Sunday morning coming down

I made a huge vat pot of chili yesterday. Our son Jaye and his family came for a visit. They haven’t been here since Christmas Eve, due to one kid or the other being sick, or the weather causing dangerous traveling conditions, so it was good to be able to cook for them. I also made guacamole again, because it just goes with chili. So, I bought extra limes, because I thought a nice pitcher of frozen margaritas would be just the thing to get me through all the noise and chaos of six kids and five adults in my house, and I could share them with Kelly, our ex-daughter-in-law. Now, I’m a one-margarita kind of drinker, but I had two, maybe three, so that’s where the title of this post comes from. I have margarita-morning-after head. Ugh.

Jaye’s family situation is a little, shall we say, tenuous? Or maybe a better description would be, I don’t know what the hell is going on with him and his ex-wife. They seem to be back together. He’s been dwelling/living/residing at her house for the last few months, but he’s also keeping his apartment. Probably in case she goes bat-shit crazy again, and decides she hates him again, and throws him out on a moment’s notice again. Okay, this did not go where I thought it was going, but since it did, let’s explore it a little further.

When their sweet little Lauren died, it tore apart their marriage, which had been on shaky ground anyway. The statistics are not good for marriages surviving the death of a child, so they became a statistic. But, the hard part is they still love each other, and they love their boys, Matthew and Nicholas (the one with Down syndrome). Shared parenting is difficult, especially if the parents’ relationship in contentious, and parenting a special needs child makes it even harder.

To be fair to Kelly, Jaye did his own share of going crazy in the months and even years after Lauren died, so I can’t say that it was all her fault, although, being Jaye’s parents, we probably cut him a little more slack that we did her. And, we mostly only heard his part of the story, even though there were plenty of times when she tried to drag us into it. It hasn’t been a fun three years. For either of them, or for the boys, or for us.

So, Jaye is going to finish his Master’s degree in history in May. He has applied to PhD programs at five or six universities. He has had very positive feedback from Cornell, talking for about two hours to someone there who was blown away by his application written work. And he was recruited by someone at Brandeis to apply there. He also applied to Columbia. His hope, though, is to be accepted at University of Chicago, whose program is most suited to his area of study and interest. It also happens to be the only city where Kelly is willing to relocate. Mainly because she already has a job offer there. She works for the Veteran’s Administration as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and her skills are in demand. Ironically, they had planned to move there right before Lauren died. In fact, she had already accepted a post at the VA, and they had found a house they wanted to buy. She had to decline the post, because the thought of moving was too much to deal with, understandably.

If Jaye is accepted at U of Chicago, Kelly is willing to pull up roots and move there with him, and I assume they will remarry, although nothing has been said to that effect. If he decides to go to any of the other schools, she won’t go. If he goes to Cornell, there’s no VA within an hour-and-a-half driving distance of Ithaca, and even if she took the job there, she would have to take a pay cut. New York City and Boston are both too expensive, because she is already at the top of her pay scale. Of course, we’re assuming that at least one of these schools will offer him a position. History is a pretty small area, so it’s tough getting in. If he goes, and she stays, I’m not sure how she will be able to cope with the full-time care of the boys. And I know Jaye will miss them so much, and feel extremely guilty for leaving them. It’s a huge dilemma. Of course, the problem could be solved by his not being accepted by any of the schools. I guess we’ll know the answer to that in a couple of months. Stay tuned.

See you soon,

Susan

Here we go

The Chinese hackers have struck again. Anthem this time, and, of course, that’s our insurance company. This time it’s social security numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, etc. The exact kinds of information needed to steal identities. We’ve received the initial obligatory email from the president or CEO, who knows, who cares. He assures us everything is being done to remedy the situation, and even his own information was among all of ours. Is that supposed to reassure us? Soon to follow, more emails and letters in the mail. Visit the credit reporting services and put a hold on any new applications, watch your credit statements, report any suspicious activity, blah, blah, blah.

When are these companies going to get it right the first time around? They’re playing with people’s lives here. I’ve thought for a long time that we need some other system of identification other than our social security numbers. In fact, I refuse to give it out to most places requesting it for applications and what-not. Oh, your information is secure with us, yada yada yada. Sure it is. That’s what they all say. Every one of the BIG companies who’ve been hacked in recent years said that very same thing, or they didn’t even bother saying it, because they thought they were impervious. Uh-huh.

Can you tell I’m pissed?

Random musings—food and celebrities

Super Bowl noshes

I don’t really do a whole Super Bowl spread, but our Sunday meal was a little bit Bowl-ish, in that I made a couple of appetizers, which I don’t normally do unless the whole family will be here. I made guacamole, which is so fast and easy, you should never buy it pre-made. If you’re unsure how to choose a ripe avocado, because, you know, there’s a fine line between hard as a brick, perfectly ripe, and too far gone, here’s a handy little guideline. First, the skin should be pretty dark green, then look at the stem end, the stem should still be attached, but should come off easily. This isn’t scientific, but it usually works for me. Much better than squeezing.

My recipe is pretty simple: 3 medium avocados, juice of one small lime or half a larger one (use the rest to make a margarita), one clove garlic, and about 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt. Mash the avocados in a shallow, medium-sized bowl (I use my pastry blender, but a fork works, too), mince the garlic on a cutting board, then sprinkle the salt on top. With the flat side of your chef’s knife, mash and grind the garlic and salt together until you have a paste, add this to the avocado, and stir in with the lime juice. Taste, and adjust for salt ( a finer salt, if you’re adding at this point). That’s it. Simple, but delicious. The lime juice will keep it green for several hours, much longer than lemon juice, for some reason, and it tastes better, too.

Our other appetizer was one I got from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Roasted Corn and Crab Dip. Oh my goodness, it is delicious, and easy. Did I say I like easy? The picture shows them using that fake snow crab that I really don’t care for, but the recipe calls for real crab. I think that’s odd, but whatever. I use the real thing. It doesn’t have to be top of the line lump crab meat. This isn’t crab cakes (I have an excellent recipe for those, too). We use bagel chips as dippers, but it’s really good on crostini as well.

I was so full from the appetizers that I barely had room for the main course, which was brats with peppers and onions. I split one with the toddler.

Speaking of the Super Bowl

I can’t really say much about it, because I don’t watch football, but I saw the Nationwide commercial with Mindy Kaling and Matt Damon, which I thought was genius. Mindy is always funny. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she contributed to the writing of the ad. She was one of the writers and producers of The Office, one of my favorite TV series, and of course, she has her own series now on Fox, called The Mindy Project. She graduated from Dartmouth where she studied the Classics, but ended up with a degree in playwriting. She gave a hilariously genius speech last year at Harvard Law School’s class day and brought down the house.

Matt Damon is one of my favorite actors. Even if he’s in a bad movie (there haven’t been that many of them), he always rises above the material. He’s also a champion for teachers, and a philanthropist who co-founded the organization Water.org, and along with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle and others, the Not On My Watch Project, which aims to bring global attention to and prevent mass atrocities, such as those in Darfur. He also gave his time, along with other well-known actors, writers, and news people, to an Emmy-winning Showtime series called Years of Living Dangerously to bring awareness and education about climate change. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my list. Matt is one of the Hollywood good guys. There’s never been a hint of scandal attached to his name, and he’s been married to the same woman since 2005.

What did this have to do with the Super Bowl, you ask? I digressed a little there, didn’t I? This is my version of Super Bowl watching. A couple of commercials, and then I’m done. I didn’t even watch the half-time show. I think they’re highly over-rated, and not usually my cup of tea. I hid out in the bedroom with a cup of herbal tea and Downton Abbey and Grantchester, and then went to bed. Apparently there was some fuss at the end of the game, something about a botched pass at the one-yard line. Don’t get your panties in a wad, people. There’s always next year.

Winter, I’m so over you

This Monday was the first one that the kids have attended school since before Christmas. We’ve had big snow or freezing rain every Sunday night, or early Monday morning in January. In fact, last Friday morning it started freezing rain while Gaige (middle school) was waiting on the bus at 6:30. The bus came, but the superintendent ended up delaying, and then canceling, school for the elementary and intermediate students, whose day starts an hour-and-a-half later. They’ve used all of their calamity days, and are into make-up days. So far, it hasn’t encroached on their spring break, but we still have a lot of winter left.

Our driveway, especially the area in front of the garage, is like a very dangerous skating rink. It’s been thawed and refrozen and frozen-rained on and snowed on so many times, I’ve lost count. The ice is about two inches thick. Something definitely has to be done about it before next winter. David said it needs to be graded and filled and brought up to level, or some drainage tile put in, or something. It would probably help if it were asphalted. At least it would be easier to plow. I don’t like to use salt, because the birds come to get grit, and it poisons them. And the sun never hits that area enough to melt it off completely like it does the rest of the driveway.

The maple syrup production was brought to a screeching halt by the extremely cold weather we’ve been having, after that little January thaw we had. It was really too early to start, and David knew that, but the long-range forecast was off by a lot, and it threw him off his game. The temps have to be below freezing at night, but well above freezing during the day with the sun being able to warm the base of the trees to bring up the sap. So, it’s on hold until we get a real thaw.

I just want Spring.

Have you heard?

Harper Lee has an unpublished novel called Go Set a Watchman! It’s a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Actually, it was the first manuscript that Ms. Lee sent to HarperCollins Publishing, written as the adult Scout. They sent it back to her and told her to re-write it in Scout’s little girl voice, which they thought would be more interesting.  She did, and the rest is history. Now they’re going to publish the original manuscript written in Scout’s grown-up voice with no revisions whatsoever! I’m so excited I can’t stand it! I hope Ms. Lee lives to see it in book form. She is 88 and in fragile health. Hang in there, Harper Lee.

See you soon,

Susan

You’ve got mail!

Or rather, I’ve got mail! I was so excited today to reach into my mailbox and discover a letter from my teacher, Mrs. Sublette. She wrote back to me, and very quickly. I couldn’t wait to read it, and I knew immediately that it was the right Patricia Sublette, because I recognized her handwriting after all these years!

Dear Susan,

Life is full of surprises. Your letter is one of them and a priceless gift to me. Your letter arrived on a cold, snowy day and what a way to warm the cockles of my heart! Out of a nearly 30 year teaching career, you are the only student to have written me a letter, though I have had some half dozen former students to come back to see me. I could not help shedding a few tears of gratitude to know that I made a difference for someone. A teacher is often left wondering if he or she has made an impact.

That first paragraph would have been enough to make me feel wonderful, but she goes on…

When I left Symmes Valley for the year 1971, it was to go to Marshall (University) to get a Master’s in English education. Through the grapevine word came back to me that you said, “What does she want to do that for?”

I don’t remember asking that, but I probably did ask Mr. Hayes (the principal) why she wasn’t coming back. Why in the world would she want to leave us? To better herself? Unfathomable!

Mrs. Sublette says that she definitely remembers me as being a very smart young lady, including me with several other students, some of whom were friends of mine, and she was absolutely correct about them. She also told me a little about her life. She and her husband didn’t have children, and they were divorced in the late seventies, after which she left their then residence in Illinois and moved back to her hometown of Nitro, West Virginia. Her father built a house for her, and she lives there to this day.

She has some health problems, but it sounds as if she leads a very active life. Mrs. Sublette belongs to a book club, and among the fifteen of them, they read a total of 1,176 books last year! She reads e-books on her Kindle, and she has email and wi-fi. She asked if I wanted to continue corresponding with her! Of course I do! I can’t wait to find out more about the person she is now and the person about whom I wish I had learned more all those years ago. Her closing words were…

How can I find your blog? Best wishes to you and thank you so very much for your kind words and for warming my heart.

P.S. I’m still stunned that two people can connect after 45 years across time and space.

(In red pencil)

P.P.S. I still have my red pencil!

She had to redline some of her own text, because her computer wouldn’t cooperate. 🙂

I can’t say how thrilled I am about this development, and I plan to write again very soon. I’m debating whether to continue the correspondence by email, or by good old-fashioned snail mail. There’s something about opening your mailbox….

See you soon, Susan

Mrs. Filthy lived here

The previous owners of our new house will here be henceforth named Mr. and Mrs. Filthy. Her, mostly. Him, not as much.

When we were in negotiations on the house, I had several conversations by email and phone with Mrs. Filthy, who also happens to be our county auditor.  She was so sweet and accommodating, declaring here and there about how she was going to be hiring someone to expertly clean the house in preparation for our moving in. Our daughter, Aimee, after meeting her one time, nicknamed her Miss Thang. She was definitely all about looking pretty—perfect hair and makeup, worked-out body, coordinated outfits down to the scarves, of which she had plenty to choose. (There were probably 200 of them hanging on coat trees near the master bedroom closet.) She even drove the perfect car—a late model bright yellow Corvette convertible.

We bought several pieces of furniture from the Filthys (or is that Filthies?). The master bedroom suite (sans mattress set), a sleeper sofa, bookcase, old spinet piano, etc. They threw in a beautiful billiards table and accessories, mainly because they didn’t want to pay someone to move it, and they no longer had room for it.

We knew the kitchen appliances would need to be replaced. They were approaching thirteen years of age, and about the most one can expect of today’s appliances is fifteen years. Besides, I was leaving my beautiful, newly remodeled kitchen that I had planned with meticulous attention to detail, and, by golly, if I had to sacrifice that, then I was going to get something in return. However, Mr. and Mrs. Filthy didn’t know we planned to replace them.

The Filthys/Filthies were nearly underwater on their mortgage here and it had been on the market for over five months with no offers, so we got a pretty good price on the house, far less than its appraisal value. They probably didn’t have the money to hire professional cleaners to assure that my new house was squeaky clean (like I left my old house without the aid of pros, thankyouverymuch). Okay, I get that. But could they have at least made an effort to clean something? Anything?

My first clue was opening the refrigerator door and seeing disgusting crap all over the shelves and walls. Thank goodness, I didn’t have to put my food into it. We left the food at the old house, and waited until they delivered the new one two days later. I mean, seriously, who leaves that kind of mess for someone else to clean? Mrs. Filthy, that’s who.

Next stop on the filthy tour were the bathrooms. First of all, there are five of them, including the powder room. All of them have vanities with drawers. All of the drawers had The Filthys/Filthies’ detritus. They were empty nesters, sort of, so three of the bathrooms weren’t too horrible, as the grown kids were only there occasionally. The master bathroom was quite a different story. Every drawer had fingernail clippings, hair, accumulated dust and dirt, etc. And I don’t even want to remember what I cleaned out of the very slow-moving drain on her side of the double vanity. Really?? Mrs. Filthy, weren’t you embarrassed that people with whom you now have somewhat of a relationship, whom you might possibly run into socially, now know what a disgusting pig slob you are?? Mr. Filthy at least spackled all of the nail holes where pictures had been hanging.

The kitchen was in the same shape as the bathrooms. Not one cabinet was wiped out. The microwave/oven wall combo was in a similar condition as the refrigerator. It was the only appliance that we didn’t replace right away, mainly because they’re so darned expensive, and it still worked. The microwave part looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in a couple of years, and they didn’t use anything to cover the dishes when they warmed plates of food. The oven part had aluminum foil welded to the bottom by grease drippings. Luckily, but not for our checking account, the oven combo went kaput about three months after we moved in, so I picked out a nice new convection combo that is pretty awesome. MerryChristmasHappyBirthdayHappyAnniversary to me! For the next five years!

Funny thing, I ran into Mrs. Filthy about a month ago at Aldi’s. I recognized her right away and said hello. She looked at me and didn’t have a clue who I was, or didn’t want to know who I was. Embarrassed? Maybe. Or maybe she doesn’t think she had any responsibility toward the new owners of her house. I’m glad I’m not like you, Mrs. Filthy. I could never leave a house in that kind of condition. Never in a million years.

See you soon,

Susan

What I wrote

If you read yesterday’s post, then you will know that I was considering a letter to my former high school teacher, Mrs. Sublette. I thought I would share with you what I wrote. It’s in the mail. Please be kind.

 

Dear Mrs. Sublette,

 

I am hoping that you are the Patricia Sublette who taught English at Symmes Valley High School from 1968 until 1970. If you are not, then, hopefully, you will enjoy this letter anyway. I’m sorry to be typing instead of writing by hand, but I have arthritis in my hands, and you will have a much easier time of reading it this way.

 

My name is Susan (Jenkins) Drummond, and you were my English teacher for my freshman and junior years. I don’t know if you will remember me. I’m sure that I did nothing to set myself apart from all the other students you must have had over the years, but I wanted you to know that I have always remembered you fondly.

 

Of all of the teachers that I had in middle school and high school, you were the teacher who taught me more than anyone else. I have always spoken highly of you. Because of you, I was able to understand and read poetry properly. Because of you, Shakespeare was no longer a mystery. Because of you, I learned to use grammar correctly, in speaking and in writing. My only wish was that our curriculum at the time had been more focused on writing, or that there had been a creative writing class. I know that you had nothing to say about that. It was a different place and time. Things are so much different for high school, and even middle school, students now. The focus is on getting every student into college, not just a select few.

 

I graduated as valedictorian of my class (1971), and received a full-tuition scholarship to attend Ohio University’s Ironton branch, when it was in its infancy. Alas, I only attended for one quarter before dropping out to get married. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take full advantage of my good fortune to continue my education. I suppose you could say that I have self-educated through reading. I have always been a voracious reader, and now I write on a blog. I write about daily life and sometimes current events, and I do a few book and movie reviews. It is gratifying to have other people read and appreciate what one has to say, and to read other “ordinary” people’s thoughts and ideas. I have found that there is an amazing number of talented and creative women who write on blogs.

 

Computers and the internet have changed the world and the way people learn. I don’t know if you have embraced this way of learning, but I love it. The only downside I can see is that, in some ways, it can make one’s brain a little lazy. It is so easy to just look up an answer on the internet, rather than searching one’s brain, or the library, for it.

 

I don’t want to bore you by going on and on, but I think you would want to know a little about my life, before I go. I married David Drummond (Symmes Valley, class of ‘68) and we had three children. He is a retired chemical engineer, who worked for Ashland Chemical for 37 years. I was mostly a stay-at-home-mom, making things easy for him with his long hours and travel. We have lived in a few different places around the country during his working years:  Orlando area, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Pittsburgh, and we finally settled in central Ohio at the end of his career. We have six grandchildren, four of whom live with us, along with our daughter, who is finishing her degree at Ohio State. We love having them so close. They keep us young and active.

 

In closing, Mrs. Sublette, I want you to know how much your being my teacher has meant to me over the years. I’m sorry that I never took the time to write to you before now, but I hope that it will bring a good feeling to you, knowing that I really enjoyed having you in my life. I hope that you are well and enjoying life.

 

With fondness and best regards,

P.S.  The entire time I have been writing this letter, I’ve imagined you holding a red marking pencil in your hand, and correcting my mistakes. 🙂

I left out a lot of the reasons why I dropped out of college without giving it the, ahem, “old college try”, but I thought she might think it was partly her fault, and it wasn’t at all. I just didn’t want to muddy the waters.

I really hope that she receives it. Fingers crossed.

See you soon,

Susan

Random musings—hump day

Mrs. Sublette

Patricia Sublette was my high school English teacher. I started thinking about her the other day when I read Mary of Flat Rock Creek Notebook’s reminiscence of her teacher. Mrs. Sublette was a very reserved and quiet person who rarely showed any emotion, save a small smile when something happened to please her.

My alma mater was a small country school where one did not receive a stellar education. My husband is one of the smartest people I know. He graduated from the same school, and when he went to college to major in chemical engineering, he nearly flunked out, mainly because of the lack of preparation for college that our school gave us. Most of the students who attended there had no intention of going to college. Their aspirations hardly went further than the local steel mills and coke (coal) factories, and a pay check as soon as they graduated, if they bothered to do so. We did not have AP classes (I’m not sure there even was such a thing then). We didn’t have gifted or accelerated learning classes. Everyone was all mixed together. I don’t think the teachers were inspired to push us. They probably felt they would be wasting their time.

Mrs. Sublette was from Huntington, West Virginia, which was about a thirty minute drive from our school. Because she was very quiet and non-assertive, and probably in her first couple of years of teaching, the rowdy boys in our classes sometimes gave her a hard time. I don’t remember her ever sending one of them to see the principal. I do remember once when our principal, Mr. Hayes, happened to be walking by one day when some of the boys were being disruptive. He was a strict disciplinarian and I thought he was going to tear that room apart when he saw how disrespectful the boys were being to the teacher. They behaved for quite a while after that incident.

I always sat in the front row in Mrs. Sublette’s class. I wanted to hear what she had to say. I loved grammar and literature, and she taught me more about both than I had learned in all the years before. She taught me to appreciate Shakespeare and poetry. She taught me to read a poem the proper way. I was sad when she left our school after my junior year. I never saw her again, never thanked her for making me a better student. I asked where she went, and someone in the office told me that she had gone back to West Virginia to get her master’s in English education.

I googled her name just to see if she showed up. There is a Patricia Sublette in Nitro, West Virginia, age 74. I think it might be her. It seems like the right age. I’m thinking about writing her a letter to thank her for being my teacher. What do you think?

The woman you love to hate

I watched the mini-series “Olive Kitteredge”, which is based on the novel by the same name, written by Elizabeth Strout. Olive is not a lovable person. She’s downright hateful and spiteful, disdainful of her mild-mannered husband, ridiculing of her vulnerable son. She has no tolerance for stupid people, and pretty much everyone with whom she comes into contact falls into that category, in her opinion. Well, she’s a bitch. There’s just no other word that describes her better. By the last installment, Olive changes, in minute ways, but considering her persona, they seem very large. She almost redeems herself. Frances McDormand’s performance as Olive is compelling. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Richard Jenkins as her husband is perfect. The whole mini-series is perfectly cast. I think it’s something that I will have to watch again to catch all of the nuances. I haven’t read the book yet. It’s on my list.

See you soon,

Susan