Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Place for Everything

I woke up at 4:45 this morning feeling rested for the first time in days, if not weeks, so I got up and started straightening up the apartment while Mike slept.  I read an article a couple weeks ago about sugar's negative effects on the immune system and decided to cut it out from my diet for awhile to see if it helps, since I seem to be sick more often than not.  I've been this way for ages--my mom called me Typhoid Mary as a kid because I was sick so often--and it seems to be getting worse as I get older, so I figured giving up sugar was worth a shot.  (As an aside, did you know that "Typhoid Mary" was a real person?  And what a sad story hers is.  My goodness.)  The combination of the sugar-withdrawal and a flu shot last weekend have had me completely wiped out lately, but so far, so good today, so this morning has been spent putting away groceries and dishes that had accumulated in teetering piles on our one kitchen counter and on our dining table and otherwise organizing some of the odds and ends that had been making our little apartment feel out-of-control and annoying this month.   Cookbooks tucked back onto shelves.  Mixing bowls re-stacked.  Kitchen floor scrubbed.  Plants re-potted and watered.  Paints and stationery sorted.  It always feels so good to get things done.  'Nothing like a to-do list with a bunch of check-marks and crossed-off items.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sweet Autumn Weekend (or Val's Homebody Activities)

A sweet and simple fall weekend ahead:  Lunch with Mike in a few hours, a walk home through the leaves, and then a quiet night reading and catching up on my letter-writing.  These are what my ex-boyfriend used to call "Val's Homebody Activities."  :)  I gathered a bunch of especially pretty leaves this morning to include in the letters I'll be mailing Monday, and I've found both a sweet card for Aunt Laurie and the perfect anniversary card for my parents.  "Whenever we're together, blessings are served," reads Aunt Laurie's card, and the illustrations inside and out are of two bears talking over tea and of a flowers-and-pie-filled tea cart.  The Psalm verse "God has given us these times of joy" is printed on the inside, and especially since this will be the first mail I'll have sent her since our little gnome party three weeks ago, the card is perfect.  Mom and Dad's depicts one rabbit serenading another outside their cottages, and if ever a card looked like Mom, this is it.  Mom found me and Aunt Laurie sheets of autumn-themed stickers during our visit, and if I can part with them, they'll be on this weekend's letters soon.  (Pink Coneflower stickers!  Be still my heart!)  Cards and stickers are the only things I really enjoy shopping for, and I hit the jackpot with all these.  And tomorrow is Apple Cobbler Day because I'm hoping I can use it to bribe Mike into playing a game of Life with me.  I recently found the 1980s version of it that my brothers and I used to have, and I am willing to set aside Maple leaves and Chrysanthemum stickers long enough to fill a plastic car with pink and blue peg-people and then inherit a skunk farm.   (I always inherit the skunk farm.)  Sweatshirts, space heaters, and lap quilts on and rain all weekend.  These are my favorite kind of (fall) days.  



Monday, October 15, 2012

A Gnome-Themed Dinner Party for Mom and Aunt Laurie

Click to enlarge.  :)
When Mom mentioned a month or so ago that Aunt Laurie would be visiting the weekend of October 5th, I knew I wanted to do something special for them as a thank you for the sweet little anniversary party they put together for me and Mike in April.  In 2003, I made a Halloween meal during Aunt Laurie's fall visit, and almost a decade later, she's still giggling over the beef-stew-in-a-pumpkin pot and the sour-cream-and-black-olive-topped-potato-"ghosts."  By this September's end, I had decided to greet Aunt Laurie and her family with  a gnome-themed dinner the evening they arrived.  Mom and Aunt Laurie have a thing for gnomes.  Their flower gardens are full of them, they find odd little gnome gifts for each other, and they openly admit to wishing that they could live in miniature mushroom houses.  I had wanted the meal to be a surprise for both Aunt Laurie and Mom, but since I was holding it in Mom's house, I had to let her in on it, and in about two weeks, in letters and phone conversations, we planned our gnome-themed party.

I found gnome and toadstool stickers, 
and gnome napkins and tiny table decorations.  
Click to enlarge.  :)
Mom mentioned one night that she'd been making a small table-piece of a toadstool table and chair set for Aunt Laurie to keep and that she had found two garden gnomes on an end-of-summer clearance sale table.  Mom bought autumn-themed paper dinner and dessert plates too.  All of that with a scattering of autumn leaves, pumpkins, and gourds seemed like decoration enough. 
   
I focused on the menu and arrived at my parents' house October 4th with bags of groceries and baking supplies.  Aunt Laurie and her husband and son were to arrive the following evening, so less than an hour after I walked through the door that night, Mom and I were running into each other decorating her kitchen island with all our gnomes and I was baking toadstool cupcakes and gnome-shaped sugar cookies.  As we laughed and tripped over each other, we would spot yet another everyday kitchen item that was suddenly striking us as looking distinctly gnome-ish--"The funnel!  It's a gnome hat!  Look!"--and Dad could be overheard muttering, "Crazy, crazy, crazy" from the living room.  Before Mom went to bed that night, I finished transforming a yellow vinyl tablecloth into a dinner menu-backdrop to hang behind her kitchen island, and we laughed some more as we looked it over together before saying goodnight.
Click to enlarge.  :)

Since I was doing all the cooking and baking, I stayed up to get a head-start on everything I could.  I went to bed in the early morning Friday and got up again to continue cooking around 1:30 in the afternoon, about four hours before Aunt Laurie was to arrive.  And when I finally did see Aunt Laurie and her family pull into my parents' driveway at 5:00, I shouted to Mom and Dad, "Stall them!  STALL THEM!" as I put the finishing touches on the food and took a final few pictures.

Everything on the menu was gnome-themed, and except for the cupcakes, since she doesn't like cake much, everything was gluten-free for Mom. 

We had pasta with meatballs into which I'd rolled-up salami-slices to make "gnome heads-wearing-gnome hats," and tomato-mozzarella "toadstools" with Parmesan sprinkled on top:
Click to enlarge.  :)

We had two baskets of "gnome hats"--chocolate-peanut butter Bugles and plain Bugles--and I cut gnome shapes out of garlic bread dough to make gnome-shaped bread:
Click to enlarge.  :)

 I made a tray of fruit "gnome kabobs" and a tossed salad with toadstools carved out of radishes:
Click to enlarge.  :)
And for dessert, gnome-shaped sugar cookies:
Click to enlarge.  :)
and because we like what my mom calls "a wide assortment," toadstool house cupcakes:
Click to enlarge.  :)
 and frozen yogurt gnomes with whipped cream beards and, of course, waffle cone hats:
Click to enlarge.  :)

When Aunt Laurie walked in, she immediately saw the decorated kitchen and all the food, and me standing beside it, grinning like a fool, and Mom and I laughed in delight at her surprise over everything. 
Click to enlarge.  :)
I adore Aunt Laurie, if this isn't beyond clear by now.  If I weren't my mother's daughter, I'd be hers.  Who besides me and Mom gets such a kick out of themed food, after all.  Just watching her ooh and ahh over our crazy menu and decorations was fun enough, but I still had to show her, my uncle, and my cousin "The Tree."  Knowing none of us is the wear-a-gnome-hat-for-photos kind of person, I had instead edited a bunch of photos of the six of us in attendance at our little family dinner with the addition of gnome hats and gnome outfits and attached them to the limbs of a decorative tree Mom keeps in her dining room with garden twine, toadstool stickers, and twinkly Christmas lights  If we laughed over the food, we positively howled over the Tree photos. 
Click to enlarge.  :)


Click to enlarge.  :)
Click to enlarge.  :)
Oh my gosh, this was truly all so funny.  My dad, uncle, and cousin had long since headed into the living room to watch baseball or football or whatever it was, and Mom, Aunt Laurie, and I just laughed like loons as we looked at all the pictures and food.  I caught Mom's eye at one point and we just smiled at each other.  I think I can speak for all three of us when I say that if you asked us a hundred years from now about some of our favorite moments together in this life, we would all remember to mention our laughter during this silly gnome party.  While everyone got settled to eat and Aunt Laurie took a few photos with her camera, I escaped into my parents' bedroom for a minute to send Mike, who had had to stay here for the weekend, a jubilant little text message:  "Aunt Laurie arrived a few minutes ago.  Is giggling over everything and loves it all.  Mish-shone accomplished!"  :)
Click to enlarge.  :)

In addition to these cell phone pictures, I took an entire roll of film that night with a disposable camera Mom had bought for the occasion, and I found out from the one-hour photo place yesterday morning that for the first time in the 25 or so years I've been taking pictures, my entire roll of film was blank.  Blank.  An entire roll of film just--somehow--gone.  The store developed it, and it was just blank.  A bad camera or a bad developing job, who knows.  My photo of me hugging Aunt Laurie beside the Tree:  Never to be seen.  The one of Mom and Aunt Laurie laughing beside the gnome-themed buffet and big menu:  Gone.  The candid shot I captured of Aunt Laurie just as she walked in and saw the party for the first time:  Blank.  I spent a couple hours upset about it yesterday, and then I decided just to get on with things.  Aunt Laurie will share whatever photos she took, and I have the cell phone food pictures and at least this one blurry cell phone picture of Aunt Laurie beside the food and photo-tree, 
Click to enlarge.  :)


and that, with my drawings (which will be saved to include in future scrapbook-gifts for Aunt Laurie and Mom) will have to do.  Memories of this little shindig won't fade anytime soon, after all.  Aunt Laurie sent a thank you note this past week expressing as much.  'Updating now to add that she has passed along the following photos she took:
Click to enlarge.  :)

And even without more pictures from the night, "gnome is where your heart is" anyway, as Aunt Laurie and Mom would giggle and remind me. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Flea Market Cat and the Year of (Not) Letting Go

While making my way through muddy paths and blustery winds at the flea market with family last weekend, I spotted this antique toy on a table.  I'm not one for knickknacks but fell for this simple old black and white cat, and after handing my eight dollar bills across the table to the elderly woman who was racing to cover the rest of her wares before the next rain, it was mine.  The older I get, the more I love the quote from William Morris that advises us to "have nothing in [our] houses that [we] do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."   This cat fits the bill for me.  I also love the advice to get rid of a few things for every one thing you bring into your home, so sometime this week, I'll be putting together another bag to donate to Goodwill.  A memoir of my mid-thirties would surely have a chapter titled "Clutter Be Gone."  Too much "stuff" makes me antsy.  Unless it's of books, I despise piles. 

At 24, I wasn't like this.  While discussing one of the "Hoarders" TV shows a couple weeks ago, I told Mike about the time I was shopping at a Salvation Army store in my hometown a few weeks after my family and I had finished cleaning out my grandparents' house and came across some of their belongings on the store's shelves:  My parents had donated to the store the items from Papa and Grandma's house that no one in the family had claimed.  I hadn't wanted these things before, but I suddenly felt sick at the thought of strangers owning the contents of Papa and Grandma's home.  I bought back all their books that I could find on the shelves, along with a porcelain swan that had always sat on top of their piano and that was now marked with a neon green price sticker.  My grandparents had just died in the two months before, and I wasn't ready to let go even this little bit.  Not ready at all.  I made peace with it eventually, and at some point, the books and swan made their way to the Salvation Army a second time, but I spent the spring and early summer of 2001 surrounding myself with boxes and piles of Papa and Grandma's belongings and berating myself for not having "saved" more of it from their house in the first place.  And what little money I was earning that miserable year and the next, I spent too much of on more "stuff" that further cocooned and comforted me.  One afternoon, the mailman delivered an embarrassingly tall stack of packages onto my doorstep only to return to his truck for a second stack--and in front of my younger brother, whose respect is chief amongst those I'd never want to lose.  It was easy for awhile to tell myself and others that I was just buying what I needed for my new apartment or "treating" myself after a hard year of too many disappointments and losses.  Although I was far from a hoarder, I was, in those heartbroken days of 2001 and 2002, surrounding myself with Any Little Thing That Would Make Me Feel Better, even if only by association--This "new-old" damask tablecloth is just like one of Grandma's--or because of misplaced hope--Maybe I'll be wearing this new sky-blue sundress the day my ex-boyfriend finally comes back to me.  I don't laugh at the people being buried alive by their possessions on TV shows.  Sometimes tablecloths and dresses mean so much more than tablecloths and dresses, and sometimes you need to hang on to them awhile.  Some peoples' "awhile" never ends, as those hoarding programs show us, and I feel sorry for them and their loved ones. 

My own "awhile" lasted about a year and a half.  By the end of 2003, I had donated or sold on amazon and eBay most everything that had before seemed so soothing.  I had healed some.  The vintage tablecloth wasn't necessary.  The sundress wouldn't be seen by the ex-boyfriend.  I would continue to remember reading on Grandma's lap as a child even if I gave away most of her books.  Papa and Grandma's house would still live in my memories after its foyer's porcelain swan found a new home.  Eventually, I just realized I'd be okay without it all and that I was, when it came down to it, okay without Papa and Grandma and the ex, as well (if I had to be, and God knows how stubbornly I struggle to accept a loss).  But what you need--all that you really need--I learned in those years, you carry within you.  Death cannot steal it from you, not really.  Goodbyes do not negate it, even when your present seems to have cancelled-out your past.  If the wooden flea market cat makes me happy, I enjoy it.  (It suits me, for sure, and it does look sweet amid the autumn leaves and little pumpkins.)  I enjoy it all the more knowing--finally and truly--that I'd be okay without it too.