Monthly Archives: August 2013

Home Work

Keeping on top of your house is not an easy task, but it’s not a grind, either.  And I realize that sentence makes it sound as if I’m perched on the summit of my physical house, precariously balanced, with perhaps a ridiculously small umbrella clutched in one hand and giant clown shoes on my feet.  No, I mean the upkeep of a home.  

I used to pay somebody to come in and clean my home, and it was worth every blessed penny.  I would come home from work and there was an absolute serenity of calm and order, where no doghair tumbleweeds scurried by, no unidentified remnants crowded the countertops, and the bathrooms were an oasis of clean scents and sparkling fixtures.  That was heaven, pure and simple.  I learned a lot, too.  I have always been an uneducated cleaner, mostly because, for whatever reasons, it wasn’t a regular routine or a priority in my youth.  Who knew you needed to clean windowsills?  Are other people born with the gene that reveals cobwebs in the ceiling corners before regular humans notice them?  And how do you get that internal clock that tells you when it’s time to dust the baseboards?

So now I’m my own cleaning lady, and please try to overlook the use of the word lady, because there’s usually not very lady-like language happening while there’s cleaning. But I am learning, now that I have more time, how to head certain things off at the pass and not let things become all Grey Gardens around here.

Some chores I don’t mind doing at all.  Laundry is not a bad chore at all.  You hump a basket of dirty clothes to the machine, put in the water, the soap, and the clothes, and push the button.  The machine is doing all the work, not you!  How great is that?  For anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, this wonderful machine is churning and soaping and scrubbing and rinsing and spinning, which is 45 minutes to an hour I get to do something else.  And then the beauty?  When it’s done it goes into another machine for 45 minutes to an hour for drying!  This is my kind of chore.  Even when the drying is done, it’s not a bad chore.  You hump the basket of clean clothes up to their final resting place, and then you fold the clothes.  But folding is satisfying, it neatens a jumbled pile of riotous color and texture into symmetrical stacks and makes a pleasing array.  Plus, you can sit and watch television while you’re doing it, so that’s another bonus in my book.  Laundry is awesome.

I actually don’t mind vacuuming all that much, either, except when it involves stairs or narrow places.  I like the idea that I’m creating neat swatches of clean, and I make quilt-like patterns while I’m dancing around the floors with this magical wand that sucks up everything and I don’t have to touch any decomposing hair or bug or dirt molecules with my hands.  It is, however, one of those things that usually doesn’t get done until I notice a rather looming build-up of dust along the paths we use, kind of like a highway where the sides of the roads are littered with debris but the paths where the cars have been speeding are nice and clear.  I wish I had the magic power to see that stuff earlier.  Also, ew.

What I hate doing is dusting.  It is so inefficient and so time-consuming, and I don’t like lifting things up and putting them down (there’s your ear-worm for today, friends, those of you who get that commercial with dopey hunkman and the gym) ad nauseam.  That’s probably why I prefer living with empty surfaces, makes it much easier to dust.  But I like having a few things around and Hubby likes having a lot of things around and what can you do?  Harmony in the home is very important.  So I usually try to do some vacuuming while he’s home, waiting for the inevitable “Can I do anything?” because he is unfailingly polite and well-mannered and I shrug and nonchalantly say “oh, I don’t know, would you want to dust?”  He’s polite and well-mannered, I’m just sneaky.

Yardwork?  I’m not even going to go there.

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This is my friend’s yard. She has it easy. No weeds to pull!

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I Love People

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Dear God, help me remember I love people, even when they are Elvis impersonators. Amen.

My daughters will tell you the title is false, because whenever I’m driving and I run into a smackload of stupid, I don’t get road rage; I sigh and say I hate people.  But no, really, I do love people.

I love the people I came into contact with yesterday.  My friend Karen and I met for lunch at Panera (Yes, I had salad.  And unsweetened iced tea.)  (Alright, and a half of a cookie.  Shut up.) and it was so great to be with somebody who gets me.  We have a good sense of snark together, we’re pretty compatible on the smarts level, yet so different in other stuff that I’m never bored speaking to her.  She’s also a great vehicle for getting out of myself and also for remembering that I’m not the scum of the earth.  

I also saw my doctor yesterday.  She is such an awesome doctor because she does not lay down any lines of BS to make herself that Doctor-God combination that really irks me.  She is human and willingly admits if she got something wrong or just doesn’t know the answer yet, and follows up with phone calls home.  She has made my life better in so many ways, and I’m lucky to have her in my life.  My dad was, too.  When he moved in with us and had his first appointment with her, he was shocked when she called at home to see how he was doing and if he had been comfortable at the appointment and if there were any questions he had forgotten to ask.  He shook his head over it all night, totally impressed.  My dad didn’t impress easily.

I also saw my knitting store gals.  Lisa owns the yarn shop and has never not made me laugh.  She has that profound gift of asking questions about you because she’s interested, not just curious and then she remembers what you tell her.  Dude.  That’s like the hardest thing for me to do sometimes, and she sees how many customers?  I often blurt out the “oh, right, yes, now I remember you telling me.  He’s in Sweden, right?  Connecticut!  I knew it was something like that!”  Yeah, go me.

Jesh was there, too, and besides having a cool name, she is a really cool 20-something who has the tenderness and compassion of a much older woman.  She is funny and talented beyond belief, and is getting married next year and has already knit her wedding shawl.  I’m taking bets on if she’ll break down and knit the flowers.

People have a way of taking me outside of myself, yet at the same time centering me and finding the good inside myself when I’m feeling a wee bit useless.  (You know, the whole leaving my chosen profession thing.)  There is something about a smile that reaches all the way up to people’s eyebrows that melts my heart and makes me feel glad I got the chance to encounter them.

Then I drove home and I hated people again.  Maybe I should amend that to say I hate people driving cars.  

But that’s a story for another day.  Hah!  Keeping you hanging, that’s my evil plan.  

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My Altered Life

Interesting how things define us.  In filling out a form, boxes are checked denoting “single,” “married,” “divorced.”  “Black,” “white,” “asian,” “hispanic,” “other.”  (I want to be an “other” because that could mean alien and then I’d be like Dr. Who.)  “Blonde,” “brunette,” “redhead.”  “Irish,” “German,” “Brazilian.”   “Carnivore,” “vegan,” “gluten-free.”

And then there’s “Occupation.”

What keeps us occupied in our lives, and why is that a question to be answered on a US tax return?  For years after I started filing jointly with my husband, I struggled with that.  The first year of our marriage, I was a teacher.  Then I was a stay-at-home-mom, but I didn’t put that on the tax return.  My husband suggested “housewife” then visibly recoiled when I crisply replied I wasn’t married to the house and surely he was smarter than that?  Other years I put “professional volunteer” and other years I put “calligrapher.”  (To the IRS agents that have documented our returns over the years: I hope I have provided you a glimpse into my zany view of life and some mild entertainment.)

For the last nine years, I returned to proudly filling in “teacher.”  I can’t do that anymore.  

I left my job.

 

I can imagine your reaction.  Who is crazy enough to leave a stable job in this economy?  Who could leave a tenured position with fantastic benefits?  Who decides to turn back on a career that has been the one true calling of their life, next to being a wife and a mom?

Me.  

For the past eighteen months, I have been realizing (slowly, because I’m not the sharpest crayon on the tree) that the sort of people becoming administrators these days have very little interest in education.  There is an abundance of “educational” buzzwords being tossed about, many “educational” programs being embraced and thrust upon the teaching staff with religious fervor and just as quickly abandoned when the new one appears on the horizon, “educational” professional development workshops which are neither educational nor professional, but somebody got paid a lot of money to get it in there… any day now, we’re going to hear the words “paradigm” and “synergy” and I’ll know the Cybermen have landed.  (Yes, I have been watching a lot of Dr. Who lately, why do you ask?)

Student progress is now being charted and measured and weighed and evaluated, like it’s an entry in the county fair.  “Maybe if we try this brand of fertilizer next year, we’ll beat Clyde’s record in the zucchini growing contest!”  Substitute the educational-method-du-jour for “fertilizer,” the school system getting more points than yours for “Clyde,” and “SGP/DOE/SGO/SAT/HSPA” for “zucchini” and you get the idea.  There are suddenly entire movements of people (many of whom have zero educational credentials except for the fact they attended school) who have decided if student growth cannot be measured then the school isn’t teaching anything worthwhile.

What these people don’t get is that education is INTRINSIC.  It is not an external product to be measured.  Here’s an example: Children draw pictures, show them off, and explain patiently to the foolish adult “no, that’s not a house, it’s a hedgehog on a bicycle in a rainstorm with his umbrella attached to the handles while the ice cream man tries to hurry home.”  In due time, same child draws picture, shows it off, and explains that yes, it is a picture of mommy and daddy standing inside a house.  Can you tell me what has taken place?  Has the child become better at drawing?   Has the adult learned to recognize the child’s style?  Has the child achieved somebody else’s level of acceptance?  Is the child happier with their house than their hedgehog?  Has the use of color signaled a depth of understanding not seen before?  Or is it that the child has just as much intrinsic satisfaction at creating an orderly house as a bicycle-riding hedgehog?  How do we know what effect this will have on other areas of the chid’s life?  We don’t, plain and simple.  Does the fact that it can’t be poked and prodded and measured from every angle make it less important?  

Apparently, those who are placing themselves in charge of curriculum and testing think so.  The non-measurable subject areas, like music, art, phys ed, life skills (cooking, sewing, auto mechanics, or whatever holdovers from my days in school might still exist) are now marginalized in a way they’ve never been before.  The product of these classes, so often misunderstood by the business side of education, cannot be measured and so they are without value.  If they are without value, then administrators have no time for them.  If administrators have no time for them, then they have no vested interest in seeing them succeed.  If they don’t need them to succeed, then they don’t need to put any time, resources, or attention to them, and normally that would be okay because as teachers, we know how to make do with very little.  Of course, when it comes time to play the concerts or open the student art gallery or play the Staff vs. Students volleyball game, then the administrators are there beaming for the pictures and boasting about how wonderful the school and these programs are, and aren’t they just the most clever administrators to make sure these things are available to the budget-passing community?

 

There are many people documenting the changing face of education (Diane Ravitch and Jersey Jazzman are two that should be read by every educator) and mine is no longer a relevant voice. I have left the position that was compromising my emotional health and well-being, and I don’t think I will return.  I will always be proud of the fact that I connected with so many young people and contributed to that intrinsic part of their educational development, and I will miss my occupation every single day.  

 

I need to think about my new occupation.  I am determined to make it something that my IRS record-keeper will find entertaining and won’t be found in a box anywhere on any form, then I can educate folks about it.

 

I’ll keep you posted.

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How I Attempt to Stay Out of Trouble and the Reasons Why It Sucks Me In

Image  So many people (muggles) ask why I knit.  The popular answer is I knit so I don’t kill people, or I knit so that I always have a weapon, or I knit because I need to occupy my hands.  But I really knit because I’m a sucker for color and creation.  It amazes me after all this time that I can wave my hands around while holding string and sticks and come up with actual things that didn’t exist before, and do it in the most amazing colors.  It’s even better when I combine it with a good movie because when I go back to the knitting when the movie is long over, I’m almost back in the movie again and replaying the dialogue in my head.  (At least, I hope that’s the movie dialogue and not those silly voices again.  Leave me alone!)

I knit all sorts of things.

ImageSocks, sometimes solid, sometimes rainbow stripes, sometimes a hot mess of color but still cool.  So many people don’t understand knitting socks when socks are plentiful and can be found even in the grocery store for next to no money.  This is true, and I do have muggle-made socks in my drawer, mostly white ones to wear with sneakers, but that is not the deciding factor.  Sock construction is just so freakin’ cool!  There’s the stretchy rib at the top so it will go over the wide part of the heel; the leg part which can be any length desired depending on the yarn quantity; the heel flap which is a bit thicker in anticipation of shoe heels rubbing against it all day; the rounded heel part which is, after all these years, still so much fun to execute; the gusset which makes a sweet little chain of stitches and joins the whole thing together; the foot which daunting if you have canoes for feet; and the toe, which changes shape until it’s gone.  It is so dang entertaining!

 

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Closing up the toe with invisible stitches

That does not even look like my hand.  I’m just sayin’.

 

ImageLook at that color!  It is so saturated, so perfect in its blueness, I want to pet it and call it Herman.

 

ImageOh, the absolute ache of color in this photo!  Somebody clever came up with those colors and combined them and spun them and skeined them and if I remember correctly (which is not at all likely) I knit this bad boy up right away and was thoroughly entertained.

 

ImageEven in a not-so-eye-catching color, the socks are miracles of fit and pattern.  It’s like blanket hugs for my feet.  I know many knitters who think “why would I put all that time and work into something that was going to be on feet of all things?!” and I think to myself that obviously their feet need a good blanket hug.

 

ImageI knit hats, but I end up never wearing them.  I’m convinced I have an alien-shaped head because hats that look absolutely darling on everyone else either slide off my head and down my back or end up south of my eyebrows and I feel like I’m five years old again.  So I usually give them away.

 

ImageI make scarves, but not so much anymore unless it’s a gift for a man, because that’s a great go-to gift for the person you have no idea of their size or their preference in gifts, but everyone can use something to ward off a really windy day and not worry about it being too personal or matchy-matchy or like that.  I don’t make them too often because they are boring, and by the time I want to stop the scarf is really only a turtleneck without the sweater and so I knit on and on and on while I pine for sock yarn.

 

ImageI knit lacy little things when I want to stretch my skills and shock myself with the results.  And this picture, I just realized, is showing the wrong side.  *sigh*

 

ImageI knit baby blankets, sometimes knowing the gender in advance makes for more fun yarn selection, otherwise it’s usually white-beige-cream-tan-innocuous color selections and I go to town gender-wise on the enclosed card.

ImageI also knit giant grown-up blankets for pretty young girls that are off to college!  (Wow – this was four years ago.  How is that possible?)

 

ImageAnd my newest love, shawl-knitting.  Though I tend not to wear them like actual shawls since I have a serious care of shoulder-slump and instead wear them as a sort of neck-scarf without doing that whole scarf thing that I discussed up there.  Whatever.  It’s pretty and functional and I made it and yeah.

 

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Ladies Who Lunch

First, I apologize (if you’re a Broadway fan) for planting that earworm, because now you’re going to be saying “Everybody rise!”  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry.  If you do, I’m sorry.

Great beginning.  I really know how to hook an audience.

Secondly, let’s get this straight: I’m not a lady who lunches.  Yesterday I went to lunch with two female friends of mine, so we were ladies who lunched, but I’m not a Lady Who Lunches.  There’s a big difference.

A Lady Who Lunches usually has this appointment carefully noted on her calendar.  I had it noted, but it was on the wrong week in two different calendars, as well as being mixed up with a doctor’s appointment that should have been the following week.  I was definitely looking forward to it, my brain just got scrambled.  Much like the eggs Older Daughter made for breakfast yesterday.  Random!

Ladies Who Lunch choose their outfit with great care: who is going to see them, who might see them, who might comment on their appearance, etc.  I decided to wear jeans instead of capris because I thought the restaurant might be air conditioned and also because I hadn’t shaved in the shower that morning.  During my shower a massive thunderstorm moved in and I honestly thought I was going to be electrocuted through the water stream so I hightailed it out of there as soon as possible, leaving behind my razor and my Skintimate (for sensitive skin!) and hoping the lights would stay on.  I did spare 30 seconds thinking about my shirt: it was not a t-shirt, it had shape and some small gathers in strategic places and it covered my upper arms.  (Women over 50, you understand what I’m getting at, right?  Please say right.)  It was also a cherry-burgundy-merlot color, a bit autumnal for August, but hey, I can’t have every criteria met all the time.

Ladies Who Lunch spend careful time with their hair and makeup.  Oh, okay, I did that.  I dried my bangs and rearranged my long wet hair into a charming wrapped tail and stuck it in place with a honking big clip.  I went all out and put on a liquid foundation because it had SPF 15 and I figured if there would be any sun at all, I would be in good shape.  Then I chose a navy blue eye pencil instead of my normal dark brown.  I’m a rebel, I tell you.  I think the entire operation lasted a good minute and 23 seconds.

Ladies Who Lunch choose a charming country inn or a metropolitan hotspot or a hotel with fabulous salads.  We went to Houlihan’s because we said we hadn’t been there in at least ten years and it was a good meeting spot.  And there wasn’t a salad or clever deconstructed anything on our plates.  Our appetizers were Artichoke-Goat Cheese poppers and Three-Cheese Fries.  Hey, we were fulfilling our dairy requirements, okay?  A reuben, a french dip, and a crispy chicken sandwich were our weapons of choice, followed by dessert and hot beverages.  And we finished it, too.  This was how we showed each other how much we loved and supported each other: we go for the gusto and have fun doing it.

We had our serious moments, too.  It had been six months since we’d been together, and while we keep in touch, we needed face time for the more in-depth discussions of husbands, adult kids, tragedy and loss, birth and joy, and life situations.  I was finally able to share my situation; to see the love and support reflected in their eyes and feel their comforting hands rubbing my shoulders meant the world to me.  It is a difficult story to share but at lunch with my ladies there was not a single bit of hesitancy on my part, and no holding back on theirs.  They each responded with the characteristics that have kept them near and dear to my heart for so long.

Now those are real Ladies.

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Snazzy dressers

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People-Watching

Part of the fun I experienced on my little trip to Huge And Wonderful Farmer’s/Flea Market last week was the joy of people watching.  Put me someplace where there’s plenty of folks and a refreshing beverage, and I’m a happy little peeper.

 

I’m not a gawker, heavens no.  That would be impolite.  There’s something so creepy about looking straight on to someone; it’s like barging into their dressing room when they’ve got one leg into the new trousers they’re hoping will fit.  (And let me tell you, girlfriend, unless you are matchstick thin you have got to put those corduroys back on the display.)  People are busy being themselves and if you give a full eye-to-eye look while they’re being themselves they suddenly jerk out of themselves and give the deer-in-the-headlights look and you feel bad for scaring them out of their natural habitat.

(Apparently today is overused-hyphen-day.)

People watching must be done discreetly.  (Now I have the Wicked Witch voice in my head: “These things must be handled delicatelyyyyyy…..”)  Not to be a creeper or shifty-eyed, because that’s wrong too.  It’s better to be engaged in something, like savoring your refreshing beverage or rearranging your ratio of purchased-bags to shoulders or fixing the short sock that keeps trying to escape your heel.  This last one can be a bit awkward, especially when you realize that you’ve become the one people are watching.  But hey, look at the service you provided!  That’s the spirit!

My favorite people watching at an outdoor market happens when I’m at a stall or booth.  There I’m perusing the items, but also perusing my fellow humans and becoming part of their day just for that moment.  If I’m reaching for a whoopie pie and another lady is reaching for the one next to it, then I get a chance to wonder what kind of life that hand is attached to: Natural nails or tips? Fake gold bracelet or something cherished? Tattoo of significance or rebellion? Happy marriage? Divorced? Kids? City or country? Working or retired? Movie first or book?  (What can I say? Hands are very entertaining.)  If we reach for the same whoopie pie, then we have breached the barrier and can engage: 

“Whoops! I’m sorry!”

“Whoops.  I guess that’s what you say during a WHOOPIE pie encounter, huh?”

“That’s right – that’s so funny!”

“You have it, I’ll go for this one.”

“Are you sure? Thanks!”

Or:

“Whoops! I’m sorry!”

*cricket*  *cricket*

 

The other kind of encounter begins as a silent one.  For example, say many of us are perusing the jewelry displays, and one person mentions something to a companion.  Companion comments back in a negative fashion, and Person answers back lightning-fast in a snarky yet hysterical way.  I can’t help it, and I smile.  Person looks at me and says “Right?  It totally is!  You get me, right?” and we share a laugh.  Poor Companion looks put out that I, the usurper, am a member of the Sharing-the-Snark club and moves on to a different piece of jewelry and says in a please-be-my-friend-and-like-me-again voice “This would look gorgeous on you!” and Person moves on and I feel happy for the couple, united again in the Dance of Shopping.

 

But my favorite, by far, is the sitting-in-silence watch.  (You realize I’m inventing reasons for hyphenation, right?)  This happens when a handy bench or seat presents itself just when my tired legs say “enough already, we’ve been doing all the work, can we please take a rest?” (See earlier post about body parts having brains.)  I grab a seat, exhale deeply, and go into semi-focus to watch the parade of humanity passing by.

Small, wiry boys who dart around playing hide-and-seek with another such boy, usually not aware of precarious displays of merchandise or jutting elbows and are two seconds away from being introduced to them.  Sweaty and overtired babies almost too tired to cry but unable to help it and young moms who feel the same and wish they had not come out in the middle of the afternoon when they knew it would mess up the baby’s nap time but how could they know the dishwasher repairman would keep them hanging until 11:30 for an 8:15 appointment?  Newly retired couples who are overdressed for an outdoor market and are trying to figure out where to go next in an overly polite way.  Men who have a closed look about them and feel it their duty to be in charge in every single situation that arises, even as to how much ice in a cup is cheating a customer out of his fair amount of Mountain Dew.  Grandparents who are enjoying an outing with their grandchildren and can’t stop smoothing their heads or touching their shoulders and visibly pouring love on them.  Harried workers on a brief break from the selling, flexing sore shoulders and gratefully stretching their necks and raising their arms high towards the sun.  Amish women in layers of black held together with pins and snow-white caps moving swiftly through the crowds in their neon green sneakers.  Moms and adult daughters shopping together, so many variations on that theme: dressed and made up almost matching, so that the relationship is ultra close and maybe a little competetive; suburban tan and healthy mom in preppy clothes with pierced and tattooed daughter, or sometimes vice-versa; a pair of motorcycle queens; a mom that looks like hard times has never left her life trailing a daughter who is made up like a cover girl and is clearly indulged in every facet of her life; an honest, open-faced daughter patiently waiting for an angry and bitter mother to stop arguing with a vendor over an already-reduced price of melons; and a pair that giggle together like teenagers and have obvious affection and respect for each other.

It’s free, it’s wonderful, it makes my day.

 

Hope that doesn’t make me a creeper.

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Tea and Sarcasm Family Outing

One thing I love so much is going on a little escapade with my girls.  I love it when the whole family is together, but sometimes the girl time is really on the top of my list and it’s priceless to me.  Add to the mix one of my favorite destinations ever and some fabulous late August weather, and you have a banner day.

 

We made our way to Lancaster, PA and the Amish country.  Our first stop was a little shop that sells all sorts of wonderful stuff and has Amish rubbing elbows with the “English.”  (Literally rubbing elbows.  This store has pretty narrow aisles and a ton of stuff to look at.)  They’re known for their apples and other produce, and their extensive line of jams and fruit butters, but I think the thing that rocks my boat pretty hard is right inside the front door:

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They’re busy and they’re buzzin’.

It’s so cool!  There’s a neat display of honey all around it and it’s fascinating to watch the bees in action, doing their thang.  

We usually stock up on some jams, some seeds and nuts, some baking supplies, my beloved whole-wheat raspberry bars, oat bran sesame sticks, and gingersnaps.  While waiting near the register to check out, we were fascinated (and not at all tempted) to see this for sale:

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I can’t even.

Then we were on our way to the Green Dragon Market in Ephrata, about 20 minutes north of Lancaster.  This market is open on Fridays only, year-round, unless Christmas falls on Friday.  It is a mammoth mix of farmer’s market, Amish bakery, flea market, furniture shop, and butcher.  We parked our car pretty far away (it was a super busy day) and saw this bucolic setting:

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Aaaaahhhhhhh……..bliss

Then turned ourselves around to behold this:

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Fun! Festivities! Food!

And that doesn’t even begin to show you the size of it.  

We visited our favorite Amish booth, the Kings, to get our favorite applewood and hickory smoked bacon.  We buy it 10-15 pounds at a time because we get there only once or twice a year, then freeze it one pound packs and enjoy it roughly once per month.  It is so amazingly delicious, bears no resemblance to the salty soggy plastic stuff in the supermarket, and the taste just butters my toast.  Plus, it’s always nice to visit with Mrs. King, she is a delightful woman and her husband has a very very dry sense of humor.  During my visit I learned that “goomba” is Pennsylvania Dutch for potato.  I am now equipped to go forward in the world.

Another must is the little shack that hold the secret to happiness.  Once you have this prize, all is right with the world and you have the strength of ten:

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My preciousssssss……

It is an Amish pretzel dog.  Whoever thought of wrapping a hot dog in pretzel dough and baking it is officially my best friend.  What a marvel of nature, what an astounding miracle, and oh, it’s so not good for you.  Except it is.  Especially when you only get it once or twice per year.

We bought sprinkles, kitchen tools, glasses, whoopie pies, apple dumplings, and a long dress.  And bacon.

Then, to make a completely healthy choice to end the day, we met Hubby at Cracker Barrel.  Don’t judge me.

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Pew!

It occurred to me this morning as I was waiting for my car to be serviced that all places having to do with cars smell exactly the same.  Why is that?  From a dealership showing the fancy pants living-room-on-wheels to the dirtiest, greasiest one bay garage it’s that…. that…. odor.

 

It’s not a very pleasant odor, either.  It’s the kind that makes you notice right away, and your nose kinds of crinkles up and you realize in the part of your nose that has a brain that “hey, I don’t like this.”

What?  Don’t you know that all your body parts have little brains in them?  Aren’t you glad you have me here to educate you on the finer points of anatomy?

 

It is a smell, though, that brings me back to childhood.  My dad was very knowledgeable knowledgable smart about cars and did a lot of the diagnostics and repairs himself, which often required trips to the car parts store.  Anywhere my dad went, I wanted to go, mostly because I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t be nagged to clean up my room, and also because I really really loved my dad and he made even mundane trips seem interesting and amusing.  I remember several trips to the supermarket where I would be reduced to hysterical giggling tears and people would look at us strangely (strangely look at us?  look at us in a strange manner? do I care??) and it would be the one time in my life I didn’t mind people thinking I was weird because I was with my dad and he made me feel so wonderful.

 

Anyway, on the rare occasions he did need someone to help repair his car (usually involving lifting out the engine which he really couldn’t do in our suburban driveway with the uphill curve) I would go with him.  Those trips usually happened on a Saturday after he realized he couldn’t do it himself and he was in a slightly grouchier mood because he would be stuck waiting at the mechanic’s shop and my mother had probably prodded him to take me so she could have some relative quiet to herself.  He would be dressed in his Saturday pants and a blue plaid shirt, always with thick black shoes and socks.  In my cutoff shorts and flip-flops, I used to smugly think I was so lucky to be a girl, that I didn’t have to wear pants and shoes on a warm Saturday.  (Clearly this was before I started menstruating.)  (Sorry I brought that up, gentlemen.)  

 

We would enter the mechanic’s shop and that greasy-rubber-oily-raggy-petroleum-dirt smell would hit me full force and I would probably look around for an open window.  The faint daylight that seeped through the smeared window that had probably been painted shut since 1937 pretty well summed up the experience I was going to have there.  After speaking in a foreign language to the mechanic (carburetor! manifold! spark plug! gasket! ) who always wore a blue ticking shirt with “Ray” embroidered over the left pocket, he would shake his head and settle into one of the green pleather-covered seats with the split right down the middle and stuffing trying to make an escape.  I’d find a seat next to him and settle in as well.

 

There isn’t much to do in a mechanic’s shop.  There are no arrays of magazines, like in doctor’s offices.  There are parts manuals which my father would read out of ultimate boredom (and probably to avoid my attempts at sparkling conversation. After all, this was no trip to the supermarket!) and I would be stuck looking at a brochure for fishing equipment.  I have no idea why it was there.  Probably somebody was so excited to get out of there when their car was ready that they dropped it on their speedy way out.  

 

There was also, always, two machines.  One held gum, but not the cool, round, jaw-breaking variety.  No, this was the flat, square-shaped gum that looked vaguely like Chiclets and promised to be spearmint flavor.  No kid likes spearmint, I can tell you that.  The other one had salted cashews.  I would ponder those machines for quite a while, wondering how skinny your arm had to be to reach up inside the little keystone-shaped slot and grab a cashew, because of course I didn’t have any money.  Why would I have money?  I was going with my dad, he would always take care of me.

 

“Daddy?”

“Hmmm?”  A particularly wild set of sprocket wrenches in the catalog had him enthralled.

“Can I have a dime?”

“What?”

“Can I have a dime?”

“What for?”

“I want to get a cashew.”  I really didn’t, but I was bored beyond belief and I figured the cashew might also help with the smell.

“You want a dime for one cashew?  That’s nuts!” he went back to his spine-tingling manual.  I’m not sure he knew he had made a joke.

“That’s what it says.  Look,” I pointed.

He looked over at the little machine with the scratched red top and the less-than-clean glass and said, “Nah, there’s probably worms inside it,” and shifted in his chair towards the greasy-filtered daylight.

Worms?

Well, now I had something to do!  I moved over to the machine and looked at every possible angle, top and bottom, through the weird angle of the thick glass in the corners, and tried to find the worms that surely must be trying to eat their way out.  I jiggled the turning mechanism to possibly wake them up.

 

“Leave the machine alone.  I said you couldn’t have any.”

“I’m looking for the worms you said were in here.”

Red-embroidered Ray looked up from the depths of our car engine and hollered over “What?  Worms?  Where?”

 

My dad looked at me like thanks-kid-you-take-the-cake-sometimes.  And I squiggled back into my seat and smelled the depressing, morose smell of a long afternoon at the car mechanic’s.

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Image

Nova Scotia water

Today is the kind of August day I quite like.  It is clear and sunny and the sky is a soft blue and there’s a hint of coolness about.  (Yes, it would have been a great day to take a walk.  Shut up.)  It’s the kind of morning that causes me to open every single window in my downstairs (all fourteen of them) and realize, in the midst of breathing in all that glorious cool air, that I have no upper body strength at all and by the time I get to window number 12, my muscles (or what used to be muscles) are screaming in protest.

 

Hi, I’m Tea & Sarcasm and I have a problem with run-on sentences.

 

In my younger days, a day like this would send me into a frenzy of mood swings: 

  • Elation! What a great day for getting a lot of things done!
  • Misery.  There’s an awful lot of weeds that need pulling out there.
  • Joy!  The humidity has broken and I can breathe in clear air!
  • Trepidation.  If I go outside to weed, the bees will surely kill me.
  • Happiness!  Looking out the window at a day like this makes my heart happy to be beating!
  • Inspiration! There are so many things I can get done now that the humidity has broken!
  • Realization.  There are so many things I can get done now that I don’t have an excuse.

But now that I’m so much older and so much wiser and so much more sarcastic, I can look right out those open windows and just immerse myself in that wonderful feeling of something new in the air, something to be savored and enjoyed instead of battling with myself as to how I’m going to deal with it.

 

I’ve mentioned that I live next door to Martha-Stewart’s-twin, and watching her toil outside with weeding, mowing, whacking, transplanting, painting, scraping, hosing, sweeping, and generally being-a-better-human-than-me used to make me curl up in a defeated ball of whimper.  Now I calmly sip my tea and think about how mature I’ve become that I can appreciate this day for what it is:

 

A chance to exercise my arms in the Olympic sport of window-opening.

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August 14, 2013 · 9:35 am

Cooking

Yikes!

 

I enjoy cooking, and this summer I’ve been cooking a lot.  Tonight was eggplant parmesan, and let me tell you, this dish is a labor of love (and breadcrumbs).  It sounds so easy but from the time I started until I sat down to eat, three and a half hours had passed.

 

Thus, my “yikes!”

 

You need eggplant (obvi), breadcrumbs, oil, eggs, cheese, and sauce.  Throw it together and bake.  Easy, right?

 

Peel the eggplant.  Slice it longways with your mandoline, and decide that for once you are not going to salt it and drain it, since this is the really pretty graffiti eggplant that isn’t as spongy as your dark purple aubergines.  While the mandoline is out you say what the heck, and slice up the onion with it.  And the garlic (which really wasn’t that effective, but hey, I had mandoline fever).  And the mozzarella!  Brilliant!  except not!  But all the slicing was done, so onward.

Let the eggplant sit for a bit.  The poor things have been through the wringer, so they need to recover.  Decide to make the marinara sauce, but make enough for tonight, tomorrow, and all of next week.  Drag out the big sauce pot, throw in the olive oil, heat it up, and throw in the onions and garlic.  Open two cans of paste top and bottom; this way you press all the paste out and don’t go nuts trying to scrape every last bit out of the tiny can.  Fry it up with the sauteeing onions and garlic and pass out from the heavenly smell.  Once it looks like it’s pretty incorporated, throw in two cans each of diced tomatoes and pureed tomatoes, plus basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Stir it up really well.  If you stir it up lousy, something terrible is sure to happen.  When it boils and deposits ugly blotches all over your white stovetop, turn it down to a simmer and cover it and leave it alone in time out.

 

Hey, remember the eggplant?  Get out your big cast iron skillet that your parents used for over 30 years and put some canola oil in.  I’m a canola girl.  Now you have to beat some eggs and get some panko breadcrumbs ready.  I’ve stopped using normal (?) breadcrumbs because of all the processed ingredients in it and the high amounts of sugar.  I’m not a huge eater of super healthy stuff, but I try to avoid more processed stuffs the older I get.  Dip the properly chastised eggplant in the egg, press the panko firmly on it, and place into the pan.  You can’t put more than four or five slices in at a time, and your stack of waiting eggplant slices is about half a mile high, so you’re going to be here for a while.  Get annoyed because the first batch isn’t sizzling as much as you’d like, and realize you didn’t wait long enough for the oil to get shiny.  

 

Suddenly everything happens at once.  You realize you left the new package of breadcrumbs, along with oatmeal and wheat germ, at the store.  Younger Daughter who just got home (scoring some mighty fine bargains on her shopping trip, she is SO me) is instructed to call store.  Yep.  It’s there, just been listed as “forgotten bag” and I can come get it.  Hubby will have to get it as I have that half-mile high stack of eggplant to rassle, and they say all he has to do is describe the items.  Older Daughter is texting and the phone is ringing.  Gah!

 

Things keep moving, the eggplant is taking its time and things are sizzling quite nicely.  Hubby calls from supermarket.  Guess what?  They put my items back on the shelf.  They’ve been paid for, they said they would hold them, and they put them back to re-sell them.  Not cool, supermarket.  Not cool.  A sternly worded letter is going to somebody sometime when the half-mile eggplant stack is whittled down.

 

Stir the sauce!  You don’t want it to stick!

 

Finally finish the eggplant.  Grab the baking dish, ladle the sauce, and begin stacking the eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce in layers.  Get it all done neatly with about 1/32″ to spare.  Prudently place cookie sheet under casserole dish and shove into oven which you are positive you set at 375 degrees but is now showing 200.  Really, oven?  Et tu?

 

I’m happy to report that the eggplant was gratefully devoured by an appreciative family and the wonderful Hubby of supermarket escapades washed ALL. THE. DISHES.  He is such a keeper!

 

No really, I enjoy cooking.  Now imagine if I’d tried to take pictures like a food blogger.  Good heavens, I’d be under the table chewing my cuticle.  How do those people do it? I admire their acrobatic and organizational skills, not to mention their styling of food.  Guaranteed my camera would have ended up in the sauce.

 

Is there a meal you will painstakingly create?  If so, can I come over?

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