Monthly Archives: November 2012

Overheard at the Diner

When I walk into the diner now, Freddy goes and gets my coffee and small orange juice, Nancy (the waitress) waves me to a booth and says, “You don’t need a menu, do you? Same as always?” This leaves me with a rather big dilemma: late next week my daily appointments in Milford come to an end (that’s a good thing), which means that my driving past the diner each morning ends as well. I am seriously considering driving into Milford just to go to the diner for breakfast a day or two a week because I’d hate to lose my status as a “regular.” I haven’t yet gotten to the “Hi, Pat” status. The same people come in each morning. The waitresses seem to be very glad to see them and remark if someone hasn’t been there in a while. Nancy often sits in the booths of the regulars to catch up on local gossip. This morning the talk on my side of the diner (the counter side, not the window side) was who was wearing/using/buying/etc., things that were marked “Made in China” or “Made in USA.”

Over the years I have attempted (not very successfully) to buy things made in this country. Up here, however, it is a religion. The guy who sits with Ginny (who I think may be related to the owners since she occasionally speaks Greek) proudly displayed his LL Bean boots (“Made in Maine,” he said), his 1960s era plaid Pendleton shirt (“when they still made them in the USA”), and hunting pants also made in the US (as is his gun and ammo). For the record bear season has been extended until tomorrow. The bears, they decided, were made in the USA — they laughed heartily over that one!!

After he left to go huntin’, the other waitress came over the said that clothes made in other countries don’t fit anyway. And, she said with obvious derision, they had labels “Made in India,” and “Made in Vietnam.” After the latter, she commented, “They killed our boys and now we are buying goods made there.” I found it interesting that the War in Vietnam is still so close to the surface. It made me think about how I pride myself on being aware of what’s going on in the world. When I listen to polls quoted on MSNBC, I wonder who those people are sometimes, but now I know. There are certain issues, like where goods are produced, that are VERY important to people. I just hadn’t been in a place to hear it firsthand.

And so, I realize that there’s always more to learn about people and issues and perhaps going to the diner a couple of times a week is a way to stay in touch; a way to be more open to what folks are thinking about — people who don’t necessarily think the same way I do. Almost all the people in the diner were Romney supporters and now are concerned about the country, jobs, how the region will be affected by economic policies. As I eavesdrop under cover of reading my book or checking email, I realize that none of the men and women at the diner make negative comments about people only policies. I wonder if at some point I’ll be included in the conversation now that I’m a regular!

Snow or Ice? Ice Wins!

As I went about my early morning routine the sun came up and it was spectacularly beautiful. The sun sparkling off the snow crystals was something I had not seen in a very long time. I quickly realized that beauty comes with a price and one of the reasons it was so pretty was that the sun was also reflecting off the ice that coated my driveway, stairs, and deck walkway to the stairs. Fortunately my son-in-law, David, helped me put ice melt in a container on the stairs near the car and recommended that I keep a container in the car as well (which I didn’t yet, but will tomorrow!!). After bundling up with snow gloves, heavy jacket, layers underneath, boots, hat, and anything else I could think of I confidently headed to the stairs.

First setback — the lock on the gate to the stairs was frozen solid. So, I headed down the stairs to the driveway. I don’t know the exact angle of the driveway, but when it’s covered with ice and snow, it seems like 45 degrees! The fence now extends halfway down so all I had to do was make it to the fence and then pull myself up to street level. It must have been a sight, but I have few neighbors and it was only 7:00 AM, so unlikely that anyone saw me. Made it to the car, spread ice melt in front of it, waited for the winter package to kick in and melt the ice off the windows (yes, I scraped also), and started down Longridge Drive.

Second setback — Longridge hadn’t been salted yet. With confidence gained as a result of yesterday’s drive in the snow, I felt very brave indeed as I proceeded very slowly to the main road. Once I got to the main roads, all was well and my trip to Milford was uneventful. In fact, I decided to stop at the diner for breakfast because my theory was that it would give the ice time to melt. Never mind that it was only 28 degrees!

Third setback — when I entered the diner just in front of someone else, the waitress said, “Oh, are you two today?” I consider this only a minor setback because then she laughed and said, “Sorry. Of course not!” Was that supposed to make me feel better? Will they miss me when I stop going in on a regular basis? Should I drive into Milford each morning whether I need to or not just to make an appearance at the diner?

Upon returning home, I was determined to do all of my outside chores while I was bundled up. I decided that Sydney deserved a walk so put ice melt on the deck leading to the stairs, poured hot water on the lock to get it open, and got Sydney, who was excited beyond measure. However, she did not appreciate the ice — snow’s ok but ice? That’s a different matter entirely. She slipped and slid to the stairs and it was then that I realized that my street was very icy indeed. We made it halfway and she stopped absolutely not going a step further and so we headed home again.

One good thing about snow on the driveway and stairs? When I returned from Milford, I saw footprints so it looked like the contractor had answered my email by sending someone to look at the lock on the gate. Life will certainly be different up here. Ice wins — more dangerous, more scary, and more issues. I’ll take the snow any time.

Quiet mornings

Early on the morning after Thanksgiving, I received an email from my friend Robin who has contacted me every day since I moved from Tallahassee. I had four visitors and one extra dog and everyone was still asleep. The dogs were walked, fed, and went back to sleep and I sat in my chair to read the New York Times and catch up on emails. Robin remarked in her email that it’s a favorite time for her when everyone else is sleeping and a quiet few moments with a big mug of coffee is a lovely indulgence. I made a silly remark about having a lot of quiet moments because I live alone, but then started thinking about small pleasures.

My reading corner, with my big chair and ottoman, is one of my favorite places in the house. It’s cozy and comfortable and I can curl up with a good book, the newspaper, or watch tv. The moments in that chair help me reflect on my new life, family, friends, and retirement. I have always gauged the day by how productive it was and how much I contributed to others and so upon retiring, I felt a bit guilty for not accomplishing much on some days. However, retirement provides opportunities for really thinking about things and reflecting on those people and events that are so important to quality of life. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Anyone who has worked for as long and hard as I have will tell you that this is not easy to do. What, you say, how difficult can it be to just sit and think? Try it. What else should you be doing? What is being left undone because you are “just thinking”? Getting older and having time on my hands, I wish I had allowed myself more small pleasures. It wasn’t all that important that the house was sparkling clean for the children and dogs to quickly dirty again; it probably wasn’t that important that I check work email on long weekends or vacations because I didn’t want to have to deal with a mailbox full when I returned to work; and it probably wasn’t that important that I have everything tidy and ready for the next day. I wonder what I missed but don’t dwell on that because it’s counterproductive and time is used in different ways at different stages in our lives.

Bigger and bigger snowflakes are falling and I realize that you have to give yourself permission to enjoy the small pleasures in life, so I write this to thank Robin for pointing that out to me and in hopes that anyone reading it will give themselves permission to enjoy a good book or lovely view with a mug or glass of whatever you like in a big comfy chair. This Thanksgiving provided lots to be thankful for, not the least of which was a houseful of special people and a few quiet moments.

Are there rules for driving in the snow?

Today we had out first real snow of the season and it’s still coming down. Judging from the deck and the backyard I estimate 2-3 inches that makes the place picture postcard perfect. That is, except if you are driving. I haven’t driven in the snow for decades, so being apprehensive this morning is an understatement. The snow started early this morning so there wasn’t a great deal of accumulation and I had parked at street level, so was pretty confident that I could get my car out when I needed to leave for an 8:00 am appointment in Milford.

The roads in Hemlock were not cleared yet and I saw only one car off the road at 7:30 AM. I have heard from Diane, who just arrived to pick up some baskets for her church, that there were many cars off the road and three on one street alone. Once I reached the main road, it was pretty clear and I84 was wet but trucks seem to have kept it clear as well. Milford looked like a Christmas card and, although the diner beckoned now that I’m a “regular,” I decided to head directly home before any more snow could accumulate. At the time of this writing, it looks like the pictures above.

I’m pretty sure that I drove too slowly or too quickly judging from the behavior of the other drivers. I watched a car in front of me weave all over the road on the way home, and it occurred to me that there are probably rules for driving in snow. However, I don’t know them. Clearly I went too slowly for the trucks and was passed by commuters. There seems to be a knack for recognizing ice on the road (which there wasn’t) that I do not have yet. Do I google “how to drive in the snow?” Yes. Edmunds, the car people, have 10 safety tips for driving on snow and ice. My favorite is “make sure you can see.” Only in snow? “Watch for black ice” is my next favorite because the thing about black ice is that you can’t see it which is why it’s so dangerous. “Avoid slides” is another tip so after reading these words of wisdom, I’m resigned to being careful and hoping for the best.

Arriving home to a dog who is barking at the snow and is excited to go out in it every time I open the door, I stacked some firewood and now am hoping that it will be drivable tomorrow morning. Diane says that there will be no problem tomorrow and I must admit it is beautiful, quiet, and as lovely as photos on Christmas cards. I’ll let you know how beautiful and lovely it is when I finish shoveling the 39 stairs!

Lighting the Fire

View the beautiful fire that I made (with help) after several attempts and advice from all over the world! My niece, Kirsty, is here from London for a Thanksgiving visit and has considerable experience lighting fires. So, after she settled in and we caught up on family, friends, and other things, I mentioned that a fire would be nice but I was having a bit of trouble getting one to stay lit for any period of time. We went on a lovely walk and she foraged for kindling (really she picked up a lot of little sticks on the stairs leading to the street) and returned home to try the new technique. The kindling lit beautifully of course, but we had limited success with the logs, now having determined that they may have been a bit damp, could be unseasoned, and/or were cold. Very frustrating, but we did eliminate some variables and determined that the grate was too large and thus the coals were falling through to the floor of the fireplace and not creating enough heat to keep the fire going! Aha! This makes perfect sense.

So, off to Lowe’s once more (I seem to make weekly trips to get ready for winter) for a new grate. While at Lowe’s, we had a very helpful person add to the discussion of why I was having so much trouble making a fire. Yes, he agreed, the grate was essential and he helped us choose from the four sizes and two styles. Satisfied we put the grate in our cart and started to leave. Gloves are a must, he opined, so I put a pair of calfskin gloves in the cart as well. “Are they fireproof,” I asked? With a self-satisfied grin, he responded, “Did you ever see a burning cow?” Then, he suggested fat lighter (which Adrian always swore by) and kindling. As the cart’s contents grew my confidence grew as well. With the addition of Blizzard Wizard Ice Melt for good measure, we left for home.

With great excitement, Kirsty watched while I made the fire you see here! Beautiful, lovely to sit by and have a glass of wine on a cold winter’s evening. It’s been too warm for a fire since — I have single-handedly prevented winter from coming!!

How to Keep Warm!

On my daily early morning walk with Sydney my neighbor (the only one I know and the only one here year round as best I can tell) asked me if I had my wood delivered yet. Uh oh! “Should I have?” I asked. He responded that it depended on how much I wanted to pay for electricity this winter! Now I was getting nervous. “It’s probably too late,” he said, “but here’s the name of the people who will deliver small loads, 1-2 cords.” I hurried home and called but they were busy with clean-up from Hurricane Sandy. Andrea, from Homer’s Construction, gave me the name of the Carrachilo brothers, Jim and John, and said that they might deliver although they didn’t like to have to stop at the gate. Not sure why and this doesn’t have anything to do with the story except that it does say something about the culture up here of not worrying about getting more business.

As you can see from the photo, Jim and John did deliver — a generous cord. “We’re expensive,” said Jim, “but the wood is very good, virtually bug free, and cut to your specifications.” I paid them an extra $75 to stack the wood (well worth it), and listened while they told me how easy it is to light a fire! The brothers were very nice, said they were available for any odd jobs or giving advice (?), and talked for longer than they stacked wood. Very accommodating and pleasant, I felt like Pioneer Woman and looked with satisfaction upon the wood I have right here at the back door.

It occurred to me after the wood delivery that I had never lit a fire in my life except to use Duraflame logs which only need a match and then pouring a drink. So, I googled “How to Light a Fire.” A video seemed like a good idea, so I watched as some soft-spoken man lit a fire with two logs, a bit of kindling, and of course the fire started right away. Then he said, “Now add a log and sit back and enjoy your fire.” Sounds easy enough. I did exactly that and for a moment I had a fire, which promptly went out upon receiving the log that was supposed to allow me to enjoy my fire all evening. Not to be deterred, the next morning, I cleaned out the fireplace, repositioned the grate, and set a fire for that evening. Before you ask, yes, the firewood was dry and I had it inside for at least 24 hours to make sure. Again, I followed directions except this time I asked my friend, Robin, who is an expert at making fires. She said, try using some newspaper, so I did that as well. Again, I had a fire for a few minutes and, when I went to put a larger log on, it promptly went out.

Taking advantage of any and all avenues, I put out the call on Facebook. Libby said that she was very good at starting fires by leaving pot holders close to the stove top. Ashby submitted my favorite suggestion — use kerosene. Scary! This shouldn’t be all that difficult — after all, didn’t cavemen light fires? And they didn’t have long matches and wood cut to size! I’m ready for winter, ready to save money on my electric bill, but can anyone tell me how to make a fire??

“…Only One?”

When one is alone, sometimes it’s difficult to go out for meals, especially since waitresses, like the ones at the Milford Diner, always seem to say things like, “Only one,” or “Are you on your own?” or “Just you?” I have determined that they do not mean anything by it and really don’t care — they just want to know where to seat you. In an effort to get over my reluctance to dine alone, I have gone to the Milford Diner on my way home from an 8:00 appointment each day in Milford. Since buying my home in 2008 I’ve been to the diner many times. However, I’ve never been “a regular.” I’m sure you have heard that the best diners are owned by the Greeks and this one is no exception. That accounts for the eclectic decor which consists of famous people who have been there — JFK — Yankee memorabilia, photos of the original diner and the makeover (pictured above), and crosses of various sizes and shapes. All of the waiters are Greek and I have the feeling they are all related as well.

The same people arrive at the diner each morning at the same time and it is the place to go for local, regional, and national news. In line with my earlier post about conversation, it doesn’t matter that the same thing is said over and over, everyone seems to have time to listen, add to the conversation, and expand from the previous day’s comments. Because I don’t know anyone, the waiters and waitresses engage me in conversation. The subjects range from what is on the television — always ABC’s Good Morning America — to the storm, the election or the weather. This morning’s conversation centered around generators made in China where they clearly don’t know how to make motors and where to go to buy American-made generators and tools that will last longer, be of better quality, and you can return them if they break.

I am reminded of Cheers and the outcry of “Norm!” when he walked into the bar. This morning my insurance agent, Doug, came in while I was there and cries of “Doug!” and “Dougie!” rang out. I found myself comforted by the idea of the same people sitting in the same places and noticed that the customers are mostly men. Retired, working, discussing their plans, they are quite serious about the business of starting their days with knowing what everyone else is doing, who’s sick, who died, what’s new in sports. Now I wonder if there will come a time when I am engaged in conversation — do I want to be? — and, if so, do I need to go there every day? Or, would once a week be ok? Whatever happens, the breakfast is very good and they never make a mistake and the coffee is outstanding. I am also somewhat comforted by starting my day in the same seat I occupied yesterday. Only one please.

Wanna Read Some Good Jokes?

Making small talk and chit-chat is essential to getting any services in this area. I learned that when John the bug guy expressed his sympathy when Adrian died and my response was, “Who are you?” He heard from Tim who heard from Andrea who heard from… you get the idea. My friend, Joyce, says that people just seem to talk to me and tell me about their personal and professional lives and feel comfortable discussing just about anything! S&T Auto in Dingman’s Ferry is my go-to place for getting the car serviced so I took it in yesterday getting it checked out before snow starts to fall (today!).

S&T is owned by former NYC policemen and firefighters apparently, although I haven’t quite figured out who’s who. George (I think) answered the phone when I called on Monday to make an appointment. I reminded him who I was (by car make and model) and asked if it could be anytime 1:00 PM or after. “Well…we do all our heavy stuff after 1:00 and probably can’t do it tomorrow,” said George. “Okay,” says I, “why don’t you tell me when and I’ll be there. I’m flexible.” George: “I don’t know when we can squeeze you in because it’s busy you know.” Pat: “OK. Just give me a day and time.” George: “How about tomorrow at 1:00 PM?” Hmmm. We obviously came full circle.

I dutifully arrived 5 minutes early yesterday and sat down in the tiny office after announcing myself to George who was sitting behind the counter in a room that was barely eight by eight I’d think. We talked about voting and the long lines. He told me about Dingman’s and I told him about Pike County and then he told me about Ginger and the other women that work at the polls and how he would never have to show photo id because everyone knows him. Sergio, who was going to work on my car, went home for lunch and to vote and George was insistent that he not be a moment late. “It’s not a problem,” I said, “Everyone should have the opportunity to cast their vote and the lines are long.” George went on to say that they have plenty of time before and after work and, with business having fallen off lately, he’d give him 5 minutes or else (not sure what that meant).

So we sat there together. I took out my book and then George said, “Wanna read some good jokes?” Not really — I’m not much of a joke person, can’t remember a punch line minutes after hearing it but I didn’t seem to have a choice. A local publication (and I use that term very loosely) called “Our Town” apparently publishes jokes that people send in — more like very short stories than jokes. He thrust the current issue into my hands and watched me as I read. When I smiled or laughed, he asked which one I was reading. When I got to the one about the blonde female mortician (that was the name of the joke), I remarked that it could be considered offensive by some. He said, it has nothing to do with the joke so it doesn’t matter (it had everything to do with the joke). After reading them all, I said I’d look for the free issues at the local deli next time — it apparently comes out either weekly or monthly.

A few minutes later a mother and daughter walked in and sat down in the two remaining chairs. George was still going on about the jokes and the daughter said, “Oh, you must be talking about the latest issue of “Our Town”.” “Weren’t the jokes terrific?”

I Voted in PA!

After the ordeal of getting a voter’s registration card in Pennsylvania (see earlier post!), I was naturally a bit nervous that all would go well this morning when I went to vote. I arrived at the Pike County Senior Center to see hundreds of cars parked along the sides of the road. Obviously I was in the right place. I found a place to park and hiked down to the line that stretched well into the parking lot and had hundreds of very cold people waiting to vote. It was 20 degrees this morning so most people were bundled up and everyone was very friendly and good-natured. The reason for this is that long lines are expected here and I was assured that, “later it will be a 3-4 hour wait!”

There were two tables outside the polling place — one for Obama and one for Romney. THE DEMOCRATS WERE GOING UP AND DOWN THE LINE WITH HOT CIDER AND MUFFINS; THE REPUBLICANS WERE STANDING AT THEIR TABLE HANDING OUT PENS!! What a wonderful metaphor, I think, for the basic difference between the two current ways of thinking. I couldn’t wait to share this which is why I rushed in to write!

An hour and a quarter later (I did have cider but no muffin), I cast my vote at one of six computer stations once I was called by the state police officer to the A-G line which didn’t have many people! What a wonderful feeling to vote! I do not remember feeling so good about the process and my participation in it since I walked into the gym at the local middle school in Jericho, Long Island, to cast my first vote after turning 18.

I am still reflecting on the diversity of those standing in line — many retirees (Pennsylvania has the second largest population of retirees in the nation), young people, couples, workers coming off the night shift, moms who had just dropped their kids off at school. I watched one young woman who didn’t have a jacket or any outerwear whatsoever — others in line offered her hats and gloves. It was quite an experience. Once I reached the “lady in pink,” who would give me my number (I was the 269th person in my precinct to vote), I recognized her from the community office. She had been there since 4:00 and wouldn’t leave until the polls closed at 8:00. We chatted for just a moment and I thought that it was really not a bad experience at all! Many people in line expressed the same sentiment, “We don’t care who people are voting for, just that they are here to vote and are willing to stand in line in the freezing weather to take part in the process!” I am very proud!

Cooking Class…What Year is This?

Thursday night is cooking class night. I signed up for five classes of the 15 offered as something to do to meet people and get out of the house. It’s fun and Chef Michael used to work for Leona Helmsley so there are good stories and he’s very engaging. (In case you didn’t know Leona did not allow tomatoes with skins on them to be served in her hotel!) Each Thursday the group is slightly different. This past Thursday I arrived early and there was someone new. I said hello and she proceeded to take this as an invitation to hold what turned out to be a strange conversation!

Lacy (I’ve changed the name in case anyone from Hemlock reads this), it turns out, is a “weekender” but because she didn’t have electricity at her home (Long Island I think), she and her husband came to Hemlock where they have a home on the golf course (the most affluent part of the community). Lacy was beyond enthusiastic about all the activities that take place during the week here. She said, “I went to the Happy Hookers today,” and then under her breath said, “It’s a knitting group.” Very excited about her knitting project, she suggested that I come to the next meeting. “I’m not a knitter,” I replied, to which she said, “what do you do?” I was a bit taken aback but I wanted to be polite (and still no one else had arrived — please someone come and save me!), so I told her I was retired. “Well, what does your husband do?” Hmmm. Now I began to see where this was going. When I told her I was a widow, she went even further and said, “Oh! This is a terrible place to be single. EVERYONE here is a couple.” Needless to say, I had absolutely no response to this. Lacy was not to be deterred: “You need to meet a man. Perhaps you should try on-line.” Still speechless, I sat there and listened as she proceeded to describe other ways I could meet a man and I began to wonder if Mr. Peabody had taken me into his way-back machine (remember Rocky and Bullwinkle?) to 1953! Thankfully, other people began arriving and Lacy, being easily distracted, turned to engage others in conversation.

During the course of the cooking class (squash bowls with butternut squash and apple soup in them) Lacy also expressed that she didn’t know that you could buy whole nutmeg and where would such a thing be found as well as wanting to know the difference between roasting and baking! This after telling everyone that she has a chef’s range and oven. Oh, well…the soup was delicious (tasting comes with the price of the class) and I was glad for the evening out. See below for how to make the squash bowls — good for soup, rice, veggies, whatever — very clever.

The conversation, however, left me disconcerted to say the least and I relayed the story while Skyping with my friends Kim and Beth. Both of them had the same reaction — what year/century are we in that ANYONE would think this is appropriate?! Of course, I questioned my decision to move here, wondered if there was any truth in what she said, and then dismissed it as being comments that people make when they don’t know what else to say. I really miss conversation about current issues, political goings-on, and ANYTHING of substance — from 2012 of course!

Squash Bowls: Find a flat bottomed squash or cut a little off the bottom of a small acorn squash. Cut off the top and scrape out seeds. For the soup bowl, put honey around the rim of the bowl, and then dip it in brown sugar (as you would rim a margarita glass). If you want to use it for savory items such as rice or veggies, use butter and other spices (Moroccan spices) to rim the bowl. Then roast it (rim side down) for about 45 minutes to an hour.