogurt-making get off the ground was buying a Thermapen, a super-accurate cooking thermometer that has become one of my most precious tools. Hitting the correct temperatures at different stages in the process is key to yogurt-making—I lost probably four or five batches over the course of my experiments because I let it cool too much before incubating it, or I tried adding too much sweetener at the wrong time.

I started out making plain yogurt, which is the most foolproof, and I enjoyed eating it with fruit or granola. It’s a little too tart for me by itself (though I know many people enjoy the taste of plain yogurt). So I really wanted to learn how to sweeten it—just a little bit, not too much.

I’ve been very pleased with the results of the honey-vanilla yogurt recipe that’s in the Kitchen Creamery book. I use a gallon of whole milk, one vanilla bean (seeds scraped out and mixed in along with the empty pods), and 3/4 cup of honey. The result is perfect. It makes about ten 16-oz mason jars, which lasts me about three weeks.

Yogurt’s satisfying to make because it’s nearly instant gratification. I put it together in the evening, let it incubate overnight, and stick the jars in the fridge to chill over the next day. Then when I get home that night, I have yogurt!

I’ve tried making kombucha, too. A couple of the batches turned out pretty well, but they weren’t a patch on the stuff I’ve bought in the store. And you have to wait so long for it to ferment (compared to yogurt, anyway), and some of my batches started growing mold and had to be thrown out. It was all too labor-intensive and not as satisfying, so I’m done with DIY kombucha for now, I think.

I might look into cheese-making, though!

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"We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?"

I had the most amazing sandwich in Terminal 2 of the Minneapolis airport yesterday. It was called the Gobbler: sourdough bread, piles of turkey, herb stuffing, and cranberry aioli, served warm. My, was that good. Just like a turkey dinner.

I was waiting for my son’s flight to leave the gate; I’d promised to stay at the airport until then. He’s nearly 15 but is still eligible to have an escort go with him through security, so we hung out together in the airport for a while. He had a short flight to Chicago Midway, where he’s spending time with my dad. They’ll drive back up to the Twin Cities together and we’ll go to the State Fair on Thursday next week.

I love the Minnesota State Fair. My husband does not (crowds of people moving very slowly—intolerable!) so for the past decade my dad’s gone with me and my son every year. We eat tasty things and watch the boy go on rides on the Midway.

The boy is starting high school this year, and he still calls us “mommy” and “daddy” (which sounds quite odd now that he’s taller than I am and has a deeper voice than his dad). I’ve suggested that he’s old enough to switch to “mom” and “dad,” but he refuses. He says, a) he refers to us as mom and dad when he’s talking about us to other people, and b) no one has ever mentioned it to him so they must not notice or care.

I’m not sure how hard to press on this. My husband says of course other kids will notice and will make fun of him, even if they don’t do it to his face. Being on the autism spectrum, the boy has a hard time picking up on this stuff. At the same time, though, I want to respect his choice, not force him to make this switch; and why shouldn’t he call us what he wants to? Aargh.

I might ask my dad to talk with him about it. The boy’s at the age where another respected adult’s words mean a lot more than anything either of his parents could say.

We’ve had lots more fun with contractors and work being done on the house, which is all too boring to discuss. Suffice it to say that I’m no longer crying in bathrooms over it, so that’s good enough.

I’ve been struggling with depression lately. It’s been like bobbing up and down in a dark lake; a lot of the time I feel totally fine, but every so often my head goes under for a while and I can’t breathe. I talked with my gastroenterologist about it during my yearly med check, and she ordered blood tests to rule out anemia, thyroid issues, vitamin D deficiency, etc. Nothing came of that, so she suggested I make an appointment with a primary care physician. Yet another doctor to visit, ugh. I’ve been using my gynecologist as my primary, but I suppose I should start establishing a relationship with a GP.

Possibly I should also get back into therapy. I suspect some of this may be childhood issues resurfacing as I parent my own daughter, who’s at the age now where shit was happening to me as a child. She’s so beautiful that sometimes it hurts to look at her. I’m so grateful I can give her the safe and happy childhood I didn’t have, but sometimes I want so badly to go back in time and protect the child I was.

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house work

Our house needs a new roof, which we knew was coming. But we've also discovered there's water damage and mold in the attic knee walls, reaching down to the bathroom below, which means I've also needed to call a mold abatement contractor, an insulation contractor (two of them, since the first is not getting back to me), a drywall contractor, and an electrician (for the bathroom fan), all of whose work must be closely coordinated with the roofing company. I don't like making phone calls at the best of times, so it's taking a lot of my emotional energy.

We're fortunate enough to have found a way to pay for the work, but I look at the money rolling out the door, think about my son wanting to go to college in four years, and it makes me want to cry. But we can only cross one bridge at a time, and this is today's bridge.

I'm also still emotionally exhausted from the California trip and all its extended family drama, which doesn't help. And work is beginning to heat up, as it always does this time of year.

My husband is home sick today (aches, chills, exhaustion), and I'm not feeling so hot myself. Considering leaving work early this afternoon, but it would further deplete the small store of PTO hours I have left. I may just opt to have a good cry in the basement bathroom at work instead.

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sunny California

We ate breakfast at a café near Balboa Pier in California a couple days ago, and our server asked if we were Canadian. "No, we're from Minnesota," I said, leaning on the long "O" sound. She tried her best to reproduce the "O" but couldn't do it. I think you have to live in MN at least ten years to master the accent. Mine, I'm told, is getting stronger every year. I notice it most when I'm talking with middle-aged Norwegian ladies; I tend to mirror what I'm hearing. But often I can't hear it myself, though my mother (who lives near Chicago, where I grew up) likes to tease me about it.

I had a great time in CA whenever my husband and I were off on our own. The family stuff was hard, but I got through it mostly undamaged. I may talk about it more after I've finished digesting it.

I love the ocean on the West Coast, oh, I love it so much! So we spent time at Balboa Pier, Aliso Beach (in Laguna Beach), and San Clemente Pier, where we found an annual beach festival in progress. We tried to stop at La Jolla Cove on our last day, but there was no parking anywhere, and then it started pouring (!) and we spent the afternoon driving through heavy rain. I know CA needs the rain, so I couldn't be too upset about it. Sad it happened on our last day, though.

I'm ruined for doughnuts forever after this trip. We ate at Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee, where they make the most amazing selection of doughnuts fresh every hour. I had the very best apple fritter I have ever, ever eaten. No future fritter will compare. And we had dinner one night at The Winery, which we wandered into by accident. We had no reservations, of course, but they deigned to seat us anyway, and we ate filet mignon with black truffle sauce (our big indulgence of the trip). It will take a while for the glory of that meal to fade in my memory.

I read three books on the trip:

Julia Spencer-Fleming's One Was a Soldier is number 7 in a series. Just one more book left after this one and then I'll have to wait for her to publish! It feels as though her plots are getting away from her a bit in these last few books, but I'm still enjoying them.

Courtney Milan's Trade Me is the first in her new contemporary romance series. I've read most of her historicals because so many people talked about them, even though I'm not usually into historicals. But I love how aware she is of romance-novel tropes and how she deftly avoids the most tiresome and gross ones. Her characters feel real to me, and she's great at fleshing out minor characters as well.

Lois McMaster Bujold's just-released novella Penric's Demon was great fun. Paladin of Souls is my favorite of her World of the Five Gods books, and we learn a bit more about the Bastard and his demons in this. And I love Penric. I would've happily read a full book about him and his adventures. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Bujold writes in this universe.

Next up: Naomi Novik's Uprooted, which finally came in for me at the library!

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caulking gets messy

Last week I recaulked the bathtub three times, but I’m still not happy with it. Turns out caulking is one of those DIY jobs that seems easy and straightforward when you get started, and then you begin to realize how much skill and practice is necessary to turn out a professional-looking result.

Augh, my caulking job is so ugly! But at least it appears to be watertight. I’ll probably get the chance to have another go at it in a year or so, when the mildew that drove me to this has built up again.

Or I could just tear out the entire tub, poorly installed acrylic shower walls and all! Probably not the wisest idea, but it’s tempting.

Next week my husband and I are flying out to California for my sister’s post-elopement wedding celebration. I realized sometime into my second round of scraping and recaulking that I was maybe displacing my anxiety about this trip onto the bathtub, of all things. Well, home improvement projects are not a bad way to manage anxiety, and it’s typical of me to redirect my anxiety to something I have control over rather than the thing I can’t control at all: namely, how the members of my extended family are going to tear into each other (and possibly into me, oh God) at this shindig. If I can just avoid fretting myself into a colitis flare-up then I’ll get through it okay.

I wish I could just not go. But I love my sister and would like to be there for her. So there we are.

I’ve learned a lot about caulking! Next time I have to caulk the tub I’m going to kill it.

I am looking forward to spending almost five days with my husband without the kids, though. I can’t remember the last time we had that much time to ourselves. So that’s another bright side. I’m going to focus on that.

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epoxy all the things!

I came across Mars Evacuees while cleaning out my Kindle, and started reading the first bit to see if it I should keep it for later. Next thing I knew I had finished it. So much fun! Girls in space! It reminded me a little of the experience of reading Heinlein when I was a kid, but fortunately lacking his gender essentialism. The resolution felt a little too easy, but I loved the characters, so it worked for me.

It looks like Sophia McDougall’s also published a trilogy, Romanitas, that’s available as ebooks, but my library doesn’t have them. Has anybody read it?

I still need to read One Was a Soldier, book 7 of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series. The author jumped a big plot hurdle or two in the last couple of books and I’m not sure she stuck the landing, but I’m still loving the characters and want to see what happens next. I’ve been putting it off, I guess, because these books are so intense. The writer is great at ratcheting up the tension.

I read mostly fanfiction in June. I especially liked a couple of novel-length works that I’d been saving to read.

Prior Engagements (125520 words) by PlaidAdder
Chapters: 28/28
Fandom: Sherlock (TV)
Rating: Mature
Relationships: Sherlock Holmes/John Watson, Mary Morstan & John Watson, Janine/Harry Watson
Series: Part 7 of Wild About Harry

This is the most recent in a series, and I recommend starting at the beginning and reading all of them. But I think you could read this one without having read the previous stories.

Changes of Perspective (91562 words) by Sixthlight
Chapters: 4/4
Fandom: Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Relationships: Peter Grant/Thomas Nightingale

In 1945, the prison camp of Ettersberg is bombed from altitude. In 2009, Peter Grant graduates university with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.


Some recent DIY triumphs:

I knocked the passenger side mirror off my car pulling out of the garage (I have very poor spatial awareness, so this sort of thing happens way too often). Brought it in for an oil change and the shop said it would cost $420 to stick my mirror back on. Ha ha ha!—NO. So I asked a friend of mine who’s worked on art cars for advice, then bought a package of J.B. Weld epoxy and glued it on myself. The wiring wasn’t severed so the switches to move the mirror around still work, and unless you look underneath the mirror you can’t even tell it’s ever been broken. Win!

I also made a really good batch of honey vanilla yogurt by following the detailed instructions in Kitchen Creamery. I’ve made plain yogurt quite often before, but never had a flavored batch turn out properly. I’d like to try a maple-syrup sweetened version next.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter(TM)
I’ve been recovering from the big work conference that ate my brain—my whole life, really—for the past few months. I’m so glad it's over!

The conference was in Orlando, so I went early and spent a day at the Harry Potter theme park with a coworker who’s a fellow geek. I think age 8 is probably optimal for the experience, but even as an adult I enjoyed myself hugely. I did not buy a wand ($50!) but if I'd been there with kids I would have. The wands interact with exhibits in the park, so you can gesture with them to do things like get a fountain sculpture to squirt water at you. Genius idea. All the kids I saw were really into it. I drank some butterbeer (tasty, but so tooth-achingly sweet I couldn’t finish it), and bought a mug shaped like a little black cauldron.

We rode the Hogwarts Express three times in between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. That was the BEST. The windows and the doors to your train compartment are actually video screens, so you watch the English countryside go by, with characters doing things as the train passes them. And the door of the compartment showed the shadows of wizards walking by and stopping to have conversations outside your door. It was effectively done! On one trip we shared a compartment with a little boy and his dad, and the kid was so excited to be there. “Dad! Dad, did you see that! Dad, look at that!” It made me wish my kids were with me. I’d love to see their reactions. Maybe someday...

My coworker is pregnant, so we didn’t go on any other rides. I tend to get motion sickness so that wasn’t too disappointing, and we got to walk through Hogwarts Castle anyway. (I think my coworker was a lot more disappointed than I was, honestly.)

Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley were both designed to be “you are there” immersive experiences, though it was a little disorienting to be sweating in the Florida heat while strolling around a “snow-covered” English village. We ate breakfast in the Three Broomsticks and spent most of our time browsing through all the shops. If I’d been a kid I would’ve bought so much candy at Honeydukes! As an adult I mostly wanted it all for the colorful packaging. (I took a lot of pictures instead of opening my wallet.) We walked through Knockturn Alley and and saw a shop full of Death Eater gear that felt sort of like a Hot Topic. And we went to Ollivander’s and watched as one of the kids in the group got to have a “wand chooses the wizard” experience conducted by a very good actor playing a wandmaker.

And the giant dragon on top of Gringotts breathes fire!

After that, the other parts of the park were a bit underwhelming. The Marvel section (comics Marvel, not the MCU) had tons of cool Marvel merch, though, and I came thisclose to buying a red mug with the Avengers logo on it. If they’d had any decent Avengers shirts specifically cut for women’s bodies I would’ve bought one, but they did not. Fail! I just can’t express how much I DO NOT WANT to own a “Boys, stop fighting over me!” T-shirt with the Avengers on it. I did buy a Dr. Seuss nightgown with The Cat in the Hat on it, so at least I have that.

So we spent the entire day there and it was great, and then we got off our shuttle at the wrong hotel and had to walk a half-mile through a sketchy part of Florida to get to our hotel. I’m now firmly convinced that you can find a tattoo parlor on every corner in Florida. Sort of like yoga studios here in Minneapolis; I swear they are popping up everywhere.

And now I want to reread the Harry Potter books. Perhaps it’s time to try reading aloud the first one to my four-year-old...

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a nice monster
I’m almost done reading the first book in a mystery series that someone recommended: In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I stayed up way too late last night biting my nails through a particularly tense scene near the end of the book; it’s lovely to know I can still get so deeply involved in a novel. The two main characters, Russ (police chief) and Clare (Episcopal priest and former military helicopter pilot!) are wonderful. And joy! there are at least eight books already out in the series. Is there anything better than finding a new author to love?

I’m on the waitlist for the second book, though, so I need to choose from my current stack. I think next may be either Warchild, by Karin Lowachee, or Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Or something else entirely, maybe. I won’t know till I open it and start reading.


Whenever the guy who shares a cubicle wall with me sneezes, it triggers an adrenaline rush. His sneeze sounds exactly like my stepfather’s. It is seriously annoying, but there is nothing to be done about it. A person is allowed to sneeze, after all.

He also whisper-sings along sometimes when he has headphones on, which is annoying in an entirely different way. But then I’ve been told that I sometimes talk out loud to myself when I’m working without realizing it, so I suspect we annoy each other about equally. We are all too Minnesotan to ever discuss it.


At my daughter's mandatory pre-kindergarten screening, the tester showed her a picture of a swarm of bees and then asked which of three things “sounded like” bees: a horse, a pair of pants, or cheese. My daughter pointed to the zipper on the pants. “A zipper sounds like bees!” The tester admitted that, yes, the sound of a zipper was like the sound of bees, and then completely failed to explain what rhyming was, gave up, and went on to the next test (alliteration, which was completed with no problems).


My daughter has an imaginary friend: a nice monster named Little Boy Blue. No idea how she decided on that name, especially since she says he’s tall and green. Sometimes he rides in the car with us, and sometimes he runs along next to the car or swings from the streetlights. She doesn’t mention him often, but she hasn’t dropped the idea entirely. I’m curious to see what develops.

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all the feelings about all the books!
I’ve given up fan fiction for Lent, which I’ve done for the past two or three years. Since fanfic is my primary reality-avoiding coping mechanism, during this season I usually 1) Feel ALL the feelings, and 2) Read A LOT more books. Sometimes I feel ALL the feelings about the books! I have very little free time but I’m a very fast reader, so in the last seven days I’ve devoured five(-ish) books. No major plot spoilers below, but general impressions.

Prisoner (second in the Werewolf Marines series), by Lia Silver: I really liked DJ from what we saw of him in the first book (Laura’s Wolf), and I like him even more after getting a look inside his head. I’m glad the next book is being released shortly, because this one ends on a bit of a...not exactly a cliffhanger, but a major obstacle is unresolved.

One thing I find really refreshing about Silver’s romances is the absence of that super-annoying trope you often see: people who don’t talk to each other when it would make sense for them to do so. Usually it’s because the writer can’t figure out how else to stop them from immediately falling into bed with each other. Silver’s characters TALK to each other. They work things out. They don’t assume the other person is thinking this or that; they ASK when it makes sense to do so. The obstacles they face are real and not just in their heads, and that makes their resolution much more satisfying.

Also I really love the mythology of the werewolves she’s created. Scent names! Born wolves and made wolves! Special powers! Pack traditions! I just want to roll around in it all like a puppy.

Hawk, by Steven Brust: The latest in the Vlad Taltos series. A Brust book is always a pleasure, and I enjoyed being back in Adrilankha, spending time with some of Vlad’s old friends and enemies. I feel as if I’ve been reading this series forever—in a good way!—and I look forward to seeing where it goes next. (Ha, and I sort of have been reading it forever. I just looked it up: Jhereg was first published when I was ten years old. Wow, that’s impressive, isn’t it? Keeping a series going with a major publisher for more than 30 years!)

Low Midnight, by Carrie Vaughn: The latest in the Kitty Norville series, sort of. It’s the first one from the POV of Cormac, the bounty hunter Kitty met in her first book. He’s just so low-key and unimpressed by most things that the book never gained much momentum. Kitty has such a forceful personality; I really missed that.

No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar, an anthology edited by Mercedes Lackey: Oh, Valdemar, land of my teenaged-girl heart! I will always love you, even though I’ve given up on reading any of the novels past, oh, The Mage Winds trilogy. But I still like picking up these shared-world anthologies, and I enjoyed this one, though there was nothing particularly memorable in it. Except for, oh! that one where it ended horribly. UGH. I closed the book at that point and complained to my husband, and he said the good guys have to die sometimes! Then he quoted Batman from the Lego Movie, which I have yet to see, but apparently this is sort of a meme now? “DARKNESS. NO PARENTS.” All right then!

I keep meaning to look for more good Valdemar fanfic. There’s a series I came across that I’m really enjoying; it could fit right into one of the published anthologies (except for being, ha, novel-length at this point): MueraRashaye’s “Friends Across Borders”, about the unlikely friendship between a Sunpriest from Karse and a Herald. Good stuff.

Foxglove Summer (Rivers of London series), by Ben Aaronovitch: Peter Grant! I love how repressed you are, and how good you are at being a cop, even if you keep having to ask yourself, “What Would Lesley Do?” (Oh, my heart!) I enjoyed this, even though it meanders quite a bit. Other people have talked about the pacing issues, and yeah, but it still held my interest nonetheless. It felt like it was setting up a lot that will pay off later, but I wish the next book was out NOW so we could get on with things. Not enough Lesley! Not enough Nightingale! But I enjoy Beverly, and I liked the cop Peter hung out with.

I also made an aborted run at Meghan Daum’s book of personal essays, The Unspeakable, but after reading the first two I gave up. I don’t think I was in the right mood for it. And I couldn’t help but compare her essay “Matricide,” about her relationship with her mother and her mother’s death, to Roz Chast’s Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which I connected with a lot more readily and found very moving. Eh, well: sometimes I circle back round to things and they speak to me the second time. I bounced hard off the first Rivers of London book the first time, but when I came back a year later I really liked it.

Now I’ve started reading Stranger, by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown. Post-apocalyptic societies are my jam, and this one has lots of cool world-building so far. I do wish the publisher of the hardcover had not chosen to use a different typeface for each POV (especially a sans serif one! woe to my eyes!) but that’s a tiny distraction. I can tell already I’ll be wanting the second book as soon as I’m done with this one.

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I like my blanket fort
I can’t remember the last movie I saw in a theater. Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Maybe I should go see Jupiter Ascending. My husband said it was a great spectacle but a ridiculous plot, and he was fascinated by the world-building but wanted it to make a lot more sense. I respect things more if they make sense, but I can still enjoy them even if they don’t.

I accidentally snubbed someone at church last Sunday. I have very reflexes, I guess you’d say, and this happens sometimes. She looked at me and started to smile, and then I was looking past her, and then my brain caught up and I looked back and she had already looked away with an embarrassed expression. I wanted to walk over and say, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to do that.” But it would’ve been weird, since we barely know each other. I told my husband about it later, and he said sometimes I “go away” when I’m surrounded by too many people, sort of recede a bit. Usually when that happens I’m thinking that I wish I were invisible.

It’s really not that I don’t like people. It’s just TOO MUCH ALL AT ONCE for me to deal with in certain situations, and it takes effort not to shut down.

Is it weird that I have a Tumblr but don’t actually use Tumblr? I follow some Tumblr blogs, but I’ve added them to my RSS feed reader. I tried using the Tumblr website but it’s also TOO MUCH ALL AT ONCE. It’s like being dropped in the middle of a giant hall where everyone’s yelling but no one can hear each other. It is great for looking at pretty things, though, and I suppose if you want to blog but don’t want to deal with comments. It’s just not for me. I like my DW/LJ blanket fort, where I can talk with people one-on-one. Join me in my blanket fort!

It’s going to be very cold this weekend. I plan to do a lot of lying down on the couch with cups of tea, continuing to recover from surgery, and reading the latest installment in SallyExactly’s Partners. Perfect timing for a new chapter to be posted!

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