Friday, February 28, 2014

Be It Ever So Humble

Sometimes when I read other people's posts or chat with friends or relatives, I feel very provincial and small. Growing up in my ethnic-rich steel town in the Midwest exposed me to many different cultures, but it didn't make me long to expand my horizons. Back then, everyone I knew was content to marry a local, get a good job close by, and stick around the family, living a life quite similar to what he or she grew up with. Things were fine in the seventies; if your dad worked at the steel mill, you could get a job there. Likewise with the Ford plant, Lake Terminal Railroad, Nelson Stud Welding,and, early on, AmShip. The days of the big labor strikes were gone, and everyone was doing fine. Travel, to me, meant packing up the Chevy, or later, the Buick, and driving to visit relatives in Pennsylvania or Florida or less than an hour away in another county. One year, we did go all the way across country exploring the West, but that trip is another whole post.

This exposition will become clear when you read today's question:

Where is the one place you have lived that you remember most fondly and why?

I have lived in two places my entire life, and they are eight miles/fifteen minutes apart. That is, unless you count college, then it is three. All of them would be in Ohio, however, which would then make it one. Now, if you want to specify "domiciles", then that helps me out considerably. I have lived in four, unless you still want to count college, then that would be seven. Again, all still in Ohio, though, so we are again back to ONE.

And I have fond memories of all of the places I've lived, pretty much. Growing up, our front yard had a tree right smack in the middle of it, a maple. It was a perfect tree, with a nice sturdy limb at just the right height always for sitting on or swinging a leg over to start climbing. There were perfect branches and crotches in the best places for lounging to read a book or just relax. If I wanted to bring up a transistor radio, there was always a place to wedge it in or hang it. If I didn't feel like climbing, its shade was cool and inviting, and my sister and I would spread a big blanket and lie there to color, play games, play dolls, or eat cherries or watermelon and spit seeds. It's old now, and covered with ivy. It looks tired and sort of misshapen. It hasn't been climbed in more than ten years. Maybe twenty.

At college one quarter I had the one and only chance I ever had in my life to live alone. It was satisfying and I loved it. I had always shared a room with both or one of my sisters. My first quarter at college I had three roommates, and it eventually levelled off at two. Finally, a single room happened to be available, and as a senior, I got it. It was like my tiny nest. I had everything I needed in there; I didn't have to worry about anyone bothering me with their bullshit, and anyone who came to the door was there for me. I didn't have to be a secretary part-time for anyone. It was quiet, small, and private. Alone, but not lonely.

After college, Rick and I got married and we moved into a one-bedroom apartment. When we planned to have a baby, we moved across the hall into a two-bedroom. Jared's room there was bright and airy and I was so happy with it. I liked a few things about apartment life, the tidiness of it, the compact smallness of things, the idea that it wasn't permanent. I remember how much I liked having flowers on our little balcony.

When Jared was just three months old, we moved into our house. It was a disaster when we bought it, the tenants having been forcibly evicted, and the landlord in Florida. Rick saw the potential immediately, but I didn't have that vision. I did, however, love the beautiful natural woodwork all throughout the house. I loved that it was small and neat; the rooms were defined with no big open spaces blending into one another. I laughed at the huge tree growing right in front of one of the garage doors. We got the house for a very low price and had the keys for a month before we moved in. We worked like crazy to get Jared's nursery and the bathroom and kitchen done first. Those memories...not so fond. It wasn't fun. And it was hard to be patient for the time that it took to get everything done and done right. I learned an awful lot. (Whether I wanted to or not.) It took forever for this house to feel like home to me. Of course, though, it does now although I can't recall when that happened.

If I began enumerating all the lovely memories we have of this house, it would sound like a list of cliches. And it might sound a great deal like a list so many of you could make as well. Jared and Sam knew no other home than this as children, and Sam has steadfastly refused to call any of his apartments "home." I'm glad that they both have moved out of this town and out to places that they can call their own. I want them to look past the boundaries of Ohio, too. That's my eventual plan, once the pieces all fall into place. I just hope they hurry. Patience--not my strongest trait.

I can't wait to hear of the wonderful and exotic locales where so many of you have lived. Sigh. So go ahead--tell me in comments. Or just chat about my wee life, quite a rarity in this day and age, I know.

note:  Blogger was acting oddly, so forgive the strange font appearance.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't And Won't: It's A Cooking Confessional At The Dept.(There Go My Pescetarian Readers)

Today's question deals with one of my favourite pastimes, cooking.  I love to cook, and I am a very intuitive cook, probably like so many of you.  Recipe requests are usually met with a sort of stunned expression;  most of the time, there simply isn't one, or if there is, I've long forgotten it and use no formal measurements anymore.  Just as often, what the person has just eaten is something I made up on the spot, based solely upon what I had on hand, what was fresh and lovely at the market or farmstand, or what I managed to salvage from what I thought it was going to be when I started out until things took a decidedly different turn for whatever reason.

Anyway, here we go:

Is there anything you don't or won't cook?

The short answer is yes and yes, but you know me:  I have to explain and qualify that answer.  Let's start with the Don't part.

Now that Jared and Sam are out on their own, I have to admit that I don't cook a Standard Dinner every night of the week anymore.  When I was doing The Mom Thing, every night I made sure we had a main dish of meat, a vegetable, a starch (potatoes, rice, noodles), and often, a tossed green salad with homemade dressing.  That's how I grew up, and that's what I knew to do.  Let me tell you, that deal is done with.

Dinners now, whenever I can manage it, are one-bowl affairs, which we love.  I cram all that stuff into a rice bowl, pasta toss, or steak salad or whatever.  One night, we had lemon orzo topped with a tossed salad and roasted shrimp, all drizzled with a lemon vinaigrette.  Very nice.

I also don't cook pork chops, pork steaks, or any kind of fish.  I don't like pork chops, Rick doesn't like pork steaks, (although each of us likes the opposite), and I loathe fish of all kinds.  ALL KINDS, AND YES, THAT DOES INCLUDE TILAPIA AND SALMON.  EVEN YOUR RECIPE SO NO, DON'T BOTHER TO SEND IT.  REALLY, THANKS. 

I desperately want to like fish.  I really do.  I have cooked it in the past (halibut, orange roughy, tilapia, salmon, swordfish), tried it at home and in restaurants, but simply do not like it one bit. You can imagine the reception Rick (who also dislikes salmon intensely) and I got on our Alaskan cruise, where they force-feed you salmon every hour.  Perhaps you don't know this, but salmon in Alaska are like cows in India.  They are sacred and symbolic; they are to Alaska what pandas are to China.  Those people in Alaska are all about their salmon.  Each time Rick and I refused salmon pate, smoked salmon, salmon jerky, salmon caviar, salmon butter, salmon cakes, and salmon sausage, it was as if we handed them a copy of a Communist Manifesto or told them we didn't believe in hunting or fishing.  My anathema toward fish has been nothing but trouble for me.

According to Jared and Sam, I don't cook anything that everyone likes a whole lot ever again.  I'm not sure how this--another Mom Legend--got started, but now, every time they come over and I make something they scarf down like pack animals, one will say, "Wow, Mom.  This is really good."  The other will then say, "Well.  You know what that means."  And they both will say, in perfect unison, usually with Their Father, "We'll never have it again."  Certainly it has its roots in ONE INCIDENT wherein I made something on the fly, they loved it, and then I couldn't or didn't duplicate it or forgot about it.  Big deal.  Are they alive or did they starve to death?  I rest my case.

Now, as far as what I Won't Cook, that part is easy.  Even when it comes right down to it, if Rick requested fish or pork chops, I'd cook them.  In the realm of Cooking, I can't think of anything I'd simply Not Cook. Having said that, I will say that I will refuse to Bake a couple of things because they are just too damn worky.  I should know; I made them once or twice and have vowed never again to put myself through it again.

Both of these Won't Bakes are cookies, and they are fussy cookies, which I detest greatly.  Cookies should be simple and delicious, not tedious and busy.  Look at the top three favourite homemade cookies, chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal.  Are they labor intensive and nitpicky? No. But the two cooky recipes I have sworn off forever are:  date nut pinwheels and cream cheese kolachi (some may know it as kolacky, the little cookies with the corners folded in).  Both of these recipes made me want to slap someone. Were the cookies good once they were done?  Oh my, yes.  They were fantastic.  Were they worth the stress, frustration, profanity, and promises of revenge and retribution against the originators of the recipes?  I would say no.  (It must be said here that my sister Patti warned me off the date nut pinwheels in the most strenuous of terms.  I should have listened.  She is my rock, and she has never, ever led me astray.)

MsC. says she won't cook liver because she abhors it.  I love liver, absolutely love it.  But I don't cook it because I am the only one who would eat it.  I have a few sadnesses like that--liver, beets, heavy garlic, all things Rick does not care for.  I could eat vegetarian far more often than we do, but the man needs meat.  It's all a compromise, but that's an idea for yet another post.

I look forward to your comments and your Don't/Won't items in the Usual Place.

two choices
dead salmon
seal eating

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's Not That Easy Being Meme, And So I Offer An Alternative And A Challenge Of Sorts

Do all of you, Dearest Readers, recall November last when I vowed to post a Helpful Christmas Strategy per day in order to accomplish two things:  1.  To help you enjoy a Less Stressful Holiday, and 2.  To urge me to post more often?  I so hope that you do.

I've been feeling slothful and Winter Weary overmuch these days, and in order to help me break out of the doldrums, I'm going to do something similar.  MsCaroline at AsiaVu has asked me to do a meme consisting of eleven questions.  I propose to answer those questions (and a couple others from her site) and use each one as a springboard of sorts for a fully developed blogpost and, further, I will post every day beginning today and continuing through March 31st.

Obviously, I'm going to run out of material before March is over, so please forward any interesting questions my way via comments or my email link, provided in my sidebar.  If you want to take up the challenge as well, please do!  Here is the link to MsCaroline's spot to get you started.  (I hope you don't mind my customization, MsC.  Think of it as getting a little more bang for your buck, as they say, and savouring it longer.)

Without any further ado, here is the first question:

What is the view from the window of the room where you are currently sitting?

I can actually see out of three windows in my teeny tiny house from my big leather armchair in the corner of the living room.  I open the drapes in the bedroom every morning to let in the light so that Piper doesn't hibernate in there, so I can see a bit of the garage door at the back of the house.

If I look to my right, which is west, I stare straight at the neighbor's house.  A while back they painted it a sort of creamy beige, yellowish colour with lilac trim.  When that lilac went on, I almost choked.  Not because it was lavender, per se, but because it had no business being anyplace near the other colour.  If the rest of the house had been painted, say, grey or white, then by all means, slap on that lilac.  But this house is just a study in poor colour matching.  Anyway, I can see both colours (urg) as well as the red brick chimney in an off-putting trio of sadness.  Luckily, this is the window where I stuck the kittens' bird feeder, so I can see that and any sparrows, juncos, chickadees, and the occasional cardinal that stop for a quick bite.

To my more immediate right are the front windows of my little house.  Through them I can see my Japanese maple, which we planted on the western front corner of the house when we finally landscaped after we moved in.  We moved in here when Jared was a wee thing, only three months old.  Beyond that, I can see down the street right to Sam and Jared's best babysitter's house, Joann's.  Sam used to call her Nanny.  They adore each other to this day, and she has known him since he was three months old.  He used to call Joann and her husband and three teenagers "my other family."  He had a pet fish there, a bike there, and went everywhere with them.  She was a blessing to us--really, the whole family was.  We were so fortunate to have found them all, and right down the street!

Once, when Sam was about five, he had a little red plastic heart box.  He's always been a saver of things, little doodads that have some sort of meaning to him.  Joann told me one day that he came up to her with his heart box and put it on her lap and said, "Here, Joann, I want you to have my heart."  She said oh, no, that she couldn't take it, but Sam assured her that he wanted her to have it.  "I've been keeping it," Joann said, "and on his wedding day, I'm going to give it to his new wife.  I'm going to tell her that when he was very little, Sam gave me his heart.  I've been taking good care of it all along, and that now it's her turn."  Her eyes were very shiny but...proud.  Happy, yes, but proud.

There are so many stories in my small neighborhood, yet I know so few of the people.  Lots of the Old Guard have moved, and there are several houses for sale--all the time, it seems.  When I go for a walk, I look at the homes and wonder, and more than once I think of that song by the Beatles, "Eleanor Rigby."   More than ever, I think of Thoreau's mournful quote, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."  More succinctly--and still my favourite--"There are no ordinary lives" (Ken Burns).


Thursday, February 20, 2014

I May Be Older Than Dirt, But At Least My Hair Looks Good And My Wine Cellar Is Stocked

Testing,, two, three.  Is this thing on?  Anyone out there?  Anyone at all?  Hello? If even one of you wanders over and hangs around to read for a moment, pretty soon another one will join you, then a crowd will form, and then--even though I've been lousy about writing--I might get my readers back.

Let's start with a brief update to some topics I discussed in earlier posts. Even though I'd like to think that my bitching and inherent intelligence wins out in all cases, the truth is more often that Fate intervenes, and my Tragedies wind up resolved in some way.  If it's not a case of conflict or tragedy, it's merely a follow-up or related story.

Remember my lamentations regarding Fructis Hi Rise Root Lifter?  Well, the fine people over at Garnier can bite me.  First they discontinue my go-to hair gel and replace it with some lousy tree sap derivative, then they get rid of my FHRRL.  As I mentioned previously, rather than be a ranting snotface about it, I merely wandered into My New LuvStore, Sally Beauty Supply, and was recommended this stuff in the picture.  It is wonderful and fantastic and makes me say, "Fructis you, Garnier."  And the price is better, too.

My countertops are in, and if asked to describe them in one word, that word would be WHITE.  SO.  WHITE.  WHITE WHITENESS.  It's a big change from the red, and I have to get used to it.  The veining is a little more noticeable on a large slab, and I keep feeling like I have to wipe the counters until I remember that what I'm seeing is the stone and not marks on the counter.  Now I'm just anxious for the floor to get done so I can have it complete.  We've decided to tile above the backsplash, white with just a few random red and black tiles.

Want to feel your age?  Go to San Francisco.  I just got back from spending a long weekend there with dear friend and reader Mikey, and I was the single most elderly person in the entire city.  Without question.  No matter where we went. I mean it; I was conspicuous in my elderliness.  At 54!  Thankfully, I was able to meet up with Julie for a day and even though she is several (6) important years younger than me, at least I felt not quite so dried out and ready for the grave.  I am old enough to be Mikey's mom, but in San Francisco, they banish everyone who is forty and older.  You have to be a twenty- or thirty-something, tech-savvy, and willing to walk eleventy miles in order to get from your car, which is parked on the side of a neighborhood street, to any event or restaurant or venue you wish to attend.  Parking lots are anathema to San Franciscans.  Ha!  Pretty soon, once a few visit Ohio, they will want our water and our nice, big, adjacent parking lots!

Or maybe not.  This is what was waiting for me outside my airbus window as we circled Cleveland to land.  Oh.  Yay.  More snow.  It snowed like hell overnight, and my little suburb got about another six inches.  There is a foot of snow on the ground at my house.  There is a warming trend right now--we are in the low to mid forties for a few days.  Then, another polar vortex is breaking away and visiting again.  Sigh.  I didn't feel as resentful and angry or frustrated or even sad like I thought I would when I got back home and back to Winter again. From Friday until Tuesday evening, I had worn blazers and a light raincoat, and hadn't even gotten a bit of the typical San Francisco misty weather. I had seen two kinds of palm trees and even some azaleas flowering.  The magnolias and tulip trees were blooming.  And Ohio?  Certainly nothing like any of that.  But in spite of all of that, once at home, I felt rejuvenated and grateful.  I had escaped Winter, if only for a few days.  I was luckier than Rick, and luckier than most.

Wine seemed the best souvenir, so I shipped about a case home while we visited Sonoma.  Especially intriguing was a brut, a sparkly fizzy treat made with the usual chardonnay grapes but also some pinot noir, too.  The pinot didn't add any color at all, but lent the wine a beautiful round, lush character that normal bruts don't have.  California zins can't be beat, either, so several bottles of that got shipped, too.  And the Sonoma winemakers are adding Malbec to their Meritage blend, which makes it robust and bold, giving it an almost amarone richness.  That's on its way, along with a nice grenache for anytime sipping.  Probably something else too, but I can't really remember.  I simply tasted, made notes, then arranged for shipping and moved on.

Finally, Ms. Caroline from over at AsiaVu has invited me to participate in a meme.  Every time I hear the word "meme", I think of this:

Anyway, as so many of you know, I rarely do memes, but when I make the exception, I tweak and customize.  That will be my next offering, and it will be soon.

Thanks for hanging around!

image credits:

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

It Happened One Night: I Reach A Milestone In My Development

I may, finally and at long last, be Growing Up.

Look, I'm sorry to drop that on you without any sort of skid-greasing or fluffing-up, but with things like this, I feel it's better to do it with all alacrity and speed.  Like removing a Bandaid--real quick, all in one motion, right off.  You go ahead, however, and take as much time as you need.  There, there.

(And don't let the fact that I'm writing this while wearing my adult-sized blanket sleeper change this New Reality.  I forgot to do my laundry, and all my grown-up pajamas were in that load.  When I finally remembered to put it in the washer/dryer, it was awfully late to go down to the freezing cold basement to retrieve it.  I was actually being quite Maturely Resourceful when I put on my footie pj's.)

But I digress.

Several clues led me to the conclusion that I was truly Growing Up.  The Major one involved this:

This is my kitchen.  Or, I should say, it was my kitchen.  Not anymore.  Rick and I discovered quite some time ago that the red and white tiles were damaged.  Some were cracked and some had deep pits and dents in them, mostly near the counter where you see the round cutting board, in front of the sink, and across from there in front of the stove.  The culprits were my high heels, which I wore for thirty years in that kitchen, coming home from school and immediately prepping for dinner, starting something in the oven or on the stovetop.  The red laminate countertop is faded and dulled in spots where we tried several different potions to take out wine stains, permanent marker, and various skidmarks made by dragging small appliances across it.  When the kitchen was first complete, St. Patsy walked in and covered her eyes.  "Oh, Nance!" she exclaimed.  "How in the world can you cook in here with all this red?"

My kitchen now looks like a war zone, and those of you who have had kitchen remods can sympathize.  I'm not going into details except to say that some strange Grownup Nance took over and said, "I'd like to go all the way down to the original hardwood floors in here.  I don't care if they're not perfect.  I want a sort of rustic, homey, farm kitchen kind of look."  And so we are.  We have to wait until March for the floor guy we want, and at present the floor looks like this:

but it's okay.  That's solid oak, and in March it will be lovely.  Most of what you see will be sanded and buffed away.  Any imperfections left will add character and warmth.  My house was built in the late twenties or early thirties.  That floor has earned its marks.

Our other improvement would be new countertops.  This was a real heart-tugger for me because if I gave up my red on the floor, I couldn't bear to give it up on the countertops.  As it happened, our choice of stone for the job did come in a true red.  I was so torn.  We left the showroom having given instructions to the salesman to figure the cost for both the red and a simple white with a subtle vein of very light grey.  We stopped for dinner on the way home, and over sandwiches and drinks in the bar (the warmest spot in the place), we discussed our options.  (I had fish tacos, by the way, but the menu allowed a no-upcharge sub of shrimp for fish. How lovely and sensible.  I told someone else this, and she asked me why I didn't like fish.  "And don't say 'because it tastes fishy'," she said to me.  "What do you expect fish to taste like?"  It's not that I don't expect it to taste like fish.  The taste of fish is precisely what I don't like.  If bananas tasted fishy, I wouldn't like them, either! Most people hate liver.  Why? Because of its taste.  Just because they don't say, 'because it tastes livery' doesn't get them off the hook, metaphorically speaking.)

But I digress.

Anyway, we talked about the countertops, and Rick maintained that I should get what I wanted, meaning the red.  Strange Grownup Nance (who didn't complain that her martini olive was alone and without a toothpick) said, "But red is awfully specific.  It's going to detract from the saleability of our house.  Even if we don't sell until ten years from now, some potential buyers might look at that red and be very put off.  I can still have my red drawer and cabinet pulls and use red as an accent.  The white will brighten up the kitchen.  It will be okay."  So the new white countertops are being installed in a couple of weeks.  I am surprisingly okay with it.

You know, I can remember when the boys were much, much younger and the days were full and going by at breakneck speed.  I was teaching and stressed; Rick was working at a job where his day consisted of doing nothing but solving problems and soothing clients and putting out metaphorical fires.  There were times when he or I would turn to the other and say, "Please--can you be the grownup today?  I just cannot do it."  Thank goodness one of us would suck it up and put on the Grownup Pants and get through it.

Being The Grownup is Hard!  That's why it has taken me so long to become one.  Oh sure, I have been a Pseudo-Grownup for years, but the difference between the two is this:  Resentment.  Once you can let go of resentment and a sort of over-arching need for Revenge, you are a Real Grownup.  Here are some recent examples:

Blizzard Conditions Forecast:  The Old Nance becomes incensed.  She crabs to everyone.  She does a blogpost about shitty Ohio weather.  Hurls profane tirades at all weather forecasters during their news segments.  New Grownup Nance:  Makes a run to the pie shop, drops off the ski band she knitted for her sister, keeps hydrated to stave off headaches, plans pork roast for Sunday.

Garnier Fructis Discontinues Another Product:  As I predicted back in August, Garnier has discontinued its HiRise Root Lifter spray, a hairstyling product I adored and used daily.  The Old Nance would have written a lengthy missive to Garnier/L'Oreal.  In it would be statistics regarding the popularity of voluminous hairstyles, blowouts, and women who want thicker, fuller hair.  It would also include the market share growth, or lack thereof, of Garnier since they discontinued the various Body Boost products I loved.  I would also have immediately driven to every store in a 10-mile radius to hopefully buy any remaining product.  New Grownup Nance:  I went to Sally Beauty Supply and asked for a similar product that has been popular with local customers.

My Fantasy Basketball Team Sucks:  Due to being in the championship last year, my team (renamed The PuppyCats) had a lousy draft and is plagued by injury.  I am currently holding down 6th place...out of  ten teams.  Ugh.  Old Nance would be researching players, jiggering lineups, wheedling trades, and grumping around like a troll.  New Grownup Nance is Waiting For Next Year.

I'm not embarrassed to say that I am a Slow Learner in the area of Growing Up.  Some of us acquire grace later in life, when we have more time to recognize the need.  Some of us needed to be able to focus on our own development, not on others'.  And still others of us finally took a look around and found a few people who showed us a thing or two.  Or more.  Better late than never, right?

So, what about you Grownups or GrowingUps?  How's that going for you?  Or, at the very least, what do you think of my kitchen plans?

(Oh, and the pies were one large pecan, and two "personal" pies, a lemon and a coconut cream.  We're well-stocked for winter weather now!)

image here
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