27 February 2007

Running up that hill

I am procrastinating this fine rainy morning, lingering over one last mug of coffee (what do you mean there's no more coffee???) before I pursue EXERCISE.

Generally, I enjoy exercise in all its varied forms. I danced for years, played basketball and ran track in school, hiked for fun and for the spouse's work, biked as a kid through the desert and home from work more recently. I even coerced the spouse into a daylong biking trip on a Danish island over the summer which involved a ship's captain, smoked herring and a tremendous thunderstorm in a forest. It was great fun, trust me, and the local home brew and smoked herring were the stuff of legend. (And I was a minor curiosity on that trip because I insisted on wearing a bike helmet the whole trip. Apparently, Europeans don't see the need, but then, they've probably never biked in Southern California. I'd be happier biking here if I had the shell of an M1A1 around me while I traveled the streets).

In my latter years, I have run and walked the local hills, staying happily fit, while spying on other people's home improvement projects and gardens, and chatting up bored dogs sitting guard in various backyards. Occasionally, I spot a western bluebird or a hawk, and that makes my morning.

So, while cardio and I are firm friends, truth to tell, I don't have much use for lifting weights or strength training. When I can translate it into dance, it's more interesting, but it's difficult to fling 10 lb. weights around in a way that looks or feels like dancing. Mostly it just hurts my rotten old joints and bores me to tears. Even with music blasting.

It's worse now, of course, that I am back in injury rehab. This is an event that occurs with some regularity, partly because I am accident prone, and partly because I really do have rotten joints. Probably also partly because I insist on doing things that even I know I shouldn't be doing. Sadly, this isn't one of my more interesting injuries (concussion acquired when trying to take a picture of the football team in action--now that was interesting!), or one that is even vaguely romantic ("The crutches? Oh, darling, really just a small skiing accident...").

It was a beautiful August morning. School was back in session, and I didn't have to go to work. JOY! Time for a run, something for which I'd had scant opportunity for months. It was me, the blue sky and my Ipod and the open road.

Well, it was me and the cars really. I don't have a lot of patience for bad driving, which is rife in this area. Part of me believes it is my job to act as unpaid traffic cop, to let these egregious people know that even if God isn't watching, I am. There is a particularly bad intersection between my house and the kids' school that has a prohibition on turning right on red during morning and evening rush hour. Since I am frequently a pedestrian at that intersection, I've gotten into some fairly intense confrontations with drivers there in the morning and the spouse is reasonably certain that I will be killed there at some point.

I don't think it's necessary to catalog all of my bad behavior that particular morning, but it's safe to say that I was throwing the finger of ultimate disapproval at every motorist who roused my ire. And I was feeling GREAT. I was running and it was beautiful and my Ipod was loud, and I was just starting to hit runner's high when something went *snap* in my left foot. And it HURT.

I kept running, on the assumption that I'd just gotten a cramp in the arch. It had been awhile since I'd been able to run, but the pain not only continued, it intensified. I stopped and tried to stretch my foot out on the curb, to no avail. It began to dawn on me that Something Bad had happened.

I limped home and put my foot on ice and elevated it. Didn't help. Ibuprofen didn't help. Worse, the arch of my foot started to burn.

That was 6 months ago. The doctor has told me it may take two years for the tear in my plantar fascia to fully heal. Exercise at present involves a great deal of stretching and strength work and a little walking.

Every time I stand up, I am reminded that sometimes I take my job in life a little too seriously. And I'm certain God is laughing.

26 February 2007

Brass in pocket

What I put in the dryer is one thing. What comes out of my dryer is something altogether different. And I'm not talking clothes.

Yesterday, it was an eraser. A large, pink eraser, now broken in two, belonging to the son. Frequently, pencils stare back at me from the vent grate. Rocks from the daughter's pocket. Any number of things from the spouse's pockets, usually Blistick.

Last week: a brass hook, the kind used to hang cups in cabinets. I knew this oddity came from the spouse's pocket in helping the son with his science project.

Laundry is a study in anthropology in this house. It's not just the performance of the task, although I need to always carefully determine how I'm going to go about it. Children sort their own clothes into large piles weekly. I collect and resort so no one ends up with pink underwear. In the bad old days, I had to worry about which child was playing in the woodchips at school. By the end of the schoolyear, I had more woodchips in my laundry room than the school did outdoors. And it only took one woodchip splinter in my bra to convince me that my underwear needed to be washed separately from the children's. I can dissect for you the exact provenance of the stains on the children's uniform shirts: cranberry juice untreated turns a faint purple, while chocolate milk stays an unrelenting brown. Paint (washable, indeed!) speaks for itself.

Then I have to worry about my spouse's activities. Was he out in the field during the week? Was he bashing about the Santa Monica Mountains (poison oak. The bane of our existence and frequently, the laundry)? Was he rolling in the mud? Lolling in a trench filled with some foul, unidentifiable substance? Downhole with a selection of live and dead rats? Did anyone have a hose filled with grout? Sometimes the spouse's clothes need to be hosed down before they can go in the washer. Sometimes the spouse needs to be hosed down before he reenters the house.

As a family, we travel quite a bit. As a scientist, the spouse travels even more. He returned in triumph from a difficult job in the Ozarks and I ordered him to open his suitcase out in the driveway and dump his clothing there. We both watched in horror as dozens of ticks ran for their lives upon release from the suitcase. I let things bake in the sun for a bit before I took them to the washer. You know those tourist tee shirts they sell in Hawaii? The red dirt ones? I've got an entire set of his field clothes dyed with red dirt. At least I've never had to wash his HazMat suits.

Ah, but there were my brother's flight suits. The ones lovingly washed by hand in some river in Bahrain. The ones that probably could have flown a fighter bomber without him. He thought he was going to sneak them into my garage before I knew he'd arrived. But you can't sneak anything past me. Not when it comes to laundry.

Laundry Day Dinner

Spaghetti sauce
Makings for a salad

Boil spaghetti. Cover with sauce. Serve with salad. Be exotic and heat some garlic bread to serve alongside.

(For the record, while I do not make my own pasta, I do make my own sauce. Someday, I'll try to figure out what I do and record it here).

Laundry Day Dinner trivia: Monday was traditionally laundry day in the South. Red beans and rice was the traditional Monday dinner because it was easy to cook while stirring and hanging all that laundry. I don't remember why I know this.

24 February 2007

Eat the rich

Foodies and foodiness in general are anathema to me. I don't watch any of the food channels. My family, knowing my intense dislike for that Ray woman, draw cheerful pirate accessories on her perky little face on the cracker box. She's almost fetching with her eye patch and Captain Hook-esque goatee.

Perhaps my dislike of food as phenomenon hearkens back to watching that Jeff Gourmet guy making armadillo eggs when I was in the throes of violent morning sickness (and that would also be the reason I never finished reading Like Water for Chocolate. I was one of those people who lost weight during pregnancy).

More likely the reason is that I don't like people telling me what to eat and how to eat it. I don't like trends. I don't like bandwagons (but I love love love soapboxes). I despise celebrity restaurants because of the high likelihood of getting an appallingly bad meal even while the chef and wait staff are insisting your bad meal is the height of haute. Yes, I have gotten into arguments with the chef. I know of nowhere that mandates one's filet mignon should be as bloody as an ER case...or as cold inside as the resulting corpse.

Foodiness also rubs me the wrong way because I truly love food. I love to cook and I enjoy nothing more than a lovely meal in congenial company. I love the smell of a chicken slow roasting in the oven, and the textures and colors of sauteing onion and carrots and celery in olive oil. There is nothing more satisfying than beating the daylights out of bread dough and being rewarded with a yeasty, golden loaf. In equal measure, I treasure the hominess of posole simmering or tossing a beautiful salad. The delight of fresh and perfect dim sum.

So, I ask you: molecular gastronomy? I think not. I've been watching this one develop over the last year or so, and I have to say that I like the idea about as much as the concept of "garbage" food that was touted a few years ago (monkfish cheeks, anyone?). This morning in the Wall Street Journal, Raymond Sokolov was rhapsodizing about the delights of a bacon martini. Bacon. Martini. Why don't we just go for broke and have a BLT martini? Roll all your food groups into one sublimely alcoholic concoction?


Lest you worry that I am unadventurous where food is concerned, let me assure you that I've eaten my share of chocolate-habanero concoctions, peccary, rattlesnake, turtle, tongue, turkey fries, smelt, nopalitos, and things purchased from the backs of cars or sidewalk vendors (tamales in Highland Park, ice cream in Moscow, respectively. Before Chernobyl, let me hasten to add).

Thank you but I don't want "pillow of juniper air." I can go stand on the neighbor's juniper to accomplish the exact same thing--for free. Goat cheese snow. Mmmm. "Rabbit with aromatic utensils" (seriously!) and "a green purée that started out as Caesar salad." In my house, we call that "refrigerator slime."

A Really Good Vegetarian Margarita

4 oz. Cuervo Tradicional or 1800 tequila
2 oz. Grand Marnier
4 oz. lime juice

Pour over ice if you like 'em on the rocks, or blend with 4 cups of ice. Makes about 4 margarita glass-sized margaritas. For added piquancy or just to be different (but still vegetarian!), add 2 oz. of Cheri's Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup before blending.

23 February 2007

Funeral for a friend

Yesterday, I sat in the doctor's office with my young daughter, caught in the kind of gasping panic that tends to overcome me when I'm waiting for someone to say "take her to the hospital now." This has happened twice in her decade-long tenure: once when the pediatrician suspected she had meningitis (amazing that a bladder infection can mimic meningitis in a 3-year-old) and once when the hospital's kid help line thought she might have something along the lines of epiglottitis (croup. In a 6-year-old who'd never had croup before. Whose mother had never seen croup in action.). This time, abdominal pain. Abdominal pain that had worsened considerably over 36 hours. No vomiting. No diarrhea. Just excruciating pain. My thoughts, of course, had long since wandered to appendicitis and peritonitis. It's just been that kind of year.

I'm the first to admit that I panic over my children's health. I have far more difficulty with the daughter because I've always felt that she's only mine to borrow. Her start in life was so tenuous, literally from conception. I still remember seeing that strong heart beating in the little peanut at eight weeks, the only proof that she'd decided she wasn't going anywhere.

So, I worry.

After nearly crashing the car getting her to the doctor, I cuddled her in the waiting room and tried to get a grip on myself. I'm really quite levelheaded when you get down to it, and I reminded myself, repeatedly, that this was a bellyache. My daughter did not have a life-threatening disease, her ped never fails to mention her "gross good health." This was a blip on the radar, not cause for panic. A bellyache.

And ultimately, the doctor, not her usual ped, decided she just had a bellyache. A bad one. A virus. Of course, I questioned him on this: "No vomiting? No diarrhea? Just pain?" Yup, he replied, he'd seen this manifesting in three ways: vomiting, diarrhea and just pain. He prescribed a light diet and rest. "Bring her back if it gets worse." That was reassuring, of course.

Just a bellyache, I've been telling myself for the last 24 hours.

Then reading the newspapers this morning, this: http://www.azstarnet.com/metro/170581

I haven't lived there for years; haven't been to the parade in years. I used to take my younger sisters all the time. Two calamities occurred in the years of our attendance. A clown spoke to my youngest sister when she was 3 and she freaked out. Another year, I'd gotten us a prime viewing spot on the curb on Alameda. We were sitting there, enjoying the show, when a horse stopped in front of us and cut loose. The horse was standing on the crown of the road, naturally, and we were sitting with our feet where, in a normal town, there would be a gutter. No drains in this place because the city engineer in his infinite wisdom decreed, "It never rained." February tends to be cold in that part of the desert. I remember hauling my squealing siblings to their feet as a steaming river of horse pee hurtled toward us.

Life was simple, calamities small. Yesterday, a five-year-old who had no business being in the parade died.

So much that I held dear in my youth in that place has long since disappeared. The festival at San Xavier that was held the week after Easter is long gone. Today, riding a bike to the end of Swan Road would be suicide. The desert has been replaced by California-style sprawl. Even spring training has gone commercial, and the Tucson Toros are a mere memory at Hi Corbett.

I'll cuddle my daughter for a second day, and be grateful it's just a bellyache.

15 February 2007

Far Cry

Today is a far cry from two days ago.

Two days ago, I had an office, a name plate and a corporate account. I owned more stress than I could account for, anger of volcanic proportions and an unfortunate tendency to moan in misery.

I could be singing "Better Now," but I'm not there yet. I have wandered the house today, trying to figure out what to do. Don't mistake this for having nothing to do. I have lots to do. I just can't figure out how to do it, since I'm not moving at warp speed. I don't have a corporate email account to check. Nothing to edit. No reason to tear out what remains of my hair. The phone rang this morning, but I stood stalwart, and did not answer it.

Although I've often used the term "Stockholm Syndrome" in jest to answer the question of why I stayed for two years, I think there is something to that idea. I read somewhere (or made it up off the top of my head--anything is possible at this point) that people who've been held in capitivity for awhile find it difficult to reassimilate, to venture beyond small confined places. I had the novel notion this morning that I could go somewhere for lunch today if I wanted to. But I have yet to convince myself that this is actually possible. Or even safe.

The Perfect Quesadilla

American cheese
Flour tortilla
Arizona Gunslinger Smokin' Hot Chipotle Habanero Pepper Sauce

Put cheese on tortilla. Nuke for 30 seconds. Douse with hot sauce. Eat slowly. Feel the burn.

(There is an even more perfect version--and this being Southern California--even more perfect is the desirable option: Add some raw onion before nuking.)

14 February 2007

Oye como va

It only took six months, but the change spoken of in August is now complete.

Listen to how it goes:


Perfect Roast Chicken (a perfect Valentine's dinner, according to the spouse)

6-lb roasting chicken
Dried thyme

Heat oven to 325. Rinse chicken (cooking novices: take that gut bag out of the chicken!) and place breast side up on rack in roaster. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and about 1 tsp. of thyme. Place chicken in oven and let roast until done, about 2.5-3 hours (use a thermometer to check doneness. If you don't know how to do this, please go read up on it before you poison yourself).