Friday, December 02, 2022

I Identify as an Antique

This post was prompted by a comment from Sabine.

A few nights ago, I was making Turkey Pot Pie for supper. Pretty predictable two days after Thanksgiving. The biscuit topping was waiting in the wings, the onions were sizzling away in the pan with the carrots and celery, World Cup soccer a dull roar in the background. God was in his heaven. All was, for now, right with the world. Until New York Times Cooking instructed me to "Add flour."

Whoa Betsy! Flour? What flour?

Nowhere had I seen flour on the ingredients list though, now that I thought about it, it made a lot of sense the next step being to add turkey stock.

Off I trot to consult the oracle and sure enough, there it is, at the top of the second page:1/4 cup of flour, missed by the printer. You probably don't give a rat's ass about my turkey pot pie - you're wondering where Sabine fits in. Well, while I was there the oracle told me she'd left a comment.

Another one? What more could there be to say? Curious, I hunted it down - and laughed. Her new comment was a comment on my reply to someone else's comment. 

Stay with me, I'm getting there.

 I'm a believer in providing backstory, to the OC's ongoing chagrin. I want you to smell those onions, to hear that sizzle, to be in my head while I untangle the story that I know is in there, somewhere. I think one of my ancestors might have been a seanachai.

Sabine wondered (I could picture her eyes rolling in much the same way the OC's and Youngest Son's have often done when they've made similar suggestions) if it might be time I tried making oatmeal the easy way - in the microwave, in the interests of not burning the stuff while I run off to make the bed or such while it simmers. As has happened. 

What the menfolk fail to understand is that here, under their noses, is a genuine antique - me. In currently popular parlance you might say I identify as an antique. They'll appreciate it after I'm gone. When the sobbing is over.

And what qualifies me as an antique you might reasonably ask? 

Mostly my memories.

 How many of you out there remember hearing the rattle of the milk truck every morning as a child? We'd leave the empties on the front porch every night and the milk man would replace them in the dim light of dawn next morning - with lots of clattering and scant respect for those still sleeping.

Or how about the coalman?  At the first chill of winter, he'd come clopping down our road with his horse and cart, and shoulder bags of coal to our coal shed in the back garden. He was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a black man. He'd probably been a white baby, but his pores were so filled with coal dust now that the only white in his face was the whites of his eyes. I always felt sorry for the horse who usually looked to be, if you'll pardon the vulgarity, three farts from death.

And then there were the chimney sweeps with their black brushes. 

And curly-haired Francis, the breadman, in his van and his green shop coat delivering fresh bread to our door every evening. 

Paddy the post delivering mail on his bicycle every day of my childhood. He was still there, still on his bicycle, still delivering the mail when I'd come home for a break from college.

The OC is a fan of all things modern and innovative. He has had moderate success dragging me into the 21st. century. But not without a struggle. The food processor lived in its original box for many months before I approached it cautiously, as you might a wild animal that could  attack at any moment. I did tame it though and now we are on friendly terms. But I still don't completely trust the microwave. It's all very handy for reheating cups of tea that have grown cold, but cooking my oatmeal in it? It just wouldn't seem right.

The most convincing proof of my claim though is the pony and trap. Whenever I spent any time out the country with my Granny we went everywhere in the pony and trap. And if it was hay saving time, I'd get to ride on the horse drawn float to bring the hay ricks back to the barn with my uncles.

There's a blessing I've often heard, or is it a curse? "May you live in interesting times."

I spent my childhood in wonderfully interesting times. It never occurred to me that things could change so much in one lifetime. I miss them now. "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," as the song goes. 

These days I live in the present, thankful that I'm still here, thankful for all our blessings, thankful for our modern gadgets, even for the microwave, because how would I warm up my cold cup of tea without it?

Cheers Sabine!

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Nine Stitches per Minute and other Forms of Excitement


 I was stitching binding on the quilt I've almost finished (always a victory for me, sometimes taking years, even decades.) I was trying to be disciplined - 30 minutes each morning, another 30 in the evening. But just because it's on the agenda, doesn't make it happen. This day though, I was determined. My deadline was approaching, I'd been loafing, and loafing doesn't cut it. My 30 minutes turned into 60. 

How many stitches go into binding a queen size quilt anyway? I started watching the clock. Nine stitches per minute (are you yawning yet?) Yes, I timed it - nine, give or take a stitch due to knots and snarls in the thread. Experience has shown that these are not more quickly unknotted or unsnarled by muttering obscenities under my breath, or, in a house with nobody else in it, shouting them. Patience is key. Nine stitches per minute would be five hundred and forty per hour and, with the hours I've already done and those still to go, the final tally would be in the thousands. At this point my head started to throb, Enough math. Two sides done which, as it's square, meant I was halfway there.

My next plan was to make bread. I am not good at multi-tasking. I know this but, as mentioned elsewhere, the knowing does not stop me from occasionally trying. This was one of those occasions.

 And somewhere in the mix I needed to get a package to the post office. 

But I digress. A habit that drives the OC crazy. I tell him I'm too old to learn new tricks, leaving out any reference to dogs of course. Don't need to give him more ammunition. There I go again. You're probably starting to feel his pain. 

Where was I? 

The bread. I mixed up the dough, yeast bread this time, a long-time favorite recipe. 

Ten minutes to knead, an hour and a half to rise. Time enough to clean up the kitchen, get to the P.O. come back, punch the dough down, shape it for the final rise, run to the grocery store for milk, back in time to turn on the oven, pop in the bread, set the timer. 

Run rabbit, run.

Supper for one? Onions, mushrooms, oil, butter. Chop chop chop. Stir stir stir. Boil water, pop in ravioli. Set timer: four minutes. 

Oops! Trouble. 

In my speed and efficiency, I completely obliterated the time remaining for the bread. No worries. It should be done, I guessed, about the same time as the ravioli. Except - when the timer went off for the ravioli my attention was all on draining them, stirring them into the onion mixture and drooling in anticipation.

Bread? What bread?

And then a whiff, mid bite, of something baking. Hmm, what could it be? 

#%@$*! I explode from my chair, wrench open the oven door, extract the bread.

Muttered obscenities don't work in the kitchen either, as it turns out.

That was last week. The OC is home; the stitching is done - yay; the bread was eaten, in spite of needing a axe to slice hack it, though I won't be sharing that info with my dentist.

I'm thinking of using some old, seldom-used lipstick to scrawl a message on my bathroom mirror where I'll be reminded every morning.....

"One task at a time!"

It's worth a try, but - wouldn't life be awfully dull? 

Friday, October 21, 2022

A Day in the Life, or Two, or Three, of a Woman Alone


 The OC is away, out west, visiting our youngest son. I was too, for a while, but I'm back now. I left them to do all the things for which testosterone is a prerequisite. Chicken coop demolition for instance. Son tried, but the racoons, savage beasts that they are, won. It wasn't worth the aggravation, and the chicken murders, especially as eggs are cheap. And chopping logs for firewood? I wouldn't be able to lift the axe, never mind swing it. And if by some miracle I did I'd probably chop off my foot and a trip to the ER would be so inconvenient!

I arrived back home at two in the morning, piddled around, in spite of being exhausted, 'til five when I finally went to sleep. And so, the stage was set for getting up late and indulging my night-owl tendencies which I try to keep in check when the OC is home.

And now, when I do, finally, go to bed and lie in the dark, waiting for sleep, I've been hearing some scritch-scratching overhead and I wonder uneasily if we have lodgers? The pitter-patter of tiny feet...squirrels? mice? worse?

Most mornings, pre-coffee, me and my bucket go for a waltz around the garden, picking up fallen branches and pinecones, things that give the lawn mower indigestion; watering plants that are thirsty; talking to birds. There are hundreds of cardinals around here and they never fail to make me smile. This morning, as I wandered, they were always nearby, flitting in red flashes through bushes, swooping from tree to tree, flirting with each other and, I'm pretty sure, listening to me telling them how beautiful they are. Talks to birds, must be crazy? I'm okay with that, love those birds.

Yesterday I had a bone density test - so much fun, this thinning of the bones! But it was painless and quick and then I met a friend for coffee. We chatted about this and that, including the benefits to health and longevity of healthy eating - all the while munching on our chocolate croissants. We did our best to solve the world's problems and, though we didn't solve any of them, we did feel better for trying. She then went home to her husband, and I went shopping. 

 I went to a favorite shop in search of new sheets, one where it's always fun to browse and, in the middle of the linens' aisle, I was hailed by a familiar voice. Turning around I was face to face with our heavily tattooed, purple punk haired former yoga instructor. We've not gone back since finding, during covid, that it was as easy to practice at home with YouTube videos, and a lot more convenient. So - a little awkward. We small talked our way through five minutes, I heard about her upcoming trip to India, news of a mutual friend and, when there was nothing more to say, we said goodbye and I made a beeline for the stationery aisle.

I didn't find any sheets, but I didn't come away empty-handed. Have I told you about my addiction? To notebooks?  journals? greeting cards? stationary of every stripe? As an addict, this was the aisle from which I should resolutely turn away and hasten towards the exit. But as much as I try to slap my hand away from reaching out in these places.........well, you know how addiction works.

 I don't need any more notebooks.

 I know this, but the knowing doesn't help. 

They're stashed all over the house and when I die my children will find them. 

I can see it now in my mind's eye. It might make them sad; they might wipe away a tear or two - 

"If only we'd known how serious this was, we could have staged an intervention and dear old Ma would still be here, scribbling away faster than ever, trying to fill them all...."


It was getting on into the afternoon. Time to go home. To a cup of tea, a few chapters of my book, a half hour's stitching, something for supper - I'll be glad when the OC's back. I like cooking but dislike eating alone. Food is for sharing. 

The evening reports came in from the testosterone duo - today's project - building steps on the deck.

 At nine p.m. I got a wild hair to make soda bread with raisins and, while it was baking, lowered my bones to the floor for some yoga, the better to make them creak less. I let the bread cool and had a slice with my hot cocoa. And then another slice, and another. It was either delicious or I was hungry, or both - don't judge me. 

 And so, to bed, perchance to dream; perchance to not hear the lodgers scritch-scratching above me. Identifying same and giving them the heave-ho is most assuredly a job requiring testosterone.




Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Possible Crime Scene?

    Time was when our house was a hive of activity - five children, an assortment of labs, springers, cats, chinchillas, a variety of reptiles and, occasional OC sightings. 

    Life's calmer now and, while I do miss the energy and the chaos, the slow lane definitely has it's charms.

    Yoga for instance. My first attempt at yoga was in Brussels. Four children still at home along with their furry or slithering creatures, not to mention the language handicap. I didn't learn much in those classes since, as soon as I lay down on my mat, my brain took that as a signal for "Nap time!"  As exhausting as life was in those days, a nap was probably more what I needed than yoga. And sure enough, a nod being as good as a wink to a blind tired (wo)man, I'd only regain consciousness when the bodies around me began gathering up their gear at the end of class.

 Restful? Yes.

 Embarrassing? Shamefully so as I slunk like a wraith from the room, still clueless about yoga. 

    Fast forward a few decades. Empty nest. Grandchildren yes, but far away. Just me, the OC, not even a cat. Pre covid we took classes at a yoga studio. During and apres covid we found classes on Youtube - all kinds of instruction on all kinds of yoga - free and right there in our own space whenever we choose. So convenient we never went back to the studio. And now, if a person happened to peek in our windows on any given afternoon in summer when it's too darn hot to be out in the garden, they might think they'd come upon a crime scene. Two bodies, limbs twisted for five minutes at a time into all kinds of knots or, more alarming still, sprawled motionless on the floor.

     What happened here? Should we call 911? 

    No need. We're alive, careful to adapt the poses to our advanced years. We wouldn't want the fire brigade coming to untangle us.

     This is how we roll. Finding forty five minutes to an hour every day to slow down, maintain mental as well as physical flexibility. How can we not feel connected to others when we realise that, while we're on our mats practicing yoga or impersonating corpses in savasana, there are millions, all over the world, doing likewise? All of us looking for peace and serenity. Lying there, eyes closed, just breathing, I find myself calmer, more tolerant and accepting of others just the way they are; calmer and more accepting of myself just the way I am; and more able to let go of the petty differences that divide us only if we let them. 

    

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

A Trail of Books

 I was thinking this morning how grateful I am for small things, the cup of coffee I was drinking for instance and the person who makes it every morning; the way the bright sunshine banishes the dark the moment I open the bedroom blinds; and books - how grateful I am for books! Remember when computers were beginning to be something ordinary people could have in their homes? Books will soon be obsolete, we were warned. I shuddered at the thought. How awful would it be to no longer curl up in a comfortable chair and travel out from your room, in imagination, to meet people and see places you had little chance of meeting or seeing in your own neighborhood? There would still be stories but now you'd be reading them by the harsh, glaring light of a computer.

 My earliest memory of loving a book was turnng the pages of  "The Ugly Duckling". I was enchanted by the pictures of the fluffy little ducklings, especially by the one who was so different from all the others. At that time I was just learning to use scissors and you can guess the rest. I took my beloved book and used it to practice my cutting skills, to my later dismay. Such are the tragedies of toddlerhood.

My first chapter books were a birthday gift from a family friend, an older lady who had introduced my parents to each other.  "Auntie" Ita, with the gift of those three "Katy" books, expanded my reading horizons, sealing her place in my heart forever.

With Heidi I travelled to Switzerland. I loved her gruff Grandfather, the more because one of mine was already gone when I was born, the other died when I was 3 or 4. Little Women took me to America again (I'd been there once before with the "Katy" books) little guessing that I'd one day live there! Of the 4 sisters, as a tree climbing tomboy, I identified most with Jo. I wanted to be Jo, but, being young and fickle, I soon decided, upon reading the Mallory Towers books, that it'd be more fun to be Darrell Rivers and go away to boarding school, out from under the thumbs of the nuns, having midnight feasts and all kinds of adventures. I devoured those books!

In secondary school we were introduced to Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot. When I found an excerpt I liked in our English reader it would send me haring off on my bicycle, across town, to the library, in search of the book it was taken from. 

 In my teens I spent most of one summer up a tree at the end of our garden reading "Gone with the Wind". I had a cozy nest there, hidden from my mother and safe from pesky siblings. The only person who spied me there was my mother's friend, our neighbor Kitty, who would yell from her kitchen window "Molly W! You're going to fall out of that tree and break your arse!" (Kitty was not one to mince words, and, to her credit, she never ratted me out.)

I still have an old and battered copy of "Rebecca" that was a gift to my mother from a beau who predated my dad - the road not taken! Who would I be if she'd married him? Would my name be Rebecca? 

By the time "The Thorn Birds" came my way, I already had two children of my own. Sitting up in bed reading it one night, I realised my eyesight was no longer perfect and I was going to need glasses.

Years later, I found Angela's Ashes and when I got to the last page, went straight back to the first to start over again. McCourt was writing about my hometown but from a completely different angle than what had been my experience growing up. Which only goes to show, no matter how well you think you know a place, you probably only know a very small part of it, mostly colored by your own life in that place.

Killing time at a library in Oregon a few years ago, waiting for an Uber, I came upon Niall Williams. Hmm. Familiar name, but why? Then I remembered having, many years ago, read a book he'd written with his wife about how they'd left high-paying jobs in New York and moved to Ireland to live in a falling down cottage in Co. Clare that had been left to her by her grandfather. Conditions were spartan and it rained all the time, but they persevered and here he was again! When I returned home I sought out "This is Happiness" at my local library and fell in love. Reading it was like taking a trip back to my roots without ever getting on a plane. 


 And now, for the last few weeks I've been enthralled with "Middlemarch". Where had it been all my life? I'm guessing the nuns balked at it being "a book for grown ups" as Virginia Wolfe famously called it. Safer to stay with "Mill on the Floss." What was most remarkable to me was how spot-on Eliot's perceptions are about us humans. Though first published in 1871, more than 150 years ago, her characters could step out of those pages, get a 2022 hairstyle, some modern clothing, drive a car instead of a horse drawn carriage and no one would be able to tell they came from another era, because under the skin, they are moved and motivated by the same needs and emotions as we are.

 Without books I think I'd have lost my mind during Covid. We couldn't get together with friends but, fortunately, there were legions of new friends waiting for us between the covers of books. One of the great pleasures of reading, for me, is knowing I'm not alone. All the people who love the books I love are automatically my friends. Which isn't to say that if we don't like the same books we can't be friends. Some of the people I love most have different reading tastes and that's what makes the world go 'round! To get lost in books, to be moved by them to both laughter and tears, makes me realise how connected we all are by our shared humanity; that, for all our arguments and disagreements, especially in today's social environment, we are more like each other than different.

As a hopeless card carrying Luddite I'm glad those dire predictions have not come true, and those of us who choose to can still curl up in a cozy corner (or a nest in a tree) with the comforting heft of a book in our hands, glasses on our noses, imagination on "Go!"

 



Monday, July 25, 2022

Today's dessert: Humble Pie


Remember Georgie Porgie? Pudding and Pie?

 He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said "What a good boy am I!" 

I'd been thinking along with Georgie "What a good girl am I!" But, as it turned out, I didn't have a lot to feel smug about.

In January I started a quilt for eldest daughter, Liz, who finally found a pattern she loved. Since we lived in Montana for several of her growing up years, it was apt that she choose a design - Big Sky Star quilt, from Plains & Pine, a quilter in Big Sky Country. (Since my ability to load photos on Blogger has gone up in smoke you can get some idea of what I'm making on her site.)  And if you've been reading here a while you're probably rolling your eyes at mention of a new quilting project when, Lord knows, there are at least half a dozen UFOs languishing in a closet here, longing to be finished. Hush, I tell them, quit your whining, as I close that closet door. They'll be finished, all in good time. Where I come from - they say "When God made time he made plenty of it." Though I have to admit that, of late, the years are zooming by at warp speed.

Daughter Liz does have one of my earliest efforts but, so worn and faded now, I think it's only fit for her dog's bed - no offense Marty! Not to be too braggy, my quilting skills are better now than they were then, which (the braggy part) might hold the seeds of my current problem. 

 My stash yielded up some of the twelve different fabrics needed. For the rest I had to visit a quilt shop (oh the suffering!) I have been avoiding quilt shops in recent years, knowing that, should I live to be a hundred, I'd have ample fabric here to make a quilt per month. As any quilter knows, once you darken those doors there's no way you'll be leaving without a few yards tucked under your oxter. Addiction comes in many colors.

So. Twelve different fabrics, the problem of where to best place each one, multiple bias edges, mirror images, about a thousand points that needed to meet each other exactly - how could I go wrong? 

Let me count the ways!

  Starch everything, a friend said. But I hate starch. It was slow at first. I'd stitch and measure. The measurement mysteriously not being what it should be, I'd dutifully unpick my too hasty machine stitches. I even took the precaution of hand basting a few seams, then, flushed with success, stitched subsequent seams without that precautionary step. And, woe is me! Ended up groaning at my arrogance and wielding my seam ripper again. Gradually I learned how to slyly ease those (unstarched) bias edges so they'd fit precisely (more or less). Eventually, in spite of the molasses-like pace of un-stitching, I had several of the pieced diamonds stitched in rows. 

So far so good.

Time to stitch the background pieces to the diamond rows. The star consists of eight wedges, two (mirror images of each other) forming a quadrant. I got one wedge beautifully finished. My feathers puffed out with pride and gladness. "Wow!" I congratulated myself, "I've got this nailed!"

I should have remembered what comes on the heels of pride. But, puffed and confident I soldiered on to the next eighth, excited at the idea of having a whole quarter finished.

All was well 'til I laid it beside the first. Alas! Something was not as it should have been. I frowned at it. Nothing changed. I muttered some magic words. Still nothing. I looked at it from another angle......and finally, enlightenment struck - mirror images! How did I not get that?? Out came the seam ripper again

So over the last few weeks I've been eating, not just one slice of humble pie but the whole darn thing, a slice with each mistake. Normally I like pie. Apple? Strawberry? Peach? I'll take a big slice, please. But Humble pie? Not so tasty. My belly has sent repeated messages to my brain telling it to take measures to avoid any more helpings. 

All mistakes notwithstanding, this is a really fun quilt to make. Same old, same old bores me. I love a  new challenge. But maybe, just maybe, that sour, humble pie taste needs to linger a little while longer so I can finish the quilt without further resort to my seam ripper.

Then I'll be as smug and self satisfied as Georgie Porgie.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Surprise!

 


At the end of April we planted a bunch of seeds; made mental notes as to what was planted where; watered and pampered them along until some green popped up. 

We felt so clever.

 A whole forest of dill, several different kinds of lettuce, parsley, sage, cilantro, tomatoes and several different kinds of peppers. The OC likes peppers -  the hotter the better, understandable since, as a small child in Argentina, he ate hot peppers as snacks, the way a normal child would eat candy. As for me, give me some chicken and potatoes, a little salad on the side and pass the salt please. As they grew we were particularly intrigued with one plant that seemed to be doing better than all the other peppers we'd planted.

 "What kind of pepper is this one?" I asked the OC, who is, after all, the CEO of the garden. 

"Not sure," he replied, "but we'll find out by and by." 

Well, by and by came along and our lovely pepper plant developed some interesting buds. A few days later one of the buds started to open revealing a beautiful redish-wine color. 

Finally the penny dropped! That's no pepper - that's the hibiscus we'd thought was over there! We'd planted the hibiscus seeds for fun, not confident that they would actually grow. Of course we're delighted that they did but, lesson learned, we'll not trust to memory next time but physically label everything!