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Monday, January 31, 2011

Turning Around

A week ago my husband and I attended a party down by the harbor. It ended late in the afternoon and as we left, we stepped out to an east-facing view and stopped, both of our mouths forming silent O’s. Though blocked by the building we had just departed, behind us, the sun, ready to set, had painted everything in front of it in a wash of pink. Rose-colored clouds scuttled across the horizon. Through the bare trees lining the snow-edged harbor, the windows of an estate out on the point flared in reflected light. Lobster boats shifted under purple shadows as they pointed toward a frigid wind.

Shivering, we stepped into the car, but taking note of the time, I vowed to return with the camera over the course of the week to catch the nuance of that winter light. Yesterday, I got my chance. A few minutes before sunset, my daughter and I drove a friend to her home near the water. Careful for icy spots, I pushed harder than I should have on the accelerator, anxious to get to the harbor in time.

After we deposited her friend, my exasperated daughter said, “Just go down to the beach. You’ll get a great picture of the sunset there.” She was right. I would have. But as I negotiated the car away from where an orange sun was inching toward the marsh plains behind the sand, I explained that I was trying to catch something more obscure. It’s easy to go for what is most apparent, the quick fix, the sunrise; a sunset, the view from a high perch.  Sometimes though, all that splash distracts us from a quieter beauty.

We arrived at the harbor just as the sun dropped behind the surrounding trees, in enough time for her to see the windows on the estate blaze up. As the reflecting glow crayoned the clouds hovering over the lobster boats, I think she might have grasped a piece of the lesson I learned last week.

Once in a while, it’s okay to forego the obvious. Look around. You never know where a stunning picture might reveal itself.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Procrastination Pays

I am sorry to say that the Automobile Oil-Change Fairy has neglected to visit our house lately. So after delaying much longer then was wise for two cars, this morning my daughter and I were forced into the tedious task, which entailed some car-jockeying. I followed her while she piloted her sixteen-year-old jeep to the service center in the middle of our town, brought her to school then returned to the station with my own car. The owner nodded and grinned as he assured me they’d take me first. Mind you, this was at 7:15 and his mechanics don’t arrive until 8:00. “Come back around 8:30 and it will be all set” he smiled at me.

Sigh. What’s a stranded woman to do, but to take herself out for breakfast—guilt-free even, because I worked extra hours this week? Before filling my belly however, I had to negotiate 100-yards through the piles and slippery sidewalks remaining from the 12 additional inches of snow we received overnight into Thursday morning.

The storm ended mid-morning yesterday.  As soon as it did, life continued, which meant that industrious people went about their business and parking lot and sidewalk snow-removal waited until early today. The slow going was worth it though. With the temperatures in the mid-twenties, the dry snow squeaks when you walk on it. A seagull perched on the chimney of the eighteenth century inn next to the garage barked and screeched as it lifted itself onto the freshening wind; as I turned to look at him, an orange sun cracked through bare-limbed trees.

In the pre-business hours, front-end loaders and sidewalk plows scurried and shifted through the downtown, beeping and rumbling and thumping as they reversed, pulled forward and emptied their loads into idling dump trucks. The weather has been cold, so the deposit from this, as well two previous storms weighed down the exposed branches of the Bradford pear trees lining the sidewalk; icicles marched like cables along the edges of the dark-windowed shops.

Perhaps I’ve hibernated inside for too long this winter, but as I slid and picked my way through the snow-filled path, something compelled me to stop. Blocking out the sound of the equipment, I looked far up the icy street, to where a row of antique houses wore hoods of white, towering snow banks humped over every intersection and an undulating ocean of untouched snow layered the town common.

Eventually, the cold slap of wind in my face provided incentive to move on. Kicking the slop off my boots at the door of a tin-ceilinged restaurant, I listened to the grumbles of other patrons. “We’re on pace to break a record for snow this winter,” and “It took me four hours to shovel out yesterday.”

It’s New England. It is our nature to moan and complain about the weather. But shrugging off my coat at a table next to a hot air vent, I was warmed by the pictures still ranging in my mind; a clean winter scene back-lit by a rising sunand the knowledge that the image would soon be accompanied by bacon, eggs-over-easy, homemade jam and sourdough toast.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Technology 101

The last snowstorm-related power failure shot a gun at the temple of our antique desktop computer. When the lights came back on, the system did not. Key funeral music here, please.

It didn’t bother me much. The thing had been panting for such a long while that I backed up all my files and moved over the laptop ages ago. I positioned myself at a table at the front of the house and ignored the dinosaur wheezing in the family room behind me--other than to suggest once in a while, that perhaps the music aficionados in my family might want to back up the large file of downloaded songs that lived on the desktop hard drive. Whoops. When, after the fact, they reminded me that I had an I-tunes play list too, I muttered, “Oh well.”

Then, the three of us started pulling the chair out from under each other in our quest to get to the laptop, the only remaining computer in the house. That’s all it took for my husband and I to discover a hidden cash reserve and purchase a new system, which was installed yesterday.

We are not tech savvy. We paid extra for a Geek Squad guy to show up at our house, network the thing and make it go. And it does. Off he went though, before we discovered we have no volume on the new computer. Yes, we’ve clicked all the doohinkgies. And while we were able to have a professional recover the songs we lost from the old system to an external hard drive, we are not having much luck downloading them.

God I feel clueless.  Has technology progressed so fast that the people we pay to bail us out from these minor inconveniences figure they’ve done all they need to, because they can’t fathom how hopeless our understanding of the equipment actually is?

You don’t have to respond to that. I already know the answer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Freeze Frame

Each year at this time, the crystalline designs that appear each morning offer clear evidence that we need to replace the remaining leaky windows in our house. Someday, when the budget allows, we will.

We took care of the worst of the failing windows years ago in the process of a kitchen/family room renovation. The replacements are thermal, with faux-panes imbedded between two sheets of glass. From a distance, they look like traditional windows, but up close, they are fakes—two dimensional and vinyl, verses the remaining originals which were constructed with real wood. Other then the ease-of-cleaning these weather-tight products deliver, I’ve disliked the “new” versions since they were installed about fifteen years ago. This may be why I’m hesitant to replace our old kitchen window, and the two huge front picture windows, which flow five panes down, nine across and provide style and definition to our 1950’s ranch.

And then there is this. It’s only on the original windows, where frigid outside temperatures collide with the warmed air of the inside, that early January mornings deposit ice bouquets. Furry white leaves and stems bow and blend and feather beside each other, the twigs of frost flowers, planted by cold, blossoming on our failing glass. Depending on the the breeze, the dampness, the strenght of artic pressure systems, every day brings a unique design, always fleeting, deigned to melt.  For the next few weeks though, they'll form again overnight—an unexpected seasonal garden that no impermeable modern window could ever replicate.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Full Circle

As you may have surmised from two of my recent posts, the location of our house, facing east, situated on the west side of town, at the bottom of a rise and surrounded by trees, makes it hard to capture a clear picture of dawn. Thus, my chilly, early morning excursions. Occasionally I get fixated on things; this week my quest was to catch a freeze-frame (literally) of winter dawn. I was marginally happy with Monday’s results, although people who live closer to the water or get up earlier must see more spectacular vistas regularly. The rest of the week remained overcast and stormy which was why I failed to realize what was happening to the west, behind the house.

But post-shower yesterday morning, regardless that I was wandering around without glasses, I couldn’t miss the silver light of the full moon glaring into the bedroom window, which, come to think of it, would explain last night’s outlandish dreams. Once again, sans coat this time, I found myself trudging outside while temperatures hovered in the teens—with the wrong lens on the camera, but there wasn’t enough time left to rummage for the telephoto. Jiggling from one leg to the other, with my arms hugging my chest, I waited  for the moon to tuck itself away in a yellow ball underneath the ledge behind our house,  In the end though, it was too darn cold. Kicking the snow off my boots, I stomped back into the kitchen and heated up my oatmeal, thinking at the least my seat at the breakfast counter would offer a perfect view as the moon puddled below the horizon.

I’m sure it did. But as with all things involving the camera and nature, you need to pay attention.  At 6:35, my daughter came out, we began chatting, and I missed it.

What things compel you to disrupt your routine?

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

If at First you don't Succeed. . .

. . . try another sunrise.

Saturday morning at 6:35, a tap, tap tap on the shoulder wakes me. Aware of Friday's sunrise photography attempt, my husband points out the window.  The sky glows orange and pink through the trees, but it's a seven minute drive to the harbor.  Darn.

Sunday, I don't give it a thought.  Today though, since it's MLK Day. . . it isn't necessary to make breakfast or a school lunch.  So I get an extra half-hour of sleep and still have enough time to hop into the car to try for these.  It is cold as you-know-what out there, but the views are worth the frozen fingertips.

Happy Monday folks.

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Hope you all have a great week.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shades of Gray

Note to self: Check the weather forecast before you get up pre-dawn on an 18-degree morning to photograph the sunrise.

Keep in mind though, that if you skip it due to overcast skies, you’ll miss the pinprick beacon as the steadfast lighthouse blinks over the shoulder of an ice-covered lobster boat.

You will fail to record the wall of snow-brushed granite stooping--a heaving monster bearing down on an vacant boat chandlery.

The Christmas tree on the common, still lit at will flicker unnoticed, as will the way the moss-covered stones in the cemetery overlooking the water appear to have marched in from the sea.

Yellowing rock walls guarding the slushy landscape of the inner harbor will stand alone and fifty yards down an empty road, the high-tide-flooded marshes, bled of all color will ripple unseen.

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By all means, sleep in.  Just recognize that when you do, these images will merge into moments passed—the blended splendor of one frozen morning, never captured—or shared.

Happy Friday all.  How is winter taking shape in your part of the world?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Click in the Right Direction

I’m excited to share that my first essay: “Diet 'Lite'” now appears on South Shore Living Magazine's on line site where I will be blogging about food related topics twice a month. For some reason in this, my inaugural piece, the first sentence appears on the splash page but was left off the actual post, so here it is:

“Enter the dark days of January. Advertisers have stopped hawking calorie-laden offerings and now the message is: ‘We know you stuffed your face for the last month; it’s time to pay.’  We consumers...”

Read more HERE and thanks in advance for your comments.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Then and Now

Regardless of the state of our eyesight, as middle age settles in, it is human nature that rather than seeing what stares back at us from the mirror, our vision tends to blur.  I am nearsighted, terribly so, but the image I perceive isn’t caused by failing corrective lenses; it’s more as a result of “wishful seeing.”

Long ago my father said to me: “The problem about getting older is that your mind feels the same as it did when you were young. Then you look in the mirror.” Heeding his words, I try not to look too hard, often imaging myself the way I used to look, until once in a while the reflection startles me. In my brain, I feel about 29 or so. When I focused on the looking glass though, it communicates that I am slightly more mature.

Realization of creeping years hit slowly, starting with the time I was a guest for my niece's, elementary school show-and-tell project. She's my brother’s daughter, has the first and last name I used growing up, lives in the same house I did, and that year, was taught by the teacher I’d had in the fifth grade. It seemed like a fun story to tell. She invited me to visit the class and I brought a picture of myself when I was her age. After my photo traveled from student to student, one worried little guy raised his hand and asked the teacher, “Does this mean when we grow up we will all look different?” I swallowed hard.

That was something like thirteen years ago, and back then, I didn’t feel particularly “different.” Now, when my daughter teases me about my flabby chin and wobbly arms, or my gray roots start to show, sometimes I do—which makes me all the more grateful for what happened on Saturday at the cheese shop.

Let me set this up by saying that I’m not at my most, well, attractive, when working there. Hats are not a bit flattering on my small head, yet health codes requires me to wear one. I sport a pair of faded, washed and re-washed blue jeans because I don’t want grease marks on more than one pair of pants. I dress in my oldest, worn-out tops and cover the whole ensemble with an apron that early in the day becomes stained from stacking and slicing artisan meats.

In addition, that morning I was poking around before leaving the house and forgot to put on make up to cover my cheeks that glow fluorescent red due to an annoying skin condition. Back in the day, I wore contact lenses exclusively. Several years ago my eyes rebelled so it's been glasses ever since and sorry to say, there's more than a  few additional pounds on my frame than when I actually was 29.  Let’s just say that on Saturday; yup, I looked different.

Which is why I was delighted when a woman who grew up in my hometown, but whom I have not seen since graduating from high school, entered the shop for the first time. As this unfamiliar person approached me, I greeted her like any other customer, then gave a double-take as she marched right over, peered at me and asked “Liza?” I’m not sure who was more excited when I recognized her right back.

Every ache and pain as well as that rotten bathroom mirror confirm that I’ve been around for a while. Saturday, though, it was a relief to know that in spite of all my physical “experience,” a shadow of the original me still peeks out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Big Chill

The pond down the street is frozen and as I drove by this afternoon, a lone ice fisherman stood far in the distance. Though we’ve lived in our house almost nineteen years now, the novelty of ice fishing still intrigues me. I assumed it was a sport practiced by people who live in the way north, New Hampshire, Maine or Vermont and never witnessed it until we moved here. Some years, we see pockets of enthusiasts, sitting on boxes or standing over the holes they’ve drilled, hoping for a tug on a line. Other winters the pond doesn’t freeze at all, so they don’t come out…and for my uneasy mind, it hasn’t been cold very long this winter.

Seeing the solitary guy way out there unnerved me today, and reminded me how different this country is, from state to state, as a result of geography and weather patterns. In one of my previous incarnations, I traveled frequently for work. It was fun to see places I never had been, North Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, South Dakota.  Whenever I was in a different state, I made sure to turn on the local news as a way to capture the flavor of the area I was visiting.

One winter, during a trip to Minnesota, after dinner one evening I returned to the car, aware that the temperature was so low (and there is no way to say this delicately, but I'll try), the, um, moisture inside of my nose froze—bitter enough for this softy from Massachusetts, but apparently not cold enough for the locals. The highlights of the news that night focused on the number of snowmobiles crashing through the ice due to mild weather. At first, I laughed. Where I live, the ocean keeps things temperate and we'd never consider snowmobiling on a pond. Are you kidding me? Then I considered the results of that thin ice. Gulp.

We do tend to think we are invincible and years ago, when we had an extremely cold, no questions asked kind of winter, we took our daughter down to our pond. She was the only one with skates and my husband and I slid along beside her. Bumping into friends, we set out for a leisurely stroll/skate…all the way across the frozen surface, making our way to shores I have never been to since. We didn’t think about it twice. Then, a few days later, a man decided to go for an early morning skate and the sun blinded him. He slid off the edge and into open water. But for a neighbor who heard his screams, an off duty policeman driving down the road, and a canoe positioned in the right spot, the story would have ended in disaster.

A few years after that, a young girl visiting relatives in town decided to skate out toward the rock in the middle of the pond. Not understanding that the ice near the area would be weaker, she turned a teenage boy with a hockey stick into hero that day.

As a result of these stories, I don’t go near that ice anymore. But in spite of my fear, I can’t get over the crystalline beauty of my pond glinting in the yellow and silver winter light. As the sun got low this afternoon, I drove down with the camera to take a picture.

Out in the middle a solitary skater circled, holding a hockey stick. As he slapped a puck toward the rock and dove after it, my stomach churned. Focusing on him with the camera lens it occurred to me that if anything happened, there would be nothing I could do from that distance, other than dial my cell phone. But at least there was that. I stayed…turning toward the car and then back to the skater, frozen on my own hard ice.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until another skater glided toward him, charging for the wayward puck.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of Fate and Vintage Recipes

In my mind, the world is a better place because of bread pudding. Sometimes I think it’s possible that if we dropped that, instead of bombs, word peace would be restored. All kidding aside— how could anyone help but smile at the sublime custard formed through the act of mixing and baking eggs, sugar, bread and milk? Not only does the complex sweetness linger long past the last swallow— the ingredients are all there. At your finger tips. Not only is bread pudding easy to make, it’s as versatile as you can get besides.

Over the years, I’ve made many variations—chocolate, cinnamon, blueberry almond, raisin, apple, and raspberry white chocolate, but no matter the flavor, this luscious dish melts way down, to the intersection of where memory and comfort collide (which if you want to, you can read more about here).  Tasting it has such an impact on me that, when the chef/co-owner of the cheese/gourmet food shop where I’ve worked the last few months made chocolate bread pudding with Nutella during my first week there, my eyes rolled back into my head a bit and I shuffled a quiet two-step. His creation confirmed that my slightly impulsive decision to work there was fueled by more than just a whim.

I do believe in serendipity and divine coincidences and here is one of the reasons why. A few years ago, back when I still worked in an office, a friend brought in a set of her Grandmother’s cookbooks. I was so fascinated with the vintage recipes that I copied several, and over the past two years have turned to them in delight, always though, slightly disappointed that something as trivial as a massive layoff precluded me from perusing those books again.

Last week, my curiosity, or nostalgia or whatever you want to call it got the best of me and I searched Amazon, parting with an unbudgeted thirteen dollars to purchase a used copy of the book, Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume I. Printed in 1949, it arrived at my house yesterday.

My eyes widened at a recipe called "Strawberry Electric Light Preserves" that, no word of a lie, instructs the reader to lay a dish of boiled and sugared strawberries under a lamp, to drape the whole thing with a terrycloth towel and leave the light on for 36 hours. While contemplating that minor fire hazard, I explored the book further and was enchanted to encounter a page marked by a yellowing piece of paper containing a penciled note.

Does it surprise you that the slip marked the directions for bread pudding? Not me. The handwritten sheet offered a variation on the recipe in the book beside it. As I perused the words, I pictured a middle-aged woman in a floral cotton dress covered in an ironed apron, pulling a hot pudding out of her porcelain, Magic Chef oven.  She spoons it into a chipped, ceramic bowl and turning to a worn kitchen table, serves it with a pitcher of cream to a man with weathered cheeks and calloused palms.  It’s an image I can almost taste.

In truth, I have no idea whose hands first touched my new, old book. Whoever it was, she (and I assume it was a “she,”) is likely gone now. Luckily for me though, her volume, which promises “… the latest developments in home economics...” made its way to a used book dealer.  After that, fate intervened. Because, I’m quite sure that regardless of how the book ended in my hands, when the original owner wrote that bread pudding note, she was doing it for someone like me.

Oh, and by the way, underneath the handwritten recipe, I discovered a small addition:

“Hic coughs [Stet]
 ½ tsp baking soda
½ glass of water
Sip slowly”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Begin Again

It scared me to stop writing for almost two weeks. Except, I didn’t. I stopped blogging. Words though, surprised me by percolating up in the middle of the nights and first thing in the mornings, and the good news is that I wrote three essays over the break. Two are spoken for, (which I’ll tell you about later.) The other I feel good enough about to start sending out, after final edits. The notebook at my bedside is filled with fragmented sentences that will lead to other pieces and gives me confidence that I haven’t dried up. So back to the blogging schedule, right? Well, almost right.

The cheese shop is closed today, so with a quiet house and this unexpected time off, I promised myself that I’d work on my long term writing project. As a result, this post will be brief.

No New Years resolutions for me—except to drink my coffee without sugar—and to just keep plugging.

Welcome to 2011 and Happy New Year all.