Beltzner’s moving on.
When someone leaves the Mozilla Corp, it’s tradition for them to send a note to our global alias saying so. Mike sent his late last week, and this was my reply.
It’s assertive, when I come in the door after work. A statement of fact. “Da has arrived, Mother, in case you were wondering.” And then you squeal, and crawl down off the couch backwards like we taught you, and you crawl over to the gate by the front door and reach up for me to pick you up. And then you remind me where every light in the house is by pointing to them. “Teh.” (pointing) “Teh.”
6 months ago you couldn’t crawl, now you’re starting to walk. 6 months ago you couldn’t talk, now you’re babbling constantly and have 4 or 5 words that are consistent and recognizable, even if they aren’t quite English. 6 months ago you were a baby and now… you’re not.
A lot can happen in 6 months, and a lot has. A lot of firsts, too. Your first tooth, first flight, first foreign country, first beer. Yeah, that’s right, beer. Why? Because you won’t tolerate not having any. Every food that Mommy and Daddy eat, you want; and you’re fearless. Olives, pickles, pizza, steak. You are fearless, in everything, and it scares the crap out of me.
Parents think stupid things, Lily. You’re fascinated with light, will you be a photographer? You love books, will that last, will you read everything you can get your hands on, like Daddy does? You love food now, does that mean you’ll be a foodie, or that you’ll end up flipping a switch and getting really picky? We try to predict the future from the scraps of information we have, because you so constantly surprise and amaze us; we’re desperate for some ability to understand what the future will be like. It’s exciting and scary and foggy and incredible. I don’t want to rush things, but I can’t wait for you to start talking more, because I see the things going on in your head and I want to know all about them.
I asked Grandma when it stops. When each week stops feeling like there’s a brand new kid in the house. Grandma said, “it stops?”
When I write the next one of these, you’ll be 18 months old and, for all I know, you’ll be in college. Go easy on me, Lily. Gently. I love you more than anything in the world, little girl, but it’s all I can do just to keep up.
After 5 years, perhaps it needs no introduction.
In his (excellent) book Bowling Alone, Putnam argues that the inner circle of your life, family and close friends, act as a stabilizing function, they resist change. When the change is something self-destructive, this is a healthy and helpful thing, your family and friends remind you of who you are and bring you back. But when you want to try something different, that conservative force can become a barrier, and Putnam notes that in these cases looser social bonds become critical: people who know you, but don’t feel a need to keep you the same, who can enjoy and encourage your experimentation. (Ze has more to say about this exact passage, here).
NSID doesn’t judge. No Shaving in December is a tradition built on the idea that, once a year, it’s fun to see what your friends look like when they let themselves get skeezy. Don’t give them a hard time, join in! Put down the razors and trimmers and trappings of everyday modernity, and let yourself start to look really unmaintained. It’s freeing. It’s sometimes surprising. And hell, it might make you more trustworthy.
What more could you want?
NSID for Charity
The NSID community has always been full of kind spirits. I know this because each year, they ask me if our month of madness can be associated with a charitable cause in some way, to give the suffering of our spouses and sometimes ourselves a greater sense of purpose. I love that idea, and so as I did last year, I invite you to make a donation (US/CDN) to the Michael J Fox foundation for Parkinson’s Research. They have impressed me as a smart, well run charity acting to fight a disease that robs people of their ability to perform many of the basic tasks in life, like shaving, that we can toss aside for giggles.
A donation is not in any way a requirement for participation in NSID. For some people it helps motivate them to stay loyal to the cause, for others it helps them keep their significant others at bay, but it’s a decision I leave with you.
Either way – It’s November 30th – get that last shave in and start uploading those photos.
It’s been 6 months since I wrote you this. 6 months. And in that tiny little amount of time, you have turned into a person. It’s hard for me to guess which things you’ll find interesting later in life if you’re reading this letter, and you’re moving so quickly right now that, by next week, it will all be different.
You’re adorable. Daddies are known to lack objectivity on this point, but I have it on good, impartial authority that you are an absolute delight. You smile when I come home at night, you smile when someone picks you up, you smile almost any time mommy speaks. You have learned how to splash in the bath, you shove basically everything into your mouth, and you’ve become ticklish. You are mere seconds away from learning to crawl – already getting into position but then not quite knowing what to do and faceplanting out of desperation. Sometimes you use the faceplants to drag yourself forward. You’re an odd duck. I love that.
You’re also terrifying. You don’t sit still, you roll directly for the edge of whatever surface we put you on, you bonk into stereo cabinets head first. The other day, in the bath, you managed to dump a cup full of water down your throat before I could stop you, sputtered, and for a second that lasted 3 years, you looked like you weren’t breathing. Don’t do that any more, okay?
You’ve rewritten us. Every time I see a parent with a kid, especially a dad with a daughter, I sort of nod, like we’re part of the same club now. I’ve always liked kids, but now I spot every one of them, everywhere I go, and make sure there’s a parent nearby watching them. I’ve noticed that I’ll often be swaying gently back and forth when I’m standing around, regardless of whether I’m holding you, or some groceries, or nothing at all. I’ve noticed other parents doing it, too.
I’ve taken 1,387 pictures of you since you were born, posted 76 of them publicly, and forced taxi drivers, coffee shop baristas, and every single one of my coworkers to admire them. I think that’ll probably slow down a little, if only because you’ll start to lose patience with me, but it’s hard to resist capturing every moment, especially with the speed you keep growing.
Your mom and I are very fortunate to have a lot of love in our lives. Family, friends, coworkers – there’s a lot of love to go around. But I was not ready, I was not ready for the way you would multiply that. You are a tiny, ticklish, ever-blonder force to be reckoned with, Lily, and I don’t even know how to imagine what the next 6 months will hold.
Beltzner asked me once why I liked birds so much. I told him I didn’t, not particularly. I like nature. But if you go out for a walk in nature, you’re apt to come across a rodent or two, maybe an interesting mammal like a fox or deer, and you’re going to see at least 20 to 30 different kinds of birds. Bird knowledge is high return on investment, and gives lots of opportunity for practice. Knowing… I don’t know… voles, seems less immediately rewarding.
As for keeping track of them, I only started that last fall after a trip to Florida that was particularly packed with “life birds” (birds I’d never seen in the wild.) It may delight you to know that keeping track, “listing” as it’s called, is not without controversy. There are rules, if you enjoy such things, and there are a variety of local, regional, continental and world lists to work from. There are also, because of course there would be, reactionary elements within the bird watching world who are anti-list. There are lines drawn along the axis of listing that separate “birders” from “bird watchers” in ways that any Trekkie (or Trekker) will find immediately familiar.
I mostly don’t go in for all that. I record every bird I see in the wild; that’s it. For now I keep the list to North America, though I might start a world list at some point. I don’t record a bird until I’m confident of the ID, and I add a little ‘P’ in the margin for those where I managed to snag a good photo. Among (ahem) serious North American birders, my 105 is child’s play. 250 is the price of admission, 400 is typical of serious hobbyists, and 700 is a target once thought impossible but now reached regularly by people with the ability to fly to the Aleutian Islands to sneak in some Eurasian migrants while still technically in North America. I’m not likely to go in for all that, either.
Still, it’s rewarding for me to keep track. It motivates me to seek out habitats I haven’t visited before, and it lets me flag certain birds with extra import. It helps me notice detail on the birds that, I think, makes me a better photographer. Mostly, it gets me out of the house and into nature with a camera – that’s reason enough.
For posterity, then, my list to date (in Peterson’s order). Big thanks to Barry, my mentor in all things bird, for getting me this far.
Continue reading →
There’s a lot you don’t know about how you came into this world, little girl, and I plan to tell you all about it. I’m not holding on to details too well right now, though, so I thought I’d write some of it down, just in case.
First – the practical stuff. You were born at 5:44pm, February 13th. You weighed 8lbs, 6oz, which is on the heavy side of normal, and measured 22″ long which is on the long side of normal. Your head was 37cm in circumference, which is on the big side of normal, and it took Mommy 24 hours of labour to deliver you (your love for consistency held fast: this, too, is normal, but longish). You were positioned face up (“sunny side up,” said your doctor) which is normal, though more difficult. You needed some vacuum help (normal, though more difficult) and then some forceps (normal, though more difficult). You had a bit of jaundice which kept us at the hospital for another day (normal, though more difficult). In every way that you could, you tried to tell us that you were bigger than life, and you were right.
There’s more you don’t know, though. You don’t know that daddy cried when you were born or that he’s thinking about crying now as he writes this. You don’t know that we’ve been working on you since 2007. You don’t know about your mommy and daddy beating a regular path to the fertility clinic before work most mornings; mommy getting bloodwork and ultrasounds on day 3, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 16 of every month – for nearly 2 years; or that the month you did show up was the one month we had no treatments at all, because mommy’s body needed a break. You don’t know that you weren’t our first positive pregnancy test.
But you’re here now, and we are happier than we’ve ever been. We can barely stay awake, we jump every time you make a noise, but we are awfully smitten with you. We haven’t had many visitors because it’s all still a bit overwhelming, but when visitors do show up, we are the proudest parents, showing you off. We barely recognize your daddy any more – he impulse buys onesies with dinosaurs on the front, and today he boiled nipples.
I can’t wait to tell you all about the world, and about your arrival, and about what an amazing woman your mommy is. I can’t wait to introduce you to the incredible village that has risen up around you and supported us three since the beginning. I can’t wait, but I’m going to try because I don’t want this to go any faster than it has to.
I love you, Lily Margaret.
A lot of people have asked for this recipe, and I keep promising to write it down, so here goes. You can use any kind of beer, and get a wonderful variety of colours and flavours, but I tend to prefer it with dark ales; they give the bread a darker crumb like a rye bread, and have a really malty, yeasty flavour that I like. Really hoppy beers do a totally different thing, you should experiment.
I can’t take any credit for this at all – it’s how the French have made bread for 500 years, I suspect (albeit more often with water than beer.) It takes about 15 minutes of active work (most of it up front), 30 minutes of baking (all of it at the end) and hours in between when you go and do other things.
Method in Brief:
Method with Narrative (and an explanation of the ice cubes):
Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in a bowl that you think is too big.
Pour in the beer. It helps if the beer is not ice cold, since that will really slow down the yeasties. If you didn’t think to take the beer out earlier, no worries, just run it under a warm tap until it’s no longer cold to the touch. This is not an exact science, nor should you treat it as such.
Mix with a spoon until the ingredients are combined. This will be a really sticky dough. It will make you sad the first couple times, until you learn to recognize the goodness it portents.
Sprinkle some flour on a countertop or other largish surface, and dump the dough out on to it. Remove any rings or watches.
Now you’re going to knead the dough. If you’ve never kneaded before, it’s easy. Your job is basically to keep mooshing the flour molecules past one another so that there is ample opportunity for them to link up into chains called “gluten”. Gluten is what gives bread its elasticity. If you are not accustomed to thinking of bread as “elastic”, think about how a slice of bread deals with mashing and stretching (i.e. by mashing and stretching) vs. how a slice of cake does (i.e. by crumbling). Flour mixtures all tend to form gluten. Things like kneading help it out (which you do it with bread doughs and not cake doughs), things like fat hinder it (which is why you add things like shortening to cake – so-called because it “shortens” the dough – breaks up the gluten chains).
Kneading is also a nice analog process for getting the flour:beer ratio right, since your natural stickiness aversion will tend to have you adding sprinkles of flour as you work the dough and the surface becomes sticky again and again. To knead, use your fingers, knuckles, or palms to stretch the dough out along one axis, then fold it over on itself and repeat. When it gets too sticky to work with (try to keep it as sticky as you can stand) add more flour. You don’t have to do this for long, 5-10 minutes is probably fine. When you’re done, you’ll see a difference in the dough ball: if you stretch it a little, it will bounce back mostly into shape.
You’re basically done the hard work.
Throw the dough ball into a big bowl. If you’re clever, you will have really lightly oiled the bowl first (not like a muffin pan or anything, just a shot of Pam, or a dab of canola oil swooshed around on a paper towel) because it will make the dough easier to remove later. Throw a dishcloth over the bowl and leave it somewhere warm in your kitchen to think about life. If your oven is a newer one with a “Proof” setting, now is when you can use it.
You don’t want to cook the dough here, you just want the yeasties to be at a happy temperature. In case you weren’t clear, yeast are little, edible, live fungi that eat sugars in flour (among other things) and leave alcohol and carbon dioxide gas as well as a host of mostly nice-tasting things in their wake. The alcohol is mostly incidental for our purposes here, though there is a delightful symmetry in the fact that we’re mixing beer (grains + yeast + water = alcohol and incidentally CO2) and bread (grains + yeast + water = CO2 and incidentally alcohol). Point is, these guys will work through the flour making little bubbles as they go, which give our bread the ability to rise. Very exciting.
After an hour or two, your dough will have doubled in size. The only problem with cooking it right now is that your bubbles will not be evenly distributed. You’ll probably actually have a couple giant bubbles that will lead to silly looking bread. And anyhow, that’s not actually the only reason – giving the yeast more time also lets them develop more interesting flavours.
What you CAN do after an hour (or two, or three, this is not an exact science) is what bakers call “punching down.” You can leave the dough in the bowl, but basically what you want to do is re-distribute the bubbles through the dough, and bust up any big ones. Just rotate the bowl around, folding the edge back towards the center until you’ve got a ball again without any obvious giant bubbles. It will lose some of its newfound volume too, that’s okay. The yeasties still have plenty to work with.
What you do now is up to you. You could wait another hour and bake it and have tasty bread. You could go out for the afternoon and then bake it for dinner and have very tasty bread. Personally, I do this on a Saturday, with an eye to baking it on Sunday, so I give it the rest of the day to rise, and then I’ll generally punch it down a second time and put it in the fridge overnight. By Sunday dinner, I have me some outstandingly tasty bread. Again, I’m not taking credit, the recipe is as old as the hills. But ask around, my Sunday night bread kicks ass. Anyhow, time passes.
Your dough should be room temperature when you go to bake it which is trivial unless you’ve gone for the (highly recommended!) overnight rise in the fridge. Why not just leave it to rise overnight, out of the fridge, I hear you ask? By all means, give it a shot. It will rise a lot, and the surface will feel like silk, and it will be nearly impossible to handle (think about trying to form a loaf out of steam, say). But I admire your moxie.
Every time you manipulate your dough, some of the bubbles will collapse. They’ll come back as long as there is anything else for your yeast to eat (which there will be), so don’t worry, but it does mean that you don’t really want to be doing any dough manipulation immediately before baking. I deal with this by forming the loaf and putting it on a sheet of parchment for the final rise, since parchment can go directly into the oven. Pro-tip: wax paper is not parchment.
This is a French bread recipe, so you want to bake it on a stone or, failing that, a cookie sheet. You don’t put this in a loaf pan. That means that you have considerable flexibility on the size and shape of your loaf. You can sort of just plop your bread ball down and make a round “boule” loaf, or you can form it into the standard french-stick ellipsoid. The only trick here is to try to ensure that the “skin” of the loaf, the soon-to-be-crust, is stretched nicely instead of lying slack. To do that, as you’re shaping it, curl the sides of the loaf down under itself, so that the top skin stretches. This is easier to do than to describe – you’ll get the hang of it.
Heat your oven to 450F (convection ovens are yay, and will generally be smart enough to re-interpret that as 425F since they do a better job of baking. If yours doesn’t, help it out.) If you have a baking stone, it should obviously be in there too. When the oven is hot, right before putting the bread in, slash the top a few times and dust it with a little more flour. Not only does this give it a classic look, but it also lets the bread rise more evenly as the bubbles expand in the heat.
Right after you put it in the oven, throw in a few ice cubes. Not on the bread, just anywhere in the oven. The ice cubes are key. They will form steam, and the steam will condense on the dough, since it is cooler than the air in the oven. In the process, they will give up some heat to the surface of the dough. This makes for very happy crusts, and is the difference between people thinking you cooked bread, and people thinking you are super-awesome.
5 minutes in, you can throw a few more ice cubes in, to finish the job. Be careful when you open the oven door, that steam is going to try to have a party on your face.
Total baking time is about 25 minutes, though I generally have to give whole wheat dough a little bit longer to get a good crust going.
Take it out when it’s ready, put it on some kind of rack to cool. If you put your ear up next to it, you will hear the signature sound of bread – a crackling as it cools, that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Cut thick slices. Use real butter. Marvel at how something so easy can taste so good. I know there’s a lot of words there, but by the third time you do this, it is easier and more rewarding than just about anything else you’ll do in your kitchen.