Water on Fire

Someone asked Shaun and I what challenges we faced when we first got married.

We looked at each other, smirked, and then burst out laughing.

“Well,” said Shaun, “Ashley didn’t really know how to housekeep or cook when we first got married, so that was kind of rough.”

While this was totally throwing me under the bus (I love you, too, dear), it is also true.  We ate more hot dogs and canned baked beans in that first year than I would care to remember.  Also, more than once we had toast for dinner–which I don’t recall, but Shaun apparently does.  Vividly.

My most vivid memory of my early culinary expeditions is the time I lit water on fire.

This incident occurred when we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in El Paso, TX.  The kitchen was a tiny galley kitchen which seemed better suited to microwaving a TV dinner than to actually cooking.  It had all the necessary appliances, but they were arranged in such a way that counter-space was extremely lacking.  I think the maximum length of continuous counter-space was about two feet.  Also, our kitchen was outfitted, by someone who shall remain nameless, with a variety thrift store pots and pans, which were “cheap” in both price and quality.

In my defense, this wasn’t the greatest kitchen in which to learn how to cook.

One evening before Shaun came home from work, I was in the kitchen dutifully preparing dinner.  I was making a dish which required pasta, so I got out my thin-walled, slightly-bowed-on-the-bottom thrift store sauce pot and some bow-tie pasta.  I have an unfortunate, scatter-brained habit where I put the pasta in the water before the water is set to boil on the stove.  It doesn’t seem to make that much difference, cooking-wise, except that you have to watch the pasta a little more closely in order not to overcook it.  It does mean that the pasta is soaking in the water while it’s heating to a boil.

The pasta came to boiling, and my little thrift store pot started rocking gently on the burner while it cooked.  The stove was electric, the type with coil burners that have metal pans underneath to catch drips.  Sometimes, the rocking of the sauce pot–combined, perhaps, with the fact that I had overfilled the pot a little, or had forgotten to turn down the heat–caused the pot to over-boil.

In this case, the rocking pot was overfilled on a very hot burner.  Hearing the water boiling and the pot swaying to and fro, I turned from my other dinner preparations in time to see some water slosh over the side of the pot and into the burner.

A stream of flame erupted from beneath the pot.

I had an immediate vision of being unable to work the fire extinguisher, of alarms going off throughout the apartment building, and of being surrounded by furious neighbors while explaining to the fire department that the conflagration had started when water went up in flame on my stove.  All while the apartment building burned to charcoal in the background.

Coming back the present, and realizing that I still had time to head off a catastrophe, I desperately wondered, “HOW DO I PUT OUT THIS WATER FIRE???”

Thankfully, I had read somewhere about what to do in the event of a cooking fire.  It had been very emphatic that if you have a cooking fire, do not pour water on it. Of course, if you are in a situation where water itself is already on fire, it follows that it would at best be useless to add more.

I flipped off the power to the burner and (either bravely or foolishly) reached around the flame and whisked the pot off the burner.  There was a pot lid nearby, so I slammed that down on top of the burner.  Then I prayed that the fire would go out, and I would not have to figure out how to use the fire extinguisher.*

The flame did go out, as quickly as it had first appeared.  I thought for sure that some pasta had sloshed out of the pot along with the water, and that this would be what had actually caught fire.  But all that was in the drip pan was a pool of cloudy pasta water and a light scorch mark.

When I told the story to Shaun that night, he refused to believe me at first.  “You can’t light water on fire!”

I conceded that it was, probably, the high concentration of dissolved starch that had actually caught fire when it came into contact with the heat of the burner.  Or perhaps it was a combination of an electric appliance and water which caused the flame.  But I still prefer to think that I flummoxed chemistry in some way.

And did we have toast for dinner that night?   After ascertaining that the fire was truly out, I continued cooking the pasta (on a different burner) and went about making dinner as usual–while keeping a wary eye on the stove.  You get back on the horse, and all that.

This probably should have been a clue that I cannot be trusted home alone.  Ever.

*I have no idea if I actually did the right thing in this situation, so don’t use this as a blueprint for putting out kitchen fires.  In fact, just try to avoid kitchen fires in the first place, okay?  Okay.


Almost There…

Great Lent is nearing its end, and apparently having fish on Annunciation really spoiled me, because I have started smelling phantom meat everywhere.

Last night, while making photocopies at work, I could have sworn someone was cooking chicken nuggets (seriously…chicken nuggets, of all things?  That’s stooping pretty low).

Later, at home, when turning off lights and heading upstairs to bed, I caught a whiff of frying bacon.

And at this very moment, sitting at my computer, I can clearly smell steak marinading.

It’s bizarre, especially since I’m not even that much of a meat-eater.  But you wouldn’t know it from the way my nose has gone rogue.  Does this happen to anyone else by the end of Lent, or am I some sort of meat-freak?

On the other hand, as my first priest said, “The smell of a cooking ham on Holy Saturday is enough to break a man.”

So I guess we’re all turning into raging carnivores by Holy Week.

Hang in there…Pascha is coming.


It’s the First Day of…

So far as spring goes…it’s NOT snowing, the sun is shining, and my neighbors’ daffodils are six inches tall. Granted, the daffodils are plastered up against the house foundation, in the half-inch of yard that isn’t buried under a foot of snow…and they haven’t grown perceptibly in about three weeks…and they are starting to have a desperate, “man, we were WAY too early to this party” look to them, but….

…Yeah, okay, it’s still winter.


On Waiting

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience–or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”
~Mrs. Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility


A friend referred to this past summer as “a growing-pains” summer, and I could apply that description to our last year-and-a-half.

I remember the sharp, deep ache under my shins as a child, which seemed to radiate from the very center of my bones.  I feel it in my chest, now–when I see the list of church services I’m missing, when I listen to the sound of Shaun backing the car out of the drive-way in the early morning, when I open our check-book.  The feeling of being relentlessly stretched and shaped, sometimes beyond what you believe you can bear.

So we clench our teeth against the tears, and pray as relentlessly as the ache comes, and try to believe that the growth spurt is worth the ache in our bones.


Etsy Shop: Flora

A little detour from my usual fabric, bead-embroidered items: new in my Etsy shop is a floral-decorated candle, “Flora”…actually, it is probably more accurate to say that it is a bouquet, featuring a candle!


The candle is a 15-inch, drip-resistant white taper, around which is arranged fluffy green hydrangea, dusky blue flowers, and demure cream blooms.  Vintage lace encircles the bouquet.  The bottom of the candle is wrapped in white satin ribbon, over which a sheer white organza ribbon has been crossed and secured with pearl-headed pins.  The overall effect is fresh and vibrant, ready for Spring (and aren’t we all!).

I hope that this candle will add to your celebration of Easter or a baptism.

This candle is available in this Etsy listing.



There, and Back Again

In December 2017, Shaun and I flew to El Paso, TX with three friends to attend the wedding of a mutual friend.

I never thought I would see El Paso again in my life.

Over the last five years, Shaun has repeatedly, publicly, vowed that he would never again step foot in that city.  Or, for that matter, in the entire state of Texas (which, as everyone–especially Texans–knows, is quite a lot of area to avoid).

Life has a gleeful way of making you eat your words.

To everyone who likes El Paso, I apologize.  It probably does not quite deserve the ire we heap on it.  It has its good points (Shaun has only admitted this recently).  Shaun spent a year at Fr. Bliss (a misnomer) before we were married.  His first barracks was an ant-infested trailer in the middle of the desert.  He encountered a bleak landscape, blazing heat, stalking coyotes, and wasps the size of hummingbirds.  He was far from enchanted.

Then we married, and he brought me back to El Paso to live.  It was like being thrown off the deep end.  We were newly-weds, newly Orthodox, newly Army, new to Texas, and many little things all added up to culture shock and chaos–even the fact that we had never lived in a place which boasts 360 days of sun a year.  The heat, the lack of trees, the absence of green grass, the bare mountains–to us, they all represent the hardships of that year.

So when I looked down from the plane window in December and saw the familiar tan, veined, scrubby, alien-looking landscape below, I wanted to cry.  Or beg the pilots to turn the plane around.

When we were waiting to de-plane, and I saw the Franklin Mountains looming up beyond the airport, I had to remind myself that I was only staying for about 45 hours.

And when, upon getting out in the city, the first sight that welcomed us was a rather incredible traffic accident,* I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into by coming back.

It did not help that the GPS, while trying to calculate directions to our lunch destination, kept ominously repeating, “Turn back.” 

And then–perhaps in a spate of vengeance for failing to heed it–the GPS routed us along I-10, which is basically tantamount to attempted murder.

But then El Paso began to redeem itself.

We had lunch at a recommended BBQ place, and my fingers got sticky with a brisket sandwich dripped with tangy, smokey sauce.  We crashed at the apartment of one of our weekend hosts, who made five let-lagged people feel at home while juggling her children, out-of-town family, and meeting our own last-minute needs.  We met up with far-flung friends and belly-laughed our way through the wedding rehearsal, which was followed by a delicious Mexican buffet dinner.  The next morning, after Shaun and I spent a very comfortable night with our own host family, we snacked on pan dulce and horchata while getting ready for the wedding, and laughingly rolled our eyes when the ceremony had to be delayed for twenty minutes because of guests arriving on “El Paso time.”

That evening we had fancy hot chocolate at Starbucks, watched the city lights from Scenic Drive (where Shaun had proposed, almost seven years before), star-gazed at McKelligon Canyon, and paid a nostalgic visit to our favorite Italian restaurant.  The refrain during our jaunts around the city was a (generally) pleasantly surprised, “oh yeah, I had forgotten about that!”


Night view from Scenic Drive


Christmas tree on the Wells Fargo building, which I had forgotten about.

When Sunday morning rolled around, we drove over the mountain (which still had a dusting of snow) and to the airport, where I bought post-cards.

photo 6

Snow on the mountain.

photo 8

I actually found myself wishing that I had more time to see sights, visit old spots, and catch up with friends.  And thinking that maybe I wouldn’t mind going back again.  Just for a visit.

–Although I will always silently panic-pray every single time we have to drive on I-10.


*The scene of the accident: a solid-looking retaining wall in front of a shopping center.  A large black pick-up truck had plowed into and over the wall, knocking part of it loose.  ON TOP of the truck, almost as if it had been dropped from the sky, was a red sports car.  (Unfortunately?) we were all so stunned, and so busy asking each other, “did you just see what I thought I saw?” and “how, in the name of physics, did that happen?” that none of us thought to get a photo.


Etsy Shop: Splendor Crowns and Candles

I often have trouble titling my creations, but this was not the case with these particular crowns and candles.  The beautiful cream-and-gold paisley ribbon paired with the winking gold braid quickly suggested “splendor.”

This set of crowns sparkles in the light.  They are covered in a gold and ivory paisley brocade ribbon, which is overlaid with gold trim. The inside of the crowns is lined with an ivory ribbon edged in gold. These crowns are tied together with an ivory satin ribbon, which is attached to the crowns with a “neck-tie” tie.  They may be found here in my Etsy shop.


Splendor crowns–available in my Etsy shop

The candles are made of the same ribbon and braid, and could be used with the crowns as a matched wedding set, if desired.  The candles are currently available as 15-inch tapers.  They are available here.




My First (and Last) Valentine’s Date

Shaun and I have a running joke that we just can’t do things the easy or normal way.  We met in college and then dated long-distance for four years, first between Ohio and New York, and then between Texas and New York, while I finished up school.  With inter-state travel being a necessity, we were bound to have a few travel-related mishaps along the way.

It also meant that “dating” was a bit of a misnomer when it came to describing our relationship.  E-mailing, AIM-ing, phoning, skype-ing, even letter-writing, yes–but actual dates were a rare thing.  In fact, we didn’t have our first real date until we had been “dating” for about a year and a half.  I suppose we could have tried a candlelit dinner via Skype, but I doubt a glowing computer screen would have created the same ambiance.

When Shaun surprised me by visiting for Valentine’s Day weekend my sophomore year, we were eager to try out this long-heard-of-but-as-yet-untried relationship ritual.  The college was set in a rural part of New York, and the campus and surrounding hamlet offered no appealing venue for such a momentous occasion–being not only our first date, but also the most romantic day of the year, at that.  The nearest large town, which was half an hour away, boasted an Italian restaurant, and we decided that this would be very suitable.

Being winter in New York, it was getting dark by the time we set out along the winding county routes.  We were excited and a little nervous and relieved that, finally, some part of our relationship would conform to the prescribed pattern.  Lacking a car, I was also excited to get off campus and at least see some different trees than everyday.

Everything had been going smoothly by the time we arrived in town, and we were basking in the rosy romance of being together, on a date, on Valentine’s Day.  At the first stoplight, Shaun got into the left-turn lane and waited for the light.  The light glowed green–and the truck stalled.

He turned the truck off and back on, and nothing happened.  He tried again.  Meanwhile, the line of vehicles waiting to turn grew longer and longer.  Giving up on getting the engine to come back to life, Shaun found the AAA card in the glove box and called the number.  The cars behind us also gave up on waiting, and started using the center lane to turn left around us.  After waiting through several “press one” thresholds, a recorded message politely informed us that the AAA offices were closed that night.

We looked at each other in dismay.  There was no other service number to try, and we were blocking traffic.  “I don’t know the local police number, but there’s always 911,” I suggested. Shaun apologetically explained our non-emergency situation to the 911 operator, who dispatched a police vehicle to assist us and told us to sit tight.  We sat in the dark and watched as annoyed drivers navigated around us.

At last we saw flashing lights and an officer pulled up behind us.  Shaun demonstrated the stalled engine to him.  He had Shaun put the truck in neutral, and pushed the vehicle across the intersection and onto the shoulder.  Then he offered us a lift to the police station, where we could try and figure out a way to get back to campus.

I sat in the passenger seat of the police car, while Shaun had the notable experience of riding in the back, on the hard plastic bench, behind a metal grate.  When we arrived at the station, the officer said to me, “You can go ahead and get out, but then you’ll have to let him [Shaun] out, because the back doors don’t open from the inside.”   So I ended up chivalrously holding the car door open for my boyfriend.

Inside the police station, we tried to figure out what to do next.  The other officers offered us coffee, and a few jokes about our situation, and looks full of pity.  At the time I did not have a cell phone, and had none of my friends’ numbers.  In any case, few of them had cell phones, and even fewer had vehicles.  Thankfully, Shaun’s phone still had numbers for some of his fellow ROTC cadets, from when he had attended the college the previous year.  He started working his way down the list.

Not surprisingly, most everyone was out for Valentine’s Day.  At long last, he reached someone who wasn’t out on a date, and thankfully, who had a car.  Forty-five minutes later, our ride pulled up outside the police station door.  We rode back to campus in awkward silence.  So yeah, thanks for picking us up from our date at the police station–so glad you didn’t have a date yourself tonight….

Our rescuer accepted our profuse thanks and some money for gas, and dropped us off at the campus center.  It was late, and we still had not eaten, so we made our way to the campus snack shop, where we ate wraps and curly fries at a booth, surrounded by students doing homework, goofing off, and ogling this poor couple who had to have a date at the snack shop.

The bright side of this situation was that Shaun had to stay over for an extra day, to wait for his truck to be repaired.

We never did get to that Italian restaurant.

But Shaun did propose two years later, so it must not have been such a bad first date, after all.


In the Grip of the White Witch

Originally written on December 28, 2017.  I couldn’t quite bear to post it until we had passed the half-way point for winter.

I was dozing this morning when I half-heard a loud “bang.”  A few seconds later, the water in the bathroom abruptly stopped.  Shaun, who was brushing his teeth, moaned, “Oh, no.”  That really woke me up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, as he came into the room and started throwing on layers of clothes.

“The water stopped,” he said, putting on his third shirt.  “And there was a bang.  I’m going to see if one of the pipes burst in the basement.”

I followed Shaun downstairs, which was markedly colder than the upstairs, and waited anxiously as he went into the basement.  I could feel the cold seeping into the house.  The furnace had long given up on keeping the house at our set 64-degrees, and had settled for 59 instead.  A few minutes later, it gave up on even that, and the thermostat registered 58-degrees in our living room.

Shaun returned from the basement and reported that no pipes had broken, thankfully, and that he had stopped up an old, broken basement window, in an attempt to keep out the frigid air.  A little later, our water started flowing again.

Disaster averted.

After consulting the weather conditions posted online, Shaun finished dressing for work. He often spends a great deal of time working outdoors in a warehouse and supply yard.  -21-degrees merited long johns, a long-sleeve tee and two sweaters, two pairs of pants, wool socks, and a fleece jacket to top it all off.  This was before he put on all his outerwear, mind you.  I imagine him toddling around work looking like the Michelin man.

A little before 7:00AM, in a fit of perverse curiosity, I checked the online weather report.  Weather.com was cruel enough to initially pull up the stats for Miama, FL, where it was a tropical 60-degrees.  I checked our town again, which had fallen to -22-degrees.  The local news station reported that Watertown, NY, had set a state record that morning for -25-degrees–not factoring in wind-chill.  This comes directly on the heels of record-breaking snowfall in the Tug Hill region.

Fairbanks, AK, on the other hand, was reporting a balmy -1-degrees.

While I was on the computer, I was startled by several more ominous-sounding bangs coming from the house.  This is my fifth winter in New York’s North Country, so I am no longer a stranger to sub-zero temperatures, but this is the coldest I have yet experienced.  After checking the house, I settled down the conclusion that the house was merely “creaking with cold.”  The whole morning has been an unnerving symphony of structural pops, bangs, creaks, and crackles.  As I was eating breakfast in the dining room, a small older window suddenly started crackling–the very sound ice or glass makes in the movies when it is cracking and about to shatter.  It looked fine, but I finished my bagel while watching the window with suspicion.

It’s not even January, yet.

(Not long after, in January, I set a new personal record for Coldest Temperature Experienced, at -30 degrees.  That was quite cold enough, thank you.)


Come soon, Aslan.



Why Punxsutawney Phil lives in Pennsylvania…

After living in New York’s North Country for five years, having Groundhog Day on February 2 seems rather pointless to me.

At this time of year, a groundhog’s burrow is still deep under multiple feet of snow.  Forget the groundhog seeing his shadow–you can’t even see the groundhog.  Or his den.  I doubt he even wakes up long enough to consider attempting to dig his way out.

Of course we are going to have six more weeks of winter.  At least.  There’s even two snowstorms on the way to prove it.

Having Groundhog Day on April 2, though…that would make more sense.

Dear Groundhog, is it going to snow on Mother’s Day?

That’s the question everyone around here would like answered.