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How Hard Can It Be? Click Here To Comment!

... where only the finest messes are made!

… where only the finest messes are made!

Knotty Girl gave me this coffee sign for Christmas, for the Coffee Corner. I think it looks great. This is not a terrific shot of the Coffee Corner, but you can see the coffeemaker and the really fancy burr grinder, hiding in beside the coffeemaker.

I drove “over the river” to get this coffeemaker at Target in Niagara Falls, NY. It makes a good cup of coffee. I like the thermal carafe, although it is drippy and hard to pour. It has a cool, retro, green glowy clock timer thingy that I don’t use.  When I take the time to clean it properly, it is shiny and nice to look at.

The coffeemaker has all the normal features of a basket style coffee maker. Basket to hold the filter, a place to pour the water.  Although it is shiny (or can be), and it looks like more than your average coffeemaker, it is really just a basic filter drip coffeemaker. Put water in one place, fresh ground coffee in another, press a button, wait, pour, enjoy!

How hard can it be?

The foundational paradox about successfully making coffee first thing in the morning is that one has not yet had any coffee prior to initating a series of seemingly complex tasks.  Let me list, from personal experience, in this very Coffee Corner, the multitude of ways in which the simple process of coffee making can go very, very wrong.

  1. Failing to open the resevoir flap on top before beginning to pour the water in.
  2. Removing the filter basket to empty old grinds but failing to put the filter basket back in. Oddly, the inside of the coffee maker looks the same to caffeine-free me with or without the filter basket. Sometimes, the filter just gets plonked down into the empty space and gets filled with fresh ground coffee. Once the button is pressed, all hell breaks loose.
  3. Failing to empty the thermal carafe of yesterday’s coffee before pressing the button. Yuck! I do love a thermal carafe vs. a glass carafe on a burner. But the visual of yesterday’s coffee is very, very useful at times.
  4. Using the carafe to pour the water in the resevoir vs. using something that can actually pour properly. This carafe is a drippy pouring disaster waiting to happen unless you can get it just so. Which I cannot, first thing in the a.m.
  5. Turning the grinder on without checking that the little cup that receives the ground coffee is properly seated in its place.  If Carly Simon were witness to this, she would sing about “clouds of my coffee” rather than “clouds in my coffee”.
  6. Doing anything, really, that involves me getting the fresh ground coffee bits from the grinder into the coffee maker. This is just too hard for me to do without spillage.

Charlotte is the self-appointed coffee monitor. She inspects the area carefully and has done up some “tickets” for me – with construction paper and coloured pencils – that I get when I make a mess. I’m not sure how much I’m in hock for the fines at this point. She has politely omitted discussion of what my punishments may be. She even often helps clean up, bless her.

Uh oh. I'm in trouble.

Uh oh. I’m in trouble.

Note to self: Learn to use the timer thingy.

The Jay Way Click Here To Comment!

There is probably a reason that I have not chosen parenting as a theme in my life. I’ve not much confidence in this area and, frankly, I have always been just a bit afraid of children. Afraid of saying the wrong things, or somehow putting the seed of some idea in their little heads that will result in years of therapy later. Of making an off-hand comment that will result in a grown up child needing to work out their fear of lawns or tea bags or picture frames.

I don’t really “get” kids. I was one, once, and that is helpful. I have tons of memories of growing up, of course, and most of them are well-worn stories about extraordinary moments of fun or perceived danger or adventure. I remember them with a writer’s eye, as if I was watching all the characters and recording the story as it unfolds, frame by frame.

Remembering the kid perspective is a whole other ballgame. It calls for me to give up the bystander perspective and be “in” the story and that feels like a rusty old tool in need of some WD 40. If I’m being entirely honest, the bystander perspective on memory gives me a ton of control. Switching perspectives, remembering how I felt in those moments, as a participant, gives me up to the gods of vulnerability. Feeling small, feet not touching the floor at the table, laughing inappropriately at my own peculiar logic, trying so hard to understand, trying not to show that I don’t understand, toughing it out (whatever it is), hanging in there and always – always – looking up at people.

Nonetheless, channeling my child of my past is helping me try to figure out the children of my present and the 1,000 ways in which I Do.Not.Understand them.

As an adult, I’ve become very wordy. Come to think of it, I think I was a pretty wordy, nerdy kid. (Others reading this blog are more qualified to comment.) I like to use words. I like to describe things. I expect other people to be able to articulate their thoughts clearly. Children have almost no practice at this and have only a fraction of the tools grown-ups have.  As adults, we ask them to “use your words” but sometimes the words aren’t there yet and nothing can be articulated with certainty. Words turn ideas into defined, black and white statements and sometimes that is just too scary for kids. Sometimes communication has to be non-verbal and thus less defined. Murkier and more open to interpretation. This adult less good at murky. Less sure about what messages I’m sending and even less sure about what I’m receiving.

However, I’m learning to open this channel up a bit wider and listen with more than my ears. Today, for example, I learned more about The Jay Way.

A few days ago, the Gull River Snow Removal crew (me, Jay and Charlotte) tackled the removal of about 15 inches of snow off our 30 x 50 foot ice rink. I started and the kids joined me shortly thereafter, which was nice. Charlotte is a bit less focused on the objective but she does not lack in enthusiasm. Jay “gets” why we need to do this and gamely started shoveling in a sort of random way. After a few moments, I pointed out to him that he would have to move the same snow all over again and I wondered if that was really what he had intended. He looked at his work and groaned a bit. Then, he removed himself to a different area of the rink, not too far away yet untouched by our shovels, and started going in straight lines across the rink. Over and over again. The same line, or so it seemed. In fact, there is no way to fully clear the snow, scraping the surface of the ice, without leaving a trail behind. So he would take a bit of snow each time, clearing up his trails from previous passes. After about 20 minutes, I realized that his ice was cleaner than mine! Not only that, his way was more efficient and well-paced than my way. So, I adopted the Jay Way of snow removal.

It was time again today to take another 10 inches off our unfortunate, as yet unskate-able rink. Poor kids – helping to shovel a rink they haven’t even used yet. What good sports. I hadn’t anticipated any assistance but, lo and behold, the Gull River Snow Removal crew arrived shortly after I started. Jay needed no direction. He started at exactly the same place he had started two days ago, with exactly the same method. Straight across the rink, not trying to take all the snow in one go. Back and forth. Making One. Neat. Row. Then, making that One. Neat. Row bigger yet even neater. When we got to the part that does not, unfortunately, take a straight line across, he created a new, symmetrical, quite artistic yet efficient pattern.

Thus, here is what I know about The Jay Way (so far):

  • I like tasks that let me make patterns.
  • I like repeating patterns and straight lines.
  • I like doing my pattern well.
  • I don’t take direct compliments very well but feel free to tell my sister that I’m doing a good job. 🙂
  • I’m not so good with direct supervision but don’t get too far away.
  • I can concentrate easily when I work alone. In fact, I enjoy concentrating this way. But feel free to distract me with an impromptu, undeclared shovel race.
  • (Also, for pete’s sake, when are we going to get to skate on this ice?!?)

Easy Is In the Eye Of The Beholder Click Here To Comment!

About nine years ago, I had a short but mind-blowing chat with a woman in the choir-of-my-past. She had gotten involved with a woman who was living at quite a distance from Toronto and I had just struck up an intense long-distance connection with a woman in Copenhagen.  As one does, one tries to seek some common ground and I said to her, “It is hard, isn’t it? Trying to manage building a relationship, a connection, at a distance?” And she looked at me with a penetrating, quizzical expression and said, “Why does everyone say that, that distance relationships are so hard? Who ever said that moving in together or getting married was easy? It is just what people are used to, what they view as ‘normal’. But in fact it is very hard. But people are used to that pattern so it gets called ‘easy’.  You and I know that it isn’t easy, either way. So follow your heart.”

She gave me a lot to think about, as she usually did, in our little mid-rehearsal chats.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, and not so much in relation to the fact that I have, indeed, moved in with the lovely Knotty Girl and her (mostly) adorable children. That part is as hard/easy/magnificent/mundane/challenging/fun/exciting/surprising/normal/frustrating/puzzling/funny/beautiful as it is supposed to be. I’m thinking more about the reactions people have had to me appearing to have gone mad by moving a vast distance out of the city.

The established, expected “pattern” would be to live close to work and to stay within spitting distance of the city that I’ve come to love and feel nurtured by. But is that truly the “easy” choice, or just the “expected” choice? How “easy” is it to live in very dense proximity to strangers who behave in unexpected ways, to cope with traffic that is worsening daily, to have very limited access to greenspace, to have to plan carefully one’s route to across town and back to account for time of day, traffic, road closures, protests, events and water main breaks?

The breaking point for me, where the rose-coloured glasses filtering “easy” fell off my eyes, happened one day when Knotty Girl and I pulled up to the arena for a hockey game and were astounded to witness a man stopping on the lawn in front of our car, pulling down his pants and defecating right in front of us. He just did his bidness and pulled his pants up and walked on. That was the beginning of the end for me living downtown. It was no longer “easy” and I could no longer pretend that I found it to be so.

I am, after all, a country girl. I am used to having cows, horses or pigs poo’ing in front of me. Not people.

My gorgeous condo was starting to feel cramped by lack of access to the outdoors and hauling bags of heavy groceries and hockey gear up three flights of stairs no longer seemed as easy as it once did.  In fact, everything about city living started to feel cramped. Space is entirely at a premium, be it space to put a vehicle or space to put a desk to work at. Even space at Starbucks, for those with laptops and that need for the unique focus that public space can provide, can be hard to come by.

I was raised in a huge, rambling, rickety farmhouse with seven bedrooms and two kitchens. We had 750 acres of land, much of which was at my disposal to roam, plow or play cops/robbers/army/spy or whatever, with or without my little buddies. The brickwork in the house was so weak in some spots, like “my” tv watching spot in the living room, that you could feel the wind blow against your ankles for six months of the year. But it sure was big. And there was room for everyone.

Is it “easy” to live far from the city, work, friends and hockey? Not always. Does it feel more “normal” to me? Yes, actually it does. We watch the weather closely, we plan and prepare for things (usually) in a more considered way. We are distracted by birds at the feeders, by the arc of snow blowing in clumps off the trees and glinting in the sunlight, by the size and proximity of the full moon against a black sky, by the wild turkeys and their crazy footprints across the snow on the ice rink. This feels preferable to being distracted by car alarms, traffic tie-ups, unintelligible arguments in grocery stores and sirens. We are responsible for solving a lot of our own problems out here, or at least being somewhat prepared for them.

A few months ago, as Hurricane Sandy approached the North American coast line, Knotty Girl and I spent about two hours getting ready. We gathered up all that might blow around on our property and stashed it safely. We shopped. We parked our cars out of possible treefall zones. We charged up all our flashlights and other devices. The weather models didn’t really suggest we would get hit hard but we’ve come to learn that weather forecasting is a less-than-exact science. It was best to be ready. And we were. I slept so well that night, having done all that we could think of to minimize damage and maximize continuity of lifestyle. We woke up to a few small branches down on the lawn. The hydro didn’t even go out.

My point is that we had some things we could do to make ourselves as prepared as possible. I don’t find this as easy in the city, especially in living spaces like condos. I did make sure that I had a gas fireplace and a gas stove in my place and hoped I could operate them if the hydro were out for an extended period. Hauling items up and down the three flights of stairs was a trade off for not having to rely on an elevator. The hydro did go out a couple of times in the nine years I lived there and I was grateful for having heat, cooking ability, and normal access to my abode.  But I couldn’t make my neighbours take their patio furniture and flower boxes off their balconies so that these items wouldn’t blow through MY windows. I’d be rewarded with a door slammed in my face if I tried such a thing. I couldn’t make all my condo neighbours be mindful of allowing strangers into the property and many of us were rewarded with an expensive overnight car break-in spree a few years ago.  Hell – the city can’t even make dog owners be accountable for dog poo and that problem seemed to get worse and worse in my neighbourhood over the years.

I apologize for the poo theme. One might think that I have a shitty opinion of downtown life. I don’t entirely. Let’s just say it lost its glamour for me and I’m feeling less claustrophobic and more able to make choices about how things happen out here, away from the city lights.  Easy? Not entirely. Preferable? Yes. More deeply familiar to me? Completely.

Zig Ziglar Click Here To Comment!

I love motivational sayings. I love parodies of motivational sayings. I love the quick hit of wisdom or humour one can glean on the go.

One of the giants in the world of motivational quips died on November 28 – Zig Ziglar.  Here are a few of my fav Zig Ziglarisms:

Remember that failure is an event, not a person.

You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.

People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.

Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.

A goal properly set is halfway reached.

I’m not sure we are teaching some key things to up and coming generations.  Goal-setting. Resiliance to get past failure. Altruism. Self-motivation.  My Mom used to highly regard anyone she met who had, in her words, “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. (Mom and Zig would have gotten along fine.)

Others are noticing this too. Here is a review of a book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,  that seems to come from the same perspective.  I think I may need to ask Santa for this book. Given the author’s perspective on his material, I love that his last name is “Tough”. 🙂


An Ode to the MixMaster Click Here To Comment!

(In August, I read and immediately saved this Globe and Mail column, which I found delightful and nostalgic. It has inspired this post.)

I have a scar on my left index finger from when I was about nine. My mother asked me to set up the MixMaster in its customary position on the kitchen work table. The Sunbeam MixMaster, the workhorse of 1950’s kitchen small appliances, was rarely far from usage. But our farm kitchen didn’t have enough counterspace to have all the truly useful appliances out and available. So, with each use, the MixMaster had to be set up and, afterwards, put away.

Today’s design wizards would have safety switches and braking systems to make sure that a child wouldn’t ever plug in a MixMaster with the power turned on. With their hand resting casually on the beaters. However, the machines of the 1950’s and the kitchens of the 1970’s were not designed thusly. And so, in my first solo attempt to set up the sacred machine, my hand got caught in the beaters momentarily. It was pretty scary, at the time, but no harm was done. And I have this tiny scar, a MixMaster war wound.

That is my only bad memory of the Sunbeam MixMaster. That, and the horrid, electric-motor-burning smell it made at the end of its useable life. I was in Toronto by then, living on my own in my condo, loving using my Mom’s MixMaster to get my Christmas baking done.

RIP MixMaster

This photo was taken hours before it really gave up the ghost. This would have been 2008 and I put MixMaster’s birth date at about 1955. 53 years … not bad for a kitchen appliance.

Mom and I used that machine more than I can possibly describe. Endless batches of cookies, squares, bars, more cookies, fudge, candy … if it needed mixing, this was the machine to do it. Mom was pretty well known for her squares and cookies. Just recently, my cousin Steve has asked if I can make my Mom’s date squares. Perhaps no one can, Steve, without ye Olde MixMaster.

The MixMaster was also our mashed potato maker as it did operate as a very heavy hand mixer as well. Our family has a bit of a “thing” about mashed potatoes and I think the root/blame begins here, with the smooth operating MixMaster.

Mom baked endlessly before I came along, and carried on doing so long after I left the house, right up until her death in 1998.  I secured the MixMaster for my own use shortly thereafter and used it, although not as consistently or regularly, until it self-selected itself out of active duty.

The Sunbeam MixMaster operates, rather cleverly, through the design of the bowls and a tiny plastic button on the end of one of the special beaters. The button gently turns the bowl as part of the motion of the beaters. When the MixMaster was in my possession, I always worried about one of the bowls or the beaters getting broken or somehow malfunctioning. So, when I saw this at a yard sale, I snapped it up “for parts”.

The same, but not quite the same.

The “for parts” mixer sat in a box, wrapped in old towels, and almost forgotten, for about 10 years. It was moved around through my various interim abodes. It was part of my collection of stuff that I paid Good Money to store while my condo was under construction. It just sat around in a box, waiting. And then, one day, when I needed it, “for parts” was there, 100%, ready for action. It has been operational for about seven months now, and it has had a decent workout.

I could have gone on like this for a while. “For parts” was doing okay, shuttling from one counter to another between uses, bowls precariously teetering on the stand as the mixer would be moved about. Lately, “for parts” has started to make me nervous.  There is a little girl who likes to help. And this little girl has long hair and an intense curiosity about things that go “whirrrr”.  Also, the other day, when I threw together some cookies on a whim, it seemed to struggle a bit. So, when out on an unrelated retail mission, Knotty Girl and I spotted this on sale at 40% off.

Very shiny new Sports Car mixer.

This is too heavy to shuttle around so it has to stay put in one place. The bowl can’t break and the single beater is more shielded away from small hands and hair. And it has a very good motor in it. So far, it has done a lovely job on cookie dough and waffles. I will report back, closer to Christmas, on the date squares (Steve).

“For parts” is in semi-retirement, specializing now in mashed potatoes. Right over my (and Charlotte’s) head, above the workspace in the kitchen, is the original – Mom’s MixMaster – now in a place of honour beside the mixing bowl that also forms such a big part of my baking memories with Mom.

Beside the equally sacred mixing bowl that I’m terrified to break.

As things go, I think this is a pretty appropriate evolution, don’t you?

(Anyone taking bets on the longevity of the KitchenAid? 🙂 )

Happy Hallowe’en Song! Click Here To Comment!

One of my “skills” as a new step parent appears to be introducing sweet innocent children to important songs that they will reference, remember and possibly be damaged by for the rest of their natural lives. This song is on my agenda for this evening – anyone remember this classic?

Great big gobs of greasy grimey gopher guts

Chopped up monkey meat

Perculated birdie’s feet

French Fried eye balls, swimming in a pool of blood

Gee, I forgot my spoon

But I brought my straw

(Slurp) – Ah!


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