Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 26, 2008

Josh and Jay help to keep the wood stove going when they are around. It's fun for a couple of days but over the winter it gets a bit dull. Jay had to leave on Friday right after Christmas so the day was empty without him.

Demetra Messoloras (Emilie's best friend in middle and high school) visited and cooked a delicious Greek dinner on Friday night. Here she and Josh are cooking and then we have Demetra dressing the salad. (I know the text does not line up with the photos but I can't figure how to make it work out right. Very frustrating.)

Emilie tried to escape the camera but I got her (and her new scarf).

Josh cooked the eggplant and it tasted super but the skillet was a total mess.

We found this crazy dragon candle holder at a road side rummage sale in West Virginia in October and brought it home for Josh for a Christmas gift. It reminded us of the dragon they have hanging in their dining room/living room door way. It's a little over the top as a hood ornament but it would be super cool if they did mount it there.

Emilie carried River downstairs to the car.

River went into the back seat so she could watch people but Oslo went in his carrier in the very back of the car because he travels better with sensory deprivation, so we were told.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Gingerbread house

For 2008 we started with a Victorian house with a tower. It looked a bit rickety before the candy went on but after we dressed it with a chimney with a flowering vine and some gummy bear roofing shingles and a garden out back it looked like a solid dwelling. The cocktail umbrellas gave a lovely bit of whimsey, don't you think? Look, too for Emilie's garden and the purple and orange smoke from the chimney. Jay applied some windows to the tower side and did a gummy bear shingle roof. We have about 2 pounds of gumdrops left over.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Making the Pottery Studio more inviting

The floor was the biggest problem with lumps and holes and very rough patches that were impossible to mop or sweep. Floor leveler helped to even it out after we patched the holes with a few bags of concrete. Rick and I did this before Jay came to help us.

The walls were stone at the start.

Jay and Rick parged the walls to make them more even. Jay also filled in several large holes in the walls between the basement rooms. Rick has been avoiding this for several years.

Then they were painted. None of these were fast or easy steps. Notice, the clock spontaneously started working again after the wall was painted. Nice.

Rick patching the lumpy wall over the work bench.

Rick Painting the wall.

There are some leaf stamps on the dungeon door to dress it up. It's already dusty again from the concrete work going on.

The floor is coated in an epoxy paint that has to sit to get ready for 30 minutes and then allows a 2 1/2 hour work period followed by a 12 hour drying period. We painted the floor in 2 sessions and did every other stair each time. It was important to remember which stair to walk on.

The walls look nice after they are repaired and painted. Not gorgeous, but nice.

This is the basement phone when clean.

These are the storage and ware shelves. The 2x4 supports were never painted until now.

The shelves will stay a bit tidy for a while.

The basement stairs are much more inviting now with the epoxy paint. The paint chips keep it from getting too slippery.

This cupboard was originally in our kitchen. It now holds kiln shelves on the right and posts in the drawers. The top is our old kitchen counter that was replaced with Corrian a few years ago. Another chunk of that counter is an extension in the table saw.

The new shelves are from Linens N Things. Sad to see them go but these are nice strong and clean shelves.

This small collection of junk may inspire me or I may never use them.

Diagram of location of glazes and raw materials.

Friday, May 2, 2008

India, second class

Dinner and a Train Ride

Rick and I always travel on our own. He finds guest houses and interesting restaurants and we walk mile after mile taking photos. But his research hinted that India was visited with a guide so we booked a tour.

Our trip was difficult, interesting, unforgettable, exhausting, amazing and sometimes wonderful. The problems were often due to our terrible guide and his terrible company (GAP tours) but sometimes they were due to poverty and intense numbers of people.

One night we left our hotel, piled into taxis for the train station stopping for dinner along the way. For safety, we took the luggage off the roof and stuffed it into the taxis while we ate at Treat Restaurant.

The restaurant occupied one side of a large building while the other side had some kind of children’s restaurant/play area where the music was loud enough to cause brain damage. Through the wall the music rattled the tables. Shortly after we ordered dinner the music stopped and the play area closed.

As my nerves began to settle with the quiet, I glanced to my left, toward the kitchen and a rat scamper across the floor to scoot under a cabinet.

I was sitting across from a pale, sad Jen, green shawl pulled tight around her shoulders and head down in the fatigue of constant stress. Earlier that day, while recharging her Blackberry, and she told me she thought herself adventurous before this trip but had reassessed. All future travel would be first class.

Had she seen the rat? Her eyes were closed so probably not. The rat might have sent her into a comatose state or perhaps it would have propelled her, screaming, onto the table. My relief turned to moral dilemma. Should I tell her or be silent? I chose silence because as I thought about it I began to realize that I too was in this restaurant with a rat. Should I eat this food, my last meal before a long train ride? If not, what reason will I tell everyone for my sudden change of heart? Maybe I should jump on the table and scream.

Certainly we had seen rats in Asia. In some Hindu temples people share food with rats – a form of prayer, a source of blessing. I do not wish to be so blessed.

If this had happened on my first night in India, I’d have probably starved but it was the middle of our trip and I smiled wanly at Jen and ate.

After dinner we continued to the train station. There’s an advantage to being in a train station at night. With the heat of the day gone, the smell subsides. With the darkness, one can’t see the, well… the rats.

We waited a long while for our late train but finally boarded a second class sleeper car. It would be home base for 12 hours, clanking from Orchha to Varanasi. The night on the sleeper train was a much-dreaded component of this tour. While I would not rush to board that train again, it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. It was November, winter, so instead of reaching 48 degrees Celsius in the afternoon the temperature merely ambled toward 30 (about 90 F) and that passes for “cold” in India. So, since it was winter, the fans were off. From my slot on a top bunk, I looked longingly at the shiny aluminum blades wishing they would move the hot air surrounding me but seeing the Indians mummy-like in woolen blankets, heads buried to conserve heat, it was senseless to ask.

Let me describe the train. The cars were in sections and each section accommodated 8 people. There were 2 sets of 3 bunks and one set of 2. The bunks, or berths, were green shelves cushioned with a bit of padding. Each person was given 2 sheets, a blanket and a pillow for personal nest building for the night. I started by cleaning my berth with several sani-wipes.

During the night, the train chugged for about 10 minutes, then stopped for 5. While it moved the snoring was masked by the many train noises and the sound of one’s brain sloshing in one’s head from the jarring movement. (How can train tracks be so bumpy?) When the train stopped the snoring seemed to pass through a clarifying filter sharpening the edge of each sound to increase the fingernails-on-chalkboard sensation.

This was my train song - to the tune of “My Favorite Things” – sort of
Clanking of train wheels and blaring of loud horns
Sellers of chai tea and people of loud snore
Bare toes that wiggle ‘neath white crispy sheets
These are a few of the things on my train.
When the flies bite
When the sanitizer stings
When I’m feeling bad
I simply ignore all these things on the train
And make sure my Rick is near

During our afternoon in Varanasi, we were warned not to walk on our own but that’s just what we did. We were approached by 50 drivers by the time we turned a corner. Once out of sight of the hotel, people ignored us.

Imagine this. We found a Hindi wedding march. It was Sergeant Pepper’s Band meets Bollywood - very cool. The bride was a lovely young girl who walked barefoot on the street surrounded by family and led by a marching band in full uniform.

We found spice alley with huge baskets of every spice we know and more and metal work factories where people rebuilt tuktuks. In the streets of Varanasi we crowded with humanity talking, beeping, driving, walking and riding bikes on every street while flies filled the spaces between people and sound. (I exaggerate only marginally.) Streets held cows, trash, goo, spit and urine. In every sheltered corner, we saw men peeing. Where there was no sheltered corner, we saw men peeing. Constantly, men pee. Of course, if one has no toilet what is to be done?

I’m sure parts of India are quiet, calm, aromatic and elegant. Perhaps even parts of Varanasi are serene but everything we saw was intense with color, noise, odor and clutter.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Grandma Anna

Story Jar April 16, 2008

When she was a child, my grandmother, Anna Mallia, didn’t ponder her future. Futures were predictable – carved in stone and woven through history. She learned to cook, crochet and keep a house running. Her greatest skill, the ability to love, constantly bubbled inside bringing happiness and hopefulness, traits she no doubt needed.

When it was decided that she would marry Sebastian Schillace, he immigrated to the United States in 1900 at the age of nineteen to work as a bricklayer in Buffalo. When there was enough money to establish a home, Sebastian returned to Italy, married Anna and brought her to Buffalo. Somehow, her family let her go, knowing they would never be together again. They believed that she would find opportunities for a better life than their small village could provide.

She must have been afraid sometimes but hers was an era when duty dictated activity so Anna left all that was familiar and came to America with her vows to love, honor, obey and bear children, seven of them. The children honored Anna and even as a tiny child I could feel her presence. Treating Anna with dignity was natural as getting hungry in her kitchen.

When their son, Peter, became ill, they moved to the country – North Collins – to the house where, decades later, I would play while my grandfather sat silently smoking his pipe at a square, weathered table outside the back door, surveying his dominion while household chores bustled inside.

Their house was clean and uncluttered. My favorite area was the busy kitchen where Grandma, short and round, sparkling and energetic, was always cooking, washing or eating in her sensible black heeled shoes and apron. The kitchen flowed into a wide, butterscotch colored staircase, a great place for lining up toys, launching a slinky or sliding down the side while Grandma smiled.

At the top of the stairs was a cupboard-lined hall with the entrances to five bedrooms and one secret room, a large closet full of trunks with linens and precious memories of the family in Sicily, Grandma’s treasures. Kids were forbidden to enter that room or to touch the trunks so I assumed, through childish illogic, that the trunks held treasure or dead bodies. (It was the era of The Hardy Boys.)

Sebastian was the breadwinner but Anna was the bread maker. She purchased flour in huge sacks and made rows of loaves of bread. Later, she bleached the flour sacks, cut them in half, sewed a hem and crocheted or tatted lace along the edges with bright green or pink threads turning sacks into wonderful towels. Some of Grandma’s work stayed in those trunks.

Grandma cooked, ate and prayed with gusto. There was always some kind of sauce simmering and everyone who entered Grandma’s home ate - two or three helpings if Grandma’s spoon was quick enough. Aunt Florence said that Grandma could eat an entire loaf of fresh hot bread all by herself. Before eating, her prayers were said with fervent Italian words.

Braided in the back and wrapped around her head like a crown, her long, silver hair fascinated me. When I was about four, I had permission to comb her hair but her faith in me was poorly placed. As I stood on a stool to reach her head, the comb went through her shinny, wavy hair but my little arms couldn’t reach the end and when I pulled the comb back up some hair was still in it. Trying to pull the comb free made it gather in more and more strands until it was hopelessly knotted.

All the aunts and uncles tried to remove that comb, scolding me mercilessly in two languages while Grandma tried to shush them and I cried. In the end, someone used scissors to free the comb and so ruined the cherished braids. I hid among the trunks the rest of that day.

Anna’s Italian voice was strong and musical. She depended on that language, augmented with some tuneful English words, spicing all with her smile, making me feel her ideas from the melody of the words.

Near the end of her life, Anna suffered a stroke. Her eyes and mind remained quick, young and lively, but her body couldn’t move out of the wheelchair. The stroke didn’t end the song of her life but she needed help so Aunt Florence cared for her. I stayed in the big house for a little while and, while Aunt Florence went to work, I answered the phone, delivered drinks of water, turned on the tiny, round-screened TV. I proudly served as “Grandma’s little legs.”

When Grandma died, the whole town came to sit in her parlor where the sound of the little television was replaced with tears and tales about Grandma. People said that Grandma was a saint and, through years of childhood prayers, hers was the face I’d see. Even now, writing about Anna wraps memories of her around me like a hug, her soft grandma-skin against my cheek.