Refinement

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I went up by myself to the Cape for a quick visit. One night. A little work the afternoon I arrived, an evening there in the cabin, then six or seven hours before I left for Storrs. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Cape alone and I wanted  just to revisit that feeling. Without Suzy along I noticed the trip up isn’t quite the same. Do I regret not bringing Suzy along? Am I beating myself up for being selfish? Do I not deserve this chance by myself? I stopped in Onset at Marc Anthony’s for a grilled chicken sandwich with peppers and onions on their Syrian bread.  As a kid  with my parents we drove through Onset for years just writing it off. Route six  is not the best part of town. I’d seen the sign for Onset Beach and wondered, as a kid.. Then I met someone a few years ago who lived there and she spoke glowingly of Onset, “Like the Cape without the prices.” So on one of my solo trips to the Cape  I decided to take a few minutes to explore. Am I glad I did. My regular route to the Cape now includes a swing through Onset center and a stop at Marc Anthony’s. Life’s little side trips are often the best parts. Breathe it in.

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When you order at Marc Anthony’s you can get it to go and cross a small street to enter this park overlooking Onset Bay. Benches and all.

While I’m waiting for my sandwich- you order and pay at the register, then find a table- a group of Coast Guardsmen came in dressed in what I thought to be very snazzy foul weather gear but turned out to be dry suits. One of the fellows was talkative. I peppered him with questions. They’d been out for a run through the canal. A stunning day for a ride. He loved it and thought the Coast Guard was way better than the Navy. Yes, he’d seen The Finest Hours. Their boat was docked down below and they walk up for lunch. I drove down to the dock in my snappy practically-new-only-four-years old Chevy pickup to eat on the water.. Their boat was there. Twin Honda 225’s.

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I love driving to the Cape. The sight of the bridge and the canal is stirring to me every time.IMG_7238.JPG

It doesn’t look too stirring in the photo. You have to be there. You have to have driven to the Cape with your family, with my father driving. He could get you excited about it. Five kids and two dogs in a 1955 Chevy sedan. It was longer drive back then, too. No big highways. And you’d get lost in Providence every time, guaranteed. Route six was routed right through the town and they changed the route every time we went. You’d miss a little sign and you got quite tour of Providence trying to find route six again.. I still love Providence, too. And Johnston with the coolest gas station in the world- a fieldstone building now known as Hartford Radiator. There was another station right on a pond in Johnston where we had stopped at dusk once for gas  when akid about my age came around with a fishing pole and great big bass. He was all excited; I was too. What a fish. Does stuff like that still happen? Yeah, you get to the Cape quicker now.

So once on the Cape I like to get off the highway in Orleans and take the back way to North Eastham, you see the Skaket Beach area a little and that part of Orleans running down to Rock Harbor and all the cottages around there. It is lovely. Once on Bridge road another traditional stop when we have Hobbes with us, is to hit Boat Meadow Beach. I didn’t have Hobbes, but I thought I ought to stop. I pull up and what do  I see? img_7241

Another puppy! Check out his legs. They’re all going  like crazy.IMG_7243.JPG

I guess it’s not just Hobbes’ favorite beach.

So I had to stop at the new library which is AWESOME! I wanted to get few Joseph Lincoln books. They’re hard to find around here. The Eastham Library had forty of them. I ran into Glenn, my surfing buddy from days of yore, and invited him to stop by later. I got my books, bought two Eastham turnip festival tee shirts which look like they were designed by Magritte, with a  gorgeous purple turnip floating over the beach.IMG_7292.JPG

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I arrived, fearful toward the end that I would have to break in to the cabin because I didn’t think I had a key with me- different vehicle. It turns out I didn’t need to break in. I had cleverly put a copy of the Cape shed key on my pick up truck key ring. It’s not all that hard to break in because the upstairs door doesn’t lock, but you’d have to drop down from the attic to the main floor. And you need  to get up to the second floor.IMG_7078.JPG

Of course there’s usually a ladder hanging around, but I thought I might have left it inside over the winter. I could also just open a window and climb in- it turns out I hadn’t locked them. Hey, wait a minute. Am I crazy telling you how to break in to our cabin?  I figure if you are the sort to break into cabins that you’d be able to figure it out in about three seconds. Look at the latch on the second floor door. If you need a place to stay that bad, help yourself. There’s a little wood for the stove. There are candles. There’s a pump for water down by the well. Lock up when you leave. There isn’t much to steal.IMG_7248.JPG

All this to lead to refinement.  Refining thought. Coming to a place with something you are making or have been  thinking about, where you feel really quite good about it is wonderful. I had come to the cabin to install some electric wires in the walls so I could insulate. I am pretty handy, but I am not an electrician and I was in a little over my head. I felt genuine trepidation over this. You tube helps. reading helps,  but it is scary to do things you don’t know well. I’ll have an electrician do all the actual hooking up and wiring the switches and lights, and hooking up to the main power when we get main power, but I need the sires in the walls before I can  insulate it and get the sheetrock in, and paint the walls and ceiling, do the kitchen counter, and get curtains up,  and start building drawers, and work at the refinement. It takes quite a bit of time to finish things well. I am a classic under estimater. My friend Rachel says it takes about four times as long as you’d think to finish anything and she’s a math whiz. When I began this cabin in the fall of 2015 I thought I’d be done with it that winter. A few weeks to get it up, then a couple of weeks to finish everything off. HA! I want this to be a really neat little cabin and I am now willing to work at that. It has required a philosophical shift on my part. All my life I have been busy, rushing about, working, family, duties, recreation. I did a lot of thing slap dash. I had no choice? Zoom zoom. Now, older, I am trying to focus on fewer things. This cabin for one. Lewis Thomas in his book, Lives of a  Cell talks about how important it is to fully understand something. He suggests that before we annihilate ourselves with a fun-filled nuclear display we ought to agree as a species to cooperate and come to fully understand something, say an ant colony. And what we would learn about ourselves in the process he was hoping would be enough to maybe forestall the nuclear holocaust. I think his words should be heeded today more than ever.

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Is this what the tiny house movement is all about?  Are some starting to feel that to understand things thoroughly is important. There is so much information now, much of it deliberately misleading, some outright false, that you can be confused. Our horizons are huge- unlimited?  Overwhelming? Do I want to be the president of the universe or just be a gazillionaire?  Look at all the friends I have on facebook!

In times of confusion it can be comforting to have someone tell you what to do.   Big data, big experts, big solution. Just tell us what to think, what to do. Really? May I suggest caution. H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is one solution which is simple,  neat and wrong.” Is thinking  not attractive anymore? Trump is telling us how we hate the media? We do? Does he have data? Trust me. Believe me.  I don’t know.

On the way home, my fears about wiring allayed having started, understanding it better now,  I was just buzzing about what came next. I was so absorbed in  designing,  thinking about what I would do to this little cabin  and how I would manage to do it, trying to make mental lists of tasks, then getting a flash of insight into some knotty problem,  that the three hour trip home seemed to happen in a flash.  Can I hardly wait to finish? No. I can hardly wait to get started.img_7290

Snow Day

I sit in my chair cross legged writing in my notebook. I love to start the day that way. Tend the stove, brush teeth, wash face and shave. Tell Hobbes he’s good dog for bringing me a slipper, and then into the chair. I’ve worked on my study and it is much more comfortable: built-in shelves in the formerly useless ends of an eight foot closet help free up some space, I finished the desk top for the file cabinets, some paint. Nice. And I sit looking up at the Long Leg by Edward Hopper when I pause and imagine I am sailing on Cape Cod Bay in such a nice little boat.

The Long Leg, 1935 by Edward HopperBut this morning when I look up I am drawn to the window with snow swirling wildly. Thick snow and good breeze.  Snow day! I taught for 33 years and I’d often be pretty tired. If you’re into it, teaching offers an infinite place to put yourself and time and energy. I was into it. A snow day was an exquisite morning where you could sleep a little. I used to think you  just got them; just like the kids, I didn’t know we had to make up the days at the end. Now I’m up early enjoying it out the window from my comfy study.

Alright let’s catch up on the Cape. Last trip we brought up a little Jotul woodstove which I got installed so Suzy and I actually stayed in the cabin. First time.Yes. Hurrah. Wowee zowee. It is so much nicer to stay in the cabin than it is the van. A little roomier and for me, who has worked for this for a long time- just awesome. I stayed up late both nights just buzzing. Of course late is a relative term. When you have no electricity and you are on candle  and lantern power, late comes earlier. Of course I had no clock to tell me. The first night I just sat sat there by the stove, the firelight and candles pretty charming, looking around at the cabin and thinking about what came next and enjoying the coziest feeling there is. Hobbes on the floor, Suzy in the bed- yes we have a bed in there now. When we went to Mexico we stopped at the Hotel Fonda somewhere south of Rosarito. This was the most charming hotel I had ever seen. The bar, which you sort of walked into to get to the registration desk, overlooked the Pacific ocean and looked like Humphrey Bogart was sitting there behind a banana plant.img_0186IMG_0181.JPGIMG_0182.JPG

And the rooms were teeny, but ever so nice.img_0252

Well that’s what our cabin will be like someday. It’s not done, yet, but now we’re sleeping in it and it is thrilling. It’s nice when you build your own life.

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And a real bed. Note the luxurious sheetrock around it. I insulated and ran an outlet wire then put that in before I built the bedframe.

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We goofed off a little on this trip, too. You know. eating and driving around. We went up to Wellfleet, Great Island. One of my favorite spots. I used to play some sort of a spy game- I think it was just modified  hide and seek with Saben when he was little kid. One day I couldn’t find him at all and it turns out he’d taken to a tree. He thought it was pretty funny. So did I. I still love the area. The light comes through there, filtered by the pitch pine from off the water, hits that golden grass and pine needle ground, and fills you with something approaching joy. img_7022img_7026

Real Men Do Indeed Wear Pink.

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I’m almost the same age as Donald trump. I know- how can one of us have turned out to be such a fine human being while the other is a worthless slug. Something to do with parenting, schooling?  We may never know. I know for college Trump went to Wharton after which he took a huge fortune and turned it into a big fortune, making a lot of noise along the way. I dropped out of UConn three times.  Eventually I became  teacher. I have yet to make it to millionaire status despite having worked for over fifty years. And here’s the kind of younger schooling I had.

When I was in third or fourth grade we had school choir concert. Everyone had to be in it so it’s probably not as high a level performance as  you’d  get if you had try outs and eliminated a few of us, but it was fourth grade. Everyone was seen as having some potential that had to be developed. You don’t want to eliminate anybody just yet, do you? My parents were both musicians. They went to it, and I was excited, particularly about the one song, a “negro spiritual” we had been told, called Dem Bones whose lyrics I misremember to this day as “The head bone’s connected to the  neck bone. The neck bone’s connected  the thigh bone.” I forget those bones in between. “Now hear the word of the lord. Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.” I was intrigued by rising bones. What does that mean? I’d ask my mom. She’d say something about things come around again sometimes. That didn’t really satisfy me, so I kept wondering. We got to say “dem” which was a lot of fun. And we turned out the lights for this song and sang it in the dark and we all had, hidden in our pockets, little socks for our hands which had bones drawn on them with some kind of reflective pen. There was special light to be shone on us  at the end of the song, so when we’d sneak our socks out of our pockets and put them on our hands and wave our hands in the air the bones rose again!  My parents were terrified, they assured me. It looked like bones rising from the grave!

We climbed under the desks to practice what we’d do in case of a nuclear attack.

We studied the new math, because the Russians has launched sputnik, and we needed to beat them.

Girls basketball had the two bounce rule- you couldn’t bounce the ball more than twice before you had to pass. And it was girl’s, not women’s.

Boys had to wear a shirt with a collar to school. You had to wear socks- loafers with no socks were the fashion. No jeans. No sneakers. Ties had to be tied properly if you wore them. Girls skirts had to be no more than an inch above the knee and girls wore skirts- not jeans, not shorts, not pants. Skirts. Girls also had to wear the most preposterous bloomers for gym class. It was mortifying. You could take the best looking girl on the planet and put her in bloomers and she’d look pretty silly. I guess that was the point.

So this is I think a little bit of the reason that the rebelliousness of the late 60’s happens. Question authority. Vietnam protests. Students for  democratic society. Civil rights. Blacks seen as brothers. The women’s rights movement. Title nine. Women in the workforce. Women being educated. Real change. Real hope. Real progress. Heady times to be a part of.

Remember Phineas, in A Separate Piece? It’s not a book most high school freshmen gravitate to, not like Catcher in the Rye which they get to read as sophomores in our school.  A Separate Piece is a fine piece of work, though. In it, Phineas, an absolutely prodigious character, decides to wear a pink shirt to a tea.”It makes you look effeminate,” says a fellow student. Remember peer pressure? “Does it?”  He doesn’t change his mind. He causes a stir. He also uses a tie as a belt. He also says some things. Literary/historical precedent for wearing pink to stir things up!  A colleague of mine, Pat Baruzzi, started it, and I was pretty quick to follow.  We offered extra credit to any male who would wear  a pink shirt for a day at school. Few of my kids would. Teddy Lamb did. Bless his heart.

Which brings us to today!  Rebelliouness! With real men wearing pink hats in solidarity with women at marches all over to protest some things that Donald Trump said, did, stands for. Making signs! Marching. saben_march

I want everyone who took part in the marches to know the kind of effect your efforts had. You absolutely lift our hopes. Having Trump as president has already been difficult, more so than just having a president of a party  you don’t believe in. It’s more than that. He makes a show of  listening, but I don’t think he’s a very good listener. He postures.  He changes what he says. He repeats things a lot, analepsis? a rhetorical effect? but it’s just  demeaning, as if he thinks we can’t follow his incredible thought processes.  He doesn’t  care much for facts or information, he sleights people, odd because he’s kind of thin-skinned  himself for someone  so far away from adolescence. I’m not a fan.

Trump is now our president, but it looks like our nation is still in good hands: Look at all these people who showed up to say something yesterday! We care! Democracy! People who care.

Washington 500K

Los Angeles 750K!!!!!

New York 400-600K

Chicago 125K

Boston 175K

San Francisco 150K

And it makes me feel abso-f’ing-lutely fantastic to read about the women’s marches! I am prouder to be an American than I thought I might be for  long time. I’ve just gotten over feeling poorly and I am relieved to feel better, but after having read about the women’s marches around the country I am ecstatic.  And to see these pictures of my son and his girlfriend Iris involved in this protest means the world to me. Dem bones gonna rise again!

Thank you to every marcher. Saben and iris.jpg

Misery

img_6919Being sick is humbling. I’ve been pretty healthy all my life- of course I’d get sick here and there, or get hurt, or have a new body part inserted now and then- but on the whole I dance through life with a smile on my face. I’ve just been sick for nine days. Just a cold. An upper respiratory infection according to the doctor’s office, not need for an antibiotic. Just take Afrin for three days. That will enable you to breathe through your nose, so you don’t dry out your throat and all the stuff that is down there, so you can get rid of it more easily. You body makes mucus to carry the infection out of your body. Aren’t we clever? So I’ve just felt rotten for more than a week. Sometimes achey. Often sleepy. Listless. Totally uninspired to do any of the cool things I have to do.

I was talking with my sister Ginny the other day about this and how our parents didn’t have much going on in their lives at the end. I feel like I can understand how they felt now after having been so sick. I didn’t want to do anything. Usually I am full of ideas and fizz. I was a total dud. As I said, humbling. There are people who have a lot worse condition than a cold who lead productive lives for years. So do I feel like total woos?  I’d get up and do something. A ten minute walk with the dog. Then down for the count. Yeah, total woos. Humbling.

I’m feeling a little better now, thank you. And it’s not completely true that I did nothing all week. I got an e mail from a company that makes really cool nautical ditty bags. https://shipcanvas.com/collections/windjammer-series-ditty-bags

Very nice indeed. A little pricey for me and I really like to make things, so I spent the week figuring it out and making one. I got my Singer 66 sewing machine from 1940 fired up,img_6911

broke out some old sunbrella- a nylon canvas I had, and got to work. Their bags are cotton canvas, and that’s cool, but canvas rots if you leave it wet, and I intend to use these bags and leave them on boats. Sunbrella is a fine option. When I was laid up with my last new hip I did a lot of canvas work for our boat Suzanne. My hero, the man who wrote the book on marlinespike seamanship, is Hervey Garret Smith.

https://www.amazon.com/Marlinspike-Sailor-Hervey-Garrett-Smith/dp/007059218

I’d made a few bags before. I have always been fascinated with that stuff. I had a roommate in college, Steve Morgan, who had made what he called a ditty bag. He kept his toiletries in it and I was captivated. So this  email about the nice looking bags did a lot to revive me from my lethargy. I’d work at it when I could get up.

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Those are what are called worked grommets. You can use brass ones, too, and I’ve got them, but Hervey Garrett Smith says that a proper sailor sews his own grommets and boy is there a lot to learn about that. After having done ten of them, I’m o.k. at it. You really have to put the needle in from the outside- where you will see the stitches, and you need a nice circle to follow, and the little grommet you make up to sew around needs to be perfect

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You make the grommet with twine. It’s kind of fun, but you have to be picky or your grommets will look lumpy like a lot of mine. You don’t want lumpy grommets. Actually it’s like life, right? There’s perfection and then there’s beautiful. You don’t want to not do things because you’re afraid you won’t be able to do a perfect job of it. You hire someone to do the job for you, and then they do a perfect job of it for you. Maybe. And you work at something to earn money to pay them. Or get a big corporation in there to do a perfect job for you. Or get Donald Trump in there to make America great again. Only he can do it.

I mean that gets silly in a hurry, doesn’t it? First off I think America is still pretty great. If you go back to when America was a hundred years older, we were many of us farmers and did everything for ourselves. We didn’t need factories. We could fashion what we needed with what we had on hand. Clever. Industrious. Dedicated. Disciplined. Creative. You know. A lot of people like that running around would be a good thing. How do you get to be good at something? You do it. So it’s good to being back to feeling well enough to be trying once again. And check out my cool new bag.img_6921

The Manly Art of Self Defense.

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I use to do aikido. Quite a while ago. It was hard to find, then, no computers, aikido was pretty new. I found a guy who taught in Hartford, Ralph Chiardia, and took with him; I was into it. I’d had a pretty intense year of Shotokan karate at UMass- five days a week. When I started sikido, I wanted to go every day. Ralph said once a week. There’s a lot to think.

 

I gave it up after quite a few years. I felt funny going out to aikdio for fun twice a week- I’d found a new dojo and we met on Mondays and Wednesdays with my wife stuck at home. I got busier as a teacher and father. I started it up again in my fifties, but there was something wrong. My back was hurting. I couldn’t roll. I couldn’t fall. That’s when I started with Tae Kwon Do with Steve. He said we could practice and I didn’t have to hit the deck. there’s quite bit to learn, and so I happily began what has now been ten years of karate. We started after school where we both taught, got some kids involved, too, then he started bringing me to Chuck’s. Chuck is a grand master. The real deal. I began a voyage that changed me. I’ve written to Chuck to tell him how much I changed under his tuition and he tells me I’m full of shit.

It turns out that my back pain wasn’t my back at all, but my hip. I’ve had both hips replaced over the last decade, and now I’m good to go. I can roll, I can fall.  I went back to Ralph’s dojo just before I had my second hip replaced and loved the workout. Ralph was 80 at the time, and so that was pretty special- an old master. I had my other hip done and I’m pretty ready to start aikido again, but Ralph has passed away. I was shocked. How can that be? Ralph is gone? There’s a dojo in Manchester that has kind of picked things up from Ralph. I’ll have to go.

 

All the martial arts have at their heart a push to make you a better person. Ai ki do. The way of harmonizing energy. Studying aikido did so much for me as a young person and helped me as a teacher so much that I am quite grateful. Someone pushes, you back up and they sort of come with you. As a teacher this was an invaluable lesson.

 

Shotokan has its five principles underlying training:  seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor to excel, respect others, refrain from violent behavior. Whoa. Really? Really. And you thought it was the manly art of self defense. I remember that our Shotokan sensei Sally told us that if we were in a fight outside the dojo we would be dropped from the roles. No expectations. She didn’t care if we got jumped by five guys. Out. That was sobering.

We’re pretty busy with our own little dojo now, trying to get things going a little. We’d like more people involved. Last night we had five of us up there in the barn working out. Steve taught. He’s a sixth degree black belt and he’s quite a good teacher. Patient, capable, not egotistical- just into it. Last night we had a fourth degree, Arthur, stop by. Interesting coincidence is that Arthur and I both took aikido together for years, both with Sensei Chiardia, and with Sensei Growney. It turns out he’s studied with Chuck, too. Our art is Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do. The Moo symbol has to do with military virtue, chivalry,  and something about stopping weapons.The Duk means  benevolence, virtue, goodness, respect- there is something about taking small steps to virtuous conduct. Kwan is a large  building, palace, library. this is interesting stuff.

I was joking with my title of the manly art of self defense. That’s from ads I read in magazines when I was kid. There seems to me to be something else very much at work now. I love the focus you have to bring to practice. My balance has improved. Physical balance? Yes. Mental balance. Yes. When I began to learn basai, a kata, a series of moves that simulate a fight against multiple opponents, I would fall over as soon as I picked up my left foot after the bow. Now I can hold my balance pretty well on a floor. The mat is harder, but I don’t fall. Big deal? It is for me. The whole idea of moving, staying low, staying relaxed, applying tension when it’s needed, not before, grounding, looking, intention, blending, coming to understand the connection between your body and your mind. Fighting?

Of course I’m older. I don’t see as many reasons to fight with fists and sticks.There is a more important fight going on. With seven billion of us, it might be nice to make sure everyone got at least a little piece of pie. The ability to speak up when you need to is probably the greatest strength you can develop. Does karate help? Yes. What if someone wants to hit me with a stick? We practice that one.

Christmas Past

I  used to get so excited over Christmas and that would linger for days after the actual arrival of Santa Claus. I’d look over the loot with my brothers and sisters and dream of being able to play with some of it out doors. I’d gotten a pair of wooden skis one year and couldn’t wait to use them, but had to. We contented ourselves with endless games of War- the card game maybe less popular now with the advent of electronic amusements- and Monopoly  and eating the rest of the Christmas candy and fruit cake and pie. That part hasn’t changed. There was never much leftover fruitcake when I was young. My mom would make just one, and we’d have had the carol sing, a grand Christmas party that my parents threw every year about a week ahead of Christmas with aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and neighbors and Christmas cookies and booze for the adults and the party would devolve toward the end into my mother playing “How Deep is the Ocean” with a few uncles standing over her and singing mournfully. I knew the party was over then more than I did when everyone was leaving. I remember my cousin Andrea coming up to her mom, my aunt NIn, and climbing into her lap while NIn sat there on our orange vinyl couch laughing and singing. Nin put her arms around Andrea and Andy said, “Mommy, I want to go home.” Nin comforted her and said, they would. And then, “Al, it’s time for us to go.” And they would. After maybe one more mournful Czechoslovakian folk tune, my mom in her element at the  Knabe Grand piano built in 1898  that dominated our living room. I was struck with how open and honest Andrea was. I was struck by how NIn honored what her daughter asked. I don’t think we were given that kind of consideration by my parents. I’m being polite. I know we weren’t.

Suzy and I don’t do a Christmas party ahead of time . We have done, for decades  though, a dinner.  Family, mostly, but some friends, and neighbors sometimes. We don’t sing much. My parents both were musicians, and so the carol singing was important,the focus, in fact. It was secondarily a pot luck party, buffet style. Al, I think my mom’s favorite uncle and certainly mine,  always brought shrimp. There were pistachio nuts and mince pies, Swedish meat balls, Krakus ham, that weird color green jello salad with shredded carrots, a punch for us children made of ginger ale and orange juice which we didn’t particularly like, those spectacular sugar cookies with black caraway seeds in them. The big convertible oak table we used for formal dinners that was usually collapsed into a coffee table in front of our orange coach, would be set up in our dining area, just a part of the kitchen in our small house, and that table would be piled with goodies. It was treat even for a finicky kid. You helped yourself all evening long, but the music happened pretty early and went on until pretty late. Either my mom or my dad at the piano, or sometimes both, and they’d get spelled by Aunt Mary or Aunt Elanor. I remember being surprised by that- that aunts Mary and Eleanor could play. We kids would be encouraged to play a carol or two, too. Part of the lead up to the party was to practice the carol you thought you might play. My mom prepared for the carol sing from Thanksgiving on. I believe it was the high point of her life. Those spritz, a delightfully rich cookie squished out of a cookie press into little Christmas trees and wreathes and candy cane shapes, baked ahead and hidden in the utility room where the furnace and the washing machine were. The fruit cake had to be made a month ahead, and covered, dosed with rum now and then, or at least once and maybe my mom dosed with rum. Things were happy when we were all young and fell apart a little as we grew. Nervous breakdowns and stress my parents didn’t handle so well.

Christmas is over now. And I do get excited over the advent of it, but mainly because our son joins us and we miss him and really love seeing him even if it is only for a short time. We had our big Christmas dinner and it was wonderful. I tried to take at least some of the burden of cooking and preparation – certainly not all-img_6476off my wife’s shoulders this year so I was pretty busy before dinner and  didn’t get to chat everyone up. Next year I’m going to do more prep ahead- the turnip, which my mother used to make- she’d marvel at how easily I could open a turnip up and I wondered how she could marvel over something so simple, but I understand now,  a waxed turnip has a tough hide and you can save a little time on the day by cutting it up ahead. Along with the squash and the tabouli. We have developed our own little Christmas traditions and they’re nice. The presents don’t mean as much now as they used to, although my wife got both me and Saben some gorgeous tools: A maple mallet, some Starrett dividers, a bench brush, a marking gauge. Saben gave me a book I’ve almost finished already, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, which has been an absolute laugh aloud riot. And sometimes painfully poignant and honest.

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://media3.s-nbcnews.com/i/streams/2013/November/131118/2D9725260-cover.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.today.com/popculture/hyperbole-half-inside-mind-blogger-allie-brosh-2D11617378&h=931&w=620&tbnid=rD04pXPqNyDRUM:&vet=1&tbnh=186&tbnw=123&docid=run9pHRPqxaNFM&itg=1&usg=___TW6jLGtjv-8QxGGwL4iMvIs4ik=&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2pLT_npfRAhWph1QKHf–BhMQ_B0IeTAL&ei=bN9jWLa-HamP0gL__ZqYAQ

At the dinner it is crowded and noisy. IMG_6819.JPGBeer and wine flow. All of Suzy’s brothers and sisters showed up. It’s so nice. Lynn’s daughter Katie is married now, and her husband Georg came. They live in Europe and Lynn’s friend Dan is Portuguese.  Saben lives in California,  split between San Francisco and L.A. so I guess that makes it a pretty cosmopolitan party. Saben and Katie and I skated after dinner. IMG_6828.JPGThat was great fun, except we’ve had warm weather and so the edges of the pond had meltwater which had sort of frozen over but not quite through. I fell. Going pretty slowly after an errant puck. One blade went through and stopped dead. Down I went.  I tumbled and didn’t get hurt. Katie fell, too. She was being cautious and so didn’t get hurt, either. Saben went after a puck at the edge, high speed, switched to going backwards just before he picked up the puck. He’s a good skater and it certainly looked good. A blade went through, though, and he went down hard. His ankle. Ouch. He sat while Katie and I skated for a short while more. Hobbes barked. We went in, Saben hanging onto my shoulder to walk. We’ve been icing his ankle and keeping it up. It’s swollen. He can hobble now, but it sure changed what we did over the past days. No skating. The pond looms ominous with its not quite frozen meltwater edges.

We played a board game, we went to a movie- the newest Star Wars, Rogue One a stunning film, although a little loud with explosions. The male and female protagonists are both very good. Han and Princess Leia again? Nice nods to former movies. You should see it.

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And we ate left over fruit cake, and candy and cookies. There’s a lot of leftover fruit cake. I over cooked it. It was a bit dry. And we watched a little Netflix- Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman- again outstanding.

https://www.google.com/search?q=sherlock+cumberbatch&tbm=isch&imgil=wIho11ZXgAB_CM%253A%253BkqjhtnaOCIoMGM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.radiotimes.com%25252Fnews%25252F2014-01-01%25252Fsherlock-steven-moffat-interviews-benedict-cumberbatch&source=iu&pf=m&fir=wIho11ZXgAB_CM%253A%252CkqjhtnaOCIoMGM%252C_&usg=__Xh4ziXErKUvMh6j02RNNjBsGaVE%3D&biw=1722&bih=975&ved=0ahUKEwjExY-koJfRAhUhxlQKHXWCA08QyjcIkQE&ei=xeBjWITPN6GM0wL1hI74BA#imgrc=wIho11ZXgAB_CM%3A

And we talked. Until late. And it was very nice indeed to sit on the couch and talk about nothing in particular, about the most important things, desultory conversation, with your wife, with your son, your dog on the floor, with the Christmas tree, a few presents under it still.

Stone Soup

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I saw a piece of meat in the grocery store the other day. On sale. We bought it. It was five pounds, though. That’s a lot. And Christmas is coming up and we’ve got a lot of cooking planned: my grandma’s sugar cookies with caraway, tabouli, kibbe, a turkey, all sorts of vegetables and snacks, fruitcakes made now img_6596and aging  in the pantry. And I decide to add five pounds of meat to the mix. So this morning, still four days till the big day, I decided I’d better get going. I started a pot roast. Easy peasy. You need a big pot, put the meat in an boil it all day. Is it really that easy? Of course. You can make it better than that, just like the soldiers with their stone soup. You know the story? Starving soldiers, walking home from war. They pass through village after village. No one wants to feed them. The villagers have nothing to give away. The soldiers hatch a plan. Next village they announce they will make stone soup. Delicious soup from a stone. They produce the stone. A five pounder, about the size of my prize from the grocery store. All they need is a kettle and some firewood. The villagers are entranced. They have a kettle. They have some firewood. “And water, of course,” announces a soldier.  A couple of villagers scurry off to get some water. “And a piece of string to suspend the stone in the soup.” Another villager goes for string. Soon the kettle is  over a nice fire and the soldiers carefully lower the stone into the water. They wait a while. One tastes the soup. “Delicious!” he smacks his lips, “but it would be better if we had a little onion.”  And one villagers says that he has an onion. And off he goes. The onion is added. They wait, another taste, another announcement of how delicious it is, but would be better with a carrot or two. And so it goes the afternoon long, until they have a delicious pot of food, with a stone in it. The villagers are amazed that they made such good soup from a stone. One soldier says, “It’s all in knowing how.”

Read a better version of the story here. It’s really good.

http://www.michaelppowers.com/prosperity/stonesoup.html

So pot roast is like stone soup. You can just boil the beef, and it will be good, but it would be so much better if you had an onion, or two, some garlic, some fresh ground pepper and salt, sage, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, red cabbage, sweet potato, and potatoes.

But how will all that fit in my little stainless pot- out biggest pot, but the five pound chunk of meat took up most of it.

So I cut off a big chunk and sliced and diced that up for another meal- the wok. Stir fried beef and vegetables. So while I was cutting things up, washing vegetables and making a general mess in the kitchen, I thought I might as well get ready a salad, too. So I had three dishes I was working on. The pot roast, the collection of stuff to stir fry later, and a salad. It was instructive. They are basically all the same. No I did not put raw beef in the salad, but I used many of the same vegetables in all three. The toughest bits- like the big stem of broccoli, I toss into the pot roast where six hours of simmering will soften in completely. The rest of the stem and  more tender parts go for the wok. I cut up some of just the bushy green parts for the salad. And so it went. The base of the cauliflower I cut off, and then cleaned up, chunked up and tossed into the pot roast. The top parts, into the wok collection and the salad bowl. img_6778

Wok collection on the left, here. Sweet potato getting chunked up. Big chunks into the pot. Smaller strips into the wok. Very thin slices,  just a few for the salad.

An hour of prep, the pot is full and bubbling contentedly, the two containers of wok stuff- one of meat, one of vegetables are in the fridge, and we have a great bowl salad greens and vegetables waiting only for dressing, nuts, cheese.  In few hours  I will drop in the rest of the chunked up vegetables that I didn’t want to get too mushy with six hours of simmering-img_6785

And that will be one fine pot of food.