Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Everybody has days where they are so overwhelmed by what needs to be accomplished, that they are afraid to ask for help because if somebody says, “No” they are afraid they will dissolve into tears and be humiliated by the ensuing emotional collapse… You just hope and pray that somebody notices and stops to help. But mostly they don’t.
Other days you are on a roll and everything is going smoothly. You are working in a rhythm and somebody comes along to “help” and everything falls apart and you are instantly so angry you could spit….The Bearded One does this to me from time to time. Usually in the kitchen.
I was cooking at top speed, seasoning the sauce, browning chicken, chopping veggies for the steamer. Then I reached for my ¼ cup measure to add dry Marsala to the sauce. It wasn’t there. “Did you wash it?” I asked accusingly.
“I was just helping out by cleaning up after you so that you wouldn’t have a big mess after dinner,” came the reply.
Just. Don’t . Help. Sometimes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Orphans of the Storm

He was a little sable kitty, sitting in the rain under the tailpipe of a motorcycle. “Meow,” he mepped as the rainwater dripped on his head. The Bearded One and I were in college and had met living as neighbors in the same apartment complex. The Bearded One is a “cat person”.
“How did you get out here, little kitty?” he asked as he picked the little guy up. As he headed back into the building, another little sable kitten dragged herself out from under the apartment steps, she was dry but dragging her right rear leg. The Bearded One picked her up as well.
I was surprised to hear the doorbell ring at that hour of the morning. I was even more surprised to see The Bearded One in motorcycle leathers with a tiny kitten in the palm of each gauntlet.
“Here take them. I’ll give you $20 and you can go to the corner store and get litter and cat food. Then find a vet because one of them is hurt.”
At the vet that evening, shots were given to both and an x-ray was taken of the little girl with the limp. The Bearded One was assured that it was a broken hip, but that if we cut down a litter box for her and kept her quiet, nothing was displaced and she’d heal up just fine in a few weeks.
The Humane Society, however, said, “We’ll take the male, but we’ll have to put the female down.”
The Bearded One explained that he had a vet’s report that said that the female would be just fine and she had her first shots.
“We’d have to put her down.”
The Bearded One said, “F##k you,” and slammed down the phone. We now had two cats. Which was probably what the Humane Society planned on: What college student pays for shots and x-rays for stray kittens? A good adoptive cat parent, that’s who.
As I could keep animals in my apartment building but he couldn’t in his, I assumed custody. I sometimes wonder if that is why our relationship lasted – I had “his” cats.

Improving my Mood

This was how long it took for the endorphins to kick in this morning. Knowing that I am going to do 30 minutes on the treadmill, sometimes I still have to play “head games” with myself. “If you get to the end of this song, you can quit any time you want to.” “If you get to 20 minutes you can quit any time”. “If you can do 10 minutes at 4 mph you can quit anytime”.
Usually the endorphins kick in somewhere between 11 and 17 minutes and then I feel like I could go forever… but I have to stop to go to work.
This morning, no matter what music I used, no matter what speed I tried, no matter how I adjusted my breathing, my feet and legs hurt for a long time. They were saying, “Stop now! Really, we don’t want to do this! We really, really mean it! Haven’t you gotten the message yet? Stop Already!” And yes, I did warm ups.
Thank goodness this doesn’t happen often because I really rely on the workouts now. It only took a few months, but now if I miss my workout, I’m grumpy all day.
The impetus for beginning the workouts was my doctor saying, “Your bone scan shows that your bone density is low normal. You need lots of calcium and exercise.”
This finally made me realize that with my son turning 18 in a matter of months, he should be perfectly capable of getting himself out of bed, showering, and making lunch without my supervision. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey, Stubble. You are on your own now in the morning.”
Stubble: “Whuh?”
Me: “I’m going to the gym to work out.”
Stubble: “Whuh?”
I fully expected calls from the school going, “Where the hell is he?” but it never happened. He was only late one single day when he was sick in the early morning.
Why did it take me nearly 2 years to figure out that if I left, he might just rise to the occasion? Sometimes they surprise you that way.

Endings and Beginnings

I watched Stubble get his heart broken a few weeks ago. From my bedroom window I could see him talking to his girlfriend of two and a half years in our front parking area. She was going to come over to swim and to have dinner with us. Instead she broke up with him.
When he came into the house is face was frozen and expressionless and his eyes were bleak,
“She dumped me.”
“Are you OK?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.
He never cried, at least not in front of me, but he did let me hold him and rub his back for about 20 minutes or so before he got out his computer to remove her presence from his Facebook site. He couldn’t completely do it though, because they have been together so long that he would need to erase most of his pictures. It has to be hard. They had so many good times and he needs to remember those without having the memories depress him, but that will only come with time and distance.
It is trite but true that when one chapter ends, another begins:
Stubble started college this week. He likes his classes and professors. He’ll be on campus from mid-morning until late afternoon which will keep him VERY busy. He will be around people most of whom are starting out on their own amazing journeys into adulthood. It is an exciting time in his life and I am very proud of what he is doing – giving up a lazy summer to get a head start on his transfer program.
I wish him all the best and much happiness.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ignoring Rule Number 3

There are a few general rules of living that are universal:
1) You can’t drive faster than the car ahead of you.
2) Drinking your breakfast is NEVER a good idea.
3) Always get a good night’s sleep.
4) Wear clean underwear.
5) Eat your vegetables.
6) Look in the direction you are walking.
Follow these little gems of motherly advice and you can pretty well make it through life intact.
Yesterday I was bumped into by a student looking back over her shoulder as she moved toward the door. It was not a gentle bump. She was completely surprised and subsequently embarrassed. Was she looking back for a friend? Did she think that she may have dropped something important? Whatever the reason, there was nothing either she or I could do to avoid the collision.
I remember repeating general rule number 6 to Stubble over and over again as we made our way through his childhood. He was always looking all about as he moved forward at breakneck speed. Often with painful consequences: The unfortunate tree root on the dirt path; the unexpected bicycle on a collision course; the sign post that he just didn’t see. They were all there in his path waiting to catch him “not looking”.
‘Eyes Forward’ is a good way to live. Not that the past isn’t important and we shouldn’t remember it and value what we had, or that we shouldn’t glance side to side from time to time; but as we move forward, often at a rapid pace, we really need to pay attention to where we are going and the obstacles in the way. And I don’t mean this only in the “walking down a hall” sense. As we make our life choices, we need to be looking ahead figuratively. What are the possible consequences of that move across country, and if you try to go back to where you started again will it prove a huge disappointment? Probably. You have to keep moving forward toward something. It just may be something completely unexpected and unimaginable only a few months ago. That is what life is all about and it can be painful emotionally and physically, it can be messy and hard and, hopefully, ultimately rewarding.
I wish that I had really understood number 6 twenty years ago. I wouldn’t have wasted as much time.
And now, enough philosophizing for one night when I can't sleep...

Another Tale of Home Improvement

We bought the house with eyes wide open. It had been a rental property for 10 years, we were told. It had recently been “fixed up to sell” by the current owner who had bought it as an investment property. It was larger than anything that I had yet seen in California and we could afford it. And best of all, it had CLOSETS. Lots of closets. And big rooms. Some of the newer homes that I had been shown that were in our price range and were available to rent until closing were less than exciting.
One was a three bedroom, two bath home where one of the two bedrooms on the second floor had no bathroom access….one was lovely but had no usable yard…one had a bedroom with no closet and tiny, tiny rooms. We were coming from a 1200 square foot house with a full furnished basement. Meaning that we had 2400 square feet of “stuff” to move into our new place.
We knew that “fixed up to sell” meant that they had installed the cheapest possible carpet and that the “fresh paint” was probably not really high quality, but we wanted the square footage, the closets, the under house storage, the large attic, and decently sized rooms; so we signed on the dotted line and moved in.
Things held up pretty well for the first 10 years. We found out that there was a hole in the laundry room floor when a corner of the dryer fell through it, and sealing the asphalt driveway was an issue as the crumbling drive seemed to absorb the sealer like a sponge but it was no big deal. Following a scary wildfire, the shake roof was redone with something fire resistant. The garbage disposal finally blew its fuse for the last time and was replaced, but for the most part things were OK and we could live with it. Then at 10 years, we decided that we wanted to change a few things and the major renovation began.
Those of you who lived through the 70’s know the beauty that is “Mediterranean Style”. For those of you who don’t know, Google it, or just think DARK and ORNATE. We had been Home Depot dreaming for years, selecting which (light, simple) cabinets we would install and what color countertop we would like. When we got the contractor’s estimate for replacing the kitchen cabinets we were stunned. The entire budget for a new driveway, deck, and kitchen would be eaten up by the kitchen alone! When we recovered a bit from the shock, the contractor told us that refinishing the cabinets was an option also. When we found out that cost we decided to replace the back deck and the driveway and to tackle the kitchen ourselves.
Our original decision was to replace countertop and appliances and the cabinet hardware and just update a bit. That was affordable, that was doable. Then I fell in love with a black granite look laminate countertop. It would be WAY too dark for the existing finish on the cabinets, but WAIT! If “I” refinish them, maybe I can lighten the color enough that the countertop will look OK. We had planned on stainless steel appliances and had ordered a new dishwasher in stainless, but had cancelled the order when unexpected expenses came up. Which turned out to be a GOOD thing, because when I began the process of stripping the old varnish, what emerged was beautiful , heavily grained Red Oak. Stainless looked AWFUL with it, but black appliances were just the ticket. And the black countertop? Um, not a good match with the final cabinet color, but another granite-appearing salmon pinkish/rose with dark gray flecks, oddly enough called “Mesa Gold”, looked just right.

I had the casework stripped and re-varnished within 6 weeks, but then we were without doors on the cabinets for a couple of years as I stripped and refinished them in and around other projects and necessities of life, like doing laundry and cooking. Luckily we were able to find new hinges in the exact same style as the old ones, and found pulls that were exactly what we wanted (simple, solid antique brass). We found a double convection oven at a warehouse sale that was priced just perfectly, and the most expensive “appliance” in the kitchen turned out to be the big, black, Kohler sink and faucet assembly.
What I have learned from this experience is that for do it yourselfers, sometimes slow and steady is the way to go because your taste will change over time and once you have it all installed is not the time to decide that you have made the wrong color choices!
And that beautiful, Red Oak? When the cabinets were installed (40 years ago), they were put up, hardware was installed, and the black lacquer varnish was slapped over the entire cabinet, hinges and all. There was no stain on the cabinets under the hinges. Oh MY! There are many more shortcuts that the contractor took when building our house which will be the subject of future Home Improvement Tales.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


From time to time, I will tell stories from much earlier in my life; which requires a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: These stories are from a time more than a quarter century ago and are seen through the rosy mists of time. Any relatives reading these stories are sure to say, “THAT isn’t the way it happened”.
But so what; it is my memory and I’m telling it my way. All others are welcome to start their own blog.

Dad was a birder. Not the kind of birder who goes into the forests counting birds for the Audubon Society, and not the kind that takes long hikes with binoculars and a bound journal to record sightings. He was the kind of birder who kept 4 bird feeders in the well protected “L” of the house between the screened porch and the breakfast nook; A pair of binoculars stayed on the table, ready for use during that second cup of coffee on winter mornings.
The feeders were well stocked on a daily basis in the winter, and in the summer nobody cared that the part of the lawn where the feeders were sprouted all kinds of vegetation other than standard grass. The birds loved it and regularly provided an early morning show.
Another creature loved the feeders also: A squirrel. That squirrel would climb right up to the feeder and sit and eat. And eat. And eat.
Dad was incensed; His first purchase to “save the seed” was a circular piece of metal called a “squirrel guard” for each feeder. They looked for all the world like a protective collar worn by a dog following surgery, but upside down. In theory, a squirrel couldn’t get around the guard and the feeder was “safe” for the birds. The squirrel guards were duly installed, but the next morning the sight of Mr. Squirrel having breakfast greeted Dad.
After watching for several mornings to try to catch the squirrel in the act, he saw the furry little guy climbing up the downspout on the screened porch and onto the roof from which he could jump to the feeder. After fuming for awhile and telling me all about it AT GREAT LENGTH in a phone conversation, he cut a small piece of metal and attached it in the curve of the downspout as it attached to the gutter so that the squirrel couldn’t get to the roof.
Several days later the squirrel was in the feeder again. More observation led to the discovery that the neighbor’s maple tree had an overhanging branch that provided access to the yummy bird seed. Trimming the tree with the neighbor’s permission helped for awhile but eventually the squirrel was back in the feeder, feasting on the seeds.
Finally, probably at my mother’s suggestion, squirrel friendly food was purchased and left at the base of the feeders. The squirrel won.

Road Trip!

I guess I thought EVERYBODY took Road Trips for vacations. I didn’t realize that most people just went to a resort somewhere and lay around a pool doing nothing; Or maybe played round or two of golf or a game of tennis. As a child, our family took vacations that were work. We logged miles, saw lots of the country, EVERY historic marker in the Midwest, EVERY stand of old growth pine trees in Northern Michigan. And NO, I am not exaggerating.
Dad was a history teacher both by profession and deep down into his very soul. We could no more not learn something on vacation than we could fly to the moon. Now, don’t get me wrong, we did fun things like always stay at a campground that had at the very least a swimming pool and if everything fell perfectly into place, horses to ride. But we visited mines and ghost towns and national monuments. We went to museums of minerals and museums of dinosaur bones. We canoed and hiked and rode through the Soo locks. I have been to the Wisconsin Dells, the headwaters of the Mississippi, the Badlands, the Appalachians, the Mohave Desert, and Mackinac Island. I have wandered Washington DC and Colonial Williamsburg and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I have been to Art Galleries and Forts, cities big and sprawling and towns small and quaint. I truly believed that it wasn’t really a vacation unless you spent 3 – 4 hours in a car, preferably 5 – 6 every few days. We would be on the road for a day and then stay over to see the sights for a day or two and then move on. And there were SWIMMING POOLS and HORSES!
Now, I actually LIKE those kinds of vacations. And when Stubble was about 5 going on 6, we took him on his first Road Trip. This was the road trip where Stubble decided that his favorite thing in the world to eat was Clam Chowder. And eat it he did, morning, noon, and night. The entire trip he smelled vaguely of fish. We travelled up the Central Valley of California to Sacramento and the California State Rail Road Museum and the surrounding Gold Country, then across the state to San Francisco to eat our way across the city and enjoy everything that is wonderful about Fisherman’s Wharf, and then down the coast through Solvang…he had a GameBoy…we had LOTS of extra batteries: we were set. And DANG, heading up through the Central Valley, I never saw so many trucks of tomatoes in my life! Truck after truck after truck piled high with tomatoes; long convoys of them. And the condition of the road spoke to exactly how many trucks travelled that route daily. And DANG, Boys both big and little certainly appreciate trains…I thought we’d never get out of the rail road museum. And DANG, the Boys also like boats and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park was another day long affair.
This was also the vacation where Stubble flagged down his first cab. We had been told that the Imaginarium was not to be missed. And it wasn’t. An entire building filled with science toys. On the map, it didn’t appear to be very far from our hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf. We had spent so much on food and fun that, being extremely frugal for the moment I suggested, “Lets walk”. Well, the map should have been labeled as “not to scale” because it was an hour long walk to the Imaginarium. We spent most of the day there – just give us something that holds our attention and we will stay forever. It is how we get our money’s worth out of the entrance fees. The Bearded One probably had the most fun of all of us playing with prisms and mirrors and all sorts of fun physics inspired displays. For Stubble there were plenty of buttons to push and knobs to twirl. When it was finally time to walk back to the hotel, we realized that we would be walking all that distance into the wind and I decided that we were all TIRED. TOO TIRED TO WALK ALL THAT WAY. We tried calling for a cab with no luck and finally, reluctantly started trudging back to the hotel. Cabs went by, but they were mostly all full. One was empty and when The Bearded One raised his hand and waved, the cabbie immediately flicked on this “out of service” light…even though he was headed in the same direction that we were going. Guess he had a hot date. I had given up on getting a cab, but Stubble hadn’t. When he would see one go by, he would step over to the curb and raise his arm in a prefect imitation of his Dad. I tried to tell him that wouldn’t work when they all had passengers already, but he still believed that he could get a cab. And then, suddenly, a cab pulled up from behind us and the driver asked, “You guys need a cab?” He had seen Stubble trying to hail a cab and after he dropped his fair off a few blocks away, came back around for us. The Cab Driver got a BIG tip that day and Stubble was all swelled up with pride for hours. Sometimes all you really have to do is BELIEVE hard enough.
Toward the end of the trip, The Bearded One mentioned the fact that this was one of his best vacations ever. I asked what kind of vacations he had taken as a child. “Oh, we went to somebody’s farm”. Now what on earth kind of vacation is that?