Thursday, September 8, 2022

Queen Elizabeth and Me

 

People are waiting for me to make a statement on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. And so here it is.

To be honest I am not sure what to say. It struck me as a shock. In early afternoon, I got on YouTube looking for something and I saw a video by Lady Colin Campbell that said, "The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen."

That is ridiculous, I said. That cannot have happened. I have not heard this anywhere else. I got on YouTube and looked around at a few other videos and saw nothing. So I went into denial and I forgot all about it until I went to church and got a message from my brother Tony. I was at church because it was the Nativity of Our Lady today and we had a sung Mass and I was singing.

My brother wrote that he would be playing Elgar's "Nimrod" on the organ after mass in honor of the Queen who had died.

The "Nimrod" variation is kind of unfortunately named, you know? This beautiful music and it is called Nimrod. But anyway.

This was up in the choir loft. My friend Nora who is in the choir was at the dry-erase board, writing down what Mass and what Credo and what hymns we would be singing. Nora is about 16 but is always well informed. I approached her.

"Nora," I said, "Did Queen Elizabeth die?"

"Yes," she said.

And so I make my statement.

I feel bad about it. I do not like change, I will come right out and say it. Queen Elizabeth II was the Queen of England for as long as I have been alive. When I was little I collected stamps that pictured her, like the one pictured up above. As the years passed I actively enjoyed that she was a constant in my life. I mean, I appreciated it.

The office of the pope, that turns over like crazy. But the Queen, it was as if she went on forever. And I will miss her, the way I miss Prince Philip. Well, not quite the way I miss Prince Philip. You know me, I really loved Prince Philip.

However.

I do like new experiences in my life. I like to be able to say, "For the first time in my life..." At least under reasonable circumstances.

For the first time in my life, there is a King of England.

Charles is now king. I do not like him. However I can refer to "King Charles" on the throne and that is a new thing. For the first time in my life I can refer to the King of England. I can be like Mozart who, when he was around, the King of England was George III. He referred to the King of England and now I can too.

It is like my glasses situation. For the first time in my life, I do not have to wear glasses when I drive. My eyes have improved and I passed the test (easily!) without them. I appreciate that whenever I get into my car. I reach instinctively for my glasses and then I remember, wait. Fie on those glasses! I do not need them!

"For the first time in my life..." There can be a kind of magic in that. Depending, of course, on what completes the sentence.

We will have to see what the future brings!



Sunday, September 4, 2022

I Take the Cake



My Plum Kuchen was a success at church coffee hour.

Gone in 60 seconds!

I actually never got to try it. This violates Julia Child's rule, "Taste the food before you serve it." However I did everything I could to help it along. I got to church a half hour early, went into the empty hall and set up my cake for best results. I picked out a fine purple platter for it, then unfastened the Springform pan, took out the cake and placed it carefully on the platter. Springform are the greatest. They protect your cake in transit and then you can take the cake out of the pan and it is perfect.

Bundt cake pans are overrated. Springform pans are underrated!

Anyway. After placing my cake on the platter I took a knife and cut it carefully into squares. Then, using a spatula, I pushed the pieces carefully together so they would not dry out while Mass was in progress. Then I sprinkled the cake with powdered sugar. Then I sugared it again.

Then I placed the cake at a place on the banquet table where I thought it would be sure to go over big. You want to put it close enough to the center so people have not yet filled up their whole plates and they have room for it.

Finally I photographed the cake. That is it up above!

Because I have made cakes two weeks in a row, I now have momentum going. Next week I will have to make a third cake. What will it be? I am leaning toward a Polish lemon cheesecake. However my brother George might turn up with some other fruit from the Clinton Bailey Market. That drove my choice for the last two weeks and might do so again.

It is almost apple season. That will be fun!

So many coffee hour ideas.

So little time!


Saturday, September 3, 2022

Kuchen in the kitchen


 I have been rediscovering my interest in baking for church coffee hour.

Out of the tree of life I have picked me a plum. Today I made a recipe from my Taste of Home Baking cookbook. I made Fresh Plum Kuchen!

This follows Peach Coffee Cake which I made last week. That is a picture from that adventure up above. The clutter shows how out of practice I was. However I am getting better!

The Fresh Plum Kuchen called for two cups of sliced plums. My brother George had brought us plums from Bailey Clinton. I took a bowl of them and sliced them. You always think you can slice them neatly however you cannot. There is this pit that has to be removed. The recipe writers never think about that. Here is a secret however: It does not matter. The plums get buried in the cake anyway.

They say: "Arrange them neatly over the cake" No need to bother!

The world slows down when you bake. Getting the pastry together always takes a little longer than you think it will and you have to go with that. It did feel so good today to butter the springform pan and pour the cake batter into it.

Then the plums scattered in the batter. I took my time trying to distribute them well.

Then I sprinkled white sugar over the top. That was my contribution to the recipe.

Then Howard and I were eating dinner so I had to set the timer on my phone to make sure the kuchen did not bake too long. We were out on the porch and all of a sudden I hear this jingling and goofy music and it was my phone. "What is that?" I wondered. Then I realized: Ah, the kuchen was done.

Being on Keto I have not sampled the cake. However it looks good, and it smells good. If something looks good and smells good you know what that means.

It is good!


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Holmes is Where the Heart Is

When I was little, I mean 9 or 10, my dad would read all the Sherlock Holmes stories to my sisters and me. We grew up on guy stuff. He also read us "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped" and other books he had loved when he was a boy.

He would consider it a victory when we didn't want to go to sleep, when we begged for another chapter.

Which, I am not surprised now that we did beg. A couple of weeks ago I read a Sherlock Holmes story for the first time since when I was little. I went through "A Study in Scarlet." 

I had forgotten almost everything. I have not seen any Sherlock Holmes movie or TV show I can recall since I was a teenager and my dad had us watching the old Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce movies. So I have had nothing over the decades refreshing my memory.

I listened to "A Study in Scarlet" on audiobook. I was used to it being read to me. Little things would come back to me as I listened. The Scotland Yard detectives, Lestrade and Gregson. My dad had always gotten a kick out of them. When I heard their names I laughed out loud because I had forgotten them and there they were again.

After that I was not laughing out loud much.

Because, I have to say, "A Study in Scarlet" was terrifying!!

I could not believe my dad read this to us when we were so young!

A few details drifted back. The part of the book set in Utah, when the farmer Ferrier is being tormented by the Avenging Angels, and the numbers are appearing on the walls and ceilings of his house, even when he is staying up and keeping watch. By the way, correct me if I am wrong but I do not think that detail was ever explained in the story, how those numbers could appear even when he was keeping his vigil. That is the one thing that was never explained. It was a big deal to me because I remember that terrifying me when I was a kid.

However as I said before the entire story is terrifying!

It was ghoulish and seamy and it works its way into your mind so you keep going over it. I had not been expecting that. I had sort of thought Sherlock Holmes stories were about Sherlock Holmes smoking his pipe and, OK, sniffing his cocaine, as well as playing his violin, greeting distraught clients, and solving mysteries without ever leaving 221b Baker Street. 

Then this!

Yikes!!!

Those horrible numbers appearing in Ferrier's house.

The flight into the wilderness of Utah trying to get away from the bad guys.

The guy being poisoned. How he had to choose the pill. The look on his face when he realized he had been poisoned. At that point, I have to say this, I shut down the book for a while. I had heard enough.

I was planning on reading more Sherlock Holmes.

However now I am not sure!


Sunday, June 19, 2022

The days of the roses


 We are in those brief magical days of June when the sky is always blue and my roses are blooming.

I stand in the driveway and I do not feel like a loser! I feel as if people are looking at me saying, There is the gardener who grew those roses.

Not only that but there is a rosebush on the side of the house that never blooms but is blooming now.

These are the days of the roses.

My dad's favorite tenor, Richard Tauber, in a song I remember from when I was little...

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Winner of the Buffalo Marathon

 


We held the Buffalo Marathon today here in beautiful Buffalo, N.Y. The results are in.

The winner is me!!

I do not think anyone in the world, let alone in this city, topped what I did today which was bike 30 miles.

Not only that but I biked it on a Reddy Bike. You burn a million calories just hauling the heavy thing up and down curbs.

I did not intentionally win this race and set this record. The fact that the marathon was going on necessitated that I bike downtown to Mass in the morning. All the streets are closed off every year for this race. You just cannot get anywhere. Last year, I remembered, I made the mistake of driving and only a miracle got me there just in time for the opening hymn. If I was going to spend hours in transit, I may at least enjoy myself while I'm at it. And I do enjoy riding a bike!

The 7:30 a.m. bike trip, on one of those city Reddy bikes, went well. The rental bike's gears did not work -- there is always something. The only gear was the one you use on hills, a gear I have never used. However the good news is, I got used to it, and it was kind of pleasant, because when I was riding uphill, I really didn't notice. Also, I have to admit, it was nice having no traffic on the roads. They enforce this race. I kept seeing motorists being pulled aside and interrogated. Not me! I just sailed through on my bike.

I enjoyed that ride so much that later I ended up attempting to bike to the Outer Harbor to meet my friend Brenda. What could possibly go wrong? La la la la la la la.

Long story short, after an idyllic ride down Niagara Street and a glorious segue along the riverfront, a lot went wrong. Hence the 30-mile daily total.

Thirty miles! It was like biking to Niagara Falls and back.

Top that, Buffalo Marathon runners!.


Monday, May 23, 2022

The Charcoal Grain Elevator

 


When I was a teenager I liked drawing in charcoal. Yesterday I picked up a charcoal pencil for the first time since then, and I drew the great grain elevator at Gallagher Pier.

I was at the outer harbor with my brother Tony and as we were talking, sitting at a picnic table, that is when I drew the grain elevator.

It felt really good to draw with charcoal again!

Like ink, there is no erasing. Different from ink, however, you do not sweat it. When I am drawing in ink I really do take time, at least at first, to plan every line. With the charcoal, I think it was because I had a small piece of paper -- I was using my Long and Narrow sketchbook -- there was not a lot of room for detail. So I just went with it. I absolutely did not sweat it. I was surprised I ended up liking my drawing. I thought I was just horsing around.

Something is fitting about drawing an industrial building with charcoal. It just calls out for it, you know?

Now I have to get a charcoal pad. 

Haha ... I never can remember the name of this particular grain elevator, as many millions of times as I have sketched it. I just Googled it, and what came up? My own ink drawing of it. One of them, anyway.

It is the Cargill Pool Grain Elevator, at least that is the name I went with.

The ink sketch is very different from the charcoal sketch. That particular ink drawing is the most delicate drawing I have ever done. It is a line drawing. I left it that way because I liked it.

I also like it in charcoal.

Rough and ready!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Clutter-Free Cat

 


A few days ago I wrote in triumph about cleaning up the office.

Jeoffry is sure enjoying the clean space!

He spends hours stretched out just enjoying the view of all the birds and squirrels. He clucks and chirps to himself. OK, in the picture above, my desk got a little messy with markers and stuff. But I always clean it up before the end of the day. There is nothing like this room, I am telling you. Sometimes I go in there just to sit. I just sit down and stare into space and think: I did this. I am back working on my writing too. Everything just seems doable now that did not before.

I have improved it since last I posted and I will have to take more pictures. However I hope this might some day inspire someone, somewhere.

Clean that clutter!

If I can do it, anyone can!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Bring Flowers of the Fairest

 


Today my house cleaning continued. Really, cleaning does not actually say it. I wished I had one of those construction debris thingies attached to the window so I could just dump stuff into it!

Finally in the evening I went outside and picked some violets. I was going to do a painting of them. However when I got inside with them I had another idea.

I remembered when I was little and we used to put flowers in front of our statue of the Blessed Mother. I loved that about May. We would say a decade of the Rosary and sing a song, maybe "'Tis the Month of Our Mother," something like that. I always remember those beautiful evenings, like tonight -- warm, fragrant. Howard and I ate dinner on the porch tonight and the air had the aroma of flowers.

I do not think I ever thought to do this in my adult life, but tonight I thought, I will put these violets in front of my statue of Our Lady.

Now things grew complicated. For one thing I could not find the right size vase. For another I have two statues of Our Lady. What to do? What to do?

I have them arranged on the sun porch with St. Joseph in the middle. Remember the statue of St. Joseph, how I got it? That is this statue.

After reviewing the situation I finally put the violets in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel because her eyes seemed to go sweetly in the direction of the flowers. Heck, it really doesn't matter, you know? Whatever statue the flowers go in front of, they go in front of Our Lady. 

The Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue also is special to me because Howard fixed it. Jeoffry knocked her down once when I foolishly had the statues on the radiator. I remember Howard breaking the news to me. "It's bad," he said. But then he glued her back together. I was so grateful because my mother had given me this statue.

Long story short, now we have violets in front of her. I said a "Hail, Holy Queen," a prayer that I love, and I really loved continuing my childhood tradition, after all this time.

Now I have this song on my brain...

Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today...

Queen of the angels, Queen of the May!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Marie Kondo and Me

Today was a huge day in my life. I Feng-Shui-ed the office!

This is Howard's and my shared office/studio in the back of the house.

Here is a Before picture. Yikes!


And from another angle. Double Yikes!


I had not planned this project for today. It is 80 degrees and sunny and it made no sense to be working inside. However in a way housework goes more easily on a beautiful day. You do not feel so discouraged.

While I worked I got on YouTube and listened to the audio version of that book Marie Kondo wrote on decluttering. I had heard it before. It sort of goes off the cliff when she talks about your possessions having thoughts and feelings. However it beats a few other videos I tried. I do not want to be told that people are happier without any possessions, which is what one video started pushing. And I do not want to be blamed as an ugly American for having too much. With me it is not a matter of keeping up with the Joneses. It has never been. I do not even know what the Joneses have nor do I care.

At least Marie Kondo is calm and she has a sense of humor. I would laugh at what the book was saying as I worked. 

Jeoffry took a liking to the garbage bag.

I did not get everything done that I wanted to get done because other rooms in the house got involved, also I had to go to choir. However I got done what I needed to get done for today. And it will continue tomorrow. 

Here are the After pictures. 



Notice my old pole lamp from when I was a kid. I really enjoy that lamp.

It is not perfect, I am not saying that. You will see I did not get to the huge pile of books because I had to run to choir and before that get in a sketch. However tomorrow is another day.

But what I did get done was magic to me. See the sun on the floor? I could not believe walking barefoot across that hardwood floor -- I had forgotten I had hardwood floors because there was so much stuff in the way. And sure, they are not professionally refinished or anything, but they feel beautiful under your feet, these warm boards. I do not even know if I want them refinished. It is like my old Steinway. I love my 1905 Steinway as is. This floor is beautiful and it feels great.

I am looking forward to tomorrow. I am afraid I am going to waste another beautiful day but still.

This feels great!


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Jeoffry Counteracting the Devil


 Jeoffry on the windowsill as twilight falls.

There is that line from "Pippin".. "Cats fit on the windowsill." We sang that song way back at Christ the King and I never forgot it.

Cats fit on the windowsill.

They do!

Haha, that picture looks so, ahem, urban. The curtain is like that because I bunch it up so it clears the part of the window that is open. 

I was not aware when Jeoffry slipped into the room and I did not hear him jump up onto the windowsill. I looked over and there he was and it was so cute I took the picture.

What do cats look at when they are on the windowsill? What do they see?

Here he is in the kitchen, looking out into the night.


That is explained in the poem "My Cat Jeoffry":

For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

The picture shows Jeoffry counteracting the powers of darkness.

And there is also this line:

For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

True!!


Monday, May 9, 2022

The Great Northern Elevator in Graphite



So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the Great Northern Elevator.

This particular grain elevator has been dodging bullets ever since a storm took off part of the covering over the elevators, I personally do not see how they can think of tearing this building down. After all on the Outer Harbor they have all this tourism arranged around our grain elevators, and this one is the oldest, the centerpiece, the jewel in the crown. However all I can do is hope for the best.

I have such a relationship with this old survivor. I have sat for hours on long hot summer days sketching it and studying it from various angles, from the Outer Harbor, from Ganson Street, and from points in between. One day last summer I was there on Ganson Street for hours, seeing trucks come and go, watching the progress of the sun across the gigantic structure. There is just something about this building that I love. I remember the first time I saw it, walking down Ganson Street from downtown when I was still with The Buffalo News. This huge thing appeared out of a mist -- it was a misty foggy day. And I said out loud, "What in the world?"

Long story short, today I went back today and I drew it in, ahem, graphite.

Why say pencil when you can say graphite?

I have been doing a little drawing recently in, ahem, graphite. Sometimes it's good to try something different. Drawing in ink all this time has been good for me because even when working in graphite, I never erase. I never think about erasing. I just dig in and draw.

You do kind of dig in when you are working in graphite. It has this texture. I realize I handle things differently. Starting the drawing feels different. With ink I usually start with one deliberate but delicate line. With the graphite I just hit it, hard and fast. It's a lot of fun.

Plus there is just something kind of viscerally satisfying in drawing an industrial scene in a medium that is more gritty and smudgy! Trucks and train cars kind of call out for that kind of thing.

You know what, I like this drawing. It is all smudgy on the right because I am right-handed, and I guess it is kind of rough. I sort of missed the detail I could have gotten in with the finer-tipped ink pen. However that's the game. The rules are different.

I noticed I worked faster. Guess what my favorite part of the drawing was? You're right! That truck in the middle!

It looks like a pig! That's what I thought when it pulled up. And I just laid it out in a few heavy strokes of that pencil. I was using some kind of soft pencil. My favorite brand, Artist's Loft. I had to sharpen it literally every two minutes. I think I used up half of it.

When I try this in charcoal, I think I will need bigger paper. I need to work big or else I will not be able to get in any detail, and you know me and detail.

This is going to be a good summer. 

I am thinking big!

Friday, March 18, 2022

How To Identify Birds, and the Bird I Saw Today

On lucky days I spot a new bird! Today was one of those days.

On my walk in Delaware Park I heard a bird call, a kind of low rumbling call, I never remember hearing. It is hard to describe bird calls and I do not know the correct terminology. However I was able to fix the call in my head so I would remember it.

Then I looked up into the tree I was passing hoping I could see the bird. This time of year, you do not have all the leaves in the way, so sometimes you can. And sure enough! I saw him!

He had a red head. The rest of him was gray. He was making that call and another bird was answering him from another tree.

I got home and found this great site, All About Birds.

They have a feature called Bird ID.  Oh, darn. I am trying to link to Bird ID and now it is demanding my email and stuff. A few minutes ago I was able to get around it somehow by Googling "Northeast US Bird With Red Head." And this site came up, and it let me do Bird ID.

They ask you questions such as, where were you when you saw the bird? Buffalo, N.Y., USA.

Where was the bird? On a beach, on the ground, at a feeder, in a tree? In a tree.

What colors were the bird? They let you choose two and I put "red and gray."

I discarded a few possibilities -- robin, scarlet finch -- because I know robins, duh, and for finch, the call was not right.

About the fourth bird down, though, I had a positive ID. The sound was "a churr, a kwirr." I listened to it to make sure.

It turns out what I saw was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker!

Triumphantly, I clicked a box that said, "Yes, that's my bird!"

Success!

I copied the picture from All About Birds and pasted it up above and now I am sitting here regarding it proudly.

A new addition to the mental aviary!