Becoming Matriarch

 

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

Some rites of passage involve celebration and ceremony to welcome new phases of life, new roles and positions. They are planned, welcomed.

Others happen unbidden and unwanted. Quietly, they slip into a day with no warning to confer a change of status.

My brother called Wednesday morning with the news that the last of our mother’s cousins had passed to the next world. She was 92, and by some act of grace her sons were with her, not an easy thing in these pandemic days. Mom was an only child, and her cousins played the role of aunts and uncles for us.

A sigh. A bit of chocolate. I hadn’t really been in touch with them in ages, so the sense of loss was palpable, but not overwhelming. She had cared for the three of us in the chaotic days after my mother’s unexpected death, drifted off for a while, then returned to support us along the path of grief after our dad’s passage.

Go about the evening and next day when my brother called again. He’d been digging on line for information on family members for his genealogy project. Dad’s last cousin, the one who’d been like an aunt to us (Dad’s younger brother lived in Washington and to the best of our knowledge didn’t have children) had died a few years ago. Somewhere in her late 80s, maybe early 90s.

A chill passed through as a weight came onto my shoulders. A weight as if someone had dropped a cape onto them.

In a heartbeat, the three of us became That Generation. The elders. The matriarchs and the patriarch, keepers of wisdom, storehouses of memories, clan leaders.

And in that same heartbeat came the realization that I will likely be the last one standing of the three of us. My sister is 15 years older than me and my brother 10 years older than me. Both are in pretty good shape, and may they be so for a long time.

Odds remain that I will be the last one who holds memories of my mother seated at the piano playing Debussy; my father cooking dinner; coffee with Grandma at her grey Formica kitchen table; Gram cutting the crust off of toast for fussy eaters. Remembering the creaks, the scents of their houses. Looking out of Gram’s windows to see the  velvety green Berkshire mountains seemingly close enough to touch. The traffic on the major street that passed in front of Grandma’s porch.

Oakley went for a long walk around the lot as I processed that. He didn’t want to, but if I have to take on this unexpected role, he had to take me for a walk.

Deep breath, replenish with the green scents of the first grasses and clovers. Now what do I do? The answers shaped themselves into two sets of questions, one for the care of my direct descendents and their future families; the other for the care of the wider world.

The responses to those included keeping myself in optimal health; getting my affairs in order; making sure my journaling includes family and wider world history; and continuing to do what I can from the soybean field to fight against hunger, inequality, and environmental damage.

I felt the invisible mantle shift. Suddenly, it didn’t feel as heavy.

 

 

The Grace of the Grandmothers

 

 

woman holding pan with food
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It’s a cold but clear still early morning here in the soybean field. I took Oakley for a quick run around the house just now. A little earlier I did yoga for the morning. I’m on my second cup of tea.

While it might sound pretty normal, it shapes up to be another infamous day in my life’s timeline. In an attempt to stave off the spread of COVID-19, the state of Illinois will be under  a mandatory stay at home order (as in shelter in place) at 5 PM tonight. So far five people have died from it. I don’t recall the number of people who have it, but there is one reported case in my county. We’ll still be able to get out for walks as long as we observe social distancing (staying about six feet apart) and to the grocery store and medical appointments, but for the most part we’ll be working and staying home.

The announcement came during noon news yesterday. I watched the briefing later in the afternoon when Governor Pritzker announced his decision to sign the order. He’d consulted with epidemiologists, statisticians, and public health experts. After last weekend’s blatant disregard of the stay at home suggestions, he had to make it official. Not done lightly because he knew jobs were at stake, but because lives were and those are more important.

So came the news. Not with the collective shock of the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.; not with the gasp of Nixon’s resignation; not with the violent chaos of 9/11. It’s much quieter than that, except for the hoards spilling into the street to binge shop, even though we can do that at leisure over the next couple of weeks.

Well, so be it. My first question to myself was what would my grandmothers have done, what did they do in similar circumstances.

First thing would be make sure there was enough food for everyone. We’d done a big haul/stock up the week before, so Hubby and I are set. I picked my way through traffic  to the pet store where I get Oakley’s food and grabbed a few more bags in case of interruptions in the supply chain. His food is made by a Milwaukee-based company,  so I doubt it, but just for my own peace of mind I went. And found out that pet stores are considered a necessary business and will be open.

Second, touch base with relatives, blood and spirit. We talked to Gram at least once a week (she lived in Massachusetts) and Grandma (across town) daily.  Talked to my brother. He and Sister in Law and kids are fine. Will call my sister later today. Texted with one of my friends last night. All good so far.

Third, engage in spiritual practice. Grandma quietly prayed when she woke up, again at bed time, and as needed through the day. Gram would make coffee, then sit with her prayer book and slide the crystal blue rosary beads through her fingers as she laid her petitions at Mother Mary’s feet. I’ve meditated and done yoga. Spiritual practice doesn’t have to involve a deity of any kind; just engage in some activity that helps you feel connected to the whole.

Fourth, find something enjoyable to occupy your mind. Gram read and knitted bandages for the leper colonies that were still in existence in the post-WWII era. Grandma cooked, crocheted, and listened to the radio. I’ll find something to do. We can and will still get out for walks. And I have a stack of books to be read.

Gram and Grandma survived two world wars, the Spanish flu, and the Great Depression. They went through rationing, scrap collection, watching pennies during the Depression, and a myriad of other things with grace and strength.

I think I can stay home with the same.

 

 

 

A Tempest of Tofu and Toilet Paper

tofu on white bowl
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So we prepare in case we have to duck and cover and quarantine as COVID-19 follows its story arc. We already had enough nonperishables for at least a week on hand. This past Monday I made a post-yoga run to the market where I prefer to buy fresh items like bread, chicken, and fruits and veggies.  People were buying a little more than usual, but nothing panicked or rushed.

Next stop was Whole Foods. Again, busier  than usual, carts a little fuller than usual,  but nothing indicating that the world was at risk for turning on its ear. Not unlike getting ready to hunker down for a storm.

And then Costco for fish, cheese, pasta, and a few other items that make life pleasant. If you can think what would happen if an imminent blizzard and the zombie apocalypse happened the day after Thanksgiving, you get the idea.

I nearly kissed the driveway when I came home.

You know those shoppers who discretely peek into others’ carts and quietly pass judgement on the contents? You caught me. I’m one of them.  I try not to. I understand that not everyone has the blessings of socioeconomic circumstances that I have and may not have the same taste that I do, but there are times.

Such as the Costco shopper who navigated a flat cart–one of the ones that’s used to haul plywood or other items that don’t fit into regular carts–full of mostly junk foods.

Such as this past Thursday. After a self care appointment, I made a shopping trip to stock up on nonperishables at Trader Joe’s: chocolate, tomato soup, pizzas, and a few extra cans of beans and tomatoes. Oh, and olive oil and tahini. And try to score that most precious commodity, toilet paper. They were out, but no big deal. I took my place in line, then reflexively glanced at the cart in front of mine.

The guy in front of me had twenty four  (24) tubs of tofu, a dozen bags of frozen hash browns, and five bags of rice.

And this is after I had chosen to get the no-sodium tomato soup because there were only two cartons left of the regular. I can add my own salt, and someone might have a picky eater who wouldn’t deal well with the no-sodium soup.  Not a big deal.

But what in the name of all that is sacred does one do with that much tofu? Make a vegan brunch for the neighborhood? Make breakfast burritos for the disadvantaged? It stays good for two or three months in the fridge and up to four in the freezer, granted. Paraphrasing Chris Rock, “Good Lord, that’s a lot of tofu!”

I shook my head all the way home.

Time like this are good ones to have a dog. It’s good to come home, have an affectionate greeting, and then sit down for a conversation that makes sense.

Late Friday came the announcement from Governor Pritzker: starting Tuesday, all K-12 schools are closing down for the rest of the month. I ran out before Oakley’s pickup time to see if I could grab a small pack of TP, but no luck. I did get spray cheese (for his pills) and some other items that make life a little nicer so we wouldn’t have to deal with any more trips, hopefully.

Hubby, up in Michigan, made a run to a nearby ethnic market where he found some huge jars of tahini and a bail of TP. He escaped with his life. He’ll be home tomorrow.

So we are ready. We are ready to quarantine if need be, but mostly it’s a relief to be safe and sheltered from the crazies.

 

 

Love in the Time of COVID-19

 

 

white and red round medication pill on persons hands
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We have a flakey stock market. We have daily doses of intrigue, skullduggery, corruption, and oligarchs exerting influence on the 2020 presidential election.

As if that wasn’t  enough to be anxious about on a daily basis, we now have the coronavirus, a/k/a COVID-19 to deal with and no real leadership from Washington. The CDC’s epidemiology department landed on the chopping block early in this administration. All information released to the public has to be vetted by a science denier who impeded his state’s  government’s response to the HIV epidemic. Test kits are few, far between, and cost more than some cars I’ve driven. And if we’re lucky, the vaccine is still a year out from distribution. If the general public can afford it or if insurance will cover it.

Collective deep breath. Collective exhale. Spanish flu. Bird flu. Polio.  Black Plague. How do we get through this latest pandemic?

  • Find trusted local sources for information such as your state or county health departments. They should be able to tell you what’s going on with COVID-19 in your area, what symptoms to watch for, and practical ways to protect yourself, such as washing your hands.
  • Find an international news source that you like (CBC and BBC are two of mine) or go to WHO’s (World Health Organization) website.
  • Check Dr. Weil’s  website for more practical information, including hand washing and tasty recipes to boost your immunity.
  • Several medical consultants on news shows this past weekend recommended preparing for possible interruptions in the supply chain due to illness-related worker absences. Stock up on nonperishables or freezer friendly items for a couple of weeks just in case, and maybe grab some extra supplements and over the counter medications to be on the safe side.
  • Wash your hands, try not to play with your face, especially around the eyes and nose (she writes while scratching her eyelid).
  • Show your neighbors and vulnerable members of the community some love as this unfolds. SNAP doesn’t cover cleaning and hygiene supplies, so I’ll be making a run to get extra paper towels, spray cleaners, and soap for the local food pantry. I would love it if you would join me.
  • Consider a fun and practical arts and crafts project: make your own hand sanitizer with vodka or gin combined with essential oils such as oregano or tea tree. There are lots of recipes on line for homemade hand sanitizer, so Google away.
  • Have leftover gin or vodka? Google “craft cocktails” for suggestions on using it up. The Mystery knows we could all use a drink by now. Make it a good one.
  • Oh, and one more time for the people in back: WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

 

French Farmhouse Report for 2/17 with a Movie Review

 

 

balance cookies dessert food
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After the scale gave me a tough love motivated lecture, I realized that consuming butter and cream and baguette on a daily basis, even with modest portions, long walks, and no snacks between meals was not working. Full frontal French recipes will be created once a month, or will reflect the cuisine of the Mediterranean region. Progress in dropping the menopause induced pounds will resume shortly.

Let us move on to another pleasurable aspect of French culture: films. You probably don’t know Dominic Abel and Fiona Gordon, so let me introduce you. They are a husband and wife comedy team based in Belgium who specialize in absurdist, slapstick-y comedies that run counter to what comes out of Hollywood these days. They aren’t as well known outside of Europe as they should be. I found them through a review of their film “Lost in Paris” in France Magazine and purchased it via Amazon.

The story goes like this: Fiona, a librarian in a small, remote Canadian town, gets a letter from her Aunt Marthe (Emmanuelle Riva’s last role before her passage). Marthe’s home care aide is trying to get her into assisted care, so Fiona goes to Paris help her aunt. She finds out that Marthe has disappeared. Dom, a homeless man, helps Fiona find Marthe, but not without a tango, several pratfalls, and an unintended swim in the Seine along the way.

I liked the DVD, too. Its features included an interview with Abel and Gordon, an overview of the style of comedy they perform, and influences on their work.

Fans of Mr. Bean and Carol Burnett should like “Lost in Paris.”

I know I did.

 

 

 

The French Farmhouse Report for 1/22/20

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

 Two consecutive weekends of storms with freezing rain as the headliner and a couple of days of pretty cold weather kind of took the stuffings out of me. At least last year’s polar vortex event featured clear skies and snow that a person and a dog could walk on without crampons.

Liberal use of a paw- and grass-friendly ice melter kept the back step cleared and a path open to a patch where Oakley could tend to those most personal forms of business. Otherwise, we stayed inside. Oakley played with his holiday puzzles and napped. I read, napped, and succumbed to the lure of the TV.

As I flipped around, I saw a teaser for a show featuring unusual Chicago area restaurants, such as one near the Northwestern University campus that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. They certainly had my undivided attention.

After some five minutes of ads, the show started. Interview with the chef/owner, shots of the funky/cozy/brick walled interior with hand-lettered chalk board menus. Tour complete, it was down to business in the kitchen. Texas toast slices (the ones at least double the thickness of a regular slice of bread, usually involved in making diner-style French toast) were brushed with what may or may not have been melted butter, topped with some sort of cheese, then passed through a broiler like the ones in chain burger joints for a preliminary browning and melting.

Then came a filling of delicacies such as French fries or macaroni and cheese before the two slices were assembled into a sandwich and given a final browning in a buttered frying pan.

Now, the Mystery She knows that I have consumed my fair share and someone else’s of carbs and fats, especially back in the day when I may or may not have ingested adult beverages and more so when my hormones dragged me to the store and demanded potato chips. But this was so totally over the top that it didn’t even look good. To me, anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’ve developed discernment as I’ve matured; maybe it’s because of the lessons learned during my trip to France and subsequent readings about their cultural attitudes towards food. In any event, I would take a pass on it, thank you. OK, maybe I would split it with someone, but it’s not something I’d order on my own.

This over the top type of grilled cheese wouldn’t fly in France, except as a novelty, maybe.  A diner would get a much smaller sandwich consisting of two conventionally-sized slices of bread with cheese or a cheese sauce and some ham, turkey, or chicken in the middle. That would be baked for about 15 minutes, then perhaps served with a fried egg on top. There would be a small side salad. (Fries are usually served with steak.)  And that would be it. Except for some fruit for dessert. And don’t forget a small cup of coffee or tea to conclude the meal.

My own hankerings for grilled cheese get satisfied here at home with two slices of whole wheat bread, an unprocessed cheese in the middle, and the twist courtesy of one of my friends: instead of buttering the outside, spread with mayonnaise and sprinkle Parmesan  cheese for a crunchy brown crust. I won’t say it’s life changing, but I will say it makes the next fifteen or so minutes pretty tolerable, indeed.

If I have an urge while I’m out, I stop at Belladonna, the local point of refuge for artists, Bohemians, and people who appreciate the art of really good food, coffee, and tea. One of the grilled cheese paninis with a cup of the homemade soup always elevates the day.

It’s just enough, and a little more (I usually take half home for dinner), and that’s just right for me.

 

 

French Farmhouse Project Report for 1/12/20

architecture clouds daylight driveway
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Well, this last week was not as French as I had hoped would be. We no sooner resolved the issue with my computer when my car hesitated and stalled on acceleration, plus it was making a weird rattling noise.  The dealer, the import mechanic here in town, and Google are at odds with each other regarding the issue. Whatever is going on involves the bearings, but the dispute was over which set and the cause of the hesitating.

In related news, the hunt for the best Prius at the best price is under way.

On the French living front, I made a very French dinner last week: blanquette de poulet with roasted potatoes. It provided an antidote to the car-related chaos as well as the cold weather. The recipe for the blanquette is Mimi Thorisson’s from her book A Kitchen in France. The potatoes are in the book, but not on the website for some reason.

While it is technically a recipe for blanquette de veau, we just aren’t into veal around here. I used chicken legs (remove the skin or it will make a greasy mess). This would probably work well with turkey, too.

Yes, it is rich (I used sour cream, not creme fraiche, and it worked perfectly well). Yes, it is time consuming. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients. But it provided a counterbalance to the stress of the day. And it made the house smell great.

Hubby commented that he felt like he was eating in a high end French restaurant. Not long after that, he dozed off in his chair.

I smiled, knowing my job for the day was done.

The Holiday Report, New Year’s Wishes, and Announcements for 2020

building car clouds farmhouse
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Happy New Year, Gentle Readers! On behalf of Hubby, Oakley, and myself, we wish you all the best.

This year’s greeting was delayed due to technical difficulties. On New Year’s morning, I turned on my laptop, and started going through my emails when it suddenly froze up for no discernible reason. Reboot. Reboot. And nothing. As soon as I finished with the dry heaves, we made  a trip to the Apple store for diagnostics.  A dead hard drive.

Luckily, Hubby’s sangfroid based in 35 plus years of engineering allowed him to get it tended to pretty quickly. And get a can of ginger ale down me while running through the troubleshooting protocol. He replaced the hard drive, downloaded the latest and greatest operating system, and had me back in business by yesterday morning. The only delay was waiting for the new drive that he’d ordered.

Otherwise, we had a pretty enjoyable season: good visits with my family; the usual excesses; and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve.

And now with the turning of the wheel of the year comes some changes and projects:

  • Santa brought me a camera for Christmas. I’m excited to share photos of my corner of the world with you this year as well as food pics.
  • Expect more info and news on fighting hunger this year. I may not have the words to express the disgust I feel over vulnerable neighbors taking the brunt of greed, but I will certainly use the ones I have to do what I can on their behalf.
  • Expect a return to news and views on sustainability practices.
  • Of course you’ll get cute pictures of Oakley.
  • And now for the big one…..:

It is my pleasure to announce The French Farmhouse Project.

Once a week or so, I’ll be blogging about my efforts to live as closely as possible to how I would if I physically lived in France.  I will also provide resources and references.

When I was much younger, I wanted to spend a semester in France, but it wasn’t meant to be. In 2006, I took a cooking class through a local community college that involved a stay at a chateau near Lyon. We spent a week immersed in life, food, and culture. Parts of  my heart and soul never quite made it back. While I may not be in a position to make a return visit at this time, I can make some changes here at home to reflect lessons learned while I was there.

So…stay tuned.

 

 

 

In Praise of Normal Days

a brown barn close to the river under cloudy skies and snow covered grounds in winter
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Forgive my unintended sabbatical, Gentle Readers. Hubby, Oakley, and I have been enjoying an extended stretch of normal days. You know the kind, the ones that unfold according to routine where you get up, do your work, walk Oakley, watch maybe a bit too much TV (such as impeachment hearings), perhaps lunch with a friend.

The good kind of normal, like really high end vanilla ice cream, the slightly off white with the seeds speckling it. On its own, it’s great, but it’s able to provide a backdrop for hot fudge or strawberries if those are available as well as supporting a swirl of whipped cream.

We give thanks for the basics right now be they vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry.  We have the pantry stocked for the winter with human and canine food. No outstanding bills loom over us; no human or canine health crises or passages to the great beyond disturb our peace. The vehicles declared their suicide pact null and void. None of them have acted up since my VW’s last trip to the dealer’s just after Labor Day.

Outdoors, the garden was prepped for next spring with layers of cardboard and mulch. One of my friends who is an experienced, wise gardener suggested that as a last ditch effort to rid the bed of the rogue mesclun mix and seeds in the compost that hadn’t cooked properly. Just poke holes with a spade, add the plants, and voila, instant garden this May.

Indoors, I’ve been decluttering. How two people and a total of two dogs can crap up a house like this is beyond me. Not purging the knickknacks and books so much as the piles of junk like boxes that we didn’t know what to do with, so we put them in the dining room until we could figure out the best course of action. Then they decided to use it as a breeding ground. I passed those on to a couple of friends who have an Etsy shop. Or the bags of hoarded inanities and old clothes that I piled into my car for their ride  to a donation center. I was a little surprised that I didn’t get a flyer with information about opening my own Goodwill franchise.

We have opened some space. What it will be filled with remains to be seen, but we welcome the good and normal.

 

 

The Automotive Report for 9/16/19

blue sedan
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We started shopping for a new car Labor Day weekend. We have our eye on a sea glass pearl (light teal) Prius with all wheel drive. I didn’t go for a test drive, but I did sit in one, and it felt as if she was giving me a little hug.

We are overdue for one, and wanted to make an informed, rational decision unlike other car purchases we’ve made in the past. Like when my Chevette dropped pieces of the engine while I was driving. Or when the Pulsar’s timing belt broke, again while I was driving. Or mice eating the Thunderbird’s electrical system. There was the day when I closed the door on the Sentra and a chunk the size of my hand sheared off and turned to dust when it hit the ground. And who can forget the front end of the Crown Vic getting obliterated by the deer who ran in front of it, the turned around and ran in front of it again?

Between the two of us, we have three old vehicles. Just old. Not at an age where they could be considered vintage. Just…old.

However, they are paid for.  Neither of us like going into debt, so we pay cash when we can. That’s why we own a ’95 Corolla that  Hubby inherited from his mother. It could likely survive an episode of “Game of Thrones.”

A ’93 Ford F-150 that Hubby uses for hauling wood and other materials. It has the most comfortable seats and a ride better than some luxury cars I’ve been in.

And an ’03 GTI, my primary vehicle.  With a “T” as in “turbo.”  As in I wonder if energy streams come out of the back end as they do from the Enterprise in the opening credits of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when I hit the gas.  The sound system still works. She handles well in adverse weather, so I can ask for little else.

Old they may be, however, they’re all paid for, so that’s a plus.

This month the three of them formulated and tried to follow through on what looked like a suicide pact.

The F-150 started it. While Hubby drove home, the brake lines went out on him. He arrived safely by some act of grace. The dealer managed to get the parts, get it fixed, and retuned it to the road.

That being done, attention turned to the power steering on the Corolla. Just needed a little fluid and a bit of adjusting. She came back to her usual self for a few days until her brakes and fuel lines started acting up. Hubby took her to several repair shops, but no one was willing to touch it. He decided to do it himself. Right now, she’s in several pieces in the garage.

Then the GTI’s electrical system decided to flake out. First, the gas gauge thought it would be funny to bottom out at random, even just after I’d filled up. One trip to the dealer about an hour away.

Next, she began being balky about starting and stalled as I turned into the driveway. They replaced three electrical relays. OK. All is good. She took us to and from the last Ren Faire of the season without issue, a 180-mile round trip.

And then the next day, she started acting up again. And stalled on me in traffic. With a semi coming down the road behind me. Thanks be to whatever benevolent forces which started the car and saw me home that day. Hubby took it in; they replaced an engine speed sensor. She’s been fine since then.

For how long, we don’t know. But we do know what we want, and won’t need to scramble to figure out our next vehicle.