Holiday Ornaments

My ornaments

This year I had this spontaneously wonderful idea to make sour dough ornaments with my mom. We used make these as kids, a fun activity my mom had us do with her a couple of years that I remember fondly. I guess I really like to do crafty things on occasion. Actually, I had a lot of fun in an art class for elementary ed majors in college. We learned how to do a bunch of different things and I really got into creating pictures with acrylics even though I totally suck at drawing. I always see great pictures in my head and I can’t translate them to paper. However, I found that if I really, really studied something I was looking at, I could draw it somewhat competently. As long as it wasn’t people.

I used to get into a sort of meditative concentration where I would really study the object as I tried to get my hands to draw what I was seeing. It was soothing. Relaxing. You could sit there for hours just trying to get a small segment of the object just right, and your mind would be so focused and lost, and you didn’t have to concentrate on forming words which is what often makes writing less meditative for me.

I kind of got like that yesterday as I painted these ornaments. My mom did, too. We had the radio on–first to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion and then to a station with Christmas music and eventually to some Leonard Cohen CDs my mom has–and we just silently worked on decorating these ornaments. Occasionally we’d look over each other’s work and compliment each other, or we’d ask to borrow a color we liked that the other had mixed, and then we went back to our own quiet, contemplative modes. Too much concentration to really chatter. I suppose we were taking our art work too seriously, producing quality instead of the quantity I’d hoped to finish.

I, for one, know that I spent a little too much time on some of mine. With memories of the badly painted ones from my childhood (and seriously being displayed as a child about how bad mine looked in comparison to my mom’s), I was really concentrated on actually making my ornaments look good. Unfortunately, in the process, I grew attached to my ornaments so I decided against my original idea of adding them to Christmas cards that I give my office mates at work. They won’t appreciate them as much as I do and they’ll probably throw them out or something. So I’m going to have to just give them candy canes or something they can eat and appreciate.

Anyway, now that we painted about 1/3rd of the ornaments we made, we need to put shellack on them and then loop string through the holes we formed in them for hanging. Personally, I had so much fun working on these that I want to finish painting the rest of them. I enjoyed spending the time with my mom as well as concentrating on something that didn’t involve trying to form the right words (which I’m constantly worried about, even when writing a blog entry about the mundane experiences of my life; every word has to count and it stresses me out).

Of course, I’m still not that great an artist. My ornaments look way better from afar than they do close up–I can see all their imperfections and crooked lines. It frustrates me because I know that a real artist would be much neater.  I was never good at coloring or staying within the lines. And none of my ornaments ever looked as good finished as I imagined them. It’s really hard to take a vision and translated it to something others can view, whether by writing or by painting.

My mom, as always, did a great job on her ornaments. She’s much better at the “people” ornaments while I’m much better at the “things.” My candy canes and presents and wreaths looked good, but my snowman, gingerbread man, and cats look like they were painted by a first grader. I didn’t dare attempt any of the clown ornaments. In fact, I gave up trying to make the cat ornaments look like real cats so after the first two, I just went with abstract.

At one point, I was working on three or four ornaments at one time–painting the background color on several (ie, the white on the candy cane) and, while waiting for these to dry, painting finer details (ie, black outlines) on others. My enthusiasm for the project fed the artistic trance. I used to get in trances like this when writing. I miss that feeling a lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself so lost in the art that even the contemplation of what to do next was thrilling rather frustrating.

Mars Mom's ornaments - Check out those outfits on the girls and boys!

Regardless of my assessment of my artistic ability, we had a lot of fun. And that was the point, really. Just some time to spend with my mom, reliving holidays past from a different time in my life than the one I usually slip into. This year, a lot of my holiday thoughts have slipped back to things I did as a kid. Though, I suppose I’ve been doing that already for the last couple of years with going out to get a live Christmas tree with my dad. In trying to rebuild new Christmas traditions as a single person, I find myself reaching backwards to those things I found exciting as a kid. I don’t know if it’s really an effort to avoid remembering the few Thanksgivings/Christmases I shared with Mike, but it’s definitely an attempt to try on my own traditions as a adult which I probably never got a chance to do before. And I find myself pulling out those things that stand out from my childhood as really great memories.

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Deflated Thanksgiving

I decided to take a short ride before going to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving “linner” (late lunch, early dinner). I was only going to go 15 miles. The weather was nice–about 45 degrees under partly sunny skies–and I was really in the mood to take a spin. Unfortunately, I got up late (around 10am) and then I bummed around the house too long so I didn’t get on the road until about 12pm. I had to be at my parents’ house at 2pm. 15 miles would take less than an hour for me. It would be cutting it close, but it could be done.

I started out at a really good pace. The last two times I’d ridden, it had been on Beau so my Giant felt incredibly light in my hands. I had chosen a simple rolling route through Hudson and Franklin Township along some quiet roads that I really enjoy. Since the ride was destined to be short, I was hitting the pavement hard–climbing the small rollers out of my seat in a sprint–and I was feeling great. I passed a few other cyclists who probably all had the same idea of getting some exercise in before gorging on turkey, all the fixings, and beer.

I went down Seasons Road in the outskirts of Streetsburo and I took the cut-off on Ferguson so that I wouldn’t hit Route 43 (since, actually, that route would give me 20 miles). When I got to the end of Ferguson at Ravenna Road, I contemplated going left towards Kent and rounding a few extra miles by going up Rockwell to Lake. But when I looked at my watch, I realized I was cutting it close, so I turned right instead to head back towards home. Which may or may not have been a good move depending on how you look at it.

I was soaring down the big hill right before Hudson Road (where I was going to turn) when I felt that “extra bouncy” feeling off my back tire that told me I probably had a flat. I dismounted my bike and, sure enough, flat. Now, I have to admit, my gatorskins have been getting awfully thin. And I knew I probably needed new tires. But I’ve managed to eek out a few months since the last flat so I guess I was just assuming I’d make it through the rest of the season.

Normally a flat is not a huge problem. I can change the tube out and all. I was slightly frustrated, though, because I really suck at changing a flat. I take way longer than I should and sometimes I take apart the tire in fear that I won’t be able to put it all back. So I tend to be slightly impatient about the process.

This was the case on Thanksgiving because I knew I was cutting it close on time. And now my well-timed ride was going to put me in the late zone for getting to my parents’  house. I reluctantly moved my bike to a wide area along the side of the road and began to work on removing the tire and changing out the tube. Unlike in the valley, no one pulled over to ask if I needed help. Which suited me fine because I don’t want anyone changing my tire for me, ‘else I’ll never learn how to do it myself. I suspect often I get asked if I need help simply because I’m female and that really makes me mad too–that people assume just because I’m a girl I need help with mechanical things.

Anyway, because I was in such a hurry, I was fumbling like crazy with the tube. And I guess I wasn’t thinking right. The normal way I put the new tube in is, after pumping the tube up every so slightly, I stick it into the tire. Then, I start with the side that the valve goes in and I try to work the tire back into the wheel well. For some dumb reason, this time I put the tube in the wheel well first, and then started working the tire over the tube, making it awfully hard to put the sidewalls of the tire back into place. And, um, squeezing the tube. Yeah, can we say “pinch flat”? Not only that, but the first time I had gotten the entire wheel in except for the last bit when I realized that the last bit included the side with the valve! I actually tried to shove the valve into place at that point, which may have weakened the tube a little as I pushed the valve into it. I did end up starting over at that point, but I was still putting the tube on the wheel well first.

So, finally, I had almost the whole thing done right. I don’t remember why I did this, but I pushed the valve again, thinking it was sticking too far out. I think that’s when I broke the spare tube. I had completely pumped the tire back up to pressure when I heard a “pop” and “hisssss”!

Talk about sinking feelings. I felt like I was on the Titanic. I was about five miles from my house without my cell phone (I hadn’t brought it because I didn’t want to be bothered while riding) with two broken tubes and no patch kit. I looked helplessly at the first discarded tube and saw that it seemed to be holding air better than the tube I just broke that had a huge gaping hole on the side of the tube opposite the valve. So I hastily installed the first tube hoping that I could maybe just pump it up enough to not be flat and, if I had to, I could stop every mile or so pump it up.

So once I got the wheel back on the bike, I rode off down Hudson Road for about half a mile and up a small hill before I felt that tell-tale flat feeling in the back. I got off, pumped the tube, and headed off again. This time, I only got a quarter of a mile before I felt my rear wheel sliding. I tried to pump again and ride. But it was no use; this tire was not going to stay inflated long enough for me to limp home on my bike. I was going to have to, I realized, walk the bike back home. I didn’t want to damage my wheel (and I hoped to heck that I hadn’t already damaged it).

So I walked down the rest of Hudson to the Franklin Connector at Judson Road. I walked the Franklin Connector to Young Road, and down Young Road I walked to the Stow Bikeway. All the while, I marveled at the people in the passing cars who did not wonder why someone dressed as a hardcore cyclist was walking her bike down a road. On Thanksgiving, no one had the fortitude to ask if I needed help. For once, I would have taken a ride back to my house offered from a stranger. I have no patience for walking these kind of distances while towing a bike. But that’s what I did.

Along the Stow Bikeway, about a mile and a half from my house, a guy on a road bike past me going at speed down one of the little rollers in a nice area behind people’s backyards. I shouted to him well in advance of his passing me, asking if he had a spare tube I could use. He totally ignored me! His companion passed me on her hybrid going the same direction, smiling and mute. Nice support network of cyclists!

I did make it home around 2:45. I called my parents to tell them I was going to be a little late. I was annoyed to learn that I had no spare tubes in my garage so I’ll have to take a trip to Century Cycles sometime this week. I probably should just buy the new tires now too since I noticed that the sidewalls of the tire is starting to unravel. At least I have a 20% off coupon.

I guess I got my holiday workout in. Needless to say, I was very hungry when I arrived at my parents’ house at about 4pm. Fortunately, linner was served later than they had expected and everyone else had just finished eating when I arrived. I washed linner down with a nice dry apple wine I had brought from Myrddin Winery–a winery owned and run by a couple at my church. My adventure certainly did not ruin my Thanksgiving, but it did teach me two valuable lessons: 1) Don’t try to grab a short ride so close to the time you’re supposed to go somewhere and 2) Don’t be so impatient while changing a flat… especially when you’re by yourself with no other spare tubes around.

Oh well. At least my adventures kept me from thinking about the ghosts of Thanksgivings past. It was a pretty low key day… once I got to my parents’ house.

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Googled

I just did a little Google search on “mars girl” to see if my new blog turns up in the results (and, alas, it does not) and I came across someone who claims to have a written a novel about me.

Put Karl Rove and Groucho Marx in a smoke-filled room, spin well on 24-hour news cycle, and you get Mars Girl.

I don’t think anyone has ever compared me to Karl Rove before! Or Groucho Marx. Except when I forget to shave. (I’m cursed by the German hairiness. Thanks, Grandpa H.)

Seriously, though. I think a law suit is in order. I am the only Mars Girl.

And, dammit, I just gave this author (potential competition) a plug!

Promise

Yesterday morning while rooting through my jewelry box to find a bracelet or necklace to wear, I came across the “promise ring” Mike gave me sometime during the weeks before we started looking at wedding rings. He made me wear it on the ring finger of my left hand and said it was to “reserve the space.” It wasn’t exactly a proposal—Mike was far too afraid to say those precise words at the moment. It was simply a promise of events to come. You see, with Mike, everything came in slow steps. Marriage was a huge deal to him (as it was to me, as it should be to anyone) and he didn’t want to rush things. He was just trying to get his toes wet with the idea. I understood. And I didn’t want to push him either. Despite the fact that he’d already told me, off-handedly one night at a party at which we were drinking, “Someday, you’re going to be Mrs. F.”

It’s really a simple ring. I’m not even sure where he got it or what its significance was to him. It was something he had in his own jewelry box, not anything new that he bought specifically for the purpose of sealing a promise to propose to me. I’m not even sure it’s worth anything. It actually could pass for a wedding band—small and thin gold with little white stones that I assume are cubic zarconian on half of it. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a ring he gave to a former girlfriend. It doesn’t matter to me, really; I wouldn’t even get jealous. For me, the ring was a symbol of Mike trying say, in a small abstract way, that he loved me and was thinking about spending the rest of his life with me.

It’s the holiday season again and, as always during this time of year, I’m reminded of that increasingly small period of my life (it gets smaller and smaller as my life goes on) in which I was truly happy and seemed to understand the true meaning of family. This is the time of year when we started talking about marriage. His father and step-mom had met me over Thanksgiving in Colorado and they kept dropping hints to us on the phone. The day after we’d looked at rings–and were keeping quiet that he’d bought me an engagement ring–we spoke to Mike’s father and step-mom on the phone. The conversation went like this:

Mike’s Dad: So, um, are you getting Heidi anything special for Christmas?

Mike’s Step-Mom, snickering: Yeah. Like something gold and shiny?

Mike’s face was like the cat who ate the canary as he tried to deflect the question: Um, well, you never know…

If they could have seen his face, they would have read the whole truth of our activities the previous day. Mike was blushing as he always did when his emotions were tripped. And I’d had had to keep it quiet too. I couldn’t tell my friends that we had looked at rings, that I had witnessed Mike buy one. I was holding my breath because I didn’t want to say anything at all, in fear that Mike would change his mind and not propose to me, leaving me feeling stupid with false hope. I didn’t want to jinx it. When he purchased my engagement ring, I told him the ball was in his court to ask me to marry him and that I wasn’t expecting anything until he formally asked. I even told him it was his responsibility to pick the ring up when it was ready (it needed to be fitted to my size). I wanted to know nothing about it until he asked me to marry him.

Yes, I’m a romantic, indeed. And, believe it or not, a little traditional. We’d already broken what I felt was tradition by shopping for the ring together. I’d have preferred he’d picked one out for me and asked me by surprise in some completely random moment. The ring was never important to me. It could have been a bubblegum wrapper or a milk lid ring for all I cared so long as there was sentiment and truth behind his request for my hand. I am not even that big of a fan of diamonds, to be honest.

In my little romantic world, the man asks the woman. Despite being a ranting and raging feminist, it just seems to me a little pushy for a woman to ask a man. I’d be afraid that his heart was not really into the asking, that he would just go along with the idea because I wanted it and he wanted to continue our relationship. I think it says a lot when a man decides to ask the Big Question because it shows clearly that he really and truly wants it. I would feel that I was coercing the guy into marriage if I asked myself. I know a lot of women feel differently about this and that asking the guy worked for them fine. It’s just not, for me, how I would ever want things done.

Fortunately, Mike was a romantic. I don’t think he’d ever admit to it. His romantic tendencies were subtle and shy, but they were always completely honest and from the heart. A small phrase on a card or in an email–“the thought of not being on the same continent make me sad”; sometimes a simple “I love you” whispered at precisely the right moment with a certain tone of voice; tender touches to my shoulder when we were out in a crowd, fingers that begged for connection with me to make sure I was still there; a look in his eyes.

So I left it all up to him to complete the mission of asking me to marry him. I was giving him a backdoor out of the situation. I was giving him more time if he needed to think it over some more. Mike was never a person to rush into anything and I knew this about him. He had to consider everything, weigh his options, think before speaking. To me, nothing was permanently set until I saw that ring in his hand as he asked the Big Question.

My friends knew before me. On Christmas Eve, before going to my grandma H’s house as was tradition in my family, we stopped to have a gift exchange at my best friend’s house. Diane was there too. I’m told at one point, when the three of them were together in a room in which I was absent, Mike took the ring out and flashed it at them. There are many tales from each of those present at that moment–including Mike–on the reactions from my friends. It must have been more of a surprise to them than it would have been to me, as I knew all along that we’d bought a ring. They knew nothing. I wonder, often, what it would have felt like to be one of them, looking at Mike with this ring–my ring, the one I picked–and seeing it all for the first time. They must have felt as I felt when Mike turned to the girl behind the counter at the jewelry store and said, “We’ll buy this ring.” My god, it’s really, really happening.

I know it’s almost too traditional to be proposed to on Christmas Eve. But I think Mike wanted me to be able to share my news with the entire family at one spot (which, to his chagrin, I didn’t quite do right away). When Mike did come to decisions, he was very grandiose about them. He wanted everyone to know. Which is why he wouldn’t let me get a ring with a small diamond, despite my protests every time he had redirected me from the rings with the small diamonds. He wanted everyone to know about us. He wanted people to know he treated his girl right. (I know, my feminist hackles should be raised, but somehow traditional manly strutting never offended me from Mike because I knew he really did respect me as an individual, not just a woman and sex object.) My ring was big and embarrassing at times. When I asked him why he wouldn’t let me settle for a little diamond, he replied, “Because you don’t have to! I can afford to get you better!”

I’m not one to flash money around either. And normally neither was Mike. But, I don’t know, in analyzing it in the years since, I think I’ve come to realize that there’s still sort of a need for men to prove something among other men. A barbaric need to flex one’s muscles, beat one’s chest, and howl loudly at the full moon. It’s laughable and ridiculous to a woman–especially me–but I guess there’s no use trying undo what millions of years of DNA has evolved. Sometimes these quirky characteristics of men make me roll my eyes, but occasionally I can find them sort of endearing. (So long as the man is not using his prowess against me.)

I know I’ve told this story before, about the moment where Mike turned to me in the car just after parking in my grandma’s driveway and, with the ring held out between his fingers, stammered, weakly, “Will you have me?”

I always thought that moment of being asked to marry someone would be more grand than that. And yet, at the same time, I was not disappointed. Even though I knew all along that we’d bought the ring. Of course, that had been a month earlier, and I still wasn’t sure he’d decided to go through with it. And there I was, looking at the man I loved, hunched slightly in his seat in nervous, shy fear–was he also afraid that I’d changed my mind?–and he was asking me to marry him. My moment was less glorious than I ever imagined either. “Yes!!!” I shouted taking the ring and slipping it on one motion.

This event was followed by hours of not being sure what to do. Another person in my place would probably have run into the house, leaving her fiance behind, and screamed to everyone who would listen that she had just gotten engaged. Of course, this was not my way. I suffered from some embarrassment. I feared the reaction of others. I was only 23; what would all my relatives say? I’d only met this man six months earlier. Surely everyone would have their opinions. But no one knew how magnetic our love was, how it’d always been that way despite our very slow beginnings after the party at which we met. I knew it was the right move for us, but I was still nervous and shy myself about the idea. So I tortured Mike for hours by saying nothing as his eyes bulged out of his head in frustration, bidding me loudly in frustrated silence, Tell them. Dammit. Don’t you want to marry me?

If I had to do it all over again, I would have done exactly what Mike expected and run into the party, his hand in my hand, and announced to the world right then and there that we were engaged. I would have suffered the cooing and cawwing of my relatives with dignity and not embarrassment. I would have made Mike smile with pride as he slipped his arm around my shoulder. No one did criticize me that night for my hasty engagement. No one would have questioned (except my cousin Gary who, when we told him, was really weirded out because he and his current girlfriend had only been dating six months and he clearly did not feel he was ready to marry her). Everyone liked Mike. He had the approval of my beloved grandma H. What more encouragement did I need?

Of course, I can’t go back. But I’m sure Mike knew that despite my hesitance to say anything that I did love him. I was proud of him. I was proud that he became my husband. If he didn’t know it at that moment, he figured it out in the days to come as we made our wedding plans and started to become comfortable with each other in our new lives. Young love–crazy and sweet. I miss it often. I miss his little shy blushes whenever someone gave him a compliment or when he was in the middle of an earnest expression of his emotion. These blushes–coming from a normally very confident man–told me his emotions were earnest. Whenever he blushed or looked away with a certain expression on his face, I knew he was revealing something from deep within his heart. It made him so human, so fragile. Like I always felt I was.

So yesterday morning, when I came across this promise ring, I slid it on. But this time on the ring finger of my right hand so not to make anyone–or myself—feel that I was having “letting go” issues. I’m really conscious about not putting rings on the ring finger of my left hand because I don’t want to send mixed messages, especially to those who know me as a widow. I just don’t want people to think I’m having a rough spot. Even if I am having a rough spot. I often feel a little over-scrutinized, but it’s probably mostly my imagination. Usually once a year, on Christmas, I put my engagement/wedding ring ensemble back on (left hand) in remembrance of Mike and that special moment on Christmas Eve in 1998 when he asked me to marry him.

The holidays are hard for most widows/widowers to begin with. It’s the time of year we most dread because it’s all about being with family and most of us feel as though we’re part of a broken family. For me, I think it might be extra hard because it’s one of the dreaded “anniversaries.” I don’t know how many people celebrate the day they got engaged as a formal event, but I am sure everyone remembers that moment and holds it close to their heart. Especially after you lose someone. You can’t help but remember every moment you had with the person because they were the only moments you had. When you had as little time as Mike and I had, every moment is committed to memory. Sometimes I try to just put myself back in a certain place and time and I work to recall an entire day with Mike in the same sort of meditative way I do when trying to write a scene in some story I’m working on. I try to think of all the details–the facial expressions, the feelings, the words exchanged, the way a place looked at a precise moment. It’s kind of a painful thing to do. At the same time, it brings you back, for just a moment, with that person. It’s like our special place where the dead and the living can meet. If only in the living one’s thoughts.

I think I will keep the ring on throughout the holiday season. Or at least until I feel like I want to take it off. Since I lost Mike’s wedding ring (tragically on an indoor soccer field in Colorado), this ring is all I have left to represent Mike’s commitment to me. It was only a promise, but it was a promise that was kept. I’d like to have it here to keep him with me in some small physical way throughout the holiday season.

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I feel like a vampire

Two days in a row of riding my bike after work. In the dark. And, on the days when I didn’t ride my bike, I emerged from the office building to total darkness. I’m starting to feel like a vampire. Really.

Well, maybe not really. I don’t have a craving for blood or anything. In fact, I’m the last person on the planet who would be looking for blood, being that I’ve been known to faint at the mere description of a particularly gory accident. So I’d make a crappy vampire.

Maybe I feel more like a mole. Are moles nocturnal?

Anyway, there’s something really surreal about this time of the year, especially when sticking to the ride schedule with my bike club. It’s like we’re holding onto the cycling season with clenched hands.

Darkness comes at 5pm? Ha! We have big bright LED Lithium-Ion lights, blinking tail lights, and clothes that reflect.

Cold weather? Ha! We have all the right kind of clothes. Thicker bike tights. We’re ready!

But nothing beats how weird it is to ride at night. It can be scary because you can only see so far ahead of you, no matter how bright your light is, and there are a lot of hidden dangers that force you to be even more aware of your environment than you are during the day. It can also be kind of exciting because the world is so different at night. Quieter. You can hear more of the world–scurrying animals, trees dropping limbs, dogs barking, cars way off in the distance. There’s even a general “static” of noise. The general sound of civilization, I suppose.

Cars approaching from behind can be seen a long way off. Their headlights are the like the eyes of dragons lurking in my rear view mirror. They are almost more dangerous to us cyclists at night, despite our being all lit up with our bright lights, because they are expecting cyclists on the road even less during the night than they would during the day.

I just can’t convey the whole surreal experience of my nocturnal musings. I get into a kind of funky zone mentally at this time of year. I spend all my daylight hours indoors so I feel like all my quality waking hours are done once the sun has gone down. Not even the endorphin kick I get from cycling can pump up my mood. Now is the seasons of hibernation; or, rather, battling the primal urge to hibernate.

Sunday Break Away

We had a heat wave this past Sunday; I guess you could call it a taste of Indian summer. It was glorious. After skulking around the house for a few hours, I decided to take advantage of this nice weather and go for a ride. I checked the temperature by standing out on my back deck before changing into my bike clothes, but I quickly determined that I could get away with wearing shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. I put my arm warmers in one of my back pockets, thinking that perhaps it would be chilly once I started riding, but that never happened. The temperature was literally perfect. My computer weather application read 65 degrees when I got back; it must have gotten to the upper 60s during the ride.

I wanted to do about 55 miles, so I decided to head out on a route I know by heart that takes me through Aurora on backroads up to my favorite Winchell Road through Hiram Rapids and reaching my halfway destination of Hiram. My return route was about 10 miles shorter, going to Garrettsville via Wheeler Road, and then heading back along Hankee to Asbury and numerous backroads in Portage County. I love this route because it’s mostly low traffic– the most busy roads I use are Route 700 for about 2 miles from Hiram Rapids into Hiram and Route 303 for a few mile jog to Cooley. There was one route change from my previous route to Hiram: I found that you can use Mennonite Road to get to Chamberlain which crosses Winchell; I previously took Route 82 (busy!) to a Eggleston (at the top of a hill). I like this new route better as it involves very little traffic and more pleasant scenery (and a few little steep rollers, too).

I was in an anti-social mood so I rode alone. At the start of the ride, I promised myself that I was just going to ride in a leisurely manner–not pushing myself or over-exerting. I didn’t want to burn out in the middle of the ride, as I often do even by myself; I wanted to just ride and enjoy every moment of it. I sometimes feel I don’t just enjoy the ride enough. Since the weather was perfect and I had nowhere to be that would require coming back soon, I could afford to just relax. I had a nice late start–left my house around 1:30–and I hit an ATM a few miles from my house before starting the route to ensure that I had some backup cash (I was completely out).

I hadn’t ridden since Tuesday so I didn’t really know how my legs would feel. Fortunately, they seemed rearing to go with only the minor annoyance of some pain in my inner thighs that I’d had since swimming at the gym on Friday. It only seemed to affect me sometimes when pushing a little harder on the pedals.

The sun was out. I actually had to, for the first time in weeks, apply sunblock. The sky was bluer than seemed usual for Ohio, more like a Colorado blue. It seemed really weird to be riding in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey with almost all the leaves gone from the trees and people burning piles of leaves in their yards. The world seemed cast in that dim yellow half-light–like a solar eclipse at half phase–that takes over day once Daylight Savings Time starts.

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Me and my SSSSHHHHADOW!

Being in Hiram these days gives me a weird feeling. On the one hand, I feel nostalgic; on the other, I feel like an outsider. Like my life with Mike, my life at Hiram is another warm, happy episode of my life that ended abruptly without meaningful resolve. I graduated and then the next day, I was no longer a student but an “alum” with no proper weaning in between. I was married one day and then the next I was a widow. I didn’t get a chance to really say goodbye, give either experience a proper send-off. I guess I always have trouble with change. Not that I dwell too much in the past, but it should be noted that the two happiest periods in my life were my time as a student in Hiram and my time, a few years later, with Mike.  There has been no period in my life in which I have felt as good as I did in either time. Just the facts.

Things don’t change much at Hiram itself, other than new buildings, new administrations, and new students. The spirit of the place is still there and any Hiram alum or soon-to-be student feels that. You can’t miss it. So when I go there and I sit on the college green as I did this time, I can still absorb some of that spirit for myself. I can revel in it. Remember. Unfortunately, I don’t have a place like that where I can reabsorb the spirit of my time with Mike, even momentarily.

Hinsdale Hall smells the same. I went in to use the rest room and refill my water bottle. I’m not sure what you would call that smell. Spirit of old buildings, circa 1970s, perhaps? The building is my nemesis for it was tromping down a flight of stairs one evening that I slipped, fell down the stairwell, and hit–I mean bashed–my head against the bulletin board on the landing. Twelve stitches to the forehead and the nice nickname of “Mrs. Frankenstein” for a few weeks. Needless to say, I didn’t go upstairs.

The campus was still and quiet, like any Sunday when I attended. Probably some students who left for the weekend had not yet returned to campus. Things always seemed to get noisier on Sunday night. Some students were playing catch on the college green and others were sitting at picnic tables outside their dorms. Cars lined the parking spaces on the street in their last hours to sit there until they have to be moved to the student parking lots for the week day traffic.

I tried to stay away from everyone. I didn’t want to be identified as the creepy old lady on a bike. I know what I would have thought of me, dressed in lycra, on a road bike when I were a student. I did take a picture of my bike on the green in front of Hinsdale Hall. My bike is cute. I guess I am a creepy old lady.

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A bell tower  clock–which, I noted, was not the same clock noise that was there when I was a student–chimed three o’clock as I finished munching on a Clif bar (my lunch) and pondering my wistful years as a dreaming English major (I’m not going to go there). I didn’t tarry long since I knew it would get dark at 5ish.

I started down 305 to take Wheeler Road into Garrettsville. I’m happy to report that 305 has been recently paved and it’s an absolute delight to coast down. I only got up to 35mph, but I bet I could have gone faster had I pushed the pedals some. I actually wasn’t that scared. I’m just always a little more reserved going down hills I don’t use regularly enough to know their every nook and cranny.

True to my word, I felt pretty good throughout the ride. The last twenty miles are a little more on the hilly side, but nothing too horrible. Since I wasn’t trying to keep up with anyone, and I also didn’t feel very competitive, I actually allowed myself to use the granny gear in places I normally would try to muscle it out. The last stretch on Lake Rockwell Road, going right along the lakes of the Akron watershed (one of which is probably actually named Lake Rockwell), was just so enjoyable. There was a pristine quiet where I felt as though I were alone in the world which is something I think I’d been craving all weekend. By this time, it was getting to evening, and the brown fallen leaves were alight in what I always refer to as The Golden Hour because the angle of the sun casts everything in a golden glow. Shadows are long and the sun makes everything sparkle, especially at this time of year with the lack of green to blot out the reflection. It was the exact right time to be going down Lake Rockwell, that’s for sure. I captured a moment at the top of one small roller before heading down to the next. Looking back at the picture, I just want to jump back into it.

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Lake Rockwell at The Golden Hour

Once I got through Lake Rockwell, I turned on Ravenna and viewed the less scenic side of the watershed–the fenced in side with all the warnings about hidden motion detectors and hidden cameras and such. I’ve never been able to see these declared threats, but then I have never actually stopped to look for them as hidden cameras–or even visible cameras without eyes I can see behind them–kind of creep me out. It’s the Big Brother gag reflex.

For the last leg of the ride, I decided to act like a “normal” cyclist and take the Franklin Connector (paved bike path) from Judson Road to where it ends on Young at the Akron MetroParks bikeway. Further down the road, the Stow Bikeway also connects in and that goes within a mile at two different trailheads from my house so I took that all the way in. Since I was at 60 miles, I didn’t take the most direct “exit” off the Bikeway to my house to try to get those last two miles in for a metric century. It’s nice taking the roundabout way home, especially when really the only thing chasing me off the bike at the moment was the closing dusk. I felt so refreshed and renewed mentally from this ride that I almost didn’t want it to end. At this point, I’d only had eggs and toast for breakfast and a Clif bar all day so I was getting a little hungry.

I rolled back into my house around 5:30. My ride time was 4:08’33 with a 15.0mph average. Not bad for taking a “relaxing” ride, huh? Well, admittedly, there really was only one very short significant climb into Hiram and it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the stuff I’ve done this year. I hadn’t intended this to be a “spill your guts” climbing day anyway. I just wanted to get out and have fun. Which is exactly what I did. It was the perfect way to spend my Indian summer day.

On a day like Sunday, you forget that ski season is really right around the corner… You almost remember the thrill at the height of summer when every day is a possible day to just jump on your bike for 50-60 miles. Of course, having this one day amidst all the cold days we had there at the end of October, really makes me appreciate Ohio’s occasional mercy. It was almost the same excitement as going for a ride on the first warm day in spring.

Perspective

I was 24 when I got married.  I had a delayed teenager-hood due to the fact that I was not popular in high school. When I went to college, I did all the things some people did in high school–got drunk, experimented, stayed up as late as I wanted, partied, etc. I basically felt as though I were an adult, even though my adulthood was false being that I was living in student housing without any real responsibilities other than my school work. It was a great time in my life. I learned a lot about myself; much of what I am today (mainly my liberal views) was shaped in college.

When I had to return to my parents’ to live at the end of those four years, there was–as I am sure you can guess–quite an awakening for both my parents and myself. I assumed I’d just be able to live on as before–coming in at all hours of the night and not reporting my whereabouts–without comment from the parents. It didn’t quite end up working that way. I felt confined, trapped. As a result, I suppose I behaved much like the troubled teen at the age of 22.

The first thing I did when I started dating Mike was move out of my parents’ house. Though he asked–begged and pleaded, actually–for me to move in with him, my long-abandoned-but-still-nagging Catholic conservative upbringing told me that it would be better to only live with a man if he were marrying me, or at least promising to. At the time, our relationship was only two months old; it was far too soon to be making those sort of promises. So, I found digs at the only place available to me with my 8.25/hour temporary’s salary: I moved in with my best friend Melissa who had a house in Cleveland. She also had two kids and a husband. I lived in her basement. It was very modest digs, but I had my freedom and I didn’t care. Besides, my Catholic upbringing was not above spending nights or weekends at Mike’s house… and now I could without my parents’ knowing or caring.

Needless to say, my parents weren’t real happy about my new living arrangements. I guess they saw it as a snub since they offered so much more by way of shelter than living in my best friend’s basement in not the greatest–safe, but not the best–neighborhood in Cleveland. In fact, the day I moved into Melissa’s house, my dad stated that he would rather I moved in with Mike! Go figure.

Well, let’s just say that due to a number of other issues, I didn’t treat my parents so great in the first few years out of college and when I was married. I still behaved as though I were in high school. Every suggestion either parent would make about things I should do in my life, I took as not accepting me or my ability to make decisions. So instead of saying, “Thanks for the advice, Mom” and “Don’t need your help, Dad,” I felt I had to defend my position on everything. There were lots of fights. I behaved badly.

To top it off, Mike’s family seemed to immediately love me unconditionally. And, well, they weren’t my parents so they didn’t interfere in the ways I thought my own parents were interfering. I took a liking to them and felt a closeness. I hate to say that I really spent more time with them even though they lived out-of-state. Mike and I called them once week. It was our Sunday ritual. I shamefully favored his family to my own. I didn’t see the dysfunctional alcoholic structure of it back then, even though Mike had tried to warn me by having me read a book about adult children of alcoholics when we first started dating.

I feel bad in retrospect just how much I cut my parents out of everything back then. When I was planning my wedding, I didn’t let my mom help me with anything but shopping for the wedding dress. I think I could have been a better daughter all around. I kind of secluded myself and Mike from the family. In fact, both my parents have expressed on several occasions that they felt they never got to really know Mike. And that’s a shame. I was too busy battling my parents while going through my own delayed growing pains.

Funny how death puts everything in perspective. In the end, I learned that Mike’s family was not the family I thought they were. I put my trust in the wrong people and I was taken advantage of. When I could have allowed my own parents to help me in the grieving process, I shut them out. I put my trust in people who ended up betraying me–and in some cases, emotionally terrorizing me–later. I am not saying that every set of in-laws is this way. I also won’t say that my experiences with Mike’s family has made me readily willing to accept the love and friendship my future in-laws may offer. However, I will say that I learned that blood is thicker than any other relation. The people who are responsible for your presence on this planet are the only people with an emotional investment in your welfare. Even if they don’t show it all the time, they are the ones who are bound to it, no matter what.

It has taken me a long time to come around. I had a lot of things about myself I had to work out. Mainly, I had to learn that I could sustain myself without help. Sure, it’s good to get help from people when they offer, but I needed a period of time in which I could prove to myself that I was self-sufficient. I went from my parents’ house to living in my best friend’s basement for a mere $250/month, to living in an apartment in North Canton (which really, by that point, became a second location for me and Mike to spend our time), to living as a wife with Mike. I had never really had to make it on my own. When he died, I wasn’t sure I could, even though I had a pretty good job by then. But I’d never lived on my own, really, and I was scared to death.

So I spent a lot of time figuring things out. I resisted help from my parents and I still lived in my own world without them. I wasn’t trying to have a relationship with them. And that’s pretty much how I limped through the rest of my twenties.

It has taken several years, but somewhere along the way, I emerged from my delayed teenager cocoon. I can’t say exactly when it happened. One day, I just started to be friends with my parents. I reached a point where it didn’t embarrass me anymore to have them present at the same place where I’d gathered my friends. I invited them to my annual birthday party bash. I started inviting them to the parties I hosted at my house. I wanted a relationship with them. As an adult.

My dad and I go to Indians games together. He texts me from time to time throughout the week. Once or twice a month we catch dinner and beers at Ray’s Place in Kent. We sit around and talk. It doesn’t even have to be deep discussion. It’s just father and daughter hanging out. It started, I guess, as payment for all the work he’s done on my house. But then it delved into just doing it to do it. Amazingly, I learned, I like doing things with him.

My mom and I now go out to see shows. Last night, in fact, we saw Don Giovanni at Playhouse Square. We went out to eat and talked. It was nice. We also like to go shopping for clothes together. We have similar tastes in jewelry. Later in the month, we’re going to make Christmas ornaments with sour dough ornaments, like we used to do when I was a kid. I’ve also learned that I like doing things with her.

I’m an adult now. Maybe part of growing up is being happy enough with yourself to not become intimidated by the advice of others. Maybe growing up also means that you can spend time with your parents and have just as much fun as you would with any of your friends. Growing up, I think, is the realization that your parents are just people. They did the best they could with what they knew at the time, what seemed right to them. It’s useless now to blame them for their shortcomings–if you think they had them. Though maybe that too was a product of being young, that self-assurance that you would have done a better job somehow or that you knew more about life than they did.

And I know at times I was a challenging kid. But as an adult, when I look at my age-mates as parents, I realize that my parents did a damned good job (better, in fact, that some people my age). They got me through the childhood into adulthood without a major calamity; I’m alive and not a drug addict;  and I’m a responsible, independent woman with a good head on my shoulders. I have always been respectful of people. I have a great work ethic now (only disturbed by dealing with loss and finding my place in the world, which has nothing to do with anything they did).

I feel like this phase of my life is completely different from my last. I can see with real clarity now what a little shit I was to my own family in what was otherwise the most blissful years of my life. I should have let my parents know Mike. I should have shared our bliss and not made them into outsiders. I shouldn’t have held close to my heart the wrong people. I ever fall in love again, everything will be much different. I will let my parents know the man I love. I will let them be as involved in my life as they are now.

As for future in-laws… Well. It doesn’t escape my notice that the type of man I’d want to love would have the kind of relationship I have with my own parents. I would want him to understand why I wanted to spend time with my parents just as  I would want him to spend time with his own. Likewise, I’d want him to have a good relationship with my parents. I would want my parents to know him. I suppose I can’t have that without offering the same on his side. So, despite my reservations, fears, and outright misgivings, I’d probably have to unlearn what I learned from Mike’s family. It would be a painful process. I am not sure how that will all come down. I’d try. I guess I would approach it the way one approaches any new relationship: carefully and cautiously.

In many ways, I was still a kid when I married Mike and I was a kid when I lost him. Maturity and–unfortunately, experience–has brought me perspective. I can’t go back and change the things I did wrong or those things didn’t do that I should have. I  can change the way I behave now. You only have so much time with people in this life. You should make the most of what you have with them now. As I learned with Mike, you’ll only regret it later if you don’t.

Mystery of the Leaves

So last week, I bitched about all the coming yard work I had to do due to the immigration of leaves from the trees to my backyard. I thought I had a hopeless, daunting task to attend to this weekend… But something unexplainable has happened. I do believe the Mothership must have come down and raked my leaves for me. When I returned home from the Red Flannel Ride and “after party” at Michael’s, I pulled into my driveway to see piles of leaves in my ditches in front of my house. At first, I was furious at my neighbors–what right have they to put their leaves in my yard for the city collection when I had thousands upon thousands of my own leaves to pick up and put in the ditch.

Until… I happened to look in my backyard the next morning and saw that all of the leaves on the one side of my yard were mysteriously gone! As if they’d never been there.

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The mysterious clean backyard.

Hmmm. I thought. Surely my neighbors didn’t pick up my leaves for me? Is that even possible?

Well, I don’t know what happened to the leaves in my backyard, but there was basically just a small contingent remaining by a tree in the far corner. So today I chopped them all up by running over them multiple times with my lawn mower. I certainly was not about to spend hours raking them up. No way. Even if I had missed my morning bike ride and needed desperately to get some exercise before going out to dinner (and Don Giovanni) with my mom tonight. The sweat and frustration of rearranging leaves into a pile and then loading them into a wheelbarrow to move to my front yard for the city pickup is just too much work, even for a 64-degree day in November. There’s always much better things to do than yard work.

I mowed both my front and back lawn, chopping up all the leaves so that they can hopefully be used as compost for the lawn. Much, much easier work than raking the leaves.

But, still, I wonder if one of my neighbors was actually nice enough to help me out last weekend. Or maybe it was just a freak of nature–all the wind blew the leaves that carpeted my yard into someone else’s yard. Or maybe all the leave-blowers in my neighborhood created a giant vortex that swept my leaves off into another dimension where leaves are loved like diamonds. I don’t know. Either way, out of sight, out mind for me.

I now feel bad for ranting about my neighbors’ apparent dislike of me in an earlier entry. Perhaps one of them lurks on my blog? Ha, wouldn’t that be something? Confidentially, I’m hoping I have a handsome secret admirer out there who, knowing that I was on the Red Flannel Ride, came out and took care of my leaves for me. I don’t think it was my dad, though. He’s the one who told me to run them over with the lawnmower.

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The side of the yard where I mowed the leaves.

Phrases that need to be retired

This is an entry I started writing in December of last year but, for some reason or another (probably had some real work to do), I never finished it. When I transferred all my entries from blogspot, this entry resurfaced among some unfinished drafts I forgot about. In the spirit of a recent entry by Catheryn, I thought I’d finish and post it for fun… Since I’m on a roll with writing blog entries lately…

Anyway, enjoy. It’s a lot more entertaining than reading more of my gay-rights rants with which I’ve been spamming my Facebook account in reaction to the results of Maine’s election on Tuesday. I can’t say I’m surprised. But every once in a while, the hopeful part of me would like to not only be surprised by my fellow humans, but think better of them as well. Not gonna happen. So I need a few days to fume.

Here are some phrases I’m really sick of hearing and would like to see immediately retired from our lexicon of speech. Whenever I hear them, they grate on my nerves for unknown reasons. I think they sound dorky when they slide so casually from a person’s lips.

  • “Hit the ground running.” (Even though people have told me that I take on projects this way.)
  • “Balls to the wall.”
  • “Move on.” (In reference to anything that makes anyone sad whatsoever. Sometimes it’s okay to wallow, folks!)
  • “[He/she/it] threw [him/her/it] under the bus.”
  • “That chick is….” fill in the blank: hot, smoking, flaming, etc.
  • This isn’t a phrase, but I’m tired of all people who say “fustrated” instead of “frustrated.” There’s a stupid commercial on the radio (about a Playboy channel reality show, actually) where the girl says “fustrated” and I have to say that it’s “fustrating” me. I feel like a grammar teacher. Please learn to say the word right! The same with all you people who say “warsh” instead of “wash.”
  • “The New York Yankees win their 27th World Series.” It’s been one day and I’m sick of it. There’s no great feat in pulverizing everybody constantly when you can buy whoever the hell you want.
  • Referring to sexual acts as “whaling,” “boning,” “poking,” or “banging.”
  • “Cost cutting measures.” Just say it: Lay-offs.

Also, I think it’s about time to get ride of those stupid “Support The Troops” ribbons. I am still kicking myself that I never bought the one I saw at Spencer Gifts a few years ago. It was black and said, “Some asshole stole my Support The Troops ribbon.” I do support the troops–even if I don’t support the war–but people who drive around with those ribbons are pretentious to me. No offense. It’s like saying, “Hey, I’m more patriotic than you are.”

Okay, and I know that I feed into the arm bracelet fad by wearing a Livestrong band. I realize that the thing is starting to outlive its original usefulness. But. Well. It brings me closer to *Lance*.

Curried Pumpkin Bisque

I’ve had this cookbook–The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever by Natalie Haughton–for about six or seven years now. I got it when I lived in Colorado and was dating a guy who liked to cook, which kind of/sort of inspired me to attempt some more daring cooking. My one and only specialty dish–the one I can actually claim fame for among my friends–is my white (chicken) chili. I have perfected my chili over the years and can pretty much do it without looking at the instructions anymore. It is cooked slowly over 3-4 hours in a crock pot. I usually get everything together in the crock pot the night before I intend to eat it, then I set it on low and let it stew all day while I’m at work. I usually open the door to my home to the lovely smell of garlic and pepper on these days… very nice! And it’s totally ready to eat.

I always keep the recipe card for my white chili between the pages of The Best Slow Cooker. So a few weeks ago when I reached into the book to recheck that I had all the required ingredients, I found myself looking through the pages at all the other recipes. I must have looked in the book before for there were post-it notes marking a few recipes and my mouth watered when I read the description of the “Curried Pumpkin Bisque.” I was immediately intimidated because the instructions indicated that I would have to “puree” mixture at some point. I fretted about not having the “proper equipment” to perform this procedure. I wasn’t sure I had the mad cooking skills to accomplish this recipe. However, after consulting my mother and learning that I could use a blender to puree something, I nervously decided that maybe I should give it the old college try.

The most difficult part of this endeavor was procuring all the correct ingredients. I did not know what Madras curry was and I could not find it at my local Giant Eagle. It took several attempts before I realized that I wouldn’t find it in the spices section where I originally thought, but rather in the area of the store selling Indian or Mediterranean items. When I put the query out on FB about Madras curry, my friends assured me that I could probably just use the curry I had around the house. But I was determined that I needed to follow the recipe exactly as written, for I’m not creative enough at this point in my cooking career to just improvise ingredients. It was all or nothing. Though, I did eventually compromise on green onions for scullions as I could not find anything labeled scullions at the store. (I know, you’re thinking I’m a complete cooking retard.)

Anyway, I’m proud to say that the experience was a complete success. Not only did I cook the recipe correctly, but it turned out to be really scrumptiously delish! A pumpkin lover’s dream! And it was after this success that I decided that I’m going to try one slow cooker recipe from this book a month this winter… I’m going to find something that sounds delish and then I’m going to attempt to make it. I’m going to become a connoisseur of unique slow cooker dishes, dammit, if it embarrasses me to try. Perhaps it is time I gave up my lifelong determination to not learn to cook, which started out of fear that a man would force me to be his woman servant, cooking his dinner and waiting on him hand and foot. Yes, believe it or not, but I had a fierce determination to refuse to cook because I did not want a man order me to cook his dinner for him; I feared simply knowing how to cook would encourage this behavior. I didn’t want to any man to expect me to have dinner waiting when he got home from work. (Ha, but did I mind it when the situation was reversed, as it was in my marriage, when I arrived home to a cooked meal? No! That was retribution for all the women in the world who were repressed to a life of servitude, I say!)

I’ve pretty much figured out that learning to cook is a benefit to me. To my survival. After nearly 10 years of living by myself, I grow tired of the many microwave cuisines I’ve invented for myself. You can only eat so many different combinations of vegetables with a potato in a lifetime. Or Lipton ready-mix pasta with potato. Or some sort of meat with some sort of vegetable. Or, my standard classic: a tasteless stir fry (tasteless because I never know what spices to put in, so it’s basically just some stir-fried veggies on top of white rice with soy sauce… good combo but bland…).

Well, I thought I’d wrap up with sharing the Curried Pumpkin Bisque recipe. If you’re not following the recipe as strictly as I did,  you may have better ideas to improvise. I’ve included my own notes.

Ingredients (Makes 8 to 10 Servings)

1 (29-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin

4 cups homemade (*cough, cough*) chicken broth or canned chicken broth (as Mars Girl would do)

2 medium onions, chopped (by accident, I ended up using two sweet onions just because they were medium in size. I don’t know if this made a difference in the result or not since I am not an expert on onions)

2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (and, yes, I own a garlic press thanks to Pampered Chef)

1 1/2 tbs Madras curry powder (a must! this stuff smells great!)

1/2 tsp seasoned salt (miracle of miracles, I had this!)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tsp sugar (I did not end up using this… the heavy cream and the milk add enough sweetness that I think the sugar is unnecessary.)

1 or 2 (4.5 oz) cans of mushrooms (Mars Girl used two cans because Mars Girl LOOOOVES fungus!)

Sour cream and chopped scullions (whatever those are) or crisp bacon bits for garnish (not being much of a sour cream fan, I did not use this… I did add green onions, though, for “garnish.”)

Instructions:

1. In a 3 1/2 quart electric slow cooker, mix together pumpkin, broth, onions, garlic, curry powder, and seasoned salt.

2. Cover and cook on the high heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Carefully puree the hot soup in 2 or 3 batches in a blender or food processor until as smooth as possible. Return to the slow cooker.

3. Stir in the cream, milk, sugar (or not), and mushrooms. Cover and cook on high for 15 to 30 minutes longer. Serve immediately in soup bowls garnished with sour cream (or not) and scallions or bacon bits.

YUM! I found it tastes great if you have some bread to dip into it, too. Well, what soup does NOT taste better with some dipping bread?

So… next month I think I’m going to try the other recipe with the post-it note stuck to it: Curried Lamb with White Beans. Do I sense a theme? Guess what? It calls for that Madras curry powder again, which I now have an entire jar of at my disposal. It must have been the author’s favorite curry mix or something. The recipe also calls for cumin–my second favorite spice! And 1 cup of white wine! Does this mean I get to open a bottle for cooking, and then drink the rest? If so, I think I am going to like this cooking thing…!