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Thursday, January 17, 2013

News from Loon County - January 2013

Hi D, sorry about the long delay in writing or visiting!

We have had a series of small crises and I've had a bad cold in the last while - things that have basically stopped us from doing anything much other than the tasks we had in front of us...

Hurricane Sandy's weather system resulted in very high winds on the St. Lawrence. We hadn't secured the boat shelter properly, so a weak part of the frame broke and we had to repair it. It also ripped a large enough hole in the rather elderly plastic cover so we had to order a new one to be made. It was due for replacement, I suppose. We changed the design a bit and had to wait a while for the company in Texas to make it. And then put it up again. 

This was while the boat was still in the water so when we hauled it out, it was uncovered until two days before the first snowfall...the boat itself had no trouble with the high winds etc. as we had secured it with extra ropes. We were very lucky that there was no rain with the storm, as we had tools and supplies in the shelter that would have been ruined. We were very lucky that we didn't get a lot of snow before we got the boat covered up again, because it's a real pain shovelling off ice etc from the boat.

The Fall was really good weather for all of this - we were also lucky that there was practically no snow until the week before Christmas as we had stripped all the siding off the south side of the basement wall and dug around the foundation to insulate it. We managed to get that job done, removing yet another rotted window and taking out the huge chunks of concrete-bound rubble (1960's sardine cans anyone?) that had been placed under the windows. I am not sure what the original purpose of these were, perhaps to try to get water to flow away from the windows, but they had, in the course of 50 years, sunk into the ground away from the house encouraging water to come in. Another step in the continuing renovation saga! 

Now we have got everything secure and the boat sorted out (indeed we've started work on it again), we are anticipating coming to see you in the next few days or so, we will call you to see if it is OK..

My mother came over here for Christmas dinner - we used to make it at her house until a couple of years ago, but I don't like to do it there now. She is (and always has been) an incredibly messy housekeeper. Not dirty, so much as cluttering the place up with newspaper clippings, magazines, boxes of candy, pet treats, greeting cards, kitchen utensils, frying pans, recycling bins, clothes pins, empty containers, full containers, handwritten recipes, books, cookware, electronic gadgets, prescription medication containers, bowls of nuts, beauty supplies, house plants, and so on. Everything in her life is laid out on on all the counters, tables and bookcases and occasionally the floor, in unstable strata that threaten (and actually do) cascade all over the place at a touch. She has a "treasure,": a cleaning lady called Lorry who does a remarkable job of cleaning up around these piles, but on occasion just heaps one pile on top of another adding to the difficulty of finding things. In summary, I cannot cook in the place - I may be picky, but to coin a phrase I heard in the TV show "Absolutely Fabulous", I can't work without my surfaces, darling!

My mother is a lovely person and at 82, living in her own place and taking care of most of her needs herself, I am not truly complaining, but she drives me to distraction sometimes. It's just that I lived with this when I was a child, and I had always thought that it was just something that having sufficient storage space, shelves, cupboards etc. would solve. It isn't. It's about overflow. When she moved into her present 3-bedroom bungalow, she had been living in a 2-bedroom apartment (with our stuff in her second bedroom when we went sailing). Don and I renovated her "new" kitchen and other rooms with many more drawers and cupboards than she had before. Within a few months the situation had reverted to "not enough storage" - we started adding shelves in the bedroom closets, then the get the drift. She lives in the happy state of having just enough money, and being close to Giant Tiger, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, a dollar store and the "Bargain Shoppe". Every other day she goes shopping and brings more junk back home. My last visit to IKEA with her in July (an experience too horrendous to talk about in decent company) resulted in yet more basement shelving. Which is now full, of course. I know now I am approaching 60, having left home 40 years ago, I shouldn't feel that I have to rant about this...sigh :-)

Anyway we invited her to lunch on Christmas Day, we made a turkey-like thing (a pre-stuffed "turkey breast" which wasn't a great success) with the usual (for us) overload of roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots, gravy, with Christmas pudding and custard for dessert. A huge orgy of food, and a shipload of wine, quite unlike our normal meals these days! I think years ago, living in a place with no central heating, perhaps we needed the stodge to keep warm. Now it just knocks us out for the rest of the day and means we don't sleep well. It was great!

Don's sister has done him the favour of sending us a cookery book entitled "Great British Puddings" - which, considering that she and Don's older brother are both diabetic, is not really a favour to anyone. I decided to make one dessert a month, and invite our English friends around for a "Pudding of the Month Club" meeting. The first pudding was the Christmas pudding that we had for Christmas lunch. A rich dark fruit pudding in the traditional manner, but instead of taking 5 hours to steam cook, and instead of having to be made months ahead of time, this was called Quick Christmas Pudding. Very skeptically, I mixed all the ingredients and then followed the method - 5 minutes in the microwave, 5 minutes rest, then another 5 minutes in the microwave. It was really good! My mother (who is super vigilant on the taste of her traditional food) loved it. So this is a recipe to do again, I think.

The second pudding (mid January) was the Golden Syrup sponge. Syrup in the bottom of a pudding basin, sponge cake-type mixture on top of it, then steamed for 90 minutes. Again, this was excellent. Kind of nostalgic for his sister had imagined, it was "just like mother used to make!" I think the next one we try will be the notorious "Spotted Dick" which is a sweet suet pudding studded with raisins or currants. Originally this was made in the form of a long loaf shape, wrapped in a greased cloth and cooked in a boiling water bath, half suspended out of the water. It is easier to do this in a pudding basin covered in parchment and foil and the result, apart from the suggestive shape, is the same. There is a suggestion that the word "Dick" in the name is descended from "Dough" but I think that's a Victorian idea to make the recipe less suggestive. There's  also "Dead Man's Leg"...suet pastry rolled up with jam in the middle. The colour is pretty vile - a sort of greyish beige with a soft flabby surface, which spurts molten jam when it is sliced. Sounds yucky, but was a great school meal favorite. We are definitely going to be putting on weight!

I have, reluctantly, started back on the rowing machine again. It has been about a month since we stopped physically working hard on various projects (except for snow shovelling, which doesn't count) and it's surprisingly hard to get back into it. Mostly it's the mind...or perhaps the fat cells...weeping 'cos all that suet and butter has become dear to them...

We try to keep active, but it's a struggle. A lot easier to stay indoors a turn into a slug. I'm going to have to find something more to do, although I am doing a lot of reading. My latest is a number of books on the project Gutenberg website. Much that was published by anyone who died before 1957 or so is available, and this includes a lot of good stuff as well as a lot of rubbish. George Orwell's essays have been the best I have read so far. I read the Road to Wigan Pier first - I had a crumbling Penguin paperback that I started reading, but it fell apart, so I continued on the site. Orwell was a prolific essayist, wrote several pieces weekly to make a living. He was famously bitchy about various politicians, professions, groups of literary types and poets of his day, - some of the latter he refers to as nancy or pansy poets, and is horrible about their (admittedly bizarre) politics. Great stuff, will put hairs on my chest, I am sure!

The worst thing I have read on their site so far was Island of Terror (pub. 1931) by 'Sapper' - the author of Bulldog Drummond. This is one of the worst things I have read since I was about eleven and stopped reading Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's full of tall, heroic white men socking slimy "dagos" on the jaw and rescuing white women from a fate worse than death. Interesting in the sense that boy's adventure literature has moved on quite a bit - in the acceptable plot devices and overt racism. Today, the ladies in question would undoubtedly suffer the fate worse than death, then free themselves in an unlikely manner and wreak unholy havoc on their captors. Today's bad guys are less likely to be fiendish orientals or degenerate South Americans, as to be white industrialists gone bad. Not to mention the race of super-powered human-sacrificing ape-men...oh...right, they're the same!

Haven't heard directly from L. in a while, which is good (for me). I have heard from mutual acquaintances that she went to Russia for the last 2 weeks in December (leaving her children over Christmas....lovely mummy). What a sad thing. I can hope that the kids are going to be OK, but no-one will be surprised if they are more screwed up than normal. Of course this too, in meaningless; it was Philip Larkin who wrote:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

And on that cheerful note may I say, I hope you are doing well; I see you are working out like a dog (not your dog who is one of the idle rich) and we'll see you soon!

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