Sunday, June 27, 2010

Coulda stayed home

Somerville fire leaves 1 woman trapped

I was visiting with friends today. On one stop, we went down to the corner pub and saw the fire trucks go by. One friend left to make sure his house wasn't on fire, and found out his neighbor's house was on fire a little way up the street. In the meantime, my borrowed car was trapped by emergency vehicles. I thought it was supposed to be fiery in LA, not Boston!

It has been very nice to catch up with various friends out here.  It has been a lovely weekend with good weather for urban hiking, marrying on mountaintops, or strolling around the old neighborhood with a smoothie. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Very Fine Funeral

I'm now in Boston.  I figured that if I changed flights to get in at the last minute, it would all go wrong, so I kept my buffer day and got in very early friday AM.   Instead of LAX-BOS, I had LAX-LAS-STL, drive to see family for 24 hours, then STL-ORD-BOS.  It was long, but bearable.  On my last segment, the gate agent even handed me a new, improved seating assignment as I boarded.

Flying into St. Louis, my brother's flight and mine were both delayed, his less so.  He picked up the rental car and some White Castle then circled back around to get me.  Getting in a little later meant we were driving in the dark after leaving the city.  But that worked out for us because there was a storm up ahead and we followed the lightning show all the way in.  This storm had more lightning in 4 minutes that I've seen in 4 years in LA.  Midwestern storms are not like coastal storms.  We stayed with my mom's mom and Pop, pulling up 10 minutes before the rain broke from the storm.

The storm broke the humidity so we had a very pleasant day today.  After a fine breakfast (thanks mom!), we eventually got out and about.  After my dad and uncle went to the lawyer's office, we had some burgers on the main square with fried goodies and drinks.  Our cousin's grandmother lives by the park, so we met our cousins in the very nice town park and realized that swings don't accommodate adult hips as well as they do children's hips.  Then they invited me to come over and go through grandma's jewelry. I think they've had a lot of it for a while - they stored most of grandma's things that didn't stay with her - and giggled a lot with the offer.  I remember grandma liking clip-on earrings and circle pins.  I had NO IDEA that she had a mardi gras party worth of costume jewelry.  So two of my cousins and I had a mini mardi gras hour, putting on layers of beaded necklaces and generally having a good time marveling at some of the choices with my brother taking pictures.  Some were creatively hand beaded, some were fads in their day, others were just grandma's taste.  I took the beaded necklace made on safety pins. My youngest cousin has the pop-bead earring and necklace set.  We decided to each wear some of her things to the viewing and all showed up in white beads with a colorful brooch.  They brought an extra necklace along for when their sister showed up about 15 minutes before I had to leave, and my brother had a tie tack from grandpa, so we got a quick cousin picture with our jewelry on at the start of the viewing.

Yes, it's called a viewing, but somehow I didn't really believe that they'd have her actually there for people to look at.  They did a good job, she looked rested and pretty normal.  The hairdresser was having fits because she'd recently cut her hair and it was too short to do much with: "I've dressed her hair for 40 years and she goes and leaves with this hair?  Aaaaahhhh"  The hair was fine, just not the finest thing.  The coffin lining was light pink with pink flowers embroidered on it.  She was wearing her good pink suit that she wore to my brother's wedding a few years back.  The funeral director thought she looked better with a hanky on her hands, and that was appropriate too, because she (and two of my cousins) had Reynaud's which made her hands very cold.  But we uncovered them a bit when it was decided that she needed her rubber finger tip on her right index finger and a pack of pinochle cards to go with her.  It was not my idea, but I wish it had been.

Thanks for all your well wishes, folks, they worked some magic. The first person to show up reminiced that my grandparents were the first people to welcome them to town when she and her husband were new.  Then a former student showed up and various friends and family, and I had to scoot out with my mom to make it to the airport.  The funeral, proper, will be tomorrow (this) morning.  It should be a very fine funeral.  I will miss not seeing more of my relatives, but I made a trip to see them last year after visiting the grandmas so I feel comfortable making the decision to absolutely be here, for certain, for the saturday wedding.

I may not have said so, but my friends over at New Door Knobs are tying the knot.  And I need to be there.  Here.

Some final words:
I'll need my aunt to fix this recounting later, but for now: Grandma woke from a nap a couple days ago, looked at my aunt and accused, "Aren't you dead?"  Taken a bit aback, she said something like "No, You?" "Almost.  almost."

My cousin took grandma out on the patio last week, in the sun.  She asked her if she was warm enough.  Grandma's reply?  "I'm one hot momma!"

There was an additional quip.  If I can get the story from the family, I'll post it too.  I had forgotten her sharp wit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Running on Fumes

Thankfully I'm packed and ready to go and it's not midnight yet. The shuttle comes to get me at 6:30 AM for a 10:30 AM flight that arrives at 5:30 PM. I have gorp, mentos and a twix and a pile o cash to get me through tomorrow. Fortunately, I had an admin and IT support to help me get through today. Barring catastrophic injury or similar damage, it could not have gone worse.

Without even considering my grandma dying, it's been a pitiful, miserable week. For the gory details,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pinochle, Fireflies and 7-up

I learned only a few months ago why my father moved to my mother's home town when he was in high school: my grandmother had gone back to college and gotten a master's degree in speech therapy, so when she graduated, they moved to a town with a school that would hire my grandfather, an ag (industrial tech, these days) teacher, and my grandmother, a speech therapist, both. I was really touched by that, it really speaks to their regard for the other. It doesn't matter if it was a primarily financial decision or not, it was the early 60s and women's lib wasn't very far advanced. In fact, Grandma mentioned that their first date was on the sly because teachers weren't supposed to date.

That Friday the 13th date turned out to be an auspicious one for the family. Grandma and Grandpa fell in love, got married, had a boy (my dad), a girl (stillborn), a boy (my uncle) and another girl (my aunt). Being a teacher, she worked with all kids of crazily named kids so they went with Bob, John, and Mary. They also both enjoyed teaching for at least 20 years, taking much pride in their work and even volunteering to chaperone some students on an international trip. Grandpa liked to fish. We all spent hours playing pinochle. They bought our family a tow-behind camper that we used for many years. Grandpa bought all 4 households our first microwave ovens when he thought they'd catch on, so he wouldn't have to learn to use different ones when he visited, and ours lasted over 20 years. Our knives were always sharpened because grandpa sharpened them with every visit.

By being somewhat frugal and having a rental income, they were able to retire comfortably and spend winters down in Texas in their airstream until the year my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer of too many things, but the liver was most put out about it and didn't let things end well. Grandma took a while to get over that loss. (Everyone did, but obviously she took it the worst.) When cleaning out her house to move her into a condo, my aunt found modern pantry goods in the front, then a gap of 7 years in the expiration dates on the goods (bads?) in the back.

She found a nice man to date for a while. Lest you think giving the family names away earlier makes this entry too specific to me, her date had kids named Rob, John, and Mary. Family stories involved a lot of surnames for a while. We'd play cards and joke about her "quivering" the cards instead of shuffling them, and she'd win regardless (unless my other grandma got involved. Card sharps both.) But her date was older and diabetic and started declining. He sold her his condo and moved to assisted living. Eventually, grandma moved to assisted living too.

More recently she's been in the neighboring long term care facility. They do a good job of making sure residents come out to the dinner area to be with other people at meals, but she stopped playing cards or seeing if she could still speech-read if the TV volume was too low. Her meal companions died off. She stopped trying to be interested in much but her body held on into her late 80s. It was not [fruitful?, satisfying?, helpful?] to talk on the phone anymore so I tried to send letters and cards to keep at least one-way contact. When she did talk, her most common topic of conversation was wanting to be with my grandfather, her husband. And as of this morning, she got her wish.

She had a good life and was pretty much healthy until last week when her body finally caught up with her heart and mind and slowed way down. I think I did most of my mourning when she stopped playing cards, but this entry has proved I'm not entirely done. My brother and I have made it a point to stop by and visit the grandmas as often as we can manage, as have my cousins. While my dad and his sister have done what they could to assist from afar, my uncle and his wife, my other aunt, have done the lion's share of taking care of grandma's basic needs, managing her finances, and generally making her comfortable since she became unable to care for herself, and it is a blessing to the family that they were able and willing to take on this stewardship. Being the closest didn't make the drive less far. They also kept us updated so my dad and his brother and sister were all able to see her during this last week. But I like to remember that her favorite color was pink and there was a collection of bells in the hallway next to the bookshelf that held the master work, "The Three Billy Goats Gruff". I remember how we used to catch fireflies in their back yard on summer evenings, which were cooled and hydrated by the endless stash of 7-up stored by the garage door, before retiring to the card table where grandma would quiver the pinochle cards.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


There wasn't anything I had to say today. I'd had a lovely (not) incident of saying too much, in the wrong way, to the wrong person, and the wrong time, at work today and rather got it out of my system. Or so I thought. Then I read Jenny Crusie's blog about her novel about revisiting your childhood from the perspective of an adult. I'm sure I've talked about this before with reference to a Suzanne Brockmann novel Into the Storm, but it came pouring out again, and instead of blather in someone's comments, I moved it here.

I had one weird incident as a 9 or 10 year old kid back before microwave popcorn and before air poppers where I caught the pan of popcorn kernels and oil on fire. I screamed and screamed. Fortunately my dad was there. I clearly remember him taking the corner to the kitchen so fast he was at an angle. He came up to me, reached across me, grabbed my hand, and lowered the lid onto the pot, putting out the fire. From that, I figured I wasn't very good in an emergency.

For the point

Monday, June 14, 2010


There are days that go well and days that go poorly. A couple weeks ago, I had a day where everything went so poorly, it was comical: everything I worked on either started or finished broken. Today, it was just minor annoyances: the delete key didn't work on my email so I had to reboot my computer. It took foreeeeever to get my data into a format in which I could analyze it. Stuff like that. It's days like this that need the three happy things the most.

  • I made it to the gym and Ozzy got me to work out for an hour. I was wearing my Badgertastic t-shirt which cracks me up.
  • My car was washed and it's all nice and shiny again.
  • I got email from several friends.  That's getting more rare as email gives way to facebook/ twitter/  blogging, so it's worth noting.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Felt, Frogs, and Fives

The three fs of happiness follow.
Inspired by way craftier bloggers than myself added to a lingering penchant for stuffed felt objet d'art, I bought a little felt kit for making stuffed Teddy bears from the Border's books impulse buy sales rack a few weeks back during the mad scramble to get Nook eBook to read book 2 of a series only to find out that book 3 of the series was not in eBook form. Not that I'm bitter, and that's the important thing. Since then, I've been staring at the kit on my coffee table when I've sat down, which hasn't really been that often. I think, maybe, after looking at the repetitive-OCD stylings of Polka Dot Pineapple I thought that a few blanket stitches would not lead me too far down the wrong path.

After the aborted attempt earlier to make felt items that wound up being channeled into a colored foam card for mom of a monkey in a tree, I finally got around to the felt project. And made 3 things this week, finishing one each of the last three nights.
Two felt bears and a felt fish

The bears are from the "Bella" and "Blossom" bear patterns that came with the book. I enlarged Blossom as she was too tiny to stuff easily otherwise, and those disks flowers on her head were improved (trust me on this) by the polka-dot blogger's instructions on making flowers for some other thing she did. The fish I just made up tonight. Don't really know why, but I like it. Like the bears, it has one color on each side, but the tail is less cute.
bear backsides and the purple fish side

I've gone to the gym, to the farmer's market, or a dinner party on each of these nights but still felt compelled to finish the felt (toys? beings? objects? goodies? crafts?) items. I think that means they each took around 3 hours while watching TV. So now what? I don't need more stuff, but I just made myself more stuff. I like this stuff; it's cute, but really, what was I thinking?

For the remaining "f" fabulousness...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

They Eyes Have It

And what they have is redness.

Here's me during surgery:
lasiked eyes
( I have a DVD of the process.  I haven't looked at it yet.  Still too fresh.)

Eye pictures after the jump.

Vanity, Thy Name is Orange

A week before getting eye surgery, I had no running water in my bath or sink, and the area was clouded with construction dust. Now it looks like this and I love it.
vanity reno complete

The mostly complete saga is here if you want to

Feast or Famine

I have plenty to say recently, like I've come out of a fugue and now can't shut up, but I'll try to stay topical and make some separate posts. We'll start with the important stuff:

farmer's market booty with giant asparagus

Notice the gigantor carrots and asparagus. This haul was almost entirely impulse buy because I stocked up on food at the regular guy store (yes, Ralph's) yesterday. I knew the tomato lady was saving me a box of the cherry toms I can eat raw, so I had to pick those up or risk losing my "VIP" status which leaves the supply up to luck instead of planning. Then I saw the fattest asparagus I'd ever seen and a luscious asian pear and... this is what happens.

I have cherries, apricots, mangoes, raspberries, snack peas, and the cauliflower from yesterday, not to mention some hilariously fat carrots from some other vendor. I've eaten about a dozen fresh loquats. I've also tried some daikon sprouts, I'm still working through my stock of lemons and tangerines... The hope is that my vinegar rinse will keep these all around long enough to enjoy them.

I started with the asparagus (and all the stuff that wasn't going to keep). Until a couple months ago I'd never heard of anyone peeling asparagus, and after the overly labor intensive "peel the baby potatoes" recipe from cooking class, I thought it was all the more foolish. But peeling 4 spears isn't too bad and seemed to work out when the extra fellows are the size of a Butterfinger.

steamed peeled asparagus

Also on the food route, I did at least the new baking portion of my resolution. I can't remember if I baked a repeat something, but I'm not going to get bent out of shape about it this month. The eye surgery was not long and helps me see but was pretty traumatic. Still, I managed to try and make pita bread from the "Baking with Julia" book I got for Christmas. The dough is much like pizza crust dough. I put the liquids, yeast and part of the flour together on May 30th, and got the rest combined on the 31st, squeaking it into May by the new hair on my chinny chin chin.

top view baked and fried breads

As you can see from the wildly different coloration, they weren't all cooked the same. The book said there was a stovetop method and with my cast iron skillet feeling neglected, I decided to start there, making one at a time. The results were mixed. The directions specified a lightly oiled surface, but the oil (grapeseed) smoked. So I cut the heat a little and tried again but still, smoking pan, not enough puff to the bread. I'd get bubbles, but not a pita pocket. I thought it was either the heat method or the shaping method.

I tried again, adding more oil and actually frying it, but still patting it out by hand like mini pizzas. This made the bread taste fantastic - I've eaten two just now while writing about it - but still it cooked unevenly and didn't puff. Being seduced by the flavor, I kept trying. I even tried going through the bother of rolling it out. It cooked much more evenly but still didn't puff! Plus, the extra flour needed for rolling fell off in the oil and had to be scooped out with every other bread so it wouldn't burn. That was annoying.

Finally, I tried baking. I should have known: the baking directions call for a heated stone at 450F and that's way higher than the smoke point of most oil. So to cook on a surface, one would do better to use something not oiled like, oh, I don't know, a tandoor or a pizza oven or something designed for, say, making pitas. But an oven does well enough. Even using a cheap aluminum pan instead of baking stones it worked pretty well! (tip: pavers from Home Depot, properly cleaned, can line the oven and be used as a pizza stone.) Even one run of 4 through the oven (3-4 minutes baking time) netted good puffing. Using a baking stone would have helped even the heat and puff them better, but they did all right.

side view pita showing white baked puffed pitas and yellow-brown unpuffed fried pitas

I stored the baked pitas interleaved with the fried ones to keep them all moist but not soggy. They're pretty good for sandwiches, like my favorite ham and hummus, or just PB&J for breakfast. I imagine the fried ones would make good personal pizza bases too.