Wednesday, December 24, 2014

sugar buzz

How very strange not to be racing around so close to Christmas.  It’s been many years since I’ve been so caught up with things before Christmas.  Perhaps it’s been since the time before Sarah was born that I’ve had so much spare time so close to Christmas.  Children take up a tremendous amount of time and energy, but that is how it is and I have no regrets about spending too much time on my kids.  In fact, my regrets are all about not appreciating them more when they were little and spending more time with them than I did.

I do still have things to do…a few small gifts to wrap, prepare some cards with cash to give the mail-lady (who is not a good worker) and the man who delivers our morning paper, mail some Christmas cards, and make food to take to Someone’s parents’ house for the big Someone’s-family-dinner on Christmas day.  Oh…and I suppose that means I need to fit in a trip to the grocery store.  The cards will arrive after the holiday, but better late than never, right?

I might just bring the marble slab up from the basement and try to make a batch or two of cream candy.  It’s a very big deal around here.  Most people know what it is, but it’s hard to come by because few people make it anymore.  There is a Kentucky candy maker that makes and markets it commercially, but it’s very expensive (about $12 for a very small container).

My grandmother used it make it every winter.  She made tons of it to give away as Christmas gifts (ok, admittedly that’s a bit of exaggeration).  She usually made it over the course of several weeks, making a batch or two every day while we were gone to school.  It’s hard work because you have to pull it for a very long time, and cutting it is no easy chore.  Hers was the best though, always very striped and she used dye to make it pretty colors of pink, green, yellow.  She also made chocolate and sometimes flavored some to be almond or coconut.  A tin of Mom’s cream candy was a gift everyone was happy to receive.  She was my grandmother, but my brothers and I called her Mom because we lived with her since we were toddlers/babies.    

During World War II, my grandfather was off in the Navy and my grandmother and her son (my dad) lived with her sisters.  One sister, Louise, was not married then and had no kids.  The other sister, Ruth, was a widow with three young children.  My dad and his cousin were the same age and became like brothers, he said.  All three women had jobs (two in shoe factories and one in a grocery store), but their schedules were such that there was always somebody home to babysit the kids.  Money was very scarce because women were paid significantly lower wages than men.  The ladies pooled their sugar ration coupons and bought sugar to make cream candy.  They took orders from people all over town who bought it for Christmas gifts.  For large orders, their customers had to give them sugar coupons because they couldn’t buy enough sugar to fill the order without extra coupons.

They made candy on cold, clear days on their back porch.  Low humidity was necessary for the candle to cream.  They kept their marble slabs outside because the colder the slab, the better.  The candy is super hot when it’s taken off the stove, then poured out onto a cold, buttered slab.  Just as soon as it’s cool enough to touch, you rake it together into a rope, pick it up, and start pulling it.  And you pull until the cows come home…or until it’s no longer shiny and it becomes too stiff to pull.  Then you lay it down, grab scissors, and cut it as quickly as possible.  The candy looks like little striped pillows.  When it dries out, it creams, and the stripes become less noticeable.

Yes, I have made the stuff a dozen times or so since my grandmother became unable to make it.  It’s hard work.  I usually end up with very sore hands after making a batch.  I get blisters from pulling the hot candy and from cutting it.  My grandmother did not like me to be in the kitchen with her when she was herself.  When she got older and dementia started setting in, she became kinder, and even invited me to come help her.  She made double batches using two slabs, and together we pulled the candy.  Invariably, my rope would become a mess of hot, slippery strings.  She would watch me struggle, then switch with me.  She could take my mess and make it into a perfect rope, while I sometimes took her perfect rope and lost control of it.  There’s definitely an art to making it look pretty and presentable.   

So when the batch just fails for whatever reason, it’s not all lost (well, usually).  Sometimes it just stays chewy like taffy.  Sometimes it creams suddenly before you can cut it.  Then you have ugly crumbly pieces, but it still tastes good.  If you cook it too long, you end up with hard candy.  It all tastes good; it’s just not what you hoped to end up with.

After my grandmother had full-blown-no-doubt-about-it Alzheimer's, I brought her a sample of cream candy I'd made.  She didn't say anything, but took a piece out of the tin and eyeballed it closely.  She frowned and studied it, turning it over to view it from all angles, then stuffed it down in the chair cushion.  I didn't take offense; she did that with food all the time after her mind was gone.

Second from left - my grandmother.  Far right, Ruth.  Center, Louise.  My grandmother and Louise both had Alzheimers before death.   

Sunday, December 21, 2014


I should go to bed.  I don’t want to.  As soon as my head hits the pillow, it’ll be Monday morning.  Never you mind that I’ve already planned to take Wednesday off (which means a 5-day weekend with Christmas!!!!), but I’m dreading tomorrow.  I’m going to a new dermatologist about a spot on my face that is most probably skin cancer.  Again.  Damn it.  No doubt my face will be all chewed up by some chemical or cut on like Frankenstein when I have to go into a classroom and stand up in front of a bunch of strangers on January 12th.  Great.  I’m hoping whatever happens, it can be done tomorrow, and hopefully not the 3-weeks of toxic chemical to my face.  I hope she can just cut/burn/freeze the spot somehow.  We will see.

I drove over and visited Sarah today.  She has a fabulous Christmas tree, and the perfect house for a fabulous Christmas tree because the ceilings are tall.  I couldn’t stay long because my task this weekend was to bake cookies for my brothers, and I had several batches to bake tonight.

Beautiful Christmas tree

It’s a long story.  Neither of my brothers are married.  Alcoholic brother has no girlfriend and little brother’s girlfriend doesn’t cook much.  Little brother asked his daughter to make cookies for him this Christmas, in particular Mexican wedding cookies that our grandmother used to bake nearly every Christmas.  Well, his daughter just had her first baby a few weeks ago.  She texted me and asked if I had the recipe.  I looked one up online and sent it to her.  She said, “Hell!  I don’t have time to make these damn cookies.”  Of course she doesn’t!  If she has any spare time at all, she’s probably sleeping.  My brother has no clue what being a new mother is like.  I told her not to worry, I’d make cookies for him.

So, little brother stopped over Friday evening.  He asked if I was baking cookies for him.  I assured him I would get some to him before Christmas.  He said, “While you’re at it, I’d really like some chocolate chip ones too.”  That’s my brother!  Anyway, I baked the Mexican and chocolate chip cookies, and then Someone pouted because they were not for him.  Being the good house slave that I am, I baked a double-batch of his favorite, oatmeal butterscotch chip cookies.  Of these, I set aside a dozen to add to my brothers’ boxes, and put a dozen on the platter for the girls and their friends to eat.  Someone will eat the rest before Christmas, no doubt.  He eats cookies a dozen at a time.

The empty platter...
Had cookies on it for about 20 minutes, until girls and their friends found them.  

I will fix a small box of cookies for alcoholic brother.  He really doesn’t eat, but the homeless guy who he lets live in his house might eat some.  Perhaps I shouldn’t call him the homeless guy anymore…he’s been living in my brother’s spare bedroom for nearly 6 months.  Rent-free.  Homeless guy has many of the same problems my brother has, but he’s been able to call an ambulance three times for my brother, so it’s probably good he’s there.  

In other exciting news, my Christmas cactus has eight very tiny pink buds.  I have done nothing to encourage it to bloom, but apparently the short days and light from the windows have enticed it to reward me with reason to hope it may bloom.

Look close to see the tiny pink buds 
I've been busy wrapping presents.  We are nearly ready for Christmas here at the KYLady homestead.  Molly loves to rattle around in the ribbon, tags, and boxes while I'm trying to wrap gifts.  She always finds a way to be in my way.  Perhaps I'll mail out some Christmas cards this week.  Maybe.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ending well

I’ve not written much lately.  There’s been nothing to say, or perhaps it’s more that I’ve not been in the mood to say anything.  With Christmas little more than a week away and so much to do, reflecting on all that’s going on in the world is too much effort. 

However…yesterday was a shitful day.  A bad day can just slap you across the face, like “HEY!!  Wake up!!”  Yesterday pretty much did that to me.  It started off with me oversleeping and racing out the door only to find my car with a flat tire.  No time to deal with that, so I was going to drive the old van to work, but the keys weren’t in the expected place.  After 20 minutes of frantic searching, I found both sets keys buried on Someone’s dresser under a pile of papers.   Later that evening, Someone denied that he left the keys there, even though clearly he was the last one who drove the van.  His argument was completely untenable given that children NEVER drive the van and are mostly never home anymore, and I guaran-damn-tee I would never put anything on or near his messy dresser.   Evidently, elves hid the keys from me. 

Fast-forward to 4:30 PM, and I realized I forgot to order birthday cakes for Erin and Emily.  Yes, I could bake cakes but bakery cakes are so much prettier and more convenient.  Don’t judge me.  I wanted to place the order in person because I couldn’t remember what size to order and I wanted to see some before making a decision.  To beat closing time, I left work early in a rush, sped to the bakery, and ordered two cakes just in time.  Whew!  So finally heading for home, I realized the van was running on fumes.  Great!  Someone ran out all the gas.  I stopped for gas which is no chump-change for a mini-van.  Gas prices are low right now, but it still cost me $50+ to fill up.    

Alright, so I got home and the car in the driveway reminded me there was a flat tire to deal with.  By then it’s dark, sleeting, and blustery cold.  Also, UPS delivered a package that afternoon and it was 
nowhere to be found.  I checked the garage and all around the porch.  I checked with neighbors and then blamed Gracie.  She has been known to take packages off the porch to chew up in the nether regions of the yard.  I got a flashlight and slogged around the entire yard: no package or remains of a package.  Then I start thinking a thief may have taken it.  Totally bummed out!!  The package contained a birthday present for the girls and some Christmas gifts.  Anyway, my next step was to drag out a little portable battery jumper\air compressor and re-inflate the tire so I could take it to the tire-place today.  It took about 30 minutes, but it worked!  That was definitely a blessing because I was not looking forward to jacking the car up and taking the tire off in the cold miserable darkness.  (As it turned out, they found two screws and a nail in the tire today at the repair place.  Three plugs for $21 and it’s back on the road…but now I wonder if the other tires have hardware in them that hasn’t caused a problem yet). 

So last night, by the time the tire was unflat and the compressor put away, I was frozen and wet.  My socks and shoes were sopping and my feet were numb from cold.  I came in and changed into warm, fuzzy pajamas, fixed a cup of hot tea, and went to my desk to do some work.  Behold!!!  There was the missing package laying in my chair.  Emily had stopped by, picked it up off the porch, and placed it in my chair which is usually the first place I go when I come home from work.  No doubt she knew I'd find it there.  All’s well that ends well, and so it was yesterday.

Happy birthday to my youngest ladies.  Today they are 19 years old.  Their boyfriends came over to celebrate with us.  All in all, it's been a very quiet evening after a good day.  

Erin is 32 minutes older than Emily.

Gracie almost got Erin's cake while we were taking this photo.

Friday, December 5, 2014

just keep swimming

My blog is collecting dust, it seems.  No new words from the author lately.  She has been preoccupied with work.  Work.  WORK.  Today I learned that a colleague is going part-time starting January 1, and they want me to pick up some of her work.  Um well, OK.  My backlog is currently 41 months, and it’s only going to get worse if they give me more to do.  But it really is OK, because maybe I’ll be retiring next year if things fall into place for me.  Also, I worked her area of the business before (15+ years ago), and it’s interesting work – laboratory quality control.   

So similarly to the days when I was up-to-my-eyeballs in my dissertation, I come home from WORK, sit down at my desk, and start my second job – online adjunct professing-to-know-something (aka teaching).  It’s too much sitting for me all the time – two desk jobs.  Unless I explicitly schedule time to take Gracie for a walk or do something else for fun, it just never happens.  I need a wife – someone who can be responsible for keeping the house clean and stuff maintained, the bills paid, the laundry caught up, etc.  Next semester, I’m teaching two classes.  It’s only going to be worse than now.  Being the house-servant (aka wife) is really another job for me.  Someone is damn lucky to be married to me (at least, sometimes…sometimes, not so much).

Sarah came home to visit us over Thanksgiving holiday.  It was fun to have all three girls home together; it doesn’t happen often.  It’s wonderful to hear them talk and laugh together, and maybe they really do enjoy (or at least appreciate) each other’s company more now that they are all living in separate towns.   Hopefully we can take a vacation together next summer.  It’s never a dull moment when these three quirky-birds get together.  I tried to take a decent photo of them together but they had to be goofy.   

The Walking Dead is in mid-season break until February.  I miss it already.  Now there will be a great two-hour void in my life.  And this, folks, is why my blog is so…what?  Nothing.  My blog is shit because the highlight of my typical week is watching a TV show.

Perhaps I’ll finish the book I’m reading, Deliver Us from Evil (authored by Ralph Sarchie).  It really has given me a new perspective on evil and religion…especially evil, but also the potential for a whole new plane of existence.  The author tells first-person stories with such conviction and detail that he is believable, even though the content seems impossible.  I’ve oftentimes watched Long Island Medium and wondered how much of the show is staged and how much is real.  If her ability to communicate with the spirit world is anything like we are led to believe in the show, then surely Ralph Sarchie’s stories should be believed.  It’s mind-boggling stuff.

Anyway, tomorrow I do some Christmas decorating and perhaps some shopping.  Also, I’ll be doing some grading and work to prepare my classrooms for the upcoming spring semester.  There is much to be done…always.