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 app├ętit! 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.