Monday, March 29, 2010

A nice way to start the week

I seem to be coming across Mary Oliver poems at every turn lately. Here's a new favorite that's definitely worth sharing.

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

(from the collection Thirst)

Happy Monday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Delayed gratification

Spring flowers -- especially crocuses -- that have to be planted in the fall are, in my opinion, the loveliest possible example of delayed gratification.

Unfortunately, I tend to prefer my gratification without the delay.

 These belong to my neighbors :-)

My mood today ...

In case you can't read the words, it says, "As much as I try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type ... I just can't stop trying to burst people into flames with my mind."

It's turning into that kind of day :-)

I love the sharp-edged wit of this artist, Erin Smith. You can find more about her and see more of her work here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Misadventures in domesticity

This week I've learned:

1. That VW key fobs are machine washable. Not only did mine come out of the washing machine sparkling clean, it is thankfully still working. (Don't try this at home.)

2. That when you press the release button, the canister on our new vacuum opens from the bottom, not the top. And if you're unaware of this and therefore not holding it over a garbage bag at the time, you not only get to vacuum the gray nasty pile a second time, you get the added pleasure of vacuuming your own shoes.

2. That sometimes it's best to just follow the recipe. This is a tough one for me. For whatever reason, following someone else's directions (or worse, using a mix) without somehow making it my own seems like cheating. It feels like a "real" cook does not need directions.

But I had two culinary failures this week. First, I made chicken pot pie. Instead of following the tried and true easy recipe I've used a million times, I decided to "fancy" it up a bit. It was intended as a gift for our neighbors, who just had a baby. So I changed it up, adding sauteed onions and mushrooms, and using a bit of heavy cream along with the milk. Then instead of my usual pie crust, I used frozen puff pastry.

I am sorry to say that I gave the new parents their pot pie before trying the one I made for us. The filling was very tasty -- at least there's that -- but for some reason the sauce was thin, not thick and creamy. And the puff pastry was soggy and gross.

I'm holding out hope that the sogginess was because our version sat in the fridge for several days before we had time to cook it, and that if our friends cooked theirs sooner, it wasn't so bad. In any case, I'm sure they're too polite to ever say anything, so I will probably never know. (The brownies I sent along with it were scrumptious, so there's a degree of redemption in that.)

The second mistake was adding real strawberries to a strawberry cake mix. I was improvising: We had no breakfast food in the house, so I was making "muffins." I tried to make them a little healthier/more muffin-like by adding frozen strawberries. Well, not only did they not rise very well, but they too came out mushy.

I'm chalking it up to creative experimentation. And like my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Vincent said, "An experiment never fails." Sometimes it just teaches you to follow directions.

Addendum: The cake turned out fine (yummy, actually) when I baked the rest of it. Perhaps it was only my impatience that caused the goo problem.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Fading Light of Day

My mom left me a message just before lunch today. She rarely calls me at work, but today I was expecting it.

My uncle was going to be passing through town this week while driving from his longtime home in New Jersey back to his current home in Colorado. She'd said she would call to tell me which evening he’d be coming, so we could all  meet for dinner.

My uncle, a former fireman, is in his mid-70s, diabetic, overweight, has smoked a pipe as long as I can remember, and has already had several coronary bypasses. He's charismatic, reckless and impossible not to love. I was excited to see him.

He had driven to New Jersey with one of his “lady friends” to attend a firemen's reunion.

So I called my voicemail, expecting to hear the plans for his visit. Instead, my mom’s voice – somber in the best of times – said only: “Caryl won’t be coming this week. Call me when you can.”

Now, I’ve accepted that my mom is a bit of a drama queen. I also know that her voicemails ALWAYS sound like bad news. (When we first got answering machines, my sisters and I called home frantically so many times that she started leaving messages that began with, “There's nothing wrong …”)

In this case, though, it seemed warranted. Not only is my Uncle Caryl in poor health, but so is their older brother Bill, who’s in his 80s and has been hospitalized lately. The middle brother, George, has also been ill.

I was sure that if something hadn’t happened to Caryl, it had happened to Bill or George.

I tried to call my mom, but the line was busy. And busy. And busy.

I left to meet Todd for lunch, and in the Chipotle parking lot, between attempts to reach my mom, I started to cry.

I thought about my uncles, who are so colorful and fun and bigger-than-life. About that trip Todd and I have been meaning to take to visit all three of my uncles, who are strategically placed for a loop through the West.

And especially about that family history I’ve been meaning to write.

Damn, damn, damn, I thought. I shouldn’t have procrastinated this long, and now I’ve lost my chance. (My mom was the youngest and was only 2 when their mother died, so I need my uncles to fill in the gaps.)

After lunch, I tried my mom again and finally reached her. But the news I got was not what I expected.

It turns out that once they got to New Jersey, my uncle’s 53-year-old girlfriend had had a series of massive heart attacks. Her life is touch and go, and of course my uncle is staying there with her.

The lesson here? Never take life for granted. It’s not just short, it’s unpredictable.

As soon as my Uncle Bill gets home from the hospital – happily he’s on the mend – I’ll be calling to do that family history. Or maybe he’s bored where he is and feels like talking.

Todd and I are thinking early summer would be a good time for a trip out West.

We’re also vowing to start taking better care of ourselves: 53 isn’t as far away as it sounds, and it’ll be here before you know it.

And we've vowed one more thing: To never listen to my mother.

What have you been putting off?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good Day. Sunshine.

After literally months of gray, gray, gray, I woke up this morning to find this:

Well, okay, I took the picture at lunchtime. But you get the idea: The long-awaited sun had made an appearance. I was downright giddy.

Then I got to work and found this:

My coworkers are under the impression that I can be bought with Nutella. I have not tried to convince them otherwise.

Good day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jiggling is good

My friend Belinda, whom I had wondered about for years after losing touch and was thrilled to reconnect with through the wonders of Facebook, is one of those rare people who manages to be sunny and optimistic without being trite and cloying.

She’s all the time posting status updates that make me think, “I should write that down.”

Recently she posted this:

Everyone has the keys to happiness in life. Just like with locks, one key does not fit every situation. Never give up on trying to find the right key!! Jiggle the lock a little! You deserve to be happy :))

I love the idea of jiggling the lock when it doesn’t open right away. We'd probably all be happier if we jiggled a little more :-)