Category Archives: Cooking

Yesterday…Today

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Today is one of those misty days that makes the landscape appear hazy.  Everything looks as if it’s shrouded in gauze. Everything feels damp. Even the air is moist. A quick walk around the yard through the melting snow, and my feet are soaked. I slide out of wet shoes, and put them near the heater to dry. I peel off the heavy, cold and dripping socks, and replace them with thick, soft, warm ones. This is a day to have a pot of soup on the stove…a loaf of bread rising on the table.

Yesterday…did I even make it outside? Maybe, briefly. I didn’t pay much attention to the weather then, or the many times I opened the door to let the dogs inside or outside. I tackled a few chores, but left a list of things undone, too. Yesterday, I got the idea to make slippers…like the slippers I used to make for my husband and daughters when my family was young…for Christmas gifts. Everything else went by the wayside.

First I pulled down the basket of yarn from the top shelf, where it has sat, neglected, for weeks. My last project was a giant sock to fit over one unfortunate grandson’s cast. Before that…I can’t remember. It was maybe a year or more since I’d crocheted.

As a young mother, I crocheted every day. Out of each week’s grocery budget, I’d buy one skein of yarn: a different color every week. All of my projects were improvisations, based on the yarn I had on hand. I made hats and scarves, slippers and ponchos. I made piles of granny squares to be fitted together into afghans. I made stuffed animals and puppets. I plotted needlepoint designs to use up all the bits and scraps of yarn. For every single finished project, I always had a dozen that I’d abandoned half-way through.

Yesterday, after assessing the available yarn, I decided the slippers would – out of necessity – be not quite identical. I used two strands of yarn: one four-ply, one two-ply, and when I ran out of one, I attached another. I finished two pair of slippers, and started a third, while watching about four hours of programs on my computer. I drank coffee until I’d emptied the pot, then water, then wine. It was a lovely, self-indulgent day. I don’t dare repeat it!

Today, I have to get busy! I have to complete the tasks that should have been done yesterday, plus all the ones on the list for today. I have cards to write, and phone calls to make. There are rugs to shake and floors to sweep, and laundry to be put through the circuit. I have a collection of staple foods still sitting on the kitchen counter, where they’ve been since I emptied the old cabinet that housed them…to make room for the freezer. There is compost to be taken out to the bin near the garden, and recyclables to be loaded in the car.

If I get to the point where I can say “enough, this will do,” with the housework, the garden still needs to be put to bed for the winter. The long hose needs to be picked up, rolled, and hung in the garden shed. Vines – from beans, peas, squash and tomatoes -need to be pulled up and disposed of. I have to, then, cover any open spaces with straw, to keep the weeds from taking over. There is at least one shovel and a three-pronged cultivator still standing out in the weather.

If I happen to manage to get all of that done, I have a back-up list. It includes things like re-arranging and repairing the kitchen cabinets, painting the floor, and cleaning the car. And now, of course, there are slippers to work on, when there is time. And the studio, always, with projects and plans awaiting. It’s unlikely that, on this day,  I’ll have time for any of that. Especially since – first on my list – I have to get that bread dough started…and get vegetables cut up for the soup!

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Listing

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I’ve said it before: I love a list.

Lists give organization to my days. They work as outlines, to highlight my accomplishments and help my scatter-brained self to continue from one task to the next.

Lists can be memory aids. The children in my family, when I was growing up, in age order: Brenda, Cindy, Ted, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin, David, Darla, Amy, Bobby. The children in my father’s family: Henry, Alfred, Robert, Katherine, Margaret, Kenneth. The children in my mother’s family: Janice (no list there!). My own children: Jennifer, Katherine. My grandchildren: Michael, Brandon, Madeline, Tommy, Patrick. My great-grandchildren: Lacey, Faith, Lincoln. These recitations seem silly and unnecessary…right up until I stumble trying to remember a grandchild’s name. Then I know that – especially as I age, and fumble over even common words and things I should absolutely know – any assistance is a good thing.

My job is easier when I refer to my mental lists. The lights to turn on when I open the hardware store: two switches by the front door; six switches by the stairs; one switch in the front of housewares, one in the back and two slide controls on the side wall; one switch in the front of the gift shop; the toggle switch for the paint color display. Opening procedure at the hardware: punch in; turn on the lights; start up the computers; count and record the starting till for each register; turn on the radio; turn on the mixer for the paint machine; put stuff outside, according to the season: grills, lawnmowers, lawn chairs, wheelbarrows, snow blowers; tidy the entry. And the day continues this way, with procedures for sales, returns and charges on the registers, lists for ordering…and on and on.

I have a list of staple foodstuffs I like to keep on hand, and will usually put another list together before going to the grocery store, of things I need based on my planned week’s meals…which is another list. There is a list of foods I cannot have if I follow one diet plan, and a list of foods I need if I go with a different plan. If the cupboards are bare, and I don’t want to go to the grocery store, there is a list of basics that – if I have one or two of them on hand – I can use to put a satisfying meal together with, in a pinch. It is both heartening and scary to think that, with flour, eggs, and frozen vegetables, I could survive.

I have a list of “Nine Habits of People with Clean Houses,” because I do so aspire to be one of them. I have a list of chores to do on a daily basis, and another – often neglected – for weekly and monthly tasks. There is a separate list, for reference, of things that I should tackle, when I have time. There are lists of springtime jobs, autumn chores and holiday-oriented tasks. Always, in my day planner, there are lists of the cleaning I do manage to get done.

I have lists of books I have read, that I am reading, and that I want to read. The same with movies, Ted talks, on-line classes and art projects. Lists of pets, both living and dead. Lists of places I’ve been (few), and places I would like to see (many). I have lists of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Lists of accomplishments and (sadly) of failures.

I picture my life as a large outline, made up of lists with arrows leading from one to another, with quite a few scribbles…and a lot of stars and exclamation points.

Report from the Fox Lake Road

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We are not yet officially done with summer…but fall is clearly in the air. Even the warmest days offer a hint of autumn in the feel of the breeze or the smell of the air. Sweaters are a nice accessory to have on hand these days. By evening, they are a necessity. We have not yet had a frost, but temperatures have dipped to the forties some nights. Yesterday, I turned the heater on to chase away the morning chill.

Leaves are beginning to change color. The rhododendron beside my big door has a cluster of bright red leaves at its center. The “Autumn Joy” sedum in the side bed has taken on a rosy glow. The blackberry brambles, though still offering fruit by the double handfuls, are drying up. The leaves are showing yellows and reds; the thorny canes have become downright dangerous. The maple trees, with just a slight change in disposition, have reminded me of the glorious show they’ll soon be offering.

In the garden, I pick beans and tomatoes every day. Now and then, the nearly dried up pea vines serve up one or two new pods. In September, fresh garden peas are a special treat. Butternut squash and pumpkins are plentiful on the vines. If the weather holds long enough for them to ripen, I’ll be rich with golden squash!

Around the perimeter of the yard, low in the fields, High in the centers of the big juniper bushes, blackberries are ripe for the taking. Some days it’s just enough for a bowlful, with cream, as dessert. Other days, I fill my big colander. I still have blackberries in the freezer from last year’s harvest, measured and sweetened for pie-baking or sauce-making. That means what I harvest this year are for using right away.

I’ve made three pies, and given two away. I have twice made a dinner of blackberry pancakes. I eat a bowl of blackberries every single day after supper. Right now, I have three large dishes filled with berries in the refrigerator, and one on the counter, waiting to be cleaned. It’s been a very good year for blackberries!

I took the dogs down to the Fox Lake today, when I got out of work. Once again we had the place all to ourselves! That, more than anything, signals the end of the busy summer season. On the tenth day of September, that’s how things are here on the Fox Lake Road.

 

These Days

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I took some time yesterday to update my bullet journal. Through the busy summer months, it had been kept up in just the most rudimentary fashion. Yesterday, I filled in the workdays and paydays, habits and activities to the monthly charts, based on the notes I’d jotted on the daily pages as I rushed through my days. I went through the long-term lists for home and garden, and highlighted the tasks that I’ve completed.

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I made pretty good progress in the garden; in the house, not a bit. But, winter is coming, with more time to devote to painting and repair.

There is still plenty to do around here, no doubt. In addition to all the items on my list – many of which take money as well as the time that I seem to always be so short of – there are sorting, deep-cleaning and organizing tasks all through the house. There is – new to my household – the old footstool to reupholster. Soon, if the weather holds, I’ll have tomatoes to put up for the winter. The lawn needs to be mowed. On top of all that, I have big plans in the studio, with projects to finish and new skills to learn. And, the exercise program that I’ve neglected for so long. Every single new day, week and month, I think, “It’s time RIGHT NOW to re-commit to that!” There is plenty to keep me busy, but – these days – I do not feel overwhelmed.

I was recently able to pass on the Beaver Beacon, the bi-monthly news magazine that I have struggled with (as writer, editor, reporter-at-large, bookkeeper, distributor, bill-collector, and sometimes photographer) for the last two-and-a-half years, to someone more capable of the job. I have gone to press with my last issue, and expect it to arrive any day now. I feel like I’m learning to breathe again.  I’m remembering what it is like to wake up in the middle of the night without a sense of panic and a long list of things to do immediately. Now, there is no guilt and self-recrimination involved when I simply roll over and go back to sleep. These days, I feel like there is time, and that I will find the energy, for whatever life brings.

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Time Out

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I could have gone to work today; the hardware store was just a little bit under-staffed without me. I didn’t, though. Today is my birthday, and I took the day off.

I was wide awake at one o’clock in the morning, thinking of all the wondrous things I could do on this bonus day off. I was still awake at six o’clock, ticking off activities to fill this special day. Sixty-five years old is a pretty big milestone, and deserving of some kind of notice.

I could watch the sun rise! Maybe I’d bring the dogs, a thermos and a book down to Iron Ore Bay, and spend the morning on the Lake Michigan shore. Perhaps I’d spend this entire day in the studio making art. Maybe I’d mow the whole lawn…in this one day, rather than four or five evenings after work…so the yard would be something to be proud of. Or I could tackle any number of cleaning projects I never seem to have time for. I could take myself out to lunch, and drink a glass of wine right in the middle of the day, and read for as long as I wanted. I could take a really long walk…

Turns out, I did none of these things.

At 6:30 this morning – just about the time my mother and I were together busy with my birth sixty-five years ago – I decided I was hungry.  I made an egg and two pieces of toast, then, belly full, concluded that I could probably fall asleep if I tried. I snoozed on the couch until almost ten o’clock.

Lack of rest led to lack of ambition. Pajamas were comfortable; coffee was plentiful. With a hostage-taking stand-off in North Carolina, a hurricane closing in on Texas, and all the usual madness in Washington D.C., there was plenty of news to keep up with. In between news cycles, I buoyed my spirits by reading the birthday greetings on my Facebook page.

I went to town in the afternoon to pick up a couple packages. I brought the dogs along for the ride. I picked beans, peas and tomatoes from the garden, burned papers, and did one load of wash.

I enjoyed long conversations with – in order of occurrence – my daughter Jen, my best-friend Linda, my sister Brenda, and my daughter Kate. I made a nice dinner. I’m going to bed early. It was a wonderful, lazy birthday…a time-out from everything!

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Looking Ahead

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Events of the past couple weeks – some joyful, some tragic – have served to open up large blocks of time in my life. Now, with the last of my visiting family and friends waved off on the ferry boat to get back to their own lives, and with my birthday just around the corner, it’s time to start looking ahead.

My birthday competes with the New Year as a time to assess accomplishments and failures (including failed New Year’s resolutions!), and to resolve to do better. Saying good-bye to my Aunt Katie, whose long life was an inspiration and an outstanding example of living well, has directed my thought process. In setting my goals for the next year, I look to joy.

Rather than lay down plans and aspirations as if they are chores to be dutifully completed, I want to keep my eye on happiness. The list may look the same. To be better organized, healthier in habit and weight, to grow my food, take care of my dogs, expand my knowledge and spend quality time making art are constant self-improvement goals. It is the strategy that I am changing.

Rather than look forward to the time when I will be happier because I am better organized…or slimmer…or more on top of other duties and obligations, I intend to find joy in the process. Instead of keeping my eye on the “finish line,” and my distance from it determining my success or failure, I want to enjoy this walk through life, every step of it. I want to (even!!!) take note of flowers along the way. Maybe it will feel the same. Right now, looking ahead, it seems like just the attitude-shift I need.

 

What I Remember

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On my mother’s birthday, my thoughts go to memories of her. Mom would have turned eight-five years old today. If we were still blessed with her presence, I can imagine a lively, strong woman with a twinkle in her eye, who would probably still enjoy going out for a nice dinner. Maybe followed by a night of “Bingo.” Finished off with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately, she died nearly six years ago.

Mom’s seventy-ninth birthday was the last one she celebrated. Though she was gravely ill, she did celebrate. Many of her children and grandchildren were with her; her walker was decorated with balloons, tied on with curling ribbon. Photos show her smiling as she opened presents and marveled over each one.

She was my own very special mother, and it’s nearly impossible to separate that from everything else I know about her. With her own large brood, and many other children welcome to participate in our crazy family activities, with grandchildren adding to the flock, motherhood and nurturing was a big part of Mom’s identity. Not all, though. She had an eventful and challenging life before she had children, and plenty of exciting adventures after we were grown. Today I am remembering the things that made her the unique and wonderful person that she was.

Red was her favorite color. With her dark hair and fair skin, she could wear it well, too. As a young woman, bright red lipstick accented her perfect smile. That, and a touch of rouge on her cheeks was all the adornment she needed. Her strong brows and long, dark eyelashes stood on their own. As her hair changed to salt and pepper and finally silver, the reds in her wardrobe gave way to softer tones of rose and pink.

Mom loved to read, and she raised a family of readers. As a child, she read adventure stories about animals: Black Beauty, White Fang, Lassie Come Home, My Friend, Flicka. Later, she favored good mysteries. After working her way through all the works of Agatha Christie, she found others she liked. Mom favored gritty, tough-guy, detectives with a soft heart.

Shopping was one of mom’s passions. Weekly trips to the grocery store were prepared for with lists, clipped coupons and meal plans, and anticipated with pleasure. Outings with girlfriends to visit the shopping malls in Flint, or to wander through the shops downtown were highlights for Mom.

She’d come home with bags and packages to be hidden away for Christmas, or revealed to us children as new school clothes or the fabric for sewing them. She’d draw us in to her thought processes and her excitement:

“When I saw this color, I just knew I had to get it…imagine how pretty this will look on Cheryl!”

“Cindy, this is almost just exactly like the dress you picked out from the J.C.Penney catalog…and look at this price!”

“I loved this flannel as soon as I saw it. I bought enough to make nightgowns for all the little girls.”

Mom and Dad shared a love of dogs. They would tolerate cats, but dogs were a beloved part of the family. Mom could name her childhood pets, and every dog we’d had growing up, where we got them, and how they died. Her last dog was terribly spoiled with bits of cheese and meat chunks for treats.

Mom liked games and puzzles, and taught us all to like them, too. After we grew up, she often bowed out of participating, though. I think it wasn’t the games, but her raucous family that deterred her. She still enjoyed putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and often had one going on a card table on the porch. When I was young, Mom and Dad occasionally had friends over to play Pinochle or Michigan Rummy. Later, Mom took to the Bingo halls, and even went to the casino once or twice each year.

My mother liked the World War II era movie stars; Judy Garland was one of her favorites. Katherine Hepburn, too. She was crazy about Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka. One of her favorite songs was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Mom and I shared a love of Danny Kaye. Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers all gained Mom’s approval, too.

Mom loved roses. She would usually receive a bouquet or two for birthdays and other special occasions. As children, we’d call Perkin’s Flower Shop to order them, and have them billed to the family account. Seems that bill never came due, as Mom quietly paid it when it came in the mail. That never dulled her enthusiasm over the next bouquet to arrive that way!

This is just a small sample of the many characteristics that made Mom special. If she were here today, I’d deliver flowers. Since she’s not, I’m letting memories of her enrich my day.