Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Short List

  • Weds:  relax, drink coffee, readreadreadread, go quick-shopping with my girls to buy chicken feed and a button, some ribbon, some craft paper and some material for my bathroom curtain and my bulletin boards at school

  • Thurs:  TAKE MY MOTHERINLAW FOR HER HAIR APPOINTMENT AT 8 AM  (let it be stated, clearly, that this one thing COULD ruin my day, my week, my life, if I let it...there is a LOT that COULD be said, such as, my MIL is NOT my favorite person on earth, nor am I hers, she has gotten VERY forgetful which drives me insane in people I love dearly and is even harder to take when you don't necessarily share the love..., the hair place she goes is an hour away from ME, and SHE needs to be there by 9, and it will take her two hours... while I wait.  BUT, I WON"T say any of this. I'll just let it all go, and be a good person, and take a book, and smile smile smile... and know that I am OWED, BIG TIME, after this "favor,")

  • Fri:  hair cut, am; daughter's hair cut, pm, rush around frantically attempting to finish all unfinished cleaning jobs, such as the driveway, the chicken coop, my bedroom, the bathroom. Tie up all lose cleaning ends. Hopefully, my vacuum cleaner bags I had to order will be here by then and I can actually suck up two weeks worth of dog hair, as well?

  • Sat:  hmmmm, open - "PLAN SOMETHING FUN, HERE, DIMWIT!"  Kayaking?? Yes! Oh, and attend an obligatory wedding at 5 pm, son of a friend. Ugh. Hate attending weddings. (Nothing personal - just don't like ANY social event, or having to get dressed up for said social event. DO refuse, on general principal, to attend receptions. That's WAAAAY too much socializing for me. ) Will finish any left over cleaning.

  • Sun: Hmm, ALSO Open. PLAN ANOTHER FUN THING HERE. What to do, what to do. Oooh, I know - maybe this really cool, huge outdoor market I've always wanted to go to, about two hours away, deep in the Finger Lakes?  That would be a realtly fun way to spend a day before the ultimate end of summer...

  • Mon: the dreaded "School shopping" - have I mentioned I HATEHATEHATE shopping?  REALLY hate shopping with my girls who LOOOOOOOVE shopping? REALLY can't think of anything worse to have to do for myself on the LAST day before school begins again? I had completely envisioned a day of coffee, reading, ice cream, corn on the cob for dinner, early bedtime... total relaxation for me, selfishly.  Shopping WAS planned for Saturday, but due to the need to attend the wedding, and the lack of open-late store hours on Sunday, Monday it is. DOUBLE UGH.  BUT, here's where I sigh and say, I make FAR too much of summer vacation, and school beginning again, and my total and complete suffering, AND... it's NOT all about me, and the girls DO need to school shop, sooo...
I'll suck it up, and go, and spend the day, and have a good time with my girls, and go to work tired the next day. So what. Life is short. I'll get over it. Oh, and I was just reminded that hey, at least I can get a Starbucks when I'm out. OK, I'll go!

Oh wait, I forgot:
  • Tuesday - crying, whining, and much carrying on to ensue, followed by an early bedtime

"Your Mother Was a Hamster...*

So, it turns out, my mother was right. About a lot of things, really, which at this point in my life, I freely admit.  But that saying, the one about staying busy being good for the blues, or getting involved in things so you don't dwell on your own unhappiness - ok, so maybe it's not an exact quote, but you know what I mean. And, she was right. I was SO down this weekend - bad day Saturday, lots of tears and frustrations and in general, a bad day of my own and circumstance's making.  When a day is THAT bad, I don't get over it easily. But Saturday, a friend brought me two huge, heavy bags of elderberries. I didn't want to let them go to waste, so Saturday night, I half-heartedly began picking them off the stems. You have to do this by hand, if you don't want the little twiggy things in your berries, and it is TIME CONSUMING. My daughter helped for awhile, and then she wandered off, and I gave up and went to bed early.

Sunday morning, I decided that I didn't want to lose the opportunity to make what I wanted to with them, as they are hard to come by, and would not be cheap if I had to buy them, if I even could, which I can't. Not the pounds and pounds worth that David brought me. So I got busy, and picked berries off the stems for hours and hours and hours, literally.  FINALLY, late in the afternoon, I finished, and got down to business.

When I put the four quarts on to boil, the kitchen slowly filled with a heady, autumn-ish aroma, unlike any other berry smell.  Elderberries are kind of an acquired taste, I guess. They are similar to blueberries, but not nearly as sweet. And very seedy, so they crunch. Actually, raw, they are even poisonous, or enough so to make you mighty sick if you eat them. Oddly, just drying them (as well as cooking, obviously) takes out the tanins and toxins and makes them a worthwhile berry to use.

I was able to get 3 and 1/2 quarts of syrup from the batch I boiled, and I am super excited. Somehow, last year, I learned that 2 TBS of elderberry syrup, a squirt of lemonjuice, and hot water makes an awesome hot "tea."  It's the perfect hot drink for me after school on rainy, chilly fall days, or on winter evenings before bed. I don't really enjoy actual hot TEA( I don't like the flavor of tea, when it's hot) , but I love hot, fruity drinks (my favorite, before this, is hot TANG!) Last year I only had a smallish batch of elderberries, and I got two quarts of syrup, but it didn't last the winter. This year, it will. And I swear by it for it's vitamin C content - I literally had not a single cold last year. Anytime I felt one lurking, I dosed up on elderberry tea, and never came down with it. I don't think that's just luck - you can actually BUY Sambucol at the pharmacy, which is made for colds and flus, and it's base ingredient is elderberry. 

The "payment" to the guy who gave David his elderberries for me was a pie. Easy enough. Fair enough. So, I made two, since I had never had an elderberry pie. It was great. Again, a little like blueberry pie, but crunchier, and not as sweet. I liked it it a lot. My kids are still undecided, but leaning toward not, I think.
I also thought I would try jam, since I somehow missed strawberry season this year, lost my supply of blackberries when a friend moved away, and don't really enjoy blueberry jam. It is fantastic. I think, besides the syrup for tea (it would probably also be great on pancakes, and I KNOW it's good on vanilla ice cream) the jam is my favorite use for elderberries. I also dried two cookie sheets full of the ones I had left, to use in breads and muffins over the winter. I had elderberry bread last year that a bakery made, and it was delicious. They don't give it a lot of flavor, but a nice little crunch.
If I have time, I will still go pick the ones Dave has left at his house, but if I don't get time to do so, the birds can have their treat, and my pantry is full and I feel ready for the fall.
AND? I was SO busy all day Sunday with elderberries, the blues began to fizzle. I didn't have time to focus on myself, other than how purple my fingers and hands and half the kitchen was, and NOT focusing on your own bad mood is, apparently, a good way to get over it!

*and your father smelt of elderberries."  (one of the best Monty Python quotes ever! - just in case you were wondering what your mother being a hamster had to do with my elderberry fun this weekend!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August, and Everything After

August has been good to me. In fact, the whole summer has been good to me. TOO good. I think that's the problem.  Because now I'm feeling miserable. Not because it's August, but because it is almost NOT August anymore.  It is almost  ... September. September is the month I have always wanted to love, but can not. I am looking forward to loving it some day, almost as much as August, or maybe even more. It seems like the perfect month here in Western New York. It isn't as hot as the rest of the summer, usually, and even if we still get some blistering days, we appreciate them more because it's September.  And after September comes October, fall for real, with sometimes a touch of winter,too. September has a touch of fall to it. The leaves begin to turn slightly, and they look gorgeous in the bright September afternoon sunshine.  It's the best of both fall and summer, still. But here, for me, it simply means vacation is over. That summer vacation I started counting down til, in January. That summer vacation that took me a couple weeks to totally adjust to. Then, that summer vacation that just was soooo relaxing and enjoyable and, ... short. Dammit, summer vacation is just too short. I am the Queen Mother of rough transitions, even when transitioning to something good. I just can not DO change. I crave it, and fight it concurrently.  So by the time I adjust, summer is well under way and I lose a couple weeks wandering about, not quite knowing what to do with the loose, unstructured time in my days. I feel like I squander it, or at least the enjoyment of it, and it's just too short to do that.
     This summer, the first week off was spent cleaning out my dad's house - a boring, emotional, and time consuming task that I would have preferred not to have had to tackle at all, and especially not then. Looking back, I am glad, of course, that we got it out of the way early, instead of dragging it out all summer.  But it seemed a rough start. Then, immediately following that, summer school began, and the days had a rhythm again rather quickly, but having to be at work in the early morning every day limited what I could do with the rest of my day. By the time summer school was done, I had the whole glorious month of August stretched out in front of me, though.. It seemed endless, and perfect, but that month of August is ALWAYS a mirage.  - it seems endless, but in reality, I believe it to be the shortest month of the year. Your calendar says August has 31 days? Really? Mine, too, but don't believe it. If that's true, then the days must only have about 12 hours in them. Yesterday, it was the beginning of the month, and now, I only have a week left before I go back to work? NO WAY! 
     I must admit, though, it HAS been an awesome month. I went to the zoo and had a great day with two of my kids.  I went to Farm Sanctuary and Moosewood Restaurant with my girls, another day, and we had a great time there, as well.  I went to Cleveland for three days and had a good time there. Oh wait, no I didn't. I HATED Cleveland. Oh well. But still, it was an INTERESTING three days.We were  there for a conference that was valuable, if deep and intense, and exhausting, and we did manage to tour a cool cemetery and squeeze in little shopping and some good meals. No matter that three days in Cleveland FELT like a month... I've also painted both my bathrooms (the third one hasn't happened yet, but I don't feel terrible. My plans always exceed my time), cleaned my bedroom, fixed the shower (well, not me personally, but thanks to my brother, it has been fixed and is usable again. 6 of us showering in one bathroom this summer was...cozy. Glad to have the second one, mine, back before school morning craziness sets in).  I have picked a few berries, spent some good times with my kids, read a TON of books, and enjoyed every single minute home with my dogs and chickens. It KILLS me to go back to school and have to hook my dogs out on their runs again from 8-4 every day. More than any other reason for not wanting to go back to work is that - simply put, I LIKE spending my days at home with my dogs. And I have to believe that they would prefer my company to that of the back yard for hours at a time, five days a week. I hate leaving them behind. I hate leaving my house, and I hate leaving my dogs. I would make a good hermit, if it didn't almost verge on agoraphobia, at times!
     OK, so I have a week. And I intend  and WANT to enjoy it, and make it count. But the transitioning, and tears, have already begun.  My eldest has already been back at college for his senior year for a week already. My second is working on her packing list and getting her stuff around for her second year away at school. She doesn't leave until Labor Day, but it's closing in. And my third will be a senior this year. I am having trouble with that, as well, knowing full well how fast a year passes (even if the day to day time seems to creep, sometimes) and then, my youngest will be a senior next year.   I swore up and down I would NEVER be a sad empty-nester when my kids went away, but guess what? Like so many other judgements and proclamations I have made without experience to back them up, I was wrong. I am having a TERRIBLE time adjusting to days like today - one kid back at school, two kids away at work, other kid out of state vacationing with a friend, and here I sit, unable to make myself accomplish anything constuctive today, because I am too focused on the empty house and the hour glass of time running out. How ... counterproductive. Really. I know better. BUT,,, knowing does not always make it better, or right, either. Sigh. 
     Do you ever just wish you had a magic wand that you could wave over yourself and change parts about yourself that you don't like?  I do. I would wave away the difficulty with transitions. I would make myself able to just live in the moment and go with the flow, instead of fretting and worrying and trying not to. I would make myself happy that I've had a great summer with four great kids at home, instead of sitting here, feeling sad and teary that one is gone, and the others are poised, ready to go, in two weeks, a year, two years.  I would wave away my dislike of returning to work, and would make myself be a person who embraces the new school year, instead of dragging myself into it, kicking and screaming inside.  I would also wave away my worry  over my dogs. They are probably FINE outside all day. They are better treated and more loved than millions of people's dogs. I shouldn't worry that they are lonely and sad without me, just because I am lonely and sad without them, right? They are DOGS, not people, right? (Why doesn't that work for me?)
     So, I should make a list. Yeah, that same list I was going to make just before school ended, of what I wanted to do with the first week of my vacation. Not that THAT list matters now, since it was spent, unpectedly,  on my dad's house. But I feel like I should make a list of what I want to accomplish, or do, or get done, or see, or start, or finish, or whatever.... this last week, so that I don't squander it away doing nothing but fretting. Is it silly to put things on that list like, take my dogs for TWO walks a day this week?  And to NOT cry over my kids going to college, again?  And to get my blog caught up with all those awesome things I DID do this month? And to TRY not to worry about what comes AFTER this week? I'm not sure that would make for a very worthwhile list.
I just want the magic wand. Then I wouldn't need a list to remind me of what to do and what not to do, who to be and who not to be. I could just wave that wand and make everything perfect.  And I could make August last forever. That really WOULD be perfect.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guess Where I Was Thursday?

I'm sure it's a difficult guess!  Perhaps the better question would have been, "guess who I went to the zoo WITH?"  My 21 year old college senior asked a week or two ago if we could go to the zoo before he leaves to go back to college next weekend. We used to go, as a family, at least once a year when the kids were little.  For a few years, we even had a zoo family membership, because if you went even twice, it more than paid for itself, and it included free parking and guest passes. I remember one year we went on Labor Day, and we had packed a picnic lunch, and it was SO cold and SO rainy, we ended up eating our picnic in the car in the parking lot. I am not even sure we went INTO the zoo that trip, but maybe we did. If we did, it was a short stay, I know that. All I really remember from that trip was the unusual cold and the rain. And eating giant dill pickles in the back of the van.
So last Thursday, my 21 year old son and my 14 year old daughter and I drove to Buffalo and spent the day at the zoo. It was one of those hot hot days we've had so many of this summer, and any time you could sneak into the shade for a few moments, or catch a breeze, it was delightful. The heat beating down on you REALLY saps your energy quickly, otherwise. But, I have to say, all three of us had a really good time. I don't love zoos - never have, because I can't stand the caged- pacing- animal -so -we -can -gawk- at- you -from- behind -glass -or- bars- concept, but on the other hand, if you can suspend those concerns and thoughts for the day, knowing that zoos have always existed, always will exist, and in most cases, have gotten MUCH better for the animals, then it's easier to enjoy walking around with your kids (kids? adult offspring?) and looking for, and at, favorite animals.
Unfortunately, one of my  favorite animals from the zoo, the Prairie Dog, is gone. Not sure why, but no longer are there cute little things popping up out of holes like the whack-a-mole game, whistling to each other. That was disappointing. But I loved the Meerkats - those are adorable!  Always like the lemurs and the hyenas. The River Otters were fun to watch.  And my favorite all time animal?
I LOVE Polar Bears!

Plus, I felt better seeing this new sign by his enclosure:
I'm not a big Noah Wylie fan, or a sap for those commercials where they show the diminishing ice floes (I KNOW it is a real problem, and I feel badly about it; I just can't stand the WAY those commercials are aimed at making you feel bad... from having studied journalism in college, I am well aware that it is a red herring technique DESIGNED to tug at my heart strings, and I don't like to have my emotions manipulated)
But it's good to know, from this sign, that many things I do as a matter of course ARE helping the universe in small ways - planting trees, changing the bulbs in our home to the (annoying but) energy efficient ones, recycling, using re-usable shopping bags whenever I can, turning down our heat during the day and at night, etc. etc. In fact, I think I do most of the things on that sign.
If that helps save the polar bears, then that's good!
So, a good time at the zoo with two of my kids last Thursday.
This week Thursday? Farm Sanctuary, and Moosewood - a famous vegetarian restaurant, with my two vegetarian daughters.
I was feeling sort of bad, leaving out my 17 year old son, but then, they reminded me, I went to his demolition derby, and have promised to go to another one he is running in, on Labor Day weekend, so I guess I will have spent time, a little, doing something special to them with each of my kids this summer. THAT makes me feel really good. I'd vote for going places with "kids" who are 21, 19, 17 and almost 15 ANYday over going places with them when they were 7,5,3 and 1. We did that, lots, too, and this was WAY more fun - for all of us!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Love Me Some Fair Food...

So the County Fair is a summer EVENT in this county. Has been all my life. Of course, it has meant different things to me throughout the years. Some things change, and some never do. I haven't ridden the Ferris wheel or the Scrambler, tossed a dart at a balloon or a ping pong ball at a fish bowl, or walked around the "midway," such as it is, in many years. On the other hand, I ate my share of Fowlers cinnamon and fireball taffy this year, like I have every year for at least 40 years. I ate a candy apple, and 3 sugar waffles and drank fresh-squeezed lemonaide and did not pass up the Italian sausage with peppers and onions. New this year, and pretty much my whole reason for going was this, the demolition derby. My 17 year old LIVES for demolition derbies. Apparently, so do many other people in this county. It was PACKED.
And it rained. And thundered and lightninged and made the track even more of a mucked up muddy mess than they intended. And it is ridiculously loud, and the cars spatter mud and in general, this would NOT be my kind of Saturday afternoon fun. But, when your kid is driving a Redneck PD car, and eating fried deep fried corn dogs like there's no tomorrow, can you help but have fun?  I really did have a great time! I don't have to go to another one,(oh, wait, did I say that? I MEANT, of course, that I don't have another one to GO to)  until Labor Day weekend. Whew. It's almost too much fun for one summer.