Archive for November, 2010

Holiday Blues

November 27, 2010

Family photo after Thanksgiving dinner

Holiday Blues

            The older I get the harder the holidays. When I was a kid, holidays were nothing but joys. I had a loving family. Thanksgiving was the biggest family holiday. My mother spent so much time and love making the perfect dinner. My maternal grandparents always came. My grandfather brought us chocolate turkey lollipops, kosher of course. My mother always had chocolate turkeys by each place setting. (My sweet tooth can be traced back many generations.) My mother always made matzo meal stuffing. The first Thanksgiving I spent away from home, my sophomore year of college, I was shocked to taste bread stuffing. It was delicious, but not “real” stuffing.

            During both of my marriages, I continued the tradition of Thanksgiving being a big deal. The women would make the feast and the men would clean up. When we had a cabin south of Prescott, my friends Carol and Terry would spend Thanksgiving with us. Carol was a gourmet cook. She did most of the dinner. I did the pies and the creamed pearl onions.

            For the past few years I’ve been a Thanksgiving vagabond. My older sons have five families (due to divorces) to see for each holiday. I absolved them from being at my table. I spent one disastrous Thanksgiving with a boyfriend a few years ago. It was just the two of us, not my idea at all of how to spend the holiday. He was a Spartan fellow who touted his healthy lifestyle. He defrosted some fish fillets and cooked them with no fanfare. The years I’ve visited my friend in California were much better. Susan does Thanksgiving up right. Turkey and the table filled with family.

            This year I was invited to my middle son’s home to celebrate. I baked the zucchini bread and whipped the cream. I used my mother’s measuring cups and thought about how much I still miss her. She’s been dead for three years. And it was Carol’s job to whip the cream, so I thought about her and how much I miss her, too. I was cranky and my youngest son and I argued about money.

            The day was a success, however. When we got to Eric’s and Amy’s home, it was chocked full of warm and friendly people. I took my granddaughter upstairs and entertained her while the finishing touches were put on the dinner. I got to eat at a table with all three of my sons. And they did the cleanup, unknowingly carrying on the tradition. Or perhaps they remembered from their childhoods.

           I think the holidays are harder to bear as we age. They’re bittersweet because we have good memories of the past but the people who were part of those times are no longer alive.

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Baking Zucchini Bread

November 22, 2010

Baking Zucchini Bread

            I’m thrilled to be invited to my middle son’s home for Thanksgiving. Ever since the breakup of my second marriage nine years ago, it’s always been a problem where to spend holidays. It’s my daughter-in-law’s first time to host a large turkey dinner. When I asked what I could bring, she got out her list and assigned me whipped cream and pumpkin pie.

            Surely I should bring something more. I offered to bake zucchini bread. She said that was a great idea. She’s very kind, so it’s hard to know if she really wanted me to do this. I have a reputation for not being a good cook.

           I used to be a good cook in my first life, my first marriage. One year the science teacher at the school where I was librarian gave me some seeds. I planted the zucchini in the back patio of our townhome. The vines grew over the sides of the fence and back up and again several times over. The zucchini were huge and very tasty. But there were just so many meals my husband and young daughter were willing to eat zucchini. So I asked my friend Carol, who was a great cook, what I should do with so much harvest. She taught me how to make bread and butter zucchini pickles, zucchini relish, and zucchini bread. And that’s what everyone got for the holidays that year. The recipes for those items were lost long ago.

           Determined to capture my glory of old, I went on the Internet and printed out two recipes. I picked up Abby, my four year-old granddaughter, at preschool and we went to the grocery store for supplies. We went back to my house. I sprayed the grease and flour stuff on the aluminum loaf pans and preheat the oven.

           Abby helped me measure the ingredients. I shredded the zucchini in the food processor. When we mixed it all together, the consistency didn’t seem right. But it had been a long time since I’d baked zucchini bread. We put it in the oven. She and my twenty-two year old son, who had come home from work injured, drew pictures together at the kitchen table while I cleaned up. What a heart-warming tableaux.

           When the timer went off, I checked the loaves. The tops were hard like the tops of muffins. They must be done, I thought. I took them out and  let them cool on racks. After half an hour, I sliced one. Well, sliced is a relative term. The top crumbled. I took a taste. Terrific! But the middle and bottom of the loaf were quit doughy. It didn’t slice. It tasted okay, but was too mushy in my mouth. I gave one of the loaves to my daughter-in-law and son when they came to pick up Abby.

           I invited my neighbor Donna over to taste my zucchini bread. She declared that it needed to be cooked more. So I put it bake in the oven and cooked it for another twenty minutes. The consistency didn’t change. Hmmm.

            I went to the grocery store the next day and bought more zucchini and real loaf pans. I thought the two recipes I’d taken from the Internet were the same, but I decided to try the second one. I measured and shredded the same, but this recipe had me beat the eggs first and mix ingredients in a different order. The batter looked more like I remembered from thirty-five years ago. I baked the bread ten minutes longer than the recipe suggested. It unmolded perfectly from the pans. It sliced. It tasted delicious, just a little dry.

           Now I’m confident that the zucchini laves I bake on Thanksgiving Day will turn out fine. It doesn’t matter what was wrong with the first batch, whether it was the recipe or not concentrating while measuring with Abby. It just matters that I tried a different recipe and it worked. I’m glad I’m a pragmatic person.

Clearing out the Stuff

November 15, 2010

Clearing out the Stuff

            Theoretically I have a two car garage. I‘ve lived alone since I bought the condo in 2007 so I never had to park two cars in the garage. Good thing because there was barely room for one car.

      My son is now living with me and he has a car. He’s been parking in “guest” spots right next to my unit. I got a newsletter from the condo’s management company. It harangued residents for not picking up after their dogs. It also stated that only guests could park in the allotted spots. All residents needed to park in the garages. Fines would be assessed to those residents not following this particular rule.

     Serendipitously the complex was having (allowing) a garage sale the first weekend in November. This was an excellent opportunity for me to get rid of some of the stuff cluttering my garage. I swear that garage clutter is like rabbits. You thin the bunch out, don’t pay attention for six months, and it’s multiplied.

     My son is not a hoarder. He gallantly offered to sell his entertainment center, computer desk, bar stools, and other furniture that took up his parking space in the garage. So I had to start sorting, prioritizing and selling/giving away enough stuff to make his parking space and mine.

     I am also not a hoarder. I was a librarian, for goodness sakes, and librarians know how important it is to weed the collection so the good books stand out and aren’t hidden by out-of-date volumes. I keep all my books in bookcases that line one side of my garage. I’d done significant weeding of those books before I moved in, so that wasn’t necessary. Yes, I keep the books in rough Dewey order and the children’s and adult fiction separately, arranged alphabetically by the last names of the authors.

     The sale went well and I arranged, via the web, for the Salvation Army to pick up what was left.

     More room was needed. This weekend I had to deal with memorabilia. I went through a box of my long-departed Dad’s stuff. Did I really need to keep his framed master’s degree? How about the tapes of interviews? How about the television tape? I’d tried to get some of those converted to DVDs but they weren’t in good enough shape. And what was a billy club doing in the box? I think it’s something he brought home from WW II. I couldn’t throw them in the garbage. Then an idea struck me. Send it to my brother! He doesn’t have any of my parents’ things. I had a couple of priority boxes and bubble wrap and got them ready for mailing. I also found reprints of one of my Dad’s articles in The Slavic Review. I couldn’t toss them! I sent them to my brother and sister.

      I kept the lapel pin of Lenin, probably from his trip to the Soviet Union in 1969. And his tie clip. I’d already tried to give away my Dad’s tie clips and cuff links to my brother and my nephews but they courteously refused. What about the black lacquer box with the mother of pearl inlay? It had sat on my mother’s dresser all of my life until her death It wasn’t in the best shape. I put that in the “give-away” pile.

     I went through boxes of stuff in my garage, filling the trash can and the donation boxes. I decided to shred my tax documents from 2004 and before. What a job! The shredder overheated twice before I finished. The recycle garbage was packed and extra cardboard boxes were stuffed with shreddings, too. I made one trip to donate items yesterday.

     This morning I got up to finish the job. My son moved the tile that was too heavy for me. Lo and behold there is enough room for both cars! I bought a six foot length of half inch dense foam. My son wants to put it up to demarcate the parking spots and make sure I don’t hit his car.

     As I was loading cartons of more donations, I pulled the lacquer box out of the “get rid of” pile. I couldn’t do it. It held too many memories. It’s fine to relieve yourself of extra stuff, but remember to keep the important items. Kind of like people and life. Remember the important and the good, let go of the hurtful and unpleasant or what doesn’t work anymore.

Ladies’ Night Out

November 8, 2010

Mr. Boogie Woogie and Annie at the Rhythm Room

A Night Out with Friends

      I have a confession to make. I am a Mr. Boogie Woogie groupie. For the uninitiated, Mr. Boogie Woogie is a keyboardist from Holland. He comes to Arizona at least twice a year and plays mostly in the Tucson area. I try to attend at least one of his phoenix concerts when he’s here, dragging one friend or another. I’m not enamored of him personally, but I am in love with his music. He plays the blues, boogie-woogie, classic rock, and original songs. I have almost all of his CD’s.

     Last night I convinced a group of six friends to go to dinner and to see Mr. Boogie Woogie at The Rhythm Room, a small venue in Phoenix. We ate at Switch, a hip place on Central Avenue next to Durant’s. The food was fabulous. One of my friends is someone who recently broke up with her fiancé of twenty years. She hadn’t been to a dance place since before they started dating. Another friend is recently out of relationship, two were married sans husbands, and my trusty neighbor Donna agreed to be the designated driver.

     The concert consisted of four pianists doing their things solo and jointly. Lisa Utey, a musician from Tucson started it out on a high note. Her sultry voice and complicated piano playing got the place rocking. Only a few people danced as we were entranced by the music. Next was Bob Malone, a blues player from Los Angeles. He was very showy but funny and endearing. Lisa Palmer was the only one who did only instrumentals and I think was the weakest of the group. She was good, but my companions described her as “stiff.”

     Mr. Boogie Woogie brought down the house. There was more audience participation and we got up and danced. It’s no longer necessary to wait for a man to ask you to dance or get the courage to ask a guy. Women can get out of their seats and dance with no inferences about their sexual orientation.

     We stayed for two sets and heard more from each artist solo and then some pairings. It rocked! There’s another musical event at The Phoenician on Friday and I’m so glad my friends are finally willing to go out! It spells fun for the future!

Beginnings and Endings

November 2, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

             My life has always had specific beginnings and endings. As an educator (student, teacher, school librarian, principal, and college teacher) there was the new school yearThere was the anticipation and anxiety of the first day of school:  the new students, the new programs and books, the new teachers. When I was in elementary school, my mother always bought me a new dress for the first day. As an adult, I continued the tradition. I made goals and objectives for the new year. There was closure at the end of the year. As a teacher it was bittersweet. There was sadness as my students moved on to another level but pride in what has been accomplished. I had grades, test scores and anecdotal evidence to see how I’d reached or fallen short of my goals and objectives. As a librarian I had statistics on programs and circulation to document accomplishments. I inventoried every book and put it in its place before I locked up for the summer. As a principal the end of the year reports, test results, and my evaluation conference with the superintendent told me where I had succeeded and what needed to be improved for the following year.

            In the summer I had time to reflect on the past year, go over the end of the year documentation, and make new goals and objectives for the following year. I took courses. I had time to play with my own children and vacation with them. It was a cycle I enjoyed.

            Now that I’m semi-retired I still have beginnings and endings. In May I leave the heat of the desert in Scottsdale and open my cabin in Munds Park, Arizona, which is twenty miles south of Flagstaff. It’s a lock-and-leave place so only a little cleaning is necessary. I do have to rake the pine needles and cut the weeds. Then I set up my office and begin writing. Sometimes I revise a novel, sometimes start a new one, and this year I wrote a play. It’s a more solitary existence than the Valley so I do a lot of writing and introspection. I go on long walks with my dog and work out more, especially in Sheri’s exercise class. I acted in a play, something I hadn’t done for forty-five years. There is very little on my calendar. I create my days. I take the time to rejuvenate myself.

            And now it’s November first and time to close up the cabin. Clean it one last time. Hire the fellow to winterize it (turn off the water, drain all the water and blow out the pipes, and put antifreeze down them.) I lock the door and head back to the city. It takes a few weeks for me to acclimate to a busy social life and having a schedule of activities.

            This year I’ll be adjusting to a roommate, my youngest son. He hasn’t lived with me full time for almost four years. And he has new beginnings. He started a job yesterday on a roofing crew and he loves it.

            I love the cycle of definite beginnings and endings. Possibilities and hope are the best part.