Monday, May 30, 2011

The Long Goodbye

Last night my parents and I watched the National Memorial Day concert on PBS.  I was a little surprised at first that it opened with a tribute to those who died on 9/11; after all, the tenth anniversary of the tragedy isn't until this fall.  I suppose the recent demise of Osama bin Laden was one of the reasons behind it.  Those of us who lost friends and relatives that day, though, don't need prodding by third parties to remember them.

In late 2001 several of my friends worked for a large insurance company on some of the highest floors in Number Two World Trade Center.  Three of them died in its collapse; another survived only because he started down the stairs as soon as the first plane hit and refused to turn back despite announcements telling employees to return to their offices.  Walking down 100 flights of stairs takes a very long time, especially when the stairwells are clogged with other frantic people trying to get down and rescue workers trying to get up.  Had he not been most of the way down when the second plane hit, he never would have gotten out of the building before it collapsed.

One of the friends who died was a former co-worker I considered the younger brother I never had.  He had actually called me the Friday before with the offer of a job interview with his boss on the morning of September 11.  I almost said yes.  I could have been there, too.  I would say that I am lucky to still be alive - but I can't consider anything about that day lucky.  I still miss Phil and Linda and most of all Paul.  It's a darker world without them, and without all the others whose lives were cut short in the attack.

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left."  ~Bertrand Russell

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rosemary (or some other potted plant) for Remembrance

When I was a child, Memorial Day weekend was a really big deal.  Of course it was the beginning of summer vacation, which by itself was enough to make my sister and me hysterical with excitement, but my family also engaged in an Anglo version of The Day of the Dead that lasted for two or three days.  Every morning that weekend we would get up early; Mom would pack a picnic lunch; and Dad would stow first bedding plants and gardening gear, then us, in the car and we would be off on a scenic tour of the rural cemeteries of eastern South Dakota.

Both of my parents' families moved around quite a bit when they were small, so their dearly departed were spread far and wide.  How many we visited depended upon the weather and how quickly our food and stamina ran out, but at minimum we always stopped to see my grandparents' graves and those of my mother's grandparents.  If we were feeling ambitious, we also tracked down various aunts and uncles.  When we got there we would wash the headstones, clip the grass right next to the stones that the cemetery mower missed, and plant some cheerful annuals or irises.  Mom and Dad would talk about their memories of the deceased while we were working; then we'd eat our lunch and drive on to the next lost loved one.  During the years my Grandmother Mabee and Grandfather Roduner were alive we would pick them up and take them with us on our pilgrimage; later on theirs were two of the graves we stopped to take care of.

Now that the remaining immediate family has all migrated to Arizona, my mother sends money to friends or more distant relatives so that they can take flowers to the graves on our behalf.  Eventually, as those people head for the cemeteries on a more permanent basis, the whole ritual will probably die out and our ancestors will truly be left to rest in peace.  Since neither Sue nor I have children, some day no one passing their graves will know that our great-grandfather Christian Kapsch had beautiful blue eyes or that our great-uncle Durwood Bennett was known to everyone as Doc.  I find that a little sad.

A little bit of the tradition remains, though.  Every year we still take flowers to my husband Tom's grave on Memorial Day weekend, and even though they don't live close enough to visit his grave, his children and grandchildren will pass on their memories of him for years to come. 

"Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

Friday, May 27, 2011

Avis and Julia

I didn't blog last night because I was so involved in the book I was reading that I couldn't put it down.  I still haven't finished it but I'm writing about it anyway because I can't wait any longer to share.  Hardly a page has gone by where I didn't either laugh out loud or mentally bookmark a great quote.

The book is As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.  Avis was the wife of Bernard DeVoto, who wrote a regular column in Harper's.  After reading DeVoto's scathing critique of stainless steel American knives, Julia sent him a carbon steel paring knife from France.  Avis answered on her husband's behalf, kicking off a correspondence and a friendship that lasted from 1952 until shortly before her death in 1989.  Avis was crucial to the birth of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; she introduced the authors to their publishers, critiqued the early drafts, researched American substitutes for French ingredients and equipment, and in general served as the book's long-distance midwife.  The letters in this volume are those most directly related to the development of the book.

The letters (unless perhaps you are an Eisenhower-era Republican) are delightful - funny and intelligent, full of pithy descriptions of people, places, politics, and (of course) good food and drink.  I expected to enjoy Julia's letters, but in some ways I like Avis's even more.  Despite chronic ill health and a grumpy husband she managed to successfully juggle her family, several part-time jobs, the proofreading and copyediting of her husband's work, and the tasks she undertook on behalf of Julia and her co-authors.  The DeVotos lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they hobnobbed with college professors and scientists and liberal politicians.  When the Childs decided to buy a permanent home, they bought it in Cambridge in order to be close to the DeVotos.  I would have, too. 

The book is sparsely but nicely illustrated with photos, all but three of them taken by Julia's husband Paul.  Somewhere (a while ago) I read a quote from an interview with Paul Child; he said that he was attracted to Julia partly because he thought she was beautiful (he specifically mentioned her long legs).  His photos of her certainly capture that quality; I particularly enjoyed the picture of the two of them in a bathtub overflowing with bubbles (a Valentine's Day card), and the portrait of Julia cooking in a mountain cabin, clad apparently in a canvas skirt and bikini top and needing only a helmet and spear to be mistaken for the goddess Athena.  I also liked Paul's self-portraits, living up to Julia's description of him as "muscley" (he was a third-degree black belt in judo).

For anyone interested in writing and publishing, the authors' agonizing over which publishers to approach, how to negotiate the contract, and what to include in the final book are fascinating.  Cooks will appreciate the two correspondents' discussions of how to translate French recipes into versions that would be accessible to American housewives.  Almost anyone will enjoy the irreverent approach to various sacred cows.  In one letter Julia indignantly describes how two French food experts say that true Beurre Blanc can only be made over a wood fire. "Phoo," was how she summed up the conversation. (She described one of the experts as "a dogmatic meatball.") "Usually, because I have had to study up on everything to inform myself, I know more than they do..."

I hope that the editor of this volume has had time to put together at least one more collection of the letters of Avis and Julia.  After all, 26 years of their amazing correspondence has been omitted from this book.

"All from one kitchen knife.  It was a miracle, wasn't it?  To think that we might easily have gone through life not knowing each other, missing all this free flow of love and ideas and warmth and sharing..." ~Avis DeVoto to Julia Child, Spetember 1, 1956

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Famous Last Words

Just last month I passed my annual dental exam with flying colors and reported, "Another year without a new filling or crown anywhere; outstanding!"  Famous last words, indeed.

For no apparent reason, this weekend my upper left bicuspid started twinging whenever I ate anything hot, cold, or containing sugar.  No, let me rephrase that; the sensation was no mere twinge.  It felt as though someone had inserted a red-hot needle in the tooth's nerve.  Since the tooth in question was home to a silver filling old enough, were it human, to vote, I called my dentist on Monday and visited him today.  Alas, both the filling and the tooth were cracked and I am now considerably poorer and possessed of a temporary crown.

On the positive side, the experience was totally painless.  I had to eat lunch much later than usual, though, because most of the left side of my face stayed numb for several hours.  I don't recall ever having a numb nose before; that was a really bizarre feeling.  The numbness also affected my lower eyelid although not, thank goodness, the upper.  My upper lip was the area that took the longest to come back to life; by the time it did I was beginning to worry that I would never be able to drink without dribbling again.

Everything is back to normal by now, except my bank account.  I can hardly wait to go back in two weeks for the permanent crown.

"Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
Is dental."
~Ogden Nash

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Shame Of It All...

Early on, I said that I didn't intend to make money with this blog.  I still don't; the Google ad bar on the lower right side of the page is there to keep the bottom of the blog from looking empty when I'm more long-winded than usual.  However, you'll probably be seeing more ads here in the near future, not because I expect any ad revenue, but because I have succumbed to the lure of FREE BOOKS!!

I've been invited to join the BlogHer network for women, and I want to join because, among other things, they will be sending me free books to review on a regular basis.  Books only from categories I like to read.  Sending them directly to my home.  And paying me to review them.

I think I've died and gone to reader's heaven.

In return, I have to add a BlogHer ad sidebar "above the fold" on my blog.  Probably I will put it right under the onion and move everything else down, deleting the Google ad bar at the bottom of the page.  I hope it's not too intrusive.  The good news is, I will share my reviews of the best books with my readers.  (I assume some of you are following me because of my tastes in reading material.  Otherwise it's not good news.  Bummer.)

Of course, there's still a chance that after reading my response to their invitation the folks at BlogHer will decide I'm a lunatic who couldn't be trusted to review the text on the back of a cereal box, in which case my blog will not change and I will continue to depend upon the public library and my personal book horde for reading material.

"The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read."  ~Abraham Lincoln

Monday, May 23, 2011

Table Quest Part 1

Although the sale of our house fell through, I haven't given up hope that someone else will make an offer on it soon.  When they do, I'm hoping the house I wanted is still available; if not, I'll make an offer on one with the same floorplan just down the street from my parents' house.

Both houses have a square eat-in kitchen that will require a smallish round or square table.  I don't have that kind of table now but I do have a set of kitchen/dining room chairs.  My grandmother gave them to me; they originally belonged to her parents.  Since they're antique golden oak, I thought I would start looking for an old round oak table to go with them.

So, when Sue and I drove to Glendale on Saturday for German food and chocolate, I first dragged her through a 20,000 square foot antiques mall - A Mad Hatter's, just across the street from where we ate lunch.  Somehow, in all the years Sue has lived in the greater Phoenix area, she's missed A Mad Hatter's.  That's probably because her decor is mostly modern.  Still, she too became caught up in the hunt for hidden treasures.

Need an antique desk, vintage cannisters, deco jewelry, cast iron toys, a Betty Crocker-style apron?   If it's old, it's probably somewhere on the premises.  I restrained myself from buying a few pieces of silverplate that matched the set I inherited from my grandfather - I couldn't remember how many additional knives I actually need - and Sue salivated over a handmade bunny that she regretfully decided would degenerate into an expensive cat toy if she took it home.  I didn't find the table, but I saw two that are possibilities, and more may appear by the time I actually have a house to put one into.

A Mad Hatter's isn't the only antiques store in Glendale; the Historic Glendale website claims the town has over 100 antiques and specialty shops.  On Saturday we parked in front of a newly opened vintage clothing shop that I'm dying to explore (they were closed that day to attend a fashion show elsewhere).  Glendale is a longish drive from where I'm living now, but the combined lure of chocolate, bratwurst, and collectibles will probably take me back there soon.

"If men liked shopping, they'd call it research. " ~Cynthia Nelms

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is Murphy a German Name?

Before we went to the chocolate factory yesterday we kept up our strength by eating lunch at Haus Murphy, a German restaurant on Glendale Avenue, the main drag in downtown Glendale, AZ.

Murphy's is in a different building now than when I first moved to the Phoenix area.  The original location, farther down Glendale Avenue, incorporated the bar used in the Sally Field/James Garner film Murphy's Romance; hence the name of the restaurant.  In those days the menu was solidly German - wursts, sauerkraut, schnitzels, red cabbage, strudel, and awesome homemade soups.  It also had a beer garden with occasional live entertainment that you had to get to by squeezing through the kitchen.  Their food was the kind of stuff my mother's family cooked when she was small, only better, so she (and my sister and I) loved to eat there.  Dad is not as fond of German food as the rest of us but he was enthusiastic about their choice selection of imported beers.

The new location is larger and the beer garden is in a more convenient location - between Haus Murphy and the building next door - but I don't think the original bar made the trip.  The menu has also undergone a sea change; you can now order pasta and (at lunch) a variety of non-German sandwiches.  My sister Sue was horrified to find that they now serve pizza.  "What's German about pizza?" she kept asking.  (I didn't point out that the Reuben she ordered had been invented in New York City.)  The quality of the food, the German beers, and the homemade soups, however, is as high as ever, making it still the obligatory spot for a sausage and a lager before every trip to Cerreta's. 

“....there are more different sausages in Germany than there are breakfast foods in America, and if there is a bad one among them then I have never heard of it.“ ~H.L. Mencken

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Going Out With Chocolate

Every couple of months or so my sister and one or more of her friends make a pilgrimage to Glendale (just west of Phoenix) for a chocolate fix.  Today was one of those days and I got to go along.  I was pretty excited; after all, if the world does end this afternoon, why not go with a really good chocolate in my mouth?

The source of this chocolate is the Cerreta Candy Company, which has been making assorted chocolates and other goodies in Arizona for 40 years.  Cerreta's is family-owned and operated by third-generation chocolatiers who really know what they're doing.  They use high-quality ingredients and are always experimenting with new and improved flavor combinations.  The candy-manufacturing part of the operation is open to the showroom, so on most weekdays visitors can watch the entire process while shopping for the end product.  Candy may be purchased pre-packaged or (at the factory) by the piece; I usually put together my own assortment of French mint truffles, dark-chocolate-covered raisins, peanut butter in milk chocolate, and dark chocolate with raspberry- or orange-flavored centers.  Really.  Good.  Stuff.

Cerreta's sells caramels, popcorn, caramel corn, cookies, nuts and pretzels in addition to chocolate, but I almost never get around to buying any of them.  Somehow, my basket always seems to mysteriously fill with chocolate, leaving no room for non-essentials - and if the world does end this afternoon, a last Cerreta chocolate definitely counts as one of my essentials.

"There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate." ~ Linda Grayson

Friday, May 20, 2011

Between Seasons

The weather here in Arizona has been very strange for the last couple of weeks.  We've had unusually cool and damp weather some days and record-breaking heat and low humidity on others.  Fortunately my favorite soups can be eaten hot or cold, so I'm ready whatever the temperature.  Although I usually make soup from scratch, I have a few commercial favorites.

The soups listed below are great for lunch or as a first course.  All are low-calorie.  Some are also low-sodium.  Others contain more salt than I would prefer, but we are able to eat them in moderation because the rest of our diet contains so little sodium.
  • Imagine Light in Sodium Creamy Sweet Potato Soup, Creamy Portobello Mushroom Soup, Light in Sodium Creamy Broccoli Soup*
  • Pacific Natural Foods Light Sodium Organic Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, Light Sodium Creamy Butternut Squash Soup*
  • Progresso Vegetable Classics Hearty Tomato Soup*
  • Campbell’s Select Harvest Garden Recipes Caramelized French Onion Soup
  • Miso soup
*good either hot or cold

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting." ~Abraham Maslow

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Marrying Money

Tonight I finished re-reading the book for next month's book club meeting: Marrying Mom by Olivia Goldsmith.

Goldsmith was probably most famous as the author of The First Wives ClubMarrying Mom is one of her shorter and lighter books; it doesn't have the depth of The First Wives Club or the tangled melodrama of Flavor of the Month, but if you're looking for a quick, funny novel to read at the beach, this would be a good choice.

Ira and Phyllis Geronomous retired to Florida after a lifetime in New York.  Now Ira is dead, and Phyllis wants to move back to New York and give her three children the time and attention she was never able to while they were growing up.  Her family is horrified by the news.  Sigourney (nee Susan), the oldest, is a formerly successful stockbroker whose clients are melting away; Bruce, the gay youngest child, sees his Queer Santa line of greeting cards circling the drain; and Sharon, the middle one, has a laid-off husband and no job prospects herself.  None of them wants Mom meddling with the situation.  The only way they can see to get her off their backs is to marry her off as quickly as possible, preferably to someone with a lot of money.  Thus begins Operation Geezer Quest.

Yes, some of the characters in this book are shallow and obnoxious.  Yes, some of the humor is a stretch (Phyllis's maiden name is "Phyllis Steen").  On the whole, though, I thought Marrying Mom was great fun, especially since I might very well have borrowed the plot had my father died 10 years ago.

Sigourney: "This is the end of the world as we know it, Bruce. How can we stop her?"
Bruce: "Hmmm. How about plastic explosives in the cargo bay? We'd take down a lot of innocent lives, but we could know it was a small price to pay."
~Olivia Goldsmith, Marrying Mom

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dinner and a Show

I've already mentioned that my parents and I eat most of our meals at their house at a table in front of the kitchen window, watching the birds and the rabbits in the backyard.  Lately most of the action has been coming from the quail.

Five different types of quail are native to Arizona.  Those in my parents' neighborhood are Gambel's quail, fat little birds who never fly when they can walk, and have feathered topknot plumes something like the aigrettes worn by flappers in the 1920's.  When I first moved here they were traveling in fairly large groups, last year's chicks still hanging with their mama and papa, but over the past month they all seem to have paired off.

So far only one couple has produced chicks for our entertainment.  Originally we think there were six babies (they were so small and moved so fast they were hard to count at a distance), but they are now down to three which the parents defend quite ferociously.  This afternoon the father quail was warning off several other adult males, going so far as to bump them away with his fat little tummy; it was the bird world's equivalent of jousting elk or battling bighorn sheep.  Tonight we saw the mother quail attack a mourning dove, driving it away with fierce cries and pecking.  If the remaining chicks don't survive, it will be because something quite a bit bigger or faster than a quail is responsible.

At this point the babies are about the size of the last joint of my thumb.  Their heads are roughly as big as a good-sized pea, so their brains...well, let's just say that they aren't exhibiting much intelligence yet.  Last night Mom threw some wilted lettuce shreds out the back door.  The quail family was quite excited when they found the remains; one of the chicks grabbed a hunk almost as big as he was and ran frantically around in circles with it until Papa Quail took it away.  The babies also have a tendency to freeze in place while the rest of the family moves off, noticing and racing to catch up only at the last minute.  I can't imagine how the quail parents with a dozen or so infants to herd manage.

Unfortunately, Mom and Dad's yard is occasionally visited by grackles, who think baby quail are extremely tasty.  I just hope our nightly quail show isn't disrupted by marauding big birds who turn it from comedy to a tragedy.

“The song-birds leave us at the summer's close, Only the empty nests are left behind, And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Harvest Moon"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Art on Fire

I am in the middle of reading The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, and I will report on it as soon as I finish.  However, in the meantime, I couldn't resist passing along one of their recommendations for your viewing pleasure.  Is it a great recipe?  A stunning new food preparation technique?  No, it's where the authors go when they need a good laugh - The Museum of Burnt Food.  Here's a link to my favorite exhibit:

I will never again feel guilty about the time I left the teakettle on the burner just a little too long.  At least it didn't melt or incinerate my kitchen.

"I'm not saying my wife's a bad cook, but she uses a smoke alarm as a timer." ~Bob Monkhouse

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blood and Guts

I think I was eight the first time I saw one of my father's many cousins chop off a chicken's head.  Immediately after the execution the decapitated body leaped up and ran in progressively smaller circles around the barnyard, flapping its wings until it ran down like a wind-up toy.  My initial unease was swallowed in a blaze of understanding - that's what it meant "to run around like a chicken with its head cut off!"  Moral qualms also did not stop me from consuming my share of the victim at lunch.  If anything about this description made you even faintly queasy, however, DO NOT read Cleaving by Julie Powell.

Powell is the author of the blog that became the book Julie and Julia, Now A Major Motion Picture starring Meryl Streep.  I saw the movie first and loved it.  I also enjoyed the book, although it's darker, and after reading it I looked for more by Powell.  I found that her blog had been discontinued with a last bitter note from the author, and the reviews of her only other book, Cleaving, were scathing.  Nevertheless, I picked it up at the library last week to check it out for myself.

Like Julie and Julia, Cleaving is autobiographical.  After the success of her first book, Powell inexplicably began an obsessive affair with a man whose attractiveness seems composed of equal parts rejection and rough sex.  Naturally, her supportive and handsome husband Eric was baffled and hurt and their marriage developed huge cracks.  Trying to distract herself from the failures of both relationships (and probably to work off some of her repressed anger), Powell became an apprentice butcher.  After learning the trade, she went on a globe-trotting expedition to witness meat-related scenes such as a water buffalo sale in Argentina and Masai blood-drinking in Africa.

After reading both  Cleaving and many other readers' reactions to it, I think this is a book in search of a target market.  Most of the women who would be interested in Powell's personal anguish and the torrid details of her infidelity would probably also be revolted by the graphic descriptions of slaughter and butchery.  (Her snide commentary on women who buy only boneless skinless chicken breasts certainly wouldn't win her many friends in that camp.)  Fans of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations would probably embrace the gritty travel scenes while rejecting the author's masochistic revelations with loathing.  Fans of Julie and Julia apparently freaked out en masse, particularly those who loved the first book's portrayal of Eric.

Julie Powell wrote this book when she was 33, describing herself as someone in "early middle age."  I found her confusion and self-loathing very sad.  I will copy some of her recipes and benefit by her descriptions of  how to cut up beef and pork, but I doubt that I'll read the book again.  I hope that the author's therapist (mentioned only in passing) can help her find the peace that meat processing gives her only temporarily.

"What Could Happen? - musings from a 'soiled and narcissistic whore'.'" ~Julie Powell, title of her blog at

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Sweeter Potato Chip

Potato chips are one of my favorite foods, but they combine fats, salt, and the types of carbs that make blood sugar spike.  I've been trying to replace them with sweet potato chips that are microwaved instead of fried.  These take a while to process, but they taste good and have at least some nutritional value.  In fact, The Center for Science in the Public Interest rates the sweet potato as the most nutritious vegetable.

Sweet Potato Chips

1 large sweet potato or yam, peeled
Black pepper, dried herbs and salt to taste

Using a mandoline or the slicing blade on a box grater, slice the sweet potato as thinly as possible.  Place the slices in a single layer on a microwaveable plate and season.  Cook in batches to avoid crowding the slices on the plate; they won’t cook correctly if touching.  Microwave until just starting to turn brown (about five minutes).  The chips will crisp as they cool.

"Cogito ergo spud [I think, therefore I yam]" ~Herb Caen

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Purple Prose

In The Language of the Night, one of the best books I've ever read about writing, Ursula K. LeGuin says of one of her own early novels, "But of course fantasy and science fiction are different, just as red and blue are different; they have different frequencies; if you mix them (on paper--I work on paper) you get purple, something else again. [This book] is definitely purple."

The first "science fiction" novel I ever read - when I was in seventh grade - was Andre Norton's The X Factor, and I loved it, even though LeGuin would classify it as purple.  I still own a copy and periodically reread it.  I spent much of my adolescence tracking down Norton's other "young adult" books but never located them all (she wrote well over 100 volumes), so I was pleased last week to find at our local library a new collection of her works that contains two short novels I'd never seen.  The book is The Game of Stars and Comets; it comprises The Sioux Spaceman (1960), Eye of the Monster (1962), The X Factor (1965), and Voorloper (1980).

Alice Norton was a Cleveland librarian who started writing books in 1934 under several male noms de plume in order to appeal to the boys who were the primary market for science fiction and fantasy at the time.  Her early works were mostly fantasy.  Her mid-career writings, on the other hand, were full of pseudo-scientific gadgets, but over time the rockets and blasters again became secondary to mental powers, alien artifacts, and outright magic.  Perhaps her most famous works are Witch World and its sequels, which are pure fantasy.  The books in The Game of Stars and Comets were written in the middle of her career and are all quite purple.  Sonic shields and stunners are still in evidence, but telepathy and its relatives are ultimately the most important weapons.

The typical Norton book is written in third person.  The protagonist is a young man (some of the later books featured young women) who doesn't fit in to his surroundings.  Frequently he's an orphan, stuck on a hostile alien planet.  Some of the language is deliberately stilted to convey the "otherwhere" atmosphere.  The hero must face a variety of physical dangers and mental challenges before he eventually comes to terms with himself and his new environment.

The fantasy books are more successful than the science fiction because they aren't as dated, but I would still recommend even the early science fiction for young adolescents.  The stories are absorbing, the characters are attractive, and the underlying messages about honor, persistence, and self-reliance don't hit the reader over the head.  Andre Norton doesn't moralize; her characters agonize over the right thing to do, and occasionally take little moral detours, but eventually they pull up their socks and get on with it.  Looking back, I can see that they served as role models for my early life, and did a fine job of it, too.  I'm glad to have had the chance to meet two more of them over the last week.

"As for courage and will - we cannot measure how much of each lies within us, we can only trust there will be sufficient to carry through trials which may lie ahead." ~Andre Norton

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Summer Soup

I know that parts of the country are still having occasional snow flurries, but here in the Phoenix area the high temps have been in the 90's and low 100's lately.  When the weather is this hot I like to start dinner with salad or a cold soup, and gazpacho is probably my favorite cold soup.  This version takes quite a bit of chopping but leftovers (if you have any) will last for several days in the refrigerator.

This is chunky Southwestern gazpacho rather than the smooth Spanish version.


About 1 cup each of coarsely chopped:
  • Tomatoes
  • Onion (best with a sweet onion like Vidalia or Walla Walla)
  • Green bell pepper
  • Red or yellow bell pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
1 tsp minced fresh Serrano chile
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups low-sodium V-8 or tomato juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Stir together in a large bowl.  Use a stick blender or food processor to chop the ingredients a little more finely and blend them together.  (I like my gazpacho with a coarse, slightly crunchy texture but puree it if you prefer.)  Chill before eating.  Makes about four large servings.  Variations: Add small amounts of whatever other fresh vegetables look good at the market – carrots, radishes, jicama, etc.

"I didn't care much for the gazpacho soup. I mean where's the fun of sending it back because it isn't hot?"  
~Colleen, 30 Rock

Monday, May 9, 2011

Unsticking the Velcro Cat

One aspect of life at the Kitty Spa has not been running smoothly.  My parents have Berber carpet in their living, dining, and bedrooms, and whenever Rusty walks across it her claws catch.  We've been calling her the Velcro Cat because the sound of her unhooking herself from the carpet is a lot like the noise Velcro makes as it rips apart.  She's started using an exaggerated duck walk to avoid the snagging but it doesn't always work.

I've been putting off trimming her toenails because it's always an ordeal.  I originally bought Rusty from a rescue organization and she had obviously been badly mistreated.  She wouldn't let me pick her up without a struggle for almost two years after I got her, and to this day she goes wild if she thinks she's being forcibly restrained.  (Her file at the vet's has a yellow "fractious" sticker on it.)  Unfortunately, claw-clipping usually requires forcible restraint.  Once in a while I can sneak up on her and trim a couple of nails while she's sleeping, but lately she's been napping under the bed so that hasn't been an option.

Last night my sister came over for dinner and Dad's birthday cake so I recruited her help.  (She has had several hard-to-handle cats and is an experienced claw-clipper.)  I held Rusty and Sue clipped.  I could tell from the language Rusty used that she had spent way too much time listening to the alley cats behind our apartment in Brooklyn.  No blood was shed, but by the last paw she was struggling so hard that I finally let her go.

Rusty and friend
Upon her release, Rusty jumped on the back of the sofa where we were sitting and gave us a smug "So, there!" look.  She didn't have a chance to enjoy her victory, though, because Sue grabbed her under one arm and finished the last two claws before she could even protest.  I didn't know a cat's face could look that shocked and surprised - not to mention outraged.  She may never speak to Auntie Sue again.

At any rate, today Rusty is walking across the carpet with no noise or snagging.  I'm just hoping we'll be able to move before she once again morphs into the Velcro Cat.

(Note to self: DO NOT buy a home carpeted in Berber!!)

"Velcro: what a rip-off." ~ Tim Vine

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Merry Month of May

May is a rather stressful month.  In addition to Mother's Day, it contains my father's birthday and my sister's, all clustered closely together.  In fact, tomorrow is both Mother's Day and Dad's 85th birthday, and Sue's birthday is on the 18th.

Normally I spend the first part of May baking cake and wracking my brains for suitable presents.  All three of them are difficult to buy gifts for, particularly now that my sister is downsizing and my parents claim to have everything they want or need.  In the past I've gone with the tried and true (flowers for Mom), the whimsical ("Owner of the World's Cutest Cat" t-shirt for Sue), and the shot in the dark (a set of White Wings paper airplanes for Dad), but I'm running out of ideas.

This year I'm taking them all out for dinner, since I'm still in exile from my kitchen.  At Mom's request, I baked a combined birthday and Mother's Day cake today from a mix (confetti angel food).  I bought cards.  I got Mom a butter dish she wanted and Dad a bottle of bourbon.  I'm still trying to decide what to get my sister - besides help with cleaning the grout in the house she's trying to sell, that is.  Maybe another cat shirt - the other one is almost worn out.

The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that Sue will have an equally stressful month in August, when my birthday is the day before my parents' anniversary.

"Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays."  ~John Clayton

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

When I was in grade school, my friend Doreen's family raised rabbits.  Looking back, I don't know whether they sold them as pets or for food, and I'd really rather not speculate.  The baby bunnies were adorable, though - soft and fluffy and pure white.  My friend's house wasn't quite on my route home from school, but occasionally I would (against strict orders from my mother) detour the one block necessary to visit the latest litter of infant rabbits.  Of course, Mom always knew when I had; at the time I thought it was some kind of mother magic, but I now realize it was because I came home late with milkweed-like puffs of bunny fur clinging to the front of my clothing.

Most of the wild bunnies in our part of South Dakota were short-eared eastern cottontails.  My parents' Sun City neighborhood is home to many desert cottontails and my sister's yard, five miles north, also hosts black-tailed jackrabbits, which are actually hares.  In fact, so many rabbits and hares lived (or at least grazed) on the property when Sue bought it that she named it The House of Many Bunnies.

(Sorry, my cell phone doesn't zoom very far.)
My mother feeds the bunnies in her neighborhood despite the HOA's prohibition in order to minimize rabbit damage to her roses and other plants.  We usually eat at my parents' kitchen table in front of a picture window that looks out onto the back yard where the bunnies are munching on our latest round of kitchen scraps.  By now I can recognize some of them - the aggressive male with the black stripes on his face, the two apparently identical adolescent bunnies who play tag around the yard, the slow-moving pregnant female with the silvery coat, and the itty-bitty bunny (apparently an only child) who lives under the neighbor's cactus plant.

I know that wild rabbits can be mean and flea-infested, but watching them takes me back to those grade school days by the hutches in Doreen's backyard, and I wish I could pick up that cute little baby bunny for one quick cuddle.

"Rabbits have a habit of coming for breakfast and staying for lunch." ~Gerry Krueger

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Melodrama Continues

Nina, if you're reading this - I also was reminded of the Carol Burnett show tonight, this time their parody of soap operas, "As the Stomach Turns."  Mine has certainly been turning for the last few hours.

This afternoon our realtor called and told me that the purchase of our house and, by extension, my purchase of the house I want are both off because the sale of our buyers' house has fallen through.  So, we're back to square one, this weekend's open house is back on, and I need to do some major dusting over there tomorrow or Saturday.

But the drama doesn't end there.  Oh, no.  Before the news came about the cancellation of the contract, Barry had invited me over for dinner and to discuss the results of the buyers' home inspection report.  Afterward, dinner was still on but the topic for discussion changed to "what the heck do we do now?"  Dinner was very nice; Barry grilled pork chops and made salad, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and strawberry shortcake.  It was a feast.  Then he dropped the bomb.

Since I've been gone he has been reading a string of self-help books recommended by his psychiatrist and thinking deeply about his future, and he has suddenly realized that:
  • He  is responsible for most of his own problems.
  • Most of his problems with me have been due to him projecting his own negative thoughts onto me.
  • I am the best friend he's ever had or is ever likely to have and he would be a fool to let me go.
  • It's more important for him to love me than for me to love him.
Now he's thinking we should sell this house; I should buy a smaller one and pay off my car loan; and he would commit to paying all the ongoing household expenses.  He would still be better off than when he was paying the mortgage, I could probably quit one job, and we would have fewer money problems and more time to spend together.

Can you spell "whiplash?"

(I have at least one good friend who's reading this and shrieking, "Don't do it!!" at her computer screen.  Relax.  At least temporarily.)

I took a deep breath and thanked him for all the nice things he was saying about me and said that I was proud of him for doing all the hard work it took to come to his conclusions.  However (I said), I don't think money is the root of all our problems and I would need some pretty good evidence that he will no longer blame me for everything that goes wrong in his life before I would be willing to live together again.  I also told him that I needed more time to let go of the pent-up anger I've accumulated over the last couple of years.  He took all this pretty well.  I don't know whether that means he actually has had a little growth spurt here, or that he doesn't really believe me.  Either is possible.

So, will Beth and Barry sell their house again in the near future or remain in real estate limbo?  If the house sells, will the house Beth wants still be available?  Has Barry turned over a new leaf or is this just another instance of self-delusion on his part, brought on by a month of doing all his own cooking and laundry?  Which will drive Beth over the edge faster - living with him again, or trying to remain friends with separate residences?  Stay tuned for the next electrifying episode of "As the Stomach Turns."

"If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role."  ~Judy Garland

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Temporarily Displaced

As if living with my parents weren't limbo enough, this week the web design firm I work for is moving to new quarters and I've been told to work from home until further notice.  I'm really beginning to feel like a displaced person.  Oh, well; if the working at home thing goes well, maybe I will be able to telecommute more in the future.

On the home front, the owners of the little house I wanted have accepted my offer to buy it and with luck we will be closing on June 1.  My nesting instinct is kicking into high gear; my head feels like it's ready to explode with ideas for painting walls, arranging furniture, and replacing the avocado curtains in my prospective office.  I can already see that my first call after taking possession will be to an electrician to put a ceiling fan in the master bedroom, do away with some ugly wall sconces, and move a badly placed kitchen light.  Call number two will be to the cable company, to move the cable plug to the one wall long enough for my entertainment center.  I'm also going to be looking for a dishwasher; the kitchen doesn't currently have one, and anyone who uses as many pots and pans as I do really ought to have one.

I'm not terribly good at deferred gratification; this is going to be a very long month.

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion . . . . I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."  ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moving On...

Well, we thought the offer for our house was too low and counteroffered.  The buyers accepted the counteroffer, so we will be closing on May 27.

Last Friday I saw a small house that had all the things I was looking for, including my optional items (a double garage and a large screened porch).  It doesn't have a dining room but the kitchen is large enough for a big table when needed.  I made an offer on the house tonight and am waiting to hear whether it will be accepted.  My family and the realtors seemed surprised that I'm downsizing so drastically, but every home I've ever purchased or rented on my own was small; the bigger places I've lived in have been because Tom or Barry wanted more space.  Personally, I'd rather have less to clean.  As long as I have room for my bookshelves I'm OK.

Barry hadn't shopped for alternate housing yet, but today he started looking at rentals.  He's thinking of renting for a year while he decides whether he really wants to buy another home.

Now the final frenzy of packing and deciding who gets what begins - a dirty job but somebody has to do it.  I will try to keep focused on how much fun it will be to decorate a new place without having to take anyone else's taste into account.

"Moving on is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard." ~Dave Mustaine