Archive for the ‘suburbia’ Category

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.

First solo ‘white cane’ outing…

January 19, 2009

The morning started out foggy; the suburban streetscape softened and made mysterious seeming by the enveloping haze. The huge cedars across the street loomed a half-tone grey in the pearly atmosphere. The bus stop sign, directly across from my house, was a marginally visible standard. It was to be my destination upon making my first foray, alone and without companions, into the streets. The objective was to travel the few miles by bus, downtown, and run some errands with a hopeful and uneventful return home within a couple of hours.

At breakfast, Rumpole gave me my marching instructions. These were to move slowly, cross streets with great care paying especial attention to my blind left side and to deploy my brand new cane while doing so. “Give drivers exta time to spot you, before crossing a street,” he cautioned, “and, brandish that cane to make yourself noticed.” Then, he added, “for Heaven’s sake, don’t get yourself run over!”

“Yassuh, boss-man,” I growled at him while unsnapping my cane and taking an “en Garde” position to skewer him, if my depth perception might allow. I made a feint to my left and promptly knocked my sunglasses off the table. “You know very well I am not completely blind.”

“Yeah, right.” He shrugged into his winter coat and braved his way over to plant a kiss on my lips. ” Take care, but enjoy yourself,” he said, smiling, as he let himself out the back door.

I began making preparations for my outing. Dug out the bus tickets from my purse; detached a chit, and put it into my coat pocket. Retrieved my sunglasses from the kitchen floor; double checked the bus schedule; downed half a cup of coldish coffee; readied my carry-all; shrugged into my coat; grabbed my purse and keys and took a final look at the kitchen clock. Only ten minutes to go before the bus would stop across the street. But wait! That allowed just enough time to nip into the bedroom and blast myself over thoroughly with my Elizabeth Arden perfume. Even if I am one of the invisible group of ageing women, people might as well smell me from a mile away! (Lookingforbeauty, whenever she drives me downtown makes hideous gagging noises and covers her nose if I have been the slightest bit spritzer happy with the perfume bottle, or, rather if I had forgotten she cannot breathe in the presence of perfume) I figured by the time the bus arrived, the miasma of Elizabeth Arden within which I moved might be somewhat dissipated by the foggy air outside, so the bus driver would not be overcome by my olfactory splendour.

I left the house and locked up. made my way gingerly across the road at the corner and took up position by the bus sign. To busy myself while waiting for the bus to arrive, I carved little animal footprints into the nearby snowbank with the tip of my cane, and then to leave permanent mark of my passage carved in my initials. This activity occupied me until the bus arrived. It slid to a stop on the icy road; the door sighed open and I clambered aboard. Had a bit of difficulty remembering which end of the bus ticket to feed into the reader. The driver, tiring of my attempts to turn the blasted card this way and that in a confusing and idecisive manner, smartly plucked the ticket from my fingers and fed it in. He grabbed it from the machine and read off for me for how long the ticket might be effective. I had 90 minutes to do my stuff downtown. I sat down behind the driver, figuring that he might appreciate the wafting of delicious smell from behind him; after all, he did not pass out while I was fooling around at the ticket reader. He did not gag, but then maybe he was holding his breath, because he was kind of surly and quiet when I attempted to engage him in small talk. Maybe he was deaf?

Since my last trip by bus downtown, the vehicles have been equipped with a system whereby a woman, who sounds suspiciously like the woman they have on recorded messages for all local utility companies, read out the names of all stops. Very irritating, this. She sounds a bit like a breathless radio announcer. Maybe all the bus drivers in the Bus Drivers Union demanded that a recording spare them from using their voices; or at least maybe this installed system allows the bus company to interchange drivers at will – they won’t have to know where they are if unfamiliar with the routes. Sally tells them where they are.

This driver was in somewhat of a hurry because he took turns as if in the LeMans car race – with great verve and insouciance. It was a fun, but brief, trip to town centre and I felt as if I had survived a wee bit of adventure. I clambered down from the bus at the end of the line and took my bearings. Still the fog; not too many cars going by; not many persons on the street. I pitter pattered my way south in the direction of the mall where I had to do some business. Played with my cane, tapping and testing all and any surfaces along my passage to learn their characteristic sounds – ping, for metal; thunk, for wood; swish, for shrubbery; crisp scrunch, for frozen snow-banks; and finger-nail-file scraping for concrete. The place where crossing became necessary I misguaged the depth of the sidewalk and came down hard and short. Stood there craning my neck in all directions to spot moving cars and waited for them to roll to stop and let me make passage across. The left side vision is problematic for me, so I held out the cane and waited before proceeding. What a bother. No more nipping and skipping across the streets for me. Aargh! I hated feeling so vulnerable.

The walk was not the usual brisk one; it was more of a cautious creeping. The terrain was not familiar, and like all unfamiliar terrain must be learned to negotiate from scratch. No more automatic pilot for this old Gal! The walk, slow as it was, did feel good though, especially since I was independent and alone. The air felt moist and cool on my face; my hands were warm inside gloves; and I was snugly buttoned up in my wool coat.

I did my errands in the mall. Dropped in on a shop-keeping acquaintance, checked out her new shipment of beautiful spring clothes and gossiped a bit with her. Her shop dog, a spoiled Bichon Frise, bared her fangs at me and snarled. Nothing has changed there! Checked out a big sale of discontinued foot-wear, which did not tempt. Went into the childrens’ shop and browsed for books for Mousey. Nothing caught my interest there. I decided to retrace my steps back to the bus loop, if indeed I would be able to return home on my ticket before it expired.

I tap-tapped my way back and noted the metal grating around the trunks of decorative trees planted in the middle of the side-walk. Explored the pattern of the grating with my cane and the music that could be made by riffling the cane tip across the patterns. Very charming sounds! The tree trunks were smoothish, and I dragged the cane around the girths to hear the texture. This way of moving about intentionally gives rise to new and different sense experiences. One’s passage is accompanied by novel (to me) soundscape. The walk took me back to where the bus had ejected me. The time it took to take the walk was immeasurable. For one, I do not wear a watch. For another, I was happily occupied with new sensations.

The bus ride home was more leisurely; the driver more amenable to chatting. We exchanged sightings of Julia Major, a local woman who parades around topless as soon as the weather turns springish, and who is the bane of all public utilities which have to provide service for people with all kinds of ability and disability. She is litiginous in the extreme, and I told the driver of a Julia sighting where she threatened to sue Translink, when the bus’s ramp for wheelchairs broke at the stop she was insisting on getting off via the ramp, rather than walking off as she had walked on. The driver joked, that had Julia been on the bus with me this day, she would have given him an earful of diatribe for him allowing me to climb solo on to the bus without him helping me. We had a good chuckle.

The driver stopped the bus next to my driveway, so I wouldn’t have to stroll across any snow or ice. I thanked him and waved my cane in good-by, let myself in through the back door, hung up my coat and made myself a cup of coffee. It had been a satisfactory first outing with my white cane, and I had enjoyed myself.

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.

Not another sweater…

November 26, 2008

Anyu always held close to the belief that appropriate Christmas presents for men in the family were either a sweater, an LP of music beloved by the recipient or a book of some esoteric character that was to edify the recipient.. She really looked askance when I gifted Renaissance man on his 18th Christmas with a stuffed ‘Bill the Cat’. Rumpole has long disabused me of the gifted sweater. So for these two men in my life, Christmas gifting has proved to be an adventure, of sorts.

A couple of years ago I gave Renaissance Man a fold out huge cultural history of the world. It opened up the length of his living room, and he seemed to enjoy reading esoteric bits of information from among the ages. The gift that both he and Rumpole took particular delight in was when they received guitar lessons for 4 months. This was 18 years ago, and I must say, it has been a gift that has kept giving. They joined a band, and have played together for 12 years now, and entertain us at home with musicales regularly.

This Christmas seemed particularly problematic. What does one gift a grown man who has alost everything his heart could desire? I stewed and fretted about this for months now. I want him to enjoy life, to keep learning while he can and to model that learning and enjoyment for his young daughter.

Last weekend, he and Glasgow Girl brought Mousey over for a visit. Here was the perfect occasion to put the query to him. I had cleverly and casually placed the new second-hand recorder I had bought at the thrift store, as an inducement to pique Mousey’s curiosity. True to form, as soon as she spied it, she picked it up and asked, “What is this?”

“Blow in the end,” suggested Rumpole, “It’s a recorder.”

She picked it up and tooted away with it in great delight. “Here, Mouse, ” said RM, “I’ll show you how to put your fingers.” He played the scale for her, but she couldn’t when she tried; her hands were much too small.

She marched about the kitchen and tooted away, experimenting with blowing through breaths.

“Mom, you’re such a trouble maker,” said RM. “Every time you introduce her to new things, she keeps bugging us to keep playing with them.”

Heh, heeh, that’s the plan – I thought to myself. it’s never too early.

“You know, R.M., you have a really good singing voice,” said Rumpole.

“Yeah,” I agreed, ” you have perfect pitch. Every time you sing with the band I have to pinch myself. You nail the songs so perfectly. But you lack confidence.”

“How would you like to receive singing lessons as a Christmas present, this year?” asked Rumpole.

Renaissance Man looked at each of us in turn. “You know,” he said, “it might be kind of fun. Only I don’t want to go to someone’s house for lessons.”

“Okay,” I said, ” I have the perfect place to order up lessons for you, the local music school. See if you like what they have on offer.”

So, that was that. Renaissance Man is intrigued by the possibility of voice lessons. My job was to do the research on this possibility.

So this week’s job for me was to find the singing teacher, which I did, and to order up lessons, which Rumpole and I did, this evening after having dinner with Lookingforbeauty. We drove to the music school in the dark of evening, and made arrangements with the pleasant director of the school. In January, Renaissance Man is to start his weekly lessons on Tuesday nights. I think he will be well pleased.

While at the music studio, I asked about replacement strings for my cheapo violin. They had them, and Rumpole bought a set for me. We drove home in the dark, well delighted with the possibility of making more music, en famille. I can hardly wait for Christmas – a book of songs for Renaissance Man to go with his singing lessons, and perhaps my newly strung violin along for Christmas dinner to play some reels. Of course, I shall have to practice during the coming weeks. I know for sure that Jessica, our Scottish Terrier will accompany me on the violin. She hates my music, or my singing, and joins in a chorale accompanyment appropriate to my level of playing.

It promises to be a musical New Year for us all. I can hardly wait to hear Renaissance Man let loose with his wonderful voice.

Joe the plumber in Pleasantville…

October 18, 2008

Up here in Canada we have the Brothers Mackenzie, Air Farce, loggers, habitants, the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks. We also have the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who now lives in the U.S.of A. We have poutine, maple syrup and Tourtiere. Alas, we do not have Joe the Plumber, who whips up our electorate as he does in the U.S.

Today I met our version of Joe the Plumber. His name is Bryan; he drives a large imposing looking white truck with his company name emblazoned on the sides. He speaks with a juicy Cockney accent, sports a gold ring in his left ear, looks like a pugilist and wields a mighty wit as well as a large wrench, with which he gesticulates to drive home plumbing truths.
You see our water main has burst, which necessitated a visit from Joe, I mean… Bryan the Plumber. He is really good at getting down to the source of the problem. He took a look at our soggy front lawn, took a few steps, whereupon the ground heaved under his feet, and pronounced the source of the leak. Fortunately for us, water hasn’t started to come into our basement.
Naturally, these sorts of things tend to happen just whenever Rumpole is away for one of his male bonding trips with Man of Science, as just happens in this instance. I am the one left alone to deal with tradesmen, not one of my favourite things to do, as I am past the age of disarming them with my charm and good looks to get a good discount. Would you give a woman who looks like Popeye’s grizzled mother a discount? I thought not!
Thus, I gritted what few teeth are left in my head and wrote out a hefty deposit cheque, for work to commence on Tuesday. Bryan summoned the municipality’s operations guy to come out and turn the water off at the main junction. My God! He actually lied to the City guy and said our basement was awash in fresh water. The lie seemed to do the trick, as in no time a municipal operations van was parked out front and disgorged a fellow wielding a metal detector. He promptly found the connection and closed it off. Whew! We are safe, for now, from having a basement double as a swimming pool.
Bryan connected us to Lookingforbeauty’s outside garden outlet, so now we have water until the reconnection is effected, this coming Tuesday. I put in a call on Rumpole’s cell phone and left him a message of outlining the ‘disaster’s specifics’ and the outlay of shekels involved. That should dampen his holiday in Bella Coola, which he was so enthusiastic about. Other people get exercised about upcoming holidays in Turkey and Egypt, the Turks and Caicos, the temples at Angkor Wat. My beloved waxes poetic about the beauties of overland travel through the bush to that hotbed of tourism, Bella Coola.
It seems to me now, that my local candidate for the recently past election might have taken a cue from Sarah Palin and John McCain’s Joe the Plumber exploitation idea. He might have used Bryan the Plumber to sing praises of the union to which he belongs, got his opinion on all matters of concern to the local electorate – the environment, the electoral reforms, resource management and the economy.
Maybe next Tuesday, when Bryan the Plumber comes to reconnect us to the municipal water mains, I shall beard him while he is thus occupied and suss out how he feels about all that. However, I don’t know what I’ll do if he expresses Conservative sympathies and demonstrates jubilation about our newly returned Conservative minority. I guess I’ll have to be subtle and keep my pinko attitudes under my hat, that is, until after he has completed the plumbing job for us. But it’ll really hurt me to write that cheque, should he be be a card-carrying Conservative.

Lecso with the Old Forester…

August 27, 2008

I had my sixth eye operation on Monday morning. Old Forester, Uncle Pista, was arriving yesterday to spend several overnights with us while he visits his old cronies from Sopron Forestry School ( at UBC) for their annual summer picnic.

Rumpole and I had spent a poor sleepless night Monday night, mainly because I had to sleep on my stomach with my head face down after the operation. This necessitated creating a structure out of pillows and towels in bed to keep my head steady and allow me to breathe at the same time. I was up every hour as my back spasmed from the unusual sleep position, and poor Rumpole was disturbed by my getting in and out of bed. Finally, I got up at 4 am to take a Tylenol and let him get a couple of hours of straight sleep. At 6:30 we drove off to Abbotsford to make the 7:30 am follow-up appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Seemore. On the drive, Rumpole asked how I was going to be able to be ready to receive Old Forester. What was I planning to feed him?

“Oh, Lecso, I think,” I told him. “These old Hungarian fellows like their traditional growlies.”

“Well, don’t over-do it, ” he grumbled, stifling a yawn. “Remember you are supposed to take it easy. And just how exactly can you cook lecso lying down?”

“Zere is a vay, vere zere is a vill, edesem,” I replied, “maybe I can invent upside-down lecso? Stranger things have happened.”

“Don’t be so bloody flippant, G. I’ll rat you out to the surgeon. He will strighten you out!”

Well, it so happened that Dr. Seemore looked at my puffed-up tomato red eye and said that I could stay upright the rest of the day. Thus he gave me permission, witnessed by Rumpole, to carry on as Domestic Goddess and make regular Lecso for us for supper. Yes!!! Just don’t run around, bend down and pick up heavy stuff. Easy peasy! I told Rumpole on the drive home that chopping vegetables and assembling them was not major labour, and that yes, before Pista arrived I’d do a little lie down and rest. Poor Rumpole had a day in the office, with demanding clients to contend with. He had had scant little sleep the night before and certainly had more important tasks to discharge than my measly putting together a simple meal.

The weekend before, we had gone to the local farmer’s market and picked up some fine yellow sweet Hungarian peppers, green peppers, ripe tomatoes, juicy onions and new nugget potatoes. Lucky had gifted us with her husband’s home-made deer pepperoni sausages – so these were slated to be the meat component of the lecso dish.

After changing and making up beds, washing and hanging out laundry, I took a couple of hours of blissful nap – and not lying face down either. By the time I awoke, my eye had turned a deep eggplant colour – not vey attractive. I looked like a victim of severe domestic abuse and wondered if Old Forester might make a sarcastic comment about why Rumpole might take pokes at me. Entertaining possible smart rejoinders to such queries, I began to wash and chop vegetables and sausage. Assembled all the different ingredients into separate bowls and laid these out like a regiment near the stove to begin assembly.

Ding Dong! The bell woke me from my mise en place engagement with the food-stuff. It was Martha at the back door, come from her dentist’s appointment to check on my operation aftermath condition.

“God! You look terrible, worse than you have after the previous operations.” She covered her eyes and peeked between her fingers at me. “Uncle Pista will think you have been severely beaten by Rumpole. You’ll have to explain that is not what happened here.”

“Gee, thanks!” I muttered as I shepherded her into the kitchen. “Come have some coffee. And why don’t you stay for dinner and a visit with Old Forester”

“I’ll take the coffee, but won’t stay for dinner if you’re making something spicy and Hungarian. What’s for dinner?”

When I mentioned “lecso” Martha demurred and made her excuses. She preferred to bring us supper on Wednesday night and get her visit in with Uncle Pista. I started assembling the Lecso while Martha caught me up on teaching gossip and stories of friends who have come back from holidaying in Cuzco, London and Berlin. She asked if I needed her to get anything for our dinner tonight. Just some wine, I thought, and maybe a baguette to sop up the lecso juices. She dank her coffee and went off shopping.

By the time Martha came back with the wine and bread, the lecso was simmering nicely and smelled heavenly.

“How hot have you made it, this time?” she asked as she unloaded her purchases.

So I gave her a spoonful, to which she commented, ” I hope Uncle Pista has a cast iron stomach!”

Well, naturally,  a cook has to make spice adjustments for seniors, as they can take only more bland spicing, versus the rip-roaring heat a younger person can stomach. Of course, Martha has the palate of a decrepit senior, even if she is in her middle 50s. Or, it could be she has English taste-buds and a preference for bland food. Old Forester, on the other hand, is a true Hungarian who loves the spices used in his beloved meals. I reassured Martha that Uncle Pista would survive my culinary ministrations, yet again. Oddly, she seemed doubtful. Go figure!

Martha took her leave and advised me to ice my eye and put up my feet before Uncle Pista and Rumpole arrived for dinner. I complied and took a load off.

Old Forester arrived before Rumpole did. He looked  natty and handsome in one of his well-pressed forestry service green shirts. He had the scabbard of his pocket knife attached to his belt, and complained of having left the knife at the recycling station in Logan Lake where he last used the knife to slice apart some cardboard boxes he was recycling. He is tending to be more forgetful these days. I promised to take him today to a local sport store to buy a replacement knife.

He made some Hungarian witticisms, of an understated sort, about my appearance. “You have looked better! But I smell that looks have nothing to do with your cooking prowess. Is that Lecso I smell?” He rubbed his gnarled hands together in anticipation. “Oh, I see, you have provided the nectar of the Gods for accompaniment. Well, we shall have a fine evening of debauchery. Yours is the only house where I can have my after dinner cigarette without having to go outside by myself.”

I hugged him, bade him welcome and set a cup of coffee in front of him at the kitchen table. He told me some wonderful stories about his recent adventures while we waited for Rumpole to arrive home for a supper of lecso.

That is what I need for my recuperation from operations – the company of good friends and family. I am going to thoroughly enjoy this brief visit from my old uncle. There is always good conversation and laughter at our table, interesting complaints to air and discuss,  and observations about the state of the world to share. Such pleasure!

Plum tree…

August 17, 2008

It is always at this time of year that I’m on the lookout for Italian plums, or, prune plums, at the fruit and vegetable stands. Forever, August is imprinted in my memory as the season of plums, for which fruit I had early developed a passionate favoritism. It may have been because Anyu always took care to partake of this seasonal delight. During Augusts in early years in Hungary, plum soup and plum dumplings were favourite family meal items. For sure, Ildiko and I were very aware of seasonal ripening of our favourite fruits and vegetables, mainly because we coursed freely through the local countryside and kept a keen eye out for the setting and ripening of various fruits. These we would forage from freely, when the appropriate time came, climbing into trees, and settling on branches to chow down on fruit like our primate forebears. It seems that, if memory serves me at all, most of what we ate then were fruits and vegetables. Whether the offering grew in ditches, abandoned or manicured orchards, it did not escape our rapacious and experimental appetites.

When we first bought this house seven years ago, our immediate neighbour had a small prune plum tree which struggled to stay alive on our fence line. It generously bent its branches into our side yard, and I delighted in taking from it several handfuls of ripe plums. From these I’d make plum dumplings for a treat for Rumpole and Renaissance Man. I had no accurate recipe for the dumpling dough, but had watched how over the years Anyu had made the dough by combining handfuls of ingredients – mashed potatoes, flour, salt and beaten eggs. She had wrapped halves of prune plum in discs of the dough, added a sprinkle of sugar and then sealed the little packages, which she would cook in a cauldron of boiling water. When the dough globes rose to the surface, they were cooked through. Drained, then smothered in fired breadcrumbs then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, these made a heavenly feast. No August is complete, without several occasions of feasting on prune-plum dumplings, even if the plums come from a farm stand. My neighbour took out his plum tree three years ago, and since then I have been purchasing the plums rather than pulling them, warm and dusty from their stems on the tree.

Last week, I decided to remedy this situation and bought a gangly, juvenile, Italian plum tree from a local nursery. It is a spindly, leggy tree and won’t bear fruit for at least four more years. I don’t care; the idea of being able to harvest at least some fruit from my own tree is so satisfying. In four or so years, Mousey will be six years old and just getting her tree-climbing legs. She will probably also love to harvest the plums. Lord knows as a suburban child she is isolated from the sources of the food she eats. Even having the two small blueberry shrubs we do , she is able to gather the fruit by herself, and know directly where the fruit she so adores comes from – not the grocery store, but from spindly bushes in grandma’s back yard and other such places.

As soon as prune plums become locally available, I shall prepare a feast of Hungarian plum dumplings for all of us – and then show her that the young tree in my front yard will soon be providing the delicious fruit, year in, year out, God and the weather willing.

“Dear Heloise…”, er, I mean, “Dear Crabby…”

July 16, 2008

Oh, but we are a world of seekers after information, on how to or not do things, always on the hunt for new, novel or tried and true solutions for our many questions. Having access to a computer is a contemporary equivalent of being in possession of an encyclopaedia set for loftier bits of knowledge, of owning a book on household hints or consulting the “Dear Abby” column in the morning newspaper.

Why, just the other day, I googled some new/old knowledge on how to make my own laundry soap, whipped up a simple concoction of three ingredients and now am happily laundering away with nary a phosphate in the wake of such domestic activity. Can an old dog learn new tricks? You betcha! Especially when having a PC, an electronic oracle, to consult.

To my surprised delight, while perusing the search engine terms used to find my blogs for morning amusement, I find I have now joined, like many other blogger beavering away in obscurity, the illustrious company of “Dear Ann…Dear Abby, Dear Heloise… and er, Dear Martha”. It seems that some of my trove of lore and wisdom is sought after by a few innocents pounding away on their computer keyboards.

How have they stumbled upon my blog? Naturally, via search engine terms, which are the efficient substitute to flipping through volumes of encyclopaedias. As a giving sort of person, I shall humbly attempt to oblige these seekers. But first, I need to have a catchy ‘nom de plume’. Aha! Shall it be “Dear Crabby”? Sort of suits my persona rather well, according to Rumpole and other intimates. So “Dear Crabby” it shall be. Has a ring to it, a famous sort of ring?

First question I shall address is:  “how to avoid chafing armpits in ocean” ?????

Dear Sun, Surf and Sex;

Your question caused me to give a vigorous scratch to my scalp. Even though I search my memory, back, back into the mists of time, I cannot recall an occasion when I ever chafed my armpits in the ocean. But, of course, I am not in the habit of trying to remove armpit hair-growth by rubbing up against coral reefs, which I am told by knowledgeable sources is not a recommended method of depilation. Besides possibly hurting, this action might cause one to develop a severe infection, if perhaps the blood released into the ocean by chafing did not at first attract the attention of man-eating sharks. I suggest you don’t expose your armpits to chafing whilst playing in or near the ocean. Please exercise caution if you want to avoid unnecessary drama in your life.

                                                                                                     Crabby

The second question, even more baffling, is : “cigarette ash for facials”….????

Dear Ex-Smoker;

Please give up on the idea that cigarette ash is an ingredient in facial unguents. The “friend” who gave you the recipe is not your friend, but a hardened enemy. She was perhaps likening your complexion to the surface of a walnut dining-room table which has been besmirched by numerous white water rings and spots. This is definitely hostility being aimed at you. You may not know that one can get rid of white water rings on varnished wood surfaces by mixing a salve comprised of butter and cigarette ash. However, delicate human skin cannot well survive the application of such concoction and I highly recommend against it. Suck it up, and carry on with whatever resulting skin condition has been gifted you by a lifetime of smoking the evil weed.

                                                                               Crabby

Anyone else needing me to dispense with hard-won wisdom, delivered without holding back, please address your questions to “Dear Crabby”.

“Time Out…” I’ll show you how!

May 30, 2008

Being Grandmother to an engaged and busy 22 month old toddler is far superior experience to winning a multi-million dollar lottery, I’d wager. At least, such has been my experience up to date. This past Wednesday, my big treat was to spend an extended five-hour period with Mousey while Glasgow Girl went to her afernoon job, and Renaissance man was to go to an after work meeting. GG and Mousey came to pick me up from home, and there was Mousey, perched in her car-seat, madly grinning and waving as I walked to the car bearing the black bag which she has to inspect as soon as we go into her house. What goodies are in there, what surprise?

Once we arrived, Mousey led me into the living room and inspected the contents of the black bag. Sun-glasses (check), wallet (check), umbrella(check) keychain(check), comb(check) and what’s this? Small cardboard boxes of mysterious stuff? (“Later, Mousey. Grandma will show you what these are.”) There is also a brown paper wrapped bottle of wine, as a treat for GG after she gets home from work, to sip with exhausted Grandma. (“This is for big people. You wait, Roxy will come and have a visit with us this evening before you go to bed. This is for Momma, Grandma and Roxy.”)

Glasgow Girl shows me what to feed the Mouse for dinner and then leads me into a section of carpeted hallway. “This is the spot for “Time-out”. We have been doing this for when Mousey hits us, something we want to discourage. She hates it and will scream and yell. You’ll have to hold her down for two minutes.” Mousey pays us no attention; she is busy pulling on her pink rubber boots, muttering “Go outside” under her breath. She drags me by the hand to the back door, and waves a distracted good-bye to her mother. She is fixated on an outdoor adventure. Glasgow Girl leaves.

Out in the yard, Mousey collects her favourite stones that she has stashed in a special spot under the emerald Cedars. She also has a stash of curiously-patterned fallen leaves which she weights down with a large stone. “Open sand-box,” she orders. “We play.” While I lift the lid from the sand-box, she ferries her collection by making several trips. She only brings the most precious ones of her stones – a large one, a medium turd-shaped one and a small round black and white speckled one. She seems to favour the turd-shaped one. The last time we were all together, when I pointed out that unfortunate similarity to Glasgow Girl, she shushed me. It seems that “turd” is not to be one of Mousey’s vocabulary words, just yet. Is it an improper term? Oh, well. There is still time to round out her increasingly extensive vocabulary, a bit later.

Mousey busies herself with pouring sand from one container to another. We discuss the concepts of full and empty. She carries on filling up buckets with sand, says “full”, pours it out into another bucket, “says “empty” and gives me a meaningful look. She tries to make a mountain out of dry sand, which doesn’t work too well. The sand refuses to keep a good form. We go off to the garden hose and fill a bucket with water. This we carry back and dump on the sand. It’s good and mucky. She happily fills a bucket with this wet sand, I show her how to tamp it down in the bucket. She pats down the additions of added sand. Then she can’t lift the bucket and looks frustrated. “It’s heavy”, i point out to her. “let Grandma help.” We upend the bucket, remove it and there she has a nice solid tower of sand. This she augments with the rocks and leaves. “Big mountain!” she announces, looking ever so pleased with the result. She steps back and inspects it, meanwhile rubbing and slapping her hands together to rid herself of the sticky sand. “I go pool now,” she says and marches off to where her new inflatable lady-bug pool sits, now empty of water. She kicks off her rubber boots and climbs inside. Lies down. “Resting” she calls out, and hides.

Soon, her little voice pipes up. “Bugs… bugs…”. I go over and there she is lying on her stomach following the path of scurrying ants on the plastic bottom. “Oh, bugs, bugs…” she cooes at them and makes to give them kisses. They run away from her mouth. She giggles. “Bugs… kiss bugs!” she announces. ( Good thing Glasgow Girl is not here. She might not like Mousey making too affectionate with crawling things.) Mouse climbs out of the pool, pulls on her boots and heads out into the garden. “Bugs!” she calls out with glee as she plicks something from the dirt. She runs back to me and hands me a round black ball of something, which I then drop on the ground. We watch it unfurl itself into its true form – a sow bug. Mousey raises a foot, and makes to stomp it. “No, no, let the bug go back to its home,” I caution her. She falls to her hands and knees and watches the bug scurry quite smartly in the direction of the garden. It makes its way under her sandbox. “Gone!” she says. “Look under the sandbox,” I suggest to her as I get down on my hands and knees. “it went under there.” We lie down on our stomachs and watch the sow-bug wend its way to the edge of the patio, and drop off back into the garden. “Bye bug” says Mousey. “Bug home.” She looks at me and asks “Cookie?” “Would you like a cookie, Mousey?” I question her. “Yep, pease.” she takes my hand and leads me to the back door.

In the kitchen we select gold fish crackers – three of them, which Mouse has to count – one, two, three. She takes them to the living room, and picks up a book about bugs. “Read” she orders. She settles herself on the couch and places the gold fish crackers on her lap-covering skirt. Pats the couch beside her, “granma, read.” She pops a gold-fish into her mouth and takes great pleasure in pointing out various kinds of bugs. Repeats with a mouth full, “ftik bug” and “bubberfwy”. She loves naming things, animate and inanimate. Her enunciation with a full mouth is quite funny. After she swallows, her speech is just a bit clearer. She goes off into her kissing phase. Insists on kissing every bug picture in the book.

(This reminds me of something funny Glasgow Girl told me a couple of weeks ago. She and Mousey went to the grocery store for toilet paper. Mousey had to kiss every package with kittens pictured on the wrapper. “It took us forever to get past the toilet paper section”, groused GG. “What’s with this blasted kissing?”)

Mousey and I segue into a Winnie the Pooh book. We read it over and over again at her insistence. She sees every little detail in the illustrations and wants to tell exactly what each thing she sees is. Soon she fixates on Pooh’s honey pot. “Honey”, she says, then looks up at me. “more cookie?”

“Let’s go get your supper ready.” We walk to the kitchen. Mousey drags a chair to the sink and climbs up. “I help” she states, matter of fact, and starts to collect her plate and spoon from beside the sink. I fish out her container of cottage-cheese noodles from the fridge ( aha! Renaissance Man has introduced her to his favourite meal as a child – Noodles Stroganoff -a dish he still equates to homely comforts, much as I always have. Another food tradition well on the way to being established!) I heat her plateful in the microwave while she goes off to climb into her high chair. I add tomato salad to her plate and place it in front of her. She digs in with relish. Although she eats well with a spoon, she soon drops her spoon and starts shoveling the food into her mouth with her hands. Seeing she is so hungry, I don’t insist on Queen’s Table Manners Rules. In minutes she polishes off her whole dish. “Done” she says proudly and hands her plate to me.

Next is halved grapes, and then a small amount of yoghurt and fruit salad. Mousey finishes off her meal with long satisfying sips of water from her sippy cup. “Finished,” she smiles, even though I am busy cleaning her sticky hands and face afterward. She pulls off her bib and impatient, slaps the table of her high-chair to be let out.

“Come help me clean up,” I call from the sink. She climbs back onto the chair there, and helps rinse the dishes. Starts to splash me. I splash her back with sprinkles of water shaken from my wet hands. She giggles and blinks her brown-button eyes, chortles and asks to be dried. “Go outside?” she asks.

Outside again, she takes care to say bye as she prepares to have a few private moments at the side yard with her sit-down elephant on wheels. I flop into a patio chair and try to regroup for the next phase of our afternoon. Mousey carries on a long, convoluted conversation, half of which I do not understand, with the neighbour’s cat which is keeping to the safety of the fence between them. Maybe she has made repeated attempts to haul the cat by is tail to her to bless it with numerous kisses. Cats are too smart to let a toddler get her hands on them and rough-house them into submission. Mousey stays in the side-yard for quite a time, chatting up a storm. I rest and just listen.

Soon enough, she reappears and wants to read more books. Back we go inside. Grandma dutifully reads a selection of books Mousey presents. At the end of reading, Mousey sits and thinks for a few minutes. She looks at me with a speculative expression, then whacks me a good one on my arm with her fist. “Don’t hit, me”, I complain. “Time out.” she announces, takes me by the hand. “Okay, then,” I tell her, “Time out for you. No hitting allowed!” She immediately drops to the ground as if her legs have given out. Drops her head and arms to the ground and starts to howl. (I recognize this pose. It’s what Renaissance Man calls her “bowing to Mecca” posture that she does whenever she is having a temper melt-down. The lamentations, entreaties and moanings have a slightly religious quality, so I see where he has equated this behaviour with religious fervour. Funny man, my son!) I lean down and whisper to her that she show me where we do time out. She smartly picks herself up off the ground, grabs my hand and leads me to the hall, where she gestures me to sit down on the carpet, then pluks herself down in my lap. She proceeds to suck on her fingers and twirl her hair, as she reclines quietly. I wait the obligatory two minutes then suggest we give each other a hug. “Are you tired?” I ask. “Yep.” she replies, nods her head.

“You can’t go to bed yet,” I tell her. “We have to wait for Roxy to arrive. Let’s start your bath and get the bath things ready.” Mousey leads the way to the bathroom. Starts the tap running while I plug the tub. We test the water for correct warmth and make the adjustments to the water temperature. She places all her water toys inside and calls out, “Bubbles!” The door-bell rings. “Is it Roxy? Let’s go see.” Mousey runs out to the front door and waits to see who’s there. It is a smiling Roxy standing there when we open the door. Roxy’s in time to share bath-time. Mousey runs off, shrugging out of her clothes. Roxy goes off to the kitchen to open the wine, and rejoins us in the bathroom, where Mouse is busy splashing with her toys in the tub. She shows Roxy all her toys, calls them by name and submits to hair-washing and being scrubbed free of all the sand stuck to her arm-creases. She then announces she is done, puts all the bathtoys away and climbs out of the tub ready for towelling down. “Wash teeth” she says and fetches her toothbrush. She makes goofy faces as she brushes her teeth. All done, she waits while I towel her off and dry her hair. Then it’s time to get the pajamas on, and she is very co-operative in doing so.

She’s all dressed for bed. “Bottle”she demands. She still drinks one bottle at bed-time. She settles with her bottle of milk, while Roxy and I sit down with our glasses of wine in the living room. When she finishes, she goes and sits on Roxy’s lap and chats away to her. When she has visited to her satisfaction, she comes back to me, settles in my lap, sucks her fingers and twirls her hair. “Are you sleepy?” I ask. Mousey nods. “Let’s say goodnight to Roxy, then.” She walks to Roxy and says to her, “Kiss, g’nite.” She comes back into my arms, thinks a minute then says “Hug Roxy.” I carry her over to deliver her hug. We go into her room, inspect for Snowy’s presence, check behind the curtains and under the bed. No Snowy cat. Mousey pats all her stuffed toys ‘nite, then orders me to the light switch where she clicks the lights off.

“Nite, granma. Kiss” She clamps around my neck and gives me a sloppy smack. Giggles. I place her in her bed and she opens her arms. In one we place Mickey, in the other Minnie. She hugs them and waits to be covered by her blanket. She turns her head to Mickey and shuts her eyes. “Nite, granma.”

“See you later, alligator. Nite nite. Sleep well.” I whisper. She whispers back, “later gater.” I leave her room.

Out in the livig room Roxy and I are catching up on our news over a glass of wine. Not a peep from Mousey. “This child is amazing,” comments Roxy. “She seems to have no problem in going to bed.”

“Well, I am bushed and ready for some z’s myself,” I tell her, laughing. “Whenever Mouse and I are together we are very busy, I think she is also exhausted. It’s hard work being a toddler.

Roxy and her husband, Mike, have been married many years and have no children. Roxy expresses that she likes children, but so many of them are brats. Yeah, I tell her, we were brats too once upon a time, a long, long time ago. And some of us, like your’s truly, are still sort of bratty. I recount to her my first experience with “TIME OUT” with Mousey, and how  badly I handled it. Should I fess up to Glasgow Girl when she gets home? Roxy thinks it’s funny, and, definitely yes, I should admit to ineptness to GG. We sip our wine, and exchange our news. She leaves to go home.

Rumpole arrives before Glagow Girl does. I tell him about “TIME OUT”. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be done. Have you forgotten how to do it right?” he chides. “GG will tell you off.”

Glasgow Girl slopes in, flat-footed and weary. I smartly let her pour herself a glass of wine before giving her a rundown of how my time with Mousey was spent. I mention all the fun stuff before broaching the report of “TIME OUT”.  GG just rolls her eyes when I tell her of my “TIME OUT” method. “Oh, Lorrrd! You’re supposed to leave her alone!” she pronounces with her rich Glaswegian brogue. I grin and shrug, apologetic, dotty and inept.

Mothers always know best, I figure. And maybe next time, I’ll apply the method with greater skill.

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – http://nitawriter.wordpress.com – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.