Saturday, August 27, 2011

ready or not

This past winter I scoffed at the weather reports when a winter storm warning was forecast. I'm from Northeast Ohio. Seriously. They don't know from winter storms out here, I thought. I have to admit, however, we did have a couple of doozies. Over a foot of wet, heavy snow fell one night, crippling much of the East Coast, and keeping us busy digging out the driveway all day long. By and large, however, the "storms" that dismissed schools early and sent people to the store for emergency supplies were nothing more than a few inches of dry snow. I scoff at that.

I am not scoffing today, however, as I watch Hurricane Irene head up the coast straight for me. I had not anticipated facing the most dire hurricane warnings for this area in the past five years by myself. Well, the dogs are here, of course. But Ben flew out yesterday to attend his father's birthday party, and Julie and Andrew have very kindly taken in friends who had to evacuate a truly dangerous area along the coast. So it's just me. And I haven't even the slightest idea how to prepare for something like this.

Before Ben left, he rounded up all the flashlights and candles in the house and made sure that I had a transistor radio with working batteries in it. I went to the grocery store yesterday and bought some big bottles of water. Got home and realized I should have gotten some toilet paper too. (Isn't that one of the things people always scoop up in situations like this?) To further prepare, I have done probably pointless things like do the laundry and run the dishwasher. I can, of course, just turn on my television or check the newspaper for lists of supplies I should be laying in. It is probably too late to buy a generator, however, and what the heck would I do with it when I got it home anyway? It would be nice to have some large, battery-operated lanterns, but I am sure those are all gone, as well.

Living where I do, west of Baltimore, I am not so much worried about the hurricane as the aftermath. I know it will rain here for a long time and the wind will blow, but unlike our house in Kent, we have no big trees at all near us so there is no danger of a tree falling on the house or on my unprotected car. The drain outside the basement door is clear, so water will probably not seep in there as it did during the last big storm we had. The backyard will fill up with water, I know, and I fear that our second cherry tree will not survive having its roots soaked again, but I realize these are minor things.

The thing I really fear - and fear is not too strong a word - is a prolonged power outage. I'm not good at power outages. I can hear my family laughing now as they read this. I am terrible at power outages. I just don't know what to do with myself when the power goes off. I can't get on the computer. I can't watch tv. If it is dark out, of course I can't see. My cell phone will only hold its charge for so long without electricity. The A.C. will not work, and the air will become hot and stuffy. The sump pump won't work, and then the basement really will take on water. (Ben's instructions on what to save first were not encouraging.) And, really, the most horrible thing about it is not knowing when power will be restored. I can't tell you how much I am dreading this.

And yet there is this underlying hope that I don't even want to acknowledge that maybe it won't be so bad. Maybe the weather forecasters are over reacting just like they did about impending snow storms. See, I just don't know. And that is what I hate the most.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

nothing is nice

The stated purpose of this blog is to actively seek out and celebrate the nice little things in life that one might otherwise overlook. Gloomy thoughts are not well received. In case you wondered why I haven't been posting.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

fool me once

I've known for many years that the weather forecasters always lie about the weekend forecast. They don't want to tell their readers/viewers that their plans for the weekend are doomed to crappy weather. So they lie. Always. I know this. Which makes me wonder why I chose to believe that yesterday would be another beautiful, sunny, summer day, just like the three days before it. Here's the thing, the forecasters warned, Sunday will not be as nice so if you have outdoor plans, better do them on Saturday. And I wanted to believe that. So I told Ben over dinner Friday night, let's get up early and go to the beach tomorrow.

You see, although we live in Maryland, that doesn't mean getting to the beach is easy for us. It is a three-hour drive to the closest beach. So that is six hours in the car for probably three hours max spent on the beach. Not a good ratio, but when you love the beach as much as we do, it seems worth it to spend a beautiful summer day at the beach. We hadn't been swimming in the ocean yet this year - something we both love to do - and summer is on the wane, let's face it.

Accordingly, Friday night I rummaged around in the basement to find our beach blanket, beach towels, and big beach bag, that had all been tucked away who-know-where when we moved. I found everything we needed (except for my wide-toothed comb. Jules, did I give that to you?) Ben set his alarm for 5:30 a.m., we got up, fed the dogs, and were out of the house a little after 6:00. We were excited and happy as we headed the car east towards the Bay Bridge, but we both noticed that, really, the sun was not shining, and in fact, there was cloud cover as far as we could see. We'll drive out of it, I thought, but instead we drove into - along with the hundreds of other folks who saw the same weather forecasts - a total downpour.

We did drive out of that, but the weather on the other side wasn't very promising, plus we knew we had the rain following behind us. Still, we were on the Eastern Shore by that time, and decided to press on. To add to our discomfort, there was an awful stench of something burning that seemed to travel along with us. Was it our car? Was it the car in front of us? We even smelled it at McDo's in Cambridge, where we made a quick pit stop and bought some breakfast sandwiches. It didn't used to smell like this out here, we thought. Even once we got to the beach, there was a strong burning smell, which we chalked up to damp campfires.

But, hey, we were at the beach! The Atlantic Ocean stretched out in front of us all the way to Africa! I love that! We travel light compared to, really, everyone else we saw on the beach, and the two of us easily carried our blanket and two bags to what looked like a propitious spot on the sparsely-populated beach. It was 9:00 by this time, but the sun was still not shining, although we could see crepuscular rays peeking through the clouds above the water. We knew what the weather looked like at our backs, so it was a quick trip into the water for us - no suntan lotion needed. Wow. Either you love the ocean or you don't, and either way I don't have to describe it for you. We easily got out past where the waves were breaking, and the ocean was like a big bathtub out there. I ducked under some of the big waves and floated over others. I floated on my back, straightened my legs, and wiggled my toes. When it was time to come in, I misjudged a wave and was bowled over by it. Even that was fun.

Pretty soon, we were just watching the sky to see how soon we would have to make a run for the car, so we just packed up and went to the car, as raindrops began to fall. Luckily, we had thrown the newspaper (with its lying forecast!) in the car when we left the house, so we read that. We watched other people straggle in from the beach. We watched the rain on the windshield. We watched other cars pull into the parking lot, and their occupants sat and watched, too. At last we could see blue sky between the clouds and fewer and fewer raindrops fell. So we all headed back out to the beach. The sun came out. I put some suntan lotion on and went in the water. The sun went in, of course, making me feel like I had wasted my time and lotion. (It was not a waste, though. I did find myself slightly burned last night, which would have been really burned without that.)

We stayed in the water as long as we wanted, and decided it was time to go. The beach was filling up at an alarming rate, and I was absolutely amazed by all the stuff that people bring with them to the beach. It was even worse than when we used to bring the kids to the beach twenty years ago. Way worse. Seriously, these people are bringing their entire households with them. No wonder they have to drive those giant gas guzzlers. But, you know, mothers still held their toddlers' hands tightly as they took their first tentative steps into the deep, wide ocean, and little kids still squealed with delight as they ran from (or to!) each approaching wave. I love that.

The trip home was a nightmare, as many others abandoned their plans for a sunny day at the beach and headed home when we did. At 25 miles from the Bay Bridge, the sign said it was a 44-minute drive, but I am sure it took us longer than that. The prevailing stench was still everywhere we drove, and I was fascinated to find out later that the Great Dismal Swamp was burning, and we were smelling it across the entire state of Maryland. That's some smolder.

So this weekend I learned why everyone who lives here says to stay away from the Eastern Shore on the weekend, and I learned that the weather forecasters here - even the avuncular, folksy ones - lie, just like they do in Ohio. I'm looking at you, Marty Bass.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

just as soon as I finish this post...

It has been ten days since I sent my dad a letter. I guess it is time for me to sit down and write him another one. I know it has been that long because I save copies of all the letters I have sent him since we moved here. So I know that I have sent him twenty letters over the eight months we have lived here, and I know how frequently I sent them and what I wrote to him in each of them. I have not received anything in return from him, nor do I expect to. And yet, I still say, it is time for me to write my dad a letter.

When I first started writing to him, I tried to only write about things I thought he would care about or be interested in. Gradually I realized that he doesn't really care about the things I do out here and the only thing he is interested in is when I might be coming back. So. I stopped caring whether he was interested or not, and now I pretend that he is a normal person who is interested in normal things. I write him cheery, descriptive letters about our lives here. I tell him about the house and the dogs and the garden - pretty much what I write about here, actually.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure why I continue this practice. I think my letters might actually irritate my dad in some ways. I mean, we like it out here, we're doing fine, we're not planning on ever going back to Ohio (at least I'm not!) so, obviously, he doesn't want to hear about it. On the other hand, if I stopped writing to him, I think he would be pissed off about that, as well. So, yeah, damned if I do and damned if I don't. I guess the main reason I continue to write to my dad is because I think it is the right thing to do. Is there a better reason than that?

Monday, August 8, 2011

our nest is finally empty

Julie doesn't maintain two residences anymore, and that is just a sad fact. I noticed it first last summer when Ben started living out here while I stayed in Ohio to sell the house. I had thought (hoped) that Julie would be living in Kent with me more so that I wouldn't be all alone, but that was not the case. Admittedly, she started having more serious car trouble about that time, and on the one trip she made, the drive back to Maryland was tense and scary for her. So the bedroom that Ben built corner shelves for and that Julie and I painted bright yellow her freshman year of college was mostly unoccupied until the day we moved.

We do have an "extra bedroom" here, and it basically holds most of the furniture that was in Julie's room at the old house, which is kind of surprising because it is a very small room. We do have a smaller bed in there and I think that makes the difference. Unfortunately, although Julie prefers the compact size of this bedroom, she hates the bed and finds herself unable to sleep in it, to the point that she has recommended that we replace it. I am surprised by this, as I have slept in that bed myself on many occasions. It is the bed that used to be tucked up under the roof in our attic bedroom at the old house. I actually loved sleeping in it when we had a houseful of people downstairs.

I think about all this now in particular as Julie and Andrew are in Ohio right now - but we are not. I remember how excited I used to be when I received the phone call from Julie telling me they had just crossed into Ohio on the turnpike. When I received a text to that effect yesterday, it just meant they were further away. I remember how excited Ben and the dogs and I were when Julie's car pulled up the driveway and she unloaded all her suitcases and bags (and sometimes plants) for a good long stay. I loved the late nights watching tv and knitting, and I loved the lazy breakfasts where we planned our days' outings. I loved having Julie's help in the kitchen as we prepared dinner, and I loved how she and Ben cleaned up afterwards so I didn't have to. I just loved having her in the house, I guess.

To be fair, I think we had a good long run of chicks in the nest, if you will, and I am glad my adult children have "flown away" to productive lives of their own. But that doesn't change the fact that I miss Julie and Tom every day and wonder what they are doing and hope they are safe and happy. It's very like the "words of wisdom" my father-in-law shared with me when Tom was a newborn still in the hospital. "Now you'll worry about him for the rest of your life," he told me in his ponderous, I-am-imparting-great-wisdom-to-you way. That seemed more like a curse than a blessing to me, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Fly away, my little chickadees. Spread your wings and soar to heights we never dreamed of. Baby birds were never meant to stay in the nest.

Friday, August 5, 2011

settling in

Living in a new neighborhood is always different. There are different little unspoken "rules" that everyone follows - unless one lives in a neighborhood with an HOA where the rules are not only spoken but are part of a written contract - and it takes some time (and close observation) to learn the rules. I feel vaguely uneasy about being forced by peer pressure to follow those rules once they are learned, but that is a topic for another day.

Since Ben and I moved here in early December, everyone was pretty much indoors most of the time - as were we, of course. But as winter faded into spring and we spent every minute we could outside, we noticed that we were, well, the only ones outside. No one else was trimming their shrubs or raking the dead grass from their front yards. That could have been because they had been taking care of their yards right along while ours had received minimal care for we didn't even know how many months.

As the weather warmed up and the grass greened and grew, we finally saw some activity. A lot of activity. Especially from our neighbor across the street with the beautifully-manicured lawn. We saw him outside on a weekly basis, wearing scrubs and a surgical mask as he mowed and edged and watered his lawn. I tell you, he has scrubs in every color of the rainbow. We saw other neighbors outside, as well, although many of them employ lawn care services to keep their yards beautiful. Ben and I just don't want to go that route, and not just because of the cost. I am increasingly uncomfortable with the heedless way our society uses harmful chemicals, and I just don't want to be a part of that. So, once again, we have one of the crappier front lawns instead of one of the nicer ones. Such is our fate, it seems.

The fact is, though, we spend very little time in the front yard. It is much smaller than the back yard, for one thing, and we have a very small front porch. When we are outside, we are, for the most part, "out back". Our large (to us) fenced-in backyard is where we have planted our garden, as well as the trees and shrubs we bought and had planted at great expense by a local nursery. It's where we take the dogs out to chase around and eat things. It's where we enjoy puttering around, planting and picking and pruning. We are out there alot. So here's another strange thing we have noticed: generally we are the only ones out there. We can see, like, six backyards from our back porch, and no on is ever outside doing anything. Seriously.

We worked hard to arrange our patio furniture just the way we wanted it on our little back porch, and when weather permits, we love to eat outside at the glass-topped table we brought from our house in Kent. What we really like to do on the back porch, however, is watch it rain. As I am sure I have mentioned, it really doesn't rain much here, but when the clouds have thickened and thunder has rumbled and rain finally seems imminent, Ben and the dogs and I hurry out the back door (well, we carry the dogs) and we all sit on the glider and wait for the first raindrops to hit the porch roof.

I don't think I can describe the pleasure it brings me to just watch it rain. Oh wait, I already have. One of the first posts I wrote on this blog four years ago detailed my love of a good, soaking summer rain. Lucky for me, Ben shares that enthusiasm. So the four of us sit out there and just watch it rain. If any of our neighbors see us, I'm sure by this time they just shake theirs heads and think, those new people are sitting out in the rain again. But, you know, that's just what we do, and they'll get used to us as we get used to them -- in their houses, somewhere, never coming outside.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

it's just another day

Ever since I haven't had to get up early and go to a job I hate, mornings have become my favorite part of the day. I have settled into a summer routine I really like, and I will enjoy it while I can, as I know it is only temporary.

I feed the dogs first thing, of course, and that is not as easy as it sounds, believe me. Oh, Rufus is easy enough. I pour a half cup of dry dog food into his bowl, and he's munching away before I even start to prepare Lucie's breakfast. Lucie requires a different type of dry dog food, but only a quarter cup. To that I add a quarter cup of canned Hill's Prescription Diet k/d©. I break this up into small pieces, add water to it, microwave it for 15 seconds, then stir. It is now ready to be given to Lucie, and she is ready to eat it. At least she seems to really like this concoction, and generally eats it all. Rufus has long since finished his breakfast and been given a treat by this time, and he watches and waits for Lucie to finish eating.

You might think at that point I would be finished with the dogs' petit dejeuner, but you would be wrong. Next Lucie receives a half squirt of salmon oil on a teaspoon. She has been refusing this lately, but when she does eat it, she pushes about half of the stinky, sticky oil off the spoon and onto my outstretched palm. Yum. On odd-numbered days (the 1st, the 3rd, etc.) Lucie gets a Glycoflex tablet and 1/4 of a baby aspirin. (Rufus gets a little treat, as well, so he doesn't feel left out.) The last week of every month, Lucie takes antibiotics twice a day, which I administer with a bit of peanut butter - Rufus gets to lick the spoon. And, finally, yesterday being the first of the month, was really a triple-word-score day as the dogs also had to have their flea and tick medication. I know you're probably thinking I am exhausted by that time and ready to go back to bed, but, actually, my coffee, which I somehow managed to start is ready, and it is finally my turn to eat breakfast.

Although my morning cup of coffee is crucial (I get blinding headaches without it) I am generally not much of a breakfast eater. This is not because I don't like breakfast, really, but because I am too lazy (and befuddled) to make anything elaborate first thing in the morning. I will usually have some type of granola bar, but lately I have re-discovered an old favorite - cheese and peanut butter crackers. I used to always have a pack of these for my "deskfast" in the mornings when I worked at the university, but I had left them behind with everything else. I had some at Julie's a month or so ago, and I am hooked on them, for the time being, anyway.

I read the Baltimore Sun as I eat my breakfast. Although it is not the Plain Dealer, which I have read all my life, I think it is important to read a local newspaper, and I like it fine for what it is. And the important thing is that after I finish reading the paper, I can work the daily Sudoku. It was a happy day when I first started getting the Sun and realized they carry a Sudoku every day but Sunday on the comics page. I try not to let the tone of my day be set by how well I do on this early morning mental exercise. You see, the thing is that early in the week - Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday - the puzzles are easy and I can almost always solve them unless I am not paying attention and put an "8" in the same box with an "8", for example. By Friday, however, it is not so easy, and I have learned to walk away from the breakfast table without crumpling and throwing the offensive puzzle across the room. Not a good way to start the day - you see what I mean?

After a quick check of the interwebs, I don my gardening togs and head outside. Most mornings I have to water everything we have planted this year as we get almost no rain here. The worst part is watering the south (or Iris's side, as we like to call it) of the house, so I do that first. It has gotten sun all day long the day before, of course, and it is dry, dry, dry. I have to haul five, full, heavy watering cans of water from the spigot at the front of the house before I am satisfied that everything will survive for another day. Then it is on to the north side of the house, where I fill the bowl in our Japanese garden with water, and water the miniature shrubs when they need it. I water the two struggling containers (even though I am mad at them) and on to my favorites, the climbing roses. The plants were so tiny when we got them in the mail, and I am so surprised and pleased by their progress. Maybe next year they will even bloom... I hope they are like the roses we had climbing next to the back door of our house on Denison. Those roses were so beautiful and so fragrant that the little back porch just filled with that smell when they were blooming. Then, yes, I water all the things in the back yard, pausing frequently to ascertain where Rufus is, and sending him in the house when he inevitably starts munching on the mulch.

Today, though, I didn't have to water all the things because we had a wonderful, soaking thunderstorm last night that did it for me. So I was able to wander around the back yard with my yellow bucket and my gardening tools, picking and pruning, at will. I also have to stop and yell at the dogs to get out of the tomatoes, a recent development. They are looking for grape tomatoes that have fallen off the vines, and I know that they eat them. You don't want to know how I know that. Lucie doesn't hear me when I yell, of course, so I have to walk over to her and scoot her away, which always startles her and makes me feel bad. Pretty soon I get tired of yelling at them and send them in the house, which I think they appreciate.

The time always comes when I am drenched in sweat (sorry, but gardening is not pretty) and ready to go in, as well. I bring in whatever I have picked for the day and set it in the kitchen sink for a good wash. Then I go off for a good wash myself. I don't think I have gotten as dirty in many years as I get here on a regular basis. But, you know, I like it. It feels good and honest to me. And I know that although this hot, humid, growing season will last longer here than it does in Ohio, it will not last forever, and I intend to enjoy every morning of it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

it's that time of year

I filled two big bowls with fresh tomatoes this morning, and decided it was time to try another batch of marinara sauce. Two of our eight tomato plants are San Marzanos, and I bought those specifically because they are supposed to be the best for making sauces. About half the tomatoes I picked this morning were the San Marzanos, along with several other varieties that were ripe today, as well. What the hell. I put them all in the sauce, just like I did when Ben and I first tried making our own marinara sauce last week.

I had never made my own sauce before, so it was off to the interwebs to learn how other people do it. I read six or eight or a dozen recipes, and decided I knew what I wanted to do. So Ben and I set to chopping and chopping and chopping vegetables. We chopped onions and garlic and carrots and a banana pepper and basil, fresh from the garden, and lots and lots of tomatoes. Wow. Did we make a big mess. A seedy, juicy, pulpy mess. But what we ultimately made was some marinara sauce, and I have to say, for a first attempt, I was absolutely satisfied with it. I cooked some penne pasta in the water I had dropped the tomatoes in to remove their skins, and within an hour of when we began, we were eating penne with fresh marinara sauce. And I don't think I would have changed a thing.

So today I set about to replicate that marinara sauce. Things were less hectic this time - perhaps because it wasn't the first time I was doing it all - but it sure did go a lot slower as I worked by myself. I felt like I was more in control of the operation than it being in control of me like it was the last time, though. I cooked the sauce longer this time and plan to reheat it another day, using it to simmer some Italian sausage for a few hours. Upon tasting the sauce, I realized I had forgotten once again to liberally salt and pepper the sauce when I started cooking it. I am so used to using prepared tomato products that I forget how much seasoning fresh ingredients need.

My marinara sauce is cooling now, and I have to say, I am not sure it is worth all the effort. I used three big bowls, two big strainers, and two big pots for one recipe of sauce. I think I discarded as much of the tomatoes as I actually used, I made a huge mess, and as I was eating my lunch, I noticed a hunk of tomato skin stuck to my foot. I may just stick to my cold recipes in the future. But it made me think about my mother-in-law and the huge operation she went through every year when the tomatoes were ripe. From what Ben has told me, it was all hands on deck as they made tomato sauce and tomato juice, and canned jar after jar of bright red tomatoes for the coming year. The house wasn't air-conditioned, of course, and the humidity inside was at 100% as the tomatoes steamed and cooked and cooled. But that was just how it was. It isn't all singing That's Amore and playing bocce in the back yard when you're Italian, you know.

UPDATE: It was worth the effort!