Monday, September 23, 2013

If this past weekend in Margaritaville were an actual Margarita, it would be one of those fishbowl-sized ones.

It's Monday afternoon, and I'm still woozy with the wonder of it all.

White and whirling cloud of terns,

The man who loves me watching the white and whirling cloud of terns,

and later, gathered around the kitchen island, friends, wine, and ice cream with espresso poured over the top.

Over. The. Top. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Goat and Vegetables

                              Daughters and squash from my garden a million years ago

Dinner tonight was roasted cauliflower, squash, a stir fry of onions, zuchini, and sweet red pepper with garlic and ginger served with a slice of last night's veggie pizza on the side. All veggie dinner tonight, I told my mom as we were slicing and dicing. Fine with me, she said. And then she told me how she was raised on the vegetables from her mother's garden. Not much meat, she said, except for goat now and then. 

As we ate, I asked her how her mother prepared the goat. She remembered only that an Italian woman showed my grandma her recipe. My grandmother, in addition to tending her goats, chickens, garden, and seven children, was the cleaning lady for the Italian family. The Italians owned a store. What kind of store, I asked. Whatever kind of store Italians have, she said.

 Hmmm. There are some things that I may never find out.

Friday, September 20, 2013

How We Made It...and Other Wonders: Part 2

It was a four-Advil-dozen loads of wash kind of day.

Everything we traveled with and all the treasures we retrieved needed to be purged of cigarette smell. The suitcases sat airing on the patio all day, and many of the paper items and other non-washable things are quarantined to the garage--a cookbook, family photos, two purses, a beautiful piece of art that hung on the dining room wall of my mom's and aunt's apartment that they salvaged from the trash (see previous post)--tossed out most likely because the glass in the frame was broken. They never re-framed the piece, and it absorbed twenty years of smoke. All of these things will be beautiful--or at least utilitarian someday.

I've succeeded in putting almost everything away.

I love old family items, but I'm afraid the enormous skillet might be too heavy for the drawer under the cooktop. I wonder where my grandmother and my great aunts kept it.

It was easier to find a place for the 1940s beads and the crocheted jewelry (my mom made quite a few of these necklaces and earrings once upon a time.)

The crocheted bedspread and a dozen doilies and dresser scarves are soaking in the washing machine.

Is the bedspread destined for my bed? Maybe...but there's already a well-worn and much loved quilt on it that my mom made for me. Stay tuned.

As for my mother herself, the unpacking was quite the effort. She circled around all day, losing this, finding that; telling me little tidbits about an old family prayer book, a pair of earrings, a couple of old watches. Nothing really valuable in the sense that people would pay hundreds for it, but treasures in their own way.

I'm tired. I drank too much wine at dinner.

I'm home.

And trying to come to terms with the fact that the City of Angels no long holds one of my beloved writing teachers, Les Plesko. Like most of his former students, I learned of his death on Tuesday, and each morning since then, I've done that thing we do when someone is newly gone from us. No, that was a dream, I think as I wake. He's here. But he isn't. And won't be. I think of him as I drop into sleep. Try to imagine. Try not to imagine. 

How We Made It to the Curb and Other Wonders: Part I

The wheelchair guy who met my mom at the door of the plane looked something like this. Do you have luggage? he asked. I told him we did, and he said not to worry, he would help us. Counting the time that he waited outside the ladies room, we probably spent an hour together. He was smooth. The whole process was smooth. We arrived at the curb with my mom in her wheelchair and our mountain of luggage just as the beautiful M pulled up. I tipped him generously, but forgot to thank him for giving up his Bollywood career just for us.

This morning our house looked like this.

Here are some of our treasures.

Don't worry, it gets better.

Um...that's a tiny bungee cord and a pair of those non-skid hospital socks.

Well, this is sweet. "Someone in Iowa loves you!" it says.

Check out the matchbox cars in the tin and the box. We have dozens more. My mom's older sister crocheted the afghan. I washed it three times this morning to get the cigarette stench out. The purses are stuffed full of family photos. And hiding in the back is a boxed set (still shrink wrapped) of Anne of Green Gables. 

And what was my mom doing with the matchbox cars you ask? She and her twin sister searched the streets, trash-picking, for many years. They routinely washed, repaired, and refurbished tons of stuff, saving it from the landfill and giving it to people they thought would like it--and every so often having a pretty profitable garage sale. The cars were kept for my nephew, whom my mom and I now call Big Jacob since he's 15 years old. We brought them back to California so my grandson, whom we sometimes refer to as Little Jacob, can play with them when he comes to visit.

Is there more? Oh, my. Yes. But I refuse to get up right now and take more photos. Later.

But wait!--we did find her martini hat.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Six not-so-easy pieces

The suitcases were a matreska doll set-up on the way to Baltimore. Suitcases inside of suitcases inside of suitcases. On our return each bag is stuffed--full of its own potential, no longer tucked inside of something else. Everyone asked how I would manage all the luggage and my mother and a wheelchair. Thinking too far ahead, I said. All that worry for nothing. In a situation I couldn't quite fathom since I'm used to traveling with a roller bag stashed in the overhead. 

My brother pulled us into the un-loading zone while my mom and he and the two carry-on bags waited in the truck. I rolled the 4 suitcases  to the curbside check-in. Presented my mom's i.d. and my own, wondering if they would insist on seeing her in person or if pointing to the truck was good enough. Mr. Skycap was cheery and helpful. We m'am-ed and sir-ed each other all over the place and it was fine. He checked the bags and sent the wheelchair guy to get my mom--but not before he assumed the wheelchair was for me. Wanna arm wrestle? I asked. How about a foot race. Gray-haired women confuse people. So off he went to retrieve my mom. She shouted Weeeeeee up and down the curbs and made people smile.  I tossed off 5 and 10-dollar tips like I was still married to a millionaire. Off we went.

Security was fun. Her bag had to be hand searched. Not the coin collections, they said. Something. They wouldn't say what. The vintage cigarette holder/lighter interested them. Damn. I had visions of running back into the pre-security part of the terminal and buying a tote bag to check it. What is it, the TSA officer asked. A cigarette case from the 40s, I said. She opened it with a click. I envisioned lighter fluid. Surely it would have evaporated over the last half century, I reassured myself inside my head. Then came the swab. What are they doing, my mom asked. Ah.......checking for um.....could I actually say the word explosives? Explosives! said the TSA trainee. You can't say that! said the veteran TSA officer who looked to be all of 20. Say other substances, she said. Other substances, I said to my mom.

So, here we are. Southwest Airlines. Row 3. Wheelchairs board first.  I'm in it for the pre-boarding, right?

And how will I get those 6 suitcases to the curb? I'll let you know.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crocheting is Good for the Brain

My mother crochets. Over the last few years she's crocheted dozens of doilies and dresser scarves. She's crocheted tablecloths that would make your Thanksgiving dinner look like you'd been transported to Downton Abbey. Before I went to France for my study abroad semester 30 years ago, she crocheted me a purse that I wish I still had. It was circular and had rings of color like a target. I thought the 70s orange and brown color scheme looked smashing with my orange raincoat. In some over-enthusiastic closet purge, I must have gotten rid of it. Maybe there's a retro hippie chick toting it somewhere in L.A., thrilled with her vintage find. Maybe not.

In the past few years, it's been snowflakes that my mother has taken a liking to. This past Christmas I told her my tree could use a few more. Whoa. 

The picture at the bottom of the post is what she's done since then--and that does not include the ziplock bag of a dozen or so more still waiting to be starched. She's making them for other people too. This trip to the east coast that we're on is not just a birthday trip, it's a snowflake distributing mission.

We carefully packed her book "101 Snowflakes" in her carry-on. After our flight was delayed, cancelled, and then subsequently re-scheduled due to the lightning strike at the BWI control tower, my brain was in a rather fried state itself. I think I put the book in her seatback pocket....and I think that is where it remained after we deplaned. Maybe not. 

But we can't find it. Also lost is her toothbrush, some underwear, and a gorgeous pair of earrings. Traveling at 89 is a challenge. We spent the first night at my brother's house, then my cousin's place for three nights, and now we're back at my brother's. In addition to our carry-on bags we brought four empty suitcases and stuffed them with all kinds of treasures that she left in Maryland when she moved to California a year ago. Among them a crocheted bedspread that I can't wait to unfurl across my bed. Anything could be anywhere. Or maybe not.

This is not the first time the book has been lost. A couple of years ago I figured I would simply snap one up for her on Amazon. But it's out of print and was being sold for over a hundred bucks. I considered buying it anyhow and not telling her what I'd paid for it, but she found her copy. Yesterday I filled out a lost and found report with Southwest Airlines. But this morning I went to Amazon and found the book for twenty dollars. I bought it. It should arrive at my house before we do. I think my cousin is right when he says that it's the crocheting that's keeping my mom's brain healthy. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to cook a turtle and other useful advice

I love the rehashing of old stories that happens during family visits. And I love to hear what my aunts and uncles ate when they were growing up. I ate pretty much everything on this list when I was a little kid, too--except for the pigeon, woodchuck, and the frog legs.
Frog legs
                    my grandparents

They could have eaten rattlesnake also since it was plentiful, but my grandma refused to cook it even though my Uncle Lawrence (who may have learned to eat it during his hobo days) tried to convince her it was delicious.

Here's how to cook a turtle:
Take turtle out of shell
Parboil & refrigerate  overnight.
Dip in eggs and cracker crumbs and fry in butter.
Unfortunately no one sitting around in the kitchen tonight for the post dinner beer drinking and discussion could actually provide the details on HOW to take the turtle out of the shell.

Not that I'm planning to cook a turtle....I'm just very curious about family recipes and such.

On a different subject entirely, here's a thrifty way to change your linens from the days before fitted sheets:
Remove bottom sheet for washing.
Put top sheet on the bottom.
Put fresh sheet on top.
There! You only have to wash one sheet!

How to travel with your 89-Year-Old Mother

Make a list.

Cool your heels at the airport for hours while the control tower at your destination airport gets struck by lightning.

Drink moonshine out of the jar until seeing double. Then eat cake.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Countdown to Baltimore

In a few days my mom and I will be traveling to Maryland for her 89th birthday. The pill boxes are filled. The oxygen concentrator is scheduled to be delivered to my brother's house. We will take with us 4 empty suitcases so she can bring back the things that could not be packed into the car when M and I drove her out here last summer. On that trip her oxygen machine rode in the back seat with her.

Alas, M will not travel with us this time. She will stay home and take care of the house and the ancient cat.

I wonder if someday my children and I will live near one another so that a birthday celebration can be attended by all, requiring only a short jaunt by car.

Meanwhile I must return to my calculations so that I may determine how many of those little bottle of gin to bring on the plane. Let's see...divide the number of miles by the total of the ages of the people who will be drinking the gin....

photo credit for the wonderful picture of my mom: The man who loves me and his iPad--taken just last night.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Life as Expressed by Signs

My brain reads this sign as "stark reality." While there are some parts of life that do feel rather stark currently--today, well, not so much.

The man who loves me is here, and we visited the local farmers market where we saw a turquoise ling cod.

The fish was for sale, but was whole so we purchased a regularly pigmented ling cod that was already filleted. The fisherman swore that the meat of the turquoise fish is actually turquoise.

We had a cup of coffee in a neighborhood where there appears to be a guerilla crochet artist on the loose.

We prowled the Ventura swap meet where, for a brief moment, I wondered if Margaritaville might need a kitchen appliance called the Margarator.

But tomorrow I will call my attorney, think of a certain Someone, and as I ponder the recent goings on, I'm likely to share a certain sentiment expressed by a Chinese restaurant that the man who loves me visited recently. Now there's a stark reality for you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saturday Morning Beach Report

Even before I was fully awake this morning, I was aware of the fog horn. I find comfort in knowing that sailors are being warned away from the rocks.

Life is usually more like this.

All morning long the foghorn continued, its calls like giant sighs. Let's not run this thing on the rocks, I thought every time I heard it. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Top Ten Reasons I Love Living With My Mother

1. Well, she's my mom.
2. I get weird living alone.
3. I actually cook things--whole meals--and I eat them.
4. I sit at the dining room table while eating the meals I cooked.
5. There's someone to talk to while I sit at the dining room table eating the meals I cooked.
6. It's fun to have another bird nerd in the house. (We will both get up from the table if a blue heron comes in for a landing.)
7. I never have to do the dishes.
8. Due to my new motto, "There ought to be one sober person in the house," I'm hardly drinking at all.
9. She has cookies hidden in her bedroom.
10. Since I can't really go anywhere, my writing life has revved up.

I've been writing a novel for a while. The first 150-some pages were my MFA thesis. I was, at that time, in the absolute worst physical-mental-intellectual-psychological condition of my life due to my fucking hell-hole of a divorce. A few months back, I finally opened the  novel file on my computer and completed a first draft. Today chapters 4 and 5 traded places. Then chapters 3 and 4 traded places. New scenes were added to all of the above. Chapter 7 ate chapter 6. I think I  have 55 much-improved pages.

Thanks, Mom
Here's a fuzzy photo of me and my diploma.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Post Labor Day Farewell to Summer, Seaweed, Sandcastles etc.

I will concede that summer is officially over now that Labor Day has come and gone. But not really. Not here in Margaritaville. Nonetheless, I will share with you a brief compendium of summer treasures.

long-haired mermaid doll

unicorn mermaid doll

mermaid baby doll

reindeer mermaid doll (upside down, alas)

the winning summer sandcastle
Local sandcastle architecture here is most unassuming--usually a mound with a seagull or pelican feather stuck in the top.

Now, back to work, everyone. 

Oh, and I think the sea things, a.k.a. my mermaid dolls might be macrocystis with the leaves stripped off. I'm from Iowa, folks. If you would like to correct my research, feel free. Honest to god, I wish someone had made science interesting when I was a kid.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day/The story of one working life

the log cabin where my mother lived before she moved to Baltimore

We got 5 cents for picking the bugs off the potatoes, she says. That was if we did it for the neighbors. On our own crops, we did it free. Babysitting all night paid a quarter, she says. Which wasn't so bad, because you could sit in the movies all day for that--and buy candy, too.

My mother’s education only went as far as the 8th grade and then she went to work. She began her first full-time job at the age of fourteen, living with a doctor, his wife, and their newborn. Never leave the mother alone with the baby, she was cautioned. In the middle of one night, my mother awoke to a commotion, and was told that the mother had tried to kill the baby even though the husband had been right there with her. In the morning, the wife was packed off to an asylum, the baby went to live with relatives, and my mother found herself out of a job. 

After that she and her twin sister worked in the cafeteria a Catholic men's college. She remembers putting the cherry just-so in the center of the grapefruit halves for the priests. They were given rooms there on campus, and there were rules. You couldn't stay out late or the door would be locked. They never missed curfew, she says. 

Then they were a waitresses in Dubuque, Iowa at Diamond’s Bar and Grill and at the Triangle CafĂ©. Thank god, they got a free meal, she says. There were no tips in those days. Except from one guy who always tipped a quarter. The waitresses would trip over each other trying to get to him, she says. They walked to and from work since they didn't have a car. Their feet were always killing them.

Somewhere in there, there was a stint at Betty Jane Candies hand dipping chocolates. Eat as much as you want, she says her boss told her. The eating with abandon only lasted a day or two.

Then she worked in a club across the river in East Dubuque, the seamier of the two sister cities straddling the Mississippi. She worked as a dice girl in the game "twenty-six." Her sister spun the roulette wheel. One night their parents walked in, surprised to see their daughters there. My mom and her sister were just as surprised to see them.

My mom’s twin sister went out to Baltimore first. They had a girlfriend named Janice, whose parents decided to move the whole family east because they could get good paying jobs at the Glenn L. Martin, a company going full throttle in the manufacture of aircraft for World War II. My mom borrowed money from a friend to send Millie out first in the spring of ’43 and then they both worked to save money, and my mom joined her sister in the fall. In 1943 My Aunt Millie started as a riveter, and when my mom went to join her, she worked for Glenn L. Martin as a file clerk.

Then came the jobs that I envy. If I could go back in time and be my mother for a couple of months, this would be it. I'd be a hat check girl at the Chanticleer, or the Band Box, or the Club Charles. I'd live in Baltimore and hear every fabulous band and collect all the autographed headshots of the stars. I'd be the photo girl snapping souvenir pictures, remembering to ask first if the gentleman and his date would like a photo--because you never know, the gorgeous girl on his arm might not be his wife. 

A couple of things happened next. I'm not sure in what order. My mother had a boyfriend, a grocer, who was shot and killed one night when he went back to check on his store. Her sister got married to a guy who didn't especially like her. She went back home.

After my mother returned to Iowa, she worked as a hostess at a bar called The Circle where the bartender introduced her to a snazzy older man with blue eyes so beautiful, you could dive in and never want to come back up. They eloped. 

My father didn't want my mom to work--though she worked in his grocery store for a couple of years until he sold it. She lived in two different little Iowa towns after that. Cooking, baking to satisfy my father's insatiable sweet tooth, canning, filling our back porch with crocks of pickles, sewing our clothes. I'd call that work.

After he died and she was swindled out of his life insurance, she went back to work. She was 51 years old, had an 8th-grade education, and had been out of the workforce for almost 20 years. She made parts for machinery and plastic buckets at two different factories, getting paid minimum wage. Her big break came after she got laid off and heard about a union job at the John Deere plant. She got hired. She drove a fork truck, worked on the assembly line doing whatever job they asked her to for more than 9 years--until she was laid off just a month or so before she would have qualified for a pension.

She took care of an old woman, keeping her company and preparing her food. She worked in a bakery in a town so far away that her wages barely kept pace with the cost of her gas. She had another minimum wage factory job or two. 

When her twin's husband died, my mother moved back to Baltimore where she worked for the City of Baltimore as a custodian cleaning office buildings. She retired with a pension that is not quite large enough to cover her supplementary health insurance. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

View from a Kayak

And when I came home and checked my email, there was this from my Poem a Day subscription from

Song of Quietness
Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,     
   And on the margins of the sea 
Remember not thine old distress     
   Nor all the miseries to be. 
Calmer than mists, and cold 
As they, that fold on fold 
Up the dim valley are rolled,     
   Learn thou to be. 

The Past--it was a feverish dream,     
   A drunken slumber full of tears. 
The Future--O what wild wings gleam,     
   Wheeled in the van of desperate years! 
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn 
Glimmers; the night is gone:-- 
What dangers lure thee on,     
   What dreams more fierce? 

But meanwhile, now the east is gray,     
   The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb, 
Be glad before the birth of day,     
   Take thy brief rest ere morning come: 
Here in the beautiful woods 
All night the sea-mist floods,--
Thy last of solitudes,     
   Thy yearlong home.