Thursday, March 31, 2011

Christmas in March

Ana, Becca, and I have exchanged handmade Christmas gifts since Ana and Becca were little girls.  That is one part of our tradition, and the other part is that our gifts are never ready on time, so we schedule a little Christmas party later, usually in January.  This year, however, I didn’t even start my presents for Ana and Ken till Christmas was over.  I made them both socks, and Ken, being a boy, has significantly larger feet than those of the folks for whom I usually knit socks.  So they took a while.  Then, once we all had our presents completed, there was the conflicting days off issue.  Finally, we had a Christmas/St Patrick’s Day dinner.  Becca made vegan corned beef, and it was pretty delicious!  In fact it is one of my favorite things.  In my youth, my family ate corned beef at the Knights of Columbus St. Patrick’s day dinner at our church every year. I always looked forward to it.  Of course, the corned beef there was made from a cow rather than from a field of wheat.  I much prefer the field of wheat version.   I was in charge of the salad. As we were being Irish, I made the sort of salad that Grandma Ross always made when Becca was wee, and that we ate when we lived in Ireland. At that time, we told one another that this salad was so mundane, and the lettuce absolutely déclassé, but nonetheless, we wolfed it down, and looked forward to having it next time we came.  Of course we were way too cool to actually serve it ourselves!  What this salad lacks in snob appeal, it makes up for in yumminess.  Becca prepared this same salad recently at a nice dinner for the Aunties, and it was the surprise success of her party.  The dressing recipe is here. And Becca's soda bread recipe can be found here.
Years ago, Ana made Becca a shawl as one of her very first knitting projects.  One day when I was sick and very cold, Becca lent me the shawl, and I never gave it back.  It was just the ticket for reading in bed on a cold night, or keeping one’s neck warm while doing housework on a chilly day.  For years, I have worn it constantly during winter weather.  Whenever Ana visited and saw me wearing it, she shuddered and told me it was ugly.  So this year for Christmas, she knitted me a lovely replacement.  It is even warmer, and much, much prettier.   Ana knitted Becca a darling little fox, shown here.  We don’t have pictures of most of our gifts because the doggies, who also came to the party, got restive and needed to go home before we could take any.  To make up for that, here is a picture of Ana, Becca, and me in our matching Irish sweaters.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An economical day

A few week ago, Rebecca and I went on an outing to the restaurant supply store.  She needed some square storage bins, which only this place had, and I needed nothing at all.  I was merely the transportation.  Naturally, when we got inside this fascinating emporium, I discovered a raft of items without which I could not live.  When the man totted up my tab, I was horrified!  But I really needed every single thing that I has selected, so I bit the bullet and got it all anyway.  Of course, when I got home, I wondered, “Am I ever going to use these things?”  Not to worry!  I have used most of them already. 
My darling friends, The Twins were coming for dinner and Quiet Lenten Games, so I made a Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake.  That is the real name of it, and it is aptly named.  Since it is a British recipe, everything is a little different, including the required pans.  The new 8 inch springform pan that I bought was exactly right, and no other pan I had would have done – or so I told myself.  Actually, I think I was telling the truth, because all my other cake pans are bigger, and thus really wouldn’t do.  I had also purchased some parchment cake pan liners – 8 inch circles, naturally.  Those too are a thing no home should be without.  They saved me lots of time in lining the cake pan (another facet of most English cake recipes.)  The cake was a great success despite possibly having a bit of my thumb in it due to a carrot grating mishap.  I served the cake on my new little cake plate – purchased on another outing – also one where I needed nothing at all when I entered the store.  Well, actually I did need vegetarian soup powder, and when I couldn’t find that, I got the cake plate instead.
My dinner entrée was spanakopita.  I had not made this in many years, and remembered it as taking much of the day to prepare.  My original plan was to make a blitz version, but then I read over the recipe from  my ancient Time-Life Greek cookbook, and thought, “This couldn't possibly take that long to make.”  Well, it took quite a while.  I think that the bulk of that time was spent chopping spinach.  The spinach is displayed in my new mixing bowl from the restaurant supply store.  As you can see, it is the perfect bowl for that exact amount of spinach, and no other bowl would have done.  Also, the bowl is shiny and has beautiful contours – making it well worth the ridiculous amount I spent on it. 

There!  I have quite justified my shopping impulses very well, don’t you think?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A serendipitous day

Approximately a zillion years ago, I bought the latest issue of my favorite knitting magazine Mon Tricot (this one is dated 1977) and some nice Aran yarn to entertain myself on a family road trip.  I thought that if I knitted this sweater, I might be as cute as the very cute person in the photo.  Sadly, when the sweater was finished, my expectations were not realized, and I didn’t feel even a tiny bit cute in it.  I imagine that I probably tried it on once, went, “Blech!” and never wore it again.  However, I could not quite bring myself to get rid of it, as it was not really a bad sweater.  But nor could I ever bring myself to actually wear it.   It languished in the back of a closet for many years.  Then, as I was sorting through old clothes, Becca spotted it and wanted it.  I gave it to her, but she never wore it either.  When she moved into her own digs, I found it among a heap of rejected things on her bedroom floor.  By now, I figured it was pretty icky, so I put it in the laundry basket.   It hibernated there on the bottom layer for several more years.  Then, one day when I was sorting laundry, Rachael saw it and wanted it.  In what was by now becoming a family tradition, she never wore it either.  When she moved into her own place, I found it again at the bottom of a heap of discards.  I put it back in the laundry hamper.  Finally, in a cleaning frenzy (actually the setting up of my little sewing room), I decided that I should have a normal laundry hamper which contained only clothes that were actually going to be washed, and not one filled with things I didn’t like but couldn’t quite throw away.  I had to deal with all those little trolls in the bottom of that basket.  I got out the sweater, tried it on, and liked it a lot.  I have been wearing it constantly ever since.   Go figure.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A not so busy day

I have been a bad blogger lately.  It’s not that I have been too busy, or that I haven’t had any blog-worthy adventures.   I haven’t, and I have respectively.   For Lent, I gave up playing Bridge with my computer, and while that has been a wrench, to date I have been faithful. So – given that I wasted an enormous amount of time with my little virtual Bridge group, I should have scads of extra time.  That seems not to be happening.  I had vowed to do something productive during my "saved by not playing Bridge" time, like reading boring nursing journals.  I have done this a little bit, but not as much as in previous years.  So what is the issue?  I am planning to have a knitalong with Becca and Ana on Alice Starmore’s Eala Bahn, and I am franticly anxious to begin it.  The hold up?  I haven’t finished my current cardigan, Oregon.  One of my principles of knitting is that I have to finish the in-progress project before I start a new one.  I can have two going – one that requires concentration and one that does not, but not more than that, and not two of the same sort.  Sooooo….   I have been spending every spare minute trying to finish my Oregon cardi.  I am close, but not quite a cigar yet.  I have about half a sleeve to go.  I had thought that I might have it done for the beginning of the choir year (last September), then by Christmas, then before the warm weather of Spring arrived, and now I am hoping for Easter.  It’s not really an Easter-like sweater, though, is it?

In its current lumpy state,  it is not very photogenic, so I will show my progress via the dwindling amount of yarn.  There is not a lot left, as you can see.  In fact, I am getting a little nervous about it.  It will be a narrow squeak.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Spring Day

Signs of spring are gradually mounting up.   Crocuses are peeping out everywhere.  The sun makes an occasional appearance.  Yesterday I wore only a sweater when doing my errands.  But, most fun of all, my back porch tenants have renewed their lease.  They seem to be expectant parents,  and are busy fixing up their home for their little family. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Another Object at Hand

Gosh, another artifact bringing up lots of memories, and this time the memories spring from vastly different sources  - life, love, and advertisements.  My friend Shelley brought me the most amazing gift.  As you can see, it is a statue of Nipper, the RCA Victor dog, listening to “his master’s voice.” 

When I staggered into the kitchen on the morning of my eighth birthday, the floor was covered with newspapers.  What could this possibly mean?  I impatiently wolfed down my Rice Crispies, because my mother said I would not find out till after breakfast!  There was a knock on the door, and my mom’s friend Dorothy arrived with a basket full of furry love.  My own little Nipper!  This was the best birthday present ever.  Can you believe that they actually expected me to go to school that day?  I am sure it was one of the longest school days I ever endured.   Mutti said that I should call him Nipper, because that’s who he obviously was, given his good looks.  What a wonderful dog.  He walked me to the school bus every day (but not till he was older, of course,) and was there waiting at the bus stop when I came home in the afternoon.   Unlike most of our dogs, he had no bad habits.  (Could I think this because I was only eight and had a skewed idea of a bad habit?)  I could only find one awful picture of him.  I know there are others, but my mother’s photographs are organized similarly to mine – in other words, not at all.  However, you can still see what a sweet fellow he was, nuzzling my baby brother as we all squint into the sun.  And you can see how he resembles the original Nipper. 

When I was in college, every day I passed the Valley Music Store, owned by Shelley’s mother, and I shopped there frequently for all my music needs.  Records, sheet music, new guitar strings – whatever you needed in the music way, the Valley Music shop had it.  It also had a statue of Nipper, listening, one supposes, to his master’s voice.  This was the sort of store that remembered its customers and their needs.   Once, I was walking down the street, and went into the bookstore next door.  Rose, one of the sales persons, came panting in after me.  “Joanna, Joanna,” she gasped.  “Your record has finally come.”  I had ordered a recording of Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Brandenburg Concertos months before, and apparently it was difficult to get in those days.  One just does not get that sort of service these days.  You are lucky to even get a phone call. 

I googled Shelley once, and found this picture of Nipper in Shelley's living room.  I mentioned the blog to Shelley, and he was astonished.  “Do you want Nipper?” he asked.  Wow!  No question.  I love Nipper.   Shelley had inherited Nipper from his mom, and now he and his wife Susan, have passed Nipper on to me.  What another wonderful present! 

Pictured above are Shelley, Margaret, and Nipper.  Margaret was offended when Shelley said, "Now you will have one dog that is really house trained."   Speaking bad dog habits -  Margaret tries to have only good habits, but occasionally things are just too much for her. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Object at Hand

 I was shopping at my favorite grocery store, when a can caught my eye.  I hadn’t seen one of these in years.  I’m not sure if that is because they are rare, or if it’s because I don’t spend much time in the canned fruit aisle.  “So what?” you may ask.  The can evoked another flood of memories.  Memories of student days and the attendant dreadful jobs, of marital squabbles and happy “making up.”

During the school year, Dennis and I had mind numbing student jobs, but they had their positive sides.  We both graded papers, mostly.  This was not fun – in fact, it was frequently painful and occasionally actual torture, as you can only imagine if you have actually done it. But you could do it at the dining room table, in bed, outside under a tree, early, late, or in between.  Flexible hours and no commute.  We whined and complained, but that was Paradise compared to our summer jobs.  Mine was in the library.  I worked for the English Department, but had to do it all in the library - all day looking up items in the card catalog from huge bibliographies given to me by the various professors, and then filling out little forms to order the ones that the library didn’t own.  It was dreadful.  I felt like Sisyphus.  Since I didn’t actually work for the library, but just in the library, the library staff didn’t really talk to me much because I wasn’t one of them, and the English Department staff didn’t talk to me much because I was in the library.  I suffered excruciating ennui. 

Dennis’s situation was far worse.  He worked in the Libby cannery doing something awful.  First  “Peaches,” and later, “Pears.”  Some of our friends continued on into “Pumpkins.”  That was how they talked about it.  “Are you doing ‘Pumpkins’ this year?”  “No, I’m only doing ‘Peaches’ and ‘Pears.’” 
I never understood quite what he did, but when he got home, his clothes were so saturated with syrup and juice that they could stand up without him in them.  I usually went to bed before he arrived, but just before I turned in, I filled the bath tub with soapy water, and when he returned, he dropped whatever he had on into the tub to soak so that it would be easier to wash the next morning.  Once, in the middle of the night, I woke up with him pounding on me in his sleep.   “What are you doing?” I croaked.  He had been having a dream about stacking boxes of pears.   
Another time, he had committed some husbandly offense (I don’t remember what), and had upset me something fierce.  When he got home from the cannery that night, he handed me a can, similar to the one pictured.  I opened it with a can opener, and it had a little poem of apology in it.  Of course, my heart went flippity flop, and I forgave him for whatever bad thing he had done. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A madeleine sort of day

Samos and I were looking through some very old sheet music of popular tunes from long ago.  The main interest in most of these fox trot and ballad sheets is not the music itself – too frequently awful, but the cute covers with illustrations from the twenties or early thirties.   I noticed this one with a wholesome looking couple, no doubt the performers, on the cover.  When I read the names, I was astonished.  Ozzie and Harriet!  Logic aside, I never imagined they had ever been so young. Seeing them, I might as well have had a madeleine!   What a flood of memories! 

My mother was a holdout in the matter of television, so we didn’t have one till long after everyone else did.  Consequently, after lights were officially out, I sometimes surreptitiously listened to the radio.  I don’t think I listened very often, as, given my mother’s vigilance,  the subterfuge was difficult, but I recall listening to a few – The Lone Ranger, Amos and Andy, and Ozzie and Harriet.  I loved them.  A few years later, when my mother finally succumbed to pressure from my brother and I, we did get a television, and I was thrilled to find that the Nelsons had a weekly show.  Ricky and David were a little older (as was I), but I still loved them.  When I was in high school, Ricky Nelson was a teen idol, and of course, he was my idol too.  I owned about three popular records, and “Hello, Mary Lou” was one of them.   

As Samos and I drove together to the store, I was babbling on to him about Ozzie and Harriet, and he, who was not even born during the Nelson heyday, listened politely to an old lady’s reminiscences.  My favorite grocery store often has cute music from my youth, but I was stunned when we walked in, to hear “Hello, Mary Lou!”  It was almost mystic!  In fact, the coincidence made me happy all day.  I probably would have been happy all day anyway, but it made me a little happier. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A weirdly weathered day

What freakish weather we are having!  This morning, the day was aglow.  The sun was sparkling and the world was glittering.  Minutes later, it was raining not just cats and dogs, but more like cows and goats – really serious rain, coming down in bucketfuls.  Then suddenly sunny again, followed in no time by pelting hail.  Between showers, Rebecca came for a visit, and was testing Margaret’s hearing by making love squeaks which Margaret ignored, and then by making food noises out of Margaret’s line of vision.  Margaret paid no attention.  She is definitely getting deaf.  However, she still can tell when it is about to rain, and at the first hint, starts barking at that watery harbinger of her enemy – thunder.  During one of the sunny interludes, Margaret started growling at the window.  Neither of us thought rain was imminent, but suddenly there was the loudest thunder clap ever.  Margaret heard that!   The whole house shook, and Margaret levitated right into the air.  She was shocked but valiant, ferociously fending off any further danger. At least she was valiant after a short break for the comfort of some cuddling and caressing in her mother's arms. 
We comforted ourselves with a bit of Turkish Delight from our favorite Mediterranean food emporium.