Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mother Nature's Having Cold Flashes!

When my wife and I booked our Dominican Republic beach vacation for May, I thought we had really missed the boat on timing. Of course, a beach vacation is wonderful any time of year. But, somehow, running off to the tropics when it seems like you should be hiring a tauntaun just to get to the grocery is so much more exciting than going the very week every lilac bush within a 50-mile radius is blooming lavishly. I mean, who wants to escape lilacs?

To make matters less dramatic still, the day before we left for the D.R., it was hot. Not quite "quick, turn on the AC" hot, yet, but still, hot. Nonetheless, we completely loved our time in the sun and water. We spent our mornings bobbing in the ocean (Jeannene with snorkel equipment) and our afternoons making the circuit of the pool, books in hand, between pauses for handstands and giggling. Sometimes, we dragged one another around the pool by the feet while the other laid back and read. We were profoundly grateful to have an air conditioned hotel room where we could de-sticky-fy when we'd been away from the water too long.

When we came back to Hoth---erm, Michigan---it actually felt like we had leapt nearly directly into summer, even though we'd had reports that it was 32 degrees (yes, fahrenheit) over the weekend. I thought, "Oh, man, just one week of spring and I missed it!"

Monday confirmed my conviction that summer had arrived. While I like to wait until June to turn on the air, I contemplated an early switch flip. I had the windows open all day and the cats were delighted at the breezes, when they came. They spent most of the time flopped on hard, smooth surfaces in an attempt to get cool, though. I positively swooned over the fully leafed-out maple tree all day.

Even better proof that summer had arrived was the emergence of the backyard neighbor kids from their home in swimsuits. Their babysitter, amid much ecstatic dancing and chattering on the part of the kids, hooked up a bright orange sprinkler hose and ran it down the hill toward our yard. The kids were all a-twitter with excitement. I watched with delight as the kids joyfully and exuberantly leapt, spun, and twisted through the sprinkler and landed among the field of tall wishes (in the form of dandelions gone to seed) between our yards. It was splendid!

We went to bed debating whether we should assist the house in cooling itself. We slept with windows flung wide and sheet and light quilt tossed aside. We wrestled off the odd cat who, crazily, thought it was a good idea to sleep fur to skin. I didn't quite pant, but I did wonder if I would ever sleep.

Yesterday morning, though, we awoke with our quilt clutched close and a bedful of chilly kitty cats. The air had turned brisk overnight and socks and a hoodie were required of me on my errands. I left the bedroom windows open while I worked downstairs, but the kitchen door and living room windows remained firmly shut.

When Jeannene returned from work and I popped upstairs before we went to dinner, I felt the frigid bedroom air and knew those windows had to be closed before she got anywhere near the bedroom! I'd re-opened them after my errands so the room wouldn't get hot, which appeared to be a tactical error. It got into the 30s last night. She was still chilly at bedtime, so we returned the down comforter to the bed, tucked a heating pad in with her, and encouraged cat cuddling.

It certainly doesn't seem right that the outdoor pool is opening this weekend, but hey, at least there's no snow!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Spring Revival

May is one of my favorite months (October running right alongside). Everything is fresh and new in May---tiny little leaves beginning to unfurl on trees, green grass growing, baby animals in fields and baby birds in nests, and dandelions starting to pop up on lawns. This seems a good time of year to revive this blog, as well.

I've been busy this week with two main activities. We have a vacation to the Dominican Republic coming up, so I've been preparing for that. Along with information, I've been gathering bug spray, sunscreen, swim shoes, frivolous paperback novels, and other necessary items for beach relaxation.

My other big flurry of activity is working on figuring out how to finance our adoption. While we haven't yet been matched with a woman who wants to create a family plan for her baby, there is, nonetheless, much work to be done. I am looking at some job options, as well as thinking of fundraising ideas. Adoption certainly isn't cheap, but it's well worth the costs.

I also continue to plug away at my writing, this week spending time with the inhabitants of Fox Hollow, Tennessee, a small, fictional community outside Nashville. It's fun (and sometimes alarming) to see where life takes them. Much of my work is done at my kitchen table, with a cat or two basking nearby. They've really been loving the sunshine and open kitchen door.

I've been enjoying the view of the birds who come to graze on our feeders, goldfinches, mourning doves, cardinals, woodpeckers, and sparrows. Either the juncos look different in spring than in winter or they have taken off for parts unknown. Every once in awhile, I'll see a blue jay out there, harassing the other birds.

Also enjoyable beyond the screen door is a glorious green patch of grass. This morning, it was studded with hundreds of dandelions, a wonderful sea of brightness even on rainy days like we had at the start of the week. This morning, when I first ventured downstairs, I was greeted by the sight of our neighbors' tiny little girl playing frisbee with her big brother, who was burdened with a backpack and anticipation of the school bus.

I was disappointed when I saw the mowers arrive. Their first visit this season felled nearly all the dandelions. I know they're considered a weed, but their countenances are so cheery that they register as flowers. Besides this, the bees really need them! So, I hate to see them mowed down. Better that than poisoned, though, for I know they'll return, probably with renewed vigor.

I heard news this week that my 1st & 2nd grade teacher died. She was a wonderful, warm, intelligent woman who truly enjoyed us children. She shepherded us back and forth from our alternative school to the affiliated college for gym and swimming each week. In the warm months, one of my classmates would always insist on stomping the dandelions as we walked. Bev would say, gently and cheerfully (even though she had to repeat it over and over), "Don't step on the sunshine!" Today, I thought, when the mower's engine started, "Don't mow down all the sunshine!" Luckily, there's plenty of the real thing to sustain me until the floral version reappears.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Aggravation---and Learning To Drop It

Maybe it's just me, but I am finding myself irked frequently yesterday & today. I am thinking I need to resume my 3 Cs wristband challenge, in which I have to switch my wristband to the other wrist every time I criticize, condemn, or complain.

Last night, when I was making my first recipe in the La Luna Cooks Mrs. Yoder project, wheat oatmeal bread, and forgot to halve the water amount, resulting in unworkably sticky dough & the need to add the rest of the originally-called-for-amounts of everything, I was terribly annoyed with myself for forgetting. However, the bread turned out nicely and I had enough to eat at home, send to work with Jeannene, and give to the neighbors. So, it was silly to be irked. It also taught me a good trick, suggested by my clever wife---write in the half amounts next to the whole amounts before beginning the actual cooking! Aha!

Today, when I was driving to the gym, and again driving home, I was horribly impatient with the other drivers around me. "Go! Go! Go! What are you DOING??? The light's greeeeeeeeeeen!!!" This morning, it was completely my fault I didn't start as early as I liked, completely my fault I lay in bed too long talking myself into going, completely my fault I stayed up reading until 1:30 this morning and thus had to talk myself into getting up & going to the gym. Not their fault & they were only driving normally, not going super slowly just to hinder my progress. At least I seem to have learned, for the most part, not to call other drivers idiots or worse. Maybe if I slip my wristband back on, I can learn to be chill when I am moving slowly. Pity the gym's not in the opposite direction as the traffic, but it isn't, I know it, and I might as well just relax & listen to the world news. Wait, that's not relaxing! How about if I use the trick of the Greyhound driver my mom encountered on the Charleston, WV, to Nashville route all those years ago? When someone cut him off or otherwise performed a jerk traffic move (either out of inconsiderateness or, more likely, just not paying as much attention as they could), he would say something like, "Careful, sweetie" or "Ease back a little, honey." Perhaps another "My religion is lovingkindness" bumper sticker would be a good practice aid, as well. I miss that sticker.

In the pool, I felt terribly snarky about a woman who entered the pool after me, chose a spot right next to me (cramming me close to the wall), & proceeded to tell me that she had to be somewhere afterward & didn't want to get her hair wet. She asked that I refrain from splashing her, saying, "You know, like Sea World. This can be the no-splash zone." Well, I didn't deliberately splash her, but I sure was tempted & I definitely would have enjoyed seeing her soaked & resembling a drowned rat. Isn't that mean? I told her I could sure try, then proceeded to do my workout as I normally would. It's a water workout. You can't expect not to get wet. However, my irritation with her arrogant request took me into some pretty mean thoughts and I try really hard not to be mean, even in my thinking. I am probably too compliant, but when a friend said she'd pray for the woman, I thought, "What a better response." Although, it was pretty funny to write about the ridiculousness of it on Facebook & composing my post while I bristled in the pool allowed me to relax into my workout instead of allowing her demand to ruin my morning. I also think a lot of times, the best we flawed humans can demand of ourselves is outward kindness. Even then, it can take an extra measure of grace to act that way.

Then, dealing with our property management company set me back into growly mode, as it usually does. Their communication is terrible, both with us and within the company. I can speak to two different people and get two completely different answers on just about any matter. Further, they seldom seem to want to go to any effort to fix a problem. However, today, I was given permission for something I've been asking about since January, so that's a great thing.

And that's the trick. It's looking for the great things, instead of focusing on the annoying things. It's recognizing that I am capable of fixing a baking mistake & producing yummy bread. It's grinning as I remember the old man who let me into the flow of traffic as I waited and waited. It's appreciating the woman in my water workout class who helped me figure out one of the moves when I couldn't understand what the instructor was saying. It's delighting in the wee, tiny boy in the gym's café who was sharing with me his enthusiasm for the construction equipment outside. It's the thrill of sneaking across the street to leave a surprise loaf of bread on Beth's door. It's anticipating with great joy the tea date I have with my mom for this afternoon. This, friends, is why I strongly advocate the practice of gratitude journaling. At the end of the night, I remember the bright, shining spots of the day and give thanks, instead of allowing the (pretty dang insignificant) clouds to blot out the light. It's a much better way to live.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

From Alpacas To Zanesville (Or, Rather, To Zanesville For Alpacas)

When Pie and his girlfriend, Bubbles, decided to move closer to us, it necessarily involved helping them move. In order to make it more fun for the grown folks, my sweet wife booked us into a bed & breakfast in the country outside Zanesville, where the kids' old apartment was. They were to spend the weekend packing, cleaning, & loading the truck while we had a weekend of relaxation, her first days off in over a month. We figured we were handling the finances, they could handle the physicals (although, when it came down to Monday morning & there were still things to be loaded, Jeannene pitched in, as well).

The B&B, Spring Acres, is way out in the country and the idiosyncrasies of my GPS meant we had an interesting drive from the Detroit Metro Friday night. We made it about as far as Sandusky on main roads, but then Jack (my GPS) diverted us to wee backroads, including one twisty gravel road in the dark of night, with a large truck following us. My wife watches too much crime television and was busy planning what to do if the truck driver tried to run us off the road so he could kill us---she was going to tell me to drive right into a house. Me, I was hoping we didn't either run into a place where the road ended or break down. Well, scenes from "Criminal Minds" did occasionally play across my mind's screen, too, to be honest, especially with the truck so close behind on such funky little roads. I was also a little worried whether the innkeeper would have an issue with wives instead of a wife & husband, given the general conservative bent of much of that region. However, Jack delivered us, shortly after midnight, into the welcoming arms of Spring Acres, where Sherry greeted us with a smile and a (fairly petite) bed. I was instantly charmed by the alpacas, rendered in metal, on the main gate. You see, the B&B is part of a compound that also includes an alpaca farm.  

We fell into a dead sleep and, in the morning, were treated to a delicious omelet made with fresh eggs from the Spring Acres hens, peppers from the garden, & cheddar. There were also beautiful sliced tomatoes picked that morning, home fries, fresh fruit (the blueberries, which I've only recently started to like, were heaven!), fresh-baked banana bread, and from-scratch biscuits. It's no wonder I gained weight over the weekend! After breakfast, we ran into town to fetch the U-Haul & check on the kids' progress. Both were fraught with anxiety, but especially the U-Haul. The guy warned Jeannene sternly not to get stuck under a particular overpass and gave her directions verbally to avoid such a horror. The key words in the story are, "gave her directions verbally" because she is utterly directionally impaired. She promptly turned the wrong direction and drove around hopelessly for a bit. I, following in the Bug, had no idea she didn't know where she was going until I got a frantic phone call from her saying she couldn't get to their apartment. Luckily, I was able to lead us back to the U-Haul, where I went in and wrote down the directions. Poor Jeannene. She's good at so much, but directions are not one of those things.

After the moving truck was safely delivered, we popped in at a wee Amish grocery on the way back to the B&B. It was a treasure trove of cool bulk items, flavorings I don't often find on my usual rounds (including butter flavor, which I've seen recommended in recipes but have never seen on shelves before), scrumptious deli items, and lovely produce. We also got to see 5 adorable, tow-headed Amish children with cornflower blue eyes, shopping with their red-headed papa. They stood barefoot in the aisles, reminding me of my childhood summers running around barefoot in Yellow Springs. I think they were as fascinated by us as we were by them.

In the afternoon, we meandered down to the lake, by way of the alpaca barns, where we stood and gawked at the cuteness. A couple of the babies looked quite curious about us and almost allowed themselves to come over and check us out. On the way back, we stopped in the little alpaca shop, where I found a lovely brown scarf with hot pink decorations and no price tag and a grey plaid blanket I'd have loved to pick up for my winter couch. We decided to return again before the end of our stay. Once back at the B&B, we hung out and looked at the Amish cookbook we'd picked up. I said, casually, that it would be fun to work our way through the cookbook recipe by recipe, á la Julie & Julia. Jeannene was quite taken with the idea (I think she was really taken with the idea that I would make all this homey food for her) & so we are going forth. You can follow that on my other blog, at lunacooks.blogspot.com. I knew the Amish were known for their fabulous pies. What I hadn't realized was that something like 80% of the recipes in the book would delight the sweet of tooth. Candy, cake, sweet rolls, cookies, pies. I also didn't realize how much processed food the recipes would include. Velveeta reigns supreme. There is very little butter called for, with oleo being in just about every recipe. Jell-o and instant pudding are fixtures and Nestle Quik is featured in many recipes in lieu of cocoa powder. I've never seen anything like it, even in church cookbooks from the 1960s. I expect to be sharing the bounty quite a bit, as we cannot possibly eat even a quarter of the foods on offer.

In the evening, we drove into town to check on the kids again and deliver dinner. Pie had tried to weasel Jeannene into taking them to lunch, with very little work actually finished. She had promised them an alpaca viewing and dinner on Sunday if they got lots of work done Saturday. But we're not utterly heartless, so we took them hot dogs & BBQ from Whitt's, along with a quart of raspberry frozen custard. It being our 12 year and 8 month monthiversary of our first (illegal) wedding, we went out for something a little fancier at Muddy Miser's on the river. Luckily, they had patio seating available and we enjoyed a splendid appetizer of warm summer tomato bruschetta with gorgonzola, followed by filet mignon. Dessert came when we returned to the B&B and were served some of the best carrot cake I've ever had the pleasure to eat. Zucchini was the secret star ingredient. We visited with the other guests, a couple celebrating their 41st anniversary, then excused ourselves to bed, relieved that we didn't have to stay up all night with the woman. He seemed quite lovely, but she was the sort of person who can top any story, and always does, whether the other person is finished talking or not. I do try not to be mean, but she was simply exhausting.

Sunday morning, we were given scrambled eggs with homemade sausage and more beautiful fruit. There were biscuits and banana bread aplenty, as well, although I chose one this time, instead of a little of each! We'd planned a picnic, but the rain came down in a steady drizzle, with occasional livelier outbursts, all day, so instead we stayed in with a deck of Uno cards. It had been a long time since we'd had such a lazy day and it was sheer delight. When lunchtime rolled around, Sherry brought our picnic to us in the living room while we played---how spoiled are we? She'd made fabulous Dagwood sandwiches, accompanied by baked Ruffles & honeydew melon. Once Jeannene had beaten me soundly at Uno (much to her satisfaction---and she could not believe I wasn't perturbed in the least), we took up a book of trivia and created our own hybrid trivia/truth or dare game. What fun that was! We also popped down to the shop to purchase our chosen alpaca items. However, the shopkeeper was so utterly consumed by the loquacious lady that we, after waiting around for 15 minutes or so, gave up and returned to our cards. We'd overheard the conversation, with the woman repeatedly interrupting the shopkeeper's explanation of how they make the products with her knowledge of weaving and her stories about watching someone finger-weaving & picking it up in 3 days without formal instruction. We are not nearly as nice as we should be & returned to the inn snickering about all the things she is surely better at than other people. "Oh, you had hernia surgery? Well, I took out my own hernia and hand-crocheted the binder I wore during recovery." Pure meanness, but funny, nonetheless.

As the afternoon began to wind down into evening, we picked up the kids and took them to see the alpacas. Because it was raining and it seemed unlikely that the alpacas would come any closer than they had the day before, I stayed in the car. Had I known what they got up to while I was immersed in my book (a very good one called What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman), I would certainly have gotten out & joined them, as they got to pet a wee baby alpaca. Ah, well, my own fault for not wanting to get wet. After, we headed into town for dinner at Adornetto's, an Italian place none of us had been before. Jeannene and I, not yet fully hungry after our picnic, shared a plate of spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs. The pasta was tremendous, clearly made on the premises and cooked perfectly al dente. I hope we can find such a place near us. After dinner, we dropped them back to their work and figured out a route which would get us out of town without going anywhere near the Dread Underpass.

Monday, we got the kids' belongings completely loaded and hit the road for their new home, 6 hours away. I led the caravan, concerned that I would somehow lead us onto a road too narrow for the truck or a bridge too low or that I would lose someone along the way. Bubbles & Jeannene both kept up admirably, nobody got lost, and if Pie had a panic attack driving through the pouring rain, I never heard about it. Usually, he makes Bubbles pull over if the rain gets hard, but they stuck right with us. I was a smidge nervous, as the pelting rain struck right when we were at the spot which had been completely flooded last month, stranding motorists and destroying basements. We managed to get through without hydroplaning or getting bogged down in water and the sun came out in time for the unloading of the truck. With the truck unloaded, the kids happily ensconced in their new home, and the U-Haul dropped off, we went for pizza and beer, that most traditional of moving meals, a fitting end to Labor Day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Some Thoughts on Housekeeping, Kindness, and Variation

This morning, I was looking at my kitchen in despair. I was thinking about all the boxes of Christmas decorations I've not yet carried down to the basement. I was measuring up all the boxes from our move that I haven't yet unpacked against those I have. I was stunned and overwhelmed by the sheer mass of plastic bags that engulf our laundry room, despite my frequently remembering to request paper. I was trying to figure out how everyone else's garage floor stays clean. Yes, everyone else on the planet surely has a cleaner garage floor than I do. I was wrinkling my nose at the horrid smell lingering in my car because I forgot my Indian leftovers in there too long & the smell, apparently, lives long after the actual food has been removed, even when everything is frozen. I was feeling horrified at all that needs to be done in the house before we leave for our wedding trip and our cat sitter comes into our home. In short, I was thinking of all my housecleaning and organizational failures and excoriating myself for not being a better housekeeper, for not being more organized, for not being the kind of woman who, like my friend Connie (who happens also to be our cat sitter), meets a challenge and tackles it right away, diving into closet-building & room-painting after moving in, rather than looking at all the boxes and imperfections and walking into another room to settle in to write or read or socialize online or cook or---well, do anything but something about it. I was knocking myself for not being the sort of person who goes out and clears the driveway, for being the sort of person who hires someone to mow the lawn and weed the beds. I was mad at myself because my house has never been and probably never will be the sort of home which is always company-ready. I was scolding myself, saying, "Well, if you're not going to be a proper housewife, then you should at least be 3/4 of the way finished with your novel and already have a book deal." Oh, I was really letting my mind monkeys chatter and chatter. And, let me tell you, even now, I am castigating myself for writing about this rather than cleaning house or going to Lowe's to get materials for bookshelves or something else useful and yet, here I sit at the keyboard.

We all have those tapes running in our heads. Those inner critics, telling us we will never be enough. For some of us, it's the dad who will never let us think we are good enough, even when we've become  VP of Finance by the time we're 35. For others, it's the art school friends who think we've sold out when we take a commercial job that actually puts food on the table. Or it's the pastor telling us we are not godly because of who we love when all we wanted was some relationship guidance from someone we thought we could trust. Or it's a best friend who has always criticized our clothing choices and made us feel less-than. Or a co-worker who always talks about how crazy people are and how when he makes house calls, it's amazing what hoarders those people are, while we wonder what he would think if he could see our house and whether he tells other people we are mentally unstable. Or a brother who doesn't think we have the right to complain about our kids ever because we have three healthy kids while his wife miscarried. Or a music teacher who told us in no uncertain terms that we should just mouth the words at the winter concert, thus shutting down our very own singing voices ever after, no matter how much we love to sing. Or the guidance counselor who had such a narrow view of what success is that very few of us could fit within its confines. Or the Conference that won't ordain us if we don't affirm the doctrine they expect to hear, in the way they expect to hear it. Or the bully on the playground telling us we're weak and not worthy of companionship. Or the wife telling us we'll never measure up to her college boyfriend, who apparently hung the moon but never did it while holding a full-time job and helping raise children. Or the television shows that make it quite clear that people like us who have disabilities aren't really contributing members of society with our own value and worth. Or the commercials that prepared us for being grown women by talking about how a good wife never lets her husband suffer ring around the collar or her children play on a less-than-spotless floor. Or the magazines that tell us men must be well-muscled and rich while women should be slim and compliant. Or the fashion designers who would never risk their reputations by designing for fat people because it would ruin the look of their clothing to have people shaped like us wearing it. My tapes were running rampant and at full volume this morning and I was shoulding all over myself.

And then I thought. I thought, "Hey, I do some stuff. And I don't think badly of people who don't do that stuff. If someone doesn't cook, I don't assume it makes them inferior. If someone would rather go hiking than curl up with a book, I don't assume there's something wrong with them or they are intellectually lazy. If someone hates to write and would rather solve math problems or do science experiments, I don't think it reflects badly on their character. If someone would rather do just about anything than make an art piece, I don't scorn them. If someone has never worn a tiara in her life, I don't think she should just try harder to be a tiara-wearing kind of person."

So, let's knock it off. All of us. Let's start just being who we are. Let's be kinder to ourselves and quicker to notice our talents and special qualities than our shortcomings. And, above all, let's stop judging ourselves based on someone else's idea of what's right, what's normal, what's useful and good. Let's not apologize for bringing food from the market or a fast food joint to the potluck. Let's not spend all day cleaning before a party and then apologize for how messy our house is. Let's not avoid bible study because we are afraid we'll look ignorant. Let's not stay away from social contact when we're depressed or just pretend everything is okay when it's not. Let's not pretend we only like to read complex literary fiction or watch art house films when sometimes, we'd honestly really rather curl up with a James Patterson thriller or enjoy our popcorn to the latest superhero film. If we hate socializing, well, it's fine to stay in on Saturday night & enjoy our very own company. If church is not the place we find spiritually nourishing, it's okay to connect with Spirit in other ways. If coffee tastes like sludge from hell to us, why not just say we'd rather have a grape slushie? If a drag show is a whole lot more fun to us than the ballet, that doesn't mean we have no culture. If we are childless by choice or choose to co-sleep and nurse until the child decides he/she is ready or want to vaccinate our kids and put them on a feeding schedule or allow our boys to wear princess dresses or encourage our girls when they want to join the Army even though we brought them up to be pacifists or have a house without t.v. or let our kids watch all the Disney Channel they can stomach, let's let ourselves just be the kind of parent or not-parent we are. If our dogs are the only babies we need, well, by all means let's carry pics of them on our phones to show everyone. Let's stop with the guilt about not becoming the doctor or the activist or the musician or the teacher our parents wanted us to be. Let's stop worrying about whether we're doing it right and start enjoying the doing of it. Now. Today.

That said, let me excuse myself to continue getting the house more respectable-looking before we leave town.

J is for Journaling

We had a lovely, if chilly weekend, for our J date. Friday, I had lunch with a new friend, Connie, the wife of one of Jeannene's co-workers. The food, at a local Chinese & sushi place called Ming's that bills itself as having "the best Chinese food" in town, was not very good at all, but the proprietor kept our teapot filled and the conversation flowed for almost 4 hours. It's fun to have someone to hang out with right here in town. After she went off to pick up her husband, I came home to put on a pot of ham & bean soup and try to finish season 2 of Downton Abbey. I can't get over how lovely the interiors and the costumes are. The storyline is good, too, but the sumptuousness of the surroundings really nourishes my eyes. When the soup was nearly finished and Jeannene was home, I fixed some corn muffins to add to our supper. Friday's holiday was Muffin Day, so it was perfect. The soup turned out beautifully and Jeannene told me it was as good as her dad's, which is very high praise. Jeannene's dad was the cook in the family, a man who showed his love by feeding people. His Kentucky rearing showed in his food, too, and he was well-known for making Southern classics like biscuits and gravy superbly. His bean soup was renowned within the family, as well, so I was very proud for Jeannene to give me that compliment. My grandmom made terrific bean soup, too. When I was 21 or so, I set myself a goal of being at least as good a cook as her and my almost-grandma, Mary, by the time I was 40. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I believe I have hit my goal. I love to cook and I think I do it very well, for the most part. I credit much of that to having learned to read recipes for successful ones and not using ones that will turn out poorly.

That said, this past week, I managed to make dinners 2 nights in a row that Jeannene wouldn't eat, at least in part. The first night, she objected to the Asian flank steak. I wasn't terribly surprised, as she is not a big fan of Asian food in general and hoisin sauce in specific, but she had just used hoisin on our Super Bowl Cornish game hens, so I thought she'd begun to like it. She thought the marinade made the meat taste tainted. Me, I liked it. She also doesn't dig chorizo, especially the Spanish-style chorizo I simply adore. The next night's dinner was, admittedly, not my favorite. It wasn't horrendous, however. The recipe called for cheapo white bread and American cheese, both of which I like for grilled cheese sandwiches. However, I apparently don't love them for cheese-stuffed French toast and Jeannene objected, as well. I ate mine, but I would make it next time with some good, thick sourdough or challah and cheese like Cabot extra-sharp cheddar or a nice Gruyère. The recipe was from Woman's Day way back in 2000 and, not meaning to sound snobby, I often find that recipes from that magazine turn out not to be my favorites. When I was in my 20s and learning to cook, I found it very useful, but my tastes have evolved. Perhaps, too, their recipes have evolved since 2000. All this is to say that I was quite relieved to have made a dinner she found "fabulous!" I guess I show my love by feeding people, too.

Saturday morning, Jeannene returned the favor with a meal worthy of her dad, something, in fact, that I suspect he made often. I'd never had smoked pork chops before I met Jeannene, had never had them until this winter, in fact, when she picked some up at a smokehouse near the plant. To me, they're like ham elevated to a higher level. Not that ham itself isn't good and, if it's country ham, there is little better, especially if it's served with delicate little biscuits and you are at the Loveless Café in Nashville. But, I digress. Jeannene made smoked pork chops, eggs over-medium, and biscuits for our breakfast. It was delicious! In trying to eat healthier, I am going the route of smaller portions, less processed food, less salt, less sugar. Moderation. I am also learning only to eat what I really want, what is really worth it. That breakfast was worth it! After breakfast, we meandered over to the local coffee shop to sip a couple of lattes over books before our J date. This shop, Crates Coffee House, has only been open a few weeks. The owner is interested in making it a real community center and has created a wonderfully warm and lovely atmosphere. Having finished our drinks, we headed to the library for our J date. I like to keep the dates a surprise until we are actually there. When I turned onto the road for the library, Jeannene guessed that I wasn't just dropping off the audiobook of Neverwhere, but that our date was there. It was especially funny, then, that there was a big sign out front for a kids' movement class. The sign wasn't super-clear on it being a kids' event, though, and so Jeannene thought I was making her go to a dance class, jazz dance to be specific. I giggled like mad and was utterly delighted. She has been dragged by me to belly-dancing classes twice. Once was with our women's spirituality circle years ago and we both found it completely puzzling, although fun. The last time was on a women's retreat last winter. They'd planned to bring in a ballroom dance instructor who ended up not being available, so they did belly-dancing instead. We laughed so hard our faces hurt as we tried to do the complex motions. It was actually a grand time.

Once we entered the library, though, Jeannene realized it was a kids' dance thing and was vastly relieved I was only making her do art. Our library has all kinds of cool workshops. I was really mad at myself last month when we missed out on a found object necklace workshop because I neglected to register in time and the class filled. So, I had registered for the art journal workshop almost immediately so we would be able to do that. It just happened to work out well for our J date, too. We had a wonderful time creating pages for a journal and learning about some techniques, as well. One of my favorite ideas was to use a picture of a door as an actual, moveable door on the page. Jeannene made a door in hers of Citrucel-treated paper that looks really cool. I did not make moveable doors for this piece, but have noted the idea for the future. I also got to see, in person, the results of a packing tape image transfer and will be playing with that technique. The best idea I got, however, was that of creating books from empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls! I always hate the waste of them, but find the toilet paper rolls without cardboard unwieldy and hard to use, so I just chuck the tubes in the recycling bin. But the little books were so cool and would be so much fun to make! I bet people would like getting them as little gifties, too. Perhaps even little recipe collections? Illustrated. Wouldn't that be cool? I felt sorry, after the class, to hear Jeannene say that she would probably just throw hers away. I think hers is really cool, but she doesn't think she can do art, always says it looks like a kindergartener made it. Hell, what does she think a Pollock looks like? The main point is that we have fun making art. But also, we need to realize that we create differently. It doesn't mean we are better or worse, just that our style is different. In her family, though, her brother was always the artist and she was the writer. So, thus it must remain. She knows she's a kick-ass writer, at least.

After the workshop, we lingered in the library, choosing movies. Both Captain America and Thor were in, so we decided to make it Superhero Night! First, though, we headed into Oxford to pick up a gift for Pie's girlfriend. She'll be 21 next week. On our way to the shop, we spotted a local goods store, things produced in Michigan. Inside, lo and behold, there were postcards for sale! I have been looking high and low for postcards for the last couple of weeks and have not been able to find any. I'd been afraid that postcards might be going the way of the dodo, but there they were. Jeannene teased me for buying 20 on the spot. We were also able to order, from a wine shop, the Elektra moscato we've been looking for ever since we moved. We were both hungry, so we popped into a Mexican place she'd heard was good. It was, indeed. We split a chicken chimichanga, with a couple of gorditas on the side. I'd been tempted to order the carnitas, but they are so often lacking in flavor. I was glad Jeannene got a carnitas gordita because I was able to discover that this is the case here, as well. However, the shredded beef was stellar, juicy and flavorful. We also got tropical drinks, a Blue Hawaiian for her and a Sexo en la Playa for me, in hopes that they would chase all thoughts of winter away. Not so much luck with that. It's been such a miserable winter that I've begun to tag all of my Instagram snow pictures #livingonhoth. I am ready for the thrill of crocuses, for waking up to birdsong instead of snowblowers in the mornings, for heading outside on the spur of the moment without lacing up boots and shrugging into coats and wrapping a scarf around my neck and pulling on hat and gloves. It makes me tired just to write about it. Once home, we got a cozy fire going, snuggled under blankets on the couch, and watched our superhero movies.

Sunday morning, after staying up until nearly 3, we skipped church in favor of sleeping in. What luxury to be able to do that, after 3.5 years of being at the church, ready to help lead service, every Sunday by 8. We had a little breakfast and packed up our things for a long day at the coffee shop. Jeannene's got a big week coming and had a lot of work to do. I filled my bag with my computer, colored pencils, a coloring book, magazines, the Anne Rice novel I'm reading (The Wolves of Midwinter), postcards, gel pens...that is to say, all sorts of tools for fun! I happily sipped Earl Grey Lavender tea and wrote out postcards to Anke in Germany, Alexandra in Russia, Catherine in Belarus, Joona in Finland, and Coby in the Netherlands. I am delighted that Tyler hepped me to the fun of Postcrossing! I can't wait to start getting postcards from all over the world. It's fun to learn about the people, too. This one loves to cook, that one is a Harry Potter fan, the other one is only 9 years old and loves animals.
We'd gotten to the coffee shop right after the birthday party for the owner's grandma and it was very quiet after the mirth. I was honored that the owner's daughter, who is a tiny, blond 2-year-old whom I had not yet met, saw me and immediately broke into a large smile and raised her arms to be picked up. It's a shame my hands were full. Her father was apologetic, which just seemed all kinds of strange to me! Whyever would you apologize for having a lovely, friendly little girl?

Although I did not think it a good idea, given Jeannene's busy week upcoming, we took the time to drive out to the bookstore and Whole Foods before heading home. I'm glad we did because I was able to get the books for both my book groups. One is for the Uppity Book Women, Sarah Addison Allen's latest, Lost Lake. I started it when we went to bed and could not stop reading it, only finally putting it down and removing my glasses when I dozed off repeatedly and almost dropped the book. The other is Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I love belonging to a book group that's not mine because I end up being challenged to read books I'd not otherwise choose. This one looks great, too! I also picked up a large, attractive book about vegetables to turn into a journal. It cost the same as the discounted journals, but is hardbound rather than spiral bound and gives me more surface on which to work. We were disappointed at Whole Foods not to discover the Greek Gods salted caramel yogurt Jeannene was seeking nor reasonably priced cornmeal for my enchilada soup. I may, if I dig deep in the pantry, discover that I have a partial bag of masa which should suffice nicely. We simply do not like this location nearly as much as the one we frequented in Dublin. It's close by, but it's just not doing it for us. Maybe we need to try the one in Ann Arbor or Detroit.

Once home, I dove into fixing supper while Jeannene relaxed on the couch with her Persians. I made a cheater chicken tagine, using skinless, boneless chicken breasts in a skillet atop the stove instead of whole chickens, cut into pieces and placed in my tagine in the oven. The chicken violation alone is enough to cause revocation of my serious foodie card, I know. I just get the heebies when eating chicken on the bone, unless it's cut from a whole roasted chicken or southern-fried. So, revoke away, food snobs of the world, and I will continue to eat what I like. I will used condensed cream of mushroom soup in recipes and American cheese on my grilled cheese sandwiches. I will nibble on Ho-Hos and eschew caviar (unless I get to poink it merrily across my plate in a fancy restaurant----then, by all means, bring on the caviar!). I will avoid rabbit and elk steadfastly and chance the neon orange of Cheetos on occasion. But I will also make apple cider vinaigrette from scratch and put chile powder in my chocolate cookies and relish plump organic raspberries and make my own marshmallows and play around with maple syrup in my cheese crisps and devour half a head of kale at a sitting in Tuscan kale salad. And I will not apologize for any of it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jeannene's Childhood Summers Freewrite

My last post was my 20-minute timed freewrite on what I used to love about summer. Jeannene and I were playing around with this in our hotel room this afternoon. She has graciously allowed me to post hers here, too, edited only for typos. I would love to see free writes on the same topic from any of you who want to play, too!

"As a child, when spring morphed so slowly into summer and summer was real and now, with dandelion covered hills, mosquitoes buzzing, bare feet, beans to be picked and POOL OPEN signs, I had no concept of it ever ending.  That first step into summer never felt like a path to anywhere ending at a time or place.  It was just a hot, frozen reality, a now with never a thought of later or an end, summer as a child was a real experience, from which you never ponder transitions.  I miss the peace of childhood summers when I was like a dog playing fetch, never thinking my master might tire of throwing the stick or the winds might chill and leaves might brown.  Summer was as much a state of never-ending experience as it was warmth, ice cream, flowers blooming, fireflies, campfires and the smell of chlorine in the bathroom from suits dripping dry night after night.  As a child in summer, I was never plagued with the worry of the bottom of the bowl of strawberry shortcake or the vaguest consideration of having anything more to do the next day than meet my best friend in the nursery to walk to our next adventure. 
Summer, as a child, was the taste of fresh berries and long grass stems between the molars.  Summer was the color of white foam water against the brown & green creekbed and the thousands of shades of red, yellow, green, blue and pink in the beds, in the fields, in the woods and along the road.  Summer was the cool water around my skin, the rough &, at times, cutting dried grass, and the welts & scabs itching & healing and the callouses thickening on the bottoms of my feet and my hands from walking and hoeing.  Summer was the sound of crickets and frogs all night long and the hum of bees and gurgling creeks all day long.  Summer was the smell of earth, the honeysuckle, the odd bitterness of drying swamps & skunk cabbage, the sweat of people and animals, and pies baking.   Summer was a never- ending sensory explosion without any thought further than the taste, smell, touch or delight of the moment.  I miss my summers as a child.

Summer was light, a lightness of heart and bounty of joy that only happens when you think no further than the feel of the slimy toad in your hand, the shared joy of jumping hand-in-hand into the pond with your best friend, the taste of ox roast sandwiches and Methodist Ladies’ cream pies at the fair.  Every year that passes pulls us further from those simple delights of summer to the fear of losing or never experiencing them again.  Childhood summers, with no thought of end, to my adult summers of worry and my incessant temporal awareness leaves a hole in my heart… and a pining for assurance of infinity."