“Handy Help”

The day before the temperature dropped thirty degrees declaring it was still winter, a new chair for our deck arrived. I had ordered it on a sunny spring day, certain that when it arrived we could put it out next to its twin and enjoy the weather. The rain began to come down so hard my husband had to haul the box inside for me to assemble. In my imagination the chair arrived put together, but I hadn’t read the description carefully enough.

As I looked at the flat carton, wondering how a swivel rocker could possibly fit inside it, I saw a note directing me to BILT, a phone app promising help putting the parts together. Dubious, I downloaded the app and watched the video, complete with audio, that had been produced to help someone make the chair. Usually the directions from purchases from China(as was this chair it turned out)are in pictures and arrows and leave me completely confused. Apparently I am not the only one who has had this experience. Hence the BILT app.

Sure enough the video was clear and the pictures were provided for each step. A friendly sounding woman narrated the process. Three times she cautioned to not cut the strings holding the swivel device in place. Thankfully I had not opened the carton because I am certain my first impulse would have been to cut the strings.

So the box is in the living room. The instructions are on my IPad. But it is winter outside and my incentive to assemble the chair has disappeared. Maybe tomorrow!

“Do You Have the Recipe?”

I am a self taught cook and I began with baking. Measuring ingredients is an essential part of baking. In fact in recent years I have even used a scale to get the precise amount that a recipe requires. In tricky baked goods my “just about a cup” isn’t good enough. I have a drawer full of various measuring cups including 2/3 and 3/4. Three different sets of measuring spoons hang from the backsplash over the kitchen counter. I know the difference between dry measuring and liquid measuring and use the appropriate cups for each. In short I understand baking as a mathematical activity giving me a chance to frequently use the fractions I learned in grade school.

My first husband cooked by sight, taste and smell. He had grown up with a mother who never consulted a cook book and he had an acquired understanding of how to make a meal from whatever was on hand. He frequently called what he made “gumbo,” but it was never the same meal twice. I was constantly in awe of this talent as I continued to consult cook books to make dinner, applying the same baking rules to cooking.

Recently Sam Sifton, of the New York Times, published an article promoting his newest cookbook called, ironically enough, No Recipe Recipes. He shared a pork chop dish and gave approximate amounts for each ingredients. Basically he was demonstrating in small steps what seasoned cooks, unhampered by the rules of baking, already know. Sight, taste and smell can guide you as you make dinner. At 73 I am just beginning to consider that cooking doesn’t have to be “by the book.”

Baking, however, will continue to be my forte. Things turn out just like the pictures because I FOLLOW THE RECIPE.

“Return of the Robins”

If you look carefully under the right hand side of the overhang, you can see the beginnings of a new nest for the robins. You might notice several other objects including a covered smoker, a covered patio heater, a porch swing and parts of two chairs. Normally the juxtaposition of these objects and the nest might be interesting but nothing more. But in the case of this nest and these deck furnishings, an intense territorial dispute lies ahead.

I had hoped that the ongoing conflict between family members wanting to enjoy the deck and the robins trying to protect their nest would not be repeated this summer. Perhaps, I thought, they would move their nest to avoid these clashes. Apparently they held out a similar wish that they could have the deck to themselves. No such luck for either of us.

Last summer the robin had three separate broods of eggs, topping the average of two. But this robin mother was not only fruitful but also seemingly “possessed” according to the children wanting to sit on the porch swing. She saw her nest as the perfect launching pad for aerial assaults on those below. She never actually collided with anyone, but she certainly made relaxing on the deck a concept more than a reality.

First a war on zoysia, soon the revenge of the robins. Who says retirement is drama free?

“War on Zoysia”

Invasive – Zoysia grass is a very invasive grass. The reason you can plant plugs and not have to seed the lawn is because zoysia grass will crowd out all other species in the lawn. Then when it has taken over your lawn, it will start in on your flower beds and your neighbor’s lawn.

My husband sees zoysia grass as a personal affront to his efforts in the front lawn. Since this early spring has been very dry and the ground has already thawed, he saw it as the perfect time to attack the zoysia patch. A massive undertaking involving digging out very deep roots, separating the sod from the dirt, and disposing of the thatch makes way for a compression of the soil and replanting of a DIFFERENT VARIETY of grass seed. He used the same routine on the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street last fall and was rewarded by a lush growth of grass without zoysia. He hopes to have the same result on this larger area between the sidewalk and the house.

Since we live on a busy street, he has numerous interactions with curious passers-by. Most people cannot understand his hatred of zoysia. In fact there seem to be people who actually plant it on purpose. Needless to say this makes no sense to him. He does offer them a shovel when they talk too long which spurs them to move along.

I suppose each of us who works in our yard has a particular nemesis. As a child I constantly was recruited to clear the invasive Himalayan blackberry vine from our property. As a new homeowner I fought morning glory which twined its way around everything in sight. Not to be confused with the morning glory people plant on purpose, this invasive intruder was impossible to kill. Some people shudder when a dandelion pops up.

Do any of you start wars outdoors?

“Personal GPS”

I grew up in a neighborhood completely free of any commercial enterprises, full of woods, paths and shortcuts. My friends from school were scattered around over several miles. No one ever gave any of us a map and we certainly had neither phones nor any type of GPS device. How on earth did we know how to get to one another’s houses?

A few years ago my husband and I, relying on a phone for directions, got totally lost in Western Connecticut. In fact we reached New York State before we were sure we had headed the wrong way. I vowed after that to always carry a paper map in the car, not wanting to once again rely on a device needing a signal which might or might be available.

But what if we had been paying active attention as we drove? Maybe we might have noticed things like signs, landmarks and geographic features. They might have provided us information to help us navigate. In fact that is just what we used as kids. We got a feel for the area from looking and moving through it. We knew the ways through the woods avoiding the roads. We knew how to get down to the river, walk along the railroad tracks, and come home from school.

Sometimes as I dream I still walk through my childhood neighborhood. I can feel each bend in the road, touch each hedge, wait for traffic to clear on the highway, and head down our driveway, pictured above. I have an internalized GPS formed by walking. As Theodore Roethke the poet once put it “I learn by going where I have to go.”

“Family Reunion”

Yesterday afternoon we welcomed our daughter and her family over for Easter dinner. In most years this would not have been astonishing. However, this April 4 was the first time we sat down together in our house since March of 2020. I had hoped that Charlie and I would be able to complete the vaccination process with both doses and the required 14 day wait afterwords in time for Easter. We passed the 14 mark on March 30 which made it possible to plan this reunion.

While I felt the absence acutely in the beginning of the pandemic, I had gradually become used to a pretty isolated existence. Sure I saw people on Zoom. Yes in warmer weather we visited outside at a fair distance. But there was no hugging, no animated conversation, no sitting around a table. After a while, I am sad to say, it began to feel normal, albeit a new normal. Yesterday deeply reminded me that there is no substitute for proximity, no alternative for hugs, no way to play Jenga six feet away from everyone.

Yes, we played Jenga after the dishes were cleared. A game which looks simple involving a stack of little wooden blocks, turns out to be highly challenging. Each player has to remove one block without the whole thing tumbling. Then the player puts that block atop the remaining structure and the next player takes over. My grandson terms himself a Jenga champion, and that proved to be true. He was able to very quickly extract one block while the whole tower fell into place without falling over.

As for me. Well let’s just say that I cook a better Easter dinner than I win at Jenga.

“Forever Frugal”

Yesterday I was staring at the door to the broom closet and laughed at the array of rubber bands. I have put rubber bands here for years without really thinking about it. (Quarantine allows a lot of time to think about things that I would never have thought about. Is that a positive or a negative?) Some of them break when I try to use them, but in general I always have a rubber band handy when I need one.

My husband’s and my parents were both children of the depression. While my mother and his father were comfortable during that time, my father and his mother lived in great poverty. Regardless of their circumstances, they all seemed very ingrained with the notion of “waste not, want not.” The lights had to be shut off when we left a room. (Are we running an electric company around here?) The furnace went off at night.(That’s why we have sweaters.) No food ever went to waste.(You said you wanted those license plates in the Kix boxes. Now eat all that cereal.)

The rubber band collection is a relic of that frame of mind. Why buy rubber bands when they come free on asparagus? I am curious about what other frugal habits any of my readers picked up from the generations before them. Please share.

“Single Sex Settings”

As I thought about Boy Scouts now including girls in their troops, I spent a while reflecting on the whole transformation of once single sex settings to coed ones. I am not including any discussion about what my questionnaires now routinely include: alternatives to male and female. I am restricting my comments to a sense of single sex settings familiar to anyone over 50.

I participated in a Camp Fire Girls group for all of elementary school and went every summer to a girls’ camp pictured above. Our counselors were young women, and the staff was entirely female. We did archery, swimming, arts and crafts, singing, rowing, weaving and general running around. Free of boys, we felt unconscious of what we were wearing, what we looked like, and whether we would be teased. I looked forward to it each summer.

In college I lived in an all girl dormitory. Boys were only allowed upstairs for two hours on Sunday afternoons and the door had to be left ajar. We ran from our rooms to the communal bathroom in underwear, curlers, and mud masks. The pressure to look “presentable” didn’t exist.

In college I taught a women’s studies class in rural Oregon which was attended by women only(by choice, not regulation.) Here my students talked about being hurt in their marriages, being raped as young women, wanting to live alone, resenting their children, and other topics “taboo” in the 1970’s. It was the first time most of them had ever shared any of these things.

Colleges once women only began accepting men many years ago. Colleges once only for men did the same over time. Dormitories are now coed. Camp Fire Girls is now called Camp Fire and boys and girls go to my old camp. Men take women’s’ studies classes.

From my point of view something precious has been lost. The effect of what has now been called the “male gaze” didn’t disappear when men and women began to routinely share spaces. I needed that male free time growing up. I can’t speak for boys, of course.

I welcome any thoughts about this change from my readers. If you have never known anything different, I would love to hear from you too.

“Prelude to a Post”

When I first started posting to the internet, my daughter warned me to never post anything that I wouldn’t want available to the whole world for all time. I have followed her caution, and have kept peoples’ names and images off my posts if the people are still living. I have, as is clear from my recent posts about Aunt Cary, put up names and images of some no longer alive.

However, as I prepared to write about the advantages and disadvantages of single sex settings, including Camp Fire Girls, summer camp and the Barbizon Hotel, I startled. There among the images I searched on Google for Camp Fire was a photo of me, sleeping bag over my shoulder, waiting to go to camp. I had posted that image myself some while back. I think that while theoretically I knew that Google searched everything all the time, I had failed to really comprehend the implications of that.

The good news is that if someone were to click that image she would be directed to my blog, thereby increasing my readers. But still it was a bit unsettling. So take this as a gentle reminder. Don’t post anything you don’t want available to the whole world for all time! Thank goodness I don’t mind the image of that plucky camper available to all.

“Promise of Spring”

Spring comes to New England at the end of March, and its first signs are beginning to appear. Here a bed of snow drops, surrounded by the pine straw mulch, have made their appearance. The squirrels are chasing each other around with amorous intent. Male cardinals sing their hearts out. While we haven’t yet seen the robins return to nest under the deck, we are keeping our eye out. Two nights ago unseasonable warmth allowed us to eat outside, socially distanced, from family members we had only seen out the window for months.

A less welcome sure sign of spring is the roar of another motorcycle, still convinced that the three block straightaway of our street cries out for speed and noise. Clearly these over the hill riders remain unconvinced that their wide open highways are behind them!

Snow still remains possible with the last frost expected around April 30. While the ground is still too hard to turn over, Charlie has been able to prune the vines of grape and raspberry and cut back the blueberry bushes. A great beginning to a warmer and brighter time of year.