Monday 30 October 2017

Sunday Night Catch Up

I feel like it has been a whirlwind two or three weeks. So here's what's been occupying my time and energy lately.

We were down one vehicle due to an unfortunate accident in a parking lot. (The "kids' car" got badly damaged while it was parked in a highschool parking lot - the insurance company declared it a write off, so it got taken away and we were paid what the car was "worth" which wasn't a whole lot). We decided to let the kids (and I say kids, but they are 17 and 21) use my vehicle which I've been driving forever and is still a reliable workhorse of a vehicle, and I would get something different and "new".

New doesn't mean new. New means different. We like other people to experience depreciation of brand new vehicles. I also prefer someone else to put the first scratch in the car, so it doesn't have to be me. For three (?) weekends now, my husband and I have been driving around going to various car dealerships looking for the right car for me. I like SUVs. We have brutal winters here and I like to be up off the road with four wheel drive below me. I wanted a slightly smaller SUV than I've been driving and was partial to Kia Sportage, or Kia Sorento. We just couldn't find the right combination of all wheel drive, the correct colour, heated seats (a deal breaker for me!) and price.

Again, I remind you, we do not live in a city where there are great numbers of car dealerships to search through. We drove a lot! In one way, it was kind of nice, just the husband and I. We'd eat out, chat a lot, look at cars, test drive some, it was kind of like dating, except more stressful because I really needed to get a new vehicle!! It has been exhausting for him, as he's been dealing with his own health problems, but that's a whole other story.

Anyway, finally, on Saturday, we drove to yet another town (maybe an hour and a bit away) because I had found a couple of vehicles on the website of a Toyota dealership that looked promising. I am now the proud owner of a Toyota Rav 4 that I will be picking up this Thursday (more driving). I'm very happy. It is a "limited" which means all the bells and whistles (leather seats, yay!!) and it was still in our price range. We do not spend big money on our vehicles but we have yet to buy a "lemon".

As well, I have  been working Monday to Friday as always with extra work commitments. I've had a long overdue dentist appointment and now have lovely clean teeth with no cavities. I FINALLY cleaned up my little vegetable garden and packed away stakes and tomato cages and dug out the last of the potatoes and thrown bean plants into the compost. I cut back more perennials and cleaned out the last pots and window boxes of their faded summer flowers. One cat has been treated for worms and probably fleas and I have to remember to take care of the other cat. That's the dilemma with cats who go outdoors. They hunt and get parasites, you treat them for said parasites, then they go out and hunt some more. Yechk!!

When I was cleaning out my garden, I discovered two lovely not-too-big zucchini, so I made a batch of my regular chocolate chip zucchini muffins for this week's lunches and snacks. I also made a ham for supper. We haven't had ham for quite some time and I'm planning on making split pea and ham soup with some of the leftovers. It's becoming home made soup time!

We have been very fortunate and have not had hard frosts or snow yet. Hallowe'en is in two days and there have been Hallowe'ens of the past that have been cold, snowy, rainy, mild, windy, any combination of those... We don't get a ton of trick or treaters, but some years we get a fair amount, especially if the weather isn't horrible, so I purchased some treats to be ready.

People at work dress up for Hallowe'en and I'm a bit of a straight laced party pooper, but this year I decided , why not? So I found a costume at Value Village which was not some kind of suggestive sexy vampire get up (why are they all like that???) and instead I'm going to be a giant banana (and no that wasn't meant to be suggestive in any way).

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated my mother-in-law's eightieth birthday. We took her out to dinner at a nice place in a nearby town and then brought her back home for cake. She is in a retirement home due to her dementia, but she's very healthy otherwise. Generally she is in good spirits, but maintains that people have been in her room and moved things around. This is a common theme. She wouldn't remember if she had put an item in a different spot, or even what she had in her room, so it might just be easier to believe that others are doing things. Being around someone with virtually no short term memory is a very good reminder to live your life NOW, not put things off, and not worry about the little things.

I've been watching Outlander on Sundays (Diana Gabaldon's novel). I've read her whole series and enjoy the tv shows, but some are quite borderline pornographic in spots and I always have the remote in my hand ready to switch to something else if my son should walk into the room. Not that I think he doesn't already know the whys and whereabouts of human sexuality, but more that he should say something along the lines of, "Mom!! What are you watching?!?!"

Well, there you have it. There's the Sunday night review. Have a great week, everyone.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Piano Lessons

I was mindlessly clicking around in Pinterest and an image of a piano lesson book came up. It took me way back to when I was a girl, taking piano lessons. We always had a piano in the house. It was an old Heintzman upright that came from my father's family, I believe.


This is not a picture of our actual piano, but in my mind it was something like this:

My lessons were once a week at Mrs. Rowe's house. My mother would drive me there and sit in a chair flipping through magazines while I would sit on the piano bench with Mrs. Rowe and pick away at the keys. She always smelled of coffee and her hair was black and white and wiry. I would choose little coloured foil stars to lick and glue on the pages in the lesson book when I had learned a piece.

I was not a very good piano student. I did not practise. Well, I did practise, usually the day before my lesson. I absolutely hated playing in front of other people. I would much rather play when nobody was around. When I was taking lessons (because yes, I quit, a disappointment to my musical father), I went through this series:

My piano teacher had many students and once a year, she would have a recital at the local United church. Oh dear lord, how I dreaded those recitals. Once, I got up to play my piece and partway through I forgot my notes and sat frozen on the bench until my piano teacher came and rescued me. Later, she regaled the crowd with a pounding rendition of "The Entertainer".

What I much preferred over taking lessons and preparing for piano exams was buying sheet music, or begging my mother to buy me sheet music for different pop music. I would wait until nobody was in the house, or at least busy doing something else, and then I would work my way through it (always preferably in a key with few sharps or flats) until I could (haltingly!) play it. I was not a particularly talented player. It did not flow out of me, but I was passable.

I loved this music! Do you remember the theme song from Hill Street Blues? I loved the tv show as well. I had a black and white cat named Cleo who would jump up on a nearby chair when I played the piano and meow incessantly. She was either complaining or accompanying. I'm not sure which.

I always wished I could play more easily. I had a friend in highschool who had perfect pitch (you could play any note on the piano without her looking and she could tell you what it was). She was also an incredible sight reader. She could sit down in front of any piece of music and with very little problem, play it flawlessly. I was friends with a guy in highschool who played by ear. He could hear any piece of music and then play it himself - absolutely amazing! I wonder whatever happened to him? I always thought he would become a talented studio musician who could play back up to anyone, in any style.

I had an aunt who lived in a different province (British Columbia), so I did not see her very often. When she did visit Ontario, there would inevitably be a gathering at a relative's house and Aunt Betty, drink on one end of the piano, cigarette propped up on an ashtray on the other, would pound away, playing chords while my father sang. I loved those times and admired what Aunt Betty could do, just play after somebody shouted out a request.

Several years after we were married and our kids were very little, I thought I wanted to take up piano again. We bought an old upright - very plain - not particularly well tuned and it sat in our living room. I dug out old music and even bought a couple of new books. It was fun, but still not something that came naturally. We kept the piano for a few years, then gave it away for free to someone who was willing to transport it out of the house. (Those old pianos weighed a ton!)

What about you? Did you take lessons? Did you have your own "Mrs. Rowe"? Do you still play?

Friday 6 October 2017

Kind of the Anti-Martha

My husband and daughter came back to the house far too long after they left to quickly go into town and get the few things I needed for the Thanksgiving food tomorrow and Sunday. One of those things was a proper trifle bowl. None to be found. Not one in Walmart or Canadian Tire, and Home Hardware was closed. Once again, I remind you I live in "small town Ontario". No HomeSense, no Costco, no Pier One, no Stokes... the list goes on and on.

Because they felt badly about not being able to locate a trifle bowl, they chose a little something for me. It was a nice little surprise. I LOVE red in the kitchen and I have always loved little jugs and creamers.

Cute, huh? Now, for those of you that have been blogging for a while, you may know that this is a Ree Drummond piece (the Pioneer Woman). She started off with a blog. Yup, just a regular blog, but then it grew and turned into more of a cooking / food blog and then she took off like a house on fire and now she has a whole line of kitchen décor and items. They sell it here at Walmart. People, she started off with a blog.  We all started off with a blog. Do I see myself being able to grow and expand like Ree Drummond? Will I be videoing myself stirring ingredients in a bowl and making suggestions about the perfect place setting?

Well let's just say I'm more of a realist. I'm kind of like the anti-Martha Stewart. In fact, I was really ticked at Martha Stewart for a long time. She just rubbed me the wrong way with her perfection and chickens with blue eggs or green or whatever colour they were, her perfect décor and the way all of her food always worked out perfectly due to the magic of television and magazines. She set women up to be the perfect everything. Just got home from a long day at work and Susie is puking down the front of her shirt and the dog has fleas? No problem, just whip up the perfect meal complete with homemade dessert and relax in your New England paradise. She created an unachievable standard which made women feel inadequate by not being able to reach it.

Here's the thing. My food is not very pretty most of the time. Some of my dishes have chips in them. It wasn't until two years ago that I finally got some decent cutlery instead of the stuff my mother collected in a promotion at the local grocery store. My pie crusts are sometimes purchased frozen in a flat box, and sometimes homemade. The homemade ones often have patches where the crust split, or wasn't quite big enough on one side, so I took some of the extra that got cut off around the outside and used it to make up the difference. I don't LOVE making lunch in the morning at 7:00 a.m. and I sometimes swear at the cat when it "sproings" on the window screen just as I am getting all the ingredients out to make a low calorie bagged salad with pre-cooked chicken strips. I drink a glass of wine on Tuesdays, not waiting for Friday, if Tuesday laid me out flat exhausted because sometimes work sucks. Some of my furniture matches, but not all of it and our livingroom looks like a furniture warehouse or display floor because we are stuck with the mother-in-laws furniture and have no where to put it all and god help us if we ever decide to sell this place because there are so many unfinished bits and the thought of packing up our lives makes me feel ill, not like we are thinking of immediately selling, but we'll have to downsize one day.

So, to go along with this theme of anti-perfection, here are the preparations for the food that will go to "the city" with us to my brother and sister-in-law's house. I offered up dessert. My brother said they already had a pie in the freezer, so I said I would bring something that "wasn't a pie". So naturally, I looked on Pinterest. I have this HORRIBLE habit of experimenting with recipes that I haven't already tried when we have company over, or when I'm taking food somewhere else. It doesn't always go well. You would think I'd learn.

I found a recipe for a pumpkin trifle. Lovely autumnal flavours, but not pie. I also decided to bring something that I had already made once, so would likely be successful: Lunch Lady Brownies. These are also from Pinterest. Not particulary Thanksgiving-y but will go over well, if the aforementioned trifle is a bust.

Here is the reality of going to work all day, staying after work to get a bunch of stuff done, getting home to immediately thaw some hamburger and making a quick spaghetti supper whilst throwing in some laundry of clothes we might want to wear to the family gathering tomorrow. At the same time, husband and son had gathered up a rental car because the insurance company has deemed the "kids' car" a write off after being smashed into in a highschool parking lot by a young lady who perhaps needs more practise driving.

The trifle was described as easy and delicious. I beg to differ with the 'easy' description. First you have to bake a whole separate dessert - a spice cake. It does come from a boxed mix, so that's not terribly bad. Here it is posing in front of my dollar store compost container which gets used every single day and is hideous inside.

Here's my work space part way through the process. Notice the not-quite-a-trifle-bowl. I used to use that as a fruit bowl. It'll have to do. You can see my computer print outs of my recipes I was making tonight. I didn't quite get the reading glasses in the shot. Not being able to see properly anymore is a royal pain in the arse, as my baking consists of putting on the glasses, reading the next step in the recipe, taking the glasses off because they make me kind of nauseous if I'm just looking at the world normally, putting the glasses back on because I forgot what the instructions said to do, shifting the glasses down my nose because it bugs me to keep taking them off, pushing them back into place to read the next instruction, taking them off again because it's like swimming through water every time I have to go to the fridge, putting them on...

After the spice cake is baked, you cut it up and rip it apart and making a layer at the bottom of your not-a-trifle-bowl. In retrospect, that layer was too thick.

The next layer is a combination of pumpkin pie filling mixed with vanilla instant pudding (which I also had to make before hand and chill in the fridge), and a little brown sugar and something else that I can't remember because I'm 51 and a little tired.

Here's the pumpkin filling / pudding mixture in my beautiful and well organized fridge underneath the chilling bowl of "stabilized" whipped cream which meant doing the whipping cream thing until you get soft peaks, then using some dissolved gelatin whilst beating the whipped cream to achieve stiff peaks. (How many steps are we at now?)

Next comes a layer of broken (on purpose) ginger cookies. They are these...

President's Choice English style Gingersnaps which pack a bit of a punch that lingers.

Next comes the whipped cream. Then repeat the whole process again.

Meanwhile, I had already made a pan of brownies (tonight - between making supper and making the multi-step trifle) and then iced them right after they came out of the oven so the icing would melt and flow over the top, to harden again as it sits on my table next to the L.L. Bean catalogue with the Chelsea boots that I really want to order, but the exchange rate from American to Canadian makes them rather expensive but I love the look of them and all the other ones I've seen on line have been more expensive and did I mention I live in small town Ontario and there isn't a decent Chelsea boot within a 200 km radius?

But I digress. I realized I hadn't even taken a picture of the finished trifle product so how do you like this one?

There it is with plastic wrap, all tucked up in our 2nd fridge out in the mudroom, which is perhaps one of the best things in my life. Do you have a second fridge? It makes summer watermelons and beer so much more convenient, and it is indispensable at Christmas (and Thanksgiving and Easter and staff parties ...).

Finally, after hanging my freshly laundered pants and shirt on my lovely newish drying rack, and unloading and reloading the dishwasher, handwashing the big cumbersome stuff, and wiping down the counters, I did this.

Then I sat down and wrote this blog post. Just a regular blog. A trifling blog.

Sunday 1 October 2017

October First

Today couldn't have been more lovely. What a wonderful way to start a new month in my favourite season. I left the house around 10 this morning to get groceries for the week and checked the temperature before I left. I had on jeans, long sleeves and a light jacket. By the time I got out of the store and loaded my groceries, I had to put the air conditioning on for the drive home.

My favourite grocery store (where both of my kids had / have part time jobs) had a great deal on fall mums. I bought some more. I set some up on the porch.

I need to pick up a few more pumpkins. I did not grow any this year. The Mennonites down the road always have many for sale at a good price.

My hydrangeas (have no idea what kind!) are still putting on a nice show of colour.

I spent a lot of time outside today doing various outdoor clean up projects. Here are some of my pots / urns that are going to be emptied soon. They are looking a little rough. I just put them all in one spot for now and will tackle these sometime this week.

I'd say the creeping jenny did well this summer!

I put in a couple of hours cutting back and ripping out perennials from a couple of beds in the back yard. There's still a bit more to do here and probably three or four more beds larger than this to complete before the snow flies.

I'll leave the sedum and black eyed Susan for some colour.

When my back screamed that it had had enough, I helped the husband to finish up the last of the pool house chores which consisted of emptying big concrete flower pots, emptying and moving the little fridge that stays at the pool house in the summer, rolling up the rug, stacking furniture, general tidy up... It was a bittersweet task because of the rainy, quite cool summer we had. We really did not enjoy our pool and outdoor space as much as we would have liked. Oh well, some years are like that.

All tucked in for another fall / winter.

As I was walking back to the house after taking pictures, I thought I would take a shot of the shed with its remaining flowers that still look pretty good. I love the long shadows at this time of day (it was about 5:45 in the afternoon).

Finally, as this is the time of year for caterpillars, I was told by a colleague that the white caterpillars are to be avoided. After handling them, you can develop sores and blisters on your skin. I think this might be the kind she was speaking of. It was crawling on a back door window. I didn't feel like having blisters, so I moved him unceremoniously with the broom.  Anyone know anything about these critters?

I'm now having a nice glass of Beringer cabernet sauv. waiting for son to come home so I can fire up the barbecue for some homemade burgers. Have a nice evening, everyone.