Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Luxury of Pie

One definition of luxury must include being able, on discovering that one's raspberry-apricot pie filling doesn't really fill the pie shell properly, to step out the back door and pick another cup of fresh berries from one's own raspberry canes so quickly that the top crust, that one has already rolled out, is still supple enough to pick up and put into place after adding the new berries to the pie.

 And should one be looking for an example of a poorly constructed sentence, one likely doesn't have to look any farther. I'd like to blame the Angela Thirkell I picked up late last night since it's a post-war book and in those she rather lets herself go in her endearingly rambling way, rather like old Cousin Emily who thinks she still lives at Pomfret Towers though she left it sixty years earlier. But really I've tried to think of a better way to write that sentence and without turning it into a lengthy anecdote which, uncharacteristically, I didn't want to do, I don't think it can be done, at least not by me. I'm open to suggestions.

 But I had the "definition of luxury" thought as I was picking the berries a few hours ago, thinking, more than a little smugly, that it illustrated how simple my needs and desires were. This led quickly to the recognition that really it's not such a simple or common thing to live where one can grow raspberries handily out one's own back door. Which in turn reminded me of something Daniel Handler (close friend of Lemony Snicket) said when talking about his new book We Are Pirates on "Live Wire" yesterday . . . something about how we all steal happiness, or maybe comfort, from others. The host questioned this a bit but Mr Handler's position was that everyone in the audience was likely in a pretty darned comfortable demographic and that as probably white, probably reasonable affluent, undoubtedly American,  we're living a pretty luxurious lifestyle, probably at the expense of others who are not living quite so comfortably.

 But I've got my pie, my lovely pie, made with berries from the back and apricots purchased at the Farmers Market a week ago.

Slightly skimpy pie filling

Additional raspberries, with rolled top crust in the background

Spewing this and that

Spoiler alert: As of this afternoon I am back on raspberries.
Oy, such a week. My version of "throwback Thursday" was a throwback to the flu of my childhood, inclusive of puking and high temperatures. On the bright side, it meant I slept, on and off, for something like thirty hours and I'm not about to complain about that. I imagine I temporarily dropped a few pounds too but it was nasty. And, now that I'm pretty much recovered (fingers crossed) I find myself wondering how it is that one withstands such experiences so readily in childhood. As I (dimly) recall, everyone just got the flu once or twice every year and it was always a stomach flu. You spent a few days in bed, eventually graduating to having ginger ale, saltines, and chicken boullion. And what I don't understand now is how I (or anyone else) withstood such an ordeal year after year. Are children just both more susceptible and more resilient? Do kids still go through this annual trauma or do they all get effective flu shots these days? So many questions that I just can't answer. Mostly, I'm glad to be done feeling wretched, and I'm hoping that Scott hasn't caught it from me.

Balancing Nabokov: View through the back door
Another great relief is to have finished reading Pale Fire this afternoon. I'm now officially calling it: Based on the three Nabokov novels I've read over a period of three--or more--decades, I'm going to say that I'm just not a fan of Nabokov. Oh, I remember Pnin, which I read in my twenties, fondly enough but Lolita (in my forties) left me cold, and Pale Fire has left me almost angry. "A joke's a joke," someone should have told Mr Nabokov, "and sometime more is just tedious." I try to figure out why it is that I take it so personally because it's not, I insist, that his characters aren't likeable. They aren't, but I refuse to believe I'm as shallow as all that. I think that what troubles me is that Nabokov seems not to like his characters. I'm sure I'm wrong, but it feels that there is no sympathy in Nabokov--not in his books, not in his characters, and not in him. As soon as I write that I feel I am wrong--and that it's unfair of me to make sweeping generalizations based on reading a fraction of his total output, and that my reading is likely to blame, not his writing. But we're parting company, Vladimir Nabokov and I. No hard feelings, I hope, but I'm done. I should like very much to love my next book. I'm not sure yet what that's going to be.

Gradka, with life restored to what it should be
 The weather in Seattle continues gorgeous and we're having a bumper crop of raspberries this year. (One of the worst things about being sick? Not being able to eat raspberries fresh off the vine. And I'm just not sure I'll be able to face peas again any time soon.) It's shaping up into another weekend of not actually going anywhere or doing anything, but on such days, with Gradka out of her cone and the backyard being so pleasant, it's not so bad being a homebody.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Housiversary!

It's been a good year for the roses.

Six years ago today, I was given the keys to chez Aurora. Scott and I met here, me carrying a bottle of cheap sparkling and a bag of Doritos down the hill on my bicycle. The plan was to have a quick toast at the house and then go do something else—have dinner very likely. Instead, I started ripping up carpet while Scott took a six-in-one tool to the windows to get them to open. Possibly it all started when I magically got the sconces over the mantel to work. I don’t know. It’s a blur, frankly.

Scott paints while I pick roses pictured above.

Since then we celebrate our housiversary by doing some sort of house project. This is the first year that June 15th has fallen on a Monday and so the first year that we’ve had three days to give over to “celebrating.” It’s little short of miraculous that either of us are able to move as of Monday evening. What with Gradka still wearing her cone and being subjected to daily doses of antibiotic (three to go!), and having the floors refinished last week, it’s been a particularly odd and disjointed housiversary. We wisely decided against the major reworking of the front lawn but I’m not sure that the substitute activities have been that much less strain on our aging bodies.

The floors being so gorgeous, of course we decided it was about time to add quarter round to the baseboards in the living room.  Which meant some quality time at Alki Lumber (where we learned that what I'm continuing to call "quarter round" is actually something else entirely) and some time with miter box for Scott and a paintbrush for me. We look at the installed quarter round in situ and marvel at how much it seems it has always been there. 
Still Life with Hammer and Radio
 Quarter round in place, there was nothing, other than our aching bones, to stop us from shifting the furniture back into place. In truth, that may have been stretched over a couple of days. And there are still a few boxes of stuff to shift back into place. 
The living room and its gorgeous new-again floor
Agapostemon texanus on wild arugula blossom

Yesterday, I think, Scott painted the Tomato Trough while I put “Ship and Shore” on the Adirondack chairs and the like. I hate working with anything that I’m warned may burst into spontaneous flame, and now I’ve got a used paintbrush that scares me.

Today, the Anniversary Itself, we somehow took our own sweet time about starting any housiversary projects. After a leisurely breakfast I sat down to see if I could identify the bee I'd watched on the wild arugula while Scott was doing something worky--putting that first coat of paint on the quarter round, I do believe. Happily, in this magical age of the internets, there's no need to remain ignorant and I'm happy to report that my metallic green bee was likely an Agapostemon texanus. Darned handsome and very industrious anyway.

Scott started in on remodeling the patio door which was a Housiversary Project of a few years ago. This inside door, purchased on West Seattle Yard Sale Day, has not been weathering so well outdoors, and he had a clever scheme for revising the door to match, somewhat, the fence that was possibly last year’s housiversary event. While he popped out a panel and sawed new pieces of wood to fit, I devoted myself to the least glamorous housiversary activity to date: scrubbing the kitchen floor. That floor was the cleanest surface in the house when we moved in but it’s always been more than a bit grubby. I’d assumed that it was just the case that forty-odd years of kitchen grease and the like couldn’t be removed but, after only six years of living with it, today I decided to see what some Bon Ami might do. Huh. It seems we’ve been condemning ourselves to living with waxy yellow build-up all this time.
The now-shiny floor in front of the oven

Don’t I feel like a 1960s housewife? The floor is much brighter. I’m not sure if I’m entirely convinced that’s an improvement.

Always a sucker for a bit of reflection

Floor finished (one cat dish broken, one partial concussion after smashing my head into a corner shelf), I changed into my painting clothes to put a first coat of paint on the new section of the patio door. And then, thank goodness, we declared it was time for the traditional housiversary meal of sparkling and Doritos. We love you, house!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rushing ahead: Give The People What They Want

There could be intermediary photos of the just-sanded floor or the still-wet floor but I say to heck with all that. I'll use those in an Angie's List write-up of European Hardwood Flooring. What the ardent followers of blahdeblahblah want is a photo of Gradka walking on the shiny floor!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Life and Amnesia

I'd like to attempt to post something meaningful about Peter Carey's Amnesia which I finished reading last night but I'm feeling distracted and exhausted by domestic events. We're having the living room floor refinished tomorrow which means we've spent those chunks of time not dedicated to Gradka the last few days to shifting everything out of the living room. Armchairs, a couch, three bookcases, a case containing 500 or more CDs, Aunt Birdie's desk, and god knows what all else are now in the basement, in the attic, in the garage, in the bedroom, in the blue room, and in the kitchen. The housiverary event has shifted, mercifully, from redoing the front hillside to installing quarter-round in the living room after the floor is done. Some painting could also be involved. That's all a week in the future.

 None of which has a damned thing to do wtih Amnesia. The story is told, sort of, by "Australia's last left-wing journalist" which you know he is because he's referred to that way more than once. It's implied that that's sort of ironical, that he has sold out as much anyone else, but you never get all the details so it's not entirely clear, at least not to a reader who has had a stressful time at work of late, a sick cat, a not-entirely-healthy Lebensgefährte, impending house projects, and--goddammit--raspberries she forgot she was going to start watering, exactly what the journalist's crimes of omission or commission may have been. He's no saint, the journalist who is somehow hired by an old friend who turns out not to be so friendly afterall to write the biography of a waif-like cyberterrorist who really isn't so waif-like and who may or may not be a cyberterrorist. What I'm saying is that there's a lot of not obfuscation but just somehow hedging in this latest Peter Carey. Is that the point? I don't know. Peter Carey is one of my favorite novelists of the 20th/21st century but this particular book feels a bit like a draft. Like "I have an idea for a really relevant and thought-provoking book but I just can't quite work out how to tell it. Here are my notes. If I make my notes the book that is written under trying circumstances by my flawed hero journalist, does that work? It does? Hand over that advance check."

 But I do admire Peter Carey and I don't like to think that his best work is behind him. I admit that I haven't read this latest book in the way that a Peter Carey novel deserves to be read. And I hated the cover of the US hardback so much that at first I didn't buy the book and then, once I did break down and get it on Independent Bookstore Day, I turned the dj inside out (and then managed to stain the white cover with a bit of blueberry. It's still a better cover than the ugly US edition cover). But still. One thing about Mr Carey's earlier novels is that they were long. Amnesia is sort of current-novel-length. About twenty pages from the end I became aware that he was a long way from the end of his story, but, at that point, somehow the journalist is forced to wrap up his account so Mr Carey wraps up his account and I was suddenly reading about the font that was used in this book: Requiem, created in the 1990s by the Hoefler Type Foundry. That I've been moved to fetch the book from the blue room in order to check the note concerning the type, rather than to grab a quote from the book, sort of says it all.

 Gradka is becoming perkier and perkier which is good, in that I don't like it when Gradka doesn't seem like Gradka, but less than great when I see her trying to scratch and lick herself unsuccessfully because that damned cone is in the way and when she insists that she wants to go outside when I know she's trapped indoors, in that idiotic cone, for another thirteen days. I wish we could both just sleep for the next two weeks. And I hope Mr Carey's best work is still in front of him.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Birds Look At Me

This first Saturday in June has been a gorgeous day in Seattle. An ideal day to go on expedition, though possibly it would be a bit hot to be in a canoe on such a day. A perfect day, I bet, to go swimming off Alki. Alki would likely have been a mob scene, of course. An excellent day to get up early to visit the Fill. Or, again with an early start, for a bike ride from bakery to bakery. I’ve done none of those things. The farthest I’ve gotten from home was halfway across the street (aka, the wrong way to attempt to slit your wrists if you mean business), and I only went that far because I had the longer lens on my camera and I wanted a photo of the front-forty. You won’t see that photo here because it really wasn’t so great but instead here’s one I took at about the same time, of the sweet peas in the front-forty:

Madame Gradka in exile
It’s not that I lack ambition. Well, it’s true that I do lack ambition but that’s correlation, not causation. No, today I’ve taken photos of the very local flora and fauna and done some minimal fussing about the house because Gradka is recuperating from yesterday’s procedure (aka getting several stitches in her backside where an unsuspected abscess burst). I’ve spent a fair bit of today making up excuses to go to the bedroom closet, where she seems to feel safest, so I can check up on her. I’ve held little dishes of brothy canned food at an angle so she can most comfortably get at them despite her cone and I’ve scratched her ears since she can’t reach them. I’ve also felt like Livia sneaking kitty morphine into the dishes I’ve held up to her and I’ve delicately held damp compresses to her wounds. It is, I tell you, exhausting and her stitches don’t come out for two weeks. I’ve no idea how Scott or I will make it, especially after the narcotics run out and she still requires to be fed antibiotics since antibiotics can’t so much be slipped into her food. She’s not an idiot. 

 So, rather than gallivanting about town, it’s been a day of sticking close to home. Not that it’s not a darned nice home to stick close to, especially on a lovely sunny day in what sure as hell feels like summer. The tomatoes, I assume, are appreciating the heat but I’m worried about the peas. Some, of course, are pods but others are just beginning to flower.

 Meanwhile, the backyard is attracting the usual assortment of birds, including some fine fledglings, and I swear they all look at me.
thumbprint fledgling
Adult male house finch
Anna's hummingbird, female, I think

pine siskin fledgling

The bees, who express no awareness of my presence at all, are finally showing up in number too. I must say that people who successfully photograph bees are people I admire. My goal is to one day get a photo of a bee that is not out of focus. This day is not that day, etc., but I do like the bit of pollen this fellow has.

Belatedly it occurred to me that the best blahdeblahblahs are those that feature step by step photos of making something. Alas, the only step of today’s vichyssoise that I photographed was the “cooling” stage, which it is now doing in the refrigerator. 
The recipe appears on page 186, I think, of the 1978 Joy of Cooking, the edition that slams Americans for not pronouncing the ‘s’ at the end of the word (which should be pronounced as a ‘z,’ Madames Rombauer and Becker inform the reader), instead eschewing it in a “genteel” (quotation marks in original) fashion. I pity those who own more recent editions of Joy from which the fine editorial remarks have been expunged. I don’t know how I omitted Joy of Cooking from my list of “most influential books” a year or so back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Just being rewarded

So tired lately and so oddly busy. Or maybe just preoccupied. Regardless, while I'd love to write something (anything!) to accompany these photos, that's just not happening tonight. Instead, I let two photos, taken this evening in the backyard, speak for themselves. Mostly.

It seems early to be picking raspberries in the backyard but I am so not complaining. (But why do I have that Postal Service song about how we can now swim every day in November running through my head so much?) 

Who buys all the bird books and keeps a record of her birds? Me. Who correctly identified this as a dark-eyed junco fledgling because "it has a junco tail"? That would be Scott.