Thursday, June 28, 2007

How Hot Is It? Part II

Poor old Shug, trying to cool off all her parts.
Yes, Maureen is to blame for this kitty porn.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Maureen's back. It's hot here today. "How hot is it?" (Johnny Carson asks from Comedy Heaven.)

I remember upstate New York summer days. If there's any one word that defines a summer there, it's "humid." Thanks ever so much, Lakes Erie and Ontario. I remember dripping with sweat, sticking to the plastic chairs at our kitchen table, trying to sleep with a window fan grinding about 3 inches from my head. I remember wearing a wool uniform, going to a school with neither air conditioning nor fans. I remember the nuns wearing black head to toe, their freely perspiring faces encased in white plastic. No wonder they were cranky.

I remember living in Rochester during a heat wave that killed hundreds across the country. Thanks to the Kodak plant, my neighborhood smelled like a darkroom. I'd go to my favorite bar until about 1 in the morning, there for the air conditioning and companionship with my fellow sufferers more than for the drinking. The next morning, I'd fall asleep at my desk in the air-conditioned office. But I couldn't sleep in my own bed.

I remember driving through East St. Louis on a steamy, smoggy day. I couldn't catch my breath as though most of the oxygen had been boiled out of the air.

I remember Fenway Park in June, Wrigley Field in July, Ralph Wilson Stadium in August.

I remember waiting for a bus with my friend Maggie in Perth on a day that put the lie to dry heat being more comfortable. I felt as though an alien were pointing a giant magnifying glass straight at us. I thought I might spontaneously combust, leaving Maggie with a pile of ash to ship back to America.

I remember disembarking from a plane in Queensland, at a small airport where you walked down a movable set of steps directly to the tarmac. The heat there was tropical, the air so laden with moisture that it literally staggered me before I could get indoors.

I remember flying home from London where they were having the coldest, rainiest June since the year 16something and where I had contracted the worst sinus infection of my life. As the plane descended, the pilot announced, "Welcome to Boston's Logan International Airport, where the temperature is 36 degrees...Celsius." (That's metric for "I'm gonna die.")

How hot is it now? It's parochial school in a wool uniform hot. I'm living on Diet Coke and frozen fruit. My bull terrier didn't even finish her breakfast. The cats have been picking fights with each other. I had to spend two hours in the Shrine of Civilization (Rockport Library) yesterday to cool down enough to get rid of nausea. And the unkindest cut of all - it's too hot to crochet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Weekend at Pleasant Mountain Fiber Arts Workshops

Over the past year and a half I have experienced fiber weekends where I was a vendor, first and a teacher, second. Tomorrow I leave for Denmark, ME and three days of teaching at Pleasant Mountain Fiber Arts. I am free to concentrate on teaching for three whole days. I am just one of about ten teachers brought together by Linda Whiting who has pulled together a wide variety of class offerings including her own focusing on color blending and Rainbow dyeing. Besides Linda, I only know Roseanne Hunter who is single handedly responsible for my being a member of the Essex County Needlework Guild. Her knitted and crocheted rugs were the motivation for my showing up to hear her talk at my first meeting.
There is a wonderful variety of offerings. I was mesmerized by a group of women making punchneedle rugs at the Jamaica, VT Fiber Fair this past May, so I look foreword to meeting Rikki Gallagher who is teaching a class on designing for rug hooking. There are several workshops on a variety of felting methods. And spinning, one of my summer fiber goals!
What I love most about the fiber community is the shared love of learning and creating. I suspect there will at times be a blurred line between teacher and student. Expect a full report in the coming week.
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Monday, June 18, 2007

Cook-Out Weather

Maureen here again. Yesterday in the warm summer twilight, I was remembering the cook-outs we had when I was growing up in Central New York State. First, they were always cook-outs, never barbeques, and usually on a Sunday night. My family always shared them with the Samsons, the family next door. They had two daughters, Sandy who is my age, and Sue, who is my sister Sheila's age.

The dads, in time-honored American tradition, would grill the hot dogs and hamburgers. In Central New York, a special treat would be coneys, a.k.a. white hots. They came from Hoffman's in Syracuse where people also called them snappy grillers. I adored them and still do. They are a mixture of veal and pork with no coloring added and have a different spicing mixture than conventional hot dogs. Also, being local, I guess they were probably fresher than the few national brands of red hots available at the time. Hot dogs and hamburgers were always eaten on white buns, toasted on the same grill. There was only one kind of mustard in those days, that bright yellow stuff.

Oh, and the dads were drinking beer while grilling. My dad didn't drink much at home, but when he did, it would be the absolute cheapest beer available. In those cook-out days, it was probably Utica Club. I swear in later years, when I came home to visit, the refrigerator contained a six pack of white cans labeled "Generic Beer."

The dads were "helped" at the grill by a neighborhood dog. Stubby was a beagle mix with not much tail, an unfailingly cheerful demeanor with kids, and an unerring nose for charcoal starter fluid. He'd be under your grill before you even got the thing lit. It was neighborhood tradition that Stubby got at least one hot dog from every cook-out. No wonder he was such a happy dog.

The moms, of course, made the side dishes. In the spring and earlier summer, we could get salt potatoes. These are baby potatoes that come in a sack with its own bag of salt inside. The potatoes are boiled in heavily brined water, so that when they are drained, they have a frosty coating of salt. They are then eaten slathered with butter, although in our house, that would have been margarine so that we could get our daily requirement of trans fats. Yup, a cardiogist's delight. If it were later in the summer, my mom would make potato or macaroni salad containing heinous amounts of onions and green peppers. Even Stubby wouldn't eat those. I much prefered Lorraine Samson's German potato salad.

If the weather weren't too hot to light the oven, one or the other of the moms would make Grandma Brown's Baked Beans. Now, no Central New York homemaker would have dreamed of simply opening the can and heating it. The canned beans were put into a casserole and dressed up with mix-ins like mustard, ketchup, or brown sugar. Bacon strips were draped across the top and the whole mess put into the oven until the bacon was cooked and there was a nice crust on the top. And the best part of Grandma Brown's was that the entire family could enjoy the sound effects for the next three days.

In my memory, there were no vegetables, other than pickles.

I do remember two desserts - either marshmallows toasted over the grill on sticks (S'mores were strictly a Girl Scout camp thing) or my mom's chocolate cake made with oil and vinegar. It makes a moist, black cake that's not too sweet, but the white frosting on top was almost pure sugar anyway.

After we were done, we kids would play croquet or badminton (and accuse each other of cheating), the dads would talk about cars or the races at the Utica-Rome Speedway, and the moms would make coffee. It could still be 90 degrees at 8 p.m. and my mother would insist on her hot coffee after supper; I could get a hot flash just thinking about it. As it got darker, we'd all spray ourselves with OFF because of the rampaging mosquitoes. Magically and suddenly, the lightning bugs would come out and happily flash along the croquet course. I feel sad about those bugs; I haven't seen one blinking in the dusk in years and wonder if they've fallen prey to some environmental screw up.

Finally, I remember one infamous Fourth of July cook-out. My dad had bought sparklers which were illegal but available almost everywhere. We kids were writing our names in the air with the dangerously white-hot things, when my dad got a brilliant idea. He clipped a line of sparklers to my mom's clothesline that connected from the house at one storey and then to the garage at almost two storeys off the ground. Dad lit the sparklers and pushed them out to maximum height. We were delighted with the waterfall effect until the fire department called. Chief Smith, father of my classmate Christine, warned Dad that other neighbors had complained and the show was over.

The four parents are all gone now, the family homes sold, and the Samson daughters and my three sisters and I are scattered from the shores of Lake Erie to Cape Ann. Utica Club is now cool retro beer for the grandchildren of our parents generation. You can still get coneys, Grandma Brown's, and salt potatoes in Upstate New York. I've talked to other exiles here in Massachusetts, and those are all items we remember fondly. And I still miss the lightning bugs.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Behold Me and Despair!

I am Odessa, the mighty and majestic. You are mere insects, crawling beneath me. If I chose, I could break through this screen and devastate your tribe. I would torture you, tossing you as mere playthings. I would eat you, one by one, crunching between my jaws, your screams silent.

But lo! I allow you to live. You should worship my munificence and magnificence.

- Transcribed by Maureen who found out what Odessa thinks

Friday, June 8, 2007

Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned From Sponge Bob Square Pants Collapse

Some people decompress by having a cigarette, a cup of tea or by watching TV. I was perfectly happy with spider solitaire until Maureen showed me the light. Go to and click on games. In the next window click on puzzles. Finally scroll down the dozens of offerings to Sponge Bob Square Pants Collapse. I turn off the volume as the sounds are distracting at best.
I must confess that I gave her grief about playing the baby version of Spider Solitaire. But her Sponge Bob scores were double and triple mine. Friend that she is, she actually let me watch while explaining her strategy. Nervous of ending the game, I never advanced the squares to the top. I manically burst small groups of same colored squares hardly keeping up. If I had earned a point for each time my heart beat I would have done fabulously.
So here is the secret: Maureen showed me that by running the squares up to the top and very quickly bursting the bubbles that present themselves, it is possible to click more productively. Being daring actually made it better all around.
I am one of those people that always sees a psychological lesson in anything. So from this I have learned that my natural tendency to play it conservatively undermines my results.
Thanks Sponge Bob!
Blog On!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Czarina of All She Surveys

Maureen back with another of the cats. This is Odessa, rescued feral, possibly the eldest, arguably the best mouser, certainly the most assertive. Odessa tolerates old Joon, but other dogs are THE EVIL to be warded off. She thinks she's the top of the totem pole with the cats and will let any of the them know when they've violated the hierarchy. Shug, who is the other candidate for oldest cat, was the first one here and sometimes stands up to Odessa, but not often.

If any of the other cats are being petted or brushed, Odessa will wake from the soundest sleep to bully her way in. She will push any of the other cats aside for attention. If you, silly human, do not immediately accede to her will, Dessa will slightly extend her claws on her right paw and just barely prick your arm until you render just due to her magnificence.

Odessa has a favorite spot by the sliding doors to the deck. She will sit or lie there for hours, looking outward. Many times I wondered: What is she thinking? Is she guarding us against coyotes or the hated orange tom? Does she fondly remember when she was wild and free? Does she hunger for bird sushi? Does she long for the soft brush of the long grasses against her silky fur? Does she remember being cold and hungry, bearing uncounted litters, being chased by predators?

The answer may be in my next blog. Stay tuned...