Monday, August 31, 2009

Memory Monday: The piano and me: An Introduction

I think we'll spend a few Mondays with the piano.

Since I was six years old, I've only spent 4 years without a piano within immediate range. Even in college, I could find a piano. In my last year, the dorm lobby featured a grand. I was never its equal but plenty were and it was a joy to hear it sing. The 4 years without were my spouse's grad school years. Away from home, in a small apartment, there wouldn't have been room for a piano had we had one. A move, a larger apartment, a for-sale upright sitting in the breezeway... but I get ahead of myself.

Where to start? My mother must have wanted my sister and me to learn to play, an opportunity she would most assuredly not had. But in order to take lessons, one must practice at home, and so a piano had to be found. I can remember going into the country to the home of an older cousin of my mother's and getting the upright piano that was our first. I think Mother paid $25 for it, at least that's the number which stands out. It was brought home, sequestered in the... omigosh! I don't remember where it was put. I remember its replacement, a spinet, much better, and can still see it sitting in the living room, but the upright? The starter piano? I don't remember where it went.

I don't even remember my first lesson. I was in second grade, I think, and would have been nervous. Miss Tennessee Strickland, Miss Tennie we called her, was my teacher for the 10 years I took lessons. I can pull out my old music and still smile at her handwriting on my pages. I don't think I always smiled at it. Let's face it: music lessons, if you are only mildly talented, a technician on your best days, music lessons are a love-hate relationship.

Am I glad I play? Oh certainly. I still have that breezeway upright in my den, lovingly tended and freshly tuned. A house seems empty without a piano. Can't imagine it. But practice? Oh....

But it must have had a long-term effect on me. I write about musicians, seven of my heroes and one of my heroines are talented people who ooze rhythm, whose fingertips drip talent. Just not mine. My fingertips are meant to drip words.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

What a gas bill!

I was paying the natural gas bill and was once again struck by the oddities of the bill-paying system. Everyone wants the customer to write in the amount they're sending. I suppose this is one final jog of the mind to make sure the check agrees with the amount due. Some payment stubs have a blank line, others miraculously have just enough boxes for you to fill in, and some, like the gas company, are very optimistic.

Our monthly bill usually runs into the low two figures and some-odd cents. But the gas company has conveniently left six boxes to the left of the decimal point. That would mean the consumer could easily fill in up to $999,999.99 for the monthly payment.

I'd pity the entity who owed a penny more. Where would they put the extra digit?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Desperation wins the day

I headed off this morning for a round of shopping and running errands plus a brow appointment and didn't take a book to read. I'd finished the latest Pamela Morsi and checked the tightness of my schedule and decided I didn't need to find a new one from my TBR pile. Then the awful thing happened: I finished my errands pre-appointment and had time on my hands.

Oh, no! I'd have to sit in the lobby and hope there was a reasonable magazine to view. Unconscionable with a Half-Price Books half a block away. So I scurried in.

And bless 'em, they had a dollar rack at the door! There was a favorite historical author's older book, one I'd managed to skip, right there. For a dollar. I grabbed it, paid for it, and sat in the lobby long enough to read almost all the first chapter.

Whew! Relief!

Now I'm hooked. I read through lunch. Slurp egg drop soup, read. Slurp, read. I read while waiting for a friend.

My name is Kay and I'm addicted to books.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Memory Monday: Sweet 16

While I remember birthdays as being happy affairs with lots of (frozen, bought in the freezer case) German Chocolate Cake, (Mother was not what you might call a baker), I don't necessarily remember individual celebrations unless tied to event-years. Eighteen: going off to college the next week. Twenty-one: married less than a week. Thirty: gave myself a bridge party and hired a babysitter. Forty: My elder son's friends presented me with a tee shirt and a mug. Fifty: maybe we should just stop there. Oh, okay. Fajita party at a local restaurant and I made all the pies for dessert! As it turns out, cakes are not my forte either, but I'm a heckuva pie/cheesecake maker.

Sixteen: Sparklers on my cake.

We'd gone out to lunch, probably a movie after because Mother liked movies. We were in Dallas but I can't remember the restaurant. We sat in a booth. The walls were green. It was late for lunch. And one of us mentioned that it was a double birthday, mine and Daddy's. The waitress brought us a small cake with white icing and a sparkler on top.

What fun! And it wasn't even frozen.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

A little bit of neglect goes a long way

As I can't walk down my front walk nor bend to get the local weekly paper without getting an eyeful of neglected flower bed, I gathered what gardening enthusiasm I still have in late August and set out to pull weeds this morning.

Except there weren't any. Not really. Maybe a few. Instead, there were pecan trees and wandering jew, redbud, something with an orange root which I think is bois d'arc (Osage orange), a hickory (a HICKORY? Where did that come from?), hackberry, the wrong kind of lantana planted by me last year--my fault!, and my perennial favorite: poison oak. Or, is it, as my neighbor contends, really greenstick ash?

After an hour and a half, I didn't care. I do know I saved pulling the three-leaved items until the last so I could go in and wash my arms thoroughly with red Lifebuoy. I don't care if it is an old wives' tale told me 30 years ago by a certified old wife, the one time I got the pleasure of poison oak for two weeks is the one time I didn't wash with the soap.

But where did all these interloper plants come from? It's not like I had totally neglected... oh, well, maybe I had. It's been... six weeks? since I weeded.

I suppose that's true of everything, a little neglect goes a long way and then it takes so much more time to set it right, whether it be housecleaning, ironing, washing, relationships (egad!) or even gardening.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My garden enthusiasm goes pfft!

I've fought the good fight since April, when my ambitions always boil over and I plant, plant, plant. But even with a sprinkler system and a mild (relatively speaking since we have had rain) summer, my plants are looking as pooped as I feel.

I've given up on my tomato plants. I used to grow such grand tomatoes, and if I ever wish to do so again, I must rethink my strategy. Selfish things must want their own bed and not to share with the flowers. Last year they did grace me with an abundance of fall green tomatoes which I turned into mincemeat, but this year, that's not looking like such a hot prospect.

I've babied three pot plants, in full circle of a sprinkler head, but still they've laid down on me and died. I will not resurrect them again. Pfft! They're outtahere.

The caladiums are sad, but not dead. No supplemental care for them since they'll either revive for a fall showing or go pfft! themselves. Anyway, they don't return each spring. I'm nicer to things that return.

Such as the lantana. I've actually considered trying to eradicate some it, since it, above all other things, has decided to thrive and overgrow. The same can be said of the mint. I've the sneakiest suspicion that even trying my best, nothing will get rid of these two scourges of the back yard.

Lantana, anyone? I can tie it up with mint.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Memory Monday: Birthday Week

August has always been special to me. It's my birthday month! My dad's birthday. My sister's. Along the way, I picked up an anniversary and a son's birthday. It's a crowded month. And I'm just Leo enough to want everyone to help me celebrate.

But the one thing that always made my day more special (there's that Leo thing again), is that I share the date with my Dad. I was his 29th birthday present, or so Mother always said. I imagine she had something else tucked aside just in case I missed my debut date. In fact, my parents, because they couldn't agree on a name for me should I be a girl, had a bet on my name. (The boy name had Jr. tucked onto the end of it.) If I were born on Daddy's birthday, he could name me. If not, Mother, weighing the odds carefully I'm sure, could have the honor. I popped up (out?) at 9:26 AM and Daddy made her stick to it. The summer she died, the thing I missed most was her phone call at 9:26 AM to wish me happy birthday.

But in the middle were lots of birthday cakes and I ran across this photo from the year I was three. Daddy had his own cake here, whereas he hadn't the year before, so I liked this one best. This year, he won't know it's his birthday, so I'll have to do the remembering for us both.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vanquishing the new recipe

The excitement is over. The new pound cake has been made and happily shared and consumed. The cake itself, a brown sugar mixture with a POUND of brown sugar in it, is good. The sauce is too thin. Should I ever make it again, I'd pour the sauce over the hot cake and let it soak in. Or, I'd make another sauce, one I have for cheesecakes, which are my forte and love anyway.

Back to the pound of sugar. I didn't have an exact pound, like in a box. I had a two-pound bag so I hauled out my handy-dandy little scale, weighed to make sure the two-pound nomenclature wasn't lying on the front of the bag (it wasn't), and proceeded to relieve it of half. There's just nothing like a good scale in the kitchen.

Or a lying one in the bathroom.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The making of a recipe book

Having decided that making a family favorites recipe book for my daughters-in-law is a wonderful idea, and knowing full well I should test recipes I haven't made, for whatever reason, in a while, I have come upon the first hitch.

I don't want to make old recipes when the allure of the new is in the morning paper.

To wit: Praline Pound Cake with a sauce that looks, from the recipe, good enough to go it alone. I want to make this new recipe (although truly, how different can it be from dozens of others in my repertoire?) and I want to make it NOW! I've even found an excuse to do so, a Library Board meeting tomorrow morning.

Yum--it is going to be so good! Such excitement in a new recipe!

I may never get this cookbook done.

Signed, Kay, hopeless case where the new recipe is concerned

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Memory Monday: Twenty pages of someone else's memories

When my mother died 12 years ago, my dad did not wish to live alone for the rest of his life. Within the year, he had courted, and persuaded to move from PA to TX, a woman he'd briefly known in high school. She was widowed and her son wished her well, but she only lived as my dad's second wife for 5 years before dying. At that point, Daddy's stress from caring for two ill wives caught up to him and the rest, as they say, is history. My sister and I decided the best place for Daddy was assisted living and that's where he started his too-short run toward Alzheimer's and where he is today.

However, in the interim Lil, wife two, gathered loads of Daddy's photos from boxes, loosely organized them, GLUED them into albums and wrote brief bylines on maybe 10% of them. So when I began my march through the old albums in order to archive, I found a page labeled: "Dick, friends and time in the service before he married."

There was Daddy in high school with friends, mostly girls. Then a few service photos. More girls, or by this time, young women. Service... women. Women. Women.

Twenty pages with 4-6 photos per page. None did I recognize. Then: "Dick, Velta, family and friends". Whew!

But... twenty pages of old girlfriends? Daddy--you rascal!

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Where's my pew?

As any long-time church-goer can tell you, everyone has their own pew where they regularly sit during services. We're not so anal as to count how many rows from the front (well, not any more), but we've always been comfortable sitting on the north side of our sanctuary, hence, we are northside Methodists. That's as opposed to those wrong-thinking southside Methodists across the aisle. I think our side of choice was predicated on nearness to the door to the hall which led to the bathrooms. Since the sons were young when we began with this church, that was a fact of most importance. Never mind that I encouraged "going" between Sunday School and church, sometimes "go now" were the optimal words.

But sadness has struck our church. The air conditioning system, long held together by baling wire and prayer, is now kaput. As a congregation we have moved across the street to the gym in our Family Life Center while a new system is being installed. We are very glad to have the facility.

That said, where do we now sit? Our pew, indeed our very north-sided-ness, is gone! We have the choice between west and east. There are long rows of folding chairs. We are lost.

So, standing at the back this morning, we contemplated where to put ourselves. Finally I spotted a familiar face (not that the entire congregation isn't familiar) from where we always sat. She had opted for the center aisle of the east-siders.

Ah, a new home at last!

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Kay & Kay

The Wall Street Journal had an article yesterday about professionally printed make-your-own cookbooks. I haven't checked out the websites yet, but I'd been fishing around for Christmas ideas for the daughters-in-law, and a book filled with family recipes might just be the ticket. I've definitely moved beyond--and societal-expectations have moved beyond--the flimsy typed pages of recipes I gave my sister when she married 35 years ago. Then again, I may not even make any of those recipes now.

Which brings up the Kay & Kay conundrum: Much as in the film Julie & Julia, which comes out today and which, of course, is NOT playing at our local theater, I think I will feel the need to re-cook and re-bake any recipe I haven't tried in... how long? Two years? Five? Ten? How often do our tastes change?

And what if they're not quote/unquote family favorites? What if I scrawled the date (I always date my recipes) and "we loved" across something torn from a magazine or given me by a friend? What if I've never actually made it, only tasted it? Don't I need to make those?

I foresee a few months of recipe realignment if I'm to carry off this project because the idea of interspersing recipes with family photos is almost mouth-watering.

Oh, and the & symbol is not allowed in a post label, hence the wording.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

So, what happened to this woman?

When my daughter-in-law asked for photos of my dad as a child, little did I know it would open a scan-fest for me. Scan one, scan a dozen. Why not pick my favs and make CDs for everyone? My sister's birthday is coming up. Maybe she'd like a greatest-hits album of our parents?

I have three physical albums dedicated to old photos. There are pieces of others, mainly reprints and doubles, scattered about elsewhere. I found the photos my DIL requested, whizzed them off to her, then started a journey.

We can start with: why don't people mark the backs of their photos, although Mother was MUCH better about it than Daddy. Most of Daddy's are identified in my handwriting when I was making the albums from loose photos, asking him for names and places, and he could still remember.

But this post, my 400th by the way, is about my Mother. Viewing her photos, I see a child whose own mother never looked directly at the camera and whose father scowled at it. But Mother? Mother was smiling. Smiling holding cats (and the rest of the family wonders where I get it from), smiling atop a horse, smiling in a lake, smiling from the top of a picnic table, smiling from under a soldier's cap while at college, smiling in band uniform, modeling a two-piece bathing suit, playing a guitar, hugging her favorite cousin, riding a bike, holding a baby...

Where did that woman go? Ride a horse? A bike? Swim? Sit on a table? Who is this woman? Can't be my mother! She never did any of these things with me!

But it is she. And as she's been dead 12 years I'll never know where all that joy went.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A paper issue

We spent the weekend at a suite hotel in Dallas. Not cheap, but not high dollar either, unless you didn't opt for the internet special, whereby the instant you click 'book', your credit card is dinged. Grand location, reasonable included breakfast. Not-so-soft toilet tissue.

The paper wrap, in beige with green leaf decoration, had only the name "RENEW". I would gather this is its second life. If that's the way we're headed, then we can kiss nice soft toilet tissue good-bye. Next time, I'll remember to pack my own.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Memory Monday: Shaking loose the cobwebs

I had not meant for a week to pass between my Memory Mondays. Let me rephrase that: of course, a week would pass. Monday to Monday--one week. I meant I thought I would blog in the meantime, but my mac went in for its (I've never assigned gender--isn't that strange?) annual physical, we spent the weekend in the Big City doing anniversary things, the wifi at the hotel was confined to the lobby and the business center... and you get the idea.

Then when we return home last night, I find that Daddy has fallen in the previous hour and been taken to the emergency room of the local hospital. What followed extended the weekend by three hours with a steri-stripped head-skin tear, a CAT Scan and a fiasco of getting him from the hospital table to the wheelchair into the car into another wheelchair... You get the idea. Again. For the record, he is absolutely fine, like nothing ever happened today. I am not.

But, in his trauma-induced, do-you-know-where-you-are-Daddy? head bang, he remembered my name. First time in a couple of months. He still remembered it this morning. He even--and here's the cobwebs shaken loose part--knew my husband as my husband. He called him by a son's name, but they're similar, and by that time, who cared? He knew us! He also was insistent that we, especially me, go. Leave him. Like who will cover up your feet when you kick the covers, Daddy? Hmm? And since he couldn't tell me where I was to go, I shrugged and stayed. Much to his chagrin.

That, I bet, he doesn't remember!

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