31 July 2009

Another world

Qaqortoq, Greenland
July 2008

The daughter is deep into creating another stop-motion video with her Joes, and we talked about the idea of green screen for some of the more dramatic things she wished to do. So she set to immediately, creating a green screen on her bedroom wall with the copious quantities of green construction paper I seem to have lying about, and then demanded copies of some of the photographs I took of the sea last summer because she wanted to use them as the background in her video. Thus we ended up going through all the hundreds of photos I have from that trip, and I came across this, taken from a hillside in Qaqortoq.

"I loved all the brightly colored houses," the daughter mused, gazing at the photos.

"I want to go back to Scotland," said the son.

"I want to live in Scotland," the daughter announced.

The idea has a certain appeal.

Go listen to some good music: "Another World" from the album Arrive Without Traveling by The Three O'Clock.

29 July 2009

You're the right kind of sinner...

Wow. Obviously there are a lot of you out there with too much squash on your hands! Try the pound cake. Honestly.

Anyway, it's high summer, and mowing the lawn was a seriously sweaty endeavor (and to think that this time last year, I was bundled in cashmere, admiring icebergs. HA!). But working in the garden is always rewarding in its own right, and an hour and a half yielded a tidier lawn, if not perfect beds.

I'm getting little phone calls and emails from my brother, small siren songs: it's hot (but nice at night!); the swimming pool is refreshing; we could go look at caves.

I think back to high school, the hot vinyl seats of my friend KR's car, Pat Benatar blasting out of the the tape deck, the two of us screeching at the top of our lungs as we went off to hunt down pointe shoes before school started. Amazing to think that I used to wander and bike my way through the burning asphalt streets in 114F temperatures, and never thought twice about it.

The cool silence of the deep end of the pool.

I could use a break. I can almost taste Sonoran food, El Charro, maybe or one of the other multitudinous places in the area. I can almost feel the chill of a monsoon storm, smell ozone and wet sage.

Nostalgia. A kind of pain.

All those summers, and the joys of summers since.

Go listen to some good music: "Heartbreaker" from the album In the Heat of the Night by Pat Benatar. I still love belting this one out at the top of my lungs.

28 July 2009

Call any vegetable

Early Sunday, while the spouse and I were giving the kids a rundown on seminal Southern California punk bands (anything to pull out those Angry Samoan albums and tell the story of how I got them...), the phone rang.

R. wanted to go for a walk.

So I said ok, knowing that it was already too late in the morning to walk, humid and pushing 80F. But I met her down at her house and dragged her through a four-mile hike through the hills (when she started to complain, I suggested that we could go six), after which I had to admire the shorn pugs. Then, she handed me two huge summer squashes. Huge. Probably 4 lb. each.

I like squash, winter or summer. It's a lovely, versatile vegetable, and good for you! Not that anyone ever wants to hear that.

The kids don't like squash, though the spouse is ok with winter squash, and he'll eat summer squash when I grill it and put it in pasta salad. I also like it sauteed, but there are few things I loathe more than zucchini and stewed tomatoes. It's something my mother used to make, and there is a special place in hell for that dish, right next to oxtail stew.


I looked at these two enormous squash and wondered what to do with them.

Last winter, when I had butternut squash proliferating all over, I found a nice spice cake that incorporated cooked squash. It tasted great, and the kids never had a clue they were getting a random dose of vitamin A and fiber. The great thing about putting squash in sweets is that the squash has no taste; it's completely overruled by the other ingredients. Think of carrot cake or zucchini bread; both are variations on a spice cake, and that is all you taste. The vegetables add texture, maybe a little color and some moisture to the finished product. So, I did a search for summer squash and cake. Et voila:

Golden Lemon-Squash Pound Cake!

This recipe flat out rocks. I made it today and served it after dinner, and it was gorgeous. Because the squash that R. gave me had been on the vine a bit too long, I trimmed the outer skin, so the only yellow in the cake was from the lemon peel. The cake itself was beautifully tender (with a 1/2 lb. of butter and the addition of sour cream, it ought to be) and had a light and lovely flavor. You couldn't even see squash in it (in fact, the spouse thought I was joking when I told him it was in there). I actually made this recipe exactly as it appears, but I would change the lemon icing next time. It's too runny, so I suggest starting with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and adding additional liquid from there to achieve the right consistency for drizzling.

I will not even pretend that there is anything healthy about this cake, though, even with a cup and a half of shredded vegetable in it. Still, it makes a nice indulgence when you have too much squash.

So, I still had 2/3 of a squash left. I frequently make quick bread or muffins as a way to use up stuff (bananas, zucchinis, carrots), and the family really likes zucchini bread. It's nice that zucchini is a summer squash, so I figured that I'd be able to use the squash in the place of the zucchini. I don't generally put chocolate chips in zucchini bread, but recently was given a recipe that called for chocolate chips, and substituted applesauce for oil and crushed pineapple for sugar. The kids LOVED it, but I thought it was sticky and ghastly, though I liked the applesauce for oil substitution. Far too many of the zucchini breads and carrot cakes I've had are really greasy from the vast amount of oil that's called for and I can't stand greasy stuff. So I searched again, and I used up another 2 cups in Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread courtesy of Food Network and Paula Deen. Now this recipe, I substituted madly, so I've given you the link to the original recipe above, and below, is my adaptation. The first read through of the recipe, I'd decided to use applesauce to replace some of the oil, and I was happy when I read some of the comments on the recipe that others had tried it with good results.

3 c. unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (generous)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (generous)
1 tsp. baking soda
3 large eggs
1-1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbl. orange juice
2 c. grated summer squash or zucchini
1 c. pecan halves
1 c. milk chocolate chips (which I'd have left out if I hadn't had an open half package from the last batch of zucchini bread)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two standard loaf pans.

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, spices and baking soda.

In large bowl, beat eggs until light. Add sugar and beat until well blended. Stir in oil, applesauce, vanilla, orange juice, squash. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into loaf pans.

Bake 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn bread out onto wire rack to cool.

I'd have used orange zest as called for in the original, but oranges are out of season so I didn't have any on hand. The texture of the bread was fabulous: moist but not greasy. It's still pretty sweet, so I'd be inclined to cut the sugar further, and I'd consider using white whole wheat for half the regular flour to bump up the fiber content. I like chocolate as well as the next person, but it really doesn't add anything here, so in future, I'll probably add a few more pecans and leave the chips out. Also, a restaurant I used to go to that had a really flavorful (though too greasy) zucchini bread sprinkled sesame seeds over the top before baking, and I'd probably try that as well.

At any rate, you no longer have an excuse not to eat your vegetables for dessert.

Go listen to some music: "Call Any Vegetable" from the album Just Another Band from L.A. by Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. Mothers of invention, huh? I'd fit right in...

27 July 2009

Make me smile

It's hard to believe that a year ago, I was kayaking in Iceland.

I was not fearless that day--my daughter was sitting in the forward position of a two-person kayak with me--but I was confident. Even when the waves got so high that she no longer had the strength to paddle, I was sure of my ability to get us across the water.

And I did.

At some time in the last few months, my confidence failed me. There's been no realistic reason for this; the shadows that haunt me in the middle of the night are problems that are not mine. I've been jousting with windmills in the worst possible sense.

Last week, I was watching reruns of season 1 of Mad Men, and Don Draper told his younger half-brother, "My life moves in one direction: forward."

It's a moment that's calculated to make us dislike Don, but I heard the desperation in his voice. I understand him, because my life similarly can only move forward. Some of us cannot go home again; there is no home, if there ever was. Although my life is more authentic--I am who I say I am; I've never claimed another's identity--people mistake the woman they see today for the person who has always been.

I know how fast one's world can change, how quickly things fall apart. This is what haunts me. But I'm tired of the darkness. Some days are better, some bad, but none worse.

I make small plans, doable plans. A day at a time, a month.


Go listen to some music: "Make Me Smile" from the album Chicago II by Chicago. Bored now! But I know you're out there somewhere.

24 July 2009

Rain dance

Sometimes it's about opportunity. We hear a lot about opportunity: it knocks, we seek one, and sometimes, they just happen. They come in many shapes and forms, and it can be up to us to see they exist.

Sometimes it's about yes. The opportunity arrives and we have the choice to open or shut the door, throw it wide or slam it closed. Whisper no or shout yes. What is harder? Turning down an opportunity or embracing it?

Sometimes it's about a smile. We encounter one another, day in and day out. We avert our eyes, or meet gazes with a challenge. If we are smart, we soften the look with a smile. It is nothing more than a twitch of muscle, a half moon curve, but if it touches the eyes, so much the better because that makes it real. I have seen my smile change the entire shape of a stranger's face. A stranger's smile has changed the shape of my life.

Sometimes it's about desire. Desire, the longing for something more or better, can destroy or create, can birth or kill. But desire is energy and energy cannot itself be created or destroyed; it is conserved. So we sublimate, we disseminate if we cannot consummate. Desire runs like a warm wave from my heart through my fingers and toes, the top of my head. I pulse with a feeling that has no name and I am a mirror, a receiver, a relay tower for what you send me, energy that has no beginning, no end.

And if there were an opportunity to broadcast my desire, would I close the door or smile yes?

Go listen to some music: "Rain Dance" from the album The Journey by Adiemus. It's been slow, but I've begun to retrieve my joy from the shreds and tatters of the rest of the world. And with this, back to the original intent of my blog: playing with words. If you read carefully, you can probably see the moment I got bored with the exercise and looked for a quick out. There was supposed to be another stanza about love. Because when you boil it all down, love always figures in there somewhere.

21 July 2009

Viva la vida, pt. 2

Confetti cannons. Balloons. Band members romping through the audience. Good music. What's not to like?

Okay, getting there could have been a little easier, but we could have done that a simpler way, knowing the venue and the area as we do.

I wasn't in any particular hurry to get into the show. I knew there were two opening acts, and I'm completely spoiled by 3-hour long "Evening with..." events. While I've seen some openers that were actually better than the headliners, the last thing I wanted to listen to was the complaining of the three people attending with me.

It took a full hour to get off the freeway and into the amphitheater parking lot. Then there was security, tickets and the hike up to the amphitheater itself. The spouse was clearly quite grumpy about the whole thing, so the daughter and I abandoned him and the son so they could find the beverages of their choice, while we did the wise female thing (restroom) and then headed up to our seats.

Along the way, we ran into some people we knew and waved. The daughter was thrilled because people she knew saw that she was at the show!

The day had cooled enough that the daughter was happy she'd brought a sweater, and we settled into our seats to watch the last few songs of the second opening act, enveloped in the damp, slightly swampy smell that is Irvine Meadows.

The kids got slightly restive as the stage was readied for the main event, but finally the house lights went off, a cheer went up, and we saw four figures bounding around with sparklers in their hands. The daughter had her binoculars to hand and suddenly she grabbed me, squealing, "I see him, Mommy! I see Chris Martin!" and she bounced up and down in tiny, excited hops.

I offered up a small prayer of thanksgiving. If my kids were going to ask to see anyone, thank god it was Coldplay and not the 'tween acts of the day.

The Register did a nice review of the show here and I saw that someone posted a good video of "Lovers in Japan" that really gives you the sense of all the paper butterflies those cannons shot into the air. Because, believe me, the cannons were stationed all around the amphitheater and the effect was pretty spectacular. Even the spouse was smiling (well, he was smiling by "Yellow" when huge yellow balloons were loosed all over the place. That was fun, too).

As well, the band had two satellite stages set up, one off stage left, about halfway up the amphitheater, and one off stage right on the lawn. It's nice they're young, because that last one was a heck of a hike, all uphill. They were all squashed together on a tiny platform there on the lawn, which was very funny to watch, particularly the shuffling around what appeared to be a single mic, and it seemed to elicit a few giggles from them, too, as they did acoustic versions of "Green Eyes," "Death Will Never Conquer," "Billie Jean," and something improvisational that Chris Martin laughingly acknowledged was not working.

And because I'm a concert geek, I have to say that the sound was perfect. We were dead center, and the music was crystalline, even the audience-participation bits. (Mr. Martin made it abundantly clear that this was a participatory event and he did expect us to sing, loudly.)

I love going to concerts; the experience of hearing music I enjoy live is unparalleled (providing, of course, the band or orchestra is worth its salt, which isn't always the case), and it's always different. Some bands make you feel as if they are playing for you and you alone; some make you wish they'd checked their egos at the door. Coldplay really worked to engage the audience, and the satellite stages were such a nice touch there. They were very professional, but completely charming, totally exuberant, and periodically hilarious (including an impromptu, rhyming apology for screwing up a chord at the beginning of "42"), with the upshot that the concert felt very intimate despite the fact we were sharing it with about 16,000 other people, and it was really entertaining. My entire crew left beaming and satisfied when the show was over.

The measure of how much I enjoyed it? I'd definitely go see Coldplay again.

Go listen to some good music: "Viva La Vida" from the album Viva La Vida by Coldplay. On the whiplash scale, Coldplay got a zero. Whiplash is reserved for Rush. I bounce at Rush concerts the way the daughter was bouncing at the start of Coldplay.

17 July 2009

Viva la vida

Last November, I decided I'd go see Coldplay when they passed through Orange County, but my children got wind of this idea, and decided they needed to go, too. Of course, finding 3 tickets together at that point was impossible (the spouse declined to participate, because it was a school night and he's not particularly fond of Coldplay. The spouse is not particularly fond of most of the music I listen to).

So, I abandoned that idea, as I've had to abandon so many of my plans in the last nine months.

Well, of course, Coldplay is on the tour of the century or something, and they're back, this Sunday, at my favorite outdoor venue, Irvine Meadows. And I have tickets for everybody, the spouse having decided he wanted to go, too. The daughter, who is so very 12, has conceived a mad passion for Chris Martin (along with the passions for Orlando Bloom, David Tennant...I can't even keep up with the current list. I just know that it includes no JoBros). I can't blame anyone but myself for all this since I brought Coldplay into the house in the first place.

(The son, meanwhile, has purloined every Rush t-shirt he can get his hands on, and no one would ever think to credit me for that, either...)


My entire family showed up to throw their opinions of this post into the ring.

"What do you mean I'm so 12 years old?" asked the daughter in high dudgeon.

"I don't dislike most of the music you like!" said the spouse, indignantly.

"Yeah, but you like Ted Nougat," the daughter told him accusingly.

"And you hate REM, and you always turn off Coldplay," I reminded him.

"But I like the New P*rnographers!" the spouse protested.

"He goes to Rush concerts with you," said the son.

"One per tour," I noted.

"I'm being singled out for punishment!" the spouse pouted.

"Hmmph!" snorted the daughter and stomped off to her room.

"Well, I only get one line," sighed the son.

Viva la vida.

Go listen to some good music: "Viva La Vida" from the album Viva La Vida by Coldplay. Yup, I was typing all that while they were complaining. I'm probably the last of the generation who learned touch typing on a typewriter, and my speed is still pretty good. And it's important to point out that I'm very careful about what I write about my family and they all gave this their blessing. Well, the daughter is still snorting like an annoyed horse...she is so very 12, after all.

16 July 2009

What a feeling!

Hi ho hi ho, it's back to the '80s we go...

At least if fall fashion is to be believed.

I came of age in the 1980s and I will make so bold as to profess that there were things about the 1980s that I loved: my A.B. degree, my M.S. degree, hard rock, alt rock, miniskirts...

There were plenty of terrible things about the 1980's, like the credit policies instituted by a certain presidency which led to where we are today, and there were certainly plenty of heinous miscues when it came to '80s fashion: neon, cut-up sweatshirts, PVC, cabbage roses. But the decade also marked the return of really tailored clothing...stuff I could actually wear, unlike, say Dittos jeans (who were those things made for, anyway? My God, I was underweight through most of high school and I couldn't get into them...). Once I'd graduated and needed real clothes for a real job, I was able to invest in some really nice pieces through various and sundry department store sales: a gorgeous Maggie London dress (that I still have), a navy pencil skirt, some beautifully constructed blouses. Great trousers. Comfortable pumps. They fit. They flattered! Of course, my favorite bit of clothing ever, the thing that I wore until it fell apart: the boyfriend blazer. Black, of course. It went with everything.

(Okay, the enormous shoulder pads of the 1980's probably needed to die. But they made my hips look so tiny!)

And miniskirts. I had one I loved in black cotton. With the blazer and a black and red turtleneck, I always felt ready to conquer the world.

So it was with some amusement that I opened up the Nordstrom anniversary sale catalog last week and saw the 1980s reinvented. Leggings, oversize blouses, boyfriend blazers, cowl-neck sweaters.

A really great pair of heels.

I was smitten.

I don't do the clothes horse thing well, as I've often pointed out. Fashion here can be just plain weird, especially for a woman my age who has a strong desire not to embarrass herself and to still look nice. But for the first time in decades, I have hope that I might find clothes that I actually like.

And no, I'm not talking leggings. I have my eye on two things only:

A boyfriend blazer.

And that pair of heels.

I already own decent trousers and some nice blouses. A blazer and a good pair of shoes, and I will be ready, once again, to conquer the world.

Go listen to some music: "Flashdance...What a Feeling" by Irene Cara from the soundtrack to the film Flashdance. Truly a dreadful movie. And musically, not exactly my thing. Still, it fit.

15 July 2009

Too much barbeque

I continue to be bemused by the idea that cooking at home with fresh food is "too expensive." I made barbecue pork sandwiches for dinner last night, which seemed like something good to go along with the All-Star Game (congratulations to Chone Figgins for getting the very last-minute call to go to St. Louis, and actually making it there before the game started. I just wish he'd seen playing time, but I'm pleased he was there, although I felt badly for Evan Longoria).


Out of curiosity, I worked out the cost of the sandwiches, and they came to $2.33 each. I served them with green grapes (it was 96F outside and grapes just sounded so cool and refreshing. A nice foil to the slightly spicy sauce), so you can add an extra $0.50 for that for a grand total of $2.83 per meal. Where on earth are you going to get the same amount of food for that price?

For the record:

Pork loin roast: on sale for $3.99 per lb. for a total of $5.00
4 whole wheat hamburger buns: $2.00 (purchased, not homemade)
Barbecue sauce: $1.00 for the amount I used from the larger bottle
4 slices of provolone cheese: $1.33
1 lb. green table grapes: $1.99

I did make a dry rub for the roast, and the cost of that isn't included because it isn't strictly necessary. The daughter doesn't care for barbecue sauce, so the rub is intended to add a bit more flavor for her sake. Because I buy meat that hasn't been injected with saline, there is very little shrinkage during cooking, and each sandwich had approximately 5 oz. of meat. Pork loin roast is generally far more expensive than other cuts of pork, but there is virtually no waste on it, so you're paying strictly for meat, not bone or fat.

Tonight's dinner was a bit more expensive: Roasted wild-caught sockeye salmon with Calrose rice and steamed baby carrots. That ran to a little more than $4.00 per plate.

Salmon: on sale for $12.99 per lb., for a total of $15.00
Calrose rice: approximately $2.00 for six servings, though I'm estimating a little high there
Baby carrots: $3.00 for 1 lb.

The salmon yielded 5 servings, which is fine because that's my lunch tomorrow with the remainder of the carrots.

Neither meal is particularly difficult to prepare, nor especially time consuming, and each contains the requisite protein/starch/produce combination. Consider that both were sufficient to satisfy an ever-ravenous 15-year-old male.

Again I ask: what at McDonald's is going to provide the same nutrition at a better price?

Simple barbecue pork sandwiches

3 tsp. smoked paprika
3 tsp. salt-free jerk seasoning
3 tsp. salt-free mesquite seasoning

1.25 lb boneless center cut pork loin roast

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

4 slices provolone cheese

4 whole wheat hamburger buns

Mix together smoked paprika, jerk seasoning and mesquite seasoning in a small bowl to create a dry rub. Place pork loin roast in a glass baking dish, sprinkle dry rub over all sides of roast, cover dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for six hours.

Prepare grill and cook roast over medium to medium-high heat, turning roast every 10 minutes, until thermometer reads 160F, approximately 25-35 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the meat; there is little fat on it, so it bears watching.

Warm barbecue sauce in a small pan. Cut roast crosswise in 2-inch lengths and shred meat with two forks. In a bowl, mix shredded meat with barbecue sauce, then divide meat mixture over four hamburger bun bottoms. Cover meat with a slice of provolone cheese and top with the other half of the bun.

*The dry rub is adapted from a recipe I saw in Bon Appetit for Saloon Baby Back Ribs, August 2009, p. 17.

Go listen to some amusing music: "Too Much Barbeque" from the album Live From Chicago - Bigger Than Life by Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows.

12 July 2009

Tangled up in blue

Poor Jorge Posada. I've got to believe that he dreads playing the Angels. Five years ago, he got his nose broken while trying to get to second base. Friday night, he and Chone Figgins ended up in a crazy dance at home plate after Figgins popped the ball up and then fell over backward while watching its flight.

Photo from mlb.com

Ultimately, Posada lost his glove but still caught the ball barehanded, making the out and ending the inning. What makes me laugh, however, is the look on his face afterward.

Photo from mlb.com

To really get the full effect, though, you have to watch the video from MLB.com, which is here. It was a pretty amazing catch.

Although this may not have been one of Figgins' more stellar moments (if one of his more hilarious), I sincerely wish he'd been voted to the All-Star Game. He is a player who really earned a spot on that team--his numbers have been great this year--and I'm sad that he was overlooked. He's been one of my favorite Angels since he joined the team so many years ago, one of those players who is really a joy to watch.

It was nice to see the Angels sweep the Yankees this weekend.

Correction: Amezaga didn't pop Posada at home but in New York. I've always liked Posada for the way he handled that situation, accepting Amezaga's on field apology with no reservation. I cannot imagine how agonizing that injury must have been.

Go listen to some music: "Tangled Up in Blue" from the album Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan.

10 July 2009

Summertime blues

This is evidently the summer of the migraine. With all that's gone on in the last year, I could really do without that, too.


At any rate, the Orange County Fair starts today, and we will head out to visit it tonight. The first night is usually the best in our experience, and it's been a few years since we've gone, given our more recent predilection for wandering around Norwegian hillsides in the summer.

The daughter is quivering with excitement. Of course. That child has always loved the fair, since the bygone days when I took her in her stroller. She is 12 now, so excitement over bunnies, chickens and funnel cakes won't last forever.

Or it will. I'm still mostly charmed by it. There are vegetables. There are actual farmers. There are 4-H kids who talk with affection and humor about the critters they've raised, knowing full well where those critters are going after the fair is finished. There are carneys and creepy clown faces. There is truly appalling food--the things those people FRY! There is often dreadful entertainment and sometimes fun entertainment. There are PLACE SETTINGS! Yes, there are people who design place settings. As a competition. I love it, and I'm not being facetious. Much anyway, because it's good amusement value.

(Ok, I pretty much won't eat at the fair with the possible exception of corn on the cob roasted on a grill. I really dislike greasy food, and though everyone assumes I'm just being so holy and healthy, it's not a health-conscious thing. It's a texture thing. Grease just tastes like slime to me, even if there is a Snickers bar or some dough in there somewhere, and I find it quite literally stomach turning. My family is in no such way troubled by these issues, so I let them have at it. It's only once a year. Also, I don't do Ferris wheels or rollercoasters. But I'm more than happy to lead the charge into the livestock pens. And, of course, PLACE SETTINGS!)

Summer has been, of necessity and by request, quiet thus far. I offered up a trip to Hawaii as a vacation option, and the kids just sort of shook their heads. They have been sleeping late into the morning, still just growing children, which I tend to forget. They've discovered TV and their new favorite show is reruns of The Golden Girls. I've become more rigorous about additional chores, preaching that it's as important for them to know how to clean a house as it is for them to learn to cook their own meals. They like the cooking. Cleaning toilets perhaps not so much.

Yesterday, I took them for a walk, a small hike, down the channel trail, where they'd never been before. It was hot and dry, but there were butterflies and the son spotted a Nuttall's woodpecker on a eucalyptus. It was not pecking so much as prodding the crevices already in evidence, secure in its activity, unconcerned by our presence.

It was somehow reassuring.

Go listen to some good music: "Summertime Blues" written by Eddie Cochran and Jerry Capehart. This song was first recorded by Eddie Cochran and then covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to Rush. Definitely something summertime.

09 July 2009

I bawled

When we moved into this house years ago, the entire interior had been painted a ghastly yellowish-brown, and the floors were covered with brown carpeting. We pulled out the carpeting before we moved in, but covering the wretched paint took a bit longer.

The daughter was about 2 1/2 when I was standing in her room one July evening, discussing how it should be decorated with the spouse. There was a very narrow bit of wooden trim that bisected the walls, and it had come loose from the plaster near the door.

Experimentally, I pulled.

Huge mistake.

It turned out that previous owners had spent untold years painting over wallpaper, about the most enormous no-no in interior decorating ever. When I pulled on the trim, I pulled off about all of the layers of paint over the first layer of wallpaper.

I spent the next several days investigating wallpaper removal. Because I am a cheapskate and I don't like chemicals, I decided to do the job myself. So I bought scrapers and spray bottles and enormous vats of vinegar.

The pervasive smell of wet wallpaper, wet glue, wet plaster and quantities of vinegar mixed with warm water was decidedly overwhelming, so I kept the windows open to mix it up good with the smell of California summer ozone. I kept the kids occupied in another part of the house while I worked, and I had a CD player turned up loud.

Stripping the wallpaper was time consuming and slightly back breaking but neither difficult nor entirely unpleasant. My mind wandered through the vinegar fumes, and it was hot and I was in a retro mood, so kept The Kingston Trio, Alan Parson Project and The Moody Blues turned up to 11.

I went to 11, too, alternately singing and cursing when I ran into a bad patch or accidentally scraped up some plaster. The neighbor commented that he was surprised that I listened to '60s folk music. He also commented that he was previously unaware that I had such a colorful vocabulary.

(There were days when it was colorful vocabulary or just burn the house down. We determined there were at least 10 layers of paint over 4 to 5 layers of wallpaper, and on one wall, the plaster revealed what appeared to be blood splatter from a massacre. I'll never know precisely what that stain was, only that it took four coats of Killz to cover it.)

Removal, basecoat, paint and trim took a month. With a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old in residence, I will never know where I found the energy.

Working on one's domicile, however, can be revealing. It turned out that at one time, there had been a lovely 1960s intercom system linking the front door and every single room in the house, now reduced to giant patches. It was also interesting to find out that the walls were genuine plaster.

So, I scraped and wielded a paintbrush and I sang.

The Kingston Trio was always the most fun, one truly delightful memory from childhood. My mother had a few record albums that we played on that enormous stereo, and among them, my favorites were the Trio, Tchaikovsky, Offenbach and the cast album from The Music Man. The Kingston Trio, however, with their sly satire and social commentary and fantastic harmonies were the best for singing along. Even recently, playing "The Merry Minuet" for the kids, I couldn't help but laugh when the son shook his head and said, "But nothing has changed!"

Indeed. Nothing has changed.

And even now, I look at the walls of the son's room and the walls of the daughter's room and see that it's time to paint them once again. Though this time, I think I'll decline and allow someone else the honor, especially now that all the wallpaper is gone.

Go listen to some good music: "I Bawled" from the album At Large by The Kingston Trio. I am trying to shake off another freaking migraine, so I do rather feel like I've been hit with a rolling pin.

08 July 2009

Jellicle cats come out tonight...

Boxes covered the bricks by the front door and I couldn't imagine what was in them. I hadn't purchased anything, hadn't ordered anything. Just at the mat, though, was a tissue wrapped bundle, fanned out on the bricks like an offering. A white rose peeked out from the tissue as it rippled in the breeze, and I knew where the flowers had come from even before I even searched for a card.

And then, of course, I opened my eyes and realized I really needed to get out of bed.

I suppose I'm meant to be writing a post...it's only been what? Three or four or five days since the last one.


Last night was the full moon, so naturally it was a night of vivid and odd dreams. And the cat running around the house, preparing for the Jellicle Ball.

(Yes, you really should read T.S. Eliot.)

At the beginning of the week, I read an article that spurred me to start a post about how to eat healthily on a budget. Because everyone tells you that you should, but they don't tell you how. Also, I'd seen a query somewhere from a woman with six dollars trying to figure out how to feed her family with it. As someone who knows from budgets and who once had five dollars a week budgeted for food, I've more than a little experience there.

Then, of course, everything got complicated. Well, it's always complicated, so it was just more complicated than usual.

Because there was a process server (occupational hazard of someone in the house working as an expert witness). Fortunately, this one was evidently not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, or at least not the most motivated, and left it at the office hoping the spouse would pick it up. Alas, the admin did not give it to the spouse; she mailed it back to the lawyer, which is how the office handles these things.

One of our friends got cornered at home by a process server. Scarred for life, I tell you. So, for the moment, we don't answer the door to anyone. Not that I ever do, actually.

There's more. There's always more. Microsoft is back to making my life hell. There is a certain group of people, a group that caused me tremendous displeasure a little more than a year ago, who cannot fathom that I do not wish to socialize with them, and thus, will not leave me alone. Not the brightest bulbs there, either. And my sweet feline friend Max has been diagnosed with cancer in his pretty little pointy chin, which is heartbreaking.

I have resources; there are workarounds to despair and anger and fear. My Rock Band avatar likes the dress I bought her: she blows kisses to the audience, jumps enthusiastically but demurely, and seems to end up in the back of the squad car much less frequently. There was zucchini bread to make, sticky sweet and filled with chocolate chips, to the delight of the kids. It was beautiful today, in the 80sF, but with such a cool sea breeze that we kept all the doors and windows open, the a/c off.

Post-Influenza-Like Illness, I am still inexplicably exhausted, and can sit down mid-afternoon only to fall into deep and dreamless sleep.

It was an odd airport, all cyclone fencing and open air benches. The woman in uniform at the desk told me in precise English with a formidable European accent that the first flight out was tomorrow, that clearly I had misread the sign, that there were only two flights per week and that I had to wait until tomorrow. All the while she told me this, precisely and formidably, she smiled happily, as if pleased she was able to exercise her English. So my brain turned, in its tidy and inimitable way, to Plan B...

Go listen to some good music: "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" from the album Cats. I know, but it's been two years, and I do like that song. And evidently, the neighbors have heard me singing, thankfully believing it to be the son. I do have a deep voice for a woman, or "low and throaty" as one of my high school teachers characterized it, sending me into paroxysms of perpetual embarrassment.

04 July 2009

Buckaroo holiday

Milton is endlessly outraged by the fol-de-rol gripping the neighborhood today. Unattended children whipping up and the down the street, usually more-or-less responsible adults behaving like unattended children. Disapproval emanates from every pore on his little body.

It dawned bright, although it usually dawns foggy, and it's over 90F out there now (which why I'm in the house pretending to be washing dishes while everyone else is out there eating whatever is being produced. I never eat anyway. I stand around with my water bottle and make social noises. Oh, and in the food department? Hummus won. A good thing, too, because one of the organizers told me that no one seemed to be bringing appetizers this year! So I ran home and got some more stuff...)

I was prevailed upon to make an appearance at breakfast ("But I never go to the breakfast!" I wailed), and to ride in the Cad in the parade ("But I never ride in the parade!" I wailed).

After the early-ish morning excitement, I made lunch: sausages, fresh corn on the cob and cherry cobbler, and then somehow, the spouse and the kids and I started talking about the old TV show Night Gallery, which I was far too young to watch when it was actually on in the early 1970s.

And lo! Night Gallery is on Hulu! So we watched two episodes and the daughter took up residence in my lap, shrieking.

Then we started talking about the old Outer Limits episode "The Zanti Misfits," which I saw as an adult on a 4th of July Outer Limits marathon, while the spouse saw it as a child and was scarred for life.

And behold! "The Zanti Misfits" is on Hulu! So we watched that, and the daughter took up residence on my lap, shrieking. Of course, by the end, everyone was shrieking with laughter.

Now, it is heading into evening, and at some point it will cool down, and then there will probably be fireworks. There always are.

Go listen to some good music: "Buckaroo Holiday" (part one of Rodeo) from the album The Copland Collection: Orchestral and Ballet Works by Aaron Copland & the London Symphony Orchestra.

02 July 2009


The fireworks started last night.

The 'hood is starting to anticipate the annual 4 July apocalyptic bash. My week has been somewhat discombobulated, so it only occurred to me yesterday that a) I must go grocery shopping (sigh) and b) I need to think about what I'm taking to the potluck.

As I've pointed out, this place is a non-stop party, the holiday dinner and 4th of July being the most obvious symptoms of a larger disease process, but on any given day you see people trailing about with bottles of wine or swim suits or frisbees or just standing in the middle of the street socializing. And for all that I am an introvert, I still enjoy watching them, all children great and small.

The holiday dinner is for the adults, so when July 4, rolls around, it's really an all singing, all dancing, all ages event. As I noted last year, it's all holidays for 100 years rolled into one. The son, at nearly 15-1/2, is now taking a rather jaundiced view of the whole affair (ok, not the pancake breakfast), but the daughter is already quivering with excitement. Because, you know...chocolate chips. On the pancakes.

(Do I put chocolate chips on MY pancakes? Of course! However, I'm assured it is simply not the same. Mostly because I am not DR, gentleman owner of many tiny cars with lawnmower engines, and somehow his pancakes are just cooler than mine. Maybe because DR is only as tall as the daughter. I don't know. I do know, however, that the daughter feels compelled to comment, a little bitterly, on the fact that I never go to the pancake breakfast. What did Rauch say about introverts? Hell is other people at breakfast? Yup.)

This is the place that I must state categorically that I'm really fond of most of my neighbors.

Usually, I contribute hummus to the potluck, and probably will this year. I make my own and it is quite simple and excellent. Last year, I sent the leftovers to C.'s house--they do the July 5th party--and she told me that her teen sons and their friends devoured it overnight.

What? You think I'm kidding that there is a July 5th party?

Go listen to some music: "Celebration" from the album The Very Best of Kool & the Gang by Kool & the Gang.

01 July 2009

Tuesday afternoon

We were dropped off at a bike shop in Rønne where we were greeted by a spare, older man--our guide--who showed us to the line of bicycles from which we were to choose. They weren't so different from the commuter hybrid I rode at home, all of them silver. I took one and adjusted the seat the best I could, pulled on my cycling gloves and waited. I caught the shop proprietor giving me covert glances. I'd brought my cycling helmet from home, thousands of miles away, since I'd no idea how we'd be outfitted, though I'd left my violently chartreuse cycling jersey in the drawer of the bureau. Still, I could probably be seen from Sweden in the neon green Climalite shirt I had on.

I'm an experienced cyclist, though not someone for whom bicycling is a lifestyle, and for close to a year, I'd been commuting home from work by bicycle, traversing the roads of Orange County when I had to, but mainly sticking close to the off road trails along San Diego Creek and Peters Canyon Wash. The 15-mile trip from the Spectrum was all up hill, and the panniers on the rack were usually loaded, which added to the fun.

Drivers in Orange County have no interest in sharing the road with bicyclists--or even each other--and a lot of cyclists exacerbate the problem by riding 4 abreast and blocking traffic, as well as ignoring traffic law and common sense. There are some well-maintained paved off-road trails, but those have hazards as well, including pedestrians. On San Diego Creek, I'd once rounded a corner and entered a dim tunnel from bright sunlight only to narrowly miss hitting someone who'd decided to drop in the middle of the trail and do push ups. Fortunately for both of us, I don't take blind curves fast.

Riding a bike in Southern California taught me that there was no such thing as too careful. Riding the open roads and through the desert in my childhood hadn't come close to preparing me to treat my bicycle as I would my car, but as a long-time driver, I learned fast. Safety becomes so ingrained that it was something of a surprise to see that no one in Europe seemed to wear helmets, though I opted to. I like my brain and it's already lived through two concussions, one courtesy of a cycling accident as a kid.

(Interestingly, when we visited Europe last year, I saw a lot more bicyclists wearing helmets than I had in 2006, even in Amsterdam where I'd seen nary a one before. I know there are lots of pros and cons with regards to helmets and lots of opinions. Frankly, I just feel safer than allowing my head to go commando.)

The guide came over to speak to us a little, to give us an idea of where we'd be riding on this little Danish island and to get an idea of our experience and physical condition. Finally, he couldn't contain himself and told me, pointing at my head, "You won't need that!"

I shrugged and smiled, and he slammed a baseball cap onto his own head. We were off.

It was a lovely summer day, a brisk wind whipping up the waves on the Baltic and sending clouds scudding across the sky. We were a mixed bag as these groups tended to be and I settled in near the head of the pack, easily keeping pace with the guide.

The early part of the ride was a bit hairy as we were riding through a town during its morning rush hour. The roads were narrow, and I didn't like that I was unfamiliar with the road laws, even as our guide barreled happily along. But soon, we turned off onto a track through a grassy field, and I was able to relax a little as we headed toward our first stop, Nyker.

Nyker is known primarily for its little round church which was fortified so the citizenry would have a place to go when pirates came calling. The interior is quite well preserved, and a plaque on the wall memorializing the plague dead is slightly chilling.

Back on the bicycle road, we trundled north, passing the backs of small cottages with tiny gardens and minuscule green houses. The guide had mentioned that Bornholm tended to be fairly temperate, climate wise, thanks to being favorably situated in a warm current, and the picturesque gardens bore testament to a decent growing season. I slowed to admire the tidy flower and vegetable beds, and a grey cat lounging in the sun returned my gaze, yawning. I was thoroughly seduced by the charm of these small homes as I bicycled along behind them.

(If you were reading here last summer, you'll remember I couldn't help but wax poetic over a little apple orchard in the Setesdal Valley in Norway. By the end of that trip, I'd mentally purchased the Bornholm cottage, a Norwegian orchard, a stone house in Lerwick and a house in Iceland. My friends are careful to remind me that most of my chosen future homes tend to get no sun for a good bit of the year. Which is why I'd only live there in summer, of course.)

We pedaled onward through farm fields in the interior of the island, and the guide became a bit nervous when we needed to cross the highway but there were no casualties, and we continued, skirting a bit of forest until we reached the coastal village of Hasle. We'd been promised a herring in Hasle, which rather terrified the spouse, no fan of herring. While the herring went along with the bike rental, if we were willing to pay an extra Euro, there was the promise of locally-brewed beer.

Herring, however, was very important to Bornholm, the guide told us, and so Hasle had an old smokehouse that had been converted into a museum, alongside a smokehouse that smoked its herring by the old method. The spouse got increasingly nervous listening to all the talk of herring, especially when the local delicacy (smoked herring with a raw egg yolk) was described.

The spouse's German mother has always preached that fish is an abomination. I don't know whether or not she's ever actually eaten it, but it was never served when the spouse was growing up, so he is of the firm belief he doesn't like fish. This is a shame because I'm of the belief that fish is good for you--rather like Brussels sprouts--so I serve it at least once a week. He is further of the belief that herring is horrifying though I gather that this has more to do with the fact that his grandmother ate large quantities of the jarred stuff in sour cream (or maybe it was pickled?).

So I promised him I'd give him a Euro for good beer, but he had to eat some herring. He never has much room to maneuver on this sort of thing because I've eaten some fairly...er...adventurous things in my life and he feels the need to keep up.

Bike park
Hasle, Bornholm, June 2006

So we wandered through the smokehouse, which was dim and low-ceilinged and predictably smelled like smoke, and then we wandered over to the business end of things where we received our smoked herring and purchased our beer. The herring was served with brown bread and butter, along with a sprinkling of coarse salt on the tail, sans egg yolk, fortunately. It was delicious, the flesh both sweet and smoky, and so fresh. The spouse tried his reluctantly, but actually found he rather liked it. The local beer was amazing and I was so pleased I'd chosen it over Carlsberg. Usually, I don't care for fruity or floral beers, but this tasted more like a field of flowers--light and sunshiney--rather than the sort of heavy, perfumey microbrews that have become so common in the U.S. Then again, everything tastes better when you've been out bicycling through open fields on a remote and lovely island far from everything you've ever known and the world is imbued with the magic and novelty of something completely different.

Even herring.

Before long it was time to pack up and head back out, and for a little we traveled along some of the beaches and just generally admired the coastline. But the clouds were starting to gather and the wind was picking up. The guide gave us a choice: go back the way we came, or ride the trail through the forest. We unanimously chose the forest.

With the increasing overcast, the forest was greenly dim, with canopy above and ferny understory along the path. We pedaled along at a pretty good clip, occasionally meeting another group coming the opposite direction. Everyone was all smiles.

Then came a tremendous flash, followed by the roar of thunder directly overhead, and the skies opened. It was no mere summer rainstorm, it was a torrential downpour, something more suited to the rainforest than a small island in the Baltic. The thunder crashed above us once more and I heard the raised voices of the rest of the party. But there was no alarm, only hysterical laughter. It was raining so hard that water was sheeting off our bodies as we rode through the trees and when the next peal of thunder came, it was answered with a wild cheer.

The cell was clearly right on top of us, but there was nothing for it but to keep moving. There was no place to shelter, so we tore along the path, cheerfully resigned to whatever was in store for us. The guide would periodically look back to make sure everyone was keeping up, and he just shook his head at our howls of laughter. Eventually, we made it back to the bike shop, and the rain had abated somewhat, though it still pelted down. The proprietors welcomed us with applause, as we stood there helplessly dripping all over. As we left, I handed our guide the sodden bills I'd reserved for his tip, apologizing for the state they were in, and he just grinned, looking at the helmet still perched heroically on my drenched head.

"None of us will forget this day," he laughed.

Nor have I.

And someday, maybe next year (though what I really want to do next year is hike through Britain), I will take a week and bike the entire island at my leisure, eating herring when the mood strikes.

Go listen to some music: "Tuesday Afternoon" from the album Days of Future Passed by The Moody Blues. By a really funny coincidence, a woman who shared this particular adventure with us happened to show up on the crazy Iceland kayaking trip, too. What are the odds?