End of Year Ruminations

I just looked at last year’s late December post–the final one of 2009–where I was looking forward and backward, a la Janus, the double-faced Roman god who peers in both directions.  Now in my first full year in Utah I can offer some observations as we march onward into 2011.

  • I still miss trees.  I doubt if I’ll ever not long for the green canopy of the eastern landscape.  The desert offers its own stark and “sterile” beauty, but there’s nothing like cool, green shade!
  • I also miss doing art crawls with my arty friends.  It’s just not the same going it on my own up in Odgen.  I missed the Ogden Art Stroll in November and December, but have good intentions to returning to it in January.  The dynamics have changed at the Crowley-Wilkerson Gallery where I had attached myself, so more artist interviews seem unlikely, at least for the moment.  The Ogden Art Beat, therefore, is on hiatus.
  • Gardens, when tended carefully, give up their bounty.  As a matter of fact, we are just finishing the last of our fresh garden tomatoes that ripened slowly to an intense red on the kitchen windowsill.  Imagine that, garden tomatoes after Christmas!
  • Utah drivers are self-centered.  They rarely use their auto turn signals and when they do, they activate them as they are turning–pretty obvious at that point!–and almost never leave space in a queue at a light for someone exiting a parking lot to get out on the street.  I try to offer that courtesy whenever possible and drivers don’t quite know what to do.  Confusion reigns.
  • Even though we are predicted to get a 4-8″ snowstorm today, we don’t get nearly as much snow in the valley as I thought we would.  The mountains are completely white now and the benches (the lower slopes where houses are built) are well-dusted, but we get mostly rain in the winter.
  • And while I’m on weather, I am still awaiting a summer thunderstorm.  We’ve had a few rumbles and flashes of lightening, but nothing like the prairie storms the Great Plains get. 
  •  It’s still fun to drive around my neck of the woods and enjoy touches of ranching interspersed with housing developments: a small pasture with horses here, a larger field with cattle there, and tractors and farm wagons parked in unexpected spots.  It’s a real mix of urban and rural.
  • Folks really revere history here and their place and part in it.  Of course, unlike the 250+ year-old colonial history the eastern seaboard proudly wears, Utah’s history (save for the Native American chapters), especially involving the pioneers, mostly Mormon, starts in 1847, so it’s easier to document and keep track of.  Geneology and family histories and record keeping is an ingrained and expected element of the LDS religion, and families comply.  Scrapbooking is reallg BIG out here (aisles and aisles of supplies are devoted to it in craft stores) and that also, in part, explains the long and geneology-driven obituaries that besides being quirky (as I’ve shared in several blog posts), list the full names of every relative, both living and deceased.  I am now especially aware as I’ve started volunteering a few hours a week in the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center (that warrants its own posting, so more on that in January, plus photos!).  Besides having the usual donated local family “treasures” (like Aunt Sophie’s tea pot that came across in a Connestoga wagon in 1850), it is also a repository of three-ring binders of founding family histories as written or dictated and transcribed by other family members.  Actually, we can nod and smile that this is pretty intense, but it is fascinating reading and a window into the direct past.
  • I was glad that I made the effort to drive home for the month of June to reconnect with my old stomping grounds and with family and friends.  It was balm for the soul.  I doubt if it will be an annual journey, but I really needed to accomplish it this past year.
  • I am still active at my church, St. Peter’s Episcopal in Clearfield.  We had a lovely children’s Christmas Pagent (Ethan was a shepherd), backed up by our modest choir’s presentation of the choral cantata, “A Song is Born.”  It went very well and the church was packed for the Christmas Eve presentation at the service.  I’m also active in the St. Peter’s Artists’ Guild.  Not being gifted artistically, I do what I can by lettering when necessary, sketching outlines of objects planned for a painting and hanging pictures.  I’ve also agreed to be on the Building and Grounds Committee; this group (3 of us) try to address maintenence and physical plant issues. 

So as 2010 draws to a close, I wish you all a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.  We’ll see what 2011 (what ARE those glasses they wear in Times Square with the new year date on them going to look like?) brings.  As for us, New Year’s Eve is quiet: cheese and wine fondue for dinner, early to bed, and football bowl games the next day!

A grand celebration to all!

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christmas Greetings for 2010!

Well, my first full year in Utah, so now I’ve experienced the full cycle of months, weather and activities, plus a trip home for June to reconnect with all aspects of my former life.

I’m watching light flurries out the window while typing this Christmas “card” and our world is white for the time being.  The sun’s been hiding for almost a week now, but is predicted to return for the weekend, so I doubt we’ll have a white Christmas.  All those cookies I threatened to bake are made except for the Meringue Mushrooms, which will be created this afternoon.  The dining room table is stacked high with tins and plastic containers of enough calories to put thirty pounds on each of us.  Thank heavens many will go out as gifts.  This morning it’s off to church to start preparing the set for the kids’ pagent on Christmas Eve and the mundane chore of a haircut for a shepherd–Ethan.

I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year in 2011.  (Can you believe Y2K is so far behind us and the world didn’t end!?)  I’ll be back with post-Christmas observations next week while we’re gearing up for New Year’s weekend.

And now I’ll end with a Christmas chuckle to keep things in perspective!

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gearing Up for the Holidays

My daughter, Lara’s birthday on December 11th is, for me, the official start of serious holiday preparations.  Of course, the trees (her family’s and the one I moved west with me) are up and decorated, infusing the house with holiday spirit.  Ethan has already found the traditional German pickle ornament hidden on each tree and gotten a reward gift.  The fireplace mantle downstairs is bedecked with a pine rope, lights, puffy white flowers and frosted red berry sprigs–very festive!  And Christmas cards are showing up in the mail on a daily basis.  I even shoveled about 1″ of very messy, frozen snow this morning–more like clearing crushed ice from the sidewalk.  Normally, the snow is dry and fluffy out here in Utah, but this was quite similar to the white stuff back east: wet and heavy.

But now the real “work” begins: baking Christmas goodies and sugar plums (What exactly is a sugar plum?)  Two days after Lara’s birthday, is the Swedish holiday of Lucia Day.  We’re not Swedish, but many exchange students who stayed with my family when I was a teen introduced me to this holiday and the Lucia Buns that went with it.  They’re soft, buttery breakfast buns infused with the taste and color of saffron and decorated with raisins tucked in the swirl shapes.  Very traditional, I’m back to baking them after a hiatus of quite a few years, now that there’s more than just me at the house.  I suppose that’s a second indicator that Christmas is just around the corner.

Saffron Lucia Buns

Next up, going crazy with baking 11 or 12 different kinds of cookies for us to enjoy, give as neighborly gifts (a yearly thing to do here on our street), and have handy as gifts for friends who drop by.  Over the years when I was a young mother, I collected and culled out the best of the best (in my opinion at least) holiday treats and goodies.  One the list to make this year are:

  • Decorated Sugar Cookies in holiday shapes
  • Cream Cheese Puffs with red raspberry filling
  • Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Iced Peanut Butter Bars
  • Coconut Plum Bars
  • Scottish Shortbread
  • Chocolate Twigs
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Swedish Wafers with Chocolate Filling
  • Soft Ginger Cookies
  • Tudor Roses (Butter and Cream cookies scented with Rosewater)
  • Meringue Mushrooms (Crisp caps and stems of meringue put together with melted dark chocolate)

Yikes, since it’s the 15th already, I’d better get started!  Actually, I have the sugar cookie dough made and in the fridge chilling.  I can roll them out today and ice and decorate tomorrow while other cookies are baking.  The bar cookies are a snap and since my shopping is done and my christmas cards were mailed last week, it’s just cookies from here on.  If any of these cookie names sound intrigueing and you’d like the recipe, just let me know somehow.

Okay, enough procrastination–off to the kitchen!  Next up, lads and lassies: Scottish Shortbread.

Yum, yum, yum!

Meringue Mushrooms

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 6:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Dreaded School Lunch

As I was performing my daily Monday through Friday ritual of making grandson Ethan’s school lunch I started thinking about the whole routine of packing a kid’s school lunch and how the contents change through the year and even from kindergarten to, now, first grade.  I recall a hilarious Erma Bombeck humor column in the newspaper when my kids were little that dealt with school lunches.  She, too, went through the months and shared with her readers how packed lunches went from the sublime to the desperate and ridiculous.  I wish I had saved it or I could locate it online (I just tried), but one of the high points was a fabulous lunch at the start of the school year with a fresh sliced chicken sandwich, fresh carrot & apple slices,  homemade cake, and a little “I’m proud of you and love you” note tucked in with a folded napkin.  As the months rolled on, lunches, creativity, and maternal enthusiasm spiraled downward, progressing through lunches that included some bottom-of-the-jar olives as the green vegetable and maraschino cherries as the fruit option.

A school lunch sandwich statement.

As my daughter leaves for work around 7:30 AM, it falls to me to get Ethan up at about 7:45 AM and start the process to get him out the door for the ride to school by 8:25 AM.  The steps are always the same: awaken him from bed with the dog’s assistance; Charlie has taken to following me to the bedroom and gently barking–more of a low “woof”–to be part of the action.  I carry Ethan out as he’s still sleepy and dump him on the couch where I’ll but on a recorded kids’ show, usually “Dinosaur Train” or “Word World.”  Some blueberry waffles, milk, and a vitamin comprise his breakfast.  Next comes getting him out of his jammies and into jeans and a shirt.  Brush his teeth and we’re out the door for the quick ride to Syracuse Elementary.

While he’s eating, I am creating his lunch.  He buys milk at school, so I have to whip up something interesting to go with it that he can consume in a hurry, as it seems that as soon as the kids eat, they can spend the rest of the time outside playing.  He can also buy a lunch at school, but he generally doesn’t care for the menu: pizza, corn dogs, tacos, and similar lunchroom fare.  Of course, you all know what happens; lunch goes half eaten (or worse) and so I pick Ethan up at 3:45 PM and he’s starving!

I recall last year, when the routine was different in kindergarten, that I could be creative and send carefully planned and packed lunches: ham and cheese sandwiches on his favorite Hawaiian rolls, a cheese stick, a cup of Mandarin orange segments (there were aides to assist the kindergarteners with their lunches and to keep peace), perhaps a home-made cookie or two.  Grapes, cubed melon, or strawberries often replaced the fruit cup.

Now that Ethan’s a year older and wiser, I can forget the fancy gourmet lunch contents.   I tried the kindergarten lunch back in September and most of it was returned.  In October, I managed to get a cookie in his lunch–and eaten–as they were iced and decorated Halloween fun shapes: pumpkins, bats, cats, and spiders.  Ethan had helped decorate them, so that was part of the appeal. 

He had the month of November off track, so hot lunches at home were possible.

Now, I can forget the fruit cups; they take too long to open and eat (no lunchroom aides for first to sixth grades).  No fancy sandwich rolls or sandwiches cut out using shaped cookie-cutters.  Just a cheese sandwich or PB & J on one slice of bread cut in half and then cut into two squares (with the crusts removed–naturally, he is 6, and no savvy 6-year old will eat bread crusts).  They’re even chilled, as I tuck in a cold pack from the freezer.  Since it’s a cheese sandwich, we can skip the cheese stick and cookies and fruit cups have coalesced into a packet of soft fruit snacks with liquid centers.  Even a small baggie of potato chips or peanut butter pretzel rounds will often go untouched.  It’s all about eating quickly and hitting the playground. 

Yesterday, we hit rock bottom when I picked Ethan up from school and he brought me a dried brown leaf–to save for next Thanksgiving–as a peace offering.  He had eaten one miniscule bite of his sandwich and two of the little fruit snacks from the opened packet.  I thanked him for the leaf and informed him that the next meal was dinner and there would be no 4:00 PM after-school snack; that would spoil his appetite for dinner.  Boy, did he chow down at suppertime!

So what lunch did he get this morning?  I returned the lunch he had brought home yesterday with strict orders to eat it, then play.  I guess when you’re a kid, playing is more important than food.  But inviting lunches remain a challenge.

I’m starting to feel like the mom in Erma Bombeck’s column.

What a lunch! Lucky Jamie!

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Pro’s Take on Our “Killer ‘Blizzard'”

As just prior to Thanksgiving we had our first “blizzard” of the season, I had decided to create a blog posting with my observations on the recent weather event.  However, the Sunday Standard Examiner humor columnist, Mark Saal (who I read eagerly each weekend), got to it before I had the chance and he covered much of what I was going to share here and probably with more style.  In the interest of not plagiarising him and also eventually sharing his humorous views on some topic with you, this seemed a perfect moment.

I am transcribing what he wrote verbatum, leaving only one unremarkable paragraph out.  Any added comments of mine will appear in [    ].  I can’t claim to have his creative touch and only wish I could come close.  Hope you enjoy Mark as much as I do!

“Killer ‘Blizzard’ a Perfect Storm of Media Hype”

This long holiday weekend, as we pause to ponder the many things for which we are truly thankful, certainly at the top of that list would be: “comfortable, moderately priced slacks with an adjustable waistband.”

But just below that, we would also have to place: “civilization as we know it.”  Because, when you stop to think about it, we came precariously close to losing it all this past week.

Enter “The Great Blizzard of 2010.”

Talk about your harrowing ordeals.  For days here in Utah we were subjected to a major winter snow job, with sustained, howling gusts in excess of 80 mph.

We’re speaking, of course, of all that hot air emanating from the TV news studios.  The storm itself only lasted an hour or two.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For the remainder of this column, it would help in the transmission of sarcasm if, each time you read the word “blizzard,” you used the first two fingers on each hand to make the “air quotes” sign.)

In the days leading up to the “blizzard,” weatherpersons repeatedly warned us that a major winter storm was bearing down on Utah, with the possibility of death, destruction, and noticeably longer checkout lines [sound familiar?].

The question facing me today is: “Did certain members of said mainstream media go overboard with the pre- ‘blizzard’ hype last week?”

To answer that question, we need only look at the sheepish and/or defensive way in which the local TV weatherfolk were acting the next morning.  [In mild defense of the TV weatherfolk in Utah, one must remember that they are forcasting for all areas of the state.  The top of Utah weather is often different from the south where it’s warmer and mostly canyonlands.]

One repeatedly insisted that “We never said there’d be a lot of snow with this storm, only three to six inches.”  (True enough.  But it was the way in which they explained the three to six inches would be delivered–horizontally, with a vengeance–that had most Utahns worried.)

Another morning-after weatherologist felt the need to repeatedly remind viewers of the National Weather Service’s official definition of a “blizzard”–a winter storm, lasting a minimum of three hours, featuring “sustained or frequent winds of 35mph or higher, with considerable falling and/or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibility to 1/4 of a mile or less”–pointing out that, technically, [last] Tuesday night’s storm was indeed a “blizzard” because it met most of those minimum requirements.

Hmmmmm, yes.  A “blizzard” on a technicality.  Certainly SOUNDS frightening, doesn’t it?

Ok, look.  Nobody’s blaming our weatherpeeps for all of this.  After all, hindsight is 20/20, and weather prediction is not an exact science.  And, contrary to popular belief, this was not some plot by the media to sell generators, or snowblowers, or cases of Little Debbie Snack Cakes (which was my [Mark Saal’s] personal way of preparing for last Tuesday’s killer “blizzard.”  [Back in the Philly area we’d purchase Tastykakes, but since the company doesn’t ship them to stores here, we have to make do with treats shipped from eastern Tennessee!  Go figure.]

Rather, I know exactly why weatherpeople made such a big deal out of Tuesday’s “blizzard.”  These people are forecasting weather in Utah, of all places.  It’s the second driest state in the union.  Which means it’s the second-boringist place to predict weather.

Most weeks, our five-day forecasts look like one of those Andy Warhol prints that just repeats the same image over and over.  Summers are, in general, dry and warm.  Winters are, for the most part, hazy temperature inversions [see my blog of 12/21/09: “The Dreaded Temperature Inversion”] punctuated by the occasional cold front.  No hurricanes [though there is a town south of us that is named Hurricane…].  No tornadoes.  And, in an ordinary winter, nothing that could be construed as a “blizzard.”

So when “Bobo” (I believe we should be able to name our winter storms, just like they name hurricanes) came down the pike, local forecasters saw the chance to make the weather exciting for once. 

My wife called me on Tuesday afternoon, just an hour or two before Bobo hit.  “Guess where I am right now,” she said.  “Getting medical implants?” I ventured.  “No, silly.  I’m at Smith’s Food King, with fully three-fourths of the rest of the population of Utah.  Every checkstand in the store is open, and I’m the fifth person in my line.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”  [Sound vaguely familiar?]

It was a run on the grocery store, fueled by Utahns worried that, with Thanksgiving only two days away and a mighty “blizzard” taking aim on the state, there might be a crippling shortage of cranberry sauce.

Despite the hype, The Great “Blizzard” of 2010 will be remembered for one highly unusual meteorological phenomenon, pointed out by a co-worker just hours before it hit: The storm actually had its very own Twitter account, and was tweeting regularly on its progress.

The National Weather Service estimates a 30 percent chance of contacting Mark Saal at _______________.

Now you may understand why on Sunday morning I turn to his column first.  I appreciate his wit and take on life here in Utah.  I guess you could say he inspires me.

Snow on the Wasatch Front

PS    As a follow-up to this weather forecasting fiasco, we had a second snowstorm a few days ago which offered a redemption opportunity for our weatherfolk.  They apologized AGAIN for getting the “blizzard” wrong, but assured us this time we would get “shellacked” (their very word).  We got one inch….

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment