Beside myself

I'm practically sitting on my hands I'm so excited. Wait. What? You thought I would post about my travels? While I was gone? Oh, reader. You are so, so precious. And I'm certain that I shall, eventually, get around to writing some perfunctory recaps of my trip to Glasgow and Amsterdam. But for now, I'm rendered too nervous because of this:

Or, more specifically, because of this: lemony olive oil banana bread, which I put in the aforementioned thing. It is my first foray into baking with an oven so far out of my league I swear it laughs at me a little when I open the door. Not unkindly. Maybe.

I've never really had a great oven before, certainly nothing this fancy-pants. Nor have I, for most of my life, much cared whether I had a great oven. Now I find myself in a place where my horizons have broadened (read: I've aged) and suddenly I care a great deal more about things like baking pies and my own bread.

I know. I'm not sure who I am, either.

We have lived in a rental house - which we like a lot - for nearly six years now. It has a deck that practically doubles the living space in summer, our landlord's the nicest guy and we're in a great location. Yet, for years there has been an increasing tension building between me and the previous stove, a gorgeous-looking old-timey Roper vintage number.

It was frequently the first thing people commented on when they came into our house. Enjoy the following short play:

Them: "Wow. Awesome stove."

Us: "Yeah, but..."

Them: "It's super cool looking."

Us: "Yeah, but the oven temperature's uneven. And the oven itself is uneven. And there's only one rack. And only one of the burners stays lit..."

Them: "But do you love it?"

Because it's a curious thing - when people see something they think is lovely and unusual, especially if it hearkens back to another time, they get all soft and gooey. Soft and gooey to the point of having selective hearing. And it's not fair to blame it all on others because, let's face it, we put up with that stove for a lot longer than we might have otherwise were we not keenly aware that it had some sort of intrinsic cultural value simply by dint of being Vintage.

It's an interesting topic for me to consider at a time when I'm trying, despite appearances, to think more about what I own and what I need to own. In Glasgow, I stayed at the flat of my Grandma, who has recently  moved into a retirement home. At nearly 94, she's about as mentally spry as they come, although her hearing could use a little boost. And until the last year she's enjoyed an enormous amount of independence, thanks to assistance from her loyal son and the NHS.

My grandma lived in that flat my entire life. I think the family lore is that she bought it nearly 50 years ago for 800 pounds, perhaps the best investment anyone in my family's ever made. Until this visit, I'd never even been in the place without her. It was a strange confluence of feelings - I felt a little as though I were spying on her life, but it also made me feel closer to her, somehow comforted, as I'm still trying to get used to the idea of her living anywhere else.

I had thought I would do an artsy project of photos from my Grandma's life - you know, Granddaughter Sums Up Grandmother's Life Through Objects. But as I started to look around my Grandma's tiny flat, I realized just how few things she owns. Partly by necessity - a small flat doesn't lend itself to an acquisitive lifestyle. But I think it's also just who she is - sentimental in a way she's had to be to get through life, unattached to things , unwilling to toss something aside simply because a newer version is available. The negotiations it took to get her to use an electric kettle a few years back made the Camp David Accords look like casual banter.

There were only a few things I found truly, searingly personal. Her rose-colored dressing gown, hung up behind her bedroom door. The drawer with neatly folded nightgowns in pastel shades, with a little cotton lace trim at the edges. Four small canisters of Elnett hairspray and a handful of half-used Coty powder compacts. A few pieces of jewelry - nothing I particularly recognized - scattered in a few different boxes throughout her bedroom.

And I guess that if there were a place where all this babbling about the new oven and my Grandma's old flat were to cross over, it would be something I haven't quite crystallized yet, something about stuff and value. What defines us. When we're supposed to hold on and when we're supposed to let something go. When we're being pragmatic and conscientious and when we're just being stubborn and defeatist. When we're reusing and when we're just resisting.

It will not surprise you, I'm sure, to learn I have no answers. I'd blame jet lag, but I think we all know it'd be unfair to jet lag.

All I know for sure is this: right now I have banana bread. She has risen. She is level. And she might actually be cooked all the way through.