Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Mother's Memories: If only I could go back....

My daughter, just a few weeks old

Several years ago, when my daughter was in her late 20's, I finally managed to put together her baby book (birth through age two). Each day for weeks, I holed up in our home office, cranked up some music, scanned in old photos, and racked my brain trying to remember details from decades ago. Each time, I felt myself being transported back in time to 1980, 1981 and 1982. It was an emotional roller coaster ride full of joy and pain, gratitude and remorse. Each day I shed new tears remembering the precious times my daughter and I had had together, agonizing over remembered mistakes, longing to go back in time to hold her little body again, and wishing I had been paying closer attention to the exact moment she first smiled, when her first tooth came in, when she sat up all by herself. What was the date she took her first steps? Was I even in the room, or had I been at work and only got to hear about it secondhand? 

Anyone who has raised a child and then allows her/himself to reminisce will know what I am talking about. I was so busy living my life that some of these momentous occasions slipped by unmarked on my life's calendar, although I know without a doubt that I celebrated them at the time. But somehow I can't help but feel I didn't give each moment enough attention. Maybe fireworks had been called for and all I had to give was a smile and then, quickly, a look forward to the next stage of development. Why hadn't I taken life slower and appreciated each achievement my daughter made with more awe and wonder? I know the answer to that question and it's complicated. My life as a single mother was complicated back then.

At the end of my scrapbook project I felt both elated and let down. I was glad I had finally produced a baby book for my daughter, but I was also going to miss the emotionally exhausting trek down memory lane each day. There's something a little addicting about the regular stirring of emotions.

Monday, November 26, 2012


christmas, santa claus, children, magic, presents, gifts,

Santa got a visit from Lily today. He was soooo glad to see her! We avoided all the crowds by going to the mall first thing on a Monday morning after the Thanksgiving holiday. Everyone else was back at work or in school, but not us! We were watching Lily sit on Santa's lap, telling him her heart's deepest desires.

Lily's mom and dad had rehearsed with her so she would know what to say when Santa asked her what she most wanted for Christmas. She practiced a little while we were waiting for Santa to open shop (yeah, we got there early!). Lily was nervous about talking to Santa. She's just that kind of kid - dislikes the unknown, emotionally sensitive, over-thinks things at the tender young age of four. She even said her stomach hurt. Her sensitivity makes her all the more precious to me. I hope she never loses it, but I hope it doesn't make her life too difficult. I asked her if she was nervous and she admitted that she was, but then she loosened up when Santa finally sat on his throne and started ho-ho-ho'ing. 

Happy here-we-go! It's Christmastime!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Prep Countdown

It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving in America. My husband and I will have our family over on Thursday: sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, grandchildren, nephew, grandniece, and anyone else who cares to join us. 

My husband is in charge of roasting and stuffing the 22 pound turkey (thank God!). I help peel, slice and fry up sweet potatoes and yams that then bathe in an orange juice, brown sugar and butter sauce as the dish bakes just before we eat. Various side dishes and desserts are supplied by the rest of the gang. We've turned Thanksgiving dinner into more of a pot luck than a hosted dinner. Everyone tends to bring whatever their signature dish has become over the years, although people can bring whatever they like. I try to keep track of what people are bringing so we won't end up with all desserts and no side dishes, but it's a pretty loose arrangement.
So by now we have the menu figured out and I've grabbed the "company" tablecloths out of storage. The turkey is ordered and will be picked up Wednesday morning. My husband and I also figured out where the furniture should go in the living room to make the most of the space we have and create places for the appetizers to live other than the top of our huge, ridiculously-expensive upholstered ottoman (which was a splurge and by definition, impractical).

On the To Do list:

- Put clean sheets on the twin bed and the trundle since we'll have overnight guests
- Shop for groceries
- Prepare the groceries (Weds. and Thursday morning)
- Make sure the portable tables are clean and ready for prime time
- Clean bathrooms
- Make sure I take time to think about everything I'm thankful for (this exercise tends to get lost in all the busyness at Thanksgiving, but will be easy this year as I have a lot on my list!)

That's for starters.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama or Romney: Election Day in America

election day, american flag, voting

Watching election results trickling in at 4pm California time, the talking heads so excited that I just heard one of them referring to Mitt Romney as Mitt Ryan, I too am caught up in the race. Projections and exit polls are really all we've got at this early moment in time. Real statewide results won't be available for some time.

It's been a long, ugly campaign, not one that evokes a lot of pride in the process. The ugliness isn't a requirement even if it is somewhat traditional. I've been morbidly comforted by stories of nasty campaigns dating back to the days of our Founding Fathers, including the race for president between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Right now, the Country and the Congress are so polarized I can't help but wonder what will bring us together and break the gridlock in our Country's capital. Even within my own family we are at odds about who we want to be the next president. We politely avoid talk about politics. We are a very non-confrontational family so this isn't surprising. Fortunately, my husband and I agree politically which means we are preaching to the choir when we voice our opinions, but it still feels good to know that somebody agrees with your point of view.

Now to wait it out, TV tuned to my local public broadcasting station, frozen dinner waiting in the wings ready to be zapped at a moment's notice. Anything is possible.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Granddaughter Joy!

grandchild, grandma, grandpa, grandparent,granddaughter

Our granddaughter, Lily, spent the weekend with us. She's almost 4 and still has a hard time saying her R's and L's, and also has the cutest little lisp, making it difficult sometimes to know what she's saying. She's very patient with us, repeating a word over and over when she knows we don't understand her. She's not happy just letting it go. She really wants to be understood. Although watching her grow up is such a joy, when she learns to pronounce all of her letters I'll grieve just a tiny little bit.

granddaughter, grandparents,growing up

Sunday morning before she left, she made her bed in our guest/play room, without being asked, even arranging the pillows at one end like I do. Of course I made a big fuss over this, telling her how proud I was of her. I've left the bed just as she made it so that each time I walk in I am reminded of the sweet thing she did. 

sleepover at grandma's house,grandpa's house
Funny how grandmas get to go completely overboard about things and nobody questions why. If my granddaughter falls or bumps herself, I don't feel the need to analyze the situation and decide whether or not I should suggest she 'shake it off'. Most parents do this because they, understandably, don't want their kids to grow up to fuss and whine about every little bump, but as a grandma my first response is "Are you hurt? Here let me kiss it." I love it!

When Lily has to leave us to go home after a visit there's a void left behind, shaped exactly like her.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An American in Edinburgh Scotland

Years ago, my husband went on vacation with his father to England and Scotland. One thing he marveled at was how civilized, orderly and polite everybody was in public in all parts of the U.K. Nobody honked their horns at other drivers, people created neat, single-file lines, or queues, whenever there was a group waiting for entrance to something, including the bus. There was no huddle of mankind moving  en masse towards a door like we do here in the States. 

Typically, we Americans are polite about not crowding our way to the front (I said typically - there is always an exception), but can you picture us getting ready to get on a plane, for instance, creating one long, snaking line rather than the group exodus from the terminal onto the entrance ramp? Doesn't happen. We move as one squirming, disorganized organism until each person is eventually dumped into the opening and disappears. Unless there are ropes denoting a single-file line, you rarely see Americans voluntarily lining up, one behind the other. It works for us and usually it's not a problem. We don't think anything of it. But, try that technique in the U.K. and you end up looking ill-bred, rude and greedy, to the point where your mother's reputation could be called into question (although nobody would voice this opinion out loud).

My husband and I have traveled to Scotland twice, the last time just this past May. Our first trip in 2009, we either cabbed around town or walked, but this last trip we decided that riding the City's bus would be almost as convenient as cabbing, and a lot less money. We were right. It was very convenient and it was also a lot of fun riding the bus with locals including school children and a number of senior citizens running their errands. Unlike Sacramento, where I live, buses in Edinburgh run routes frequently and take you practically anywhere you want to go.

edinburgh, scotland, bus, transit, transportation, american, culture

One of our first forays into the world of Edinburgh public transit found us at a busy bus stop. While waiting for a bus to arrive, the locals look and act just like anyone else: some people were sitting on the bench in the little sheltered area, others leaning on the sign posts, and some, like us,  just standing in the general vicinity of the bus stop. But when the bus pulled up, just like a well choreographed skit, everybody turned or stood up where they were and, voila! They formed a queue. 

If my husband and I had attended rehearsal instead of going out for haggis, we would have known what to do at the stop when our bus pulled up. I mean, if you're already standing and you just happen to be smack in front of where the bus doors open (accidentally, I might add) even though you arrived at the stop much later than the others, what's the protocol? Do you fold into the line behind people, or go to the very end, or decide that this is your lucky day and you're first? I was stumped, but I passively decided to just stay put (mistake #1) and turned to face the bus's open door rather than wandering down the line. A sturdy little woman with a head scarf and a folded umbrella standing next to me, the "real" first person in line, was obviously a local and knew the score. I decided I would try to offset mistake #1 by following her lead and not crowding my way onto the bus. I tried to act nonchalant.

As the bus unloaded, I stood back far enough to make room so people could pass by unimpeded. I certainly didn't want to play the role of Ugly American. At a break in the exiting stream of people, My Local Lady and the bus driver exchanged meaningful looks. I waited. The bus driver then said, "Now?" Slowly shaking her head she said firmly, "Not yet." Obviously, this was a little game they shared. I was intrigued. A few more passengers were then deposited onto the sidewalk. The trickle of riders coming out of the bus seemed to have dried up, but still nobody on the street moved toward the door. I was becoming confused. 

A fleeting thought that maybe I had misread the entire scene and all these people standing so orderly on the street were not even going to get on the bus after all, caused me to make mistake #2. In my anxious mood (I tend to get overly panicky in foreign countries), I pictured the bus closing its doors and rumbling down the street without us. I then committed the Big Faux Pas: I boldly made a move to get on the bus. My Local Lady said loudly and with certainty, "Not yet." Knowing that she had been speaking to me, I turned to face her and she said with her thick Scottish accent, "We don't get on till everyone has gotten off." (She could've added "you idiot", but she didn't.) I looked back up into the bus and sure enough a few more people made their way down the aisle and plopped out onto the sidewalk. The woman was psychic.

I decided that I had embarrassed myself enough, as well as reflecting poorly on American etiquette, and just waited, trying to look humble. I had been chastised and figured I would pay my penance by boarding last. However, a lovely man, third in line, gallantly stepped back a bit before entering the bus, gesturing with his hand that I was to go ahead of him. Blushing and relieved, I smiled and tried to sound as grateful as I felt as I thanked him.

So what, you may ask, was my husband doing this whole time rather than saving me from myself? Probably standing back, laughing. I've never had the nerve to ask. Since then, I have pretended that the incident never happened. 

Bus? What bus?

edinburgh, scotland, bus, local transit, transportation, etiquette, tourist
Do not attempt to board a bus with this woman!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Would you, could you feed a man, with half a cookie in your hand?

giving,donating,begging,panhandling,compassion,god perspective

I just miss the green light at the intersection turning into the mall where I am scheduled to take my first one-on-one class with an Expert at the Apple Store. I am a recent Macbook convert and need a little training.

As I roll to a stop the half-eaten chocolate chip cookie I had for lunch slides off the passenger seat. There's a homeless man on the median strip with a cardboard sign in his hands. He is shabbily dressed, missing some teeth, and walks with a bad limp. As I grab the fallen cookie it occurs to me that I could open my window and give it to him, but I am just ahead of his line of sight so I'd have to yell at him to get his attention. Although I typically ignore (with some guilt) the people who beg in the middle of the street, I feel an extra measure of pity for this man. He looks to be older than middle age (although it can be hard to tell sometimes when life has been cruel to a person) and his limp adds to what I perceive as vulnerability.

I have mixed emotions about giving hand-outs to people begging. On the one hand, doesn't it encourage them to continue begging if they are successful? I feel like a snob, but I can't say that I agree that begging is a solution to a really horrible problem. And there is no way to know what they really spend their "donated" money on: is it food or drink or drugs or ...? If I give them money I might just be helping to feed a bad habit, but then again, who am I to judge? If they really need food, why don't they go down to the local food bank or homeless shelter, places my husband and I donate both money and goods to throughout the year. Then there's the cynic in me that wonders if the person begging really needs a hand-out in the first place. Is it possible that this is just the easiest way to make a buck when they could earn an honest day's wages if they put their mind to it? On the other hand (I seem to have a lot of hands), these days with so many people out of work and hurting financially, it's harder to convince myself that getting a job is a realistic option for some, and I know that even food banks and shelters are struggling to keep up with the demand for their services. But is participating in the ever-growing popularity of begging the answer? Obviously, I am of two minds about this.

The light stays red as I sit there holding the cookie, giving me time to consider. It's only a half-eaten cookie, but it represents a whole lot more than that to me. It would be a reversal of my earlier decision about not responding to a panhandler on the street. And what if a half-eaten cookie offended him, like is that the best I can do? But why would I care - he's begging afterall. Then again, it might be the nicest treat he enjoys that day. What if the light turns green as I'm trying to get his attention and the driver in the car behind me gets frustrated by the delay and starts honking, making me feel foolish. Dear God, forgive me, but these are the thoughts racing through my head.

Finally the light turns green and I'm off the hook. I put the cookie back on the seat and drive on, putting the whole scene out of my mind as I deal with inattentive drivers ahead of me in the parking lot.

After my class driving home I feel hungry and reach for the cookie. I take a bite and remember then that I almost gave it away. I feel badly that I didn't. What if that man was an angel, sent from God to test me? If so, I failed miserably. I let my cynicism and logical thinking get in the way of my compassion. 

But what if he was just an ordinary man? There's a verse in the Bible, Matthew 25:40, that says, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'  And the converse, in verse 45, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' If he was an ordinary man and not an angel, I still failed miserably, and for the same reasons.

The question for myself is, what will I do the next time? Today, right now, I can say that I will be bolder, but when the time comes, I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mother: Locked Out. Baby: Home Alone.

When I was in my mid-twenties and my daughter, Emily, was six or seven months old, we lived in an older ranch-style home with my sister, just the three of us. I was a single mom, working part-time, and my sister was a full-time student. There were usually a couple of days a week when I wasn't scheduled to work and my sister was at school, leaving my daughter and I home alone.

motherhood, single parent, baby girl, locked out, home alone
Me, with my sweet girl, Emily

One such morning, I put Emily down for her nap and I got ready to hop in the shower. I don't know what drew me outside into our backyard at such a moment, as I was barefoot and had on nothing but an old threadbare, almost see-through bathrobe - maybe I thought I should turn the sprinkler on to water the grass while I was showering, I can't remember - but out I went. The kitchen door that I exited through had a pane of glass in the upper half and a door knob that locked and stayed locked unless the button was twisted to the unlocked position. I was usually pretty diligent about checking to make sure I unlocked the knob before going out, but this particular time the realization that I had neglected to do so occurred to me at the same moment the door swung shut. I grabbed at the knob, but it was too late; it was shut and it was locked. Immediately I started to panic.

motherhood, daughter, baby, parenting
Little Em - home alone

This was back in 1980, long before we carried cell phones with us everywhere, long before I had even heard the words 'cell phone' strung together. There I was with no shoes and, to put it mildly, feeling a tad vulnerable in my flimsy bathrobe. Although I knew that I had tightly closed and locked all of the other doors and windows (being the paranoid person I was) I just had to check in case I had forgotten this once. I felt like a character in a bad sitcom as I tried to be stealth moving around the house, praying that no one would see me. We had lived in the house only a few months and I didn't know any of my neighbors, but even if I had I would have been mortified to go to one of their houses to ask for help while wearing a nearly transparent bathrobe. (Have I mentioned that my bathrobe was old?)

After confirming my worst fear - that I was locked out and my baby was locked in - my panic started to increase. I began worrying that my daughter would wake and start crying for me and even if I could hear her, which I couldn't at that distance, I would be unable to get to her. I knew my sister would not be returning for some hours and nobody else was expected. I did the only thing I could think of: I busted the window out of the back door. I'd be lying if I said that the experience of purposely breaking out a window didn't make me feel a little dangerous. I don't remember what I used to break it, probably a rock or maybe my thick skull, but I do vividly recall the horror I felt as I smashed the glass and watched it spray across the kitchen floor inside the house. I had bare feet which meant I had to walk across the glass-strewn floor once I got the door opened, and then there was the painstaking clean up required so my daughter, who was in the crawling stage, wouldn't get cut. I had visions of her little hands being pierced by or embedded with tiny shards of glass that might be left behind. I have always hated the uncertainty of cleaning up broken glass. It's impossible to be sure you've got everything picked up.

motherhood, daughter,baby,parenting
In the infamous backyard

Once I re-entered my house (finding my daughter still sleeping peacefully), I put a square of cardboard in the broken window to keep the bugs out, then called a friend who came over to help me install a new window in my door. And fortunately, I managed to clean the kitchen floor sufficiently as Emily never suffered any injuries from broken glass.

I have thought of this episode often down through the years. It closely mimics a classic bad dream. Something akin to walking down the street naked, or finding yourself using a public restroom that has no walls or doors, situations where you feel physically, and therefore emotionally, exposed and vulnerable. (Those are classic, aren't they, or am I the only one who has these dreams?) Anyway....

Before my husband and I moved last year, our house had a front door with a knob lock with the same "feature": it stayed locked unless you twisted the button. Instead of a knob on the outside, it had a lever-style handle that you pushed down with your thumb. I never, ever, pulled that door shut behind me without pushing on that lever to make sure that it was unlocked. And every time I did, I remembered this episode. Even if only for a nano-second, the image of me standing outside that locked back door after realizing what I had done, practically in my birthday suit, flashed through my mind. You just don't forget things like that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Surprise Lily: Garden Growing

In the middle of July, my husband and I were so surprised to see a stalk pop up in our flower bed among the azaleas, right outside our living room window. It may have been there last year, too, but if it was we didn't notice it. We've only lived in our home a year, but I think we would've seen it even though we were experiencing the nightmare of moving in 100 degree heat with a crew of movers that included one or two thieves (don't get me started!).

Such a funny looking plant, with nothing but a tall, thick stalk and a large bud at the top that began opening up to reveal clusters of pink petals inside.

I have seen this plant before in Sacramento. My husband and I used to admire them downtown, in the area where we lived. They would pop up suddenly in the middle of summer in dusty unirrigated beds beneath the large elms that line the streets. They looked so out of place, but were such a pleasant surprise. Apparently somebody else thought so too, at one time, because one of the names given the plant is 'surprise lily'. 

Another name I have heard is 'naked lady', which causes the middle-schooler section of my brain to giggle. I wasn't sure this was the case, but I just couldn't bring myself to google on 'naked lady'. Who knows what the search engine would have come back with, and I just didn't want that in my online search profile, if you know what I mean. So I did a round-about search ('lily stalk with no leaves' did the trick) and found that the true name is Lycoris squamigera, a plant in the amaryllis family.

Isn't it pretty? The blooms opened one or two at a time and the whole show lasted about a month, from start to finish. I call this next shot 'post-menopausal naked lady'. 

Awww... poor thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Healthy Sandwich Recipe (who says I can't cook?!?)

Some days it can be difficult to write anything terribly interesting. Those days can sometimes lead to a post about food, a favorite subject of mine. 

This probably doesn't qualify as a recipe, per se, but I am so in love with this sandwich I just have to share it, even though it really is just your basic sandwich. Total calories falls around 500, and since this is all I eat for lunch (no added chips, etc.) I feel pretty righteous. I can't survive the afternoon on just a couple hundred calories.

Of course, using great ingredients is key. I love Rudi's honey sweet whole wheat bread, Inglehoffer honey mustard, and Hain safflower mayonnaise. (I'm beginning to sound like an ad, but I've tried a lot of breads and condiments in my day, and these are my favorites to-date.)

Okay, let's skip to the meat of the subject, so to speak. Whole Foods carries packaged carving board-style lunchmeat that doesn't have any preservatives in it. I also get packaged pre-sliced cheese (Swiss works well), which makes the construction easy. But the piece de resistance is the sliced apple, usually Fuji. I have used pear also, which is equally tasty.

I am starving right now, as I write this, and it's almost lunchtime. My crystal ball tells me this is in my future....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How a 4 Pound Chicken Changed My Life: Epic Tales from the Kitchen aka Recipes to Avoid

Oh alright, it didn't really change my life, but a 4 pound roasting chicken brought me to my culinary knees the other night, revealing yet again just how much I do not know about the power of poultry when mixed with electricity.

I don't cook a lot. I will have bursts of enthusiasm about getting a homecooked meal on the table, but it usually wanes just about the time I could become dangerous. (My husband is fabulous about picking up take-out on his way home from work.) But since I had been lax about cooking for much too long, the other day I forced myself to the grocery store, looking for inspiration. As I made my way to the back of the store, the meat counter came into view and I picked up vibes coming from the whole chickens. Yes... roast a chicken, throw in some fresh vegies - think of the leftovers! That was just the ticket. A sense of calm came over me. I was mistress of my menu.

Fast forward to 5:00pm and I've got a chicken in the fridge, but nothing else going, not even a hot oven. Even though I'm not sure I have enough time (we usually eat on the early side of the evening) I am committed to getting this chicken on the table, so I barrel ahead. I look up "roasting chicken" on the Food Network website and the Barefoot Contessa comes to my rescue. She proposes that I rinse, salt, grease and stuff a halved lemon into the chicken's cavity. I ignore her roasting instructions because I have got the Mother of All Ovens in my new kitchen, which allows me to program the entire event until I have drilled down to what color the bird's eyes were. I take the temperature probe and expertly stab it into what I think is the exact right spot in the bird and pop the other end into the outlet inside the oven. I sense that, for some reason, I am exuding an arrogant confidence that I silently admit I have not earned. But, what could possibly go wrong short of under- or over-cooking the bird?

Twenty minutes later, my husband has come home and immediately comments on the heavenly aroma coming from our little free range princess roasting in the oven. Right about then I notice that the glass inside the oven door has gotten cloudy so I can't see what's going on anymore, but I don't think much of it. Then the room starts to look a little foggy. Still basking in the glow of my husband's admiration, I nonchalantly suggest we open a few windows. The fog builds and I start to get a little nervous. Trying to hide my increasing panic, I decide I just have to look inside the oven, but I stand back a bit as I open the door (I remember enough about high school science to know what oxygen does to a fire). Fully expecting flames to come shooting out, to my immense relief all I got was a blast of smoke. I could hear the smacking sounds of something splattering everywhere inside the oven, as if I had just dumped a cup of cold water into the hot, greasy roasting pan.

Finally, the inevitable happens: the smoke detector starts screaming.  With fingers stuck in my ears, I reach over and quickly turn on the vent by the stove, then hustle over to the sliding door and throw it open even though it's 100 degrees outside. There is absolutely no breeze, so I grab a little fan and turn it on. My husband turns on the overhead fan in the living room. The smoke detector finally shuts up, and shortly after that my oven beeps letting me know the temperature inside the bird has reached the desired level. Although it seems a bit premature to me, putting my trust in my deluxe oven and my instincts as a cook, I open the oven door, smoke and steam blinding me, and remove the chicken. I was so sure of myself that I even turned the oven off and closed the doors and windows.

Several minutes later, however, I begin doubting the doneness of the chicken. Reason has caught up with me and I realize that there's no way it could be cooked thoroughly after such a short time period. I cut into the area between the thigh and the body (in the spot where the thermometer had been), and to my disgust I find bloody meat. By now, the oven has completely cooled and I have seen the carnage inside caused by the offending lemon. After all this, there is no way I'm going to eat raw chicken. I could nuke it so we can eat, but come on... you don't nuke a Whole Foods chicken that has been "certified to the Global Animal Partnership's 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating program"! Irritated and mumbling obscenities at the bird under my breath, I turn the stupid oven back on. Before throwing Princess in again I decide to cut my losses and yank out the lemons, but the damage has been done.

Not surprisingly, because the oven is such a mess, once it reaches a certain temperature the whole smoke-billowing-out routine starts up again. Knowing what is to follow, my husband and I immediately throw open all the doors and windows, but because the room hadn't completely cleared out from the first round, the smoke detector goes off without delay this time. Since our roof is not removable, there is nothing more we can do so we wait it out. Finally, the fans start to clear out the particulate-filled air enough so that the screaming stops (the smoke detector's, not mine), but the room remains thick with smoke and chicken fog. The smell in the air is no longer all that appetizing. Our eyes are watering and our ear drums ache.

After another 30 minutes, we miraculously had a cooked chicken - and even more miraculous was the fact that it wasn't overcooked. It was just right, although, after all that it had no discernible lemon flavor. Well... whatever. Princess was on the table and disaster had been averted.

After dinner, I faced the greasy oven racks and roasting pan with a heavily-soaped scrubber and determination to never stuff poultry with citrus again. Fortunately, I thought, the oven has a self-cleaning feature so I would be able to avoid having to clean the inside by hand. Easy, right? Wrong. Here's a tip: when your oven has been heavily spray painted with grease and lemon juice, use a little muscle to wipe as much off as you can before hitting the self-clean button. If you thought about it, you could almost question the usefulness of the self-cleaning feature in the first place, but I digress....

Once the cleaning cycle started, we heard all sorts of strange noises coming from the oven; kind of like an airplane taking off. I was praying that the installation had been done properly last year when our kitchen had been remodeled. My husband and I began discussing the need to have a fire extinguisher or two around the house. The realization that we didn't currently have one on hand, as our oven was groaning to reach 5,000 degrees, made us a little edgy.

We eventually accepted that the noise coming from the oven was "normal", and although smoke continued to billow from every crevice, we had made our peace and retreated to our recliners to pray, watch a little TV, cough and dab at our eyes. We had no choice but to sit enveloped in a San Francisco-style fog that was beginning to feel homey. It had even crept down the hall creating tendrils reaching into every bedroom. I knew we were going to sleep that night with the scent of roast chicken in our nostrils.

Finally, by 10:00 that night, the oven beeped and fell quiet. No fire had erupted and we were grateful. I crept over and cautiously opened the oven door, expecting a gleaming, clean oven. Instead, black ash and what looked like an extra layer of black enamel covered the sides and bottom, and the glass in the door looked like someone had thrown black paint on it; dried, blackened drips covering every inch. 

Days later, with muscles in my arms aching, I finally got the oven as clean as I was able, which is to say it has about 90% of it's former spiff and shine and that's good enough for me. My husband had volunteered part of an evening and together we had scrubbed, scraped and sweated - me scrubbing with both hands together, practically lifting myself off the floor trying to put more muscle into it than I have. When all else fails, throw your weight into it, I always say. It's got to be good for something.

I am thankful that my husband remains in charge of preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I shudder to think what Armageddon-like scene would follow if I was left alone with a 24 pound turkey. I am obviously way in over my head.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Exercise Routine Psychology

Yes, that's me on the treadmill -  30 minutes, 5 days a week. Even though I have managed to stick with this routine for two months now, I haven't lost an ounce, but I'm strangely undeterred by this lack of progress. Everyday I tell myself I am going to start eating better (this monologue is usually conducted during my healthy yogurt and granola breakfast), but by 11:00am when my blood sugar dips, I typically grab something sweet to tide myself over until lunch. Lunch is also typically a healthy meal, but afternoon snack, another sugarfest. Dinner is hit and miss: sometimes healthy and low calorie, other times not.

Oddly, I have found that what keeps me coming back to my treadmill every morning is allowing myself some movie time via my iPad while I'm hiking - I absolutely love watching a good show. I have gotten hooked on Brideshead Revisited, a 1981 British series, with lots of episodes, but I only watch it during those 30 minutes I am exercising. Now, why is it that I can be so disciplined about when I watch a particular show, but I can't seem to steer clear of those extra calories each day? I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but it seems silly to me that, as much as I'd like to shed a few pounds, I can't seem to make the necessary diet changes to make it happen. At 9:00am I am gungho to choose fruit for a snack instead of cookies, but by 11:00am I have decided that it doesn't really matter. What's with that?!?

I used to have more resolve about achieving goals. I think I'm getting lazy with age.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Serendipity: happy accident; pleasant surprise

Eating my breakfast in our kitchen last November, barely three months after we had moved into our new home, I looked up where the sun was shining through our window over the sink and saw this lovely diamond, hanging precariously from our water faucet. Actually, the water droplet was not as precarious as was the angle of the sun that caused it to strike the exact right spot, creating this beautiful glow.

Dirty dishes surrounded the sink and papers from yesterday's mail were strewn on the kitchen island, waiting to be tossed or filed, but over my sink was a perfect example of serendipity. I wish I could remember what the rest of that day had been like. I'd like to say that I'd had a great day, full of more happy surprises, but I think it was just a regular day for me. 

Each morning for about a week, the sun continued shining in our kitchen window at approximately the same angle, creating the same beautiful effect. I do remember looking forward to seeing it everyday. I felt a little disappointed when it stopped, when the sun moved on down, getting closer each day to its lowest point, signaling the beginning of winter. I look forward to seeing it again next November. 

It's the little things in life, isn't it, that can bring such joy if we are paying attention and allowing that vulnerable spot inside us to be touched by small gifts given.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gullible Grandma Gets Taken in by Toddler (it ain't hard)

Self Portrait

Yesterday I was the woman on the right; I felt intelligent, in control. Today, I am reduced to a caricature in fruit.

My three year old granddaughter, Lily, came over this morning to spend the day. She means the world to me. We love spending time together and rarely have a dull moment. After playing school and tea party, we watched a toddler dance DVD and she enthusiastically tried to follow all the moves. Me, I just tried to make a few moves without throwing my back out. Afterwards, it was time for snack. She bellied up to the bar and I watched as she deteriorated before my very eyes. Her eyes got droopy and she started complaining about how Mommy had made her get up too early this morning, and how tired she was. I knew naptime would be welcome and figured she would sleep well today.

She then started complaining about her foot hurting. This soon escalated into full-blown screams of pain. I started to get worried. Had she hurt her foot while she was dancing around? She had also put on her dress-up shoes. Had she twisted her ankle when I wasn't looking? Maybe something was even broken! But I tried not to jump to conclusions.

After carefully checking and re-checking her foot, trying to see if there was swelling or bruising (there wasn't), I tried to divert her attention by getting her interested in some arts and crafts until lunch, but she was having none of it. This isn't typical behavior for her. We usually move from one activity to another and have a lot of fun together. Still crying and even screaming off and on about her foot/ankle/heel (I never did get a straight answer from her) she seemed to be in such agony that I put another DVD in the player, propped the poor baby on the couch with a pillow and an ice pack under her foot and sat down with her to give her moral support. Every 5 or 10 minutes for the next hour, she would cry out in pain, tears and runny nose dripping down her face uncontrollably. I would dab her face and make soothing Grandma-feels-your-pain noises, but everytime I'd attempt to touch her leg or foot, trying to find out if she could even move her "broken" limb, she would scream. 

Thinking lunch might perk her up, I tried to encourage her flagging spirits by enticing her with all the good stuff I was going to make for her, but she barely paid any attention to me, such was her pain and discomfort.

Finally, I called my daughter. After giving her the blow by blow, she decided to come get Lily. I had visions of them spending the afternoon in the emergency room waiting for x-rays. By the time they got to my house, my granddaughter had managed to choke down some food and was much calmer. My daughter and son-in-law came into the room and immediately went to her. Of course they were concerned, but there was also a note of skepticism in their voices - apparently, they had seen this movie before. Within minutes, my daughter had managed to take a close look at Lily's foot and ankle and there was, in fact, a microscopic wound in her heel, had put Lily in her lap, asked her if she could walk, and plopped her onto the floor where Lily proceeded to demonstrate that, yes, she could indeed walk just fine, thank you very much, albeit without putting the injured heel on the ground.

'Nuff said. Score another one for the Lilster. I've always known that she's got my number, but today I was on speed dial.

My heart (the little stinker!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Bittersweet Pain of Nostalgia

Grandma and Grandpa in their basement antique shop in Lincoln, NE

Parsing through old photos I've scanned onto my computer, I feel a pang of longing for the past that stabs my heart and kicks me in the gut. I am looking at pictures of my grandparents back in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I lived for a few perfect years when I was young: my grandpa's antique shop in the musty basement of his house, a group shot of my cousins, aunts, uncles, my great Aunt Esther standing in my grandparent's rose garden in the backyard, my youthful 30-something parents, my younger brother and sisters as babies, me and my older brother still cute and unaffected. I see these images and I am suddenly there, a child surrounded by a large, loving extended family.

My father moved us to California when I was eight, to take a teaching job, a million miles away from Grandma and Grandpa. I cried as we headed out of town, feeling as if a limb was being amputated. We would visit 'back home' once in a while, for a family reunion or a special anniversary, but it got harder and harder to make the trip.

Sometimes I think about going back to Lincoln to find my grandparent's old house, a place I remember as Utopian: concrete lions at the base of the front porch stairs, water melons and roses growing in the backyard in the summer, a lovely porch swing I long to go back to and often do, in my mind, when I can stand the bittersweet pain of being there again. I remember summer nights with siblings and cousins, catching fireflies while my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents sat on the front porch (excuse me while I wipe my eyes). We don't have fireflies in California - an entomological shortcoming in my book, if there ever was one.

Me (on the floor looking bewildered) with my older brother holding our baby sister, and some cousins - probably at Christmas which we always spent with the whole family.

A few years ago, when my husband and I were looking to buy another home, we walked into an old house that smelled of ripe apples and wood. I nearly swooned. I was immediately transported back in time to Grandma's house and filled with such longing I couldn't keep back the tears (our realtor politely ignored my reaction). I fell in love with the house, wanted to walk into it everyday and smell that smell, feel those feelings (I am, without a doubt, a glutton for punishment). I often buy apples and put them in a bowl for the sole purpose of smelling them as they ripen and rot. We didn't end up buying that house, and the house we live in now has many years to go before it has that lovely aged, lived-in scent I love so much. I will probably be long gone by the time it does.

I looked up my grandparent's old address online. The house is still there, but I don't think I'll ever go back to see it. If just thinking about the house creates such emotion in me, I think that actually seeing it again would either be a huge disappointment (reality is a poor replacement for our idealized memories) or I would have to be scraped up off the ground after a complete emotional meltdown.

I once read that when we feel nostalgia, we are actually longing for heaven. I like that....

My brother and I with our grandparents, most likely after church on a Sunday
Circa 1958'ish

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Earworms: When Songs Get Stuck in Your Head

After watching Paul Simon's documentary on the making of his album 'Graceland', I have had the song 'You Can Call Me Al', stuck in my head for weeks, months really. The chorus goes around and around in my brain, eventually involuntarily coming out of my mouth in short bursts or I'll find myself humming it. Although the words are simple it's easy to leave some out:

  If you'll be my bodyguard
  I can be your long lost pal
  I can call you Betty
  And Betty when you call me
  You can call me Al

I get almost all the way to the end and then usually mess up on the '...and Betty when you call me' line.  Obviously, if you don't get all the words in there, you end up with too many notes, which means you must start the song again until all the words land in the right spots, or at least until all the notes have words attached to them. Sometimes I will settle for this imperfection. But even settling can take a while since only a small portion of my brain is actually paying attention. Then, when I know I've got the song right, around it goes again, and again, and again, ad nauseum.

I finally bought the stinkin' CD, thinking that if I could listen to the whole song whenever I wanted I might be able to purge it from my mental replay list.

I couldn't resist looking up the phrase, 'songs get stuck in my head' in Google, and, omg, Betty, there's a name for what causes it (at least according to one website): earworms. Not like real worms, but rather, and I quote: parasitic in the sense that they get lodged in your head and cause a sort of "cognitive itch" or "brain itch" -- a need for the brain to fill in the gaps in a song's rhythm.

I feel better.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


My husband's new hammock, where I should find him more often.

Today in Sacramento we are enjoying a dry 97 degrees. I'm talking 13% humidity... dry! I have experienced East coast humidity and appreciate the difference.

I love summer. No need to find socks that match my shoes (flip-flops are attached to the only soles on my feet), no need to rush from warm covers in the morning to a heavy bathrobe and slippers, dressing for the day involves picking out a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt (to match  my flip-flops, of course), iced green tea instead of hot tea for breakfast, a sense of freedom not found in any other season.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Remembering.... What?

Groovy suede poncho and 501 button fly Levis: circa 1971
I could remember lots of stuff back then. 

Why can't I remember things? I've never had a good memory, so I can't say this is a recent development, although I know it's getting worse. I find it very odd, this forgetfulness. I'm pretty sure it's nothing as serious as Alzheimer's, at least I hope it's not, but it bothers me that it seems to occur more frequently these days. At least I think it does....

Quantifying how much I actually do remember is difficult since I don't know how much I'm forgetting. I mean, how do you know what you're forgetting unless someone else brings it up? And even then, the other person could be lying.

One benefit of a bad memory is that it saves money on books. Sometimes when I'm reading a book I'll feel a vague sense of deja vu. Have I read it before, or just the cover jacket? Or was it that I read one of those annoying 'teasers' they sometimes put at the end of books, giving you just the first chapter or so of the next book from the author. No matter. If I can't remember the story, what difference does it make? I always save books I like because I know will enjoy them just as much the next time I cycle through them.

I can't help but wonder if my poor memory is related to my poor sense of direction. I am really bad. I recently got confused about which direction I should turn after coming out of a store at the mall (a mall I have gone to for 20 years). I walked the entire length before finding a landmark that hit home making me aware of my error. I just gracefully did a u-turn and casually hiked back the other way. I was alone, so who was going to know? Even worse, I got turned around in my own neighborhood once (okay, twice). True, I'd only lived in the area about 4 years at that time. Barely long enough to get the hang of things, don't you think?

My poor memory could also be related to the fact that I spend a lot of time inside my head and not enough time looking around me. No. That sounds good, but I don't think that's the problem (that's a whole other story). It must be some inner ear thing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

That Which We Promise: Renewing Wedding Vows in Edinburgh, Scotland

Months ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to renew our wedding vows this year for our fifteenth wedding anniversary. I thought, Sure, why not. (Romantic, aren't I?) Where will we have the ceremony? When? Who will preside? Who will we invite? Will I wear my wedding dress? (It still fit if I didn't move my arms too much.) Will my husband rent a tux? Wear his suit? Photographer? Reception? How far are we going to take this thing?

Overwhelmed by lack of decisiveness, as is our way, we pretty much let the idea go, but every now and then would revisit the topic, only we would ask the questions in a different order just to keep things interesting. But still, only squishy resolution to come to some sort of decision would result.

Time goes by and it's now just a few weeks away from our anniversary. By this time, we had reduced the whole plan to just going out to dinner somewhere in town. We felt like cowards, losers. We had to have some sort of inspiration, didn't we? We weren't that burned out, were we?

Then, on a Friday evening, both of us exhausted from our week, I said something like, You know, we really should go somewhere out of town for our anniversary. Carmel? (We'd spent our honeymoon there.) Washington? (We'd been wanting to make a trip north.) My husband said, Scotland? And I said, why not?

We managed to make arrangements ahead of time for a vow renewal ceremony to take place at St. Giles' Cathedral in Old Town Edinburgh, after Sunday services (which also happened to be my husband's birthday),  with one of the church Ministers presiding. We invited no one (how are you going to bring a crowd all the way to Scotland?), wore "regular" clothes, brought our little point-and-shoot camera and had someone snap a few photos. The reception was high tea with a couple we know that lives in Edinburgh that we hadn't seen since our last trip in 2009.

But the ceremony! The ceremony was 15 minutes of tears and high emotions that we were both unable to contain and, I think, a bit surprised by. Speaking for myself, I hadn't realized how much I needed and wanted to hear my husband recommit himself to me and our marriage. Although we have had a great marriage, I found myself thinking, He really does want to stay with me! It's not just because he feels he has to. (Sorry, Honey....)

We sort of floated out of the cathedral when it was over, feeling lighter somehow. I keep going back to that day in my mind, remembering one of the best days of my life, my new touchstone.

st giles' cathedral edinburgh scotland
Our 'little' wedding chapel in Edinburgh: St. Giles' Cathedral

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