Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A perfect day

The day, while not actually perfect, was nice. As I was walking to work (where all my patients turned out to be pleasant types who said “Please” and “Thank you,”) I admired my favorite mittens which were keeping my hands very warm and comfy. I reminisced about why I had them at all – thanks to my perfectionist friend for whom I had made them. She is one of those who examines all projects – hers and anyone else’s – and loudly exclaims about any imperfections she can find. She insists that everything be perfect and that any ever so teensy mistake be remedied immediately, even when the trouble of remedying it far outweighs the trouble of living with it. In my opinion, this attitude too often leads to never finishing anything at all because nothing can never be good enough to satisfy its creator. Anyhow, these mittens, many years ago, were designated as a Christmas present to her. They were my first real stranded knitting project besides a little sweater with a Fairisle border that I made for Rebecca when she was wee. That sweater was total torture to knit and I vowed that I would never do stranded work again. I didn’t know about steeks at the time, and so I was knitting back and forth which I simply can’t do in two color work. These mittens were promoted as being very easy and blitz quick to make. Talk about false advertising. I suffered quite a bit, but not, I will admit, as much as with the sweater, since I was at least looking at the right side of the knitting all the time. The part that you see in the picture turned out quite well, but I could not grasp the pattern on the palm until I had the mittens nearly ¾ done. This sort of thing does not bother me at all. I can close my fists if some super picky person is looking at my mittens, and furthermore, it gives them character. I will have to admit that had the mistakes been on the more public part of the mittens, I might have been fussier. Actually, I most certainly would have been fussier. Anyhow, I realized that these mittens would not do for my friend because of the mistakes. Additionally, I decided that she might be the sort who expects both mittens to be the same (boring!!!) So I kept them for myself and quickly made her a truly easy and truly blitz quick pair of Aran type mittens. Those had no obvious mistakes and were a great success as a gift. I have been grateful to her quirks ever since as these are my most favorite mittens – the softest and warmest, and the nicest colors. And had she not been such a fussbudget, I would not have them. I might add that I am pretty cavalier about unimportant mistakes, and find perfectionists annoying in general. However I would not be adverse to this irritating trait in my neurosurgeon, should I even need one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A cold and hot day

Here is a picture of the Christmas Cake Rebecca made – very artistic, as you can see. And a picture of Rebecca the child admiring the Christmas Cake I made many, many years ago when we lived in Ireland. Not so artistic, as you can also see.
It is the third day of Christmas, so I can still tell of Christmas adventures. I must add here, that while I have a warm heart, I am a cold person and I do not tolerate heat well at all. When I am in Hawaii with the aunties, I whine incessantly about the hot weather. I only closed my bedroom window a few days ago, in honor of the snow and in deference to the rest of the household, and plan to open it again soon. Maybe even when I finish writing this! I consider a balmy (to everyone else) seventy degree day to be oppressively hot, if not sweltering. This boring insight will shed light on my Christmas eve ordeal.
We live about a mile from the Cathedral, and as it was very snowy and very cold, Rachael and I dressed very warmly for our trek there for Midnight Mass, and when we arrived, what to wear under our choir robes was a though decision. I was thinking that at Midnight Mass people left their coats on, and it would probably be chilly in the huge building, so I left on more than I usually do. A big mistake. Our robes are two layers, and quite warm at any time, (click here to see) and I should have known better. I had on my woolly stockings, a petticoat, a wool skirt, a silk undershirt, as well as the usual underwear essentials. The rehearsal was tolerable as that room really is cold most of the time. Our first few songs were also tolerable, but halfway through the Carol Service which preceded Midnight Mass, I was sure I was going to pass out. Things were wobbling in front of my eyes, and my head felt light. I slipped out of the formation and went outside and breathed in the lovely cold for a few minutes. Thinking I was recovered, I slipped back in as the Women’s Schola was processing upstairs into the gallery where it was REALLY hot. I lasted about five minutes there before the wobbles and wooziness returned. What to do? I crept out of the gallery, found a discrete closet and took off all the clothes under my choir robes except the essentials. I hid my clothes under a bench. Then I crept downstairs to the bride’s dressing room and doused my face in cold water. Much better. I crept back upstairs and rejoined my group. I was a little worried about my clothes, as I am not so averse to warmth that I would not have been quite unhappy to go home without them. Fortunately they were waiting for me when the Mass was over. And no one was the wiser, until now that you know, of course.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmasy day

As a special New Year’s Treat for you, here is a picture of the world’s cutest and sweetest doggie as she peeks out from under my covers while I sit here typing.
Our Christmas was very nice despite the snow. The Cathedral sent out an email enjoining us that while we might be dreaming of a White Christmas, we were not to pray for one. Miraculously, despite very adverse travel conditions, the choir in its entirety was there for Midnight Mass, which was glorious as usual. The Cathedral was full, but comfortably full, not the usual full where people have to stand outside and listen to the Mass on speakers after not one more person can be crammed in. The Christmas morning Masses are voluntary for the choir. In years past, only the cantors (who are paid professionals) have had to sing. Last year however, some folks asked Jim, our director, if they could come sing, and so he invited us all to come if we wanted to. He was astonished when about a third of the choir showed up. The Cathedral provides us breakfast between the two Masses, and all in all, it is a very nice way to spend Christmas morning. The Midnight Mass is televised, so one is not allowed to scratch, make faces if they don’t like the homily, and one must look happy and pius even in the difficult parts of the Bach. Since so many people will be watching, and mistakes will be immortalized, this is not a relaxing event. The morning Masses are very different. We don’t sing the most difficult of the music, everyone is a bit tired since we left the Cathedral at about one-thirty in the morning and are back at nine. I always feel that a “bit tired” (not a “lot tired”) sometimes calms one down.
Last year, when they opened the Grand Ceremonial Doors for the Archbishop process out through, everyone could see that it had unexpectedly begun snowing during the Mass. It was beautiful to see the snow through the doors, and a cheer went up. Oh, so different this year. We groaned when the Mass was over and it was snowing yet again. There has really been sufficient snow. The weatherman told us that it would rain on Christmas and this thought made us happy, as we are ready for normal life to return, and normal life is not possible – or is at least seriously curtailed – when there is a foot of snow on the ground in hilly Seattle. The weatherman was correct in that it rained for a minute or two, but then it immediately started to snow yet again. Today, it looks like there might be a meltdown of the good sort. Let us hope so. I need to go shopping.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yet another lazy and snowy day

Today was the predetermined day to work on Tom’s estate papers, etc., and bring it all up to date. I have to say “etc.,” because I can’t even tell you what is there. Well, in my role the queen of procrastination (especially in this sort of thing,) I decided that I would start right after lunch. Then, after lunch I noticed that the floor of Rachael’s room was really gritty and that Margaret had found food bits to spread around. I felt that it needed to be Hoovered immediately. Then, as long as I was doing that, I thought I might as well do my bedroom too, and then the rest of the upstairs. Since I had brought the vacuum cleaner all that way up. Then I realized that I was way behind on the laundry, and had better do that. After several loads were washed dried and folded (as well as some hand washing that had been sitting there for several months,) I got out the Tom stuff, and found a few bills that I needed to pay. Just then, Ana called to say that she was stranded at work because of the snow, and could she come stay the night? Naturally, I had to drop everything and fix her dinner. I fixed a broccoli, spinach and tomato risotto, and we thought it was quite tasty. Then, since I had company, I could not possibly work on those excruciatingly boring papers and accounts. However, I actually had spent at least ten minutes at it before Ana called, and I felt very virtuous. But now I will have to spend another day soon avoiding it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yet another snowy day

Last night the snow came down in droves, yet again. When poor Margaret went out for her walkies, it was over her head. I had to carry her to the middle of the street where the passing autos had made her a pathway. She was not pleased, needless to say. I am going to feel similarly when I forge my way to work this afternoon. I set this picture of Pike Place Market chilis as my computer wallpaper to cheer me up, and I thought it might cheer you up too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A rosy day in December

The snow is falling again, and we are hunkered down for a while. Sadly, I have to unhunker and go to work tomorrow, and I am hoping that it will be possible to get there. In the meantime, we are having soup and hot chocolate, and being cozy. There are a few floral bright spots even in this weather. A favorite patient of mine gave me these roses as she was leaving the hospital to return to Alaska. Originally, they were part of a daisy and rose bouquet. The flowers stayed fresh looking for a long time, and as they were starting to fade, I decided to try to preserve them. I tried microwaving them, and it was successful. I did two at a time, for eleven seconds and then eleven more seconds and then eleven more seconds until they were dry. They turned out rather nicely, and now whenever I come into or leave the house I see them in my entryway and think of Helen. The more tropical looking flower is a Christmas cactus given to me by a sweetie about thirty years ago. At the time, I lived in a second story flat, and I had my plant on the windowsill in my kitchen. One day, it leapt out and crashed to the ground below. Horrified, I ran down to rescue it, and as you can see, it survived.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another snowy day

When it snows, Seattle stands still. Folks from snowier parts laugh at us, but there it is. We really cannot function in the snow. My bus is one of the first to give up when there is snow, and in this picture of my bus stop, you can see two abandoned buses waiting for the snow to go away. And as you can see from the yellow tape, the road itself - a rather main one - is closed. Last evening at work I was praying that the predicted storm would not arrive in Seattle until I arrived home from work, and so it happened. My bus was still running and there was not too much ice on the sidewalk from the previous stormlet. I had visions of myself slipping, breaking an elbow and ending up a patient on my own nursing unit, but I arrived home intact. However, in the wee hours of the morning, there was a ferocious thunderclap, followed by another, followed by intense snowfall, followed by Margaret protecting us from the snowflakes. She is ever vigilant and diligent about keeping the weather at bay. She continued barking until we finally gave up and got up. Several days ago, I was talking to my aunt on the phone, and she asked, "Has it started snowing?" "No, what makes you think so? Is it snowing at your house?" I asked. "No, but Margaret is barking," she said.

Here is my snug little house which I hate to leave when the weather is bleak.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A snowy day

Every Sunday two members of our choir are supposed to bring treats for the choir, to give us strength to sing exquisitely, and then to help us recover after we have sung exquisitely. This basically means preparing breakfast for sixty people. For some, this is a competitive event, with choristers vying for the title of the most lavish and delicious treats bringer. For years, when Rebecca was in the choir, we worked together on the treats, and gave folks a run for their money. This was all due to Rebecca, of course. She planned the menu, and was the general in the kitchen, assigning me menial duties to get the task done. When Rebecca started back to school, she did not have time to sing in the choir anymore, but she still helped me with the treats, and last year Tom and I did the cooking, while Rebecca directed from afar via phone and email. This year I was on my own – no Tom, and Rebecca too busy to care about my treat troubles. I fretted all week about what to bring, and by Friday --- nay, Saturday morning, or even Saturday afternoon, I still hadn’t really decided what to make. Then after I had shopped for several options, I was so overwhelmed by the immensity of the treat ordeal that I took a nap. My treat partner called to tell me that if it was snowing, she would not be there, nor would her treats. Aaaaak! Finally, about eight in the evening, I swung into gear and made two kinds of focaccia, some barley soup which I was planning to serve in a crock pot, some boiled eggs to devil in the morning, and I prepared some raw fruits and vegetables. Once I got moving, I became enthusiastic, and enjoyed cooking – but I sure had been a slow starter. I went to bed about one, fretted all night about the treats, got up at five and found the world covered in white. There was snow and a big sheet of ice outside my garage, which is on a hill, so I opted to walk. This meant no soup and no drinks as I had to carry it all by hand. Since this was a “women only” Sunday, and the snow prevented many from coming, the numbers were few and my treats were minimally adequate, even without my partner’s help. This all reminded me of a Christmas pot luck at a job I had many years ago. It too was rather competitive, and I prided myself on bringing something spectacular every time. This year, however, I was in a funk and did not feel like doing a thing. I had planned some elaborate dessert from Julia Child, but when the evening to cook arrived I felt that I just could not do it. I looked in the refrigerator and found some apple tart filling left over from some other fabulous Julia Child dessert, and some homemade cranberry sauce left over from Thanksgiving. No doubt the applesauce, which had brandy and orange zest in it, was left over from Thanksgiving as well. I rooted about some more and decided to make some Bird’s Custard Pudding and fancy it up. I made the custard and put in the apple stuff. The milk in the pudding instantly curdled. Unfazed, I picked out the curds – large rubbery things - and discarded them. I put the resulting concoction in a nice dish with the cranberry sauce layered in like a parfait. When the morning came, I was humiliated about my dessert, and talked another woman who had brought apple juice into trading and saying she had made my dish and I would present her apple juice. Since she was the apple juice bringer type, everyone was amazed that she had brought real food. The odd dessert was the success of the party, and everyone pestered her for the recipe. She was mortified, and finally admitted that it was my doing. Then they wanted the recipe from me, but I had to claim that it was a family secret, as the dish was really quite unreproducible.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

On Saturday, we had a visit from St. Nicholas – the real St. Nicholas – the holy bishop who wears a miter, carries a crozier, and rides a white horse, not the fat fellow in a red suit. Rebecca and Rachael both were always more excited about the visit of St. Nicholas on December sixth than they were about actual Christmas. Perhaps because Christmas can be so overwhelming, but the visit from St. Nicholas was their own special event and was always relatively serene. They put out their shoes and a bowl of oats for the horse, and eagerly awaited their gifts of something warm to wear – usually on hands, feet, or head – and fruits and cookies. Rebecca, who was the best child ever, was ever needlessly worried about getting a bit of coal or worse yet, being put in Krampus’ sack. No matter how firmly we assured her this could never happen because she was always so good, she worried terribly. One December 5th night late, it snowed for the first time in quite a long while. Rebecca woke up, and everything looked different due to the snow, the altered light, and the consequent new shadows on the wall from the bare tree limbs. She was sure Krampus was there to get her, and cried out pathetically. We leapt out of bed to comfort her, and she was relieved to see the snow and no Krampus. Did she perhaps she have some terrible secret that only Krampus would be aware of?
This year, Rachael actually forgot to put out her shoes, or possibly thought she was too big for Niklaus to visit her. She was delighted when she got up and found her shoes filled with cookies, candy, an apple, and this pair of gloves which I knitted for her. Later, when I was changing my linen, an apple rolled out from the sheets. I was mystified until I realized that, unlike the candy and cookies which were quickly consumed, the apple had been rejected and left behind.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A mismatched day

Often when I am at work (or sometimes even not at work) my whole focus of the day is to get home, get my cup of something hot, get in bed, get comfey, and settle down with my book. A few months ago, I came home from work at midnight, snuggled up with my book, Margaret, and a cup of hot chocolate. Ecstasy. But short lived ecstasy. The phone rang – a dreaded sound at one in the morning, especially after work, as it is usually the nurse following me calling to ask why I did or did not do something. Once a nurse called me in the wee hours to inform me that I had forgotten to chart the insulin I had given a patient. I recall that this particular evening, another patient had a reaction to a medication about 30 minutes before I was due to leave, and my focus was on saving his life rather than charting the insulin. I reported the call to my manager the next day, and she was incensed, I am happy to report. “What did she expect you to do - come in and chart it?” she sensibly asked. This particular evening, my friend Nurse Mademba was calling to ask me if I had taken the narcotic key home. I was confident that I had not, I told him. I hadn’t even used it. “Check your pockets,” he said. “You have to have it.” Well, I did check and I did have it. Grrrrrr. Someone had handed it to me at the beginning of the evening, and no one had used it the whole eight hours. The down side of taking the narcotic key home is that you have to bring the narcotic key back. Right then. My heart sank. I just can’t get dressed, I thought. I told Mademba I would bring it to the ER and he could come get it. He agreed. I left the house in my PJ’s and a sweater, and when I got to the ER, I decided to just take it up to my unit. The security guard looked at me like I was a mad woman. I started to explain why I had my pajamas on (they must see a lot of pajamas there) and he said, “It’s not that. You have on two different colors of shoes.”
This morning in church, two altos were tittering and looking at my feet. I assumed that they were marveling at how I was still wearing sandals in December. Later, as we were leaving church, Rachael said, “You know you have two different sandals on, don’t you?”
In the picture - above, disparate workshoes, below, disparate sandals - one brown and one gray, and to the right, Margaret contemplating one of the many dangers of getting dressed in the dark.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A busy day

A rather busy but productive day. After my triumph at the bank, Rachael and I went to the paper store to get special paper for my Auntie’s secret project. First we went to an office store, but they had only papier ordinaire, and we wanted something nicer, so we went to Arvey’s, a real paper store. This place had paper galore. I love a paper store, but they seem mostly to be posh boutiquey sorts of places with uppity staffs. Not as bad as wine or camera shops, which can be terrifying to the uninitiated, but close. While this one had everything, it was all warehouse-ish, and so not intimidating to the likes of me. The woman who helped us knew all about different sorts of paper, and seemed to take in the special needs of this project. Rachael too thought it was a fine store because it had free donuts. (The kind you eat, not the kind you put on your paper holes.) Later, I fixed us a yummy repast - mushroom tartlets, - which was supposed to be a meal-in-minutes, but actually was not. I was planning to serve it at four, giving Rachael lots of time to get to her six o’clock engagement, but I failed to factor in the time needed to thaw the puff pastry. I was thinking that I knew all about using this stuff, but I think I must have used it in my dreams, because once I began, the process was unfamiliar, and I can’t think of anything I have actually made from it. However, the tartlets were good and Rachael was ready on time, so all was well. I recommend this recipe. It really does not take much time, and is rather impressive. Your guests will think that you are quite clever and that you spent hours slaving in the kitchen.

A golden day

Actually, the whole day wasn't golden, but bits of it were. I was walking to the Cathedral yesterday afternoon for my Family Kitchen stint, and there was definitely a golden moment. This is the view from the Cathedral's hill looking down the street towards the water and mountains. The Cathedral is the building on the left, and an apartment building on the right.
I am off to the bank now to deal with the bank ogres. Wish me luck.

Update later in the day: my banking business, which I began working on in August, and which should have been a simple transaction, but which turned into a nightmare, as no one in the bank seemed to know what she was doing, is finally done. I have transferred money from one account to another, and it only took zillions of phone calls, letters, faxes, visits to the bank and a few tears of frustration. Finally, the brilliant Janice got it all fixed up. Tom's money is in his account and I can begin to pay his bills. Hurray!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A lemony day

About a year ago, I ventured into the mysteries of modern bread making – a vastly different thing than the bread making of my youth. Tom was helping me, and although we had a fun day, the bread was disastrous. The texture left much to be desired, and to top it off, (Shades of King Lear!) I forgot the salt. What a disappointment! So I decided that since one of Rachael’s favorite foods is bread pudding, I would use the bread to make that, and put in a bit of extra salt. Rachael was thrilled and even emailed a friend that she was having bread pudding for dinner. Well, it is scarcely credible, but true --I forgot the salt again! So the bread pudding was doubly unsalted, and was rather disgusting. Undeterred by failure, I tried again a month or so later, and had great success. I recently made Rachael some lemon pudding, and this suggested to her that it would be nice to have lemon bread pudding. So I tried that this evening, and it was rather good. I remember the first time I had bread pudding ever. I was about six, and was visiting my friend Therese’s house for dinner. They were rather posh, and consequently, my mother, anxious to avoid social disgrace, had given me many admonitions about table manners and about eating everything on my plate, even if I didn’t like it. I was suitably impressed with my duties to uphold the family honor. In addition to being posh, this family had a horrible Siamese cat who terrified me and made me sneeze. I was prepared to have a most unenjoyable evening. The dinner was served, and for the veg, they had artichokes, which I had never seen before. This bit of exotica both impressed and horrified me. What to do with it???? They showed me how to eat it, and I thought my ordeal was over, but then they brought out the dessert --- bread pudding. I thought I had never seen anything so disgusting looking. I still remember recoiling in horror and trying to look pleased at the same time. I don’t recall actually eating it – just my initial reaction. I know that thirty years passed before I ever had bread pudding again. Grandma Rossi made it, and I then realized that it was actually a good thing.
Here is the recipe for the Lemon Bread Pudding I made this evening:

Sugar, about one cup
Half a cube of butter
Juice and zest of two smallish lemons
Two tablespoons of flour
Three eggs,
2 Cups of milk
Five cups of cubed bread, preferably a few days old.
Cream the sugar and butter, add lemon juice and zest. Mix it well. Mix in the flour. Add the eggs and mix it up. Add the milk, stir it and pour it over the bread. Bake it at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour. Serve it hot with a bit of milk poured over it. Yummy!
Here are Rachael and Maria having a discussion about whom the pudding actually belongs to.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A teary day

Our poor little kitty took a turn for the worse on Saturday while Rebecca and I were preparing dinner for the aunties, so we took him for his final visit to the vet. Unlike, Margaret and Leslie who adored going to the vet, Michael hated it and always acted very badly. This time, however, he seemed resigned, and knew that his troubles would soon be over, so he was a good boy, and went gently into that good night. His funeral was this morning in the one two hour window we could find when we were all three neither working nor in school. Tom always officiated at these events, but in his stead, Julie, who has been a hospital chaplain, gave a very nice feline service. We sang our traditional pet funeral song – “All Things Bright and Beautiful” with special Michael verses.
He made our little Michael,
His coat so soft and gray,
His one green eye, the other brown,
His pussywillow tail.

He was our darling nurse boy,
With tender loving care,
His soft caress, his lovingness,
A cat who brought us joy.

He loved his little family,
Protected us from the rat,
His fearless heart, his loving heart,
Our Mikey was quite a cat.

Not very poetic, I'll admit, but heartfelt. The song didn't go well because we got too emotional to sing, so it was a bit disjointed. Rebecca made a lovely anise cake, which we had with tea, for the funeral meats.