Sunday, September 19, 2010

Giving in to Fate

After breaking my prescription reading glasses for the third time this year, I have given up and gotten the dreaded librarian chain. Yes, I am a middle-aged cataloguer with four cats who wears her reading glasses on a chain. Yes, I do own a twinset. The transformation into my grandmother is nearly complete.  Perhaps I can at least avoid breaking glasses by sitting on/stepping on/twirling them, and I will free up an extra hour each day that I don't have to spend looking for my glasses.

We finally got a slicing tomato from our CSA, so I was able to have the best lunch ever, a tomato sandwich. I used my favorite bread, 21 Whole Grains from Dave's Killer Bread, slathered it with Hellman's (Best Foods here in the West) mayonnaise, piled on the tomato and added salt and pepper. Bliss.

This may be the last weekend my husband has off until after Thanksgiving. Crush--the grape harvest and processing of the grapes to make wine--is almost upon us, and then the Thanksgiving weekend is one of the big wine tasting events each year. We had hoped to go to the beautiful Silver Falls State Park, but the weather refused to cooperate. It has been raining for almost a week now, just when we need it to be sunny so the grapes and other produce can ripen. Since we were kept in by the rain, I decided to make stuff. We had carrots and cucumbers needing to be used, so I pickled them.

Carrots soaking in brine . . .

. . . and in the jar

Cucumbers and onions

Old peanut butter jars do come in handy

After pickling things, I made a peach and blueberry cobbler. Not as healthy as a day of hiking, but every bit as pleasurable.  It was so chilly last night that we built a fire, and tonight we're making the first pot of chili of the season.

Later this week, I'll be heading to Oklahoma to visit friends, and will finally have a chance to wear summer clothes that have mostly stayed in the closet or drawer this year. Our current high temperatures are lower than their low temperatures in any given 24 hour period. It will be like a trip to the tropics! In the meantime, the cats and I enjoyed a few hours of sun in the garden this afternoon, where Gwydion reveled in the catnip harvest.

Size 6 cat in a size 4 pot of catnip

I'm not taking the laptop with me on my trip (gaahhh, separation anxiety) and next week I'll be spending Sunday in airports instead of in the Valley. Back soon though, with more riveting updates!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Simple Gifts

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

It was a perfectly beautiful weekend here in the valley, and I spent as much of it outside as possible, storing up vitamin D for the long rainy winter ahead. I've never been a sun worshipper and generally react like a vampire to the thought of sunbathing, but the cats and I were sunning ourselves like lizards. I took a walk Saturday afternoon, and because it was so lovely everyone had their windows open. From most of the houses, I could hear college football games and cheering or moans--'tis the season--but as I passed one house I heard someone practicing the cello. The person was obviously pretty new to the instrument, but the tune was easily identifiable as the lovely Shaker hymn (actually a "Dancing Song") "Simple Gifts." Even with missed notes it was beautiful, and it was the perfect song for such a lovely day, and the perfect expression of the way my life is now: far less complicated than it once was, far more frugal and simplified, and very much "the place just right."

It was a weekend of very simple pleasures: getting 3 books (West with the Night and two gardening books, one by Penelope Hobhouse) for $1 at the Friends of the Library book sale), watching birds and insects in the garden, baking scones, drinking wine, taking naps, and eating figs. We're finally getting ripe tomatoes and other summer veggies from our CSA, and the vast amounts of green tomatoes on my vines are occasionally getting some color. Still, I wish I had my grandmother's recipe for green tomatoe relish. I think I could make good use of it. I remember her and our maid setting up a wooden table in the garden and putting wash tubs of green tomatoes through a meat grinder, then cooking them with spices and canning them. We ate the relish on hamburgers, and it was incredible. The recipe was one of the many things lost when evil grandfather (infatuated with his nurse) cleared out the house and sold everything that wasn't nailed down after Mama's death. But I digress. I was talking about pleasant things.

Another simple gift for which I am most grateful is a partner who allows me to be myself. My husband works in the wine industry, and there was a huge pre-harvest party this weekend. Darling husband is a typical Leo who loves a party, while I am the retiring Pisces who would rather have a root canal than face a large crowd of people I don't know. They give you darn good drugs for root canals. So he went to the party, tasted dozens of wines, listened to music, and made lots of new friends, and I spent a quiet evening at home with Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Everyone is happy, and no one is made to feel bad for their choice. 

Allowing others to be who they are is one of the simplest and greatest gifts we can give.  I am not much of a music fan, but I do love Bach and jazz. Both make great use of counterpoint, over our harmony. That is what I prefer in relationships. Harmony usually requires one person to play the boring cello part in Pachelbel's Canon, the same eight notes over and over again. In counterpoint, each hand (or person) plays their own melody, and the way those two interweave and play off each other is immensely beautiful and infinitely more interesting than mere harmony. So, from the valley of love and delight, I wish you counterpoint in the week ahead. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Limits and Benefits

I have been thinking this long weekend about benefits and limitations. Most of the time, I don't mind my age (49 ½): I'm a far happier person than I was in my 20s, I like my self and my life more than ever, and I finally realized that most of the things I've worried about have never come to pass. I like my grey hair, I don't mind the lines in my face, but I do hate the physical limitations imposed by arthritis, especially that in my right hand. I don't like to complain (Mama would not approve), but it's incredibly irritating not to be able to open a can or a bottle of wine, not to be able to do the work I want to do in my garden, not to be able to write legibly with a pen for more than a few lines. I used to wonder what was the point of electric can openers; now I know. Still, I am fortunate to have a partner who is kind enough to help me with things that are too difficult for me.  On our first day off together in months, we picked blackberries, divided irises, and got a number of chores done around the house while enjoying the chance to do these very mundane things together.

But enough whining. One thing I can still do is bake, and bake I did. One of the benefits of the cooler weather we're having is being able to turn on the oven without making the house miserably hot. So I used one of the two quarts of blackberries we picked to make the cobbler shown above, using Orangette's recipe (and using my food processor to make the dough rather than "rubbing" in the butter with my fingers). Today, I made cowboy cookies, a kind of chocolate chip oatmeal cookie with pecans and coconut.

Tea in the garden with Gibbon

Do we ever stop feeling like September is the beginning of a new year? Of course, it is in the Jewish calendar (Happy Rosh Hashanah!), and years of beginning a new school year right after Labor Day make it seem like a new beginning to me. For some time, I've been wanting to read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Working for an antiquarian book dealer, I've had the opportunity to catalogue a number of sets of Gibbon, and have snatched a glimpse at passages, enough to be in awe of his writing style. I was wandering through the library yesterday when I saw it on the shelf and thought, no time like the present. I'm 50 pages in, and enjoying it immensely. We'll see if I like it enough to soldier through over 3,000 pages. The beginning of fall, and the start of another intellectual endeavor.

Cimicifuga with bee feeding frenzy
The bees and hummingbirds seem to be working overtime in the garden--the former especially enamored of my cimicifuga (common name, ironically enough, "bug bane"). The large black dots you see on the feathery white flowers? Bees. Not flying, not buzzing about, but sitting on the flowers soaking up nectar. It's like a bee opium den. The hummingbirds adore the monarda ("bee balm") and the hyssop, while the little finches are enjoying the seedpods on the cornflowers. Our grape arbor was raided of all edible fruit, most likely by crows, the only birds I've seen around the garden that are big enough to do the kind of damage they did. No doubt they're eyeing my fig tree. If the figs ever get a chance to ripen, I hope I can harvest some before the birds do.  The challenges of nature.