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Flush at Last

This will be my second month in my new house. Getting used to the new house and the new area at the same time has proved interesting.  I left behind 1,600 plus square feet and a block full of friends and great neighbors. I don’t miss the house so much, but the people were really a support system for me. Not that we’re far apart, twenty five minutes by car, but just far enough to make visiting more of a plan than a spur of the moment idea.

Rick died in September and the house went on the market early spring. You don’t realize how much you’ve amassed over twenty years until you start going through cupboards, retrieving boxes from the rafters in the garage, and sorting through closets. Half of my house was packed for four months without me even noticing it was gone.

The new house is 1,200 square feet and has no garage. Getting everything to fit was like trying to squeeze an elephant into a dollhouse.  Even the movers who do this for a living were scratching their heads when they saw the space I expected all my things to reside in. Sigh.

Two weekends ago I finally unpacked my last box. Many things I’ve either shuttled to my daughter’s house to prepare for a huge garage sale we have on the calendar for September, donated, or given away.  At that, the house still has every available nook and cranny packed tightly and a storage shed is going to have to be built on the patio to house Christmas containers, tools, and whatever else couldn’t find a home.

With the diminished square footage I also lost a bedroom. I decided to purchase a hide-a-bed for the living room to use when company came and convert the second bedroom into a sewing room and office. After several weeks of arranging and rearranging it was finally coming together making me feel more settled. Feeling comfortable (I should know better considering my life up to this point) I decided it would be safe to have my mother over for the weekend.

As I have mentioned my mother is well into her golden years. The ladies on my family tree have a history of enjoying long lives.  Mother is no exception. Blessedly the genes also carry with them good health so other than the dementia now plaguing her memory she is in miraculous shape considering the number of candles on her birthday cake.

The first night was uneventful. Being an early riser I was up first. The bed, a California king, is oversized for the bedroom. That being said, the only way to get it in the oddly shaped master bedroom (this is an old house) was to push one side against the wall. For me this presented no problem because I sleep on the opposite side. However, sharing space with my mother lest she get up and get confused I took the inside position.  This necessitated climbing up over the footboard and crawling along the hope chest to get to the bathroom. I know.

Not quite fully in the moment yet, I padded into the bathroom and did what people usually do there first thing in the morning. Flushing the toilet I realized quickly water was swirling under my nether region. Oh-oh. Pushing the dimmer switch to fully on I realized not only was I standing in water but the bathtub was half full and it didn’t look to be water from the tap. OMG.

Glancing at the clock it read 6:30. Naturally, it was Saturday. Nothing disastrous ever happens on a weekday. Where’s the fun in that? To add to the excitement the weatherman had predicted it was shaping up to be the hottest day of the summer. Why not? I waited until 7:00 to put in a call to my landlady.  The week prior she had put in a new stove after the old one tried to gas me.  Neither of us voiced it but I know I was starting to wonder if the house was trying to kill me off. First gas now a flood. What’s next locusts?

Calling me back she said to expect a plumber in an hour. Thank God. Meanwhile back at the ranch mother is awake and guess what? You win the stuffed elephant. Both toilets being unusable I got her dressed quickly as she was saying the situation demanded it. Mother, vanity one of her downfalls, was trying to fuss with her hair. Please. As quickly as one can with an elderly lady with a cane I propelled her to the car. The only place close I could think of was a CVS around the corner open twenty-four hours.  Guiding my mom through the front door I followed the sign at the back of the store with an arrow saying Restrooms. Yay. Mother, hair askew looking more like a big ball of cotton candy sitting on top of her head than a hair do, hustled along beside me. Pushing through the doors I realized it was half way across the warehouse to the bathroom area. Finally getting to the doors I found another elderly woman standing by one door doing what I would call if my five year old grandson was doing it, the potty dance. She asked if I had the key. Key? This is where the belief I have a very mischeivious guardian angel comes into play. Come on. So leaving the two ladies to fend for themselves I sprinted across the warehouse, through the doors, up to the cashier and breathlessly asked for the key to the loo where I was informed it was in the camera department. My eyes glazed over. Finally, key in hand I retraced my steps and got both women in and busy while I tried to slow my heartbeat down to some kind of acceptable rythym. Really?

By the time we got home the plumber’s truck was in the driveway. Two hours later he had determined a tree root had caused the problem. Both toilets working the landlady assured me she’d have someone out on Monday to clean the carpet and sanitize the bathroom. Sounded good to me….. oh, not so fast.

Turns out this is some sort of Hazmat situation. Reminded me of that scene from ET. Floors were ripped out, carpets pulled, and walls removed. One team sanitized and another was called to take samples to make sure no bacteria remained. The bathroom vanity is residing in my recently organized spare room along with most of my clothes, shoes, and the remainder of what was in the bathroom. Today they are sheet rocking and tomorrow they are coming to move all the furniture out of the master bedroom and replace the carpet. Where they are putting the furniture should prove to be an act of pure magic. Life, as they say, is rarely dull. At least, mine isn’t.

And the beat goes on…………………

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Sitting here I find it hard to believe nearly a year has passed since Rick passed away. Time seems to be whizzing by my face like a moving sidewalk cranked up to mega warp speed. Over the past months I have sold my house, packed up my household goods, found a new place to live in a new area, and moved. Whew. This on top of grieving the loss of my spouse of twenty years and trying to figure out who this strange new person is facing me in the mirror each morning. Sometimes it feels as though my feet are made of cement and can’t or won’t move forward. Miraculously, each day they do somehow pick themselves up propelling me further down this unexplored path.

I stopped writing in my blog when this saga began, or when it ended, depending on your point of view. Writing about grief then following up with a recipe for tangy barbecued ribs seemed to me a poor pairing at best. To be honest writing, though probably therapeutic, seemed a daunting task when dealing with so many other more pressing issues.

So, here I am not whole, but rather slowly piecing myself back together, inviting you to come in once again and get reacquainted.

As usual even in the middle of chaos the universe has introduced a little extra spice to the pot to make my days interesting. Often I wonder if I have a guardian angel blessed with a rather twisted sense of humor who, though eventually cleaning up the messes she creates, enjoys watching as I fall into one catastrophe after another somehow climbing back up out of the fray.

Let’s catch up. As I said I sold my house in the tall trees. This was done quickly for a myriad of reasons. the first and foremost financial. Money concerns were closely followed by the ever present fire danger, too much square footage for one small woman and a fat cat, and a pinch of needing to make a new start in a place without a memory floating by in every dust mote. Moving is not suggested in the first year following such a loss as moving as well as losing a love one both rank a 10 on the stress level scale. However sometimes, such as in my case, life doesn’t offer you a Plan B.

Everyone approaches grieving the loss of a loved one in their own individual way.  A doer by nature, I allowed the sadness to have its way with me until I got up one day and found I needed to get out and feel the sun on my face. Tentatively I have reentered the world around me. In the beginning, I found a grief group that fit me to a tee. Not just a place with sad gut wrenching stories, though there were those to be told, but more a safe haven offering unconditional support with some smiles and laughter thrown in to balance the scales.  Being in a room with other people on a similar journey somehow allowed me to feel less alone. Certainly those dealing with such a loss themselves made me feel more understood, and less like I was floating along in the rapids out of control and floundering. Therapy was another tool I used to buoy myself.  For those of you going through this, having gone through it, or find yourself going through it in the future these groups and a good therapist are so beneficial in helping you find your way through the pain associated with having your life rearranged in such an upending and unrelenting fashion.

So many things I’ve learned as one month faded into the next. You have to face the hurt and sadness full on and move through it. Avoiding it will only allow it to show up perhaps more intensely later on along the way. Friends and family are essential, or were for me. If you don’t have any, find a group and make some. Reaching out when the fear, anger and sadness showed up saved me on days when I felt as though I couldn’t take it anymore.

Eating and hydrating even when the thought of doing either makes you want to hang your head over the toilet is another essential piece of the puzzle. If, like in my case, you were a caregiver the same body which gave you license to push it far beyond normal parameters to take care of someone very ill, will now call in the loan if you don’t return the favor for yourself.

I share this post because someone at one point made the comment “every marriage ends one of two ways, death or divorce”. This means many of us who have chosen to take a chance on love will deal with loss. Many times I have questioned whether it is worse to go first or be the one left behind.

Grief comes in many forms and can manifest itself in many ways beyond human loss. Loss of a job, a beloved home, or loss of financial security, for example, all create a recipe for experiencing the symptoms of grief. As my counselor will say, “grief carves you out” leaving room for you to fill the hole remaining with new experiences. Sometimes I actually feel as if I have shed my skin becoming an entirely different being since that day last September. Who this being is is still blurry in my minds eye but every day I do the work to help her show up and make herself known.

So I begin to find myself again among the ashes of my previous life. A blank book on which chapters are to be written and pages filled with new words and images. At first there won’t be recipes because I’m not cooking a lot but I’m sure the stove will beckon me one of these days soon when my footing feels a little stronger.

 

 

 

 

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Just heard an incredible statistic. Today, one out of three marriages is between couples meeting on a dating site. Thinking about it, I don’t know why I find this incredible. The average adult spends a lot of time on-line. If you are single and looking for the perfect match, such a huge marketplace makes narrowing the search easier. Definitely it narrows the chances of finding someone with the specific traits you are looking for in a life partner.  Was I in a room and the question asked “who here met their mate on a dating site”, my hand would be enthusiastically waving in the air.

Eighteen years ago Rick left me a message on one of the more famous dating websites. Truth be told we are an unlikely match. I believe I was number 221 on his list of suitable matches and he didn’t even show up on mine.  At the time I was working insane hours at a dot.com startup in the Bay Area leaving little time for socializing. Often I would leave work after logging in hours of overtime only to be called back into the office in the wee hours to edit a file or create a new one. Exhausting.

Originally I posted my profile during a winey night spent with a dear friend of mine long single and looking for love. After uncorking our second bottle of chardonnay, we made the decision to get her on a dating site. This is one of those questionable decisions associated with too much alcohol intake often leading to disaster. However, in this case it turned out quite well. For me at least. The first step began by creating the usual inane profiles for ourselves. You know, “I like dogs, walks on the beach, and candlelight dinners”. Then we uploaded a couple of flattering recent pictures, and promptly put the whole thing out of our minds. Recent is highlighted in the last sentence because some people put pictures up taken after they graduated from middle school rather than what they actually look like at the time they post their profile. In the end if you meet the cat, as they say, will be out of the bag unless you have a particularly clever plastic surgeon on the payroll. About two weeks later we found ourselves again together and decided to look up the site and see what the results of our efforts were. Amazing. It was like panning for gold. You dip your pan in water once only to find a huge nugget nestled among the sand and gravel. Wow. Now, all these prospects are certainly not going to be either people you are interested in or necessarily even people seriously looking for a real relationship. Like everything in life you have to sift through the chaff in order to find the wheat.

Even though I was a novice at this type of dating, this was not my first rodeo. Through trial and error I’d hopefully picked up a few pointers along the way about the do’s and don’t of looking for a mate. Heavy emphasis on the hopefully. Dating to my mind is always a mine field. Aside from the benefits of finding a partner among such a wide selection of candidates there is, as always, a darker side to the picture. Predators feed on such a readily available population like sharks circling an area replete with an abundant food source. Discretion and good sense are the words of the day when taking on such an endeavor. Don’t meet anyone alone in a non-public environment. Trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Lastly, someone gave me some great advice once. “It’s not what people say that’s important, it’s what people do.” You can say you’re the C.E.O. of Ebay or that you are not married. This does not make either statement based on any semblance of fact.

At that time I was not looking for a serious relationship. Rather I was hoping to find several different people with whom I could perhaps share an interest like hiking, or someone who enjoyed the theater or visiting art museums. I adjusted my walks on the beach profile (actually my favorite pastime) to include other activities I also sincerely enjoyed. As the months progressed I met an interesting person here and a not so interesting one there but no one who felt like a good match. Though I became acquainted with some really great people no one enticed me to turn around for a second look.

When Rick popped up he was most unexpected. Though in the right age group and appealing according to his photograph, on scratching below the surface his profile indicated that might be where the commonalities came to an end. After he made several knocks at my on-site door I decided to open it a crack and see who was standing on the other side. Our first “date” if you will was just to meet and see if any fires were lit. From the moment he sat down across from me our conversation flowed easily. Still does. Always having a fascination with Egypt I was enthralled with his stories of growing up near Cairo and having access to all the wonders I had only been able to read about.

Soon we became regular companions and eighteen years later we still look forward to seeing one another across the table every morning (even before coffee).

So, if you are contemplating giving on-line dating a try I would. Perhaps you’ll be lucky like we were, perhaps you won’t. However shake the dice. Like playing the Lotto if you don’t buy a ticket you’ll never know if you might have been a winner.

This salad is just sooooo good. If you added chicken it would be a perfect light meal for those warm summer nights.

Vegetable Salad with Sesame Seed Dressing

2 1/2 cups Napa cabbage shredded
6 oz. Mung bean sprouts
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 hard boiled eggs cubed
4 radishes thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes halved
1/2 English cucumber sliced thin
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and pepper

Serves 4-6

Sesame Seed Dressing

2 cloves garlic
2 green onion finely chopped
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp. Sriracha
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/3 cup EV olive oil
1/4 cup Canola oil
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Pour in cruet and shake well. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Toss with salad just before serving.

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Three days at the coast last week turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Rick and I. “Vacation” has not been written on our calendar for six years. We were more than ready for a break. Reservations for a stay at the beach in Mendocino County were in place, bags packed, and a pet sitter hired. Life, as they say, was good. This was to be our first time staying at the Beachcomber resort in Fort Bragg.  Our room was a well-appointed lower unit towards the southern end of the building offering up a panoramic view of the ocean beyond the sliding glass doors. I would have found it an idyllic location had the staff pitched us a tent and handed us a Coleman lantern. Ideal for me at least.  Rick’s idea of camping is staying at a hotel without room service.

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The first two days were made to order for beach exploring. Temps hung in the low 70’s cooled by a light sea breeze. Spring made itself visible with hillsides decorated in colorful bursts of wildflowers. I spent a good deal of time walking along the sand. Sticking my toes in the frigid water and inhaling the glorious smells one associates with the ocean my mind kept whispering “home”. Still off-season, the beach was nearly deserted save an occasional tourist or local. Nothing like the crowds you might expect to see once Memorial Day is ticked off the calendar.

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On our second day there Rick saw whales. Naturally I missed them. I was inside showering the sand off. Really chapped my hide (missing the whales not the sand). When I came out he told me our neighbors pointed them out to him from the upper deck bar. He had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the pair before they breached and disappeared below the surface. Awwwww, darn, darn, darn.

Not as exciting, I did see a lot of ground squirrels. The comical little rodents shared space with hotel inhabitants. Not inside, no. Inside they might have been less endearing. From the patio, however, their little furry heads could be seen peering up over the hills or running along the paths behind the rooms. Funny little creatures, surprisingly unafraid of humans. Several times while walking one came right up next to me looking for a handout.

IMG_1355Taking a respite from all things household, it was great to have someone cook for me. Dining out Rick encountered his usual pitfalls. If something disastrous is going to happen to a meal it generally will happen to his. Definitely the man has bad dining karma. Typically I will be digging into a delicious entrée while Rick’s is late, they are out of whatever he selected, they brought the wrong item, or it wasn’t cooked as requested.

Our second night there we ate at a well-known seafood restaurant situated on the fishing harbor. I had the fish tacos. Though I wouldn’t you recommend pack a bag and rush right down to Fort Bragg to get some for yourselves, they were quite good. Rick ordered prime rib. Now, I see you shaking your heads. Prime rib in a seafood restaurant? Who am I to say anything? Ordered medium rare, the meat arrived at the table looking like he’d ordered off the side of the menu entitled “Our Road Kill Selections”. That meat had been rode hard and put up wet. When the waiter was alerted, he offered to get Rick a cut showing more pink. Shortly he returned from the kitchen to inform us that was as rare as that piece of beef was going to get. A rib eye was suggested as a replacement. According to Rick the rib eye was actually IMG_1411.JPGworse. He said he wouldn’t have believed this was possible but somehow the chef pulled it off. Fatty and full of gristle the steak was smothered  with gravy and canned mushrooms. The gravy, according to Rick, was put there to hide a poor cut of meat. Ewwwwww. I know. I remained mute just nodding and grimacing where appropriate. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Our last night, thankfully, we located a wonderful Italian restaurant in Fort Bragg proper. Told there was music in the main dining room we chose to sit in there over being seated in the very lively bar. An eclectic trio was playing Celtic music. The musicians were composed of a flutist, a gentleman on guitar, and a lady easily having celebrated her 80th birthday playing mini-guitar and fiddle. The waitress was friendly as well as full of information about the area succeeding in making a great meal that much better. Cucina Verona is the name of the place should you find yourself visiting Fort Bragg.

Leaving the restaurant the strong wind persisting throughout the day had intensified. But for the fact I’d consumed half a loaf of bread plus dessert I might have taken flight like Dorothy and Toto. On the bright side, pushing my way to the car against the onslaught of air I probably burned off most of the tiramisu I’d finished my meal off with. At the car we literally couldn’t get the passenger door to stay open long enough for me to hop in. I rode to the hotel in the back seat telling Rick if he wanted a nice tip he better stick to the shortest route.

Returning to the hotel room exhausted and stuffed I crawled into bed. Despite the wind whistling outside rattling the doors sleep came easily. Around 1 a.m. I woke up needing to use the facilities. Opening my eyes, total darkness swirled around me. Still half asleep, my mind couldn’t process what was happening. Not one shard of light could be detected anywhere in the room. Pitch dark closed in around me. Feeling my way blindly around the less than familiar surroundings my sleepy mind determined somewhere in the night I had been rendered totally blind. A bit of panic gripped me as I fumbled and moved my hands along the walls. Finally panic began to drive the bus rather than just occupy a seat and I called out for Rick. Rick, so it appeared, was busy fighting his own battle with his C-Pap machine. Somehow the machine had switched off making it difficult for him to breathe. “Turn on the light” I called out. Hearing him switch the nightstand light on and off and the inky blackness remaining in place a light switched on in my fuzzy brain. “The electricity was out”. Duh. No flies on us. Thank God. I had begun to imagine the worst. Those blackout curtains in hotel rooms really work I am here to say. Groping my way to the counter I turned on my cell phone……and then there was light.

Driving home we said goodbye to the ocean as we turned inland. In my mind’s eye I can still see the waves rolling in and hear the gulls calling overhead. My only regret about not winning the lottery or being born with any significant marketable talent is that I do not have the wherewithal to wake up to the sound of the sea every day of my life. Ah well, happy people do not lament what they don’t have but are grateful for what they do so I will leave it there.

I was served this soup (or a version of it) at a luncheon recently. I loved it so I thought I’d see if I could come up with one I might share with you.

(Shchi) Russian Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

1 lb. stew meat
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
8 oz. demi-glace*
2 cups water
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 cups of water
1 Tbsp. beef bouillon
1 head cabbage cut in wedges

Heat oil over med-high heat in skillet. Generously salt and pepper meat and brown on all sides. (Note: If you want to do a quick version of the above use leftover pieces of steak or roast in place of stew meat. Reduce initial cooking time to 35 mins. Continue the remaining part of the recipe as indicated.)

When meat is browned put in stockpot. Add all remaining ingredients through cardamom. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups water and bouillon to pot. Bring to boil. Add cabbage and reduce heat to actively simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serves 8

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Rick and I try to slip out for a “date night” every week or two. Not that we don’t see enough of each other, we do, but date night is more about quality time than quantity. Usually this involves dinner or a movie. Cats not welcome in public venues, this leaves Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, to fend for herself. Boo came by her name honestly due of her innate fear of nearly everything from artichokes to zeppelins. Being alone, looms right at the top of her extensive “things I am afraid of” list. Usually she can be found cowering under our bed when we arrive home from a night out poised for impending disaster. As mentioned in my previous blog we adopted another kitty several years ago to provide some feline companionship, but Boo definitely didn’t want to share the spotlight. After a year we were forced to lick our wounds (literally), and hoist the white flag. Each time the two “ladies” (and I use the term loosely) saw each other the claws were out and the gloves off. In the end we found a loving home for our newest addition returning the cat count in our house to a contented one.

Date night this week was the movies. I haven’t seen a really great film in a while. Unfortunately, after seeing this one that status remains in tact. This was a Star Wars sequel. The only thing I wish I’d brought to improve the viewing was a pillow and a blanket. Rick loves Star Wars and has seen every follow up effort after the original but this one meandered about like a drunk on the freeway dangerously close to falling on its face.

Recently the owners remodeled the theater where the movie was playing. The updates were well received around town so I was curious to see what improvements had been made. Rumor had it (it is a small town so any news is big news) a bar/restaurant had been added serving beer, wine and bar food such as hot pretzels and pizza. Wow cocktails and a movie. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy a cocktail now and again. However, drinking before a movie (particularly the stinker we just saw) would result in me slumped over in my chair sucking air by the time the previews were over. As an aside I remember a business when I was living in Washington state who’s sign red “Drugs and Videos”. Turned out it was a pharmacy and a movie rental combined, but the sign led you in other directions.

Going to the movies is far different now then when I was a kid. There were three theaters in the town In So Cal where I went to high school. One was a newer building on spread out over a single level, with the other two massive old-style theaters replete with red velvet curtains, balconies and ornate columned walls. Double features were included in the price of ticket back then. Sandwiched in between films cartoons were played, or in my mother’s era “newsreels”, leaving patrons time for a bathroom run or to pick up another box of Junior Mints at the snack bar.

Both of the older theaters as I said had first floor and balcony seating. Balconies were reserved for overflow seating for particularly popular movies and necking for any movie. Aside from regular theaters, drive-ins were dotted all over the area. Teenagers and families gathered around the speakers on Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy some cardboard pizza from the snack bar or to share a picnic in their car. Children played in the playground until the sun went down and teens steamed up windows in the back rows.

Personally I was forbidden from going on a date to the drive-in. To be honest what I was supposed to do and what I actually did were not always in direct alignment. Drive-ins were cheap entertainment for kids relying on part-time jobs or allowances to pay for a date. At $1.75 a carload if you crammed several kids in the trunk it proved very cost effective entertainment.

Once I got married and had my own children we often piled them in the old yellow station wagon dressed in their Dr. Denton’s and sat through a double feature at the drive-in about five miles from our house. To be honest as a young mother with two toddlers I rarely made it through the second movie but it was a cheap date for us and fun for the little ones. Now I think what drive-ins remain serve mainly to house weekend swap meets but back then they were the place to be.

Rick and I often go to a matinee these days. The last time we were there he commented on the sea of gray heads lined up in the seats in the front of us. I didn’t want to point out they were for the most part in the same generation as us but the thought crossed my mind.

Fads come and fads go. The old makes way for the new. I don’t see many young faces buying a ticket to see a movie nowadays. Perhaps they go to the later viewings? My guess is they are catching their movies on line or on their devices rather than at the theater.

An old dog at heart, I still like the smell of popcorn and the lights dimming before the feature begins to play on the big screen.

This pie is so yummy and quick to pull together. Use store bought pie crust to save time. I do like this recipe for crust if you’re in the mood. I found it in a Taste of Home cookbook years ago and for someone not adept at making crust, this one works for me. Another tip from a great baker I met along the way. Use high quality vanilla when baking. There is a difference.

Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

1At last it is warm enough to tackle some of my outdoor projects. Over the winter months my garage tends to become a catchall for everything being far less organized than in the warmer seasons when I can get out there to work. Last weekend “clean garage” was plainly written under Saturday on my calendar. Rising early and with sufficient coffee to start my engine, I headed out the door. Grabbing my broom I brushed cobwebs out of the windows and teased leaves out of corners. Towards the back of the room stand four wall units where everything is stored from dry goods to overflow cooking utensils. Moving one unit to sweep behind it something large and furry scurried past me. Before I could identify it, it ran along the back of the garage disappearing behind a pile of logs. I went inside to tell Rick about the beastie. When I complain about the copious leaves in the yard or the deer eating our flowers Rick shoots me that look as if to say, “what do you expect, we live in the mountains”. Apparently this look covers critters in the garage as well. Yes, I get we live in the forest, thank you.  Nobody loves animals more than I do. However, I would prefer to know what type of animal I am dealing with before choosing to share space with it. There is a vast difference in experience between being in the garage with a squirrel and being in the garage with a skunk, if you get my drift. (No pun intended.)

Gingerly I began poking at the logs stacked in the corner. Newly purchased bags of potting soil were leaning against them. With a sunny weekend in the forecast, plans were in the works to begin digging in my garden. I did not want to be surprised by something unpleasant with teeth. Out of the corner of my eye I caught two beady little eyes staring up at me from behind the stacked wood. To complete the picture beyond one log the tip of a rather slinky tail protruded. As the hair began to come to attention along the base of my neck my mind began to scream, RAT, RAT, RAT. Ewwwww. Can I say it again?  Ewwwww. I’ve dealt with wasps, black widow spiders, and centipedes but never rodents. Well, for the sake of full disclosure I did have a wee gray mouse once.  His visit a brief but memorable one once our old cat honed in on his location. Mouse didn’t come by her name for nothing. Such is the circle of life. Unfortunately our cat du jour, Boo, the Queen of Cats, did not accept Mouse living in her house so we had to find Miss Mouse a new home. Boo, lazy to the very depth of her spoiled old bones, if faced with a rat would probably lie down and take a nap.

The following day after seeing the rat I called the pest control people. Conducting a thorough inspection, the service man said there was no infestation. Thank God. There was evidence of one rat, most likely a teenager. Personally I don’t care whether the rat was five or forty, I want him to find another place to hang his little rat hat. For enough money to pay for a semester at Harvard the man said he would set traps to rid us of the beast.  In addition to a substantial initial outlay a year-long contract was to be included to be paid on a monthly basis.  Hmmmm. Suddenly the rat was looking better than the service man.

I associate rats with being dirty. Not wanting to be considered as such, I prattled on about my attention to cleanliness with the pest control guy. Finally, probably tiring of hearing how my knees were raw from scrubbing the floors 24/7, he told me this rat probably just came in out of the rain and as a bonus discovered the dry goods we store in the garage. Who knew rats liked non-dairy creamer and coffee?

Searching for a less expensive option, I dialed my son’s number. Several years ago he’d had three rats in his garage. When he’d originally discussed this with me I was surprised. I keep a very clean house, but my daughter-in-law is immaculate. Dinner could be served up on her kitchen floor without fear of ingesting a single germ. For her this must have been tantamount to being told someone in the neighborhood had come down with bubonic plague. Duct work had to be torn down and replaced, x-rays taken of walls, and $5,000 later the house was rat-free. Ewwwww, once again.

Another friend of mine had rats in her walls. This can be a serious problem. Fortunately our situation is one rat, one garage. Easy peasey. In my friend’s case pest control set out a series of traps with cheese laced with poison. Rats ate the laced cheese and retreated back into the walls to go wherever rats go when they pass on. Unfortunately retrieval of the bodies was not part of the contract. After a few days and a good dose of hot air blown through the ducts from the furnace the house began to smell. More money then had to be invested to do something about odor abatement. Ach.

We often leave our garage door open during the day. My mother comments on her visits she would worry about critters getting in. In the four years we’ve been here we have only had one “critter” in the garage, a small deer who wandered in to help herself to some cat food. Perhaps we will have to rethink this strategy in the future.

So, we have purchased traps and as barbaric as I find this whole procedure it’s him or me. I am not willing to continue to go in the garage in hip boots and full haz-mat gear for the rest of my tenure in this house.

Probably not the best idea to pair a discussion of rodents with food, but what I am if not a trend setter?

These lamb burgers were our virgin run on the grill for the season. I love ground lamb and it is great for a change up from a traditional burger.

Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 lb. minced lamb
1/2 onion chopped fine
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed mint
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup Feta cheese
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 English muffins
Tomatoes and red onion
Spinach leaves

Mix all ingredients together well. Refrigerate for 1 hr. Form into patties.

Spray grill well with cooking spray. Preheat grill to med-high heat. Cook meat patties 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and top with Feta cheese.

At the same time baste each English muffin on cut side with olive oil. Place on grill until browned.

Serve patties on muffins with tomatoes, red onion (grilled are best) and fresh spinach leaves topped with Tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 cucumber, finely diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lemon juiced
1 Tbsp. dill
3 cloves garlic

Mix together and chill for 1 hr. Serve on top of lamb burgers.

Serves 4

final

There’s a phenomenon in the medical profession which truly concerns me. On many occasions women visiting a physician’s office with a complaint are dismissed by such platitudes as “you’re just getting older” or “it’s probably an emotional issue”.

This is particularly personal in my case because my daughter’s mother-in-law, Judy, had a similar experience several years ago. Over a two year period Judy visited her physician regularly complaining of chronic nausea and a general feeling of malaise. The doctor, a female herself, kept placating her prescribing antacids for the stomach issues and suggesting she was “over thinking” her symptoms. In the end when the situation reached a critical state requiring a visit to the E.R., she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

This really isn’t new.  At twenty-five I went to the GYN complaining of having heavy cramping with my monthly periods. My doctor looked at me as though I was being a hysterical baby and totally overreacting so I didn’t mention it again. Several months later our family had planned a camping trip on the beach in Baja.  While there the bleeding became so alarming it became necessary to come back early. Returning to work on Monday the pain intensified quickly ending in a trip to the emergency room. An initial examination and x-ray had hospital staff rushing around me. Before you could say hemorrhage, I was whisked off to have emergency surgery resulting in the removal of an ovarian cyst. Afterwards the surgeon said had I waited another twenty-four hours this would have turned into a life or death situation.

This dismissal doesn’t limit itself to women. Elderly patients often encounter similar problems when seeking treatment. Because you are “old” does not mean you are dispensable. The fact that your ninety year old grandmother has lived a good long life does not mean she does not wish to continue to do so. Recently I had a situation with my mother. An irritated red spot with a scab developed on her face. Twice she has undergone Mohz procedures for skin cancer so to me it looked suspicious. Texting her doctor I asked if she had noticed it. Her reply indicated indeed she had, and her conclusion was it was a pre-cancerous growth. Inquiring what the course of action was to be seemeed to surprise her.  What? There is no course of action when you reach a certain age? My mother is fully functional and viable human being and I suggested politely she do whatever needs to be done without delay.

Even friends in my age group are reporting a difference in their care.  Everything is not associated with aging. Perhaps physician’s need to stop staring at their computer screens and take a moment to look at the person seated before them.

My rant for a Saturday. These short ribs were absolutely a three yum situation. I had seconds which is rare in our house.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs for Two

2 Tbsp. peanut oil
4-5 short ribs bone in
1 onion, slice thin
1 bay leaf
12 oz. beer (I used Corona)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. beef bouillon
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 pkg. brown gravy mix, prepared

Heat oil over high heat in frying pan. Sprinkle ribs generously with salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Line bottom with onion. Top with browned short ribs.

Mix together all remaining ingredients except gravy mix. Pour over meat. Cook on low for 10-11 hours. Remove ribs from sauce and whisk in prepared gravy. Return ribs to sauce and continue cooking on high for 1/2 hour.

Serve over mashed potatoes or noodles.

Serves 2

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