Wednesday, 30 November 2011

And on Came the Gas

Among the few girlie items I own.

Every year the housemate and I compete to see who can wait the longest before turning the heat on. The heat comes on December first, provided we have both lasted that long. Last year it was cold enough in mid-November that we couldn't really justify leaving the heat off in our rental. There is being thrifty, and there is being irresponsible.

For the last few years, downstairs guy has heated with wood, and I've spent those winters mentally begging him to turn on his heat for the sake of our frigid flooring. This year he's returned to the land of radiators, and maybe that's why the housemate and I will be calling this year's competition a tie. The heat comes on tomorrow, provided, of course, that we don't see another wave of mild weather.

This doesn't mean we've been freezing. It's been heavy blankets and hot-water bottles most days. The key to hot-water bottles is to avoid using boiling water. Melting rubber reeks rather a lot, and it's a smell that you don't really want to sleep with.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Tradition of Felt Elves and Penguins

One of those Fairbanks' Thanksgivings, I had the biggest house. I had, by graduate student standards, a huge house. I didn't want to attend Thanksgiving, much less host it. Steph agreed to sleepover and make the turkey. And when she heard that I was going to serve canned cranberry, Marie asked me to make it by hand. By 6:30 in the morning Steph, Joe, and I were drinking champagne and making felt elves and penguins. Steph followed the directions perfectly; I free-handed mine. You must see why it was so important that I not be in charge of the turkey; I'd have free-handed that too.

By the time the sun rose that morning at ten. By the time it had set at three, folks had begun to pile coats and hats and boots in the cold room, and we'd settled into the holiday, as it should be, shared by friends and a handful of strangers. All that I remember of that year, though, is the early morning hours and the solace of a gathering of friends on the backdrop of an arctic winter.

I hope that you are all well gathered, American or not, with those who love you in the coming weeks. That you'll open your doors to strangers, and that you'll offer comfort where it is needed.  I will do my best to do the same.

And more pumpkin and more pumpkin

I have no idea what the pies taste like. The puree was a bit chunky, so they could resemble stringy sweet-potato pie. I hope not. And I braved a handmade crust for the first time. The slivers came out tasting awfully salty. Hopefully, that won't be too much of a problem. And I accidentally bought whole cloves, so ummm glad I knew where the hammer was.

If I lived in the States, the pie would have come from the frozen aisle. Can someone remind me to look at this post next year?

 I cannot think which of my English friends likes pumpkin pie. It won't hurt my feelings if it all comes home from dinner with me tomorrow. I've even picked up some double cream for just that eventuality.

I had half a pumpkin leftover,so pumpkin bread and muffins have also been made to avoid unnecessary wastage.

A few weeks ago, I made a fabulous lasagne. This one is for this week's dinner. A few weeks ago, I made a perfect white sauce, my first white sauce ever. This week's dinner is pretty lumpy.  I'm trying not to spend hours on the internet to figure out why.

I miss the Thanksgivings after university, when it was no longer even possible to contemplate returning home for a four-day weekend. Those years when we'd gather as friends at the person who had the largest home's house. I do not miss those days enough to return, but I am grateful for the happy memories.

We're twenty-eight days from winter solstice. It is, for me, the most joyful of the sun's phases. We are on the verge of hope; that must be hope in itself. And for that I am thankful.

To Clarify, and Pie!

The thing is that I'm content.  And that's not despite a hard year, nor because of it. It just is. I am certain that that is what we mean when we talk about a state of grace--that state of contentment despite what the future is likely to hold. I recall this feeling, six years old now, during my last autumn in Fairbanks. Maybe it is really the feeling of living a last season in a place. Maybe last seasons are, by definition, a state of grace.

One of the things you learn to do in a new country is to cook from scratch the foods of the country you've left. Mostly the English do not eat pumpkin pie; though, slowly the idea does seem to be catching on. And so there isn't really a quick option down the freezer aisle for Thanksgiving puddding. So I learned to make pie from a pumpkin. Last year, Waitrose carried tinned pumpkin. This year, those tins are 100% pumpkin. Still, I've started again with the whole gourd.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Preachin' to the Choir

This year the gifts will be handmade out of necessity rather than by choice. That is to say, the gifts from me are often hand made. This year though they must be. There will be no hurried last minute Christmas shopping or splurges for the little ones. Six-year-old girls want knitted muffs for Christmas, right? Right? And little boys are desperate for dinosaur hats in acrylic? And who doesn't want a pumpkin pie rather than some nice hand cream? Clearly that last one doesn't include the English.

And I am blessed, and I am grateful, and I am certain that I am enjoying more than my share of grace in this lifetime.

At this time last year, I was working for a large company. My schedule frequently changed three or four times in a week. I was told to work later than the last bus home, and the company wouldn't pay for the two-mile taxi ride--the one that cost more than an hour's wages. I was asked to slide the company's advertising through my neighbors' doors during one of the coldest Decembers on record. All because the company in question was 'struggling.' Never mind the numerous new stores they were opening or the shareholder payouts or upper management that was making more than 20 times that of underlings like me. And I kept the job because I wasn't making enough as an hourly-paid  lecturer to make ends meet.  And then I felt lucky, because the company didn't hire full-time. I was working with folks who were subsisisiting on beans on toast. I told a friend at the time that I had no idea how I could possibly live any closer to the edge.

I didn't leave the job until I had another lined up. The new company went into administration two days before I was supposed to start. Two months later I lost my teaching position in a mass layoff with two weeks notice.

It turns out that it is really easy to live closer to that edge. It wouldn't be if I had children or dependent parents. It wouldn't be, if I weren't so close to so many people who are using boots and nectar points to feed their families and themselves. It wouldn't be, if I didn't love my job, exactly the job I got a PhD to avoid. I am blessed. I am grateful. And I am experiencing more grace than I should. And by accident of life, I am learning to be a short-order cook.

It's lovely to be surrounded by wool again, to be digging in boxes for forgotten notions, to be searching patterns for just the right sort of muff, and to be fantasizing about the wool I'll buy in end of season sale. And wondering if the children will remember their dinosaur hats. There is a miracle in yarn unfolding around me.

I hate the holidays, and I'm not looking forward to them. This year I'm willing to give them a try even though I know my Christmas wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Maybe you'll join me in wishing that all the children around the world will find their forever homes (and the courts get through a backlog of confirmations of such homes) this Christmas. It's a selfish request. A little boy who is dear to me is among them.

And you should totally go read this: a PK mate of mine  in Spain. This Christmas, in all of the wealthiest countries in the world, there are still street children.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Cider, Cider, and Cloudy Apple Juice. Also Eww!

I still think cider should be spelled 'cidar.' I can't find any explanation for it, except that I also pronounce 'bag' with a long 'a,' resulting in a word, I'm told, that is better spelled 'beg.' A friend here tells the story of attending a hayride somewhere in the US Bible Belt. She was horrified, and more than a little confused, to learn that there were plans to give the children cider. Certainly, more than a few young Americans have woken to an unexpected hangover, thanks to too many glasses of cider in Europe, or I'm told reliably, most any place outside the United States.

Cider's fine as far as it goes. I'm partial to local scrumpies. Still the best I've ever had was in St. Ives at New Year. Where local scrumpy isn't available, and it rarely is, I'd far prefer dark beer. I'm not a connoisseur of  American cider any more than I am of the British versions. But when the leaves have truly fallen from the trees, I find myself thinking a lot about, what is ultimately, mulled apple juice. And like most sanguine moments of homesickness, this one propelled me into making a rather embarrassing purchase.

It turns out that the Apple and Cinnamon tea, new to the UK, tastes exactly like I remember it tasting.  I had forgotten that the stuff is rank. And so I will be avoiding the satchets of powder that look suspiciously like what we used to beg for at the end of hayrides. *

*I've never actually been on a hayride.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

So Too Comes the Winter.

I have no idea what happened to September. I know what happened in it. I learned to make cooked breakfasts or full Englishes or all day breakfasts depending on your localisms. I stopped being terrified of the fryer. I crossed the one year mark before my visa lapses. I watched season five of As Time Goes By. I realized that I am that waitress in Mad about You. Mad about You didn't translate to this side of the pond. Sweet potato fries have begun to make an appearance here--If you want some, I can totally hook you up.

Knee surgery happened to October. It was long awaited knee surgery. I'd been completely ready to get caught up--on the blogging, on the blanket making, on the book revisions, on cooking, on the mildew, on the reading, on letter writing and emailing, the postcard sending, the wedding gifting. I'd forgotten that two-weeks off work generally implies that one won't be doing much catching up. Still I don't hurt every time I put my foot down. And oh the gratitude. And now, I am so glad that I've been allowed back to work.

And with the evenings drawing in well before five o'clock, I am relearning the art of Christmas gift making. I rather loathe the holidays, but I really really like the present giving. Thank goodness for Aunty Mo for making sure I learned to wield a hook last year. I don't have enough weeks left before Christmas to be fooling with knits and purls.

As for me and my house, tonight it's hot toddies and pjs well before nine. I hope you are well.

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