Friday, December 23, 2011

Tomorrow and tomorrow

'Tis the day before Christmas Eve and tomorrow we'll be celebrating with my father, sister and family plus one son and fiancee.  Christmas Day will be the first in our thirty some years of marriage that my husband and I will be alone.  Son number one is in New York with his belle amie.  Son number two is in San Diego with his.  And son number three and his fiancee will be with us in the morning, then spending the day with her family nearby.  No big meal, no scented candles, no twinkling lights, no Christmas music, no photographs.  As a result, we are treating ourselves to a decadent day of movie viewing. 

We go to the movie theatre maybe once a year.  But this year, we will be immersing ourselves in the fantasy land of Mission Impossible (definitely), Tintin (maybe), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (definitely and yes, we saw the original), We Bought a Zoo (also maybe).  I figure our knees will be frozen and our bums numb by the time we finish.  But what a way to celebrate the day of celebration.

I wish you all a happy Christmas--for those of you who observe Christmas--and a happy holiday for all the rest.  It turns out the darkest days of the year may be artificially illuminated, but I am thankful for that all the same! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Music

Don't we all tire of the Christmas music that can only be avoided if we were to stay home starting on Thanksgiving, steering clear of any stores, any elevators, any radio, any television?  Not practical and certainly not easily achievable. 

But even when the jingly music barrages our senses, along comes a rendition of Panus Angelicus, sung by tenor Juan Diego Florez, and time stands still--utterly still.  All my other senses shut down.  I don't take in what I see before me.  I don't notice my skin or taste the last bit of coffee I just drank.  The music gets sucked inside and fills me with sensation--not so much of sadness or joy, but of just unidentifiable feeling.  My eyes tear up and I wish for the music never to stop. 

It's a blessing to be able to distinguish the extraordinary from the everyday. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Photo challenges

Each year, I try to capture an image of my family that would be appropriate for a Christmas card.  No easy feat, I assure you.  Photographing three sons is like gathering up the contents of a broken egg.  Add my granddaughter as well (She learned her mugging skills from the best--her father!) and you have even more complication.  This season there were several attempts to produce something that would make them appear sweet and kind.  This is what I get.

So I try again.  Oh, so perfect for Sam and Patrick (left to right); and oh so not perfect for Seth and Taija.

Next effort?  Even worse.  Now they're synchronizing their antics.

And this year, I even made the effort to get a photo of the three boys and their girlfriends (and fiancee).  Would that be better?  Decide for yourself.

And even when I try to get a photo of Patrick and Christine, there's mutual interference from both Seth and Patrick.  Ha, ha, ha. . .

Did I get a photo?  Well, not exactly.  The only photo of the boys and Taija that makes them look reasonably presentable includes me.  Not what I was looking for, but the best I can get. 

And finally, one of the couples that finally worked out.  They are left back to right Seth and Rachel and Sam and Samantha (his fiancee) and in front, Patrick and Christine--playing it straight.

The whole time we're taking pictures, you understand, everyone else (including the photographer) is reeling with laughter.  It never enhances the seriousness of the process.  What seriousness?  By now after all these years, it has, I believe, become a challenge for them.  'Let's see how quickly we can make her laugh until she's crying?????' I'm sure they're thinking.  I didn't want to count.  And I'm sure they lost count.  

I was ready for a nap by the end of it! 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seasonless Sights

It's December in "sunny California."  Even here in the northern part of the state, the term seems appropriate.  As I wander around the block with the dog, it's impossible to ignore that, though it's cold enough for gloves, the magnolia's showing signs of blossoming yet again.  There are roses in every other yard--still persisting despite the few nights of freezing temperatures.  Privets are evergreen and everywhere--pesky things that they are. 

The dog steps a little livelier to avoid any prolonged contact with the cold concrete, and he's just a tiny bit less enthusiastic about running across the wet lawns. 

Our heater shuts off rarely now, and soup is the order of the day.  Pureed butternut squash and potato topped with yogurt or sour cream and butter-fried sage leaves.  Add to that a green salad with a lovely sweet Jiro persimmon and a rosemary baguette.  A plate of cookies and sliced oranges for dessert while we firmly plant our elbows on the table to enjoy some conversation and the rest of the wine--sated and cozy.

Tomorrow we'll check for signs of spring--or is that Christmas peeking around the corner???

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

I was reminded today that it's World AIDs Day, which takes me back to memories of dear friends I lost to this dreaded affliction.  While I am saddened to be taken back to those all-too-fresh painful memories--even after many years, I am grateful for the reminder.  And I am grateful for the advances in modern medicine that have extended the lives of many other dear friends.

Our blessings are many.  Our memories are dear.  Let us not forget.

Post-Thanksgiving Peace

The house is quiet after the hum, no roar, of family and friends enjoyed over the Thanksgiving weekend.  With two extra dogs and several extra people in our small California bungalow (actually more like small California tract home), the activity never lessened.  There were, fortunately, no mishaps--no broken bones, no food poisoning, no family feuds, no trips to the vet, and no tears.  It was a happy affair all around. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year.  The leaves are falling, which takes me back to my northeastern childhood when leaves were there for the jumping--and burning--done with impunity in the days of innocence.  While spring is the harbinger of new growth, fall is the waning of the seasons and the start of a new cycle--for me.  Winter in California's central valley is brief; and while we experience the occasional morning with "cat ice" on our puddles, the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees.  Only once or twice is it necessary to run outside just before bed to cover the lemon tree (bush) with a sheet to protect it from the frost.

As a child, Christmas was a put-together affair.  We weren't much for ritual and so didn't have much to fall back on to make it Christmas-y.  And money was very tight in our clergyman-father's family, making the Christmas gifting a major chore for my beleaguered mother.  So Thanksgiving was our ritual.  And we loved it.  I especially loved the food, the smells, the busyness, the cranberries and the crispy air. 

The ritual persists and I am thankful for it.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Milo Prevails

After our rabies scare of over six weeks ago and the quarantine we were subjected to, I am happy to report that the rabies-free fairy has dusted our dog, Milo, with good health.  We are now able to welcome friends and family back into our home.  Now if we can only teach Milo to stick to the dog treats instead of the occasional sick bat, he'd be more likely assured of a longer and healthier life.  But as dogs rarely think about the consequences of frolicking with unhealthy things, we will probably have many more trips to the vet before he reaches his dotage. 

Smile for the people, Milo.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shorter Days

The pesky privets and pyracantha in our back yard are berried out.  The birds will be here soon to repaint the cars with their monochrome white palette.  How those weightless creatures can be so messy stymies me.

I'm never prepared for the shorter days and the impending desire to hibernate that I feel so strongly.  If it weren't for the need for exercise and healthy living, I'd probably never move from in front of the computer or the comfort of my cozy sofa.  Winter makes me recall fondly (though foolishly) the snowy seasons of my youth when I didn't have to dress children in snowsuits, constantly clean up their puddles of melted snow just inside the door, brave the elements for another run to the grocery store, bring in the (literally) frozen sheets and clothes that had been hanging outside to dry.  I've lived in and visited snow in my adulthood and would not choose to do it again.  The adult version is much less romantic but for those few hours after a snowstorm when the sounds of the world are muffled by the natural acoustic insulation that had fallen from the sky. 

I suppose this is the time when writers are supposed to be their most creative--locked in their writers' caves distracted less by the chirping birds and the dappled light through the foliage.  There is, however, a folding in of mind and body that occurs in the colder weather.  It's like the spring crocus closing at night in order to restore itself for the new day.  Does that mean that writers who live closer to the equator are more prolific?  Or is it just that they are more likely to be drawn outside to ponder nature and muse in preparation for writing?

I'd like to think I will prevail.  A season-free writer, if you will.  The words will continue falling from my mind onto the keyboard come rain, sleet, snow and sun.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Old Friends

 In August, an old friend of my father's came from Pennsylvania with his wife to attend a nephew's wedding.  He and I made arrangements months in advance for me to drive to Palo Alto from Sacramento to make sure Dad and he were able to enjoy a visit.  To the South Bay we went for a long lunch and visit with Dick and Marge.  Dad is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister.  Dick is a retired piano professor at a college near Philadelphia.  They became friends in Canton, New York, where Dick was a student at St. Lawrence University and Dad was the minister at the Canton Universalist Church.  While I'm no spring chicken--in fact, retired after many years of paid employment--visiting with these two men--one an octogenarian (Dick) and one a nonagenerian (Dad)--was memorable for me.  Also memorable for them, they were able to reminisce in a way that gave me hope for my dotage. 

They talked.

They laughed. 

They appreciated each other.

Friendship is a blessing. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lonely Dog

Almost two weeks ago, our sweet Milo found a sick bat on the back patio.  Thinking it had been placed there specifically for his own enjoyment, he played around with it.  Eventually, the bat died and Sam carefully placed it in a plastic bag using a stick.  And the next morning, Phil took it in to the county animal control center for testing.  Milo and the house were placed in quarantine for ten days, so no one except the people who live in this house could come here.  So it's been an unusual ten days.

Last evening, we finally received a call from the county  Evidently, there was not enough "brain matter" to know whether or not the bat had had rabies, so the quarantine continues for 30 days!  Yikes.  Poor puppy is getting mighty lonely.  No walks around the block.  No visits with my sister's dog.  No visits from Winston and Jack, son Seth's dogs.  No visit from any humans.  Milo's friend, one of our cats, Max, still shares and still plays; but there's an equally serious implication for him and his brother, Spike.  We've invested a fortune in frisbees and other flying things to keep Milo entertained and exercised in the back yard.  Good thing we have a lot of space back there. 

In the meantime we are required to observe the dog for any evidence of symptoms that would indicate rabies.  We are on the edge of our seats--at the mercy of the dog gods, hoping for the very best and worried about the very worst.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


So there's this thing about agreeing to do something for someone you love and then reneging on it that's very unsettling.  Well, it's not as unsettling for the reneger as it is for the renegee.  I agreed to be somewhere for my dear brother and just as dear sister-in-law and find myself unable to fulfill that obligation.  It leaves me feeling helpless and guilty.  It leaves them feeling annoyed and in the lurch--at least.  

Here's the deal.  All the good intentions in the world don't make it so.  And were there a magic wand that could make it all happen the way we want it to, we'd all use it.  But there isn't.  And sometimes things just don't work out the way they're supposed to.  Regrettably, all this justification does not change the basic feeling that the magic wand would be mighty handy. You know?  

I think, though, that basically we all try to do what we can to make the lives of those we love better.  And that's a good thing.  Good on many levels.  So we should probably be thankful for the good feelings that come from what we do and we should try to appreciate that effort.  And for those we let down?  We'll always be sorry.  But we'll always keep trying.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Book Has Arrived

Finally!  We have finished the book.  We spent the day working through the complications--despite such titles as "Five Easy Steps" or "Follow these simple directions."  Such idle threats. . .  We finally figured it all out and it is now available as an e-book at Amazon.  Pretty exciting venture for me and my co-author, Dimity.  But worth every minute.  And by the end of the week, we will hopefully have made the book available in paper copy--also on Amazon.  We've learned a lot along the way, which might make the technical details a little simpler for us in the future.  And we've already begun the next Cape Cod adventure.  So look out, world.  Here we come!  Water logged and crime infested.  The best Cape Cod has to offer.  

Here's a link to the book:  Hope you enjoy it.

Calm after the Storm

Monday was quiet and calm after a weekend of sons and their ladies, extra dogs, yummy food, fun games in the yard.  Seth, the oldest, arrived on Saturday morning with his girlfriend, Rachel, and his two dogs, Jack and Winston.  Milo was in heaven with two new playmates.  They hardly stopped playing the entire time.  I had Seth and Rachel to myself for a lot of the afternoon until others arrived, which any loving mother enjoys when visits are few and far between.  After Patrick and Christine (son two and girlfriend) and the Sams (youngest son, Sam, and fiancee, Samantha) showed up, we enjoyed dinner--my Faux Bouillabaise.  Since I had broken my ribs on Monday, it was a challenge to cook dinner; but post-dinner clean-up was left to someone else.  We sat and talked late into the evening enjoying each other's company. 

On Saturday, breakfast lasted the entire morning, given a variety of sleeping and eating habits, starting with me and ending with Pat and Christine.  Dinner on Sunday was prepared by Pat and Christine--a delicious chicken tetrazzini and lovely salad with tomatoes, carrots and lemon cucumbers from the garden.  They enjoy their food and know how to make it enjoyable to others.

Seth and Rachel gathered up the dogs and left for San Francisco late Sunday evening when weekend traffic returning from Lake Tahoe had already subsided.  It was, plain and simple, a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's All in the Marketing

My friend and I are doing final edits of our first book, which we hope to get published one way or another.  The process of publishing is like a whirling eddy of scary options ranging from seeking a conventional publisher using an agent (if you can find an agent), self-publishing after shelling out half of one's pension in perpetuity to get it going, publishing it exclusively as an e-book using at least four different services (and I do mean different), or a combination of those.  I don't believe I have the courage, frankly, to go the paper route through a conventional publisher.  And I haven’t yet made an effort to seek out an agent.  I have visions of rejection slip after rejection slip shooting through my mail slot like bullets through a Gatling gun.  

I’ve read authors’ blogs where they say that marketing is the most important part of the process—the activity least likely to be relished by any writer, including me.  It’s the process of writing that appeals to writers—thus the moniker “writer.”  It’s the creation of a paragraph that makes sense, sucks you in, tells a story, explains a premise.  Whatever it is, it flows.  Marketing isn’t writing.  

I’ve explored the marketing short-cuts.  So I’ll change my Facebook page, create a web site, start tweeting (I guess).  I don’t consider myself an old fogy, but I can’t seem to keep up with the technology.  I rely heavily on the expertise of my three sons who seem to be able to operate anything with either a mouse or a keyboard.  Contrast that with my own experience.  I grew up during the Civil Rights movement when Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug were radical heroines, a woman’s right to choose was affirmed by the Supreme Court, women began keeping their own names after marriage, and the Vietnam War ebbed and flowed into the history books.  I’ve used computers since I was a young woman, but I have not, evidently, kept up with the social media industry--rapidly morphing into something incomprehensible.  

Nonetheless, I will adapt.  One thing I learned from being a minister’s daughter is that adaptation is survival.  We moved several times during my childhood, and I survived without the scars often suffered by children whose lives were uprooted in their tender youth.  I made new friends, started over with a new school and a new church, and found stability in the adventure.  I’ll figure out how to twitter, dammit, and when my book comes out, be generous when you find me outside the local supermarket hawking copies. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reveling in Retirement

I am closing in on my seventh month of retirement.  The time has flown by in a whirr of activity.  I feel as accomplished in retirement as when working—but without spending endless energy worrying about whether or not my actions of yesterday will adversely impact thousands of good citizens of California tomorrow simply because I used the word “must” instead of “may” or vice versa.  Rather, I spend endless energy feeding my soul. 

We’re attending dog training with Milo.  While he doesn’t yet respond immediately to “Here, Milo,” he’s moving in that direction.  He will “sit” and “down” and stand on two legs, doing a 360 for a treat.  We’re overly permissive doggie owners, which means that the training is not as life-changing as I had expected.  The end of the lessons nears without quite as much progress as I had expected. 

He’s quite the fetcher, though.  Loves those balls.  And the red Frisbees (We’re on, like, number six.  Fortunately, they only cost 99 cents.) have been chewed into oblivion.  He’s so bad we have to take them away so he doesn’t ingest red plastic pieces in the process.  Phil says that he appears to have gone feral when he has that damned thing in his mouth. 

My friend and I are close to finishing our mystery novel.  And now I am wading through the bog of publishing options.  What to do?  How to do it?  Where to start?  The writing almost seemed easier than figuring where we go with it once it’s done.  Can that be?  I’m reaching out to friends who might help me in my hour of confusion.

Today I received a replacement bowl for my 40-year-old Cuisinart.  For those of you who do not fit into the category of “baby boomer,” a “Cuisinart” used to mean food processor and nothing else.  Now it means all sorts of other products—knives, pots and pans, other kitchen utensils.  For about 20 years, the old bowl has been held together with duct tape.  Always hand washed—always by me, the bowl was used only to make pesto.  Nothing else.  I figured that everything else could be made without the help of a food processor.  But now that I have a new bowl, I have even unearthed the other attachments that can be used for the complement of other “knifely” things.  Covered with dust, they will be given new life—like a Phoenix rising from the earth. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cooking from the Garden

When my sister and I were children in upstate New York, we would wander into the kitchen garden in the summer, sit down and eat cucumbers and tomatoes right off the vine.  I don’t know whether it’s a New England thing or a gluttony thing.  Yes, I know Canton isn’t in New England; but I was born in New England, and I spent most of my young life in New England—but for the New York stint.  In northeastern Maine, where we spent a good part of our summers, I picked green beans which Nana cooked into submission in the pressure cooker.  Served with butter, they were mushy and absolutely delicious.  My great aunt Latin teacher and I picked raspberries daily and had as much as we wanted for breakfast since we were the pickers.  Others had to be satisfied with whatever was left.  The pear trees were prolific.  The peas were delicious.  And we gobbled up leaves of butter lettuce sprinkled with sugar.  Oh so good. 

It’s July 11 and the garden is flourishing.  The tomatoes are beginning to ripen.  Yesterday we had the first yellow squash.  The herb barrel is full and available.  I have been using lettuce each evening.  No cucumber or carrots yet, but I can wait.  They’ll be eaten when they’re ready. I even have one eggplant—picked today-- and more on the way. 

The barrel includes some of the more common herbs that I use a lot—basil, cilantro, oregano—and others that I use less often—thyme, mint, chives, flat and curly leaf parsley.  Tonight I used basil and mint in a chicken recipe that was originally written for fish.  Quite simply, I put together in a bowl about a half cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of minced basil, and a small minced garlic clove.  I drizzled this over the chicken and seared it on the stove drizzled side down, then drizzled more on the second side before turning.  After it was brown on both sides, I added a generous amount of white wine, covered the pan and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.  It was served with some of the sauce remaining in the pan and more of the fresh basil and mint sauce.  The chicken was great served with orzo prepared much like risotto.  I sautéed diced onions in olive oil, and then the orzo.  I added about a half cup of white wine, stirring until absorbed, then about a cup and a half of chicken broth, stirring often until done. The result was yummy.  I also served lettuce leaves with tomato slices on top and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper. 

There’s a reason our ancestors grew their own food. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Travel with Dog

Google advised us that the trip between Sacramento and Ferndale would be 865 miles.  When one gets close to 865 miles, it becomes more and more important that Google be correct.  It wasn’t.  We left home at about 8 a.m. and arrived in Ferndale at around midnight.  It was a long day of driving—made all the longer because of the extra stops we made for Milo.  If only dogs could talk. . .  “I’m thirsty.”  Or “I have to pee.”  It’d make those stops so much easier.  We played this endless guessing game to determine which function of his body needed attention.  Fortunately, we weren’t betting money on our record of accuracy as we would have lost a fortune and Milo would have won.  He won anyway.

Mount Shasta

While some may disagree, the trip between central California and northwestern Washington offers one spectacular view after another.  Up the central valley of California, passing one rice paddy after another—many replete with egrets standing starkly white against the green.  Fields of golden sheaves of some kind of grain, which my husband always claims is rape—no matter what it looks like.  The Sutter Buttes in the distance looking all purpley.  The Cascade mountains all the way up.  As we approached the border with Oregon, Mt. Shasta loomed for miles and miles.  At one vista point, I pulled over to take a picture.  This stop would hold about ten cars bumper to bumper and was separated from the freeway by a chain link fence.  As I got out, I left the door open and Milo jumped out.  Now as it happens we start doggie training next week, and Milo’s recall instinct is not well developed.  So I ran around the place like an ant whose hill has just been disturbed trying to prevent Milo from heading toward the freeway while he—who was moving aimlessly--looked longingly, if frantically, in the direction of those noisy semi trucks zooming along the freeway just ripe for the chasing.  Phil, in the meantime, thoughtfully opened the trunk and shook the bag of treats.  Milo bought the distraction, and we collapsed back in the car unable to speak for a good five minutes.  No photo captured that particular memory. 

View from house in Ferndale
Great blue heron

Kayaking on the bay
At the end of any journey—made by choice, of course—is something good.  And good it was.  In the morning, we awoke to the sea and the birds and the forest and good friends.  So began our week in the northwest.  We ate, we drank, we walked, we kayaked, we worked together, and I was, once again, awestruck by the majesty of it all.  My photos do not do justice to it.  But trust me, it was good.

Somehow the 865 plus miles home were somewhat easier.  We left at 5 a.m. instead of 8 and arrived home by about 10.  Manageable and memorable.