Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Holidays at my Mom and Dad's house were exactly like you would picture a scene from life in the 50's.  Dad was at the head of the table, Mom at the foot and several relatives and friends in between. The feast was the traditional one that is featured in Good Housekeeping magazine and we ate until we could barely move ourselves off our chairs.

What you didn't see was the sweat on Mom's brow, the kitchen counters full of dirty dishes, the relatives who were not speaking to us that year, and "friends" of my Mom and Dad who looked like people whose next abode would probably be under the Marion Street Bridge. I figured it out when I got older that these folks were people my parents felt sorry for because they didn't have a holiday dinner destination for various interesting reasons.  Over time, these guests included the checkout girl at Safeway, Mom's hairdresser, Larry from  the night shift at work, and my Dad's cousin Frammy who used to be married to my aunt and so on.  I learned over time not to feel uneasy around these strangers even if some of them did make several trips out the their cars to "check" on something and came back smelling funny.

No matter the company, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were traditional warm gatherings where the hostess served wonderful holiday food that was lovingly and perfectly prepared. Mom and Dad have both been gone for a long time now and try as I may, I can't replicate the scene. For one thing, I am not allowed to host either event because, as my daughter puts it, I "turn into a bitch." Well, so what?  So did my own mom but she still had the gracious smile on her face when she sat down at the table (last one to sit, of course). Apparently, my true feelings after the kitchen marathon are not of the "gracious smile" type.

Nowadays, my daughter and her family go to the other Gramma's house for Thanksgiving but we do get to go to her house for Christmas.  We each bring an appetizer and dinner's ready.  My husband, sister and I go to my son's house for Thanksgiving where the turkey has been prepared on a Traeger. We are instructed that we can arrive any time after 4 and must be gone by 8:30.

My sister had a stern talk with me a few years ago letting me on the news that no matter what, we cannot replicate holiday meals from the past.  "Accept them for what they are now and let the rest turn into special memories of times past," she told me.  I'm still working on that and it's becoming easier since my daughter-in-law (the vegan) lets me bring the dressing, the gravy, and the pumpkin pie.  And even though I'm a good cook and watched and helped my mother cook many a holiday meal, my current dinner contributions don't cut the mustard, so to speak.  Even though I read up on how to prepare my assigned items and talk to experienced cooks, my dressing tastes like somebody tried to resurrect a dish from stale bread and funny tasting broth.  The gravy is either too thin or too thick and tasted one year like wine you can buy at the outlet grocery store for a couple of bucks.  The only thing that really turns out well is the pumpkin pie which unfailingly comes out looking like a magazine ad and tasting even better.  My pie crust is superb.

So what I take away from all this (thank you, Sister) is that each holiday is its own special event and needs to be enjoyed for what it holds THIS year and not for what it was like in 1959.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYONE!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

This and That

I'm having trouble settling on one topic for this month's entry so I'll offer up some thoughts on random subjects.

First is ebola.  I can't figure out how much to worry about this. The media is really putting lots of energy into dramatizing the horror that is occurring in parts of Africa and following the stray bugs that have made it to the USA.  Am I supposed to be reassured by the photos of medical personnel wearing those hazmat suits or should I try to find one of my own?  I'm almost certain we could go online and order our own suits from Amazon or some other random site. Should I put a lot of focus on hoping the CDC will influence big pharmaceutical companies to pound out a vaccine?  But maybe we should just rely on the notion that more people will die of influenza than will die of ebola.  I am really anxious for good information about this.

Second is parties.  As far as I'm concerned, the holiday season is HERE.  Anybody can tell that since Costco has moved its Christmas decorations from the fringes of the store where they've been since August to the center of the store.  And Halloween is just over and with it the first parties of the season, right?  Soon to follow will be Thanksgiving parties with a quick transition to the party central time of Christmas.  I'm not all that comfortable at parties.  These events make me more conscious of how I look than at any other time of the year. No matter what I might buy to wear, I am not going to look like a Chanel model and not a single person will comment on how much weight I have or have not lost.  And what should I talk about?  I wish someone would come up with a short list of topics for what to talk about at any party.  That would really help.

Third is ants. We are experiencing a strange invasion.  We've lived in this house for seven years without a single sighting but now all of a sudden these little black irritants have chosen our kitchen for a new campsite. I can't tell you how many times I've Cloroxed the counters.  And now with the help from our neighbor Chris, there are "ant balls" resting in plain sight in the kitchen.  He had extras and was glad to share.  Pat thinks their presence can somehow be tied to the coming of Standard time and the change of light. WHAT???  So let me know your favorite remedy.

Fourth (and last) is Boobs Clea and her sister Boobs.  I don't think I reported on their doings last summer so here's the scoop:  Mrs. Clea lost her head due to the overenthusiastic behavior of a play date friend and the Clea girls have pretty much been out of action since.  As a matter of fact, the whole Barbie population is aging and are far less active than they used to be now that Mary is entrenched in middle school. They only rev up when Alicia's friend Emily is over and only sometimes with Mary.  We all went out to dinner a week or so ago but I had to carry the Barbies into and out of the restaurant so nobody would see Mary holding one.  It's sad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's True!

Beginning in the early 80's I taught college prep English and eventually a college credit class called Humanities.  My goal was to present the arts, especially literature, as they evolved through time focusing on Western civilization. It was a special challenge to figure out how to present the future through a literary selection, and I decided to use Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.  

Copyrighted in 1976, this amazing piece of science fiction featured a plot revolving around the collapse of civilization as we know it.  Members of the Sumner family residing somewhere on the East Coast try to cope with global challenges such as protecting the environment from pollution, world famine, climate change, computer technology, wilderness survival and, most pressing, how to manage the growing power of human clones.  It is a startling well-written look into the future as Wilhelm imagined it from her long ago vantage point.

None of those topics seem outlandish today, but as we studied the book in the early 80's we were astounded to even think about the problems as being real.  Within a few years, though, Dolly the sheep was cloned, climate change began to be noticed, computers arrived in the classroom and diseases such as ebola are now showing up in countries where just feeding the populace is a struggle.  In other words, the events in the novel have come true.

Scary. I remember wondering if I should discontinue teaching the book as a look into the future presented by science fiction when everything in it was becoming part of our reality.  The students said, "YES" so I kept it in the curriculum.  As I moved toward retirement in 2001, I saw that the book continued to be meaningful to students simply because it did envision our modern day life so accurately from so long ago.

Kate Wilhelm is (was? I don't know if she's still alive) an Oregonian who had teaching connections to the U of O and this book was the winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in its time.  I think it's been reprinted and might be available on-line.  Read it if you can get your hands on it. You'll be surprised at how accurately the future was foretold.

 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

First Day of School

Labor Day weekend still brings the back-to-school jitters even though it's been two and half years since I last had one.  I still feel the excitement, nerves, apprehensions and joy that knots up my stomach only I feel it vicariously through my family members who are headed off to different first days in different schools.  Amy is in a new classroom in a school that is trying to "reconstitute" its effectiveness with a population that's 80% free lunch.  Half the staff and the principal are new.  I can only imagine.  She's been fidgeting and fiddling with her classroom and her lessons all summer long and reported a good first day; in fact, she said, it was better than any good day she had last year.

Pat and I had the pleasure of walking Alicia right in to her 3rd grade room, seeing where she sits and receiving a warm greeting from her teacher.  We also enjoyed driving Mary to her first day in 7th grade keeping our fingers crossed that she wouldn't stumble over the locker combination, the room locations, and the social whirl that is so demanding of middle-schoolers. Both girls had excellent first days.

I spent the rest of the morning getting a wellness check.  My blood pressure and pulse were far more regulated than they probably were when I was doing my first days of all those years in school.  My doctor and I chatted and laughed in between talking about medical things.  He told me the story of his fishing trip to the Metolius River last September.  Out on an early morning jog, he spotted a woman leaning up against the side of the bridge there with another woman at her side.  He introduced himself as an MD and offered his help.  The injured woman's companion was an RN so between  the two of them they began to minister to what might have been a severe sprained ankle or possibly a break.  Then along came three fishermen one of which approached and introduced himself as an orthopedist.  So there at 8:00 in the morning an injured woman is helped by three different medical professionals.  How lucky was she?  I loved hearing that story on the first day of school.  Thank you, Dr. M.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

From Costco to Barnes and Noble

My entry is early this month because we had a "Costco Experience" combined with a bonus trip to Barnes and Noble today that needs to be reported. You probably know what I mean about the Costco visit.  I have to gather an odd sort of energy to make that trip; don't you? The first thing that makes me anxiously competitive is finding a place to park. Shallow breathing begins as soon as we turn into the lot and start the line up for the "best" parking spot. Then there's the weird rush to get a cart and be the first one to show our card.  This is followed by the sudden and very weird need that arises to get to the sample tables first. Then I try not to lose patience with the people who are rude about making their way around the book tables. After all, I was there first and I'm traveling in the correct clockwise direction. I finger several books including the one I want to find at Barnes and Noble although I'm sure the price here is much cheaper.  Of course it is, but I can read it on my Nook for even less if it weren't for the fact that I still need to hold a book in my hands once in awhile for that true organic reading experience. Then it was off to find the shortest check-out line, if there ever is such a thing.

I did find the exact book at B and N but it was too expensive compared to the Nook price so I sighed and turned my attention to the cook books in the Bargain Books section.  I LOVE cookbooks and have owned hundreds of them in my lifetime.  I try to limit my current collection to just one long shelf in my pantry but that is getting pretty full.  I'll soon need to recycle or give some away. (Let me know if you'd like one or ten.)

My very first cookbook was The I Hate to Cook Book. My old friend Lee used it and she truly hated to cook although I really enjoyed fussing around in the kitchen even at the newly married age of 21. Still, Peg Bracken's lasagna recipe was hard to beat. I have added so many books since that first one.  I even have my Aunt Gracie's original The Joy of Cooking and have read Julia Child from cover to cover.  I don't do fancy cooking but I like to read those haute cuisine books because they teach me so much about food.  I'd just rather serve something traditionally American rather than a wedge of exotic fish plated over a squiggle of orange sauce and adorned with a sprig of arugula. I'm fascinated by crock pot cookery and acquired probably half of dozen cookbooks featuring that kind of food preparation until I realized that those recipes just imitate each other from book to book so I stopped buying them.  I like easy to fix recipes but don't like those four ingredient cookbooks.  They include too many recipes based on cream of mushroom soup.

The book I bought today is from the Taste of Home publishers called Country Cooking. I will read it at least two times from cover to cover if not three times.  I will promise myself to make at least one recipe from each section. If I don't, oh well, I got the reading's worth out of it. And just let me say that you can purchase cookbooks in the bargain section at B and N for less than the purchase price of magazines at the grocery store.

These all seem like strange musings from someone whose dinner menus are usually built around Dream Dinners.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Friday the Fourth!

It's July!  Summer's here!  It's almost time for fireworks but it's actually started already here in my neighborhood.  People have already made the trip to Vancouver for illegal stuff and are "testing" them to make sure they're loud enough or dangerous enough and figuring out if they themselves might be able to manage them after downing a number of growlers on Friday.

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July meant sparklers.  While waiting for the California sun to fade into the West, we would start begging my dad to light up "just one," sort of like asking to open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve.  We always managed to wear him down for that and we knew we'd soon have him looking for the candle and isolating himself way out on the driveway to light it.  Then the big moment arrived.  He'd light it; we'd jiggle and dance and then swoop in with screams of delight when he signaled the "okay" then he'd carefully light ours and hand them over.  More screams and swooping as we made sparkling circles and other fabulous designs in the air until all the sparklers were gone and lay dead on the cement and in the lawn with the stench of their smoke lingering for what seemed like forever.

One Fourth when I was about nine, we were invited to watch the fireworks over Lake Merritt in Oakland from the top of my mom's cousin's apartment building.  Several people we knew lived in apartments around the Bay Area but we actually rode the ELEVATOR up to the cousin's place (her name was Beans which made the excursion just that much more exciting - how could you not have fun at the apartment home of someone called Beans?!) and then went up even higher to the roof. The display scared me a little at first because the booms were so loud and the popping and bursting and wild colors seemed to be at eye level from our lofty viewpoint.  And they reflected in the water!  It was all so exciting.

When we had our own family and lived out in the country, six of the neighborhood families would gather together every Fourth of July for a gigantic barbecue and fireworks display of our own illegal purchasing. We moms would have a special meeting to plan the menu and the tables would be absolutely loaded with all the most delicious picnic food ever.  All of our kids would be excited for days ahead and ran around like wild beasts on the day of.  We all ate ourselves sick and then gathered our folding chairs for our glorious display where no one got hurt and everyone was able to make it back to the fire pit for s'mores.

This Fourth, as we have in the last several years, we'll go over to the Burton's who live on the bluff.  The party will be for adults with only one, maybe two or three little kids present.  They will shriek and run amok as all the 35 and probably more grownups will drink more than usual, eat a fabulous gourmet barbecue dinner and then retire to the backyard where we'll be able to see the fireworks displays from all over the surrounding area.  Pat and I will make the five  minute drive home and wonder how we'll get to sleep as the bombs literally bursting in the air outside our open windows rattle all the pictures on the walls.

Our house is decorated inside and out with flags and red,white and blue objects and will stay that way for a few more days as the neighborhood lets off a few more rounds of fire crackers and bottle rockets just for the heck of it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Friends and Family

This first week in June will be one where I get to meet with different friends every day. Monday is for "Girls! called just like that with an exclamation point.  My "Girls!" group is made up of my two friends, Andrea and JoAnn, who were my neighbors when we lived out toward Redland. I've known Andrea for over forty years ever since we were neighbors in Southeast Portland.  When she moved out to the country, she mentioned that the property next door was for sale so after a look at it, we bought it, built a house on it and lived next door to them for 30 plus more years.  That's where we met JoAnn who lived across the road from our two families.  We all spent years of good times together always celebrating the 4th of July with a huge neighborhood BBQ complete with illegal fireworks from Vancouver. Between the two of them, Andrea and JoAnn know where all my bodies are buried.

Tuesday I'll meet with my friends Kristi, Nancy and Karmin.  These are old work pals.  We lived in  the teaching trenches together.  As a matter of fact, Kristi spent her whole 30 year teaching career at Oregon City High School as did Karmin who was there even longer and actually attended high school there herself!  Impressive, huh?  Nancy is our salty witted friend who tried hard to close her classroom door and just teach.  It was always good advice.  We will eat at Babica Hen in Lake Grove.  I always love seeing these women who made my workplace a better place to be.

Wednesday is my day to meet  my Cousin Martha at Gustav's which we do every couple of months.  She is the daughter of one of my mom's sisters of which there were five along with two brothers.  We didn't grow up together but we have lots of fun comparing our lives with what we know about those of  other family members and continually deciding that we had it the best. I love her dearly and am glad to have her in my life.

Thursday I'll travel to the Glockenspiel in Mt. Angel to meet with another old friend, Sarah.  She is the daughter of my great friend, Lee, with whom I taught in the early years.  Lee and her husband Ernst were my mentor teachers.  I learned almost every thing I know about teaching from them.  Sarah is Lee's eldest daughter who went into teaching herself and eventually did her student teaching with me.  That was an a standout time in my career as Sarah and I worked hard to manage a group of tricky juniors who needed lots of specialized academic help because of their low level of literacy skills.  We found several unique ways to present reading and writing lessons so they didn't really seem like lessons but rather like fun ways to while away time in our classroom.

Friday is the day slated for Bobbie, my sister.  She has been asked to speak to an event/conference in Portland having to do with the celebration of the Wilderness Act.  I'm going along for moral support. This will definitely be an adventure.  We haven't a clue about this gathering and are sure to learn a lot.

Friday night will be a birthday celebration for Kirsten of my knitting group.  It will be an out to dinner followed by art work at a ceramic studio kind of event.  I'm not sure I can coordinate the time with my sister to attend this one but it sure would be a great way to wrap up a week full of meetings with friends and family.

How fortunate I am!!!