Thursday, November 13, 2014

When a new freezer just cries out for sustenance

Mother started me baking by standing me on a kitchen chair, wearing one of her aprons, and sifting flour for a cake. Back then, flour was sifted three times before mixing and baking. Mother covered the table with newspaper to catch the plops and clouds of flour I made with my vigorous turning of the handle of the sifter. I still have a sifter, and an egg beater. I still use them to cook.

I used to love to cook, and especially to bake. I have done little of either in recent years. So it is with trepidation I have decided to make a number of the old fruit breads I used to make and give for gifts. I like gifts like that--the receiver feels no obligation back, and usually is pleased. Surely habits from many years will kick in.

There's a story to the decision. Like so many things it starts with something Bad and segues into something Good.

A few weeks ago, the old freezer I had loaded to the gills died--still trying, so its' little light was on. But it was dead, and completely warm inside as I discovered when I finally smelled Something and lifted the lid. Dead, deader, deadest. Putrifying. My daughter-in-law, recovering from surgery, helped me more than she should have, and so did my 12-year-old granddaughter, who gagged but never threw up through all. We sacked and taped the bags closed and filled one tall square garbage can and one fairly large,but shorter, round can. Older son, when he got off work, re-bagged the lot in contractor's bags in an attempt to curb the smell. The cans stayed by my garage until the night before pickup. This was pretty warm weather, and the packing happened on Saturday. I took the cans to the road on Tuesday night. Ugh! horrific smell. Slight breeze from the north. I cleaned up and left for a meeting.

When I came back, a honking big truck with several lights was in the street, a couple other pickup trucks, and several people were standing around in small groups. I parked the car and headed for the door. My neighbor came running over to tell me she had called Atmos Power Company for a bad gas leak--it must be really bad because the smell was so strong. But the professionals couldn't find it. Everyone agreed it was an urgent situation.

I told her I didn't think it was a gas leak but my putrifying meat in the cans. Rotting meat and the rotten egg smell they add to natural gas smell pretty similar.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Pretty sure," I answered. "Go tell them about my garbage cans."

The discarded freezer was still stashed on the side with its' door propped open.

Ten minutes later they had all left, and I don't think anyone even checked to make sure it was the sundry beef (I will mourn those beautiful roasts I got at a price I may never see again), two turkeys, a ham, and various chicken parts.

So the poor garbage men came--I need to do something nice for them at Christmas--and the empty freezer was hauled away. And I started shopping the internet for a replacement. I found it last weekend--an upright Fridgidaire frost-free. It was delivered and put into place on Tuesday. It is very large and very empty. And I used to make those breads, freeze the same day they came out of the oven, and give at Christmas. Plenty of time. Wish I still had my old recipe for banana bread. It was so old, the oil it called for was bacon grease. It made light, moist bread that could be sliced in quarter-inch slices. I made a test loaf of a recipe on the internet and it wasn't too bad. Very moist, flavorful, but I'd like a little more flavor.

So--I'm baking. I forgot the sour cream for the chocolate bread recipe I found. I hope that's a winner. I'm thinking of sneaking some instant coffee granules into the cocoa when I mix it. Forgot the orange juice for the cranberry nut bread, and after two stores, finally found some mincemeat for a couple loaves of mincemeat bread with orange zest. I'll add nuts and cranberries and hope it turns out similar to an old favorite. Have everything for the pear bread with lemon zest. That's a good one, too. Pumpkin bread? Eh. Most people will make their own, I think.

A couple of mincemeat loaves? Well, each loaf takes two cups of mincemeat, which is really fruits cooked with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. It used to be used for pies. Each $6 jar probably has about two cups. (The 20-something clerk at one grocery said carefully, "I've never heard of minced meat." Ah, well.)

I may not ever be able to get it, or afford to get it again unless I make the stuff. Which I could.

But that's another year.



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Coping with more and more Christmas hucksterism

Last Saturday, Nov. 1, an area car dealership advertised an Event with refeshments, fun, fun, fun, and a visit from Santa.

Even the kids I know were surprised.

The Christmas trees have been in the stores, all decorated, since September.

But even before the last polling place closed on Nov. 4, the Christmas ads were starting. I wish I didn't let this continuous annoyance depress me, but it kinda does.

Poor Thanksgiving. Only in the grocery stores is it even mentioned, and I LIKE Thanksgiving. Good food with people I like. Good talk and laughter. Then everyone goes home and you can take a nap. Or (shudder) go shopping. It is such a freedom holiday, overall. Well, for me, anyway.

And I think the stretching of the season all started with artificial Christmas trees. Flameproof, fairly realistic, artificial Christmas trees with cooler, perpetual little lights all over them. Not one string, or two, or even three. Little lights ALL over, jostling the ornaments for a place on the branches.

The trees had to be invented and brought into the marketplace. No way could every home have a fresh Christmas tree, although a fair number still do. And the prices are, well, pricy. They may have been cut a month before, and the shelf-life expires with a tinkling of browning needles on the floor. But they smell so good. AND a formerly live tree won't make it to Christmas Day if you put it up too early.

The Christmases of my childhood sported freshcut trees from the nearby mountains. Our tree went up Dec. 15 or later, and the shopping didn't start much before then. No television either, grasshopper. (That always convinces children I am really, really old.) How naïve we were, not to market the holiday for all it is worth but instead, take leisure time during the holidays for those remembered cookies, candies, and even grandma's fruit cake. Funny about that. Hear tell times were more prosperous then, and college graduates could always find a job. Better than dreaming of sugar plums. (I don't think I have ever seen one, much less tasted it.)

Artificial Christmas trees in most of the homes I know where children live go up after the meal on Thanksgiving Day. We have a local radio station that plays nothing but Christmas songs for the month of December, and I believe they now include November. So many find them cheery and fun. After the 20th playing of "Holly Jolly Christmas"(and no one in the Southwest has holly), I go postal. It doesn't have to be in one day. Over a week would be plenty.

I don't mind the lights on houses because they are pretty. Also,with any luck for the neighbors, silent. I am a big fan of the silent enjoyment of Christmas. Seldom heard today.

And it all started with artificial Christmas trees.

I can't get away from the ads entirely--I have to listen to the news, although public television has quite a good news program. I have 3-4 programs I watch now, with their approximately 20 minutes of the hour in ads. I have shopping to do, and as usual, nothing advertised is what I am getting. This year I have to go online, because it's not on sale in the stores, either. As usual, gifts for my adult sons confound and puzzle me.

I don't begrudge shopping for my family, and I actually enjoy it close to Christmas--like the week before. But the constant hype and jolliness is wearing.

In my neck of the plains, I am known as "The Grinch."

Still, even I have one of those pesky trees.

This is my annual rant. It comes earlier each year.

When I see lighted artificial trees for sale on my birthday in August, I may start a movement.

For now, Christmas, once a lovely holiday, is my least favorite of the year. But enough for now.

I have to go shopping for myself.

I always buy a book I really, really want to read about now, put it in the closet, and start it sometime on Christmas Day. When I had children at home, it was a way of unwinding after the busy day. After the divorce, with the children gone for the day, it was my celebration for myself. It still is. I think it takes more self-control not to open it early now than it used to.

It just sits there, calling my name.

And it isn't even fattening.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Finding quality of life in being cozy

Cozy: giving a feeling of comfort, warmth and relaxation.

It is one of my favorite feelings.

It is 52 at 9 o'clock this morning, and 71 in the house.

Last night, my last thought before I drifted off to sleep was how cozy I felt, and how good that was.
I had washed all the bedding, added a new fleece blanket on top, just enough to be able to snuggle.
And it was good. The pillows were soft and plumped, the sheets smooth, the covers surrounding me with a soft layer of comfort.

A nice cool bed with the lightest of cover is welcome in the summer, but it is not cozy. Nope.

I love the springs and falls here, when days are in the 70's or no more than low 80's. The nights can get into the 40s, and there you go. Cozy.

As I grow older, comfort has become an important component of what I do. I never was much of a shopper and never a fashionista. I don't seek for a fashionable house and am frustrated when items I want, like curtains and bath mats, come only in the fashionable colors, not the ones I want. Can color be part of making a cozy home? I think so.

Cataracts are constraining my movement abroad these days. I have always been one to hop in the car and go, a habit from growing up in New Mexico. Now I sedately stay within about a 30-mile radius. I hope that will change post-surgery, whenever that will be. Hopefully this spring, which is the soonest I can see the doctor again.

For now, however, there are gardens I have sped by before to explore, my own home to concentrate on, little art galleries to discover, and such a plethora of new restaurants I never will get around to all of them. I have chafed at the restrictions. I have indeed let it dull my pleasure at what is within my reach.

But last night I was cozy, and I went to sleep happy and woke up the same way.

I intend to continue that way.

I can deliberately create a cozy environment.

And happiness is a choice.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

ReLiving Near-Death Experiences on OU-UT Weekend

When I was 18, I experienced my first OU-UT weekend.

To say I was naïve would be like saying raw turnips generally aren't appetizers.

I joined a sorority as my parents said I must. Either Thursday or Friday Before the Big Weekend,
the sorority social director told me she had a blind date for me. He wasn't very tall, she warned, and I would need dressy flat-heeled shoes I
didn't have.

On Saturday,noonish, I set out for a shoe store, and finally found one, probably 3-4 miles from campus. As a greenhorn, I knew nothing about buses, so I bought the damn shoes and walked back. All told, maybe 6 miles. I missed supper and we didn't store snacks. I showered quickly, curled my hair, put on my dress, hose, and (not) heels.

I don't think I was any more impressed than he was. Whatever. I figured surely, at a party, I would get something to eat.

Boy, was I disappointed. I guess Chex Mix or the derivative might have been trendy It certainly was cheap and all that was offered besides mixed drinks so strong I wanted to throw up. So I ate the mix, asked for a Coke or two, danced when I could and smiled.

Then we hit college curfew time, so my date and I and his friend and his date walked back to his car. He walked funny.
Did I mention I had never seen anyone drunk before? I began to pay deep attention. And this was before seat belts were invented. Besides which, I was hungry and I hadn't had a very good time.

As we drove north on Central Expressway, I will always swear he began to edge over the line into the car just ahead. I thought he was going to kill us. I screamed bloody murder, grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it to the right. We slid past the other car.

He yelled at me, asked what I was doing. He drove very well to my dorm, and walked me to the door.

We never spoke again, and the social chairman never called me again.

He probably still thinks I was an hysteric. I still think I saved all our lives.

I wonder which of us was right, If I were wrong, I wouldn't be here to wonder,though, would I?





Monday, October 6, 2014

A Lifetime in a Conversation

I took my dogs to the vet today to have nails clipped and distemper shots. While I was waiting, a young man came in for serious service. He had good control of his voice, but it dropped when he said "my dog."

"How may I help you?" the receptionist began.

The young man said, "I've come to have my dog put down."
Matter-of-fact. It wasn't easy.

"I'm sorry to hear that," vet tech receptionist said. "How old is he?"

"He's 19. He's my dog. I'm 20. He..." he couldn't say more. Then he did.
"My whole life, he's been there."
He smiled, he tried to, and he smiled.

"what breed?" she asked.

"Lab retriever. Yellow lab."

"What are the symptoms? Is he eating, drinking? can he move?"

"He can eat and drink all right, he can move around after I lift him up in the morning and help him get around. Then he can move a little. he still pees outside. He hurts."

"Would you like to talk to the vet, have an exam first, to see if there's anything we can do?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I would like that. Last weekend I took him with me to Texarkana to hunt ducks. He sat with me in the blind." The young man smiled."I wouldn't let him get the ducks, but he wanted to. I kept him right by me."

Labs don't live that long, usually. A lot of care and love went into that dog's life.

And I won't forget what he said: "He's 19 and I am 20--he's always been my dog."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A string of pearls

I have two stories to tell, both about women who, at 17 and in love or in the beginnings of it, told a lie. Both went on to marry the man of their dreams, and both lived with them until the men died many years later. They both grieved deeply.

The first was two years younger than the boy, and they had grown up in the same neighborhood. He went away to college. The next fall, as he walked to class, he beheld a smiling beauty walking towards him. She seemed vaguely familiar, but he didn't know who she was until she said hello and he heard her voice. Wow! where had that skinny, harum scarum young girl gone to? She was now lovely, poised and smiling at him, flirting. He flirted right back.

They chatted briefly, then he said he had to get to class.

She said,"Oh, what class are you taking?"

He told her what it was. Economics, I think.

"What a coincidence!" she exclaimed. "That's my class, too."

So they walked together to class, sat hear each other, and the next day, she changed her schedule to include the class on economics. Did well in it, too. They hit it off. They fell in love. The following year, when she was 18 and he was 20, they married. Under Texas law, a woman of 18 didn't need parental permission. The same law, regarding men of 20, said men did need permission, which he received.

They were married more than 60 years, and had an adventurous life with their brood of children. They lived all over the world. They truly were partners.

And it was years into the marriage when she finally confessed to him that she hadn't been signed up for that course at all.

The second woman also was two years younger. She met the man she would marry her senior year in high school. He went away to college.

In her case, her parents had intended to send her to a different college than the one he was attending. So she researched school catalogues and hit upon a major that only was offered at the school he was attending. It was actually a pretty good fit for her, but she had not planned on that particular field. She told her parents that was what she planned to do, and they paid to send her there.

So she went to the school where he was attending, they dated, and after two years, were married. They settled in Texas and reared their children there. When the children were in school, she completed her degree in the field she told her parents that she wanted so much she had to go to his school. The lie she had told had taken her down the path to a degree in that field. So she finished her degree. And it was work she enjoyed.

It worked out all right. She went on to write a book that was published in her field. When illness took her husband prematurely, she missed him for years and has finally gone on with her life. She still is immersed in parts of her profession that still give her pleasure. After all, maybe she would have chosen it anyway.

I don't know if she ever told her husband or her parents. I do know that she has always tried to deliver what was expected of her. I think she takes a certain pleasure, even joy, in remembering the lie she told that led to marriage to the boy she was determined to have, the future she seized for herself.

I think the lies were different, and the repercussions were different. Certainly, the people were. The times were.

I cannot conceive of wanting to marry so soon. I couldn't then. I wanted to live on my own awhile before I married, and so I did. I don't personally relate.

Lies have repercussions, good or bad, for years afterwards, and in these two cases, probably for generations.

I know both of these women, their families. I have my own thoughts about the two lies. Are they the same? are they different? Do you like one more than the other? Both gave the woman an honest chance to build a relationship with the man.

And yet.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nice Day in the Life

Gracie and Brody were playing chase in the house today, and the rugs are all askew. Both came laughing up to me, panting and with tongues lolling, for scratches and petting. It is, after all, their little treat after moments of merriment, that I enjoy them so much I can't resist the petting.

I am glad they are happy. They don't see other people often, and that, as much as my poor training, is part of the reason they rush to newcomers and leap up on them. I can change their training and begin the walking I've always said I will do, but I don't feel I can change the solitude. My home has few visitors.

The dogs are such wonderful company in the evenings, when I sit down with a book or a television show if I can find one, and just share the time. They are constantly moving, demanding attention from time to time, and adding their aliveness to my own.

When we all went out on the porch to enjoy the super moon, though, I realized that my life is full of friendships, like beautiful beads on the string of time. I was somewhat frustrated earlier with a call from a friend from high school years, because she had continued to work during our call, and I could not always hear her well. Still, she had been on my mind lately, and I hadn't called her, so I am glad she did.

My fiftieth high school reunion revived friendships with two women I have known since elementary school. We email back and forth, and occasionally facebook. There are a couple more. Two friends from college, both former roommates. We try to get together for lunch every year. I had three professions in my working life, and have friends from each place. We email and get together once in awhile, as well. Some family friends. Most, however, are many miles away.

What has astonished me about a couple of the childhood friends is that they have grown up to share--over 60 years--many of the same interests I have. Well, I have a lot of interests. But wherever they are, however their lives have gone, somehow, we have popped out with the same concerns about environment, love of books, history, and in some cases, art and music. How did that happen? We were just girls who climbed trees together and rode bicycles and...never played baby dolls together, swooned over rock stars, or even considered skipping college. Huh. I guess we start picking through the threads of who we will become earlier than I thought.

That stuff isn't just phases we go through. It is picking the colors of life we like that will shade the life we have when we are grown. Some of us lead disparate lives that end with such similar thoughts and interests that I am amazed. We do change over time. Events, time itself can forge large differences. Somehow, though, I have ended up with these few childhood friends who have grown up in harmony with me

The friends of my life come from every age and aspect of my life. Some are almost as old as I am. I hope some new friendships will develop,also. I am too young to be stagnant. I am into the difficult years, when friends die or drop away due to dementia,or move away, often to be closer to their children. So they are scattered.

As I write, the dogs have given up on me. They always do when I sit down here to write, but they were hopeful when I went to get a yogurt and a banana. Food was present,now consumed, and they don't like bananas, anyway. And I ain't sharin' the yogurt.

Today is beautiful and hot, with a cold front and possible rain tomorrow. Hopefully, neighborhood cats will not be screeching around 2 am in the morning again, triggering wild barking from under my bed where the dogs sleep nights. I'm tired today. I don't do parties, but I have a couple of interesting meetings today. Neighbor Matt is getting his roof repaired from the March hailstorm. Dogs quietened down quickly when the hammering started early this morning, since every roof on the block, including mine, has been replaced.

A friend is having surgery today, another had surgery two weeks ago, and another has surgery planned next week. Standard fare for 70s and 80s. Parts wear out. On the other hand, the engine light on my car may have been due to insufficient tightening of the gas cap lid last time I gassed up. Car is getting older, too, but no maintenance today.

Yep. A good day.