Friday, December 28, 2012

End of the World Soup and a Happy New Year

End of the World Soup and a Happy New Year

What better way to spend the last evening before the end of the world than with friends at the North Harlem Colony for their children’s Christmas musical program. And a musical extravaganza it was, topped off with good food, hugs and fellowship. Had the world ended the next day, as feared, it would have been a good way to go, filled with love and joy.

In the days prior to the projected end of the world, I heard stories about people preparing for the dastardly event, stories that baffled me. What part of “end of the world” did they not get? Am I wrong or does the end not mean THE END? When the world ends, are we not gone? Kaput? So why prepare?

I find it hard to believe how many people swallow these end of world prophesies. What makes one think some kind of Prime Mover sets up a Doomsday calendar with X marks the spot? A Cosmic Game-Master?

If you were in outer space watching the earth’s demise, would destruction roll around in an orderly fashion, from time zone to time zone? Would it look like a crumbling popcorn ball? Or more like an interstellar pizza, devoured slice by slice?

Tell me how stockpiling water and C-rations will allow one to survive the end of the world. Explain why I should rush out and buy my own personal AK-47. What am I supposed to shoot? I don’t get it. If the planet goes “Poof” would you really want to “survive”?

We are not forewarned, for the most part, when our own personal world will end. But in the event the Angel of Death swooped down and announced, “You’re next,” would you rush out to buy Spam for your last meal? Not me. Seriously, what would your last wish be? Wouldn’t you more likely want to hug your children, hold your loved ones in your arms, and tell your special friends you love them?

As it turned out, the world did not end last Friday. Guess what—there’s a whole New Year ready to be born. So why not make sure that everybody you love, that every friend whom you hold in high regard, knows without doubt how you feel. Why not start today. No, not under the mistletoe. Use some discretion, you.

I was raised in a family that seriously lacked communication skills. In the beginning, tossing around the warm fuzzies made me uncomfortable. I persevered and the rewards far outstripped the initial cringing.

Loving the lovable is relatively easy. But what about that one old sorehead in Rudyard, who lives surrounded by all those nice people? It may be hard to out-and-out love such a person, but one may regard him with compassion. We have no idea what it feels like to live in another’s skin. Each life holds formative stories that we’ll never know. Everybody has such stories, even you and me.

I don’t make New Year resolutions. I used to. But they were unrealistic and I never kept them. Instead, I hope to find adventure (and/or fun) in each day, to find worth in every person, to find beauty in the ordinary and to be kind to myself. With love, respect, compassion, tolerance—that’s how I want to engage the world; that’s how I want to be treated. For my own self-respect I try to invest each day with those qualities. I have no guarantee that I’ll reap dividends. Often I fail to put the right coins into my account. But I don’t quit.

The world didn’t end and we have a New Year. So just for fun, let me share a dish of my end-of-the-world soup with you. When my children were young, I served it once a week. I kept a glass gallon jar in the refrigerator into which I poured such things as water drained from boiling the potatoes, leftover vegetables and meats. On soup day I supplemented this with onions, garlic, seasonings, perhaps rice, lentils or pasta. Generally all I needed to do was pour the jar full of goodies into a large pot and heat it. There was nothing “Doomsday” about the soup. No matter what it contained, it always tasted good. It had only one drawback, from which it took its name; it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was quite ugly. But we were poor. It was our way to squeeze every bit of nutrition from every bite of food. I don’t remember who named the soup. No doubt, one of the kids said, “Yuck—this soup looks like the end of the world.” The name stuck.

So join me for a bowl. The soup’s not pretty but it’s full of Happy New Year.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 27, 2012


Dear Santa, I’ve got a hankering. . .

Dear Santa, I’ve got a hankering. . .

I generally accept what is rather than focus on what isn’t. But every now and then I get a hankering to have a man around the house. The way I figure it, it’s like a disease, neither all pervasive nor life threatening. It’s more like a nebulous yearning for someone with whom to share experiences, someone to whom I could hand a “honey-do” list. My wanting comes and goes, doesn’t stick around long; often months pass between attacks.

Maybe the approaching Holiday season is a factor; another could be that I continue to be disabled after eight weeks with my wrist in a brace. Might even be that this onslaught of desire was triggered when bulbs in three overhead light fixtures burned out within days of one another. With my broken paw, I can’t drag in the ladder and unscrew the globes to change the bulbs, a simple task that ordinarily I would have finished before you could say “Snap!”

Over the years I have found that if I talk about a problem, I can laugh about it and get on with life. So when my daughter phoned, I said, “I’m having an I-want-a-man attack.”

She said, “I have the cure, Mom. Let’s not even talk about the state of the commode. But remember the nasty build up of whisker stubs around the faucets? The top left off the toothpaste tube? Smelly socks slung under the bed? Or dirty shirts tossed on the floor, nowhere near the hamper? Besides, just think about it, Mom. In pioneer days, you would have been in the grave long before now. Your man would have already used up a younger woman, looked around and said, ‘next.’” My daughter is real cheerful that way.

Sure, my house stays neater than if I weren’t the only person rattling around in it. Sure, the only muddy boot tracks are my own. But at times I would trade.

Work is my best friend. I looked around for a one-handed chore to distract me. I needed to whip my fresh pumpkin pulp into a puree and had just the day before unpacked my new food processor. I’ve never had one so I sat down to read the instructions and watched the video that came with it. I scrubbed all the parts and put my new machine together, dumped in the chunks of pumpkin, plugged it in and flipped the switch. Nothing happened. I emptied the pumpkin, washed the bowl again, checked everything out and turned it on empty. No go. Just in case I missed some secret step, I watched the video twice more. I memorized the manual. Back to the kitchen for another attempt. Nada. I studied my machine carefully. It is brand new. It can’t be defective. I realized that if I have to send it back, I’d already recycled the shipping boxes. They were the perfect size in which to send Christmas gifts to grandchildren.

At a certain point, when it seems like everything I touch falls apart, I’ve learned to stop for the day. It is hopeless to continue efforts in futility. I know to do something different, like grab a book or take a walk. So I set aside the processor project for morning, slapped together a sandwich, heated a mug of hot chocolate and snuggled in to watch “The Full Monty”.

Early next morning I called the manufacturer. A nice young man named Dan said he’d help me. First he had me get a pen and push a black dot on the back of the base, sort of a reset button, I suppose. Then he asked me if I had a credit card.

“I used the credit card to buy this machine that won’t work, you fool,” I told him.

To his credit, Dan laughed. “Please, just get a credit card. Now put the bowl in place on the base. In the shaft on the back of the bowl, there is a slot. Place the credit card in the slot and while pressing inward, turn on your processor.”

“Hot dog! Can you hear it working?” I said. “Thank you, thank you, a million times, thank you.”

I’m in love. No, silly, not with Dan. With my food processor. With my new little kitchen wonder I pureed my pumpkin pulp, mashed my persimmons, chopped pecans, sliced carrots, shredded cheese and made salsa.

It can’t change a light bulb but it won’t muddy my floors. Sure a man is a handy thing to have around if you train him right. But as a consolation prize, a food processor is nice.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 20, 2012

Winter Bounty—Baskets of Goodness and the Football Pool

Winter Bounty—Baskets of Goodness and the Football Pool

Winter sports do not excite me. In my daydreams I do not yearn to plunge down ski slopes, roar astride a bucking machine through snow-clad hills, or etch figure eights over the frozen river. As the daylight hours diminish, I harbor no nostalgia for mounting winter tires, finding the window scrapers or digging out the snow shovels. A roaring fire in the fire place, a pile of books in front of me, a steaming mug of hot chocolate at my side—that’s a picture to paint a smile on my face.

That doesn’t mean I consider winter to be eight months of confined inactivity. Impossible; there’s too much going on. As I see it, Halloween ushers in winter with witches and goblins—too much fun and too much candy. Hard on the footsteps of Spook Night, though a few leaves still cling to trees, though the last pieces of candy lodge hidden behind sofa cushions, Thanksgiving takes over. Families and friends gather ‘round dinner tables over-laden with platters of munificence. Every community, our larger family, opens hearts and doors to a neighborly feast. Nobody should feel left out. Then we munch turkey sandwiches while setting up the Christmas tree. As Christmas approaches, we can fill every weekend with bazaars, parades, festivals and celebratory events, all free for the showing up.

I haven’t bothered with a tree for several years. Last week, I set aside my “bah-humbug” and dragged my hat tree, the trunk of a juniper mounted on a horseshoe stand, adorned with vintage hats, from my bedroom to my living room. I wound the stubby branches with colored lights and shrouds of tinsel. Who knows—Santa might bring me a granddaughter or two for a visit. If so, they will collapse in giggles at my “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.

While my garden snoozes beneath a blanket of snow, I decided to venture into the unknown and signed up for a cooperative program which periodically delivers fruits and vegetables to its subscribers. When, every other week the basket arrives, you never know what it might contain. It’s like Christmas. Since I live alone I had to justify this step to myself. If I buy it, I have to use it. I reasoned that I would feed myself a more nourishing diet. I figured I might juice, can, or freeze the overflow.

A tisket, a tasket, my first basket more than met my expectations. This week the basket exceeded all reason, heaped with Romaine lettuce, salad onions, radishes, green peppers, mushrooms, yellow onions, a wad of cilantro, acorn and butternut squash, broccoli, summer squash, a bowl of limes, a half- dozen avocados, a dozen bananas, heaps of tomatillos, cucumbers, dried red ancho chiles, jalapenos, limes, a lovely papaya, two chayote and a peck of persimmons. All that goodness.

Last winter I never ate this well. I’m not sure what to do with the chayote but I’ll figure it out. I’ll bake a couple of the persimmons and make jam with the rest. Meanwhile, I arranged the orange persimmons in a brown and yellow pottery bowl, art on my table. Papaya has never been my favorite tropical fruit, but I’m going to experiment with papaya pie. I’ll make salsa and freeze some of the squash. I wish I could roll back the clock and be cooking for my family. Instead I’ll invite friends to share a meal or two.

While I’m wallowing in all this seasonal bounty, I figure it is not unreasonable for me to wish for one more win of the football pool. Never mind that two of the men at the city shop, where we gather for coffee and fill out our predictions, have yet to win this year and give me the stink eye. I’ve won twice. They can’t stand it. They’ve threatened to ban me. Although I never watch football, I have a system, brilliant in its simplicity. Of each two teams playing, I choose the city I would rather visit. Plus I have four picks cast in concrete based on past connections. I always choose Seattle, Green Bay, South Dakota (SD) and Nebraska (NE). I have generously shared my system with the guys, but they ignore me. Three wins in one year would be mighty impressive. I figure if I win one more pool, I will have earned a place in the Hall of Fame with a plaque on the wall of the city shop above the coffee pot. I have three more chances.

Bountiful good will should carry me through Christmas and into the New Year and the depths of winter. Eventually the days will lengthen, gardening catalogs will fill my mail box, I’ll muddle through snow and cabin fever, and if the world doesn’t end, my early tulips will herald spring.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 13, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mighty Mouse—Here I Am To Save the Day

Mighty Mouse—Here I Am To Save the Day

When, day after day, I use a particular tool, I develop a fondness for it. Take my van, Roshanna, for example. You might say she’s my twice bought van. I bought her fresh from the factory in 1997 and over the years, piece by piece, I have purchased most of her parts again. Roshanna loves a good road trip. Together we have racked up two-hundred six thousand miles. I take care of her and she takes care of me.

Then there is my favorite staple gun—the one I reach for first. I call her Miss Kitty. She’s light weight and faster than Matt Dillon, my backup gun. I own a dozen hammers, each for a different use, but the one I call Hank has the most balanced heft in my hand.

So imagine my consternation when Monday morning early I sat down at my computer to compose a report and discovered that my mouse, if not dead, was in a state of stupor. I wiggled it. The arrow on the screen refused to move. The cursor was cursed. I checked its cable, yep, plugged in solidly. I tugged on all the cables, just in case. Everything was plugged in and turned on. Yet I could not open any window, program or file.

I heard my Son the Computer Geek whisper in my metaphorical ear, “Reboot the computer, Mom.” That is what he always tells me when in desperation I phone him with a computer glitch. I shut everything down, turned off the switch, and pulled the power cord. I said to myself, “Don’t panic.” I walked away and made the bed.

When I returned and reversed the above process, my mouse, which looked perfectly normal, still would not scitter across the page. So I repeated all the above. I plugged, unplugged and re-plugged. No change.

Mic, my mouse, is special. I’m quite fond of him. I remember years ago griping about my previous mouse which I neither liked nor named. We had a personality conflict or the vibes were not right or our signs weren’t compatible, something. Ben hooked up Mic and said, “Try this one.”

It was love at first touch. Mic has a lovely curved body which fits the exact shape of my hand. At the front, he has a large beautiful red ball which I can manipulate smoothly—zip-zip—all over the page. Most of my friends don’t care for this type mouse. For me, Mic is perfect.

I needed my mouse. My son, Ben, was a time zone away. I hate to bother him on the job unless I have an emergency. This was an emergency. I had to write my report for a meeting. Ben did not answer my call. I left a message.

Ah, ha! I remembered I had a back-up mouse, the ordinary push kind. My computer sits on an ancient library table with three drawers. I found the mouse, a gift from Triangle Communications, in the third drawer. It had a three-foot cord. Grrr. I needed six feet to reach the computer tower under my desk. So I had to shift everything on my desk in order to lug the tower up onto it. I had to re-route all the cables. All this with a broken wrist, blood, sweat and tears. Still no call from Ben.

I was writing my report with Awkward Ugly Mouse when a friend called me. I told him my sad story. I mentioned that “one time my mouse had quit working when a piece of lint was trapped beneath the ball. I’m sure that isn’t the problem this time. Besides, I’d have to turn on my air compressor and build up the pressure just to get a fifteen-second blast of air and then drain and bleed it again. Too much bother.”

He must have been sitting by his computer at the time because he asked me for Mic’s model number. I gave it. He whistled. “That IS a special mouse. Listen to this. On this website you can get a new one for five-hundred dollars but there is only one left. Or you can buy from the eight used ones at one-hundred forty and up or get the refurbished one for two-hundred thirty.”

“That can’t be right. It’s just a mouse. They’re cheap,” I argued.

“Look it up yourself,” he said.

“Good-by,” I said. I fired up my air compressor, took Mic over to my work table and blew all around the ball with my air tool. I went back to my computer, unhooked Awkward Ugly, hooked Mic back up and he worked like a charm.

Now, what would you do?

For Sale: Used Trackball mouse of a certain model, perfect condition, charming personality, not a scratch, ding or blemish. A bargain at $250.00.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

December 6, 2012

Framed by Vintage Technology—Shades of 1922

Framed by Vintage Technology—Shades of 1922

My needs were simple enough. From time to time I make custom lamp shades. Recently two different people brought me two sets of lamps for new shades. Unfortunately the old shades were missing. Most lamps come to me with their old shades, ragged and pitiful, but the frames are usable once I strip them down. I have a generous collection of my own vintage frames but as I sorted through them I discovered that I had none that could be used for these jobs.

So I fired up my computer to search for wire lamp shade frames. For a couple hours I browsed through sites but did not find the exact sizes and shapes I wanted. I was busy so I put the task off for later. Then I broke my wrist so I was forced to set all my projects aside in favor of reading stacks of books.

As my healing progressed, I realized that the first jobs I could physically do would be those lamp shades. Light work but good therapy for strengthening my arm. So I got cracking to find a supplier for my frames. Eureka! I found a company that offered a generous selection of both shapes and sizes. Carefully I measured, chose, rejected this in favor of that and decided to order extras—why not. With my lengthy list in hand, I tried to contact the company to negotiate a wholesale deal. I tried to place my order on their web site. I tried to email. I tried their phone. Nothing was in service. The lights are off. The door is padlocked. The shades are pulled. The perfect company is defunct. I felt bummed out.

I had made a thorough search. There are not dozens of companies out there making wire frames for vintage lamps. Unless I wanted to shell out outrageous sums and order from Outer, Inner, Upper or Lowest Slobbovia, delivery by dog sled, why, there’s nothing to it but to do it. Myself.

What is a frame but a few yards of wire and a washer? I can measure. I can snip, shape and solder. I can do this. I know I can. I’ll do it, by gum or by golly.

But just in case there might be some hidden step, I went back to the internet to see if I might find a “how to” book. Boy, howdy, right away I discovered the perfect book. “Wire Lamp Shade Frames and How To Make Them” by A. W. Dragoo. I could tell by the picture on the website that the book was old. But I put it in my cart and agreed to pay a hefty chunk of money. What better way to make vintage frames than with instructions from a venerable master.

The book arrived. A pamphlet, actually. The author, Alva William Dragoo, taught Manual Training and Mechanical Drawing at Illinois State Normal University in Normal, Illinois. Imagine living in a town called Normal. My new-to-me manual was published in 1922. It smells like old brown paper with an overlay of moth balls and a mere hint of mildew. It was written to teach seventh and eighth grade boys to make wire lamp shade frames.

The opening sentence is instructive: “Few problems in the manual training shop possess greater interest to boys than the making of an electric lamp.” (Not any of the boys I know.) The third paragraph addresses the covering of the shade: “Most mothers, or sisters, in the home will be found capable of doing a satisfactory piece of work.”

When I was in school I would have given anything to have been in the shop welding with the boys rather than in Home Ec, bored with cooking and sewing, tasks I had been doing for years. I was not given the choice.

I finished reading the manual and indeed discovered that with a few simple tools and wire, even I, a mere female, can make frames. I could have bungled my way through most of the process without Mr. Dragoo’s instructions. But I learned one vital piece of information, how to curve the wire. I had imagined that would be the most difficult part of the job. But Mr. Dragoo showed me that the solution is simple. Over the years I have learned that simple does not always mean easy, but I’m in for a penny, in for a pound.

Meanwhile, if you know any seventh or eighth grade boys or girls chomping at the bit to make wire lamp shade frames, send them to me. I’ll teach them everything I know.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

November 29, 2012