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Archive for the ‘weather’ Category

1

Summer has arrived with a vengeance here in Northern California, giving barely a nod to spring. One weekend we had snow, the next the asphalt was melting. With all the strange weather going on all over the world it is hard to deny global warming is progressing, though some persist in insisting this is so. Our glaciers are melting, our oceans temperatures are rising. I cannot for the life of me understand how sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it is not happening will make it go away. My rant for the day.

As a kid summer was at time of year highly anticipated. School doors shut for the season, warm sunny days, a glistening pool in the back yard. Life was good. Most of my life I’ve been a sun bunny. Spending my middle school and high school years in Southern California, the majority of my summer vacation was spent at one of the many beaches within driving distance from my house. Those were glorious days looking back. Blissfully innocent about the effects of the sun on our skin, we slathered ourselves with a lethal concoction of baby oil and iodine and spent hours coaxing the sun to turn our bodies a lovely shade of golden brown.

Though I’m sure not much has changed, the beaches somehow seemed safer back then. Other than an occasional incident of a swimmer caught in a riptide or someone getting a serious sunburn, I don’t remember hearing about many incidents of shark sightings or attacks, though I’m sure there were many such events. With no social media to propel stories along the information highway was much slower relying on word of mouth, nightly news, or newspapers to provide information. Southern California beaches lured sunbathers with warm water, miles of sun-kissed sand and, particularly in the Laguna Beach area, plentiful caves and tide pools to explore.

steps

My first child began her descent into the world in Laguna Beach. The first labor pain made itself known half way up a sheer staircase at a beach aptly named “1,000 Steps”. One pain following another I willed my overripe body to continue the uphill climb. By the time I reached street level I found myself praying for a helicopter to whisk me off to the nearest hospital. An hour and a half after I arrived at the hospital by our house my daughter arrived, leaving me to wonder if that last great effort up the endless steps hadn’t helped to hasten the delivery.

No matter whether on the east coast or the west the ocean is where I find peace. The only real regret I have about not finding wealth and fame (not that I looked very hard) is not having the wherewithal to buy a house with a panoramic view of the sea. How glorious it would be to open the door each morning to a salty sea breeze. To sit on the deck with your fingers wrapped around a hot cup of morning coffee and take in the sounds of waves crashing against the shore. Ahhhhhh.

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As a child the ocean was my backdrop. At the first sign of spring I would head down the hill towards the thin strand of rocky beach stretching behind our house. Sitting on a rock I would unlace my shoes and dip my toes into the icy water.

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I have had the opportunity to live on the water since, but never again on the ocean. When my children were in high school, my daughter entering her senior year and my son his junior, I rented a beautiful home in a man-made water community in Northern California on the Sacramento Delta called Discovery Bay. The house was second in on the first water cul-de-sac in a series of the same winding about the community. Our boat had been sold several years before so we used the dock mainly for fishing or launching the variety of floats and water toys stored in a massive bin on the middle deck. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mornings I would seat myself in my lawn chair to watch the horizon for the first hint of the sun making an entrance for the day. Usually Barnaby the golden retriever padded down to join me keeping a watchful eye out for a duck in the vicinity or a stray cat sleeping under a deck.

There’s something so calming and soul soothing about being close to water. If responsibilities and family didn’t hold me where I am, I would find a houseboat along a waterway somewhere and drop a line over the rail.On a day such as today where the thermometer is projected to reach record highs, the idea floats around in my brain like a bingo ball bouncing in a cage.

Should reincarnation be an option, I am definitely going to rethink being rich and famous just to allow me to live somewhere with salt in the air.

This cole slaw is positively decadent. I served it with tuna croquettes and a nicoise salad and it disappeared quickly.

Blue Cheese Cole Slaw

6 cups finely chopped shredded cabbage
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. celery salt

Mix together the cabbage, blue cheese, and onion in large mixing bowl.

Whisk together remaining ingredients to make dressing. Pour over cabbage 1 hour prior to serving and refrigerate.

Serves 6

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1Halloween is lurking just around a dark and dusty corner waiting to unleash all manner of ghosts and goblins upon unsuspecting neighborhoods. Fall, as I’ve mentioned, is my favorite season and Halloween. That being said Halloween is the whipped cream on fall’s sundae. Having been born on November 1st perhaps makes the date more significant to me. However, my passion for getting dressed up in costume probably would have held true had I been born in July. Growing up nearly every birthday party was a masquerade party. Peeking in my closet today you would still find an array of wigs and costumes from years gone by. Why I keep them I can’t answer, except that one day I might be called upon once again to be Minnie Mouse or the fried egg portion of bacon and eggs and I want to be prepared when the invitation arrives in the mail.

These days birthdays come and go with little fanfare. Balloons are rarely inflated, elaborately decorated cakes have been replaced with apple crisp and parties are for the most part a thing of a past. I don’t mind adding another candle to my apple crisp. Always glad to welcome a new year with all that it holds. The two weeks prior to my birthday often finds me reflective. Perhaps it’s because the pages of the calendar seem to be turning at a more steady rate, or that I miss my family more at certain times of the year. This year in particular with all that is going on in the news and in general, it sometimes takes a little more work to keep positive and upbeat.

I’ve said before I like to be scared. Not terrified, mind you. I do not enjoy a gore fest, but prefer the kind of scared that rises bumps on your arms and causes the hair at the back of your neck to stand at full attention. Fun scared. I understand from my friends who are fans of “The Walking Dead” the season premier left them reaching for their wastebaskets or whatever receptacle was handy as the gore factor ran up over the top and oozed down the other side. Nice visceral visual, yes?

Haunted buildings really catch my attention. Finding myself in purportedly haunted locations is not new to me, including the restaurant we owned ten years ago. Ghosts peak every curious bone in my body. Humans are fascinated with the afterlife, most probably because whatever faith a person holds gives them the what little information is available. Aside from heaven there is also whatever lies in between. Do tortured souls populate some dimension just beyond our consciousness? These questions plague us in the same way we desperately want to know if somewhere in the vast expanses of the universe, a spaceship piloted by ET’s is hurtling through the dark unknown in the direction of earth. I hold to all theories until unproven. How can we say no with conviction if we have no concrete proof of yes?

As a kid I was positive crocodiles lived beneath my bed, the toothy creatures hiding only when adults leaned down to disprove their existence. Waking in the middle of the night to find my hand dangling beyond the covers precipitated a mad counting of all my fingers to make sure each one was still firmly attached.

Aside from reptiles populating the waters beneath my day bed, during electrical storms the massive trees beyond my window sprawled wild shadows across my wall. Fingers on spiny hands reached out to capture the little girl watching through the folds of her blanket. My grandmother told me on many such nights she would find me snuggled up next to her without even knowing I’d sneaked into bed.

The popularity of mediums and fortune tellers further evidence our willingness to believe there is something beyond the facts we have at hand. I have been to see seers three times in my life. I saw seers? Whatever. One lady totally freaked me out. She had a dog, a black lab as memory serves. Wherever this woman went this dog was on her tail (so to speak), never leaving her side during my “reading”. At one point she spoke of a handsome young man with dark curly hair wearing a blue uniform who watched over me. The young man, she went on to say, died at a very young age. The room, warm up until that point, became so icy cold I shivered in response. The dog lying quietly on the floor stood up abruptly and began to whimper. The woman told me there was someone in the room. All I could think of was I hoped they’d brought a toilet because I had a feeling I was going to need one. Now, this would have been less strange if it wasn’t for the fact my father died at 25. At the time he was in the Canadian Air Force and was buried in his blue uniform. Pictures on my bureau depict a handsome man with a mass of glossy black curls. The dog began to furiously pace and the woman, releasing my hand, suddenly said she couldn’t continue. Now that, my friends, was weird, very weird. When I left the house I noticed a cauldron in the middle of her yard with perky looking daffodils peeking over the top. Enough said.

Another time I was given the gift of a reading from a noted numerologist in the Bay Area. To be honest I knew little about numerology at the time. I haven’t gathered much more information since. According to Wikipedia the definition of numerology is:

Numerology is any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.

To break it down into manageable parts, I would say it is a pattern of numbers derived from the time you were born, the day you were born, the year you were born and your birth name. I had to provide such information prior to meeting with the numerologist himself. On the big day I pulled up to a gorgeous restored Victorian home in the hills behind Lafayette, California. The man answering the door, a handsome gentlemen in his early fifties or so, wore an easy smile and had a welcoming demeanor. Once inside I was offered a cup of delicious tea and some shortbread biscuits. Made me wonder if my being Canadian had anything to do with the tea and biscuits.

The coffee table by the couch where we sat had a pile of neatly arranged magazines and a pile of 3 x 5 cards. The pile, I was to be told, was my life in cards. Interesting. Why was it nine feet tall? I was only in my thirties at the time. Although I’d packed quite a bit into my life up until that point I didn’t feel I had a whole volume yet. Apparently, I was wrong. As it turned out it was an interesting afternoon. I will recall the fine points in my next blog.

I found this yummy little appetizer in a magazine at the doctor’s office. Easy and delicious. Yum. I’ve made this several times, first with apricot jam and the second time with red jalapeno jelly to add a Halloween feel to it when you cut it. Too cute.

Brie Wrapped Mummy

1 pkg. puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup jam (I used red jalapeno jelly)
1 16 oz. Brie round
1 egg
1 Tbsp. water
2 small half moons of apple
1 dried cranberry, halved
Sliced baguette
Crackers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Flour cutting board. Roll pastry into 14″ square. Round corners to make a circle. Cut milk off brie. Spread jam in center of circle. Place brie on top. Bring corners up over top and pinch to seal.

Whisk together egg and water. Brush brie with egg wash. Take remaining pastry and roll into 14″ square. Cut four 1″ strips. Cut strips in half. Place five strips across round leaving space in between. Take remaining three strips and crisscross across front to make it look like the head of the mummy. Bake for 25 mins. until done. Allow to cool slightly. Place two half moons where eyes should be. Top each with 1/2 of dried cranberry.

Serve with crackers or bread.

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final
Another garage sale is in the bag, literally. I am done for this year and quite possibly for next year. This was a community wide sale. Well advertised by our H.O.A., the early birds arrived as the rooster crowed on Friday. By noon the big items (outdoor furniture, chairs, quilt sets, etc.) were packed in the backs of buyer’s cars making their way on down the line to pick up more bargains. Thankfully I did Friday because Saturday we had four people for the entire day, all men. I have nothing against men. Mind you I quite enjoy them, but not at garage sales. They are the perfect customers if you have electronics, cameras, tools, sports collectibles, or sports anything. You know, manly stuff.  When they see my collection of teddy bears, rocking chairs, kids clothes and household goodies the blood literally drains from their faces. I can’t be sure but I believe I saw one man actually cross himself before hightailing it up my hill. SORRY. I’m a girl. Well, actually I most probably haven’t been a girl since the Beatles “Hard Day Night” hit the streets, but I like being female and I’m not afraid to show my girl muscle when the situation arises. I did have one tool (a small electric drill).  One man asked to see it and when I held the small pink power drill out in my palm he looked up at me over the rim of his glasses as if to say “Are you kidding me. I am looking for tools not something to fix the Barbie Dream House.” It was a gift, but whatever, fine.

We don’t have a lot of tools these days. Well, we have the basics, screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head), a hammer, a level, an assortment of wrenches and a very rusty drill that only turns on when coached with platitudes. Hey, I made it through the 80’s armed only a butter knife and my guardian angel to keep me one step away from electrocution. Rick looked at the cord to my upstairs vacuum the other day with disgust. Asking me what was up with the electrical tape wrapped tightly around several worn spots I explained that I’d run over the cord a time or two and thought the electrical tape would keep me from harm. He walked away mumbling something about being amazed I’d made it past thirty. Well, here I am, Cookie.

In the 80’s I participated in a circuit of art and wine festivals and craft shows in Northern California. When in the midst of this endeavor I had an entire booth which broke down into easily stored parts, a huge canopy, and a garage full of top-line tools to help my partner and I create a lot of wood crafts (mostly garden variety) which we hawked at these fairs. I was the creative brains of the outfit, coming up with ideas for planters and window pots and painting the art on each as they came off the work bench. Once the idea was on paper he took my ideas and with his magic with tools turned them into actual items to sell. Along with the wood crafts I also fashioned aprons, pillows, dolls on my sewing machine, and sold printed tee-shirts and cards featuring my artwork. To keep things interesting, I also worked a full-time job allowing little extra time for anything else during that two-year span. Those were busy, busy days.

Burned out after my second season and in my personal life, my partner and I parted ways leaving me with a garage full of tools to get rid of. The tools, new when purchased, were well maintained and of excellent quality. Initially being my investment, they were also mine to sell so I ran an ad for a one-day sale tool sale in the local paper. The sky was dark the Saturday of the sale. Drinking my coffee in the kitchen I remember thinking as the rain began to fall nobody was going to show up. The gods proved me wrong and within a half an hour cars and trucks began to arrive. One after another they formed long lines on either side of the street. So thick was the testosterone hovering in the air I could feel the hair on my legs begin to grow. By 8:00 my driveway was teeming with men. It’s raining men, comes to mind here.  Seems I’d hit the mother lode. Who knew?  Note to self: “Run an ad for power tools next time you’re short of masculine attention.” At precisely 8:00 I opened the door. The men stood in hushed silence absorbing the vast treasure lying before them. Agra couldn’t have encouraged more awe. The smell of sawdust and oil was like a new catnip toy for a playful feline. Beyond the entrance they beheld an entire room filled with jigsaws, band saws, table saws, routers, drills, and assorted hand-held equipment.  Life was good. Life was very good. Men in faded jeans with facial hair and ball caps swarmed over the tools like army ants over an unsuspecting cow. Fights broke out over drill bits, the table saw discussions got ugly, and several disagreements required a coin toss to settle who was to take the item home. Two hours later the only reminder of the tools originally housed there were dusty outlines on the floor. The men were happy, I was happy, and my kids had a great Christmas that year thanks to those tools.

Since then I’ve reverted to my original ten tool philosophy. In truth I’m the only one digging in the tool chest. Rick is not one to slap on a tool belt, being more of a Ferragamo man when it comes to belts,  and I’m just as happy. We all have gifts and he has many, but tinkering isn’t among them. My stepfather was a tinkerer and this always led us down a slippery slope usually involving an unnatural disaster and an expensive visit from a professional to clean up the mess. The only thing I remember about his buckling his leather belt with the tools dangling from it is that it directly correlated with cocktail time at our house even if lunch hadn’t been served yet.

So today I loaded up bags of household items left on the table and went to Goodwill to pass them on. I feel thirty pounds lighter.

This is my version of tacos al Pastor without the hassle. I have gone through the whole process before including making my own tortillas but since I’m getting ready to head out of town and had a craving, this was a delicious and far easier option. Rick can have leftovers while I’m gone.

Crockpot Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple

1 onion, sliced thin
3 lbs. peppercorn pork loin
1 Tbsp. Hot McCormick Taco Mix
1 cup orange juice
3 cloves garlic
1 Chipotle chile in Adobo sauce (chopped)
2 tsp. Adobo sauce
Pinch of cinnamon
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 fresh pineapple sliced in 1/2″ slices
8 flour tortillas
Queso Fresco
Sour cream
Avocado Slices
Lime slices
Mexican Rice (optional)

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Slice onion and line bottom with it.

Rub pork with taco mix. Place pork on top of onion. Mix together remaining ingredients except pineapple and add to pot. Cook on low for 6 hrs. Shred with two forks. Squeeze lime juice over top and mix.

Brush pineapple slices on both sides with olive oil. Heat grill on high. Grill 3 mins. on each side until grill marks appear. Core and slice into strips.

Black Beans

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa (I used hot)
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (about 6 mins.). Add garlic. Cook 1 min. Add cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring constantly for 1 min. Add beans, water, and salsa and cook stirring frequently 8 mins. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cilantro.

To make the tacos

Preheat grill to high heat. Quickly heat tortillas turning once. (1-2 mins. per side). Roll in tin foil and place inside plastic bag to keep warm.

To assemble

Place a generous portion of pork on tortilla. Top with portion of beans. Top beans with crumbled Queso Fresco and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, salsa, and sliced avocado as desired.

Serves 4

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final
Lunch boxes are being packed, new clothes pressed and ready, kids are headed back to school. Parents, exhausted from a summer filled with activities, are putting their feet up on the coffee table, switching on the morning news, enjoying their first cup of hot coffee and breathing a collective sigh of relief. Not that they don’t love their offspring but most parents by the end of the summer find themselves much in need of a little “me time” to recharge their batteries.

I was a working mother. There would have been nothing I would have enjoyed more than spending time with my little ones but as we all liked to eat, it was necessary someone provide the wherewithal to do so.

Always as a kid it was exciting and a little daunting preparing for a new school year. My mother took me “school shopping” which included new clothes, new shoes, new underwear and school supplies. Now from what I understand there are lists supplied to parents for them to fill. According to my son he buys whatever is on the list for his two children plus they contribute about $30 per student in additional supplies which go into sort of a public pot for the school. Tennis shoes apparently now cost nearly $100 per child if they’re to be accepted by their peers and then there are laptops, notebooks, and backpacks. Lockers in the lower grades mostly do not exist anymore. When you reach high school they reappear and there are “locker supplies”, optional of course, to be purchased. Someone, terribly clever to my mind, came up with the idea of locker decorations ranging from wallpaper to stick on mirrors, etc. Wow, that has to have been a windfall for whoever came up with that idea.

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We had books, books, and more books. Not only did I walk ten miles in the snow to school but I carried a sack full of books. Actually I caught a ride to school, but I did walk home with friends more like two miles then ten and I can’t remember the last time it snowed in Southern California.

The summer between third and fourth grade my mother married my first stepfather and we moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Santa Ana, California. More than simply a big jump on the map, for me this was a huge cultural adjustment. Climatically it was major change for sure but more than that it was a totally different vibe on the west coast. Between fourth grade and twelfth grade I was to go to eight different schools. Being the “new kid” every time I changed my underwear gave me a leg up for the rest of my life where I was to move as of this date thirty-seven times. Some of us are rolling stones, I would guess, where others plant roots and remain firmly entrenched where they began.

That first day of a new school year was always filled with anticipation. In my day we had Peechee folders which by the end of the year would have doodles covering their covers and bent corners, but on that first day they were pristine and filled with lined paper for notes. Notes were taken in pen or pencil, I have no idea how they are taken these days, and there were no devices of any kind other than the teacher’s pointer or possibly a phone on the wall in the classroom to distract the kids seated there. I know!

Color+Talk+Peechee+FolderWe had homework in each class on most days in high school. My mother worked so I was expected to come home and so whatever work was assigned to me before she arrived home around dinner time. There were late summer days where the pool in the backyard summoned me and I didn’t get this accomplished, but most days I stuck my nose in my books and did what was needed to be done. I understand a teacher in Texas has decided to experiment this year by not assigning any homework to her second grade class. Rather she encourages them to go home and spend this extra time allotted them with their families. First there is no P.E. so our children are alarmingly out of shape. Now we’re eliminating homework so their minds can be out of shape as well. When did we become so afraid of a little work? I don’t know that I endorse hours and hours of homework but I certainly don’t think an hour a day is asking too much.

My hairdresser was saying her two young children are enrolled in a local charter school. As a parent you are expected to put in a mandatory number of hours of volunteer time if your children attend such school. I believe she is finding this difficult as her husband is disabled and she works a full work week. I remember juggling work and home so many times while my children were young. There is guilt when you have to work leaving small children at home and much regret at missing milestones that occur while they aren’t in your charge. I volunteered as often as I could. Working with children has always been fun for me. They’re so willing to accept the unacceptable and open to world’s we as adults have long put behind us. When my daughter entered kindergarten a flyer was sent home asking parents to come up with creative fall ideas to entertain the classroom. Putting my creative beanie on I thought the kids might get kick out of making caramel apples. Let’s see thirty five year old’s and hot caramel, what could go wrong? Exactly. After the debacle the harassed teacher said she was picking sticky wads of caramel of everything including Laurel and Hardy the two pet rats the classroom adopted. Sorry.

I miss those little people these days and my grandchildren are shooting up so there aren’t any little, little ones anymore. I guess the next thing will be their children coming along one day. Good Lord. Someone is getting old.

At any rate, this sauce is absolutely to die for. I give it five nom’s. If you’re having four hungry people seated at the table I would double the sauce.

Crockpot Tagliatelle with Wine Short Rib Sauce

5 slices pancetta, chopped
2 1/2 lbs. short ribs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles and juice
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce plus 1 can water
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. tagliatelle
1 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan cheese

Spray bottom of six quart crockpot with cooking spray.

Brown pancetta in large skillet over med-high heat until crispy. Place in bottom of crockpot.

Mix together flour, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Dredge meat on all sides in flour mixture.

Heat olive oil in same skillet. Brown meat on all sides. Place in crockpot. Add onion to pan. Cook 6 mins. until tender. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. Carefully add wine to pan and cook for 1 min.

In large bowl mix all remaining ingredients up to but not including tagliatelle also adding onion and wine mixture. Pour over meat. Cook on low for 9 hours stirring twice. Remove bones.

Cook tagliatelle according to pkg. directions. Toss with butter. Serve with sauce and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

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3
I attended high school in Southern California. During the summer months teens piled in cars and headed towards the border in search of entertainment. Tijuana,  T.J. to those of us who frequented it, was a popular hang out once school let out.

Things were much different then. Parents were far less custodial either due to the fact there were less bad things happening or people were less informed. Surely all the predators and rapists didn’t show up in the last three decades, but somehow we weren’t as afraid and certainly teens not chaperoned in the manner they are today. Honestly had my mother known half of what I was up to at that age her hair would have grayed long before it did.

For example I had a friend who’s older sister had a hard top convertible. What adventures we had the summer her dad bought her that car. There were no seat belts back then, we all rode commando, if you will. I rode in the back usually, as my friend always called “shotgun”. Tucking the roof in the trunk we often headed up to the swimming areas in Mt. Baldy on a hot summer afternoon. There was a stretch of road leading up to the mountains featuring a series of sea serpent like bumps. People with any sense approached this area with caution, but at that age we didn’t fall under that umbrella. Flooring the car we headed into the bumps full throttle. The first few bumps we flew over and maintained control but on the third bump the car landed hard and I found myself airborne, catapulted from my seat in the back into a pile on top of my friend in the front now on the floor. The only thing I remember clearly about that moment was seeing Marie, still in a seated position, floating above the steering wheel. Good Lord, it’s amazing I ever made it past sixteen. Both shaken and stirred we pulled to the side of the road and sat there for a while until Marie regained her composure. Marie had to explain to her dad how the axle got bent and all our allowances went toward its repair. After that we used extreme caution when traversing that area of highway having gained a new respect for the road.

During those summers between tenth grade and graduation we visited San Diego and Tijuana often. The first time I ever entered Mexico and walked into the dusty border town I was impacted by the poverty evident everywhere you rested your eyes. Blocks of cardboard box homes are the first thing visible as you approach the downtown area. Initially I thought this was a dump but was told people were living in these makeshift shelters without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Children, barely out of baby shoes, were hawking Chicklets and other small items to the tourists on street corners to make money to take home to their families. I don’t believe I ever left T.J. without leaving a little money behind to help boost the economy. Usually a bouquet of huge paper flowers, a sombrero or a felt bull came back across the border with me. Our boyfriends drove down to Tijuana to get their cars tuck and rolled at any of the myriad of body shops lining the back city’s back streets. It was cheaper down there to get the job done. More than one story floated around about someone coming back with upholstery stuffed with cow patties, but I never confirmed any of them were true. Adults flocked to the touristy stores to scoop up deals on leather and silver items. While seated at a table enjoying a taco at an outside stand, street vendors would stroll by encouraging tourists to purchase a lovely lace tablecloth or hand crafted bags. The taco was likely to turn on you at some point, I know many times they did for me. Once I ate a piece of watermelon from a corner stand and it revisited me for two days.

The furthest south I ever ventured in Mexico was Ensenada while on a three-day cruise party cruise. Ensenada has a well lived in look to it. Graffiti decorated most of the walls in the area we were docked . A group from the ship went into town in search of a little adventure. Dancing at a local club until it closed we ended up around 4:00 a.m. (I was young then – now that would be when I was getting up not going to bed) in a rather rowdy establishment serving food and drink what appeared to be 24 hours a day. Mostly populated by residents, people spoke in rapid Spanish, though our waitress spoke to us in fairly decent English. Being the only “gringos” in the place when the word came up in the conversations in adjacent booths we assumed they were probably about us.  In due course we were served surprisingly delicious steaming plates piled with beans, rice and various entrees which we washed down with Mexican beer. Revisiting that statement there should be nothing particularly surprising about getting good Mexican food in Mexico. Latkes maybe, tamales not so much. Our dishes remained on the table long after we were done, allowing the copious flies circling them a chance to grab a quick meal. A loud fight broke out towards the back of the room with one drunk participant thrown across the bar. From the looks of things we deduced it was time to say “adios”. God, as they say, watches over drunks and fools so with his help we somehow managed to get back to the ship  before it sailed without being robbed or worse. I think of this because of the recent Olympics in Rio. Rio is a far cry from Tijuana and many more dangers lurk in the dark corners. There’s a movie called “City of God” which really highlights the seriousness of the situation with child gangs in Rio. Might have been better for a couple of them if they’d stayed closer to home. It is easy for me to say this now, I realize, but most probably at their age I would have ventured out myself.

Well, it’s over now. Medals have been won and athletes are scattering around the world returning to their homes victorious or at least satisfied they had been included among such an elite group of competitors.

This soup is just the best. Rick says he could have it every night. I used a leftover pork loin that had been basted with a soy based marinade. I’m sure most pork loins would work equally as well.

Napa Cabbage and Pork Soup

1/2 of a Napa cabbage, chopped
2 onion, quartered
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
3 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ginger
9 cups chicken broth
1 cup green beans, halved
2 carrots, sliced thin
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 cup thickly sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups leftover thinly sliced pork loin
Cooked white rice

Place all ingredients in large stock pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking for 1 hour. Serve over rice if desired.

Serves 4

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finalI try to keep positive about things even when life simply refuses to cooperate. Sometimes I have to give in to a day of feeling blue or “off”, if you will, in order to gather strength to find my happy place again. Because I’ve had a life filled with up ups and down downs, there are times when feeling particularly positive about the world I find myself looking over my shoulder as if waiting for the wolf to appear from behind the tree. I have learned that becoming too set or comfortable where you are can often encourage the universe to send you a friendly reminder that life isn’t always predictable and happiness shares a face with sadness in the ying and yang of things.

The human spirit really is amazingly resilient when you think of it. People overcome pain, loss, hardship, hunger and illness and push forward with optimism in spite of it. In my journeys I have gathered many moments of joy. As they’ve come and passed I’ve tucked each away in the cobwebbed corners of my mind like one would store lightning bugs in a jar. These bright lights of happiness keep me going in difficult times, and help to keep the shadows at bay.

I have been thinking about meditation lately. Always I have been fascinated with the Buddhist principles. To bring the Buddhist way of thinking down to the head of a pin I would say the goal is to relieve suffering and maintain control of your life, or lives as they believe.

Many people believe we are given one life, others believe there are many, and still others hold to the belief there is an afterlife where we go when our body is no longer a useful vessel for our soul. It is a debate that has raged on over the centuries. Some say the need for an afterlife is to fill the void of the unknown, others say the afterlife is earned by how we live our lives, and there are those who believe there is nothing when we are done but, well, nothing. A touchy subject at best fraught with human frailties and dotted with drops of fear. As with many things in life the not knowing is the rub.

I remember back in 2005 I had my yearly mammogram. Having had one each year since my fortieth birthday I was used to the procedure. This is not to say I liked the procedure, but I did know what to expect. With all the advances in technology I hope someone is working on improving the process currently in place. For those of us so equipped the procedure can be a somewhat uncomfortable few moments. Men who might reading could liken the experience to a Sumo wrestler mashing a ball of ground round into a hamburger press. A day later I received a call from the radiologist saying they had found something suspicious on the films. In order to rule out anything serious I would have to have further tests. Not news you really want to hear. What does suspicious mean exactly? If at all informed, such a call might mean a myriad of things, most of them not desirable. I waited two weeks for the biopsy procedure. In retrospect it felt more like two months. Thankfully, it was nothing serious and I went on without any further tests or procedures. I do think when they tell you something as potentially life altering such as this they could follow it up by a quick appointment rather than leaving you teetering on the edge gazing into the great abyss for fourteen days.

An experience where your health is in question makes you think about time and how much of it you have left. Your vulnerability as a human becomes more clear when illness arises. This is not to suggest a person is advised to sit and wait to go, spending each waking minute pondering their upcoming demise. Rather I am saying for me it served as a reminder life can be whimsical. As yet the only confirmed hypothesis from those mentioned above is each of us is given one life. For me this was a signal not to miss the opportunities that arise every day to remind those around me of how important they are and how very loved.

This brings to mind my paternal grandmother. A widow at a young age with four children, my dad’s mum was a tough lady. After many years of teaching children with handicaps, she retired to spend the rest of her days in Pakenham, a picturesque town in Northern Ontario, Canada. I last saw her when my children were toddlers. After that a letter written with her familiar hand would often show up in my mailbox. Always I sat and read about her life, my family in Canada who I barely knew, and the questions she had about me and mine. I wrote, but not as often as I could have. When you’re young time seems like an endlessly plentiful commodity. One day I got news that she had passed away. A month prior I had promised myself I would write, but didn’t get to it. I hope she knew how important she was to me but always regret having missed the window to write when I could have.

Take time to stop texting and hug your kid. Mother’s and Father’s (for the most part) love to be included in your lives even after you have moved on to a family of your own. Each day is precious and time is a gift that should never be wasted.

On that note, I will give you a quick danish that takes very little time to pop in the oven.

Sorry I had to repost this for those of you who were asking where it went. There’s a problem with my blog lately. Getting help in WordPress isn’t always as easy as I’d like.

Quick Cream Cheese & Blueberry Danish

2 containers of crescent rolls
2 8 oz. pkgs. softened cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 egg, plus 1 egg white
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 egg white (for crust)

Glaze

1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. 2% milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Mix together all glaze ingredients until no lumps are visible.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Spray 13 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spread one pkg. of crescent rolls on bottom pressing seams to close.

Mix together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, 1 egg and one egg white on medium-high setting on mixer until smooth.

Spread cheese mixture over rolls on bottom of pan. Sprinkle blueberries across top of cream cheese. Top with remaining flat of rolls. Brush with egg white.

Bake for 35 mins.

Cool for 10 mins. and spread glaze on top.

Serves 6

 

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1
Quite often after I’ve shared stories of my life with someone they’ll say, “you should write a book”. I can’t imagine all the crazy paths my life has led me down would contribute to a best seller, but perhaps I could tap into the rich vein romance novelists have unearthed for themselves. The problem with romance novels, in this humble writer’s opinion, is that many of them follow a similar plot premise.  However, voracious readers seem to be plucking them off the shelves or on-line as quickly as they are published so apparently whatever formula these writers are using is working, and working well. As they say in the south, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

In romance novels the heroine and her prince are often perfect beings devoid of any physical imperfections. Each main character is impeccably named, perhaps Marcus for him or Rachel for her. Their hair never falls out, their knees don’t sag, and their breath, even after a meal of 40 garlic chicken, remains as fresh as a spring breeze. Endlessly alluring and mysterious, the leading lady doesn’t seem to suffer mood swings every twenty-eight days, bloat (or worse god forbid) after consuming gassy foods, or ever prepare a bad meal. From the moment her male counterpart lays eyes on her she is never out of his mind. Towards the end of each story after much unwillingness on our heroine’s part to capitulate she gives in to the hero’s rresistible brand of masculinity and vulnerability and they are one. Did I miss anything? Feel free to step in and fill in the gaps.

The man is generally wealthy beyond means. Either he holds down a job most of us average working drones only dream of, or hales from a royal family or a family so wealthy as to considered obscenely so. Perhaps that’s the draw, I’m thinking. Who would want to pick up a novel about Fred, a slightly paunchy middle-aged man working at the local convenience store in Poughkeepsie or his wife, Edna, with tired eyes and seven unruly kids? How would that be an escape? Not that there aren’t wonderful classics out there filled with angst and sadness. Les Miserables wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for the lead character Jean Valjean and the beautiful Scarlett O’Hara in the end lost both her child and her man.

I’m thinking I need to write that novel about the guy in Poughkeepsie. Probably Rick and my mother would purchase the only copies sold. The pages could be rife with everyday life’s gut wrenching decisions. Should Edna use the laundry detergent with the “lemony fresh” scent or will Fred leave her for a younger woman who’s jogging outfit smells like “sport-wash”? Winding the reader through the housewives harrowing day filled with solving such cliff hangers as where the missing socks actually go once they’ve entered the washing machine? Do they exit through a secret door at the rear? Could there possibly be an alternate universe populated solely by argyles and athletic ankle socks laughing at us as we turn the clean laundry upside down looking for them to no avail. Please do not think in any manner I am denigrating the role of the stay at home mom by any means. I think most of them should receive the Medal of Honor and in some cases even the Purple Heart, but I do not believe most us want to escape by reading about the perils of diaper rash or which market has corned beef on sale. I’m just sayin.

I could also tackle the mystifying case of why Fred can only see his feet when seated, having them disappear completely from view once he assumes a standing position. Could the clues point in the direction of that extra helping of Cheesecake Factory white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake he ate at midnight when supposedly going to the refrigerator for bottled water? One has to wonder.

Books are a glorious world limited only by the imagination. Reader and writers come together in a shared experience, sometimes good and sometimes not so much. I’m thinking of taking a class to help me with that extra push to actually commit to doing some research, coming up with a story line, and getting on with it. I’m not getting any riper, as my children are kind enough to remind me.

Storytelling should never become a lost art, or I pray if it does I am not here for its demise. I tell stories to my grandchildren my grandmother told to me. If the wind is right they will continue to be passed down over the dinner table or at bedtime from one generation to the next. A hand-held device can never, or perhaps rather should never, replace a book. Being an old dog I still like to hold my literature in my hand and engage in the age old practice of turning the pages as I delve into the story. When it is time to set it down, I tuck a well worn bookmark in between the last page I was reading so when I pick it up again I can turn to where I left off. There is something gently reassuring about reading. Like finding a friend at your bedside to sit with you until your eyes begin to close.

At any rate I wanted to share this delicious cobbler before the summer fruit begins to be replaced by crisp apples and fall fare.

Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

Fruit Filling

2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
5 peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup blueberries

Combine all ingredients but fruit in saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and stir constantly until thickened. Mix in fruit.

Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in butter and add buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray bottom of 2 quart baking dish. Place fruit mixture on bottom. Spread crust mixture over top.

Bake for 50 mins. or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Serves 6

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