Things That Used To Be; City Style

When you look at the neighborhood around you, do you wonder what it used to be?

Did it used to be busy, or was it quieter? Is it safer than it was or a tad seedier? What kind of people roamed the road and what kind of wheels rolled down your street? Do your views today make you long for the past or yearn for the future?

Old Philadelphia, courtesy of thingamababy.com

We took a stroll around a pretty neglected area of Philadelphia over the weekend. We had no real destination. My pictures fail to capture the atmosphere unfortunately.  It’s something I’m learning to figure out as an amateur. I like to find the beauty in what “was”, and I like to dream about what used to inhabit the buildings and sidewalks that I walk.

When I see areas that are abandoned and half demolished, I wonder if the area is going through a transition to be rebuilt again or if the crumbling bricks are a true metaphor for the neighborhood. Time will tell.

I’m not foolish enough to think that the past was glamorous. Crime, corruption, drugs and heartlessness have always lurked in corners of every time period. There are still sights to be appreciated and customs that are appealing, particularly when we don’t know the pitfalls. The revolutionary buildings that I admire may not have seemed so beautiful with excrement being flung out the windows out into the alleys below.

There are times we can’t experience and life to be enjoyed today.  Generations will pass on, scenery will continue to change and traditions will be altered. That is how time works and it always will.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands

This is my hand holding my Great-Grandmom’s hand.

By the time I was born, she was already 71. She had already lived a full life and had been retired. She’d be a widow a year later and I only knew her to be one. She would take me to bingo and we would play board games. She’d teach me things about cooking and tried to teach me to crochet. She was one of my favorite people and her hands always fascinated me, even the way she twiddled her thumbs.

Her hands had what she called “liver spots”, though most of us know them as age spots. She had been an avid gardener all of her adult life, so it was likely sun inspired damage. After she ate, I remember how she’d sweep her fingers over the table to gather any crumbs. Her fingers were strong and crooked and her fingernail and tips were oval. I just remember always thinking how unique they were. They weren’t thin and ladylike, though her movements were not harsh; they were the result of lifelong hard work.

I took this picture one morning when I sat alone with her before she passed. She was unable to speak, but she knew I was there as she squeezed my hand in response to my words. I knew I’d never forget her hands, but still I was afraid that I might. I haven’t forgotten, though it’s only been two and half years, but I like to know that I have a picture of one to remind me.

She would’ve been 100 this week. Happy birthday Grandmom.

Grandmom’s Spoons Are Better Than Yours

When you were little, did you ever stand by your Mom or your Grandmother at the kitchen counter, fascinated that they could effortlessly create something edible out of powders, liquids, chunks of produce or meat?  If you’re lucky, you did.  Even if they kept busy and didn’t explain what they were doing, it was fascinating to watch a grown-up with a flair for culinary creations.  I look back at these moments and find myself wishing I had asked more questions.  More importantly, I wish I had written down the answers I did get.  I will have to do that with my Mom next time I see her.

I am lucky that I come from a line of avid cooks and bakers, male and female on both sides of my family.  I will admit that the cooking bug may have skipped a couple people here or there, and the prominently Irish population opted for very plain dishes with minimal seasoning, but it was all good food.  I don’t remember a meal that I wouldn’t eat or that I disliked.  I trusted their ways, even when I was picky.  I remember wondering why hamburger meat was shoved into a green pepper or a plum into potato dough, but the final result was wonderful.  Now I can really go for some plum dumplings; those would be from the German/Hungarian side.

To coincide with my memories of the women in my life and my old soul, I wander through antique stores whenever I have any free time.  My favorite section is where you’ll find cooking tools because there are so many gadgets that don’t only look fascinating but are also so functional.  I try to decorate my kitchen with cooking tools, but only the ones that I can use and that do not appear to have lead paint chipping off the wooden handles.  True, they can’t be put in the dishwasher, but their style and efficiency are worth it.

The tools range from aluminum to copper, and the detail and quality can’t be matched by the goofy plastic options you’ll find at Target.  They were devised for a cook, for an avid homemaker who spent a lot of time in the kitchen.  The well used kind are just as promising as the mint looking ones, but they prove how well they can last.  The spoons have just the right shape for scooping, holes for slotting, edges for scraping and angles to maneuver into difficult corners to mix.  The mashers are sturdy, the grater’s lip lies across my bowl and my handled strainer lays on the edge of the pot so I don’t have to dirty a big awkward bowl style strainer.  My ball jars hold excess rice and beans and are gorgeous on a sunny day because they are an aqua blue.  And my favorite metal spatula is the only thing I can use to not break the yokes when I flip my eggs.

These may have been massed produced at one time, but clearly they’ve lasted for generations, at least a couple lifetimes anyway.  The worn handles make me daydream about how many cake batters were mixed and if the owner is gone or has just “upgraded” to new stuff.  I see “Made in the USA” stamped into the metal or funny patent names on my tools and more than in just the kitchen, I’m reminded of what the US used to be.  We used to make stuff.  These things are so simple, but make life so easy.  I like not using plastic or imported cheap materials, containing chemicals we will find are recalled in a couple years.

I wonder how many nifty things from my family had gone by the wayside and ended up in an antique store corner or in the trash.  (I also wonder why I just wrote nifty.)  I’m not a hoarder but I am sentimental.  I have such an appreciation for what used to be, but without letting that hinder my acceptance of what is current; well, maybe just spoons.  So what if I use a seventy year old spoon and listen to big band?  I did get this recipe off our iPad, so we’ll call the war of generations a tie…this time.

Photo Books = Frustration + Mom’s Tears

I know I love my Mom because I spent over five hours creating a photo book for her tonight.

These hours, I might add, are after I uploaded pictures a year ago and created the formatting a year before that. Four hours to place pictures and over analyze who she might want to see in the book and who might provoke her to make an “ew” face.

It is done. If only my email confirmation will come, so I can review the totally overpriced gift that she totally deserves. I’m a good person; even if I promised her a photo book of our wedding four years ago; even if she asks where it is about every two to three months. I just stopped answering her about it because I dreaded the tedious task. I know, it sounds terribly selfish, but I’ve done very heartfelt things in the meantime to make her feel loved and I’ve brought tears of joy several times. I would buy almost anything to not have to create this book.  It’s not even a difficult thing to do, it’s just time consuming to get it right.  Maybe I try to hard to make things perfect, once I finally get around to working on them.

In the middle of my upload tonight, the program froze. I walked into the bedroom and woke my husband, (yes, another selfish move) and asked that he keep me calm and tell me I’m a good person before I went ballistic and threw the computer across the room. I tend not to be violent in nature but I despise when things don’t work like they are supposed to. So clearly I’m prepared for being patient in life. It’s just gadgets; I don’t have patience for flawed technology that costs me a fortune.

Needless to say, I’m 98% uploaded, even though the company already took my money.

I’m expecting tears of joy when this arrives to her door. I’m praying for tears of joy but I’ll likely get a “well, it’s about time” speech. I’m hoping for happiness and I hope she knows she was worth each agonizing second because I know she’s put herself in excruciating situations hundreds of times for her kids.

And with that; thank God that is done. My job as a daughter is done here; till her birthday next month.

If only I were the kind of person who gave giftcards.  My gifts may be late, but I have really good intentions and put a lot of sincerity into them.  They are just very very late.

Photo courtesy of Paul Avery Design.

Simple Things That Make Me Happy

I feel like my posts tend to alternate between longing (teetering on whiney) and dorky ideas.  I don’t do this on purpose, but maybe writing down things that bother me are effective enough that the following day I can look past them, at least temporarily, to see the beauty and pleasure in other things.

I sat here smiling as my pug and my husband snore next to me; (I mean, no honey, you don’t snore). I thought about how lucky I am to find joy in simple things. In no particular order, these are things that make me happy.  I welcome what simple things make you happy; there is always room to add to the list.

  • Tea, in a teacup with saucer and perfectly sweetened.  On a regular day, I drink tea unsweetened at work, just throwing a tea bag into the cleanest mug I have within reach.  (It just feels that way, don’t worry, I wash them.)  I’ve tried to perfect a perfect pot of tea; I can’t seem to do it like my Mom does, and so I make mine by the cup.  I go in phases with what type I’m in the mood for and lately rooibos wins.  Still, I wish I gave myself a moment to sit down and absorb just a moment of sunlight and a few minutes to drink tea each morning.  At the very least, I take a moment to think about the little sayings on my tea bags.  I started to save them at my desk because they are generally uplifting and every corporate cubicle can use random positivity.  Geez, now I sound like a hoarding Pollyanna.
  • Hot buttered toast and dipping it in hot chocolate.  Mmm.  I think I’m hungry.  Maybe I’m missing my Mom.  She’d make this for me when I was little, because her Mom did the same.  It came up in conversation before she passed that my Great-Grandmom used to get this when she was a kid from her Mom too.  I suppose it’s a traditional treat then.  The hot chocolate must be hot and so must the bread, and it should be white bread.  If you’re going to do this, you might as well go all out and use the soft white bread.  One day without wheat bread won’t kill you, but it might be the real butter that I suggest you use.  I know I’ve missed the boat to suggest this part, but it is particularly good on a colder morning. We still have some of these left.

Early morning. Though I have my favorites, Oscar prefers oatmeal.

  • Hanging clothes on the line.  Laundry chores are annoying but necessary.  I think this makes me happy because it has to be a beautiful day for this chore to be feasible, and that itself is a reason to smile. There is just something calming about pinning sheets up in a gentle breeze on a warm and sunny day.  Just don’t step in dog poo while you trek through the yard, it certainly takes away from the calming experience. Continue reading

What Are We Working For?

Leisure

By William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

This is feeling appropriate tonight, as I finally sit down at the computer at midnight to capture any logical thoughts that might have managed to survive the last eighteen hours.  In the end, I’m left with my forehead resting in my hands and thinking about how fast time goes and why we spend so much of it doing things we despise.  I realize we must all be grown-ups and responsible to a certain degree, but this cannot be what life was intended for; mundane and unsatisfactory work to pay for the “just in case” possibilities of life and every other nickel and dime expense.  I know that soon enough I’ll be making strides away from life as I know it today, to reach for something more fulfilling but sometimes it’s not easy to question how much time we’ve missed by being responsible and by simply not living.  Makes me admire hippies a little bit.  I know I can’t let go that much, but maybe there is a happy medium.

Photo courtesy of www.llgc.org.uk

Spring and Dirty Fingernails Are Here

Inspiration can be found in the simplest of things.

It is still March, but it feels as though spring has been here in the Northeast for a month, if not more.  My flowers have been in full bloom, just as the demeanor of the people I see riding bicycles and strolling with their dogs after work.

It’s hard to feel anything other than refreshed, when it comes to seeing the color sprouting from the ground.  We’ve started to get our garden boxes ready and it’s only a matter of time before the unusual and potent scent of a tomato vine permeates my callused summer gardening hands.

My husband works so hard on the garden.  I’m sure he feels I do also, but he is really dedicated.  Maybe it is the Iowa farmer mentality.  Either way, I find myself very lucky to share a life and home with someone who takes simplicity and hard work seriously, but also has the spirit to make everything we do fun.  We aerated one of the garden boxes yesterday and picked out any grubby insects we found along the way.  We are determined to have a healthy showing of produce this year.  There is also an amazing amount of untapped gardening humor we discovered, as we laughed and combed through the dirt.

So spring is amongst us and the days will grow longer.  It won’t be long before the heat and humidity confines us to the one room that has air condition.  But it is too soon to think of that (I hope), so for now we will open the windows and let some much needed fresh air in, as I clutch my Benadryl bottle.  I will also start stretching and training so I don’t have a daily stumble over the rabbit fence around our garden all summer.  It’s starting to get embarrassing.  Such a klutz.