Thursday, September 18, 2014

This has not been a good week of meals for my family.

Out of the blue, I have found myself preparing casseroles. 

One pan mishmashed, mixed ups of grain, protein, vegetable, bound together with a sauce.

I have no idea where this is coming from. 

I am a good, creative and skilled cook, who typically takes pride in preparing, if not lavish, at least well coordinated and executed meals.

It has been as if I hopped into a time machine and returned to the culinary horrors of my own childhood, a place fueled  by French sliced frozen green beans and  Rice-a-Roni.

I know what drives a loving mother and wife to dump a number of things into a skillet and turn the knob. 


That is what.

I started  helping with cooking family meals in 5th grade, encouraged by Millie Delker, our German babysitter, who lived in a little falling down house in the little falling down town we lived in until I was 10, Millie drank wine out of a tea cup in the middle of the day and let me stay home from school and help her with her sewing business. 

I liked cooking, I liked to help my mother with housework, they were things I was good at. 

I only really like to do things I am good at. 

That much has remained the same.

By Jr. High I was an insufferable quiche and moussaka baking twit. 

Obsessed with French cooking and ethnic food. 

I made my first baked Alaska in 7th grade.  It was chocolate, and my mother bought me a pastry bag, to pipe the meringue on, so it would look fancy.

I wasn't close to my mother, as a child, and I judged her harshly, for the crock-pot soup, the Hamburger Helper and other boxes and long cooked meals favored by working mothers of the time.

I adored and was adored by my grandmother, who wore an apron, and darned socks, fried chicken, baked biscuits and cobblers, and had tea parties.

My mother was thin, smoked Tareytons seated on the sofa, with her legs tucked under her, a novel in her hand- a picky, uninterested eater.  She would eat a Twinkie,or a Heath Bar, over the course of several days, slicing off a bite at a time with a knife, once in a blue moon, otherwise I never saw her eat sweets.

I would chastise her and my brother for eating dinner on the sofa, in front of the tv, and she would say
"you are outnumbered sister!" 


I longed for a housewife mother, a real mother, not the youthful, exuberant, theatrical, loud mother that I had.

My mother cooked at a level that I approved of as a child, once a year, on Thanksgiving

She made the best stuffing in the whole world, (which we called dressing), milk gravy, rolls, Waldorf salad,she got up at 6:00am to bake a giant turkey that would barely fit in the oven, with all the racks removed. 

She made her hideous macaroni salad, which only she liked, and her baked beans, which are still the best I have ever had, and corn bread.

She made tiny pickled beets and arranged a cut-glass relish tray with radishes and black olives. 

She minced celery into perfect and uniform U shapes.

She stuffed celery with cream cheese.

She boiled, then sauteed in butter, yellow sweet potatoes (because my grandfather said that "yams are hog feed")

She peeled a whole bag of potatoes, and mashed them, cigarette dangling, Gilbert and Sullivan egging her on. 

She would pour heavy cream into a pint jar and my brother and I would shake it until it turned to a round, glistening, glob of fresh butter. 

My father cooked. 

He also made economical food, but his fare was less revolting to me than my mother's soups (to this day, if you don't watch her like a hawk, she will try to sneak old lettuce into the pot!).

I remember eating tacos with my father, with Resers Guacamole, which in the mid 70's seems very exotic. 

In Jr High, we moved into a  beautiful, ramshackle house in a fancy neighborhood, with a man that cooked.  I learned a great deal of technique, from him.

When I was 16 I began dating a boy that came from a new agey, vegetarian family.  I expanded both my technique and my horizons exponentially in the two years we dated. I ate cilantro and felafel and brown rice. I ate beans that were not brown and not baked for the first time. 

Tonight I put rice, egg, frozen green beans and soy sauce in a pan and served it to my family, like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. 

I may call my mother later.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lest ye be judged

 Everything is relative, they say.

It's funny what people judge you on, and what people think is acceptable.

I never quite figured all of that out, which has been somewhat problematic. 

I think growing up poor makes you hyper-aware of that thread or judgement that runs through life, like an electric current.

Humming away in the background.

Ben came to fix the danged old faucet, for hopefully the last time.

Ben says things like danged old faucet which endears him to me, even though he is slow as molasses in January, to fix things. 

Ben is from Minnesota, and he grew up on a diary farm.

He feels like my people, so when I ask how things are, and he says  

aint half bad,  
can't complain

I am instantly comforted.

I trust.  

I believe, and I love to believe. 

I think we got it licked, this time, though.

Got rid of that European shit and made it bullet proof. 

All last week I worried.

I worried myself just about to death, over what might happen.

With the faucet, with work, with money, with the middle east, with those bad folks beheading people, with why my dog pisses on the floor when someone comes to the door.

Not a damn thing changed as a result.

I felt picked apart, judged  and unworthy.

So today, when things really went to hell in a handbasket at work, I just fixed it.

When Ben came to fix the faucet, I laughed.

It's good to see you laughin' about this mess.

When I walked in this evening my house had two extra children.  

Not what I had hoped for after a long old week, but Freyja loves to drag company home, she has not been served well to be the child of someone that adores solitude and silence as much as I do.

Two extra, hungry children, that are at home enough to ask for food.  

I would have no more asked for food at someone's house, when I was a child, than fly to the moon.  

Their comfort and confidence endears these children to me.  

I judge their parents, because their children are at my house, running back and forth like it was the most natural thing in the world, wanting snacks and dropping crumbs on my floor, I judge them because the cuffs of their jackets are just filthy. 

I would never let my child go out in public with dirty cuffs on her jacket, 

I would not let my child roam the neighborhood without a snack, in one of those little half sized baggies.  

Maybe a water bottle. 

When I get like that,  when I pick people apart, I pour something out of that big cosmic cup. 

Then I fill it right back up, because these kids are happy, dirty, hungry kids, that are full of self esteem and resiliency and joy, which is surely as good a sign of good parenting as clean laundry. 

My faucet is fixed, I have water, and food to share, and my laundry is very clean.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Creature of the night

MAC cosmetics is doing a line, inspired by Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I've been a big fan of RHPS, since Jr. High. 

My friend Carrie turned me onto the music, then the movie, in 6th grade. 

She also introduced me to the musical Hair

I adore camp and a catchy tune, and make-up, so Rocky was a natural favorite. 

Much later, I would dress up and go to the midnight movie.  Not all the time, not like a superfan, but enough to know all the lines, and all the music. 

One Halloween, Rolf, my college roommate Jackie, her girlfriend and I all got dressed up and went. 

I won the contest for "the person most likely to be arrested on the way home for their costume", I was dressed as FrankNfurter, with fishnets and a leather jacket. 

It was all great fun, with a lot of red lipstick.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A jury of my peers

I had jury today, after deferring it for a decade.

I am deeply resentful, for a number of reasons, mostly because it is the first day of school, my most busy time, and I need to be at work.

I am needed at work.

I also need the money I am missing because of this "service".

They are paying me $35, for the 16 hours I am missing...

I don't make a lot of money, but I do make more than that.

There is a chance I will be selected tomorrow for a grand jury, which could be a month or more.

That would just about break me.

I mean, who can miss a month's work? 

My day started last night at 10:00pm when the sub that was to cover for the teacher, that can't start because she has to give notice at her old job , went into labor, a month early. 

After multiple sub arrangements and detailed instructions were issued, my phone started ringing at 6:00am this morning, as I showered,with folks calling in sick.  

I made coffee, I packed a bag.  

I forgot food.  

I remembered a book.  

A thriller.

I walked into the cusp of autumnal morning, to catch the #9 downtown, at 7:01am.   

The bus with all of Portland's great unwashed, was already crowded. 

A lady with a giant suitcase, polar-fleece pullover and a woolen cap, stood across from me.  I wonder if she was coming from the airport, or just moving? 

Overly made up teenaged girls, chatted loudly, a man sat very close to me, with a recently extinguished cigarette, in his hand.  

It stank, the way, they do, that smoldery kind of stink.   

I felt relieved to be at a place in my life where smoking a second hand cigarette is not part of my agenda. 

At 39th and Powell, a man with a less huge suitcase, and a collection of bags and totes got on.  

He bumped his way down the aisle and chatted gayly with the lady with the giant suitcase.  

He coveted her bag, and she was flattered.  

People warmed to this man and made small talk.  

A fellow dressed all in red and black, with Blazer's logos, told him of a mean man that had told him to 
"Shut the fuck up" last week.   

His feelings had been badly hurt, by these unkind words, and the man with the bags, offered outraged comfort.  

I felt out of place, like I was intruding on a private conversation.  

A private bus party, for people that need a bit of kindness.

As we entered downtown, my boss called me for clarification on the plan, which prompted me to get OFF the bus way to early and wander down the street explaining and explaining.

I found the court house, waited in the security line, removing my shoes, cursing the state of our country, all the while and took my seat in a great sea of people, sweaty, stressed and pissed off, doing my civic duty .

We sat idly, together, until 5:00pm.

I sat next to a big, fellow, wearing construction worker clothing.

He talked on his phone about drywall.

He talked about burying a pipe.

He talked about mudding. 

He had a shaved head and very tan forearms.

He was very polite, and kept to his side of the armrest. 

I would be delighted to sit next to him on an airplane, and chat about plumbing and mud, and drywall.

We took breaks and ate terrible sandwiches, with limp lettuce.

The sandwich vendor was blind.

Her terrible, prefab sandwiches reminded me of the time my college boyfriend worked for "grannies sannies", making those terrible kind of sandwiches for minimum wage.

It was like a low class Proust moment.

Turkey on white, instead of madeleines. 

She had an eye condition I remember from my work for the eye surgeon.

The thing, where you basically don't have eyeballs.

It looks terrible, but this lady, mercifully, could not see that people were turning away in disgust, and she gave remarkable customer service.

Much faster with the lattes than the slacker at Starbucks.

I am dazzled by her waitressing skill.

I felt humble and blessed by my own scratchy,allergic sighted eyes. 

She asked me cash or charge, and I foolishly said charge, then handed her two fives, like an inconsiderate asshole.

The women in the group stood in long lines to pee, in a dimly lit restroom, with two broken toilets.

I ate a bag of barbecue chips, from a vending machine.

They were fabulous. 

I found a copy of a Michael Chabon collection of short stories and hope to read a bit of it tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation and a funeral

This past week should have been my summer break, but work junk conspired to make it not exactly relaxing, and not exactly a break.  Maxwell and I did sneak off to the Lobster roll cart, at Cartlandia, though.  It was pretty good.  Maxwell said it was the best sandwich he had ever had.  I would prefer something hot, I think, but it was dandy, and lobstery and delicious. 

Mark and Maxwell went to Edgefield to see Jack White.  They are very fond of him, I could not name a single song.  I am old and very out of touch with modern music. 

Rolf presented me with this large volume of elderberries, much like a cat, dropping a dead mouse at my feet.                         Oh goody! I needed one more thing to take care of!                                                                                                                          I cooked them down and pressed them out and made syrup.

Freyja attended a sewing camp earlier this summer and made a skirt that would put anything I could make to shame.  She is crafty like that.

On Thursday, Aunt Karen walked in the backdoor.  He Godmother had died earlier in the week and she was in town for the funeral.  It was a sad and hard time for her, and coming to stay with us was what she thought of, to feel better,  which made me terribly happy, as the week had not been going so shithot for me either and misery loves company, especially if it's your best friend.   So we made a very fine goulash and a vast quantity of mashed potatoes.  We binge-watched the Danish murder police show, "The Killing" on Netflix, and drank too much wine, and laughed our heads off, and sealed the deck and looked at photos.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

so beautiful it could just break your heart

The Pacific NW is so full of beauty, rustic, crazy, mossy beauty.

And water.  I am just crazy about a bit of rushing water.

Once a year or so I try to treat myself to something lovely.

This week I went here.

To a falling down family cabin in the woods, built in the 20's and not expected to last forever.

I could have stayed and stayed.

It reminded me of the ramshackle beach house that belonged to the grandmother of my college boyfriend.

It was also a lovely, place, slowly rotting into the ground, in a charming, slow way, the way those houses do.

Meandering and sloped.

Stinky and moldy and delightful.

Full of damp paperbacks and weird knick knacks.

Beloved and neglected.

The people that love them never have enough money to maintain them.  Everyone else doesn't care. 

better than a sharp stick in the eye

The other evening, I was very tired and a little "out of it" as my friend Karen would say.  

Just off, a little, head in the clouds...  

I went in the bathroom to put some eye wash in my eye, to sooth them, after spending most of the previous day in nature, (nature happens to be full of pollen and mold, which makes me sneeze and my eyes itch), my eyes were a mess. It happened- I accidentally sprayed nasal spray in my eye.  

I don't know why, the two bottles are pretty distinct from each other, but I did.  

Right into the right eye. 

After I had rinsed my eye, I picked up the nasal spray, to unclog my nose, which was also snuffed up and miserable, from the a fore mentioned nature,  and Mark, slapped it out if my hand, as if it were a junkie's needle, or a snake, a rabid wolverine. "don't do that again".

Well , duh!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The time the ladder fell down

We have a large deck.

The deck is 15 years old, which I think is old for a deck that isn't cedar, but rather just pressure treated wood, that was slapped up as a condition of sale when we bought the house in 1998.

There was a deck with a tacky cover that was in  terrible condition, so we asked that it be replaced and the previous owner replaced it.

We were terribly naive at the time and didn't realize that we could do such things and we had a terrible realtor, and it was only when the inspector pointed out the dangerous nature of the old deck that we took action.

It was the one good thing the inspector did.

He wasn't much of an inspector; he missed many other dangerous things.

I had no idea.

I was pregnant and overwhelmed by the notion of buying a house.

I thought home inspections were done by some kind of ethical governmental agency and everyone was equally good. 

That's how dumb I was.

A real babe in the housing inspector woods.

So there we were, two of the most ill-equipped housemates in the world, for home ownership, buying a house together.

The deal was Rolf and I would buy the house, and Mark would come live with me there.

We would have our baby and live in this large house, collectively, because I had lived with Rolf my entire adult life and my heart might break without him.

I had only known Mark for months.

I liked him.

I loved him, but I am not one to throw out the housemate with the bathwater.

None of the three of us is very yard workery, or terribly sensible, or knowledgeable  about housey things, so we were like sitting ducks, real schnooks waiting to be taken advantage of over bad wiring and the lack of a shut off valve for the kitchen sink.

So the deck guy built a new deck, and on the way out the door mentioned that he hadn't sealed the new deck.

We bought the house in October, so the rain was already an issue.

Had I been slightly more tuned in at the time, I would have demanded that he seal the deck, but I wasn't, and I didn't, so there I was with this unsealed deck, in the rainy season.

So we sealed it ourselves with toxic stinky stuff, on a Saturday. 

And almost every year since, we seal it.

Twice we have had it done for us, by a deck guy.

Once my friend Brian sealed it for us, when he built a little roof over half the deck.

It was his little gift.

A bonus.

This year we borrowed a pressure washer from our friend M.

M is very handy and sensible and owns a pressure washer and a truck.

We are constantly asking him for help with this, or that. 

He lectures us on the appropriate way to do this, or that, and we do our best.

I pay him back with dinners; buttery noodles, pork, salad, roast chicken and mashed potatoes, glasses of plum brandy and PBR on ice, coffee with sugar, cheap red wine, cookies and pieces of cake.

It's not what anyone would call a square deal.

Not by a long shot.

He was very anti-pressure washing of the deck.

Clearly, he had never scrubbed a 300 square-foot deck by hand with a brush.

We washed the deck very nicely, taking turns.

Both Rolf and I sprayed our feet, which hurts.

Mark was smart enough to wear sneakers.

 It was a very messy process. 

The very last thing that we needed to do was the roof of the deck.

It is a type of corrugated plastic that was very dirty and mossy.

Mark, being the lightest went up on the roof of the house and sprayed one side, but it was terribly HOT out and he needed to come down after a while.

Mark is afraid of heights, so when it was time to come down he asked that we adjust the ladder so the incline was not so steep.

For some reason he had used the flimsy extension ladder, rather than the regular ladder. I started to say something, but thought better of it, because who wants to be criticized for his choice of ladders? 

I went up and sprayed for a while, but the ladder was stretched out far and it was swaying a lot and making me dizzy.

I have been very dizzy in general because of the anemia, so I asked Rolf if he would finish up. 

Rolf climbed up the ladder and was spraying away the very last bits of moss, when the ladder slid across the wet deck stopping only when it hit the railing.

One rail was knocked off, but it held steady enough for Rolf to climb down. 

Later in the evening he noticed that his ribs were bruised. 

He could have been badly hurt, but he wasn't, thank goodness. 

He was much less hurt than the time he stepped on the rung of the other ladder, the one that has "do not step" printed right on it.

The one intended for putting your can of paint on.

That time the ladder collapsed and he fell off, and into a rose bush.

This time he just slid down a few rungs.