Wednesday, March 30, 2011

They're Here!

I may not have baby lambs, or chickens, or puppies, like some of you all...  But I do have:

...tiny, baby pea sprouts!  I also have some beet sprouts and the merest hint of a cucumber sprout, but I'd need a super-macro lens for them.

What, my nearly invisible pea sprouts aren't as exciting as lambs jumping around, or chicks peeping and pecking?  Ok.  Well, what about this little character blooming way in the back of the yard?

Not so exciting?  Last year this redbud tree had one single bloom on it.  One.

Ok, maybe you'll find view this a bit more interesting.

Or this...

Ok, all better?  Yeah, me too.

I'm hoping to post March's Positive Things list this weekend.  Pea sprouts will be on it; betcha can't wait, huh?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rerun: Auntie Eva

I just finished re-reading the book that inspired Steven Spielberg's movie Schindler's List, and have been in a bit of a somber mood lately.  It's a massive piece of history to try to wrap one's mind around, the incomprehensible extent of open-eyed cruelty and organized death during the war.

I missed January 27th this year--the United Nations' Holocaust Remembrance Day--but the US Congress has declared May 1 2011 as this year's Day of Remembrance.  This re-edited post from 2010's Remembrance Day is a good reflection of my thoughts these last few days.

Do you remember, as a child, when the arrival of the mail was still interesting? Do you remember a time when unexpected packages promised mystery and excitement?

Most of the packages arriving at our big farmhouse in the country were not unexpected. Christmas and birthdays brought regular boxes from the UPS truck. But every once in a while, out of the blue, we'd get a box from Auntie Eva.

I had no memories of Aunt Eva, though she was very present in our photo albums. Both my brother and I dandled on her knee as infants. Yet, since we'd moved to Ohio, and she remained in Manhattan, I hadn't seen her since I was about a year old.

I can't say her absence bothered me. After all, in the pictures, she seemed very serious, even grumpy to a kid like me. And she was greatly overweight. I was happy that my mother was the more attractive of the two.

However, Eva got major points for sending packages! You see, Back in The Day, the New York Times was not available at every convenience store or gas station. My parents, having met and lived in Manhattan, missed the world-class reporting that was unparalleled in the days before satellite communications and internet. So every month or so, Auntie Eva would pack up a box of her gently-used Times and ship them off to northeastern Ohio.

Even though I was too young to read such serious fare, I was always excited when her packages came, because there was often something besides paper in there. At Christmas, she usually sent a real gingerbread house, which was displayed on the dining room table--and never eaten! She also sent chocolates, candies and other treats; I especially remember strawberry candies in red wrappers with green tufts that mimicked the fruit itself. I've seen them since, but they've never tasted as good as the ones Aunt Eva mailed us.

As I grew older, I began to delve into the Times Sunday Magazine. At first, it was mostly to look at the pictures, to see how the other half lived. My brother and I often pored over the real estate section in the back. Estates for over a million dollars! Back in the eighties, conspicuous consumption was something we kids aspired to.

Of course, I eventually began to read some of the articles, usually starting with the humorous one-page essay at the back. I didn't "get" a lot of the articles, especially the ones dealing with strictly NYC affairs. The Fashion Issue was completely beyond my comprehension (and still is!).

At some point, having visited my dad's sister and brothers in New York and New Jersey over the years, it suddenly dawned on me that Eva didn't fit into either family tree. "Is she a real Aunt?" I asked my mom. No, she wasn't. In fact, Eva was one of my mother's dearest friends.

They met in Manhattan through an international club at Hunter College, and I get the feeling Mom was impressed, if not comforted, by Eva's worldliness. Mom had come from a small town in Pennsylvania, and college, to work in and study biochemistry. I think between moving into the big city on her own, and starting post-graduate studies in a man's world, she must have been a little nervous.

I never heard much about what made them such great friends. I know they joined a ski club together--picturing the obese, unhappy woman from my baby pictures at the top of a mountain, perched on thin wooden slats, tested my imagination.  Whatever their adventures may have been, Mom always seemed to tell Eva stories with laughter in her voice.

Eventually, I had more questions about Aunt Eva...where was she from? What about her family? And her story opened my eyes.

You see, Auntie Eva was a Holocaust survivor.

Her story is less dramatic than most that you hear about. She and her mother somehow escaped the camps. They were moved into the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest, where they lived, crammed together with strangers, scraping by the best they could on meager supplies of food.

According to Mom, Eva's obesity resulted from a metabolism destroyed by surviving for months on nothing but beans. Mom shared a story Eva had told her to illustrate their desperation in the Ghetto. A doctor came one day to treat a sick person in their building. He arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, and entered the house to treat the patient. When he came back out, the horse was gone.

That night, everyone in the building had meat for the first time in months.

I don't remember if Eva had any siblings; I do know she had a father. He was not as lucky. He was sent to a concentration camp, where he eventually died of exposure. The only reason Eva learned what happened to him was because someone--a guard, another prisoner, I don't recall--found a picture of Eva in a book of his after he died. There was enough information on the back of it to contact the family after the war.

Eva and her mother somehow escaped Hungary before the liquidation of the ghetto as part of the Final Solution. They emigrated to England, and her mother later remarried. Eva was sent to stay with relatives in the US, which is how she eventually entered into our lives.

Now, as I said, I was never close to Eva. I met her once as an adult; she came to my (real) aunt's house while we were visiting in New Jersey. Oddly, I don't remember much of that visit--other than being shocked that Mom and Aunt Barbara were preparing a ham for lunch!  Apparently, Eva wasn't too religiously observant.

I do remember Eva was a presence. She made a living for several years as an extra in movies and tv shows, and proudly contacted us to let us know when she'd be on tv. She said she was known as the big lady with the big laugh.

In spite of my apparent indifference, I think Eva enjoyed watching my brother and me grow up, even at a distance. I can recognize now that she would have liked to be a bigger presence in our lives, as she never had children of her own. She didn't marry until her 50s or 60s, though she was very happy when she did!

A few years ago, my mother called to tell me that Eva had died suddenly.  I don't know if we might have met again, but it saddens me a bit that she'll never know how she affected my emotional development. Not only did her old Sunday Times broaden my horizons, but her life story introduced me to the horrors of World War II in a very personal way. It took me many years to figure out why I was so particularly empathetic to those in untenable situations--slavery, poverty, abuse. I believe it's because Eva's story made it so real.

In 2005, the United Nations declared January 27th, the date of the liberation of the camp at Auschwitz, as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day to remember victims of all holocausts, not just those of the second World War. It is not a day to wallow in despair, or point fingers of blame. It is a day to honor the victims by taking this lesson to heart: a holocaust can still happen, if we let it. It takes more than hate-filled people with weapons. It takes, as a wise man once said, for good people to do nothing.

It is a day to remember that all people are human.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Last Harvest

In my last post, while pointing out the dismaying state of our neglected garden bed, I mentioned the carrots we never dug up from last year.

Truth be told, it wasn't pure laziness that kept us from finishing that harvest.  As serendipity would have it, the garden made a wonderful cold cellar over the winter for them!  So we occasionally found ourselves, in the middle of January, for example, me with the shovel, Miss Chef with the flashlight, digging up some dinner in the dark.  Fresh carrots, all through the winter--it was total luck, but I felt like quite the clever gardener.

Now however, as the temperature's already climbing into the low 80s (about 27C for my metrical friends), I figured they wouldn't last long out there.  Besides, they were in the way of my ongoing weeding.  They'd had their fun; almost a full year's cycle.  They were nearly free range carrots, and I had no qualms about digging them up and tearing their heads fronds off.

So I present to you, the final harvest of 2010!

Fresh out of their bath
Now grow little peas, grow!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back to the Soil

You may remember I made mention a few weeks ago of spring beginning around here...

In fact, it's rapidly leaving us behind, it seems!  We almost missed the hyacinths, and today I turned around and saw these tulips.  In fact, when I saw them in the early afternoon, they hadn't even opened.

Of course, you know around here, spring means more than just pretty flowers.

Yes, it's time for me to unkink my gardening muscles (and kink up my back, but that's all part of the game).  It's time to grow food!  Most of this lettuce was planted in October and wintered over in a very dormant state.  This planter was all the winter gardening I was able to maintain.

Now that it's gardening season, though, it's time to tackle this mess.

Wanna feel better about your own garden?  Go ahead, click on it to biggerize it...get a good view of the weeds, the half-unearthed irrigation hose, the carrots we never dug up last fall.  The small boxes in front would look just as bad except I used the weed-wacker on them out of frustration!  There is a small clear patch in the main bed where I spent a couple of evenings this week weeding for just a little bit at a time after work.

But there's no more bit-by-bit.  Nope, I crossed the line this morning.  We had our annual meeting for the Farmers' Market volunteers, and just being with such a passionate group inspired me.  That, and the fact that our most wonderful local hardware/garden store was a block down the street, beckoning to me with unlimited gardening supplies.  I was good, though.  I only got this much.

I've had to make some mental adjustments about this year's garden.  First, I came to realize that it's not really "our" garden.  It's my garden.  Miss Chef will--if she happens to be home--enthusiastically dig and plant with me in the lovely spring weather.  In fact, she surprised me with that trellis she made a couple of years ago, to feed my pea frenzy.  However, once the weather warms up and the plants get busy, she has no interest in maintaining the thing.  Weeding, thinning, watering, tying up, even's all me.

Second, we will be gone for two full weeks right at the height of the season, when spring crops can be nursed through one last harvest, and summer crops are beginning to take off.  Three years ago we spent a week in Chicago during this same period, and the garden was devastated by rabbits.  With that in mind, I'm planning just a spring garden: broccoli, peas, beets and cucumbers, so far.  I have invited some neighbors to use the space for summer crops, especially while we're gone.  They haven't decided yet, but I might plant a few squashes and zucchinis, and ask them to come water and harvest while we're gone.  Or, at least harvest.

Even with scaling back my plans, those weeds weren't going to remove themselves.  So I set to work with shovel, gloves, trowel..., shovel, gloves, dandelion digger, watering can, etc.  I thought of many of you while I worked.  I was wearing the Iowa farmers' market shirt sent to me by Claire, and was wondering how long it will be until Liz can break ground up there in Indiana.  I appreciated the lovely, crumbly dirt after seeing all that dusty stuff in New Mexico on Justina's and Lisa's blogs.  There's a lot of time for thinking when uprooting an army of weeds.

Before I planted anything edible, however I planted something else...

...newspapers as mulch.  Miss Chef tried to do this last year, but it was after the fact, and she didn't put enough dirt on them, so they blew all over the yard.  (Planning is not always our strongest gardening skill.)  If you look closely, you can see that this year I'm burying Prince in my garden!  I only had enough stamina newspaper to do the edges, but it will be interesting to see if there's a difference in weeds and water use.

I also planted some stepping stones and transplanted the trellis.  After two or three hours, dirty knees, fogged up sunglasses and that kink in my back, I ended up with this.

I'm calling it my half-assed garden.  I spent a lot of time on my ass (and hands and knees), pulling up weeds, and it's only half done!

(Reality check: a pause, while I go investigate the wet "urrrp" sound coming from the living room...and clean up Rosie's regurgitated dinner.  Sigh.  I do love you, sweetie, but...why??)

Sorry, Mama.

Anyway, I did surprise myself by getting everything in...nine broccoli plants, peas and cucumbers along the trellis, and a couple rows of beets for Miss Chef.  It may be my garden, but that doesn't mean I can't grow a few things just for her.  (She's a beet maniac; the cukes are for her too.)  

Since Miss Chef won't be home until close to midnight, I can surprise her in the morning with my half-assed garden.  Who knows, maybe she'll catch the bug and grab a shovel...I can always dream.  :-)

To finish off, I leave you with another lovely edible...the rosemary is blooming.  I forgot it does charming.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Brief Smoky Update

I was wanting to post something today, but hadn't a clue of anything interesting enough to write even a paragraph about.  Then I checked into Facebook, and found perfect blog fodder.  Smoky's new mom had posted a couple of new pictures.  (For anyone new, we found Smoky as a 3-week old kitten in our neighborhood in October, then nursed her through weeks of bottle feeding and butt-wiping before sending her on to a new home.  Oh, and Rosie tried to eat her.)

And because Rosie's agitating for me to join her outside in this 78-degree weather, that's all I'm gonna write.

Happy weekend!

"Smoky the paperweight"

Remember Mr. Buns, who was bigger than she was!?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Up and Down Update

*big breath*

Well.  We didn't make it to the Whitewater center.  Nope, Miss Chef woke up with a bad headache, the friends she had invited cancelled...and just when she was starting to feel better, our computer died.  Boom.  Shut down, never to return.

We tried a few basic things, consulted with my dad--a retired consultant in this area--and decided we'd just spring for a new one.  We never liked the old one much anyway.  So the rest of our afternoon was dedicated to figuring out our finances, comparison shopping and setting up the new baby.

Good news: a new computer, smaller and quieter than our last!
Good news: after the last crash, we'd invested in an external backup hard drive--and had used it!

Bad news: because of the odd nature of our machine (built by a friend's dad and repurposed to our use), it turns out that none of the backups we've done since 2009 actually backed anything up.
Really bad news: nearly all of the files relating to my French class--starting in two weeks--are only saved on the crashed drive. Ditto for all my pictures for the past two years.

Silver lining: at least I have two weeks to recover my course files!
Silver lining: most of my best pictures are saved online on my blog!

In spite of this new stress, in spite of missing out on kayaking, in spite of the additional blow to our finances, in spite of hating the whole "spring forward, get up in the dark again" thing, I actually am feeling more optimistic today.  Dunno why, it might be I had to be down for awhile before I was ready to go up.  It might be a hormone thing.  It might be that I decided last night that no matter what, I was leaving work at 5 today.  And it might even be that stupid daylight savings giving me hours of sunlight this evening.  But...I feel better.

And after posting the other day, and then listening to the news this morning, I felt a bit stupid.  I mean, compared to what people in Japan and Libya are living through, I've got it easy.  But I'm not embarrassed...I'm only human, and we do get caught up in our own dramas.

Plus, the real reason I posted that was because I knew if I reached out, you would reach back and make me feel better.   Which you did.  And I thank you.

So I just want to say...Justina, you are awesome for saving Patrick; Liz, I hope Teagan has a wonderful birthday, Miriam I am so jealous of your little chickies, Garrett I am jealous of your nature walk (but will catch you up on outdoor fun)...and I think that was about all the blogs I got to read today.  But I do enjoy checking in with you all.  Thanks for being my blog buddies!  (Now go check out each others' blogs if you haven't already!)

Now...onto my next lesson: hard drive recovery.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Up and Down

It's been spring, it's been's been freezing cold and raining. 

I've been busy, I've been lazy. 

Excited, exhausted. 

Thrilled, frustrated. 

And through it all, not the least bit inspired.

Well...maybe a little, here and there.

In short, work is kicking my tail, the presidency of the board of our homeowners' association has been overwhelming, bills keep popping up to eat up everything we're supposed to be saving for our trip, and I've been letting all that stress get to me physically.  Sleeping poorly, feeling draggy and tense at the same time, missing the sun but dreading the sunrise that drags me out of bed to do it all again.

A "popcorn tree," per Lisa's twinlings, against the morning sun

Still, I've found a few moments of happy distraction...calling my nephew in London for his 12th birthday, while standing in the sun in the parking lot at work--how amazing is that, this small plastic gadget connecting us across the ocean and multiple time zones?  I have to wonder what my grandmother would have thought.

A daylight walk with a grateful and contented Rosie through our neighborhood, amazed by the succession of trees launching their pure flowers at the sunlight: pear, apple, cherry...

...and I try to keep alive the little thrill I feel every time I downsize my many windows on my computer at work, and see my desktop background of a street shot in Paris.  My brain thinks, "Paris!  I'm going there!"  Miss Chef's chef is planning on closing the restaurant for their annual vacation while we're gone, and taking his family to Paris as well.  Perhaps we'll meet up for dinner.

Miss Chef, who works even more hours than I, has been my rock the past week or so.  We constantly tell each other how grateful we are for each other.  She's been picking up my slack without complaint.  She knows when to treat me gently, when to jiggle me from my apathy, when to let me babble.

And I know that this is just a passing phase, that soon I will find my feet again and shrug off the inconveniences and obstacles of daily life and crises.

Tomorrow is a start.  Tomorrow we're going kayaking again at the US National Whitewater Center.  Tonight I feel like a slug in winter...perhaps tomorrow it will feel like spring.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Positive Things For February

There are some weeks that should just be erased from the calendar once you've made it through them...weeks when you keep thinking "at least I got through that," and then something else crops up.  Repeatedly.

Which is the best reason for me to reflect on all the good things that happened before this week!  For anyone new, I stole borrowed this idea from another blog--I keep track of positive things throughout the month, then share them all here.  I'm actually a glass-half-empty kind of person, so this is a good mental exercise for me.

Anyone else playing along?  I'll Linky-dink at the end as usual.  (Oh, and the spring pics are for those in less southerly climes who need something to focus on to get through this last painful month of winter--I know how that goes.)

1. I remembered that I have points on my credit card, and got to go shopping online!  I opted for a new shredder, having pushed our old one to the limit.  Sillily practical, but it's always fun to come home to a box on the doorstep, and the new one's got all the bells and whistles (in case I feel like shredding a CD.  Too bad most of our bills are now online, lol.)

2. Friends invited me to join them at a restaurant called the Crêpe Cellar that I didn't even know existed!  It's a tiny place that gets quite crowded, but we got there early and had a great time.  I stuck to the classics: a "galette" style buckwheat crêpe with ham and gruyere and accompanied by hard cider.  Followed up with a standard sweet crêpe with marscapone and berries--out of season, which I normally don't do, but it sounded like a great combo.  Shoulda stuck with a lemon & sugar one, as the crepe itself was tastier than the stuffings.  I brought home a spinach & mushroom crêpe for Miss Chef, but she preferred my leftovers!  Oh, and the oddest thing...their mac 'n' cheese side was really, really good!

3. Miss Chef and I had our own little Superbowl party.  I thought we'd just turn it on in the background (neither of us being big football fans), but she had the idea of ordering wings and making it an event.  Which we did.  And had a great time.

4. I finally trimmed some bushes out front and cleared out the overgrown bed of mint in back.  The bushes look like crap because I had to cut them back so severely, but we can see out the kitchen window again.

Actually our view out the back door.  This is prettier than the neighbor's garage.

5. This may sound weird, but...our manager lifted all restrictions on overtime for our department.  Which means I've been working 10-hour days again.  But I'm excited to make all the extra income I can before our trip, so I can have lots of spending money....and, even better...

5b. ...we were also allowed to work on President's Day, a bank holiday.  Which meant double time and a half.  That's extra-concentrated spending money!

6. My obsessive trip planning came to a climax with the reservation of an apartment in Paris!  I was very excited to go back to the rental website after making our deposit, and seeing our dates marked "not available."  Yes, it's ours!

7. I knew when I reserved it that our apartment is located at the edge of the gay district of Paris (just a coincidence, but hey, it's a great location!)  But I had to laugh for several days when I found out that Paris' huge Gay Pride day will be the day after we arrive there...which also just happens to be my birthday!  Not sure if I want to head the other direction that day, or go thank the Parisians for holding such a great birthday party for me.

8. I got to speak with my brother's family in London briefly, trying to coordinate this whole apartment thing.  We don't have long distance, and have yet to to install Skype in Miss Chef's laptop (which is usually with Miss Chef anyway), so we rarely get the chance to actually talk to them.  They still don't have English accents, as far as I could tell.

9. Valentine's weekend was a crushing schedule for Miss Chef, since it fell on a Monday.  The restaurant is normally closed on Sunday and Monday, and Sunday is Miss Chef's only day "off."  (If you count sitting at the kitchen table grading and lesson planning as off.)  She was scheduled for that entire weekend, but I found out Saturday night after hostessing that she didn't have to  work Sunday.  What a great Valentine's gift for us!

The lettuce is still growing--harvested enough for a salad tonight!

10. As part of my trip planning, I made Miss Chef sit down with me to tell me what she's really interested in doing, especially in Paris.  We both ended up digging out our old photo albums to show each other what we'd seen, and next thing I knew, Miss Chef was reading to me from "Sam the Scarecrow," the first book she ever read aloud in class as a child.  It was silly fun--she did the voices and everything.

11. Miss Chef and I managed, at the last minute, to arrange a day off together.  Sounds dreamy, but we actually used it to get our hair cut, get the oil changed in both our cars, etc.  Still, it was so nice to actually have a whole day to use as we wished, without the pressure of her having to go off to work.  Plus, Miss Chef was pretty diligent about getting her schoolwork done that afternoon, so that on Sunday we could go...

12. ...kayaking at the US National Whitewater Center!  The weather was absolutely perfect, in the mid-70s and sunny.  We got there fairly early, and mostly had the river to ourselves.  Besides the usual herons, bluejays and fishing boats, we saw an osprey, which was being followed back and forth across the river by a crowd of crows.  Apparently whatever he had clutched in his talons smelled pretty appetizing.  There are several manmade nest platforms in the area, one of which has been used, so I'm hoping there's a breeding pair around.

12b.  Miss Chef and I took the plunge and purchased annual season passes to the Whitewater Center.  This means unlimited kayaking, whitewater rafting, mountain bike rentals, wall's like joining a gym, only with ospreys!  And you don't have to make an appointment for a tanning bed; it's all-in-one. ;-) Miss Chef even gave me permission to go kayaking on Saturdays without her.

Unfortunately, today's weather isn't as nice.  Rosie had to enjoy the outside from inside.

13.  I skipped something...on our day off together, we went back to our favorite restaurant, Passion8, where we're always treated to something extra.  It's been a while since we've been there, and I was happy to be able to continue our support of a great local business, which in turn supports our local farmers.  And the complementary pumpkin gnocchi was simply perfect.

14.  Finally, as you already know...the daffodils bloomed and spring arrived!

Have some good news to share?  Here's your chance to join in!