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Recently I spent the weekend with a dear friend of mine in the San Jose area. Packing the car it seemed there were an excessive amount of bags for a three day trip. Starting to think I’d have to rent a trailer, I called her jokingly suggesting she add a wing to her house before my arrival to accommodate the load. In my defense we share different tastes, so extra items had been added to my list of usual personal carryalongs. My preference in bread is wheat, she prefers sourdough. Thus, a loaf of wheat bread was tucked in a bag along with various snacks like my Salt and Vinegar Pringles, an absolute necessity for any decent road trip. A couple of honey crisp apples were included for an afternoon pick me up as my pal is not a fan of fruit and I can’t leave home without it. Since she drinks only tea, it became clear a coffee maker would be necessary if I was to provide adequate company. Naturally, if I included the coffee maker I’d need coffee, filters, and creamer. My landlords were peeking through their drapes as I went back and forth from the house to the car most likely wondering if I was moving out. Surely I could have gone three days without my early morning cup of Joe, but as we age the patterns we’ve established during our lives become more firmly etched in our personalities and in my case the word coffee is emblazoned across my forehead.

We all have certain indefinable traits stuck to us like a bug to flypaper. If you asked my family to describe me they might choose any number of adjectives (some I can’t use here), but they might also include neat. Piles of papers stacked around, or layers of unaddressed dust make me twitchy. Most likely this trait was passed down from my mother, and will be one I’ll carry though to the end. Mum is neat to the point of obsessive. When in the hospital for her fractured hip, dementia or no dementia, she still sat in the bed and folded everything she could get her hands on from bed pads to extra paper towels and placed them neatly in her drawers. That need for tidiness surpassed all the misfiring pistons in her memory center because it is part of the core of her being.

Over the past year with only Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, and I in residence I have probably begun to establish a sort of loose schedule of my own. At around 5:30 you could lay some safe money on finding me seated on my couch with the cat stretched out beside me, cup of decaf in hand, watching David Muir detail what is happening in the world. I usually put a plate in front of me around 6:00 and begin getting ready for bed around 9:00. Not really set in my ways yet but setting the stage for what could be described as that at some juncture further on down the road.

Several of my single friends, both single for many years, tell me they are so set in their ways they cannot imagine anymore having someone else under their roof. I can not only imagine it, but hope the universe chooses to direct my life towards another relationship when the time is ready.  I enjoy sharing my life with someone and waking up in the morning to a loving face over coffee. I just do, but that is me. Each of us plots our own course (to whatever control we have). It has only been a year and a half since Rick passed. For now, I am definitely not ready to share space with anyone new on anything other than a casual basis.

Companions come in many forms. Some people get roommates, others like myself enjoy a furry friend to hang with, and perhaps some people find contentment looking at a tank filled with fish. I do wish our pets had a longer time on earth, but the plan didn’t include that and I don’t know where to find the suggestion box. Earlier a friend called to tell me his old dog had passed away. Feeling his pain, as I have some experience saying goodbye to beloved animals, I did my best to provide something by way of comfort. Love comes with a price no matter who the love is bestowed upon. Another friend told me recently she didn’t want any more animals because losing them is too painful. I feel differently about this. For me they give us so much of themselves and provide such comfort I think as hard as it is to let them go I will always choose to have them near for whatever time I am allotted. My animals have often been with me well into their senior years. I feel blessed for that. Kitty, the oldest of my many felines, was twenty-one when I had to have her put down. Over the years she traveled all across country with my ex-husband and I. Settling herself in the back window of the car she took turns sleeping or sitting watching as the states passed by beyond the glass. When she needed out she let us know with a distinct meow and we would pull over to allow her to do what she needed to do. I always say a little bit of Kitty has been left behind in nearly every state in the U.S. Truly she was a seasoned and excellent traveler and I will always treasure those crazy road trips with her and my Shih Zsu, Sushi, who said goodbye at seventeen. Lifelong companions, my heart likes to think of the two of them walking along together wherever wonderful animals go and I’m always thankful for them gracing my life for the time they were here.Even though in the physical sense people or animals no longer populate our lives, their “beings” and lingering presence always remain close by. This, at least for me, provides much peace.

While down in the Bay Area I grabbed the opportunity to visit an old friend diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. This was a very personal visit for me because it was Rick’s diagnosis as well, and Ruth, my friend, is a dear and lovely human being. Last I saw her she was a robust healthy lady who avidly pursued a tennis ball every weekend with her tennis club and sang in the community choir. Always Ruth struggled with her weight but I’d been forewarned the disease had reduced her to a much smaller version of herself. In my grief group they stress putting on your game face when visiting someone who is terminally ill. The person you know rests inside the shell but sometimes the disease can redraw your image of them. Certainly in Ruth’s case the bone thin woman who answered the door looked little like the friend I remembered. Sitting with her for several hours I forgot completely about the physical change rather being amazed at her upbeat attitude and the light that shone on her skin and in her beautiful blue eyes. We shared memories and pictures before it was time to go. Hugging her as I was going out the door my body was instantly covered with goosebumps head to toe. Pulling back she felt it too. “Someone is here”, she said softly. The heightened energy sort of hung in the air between us. Perhaps one of our friends already gone ahead had returned to take her hand to guide her to next adventure? Who knows? Certainly not I, but I would like to think it so.

With life coming in and going out I try to be in the present. Embracing this concept is sometimes a struggle for me. Naturally, I believe our minds drift to past mistakes, or wander into the misty unknowns of what is in store for us tomorrow or next week. Since the past will remain unchanged and the future is yet to be written, it would seem the only logical course would be to make the most of the moment you are presently inhabiting.

My thoughts on this gray day in Northern California. Make it a good one.

 

 

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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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I saw my first palm tree at the age of nine. Accustomed to the stately pines, colorful maples and rough barked birches indigenous to Nova Scotia I found the top-heavy spindly palms a bit odd indeed when they first came into view out the window of my parents new Buick. The Buick had been purchased prior to my mother’s recent nuptials specifically to carry us across the continent. My new stepfather, to become the first of three, manned the wheel as we made our way from our entrance into the U.S. in Bangor, Maine to our final destination in Santa Ana, California. What an interesting trip it was. At that time Howard Johnson’s (HOJO’s to those who remember it fondly) were strung across the nation like lights across the tree and extremely popular. I believe I ate a different flavor of ice cream while seated on one of their red vinyl stools in every state we visited.

Our trip proceeded at whatever pace we chose, stopping along the way to explore the wondrous caves of both the Meremac Caverns in Missouri and the Carlsbad Caverns in Arizona. I had my picture taken standing on a precipice at the Painted Desert and not long afterwards seated on a gnarly log at the Petrified Forest. Along Highway 10 we followed the signs to see “The Thing” and paid $.75 to view whatever the thing was never being really sure exactly what is was we saw.

I can remember approaching the Las Vegas strip and thinking I’d stepped into the magical world of Oz. Never had I seen such magnificent buildings and fabulous neon light displays. Had Dorothy, Toto and their band of needy travelers been seen dancing down a street paved with yellowed bricks it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. Leaving the twinkling lights behind us and venturing out on the desert floor I was transfixed by the starkness of it all and the prickly visages of cactus plants some looking as if they were waving their long arms at us as we passed. Cactus was a new variety of plant for me as well, as they don’t grow in Nova Scotia where the temperature hovers far lower than their natural comfort zone.

Crossing the border into California we were stopped by border officials and asked to declare anything we were taking in from Arizona they might need to know about and once cleared began our trip south to Orange County. At that time Orange County was aptly named. The fragrance from the sea of orange trees was intoxicating floating in through my open window. The rural streets seemed as if they were ablaze with orange and the sky was a nearly unnatural shade of brilliant blue. Paradise. Looking back I can see why people migrated to the west coast. Warm breezes, sunny beaches, ah yes, I remember it well. As yet Orange County was not overrun with businesses and people, and smog was yet a term uncoined. Disneyland was up and running, although the Matterhorn was yet to be completed. I found the whole scene around me compelling.

Arriving at my new step-grandfather’s house, I was shown to the small room I was to occupy until we found suitable housing in the area. Finding a new home was to be my mother and my job as my stepfather was scheduled to start his job as a writer at the local newspaper the following Monday. Each time I stepped out into the summer sunshine I was amazed at the bath of heat pouring over me. Thankfully, one of my newly acquired relatives lived close by and had the good sense to have put in an in-ground pool. This was something not new to me. While in Halifax I spent a good deal of time in the water and at nine was already an accomplished swimmer.

Getting used to my new surroundings was challenging at first. For me it was like going from Sweden to Peru. A lot to learn about my new stable mates for sure. Once we located a house and got situated the rest of the summer lay before us. Disneyland came first after much begging on my part, then Knott’s Berry Farm, and finally the beach. I settled into the warm sand welcoming it like an old friend. The familiar salty smells and sounds of gulls calling overhead reminded me of home.

Our first dinner out we were taken to a Mexican restaurant, whatever that was. Nova Scotia at the time had nothing of the kind to offer, Canadian cooks leaning more naturally towards seafood, soups, stews, chowders, and the like. On the table was a bowl of what looked to be diced tomatoes and some hard salted triangles we were told to use as a sort of scooper for the tomatoes or what they called salsa. Hmmmm. I liked tomatoes. First I tried a chip and it was hard and crunchy but tasty. Next I dipped it in the “salsa” and placed it in my mouth. Once the burning sensation causing my taste buds to do the lambada reached my brain my fingers in self defense immediately wrapped around the sweating glass of ice water the waiter had placed by my plate. Good Lord, I was on fire. People around us were smiling and pointing as my face turned red and I drank and drank in an attempt to put out the blaze on my tongue now traveling down my esophagus. My mother was horrified, assuming I’d been poisoned. Never had I tasted any food that had actually bitten me back.

Many years have passed since then and Mexican food now ranks among my favorite ethnic food. This is a great way to use up leftover white rice if you have enough or you can make a new batch and add it to the mix. I serve this with the crockpot chile verde recipe you can find at crockpot chile verde. They are the perfect pair.

Mexicali Beans and Rice

1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
1 14 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can black beans drained and rinsed
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (your call for heat)

Cook rice according to pkg. directions (if not using leftovers) and set aside.

In fine strainer drain diced tomatoes reserving liquid. Add water to tomato liquid in measuring cup to equal 1 cup.

In large skillet heat oil over med-high heat. Add onions and cook 6-7 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Add black beans, salt, cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir about 1 min. to incorporate. Add reserved tomato/water mixture. Bring to boil. Cook on low boil for 5-7 mins. until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add tomatoes and rice and continue cooking for 3 mins. until warmed.

Serves 4-6

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We spent the last couple of days checking out an area about two hours northwest of us as a potential place to relocate. Having never visited the area before, and familiar with it only by emailed or Internet pictures, we had hopes that we’d find something comparable to where we are when we got there, or optimistically, better.

Like most average humans in the world at this time we don’t have minions to manage our money because, truthfully, if someone was working an eight-hour day managing our money they would have about seven hours and fifty-eight minutes left to devote to other activities. We’ve tightened our belts and do less traveling for “fun”, thus haven’t stayed in a motel or hotel in a year or so. Now, during my travels across the U.S. and Canada I’ve stayed in many hotels and motels including upscale accommodations ranging from gorgeous suites with phones and TV’s in the bathrooms and a well stocked bar, right on down the scale to those with the TV’s permanently affixed to the dresser where free ice and hot water are considered to be a strong selling point.

In Decatur, Alabama, my ex and I stayed at one particular motel that springs to mind. Built in the typical one-story strip mall style popular some decades back, it was showing some serious wear. As we were tired and more looking for a place to sleep than a Sandal’s resort, luxury wasn’t high on our priority list. For us, it had several things going for it; one, it was in the same spot we were on the map, and, two, it was cheap. The first tell that this wasn’t going to go well was the key wouldn’t open the lock. (For those of you that are younger, they used to put an actual key on a ring along with a plastic piece indicating the room number, hotel address, and a blurb saying “drop in any mailbox”. This before the advent of the electronic cards.) After much struggling to no avail, back we went to the office which, as I remember, smelled strongly of collard greens, bacon and onions. The owner, looking slightly annoyed at being taken away from the ball game loudly blaring from the unseen TV beyond the curtains, retrieved a cardboard box from under the counter. After rummaging through what appeared to be a hundred keys he apparently located the one he was searching for. Indicating with a crook of one rather dirty index finger for us to follow him, we formed a grumpy single line and trudged back across the dusty lot. At the room he inserted the new key. After some sliding in and out, jiggling back and forth, and a solid shoulder block to the warped wood, the door finally begrudgingly opened allowing the smell of stale cigarettes and God knows what else lingering behind it to escape. Call 911, this, obviously, was a Lysol emergency. I suppose room service is out of the question?

There were so many things that made this room unique that it would take me two blogs and a novel to do it justice. It was cave-dark inside, the better to not see it with, my dear. I turned on a light as I was starting to look startlingly like a mole looking for a field mouse, and the 25 watt bulb cast a light so dim that a large pachyderm would have gone unnoticed in the room. Ugh. The bed was a king size, as advertised, however although the right and left sides both seemed to be at a fairly normal height the trough-like indentation in the middle was situated about 8″ below them. That didn’t bode well for a restful night’s sleep, but I was so tired at that point I didn’t have the energy to complain.

As it was still light outside, I decided to fling open the drapes to allow a bit of it in so I could see to unpack. After tugging at the drapes for a few minutes after closer inspection I determined that the drapes had actually been stapled together with a staple gun. They seriously did not want the occupants to inspect the premises. Opting to just go out to eat and spend as little time there as possible, we found a place to enjoy a delicious dinner of charred freshly grilled prawns and a cold beer and headed back to the Bates Motel later on in the evening.

Feeling my way through the dimly lit bathroom I managed to take a shower in a spray of water so minimal that it would have taken an ant ten minutes to wash off the soap, and put on my pj’s. Looking forward to a little tube, I picked up the remote and settled in next to husband who hit the power button. Nothing. Why was I not surprised? After checking the remote, it was determined that it really was just for show and that this TV had a control knob on it which was broken and would not turn on without it.

Now getting upset, my husband picked up the phone and dialed “O”, and got a voicemail recording. Really? Maybe the game was still on. Back across the parking lot to the office he headed with a full head of steam and the broken knob. The wife of the gentlemen who had manhandled the door said she would send her son over with a new knob in a few minutes. True to her word a knock came shortly, and upon opening the door I found a boy of about ten holding yet another cardboard box containing maybe thirty TV knobs of different sizes and shapes. Handing me the box he informed me that his father said we could probably find one to fit this TV somewhere in the group. With a slight grin indicating, “and good luck with that”, he turned heel and headed back in the other direction.

Turning off the light, and not noticing much difference, we just went to bed. As soon as I rolled over the first time I went careening into the trench in the middle of the bed, thus triggering a chain reaction causing my husband to do the same. With the tip of my nose up his right nostril, I just started laughing. What are you going to do? The rest of the night we slept like conjoined twins unable to free ourselves from one another, waking up feeling as though we’d never gone to sleep.

When we were checking out, the owner, looking quite rested himself, handed us a coupon to be used towards our next stay. Everyone’s a comedienne.

The trip we just took offered up a similar experience which I’ll share in my next blog with my pics. Have a great weekend!

Charred Prawns with Red Pepper Sauce

2 lbs. jumbo prawns, cleaned, deveined, tail on
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander
lime wedges

Pepper Sauce

1 small capsicum pepper
6 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
Salt to taste

Combine garlic, cumin, lime juice and coriander in a bowl. Place prawns in marinade and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or preferably overnight.

For the sauce:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the capsicum pepper into quarters removing seeds and membrane. Place on baking sheet with 6 cloves of unpeeled garlic and drizzle all with olive oil. Cook for 30 mins. or until the skin blisters on the pepper and the garlic is soft but not burnt. Place in a plastic bag until cool. Peel the red pepper and the garlic. Combine both in food processor with mayonnaise and parsley and mix until a smooth consistency. Transfer to a mixing bowl and whisk in lime juice. Add salt according to taste.

Preheat a slightly oiled grill or cast iron skillet until just beginning to smoke. Drain prawns and discard marinade. Grill shrimp in batches for 2 mins. on each side. Do not overcook or prawns will be tough.

Serve with steaming white “sticky” rice, sauce and lime wedges.

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