Changing seasons

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February is drawing to a close.  Each day there is more light.  Spring is in the air.  Today I ordered seeds from Territorial Seed in Oregon.  My first draft of federal Income tax is completed.  We’re looking to reserve our first get away in March or April, maybe to Virginia, Williamsburg area.

It’s been a dull winter so far.  Too many cloudy, rainy days.  Cold but not one good snowfall (although there is still time).  I’ve endured because of the woodstove and books.  Mornings are spent in daily routines, frequently a walk, maybe a little project.  But by early afternoon on most days I have a fire keeping me entertained and warm.

 

I’ve read a mixed selection of books since Christmas.  Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was the first.  I treasure a 1938 Garden City edition, illustrated by Everett Shinn from our years in Boston.  It was delightful.  Before the holiday, as we do every year, we watched Albert Finney in “Scrooge.”  Then the read.  Next up was a gift from our Taylor friends,  “Kitchen Yarns: notes on life, love and food,” by Ann Hood.  Another good food memoir.  Hood learned the basics from her mother and although she’s become a more adventurous cook, she consistently returns to Gogo’s meatballs and chicken salad.  Each chapter ends with recipes.  I’ll try some.

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I  decided to read a novel I’d given Diane, “Rattle of the Looms,” by Paul Lavalee.  We’d read about it in September when we explored several mill towns in central Massachuttes where Diane had relatives.  It traces the lives of several generations of French Canadians who move to the area to work in the mills.  Unfortunately there is a minimal about mill life; reads more like a soap opera.  It may have been sel-published. There are probably better books about the area.

 

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Like food books, there is always another book about books.  I’ve read many.  I had ordered “ A Passion for Books: a book lover’s treasury”  by Harold Rabinowitz.  It’s a collection of essays, poems, even cartoons about books, bibliophiles, and libraries.  I’ve written about my personal “passion” for books, so easy to collect, so hard to part with them.  I am not alone, although many of the collectors described in “Passion” dealt in rare books, first editions, special collections.  Rosenbach from Philadelphia was featured.  How do you store and organize your collection?  Do you lend books? Have you read every book you own?  Throughout the read, I heard Diane, “You need to get rid of all those books.”  (I’ve started, but slowly).

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A reread was “On the Rez” by Ian Frazier.  I may have been drawn to it after the Washington D.C. confrontation between the High School student and the Native American activist.  Much of the story is the friendship of author Frazier with an an Oglala Sioux, Le who is usually broke, borrowing money, sometimes drunk, into crazy schemes.  The Rez is Pine Ridge in South Dakota, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, car accidents are common.   We learn a little about Crazy Horse and Black Elk (famous Oglala) and modern Native American activism in the 70s.  Frazier attempts to understand the culture.

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As a follow up I read James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”  A classic that I thought I’d read but maybe not.  Diane had bought the copy due to the New York State setting but didn’t get too far. It is a difficult read, flowery language, unusual vocabulary, multiple names for people and places and natives who frequently speak in metaphors and parables.  But I persevered.  The plot is the capture of two British officer’s daughters (Cora and Alice) by the French allied Hurons. The Scout, Hawkeye (in other books Natty Bumpoo) his Native friends and an officer in love with one of the girls attempt a rescue.  If the Hurons are pro-French, the Mohicans are pro-British and the Delawares seem to sit the fence.  There is a lot of killing, slaughter, scalping, and the feisty daughter Cora and the son of the Scout’s friend, Unas are killed in the end.  It was a surprising read but I’m glad I did.  Need to rewatch the recent movie.

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I don’t know the source of my next read but it was a disappointment.  Several times I was ready to give up but didn’t.  “How the Irish Saved Civilization: the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medevial Europe” by Thomas Cahill.  He writes about the fall of Rome ( speculations about the cause) and  the invasion of the barbarians.  A  threat to the classical world heritage.  But finally to the rescue, along come the Irish (actually Irish monks), monasteries, reading, copying, and preserving the classics of Greece and Rome.  They spread this learning throughout the emerging Europe.  Interesting but not a very good read.

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My eight book since Christmas was “Catfish and the Delta: confederate fish farming in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Schweid.  The author lived in the Delta for months, meeting people, learning about the culture but focused on the catfish industry in the 1990s.  One of many books I’ve read about a particular food.  Of course I’ll be looking for catfish to fry in the coming weeks.  Schweid has a reporter’s style, similar to John McPhee who I wrote about recently.  He explores every aspect of the industry which replaced cotton as a primary Delta product.  From financing, raising, harvesting, processing, marketing he explores every aspect of the catfish industry including it’s ups and downs.  Lots of interesting details like how you can get cut handling the fish.  Race is another theme.  White farmers own the catfish  ponds and processing plants; Blacks work at low paying jobs that produce the catfish.  Ironically Blacks also eat a lot of catfish.  Schweid explores housing, the segregated educational system (private academies for Whites after “Brown”), the blues,  B.B. King and others (which sometimes brings the races together), mosquitoes, Delta pride and self-sufficiency but a declining, mostly poor population.  Schweid can the catfish save the Delta?

I know it’s days, weeks until Spring.  It’s warm today but 3 o’clock.  Time for a fire, new book, and glass of wine.  I’ll finish taxes tomorrow or the next day.

 

 

 

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Christmas Season Begins

Sunday we went to the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia to see, should I say to hear, Handel’s Messiah.  Yannick Nezet-Seguin was the conductor, Philadelphia Orchestra.  Diane thought we saw it with Vicky and Ted Dehne, probably decades ago.  Yesterday afternoon was a memorable performance.  Yannick is so energetic; a holiday elf; constantly in motion.

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Most of the Westminister choir pieces were familiar.  I tried to follow the story — birth, suffering, death, resurrection of Christ.  When first performed in Dublin in 1742, it was controversial; Christ’s life a source of music entertainment, didn’t seem right!  Now it’s traditional Christmas.  We had dinner in Estia.

I decided that Monday would be the beginning of the season.  Cold enough, in the 20s.  I spent several hours writing Christmas cards.  There are many choices today.  Some don’t send cards.  Then there is Facebook or email.  Many families have a photograph card printed.  For several years we designed a letter with photos from the year.  I still enjoy just writing a personal card.  As I work through the list, beginning alphabetically, Alonzo, Bonnema, Corley . . . . It’s an opportunity to remember and reflect on relatives and friends.  I usually develop some standard lines but most cards have a personal touch; something about the recipients.

 

Our card list is between 40 or 50.  We never send to friends and relatives we will see or talk with on the phone.  Cards are for relatives we don’t communicate with regularly; friends we rarely see; former collegues; ghosts from our past.  A decade or two ago I bought a photo album and mounted a selection of cards sent to us over the years.  Who saves Christmas cards?  It’s time to dig out the album.

I’ve brought up most of the boxes of decorations.  For years they were in the “hard to access” attic.  Last year Jenny suggested we put them in the basement.  Much easier. This week we should buy a tree.  Several years ago we discovered a Silver Tip fir at Terrain in Chester County.  Imported from the Sierra Nevada mountains it was expensive but had a sparse branch configuration that we liked.  Last year, no Silver Tip,  Noble Firs were offered as an alternative.  We’ll have to decide this year on a Terrain Noble or a more traditional Douglas Fir, Frazier Fir or other local variety.  There are many places in Bucks we’ve bought/ cut in the past.

Christmas lights. Diane always laments our lack of outside lights. There were years when I strung up quite a few. And years when one string hung on the balcony.  We do have nice door wreaths.  Several to be used annually.  Some of our indoor decorations are 50 years old.  In the 1970s, Snipes nursery in Morrisville sold nice wooden German Christmas decorations.  Each year we purchased something.  A tree ornaments is purchased almost every year. We often tried to relate the ornament to some significant event from the year.

Gifts.  I’ve ordered some theatre tickets and restaurant gift cards.  But no real personal presents yet.  It seems to get more difficult each year.  Diane buys most gifts.  But I like to be part of the process. Tomorrow I’ll begin to look online.  I’d prefer buying from a local, at least Bucks or Philadelphia business, but online can generate ideas.

I think we’ll have Christmas dinner here.  Kwaits, Diane’s brother, maybe my sister Liz will join us.   I should cook/ bake something special.  Still time to check cookbooks.

Christmas season has begun.  Hopefully some nice snowfalls, walks in the cold, time for memories.   A time for family, friends, and traditions.

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Winter is coming

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It’s mid November and snow (turning to sleet and rain) is in the forecast.  Although it’s not officially winter until December 21; autumn seems to have ended.   Two weeks ago on some cold days I made a wood stove fire.  I suspect this week it will be a regular afternoon routine.

Diane suggested we look for a place to rent in Florida.  As much as I don’t like the cold, it didn’t appeal to me.  I am not sure why.  So how do we survive another winter in Yardley? This afternoon we organized our winter coats, gloves and scarves.

I realize that the cold will put a strain on my heart.  I need to bundle up and move slowly.  Yesterday I was collecting some sticks for kindling and I immediately felt a bit of chest pain.  At the same time I want and need to get out walking, frequently.  I have also tried to add indoor exercise to my daily routine.  So far it’s upper body, lifting a five pound weight.  Also need some bending and stretching.

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I can continue, even expand, my cooking and baking this winter.  Try some new things; read and use our cookbooks more often. This morning I saw a recipe for Parker House rolls. So I made them them this afternoon.  They evoke memories of the Parker House, Boston, and snow storms.  Our farm market and speciality store shopping can continue.  My list includes apples from Solebury Orchard for apple butter.  I just ordered more boiled apple cider from King Arthur to add to apple sauce, pies and apple  butter.  Oatmeal, pancakes and heuvos rancheros are on the breakfast menu.

I finally began the slide project.  I have thousands, Yes thousands of slides in Kodak trays and albums. My plan is the edit them into three groups — trash, save in a box, and have digital copies made.  After rereading “The Pipes are Calling,” I pulled out the two Ireland trip trays.  It’s fun looking at them but the reorganization of all my slides will be a time consuming, slow “winter” project.  I need to address the record collection in a similar way.

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Diane will walk Nala every day.    And she likes to make it a trip somewhere.  Hopefully I will continue to tag along on many, no most days.  The exercise is good, we get out and then can food shop at markets and speciality stores.  We also need to do some field trips and continue our weekly restaurant lunches.

If  last winter is any guide, most afternoons will be spent in front of the wood stove with a book, maybe writing.   I’m trying to reread about two books for every new one.  I’ve also been writing about them.  I’m not sure anyone is looking for my reviews but the writing helps me process.  I also need to rewatch some of the video and DVDs that I’ve been saving.

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Nice snow fall this afternoon.  Woodstove fire.  Winter is coming.

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Snow Birds

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Yesterday was the winter solstice. Dark and cold.  Winter was never my favorite season.  And with age (70 anyway) I seem to like the cold less and less. Several retired friends  sent their Christmas cards from Florida, the sunshine state?  At least one used the term “snow birds” to describe their exodus.  Other retired friends have sold their home and “downsized” moving into a smaller house or unit in a complex.

I think about moving; and have even thought about winters in Florida.  But?   I don’t think either will happen this year.  I’ll admit I’m a small town, traditional, slow to change kind of guy.   There are things we don’t like about 121 N Delaware and could draw up a list.  Flooding is a major drawback.  And now that we’re elevated, there is stair climbing.    But as long as we can do it; exercise is good.  And there are other issues.  But for me there is a comfort in that it has been and still is “ours.”

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Winter in Florida sounds interesting.  Some buy; others rent.  How long do you want to stay?  I’ve been thinking about it.  Obviously avoiding Philadelphia’s winter weather is a plus.  Meeting new people; new friends would be welcomed.  New scenery; places to explore; sounds like vacation.

Diane’s parents had a trailer in Briny Breezes, a bit north of Boca Raton, south of Palm Beach.  Diane visited several times with Jenny but for years I had no interest.  Finally I made the trip.  In the 1920s , Briny Breezes was a community of silver Airstream trailers.  Lots of fisherman.  In the 80s, when Smith’s wintered there, it was an incorporated town, with a community center on the beach, swimming pool, post office and a few shops nearby.  Most residents were retired “snow birds.”

I came to like Briny.  It’s been the location for several movies, “Folks,” and  “In Her Shoes.”  Check it out.  Last year Robert DiNero was filming scenes from “The Comedians” there.  Smith’s trailer was across the road from the community beach.  You could see the ocean from their trailer.  I loved the snorkeling.  There were good restaurants on the Intercoastal.  We explored Palm Beach and other towns; made trips to Miami, Key West and the Everglades.  I saw the “senior” guys gather for coffee in the morning, go fishing or hang out at the pool. Not bad I thought; I could retire here.

But I’m not ready to be a snow bird yet!  I actually like a nice snow fall.  It looks and feels good.  I’ll admit we have too much wet cold weather in the northeast but we also get some beautiful snowfalls.  Bucks County (and adjacent New Jersey) has a lot to offer.  We have so many  places to walk  (ourselves and Nala), starting behind the house on the canal.  There are dozens of farms, markets and speciality stores we enjoy.  Despite major development in much of the county; there are still one lane bridges and dirt roads.  Several days ago we took a delightful drive in upper Bucks to an Alpaca farm.   Lunch was a sandwich from Tabora Farm shared at Lake Galena.

We might find similar “explores” in Florida but those at home have a history, tradition.  Example: making apple butter, apple sauce and crisp from Solebury Orchards.  Example: buying lamb chops from Fairview farm in Pineville where I worked summers in the 1970s.  Example: a special dinner on a crisp night at Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville.

In addition there are restaurants, historic sites, museums, theatres, and shops in Philadelphia and the surrounding region that are part of our life.  We even enjoy a beach trip to the Jersey shore in fall or winter.  Showy owls are visiting Island Beach State Park in the winter.

Owl on Shell Beach, Shelter Island, New York.

Most important are friends and relatives who live in the area.   Particularly our grand kids — Eli and Viv.  We want to be around as they grow up.  Last week we took them to “Annie” at the Walnut Street theatre.  In early January we will go to the Arden to see Peter Pan; probably have lunch in Old City and buy chocolate at Shane’s.  Christmas dinner will be at our house with them.  They join us on winter walks and there are usually a few “sleep overs” when mom and dad go out to dinner.  Retired or even three months in Florida seems too long.  We’d miss them.  At least for the next few, maybe ten years?

Despite my current skepticism about moving soon and retiring or wintering in Florida,  my attitude may change.  We do need to get rid of stuff — harder for me than Diane.  And we should consider, maybe look at possible places in the area.  Where would we like to live?   A project for 2018!

For the immediate, I’ll enjoy my afternoons with a glass of wine and book in front of the Vermont castings.  Keeping the home fire burning.

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