Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

Farmer’s Market

August 16, 2016

A block’s walk from my apartment is the venue of our local Farmer’s Market. It houses an odd mixture of vendors’ stalls – vegetable growers, artisanal sausage makers, pie makers, garlic growers, purveyors of hand-made soaps, macaroons, jams, sauces and condiments, crafters of dubious quality hand-strung jewelry, bannock frying natives, hand crocheters and knitters who use really nasty acrylic yarns of ghastly colour combinations, the occasional potter and local amateur painters of  picturesque dabblings. The prices are exorbitant. Anyhow much of what is on offer is a bit too pricey for my wallet, or would be, were it not for the coupon program for low income seniors and families, of which I count as one. So, I do not flinch too much when asked to hand over $4 for a knob of Russian.  garlic or $3 for a couple of medium sized tomatoes. There is a $6 allotment for meat weekly included in the coupons, but a package of four artisanal sausages comes priced at $9, so every other week a purchase of one package is manageable. Otherwise, one might purchase a precooked sausage on a stick for $5. A 3 oz. piece of Sockeye salmon is priced at @ $17, so that is a market I find myself reluctant to frequent.

I do find the vegetables of such excellent quality that the act of eating freshly picked and fully at optimum ripeness produce is a tremendous pleasure. The weekly coupons are a welcome gift!

Last Saturday, my favourite vegetable vendor had two generous sized Vegetable Marrows left over at the end of market. Every August I am always on the hunt for these. They are not commonly grown  or seldom available in our little city as most people don’t know how to cook them. The vendeuse, Flor, asked me what they were, as this was the first year she tried growing them. Casting my eye around her booth, I collected an onion and a clump of fresh dill. As I handed over $6 worth of coupons to purchase the marrows, onion and dill, I explaine how I was going to prepare them fro my special feast for that evening’s meal. “Heavenly it will be!” I told her. She replied that she was wanting to ty that dish, as it sounded so simple to prepare.

Here is my grandmother’s recipe for Hungarian Tokfozelek (missing the umlaut and accent ague)

1 Medium Vegetable marrow – halved lengthwise, seeded and peeled. Cut each half into thin slices across the width, set in a colander, sprinkle with salt to release excess water in the flesh. Set aside for 20 minutes.

1 Peel and finely slice one medium onion.  Saute in butter over medium heat. While onion is softening, squeeze excess water from the sliced marrows, and add them to the transparent softened onions.  Stir, cover pan and lower temperature slightly. Stir several times over 10 minutes.

3 Meanwhile chop about a handful of dill fronds, toss into onion and marrow, stir and keep cooking.

4  measure out 3/4 cups of sour cream , add to the vegetables, stir in, grind on salt and pepper, let heat to steaming.

5 Sprinkle with Sweet or Hot Hungarian Paprika.  Serve with bread, chicken, sausage ,or pork steaks.  A green salad on the side completes this feast.

I often just eat this vegetable side dish by itself, if I have eaten my daily meat alottment already.

Seasonal abundance

December 25, 2015

I sit here, in early afternoon on Christmas day, still in my fuzzy flannels and cozy indoor socks, thinking of the ongoing abundance in my life, of loved ones, old friends and new  and wish for every one of you who read this to enjoy the same sensations of satisfaction of what your life has been, is and continues to be.

On listening to Rimsky-Korsakov…

September 14, 2012

Yesterday, Martha, who is disassembling her life here and moving to London, brought me a plasti-bag full of music CDs she is de-accessioning. “Keep what you want,” she said.  “Most of these are from a time when I was trying to develop a taste for classical music, but no longer play regularly.” In spite my promise to myself to acquire no more possessions, on studying the labels of each CD, and what composer and piece of music was exampled on the different discs, these gifts from Martha seemed appropriate to where my head and heart are these days, reveling in memory, revisiting long-assumed to be dormant pleasures of sensory nature. Perhaps because it is September, a treasured time of the year for me, when memory causes me to anticipate the joys of this season, that aides memoires such as the sound of winds in the late afternoons, and specific passages of sound make me revel in being alive.

So, I popped onto my player the Scheherezade of Rimsky-Korsakov as I prepared hot water and vinegar with which to wash the tile floors in my apartment. I should know myself better by now, because, all of my life I have been unable to multi-task, especially when music is a component of what must compete for attention. After hearing about the fourth bar of the overture, I collapsed into a heap on the couch, dripping scrubbing cloth clutched in my hand – and all ears.

Memories arose, unbidden.  Of kneeling on the floor in my childhood home, right next to the radio, of a late September dusk, Anyu and Apu sitting close-by in the scuffed leather chairs, Idiko perched on the piano bench, all of us silent as Scheherazade piped through the cloth covering the radio speaker.  A few years later, coming home alone  in the afternoon from Catholic school in Kingston, after parting from Ildiko at the church where she had her daily piano practice session, letting myself into the empty brownstone parlour and for company putting on the Rimsky-Korsakov record which had arrived as donation in a box of household goods from our church. On hearing the second movement, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude in the memory of how that music had helped me then assuage feelings of nostalgia for my lost homeland, and how it had kept me wonderful company when I was feeling particularly alone.

After an unexpected lassitude overcame me, my thoughts strayed to doing guided meditation sessions while recovering from Leukemia treatment, which involved the therapist verbalizing a scenario in a soothing voice – so sound and meaning implied by word content and context was able to transport one beyond quotidian concerns into a place of respite. That fleeting moment of puzzlement was replaced by a sense memory of holding my new-born son and a reminder of the special place of safety and oneness a mother and infant shared moment can be.

At some points in the music the sound made me experience temperature change, taste sensations, colour variations and the texture of varied fabrics.  Sinewy arabesque threads wound along the lines of melody Instrument sounds implied tapestries woven of different weight and colours of fibres. A taste of fresh figs, honey, acrid sweetness of plums vied with pungently spiced  taste tidbits, the texture of roasted almonds. I was awash in sensations.

Sudden silence when the music stopped brought me back to the clammy touch of the cool washrag in my hand, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the sound of wind teasing through the aspens outside. The noises of nearby construction re-asserted itself. My tile floors remained uncleaned, but after relaxing in my newfound sense of comfort and pleasure, I tackled that chore with a vigour which surprised me.

I do wonder though, do creators of works of art ever comprehend the effect of their creations, because they are ever varied, and largely unpredictable. But the riches bestowed on the individual appreciator are thousand-fold.  Was Scheherezade an artist? She of the Thousand and One tales, the one Rimsky-Korsakov references as muse, to aid us in reviewing tales of our own, read about, told to us, or directly experienced. Hmmm…

Sprain therapy – frozen peas and Montmorency cherries…

August 23, 2012

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Vancouver Island to stay with Ardent Feminazi at her Saanichton acreage and to kick around exploring the city of Victoria with a vague idea of relocating me and my goods there. Since becoming an official senior with a Gold Card, the only vaguely golden item I possess, it is now possible for me to sail to the Island via ferry, as foot passenger, GRATIS, but only if travelling between Monday and Thursday.  This is quite the perk for canned pet-food eating seniors in B.C.  Naturally, I took advantage of this.

After disembarking and dragging my wheelie suitcase across the sweltering tar-mac of the passenger pick-up zone, I spied Ardent Feminazi’s ratty red Toyota pick up truck, but no AF in sight anywhere. We had a bit of mix-up with the time of arrival, and she is not one to sit idle, but had gone off to the bottom of the ferry dock to see if in my heat-addled daze I had perhaps disembarked with vehicles rather than foot passengers.  After all I was piloting a wheeled bag, and may have taken too literally the advice for wheeled appliances to leve the ferry via the car deck. Since I have been known to make such errors in judgement on previous occasions, it made sense to me that eventually AF would return to her parked vehicle if she didn’t see me labouring along down below.  Meanwhile I wandered around from one shady bit to another and gathered a decent amount of melted buble gum on the bottom of my sandal soles, and then whiled away some more time trying to scrape that off at the edges of sidewalk.

At AF’s acreage, under the shadow of tall cedars, we sat quaffing cold coffee and plotting my searches of Victoria area to find just the right apartment for me. We made lists, looked at maps, looked up nearness of grocery stores and medical offices, considered nearness of neighbourhoods to the University, the Art gallery, parks and beaches.  I settled for Fairfield/Cook Street Village area as most meeting my diverse needs, and we made an apartment search list for the next several days.

During non-search times on the following days I played with Ardent Feminazi’s wonderful Malemute/Wolf cross, Sheena, inspected AF’s studio with the gorgeous huge etching press and wonderful light, made phone calls to Property Management agencies to view desired apartments, and ate fresh organic produce grown in Saanich.

As luck would have it, I did find a great little apartment a few blocks from the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion, the art gallery, Beacon Hill Park and Cook Street Village, and decided to come home and look after the deposits, etc..  The morning before I was to come home via ferry, I was up early, enjoying the cool of the morning while boiling water for a pot of tea.  AF’s house is situated among tall trees and  blessedly cool on a hot day. I walked from room to room in the quiet enjoying the green views from various windows and decided to go to my room to collect my morning medications.  Meanwhile, Sheena had, unheard by me, arrived in the computer room to continue her early-morning lie-in, thus as I was passing through that room I tripped over her recumbent body and lofted over her back, landing in a pile of freshly washed, unfolded laundry.

Thankg God for AF’s tendency to be casual with laundry – at least the pile made my landing a bit softer.  Sheena was surprised, but unharmed. My right foot however had folded under much in the same way as 19th Century Chinese folded a young girl’s arch and bound it tight to deform the foot to an ideal standard of beauty. Boy, did that hurt! Sweet Sheena gazed into my eyes and licked my face to let me know she would look after me.  I hopped off to retrieve my pills, then limped back into the kitchen to make the pot of tea and put my sore foot up on Sheena’s back. The foot looked all right, but hurt like the Dickens. I sat quietly sipping tea and applying cold wet cloths.

When AF woke up, she chastized me for not calling her to help.  But why should someone be disturbed just because I am such a Klutz? After breakfast she drove into Sidney to buy me a sturdy cane. Afterward she tried to convince me to go into Saanich Emergency and get my foot X-Rayed.  I refused to spend my last day on the island by sitting for many hours in a hospital waiting room, and figured that could as easily be done when I got back home. I figured since I could put weight on my right heel, but not the arch and bottom of the whole foot, things may not have been broken.

So, the following noon Ardent Feminazi borrowed a wheel-chair at the ferry, where thus ensconced, and in true Crippled Klutz style I was deposited on board into the care of a kind stewardess who actually brought me a sandwich and a cup of decent coffee and then wheeled me off at Tsawassen to pass me into the care of my sister, Margaret.

On the way home to my place, Margaret said. “you know what will make you feel a whole lot  better, G? I found a wonderful Hungarian deli in Vancouver where they actually carry canned Montmorency cherries and other goodies. I know how you often whine plaintively for sour cherry soup.”

“Okay” I said, ” but they better have Dios Beigli (Walnut Roll), Toportyu (deep fried pork rinds) and Majos Hurka (spicy liver sausage) as well. I feel the need to be totally self-indulgent.”

So, on the way home, we stopped at this deli, and I went wild, purchasing all of the above, as well as my beloved Montmorency cherries. As well, we stopped at a Save-On where Margaret nipped in to buy a large pack of frozen peas to serve as renewable cold-pack for my darn foot.

The frozen peas came in handy for the regular application of cold to my swollen and colourful foot.  I did go to local emergency the next morning and lucky as I tend to be, found no breaks, but chipped tarsal bones, and sprained tendons.

So the past two weeks, while regularly icing my foot, I also foraged my way through the Hungarian delicacies and frugally doled out tiny portions of Montmorency cherries – on youghurt, with sliced peaches, on oatmeal, spoonfuls by themselves.  No Sour Cherry soup, but simply delicious sour cherries.  Now I know where to get more of these cherries, and now that the frozen peas have eased my foot so I can freely hobble around, I think a bus ride is in order to the Vancouver deli, bring home several bottles of the Montmorency cherries and make the soup before the end of August.

The Auld Sod – here and there…

July 20, 2009

Rumpole, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey have travelled to the Auld Sod, Scotland, to visit Glasgow Girls mother and to make the pilgrimage to the Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh. I am left behind, thankfully, to tend to the animals and the garden, in its current incarnation.

Rumpole has been keeping me updated with news of their various doings via e-mail. Mousey is not acclimatizing at all to the time change and she keeps them up until 3am at night. Rumpole finds himself having to drive the busy streets of Glasgow in a hire car; he is terrified of driving on the left hand side of the road, which, surely, takes some getting familiar with. Glasgow Girl is partying with her school mates, and Mouse is entertaining the neighbourhood matrons and little children with her own peculiar brand of Canadian wild childhood. Rumpole and Renaissance Man are doing father and son bonding and trekking around Glasgow taking in the sights and getting lost. I am happy watering and critter entertaining, so all is well with the Stepford-Rumpoles.

Yesterday, Lookingforbeauty, Moira, OurLady of PerpetualCrisis and I had a yard sale chez moi on what had to be the hottest day of our summer yet. I tried to offload such interesting items as Rumpole’s old pre-amp, kitchen chairs, crystal, my favourite conversation piece – my Osama Bin Laden Zippo-clone lighter, some jewelry that hasn’t seen the light of day in 20 years, rubber boots, a vintage 1930s pedestal ashtray of interesting provenance ( it comes from a demolished funeral home and has been the repository of many extinguished cigarette butts from generations of mourners), a crab trap, a dressage helmet and hand-painted mexican tiles.

Osama got a lot of varied responses from the die-hard Garage salers out and about on this hellish morning; some outright indignation, some chortling and some questioning – “Where on earth did you get this?” I managed to offload…er, sell, Rumpole’s pre-amp, and have already decided what to do with the loot gotten for its sale. He may not exactly approve, but he won’t be here to weigh in with negative comments on what I plan to do with the money. I also sold some jewelry. And that was that.

We girls decided that our Yard Sale was a bust. None of us did at all well for all the work involved in hoisting stuff outside, setting up and sitting sweltering in the sun for 4 hours, let alone the bringing stuff back inside when the sale time was up. We figured our timing for the sale was off – too hot, wrong time of the summer, we didn’t have stuff people wanted. But who’s to know? Except for Lookingforbeauty, the rest of us were Garage Sale beginners. Honestly, I didn’t like the whole experience, not being cut out for the badinage required to engage prospective buyers. I hate stuff, anyway, and the less stuff I have the more at ease I find myself.

Today I languished, wiped out by the experience. So I did three loads of laundry and cleaned the basement floor. I hung out the laundry to dry, which happened really fast, it being infernally hot again today. No complaints here.

This afternoon, I invited Lookingforbeauty over to harvest some zucchini, while I harvested some lettuce about to bolt and some sorrel for dinner to which Lookingforbeauty invited me and another friend. We got a good crop; especially one spectacularly large zucchini which I plan to wrap, Furoshiki style and gift, anonymously and with great night-time stealth, to my neighbours Gary and Laurie.

Boy, will they be surprised tomorrow morning. And will Rumpole be delighted that I have less zucchini to process and freeze to augment winter dishes, unbeknownst to him, and ostensibly to convert him, although he is completely unwilling to become a zucchini consumer.

Rats! There go the Brussels Sprouts…

June 19, 2009

My family loves Brussels Sprouts – those perfect little piquant globes of green goodness in the wintertime. So, there had to be a row of these plants in my new vegie garden. Of course, if there were going to grow Brussels Sprouts, there also had to be had a supply of Kale and Kohlrabi, two cruciferous vegetables I associate with my early life in Hungary. There were already three burgeoning Zucchini plants taking over one end of my little plot, promising enough produce to satisfy our Zucchini-loving Scottie, my tendency to hide shredded Zucchini in all sorts of dishes (Rumpole hates Zucchini! – so it has to masquerade as something else) and to provide ammunition for my planned late-summer stealth Zucchini bombings by night of our neighbours front stoops.

So there we were, outside by the rows to be planted – Jessica, Lookingforbeauty and me. Seedlings at the ready we busied ourselves planting before nightfall. Lookingforbeauty was placing onion seedlings into available unplanted spots in the rows. I was fluffing up Kale fronds and admiring them, when all of a sudden Lookingforbeauty uttered “Shoo, dog!” I looked up from my admiration of new green seedlings to spot Jessica sprawled, nonchalant among the Brussels Sprouts rows, working her jaws over a healthy bit of growth. I leaped up and made to chase her away, at which threatening gesture she merely hopped to her feet, threw herself onto the grass verge and began to roll around luxuriously, meanwhile keeping a beady eye open should I reach her to give her a swat on the bum.

I made like a shreaking scarecrow, but she simply sprinted around in the garden, making spectacular leaps over the vegetable rows. I looked at the damage she had done to the Brussels Sprouts. Four plants chewed down to their roots in the ground! By this time, Jessica was hiding behind the already planted Kohlrabi on the other side of the row. She was starting in on the Kohlrabi leaves, meanwhile peering out at me from under her awning-like eyebrows. I chased her around some more. She is short and fat, but boy can she move when motivated!

“You’re going to have to keep her out of this garden,” commented Lookingforbeauty. “It’s your own fault, G, for giving her all kinds of vegetables as treats. You spoil that dog!”

“But, just look at that little mug – those saucy eyes, that gooofy clowning she does. I can’t resist her in the slightest.” I said. “At least vegetables are good for her – the vitamins, you know?”

But, I have decided. Those remaining Brussels Sprouts will be in the forefront of my vigilance against the depredations of my vegetarian pooch. So will the Kohlrabi, Kale and Zucchini. If she behaves herself for the rest of the growing season, I promise to let her sample the produce come harvest time. I’m sure Rumpole will not be heart-broken to share the Zucchini bounty with her. Hah!

Going to the dogs…

April 11, 2009

This past month has been health month for Jessica, our, Scottie, and me, both. I have undergone numerous tests for a heart blockage and for measurement for a new lens for my left eye. Jessica had to have some dental cleaning done and some blood tests to determine her overall health, after all, she is a ten year old, but vigorous, Scot. She welcomes visits to the vet’s – there are cookies there, and plenty of admirers to compliment her on her greying black sleek body, her shiny black eyes and her remarkably loving temperament.

Now that she is through with the trials of teeth cleaning and ear-hair plucking, she is feisty and energetic as is appropriate for any being in the new Spring-time. Last week she also went to the groomers and recieved her spring clip, which always make her have a little vanity induced sprightliness. She seems to feel, as I do, the same insouciant joyfullness whenever she is freshly groomed. Yesterday, I too went to have my spring hair-cut, so we both prance about the house and yard like a couple of ageing divas. Rumpole is amused with our new-found flirtatious gadding about. Spring has sprung at the Stepford household.
Meanwhile, the yard has also gone to the dogs, so to speak. Our fences are falling down and no longer will stand up when propped into proper position. Time to bite the bullet and have new fences installed. According to all the local wags, “good fences make good neighbours”, so I have to beard Lookingforbeauty, next door, to agree ro a simple and effective separation of our two plots of suburbia. She wants, it seems, a new re-reiteration of our old fence – with no embellishments such as latticework, which she deems as trifle fussy, and frankly so do I.

On the other side of the property, Gary and Laurie seem also to want a repeat of the six-foot fence that separates our back yard from theirs. My own idea is to lower the fence to four feet there, so we can get more afternoon sun for my planned vegetable garden. Next Saturday, our garden Guru, Matthew, is coming by to break turf on the back yard and rototill the manure and compost for the planned vegetable beds. I have wonderful visions of Swiss Chard, rhubarb, beets and beet greens, pole beans and herbs to start out my little gardening effort. Also maybe some yellow Hungarian peppers.

Since Jessica is almost a vegeratian, I will also have to plant zucchini, as she really likes to chow down on smallish zucchinis. (She always raids my weekly vegetable sack and extracts any zucchini in it as her treat.) Any garden plan has to take into consideration the eating habits of any dog which might currently be living with us. It may be that turnips should be on the to-grow list, as Jessica is wild about chomping turnips, as well.

I figure I have two good months of establishing a little veggie plot before my late June eye-operation, which will prevent me from mucking about in the soil. Our Lady of Perpetual Crisis is going to have some growing space here for herself, in exchange for weeding in July and August, while I recuperate from the operation. We should be able to share in any growing bounty at harvest time, and then plan to increase the size and scope of the veggie garden next year.

How do I love you…

February 14, 2009

Last Saturday, when Rumpole took me to shop for fruit and vegetables at the local farmer’s market, we spied a pile of Blood Oranges. Now, Blood Oranges are a spectacular seasonal treat, only available this time of year. They are my February obsession; I have to purchase 5 to 7 of them to hold, admire the variegated peel colours and to strip, cut open in different ways and assemble for a painted study. Then wolf them down, smacking the lips all the meanwhile. They are an acquired taste. This year’s selection, which we picked up, did not have the peculiar bitter sweet tang of previous years’. But their peel was so beautiful, that I decided to make a Valentine’s treat of candied orange peel for friends and family.

Mousey has never tasted candied orange peel before. So I am especially excited that my little labours will provide a first taste ecperience for her. She may not find the flavour exactly to her liking, but it will be a first exposure to a new taste sensation.

While Rumpole was off on Wednesday evening to his weekly guitar lesson, I carefully peeled foor blood oranges. The white spongy inner membrane required cutting off. None of my paring knives were sharp enough to be up for this task, so I had to sit patiently sharpening the blade of my favorite small knife to razor conditions. That in itself is a relaxing, meditative task – honing the blade, testing it, resharpening until the perfect cutting capability was achieved.

Once the knife was capable of slicing the peel from the pith with ease, I took off my glasses, took up one quarter peel at a time and, taking a deep centering breath, made tidy work of stripping each section of peel. Since I can see up close with one eye, it was fine and calming work, that suits well my degree of sightedness.

After all the work of separating pith from peel had ended, I sliced each peel into thin slivers. Then a liquor of supersaturated sugar solution is required to be made, for slowly simmering the peelings for about three hours, in order to reduce the sugar solution considerably. I kept a close eye on this process to ensure no burning could possibly occur. The pot on the stove smelled delicious. I know this as I frequently hung my head over to sniff the citrus scent evaporating from the batch. MMM!

At the conclusion of the simmering process, I drained the sugar-saturated peels and laid the slips onto parchment covered cookie- sheets. (They sat out overnight to dry and harden.)

At breakfast, the following morning, I dredged the bits of sugared peel in a bowl of sugar. Rumpole snagged a slip and munched it with his coffee. Then he took a second sliver and pronounced it “addictive”.

During the morning, Jessica and I hiked to the local grocery store to buy some chocolate bits, which when melted might coat the ends of each sliver of peel. I came home with the dog after our walk, energized, full of resolve to do a bang-up job of coating the orange bits with chocolate.

(Now I am not a chocolate-loving person, and don’t cook and bake with variations of cocoa and chocolate. Why, the one time I ordered Mole Chicken at the Mariachi Restaurant in Tucson, on New Year’s Eve, twelve years back, I was horrified at the taste of a spicy chocolate coating on that fowl which should never, in my opinion, be treated with extreme flavours. So need I add at this point that chocolate is not a staple in my pantry or a favoured taste?)

I nuked the half the chocolate in the microwave and it came out a mess of steaming pumice textured stuff. No way was that flowing and liquid enough to coat the ends of my bits of candied peel. (I am still soaking and chipping out the bowl from the mass of vulcanized chocolate, and that, three days later.)

That endeavour being a complete failure, I settled on the tried and true double boiler method of melting chocolate. Yay! It worked.
Just at the point where I was ready to start dipping, Flora arrived at my studio door. She breezed in, uncoated herself, snaffled a candied peel, then another and yet another. So I poured her a coffee to slow her down. Instructed her to wash and dry her hands and to start dipping the peels one after the other in the chocolate.
Every fifth one she popped into her mouth and mumbled, while chewing, “God, I’m going to have to work extra hard at my spin class this evening to work off all these calories! Slap my hands, if I take any more of these to eat.”

“Just keep dipping.” I ordered her.

Flora made short work of dipping half the peels. We figured some of my loved ones and friends may have allergies to chocolate, So they should be able to partake of naked peels. She popped the chocolate coated peels into the fridge, and we sat down to discuss Gallery business and ideas for bringing in the public in numbers, over another cup of coffee.

Before Flora left to go on to the rest of her late afternoon, we packaged up the naked peels, and then the cooled chocolate ones. One batch was to go to Amy and her sons; one batch was to serve as after Valentine Day’s dinner treat for Martha’s do tonight; a group of us to eat a fabulous meal prepared by Martha, after which we will look at her photos from her trip to India over Christmas.

Tomorrow Mousey, Glagow Girl and Renaissance Man are coming to our house for Valentine’s dinner. Mousey will get her first taste of the third package of candied orange peel. Glasgow Girl gets a reprieve from having to cook Sunday dinner after working 5 evenings this past week. And Renaissance Man has a taste treat which is a blast from the past.
No trite Hallmark cards for any of us. No over-packaged commercial chocolates or flowers from far away places. Just each other’s company for pleasure, and a tiny bit of labour from me to show they are important in my life.

And, as added bonus, I learned how to and not burn chocolate. This old dog continues to keep learning.

The Green Dress…

February 11, 2009

Twenty-three years ago, after seeing an afternoon client, I made my way to the fabric store to browse through the selection of swing-season fabrics. These to me were fabrics that might see one through Spring and Summer, of the colour temperature suitable for those burgeoning, bright and longer days. “Saturated, jewel colours” I kept in mind as I parked my Toyota Landcruiser a block from the fabric store.

It was the beginning of February, which up North meant sunny cold days, hoarfrost on the trees, with a hint of the promise of lengthening days and hence the arrival of Spring. Third Avenue was slick with ice. The berms at the side of the parking spaces had much reduced due to alternating days of warm and cool. A habitual hangover from driving lessons more than twenty years before, I turned the front wheels of the truck toward the edge of the sidewalk, disembarked and walked in my mukluks up the block to the only fabric store in town. The sky toward the west had a warm glow. It promised another clear and gorgeous winter day for tomorrow. The street was mostly deserted of pedestrians, and on my brief walk I ruminated over just exactly what I wanted to buy.

I had earlier determined that I wanted to make two dresses to serve as a sort of formal uniform for dress-up occasions. I hated the selection available at the local dress shops. They had nothing to suit my austere taste. I liked clothing which skimmed my body loosely, allowed for free movement, a certain modesty, simple details, well made, of beautiful colours. No elaborately opulent patterns for this simple middle-aged woman, Thank You. I also like materials which were of good quality and had good weight and drape.
This was a tough call for a Northern City, where most of the stores had the recent styles on hand, but little of classic nature which might outlast the switching diktats of the fashion world. The closest one could come to acquiring this kind of clothing was to find a skilled dress and pattern-maker, cloth of good quality and have something tailor made. I didn’t have a lot of money to hire this chore out, so decided to wing it, buy and alter a pattern, myself, and do the cutting, fitting and sewing over a period of months.

Once I entered the fabric store, I headed directly to the pattern section. I liked Burda patterns at this time, and spent some time browsing the selection of dress patterns available. The right design presented itself, fortunately, and it promised to be one which could be altered in different ways, as a sort of variation on sleeve lenght, neck detail and skirt length. It was classic, subtly constructed and attractively austere. It just needed the cloth of the correct weight and drape and colour.

It took me less than 5 minutes to find the correct cloth. Beautiful mid to light-weight rayon, solid coloured in the most delicious jewel colours. I stood and drooled over the colour selection, playing with the drape and the sizing in the fabrics. In the end a marvellous Winsor Blue solid and what might be called a Grass Green solid were the ones I selected, hauled up to the cutting counter and presented for measuring into the needed lenghts. I also found some muslin which I bought in the same amount. I needed to make a muslin variation to practice altering and revising the pattern before committing it into the final versions. Then found some thread and zippers, interfacing, buttons and seam binding to match both colours of cloth.

I was so thrilled to have this project to begin working on. Rumpole and Renaissance Man were treated to a fashion parade of me, flouncing about, bedecked in the two fabrics. The Grass Green fabric was for a dress to be worn for weddings, engagements, bridal and baby showers, and the Winsor Blue was to be made into a dress to serve for more emotionally somber occasions – funerals, memorial services, retirement parties, partner dinners. I figured to have my formal dress needs looked after for the next fifteen years.

Diagnosis and treatment for Leukemia (AML) intervened and put stop to my sewing plans. However, two years later, after we relocated back to the Lower Mainland, on a sunny February morning, I pulled out the pattern and the muslin and coloured fabrics. I took and noted my measurements with my Anyu’s help, and began cutting and constructing the muslin version of the “dress”. Lots of pinning, unpinning, altering, basting and pulling of stitches – until a pale facsimile of the dress took form. And – it fit and flowed and draped beautifully, reassuring that the making of the Green Dress would result in a successful Garment – one which would have an extended and valued life.

By the end of March, the dress was complete, with an inside worked by hand to be as beautiful as from the outside. It gave me enormous pleasure to work the unseen parts of the dress, and the pleasure of hand-stitching a beautiful edging repeated in the observation of the same. The dress, finally hemmed and pressed, was beautiful. It hung from my shoulders gracefully; draped over my poitrine modestly; flowed with movement and its hem was a perfect edge.

The following summer I wore that green dress to two weddings; the following fall to a memorial service. Every year for the next fifteen years, that Green Dress took me to many weddings, christenings ,bridal and baby showers, summer trips to the theatre.
I always felt like a million dollars in it. I dressed it up with inherited jewelry, scarves and costume jewelry from second-hand stores, shawls and a variety of shoes to suit the occasion.

Finally, last year ,my body had changed enough in its conformation that the dress no longer looked so great on me. My breasts had settled to a lower part of my torso, and the fit of the Green dress no longer seemed the same. The fine handwork I had done on the unseen side of the dress had held up well during the many years it was worn. The cloth also had maintained well, and still hadn’t broken down to seem old. I took the dress down to the Salvation Army Store, hoping that some younger woman might see in it a labour of love and good use, with still some useful wear in it. It had served me well, as the only Spring, Summer and early Fall dress that I owned and wore for well over a decade. I loved that dress, and then released it.

The beautiful Winsor Blue material I made into a cullotte and blouse outfit. That lasted me for fifteen summers, before being relegated to the resale aisle of the Salvation Army Store.

I have always felt that clothing was to serve as a beautiful second skin; that it should be comfortable enough to forget while wearing; that it make us add colour and pattern to the world in the manner of butterflies and; that they should be made beautifully and last a long time. The Green Dress saw me through a period of my life – from the age of a young matron of 43 to an older woman of 60. it was time to let it go, and for me to find a new uniform more appropriate to my current chronological age and my ageing physical appearance.

Now I am on the hunt for a pattern and colour of a dress to make as a uniform to last me into my mid seventies. This is my February and March Challenge this year. And I look forward, with the help of Rumpole this time, to construct this new all-purpose dress.

I figure owning two dresses in thirty years is an accomplishment of a modest sort.

Snow…Blagh!

January 8, 2009

It may seem ungracious to complain about the presence of snow in our landscape, not only ungracious but also uselessly whiny, but enough, already. Sure the snows are useful to keep vegetation from freezing out at the roots in the icy weather and the blankets of snow obscuring the less than aesthetically pleasing aspects of suburban life may seem to be a temporary boon for the eyes and soul, however its sudden record-breaking presence in a micro-climate best thought of as Mediterranean makes for problematic living, in the short term.
The past few days have seen unending deluge of rain, which reduces the snow-pack, but also threatens flooding. Our municipality has not been able to keep up with the snow-clearing. The plows have left berms almost 5 feet tall, and increasingly narrow roads. The local bus run disgorges its passengers onto our semi-cleared driveway, the only place people can actually get off the bus onto stable footing and without having to fall into deep snow. Once they get off the bus, they move with glacial slowness at the edges of the slushy road toward the relative safety of ankle deep slush on the sidewalk. At the corner, where the main drains are, a huge pile of snow blocks off the exit of the rapidly gathering melt-waters; the water keeps building up and up and cars turning the corner throw up huge tsunamis of water onto passersby. Walking about in my neighbourhood makes for comfortless, and even life threatening activity to pedestrians.
A couple of days ago, I ventured out onto our snow-covered lawn to test for myself the depth of the receding snow. I promptly lost my footing, slipped and took a header face first. The mouthful of snow I spit out was thankfully not yellow snow. I slithered my soggy way back to the relative safety of the walkway and tried to remove snow there. Man, was that snow heavy and water-logged! After digging for three feet or so, I threw in the shovel, so to speak. Visitors would simply have to wade their way into our place through the pile of slush.
Even Jessica, our Scottish Terrier, has a special horror of the current snow conditions. Whenever she goes outside to pee, she linger in the open doorway with a martyred expression on her pleading mug. “Do I really have to go out there to pee?” she seems to be projecting with heart melting glances. Heartless as I am, I order her to get out there and do her business. She bravely swims through the slushy snow, but doesn’t linger long out in it. She comes inside and makes dramatic shakes, as if she had braved sub-arctic temperatures ( in her ample fur coat, yet) and had trekked for unspeakably prolonged MILES, just to comply with her need to use outdoor plumbing. She does get a good rub-down with her towel afterward, and promptly heads to her perch on the back of the couch to sulk. Can’t say I blame her for her attitude as I am in complete agreement with her on it. We are two little old shut-ins, with raging cabin fever.
Yesterday, I phoned the municipality to complain about the rising waters on the blocked up corner, where the drain was completely covered by the snow pack. The woman on the other end of the phone suggested I or Rumpole go out and wrestle with the digging out. I told her, rather nicely, I thought, that neither of us wished to become part of the winter statisctic of older people dropping dead from shovelling snow, and that we had problem enough with extricating the car daily from its parking spot without having to tackle cleanup for which the municipality was responsible. A couple of hours later a Public Works truck parked in out driveway, and two stalwart young men schlepped through the sludge to the corner. In fifteen minutes they uncovered the plugged drain. (Reminder to self: send a letter to the editor of the local rag to formally and publicly thank the municipality for its prompt attention to what may have become a major flooding problem on our street.)
Today, the rain continues to fall, the snow keeps melting. At the rate of melt, Jessica and I will be able to resume our neighbourhood walks within a week. Only, the weather forecast threatens more snowfall in the next couple of days. Blagh!!! Whine!!! We can only hope the weathermen are wrong.