Monday, December 31, 2007

Groaning with Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: La Parte Tres

Greetings and welcome to the final report on our Christmas International Food Frenzy. Now, Claire's father may not appreciate foreign cuisine, but his daughter surely does. I love real Mexican, and it loves me back (and me thighs, and me upper arms). The chiles! The cheese! The tortillas! All good and so good for you.

Christmas was our last night together as an extended family for a while, and while we probably did not need another meal after the previous evening's Indian feast, we started cooking again anyway. It was great fun.

On the Menu:
Chile Quilles (supplied by friend D.)
Three Sisters Burritos
with roasted squash, pinto beans and corn

from

Take a peek at their menu. Creative, healthy food that makes me swoon. Not unlike Mrs. G. swoons over Hugh Jackman.

This is a good dish for company. It presents nicely. You are going to dirty a few pots and pans, but oh, is it worth it. I serve this often to serious carnivores and they act like they really like it. Raves! I get raves!

The Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

  • Juice of 1/2 lime

  • 1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen

  • 1 14 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed*

  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

  • 2 teaspoons chipotle puree (follows)

  • 3 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

  • 6 whole wheat tortillas*

  • Mesa red sauce (recipe follows) or other favorite red sauce
    • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and seed the squash, and chop into 3/4" cubes. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil, ancho powder, 1 teaspoon salt, maple syrup and lime juice and spread out in a glass baking dish. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the roasted squash to a large bowl, and spread the corn in the same baking dish. Toss with 1 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt and roast 10 minutes. Combine the squash and corn and cool. Toss in the beans, cilantro and chipotle puree and season to taste.

      To roll the burritos, lay a tortilla out in front of you and spread about 1 cup of filling across the middle. Top with 1/3 cup of cheese and roll the tortilla around the filling to form a cylinder. Place seam-side down on a lightly oiled baking dish and repeat with remaining filling. Spoon sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with remaining cheddar. Cover the pan with foil and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until heated through. Remove foil for a final 5 minutes to melt the cheese on top.

      *Notes: I have often omitted the maple syrup when I was out of it.
      I sometimes use chili beans and don't rinse them all the way.
      Trader Joe's homemade whole wheat tortillas are very good.


      Chipotle Puree
      Buy
      a little can of chipotles in adobo sauce. I buy this:

      Whirl it all up in the blender or food processor and put it in a jar. That's it. This stuff is so good--it's smokey and hot and flavorful. ONLY USE A LITTLE BIT. You can add more, but you won't want to. Use it in and on everything. Really really good mixed with butter for corn on the cob. Equally yummy in chili. Add some to sour cream and dollop on Mexican food. Put a little in mac and cheese. Adds zing to guacamole. Makes barbeque sauce lip-smackable. The rebar gals are on my secret girlfriend list (now there's a posting idea) for introducing me to this heavenly flavor sensation.

      Mesa Red Sauce
      Put DOWN that canned enchilada sauce and make this instead:
      The Ingredients:

    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
    • 6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 4 tablespoons masa harina
    • 4 tablespoons ancho chile power
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
    • 1 tablespoon minced oregano
    • 4 cups vegetable stock or water, heated
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

      Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the masa harina and stir constantly as it cooks and turns golden.

      Add the spices and oregano and stir for another 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and whisk in the tomato paste and sugar.

      Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste.

    • This Christmas will be remembered as one of my favorites. I was surrounded by friends and family that I love, and we simply enjoyed our time together without artificial deadlines and unnecessary expectations. I hope 2008 will be a year of happy memories, good health, and peace in all of your homes and hearts. Happy New Year!

      Saturday, December 29, 2007

      Groaning with Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: Part (how do you say “two” in punjabi?)

      Our to-die-for Indian feast took place on Christmas Eve, that holiest of nights when families observe sacred traditions, passed on through the generations. The Midnight Mass tradition. The “just one” gift opening tradition. The visits to loved ones tradition.

      Or in our case, the visit to the brewpub tradition. Each year since we moved here in 2002, we have stopped by “our” brewpub on Christmas Eve. Devoid of crowds (I mean, who goes out drinking beer on Christmas eve, geesh! Scoundrels!), dark and quiet, it is as sacred to us as any cathedral. The gigantic tree sweeping the thirty-foot ceiling made us feel all festive inside—or was that the sublime IPA or seasonal winter brew we quaffed? No matter, we were sure happy to be there.

      And this year was no exception, but for the MASSIVE CROWD OF SCOUNDRELS that preceded us. Where normally about a half-dozen worshippers shared the sanctity of the place with the proprietors (all the staff was off duty), this year the word got out and we could barely get ourselves a table. Behind the bar, where once the owner pulled our Christmas pints (and give them to us for free), were two bartenders scrambling to keep up. In place of the manager, stopping by our table to visit with a plate of homemade macaroons, was our favorite friendly, but frenzied, waitress, who was trying to get home to be with her kids. Our manager friend was swamped in the kitchen, and we had to go back and stick our heads in the door to get a Merry Christmas! in. Worst of all—there were so many people drinking WINE* in the place that I thought we had entered the wrong building by mistake. Oh, it was sad, alright. We could not believe our eyes. The owner even apologized to us! I’m sorry, guys, he said, I don’t know what happened this year.

      And so another Christmas tradition has become commercialized and ugly. I don’t blame all those folks for wanting in on something good. Oh—wait—of course I do. They should have kept their wine-drinking asses at home where they belong! Sniff, sniff. This was OUR tradition, dammit. *I love wine, oh I do, but not in a brewpub on Christmas Eve when the beer lovers can't get a table.

      Afterward in years past, we would head over to our Unitarian Universalist fellowship for the Christmas Eve service, buoyed by the happiness in our bellies hearts.

      This year, we had another service in mind: make some gooooood Indian food and serve it up as soon as possible. So we went home and got busy.

      With no casualties or cut fingers this time, and no bugs in the food to deal with, we measured, chopped and stirred, and presto! presented the following for our friends’ and family’s enjoyment (and kids, DO try this at home):

      Christmas Eve Indian Feast Menu

      Dal with Basmati Rice (simply the best ever)
      Lentil, Pea & Potato Curry, courtesy of Mediterrasian, a lovely website by a New Zealander and an Australian
      Basmati Rice with Dried Fruit, Almonds, and Coconut (I'm eating some now. Yum! Friend D. brought it, let me know if you'd like the recipe and I'll post it)
      Some chicken dish that our friend D. brought over for the carnivores in the house
      Naan from Trader Joe's (so easy! and so good! why make it yourself?)

      The Lentil, Pea, and Potato Curry was one of the best I've ever made or eaten anywhere. Note the recipe is for two servings, so double or triple at will. It is soooo good.




      We make the Dal often. It is a combination of two recipes: Dal with Coconut Cream and Red Lentil Dal with Aromatics from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison, food goddess:


      Ingredients:


    • 1 cup red lentils
    • 3 cups water
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro stems
    • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
    • 3 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter*, divided
    • 1 small onion, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
    • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
    • ½ teaspoon turmeric
    • 1 15 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
    • salt
    • 2 shallots, sliced
    • 1 dried red chile, broken into pieces
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds


    • Wash the lentils thoroughly and drain well. Combine with 3 cups water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they have disintegrated and turned mushy, about 20 minutes. If needed, add more water.

      Meanwhile, pound or puree the garlic clove, cilantro stems, and ginger together. Add them to the cooked lentils.

      Heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium-high heat, then sauté the onion, garlic, and jalapeño chile for 1 minute. Add turmeric and sauté everything until the onions are soft. Add to the pot of lentils. Pour in the coconut milk. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

      Heat remaining 1 tablespoon ghee over high heat. Add the shallots, dried red chile, bay leaves, and mustard seeds, and sauté about 1 minute, until mustard seeds turn grey. Stir into lentils and serve with cooked basmati or jasmine rice.

      *Note: I always use regular butter, because I am far too lazy to clarify it or to make ghee. However, I recently read that ghee is the only acceptable fat to use in Indian cooking, and that it makes all the difference. I plan on making some soon, and will likely regret every dish I ever made without it.




      Perfect Basmati (or Jasmine) Rice
      from Rebar Modern Food Cookbook


      Rebar is our most favorite restaurant in Victoria, BC. Amazing food! You will see more in Part Tres of our Holiday International Food Frenzy

      Prepare yourself for rice ecstasy!
      Combine in a heavy saucepan:
    • 3 ½ cups water
    • 2 cups uncooked rice
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon butter

      Heat to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, put a tight-fitting lid on the pan and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and set the timer for 18 minutes.

      When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.

      Fluff with a fork, and amaze your friends.



    • And it came to pass that a new Christmas Eve tradition was born, on a star-filled night in the Pacific Northwest.

      And peace abounded in the hearts of all who shared it.

      Thursday, December 27, 2007

      Dad's Food Comment

      In the midst of our Christmas food frenzy, my phone was passed from my my sticky, onion-and-garlic-covered hand to my brother's clean one (he appreciated that) so he could send good wishes to the thirty New York relatives on the other end.


      Brother: "Hey, Dad, we're having a great time and eating some great food! Sunday we had Italian, last night was Indian, and tonight is Mexican!"

      Dad's deadpan comment: "What's wrong with American?"

      Sorry, we were fresh out of hot dogs.

      Wednesday, December 26, 2007

      Groaning With Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: Part I

      Our goal was to have family and friends over and spend QHT while eating good food and drinking better beer and wine.

      We certainly succeeded.

      After a late Friday night at a club, listening to a favorite band (as if still in our twenties), we slept in on Saturday and then tried to clean the house for awhile. Having no fun, we ditched that plan and watched Christmas (“the little lights are not twinkling”) Vacation instead.

      On Sunday we got ready for company and cleaned for a few hours, then headed to the grocery store where we spent a whopping and ridiculous three hundred bucks, seventeen of which went for a single bottle of olive oil I had picked up in error. In my righteousness, I accused the grocery store of overcharging (in my humble defense I offer that they do indeed overcharge us on a regular basis, which I thought was nearly impossible with the ubiquitous bar-coding of our society, but they do).

      Way behind schedule, I was just putting away the last of the groceries when company all arrived. Together we started preparing the first of our Amazing Meals: welcome to Italian Night! I had stuffed shells on my mind, and dug out my favorite cookbook cooking website and thanks to that skinny Italian chick, had a fab recipe just waiting for me. I substituted this



      for the pancetta. (If you’re just joining us, D. and I are vegetarians. Well, I am, and D. tries. Real hard. His heart’s not completely in it, but it’s 98% there.)

      While my sister-in-law and I were chopping, chopping, chopping (and I was cutting my left index finger and my right thumb), D. ran back to the grocery store to apprise them of their grievous error and collect our cash. Turns out I had really chosen a $17 bottle of olive oil. Sheah, right?? I like my family, but. . . no. D. returned the bottle and purchased a more reasonably-priced model. Mass-produced and probably environmentally unfriendly (oops) to boot, but affordable.

      Meanwhile, I dumped a box of jumbo shells into boiling water and up to the surface floated not only a few of the shells, but a handful of tiny brown things. Upon closer inspection, the little brown things revealed they were each sporting a pair of wings and a few dozen legs. WHAAAAT??? I inspected the box, searching for some sort of explanation, while my cousin offered, “Oh, they’re just a little added protein.” Chuckle, chuckle, upchuck. The glue holding the box ends together was littered with bug bodies and there were a few survivors still crawling around.

      ICK. When D. returned from the store, I showed him the pot of doom and the box o’bugs. He grabbed both boxes for evidence and headed back to the store for another refund (this time truly not my bad). He called me from the store to report that every effin' box was crawling with creepy little insects (just going about the business of survival, but still). The clerk who assisted him with his return and subsequent empty handedness said, “Yeah, we’ve been having problems with bugs in these boxes.”

      “Great—thanks, I’ll head to Trader Joe’s,” said D., barfing a little as he left.

      Without our shells, the rest of us were stymied: we couldn’t do anything beyond making the sauce, mixing the filling, and shredding a pile of mozzarella. So we drank beer. And chatted and chatted. And looked up favorite You Tube videos to share. Nothing better than Brenda Dickson's Welcome to My Home to make you laugh so hard your beer comes out of your nose. . . but that wasn't me.

      D. called from the road. “TJ’s is out of ‘em . . . I’m heading to the other store.”

      He called again. “They’re out, too. . . I’m heading to Fred’s.” Who knew that stuffed shells were such a holiday tradition in the Pacific Northwest? In New York where I come from, Italians are everywhere and each family makes at least ten pounds of pasta per person for the holidays. I don’t think I’ve met the first Italian-type person here. But I’m sure they exist, because they bought all of my shells.

      Finally D. arrived back at the hacienda with pest-free shells. We proceeded with our dish, the girls stuffing and spooning sauce and the boys watching and drinking beer. (At least they stayed in the kitchen with us.) I messed up the recipe, though (could it be the beer?) and dumped the mozzarella into the ricotta instead of putting it on top. Pity—it made the filling a little heavier than I preferred, but nobody complained.

      We sat down to dinner at about 10 p.m. How very European of us. How very Italian of us. At that rate, we should have followed dinner with Midnight Mass, but. . . no. We followed dinner with Trivial Pursuit. My cousin, who is beyond brilliant, and would have won had he stayed, left for home at about 1:30. The rest of us could not, would not stop playing until the game was over.

      I actually won. It was 3:20 a.m. Our friend D. went home and the rest of us went to bed.

      That was food, drink, and game night #1. It was grand.

      The next morning I got out of bed at 10:52 a.m. Wow. I needed the sleep to prepare for our next gastronomical adventure: Indian Night! Details to come. . . .

      Saturday, December 22, 2007

      10 Things

      Oh, the temptation to analyze what's passing for “news” these days. . . such as the current scandal involving that troubled young singer’s even younger sister’s troubles. Or the nerve of that other troubled young celebrity showing up at her boyfriend’s football game and making his team lose! She must be stopped, apparently, and this is a BIG DEAL that people are actually discussing on the internets. And let’s do talk about the presidential candidates' holiday ads, which I thankfully have not witnessed—but! Luckily for me, NPR provided a fascinating analysis of all dozen or so of these special holiday greetings, interviewing two experts in their fields who told me what I should think of Sen. Clinton’s generosity or Rudy G’s sincerity. Whew! My personal holiday season is so much the richer for that. Thanks, NPR!

      Oops—those sarcastic remarks snuck out after I implied there would be no news analysis. Here I go, adding to the noise. Well, what else is there to do on a delightfully rainy Pacific Northwest Saturday-morning-before-Christmas when smug little me has no shopping or any other sort of seasonal prepping to do? I’m eatin’ my oatmeal and drinkin’ my coffee and readin’ the newspaper. Life is good.

      So good, in fact, that on this particularly good day I feel compelled to write a “10 Things” list. I’ve seen various lists on other blogs, usually initiated by a meme, which I have not been on the receiving end of (forgive the dangling preposition, Mrs. G.!). But instead of writing about myself, this one will be a pay it forward kind of thing. In the spirit of the season, I'm thinking about someone other than me!me!me! I invite you to do the same. Today's list is about my sweet husband, who, despite being as challenging to live with at times as, oh, I dunno, perhaps I am, is still the best person I’ve ever known.

      This is for you, D.

      10 Things I Love About My Husband

      10. You like almost everything the same as me.
      9. You like to lay around the house in jammies for entire weekends.
      8. You do all the research about every new gadget, piece of electronic equipment, or appliance that enters our house so I don’t have to.
      7. You don’t have foot odor. Amazing.
      6. You are a snappy dresser.
      5. You enjoy shopping at Target.
      4. You have never answered the question, “Do I look fat?” in the affirmative.
      3. You say I look exactly the same as when we met eleven years ago.
      2. You set up the coffee every single night so it grinds and brews before I wake up.
      1. You love my family.

      And here are 10 more:
      1. You are the best doggy and kitty daddy in the whole world.
      2. You cut the grass.
      3. You pump the gas.
      4. You hate raisins. This is cute.
      5. You are a good son and brother.
      6. You are an incredibly talented musician and know more about music than anyone I’ve ever known.
      7. You write poetry for children—and we don’t even own any.
      8. We have never had a single disagreement over how much money to spend on our animals.
      9. You ask directions without hesitation.
      10. You let me be who I am like no one else ever has.

      And you love good movies and hate bad acting and you're not a sports guy and you're totally in touch with your feminine side, which makes you a good shopping partner, and you like to cook with me and drink good wine and you agreed to start this amazing adventure called marriage even when I tried to talk you out of it.

      What, dear reader, do you love about your S.O., sister, brother, parents, friends?

      Friday, December 14, 2007

      A More Meaningful Holiday

      Everyone I know, it seems, is rethinking the holiday this year. We're either: a) sick to death of the nonstop holiday tunes and tv specials; b) a little scared to shop after viewing ads imploring us to "Stop at Nothing!" (does this include violence?) to make sure we get the I Can Play Guitar thing before someone snatches it out from under us; or c) we're more aware of the bad stuff that's going on in the world. War, starvation, injustice, the effect of global warming on penguins, power outages and natural disasters will dampen even the hardiest holiday spirit.

      Have we Al Gore to thank for this Blue Christmas? Maybe. We're completely cutting out purchasing unnecessary stuff for people who don't really need it. We're examining the pedigree of each item: where were you made? How much oil did it take to produce/transport/package you? Will I be taking advantage of some poor soul's socio-economic status by purchasing you? If you don't fit the guidelines, you can just stay on the shelf!

      We're aghast at the piles of wrapping paper we wasted each year. We always knew it was bad, so naturally, we recycled as much as possible . . . but show me a half-price sale the week after Christmas and I was a wrapping paper stocking up fool, trees be damned! And now? Never again will I buy a roll of wrap when there is plenty of shipping box stuffing paper and yesterday's newspaper lying around! I should be getting carbon credits for this.

      We've done all the shopping we're going to do. I bought a few books for some friends and family, and a painting for our godson. Gift bags (reusable, natch) for each of our employees. Practical items like grocery store gift certificates have replaced tchotchkes and silly stocking stuffers.

      No Stuff on My Cat calendars. No bendable Oscar Wilde figurines. No Clickit magnets.

      There is no tree in our living room, no lights on our porch railing. Yet. I may still be compelled to decorate a bit. But, as one of our favorite servers at our brewpub said, "You don't have to cut a tree down to feel good about yourself."

      On Christmas, we'll invite our friends and nearby family (now that we have some) over to relax and enjoy some good food and even better beer and wine. We'll play games. We'll talk about ways to celebrate our friendships and the ties that bind us throughout the entire year, and we'll each define the season in our own way.

      We'll look with hope to the new year, and we'll all feel good about the complete lack of wrapping paper in the recycle bin. If only it could save the penguins.

      Wednesday, December 12, 2007

      Wednesday Evening Poetry: Channel Firing

      Here is another favorite poem. I used to know it word-for-word, but have forgotten bits over the years. It fits my generally cynical view of politics and the hopelessness of war. I find it incredibly contemporary, too. I'm amazed and saddened that Hardy and I, though separated by nearly one hundred years, are both questioning why we (the universal “we”) have been fighting each other for centuries, with no imaginable end--and that we cannot seem to learn another way. But mostly I love this poem for the sound of it in my ears and the feel of it on my tongue. Draw out the o's, rev up the r's and see if you agree! Picture the cow stopping to listen, and the church mice shuddering with every blast. Listen to the last line as the tempo slows to end softly on starlit Stonehenge.

      Channel Firing
      by Thomas Hardy

      That night your great guns, unawares,
      Shook all our coffins as we lay,
      And broke the chancel window-squares,
      We thought it was the Judgement-day

      And sat upright. While drearisome
      Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
      The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
      The worms drew back into their mounds,

      The glebe-cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
      It's gunnery practice out at sea
      Just as before you went below;
      The world is as it used to be:

      “All nations striving strong to make
      Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
      They do no more for Christés sake
      Than you who are helpless in such matters.

      “That this is not the judgement-hour
      For some of them's a blessed thing,
      For if it were they'd have to scour
      Hell's floor for so much threatening...

      “Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
      I blow the trumpet (if indeed
      I ever do; for you are men,
      And rest eternal sorely need).”

      So down we lay again. “I wonder,
      Will the world ever saner be,”
      Said one, “than when He sent us under
      In our indifferent century!”

      And many a skeleton shook his head.
      “Instead of preaching forty year,”
      My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
      “I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

      Again the guns disturbed the hour,
      Roaring their readiness to avenge,
      As far inland as Stourton Tower,
      And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

      Friday, December 7, 2007

      Eighty-two Today

      She was born on December 7, 1925. American women had won the right to vote only a few years prior.

      When she was seven, in the middle of the Great Depression, her father died on Thanksgiving Day. She was the second of five children left to be raised by her widowed mother. The youngest was ten months old. Times were very hard and they were poor. She remembers picking up coal scraps at the side of the railroad tracks to help heat their house.

      They moved a lot when she was a young girl, but her close family, Catholic faith and school were constants in her life; she received an excellent education and graduated from high school with what would now equate to a university-level education.

      On her sixteenth birthday, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In the war years that followed she saw many of her friends leave home for faraway battlefields.

      When she was eighteen, she met a boy at a dance. He said he was eighteen, too, although he was only sixteen. She dated him anyway, and when he went off to China with the US Marines, he asked her to wait for him. Rumor has it she refused, but when he came home, they were married. She was almost twenty-two; he was twenty. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on November 15th.

      While running the family business, she and her husband raised eleven children together. The first was born in 1949 and the babies came pretty regularly for the next twenty-one years; the last one was born on Valentine's Day, 1970.

      Their children are examples of the incredible love, strength, courage, faith in each other and in their religion, and good humor that the two of them share. They are all good people, productive members of society, wonderful mothers and fathers themselves. None are suffering from bad health or addictions; none have been in jail or in rehab. They are good friends and love each other as they love their parents; they know how lucky they are and appreciate each other and each day.

      She and her husband are respected, loved and admired by hundreds of friends, their childrens' friends, their community. They are called "inspirational" by many.

      Her husband would say she is the glue that held the family together for the forty years he was working day and night to provide for them. Her husband says she is his best friend. Her children love her beyond measure.

      I am her eighth child. There are no words to describe how I feel about my mother.

      She taught me how to be the person I am.

      She taught me how to be fair to everyone: "Do not judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes."

      She taught me how to appreciate what I have: "There, but for the grace of God, go you."

      She taught me how to weather tough times: "This, too, shall pass."

      She taught me to stand up for myself: "Remember, marriage is 50-50. He has to do his part, too." (Previous marriage, not D.!)

      She taught me to be nice: "No gossiping! Don't be catty."

      I've never heard my mother say anything remotely resembling racism, sexism, homophobia, or plain meanness.

      The woman is a saint. And I have been blessed every day of my life to be her daughter.

      Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you so.

      Thursday, December 6, 2007

      Holding Hands with Dad

      Yesterday I was returning to work from getting a new haircut (it's way cute) and enjoyed a rare opportunity to take a look around town and listen to some good tunes as I drove. (Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life, only one of the finest albums ever recorded in our lifetime, IMHO, but I digress. . .)

      I was stopped behind a school bus with flashing red lights. Out hopped a little girl, maybe seven or eight; her father, hands in pockets, waited on the corner for her. He was patient, as was I, as she performed the very important task of waving goodbye to the bus driver and her school mates. The door closed, the lights stopped flashing, and father and daughter grasped hands and turned to walk home. Rather, dad walked. The little girl skipped with such momentum that she bounced down the sidewalk like a blue-jeaned ball.

      I wondered how their conversation went, how she answered the standard, "How was school today?" and what super major events occurred with her friends on the playground at recess.

      I smiled, immediately taken back to my childhood--holding hands with my Dad, walking the block-and-a-half to church on Sunday mornings with my brothers and my Mom.

      In winter, my legs would freeze, even though Mom would have put them in thick cable-knit tights. The short walk would seem miles long.

      I skipped, slid on snow, or walked doubletime to keep pace with Dad's brisk pace. He would let me lag behind and then pull me so I'd have to run. It made me giggle every time. It was our ritual.

      I don't know how many Sundays were spent walking to church holding my Dad's hand. I don't know if we knew the last time we did it would be the last time.

      But I have always remembered, even though I was so small I had to reach straight up with my arm to put my small hand in his big, safe one.

      Sunday, December 2, 2007

      NaNoWriMoNOT

      I was so excited to be part of National Novel Writing Month! I came up with a story idea on November 1st. I started writing every day. 1700 words a day. I slacked off when it came close to the 8th, when we were getting ready to go to New York.

      Working ten hours a day and trying to keep the rest of my life running (clean clothes are a must) was the most I could do on some days. Writing is for people who don't have to work for a living.

      I made great progress on the plane coming home from NY. And that's the last bit I wrote. My total? 11,496 words. The goal was 50,000 words. I scored about twenty percent of the goal.

      I'm not sure how I feel about this: while I didn't "win," I certainly don't feel like a loser; I feel a bit of real achievement. The program worked by just getting me writing; it was invigorating to be part of a worldwide effort by writers from all backgrounds and abilities, all working toward the same very personal goal. In that respect, it worked brilliantly--it got me writing a new story and I was writing every day just to get that story out, not for it to be perfect.

      But writing every day in November? For me, there could hardly be a worse month. I really had no time to even read a newspaper, much less two hours a day to create a novel from nothing--no plot, no outline, no character development--nothing but a blank page. Writing is for people with the luxury of time.

      I'm not disappointed in myself. It would be nice to have been able to write 50,000 words in November, but I just couldn't. It would have been possible only if I took that time away from my family and work obligations. How haughty and self-centered that would have been. Can't imagine it: "Sorry, Mom, I'd love to visit with you but I must write. See you in a couple of hours." Maybe that's how some writers do it, but that's not me.

      So now what? I'm going to make January my own Novel Writing Month. There is so much less going on in my life in January (I think). Maybe I'll try on that haughty writer's persona, shut the door, and practice the following: No, I'm sorry, I can't. I have to write today.

      Saturday, December 1, 2007

      No Yoga

      There we were, putting on our little yoga outfits.

      There I was, removing the last of summer's chipped polish from my toenails.

      There we were, sliding through the snow to the yoga studio.

      There we were, fifteen minutes early for the 10:30 a.m. class so the newbie (me) could fill out the paperwork.

      There we were, standing outside the studio, watching the class that began at 10:00 a.m.

      Oops. Duh. No yoga for me today!

      Friday, November 30, 2007

      And Now Yoga?


      I have always wanted to take yoga classes. When we lived in Virginia, there weren't many options to do so. I ran quite a bit (even did one (1) and only one (1) marathon) and worked out at the gym. I took some Bodyflow classes, which incorporated some yoga moves. But never a real yoga class.

      When we moved to the PNW, my yoga opportunities increased a thousand-fold, it seemed. There are probably ten yoga studios in our town, with choices of Bikram, Iyengar, Viniyoga, Hatha, and more.

      I figured when my schedule settled down some (as in not working 60-hour weeks) I'd be able to fit in the luxury of ninety-minute mid-morning classes.

      This week, my husband started taking yoga. As my upset nine-year-old niece said when her older sister got her ears pierced, "You don't understand. . . you're living my dream!" He's living my yoga dream. Of course, I didn't get off my ass and go--he did. I thought it would be too much with my three-times-a-week boot camp, NaBloPoMO, and NaNoWriMo, Thanksgiving, trip back east, and my regular work schedule--and I was right. I can't do everything.

      But I'm going with him tomorrow morning. And I'm really excited! Maybe I can fit in two or three classes a week. . .

      Thursday, November 29, 2007

      Doing Stuff I Don't Wanna Do


      That sounds whiney, I know. And I'm perfectly okay with that.

      I'm going to stop doing stuff I don't wanna do! Why wouldn't I?

      Tonight I went to a very, very crowded sports bar and watched a football game with some friends. I didn't care about the game, but I do care about my friends, so when they asked, while my first thought was, "thanks but no," I wanted to see them, so I said "why not?".

      First clue that I should have gone home instead: The bouncer dude blocked the door as I tried to enter.

      "You got a stamp?" he said to me, while talking on his cell phone.

      "I don't know what you're talking about." I didn't know who he was or that he worked there.

      "You already been in here?" He's still blocking me from entering, and way too far into my personal space.

      "Um, no."

      "We're full here." Like I should know this. I told him my friends were already here.

      "They got a seat reserved for you?"

      "I don't know," I said, implying you idiot.

      "Well, I'll let you in."

      "Thanks." It's possible my look communicated some disgust with his rudeness.

      "Don't look at me like that," he said to my back. I had an urge to turn back and throw him a one-fingered salute, but I was busy trying to make my way through the bodies slammed together like spaghetti in a box, all the while thinking why am I in this place? Finally I spotted my friends standing and waving their arms frantically.

      I squeezed in. The place was so crowded that they couldn't keep up with drink and food orders, so the waitress literally recommended we not order food. Therefore, I drank more beer (when we finally got some) than I probably would have. Not way too much, but more than two.

      After the game, starving, we went to a nearby Thai place. I ordered some soup and rice. Luckily I didn't eat too much, but it was 10 p.m. by the time we left. I'm driving away, freezing to death, thinking "why did I go through all of this just to watch a game I don't care about??".

      I arrived home tired, grumpy, whiney, and wishing I had just gone home after work like I really wanted to do.

      I was invited to go to Seattle Saturday with the same friends; I didn't commit because I didn't really want to go. I'm telling them tomorrow I'm not going. I'm going to have a delicious Saturday and Sunday at home.

      Because that's what I wanna do. And it beats the hell out of doing something I don't wanna do and whining about it after.

      Wednesday, November 28, 2007

      Fearlessness


      My husband is fearless. He is not a daredevil, mind you. He doesn't go for really extreme sports--beyond scooping the poop of a 96-pound dog once a week or so. His sport love is kayaking. He learned rock climbing to get over his fear of heights.

      But the man will talk to anyone, email anyone, phone anyone. He asks directions. He asks people which way to bathroom. He is not embarassed to not know where to go or how to do something. He learns a whole lot just by doing the asking thing. Just now he said, "I'd try to get in touch with Bill Gates if I needed something from him."

      He reaches out to people with absolutely no fear of rejection or of feeling dumb.

      Me? I grew up too embarassed by my size to go up for seconds in a buffet line. I didn't want people to laugh at the fat girl.

      I nearly died the first time a professor read my writing aloud in English 102. I had an actual anxiety attack. I didn't want anyone looking at me while he read.

      I used to lose sleep for days before a public speaking class or "real" event where I had to speak in front of a group.

      Then a funny thing happened. I took on an alternate persona who was braver than I, who could stand up tall and talk to more than one person at a time. First, she did the eulogy at a dear friend's funeral. Then, she spoke to the congregation at church about how she came to find Unitarianism. Then she led an auction at a charity event. Finally, she became president of a women's networking group and led meetings for eighty people every month.

      The alternate personality varied, but was usually Oprah or Beyonce. Not sure why I choose one-named African-American women as my alter egos--aside from the fact that they're both on top of the world and can do anything. Oprah and Beyonce are fearless. So, whenever I found a microphone in my hand, my little voice said, pretend you're Beyonce, and I could do it.

      But call Beyonce? Um, I don't think so. She might find out I'm a dork and I've been pretending to be her for years. And then what would happen? I'd just die of embarassment, that's all.

      The beauty in this story is that the older I become, the more fearless I become. I don't care as much what people think. I'm becoming more confident in my talents and knowledge. I convey that I care and that I'm sincere and of integrity, and have good information to impart. And what exactly is so scary about that?

      Tuesday, November 27, 2007

      The Closet of Misfit Gifts


      I'm no good at this season. I've no talent for shopping. I could care less if my house is lit or if there is a tree in the corner. I used to love all that stuff. I don't know what happened.

      Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe working 50 or 60 hours a week leaves no time for that other stuff. Maybe I'm cynical and jaded. Oh, and I don't believe in the Reason For The Season, either. Hmmmm, maybe we're onto something here.

      I like buying presents for people. It's the wrapping and shipping parts I don't necessarily ever--ahem--get to. There is a corner in a closet where I toss things I've purchased for others and never given.

      A partial list:

      One (1) luggage tag in shape of a woman's pump. Totally cute. Meant for my friend in LA.

      One (1) boxed Family Game Set purchased for our friends in Virginia.

      Two (2) scarves: one black, one purple. I think they were meant for my nieces.

      One (1) book of IOU sexual favors gift certificates purchased for my hubby and god knows how it ended up in the pile. Like I can give it to anyone else?

      One (1) book titled Raising A Daughter, purchased for a friend who just had one. I forgot to give it to her when she first had the baby and I don't see her often. The child will be raised by the time she actually receives the book.

      One (1) cutie-pie girl's hat and gloves set and a little boy sweatshirt from The Gap purchased for some friends' kids TWO Christmases ago. Oops.

      One (1) set of amber glass bear salt-and-pepper shakers purchased for the parents of the above kids. They (the bears, not the kids) are now in my kitchen, where sometimes D. and I face them together like they're kissing. They are too cute.

      Six (6) fish barrettes purchased for my niece about three years ago. And a t-shirt from our Farmers Market for her brother.

      When I buy things for people, D. looks at me with an eyebrow cocked up like he knows where they're going to end up.

      In the closet. The closet of misfit gifts. Waiting for Santa.

      Monday, November 26, 2007

      The Cat Who Won't Shut UP!

      I have two cats. Both are adorable, orange, long-haired tabby cats, which are widely known as the best, most mellow and sweet, good-natured, adorable, sweetest, mellowest, chillest, coolest, kindest, smartest, most adorable cats on the Planet Earth.

      Except for right now. One of them is walking around the house meowing in his eff'd up way, which sounds like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and a--well, wild cat in heat--not that this one knows anything about that. What sound in creation could be more annoying?? I am absolutely powerless to stop it.

      (Just for fun, give a cat a command of your choice and then hold your breath and see who dies first.)

      I love all animals; the ones who agree to live in my house and eat my food are my children--I'm a little weird like that. I think animals have more inherent rights than many people deserve and I am a humongous supporter of every animal rights group, yes, including PETA, and some may think it's "because" I don't have children, but god, the animals need SOMEONE on their side who thinks they're as important as people, do they not?? So whether I have spawn or not does not enter into this equation. I know too well how dogs and cats take a back seat when the kids come into the picture.

      That said, this particular animal is asking for it, big time.

      "Reerrrrawwwaaarrraaaahhhhhh," says he.

      "What do you WANT?" says I.

      "Mrrreeeeeewaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaahhhhh," says the cat.

      "Be quiet! You're NOT going outside!" says the patient and kind animal lover.

      Pad, pad, pad go the furry paws; swish, swish, swish go the butt and high-held tail. Around the kitchen, through the hall, in circles around my chair and the dining room table, and back to the hall again.

      "Weeeehhhhhhhaaaaaaayyyyoooooouuuuuuuhhhhhh," says he, more forlornly than last time.

      "Oh for godssake, what IS it?" says I. I follow him downstairs to the cubby where their food bowls live.

      Oops. Empty.

      Ok, I'm the bad one.

      This cat is up for adoption. His name is Twinkie. He looks exactly like mine. You need this cat. I'm sure he's very quiet.

      Sunday, November 25, 2007

      My Favorite Poem by My Favorite Poet



      THE PEDIGREE of honey
      Does not concern the bee;
      A clover, any time, to him
      Is aristocracy.

      Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
      From Complete Poems, 1924

      Saturday, November 24, 2007

      I Believe I'll Stay Out of the Loop


      After spending the past couple of weeks sheltered from what poses as national news, I had the luxury of time today to read and catch up. As always, two newspapers magically appeared on the porch this morning, each touting headlines about Black Friday,the shoppers who got in line at Wal Mart Thursday night after Thanksgiving Dinner, and the 1.3 million pairs of socks sold at Fred Meyer's.

      This is news? Or do we just need a break from the war in Iraq, another impending one in Iran, the mess in Pakistan, and the lead toys from China?

      Are those reasons enough to plaster Kanye West's mother's death all over the airwaves (and the *internets*)? Actually, in this case, I think it's our culture's current and obscene obsession with celebrity, plastic surgery, or the irresistible combination of the two.

      What an important time we are living in. The dumbing down of America equates to news of celebrity, plastic surgery, and finding "good deals" on crap that nobody needs. I think I'll grab a good book and go back into my cave.

      Friday, November 23, 2007

      I Will Shop No More Forever Or The Battle For the Plain White Plate


      Upon returning from New York, I was a little busy. First up: the dreaded first-day-back-from-vacation at work, which turned into the dreaded first THREE days back. I had to attend two after-hours events, on top of dealing with jet lag and very little sleep. The weekend was no respite, but was spent in mad “company and Thanksgiving dinner prep” mode. I spent a day cleaning the house, an evening schlepping the food, a few hours finding and washing the china and crystal, and a RIDICULOUSLY. LONG. MORNING. SHOPPING. FOR. SIX. PLATES.

      We needed a few plates to supplement our china-for-eight, since we were having twelve for dinner and had finally pitched our old, tired, not-even-good-enough-for-goodwill dishes. First stop: Target. Had a long list of necessary household items to buy, and wanted to try out the cute Method mop thingie (that ultimately disappointed), so after visiting our rug dealer, we headed up to the Tar-Jay. Got everything on the list, except the plates: all of their basic white casual dinnerware was completely cleaned out. Big surprise.

      Next stop: Pier One. Right around the corner from Target. I remembered P1 having a decent selection of dishes. I remembered incorrectly. Candles? Check. Martini glasses? Yup. Crap for your walls? Tons. Dishes to eat off of? Not so much. D. and I found a plain white dinner plate that was acceptable, stacked six or so up in a pile, and discovered inconsistent, uneven edges that you could see a mile away. More waves than a tsunami. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Forgetaboutit.

      Third stop: Macy’s home store. On their “biggest sale of the year” day. Semi-huge mistake. Found some simple, elegant and nicely made (i.e., consistent) dinner plates, salad plates, and humongous cereal bowls. We got the last six dinner plates they had in the store. Whew! Somehow, we were able to hold all of our new dishes in our four arms and headed for the checkout line. We chose the wrong line, as we always do, and stood in it for thirty-five minutes while my hands turned numb.

      Did you know that at Macy’s, the checkout person (ours was the slowest in the history of the planet) has to put a dumb little sticker on each and every item that you purchase? Did you know that they take approximately fifteen seconds for each item? We had eighteen, and by the time he stuck the fifth label and slowly scanned five plates, we had been in line for forty-five minutes. We grabbed his stickers and started sticking the rest of the plates and bowls ourselves. Finally he finished ringing us up. Luckily, someone else wrapped them, or we would still be there, and our guests would have had nothing to eat for Thanksgiving.

      The nice wrapping person then offered to carry them to the parcel pick-up door so we could avoid carrying eighty-five pounds of dinnerware through the mall to our car. Unfortunately, she fell on the way and smashed one dinner plate to bits. Various Macy’s staff people spent about twenty minutes checking over each plate and searching for one to replace the broken one. There was no other such plate in the store. Now we have six bowls, six salad plates, and five dinner plates.

      Figured I’d order the remaining plate on line. Nope. They don’t carry that particular one. Just in the store. Fine. I ordered six additional plates of a similar style so I could have six that matched. Oy! I am staying out of stores for the next six weeks. I cannot handle it, and I don’t have the time to waste just to buy more crap!!

      Thursday, November 22, 2007

      I'm Thankful

      I am thankful for my family.

      I am thankful for my friends.

      I am thankful for my adorable, wonderful husband.

      I am thankful for my adorable, wonderful animals.

      I am thankful for my good health and for the good health of my family, friends, husband, and animals.

      I am thankful that we will have a new president in a little over a year.

      I am thankful that I have two gorgeous new/old rugs on my floors.

      Wednesday, November 21, 2007

      No Method Mopping for Me


      Ok, I admit it. I’m a clever-marketing sucker. I adore great design, smart packaging, and clever advertising. I am a fan of any good idea that I wish I’d thought of.

      Enter the Method line of soaps, household cleaners, gels, sprays, candles, scent sticks, air fresheners, and on and on. So, they should have probably stopped with the new lines of products several products ago (hello? Seasonal scented hand soap? Give me a break.), but I was still willing to buy their stuff because it’s cute and safe for me and not tested on animals which is the MOST important aspect of anything I buy.

      Take their floor cleaning system, for instance. I am not a fan of the traditional mop, and I’ve tried every type ever made: classic cotton mop-head mops, twisty stripey fabric mops, the dreaded sponge mop—you name it, I have purchased it, hated it, and thrown it away. Except for the Swiffer Wet Jet, a dumb name for what I judged as a wasteful product. I’m not into the disposable thing.

      The Method O mop looked like it made so much more sense: one mop handle, plus compostable (huge bonus) dusting wipes for my endless animal-hair-covered wood floors, and a micro-fiber cleaning mop that velcroes in place and is washable and reusable. Voila! I happily placed the little kit in my cart and couldn’t wait to use it. I’m a cleaning dork like that.

      Well, the Method guys have disappointed me for the first time. Suck me in if you will, but you MUST give me a quality product that works, or your clever marketing is just that and I will lose all respect for you.

      The dust clothes work just fine, and the fact that I’m disposing them in my compost pile makes me feel all righteous and stuff. But the moppy thing is for the birds. (Hmm. Strange saying, that.) Pushes forward ok, as a mop should, but when you pull it back toward yourself, the whole head flips over and gets stuck. It is impossible—at least for me—to mop with this product in a normal back-and-forth motion.

      Sigh. When will my search for mopping perfection ever end? Must I invent it myself? And what would that look like? Someone mopping my floors while I write novels, that’s what.

      Tuesday, November 20, 2007

      Six Pounds of Butter


      Imagine six packages of butter. Bulky, yellow, squishy, fatty, mushy globs of slick, shiny butter. Imagine it all balled up in, well, a ball. Imagine that ball attached to your back, or your ass, or your thighs.

      Since I started doing Boot Camp, I have lost that six pound ball. Of butter. Of fat. Of flour. Of rice. Of beer. Of wine. Of those little Kashi TLC crackers that I adore so very much.

      Six pounds, ladies and gentlemen. I did not diet. I never thought that I overate all that much anyway (hello? Denial? Yes, Claire B calling). But I am more aware of what I eat without the self-loathing that might, just might, have led to an overdrinking/munching episode or twelve.

      Now, in Phase Deux of BC, I am doing so much better! I can do just about all the reps without wanting to turn and run from the room. I did four hundred jumping jacks and a jazillion lunges and squats on Monday (aptly named "Legs" day) and I did not fall down weeping. I feel it today, mind you. But I am just fine. I can help myself up from a seated position and everything, which was not the case during Boot Camp Round One.

      It's exciting and satisfying and it is really HUGE for me. To see and feel changes in my body as a direct result of working hard and feeling pain and not quitting--it's a big deal and I'm proud of myself.

      To see the scale move down was an unexpected bonus. I guess I had psyched myself into not hoping for that. Funny how a lifetime of battling weight will do that to a person.

      Gotta keep on moving, keep on pushin', as Professor Klump would say. Now is NOT the time to stop--no way. Can't wait for tomorrow's session.

      Monday, November 19, 2007

      Short Days, Long Nights


      As much as I love summer in the Pacific Northwest, I relish this time of year, when I feel the real beauty in the change of seasons. Not the colors, but rather the quiet.

      In the park, hoards of screaming kids have been replaced with a dog or two and their humans.

      The brilliant hot pinks, purples and oranges of our daily sunset have turned to a warm golden glow filtered through a hundred hues of gray.

      The days seem longer to me—or rather, the evenings do . . . and since that’s my time at home, it makes the whole day seem longer and much more relaxed.

      It’s dark so early now. Looking at the clock, I catch myself being surprised at how much evening is left. I would sometimes feel dread in August (“Oh god, it’s time for bed already, which means I have to go to work AGAIN.”), but I smile in November (“Wow, it’s only 7:15? I have almost three hours left in my day! Yay!”).

      A slowness, a relaxation, a stillness settles over the house. We’re not running, running, packing as much as we can into our long, perfect summer days before they’re gone. As the long fall and winter stretches before us, we have no choice but to hunker down, settle in, and enjoy.

      I really love this time of year.

      Sunday, November 18, 2007

      I feel like the PB&J


      I feel like a sandwich. Not eating one, but being one. On one side of me are the self-induced pressures of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo at the clip of 1700 words a day, plus participating in NaBloPoMo, with the requirement to post every day to this blog (thank god I only have one). On the other side is Thanksgiving looming before me. I’m hosting, as usual, and there will be twelve people at my house.

      On the writing: I was out of town for six days, over last weekend, and accomplished some—but not enough—writing. I got to know my characters better, and figured out some scenarios that could work for the Big Secret they share.

      This is good, for when writing a novel from scratch, i.e., when you pop open the laptop and start Word and a blank page stares you down and you then begin writing a story with characters you do not know and a town you have not named and a plot that is yet uninteresting, you have a huge challenge before you—one that is the most inspiring freedom you can experience. I think that’s the Whole Idea behind NaNoWriMo—have fun, be inspired, be overwhelmed with possibility, be scared that you cannot do it, and do it anyway. How very cool.

      As for Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I don’t have to cook a turkey, which is going to happen about the same time I become a size 2 and give up beer and wine. I do let it into my house, however, but only because I don’t want to be the Thanksgiving Witch. I’d rather have a meatless day—it is my house, after all, but I want my friends and family to be happy, too.

      I do have about one hundred and fifty other things on my list, from cleaning the house and shopping for groceries to finding the china and figuring out how to get twelve people around my table.

      I’m feeling a little squished, but it will be fine. It will all work out. We’ll have plenty of good visiting and conversation and lots of food to eat. But not PB&Js.

      Saturday, November 17, 2007

      Falling Into Winter


      We live across the street from a beautiful park, full of huge trees and flowering shrubs of all sorts. Since we moved here this past spring, we’ve observed them all in their seasonal glory: light green leaves, white blooms, red berries, orange foliage.

      We went away for a few days, and the brownish-orange leaves were still hanging to the grandest of the trees, perfectly framed in the high leaded-glass window over the piano.

      A major windstorm hit while we were in New York. All the leaves are gone.

      And the sky is grey.

      And that’s the way it will stay until the spring.

      A lovely, sleepy intensity lives in the tree branches and the prickly bushes lining the park. The playground waits, too, like a big fish at the ocean floor, watching unmoving until something comes along and it wakes it, suddenly alert and at the ready. An occasional dog roams by, sniffing the base of the monkey bars. The playground waits for the hardy children who are allowed out in the cold.

      Soon the big tree's branches will lie under snow and we’ll gaze from the window seats, coffee mugs in hand, appreciating the warmth of the fire.

      Friday, November 16, 2007

      An Education, Interrupted


      I read my parents’ engagement announcement for the very first time last week. It said he was going to be entering college in January; they were going to live on the lake.

      “What happened?” I said to Dad, “Why didn’t you go?” I knew he had given up a football scholarship to Pitt in favor of joining the Marines, an offensive move in itself, as he did not want to be drafted into the Army, for god’s sake.

      But when he returned from the war, and after they married, he had intended to go to college. And then my grandfather bought a grocery store and dad was in business. And that ended his college plans.

      I can’t help but wonder what all of our lives would have been like. Would he have been an accountant? Would thier lives have been easier? Would they have been happier? Would they have had all of us kids?

      That last one is the only question I can answer.

      Thursday, November 15, 2007

      Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad


      Today is their 60th wedding anniversary. He was just over twenty years old; she, almost twenty-two: like all her daughters to come, she married a younger man.

      They were gorgeous. He looked a lot like Bill Clinton, only much better looking. He stood very tall, with the straight back of a US Marine. She looked very Irish, with her dark hair and blue eyes; fair skin and trim figure.

      On that day, they looked really happy. They look as happy 60 years later. They are best friends, have the admiration and respect of all of their children, grandchildren, the community, and scores of their children’s friends. They receive letters from people whose lives they’ve touched in their subtle, steady, loving way.

      They are deeply religious, but not judgmental. They took care of my grandmother into her nineties. They take care of each other. They worry about their kids and grandkids without prying into their lives. They are proud of us for whatever we have accomplished.

      They truly gave us roots and wings, as they saying goes. Roots grounded in decent behavior toward others, belief in human rights, and a real work ethic. Wings that allow us to be who we are and to live our lives as individuals, responsible for ourselves and to our communities.

      They are loved. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

      Wednesday, November 14, 2007

      Three Hours In Detroit


      On our way home from NY, we had a too-long layover in Detroit. "We get to eat!" said D.

      "Yippee!" said I.

      Our vegetarian selves walked the length, the breadth, the width of the C and A concourses (is that the plural form? Should it be concoursi?) in search of sustenance.

      What did we find?

      Fuddruckers. Certainly they have a veggie burger. Puh-leeze, lady. Whaddryou thinkin? Ok, well screw YOU Fuddrucker's! Motherfudders! Excuse me while I post a complaint on their website. . .

      The Mediterranean Grill? Like hummus, eggplant, basil, squash and crusty bread Mediterranean? Uh, no. Grillin' up some chickin' and some beef, they were.

      Oh--I know, the Mexican place! A veg head's dream!? Beans, rice, tortillas, si? NO!!! I was astounded to see NOT ONE item on the menu except for the Beef or Chicken Quesadilla*. No thanks, but I did enjoy a crappy margarita for 8 bucks. I needed it to calm myself down a bit! This place didn't have a single vegetarian selection, I kid you not. Thanks Diego's you shithead airport restaurant. Although your staff persons were quite pleasant and nice.

      *can be ordered with just cheese


      Ok, then, how about the fancy Grey Goose martini bar? Surely I'll find a salad? A sandwich? C'MON! What RU thinkin? Twelve paninis and five salads on the menu and NOT ONE was without meat. Not one! Could they handle the concept of a veggie panini like the rest of the free world does on a daily basis? Do they KNOW the definition of salad for godssake? Apparently not.

      We sat down anyway. I ordered the cheese plate and was handed the hugest pile of chopped up cheese I have ever set eyes upon. And those Pepperidge Farm fancy crackers that I haven't purchased in ten years, although I don't know why. . . I'm probably too organically snobby for PF these days.

      D gave up and ordered a turkey gouda panini. Told you he wasn't a vegetarian anymore.

      I don't expect ten vegetarian restaurants to every one "normal" restaurant--in an airport or anywhere. And I know I am completely and totally spoiled by living where I live, knowing I can add tofu and tempeh to anything on the menu that doesn't feature it as the main attraction of the dish.

      But I do expect a few effin' options in a freakin' international airport. It was disgusting, really.

      I had to walk up and down the concourse to get the cheese ball moving through my system before I boarded the plane. Good thing we had three hours. And no, I did not make my seatmates suffer.

      Next time I fly through Detroit, I'm boycotting the entire food-court-gossip-magazine-crap-from-China thing and keeping my wallet in my bag. That'll teach 'em.

      Tuesday, November 13, 2007

      Things That Spell Thirteen

      T is for Travel, which I love and don't get to do often enough

      H is for Hussy, which I have been described as and have no problem with

      I is for Irish, which I am fortunate to be, thoroughly and completely: the sappy, emotional "I love mum" crying part as well as the happy "hey let's have another Guinness" part

      R is for Righteous Babe, which I like to think of myself as, for sure

      T is for Talent, which for me is writing and I'm finally embracing the concept without feeling like a bad, bragging girl

      E is for Elizabeth, who is my grandmother, even though she's been gone for nine years--she's still my grandmother

      E is for Elizabeth again, which is my middle name, after her

      N is for Nice, which very few people have EVER accused me of being--which is fine by me

      Monday, November 12, 2007

      The Stupidist Thing I've Seen All Day!


      Here it is, folks.

      Gosh, thanks, Dr. Cliff Pickover (oh, I am so tempted), thank you SO much for teaching me the difference between men and women. I really needed it simplified and making it into this wacky dials-and-knobby-thingies graphic REALLY helped me.

      I decided to Stumble and write about whatever came up.

      Why did this come up?

      What did I tell them about myself that generated this pathetic website?

      I'm shuddering over here. I can't even write about it.

      Sunday, November 11, 2007

      Miscellaneous Fun Stuff


      There's this guy named Jimmy Knox. Jimmy has a sister Marquita, and he lives on Juanita (that's a lake). She cuts hair. He makes it into rugs (the hairpieces, not the ones you walk upon). You can't make this stuff up.
      ___________________________________

      My dad was telling me about a guy he used to know, named Sammy. Everyone called him Sammy the Shoe Man (guess what he did for a living?). My dad said, "He had sole." Har har! "When he met you, he would shake your hand, but he wouldn't look into your eyes--because he was looking at your shoes."
      ___________________________________

      My niece is six and has a very sharp wit (in addition to being completely adorable--oh, yeah, she has it all). One morning, she looked at her mom, who was in her usual morning-running-around attire. With one hand on her hip, and the other using a baby carrot for emphasis, she looked at her mom and said, "Mom, I've just about had it with those pilates pants."

      Saturday, November 10, 2007

      Dogs Who Walk Themselves and Other Hometown Stories


      Sitting in one of our favorite pubs last week, I turned my gaze from my table mates when I spotted two dogs strolling down the sidewalk. Apparently alone and walking side by side, their easy rambling way reminded me of two old friends. Two old men, perhaps, heading out for a drink or to meet their lady friends at a dance. Or maybe they were just getting in some much-needed exercise. No humans followed them. I’m still wondering about it.
      _________________________________
      Dogs are everywhere, including out on dates with their humans. One of my favorite summer nights out starts with a walk downtown to the best pizza place in town, where dogs are welcome on the deck and they can help themselves to the big water bowls. Afterward, we saunter over to a live-music pub where we try to choose from among the excellent beers on tap and where, again, dogs are welcome to hang with their people. Ours lay among the peanut shells and took a nap while we enjoyed beer, tunes, and friends.
      _________________________________
      I pass an elementary and a high school on my four-minute drive home from the gym. Every morning, I observe a simple act that many don’t have a chance to see anymore: kids walking and riding their bikes to school. At both schools, the bike racks and the sidewalks out front are full. I love watching the little backpacked boys and girls hurrying down the street, and I gauge my lateness by how fast they’re going—because we both need to be somewhere by 8:15.
      _________________________________
      What else do I love about my town? While it might not have been apparent in a previous post, I do love the political climate—because in our city’s recent mayoral race, we actually had to choose between two liberal progressives. Wow!

      Friday, November 9, 2007

      It's All Good


      I am a lucky woman. I come from a large family. We were all raised Catholic, and apart from our parents, none of us participate in the Catholic part any longer

      And that's okay.

      I am in upstate NY this weekend, celebrating my parents' 60th anniversary. Most of my siblings are here, along with lots of nieces and nephews. We are eating well, and drinking some really nice Pale Ale. We are yakking and laughing over old oft-told tales until our mouths hurt and sides ache.

      Somehow, we all get along really well. Somehow, we really love each other, despite our differences, which are few. Most of us are like-minded politcally, socially, intellectually. Many of us share a love of beer. We love our siblings' spouses and children. As one of my brothers would say "It's All Good." No matter what's going on, who's going through difficulties, and how our successes or failures stack up against each others', it's all good. And if you ask any of us, each would answer that the "somehow" that made the difference in our lives is our parents. They could not have done a better job raising all of us and the results are amazing.

      We're healthy, happy, and here. No one is ill. Our parents are vital, and still very much in love. They are best friends.

      We are incredibly lucky. And trying to hold onto it while we can. Someday, and who knows when, I won't be able to say that.

      Thursday, November 8, 2007

      What I hate about flying


      “Traveling today is not like it use be!” everyone complains. Long security lines, ridiculous regulations and surly TSA employees are just the start. Then you get crammed onto another full flight where you have less leg room than a first-grader’s desk. On my recent flight, there was no movie to ease the pain (thanks a lot, Northwest Airlines!) but you could enjoy the privilege of purchasing a box of crapfood for five bucks. Five hours later, and you’re on the other coast—which is less time than it will take for your poor legs to uncramp.

      All of this is the new reality that most of us have actually become accustomed to.

      None of this, however, is what I hate about flying.

      What I hate about flying is the smell. Two hundred fifty breathing, sweating, sloughing off skin-ing, belching and FARTING people crammed into a space designed for half that many with absolutely no escape. I don’t despise my fellow human except for when he (or she, but I think mostly he) is farting on me. Yes, ON me. The air is moving around my body and I am in the middle of it so the fart-filled molecules are falling on me and my clothes. I am breathing the fart-filled molecules into my nose—and I shudder to think of where they originated.

      Farting on the shuttle bus, farting in the security line, farting on the jetway, farting for three thousand miles at thirty five thousand miles up.

      It’s a good thing they’re not allowing passengers to light up anymore, or we’d all be blown to pieces.

      I hate flying. It’s the farting, my friend.

      Wednesday, November 7, 2007

      Real Progress


      Today was Day 1, Week 1, of Round 2 of Boot Camp. A new, improved version of Boot Camp for me. Again with the hundreds of lunges, jumping jacks, squats, over-arm claps, sadistic mountain climbers, and 8-count pushups.

      But today, AMAZINGLY and very surprisingly, I was able to do every effin' repetition of every effin' exercise as the uberfit (what is wrong with me today? I hate the fad of using "uber" to describe just about every single feeling, emotion, object, person, place and thing, which in itself negates the term) instructor barked them out to us. I did them all, not effortlessly, mind you, but without pain. WITHOUT pain. This is real progress.

      After class, I walked briskly to my car, easily lowered myself into the seat, and went about my drive home and the rest of my day without a thought of my burning muscles. I felt good. No, great.

      Compare this to my description of this same class eight weeks ago.

      I am making real progress. My body is adapting and getting stronger. And I'm thrilled about it. Now if it would only reward me by losing a few pounds, I'd be ecstatic. Not too much to ask, izzit??

      Tuesday, November 6, 2007

      You Want Me to Do How Many Push Ups?

      On the first day of Boot Camp, we measure our fitness levels, or yes, the obvious lack thereof, in five exercises: Push Ups (real ones--Boy Push Ups), Crunches, Squats, Knee Push Ups (I call them Girl Push Ups without shame) and Steps. This is my second round of Boot Camp, thus the second time I've established my base line of fitness.

      How did I perform? Do you care? Of course you do!

      Boy Push Ups: 21 in 1 minute (First round of Boot Camp I did 10)
      Crunches: 209 in 2 minutes (First round I did 80 or something)
      Squats: 104 in 2 minutes (First round I did 68 or something)
      Girl Push Ups: 41 in 2 minutes (First round, I think I did 18)
      Steps: 201 up, up, down, downs in 5 minutes. (First round, 163)

      We (the proverbial "we") are progressing nicely! I am certainly doing, feeling, performing much better than week one of round one. Baaaad memories. I can perform all of my daily hygiene by myself, without pain! Including brushing my teeth without needing to rest between upper and lower. I'll let you know where things shake out at the end of this thing, 8 weeks from now.

      Even more frightening is that I also have a baseline weight (aaaaccckk) and measurements for every available body part. Subjecting myself to that was quite unpleasant, but I want some results at the end of this--good, bad or just plain ugly. The next measurement happens in three weeks: oh, perfect--the peak of the holiday eating and drinking extravaganza. The thought of being weighed and measured will be enough to make me give up at least a couple of pints or the third glass of wine with dinner.

      And that will make all the difference. It will! It will!

      It's all I can do, get off me.

      Maybe, just maybe, I'll share the results. Bwah ha ha! Yeah, right.

      Monday, November 5, 2007

      Bring it On!


      If you read the blog lately, you may have determined that I'm a bit overscheduled at the moment.

      I am not under the illusion that busy equals happy. I do not believe that doing more in a day makes me a better person or even a good person. I used to do more for others (people, organizations) than for myself (and my family). I thought I was doing good things, but I was not happy and my husband was not happy and my animals were not happy. Turns out all of us needed more of me, even if that meant I was *just* sitting on the couch with a book (provides ample lap area for two needy felines).

      So, while I am currently juggling a few balls of various shapes, weights and materials, I'm feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good about it (props to Larry David on that one). Here are my haps:

      NaBloPoMo: writing every day. What could be better?

      NaNoWriMo: writing every day. Again . . . better? What?

      Boot Camp, Round 2: Hey, I wore a skirt Saturday night that I couldn't fit my ass into last winter. Damn straight I'm signing up for another 8 weeks of this magic disguised as torture.

      Starting a copywriting business on the side while running a business: getting paid to write. . . even better than just writing every day!

      This is what is not happening in my life:

      Making a big deal out of having twelve people for Thanksgiving: I'm over the "all must be perfect" stage of my life. I was driving myself and everyone around me nuts. We're just going to relax and enjoy, whether the house is immaculate or not.

      Volunteering for anything: Sorry, community, I need a break!

      Cleaning: The house is messier than it used to be. Get over it.

      Everything I'm doing is for ME! Yay! For Me! I'm giggling over here.

      Sunday, November 4, 2007

      I'm a NaBloPoMo ER Too


      Am I seriously deranged? Do I not have enough going on in my life? I'm writing close to 1700 words a day in my *new* novel for NaNoWriMo, (uh, what happened to the one I started a year ago??) and now I've taken a vow to post to my blog every day in November. Oh, what the hell.

      It's all about the writing. I want to write, don't I?

      So what if I have a trip planned to NY for six days, and then family visiting for Thanksgiving for five days, a business to run and Boot Camp to attend (I signed up for another eight week session despite my back, which is currently attached to a heating pad and my knee, which I hit with a dumbbell on Friday), movies to watch, books to read, a business to run, dinners to cook, a dog to feed, a business to run. . . something is going to be neglected. It will be interesting to see who or what it is.

      I hope it's the business, my least favorite activity of the lot.

      Who wants to work for a living when one could be reading, writing, taking the dog for long walks and hikes, doing yoga, learning to sail, making fabulous meals, keeping the house clean, watching movies? Work sucks! Let's blog instead!

      I have a list of things to blog about, something I didn't expect to need to do, but I can't remember shit, so writing the thoughts down as they arrive in the sad brain is helping.

      So what the hell, why not? Let's write this beeeyotch!

      Saturday, November 3, 2007

      So, What's the Fuss?

      In my town, as all across this great (ahem) land of ours, citizens will be marching to the polls on Tuesday. My marching shall take place at the kitchen table, as I fill out my ballot with a sharpie and put it in the secret envelope. Must be careful to place it in the pre-wrapper before the outside wrapper to prevent ANYBODY SEEING MY VOTE.

      Frankly, I could give a rat's behind who knows where my loyalty lies. Frankly, I find it difficult to become riled up, as it were, over the local races. And don't get me started on the presidential race. I cannot believe we've had a summer of debates already. I am sick of it all already.

      Back to the locals. . . I have observed that hundreds, no! thousands! of my friends and neighbors are putting much energy into who becomes our next mayor. Our next mayor! Like, when did that become a great, big, huge, hairy deal? Apparently I missed something in my move from major east coast metropolitan area to little small west coast sleepy town. People here care about who's running the show. They care deeply. They volunteer to be campaign managers. They write position papers. They design websites. They throw house parties. They doorbell on Saturdays. They do phone tree calling on Sundays. They write letters to the editor.

      Call me crazy, or just lazy, but I haven't been able to get lathered up about this race. I have a sign in the window of my business. I am an "official" supporter of one of the candidates because I went on his website and put my name there. But that's it. No doorbelling, no partying, no campaigning. It all makes me feel a little funny inside, anyway. Why do people support a candidate so strongly? What's in it for them? What kind of power do they feel around this political circus?

      A friend of ours called the other day and left an urgent message for us. I returned his call, thinking he needed something important from us and when I reached him, he asked if we would make one hundred phone calls for "our" candidate. "They'll give you a script and a list of numbers," he said. "R U KIDDING?," I wanted to shout. I work fifty hours a week, do boot camp three hours a week, volunteer for a women's networking group several house a week, have a house and a yard and a bunch of animals and a husband and laundry, dinners, dishes, grocery shopping, and blogging to do plus did you know that I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month AND National Blogging Month? Over Achievers Anonymous, I hear you calling. . .

      Um, my November is a little busy. I'm sure our guy will make it through without my help. And if he doesn't? Oh, well.

      If only we could just vote for Oh, the Joys' little Mayor and get it over with. But sadly he is not running here.

      Friday, November 2, 2007

      Writing: My New Obsession


      Remember those Calvin Klein Obsession commercials from the 80's? My new obsession has nothing to do with sex or bodies writhing on the page. It is the words that are moving around on the screen that is my page. Words connecting, overlapping, touching--like bodies, like sex. Creating new life. Making something real out of nothing.

      I'm continuing on my novel writing project. It is Day Two and I'm creating characters, scenes, dialogue from nothing. I have vague ideas about who these women are, whom they love, what their lives look like. I think there is a secret that will be the undoing of one of them. I'm interested to see who that will be and what it will look like.

      Maybe you'll see it someday, too.