24 November 2011

Being an expat on Thanksgiving Day is horrible.

No-one slogs through the snow to get to your house because getting to your house requires a passport, a visa, and shedloads of money.

To go to a place where it is impossible to avoid the realisation that Thanksgiving Day and all the trimmings is not by any stretch of the imagination a priority in anyone's mind but that of the expat.

So you lie there in the pre-dawn dark wondering just what the hell you are going to do with yourself this morning, and when you recall that your bog plan of the day is to finish your husband's new pyjamas, and go to the Co-Op for a turkey not to be consumed until Christmas around lunchtime, you can become VERY distressed. Especially since you haven't had pumpkin pie with WAY too much Extra-Creamy Cool Whip since 2009.

Because when you lived in America you had turkey on Thanksgiving, standing rib roast on Christmas, and a baked ham on New Year. But when 2010 rolled around you were in the UK on Thanksgiving and didn't 'observe' the day because your soon-to-be new husband didn't get it that it was an important day for you, you sucked it up thinking Christmas would be different...but it wasn't, and a year later you really can't even recall what you had for Christmas Dinner...

I miss my son. I miss making Thanksgiving Dinner while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I miss the bustle involved in buying the ingredients for the perfect meal, too. I miss the way I started shopping for the meal in late September because I could never forget the horror (lol) of leaving it all to the last minute one year, and not being able to find ANYTHING two weeks before Thanksgiving-no kidding, there was nothing to be found, the shelves were bare of the basics. Scary.

The last real Thanksgiving meal I cooked was in 1995. My then husband ruined the next ones to come right up to the last one in 1998, and because of the things he did that year no Thanksgiving has been the same since. But hope floats, and I thought in my heart that one day Thanksgiving would roll around and I would be joyously bustling around again planning, then preparing, then serving, then clearing up after the meal and the day and the joy of finally having my family...

My son and grandson are in America and I doubt deeply I will get a phone call, and know that I will make excuses in my heart for that lack of phone calls from the only family I have left, and frankly right now nothing is helping my mood at all.

I am feeling very alone, unloved, unwanted, unappreciated, and obviously VERY sorry for my expat self today. And the sun isn't even up yet.


22 November 2011

Like most Americans and not a few Europeans, I can remember the events of 22 Nov 1963 very-very clearly. I know just exactly where I was, what I was doing, what I did, and how the grown-ups around me were reacting.

Every year since that awful day the world changed forever I have sat somewhere quiet and remembered, and prayed for the family-not because they are famous icons of American Royalty but because they are people. I've prayed for Caroline Kennedy especially since her brother was killed and yet more fervently since her uncle passed.

She is the last one left, she is completely alone now, bereft of people with that especial intimate relationship of close family at a time of terrible tragedy. Everyone is gone-her mother, her brother, and her uncles. The cousins count of course, but there is a uniqueness to the family bond of parent and sibling. She has no-one left with whom to grieve, and that has grieved me deeply since Ted Kennedy died.

Yesterday as I went about my day something about the sound of my footsteps caught my attention and held throughout the entire day. The sound of my footfalls on the back garden path especially got my attention; the sound is as different as can be from the sound of footfalls on the American desert floor at dawn (my all time favourite sound just before the creak of saddle leather) yet somehow very nearly as comforting, nostalgic, restorative.

I'm going to listen to the sounds of my footfalls today.

08 November 2011

Smokin' Joe Frazier has died of liver cancer aged 67. I remember The Thrilla In Manilla very well, we watched it at the Olympic in Los Angeles in Aileen Eaton's suite.

We were in the Ali camp, himself having used my dad's boxing gym down in Long Beach to train when the crowds in LA got too big around the gym he used there. He also had a very nice training camp that Angelo Dundee built for him, but he liked the Skid Row atmosphere of Seaside Gym where my dad put hundreds of 'troubled youth' through the boxing programme he ran for the County of Los Angeles.

One of these days Ali (whom I've always thought of as Cassius Clay, and always will-it's not meant in disrespect, but because I met him when he was Cassius Clay and it was hard to remember to call him Muhammad) will pass too, and I will post a blog about him teaching me to skip rope like a 'real boxer', and his admiration of my speed bag skills.

Mr. Frazier was an amazing man, very gentlemanly, very reserved, very determined. I expect he faced his illness with the same reserve and determination, and I am beyond sorry that he lost this fight. It doesn't seem right that this quiet man is gone so young (at 55, trust me, 67 is young), and that he had to endure the horrors of liver cancer before leaving too soon. I heard about the cancer just a few days ago when his agent announced it-I have no contacts left from those days, no one to reminisce with about the days of the boxing gym, and the people we knew back in the day.

I feel sure though, that Smokin' Joe was met at the Gate by people who respected him, and like him, went on too early. I have a feeling my Pop was there to say hello, he very much admired and respected Joe Frazier for all we were officially in the Ali camp. And I'm positive that Mike and Jerry Quarry were on the 'We went too young, didn't we' welcoming committee for Smokin' Joe, among other boxing greats who died far too young, and primarily as a consequence of their boxing days.

Both Mike and Jerry died from complications of the horrendous repeated concussions suffered in the ring, it's the biggest reasons my dad got out of boxing when he realised Jerry had a serious problem. Pop said one afternoon while we were driving home to Laguna from the Long Beach gym, 'The lights are on but there's no-one home. Jerry is not in there anymore, and it's time to get out of this.' It disturbed my dad to see what was happening to Jerry, and he saw the beginning glimmers of the same thing happening to Mike, and that shattered my dad-he really liked Mike and didn't want to see that happen to either brother.

I don't know if Joe Frazier's liver cancer developed because of his boxing, I doubt it. He wasn't the steroids or other 'aids' type. I remember him as the kind of boxer who went about it honestly-shoulders set, chin tucked, and throwing a Smoking Jab that rocked your world in a very bad way if you were on the receiving end. I heard a rumour that he routinely snapped heavy bag drop chains while training. Dunno if it's true, just that he earned his nickname because he threw his punches so fast and hard. I seem to recall he was called Joltin' Joe for a while, in the early days of his boxing career for the same reason-if he hit you, you were beyond jolted.

God rest you, Mr Frazier. Say hi to Mike and Jerry for me, will you?

05 November 2011

Well hell, CNN has just sent a breaking news alert to my inbox that Andy Rooney of 60Minutes has died aged 92 following complications after minor surgery.

He was my favourite segment of 60Minutes, providing valuable training to this Curmudgeon-In-Training among laughter and nearly constant agreement with his venting against whatever annoyances struck him that week. Sometimes his pieces moved me to tears, too. He was great, and will be missed by the sensible everywhere who had the privilege of watching him on 60Minutes.

RIP, Mr. Rooney, you will be missed, and you are thanked by millions of C-I-T worldwide.

I was going to blog about my vintage Singer sewing machines today. I think I may have mentioned that Paul presented me with a 1933 Singer treadle model 66 for a wedding present in an earlier post. That machine and I are spending the winter together in the lovely new workroom Paul graciously gave up on as first a lounge (living room to American readers) then as a master bedroom. It is a huge lovely room warmed by a large Bohemian wood stove, lit by the huge front window, and is the perfect place for my now five sewing machines:

A 50s model Russian made Jones electric that converts to hand or treadle operations, but unfortunately is a side loading bobbin machine (WHY DO THEY MAKE THOSE WRETCHED MACHINES?!) that I am having a great deal of difficulty finding a manual for. At this point I would take one written in Russian although the machine is one manufactured for the British market.

And my four Singer lovies:

A 70s model 513 Stylist, all metal except for the bobbin gear. Guess what broke in the middle of the first project I sewed on it? Happy accident, though, it led us to a wonderful 80-ish years old former mechanic (read repairman) for Singer down in Clydesbank where my four lovies were manufactured. The 513 has several whistles and bells, straight, reverse, zig-zag, and something called Flexi-Stitch that I am having a TERRIBLE time getting to work WITH me. It's for knits, and with winter fast approaching (it was 33F here this morning at 0700 Scotland Time), I really need that feature to work-long johns and janes won't be made without that Flexi-Stitch feature, dang it!

A 60s model 449 Straight Stitch (and that's all it does, although it does have a reverse button, and stitches an incredibly lovely stitch)

The aforementioned 1933 treadle model 66, which I will now extoll as the most lovely gift I've ever received (except for the presents my son gave/gives me). It too is a straight stitch machine, but can be made to perform a zig-zag by the attachment of a special foot that will also fit onto the 449. No need for me to buy that attachment as long as I can keep the 513 running, but one of these days I think I will buy the zig-zagger foot. One of these days. More on attachments later...The treadle, cabinet, and machine are in pristine, 'start sewing with me today' condition and the decals look as though they were applied yesterday, but Paul (now the proud possessor of the Ultimate Refurbishment and Repair Manual for all things treadle and hand crank) is going to go over it with a fine toothed comb before I actually get started. The cabinet drawers hold the original manual, needles, bobbins, and a spare foot, and there is room for the tool box that holds the attachments set that came standard with the machine but didn't last the years to make it to me...this morning I received the Holy Grail of attachments...more on this later...

And finally, the incredible 1917 hand crank model 99, the baby sister of the 66-meaning it is the 3/4 scale copy of the 66 and uses many of the same parts, all of the same instructions including repair and maintenance, and is in the original bentwood case-with key. (Forgive me, I want to use a pure tonne of exclamation points at this juncture because finding that machine in the animal charity shop in Devon was an incredible stroke of the Sewing Angels leading my wonderful husband to its hiding place behind a rack of clothes, and for it to be in its bentwood case with the key and a few spare bobbins is next to miraculous frankly. So I want to jump up and down, and put LOTS of exclamation points, WOOHOO, I am over the moon!) The decals on the 99 are worn in the exact place fabric would feed over the plate. The hand crank turns smoothly. The case needs a nice lot of work with a restorative, but the key works and so does the machine.

Yes I have pictures-awful ones not worth keeping on the laptop, so I will post pics when I finally learn how to get good ones.

Now. 'Bout those attachments...

OMGsh I am now the thrilled and grateful owner of a complete GODZILLA BOX of Singer attachments that fit all four of my Singer lovies! I can now sew just about anything (except zig-zag) on my straight stitch machines, and if I'd like, the 513 as well. The tucker looks most interesting to me at this point, but there is a ruffler, two different types of binders, an under braider...eight lovely sewing machine attachments in all, and all in the wonderful Godzilla Box complete with a layout leaflet.

It doesn't have the instruction manual for the attachments because Singer cleverly included these attachments as standard in most of their machine sales, and the instruction manuals for the machines include instructions for using the attachments. So the manual never came standard with the box, just the layout leaflet so the home sewer could put the tools away properly until next time.

I commented recently on a vintage Singer machine blog that for me there is something both romantic and practical about sewing on a machine that is a functioning antique. Frankly, it's Zen. Sometimes I go into the workroom and just stand there looking at those two aged beauties thinking about the things they've seen. I think about the home sewers who sewed for their families through two world wars and the arrival of the motor car, space travel, video recording, and the Internet.

And somewhere in that I can hear Andy Rooney commenting on how modern sewing machines will never be able to compete with the one his Gran used to make his short pants back in the day.

Tick-tick-tickety-tick, what a lovely sound a treadle and hand crank sewing machine makes.