Dear Folks, March 19, 2014
I am having a bit of a problem writing my weekly letter today; I have always considered it a letter, not as blog, or newsletter, but simply as a letter that I happen to send copies of to many people, and use the internet to help distribution. More to the point, I started writing this letter as a way to connect to my mother-in-law Charlotte, and she died last week. I should have a picture of her to share, but they’d all be in old photo albums that must have been put away, because I can’t find any. I have found a few caches of old photographs, but none with Charlotte in them. So picture her as a pretty redhead, who gave her looks to her kids. I think there’s a good resemblance between her and Claudia (this is Tracy, Nick, Claudia, and Steve. I wonder if they lined up by age intentionally?).
I’ve heard the story that she was Miss North Dakota during the war- after she’d already married Alva, because at that point all the girls had married their sweethearts quick before they shipped out, and they didn’t have enough unmarried women to do the pagent unless they let in recently married women. She was a looker. She was also smart: she was a teacher, and after years as wife to two ministers became a minister herself. She was a determined, it was about 10 years ago that she got cancer, and I was sure that she was done for because she’d recently lost both her third husband and her son, and people usually just give up after that amount of grief, but she managed to heal anyway. I believe that she died of Alzheimers. The last few years she spent a bit confused, finding the many memories of her life coming unsorted (like my photograph collection). The last thing she asked Kat was “…and who’s wife are you?” Still gracious, but not quite connecting the adult woman with the memory of her grandchild. We’ll give her that her grandchildren do tend to be blonde, and Kat dyes her hair black, so that probably didn’t help.
The letter came about when she’d moved to Tucson, Arizona in the `Ninties, and we only saw her a day or two a year when she came up to visit. I figured she’d rather have a letter with news of her grandchildren every week than anything I could buy or make for her. Then, since I was composing it on the computer, I could make copies for other people, and a tradition got started. At this point I reckon I’ll keep writing every week, and consider it her legacy. I should probably say more about her, but as she rarely wrote back (and when she did I could see why, she was VERY busy mostly with church work), so I have less stories to share than I’d prefer.
When I wrote last week we were having dire warnings about Winter Storm Vulcan bearing down on us. Despite needing to get the letter done, we went out to make sure we had a few gallons of milk laid in and the books returned to the library. But we seem to have been below the snow/rain line. My sister Liz up in Farmington, on the other hand, got two feet! She shared a picture of her glass doors in her livingroom buried about 4 feet deep. In the morning it finally turned to snow and we got a few fluffy inches- over a skim of ice, but we stayed inside and waited for it to melt. We can do that.
Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my woodstove? I might not be quite so sanguine without John to keep the woodbox full, and Willow gets it going each morning when she gets up. I have kept a pot on the back of the stove into which I’ve been putting all the peels and trimmings from my food prep, straining the old stuff out each morning, so it doesn’t get too gross (or full). At one point it was too sweet (right after peeling sweet potatoes for fries), and I think the color was helped when I put in a bunch of parsley stems. Today I’ve used it as the base of a stew, it had flavor, but I personally really like a meat flavor to my broth, I’ll probably like it better with the meat.
Anyway, the rain that came before the snow probably melted more away than accumulated. Still, we have a huge pile on the corner, and an only slightly smaller one in the garden, where it was pushed by the plow, and I figure it will take a while to get rid of that. It’s continued cold- I continue to resent the false readings by the thermometer when the sun hits it mid-day. It has NOT been in the eighties this week! This is not to say that the weather isn’t gorgeous and I’m thinking of starting to walk again. I shall no doubt discover that I have gotten VERY out of shape while I haven’t been walking.
I realized this week that my foot (that started hurting last June) isn’t hurting any more. I never did figure out what it was, although I expect some of my shoes were not good for my feet. The point was driven home when I went upstairs a couple of days ago looking for the bin I store trim in, and discovered that the attic is in chaos. This is what comes of simply asking John to get things for me or take things upstairs to stow them. He doesn’t care about maintaining order in the attic, and I’ve probably never explained my system to him. Heck, I probably change it myself every time I try to figure out how to fit something up there! The same is somewhat true of the cellar, but I have managed to get down there a few times this winter.
Actually, this reminds me of my problems with the new pantry. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t go to the pantry to get something or put something away only to discover that the place I’m headed for doesn’t exist any more. There are two pantries occupying the same physical space in my mind, and I keep forgetting the new one, confident that whatever I want is in the same place I’ve kept it (the last place I remember seeing it) for the last 15 years. Sadly, part of the organization that is there is because there are still many shelves in the back hall and bins in the cellar that came out of the pantry.
Don”t get me wrong, I love that John has a “salad station” in there, where he makes the salad every night before dinner. I love being able to grab dishes while I’m in there. I love being able to carry the groceries straight into the pantry to unload the bags there, because very few foods are actually stored out in the kitchen. I have gotten used to having to warm up the serving dishes before putting food into them. Usually this means taking them out while the food is cooking, but sometimes I rinse them with warm water or pop them in the wood stove. Some times I wonder if I put hot food right on them if they’d break, but usually I don’t want the dish too cool the food off! But I still need to figure out where things GO. Most of the storage area is behind the cupboard doors, and things don’t have a place where they “live” yet, so it often requires a lot of opening and shutting and peering into the cupboards to find something. My latest addition to the pantry is a flashlight on a hook by the door to the back hall!
It is spring cleaning season and I SO want to just bring everything down from the attic (and then the cellar, and the barn, and the studio, and the library), sort through it and put whatever is going back away in an organized fashion. Right. In my copious free time!
Frankly if I can get to doing any of that I probably don’t need to walk up and down the street, I’m sure the stairs would help my legs more- although it wouldn’t get me outside.
Sometime last week we saw an interesting recipe on facebook for a “pressed” sandwich, so the next time we went to the store we got a round loaf and made it. We used turkey and bacon, cheese and ham, so it was something like a club sandwich. We did add a strange (new to us) flavor of deli meat: Bacon lover’s turkey. It’s sliced turkey, flavored like bacon. Weird. Since I had already some smokey flavor, I also added some Lebanon Balogna. We also tried some “garlic cheddar” which wasn’t as impressive. We also put in assorted lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and maybe something else. I forget. The excitement about this sandwich is that it’s “pressed”. The images we’d seen had the loaf being assembled, wrapped and pressed using the weights people have for exercising- the round discs that go on the ends of bars. Not having a set like that around (only hand weights), we just put it in the bigger cast iron pot, and put our stack of cast iron pots on top of it. It got pretty flat. If we do it again, (and why not?), we figure that rather than cutting out the top as if it were going to be a stew “bread bowl”, we could just slice it across, and then you wouldn’t have the sides with nothing in them. I’ll let you know if it turns out there’s a reason you need the sides! We also discovered that we’d forgotten to put mustard (or mayonnaise) or the pickled peppers we’d picked up specifically to include in it (they are REALLY good!), so we MUST make another version of it. Let me know if you do too, and what you think of it (also, what you use to smoosh it).
I guess mostly I’m talking about cooking this week- that’s what happens when you stay in and wait for the snow to melt. The 14th was “Pi Day”, (because 3-14 reminds people of 3.14159, although I doubt many people are up at 1:59, and what would you do to celebrate anyway?), so I made a Pi Pie. This shot is from Kat’s blog OmNomAdric in which she cosplay’s one of Dr. Who’s companions, Adric, who, as a 15 year old boy, was noted for eating all the time. People go to the site and ask Adric questions which Kat answers in character as Adric- and eats a lot. The other thing about Adric is that he’s a math whiz. So this seemed appropriate for her to encorporate into the blog.
On the 17th, I made our traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef dinner- with green food coloring. I think my mother came up with that, although I don’t remember when. I can’t remember a time before her doing it, but she must have been in a really fae mood the first time she tried it. Kat wore her “reanimator green” blouse, and looked adorable. John had a green lantern T shirt, and Willow has been living in her green sweater vest. I discovered the only green item in my wardrobe is a pair of green stockings, so I borrowed a scarf from Kat when we went out.
To my total shock, I did NOT have a corned beef in the freezer. My habit is to get 10-12 of them when they are on sale in March so I can have one a month, but we’ve been trying to empty the freezers (which ISN’T happening for some reason), but we couldn’t find a corned beef and had to run out to get one. I also made a green salad that was parsley dressed with a bit of oil, lemon juice, and crushed garlic. I liked it but the kids didn’t.
This came from the video course I’ve been watching The everyday gourmet : rediscovering the lost art of cooking (usually while I cook) on cooking. While I do know most of it, it’s a rare segment that goes by where I don’t pick up a tip or two. I think it’s because of this that I started putting my scraps into the stock pot. The wood-stove has been going solidly most of the winter, so I think the Teaching Company course is probably at least partially responsible.
Sometime this week it was Oatmeal Cookie Day. I know there’s a lot of division about inclusions- I like raisins AND nuts, but don’t think one should add chocolate chips (that’s a different cookie). But I do play with other dried fruits, cranberries, apricots, coconut. I was making some (because I am SO totally suggestable) and as I was getting the nuts noticed a small jar in which the leftover mix for Ganesha’s Treats had been put. Usually it’s sesame seeds and cinnamon sugar, but a yule I used green and red colored sugars. I figured that in all the other ingredients, the tablespoon of green sugar wouldn’t make as much difference as the 1/3 of a cup of sesame seeds, and a hint of cinnamon wouldn’t hurt. I was amazed at just how much impact that colored sugar had! Too bad I didn’t make them just BEFORE St. Patrick’s Day! I suppose they still taste good. Sadly, I like a chewy rather than a crisp oatmeal cookie and I think I’ve reduced the sugar too much. Oh well.
Saturday I had three things I wanted to do: go up to Maine for Bob Flick’s funeral, go to Town Meeting, and go to the First Feast, a local SCA event. It was the “first” event for our new Baron and Baroness, and as a head of household I should have presented our charter, and as a Peer, given homage. Sadly, between the difficulty of picking one, the coziness of home, and being tired, I just kept putting off picking one until it was too late for any of them. It was also Purim (yes, I know we aren’t Jewish), so I made some hamentaschen, because we like them. We DID invite Steve up, but he was too busy, so we ate them ourselves (before I even got a picture of them!) Big surprise, they had three corners- kind of. They do puff up.
I am not sure that I wasn’t also a bit bummed because that was when Steve called and told us that Charlotte had died. I know it’s probably just because all random things seem to come in clusters, but I am so sick of people dying. Not that I want everyone to live forever, that would suck. But it seems especially hard at this time of year- I’m not sure why.
Liz called and told me about the Flick’s service. I’d love to have been there, but was really not unhappy about missing the eight hours of driving. Willow and Kat were exhausted too, and because I figured I’d be doing either the town meeting or funeral, we didn’t get “on board” (reserved for the feast), so we blew that off too.
Really, I have to talk about what we’ve been eating because we haven’t DONE anything. I think the big accomplishment of the week was Willow going out for more fleece to make her blankets. I’ve put in a lot of time working on the CTCW website. We had a meeting of the planning committee Tuesday. Mostly we’re getting organized, the con isn’t until November and it’s only March. I am not happy with the website though. Willow says it’s hard to navigate and I think she may be right. It’s hard to tell when you’ve set it up. I think it needs better internal links. The Menu (and I can’t do anything about that) stinks on ice!
I suppose I could also mention that I got about five new followers on my blog (the real blog, basically the part of my website where I post random essays) this week. I have to wonder why, it wasn’t that special. I found it interesting, of course, or I wouldn’t have invested the time into writing and posting it. During the many discussions of whether St. Patrick was a horrible slaughterer of indigenous Druids “dressed” as snakes (as someone pointed out, he was an unarmed man with a few followers trying to convert people who took their enemies heads to decorate their houses, and he did this how?), another friend pointed out the rather negative aspect of St. Patrick’s Day being generally promoted as an excuse to over drink, and of the Irish as stupid drunks. I was reminded of how I often adopted the celebrations from just about anywhere, and started thinking about how in America, as a way to remove anything religious because that could make it potentially offensive, we’ve created a REALLY offensive sort of holiday- whether it’s St. Patricks, Christmas, Halloween, or even Fourth of July, where we’ve stripped the day of all meaning except “let’s party!” and spend money on food and decorations. Well, shoot! A holiday is not HOLY unless there’s a meaning behind the customs for the celebration. Anyway, apparently some how, some people found it, and are “following” me now, whatever that means. Lyrion thinks of my letter as a blog and has suggested I try to link with Blogher, a group of women’s blogs. Perhaps I should just add the letter to the website. I feel a bit funny about that. The letter, while apparently it has been passed around and enjoyed by strangers, is intended as (my side of) a casual conversation with friends or family member, as if we were sitting in the kitchen with cookies and tea. What I talk about is what we’ve been up to, what I’ve read and watched, where we’ve been, what strange thoughts I’ve had, that sort of thing. Isn’t that what you talk to your friends about? While I don’t mind putting an essay out for strangers to read, I’m not sure how I feel about presenting my life as a piece of “reality entertainment”. This is not to say that we don’t often think our lives are like a sit-com and joke about the hidden cameras, or who’s the focus this week, or how we don’t like the new writers. But the reason we can relate to sitcoms is because they are not unlike our lives. The comedy “Four Oaks Farm” may only air in our heads, and I don’t think it’s up there with Big Bang Theory or Three and a Half Men (not enough sex jokes), but I’m afraid if I did present the letter as a blog, it would be popular with the same people who’d watch and laugh at the imaginary show.
Changing subjects: this is a picture of the cats. They often place themselves one to a patch of sunlight on the rug, which is very cool looking. Of course, approach with a camera and they will move. This is the best I’ve gotten. Also the wii balance board looks a lot like the patches of sunlight. It’s very comfortable looking when you have cats in the sun.
Random Weird Thing: do you remember Super Elastic Bubble Plastic those tubes of plastic goo you were supposed to be able to make bubbles out of that you could play with? (I may have gotten it to work once or twice out of dozens of tries.) Last month I got a small red pear, (probably an Anjou) waited for it to ripen, and finally tried to eat it today. Sadly, it tasted like the bubble plastic. Willow tasted it, and said she didn’t detect anything, but she doesn’t like pears, I tried again and it still tasted distinctly of that stuff, so I threw it away.
This week I’ve been reading the first couple of books of the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMasters Bujold. She is a fine writer, and I figured I’d see if I like her other books as much as the Vorkosigan saga. Well, not yet. This is apparently a too long novel broken into four volumes. That’s how Willow characterized it, and halfway through, I’d agree. There’s nothing in there I’d take out, but I think you need all of them to get the story. It’s a love story about two people from different backgrounds (VERY old trope) who’s families feel they are too different to be able to maintain a relationship. The first book is about him winning over her family, and the second seems to be her NOT winning over his. His is kind of an aristocracy of magick users, and hers are farmers. The world is post-apocalyptic, not in the usual sense, but in that the purpose of his people is to stop monsters from getting to powerful, and the monsters are the result of time-out-of-mind magick gone bad. The two groups don’t communicate and therefore have horrible misassumptions about each other. I think it’s a marvelous use of the created fantasy world to explore the theme of the results of non-communication. It does move very slowly (in between battles), but that’s life.
Other than that I’m reading some fairy tale books for old people. It’s a project I wanted to do, and I’m taking my Uncle Dewey’s advice and checked Amazon to see if it had already been done. I found In the Ever After – Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life, Bedtime Stories for Elders: What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us About the New Aging, and Ancient Wisdom and the Measure of Our Days: The Spiritual Dimensions of Retirement, Aging and Loss. I’m hoping they will clarify my mind so I know what it is I’m aiming at. Or, like Uncle Dewey, I may find that I don’t need to do it, as it’s already been done! I also continue reading the Encyclopedia of Magic and Witchcraft, and fairly randomly from several other books on my bed pile, including a fascinating one on cultures from the Ancient Mediteranean.
Other than that, I re-read the play The Admirable Crichton (1902) by J. M. Barrie. When I was a teenager, I thought the self renunciation of his acquired (if deserved) privilege by Crichton was heroic, but as an adult (perspective on relationships between people, and our relationship with culture), I look at a situation (admittedly fictional) in which all of the characters were able to be what they wanted to be, and they look like flipping idiots. I also can see how they re-created what they thought was appropriate even though they didn’t need to do so. I wanted to watch it again, but could only find the silent version: Male and Female (1919), which was still rather well done, even though I think they made the ending less harsh for the movie audiences. I read it in a collection of Barrie’s plays, and was amused to read in the introduction that the fairy dust was not originally a part of the play, but was added later when parents told him that their children had hurt themselves by trying to fly after seeing the play. While these are marvelous plays, and certainly not as stinging commentary as Oscar Wilde’s, I can now read them as the commentaries on the manners and mores of the times that flew right past me as a child. (Did you know that Peter Pan killed any lost boy who started to grow up, because if they did they would turn into pirates? Such innocence!) It gives one perspective on how the Victorian Child might so embrace the idea of the Noble Savage of the Native Americans.
I finally saw the new The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp. I was all ready to hate it. That bird on his head seemed SO stupid! But it didn’t take long before it sucked me right in. It was blithely aware of its own silliness, and managed to be fun and adventurous without being campy. When the William Tell Overture erupted during the climactic train chase, I was hopping with childish glee at the stunts and simple adventure. I followed it up with re-watching the pilot of the TV show with Jay Silverheels (one of my favorites as a child). I was surprised to see that they used the same names and basic plot. (“Respect the Classics, man!”) Yes, in both movies having Tonto speak the overly simplified way seemed a bit demeaning, but at the same time, thinking about how I probably sound in any of the foreign languages I try to speak makes it seem reasonable. He gets his point across, and clearly, it’s a second language for him. I am also reminded that even the original show displayed great respect for the natives, and that only the bad guys were Indian haters.
I’m not sure how I tripped over it, but I also watched Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) with Claude Rains and Viviane Leigh. I just wanted to peek at the costumes, but one scene lead to another, and they were all good. I wouldn’t have expected such good costuming back in the 40s. The acting was wonderful as well!
I had gotten a copy of Glengarry Glen Ross to see what the big deal was. I’d seen clips on facebook from people who thought it was a classic, and I do like to be culturally literate. The actors were rather good, but frankly, I gave it about 40 minutes and gave up on it. As far as I can tell, it’s a bunch of salesmen griping about their jobs. Why would anyone want to watch that? Either they don’t have jobs like that, so they can congratulate themselves and ignore the idiots who do, or if that’s what their lives are really like, why the heck would they want to watch it for entertainment? There was not one appealing character!
I have now seen two Thin Man movies, The Thin man, and After the thin man (sadly, in the reverse order). They are witty, and I enjoyed them. When I watched them I got the feeling that that was what my maternal grandparents lives must have been like in the 30s. I watched The Glenn Miller Story with James Stewart. I didn’t realize that he’d died in the war, perhaps I got him mixed up with Benny Goodman. Another movie on the same disc Thunder Bay had Stewart trying to put oil rigs into the Gulf of Mexico. In 1953 it was a “Man against Nature” story, with the man beating nature the happy ending (with a filip of the men competing for women). It’s hard to watch it now without laying on the modern awareness of the dangers of oil spills in delicate ecosystems. As Megan says “it’s almost impossible to un-know something.”
I watched a romantic comedy French Kiss, (1995) amusing, although the hardest part for me was watching the security at the airports. It was about what we had to deal with when we went to Drachenwald, but these days it’s so much more stringent, and the plot wouldn’t work in the modern world. While I was watching it, John came through and recognized it, having watched it in French class. Sadly what he most remembered was the gas attack brought on by lactose intolerance.
And the band played on (1993) was sobering dramatization of the development of the AIDS epidemic. I wonder how many other people tracked its progress against what they remembered about it at each point. I remember when it was first being mentioned, and when it was still called GRID. I remember when my mother had a transfusion she told her doctor that if she got AIDS she wasn’t going to sue him, she was going to come back and bite him, and I think that was before 1984 when after my C-Section they argued and argued with me because they wanted to give me blood that I saw no reason to take. (Most women have an extra couple of pints at full term.) I found it especially horrible to watch the numbers of cases multiply, as the doctors involved tried to keep it from spreading. The amount of resources put into it was clearly hampered because people didn’t want to talk about the (gay) patients who were getting it, because of the difficulty in tracking because of people forced to be in the closet, and the gays who were out of the closet worrying more about their rights and reputations than the risks. Kat wandered through and pointed out that the problem was not the “gay” lifestyle, it was the “promiscuous” lifestyle. When syphilis and gonorrhea were all people had to worry about and it was conquered with antibiotics, the idea of “free love” was embraced by baby boomers, but sadly, it’s never been a good idea. Exchanging bodily fluids is intrinsically intimate, and was never meant to be something done casually any more than we could transfuse blood from one person to another without typing the blood. Watching the Red Cross and those controlling the blood supply refuse to test it because it was too expensive was villainous. These days I would assume they did it to create “plausible deniability”; clearly not testing would prove that they thought the blood wasn’t dangerous, therefore they must not have been complicit in passing the disease to 80% of all hemophiliac patients in those three or four years before they started testing. I get that hemophiliacs get a lot of transfusions, but to cover 80% what percentage of the blood was contaminated? Just how much of the blood donating population was gay or using injectable drugs? Because of blood typing, I’m sure they weren’t blending blood the way they blend milk for pasteurizing. How did it spread so fast?
The idea that “if only” we could have caught it sooner, when there were only a few dozen or hundred cases, begs the question of what about the rest of the world? Were they only talking about the cases in the USA and Europe? What about Africa? Some places in Africa have rates of nearly a quarter of their citizens living with HIV. I doubt that if they’d checked the epidemic in the US, that it would have slowed it down any over there. I am somewhat bothered by the idea that perhaps the third world (once again) doesn’t count.
I think modern American thoughts about disease as a punishment from God has had much greater effects that have been studied on how disease is studied and treated. I don’t think history is going to be kind to us on that score.
Another old movie I caught was Bogart and Bacall in To have and have not. I have now seen the context in which she asks him “You know how to whistle don’t you?”. It reminded me a lot of Casablanca. Kat (on another pass by- she comes to wash dishes, as I watch while sewing or cooking) asked whether Bogart ever did any movies when he wasn’t in a French colonial bar. OK, this was in Martinique as opposed to Casablanca (made two years earlier), but during the war, the movies are going to reflect what everyone is worrying about. Personally, while she was pretty and had a lovely husky voice, I found Bacall’s role irritating. She teased and flirted, and was almost everything a woman does not want to be these days.
I keep getting distracted on youtube, (after watching the Lone Ranger, I probably spent two hours watching the opening themes to a dozen old westerns, then the first episode of Alias Smith and Jones, a fun rip off of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). I can also lose a lot of time watching the SciShow, and this week I discovered a series called Honest Trailers, which are incredibly funny!
We’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to see if the girls would get into Anime Boston– they only got on the wait list for Artists Alley this year. I think Willow may go down just to attend, although they really prefer to have a table between them and the crowds and something to do, not to mention, paying for the con by selling stuff. Even without that, she’ll still get to see friends and watch the costumes go by. It’s not sure yet, she’s always got to wait and see whether she’s exhausted or not.
I probably should get to bed. I like to finish before supper, but had to break to do the New Normal. Tonight my guest was Lorelei Greenwood, and we talked about Food and Magick. I kind of made out like a bandit on this one, she’s sending me samples of her 5 spice chai fudge for free, whereas sometimes I end up spending my money to get the guests book so I can ask good questions. (I am pleased that now I’ve learned where to grab the links for the shows, but the archives are still unlabeled and I should probably figure out how to label them, or put the last year onto my website. I’ve gotten way behind on that.)
It’s waaay past my bed time. Luckily, it’s decided to snow again, another theoretical foot. As I told John as he headed for bed: “Yes, this is the last snow of Winter. Tomorrow it will be the first snow of Spring.” Most of the rain seems to have got out to sea, but there may be more coming.
Hey, yay! Willow found some pictures of Charlotte:
This is Charlotte with Nick and Claudia- from their ages I’m thinking it was about 1954
These would be from Christmas 1976, Bud, Alva, Sue, and Charlotte.
The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.
Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 1821 – 1881