a single parenting snapshot

[Note: I originally posted this to a single parents’ group that I’ve been a member of for several years. Someone recently brought it to my attention, and I wanted to cross-post it here. 27 April 2019]

I’ve been a single parent for 9 years. At times I have loathed it more than others. I currently have a partner with whom I’ve been building a notably strong relationship for 3+ months. I am relieved to hope that maybe my time as a single parent won’t last forever.

That said, it’s been strange to have this new person in my life. I am figuring out how to let my family grow without losing the deep intimacy I’ve shared with my 10yo. Tonight, after my partner headed home after a couple nights with us, 10yo and I walked to the library. He talked non-stop. We sat down at neighboring computer stations, surfing the Web for about an hour. We checked out some books and then headed to our favorite Ethiopian spot for a cheap dinner out.

My son, whose feelings have been mostly positive, has sometimes behaved erratically toward my partner. Tonight, we found time to decompress one-on-one, for me to listen to him and him to open up. He said he’s happy about my relationship, just impatient about whether we’re going to get married.

We talked more as we walked home, discussing big concepts, and then some more over a hot bath–I soak my feet while he bathes and plays with Halo figures. We read through a couple junior scripts together, testing the waters to see how interested he might be in theatre. Then I talked him through our bedtime routine and tucked him in.

If I get to have another child (as I would like despite what would be a huge age gap) I hope that I can grow such a close relationship with them as I have with this one. Single parenting continues to challenge me, but I am very thankful for how close it has both forced & allowed me to be with my son ❤

special diet cheesecake

cheesecake servingFor the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to strengthen the flora in my gut, which led me to create this recipe.  One night I swirled together yogurt, sunflower seed butter, ground flax seed, and honey to appease my sweet tooth but also sneak in some probiotics and prebiotics.  To my pleasant surprise, it kinda tasted like cheesecake.  I was inspired.  Two days later, I made this no-bake dessert and was quite pleased with the results!

With conventional cheesecake recipes, there are several ingredients that don’t work for my belly: gluten, eggs, & too much casein without enough fat.  (Vegan cheesecake is even worse on my gut because of the tofu!)   This recipe works for my dietary restrictions, but could easily be tweaked to suit yours, too.  I’ve dreamt up loads of variations to try.

20170109_020603-01Special Diet Cheesecake
(gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free)

Crust:
1 c
ground flax seed
¼ c sunflower seed butter
¼ c honey
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t salt

Using a strong spoon and your hands (or a food processor) cream together all ingredients.  Press into an even layer in an 8-inch pie dish.

Filling:
16 oz
cultured sour cream / yogurt (pref. full fat)
1 3oz. box flavored gelatin dessert (aka Jell-O)
1 t vanilla bean paste or extract
½ c boiling water

In a small sauce pot over low heat, bloom the gelatin dessert mix in the boiling water using a whisk until all the gelatin granules have dissolved.  Mix in vanilla paste or extract.  Remove from heat.  Continue gently stirring until the mixture is room temperature.  Thoroughly blend the sour cream or yogurt into the gelatin mixture, folding in a few spoonfuls at a time.  Pour into the pie dish with a prepared crust.  Optionally, garnish with dried fruit.  Refrigerate overnight or until the gelatin has set up.  Best served at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

Variations!
Lemon or Orange—Use lemon or orange flavor gelatin mix.  Garnish with candied lemon, orange, or ginger.
Key Lime—Use lime flavor.  Garnish with candied lemon or lime before setting, or after with whipped cream and freshly grated lime zest.
Almond-butter crust—Substitute almond butter for sunflower seed butter.  Good with apricot or cherry flavor gelatin mix.  (Obviously not a nut-free variation!)
Sugar-free—Use sugar-free gelatin dessert mix, sunflower seed butter, & sour cream or plain yogurt.  Sub out honey with 3 T coconut oil.  Add stevia drops to crust & filling.
Vegan?—Use a vegan jelly desert mix with vegan yogurt; stores often sell soy, coconut, and almond varieties.  Might benefit from vegan egg substitute.  Honey can be subbed out with agave nectar, coconut syrup, or brown rice syrup.

I’d love to see and hear how yours turned out!  Enjoy!

making it hard on herself

Mothers & children

Mothers waiting their turn to have their children vaccinated, City Hall, Brisbane, 1947 [Flickr]

Today I met a woman (married, straight, white, 30-ish, mother of 2) who mentioned her 21yo sister.  The sister is a single mom, trying to go to college, & is now pregnant with a second baby.  The woman said she wished her sister hadn’t made it so hard on herself.  I twitched.

While I don’t think choosing to be a young parent of child no. 2 without a partner is the easiest of choices, I would never say she’s “making it hard on herself”.  WHY?

Because age does NOT determine the quality of a parent.  Because choosing to have a baby or an abortion or give a child up for adoption are all legitimate choices—that no one has the authority to make for another.  Because there are very healthy reasons to be a single parent instead of be/stay with an [incompatible or absentee or abusive] co-parent.

Because ultimately, what will likely make the sister’s life “so hard” is a system that—in addition to other transgressions—punishes women who their lives “out of order” from a narrow and uncompromising prescription of “how to be a woman”.

Being a mother in our society—even if you “follow all the rules” and meet all the “right” criteria—is hard enough.

Stop the blaming and shaming of survivors of a rigid and inhumane system, folks.  And stop the economic abuse while you’re at it.

a case for training wheels

I’m a single mom, and I’m also a pedal parent.  There aren’t many of that combo out there, and I’m darn proud to represent.  Riding my bicycle for fun & transportation and sharing my love of it with my kiddo bring a lot of light into my life.  Earlier this summer, my kiddo finally learned to ride their bike and it’s awesome!

Yesterday I was at a park, sans kiddo, and watched a two-parent family with three kids on bikes [st]roll past.  The parents were trying to teach the middle child—about 5 or 6yrs old—how to ride without training wheels, and they were having limited success.  Their son was alternating between wigging out and then riding quietly as the father did the pushing and balancing for him.

I felt absolute compassion as I smiled and contemplated reaching out to them with some hard-earned advice.  But I didn’t.  Because one day, when I had a grumpy kiddo on a bicycle, a passerby offered me unsolicited advice and made my day crappier.  I didn’t want to do that to them.  After they left, I finally figured out how I could’ve couched the advice without imposition, but I’m sure they’ll manage without it, too.  That’s when I realized that I wanted to write this post.

If you’re on the up-and-up about cycling with children, you’ll already know about those tiny little bikes, sometimes made of wood, that don’t have pedals.  The seat is close to the ground and, without pedals, little kids can experiment with running their bike or balancing it.  This is how you get incredulously young children to be ready for bikes with multiple gears and hand-operated brakes before they start kindergarten.

Our Story

I always tell people that my family missed the balance bike boat.  I simply didn’t know about this option, even though I was a stickler for cycling.  I clocked many, many miles with my young kiddo on the back of my bike for our daily commutes, even in inclement weather.  Bicycling was certainly fun for me, but it was also a vehicle of necessity, an inexpensive and relatively efficient way to get around.  Even though we’d graduated to an Adam’s trail-a-bike, it simply didn’t occur to me to have kiddo on their own bike.  (It would’ve also more than doubled our commute times, I’m sure.)

Around kiddo’s fourth birthday, a friend gave us a hand-me-down 14″ kids bicycle with training wheels.  When kiddo’s other parent moved out of the country over a year later, we inherited a second bike of the same size, also decked with training wheels.  I’d tried once or twice to teach kiddo how to ride at a park and took the training wheels off the first bike.  The last time we tried this, kiddo was miserable, I’d been way too pushy, and we’d had to put the training wheels back on for our defeated retreat home.

When we moved to our current apartment, one of the bikes had to go, so I donated the first bike (which had always been way too heavy) to Bike Works.  Kiddo didn’t get as much use of their bike as I’d hoped but it was enough to throw the training wheels out of alignment.  I decided to let them get wonky and stay wonky.  Kiddo could lean to either side and get help from one of them, but they didn’t both touch the ground at the same time.

This Spring it occurred to me that my kiddo, who’d often complained that they hated bike-riding, much to my chagrin, was being dragged to errands around town, which is rife with hills.  Of course they didn’t get how fun biking is, because they were having to ride all the hard stuff.

So, during Spring Break, I put our bikes on the bus to the University District, where we could ride on the Burke-Gilman Trail, a mostly-flat cycle- and foot-path in Seattle.  We dressed for the weather and I packed water bottles, a bag of almonds, and a wrench.

From the U-district, we rode first to Gasworks Park, where kiddo had a great big fit, threw down their bike, and said with venom that they hated it!  I waited patiently.  I said we had a long way yet to go and that they were gonna need to get back on their bike eventually.  And they did.

Next, we encountered some young teenage boys with a skateboard and kiddo really wanted to try.  The boys were sweet and helped kiddo try it out in a parking lot flanking the Burke-Gilman.  Ignoring the lesson, kiddo face-planted, but shook it off.  Then, magically, they said they were ready for me to use the wrench I’d brought.  I dutifully pried off one of the training wheels and threw it in my backpack.  We got back on our bikes and kept going.

It was so much quieter!  Kiddo had spent so much time on a bicycle and knew how to balance, but just wasn’t yet ready to do so without training wheels.  With only one training wheel, and the boost of self-confidence from having chosen to take one off, kiddo rode balancing, only occasionally touching the third wheel to the ground.  I spent the rest of the trip just trying to get them to observe basic road safety, chiefly staying to the right on the path!  But!  It was so liberating!

2013 April bikerideWe rode all the way to the Ballard Locks, and then to Myrtle Edwards Park on Elliot Bay, and then up to Lower Queen Anne on the new bridge.  We ate some cheap deli food from a grocery store and then took ourselves and our bikes back home on the bus.  In total, we rode about 11 miles!  I did not hesitate to lavish kiddo with praise for having been such a trooper.  I would tell the story to friends and kiddo would beam with pride!

Fast forward a couple months, a week before kiddo’s seventh birthday.  I bargained with kiddo that we would ride through a park on the way to the grocery store.  Just as we rolled in, that last training wheel and its hardware literally flew off the bike.  I called after kiddo, “Your training wheel!”  Kiddo called back, racing on un-phased, “That’s okay!  I don’t need it!”

Ever since, kiddo has been dynamite on two wheels, even asking to ride.  When we visited my family this summer, kiddo managed to handle a bike way too big for them with aplomb.  After a long trip away from me, kiddo’s first day back featured a request to ride bikes.  Just today, we rode up a  couple crazy hills and kiddo passed me on the way up!

The Takeaway

If you want to teach your kid(s) to ride bikes, and to love doing so, here’s my advice*:

1 – Have fun!
Bikes are so much win.  As when trying to encourage adults to ride, the most important thing to convey is just how much fun it is to do.  Ride for getting around and for pleasure.  Go on kid-friendly rides.  A great one here in Seattle is Bicycle Sunday.

2 – Carry your child on your bike
I think that kids can easily catch on to the fun part when they don’t have to work at it all the time.  Riding in a child seat, trail-a-bike, or cargo bike also helps kids feel what it’s like to balance and maneuver on two (or more) wheels.

3 – When/if your child is young, offer a balance bike
If they’re older or they’re just not into it, remember that you have other options!

4 – If your child is older/bigger, slap some training wheels on their bike
Just make sure you don’t put them on perfectly.  Make sure that there’s a little space under both training wheels when the bike is perfectly balanced.  This Kids Bike Size Calculator can help you make sure your child’s got [roughly] the right sized bike.

5 – Graduate to a “rolling kickstand”
When you see and/or hear your child balancing more easily on their bicycle, try taking off just one of the training wheels.  Even if they can pedal & balance, this helps with one of the trickiest parts of bicycling: mounting & dis-mounting without getting hurt!

6 – Did I mention, “Have fun”?
Seriously.  This means not pressuring your child–or yourself–into something they’re just not yet ready for.  If we fall while we’re having fun, it doesn’t sting as bad as when we’re slogging along begrudgingly.

Our family had a bit of a dead zone in our cycling history, but it was just part of the process.  It’s also totally worth how sweet it is to ride alongside my kiddo today!  I hope that you and your child(ren) find your sweet spot with riding.  I’d love to hear your stories about how you or your kid(s) learned/are learning to ride!

*As with any parenting advice, please remember you that can take it, or leave it, or even tell me where to shove it 🙂

terrace

terrace-dogtoothvioletin the darkening summer light
grey in memory and in sight

your books stacked, fuming
these heady – looming
how with your beautiful words
that you do not share
with your grimace of equanimity

a shadow forever beset ye
mycelium crept in part and whole

[you are now a part
forever of my subconscious
indelible inky cap]

may I never pry the secrets from your unwitting clench?

terrace-mushroommay I never come home to you again?

you are the warm earthen blanket I draw
over me when I will fight no more

I will forget your smell
before I forget the scratch of your warm woolen breast

my brother death, my late husband,
the absent professor, forever observant
is there nothing I can do to help ye?

do you not want my comfort?

somehow forever escaping each other

what am I to do with the electromagnetic
insipid inspiration…?

terrace-foreststump[I cannot love you, bind to you, as you are bound to this place.
This horrid, damp and darkened place
Where I am sad and stretched
slack and sleepy]

[You, who finds his mother in the damp grey bosom
of the duff and the faraway mountain skies]

Your mystic | faded eyes.

I need more atoms.
Make a molecule
that can take part in the revolution

foment momentum

fomentmomentum-oldchandelierToday, I started the arduous process of moving house. With the assistance of two dear friends, I moved a notable percentage of my household to the new apartment. We disassembled, moved, and reassembled a loft bed and a metal shelving unit. I reassembled the heavy-as-fuck EXPEDIT shelving unit by myself, which was unwise. Really, it was the lifting it up afterward that was so foolhardy; I had fun putting it together.

Ideally, I would’ve spent the remainder of my day preparing for tomorrow’s scheduled moving. I have two or three persons promised to assist. If not isolating what to move or parceling the particulate, then at least making some potato salad for people to munch on when/if hungry. I did not do any of the above, however, and I think I should go to bed soon. Maybe I can prep some ice tea. Hmm… What is tomorrow’s forecast? It’s not as warm and sunny as today has been.

Though I was unable to reach them for the longest time, I finally got hold of my mom and Jasper. In the past, I’ve been so burnt out that I didn’t miss him until maybe the last couple days of his annual visit with my mom… but I miss him now. I missed him when I got up this morning. I missed him as I watched them go through the security checkpoint last night.

::sigh::

I have so much work to do over the next week or two, what with moving and sifting through all my shit. This shit is both material and in my head, and it is pretty much all cumbersome and dusty and excessive. I’m really dragging my heels on this. It did, however, feel nice to anchor the living/dining room with the dining table and large shelving unit. I’m trying to cultivate this tiny zygote of enjoyment, but I dunno…

On a lighter note, I’m trying to pick an internet service provider (that is courteous, reliable, inexpensive).

I hope it’s quiet at night there. I’m not yet ready to sleep at the new place.

bind down from mischief

“In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

– Thomas Jefferson

I found the above quote in the comments of a right-wing website’s article about the current administration’s proposed labor law updates.  While quoting notable chunks of the proposal to pull kids [under the ages of 16 or 18] out of dangerous agricultural and non-agricultural work environments, the article sensationalized the story: Obama’s Labor Department Looks To Take The ‘Family’ Out of Family Farms.  There is a black-and-white picture of a girl, straight out of Little House on the Prairie, pouring milk into a larger container among cows, but with a giant red “banned” stamp over it.  The article claims that DOL’s measures will compromise small family farms who eponymously employ the whole family, including children, in their work and may struggle to afford legal, adult labor.  The article, with a Republican agenda, is quick to blame the (Democrats’) Obama administration for any measures that in any way challenge the Holy American Icon of the Family Farm.

In the comments, people ask why attention is being turned to child labor laws, rather than more pressing issues.  Other commenters suspect pressure from labor unions who don’t want a kid stealing work from a “family provider/union member”, though that might just be a pat remark with no substantive evidence in this case.  My first thought is that this reform is in response to Newt Gingrich’s recently publicized opinion that poor, under-served youth need to be working jobs instead of being enabled (to be poor?) by welfare.

Personally, I am a fan of family farms and overall genuinely living—eating, working, playing, etc.—where I live, rather than outsourcing everything to large corporate enterprises that don’t give back to my community anywhere near what they take from it.  This is as much about sustaining the people in my local community as much as it is about the environment and people in my global community (a.k.a. the World).  I am not convinced by the article that the DOL’s proposed updates would actually cripple family farms.  I am also not sure that they aren’t perfectly reasonable in terms of protecting children.  If they aren’t, and if the DOL’s measures are actually “out to get” family farms, I have a hard time saying that it’s aligned with true leftist ideology.  [One commenter said that the Obama administration is an embodiment of “modern liberalism”—HA! If only!]  Instead, I’d say it stinks—nay reeks!—of corporate special interest.

The individual who posted the Jefferson quote thinks it is our government who is over-reaching, but not necessarily the money-mongers who have an unjust, incalculable sway in it and over us.

The government is what we make it, as is any other relationship or community [which are maintained with accountability and communication].  Unfortunately, because we’re a HUGE country, there leaves ever-so-much room for opportunism [greed] to distract from a goal of protecting and providing for all.  While the current modes aren’t working and we may struggle to envision new/better ones, I think we all agree that there needs to be some form of articulated commonwealth (e.g. roads, schools, postal services, etc.).  It seems that conservatives’ vision for our country relies on private religious organizations (read: churches and practicing Christians) to take on this role, you know, in the event that wealth and resources don’t magically distribute themselves fairly to the healthy, happy, hard-working citizens.

They’re sold on a sentimental vision of what America stands for and has been, and with good reason: it’s comforting, immaculate, protected from scrutiny by a thick shellac of nostalgia, and it contains a shred of patriotism, however small, that we all want to cling to.  Of course, I should say that this vision may diverge wildly from your or my vision, or from what actually comprises our country today.

In a conservative vision, people work hard; they build homes, families, and lives through their efforts.  They take pride in their work, live up to their ideals, and act with honor within their communities.  Incidentally, in this vision, Americans are mostly, if not all, white.  They are Christian—maybe Jewish.  They all speak English.  They are straight and cisgendered.  They are homeowners, or will be once they save money.  They date, get married, have children, pets, and family reunions.  They drive cars that they wash on Tuesdays.  They go to church, if only for cardinal holidays, and participate in “American” holidays: barbecue in July, wear costumes in October, carve turkeys in November, wrap and unwrap gifts in December.  They say the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction and pride.  They donate food, clothes, time, and money to charitable causes.  They respect our firefighters, police, and military.  I could go on, but if you’ve ever watched American TV, you prolly get the picture by now.

In this vision—contrary to today’s iridescent makeup of our country—Americans are not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, Wiccan, or atheist.  They are not refugees or immigrants of color.  They aren’t illiterate, even if only in English.  They are not “ethnic”.  They are not biracial.  They are not homeless.  They are not addicts or criminals.  They don’t smoke pot.  They are not HIV-positive.  They are not gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, transsexual, polygamous, or polyamorous.  They are not kinky or promiscuous.  They are not anarchist, communist, or anti-capitalist.  They’re not unemployed, at least not for long.  They are not draft-dodgers.  They don’t get divorced.  They don’t have or want abortions.  They aren’t lonely.  They aren’t injured or abused or angry or unhappy.  They are not blind, deaf, or disabled.  They don’t have learning disabilities, mental health issues, restrictive diets, or chronic physical health conditions.  They don’t make you talk about things that make you uncomfortable: politics, religion, climate change, themselves.  They are not any more more than civil—nevermind embracing—of others whose beliefs or practices scare them.

Thomas Jefferson was an agrarian-revolutionist American superhero (that is, if we set aside his racism and slave-keeping).  His vision, as I understand it, of what our country could be is one of highly-educated farmers, all actively shaping and adjusting our government together, while directly working (through farming) to support ourselves and our communities.  I think that in his vision our government was never meant to be the stagnant, impacted institution that it is today, so encumbered by corruption and short-sightedness that we cannot move forward.

I am heartened by the power of Jefferson’s words, and by the conservative commenter’s having quoted them, even if intended to bolster a different perspective than my own.  Hopefully if the quote gets spread around a bit, more and more people will see the meaning I see in it:  No one entity should have so much control over the people which, we would agree, includes the government elect.  In particular, however, I think that corporations have been given far too much power over the people and our collective resources.  Let us use our Constitution and other legislature to bind these corporate entities “down from mischief”.  Let us participate in shaping our government to protect and propagate the commonwealth.

Blogger’s Note:
I wrote this piece back in December 2011 and never posted it.  I don’t feel like it’s as polished as I’d like, or that I’ve delivered any substantial conclusion or insight.  As an informal opinion piece, however, I believe it’s fit for the public and decided to share anyway.

gluten-free spumoni cookies

More adventures in gluten-free baking!  This time, I’m trying some cookies.  I honestly don’t think I’ve made any cookies since the glutenous butterscotch walnut cookies of twenty-ten.  I’ve been focused mainly on cakes and cupcakes.

A week ago, while on a shopping excursion at the Grocery Outlet, affectionately known in these parts as the “Gross Out”, I came across Sof’ella Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix.  On their website, it’s listed for $6 per box, but I got it for $3 a pop.  About the mix, the first four ingredients are: white rice flour, navy bean flour, cornstarch, and tapioca starch.  My main sensitivities are gluten (wheat), casein (milk protein), garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and soy.  [This means that the ubiquitous—and inexpensive!—Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour, which contains garbanzo beans and fava beans, is not an option for me.]  Beans are notorious for the flatulence that they cause, but I find that smaller beans are not too, um, inflammatory, so I was willing to chance the navy bean flour.

Seeing as it was Spring Break, I had the opportunity to make a “big breakfast”, as per my son’s request, and tried out the box’s pancake recipe.  Now, despite having attended culinary school, worked in restaurants, and made nightly family meals for seven odd years, I still struggle with two basic food preparations: boiled rice and pancakes.  Nonetheless, these pancakes came out surprisingly fluffy and not too burnt, especially considering their lack of gluten!  (The navy beans in Sof’ella’s mix made me a little gassy, but nothing uncomfortable or offensive.)  Needless to say, I went and bought two more boxes!

Over the last couple months, the desire to make gluten-free cookies had been percolating.  I specifically wanted to make ones with cherries and pistachios, like the Italian dessert classic, spumoni.  I planned to adapt a recipe to the newly acquired baking mix, and had the perfect occasion for my women’s group last night.  Here’s the recipe I devised:

gluten-free spumoni cookies

1 c sugar, granulated
½ c (1 stick) butter, soft (room temp)
1 egg (2 might be better)
½ c water
1 T almond extract
2⅓ c baking mix*
1 T salt, pref. large grain**
1 c pistachio nuts, shelled, chopped
1 c dried cherries, pitted – add more if you like!
1 c white (chocolate) chips***

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Cream together butter and sugar thoroughly.  Add egg(s), ¼ c of water, and the almond extract, stirring until smooth.  Add salt, nuts, cherries, baking chips, and baking mix, adding additional water as necessary.  Using an ice cream server, scoop approx. 3T of dough into rough patties.  Place about 2 inches apart on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until edges are golden.  Let cool on rack or eat hot!

Makes 1-2 dozen cookies.

* I used the aforementioned Sof’ella Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix.  Feel free to substitute your favorite gluten-free or wheat-based mix.  If you’re making your own from scratch, don’t forget leavening!

** I used Redmond’s Kosher Real Salt, which you can find at many fine grocers, including Central Co-Op’s Madison Market.

*** I used Ghirardelli Classic White Chips, which are technically not true chocolate.  I chose these because a) the company sticks to fairly healthy ingredients and b) I don’t care a whole lot for chocolate when it’s not by itself.  If you do care for chocolate, I recommend doing a 50/50 mix of white baking chips with dark or bittersweet chocolate chips.  You could even use broken up bits of your favorite chocolate bar!  (I really like the versatility of Cadbury Royal Dark, which is more of a bittersweet.)

How did they come out?  While they were a little crumbly, they were a hit!  There were other women in the group with gluten sensitivities who appreciated having something yummy and safe for their tummies.  Others were impressed that the cookies tasted so good despite being gluten free.  I think that’s always the highest complement of any gluten-free comestible!

about my typewriter

A little over a month ago, I got the notion to buy myself a typewriter.  I’d gone to a book-making event at which I helped type-up some poetry broadsides on a typewriter.  I was reminded of how satisfying—and challenging—it is to type on one of those things.  The typewriter is very straight forward, and affords no distractions from its prime directive: to print words.

I quickly tried to collect as many potential uses for a typewriter as I could.  I was set on having my own, and I needed justification to spend the money.  I could use it for filling out forms, typing up addresses on envelopes, and recording my thoughts, safe from the wiles of Facebook or my email inbox.  I could use it for letters, family memos, or to type out things I can’t print at home; my computer printer hasn’t worked in years.

I could also eagerly, if not cautiously, expose my son to the wonders of the typewriter.  After all, a child his age once used her family typewriter to compose stories and full-on books!  I’d recently learned the haunting story of Barbara Newhall Follett in the Lapham’s Quarterly article, Vanishing Act.  I suppose it was her story that planted the typewriter seed, months prior to the book-making event.

I conducted a search or two on the internet, to see how much a portable, non-electric typewriter would go for.  I found a man named Jim in the Seattle area who repairs and sells typewriters from many eras.  My heart was instantly set on one: a Royal Rugged Quiet DeLuxe, in something of a dusty teal.  At the August Central District Artwalk I sold enough of my wares to afford the typewriter.  I called Typewriter Jim as soon as possible!  Of course, there were schedule conflicts and so forth, which seemed to last an eternity.  Finally, my partner and I drove out to Jim’s place to buy the typewriter for which I’d been lusting.

Jim showed us the idiosyncrasies.  For instance, there is no exclamation mark.  “Hopefully,  you’re not a very excitable person,” he said.  Instead, I have to use the long, straight apostrophe, then backspace, and type a period.  The typewriter is fully mechanical, and each keystroke must be executed with conviction in order to register a good impression.  Naturally, the keys can get tangled up.  (I have since had to learn a new typing cadence that suits my typewriter.)  I was sold, paid the man, and happily began typing during the ride home, right on my lap.

I knew then that I had to name it, name her.  What immediately came to mind was the name Eudora.  It is from Greek, meaning “precious gift”.  That alone did not seem appropriate.  After looking up her serial number on the Typewriter Database, a website complete with animated titles and a MIDI soundtrack, I learned exactly what year she’d been made: 1956.  Then, using the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names service, I looked through names that had been common during that year.  One name stood out: Beryl.  To me, it suggested strength of character and a refined heritage.  Coincidentally, it is also Greek in origin and is the name for a common mineral crystal, which could easily describe my typewriter’s color.

Her name is officially Eudora Beryl; Ebie for short.

I’ve learned that she has several other idiosyncrasies, beyond those that Jim had indicated (or could have known).  For instance, the latch that holds the cover over her keys and ink ribbon isn’t very strong.  If I type too jauntily, this lid pops up!  It’s quite startling!  Also, both the U and the M tend to “hiccup” and advance forward an extra space, but not always.  This has resulted in many “exam ples”, “thou ghts”, and “fru strations”.  Sometimes, the ink ribbon is very sparse, for no explicable reason.  I can alternate between using the top half or the bottom half with a little switch on the front, and that sometimes helps.

She sits in our house, atop a particle board microwave cart that I bought for $1 and painted white.  Ebie is always in her case.  When I want to type, I scoot the cart away from the wall, open the top, and can begin typing without removing her from the case.  Made of reinforced fiber coated in yellowing shellac, her case has a document clip in the top, to keep paper at the ready.  I could pick her up by the heavy black plastic handle and take her anywhere… and she’d work just as well as she does at home.  She is patient, reliable; honest.

When I type with Ebie, it’s almost as if she is her own, quiet entity, in a way that a computer has never been to me.  I find myself franking thoughts in a diction retrofitted for her era, almost as if I’m speaking to her.  It’s “Dear Ebie” instead of “Dear Diary”.  She reminds me, constantly and palpably as I type, what a marvel and a privilege it is to put my thoughts on paper.

Many may dismiss what seems like a redundant artifact from a fusty era, but not me.  Having a typewriter has been a real treat, and something of an honor.  After all, Ebie has taught me a lot.  I don’t have to worry about what font I’m using.  I do have to think about what I’m going to say before I type it, and I have to mean it.  And, by either stamping them out with asterisks, pound symbols, or correction tape, I have to admit my mistakes.  Ebie will neither take the blame or criticize me.  We all have our limitations.

gluten-free feather cake

My partner Adam has two brothers.  The youngest was due for a birthday and there were plans for a cozy lunch at his mom’s house.  I asked if I could bake a cake for the occasion.  They said I didn’t have to but, since I’m no longer among the wheat-eaters, I knew I’d be without dessert if I didn’t!  Their sister-in-law is also gluten-free, so I figured she’d appreciate it, too, if no one else did.

I had planned to turn to my standard: Namaste FoodsSpice Cake Mix, a bag of which I try to keep in my pantry at all times.  This time, though, I found I didn’t have it on hand!  When I’d last gone to the co-op, they were out.  I’d opted to invest in a bag of their Perfect Flour Blend.  That was all I had for sweet gluten-free baking, 24 hours before the family celebration.  I had no choice.  It was time to finally test it!

Namaste claims on the bag that their gluten-free flour blend can be used in most any baking recipe.  It made sense to turn to the most traditional of recipes.  My friend Allan recently bequeathed upon me his coveted, first-edition Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  No doubt, you or someone in your family has a copy. It’s the one in the red and white gingham binder.  In the Cakes, Frostings, and Fillings section, I found a Nutmeg Feather Cake recipe that looked promising.  With three eggs, the odds of the cake holding together were good.  I altered the recipe to suit my tastes… and what I had on hand.

gluten-free feather cake

½ c (1 stick)  butter, salted
1½ c  sugar, granulated*
1 t  vanilla extract**
3  beaten egs
2 c  Namaste Foods Perfect Flour Blend
1 T  nutmeg, pref. fresh grated
1 t  baking powder***
1 t  baking soda
½ t  (sea) salt
1 c  plain yogurt, pref. whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).  Cream together butter and sugar in bowl until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla, mixing thoroughly.  Sift flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  Then add these dry ingredients to the first bowl alternating with the yogurt, a little at a time.  Mix thoroughly, until smooth.

Pour into two lined or greased 9 x 1½ inch round cake pans and bake for about 25 minutes.  Cake is done when a test toothpick comes out clean.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

*Conventional sugar is technically not vegan, sometimes containing small amounts of bone meal.  To keep your recipe vegan or kosher, make sure your sugar is specifically marked as such.

**Conventional flavor extracts contain alcohol, which is often derived from a glutenous grain source, like wheat or barley.  If your sensitivity to such ingredients is high, look for flavors specifically marked as gluten-free.  You can also try to make your own, infusing gluten-free vodka with vanilla beans, lemon zest, and more.

***Conventional baking powder contains cornstarch.  To avoid allergic reactions and/or GMO corn, seek out an alternative at your local co-op or fancy grocer.  Similarly, you can make your own using cream of tartar and baking soda in a 2:1 ratio, adding another part arrowroot or potato starch if you intend to store it for later use.

I found that, despite baking fairly regularly, I didn’t own more than one round cake pan.  I poured the batter into a large rectangular cake pan, and then later stacked one half on the other.  That seemed to work fine, especially because I staggered them; the fat, cut edge of one on top of the short, pan edge of the other.  I didn’t want to use frosting between the layers, so I had to devise some kind of filling.  I tried one idea, and it totally flopped, so I’ll spare you the details.  The second idea was better: almond butter mixed with amaretto-flavor sugar syrup.

Ill-prepared as I was, I turned to the dark side: frosting in a can.  There are so many reasons to avoid this stuff, and it’s really not hard to make a tasty, wholesome frosting from scratch.  Nonetheless, there I was, slathering the stuff onto Aaron’s birthday cake.  Truth is, I don’t do well with dairy, in addition to gluten, and wanted to avoid the extra butter.  Since this episode, I have since invested in a tub of Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening.  I also don’t do well with soy, so the fact that frosting in a can is hydrogenated soybean oil might seem like a problem… but I pretend that it’s not?

It looked nice.  I sprinkled on some toffee bits and more fresh grated nutmeg.

Anyhow… the cake!  It rose!  Those of you who aren’t experienced in gluten-free baking have no idea what kind of miracle that is!  I mean, most gluten-free cakes and breads rise, but only nominally compared to the glutenous stuff.  This feather cake was truly light and fluffy.  It was, I daresay, the lightest gluten-free cake I have ever eaten!

Also, so often gluten-free cakes compensate with sugar or chocolate.  I so easily tire of chocolate, which is partly why I was so pleased to find the spice cake mix that Namaste Foods makes.  Finally, something quick and easy that wasn’t going to overpower me with chocolate!  And…!  I found out that Namaste also has a mix for blondies!  Blondies, people!  I am so incredibly impressed with this company.

My feather cake, with no chocolate to hide behind, was still delicious.  It easily stands alone with vanilla frosting, while still able to complement stronger flavors.  I’ve since paired it with a vegan lavender vanilla frosting, and it was di-vine!  Below is a recipe I came up with when I first tried to make frosting without butter.

vegan lavender vanilla frosting

¾ c  Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening
2½ c  organic vegan powdered sugar*
5  heads of lavender flowers
2 t  vanilla extract
¼ t  (sea) salt
2 T  water

Using hand mixer, lightly whip half of the shortening.  Add lavender, vanilla, and salt.  Gradually sift in the powdered sugar, one ½ c at a time.  Add water and shortening as needed, to smooth and lighten the consistency.  Take care to not over-beat the frosting.  Makes 2 c.

*Conventional powdered sugar contains cornstarch.  To avoid allergic reactions and/or GMO corn, check the organic options at your local co-op or fancy grocer.

Those of us with non-mainstream diets often struggle to find foods that treat our taste buds as kindly as they do our bellies.  I know that struggle sometimes makes me lose my appetite.  I was so excited to discover this recipe, because it made me feel like I didn’t have to sacrifice so much.  It’s not perfect, though.  Eggs, cow dairy, and conventional sugar, as well as soy and chick peas, are still irritants for my belly.  I know that some of you have even more restrictive diets.  Ideally, I want a recipe that contains no irritants at all.  When I find something better, I’ll be sure to share!