23 Mar 2013 2 Comments
Today is my husband’s birthday and we’ve been celebrating since 7:30am. There’s a lot to celebrate, not least of which is that he survived his heart attack and bypass surgery last summer so that we can have fun growing old together. That’s our plan and we’re stickin’ to it.
In my humble opinion, he’s the most fabulous man on earth, and there are so many reasons why that’s true. Please note that I didn’t say perfect … just fabulous. He can’t seem to remember that if he leaves the dish cloth hanging from the rack in the sink, it becomes a spider ladder straight from the drain and that freaks me out. Otherwise, he’s just pretty fabulous. (Not that I’ve ever seen a spider crawl out of the drain, but one can never be too careful.)
We had The Saturday Breakfast this morning (made by the Birthday Boy, of course), soaked in the hot-tub, drank seemingly gallons of coffee, and watched the rain come down. We’ve watched hours of NCAA basketball, he’s played hours of guitar, we’ve eaten leftovers and healthy snacks, and now we’re enjoying a glass of his birthday wine. I really think he’s having a pretty good day. Cheers, darlin’ … here’s to many, many more.
18 Mar 2013 Leave a comment
A day late, but who’s counting?
Irish Beef Stew
yield: 4 servings
Print This Recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. stew meat
4 large carrots, peeled & chopped
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1 large bay leaf or 2 small
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
heaping 1/3 cup frozen peas
In large pot or deep skillet, brown stew meat in olive oil until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. Pour in onions, carrots, garlic and spices. Cook another 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with beef broth. Cover and simmer 2-4 hours or until meat is very tender. (This would be perfect to cook in the crockpot!) When you are ready to serve, remove bay leaf. In a small bowl stir softened butter and flour together until smooth and incorporated. Stir butter mixture into the stew with the frozen peas. Once the gravy thickens slightly, it’s done. Serve hot over mashed potatoes.
17 Mar 2013 2 Comments
The sequel to my Raised in a Barn piece …
My son is an only child, so I asked him once how much he’d minded growing up “in solitary.” He told me he’d liked having his own room and possessions without having to worry about siblings messing everything up, and he enjoyed all the attention and the regular proximity to adults and their world, but his one regret was that he had no one to share his memories. There was no brother or sister involved in the events of his childhood, no one to corroborate or contradict now when the stories start, no contemporary to help keep the memories alive when Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all gone. And implicit in all of it was the fact that there was no one to share the blame when things went south.
I, on the other hand, am blessed with sisters — two of them. And we had a younger brother whose memory is sweet beyond words. When my sisters and I are together it’s all about the memories. Even when we aren’t actively talking about the past it’s there, part and parcel of who we are.
We had no shortage of memory-making opportunities during our growing-up years. We lived on a farm, across a gravel driveway from our grandparents, so we had plenty of space, including two good-sized houses, for inventing make-believe. We built forts in the barn and tent cities in the house, decorated dollhouses upstairs and down, strung paper dolls, Baby Linda dolls, Barbie dolls and their wardrobes from one end of the house to the other, set up tea parties in Grandma’s garden, made mud pies in front of the playhouse. Whatever fantasy world a child is capable of creating, we most likely did. And possibly the most interesting, compelling, and fabulous fun to be had was playing dress-up in Grandma’s attic.
Getting there was a bit of a trek. The stairway was hidden behind a wall in the kitchen and accessed by a door. Once we stepped up onto the landing, the view was straight up the narrow staircase, with not much hint of what lay beyond. It was always perfectly still up there and the air felt heavy. We could hear wasps buzzing in the windows, but we knew from experience that if we left them alone they could probably be counted on to return the favor. Every once in a while Grandma would go up there with a big pair of scissors and methodically cut off their heads, which we found deliciously cold and efficient on her part. Of course it only added to her cred, and we already tended to obey her faster than we did our mom. This is the same grandma who pinched the heads off the red and black box-elder bugs she found crawling across her floors and feared neither snake nor spider in her garden.
There was a shallow ledge parallel to the stairs which served as storage area for an intriguing assortment of items, both old and newer, but there wasn’t much time to take it all in as we had to concentrate on not tumbling back down to the bottom. At the top was a bookcase holding musty old volumes, including my first acquaintance with Gone With the Wind. It literally fell apart before I got to “Frankly, my dear …”. Also sitting on the shelves were several of our dad’s iron toys from childhood. Those heavy cars and trucks and cleverly-designed coin banks brought a nice sum years later when our parents held their retirement auction.
I don’t recall venturing up that staircase alone until about junior high. It wasn’t so much creepy up there as heavy with history and the weight of lives lived, and it just seemed better experienced in the company of others. Our dad’s model airplanes still hung silently from the ceiling of his former bedroom, and the pictures on the walls beckoned us back to an era we knew very little about. There was an old feather mattress on the bed in the biggest room, and everything had a patina of dust that made it seem as though nothing had been touched since the original occupants, our dad and his brother, went off to take up lives of their own.
The space held enough mystery to provide the perfect setting for make-believe, so it naturally followed that we and our friends would spend hours on lazy summer days assembling just the right outfits and posing for Grandma and her old Brownie box camera. We had a wealth of treasures to choose from, as the bedrooms included slant-ceilinged unfinished closets tucked under the eaves, full of a wondrous array of dresses, hats, gloves, jewelry, shoes, jackets and coats dating from the late 1800s forward. Flowing crepe dresses, hats with veils, long gloves, moth-nibbled fur coats and stoles, all of which we set off with bright red lipstick and old-lady face powder. Our grandparents’ house wasn’t air-conditioned so the upper story was stifling hot in the summer, but we didn’t mind. We were having far too much fun to worry about it.
It’s a simple memory, this one. No big drama happened, no momentous story. Nothing to see here, folks, might as well move along. Just ever-changing groups of young girls trying adulthood on for size.
Speaking of size, it strikes me that our feminine forebears must have been truly petite, delicate women. Incredibly, I see my four-year-old self wearing a dress that looks only slightly too large for me, albeit too long, and other photographs tell the same story.
I can only wonder at the patience it took for our grandparents to listen to us clomping endlessly up and down the stairs, giggling and chattering nonstop. And amazingly, I don’t remember any of us ending up in a heap at the bottom. Or maybe since it didn’t happen to me my brain thinks it didn’t happen at all. One thing we didn’t do at Grandma’s house was argue. At the first sign of trouble all she had to do was remind us quietly, “If you quarrel, you’ll have to go home, remember?” and everything was suddenly copacetic again.
When we finally tired of the game, I’m sure it was left to her to restore order to those magical closets, even though it was part of the deal that we at least try. I do know that we three sisters would give a lot to go back and thank our grandparents for all they contributed to our lives in countless ways. They were a huge part of the rich, full childhood we enjoyed and took for granted, and there’s really no way to overestimate the value of that kind of heritage.
My cousin Katie and I. She was eight or nine and I was four years old.
15 Mar 2013 Leave a comment
It’s 81 degrees here and so inviting out on the patio. Feels like a Saturday, but no! We still have one coming our way tomorrow … although the high temp is forecast to be only 58 and cloudy. So while it feels like summer, we need some flowers.
15 Mar 2013 Leave a comment
With a bit of instruction from great people on WordPress (go check out http://toemail.wordpress.com) I put a Flag Counter on my site yesterday. I’m hoping there’s a way to go back to January 1 and pick up all the stats since I started my new blog — it astounds and thrills me to see so many people from so many different countries participating in this blogging community. So far, there are 40 countries represented on my site, and 1,853 individual people from those areas, some of whom have visited many times. This is truly one of the most gratifying elements to having a blog — the privilege of rubbing shoulders with people from literally all around the world. To each of you — I am so very happy to have you here. Please come back often, leave me a message, share something of your life with me!
12 Mar 2013 12 Comments
One from the archives …
If your birth year falls anywhere near mine, you probably heard your parents say at least once, “Shut the door, were you raised in a barn?” Grown-ups saw it as a clever way to grab a child’s attention; however, the question never had its full effect on me as a reprimand because one of my favorite places in the entire world was a barn, a big gray wonder standing in the middle of the corral on our farm.
It wasn’t always gray and weathered, of course. Before I existed it was a proper barn-red hue, with a shiny tin roof. Or maybe the roof was originally green shingles. Or shake. Sadly, there’s no one left to ask — I’m the eldest sibling, and everyone above me is gone.
The barn was two stories high, with a tall peaked roof, and the ground floor was lined with pens, milking stalls, and two storerooms for tack and supplies. The top level was usually stacked floor to ceiling with fragrant hay bales — green rectangles of alfalfa that we rearranged into forts. The loft was also where nearly all new batches of baby kittens could be found.
My grandma told me stories of when the barn was new and the loft floor solid and smooth. She and Grandpa held barn dances that drew friends and neighbors from miles around — a mental image that could keep me occupied for days.
Recently a friend posted a link to an essay by Michael Sims, published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, about that pseudo children’s book Charlotte’s Web. (It’s a book for grown-up types and we all know it.) As I read Mr. Sims’ essay, my mind snagged on a single line and wouldn’t turn loose …
” … the barn’s handmade stanchions and hoof-scarred planking …”
Every inch of “my” barn was handmade by my grandpa and uncle and dad, and its stanchions and hoof-scarred planking are part of my DNA. That graying expanse, with its sweet hay, lowing cows, newborn calves, sinuous cats, and scent of freshly-drawn milk in pails, taught me as much about life as any classroom in which I languished.
It was in the barn loft that I learned how to cuss. Lying on a stack of prickly hay bales, watching dust motes float down the sunbeams from roof to floor and plotting my next adventure, I’d hear my dad bringing the cows in to be milked. Invariably, especially in the evening, there was at least one that declined to obediently trot to the stanchion and wait for him to slide the trap against her neck. Instead she’d go a little wild, kicking and bellering, with my dad hot on her tail. He was tired from a full day’s farming and would have preferred the coolness of the house, his supper, and some peace and quiet. But here was this ol’ heifer, intent upon vexing him in every way possible. As he unleashed an impossibly creative string of expletives, swinging a sawed-off 2×4 in the air for emphasis, I couldn’t help feeling ever-so-slightly superior to him for just those few seconds because I instinctively knew that if he’d just give the old girl time to settle down a bit it would work out much better for both of them.
True to stereotype, I learned how to smoke out behind that barn. The cigarettes were made from weeds wrapped around more weeds, but the Diamond matches cadged from next to Grandma’s stove were the real deal.
I learned a little about life and death there, too. Not all the kittens survived. Not all the baby calves brought in and penned up with their mothers lived.
I learned that if you leave big spiders alone in their nests they’ll go about the business of eating flies and bugs and leave you to your snake-killin’, which was Grandma’s word for any and all endeavors.
I learned that baby mice are pretty cute, their parents not so much.
I learned that if you hear your name being called but don’t answer right away, your mom will move on down the list to one of your sisters.
I learned that I was a farm girl and my Detroit cousins weren’t. My cousin Katie became infamous for her plea while walking through the manure-filled cow lot after a rainstorm to “Get me outta this tow-tinkin’ tuff!”
The barn still stands and has been repaired and rejuvenated, but the farm is no longer in the family. The three farmers who made all the haying and milking and calving happen — my grandpa, my dad, and my brother — are gone. But they, even more than that big old barn of my childhood, are part of my DNA and I will never forget what a gift they were to me. The tears in my eyes and throat bear testament to how much I miss them.
My dad, a neighbor, my grandpa and I, filling the silage pit next to the barn. I was four years old.
Me, my little sister, and a friend on one of the barn’s ramshackle gates. I see lipstick, so we were obviously fresh off a dress-up session in Grandma’s attic. But that’s a story for another time.
That old Diamond T truck was a relic long before I showed up, but my headscarf and high-water pants make us appear to be contemporaries. Long live the Joads!