Monthly Archives: May 2014

I Really Was Sincere at the Time…

It’s Saturday morning, and I’ve just returned from the Farmer’s Market. While I bought the requisite grape tomatoes (even though it’s not nearly close to tomato season yet), yellow peppers (same season-wise), blueberries (from North Carolina, so not “Jersey Fresh!” as the market signs proclaim), and red-skin potatoes (don’t care when it’s available, just get it in mah mouf), we also bought the definitely not farm-related whole-grain bread and breakfast empanadas.

And because of this visit, I have come to the conclusion that my brain loves to visit fantasy land. Earlier in the blog I did go into detail about how we’d do a garden this year, and how I would have the luxury of time to plan it properly and get the soil prepped and order plants ahead of time instead of the last-minute desperate rush to Home Depot. Every Monday or Tuesday we’d plan to “get the stuff and get started this weekend” and every weekend we realized there were a myriad of reasons why we couldn’t: it was raining; it was graduation weekend and we’d be tremendously busy; Hubby would be out all day Saturday (which, as the whole universe knows, is the Mandated Do Things in the Backyard Day) at a meeting; guests were coming for Memorial Day and we couldn’t have naked lumber just laying about.

Which brings us to this morning. It’s a beautiful day, perfect for finally getting stuff started and we chattered a bit as we pulled into the Farmer’s Market. (Well, Hubby did most of the chattering; I have a miserable cold and cough so my end of the conversation was a lot of waving hands and inscrutable face-making.) Before we got out, I stopped him so I could croak at him.

“Why are we going to make a huge garden when we have a garden literally down the street every Saturday?”

Hubby got that look of resigned patience.

“I mean, I really want to support these local farmers with our business, so doesn’t it make sense to just come here for our needs?”

Hubby explained that growing our own is cheaper.

“Is it really, though? After buying the materials for the raised beds, having dirt delivered, buying mulch and fertilizer and then the plants, and watering and weeding, are we really saving money? To mention nothing of the doctor’s bills for our sprained backs and deconstructed knees.”

I thought I saw a small smile.

“But, I mean, if you want the garden, I don’t want to stop you…” Then I coughed, a little more pitifully than I intended.

Hubby opened the car door and said cheerfully, “Right. No garden this year.”

Next year, however, I am going to make some big plans and get started much earlier. I even made a new bookmark tab labeled “gardening” so I have to mean business, right?

 

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A Good Yarn

I’ve been knitting since I was twelve years old.  For some reason, I asked my mom to teach me, even though I had never seen her hold knitting needles before.  I don’t remember when I heard about, or saw knitting, but I asked for needles and yarn.  I received two very long aluminum needles with “Susan Bates” on the package, a skein of Red Heart, and a booklet proclaiming “How to Knit” with a generic model holding knitting needles and a scarf of many colors emerging from them while she smiled benevolently at her work.

It must have been an occasion of some sort, because my aunt’s family arrived later and I was showing my gift.  I confessed to having some trouble casting on and my mother couldn’t help because she didn’t know anything about it.  My aunt was a very take-charge sort of person, so she said “Ignore the book.  Here’s how you do it,” and showed me some magic with her thumb and pointer finger and some looping around.  I think it took me a good half hour of frustration and “show me one more time” before I finally got it.  Of course, the resulting cast-on row was tight from my anxious hands and sweaty to boot, so you knitters can appreciate the squeaks that resulted from trying to insert my needle into the petroleum-based yarn.  Yikes.  How I did not throw it aside and proclaim “Knitting is stoooopid!” is beyond me, but I guess I was sucked into the magic.  How each little loop sits there patiently, waiting for its turn to get transferred to the other needle, and seeing the yarn pass through each one to become a new one, all tidy and lined up along the needle shaft.  How the breath is held until the end of the row and then released in a woosh that yes, you actually made it.  Then you turn around and start it all over again.

Invariably, I’m sure I had the problem of too many stitches at the end of the row (because, of course, I was counting in my head like a good little beginner) and I asked how to fix it.  Take Charge Aunt said “Give it to me, I’ll fix it,” which she did without a word and handed it back to me.  Even at the age of twelve, I was outraged.  I didn’t ask anyone to fix it for me, I wanted to know HOW to fix it myself!  I knew myself well enough to know it would happen again and so shouldn’t I be equipped to make the necessary repairs?  I remember saying to Take Charge Aunt, “Show me what you did,” and her reply was confusing then but funny now: “I don’t know what I did!  I just did it!”  Clearly, she was an innate problem solver who thought and did faster than her words could keep up and explanations would be difficult for her to make.  “But what happens if I do it again?”

“Then I’ll fix it again.”

“But what if you’re not here?”

“Then you’ll look in your book for the answer.”

“But I don’t know what I did wrong?  How do I fix it if I don’t know what it is?”

She asked my father for another cocktail.

And so it went, through my early knitting life, that I would make scarves and pillows and anytime I didn’t have the right number of stitches I would either ignore it or knit two together or pretend the hole in the fabric wasn’t really there.  Pretty soon my knitting became more regular and even, but I still didn’t understand how to correct mistakes or even know when they were made.  (This was in the Dark Ages, boys and girls, when there was no such thing as an internet or google or you tube.  Heck, this was before videotape!  If you needed questions answered, you looked in the encyclopedia or went to the library for a book.  Our library was six miles away, so yeah.)  I saw pictures of multi-color knitted projects and sweaters that looked adorable, but I couldn’t understand any of the directions so I kept casting on scarves and pillows and very rarely finished any of them.

I think I probably abandoned knitting, but not entirely, because every now and then I’d find my Susan Bates aluminum needles which were somewhat worse for wear and some leftover plastic yarn and cast on about thirty stitches and start knitting and purling, but had no pattern or idea what I wanted, I just needed to knit.  When I got married I decided to knit my new husband a sweater.  A real one. I picked out a booklet that proclaimed “Real Fisherman Knits for the Whole Family!” and instead of going with the classic natural color, I picked out sky-blue yarn to go with my husband’s blue eyes. Yeah, because most guys want sweaters that match their eyes.  I also picked out the wooliest-looking acrylic yarn I could find, because it was cheap and we were newly married and it was the thought that counted, right?

Well, this was a big project, alright.  There were no charts to follow, it was all line by line instructions.  Fisherman knit sweaters have cables and bobbles and background patterns in a symmetrical layout, and this pattern featured one central panel of double cables and seed stitch, two panels on each side of that featuring small cables and bobbles in between, and two strips for the underarm area featuring seed stitch, stockinette, and reverse stockinette.  No biggie, right?  I can’t tell you what the back featured because I never got that far.  I think it took me two and half years of knitting it on and off and I got from the cast on, ribbing, and up to the middle of the chest.  I had to read each panel line by line within the row, and it was very easy to lose track of K1, P1, K7, make bobble, K2, P2, K2, P2, K2, P1, KFB, K2, P2, K1, P1, etc. for infinity.  I would insert little check marks next to a row I had finished and then would purl back and go to the next row.  I didn’t know what to do when I completed a section and it said “repeat first section” so I would add another little checkmark but when I had four or five checkmarks and they didn’t line up I wasn’t sure where to go with the pattern so I would begin knitting and hope it would turn out right.

This year marks 26 years that we’ve been married.  I think I found the sweater pieces about six years ago and after careful observation and studying the thousands of stitches and the pitiful attempts at fixing mistakes and the dawning realization that a fisherman sweater in sky blue acrylic was ridiculous and what in the world were BOBBLES doing on a man’s chest that I closed the bag it was in and deposited it in the trash.  I did not feel one twinge of regret.

Last Christmas I attempted a sweater vest for Hubby.  I scoured the internet for patterns, measured against one of his manufactured sweater vests for accurate sizing, tested my yarn, got a gauge that yielded a pretty good fabric, did math for adjustments (gasp!) and went to town.  I was happy with this because the color was great (a manly forest green) and there wasn’t a bobble in sight, just a lovely conservative swath of plain stockinette knit in the round with a purl stitch at each underarm “seam” for stability.  It was when I divided for the front “V” section that something began to nag at me.  The rate of decreases was looking a bit unusual for a vest and nothing like the vests he wears.  I decided to try it on and see what was wrong.

Did you ever have that hot burning feeling in your face that you just did something really stupid and now you have to start all over or the despair of how much time you’ve wasted and what were you thinking?  Are you understanding where this is headed?  I had knit a forest green halter top.  The straps were straps instead of a sweater top, and it was tight and looked ridiculous.  I realized I had to rip it back to below the point I had split for the “V” and figure out where I had to fix the pattern I had already been “fixing.”  It was two weeks until Christmas and I said to myself “You can do this!  It just needs to be tweaked!”

Is anyone surprised that the vest is in time out?

 

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Danger. Back away from the knitting.

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This Time With Feeling

Step right up, folks, and enjoy the thrills and spills and chills of the Emotional Roller Coaster!  You’ll soar to great heights and plunge to murky depths!  Your breath will be snatched from you and hurled back into your face with lightning speed!  You’ll gasp in awe and moan in agony!  What are you waiting for?  Climb aboard!

It’s been one of those months.

May is just a gorgeous month, but it’s almost like Christmas with sensory overload everywhere.  Those sensual dogwoods and magnolias bursting open with their wanton displays of blossoms in deep pinks and blushes, those hussy azaleas with their purple passion arms open wide, those haughty and imperial purple iris royally waving to all, the insistent blue phlox spreading their carpet everywhere and demanding you tarry for awhile…..It makes the head spin and convinces me that I could be a master gardener, just let me take a quick trip to the local nursery and get some plants.  I have to slap myself pretty hard to get out of that one.

Then there was The Graduation.  Younger Daughter is now a full-fledged adult, and we have moved on, as parents, into a different phase of our life.  I could call it the Yay-Now-I’m-Not-Responsible-For-You-Anymore, but that’s not how I feel because I’m still pretty much a hands-on mom.  (I think my girls would more accurately describe it as Nosybody Mom, but they don’t have blogs so I get to pick the titles.)  (And if they do have blogs, I don’t know about it so it’s kind of the same thing.  Work with me, people.)  It’s more of a feeling of mild astonishment at launching two children successfully through the elementary (wow, that’s a TERRIFIC model of a volcano!), middle (wow, that’s a TERRIFIC model of a DNA strand!), and high school (wow, you’d better get cracking if you want to get into a good college so make a better model of a dilithium crystal!) years.  (I don’t even know if there is a dilithium crystal or if you can even make a model of it.  I’m on a roll and I don’t let English language rules get in my way sometimes.)  We did the FAFSA and wept at the results, used almost all of my paychecks when I had them, and finally succumbed to student loans but we’re not drowning so we feel successful and besides, we love pasta for dinner six nights per week.  (I kid.  It’s only four.)  There’s just something about seeing your offspring that you once died a thousand deaths at leaving them in pre-school donning that cap and gown and processing into a huge arena that makes you say “huh.”  And inspires reflection.

And we celebrated a birthday of the Hubby which got swallowed up by the graduation, but we still managed to pull off a cake and presents and I made a marble cake with chocolate frosting.  From scratch.  Cake mix is from the debbil, and so is canned frosting.  Forget the fact that Hubby WANTED Duncan Hines cake mix because it was so moist; he will eat my efforts even though they’re a bit on the dry side (why did this cake call for no oil?) and be happy because he’s that kind of Hubby.  I hit the jackpot with him.  And because I hit the jackpot, I will keep experimenting with this cake recipe until it is as moist as that chemical concoction in a box, and he will be awash in cake.  Hmmm, maybe not the best plan for a diabetic….

Then other life things get in the way and you just want to hurl things about the room and say “For Crying Out Pete’s Sake, can I not enjoy just ONE DAY of awesomeness without being pulled down into a boggy swamp of problems?”  Really, timing is a harsh master.  I want time to reflect and review and savor before I have to react and plan and facilitate.  And you know what?  I’m going to.  I’m going to deliberately not plan anything today.  Crisis can wait.  It didn’t happen overnight and I don’t need to solve it overnight so I am going to enjoy this day and stuff myself full of happy memories and warm feelings.  Then maybe I’ll be ready to fight the two-headed dragon.

 

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Except my two-headed dragon isn’t that cute.

 

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Drive By Posting

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It’s about damn time!

 

 

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Mother’s Day Reflection

In retrospect, I think my mother was a very complex person.  She was born in Texarkana, Texas, not Texarkana, Arkansas, although there’s nothing wrong with Arkansas and I have family in both areas.  She also lived in Houston growing up, so she was a real Southern girl in so many aspects.  I remember she didn’t have a Southern accent at all, but whenever she had visits from her Southern family, it would appear and I would goggle in astonishment at this vivacious and raucous stranger.  My gast was flabbered, if you will.

I don’t think she had a happy childhood, because she very seldom told me about it.  I know she had issues with her mother and related more to her father, but also that he had a cold and distant way with her especially when he’d been drinking.  Alcohol was pervasive in my mother’s family, and I suspect it may be connected to the strain of depression that also ran through.  I also know that she adored her grandmother who probably had more time for her than her parents and no doubt showed her more actual love.

Growing up, she was somebody I thought was amazing and perfect, with a lilting musical voice and beautifully shaped hands, clear blue-grey eyes, impeccable handwriting, and an artistic eye that really should have been encouraged and developed and nurtured.  She was perfect, of course, until I hit adolescence when out of the blue she became a horrible person who was always Standing In My Way.  I knew there was a much better way of living out there for me, and I was determined to show her just how good I could be at doing Important Things.  Is anyone surprised that this impression didn’t last long?  College and a year bouncing around on my own showed me that this calm, unhurried, and thoughtful woman had already learned the important things and enjoyed the simple things and taught me the important things.

Things like: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.  One of her most condemning comments was a simple “He’s not very nice, is he?” or a “Was that a nice thing to do?” or “Did you have any reason to not be nice?”  She once said that nice people seemed to belong to a secret club and they quietly recognized each other no matter where they went.  I ached to be as nice as she was, to be nice as effortlessly as she did, and I found it a very difficult task.

Or: To thine own self be true.  I thought she trotted out this Shakespeare quote when she didn’t have anything else to say or write in a gift book as an inscription, but over time I realized it was her nice way of teaching me I’d live a lot easier life if I didn’t try to be something I wasn’t.  She didn’t pretend to have a fancy home and expensive clothes, but what she had she treasured.  She didn’t pretend to be a horticultural expert, but she planted the flowers she loved and let them tumble wild and free instead of being cultivated into symmetrical perfection.

Or: Good manners show respect for other people.  Really, Mom?  I need to put my napkin in my lap at every meal?  For respect?  Her point of view was that when my napkin needed to be used, it should be discreet and in my lap.  Why should anyone else who is eating see my greasy fingers being wiped clean?  Chewing with your mouth closed so another person’s meal isn’t ruined looking inside your gaping mouth.  Asking if the other person needs anything while you are up shows a concern for other’s needs before they need to ask.  Habitually holding the door for other people means someone will hold it for me when I need it.  Saying “Excuse me, please” when leaving the table or burping or needing to reach across something is an easy way to convey that the other person has importance and should be acknowledged.

I carry all these with me because they’re all I have.  My first mother’s day as a mother was also my first mother’s day without a mother, and it has colored all my decisions as a mother.  She wasn’t perfect, but she was a huge influence on me.  Now that my younger daughter is graduating from college this week, I wish with all my heart I could see my mother’s face smile at her beautiful granddaughters and know that she made a difference just because she was my mom.

 

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It’s All About the Random

1. Time is weird. When I was working I would dream about how I would use days off and how productive I’d be. Now that I have nothing but days off, I’m astonished at how little I’ve accomplished. I feel guilty about this, but not guilty enough to spur myself into a new regime. Which makes my brain lazier than my body, which I didn’t think was possible. Go, me.

2. I thought 2084 was a time suck. Now I found Chain3D and my life is over.

3. Sciatica or osteoporosis? Either way, it’s not fun.

4. I have been making meatloaf for over 30 years. Monday’s meatloaf was brand-new and a triumph. Old dogs and tricks, I guess.

5. It’s raining, and I want to watch lots of movies and do lots of knitting. Instead, I’m on the computer. I can’t stop reading and playing and playing and reading. I should be disgusted with my lack of willpower, but instead I’m writing so I can justify being on the computer.

6. Oddly enough, nobody seems disappointed in my lack of productivity except me. What does THAT say about me?

7. Could you find a more boring post than this?

8. I’m almost at the point where I want to stop following the news. It’s so disheartening to think that girls can be kidnapped and sold into slavery/marriage/nightmares simply because they wanted to educate themselves; that we accept the crookedness of politicians with a “well, what can you do?” sort of attitude and keep electing the same ninnies; that schools and malls and other public places continue to be targets for mentally broken people and the dialogue focuses on gun control instead of mental health development; that murder committed by younger people is on the rise and we as a society can’t figure out how to stop the vicious cycle of broken homes, broken schools, and broken hopes; and that religions that purport the love of a Supreme Being justify blatant cruelty in the same name.

9. I love chocolate-covered marshmallows.

10. I’m nothing if not weird.

 

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Weird but also cool.

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Cinco de Mayo

I don’t think I heard about Cinco de Mayo for the greater part of my life, and the first time I encountered it, it was in print.  I was very confused about a holiday featuring Spanish mayonnaise and thought it was a cooking challenge of some sort.  This is not the first time I felt confused about things.  If I were featured in a sitcom, I’d have an elaborate party celebrating mayonnaise recipes while my “friends” wondered where the margaritas were, and I’d have an embarrassing moment when my normally staid boss attended my party wearing a serape and demanding fresh tamales.  Then we’d all laugh and toast with margaritas and Coronas while eating spinach dip and mayonnaise chocolate cake.  I’m really really happy my life is not a sitcom, as I don’t like Mexican food at all.

So, that makes me different from a large segment of the population.  Whenever I get together with folks for dining purposes, I always say “Not Mexican, please.”  I have come to the realization that I am a lover of ultra simple food and not a whole lot of fire and spice.  I mean, I like spices like cardamom and ginger and cinnamon and anise and whatever else goes into a good chai, but I don’t like curry or srirachi sirachi hot sauce or five alarm chili or Buffalo style chicken wings.  I see no reason to burn off perfectly working taste buds.  Sometimes I even object to pepper, and food network’s mantra seems to be “plenty of pepper.”  (Alas, we don’t get the Cooking Channel which, I understand, is far superior.  We don’t have HBO, either, which has only started bothering me this past week because while I could care less about Game of Thrones, I love John Oliver.)  I don’t want to become acquainted with jalapenos, chili verde, or “refried beans.”  I put “refried beans” in quotations because I am convinced that it’s a secret joke because it is, in fact, NOT BEANS.  I don’t want to even speculate on what I think it really is.

I tried eating at an Indian restaurant once.  Since I love chai tea, you would have thought I’d be well on my way to enjoying that spice palate but you would be wrong.  The only thing I can truly say I enjoyed is the Naan bread, especially when somebody told me it was made with potatoes.  (I am aware that “Naan bread” is redundant, and I’m not putting “Naan bread” in quotations for the same reason as the “refried beans” but in case there are other hopeless cuisine-embracers out there like myself, I thought redundancy would be in order.  Thank you.  This is a PSA.)  I was not enjoying the rest of the meal, and I worried about the five-hour drive ahead of me.  I drank a lot of tea, hoping that would soothe any troubled moments in my future, and checked this experience off my mental list of what not to do again.

Some would call me non-adventurous, or boring, or a scaredy-cat, or lots of other names that I choose not to dredge up from my past give credence to, but I’m going to call it self-preservation.  I’ve lived with my digestion system for quite a while now, and I think I know the limits we can safely explore together.  So I shall happily have turkey meatloaf with rice and salad tonight, and think about inventing a food holiday to which I can safely introduce my spineless taste buds.  

 

 

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Put dat food in mah mouf!

 

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