My Phone, My Buddy

I stirred in my bed this morning before there was any color in the sky, reached over as usual to the space next to me and found what I always find. Only it was dead. Cold. Unresponsive. Useless.

It was a little, just a little, like the story I’ll never forget about my Great Aunt Emily. She told me that as the youngest child in her family she had watched her siblings one by one tie the knot and then begin one by one to have troubles – troubles she associated with their unions, troubles that uninspired her to say yes to the man who asked for her hand. Whether she closed the door after that or was never asked again, she didn’t tell me.

For most of her adult life, Aunt Emily lived with her mom. For practical reasons they had slept in the same bed. Once, when I was a child, we visited her at the one-bedroom apartment in New York City they had shared.

You see where I’m going, right?

So, okay, finding your phone – cold and unresponsive – an arm’s reach away from you in bed is not the same as waking up next to a dead body, not the same as all the sadness, weirdness and subsequent suffering that go along with the unenviable life experience that Aunt Emily had. I get that. But when that phone is your connection to living people, when its job is bringing you out of dreamland and reconnecting you to the unsleeping world, when it serves to comfort you in its sameness yet always gives you something new to think about, when you depend on it to tell you not only the time and the weather but also who thought of you in the night and what happened during those sleep hours that you need to know about – well, you see the parallel. I hope.

Wait. How did this happen? How did our phones become a thing we reach for, a comfort, a kind of lifeline to the world beyond the space we stand or sit or lie in? How it is that I routinely fall asleep next to mine? Why did I, first thing in the morning, before making tea, before brushing my hair, before even turning on a light, find the charger and plug it back in?

We must have connection. In so many ways we like, we crave, we depend on connection with others – whether that be the ideas they present, the music they make, the comfort they provide. My phone died because I fell asleep to the podcast I was listening to. But it made me reflect on what the alternatives might be – or might have been. What do you like or need or depend on to get you over the bridge from Awakeland to Asleepland? After you brush your teeth, arrange your pillows the way you like them, set your alarm, and do whatever else is in your bedtime routine, how do you tuck in and make the transition?

Let’s see. You could fall asleep in the arms of your lover. Anyone who has known such a pleasure would surely rank this above falling asleep while listening to a podcast. Yes. Definitely. Some people are blessed with nights on end of such joy. Some have it sometimes. Some had it and now miss it greatly. Some only wonder if that kind of comfort is not just a myth.

Being with someone you love is super nice. Being warm is a need. You could fall asleep just trying to get warm. What if your bedroom were cold enough to wear a hat to bed? Nightcaps were a thing you wore on your head before they morphed into a strong drink you enjoyed in the wee hours. Hot water bottles with cute, knitted sleeves can take the chill out of cold sheets. How about a bed warmer, used in the days before electric blankets to heat a bed. Wikipedia cites Cora Millet-Robinet (1853), Domestic Economy: “A copper warming pan is indispensable to a household. Take care to have a big enough quantity of embers, above all some red cinders, when you want to heat a bed. Get it smouldering well before you use it, otherwise the fire will soon go out and the bed will not warm up. You must move the warming pan constantly to avoid scorching the sheets.” This bed warmer from the Netherlands gives you the idea.

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Falling asleep with a lover to keep you warm seems about perfect to me, but I digress.

You could fall asleep just listening. For some it’s music, for some it’s traffic, for some it’s clatter. In my world the sounds I am likely to hear include my heat pump as it kicks back in to keep my house at a steady 68 (ka-chink, but some things I am willing to pay for), some howling coyotes (God only knows what sets them off sometimes, but they are usually pretty far away by the sound of it), the perfectly tuned wind chime hanging above my back porch (if the air is not still), or the rumbling of the train about half a mile away through the woods (a most reassuring sound – if the train is running, something is right in the world).

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You could fall asleep in front of the TV. I am old enough to remember how the TV produced a grainy, fuzzy “snow” on the screen, well after midnight I guess, when programming actually ended for the night. I don’t think it does that anymore but I wouldn’t know. I never had a TV in the bedroom, never wanted one. Which speaks to how complicated and unreasonable we silly humans are sometimes. A podcast is okay but forget a TV. There is not much difference perhaps.

You could fall asleep while reading a book, on purpose or not. Some people use the book as a way to fall asleep, getting through one paragraph at best on any given night before being unable to keep their eyes open. It’s a sleeping pill akin to a shot of Bailey’s or your drink of choice just before bed. Not a terrible bridge to walk over.

You could fall asleep praying, though I want to think we do this when we are more coherent. I want to think we pray throughout the day, reflexively, within our daily situations, as a part of our course and not so much as a designated activity. I want to think we fill in the gaps of our days with silent pleas, a kind of continual communion. But as with so many of our life choices, the individual way we each go about prayer is as varied as everything else about us.

You could fall asleep in conversation. I don’t mean the kind where words come out of your mouth audibly. I mean the kind where you hear futuristic or past dialog in your head. This might be an imagined meeting in which you decide what everyone says. What if I said this or that instead? How lovely if he/she/they said that. How might the flow of the dialog change – or even the outcome – if the spoken and unspoken words were different? Or you might replay a significant scene that occurred between you and someone else that you are trying to make sense of. Did I hear that correctly? How unexpected was that reaction! What did he/she/they mean to suggest by doing that? I wonder if only introverts do this dialog review and construction.

You could fall asleep thinking. Just thinking. Most recently I have had porch-building dilemmas to solve, test results to ponder, familial history to find my peace with. The world doesn’t end if you don’t come to workable solutions or solid footing before nodding off, but time spent working through a problem in our heads is under-appreciated, I think. Not everything has an instant solution. Not everything is immediately understood. Some things stick in your craw. They don’t resolve, they stay annoying or difficult or challenging. Maybe that’s because you aren’t there yet, you aren’t done thinking, you haven’t figured it out. Maybe just before fade-out is the right time to make a little progress on that issue.

Maybe your phone even helps you. I don’t think it’s all bad that we sleep next to our phones. They give us lots of information and connect us with people who are far away. But some day, someone studying this time in history will note a shift in human habits right about when cell phones became universal in our culture. They will see what we can’t see – how this technology played out both for good and not so good, how we adapted, how we changed, how our relationships changed. I wonder what they will say. What do you think they will say?

In the meantime, there it lies, my phone, my buddy. Don’t ask me why I put stickers on the back. I have no idea. Hey, it just occurs to me that a bedside table would be very handy!

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Leftover Mashed Potato Soup That’s Kinda Sorta Corn Chowder

On Thanksgiving I got a surprise. There’s a lot going on when you have 12 people coming to dinner, and a lot of oh-wow-how-can-I-be-this-tired afterwards. But I like to share the joy so later that evening I sent this photo to my friend Claudia of us all about to partake in the feast.

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Do note Mom’s fancy rosette napkins on the paper turkey plates. I am not a paper-plate kind of girl but exceptions are allowed! Our meal included turkey and gravy, spiral cut ham, butternut squash, green bean casserole (the one with the French fried onions on top), creamed onions, stuffing (mine has sausage in it), mashed potatoes, warm pineapple pudding, cranberry sauce from a can (the only thing not homemade), cranberry chutney (because it is one of my favorites), and bread and butter.

Claudia responded to the photo as kindly as usual and ended with: “My soup with the leftover mashed potatoes was very tasty.”

What? Leftover Mashed Potato Soup??

Why did I never think of that?! (And I have leftover mashed potatoes!)

I asked her to tell me more about her soup and got a voice message instead of a text message – how wonderful to hear the voice of a friend who lives so far away! She said:

Well yesterday I sautéed some onions and added some leek and potato – no, not potato – and pieces of squash and carrots. I put some water in it and used the leftover mashed potatoes to just thicken it. I put the potatoes in towards the end. Another option is if you have squash left and mashed potatoes, you just sauté some onions and leek if you have and carrots or other veggies and then you just puree everything and then you have cream of vegetable soup. Something really nice is if you have some bacon cubes – you just fry them in a pan a bit and before serving you put them on top, and maybe some grated parmesan cheese. You have a whole meal if you add some mini-rolls or something like that.

You all will have deduced several things from this, including: 1. Claudia doesn’t measure much. 2. Squash is squash apparently, doesn’t matter what kind. 3. Bacon is available as or able to be cut into cubes in Germany. 4. No one is vegan or vegetarian or against carbs in our world.

In the spirit of Sure-Why-Not, I decided to play around with my own Leftover Mashed Potato Soup on Sunday after everyone had left. It was raining – that raw and cold kind of rain that does not invite outdoor play – so it was a perfect day for creamy, hot, thick soup that would take practically no time to prepare. Plus there’s that emotional hole that a soup like this lives to fill. My description/ instructions/ recipe may be only slightly more helpful than Claudia’s because I didn’t measure anything either, but at least I know about how much. Mine, unlike hers, is Kinda Sorta Corn Chowder.

I had intended to make Kaesespatzin, a cheesy-homemade-spaetzle dish topped with sautéed onions, on Wednesday when Lincoln and Julia and the girls arrived, but I got too tired and we made calzones instead. Having already sautéed the onions however, I put them in a jar figuring they would come in handy another day. For my soup I started with these. I scooped out a couple spoonfuls and warmed it up in a saucepan. I would say the amount I used was the equivalent of about one chopped onion sautéed in 2 tablespoons of butter.

I then took about as much leftover turkey as would fit in my hand (if I were holding it) and chopped it up fine — the pieces were about the size of raisins, maybe a little bigger. I added a cup or so of chicken broth from a $4.99 Sam’s Club rotisserie chicken we had had on Tuesday when I was also too tired to cook (which is what happens when you make three quilts in two weeks) – that carcass in a pot with water covering it and a bit of time over a flame had provided this. Bouillon or a prepared (canned/boxed) stock would work as well, as would leftover turkey gravy mixed 1:1 with water.

I had half a small bag of frozen corn so I added that; it was about 1 cup of corn. Then, following Claudia’s instructions on this point anyway, I added the leftover mashed potatoes (“toward the end”) – it was about two cups. The thickness of this mixture told me to add water so I did. I added water to the consistency of chowder, which is a thick soup anyway, and who doesn’t love a thick, creamy soup on a cold and rainy day? The potatoes were perfect in it!!

A little salt and pepper and that was it!! I was tired. It was simple. Done!

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The very idea of mashed potato soup was a surprise for me but now that I think of it, why not? Thank you, Claudia!!

Straight Seams and a Woobly Wander

Last week I was off my feet a bit. Not so much thrown off. More like tripped up, as when you are engrossed in conversation and don’t see a slight rise in the corner of the sidewalk paving block and find yourself in a wild and awkward dance as you try to right yourself. All you wanted was to walk along and have a nice conversation with no unexpected bumps. That’s all most of us want in life in general too, right? To walk along without bumps? Good luck with that.

The cause of last week’s bumps was twofold – a decision someone made some time ago that I just found out about, which resurfaced old traumas, and a reaction someone had that reversed good feeling. The bumps led to sadness and reflection and finally to what my mother summed up as “You poured out your heart.” I needed to work my way through.

I’m here to say that it’s all well and good to pour out your heart, but in the time that follows the outpouring, you have to actually do something. In times past I did not so much control what activity came next – I went to work or fixed a meal or fell asleep. This time, post-outpouring, I had a full day staring at me with nothing else in it.

Thanksgiving is coming and so are my granddaughters Eppie and Rise, now 5 and 7.

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These are the cuties I’m talking about, smiling on Rise’s first day of school. Eppie walked up to the bus stop with her, having to wait one more day for her own first day of kindergarten. Note it was cold enough in the morning in late August in Vermont for a jacket, but not cold enough for Eppie to wear shoes. Rise probably has them on only because of going to school.

I have quilts in mind for them for Christmas. I’ve had quilts in mind for them ever since my neighbor Tracy told me how she treasures the quilt her grandmother made for her. I’ve made jammies and simple dresses for the girls, but not yet quilts. With their visit coming soon, I figured I had better get going because I like to watch people open the gifts I give them and I don’t want to have to mail anything – and here I am writing about it instead of doing it!

When your heart is greatly stirred up, it helps to use your hands on something that requires focus. It helps to direct energy toward something that will bring good to someone else. I don’t expect Rise and Eppie to oooh and ahhh over these quilts when they open them up next week. But in ten years, or twenty, or thirty, maybe they get a warm feeling inside knowing, remembering (I hope!) how great was Oma’s love for them through every step of their childhood. There has to be Good in these gifts, if not now, then later. I’m banking on that.

Quilts then, on this empty day that needs focus. First, assess inventory. Open the scrap fabric boxes and make a pile of fun fabrics, colorful fabrics, plain fabrics (to balance the fun and colorful). Take out the sewing machine, the ironing board and iron, the scissors big and small, the cutting mat, the rolling blade. Uh-oh. Where’s the rolling blade? You can’t get the precise measurements and straight edges you need without the rolling blade. I can’t find the rolling blade.

Well, that’s unfortunate. Now I have two choices. I can either take (what will feel like) half the morning to drive forty minutes to the store and forty minutes back and buy a new rolling blade. Or I can order one that will arrive tomorrow and make do in the meantime with scissors. I will certainly not be done in a day. Make-do kicks in. This is the new roller that duly arrived the next day, still in its package for reasons yet to come.

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Having a goal to make two quilts but having no roller to precisely cut the fabric nudged me in a new direction. I hemmed, I hawed, for all of three seconds (deadline here, remember) and decided okay, not-so-precise – a.k.a. crazy – the quilts will be. Please understand that I am not a crazy-quilt kind of person. My quilts have taken one of two looks. Either they are orderly and color-coordinated, like these I made when my granddaughter Zoe was born last year (one baby-size for Zoe and one doll-size for her big sister Piper):

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Or they are orderly and slightly-less-color-coordinated, like the two from before Zoe’s, a lap quilt for my dear friend Kim and the larger one for her mom, Lyn’s comfort quilt.

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Can I do crazy? Can I start sewing with practically no idea what this thing will look like when I am done? Can I put pieces randomly together in ways that will affect that section and ultimately the quilt overall? You betcha!

I just started sewing pieces of fabric together, proceeding in hopes that Piece A wouldn’t clash terribly with Piece B (which got tougher when Pieces C, D, E, F, etc came into play) and willing to include odd angles, varying size pieces and some larger squares all in a row from another quilt I had started but never finished. I wanted to use some of the cute, child-like prints, but not too many.

In no time it seemed – mainly because using scissors goes faster than using a roller blade – I had the main part of Rise’s done.

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You have purple funky surfer guy (find him), pink and aqua hedgehogs, funny owls, sleeping sheep, happy watermelons, golden sunflowers and even a piece of the lavender daisy print from Zoe’s quilt. You have some squares made of two perfectly cut (I took my time) 45-degree pieces and some rectangles slashed with a random angle. Some stripes, some plaids, some solids, some dull, some bright, a piece from a dress I made for Rise, several pieces from jammies. You have pattern here and no pattern there, big pieces and small pieces, some deliberate juxtapositioning and some whatever. You have funny ways the pieces came together and predictable ways.

And isn’t that just like life? You have things you can make happen and that you feel happy about or proud of as well as things you can’t explain: What was I thinking when I did that!? You have some rooms/projects/relationships that are a mess and some that are comforting. You have people who make you laugh and people who are just kind of there, filling up space. You have ideas/colors/particulars that appeal to you and ideas/colors/particulars that don’t. You keep going back to certain aspects of a thing because it shaped you or speaks to you or satisfies some part of yourself that you can’t even identify. I like the purple funky surfer guy.

Quilting makes a mess. Samuel came on the second day to make pizza, which we always enjoy in the living room, so I didn’t worry about the table. He took one look at it and said So this is the table of Mrs. CAYGO. His little dig was aimed at my occasional nudges to Clean As You GO in the kitchen. Yes, well you try making a quilt without making a mess. I’ll clean it up. Just maybe not so much As I Go.

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This photo also shows plainly that sometime in the afternoon of the first day, while making do with scissors, I found my roller blade. You see it there, the yellow one on the ironing board, the new one still in its package on the table. I found my old one, of course, exactly where I had left it. The seams of the outer portions of Rise’s quilt are therefore straighter, less woobly, than the inner portions which will not lay as flat. But some roads we walk are straighter too, aren’t they? And some are a woobly wander.

Having a roller blade for Eppie’s quilt from the start meant straighter seams but no less creativity. With the confidence that I can “do crazy,” I began in fact to enjoy the randomness, to let one section suggest the next, to give myself license to use a piece that is not the absolute perfect one. How often do we get what’s absolutely perfect anyway? Is it okay to come close, to do the best you can, to make do with what you have, to hope that the love you put into a thing will shine through your obvious flaws and fears?

I say yes.

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Frosted Sage

I didn’t know if I killed the sage. I didn’t know if the shock of transplant, or the dipping toward freezing temps, or the full moon at the wrong time might kill it. I didn’t know if these splotches of frost, these teeny tiny measures of fluffy ice heaped on the leaves would be lethal. I don’t know enough about plants. But I wanted it in my new garden so I moved it.frosted sage (2)2mp.jpg

Like the sage, I have felt the shock of transplant. After my life turned upside down twenty years ago, I moved from my longstanding home and community in order to protect my children and pay my bills – both as best as I could. Uprooting is hard. One very wise woman (she knows who she is) suggested to me that I had no idea how much I would lose. She was so right.

Like the sage, I was made rather uncomfortable by the whole ordeal. Moving south didn’t involve the challenge of freezing temps but it did involve numerous scary unknowns and a nonstop schedule with insane hours and sure, why not write a book besides all that (because life isn’t crazy enough)! Moving involved new culture, new neighborhood, new relationships – lots of this New woven in with lots of that New woven on top of the old, threadbare-in-places Tapestry of My Life.

Like the sage being affected (or maybe not) by the full moon, I too have been at the mercy of (a lot of) forces I don’t control. The real estate market, for one thing. Its machinations caught me, bit me. Twice. Mainly though, I don’t control other people. Everyone carries on with their own life, and I know they all have burdens to bear. Most don’t know my personal hell, but some of those who do pretended nothing happened, or, geez, it wasn’t that bad. Some “make their peace” with it and land where it seems none of it matters (which is different than pretending nothing happened). Some don’t realize that A affects B in ways you don’t see until twenty years later. Some judge. Some blame. Some withdraw. Some make decisions that have painful, landscape-altering consequences.

But in all fairness to the sage, strength and resilience have played a mighty role. Fine, pluck me up, roots and all. Replant me in a more convenient location. I will stand firm, and the sun will shine here too and the rain will come. In winter I will rest. In spring and summer and fall I will bring beauty and flavor.

Likewise, shock of transplant, discomfort and forces I don’t control have not been all bad for me. My faith is stronger, my perspective broader, my tolerance greater. In a new place, wonderful people have come into my life and the ties I have with some from before have been strengthened. Many have wrapped love and comfort and prayer around me and reminded me intermittently in their personal, special ways about what is important, which helps more than they can ever know. Some bring gifts, some bring humor, some bring advice, hope, joy, fun, inspiration. Some hold me tight, some make me smile or laugh out loud, some help me make things nicer than they were before, some show me reasons to count my blessings. Some do a lot of these things in one beautiful bundle.

Pushing the boundaries of what you thought you could do generally results in You can do more than you thought. Doing more than I planned on, more than I thought possible, more than my imagination could ever have conjured up, changed me. Had things not happened as they did, would I be the person I am? Had unforeseeable pain, calamitous events and inevitable ripples not occurred, would I understand some things I didn’t understand before – even if there is way more yet to understand? Even if pain resurfaces at very inconvenient times? It is not for me to know what the Me Whose Life Didn’t Turn Upside Down would look like. I only know the Me whose life did. I can’t be sure, but I think this Me might be stronger.

I am glad beyond words to be where I am, but forces beyond my control have nothing to do with location. I suspect I would have learned in any case that life throws punches and some of them hurt. I would have learned in other ways, but learned it nonetheless, that Good begets Good. I would have kept the best of my old friends (I hope!) and met some amazing new people and seen glimpses of everyone’s true colors one way or another. I am not sure what will kill me, but so far, by the grace of God, it is none of the above. Nor is it a red pickup truck barreling through an intersection at unsuspecting me and Jerry. If indeed I have been moved to “The Back of the Line,” there are punches yet to meet, marvels yet to witness, joys yet to embrace.

The sage endured the unexpected shock and challenge of a move, but landed in a bed of fresh, good soil. Perhaps so have I. Today’s rain is dripping straight and steady, doing its job, balancing the sunshine like tears that are coupled with hope.

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A Whim and a Limb and Then: Bison Meatloaf!

Do you remember when ground beef was under a dollar a pound? I do. These days I feel lucky to find it under five dollars a pound. Which explains, in part, how I came to make bison meatloaf.

I always had the vague idea that bison* are an undomesticated cousin of the herding animal that accounts for the beef we generally find in stores. Yes, my son, said the domesticated steer to the curious calf, In the grand history of the Bovidae family, we have some… let’s call them… “wilder” relatives. Never listen to Aunt Bessie on this point, son – she calls them renegades and I think that’s rather intolerant of the slight differences between us, and I cannot abide intolerance! …sigh… Back in the Pliocene when our family history began and the forests and mountain areas of Eurasia were our home, all of us had horns that pointed forward and all of us had a straight back. All of us, son.

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As happens, even in the best of families, some of the more adventurous members struck out on their own. They wandered east and crossed a massive land bridge known to humans as the “Bering.” After years of trekking and searching, they found great plains in North America and loved it there and thrived! They had lots and lots and lots of little ones like you who somehow over time got bigger than you will ever be – count it among the mysteries and wonders of the universe! I’m not sure about why their backs humped up like that, but never mind. Ignore Aunt Bessie, son, when she scoffs and mocks and finds fault. Cousins these hairy beasts are, I tell you, even if you have to go around nine corners to trace the roots of our common heritage.

Human that I am, unapologetic red-meat eater that I am, I ordered bison steak a few years back at a fine restaurant on the recommendation from the server. It was for me both a whim and a limb: a whim because I am not as adventurous with food as some people and a limb because this was bison after all – bison! – though, I told myself, this particular hairy beast is not in another genetic zone like, say, kangaroo, which would somehow give me pause. The steak was so good, I had no qualms henceforth.

Some time later, probably at a rare point when I was feeling less budgetly constrained than usual, I bought a package of ground bison at my grocery store. This time it was more like How about if I make burgers using special, expensive cousin-of-beef instead of the normal stuff? At about double the price, it was a treat. But every now and then, a treat is a good thing.

Samuel never had qualms of any sort about meat of any kind. He added a bit of salt and pepper and finely chopped onion to the meat before forming the patties, then grilled them. If you have never had a bison burger and can manage the scruple, try one sometime. The burgers were amazing – more tender than regular beef, remarkably tender, and had a wonderful flavor, though similar enough to beef for non-adventurous sorts like me. I was sold. A few more times in the last couple years, I spent the extra money for a superior burger.

A couple weeks ago, the whole lot of ground bison at the store was marked down to $4.99/lb. None of it was near the expiration date. I’m guessing someone in the ordering department messed up and ordered two cases instead of one, or 15 pounds instead of five, and the store knows its customers’ buying patterns and knew it would never sell that much at the normal price. My lucky day! I bought ten packages and put them in the freezer.

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If it had not been so “cheap,” I would not have had it on hand when (fast forward) Samuel arrived home last week from a week away and Mom was just coming home from the hospital. We would all meet for dinner at Mom’s, and meal prep was on me. In a nod to Samuel (happy to have him home and God bless him forever for not moving far, far away), I asked him what he wanted for dinner.

Meatloaf? he replied.

Hmmm. Okay I said. You know how texting goes: Words on a screen that have no intonation, no body language, few clues as to the meaning of said words. Hmmm. Okay really means a pause while I think this through (I was quite certain I did not have on hand the ground beef-pork-veal combo I usually use to make meatloaf, and I also had too much else on the docket that day and knew I did not have time for a trip to the store), followed by the frozen bison coming to mind (that would be new but could work). Hmmm = pause. Okay = could work.

Don’t want meatloaf? he said, having read only Hmmm. Okay and questioning my hesitancy with no way to understand the mental gymnastics behind it.

No, sounds good. I just have to have the meat. Could make it with bison!

That sounds yummy!

Bison it is then.

Wanting to make sure there was enough to leave leftovers with Mom (she was not supposed to lift anything heavier than a coffee cup the first week, let alone cook) and enough to give Samuel some to take back to his place for a meal another day (I repeat, God bless him forever for not moving far, far away), I used two packages.

BISON MEATLOAF

In a large bowl combine 2/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs, 2/3 cup old-fashioned oats, ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup minced onion, 1 cup grated romano cheese**, 2 tsp salt and 2 Tbsp dried parsley***. Add 4 eggs and 2 pounds ground bison. Mix well.

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Form two loaves. I do mine free form, but you can use loaf pans if you prefer.

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**I happened to have this asiago-parmesan-romano blend, which is more shaved than grated, and I thought What the heck?

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I chopped it fine

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and added it instead of the grated romano I would normally use.

The larger pieces of this oddball cheese choice resulted in large blops of melted cheese on the surface of the cooked meatloaf which, depending on your perspective, looks either appealingly creamy and fantastic or weirdly blotchy and unkempt. It was delicious. I baked it for 45 minutes at 400F. The higher temp gets the outside crispy. Oh yum.

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Alongside baked gold potatoes and acorn squash mixed with butter and a touch of maple syrup, the meatloaf was a hit. Mom and Samuel put ketchup on theirs, I was Plain Jane with mine, and Jerry, hmmm, I don’t remember! We ended the meal with Mom’s Apple Cake and that’s how I say I’m so glad both Mom and Samuel are home! 😊

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*Thanks for the bison photo to modernfarmer.com.

***Fresh would be better but I didn’t have any and remember, no time to go to the store.

The Back of the Line

I’m still here. A little shaken two days later, reeling a bit yet actually, if the truth be known, but I live and breathe and I get to enjoy the beautiful colors of Virginia yet another day.

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Did you ever watch one of those movies where an angel-character intervenes and saves someone from imminent disaster? In one of the beginning scenes of The Bishop’s Wife for example, Cary Grant, designated angel, notices a baby carriage that got away from the distracted mother and he pulls it back just before it rolls in front of an oncoming vehicle. Angel to the rescue!

I’m not sure I ever had such a striking example of this sort of thing in my own life as I had two days ago.

Mom had surgery (doing fine). Jerry and I had been visiting her at the hospital that’s less than a mile from where they live. I was taking him home before heading home myself at about 530pm, heavy traffic time. Easy little back route though. Traveled many times.

This little back road meets the main, four-lane road at a light. There are two lanes as you approach the light – a right-turn lane and a straight-or-left-turn lane. To take Jerry home I should have been in the straight-or-left-turn lane. Only momentarily I forgot I was taking him home and got into the right-turn lane.

“You want to go straight,” he said. Oh, right. Duh.

So I looked behind me – no cars – thinking I’d back up slightly and maneuver my way into the correct lane. It didn’t really matter which lane I was in, especially with no other cars waiting for that light to turn, but you are supposed to be in the straight-or-left-turn lane to go straight and you almost always sit at that light for a while, so why not?

Just then the light turned green.

I was not in a position to accelerate on account of having been in the wrong lane and being momentarily distracted by my finagling, so it took me a second or two longer than it should have to begin the crossing of that main road. The hesitation proved a godsend.

Had I been in the correct lane in the first place and accelerated as soon as the light turned green, I would have, as Jerry put it, predeceased him. A red pickup truck came barreling through that intersection in the right-hand lane of the four lanes of the main road – the cars in the other three lanes being at a dead stop, so their light had to be red, not yellow – and would have rammed smack into the side of my car with me and Jerry in it. He was easily going 50 mph.

It would have been a direct hit with me first in line. Did an angel have a hand in this rescue? I don’t know. Thank God for my dimwitted mistake though, that I was in the wrong lane, that I wasn’t ready. You should always look before you accelerate at a light anyway, just in case someone is barreling through, and I might have looked, and that too might have saved us. Instead I just thank God I didn’t give the car gas in that first moment.

Later when I told Mom, reliving with no small agitation the stress of my almost-demise, she said, “It wasn’t your time.” She then said she’s always seen such things as being bumped “to the back of the line.” Who’s next? Your turn? Nope. Git to the back, you!

I never knew she saw it that way, never heard her use that expression before. I like it! As much as I like being at the back of the line, if indeed that’s where I am, which is what I will choose to think at least for some time yet! I am so happy my mom’s nearby, so happy to still be learning about her, learning from her, enjoying her company. In my circle there are too many people who have already lost their moms. I am so blessed in this way and I know it. I love you, Mom!

Just Show Up

Thirteen years ago I began working with a man who in his earlier life was, like Patrick Swayze, a ballet dancer from Texas. By the time I met him, he had made the transition to another form of performance, another way to give the public an outstanding experience that they spend good money for. If you doubt that being a food and beverage director requires a great deal of grace, dramatic flair, improvisation, reading your audience, and endless, creative accommodation of individual whims, you haven’t tried to be successful at this. Nor have you met the master of all such abilities.

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Scott Meynig had no qualms about saying that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tasted like cat pee. (How he knew what cat pee tastes like is a question I have no answer for.) Richard Hewitt, sommelier at the time, remembers the wine-tasting occasion when the wine/pee comparison was made. He also relates this story:

When Scott was running the banquet department I loved to throw him ‘ringers’ that would challenge him.

Scott: ‘Did you really promise the bride that the groom could ride in on a white horse dressed in armor’?

I would just reply that I was trying to up-sell the event.

Scott: ‘The horse and armor are fine but where are we going to get a lance?’

The 300+ people at Pippin Hill who gathered to celebrate Scott’s life on Tuesday of this week all had their own special admiration for him. Some remembered how he helped his family with their business, Family Ties & Pies, not only in the kitchen but also at the City Market on Saturday mornings (Charlottesville’s outstanding farmer’s market). Some remembered how he mentored them professionally. Some, his taking the time to listen to their personal bemoanings, followed by his ability to dole out wise advice in fifteen words or less. Some remembered his bottomless well of kindness and wit. Some, his get-the-job-done spirit and unbegrudging willingness to pitch in and move chairs and tables or whatever had to be done to make the event perfect for the guests.

I remember him saying that one of the most important things a person can do is just show up. The rest comes, but you have to be there. As much as one person could, Scott showed up. He never seemed in a hurry, but he got to where it mattered. His presence made the difference countless times to countless people. And everyone knew that if Scott was there, whatever was happening would be better. I never saw anyone take charge in such a quiet way. His teams were unfailingly loyal. Is it any wonder? Who wouldn’t want to get on board with this caliber a leader?

I am honored to have known him, to have worked side by side, to have gathered my own nuggets of gold from his masterful performances. I am so grateful he practiced what he preached, grateful that he just showed up, time and again, during the window of time we had, grateful to have watched him do the next thing with seeming ease, with unshakeable commitment, with spot-on humor. Many will miss him, none more than his amazing family.

May we all have a Scott in our lives.

Something Lighter

I needed to listen to something light the other day because my thoughts had been immersed for too long in serial killers. I go for the crime drama shows and had just finished the last episode of Mindhunter on Netflix – two seasons about the early days (1970s) of the FBI’s “Behavioral Science Unit,” a department that studied patterns and traits of the baddest of the bad to help find and identify others of their ilk. The second season concerns the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81. It’s heavy stuff.

Not yet ready for bed after I turned off the TV, I was curious how much of the show was based on fact so I googled Atlanta Child Murders. Seems the writers of Mindhunter got a lot right.

That led to curiosity about the renamed “Behavioral Analysis Unit” founded in 1972 at Quantico by real-life agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. That led to a piece on the qualifications for being an FBI agent (what does it take to get that job) which I couldn’t/wouldn’t even consider for various reasons, which then led to an article about the most notorious of the serial killers, the Top Ten, the ones that shaped the initial studies and led to criminal profiling that is still used today.

Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer and others – these almost alien men committed crimes that have no words strong enough to describe. Ghastly, shocking, horrifying, evil, wicked, despicable, heinous, demonic, atrocious, monstrous, brutal – all these words seem pale to me when examining the crimes. This is not the kind of stuff you should be reading before going to bed if you want good dreams.

So I finally said to myself, Yeah, something lighter maybe.

A gardening podcast perhaps? My gourds had reminded me that the garden was not a complete failure this year.

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My neighbor Jennifer took some that I offered and had fun with her daughter Anna Lane.

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But I didn’t find a gardening podcast. Instead I stumbled on something called The Slow Home. No, it’s not about the homeowner’s intellectual deficiencies. And it’s not about how fast we move (or don’t) when we are exhausted from shoveling too much concrete that is masquerading as dirt. It’s about purposefully, mindfully adjusting your pace, your home, your life to make room for the stuff that matters to you.

It was a lovely alternative to serial killers, I must say.  And an intriguing topic.

Taking our time, enjoying the moments, not in a hurry – do we do this as much as we should?  Thinking about such things reminded of some of the scenes I like best in some of the children’s books I like best. (These are for you, Mona!)

Such as when Frog and Toad stare at the garden plot together and Frog gently suggests that the garden will grow in its own good time.

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Or when Fern and Avery take turns swinging in the barn door in that famous summer of Charlotte’s Web.

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Or when the boy plays in the bracken with The Velveteen Rabbit.

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Or during One Morning in Maine when Sal and her sister Jane have to wait just a bit longer for their ice cream cones because of “Mr. Ferd Clifford and Mr. Oscar Staples, who were sitting in the store talking about trapping lobsters and how the fish were biting.”

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Or in Blueberries for Sal when Little Sal “picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail…kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” (Oh, may we take the time to hear the kuplinks and the kuplanks and the kuplunks in our lives!)

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Or when, “early every morning, Francois, the keeper’s son, stopped on his way to school to say, ‘Bonjour, Happy Lion.’”

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Or when Madeleine is not afraid of mice.

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Or when Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are peacefully settled in the humble cellar of the new town hall and Mrs. McGillicuddy brings a hot apple pie 😊

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I was just reading to Ellie and Nelson last week, so I’ve got these lovely, peaceful images fresh in my mind.

 

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Frog and Toad and Fern and Avery and the Velveteen Rabbit and Sal and Jane and Francois and the Happy Lion and Madeleine and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel make me wonder about “the company we keep.” For years I read these books and many others to my kids, over and over again, and now I read them to my grandchildren when they come visit. The pages are soft from many, many turnings. The images are familiar old friends that warm my heart and gentle my day.

We all have something, I hope, Something Lighter, Something Balanced, Joyful, Peaceful, Delightful for those times when Something Gruesome or Tragic or Angry wants to win the day and snag every part of us and paint the world all wrong. What’s your Something Lighter? I know some of your answers: fishing, golf, painting, woodworking, writing poems, cooking, playing games, watching the Patriots (!), playing Wordfeud or Rummikub, walking the dog… What else?

Who, me? A Napper?

Dumb luck comes to everyone at some point or other. It came to Harry by way of a bird – an unsuspecting, industrious, blessed bird. First, the backstory of No Roses for Harry.*

Harry was a white dog with black spots. On his birthday, he got a present from Grandma. It was a woolen sweater with roses on it. Harry didn’t like it the moment he saw it. He didn’t like the roses.

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This is a story that packs a punch. In the opening paragraph alone and in the priceless expression on his face, we are all reminded of a time when we opened a gift, feared our inability to hide our shock and thought How ghastly is that!

Poor Harry. No one else seems to think the sweater is ghastly. He does his best to lose it, fails three times, is forced to wear it and finally hangs his head.

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That’s when his luck began.

As he sat wondering what to do, Harry noticed a loose stitch on his sweater. He pulled at the wool—just a little at first – then a bit more – and a little bit more. Harry didn’t know it, but a bird was watching….

Quick as a flash, she took the end of the wool in her beak and flew away with it! It all happened before Harry could even blink.

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To Harry’s great delight, the bird kept flying with the string of wool in her beak until the entire sweater had unraveled and was trailing after the bird high up in the sky like a plane at the beach trails a banner – this was the best banner ever!

No one in the family noticed until they got a note from Grandma that she was coming for a visit. Uh-oh! Where’s the sweater? Of course they couldn’t find it. Only Harry knew why.

This is where I take umbrage.

When Grandma arrived, Harry ran to her with his leash. Then he sat up and begged. “All right, Harry,” said Grandma. After I’ve had my lunch and a nap, we’ll go for a walk.”

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C’mon, Grandma. Really? You just got there. Lunch, okay. But a nap? You need a nap??

I’m pretty good about sticking to the text of a book as I read aloud to children. It seems ingenuine and just plain wrong to change what the author clearly intended the words to be, much as we will interpret them (and, in this case, the hilarious images and fashion of 1958) individually anyway. But this is the one part of this book I might have reworded slightly once or twice over the years, maybe even just omitted the “and a nap” part.

What kind of grandmas need naps, even think of naps, in the late morning having just arrived on a visit to precious grandchildren? Not the kind I wanted my children to form images of. Not me anyway, not the woman who would someday become the grandmother (Oma) of their own children. Best nip this expectation in the bud. No roses for Harry and no naps for me!

For better or worse, I have a lot to do in this one life I’ve been given. It’s always been that way. Whether working full time under someone else’s timetable or ordering every minute of my day myself, I am one of those people whose list is always longer than the time given, who never runs out of things to do, who thinks of the next thing while doing the three things that came before it. I have always lamented that I have to sleep. I like to sleep, don’t get me wrong. Sleep is glorious and needful, but sleep happens at nighttime, the way nature intended.

Napping is a foreign concept – they call it a siesta in some cultures, right? Other cultures. Napping was always, for me, an activity reserved for those days when I am so sick I can’t get off the couch. I always said If I’m asleep during the day, you know I don’t feel well.

C’mon, Grandma. Really?

Gosh, now I get it!

See this darling little fellow? This is Nelson, almost two, with my mom, his great-grandma, about to catch him as he flies downward with all speed and zero fear.

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See this darling little girl? This is Ellie, just turned four, posing with a goat at Yoder’s in Madison, Virginia, looking sweet and angelic, which she (yes, of course, because I love her very much) always is. 😊

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They wear me out! I need a nap!

 

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*No Roses for Harry by Gene Zion, Pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham, Harper Collins Children’s Books, New York, 1958

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What We Keep and What We Throw Away

A couple weeks ago I realized that the shoes I have been using for bricklaying and porchbuilding and gardening had serious cracks in the soles. The kind of cracks Nora Jones sings about in Creepin’ In.

There’s a big ol’ hole
That’s gone right through the sole
Of this old shoe
And the water on the ground
Ain’t got no place else it found
So it’s only got one thing left to do

Creep on in
Creep on in
And once it has begun
Won’t stop until it’s done
Sneaking in

Go ahead and click on the link – her music, her voice (and Dolly Parton’s in this collaboration) are way better than the words alone.

What do you do when your shoes have holes in them? I’m a make-do person, and I would fix them / deal with them if I could, but the fact is that these slip-ons really weren’t that supportive anyway – kind of loose around the ankles they were – and had considerable wear on the inside too so maybe it was time to retire them.

And I had this other old pair in the closet that I probably got for hiking (long before the days of who-would-have-thought-it bricklaying), a pair with decent (read uncracked) soles, strong laces, metal lace-holders (that surely have a name in shoe-talk) and only a little bit of the stitching coming apart. See?

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Faithful, sturdy shoes, these, reminding me so much of the goblin’s shoes in the Little Bear books.

One day a little goblin went by an old cave. It was old, it was cold, it was dark. And something inside it went bump. What was that? BUMP! “Hoo-ooh—” cried the goblin. He got so scared he jumped right out of his shoes. Then he began to run…. (The goblin ran and ran, very scared – first about the bump, then about the pit – pat – pit – pat chasing after him.)

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the pit – pat – pit – pat came closer, closer – CLOSER – till it stopped right by the hole in the tree!

(Then he saw a hole in a tree, jumped in and …)

Then all was quiet. Nothing happened. Nothing. The little goblin wanted to peek out. It was so quiet. Should he peek out? Yes, he would. He WOULD peek out. And he did. “Eeeeeh—!” cried the goblin. Do you know what he saw?

He saw – HIS SHOES! His own little shoes – and nothing more. “Goodness,” said the goblin, hopping out of the tree. “That old bump in the cave made me jump right out of my shoes. But they came running after me, didn’t they! And here they are!”

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Good little shoes! As were mine.

Or so I thought. Proudly (I was smart enough to hang onto these perfectly good shoes for such a day as this when they would come in handy!) I began wearing the good old shoes. Their value suddenly came into question while I was shoveling gravel to fill in empty spaces to make this firepit platform level (things you will walk on should be reasonably level) with the 709 free bricks that came my way (thank you, Joe!). See all that gravel filling in where the ground slopes downward? One shovelful at a time, baby! We call this I-get-to-have-ice-cream-later!

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So, yeah, gravel does not feel good when it gets IN your shoes. Understand, the gravel was not, as in the case Nora Jones’ Old Shoe, creepin’ in the way water got through her sole. Oh no. It was not, as in my First Retired Pair, dropping in around the loose ankle part (the sole cracks being big enough for water but not for gravel). It was having a high-old-easy-time-of-it coming in where the sole separated from the rest in a way it is not supposed to. See, your toes are not intended to be ever visible once your foot is in the shoe. In case you were wondering.

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You think maybe I could fix this with glue?

Okay, I do know better than that. Last year Samuel got Red Wings and is convinced they are the best, especially their once-a-month-we’ll-take-care-of-your-shoes plan, and he’d been asking me what I wanted for my birthday, so off we went. New, wonderful, shoes – voila!

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But it got me to thinking about what we keep and what we throw away. I’m not a person who easily throws stuff away, not do I hoard, nor do I misunderstand that things have a given span-of-presence in our lives.

Why do we keep some things and throw other things away? By things I mean not only things in the inanimate sense – shoes, old windows, Christmas trees in early January, mugs, cars, underwear, mail, cookbooks, screwdrivers, couches – the list is long!! I also mean people. Not in the sense that we throw people away of course, but that the circle of people who touch our lives changes over time. Some come closer, some fade, some appear occasionally, some reappear after long periods of time.

It’s hard to know who and what to hold onto! I wish I had Kenny Rogers’ confidence. Do you think he was talking only about the cards in your hand during a poker game?

You got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.

The advice of The Gambler gave Kenny an ace he could keep. But how do you know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, when to run?

Seems to me, some things are useful and some are relational. And that applies to both things and people. We only sometimes feel a pang about leaving people behind when we change jobs, but anyone who is remotely a friend (or very much a friend) is in another category and we ought not be so flippant. That teapot with the hairline crack might be on its last legs, but I got it while shopping with Claudia in Germany; its usefulness is only part of the reason I use it every day. Old shoes that eat gravel should go in the trash – their function is past – but small cracks in the soles of the other pair, well, maybe I can use those for painting?

Some things are easier to get rid of than others. There are no hard and fast rules or guidelines about what or who to keep around and what or who to part ways with. I think the key word in the song is you, as in you got to know…you never count…

If I may elaborate:

You look for clues, you seek confirmation, you follow your heart, you make your best judgment (you got a great new pair of shoes!). Sometimes you are wrong, you misjudge, misinterpret clues, have to re-assess, start again. Sometimes you are 100% correct and your timing is perfect.

Sometimes I wish the answers were clearer! But then we’d be like robots, right? See A, do B, expect C, repeat with other As, Bs and Cs.

Now that wouldn’t be any fun! Part of the journey is not knowing what’s around the next bend, like an ongoing movie that we don’t see the ending to until we get there. Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of a movie? I do! And I love it because I get to play my part, small as that is, connected to these particular people as it is, focused on this goal or struggling with that challenge as it is. I never want to forget how wonderful it is to have what I have, even if it’s different from what other people have, even if there are things I don’t have and wish I did.

A Very Happy Labor Day to Everyone!