The Sum of August
There you have it folks! A porch glider, a stack of reads, and a favorite pug and all of August to make fine work of that glider. I have tossed about since the last blog, back in April, what to write…the world has given this old girl lots of material, much of it disturbing and not quite laughable.
As you all know, August is the month I pretend to be French…I close the store for the whole month. It is a month off to regroup, make scarves, hangers, and clothes for the store. It is a month to eat and cook and cook and eat. A month to travel for those two or three day-trips one, of which, will be Gloucester, then a long weekend in North Haverhill, NH to visit the boys who once owned Gusto. We will laugh and eat and talk about aging, which will cause us to drink. Then I am off to NYC for the Gift Show at the Javits. Back from NYC and off to Provincetown to visit John for a few days.
Rita Rose has her own schedule…I overheard her talking to Kirby, her lean and handsome mutt down the street. Their plans for August involve an uber driver, the rental of a little beach cabin along the coast of Maine, and a whole series of Flamenco dance lessons. I have made the wee Flamenco dress that fits her slim hips then flares into layers of ruffles, each layer hand-sewn with a bit of bling. Rita Rose also has her stack of reading during August…she has worked her way through Fifty Shades of Pug. Way too racy for my girl, though she is hanging out with Kirby and Flamenco dancers… who am I to stop that little vixen!
We wish you a safe, happy August filled with too many calories, a few cocktails, and a good slather of #70 sunblock. See you in September with wondrous tales and fresh, new merchandise that I just know you will not be able to resist!
Rita Does April in Style
Looks to me like Rita Rose has the right idea! As I write, the weather is mixed…a little rain, a little snow, some wind. It’s bloody well into April and still flurries! Ah well, most happy folks will say…it will NEVER stick, it’s April after all. I try hard to NEVER use the word NEVER when it comes to weather.
I have gone off the deep end. Perhaps it was too much winter. Maybe it was not enough scotch. Either way, I hired a personal trainer once a week. He arrives with all sorts of equipment in his little duffle bag: boxing gloves, rubber bands, and long elastic things that have handles and create such torture for my sagging upper arms. Yesterday he arrived with a scale that not only told me what the bad news was but also gave me my body fat index! The numbers on both items were daunting. I recalled each and every pound of butter I ate over the month of February and March…dreadful. The last time I weighed this much I was nine months pregnant! So now I am on a diet. Damn! The one good bit of a bonus is this trainer is kind and he is cute as a button and he is generous to a fault. He tells me I am doing great when I can barely get off the floor! So he lies…I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It wasn’t enough to get a trainer once a week but I have signed up for a basic drawing class. Now mind you, I am not going to leave 6 Birch Street and head to the south of France and create art any time soon. After last night’s first class, I left a humbled person. As I recall, I may have crawled out on my belly to get to the car!
I need a teacher that stands in front of this basic learner, holds up a #2b pencil and says,”This is a pencil. We will work tonight on what can be done with this pencil.” I mean we are talking basics here! Instead there were two still life set-ups involving apple, apple wedges, two pears on a plate, one round grapefruit. After three hours of drawing an apple, three wedges of cut apple, and a plate that looked remarkably similar to a frisbee (I avoided the grapefruit), I ended up with dreck.
I shan’t quit but I thought of crying and I was stunned by just how long three hours can be when sitting before you is a lovely red apple that has cast shadows I can’t seem to capture with my #2b pencil. I will keep all of you posted on the size of my ego, the width of my hips, and that nasty fat index number…should these change any time soon, you will be the first to know!
My Basement Cellar Door…No Way Out!
Here we are at March first! Daylight Saving Time begins in seven days…the first day of spring is a mere nineteen days from now! There is hope, folks…but don’t put away those snow shovels, the long underwear, the snow boots, or the grippers we attach to same. Just imagine the spring we might have if the snow ever melts! I seem to have lost all sense of anything green and growing other than the mold on my leftovers of all those meals I have cooked during this endless, tedious winter!
I long, just like each of you, to walk out my front door wearing only a skimpy frock, a pair of flip-flops, my hair in pigtails, and a beach bag thrown over my shoulder. Lovely image (except the pigtails!). Sadly, for now, I layer up to wander out. I waddle with the weight of carbs, of wool, of down parka, and weariness of winter.
This weekend, we bid a sad good-by to our wonderful neighbor, The Boston Cheese Cellar. I can’t begin to tell you what this means to a retailer, to Birch Street, and to Roslindale in general. The loss of a merchant is akin to losing a member of one’s distant family. I know it sounds dramatic, but drama is what I feel when there is snow banking my world and retail on the street is soft with few places to park. Folks have hunkered down and with good reason! I want to thank those of you who come in my store to say hello, to shop, and to pass the time. I love your brave, happy, frost-bitten faces! Thank you from all of us on Birch Street.
What’s to Be Said?
Two weeks ago, when I took this shot, I was stunned to see my front garden become a snow farm! Needless to say, this pile has grown larger, just like my hips, as I rapidly eat my way through winter. There is something slightly mad about us New Englanders who dash to the market once the mention of a storm is whispered. I am no different! I stand in front of the shelves of pasta pondering which might be THE perfect one, and I don’t really even like pasta! I lose myself at the beef tenderloin counter when really I consider myself more a veggie than a carnivore. I buy bags of ready-made cookies and then dash home and bake my, now famous, Chocolate Whiskey cake from Cowgirl Cuisine (page 253 should you be lucky enough to own this gem of a cookbook). I have made stews, soups, curries, and pineapple upside-down cake. I have laid in a larder of butter, cream, and all sorts of cheeses. There is only one of me but it appears, if I continue, there might be enough calories consumed for two of me!
Last week, I drove down one of our former two-lane streets. Cars parked on both sides; snow spilling over mounds of suspiciously auto shaped sculptures. Clearly some folks gave up digging out. Do these brave people walk to work (we all know the T isn’t functioning that well) or are they off in Florida sitting on the beach? Perhaps they are still in their car and might be found during the spring thaw that should start sometime near the 4th of July or a bit later.
What I did see, as I drove carefully down that narrow street, were cleared-out parking places containing not cars but an odd assortment of three-legged chairs, crappy lawn furniture, a table or two…the spaces looking very much like an impromptu picnic. Sometimes there are strollers (without the little nippers) or a trunk that could well be filled with the ex-wife’s belongings. I marvel that folks can get to their basements for such a supply of street sculpture! Having dug out my own treasured spot just beyond this pile of vile snow pictured above, I wouldn’t dare to block it from another’s use. What if someone needs a spot for an urgent drop-off? Let’s be kind folks to one another…we are all near tears, our snow shovels are worn and ragged, our ice dams are leaking, our world is growing smaller…let it not grow meaner, please! We are all survivors of a nasty winter, and it ain’t over yet!
How Sexy Can a Furnace Exhaust Be?
Just now I became the man I once dreamed of marrying! Another great adventure on the road to survival…in a winter that is well beyond imagination. Now mind you, I have married twice, and I dare say neither Jim nor Bruce would have hung out the dining room window with snow shovel in hand clearing that damn vent. Last week, I wedged myself into hip-deep snow wishing to reach this wee vent. Today, as the snow level topped the window sill, I figured it out! Another notch into the survival belt of a damsel no longer in distress.
I sent this image to my dear friend John Ross, and he suggested I have a wedding and marry myself! He has volunteered to be a bridesmaid…such a clever man…I believe I might make him my Maid of Honor! I will be certain to have the best ever frocks for both of us. I shall wear winter white…it is never too late to be a virgin slightly used. John will wear some frilly thing with an off-the-shoulder neckline and a pair of snappy open toed 6-inch heels. We will, no doubt, create quite a stir…one of the first ever “brides” who was also her own “groom”!
I know those of us lucky enough to live in Boston are up to our eyeballs in snow, snow images, snow stories, and just plain snowiness…if there is such a word! I love New England and need to remind myself (as I swill back a thimble full of single malt) how lucky I am to live so near Paris. I will swill back another swallow and remind myself of all the truly skilled medical folks working here should I need them, and I will remind myself after the third swallow of that single malt scotch just how lucky I am not to be living in a drought! It is the small wonders of life that we need to all savor. Sometimes it helps to savor those wonders when you’re in a cottage on some warm beach located on some lovely island off the coast of a tropical place. But…dear friends, we are a lucky lot here in New England. I can only imagine that many Californians would give their eye teeth for our abundant supply of snow/water. Question is…how can we send it to them?
The Coat in Question
One day, I wore a hand-me-down teddy bear coat. I also wore brown sturdy shoes with crepe soles that captured the lint off our shag carpet in the living room at 1065 Locust. On that day, when I wore the brown fuzzy coat that once belonged to Sandra Hesse and those chunky brown shoes, I turned eight. It was January…a cold snow fell the night before on the gray cement where I stood in my practical shoes and teddy bear coat while my mother, with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of her mouth, took this picture of me with her square Brownie Hawkeye.
The oil furnace in our living room roared into action that day while Ty Cobb and Marian Bruckner ate birthday cake in our kitchen with its pine walls. Was this the cake my Aunt Roma decorated using a storybook doll as its centerpiece or a sheet cake? I can guess it was a vanilla sheet cake with thick chocolate icing. I can also guess my hair was set in “rags” the night before, which made my stick-straight hair a fuzz of ringlets for this birthday celebration. I can guess that I was skinny and had a crush on Ty Cobb. I can guess I wanted a dog just like Marian Bruckner’s German Shepard whose name was Rex.
How young I was then, but how is it I can still smell the mustyness of that coat and the smoke from that Camel cigarette on a bitter cold January day in Reno, Nevada.
Big Jane…Lost and Found
Don’t you know we all love endings! And don’t you know we wonder how our stories will end if we don’t have those endings. Those of you dear people, who keep up with the harried life of this retail maven, know that Big Jane left me with a couple bastards who took the keys right out of 6 Birch when I wasn’t looking! She has been gone for three and a half months until last Friday when some alert patrolman (or perhaps patrolwoman) spotted her little silver self parked on a dicey street over there in West Roxbury. (I know, I know…dicey street in West Roxbury…are you joking!) A car of such elegance didn’t seem to belong in such a hood so the cop had her towed. Soon it was discovered that she was stolen goods!
I visited the lot today where cars that are left to die on the street or, in Jane’s case, have been stolen are towed. There she was tightly sandwiched between two rather shady characters who clearly have driven in better times. I was able to get out my personal belongings and sat for a time in her front seat pretending for a bit we were a pair again. It felt odd to be sitting there with the rain pissing down and the car as cold as a morgue. Inside was my yoga mat (a rarely used item), my change purse filled with change, the dry cleaning I had intended to drop off at the cleaners, Rita Rose’s lodging and blankets…everything intact…which made the experience all the more painful and annoying. What possessed the people who took those keys and then my car to feel entitled to steal? I know the car is simply only a car…but it is the violation of trust that feels abusive…I wonder what is in a thief’s life or mind that gives permission to act on such an impulse.
Diane Hanna’s Paper Story
One day this past week, I paid a visit to Diane down there on the Cape. It was a trip promised for nearly a year…I wonder how that is possible, but a year goes by quickly we decided over the most divine lunch served in Diane’s small parlor off the kitchen. The little gas stove was roaring while we chatted like old friends who must make certain to see one another more often than we do! Diane is the poet who creates those magical picture poems that I sell in the store. A visit with her is better than a stack of buttermilk pancakes with extra butter, maple syrup and a side of crisply fried bacon! Believe me, I would crawl over a board of nails for such a breakfast, but given the choice I will take a Cotuit visit to Diane Hanna first!
One turns a year older in a birthday month, and this one is mine. This number I am about to enter is a big one…its not a zero birthday but at my age…who is counting! So you can imagine my surprise when, in today’s mail, I received a letter addressed to me for Funeral Advantage Program! Be still my heart! I have a reference number and the option for $20,000 TAX FREE or so it says. Problem is, I need to be dead (I believe) in order to cash in…hence the classy name Funeral Advantage! Can you imagine Rita Rose and what she might do with that $20,000 tax free “gift”?! I have 15 days to respond because it says I qualify (which must mean I am alive and I am old!). Well, I suppose it beats the heck out of the dating sites that, for a time, proclaimed my perfect mate and sent endless “offers” via the post for me to join up. Actually I prefer dating over a funeral advantage offer….well, maybe.
Jaime Gomez of Mariachi Estrellas de Boston
How will we ever top the Holiday Wander events? Lordy, this has been some fantastic series of Thursday December wanders. The month of December spun past me and has left the store plucked of goods. We have poured endless bottles of port and wrapped enough gifts to have supplied all of Roslindale! Folks have stood patiently in line while we wrote up sales. Not one nasty word from any of you about the wait…nor would I have expected a nasty word from any of you dear people who wander in for the unnecessary and the irresistible.
Rita Rose has loved the attention and those of you wearing dark winter coats have left our establishment with the essence of Rita attached. She adores being the owner of Joanne Rossman, and I watch myself carefully when working for her!
I shall resist my usual silliness on this blog entry…it is, after all, written to thank you for the ongoing support of your local brick and mortar shops. Most of us who own these stores live here…we also shop in the village. I believe I speak for all of us on Birch Street when I send out this hearty thank you for shopping local! My next blog will address the nonsense of New Years resolutions, the books I have adored, the movies, and best of all, the madness of our time on this wild earth.
Mining the Gold of Life!
A few days back, when the evening was growing dark, I poured a wee glass of single malt scotch. This would have been a perfect moment to take a drag off a Camel unfiltered cigarette though I don’t smoke! That few days back, I decided to wander through the layers of my mother Dora’s old recipe box. One needs scotch or something stronger to move through those stained edges of paper with a cigarette burn here and the notes of the giver…all the good memories of meals served. The lit cigarette would have been in honor of Dora…the bit of scotch in honor of me! You can see how easy it is to refill the scotch and how lovely a drag from that Camel could have been!
Dora was a tremendous cook who had an opinion on all things. The wonders of garlic (a favorite subject), the need to use only butter or the best ever olive oil you could afford, and in the midst of all these fine ingredients there was mayonnaise…my mother’s mayonnaise cake was legend! I will include the recipe, and I don’t want to hear any snickers from anyone out there!
In our kitchen, at the house on the corner of 6th & G Streets in Sparks, Nevada, mayonnaise was used for little else except this cake. And it must be Hellmanns! Not Cains or something organic from your local Wholefoods…nope, Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise! Swear to God, darlings…you’re going to thank me and send off a nod to the heavens where I can only assume Dora is firing up God’s Wolf range for an evening meal!
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup walnuts in fairly large sizes
1 cup dates cut in large size pieces
1 tbs melted chocolate
1 tsp soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
Cover dates and nuts with boiling water (just to barely cover the mixture). Cream mayonnaise, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. Sift flour, add soda and salt, mix it all together including the dates and nut mixture with the water. Bake in a layer pan or loaf pan for as long as you would bake a white cake @ 350 degrees.
Who is This With Her Bonnet Up?
I know you have all been holding your breath to hear chapter two in the great car saga! Poor old Big Jane never made it back up the hill. One can only imagine her adventures since leaving the executive parking space at 6 Birch Street. I shudder to think she has become an “organ” donor for the scum bags who stole her.
If you haven’t shopped for a used auto, you just haven’t lived! The folks who sell little old ladies a used car are legend! It seems I did buy this red buggy last Tuesday. I believe its former owner wore chunky charm bracelets and 6″ heels. I think her fragrance was something French and suggestive. I am certain her travels took her to the nail parlor twice a week and to the hair salon once a month. I can guess she had a tea-cup poodle that sat on her lap as she drove and on hot days he stuck his little head out the window and his clipped ears flapped in the wind. I have yet to take the car for a spin myself, and Miss Rita Rose has not seen this red number yet. We are thinking names for her: Ruby? Candy? Roma? I haven’t owned a red car ever and would have loved this little buggy to have been anything other than red but there you have it! Today, you met the red vehicle that could be mine but more importantly, you have Dora’s mayonnaise cake recipe! Bon appetite!
August in New York City
You’re absolutely right! It has been forever since I gave you any sort of shop keeper tales. Believe me, there have been endless tales…hence the image chosen to start this rant/ramble.
First I must tell you NYC was wonderful and, of course, I bought way too much. Great finds that were discovered in the crowded booths of the Javits are coming into the store daily.
I walked back to my lodging at the end of each show day. As I walked the High Line, I would wonder about my life and how on earth I ended up being a shop maven. I wonder why I never became a nurse or maybe a lawyer or why was I not happy with just being a hippie and smoking dope and resisting the war in Viet Nam. Life seemed (and truly was) so incredibly simple back in the mid-sixties. And the music! Where do you even begin to honor the goings-on in the Haight Ashbury? The music of Janice Joplin, The Doors, Earth Wind and Fire! I was twenty something with smooth skin, a full head of wild red hair and a waist! Ah! I truly thought nothing would ever change!
I mustn’t wander off here in a cloud of longing for simple times. But…I do want to tell you of this past Saturday. Of course I was holding court at 6 Birch Street and, of course, loving every minute of it and loving each of you who came through those doors and chatted or shopped. It was a farmers market day so new folks popped by. One of you new folks walked off with my car keys. It took no time for you to find my much loved and very old Big Jane Honda in the parking lot! Off you drove taking with you keys to my life as well as the only car I own. Perhaps I should tell you there are no husbands who live here and have a sweet little ride for me to use in place of Big Jane. But, I am quite certain, that never entered your larcenous little heart. Your intention was to steal what doesn’t belong to you. Perhaps there is a wee part of your troubled soul that thinks you deserve a “free” ride in an old silver Honda!
During Saturday, prior to the key/car theft, I talked at length with a client about the “gift” that lives in all our lives. The piece I preach, to all who don’t glaze over, about finding the good in things that are, on the surface, bad or seem bad…I know there is a “gift” with the loss of Big Jane. A gift that has yet to appear but it is there just the same. While filing the stolen automobile claim with the police department, I wondered about this gift, and I wondered as I had the bloody locks changed at store and house, and I wondered while standing in the E-Z Pass line for an hour to cancel my transponder.
I decided the gift is having a store, even when ugly things happen, and having friends and good health and dear family and a charming little pug named Rita Rose. And though I no longer have much of a waist left, I have incredible memories of each and every calorie I have eaten, and I have decent recall of all the fine books I have read. And the reality is I am a truly lucky person!