Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wandering In Western New York

Our intrepid explorer sets out, steering wheel in one hand, map in the other and wends her way southwest along the Seaway Trail. She is just beginning to mutter about Mapquest, when, around the next bend flashes a sign. No. Our heroine is not speeding. It came up suddenly, that’s all. She comes to an opening in the hedgerow and deftly executes a u-turn. Long time readers will recall she is a dab hand at the u-turns. The sign declares in elegant letters that this is Graycliff, proving once again, for those of little faith, that she can indeed read a map. Even if she does sometimes find it necessary to turn it upside down in order to get her bearings.





Graycliff is the summer home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his friends Isabelle R. & Darwin D. Martin. They don't live there any more. Nobody does. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and our intrepid explorer has applied steely eyed determination to the task of finding it. She is very happy to have succeeded.


Dawdling a little, so as not to be caught in the middle of the chattering tour group, she gazes up at the window above the entrance.





"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair," she silently cries, but Rapunzel doesn't reply. Must be working furiously on her knitting......




Our heroine pauses in the doorway, glancing back before stepping inside. Such a lovely view. She imagines for a moment that she is Isabelle, long deceased mistress of Graycliff, and Jeeves has just dropped her off at the front door......A tour guide comes and breaks the spell, urging her to keep up with the group.





"Oh, Oh!" Here we are, on the inside, at the top of the stairs. Turns out Rapunzel was never even there.....




....which really is a pity. These rooms are so full of light. She wouldn't even have needed her glasses.





That Frank , he had the right idea, bringing the outdoors in.





Washing dishes must have been painless with flowers like these crowding the window by the kitchen sink......




When the dishes were done you could take a stroll in the back garden. Nice how the windows reflect the lake. And turning away from the house you have this view before you.





You'd think Isabelle would have been happy as a clam. But, by all reports, she was not. Our heroine was. Happy as a clam that is, to have found her way out here. Loath to drive back to the city too soon, she went trespassing on private beaches, studiously ignoring signs that proclaimed them as such. The rich can have their mansions, but she'll growl at them if they tell her she can't walk along the shore. Nobody did. She had a lovely time, our intrepid explorer.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not No, But Hell No!

Guess who called today when I was in the throes of mopping and scrubbing and gnashing my teeth? Go on, guess……

The Police Benevolent Society.

Can you believe it? The absolute balls of it…..

Unconcerned that they might not be my favourite people right now……

Even less concerned that I might be in the middle of yet another domestic crisis……The voice on the other end began to wax poetical about the boys in the squad cars. Their dedication, their self-sacrifice, their…..

I used to be polite.

I used to patiently listen to the spiel…..

But these are trying times.

First, I hung up.

THEN I said it.

A very bad word. Loudly and vehemently.

Then I resumed mopping and scrubbing and gnashing my teeth.

The fridge decided to go on strike…and it’s 86 degrees F in the shade….

The gods, apparently, are not finished toying with me yet….

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

To Read or to LIsten.....That is The Question.

I can’t seem to get immersed in any one book lately. Too restless --- mind drifting hither and yon, searching, for what? Purpose? The meaning of life? New and exotic spiders? Chocolate?? Rather than really reading one book, I’ve been dipping and browsing.

One I’ve been carting around is “Under My Skin,” Volume One of Doris Lessing’s autobiography. Why Doris Lessing? I am not a fan, or even an un-fan, of her books. I haven’t read any of them, even though I have seen her referred to as “one of the great writers of the twentieth century.” Reviews of her latest book, “The Cleft” leave me uninterested.

But she has an arresting face. A face with character. The face of a person who didn’t back down from life’s challenges.

That face captivated me, and so I carried her home in my book bag. I haven’t been sorry. “One reason for writing this autobiography” she says, “is that more and more I realize I was part of an extraordinary time, the end of the British Empire in Africa……………..People no longer know what that time was like, even those who live in Southern Africa.” She has had a fascinating life and tells the story well.

I think I like autobiographies better than those written about someone by someone else. Because your life, and the paths you take, or don’t, and the decisions you make, or won’t, are all determined by how you think. And who, but you, can really understand that?

All of which makes my mind wander, in it’s aimless fashion, to a newspaper article I read recently, wherein “Book club purists look down on their brethren who---gasp---get the audio version.” [“Listen, you cheater” by Andrew Adam Newman of the NY Times]

For me the choice is easy. I prefer books. I like the weight of them, the feel of them, sometimes even the smell of them. I love the promise of another world waiting for me between the covers. Some of my favourite places are bookstores, especially musty -smelling second hand ones where each book’s physical history is shrouded in mystery. I like the situations of reading too, whether curled up inside, listening to the rain, or tucked into a corner of the porch, or hidden in the leafy middle of the tree at the bottom of our garden when I was growing up, or fitting in just a few pages more before my head flops onto my chest at night.

Sometimes I do check out audio versions, especially for trips in the car. But when I do, I often find the reader’s voice or interpretation annoying, as I did when I listened to “Rise and Shine.” I’m a big fan of Anna Quindlen’s, but she was not the reader, and the reader didn’t read it as I would have expected the author would have wanted it read. Call me persnickety.

This doesn’t happen when the author is the reader.
Two outstanding examples come to mind. Sometime after reading, and loving, Frank McCourt’s book “Angela’s Ashes,” I found the audio version, read by McCourt himself. And loved it, all over again. It was like sitting by the fire, listening to him tell his story. He got the accent just right. Imagine that! Much better than some poor amadawn of an American trying to fake it with a stage-Irish brogue! Each inflection was perfect, and his pronunciation of the frequent Irish words flawless. As Homer would say---“Doh!” He wrote the bloody thing. It came from inside his head and his memory and out through his vocal chords. Of course no one else could have done it justice.

Likewise with lives. Only the person who has lived a life can write about it convincingly. At least about the parts that most interest me---what they were thinking and feeling.


Then recently I happened upon an audio version of “The Not So Big Life” by Sarah Susanka. She is an architect whose book “The Not So Big House” I had really enjoyed. When we lived in Minnesota, we went on a tour of an award-winning house designed by her. Her ideas about our living spaces make so much sense to me. And here she was, unexpectedly applying her architectural principles to the way people conduct their lives. I was intrigued. I listened to the entire thing and became as much a fan of her ideas about our lives as I already was of her ideas about the houses we live them in. She herself was the reader. Only she could have read it with such passion and conviction. I will probably check out the book version soon, which will have the advantage of letting me reread parts I find particularly interesting, and gaze off into space while contemplating others. Yes, I know. I could rewind the tape or CD, but I’d rather reread, given the choice, than mess with buttons and risk blowing something up. Which has been known to happen.

But, back to Doris. She says “….scientists…….say something like, `If the story of the earth is twenty four hours long, then humanity’s part in it occupies the last minute of that day.` Similarly, in the story of a life, if it is being told true to time as actually experienced, then I’d say seventy percent of the book would take you to age ten. At eighty percent you would have reached fifteen. At ninety-five percent, you get to about thirty. The rest is a rush - towards eternity.”

Will you excuse me now? I have to go immerse myself in my book, which has finally got me hooked.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Specially for Aunty


Aunty Evil! This one’s for you! For this shot my little spiny crablike orb weaver friend coyly showed me a little leg, proving that there is indeed “a spider in there somewhere!”
But, so’s not to traumatize you too much, I’m also putting the recipe you asked for on here……

Shepherd’s Pie with Mushroom Gravy

8 medium potatoes
3-4 Tblsp butter or margarine
1/4 to 1/2 cup warm milk
S &P to taste

Cook and mash potatoes. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Saute 1 large chopped onion and
1 clove garlic, minced, in additional butter until soft.
Add I ½ lbs ground beef [or whatever meat you wish to use] and brown well.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add 1 bay leaf
½ tsp. thyme
¼ cup tomato paste


Cover and cook over low-med heat for about 20 mins.

Discard bay leaf.

Stir in a handful of chopped fresh parsley.

Spoon mixture into a greased casserole.

Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Dot with small pieces of butter.

Broil for 5 mins.
.

Mushroom Gravy [optional, but yummy]

2 Tblsp butter
3/4 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 lb mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups canned tomatoes, chopped
Cook the onions and garlic in butter.
Add mushrooms and continue cooking until liquid evaporates.
Add s&p and wine.
Cook a few mins. More.
Add tomatoes and simmer 15 mins.
Add two Tblsp butter and thje heavy cream.
Warm thoroughly, but do not allow to boil.
Serve over shepherd’s pie.

When we were in school we rode our bikes home for lunch every day. To come in the back door and smell Shepherd’s Pie in the oven -----hmmmm! My mother was a great cook, but this is not her recipe. I think I clipped it from a newspaper eons ago. I certainly am not claiming to have invented it. Of course I take liberties now. Time was when, if I didn’t have all the ingredients, I just wouldn’t make it. Having children took the starch out of me and I started improvising. Now a recipe is just a rough guide! Substitute, eliminate what you don’t like or don't have, add whatever is lurking in the back of the fridge, and most of all, relax. Cooking isn't rocket science. Since I realised that I've had much more fun. And don’t forget to call me when you make it so I can come eat with you. Because it always tastes better when you haven’t had to do all the work yourself!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Front Porch Massacre

Saturday dawned. Recklessly,I swung my legs over the side of the bed and got up. Something had to give. I wasn't taking this lying down anymore. Under stress I usually do one of three things.

#1 Bake something yeasty. Never underestimate the power of therapeutic thumping.

#2 Clean something. I mean, really clean. To within an inch of it's life.

Or, most recently

#3 Blog something---the more banal the better.

Saturday's stress relief of choice was #2. Armed with a broom, I headed for the front porch.

Our front porch is probably my favourite part of this house. We have comfy chairs out there, and a variety of bushes screen it from the road. If you can't find me in the house, or out the back, I'm sure to be on the porch, reading, sewing, or writing. If you come over for tea, we can sip it out there.

But not in July and August. Way too hot. That's when the spiders move in and set up housekeeping, twelve feet up on the ceiling. Wasps like to build nests there, and Daddy-Long-Legs abound. The Bean has been sneakily taking over more and more of the porch space with his seedlings, and saplings, and cuttings, and graftings, and watering cans, and rooting hormone......

Enough! Saturday morning I am a woman on a mission. Out to reclaim control of at least this small corner of my life. From spiders, and wasps and budding botanists and mis-aligned planets.

Hmmm. The best place to start, I reasoned, was the ceiling. So.... Step out of the shoes, onto the chair, steady now. Another step up to the table. Reach, sweep, move the table, repeat. Of course it took longer than I expected. Doesn't everything? No problem though. I had no train to catch.

I did feel a little twinge to be causing such consternation among the ceiling residents. All those sentient beings. On the other hand, who wants a sentient, or any other type of being, rappelling down to settle on one's muffin?

Another implement had to be employed. One with a sharp edge. To dislodge the strongholds, which appeared to be made of petrified mud, of some other determined insect. I had to admire their skill and the strength of their creations. No need for them to have hurricane insurance.

I approached one wasp nest with trepidation, unsure whether or not it was still occupied, telling myself I'd better be nimble in case I had to escape in a hurry. It was empty. But what a fascinating piece of work! What makes us think that we are the cleverest inhabitants of the planet? I'd give a lot to have the unerring instincts of a bird, an insect or an armadillo. Sigh.

The truth is I'm not so shallow and self absorbed as to think that the events of last week mean the world is coming to an end. But they do parallel other events, or non-events, in my life, and the lives of people I love, which I am powerless to do anything about. I want my superpowers back. Now!

BUT! I am a fearsome force with broom in hand. The daddy-and mommy-long-legs didn't seem too concerned by my clean-sweep efforts. They just moved a few feet away and resumed their nonchalant stances. But their teeny tiny boy- and girl-longlegs progeny were scattering in every direction, probably squeaking, a la Chicken Little, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

Now it is Tuesday. And the sky has not fallen. The porch looks nice and inviting again. Spiderless and swept.

The birds are singing out there. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The leaves are rustling. And best of all, Fall is coming. So I'll quit my bitching and count my blessings.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Family That Speeds Together.....

Yes indeed, there was more.

But first I was allowed to sleep. I was very happy to crawl into the comfort of my bed that night, and oblivion.

The sun came up AGAIN the next morning. The planets were STILL out of kilter, but the sun was shining. The coffee tasted good. God was in his heaven, and, for all I knew, the Evil Cloud had passed.

But it was only Wednesday. The Bean was at an early class. The house was quiet. I did my morning puttering, put on a load of laundry, fed the cat..... And decided to go to the library, where the computers are well behaved. But first, an errand.

Near the scene of yesterday’s crime, I noticed a strange car on the grassy verge. A grey Dodge, parked, nose out, at right angles to the road. I thought it odd, but drove cautiously on and accomplished my errand. On my way back, the Dodge was still there, and this time I noticed the cop in the driver’s seat! The Sheriff’s fund raiser was still in progress. In an unmarked car.....The sneaks.

I thought about pulling over and telling him he was in the wrong neck of the woods. To come with me to where the real problem was. Instead I raced home [at a sedate thirty mph] to call the Bean, who was probably, even now, on his way home. No answer, so I left a message. Be careful, unmarked cop car, waiting to pounce.

I’m headed out the door again, thinking “library,” to find the Bean. In the driveway. Sputtering. Because there’s a grey dodge behind him, flashing its headlights. And a cop giving him a ticket. Another one for God and Country!

At first, when he saw the grey car follow him into the driveway, he thought it might be someone turning around, or maybe looking for directions...!

Meanwhile, a real cop car is cruising by, sees his buddy in the stealth vehicle, and turns in. Friendly young cop from yesterday climbs out. Sees me and smiles in recognition.

“Hi Molly!” using my first name.
“Hi,” I respond glumly.
“How’re you doing?”
“I’ve had better days...”

Later I ask the Bean why he didn’t answer when I called? He’d had to turn his phone off for class, and forgot to turn it back on. I wasn't exactly well positioned to be delivering a lecture. Partners in crime. Won't the OC be charmed with the pair of us.... A comedy of errors. Except nobody’s laughing…..You’re surely not laughing.....Are you???

And so it went. With Friday, Saturday and Sunday still to come!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Luck Of The Irish, My Eye.....

But then.......

At 11:30 a.m., dignity and good humour restored, I set out for a friend’s house [leaving Me and Myself at home with the cat], for an afternoon of stitching. Less than half a mile from my house, driving through a grassy area with trees on either side of the road, and no houses, I rounded a bend and before me, on the shoulder, were at least three cop cars with a dizzying array of flashing, twirling lights. Belatedly I paid attention to my speed. And hoped they were so busy with whatever they were there for that they wouldn’t decide to subject me to more trauma. I’d had enough for one day already, remember?

You’ve probably heard of “the Luck of the Irish?” Me too. And I can tell you it’s a fairytale. My heart sank as I saw, in my rearview mirror, that they were not, in fact, too busy with whatever they were there for to come chasing after me. Thirty nine in a thirty mile an hour zone. The shame of it.

The nice young cop explained to me that they’d had a complaint from a resident about people speeding through our neighbourhood. And THAT was what they were there for. Yes, I agreed. We’d all like to see you pull over the construction trucks that come barreling by our houses on two wheels, music blaring, hitting the road in spots, tossing their empty coke cans and burger wrappers onto our lawns…….But instead it seems to be turning into a sheriff’s office fund raiser, judging by the other cars they’d had pulled over. Seeing me distraught, he tried to be comforting, telling me it didn’t mean I was a criminal, it was just an infraction. Yeah. Or maybe an infarction….. Small comfort as I cast my mind back to late May and my U-turn adventures. Repeat offender, that’s me.

By now he was droning on like Charlie Brown’s teacher and I was no longer listening. I was wondering if it was too late to crawl back into bed and burrow down where it was warm and safe, to hide out there until the planets could align themselves more pleasingly….….That, and mutinously muttering all the cuss words I could think of under my breath. So now, surely, that’s enough c.r.a.p. for one week?

But no. Turns out there was more…….

Such A Week........

Into each life there comes, once in a while, a week that brings to the forefront of your brain, and sometimes even to your lips, all the bad words you ever heard or knew. Vehement, explosive words that in certain circumstances, like such a week, are the only way to spell relief. They're not usually words that "nice girls" in my youth were encouraged to use. They often have only four letters, making them easy and satisfying to enunciate. I can still remember a day, when I was testing the waters [aged seven or eight,] and made the mistake of saying "damn" in front of my dad.....If we had some kind of cosmic warning system for such weeks, or days, the most prudent course of action would be to burrow deeper down into the covers, ignoring the sneaky light of dawn, insinuating itself through chinks it the window shades, and killing the alarm clock. Unfortunately we have not yet evolved to such a level.

And so we rise optimistically and face another day or week. This week was such a week. It began innocuously enough. I survived Monday unscathed. Sipping my coffee on Tuesday morning my eyes fell on the calender. Oh Jesu, joy of man's desiring...... I had completely forgotten. The dreaded yearly gynecological exam.

An hour later, coffeed, showered, glum and naked, we [me, my disgruntled self, and I] are sitting on the edge of the examining table, loosely covered in that most fetching of garments, the paper gown, waiting for the Physician’s Assistant. There is a small window high up on the wall of the examining room. Small, perhaps to discourage last minute escape attempts---but how far would we get in our paper gown and bare feet? A patch of blue sky and a section of palm-tree trunk are framed in the window. As we contemplate the texture of the trunk the door opens and the PA enters, wearing a cheery smile. And clothes. She is, thank you God for small mercies, female and familiar.

A little polite conversation ensues, and then, down to business.

“Put your feet here please,” instructs the nurse, as the PA dons her gloves and approaches the nether regions with her gleaming instruments. Obviously it would be inconvenient if we were to cheerfully announce at this point that we had changed our mind. Ta-ta.

“Please scoot down a bit,” says the PA. We dutifully scoot.

“A little more…” We move a fraction of an inch.

“A little bit more please.”

“Do you want us to fall over the edge?” Giggles from the nurse.

“You just need to bend your knees a little,” from the PA.

“I think her legs are too long,” Helpfully, from the nurse.

We never were good at plies, even when we were young and limber. Besides, they want us to do them upside down…..Don’t they know we hung up our ballet slippers a few decades ago, when our knees rusted over?

Inconvenient legs notwithstanding, they finally get us into The Position. And swab whatever they have to swab, while we clutch the sides of the table. And then the ordeal is over, we think. But no. With a “this won’t take a minute”, a digit is inserted where digits were never meant to go.

“There,” cheerfully, “you’re done for another year.”

We should be happy. We aren’t, but we manage a wan smile. The frontal assault was one thing. At least that was expected. But the other. The stealth attack---for these indignities we’re expected to pay??

Scarpered out of there and quickly home for a restorative cup of tea. Enough trauma for one day, you’d think.

But then.......

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Me Meme

Isabelle tagged me for this meme a few weeks ago. Not sure what it's called; hope this covers it.

Jobs I’ve held:

Cashier at airport staff cafeteria;

Airport Tourist Information desk person;

Airline passenger check-in;

Physical Education teacher;

Full time mother for thirty five years, with concentration in, but not limited to, the care, feeding and civilizing of infants; toddler psychology; teaching, scolding, dancing, hugging, nursing, story reading, picture drawing; chief cook, bottle washer, laundress, seamstress, nutrition consultant, menu planner and executer, chauffeur, adventure co-ordinator, advice dispenser, conflict resolver, mopper of tears, wiper of snot, supervisor of homework, white knuckled driving instructor, encourager, cheerer, lover, hoper of hopes, singer of songs, dreamer of dreams………

Quilting instructor.

Movies I can watch over and over:
Dr. Zivago, Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables.
Does it count if I fall asleep half way through?

Guilty Pleasures:
Blogging, chocolate, crosswords, sudoku, soaking in the tub.

Places I have lived: Ireland--- Limerick, Dublin, Monaghan
The Mojave Desert, CA
Montana
Riverside, CA
Alabama
Germany
North Dakota
Belgium
Minnesota
Florida

Shows I enjoy: Law and Order, CSI, Gilmore Girls, Prison Break, Dirty Jobs.

Places I’ve been on holiday: As a child---Ballybunion and Dunlaoghaire. As an adult---we don’t go on holidays. We call the Mayflower people and MOVE. Home to Ireland a few times.

Favourite foods: Shepherd’s Pie--- like my mother used to make.
Steak and Kidney Pie, as made by my landlady in Monaghan, N.Ireland
Portobello mushrooms, red onions and steak, as cooked on the grill by the OC.
Raisin Bread, as made by me.
Tiramisu, ditto.
Apple pie, as made by Liz.
Poppy seed coffee cake as made by M-I-L.
Swedish brownies, as made by The Bean [youngest son].
The trend I'm noticing here is: if it's prepared by someone else, I like it!


Body parts I have injured: nothing serious [knock on wood] so far.

Awards I’ve won:
Came first in my end-of-sixth grade final tests, which got me a scholarship to secondary school. [I think it was about two guineas per term--less than $10.00! Renewable as long as I didn’t screw up!]

A quilt I made was voted best of the entrants in our region, when we lived in Minnesota. It then went on to be displayed at a show in Chicago, where it got second place, to my utter amazement and delight. And was featured in a magazine....

Nicknames I’ve been called:
Yaya, by my brother, who couldn’t pronounce my real name properly.
Molly Bawn, by my grandmother, because my hair was fair. It still is, in a manner of speaking...
Big Moll [Small Moll lived two doors down.]
Jeff, because I was tall. My much smaller friend was Mutt.
Goose- you don't want to know.

How'd I do Isabelle?



Note: Our house computer is having temper tantrums. Hence the spotty comments from here of late. Tomorrow I'm planning to camp out on a computer at the library, and refuse to leave until I'm all caught up. Just so you know .

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Sugar and Spice...



Early in the morning of September 4th., five years ago, we were woken by the shrill shriek of the phone. Groping in the dark for the offending instrument, I was suddenly wide awake, as my eldest son whispered reverently, from several thousand miles away, “Mom, it’s a girl.” There are no words to describe such a moment. Even for me, who didn’t just kiss the Blarney Stone, to hear my husband tell it, but bit off a chunk and swallowed it.

A “girl.” Such a little word, to change how you see the world. A “boy” would have done it too. Impossible, when you’re young, to imagine having children. And yet, when you do, it seems like you always knew them, always knew they would be exactly as they are. And then the first grandchild…… How do you wrap your head around the idea of your children as parents? Your little boy as someone’s daddy? Your little girl as someone’s mommy? Seeing them love their little ones as fiercely as you love them. On the one hand hard to grasp, and on the other the most natural thing in the world.

I called and called, but never found them home. Here’s hoping our curly-haired girl had a wonderful day.