Eating Out of the Ice Box

Well, it finally arrived. Summer has descended on our little island and the thermometer has finally managed to stay in the 80’s for more than two days in a row. For me, that’s quite hot enough, thank you very much. It’s not that I haven’t’ experienced hotter living, I have. It’s just that loath it. My blood is made up of equal parts molasses, crude oil and taffy and hot weather just makes me more and more sloth like until I finally fall whimpering from my tree branch and sizzle to death in the sun. It’s sort of the reverse of the Wicked Witch of the West. Rather than melt when doused with water, I simply combust in direct sunlight.

Naturally, I had carefully chosen a profession that would keep me in close proximity to insanely hot industrial kilns for days at a stretch. I maintain that I managed to keep my weight down mainly through water loss and since I sold my business some time ago, I think there might be something to that. I seem to be getting rounder by the day.

It might have been the sweating, or it might be the fact that I’ve been enjoying being at home with my kids and have made a concerted effort to keep the cookie jar full at all times. It’s not easy. I seem to be just as adept at emptying the thing as filling it.

With the warm sun pounding on the roof like a troublesome neighbor who knows you’re home and won’t go away, I was confronted with the fact that I… I mean, WE needed more cookies, but what? I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for firing up the oven and the no-bake cookies that I love tend not to fair so well in the jar if it’s hot for too long. Then I thought of a childhood favorite that I hadn’t had in ages.

I love remembering half forgotten stuff from my childhood because it gives me a chance to introduce it to my kids. Lulu Belle is still too young to remember things that happen in her life at the moment, but Short Stack will. It was time to introduce him to Grammy’s Ice Box Cookies. I had him in mind with this recipe for a variety of reasons.

First, they are his size. Perfect for small hands.

Second, they are fun because they look like little hamburgers.

Third. Chocolate.

To those whom know him, I need say no more.

So what is an Ice Box cookie, I hear you ask (Thanks for asking, by the way)? It is made of just three ingredients, requires no baking and is delicious simplicity.

Melt one bag milk chocolate chips with one can sweetened, condensed milk.

Once mixed, remove from heat.

Lay out most of a box of Nabisco ‘Nilla Wafers (and I hate to say this, but Nabisco ‘Nilla wafers are really the way to go. The other vanilla wafers just don’t do it justice) and put a blob of chocolaty goodness on a wafer and then top with another wafer. When you run out of chocolate and wafers, (it will take close to two boxes) toss them in the fridge and let them sit for an hour or so.

This is what you get.

iceboxcookies

On the list of great moments in kitchen Olympics, this hardly rates even as a warm up. These things are pretty much the definition of “stupid-easy” but MAN, are they good on a warm summer day! The name alone ought to give you an idea how long they have been around in my family. “Ice box cookies” was the name given to them by my Great-great grandmother and though I never met her, I am eternally grateful to her for concocting them. The recipe is so basic that whether she came up with them on her own or copied them from someone else is impossible to prove. I don’t care. I just like to eat them.

As it turns out, Short Stack does too! I’ve never known my boy to back away from a chocolaty treat and if he does, I’ll know that the aliens has swapped him with a spy robot. Short Stack has now fully embraced the notion of “helping” whenever I’m doing something and cooking, as with most kids, really gets him excited. The beauty of these little morsels is that they are the perfect first recipe for young kids. He’s not old enough to use the stove alone, but with supervision, he has a blast and later, can enjoy “his” cookies.

So summer cookies from his Great-great-great grandma, direct to his happy, round belly.

Now all I have to do is explain what an “ice box” is to him.
That ought to be interesting.

On the other hand, given enough cookies, he might not care!

Advertisements

And Then There Were None.

Harry Patch has died.

He was born in 1898, trained as a plumber at age fifteen, was conscripted into the army of Great Britain in 1916 and was the last living combatant of the First World War. There are three other men still alive who served, but Harry was the last who actually fought. A soldier who, on the day of his nineteenth birthday, entered the trenches for the first time to experience something that no one alive today can fully understand. It’s not possible that we could.

He had a good idea of what lay ahead of him. Not only did he have an older brother who had already been wounded in the conflict that would reshape much of Europe and lay the groundwork for yet another, far bloodier war, but also, this was not 1914 anymore either. By 1917 when he had completed his training, citizens of all nations understood the meat grinder that they were throwing their teenagers and young fathers into. By then, the enthusiasm for glory was diminishing daily. It was understood by all except the embroiled governments that there was no real glory to be had but rather, death, dismemberment, mental anguish that would last a lifetime, reducing men to shadows of their former selves. The wide eyed, naivety and excitement that so commonly clouds the minds of otherwise sensible individuals had been mostly scoured away in the mud of no-man’s land and blood of millions of young men.

Harry was trained as machine gunner, an invention that was used to such effect in those years it became the signature weapon of the Great War. The device, invented years before the outbreak of war, was perfected in this conflict and refined to a point where even for the next generation, designs were near duplicates and carried once again to the fields of France to fight in the war after “The War to End All Wars.”

Machine guns were feared by all on both sides and as such, were prime targets to be taken out as quickly as possible. This was to be the fate of the gun crew Harry was attached to. As they lay in the slime of Passchendaele, a shell exploded over the team. Three, out of the five man team were blown apart. Harry suffered a wound from the flying shrapnel but lived. With a visit from a battlefield medic, a run on a stretcher to an aid station and then to the rear and out of France, he made it back to the Isle of Wight where he would convalesce. Later, still in England, as he drilled on a rifle range, preparing to return to the front, he would receive the news that the Armistice was signed.

stretcher

The war was over. The lives of over eight and a half million soldiers had been lost. Over twenty one million had been wounded. Far more had wounds that did not show outwardly. It took Harry over eighty years before he could bring himself to talk about it. In 2007, he found the strength to return to the fields of Flanders and see the land again where so many men were unlucky enough to not be wounded like himself, but instead mingled with the soil, unseen even to this day.

That one battle alone consumed over 850,000 men.

One battle.

I am a student of history. I have a thirst to know and find awe and respect in the items that have been carried and cared for by those who have held these things; who have lived or just as often, not lived through the fires of past conflict. I am not alone.

Collectors of history cover the globe and the hunt for the right helmet, the correct rifle or the authentic letter spurs on a lively commerce. What worries me is the disconnect that can occur with these items and the stories that refuse to cling to them. An object can’t tell you the story of it’s owner and with the death of those who knew, we loose that human element, and it is a loss. The bayonet that is snapped up at an antiques show that might have ruined the life of a family a century ago. The canteen for sale that once was filled but never drank from. The extra overcoat that was ordered but shipped back unworn. We can’t forget where these things come from or whom they might have touched. We should, however, care for them since we can no longer care for their one time owners. They are not ours, however. We are only stewards and need to teach why there are items of humanity. Why they are special.

In 1914, the European youth were electrified with the promise and thrill of war. There had been a long wait between conflicts and the populace had forgotten that glory was a lie. It wasn’t glorious. It was riding into the jaws of Death and hoping to be the survivor, even as your friends die all around you. The elders of state ordered them to go and they did their duty.

Lions led by Asses.

We can debate the argument if the Great War was inevitable or avoidable. We can question who actually started it and where the fault lies.We can point fingers at incompetent commanders and mourn those who died due to the idiocy of suicidal orders handed out with no care or strategy. What we cannot do, should never do, is think for a moment that the Great War was that. Great. It was a charnel house. We should never for a moment confuse that with glory.

Good night to you Harry Patch, you and all those who saw the war of 1914-1918 with their own eyes. There are yet three more who were there, but you were the last to raise arms against an enemy you barely knew.

The fields are quiet now except for the sounds of traffic and tractors. The memories you shared are written in the annals of history.

May we never forget the price we as men paid to hear them.

“I met someone from the German side, and we both shared the same opinion: We fought, we finished, and we were friends. It wasn’t worth it.”

~Harry Patch

HarryPatch

Cartoon Musicology

It happens with amazing regularity. At some point, my impressively large music collection works its way down to about seventeen songs that seem to loop in an endless… well… loop, I guess. I’m stuck like a needle in a record scratch and the same tunes go drifting through the house in a predictable pattern until, like the wall paper, we don’t even notice it anymore.

Wait.. Do I have wallpaper?

I hit this point again last night and decided, with minutes to spare before dinner, that we desperately needed to have something new to listen to as we ate the wonderful pork meal that Action Girl had been toiling over for the last hour or so. Looking thought what I already had on file was not the right place to start when making a new playlist. Those waters have already been plundered pretty heavily and in an effort to make a fresh approach, I wanted something new, and the best “something new” in my book, is something old. I needed a tune I hadn’t heard for a long, long time.

“Is You Is, Or Is You Aint’ My Baby,” by Louis Jordan.
Perfect!

To old jazz aficionados, this is no doubt a timeless classic and I’m sure that it brings back any number of wonderful memories to them as they reminisce about smoke filled jazz clubs deep in the dark of a sleeping city. To me, it brings back memories of a cat and mouse trying to kill each other to the highest comic effect.

Ah, Tom and Jerry.
Good times.

My introduction to this musical masterpiece came as I sat on the sky blue, deep pile rug of the living room floor in my parent’s house. I’m willing to be that a bowl of something soggy and sugar coated was in my hands and feety pajamas might have been part of the bargain as well. I won’t bore you with the plot, but I’ll just mention that Tom was using a double bass and the syrupy lyrics to good effect in his attempt to woo an improbably curvatious female cat. Jerry objected to his disturbed slumber and alerted Tom to this with a lemon meringue pie wrapped around an iron. Subtlety was not Jerry’s strong suit.

The point is, the likelihood of me encountering this song at home was next to nil. My Dad’s idea of enjoyable, “rowdy” music was confined to some of the more lively Beatles singles with the complete and utter exclusion to anything released post “Rubber Soul.” Classical could be lively as well providing it didn’t get too full of its self, but that’s about it. My Mom always had a more accepting ear toward music. After all, it was her “Best of the Doors” LP which I nicked and transported off to college. Still, since my dear, sweet, happy-go-lucky Father becomes downright insufferable if the music gets too uppity, my exposure to the musical world was pretty much limited to ABBA, Mozart, Cat Stevens, Beethoven, Simon and Garfunkel, Vivaldi, and a little Jerry Rafferty when Dad wasn’t home. Jazz? Not a chance.

As I think back, I actually learned a heck of lot in the way of music from a variety of Saturday morning cartoons. I clearly recall singing along with, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as I followed along with the bouncing ball at the bottom of the screen. Another Tom and Jerry episode that took place on a waterfront taught me most of the lyrics to, “Moonlight Bay.” Dad wasn’t a Verdi kind of guy, but that was all right because Bugs and Elmer opened my mind up to, “The Barber of Seville” and later a little Wagner and a taste of the Ring Cycle, even if highly… altered in a “Spear and Magic Helmet,” kind of way.

KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT!

The classical hits are great, of course. I’ll always equate various cartoon characters with what ever classical piece that Warner Brothers decided to ascribe them to, but it’s the “modern” music that I learned of that I am most thankful for. Most of these cartoons were made in the 40’s and 50’s and the topical music of the day, the really big radio hits of the era, largely disappear into the mist of the social fabric that is our world. The fact that in 1975, a little kid, jigged up in high octane cane sugar and corn syrup (part of this balanced breakfast) could happily chirp out the song, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” with the TV, quite frankly, makes me smile.

Grabbing a bit of couch that would keep me momentarily out of view, lest I be seen as slacking, I hopped on my computer and took advantage of the miracle of modern living. With a quick look through iTunes, I found it.

“Is You Is…”

I had never even heard of Louis Jordan before that moment. To my astonishment, there were about twelve recordings of his to choose from for this one cut alone. After sampling a few, I heard the one that had been used by Tom all those years ago. Action Girl heard me fiddling around from the kitchen.

“Hey! What was that? I like those brassy horns. That sounds really fun!”

In about five minutes, I had put together a new playlist for us all to enjoy over our meal. I don’t know if Short Stack and Lulu Belle appreciated it, but we did. It was new but old and Action Girl knows me well enough not to ask why I already knew all the lyrics or where I learned them from. Smart Girl.

To Tom, Jerry, Bugs, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy and all the others, thank you, guys.

“Oooh!!! There ain’t-a-nothing finiah than to be in Carolina in the moooooorning!”
Thanks Daffy!

Over There

“So, I hear that you just got back from Venice?”

Tony, the woman on the other end of the phone line corrected me with the sound of wistful emotion coloring her voice.

“No, Florence. I was in Florence, Italy actually.”

By the sigh that followed the word “actually,” I knew the answer to my next question before I even put it out there, but to ask anyway was proper form. I’m all in favor of letting people gush when they have it in them. Blissful gushing is one of the pinnacles of personal happiness and I, for one, wasn’t going to deny her the chance.

“Oh! It was just so… Oh! All the famous people who’ve lived there and all the beautiful things that they left behind for us to see!”

Smiling, I let her go on for as long a she wished. The enthusiasm in her voice made me smile broadly.

Tony lives alone out here on the island, and is kind enough to watch Lulu Belle for us from time to time. Since her own son, daughter-in-law and grandson live on the other side of the country, it gives her a chance to do grandma duty for our little girl while giving us time to actually accomplish things like work and… work some more.

“Have you ever been to Florence?” The question was asked with the bubble like hope of having a fellow traveler to compare notes with. Sadly, I had to tell her that, no, we hadn’t been so fortunate.

This was followed by the inevitable, “Oh! You should!”

Should, indeed. Acton Girl and I would love nothing more.

We knew all to well what starting a family would mean to our vagabond traveling method. It wouldn’t put a crimp in it. It would crush it in a vice like embrace until turning blue in the face and going limp. Travel, at least for the next seven years or so, would be sporadic, far more tame, or possibly unknown all together. It was a trade we both willingly made, but it still smarts from time to time.

Like, when we think about it.

When I was five, my parents did an incredibly brave thing. They took their very young child and put him on a plane with them. When the door shut, it would not open again for six hundred and twenty-nine hours. Well… perhaps that’s stretching it a bit.

Six hundred and twenty-six hours, then.

It was a very, very long flight from the East coast to Hawaii and when you’re five, the miniature dynamos that run in your chest are controlled by a squirrel that operates your brain, and he keeps them running at full tilt, fueled on a diet of soda, potato chips and pure excitement. I have always maintained that if we could figure out how to harness the power of a five year old, our planet’s energy problems would be solved. That, and you’d wind up with a five year old who’d actually listened to you when you spoke to them.

Win / Win!

I survived the trip and have no memory of the interior of the overhead luggage racks, so I’m assuming that I behaved my self, though memories are a tad sketchy.

That was my introduction to travel and amazingly, things went well enough on that trip that my parents decided to keep taking that little squirrel powered kid with them and I have benefited from that immensely. I had the chance to make some truly amazing journeys as a child and young man and have seen parts of this world that most people know only through history class or movies. Some of the things I saw and places to where I traveled no longer exist at all or are not a place a U.S. citizen could now comfortably walk. For those experiences, I am deeply thankful.

As I grew older, the travel bug stayed with me and with my independence and a new found life-long companion, I had the chance to travel without Mom and Dad and see what that was like. It was great!

Action Girl and I have made several foreign trips together and have really gotten proficient at our own style of travel. We bring packs and travel by train a lot. We look for rooms to rent rather than hotels or hostels. We buy our food at local markets rather than looking for the next restaurant and we are masters at picking a town on a map, hopping on the next train out of town and then making it up once we arrive wherever we picked. If there is no room in town, we’d hop back on the train and try the next stop.

eurorail

Oh, Eurorail Pass, how we love thee.

We vacationed like this for two reasons. The first is because we like it. The second is that we don’t have the cash to do it any other way. To be honest, I’ve traveled both ways, and I like our method the best. We seem to slip into the crowds rather than gliding over them. Rick Steves would approve, I think.

It’s summer here in Maine and Action Girl and I haven’t been on a jet in about three years. “Getting away,” for us means slipping off to the restaurant down the road while Grandparents watch the kids. We sit in our chairs, chatting about what adorable thing Lulu Belle did today or what Short Stack found at the beach as we sip at our drinks, sample each other’s entrees and make furtive glances at watches to see how much time we have left before running home to relieve the troops. As we talk, a sporadic stream of neighbors and fellow islanders walk by on the way to their own tables and make the inevitable comment, “So, who’s watching the kids?”

Us, being us, we tell them, “the cat” and we’re hoping he gets them litter trained tonight.

But, that’s us.

Short Stack is only three and a half and Lulu Belle, sixteen months. I don’t think we’ll take them on a jet for a while yet. I can just barely remember my trip to Hawaii when I was five and don’t see the point in dragging children on a big vacation that they won’t remember. This weekend, we’re trying something new and visiting a local New England attraction. We can easily drive there and might even have the chance to meet up with my blood brother, The Doctor, and his family. It won’t be Florence, but I’m willing to bet that it will be interesting. With three kids under the age of four, how could it be anything else? At least we’ll have them outnumbered.

We’ll see how long Action Girl and I can hold out before we crack and impulsively buy tickets to some corner of the world. I don’t think we’d have any problem slipping back into old travel habits. It’s just going to be more challenging with munchkins coming along for the adventure. In the mean time, I’ll start getting things lined up for our road trip this week. We’re only driving from the Maine coast to northern New Hampshire, so the journey should take about two hundred and thirteen hours.

It can seem like that car occupants, anyway.

Oh, Amtrak, how I wish you were here. They have overhead baggage compartments, you know.

Slow and Steady Mows the Lawn

“Hey Dad, do you still have that old mower in the garage?”

The slightly guarded reply over the phone that followed was looking for more information. “Which mower do you mean?”

Action Girl and I had recently moved into our first house together after several years of apartment dwelling and suddenly I was confronted with the need to own things that I had not considered before. It was a simple and elderly house in an old neighborhood and came with its own foolishly small bit of grassy lawn. No mater how foolish it was though, it still needed mowing. Our two house cats could only chew it down so much. Give them credit. They would have done their best, but I wasn’t okay with cleaning that mess up later.

Growing up, we had a pretty good sized lawn. It wasn’t overly hilly or terribly large, but mowing it properly took an evening to do. It was just big enough that pushing the old, hand mower was a noisy pain in the neck. Your feet turned green with the sticky clippings and there’s just nothing quite like shoving a two stroke, blue exhaust belching engine in front of you for an hour and a half. As a small child, I was instructed to stay well away from it when it ran and like most small children when warned about an astonishingly loud, appendage eating machine, I took the direction to the extreme and mostly viewed it from the safety of the house.

This wasn’t my Dad’s first mower, however, but rather his first gas mower. As a young man at his first, real, career-style job, an older and more experienced coworker had gotten to know my father and saw an opportunity to offload some of his excess garden shed treasures on the “new kid.” When you’re new to homeownership and you are just trying to get up and running, free stuff is hard to turn down. Those of us who have reached that point in our lives where we have to make paths through the basement and garage just to reach the back wall, can sniff these young-uns out a mile away and offload on them mercilessly. An offer of some free necessity and a warm smile is cheaper than a trip to the dump, with the added benefit that they can often be convinced to even come and take it away themselves. If however, the item could possibly be turned down when seen in the flesh, it’s best to go with “the drop off.” It’s harder to refuse something once the offerer has gone through the trouble of bringing it to you. At least, that’s what he’s hoping for.

Such was the method of transfer of ownership that my father found himself in when the “lawn mower” that he was offered turned out to be a thirty pound, cast iron, rotary mower. A forced smile and, “thank you” from Dad, and into our garage it went. He immediately went out and got the gas powered finger chopper that I hid from, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember.

As time went along, Dad managed to get his hands on a riding mower and when I was old enough, I would pilot it around in ever tightening circles, pummeling the grass into submission as Dad did the small areas with the push mower he had bought all those years before. The antique rotary mower was left to gather dust and other than the few times I remember taking it out to oil and push a few feet, then hanging it back up, it never saw the light of day.

Now it was my turn to need new things necessary to the maintenance a house. I had been borrowing an electric mower from a nearby friend since we had moved in, but if you have never experienced the thrill of running over your own power cord, then you my friend, just haven’t lived. They are horrible little machines and after the second extension cord wound up in the trash, I decided that I needed something else.

Getting a gas mower for the five hundred square feet of lawn I had seemed worse than foolish. That type of blunt headed consumption, frankly drives me more than a little batty. I needed something else. Then I remembered the rotary mower.

“That mower? The one hanging up in the garage?” My dear father, sensing a chance to reverse the roll he played all those years ago when he came into ownership of the cast iron wall hanger, pounced.

“SURE! You can have THAT one! Tell you what, I’ll even go and get it sharpened for you before I bring it up.” He was going for full effect on the drop off. Once he had it cleaned up and ready for pushing, there was no way I could turn it down. With a light heart, Dad took down the old rotary mower and, leaving a large, oil stained outline on the garage wall, took it to the local shop for sharpening.

“Woah! Where’d you get this one?”

The guys at the shop all came over to inspect the machine as Dad wheeled it into the showroom. After a brief retelling, one of the workers looked down at it with respect. “Your son’s a lucky guy. They didn’t’ make them like this when the made them like this. This thing is the Cadillac of the rotary mowers. They do a way better job of mowing. The grass will look great after a pass with this one.”

My Dad related all this to me when he dropped it off and much to our amazement, we found that when sharpened and freshly oiled, not only does it purr like a kitten, but it cuts the grass beautifully, evenly and quietly.

mower

There are a few things that can get in the way when using it. First of all, it weights a ton and you never forget that for a moment when you propel it across the lawn. Secondly, if you put off cutting the grass too many weekends, you are in for a lot of sweating later. Unlike its motorized brethren, rather than smashing the grass down with a whirling piece of metal, this snips at it like scissors, and just like scissors, you can only snip so much in one bite. It can be like trying to cut a phonebook in half with pinking sheers. Long grass means multiple passes.

I have a larger lawn now and though I suppose I could justify a gas mower, I still happily use this one. I never have to fill it up, it starts ever time and most of all, I love the sound. My new neighbor keeps offering me the use of his electric mower whenever he sees me with it out, but I just thank him and say that it’s my version of going to the gym. The fact of the matter is, I love it. I can hear the birds over the whirring blades and I smell like fresh grass rather than exhaust and burned oil when I finish. The old mower was built in 1918, and I always get at least one passer by who stops to marvel at it as they walk by. I have to admit, I’m proud of the thing.

The best outcome of all this was my father’s own revelation. He’s always hated mowing the grass and the ride-on and the push mower always seem to need something. Top that off with his dust allergy and high opinion of rigorous physical activity and he started to view cutting the grass in a different light. Shortly after I started using mine, he went out and bought one of his own. It’s new and lighter and easier to push, but the effect is much the same. Now his neighbors stop and comment about pushing such an old fashioned mower around the yard. Entertainingly enough, one of them has decided that it was a good enough idea to warrant him going out and getting his own as well. We just might have a minor revolution on your hands here!

I doubt that my son and daughter will enjoy pushing my ancient, iron monstrosity across the lawn when the job becomes theirs, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. If they want a gas mower, they can get one. In the mean time, I’ll oil this one up and push it out across the grass. It’s been doing just that for about a hundred years now.

Why stop now, just when I’ve gotten it broken in?

mower2

%d bloggers like this: