22 December 2011

Headless Angel

Every year I have amazing plans to decorate for Christmas.  The December issues of Better Homes and Gardens and Real Simple add fuel to the fire.  Dancing sugar plums are replaced with table centerpieces, garlands, and homemade wreaths in my head.  A stocking for my daughter, maybe a new one for my husband (the one I made for our first Christmas really isn’t that great).  Oh and I could make an ornament for my daughter every year, then when she’s eighteen she can have her set of ornaments.  Mid-November I am all ideas, mid-December I am scrambling.  So this year, once again, I am left with a headless angel.  

I didn’t plan on a headless angel.  The tree needed a topper and those at the store are typically gaudy or frothy or too “country”.  I figured I could make one.  I had already bought felt to make ornaments for my sister who put “unique” ornaments on her Christmas list (what’s more unique than homemade?).  I found an angel template by Martha Stewart (going to the craft queen herself) and after some finagling had two felt angels cut.  I glued and sewed the pieces together, carefully cutting out bits of the red.  Then...I stuck it on the tree, headless.  

I did look for something to make a head with, but nothing I had was quite right.  So, telling myself I was just testing it to see if it looked right, I stuck it on the tree.  And that’s where it stayed.  I glanced at it while completing the trio of owls for my sister.  

And again while making felt pom-pom balls. (Thanks to cake. for the tutorial.)

My husband and I exchanged gifts last night, under a headless angel.  This morning we packed up the car to spend Christmas in Pennsylvania.  Leaving behind the angel and a number of incomplete decorations still in my work basket.  Oh, and no stocking for my daughter.  Maybe next year I'll start in July.

19 December 2011

Using a whole bottle of Tobasco or, Spice Packet People

Part 2
We are not just spice packet people.  There are a few family recipes that have been handed down.  The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ I made the other day is one of them.  The photo-copied card I have in my recipe book reads “from the kitchen of Grandma Palmer”, that would my my mom’s grandma, my great-grandma.  To call it party mix would be disrespectful.  The smell of it baking means Christmas, especially since my mom would make two or three batches between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve.
The first Christmas my husband and I were married (the same year I learned about my mom’s chili), I eagerly bought all the ingredients for Nuts and Bolts.  I carefully followed the recipe, making sure my measurements were exact.  I remember there was no temperature for the oven written on the card.  I probably called my mom to ask, but she must have been away from home and just guessed.  The wonderful Nuts and Bolts Christmas smell did not fill our apartment.  It burned.  

Perhaps the oven was too hot.  Perhaps I hadn’t made enough sauce for the amount of pretzels, rice chex and nuts.  Whatever the reason the only person who ate it was my older sister who favors the burned pieces of popcorn.  Even the small amount of non-burned Nuts and Bolts was bland. I tried to like it.  I tried to get my husband to like it.  We ended up throwing most of it away.  

I related to my mom my failed attempt at the family tradition.  When I mentioned how bland it was and how hers always tasted better she replied with: ‘Oh, I don’t follow the recipe.  I add way more Tobasco and Worcestershire sauce than it calls for.’
Last years attempt was passable, though still not as good as mom’s.  So this year I was excited.  No measuring.  Dashes of this, handfuls of that and a whole bottle of Tobasco.  That’s what she said right?  I did pause half way through the bottle.  But I remember, she said ‘a lot’ of Tobasco.  So in it went.  Two and a half hours later I tasted my latest attempt.  Yum.  Spicy, but delicious.

Well.  Yesterday my sisters and our daughters baked cookies with my mom (thoughts of generational cookbooks return).  I mentioned that I had finally made good Nuts and Bolts and that they were spicy from the whole bottle of Tobasco.
Whole bottle?? My mom looked at me in disbelief.
Yes, I thought you said you use the whole bottle?
Oh, I only use about two tablespoons.

15 December 2011

Using a whole bottle of Tobasco or, Spice Packet People

Part 1
A few months after I got married I felt intrepid enough to try my hand at making chili.  Cooking is not my specialty.  I can bake a delicious (some even say famous) chocolate chip cookie, but cooking always frazzled me, too many variables.  I lived at home during college and on the nights my mom didn’t cook my staple was Annie’s Mac and Cheese.  Some times I would saute onions and peppers, maybe heat up some leftover meat, to make the mac and cheese into more of a meal but that was the extent of my cooking abilities.  My dad was so worried about the comfort of my future husband he took it upon himself to teach me to cook.  Let’s just say it only happened once and it didn’t end well.  I was given boxes of Annie’s Mac at my bridal shower.  By more than one person.  Faith in my cooking abilities was low.
But I wanted to try chili.  Not just any chili, my mom’s chili.  The only chili I liked (or so I thought).  So I asked her for her recipe.  My first clue should have been the fact that I didn’t already have it.  I had photo-copied cards from her recipe box, at least all the ones I liked, before I moved out.  
My mom looked puzzled, my recipe?  
Yea, your chili is the only kind I really like.  
Oh, I just use the spice packet.
I timidly picked it up the next time I was at the grocery store.  McCormick.  Chili.  Hot.  There it was, what I thought was a ‘family recipe’, on the back of a spice packet.  Ready in 30 minutes.  Dreams of cookbooks filled with recipes passed down mother to daughter that would rival Martha Stewart and Paula Deen evaporated.  We were spice packet people.

09 December 2011

Forgiving my Sister

Memories stick to everything.  A trip down memory lane is only as far away as the back of my closet (and now that I own a house, the back of every closet).  I have always been a pack-rat.  I broke my Winnie-the-Pooh snow-globe when I was eight or nine.  After cleaning up the broken glass and sticky ‘water’ I put the exposed Pooh into a box in my closet.  I wouldn’t put it back on the shelf because then my mom would know I had broken it, but I couldn’t put it in the trash either.  

Some days I get in a cleaning mood, a purging mood.  I dig to the back of the closet, rooting out t-shirts I’ve held onto for a decade because my memory of acquiring it is stronger than my ability to throw it out.  Even when I tell myself I’ll donate it to charity, someone else will find use in it, I inevitably stuff it back into the rubbermaid tote it came from and shrug my shoulders to the voice that tells me nostalgia isn’t a good enough reason.

I am in a cleaning mood.  

We have too much stuff.  My husband even agrees with me, and yet as I pull out his senior year t-shirt (older than mine by the way) and he pulls out my sweatshirt from summer camp 2005 we both shrug, nostalgia winning again.  But no.  I will not succumb.  I have seen Hoarders on TLC.  I have seen houses where empty cleaning bottles and great-grandma’s quilts are given equal billing.  It scares me.  We live in a small, fifties ranch with little storage space and small closets.  With the birth of our daughter and the baby paraphernalia piling up it is beginning to feel (well, has been for a while) claustrophobic.  I don’t need a bigger house, I need less ‘stuff’.

Letting go of Dory was tough.  I felt I was betraying her, driving away in a shiny new Hyundai, named Horatio by the way.  Her one remaining hubcap blinking at me in the dark.  But she’s still swimming, the voice cries.  But for how long?  Will she stop swimming while I’m going 60 on the highway with my 3 month old in the back seat?  No, Dory had to go.  I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard at first; then I realized it was because my parents had given her to me.  She was a present.  I’ve always had trouble getting rid of gifts.  Even when I don’t like them, don’t use them, or break them.  They hang around, gathering dust in the back of a closet, in the bottom of a box.  I know I’ve gotten better, I throw away broken things now.

So I have finally come to a point where I can forgive my sister for getting rid of my brown pants.  I said she could borrow my clothes while I was in England for a year, I did not say she could give them to Goodwill.  She claims I gave them to her; I claim they were merely borrowed.  Perhaps if she hadn’t done that I’d still have them, not in my drawer waiting to be worn but in a rubbermaid tote in the back of my closet waiting to be thrown out.

07 December 2011

All I want for Christmas is a dog toy that will last

      This dog destroys them.  One by one, methodically pulling the strands up with his teeth or gnawing on the knot with his molars.  It doesn’t matter what brand, color or style; two knots, three knots, once we got one with five knots.  They all are reduced to shredded threads found lying around the house, carnage of yet another toy.  How many have we bought? He’s not even two years old yet and I lost count at ten.  

They make ropes with handles for playing tug-of-war.  A good idea in the store, hey, our hands won’t hurt when he pulls; a bad idea in reality, the plastic, sharp where he has chewed, cut’s into our hands.  Then he chewed the plastic handle off, then shredded the rope till I gave in and threw it away.  Sorry, boy.  It’s ‘all done’.  Sigh.  All done.  A command we taught him, complete with sign-language hands, because this dog doesn’t know when to quit.  

I told the clerk he chews, a lot.  I told him he destroys ropes.  I told him.  He suggested a stuffed lizard.  It looked tough.  It even had ‘tuff’ in the name; the tag lauding it’s abilities to hold up under teeth.  When I called to complain he said I didn’t tell him enough.  But I know I did.  He said nothing will hold up if my dog destroys kongs.  For you information posh pet store clerk, he doesn’t.  The only toys my dog destroys are ropes.  Well, and a stuffed lizard that is supposed to be “tuff”. 

Rope after rope.  Yes, he has other toys; balls, a kong and about five bones.  The bones, filled at one time or black with smoke flavoring, are stripped, creamy white and littering our floor.  Like I said, carnage.  I stubbed my toe on one once.  In the dark.  I didn’t stub it on the smooth white side, but on the end where he had cracked off bone with his teeth to make a sharp point.  The next day I had a small but perfectly round bruise on the end of my big toe.  Bones are hard and not fit for playing tug-of-war.  So we keep buying ropes.  The pink and blue rope had a ball on the end of it.  At least it did twenty minutes ago.  

28 November 2011

Arthur and Edith

This is the beginnings of a short story I'm working on.  

They had but one last remaining night together and they spent it sleeping.  Arthur always snored so Edith wore her earplugs as usual.  Rolling the bright orange foam between thumb and forefinger, the last pair in the box.  Fitting really for someone who hated waste.  Their dentures were already soaking in fizzy Polident though Arthur didn’t know why they bothered.  That was Edith, following the same routine for fifty years and if he skipped a step, like wearing the stripped pajamas on the night he was supposed to wear the blue plaid, she would get upset.  There was that one night when Arthur had stayed late at the office, mostly because it was meatloaf night not because of any real work he had to do.  Edith nearly divorced him, not because she thought he might have fooled around with his secretary but because he wasn’t home at 5:45pm to wash his hands by 5:55pm and eat dinner at 6:00pm.  
That’s why he had agreed to this, they were going to break the routine.  Life wasn’t going to continue along the predictable schedule that it had for half a century, life wasn’t going to continue at all.  Edith had initiated this.  She first brought up the idea a few days after he came home from the doctor with the diagnosis.  He had been late then too.  The first time they hadn’t eaten dinner at 6:00pm in over ten years.  Edith was mad when he walked in the door at 6:06 but after he told her they just sat staring at the kitchen table.  It had the kind of veneer that is made to look like wood grain.  He had been so proud when they first bought it, that they were able to afford such a nice piece of furniture.  Now it was peeling with age.  He didn’t remember eating dinner at all that night, just finally going to bed.
Arthur blinked.  The tears that had welled up now spilled down his cheek and into his ear as he stared at the ceiling.  “Edith,” his voice cracked as he whispered.  Nothing.  “Edith,” he tried again.  He turned his head to look at his wife.  The florescent orange circle in her left ear gleamed at him in the darkness.  When had they gotten so old?
Tomorrow.  They were doing it tomorrow.

(to be continued)

08 November 2011

My Little Girl

I’m sorry if you find this post cliche, but it is what is on my heart at the moment.  Every cliche was once new and fresh; and 
for me these feelings are just that.

“My little girl is getting so big.”  This is my new anthem.  I seem to say it every few minutes.  I look at pictures from the day she was born, note on the boppy where her feet used to be, try to snap the onesie around the bigger size diapers.  She’s only two months old, but my little girl is getting so big.  I know I will say this every month, every year, for the rest of her life but I still can’t stop saying it.  I say it to my husband when he gets home from work, running down the list of happenings from my day: smiles, coos and outfits she can no longer wear.  I say it to my mom as I strap my girl into the car-seat.  I say it to my mother-in-law when I catch her up on the essentials: weight at the latest doctor’s visit, how long she is, that the clothes she sent are still a little big but will fit soon (tomorrow maybe).  I say it to the cashier, the lady in line who asks me what aisle I got her in, the bagger at the grocery store; they all coo and claim how small she looks - but my little girl is getting so big.
My eyes are tearing up as I write this.  I know it’s cliche, I know it’s been said before.  But I want to stop time.  I want to revel here, in this moment.  I don’t want to let this go, not yet.  I don’t want to put away the newborn clothes.  I don’t want to finger the smaller sizes at the store; they will only look smaller and smaller as she grows.  Soon it will be impossible to remember that she was ever that small, and she’s only two months old.
I want to take another picture.  Another picture of her sleeping; arms signaling a touchdown, mouth gently parted, eyelashes dark against her cheek.  I want to take another picture but I know it will end up being just one more in the avalanche of pictures of our first child.  Really it’s the moment I want to capture.  The precious innocents and peace of my daughter sleeping.  The gentle sounds of her breathing, the coziness of her blanket, the cheeks I just want to smother in kisses but I won’t because I feel a cold coming, and I don’t want to wake her.

Is there a moment capturing device?  Something I can peek into when I’ve forgotten that baby smell (the good one, not the diaper one), when she’s fourteen and off to high school, eighteen and off to college.  When I start saying things like “time goes so fast” and “I wish I could shrink her back” like all the well-meaning mothers are saying to me about their daughters.  When I forget these new mom feelings and it starts to be “old hat”.
There really isn’t a conclusion to this.  It will just keep happening at every milestone, every event (big and small).  That sounds so melancholy.  There is joy in these moments, it is not all sadness.  Each milestone is a huge achievement on her part.  She is growing, changing and it is wonderful to watch.

02 November 2011

Found Poetry

I’ve thought about starting a blog for over a year now; mostly to have a place to explore writing.  Now I’m busier than ever: getting my Montessori Teaching Credentials and starting my Masters while my daughter is just a few weeks old (what am I doing to myself?).  But I also feel that this is the perfect time to work on my writing, perhaps because it is so busy, so full.  I cannot promise my entries will be timely, but I will do my best.  As I wrote in my journal a few days after Cora was born: I haven't had time to write about life, I am too busy living it, but here goes.
I have only written a few poems; and most of those when I was nine or ten.  Last night in my writing group we collectively wrote a found poem.  I enjoyed combing random, unrelated works for phrases and words to compile into something cohesive.  Here is what we came up with.

The Rattle Watch
Lifting the corner of the curtain
The pope did as others before him had done,
Crawled up with his bucket
-- Accumulated dirt of centuries  --
Embarrassed for all kinds of reasons.
The rattle watch was near at hand.

I drew nearer to the abyss.
Can this be dying?
Coming nearer and nearer
Hanging out your lights --
When I am not, what will there be?
God only knows,
I must calm myself - must think it all over from the beginning.

He sees this --
A white ribbon, serpenting from top to bottom
Written out in large clumsy letters
“Jesus Saves”.
Just that way, just there.
“Jesus Saves”.

--John, Rachel, Susie, Sue, Russ, Margaret, Gregg, Cindy