Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Control Over My Thyme

Yesterday morning, while reaching into my cupboard for something, a metal container of Ground Thyme fell out. Upon closer inspection, I noted spots of rust on it's base and flipped it over to learn it had an expiration date of 1979!! That's right, it became ineligible for use as a spice in the eyes of some spice authorities THIRTY ONE years ago! That coupled with a three day and three night "sleepover" with an almost four year old, Eden and almost two year old, Judah made me realize that despite my "kvetching" I actually have more time on my hands on a daily basis than I previously thought. SO I launched into an early "Spring Cleaning" of my kitchen.

To make this a more "festive" occasion,and because "waste not, want not", I popped the cap off a long forgotten Killians sporting a dubious date on it's bottle face.(Steve assured me that if it had gone "skunky" I would know it!) Back in 1979, cleaning ovens was a chore( remember the horrid smell of Easy Off Oven Cleaner? Talk about a potential hazard...better the filthy oven!) All I do now is flip a latch and turn a knob and my oven ends up clean as a whistle. I am as thankful for that feature as I am that my four children accepted toilet training.
As long as I had begun with appliances, I next approached the long neglected pull out freezer drawers.

A detour to start a big pot of water on the stovetop. My BEST soups are one of a kind "clean out the fridge and freezer" variations, loosely based upon what meat I can identify through the frosty ziplock bags....in this case the remainder of the Christmas ham..plop into the water with a bag of a variety of dried beans and left over veggies from the refrigerator bins. Dribs and drabs of leftover vegetables, globs of mashed potatoes and sometimes even gravies, residuals of meals all frozen in little packets to make the soup yummo....and the freezer emptied. So now the house smells great...the soup bubbling hides the hot smell of the oven searing the remnants of way too many months of baking spills AND reminds anyone in the house all day that there will be a good meal tonight!

And there is the aerobic segment to all this. The stretching of unused muscles. I actually used my big ladder and all 17' of my Dyson hose to vacuum above the kitchen cabinets which was as close to Cirque De Soleil as I will get! I make multiple trips to make deposits to the recycling bin and dumpster in the garage to keep my feet moving. I take great pride in the weekly stuffing of our recycling bin...some sort of personal challenge.

Let's toss some more balls in the air! I threw doing the laundry into the mix, more steps, more accomplishment...more good smells in the house. WHY does this make me so happy, content, energized???

"Finds" of the day: A forgotten bottle of Gherkins with an expiration date of 2000. The bottle wouldn't even open so I thought it best to just toss. THUD! The last of the green coffee beans from a coffee roasting experiment of several years ago. I've heard these now aged beans are even valuable in other countries...also THUD in the garbage. I carefully considered my options with leftover Taco Bell sauce packets. These have saved my butt many a time when I have started chili and found my chili powder supply depleted or totally gone. So I made an executive decision and pitched all the old purple "Border Sauce" packets...That seemed safer.

Our son, Adam displayed something of a phobia for foods past their expiration dates. I discovered that there were lots and lots of "elderly" items in my cupboards with NO expiration dates at all, leading the skeptical part of me to conjecture for atleast some items, this is a ploy to get you to pitch and purchase more.....but not the ten year+ old gherkins. And though there might not be an expiration date, the price stickers on the spice cans tell the story. $1.19 then, $4.29 now. I did find one can with only "1954" on the bottom. It CANNOT be the year...can it???

By bedtime, the kitchen gleamed. My copper pieces sparkled on the clean stovetop and a clean dishcloth draped the scoured sink, ready for use in the morning. I fought the temptation to just open the frig and freezer to admire the order....does anyone have a roll of that "Crime Scene" tape? I'd like to cordon the space off for just alittle while.....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Things Are Not What They Seem

It's been a not so bad winter here. Actually, we've had more peeks at the sun and full sunshine than in recent winters. I have felt little of the claustrophobic sense of wanting to somehow propel myself upward, out of the clouds and into the blue skies above. Maybe I was actually successful in etching the impression of sunshine onto my retinas during those eleven glorious, Southern California days last month.

What do you see in this photo of my front garden? Monotone...snow and icicles?

Everytime I drive up to the house or go outside to let the dogs out or head to the mailbox, I am "seeing" something vastly different.

Late last summer my dear friend, Donna took the tangled overgrown mess of my "cottage garden"; at least what the moles and rabbits had left of it,and convinced me that I needed a space more Fibromyalgia "user friendly".( It pays to know a Landscape Designer who is also a Registered Nurse) Over the course of a few days she totally transformed the jumbled confusion of limping perennials into a new delight. She hacked and dug and evicted the out of control "old" and replaced confusion with an orderly, pleasing mix of plants I have never nurtured before.
Donna redrew lines, anchoring a garden bench with a lovely flagstone path. I couldn't get over the immediate changes and last fall would just stand on the front porch doing R.L.H.C.'s ( rapid little hand claps...thanks, Helen!)

But...the best is yet to come! Donna planted all sorts of bulbs....all will be surprises for me in a few months. For thirty years, when fall comes, I have "plant bulbs" on my to do list BUT the "tyranny of the urgent" takes over, as it always does. Spring rolls around and I look at mud left by winter snows instead of tulips, daffodils, and their ilk. I sigh and resolve to do something about it in the fall....and then "groundhogs day" happens, again. Not THIS SPRING!! I can't wait to see what surprises Donna has waiting for me under their temporary blanket of snow!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Donna for the treat of transformation last fall and the delicious anticipation of Spring that has lasted throughout the long, frozen tundra winter!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

When California Gives You Lemons...

As we took off from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana a week ago, I tried to will my eyes to remember what the sunshine and blue skies looked like. I kept my face turned toward the sun's warmth radiating through the jet's window and craned my neck to keep the ocean and then the snow capped Mountains in view for as long as I could,then sighed and hit my sudoku. The entire trip across the country was in sunshine! We could watch cities,plains,canyons, mountains, rivers,lakes and farms on the ground with the occasional jet whooshing westward below us. The man in the seat behind us narrated what was passing below us..'And there's Lake Michigan!' Blue and visible until we hit the West Michigan coastline, which looked like an impenetrable mat of dirty grey cotton.

Christian has been asking for another California Blog and the past two days we have had bright blue skies and sunshine, such a GIFT in West Michigan at this time of year! It makes it easier to recall our last weekend in California. Steve was busy all day Friday and Christian came down to Santa Ana and took me back to Azusa. I had finally gotten so that I didn't flinch and call out while driving on the freeways, though we all marvelled at "splitting lanes": the legal practice in California of motorcyclists rocketing through freeway traffic BETWEEN lanes of cars! ( Can you say,"Death Wish"?) Christian was kind, warning me when he was required to swing rapidly across four lanes of traffic to switch freeways....so I had time to cover my eyes.

All worth it. It was a totally fun day. We went to Emily's house in Claremont. Oh to live in a place where windows need no screens and doors opened to the yard are left wide open to let the glorious outside in!!! We hit downtown Claremont, a jewel of a town with wide random "gardens" of trees surrounded by perennials between sidewalk and street curbs. Stores line the outer edges of downtown city blocks with bustling courtyards in the centers of the blocks. As you walk down the street and happen to look up you are stunned to see the Snow capped San Gabriel Mountains towering right above you! We ate lunch at a a brew pub, The Back Abbey, where we sat in 1940-esque, oversized chrome framed, leather easy chairs at concrete tables outside. The kids told me that at night if it gets chilly, they bring fluffy white throws out to wrap around diners. The outer "wall" of the restaurant was a long line of planters bursting with Horsetail Grass. We ordered a cone of homemade Pomme Frites served too hot to dip in four sauces, to eat as we waited for our meal along with our choices of delicious, exotic beers. I didn't want it to end. Sitting and laughing with the kids, in sunshine and warmth. We sauntered through some wonderful shops before driving through streets full of enchanting homes (to a design junkie like me). After rearranging furniture and making some paint suggestions at Emily's (could there be a day of more fun?),the kids returned me to the hotel in time for Steve and I to reconnect after his busy day and meet dear friends,Jerry and Carolyn for dinner. It was wonderful but just trying to find a parking spot in a GARGANTUAN mall parking lot studded with a forest of palm trees, completely filled with cars made us begin to long for home. More than once we heard that no one cooks in Orange County. An exaggeration unless you try to find a parking spot at meal time. Orange Country is clogged with restaurants. Every kind of restaurant you can imagine. Persian restaurants and Peruvian restaurants, Indian restaurants and Korean BBQ restaurants...We talked and laughed and closed the Buco de Beppo's which made finding our car much easier in the now near empty parking lot.

Our last day we returned to the foothills, to laugh at Christian's new pet: a squirrel who comes to scratch on his front screen door for bagels. Then we headed over to Emily's where we spent our last afternoon playing cornhole and euchre under the pergola in the sunny backyard with music and chirping birds. Oh, and plucking lemons the size of small grapefruits from the tree branches and making lemonade.

It is all so idyllic, breathtaking, particularly for shivering Midwesterners blinded by the sunshine and trees bursting with citrus and day-glo flowers too gaudy to be real. Yet as we drove through the Foothill communities "ohhing and ahhing" I was aware THESE are the towns we frequently hear of in television coverages of evacuations for wildfires and subsequent mudslides. I can see why they take the risk.

The shuttle driver taking us to the airport in the chilly pre-dawn hour the next morning, apologized for his knit hat. He appeared to be Indian, perhaps, and was curious about where we were flying. He was asking if water froze where we lived and we told him yes, and described cutting holes in the ice to ice fish. His quick response had a tone of concern. "Why don't you move here?" he asked.