Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dogs, Desserts, and Further Disposition of Thanksgiving Leftovers

I walked dogs this morning. Two and a half hours of trudging off leftovers was one of the most fabulous ways I could have spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I'm not really a small dog person. The smallest dog I've ever owned was a 35-lb. terrier mix named Lulu, but at the Humane Society, in order to be kind to my back and shoulders, I walk mostly chihuahua mixes. If I could have a dog in my life right now, I would be making plans to adopt a 5-month-old brown chihuahua mix that has black markings like a German Shepherd. He's larger than most of the chis, and looks like a miniature version of my shepherd-collie mix, Lola, who died last year. Before she turned white in the face, her markings were dark. Never in a million years would I have ever thought I'd be interested in a tiny dog.

The leftover project is proceeding quite well. Cabbage and mashed potato soup was not made today, but a 41-page application for the 1st MFA program on my list was. C's husband who is here with her visiting made her some gnocchi out of the mashed potatoes. Tomorrow he will make a pot pie and use up the last of the dark meat turkey, the gravy, and the mashed potatoes that remain. I have just taken leftover sweet potato custard out of the oven.

And here's a dog named Sweet Potato.

I feel Christmas melancholy nibbling at the edges. It's a precarious time for me. Desserts and dogs might keep it at bay.
Oh! This guy has been adopted!

Four Day Carnival of the Carnivorous in the Ever-Expanding Universe

There's still a ziplock of turkey in my fridge, but I've chosen sunset as the time that I will turn back into a pumpkin-eater. I've thoroughly enjoyed my foray into the land of meat-eating, and now I'm done. All Thanksgiving leftovers--meat or otherwise-- that have not been consumed by this evening will be frozen or turned into something so tempting (sweet potato custard, cabbage & potato soup made with leftover mashed potatoes) that I predict they will be done away with by bedtime.

I consider myself an amoral vegetarian. I don't object to eating animals, but it seems to me that it's easier to keep weight off as a vegetarian who also goes easy on cheese and bread and sweets. And I no longer go into full-on hypochondriac mode when I read about the most recent batch of e-coli contaminated ground beef or lunch meat. I eat tons of vegetables because that's what vegetarians do, and I hope that will make up for the first two decades of my life when ketchup, butter-slathered corn on the cob, and an occasional salad garnished with bacon were my only concessions to edible plants. I lived on steak, ice cream, and homemade desserts then. I ate chips or french fries every day. Nearly every high school lunch was a half-pint of chocolate milk and a Hostess Snowball. In college I switched to Heath Bars and Cokes. If I were a horse, the condition of my teeth alone would send me to the glue factory. Thank god for modern dentistry. And my dentist probably thanks god for patients like me.

I saved a lot of money eating out of vending machines instead of paying for cafeteria meal plans. And oddly enough, going vegetarian is pretty cheap, too--but I didn't know that when I was 15 or 20. I'm not even sure I knew there was such a thing as a vegetarian. When I was 13 I met a boy who told me he was an agnostic. My whole world was Catholic then, and I had no idea what strange religion he was talking about. When he told me it meant that he didn't know if he believed there was a god, I was so perplexed that I wrote down what he said in my diary. I think I met my first vegetarian a decade later when one of my college friends joined a yoga "cult" and stopped eating meat.

Amazing how the world keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Bon Appétit!

Friday, November 25, 2011

One by one, they fell.

The day after Thanksgiving I sit with a bowl of turkey chili at my side. A nearly empty champagne glass. A heart full of wonder and love. Somewhere in the post-dessert (apple crisp, pumpkin pie, or ice box cake? Ice cream or whipped cream?)  stupor last evening, I turned 59. 

 I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of a party if my birthday hadn't fallen on Thanksgiving. As it was, I had family and friends to celebrate with me.

I count myself fortunate to be among the living. This month I lost both an old friend and a fellow writer that I'd taken a couple of workshops with. Both succumbed  to cancer. Both women were more than a decade younger.

Last evening's festivities tired me out, but I took note that I needed no painkillers as I often do after a day on my feet. I drank and ate as much as I desired with no ill effects, though I think I may have committed the faux pas of dropping off to sleep while the man who loves me was still talking. This morning I woke feeling like pie and ice cream for breakfast would be a fabulous idea. And it was. Cleaning up was a joy. The man who loves me is a clean-up-after-the-party machine. And my friend, S. slept over and pitched in, too.

I am 59, and fortunate in friendship, family, and love. I am fabulously lucky.

The Stuffing Wars

I am an unreliable cook. That onion looks like it would be about 1 cup. Those ribs of celery are probably more than a cup, but why wrap up a half-rib of celery? Just throw it in. I substitute ingredients. I use up leftovers. I become enamored of a certain flavor or spice and throw it in. So goes my stuffing. One year, I think people actually got a buzz from the stuffing. A little Grand Marnier sounded like a good thing. A lot of Grand Marnier sounded even better. Oops. The recipe I usually work from is the first one listed under stuffings and forecemeat in an old Joy of Cooking I've had for decades.

There are lots of optional ingredients and choices. I always use garlic, onion, celery, and lots of fresh parsley. This year the nut of choice was pine nuts, which I toasted first.

An absolute essential is the apple sausage from Taylor's Old Fashioned Meats in Sierra Madre. As for the  bread, I've used fancy bakery bread, croutons from supermarket bakery, Trader Joe's boxed stuffing mix (once) --these boxed things are always weirdly seasoned, in my opinion. For a couple of years, I used La Brea Bakery olive bread. This year we went gluten free, rather than make a special version of the stuffing for my daughter who cannot eat gluten. I used Whole Foods white gluten-free sandwich bread, drying it out for several hours on the kitchen counter. After adding a liberal amount of chicken broth, it was perfect. I had to cook it on the grill because the oven was stuffed with turkey and almost burned the bottom. When I warned my guests that they might not want to scoop too deeply into the pan, there was a chorus of, "Oh, I love the crusty burned part!" I guess I'll always make the stuffing on the grill from now on. It just might have been the best stuffing ever.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Old and Older

I was really struck by a couple of blog posts recently--one by  a woman I read regularly but have never met and another by someone I see occasionally in person. They've both written about the A-word. Aging. 
I will turn 59 while stuffing myself with turkey and pie which seems like adding insult to insult, but who knows, maybe I can channel the whole deal into some kind of feast of abandon.

I feel like I've had good role models in the arena of getting older. My grandmother was round and silver-haired with gleaming dark eyes, but she grew up on a farm, and for years lived without plumbing or electricity in a log cabin that my grandfather restored. Plucking one's eyebrows and contemplating crows feet by kerosene lantern? I doubt it. She raised seven kids, chickens, and goats, and a garden. I don't think she had time to worry about aging. I'd bet in that time and place women thought far less about such things.

My mother lived in Baltimore in the 1940s. She was a glamorous beauty then, but eventually moved back to small-town Iowa and married my dad. My dad was 26 years older than she was. No wonder she always seemed so confident. You're always the young babe if your husband is old enough to be your father. Still, we had no money for babe-e-licious things. When I made my First Communion and she made a rare appearance at the church, she wore the decade-old suit she'd been married in. She didn't die her hair, and as far as I know, has never had a professional manicure, pedicure, eyebrow arching, waxing, or anything else. She looks pretty darn good for a woman of 87 who's had cancer and has nearly died a half-dozen times. She looks right.

And here I am. Gray and a bit plump, looking my age. Which in the land of botox and boob jobs, means I look at least a decade older than other women my age. I'd be lying if I said it didn't piss me off a little. The bratty little girl inside me wants to whine, "Not fair," but I could go get dyed and highlighted, injected and tucked just like everyone else if I wanted to. I just don't want to. I feel the same way about all that primping that I feel about bacon: I've had my share. I'm a vegetarian now, and other than haircuts every couple of months, and my monthly pedicure, I'm done with it.  Of course in my perfect world, all divorce settlements would include an ample stipend for stretch mark removal. And who knows, maybe I'll wake up one morning, look in the mirror completely horrified and start dialing dermatologists. Maybe. But maybe not. When your husband leaves you for a woman who's twenty years younger, you pretty much have to accept yourself for what you are: I'm 59. I'm having one hell of an amazing time, and I'm alive.

But I should probably use a little more mousse in my hair, don't you think?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm a Little Creeped Out Right Now

For the purposes of dividing The Someone's retirement plan between him and me, I am what is known as "The Alternate Payee."

Here is the change in that division that has been recently suggested by The Someone's Retirement Plan folks: If Alternate Payee dies before she commences benefits, in accordance with the Plan's QDRO policy, no benefits are available to her or her estate. 

Here is how it read originally: If Alternate Payee dies before full payment to Alternate Payee has been made, the amount unpaid shall be made to Alternate Payee's designated beneficiary, or if none then to Alternate Payee's estate.


My wise ex-mother-in-law would say something like, "Well, if you die, all of that will be someone else's problem."


The man who loves me would probably tell me once again the story of
"The Appointment in Samarra" 
Here's a version I found on the internet:
(as retold by W. Somerset Maugham [1933])

The speaker is Death
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

Still. I'm feeling a tad bit paralyzed here.

photo credit:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Clothes on Our Backs

I've been thinking about clothes. Dreaming about dresses, shirts, skirts and pants. Shoes with mates, and without. Boots, tall and short. Sandals, socks, scarves, shawls. All of these things were in my head when I woke at 3:30 this morning. When I was a waitress, I served Surf 'n Turf all night long. Now that I've been volunteering to sort donations at The Downtown Women's Center, mountains of clothing rise taller and taller until I open my eyes to verify that I am in my bed--and not about to be buried beneath an avalanche of clothes.

When sorting through the donations received by the DWC, it's easy to figure out, sometimes, that two or three Hefty bags have come from the same person. Did that person die, I wonder--or is this just the result of a closet-cleaning extravaganza--and is there twice as much that she's kept? I have a childhood memory of an old man on our front porch calling, "Rags, rags," but maybe it's a scene from a fairy tale. One thing I know for sure, there wasn't much wear left in anything by the time it was removed from its drawer or hanger. Things didn't go to Goodwill or any other charity. They went to a cousin if they had any life at all left in them, and if not, they were cut up for doll clothes or dust rags--or perhaps given to my possibly mythical rag man.

My daughter C. is a sailor. She works on historic tall ships, moving from boat to boat with no permanent address. She travels with a sea bag and often has only one hook and a drawer or two to stow her belongings while she is at sea. Her regular clothes live on dry land at my place. A half-dozen shirts, five skirts, five dresses, three jackets, three sweaters, a coat, a couple pairs of pants, and a surprising 15 pairs of shoes which may not include her steel-toed work boots. There are a few pieces of jewelry too, some scarves, a short stack of work clothes, and the accessories of her trade--knives and a marlin spike. A tool box. There's a second tool box of make-up and grooming products. Some bulky foul weather sailing gear. But I'd wager that, with her top-notch packing skills, everything mentioned above could fit into the trunk of her car.

My clothes would not fit into my car. My rule about clothes is that they have to fit in my closet--and I finagle that a bit. I have a modern double-sliding-door closet with an organizer system, not a closet like the one in the house I grew up in, which probably would have held a third of what I currently call my wardrobe. Isn't it weird that we have so much clothing in an era when, for most of us, washing them has become so simple? I have vague memories of my grandma or my aunt or someone doing the wash on an old hand-wringer machine. It would have been great to have some extra outfits in those days because washing them and hanging them on the line to dry required actual participation.

In 1973 I worked as an au pair in Paris. Monsieur was a doctor, and Madame was a med student. They and their darling seven-month-old daughter lived in a beautiful old building a couple of blocks from Parc Monceau. They had a nice car and a summer house on the beach in Montpelier. Their flat was comfortably furnished, but they had almost no clothes. Madame wore the same outfit to her classes nearly every day--red overalls in a thin velvet-soft fabric than she accessorized in a variety of ways. A navy t-shirt, a white man-tailored shirt, scarves, a little jacket. Monsieur had a couple of suits, a half-dozen shirts. His white t-shirts, worn as underwear shirts, were so much nicer than the Fruit of the Loom I was familiar with, that, I confess,  I pilfered one when I left my job to travel with friends. I wore it for a decade or more.

When did quantity win the fist fight with quality?

And if one would have the misfortune to be buried by an avalanche of clothes--from my own closet or elsewhere, it would be possible to dig out, right?

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's coming for me

I heard water running this morning, and in the recognition of that moment, I simultaneously realized that I'd been hearing water running too long. I have a history with water. This time it was my powder room toilet. Pulling the heavy porcelain lid off the tank, I saw the water was well above the water line etched inside. In fact the water was just an inch or so from overflowing. I jiggled the handle. No effect. I flushed. The same scenario unfolded again. I flushed once more. This time the water stopped, and I laid an "out of order" note on the lid.

The plumber left a couple of hours ago after installing all new "innards" in the toilet tank and a new shut-off valve. My refrigerator has been giving me trouble, too. The in-door water dispenser goes rogue once in a while. You fill a glass or a water bottle and come back to find a pool on the kitchen floor. It's been a long time since I trusted my appliances. They're like wild teenagers waiting for me to leave so they can throw a kegger. I try to outwit them by only using them when I'm home, one ear cocked for misbehavior. But they're devious and don't respond well to correction either. The repairman has been here three times for the fridge, but by the time he arrives, the dripping has stopped. The toilet in my bathroom has a handle that has been repaired twice that still gets stuck every few weeks or so--usually in the middle of the night--so that I leap up in a panic, certain that my feet will land in water.

Last night the farmer who farms the land I own in Nebraska called to tell me that the dam in the crick (that's how we say it in the Midwest) is being undermined by the rushing water. I will have to spend five hundred dollars to fix it--or let the water gnaw away at the land.

The first house I remember, where I lived between the ages of one and five, had a front door that faced the Mississippi River. I lived for five years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and still go there regularly to visit. I've wanted to live by the ocean ever since I heard my first Beach Boys song. Water, are you listening?  I love you. Really. You had me at the first burble or lap or crash.

The river of grief that was my divorce is narrowing. Filling up with silt. Being squeezed to a trickle. But still there are issues (scroll way down the sidebar to the timeline.) I'm going to say that when everything is resolved--all of the last annoying drips of detail--that my water problems will dry up and reveal sheer beauty.

And, Water, just so you know, you're where my ashes will go when I die.

Photo credit for the photo of me: The Awesome Amazing Unparalleled Luminous Katie Jo Emanuel Heller Le'Rawk Mattson

Lovers and Strangers

I'm always moved by thoughtfulness. The sweetness of a lover who stands in my doorway with tulips cradled in the crook of his arm.

The stranger who motions from the sidewalk to tell me my trunk isn't latched.

Claims Evaluator #89 from the State Controller's Office.

Weeks ago I got a notice from the State of California informing me I had unclaimed property that had been left in a safe deposit box. It seemed like more than one lifetime ago that a certain someone and I had placed those keepsakes there for safekeeping. Our apartment was in a neighborhood that had a lot of drama. Hookers periodically stood on our corner resulting in a parade of prowling cars. There were "interesting" neighborhood characters, one who literally howled at the moon, a bank robber who demanded that I get out of his way before he leaped over our back fence with a gun and a bag of money. One neighbor's TV was stolen, and another neighbor was surprised by an attacker who crawled through her window while she slept. A member of the LAPD SWAT team used our Honda Civic as cover the night the house across the street was under siege. It's no wonder two young people accustomed to the gentler ways of the countryside chose a bank that offered a free safe deposit box.

We had a shoe box of things the day the clerk first led us through the dark-paneled rail and into the vault. Our renter's insurance policy, my great aunt's garnet necklace, and some silver coins given to me by my father and grandfather were all trusted to the locked drawer inside the locked vault behind the polished wood barrier. But I tired of going to the bank as I began to want the necklace more frequently around the same time that we bought our first house in a different neighborhood. The coins, the paperwork, and a bag of polished agates given to me by my favorite uncle were left there to re-enter my memory from time to time, but never took up residence long enough to force a drive across town in a schedule crammed with soccer practice, dance lessons, and school events.

Some years later we moved to a better house, and then an even bigger one. The bank moved, changed its name at least once, and moved again. I remember looking at the unusually long skinny keys when the certain someone and I moved into the house that would shelter the final years of our marriage. I may have recognized the keys, and thought about what I should do, but I don't really remember.

I wrote a letter when the State Controller's office contacted me, explaining that I was divorced now and that the contents of the box were valuable only to me. I filled out their form, had it notarized, sent  a copy of marriage license showing the name under which I had opened the bank account. I sent my social security card, an old driver's license dating from the era when I'd decided to take my husband's last name. I sent my current driver's license and my final degree of divorce showing my new name which is neither my maiden name nor my married name.

My claim was rejected. But not hopelessly so. They needed a signed property release form from The Someone, which was promptly signed and  returned to me after I sent it to him. But oops, I didn't read the pages of instructions with their if-thises and if-thats carefully enough. They needed a copy of his driver's license and his social security card. I dreaded asking him, but his secretary kindly scanned and emailed them to me, which I, in turn, faxed to the State Controller's Office on Saturday. Now, I thought, now the shiny bits of my past will come back to me. Would a sheriff knock on my door holding a small metal box?

No. Not yet. There was the original "claim affirmation" form that had already been signed by me, but not signed by The Someone. Claims Evaluator #89 called me on my cell phone this morning just as my battery was dying. "I don't know his number by heart," I said. "I'll have to call you back in a couple of hours after I get home." After I returned home with my phone attached to its car charger, I picked up a voicemail. There was she was, # 89, telling me that she wanted to help me, and she found The Someone's number on her own, and she called him, and faxed him the form. "You don't have to do anything," she said.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Might Need a Makeover

I did a volunteer shift at the Downtown Women's Center today. Instead of sorting donations like I did Tuesday (Dear person who decided to own a pair of Earth Shoes in every color and then changed your mind about Earth Shoes, thank you,) I began training to work in "Made," the coffee shop/boutique. I'm learning how to use the cash register and make espresso drinks on a coffee machine that's only slightly smaller than a Smart Car. The idea behind this training is that, eventually, I will be able to train some of the women who are currently homeless in the DWC's job training program.
And if my worst case scenario arrives, I will have a marketable skill or two.
Or maybe someday, I'll have a little coffee place of my own: Beach Beans.

At the end of my shift, I was asked to deposit a large bag of trash in the dumpster behind the center. I wrangled the monster bag out the door and through the parking lot gate, noticing that the massive pedestrian gates were already closed and locked. Hmmm. That's right, I thought, I'll bet the day center is closed today for the all-staff meeting. Then I heard a slight whirring and a clunk. The parking lot gates. Yup. There I was, not looking my sharpest with a head of hat-hair after my café shift (yes, the job requires a hat, but it's not paper and looks stylish on most people,) toting a large black trash bag. The staff person who bolted out the door asked me very politely, and almost tenderly, if she could help me, but I'm pretty sure she thought I was homeless.

Note to self: dress for success, and carry a comb and some hair product.

Photo note: The pictures above and below are from"Made" the DWC boutique and coffee café.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Going to the Dogs

I walked dogs today. It was clear and sunny. Not too hot, not too cold. The sort of November weather that people pull up stakes and move to California for.

If I had some snow, though, and a miniature sled, this energetic beautiful guy could pull it. He looks like a big sled dog in this photo, but since he weighs about nine pounds, the sled would have to be the size of a muffin pan. That said, he would be happy to trot anywhere with you and your muffins. I've been calling him "Mr Fluffy," but I think his name is Santiago.

Then there's this rather shy girl. She has the most lovely coloring. A brindled coat. I call her "Brinnie the Pooh," but her name is Almond.

They're at the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society--with a bunch of their friends.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Home again, Home again, splishity-splash

After driving a round-trip of 800-plus miles, enduring a deluge complete with hydro-planing, a brief dust storm, wind gusts that brought Oz to mind, road construction that squeezed a billion trucks and my tiny Prius into one lane, and, last but not least, a trucker who tried to render C. and me into roadkill, I am back in my own kitchen stuffing myself with some fabulous bread that the man who loves me brought over last night. I am drinking my home-made latté and still savoring how far beyond wonderful it is to visit family, come home and sleep in my own bed, and then wake to a man who has already enjoyed his morning coffee before he crawls back under the covers scented with that morning elixir  I crave at first consciousness.
C. is fond of saying "I love my life!" when joys, big or small, rise up in her daily goings-on. And that's where I am this morning. In my kitchen, loving my life as I type at my breakfast bar next to a newspaper clipping from the L.A. Times. A few weeks ago Edna St. Vincent Millay's famous poem, "God's World," was printed there, and I cut it out and laid it next to the phone where I knew I would run across it now and again.

O world, I cannot hold
 thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide
  grey skies!
Thy mists that roll and
Thy woods, autumn 
  day, that ache
  and sag
And all but cry with 
  colour! That gaunt
To crush! To lift the 
  lean of that black
World, World, I cannot 
  get thee close 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In which I resurface and return to the blogosphere

"Where are you and why are you neglecting your blog?" My friend Julie messaged me on Facebook days ago, and I had an answer, but it was the simple version of why I haven't been blogging.
I've been zipping around in several directions lately. In addition to my new commitments to the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society and the Downtown Women's Center, I've decided to apply to another MFA program in creative writing. I've also set myself on the path to selling my townhouse and moving north of Los Angeles to a house as close to the beach as possible. Both of these projects will involve a couple of years of effort. Thursday my daughter C.(the bride,)who is visiting, and I drove an hour up the coast and met with a real estate agent. The trip was not so much about looking at houses, even though we did that, as it was about looking at neighborhoods. So somehow, I may start grad school in the fall, temporarily move out of L.A., and then permanently move from the city that has been my home for most of my adult life.
But if I had harnessed enough of my focus to blog, I would have blogged about 2 things:

1) The state of disequalibrium I experienced while visiting the banks that continue to host the two joint checking accounts that still tie me to a certain person I am restrained from mentioning on this blog. I literally fell down in front of one of the banks after I learned that I cannot take my name off of these accounts. The accounts must be closed, and because the certain person continues to use them, he must do the closing after he sets up new auto-pays for his bills. Of course, I could do the closing if I were the sort of person who went around poking bears with sharp sticks.

2)El Dia de los Muertos
I am not a fan of Halloween. I never liked traipsing around the streets of L.A. with my children while feeling like a bad mother when they recoiled from some gory display on someone's front porch in order to receive things I didn't really want them to eat. But remembering our dead loved ones seems like a holy practice. Love, I'm convinced, moves from one world to the next.To celebrate this holiday, I did what I have done every year for the past decade--I went to the fabulous exhibit at the Folk Tree in Pasadena. The photo at the top of the post was taken there.