LABEL US CLEANING – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Label

Label me too busy to write anything.

We’re having company. Most people have company, but we virtually never do. Why not? Because we live in an odd place. Even though we’ve just 70 miles out of Boston, many people — even people from other parts of Massachusetts — are convinced we live somewhere on the moon. I think they are surprised we have Wi-Fi and telephones and (sort of) paved roads.

We also have cars, cows, horses, a LOT of churches and a decent selection of grocery stores and hairdressers. I’m not sure why we have so many hairdressers, but we do. Barbers, too.

Today, though, we started cleaning. We hadn’t done any serious cleaning in a while. I washed the floor when we came back from the Curleys and we vacuumed — but that’s our “minimum” cleaning. We hadn’t done the stairs or downstairs in a while because we haven’t been using it.

Surprise! It came out looking amazingly nice. Needs painting and a new rug in the den — and new flooring in the bathroom as well as a new sink — but that’s doable. Eventually.

On a positive note, we got a lot done. I cleaned all the equipment (but NOT the inside of the fridge — I just couldn’t bring myself to haul everything out so it’s grubby in there). But I did the floors (bathroom and kitchen), the little oven, the big oven, the entire outside of everything including the corners and finally got the downstairs bathroom looking like a real bathroom.

In fact, other than needing a new sink (the old one is worn out), it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was. The living room needs organization, but for now, it’s in waiting mode. If I could manage the stairs better, the underneath living room would make a fantastic office and den. That’s how we used it when we first moved here. Before the kids came and took over the lower level of the house. The fireplace in that room works too, though it makes the room awfully hot.

I haven’t gotten to this blog until now and it’s already dinner time. In fact, it’s past dinner because the dogs have already eaten. Speaking of labels, if your dog doesn’t eat, try Pedigree Choice Cuts In Gravy Steak & Vegetable Flavor Adult Canned Wet Dog Food. They like it better than OUR food and that’s something!

Label us finally getting the house clean. And this doesn’t include dusting, which is an entirely different subject. I don’t want to cook in the kitchen. It’s so … CLEAN.

THE CIRCULARITY OF SPODE’S TOWER – Marilyn Armstrong

Blame it on my upbringing, the peculiar traditions of my mother’s family.

We say “I love you” by giving each other stuff. All kinds of stuff. Art, furniture, gadgets, clothing, books, whatnots. We were never a touchy, feely, huggy family nor verbally effusive. We rarely said, “I love you.”

I’ve had to learn to say the words. I’d still rather buy you a present.

spode's tower plateOver the course of life with my family, I got clothing (used and new), pottery (ugly and uglier), jewelry, paintings (“No, really, it’s okay … you keep it … please!”) and whatever else came to hand. If someone had a sudden unplanned attack of the warm fuzzies, they might give you the nearest small object — ashtray, silver cigarette holder (from my mother, who never smoked), old souvenirs from Coney Island, empty cigar boxes (Uncle Abe).

No wrappings or bows. Spontaneity precluded amenities. It was my family’s version of a hug.

One time, my dearest favorite-est aunt gave me the coat off her back while crossing 6th Avenue in Manhattan. It was mid-winter in New York and definitely not a good time to be coat-less, but I had said I liked it and she needed to express her love right then and there.

“Please, Aunt Kate,” I cried, hoping the people swirling around us didn’t call the cops, likely thinking I was mugging my elderly aunt. “I am wearing a coat. You gave me this coat years ago. I wear it all the time. I love it.”

Which only made it worse. “That old thing,” she cried. “You need a new coat.”

“When we get home,” I promised. “You can give me the coat at home.” And she did. I wore it for many years until it fell apart. I knew I was wearing her love and it kept me very warm.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I bought a box of odds and ends from a little shop on Bethlehem Road. They had been cleaning out their back room. They said, “We don’t know what’s in here, but you can have it for five dollars.”

I took the box home and began to sort through it. I found tiny carved ivory elephants, amber beads, buttons from dress shirts, old Agora and a green, crusted thing I was going to throw out until a friend said: “Hey, that’s an old coin.”

I stopped. Looked at it. “How can you tell?” I asked.

“That’s what old coins look like,” she said. “Soak it in lemon juice for a few days and see what happens.”

I soaked it for two weeks and it still looked like a piece of green crusty metal. Finally, using a toothbrush and copper cleaner, I extracted an ancient bronze coin, circa 77, the second year of the First Jewish War Against the Romans. The date was on the coin in old Hebrew script.

I had the coin appraised at the Rockefeller Museum. It was the real deal, but not worth much – maybe a couple of hundred dollars, if I could find a buyer. So I turned it into a pendant and wore it on a ribbon. When my mother came to visit, she admired it.

Of course, I gave it to her. When my mother died, my father gave it back to me, but it disappeared. I suppose it will turn up someday in another box of odds and ends and become someone else’s treasure.

You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something you were going to own it. There was a hideous pottery owl that looked like its eyes were bleeding. Chartreuse with scarlet eye sockets. I was caught staring –and had to say something. It was a masterpiece of sculpting, but the overall effect was gruesome. So I said: “It’s … really interesting.” It was, in a ghastly way.

“It’s yours!” cried my mother. I detected a note of triumph. I still harbor a suspicion she had gotten it from some other family member and was just waiting for the chance to move it along. Tag, I was it.

The ultimate example of family love (en passant) were the Spode’s Tower dishes.

It was entirely my fault. Mea culpa.

I bought the entire set from a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. The set included 86 pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus the saucers plus a set of saucers without cups.

In pretty good condition. For $30.

Spode's Tower

It turned out to be Spode’s Tower. The dishes were old and delicate, so I never used them fearing they’d get broken. They stayed in the closet and gathered dust. Years passed.

One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car.

She loved them, but they were old. It turned out, valuable, too. So she put them away and never used them.

One day, my Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need anymore, the days of big dinner parties being long over.

My mother didn’t need such a large set either, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s set of China.

Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place because they were old,  valuable, and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave it back to me and we took it home. She had saved them all those years.

Of course, I never used them. I eventually gave them to Owen and Sandy who had the sense to sell them. They knew they would never use them and neither would anyone else.

Love can be wrapped in paper and carefully protected. There is love. There are dishes. And there are memories of my family, carefully stored, ready to be given.

To you, if you like.

ONE OF THE DAYS DURING ONE OF THOSE WEEKS – Marilyn Armstrong

Every time I think I’ve got things under control, I am reminded I don’t. This was the week a couple of simple things were supposed to happen. One of them was that Owen was going to install my new faucet for the kitchen sink. He found the basin tool so when he showed up to do it, he was psyched. We had already taken all that stuff out from under the sink.

When Owen got down there and looked at it, he came back up.

“You need,” he said, “A plumber.”

All the stuff that was under the sink. And the Duke.

He showed me why. Every fitting and pipe was covered with rust and that crusty green stuff. Everything that was supposed to turn was grafted into place. When we had last taken stuff out from under the sink,  it hadn’t looked bad, so what had happened? It was dry. No pools of water. We had a leak, but the leak was on the faucet itself and flowed into the sink.

I sighed. Owen gave me the name of his plumber, said the guy was honest and reasonably priced — something you don’t usually hear about plumbers. I brooded about money for a while, but ultimately, there wasn’t any choice. We needed a plumber.

Under the sink …

And so, I called the plumber and he came. It turns out there were leaks all along the old pipes. Very tiny leaks … just big enough to corrode everything.

He replaced all the valves and the copper pipes from the basement to the kitchen and bathroom and installed the faucet. $365 later, we had shiny new pipes and each worked like it was supposed to. I’m not sure they were working this well when we bought the house 19 years ago.

I wrote a check, sighing even more heavily.  At least I hadn’t yet started the work on the chimney, mainly because it was raining every day. You can’t mortar in the rain. Not to mention the cold and the wind.

New faucet!

Then there was the remote control that makes our bed go up and down. The bed is 15 years old. I discovered this by removing the innards of the remote and reading the label which clearly said 2004.

Fifteen years.

But for all fifteen years, the bed has worked flawlessly. It came with a lifetime guarantee, too … except that the company that made it went out of business three years ago, leaving a lot of distraught bed owners of which I am one. I knew that one day, something would happen.

Every other time something happened, I rebooted the bed. It’s just like rebooting a computer. Unplug it. Count to 30, slowly. Then add another 10 — to be sure. Plug it back in. Voila! It’s fixed.

Springtime in Uxbridge

For some reason, the idea of rebooting the bed always makes me laugh.

If that didn’t work, the remote needed new batteries. Which made me realize that we are — again — out of AAA batteries. Everything used to be AAs, but now everything is AAA. I ordered more rechargeables as well as a set of regular lithiums because sometimes, rechargeables don’t work. Don’t ask me why. I do not know.

I changed the batteries in the remote. The bed still didn’t move.

I hauled the mattress sideways so I could wriggle behind it to unplug and re-plug the bed again. That didn’t seem to work. I figured the remote wasn’t doing its thing, so I went looking for a replacement remote. Amazon had one and the remote they showed in the advertisement was identical to the one I was holding in my hand. A new version of it would cost $120 — a lot of money for a remote, but a lot cheaper than replacing the bed.

The day after the plumber left, the remote arrived. I took my last four recharged AAA batteries and put them in the remote. I unplugged the bed and then plugged it in again– after hauling the mattress off the bed and feeling the muscles in my shoulders go rigid.

The remote didn’t show any sign of life. Forget about whether it made the bed move. It didn’t light up when a button was pressed. It was broken.

I called the number printed on the back of the remote. They said I needed to push the light on the black brick-shaped thingie under the bed.  There was no black brick-shaped thingie under the bed or at least, I couldn’t see one.

Our bed is really heavy. Garry and I together couldn’t move it. I’m pretty sure that Garry, me, Owen and a couple of other people couldn’t move it either. It’s all wood and the “engine” is steel. The mattress weighs 100 pounds. At least.

It turns out this was the right remote, but it was broken. But, it turned out that there were a lot of models of this bed. Mine was an early model — one of only TWO models that would not work with this remote. Not to fear, they would sell me one that would work — for a less than half the price of the one I’d bought from Amazon. I could return the broken one.

So I ordered another remote, put in for a replacement for the remote from Amazon … and just on a whim, I took the newly charged batteries and put them back in the OLD remote.

The bed worked. Perfectly. I considered banging my head against the wall, but I was too tired.

Garry said it was a miracle.

I think I’ll turn the heat down and go to bed. It has been a long week.

RETURNING WEDGEWOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

It must be something about me. Dishes come back. First, there was the Spode’s Tower, which was passed around the family for 25 years until one day, it came home. Again.

Spode Tower Pink
Spode Tower Pink

This time, it’s the Wedgewood.

This morning, a large heavy carton arrived via UPS. It was from my sister-in-law who lives in northern Maine. I haven’t seen her for a long time, though we’ve emailed back and forth occasionally and exchanged Christmas presents and cards.

There was a card taped to the box which said: “OPEN ME FIRST.”

96-Card-Wedgewood_04

Translated into years and a timeline, Garry — the man to whom I have been married for almost 29 years — was my first husband’s (now deceased) best friend and my son’s godfather. He had just come back from vacationing in Ireland when Jeff and I were married. It was August 1965 and he gave us the Wedgewood as a gift. That was merely 55 years ago.

Jeff and I separated in 1978. My son and I went to live in Israel at the end of that year and didn’t come back until 1987.

I didn’t take the Wedgewood to Israel, so Jeff gave it to his mother. She loved it and had room to display it.

72-Wedgewood_10

Grandma Kraus died last year at 103. This morning, the Wedgewood came home. It is — for now — on the coffee table in the living room. I’m not sure what to do with it. I guess it can live on the coffee table, at least until Garry does laundry and needs to sort it, something he does on the big glass coffee table. Which is useless for any other purpose, unless you count barking your shins as useful.

72-Wedgewood-OIL_09

And so, another set of dishes has come home. I don’t know or can’t remember if any other china, porcelain, or pottery is lurking in my past. For all I know, it’s in the mail, winging its way back.

Life is circular. Stuff comes back.

Especially dishes.

BUT ANYONE COULD DO IT … Marilyn Armstrong

We all have friends who do stuff we can’t do.

They make a perfect pie crust and the filling is great, too. They build and refinish their furniture. They tune the car and rewire the basement on Saturday afternoon and still have time to make dinner for company.

You love them, with just a hint of hate because they can do it all and you can barely drag yourself out of bed, brush your hair, and have coffee before mid-afternoon.

They do a little painting, a bit of carving. Frame their own pictures. Repair anything that breaks. They are never worried about anything because they know exactly what to do.

apple pie

These are the woman who breezily raises two children after dad leaves while working full-time and never do they seem overwhelmed or even tired. The men build corporations, sell them, build another one — and don’t know why you can’t do the same.

It’s so easy.

They throw great dinner parties and the food is delicious. The dishes match or are charmingly casual yet coördinated to look casual in a fashion magazine sort of way. But you know they are supposed to look that way and no matter how hard you try, your version of “casual” just looks … well … casual.

Because that look takes work and an “eye.” It’s an art form.

stove and kitchen counter

When you ask about that wonderful pie crust, they say “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bit of butter and flour. A bit of sugar. Cut everything up with a couple of butter knives, roll it out, and there you are.” If you are lucky, you get a demonstration and it does look easy.

You go home, get all the ingredients together and give it a try. Which results in an unusable lump of muck which ultimately, you toss in the trash.

After which you buy a pie crust or better yet, buy the whole pie. Because it isn’t so easy. Not for you, anyway.

Modest, humble people who do brilliant stuff about which they are completely offhand. They seem baffled why you would think any of it is a big deal. Apparently, it isn’t. To them.

To you, it would be a minor miracle if you could accomplish one little piece of it. Yet they will always say “But it’s so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Anyone except me. I can’t do it.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LITTLE VICTORIES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, dinner was perfect. I cook dinner every night except for the few when we are away from home, order in, or actually go out to dinner. Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time pondering what to cook.

When we lived in Boston, we ate out. A lot. There were so many good places to eat, too. A lot of our choices took us down to the wharf where they had some great places for fish and lobster and clams. A lot of them were shorts and sandals kinds of places and some of these rather rough little restaurants had the best seafood you could imagine.

Dinner, anyone?

Then came The Big Dig. Between the construction which seemed to have closed every street in Boston and turned the usually difficult traffic into a calamity, those restaurants disappeared. Some of them reopened in other places in the city. They kept the same name, but they weren’t the same restaurants. They got fancy. All the effort that had previously gone into creating great food now went into dining room decor.

We left Boston. Of the many things we never imagined we’d miss was food.

The Blackstone Valley has its wonders. A beautiful place … with such pathetic restaurants. It must be something about we the people. Food is drab. No spices. Anything stronger than salt is regarded with deep suspicion, so bland is the name of the game. When anyone asks what we’ve got in the way of dining, I say “white bread and brown gravy.” But that’s not fair. A few places also make really good hamburgers.

We stopped going out to dinner except for very special occasions. I’m pretty sure there were better restaurants some years back, but they closed down. So we eat at home and periodically, we develop an intense boredom with food. It isn’t lack of appetite, though we don’t eat as much as we used to. It’s more that I can’t think of one more way to make chicken that doesn’t seem drab.

My goal in home food preparation is to keep feeding us without boring us into starvation.

Last night, I made “breakfast for dinner.” We don’t eat breakfast. We have coffee. I have an English muffin too. Garry just drinks a lot of coffee. Sandwiches suffice for lunch. This week, we’ve had chili, one of my standards. Sweet-and-sour chicken. Baked salmon. Shrimp with onions and peppers over rice. And frozen pizza.

I had cheese, bacon, and eggs in the fridge. Time to do something with them.

I make bacon in the microwave. Do not judge me. I do not like cleaning grease off half the kitchen after frying bacon, so I have developed a way of cooking it in the microwave that skips most of the grease and still turns out a pretty good platter. Timing has been the major issue, but last night I got it perfect. For 8 slices of bacon, two layers of paper towels on a platter (make sure it is small enough to rotate). Another double layer of towels on top of the raw bacon. Cook at full power for five minutes. Let it sit for a minute or two. Turn it back on for another 2-1/2 minutes at full power. Perfect and not all wrinkly. Chewy, but not raw. Everything was still hot when it got to the plate —  a small miracle in its own right.

Even the cheese omelets were perfect. I was still congratulating myself on dinner as we were going to bed.

This was a little victory, but still, a victory and all mine. A simple dinner in which each piece was as close to perfect as it could make it. Easy to clean up after, too. If I have to spend an hour cleaning up the mess, I feel a lot less victorious.

It’s the small things, you know? Big things can be overwhelming. These days, in a time when there is far too much “big stuff” blowing in the wind, my world is complete if dinner is perfect. Small victories help keep the wheels of life rolling smoothly.

A FEW MORE SHOWER INSTALLATION PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

I hardly ever find a use for my wide-angle lens, but this was perfect. The bathroom is very narrow, so I got a few extra shots using my 12-mm Olympus lens. It gets much better color than the Panasonic lens does and I think also a sharper finish, too.

The room, well-lit

You can see a little more of the way the whole interior of the shower looks, too.

Plenty of room for our “stuff.”

It’s quite spacious since it takes up all the space that used to be used by the full-sized tub. Also, the seat is kind of pebbly, so it isn’t slippery. Very comfortable to sit on.

It’s comfortable. And so nice and clean!