Thursday, November 30, 2006

Prepping for the holidays

Sounds medical, doesn't it? Prepping for surgery. Prepping for an exam. Prepping for a trip. But, prepping for the holidays?

Oh, yeah.

I spent yesterday prepping. Decorating for Christmas is not for sissies, you know. It's work. And as the main Christmas decorations worker in this household, I needed a game plan, especially after having been gone all of Thanksgiving and having had my mind on a wedding* and not on the holiday season. But the wedding is over. On to the next Big Deal.

One does not simply put up the tree and hang the ornaments. If that was all there was to it, I'd be done in an afternoon. But the house needed cleaning (house lite in this case) and things must be put away. But where? If my reindeer collection is to abide in the china cabinet, where is all that going to go? Some of it is in two boxes on the floor of the guest room. The rest was squeezed in with the good china in a drawer I will have to remember to open ve-ry care-ful-ly. The mantle holds detritus from trips. So not Christmas if I'm going to hang seven stockings there. (The cats have a stocking, if you're counting.) So that goes into the buffet piece and I pull out the Christmas cat plates my mother collected.

The magazine rack is hidden well enough but a casual glance shows I've accumulated stuff that's two years old. Thank goodness the trash pick-up came today. The coffee table has an unused onyx chess set with broken pieces. Don't ask why it's still there. I don't know, but it's hidden underneath now, just waiting for the visiting cats to find it on the 24th.

Today I will pull the linens from the cedar chest and make decisions on where they will go. I will find my boxes of reindeer and squeeze them into the cabinet and set them atop my great-grandmother's pump organ. The new tree, the one in three pieces and already lit (as if that's going work), is in the house and has been thoroughly explored by the cats.

All that I need now is time and since it's sleeting out... I think I have it.

*Wedding photos are building up on the computer and will be posted soon.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The view from the 8th floor

We realize that astronauts can distinguish cities from the outer atmosphere and high-flying spy planes see all, so it should come as no surprise that being on the 8th floor of a hotel affords those below little privacy.

Then why do they act like they have it?

We spent Thanksgiving weekend celebrating our son's marriage on South Padre Island in this very nice and accommodating hotel. Considering the crush of a full house, a wedding, and playing host to several college men's basketball teams and attendant families on the island for a tournament, I really can't say enough nice things about them. We were in an ocean front 2-bedroom condo which had a complete kitchen and a great view of all the beach happenings.

We watched the tent be set up for the wedding. We spotted our family and friends as they played volleyball or walked on the beach. We knew the rest of the hotel was simply holding their breath waiting for the wedding dance music to finally be over. (It had to be by 10.)

We watched a young man and woman argue on the beach volleyball sand. The area was lit, near the hotel patio. A push, a shove. We tensed from our wine-relaxed, pajama-clad solve-the-problems-of the-world discussion. The hoopla of the wedding was over and we didn't know if the couple "belonged" to us or not. It didn't matter. If the contretemps became more serious, we were ready. He sat down in a sulk. She stalked back toward the hotel. Good. Matter over. Whatever he had said, she'd had enough.

Then she turned around and went back to him. She pulled on him to get him up, to get him back to the hotel. He wouldn't budge; he never moved toward her. Finally, she left again and stayed gone. A few minutes later, he went to the beach. We watched a while longer as someone else went out and persuaded him to come back up to the informal party under the tiki hut.

Had they thought to have all this Sturm und Drang in a void? We watched it all and were ready to call security if necessary.

Think about that next time. You're rarely in a void. Someone's on the 8th floor watching.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Why you'll see Casino Royale twice

It's not that I'm proposing doubling director Martin Campbell's take on the new Casino Royale by us all lining up twice for a ticket, but I'm thinking you'll see it twice anyway.

My reasoning:
The first time through you'll spend an hour putting Daniel Craig in as Bond. Not only does he not look like our tall, dark (excepting R Moore), and handsome iconic figure, he doesn't act like him. He's not cocksure. He's vulnerable. He pouts! He's pre-Bond.

About halfway through, you can accept this as not just the prequel it is but as a fresh start. We've been Bond-ing for over 40 years. Everyone needs a fresh start, even if Dame Judi Dench is back as M. No messing with a winning combo here.

It's a long movie. Stay away from the concession stand unless you want to waste a crucial 5 minutes on a trip to the facilities. There was more up-and-downing at this show than I've seen since a kid's flick. (And trust me on this, 4 pm on Friday in a small town, is an adult, albeit somewhat senior, crowd.) I hate getting up in the middle of a movie and even I was moved to leave about 5 minutes before it was over. I made it back for the denouement, but I wish I hadn't missed any. Therefore, a second viewing is in order, and I won't be drinking anything.

The second time you see it, you'll know what's coming. You can relax with the new James Bond, watch for the details. Admire the Astin Martin. Grin at the heroine's name.

And, yes, look for Moneypenny.

You were warned.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

While we're on the subject...

... of smells, I'll put forth this one.

I don't know what secret chemical is in Friskies dry cat food, but it's a goodie. My housecats are on a special diet. Have been on a special diet since they were a year old. Not enough activity in their housebound lives and so they were growing beyond their potential. The low-calorie stuff was replaced last spring with special urinary tract health food so Tuxedo would not have any more kidney issues. Unbelievably, they both gained even more weight.

On the other hand, I also have an outside cat, a "garden" cat, if you will. She started life as a stray across the street and gradually moved her base of operations to my side yard. She was scrawny and ill-kempt, as only a female cat who seemed to be in constant heat can be. It took me two months, but I trapped her, had her spayed, and adopted her. She has finally, after a year, adopted me. Sometimes, I can stroke her back. She doesn't get special food, just what I have a coupon for. This she must share (because she won't fight) with every stray in the neighborhood who has figured out where the easy meal is. So I go through a lot of her food.

It comes into this house just like the urinary food, in a sealed package. But my cats follow it from the minute it enters the front door to its place in the pantry. Once the door is closed, they seem to forget about it. But just this morning, I removed a package of her food and opened it. Two heretofore sound asleep cats--asleep upstairs and I'm down--are immediately at my feet! What is in this stuff? I can't smell anything beyond dry cat food, but it must be kitty ambrosia.

I give them half a handful to keep them happy, but I am in awe of the olfactory researchers at Purina who have pulled this off.
Way to go, guys. Now we need to put them to work on how to get teenagers to clean up their rooms because of the smell.

Oh, wait. We already do that!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Struck by the smell of freesia

Recognition by smell must be one of the strongest emotions. I recall opening a jar of baby food for my first born and knowing I had smelled the same when I was a child. Cinnamon takes us back to Christmas and vinegar to dyeing Easter eggs. Suntan lotion is a swimming pool and fresh-cut grass Saturday morning.

We have one of the lounge chairs out of my father's den (the other is in his room at the nursing home) and it smells like him although it's been over three years since he was anywhere near it. He worked with lawnmowers and engines and oil and grease and those smells are embedded in the leather. I don't always smell them, just often enough to remember what Daddy smelled like.

But yesterday I opened a shower gel based on freesia. I don't even know why I bought that particular "flavor", but I know I wished I had bought two of the tea tree and ginger that had just made it to the wastebasket. But I had the freesia; I would use it.

All of a sudden, my mother was there. Not literally, of course, since she's been dead over 9 years, but it was the smell of her shampoo. All my life, Mother never did her own hair; her once a week at the beauty shop was sacred. She'd return with gossip and dirty jokes--and the smell of freesia in her hair. I'll guarantee she didn't know the scent's name, just that it was her shampoo.

I may buy another bottle.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Quest for... pear preserves

Or, if you will, pear perseveres.

I love pear preserves, and I can't even give a definitive reason why beyond a childhood fondness for the home made ones from the elderly neighbor. Sometimes they were a little too dark and sticky, sometimes light and chewy. But I loved them over all other jam and jelly products. You know the ones. The ones I can easily make.

As opposed to pear preserves.

First of all there's the definition: jelly is from the juice, jam has crushed fruit and preserves has slices. That's my own definition, based on a lifetime of eating such. Jelly is easiest to make: juice the fruit, add sugar and the commercial pectin (and yes, I've tried to make them "from scratch"--what a joke and what a waste of product and time), boil a specified amount of time, ladle into jars, seal, and wait for the music of the popping of the seal. Distribute for Christmas gifts and sell at the local charity bazaar because the family will not eat as much plum jelly as the tree in the back yard will give you plums.

Jam is okay. Again, pectin. But the fruit always floats and the jars have to be water-bathed.

And just try finding a recipe on the pectin package for pear preserves. For that matter, try finding any in the grocery. Marmalade, apricot and peach preserves, yes, but if you find pear be prepared to pay a premium.

So, for years I have solicited the best of pear preserve recipes from friends whose products always work. Following their recipes, which consist mainly of "cover with", "equal pounds", and "cook down until desired color", I have successfully made pear preserves once and that was several years ago. I even made the acquisition of such a minor plot point in a book. Said book is still "under the bed", but I thought enough of pear preserves to include the idea of their elusiveness.

This year, we were given the perfect pears (hard and little) for me to try the enterprise again. I was a bit skeptical because last year's rendering was dark amber in color and too stiff to spread, but when 16 pounds of pears showed up unbidden by the front door, I took it as a sign and dug up the recipe scrawled on a piece of memo paper. Enlisting my spouse's help in peeling and slicing the fruit guaranteed I would be able to use my hands the next day and gave him a better appreciation of the product.

Immediately I sensed a problem. The 16 pounds of pears sliced down to just 8. (I don't guess I'll need all that sugar after all.) Eight pounds of sugar wouldn't go in the pan with the pears. Five was a stretch, but covered them. I added a bit more for good measure, sliced two lemons to put on top, covered it and let it sit overnight.

The next morning, the sugar was dissolved (for the most part). I put it over a low heat about 6:30 and kept a watchful, if not constant, eye on it.

It was evident within the hour that I had a lot more syrup than pears. I'd already had that experience several times in the past (one would think I'd have given up by now) and I just wasn't in the mood for it. I scooped off a quart of syrup and then another cup as my patience narrowed. At the end of two hours, I was approaching a pale pink to terra cotta tone and I tasted. Yum! I grabbed the hot jars, squeezed enough out for 8 cups (I see a relationship here), sealed them, and gave them a five-minute water bath.

All the jars sealed. Whew! I was looking at 8 cups of pear-gold. One went into the refrigerator (quality-control), one to the son and daughter-in-law for her London family, and the other 6 into the pantry. If you get a jar of my pear preserves, you will be on a very short list indeed.

And, oh yeah. I wrote down the recipe.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Quest for... the perfect iron

I know, I know. Who irons in the day of whisk it from the dryer or better yet, air dry? Well, I iron. I don't even mind ironing provided there's something on TV to watch or I have a tape or DVD. Ironing is mindless, which may explain why I'm not the world's best ironer, but it's not rocket science either.

However, finding the perfect iron is.

It needs to be heavy enough to get the job done; I want to feel like I have something in my hand worthy of pressing. It needs to get to steam-temperature quickly (I am impatient) and not spit. (A dream, I know.) A non-stick plate and using tap water completes the deal. These should really be easy to fulfill.

So why am I still hunting perfection?

My mother would always want to know what I wanted for Christmas. This is how I got a 55-cup coffee maker than every one in town knows I have and they all borrow--whether I'm going to the party or not. If that pot could talk... but that's another post. One year I told her I wanted an expensive iron, one that would be a sure thing on the ironing board. I received a Rowenta . It worked well enough for a while but when I had problems with it (can't remember exactly what), the company was no help because Mother had bought it at a department store and not a dealer. Scratch off Rowenta.

I retreated back to Wal-Mart and have had various steam irons. None suited after a year and maybe that's what the shelf life is. Tap water or not, draining or not, eventually the steamer dried up and the plate, even though I cleaned it, scratched and snagged my clothing. Last year's entry in the sweepstakes was a Black and Decker Classic. Very heavy. I thought I'd met my match, but it slowed on the steam end.

I even bought a very lightweight one for use at my dad's assisted living facility when I needed to iron for him, but it has proven to not have enough heft. I searched on it for a brand name for this blog, but there isn't one! No sign of manufacturer, only "steam iron" and "made in China." Don't you just love it?

The latest to grace by wooden ironing board (I have two) is from Sunbeam , the Steam Master Drip Free. So far, so good.

But my all time favorite irons are those found in hotels. They're hot, they're fast and the next time we stay in one, I'm doing a survey, hoping there's a name and a model number and filing it for future reference. This is a quest that's not going away.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Quest for...

I am, by nature, a hunter. (Raccoons One and Two from previous posts can attest to that.) So when I want something, when I have it in my crosshairs, so to speak, I pursue it with determination. Thus begins a series of blogs about my quests.

Quest number one:

The perfect purse.

Don't laugh. If you're a woman (and perhaps a man with an eye for the just-right wallet) you know what I mean. We all harbor the fantasy of one last purse, one that will do us until one of us gives out and the other is sent to Goodwill--or on another search.

I was raised in the era of matching purse, shoes, and outfit. So I got used to several purses and changing all the things a teen of the '60s needs to switch when going from one look to the next. But somewhere along the way, I got tired of that and besides, money on my newlywed budget didn't fit the ratio of one purse: one outfit, so I settled on a summer purse and a winter purse.

Purses were simpler 30 years ago. I didn't need a cell phone pocket. I didn't mind carrying one with handles rather than a shoulder strap. But about the time I incorporated a diaper bag into the mix, I gave up on handles in favor of a shoulder strap. When cell phones first came along they either had their own unwieldy bag or were so large (think World War II radio handset) that a purse had to be large itself to hold them. No pocket could.

I've had expensive purses and cheap knock-offs of expensive purses. I've had zippers break, snaps come off, fabric soil until I was embarrassed by it. I've been through Saks and Dooneys . Several years ago, by accident, I picked up a brown leather Liz Claiborne with a shoulder strap, a center zipped section and two side pockets that wouldn't hold much but would do for the odd piece of paper. Inside, there were a zipper pocket and two pockets on the other side fit for a cell phone. And I carried it all winter. I just couldn't do it in the spring and I opted for a Fossil with basically the same arrangement. And I carried it all summer. Pulled out the Liz and it had definitely seen its day. Found a winter Fossil. I was on a roll. Until I couldn't find a summer one and switched to Etienne Aigner .

It should be noted that these were continually ooching up the price ladder.

Etienne began to show his age and I had to try again. Armed with the determination to quit all this winter/summer stuff, I spent over 2 hours at a large mall and emerged victorious with my new best purse, a Brahmin .

While I intend to carry it year round, it is not perfect. There is only one outside pocket, the snap on it is not magnetic, and the zipper required two hands to pull it closed until I sewed a block stitch half-an-inch from the end.

I've even invested (yes, that's the right word at this level) in a wallet to match. And I don't plan on going on a quest again. I've seen how my friends' Brahmins have held up over years. This could be it. I could be set.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Next: The Quest for the Perfect Iron