Monday, September 5, 2016

Dishing It Out

As modern conveniences go, I think the dishwasher is really the overlooked work-horse/miracle of the latter half of the twentieth century. Sure, washing dishes isn't that difficult or time consuming, but as any siblings that grew up without a dishwashing machine know, there are few occasions that bring boredom and resentment into a toxic half-hour quite like being made to wash and dry the dishes together. It can bring you closer, that quiet time alone in the kitchen to chat and pass the time, or, more likely, foments a bitter contest of wills that will fester into a lifetime spiteful resentment, which usually only ends when one of you moves out. 

My family got a dishwasher when we moved into a house that had one, in 1973. Before this, my parents did not  make my brother and I wash or dry the dishes after dinner, reasoning that it was faster, cheaper and easier on everyone if they did not. But we were all still thrilled to have a dishwasher. I'm pretty sure my mother bought the house for that alone. And dishwashers were not a ubiquitous thing in 1973; our Harvest Gold specimen was still worthy of note at that time. Consumer goods changed quickly in the 70s, and pretty soon dishwashers were standard. 
And I grew up in a house with a dishwasher and took it totally for granted.

The Mister did not grow up in a house with a dishwasher, and our first house when we got married did not have a dishwasher, either. You see where this is going?

The Mister and I didn't live together before we were married, and despite knowing each other for 10 years by the time we tied the knot, and having spent countless hours in each other's company, there were still a few surprises for us when we actually shared the same living space. Like, the fact, that I use about 40 spoons to cook a dinner, and we each use 120 glasses every damn day, and the Mister doesn't actually put anything in the sink, he just likes to arrange the used dishes jauntily around the edge, so that when someone want to use the sink she has to navigate around the obstacles, lest everything go crashing and breaking into said sink. We lived in that house for 4 years, and although I got used to only using 20 spoons to make the dinner, the lack of a dishwasher was always a bone of contention. (Believe me, I tried to figure out a way to put a dishwasher in that kitchen, but it was impossible. The only place to put it was bang in the middle of the room, which  meant jumping over it to get to the bathroom.) 

We had very different ideas of how to deal with the plethora of dishes, particularly baby bottles, that a family generates through the day: I thought that we should wash them as we go, having a drying rack constantly sitting beside the sink, taking up valuable counter space. The Mister would rather keep one of our two sinks with a few inches of water in it all the time, so that you could put things in it "to soak", which meant that, sooner or later, someone was going to have to put their hand into that grey, cold, yucky water to pull the plug out and wash the dishes. It was an ongoing battle, and I can assure you, for two grown people with jobs and morgages and responsible lives, we were shamefully childish about who that someone was going to be. 

The house we live in now came with a dishwasher. I nearly cried with gratitude when we first came though the place. That and the en suite bathroom meant that I didn't care if it came with a roof, we were going to buy this house.

Now the battle about the dishwasher revolves about loading it. The Mister has demonstrated a unique and masterful proficiency in loading the dishwasher; he can fit in approximately 150% more dishes than the rest of us. We think the dishwasher is full and ready to be turned on, and the Mister gets at it and there is an entire empty rack when he is done. I tell you, as Fairly Mild Super Powers go, it's a beauty. 
The problem is (for him, anyway) that now we all know how good he is at it, and we hardly bother any more. The girls and I fling in dishes willy-nilly, secure in the knowledge that the Mister will come along and make everything peachy keen again. The Mister isn't a fan of this system, obviously, but his attempts to teach us how to load the dishwasher have thus far proved fruitless. We simply don't have the talent. (Or, lets be honest, the interest.) 

The Mister likes to run the dishwasher late at night, when the water and electricity rates are cheaper, which means that I wake up in the morning to a dishwasher full of clean dishes (YAY!) that has to be emptied, (BOO!) This is a First World Problem of the first order, because I timed myself once and it took me 10 minutes to empty the dishwasher. Ten whole minutes. (I'm such a whiner...can you imagine explaining to your great-grandmother what a chore it is to put the clean dishes away that you didn't have to clean yourself??She would, rightly, slap you.)

I'm hope that there are siblings and marriages and all kinds of relationships that have been saved by the advent of the dishwasher. I'm pretty sure mine is one of them.

Friday, September 2, 2016

September

It doesn't matter how long you've been out of school, or even if your kids are out of school, somehow the arrival of September means that fun and games are all over and it's back to business and, by god, it is time to stop messing around and start being constructive again.

When the evenings get notably shorter and the mornings are a little fresher and the peaches and corn are ending their season, I get a bit of a twinge in my stomach, and a feeling like something pleasant is about to end, and something less pleasant is about to start and I had better gear up for it.

And then I remember: my life does not change one little, tiny bit after Labour Day. Like, not at all, I'm totally off the hook. I have absolutely nothing, whatsoever to feel anxious about. And yet, there is some small part of my lizard brain that continues to quietly gnaw at me: "you'd best be getting on with it; shit's about to go down.".

Sure, my children are going back to school in a few weeks, but they are both in university now, they hardly need me to sort them out. Thing 1 is going into her 4th year; she's an old hand at this. Thing 2 is just starting her university career, but she's going to school here in town, so we dont' have to move her anywhere, and Thing 1 and her other friends are far more able to help her negotiate the newness of school; I'm only on the sidelines, chauffering and making dinner. Clearly, I'm a secondary character in this movie.

So, I wonder, why my psyche is determined to make me sit up and pay attention to September. Perhaps growing up in a house of teachers, where Labour Day was a calm before the storm, with a low level hum of anxiety thrumming through the house. Or maybe because, for so many years of going to school myself, the first day of school meant the advent of so many particulars that were going to make or break the better part of the coming year. I remember going to university on one first day of school to find that all my classes had been moved and re-scheduled, and I ended up with so many conflicts that I had an entirely blank timetable. Which meant I had to "find" enough classes that a) I wanted to take, b) I qualifed to take, and c) had enough room in them for me to take. And that's how I ended up with credits in  Music Appreciation and Ancient and Medieval Warfare.

I have to also remind myself that, just because summer holidays are over, does not mean that summer is over. We have at least another month of summer weather to contend with. (For some reason, the retail industry insists on  altering reality , and selling nothing but denim, tweed and wool for "Back to School" clothing. It's well into the upper 20s here in September, a fact conveniently forgotten by clothing sellers. The Mister's birthday is September 19th, and I can tell you, we've had plenty of birthdays where it was way to hot to make a cake for him. The poor man had to make do with ice-cream cake. First World Problems at it's finest.) I can enjoy heat and humidity and sunshine for another while longer.

September has it's own charms, and I do really like this month. I like the subtle change in the weather, the fresher mornings and the cooler evenings. The apples and pears are in season, and after a few months of bar-b-ques and salads, I look forward to making the occasional dinner in the oven. Even though I'm not particularly enamored of "pumpkin spice everything" for the next month or so, I will enjoy one or two things on the roster.  I can do without the pumpkin spice vodka, or the pumpkin spice burritos, or the pumpkin spice toothpaste. (Can we be clear, though, "pumpkin spice" stuff is really just "spice"....it's nutmeg and cinnamon and ginger and allspice. No one is in it for the "pumpkin" part.)

I'm trying to embrace the best of September, the part where my life continues on without very many changes, and all the changes there are are entirely within my control. And, really the best part: where I don't have to go to school ever again.




 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Numbers Are Hard.

Our receptionist at work is married to a very nice man, who is usually pretty-on-the-ball, and generally can be counted on to be sane and reasonable. (He writes letters to editor of our local paper, and not only does he get published regularly, he generally make some sense, which is more than can be said for most of the other people who get their letters to the editor published.)

This kind and sane man was looking at the paper today, to determine the weather forecast for an upcoming trip he has to the States for work. After checking out his destination's likely weather, he wondered what he'd be missing here at home while he was away. He mused to his wife: "its going up to 29 on Monday, 30 on Tuesday and 31 on Wednesday! Wow, that's hot! Except, wait a minute??? It's only going to be 1 on Thursday? What gives?"

And that's when he realized he was looking at the date, and not at the temperature.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Travelling Loudshoes

It's summer, and that means that we feel compelled to get in the car and GO somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe it's because a Canadian winter means that driving is a hazardous and high-strung undertaking that we feel obligated to take to the road when we are able. Something about the possibility of dying of hypothermia makes you think twice about leaving the city in January, you know?

I love a good road trip. And living in Canada means I get lots of opportunity, since this is a big place and our  motto should be "The Country Where Everything is Far From Everywhere!" We think very little of driving two hours to go to a concert or a ball game, and I know loads of people who spend a half a day in a car getting to a cottage for a weekend. People in Europe think this is crazy, because they could spend a half a day in a car and see four countries. Once, when two of my cousins and I were driving to Montreal from here, they asked me if I needed someone to read the map and navigate, and I told them it was actually pretty easy: you just got on the highway here, and stayed on it for 8 hours, and then got off in Montreal. They were boggled that it was just one road.

The Loudshoes went to Toronto this weekend, which is only a couple of hours on the road, but judging by the amount of food we brought to sustain us, you'd think we were crossing the Great Plains to claim a homestead. I'm not sure what we thought we might encounter on our trip, but we were armed with ALL kinds of snacks, just in case our blood sugar dipped dangerously low in the 60 minutes between leaving the house and making our first bathroom stop.
 AND, as required by law in Canada, we stopped at Tim Hortons before leaving town. Everyone knows that it is impossible to drive anywhere in Canada without a large double-double in hand. (Especially to a hockey arena.) The Mister does not drink coffee, so it's up to me to ingest all the caffeine necessary to maintain our citizenship.

The People In Charge Of Rest Stops Along The Highway have improved their game immeasurably in the past few years. When I was a kid, the food available along the 401 was incredibly awful; soggy french fries, flimsy hamburgers and a lot of greasy, beige stuff that looked like it used to be edible. Then, they sold all the franchises to McDonalds, and if it still wasn't all that great, at least it was predictable. Now they've got a couple of restaurants at each location, which give you a bit of variety, at least, and a fighting chance at getting a salad or a sandwich with ingredients that you can identify. And every one has a Tim Hortons. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

The People In Charge of Rest Stops Along The Highway should be commended for their Department of Bathroom Enrichment, because they have done a bang-up job. I'm pretty sure that department is staffed entirely by women, because they clearly knew what they were doing. The bathrooms are big, and clean and there are 157 toilets at every one. So many toilets. Nary a line up.With bales of toilet paper at each one.  And the sinks! There's dozens of them, with loads of dry counter space to put your purse while you wash your hands in the adequately sized basin that does not splash water all over your shirt. My one, small, tiny little grievance is that they have these industrial hand driers that blow air so hard that you have to work to maintain your balance and they are LOUD. Like, you should probably be wearing ear protection, loud. And when two or three women are drying their hands at the same time, it's like being in a gymnasium with a jet engine. I'm not sure why they felt the need to install hand driers that could wake the dead, but I'm so happy with the rest of the Department of Bathroom Enrichment's work that I will give them a pass.

We drove to Toronto, went to a ball game, and the next day, did a bit of shopping, and then came home. We were gone for a little over 24 hours, and only 4 or 5 of those were actually spent in the car, but we managed to generate a small mountain of garbage. The van was a slovenly toxic waste dump on wheels by the time we pulled into our driveway.  I guess all that snacking means that there's going to be some litter, but I'm not sure how we managed to create that metric shit-ton in such a short time. The Bottled Water Graveyard in the very back is going to take some time to excavate.

Coming home is always nice; one's own bed is delightful, and the cat was very happy to see us. Even if I do have to make my own coffee there.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Party Animals

The Mister and I threw a party yesterday, and the both of us are really feeling it today. Not because either one of us is hung-over or anything, but because we don't entertain very often, and we aren't very good at it. I hear people all the time saying "we love to entertain", and I'm delighted, because that means I can be a guest at their house. (I am an excellent guest, just to tell you. I bring a small but tasteful gift, I am a charming conversationalist, I eat whatever is put in front of me, and if you keep pouring the wine, I will probably drink it and go home before I throw up.)

I will take a  moment to comment on the phrase "throwing a party", because that's exactly as violent and as haphazard as that when I do it. Like "throwing up" and "throwing under a bus".

Maybe it's because we both work on Saturdays, and everyone else's weekend is half-way done when ours is getting started, but giving dinner parties and bar-b-ques and the like just isn't something we do very often. And because we don't do it often, it's never a slam-dunk. I always feel like I'm just getting away with it.

I'm in a frenzy of activity before a party, trying to figure out where the food will go and how I will serve it and how many plates do I need and what kind of platter will that go on and I know I bought napkins and the towels in the bathroom need to be changed and I'm going to need a corkscrew out there and someone has to go buy ice because I forgot and now the fridge is full and I can't put any more in there and by the time my guests come, I have a strong urge to tell them where the booze is and I'll see them later as I now need a nap. It never seems to be as effortless as Martha Stewart seems to keep telling me it should be.

I love my friends and family, and none of them would ever give a rat's ass about how clean my house is, or how we get everything together, and if they did, they're not my real friends anyway. But, you can live with all sorts of ridiculous things until you invite people over and then start looking around as if you were a guest. That dusty old lampshade? Hideous. The overflowing bookshelf? In need of a good cull. The clumps of cat hair on the carpet? Yuck. The bathrooom you've been meaning to paint for months? DO IT BY SATURDAY!
The Mister and I agree that we really should entertain about every 4 months or so, because we get so much done around the house that we'd never do otherwise. The prospect of visitors galvanizes us like nothing else.
I make up for the surroundings by feeding people really good food until they burst. And I ply them with liquor until they don't notice the dust bunnies under the dining room table.

I have my Book Club Ladies over a few times a year, and they are completely amicable and gracious, and are far too well brought up to bat an eyelash at the unmatched tea cups and squeaky dining room chairs. They appear, at least, to be far too enamoured of my bread pudding with whiskey sauce to notice. I would be lying if I didn't say that I am deeply jealous of the rest of them; they seem to entertain with aplomb, with centerpieces that co-ordinate with the theme of the book and napkins that match the tablecloths, and furniture they did not get at a garage sale. AND they make desserts that would make you swoon. Clearly, I am just not as adept as they are at this.

Yesterday's party was for our staff, and again, they all know me, are well acquainted with my slovenly habits, and seem to be eager to come here anyway. Again, I think its the food that's the draw. I had several requests for my foccacia (always a fave.) and for the Mister's freshly made samosas and onion bhaji. I made creme brulee cheesecake and the Mister cooked chicken wings over a firepit, and then everyone else brought salads and devilled eggs and a cheesy crab and lobster dip that was insanely delicious. Just after we started to eat, the heavens opened and we got a serious amount of rain for the next few hours, but we all crammed into the breezeway and nobody seemed to  mind that we had 12 people packed into a space meant for 6.
I think the fact that everyone was woozy from the food comas helped.

After a lovely few hours of eating and drinking and talking, eventually our guests drifted away, all seeming to have had a good time. The Mister took care of cleaning up outside, and I poured myself a glass of wine and put on some music and found myself enjoying the best part of the day for me; the cleaning up. Not because I like cleaning, far from it, but there's something very satisfying about creating order out of chaos, and humming along to the music and just enjoying the solitude and quiet after a few hours of talking and cooking and being in charge. Then, my very favorite part of the day, when the Mister and I sit down with a drink and chat. (Every couple knows that the best part of any party is the post-party note-comparing.) Not only do I love sitting down after a busy day, and talking to the Mister, but I know the house is clean, there's plenty of leftovers in the fridge and best of all? It will be another few months until we do it all again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Handy Hands


The guy I married is just great; he is charming and funny, kind and smart. He’s a really good father to our girls and a wonderful husband, son and uncle. But you know why I married him?
He can DO things.

The Mister can, and has: Cut and styled hair,renovated our kitchen, built and fixed every computer in our house, as well as a couple of other houses around here, made furniture that we actually use, built a shed ,re-sided our garage, installed a shower in our basement, fixed the air-conditioning in our van (saving us about $800),repaired every small appliance at the salon and at home and my mother’s house, installed a patio and a fire pit in our backyard (not in the same location), grown vegetables, and he can make one hell of a homemade doughnut. He knows how to change the oil in the car, get rid of computer viruses and strip and clean a rifle. (For the record, he cannot get his dirty laundry in the laundry basket or watch a movie with the sound on a reasonable volume , just in case you thought he was perfect.)

I grew up in a house of academics, and although we were all creative enough and happy to get our hands dirty, we were not really a family of “do-it yourself”-ers.  Not too long after myself and the Mister were engaged, my brother and his then-wife were living in a married students’ residence at the university, as they were both grad students at the time. Their bar-b-q had been stolen, a really nice one, as it had been a wedding gift, and as money was tight, they were in no position to buy a new one. They were quite disappointed about it; they really liked having a bar-b-q. We were all at dinner at my parents as they told this story, and as it happened, my parents neighbours had set out an old bar-b-q of theirs for garbage pick up the next day.
 The Mister suggested that they ask the neighbours what was wrong with it and see if they could fix it. My family was gobsmacked. Fix it? You can FIX a bar-b-q? The Mister found out what the problem was, determined the solution (it needed a new burner) and proceeded to go out, get the part, and some bar-b-q paint (who even knew there was such a thing as bar-b-q paint????) and with a minimum of fuss and money, gussied up that bar-b-q so it would work again, and looked like new. We were slackjawed and speechless with wonder and admiration. My family looked at him and looked at me and all of a sudden were intensely invested in my marrying this man. They liked him just fine before this, but now they could see that there was going to be an enormous benefit in having him around, and they wanted to make sure I sealed the deal as quickly as possible.

The Mister’s latest do-it-yourself project is to make his own kilts. He takes  a length of plaid and pleats it and hand-sews it and does all sorts of other magic on it to make it hang properly and then he wears one to work every day. (As one of my friends said, “what a weird mid-life crisis.”) For the record, I LOVE a man in a kilt. Even before “ Outlander “ I was a big fan of kilts. I begged the Mister to wear one for our wedding, but he refused on the grounds that his “knees were too knobby” and that he didn’t want the focus to be on them and not the bride. (You see how thoughtful he is? And manipulative?) I guess he has either embraced the knobbiness of his knees or my 23 years of gentle suggestion  have worked.

And let me tell you, he makes beautiful kilts, perfectly pleated and meticulously sewn. I knew that all the pleating and sewing would be a pain in the arse, but I had no idea all the other stuff that goes into the structure of the kilt; horsehair canvas and steeking and oh-so-subtle shaping that goes into making it hang just right. They are a work of art. AND he looks very snazzy in them. He’s bought all the jackets and socks and nifty bits and bobs that go with the kilts, but for the most part, he just wears normal everyday shirts to go with them, and it really does just look like regular workday clothes, and not a costume on him.

He has about 20 kilts now, ranging from his namesake plaid in a very heavy wool to a nifty purple and grey number that I particularly like. A few people have asked if he’s made one for me, but I don’t really want one; I don’t think this particular backside would be enhanced by plaid. (“Can you make my bum look much, much bigger, please? Bigger, and wider. Really, like a garage door. ,said no woman ever.)

I’m pretty lucky to have snagged him in the first place, but the handy part? Such a bonus. I’m hoping his next obsession will be to fly planes or make shoes. You know, something I can use.



Monday, July 25, 2016

Ready, Set, BAKE!



Let me tell you about my new favorite obsession. It’s a show about baking. 

No, really, a reality show where people bake. They just bake their little hearts out.  It’s freaking fabulous. 

Hear me out.

First let me explain that in Britain it’s called “The Great British Bake-Off”, but in North America it’s “The Great British Baking Show”, something to do with trademarks on words like “bake-off” and a certain company has a dough boy. (“Bake off!”and  “dough boy” sound slightly nefarious when out of context, now that I think of it.) Also, the started showing it in North American when they had already had three seasons of it in England, so our first season is actually their fourth season. I am feverishly trying to find the first three seasons because I love this show so much.

Why do I love it so? Partly, because it’s so beautifully and wonderfuly British.  Everyone is an amateur baker,and so impressively polite and gently with each other. They are all nice people who just want to do their best. American reality shows focus on unecessary manufactured drama and interpersonal conflict, and I have no idea why. (I work in a hair salon and am the mother of two daughters….I live that stuff every day.)  This show has contestants that actually give each other a hand and seem genuinely delighted for one another when they succeed. It makes me teary.

Secondly, there’s no money involved. None. Everyone is just competing for the title of winner, if you can believe it. No one is giving impassioned speeches about why they “deserve” to be there, or giving the side-eye to someone else who “shouldn’t” be there because they aren’t one-legged and  blind  and need to go to India to perform kidney transplants on orphans. Its nice to see a competition that is genuine but not cutthroat.

And then there’s the food! Oh my god, the food! These people bake the most delicious looking, fabulous stuff! I spend the hour drooling and in awe. It’s not just because the “Showstopper” segment is eye-popping (you should see what these people can do with pies!), but because I want to make almost every single thing I see on this show. How do I make Italian meringue! I need to make my own puff pastry! Where have custard tarts been all my life?!? Why have I never heard of Kouign Amann??? It’s inspiring.

And lastly, I love this show, because the world in 2016 is terrifying. For the first time in my adult life, I have chosen to turn off the news….there is just too much heartbreaking, frightening and soul-destroying shit going on right now. And I have absolutely no control over any of it, and it makes me anxious and distburbed and apprehensive. This show provides one hour in the week that is a haven from all that; everything is sweet (literally and figuratively) and gentle and utterly civilized. Who wouldn’t like a world where the worst thing that can happen is that you have a soggy bottom?
And I appreciate that very much.