Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Clever monkey.

The day before, we had been playing with Play Doh. Elias and i were rolling snakes of dough and i was coiling them into a pot. The next day the boys were playing with Play Doh at the kitchen table while Shawn and i were in the front room. This is what Elias did! A big, fat coiled pot. i was duly impressed.

Today i went with Shawn to drop Elias at school--oh my goodness, that tiny 4 year old wearing his little man trousers and school sweater, too cute!
And that's a "wellie" planter behind him.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rainy Sunday in Trull.

Today i went to the Parish Church of All Saints, Trull, where Shawn and family have been attending for about 2 years now. It's a Church of England Anglican church, what to me is a properly English looking church. ;-) You know, brick, stone, graves, castle-y bits at the top. As we arrived, an overwhelming onslaught of church bells was ringing. i looked at Jon and said, "i wonder if this is what cacophony means," and made a mental note to look the word up. i just did, and it means "a mix of discordant sounds; dissonance," which i'm not sure quite fits. But the thesaurus said "clamor" and "din." That fit--i mean, it wasn't exactly discordant ("disharmonious") but it sure was a DIN ("a loud commotion.") Bells and bells upon bells, all ringing at once!
This drawing on a wall in the church was of the sanctuary--maybe the architect's drawing? Anyway, it gives an idea of the stone arches, and carved (but incredibly uncomfortable!) pews. Straight backed, flat and shallow seats, one is left to perch on the edge like a bird on a windowsill. But, in all fairness, the building has beginnings in the 13th century, with additions over time. To see more photos and information about their church, follow this link. It's pretty interesting.

i smiled seeing how the teen girls at the front playing the flute and violin were so much the same as i would see at home: a little giggly nervous, nudging each other, and secretly proud to be performing up front.

Their vicar, Adrian Youings, is an approachable, kind humored man, his wife the same, very welcoming. Shawn and Jon have enjoyed their friendship along with that of some others in the church. After a long couple of years without this type of church family they've got a place to belong, and oh how they've enjoyed it! So far the friends i've met have been what i'd call "real"--no illusions of grandeur, no pomposity, just people living out Christ's message of loving others, even on a hard day.

i think that's what i look for in people, and in a church: that approachable-ness that says i don't have to be anything special, just me, to be accepted and loved. Not brilliant, or talented, or beautiful, or have really great hair that doesn't turn into a big puff in the drizzle. It was a comfortable place to be, emotionally as well as physically. They have real weather in England, as opposed to the constant mildness of the SF Bay Area. The parishioners dressed comfortably and practically. For heaven's sake, when the rain is coming in sideways on a rainy Sunday in Trull, rubber boots (i mean "wellies") just make good sense.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday in Bridgewater.

Today we had a family morning at my son-in-law's work. He's a doctor in a practice with four other doctors. It's been a while since some things have been done--i mean, they've been doing their doctor-ly work, looking in ears and throats and wherever doctors are prone to look. But the building is looking somewhat tired and old, so he and the others want to give it a little lift--a new hairdo and a manicure at least.

They are part of the NHS--National Health Services, i think it stands for. Everyone is taxed which pays for their medical needs. It's not a perfect system, but neither is the American one. Unfortunately, what that means is they don't have the Kaiser-like money to spend on cool buildings and giant art for the walls, but they want to do what they can. If this means the doctor takes in his drill on a weekend to rehang the toilet paper holder, well, that's what we do, then!

We did a variety of fun little things--brought back the wood from beneath the layers of hand grime that had built up on the beautiful stairway handrail, scrubbed the steps themselves, covered some bulletin boards in fabric, sifted the assortment of gossip magazines and home and gardening magazines into a manageable amount. Sadly, there were probably two men's magazines in the whole bunch, making those an easy choice to keep.

The two little grandBrits did a great job of keeping themselves happy and busy, playing with the child toys in the waiting room, watching Curious George on grandma's laptop, checking up on mummy and daddy.

And so the process of brightening begins. Maybe Shawn will have this baby soon and i won't need to scrub any more stair treads.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The properly English language.

Here under the beautiful gray skies of Somerset County, England, "English" is not "English" as we in the States learned it in Miss McCall's high school English class.

Tersie at The Road to Total Growth--Body Mind and Spirit spoke about Words the other day. So, being here in The Land of True English, i've been noticing some of the different words these Englishmen (and women) use.

For instance:

Courgettes: We had these in our stew. It's apparently the French word for the squash we at home call zucchini. It's pronounced with the "g" sounding rather like the Z in ZaZa Gabor, or the "j" in au ju. Now, i think "zucchini" is a pretty cool word all on its own, but how much cooler is "courgettes"? "Dahling, pahss the courgettes..."

Here in the land of queens and princes, they do not eat oatmeal, they eat "porridge," or "porridge oats." You know, like the old "pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old," but that one is porridge made of peas cooked in milk. For some silly reason, "porridge" brought up visions of Oliver Twist to me, small children in poorhouses and such. But perhaps i confuse "porridge" and "gruel." i had the above pictured porridge this morning, and it was quite good!

Orientated: Here in England, a person does not get oriented to the new time schedule, he gets "orientated." Here it takes me a good week to get "orientated" to being awake when at home i would be asleep! But then, even when i'm at home i have a hard time being awake when i should be.

Wonky: "Mummy, the leg on this stool is a bit wonky," Elias said. i love that word! i had heard it on British home decorating shows, and i admit to having used it occasionally myself. It rolls off the tongue, say it with me, "Wonky." See?

Swede: At home we call these rutabagas. i have yet to taste one under either name, but Elias and i had a good game of "roll the swede" at the kitchen table yesterday. It's a very resilient vegetable. Oh, that's another thing--

Veg: When at home i sit and watch an old movie and drink a cup of hot chocolate, i would say that i'm going to "veg" a while, but i eat "vegetables." Here in England, you eat your "veg," (rhymes with "hedge") of which the above-mentioned "swede" and "courgettes" are a part.

Also there's the spelling--in the States we use the letter "z" in words like "organize" and "pressurize" but in England, an "s" takes the place of the "z," as in "organise." Oh, and "pressurised" is not necessarily a word for a spray can under pressure, it's also a state of being: "I'm feel pressurised," where we would say "I'm feeling pressured."

Pulse: A "pulse" isn't just something you feel to see if you're going to pass out after exercising, it's a common word for things like lentils, thus, there is a food category of "beans and pulse."

And who doesn't love the pronunciation? Two year olds and four year olds who say, "cah-stle" and "I cah-n't" with the "aw" sound instead of the boring American "a" of "cat," and who call for their "mum."

But saving my favorite for last:

Torch: i hear the word "torch" and think Frankenstein (or my favorite, Gene Wilder and Young Frankenstein) and the crowd of villagers storming the castle with big flaming torches, intent on killing Frankenstein's monster. In my mind, a child with a torch sounds like a recipe for disaster, here, it's a flashlight, as in, "it's dark outside, do you want to take a torch?"

Words are definitely fun!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cheeky Monkey ;-)

Here in England, they use the phrase "cheeky monkey" for children, and today i had a great example of why--

i've been saying to Elias, age 4, "how many times should grandma have to ask you?" --to obey, to stop, etc.--the assumed answer being "Just one," reinforced by my one raised finger.

Today he was sticking stickers on my, um "lady bumps." i asked him to stop a few times, then said, "Elias, how many times should grandma have to ask you?" He did a sly little grin up into my face and answered innocently, "two?"

Cheeky monkey! i've gotta admire his style, though. ;-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things to do on a sunny day in England.

Shawn is such a good "mum." Even at 8 1/2 months pregnant, she has creative and fun projects going. Tuesday she looked up paper boats on the internet and she and i made some for her boys and a friend's daughter. (That first one was tricky, but it went much better after that!) We drove to a park in nearby Dunster where there is a nicely fenced playground with swings and slides and cool stuff to play on. Her friend and daughter joined us to play for a while. i thought my nose and fingers might just fall off, but the rest of them all seemed quite happy. Shawn had them sit at a picnic table and put stickers on their boats, then off to the creek.

Shawn had put strings on the boats so the children could get them back, so they floated and pulled them back until the boats were nothing but soggy paper. Then they each had one to let go, as did we adults. And in beautiful Somerset County, England, there's beauty all around!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Keeper of the Main Event.

i just had to include a picture of the amazingly basketball-like belly on Shawn. And to think the baby has almost 3 weeks left before the due date!

Day in Taunton.

Euan enjoyed the ride into town. (i'm always in favor of a nap!)

We shopped then had lunch outside...

...under a beautiful fall tree
and visited a big bear outside a shop (it was so big it made Elias look tiny!)
When we got home we played with the new Play Doh we bought in town--

How does Shawn look with facial dough?

We all slept pretty well!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

i'm here!

--In England, that is. Among rolling hills, tile roofs, and people with accents. And the accents include the two little blond boys belonging to my daughter. "Mum," they say, "may I have some hot tea?" they say. And mind you, they're 4 1/2 and almost 3.

i flew the friendly skies, given the fact that my hubby works for the (not always) friendly skies of United. Many trips to and from England i've spent in the luxury of First Class. This trip i spent in Cattle Plus. (Otherwise known as Economy Plus.) The differences are monumental. i've always shared with people the food service part of first, it being an entire Event in itself--"Would you care for a starter? We have the smoked salmon, or the goat cheese stuffed mushroom, or the coconut shrimp," the attendant says with a smile. This is followed by the salad cart--your choice of dressings and toppings. An entree follows, again a lovely choice of three, often a filet mignon with roasted potatoes, a pasta and a side of green beans with an almond butter, and the fish option, of course. For dessert? Again the smiling attendant brings a cart laden with grapes, apples, cheeses and port, followed by the ice cream sundae cart with choices of chocolate or caramel topping and whipped cream and nuts. By this time most first class passengers are in a food-coma, sipping their Starbucks coffee or third glass of wine, preparing to stretch out on their fully extending bed--unless they prefer to pop one of the available movies into the individual movie player located at their seat.

Does that set the scene for you? Just hold these thoughts: smiling, pampering flight attendants, meals served in courses on ceramic dishes, drinks in actual glass, the lazy, comfortable feeling of being well fed and well cared for, and the comfort of a lovely easy chair that makes into a bed. Do i want to raise my feet? Massage my lower back? Pause my movie? Have another refill of my soda or freshly brewed coffee? Maybe i'll just rearrange my two pillows and quilted blanket and stretch out for a little nap.

Cattle class, the most familiar of classes. i was blessed with a not-so-full economy class, leaving a five seat row with only one passenger at one end and me at the other. This isn't the case, usually, so being able to spread out was a bonus. The little bitty screen on the back of the seat in front of me was adequate--it was a scary one, "1408" about a haunted hotel room. Scary is better on a small screen. And the food and drink service? Wow. How does one begin to sing the praises of the attendants called on to serve a couple of hundred passengers? i realize it's a huge job, but would a smile kill a person? The quiet man in front of me tried to get the attention of the male attendant in the aisle by touching his arm. "Stop tapping me, I see you there," he barked, then turning to tell the attendant on the other end of the cart they were pushing, "I've got a man tapping me over here."

Maybe that's simply a warning to other passengers, using this meek man as an example. Beware. Ask for my attention and I will Call You Out in front of the other passengers.

When the same attendent asked me which dinner entree i would like, i asked what i supposed was a usual question: what are the choices? "Beef or pasta," he snapped. Um, what sort of pasta? i asked, thinking is it a cheese sauce, a red sauce, a pesto sauce... "It's a tortellini," he spat at me. "Um, pasta is great..." And the boxed dinner hit my tray. That and one soda and two flimsy plastic cups half filled with water did me till breakfast--frankly, i was afraid to ask for anything. i didn't wish to be Made An Example of.

Fortunately with the extra seats between us, we two ladies of the row were able to sleep--i won't call it "stretching out," as that would assume a relaxed repose without pretzel-ed limbs, but we were able to lay down--sort of. And sleep. Sort of. By morning we were ready for the limp sandwiches made of croissants, processed cheese, and some sort of pinkish spread, although i'm not sure anyone is really ever ready for something like that at the end of ten hour flight.

But i'm here! In the land of Sense and Sensibility, where the English Cottage Garden really is a garden outside an English cottage. Where small boys ask for tea, and "boots" are where you carry things in a car, and "wellies" protect your feet from the rain.

Monday, October 15, 2007

2 things i've always loved.

Sunlight through leaves

the colors and grace of fallen leaves.

i'm sure anyone who saw me recently in the Costco parking lot taking pictures of the leaves that had fallen on my car wondered what the heck i was doing--but for me, fallen leaves are like music.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

2 things i didn't know i'd like.

Drying my clothes on a clothesline. Now, i don't have one of the cool spinny kind, or even a retractable one that runs from post to post, i just have a bundle of clothesline that i've run between the posts of our back deck. The unfortunate part is that anyone over 5 feet tall is bound to get clotheslined--literally--as it runs across part of the stairway down to the yard. Nevertheless, i've gotten fond of my moments with the clothes pins and line. Maybe it has to do with the fact that when i hang things out on the line the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, and all is right with the world (and i've learned to duck.) i get the goodness of saving on our gas bill since i'm not using the dryer, and helping the environment and whatnot. i've been lucky, too, no birds have blessed the clean clothing. Towels come out a bit crunchy for me, but then i don't need a loofah at my shower, i just scrub the top layer of skin off with the towel after.

Edamame. Who knew? Back in the day when my mother was telling me, "Eat your lima beans!" after i had carefully picked them out of the mixed vegetables on my plate, who knew one day i'd be eating soybeans and liking it. But weirdly, when i heat them with salt and water in the microwave (i do as much as is humanly possible in the microwave) it's kind of a popcorn substitute. A good "more-ish" thing, as my friend Frugalina says--something you want more of. But healthier.

Who knew.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nearly off!

So, in a couple of days i'll be off to visit the pregnant daughter in England, along with her properly Brit husband and adorably Brit boys. Will baby number three be another boy? Will it surprise us all and be a girl? Only time and a cesarean will tell...

i am sneaking in some little pink clothing, just in case--it's been killing me not to be able to pre-shop here where i can afford things (the exchange rate is the worst it's been in years and years--a British pound is worth over two dollars now!!) If i look at a price in a store there and think, "Oh, 3 pounds, that's not too bad--" i have to remind myself that 3 pounds means 6+ of my American dollars.

And that's only one of the things i need to adjust to there--the other is the fact that it's 8 hours ahead there, so when it's a lovely afternoon in California, it's time for bed in England.

And then they do that thing where their degrees are different--Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. This means that when you set the washing machine wash temperature, you should take that into consideration, or you end up shrinking wool sweaters. Don't ask how i know.

But in that backword time world with funny degrees and worthless dollars, i'll get to see my American girl with the accent, and hear those two cute blond boys call her "Mummy" in that perfectly English way, and hear about the things in their daddy's work day that made him "exceedingly cross." And it will be worth the journey!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Speaking of education...

So i just completed the first of any grapevine education i have had to this point in my life. This brings to mind the fact that i was quite happy to not be a part of the Back To School shopping crowds this year, Jarel having graduated a year ago.

Some of you already know what a struggle school was for him--he was born nearly 3 months prematurely to a cocaine addicted mom (not me--i run more to chocolate addictions.) This combination of unfortunate events caused some learning disabilities for him, and he went through all his years from kindergarten through high school in our district's Special Education program. In the beginning this meant Special Day Class, where he stayed with a group of about 10-13 other children within a year or two of his grade. He would be mainstreamed into a "regular ed" classroom for a part of the day, maybe for Physical Education and math, something like that.

By the time he was rounding the bases toward home and finally in high school, his math skills sort of stalled--his teachers made some attempts to help him, but he obviously needed more if he was to fulfill the requirements the California schools expected of him. i didn't totally understand that--they had placed him in a setting for students with learning issues, some pretty severe. And yet they expected him to compete with the mainstream students and get the scores those students needed to get their diplomas.

Here the adoptive mom (me!) got a little crazy and started writing letters to The Governator, Arnold Schwartzenegger. But she also decided to enlist a little aid--and it just so happened there was a Friendly Neighborhood SCORE! tutoring center. So this mom called and set up an appointment, and explained, "We need him to be able to graduate and get a diploma." They said, "We can make that our goal."

i have to say my boy is a sweet hearted guy, and adults tend to really like him. But these adults helped him more than just improving his math and English skills through the program they tailored to his needs, they were positive with him. The adults, the high school and college age tutors, all who worked with him, made him feel like just another student, rather than the Special Needs guy who has to be in a special class.

Being Special Ed can be tough on a kid--they're singled out, they're *Different.* It's not enough that they struggle to keep up with the requirements for their grades, but they have to run the gauntlet of Being *Different.* That's a lot to deal with, knowing they need the smaller class environment, but being pointed at, laughed at, and made fun of by the mainstream kids.

The people at SCORE! made it pleasant for him to show up, positive for him to be there. They welcomed him, treated him like a valuable person. What it did for his self-esteem was worth every bit as much as the program they made for his academic needs. Maybe more. With the help of quite a few teachers, the SCORE! tutors, us, and lots of patience and prayers, he made it out of high school with a diploma.

He still struggles--as some of you know, he has a job now. He's bussing tables at Fresh Choice. He gets a paycheck, he gets tips. We're still working on the concepts of budgeting with him, but then his dad and i are still trying to get those same concepts and we're waaaay over 19 years old. But it isn't just about the numbers alone, the grades alone, we're trying to help mold a productive and independent member of society here. And he's gonna be a good one.

*this is a sponsored post.
Math Tutors

You never know who you'll run into in a hot tub...

Weirdly, in a hot tub in Calistoga, a couple joined us and the husband was someone who is retired from United Airlines where Dean works--they knew of each other. How strange is that?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stuff i didn't know about grapes.

Today was a hugely informative day.

Aren't these red leaves beautiful? But they're bad. The red means the vine has a virus. Yellow is normal for fall, red is bad.

To get really good grapes, careful pruning is essential. At the Von Strasser Winery, we got some one-on-one time with Dave, who showed us the equipment and the vineyard, and gave us the mini-tour overview. i loved what we learned. The pruning process happens once the leaves have all fallen from the vine. For you out there who are happy and informed gardeners, this probably is not new. For me, a semi-happy and largely UNinformed gardener, this was an "Oh. That makes sense." Anyway, our new friend Dave said that for them to get the best grapes, they will trim those little branches back to two offshoots. Otherwise the branches will go all wild and crazy, growing every which way, and pulling too much of the nutrients from the soil. More unpruned growth means less nutrition per branch equals poor quality grape flavor. (There was a lot more but i won't go all Encyclopedia Britannica on ya.)

Dave sent us over to Charles Krug Winery where i had a lovely chat with Ralph. Everybody at Krug loves Dave--he used to work there. Ralph gave me the lowdown on the difference between hillside grapevines and valley grapevines. Seems the difference in how the sun touches the vines makes a difference. There's the constant outpour on the valley plants, and the gentler change of the sun and breezes on the hillside plants. Those differences even in the same state can make quite a change in the fruit--the milder hillside climate yielding a smoother flavor. Now, i'm sure i've butchered Ralph's explanation all to pieces, but that's the basic understanding i came away with.

He also explained ice wines--made places like British Columbia and Washington state, where the vines are left with grapes still on into the freezing temperatures. This causes the whole ice expansion thing that pops the skins of the grapes, and then when the moisture evaporates, a super sweet low-water/high-sugar grape is left for dessert type wines. In California they use some other process involving a naturally forming mold. Ralph started losing me there, my mind being somewhat full by that point in the conversation. i always thought mold was a bad thing, but apparently it can be part of a good process.

So, just to recap: Those pretty red leaves actually mean something bad. Careful pruning means higher quality fruit. The grapes that grow over a certain amount of feet above sea level will taste different than the ones grown in the valley. And freezing your grapes can be a good thing, as can letting them mold.

Some of this made sense, and some was quite the opposite of what i thought should make sense. Some of it has very clear spiritual application, like the whole pruning thing--"I am the vine, you are the branch. If a man remains in me and I in him, you can bear much fruit. Without me you can do nothing." (It's in the book of John, 15th chapter.) Some of the other i'm still pondering. Still not sure about the whole mold thing.

We're here! We're here! We're here!

In Calistoga, that is--at the top of the Napa Valley here in California. The colors of autumn are outside my window (above): trees covered in shades of yellow, green, orange and red. It rained earlier, so the trees and bushes sparkle in the morning light. Fog is hanging in the top of the dark green hill in the distance. Even the gray of the parking lot, dotted as it is with red leaves that have fallen, adds to the color scheme. These are colors that make my soul say "AHH!" Happy sigh of the soul, i guess.

Yesterday was a feast for the senses--the newness of experiences does that to me. i'm choosing to name it that rather than call it "being overwhelmed." It's that choice, i guess, of viewing it in a positive, non-stressed way, rather than the negative. i think it's easier for me to be positive now that i'm not as worried about my imperfections both real and perceived. Somehow, growing up in my *interesting* household, i learned that I Should Know Everything And Never Make A Mistake. Now, that's a whole lot of pressure for a kid! And whether or not anyone got up in the morning and said, "Hmm, I think we should teach our children that they must never make a mistake," that was clearly what i picked up. When this goes with you in life it makes everything about life more nerve wracking. "Should i have the windshield wipers on? Nobody else does, but it's sprinkling, but i'll look stupid!" (No joke, i can clearly remember the intersection where i had that thought.)

Anyway, back to yesterday's feast--this valley has its own magic. The buildings, the vineyards, the atmosphere of contented visitors (well, except for the one couple with their pre-teen daughter--the adults were making much more of a disturbance than they seemed to think their daughter was, since they felt the need to tell her off--LOUDLY--in the crowded winery gift store. That kid's gonna need therapy.)

Let me show you the sights that spoke--loudly--to my senses:


V. Sattui winery

Peju winery

Copper roof at Peju winery

Gardens, flowers, and foliage:

Peju grounds

V. Sattui gardens

Across the vineyards
from Peju parking lot

V. Sattui

Grapes, up close and personal,
Beringer winery


Cool old truck at V. Sattui

Sign on V. Sattui truck

A real Sattui! George Sattui.

Dean and i!

Now, back out to have more fun--

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Off to Calistoga!!

And a big thanks to Kerne Erickson, artist, and AllPosters.com for this illustration of the Napa Valley in all its fruity goodness.

To me, the sight of rows upon rows of grape vines on a rolling hillside is mesmerizing. It has texture, it has beauty.

Anyway, being farmingly and gardeningly challenged, i don't know what will be the status of the grapevines in October, but i'm just happy to be going! There's a room at the end of our travels today that i don't have to clean, with a bed i don't have to make. There are meals i don't have to prepare. i'm happy!

When i was a kid, we had an uncle who was a traveling salesman. (Please hold the jokes--i'm trying to.) He traveled to that far away golden land of *California*. We lived in Portland, Oregon, the land of a winter full of gray skies. He brought us a map of the Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino area, and spoke of Wine Country. i memorized that trio of delightful words that felt so good on the tongue--"Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino. Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino." It meant vines full of juicy grapes and the land of neverending sunshine, to my young mind. The words still roll from my lips from time to time, like imagining my happy place.

Of course, back then i had no idea i would one day LIVE in that magical land, California... There are no grapevines in my neck of the woods, but we do have some rolling hills, and the sun really does shine and the skies really are blue a huge percentage of the time. And unlike my childhood winters, here my wool coat very seldom gets worn, as i can usually settle for long sleeves and closed-toe shoes, and maybe a sweater.

But regardless of the state of the vines in the Napa Valley in the month of October, i'm thrilled to be headed to Calistoga.

i'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Jack of all trades, master of none.

That's me. i love to dabble. i love to try new crafts, new "cool tools," new products. Over the years i have knit, crocheted, mosaic-ed, made jewelry, played at photography, card making, scrapbooking, rubber stamping, painted pictures and painted ceramic plates. The knitting has stuck, the crochet eluded me (the number of stitches kept changing on me against my will.) The mosaic work got me through a tough time of closing down the office i managed. If the light is bright enough and i'm wearing my reading glasses i can still make jewelry. i still love photography and scrapbooking. Stuff comes and goes, and some stays.

But none of it have i mastered.

i just want to have the same assurance that i know something inside and out, like the judges on Bravo's Top Chef.

i want to be able to bandy about phrases like, "I just really wanted more acid with that." Huh. What does that even mean? i don't have any idea, but with all the judges nodding their heads sagely, i take it as gospel. "Oh. Too bad she didn't add an acid to that, that'll hurt her chances." i want to be cool enough to casually say, in the face of amazing culinary proficiency, "That was inedible."

Really? If they want "inedible" they should sit down at my dinner table sometime! Recently i made spaghetti. Well, for starters, i didn't have the right noodles, so i used brown rice curly noodles (what are those called?) It's against my "no more than 4 ingredients" recipe rule to make my own sauce, and frankly Ragu does a much better job than i. So i pulled out a pot, threw in the hamburger to cook, and wandered off to do something else (terribly important like Snood, i'm sure.) That got a bit more done than i wanted, but oh well, i'll just chop up the meat, we'll pretend it was grilled and ignore the dark bits. i then opened the jar of Ragu and dumped it in, again wandering off on some errand, wandering back when i realized the smell of the mix had changed--i had made what i have learned from the cooking folks at Food Network is a "reduction." However, i don't think that's the usual method for spaghetti sauce, but whatever. i'm not starting over.

When i served it to my dear husband, he said, "Is this a little overdone?"

"Yes," i said, nodding sagely, "the noodles are underdone. The meat and the sauce is overdone."Like i said, those Top Chef judges should break bread with our family sometime.

But i would love to just *KNOW* so much i could throw out phrases that would make others in The Know nod their heads. i once knew that much about drug testing and databases, when i worked. Unfortunately, if you try to share the ins and outs of software and urine Ph, people tend to kind of glaze over. A different sort of "nodding," more along the lines of "nodding off."

This is the "Duck with truffle" made by Top Chef Season 3 winner, Hung. i have never in 30-odd years of cooking made a plate of anything that looked this together. i was going to put a photo next to it of my spaghetti, but that would just be too cruel. For all of us.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The cancer interruption.

i've lost a couple of friends and assorted others to that big interrupter of life, Cancer. One was a long time friend who became my boss and helped me learn i was capable of doing many things i didn't think i could. The other was someone i'd known for years but not as closely, but God allowed me to spend a few days with just before she died.

Both had said the same words during their struggles with cancer: "I just want my life back." Somehow in my head, i heard those words, but as an outsider i thought, "but this is your life right now." To me, from the outside looking in, i knew the nausea and weakness were part of their "now," the part of life they were currently living. To them, the sickness and treatments that stole their strength and their hair were evil invaders come to take away what was rightfully theirs--their ability to care for their children, or do their jobs, or even go to the grocery store. So for them, the cancer was the interruption in their "real" lives.

i don't blame them at all for the way they felt. i have no idea what it feels like to have something attacking you from the inside, threatening to take away life as you know it.

For the one friend, even as she was in the hospital bed in her living room, bald-headed and too weak to get to the bathroom alone, when i would come in to visit she would say, "Tell me everything!" She had always greeted me like that when i returned to the office from vacation, or when she knew anything had happened in my life. She had a certain way to share photos when she returned from a trip. These customs were like little safe harbors in life--places you knew you could pull up to that would mean sharing and love, not just for her but for those she shared them with. It was about the relationship, the connecting.

For the other friend, the things we did in the few days we spent toward the end of her cancer interruption were the common errands that any mom and wife might do: take the vacuum cleaner to be fixed, go by the drugstore, pick up the kids from Vacation Bible School, go to the coffee shop. So with her, we did those things, but slowly and with an oxygen tank, each step taking great concentration and energy. And she was so happy in the doing.

Their "new" lives meant restrictions. They just wanted to be allowed to continue with the things that were important to them--for the one, that safe harbor connection with friends, the sharing of the details of life. For the other, being able to be a mom to her kids and a wife to her husband, even if that day it just meant buying them Band-aids at the drugstore.

The things that mattered to them in their "real" lives, the ones they wanted back, were the same things that mattered to them even in the life-changing interruption of cancer. The common thread running through what seemed to be two distinctly separate parts of their lives was that desire to connect with those they loved.

i'm not sure why they've been so much on my mind lately. i do know i've been feeling the limits my fibromyalgia puts on me. It's not a sickness-unto-death, i know, but on those days i find myself crying because i hurt so much i can barely move, well, i must admit to wishing for my old pain-free life.

But like my friends, the same stuff has continued to matter to me through all parts of my life (of which there have been several, having passed the half century mark.) i too love the relationships and the connecting, the sharing of photos, the tell-me-everything details of the lives of people i care about. i love the simplicity of a shared meal, conversation over coffee with a friend.

The things we value as people doesn't seem to change as our situations or bodies change.

Just something i've been pondering while in overthinking mode. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Excellent entry over on Magistramater's Xanga site about friendship. It's actually about the duties and sins of equals, but she uses it regarding friends. Some good thoughts.

The friend issue has always been an interesting one to me--i guess we all have different expectations when it comes to friends, but for me the best friendships have been the reciprocal ones. That, to me, speaks to the two sided give and take of a relationship where neither person is always giving and the other always taking. Strengths and weaknesses can be spoken of, we can help each other grow, that sort of thing. We can have coffee, do crafts, or just be silly and laugh. It doesn't always take a lot.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Everything i needed to learn about life, i learned from playing Snood.

Okay, well maybe not entirely--but i do love Snood! And while in my Happy Snood Place one day, it occurred to me, there are lessons to be learned...

For instance, the lesson of Do-Overs. If i try and fail, i can hit "R" and replay that same game until i get it right! But sometimes i'm just bashing my head against the wall, so, life lesson wise? Persistence is good. Trying again is good. Unless you realize what you're trying to do is pretty much a useless venture. Then cashing it in and trying something else is good. Or as Dr. Phil would say to someone's futile attempts at control etc: "And how's that workin' for ya?" That takes us to the lesson of Plan-B.

Plan-B says, my personal stubbornness is not always going to pay off--sometimes i need to learn when to walk away. That could be because i'm trying to change something that isn't really mine to change, or it could be because i'm being stubborn just to be right. Like being too stubborn to say "sorry." or maybe what i'm so stubbornly trying to do just isn't really part of my personal set of talents or skills. So maybe i should ReThink rather than Replay. Try a New Game rather than keep beating the old one to death.

There's also the law of consequences--in Snood, take a bad shot, stuff piles up, and then BAM. Game over. BUT--you can press "M" and call up a Mulligan. This will allow you to take as many shots over as you'd like in that game--but if you do win the game by using a Mulligan, you get a big Cheesy icon by your score, indicating your cheesily assisted win. This is akin to "Milli Vanilli's" musical talents, not quite a genuine "win." So, the life lesson of the consequences of our decision making--will my "success" be worth it if i take a shortcut? Okay, so maybe for a while i'll have the hot groupies and the tv appearances, but wait till they find out i'm only lip-syncing.

Well, i'd love to go on rambling about Snood, but i think i'm going to go play a few games now and see if i can get enough honest wins to get rid of that cheese icon by one of my scores.