Sunday, May 30, 2010

working hard to make it work

Ben and I do our best to celebrate holidays, even when just the two of us are here. Our trip to the grocery store yesterday included lots of meat to grill out, pasta shells for a pasta salad, and some hard lemonade - just for fun. Our iced tea glasses last night had sprigs of fresh mint in them, and the salmon was grilled just right. I hope I remember that there is a whole watermelon chilling in the basement fridge. It's hard, though, to feel festive - or, as festive as we used to feel, anyway.

When Tom and Julie were little, Memorial Day always included the library book sale, and, of course, the Memorial Day Parade. The first time we took them to the parade, I don't think Julie was walking yet - so it was probably right before her first birthday - and I remember the cute sunbonnet she wore with little pink strawberries on it. We hated the loud noise of the fire trucks with their sirens blaring, but loved the Elyria High School Pioneer Marching Band, every year playing their fight song as they marched down Washington Avenue. The best years were those when Julie marched in the band. She always looked for us, and we were always there.

Everyone in town was at the library book sale, and it was a good place to catch up, as well as a great place to buy cheap used books - something we all loved. I remember the year Julie found books stuffed with old postcards from all over the world. She probably still has them...

After the parade, we usually headed to my dad's house for a cook-out. Bill worked quickly and efficiently, and always provided an incredible spread, with much more food than we could ever eat. I loved that he used the same spatula to flip the burgers that my dad used when we were kids. The years that Laura was there were always fun - she manged to fit right in with our little family, and we all loved her.

When we lived in Eastern Heights, someone in the neighborhood would get up early and put little American flags in every front yard on one street or another. Whoever was walking Bobo that morning had to restrain him from lifting his leg at each flag as we passed it. Not that we cared at all, but no point in needlessly offending the neighbors...

Now, of course, Tom and Kristy live in Chicago, and Julie and Andrew live in Maryland, and we haven't lived in Elyria for almost ten years. My dad lives at Wesleyan Village, and Bill lives in Cleveland Heights with Catherine. Ben and I will spend this Memorial Day at their house. I don't know that this is the start of a new tradition, but I do know we'll have a good time. And we won't even have to work hard at that.

Monday, May 24, 2010

big city musings from a small-town girl

Through a sad twist of fate, I have lived all my life in small Ohio towns, but I dream of big cities. Regular readers will know how much I love New York, but I also really love Chicago. Like many Midwesterners, it was the first big city I ever visited - in photos of my stay there at Aunt Helen and Uncle Fred's duplex on South Loomis Street I look to be about eighteen months old - and it is certainly the big city I have visited most often and where I have spent the most time.

I have driven to Chicago, taken the train, and flown, so unless some sort of Great Lakes steamer line re-opens - which, hey, is not a bad idea - I have gotten there every way I could. I flew this time, and since I am such an infrequent flyer, was amazed anew at how quickly I could travel from one reality to another. Landing at O'Hare is always an overwhelming experience, and my heart filled almost to bursting when I finally saw my tall, handsome son scanning the crowds for me. Okay, I know I am biased, but, damn, he is a good-looking guy.

We rode the blue line back to the city, talking so busily that I didn't notice the famous skyline at all. I only stayed with Tom and Kristy for a long weekend, so I include a few impressions that really struck me on this visit. The first morning I was there, I heard Kristy quietly get up and take the dogs out. I sat on the couch and gazed out the window at the view so infinitely different from the one I see from my own front window. I cracked open the window so that I could hear and smell the city. I love that smell, you know?

Tom and I spent a good part of Friday at the Art Institute, checking out the new Modern Art Wing. Tom is good enough to accompany me there whenever I am in town. I know he enjoys it, but I suspect that he does not experience the same pleasure I do when visiting a museum with him or his sister. I treasure those times more than I can say. I feel that we fostered a love of the arts in both of our children, and I am reaping the benefits of that now.

I went to Knit Night with Kristy at her favorite yarn shop, Loopy Yarns. I was grateful to Kristy once again for re-awakening my love of knitting, and grateful to knitting for helping to strengthen the bond between the two of us. I enjoyed watching the interaction between Kristy and her knitting friends, and was as proud as any mom to observe how much they all liked her.

We spent most of Saturday north of Chicago. We went shopping at IKEA and at Mitsuwa, an amazing Japanese bookstore/supermarket/travel agency, with a food court I wish was in every shopping mall in the U.S. Tom showed Kristy and me his office in Evanston, we walked along the nearby beach, and I waded in Lake Michigan. It's the rare body of water I can walk along without kicking off my shoes and stepping in. We drove further north to Wilmette to see the fantastical Baha'i temple there. Seriously, look it up. Words cannot describe how serene and lovely it is.

As we drove through the city streets after a long day on the road, Kristy opened the moon roof. "Look up, Anne," she said, and there was the Sears Tower (or the Willis Tower for those who care to be correct) stretching high into the sky directly above us. It was incredible, and a fitting end to my stay there. I flew out the next morning. It was difficult to leave after such a short time, but it was a perfect visit, and another day might have spoiled that.

I am already dreaming of my next trip to Chicago. Perhaps a stroll down the Magnificent Mile or a Cubs game at Wrigley Field or maybe something entirely new. One never knows in the big city.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

making lemonade, metaphorically speaking

May has let me down this year. Perennially my favorite month, May usually abounds with bright, sunny days when the temperature hovers around 70 to 75° , which even my outdoor thermometer recognizes as "ideal". Not so this year. Cold, rainy day is followed by cold, windy, rainy day, and it's a good thing I kicked the sunbathing habit or I would be really pissed.

As we know, however, this blog features things that are nice, not naughty, so in that spirit, I offer a soup recipe for a rainy day. This is not just any soup recipe. It is for the best damn potato soup I have ever tasted, and I think you might agree with me if you try it. It all started a couple of months ago after one of my blog posts mentioned how I longed for a good potato soup recipe. Bryan (who turns 30 today - happy birthday, Bryan!) sent me his mom's recipe, which I promptly tried. And, I tell you, it was darn good. But I knew I could make it better - if less healthy - and this is the recipe I came up with.

8 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
medium onion, diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
3-4 cups cabbage, coarsely chopped (Ben thought 4 cups of cabbage was too much, but that begs the question, can there be too much cabbage?)
2-lb. bag Ore-Ida frozen cubed hash browns
6 cups homemade chicken stock
2 Tbsps butter or margarine
2 Tbsps Wondra flour
2 cups milk
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Whatever you like, really. I use a 4-cheese, reduced fat, Mexican blend.)

Fry the bacon until done in a large frying pan. Remove bacon pieces and drain. Sauté onions, celery and cabbage in bacon grease until cabbage is well-cooked.

In a large saucepan, cook potato cubes in chicken stock until potatoes are tender. Add about a teaspoon of salt. You may want to mash some of the potatoes at this point for a thicker soup.

Melt the butter or margarine in with the sautéed vegetables, whisk in flour to make roux. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 cup of the milk. Return to medium heat and bring to a gentle boil.

Slowly stir the vegetable and white sauce mixture into the potatoes. Add the second cup of milk. Let soup simmer, stirring frequently until thickened. When ready to serve, add bacon pieces and shredded cheese. Heat through until cheese melts. Season with freshly-ground pepper, and check to see if soup needs more salt. Serve in big bowls, because it's really good.

Bon appetit!

Monday, May 17, 2010

sendin' out an S.O.S.

When I leave work on Thursday, instead of taking the back route home through sleepy little Uniontown and bustling Hartville, I will get on the highway and head north to Cleveland Hopkins Airport. I am flying to Chicago on Thursday afternoon, and as excited as I am at the prospect of seeing Tom and Kristy (and Chicago!) again, I am almost that nervous about getting there.

I guess I have travel anxiety. I don't really know what else to call it. Any time I am planning a trip anywhere, really, by any means of transportation, I get very nervous and anxious about it. Over the years, I have tried to break down my feelings and understand them so that I can just get over them already. I used to think I was afraid of flying, but that's not it. Once I'm finally settled in my teeny little seat, I feel fine. Until we land, that is, and I have to worry about how to make my connection or meet up with whoever is waiting for me at the other end.

I don't suffer as much anxiety when I am driving somewhere, and, in fact, was fine almost all the way to Julie's house. I was a little nervous about getting lost once I left the highway, but since I just drove there last year, I didn't have any problems with that. Travelling with someone else helps, as well, but when Ben and I travel together, I worry about the dogs all the time. I have decided that my anxiety, then, stems mainly from two causes: getting out of my little rut and doing things I don't usually do and therefore don't know how to do, and relinquishing control of - everything.

If you have any helpful hints on how to finally defeat all this and enjoy travelling, for god's sake, please send them to me post haste. I thank you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

local yarn report (like the local farm report, except...different)

It may sound like a busman's holiday since I work in a yarn shop, but Julie and I visited a different yarn store every day that I was with her. It was great. If you don't go to a big box store, independent yarn shops are as different from one another as they can possibly be. Think of the independent book stores, for example, that you have been in and you will start to understand what I mean.

On Thursday, we went to A Tangled Skein in Hyattsville, just south of College Park. It was the biggest shop we visited, and the one where we spent the most time. I loved the selection of yarns there, but the lighting was not good, especially towards the back of the store. I bought a skein of beautiful, hand-dyed sock yarn there. It is a 50/50 blend of merino and tencel, and the tencel shimmers in the light.

Our Friday trip took us to Fells Point in Baltimore to visit A Good Yarn. I'm afraid that shop got two thumbs down from us. It wasn't just that the space was incredibly small, it was more the fact that there was almost no yarn on the shelves. Nothing was priced - which I know is not uncommon - and the gentleman behind the counter made both of us uncomfortable as he commented on every skein of yarn we touched. The much larger room in the back of the shop seemed to be used exclusively for classes, and I would have liked to have seen more inventory available there. This shop was a disappointment and will not merit a return trip.

Saturday found us in Baltimore again to attend Squidfire's Spring Art Mart in Fells Point. Then we headed to Hampden for lunch at Golden West Cafe, and to check out Lovelyarns, housed in the first floor of one of Baltimore's ubiquitous row houses. It was a delightful little shop, and I bought some sock yarn for Julie and some brightly-colored, hand-dyed yarn for myself. I had been advised to check out the restroom there, which I did. I found it very charming, but have to admit I didn't like it as well as our restroom at Miss Chickpea's. Shelly did have an eye for design - I will always give her that.

We decided to spend Sunday (Mother's Day) the same place we did last year - in St. Michael's, a small resort town on the Chesapeake Bay. One of our stops was at Frivolous Fibers, a yarn shop that also sells pottery and ceramics. That's a concept I can get behind. I was a little surprised to find a knitting group there on Mother's Day, and was glad when the knitter who wouldn't shut up (there's always one!) finally left. Julie and I browsed at our leisure after that. I resisted the temptation to buy several skeins of a beautiful worsted weight yarn, and have decided I can, indeed, live without it.

Although there was certainly some overlap in the brands and types of yarns we saw on our yarn crawl, the variety was amazing. Savvy shop owners know what keeps their steady customers coming back, as well as what tempts newbies to come in and look around. That's a win-win situation as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

feed your head

So, I was on vacation last week in Maryland, and I am heading to Chicago next week for a long weekend. Although I kind of hate that my kids live so far away, I am glad that they don't live in, I don't know, Houston and Tallahassee, for example.

Julie lives just north of Baltimore, and she and Andrew explore the city every weekend. Every time I am there, they have new areas and neighborhoods for me to visit. We also drove to College Park and took the Metro down to D.C. We spent an entire day in the museums along the National Mall. It really is a national treasure to have so much free and available to us. I can't describe how invigorating it is to wander from gallery to gallery, drinking in the works of so much genius and creativity.

That is, of course, what one expects to find in museums of this caliber. The real surprise came the following day when Julie and I visited the American Visionary Art Museum. ( I saw the building on my last trip to Baltimore, and thought it looked intriguing. Julie and Andrew had never been there, so we made it part of our itinerary for this year. We had no idea what to expect when we got there, and honestly, words fail me when I try to describe what we saw. The works on exhibit are those of untrained and unknown artists. Many of them spent time in and out of mental hospitals. They could not hold down steady jobs. Most of these people did not think of themselves as artists. They were simply compelled to create what they did. It is an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the workings of the human mind.

The one idea I took away from AVAM, as it is called, is the absolute knowledge that humans must express themselves. And, by and large, we will use whatever materials we find at hand to help make sense of the world as we see it. I don't know where to begin to describe it all. There were things like the huge model of the Lusitania made from toothpicks, of course, but much more interesting were the more non-traditional works. The hundreds of hand-lettered signs made over a period of years that express one man's frustration and isolation. The notebooks full of collages made of pictures cut from magazines and catalogs, interspersed with hand-drawn images and captions that form a shut-in woman's entire world. The entire elaborate country created by a lonely boy where the man he grew into preferred to spend his life. I could go on and on. Check out their website to learn more.

I love to eat Maryland crab cakes by the Chesapeake Bay, as we did the night I arrived, but I am equally thrilled to fill my brain with new concepts and ideas. Now that's a trip.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

musings on a May morning ~ or ~ what if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?

As Rufus and I took our walk on this lovely morning in early May, I began to wonder how different our quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in this small Midwestern college town looked 40 years ago. I decided probably not all that different. Oh, I'm sure the houses were painted different colors, and the cars parked on the streets were gas guzzlers instead of sleek SUVs. The trees had not grown as tall as they are today, I suppose, and different shrubs probably bloomed just as brilliantly in the lawns. All in all, though, this little neighborhood in Kent, Ohio hasn't really changed much.

Neither, it seems, has the attitude of some people towards the Kent State students who were killed or wounded 40 years ago today on their own college campus. I only had to look as far as this morning's Cleveland Plain Dealer to be reminded of that. Let me share some comments with you.

"The students didn't ever take enough of the blame. Instead of being in class learning like they were suposed to be doing they were outside throwing rocks at people with guns. Should have learned way before college to not antagonize people with guns. Doesn't seem like they were college material."

"Geeze, these hippies won't give it up already. Let's just appease them and turn the entire campus into a memorial. Then let's make every day May 4th. They make it hard to feel bad for them."

"Townspeople huddled in their basements with their young children in the nights preceding May 4th."

And my personal favorite:

"The students who were protesting are a bunch of current left-wing nuts who probably voted for the racist president we now are stuck with."

I guess I thought that all these ignorant, hate-filled people would have died off by now, but I see that is not the case. Eh, to quote some more song lyrics, only the good die young.