Saturday, November 16, 2019

Pup-overs

My husband and I stayed up much later than normal as he's been traveling a lot the last six months and we had a lot to catch up on, just enjoying some wine and conversation into the wee hours, knowing we could sleep in.

Tell that to the furry alarm clocks. First, we heard the click of toenails in the hall, then the thumpa thumpa of Larelei's tail in the crate, then came the BARK! So my husband got up.

"Did they have to go badly?", I asked.

"No," he said.  "they just wanted to look for peanut shells the squirrels dropped".

"Might as well get up and make something nice for breakfast", I said.
What are you going to make Mom?

Popovers.  These are so worth buying a pan from Williams and Sanoma.  They can be made in a muffin pan but won't be as high and fluffy.  I've made them often enough I don't need a recipe but the recipe IS from my favorite vegetarian cookbook "The New Moosewood Cookbook".
Preheat oven to 375F.

In one bowl mix:

1 and 1/4 cup milk or almond milk (at room temperature or nuke in a microwave-safe bowl for 45 seconds)
3  medium to large room temperature eggs (let sit out a bit or run under a bit of warm water)
In another bowl mix:
1 and 1/4 cups flour (regular or King Arthurs gluten-free adding 1/4 tsp xanthan gum if you do)
1/2 tsp salt.

Divide 2 to 3 Tablespoons of butter (or equal amount Earth Balance sticks) into six pieces.  Place 1 in each popover cup.  Place in oven to melt while you finish mixing (about two minutes).

Mix wet and dry ingredients, whisking with a fork.  Do not over mix. The batter will be lumpy but you shouldn't see globs of raw flour in it.
Remove pan from oven and spray the top of the popover cups with non-stick spray. 

Place batter in hot popover cups and bake 30 minutes. Make sure there is plenty of room ABOVE them for them to rise (don't ask me how I know).

 Do NOT peek, unless it smells like they are burning
Serve immediately (they will start to deflate pretty promptly).  They're crisp on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside.  Serve with butter, jam, or honey
You never give us PUP-overs.  We're calling the SPCA!

First the scarf, NOW no Pup-overs!
Put the phone down girls, you can have a piece of the bacon.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Keepsakes

Keep it, or throw it out?

In cleaning out the closest and drawers as summer clothing is cleaned and tucked away in storage, it's sometimes not an easy decision. Some items can be mended, but only if there is enough wear left to make it worth the time and effort.  Some items, that look like someone lost a jousting match with a paint can, are easier to toss away.

Most of us regularly go through our things, to clear space, to create room for new things, sometimes to the point it's almost an obsession.  I've met people that can not function if they don't shop almost daily, often for things they don't need, and can't afford, just because they have a psychological need to buy something. I once was sent to a home that had belonged to a hoarder. There was barely any light but for the lamps, items piled up over window height; a gloom that brooded over the clutter, as if angered by the light that came only with the flip of a switch. A single person lived there, with no room for family, for visitors, only for more possessions, most of which were in bags never opened.
I found that unbearably sad; even more so than the reason I was there.

Yet, in some ways, all of us are prone to gather up "things" that take up space.  I certainly have more lathe bits around than are likely allowed by law, and there are pots and pans of every conceivable size in the kitchen. There's also copies of cooking magazines, and oh, so many books. But those are things we use and re-read.

My first home on my own was a showpiece.  Three levels, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, full of beautiful new furniture, art and all the trappings of success.  I spent all of my time and money maintaining itwhich left little time or money for anything else. I liked to say I loved it, yet after another night alone in that place, but for Barkley, I had to admit to myself that there was a visceral response to the terrible loneliness of that open space, and I yearned for the lean days where life was simple and full of hope.

Giving most of it to charity; paring it down to just those things I really cherished, was the most liberating thing I've ever done.
I remember standing out that night in the woods a few weeks after I sold the house, duty having called, finding sense in the senseless, finding my purpose even as sparrows fall to earth. People watching from a distance would think me too quiet, too still, shouldn't this activity be a frenzy of lights and motion, like on TV?  But there is a great activity in being the quiet observer, standing in a stillness that smells of silence,  breathing in so many scents in damp cold air. Sweat, blood and a flower that only blooms in the dark, the wind so scant it's like breath on a mirror. Each smell blended yet distinct, always overlaid with the copper tang of life spilled. The air hums along to the nights quiet as all I see, smell and feel, forms into a substance I can almost feel on my flesh, capturing it, recording it there in the stillness. The truth is often still, inarticulate, not knowing it is the truth.
I knew then what my reality was, and it was not that house full of "things" Our reality is held only by us, not by others. They can only see the show, never really knowing what they are truly seeing.

Now my house is tiny, warm, full of the abandoned and reclaimed, almost every bit of wooden furniture rescued from a curb and restored. So much history here, so much laughter as that work was done. I look at it now, not with that quick glance that is a short day, greedily grabbed and then forgotten, but in the sustained light of memories made.

I remember the last round of cleaning before I moved here, an old broken washing machine left out by the trash where it soon disappeared as planned, by others that look to take what is cast off and make something worthwhile from it. There were also bags of trash and non-repairable clothing and such out in the bin to be discarded. The sun was setting, the sky and the horizon welded in one bright spark, soon to be snuffed out.  Everything around me dissolved into that last bit of warmth, bags of trash, heavy in my arms, everything in them at one time, fashioned out of love, duty or desire, which all bear their own weights.
Then, with everything out to be picked up, it was time to call Dad. For Dad is the one, person, more than anyone I know, who understands the importance of letting go and holding on.

I've written of it here before, as it's a journey many a family has been on,   Seventeen years into a happy remarriage after my Mom died from cancer, my stepmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She had long term care insurance, something she and her late husband had policies for. It covered nursing care, but Dad steadfastly refused to put her in a home, caring for her at home, even in his own declining years.
The disease's progression was as predictable as its course was certain.  Mood swings and aggression, words that made no sense, dropping to the floor like marbles, tears as she tried to mentally gather them up, anger at the very air around her. She always was gentle with my Dad though. Only with him would she remain calm, the reasoning that was blind and deaf somehow responding to something in him that her mind could still see.

Dad cared for her at home, no matter how bad it got. We couldn't visit, for we were strangers, and she'd go into a hysterical fury if we tried to enter the home. Dad was her calm and her constant. We arranged for someone to come in and lend a hand a few hours a week with the cooking and housework but he refused to let anyone else care for "his girl" or to send her to skilled nursing care. When she passed, it was quite sudden, after she contracted pneumonia. From her sudden coughing to her collapse, was just days.

Sometimes when you get to the far edge, the edge just breaks away.
We laid her to rest on a tree-covered hilltop. We visit, we bring flowers, we hug dhed some tears, neither of us immune to having our heart broken. Then we smile through the tears, sharing their stories as we make the long trip home to photos and a little stuffed bear wearing the colors of the flag.
One of those photos is one of her and  Dad on their first date, and you could see something in their smiles that would be lost on so many people. Not many people could have cared for her by themselves as my Dad did, for so long.  But I understand.  Love is a story that tells itself.

On my couch is the form of a black dog. Dumped during the holidaysheartworm positive at a high kill shelter. She responds with a heartbreaking and plaintive urgency to the sound of small children laughing as well as men walking while smoking a cigarette.  The first time I witnessed it, I cried. Apparently, she was with a family, with a smokermoney for cigarettes but not for the medicine that would have kept her safe.

Rescued, and recovering from a sometimes brutal treatment for the disease; we adopted her.  We've added a second rescue - a 100-pound yellow Lab who was rescued from a dark pen at a breeders.  She'd never known a couch, or grass, or human physical affection.  She was the dog equivalent of cattle and the joy she has brought to us as she discovers a new life has brought us both even more joy than we had with just Abby Lab.  For what was one person's decision to be rid of a burden was a saving grace in a house that had a gaping hole in it.
What we hold on to and what we let go, is as telling as the words we say. It took me years to understand it, but the words of Henry David Thoreau make perfect sense to me now.

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it".

I realized that there were certain things, and in the past, even certain people, that simply violated my sense of thrift, exacting things out of me well beyond their worth. That concept was lost to me when I was young, but as I got older, with truth stripped of its cloak of immortality, it was clear.
As I take out some things to be picked up by AmVets, I look around me. Shadows move like ghosts over the sun, deepening the grass to the color of jewels. The last remnants of the last snowstorm have melted, the dark earth trembling to release spring's flowers in the coming months.  At the side of a house, an old trellis that needs to be repaired before new life grabs onto it yet again.  I gather it close to my chest to take it inside to be mended, rather than tossed away.  This is my home I think, as I bend my face down to it, breathing in the scent of old wood, holding the weight securely as I move inside.  I could bury my face in it, this small thing to be salvaged from this place that I had always been seeking.

Home and love, love and desire, can be what propels us silently onward.  Hope and love,  love and desire, can also be mere sounds that people who have never hoped or loved or desired have for what they never possessed, and will not until such time as they forget the words. 
 - LBJ

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day - A View From Home

Dad's home of 60+ years sold earlier this year.  Last fall he made the decision to go into assisted living. He swore he would live out his days in his big old house, but he needed 24 hour looking after and with ice and winter storms his nurse's aids couldn't always make it safely to his home and at one point he just said: "I'm ready." He did NOT want to live with family, he wanted his own space.  I get that.  So my cousin Liz did some checking around and found him a really nice assisted living place.  It's very new and not in the town I grew up in, but it's a short drive away, so his friends can still visit and it's only an hour away from where Liz's partner Keith's family lives so they can visit often after they helped him move in.

Still, it was really hard seeing everything from the home that's been "home" to me for 60 years, leave, to be sold or donated to charity so the funds could pay for the care I'd been providing since my brother died in 2014. When I saw that the last of the house's contents were gone, I could only stand silently, as something like the wind, chill and solitary, blew through me.  So many memories within those walls.  Dad took it better than I did, I think, feeling at first a bit miscast but then accepting his new surroundings as a safe shelter.  He has grown to love his new place with a view of the woods, and someone there all the time if he needs help. He has made friends with other Veterans, and they spend many an hour sitting out in the garden area exchanging stories and bad jokes, their rapport not like that of siblings, but as people who had breathed and endured wartime, the internal scars of which they all still bore with honor.

I visited him just a few weeks ago, and one of the drives we made was down the street of the old house.  It looked to be occupied by a family, there were a couple of kids bikes out front and new flowers had been planted and the trim around the windows had been repainted. Dad was happy to see it went to someone who would care for it as he did with the laughter of children within those walls no longer only an echo.
On Veterans Day today, I thought back to one last flight before the house was sold when an Honor Flight Group was at the airport as I arrived.   How wonderful to see the crowds of people who stood up and clapped as these brave Veterans were wheeled past, and the line of officers that shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I had brought a tiny little point and shoot out on this trip and got one discreet picture, even as a tear ran down my cheek.

Good people honor their Veterans as we are taught to honor our parents. Dad bought his house 10 years after his service in WWII when he left the military for good.  He did everything he could to make sure we lived in a safe world, even before we were born. That is why my "vacations" the last 30 years have been back and forth to Dad's house to care for him and my stepmom when she had Alzheimer's and later just my Dad. My big brother, a retired Navy Submariner who worked for Electric Boat, made sure the house stayed in good condition, with both of us making sure there was enough money in his bank account to handle its upkeep (you can't see it from this angle but my brother and I got him one of those recliners that lifted him up to a standing position). I handled cooking and cleaning, canning and freezing, so meals when I was gone, were easy. Clothes were mended and the gutters were cleaned. After my stepmom died and Dad was recuperating from a minor stroke, my brother moved in with Dad so we didn't have to pay for in-home care, which he was needing more of.

When my brother died I realized just how much he had been doing for my Dad that was now up to me so more frequent trips were made and nursing care was arranged so Dad could stay in his home as long as he wanted to.
When I came home that last time before the house sold, he did something that my brother always did for me, leave a couple of balloons tied to one of my stuffed animals (yes, they were still in my room) on the bed.

My bedroom looked just the same as when I was a teen, with the rainbows painted when I was 14 out of the horrid colored 70's leftover paint (I do NOT want to remember which room the aqua one was, but I remember the awful salmon color as my childhood bedroom paint scheme).  The rest of the house had been repainted prior to sale, my room, being the last to be "updated". I think my Dad knew that seeing those rainbows painted over, as tacky as they were, would break my heart.
Being in that house that last day brought back so many memories. The houses on our block were all were erected in the 50's, sprawling across what used to be farm fields, rich soil that lay at the foothills of the mountains, small squares of cedar and brick, laying in the shadows of tall unaxed trees and the log train that serenaded a little girl to sleep.
The neighborhood back then was different than the dynamics of a neighborhood now.  Families moved in and didn't move out. There weren't foreclosures popping up every few houses, and kids tended to live in the same home from the time they came home from the hospital until they went off to the lumber mills or college. It was a small mill town, most of the kids ended up there, drawn by the lure of a log mill wage at 18 that seemed like a fortune until you saw the brutal tax on your bones and your spirit after 40 years of it. Only a few of us made our way out beyond those snow-capped mountains.

We knew all of our neighbors, the other Mom's home during the day, welcoming in the noise and the occasional dirty footprint onto the linoleum.  We knew which Mom made the best chocolate chip cookie, and which one would be as stern a taskmaster as our own Mom when it came to playing quietly in the house.  (Look it's NOT a hallway, it's a Hot Wheels racetrack and I needed 6 extra kids as a pit crew).

The town's only grocery was across a two-lane 50 mph roadway that leads to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes on our own, even if there was a four-way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer-funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in the summertime, we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
We'd ride up and down the block, usually playing Man From Uncle (I always got to be Ilya Kuryakin whom I'm sure started out his Secret Agent stuff, as I did, with training wheels).  We'd play soldier and spy or cowboys and Indians in our back yard where Dad and my favorite Uncle, an engineer, built a cool A-frame playhouse for me.  I could usually squirrel away some of the Hostess products from the kitchen, inside its structure for the Indians to run raids on. I was ready, I had my cereal box Colt six-shooter and a BUS (back-up slingshot).

But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic.   Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when they adopted both of us.

Those were glorious days.  We'd drink from the hose or come in for KoolAid, and a hug, soda pop being something not in a budget of a single income family, reserved for a treat while on vacation to my Aunt and Uncle's ranch. We'd count marbles, candy money, and coup, and we'd roam as far as we could without crossing that highway.
Many of the houses had fences, many did not, but there was an alleyway of grass that ran behind our house where we could run covert missions into a neighbor's place. The ones without kids were off-limits, we were taught to respect others' property, but we did raid one retired couple's little decorative pond at the back corner of their place for the occasional frog which we'd use to scare some sissy kid, and then return it safely. (Seriously, if I ever give you a shoebox with holes in it with a big bow on top, don't open it).

On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week.
In the late afternoon, Dad would curl up with some sports on TV for a couple of hours, his only break in a long week of work and family. Mom would go to her needlework or crafts while the neighborhood kids continued to play those glorious summer games that were relegated to single days off during the school year for us. For Sunday was a day of worship, of rest, reading, board games and music, not raids on a local fort or trying to blow something up in the garage.

Now, so much of the area has changed  I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat or a Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.
I love my Dad, as I think we all do our parents, even when we don't see eye to eye with them, both sides occasionally causing hurt even to someone they love dearly. Such is human nature.  But I also admire him even as I tease him a little that he has a picture of Ronald Reagan riding a horse on his desk.
So I did all I could to keep some continuity in his life as long as I could. Having buried two wives and two children, a daughter they lost in their late 20's and my brother, Dad needed that sense of stability, even if the martini making duties have been inherited by my husband.
The very last look at the house - it was completely empty, nothing at all left, but walls that held within them so much.

The span of that empty space is as wide as our grief.
As I left the house that last time, I looked up to the Heavens and told my brother told him I loved him, went to the car, climbed in and started the engine and gave my Dad a hug there as he waited for me. You can't NOT take the opportunity for a hug.  For it might well be the last one. Dad and I are not related by blood but we are, by a life lived, commitment honored and memories made. He touched my cheek, with work-weary, dry, thin hands, an old man's fingers, yet still, his hands, my Daddy's hands, touching my rosy cheek where the strength of his blood still flows within me, will flow, even after his long journey back to his reward.
I looked at the house as I left it that last time, my family pictures now adorning the walls of Dad's new place.  All of those memories seemed to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Solar Powered Dog

Larelei Lab - our puppy mill rescue dog adopted early this summer.

I think a nap in the sun sounds good right now.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Some Days are Like That

There are just some days you need some comfort food to make it all better. For some it's "bath day" (Barkley was NEVER a fan) or for others, it's a whole day of meetings which can sometimes be more tiring than being busy with having eight fires at once to put out.

So for tonight. . .

Easy Baked Mac and Cheese. I love the "just like Mom made" stuff with ham and onions and homemade roux, (and I have an incredibly good one if anyone wants it).. But some days you just need EASY. This one is. But is also delicious and unbelievably creamy. You can assemble it in 15 minutes, if you get out the ingredients ahead of time, while you get out of your work clothes and take the dog outside.

This recipe has been made for potlucks many times and the dish is quickly scraped clean.
You start with some Cabot extra sharp cheddar (or Tillamock for those lucky folks that can find it out West) and (don't faint) a little bit of Velveeta to make it creamy and a can of Campbell's Cheese soup.

Toss in the rest (which included a dash of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat).
Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle a little more cheddar on top and bake a bit more.
It's the perfect plate of comfort food.
click on photos for the full effect
4 cups macaroni (dry) cooked
1/4 cup real butter, melt onto drained pasta

Stir in a generous 2 cups shredded good qualityCheddar (about 8 ounces)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
8 ounces processed cheese spread
(all at room temperature)

Stir until mostly melted

Add in 3 eggs whisked into 1 can evaporated milk, a pinch of nutmeg and two pinches of cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper.

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes covered with foil. Stir well and remove foil. Sprinkle on about 1/2 cup  cheddar cheese and bake another 15-20 minutes, uncovered, until cheese on top is melted and starting to brown on the edges of the pan.

If you wish to go crazy and add an extra five minutes to it, chopped bacon and/or jalapeno is awesome stirred into it before cooking, but it still shines, even plain.

Enjoy.
This is neither low fat or low sodium, and is  really is intended as a side dish for ham or pork or meatloaf.  But I have to say, I loaded up my plate and it was SO worth it.

Say CHEESE!!!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Tuesday Smiles

I don't care what your political persuasion is, this is just dog-gone funny.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sunday Black and White - Life in an Old House

 What is a day like in a hundred-year-old home with no television?

It's soft light through the windows as all is quiet.
It's books, so many books.
 It's seeing your life reflected in those things that surround you.


It's the sound of music of generations ago.
It's board games played while bread bakes in the oven and the dog slumbers nearby.

 It's antique lace, and things few know how to make any more.
It's things from the ground and the garden collected to be beauty or nourishment.

It's the sounds from a shop, things being repaired or built
 to make the home stronger.
It's soft laughter and amber liquid, there in that quiet house
 where you will soon lay your head.