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Sunday, September 25

Lady Marmalade

Because I don't have enough to do what with the arts business and the part time job and the house worky stuff, I decided to make marmalade.

It all started when a friend who has been living off the land...well, part time when she's not a corporate attorney..sent some peach jam home with friends and I got one of the precious little quilted jars and it was the best thing I ever ate. It was spoonfuls of orange sweetness, tangy bits of peach, I swear it glowed in the morning sunlight. I fell in love. I wanted my own little quilted jars. I wanted to make something to put in them. I googled and googled (things to put in quilted jars that glow in the sun) and found a recipe from my own personal guru, Ina Gartin. It seemed simple and straight forward. She said if you had a mandolin it would go faster, I have one, Ina, I thought proudly. I assumed success was a given.

I found the appropriately thin-skinned oranges, bought a box of the pretty, quilted jars, some lemons, a barrel of sugar. I was ready. The recipe is fairly simple, actually. You slice up the oranges and lemons, cook them in a whole lot of water for a couple of hours and let it sit at room temperature overnight. I was really good at this part. I retired for the night, smug in my expertise.

The next morning, I proceeded with part 2. This entailed boiling the orange mixture gently for several hours and then, boil it not so gently until it reaches 220 degrees. (Yes, I have a candy thermometer, Ina!). To test the doneness, you put a bit on a cold plate, wait 10 seconds and see if you have jam or juice. I put a small plate in the freezer to be at the ready. Soon, I would be filling those jars.

It takes a while to get stuff on the stove to 220 degrees. I'm not sure you know that. I didn't. I pulled my little ice plate out of the freezer a dozen times to test my mixture and it never changed from juice to gel. I did not lose patience. I was, after all, doing an old-fashioned thing, a take your time for a change kind of thing. I was serene. Almost cocky. Write this down: Cockiness is never a good thing.

I calculated how long I had been boiling the goop, ran an equation in my head about how much longer I could expect this to take based on my cold plate to gel ratio and decided to play a game of Bejeweled on my laptop.. Well, face it, that old-fashioned charm thing doesn't last all that long.

I blasted the last row of gems with the bomb icon and went back to the kitchen expecting the thermometer to read 219 degrees at which time I would retrieve the little plate from the freezer one last time, put a golden spoonful of deliciousness on it and watch while it miraculously transformed itself into marmalade. I would then ladle it into my newly sanitized jars and I have 8 jars of orange sunlight perched on my pantry shelves. I was smiling in anticipation.

I could smell the burnt orange from the dining room. No, no, no. It could not have burned. Bejeweled is a one minute game. The pot was bubbling rambunctiously. The burnt smell was stronger. I picked up the wooden spoon, approached the pot, the thermometer read 220, I stirred. The spoon stuck to the bottom of the pot, mired in an inch of thick, burnt goo. I did not have marmalade, I had tar. It gelled immediately on the cold plate. Brown marmalade.

Apparently there is a magical moment when the boiling goo becomes jam and if you wait just 30 seconds too long, you have botched it. Ina neglected to mention this. You failed me, Ina.

Per the instructions (if it is too thick, add some water) I adjusted, added water, ladled some of the watered down tar into my sparkly new jars. Brown. No sunlight penetrated. 5 minutes later, it was too solid to get out of the jars. Sigh.

I am not defeated. This was my learning batch. Sort of like a dress rehearsal, your first loaf of bread, your first marriage. Get the kinks out so you do it right the next time.

I have more oranges. And a recipe from a lawyer acquaintance.

Saturday, September 17


Mom's house is for sale. There is, of all things, a big sign in her lawn announcing it, inviting strangers to poke around the rooms, peer into the closets, test the water pressure.

Absent of furniture and window treatments, it is just rooms, really. A living/dining room, galley kitchen, 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, a screened porch in the back, a backyard big enough for one of those round swimming pools and a huge willow that I loved but that she had removed when the shedding annoyed her. It seems impossibly tiny. It is a house I would never buy. There are no winding hallways or 2nd and 3rd floors to get lost in. Everything is square and even and exact, unlike our very old house with its odd shaped rooms and oversized windows and doors. My parents built that house themselves, with a kit they ordered from a department store. Imagine.

The house did not seem tiny when I lived there. My brother and I had our little worlds within our little rooms. Mom and Dad made amazing Italian food in that tiny kitchen. We skated round and round on circles in that basement, practicing for Friday nights at the roller rink. The porch was the gathering place for our parents' friends. Coffee and donuts from Freddies and everyone smoking cigarettes and telling jokes with the bad words in Italian so the kids wouldn't hear. Life happened there.

I thought that when I wandered through the empty rooms I would hear echoes of memories, but I don't. Oh, I do have flashes. Lots of Christmas trees, searching for hidden presents with my brother. How we used to practice sneaking to the tree after everyone was asleep on Christmas Eve.

But I realize that most of the life there belonged to Mom. She loved that little house. It was her haven, the neighborhood her world. She often complained about her boring life even though we could seldom get her to go anywhere with us the last few years. Truth be told, she was pretty content to watch TV, smoke menthol cigarettes and watch the world pass by the living room picture window. When we tried to encourage her to sell and move to a condo or something she would insist the house was perfect for her. And it was.

My brother and I have talked about how nice it would be if a young couple bought the house as a starter. If they updated the kitchen and had children there. But, who knows. I guess we have to let it go, drop our attachment to it. It is an investment now. No more no less.

Except that lately when I have medical stuff done that requires me to be still and wait for the time to pass so I can get the hell out of there, I imagine peaceful places. And lately that place is under the low hanging branches of that willow in the corner of the yard. It is Summer and it is cool under there. I have a book to read and cookies in my pocket. There is a breeze that moves my hair and cools my neck. The grass is soft beneath me and I can rest my head against the trunk, prop the book on my knees and get lost. It is quiet, safe, a place of contentment. It is my private room.

The house will be sold, other lives will happen there. Years will go by without turning onto that street. But a corner of the yard lives in my heart, giving me a sweet memory and a place to go when I need a few moments of comfort. The smell of grass, the play of shadows, sweet crumbs on my fingertips, safe, warm. Home.

Sunday, September 4

quietly there

It's been 4 months since Mom passed. Seems impossible. All the legal stuff is just about done. Her beloved little house, the house where I grew up, is empty of everything but echoes and soon it will have a For Sale sign on the front lawn. Life goes on and you assume that all is in place. Documents, furniture, memories, odds and ends, sadness.

And then, on a quiet Sunday afternoon that you have been determined to make lazy even though it winds up making you restless, a torn piece of a sentence in the novel you are reading brings this:

An early Spring day, warm, Mom insists on wearing her pea coat to the Doctor appointment. It has lint and dust on it and I want to brush her off, make her more presentable. She is wearing that scowl of impatience that seems to be her real face now as she walks to the car with the aid of her cane, She sighs at the chore of needing to fold herself into the Beetle. She is equally irritated to climb into my brother's SUV. Only the old car we wrested from her 6 months earlier against her wishes was just right. Like the 3 bears. She fumbles for the seat belt and holds it for me to buckle it in. Secure now, she settles back, but when the car starts and the radio comes on she flutters her hands against the sound angrily and insists I turn it off. On the way to the appointment she reads every sign aloud, tells me to slow down, tells me we are going to be late, picks up a stray Starbucks cup from under her seat and scolds me about not cleaning out my car more often, I am old and she makes me feel like a child. I try to joke her out of her ill temper but she will have none of it. "Oh, Patty" she sighs.

My brother and I had many late night talks about her, releasing the frustrations of dealing with a loved one who was so difficult to love. We knew we would miss her when she was gone, though.

It's just that you don't feel how true that is until you are having a lazy Sunday afternoon with the smell of rain in the air and a gentle breeze meandering through the house, ruffling the curtains and you have let your guard down and there it is. The sleeve of an old pea coat with lint on the cuff. And you feel the sadness in your heart and in your gut.

It's as if the loss is too great to think about when you are busy with other things.

I'm not too busy today. And I miss her.

Friday, September 2

Elmwood Avenue Festival and missing Summer

I've written of it before but I will reiterate: I love the Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. It was established by artists a dozen years ago. I happens in my own neighborhood, and it is usually a pretty good sales day. There is a happiness about this show that is hard to explain. It may be that it is family friendly and has music and dance along with us in our little huts. It could be the attitude of the artist/organizers. Not sure. Even our customers note the difference. They compare it often to the city's "big Kahuna" show, Allentown, and declare this one to be better. I notice the crowd is different.

Allentown brings out the suburbanites, venturing into the city for their yearly pilgrimage. They are there to people watch and celebrate the start of Summer. Elmwood brings out the folks from the 'burbs, too, but they are there to buy stuff. Big difference. Not sure why.

So, anyway. Saturday was pretty dismal, sales-wise. Not sure why. I was experimenting with my new collage work and I wondered if that was a failure. But when I compared sales, I sold as many of those as anything else. Which means not much. Sunday started with the sale of my most expensive framed piece and I was tickled. (I love doing collage, I have a fantasy of a booth with nothing else. When I am in the attic making them, I am loathe to stop and keep working on my more practical stuff). That broke the dam and sales picked up to triple what they were on Saturday. Cool!

There were sweet spots along the way. I saw many old friends who stopped by my booth to say Hi. I have a few followers who love what I do and sometimes aspire to try it themselves and I had a few of them stop by for long, happy chats about the work and promises to get together for a "play date" Several of my gallery owners stopped by. One was reminded that she needed to put in a new order, the other, a collage artist herself, was thrilled with my new work and asked me to send her everything I could. This meant a lot coming from her.

And so the Summer season ends. Seems like I was just whining about applications. Already some mornings are cool and crisp. I'm starting to see crinkled leaves on the walk. There are a few Holiday shows coming up and then it all begins again. The first apps often coincide with the first Holiday show.

When I was younger, I used to mark the years in semesters. Teaching for a few years after college bookmarked my life September to June, Spring break in the middle. Now it is Application Season, Summer shows, Holiday shows. What is missing is Summer.

I vowed to Russell that this year I would go to the beach, that we would make time to enjoy Summer, that I would organize my work in such a way that I wasn't spending long, hot afternoons in the attic. Maybe we could even dust off the camping gear. But it didn't happen.

I'm not blaming myself. Chemo every 2 weeks. sheesh. I didn't expect to go blind in one eye and need surgery. I mean, who expects that?? And then, Mom getting so sick and passing. Long days by her hospital bed. The sadness sapping the joy that creativity feeds on. So, I am cutting myself a bit of a break here.

It wasn't all sad stuff, of course. There was that beautiful wedding of my son and his long time love. I smile whenever I think of it.

I'm praying that I will have a stretch of boring, normal days. I have plans. Plans to just enjoy life, working my art into ordinary days, planning ahead, avoiding stress, day trips, bike rides. If I do it right, if I start now, next Summer I can start my days reading at the water's edge, taking a dip. I can ride my bike in the afternoons and come back refreshed and ready to work.

I can dream.