Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Beach Music




I think I've cracked the code. Just come to the beach. Bring your bucket and your shovel, a couple of big towels and your swimsuit. Oh, and don't forget some books. Nothing too cerebral, just easy beach reading. Leave clocks and watches back at the house. Tell your everyday life to hold its noise, you'll be back in a week.

First order of business is to walk along the beach. Even if it's late when you get there you can walk along the water's edge with the waves slapping your ankles....



.....and watch the sun go down, the best kind of multi tasking.




 Get some sand between your toes and listen for the music to start in your head.
Wear something short so you don't have to get the hem of your britches soaked by a sneak attack from a runaway wave. Soon the pounding of the waves will blend with that music in your head and wash you over with peace and tranquility.

I forgot to mention --- bring tea. It's important to have the means to make a nice cuppa before you crawl in between the covers and sleep like a baby, full of salty fresh air and sea spray.

Next morning get up, no alarm, just whenever you wake, and do it all again.

Be brave. Go swimming. It'll feel like bathwater, back to the womb, or at least to Ballybunion, fifty plus years ago, with the endlessly blue sky and the vast stretch of the strand and your dad dollacawling with the little stove in the hollow of a sand dune, out of the wind, brewing the best tea you ever tasted.....To go with the best sandwiches ever, made by your mum who was always dainty and cut off the crusts....

 'Cept its warmer here, the water more greeny-bluey-turquoise than grey-green. But the exhileration of outwitting the waves is the same. So, added bonus. You're not only subduing time, you're travelling back in it. And yet another bonus --- when you come out of the water your teeth won't chatter like they did way back then, and you won't be covered in goose bumps 'cause the air here is just as warm as the water. Then you can sit in your beach chair or lie on the sand and read your book or just gaze up at the sky and watch the gulls wheeling by.

And if it's raining, as it is today, you just make another cup of tea and curl up on the couch that isn't yours but comfy just the same, and lose yourself in the romantic entanglements of your beach book, confident that, for now at least, you have subdued time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Made in America


Local art and hand made soaps

It used to be that that little tag from the Garment Workers of America, stitched into unobtrusive seams in shirts, trousers, skirts etc.was a guarantee that you were buying something made in America, by American workers, and you could feel a small bit of satisfaction in supporting the national economy, or at least helping someone in America to remain employed and able to support his or her family. In recent decades that little tag is as hard to find as feathers on a fish, worthy of a place in the Smithsonian.

A few casual hours at the mall would convince you that nothing is made in America anymore. Everyone I know has had the experience of thinking they've found the perfect gift for a friend's birthday, or a souvenir of a local place they've visited, only to turn it over and groan. "Made in China" automatically makes it a less than perfect choice.

But I have good news!

Heading home through Kentucky after a visit to Lily and family we spotted a sign for this off the highway.....




Walking in the Door



Beautiful hand blown glass
.....and quickly exited. In his former, unretired life, the OC would have been hard to persuade as he'd have been fixated on how quickly we could get home. No persuasion was needed however, and before we knew it we were walking in the door. If you were beginning to think that we didn't know how to make anything in America anymore a visit here would convince you otherwise. Kentucky, at least, is bristling with creative artists and craftsmen. Have a peek......

One of a kind pottery pieces







Unique fiber arts and quilts
More beautiful pottery
.
Hand painted silk scarves

We came away with some Kentucky bacon for our aspiring chef who thinks there is no dish that cannot benefit from the addition of bacon, some locally made chocolates (only two left as of this writing!) some beeswax candles, and restored confidence that there are artists and craftsmen aplenty in Kentucky, and all across the country, making beautiful and useful things, breathing new life into ancient crafts, each one putting his unique, creative stamp on each piece of his work and causing people like me to smile twice --- once at the beauty and craftsmanship of the object and  again, with delight, on turning it over and seeing that it was "Made in America."







Monday, September 01, 2014

Blind in One Eye, Can't See Out of the Other



My excuse is I'm savoring life. Don't want to miss anything. If I maintain a sedate pace, I reason, I'll see it all, live it all, experience it all. But, in reality, my sedate pace means that I think it should be March while the calendar adamantly insists it's September already.

Today is Labor Day, summer's end, though summer will linger on here a few months longer. How did that happen? Was I not paying close enough attention? Long ago, September meant new books, the smell of leather, walking home in fading light, the chore of polishing school shoes every night, cozy fires, the smell of burning leaves.....possibilities. Now it means the temperatures will make a gradual descent to bearable figures and it won't be a penance, but once again a pleasure, to go for long walks.

Last week we saw our grandsons' first football games of the season. They are back in school already and were pretty excited about their first games and happy that we were there to watch. We sat in the bleachers in brilliant, late summer Ohio sunshine. Everyone seemed to know what was going on and I cheered manfully whenever it seemed appropriate to do so, though I had no clue what was happening on the field. I'm still puzzled, after all these years, as to why American football is even called football, but I was mesmerized nevertheless by those handsome little boys (#33 and #1) in their football helmets and crazy bulky padded jerseys and their little thin legs sticking out under it all.





Wait a minute, wasn't it just weeks ago that they were babies?

As you can see, I have no hope of a future in sports' photography. Not quick enough to catch the action shots. Blame that sedate pace mentioned above, besides being "blind in one eye and can't see out of the other". As far as I know, in spite of how it looks, nobody was injured here. There was a lot of tackling and subsequent rolling on the ground, which, if it had been me, would have required an ambulance and a visit to the hospital, but for these elastic little whippersnappers it was just a matter of jumping up, then doing it all again. I'm still no wiser about the whole purpose of the game.

Speaking of failing eyesight, I got in the shower the other day, leaving my glasses on the bathroom counter. I'd been out in the shade garden, clearing, so had twigs and the like caught in my hair. Twigs don't bother me, but when something fell from my hair and moved I was not happy. It looked like a rather large bug.

 I don't do bugs.

I didn't say "eek!" I'm a bit more dignified than that, but I did swat enthusiastically at the creature with a washcloth in an effort to subdue him and stop him from possibly moving onto my toes. I cornered him out of the flow of water and he sat still while I peered at him myopically, trying to determine if it would be safe to pick him up and eject him from the shower.....

That's when I realized "he" was a leaf.

Another time, quite recently, I washed my face, wearing, of necessity, no glasses. I patted my cheeks dry and reached for my tube of face cream. Removing the cap, I was about to squeeze some onto my fingers and apply it to my face when, just in time, I realized that what I had in my hand was the toothpaste tube.

Yes, getting older separates the sissies from the stalwarts. It seems to me that a sedate pace is the best plan.

An even better plan would be to sedate Time.





Thursday, August 07, 2014

Piddling by Candlelight and Other Delights




Domesticity comes to me in spurts. I get by on a minimum, get by, get by, get by, until the howl goes up "There's nothing to eat here!" usually on an unannounced visit from The Bean. Warn me and I will provide, drop in and you'll eat as the Romans do. Us Romans eat well. We eat our veggies and drink our wine and are generally happy as clams with the service. Twenty-somethings we're not, but I like The Boy to visit and don't want him to starve while here......So.

Early in the week the fridge looked a little bare. I could feel a spurt coming on. We'd worked our way through all the leftovers and hadn't seen The Bean for a week. First I made Carrot and Beet Salad, a recent discovery from Scaling Back, my current, favourite food blog. It's a simple recipe but Oh! So delicious! If you can get yourself into a zen-like trance, the julienning and slicing of the carrots and beets won't seem too tedious. Zen-like trance achieved, I chopped away.



As my hands chopped and sliced, my mind wandered back to the weekend. Sunday afternoon we re-connected with an old friend and set off "on an explore." It was a grayish day, a delight in Florida, and raining sporadically. But neither wind nor rain nor gloom were about to deter us from our explorations, so, in the middle of a drenching downpour, we were confident that, in five minutes or less, the sun would peek through again. And so it came to pass.

We wandered down side roads to little towns off the beaten track. It was like stepping back in time to an older Florida, one in which amusement parks and frenetic fun were not the main draw (can you tell I'm not a Disney fan?)




One where time passed more slowly, while you lingered under giant spreading oaks and sipped your iced tea and watched the world go by. We found a little grove by the water and sat under some of those shady trees to eat our sandwiches.


My friend has a of wide range of interests so we chatted and sat and caught up on a few lost years.



Then off to explore some more. To a little fishing village, way out on the gulf, surrounded by water. We had an idyllic afternoon, just wandering around and, towards evening, stopped at a little, rustic, seafood restaurant for supper.

It was raining hard when we parked and dashed for the entrance. Inside was decidedly dim. Ambiance, I thought. But no, a power failure. They seemed unconcerned and ushered us to a table by the window. It was casual and cozy but we could still read the menu. Leaving the OC to peruse it, Becky and I went in search of the ladies' room. Oops. Total darkness!  As in inky blackness. Death by falling into a porcelain commode did not sound inviting.....What to do? Cell phones? Hardly enough of a glimmer. Then, through the gloom, a woman approached bearing candles. Aha! We would not have to cross our legs and sit tight for the duration! So we got our ambiance --- piddling by candlelight!



By now I had all my beets and carrots chopped. It had seemed effortless.




Next I made some hummus. Yum, yum.

And then a cake. Yes, the OC is trying to lose a few pounds, and I'm not trying to have what he loses come to roost in my britches but it is nice, like Winnie the Pooh, to have a little smackerel of something sweet with your tea and your books in the evening. Hence Strawberry Almond Cake. If you're not drooling you should be. It's delicious....

Spurt of domesticity over, I exchanged my Kitchen Goddess tiara for my gardening hat  and headed outdoors to my pet garden project, but that's a story for another day.




Friday, July 18, 2014

Who Has Problems Cooking Water?



because photos of tea kettles are boring...


Have I ever told you about my adventures boiling water?

A few weeks ago our kettle started leaking, but no matter, I could still make a cup of tea. I reported the problem to the OC who probably wondered what I expected him to do about it but wisely made no comment other than a non committal grunt. 

Last week I went to turn it on and nothing happened.
"The kettle has finally kicked the bucket," I reported.The OC, who sees no point in complaining if you're not going to fix the problem, fixed the problem. He went on line and ordered a new kettle.Meanwhile I boiled water for tea in a cooking pot. Later on, unaware that he had ordered a new one, I tried the kettle again. It worked. 

Seems it had been unplugged. Ahem..


Years ago my cousin and her husband were visiting us in our new house in Minnesota.
They'd been out seeing the sights all day and were gasping for a cup of tea, so I put on the kettle and we waited for it to boil. The burners on the stove in that house were those flat, easy to clean ones but they took forever to heat up and forever, again, to cool down. So we waited. And waited. And Mairead nearly passed out from the thirst.

“Molly,” said she in her rich Irish brogue, “would ye ever think about buying an electhric kettle?”

“Why?” says I, “what’s wrong with this one?” (I wasn’t quite as thirsty as Mairead.)

“A body could die around here waiting for a cuppa tay!”

So off we went to the store and bought a fancy new kettle. Mairead enjoyed many speedily made, restorative cups of tea on that visit and I wondered what was wrong with me that I’d never thought of buying an electric kettle before. I’m a creature of habit is my only excuse. I like to do things the way I know how to do them. 

When the OC came home, decades ago, with a microwave oven, I thought he was mad. I was sure those things were dangerous and it took me a while to accept that it might come in handy sometimes, like when you’ve forgotten your tea and you don’t want to drink it stone cold. Another time, out of the blue, he brought home a food processor. I told him I didn’t need it and hid it in the cupboard for months. I was afraid it would be so complicated I wouldn’t have a clue how to use it….or some such rationale. Finally one day, with mounds of vegetables to chop, I surreptitiously snuck it out of the cupboard to have a go and have been using it ever since.

I buy a box of Barry's tea about every six weeks. A few months back we decided that, in order to make more cupboard space, we should buy no more tea until everything we had was used up. We had run out of Barry's at that stage so we've been drinking herbal, green, and all the accumulated teas that we ignore when there's Barry's around (or if we're really lucky, Yorkshire!) They're all pale and insipid excuses for a decent cup of tea. 





One of the purposes of a cup of tea is to restore your balance when you're feeling discombobulated. There aren't many problems that won't seem better if you can think about them over a nice, hot cup of tea. These teas were doing absolutely nothing for discombobulation. Yesterday I could stand it no longer. I stopped at the Irish Shop and bought some Barry's and caught up with Ellen, the owner, who thought I must have died.


Mairead eventually went back to Ireland and I went from strength to strength in my ability to boil water in the new electric kettle. Then one morning, about a month after she’d left, I came downstairs,only half awake, and groped my way into the still dark kitchen. Of all the places we've lived, my favorite kitchen was the one in that house in Minnesota. It had two windows that met at right angles over the kitchen sink so that, as I washed dishes, I could gaze out into the trees and daydream. That morning, on auto pilot, I filled the new kettle and put it on to boil, and, looking forward to that nice cup of tea that would wake me up, I turned to the sink to wash some dishes from the previous evening. My mind was a thousand miles away as I scrubbed and dreamed until, suddenly, I noticed a really obnoxious smell ……what on earth…..?

 I turned towards the stove, from whence it came, and saw the kettle floating in a sea of black melted plastic on top of the smooth burners. What a mess! Old habits die hard. I guess it had not been quite long enough for the newfangled way of boiling water to gel in my brain. In my half awake state I had turned on the stove and plonked the kettle on top, as I’d been doing for decades, forgetting all about the little plugged-in black plastic stand it was supposed to sit on.


The new kettle arrived this morning. I bought those Barry's tea bags in the nick of time. I'm much better than I used to be, even a week ago, at cooking water. I've had several cups of good strong tea today and there's no discombobulation anywhere in sight. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Post From a Ghost of Bloggers Past



The best thing about okra...

You may have noticed the dearth of blogging in this little corner. It was not intentional. When I'm out in the garden, pursuing my personal vendetta against stink vine for instance, drunk on sunshine and great ideas, I'll promise myself that as soon as I go inside and wash the grime off, I'll sit down and wow you with my brilliance. Maybe exhaustion has a withering effect on great ideas because there's been nothing for weeks months now.

April...Getting started

With the OC retired and back in residence, all the little things that I let slide in his absence are being taken care of. Stuff grows in Florida. And how! Especially weeds. Stink vine is a pretty little creeping weed that crawls across the ground, knitting itself in every couple of feet, until it covers a huge area with it's ingratiating web. When you pull it up it lets off an odor that would choke a horse. Sneaky, because the leaves are very pretty,but in no time flat it can take over and choke out the good stuff unless you let it know who's boss. We usually dump garden debris at the back, on or near the compost pile. But stink vine goes straight into a bag for the garden waste collection. Let it take over the world at the landfill, not here!



And in the usual way of one thing leading to another, gardening has led to more experiments in the kitchen. For one thing, there's a man in the house who needs regular feeding so meals once again are a daily occurrence. They were spotty, at best, when it was just me. Now, with an appreciative eater in the house (who also does dishes) meals are fun again.  In addition to fools, there's another thing the OC does not suffer gladly: dull tools. Ergo, my kitchen, since his return, is full of lethal weapons. I've been thinking I should buy stock in the company that manufactures bandaids. The occasional sprinkle of blood here, small piece of finger there notwithstanding, we've been having some delicious fare. Slicing the cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant that the garden has produced is also a lot easier with a sharp knife.with regular healthy eating the OC has lost some weight. Unfortunately, it didn't go far. It settled on me.



The biggest hit from the garden has been kale. My favorite salad of the summer is made with kale, garlic, pecorino Romano, raisins and walnuts. When beets were in season I found a beet and carrot salad recipe that was out of this world. I'll put them on Molly and Lily in the Kitchen, where, even though there's been scant evidence of me in recent times, there's been even less of Lily.

At the other end of the scale we had okra, which is not even on my cooking radar, but beggars can't be choosers and The Bean, who did all the donkey work in getting the garden started for us, thought we should have okra. It grew beautifully but when I added it to a salad (it oozes a mucous-y sticky substance that does nothing to whet your appetite,) the OC bluntly told me that if he wanted snot in his food he had his own supply, thank you very much. In the interests of waste not, want not, I had to choke down the rest of that salad myself! Okra does have one redeeming quality --- the most beautiful flower!

And here's another beautiful flower who, sadly, isn't growing in our garden.......but we're grateful for regular updates!




Now that I've broken the long silence, maybe I'll get back to more regular blogging. Meanwhile, "Happy (recent) Birthday" to Isabelle and greetings to the other die-hards who have doggedly hung in there during the drought!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time....


 


When we were young and foolish and anxious to impress ourselves and others with how learned and well-read we were, we bought, one at a time, the hundred best books in English literature. They are beautiful, leather-bound books and have followed us back and forth across the country and the globe, adding that learned and well-read  ambiance to all the places we’ve lived. Needless to say, in over forty years we've still read fewer than fifty percent of them between us. New plan: now that the OC is retired  we plan to read more of them.

The OC recommended  I start with The Odyssey. Really? I wasn’t thrilled with that suggestion as there was already a teetering pile, threatening to collapse from my night table onto the floor, of library books and books from friends, waiting for their turn to dazzle me. But, I made a start, fully expecting to be bored out of my mind. And truthfully, remembering the torture of translating Latin passages in school, expecting to be reminded that I am not intellectual enough to get a thrill from, or even to understand, the scribblings of long-dead Romans. But, surprise! It wasn’t at all boring. Very readable in fact. I could actually follow the thread of the story. Maybe those old geezers’ writings have survived because the things they wrote about are things that are still relevant today? That said, I’m not exactly steaming through it. As with rich chocolate, I’m pacing myself. One delicious morsel per day as opposed to gobbling the entire box in one sitting. And in between morsels I’ve been chipping away at the teetering pile.

I recently re-read Sebastian Barry’s “A Long, Long Way.” I loved it as much the second time around as I did the first. We all have access to the same vocabulary but the way Barry puts words together is to my ears what chocolate is to my tongue. Another of his, “On Canaan’s Side” is waiting on the night table. And I’m even thinking I might like to reread “The Secret Scripture.” And then there’s “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty,” and I could even reread “Annie Dunne” just for the pleasure of feeding more chocolate to my soul.

 I have Alice Munroe’s “Dear Life,” a book of her short stories, out from the library. I’m half way through and it’s due back tomorrow. My heart won’t break. I can’t get enthused, which is probably why the Pulitzer Prize committee has not contacted me to sit on their selection board.

A friend lent me Robert Graves “Goodbye To all That” and I’ve dipped in and out and will finish it, in time. Another friend lent me “Life Stories” by Susan Vreeland, and I’ll get to that too. But somewhere in the midst of all these I happened onto “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, an Australian I'd never even heard of and had to drop everything while I giggled my way through it. Absolutely hilarious, especially if you have a friend or acquaintance with Asperger’s. It reminded me of "The Humans" by Matt Haig and how much fun that was to read. Note to Birdy: drop everything and go get it. The Scot can fend for himself for a day or two.

Waiting at the library for me today is Anna Quindlan’s new book, “Still Life With Breadcrumbs.” Will report back when I finish it. Meanwhile, time for another few chapters from Mr. Homer.

And just in case I blaze through the teetering pile with unaccustomed speed, I’d love to hear what you all have been reading while I’ve been gone.*



* Absence unintentional.. Life gets in the way sometimes. I kept thinking “this week for sure,” and the weeks kept slipping away.  Thanks for your concern and sorry to worry you. All is well. Come see me, I've missed you all.