Random musings–thirteen

Trust

It saddens me that Brian Williams did something so stupid that it has probably wrecked his career, except as guest on late-night talk shows, where, ironically, he first began to embellish his stories. He was my go-to guy on the news. I trusted him almost as much as Tom Brokaw. Lester Holt is a great newscaster, but I just really liked Brian. I’ve tried not to watch or read the analyses of him, but it’s hard to turn away from a train wreck. They say he’ll be back in six months, but I think he’s done.

Luck

According to some beliefs, if you’re born on Friday the thirteenth, you will be lucky for life. According to others, you will be unlucky for life. I think it’s six of one, half-dozen of another. If you have a fear of this occurrence on the calendar, of which there are three this year, you have friggatriskaidekaphobia (Norse god Frigga, meaning Friday, and triskaidekaphobia, meaning fear of the number thirteen). I don’t believe in superstitions or good luck or bad luck. I believe that life just happens, and that we’re all unwitting pawns in the game of it.

Men and space

Why, when you’re busy doing something, especially in the kitchen, are men always standing where you need to be at any given moment? It never fails. I shoo David out of one place, because he’s in my way, and he moves to the exact next place that I need to be. Always.

He goes back to work–sort of

David’s been offered an advisory position at a company with whom he used to do business before he retired. It’s as much, or as little, as he would like to do. Of course, until he’s 66, another two years, he can only earn a limited income before it affects his social security earnings. Up to $12,000, I believe he said. That would be nice. Maybe we could actually take a nice vacation. It’s been so long, I don’t even remember the last one that wasn’t camping. It’s been at least three years since we even did that without taking the grandkids. Or we could pay down the home equity loan. That would be more practical.

Winter

It’s really getting me down. We had no January thaw this year. So far, February is pretty awful, too. We did have a couple of days last week that melted off some of the snow, but the icy driveway is still a hockey rink. Yesterday, when I was driving to the post office, I drove past our old house and noticed that the driveway there is even worse than ours. So, I guess we’re better off than they are. I’m just really, really glad I don’t live in Buffalo or Boston. We’re definitely better off than those people are.

My house has big windows

And lots of them. The family room has six, plus two sky lights. One wall is basically all windows. The view is great into the backyard, but even though they’re good insulated Andersen windows, there is still a lot of heat conductivity through all that glass. The only window treatments are ugly cornice boards and some filmy sheer panels that don’t even go across the windows. They’re just on the side for decorative purposes. It’s going to cost a small fortune to buy insulated panels to put up. Oh, I guess that’s what we can use the new income for.

Speaking of ugly decor

Well, it’s not ugly per se, but it’s definitely not my style. I’m kind of a minimalist. I’m not into in-your-face decorating. The cornice boards are the worst. I’ve never liked them, and I don’t understand them. I know they were all the rage about fifteen years ago. The house was built in 2002, so it fits that whole French Colonial phase of decorating. The colors don’t really suit me either. There’s a lot of beige/tan, which is fine, but it’s the eggplant, metallic dark green, and metallic gold that gets me. The kitchen is mostly beige with two walls that have those other colors in stripes, and those aren’t done very well. When they pulled off the tape it also pulled some of paint on the edges of the stripes. And then there are the three little strips of wallpaper border at chair level that seem to be afterthoughts. That has to go. I want to paint the kitchen a nice soft buttery yellow. It will help with the darkness in there.

Cave kitchen

Lighting is so important in a kitchen. I will never understand why anyone would design a kitchen in this day and time with only three light sources. Over the sink, an island light, and over the range. That’s all I have. There are no can lights in the ceiling, no under-cabinet lights, and the fixtures that we replaced were solid metal and didn’t let any light go upwards, only down. The room gets a lot of outside light in the afternoon, but I do any baking in the morning. I designed the kitchen in my other house with tons of lights. It was awesome. You kind of needed sunglasses when all of them were on. The nice thing in the morning though, was being able to turn on just the under-cabinet ones, which created a nice soft glow that was perfect for drinking coffee and doing computer work. I think that’s the thing I miss the most about my old kitchen. I guess I was spoiled.

Open concept

It’s all they talk about on HGTV, and stainless steel appliances, and granite countertops. I do love the open concept here. My other kitchen was next to the family room, but closed off, so that I missed most of what was going on in there when I was cooking. The stainless steel appliances that we bought are beautiful, if you want to clean them every single day. Not a practical thing when there are sticky-fingered kids roaming around all the time. So they basically get cleaned when there’s company coming, except for the handles. Those get a daily wiping. I’m hoping if I ever have to buy appliances again, there will be a new trend. Maybe avocado green? Or harvest gold?

Cooktops

Gas ranges were numero uno in my book. I had a gorgeous five-burner one in my new kitchen at the old house. With heavy cast iron grates and a double burner that either burned super-hot or super low. It was also extremely time-consuming to clean. Mainly because it was stainless steel, and if you didn’t clean it completely every day, it looked pretty bad. Also, that super-low burner wasn’t really that low. If I wanted something to simmer, I had to put a diffuser between the burner and the pot.

This house had a glass cooktop and it was worn out, and the space wasn’t fitted for gas. I did a lot of research, and decided to go with a Bosch induction cooktop, figuring it was the least objectionable of all glass cooktops. (I had not had a good experience with early ones.) Since induction cooking requires pots and pans that can be magnetized, most of my cookware wouldn’t work. I had way too much anyway. I put some of it in the camper, and gave the rest to my mother-in-law who spread them around to others. I didn’t expect to love this cooktop as much as I do, diehard gas cooking fan that I was, but I do. It took a little getting used to, but it’s so much more responsive than gas. When you turn the heat up or down, it’s instantaneous. There’s no side heat from the burners, so the immediate area is a lot cooler, important when you are standing over the stove stirring something delicate for a long time, and it doesn’t heat up the kitchen as much. And the best thing is the cleanup. What used to take me a good ten minutes or more, depending on the grease or spill factors, now takes about one minute. A quick wash with the dish cloth, and then a spritz with white vinegar and buff with a clean dry towel. Once in a while, I use the glass cooktop cleaner if it starts looking a little dull. I’ll probably never go back to gas, if I have a choice.

Icemakers

Icemakers used to be so simple. They were inside the freezer compartment. They made ice at a decent rate, and there was a fairly large storage bin. Both of the new refrigerators I’ve had recently are not so simple. The refrigerator I chose for the other house was a French door one. All the rage, and I did love the bottom freezer compartment, and the wide fridge shelves. The bad part was the icemaker. It’s located in the fridge area for dispensing, so the storage bin is very small, and with all the opening and shutting of the doors, there was a constant dripping from the condensation. It dripped down into the freezer compartment and there was always a big layer of ice forming on that side of the door. It wasn’t just the model I chose, apparently it’s inherent in that style. So, for this house I chose a side-by-side, the largest they make. The icemaker sucks. It’s larger, but it doesn’t make enough ice, or sometimes it barely makes any, and it gets big chunks of ice frozen together in the corners that I have to break up with a wooden spoon. It’s not like we only use it occasionally. With seven people living here, it’s an everyday thing. Thankfully, I have an additional fridge in the basement with an old-style icemaker. It makes a ton, so I dump it into the one upstairs. I do miss the ice from the French door one, because the ice was that really soft kind that is good for chomping. I’m never satisfied.

Bitter Greens

I’m reading a book set during the period of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, called Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth. It’s about French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the author of Rapunzel, who was banished from the King’s court when she lost favor of the King. She was sent to a convent to live out the rest of her life. She had the choice to not go, but she would have lost her pension. I’ve only read a few chapters, but it grabbed me from the first paragraph. One of the nuns, Sœur Seraphina, tells her a tale about a child, Margherita, who was sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens. Her father stole some parsley from the garden of Selena Leonelli. When he is caught, she threatens to cut off both his hands unless he gives her his daughter. This is the story of Into the Woods!  The witch is Selena who, as a young girl, was the muse of the artist Tiziano. Ms. Forsyth is skilled in weaving the stories of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita, and Selena together. I’m so excited to find it!

American Sniper

We saw this a couple of weeks ago. It has been controversial. Some people say it glorifies war. Some say it goes the other way. I found it to do neither. Yes, Chris Kyle is a patriot in every sense of the word, but he is just a man doing his job, and that job is to protect his fellow soldiers. He has a conscience, which is much more than you can say for his counterpart on the Iraqi side. The movie was intense. Even though the acting, the story, and the directing was excellent, I really wanted it to be over about halfway through. Bradley Cooper is truly amazing in the role. He is Chris Kyle. Clint Eastwood was snubbed in the director awards nominations, probably because of his politics. I don’t agree with them either, but I think Hollywood needs to honor people for their work, not punish them for what they believe. He should have had a nomination.

That’s thirteen things, and now I’m worn out.

See you soon,

Susan

 

 

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

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

Review roll

Yep, I’m on a roll, because I can’t get these off my mind, and I want to tell you about them, but I don’t want to do a whole post about each one, so we’ll call it a “review roll call.”

The Imitation Game

If you don’t see any other movie this winter, please go see this one. I knew almost nothing about Alan Turing and his contribution to the Allies’ winning of World War II. His invention of the machine that broke the unbreakable German Enigma code-writing machine probably ended the war at least two years earlier than it might have ended, and saved millions of lives, possibly upwards of 14 million. Not to mention that his invention was basically the very first computer, and we can thank him for the ability to do what we’re doing here. Benedict Cumberbach was perfect for this role, and he deserves his nomination for an Academy Award. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie, and was moved to tears over what the British authorities did to this man because of the antiquated laws that were on the books at that time. I would have read Andrew Hodges’ book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, which inspired the movie, first, but I didn’t know about it until after. I’m on the library’s waiting list, number 70.

A Child Called “It”, The Lost Boy, etc.

I bought the series of books by Dave Pelzer about his horrific, disturbing childhood a few years ago, only recently read the first two. What his mother, if you can call her that, did to him, along with the passive consent of his father, goes beyond the scope of human imagination. His story is compelling and horrible, and I could only get through the first two books. I admire the fact that he was able to overcome his early life, and yes, even forgive his parents, but reading about it was so depressing that I probably should have stopped somewhere in the first book. But I did want to see how he managed to survive, and once I determined that he did and was fairly normal (maybe), I had to quit. Mr. Pelzer is not a very good writer. It’s only because of the nature of his story that one wants to continue reading.

Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck and other thoughts on being a woman

I love Nora Ephron, and I hate that we can no longer hear her voice, except in the re-watching of classics like “Sleepless in Seattle”, “Heartburn”, “You’ve Got Mail”, etc., and re-reading her books. I have to confess, I’ve only read I Feel Bad About My Neck. I loved it, and it was a quick read, because she writes light and breezy, kind of the way we blogging ladies write in our blogs almost daily or weekly. Then I realized, all of us writers of blogs are basically just one book publishing deal away from being a Nora Ephron. Her style reminded me so much of the writing that I see in my Reader on a daily basis. So, thank you, ladies, for giving me laughs, and tears, and information about things I knew very little about, and camaraderie. Most of all, that. We’re all Nora Ephrons.

The Help—a non-review book review

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. You’ve all read it, I’m sure. Probably years ago, right after it was published, when it was on the best seller list for many weeks, months, years. I knew about it, of course, even watched the movie, which was wonderful and made me fall in love with Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. Why on Earth did it take me so long to pick up this book and start reading it?

I never used to watch a movie based on a book without first reading it. Back when I used to read two or three books a week, before chat forums, before blogs, before social media, before menopause. Menopause, or actually peri-menopause, those days of hot flashes, night sweats, brain befuddling, short-term memory loss, was my first downfall. After being a voracious reader since I was six, when I suddenly understood that all those black marks on the page actually meant something, and were orderly and brought joy to a little girl who didn’t have much, but had the public library, all of a sudden, I couldn’t focus on reading more than a paragraph at a time. I would pick up a book only to put it down a few minutes later, because my mind was on twenty different things that I should be doing, anything rather than reading. That went on for years. I still loved books. Still bought them, still checked them out of the library, but they mostly went unread.

Then came the idea that I wanted to have my own chickens. By this time we had moved to the country again, the Bear Swamp Road mini-farm. I was raised a farm girl with chickens running around my feet, but I knew absolutely nothing about raising them myself. I bought a couple of books from Tractor Supply, but I needed someone with first-hand experience. I was getting into the computer in a small way, after resisting for many years, so I Googled “raising chickens.” Such an innocent term, little did I know that the first thing that popped up would be a forum on the Backyard Chickens website. I latched onto that forum and soaked up all that knowledge like a dry sponge and spent many, many hours there, and when I finally got my sixteen chicks, all that I had learned really helped me not make too many mistakes. I also met a woman on there who had a blog. After reading some of her posts, I thought, I could do this blog thing. And I was ready to leave the forum. There were people on there with whom I didn’t agree, and I didn’t like the way some things were going, so it was time to move on.

That was the beginning of Bear Swamp Reflections. I jumped in with both feet, not really knowing what I was doing, but plunging ahead anyway. I loved it, and when I finally started getting some attention with the help from a few lovely blog friends, it felt wonderful getting positive feedback from others who were doing the same thing, and who really seemed to like what I had to say. I don’t have a lot in common with my family other than memories and family history, and now I had a new family. It was a wonderful way to communicate my thoughts and feelings, and I learned a lot about writing.

Then, along came social media with Facebook being the foremost. I resisted for a long time, but my sister and my niece wooed me with pretty words about getting in touch with old friends and staying connected with family. One hit was all it took, and I was hooked. I was looking up old school friends right and left, posting pictures, pithy sayings that I borrowed from other clever people who put them on instantly postable pages. Pretty soon I was posting to my blog less and less. I just didn’t have time anymore to write. Facebook was my new addiction, and I had to have it morning, noon, and night. I discovered that I’m an all or nothing kind of girl, and apparently with the attention span of a gnat. Then the new started to wear off. I suddenly remembered why I had never stayed in contact with most of the people I went to school with (and a lot of my family). Because I really didn’t like them all that much. I was popular in school, but most of them didn’t know my nerdy side, and the ones who did didn’t really understand it, or me. I went back and forth sporadically, quitting Facebook for a few months, only to let something drag me back into it, usually my sister. Then, all of a sudden, about six months ago, I decided that was it. I was done, and I wasn’t going back, no matter what. I was going to read.

I started in on the hundreds of books lining my shelves, but was slowed down again in the move process. Then I realized a few months ago that an extension of my reading was my writing. I really, really missed it. I know I’m never going to win any awards or publish any books (remember the attention span thing?), but I missed being funny and snarky and talking about things with like-minded people, my loyal and true blog friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin, who have been there to laugh at my silly musings, who have cried with me and shared my broken heart and made me feel a little better with your virtual hugs and beautiful words. You are a big part of my family.

What The Help comes down to is family. The families we were born with, where sometimes we don’t seem to fit just right, where we love our parents and our siblings and extended family, but sometimes the connections are because we are related by birth, and not by ideas. Skeeter loved her family, but she came to love the family of comrades with whom she collaborated to write her book, “the help”, those women who sometimes sacrificed their own families to care for their white families, and were most often treated like less than the family pet. Women about whom she had never given a second thought until she lost her beloved Constantine, the woman who loved and raised her from an infant. This book moved me so much, to tears on a few occasions. Of course, I knew about the injustices of living in the South and being born with the wrong color of skin, but hearing the stories in those women’s voices really touched me. And I will end with this, my highest praise for a book, I wanted it to never end. I wanted to keep on reading about Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny until I could no longer read. My second highest praise—I will probably read it again.

See you soon,

Susan