Search This Blog

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thoughts on Things: Making Molehills

I wish I knew how to make molehills. It must be fun to work in miniature, creating a little bump where none was before. And then to smash it or kick it aside when you tire of it.


I make mountains, myself. Mountains R Us. Give me a grain of sand—from which an oyster might make a pearl, an ordinary person a molehill—and I'll manage to grow it into a mountain.


I water it with my tears and my fears. I give loving attention to it, never flagging in my devotion. That grain of sand grows. It's too big now for any oyster. In fact, it could itself swallow a dozen oysters or two.


Watch it grow as I pour my energy into it. I feed it. I roll it between my fingers like a worry bead. And the more it grows, the more there is to feed and the more energy I spend on it. Soon it's on its way to being a true mountain. A magic mountain. I am a magician.


Once it's a fully grown mountain, what do I do? I slide down it. I can go from high to low in the snap of a finger, the wink of an eye, two shakes of a lamb's tail.


But after my mountain is fully grown, I lose interest. It's time for a different mood. Up. Down. Up. Down. My astrologer says that's because my Moon is in Gemini. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, Mercury, who is apparently the only god with free access to the Underworld, goes leaping from the Underworld to the Other World at a thrilling pace. Do not pass go, Mercury. Just slide your way to the highest highs and the lowest lows. That's the way you are, the way I am.


After all these years, there's some comfort in knowing that the fault lies not with me but with my stars.


One night I was in the depths of despair. I hadn't really enjoyed the concert we attended, even though it was the Gryphon Trio, starring my favorite cellist, Roman Borys, who looks like Jerry Seinfeld and plays better than anyone. But even that concert failed to raise my spirits.


So I came home, still terribly depressed. Nothing was going right. I felt old. I was worried about health. And about what I am supposed to be doing with my life. Big mountain a-building.


I brushed my teeth, and then, from a new container the dentist had given me, I took a length of floss and put it between my lips to keep my hands free for a moment.


I was instantly happy. Instantly. Unexpectedly, the new floss was peppermint flavored. And I realized how happy I am to be in the physical world right now, where I can taste bright peppermint, hear the Gryphon Trio (yes, even in a bad mood), and enjoy all delights of the physical senses. If I were in a spirit manifestation (that is, for example, dead), I wouldn't be able to have physical experiences. No peppermint floss.


So peppermint floss made me happy. Not forever, of course. I'm writing this down, so that the next time I start to build a giant mountain perhaps I will remember to cut off a length of peppermint floss and put it in my mouth. Ah, the delights of the flesh.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Domesticity: Cleaning Out the Study

Clean the cobwebs from your brown study. Stop your navel-gazing. Wipe clean the desk where your writing takes place. Dust and fingerprints—evidence of the past—are all over you. You need a clean slate if you are to incorporate new ideas.


What can I throw out?


Well, you can start with old ideas. They may not be very heavy, but some of the really old ones take up a lot of room. So, old ideas out the window.


Wait a minute. I thought I already did this. I already threw out almost everything I absorbed in those early years.


You threw out some of it, yes.


Lordy, lordy. I have to drag out the files and weed them again?


That's the name of the game.


Hold your horses! I'm going back to the beginning. The topic was "clean out the study" and we've gone from that to some sort of existential housecleaning. I'm going to start cleaning in the study.


It's your funeral. Here's this heaven-sent opportunity to let a breath of fresh air into all the crannies of your mind, and you're already balking.


Well, that's the problem right there. I never did understand the balk rule. Sometimes I see the pitcher hesitate and I think, "Surely that's a balk!" but no one makes a peep. Another time the plate ump will just shout out "Balk!" and I won't have seen anything amiss. So I obviously don't understand balking.


You certainly do understand procrastination, though, don't you?




Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Friday, November 9, 2007

Domesticity: Plums

Let's talk about plums. Plum kuchen, for example. Or plum pudding, which has no plums at all. Or Little Jack Horner, sticking his hand into the pie and coming out with a plum on his thumb, the symbol of the corrupt politician.


My husband gets the ters "plum" and "prune" mixed up. We keep a jar of brandied prunes on the pantry shelf. When we're searching for a dessert course for an upcoming dinner party, he might say, "Can you use the brandied plums?" My answer depends on my mood. The gentle, patient wife once again quietly reminds husband of his deficiency by saying, "Prunes, dear, not plums. And yes, what a good idea to use them."


The impatient wife, however, masks her anger over this recurring lapse by asking, disingenuously, "What brandied plums, dear? Whatever could you mean? We have no brandied plums." I think the term is passive-aggressive.


Plum slice is what the German bakeries in our neighborhood make with plums. Myself, I make plum slice only in the fall, when those pretty little purple Italian prune-plums (ah-ha! No wonder my husband is confused!) are the featured fruit at our open-air greengrocer stands. Like the Concord grapes, the Italian prune-plums are always surrounded by the wasps of September.


Buy your prune-plums. Make a slightly sweet, slightly eggy, slightly buttery yeast dough, similar to the dough of a Sally Lunn cake. After it has risen once, spread it out flat onto a large buttered cookie sheet with a one-inch rim. While it's rising for the second time, deal with the plums.


With a sharp knife, cut a cross into one end of the plum and remove the stone. In bakeries, they clamp a hand-operated machine onto a counter and run the plums through. The machine, like magic, makes a cross-cut in one end of each plum and removes the stone. What's left is a partially opened plum, like an early tulip. Lacking a machine, you get to do this by hand. Then arrange the plums cut-side-up on your dough. Do not add sugar or butter. Bake.


After baking, sprinkle the plum slice with sugar and let it cool slightly. Then eat it all.


If you eat it all, you will be enacting one of the ways to commit gluttony, of which Thomas Aquinas says there are five: eating too much (that would be you eating the entire the plum slice). Eating too soon (it's 10:30 a.m.; does that count as lunch-time?). Eating too eagerly (slow down; chew each bite 27 times). Eating too expensively (but the plum slice is cheap to make). And eating too fastidiously (oh, I'm allergic to wheat! Is there any dairy in this plum slice? Are these plums organically grown? Did you add any sugar to this?)


Where was I? Plum slice. We once borrowed our baker friend's clamp-on plum-pitter to process a half-bushel of plums for the freezer. With my first attempt to use it, I cracked off a two-inch piece of the formica topping from our counter. It was years before we finally re-did the kitchen and replaced the whole counter. But while the blemish lasted, it was a constant reminder of plum slice (eating too eagerly? Thinking about eating instead of paying attention to what I was doing?).


All my good plum memories are of these purple Italian prune-plums. Other plums are 1) too messy to eat; 2) so tart they hurt my sensitive teeth; 3) inconsistently tart and sweet so I never know what to buy. I'll just plumb the depths of the plums I know.


 Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Domesticity: Maintenance

Maintenance is one of those "middle" activities. It comes between the first flush of love (the excitement of having bought something new) and the relief of finally getting rid of something you no longer need (please dispose of items responsibly). Maintenance is hard slogging for some of us. It means shining shoes, darning socks, brushing coats, mending. Maintenance is not sexy.


We have a two-filter system for our kitchen tap. I'll leave aside the question of whether it actually does what it's supposed to do, whatever that is. We have it and it's my job to maintain it.


Sometimes I am slow to do my duty. Sometimes I let too many months go by without cleaning or changing the filters. And when I do that, the water flows ever more slowly from the tap. In fact, if I wait way too long, the water will no longer flow but will dribble at a fast drip. After several weeks of dealing with that, I finally gird my loins and prepare to deal with the water filter system.


For a long time now the water has been barely trickling. In the weeks between realizing that I have to do something and the moment when I actually take action, I devise ways to amuse myself while I wait for the water to fill my glass. I read the paper. I clean a cupboard. I write a poem or two.


But finally the day of loin-girding arrives. I absolutely must clean the ceramic filter and change the charcoal filter. TODAY.


I empty out the under-the-sink cupboard. I turn off the appropriate valve and open the faucet to "relieve the pressure," as the instructions tell me to. Then I twist off the first sump. That is, I try to twist off the first sump. It is stuck. In order to maintain the filter, you must kneel at an awkward angle in front of the cupboard under the sink. This is not a good posture for twisting a stuck object, and particularly not for twisting with all your might.


I try. I give up. I try again. I give up. For an hour I keep going back to the cupboard under the sink and exerting all my effort in an attempt to twist off the sump. No luck at all.


When my husband comes home several hours later I enlist his help. His reputation is that he can solve any household problem that needs brute force. But this time he doesn't even need to use force. The second sump, the farthermost one, which I haven't tried to detach, just falls off of its own accord. Once that has happened, the front one loosens up and is removable.


I clean the ceramic filter and put on a new charcoal filter. The job is done. We again have filtered water that fills a glass in a few seconds flat.


Timely maintenance is its own reward.


Copyright 2007 Ann Tudor