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Sweet Madame

Vache sacree!  My neighbor is French, as in Paris.  The for sale sign came down a few days ago, so I have been waiting anxiously to see who bought the Kravitz’ house.  Yesterday morning, a moving truck pulled up front and it was followed soon after by a dark sedan with Madame and Mister Underbridge.  As soon as the car pulled up, neighbors appeared on the sidewalk outside to greet them.  I watched for a little while from behind the drapes.  I didn’t want to disturb them when they had so much work to do.  There didn’t seem to be much furniture and some of it must have been from France since I had never seen a few pieces available in our furniture stores.

While I was making supper, there was a slight rapping on the front door.  That’s how I met Chloe, as she liked to be called.  She introduced herself and I invited her in.  I kept my cool enough to introduce myself but was still a little mesmerized by her accent.  She was obviously from France but spoke perfect English. Chloe asked to borrow a cup of sugar and held out an aluminum cup.

I was a little flustered but agreed and went into the kitchen to get it.  She followed me and I asked her if there was anything else she needed.  She looked at the full cup and laughed a little to herself.  She told me that she didn’t really need the sugar but thought that was how she was supposed to introduce herself to her new neighbors.  She said the government had given her a pamphlet on life in the suburbs when they arrived.  We both laughed.  I realized that I could handle this a little better.  I took some notepaper and wrote down our names and phone number and handed it back.  I told her that when she had time, to please call and we would get to know each other better.  We were neighbors after all.  I also told her if she really needed anything to just ask.  I wanted us to get off to a good start and I could tell that she was a little embarrassed at falling for the government’s idea on how to make a friend.  Chloe confessed that she was a little tired from all the moving and thanked me for the note.  She asked to borrow my pen.  Chloe nearly ripped the paper into two pieces and wrote down their names and number also.  She had beautiful penmanship!  I read over the names and spoke them aloud.  Francis, Chloe and Marie-Claire Underbridge.  Chloe explained that Francis was out of the military now and she had met him through her work in the Resistance.   Vache sacree!  I wanted to know everything now but understood that there would be time for us to talk again soon.

I asked Chloe if they had food for dinner and she confessed that three American casseroles had already been delivered by other neighbors.  That sounds right; I warned her that more were coming.  Chloe explained that they were surprised by the abundance, but it didn’t shock me.  We’re good people here on Calista Court.

Chloe would learn that in time.  She thanked me for the sugar and I stood at the front door and waved as she left.  Welcome to Monterey Park, Madame!

May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?

Several families have toured the house next door for sale this week but I guess none have yet to take it for their own.  I remember when Steve and I first moved in.  It was a dream come true to finally have our own home. We had been saving some money and waited until Steve had climbed the management ladder a bit higher to take on the loan and the commitment.  The government helped with the loan and our mortgage book was slowly completing with each monthly payment.  We plan to have a wonderful mortgage book burning party when the time arrives and the house was paid off.

Yesterday, after I returned home from the butcher, Mags ran across the street to let me in on what I had missed while shopping.  She watched a couple with a little girl about Daisy’s age tour the house next door.  They stayed quite a while apparently and walked around the front and back yards.  The for sale sign was still up but Mags had a good feeling about these folks.  She described the woman as a dark-haired petite woman wearing a chignon and she wore sturdy heeled shoes with rounded toes.  Mags said that she seemed classy and a thin ex-military type man was with her.  The little girl had tumbling long dark curls tied up with a ribbon and she was dressed in a smocked jumper.  I wondered if this was the first sighting of my new neighbor.  I thought about the possibilities while making dinner.  It would be nice to have a playmate for Daisy close by.  Mags is usually a good observer of character and she seemed to like the way this family looked.  It might be interesting to have another couple to socialize with also.  We all know each other so well now that we can practically finish each other’s sentences.

Well, I guess I will know soon enough; for sale signs don’t last long on this block.  I’ll have to let Mrs. Kravitz know about these folks too.  I wonder how long it will take for me not to call that house the Kravitz’s?

You Can’t Get There From Here

The only question left was where.  Molly visited her mother, Mrs. Kravitz, and spent the weekend with her.  It didn’t seem like a happy visit, but it opened Molly’s eyes to the changes in her mother’s health and forced them to discuss the future.  These kinds of discussions come way too late to keep them from having anything but an unexpected result.  Molly wanted her mother to move in with them.  This would involve her moving far from Monterey Park.  It had been the late Mr. Kravitz’s dream for them to own a home outside of the city in order for Mrs. Kravitz to have a garden.  Her garden was a beauty.  Her flowers grew brighter and taller than anyone else’s and resembled a cottage garden.  Edie had taught me that a house with fresh flowers was a better home and I had started to cut flowers now and then to place in a vase on our dining room table.  Snowball was a little too curious about them one time and knocked over the vase and tried to eat some, so I decreased the frequency. But I loved the idea.

After they moved to Monterey Park, Mr. Kravitz doted on Mrs. Kravitz and the house.  When he passed away, Mrs. Kravitz never thought about leaving.  She was already well ensconced in suburban living and acting as our neighborhood watch, keeping track of all of us.

Mrs. Kravitz did not want to leave Monterey Park and her friends.  She argued that her husband was buried nearby with Baby Cecil, an infant she had lost early in their marriage.  Mrs. Kravitz wanted to move into Shady
Pines.  Molly and Mrs. Kravitz made a visit to the old folks home and Molly understood a little better.  Mrs. Kravitz already knew two other ladies who lived there and she would have companions around her all of the time.  Molly, her husband and the boys could still visit and Mrs. Kravitz could visit them during the holidays.   It was a good decision for everyone.

We helped Mrs. Kravitz pack.  She could only take a fraction of her life’s treasures, so we boxed up those she couldn’t part with and Molly took those with her to hold onto.  We took pictures of Mrs. Kravitz in her garden and had the pictures printed and hung in her room at Shady Pines.

Molly had the house repainted and yesterday it was put up for sale.  It was a little strange knowing that Mrs. Kravitz wouldn’t be peeking out from her drapes at us, keeping us safe.  I hadn’t thought about having a brand new next door neighbor ever.  I suspect there will always be new people moving in from time to time.  We have a beautiful neighborhood.  And the most recent additions have been excellent.  Still, I felt a little sad seeing Mrs. Kravitz leave.  I plan to stop by and see her from time to time to keep her up to date on our block.  That will actually give me a chance to gossip a little about our lives.

Lost in a Strange Land

The first troublesome sign was finding Mrs. Kravitz in the backyard.  My backyard.  She gingerly held a bouquet of freshly snipped flowers from her garden in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.  I was getting ready to hang wash and saw her just standing there looking around.  After I put down the basket, I approached her and said her name.  She didn’t reply but did turn around to look at me.  She seemed relieved to see me and called me Molly.  I know that Mrs. Kravitz has a daughter named Molly who lives across the state, so I corrected her and told her my name.  She seemed a little perturbed that maybe I was playing a game with her or trying to trick her, so I asked her what she was doing in the yard and she told me she was looking for Baby Cecil’s grave.  I had no idea what she was talking about but now sensed something was wrong.  I gently asked Mrs. Kravitz to join me inside for a cup of coffee and we walked  toward my back door.  As the coffee perked, Mrs. Kravitz watched out the side window blankly.  I tried to make small talk and pulled out the creamer and sugar bowl.  I have had coffee with my neighbor many times and I know that she likes to chat.  Or maybe gossip would be a better name for it.  I asked her about the comings and goings on the block, but she told me that she didn’t have anything to report.  This was bad.  We sat quietly sipping our coffee when Stevie Junior and Jack Frost bounded through the back door.  I tried to quiet them but they were laughing about some game they had been playing.  The clamor must have been enough to bring Mrs. Kravitz back to herself and she scolded me a little for trying to quiet them using my name.  Her eyes seemed brighter now and her face lit up as she started to tell me what she had seen Zettie Louise trying to teach Junior last week.  It was as if she had been someplace else far away for that half hour.

After she finished her coffee, Mrs. Kravitz got up to leave and I placed my hand on her arm.  I asked her if I could call her daughter Molly for some parenting advice.  I knew Molly had two boys about Junior’s age.  She rattled off the phone number and reminded me that it was long distance and not to talk too long.

I told Mrs. Kravitz that I wanted to stop by later and check on her and she seemed a little surprised.  We usually checked on her when the weather was bad or she needed help with a bigger chore.  I picked up the flowers and scissors and walked Mrs. Kravitz back to her home.  She looked at the flowers a little funny but accepted them all the same.

Later that day, I called Molly.  Strangely, she noticed something different about her mother lately also.  There were times her mother had missed their arranged phone calls or she went blank on something that happened or couldn’t remember a name properly.  Molly made plans to visit on the weekend and I assured her that I would check on Mrs. Kravitz daily.  The next few days, I stopped by at different times to check on Mrs. Kravitz and took her grocery shopping at Martel’s one afternoon.  She seemed fine and very appreciative.  At the end of the week, Mrs. Kravitz asked me why I had been so attentive recently.  I swallowed hard and told her about finding her a little lost in the back yard.  She was quiet for a moment.  A small tear slid out of the side of one eye.  I reached across and held her hand.  Mrs. Kravitz confided in me that she had also found herself lost in the house recently and didn’t understand it.  She told me about Molly wanting to come and asked if I told Molly.  I admitted that I had but she didn’t seem upset with me.  We sat together for awhile quietly.  We both knew that change was coming for her.  I only hoped that I could live as long as she did with her curiosity.

 

 

 

 

Into Each Life A Little Rain Must Fall

The last three days had been a washout for the pool and outdoor play.  The intense heat of summer had brought in some massive rain clouds that seemed stuck over our neighborhood.  The children were stuck inside playing board games which almost always ended in them both pronouncing themselves “bored” by the games.  I had set up a little craft table for them to color and create useless stuff with treasures from my saved empty oatmeal boxes and toilet roll tubes.  The first couple of hours of creativity went well but the spirit always weakened when ideas diminished.  The popsicle stick creations went unfinished and the two artists usually ended up in the kitchen looking for a snack and advice on what to do next.

I had it in my head to take my mother’s scone recipe and try and make them into tea cakes.  The scones were good on cold mornings straight out of the oven and when cool were just right for a delicious treat with my afternoon cup of coffee.  I asked the kids if they would like to help make them and since they were out of other ideas, agreed.  I had Daisy clean the berries since her gentle touch might result in less damage.  Junior was good at measuring, so he helped me with the cups and tablespoons of ingredients.  Of course, the fun part of any baking project was always the working of the dough, so I pulled off a small piece for each of them to annihilate while learning the art of kneading.  These scones need as little manipulation as possible, so I formed the main piece of dough and cut them into long tea cakes for baking.  They looked a little strange since I had never made this particular shape before, but even the new shape wouldn’t change the awesome flavor of these scones.  They were one of the tried and true recipes of my mother’s and I rarely messed with her directions.

I added a little melted butter and honey mix to the tea cakes near the end of the baking time in place of the usual sprinkling of sugar and they came out shiny and brown.  The children finally finished shaping their own scones and I placed them on a second pan to bake off.  I knew from the extra working that they would be a little tough but the birds would need something to munch on once the rains stopped, so they wouldn’t go to waste.  The beautiful tea cakes deserved a little celebration, so I put together a real tea party on the dining room table to enjoy the baked goods.  I poured, but Junior and Daisy added their own cream and sugar.  It was quite elegant and brought a little civility to brighten our gloomy day.

Luckily, the weather service has forecasted dry weather for the rest of the week.  Hopefully,  we should be back to our wonderful summer world of swimming and bike riding tomorrow.  In the meantime, we will toast the rain that brought us all together.

An Apple a Day

It was time to start working on my dessert choice for the annual block party.  My focus on brownies last summer created my go-to recipe that wowed everyone and (thank God) ended up tasting better than Edie’s.  I’m not sure that my baking ego could live through the pain from being out baked by the new kid on the block.  If I knew Edie the way I do this year, I wouldn’t have been as hurt, but last year she was the freshly faced new girl who had just moved into the neighborhood.

And so, my work for the last two weeks was baking apple desserts.  Everyone loves apple desserts and they are completely all American!  I had tried out apple hand pies, apple crumble, apple tart, and apple cookies without finding anything special.  In the middle of the night last Tuesday, I woke up with the idea to pair cookies with a pie and a crumble and thus created a bar cookie topped with cooked apples and a crumbly topping.  The best of many worlds. The first crust was shortbread based and it spread a little more than I liked, so I grated that error up for a pie base for my chocolate icebox pie.  For my next shortbread base, I refrigerated the pan with the base prior to adding some cooked apples and then added a crumbly topping later in the bake.  Those were good, but the crumbly topping still needed something.  For the next version, I added chopped nuts to the crumbly topping, and baked everything together.  Eureka!  It was great.  I will continue to bake my new dessert each week until the big day.  Even if it is hot outside, those bars will satisfy as they are great served cold as well.  I only hope that Steve and the kids don’t get tired of apples between now and the block party.

Tonight, I’ll try serving it hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream for my taste testers.

 

Don’t Let the Parade Pass You By

The annual 4th of July parade is always fun and a terrific opportunity for us all to remember what’s important. Even with our war memories receding, that hard won freedom is still celebrated. The local officials don their white clothes and sashes, boys and girls line up with their scout troops and local veterans march in line as we clap and cheer their service.

The fun part starts with the decorated bikes and floats. This year, Zettie Louise asked me if Junior and Daisy could ride on a float she wanted to construct and pull with her motorbike and I gladly accepted. She wanted me to help with costumes for the kids, so two days later she invited me down to her house to see what she had already built. When I arrived, I realized she had moved her heavy dining room table off to one side of the room and covered it so that she could place her construction tools on it.

A wide chassis on 3 wheels was in its place and the start of a 5 sided star was waiting for placement on top. Vache sacree! Zettie Louise explained her plans to build a floor on the star for the kids to stand on, decorate it with red, white and blue paint trim and build a sparkly skirt around the bottom. She was sure the kids could balance on it if she added a post with handles on it.

I quietly circled the float to try and imagine it in my head and wondered how she intended to get it out of the dining room. She must have sensed my disbelief and started asking me if I had some thoughts on how to improve it. She humbly backpedalled on her abilities to make it parade-worthy and her speech was speeding up nervously as she continued. I realized that I had to say something and quickly stopped her by telling her how much greater the float was than I imagined. I did ask her about her intentions of removing the chassis when she finished and she was silent. She realized her error but quickly came up with a solution.

She told me that Steve would help her remove the large window in the room to take it out. I gently suggested that maybe the float chassis could be moved prior to putting on the base, perhaps to the garage for the rest of the work. Zettie Louise chuckled to herself a little and seemed embarrassed. I asked Zettie Louise if we could stop for a cup of tea and she gladly led me back to the kitchen. We then had a chance to discuss the costumes.

Zettie Louise was sure that Daisy would be a great Lady Liberty and I figured I could probably get that outfit together. Then Zettie Louise told me that Junior would make a great Italian immigrant and I paused. I couldn’t quite see making Junior’s hair black and she wanted him to have a mustache. Luckily, I had a small brainstorm, and suggested that Junior dress as Uncle Sam. Zettie Louise clapped her hands and agreed wholeheartedly. It would be a little more work for me to figure out but a little easier on my son.

Long story short, I am glad to report that Zettie Louise, dressed as a flag in a white cap, red shirt and blue pants, pulled the float with her decorated motorbike. What a festive sight! Luckily, I put a little sun suit on Daisy under her robes since one shoulder dropped with all her waving. Daisy’s paper mache torch held up well even when she poked Junior with it when he annoyed her. Junior looked dapper in a tall hat I glittered in red, white and blue. His cotton beard and striped pants, hand-painted in my utility room, were topped by a little blue jacket with a white shirt underneath.

The cherry on top was that the float won first prize! What a happy sight to see Zettie Louise jumping around the stage in the park with the children joining her to accept the prize. The five dollar prize wouldn’t cover the cost for Zettie Louise with all the hours she put in and she gave the money to the children to split. Zettie Louise was so happy with her float that she pulled it behind her motorbike to the grocery and the neighborhood for the next few days. Celebration is good for everyone.

Knows Alot

Sometimes it’s entertaining to hear the children argue since their logic is so clear. They aren’t afraid to tell each other exactly what they think and when there is injustice, they find it easier to point out. Fairness is so difficult to maintain. With adults, there is often double-speak, polite answers that are little white lies and even out-right falsehoods. We are afraid of the truth. I understand that myself, because I can delude myself easily when I want to.

I know that Mags isn’t afraid to sugarcoat the truth and tell me what I need to hear. She can gauge my level of sensitivity and knows when to back off but I also know that when she is not telling me everything I need to know, I can figure out what I need to do. We have our own coded language. In the past few months, I have been able to clearly help some friends with issues on decisions on having children, kept secrets when necessary, corrected gossip that was way off base and enabled a few friends to find different strategies in dealing with their spouses. I am officially a knows-a-lot. I sure don’t know it all, but I recently figured out that I do know stuff. The question is, what to do with all this talent?

I stopped off at the book store and found a beautiful new display up front. The books were stacked on new tables in different genres. It made me rethink my book selection process. I decided to walk right past the new display and start to look at new sections that I had not yet explored. I found myself pausing in a non-fiction area, noticing a new shelf of books on psychology. They looked a little like textbooks, full of smaller print with technical words. I wasn’t quite ready for those. But they were intriguing and I made a promise to myself to check back on them another day when I felt a little smarter. I gradually made my way back to the front and perused the new stacks. I found a novel that looked intriguing and instead of writing down the name and ordering it from the library, I bought it. I was beginning to think that the book store was dangerous. But I rationalized the purchase by telling myself that reading is good for the mind. And I want to know even more.

Well Excuse Me

The one thing I have learned from studying my friends is that we are all different. Although we all live similar types of lives, some of us are what I like to call “complex” friends. I consider myself to be a simple friend; easy to get along with, not overly demanding or loud. My complex friends often need more attention and will escalate their behavior if they don’t get it. I don’t talk much about her, but in our outer circle is Clarisse Boudin. Clarisse is a different kind of southern than Judy Anne. Judy Anne prides herself on her impeccable manners, which she wears like a shield. The smallest motion of her face can let you know that someone has overstepped their boundary. She is a bad behavior detector and it’s always fun to watch her at the annual block party as she semi-interrogates the newest families.

Clarisse joined our group at the club pool yesterday for some talk time. Clarisse throws in some salty language from time to time, so I usually encourage the children to swim or play cards more when she is around our group. It’s not that we are above using a curse word from time to time – I have a few that just fall off my lips when I accidently hurt myself. In fact, I think most people have their own go-to string of expletives. Clarisse is also what I call a good talker. She barely takes a breath between sentences. She had her head thrown back to sun her face. You couldn’t see her eyes because she had large cats-eye sunglasses on. I noticed that both Mags and I were watching Judy Anne as Clarisse spoke. Judy Anne’s facial twitches were hysterical but she held her thoughts to herself or at least I can say they weren’t shared verbally. I actually lost track of what Clarisse was saying at one point as I watched. It probably wasn’t anything too shocking but it was obviously not something Judy Anne thought should be discussed in public.

Luckily, the lifeguard whistled for the start of the adult swim time. Mags leaned over and grabbed Judy Anne’s hand and quickly pulled her up to join her in the pool. I followed, leaving Clarisse still talking to herself. Maybe that’s all she wanted to do. After Mags, Judy Anne and I were in the pool for a couple of minutes, Judy Anne had cooled down enough to laugh at what had just happened. Mags told her about her face twitching and she laughed even more. All Judy Anne could say was how amazed she was that a Southern girl like Clarisse could talk in such a manner in public. Oh well, I guess we all have different filters. My study continues.

Lake Love

In the grander side of life, Buck and June offered us the lake house for a week again this year. Steve and the kids always have a great time fishing and swimming. The kids were able to explore a little further this year and the long days playing outside made us all sleep better. I tried to make easier meals for lunch and dinner at the lake house, so planning and making a detailed grocery list was very important. Although when it came to breakfast, I went all out to fortify the family. Junior’s appetite has really increased and even Daisy doesn’t pick at her food anymore. Steve enjoyed a second cup of coffee out on the deck after breakfast while the kids rummaged close to the house, picking up sticks and small pieces of wood to use as kindling for our nightly fire. Of course, I bought a couple bags of marshmallows, boxes of graham crackers and chocolate bars for the s’mores. I like my marshmallows partially burned, so it takes some patience for the perfect one.

Steve always seems so patient with the kids when we are at the lake. He takes time to show them how to bait their hooks and talks to them while waiting for a fish to bite. Some days I went along with them on the boat and packed a picnic basket for our lunch. I partially froze some lemonade the night before and added it to the jug in the morning so it stayed cold until lunch. The sandwiches were delicious. Eating out in the open air is such a treat, I decided that when we returned home, we would eat more summer meals outside at the table on the little patio.

Of course, the nights are always the best time for Steve and I to cuddle up outside under the stars. The skies were beautiful and it was peaceful and romantic. It’s important to keep romance in every marriage and the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives sometimes makes it difficult. With two children, I have so much to do everyday that I forget about Steve until just before he comes home. I am determined to be a better partner and plan some surprises for him this summer to remind him of why he picked me. He is such a good provider and cares about his children even when he’s tired after a long day of work. I found a winner.

I have to find a good way to thank Buck and June for letting us use the lake house again this year. Their generosity lets us live it up on our budget, the house is beautiful and something we might want to have one day and it brings us together as a family. It’s a fabulous way to start our summer!