Cucumbers: instruments of childhood memories.

Mid July in Nova Scotia. My grandmother’s century and a bit more home, painted white wooden siding freshly cleaned by rain from the day before. It might reach 85 at it’s hottest in summer there. Years later while I am old and cantankerous, living in Florida I’ll mock myself for thinking it was hot. For now, for us in that moment and time it was pretty warm.

My grandmother’s kitchen was the focal point for her entire house. Sure, you stepped into a front porch so you could take your coat or your shoes (in this case, usually sandals, flip flops, or just wipe your bare feet) off there. The front porch later held her deep freezer and a tiny wooden stove for winter–but nobody spent any time there.  It was too small and that’s not the function of a porch.

The first room people came to at my Grandmother’s house was the kitchen. People didn’t often bother going any further. She had her rocking chair set up on the far wall from the door, facing the larger, brightly lit window that let her watch the front door and her walkway to it. To the left was a small table and two or three chairs for company to seat themselves by that window. To the right was a long cabinet that reached all the way through the kitchen and dining room, broken only by the oven who seemed like a silent indicator of the line between where kitchen ended and dining room began. Her fridge was at the furthest wall, bright yellow as her oven.

The dining room had a window that mirrored the one in the kitchen that looked out over the door and walkway. These were perfectly set up for the lazy sort of breezes July carried. The morning and the night time were the best times–the coolest, sweetest breeze carrying either the morning’s or evening’s fresh cut grass, alfalfa and flowers would wiggle its way through the screens and billow flower bedecked curtains.

My grandmother’s kitchen was the soul of her house. People didn’t come and sit in the living room when they visited. They didn’t often settle in her other porch–her sun porch–to relax and talk, play card games or gossip. They came and they settled like little chirping birds in her kitchen and she would make the meals that would remain with me for the rest of my life. Hodge-podge, fresh baby carrots, peas, potatoes and beans from her own garden, roasts and chickens and the best gravy you’ve ever tasted and who cares if it was fattening or how many calories or how much salt was in it or if it was organic or not? It was summer time and you’d been out all day in the sun doing whatever or at work and even though the day was hot there was nothing like Grandma’s dinner.

Everyone walked away with their bellies full, grinning lazily with the after effects of eating just a bit too much but nobody really said anything or minded–they ate too much, too.

But there’s are two specific dishes my grandmother made that will forever be hers in my head. It’ll always make me remember and picture summer’s in her kitchen.

It’s the simplest thing on the planet to make, and the recipe (if you could call it that) can be adapted, changed, fiddled with and spiced up how anyone saw fit.

She’d take a one or two cucumbers grown from her very own garden and wash them. She peeled them, but that I suspect was a personal choice and then begin to slice them moderately even and thin. Then she’d slice a sweet or yellow onion very thinly, just enough to flavor the cucumber. When she was finished, she’d take the cucumber slices, onions, sprinkle them with salt and place them in a wide bowl and put a saucer or small plate on top of them. On the plate covering the cucumbers and onions she’d put the heaviest cans or jars she had and let that sit for about an hour.

When the hour had passed, she’d drain the water from the cucumbers into the sink and give them a quick rinse to remove the salt. This was the base for her side-dish. From there, she might pour heavy cream, salt and pepper and call it done. Or she’d mix white vinegar with sugar in a bowl. There was never any measurement, she’d just say, “Well, until it tastes right.” Then she’d put the cucumbers in either the cream or vinegar mix and let them sit from morning to evening in the fridge. Supper time came around and she’d put the big bowl of cucumbers on the table.

If the bowl lasted past dinner it was always a miracle.

I had almost forgotten about this side-dish. For the longest time, there were no reminders of home in my kitchen.  When I visited my mother and father in Alberta a while back, my mother made this dish four or five times when I was there–both the creamed and vinegar version. Watching her make it was like watching my childhood unfold again; she is her mothers daughter in the way her hands hold the knife to cut the cucumbers. In her, “Well, let me just taste it to see if it’s right,” for checking if she put the correct amount of sugar to vinegar in or not.  The cucumbers might have been store-bought but they came out as perfect as any memory I have of my grandmother’s version.

When I came home to Shawn one of the first things I did that week when we went grocery shopping was to grab some cucumbers and vinegar. Now, personally, I like to play around with it. I used red wine vinegar and red onions. I put a liberal sprinkle of dried dill into the mix. But it’s the same to me because at the core it’s like…tasting a memory. It’s sweet, a little tart, nostalgic.

It’s odd what our brains choose to associate with a memory. And I want to know–what foods trigger a happy memory for you?

Arguments in the key of 2GP

“I don’t understand how you do this. ”

“Do what?”

“This! This kitchen thing you do.  There were EIGHT THOUSAND bowls in the sink and seventeen knives. What do you need EIGHT THOUSAND bowls for!”

“Really? Really. Eight thousand? Whatever, Mister Flour ALL OVER the sink and the counter and some on the walls and ooooon the flooooors and socks by his desk and glasses on the desk and never cleans the surface of the–”

“That has nothing to do with the fact–”

“–cabinets or the cabinet doors or the fingerprints on the refrigerator or sweep and mop the floors or vacuum or do the wash or–”

“…that you can’t seem to cook one single meal without–”

“–make the bed or put the toilet seat down or–”

“…using EVERY DISH IN THE HOUSE FOR ONE MEAL!”

“EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS, SHAWN, REALLY. I MEAN REALLY? EIGHT THOUSAND?”  I partner this statement by standing in my kitchen and becoming a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.

“YES. AND SEVENTEEN KNIVES AS WELL, I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU’D MAKE TO NEED THAT MANY KNIVES!”

“WE DON’T EVEN OWN EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS. THAT’S A LIE. YOUR FACE IS FULL OF LIES RIGHT THERE! BESIDES, WAS THE MEAL BAD?”

“I DON’T…well, of course not. Nothing you’ve cooked in years has ever been bad.”

Smugly, “Then you’ve nothing to complain about.”

EIGHT THOUSAND BOWLS!”

Three hours and episodes of Supernatural later, I leaned over and quite assertively stated that we do not own eight thousand bowls, thus, starting the entire argument all over again. Which neither of us were very heated about and both of us ended up laughing at one another profusely.

I may be the oddest woman on the earth, but its these small things that let me know I’m also the luckiest.
(To be alive.  AND loved. That too. Yes.)

From Cadet to Commander in one day.

I’m usually not a fan of pet stores. They are dangerously heart-breaking places for me.  I have to purposefully avoid the pet stores in places like malls that usually sell puppies or kittens not from shelters.  Unless the cages they are in take up most of the store, they’re too cramped, too small, to horrific for me to deal with. Standing there and watching little pups and kittens laying with dull eyes in a space just marginally wide enough for them to lay down and sit up? Not my idea of a good time, thank you. No.

There are a few pet stores that I will make an exception to the rule.  They tend to deal more in pet supplies and grooming than the actual trade of animals themselves. They might have hamsters, rats, lizards or snakes. But kittens and puppies? They’ll only be in from the shelter’s on Sunday or Wednesdays, they’ll say–and I smile because at least they’re trying. Far better than the pet stores I’ve had nightmares about described above.

And then I met a store called Incredible pets.

We had a wary relationship at first.

I’d heard some pretty horrific stories about some places that sold exotic birds, lizards, snakes, rodents and other unusual pets outside of the standard. When I first approached the stores old location, its worn green plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex fully battered by the Florida heat; I narrowed my eyes at its doors in my best Clint Eastwood impression. (Which is AWESOME by the way because I am AWESOME and stop staring at me like that it’s true!) I approached it with Shawn and passed through darkened doors to the surprisingly barely air-conditioned store.

My opinion has softened, some what. But I think it had more to do with the fact there are birds, Degus, skunks, sugar gliders, flying squirrels, hedge hogs, hamsters, snakes, fish, rabbits and any other assortment of OH MY GOD CUTE everywhere.

While I might not be a fan of some of their business practices, I can see that they genuinely try to care. They’re educated–all you have to do is ask them a question about the animals they have in store and they answer with that genuine sort of note that speaks of having at least, owned an animal or two. There’s no five seconds of blank looks while they dig through their brains for the memorized script they were told to tell customers. The people that work there work hard. The store has birds there that aren’t for sale because they’ve been adopted. People brought in parrots they didn’t want, the store took them and gave them a forever-home.

Though I have to admit my opinion of them finally turned completely on the day I walked by a cage of cockatiels. They were all listed as $25 each. The price is what caught me at first. I’d never seen a cockatiel in a pet store priced for so little so in all honesty I did a double-take and then stopped to seek if there were deformities. Surely, for $25 there was a catch, right? They’d have part of their beak missing or maybe mangled feet or perhaps they were bald and or prone to plucking.

I saw a cage full of beautiful little babies, feathers in tact, eyes bright and beady, tail feathers clean and with crests half up in semi-excuse me big fat featherless bird wtf r u doin’ outside our cage? When I called Shawn over, even he was amazed and couldn’t figure out why they’d end up so cheap. When we asked about them, we were told they were so inexpensive because they were breeder birds.

Breeder birds, as you can imagine, are for…well…breeding. Trying to research what, exactly their lifestyles usually are and how they are treated comes back varied. Some birds used for breeding are spoiled feather heads. They have roomy cages and are well taken care of by people who understand the bird. Others…not-so-much. They get thrown in a cage in hopes they breed, lay eggs, and make more cockatiels for profit.

When I stopped by the cage one lone little bird seemed relatively curious when the rest leaned away. After a bit of sweet-talking, he hopped from his perch, climbed the wall and settled atop his water bottle. Once in position he lowered his neck and proceeded to mash the top of his head against the bars. He left it there until I, witless featherless bird I am finally clued in that I should scratch his majesty’s head because isn’t that what my purpose in life was?

Seems so. We brought him home that day and put him in his own cage, quarantining him for a few days away from our other cockatiel, Nugget, ensuring that if either of them had any nasty bugs that the other hadn’t yet encountered–they’d be out of their system before the two met. Then, the two cages were slid together. Nugget? Nugget adored Commander Tweeps (whom we just call Tweeps because he’s off duty currently) and sang so much and so long at Tweeps, we thought he might explode.

And because Tweeps spoke and sang with us, exhibiting the same behaviors as a little boy, we moved the two of them together.  They fight occasionally but with beaks open, lots of hissing and wings open–they don’t bite each other–they do the warning-dive-I-might-bite. They did it more when they first met and now they might do it once every two or three days. Nugget just wants to sing to Tweeps, impress him and maybe  lure him into his boudoir filled with rose scented candles and Barry White music. Tweeps doesn’t yet understand the meaning of all the slow-bass music. He eyes Nugget like he’s that special friend of yours that says the weirdest things at the most odd times but you still hang around with them ’cause you know…They’re still good people.

He’s still a little skittish about fingers. He knows the step-up command now, but tends to nip once and then step up. He’s not crazy about a lot of things and is still afraid of his own shadow. But he’s ours now. He’s home and officially part of the U.S.S. Phaterprise.

Our Away Team of HURRR DURRR is complete.

And in the Dorkness, bind them.

The year was 2007. I was still fresh-faced from the disappointment I held in my little nerdy heart for a few other MMORPG’s that Will Not Be Named here Again.

I was tired of being lied to. I understood gaming companies had to really sell it to get the subscribers, and thus the cash, to pay things off, I really did. Look, Mr. programmer who spent hours making fighting chick’s rack perfect and realistically bounce has gotta eat too, right?

But selling it and then paying roughly $50 for a copy of the game, plus the monthly subscription–just to play for two weeks and be disappointed? It was weighing on me, man. It was getting tough. I didn’t realize it then but I was becoming an MMORPG skeptic. I still played MMO’s, don’t get me wrong. I still signed up for beta and to this day? I still play them. But I eye them far more warily than I used to and it’s rare that I write about them. By the time I get around to writing about them I find I am usually already disenchanted.

But I’m ahead of myself–let’s go back to 2007. What happened then?

Elven starting area.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar was released. A massively multi-player online role playing game set in the universe of J.R.R. Tolkien, riding on the back of a huge wave the movies had set to motion. It was a good move by Turbine, actually. Here was a beloved setting many adults and children were familiar with, rife with all the markings of a great backdrop for a game. Earlier that year I got the chance to beta test the game and I did.

For a week I played, I really enjoyed myself. There were glitches of course and several things were not even yet implemented this early in the game (those would come later on) but I found myself liking what I’d seen so far. I didn’t have the same parts and video card in my computer then, that I do now, and couldn’t run the game full blast. It was still pretty.

Then the game was released and that was the end of beta. I asked my husband if I could play, who had also beta tested the game as a hobbit burglar. Unfortunately, he did not enjoy the game as I did. On top of that, we were in a financially crappy time–he couldn’t see a point in purchasing a game he did not enjoy and I couldn’t see me pushing him to spend money we needed for other things–like food, bills and so on.

So the game was set aside. I heard about it through good blogging friends of mine, Eve and Lillith. Art, posts about–all these things reminded me of the game and I never truly forgot about it. Life simply wasn’t going to let me play it when I wanted to. Several other games came out and one thing distracted me from it and another and another. One year went by, then two, then three.  I’d almost put Lord of the Rings Online aside entirely until–

I got a little e-mail that informed me this year, Lord of the Rings Online was going free and that you could sign up for the beta…

So I did.

Now…I’m doing a bad thing by telling you I got into the beta. Yeah, I know. I’m pretty rebellious. Last week? I totally ate three peanut butter cookies while baking them. Just sayin’. So,  technically, even though I am no longer playing the free-to-play beta, I am under the NDA not to discuss it. Let me just say I am aware I am breaking the sacrosanct of NDA and am fully ready to accept my punishment.  (Dear Turbine, please send a reasonable Aragorn look-alike to dole out my punishment. Please.)

But I have to tell you this because it was the free-to-play beta that convinced me to to finally purchase a subscription to the game. And to make the deal sweeter the monthly sub is a might cheaper than most MMORPG’s out there if you buy a package payment plan. AKA: Purchase 3 months for $ 24.

I do not regret my decision one bit, despite the fact it’ll go free to play this fall. And I plan on continuing to support LotRO even after it goes F2P.

Why?

Because the game has not degraded over the years but has improved, significantly. There is player housing, horses, fishing, hobbies. Many, many, many more quests than I ever remember there being. There are two new

A beautiful day for a walk in the Shire.

extremely fun classes and the community (which reminds me so much of the Star Wars: Galaxies peoples when the game was in its golden years)is a fantastic, amazingly patient, helpful, well spoken bunch of fellow gamers. It truly outshines any MMORPG community I’ve been in for a long while.

I can download the high-res version and play this game with everything cranked max. Lighting, shadows, Anisotropic hiked up, water, water reflections–you name it, I’ve got it turned all the way up. It’s gone from pretty to pretty-damn-gorgeous.

Right now, at this very second on the Lord of the Rings forums and in the game chat channels–there are countless debates about how the game will go down hill once it goes free. There are people saying the community will slide down hill. That paying members will stop paying and that the game will never be the same.

I’m here, breaking the NDA of free-to-play Beta, understanding I might have it taken from me (that’s okay though) to let you know it was because of the F2P that I decided to purchase a sub. It was because of the community that I wanted to support this game and hope to continue doing so. I wanted to remind fellow subscribers that, not all bad things will come out of the F2P.

And to let you guys know, seriously? If you played the first year and quit–if you’ve never played but always wanted to–do it. Go check out the free trial. Go sign up for the F2P beta right now.

I never go back to old games. That’s just how I work. Once the magic is gone I simply can’t. It’s done. Ask anyone I’ve met and follow my posts about the MMORPG’s I’ve played, and you’ll notice that once I’m done that’s just it.

Here I am, three years later, and I’m back to Lord of the Rings Online and loving it to pieces. That in itself, should be incentive enough for you just try it.

And hey, if you do?  Send a hello to Bluecup Bumbleroot, Landroval server, let me know what you think of it and if you need any help.