Thursday, December 20, 2012

a temporary antidote for what ails me

One thing that's always sure to give me a brief respite from the Christmas blues is to watch the movie White Christmas. Now that is an odd thing because I really detest Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and to think of either one of them as a romantic lead is beyond ludicrous.  And yet, I love that movie.  I have loved it since I was a kid.  I can remember singing the songs from it with my brother Thomas as we did the dishes.  He must have liked it, too, because he would even sing Sisters with me.

As much as I dislike the male leads, I love Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.  I think Rosemary Clooney is lovely in a fresh, natural way, and her voice has always been one of my favorites.  When she sings Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me,  she is stunning.  But this year, I have been noticing Vera Ellen especially.  What a spectacular dancer she was!  She had such a tiny waist, and her legs went on forever.  I just can't take my eyes off her in the production numbers.  This was the first year I noticed George Chakiris as one of the dancers in Mandy because I have always been so busy watching Vera Ellen dance.  And the clothes she wore!  I just loved her outfits when I was a kid.  She seemed like a Barbie doll without the gross, over-inflated boobs.

The music is just fantastic, but I love the story, too, and I always tear up when General Waverly walks into the darkened dining room, the lights come up, and he sees his troops assembled there.  Then they all begin to softly sing We'll Follow the Old Man.  What a finale!  Unfortunately, no one in my family shares my passion for this movie so I generally watch it for a bit on my own while I am knitting.  AMC has been showing it this year, but I generally have to click away during their ridiculously long commercial breaks.  Hm-m-m.  Wonder if it's too late to add it to my Christmas list?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

not everyone has a Merry Christmas

Last night at dinner I asked Ben what might be considered an odd question, but one that I had definitely been wondering about.  I asked him why he liked to decorate for Christmas so much.  I just don't understand it.  He told me that he likes to commemorate holidays; that it breaks up the year for him.  And he does like to put out gourds in the fall and Easter eggs in the spring, as well. I still don't get it.  Now, I understand that when you have small children in the house, it is fun to decorate for their sake.  I liked doing that very much.  We are long past that stage, however.

I tried to enter into the holiday decorating spirit this year.  Ben and I bought some new things together, and I went out and got some things on my own.  The house looks very pretty.  It looks like a stage set where no play will be performed.  It looks ready for a party that no guests will attend.  I would much prefer that it look the same way it does every other day, because that is what Christmas will be - like any other day.  And that's just not that merry.

Monday, December 3, 2012

William H. H. Krear 1839-1864

I tend to become obsessed with things.  I won't even begin to list all the different enthusiasms I have picked up and discarded over the years.  But I will say that there have been some very successful ones, as well. Our Elyria postcard collection is a fine example of that.  Ben and I spent several years hunting down every single postcard from Elyria that we could find.  We both derived a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from our somewhat single-minded pursuit of all the Elyria postcards; and we ended up unexpectedly writing a book about them, of which we are very proud.

I took up knitting five years ago, and got into it big time.  I think it would be fair to call it an obsession.  I still pretty much knit every day of my life, and have completed dozens of hats, scarves, afghans, sweaters, etc.  I have a yarn collection (my stash) that I can knit from for a very long, but that doesn't stop me from adding to it on a regular basis.  Julie has also become a knitter, and there's nothing we enjoy more than traveling from yarn shop to yarn shop, comparing - and buying - yarn.

Which brings us to my current obsession:  I saw a commercial last week while I was watching TV (and knitting) about their free 14-day trial offer.  Oh sure, I had seen the commercial many times before, but that day, for some reason, I got up, went to my computer and signed on.  I started with myself, of course, and before I knew it, I was adding family members in widening circles all around me.  I was still at it when Ben got home from work that night.  I was totally hooked.  I practically hopped on Ben along with the dogs as I told him all about it.

Ben had gone through a geneology phase several years ago, which I hadn't really shared at the time, and he couldn't quite understand at first what had gotten me so excited about it now.  But I kept talking, and eventually, he was digging out old photos and family records from plastic tubs he brought up from the basement.  Soon, we were each seated at a computer, logging in information and photos, and yelling back and forth between our rooms with the nuggets of information we had uncovered.

When Ben asked me what got me started, I said, oh, you know, that commercial on TV made me curious about what I could find, and I truly thought that was it. It wasn't until I uploaded one of the photographs that Ben took for me that I realized what I most urgently wanted to accomplish. The photograph is of a framed document that has hung on the wall of every house where Ben and I have lived.  The document is entitled "THE SOLDIERS INDIVIDUAL MEMORIAL" across the bottom, and, I believe, was sent to grieving families back home when a soldier died.  Ben and I matted and framed the document, actually, before we were married.  While I was growing up, the document was rolled in a tube and stored on the top shelf of the bathroom linen closet.

At my urging, my dad would sometimes get the document down, unroll it, and talk to me about his Grandma George, and her father, who was killed in the Civil War.  He was called "Colonel Krear" in our family, although he was never a colonel.    On the document, there is a small oval photograph of my great-great-grandfather in his uniform, and a hand-written list that includes when he was mustered in, the promotions he received, and the battles in which he fought, up to, and including, the battle at Jonesboro, Georgia where he was mortally wounded in August of 1864.  He was twenty-five years old.  Two months after his death, his widow gave birth to his only child, Carrie Krear, my father's Grandma George.

Today I transcribed all the information from the document and uploaded that to, as well.  Ben had suggested that I just toggle back and forth between the two electronic documents, but I really wanted to read from the original.  I put on my reading glasses, got a strong magnifying glass, and began.  I listed the names of the battles:  Shiloh, April 7, 1862,   Siege of Vicksburg Miss. May 19 to July 4 ‘62, Kenesaw Mt. June and July /’64.  I realized I was crying as I typed in the words.  I thought about this man, this boy, really, from Massillon, Ohio, who had probably never left Ohio before, who was fighting and bleeding and dying in conditions we can't even imagine.  And he kept fighting.  A dozen battles in cities across the South until his final battle in Jonesboro, Georgia.

Ben and I have been talking about how gratifying it has been to work on this project.  Aunts and uncles we loved, grandparents long-dead come alive for us as we think and write about them.  Most gratifying of all for me has been memorializing William H. H. Krear, whom no person living today ever knew.  Now he will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ready or not, Thanksgiving is here

I put my turkey in the oven at 2:00 so I can't really smell it roasting yet. And, no, I don't have the date wrong - we are having our turkey dinner tonight, on Wednesday, instead of tomorrow on Thanksgiving day proper. Last year, Ben and I were all alone for the holiday.  I still wanted to cook a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, even for just the two of us, but it just didn't seem all that festive.  I don't remember which of us proposed it now, but we decided to go out to a Thanksgiving buffet.

I made reservations at a restaurant in Baltimore, we got all dressed up, and drove into the city. It was a warm, sunny day, and we strolled along the inner harbor a bit before we ate.  It seemed strange to see no boats in the water on such a beautiful day. All enjoying their turkey, I guess, and we decided to do the same.  Well, Ben did, anyway.  I think I might have had a bit of everything except turkey from the buffet tables that were piled high with good things to eat.

I won't go into what we ate, but I will say that all of it tasted really good - well, except the raw oysters, which one should probably never eat from a buffet table.  It was so tasty, in fact, that when Julie and Andrew told us they would like to spend Thanksgiving with us this year, we proposed a return trip to the buffet.  Julie doesn't care for roast turkey, so she liked the idea right away, but Andrew, who is a big fan, had to be assured and re-assured that roast turkey and all the trimmings would definitely be on the menu.

So tonight we'll have turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce and corn and rolls, then we'll have pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  Then we'll either burst or have coronaries, I'm not sure which.   It won't be the same as Thanksgiving at Aunt Louise's house, or even in our house on Grove Avenue when Tom and Julie brought Kristy and Andrew home, and my dad and brother drove down from Elyria with Laura and her pies and photos, but it will be a holiday, all the same.  And we will celebrate it.  That's what families do.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

stock up now

So it's the end of Twinkies, is it?  Well, I have mixed feelings about that.  The fact of the matter is, I can't remember the last time I ate a Twinkie or a Sno-ball or one of those banana things.  We used to have them quite a lot when I was a kid, though.

It would usually be on a weekend when my dad was home, and he would get a hankering for something sweet.  He would give me a couple of bucks and send me (and one of my brothers, if I forced the issue) over to Captain E-Z's on Middle Avenue.  I hated going to Captain E-Z's.  The captain was a sleazy, creepy guy, and he employed sleazy, creepy guys to work for him.  But I digress.  We would walk the block and a half to Captain E-Z's, and buy the two-packs of whatever types of desserts had been requested.  And here's the amazing things about that - two dollars bought enough snacks for the entire family.

I don't remember who always ordered what, but I know that I vacillated between the pink sno-balls and the chocolate cupcakes with the loops of white frosting on top.  I loved those perfect loops, but the spongy, pink coconut stuff on top of the sno-balls was very appealing, as well.  I only had the banana things (Flips?) a couple of times because the fake banana flavor reminded me of the smell of spray paint or nail polish remover.  Yum.

I hear that people are racing out to buy Twinkies et al and stockpile them.  I think that is a great idea - for someone else, that is.  I don't know what the half-life is for those things, but one could literally buy enough to last a lifetime.  That's probably reassuring.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

it's the little things

I loved my grandparents' little house on Shriver Avenue.  I loved it from the front entryway to the varnished, creaking, wooden steps that led to the big, bright basement.  I loved the portrait of my mother in her wedding dress that hung in the living room.   I loved to linger in the hall studying all the small photos of Aunt Helen's graduating class at her nursing school in Chicago.  I loved the small telephone nook in the hallway where they really did keep their telephone.  I loved my Aunt Joanne's flowery, feminine bedroom in the back of the house where the vanity skirt matched the window curtains. I loved my grandma's big, dark bedroom where she kept her treadle sewing machine.  I loved the basement where my grandpa's bed was tucked in a cozy corner, and where a swing hung from the rafters for us grandchildren.

It wasn't that my grandma's house was comfy and warm and welcoming; that was never the case.  I loved it there because it was clean and bright and it smelled good - all things that made it totally different from our house.   Everything had a place, and it was in that place, and that was oddly comforting to me.  I knew that even though months might go by between our visits, the bisque ladies with their frilly petticoats would still be standing atop the big radio in the living room, flanking the portrait of my grandma with her arms around my Aunt Joanne, her youngest (and favorite) daughter.

I knew, most importantly, that the bathroom would be clean and bright, and that the curtains on the bathroom window would be lightly starched, with their tiny pansies lined up in orderly rows.  Not to be indelicate, but many was the time I sat on the toilet there and just gazed at those curtains.  They were so unlike anything in my own home. I loved how the pansies were so neat and predictable in their little rows.  I loved the white shade on the window, its crocheted pull at the end of the cord the first I had ever seen.  It was cool and quiet in my grandma's bathroom, and I was always allowed to close the door - something that wasn't permitted at home.

I got to thinking about all this the other day when I was in my own little bathroom.  Oh, it's nothing like my grandma's, really, but it is clean and bright, although on hot summer days I prefer to keep it cool and dark. I don't have flowered curtains at my window, of course, but if I did, why, then it would be perfect.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

an opinion poll, of sorts

I voted by absentee ballot this year, and I am glad I did.  I have never been good at waiting in line and, sad to say, I have gotten worse as I have gotten older.  But there was a loss of community, a loss of continuity as I sat at my desk in my pjs and completed my ballot.

I can remember going to the polls with both my parents in the mid and late 1950s.  My mother would take me during the day, and my dad would take me in the evening when he got home from work.  Although we lived across the street from the closest polling place (the high school) for some reason our ward had to vote at a small parish hall on Third Street, I believe it was.  So we would walk over there, and if I was lucky, the parent I was with would allow me a few spins on a lonely merry-go-round in a small playground next to the hall.

It seems like it was always cold outside, and the hall felt overheated as we entered wearing our heavy coats.  My parents waited their turns to vote in the wonderful old voting machines with the curtains around them.  I watched, fascinated, as voter after voter entered the booth and closed the curtain, seeing only their legs as they did - whatever it was one did - in that secret place.  Those machines seemed straight out of The Wizard of Oz, and it has since occurred to me that perhaps that is exactly what the movie intended.  ("Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.")  But I digress.  How thrilled I was the first time I entered one of those booths on my own to cast my first vote -  for George McGovern, to be sure.

I can't remember where Ben and I voted when we lived in the apartment on Washington Avenue.  The church across the street?  The American Legion Hall on Gulf Road?  Nope.  Can't remember.  When we lived on Longford, we voted at St. Jude's, and in 1980, Ben and I had to take turns going in to vote, as one of us had to stay in the car with our newborn son while the other voted.  We just couldn't risk exposing him to all those germs that would surely be found in that public place.

When we lived in Eastern Heights, we voted at Eastern Heights, of course.  I loved voting there.  In later years, my walk down the hall to the polling room took me past photos of Tom and Julie and their friends, hung on the wall for their academic excellence.  It was with great pride that I took each of them there twelve years ago to cast their first votes.  (Tom and Julie I mean. Their friends were on their own.)

In Kent, we voted at the shelter house at Fred Fuller Park.  That was a great place to vote.  It was great to vote in Kent, in general, where everyone voted just like me, of course, but it was more than that.  There was always a fire burning in the big fireplace, and I loved that some voters brought in armloads of firewood when they came to vote.  One year I was asked to remove my campaign button from my jacket as I stood in line there.  I thought it was a pricky thing to do, but legally correct, so I removed it.

I think in the near future we will probably be able to vote online, and I am sure I will do so.  But, I tell you, something is lost when parents no longer bring their children to see our democratic process at work, to eagerly await the day when they can vote, just like mommy and daddy.   And I'm not sure being able to vote in one's pjs will make up for that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

we both so excited

Everyone in my family is way more into music than I am.  They will all tell you that.  They are always looking for le dernier cri in musical genres of all kinds while I am content to listen to my Neil tape (as it is called) or the Red Hot Chili Peppers CD that Kristen made for me, over and over again in my car - the only place I listen to music.  But they only think that, really, because they can't hear my interior sound track.  Let me give you an example.

Last week while Julie and Andrew were staying with us - because Hurricane Sandy knocked their power out early and it stayed out - I lost one of my hoop earrings.  It was not the fault of Julie or Andrew or Hurricane Sandy, that is simply when it happened.  I had a sense that I had lost it in my bedroom, and looked around quite a bit in there, but didn't find it anywhere.  I took the other earring out of my ear and put it on my dresser, thinking as I did so, "every time I see this sitting here, I will probably think it is the lost earring".  And that was the case, until several days later when I wised up and put the lonely earring in a small covered dish that is a piece (the powder jar) of my antique dresser set.

I looked around the house in a desultory manner over the next few days, not finding the lost earring, but finding a quarter in between the couch cushions among the dust and crumbs.  I was encouraged that I didn't find the earring mangled and bent after Katie found it somewhere and chewed it all up, but I was sad that it was gone because those earrings were expensive, damnit.

Then, yesterday, as I was changing my bed, I spotted the missing earring at the foot of my bed, underneath the bench where I sit to tie my shoes.  I know it wasn't there before because, of course, that was one of the places I looked.  I didn't care, however, and quickly picked up the earring and opened the powder jar to place it with its mate.  And do you know what song played in my head as I did so?  "Reunited, and it feels so good...."  I love that.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

maybe I should just stay home... nah!

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney, why is it that I always take the wrong clothes when I leave home for a few days?  Julie and I just got back from Charlottesville, Virginia, where we spent the night before driving to Monticello the following day.  I read all the weather forecasts, I packed and re-packed my suitcase, but when we got there, I hadn't brought anything that seemed appropriate to wear.

I have never been to Charlottesville before, so I think that may have been part of the problem.  People - people my age, anyway - were way more dressed up and covered up than I wanted to be in humid 80°+ weather.  And that is the other part of the problem, I think.  I still have not learned to dress in an age-appropriate manner.  Oh, I don't dress like my Aunt Joanne or anything - she who always dressed more youthfully than me, and probably still does.  I stopped wearing t-shirts in public years ago - a step in the right direction, I'm sure.  But I don't think I should really wear shorts out as much as I do, and my skort may have been a fashion faux pas, as well.  I feel that if the weather had been cooler, I could have dressed better, but I fear getting overheated and sweaty on my outings almost as much as I fear unexpected rain or bee stings - maybe more.

The good news is that Julie and I enjoyed Charlottesville so much, and found Monticello so incredibly beautiful, that for long periods of time I forgot that I wasn't as beautifully dressed, coiffed, or manicured as some of the genteel Southern ladies in our tour group.  I hope on my next trip to Monticello - and I know there will be a next trip - that I will know exactly what to bring and how to dress.  But I have my doubts.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

laundry day blues over whites

As I was putting the laundry away yesterday, I noticed that I have six white shirts in my closet.  Two of them have three-quarter length sleeves.  Two of them have short sleeves, and two of them are sleeveless.  None of them are exactly what I want.  That's obvious, I guess, or I won't have to buy six of them.  I have a picture in my mind of exactly what I am looking for, but I haven't been able to find it anywhere in the more than two years that I have been in the market for white shirts.

I suspect I could find something looking like what I want on line, but I have not had good results with ordering clothes on line.  Clothes that look great on teeny models look less than great on me.  And I like to try on multiple sizes.  You know, like, this size is okay, but would I look even better in the next smaller size? Or, more likely, do I need the next bigger size?

Maybe what I want is just too plain.  Maybe I am shopping in the wrong places.  Whatever.  Like Bono, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

Monday, August 6, 2012

orzo, hot or cold

I have been on an orzo kick lately.  We had orzo with our homemade marinara sauce, and it was surprisingly good.  I made up a couple of recipes featuring orzo, as well, and, I have to admit, they turned out pretty well.  The first one is a variation on the meal that Julie likes to make that consists of vegetables, pasta, and protein of some kind - kielbasa or pork or chicken, usually.  The second is a variation of the Thai peanut chicken recipe that I make to use up leftover pasta.  Julie asked me for both recipes - which is very flattering - but, of course, I don't have recipes, per se.  I will create some.

Orzo with Summer Vegetables and Italian Sausage

olive oil 
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
assorted fresh peppers - I used 3 or 4 jalapenos, 1 bell pepper, and 5 or 6 banana peppers
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. Splenda sugar substitute
¼ to ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup uncooked orzo

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in large frying pan. Cut the sausage into about 3-inch long pieces (or whatever size you like) and brown on all sides in hot oil.  When sausage is browned, turn burner down, add about ¼ cup water, put lid on pan, and simmer until sausage is cooked through.  At the same time, cook orzo in large pot of salted, boiling water; drain and rinse.

While sausage is cooking, clean and chop vegetables.  I left my peppers about an inch and half square; I slivered the garlic and onions; and after chopping the tops and bottoms off the squash, I sliced them in ¼-inch thick disks.  I cut the disks in half if they got too big.  When the sausage is cooked, remove to a plate so vegetables can cook.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and the vegetables to the pan.  Make sure the veggies are not wet or you could get burned.  Sauté vegetables, adding salt and pepper, sugar and vinegar.  It is important to taste the vegetables as they cook, and adjust seasonings as needed.  Cook vegetables until they are almost as done as you like them; then add sausage and orzo, and heat through.  Serve with fresh summer fruit.


This is a seasonal meal, meant to take advantage of fresh summer vegetables. As regular readers know, I am  fussy about my cooked vegetables, and find that I can stand all of these.   If there are other veggies that you like or have on hand, by all means, use them.  This recipe makes a lot, and could easily be halved.

My second recipe was supposed to be a simple, cold pasta salad with shrimp, but I found that I didn't have a lot of the ingredients that I thought I had to make it.  I did, however, have these ingredients, and so that is what I used.

Thai Shrimp and Orzo Salad

1 cup uncooked orzo
1 lb. medium-sized shrimp, cooked, cleaned, and chilled
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
½ green pepper, chopped
⅓ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
10 - 12 basil leaves, chopped (cilantro would be good here, but I used it all in the salsa)
1 tsp.salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. curry powder
½ cup good mayonnaise
1 tbsp. lime juice
Thai peanut sauce
canned coconut milk

Cook orzo in large pot of salted, boiling water; drain and rinse.  Combine shrimp, vegetables, peanuts, and basil in a large bowl.  Add orzo.  Add salt, pepper, and curry powder; stir well.  In a smaller bowl, add lime juice, peanut sauce, and coconut milk to mayonnaise and whisk until smooth.  This is where you will have to taste frequently and use your own judgement as to how much of each of these to use.  This "dressing" that you are making should be soupy - the orzo will absorb a lot of it.  When the taste is to your liking, pour dressing over salad and mix well.  Spoon into a lovely bowl and refrigerate until well-chilled.


I am very pleased with how both of my new recipes turned out, but shall I tell you how I like the orzo best of all?  Piping hot with butter and salt on it.  It reminds me of the spaghetti I ate when I was a child.  I wouldn't eat tomato sauce, so my spaghetti always had butter and salt instead.  It tasted great.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

what I think about when it is too hot outside

Ben and I talked about it this spring.  This year will be different, we said.  We will definitely get to the beach more often.  We'll go on a weekday.  We'll make sure of the weather.  We'll get an early start.  This year for sure.

Then Lucie died.  And we got a new puppy.  A puppy who has made great progress since we brought her home two and a half months ago.  But still, a puppy.  A puppy who cannot be left at home for eight hours without going outside or eating.  Mainly, without eating.  I feed Katie every four hours during the day.  She eats each meal like she hasn't eaten in days.  And, really, it takes us three hours each way to get to the beach. A nine or ten-hour day away would be more what we need.  Not that it matters because we can't do it anyway.

I love Rufus and Katie.  I don't know how I would get through my days without them.  When I took them to the groomers last week, I had to call and see how they were doing after several hours had passed with no word.  But they definitely tie us down.  Ben and I are tied to the house in a way that is absolute and depressing.  And it looks like we won't get to the beach at all this summer.  Just like when we lived in Ohio.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

what do YOU think?!

So, yeah, our power went out.  And stayed out for four and a half days.  We could never have imagined that would happen.  It just didn't seem like that big of a storm.  We heard thunder in the distance that night.  It got louder and louder, and the lightning strikes grew closer and closer together.  The wind blew in.  Then the wind really began to blow, and I was glad we no longer lived in a house surrounded by tall oak trees.  In the midst of that, the power went off.  It didn't falter.  It didn't flicker.  It went off and it stayed off.  And the storm blew by.  I swear, it was here for a half hour.  Who could have dreamed it would do so much damage?

The next morning we still didn't have power, but when we went out and looked around our neighborhood, we didn't understand why.  All our utility cables are buried, and the only downed tree we saw was a large branch down from our neighbor's tree in their back yard.  Still, the power did not come back on.  Because I am terrible during power outages, I drove up to Bel Air to spend the day (and possibly the night, if, unbelievably, the power wasn't restored by then) at Julie and Andrew's apartment.  As we watched the news there, I began to understand that something major had happened.  But I still didn't understand why our neighborhood didn't have power.  No downed trees.  No exposed power lines.  But still, no power.

After many hours, I realized that all the food in our two refrigerators was a lost cause.  It would all have to be thrown out.  Oddly, it was a relief to know this.  The only things I was really sad to lose were the homemade things in the freezer.  A tub of chicken stock.  Some grape pie filling.  A little tub of pesto that I had made only the week before.  And here's the thing I was saddest about, and still am - my Ziploc baggie full of chopped parsley.  It's not the parsley, per se, that I mind losing, though, it's the bag.  I brought the bag with us when we moved here from Ohio.  I emptied it, washed it, dried it, and brought it along.  Why did I do all that?  Because of how the bag was labelled and dated.  I know it was dated December 26, and I think the year was 2001, but I don't quite remember that.  I never had to remember.  It was on the bag.

And what did the label say?  Well, it said, "What do YOU think?!"  in Tom's handwriting.  I must have been working in the kitchen while Tom was home for Christmas break.  As I washed and chopped parsley, I asked him to label a Ziploc bag for me to put in the freezer.  That was how he labelled it.  And, without fail, when I took that bag full of bright green, chopped parsley out of the freezer, I smiled to think of Tom's response to being asked to label the obvious.

So now that bag is gone, along with all the other jars and bottles and tubs full of food that Ben emptied out of the refrigerators.  And that bag is what I miss the most.  Everything else is replaceable, you know?  But some things just aren't.

Friday, July 6, 2012

don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

I never think of myself as a child who grew up along a river, but, you know, I did.  Its proper name was "the Black River", but it was just "the river" to us.  My parents told me that when we moved into the big, old house on West Sixth Street, the riverbank cut right behind our garage. But I don't remember that, and the earliest memories I have are of a steep, green bank some distance beyond the garage and the huge old oak tree that grew next to it.  The river curved around and cut off the end of our street, as well, and was narrower and deeper there. 

We were strictly forbidden to go "down to the river", of course, but every summer when the water was low, my dad would take me down the bank and we would step across the exposed stones in the riverbed to the island in the middle of the river.  I remember the island mainly as overgrown and buggy, but exciting simply because it was off-limits to us for most of the year.  Over the years, dump truck after dump truck left their loads behind our house, altering the course of the river, and gradually creating a parking lot for the high school across the street.  The island became a peninsula, jutting out into the widest part of the river.  Easier to get to, but not as appealing.

Our neighborhood was defined by the river.  Because the bank cut in sharply behind our house, there was not room for a West Fifth Street or a West Fourth Street. Third Street and Second Street had bridges.  Heading away from town, the river curved away, and Riverside Drive ran alongside the river for many blocks.  Sometimes my dad took us for hikes along the river, and we were amazed to learn that we could walk all the way to Eleventh Street, where our elementary school was, and beyond, along its narrow banks. 

I was thinking about the river today because I learned that the derecho that knocked out our power for five days this week was actually the second one I have experienced.   Don't know what a derecho is?  Neither did I, of course.  Wikipedia defines it as "a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms". Got that?  A really big storm that comes really far, really fast and is really windy. 

So, the first time I experienced one, as it turns out, was the famous 4th of July storm on July 4th, 1969, a storm that I remember more for its aftermath than for the storm itself.  It was a summer storm.  A bad storm.  One where all the windows had to be closed, and we sweltered in our hot, airless house.  The usual, really.  But the next morning when we woke up, we heard a sound we had never heard before.  The river.  We heard the river.  Although we lived quite close to the river, the banks were tall, and we had never heard it from our house until that day.  The river was rushing and swirling.  It was higher than I had ever seen it, and it was opaque and brown and very, very deep.  It was fascinating and frightening and I couldn't look away from it.  The distant, friendly river that my dad and I threw stones in from the tall bank was gone, and in its place, this new river raged.  The toddler I was babysitting that summer had developed a fascination with water, and I was warned to watch him closely, as he had already jumped into the Vermilion River earlier that summer.  His mother jumped right in after him, but I wasn't going to do that.

So, yeah, I grew up by a river, and I have always lived by rivers, until now, and, boy, do I miss that.  You just never know the things that truly matter to you until you don't have them anymore - you know, just like the song says.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

pesto, pesto, pesto!

I have a startling confession to make.  Before I made it myself last summer, I had never eaten pesto.  Oh, sure I had heard of it, with all its basil-y, garlicky, oily goodness, but then it got so trendy and self-important that I just didn't even want to try it.  Years went by, and I didn't miss it.  Then, last summer, we finally had a wondrous crop of basil, so I thought to make some pesto with it. 

I got on line and read a few recipes, then felt that I was ready to try it for myself.  I will tell you what I did, although I hesitate to call it a recipe, really, as the amounts are sketchy, at best.  I went out and snipped off about one-third of the leaves from my basil plants. There were a lot of them - more than I expected.   I washed the leaves, still on their stems, thoroughly.  I picked the leaves from the stems, and rinsed them again.  I dried the basil leaves very thoroughly on old kitchen towels.
I gathered my other ingredients, which included fresh garlic, walnut halves, extra virgin olive oil, salt, freshly-ground pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese. Most recipes call for pine nuts instead of walnuts, but I almost always have walnuts on hand, and they are cheaper and healthier than pine nuts, so walnuts it is.  I put a big handful of basil leaves on my cutting board, and also eight or ten walnut halves.  To the top of this pile I added one garlic clove.  Then I just started chopping.  All of it.  Together.  It seemed to me like chopping it all together made it easier to do, so that's how I did it.  I chopped everything as finely as I possibly could, then I chopped it some more.  When it was very fine, I dumped the mixture into a waiting mixing bowl and covered it with olive oil. 

I repeated this process until all of my basil was chopped up.  I added too many walnuts, I think, the first time I made pesto, so have used them more sparingly since then.  I added about a half cup of the grated Paremesan, then added salt and pepper.  You don't need as much salt as you might think, as the cheese is very salty.  Glug in some more olive oil.  Seriously.  A lot of olive oil.  I don't think you can use too much.  At least I never have.  And that's it.  The pesto is finished.

That's the way Julie likes to eat it.  Just spoon that over some freshly-cooked pasta and enjoy. I prefer to make a sauce of it, however by adding a small amount of white sauce (one cup of milk's worth) to the pesto.  Do you see what I did there?  Instead of adding my pesto to the white sauce, I add the white sauce to the pesto, thereby controlling how much the pesto is diluted.  Heat through, but do not boil.  Serve over freshly-cooked pasta. 

Did I mention that I had never tasted pesto before I made it that first time?  I loved it!  What's not to love?  The ingredients are fantastic.  You eat it over pasta.  I couldn't get enough.  I don't know how many batches of pesto I made last summer, but it was a sad day when I pulled the last little container of pesto out of the freezer last winter. 

Today is a correspondingly happy day, however, as it is the day I made my first batch of the 2012 pesto season. Boil some water!  Prepare the white sauce!  Let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I didn't know what it was at first, so I went over to have a closer look.  I thought it might be a pile of old quilt pieces.  It reminded me of Julie's double wedding ring quilts, pieced together from the colorful printed flour sacks of the nineteen-forties.  It had that soft, faded look to it.  But when I reached to touch it, it was much heavier and thicker than any quilt I had ever seen.  Why, it was a rag rug.  A really big rag rug, I thought, as I saw that it was one whole piece instead of several smaller ones, as I had originally thought.  I could tell that it was handmade, and the woman at the flea market booth piped right up to tell me, "It's handmade.  Go ahead and pick it up and look at it."  Her husband (I assumed) hurried over to unfold and lift the rug for me.  "How much are you asking for it?" I asked him, although I already knew I would buy it.  "Twenty-five dollars" was his reply, and I was sure.

"Look at this, Ben'" I said as he approached.  "We could put this rug out on the back porch."  But Ben didn't think that was a very good idea, and neither did the lady who was selling it, it seemed.  "Why, that's a work of art, " she said.  "It's handmade.  A lost art, really.  And I just took it to the laundromat and washed and dried it.  Don't let it rest on the ground like that."  (This last part to her husband.)  "Well, I'll take it," I told her.  "Is twenty-five dollars your best price?"  They assured me that it was, and I was happy to pay it, almost not believing my good fortune.  "I don't know where I'll put it, but I'll find a place for it," I told the woman, trying to re-assure her that I would take good care of it, and the rug was mine.  I was thrilled.

The rug was bulky and heavier than I expected as I carried it back to the car.  It smelled clean and freshly-laundered, not in a yucky fabric softener way, but like it had hung outside on a sunny day.  My mind was busy, running through possible places in the house for my new rug, but there was only one place to put it, really.  I wanted it at the foot of my bed.  It would be soft and welcoming under my bare feet.  The faded colors of the rug were the colors of the quilt on my bed and the prints hanging on my walls.  It would - dare I say it? - really tie the room together.

The rug looked even bigger when I laid it out on the floor in my bedroom.  It seemed huge, as big as my bed!  I measured it at 66" x 93" - five and a half feet wide by almost eight feet long.  Every new thing I learned about it made me love my rug more.  Ben lifted the end of the bed up so that I could tuck the rug underneath.  Need I say that it looks perfect there?  I couldn't be more pleased with it.  And in the late afternoon when the sun has warmed the house for many hours, my room smells like clean laundry.  I don't think it gets any better than this.  I wish the woman who sold me the rug could see it now.  I feel she would approve.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

namin' nuts

Even before we left the Stoltzfus' driveway (for that is where we were) we began trying to come up with a name for our new puppy.  I had wanted a dog named "Daisy" for a long time.  I thought it would be clever to give her the name "Daisy Mei" spelled like that after one of the characters in Totoro, one of our family's favorite movies.  Ben thought that was okay, but suggested "Susie" as another option.  I like for my dogs to have middle names, or at least initials, so added "Susie Q".  "We just have to wait until we get her home, then we'll decide," we kept telling ourselves, but I love to name things, and couldn't wait. The puppy was born on St. Patrick's Day, so I thought it might be fun to give her an Irish name.  Andrew's newest niece was just named "Molly Malone", and that appealed to me greatly, but clearly was out of the question.

Almost as soon as we got home, I was sitting at my computer, looking up baby girl names.  I looked at un-prounceable and un-spellable Irish names, and ruled those out pretty quickly.  I started making a list of possible names, with our two favorites at the top.  What were some of the other contenders?  Gracie and Rosie and Cissy  made the list, as did Gigi and Maggie and Josie.  It seemed like our puppy would have the "ee" sound at the end of her name.  Julie and Andrew thought perhaps we could just keep the name she already had, but Ben thought that "Lilly Stoltzfus" was quite a mouthful for such a little girl (!)

After we had our new puppy at home with us, we tried out different names on her.  We tried "Daisy" first since that was my favorite, but we already knew a dog with that name who was docile and gentle.  Our puppy was not.  Once she got used to us all, she tore around the back yard, a ball of pure energy.  For lack of another name, I called her "Lilly Stoltzfus" until Ben was sorry he ever mentioned calling her that.

Ben does not take the same pleasure I do from making up names, but he dutifully looked over my list.  "What about 'Katie'?" he asked.  "You don't have 'Katie' on here."  I hadn't thought about that name, but then I did.  She could be a "Katie", I thought, but "Katie" what?  Then I knew.  Katie Scarlett. Just like Scarlett O'Hara, in Gone With the Wind.  I thought of Scarlett's father in the movie, saying her name with his Irish brogue.  I thought of Scarlett's personality - her stubborness, her single-mindedness, her relentlessness.Yes, our little girl is "Katie Scarlett".   We can agree on that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

a puppy tale

When Bobo died, we couldn't cope with it.  Not any of us. We didn't know what to do.  We waited six months to get another dog, and  that was too long.  It was too long for poor, lonely Lucie, hiding under the kitchen table, and it was too long for us. This time we didn't wait so long.  In fact, we didn't wait hardly any time at all.

We have always strongly believed that releasing our dogs from suffering is the final act of love we can show them.  Accordingly, when it was obvious that Lucie's failing kidneys were shutting down, we watched her even more closely.  When the morning came that she could barely stand or walk in the grass to relieve herself, we knew the day had come.  We took Lucie to the vet for the last time.  It was a very sad day for all of us.  Here's the thing that was sad - and I want to be very clear about this - it was that Lucie had gotten so very sick, not that she was put down.  That was a blessing.  And I don't use that word lightly.

Ben and I had already been exploring the internet to see what it would take to get a new puppy.  I thought to get a bichon, like Bobo, but Ben was sure another cockapoo would be best for us.  Why waste all the research he had done before we got Rufus, he reasoned, and I had to agree.  We knew things would be different here on the east coast, but even at that, I was not prepared for the prices breeders were asking for cockapoo puppies. The breed is not recognized by the AKC yet, so, of course, the dogs are not considered purebreds.  In spite of that, breeders were asking upwards of a thousand dollars for a puppy (!)  When I asked one breeder with whom I was corresponding if that price was the norm, she never even deigned to reply.  Many breeders have months-long waiting lists, as well, with non-refundable deposits expected just to have one's name added to the list.

All this is to explain how I ended up at the Greenfield Puppies website.  Greenfield Puppies serves as a brokerage for Amish dog breeders in Pennsylvania.  Yes, that raised all kinds of red flags for me.  I have read about the Amish puppy mills and wanted to avoid them at all costs.  Still, this seemed like an outlet that needed to be further explored.  I found a photo of an adorable female cockapoo puppy and called the phone number for her breeder.  I found myself talking to what sounded like a very young man, who assured me that, yes, that very puppy was still available.  Yes, we could come out and see her over the weekend.  So I made an appointment, assuring Ben and myself that it was an exploratory mission, and that we probably would not buy a puppy.  We were just looking.

That was how Ben and Julie and I found ourselves driving through the rolling hills of southeast Pennsylvania on a beautiful spring morning, through the heart of Amish farming country.  Once we got off the highway, it was pretty clear we were not in Kansas anymore.  Or perhaps we were.  The large farms on either side of the narrow roads had horses in the barns and laundry hanging on the lines.  A farmer tilled a field with a tiller pulled by three large work horses.  Cows grazed near a small stream that ran through a pasture.  It could not have been more bucolic.  I have never seen the like.

We turned into the driveway of one of the farms, and drove slowly up a hill to a huge barn, with outbuildings and a farmhouse beyond.  A dog barked, and a teenage boy emerged from the house, followed by a beautiful little Yorkshire terrier.  From his thick, bowl-cut hair to his huge, bare feet, Jonas was the very picture of an Amish youth.  We explained that we were there to see the puppies, and he led us to two large elevated cages (rabbit hutches perhaps?) right next to each other that held a barking mama dog (Darla) in one, and six roly-poly puppies in the other.  The Yorkie and two other dogs followed along, all of them seeming happy and well-fed.  One of them was Danny, the puppy daddy, who looked like he was wearing dark brown socks, but Jonas opined it was from getting in the manure behind the barn again.  We were absolutely certain that this was not a place where animals were misused or mistreated in any way.

Then we saw the puppies.  Who doesn't love puppies?  There were two females in the litter, one of them clearly the puppy whose photo I had fallen in love with.  Jonas got the girls out for us to look at, and we took them to a little grassy rise behind the cages so that we could see them romp around and interact with each other and the other dogs.  All three of us pretty quickly zeroed in on "Lilly", the puppy I saw initially.  I looked up at Ben from where I squatted next to the puppies and asked him, "What do you think?"  "I think we should get her", was his reply.  And so we did.

Ben handed Jonas a hundred dollars in twenty-dollar bills as a deposit, and we arranged to pick Lilly up the following Saturday when she would be eight weeks old.  We did not receive a receipt nor give Jonas our full names, although he did have our phone number.  We drove back down the rutted driveway, surprised and excited at having just purchased a puppy.  And realizing we had a week to prepare for her.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

closure, of a sort

A few years ago, Ben and Julie and I spent the day in Oberlin. While Julie and I shopped for yarn at Smith's Furnishings & Floor Coverings on College Street,  Ben left us to take some photos - or so he said. He actually circled back to a shop we had visited earlier that day to buy a beautiful handmade box I had admired. I thought it matched my dresser exactly, with its quilted maple sides and rounded edges. I was surprised and delighted when it appeared under the Christmas tree for me later that year. I put it on my dresser, and there it sat, looking lovely, but now it has a different use. It holds Lucie's cremated remains.

The animal hospital called me last week to tell me that Lucie was back and ready to come home. I know that sounds strange, but I knew exactly what they meant, and drove over to pick up her ashes. They were in a small sealed box with the inscription I had requested on it: "Lucie Noëlle, October 21, 1998 to May 1, 2012, She loved to smell the flowers." The only problem was that the box was plastic, made to look like wood. That bothered me. A lot. Lucie was a classy little lady.  No faux wood for her.  I had to find something attractive enough that we could leave it on the side table next to the covered urn that held Bobo's ashes. I could place the plastic box inside a larger box, I thought.   First I considered the miniature cedar hope chest I received when I graduated from high school. No, that would be too big. And, besides, some of the things stored inside that little chest had been there for more than forty years. That was out.

Then I thought of the beautiful wooden box that sat on my dresser. That would be perfect, I thought, but the plastic box will never fit inside there. The only way to be sure of that, however, was to try it. I took the few pieces of jewelry that I stored there out of the box, and once again admired its smooth, polished exterior. I  noticed the soft velvet interior. Perfect, I thought again. If only... I placed the plastic box inside the wooden box and closed the lid. How well did it fit? Like it was made for that express purpose.

I had saved the dried remains of the first ever rose that bloomed on my new rose bushes - a rose that Lucie was too ill to smell - and placed that inside the box, as well. The fit of the boxes was so perfect that the small dried flower barely fit there. I placed the box next to the beautiful ceramic urn that holds Bob's ashes.  There, I said to myself, there.  Lucie is home and where she belongs.  I felt comforted.  I feel comforted.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

a period of adjustment

I don’t understand why the house is so much quieter with Lucie gone. I can’t remember the last time she barked or even growled. I would hear her shifting around sometimes in the chair in Ben’s room or hear her tags rattling when she shook off, but that was about it. She didn’t jump down anymore or click off to the kitchen to get a big, noisy drink of water. She hadn’t chased around with Rufus or fought over a toy with him in a very long time. And yet, it is so quiet here now.

Ben says it is because she was such a big personality in such a tiny package. Once Julie left, Lucie was pretty much in charge around here. We all wanted to know, what is Lucie doing right now? We frequently searched the house until we found where she lay napping. It is hard not to do that now. Rufus still does it. Yesterday I saw him sniffing very carefully at her leash where I had left it lying on a bench in the kitchen. I removed it, but found him sniffing at the same spot later in the day.

Rufus has always been a clingy dog, but it seems to me like he sticks closer than ever to me right now. And that’s okay. His little world has been turned upside down, and he really doesn’t know what could happen next. Our job is to make sure it is something good.

Does that mean a new puppy is on the horizon? Well, sure, probably. But I am surprised to find that I don’t want one right now. It seems right that the house should be strangely quiet. We have lost our tiny dictator. We have lost our little love. That needs to be recognized and accepted. Then we can move on. Then we can fill the house with the all noise and energy and excitement that a new puppy will bring. We’ll know when that time comes. We’ll be ready for it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

golden slumbers fill your eyes

We sang Lucie a thousand songs. Most of them didn’t have words, maybe – and some of them didn’t have much in the way of a melody, either – but we sang to her day and night. I liked to sing to Lucie when I carried her from place to place. I didn’t really give much thought to the songs I sang, and more often than not I noticed it was a college fight song I was humming into the soft, fluffy, fur on the top of her head. Because I was raised in such an odd way, college fight songs were my lullabies. I shared them with Lucie.

Julie sang to Lucie, too. Her songs were extemporaneous, and the styles varied widely, from polkas to marches to scat. They were all sung with great gusto and enthusiasm. The songs Ben sang were just between the two of them, but I know he did it, all the same, holding Lucie close so only she could hear. I like to think that Tom sang to her, as well, after Lucie won the hard-fought battle for his affection.

Yesterday afternoon after Julie and I took Lucie to the animal hospital for the last time, I noticed the song lyrics that were playing over and over again in my head without my even knowing it: “Sleep, pretty darlin’, do not cry. And I will sing a lullaby.” I can’t sing without breaking down right now, but this song goes straight from my heart to Lucie. It is my final song to her.

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Once there was a way to get back homeward
Once there was a way to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby

Monday, April 16, 2012

I really hate this part

I have been mad at Lucie for a long time. I have been mad at her because I want her to straighten up and fly right. I want her to settle down and behave herself. I want her to buck up and be like she used to be. She is not going to do any of those things. I am not mad at her anymore. I wish I were.

Lucie has always been a remarkably stubborn dog. When she didn't want to eat, she wouldn't eat. When she didn't want to play, there was no tempting her, by canine or human. When she wanted to ignore you, she ignored you. She is like a cat in many ways.

Lucie is the only dog who ever bit me, although I must admit I never blamed her, as I provoked her into it. I laughed at her teeny, tiny, little warning growls at me because they were just so darn cute. Lucie ruled the roost over both Bobo and Rufus, although in recent years Rufus has realized that she has lost a step, and frequently runs right over her, or nips at her when he thinks we don't see.

Lucie sleeps most of the day now. She can't always jump high enough to hop on the couch or the chair in Ben's room. The beds have been beyond her for a while now. She lags far behind on our morning walks. She only hears the loudest of sounds. This morning she walked right into the gate and was very startled by it. She hadn't seen it, probably because her eyes have grown opaque with cataracts. We carry her in and out to go potty, and she is still really good about going outside and not in the house. She hasn't eaten breakfast for the past week. Last night she ate her dinner only with Julie's urging. If she doesn't eat her food, she can't take her meds, as I have mentioned before. Without food, of course, she grows weaker and weaker.

Lucie is old. She is failing. And even with all that, I can't bear the thought of losing her. Wish I could get mad at her again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

you can never take the same vacation twice

I honestly don't know how many times Ben and I have been to Chincoteague over the past thirty-five years. I know we have stayed six different places: the Sea Shell Motel on Willow Street, the Driftwood Motor Inn (when it boasted the only elevator on the island), multiple times at Dovekie (later renamed "Sanderling"), Bayside Cottage, the Island Motor Inn Resort, and, this past weekend, Panorama, just across the channel from the Assateague Light.

I have been trying to figure out which place I liked the best, but, you know, I can't decide. When I am there, wherever I am staying is the best because I'm on the island then. I guess I liked Bayside Cottage the least. We had already made reservations to stay at Dovekie that year when the realty company called and said someone wanted to rent it for the entire month so we were out. They suggested Bayside instead. What could I say? We took it. The master bedroom was minuscule with no closet (it had been converted to a tiny washroom) and no dresser. The bathroom off the kitchen had the tiniest shower I have ever used (and I have stayed in a hostel in Manhattan!) and the washer and dryer were locked shut so that we couldn't use them at all.

I have to admit, however, that every day after we had showered off the beach sand and suntan lotion, and I had rinsed the bathing suits and done the lunch dishes, it was a great pleasure to go out and sit on that little screened-in front porch on Main Street and watch the world go by. Neighbors worked in their tiny yards, and the mailman said hello as he walked by each day. I watched pleasure boats and fishing boats as they passed the long docks across the street, and each day I dozed in the stupefying heat, as contented as I have ever been.

This year I chose Panorama because Ben and I had decided to take the dogs with us. It is only a three-hour car drive for us now opposed to the eight or nine hours it used to take from Ohio. Surely we could stand the dogs in the car with us for that long, we thought. It is hard to find "pet-friendly" (as they are called) lodgings on Chincoteague, however, and it did not help that I had waited until the week before we wanted to arrive to make reservations. How lucky that Panorama was the place I found! It was just beautiful. It was perfect for us, really, and for the dogs, too, although Lucie obviously didn't enjoy it as much as Rufus did.

I don't really have the words to describe how beautiful and tranquil the salt marsh, and past that the channel, were just outside our back door. The only sounds we heard were the calls of the many shore birds we watched from our screened-in porch. Occasionally boats sped by out in the channel, and one morning as I stood with the dogs in the tiny yard, a boat glided right past us, its skipper and I silently saluting each other in the early morning light. Each night a beautiful golden moon rose alongside the lighthouse as it blinked its distinctive pattern. (Did you know lighthouses have distinctive patterns? I learned that last year when we climbed to the top of the Assateague light.)

When the kids were little we went to Chincoteague for the beach. If we didn't spend every morning getting sunburned on the beach, my vacation was not a success. I still love the beach - I always will - but it's not as much fun without a child clinging to each hand in the shallow surf or learning to make drizzled sand castles next to their dad on the wide, empty beach. We have found new pleasures, however, and who's to say they are not just as satisfying? One afternoon last weekend as Ben and Lucie napped on the couch, I sat out on the back steps with Rufus at my feet, and just soaked up the peace and quiet. It was my favorite moment of the entire trip, unlike any other, and perfect for that reason alone. We love to go to Chincoteague to see all the old familiar sights, but it is the possibility of the new things we will experience that keep us going back there.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the last soup of the season, perhaps

I heated up the leftover butternut squash soup for lunch yesterday, and I think it was even better warmed over. It was so good! It makes me a little sad to think that I have gone all these years without knowing that. I have talked in the past about my extreme aversion to cooked vegetables while I was growing up and for many years thereafter. The only vegetables we ate when I was a kid came in frozen cubes with Birdseye labels on the boxes. (The frozen spinach was the worst, if you want to know.) But I digress.

I asked for an immersion blender for Christmas, mainly so that I could make my own butternut squash soup. I had some this fall at Atwater's, a neat little bakery in downtown Catonsville that serves a lunch every day that consists of homemade soup, freshly baked bread, and dessert. The soup was a revelation to me! Simple and complex at the same time, I knew it was something I could add to my repertoire.

Accordingly, I got online and started looking for recipes. I don't even bother with the cookbooks I have collected anymore. It's all out there, man, on the interwebs. The recipe was as simple as I thought it might be, and after a couple of times making the soup, this is my version.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, with seeds removed
1 large onion, peeled and halved
2 apples, peeled, halved, and cored
olive oil
freshly-ground pepper
32 oz. chicken broth (homemade stock would be fantastic, if you have it)
½ cup milk
marsala (optional)
freshly-grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400°. Liberally oil a cookie sheet. (I like to cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil first. It makes for an easier clean-up.) Drizzle olive oil on the cut side of the squash, then salt and pepper it. Place the two halves on the cookie sheet, cut side down. Place the onion and apple halves on the cookie sheet, drizzle oil on them, then salt and pepper. Place in oven, and roast until vegetables have carmelized, about 40 minutes. While vegetables are roasting, heat chicken broth in a six-quart pot.

Give apples and onions a rough chop, and place them in pot with chicken broth. Cut the squash into cubes while it is still in the shell, then use a large spoon to scrape the cubes into the broth. Simmer for about a half hour, or until everything is well-cooked and falling apart. Remove pot from heat, get out your immersion blender, and blend until soup is smooth and free of lumps.

Return to burner and simmer soup until it is hot. Taste soup and add salt and pepper as necessary. This is also the time to add milk. I like the creaminess the milk adds, but be careful not to add so much that the soup becomes too thin. This should be a thick, creamy soup. Add marsala to taste. Be sure to simmer until all alcohol is evaporated. Ladle soup into big bowls, grate nutmeg on top of each serving. Easy does it! This soup has a delicate flavor, and too much nutmeg can overpower it. Bon appétit! Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

the next best thing

Well, we didn't win the lottery, of course, but we got something almost as good in the mail last week - our royalty checks. Amazingly, Ben and I still get checks periodically for the book we wrote back in 2004. We get separate checks in separate envelopes for separate amounts. My check is always bigger - this time I got six cents more than Ben did (!) I love that.

We used to get checks every six months, then our publisher started asking us to allow the money to be direct deposited. We didn't want to do that, however, as I like getting checks in the mail. Ben agreed with me. The next thing they told us was that they wouldn't issue a check for less than a certain amount so they would hold the money for us until enough accrued. So, as I say, periodically we get checks in the mail, and last week was one of those days. It's always a nice surprise.

Coincidentally, Ben scanned our last few postcard purchases the other day, then I put them into the leather albums with our other cards. Of course I paged through the albums as I did this, and I don't want to get started (molars and bicuspids, you've no idea!) but we have such an amazing collection! I think Elyria today is a sad, little, run-down town, but our postcards made me yearn for the Elyria of yesteryear. Not the Elyria of a hundred years ago that our oldest cards portray, but the Elyria of fifty years ago when I was a child there. I guess one of the symptoms of getting older is longing for the days of one's youth, and my longing for the Elyria of my childhood grows stronger with each passing year. What a bustling little city it was!

After I slipped each card into its proper place in the album, I asked Ben how many Elyria postcards we have at this point. You may be staggered to know that we have 680 unique postcards of the little town of Elyria, Ohio. I know I was. And what I started thinking was that is more than enough for another book. We could do a whole chapter about the Elyria Block fire in 1909 or when the Washington Avenue bridge was washed away in the spring floods of 1913. Doesn't that sound fascinating?

I know you must be curious as to the size of our checks, and I must be honest and say that it was forty-three dollars and some change for each of us. What did I spend it on? I bought some yarn, of course.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sunday drives ain't what they used to be

When I was a kid, we would go on Sunday drives once in a while. My dad would load us all up in the car, and we would head out. We weren't going anywhere in particular, which I believe is the idea behind a Sunday drive, but we would head towards Oberlin or Medina, or if we were very lucky, towards Vermilion and the lake. Sometimes we would get out of the car and walk around for a bit, perhaps stop at a drug store and have a coke, but more often we would not. We would drive until my dad had driven far enough, then we would turn around and drive home.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful - sunny and breezy with temps in the low 60s - so Ben and Julie and I went for a Sunday drive. Less than an hour after leaving our house, we were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore. It's going to take me a bit more time to get used to that. When we used to take the kids to Chincoteague in the summers, we had done A LOT of driving to get to that point. And, actually, we had quite a bit more driving to go, although we didn't seem to mind it as much once we had crossed that bridge.

Yesterday, though, we weren't going to the ocean. We were going to St. Michaels, a small tourist town on the Chesapeake Bay. Julie and I have gone there together for the past few Mother's Days - a day spent together is her gift to me - but Ben had never been there, and it was the perfect day for an outing. We thought to do some shopping, have lunch, then visit the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We stopped at all our favorite little shops and had a tasty oyster lunch, but by the time we headed to the museum, it was too late to start a tour.

Undaunted, we headed on for another drive that Julie and I had promised ourselves year after year, but never taken. We drove to Tilghman Island. I could tell right away this part of our Sunday drive would be more to Ben's liking. This was the real Sunday drive. We drove past abandoned farms and derelict towns, finally reaching beautiful, unimpeded views of the Chesapeake Bay. We drove down a dirt road along the bay to the point where the mighty Choptank River empties into the bay. We drove as far as we could go, then turned around and drove back.

I know that sounds pretty much like any other Sunday drive, but this was definitely the only one I've ever taken that took me to the Eastern Shore and back before dark. I like it here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

musings on a March morning

To this girl, born and raised in the Midwest, it didn't seem like much of a winter at all, but I guess it's over. This was absolutely the first winter I can ever remember that I didn't have to shovel any snow. All the way back to when we used to try - without much success - to shovel snow off the top of the gravel driveway on West 6th Street. Not that I'm complaining, you understand. I don't love snow the way I did when I was younger. Kind of like Lucie, who hasn't springbokked through the snow in several years now, I would prefer not to.

So is it spring, then? Well, not yet, and I don't want to make the same mistake I made last year - my first spring in Maryland. When the temperature rose above 60° last February, I started wondering why there was nothing blooming anywhere in my neighborhood. Didn't people around here plant spring flowers? What was wrong with them? Did they hate spring? And, further, why weren't there any spring flowers poking up through the soil in my own yard? I now know the answer to that question - nothing was planted here. Nothing beyond the ugly, overgrown, foundation plants in front of the house, and a strange, mixed-color crepe myrtle growing too close to the driveway, anyway.

That will not be the case this year, however, thanks to the dozens of bulbs that Ben and Julie and I (but mostly Ben) planted last fall. Already two yellow crocuses have bloomed, and daffodils and tulips are coming, as well. These harbingers of spring are mighty welcome here, and we check their progress daily. We also check the progress of the small trees and shrubs we had planted at great expense last year. I really hope they have successfully over-wintered. There is almost nothing more depressing than a forlorn dead tree in the spring when everything else is blooming and growing.

But, in keeping with the stated purpose of this blog, we will assume that everything is doing just fine, and will come along when it is supposed to. I just have to learn when that is, exactly.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

what more can I do?

We have always fed our dogs twice a day. Here is how I feed Rufus his breakfast every morning: Pour one half cup of dry dog food into his dish. Put the dish on the floor. Get out of his way. Oh, that it were that simple with Lucie.

I used to prepare Lucie's food right after I fed Rufus, which is to say before I ate my own breakfast. That meant that I was waiting and waiting and waiting for her to eat so that I could eat. Not a good scenario. The last couple of mornings I have eaten a leisurely breakfast while puzzling over my Sudoku, then gotten online for a bit before tackling the preparation of Lucie's food.

Lucie requires a 50/50 mix of her special dry dog food (for aging dogs) and her special canned food (for dogs with kidney problems). A squirt of salmon oil and a bit of water are added to this combination before it is microwaved for 15 seconds. If she deigns to eat her food, I then give her 0.25 ml of Benazepril by dropper. In addition, every other day she takes one Glycoflex© tablet and a quarter of a baby aspirin (chopped into pieces by guess who). She is also currently taking an antibiotic that she takes at the end of every month. She must take it twice a day with food for one week. And don't even get me started on the additional stuff she takes at the beginning of every month. Have you noticed that taking her meds is predicated on eating her food? So when she refuses to eat, like this morning - even after I added some spaghetti sauce which she usually loves, before microwaving - I really don't know what to do next.

Today I will cook some rice and add cut-up chicken to it in hopes that will tempt her into eating a bit. I don't know what else to do. If she doesn't eat she will surely die. Suggestions greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

I haven't much to say today, but I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to write a Leap Day post. It's not a day that means much to most of us, I know. Eleven leap days ago, I was in junior high, and it was a big deal to us then. We had somehow gotten the idea that February 29th was like Sadie Hawkins Day - a role reversal day when a girl could be so bold as to ask a guy to marry her. Quelle horreur! The Wikipedia entry for "leap day" does not make mention of this custom, so perhaps it was localized to Franklin Junior High School. I don't know. I do know that it was an exciting day for us. For us girls, anyway.

We bold girls roamed the halls asking all the guys we knew (and some we didn't) to marry us. I don't know for certain what the other girls did, but I made sure that my current crush was among those I asked. He said yes! As did all the others. I didn't marry any of them, of course. No one took such an absurb idea seriously. A girl could never ask a guy to marry her. Could she?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

time for an update?

So some time has passed since my last post, and some things have changed. It's a new year, for example, and that means I'm another year older, what with my birthday following so closely on the heels of New Year's Day. Happy Birthday to me.

The big news is that I found a job and quit that job, all in the space of these past few months. That one sentence can't even begin to encompass the range of emotions I went through in that brief time. Back in November I was wasting time online when I found out that a brand new yarn shop had recently opened quite close to where I live. I was so excited! I was at the shop the next day with my resumé and some samples of my work. I spoke with the shop manager, whom I liked right away, and within a few days, I was being interviewed by her and the shop owner. I was thrilled when they hired me on the spot, and I began working there almost immediately. Initially, I felt so at home there, and wanted to learn everything about the shop as quickly as possible.

The first sign of trouble was when the shop manager gave her two-weeks notice. I had so looked forward to working with her and knowing her better. But the good news for me was that the owner wanted me to step up and become one of three "team leads" in her stead. I was offered a raise and the chance to set my own schedule. It all seemed too good to be true - and you know what that usually means. The owner told me she had hired and promoted me for my experience, which made sense to me. I had worked in two other yarn shops, and knew alot about what worked - and didn't work - in that setting. I realized pretty quickly, however, that the ideas I suggested to her were not being implemented and were never going to be implemented. My "duties" were unclear to me, and over time I grew increasingly uneasy about meeting expectations of which I was not aware. I began to dread the shop owner's impromptu visits, and her many emails were always upsetting to me. Ben urged me not to read the late night emails I received from her before I went to bed as I got too upset to sleep after reading them. I kept telling myself, things will get better, things will get better.

I soldiered on, and worked hard, both at my job and at making friends among my co-workers, which was very important to me. I began to feel successful in both those areas, and that was, of course, when the hammer fell. The shop owner came in one night when I was working late, and asked me to stay after the shop closed. I had already worked an eight-hour plus day, but I sat down to talk with her. To listen to her, I should say, because that was when she unloaded on me. That was when I at last learned what her expectations of me had been. She criticized everything about me, even mimicking the way I spoke. At first, I tried to answer her criticisms, but it quickly became clear that she wasn't interested in a dialogue. So I listened until she finished and I left.

I drove home carefully that night, not letting my emotions make me careless. When I got home, I told Ben, "I think I may have to quit, " and I outlined what had happened that night. "Don't you ever go back there!" he told me. "That's it. You don't have to take that." Well, in fact, I did have to take it, but not for long. Since email seemed to be her communication of choice, after careful consideration I wrote her one the next morning, outlining my resignation. Then I went in to work. She came in later that day and asked me if I was sure about my decision. Oh yes, I assured her, and the sooner the better. She seemed surprised, which surprised me. What about me made her think she could talk to me the way she had and that I would just take it? I kept hearing Tweety Bird's voice in my head saying, "She don't know me very well, do she?" And she never will.

I feel very glad to be away from the oppressive shop owner, but sad to have left the friends I was making among the customers and my co-workers. I miss them. And I especially miss helping the enthusiastic new knitters who came into the shop looking for a familiar, friendly face and some encouraging help with their fledgling projects. I was good at that. I am good at that. That has not changed.