Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Women's Wear Nightly

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. - The un-insulated bedroom, a 1969 addition to the Divine Cabin, presents a heating challenge typically addressed by a heated mattress pad, flannel sheets, a space heater and inch-thick insulation taped over the single-pane windows, but on harsher nights those are not enough, and one must, in addition, consider one's jammies.

Besides being sleepwear, jammies are often worn all morning, or down to the mailbox, topped with a parka. Stone-washed in well water at least weekly, by April the pair that was new in autumn is rags, or only one-half of the jammie set survives, as with the blue-striped Lanz pajama bottoms pictured here smartly teamed with a coral-colored long-sleeved Calida henley top for up-to-the-minute bedtime fashion flair, both in pure cotton.

Lanz of Salzburg and Calida of Switzerland sell quality Euro-jammies and undies able to survive this lifestyle for several winters. The Lanz jammie pants are four winters old, the coral Calida top, five. One multi-colored striped Calida nightie has shared the wearer's bed for three winters and she looks forward to more. After its annual laundering it smells divine! From the label Joe Boxer, sold at Sears and K-Mart and sewn in Bangladesh, this season's statement jammies feature stylized melon- and cherry-colored hearts, and the buttons on the top are hot pink glitter, and one can only imagine the thoughts of the workers in the sweatshop in Bangladesh.

Observers have responded to the heart-print jammies thus: 1) "That looks like a clown suit" and 2) "Hearts all over, soooo cute!" What people think and say about your leisurewear is so important! Never think it's beneath the fashion radar!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"There, There, Dearie"

It's 5 below 0 outside -- aggggh! Ireland left with me a fresh appreciation for hot drinks. Tea there, very necessary, arrived always at the table in an adorable personal-sized teapot (made of restaurant-type steel) and in the hotel room was a super-express electric hot-water pot. Unlike the rip-roaring rush of coffee, tea's caffeine boost is more like a pat on the hand: "There, there, dearie, don't carry on so."

I never had thoughts about tea or owned a teapot large or small, and back home explored again, with reason and delight, U.K. tea brands and the old-restaurant-ceramics frontier on eBay until I saw this personal teapot from Jackson China (Falls Creek, PA) stamped L7, July 1962, with a utilitarian shape and light cocoa-colored airbrush trim. Rinsing it and filling it (10-ounce capacity) with hot water and a teabag provides two cups, plus milk or cream, in my favorite 6-ounce restaurant-china cups, and the second hot cup is waiting right there and I don't have to get up for it. Most civilized.

Then I thought -- tea should be shared and I need another personal teapot for my company! It'll work for coffee too. From eBay I ordered another, same maker and shape, but with bright-green banding. It's on its way. The cup in this photo is from Shenango, date unknown. It's not a teacup but a coffee cup, but today I liked this shape's stability and thick heat-holding walls. Yesterday I took a walk. It was 9 degrees. I was back in 11 minutes.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Three Surprises

Every once in a while a year really stinks, like 2009 (and 2008), and 2017 was one of those, but nonetheless as the year ends, dusted off, back at the gym, weight normal, ambitious, I am actually joyous all morning as caffeine carols through my veins, and then I started looking at my Facebook friends' postings and at the Washington Post headlines and came to a dead stop.

I said, I'll cheer up after lunch with a close friend and then to the feed store, which I've always liked because it smells like hay, and stop by the town optometrist who online found parts for my damaged favorite specs, and I'd have them next week. Overjoyed. . .and then poof. . . I looked at my phone. . . so depressing. . .and I kept scrolling through the phone at the coffeehouse. Oh very low indeed although I sat next to the artificial fire and gulped two and a half cups of nice and hot, plus a scone.

At home, because I have to go there, an Amazon box is on the stoop. It's a gift from my sister, brother-in-law and niece: a brand-new, bright red wild-bird feeder. This replaces the green one rusted and peeling, bent from falls and obese raccoons, and it did not once occur to me to buy a new one and I am delighted. Surprise!

Two of the three surprises.
Then the phone rings. It's my niece. "I have kind of exciting news," she said: She is engaged! And I was excited, and she texted me a photo of her ring, and that was thrilling. Engaged at Christmas! What's more romantic?! That's surprise #2.

So I sit up and write two articles -- good ones. (I write four per week for my employer.) Takes until 10:30 p.m. I finish proudly. Because of coffee I'm still awake and thinking of all I must do. I make a list and start joyously checking off items.

Get off Facebook
Unsubscribe from Washington Post
Write four  articles by Sunday
Finish book and sell
Finish novel and sell
Update website
Update blog
Update website blog
Write a new research paper (this past year I wrote two)
Write a new book

What a relief to start on my to-do list (ain't nobody gonna do it for me).  Then there's the more important "to be" list:


This morning I lay in bed drinking coffee and couldn't see outside because of window insulation. But eventually I get up and the light in the kitchen looks awfully bright. And from the window I see: Surprise! An inch of snow! It's beautiful!

And I feel like a new person, happy all day! I'm rockin' those rose-colored glasses! All I need to thrive is good surprises!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Trying to Give Money Away

I've always hated tipping, thinking I always do it wrong, just as I hate splitting restaurant checks 50-50 and seeing in my lunch-mate's eyes that they feel screwed and think less of me because I had wine or dessert and they didn't, and I also hate the math of figuring how much to the dime I owe, or pulling out the calculator. You know what I really really hate? A first date who takes me for coffee, and I always order only a coffee (rarely, if I'm hungry, a roll too) and he pays for mine and his, like, $5.50 total, and then he takes the receipt and CAREFULLY FOLDS IT, like, with two hands, actually taking his time creasing it, and carefully tucks it in his wallet, and elaborately restores his wallet to his back pocket with the air of having just sacrificed his firstborn for the good of the tribe, and next time that happens I will run away screaming.

Ahem. 'Tis the season to tip the mail carrier and the trash-pickup man. The trash truck arrives about 12:30 on Thursdays, and when it does I plan to trot down the hill with a holiday card and envelope with money and wish him "Much Joy," he whose fate it is to smell my trash all year, and once it had maggots and I hope he will forgive me. Outside starting at 12:15, so I won't miss him, I do some raking and yard work, glancing downhill toward the road, hearing cars approach and pass, but not the trash truck's snorting and apnea.

I am in fact deeply ashamed because the last few years I have not tipped him. Things were too tight to give a proper tip; it might be insulting if I gave less. The trash-truck driver had for a couple of Christmases left a blue envelope wishing me season's greetings, signed Dale, and I filled it only once, and I wanted today to make up for that and be appreciative. Somebody loves him. (I always used to say when construction workers blocked the roadway and Demetrius, who was driving, would swear and mutter mean things about their bellies: "Somebody loves him as much as I love you.")

Twelve-thirty passes and the truck does not come and still does not come. Finished raking, I commence sweeping. It's been a half hour. Has he already made his rounds and the trash bin at the foot of the hill is empty? I go and check. No, he's not been here yet. He's late. I don't know him. It doesn't matter. I'm tipping today.

Everyone knows, right, that if you want your name to be called or your bus to arrive, you go to the lavatory or get a drink of water or light a cigarette, and the minute you do that here it comes. So, at about 1:30 I slip indoors for a drink of water, watching out the window all the while. Outside I keep the weather eye -- dark clouds blanketing the west and southwest -- holding the card in hand, and finally I hear a truck and walk down the hill. The mail carrier's vehicle pulls up to the mailbox.

I have no choice but to hand the envelope to the mail carrier with good wishes; she's truly the greatest, and I bet she makes four figures in tips at Christmas, and walking uphill with mail I realize with chagrin that I wrote on that card "Waste Management," but a tip is a tip, and my heart's in the right place, and I guess it's okay.

Maybe, I think, I got the pickup calendar wrong and the trash truck won't come at all today. In the house I prepare another card and envelope with money in it, and just as I rip open the day's mail, the trash truck roars up and halts with a great squeal of brakes. I grab the envelope and lope down the hill waving it, calling "Wait, wait!" And the truck pulls away without emptying the trash and goes on its way!

Did I look crazy or threatening? Is a 60-year-old lady wearing sweats and rhinestone specs running toward your vehicle and flailing a terrifying vision? (I can see how it might be to a guy in his 20s.) Did he interpret my signaling as "Don't take my trash"? Had he perhaps not showered today and felt he wasn't fit for human contact? Did he know it was a tip and he is one of those too proud to take anything? Did he think I might have an emergency and he didn't want to get involved?

Now I must phone the trash company and tell them he didn't take my trash. Or rather, so he won't get in trouble, phrase it in the passive voice: "My trash was not picked up."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Winter Solstice

Happy Solstice!
For a few days each year, at the winter solstice, setting sunbeams the color of flour come through the corner of the house, the screened porch, which points exactly southwest, and through the glass in the door, it hits the shelves of cookbooks.

Cookbooks are my favorite reading and there's one for every mood: frugal, hippie, microwave, Indian, microwave Indian, church-supper casseroles, Cook's Illustrated, Gasparilla (Florida), New York Times, Russia & Poland, vegetarian and vegan, bread machine, and three cookbooks that are all soups, for example. Since 1997, every time I make a recipe I date it on its page and write a note as to how it was received, or the substitutions made, or suggestions for next time. I also have my own cut-out-of-magazines or printed-off-the-Net recipes in a ring binder, and a tin recipe box with handwritten recipes on index cards. I feast on all these. This is wealth.

My top 11 cookbook recipes: Hot & Sour Soup (The Garden of Vegan), Flaxseed Wraps (Wheat Belly), Sausage and Peppers (Microwave Gourmet), Polenta (Microwave Gourmet), Slow Cooker Pot Roast (Cook's Illustrated), Maple Walnut Biscotti (Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites), Chocolate Ice Cream (How It All Vegan),  Coffee Gelatin (internet), Spicy Black Bean Burgers (Betty Crocker Vegetarian Cooking), Beefy Seitan (Nonna's Italian Kitchen), and Bucatini Briganteschi (Cooking from an Italian Garden). Bucatini is thick spaghetti with a hole down the center. It is so hard to find, and the recipe so delicious, I ordered a 20-pound case from a manufacturer. Yesterday I ate my first Olive Stuffed with Bleu Cheese and got all swoony. Want some, with some wine? Come over!

Happy Solstice and Yule, December 21 at 10:29 a.m. Have a feast.

Monday, December 18, 2017

How to Help Birds

This is not a good picture but it illustrates what birds want during this droughty autumn-styled-winter: water. There are three birds, robins, crowded on the clay water dish and another, on the left, flying in. Right next to this water stand/bird bath is the hanging cake of suet that used to be the star attraction at my bird buffet. No longer. The very second I put some water out, birds surrounded the water, perching, drinking, flapping, flying in. Birds are thirsty. No wonder they'd rather eat berries than suet or seed.

Set out a dish or bowl of water if you love your wild creatures. For them it's in short supply.

Meanwhile I don't dare start up a nice cozy outdoor fire. The other day I panicked seeing thick woodsmoke crossing Highway FF but it was a homeowner -- I could see him -- burning leaves and wisely attending to the fire. Lack of water is not only causing thirst but the woods are a tinderbox.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Cheer Up, Get a Gadget

This is the coolest lamp ever, cordless (after you charge it up). It is about the size of a hand. It arrives folded, and unfolds like a cherry-picker to any extent you like. The head with all the LED lights twirls left and right, up or down. Touch the pad at the bottom and it bursts into light or turns off. Stroke the pad at the bottom and the LED lights turn yellow or dim.

I am fascinated. The bedroom ceiling light is so wuss that it can't take higher-voltage bulbs nor the coiled energy-saving bulbs because they're too long for the fixture's base and cover. Even with a table lamp there was never enough light for taking stuff from the closets or reading--a bedroom not fit for reading, how did I let that happen?--and I wanted a reading lamp but not one affixed to the headboard (which is padded fabric) or a gooseneck that'd be in the way or might poke me in the eye. I looked at some floor lamps that would arch themselves over the bed. The problem is when you want to go to sleep, or more precisely, when you want to sit up, you have to slap them aside. This one is easily picked up and moved anywhere. What a great design. I am buying one for my stepfather.

What am I reading now that there's light? Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. That guy knew small towns and he is hilariously mean about their leading citizens and persons of quality unencumbered by the thought process, and the virtuous, and cynics, and outliers, the whole cast of characters.

The lamp is not itself pink. That's only the daylight that comes through the pink wintertime insulation fitted over the windows.