November Has 30 Days. Sigh.

It’s two-thirds gone and I can hardly wait for it to be over.  November is not my idea of month.  It’s more like a jail term for the infraction of loving blue skies and colour.

I have a friend who LOVES November.  In part because his birthday is in November, but also in part because where he lives (Australia), the weather is warmer and sunnier and the cricket season is underway.  I think it’s why we broke up; well, complete opposite ideas about November and the fact that he was a cricketer.  (If you can’t explain how a game is played in three sentences or fewer, including how scoring happens, however much I love you, we have a relationship challenge.)

Anyway, to return the to dull greyness that is November here… I stand at the kitchen window and look out at the sad piles of leaves, sunk down by sleet and rain, and remember what they were once, hanging on the maple and oak trees in the neighbourhood.  I watch clouds, heavy with precipitation, scudding across the sky, hiding any hope of sunshine, thinking they seem very satisfied with their gloominess.  I watch the barometer fall, almost as fast as the thermometer, and wonder if it’s actually possible to sleep for 29 days.

I would wake up for (American) Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin pie, doncha know??  Plus, eat enough turkey, and you just fall right back to sleep again!

My girlhood hero, Anne Shirley (she of “Green Gables” fame) agrees with me, but Lucy Maud Montgomery puts it so much better than I:

“November is usually such a disagreeable month as if the year had suddenly found out she was growing old and could do nothing but weep and fret over it.”  

Some might think I’m railing against November because it means another year is slipping to an end, and as I grow older, there are fewer and fewer Novembers to come to me.  But if that hypothesis were true, I would feel the same about December, more so perhaps, because it is the end of the year.  December, though is bright.  Even if there are snow squalls and icy roads, bone-chilling temperatures and outrageous heating bills, there is a brightness to a month that encourages us to put out and turn on our brightest lights.  We fill our homes with the smell of pine and gingerbread.  We spend our time and money looking for ways to please our family and friends with gifts, not to mention a little something or two for ourselves.  We eat too much and drink too much, and love every mouthful.  And even if we think we can’t stand the holiday season, there is always, always, one moment, one sight, which makes us think… ‘so this is how the Grinch’s heart grew so big’.  From the movie:

“I’m all toasty inside. And I’m leaking.”  

I think we’re all looking forward to becoming toasty inside… As soon as we get over November.

 

And just so you know…  this is a month and a vista I could live with always… Thanks for sharing it over (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Michael & Rita.

Sun Oct 8.jpg

Advertisements

Harvest Bounty

Just sitting here, letting the cooling breeze of a mild October evening roll over me, as I survey the rows and rows of jars headed for the basement where they will live until needed through the next several months.  It is a little exhausting but mostly exhilarating to look at them, knowing that I did this.  I did this!  Well, with some help from Jeff who provided a much needed third hand at time, and lots of muscle at others, for the heavy canning pots I’m still not permitted to lift and/or carry.  This to me is the bliss of autumn.

I am not a fan of August heat.  One can only take off so much clothing before one is arrested, whereas in autumn one can slip on another sweater, or even wear shoes and be comfortable in every way.  Plus, in the fall, there is something special about the blue sky, a much more vibrant colour than summer skies, or so I think anyway.

What I do love about the end of summer and beginning of fall is farmers markets, overflowing with fruits and vegetables, overflowing with the chance to make great jams and pickles, chutneys and relishes.

canning pot

I didn’t have the chance to make much last year, being ‘hors de combat’ as it were.  I am grateful to my sister-in-law, Karen, for sharing a little peach jam with us, as well as several containers of peach slices for the freezer.  Can you say peach cobbler with ice cream??

This year, however, I went to town!  Or rather, the farmer’s market quite a few times.  I made bread & butter pickles (dear lord, but why would anyone buy them in jars from a supermarket when these are easy-peasy and soooo delicious??) and dill pickles.  Many thanks to the farm couple who told me about using dill weed instead of fresh dill; there was NONE to be found at market that Thursday morning but there must have been 20 tonnes of pickling cucumbers for sale.  She said she only used dill weed now, instead of fresh dill, and loved the results.  So, I gave it a try.  I mean, if you can’t trust your farmer, who can you trust, eh?

They were right.  The pickles are firm and crunchy, and exactly the right amount of dill-ness, combined with two or three cloves of garlic for some great eating pickles.

Earlier in the summer, I make strawberry jam with fresh pineapple.  Perhaps because it was fresh pineapple, and not tinned, the jam has turned out to be more jelly-like than expected but it tastes really, really good.  Definitely a keeper recipe.

strawberries

I also took advantage of cherry season to make fresh cherry jam with pear.  The idea of combining those two fruits sort of surprised me, but as I like both, decided to give it a try.  Oooh, so good.  A little runnier than expected (natural pectin is a challenge for sure!) but so wonderful.  And, with the ‘gift’ of a $2 4 quart basket of apricots, I made an apricot & golden sultana conserve, which is not sweet and makes a great glaze (when judiciously thinned with a little juice or rum) for pork or chicken, as well as a kickass jam for crumpets.

A conserve, if you didn’t know as I didn’t know either, is a jam with either nuts or raisins added.  I prefer raisins.  I can hear my mother from here hollering “Nuts!  Go with nuts!” She hated raisins.

One of the other two jams I made were a repeat from 2015 which Jeff & I both loved – pear with ginger and creme de cacao.  The ginger really gives it a snap, not sweet at all, and the creme de cacao is a nice way to drink in the morning.

The second late summer jam was new to me.  Deliciously ripe and juicy peaches and pears run into each other at the end of summer, if you’re lucky.  I got lucky this year, so made some peach and pear jam.  The thing about this one is that it’s nothing but fruit so you get great flavours, some running down your chin off the English muffins.  Mmm.

As for more savoury choices, I made plum & apple & raisin chutney with lots of spices – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice.  The plum-only version is thicker and darker, but this one is wonderful with ham.  Oh, so wonderful with ham.  Breakfast tomorrow for Jeff will be a Croque Monsieur sandwich with this chutney, a blatant attempt to get a couple of pairs of new shoes… and I think it’s going to work, that’s how good this stuff is.

I forwent making Governor’s Sauce this year (Governor’s Lumps my father used to call it), which I suspect I’m going to regret later this winter, but I did make chili sauce and that’s all yummy goodness.  I have to say that my chili sauce turns out different every single year, and sometimes quite dramatically different, even though I use the same recipe — my mother’s, of course — every year.  This batch is different because I used Roma tomatoes because that’s what was ripe in Jeff’s garden in quantities large enough for cooking.  I like it but I think I’ll go back to “regular” tomatoes next summer.

And, especially for my dear Uncle Bruce, mustard relish.  He loved my mother’s mustard relish, and it’s taken me a long, long time to balance the ingredients out just so, so to make a batch that’s as good as hers.  Well, maybe I should say ‘almost as good as hers’.  He has a BIG birthday coming up later this year, and our gift to him is several jars of mustard relish, some pickles, some chili sauce, some jams… Gifts from the pot and the heart.

I still have pickled beets to make but having learned a very important trick from my mother later in her life, I can do those any time.  I used to spend hours trying to make balls of beets from fresh beets every year and they never turned out the way hers did – they were lumpy and too big and basically ugly.  We were at the table at the cottage when I told her my tale of woe and she started laughing so hard, she started to cough and choke, and then started to laugh again.  “I used tinned beets, you dumpfkof!”  She loved me most when she called me that.

So pickled beets and citrus onion marmalade (which I love but which my bestie Lynn also loves, by the quart jar) are still to come.

Harvest Bounty

 

Bags of veggies frozen, some pureed strawberries for trifle at Christmas (and other trifling moments), and some containers of soup, and that, I think covers it.  I feel so accomplished for doing this, but more importantly, I feel connected.  I feel like my mother and grandmothers are watching out over me, keeping on eye no the pots with bubbling goodness inside, the canning pot with boiling water to help preserve everything safely.  I feel their hearts and minds, and especially their hands, lightening the work, sharing the stories and joy.

Come by sometime for toast and jam, or apricot glazed pork loin, or chili sauce and mustard relish on your bratwurst.  I’ll be glad to open up a jar for you.

 

Bliss

As summer rolls to a close and I’m starting to think warm and cozy thoughts about sweaters and mohair throws on the chesterfield, I also started thinking about how summer feels different in this fourth quarter of my life.

When I was a kid, summer was all about the cottage, swimming and playing Red Rover on the beach.  It was about riding bikes down the winding gravel road to McKenzie’s for an ice cream cone (and a couple of hours’ peace and quiet for my mother).  It was about fishing on the weekends with my father so that we could have fresh-caught bass, fried in butter, served with hash browns and scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and about a loaf of bread, toasted and slathered in peanut butter.  It was about catching frogs and trying to catch lightning bugs.  It was about lazy hot afternoons lying in the shade of the birch tree reading “A Boys Own” that once belonged to my father.  It was about endless games of “May I” and Sorry, and trying to avoid playing Monopoly with my capitalist brothers.  It was about finding a snake in my underwear drawer, a bat in our sleeping cabin, and the dog discovering skunks are not great playmates.  It was about roasting wienies and marshmallows until burnt and then promptly burning the roof of your mouth, on each one!  It was about being blissful, even if you didn’t know what bliss was then.

I didn’t really have a summer last year, or not much of one any way, so I had looked forward to this one quite a bit.  In many ways, it didn’t disappoint – we spent several weekends at the lake and to my joy, Jeff caught a very large bass which we shared with family for breakfast one morning.  And I did the summer things I used to do with my mother – strawberry jam in June, pickles in August, with mustard relish and chili sauce to come this week.  But it all felt… different.

For one thing, there’s the matter of “other things to do”.  We had to re-arrange schedules a little bit for one weekend visit.  Nieces and nephews are busy with jobs and not at the lake all the time.  Nor are my two brothers and sisters-in-law, and even my aunt & uncle have moved into ‘town’ from the lakeside.

For another, instead of the utter peace and calm of almost every day and evening of my childhood – other than the noise of children playing and fighting and doing other non-mechanized childish things – our summer visits this year were filled with noises of motors and fireworks and raucous, drunken laughter into the early morning hours.

I’m not turning into a cantankerous old lady (I hope!) when I say this but there is much to be cherished about the unfrenzied, unplanned, mostly unplugged summers of my childhood.  I think it’s rather sad to see today that there are so few long, lazy days of summer for children.  Or adults for that matter.  I think we would all do well out of having many more long bike rides down winding gravel roads for maple walnut ice cream cones, putting a few fireflies in a jar, roasting a few marshmallows on pointy sticks around a small bonfire, watching the sun set.

We could all do with a little more bliss.

So Many Candles, Matches All The Love

Today is my birthday. It’s also one day short of the anniversary of “when things went wrong”.  Let’s focus on the birthday for a moment.

I love birthdays, I always have.  A birthday in summer, away from the city and school friends, meant I never had a kids’ birthday party except for the year I turned 8.  That was the year I decide to invite all the kids along the beach where our cottage is.  Mostly that was family or my “summer” cousins, and all but three of them were boys, but I wanted a party!  It wasn’t until my aunt called my mother and asked if she “could help with Dia’s party, there were going to be so many children there!” that my mother knew anything about it.

Won’t lie to you… Mum was mad.  But she was also actually kind of cool about it.  I don’t think she’d ever understood that out of all of us, I was the one who didn’t get that kid birthday event, or even birthday gifts (other than, and thank goodness for, grandparents’).  Our summers were tied up in swimming and games on the beach and just having the usual kid fun, that my birthday, MY special day, just sort of… slipped away.  Aside, of course, from always having hamburgers and angel food cake with my grandparents; god, I love angel food cake, especially with whipped cream and bananas, like Gram used to make every year.

So, going back to the party, the kids all showed up, we ate copiously of corn and potato salad and hot dogs, and there was watermelon, and a chocolate cake (knowing that angel food cake was coming on the weekend with my grandparents and father).  We played silly games I didn’t know my mother knew, we went swimming (of course!), and I got real life birthday presents from kids.  That was so important to me.  None of them were big or expensive, but they were fun or silly or sweet (Cam, I still have the elephant!).

I have had other lovely birthday parties and surprises since, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them immensely.  And I’m looking forward to a whole lot more – I hope!  But last year… not so celebratory because I couldn’t drink and wanted to eat very lightly before going into hospital the next morning.

I was facing surgery (hysterectomy) for suspected uterine cancer.  Two uterine biopsies were inconclusive (bloody painful but inconclusive), although an ultrasound did show a couple of polyps/lumps.  Combined with a few months of bleeding, my age, and the ‘best by’ date having expired some years since on my uterus, my gyns and oncologist and I decided surgery was the best choice.

Oy veh.

Good news first.  Although I did have cancer, I do not now.  The operation removed the tumour, and other than a Pap smear every six months for four years, and an annual chest x-ray (when uterine cancer does metastisize, it is almost invariably in the chest; this is how my angel food cake baking grandmother died) for the next four years, I’m not living with a fear or shadow of cancer.

I am however, living with what happened during and after the hysterectomy.  First my bladder and/or kidneys were nicked in the surgery, which meant 24 hours after the first surgery, I went back under general anaesthesia to have stents put into my kidneys, where they stayed for just over a month, four weeks of which time I was catheretised. Having the stents removed was my fourth experience in the O.R.; the third one was the scary one.

Number three is when I almost died.  Not going into all the details, but if I say that basically my abdominal muscles blew up, no one noticed for maybe 36 hours, and the fact that I was septic (dangerously infected) when they finally did, will you understand some of what was going on? What was supposed to have been four or five days in hospital turned four rounds of surgery, three of them in four days, one of them in the middle of night because I was so injured/ill.  I was in ICU for four days, hospital for three weeks (lying immobile for most of that time, post surgery three) and prison for a month.

The facility prefers I call it rehab; I don’t.  I was so angry, so distraught at being sent there rather than home after so long in hospital, I thought I was going to cry myself to death that first night.  Except I couldn’t really weep hard because of the wound.  The surgery that was done to save my life didn’t leave enough of me to suture close so a “wound vac” was used, and that gizmo was part of my life from August 23rd to the end of December.  With it, amongst other challenges, I couldn’t bend over – and I still can’t, really.  The damage to the muscles was so severe my doctor says I cannot lift or push anything more than 5 – 10 pounds (less than 5 kilos) forever.

In hindsight, and albeit still grudgingly, I understand I needed some time to learn how to move with Giz (as he was fondly referred to in our house) and to re-gain some of my completely depleted strength.  I also know that Jeff also needed time to figure out how to take care of me at home, because when I was finally! released at the end of September, I really needed care.  Three times a week, wonderful nurses came to the house and change the dressing in the wound, keeping Giz doing his job of “sucking” me closed.  As a result, my scar isn’t an “outie”, it’s an “innie”, making my abdomen look like my butt.  Seriously.  Cover up the other bits and you can’t tell the difference.

It was early this spring that I finally felt I was getting my mind back.  The body healed a whole faster than my head did, although I don’t consider five months so fast!  A combination of some 10 hours of general anaesthesia, shock from having so much go wrong, discombobulation at being away from home for so long, and a near-complete lack of remembering what had happened to me, has given me a form of PTS.  Mild but disconcerting, and it lead to some severe sleep problems (once I was off the meds – those kept me sleeping a lot!), and most disconcertingly, kept me from reading books.  I could manage magazines (over a few days) and newspaper (slowly, through the entire day) while I was in prison, but I couldn’t do books again until November.  Me, without books. It’s just so… wrong.

I live a belly button free life now, but I’m living.  I’m cancer free.  I’m getting, slowly slowly, back to who I was and, with the continuing help of my docs, and a huge amount of love and support from Jeff and extended family, not to mention a wonderful and surprisingly large group of friends, I’m working on being even better than that.

Birthdays are about celebrating life.  This birthday is going to be especially celebratory. Here’s hoping I can blow out all the candles!!

 

Ever look at someone, waiting for them to say something intriguing or informative, and all you can think is, “I know what her favourite hobby is – sucking lemons!”  Or maybe you’ve endured lunch with the friend of a friend who will not stop talking about something that is so wrong, so untruthful you just want to stick your fork in their tongue, pay the bill, and leave for Costa Rica (assuming you’re not already IN Costa Rica, in which case you leave for Singapore).  Perhaps you decided to get together with friends you haven’t seen in five years or more, haven’t had much contact with them at all, and over drinks you start to wonder if you hadn’t been drinking enough before when you all hung out or are you not drinking enough now to get through the evening.

I’m asking these questions because of The New York Times and their second most stupid act ever.  They started a column called “Say Something Nice” in which people are supposed to say something nice about 45.  I sometimes call him “Buttercup”; former Mexican President Vincente Fox calls him ‘the President of the Electoral College of the United States’; now that he’s begun to refer to himself as – and this just slays me ‘ ‘T’, that may be another choice for me.  In any case I will not ever use his name or his supposed title (although I might go with President Fox’s choice, if forced).

And I cannot find anything nice to say about him.  I can’t.  One should respect the office, and one does.  One cannot, and does not, and cannot see a time when one would,  respect the man.

The previous occupant had many, many faults and while I think he did some amazing things, he also made some real blunders in doing the job.  Don’t we all??  However, he never once made me feel that his blunders or mistakes were about greed and avarice, about denigration and disrespect, about lying to save his ass.  And never once did he make me feel the whole world was going to hell in a hand basket.  He made it easy to respect the office and the man.

So when I heard about The New York Times wanting us to say something nice about 45, I laughed derisively.  Then I thought about that lemon-sucking woman, and the lying lunch companion, and the friends who seem to be drunk when I am not, and I realized I’m not saying nice things about them either.  And maybe that’s what I should be focusing on. Finding something nice to be saying about those people who seem honestly to be giving a crap.

The fact that it’s about a crappy man, or some of his crappy programs, shouldn’t be the point, or at least not the entire point.  They’re doing things, working on thing, promoting things that I believe they believe.  And what they believe (aside from the terrible lies they’ve heard and re-told about both 44 and 45’s opponent, and on which I call them out every time) is not… well, it’s not what I believe at all, but it’s also maybe not so completely wrong either.

There is a true disconnect in the western world right now.  It’s happening in the U.S., in Canada, in Australia, and through pretty much all of Europe.  If you’ve read any history at all, you know it’s nothing we haven’t endured before, although this time it’s with 24 hour media, fake or not, and with some really ugly weapons of destruction.  Is it possible that if we really worked at it honestly, this time is nothing we can’t move beyond?

Not fix.  We can’t “fix” this.  Some of us believe in a living minimum income, universal health care, universal family leave & child care, a shattered glass ceiling, that black lives matter, that industrial agriculture is slowly killing the earth & that processed cheese slices are not actually food, and that both table manners and cursive writing are essential to reasonable public discourse and subsequent follow-up.  Some of us believe 180 degrees differently.

What we seem to be unable to do is work beyond those disagreements, to find ways to support human beings and not throw them on the trash heap.  And, personally, as I’m not prepared to throw too much more on the trash heap, I’m going to try to say something nice about my 180 degrees people.

Don’t ask me what right now.  I’m trying to be nice, not saintly.  But maybe, just maybe, if more of us can take a deep breath and be nice, for just a moment, the moments will come easier to us, and maybe those moments will start coming to those who are at 180 degrees from us.  Fewer sucked lemons, and fewer ugly lies, and fewer nice people being pulled into ideas not thought through would be very nice indeed.

And if all that happens, maybe I can quit my over-consumption of solacing butter tarts cold turkey.

 

 

Light the Candles, Feel the Love

It wasn’t my plan to take so much time off blogging.  Some time, yes.  This much time, no.  I have reasons – no excuses, but pretty good reasons – but they’re for another blog.  This one is about family, and specifically two members of my family who are celebrating birthdays today!

Let’s start with the oldest my sister Andrea — although she will quickly point out in her comment that she is younger than me.  In this context, she is the older of the two birthday celebrants.  Andy Pandy.  Andrea Joy.  Andrea with the string of last names we won’t go into here.  She’s also known as Mom by three amazing kids, grown up kids now, who adore the hell of her, as they should.  To me, she’s my hero.

The hands she’s been dealt in the past couple of years, the work she’s done to try to get back on her feet, the support she continues to give other people even as she needs a lot for herself… that’s a kind of bravery I’m not sure I have.  Not without a lot of things being thrown at walls and a lot of single malt being consumed anyway.

Andy made a great attempt at living and working out a dream, and it turned into a bit of a nightmare through no fault of her own.  This forced her to make other decisions that I think she’s been happy with, but have also put her back at the starting line again.  The cool thing is, she’s up for the race.  She relishes having challenges and takes them on like nobody’s business.  But she would be great for somebody’s business (Hello, Calgary!!  Are you paying attention??) and I want things to work out for her.

But in the meanwhile, I hope she is having a great, happy, delicious birthday.  I hope she knows that she is loved and admired.  I hope she knows that some art thief is going to lose his balls someday for what he did.

Love you, sis, for all 60 years and I hope many more.

As for the other birthday… my daughter (who has a mother but who lets me share).  Durita and Andy never met, which is sad, but perhaps also good, because I think they might have stories to share I’m not sure I want shared!  They would like each other though, having the same sort of “yes, I’m going to do this!” attitude.

My Darling Girl is in law school in Copenhagen, living with her “man” Toki (I’m still not prepared for this), surrounded by a circle of wonderful friends (two of whom, Maria and Gunn, we were thrilled to meet last summer), and still and always loved by her ‘original’ family in the Faeroes.  And by me.

We met on my birthday, which makes  her the best gift I ever received, and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about her and how she’s filled my life and heart.  Of course, the fact I have a photo of her in every room in the house probably helps me keep track of that but still…

The sun sets very late in Copenhagen this time of the year, and I hope she & Toki and all their friends are taking advantage of a summer birthday eve.  I hope she knows I would love to spend a birthday with her again.  I hope she knows how valued and missed she is by Jeff, and by me.

Happiest Day, Darling Girl.  And many, many more.

 

 

 

Being A Little Overwhelmed by Achieving a Goal

I am an author.

I have been saying for several years now, when asked what I do, “I’m a writer”.  It’s an easy phrase to toss off, until the inevitable follow-up question arrives.  “Oh, what do you write? Would I have read anything of yours?”  Fortunately for my ego, I can respond by saying I have been a magazine writer and editor, I wrote opinion pieces for my local newspaper, I was a radio journalist for a while, but now I’m trying my hand at both fiction and a memoir.

It is the memoir that was finished first, and it is the memoir that will be published and launched in just a couple of days. I chose October 1st because it would have been my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary and this book is so much about them.  And about my siblings and their families, and my extended, and so many friends, so many meals.  It was a work of love in very many ways to write.  Now it’s a work of faith to present it to the public and see what they have to say.

Oh, my friends and my family have been supportive in ways I truly was not expecting.  And that is both gratifying and humbling. What will be interesting is to see who else buys the book, who are the people I don’t know who might want to read my stories, cook my food.

Given the tiny sliver of success this first book has provided me, I am already considering how to follow up the experience, how to broaden the experience, so that not only do I continue to tell stories and share food, but create opportunities that will lead to stories and meals I cannot even imagine right now.

I have begun the process with the tentative step of a new blog (not that I’m giving up this one — that would be silly. And I need it!) and we’ll see how things develop over the next few weeks.

I’ll be back after the weekend after the launch (what a full first four days of October we have!!) with photos and stories and I expect a great deal more gratitude.  And somewhat calmer nerves.

The illustration commissioned for the front cover of GOOF, CARPETBAG STEAK & DIVINITY: A Memoir With Recipes.  The artist is named Kaoru Shimada or KART.

The illustration commissioned for the front cover of GOOF, CARPETBAG STEAK & DIVINITY: A Memoir With Recipes. The artist is named Kaoru Shimada or KART.

Six Months… What Goes Through My Mind in Six Months…

I should kick myself in the arse for being so… well, indecisive about continuing this blog.  Not because I don’t enjoy writing, because I do.  And not because I don’t appreciate the generally positive feedback I get from it, because I do.  But maybe because of two people and one idea.

The two people are ghosts from my life and while I try to ignore them or pretend they have little, if anything, to do with my present, they always seem to just pop up and annoy me with their ghostly presence.  They are likely see this post and knowing that – again –  I’m sharing something of myself with them is, well, icky.  But the reason for even establishing this blog was to bust some ghosts and mostly, I’ve done that.  Mostly, I’ve learned to step back and breathe, to take a second or third or tenth look at a problem and then either write about it OR accept the fact that some things in life, baby, you just can’t change.

The idea is different.  The idea was that maybe now I’ve busted those ghosts I can move in another direction.  What that would be, I wasn’t not sure but still….

But there’s more to writing this blog than just exorcising some bad ideas, some bad relationships. I write because I seek inner clarity.  I write as a way to express myself, and find myself, and be myself in a world where sometimes the masks are pretty heavy, stuck in place.  Of course, sometimes I write just pap and crap, and that’s okay!!  I love a good gossip or picture magazine at times.  But sometimes, I need to find words to figure out what the hell I’m feeling, and to get rid of the bad ones, and snuggle up to the good ones.

I’m keep a gratitude jar this year.  The idea is to jot down one small thing every day that’s made you feel grateful or happy or some other positive crap, put the notes in a jar, and at the end of the year, count ’em all up.  Well,  30 days does not make 30 notes but there are some in the jar, and there will be more than 185 by the end of the year (that’s more than 1 every other day, fyi for my arithmetically challenged friends!)

Maybe it’s been the jar, maybe it was getting a letter today from someone I did NOT expect to hear from, maybe it was a lot of PMing with a long-time colleague that just turned into silly fun… but I’m feeling really positive and lucky and peaceful this week.  A feeling which will last if the Seahawks win on Sunday.

Anyway, I’m back. I’ll be here a lot.  I hope to hear from you soon.  And I hope all the monsters under your bed are gone!

Senescence, or Seriously, How Did I Get Here?

I have been thinking a lot about ageing this week.

My birthday is Saturday and that always makes me think about ageing.  When I was a child, it was exciting to grow older, to be one step closer to adulthood and all the fun I saw come with being grown up.  When I was a teenager, it was still exciting to grow older, to start having some of that fun of being a grown-up but also to start shouldering some of the responsibilities that come with years.  When I was a young adult, it was still exciting to grow older, because the possibilities of my youth were coming true, so I was having that adult fun and yet also being An Adult and carrying more responsibility and obligation around with me. And now I am in well into my middle years, well into them, and I still love birthdays (most especially mine) but they’re not so much exciting now as they are nostalgic, sometimes Romantic, always emotional.

I must have an angel food cake for my birthday.  This is because my grandmother, Grandma Gert (whose name was really Hazel Isobel but we called her Gert), would bake one for me every summer.  We would troop up to their cottage, eat barbecued hot dogs, corn on the cob and angel food cake with a kind of inner ‘moat’ of mixed whipped cream, sliced bananas, mandarin oranges and tinned pineapple.  Sort of like this:

angel-food-cake-3

Having an angel food cake like this meets all my late middle years birthday needs. It is emotional and nostalgic, remember my grandparents and the fun having those birthday lunches with my family always meant. And now an angel food cake is Romantic because Jeffrey (almost always) bakes one for me, foregoing the ‘moat’ to make the cake last longer for just two people, but serving the whipped cream and tropical fruits on the side. The down side of having this angel food cake birthday was the location.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I loved the cottage life, and I loved spending all summer, every summer, at the cottage, but I never had a birthday party like my friends at school did because I was never around my school friends.  I was at the cottage!  And as much as I loved my family, it wasn’t the same thing, having hot dogs with them and not my friends.  So the year I turned 9, I decided to have a party for my cousins and “summer cousins” at the cottage.

Probably should have told my mother I wanted to do this BEFORE I invited everyone but… it all worked out in the end.  My grandmother came to the rescue with a cake, we had a field’s worth of corn on the cob, played silly party games, went swimming, and I got presents!

That was my last birthday party until I turned 18, which happened when I was in Australia, and then the next one after that was 30 and then 40.  That last one (a party planned by me but turned into a surprise by Jeff & my parents when they made it all happen a week earlier than I thought!) was especially lovely but also, in retrospect, sort of sad.  My mother was not feeling well and sort of held herself away from the crowd.  As it turns out, she really wasn’t well and died before my next birthday.  And that was when I started marking birthdays not just a matter of getting older but also of change.

This birthday brings more changes and more ageing, not so much for me, but for my in-law family.  My parents-in-law are just weeks away from their 92nd birthdays and 70th wedding anniversary, but both are facing the many changes and challenges of ageing, especially my father-in-law.  I watch them, I see how Mom deals with Dad, her impatience sometimes but mostly, especially, her love and devotion, and I feel so blessed to have them in my life, to have had them welcome and value me in their lives.

Wikipedia sugggests that ageing well consists of doing so with a low probability of disease or disability, enjoying high cognitive functions, and having an active engagement with life.  In other words, you’re healthy, your mind still works, and you’re out there having fun.  Okay, I’m three for three so far.  Well, maybe 2.5 for three, but let’s not quibble.  And I am grateful for ageing well, as opposed to badly, and especially as opposed to the complete alternative.  But still, this birthday reminds me I am ageing and while I have always changed with age, for the first time, I am seeing those changes, or more accurately seeing those changes more clearly, and some of them are… well, let’s just say I wish one needn’t see them quite so clearly.

I have a copy of the Musselman family tree (as of 20 years ago) and almost all of my mother’s father’s relatives on that very large and well spread out tree lived long lives.  I mean, long lives.  Even back in the 17th century, my ancestors lived long lives, and in the 20th, very long lives and apparently mostly healthy ones.  My maternal grandfather, who was born in 1899, once told me he wanted to live to be 101, because that would mean his life would touch three centuries; he missed by three years.  I think I am more Musselman than Staines; goodness knows I look like a Pennsylvania Dutch/Swiss farm peasant!  Perhaps this means I will enjoy that lifespan too.  I don’t know.

In biology, senescence is the state or process of ageing.  In life, the process of ageing is about grace.  It’s about facing what you have and who you are, it’s about enjoying those things you still can and remembering those things you cannot, it’s about family, still with us and still with us only in our hearts. Ageing is also another angel food cake, a bottle of champagne and a few birthday cards.  It’s also a little time reading old diaries, leafing through a few photo albums, and then enjoying a day with family and friends.

For Robert DeNiro, Mae West, Davy Crocket, Jim Courier, Belinda Carlisle, and especially for my dear friend, Richard Prazmowski, this wish for us all….

Birthday-Candles3

It Was Meant As a Joke. I Didn’t Get It.

I was never cool as a kid.  I didn’t get the inside jokes most of the time, and unless it was a literary reference or involved movies or music from the 30s and 40s, I rarely understood pop culture references.  I was middle-aged before my time, and I’m not getting any younger.

That being said, I still sometimes try.  For example, I am enamoured of Twitter and so witnessed the trending of what seemed to be an impossible film.  I gave in to my need to be cool:  I watched the re-run of SHARKNADO on Thursday night.

I am not proud of myself for doing this.  It was a dreadful, dreadful movie that the director and others have said was meant to be a bloody, gory, inside joke about horror films.   It took 18 days (that many?  given the quality of the appearance of the movie, I would have said 8 tops, and 3 in post-production) and a million dollars to make (or maybe two, depending on who you read in researching this) and earned lousy ratings (maybe up to 1.4 million people on the debut night) for the SyFy network.  Still, the network and everyone involved in making this piece of purest schlock says it was a hit! People loved it! They’re looking at a sequel, maybe with Johnny Depp!!

If you saw it and enjoyed it for what the network and movie makers say was its purpose — a light-hearted albeit gory summer movie — then good for you.  I have other movies, better movies, with which to take a break from the summer heat, starting with another movie about sharks, a cheap-to-make but easy to look at and frightening as hell little number called JAWS. Still, if SHARKNADO rocks your boat (or your Hummer or your helicopter or your chain saw or your frickin’ bar stool) then… yea??

The thing about jokes is, they’re supposed to be funny.  And inside jokes are supposed to be presented with a wink and a nod to the audience.  Yes, I got some of the references to other movies (not least, JAWS, when they paraphrased “I think we need a bigger boat”) and a couple of other pop culture toss-offs, but it wasn’t enough.  Every plot contrivance possible was built into the story: separated young-ish middle-aged couple with conflicted adult children; slightly crazy best friend who becomes hero blowing up a Hummer & dying; drunken friend who becomes hero saving dog & dying; idiot boyfriend of wife who just dies; orphan waitress, former shark victim, whiz with a shotgun, with crush on husband; bus filled with stranded children; old folks’ home — at an airport!! — in danger of sharks in their swimming pool; husband as Jonah but with a chain saw.

All those stories, with completely mis-matching footage, cheesy special effects and at least six actors who really ought to look into real estate as a different, wiser, career path all added up to 90 minutes of my time I will never get back.  Still, I did learn a couple of things I want to share:  inside jokes are great fun, as long as you’re already on the inside.  They’re not meant for outsiders and it was foolish of me to think I could be one of those people.  And the other thing I learned is

whale shark

when the life guard — or a surfing champion named ‘Fin’ — says get outta the water, get outta the water!!

(photo of whale shark from National Geographic)