Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday Night in the Not-So-Big Town

Fridays are my favorite night of the week. My husband picks me up at work and we go get a cocktail somewhere (last week was margaritas outside at a Mexican restaurant, this week--with the temperatures in the 90s--a G&T for him and a Lemon Drop for me at a secluded, air-conditioned little bar). Then it's off to the market, where we shop for dinner and for the coming week. When we eot home, my husband cooks dinner while I sip wine and try to be amusing. Often we get fish for dinner--we're close to the coast and our local grocery gets very fresh seafood. This week, it was too hot to cook in our un-air-conditioned house, so we got prawns, which my  husband grilled and served over pasta (cooked on the grill's gas burner) with cherry tomatoes, red peppers, leeks, olives, garlic, and chard (I picked and washed the chard, my sole contribution to the meal preparation).  We ate outside, and drank a bottle of cava with the leisurely meal. Once you open a sparkling wine, you have to finish it!

Since it was what passes for "really hot" here this weekend, I decided to stay inside with the window blinds closed and the ceiling fans going and get some household chores done. Saturday morning, I put in some laundry and started cleaning the kitchen--and I mean cleaning, not just the take-dishes-out-of-dishwasher-put-dishes-into-dishwasher routine I usually perform. Fired up by this, I next tackled the bathroom. You have to understand, I detest housecleaning. Detest. Loathe, even. And yet, somehow I was finding satisfaction in this. I've no idea why--it was like suddenly discovering that I could fly. Frankly, it's more than a little disconcerting. Today, I thoroughly dusted, did more laundry, including the slipcovers, and organized a number of drawers that badly needed it. All that remains are the floors, which my husband cleans since I conveniently have back problems. 

I'm not sure what brought on this odd spurt of domesticity--a longing for order, a need for control, the heat--but I'll just enjoy the tranquillity of a clean house, at least until the cats shed or throw up on something. I give it until 9:00 tonight.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Peace and Quiet

Today has been an especially lovely Sunday in the Valley. The weather--cool and overcast in the morning for gardening, sunny and 70s in the afternoon for walks and reading in the sun--has been nothing short of perfection. It has been particularly peaceful in contrast to yesterday's trip into the city. I'm becoming quite the little country mouse--I find the traffic, noise, and crowds more than I can bear. The city has much to offer, but for me it's sometimes a bit too much. Quite unintentionally, I ended up at one of Portland's famous farmers' markets---acres, it seemed, of beautiful organic produce, artisanal foodstuffs, and crafts--but I was too overwhelmed by all that was on offer, and by the crowds and the noise, to appreciate it. Too many choices, too much stimulation. I was happy to escape to a quiet lunch with an interesting companion.

Growing up in the country, all I wanted was to escape to the big city. Now, as I near the half-century mark, I long for the quiet of the country. Noise is the pollution I find most stressful, and I have a hard time dealing with more than a few days in a large city where it's never completely quiet. Even living in a small community, as I do now, there are the sounds of cars going by, radios blaring, children screeching, dogs barking (I admit to a very wicked moment of hoping the dog was in fact going to eat the screeching children). But there is also the soothing sound of the fountain in my garden, and the purr of the cat in my lap. I try to focus on that and shut the rest out. Quiet, for me, is the greatest luxury. My husband and I dream of one day owning a few acres in the country, where we can plant a small vineyard and a house that overlooks it. For him, the future winemaker, the allure is agricultural. For me, it's the quiet, away from other people, that most appeals.

It was a day of simple pleasures--working in the garden, going for a walk, getting a chocolate dip-cone at the Dairy Queen, baking a blueberry-raspberry pound cake, reading a good book. (A very good book indeed: The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge. Most highly recommended.) Tonight we'll grill fish, sit outside and drink wine, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So Much Light

The summer days begin very early here in the valley: when my husband and stepson left for the airport at 4:30 this morning, it was already getting light outside. It won't be too dark to read in the garden until after 9:00 PM. I've never lived this far north, and the long summer days--and very short winter ones--are a new and pleasant phenomenon. The difference in the seasons is heightened, brought into sharp contrast. The long hours of light, the garden's exuberant flowering, the plethora of berries, fresh local produce--all these things make up for rainy, grey winter days when it's almost dark by 4:30 in the afternoon. In summer we practically live outdoors: the garden becomes our living room and dining room, the grill our kitchen.  We eat so much of seasonal vegetables that I almost tire of them. Right now, I feel I can wait for next spring before eating any more asparagus. Lunch today was the watermelon shown above, with salt, the way we ate it when I was growing up. I like the contrast to the sweetness.

Today has been mostly pleasant tasks and leisure, as a Sunday in the Valley should be: making blueberry jam, starting the yogurt for this week's breakfasts (which will also star blueberries), deadheading the roses and cutting the single branch (!) of blooms below for the house. The only dark spot has been the failure of my Moka espresso pot due to incompatible replacement gasket. Factory approved parts have been ordered from Amazon; in the meantime, I have no fewer than a dozen coffee shacks to choose from for my AM fix, even in a town of 30,000.

I decided to change this to a Sunday blog because as I close in on 50, I am getting better about accepting my limitations. I rarely feel like writing during the week because that is what I do for a living; by the end of the day, I've run out of words. I also write for a rare book blog and that takes up at least on of my evenings. But after running around on Saturday, doing errands, shopping, and chores, by Sunday I'm ready to sit back, reflect, and write. 

A chef from my little community made the New York Times this week due to his extreme passion for sourcing one's food locally. While I wouldn't come to blows over the subject, I do try to eat locally and buy locally as much as possible, and I'm willing to pay a bit more to do so. I enjoy getting not just my vegetables and fruit but my meat, cheese, and eggs from local farmers. I'm really no good at growing my own food, and I'm glad to have so many small farms in my community who can supply my needs. 

One of the many reasons I like living in Oregon is the ease with which I can do things I feel are important, like eating locally, recycling, being within walking distance of shops and services so we're less dependent on a car. Like any good liberal, I'm consumed with guilt. Being able to do these small things may not make a real difference (especially considering the flights we take to see friends and family each year), but at least I can feel, in some small way, that I'm not making things that much worse. 

Now it's back to the comfy swing (if the cats will make room for me) to read more of Sybille Bedford's memoir Quicksands--marvelous writing, like listening to a fascinating person reminisce.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer At Last

Only one sad little green tomato so far.

Summer has decided that maybe she will drop in on the cool, grey Pacific Northwest after all. Last weekend, which happened to be the date of the party we threw to celebrate our nuptials last December, was, despite my fears, clear, bright, and perfect. Warm, but not too warm, and not a cloud in the sky. We even got to enjoy the full moon, which happens about three times a year. 

More jam was made this Independence Day, apricot this time. A kilo of apricots yielded only three full jars of jam, with a little left over to enjoy on the batch of blueberry scones I made. Remember, kids, don't drink and bake: I had to throw out the dry ingredients for the scones when I realized I had put in 2 ½ Tablespoons—not teaspoons—of baking powder. Luckily I realized my error before monster scones exploded in my oven.

If given a word association test, my reply to "summer" would be "reading." That was my #1 summer activity during all my school years. My family had a summer home on an island off the coast of South Carolina, a quiet place with few things to do apart from swimming, walking on the beach, and reading. I wish I still had that much leisure, but the long days do allow for many pleasant hours of reading in the garden. I was absolutely horrified to learn that my stepson, who will be in 5th grade next fall, has NO summer reading assigned. Another casualty of education budget cuts. My husband has given him the copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that his father gave to him when he was a boy.  Holmes and Watson should prove entertaining summer companions for him--and if he is like us, lifelong friends.

The UK cover is so much better, of course.

Recent reads include Paula Byrne's excellent Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. I'm now eager to re-read Brideshead Revisited. Waugh and his friends (especially Nancy Mitford) just fascinate me. Most people now don't put in the effort to be witty and entertaining.  I suppose not everyone has it impressed on them from childhood that it is one's duty to be amusing. Of course, we were also taught common courtesy and proper etiquette, but that is a rant for another day.

For now, I shall retire to the Cocktail Corner with a Pimms Cup and a good book. I've just started Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M. : Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. It promises to be quite interesting.

What is on your summer reading list?