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I actually have an appointment this morning. I know! My appointment book has been as chaste as a novitiate for weeks. Today I am to have allergy testing. I’d be lying if I didn’t insert here that going outside in the big bad world feels a little off putting. My instructions were to wear a mask and maintain social distancing. K. Yesterday I cranked up my car and drove it for a bit both to remind myself driving was part of my routine and to give my car a chance to recharge it’s battery. When I came back I dragged the industrial size bag of potting soil I purchased several months ago around to the front yard and worked in the dirt for a couple of hours. People walked by and stopped to say hello or waved while I was out there and it felt less isolating and more like being part of a community.

While outside beneath the massive trees lining my property (well, mine as long as I deposit a rent check) I was serenaded by the sad song of a mourning dove. Movement on one of the branches overhead drew my eye to where I could see a dove perched on a large nest in the crook of a limb. Mom, or so I called her, I’m not clearly versed on how one goes about telling the difference in doves and wasn’t formally introduced, remained on the nest while her partner flew back and forth to the ground or to other trees gathering whatever he was bringing to the table. Soon I could see three dear little feathery heads pointed towards the sky beaks open so I’m assuming dad had been tasked with providing lunch. A friend called so I stopped for a moment and went in the house to take a break. Telling her of my sweet birds (yes, yes I realize they are of the earth and not actually mine but they are on my property so for now I shall lay claim to them), she said doves were a sign of peace and restoration. Boy, could we use that right now. She went on to suggest I purchase food and a feeder for the birds and then they would remain in my yard and make it their home. What a lovely thought. I do love birds and all creatures. However, after spending $8.99 for eggs yesterday and $12.99 for instant decaf coffee I am hesitant to take on the feeding responsibilities for other living things beyond Boo and myself.  Nonetheless I ordered both food and a feeder before I had time to talk myself out of it. C’est la vie.

dove mourning nesting protection camouflage to protect them from predators

Going back outside to finish my potting I was pleasantly surprised how peaceful it made me to know the little family was settled in above me. Our world is populated with such incredibly beautiful and interesting wildlife. I never stop marveling at the vast selection of creatures provided for us to share space with and enjoy. When I was little my grandfather enrolled me in a course through the Audubon Society. Birds were a particular love for both him and my grandmother and this they shared with me. He and I would sit in his cozy den and study the different species of birds and their habitats. It was always special for me to spend time with the first important man in my life. Sadly we would only have seven years together before he passed away. My grandmother too was a bird fancier. Many of her knick knacks, which were plentiful, were decorated with birds.  When fall arrived I can remember walking behind my grandmother while she carried the red vinyl step stool to one of the huge trees shading our back yard. My job was to carry the net bag of suet which was going to be hung off a limb to feed the birds prolific in the trees where we lived.  Suet, for those of unfamiliar with the term is a mixture of fats and grains. From what I have read, it actually serves to keep the birds warm. In Nova Scotia this would be a plus in any form. Once the bag was suspended we would watch the birds from the dining room window as they circled down to pick pieces of the mixture out from between the holes in the netting. Funny, how some memories just stick like glue to your insides and remain there always.

Birds are interesting little beings with definite personalities, at least the domesticated variety. My friend Carol had a bird named Wilbur. Wilbur was a lovebird by description who shared a cage with his “wife”. I do not remember the female’s name but lovebirds, appropriately named, mate for life. The two were inseparable. Wilbur wiled away his days attending to his lady love while singing happily in his cage. The wife died unexpectedly one day leaving poor Wilbur devastated by her loss. They purchased another mate for him but he never warmed up to his new “wife” with anything near the fervor he had loved the first. The heart wants what the heart wants I guess spans all species.

I too have always considered myself a nester. My ex father-in-law told me once if he gave me a cardboard box and a ball of twine somehow I’d come up with a home. Home has always been a bit of an elusive commodity for me. Truth is I’ve never let a lot of grass grow under my feet. Having counted thirty-nine moves in my life hasn’t left much time for establishing deep roots.  That being said, it has been necessary to create “home” at whatever location I currently found myself in.

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While living in Longview, Washington with my ex husband home at the time was a motel room. Working a construction job at the lumber mill we knew on arrival our stay in the glorious northwest would most likely last under a year. To lease a place to hang our hat would most likely have required a one year commitment, not doable in our case. Also, with our household goods taking up space in a storage unit in the Bay Area we had nothing to furnish it with. So, we opted to stay with other construction types at a local motel catering to nomads such as ourselves. There were two rooms plus a bathroom in each generous sized “suite”. Ours was on the second floor overlooking the pool. Each unit had a sliding glass door leading out to the balcony which gave it more of an apartment vibe. There was a small refrigerator in the room off the bedroom/sitting room which comfortably held a sandwich and a quart of milk before feeling crowded. Since we would be there months rather than days I began to look for options for cooking in place and storing food as going out to dinner or picking something up every night was both expensive and is definitely not the healthiest option.

Having no utensils or cooking implements posed a problem. Someone suggested thrift shops. Up until then I had never stepped foot in one. What wonderful places to forage in. For a five dollar bill you could get a whole bag of mismatched silverware. Who knew such riches existed at the Salvation Army? I asked my husband to construct a makeshift three shelf unit with bricks and planks on an empty wall in our room. I filled the shelves with the mish mash of well loved pots and pans purchased with my bag of silver leaving the remaining shelves for food storage. After speaking to the motel owners about wanting to cook in the room they provided me with two two-burner hot plates to cook on.  This still left me with little room to store fresh items so once again I found myself standing in the motel office asking about refrigerator options. As miracles do, one showed up to help. The owner had an apartment size refrigerator in storage. The next day it was hooked up in our “spare” room. Yay. Before long I was cooking all all burners if you will. We made some great meals in that little room that year. My ex was an excellent cook. Hailing from southern Texas he made some delicious pots of gumbo or etoufee which we shared with neighbors who regularly followed the enticing smell to our door.

All in all it was an interesting experience that I will file in my memory book under “innovation”.

 

 

 

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Last night was one of those stress filled nights where I found myself doing yoga at 2 a.m. in an effort to calm my chattering brain. Lately I invest a lot of energy trying to live in the moment I am currently inhabiting. In spite of my finest efforts, now and again my mind goes rogue bombarding me with what if’s and unsettling scenarios for the future. During these episodes like Michelangelo on steroids, my psyche begins frantically painting scenes of Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, and I sitting on the street corner with a sign reading “Need Help” or me ending up in some sort of group establishment known for its abysmal food cohabited by people wiling away their hours plucking imaginary berries out of the air.  None of this is based on any fact, mind you, but in the wee hours when darkness is upon me my thoughts can play tricks on my intellectual properties allowing doubt and misinformation to cloud all rational thinking processes.

Fear truly can rule you if you allow it run unchecked. Reality is sufficiently frightening without giving fear free rein to step up and fabricate things for you to worry about. Feelings and thoughts are just that, feelings and thoughts. They are not tangible entities but rather fluid malleable parts of us we can bring to the forefront or make disappear at whim. You are at the controls, sort of like when parents tell their offspring, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out”.

Fear is not new to me. Truth is I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have terrified me. Sometimes you have to stare down your fears and kick them to the curb. At one point I actually suffered from anxiety attacks while married to my ex-husband, David. Now to be clear, I am not for a minute suggesting my ex caused these attacks to occur (I’m also not suggesting he didn’t), simply stating they manifested themselves when I was married to the man. They began at the onset of our ten years together. Much of our time was spent traveling across the U.S. working for a large, very well recognized, construction company. Like hermit crabs we transported our home with us setting up camp in each new location as one job closed and a new opportunity presented itself. The first move, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, was to Washington state. More specifically, Longview, Washington. We worked and lived there for eleven months before packing up after accepting the next job offer which was to be in Ashdown, Arkansas. Our household goods at the time were stored in the Bay Area. Not contemplating returning for some time we decided to drive to the San Jose area, spend a week with my family there, load up his truck and my car with the contents of our storage unit and make a beeline for Arkansas. Along for the ride were my Shih Tzu, Sushi and Kitty, my twelve year old gray tabby. At the end of our journey together these two animals had logged enough miles to be honorary long-haul drivers.

We set out on that trip each in our respective vehicles. These were what I call the “lean years” for us. His beater Ford truck was nearly as old as I was and my car at the time was a K car purchased at auction. A comfortable car for driving, the outside no longer matched the well preserved interior as a result of an unfortunate rear ender I’d been involved with prior to leaving for Washington. In an effort to keep the repair costs down, as it wasn’t a new vehicle either by any means, the body shop had actually riveted the hood back together leaving it sporting a somewhat Frankensteinish appearance. I know.  Between the rivets on my hood and my husbands severely overtaxed truck bed the characters in Grapes of Wrath had nothing on us. Both animals rode with me. Sushi generally occupied the shotgun seat with Kitty preferring to ride in the area below the window above the rear seat where she could catch some sun. Cats, unlike their canine counterparts, do not signal when they need to relieve themselves, so it was necessary to have the litter box on board on the floor in the back seat. This, as you might imagine, was not always a delightful addition to my trip.

There were so many scary parts to that trip I hardly know where to begin. At the time I was madly in love and off on a new adventure. “Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead” sort of thing. My car had been having brake problems, something we had decided to address on our arrival in Arkansas. If you are scratching your head at this statement, may I join you? Why on earth we would take a chance on traversing high mountain roads with an old truck loaded to the max with hhg’s and an old car with poor brakes escapes me, but what can I say? Nothing, exactly. Sometimes shaking your head is all you can do.

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We reached the top of the Continental Divide as the sun was getting ready to go down. It was summer, but the temperature was cold enough at that altitude to elicit a shiver when I stepped out of the car.  I had pulled to the side of the road in response to David’s signal he was doing so. After stepping around the side of the truck I realized why. Our second flat tire on the truck was apparent on the right front.  The first one was while going across the Great Salt Flats of Utah, which I will discuss as I continue my journey in upcoming blogs. Perhaps brakes and tires might have been two checks we needed to make on our “Preparing for Trip List” prior to hitting the road. I hear you. I don’t believe it helped that the poor old truck was toting a load on it’s back nearly as tall as it was long, but the why’s of the situation really are a moot point at this writing. Choice A, with no Choice B on the horizon was to change the tire in the darkness with the help of a flashlight which was our only available source of illumination. There were no cell phones back then so if you got in a situation like that in a remote place you either took care of it yourself or stayed until hopefully help showed up. David, always helpful, suggested that aside from holding the flashlight it might be advantageous to keep an eye out for bears or mountain lions. “Really”? Luckily knees knocking together is not a known lure for wild beasts so we got the tire changed before being eaten which was definitely a bonus to my way of thinking.

Once the new tire was in place David lit a cigarette while we discussed going down the other side of the mountain. Since my brakes were not performing at optimum capacity the steep grades could present a bit of a problem should I need to say, stop, at some juncture. Being consumed by a bear was starting to look pretty good to me. The plan, hold your hats here, was that David would go first in the heavy truck. As we wound around the mountain careening through the darkness should my brakes go out I was to ride up onto his bumper and he would bring me to a stop. Valium please.  Make it two. As we crested the mountain in tandem I said a silent prayer we would get to the bottom via the road and slowly stepped on the accelerator.  Several times when we hit substantial grades I was only able to maintain a narrow margin behind the truck’s bumper. Even the dog was sweating. Finally, angels on my shoulder, we miraculously hit level ground with all body parts attached. Life, was they say, is good.

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There was an eclipse that night. We secured a room at a local motel. Interesting place. The owner had taken over an abandoned storage facility and converted it into motel rooms. Probably a great plan in conception but perhaps not so great in execution. The ceilings, for example, were really low. Had David been a couple of inches taller then his six feet he might have had to bend slightly to go from room to room. Also, even without the eclipse the fact there were no windows in our unit made it really dark when we switched off the light. Lying there without the tiniest benefit of illumination in the room I can remember breathing into my diaphragm three or four times in an effort to slow down my still hammering heart before drifting off to sleep. Looking back I have to say, even though my life was chaotic in the best of times it certainly was never boring. I guess that’s a good thing in hindsight.

Somehow I made it through those years. Being afraid and pushing through it probably gave me an edge when dealing with the loss of Rick a year and a half ago and all that has come after it.

Have a great and adventurous weekend!!

 

 

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Read an article this morning warning prescription drug prices are going up again. Really? You mean they haven’t already hit the ceiling? I have basic coverage, gap coverage, and drug coverage which I pay dearly for. With all that you’d think I’d be covered for anything short of a nuclear holocaust. Yet, when I arrive at the prescription counter I get charged if the medication I have been prescribed is not on a tier my plan pays for. When I filled a prescription last year for an asthma inhaler I have been using for some time it had gone up from $47 from my previous refill to $97. When I asked why, the pharmacy assistant shrugged. ?? Que es shrug? What if I didn’t have $97, should I just breathe less? Possibly I could breathe more slowly to conserve oxygen? What do people do who simply cannot pay these prices? Die? This is so wrong to me in a nation of plenty I seriously could break down a cardboard box, write something scathing across it to our lawmakers, crazy glue it to a stick and march in front of the capital building. Why are we as consumers so apathetic? I’m as guilty as the next person. The last topical medication prescribed by my dermatologist came in at a whopping $298.00. Did I say, “no, I will not pay that ridiculous amount”? I did not, because I needed the medication to manage the problem with my skin and there was no generic option available. What the answer to this is I have no clue, but if it is true only 1% of the Americans are holding onto the money in this illustrious country of ours I can’t help but feel many Americans are going to feel the pinch of this increase.

Ahhhh, thank you for letting off steam. Wouldn’t want you to see my face emblazoned across the screen on the five o’clock news. Crazed blonde attacks pharmacist with cardboad sign. Film at eleven. 

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Over the weekend I took a little time off from everything and turned my car towards the Bay Area. It was only for a few days R&R at a friend’s house but I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to change the scenery for a bit. Her home perches on the precipice of a lower foothill peak offering up a view of the entire San Jose area. During the day you oversee the valley below packed tightly with office buildings and homes then as night falls it transforms into what appears to be an endless blanket of glistening stars. The property is replete with fruit trees heavily populated with morning doves as well as the most prolific population of hummingbirds I have yet to see. A glorious place to unwind and dust off the cobwebs. She shares her digs with two of the cutest little furry creatures, Mali and Phoebe, both Yorkshire terriers who took to me like honey to a muffin. If it wasn’t for the fact that dogs require so much more attention than cats, I would have to own one of my own. For a small breed they were not the least yippy as I might have suspected. Never heard anything out of them beyond a polite “ruff” when it was time for a treat. Phoebe, the elder and larger of the duo, is seven and a rescue. Mali, a breeder pup, weighs in at a little under three pounds, is three years old and holds to the opinion the house belongs to her as well as all the attention. The two of them kept me really entertained while I was visiting.

As usual my trip was not without mishap. I broke down and got new glasses over the holidays.  I have had to have them replaced twice due to defects in the makeup of the delicate frames. According to the optometrist rimless frames such as these are a nightmare for their profession. Sometimes beautiful fragile things are lovely to look at but difficult to possess. Perhaps someone should have mentioned that before I paid for them rather than after, yes? At any rate, I picked up the third pair last week. While adjusting them the optometrist said “three’s a charm”. Not so fast. Sigh. Before I pull the covers over my head I usually read a few chapters out of whatever book I am in the middle of. My room while visiting was her sewing room furnished with a couch hiding an amazingly comfortable bed already folded out and ready for me to hop into.  Apparently I dozed off glasses in place. Somewhere in the night either I took them off placing them on the carpet or they fell off the bed while I was doing what Rick referred to as my breaching while asleep. I woke up before the sun. The room was pitch dark so I fumbled for the light switch which I couldn’t locate. Swinging my legs over the side and planting my feet firmly on the ground I heard an unpleasant crunch. Damn. Having honed stupid accidents to a fine point I managed to annihilate not one but both lenses while wrenching off one arm. The patient, shall we say, was terminal. Thankfully it was on the day I was leaving so at least I had them while I was there. However, there was the problem of driving home without them. Before my cataract surgery that would have been tantamount to handing Mr. Magoo the keys but thanks to the wonders of laser surgery I can see well, not perfectly, but well without my glasses. Sooooooooo back I went yesterday to order the fourth pair. Note to self, “Never Order Rimless Frames Again”. Done and done.

In spite of the vision issues the drive home was glorious. The route I took snaked around the Sacramento Delta taking me across two drawbridges before I merged back on to Interstate 5. Sometimes I find it so soul soothing driving along on a bright sunny day with no agenda in mind other than getting home whenever the car pulls into the driveway.  Seems like I’m often going full to the floor so I took advantage of the quiet time not pressing down too hard on the accelerator.

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The year has begun in a flurry of activity and this month promises to carry that baton to the finish line. Three trips out of town are written on the calendar. My pet sitter will be able to take a trip of her own once I’m done paying her to watch Miss Boo. I always feel guilty leaving my feline best buddy. When Rick was alive I often went on these side trips solo so he was there to man the fort and provide company for her nibs while I was absent. These days Boo and I are batching it and since she is an abysmal traveling companion, pet sitting it must be for the time being.

In keeping with my vision issues I went to the doctor this morning to get my eyes examined. Been having some night vision problems. Coming from a doctor’s family you’d think I’d be better about personal maintenance, but when it comes to me I seem to have a habit of putting things off. It’s not that this type of appointment generally involves any pain of note but I just hate getting my eyes dilated. I am particularly susceptible to the drops they use and end up having eyes with a yellow tinge to the whites and pupils huge and totally black, an effect which can last for hours. Today was no exception. On the way out they hand you a pair of plastic dark lenses to slip behind your glasses because as well as looking like a cat from the underworld your eye or eyes become highly sensitive to light. Stepping out into the morning sun I groped around for my keys in my purse and once seated in my car gauged if I felt I was safe to pilot it.  This assessment was really kind of a moot point because unless I’d brought a lunch and a couple of bottles of water I was going do just that or sit in the car for twelve hours waiting for my pupils to return to normal.

The moment I stepped in the door the phone rang. It was my mother’s caregiver telling me my mom had a respiratory bug and I needed to take her to the doctor. I just drove half blind from close to where she lives so this was not the best news. So 2020 begins with a bang. I shall get my pedaling shoes out and hop on. Let’s see where the path takes me, well, once I can again see where the path takes me.

 

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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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1

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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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

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