Saturday, August 19, 2017

Serendi-party!

"What are you guys doing the rest of the day?" my brother asked after we had met up at the dog park with the puppies and Sonic.

Emily and I had already been to the farmer's market while Heidi and Bill watched the dogs, and Lucy was pretty worn out, so our schedule was pretty wide open. Heidi and I looked at each other and shrugged. "No big plans," I said.

"Why don't you come over for dinner then?" he replied. "I'll make steak and tuna, and we'll have a good summer meal."

Um?

Hell yeah!

P.S. I'm bringing the tomato jam and corn ice cream!


Friday, August 18, 2017

Hmm-ing Bird

Just a moment ago I opened the sliding glass door and took a deep breath of warm, humid air. At the end of a passing thunder storm everything dripped, and so I did not step outside but rather surveyed the hanging baskets and planter boxes through the screen. Everything was flourishing.

To my right brilliant green wheat grass sprouted a couple of inches tall, planted for the cat we no longer have with us. Could there be a clearer sign that life goes on, I wondered, or is it just a patch of grass that nobody even wants?

The tiniest of chirp pierced my sadness. A hummingbird as gray as the sky sipped at the salvia in the hanging basket across the deck. I held my breath as she whirred to within inches of where I stood, and just above the cat grass paused at a striped yellow petunia and drank her fill of nectar and rain water before silently zipping away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Highlight

We had about a half an hour before our movie started this afternoon, so Heidi, Josh, and I wandered down the plaza, grabbed a coffee and a lawn chair and played a quick game of giant connect-four in the breezy, sunshiny day.

I loved it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Jam

I spent a big chunk of the day dispensing with the bounty of my garden. Perhaps the coolest thing I did with tomatoes was to turn 2 pounds of lovely little homegrowns into 8 ounces of tomato jam with rosemary, a touch of orange, and a hint of habanero.

To my readers who are skeptical of such a [con]fusion of sweet and savory: try it! It's really good you guys!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Preservation

Even as I spent my day pickling peppers and cauliflower, putting up tomato sauce, and adding "can salsa" to my end-of-summer-vacation list, my sister-in-law was helping friends who are moving overseas to clean out their pantry, freezer, and fridge.

She came away with an impressive haul of all manner of luxury grocery items, so many that my brother despaired of ever finding a place for them. Not to worry! How could I resist the offer of free, really good stuff?

Oh, I took a share of the loot including home-roasted Hatch peppers from New Mexico, Chinese cooking wine, jarred chestnuts, pistachios, hazel nuts, demi-glace, and duck fat. "It's a windfall!" I tried to console my brother. "We are going to eat well this fall!" But even so, it was hard not to think that, really? There was too much bounty here.

Back home again, I inventoried my own plenty and vowed not to allow it to go to waste.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What You Eat

I get a lot of my news from the radio: listening as I dress, cook, drive, etc. helps me to stay informed about a wide range of topics, some of which I never see in print.

Take the ethnic minority group that lives in northwestern China. As Muslims, they have clashed with the government there, and are by many accounts persecuted by the majority Han Chinese. A couple years ago, when there was more unrest than usual in Xinjiang, I was fascinated by the reports of this people and culture I had never even heard of, who to my ear were called the Weegers.

But as the U.S. election heated up, and ethnic clashes of our own and other international concerns took precedence, those stories eventually faded from the lineup, and from my attention as well, I am somewhat sorry to say.

And so it took me a minute when a few months ago I read a review of a relatively new restaurant nearby to recognize the cuisine. Billed as a fusion of middle eastern and Chinese, the place was a Uyghur restaurant.

Ooooohhh. That's how you spell it.

And tonight we finally made it there. Dry-fried shrimp, homemade noodles with ginger and aromatics, lamb-stuffed naan, and a lovely little bok choy and mushroom dish were all really good. The deserts? Were not. They almost seemed to be an unaccustomed luxury-- barely sweet and rather dry and garnished with tiny pieces of fresh fruit.

I think there's a story there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Minding the Small Things

"Sensory memory is so strange!" Heidi noted this morning as she reached down to give Odie the miniature Schnauzer a farewell pat. "My family's first dog was a Schnauzer, and even though we lost him 30 years ago, I remember he felt just like this," she sighed.

I know how she felt. My whole weekend was filled with tiny deja vu moments. Everything from the grass in the fields- soft flat blades, plantain, a few dandelions, and a healthy dose of clover, mowed to about 3 inches- to the shiny tar on the pavement and the softball-sized Jersey peaches for sale at all number of roadside stands, reminded me of things I didn't even know I'd forgotten.

In fact, such memories were much more powerful and satisfying than seeing the things I thought I remembered today. The schools where I began my education were shabby and worn as were the neighborhoods and landmarks I recalled. (Although the liquor store that used to deliver cases of beer to our home and pick up the returnables did have a certain retro cool.)

Our last stop on memory lane was also a disappointment. Rancocas Woods, a historic colonial-style shopping village was still there, but gone were all the sticky-trunked Pitch Pines that shed their needles onto the sandy soil, as was the old wooden wagon and stocks where our out-of-town guests were always invited to poke their heads and wrists through for a little taste of early-American justice.

The candle store where we shopped for extra special gifts for my mom was closed, but the antique place was still open. As I browsed through the merchandise, I had to laugh at some of the items they had for sale: the last time I was there, those Corning bowls and 1974 road map of New Jersey were brand new.

In a tiny shop crammed with Colonial Christmas carolers and cocktail napkins, though, I found some hand-dipped bayberry tapers, and just like the other small details, they ignited a memory, too. My Aunt Sis bought them whenever we shopped there, and they always graced her home and holiday table.

Now I have some, too.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

In the Moment

Sometimes I think having a camera in my pocket at all times can be detrimental-- there are definitely occasions when I am more concerned about getting a good picture than actually enjoying the moment. Today the opposite was true. 

We took the dogs for a walk before heading out for some shopping with the girls. The park we chose was nearly deserted, and after exploring its winding trail through forest and farm, we ended up on a huge expanse of empty soccer fields, so we let Lucy and Odie, the miniature Schnauzer, off leash to run. 

We had a ball, but it turned out that we didn't need it-- swallows were darting and diving all over the fresh-cut grass, and both dogs took off after one. I laughed and laughed as it led them in wide looping circles and tight turns, as if on purpose. Lucy and Odie ran as if they were sure that at any moment they would take off and fly, too,  and they probably sprinted more than a mile in sheer joy before we called them over, leashed them up, and gave them some water. 

Oh, I don't have a single picture of their gleeful escapade, but I don't need one. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Glass House

One of the god-daughters was talking about her middle school yesterday. "What's it called, again?" I asked.

"Melvin H. Kreps," she answered.

"Who was he?" I said.

"I have no idea," she shrugged.

Perhaps I've been jaded by working in a district where most of the schools are named for notable historic people or places. "What!" I said, "You've been at that school for two years and you don't even know who it's named for? I can't believe it!"

"Maybe you're just more curious than most people," she replied, and we all laughed because she obviously knows me very well.

So last night after the girls went to bed, I did a little online research to uncover just who Melvin Kreps was. It took a little digging, too, because every simple search turned up information not about the man, but rather about the school. Still, I stuck with it until I found that his main claim to fame was that he was a former superintendent of the local school system.

I was just about to self-righteously snap my lap top shut, already imagining how I would tell the girls over breakfast what I had discovered and thinking what a paragon of inquiry I was, when it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea who Samuel M. Ridgway was...

...other than the guy my middle school was named for, that is.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shiny Objects

We were walking the dogs this morning when my attention was captured by glittering colored specks all over the pavement. It looked like someone had smashed several bottles-- green, blue, and amber-- into tiny pieces. I expected to hear crunching under my shoes as I moved forward, but my steps were silent. I paused then and removed my sunglasses to better examine the road. The glass was embedded and smooth to the touch, almost like flecks of sea glass. Looking ahead, the sun glinted and sparkled from the surface. It was amazing and beautiful, and I found it difficult to lift my head from the street beneath me. Oh, but I did, just momentarily though to google the phenomena on my phone. It turns out that glassphalt is a thing.

Will the wonders of New Jersey never cease?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who Says You Can't Go Home?

"Here we go into the best state ever!" I said today as I always do whenever we cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge heading north. "Welcome to New Jersey!"

I have the softest of spots in my heart for the place I lived from the ages of 4 to 13. I started school here, got my first pets here, made my first friends here, and my memories of that time in my life are rosy and warm, so I love the place.

"What exactly is so great about New Jersey, anyway?" Heidi asked as we zipped along the turnpike, more curious than contrary.

"Oh my gosh!" I replied. "Everything! Well, jug handles to begin with. You rarely have to make a left hand turn from a busy road."

She nodded, unconvinced.

"They have the Pine Barrens, the Shore, blueberries, peaches and tomatoes. And they have lots of important historical places." Just then we rolled past a quintessential South Jersey landscape-- a wide, winding creek bordered by tall pines and wild grasses. "And then there's that." I swept my arm at the vista to our right.

"Pretty," she agreed.

"And Bon Jovi, Springsteen, and Philly Soul?"

"Not bad," she shrugged.

We drove on into the late summer evening, the trees casting sharp shadows in the slanting golden light, so familiar, so welcoming.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Hard Part

One of our neighbors is having her kitchen and baths renovated. In the middle of the job, she is understandably aggravated by the imperfections she spots every evening, but she struggles with the unpleasant confrontation of giving her contractor the punch list every morning.

"That's the hard part," I agree when she comes over for a sympathetic ear, "but the good of having a new kitchen and bathroom that you love is the pay-off. Isn't it worth it?"

I thought of my own words today when it became clear to us that we would have to let our 15-year-old cat Penelope go much sooner than we ever expected. Just a week ago she was having so much trouble chewing that we bought a kitty straight jacket and hauled her off to the vet for only the second time in her 13 years with us.

The news was not good, but didn't seem that dire either. Tooth decay and a weird growth on her gum meant surgery and a biopsy, but when her blood work came back, weak kidneys, which are common in older cats, complicated the situation. Yesterday she stopped eating and started hiding, which is never a good sign. We struggled with the options-- move up the risky surgery to see if removing her bad teeth would allow her to eat again, try antibiotics and pain killers indefinitely, or stop delaying the inevitable.

When we dragged her out from under the bed and took her back to the doctor, she told us the tumor was much bigger already and bleeding and kicking pus into Penelope's sinuses. "This condition is ugly and painful," the doctor said, "and it won't get better."

Our pets give us years of joy and comfort and love, and in return we must care for them as best we can. And then comes the hard part.

It breaks your heart into a million pieces, but it is so worth it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays

There are not a lot of options for exercising your city puppy on a rainy day, but fortunately for us there are four fenced-in tennis courts not far from our house. Although dogs are not really allowed there, no one plays tennis in the rain, especially on a Monday morning, so bending the rules is no big deal. And oh! Does Lucy love chasing a bouncing ball across the hard courts! The only thing better is chasing two or three.

She was adorably romping in the drizzle this morning when a little boy not more than three or four wandered over from the adjoining play ground to watch her through the fence. His dad who was preoccupied on the phone was clearly of the mind that a little rain never hurt anybody, and so we passed an amusing 10 minutes or so conversing with him through the chain link.

"Wow!" he laughed as she dashed to the other side of the farthest court chasing a tennis ball and snapping at the spray it kicked up, too. "She's a goooooood getter!"

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Other Side of Nuisance

The fans have been droning since 9:30. That's when the carpet cleaning guy left. There aren't a lot of options in a 950 square foot residence, so I have been hanging out down here-- cranking up the record player, working on the computer, and cooking in the kitchen-- while everyone else is upstairs with the doors closed.

Fortunately, the cool, dry weather has held, and with the fans and the windows and doors offering a cross breeze, the carpet is nearly dry. But, quite honestly?

It's been a peaceful day.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Lucy's Big Day

A brazen little toad startled me when he hopped across the trail this morning. Enjoying the gift of a breezy, dry August day in the low 80s we had set out early for a forested national park about 25 miles from home. Lucy didn't notice; she was much too preoccupied with butterflies and the bright red, early-fallen leaves teasing her on the light winds.

Soon we made it to a little lake and found a tiny cove with a fallen log to use as a bench for lunch. A little ways down the path the lake narrowed to a stream with flat granite ledges for Lucy to play in, but just as we were about to unclip her leash, a little snake slithered half way out from a rock. Was his head pointed or round? His pupils slits or circles? It was hard to see anything but the diamond pattern on his back, and so we snapped a few pictures and kept going.

Not far away we found a rocky shore with both shallows and deep pools along it. Would this be the day when our puppy literally took the plunge to progress from avid wader to swimmer? Turns out, it would! She paddled happily about snapping the splashing water and fetching her tennis ball until it was time to shake it off and continue on down the trail.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ain't Nothing Gonna Break-a My Stride

The day was young when I headed to my garden this morning, and although the heat and humidity to come was perceptible, it was all good as I rolled down all the windows and opened the sunroof. Just down the road a huge garbage truck was struggling to back out of a tiny parking lot. No matter-- I was happy to wait on such a glorious morning! Several cars impatiently idled at the intersection ahead, their drivers clearly dressed for work, and even though I had the right of way, I was more than willing to wave them ahead of me. But when at last the truck slid into traffic just ahead of me? The stench was overwhelming! So I pinched my nose, changed lanes, and zoomed up the hill where my garden awaited, empty of everyone but goldfinches and me beneath the blue, blue sky.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tell Me About it

I've written before about my appreciation for a tour. Emily Dickinson's House, Mt. Vernon, Alaska, good or bad? Perhaps it's the teacher in me who is fascinated by people sharing information with others, but either way I've never met a tour I didn't like.

Today was no exception. The afternoon was Washington-in-August scorching when Andy led us out from the cool and peaceful interior of the National Cathedral to guide us on an examination of the damage that the earthquake of 2011 did to the largest masonry structure on the continent.

And it caught me off guard when he choked up in the very first segment, recounting where he was on that fateful day six years ago and how he came to realize what a profound effect that seismic hiccup had on what was clearly his very beloved cathedral. From there it was a breezy combination of too much technical information and his belief that a divine hand was present in the event.

In the end, I think it was his earnestness that won me over, that and the fact that he reactivated buried memories of art history classes I took 35 years ago. Oh, and I also love the Cathedral, and it was

a tour.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here it Comes

Because our school's main parking lot is closed for the next two years, I parked in the tiny far lot and schlepped all my stuff up to the back door when I went in to work on curriculum today.

Guess I better get used to it.

(But only if I can find a space in the mornings!)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Give it a Week

Being away from home is fun, but coming back is fun, too, especially at this time of year. In addition to hugging our cat, going through the mail and packages, and sleeping in my own bed, this morning I headed straight for the garden to check on my vegetables and flowers.

I was not disappointed!