Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm from the 1800s

Last week we spent 23 hours without landline phone or DSL Internet connectivity, which felt a little bit like shrinking down to a very small size and living in the pocket of a pair of dress slacks hanging in the back of a closet since 1998.

So I'm late in telling you that the monarch project is in full-swing again. See those groovy little green jelly beans? After they hang out for about a dozen days, this is what you get:

I think this one looks like a Sheila, don't you?

I am now back at work, which brings its own unique kinds of trauma (have you ever had to share, on a daily basis, a public bathroom near a Family Resource Center?)

To cheer myself up, I put this kid's mug on my computer desktop. He's either saying "Cheese," pinching a loaf, or baring his teeth in a display of aggression I fail to recognize because at this point in my life, I have still only borrowed these small people from time to time and returned them to their parents when their diaper was full or tears were imminent.

In a related story, yesterday our four year-old neighbor decided to have a chat with me while I read a magazine in the back yard. Somewhat randomly in the middle of our conversation he said, "Do you have a son?"

Me: "No. I don't have a son."

Neighbor kid: "Where is he?"

Me: "Still in my ovaries?"

Just kidding about that last part. I was tempted, though.

My backyard enjoyed about two days of organization and visual appeal, and then a downpour flattened the hell out of everything. Because I am lazy, the purple coneflowers are now growing horizontally right over the lawn, their faces turned to the sun.

When I'm not bemoaning my lack of flower supports, I have been indulging my inner homesteader. Boy howdy, does she like to can! (Or prepare for the zombie apocalypse by maintaining a fully-stocked panic room ... whatever.)

Cannery Row

I don't mean to brag, but I made this jelly from elderberries we planted ourselves. Bareroot. Uphill both ways, in a blizzard. On one leg. And we wiped our asses with pages from the Sears catalog.

See these golden beauties? They're "Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries." I started them from seed and planted them for the first time this year. They taste like a clean, mild pineapple. Throw them in a kettle over low heat with some sugar, lemon zest and vanilla, and you get heaven in a jar:

I intended to give these to loved ones for the holidays, but I am feeling a sudden urge to hoard them. Syrup is so 1989; the only thing I want drizzled over my pancakes from now on is ground cherry compote. I found the recipe on another lovely blog (thank you, LyB!)

My brother took note of my fun with canning and recently sent me this message on Facebook:

"I hope the fruit-canning is going well. When you're done with that, I have a wagon wheel that needs repairing and a musket that needs cleaning. I'd do it, but Carly's sick, so I have to bleed the illness out of her."

In other news, wish me luck in haggling with my insurance company AND hospital, still hashing out payment from my trip to the emergency room LAST GODDAMN FEBRUARY. This is the second time one of these funster players have billed me for something that was supposed to have been paid for (or not billed for at all), in a game I like to call, "Let's send these suckers a big, cryptically coded, confusing bill for duplicate service or something that should already be paid for and see if they'll pay it!"

Can we have sane healthcare system reform now? Please?

I suppose I'll have to soothe myself by canning more habanero gold jelly, salsa, and pasta sauce this weekend. Bonus: I get to use my new food mill, which I purchased for $50 a month ago and recently found for $35. File under "Ain't that a bitch."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. and Their Personable Offspring

My sister got married at my parents' home about a month ago, and it's taken me THIS LONG to post about it, because I am easily distracted by neighborhood penis splittings and stolen baby bunnies. Or maybe because there were so many beautiful photos, I just couldn't decide which to post? Let's go with the latter excuse. So here is a photo essay of the day.

The groom and his father share a moment before the ceremony. The guy sitting to the groom's left is his bodyguard. More on this later.

Guests begin to arrive, and small children in brightly-colored shoes twirl about. They were paid handsomely to do so, as part of the pre-festivities entertainment.

Ah! A familiar little face. Why so contemplative? Perhaps because your hair is askew, just a tiny bit?

Grandpa can help with that. Grandpas are the best hairstylists around.

The ceremony begins, and a small man in linen pants and a straw hat approaches.

Wait a minute....just what the hell is going on here, anyway?

Mom? I'd like you to dismiss these strangers so I can have nursies.

Purple and blue petals rain from the sky as the happy couple walks down the aisle. Small man in straw hat could care less.
In the tent, each guest is delighted to discover they have, at minimum, one bottle of wine each.

Particularly the elderly. Rumor has it they chugged the champagne before, during, and after the toasts.

In a touching moment, I read a selection of the bride's favorite dirty limericks.
Later, the aunts, cousin, and mother of the bride sing the limericks in six-part harmony. Acappella.
Remember how I said the groom needs a bodyguard? It is because he and his father made the desserts: almondy financiers, baklava, flourless chocolate cake, carrot cakes ... with culinary skills like this, kidnapping is a very real threat.

Don't tell my parents I'm stuffing baklava into my pie hole behind the woodshed, 'K? I may need some Benadryl to get to sleep tonight, just so you know.

And they lived happily ever after.

Because they were "Just Mareed."

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Quickie

To quote myself from several summers ago, it is officially hotter than Jabba the Hut's taint. We're off to Indiana tomorrow to meet more fabulous relatives...also, I am still going through photos for a long-delayed post-wedding-post. And I canned for the very first time, in a real-life boiling water bath canner with cute little lids that go "POP!" when they're groovy: 12 jars of elderberry jelly, from berries harvested from shrubs we planted three years ago.


Next week, more canning: ground cherry jam and maybe something tomato-ey. I tell you, I am Martha Stewarting-it UP around here! I am Mother Earth News-ing all around the kitchen. (Hey family...psst....guess what you're getting for Christmas?)

I'll have photos of that, plus monarch ranching in my bathtub, plus garden updates when I return. Also, if there are more penis splittings in the neighborhood, you can rest assured I will share the news.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On All That is Good and Holy, I Swear This is True

Yesterday our neighbor pulled up in his van to chat with J while he mowed our front lawn. This is the neighbor whose family threw me into a panic after they moved into the house across our street, because:
  • Even though the father is in a wheelchair (excuse me: souped-up Hover-round), he and his teenage children regularly have very public, violent, expletive-laced fights on their deck. Lawn chairs fly into the air. Things are shouted--horrible things--that would burn my grandmother's ear drums and make Deepak Chopra slip into a catatonic state.
  • They are always sitting outside on their deck, welcoming a parade of strangers into their yard. Caseworkers? Bible study folks? Drug dealers? N'er do wells? Yes. All of the above, I suspect.
  • The father told us he 'sketches our house' from his deck.
  • Their 16 year-old daughter, who doesn't even know my name, stopped by to invite me to a "Passion Party." The mom nearly threw rocks at me when I declined to come over for a Mary Kay party.
  • They put a floppy green snow fence up around their new pool.
  • All the kids and their friends ride Dad's Hover-round through the streets, sometimes pulling one another on wheeled office chairs, sometimes holding a shovel in front to plow a sidewalk.
  • They have three or four dogs who live on their deck and Never. Stop. Barking. They are wild, unruly mongrels, the Bumpus hounds reincarnate, full of diarrhea and bad manners.
  • The city police, fire department, and/or EMTs are in the neighborhood? Guess whose house.
Here is the conversation between Neighbor and J last evening:

J: "Haven't seen you around much lately!"

Neighbor: "Yeah! I've been in the hospital for the last month. My colostomy bag got caught on something, yanked my catheter, and ripped my penis in half!"

J: *blink* "That had to hurt."

Neighbor: "Good thing I can't feel nothing down there, huh?"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Good one Gone

I've been procrastinating on writing this post, because I know no matter what I write, it won't do justice to my Grandpa Herb, who just passed away this weekend. I dedicated my book to him for many reasons, and it made me tear up to know that my birth father, who had been reading a chapter per visit from Driving Sideways for my grandfather, continued to read aloud even when Grandpa slipped into his final coma. They still had a few chapters to go, but I like to think that Grandpa Herb knows how it ends now.

The sole survivor of a plane crash during a training run in WWII, my grandfather was larger than life. He was also a bit eccentric, not one to rigidly adhere to social conventions or even regular family updates. I heard the following story at our get-together in Victoria last month from my Uncle Mike: during his freshman year in college in Arizona, Mike called home before Thanksgiving break to arrange his holiday visit home only to discover that his parents had already sold their house and were moving to Alabama.


(Sidenote: Also in Victoria, I learned that before she was told of my existence, my younger sister Jennifer used to tell her parents she really wanted a sister named Jessica. Preferably an older one. Surprise again! But better than not having a house to return to for Thanksgiving.)

Grandpa loved gardening and history and bad jokes and writing letters. I still have over 100 letters that he sent me over the years, featuring regular updates (in his scribbly, leaning cursive) on his garden, along with the proudly related achievements of family I'd never met. Many times he'd also include some photos of these cousins and aunts and uncles, and I would study these pictures as if there might be a test later: Do these people look like me? Do we have the same sense of humor? What do they know about me? When I was seven, he shipped me an entire set of encyclopedias, and I used to brag to people that I read them all cover-to-cover that same year.

Most of all, he loved my grandmother, who was one of the most generous, compassionate, thoughtful people I've ever met. Right now I'm remembering the story about how she would toss her children's jeans in the dryer to warm them up on sub-zero school mornings when they lived in North Dakota.

The summer after I graduated from high school, Grandpa invited me--by good old-fashioned telegram--to spend the month of August in Alabama caring for my great-aunt Rae so he and my grandmother could take a road trip across the U.S. and Canada to visit their children. I quit my job at a local cheese factory, said good-bye to my friends and the boy I just started dating, and flew to the deep South in the hottest month of the year, becoming more acquainted with loneliness, cankles, roaches, and the rainbow of meds an elderly person could take than I ever dreamed I could be.

I also got to spend some quality time with my grandparents before and after the trip, as well as meet my birth father (not to mention a wonderful brother and sister) for the first time. And now I know more of my fabulous aunts and uncles and cousins, too. All thanks to Grandpa Herb.

I'll stop here for now, because I'm still processing how I feel about this. I'm going to go through those old letters and photographs I've saved and let Grandpa come to life again, just for a little while.