Friday, November 30, 2012

Pillville: The Quarterly Report

Background: My mom moved in with me near the end of August. As the first quarter of our first year of living together draws to a close, here are the numbers---

Medical and dental appointments including hearing aid adjustments, eye glasses, and lab work: Approximately 30.

Number of surgical procedures: 1

Number of trips to the pharmacy: Around 10

Number of days since she quit smoking: 30

Number of times I think she's secretly had a quick puff: Maybe a half-dozen. Maybe none at all.

Number of times we've marveled together at the birds who perch on our boat dock: Scores.

Number of nights I've cooked a "real" dinner: Approximately 115.

Number of nights I've spent with the man who loves me: Not enough.

Number of times I've regretted this change in my lifestyle: 0

Number of times I've fantasized about traveling to a faraway place: Dozens.

Number of contradictions in this post: Who's counting?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Insult of Azaleas

I was prepared for ruin. Prepared for flower beds obliterated by neglect. This is what I would find, I feared, and knew how to cushions the blows.

I drove C and her husband to The Someone's house this morning to spare them hours of circling through L.A.s inefficient labyrinth of suburban mass transit. I pulled to the curb in front of the house next door, my view of the house where I once lived blocked by its garage. If I kept my gaze close, fixed on the people I was hugging good-bye, I wouldn't see rose bushes turned feral or thirsty trees beseeching the sky.

But what caught me off guard were clouds of white azaleas spreading over the once tidy walls, pure beauty, bright and startling, insulting me with how they've thrived in my absence.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers Day 3: Eat it, freeze it, or toss it.

Saturday I made turkey chili--which was mostly devoured. The turkey carcass is already frozen for  soup at some point in the future when turkey sounds like something fresh and fabulous. The stuffing didn't make it past day two.

Last night I made shepherd's pie which consumed the leftover stir-fried vegetables, gravy, and most of the mashed potatoes. I added apple sausage. It was delicious. And some of the birthday dessert cranberries were turned into cranberry sauce. Also delicious. 

The leftover sweet potatoes were transformed into a sweet potato coconut tart with an almond crust.

Crazy, crazy good.

I hope to return to my vegetarian and fresh juice ways in a day or two.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanks EVERYONE--for the cards, emails, phone calls, singing voice mails, Facebook birthday wishes, flowers, gifts, dessert, champagne, phone messages, hugs, kisses, and all around sweetness!

Yup. That's exactly how I feel. Really.

Pretty, huh?

Notice a theme?

That's wine being poured into cranberries....

That's the cranberry stuff being spooned into homemade meringues made by my son-in-law.
At which point, I believe, the man who loves me clicked on a merengue instructional video on his iPad and began to dance with my mother.

The birthday dessert. Tart and sweet. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

We Gathered

And, of course, there was food, friends, and family.

And now that we live in Margaritaville, we inaugurated a new tradition of a Thanksgiving eve sunset trip to the beach before the longstanding practice of a super-easy dinner (pizza this year) followed by pumpkin custard.

But with the cranberry sauce already gone, my head is still digesting the conversation. There were plenty of things discussed. Family secrets, the landing of Curiosity on Mars. Classic movies, current movies, and James Bond movies. I think there was a weird joke or two about the Kardashians. And a long discussion of education in America, of the 60s assassinations, election fraud, and just about everything to do with the outcome of the recent election.

I had to do a little research this afternoon just to satisfy my whetted appetite. Here are some leftovers to chew on from The Atlantic Wire. Of course, maybe you already know all this--but I'll bet you're on your third piece of pumpkin pie right about now, so have some more of this, too. And there's more if you follow the link above. More! More pie! More!

Obama got 93 percent of black voters (representing 13 percent of the electorate), 71 percent of Latinos (representing 10 percent), and 60 percent of young voters. Thanks to the GOP's rape apologist caucus among other generally bad for women things, he also not too surprisingly won the female vote, getting 53 percent of women voters. But, other generalized groups of people went for the president that we wouldn't necessarily have expected to go for Obama.



I'm feeling so thankful that maybe I'll have an inauguration day party. I wonder if my friend Ellen could bring her fabulous wine jello and dye it blue.

Monday, November 19, 2012

House Guests

There's someone sleeping in my garage.

J arrived on Momday evening--in from Minnesota for a conference. I put her up in fine style, at first. Bedroom with a view of the water. The guest bathroom all to herself. On Thursday, the seafaring folks (daughter C and her husband) blew in from the icy blasts of  Lake Michigan. With only one towel bar in the bathroom that they would now share with J, they set to installing a couple of two-pronged towel hooks. This project was preceeded by an exposé of my neurotic belief that bath towels should not touch one another. My craziness was proclaimed, and C volunteered her towel to co-habitate on a hook with her husband's towel--which I admit, does not seem to be a breach of hygiene.

On Saturday daughter M arrived with her partner (M from her not-so-far-away grad school campus, and S flown in from Minnesota.) It was necessary then to explain our house "sexile" policy which clearly states that those with partners get the private accomodations while singletons are offered the couch or air mattresses in any corner they can find. I should have mentioned that the man who loves me also arrived on Saturday--leaving J clearly in the position of the person to be sexiled.

But I was kind of ready for some high-style sexiled accomodations. The new fancy (relative term) full-height rollaway air bed was unfurled in the garage complete with a hideous million-year-old folding table covered by a tablecloth and bedecked with, not one, but two, battery camping lanterns. As a final welcoming touch, a throw rug (okay, it's more of a doormat) was laid out bedside.

Somewhere in the wee hours of Saturday M's sweetheart discovered she had picked up some food posioning in her travels. The segregation of towels suddenly seemed like a brilliant idea. Antibacterial wipes and Clorox clean-up also took up residence in the guest bath.

The day after tomorrow my friend S will arrive, and we will begin the prep for our Thanksgiving feasting. As I write this paragraph, J has now begun her journey back to the land of ice and snow, so S will enjoy the garage-partment. I believe I invited another friend to sleep over Thanksgiving night. He, too, was once nicely ensconced in a bedroom here while housesitting, but on this visit he will have an air mattress in the living room or dining room. Full disclosure on this arrangement must include that my mother, whose bedroom is downstairs, yells/roars like a bear (not talks--oh no--what she does is not talking) in her sleep. The grandchildren opted for wedging themselves into the upstairs hallway when they were here rather than endure the nightmare inducing bedlam.

So, yes, come to Margaritaville for a visit, dear friends and family. Stay over. But if you come this weekend, I suggest you bring a rope ladder and a very cozy sleeping bag. These things would provide warmth and a private entrance/exit to my balcony where there is a couch.

Or if you arrive in your boat boat, perhaps you could sleep there. Though it's quite possible that you could be awakened by a hungry heron.

Or wait until the crowd departs. No doubt, my mother and I will be lonely when this crew of turkey eaters leaves. Yes, come. I will offer you your own towel hook. I will walk with you on the sand.
I will feed you lemon bars.

 And I swear to god, there will be vermouth. There will always be vermouth.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Oxytocin = No Sin

The handy dispenser that let's you say 'no' anywhere.

This recent article in the Atlantic might save a lot of marriages if big pharm gets with it. I'm just not sure who should carry it--the husbands or the wives. Maybe it could be piped into every workplace in America. Perhaps clothing could be impregnated with it--everything from neckties to hard hats. Chastity belt shaped air-fresheners could be hung from review mirrors. And maybe coffee places could infuse their coffee beans with it.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bacon to the Rescue

"This is horrible. Tasteless," my mother said. At 88 she's effusive with her praise--and her criticism (which is thankfully quite rare.) She was right. The bean soup from one of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks was super boring. After quizzing my houseguest, J, my daughter, and her husband, bacon was the winning remedy. I also added just a few hot pepper flakes. Tonight's re-imagined bean soup was good. Rounding out the meal were a goat cheese, leek, and chard quiche. And an apple crisp.

Desserts are pretty important here in Margaritaville. We finished the lemon bars last night--I served them with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and due to a pomegranate "emergency," we also sprinkled pomegranate seeds on top. Tart + Sweet+Tart= Delicious.

Jack Gilbert: Coming to the End of Triumph

I read my first Jack Gilbert poem in Barbara Abercrombie's UCLA Extension class Writing the Healing Story. It seems overstated, perhaps, to say that now, a decade later,  I can conjure up the classroom, where I was sitting, and many of the faces around the tables that were arranged into a large hollow-centered rectangle. Barbara's writer-whisperer style of teaching often meant that she would use a poem as a prompt, and while this poem by Jack Gilbert did not wrench a premonition from me about the not- so-distant demise of my marriage, time stood still long enough for Gilbert's words to settle into me. Reading it again just after the poet's death on Tuesday, it felt all the more moving as a perfect description of how my marriage didn't end.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of triumph.

If you'd like to read more about Jack Gilbert, you can find a piece  here and here

The image at the top of the post is a Peter Paul Ruebens painting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bird of the Day: Bufflehead

If bufflehead were a word in the dictionary, it might have a definition like this: 1) a confused person who doesn't know how things work 2) a person who who hears, but misconstrues 3) a person who wraps his head/ears in white swaddling in order to remain oblivious to reality

But a Bufflehead is simply a small sea duck. What I find interesting about the group hanging around my boat dock this afternoon is that there's an extra female. What happened to her Mr. Bufflehead? And will the paired-off Buffleheads still invite her to dinner?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Actor's Nightmare in Margaritaville

I've been dragging around Margaritaville recently feeling as though someone has stolen my tequila and taken an ax to my blender. Stuck in some kind of negativity hangover, I haven't had much luck at clearing my head. But my fiesta of funk might be leading me somewhere. I'm so fucking bored, I said to myself last night, what I need is a week of theatre-going in New York--like the old days. Of course there's no chance of my getting away now that my mom lives with me. The self-pity danced me around a bit, and then the thought occurred to me: I'm in the wrong play.

I am living the classic actor's nightmare. If you've ever been on stage, you probably know what I mean. It's the week before the show opens or maybe the first week of the run, and you wake panting like a racehorse because in your dream where you're waiting to go on as one of the witches in "MacBeth," you see through an opening in the scenery that your fellow actors are in the deep south, drawling out Tennessee Williams lines on a vine choked veranda. That desolate heath that you're dressed for was last week's play. Or maybe the play is right, and you're there in some overstuffed drawing room with your frilly cuffs, your accent just right, the lynchpin dramatic moment about to occur when the book shelves topple and the lights crash down from above splintering at your feet.

I see life's problems as something meant to be solved. I've raised children, managed a chaotic household, kept the home fires burning behind a husband with a high-powered career. A child with a lisp? Speech therapy. Crooked teeth? Orthodonture. Entertain the new partner? Sure. Roof leaking? Get it fixed. While it would be a ridiculous revision of history to say I managed all of these things gracefully, I did them. I fixed what needed to be fixed, did what needed to be done or at least tried my damnedest, perhaps going wrong (sometimes repeatedly) before choosing a solution that provided at least some relief.

So here I am in the fix-it play, chauffeuring my mother from one specialist to another. Googling into the wee hours to ascertain if it's one of her medications that makes her groan constantly, of if there's a diet to improve circulation or prevent flatulence. I've gotten her new shoes, new hearing aids, a cane, a this, and a that. But there's no fixing what she's got. She's old. She's not going to wake up tomorrow and be 70 again. Or even 80. I am in the wrong play.

And worse yet, there is no play. No script. No stage directions. It's improv. All improv. All the time. With a sad ending. I suck at that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

A dirty wine glass and an empty wine bottle sat next to the couch this morning. Leftover Halloween candy wrappers littered the coffee table. A trail of clothes that, in other circumstances, might have indicated unbridled passion led to my bed. Stumbling into my bathroom early this morning, I nearly got tangled in my favorite gray sweater with its "I Voted" sticker. All in all, it was a far less traumatic evening than I had anticipated--though I'd have less of a candy hangover and might have hung up my clothes if Mitt Romney had made that phone call a little earlier.

California still has unlabeled GMO food and the death penalty, but the Three Strikes law makes a little more sense. And there'll be be more support for education. Gay people now have the right to marry in a couple more states, though in Minnesota that fight still needs to be fought--- but, despite the efforts of the Catholic Church, the state constitution there does not now limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman. So there's hope. Hope for the Human Rights Campaign. Hope for better health care. Hope for the economy. Hope in the face of climate change. Hope for tax reform, fair pay, better schools.

I'm pretty sure I looked right into hope's eyes when my mom and I went to the local elementary school to vote yesterday. As I waited for her to finish marking her ballot, a class of first-graders was ushered into the library/polling place. They maneuvered silently to the edge of the room and sat on the floor as their teacher spoke quietly to them in Spanish. One of the poll workers offered sample ballots and dozens of  hands reached eagerly for them. There was a flurry of excitement then. "Dondé? Obama?" They turned the papers over looking for his name. "Aqui. Here." The children leaned into one another and pointed.

"La Senora," the teacher began as she pointed to my mom who was still working on her ballot. The teacher then took a sample ballot from one of the children and showed them the blank space that must be filled in to mark the ballot properly. She pointed at the top of the page and trailed her finger downward. "President, Senator, Congress Person," she said.  When my mom finished she fed her ballot, first one page, then the other, into the machine. The children watched and then followed us out. A parade of hope.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kuri Squash Tart

I'm something of a squash fanatic. One year I grew so much summer squash, my kids refused to eat it for years.

This fall there's been quite a bit of winter squash in my weekly CSA box. Squash is one of my mom's favorite veggies, and I don't think she's going to get tired of it. The varieties we've devoured so far include Delicata, Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha, Carnival, Kuri, and Spaghetti. The Kuri alone failed to live up to our expectations.

Last week there was another Kuri in my box of veggies, and on Saturday night I turned it into a tart.

I wanted it to be a little different from a pumpkin pie since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I made the crust out of ground almonds. I dumped two cups of roasted almonds into the food processor, pulsed them until they were coarsely ground, and then added 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of butter. I pulsed it some more and then pressed it into the tart pan (9 ") and baked it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

The Kuri squash was baked in the oven until very tender, cooled, and the innards scooped out and put into the food processor with 1/8 C brown sugar, 1/4 C white sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon,1/4 tsp ginger, 1/8 tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp cloves. Once that was mixed, I added an egg that had been beaten into a cup of soy milk, pulsed until well blended, and poured the mixture into the crust. I think I baked it for about 30 minutes. Things were getting busy in the kitchen at that point, and the man who loves me and I were probably into our second glass of wine by then.

The tart was a delicious dessert. We topped it with vanilla ice cream. It made a fabulous breakfast, too.

Gluten free & dairy free--without the vanilla ice cream, that is.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Friday Night Dream, Remembered and Receding


We stood in the corner of a pasture. Or a yard given over to shagginess. A rock, a fence post, a tree--trunk gnarled with branches bending low. "Here," someone said. And we went in like Alice, the fall not like a fall at at all. When we arrived at this place below the earth the sky was still blue, the grass still green.

My 23-year-old daughter was a child of five or six again, her hair its childhood golden hue as she ran by holding the hand of a friend. "Wait," I said. "I want to look at you." She obliged just for a moment, turned and laughed. Then she ran forward to her future from this place in the past where I had been allowed a visit.

photo credit: The Someone (taken by him, but edited by me)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Morning on an Empty Lifeguard Tower, Saving No One

Moon a torn erasure, islands a lilac smudge. Waves into green, towering up from blue. Surfers as black and as plentiful as crows. But certainly not a "murder." What then? A crash, a foam, a swell? All the while a couple stands on the sand, he behind her with their backs to the sun as if they want to make their shadows one.

As I walk home, more surfers run toward the beach. Carpe, I think. If only I knew the Latin for wave.

photo credit:

Friday, November 2, 2012

I'll have what she's having.

I can barely begin to describe how today got complicated. I  don't know why the name or the dosage listed on the bottle of the med I was trying to refill didn't match the official looking list than my mother brought with her to California. I only know that the nurse felt that the doctor here  couldn't rightly refill it over the phone because it didn't match the list. So I drove 10 miles to the Walmart to get the medication since it was in the Walmart system in Maryland and could be easily transferred to California, because Walmart, like god, is everywhere. I don't know why the pharmacy at Vons didn't have the other of  my mom's prescriptions when the nurse at the doctor's office assured me she'd call it in. I only know it was too late to call the doctor so I drove back across town to the Walmart only to find out that they couldn't fill it because it had already been filled at Von's. So I drove back to Von's. And, yes, the medication was there. I don't know why the name and dose on the package of Walmart meds matches exactly the name and dose on the bottle that's now empty, but the pills from the Walmart package look different from the pill in my mom's pillbox that she says was the last pill in the bottle. I only know that I would like to swallow all of the pills, eat all of the leftover Hallowe'en chocolate, drink all of the wine, and sleep all of the sleep. 

"I have to get off this shit," my mom says when I finally return--as if she is a junkie--and maybe she is, in a way.
"Mom, you can't," I say. "This is cholesterol medication, and the label says you can't stop it suddenly." This was after she exclaimed that she didn't have high cholesterol, and I explained that the pills were why she didn't have high cholesterol. The other pill, I explained, she couldn't stop either because it was heart medication. Except it's not. It's brain medication. And obviously I should be the one taking it.

Anyone for a game of PILLVILLE ?