George and Martha and Split Pea Soup

Not the presidential couple, George and Martha, but James Marshall’s expressive hippos from his 1970s book about friendship, “Five Stories About Two Great Friends.” The stories are about privacy, disappointment, vanity, and “what friends are for.” George says, friends “always look on the bright side, and they always know how to cheer you up.” Martha responds with a smile, “But they also tell you the truth.”

“Story Number One: Split Pea Soup,” has always been my favorite. It’s about how to tell a really good friend (or relative) that you don’t like something they cook and continually offer to you.

Martha loves to make split pea soup; George can’t stand it. One day, grown desperate but not wanting to hurt Martha’s feelings, George pours a bowlful of soup into his loafers under the table. From the kitchen Martha spies his maneuver, and says, “Why didn’t you tell me that you hate my split pea soup?” Turns out she doesn’t really like it either, just likes to make it. Now that she knows the truth, she’ll make chocolate chip cookies instead.

Such a situation has always been a “George and Martha” moment at our house. And when our younger son recently admitted he didn’t really like pie, as he was eating a piece of pumpkin pie I had made, I thought of George and Martha – and also of split pea soup, which I love. (I don’t know about our son, I think he’d like chocolate chip cookies to replace all the above.)

In this wintry weather Deborah Madison’s split pea soup is easy and so welcome. Deborah covers one and a half cups of split peas with water and sets aside. She sautés a large diced onion and two diced carrots in two tablespoons of olive oil, until the onion gets some color. Then she adds two cloves of chopped garlic and a quarter cup of chopped parsley, along with herbs (a teaspoon of dried marjoram, a teaspoon of chopped fresh or dried rosemary, a teaspoon of paprika) and fresh pepper.

Next she adds the aromatics: two bay leaves, eight parsley branches, six thyme sprigs together with a teaspoon and a half of salt, the drained peas, and two quarts of stock or water (water works just fine). Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for a long time, until the peas are a comforting, mushy, flavorful, warming bowlful. Remove the aromatics, and add more water if needed.

I’ve made this soup a lot lately, not “pots and pots” “all day long” like Martha, but I sent the book to Sweet Baby so she’ll know about a George and Martha moment. Lady Baby already knows.

A Frances Update

Last spring the vet diagnosed our 15-year old kitty, Frances, with kidney disease. Unsure whether it would progress quickly or gradually, the vet taught us how to give her subcutaneous water to fight dehydration and increase her appetite. Frances tolerated our treatments a few times, and then made it clear that further needle and tube interventions would not happen.

Nine months later she thrives, at least for now. We figured ways to have water containers everywhere she wants and to surround her canned food with a moat of water, refreshed all day. She eats well, had a grand summer in her courtyard garden in all weather, and we are thankful.

But she weighs only seven pounds at most, and is cold all the time. She’s a creature of habit, is Frances, with definite sleeping spot preferences. She watches “shows” each evening from a blanket spread on my husband’s lap, likes to sleep on his chest when he naps on the floor, and sleeps next to me – under the covers mostly. She misses our beloved housesitter, who accepted a good job in the big city, and can no longer visit to provide generous lap-sitting time. During the day, when Frances first comes indoors, she hunkers on a heat vent, then sleeps on a folded comforter at the foot of our bed or a wicker chair full of old sweaters.

Thanksgiving particularly vexes Frances – when everyone gathers here. We shift bedrooms, so the comforter and the chair are both out of bounds, and this compounds her general stress from the pitter-patter of little feet and jolly shouts of laughter. Frances is not a party animal.

I’ve wished she’d be more flexible in her sleeping places (and her general attitude), and that I could make her more comfortable. So I sent off for a thick, boiled wool cat bed from Lithuania – an ovoid cocoon with small entrance hole. The bed garnered plenty of five-star reviews on Etsy, and a couple of “my cat won’t go near” warnings. At first I feared the same from Frances – for days it sat, she barely sniffed. I put an old sweater of mine in the bottom, trying to overcome foreign smells, but no luck.

Then, on a cold and windy October day, the kind of day when I usually curl another blanket around her on the bed, I put the new possibility near her sleeping spot. Glancing that way in a little while, I could see only one ear, a black triangle against the wool, and then the triangle disappeared within the cocoon, which wriggled slightly, like when an emerging chick rattles an eggshell.

Hooray! I’m ridiculously glad she accepted a change, found warmth, and a happier Thanksgiving (her nest can come downstairs with us).

And a Happy Thanksgiving to you as well – I wish you time with family, friends, food, and cheerful pets!

 

Chance Encounters and Maira Kalman

Lately I’ve kept Maira Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty” propped open next to my computer, a place for my eyes to go while waiting for the printer to print or the scanner to scan. I turn the page each day, looking for “the eternal pleasure of chance encounters,” as Kalman would say.

An entry I came upon right after writing about Andie seemed perfect: dated July 5, 2006, Kalman writes (though it looks better in her irregular handwriting than in text): “My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.”

Then I listened to this podcast – what a treat:

https://onbeing.org/programs/maira-kalman-the-normal-daily-things-we-fall-in-love-with-sep2017/

And Kalman’s “nice pleated (green) skirt,” and general fondness for objects, put me in mind of a certain twirly skirt.

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A New Header And An Old Friend

Finally “Her spirits rose…” has a new header – the banner at the top – one of several variations I made thanks to my friend who paints in the woods, Andie Thrams.

Last summer Andie, (www.andiethrams.com), came to stay in the Buffalo for a lovely long time. We have known each other since the night 20 years ago we met as strangers in the Anchorage airport for a midnight flight back East. We’d been linked by a mutual friend, who thought we would get along (being flower painters), and an invitation to attend a retreat for people “who keep field journals in their work.”

We share a love of watercolor – and the making of handmade books. Andie introduced me to Vamp and Tramp, those traveling purveyors of artists’ books who represent her ongoing series, “In Forests,” beautiful accordion-fold hand bound books, illuminated by paintings and words. Most of these now reside in collections of libraries and universities around the country.

Andie paints the pages of her books while seated on a little pad on the forest floor. She hikes or kayaks into wild places, carrying her art supplies in a backpack – brushes, watercolors, long sheets of paper, and easel – and immerses herself to paint. The press of development, the wildfires and bark beetle of climate change threaten her studio spaces, making observing and recording these woodland parts of the natural world ever more urgent.

Giant firs, cedars, sequoias, coastal redwoods (she has a long list of beloved trees) and their understory of berries, ferns, and fungi can be overwhelming to paint. But Andie captures the changing greens of season, the glowing light through forest canopy, and enough individual form to make species recognizable. Most days here, she headed into our nearby woods – or ranged further and longer to the old growth of the Hoh Rainforest.

Toward the end of her stay, before she went to kayak with her husband on the fjords of Vancouver Island for two weeks, we sat at my computer, and she attempted to bring my meager Photoshop skills up a level. She tried not to lecture me about my faulty filing system – I can be slapdash about organizing; she is orderly and patient.

But I’ve kept it up, “lassoing” images and making future headers (including the one below in Andie’s honor – wildflowers I drew in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains).

Thanks, Andie, for computer tutorial, visit, and long friendship!

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Happy Halloween!

I have heard tell that certain little people will be transformed today – in Alaska we’d find one duckling, and one cowboy riding a horse (that part is important, the horse is handsome) – and in California,  a kitty cat with all the feline moves!

I hope you find some cheerful orange this autumn day – Pumpkin pie remains my favorite orange on a dark and spooky night!

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“Dostadning” – Death Cleaning

A friend recently hired a professional to help organize her house, not because she was downsizing, but because, as the expert suggested, she needed to “right size.” My friend liked this guidance through finding order in her home, discarding and shredding some things, repositioning others.

So there’s a word for such activity in Sweden – the country of hygge brings us dostadning, a word which combines death and cleaning – not scrubbing the bathtub, but a gradual, before death clearing out of possessions. According to the buzz of articles surrounding artist Margarita Magnasson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How To Free Yourself From a Lifetime of Clutter,” dostadning is a common practice in Sweden.

The book won’t be released until January 2 but this Washington Post article gives the flavor (don’t miss the video of Magnasson encountering her daughter’s storage unit). Magnasson says this is an ongoing endeavor, suggests 65 as an appropriate age to begin, but admits it’s never finished.

Billed as not so rigid as the KonMari approach (you know what she’d do, making quick work of everything with black plastic trash bags), I’m curious about Magnasson’s method of dealing with copious, accumulated “stuff” in a house.

Because Magnasson is an artist I wonder if she addresses the particular muddle created by art-making, the tools and supplies, but also sketchbooks, drawings, unloved paintings that might live under some of our staircases (not naming any names or making any admissions).

Few words are less enthusiastically embraced than death and cleaning, so I do admit that reading this book – even writing about it before publication (!) – might be just another way to avoid actually doing the dostadning!

 

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“Vera”

Based on books by Ann Cleeves, the British television series “Vera” has seven seasons so far (a discovery that helped a lot with pneumonia evenings). It features Vera Stanhope as a Detective Chief Inspector working in the far northeast of England. Probably everything written about “Vera” mentions the detective’s unlikely appearance and demeanor. Paddington Bear comes to mind.

She’s a sturdy and not young woman who wears a squashed hat like the bear’s, Wellies or sensible shoes, and a “mac” as much a trademark as Colombo’s was in the day. She drives a beat-up jeep, and addresses people as “pet” or “luv” with empathy or sarcasm, depending on the exchange. British slang words like “skint” and “scarper” sprinkle the show’s dialogue – complicated by thick northern accents.

You rarely see the murder, but each episode’s opening scene finds a corpse discovered in the landscape – beaches, moors, river canyons – or in a lonely farmhouse, stately home or Newcastle street. Under investigation the new case (and they are remarkably varied) can lead to a tangled web of family secrets and lies, and sometimes require the reopening of a closed case.

The actress Brenda Blethyn plays Vera. Her mobile face conveys both barely concealed fury and impatience with lying, or a smile of sympathy or satisfaction at a solution. She’s smart, intuitive, often sharp with associates, and in the middle of the case pulls her crumpled hat off and on in frustration. She is really, really good at her job.

It helps that she knows a lot – because of her odd childhood with a poacher father, she has experience and understanding of animals and plants inhabiting seacoast and moor. Some episodes reveal tiny bits of Vera’s past, and we get to know her staff.

Through the seasons the actors change, but her closest associate is always a Detective Sergeant, young, male, handsome, and sweet – a family guy who cares about Vera in spite of her quirks. Pathologists play a prominent role, there have been three so far, and a longtime Detective Constable who knows the criminal characters of countryside and city.

Vera cares about children and their often difficult lives, but part of her appeal is the satisfaction of watching her bark orders to her staff – and seeing them jump to.

I’m fond of the scenes back at the headquarters: the victim’s photo slapped on a magnetic board along with other bits of information, and Vera, wearing her “under the mac” almost housedress outfit with ubiquitous stringy scarf circling her neck, paces in front of the board and demands of her gathered staff “Well, what do we know?”

Maybe not much at that moment – but a lot by the end of the evening.

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