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Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

Struggling to find my joy again after losing Rick, my significant other and soulmate, has definitely been an uphill battle. It’s not I don’t laugh or enjoy myself while doing an activity or sharing time with friends and family, I do. Rather it’s an abiding emptiness, which persists deep inside me bubbling up unexpectedly from time to time leaving me feeling vulnerable and alone.

There are sometimes multiple endings following the death of a spouse. In this day and age where blended families are more the norm than the exception, often step families drift off after a death absorbed back into their own tribes. Even if you felt the bonds were strong people have a tendency to go with their own leaving behind frayed ends and unfinished beginnings. As this situation has occurred for me on more than one occasion in my life I speak with some experience on the subject. So your life shifts and morphs before your eyes like the lens of a kaleidoscope making it difficult to recognize or find a familiar comfortable place to be. This leaving you to mourn not only the person who has passed on but the peripheral beings now missing in your world as well.

I am always spouting “if you don’t like your life, change it”. I am not a proponent of whining, even though I do give in to it from time to time. My philosophy is if something hits you hard go down for a day or two, then stand up, dust yourself off, stick your chin out and keep on going. Sometimes this is easier said than done. My mother used to say I’m like one of those inflatable clowns with the sand weighting the bottom. You can smack me down but I will always pop up again. I’m counting on that particular trait to see me through this as well.

The holidays are coming up. For people suffering a loss, not having their loved ones with them on special occasions can prove doubly taxing. Memories of holidays past begin to surface and the realization their old life is gone forever becomes more clear. I speak of this because I just celebrated my second birthday without Rick. This one was filled with friends and family and good vibes reminding me of how far I have come since his passing. There’s something about another year going by that always shakes things loose things in my mind. I begin to examine what I have done with these 365 days now used and discarded and what I plan to do with the 365 clean and freshly pressed days lying before me. Oh my.

I have been auditing a class on Love at the Unity Church. Interesting concepts being taught there. They are especially focused on the inner dialogues we tend to conduct in our minds and offer different ways to approach your life to bring about added peace and serenity. I never realized before how much internal chattering goes on beneath this blonde mane. Yak, yak, yak. Always I have known I was a woman who has much to say. (Rick used to comment if I asked if he was listening, “Sweetie, if I listened to every word you said, I would never get anything else done.” Funny man my Rick.)

Like an old dog long ingrained habits are not easily given up. When you are used to doing things a certain way, particularly as you age, changing course is not an easy task. There’s no day to implement change like today, so I begin.

First on my list as mentioned in my previous blog is looking for a part-time job. There are a lot of us baby boomers still in the work force and so I am hoping I can find a niche just my size to fit into to. Where to begin? First, I updated my resume. My son’s business in corporate headhunting so he was helpful in guiding me through the process. Do not write endless descriptive paragraphs dating back to when you exited the womb, was his first instruction. “But that’s my speciality. Awwww, all right.” Apparently busy people looking to hire someone don’t have time to read through the definitive life history of twenty people in order to whittle it down to the right candidate. Got it. Brief, attention grabbing tidbits about what you’ve done over the past ten years with the emphasis on what you can bring to the position that is unique and pertinent to the job description provided. Done and done. Apparently brain surgeon is off the table. I looked it up and it seems you have to have a degree. Darn.

Learning to live alone is another hurdle I am mounting. You’re not alone, you might say, you have Boo, the Queen of Cats. Oddly enough you’d be on the money with that statement. I can not stress enough how much it means to open the door to an empty house and find a furry face waiting for you on the other side. If you have suffered a loss having an animal (if you love them as I do) can be such a comfort while at the same time giving you something to fuss over besides yourself. As the days pass I actually find myself looking for quiet hours to hang out with me. Being an only child entertaining myself perhaps comes more easily than for those people coming from large families used to lots of noise and activity 24/7. Growing up in Nova Scotia during long cold winters I learned to be inside seated on the floor of my bedroom using my imagination to fill my days with wild adventures and limitless wonders.

Winter has not made itself known here in Northern California as yet. As I turned the calendar over to November I went to my shed and retrieved my winter clothes, replacing the summer clothes hanging in my closet. Yesterday it was 78 degrees. As usual, I’m right on target. Sooooo, tiring of wearing fleece in a heat wave today I will go back to the shed and forage for some lighter clothes thus guaranteeing a blizzard by Friday. One cannot deny living in California, in spite of the fire situation dogging us over the past decade, offers glorious weather. This does not come without a price, however, and I look more and more often at how I will sustain myself here long term. If it wasn’t for the fact that all my loved ones reside in this state I wouldn’t be adverse to exploring other options. Rent in particular has hit the roof making it difficult for grown children to move out on their own, people in low income jobs to limp from paycheck to paycheck, and the old and infirmed to manage to survive. My best friend’s daughter just moved to the Houston area. She bought a gorgeous home in a lovely area for about one-third of what you pay for a similar house here.

So many things to ponder. I am trying to put all I have learned about mindfulness into play as I go through my days. Focus on today, even this moment of today, and let tomorrow unfold when and as it should. I believe I’ll buy a lottery ticket this morning. No reason not to hedge my bets.

Today is Veteran’s Day. Always I think of my father. He was twenty-five, and I one, when he died. I have pictures of him in RCAF uniform to remind me of the man who launched me into this world then had to take his leave. When I was sixteen I visited Ottawa. While there I visited his grave at the military cemetery. I will never forget the sea of white crosses marching up and down the hillsides in every direction. So much loss. To all the veterans who have given and continue to give of themselves for our country, thank you for your service.

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The time has come to begin searching for a part-time job. God knows I’ve avoided it successfully as long as I can. Money needs to start coming in as well as going out or this boat is going to spring a few leaks down the road. Not that I’m allergic to work, I’ve worked most of my life, I just don’t hate not having to. Ah well, we do what we need to do to sustain ourselves, yes?

An email showed up in my in box yesterday from a social media website I’m a member of. They were alerting me to the fact there is an opening for a social media director for one of the NFL teams I might be a good candidate for. Really, in what universe would that be? If I’m qualified for that job why not try something new like, say, brain surgeon or perhaps I could apply to NASA for a neuroscientist position? I do enjoy watching those rockets plummeting into space. How hard can it be a little rocket fuel and a match? Let’s see, with all the candidates running for president at the moment would anyone even notice another hat tossed in the ring? Why not go for the gold? As far as I can tell I’m probably as qualified as most of the people in Washington at the moment so why not?

Updating my resume it occurred to me my graphic arts background isn’t really going to hold a lot of weight if I’m stocking shelves at the Dollar Store or wrapping up purchases at Penny’s. Probably their HR departments won’t be overly impressed by the fact that not only can I bag the items for the customer, but I can draw them a rendition of the bag if needed.

Utilizing my graphics or writing skills while earning a paycheck would be the ideal situation. Unfortunately, these types of jobs are often full time positions with plenty of overtime, which I’m not looking for, or the hiring bodies are targeting younger candidates who can remain in place longer than a baby boomer such as myself.

Over the years I have assumed many identities in the working world. I began as a secretary, clerk really, for a moving company. An eighteen year old girl green as a gourd working with a bunch of rough around the edges movers in a large combination warehouse and office. I earned my stripes there. The men were respectful for the most part, as I remember. However, the dispatcher working directly across the aisle from me had a mouth like a sailor. When things weren’t going his way the air was alive with words my grandmother would have washed my mouth out for repeating. I remember once the warehouse manager came to me to tell me the ladies, of which there were four of us, needed to be alerted there were crabs in the women’s washroom. Until the situation was resolved, we were instructed to use the men’s room. Fascinated there were live crabs on the premises, I asked if perhaps I could see them. Stepping a bit further into the humiliation pit I went on to explain though I enjoyed crabs, I actually preferred lobster having grown up in Nova Scotia. Yup, fully immersed in the pit of humiliation at that point. After staring at me in disbelief for a minute he broke out in hysterical laughter. For the next two years I had to hear the crabs story repeated more times than I care to remember. Back then if asked about an STD I might have answered “isn’t that motor oil”? Yes, yes I know it’s STP.

My second job was for a huge engineering company working as a secretary to one of the junior VP’s. My desk was one of a bank of desks and executive offices referred to by the staff as “mahogany row”. Things were much different in those days. Women wore dresses, heels, and nylons to work. Pants were not allowed on the ladies. Men were encouraged to wear them thankfully, there are laws against that. Pants suits made an appearance not long afterwards, though I wouldn’t have missed them if they hadn’t. Polyester nightmares with matching jacket and pants usually suffering from static cling or just basic bad taste. There were no casual Friday’s. Women were to be dressed accordingly five days a week even if their toes were sacrificed to tight pointy toed shoes or their bodies circulation diminished by suffocating pantyhose. Mini skirts were also on the scene at the time. Accessing a filing cabinet wearing that minimal piece of fabric required real finesse necessitating squatting down rather than bending over the file drawers lest you provide a distraction for the engineers on the floor. The campus I worked on consisted of five multi-story buildings, mainly staffed by male engineers, draftsmen, and support staff. Women engineers were tossed in among the mix but certainly were a small minority. Often the ladies with the engineering degrees were difficult to sort out from the gentlemen. They tended to dress in a very understated way bordering on dowdy to maintain a businesslike persona. I was told by one female engineer they dressed down in order to be accepted by their male colleagues. I could write volumes about how I feel about that, but I digress.

Part of my job description was generating travel paperwork for engineers and staff reporting to our overseas operations as well as the Alaskan pipeline and South America. Shots were required when entering certain foreign countries as well as the typical government documents such as visas and passports. If needed quickly, I would hop a plane from LA to San Francisco to visit the embassy’s involved to get paperwork moved through as expediently as possible. For me, this was the whipped cream topping of my job. Entering the exotic offices staffed by people from lands I had never visited was fascinating to me. There were times when I wished they were placing official stamps on my documents so I could board the plane as well.

Certainly my dream as a child was not to be typing engineering reports or transfer papers. Sometimes life doesn’t look the way you thought it would. As a kid my mind was filled with Egypt, oddly leading me to end up with Rick an Egyptian by birth. Daydreams of dusty digs in steamy desert settings uncovering long buried tombs with ancient artifacts filled my days. As I approached puberty, my career goals shifted to include nurse, like my grandmother, and circus clown and in high school I decided I wanted to fly the friendly skies as a flight attendant. In the end, I got married at eighteen, had two children by twenty-one and found myself seated in front of an electric typewriter pounding keys for a living. I don’t regret this for an instant because was I to create a paradox in my world and change things my two beautiful children wouldn’t share my life nor their offspring so I wouldn’t change a thing.

I view each experience as a building block to the next. Had I not taken typing in high school simply to fill an elective spot, I might have been pushing biggie fries at McDonald’s. Not that that’s a bad job. I think anyone who works hard in whatever position they hold should be commended. However hindsight being 20-20 I do wish at times I had enjoyed the full college experience when I had the opportunity to but as I always quote, “don’t look in the rear view mirror, that is not the direction you are going”.

So I look at working once again and still find myself pondering what I want to be when I grow up. Working with food might be interesting. Standing behind the deli counter at the market slicing meats and cheeses seems like it would be right up my alley. My girlfriend always tells me I would have make a good waitress. I like the idea of serving people meals, as being in the kitchen or around food is my happy place. That being said, having owned a restaurant with Rick I do know first hand how difficult waiting tables is. Long hours, poor tippers, complaining patrons, and sore feet. Hmmmm. Maybe a mermaid? I’ve never been one but always felt I had the predisposition for it, and how I do love the water.

For now I will scan the on-line sites advertising local jobs and see what catches my eye. Fortunately I’ve kept my computer skills up so I have something to offer in that area.

Another new chapter to explore in my crazy interesting life. I do look forward to finding out what the next year will bring with it.

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We are smack dab in the middle of what astrologists refer to as a mercury retrograde. This began officially on Halloween, but the effects were already being felt two weeks prior. Such occurrences in the universe are usually marked by communication and technology breakdowns, nervous anxiety, travel delays, and lost items. Goody.

I mentioned a blog or two back I have been experiencing a lot of such breakdowns. Even after the electricity was finally restored following a five day power outage my land line remains dead as a doornail. A repairman is headed my way after numerous attempts by my provider’s technical staff to try to figure out what is wrong. Immediately after getting that situation on the road to a solution a friend advised me my car was leaking unknown fluid onto the driveway. This means locating an auto shop at my new location to take a look at what’s going on under there. As an aside, have you ever noticed all these types of mini disasters seem to occur on weekends or holidays? It’s so common in my world I can’t help but wonder if perhaps it’s part of the master plan. As to lost items, I spent an hour looking for my keys this morning until just short of panic mode I discovered them dangling out of the lock in the door on my way out to take the trash. Thank God I’m careful to lock the door lest someone try to break in. Sigh. This retrograde will continue until November 20th which tells me November may prove to be another red letter month at Susie’s house. Jeez.

Halloween itself was a pleasant surprise. Having lived in rural mountainous areas for the last twenty years we were lucky if we got one little pirate or a scant princess knocking at our door so this year was actually fun. I bought a huge bag of candy thinking if nobody came I could sacrifice myself and not let it go to waste. As darkness began to fall I sat down to watch the news and eat my dinner when the doorbell began to ring and didn’t stop until I turned off the lights around 8:30. Sometimes there were as many as ten children standing there when I opened the door. They were all really inspired costumes for the most part ranging from a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder and a lit lantern to a diminutive ninja turtle looking just like the ones on the big screen only tinier. It was good to see parents allowing children to go door to door again, though I noticed many of them lining up along the sidewalks with flashlights talking among themselves as their offspring gathered their loot. Reminded me of the old days when my kids were school age when we totally decorated the house and created scary haunted houses in the garage. Very nostalgic for me an old Halloween lover from way back missing being born on the very day by a mere five hours. Such a fan of all Hallows Eve am I, my mother swears I came down the chute wearing a rubber nose, moustache and glasses smoking a cigar.

The day after Halloween I celebrated my birthday. Thankfully, this went off without a hitch. My daughter and her family, including our youngest member, Zeppelin one year and one month, took me to the zoo. Going to the zoo is always a bittersweet experience for me. Don’t misunderstand me, never, even at this ripe age, do I tire of seeing the amazing animals housed in America’s zoos. That being said, I do always feel a tug of guilt these glorious creatures are confined in such a way for our amusement. Seeing the animals through Zeppelin’s fresh eyes was the best part of the day. Each cage was a new adventure for our little guy who’s eyes were wide as dinner plates as we moved from one display to the next.

My mother joined us towards the end of the day. Since she broke her hip it is more difficult to include her in family outings because her stamina has diminished since her injury. Also, as the dementia continues to intrude on her thinking keeping her overnight as was my habit before she fell has now become more difficult. My house is an old cozy dwelling with lots of hard angles and unusual rooms. A wheelchair simply can’t navigate this space comfortably. Sadly once again I watch the progress of aging taking away more and more freedom from my dear mother. I also see spurts of anger not present before. Can’t fault her for that. I’m pretty sure as active as she was, being confined with no real goal or purpose to her days must be terribly frustrating.

There are several new tenants in her board and care. One lady is older than my mom which pleases her to no end. She mentions often she’s tired of being the oldest chick in the hen house. In her fifties during her mid-life crisis, as she called menopause, she refused to devulge her age. She began to shave years off so fast at one point we calculated I was actually older than she was. For me I don’t mind telling my age. Not saying the number out loud doesn’t make me any younger. My view of aging is if the universe allows we’ll all be ten, twenty, thirty, etc. Each stage has it’s pluses and it’s minuses. Not sure I’d go back if I could. Would I want to be back in high school again? There isn’t enough money. Sometimes I think I’d like to revisit my forties but I don’t believe that’s in the contract. Soooooo, I yam, what I yam and that is it. I still feel like a kid so will have to be satisfied with that. Thankfully I’m still healthy and agile which is such a bonus. It pleases me I am still able to be surprised, amazed, disappointed and enlightened so there’s still much work to be done, places to go, things to be accomplished. I’m signed up for a clay class this month. Always wanted to try sculpting. We shall see what comes of that.

Have a great and productive day.

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Currently, to employ a little electrical vernacular, I am sitting at my daughter’s house writing this blog. “Why”, you ask. Well actually you did not ask but had you I would have answered, “because my house is 62 degrees and I haven’t had electricity since last Saturday.” Then I would sigh and hold my head.

I left Saturday to spend a few days with friends in the Bay Area. Their house is in Antioch in Contra Costa County about a two and a half hour drive from mine in Auburn. Knowing I would be gone three days, my usual wonderful pet sitter was on the clock to keep an eye on Boo until my return. PG&E sent me a text alert an hour into my drive saying due to a high wind event predicted they would be shutting off power to many counties in Northern California including my area by Saturday night. Great. The wind storm, scheduled to move in Sunday, was considered by those in the know likely of historic proportions. Combine the wind with the dry vegetation and low humidity and you have the recipe for the perfect cocktail for fires. Good Lord.

November 1st, is my birthday. Yup, another year older and deeper in debt. My friends in Antioch were planning a pre birthday dinner for me on Sunday and Monday night my girlfriend and I were going to a greeting card party we attend every three months. It’s less about greeting cards than about a bunch of ladies getting together to eat, talk and, yes, make a few greeting cards. I always look forward to it.

She and I have known one another about thirty five years. Would that I could say we were in grade school when we met but in fact we met at a company we both worked at back when we were in our thirties. Again, I would like to say that was yesterday but my gray roots keep showing through to make a liar out of me. Over the years we have ridden out many a storm together both literally and figuratively so this would not be virgin territory for us. She and her husband have seen me through the end of one marriage and my relationship with Rick and now Rick’s passing, and I have been there for many losses in their lives. A lot of water under this bridge for the three of us for sure.

Thankfully their house was not affected by the outages, so we had power throughout the weekend. In fact, they have never been affected. This is probably due to the fact they live in a heavily populated Bay Area community not replete with trees. However, this does not preclude trouble, because while I was there several such suburban areas around them had serious fire situations, it just makes it less likely. Being in the middle of a huge wind event with dry foliage all around you is definitely a nerve jangler. Not to mention the trees in their yard besides being fuel were huge. When the wind gusts swooped in their boughs were bent nearly to the ground. Several large branches were lying across their yard with two on their roof by the time the winds had receded. Debris lined the streets once we ventured out leaving yards looking like war zones.

Weather is such a leveler. You are lulled into a false sense of security tucked inside your warm home until Mother Nature decides to make herself known. My heart goes out to those families who had had to stand by helplessly as their houses along with everything in them burned to the ground. Often I think it must be difficult for the fire fighters as well working so hard in difficult conditions to save these homes finally having to admit defeat and move on down the line to try to save the next one.

It doesn’t seem fair. Some homes in a ravaged neighborhood might stand untouched, while others are left in a smoldering mass. Life is rarely fair, to my mind. Sometimes it is simply life. Look at the animal world. Watching a cheetah capable of moving at speeds up to 70 MPH chase down a gazelle who will never outrun it makes you wonder “how fair is that”? Perhaps it is not a matter of fair or not, perhaps that is the fabric of life. Perhaps the gazelle was a weak link in the herd, old or infirmed possibly, or the herd needed to be culled being too large for all members to eat. Maybe nature doesn’t offer up explanations, other than that is the balance, this is as it is? I don’t know certainly. No one has looked to me as the authority on everything since my children were old enough to think for themselves. I do have questions though.

Can’t help but wonder why all this is happening here in California right now. As I said in my last blog I look forward to life settling down a bit easing in some relaxing moments to balance out the chaos? I find myself a bit world weary but thankful I have my home, cold as it may be, and Boo the Queen of Cats and I are safe, warm, and have food on the table. At least I have food at the table at my daughter’s house. When I go home I will have to restock. Once again I will have to empty the contents of my refrigerator into my trash bin which hurts my heart, but if this is the worst loss I have to suffer than I shall survive.

I am enjoying having some down time with my family which is definitely a plus. On my birthday we are going the zoo and then out to dinner which I am looking forward to. Full circle it would seem. When I was five I wanted to go to the zoo for my birthday and here I am anticipating yet again seeing all the animals at this age. Though this time the trip is actually for the benefit of the youngest member of our clan, Zeppelin, who has recently also celebrated a birthday, his first. Going with him will be like viewing the zoo with fresh eyes seeing for the first time the wonders of all the animals to be found there. That will make it all the more special. If we’re lucky we’ll both get ice cream if we behave ourselves. He’s probably more likely to get a cone than I am. Smile. Last time I went to the zoo was with Rick. I told him I wanted to feed the giraffes so he stood in line with all the other kids and we waited our turn to give the impossibly tall creatures an offering of an acacia leaf. We may grow up but sometimes it is still fun to revisit the child inside of us. One delightful benefit of getting older is that in my case at least I care more about enjoying the moment than what someone else might think about what I’m doing.

So I go home in the morning, power restored. Boo will be delighted, she’s not a happy traveler. Happy Halloween to you.

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At last writing I was getting ready for a garage sale. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve orchestrated over the years. Neighborhood sales are the perfect way to get rid of all that stuff you haven’t laid eyes on since Reagan was president and a nice way to get to know your neighbors and make new acquaintances.

My daughter and I woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday to get things set up. Thankfully they had electricity over the week, where I did not due to the PG&E outage, so she was already ahead of the game. Traffic around her area was totally impacted on my way to her house the previous night. I believe the mass of vehicles was because they live in Roseville, a northern California city about twenty minutes north of Sacramento, which is a major shopping hub for the Sierra Nevada foothills residents. Many people living in the mountains and lower foothill communities were without power for multiple days. Though living in the tall trees is a lovely place to be, if you’re looking for malls and the larger chain stores you will not find them up there. Presumably the endless lines leading into the big box stores as I made my way down one of the main drags was a direct result of people needing to replace spoiled food lost during the outage. I know in my refrigerator unless you can come up with a recipe using catsup and ice, you need to look elsewhere for your dinner plans.

Garage sales to me are reminiscent of the outdoor markets popular in medieval times where people congregated to buy, sell, or trade their items. Not to say I have first hand knowledge of such places. I am getting a bit long in the tooth but not quite that long. However, from what I’ve read about feudal communities back then, these markets were a place for people to gather and exchange goods and services, pass on news from one village to the next, and sell their produce or livestock or perhaps barter in exchange for something they themselves needed.

At most garage sales you price items low but a little above what you would secretly hope to get for them. People like to dicker. Makes them feel, or it does me, like I’ve gotten a bargain. However, I have to say I never cease to be amazed at the need for some people to haggle on an item originally purchased for $90 now on sale for $3 still unwrapped and in the box. Do we really have to have an offer and counter offer on such an item? One lady wanted to buy a brand new blender marked at five dollars for $1.50. It works perfectly and I offered to plug it in and pulverize an apple if it would ease her mind as to the condition of the appliance. Now bear in mind she drove up in a very expensive Mercedes sporting Ferragamo sunglasses and carrying a Michael Kors handbag. Somehow I didn’t get the impression she was sweating where her next meal was coming from. She went on to explain she only had $2.00 and wanted another item marked $3.00 for $.50 to complete her purchase. Wow spending the whole wad at my sale. Really? I was terribly tempted to give her a brochure from the local food bank I volunteer for in case she could avail herself of their services, but held my tongue and watched as she packed my blender in her trunk along with what appeared to be dozens of other purchases. Uh-huh. Truth is it’s not that I’m an easy mark, but I went there to come home lighter and with that intention in mind I accepted her generous offer with a smile and tucked the $2.00 in the till. Later I found the rubber o-ring for blender on the floor behind the display. Karma, as they say, is a well, you know. I would have happily forwarded the part to her if I knew which street corner she was carrying her sign on.

Between the three of us in the garage we all did our share to unload the bounty. My daughter was born to work with people. She has a warm and welcoming personality and would take off her shoes and give them to you if she felt you didn’t have any to wear. The expression “she never met a stranger” definitely applies to my oldest child. A cancer by birth, she throws herself into her interactions with fellow humans with passion and verve and has an innate sense about people paired with keen intuition. I, on the other hand, am a scorpio. Though hardly a shrinking violet, I am a little more cautious when meeting people, being more likely to size them up first before approaching. Once comfortable though I am very good at working a crowd. My son-in-law for his part just wanted to reclaim the half of his garage that has been storing all my excess household goods as well as my mother’s and their own so would happily have packed up the whole kit and kaboodle in the back of any taker willing to drive off with them. Between the three of us we managed to talk to lots of interesting people while unloading about 3/4 of the items by the end of the day. Yay.

I am glad the garage sale is behind me. The past two weeks have been an exhausting blur of activity and I am pleased to see another to-do item completed. Slowly the left side of my list with numerous items to be accomplished by the close of the year is whittling down to a more manageable size. Perhaps there will be a day coming up where I can put my feet up, pour a cup of pumpkin spice tea, and catch up on my book marked at the same page since my mother broke her hip.

Sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I’m grateful for every day I have with my mother. She has been there for me and I will always be there for her. Someone told me the other day I had good manners. Automatically I attributed that to being brought up in a household where manners were considered an integral part of everyday life. Thank you Mama. Thank you for so many things you have taught me over the years. Certainly to be strong is at the top of the list. The women who shaped my life were all strong in their own way. My two lovely aunts, my grandmothers, and my mother each brought different things to the table for me to draw from.

The bit of self indulgent whining is only tired feet and a tired mind. Taking care of yourself is a big enough job in this unsettled and complicated world but adding another person to the mix makes the job two fold. Sometimes even when performing a service with love, you need to give yourself a pass if you occasionally get cranky or wish you could just crawl in the closet with a bag of Double Stuf Oreos and close the door. Nobody can be everything to everybody every day. Can’t be done. All you can do is show up and do the best you can, remembering to throw in a little self love here and there for good measure. Take a breath, pick up that book, and if even if just for a moment draw in some deep cleansing breaths. The glorious thing about life is that whatever you are going through right now will not always be the template for the way your life looks. This, like so many situations, is only a temporary state of being.

I have learned so many things about myself over the past year since Rick passed away. I can stand alone, perhaps sometimes on wobbly legs, but I am standing. I wake up every day and do my best to make it count even if it’s only in small measures like cleaning my house or pruning my flowers. As the months pass I have recovered my joy again and a renewed interest in living a full and fulfilling life while I am here.

So here’s to clearing out the clutter both figuratively and literally. To starting fresh and traveling lighter.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.”
………Dr. Seuss

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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.

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