Friday, December 23, 2011

"God Bless Us, Every One!"

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


So, you're wondering what happened to the rest of "Auntie Ita?" It's coming, it's coming, but in the meantime we've had flurries. Yes, I know that sounds improbable, given that this is Florida and all, but I wouldn't lie---we have had flurries! Flurries of sewing, shopping--God bless the internet!--and flurries of baking. Not to mention the flurries of anxiety at having left everything to what feels like the last minute....... wasn't it only yesterday that we served up the turkey??

Every year I promise myself I'll start, at a leisurely pace, in January and by December I'll have beautiful gifts made for everyone. I hate buying stuff "Made in China!" And besides, Auntie Ita coached me well in the joys of handmade gifts. She dropped the ball on teaching me how to pace myself though!

So there I was, this past week, stitching like a mad woman to make Mug Rugs, having belatedly had the brainwave that they are what I would make for everyone at the office. Have you heard of them? I found them here as I wandered hither and yon on the "quilternet." Not just a coaster, yet not quite a place mat, the first one I made was fairly small, a cute little mini quilt! Flushed with success, I made another. It was slightly larger, but, guys use bigger mugs I reasoned, so it was all good. I managed to curb my enthusiasm for the next few, but then my designs got more involved and...... well, I haven't yet made one big enough to use as a tablecloth, but it's only a matter of time! I probably got a little carried away but what's not to love? You can design, execute and finish in a couple of hours....heady stuff for a dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator like me! 

And then the flurry of baking. Ah yes.  I was making a cake last night for today's lunch-time party at the office so I thought "Why not be super efficient and make a batch of Peanut Butter Kiss cookies while I'm at it. " I measured out the dry cake ingredients in one bowl, and the wet cake ingredients in another, and set them together at one end of the counter. Likewise for the cookie ingredients but at the opposite end of the counter......Well, you can see where this is going!. In spite of painstaking efforts at order and organization I managed to goof. Manfully helped I was by the Bean, who, at a critical moment in the proceedings, came swanning through from the garage, blathering about orchids he was mounting on pieces of wood, and expecting me to be fascinated by it all. So there I am, listening and doing my best "fascinated" imitation, meanwhile picking up the dry cookie ingredients bowl from one end of the counter, carrying it to the other end and efficiently dumping the contents into the bowl of wet cake ingredients, all without spilling anything on the counter.

Sooo efficient!

Except, it slowly dawned on me, as I added the chopped nuts with a flourish,


Under normal circumstances I behave like a lady. Under normal circumstances I do not curse.

These were not normal circumstances.

When I calmed down, which took a while, I scraped the sludge-like batter into the pan and grumpily shoved it into the oven. After all, there were two sticks of butter in there. If nothing else, I could chalk it up as a science experiment.

 It wasn't quite as dense as a block of cement, but it was close! I propped my eyelids open with toothpicks and continued baking into the wee hours of the morning.

This evening there has been a flurry of wrapping for a Christmas box for California Girl whose livestock logistics do not permit a trip home for Christmas. The baking flurry continued as I wanted to make those Peanut Butter Kiss cookies. There's just enough room in the box to squeeze some in before sealing it up. But the devil was standing behind me as I took the first batch out of the oven. He made my hand slip. Up flew the cookies into the air, then gravity kicked in and they crashed to the floor. This time I think I actually invented some new cuss words---very loudly invented some new cuss words!

I think it's time to hang up my apron. The last thing I need is to precipitate a flurry of psychotic episodes and have to spend Christmas on the psych ward!!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ode To Auntie Ita

Of all the gifts I have ever received the ones from Auntie Ita are the ones I remember best. She had a knack for choosing gifts....Or maybe she was just a good listener with a lively imagination. It was she gave me the Katie books ["What Katy Did,"  "What Katy Did At School" and "What Katy Did Next"] at the exact moment in my life I was ready for "chapter" books. And after I read "Little Women" she took me to see the film starring June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor. That's when I decided I didn't want to be me anymore, I wanted to be Jo. Auntie Ita brought a new outfit for my doll, Susie, whenever she came to visit. She was a marvelous knitter and the doll outfits usually consisted of a skirt and cardigan, or jumper, with a matching hat and sometimes even gloves and shoes. Her work was exquisite and I loved the buttons and fasteners and ribbons, all the important little details to which she paid so much attention. I was learning to knit in school and she encouraged me to make stuffed teddy bears, hot water bottle covers, tea cozies and such. Guess what everyone got for Christmas?

I loved to get on my bike and cycle across town to spend the afternoon with Auntie Ita. She lived in a tiny little cottage at the bottom of convent grounds. I think it used to be the convent gardener's cottage. Her fron garden was a joyous riot of flowers and rose bushes. Inside, her living room had a narrow shelf all around, full of photos of her friends from down the years. Maybe it was there that I developed my fascination with the stories old photographs tell.....Happy people, suspended in a moment in time.....What became of them? Are they still smiling and happy? What turns did their lives take after that photo? How magical an instrument a camera was to be able to capture such moments.......In between the photos there was a profusion of knickknacks and souvenirs. What my mother called clutter, but to me was an endless collection of stories.... just ask the question!

On rainy days she would let me crawl up into the tiny attic at the back of the cottage. It was like heaven for a child like me, an Aladdin's cave of yarn, scrapbooks and crafty treasures! On fine days I'd be off outside to play with the Breen boys from the big house next door, and the snooty, almost-too-good-to-play-with-me girls who went to Laurel Hill, the posh school behind Auntie Ita's cottage. It was on one such occasion  that I suffered one of the greatest humiliations of my life. The time they uncharacteristically let me be the first to climb a certain tree. Flushed and flattered, up I went. Hoots and jeers and uproarious laughter broke out below as the assembled multitude craned their necks for an eyeful of the horrible, old fashioned knickers my mother made me wear! They were mawkish pink and came almost down to the knees, which had elastic, the better to seal in the warm air and keep you cozy, albeit extremely unfashionable.

But Auntie Ita knew how to soothe the humiliated. She made the best comfort food---strawberry jam and banana sandwiches on thick slices of fresh bread. My mother made ham sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches, all of which tasted delicious, but only Auntie Ita thought far enough outside the box to serve up sandwiches of strawberry jam and sliced bananas!

One year she gave me an autograph book for my birthday. I still have it. On the first pastel page she wrote "It is not of much use to be entreated to turn over a new leaf when you see no kind of  reason for doing so." Good advice, even today.

The entries go downhill from there, with gems from school friends such as "I wish you luck, I wish you joy, I wish you first a baby boy, And when his hair begins to curl, I wish you then a baby girl." We were cooped up all day with the nuns, catching occasional glimpses of boys in the far off distance. We were understandably intrigued by this other half of our species about whom we knew so little. Well, some of us, those with boys on the brain knew a bit more. I was of the prim, goody-two-shoes camp, having no desire to come to a bad end, which is what having  boys on the brain allegedly led to. So quoth the nuns who were committed to keeping us in the dark. Boys were like strange, exotic animals. Fascinating, yes. But what, exactly, were you supposed to do with them? The nuns weren't telling. But look at us now. Nature finds a way!
The ever popular "Roses are red, violets are blue....." and variations thereof shows up on several pages of the autograph book, some of them polite, others not very, as illustrated by the one that ends with........."the smell of your feet would give me the flu!" I thought that was tasteless, even at the time, but didn't want to ruin my book by tearing out the page.........

[to be continued]