Sunday, January 30, 2011

The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. ~ Eden Philpotts

Before being hired for the position I've had the past six months, I spent two and a half years working as a cook. Although I love to cook and bake, the job was not my dream job, and although I knew I was still working toward my goals and doing the best I could, there were days it was all just maddeningly frustrating. Since it takes awhile to realize a pattern is, in fact, a pattern, I don't remember when I first started noticing this, but at some point, I began seeing hearts at work: Heart-shaped soap splashes by the kitchen sink's, one heart-shaped potato chip on the edge of the deep fryer while the rest of the chips had made it into the fry-baskets, a heart-shaped spill of maraschino cherry juice. My supervisor would call out from the walk-in freezer that a container of gravy had been knocked off of the shelf and would I please clean it up, and I would be greeted by a heart-shaped gravy spill before me. I would bend down to pull a red onion from their box and find instead a heart-shaped piece of Romaine lettuce on the floor in front of me. The other cook would bump his hand into my cup and my iced tea would slosh onto the table in a heart-shaped puddle. The daily sweeping and mopping of the restaurant would almost always find me reaching for my cell phone to take a quick picture of the heart-crumb or stain that was suddenly stubbornly stuck to the floor. If one of the hundreds of red potatoes was heart-shaped, it would be I and not the other cook on my shift who would blindly grab it from the bin. 

These moments sound like stretches of the imagination, but they happened so frequently, and only at work, and even then, only when I wasn't expecting them. If I looked down at the counter in deliberate search for anything heart-shaped before beginning to make a waffle for someone, I wouldn't see a thing, but two minutes later when the waffle iron would beep, I'd start to scrape the baked-on batter from around the iron's edges only to find that some had already baked into a perfect heart. I'm sure I was Cliff Claven-ish enough to show my coworkers the heart-shaped potato and chip, but I didn't tell anyone at work just how often this happened to me.


I began to believe at some point that all these hearts were not "just" hearts. Granted, they were not visions of saints in toast, but as crazy as it may sound to others--and as it did to Mike when I'd mention over supper that day's latest heart-discoveries--the hearts began to feel like signs to me. All those days working in a restaurant kitchen when I ached to be somewhere else doing something else, just when I thought I'd flip out and scream, I'd be "tagged" again and a heart-shaped bacon-piece would be left over on a guest's plate like a calling card from the universe and bring me some small comfort. It is silly and a bit sad, really, the things that help get us through the hard times, but whatever works, I say. Maybe the hearts were signs and maybe they weren't, but eventually I decided that every time I found one from then on, I'd take a deep breath, thank God that I had a job at all, and recommit to the goals of hanging in there and being patient while working toward something else.
What ended up being two and a half years passed, as time always does, and last May, the phone call requesting an interview for my current position finally came. Call me crazy, and point out that I reaaaaaaaally could have used some time off, but I take my magic where I can find it and am grateful for it when I do. I haven't noticed any hearts--edible, spilled, or otherwise--in ages. I found them when I needed them, and I am thankful.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Blue Santa-Mouse

I decided while at my parents' house this Christmas to take pictures of their Christmas decorations that mean the most to me. This blue Santa-mouse ornament was in the "Santa's Secret Shop" at my elementary school when I was a kid. Do schools still have this? It was so much fun. The PTA helped sponsor it, I'm sure. Each December, our school library was transformed into a "shopping mall" with the tables filled with really low-priced gifts like this. (My dad got a Mallard duck letter-opener from it.) Letters were sent home to parents beforehand explaining that gifts would be available at such-and-such low prices. Each class would get some time to go down to the library and shop. It was a blast. I don't think I even spent $2 total there each year but always managed to find something for my parents and two brothers.

One year, I hadn't budgeted my "Santa's Secret Shop" funds well, so I had almost no money left when it was time to go back to class--and I still needed to find something for my mom. I saw this mouse and knew she'd love it--she has so many blue Christmas things--but I only had a nickel left. I put my little-kid-shyness aside and told one of the PTA mom "salesclerks," "I only have a nickel left. How much does this cost?" and she smiled and said "It's only a nickel!" I was overjoyed. I didn't realize until years later that it surely hadn't really cost just a nickel. :) What a sweet lady. Thank you again, Whoever-and-Wherever-You-Are.   This silly little mouse has been on my mom's blue Christmas tree probably at least 25 years now. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sniff the air for cozy smells: smell of flowers, fire, and food.... ~ Mary Ann Hoberman

Especially in the fall and winter, I tend to keep a soup pot filled with water and spices simmering on the stove. In our tiny studio apartment, even the space heater can quickly make the room too warm, and the old radiator is almost out of the question, as it makes the apartment unbearably hot so quickly. The "cinnamon water," though, is just right, and it makes our little home smell so good. Having had colds the past couple of weeks has meant that we've treated ourselves to oranges more often than usual, so all the peels have made it into our water, as well.  So cozy. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom

Happy birthday to my mom, The Most Thoughtful and Beautiful. When we would complain as kids about having to return to school after Christmas vacation, she would remind us that she had always had to return to school on her birthday, thus trumping all our arguments. 
Mom loves the color blue, Grover from "Sesame Street," Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings movies, Doctor Zhivago, and Sam Elliot. She never fails to say "Ooh, Baby!" when Clark Gable first appears on-screen during Gone with the Wind, and she is still sad that "Captain Kangaroo" is no longer on the air, as she thought it was by far the dearest "kids'" show. She used to do a lot of oil painting but later worked more with acrylics and has sold her artwork in shops in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Her great-grandparents were from France and Norway.  She adored her grandparents. She is known for singing out "Cup of tea!" when stressed, and she thought to bring my grandmother bouquets of garden flowers to the hospital to give Grandma life and color and beauty and a taste of home during her final days. ("Why do people always wait to give flowers to people after they've died?" she wonders.) 
Mom is better with children than anyone else I've ever met, and they gravitate toward her. She loves antiques and the ocean, Sophia Loren and red gingham, sugar cookies without frosting, and houses that are what she calls "small and chubby." She is creative in all things and talked my dad into tearing down our garage in the 1980s so we could use the space as a patio. She hates to sew but is always making pillows and curtains, and when a stuffed cat I fell in love with in 2007 cost so much as to be absurd, she made a replica of it for me as a Christmas present. 
She has three brothers and three sisters and helped raise the younger ones. She is still in touch with her best friend from high school, sweet Vickie. She is sarcastic and self-deprecating, and our sense of humor is quite similar. We can get each other laughing hysterically, although, as with most mothers and daughters, we went through our stages of not laughing together much at all. After my best friend, Sommer, died in 1995, she had dreams of her that were so detailed and lovely as to make me jealous. Without Mom, I would not have gotten through the rest of that year. My friends have always loved her, and she is still impressed that even now, when she runs into my former kindergarten teacher, Mrs. R remembers her and asks about us. She is short. She would live in her garden if she could, envies the "Hobbits" their little round homes, loves rabbits and miniatures, and she thought my dad was pulling her leg the first time they went to a baseball game and my dad told her there would be a seventh-inning stretch. ("But then everybody stood up! I just could not believe it!") 
Mom's favorite person in the whole wide world, although she would never admit to choosing just one, is probably her sister Laurie, pictured with us above. Mom doesn't like rudeness or vulgarity, and I've only heard her swear maybe three times. ("Yourmotherdoesn'tsaythat!" she races to apologize afterward.) She watched the "Guiding Light" soap faithfully, loved Robert Newman's "Joshua Lewis" character on it, and remembers watching the show with her own grandmother as a child. Daisies are her favorite flower, she thinks the world of Eloise Wilkins' illustrations, and she never forgets a birthday or anniversary. 
Somehow, in the haze of the past week and a half's cold, I still found myself in line at the post office December 30th to get her card and package mailed out on time, and since I'm determined to visit my family more often this year, I will actually get to see her again in just ten days. Happy birthday, Mom.