Sunday, February 28, 2010

Buried in snow

Buried in Snow

We have about four feet, all told, by the reckoning of Bill, who drives our town plow. Many windows on the first floor are covered up. To think that a week ago I was crowing about being almost through February and being able to see out our east facing window in the hall. No more!

Snow is a super-insulator. The house is snug. We haven’t gone through much wood at all in the last five days.

I actually like it. We have electricity, still. In fact, we have wood, wi-fi, food, kitty litter and rum.

It would be nice to say we don’t have to do anything, but roofs do collapse, we do need to be able to get out, and eventually get wood, which means a lot of shoveling. My husband’s back’s out, so that leaves me and my son. In theory. Hubby rakes the roof anyway. So far, it’s been about 2-3 hours of shoveling and roof raking a day.

I’d rather emphasize the adventure of it, and de-emphasize the toil. Cut the worry out totally. What good does it do? We’re stuck. Either we shovel or not, try to hire someone with a bucket to help us dig our way to the woodshed or not. You make your decision, then proceed.

In some ways, I’ve been waiting for just such a moment my entire life. I make earrings with the beads I have. No rushing off to the bead store. I collage my skanky old pair of clogs.* I get to use the materials I’ve stockpiled, with way fewer interruptions.

The Inuit who live around Hudson Bay in Canada spend all winter making prints and art. When spring comes, they bring their creation down to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa to the galleries to sell. I keep thinking about emerging from winter with a pile of things I've made, how satisfying that would be.

SInce people even three miles down the road got about half the snow we did, they don’t know we’re just about buried. No calls about whether we have power or water. Last year’s ice storm brought on a frenzy of keeping in touch. I appreciated it, but I can really get with this, too, as long as the kitty litter, electricity and rum hold out.

* For those tempted to collage their clogs, I find my first round of collage, using a Liquitex flexible glue, resulted in the collage tearing at the tarsal joint, where the clog bends. I did put on three coats of clear sealer that promised to be water repellant, and didn’t traipse though the snow, but maybe they did get a little wet. So the next pass will be with cloth-- maybe just over the torn area, maybe starting over completely.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turkey Bathwater

Turkey Bathwater

This is the name my dear husband has given to the beginnings of soup. I’ll admit it looks pretty bad. In fact, bathwater is a polite name for the various bones and feet sticking out of the roiling mass that later becomes soup.

But if I do say so myself, the end result is delicious. Which is good, because we’re looking down the barrels of four days of snow, with a total accumulation of 28 inches.

Normally this sort of weather prediction would be my cue to bake, make killer peanut brittle and spiced popcorn. But I am trying to avoid sugar, so it’s soup, she sighed.

As we work our way through chicken and turkey, I save the bones, as well as leek tops (washed carefully), celery hearts and mushroom stems in a bag in the freezer. When the bag gets really bulbous, it’s time to make soup.

Poultry stock

bones--usually I get a mass the size of a soccer ball

one onion, peeled

hearts of celery and trimmings

leek ends

mushroom stalks

Put all these in a stock pot with a couple bay leaves. Cover with water, boil for about an hour. Taste, add salt and pepper to taste. Strain and store. Should make about 2 quarts.

I freeze in pint containers.

Then you can make

Hot and Sour Mushroom and Kale Soup

1 onion

2 C sliced mushrooms

2+ C stock

4 C kale chopped into 1 inch dice (this sounds fussy, but it’s to prevent diping your spoon into the mix and pulling up what looks like seaweed)

1+ t Tom Yum paste, available in Southeast Asian markets

Chop and saute one onion in a splash of olive oil; add 2 cups sliced mushrooms, saute together until they are soft but not browned. Add 2 cups of stock, simmer. Add kale, continue to simmer. Add more water to submerge kale if necessary. When the kale has wilted, add a generous teaspoon Tom Yum paste. Stir in Simmer another 5-10 minutes. Taste.

I have in the past added a teaspoon of honey to make the soup hot, sweet and sour, but it’s plenty wonderful without the sweet element. Enjoy.

This will fuel the numerous snow shoveling expeditions we all face. If I cave on this diet, maybe I’ll post a recipe for something more decadent later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Turn Here Please-- a family history

Turn Here Please-- a family history

We live on a dead end road, with no fewer than two large dead end signs at the road’s inception. There’s the standard Dead End, put up by the town on a yellow background, and there’s the rather poetic and too alluring, “Road ends in private dooryard” which fairly begs tourists to come see for themselves. We can’t say Private because it ain’t; it’s a town road that gets plowed and is six inches, literally from our back porch.

So in school vacation weeks like this one (in Massachusetts at least) we get a more or less uninterrupted parade of “lost” tourists coming for a look-see. Many of them are armed with badly programed GPS systems telling them they’ll get to the ski resort a mile away (wrong) or Somerset Reservoir (dangerously wrong) if they just come down our road and insist that it doesn’t really stop in the pasture. Or that that road’s real name is Greer Place.

They are generally pretty nice. When they drive across newly seeded lawn, they apologize, especially if my husband makes an innocent appearance with the chain saw. They often just apologize for invading our space. Which I deeply appreciate.

It’s the “I’m-on-foot-so-it-doesn’t-matter-if-I-come-look-in-your-barn” types that irk me. Or the ones who bring untethered, disobedient, wildly excited and maladjusted dogs. “What a pretty spot!” they exclaim as their behemoth takes a dump in my flower bed.

“Do you have a leash for Spot?” I ask gently.

Usually not. They are in the country, on vacation, and Spot needs to run like a real country dog. So their fantasy collides with my reality.

That the apologies are a relatively new phenomenon gives me some hope that manners are improving. When I was a child, a tourist drove into our dooryard and yelled, “How much do ya want for that beat up old barn?”

The unoccupied little house down the lane was broken into over 20 times, and my father caught a lawyer from Connecticut digging up a little evergreen on its front lawn.

“What are you doing?” my father inquired.

“I didn’t know!” cried the lawyer.

“That it doesn’t belong to you?”

And so forth. Experiences like this and the ever-encroaching ski developments that have sprung up made my parents almost paranoid in their fervor to protect not only their privacy but the undeveloped woods as well.

What’s interesting is how our sense of territory changes depending on where we are. The walkers who assured us they were “just walking” as they headed across our lawn and up a path into the woods would be outraged is we arrived at their home in Darien (say) and traipsed across theirs. I am tempted to enter the beautiful Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan just to see the astonishing mosaic work in its entryway. But I don’t, because it’s no longer public; it’s a condo building with people who pay plenty for the privilege of walking in the door and calling it home.

Not only are we drawn to beauty. We covet it (“Is your house for sale?”). Some people even make the leap from coveting to claiming, as did the woman who wrote saying her daughter liked a particular spot and wanted to make her home there, that it was only right that we sell it to her.

In her book On Beauty, Elaine Scary writes that people’s natural reaction to something beautiful is to somehow copy it: to draw, photograph, or film it. All forms of laying claim, holding onto. Seen in that light, I blame the interlopers less. How many hundreds of times have I tried to capture the new green of spring or the swooningly beautiful coral of a particular maple in October? It never works.

For my parents, every trespass heralded a chipping away at paradise. And not just their little piece of it. They were prescient. Down came the trees with a sickening crack and up went bars, condos, and yes, parking lots. There are now plenty of places in Vermont that look just like any strip mall in New Jersey.

So it made a wacky sort of sense that my father painted a little sign and planted it beside our road, halfway up a particularly treacherous hill only the most foolhardy driver would attempt. It said Turn Here Please.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Case for Lipstick

In deepest February, it doesn’t take long for visitors to our fair region to notice things looking, well, sort of gray. The snow banks, the tree bark, the sky, even the people (mostly Caucasian, still) take on an ashen tinge. The sun is a most welcome, but intermittent, visitor, so no wonder.

The antidote is travel. The tropics are lovely, but hardly necessary. I only made it as far as Salem, Massachusetts to find my tonic, the wonderful exhibit that just closed at the Peabody Essex Museum, Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, featuring sumptuous clothing owned by the irrepressible tastemaker, Iris Apfel.

I’m not much of a clotheshorse. I may dream of cashmere, but I dress for mud


Apfel, even in her eighties, is my opposite. Just wearing her jewelry is a weight-bearing exercise that makes gym membership beside the point. She collected tribal pieces from North Africa, Asia and South America, then wore as many of them as could fit around her neck and wrists. She wore coats made of feathers, thigh-high boots, sequined boleros and satin harem pants in brilliant colors.

Although Apfel had a long and successful career as an interior decorator, and clearly has a passion for gorgeous fabric, she was not a clothing designer, nor was she a professional model. She has just spent her life loving and wearing outrageously beautiful clothes.

The four-room exhibit was itself a delight, but even better was the crowd of mostly women that came to view it. Watching my fellow visitors was a blast. Many were gussied up with beautiful scarves and jewelry, admiring the manikins or noses buried in their look books, exclaiming over one luscious piece after another. They were blooming.

Exhorting people doesn’t work particularly well. Everyone gets exhausted by the nagging, both the nagger and the naggees. Better, by far, to teach by example. Apfel’s fun with clothes does just that. Looking around that exhibit, her example is clearly as educational and liberating as anything Gloria Steinem has ever said. Apfel gives her viewers permission to dress for visibility, drama and fun.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to wear lipstick, for myself. I’m going to wear the colorful clothes I have in the back of my closet even though I am nowhere near rail thin. I’m not going to wait to lose weight or otherwise approach the perfection I imagine is required in order to be seen. Except when doing garden or farm chores (and then it’s old karate pants and stained t-shirts), I am throwing off the drop cloth mentality I seem to have acquired. I am dressing up.

Thank you, Iris.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sabbath for the Rest of Us

Sabbath for Rest of Us

As a New Englander, the historical significance of the Sabbath has been drilled into me. This, I supposed was to highlight the contrast between the lives of my austere forebears and my own ridiculously cushy life. They had to stay in church for hours on Sunday, only to return home to more Bible study and quiet reflection. If they weren’t doing house or farm work, they weren’t goofing off either. Sunday was a day of desisting from worldly concerns, but it was also about religion and vigorous moral instruction.

As a child, my brief time in church was spent being herded into Sunday School, or later, moving through the Episcopal service as I admired the stained glass windows in St Michael’s and enjoyed the music. Afterwards? Liberty Hall! We’d walk to LaPan’s store on the edge of town and get newspapers with funnies, slim Jims and penny candy. We’d come home, change into play clothes and, well, play. Kids outside running around, parents inside, reading, occasionally watching a football game.

Our neighbors, who’d had a big Sunday dinner (made I might add, on this day of rest, by their hard working mother), did a wonderful thing for supper. They had popcorn. That was it. In my view, it was a perfect meal. No fuss, no squirming at the dinner table. Each person got a small salad bowl full of popcorn, with butter. You got to sit anywhere at all, maybe even in front of the television. Then it was baths and bed. I angled for invitations to Sunday night supper, which were generously extended. Then I came home, bathed, laid out Monday’s clothes and happily collapsed into bed myself.

I realize that such a day without structure is only welcome or healthy if there are schedules and mealtimes adhered to throughout the week. It is the contrast between Sunday and the rest of the week that makes it so revitalizing.

In strictly observant Jewish families, the prohibition of work extends to homework, cooking, lighting fires, even turning on the lights or using a stapler. There are 39 kinds of work prohibited on the Sabbath, which roughly fall into the categories of any kind of creativity or trying to control your environment in any way. If there is a life-threatening situation, then the Jew is not only allowed, but required to act in order to save a life.

I have a friend who converted to Judaism and embraced the Sabbath. A lifelong activist and very hard worker, she said it’s the one day of the week she doesn’t have to try to fix the world. I think she might even refrain from making telephone calls. What a wonderful idea in a culture where school practices, soccer games and all sorts of driving are routinely scheduled on Sundays so that our weeks are eaten up and we feel guilty for wanting to occasionally stop.

I doubt I could ever refrain from knitting on the Sabbath, say, or some cooking. Since the temperature hovers around zero these days, I’ll not only feed the fire, I’ll fetch wood. But I could time it to get chores done ahead of time. I could plan.

Think about it. No driving, no buying or selling. For once you do not try to accomplish anything. Try to rest. Sleep late. Avoid the making of To Do Lists. Take some time to be still. Who knows what will come to you?