by Karina Coombs
“I dedicated my waist to the first cookbook. I dedicated my hips to the second cookbook and I added a chin from Baking with the Brass Sisters,” says Marilynn Brass of her newest cookbook co-authored with sister, Sheila Brass. The Brass Sisters, as they are known, are the authors of three acclaimed cookbooks that incorporate their love of cooking, culinary antiquities and storytelling to explore the rich history of American home baking while immortalizing the individuals whose handwritten recipes they have thoughtfully preserved and updated. As featured speakers for the Friends of the Gleason Public Library’s annual meeting on November 17, the sisters will share delightful stories of food and culinary anthropology.
The answer is four
“We love what we’re doing and we never thought we’d end up like this,” says Sheila of their success. “We just always loved to bake.” Sheila and Marilynn began baking as children alongside their mother, Dorothy Katziff Brass, in their second floor Winthrop kitchen. The sisters can still vividly recall the creations that came out of their mother’s beloved cast iron stove with green enamel trim, the kitchen floor ever so slanted that cakes required extra frosting to make them level.
“Our mother was the Cake Boss of Winthrop,” says Sheila, referring to the popular television reality show featuring eye-popping cake designs. Marilynn recounts that in the 1950s, Dorothy volunteered to make a cake for a synagogue fundraiser, spending two weekends working on a card table to painstakingly recreate the family’s synagogue, down to the tile work on its exterior. When completed, the cake was so large and so heavy that it took four men to carry it down the flight of stairs. “We always joke,” she says, “How many Jewish men does it take to carry a cake in the shape of a synagogue?” Read More
I stayed up as long as I could this morning, but in the end I made myself go to sleep knowing what we would all learn eventually and trying to figure out a way to explain this to my daughters. They went to sleep thinking they would wake up to a bold new day: the first woman President of these United States.
You see, while we didn’t demonize Donald Trump in this house, we didn’t sugar coat it either. My kids know the things he says, the classes of people he has maligned and the things he’s been accused of. And because we’ve done our job teaching them right vs wrong, they know what he represents without us labeling it for them.
This morning I had to tell them that Donald Trump is our President-Elect and they sobbed. Because not only did their dream of seeing a woman President not come true, but at 8 and 11 they just discovered that sometimes wrong wins.
But as I try to reassure them that everything will be okay and no, the world will not end, I can’t help but be afraid of what this means for their future, for the things they may want to do, the people they may want to love, and the beliefs they may have.
If we’ve learned nothing else from this election it’s that there is in fact a slippery slope. Who knows where it will take us.
Short term? We’re all taking a “mental health” day from work and school, playing with dogs, eating dry cereal on the couch, and watching movies. Escapism at its finest. For today.
[Artwork from Jennifer Judd-McGee of Swallowfield]
[NOTE: My kids and I started a summer writing challenge: using a word or general theme to create some piece of writing each week. My 10-year-old suggested, “pineapple” and the following is my contribution.]
Wendy didn’t remember when it started. She only knew the story, one that her family liked to tell to just about every person they met. It was embarrassing and she felt like a freak, but even Wendy knew that her fear of pineapples was unusual and begged for an explanation. She had to admit the story was a good one. If it had happened to someone else maybe she would have told it herself. The videos? The family agreed on that one. They would never be watched.
“John! Do you have the list?” yelled Susan. She finished buckling the kids in the car and turned back to the house looking for her husband, wiping a bead of sweat from her arm. It was 94 degrees and a family trip to the grocery store seemed like a good idea if for no other reason than to spend time in air conditioning. The window units John and Susan had installed earlier in the summer had cooled the house for weeks. But as the temperature began to rise at the start of the August heat wave, the machines struggled to keep up. And when they began tripping the circuits—which required suiting up in protective gear to descend into the snake infested basement—they unplugged them completely and reverted to open windows, box fans, and family shopping trips.
Back when we were dating, my husband and I first went to the Brimfield Antique and Collectibles show. We spent hours strolling up and down the street and in and out of the tents looking for things that “spoke” to us.
We acquired an enormous porcelain industrial glove mold, an old glass hospital paper cup dispenser, and a metal View-Master projector. They are some of our favorites possessions and we’ve moved them back and forth across the country on a number of occasions.
This is the second summer in our house and living near water has meant spring and summers with a yard full of nesting Eastern Paint turtles. We’ve yet to ever see anything hatch and I’m not sure if that’s because they are so small, move in the night, or are completely devoured by predators while still in the egg. With the number of empty eggs and holes on the back lawn, the latter is probably the most probable, but I’m sure at least a few make it.
After two plus months of summertime fun, I got back to work. Here’s my latest feature (also found here). (Photo by Tracy McArdle Brady)
HitchBOT visits Carlisle and humans learn a lesson
by Karina Coombs
This past July, Tracy McArdle Brady and her family took part in a social experiment that was followed by fans, robot enthusiasts, news outlets and researchers around the world. For 24 hours they hosted hitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot from Port Credit, Ontario. As a follow up to its successful trip across Canada and parts of Europe, hitchBOT—unable to move without human assistance—was to travel from Massachusetts to San Francisco. The robot was destroyed in Pennsylvania after two weeks and 300 miles.
Can robots trust humans?
Created as both an art piece and social experiment by Dr. David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Dr. Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University, hitchBOT was designed to be an approachable robot that would offer a study into human and robotic interactions. While some have asked if humans can trust robots—particularly with the development of self-driving cars—the researchers posed a different question: Can robots trust humans?
“It really affected me when I read what happened,” said Brady, adding she was disappointed and embarrassed when news broke of the robot’s fate. “The goal of their experiment was to see if robots could trust humans… And apparently robots can trust humans in the Netherlands and Germany… Canada, of course, and he didn’t make it past Philadelphia. [We’re] so worried about technology and will robots take over…little did we know that robots can’t trust humans.”
My newest feature article from the Carlisle Mosquito. The link is here, with full text below.
Giving city kids a summer to remember
by Karina Coombs
Running barefoot through the grass. Gazing at stars. Falling asleep to the sound of crickets. When summer arrives, many children in Carlisle will experience these simple pleasures. But for some kids, these experiences are unimaginable. For them there is no grass, stars exist only in photographs and they have never been within miles of a cricket. For 138 years the Fresh Air Fund has been working to change this, placing inner-city children with families that can make the unimaginable, tangible. This year, the organization’s local Chairperson, Suzan Baldoumas, is hoping Carlisle families will join them.
The Fresh Air Fund
Reverend Willard Parsons started the not-for-profit Fresh Air Fund (FAF) in 1877. Parsons sought to provide fresh country air to impoverished children living in New York City’s overcrowded tenements, many suffering from Tuberculosis. Members of his congregation became host families and brought children into their homes for summer vacations.
Since then, the FAF has provided summer respite to 1.8 million low-income children across the city’s five boroughs. In addition to the 5,000 children who attend its summer camp programs in upstate New York, and educational camps and programs offered year-round, the FAF sends 4,000 children to suburban and rural communities known as “Friendly Towns” across 13 states and Canada as part of its volunteer host family program.
My latest feature on a local entrepreneur can be found here. Full text below.
Small business with big plans
by Karina Coombs
Caitlin O’Connor knows a lot about brand management thanks to her time at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). Countless hours spent driving her four children to various activities has also taught her a lot about life in the car and given her time to think. While it can be a messy place, the minivan can also inspire big ideas. And in O’Connor’s case her big idea appeared at the intersection of her professional and personal life. She created a product for the car.
Cargo Tissues and Dispenser
O’Connor’s product is Cargo Tissues and Dispenser—a visor-mounted tissue dispenser that allows a driver to handle spills or runny noses without taking his or her eyes off the road. The dispenser is offered in two colors and refill tissues are sold separately—each priced at $9.99. Cargo went on the market in January. “As a mom and as somebody who now with four kids spends a ton of time in the car… Honestly, if I’m not spilling my coffee, somebody is sneezing or worse. It has saved me and helped make my life a little bit better,” she says.
Cargo is based on a car tissue dispenser that O’Connor used and enjoyed 15 years ago before it went off the market. “I had been thinking about it for years… because it was a product that absolutely fit my lifestyle [and] met my needs.” Realizing she could create a similar product as well if not better, O’Connor decided to take on the challenge, explaining it was a “leap of faith.” Cargo is the first of many products she hopes to release through her company, Acadia Brands.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Bauman about his book, Stronger. My feature article can be found here: http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/feature/52-features/feature-articles/top-features/29034-jeff-bauman-a-picture-of-resilience.html
Full Article from the Carlisle Mosquito
Jeff Bauman – A picture of resilience
by Karina Coombs
As the world learned of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, a photo of Chelmsford native Jeff Bauman went viral. The graphic image—showing the 27-year-old in a wheelchair after the loss of his legs—served to document the day’s incomprehensible violence and the heroism of those who rushed in to help.
For those who recognized his face, however, it served as messenger. “That’s what gets me the most,” explains Bauman from his Carlisle home. “That’s how my younger brother found out. That’s how my dad found out. That’s how my mom found out. That’s how my best friends found out…”
Two years later, Bauman presents a different image—a resilient 29 year old, married and with an infant daughter, a public speaker, community volunteer and author of the New York Times and National bestseller, Stronger, written with Bret Witter and released last year. He is also walking.
My newest feature article. We’ve already started making the switch to LEDs in our house thanks to this: http://carlislemosquito.org/index.php/news/28683
Counting to zero, one kilowatt at a time
by Karina Coombs
Residential electric rates have doubled since 1990, with the biggest increases in just the past ten years. In November, citing the rising cost of natural gas (used in the power plants that produce the electricity), National Grid increased its rates by 37%. NStar followed suit earlier this month and raised its rates by 29%.
While many are bracing for larger bills, Energy Task Force member Claude von Roesgen is having a decidedly different experience, thanks to his home’s photovoltaic system. Instead of paying for the electricity he uses, von Roesgen is being paid for the electricity he generates through 36 roof-top solar panels. But after decades of energy conservation awareness, the absence of an electric bill is not his end game. Instead, von Roesgen is focused on getting the building to net zero energy, helping to reduce his carbon emissions.
What is net zero?
A net zero energy building (NZEB) is an energy efficient building that also produces as much annual renewable energy on site as it uses. The building becomes self-sustainable, yet most NZEBs remain on the electrical grid for storage needs. With a vacation home that is already a NZEB, von Roesgen does have some experience in this area. Now he is working on scale. That is because his solar powered tiny houseboat, “TinySol,” at 128 square feet is smaller than the sunroom in his 2,800 square foot home. (See “The little house that makes a big impression,” August 28, 2013.) Read More
A great thing about living next to Concord (Massachusetts) is nonchalantly getting to take out-of-town visitors – with literary inclinations – to some pretty great local attractions. On an unseasonably warm and sunny Monday, we made an outing to Walden Pond and hiked the trail around the pond to find the original site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. Not a bad way to end 2014.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods
This past weekend was the cranberry harvest at the Carlisle bog. A strange little berry, but it does make for a good photo.
Growing up in Massachusetts I took this for granted as a kid and just wanted the harvest to be over. That meant winter was coming and the flooded and frozen bog would become our personal and free skating rink. Learning to ice skate on a bog – with roots and twigs every few feet – makes a real rink look too easy. And a Zamboni, ridiculous.
For someone who thinks she is fairly aware of trends – and is clearly wrong about this fact – I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of terrarium fever until this past July. It was a visit to a local garden store with a little money and time to kill that first brought them to my attention.
I ended up buying, Tiny World Terrariums by Twig Terrarium out of Brooklyn, NY and am now obsessed. This obsession hasn’t actually translated into the mass-production of terrariums I had anticipated, but I finally made my first one and was able to take the idea and translate it into an activity for a 9 year old birthday party. It also doesn’t hurt that we basically live in a terrarium and are surrounded by a large variety of mosses both on and around our house.
I’ve always loved miniatures and at 44 still buy the occasional Lego set. But I had no idea of the endless possibilities HO scale figures could provide and I think I’m more interested in acquiring them at this point than building with them. Although I keep telling myself that will come in due time.
I can’t take credit for the title – that was an editorial decision – but the rest of the piece is my newest handiwork after a two month writing break. My brain has been spinning non-stop since I wrote this article and I’m hoping that translates into regular writing.
Just a word that this blog may be moving from WordPress at some point in the very near future. I’ve been encountering some weird issues with it for over a month now where some days I can access it and some days it’s broken. And even though I may not post as regularly as I should, the thought of it not working (or, horror of horrors, the content disappearing!) as designed makes me crazy.
I’ve finally managed to post, now let’s see if I can export the content!
Anyone else having problems?
~ A resident of a small Japanese village replaces residents who have moved or died with handmade dolls. How weird it would be to just stumble upon this without any context, arts and crafts zombies.
She knew it was an unfair question the moment she opened her mouth. But it snuck out, accidentally or on purpose.
“Promise me you’ll take care of your sister.”
The urgency in her own voice was almost unrecognizable and she realized it was the first time she had admitted out loud that something was really wrong. Of course she and Grant had talked about their fears for their oldest daughter before, but only to each other and always at the wrong time keeping the discussion halted: a moment of panic after Chloe melted down again or in the early morning hours unable to sleep with the gnawing sensation that their child would end up helpless and alone, a prisoner of her own mind.
“Who will take care of her when we’re gone?” would repeat on infinite loop until Margot finally fell asleep.
Today’s zoo trip was to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. The facility is managed by the same organization as Franklin Park and one membership gets us into both. It’s a funny little zoo and I ended up liking it a lot. It’s on the small side and set across from a residential neighborhood on one end and what I assume to be a reservoir on the other. We all agreed it would be amusing to look out our living room window and see a snow leopard across the street or Mexican wolves – both of which faced homes.
The animal enclosures are set throughout a very wooded area with streams and wooden walkways. One section is entitled “Treasures of the Sierra Madre” and consists of animal enclosures with an “old timey” gold mine aesthetic. Picture a jaguar in an abandoned mining camp and lizards resting in the store display windows of a deserted mining town. It’s totally weird and a little rundown, but charming all the same.
With one of the kids sick and school vacation coming to a close we decided to go to the Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester. The germs would be free range, if not the animals. It’s been well over a decade since I was last at Franklin Park and while it looks better than it did back then, I realize I’ve been spoiled with some pretty amazing zoos these past years: Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fort Worth (though the latter was a little over branded for me with the Cheetah exhibit sponsored by Cheetos).
While his roar was fantastic, the lion today looked a bit weathered and may or may not have had a cataract (or two). And the gorillas? I don’t remember them looking so sad or having such a strong urge to rescue them. They looked dirty, displaced, and depressed. I have a love/hate relationship with zoos on a good day, but the gorillas I saw on the west coast did not behave like these. The ones in Denver had a some anger issues and a certain western swagger, but otherwise seemed very well cared for. Perhaps it was just the setting and I caught them on a sleepy day, but today’s gorilla enclosure did not leave a favorable impression. Nor did the smell.
We made the trek south for the annual Plymouth Thanksgiving parade. It was freezing and we got there way too early, but once it got underway it was worth the wait and cold.
Photos of our summer trip to Plimoth Plantation are here.
I have a really bad memory. This wasn’t always the case, but as I get older it gets worse and worse. Of course I remember all the horrible things that have happened to me over the years. That stuff never seems to go away except for maybe secondary school memories. I have nicely blocked out most, if not all of, junior high and high school.
Before the advent of Facebook this wasn’t an issue, but now I struggle to remember who people are that try to “friend” me on occasion or pop up in a friend’s feed. How did I know them? Did we get along? Were they nice to me or was I nice to them? Do they remember me from my awkward wallflower phase or my naughty townie phase? It’s always weird to hear other people describe me from those earlier years because they are describing someone I don’t really know. I’ve either repressed that much of my adolescence or they they have mistaken me for someone else completely. Read More
My husband and I had a very grown up Saturday and took in a lecture by Ang Lee and James Schamus at Wellesley College and then walked around campus for a few hours. Why is it that you appreciate things more when you no longer have them? I loved the campus when I was a student there (in my late 20s), but I didn’t realize just how special it was until it was over. How beautiful is it? Let’s put it this way, the sight of it this past weekend may almost make the remaining 10 years of monthly student loan payments a little less painful.
- Inspiring People: Ang Lee & James Schamus (musingsofanorientalgypsy.wordpress.com)
We decided to bring the kids to Salem today to check out the town pre-Halloween. It was a little too festive; the crowds made it difficult to see its character and its characters. I think we’ll have to make a return trip in a month that’s not October. I’m eager to head back some afternoon and just spend a day taking photos.