Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflecting on the year

Well, it's been a busy year. 2009: my first full year of marriage, the first year Binghamton has really felt like home.

I've lived here (nearly) three years already, and yet this was the year where I finally began to feel belonging. It can be a difficult thing to find, you know. What with the canning sessions and the garden, dinner parties and my part-time cafe job, I've deepened connections and made lots of new ones. Good things.

Other changes: I began the year with no job, and now I have two. The impact a job can have on your life-- not the job itself, but just the ability to stand up straight and say, I have a job!-- it's a terrific feeling. Moving forward. Making progress. Socking away some savings.

This new year should be a good one. Last year, we went to the Adirondacks. This year, we're looking at a two-week hellbender of a spring trip to Nashville--I'm already scheming up travel playlists--and maybe (just maybe) the promise of an out-of-country trip later in the year. Before spring arrives, though: a new bedroom floor, some fresh paint, and a massive slipcovering project. It promises to be a pretty busy not-so-busy time of year.

What plans and projects await you in 2010?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas: three pictures

It was a quiet Christmas for us. Full of cookies and candlelight.

A small powdered-sugar flurry took place in my kitchen on Christmas Eve,

and a full Italian antipasto regaled us with its colors and flavors on Christmas Day.

I hope the holidays treated you well this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sewing kit, 1967.

Her name was Marie.

She was an avid seamstress, a careful and resourceful wife, a mother. This was her sewing kit.

Usually, when I pick something up at an antique store, I don't give the previous owners a second thought. The old vase or skirt or lampshade is just old-- significant for its age and beauty, but revealing nothing of its past life. Though so many other people have owned the things in my house, I don't think about them. They existed, I suppose, but now are ignored by me, the neglectful curator of their cherished possessions.

And then I find something like this.
A hundred spools of thread, carefully coiled and stacked on wooden spindles.

Cards of buttons saved for dresses never sewn, some with their Woolworth's price tags still attached.

Clippings saved from the local paper. She was a Binghamtonian, then, like me. The date: December 3rd, 1967.

This isn't a mere antique, this sewing kit. This is an artifact. Every neatly folded piece is another piece of the puzzle, another clue to this woman's life.

Measurements of the windows of her house, for making curtains. I can see her then, tucking this note into her purse and heading to the fabric store, leaving behind the unorganized chaos of her new house to roam the aisles, maybe humming, fingering a bolt of this or that. This is what I do when I go to the fabric store. I get it.

In one pocket, I found a folded envelope containing six black glass dress buttons with a raised gold design. One of them was broken. A mystery. How did it break? Why did she save the broken one?

The return address on the envelope: The New York State Retired Teachers Association, Insurance Divison. More mysteries. Was she a teacher, then, or her husband? What did she teach?
Home economics, perhaps. There she is, in my mind's eye: pacing down between the rows of desks, in cat eye glasses and sensible shoes, lecturing on the importance of tidy buttonholes, or proper interfacing, or bias.

I understand. These things are important. The sweetness of neatly coiled spools, the fastidious perfection of little button-jars.

Packets of bias tape and seam binding standing neatly in rank, like a line of soliders.

And oh, that old and handworn tailor's tape.

How many times did she stretch it at arm's length, pins in her mouth, circling round and round a dressform?

How many projects did she dream and never complete? And how many years has this sewing kit sat, unused but never forgotten, in the attic of her sister or her daughter or her niece?

A perfect time capsule, a window into another woman's life, waiting for me.

And my, how much we have in common.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making marmalade

In Sacramento, where Patrick's uncle lives, oranges and lemons grow in backyards. December is the beginning of citrus season, and so it is the privilege of lucky Californians to send boxes of fruit to their shivering Northern relatives, where December marks not the beginning of citrus, but the beginning of snow.

Who would trade a blustery winter for a backyard orange grove? Raise your hands! Oh, I'm with you.
Anyway, last week our annual fruit box arrived. Inside were homegrown oranges, lemons, and two enormous pomelos (looks like a yellow volleyball; tastes like grapefruit). What was there to do but make marmalade?

It was a cold-as-heck day, a constant hot-tea-infusion day. As my friend (and ex-neighbor, though that sounds terrible) Jen and I sliced and stewed, I contemplated the irony of California oranges and lemons being cooked in a New York kitchen, a chilly world away from their pampered origins. Not a bad thing, though. At the end of the day there was warm marmalade spooned onto cakey gingerbread, and plenty more hot tea to go 'round.
And, I have to believe that hot tea, gingerbread, and warm marmalade wouldn't taste quite so comforting and wonderful if all was warm and bright, and outside sago palm fronds bobbed in the breeze. For all the hassles they have to endure, I do believe Northerly-dwelling folk have the claim on comfort.

Keep your orange trees. I've got me a warm house, plenty of blankets, and a steaming tea-mug. Nothing could make me appreciate those things more than a chilly wind blowing outside.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas tree tour

For your viewing pleasure, I present to you the 2009 Blog Christmas Tree Tour!
Enjoy! There are truly some beautiful ones out there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Checking it twice

What's left on your list? As we count down through the last nine (nine!) days, it's mostly a little wrapping, a lot of baking, and a little last-minute stitching.

It's been a good, happy, gift-making Christmas. I started in early September, I think that's part of why things are so relaxed right now. I alternated between making things from directions or patterns (in the books above) and just plain winging it. I bought some beautiful things on Etsy, to fill in the gaps.

Next week, it's baking time: my annual lovefest with Martha Stewart's Chocolate Black Pepper cookies, and some sanding-sugar snowflakes. Also, I'm baking this bread for everyone on our block. Busy, busy, busy.

Tis the season!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Chestnut story

I had the best of intentions. I really did. I had my camera in the kitchen the entire time, intent on telling my bloggy friends (you guys) the story of my dinner party. What happened instead involved a chaotic meal, a species of nut which refused to peel, and a gingerbread bearing uncanny resemblence to a charcoal briquette.

It all started with the chestnuts. This picture, the only one I took, illustrates perfectly my mood of the early afternoon. Stillness. Quiet. The pretty tranquility of an ivy plant juxtaposed with a tray of tasty-looking roasted chestnuts.

Then things went a little off-track. A pound and a half of chestnuts took two capable human beings (Patrick and myself) an hour to peel. We watched two episodes of The Simpsons on Hulu, cursed and sweated (just me, actually), and drove numerous chards of chestnut shell up under our fingernails. I had never worked with chestnuts before. Is this usual? Are these things, delicious though they are, really worth the trouble?

In the end, they pureed nicely into a sweet and velvety soup (which I conveniently forgot to photograph), so maybe they were worth it. But they threw the whole day off, and I'm not over it yet.

I suppose, with Thanksgiving having gone so swimmingly, that I was a tad over-confident. Maybe, as with Patrick's pancakes, my pride interfered. Whatever the cause, both sets of parents charitably complimented the immolated gingerbread, and helpfully amused themselves as I put the finishing touches on Molly's Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding (which was delicious).

Thanks be to kind-hearted, good-natured families everywhere. Mine especially.

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