Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

There's the best man, Dad's cousin Frank Butera,
then Dad (Mickele Edward Nicolazzo),
then Mom (Bertha Erma Huckabone – you heard me!),
and her maid of honor, her sister Gladys Huckabone.
The bridal party is standing left to right.

My parents would have celebrated sixty-three years of marriage today, had death not parted them fourteen years ago, when Dad died and Mom's Alzheimer's became screamingly apparent.

But let's pretend that Mom had remained her normal lively self for those last two years. Would she have celebrated the anniversary without her husband? I guess not. She surely would have noted the day. I still think it's awkward to talk about dead people. To say I loved my mother seems wrong, and yet to love someone who doesn't exist – at least not on this side of the Veil – seems if not wrong, at least ... ineffective.

Well, to say my parents would have celebrated is strange, too, but on their birthdays, I always count it up. Wow, I'll think, Dad would have been eighty-nine today. Yeah, well, he died at age seventy-four. Surely when I'm seventy-four, I won't think, Wow. Dad would have been a hundred and two today. Or will I?

But back to 1948.

Mom was a Baptist and Dad was a Roman Catholic, so they had to get married in a Catholic church, but she couldn't approach the altar. They were married somewhere else. The priest's office? A side chapel? A broom closet? I don't know. I'm pretty sure they had to sign a paper – or maybe it was only she – swearing to raise any kids Catholic. I wonder if she worried over that or just signed the damned thing. Seeing that my brother Jim was a premature baby, as many were in those pre-Pill days, I'm guessing she signed as quickly as possible.

And now, apparently, she's rotting in Hell, because while the first three of five children were baptized Catholic, none of them was raised that way. By the time my parents left this vale of tears, my Dad was a Bible-beating fundamentalist of some sort, a Brand X, or even Y, of Protestantism, and Mom was simply a smiling, compassionate agnostic.

But what an odd phrase is "rotting in Hell." The whole point of the afterlife is that we won't, after all, rot. What good is damning someone to Hell – or to Heaven, for that matter – if they're going to rot anyhow? Their punishment – or sparkly reward – will be too short, and I'm pretty sure we're promised ETERNITY here, whether it's a teeth-gnashing sort of eternity, or a harp-playing, sweetly swaying one.

Well, that settles that, then: Mom's not rotting in Hell. Whew.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Bean-Counter

Since it's been so cold, soup sounded like a fabulous supper, so I bought a 15-bean soup kit. It came with beans, a list of ingredients I'd have to add myself, and a tiny packet of Ham Flavor. That was absolutely the only type on the little label, and of course I accidentally dropped the thing into the boiling water.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, I needed a ham hock. I sincerely don't know what that is. I asked a woman near me at Publix and she said she thought they'd be with the smoked meats. Oh. I was standing in pork (as it were). Right. So I moved over to the smoked meats department and there was a worker. I asked him about ham hocks and, busy and frazzled though he was, he pointed to the right place. Alas, I couldn't imagine cooking such things and then ... eating them. Whatever they are – pig ankles? – they looked like rolled-down socks of fat. With skin.

Well, the soup kit said I could used smoked sausage, too, so I opted for that, for turkey sausage, in fact, because I still feel separate from birds, although I can already imagine the end of that.

A childhood fantasy was to marry a farmer and collect eggs each morning, because being a farmer was no more an option than not marrying at all. I'd be wearing a bonnet with ruffled edges and the eggs would be gathered in a wicker basket with a big curved handle. Despite this, and despite the fact that I think chickens, especially dark ones like Rhode Island Reds,* are the most gorgeous birds on earth, I'm terrified of chickens and, in fact, of all birds. I don't know if I saw Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds at precisely the wrong moment in my developing adolescent psyche or if I had a horrid experience with birds so traumatic that I've blocked it out, but I think birds are scary.

About fifteen years ago, though, I went to the Arbor Arts Festival at Boyd Hill Nature Park, and there was a petting zoo. There were a couple show chickens and some show ducks. You heard me: show chickens, show ducks. I wanted to hold a chicken, but I was afraid to. A sensitive teenage boy, the curator of this zoo, soothed and cooed me into accepting a huge hen into my arms – and possibly my heart. I discovered an amazing thing: chickens are warm like us, like us mammals. I always thought they'd be cold, like snakes. Even though I've owned snakes and have felt great affection for them, it must be said: snakes are cold, cold like aliens.

Still, as far as food is concerned, I can feel bad about eating pigs (even as I love their meat), so I think and fear the time is coming when I'll quit eating them altogether (much to the joy of Nonie's moms). But so far, even with that Arbor Arts experience, fowl remain guilt-free eating for me. Hence, the turkey sausage.

I went home with the soup kit, the sausage, the onion, and the canned tomatoes. I measured out the water and put it on the stove. I almost dumped the beans in when I realized that I didn't quite trust the label. Fifteen-bean soup. Really? Fifteen different varieties of bean? That sounds suspect, doesn't it? That's probably not fair, since I myself can only name a toddler's handful of beans: kidney, white kidney, navy, lentil, split pea, garbanzo. Well, maybe I wasn't so much suspicious as curious. In any case, I poked around in the pile of beans, separating the unique ones and, indeed, I found fifteen. When I read the label, I saw that the manufacturer listed seventeen varieties and said that "at least" fifteen of them were used. Huh.

The soup was and remains delicious, although next time I'll skip the packet of Ham Flavor. It doesn't make sense to mix all these healthy, authentic foods, and then to sprinkle them with ... "flavor."

This weather calls for baking, too, and so I baked some pumpkin-curry scones recently, with crystallized ginger. And then some banana-pecan muffins with a nice, crunchy cinnamon topping. Today I baked chocolate chip cookies but, though I eat them by a lumberjack's handful, I don't really like them. I never have. I'll give them to Mike if any are left by the time he shows up two hours from now.

I think baking is a way to feel productive without actually doing anything. It's also a way to recall my mother, who died in 1998, and whom I miss so much. And it's a fabulous way to sabotage my New Year's Weight-Loss Plan.

*This is absolutely the only breed of chicken I know.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Yes! No! Er ... yes?

I found some watches in the Signals catalog to give to Olga and me for Christmas. But gosh, the online comments about similar, cheaper watches were discouraging. It's impossible to reset the time. The battery only runs for a month. But the Customer Service Rep at Signals and I decided that the catalog's watches were more expensive and therefore higher quality. Also, I could always send them back. Also, they were made in Italy, the home of half my ancestors and much good design.

Well, Christmas came and went without the watches. I finally called. Signals had sent them, but they were probably languishing in a USPS warehouse. I was just about to ask for a credit, but Signals said it would send out another two promptly. It did. They arrived in clever little jars. Those Italians!

But you know what? I couldn't reset the time. The instructions – in more languages than I knew existed – said to "press" buttons on the back, but I pressed like crazy, with no result. I also poked but that began to seem dangerous, plus it remained useless.

I wrote to the manufacturer. A perky CSR wrote back, simply repeating the instructions from the card in the jar. She ended with, "Have a Thriving Thursday!" I'm not kidding. I wrote back and asked her to actually read my original email. She wrote back and told me to pull the watch out of the silicon (not silicone) strap, and send it to them. I wrote back and said no. She wrote back and said they're here to help, and to have a Whimsical Weekend. (Still not kidding.)

In the end, I'll return the jars of watches and Signals will refund everything, including the return shipping, so all is well. Still,
it's not like me to want something and then not want it and then want it again.

Or is it?

I signed up for St. Petersburg's amazing curb-side recycling pickup because ... well, because it was 2010, after all. They take all manner of office paper and junkmail and tag board, and any plastic at all if it's got a recycle number on it. When I lived in Gulfport, lo, these nine months ago, they didn't even pick up glass or any plastic except #1 and #2. So I should be happy, right?

Yes. But.

I had to have the bin out there by seven o'clock on Monday morning. I could do that right up until it got so cold. And if I put it out the night before, all my junkmail would fly away in the blustery winds we've been having. And, really, if I skip a week – because I really don't have that much stuff – I feel guilty because I'm pretty sure I'm the only recycler in a seven-block radius.

I got a notice from Waste Services of Florida, Inc., saying I owed $7.59. I had paid for a whole year, so what the heck? I called. It turned out that the year I paid for was 2011, but that I hadn't paid for October, November, or December of 2010. Well, that's just weird. The clerk said it appeared that no one had been told about that. So I did what any red-blooded American would do: I cancelled the service.

This painting was done by Angus Macaulay (
with my colors in mind. How wonderful! Cups by Meow Mix.

I've left my tub out there in the cold sand for two weeks now, and no one has picked it up. My orange plastic cups from Meow Mix are multiplying, though. And really, it was pretty convenient to just toss it all into that bin. The handful of workers would race out of the truck and separate it themselves. That's easy. (For me.)

I checked my bank account and saw that the money hadn't been refunded yet, so I called and – yes: I reinstated my service. I asked specifically if they'd throw rocks at my windows if I skipped a week and was assured they would not. Yay.

Have you ever swept a floor with a broom when there are kittens in the house? If you have, you know exactly how pointless that is. The kits think it's a new game. They love the scritching noise. They love the motion. They love jumping into the pile of cat hair and – let it be said now – Barbara hair and litter trackings and kibble crumbs that you've swept together. They roll in it like it's catnip, like they're six-year-olds in a Northern autumn pile
of leaves.

I told a friend about the wisps of cat hair that float up to the ceiling like elfin clouds in a miniature heaven when I'm sweeping. She said I should vacuum my wooden floors. Oh. But I gave my vacuum cleaner to Mike when I moved here. And the cats hate that noise. And I'd knock all manner of things down with the cord. So how about a carpet sweeper? Yes! That's the solution!
It's non-electric, just like my beloved clothes line, and will do
the trick.

I almost bought one from the Vermont Country Store catalog because I'm an idiot. Let me stop right here and say that I am all about shopping locally. I mean it. I don't even quite approve of cantaloupe right now. It's January. Even Florida doesn't have cantaloupe. It's just not right. I think you should buy your stuff from local artists (ahem) or at least local merchants. It's getting to be a habit to stop by the Gulfport Hardware Store before I check out to Home Depot.

Except that, well, gosh, online shopping is so much fun, isn't it? You're sitting there in your at-home clothes (or not). It could be six a.m. or midnight. Who cares? It's so very available, you know? And it's not like I'm using any gasoline, right?

So I found the model of carpet sweeper I wanted. Then I
checked other online sources and found that Lowe's has one for twenty bucks cheaper and no shipping if I pick it up. Please. This was clearly divine intervention from Saint Martha, patron saint
of maids.

It was ready for pickup on the twelfth, but when I showed up on the thirteenth, it wasn't there. New paperwork said it would be there on the nineteenth, but it showed up the next day. And guess what?

Yeah, it really doesn't clean that well. There are settings for
  • long pile
  • short pile
  • carpet tile
  • floor
And here's where this blog takes a sharp corner. Of course I was thinking about returning the inefficient carpet sweeper, but I'm a nut for details, and so I checked the sweeper before telling you about the settings. I wanted to get the words exact. I never would have remembered "carpet tile" on my own. I never heard of such a thing. It turns out the sweeper was set to short pile instead of floor. When I corrected that, it swept nicely. Yay! A return, a change of mind, a dithering averted!

Now, according to Levine and Jawer, this nation's premier astrologers, "Irrepressible Mars prances into [my] 5th House of Fun and Games to lighten [my] heart and brighten [my] spirit," on this very day. Therefore, I'll scrape around for an appropriate picture (or three) for this blog, and then go forth with a light heart and bright spirit. Whew! I'm really ready for some of that!

Here's a picture of Henry just because he's so cute.
With his sleeves rolled up he looks like a professor inside and
a git-r-done kind of man outside.