Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are you gonna eat that?

I notice that a lot of people who write blogs include their own versions of domestic advice, recipes, life skills coaching, and platitudes.  I started writing the Jugular Vein stories on the advice of our long-time friend Betsey Grecoe who suggested that other people might enjoy reading about our family adventures and mishaps.

Now that I have half a century of experience and gathered wisdom, I can join the ranks of those who offer unsolicited advice, snobbish culinary expertise, and household hints for frugality from their poorer days. And I can easily disseminate this wisdom via the internet with my blog! Let's see what I can pull together.

Some of the finest, most fun, and most fulfilling experiences I've had in my life have been in the camaraderie of a kitchen, creating a meal for a crowd, or at the table enjoying a meal with friends and family. The more, the better.  I thought about recounting them here while including recipes, helpful kitchen tips, and proper etiquette reminders, like other blog writers do so successfully. 

These days, on the rare occasions when we're enjoying fine dining, we often find ourselves comparing the experience to past meals and the atmosphere of a little out-of-the way restaurant in rural New Jersey called Duo Fratelli (the Two Brothers).  It was a small restaurant that featured Italian haute cuisine, where the staff outnumbered the guests.  On our first visit – a wedding anniversary dinner – we were greeted and our reservation status was confirmed by the maitre d', who was dressed in black tie service uniform.  We were shown to our table in the dimly lit but spacious room, where the panorama of windows were draped with expensive fabrics offering privacy with taste.  The fresh white linen tablecloths and napkins were smooth and clean, under a full dinner setting of gleaming flatware and glassware.  My chair was held while I sat and my napkin carefully laid in my lap.  The meal that followed was exquisite, the service impeccable, and their recommended wine has become one of our favourites.  Though this was an expensive restaurant, we enjoyed sharing meals there for special people and special occasions.

On one of those visits, we were seated at a rear table far from the entrance.  As we leisurely savoured the many courses of our meal, we noticed the special attention given by the staff to the large round table in the far corner.  Most remarkable was one large dominant man.  He was dressed in an expensive-looking dark suit with gold chains and rings that caught the light.  As each new (and similarly attired) guest arrived and approached the table, he stood to give a large shoulder-forward embrace, ending with a flat-handed slap-slap on each other’s back.  One after another, his guests arrived and were seated until there were approximately ten imposing men gathered.  Each was greeted with the kind of respect usually seen only in a tense episode of The Sopranos.  Wide-eyed with wary observation, we were torn between staying to see a fascinating first-hand glimpse into what appeared to be a mob meeting, and leaving immediately in case tommy-guns suddenly appeared in a gangland shoot-out of epic proportion.  But we couldn't possibly have left, as Duo Fratelli’s crème brûlée dessert is simply the best – it's to die for.

When Kathryn and I took a cross-country road trip and finally landed in Los Angeles, we were eager to shop and see where the rich and famous shop.  To fully appreciate the contrast, we spent a day thrift store shopping in Santa Monica and Venice Beach first. Then we headed to the fabled stores of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.  We dressed up to help ensure we received the full-service treatment (just like the people who actually could afford to be there).  Kathryn, naturally, had a fashionable outfit, and I tried my best not to look too dowdy, and actually brushed my hair.  Since it was hot and sunny, we wore big sunglasses, and I kept on my wide-brimmed straw hat.  Kathryn's trendy sundress, impeccable makeup, and gorgeous looks in general were the perfect attire for the outdoor cafe we visited for a late-day lunch.  If a celebrity passed by, we had a great view and prime photographic opportunity. 

We were quickly seated in a crowded outdoor section of the small café. Shortly after we received our water (with lemon!), a family of four was seated at the table next to us -- just far enough apart for the disinterested wait staff to pass between us.  Staggered by the price points of toast points, we opted for a simple cheese plate with fruit and wine, and amused ourselves with wishful conversation about what we would like to have purchased to augment our wardrobes and jewellery chests.  Brooks Brothers and Harry Winston would have been very happy to accommodate us, but our wallets could not.  At their table next to use, the mother, father, and two adolescent girls chatted amiably, while Kathryn and I finished up. Neither of us removed our sunglasses as we sat under the awnings.

Our waitress, totally indifferent about quality of service though not unpleasant, eventually brought our bill, and I presented a credit card for payment.  When she returned with our receipts and offered a cursory "have a nice day" in mid-retreat, I frowned at Kathryn, who shrugged her shoulder in acknowledgement.  So I replied loudly enough with a bright cheerful sigh of satisfaction for the family sitting next to us to hear, "Well, that was really nice -- just what we needed!" to which Kathryn cheerfully agreed.  I then added, "… and for once, NO paparazzi!"  The two young girls at the next table immediately looked up and around.  So I drove it home with one final comment to Kathryn: "I don't think the waitress even recognized you!" and then we made our way out. All eyes were on Kathryn until we were down to the sidewalk, where I took one last glance back to see the two girls extending themselves over the railing, desperate to see who they'd just missed. 

At home, cooking for our large family was usually routine, but when my folks visited they sometimes seemed overwhelmed with the volume of food, preparations, and portions that four growing teenagers required.  One simple dinner we often made to feed a large crowd was fettuccine that we'd make ourselves.  A bowlful of flour with eggs, water, oil, and salt added in the right proportions can quickly become a homemade pasta; add just about anything to make a complete dinner.

One night, after a long day of visiting, I dug in to prepare a basil pesto and other sauces with some homemade noodles while we waited for Stephen to arrive home from work.  My folks were keen to watch the process, and with two extra guests joining us, I doubled up on the ingredients, and started mixing, kneading, rolling and cutting the noodles right at the kitchen table.  And then the inevitable call came from Stephen mid-transit stuck in a classic New Jersey eight-lane rush-hour traffic jam.

So my folks and I drank more wine while I continued rolling and cutting the dough, and strung the strands up while the sauces simmered and the pasta water boiled.  Since fresh pasta only takes about three minutes to cook, I didn’t want to put it in until Stephen could join us.  My pasta was hanging all around us, on open cupboard doors, the backs of chairs, and over the edge of the table.  When Stephen finally bustled in, we were all famished and eager to start eating, and the ensuing activity in the small kitchen quickly became frenzied as the dog enthusiastically greeted him, steaming bowls of sauces were waltzed about the crowded room to be set out for serving, drinks were poured, and the four kids all came in to take their seats. With all this going on, we didn’t notice that most of the heavy strands of fettuccine had stretched under their own weight, broken off, and fallen onto the floor. 

Our dog Scout noticed it first, and tried to eat as much of it as he could, as quickly and quietly as possible. Stephen noticed it second when he stepped on it and it stuck to his shoes, making him slip and slide on the floor as he tried to get around the dog, who was busy trying to eat all he could get.  It wasn't until I heard "what the hell??" from Stephen that I noticed my long beautiful strands of golden pasta were all gone. Only a few scraps and remnants on top of the doors and chairs were left.  Meanwhile, Dad stood transfixed at the chaotic scene, and my mother was absolutely hysterical with laughter as she watched Stephen hop from foot to foot, grabbing at clumps of pasta dough, and scolding the dog who was being chased around the table by the kids.  Stephen paused, looked around at the whole situation, held up two hands full of dough and said in his best Ricky Ricardo voice, "Luuucy -- you got some 'splaining to do."

When a nephew in central Tennessee was about to get married between Christmas and New Year's Eve, our family of six made the trip from New Jersey to go to the wedding. Unfortunately, our dog Scout had just had a procedure on his eye, and had to wear a large cone around his head. This took up a lot of room in the back of the van, and in the small hotel room where we stayed. 

The wedding was great, and it was nice to reconnect with far-away family and cousins. But it was at a time of the year when we couldn’t really afford such a trip. Stephen was between jobs, so funds were unusually tight, and the credit card was red-hot with transaction friction from the trip, meals, and accommodations.  On the way back home, we stopped at a Wendy's drive-thru for their $1 menu.  We could all get lunch for less than ten dollars!  Poor Scout, who couldn't easily eat and was off his food because of his cone, the stress of travel, and just being out of sorts was especially pitiful.   When we got to the window, we asked the server if they had anything that might have fallen on the floor or was too old to serve that we could give to the dog for a treat, and pointed to the forlorn cone-headed Scout in the back seat.  She said she had nothing, but took pity and gave us a box of chicken nuggets fresh from the fryer. We thanked her sincerely, and headed on our way.  When we got back on the road, we realized there was actually nothing wrong with this free addition to our meal, so we divided the box among ourselves.  They were absolutely delicious. I think we may have given poor Scout just one.

When my dad remarried, he and Anna flew to Slovakia, Anna’s home country, for a honeymoon. On their way there, they stayed with us in New Jersey for a few days. Anna cheerfully put up with our jokes of how backward and primitive Slovakia was (of course we knew differently, but anything for a laugh!) and played along.  One day we walked to a tiny mom & pop shop that featured Polish and Czech ethnic foods, snacks, and videos.  Anna was delighted to find a box of round wafer cookies and brought them home to share.  Apparently, it was a treat she rarely found in Canada, but was a well-known Slovak goodie.  The box was about six inches square and about two inches tall, with bright colors, bold Slovak words, and pictures of happy children anticipating the indulgence and decadence inside.  But the wafers themselves were awful.  The flat cookie was the size of a salad plate, pale and bland in color, and with the texture and taste of a cardboard egg carton.

We ridiculed them mercilessly.  Stephen pantomimed their many potential uses (none as an edible treat) in quick succession – they could be used to play a song, as he cranked a victrola, spinning one on his fingertip and mimicking a jolly tune from the 1800's; he flung one across the room like a Frisbee, announcing its playtime merits in a television-commercial-announcer voice; picked up another, perched it on his upturned fingers, and draped a dishtowel over his arm in full British butler mode, presenting a tray to a Lady.  Then it became the brim of a boater hat while he reminded us of our responsibility to vote for a long-past American president, finally wrapping up his performance by driving himself out of the room using a wafer-cookie steering wheel.  We were convulsed with laughter, and glad Anna took it in equally good humour, laughing along with us. She didn’t take offense, but she did close up the tin and refuse to let us have any more.  She fits right in with us.

As I wrap up this story, I've see that I failed to offer any helpful hints, tasty budget recipes, and certainly no life lessons, but thinking about what has made me personally happy in life, I can offer some unsolicited advice:

"Every day have someone to love, someone who loves you, and something to look forward to."  Allyn S. West II (1953-1988)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Charmed, I'm Sure

When I was thirteen my brother gave me a small sterling silver pendant of a half moon face mounted around turquoise.  He was several years older than me, and dating a pretty girl at the time -- the first sibling to be in a relationship that I remember being aware of.  He told me that the image of the moon was the universal symbol of love-- I was delighted to think that he was in love with this girl.  I wore the short pendant around my stubby, sweaty adolescent neck every single day.  Not much later, when the thin chain got broken, my sister gave me another small sterling pendant on a similar thin silver chain.  To me, she always had cool, trendy, teenager stuff, and this charm was similar to Robert Indiana's LOVE pop art sculpture which was fashionable at the time.  I put them both on the new single chain and wore them often until 1980 when I graduated from high school and received a small sterling '80 medallion as a graduation gift from a long-time family friend, Eileen Roe.  That was the tipping point for me to start a charm bracelet.  It has been growing heavier ever since, with the 53 charms weighing in at nearly half a pound.  Collected over the years each charm that is linked to the bracelet is also linked to someone in my life or represents something that has touched my life.

Here's one:

Barb Henney was my first and perfect friend.  Both of our families were members of The Unitarian Church in Omaha, Nebraska.  The Henney family had three children our own children's ages, and as our friendship grew, we spent many long nights playing cards, sharing holidays together, camping, and going to garage sales.  She welcomed "the pop-in", and I was a frequent popper, always delighted that she was pleased to be distracted by my unannounced visits where they lived on the other side of town.  When we moved to New Jersey, I was tragically home-sick for Nebraska and her friendship, and she promised with good intention to write often, but rarely did.  Instead she sent me a mailbox charm with a flapping door, reminding me that she thought of us often, even if she rarely wrote to tell us their news.

When the Henneys eventually visited us in New Jersey, we took a day trip to Atlantic City which was over 2 hours south of our home.  We took turns at the slot machines with little luck. The seven kids were tired, restless passengers after a full day of sun and surf, so I told a family story about our fathers to keep their attention and pass the miles.  It's a story my Dad had told our family a long time ago.  It went a little like this:

My father served in the Air Force in the early 50's, and like anyone in any branch of the armed services, had to get through boot camp.

Wallace West was a fit young servicemen, and boot camp challenges were intended to prepare him both physically and mentally for whatever he might encounter when fighting the enemy. In boot camp Wallace climbed ropes over tall walls, slogged through trenches, ran mile after mile carrying his own weight in a pack on his back, shimmied under barbed wire barricades, and met every endurance, strength, stamina and agility test he was put to.

But during that time, the government was low on military resources after the Second World War and all their weapons, ammunition and equipment was sent to the men fighting at the front during the Korean war in the early 50's.

On a training day of a simulated battle the men were divided into two opposing sides, lined up alphabetically "first name last, last name first" and ordered to stand at attention as a rifle with a bayonet was passed out to each man.  They were shown how to dismantle, reassemble, load and shoot the rifle.  Instructions were given on how to quickly attach and use the bayonet in simulated hand-to-hand combat if they ran out of ammunition.

But with the supply shortages, by the time the quartermaster reached the end of the alphabetized line where Wallace West stood, they'd run out of equipment.  Following orders Dad stood at attention while substitutions were made.  Dad was handed a straw broom and told if he sees the enemy, to use the broom for his rifle.  "YES SIR!", Dad saluted, and right shouldered arms with his broom.

His officer demanded swift, convincing simulated rifle activity, so with military precision, Dad presented arms with the broom as if it was an actual rifle, aimed at an imaginary enemy soldier and shouted with authority, "BANG, BANG, BANGITY, BANG BANG!!!"

Impressed with his quick action and adaptation, the officer took one step back and announced to all the enlisted men on the opposing side that if they get "banged" in this exercise they must immediately drop dead.

In unison, "YES SIR!" was heard, and the officer asked, "Any questions?"

Dad reported back, "Question, SIR!"  "For my bayonet?"

The officer snatched the broom from Dad, yanked two straws out of the business end, turned it over placed one straw sticking off the end of the handle and wrapped it tightly attaching it with the second straw.

Tossing it back to soldier West, he called for quick bayonet action, and Dad put one foot forward, jabbed the single straw back and forth and with a booming voice called out, "STAB, STAB, STABITY-STAB STAB!!"

Nodding, the office called to the ranks, "Soldiers, from this point forward, if you are in simulated hand-to-hand combat and you hear "STAB", you will clutch your gut and immediately fall dead.

"YES SIR!" was called back by all ranks, and "FALL OUT" was then ordered.

The simulated battle began, and Dad told his animated story of incessant shooting, and how he dodged fighting men, jumping behind boulders for shelter, drop rolling into trenches, all while shouting out his unlimited supply of ammunition as he made his way closer and closer to the mock enemy front line.

All the kids in the car were listening and interested, but the Henney kids wanted to hear about their grandfather. Chuck Warren was a decorated forward observer in WWII.  They knew he had seen some action and had dark memories from that time in history.  But like all good soldiers, he had to earn his stripes and pull his weight in Army boot camp. I explained that Mr. Warren would have had a very similar story to Dad's boot camp story, so I embellished and continued:

Your Grandfather, Chuck Warren, also found himself at the end of the alphabetized ranks when he was ordered to fall in.  Except he was divided on to the enemy side.  He also experienced the mock battle and the shouting men hating the enemy who all wanted him dead, the rush of adrenalin it created, and how he had to watch each man who had weapons and listen for the dreaded 'BANG, BANG, BANG-ITY, BANG' or fear the painless nod of failure if he heard 'STAB, STAB, STABBITY, STAB'.  He, too ducked behind shelter and rolled into trenches.  But to his surprise and disappointment, there were two soldiers standing above him when he peered out of one of those trenches: one pointing a rifle-broom, and the other brandishing a straw bayonet. 
Thinking quickly, Private Warren stood tall and squared his shoulders.  "BANG, BANG, BANGITY-BANG, shouted the delighted broom wielding enemy expecting the defeated soldier Warren's surrender to death.  But Chuck climbed out of the trench, determined.  The other soldier stood forward and repeatedly jabbed in his direction while shouting louder and louder with each air-thrust, "STAB, STAB, STABBITY, STAB!!!!".  Undaunted, Chuck approached these fellows, and pushed them over, using his strong shoulders, his big arms, fierce hands.  He pushed on their faces, and mashed them down to their knees, while they continuously berated him with their vocal weapons.  Confused and laying on the ground they looked up at soldier Warren, as he persisted crushing and pressing them into the dirt. Not until he actually lifted his steel-toed black army boot to step directly on top of one of the enemies' chest did he he stoically and repeatedly call out as he walked right on top of them, "tank, tank, tank, tank, tank, tank....."

I have a small sterling silver slot machine to recall that fun day, long drive, and sorely needed visit with The Henney family those many years ago.
There are 52 other stories to tell for each one of my charms.  When I put it around my wrist and connect the clasp linking the two ends and hear them tinkle I, too, am connected; I am part of the people, places and events that they each represent.

I am linked to this world.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Wait! I can explain!!"

You may have read in earlier blog entries how I've praised and respect the work ethic of my folks, Patricia and Wallace.  Here, in their early days at Cleveland Place, they worked long and hard to bring it to what it is today.  One of the many chores and labours that Dad frequently describes is about the original brass and lead antique light fixtures that he at first thought were wooden. How he stripped them of at least 6 coats of paint, buffed them back to a good patina and lustre, and finally shellacked them so they glow as warmly as they did many years ago.  Together, he and my mum transformed this historic village home into a gorgeous five-room Bed and Breakfast.  Dad replaced the heavy, dark solid-paneled doors between the parlour, the dining room, and the den with cheery, beveled-glass French doors that he made himself, then stained to match the wood throughout the house, opening it up to daylight.  I've recounted before on The Jugular Vein blog how they brought the pantry back to its original wood counter tops, and buffed and waxed wood and floors to show and shine.

Back in the summer of 1926, Judson Cleveland had his portable sawmill down at the village wharf when it threw a fatal spark. The ensuing wind-fed conflagration caught and reduced most of the homes in Alma to ashes, including the Clevelands’ original home.  Only the fireplace mantle and hearth were saved, taken down to the water’s edge as the house and the village burned. The following year, Judson rebuilt this house, barn, and garage, and put back the original mantle and hearth.

So Dad fixed and repaired and my mother picked out wallpaper, stripping each room down to the bare walls from the five or six layers of vintage papers in various conditions. Then they spackled, sanded, and pasted quality, tasteful wallpapers, replacing the garish flocked medallions, cracked plaster, and dated 1947 pinks, 1956 aquas, 1962 yellows, and 1973 avocados.

The antique furnishings and family pieces – whether collected over the years, inherited by my folks, or purchased after settling into Cleveland Place – each have a fitting place. Wiring, plumbing, siding, roofing, window sash and pane replacement, wool oriental rugs, new bathroom porcelain to match and complement the original clawfoot tub, were all painstakingly appointed, repaired, improved, cleaned, and maintained during their nearly twenty-five years here together.

When mum died, the obvious woman's touch was lost, and Dad eventually started over with Anna, making a new and happy home at WallyAnna Farm.  There his work ethic has merely changed direction: with Anna at his side, they've made the hundred and twenty-five-year-old farmhouse a comfortable hobby-farm and harvest bakery, where Anna bakes over a hundred loaves of bread and European pastries each week for market sale.

Stephen and I fast-forwarded our goal to settle in New Brunswick, and for several years we timed our work to spend our summers at Cleveland Place running the B&B and bookshop, always following the high standards my folks set.  But two years ago, we finally settled here permanently –fully involved in continuing the business, being members of the community, and making new and keeping old friendships in the area.

Most recently, we've re-established The Artisan Shop (the former barn for Judson Cleveland's horse, Kit) as a quality gift shop carrying only fine Maritime artists and crafts people's work.  That`s how my folks ran it until the late 1990s, when they leased the space for several years to another entrepreneur, who filled the shelves to capacity with mass-produced tourist novelties.  We're delighted to once again represent the abundant artistic talent of the Atlantic Provinces.  The Bookshop has been vastly improved from its humble beginnings as a wood shed, and now holds an eclectic collection of new and lightly used books of every kind.  The B&B continues to host families from all over the world as we open our home and our part of the world -- the wonder of Fundy.

So, this short blog entry is really to pay homage to the hard work, heroic efforts, long hours, great expense, and exacting attention to quality and detail that my folks expended over the years together, allowing us to comfortably step into their shoes and continue in their tradition.  As I find my days filled with work that I enjoy, I invariably feel Mum or Dad sitting on one or the other shoulder, keeping an eye and judging my efforts and standards.

Stephen has quickly brought Cleveland Place into the modern world of technology.  The three businesses are completely represented on spreadsheets of daily activity, income, expenses, and so forth.

At one point in time, Cleveland Place was the telephone junction between the neighboring counties, and the switchboard was in Judson’s office.  Hearing the telltale buzz, he would go into his office, put on his headset, and pull out the wire to connect the calls.

But these days, of course, we've got the internet.  Stephen created an extensive website that tells visitors what Cleveland Place is all about, including the neighboring Fundy tourist destinations.  He's installed Wi-Fi for the use of our guests, and established a QR code on our signage for passers-by.  And, although his carpentry skills aren't yet at the level he’d like, he's been keen and competent to fix or improve the inevitable problems that arise with a house and property of this age.

So, following Mum and Dad's example, we find we're working hard, enjoying what we do, feeling satisfaction at the end of the day, and sleeping well after a full day's effort.  Yet, somehow, I feel I'll never live up the standards they set, or ever be worthy of the luxury their efforts have afforded me.  I sometimes think that I appear entitled, and sometimes feel like I have to convince people that I actually do work hard (sometimes) too! 

Early in the season this year —high tourist season in this area is from June to late August – a local business announced the date for National Lobster Day, and living just down the lane from one of the three village lobster shops, we were eager to participate.

We spent the first part of National Lobster Day in a morning-long business meeting so we didn't open the Artisan's Shop or the Book Shop.  After the meeting adjourned, we made our way home and decided to get two good-sized lobsters and take photos for the latest update on the Cleveland Place website.  While Stephen went to the lobster shop, I set the table for a photographic opportunity, featuring the finest seafood supper that Fundy and Cleveland Place have to offer. 

I unfurled a freshly ironed white linen tablecloth, and set out cloth napkins surrounded by the sterling silver flatware we use for our B&B guests.  Wine was poured into tall crystal goblets, and lemon slices floated in steaming water finger bowls.  The proper tools, lobster crackers, picks, and cloth bibs were set aside a small dish of complementary black and red caviar, near chilled glasses of iced sparkling water.  The scene was set and ready for two large red lobsters on platters with the liquid gold of melted dipping butter, in individual candle-heated stands. 

Since we'd left for our early morning meeting, we still hadn't lifted the window shades, and decided to leave them drawn for the lighting for the photos.  After we'd taken several satisfactory shots of the fully set table with the sharp contrasts of white linen, red and black caviar, bright yellow lemon, and red-hot lobster, we sat down to enjoy our National Lobster Day lobster.  Our first of the season.

We quickly cracked shells and devoured the flesh, enjoying the wine and sopping up the hot butter and caviar, eager to open up the shops for more business; it's a short season and every operating hour counts.  As we often do when we have the rare occasion to indulge, we did a haughty laughter imitation of Thurston Howell III, and pondered out loud, "I wonder what the poor people are doing, today?" with a full mouth of fresh-from-the-bay lobster meat and butter dripping down our chins.

And then, suddenly, they appeared again on my shoulder.  Dad on one side, Mum on the other, and my laughter changed to a shriek!

I choked, laughed, and said to Stephen, "Watch Dad and Anna pull into the driveway, right now.  Curtains pulled in the middle of a busy work day in high season, and here we sit, glistening with butter, mouths full, gulping wine, surrounded by the luxuries of expensive fine dining.  They'll NEVER believe why we’re doing this!"

You can see it all at

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lost and Found Department

I know I'm not the only one who has experienced overwhelming loss -- the crushing grief of sadness that confounds the mind to comprehend how deeply an emotion can render oneself completely incapacitated.

Dear reader, you might need to reach for a tissue box as I recount some of my losses.

On second thought, actually I won't. Those are things too difficult for me to express, and require meaningful words and literary skills that I don't possess to thoughtfully compose, so I'll tell you about a few less gut-wrenching things I've lost (or found!) instead.

In our early days of home ownership we belonged to the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association.  It was a suburb of Omaha that was 'in transition'.  Senior homeowners were the majority, but as the changing economy of the nearby stockyards waned, smaller local businesses failed and the middle class neighborhood was at the tipping point of failure and depression.  We were part of the new generation of families moving in, with renewed energy and enthusiasm sparking entrepreneurship and neighborhood pride.  Thus we went to regular meetings with like-minded neighbors and community leaders.  After one evening meeting, I was on my way home after dark, riding my 49cc Honda Hobbit moped. A stuttering start, too quick an acceleration, and poor handling landed me face-first onto the dark roadway.  Stunned, hurt, and bleeding, I pushed the moped off me and saw half of my front tooth glistening on the pavement.  I could feel the warmth of blood running down my face, and a jabbing pain in my leg, so I flagged down the next passing car which took me home.  I left the moped (and a few layers of skin) in the middle of the road.

My injuries didn't require medical attention (until later when wound infection took hold), but I was hurting.  I know that people lose limbs, eyes, and best friends to war, so I can't complain or compare to those who have suffered grave injuries for far more heroic reasons, but for me this was just so devastating: I'd lost a tooth!

An early morning visit to the dentist revealed that he couldn't save the tooth, and would have to perform a root canal and later cap it.  It'd be good as new.  He did the root canal, and told me to return in a month when all my other injuries healed to finish the job.  Meanwhile, for cosmetics, he'd glue the broken-off fragment to what remained rooted so I wouldn't be gap-smiling and snaggle-toothed.

But I never returned.  My overwhelming phobia of dental procedures prevented me from making that follow-up visit. Predictably, the short-term fix didn't last.  Months later when we were out to supper with our good friends, Barb and Dave Henney, the tooth broke off again.  But Barb is a good friend (the kind who holds your hair when you drink too much and have to vomit into a shrub late at night in a bad part of town) and will cheerfully and willingly interrupt a rare adult night out to stop and buy you a tube of Crazy Glue so you can put your tooth back in place.  That's the kind of friendship I hope to never lose.

Eventually, I forced myself to revisit the dentist, whose X-ray revealed damage to the underlying bone, requiring oral surgery and a complete loss of the tooth.  My smile, though now changed, is not lost; my fear of dental procedures, though, will never fade.

Another time when a loss left me crushed was when I looked down to see an empty setting on my engagement ring.  At a time in our lives when we certainly couldn't afford a replacement diamond, we scanned the floors of the house and emptied the vacuum cleaner bag searching, but found nothing.  Stephen promised me that at some point he'd put one back on my finger.  Then he left for work.

He was still in the US Air Force at this time, and on this particular day instead of going to his office, he found himself assigned to a clean-up detail for litter patrol around the Air Force base -- an annual chore that everyone eventually had to do.  He spent the day outdoors on the side of the road, around parking lots, and behind buildings, stooping and picking up spent cigarettes, wrappers, and general debris, growing hot and tired as the day wore on.  A particular annoyance was a pebble that had worked its way into his boot, and he found himself repeatedly kicking the ground to keep it at the toe of his boot, rather than taking the time in the hot sun to stop, unlace his boot, shake it out, and lace it all back up again.

When he came home at the end of his long day, he finally and with relief took off his boots, describing how cross he'd become over that irritation added to his already menial work day.  As he dumped his boot out, a small white diamond fell out.

Something we all lose from time to time is a memory.  Years ago when we were first getting acquainted with Karin Bach and Tim Isaac, we visited them several times as they were building their home.  Our pop-ins were usually unannounced, and they would willingly interrupt their work for a short while as we visited. Karin is a hard worker, and we always left them feeling unworthy and exhausted.  In between her work creating fantastic sculpture and art for sale in her studio, she would be pegging beams for the construction of their house, pouring cement floors, nursing exquisite plants and flowers in her garden beds, all while being savagely attacked by the unrelenting black flies and mosquitoes of the summer season.  She never seemed to stop.

But something small and out-of-the-way caught my eye on one of these visits, and it drove me to complete distraction. It was a small, thin, black cast-iron ashtray in the shape of a fish. Seeing it stirred some vaguely familiar image in my mind that I couldn't quite identify.  Was it from my dreams, or a vintage household item? I just couldn't place it.  Finally I interrupted our conversation to ask about it.  "Get a load of that fish!" I said.  Karin stubbed out her cigarette into it, looked up at me, and asked smiling, "Do you want it back?"

AH HA!  It was from the deep recesses of my memory; it was from my home years ago.  It all came back to me.  We had two of those ashtrays while I was growing up; they were from Mrs. Prouty's estate back in the 1950s, and my grandfather gave them to my mother, who smoked in those days.  Decades later when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer (and immediately quit smoking), all the ashtrays were stored away.  Many years later, Dad gave them to Karin as a keepsake. Much of her pottery and sculpture work features elaborate fish designs, so the fish-shaped item seemed apt. I'd rather she used it for a candy dish.

One memory I'd lost completely was brought back to me when our son, Andrew, recounted a most loving maternal memory he had stored away.  He remembers from when he was very young:

"We were at one of Daddy's company picnics (we call them 'forced fun events')  Justin and I were playing on the playground equipment and Justin had a crush on a girl there. He pointed her out on a slide and told me to watch out, because if she looked at you twice, you'd turn into the Devil. I was young enough to believe anything my older brother said and I was very concerned. I needed to know if it was twice over the course of the day or if a double take would do me in, or just twice overall, ever.  I hid behind a tree for a while until the coast was clear and lost some quality playground time.

"When the devil-inducing girl was finally gone I found you guys eating in the indoor area. Sobbing, I told you about the incident and with motherly concern you grabbed my skull and began examining it. I was eagerly awaiting the "all clear", but instead you parted my hair and gasped, saying that you were pretty sure that you saw horns growing.
I hate that I didn't remember that story.  I'm sure with four children there are countless things they recall that I have no recollection -- no doubt, a series of lost memories.

Our longtime family friend and Maritime artist Rod MacKay first met my folks in Sussex at least thirty-five years ago; we have a lot of his art hanging at Cleveland Place.  One in pride of place in the living room is titled "Huginn and Muninn."

They are two ravens that were taught speech by the Norse god Odin.  The legend tells that Odin would send Huginn (the Norse word for "thought") and Muninn ("memory") all over the world, and each day they would return to his shoulder and tell him what they learned and saw.  Concerned that one day they might not return, for being lost or harmed, Odin declared that he wouldn't mind losing Thought, but he'd hate to lose Memory. 

But really, not much is forever lost; there are only four things that will never come back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, neglected opportunity, and time past.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wanna see our vacation slides?

In the summer of 2000 the largest massed band of bagpipers in the world to date would be gathering in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Of course we had to go. 

Three of our four children were members of a bagpipe band when we were living in New Jersey; Andrew as a snare drummer and Kathryn and Olivia were Highland dancers.  The opportunity came for us to go as a family to this huge event, and we invited Mum and Dad to join us.

Arrangements began nearly a year in advance of the excursion.  The band was working with an efficient travel agent who came to the weekly practices to give status reports, deadlines, cost breakdowns and rooming assignments.  At EVERY single meeting, she stressed the importance for everyone to check their passports and make SURE there was a six-month window between our travel dates and the expiration date.  We had just applied for our 6 passports (our first overseas trip as a family!) and eagerly anticipated their arrival with photos and official seal. We were all set. For those who already had passports, a quick check with this much-repeated and far-in-advance notice gave everyone ample time to make sure everything would be in order.

Mom and Dad traveled from Canada to our home, and caught their breath for a day before we headed to the airport, just a 25 minute drive away.  Stephen had reserved a stretch limo for the eight of us, and it was an impressive sight as it arrived to collect all of us. Feeling like celebrities, everyone giddily toyed with all its luxury features during the drive to the airport.  There we unloaded, gathered our bags and approached the ticket counter where over a dozen of our band members were also assembling. Ahead of us in line was a piper, who set his luggage for check-in, carried his bagpipe tote for carry-on, and presented his passport and ticket.  The agent opened it, looked at the photo, and handed it back with a disappointed look.  "I'm sorry, sir, " she said.  "Your passport has expired, I can't process you through." 

Our band-mate stood taller, opened his wallet and pushed it and the passport back to her. With classic New Jersey attitude and bluster, he pulled out his policeman’s badge, jabbed at it with his finger repeatedly, and exclaimed, "But I'm a COP!!"

With professionalism and a stoic expression she delicately pushed the badge and the passport back towards him and said, "I don't care. Your passport has expired.  NEXT!" 

Those waiting behind him in line – who of course had months ago followed the stern advice of the travel agent and had current passports – watched as he left the airport, with his suitcase in hand and his travel anticipation, like his bagpipes, completely deflated.

Our processing went flawlessly and we were off to security at our boarding gate.  This was long before 9/11, and the agents were quick and friendly, and sent our items through an X-ray machine, while asking a few questions about unrecognizable items that were scanned.  "I'll take your bag,” the large, authoritative man in uniform gently told my mother.  She sent through her recent purchases at the airport novelty shop, and stood nervously.  Again, the agent asked for all her carry-on belongings, and gestured with a nod of his head to her pocketbook, which was strapped over her shoulder and held by a death-grip under her arm. 

She shook her head and nodded back to the sack that was now passing on the conveyor belt, indicating that was her bag.  The patient agent then directly pointed to her pocketbook, and said, "Ma'am, your PURSE bag."  My mother laughed out loud.  She was so concerned about airport bandits robbing unwary travelers that her pocketbook had become one with her person.  She realized her uptight but unconscious grip, and visibly relaxed her arm, and exclaimed to the officer, "OH THAT! I wasn't even thinking about that bag, I call it a pocketbook!" She continued to hastily explain as he nodded his head and peered inside for anything unauthorized.  While he looked she continued to explain her concern for thievery, and cheerfully dismissed the idea that there were any incendiary devices inside saying, "It's not like I was trying to hide a bomb or anything!" 

We all immediately hushed her.  She turned to us wide-eyed, and loudly exclaimed, "Well, I don't have a bomb!"  The forgiving fellow smiled with understanding, and sent her through. 

After a long flight, and several cocktails, we approached the first leg of our trip at Heathrow airport.  The captain's reassuring voice came over the loudspeaker, and in its typical crackle of intermittent transmission, described how we were circling above the airport and made a few more unintelligible remarks.  The flight attendants continued with their familiar routine, advising passengers and guiding them through the procedures of tray tables, drink disposal, etc., while the captain again came on the loudspeaker saying something to the crew that we couldn’t quite catch. I understood there was an undercurrent and we were prevented from landing immediately, but the flight would continue to circle the control tower until they gave the go-ahead for a safe landing. 

The hubbub in the cabin became increasingly louder. People sat upright, became alert and attentive, gathered their belongings, started speaking to each other urgently, and several asked to speak to an attendant.  I couldn't feel turbulence from any undercurrents and so I pretty much shrugged my shoulders and sat back with closed eyes until we began our descent.  I didn't know why everyone else was so agitated, it was just a minor delay -- people just need to relax!  After about twenty minutes, and several trips around the control tower, the captain again addressed the people.  We were approved for landing!

It wasn't until after we disembarked that I learned that the captain had been advising that the UNDERCARRIAGE ENGAGED light had not displayed, so the pilots didn’t know if it had deployed for landing.  The reason for circling the control tower was to get a visual confirmation from the people in the tower that the wheels were actually down and the plane could land!  I'd misheard undercarriage for undercurrent and we were actually being advised that we might need to make an emergency landing....without wheels.  I'm glad I was completely unaware.

Once safely in Scotland we avoided the tourist tour-bus packages and rented the largest car that would fit 8 people.  There isn't one in all of Europe.  We were able to obtain a 6-passenger 'van', and since the girls were still young, they shared a very tight seatbelt with Mum and me in the back. Dad sat in front with Stephen, who was driving for the first time on "the wrong side of the road".  Dad was white-knuckled every ride we took.

During our stay, we took a few day trips, but one of the most memorable was to Castle Campbell, near Dollar. Secluded and set far away on a winding country dirt road, we parked the car, and saw no other car or person anywhere about.  Mum and I stayed back and sat on a wide grassy knoll while everyone else went to explore.  It was a lovely afternoon, and Mum's stamina faded fast, so we sat quietly and enjoyed watching the sheep grazing on the far hillocks in the bright warm sunshine.  I had an orange I'd saved in my pocket from breakfast and a flask of whiskey.  Since we were both hungry and thirsty, we were all set, and shared both equally.  After quite a while, to our surprise, a couple appeared from behind us on a small footpath.  Until that moment, it felt like we were the only two people on earth in our secluded idyll, sent back in time among the castle ruins.  We greeted each other, mum asked if they were locals, and we visited for a few moments.  When she asked if they had advice for a place for our large family to enjoy supper, they gave an enthusiastic recommendation for the Tormaukin Inn, and described a route for us to find it.  Delighted by this serendipitous encounter, Mum was eager to share her new knowledge, and when everyone else gathered we were off to supper under her direction and renewed energy.

The Tormaukin Inn

The day's menu featured venison haggis and rabbit stew.
That culinary experience was novel, delightful, and delicious.  

On another day when we were visiting Edinburgh, we sought a quick lunch stop and all piled into a fish and chips shop.  It wouldn't be proper to have visited Scotland, my ancestral homeland, without tasting authentic fish and chips wrapped in paper, generously salted and doused with real malt vinegar.  Taking the rare opportunity to visit a bathroom in the chip joint, my mother and I descended the precarious stairway to its dark recesses and opened the door to find 'the worst toilet in Scotland'.
When the fry-cook came down the stairs in his filthy chef's jacket with a filthier plunger in hand, we surmised that the sanitary conditions in the kitchen might be just as sub-standard, and decided to seek another fine eating establishment.  We suddenly weren't quite so hungry or our bladders too full.

On the day of the great massed bands, the crowds were fantastic.  We'd all decided to split up and meet at a designated spot and time in the Princess Street Gardens.  Keen to be prompt, I was the first to arrive, but didn't recognized the distinguished older gentleman sitting in the spot where I'd expected to meet my family.  After a second and still third look, it took a moment for me to realize it was DAD!  He'd been to the shops on Princess Street and completely outfitted himself in full kilted regalia, right down to the flashes on his knee socks.

As the crowds swelled even more, and we noticed an unusual number of security personnel, we asked one of them what was going on.  Prince Charles was expected quite soon, and he showed us a cordoned-off area where the prince would be meeting the public.

Eager for a brush with royalty, I hurried the kids over to the line-up explaining we might meet the Prince. I maneuvered Kathryn and Olivia to be just behind the ropes and in full view of the Prince of Wales, the future King of England.  As he approached, I got giddy with excitement and Stephen captured one photograph after another on the new digital camera he'd purchased just for the trip.  As Charles's entourage cleared the way for his passage, I realized he'd soon be stopping right in front of us, and eagerly poked at Kathryn standing next to me, telling her to wave and capture his attention, gently pushing her forward, nudging and prodding as he came closer and closer. 

Kathryn quickly grew frustrated and irritated with me as she scanned the royal parade of people, seeking the sight of her soon-to-be husband prince.  It was now or never, so I pointed and called out "THERE!! He's right THERE!" and exuberantly waved and nodded and confirmed he’d seen us.  Kathryn followed my pointing finger and was crestfallen once she saw Prince Charles.  "Oh!" she tsk'd disappointingly, "That's the OLD one." and immediately lost all interest.  She was anticipating meeting Prince Harry or William, not their DAD.

Olivia, next in line to be married, was my next target.  She extended her hand just as Prince Charles was passing us, and he took it and they shook.  She told him she was from America, and he welcomed her to Scotland.  He did not propose.  But Stephen captured many photos of the two, hands clasped and engaged in conversation before Charles was urged to continue on.

As the crowd dispersed we all gathered to recount what just happened with Mum and Dad, and Stephen set the camera to review all the digital shots he'd just taken.  There were none.  Regrettably, the camera chose that exact moment in our picture-taking history to encounter a glitch in its programming, and the entire vacation’s photos were suddenly “no longer on file.”*

Later that day, Prince Charles met with Andrew's bagpipe band, the Atlantic Watch.  A few band members, including Andrew, had a short chat with him in a small group in the park.  That scene – and the back of Andrew's head – was captured on the front page of the newspaper.  The Prince was scolded by the press for not dressing appropriately!  

Prince Charles visits with the Atlantic Watch (including Andrew).

We watched the massed bands converge and parade down the Royal Mile and Princess Street.  Quite a spectacular event. Dad yelled out his traditional "ATTA BOY, ANDREW!" as they passed, and mum and I wiped a tear as we were both filled with pride and love. It was a big day – it was a big trip. 

Thanx for watching.  

Oh!  You`re still here?  Then you'll enjoy this part, too:

Many years later, Dad had started another chapter in his life after my mother died. He moved out to WallyAnna Farm, where he and Anna now have a happy quiet life together.  A few years ago, renovations were being made to the 125-year old farmhouse. Stephen and I took some of Anna's son George’s artwork from a room being redone, and took them to a shop to be professionally framed while the walls were being repaired.  One watercolor was a castle scene, and Dad frequently remarked that it reminded him of Castle Campbell, from that summer day years before. When George was visiting the farm Dad asked him about it, and George confirmed that it was, indeed, Castle Campbell.  He'd seen a photo in a book about castles of Scotland, and liked the scene so much that he rendered it with his own paints – years before Dad had even met Anna.

 *Casio quickly sent us a huge apology – and their newest, most advanced camera, as a consolation – when we told them of this unbelievably frustrating loss.