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Saturday, December 28, 2013

What I have learned in 2013

10.  Consumption of sugar, any sugar, leads to over eating, more sugar, and general yuckyness. 
9.  A dog, in puppy mode, will jump in your lap for pets whether he weighs six pounds or fifty.  I have the cracked ribs to prove it. 
8. Dinner in Dublin tastes better with Jameson. Dinner in Sacramento does not. 
7.  I have come to the conclusion that our Congress is completely corrupt.  This revelation comes 105 years after Mark Twain made the same observation. Better late than never. 
6.  If your best friend is a dog, you will miss engaging in stimulating conversation. 
5.  Whatever the balance is in your checking account, it will be the total of the car repair bill plus twenty percent.
4.  If your friends are talking about the beautiful sunny weather and it's the end of the year, plan on water rationing for the next twelve months. 
3.  You cannot debate convictions with an agnostic because he doesn't have any. 
2.  If someone tries to tell you that you are NOT your job title, ignore them. Society judges individual worth on that title. This is not to say that your real value is tied to work. It isn't. Your ego needs to handle to disparity. 
1.  Want to make God laugh tell him your plans. If you want to laugh along with God, write your plans down every New Year, stick them in a envelope, seal and date it.  Each New Year's Day open the envelope that is five years old. Read those plans aloud. Have a chuckle with your Creator. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013


          Yesterday, I took off my wedding ring. It was time. No clap of thunder occasioned the event. No comments from a passersby. No external reaction at all. A quiet emptiness filled the ache in my heart. I was prompted to take off the ring by my own deed. I read a part of my blog, Sound the Alarm, “…my late husband, Paul…”and realized that I no longer had the identity of wife. After two and half years, I lightly hold the title of widow. I am not one half of a couple, part of a whole, flesh of one flesh. I am singularly alone.
            Today, after receiving a replacement charger cable from eBay, I managed to play the last tape in our video cam. The film started as a close up of Poindexter, the dog, sleeping on the couch. Zoom in. Zoom out. In the background, Paul spoke, “Dex. Cute dog. Dex.”
I found myself holding my breath. The scene stopped. Next in the film, I was walking outside with the camera in an unsuccessful attempt to film the dog. The scene switched to me playing with the water hose and Dex. Paul filmed me and stopped.
            The next bit started with Vlad hanging a wire creation of a dragon. He made it with his hands.
            “What are you going to name the dragon?” I said that. I held the camera.
            “Bob,” sounded Paul’s voice in the background.
            More video of Vlad, then a glimpse of Dan, Jennifer, Oscar, Brandy. I am leaning against the hospital bed that was provided by hospice. Paul rolls into the room, seated in his wheelchair, and leans forward to see the green-wire artwork hanging from the living room ceiling. It’s not the Paul in my head. Not the Paul that comes to me in my dreams. It’s reality Paul—in the last fourteen days of his life. I stopped the video.
            Tomorrow I get up, go to work, and pretend, as I do every week.

If you are one half of a whole that is gone from your today, then you understand that tomorrow is a fragment of yesterday. A ring, a video, or a piece of art, can trigger what is left of internal reaction in your heart.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Leek and Bean Soup

I hate raw onions. Having said that, my friends have extolled the flavors and likability of leeks. Up until a few months ago, I had not knowingly tried this vegetable that looks like a chive on steroids. I mixed the chopped goodie into a salad and gagged. It tasted like an onion.
Monthly, I receive a delivery of fresh fruit and veg from an organic farm in the area (Farm Fresh To You). To my disappointment, they gave me two large leeks in my package. Determined to make friends with this bulbous tuber, I remembered that I do like French Onion soup and The Chew offered a white bean soup recipe that seemed doable. I decided to merge the two. The results are yummy.
Oil – Extra Virgin Olive is my favorite
Black Pepper—Fresh ground
1 to 2 Large Leeks—sliced in nice circles
6 Stalks of Celery—coarsely chopped
3 Garlic Cloves—smashed and chopped
½ Large Yellow or White Onion—finely chopped
1 Quart Organic Vegetable Stock
Herbs—your choice. I like bay leaf, basil, caraway seed, and cayenne pepper.
Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven with oil add leeks, onions, and celery.  Make sure there is enough oil to coat everything. Cook, stirring occasionally, on the stove at medium high heat for at least 20 minutes to caramelize the onions, soften the celery, and un-spiral the leeks. Add pepper and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes more.  NOTE: I do not salt my cooking. If I want more salty flavor I add more celery.  You can salt to your heart’s lament. 
NOW you have a choice at this point to transfer everything to a crock pot on low adding in the vegetable stock & herbs. OR keep everything in the pot adding in the vegetable stock & herbs. Cover and cook on low heat for about three hours. The first choice, you can go shopping. The second, you stay home and clean the house or write a blog.
When everything is hot, soft and yummy. 4 hours in a crock pot. 3 hours on the stove.
2 Rinsed Cans of White Beans, or Garbanzo Beans, or Your Favorite.  If you hate canned, then prep your fresh or dried beans the day before. Canned is faster.
Mix all.  Take 3 cups of the soup and dump it into a food processor and puree. Add it back into the soup. Mix and leave the soup on warm.

When serving in individual bowls sprinkle cheese (fresh, grated or veggie) on the top. I like Cashew Cheese or Feta. Both are yummy. Serve with a slice of hearty bread. Enjoy! Makes a great meal for Christmas Eve before Church. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sound the Alarm

I have a house alarm – loud, relentless, annoying – house alarm. Originally purchased to ward off squatters during the remodel, it came with a three-year contract that has me puzzled as to the need.  I understand the concept of safety within the home and the need to alert emergency services. It’s the alarming sound I question. Are we not inundated with beeping cars, dinging microwaves, clicking ovens, ringing phones, vibrating cells, pinging computers, singing clocks, droning television shows and ding-dong crosswalks? Every day our lives get little louder than the life time before.
 “They are adding sound to hybrids,” said Paul once said over his morning coffee.
“Who is? “
“The car companies.”
“The electrics and hybrids are silent so people can’t hear the car coming. So they are adding sound… for safety.”
“Like a beep.”
“No like an Indie car – the whine – at fast turns.”
“So a sound all the time not at intersections.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“Why? I think it would be cool.”
“But the noise. Fuel cell too?”
“I guess.”
The home my late husband, Paul, and I purchased is next to the railroad tracks and a major thoroughfare. Many of our friends asked how we handle the noise. Frankly, this is the quietest place we have owned. The Alameda house sat on the approach for Oakland International Airport. I could see the pilots’ faces just above the neighbor’s roof as they flew the giant jets past me. The Fremont house also had a train and traffic—unlike this house which sits on a quiet cul-de-sac—it had the traffic running past the front yard at all hours of the night.
I will not even delve into the joys of living in an aluminum mobile home with sounds rattling in the walls or the past horrors of apartment living with people’s feet stomping above and below.
For Christmas one year my husband presented me with a sound machine that produced pleasant noises so I could sleep at night. The machine played a variety of choices: seaside, planets, ponds, whales, and a white-noise to cover-up all sounds around me.  Aside from the irritating white-noise, I enjoyed the soothing sounds but soon found myself missing the wind and rain hitting our window or my cat‘s purring at my feet. After a month, the sound machine returned to its original packaging and sat in the closet.
My mother and others in my circle have hearing aids. I am challenged with talking slowly, clearly, and loud enough to be heard but not so obvious to insult the person trying to hear my voice. Those of you with family members wearing hearing aids should understand. A female voice is harder to understand for most people with hearing loss as the higher tones are usually first to fail. So my voice and my cousins’ are particularly hard for Mom to hear. With background noise she is at a loss to understand me.  Mom complains if I’m playing the radio because it interferes with her ability to distinguish voices. At her home, she lives in world without music. That reality hit me hard. I adore music – Rock, Classical, Opera, Weird Al, Waltz, Country, and Western. Inside my head is a musical. Paul was jarred awake – more than once – by a crazy blonde standing on the bed singing “Yellow Submarine” at the top of her lungs.
 I know I have not done anything to extend my hearing. I love very loud Rock-and-Roll. I’ve had ear infections without doctors’ care, gone to open air concerts, fired weapons, and have done a myriad of actions that contribute to loss of hearing. I know I will soon join the many Baby-Boomers sporting the latest in hearing enhancement equipment.
Will I need to give up music? Will the only new songs to be heard will be a ringtone on the cell-phone next to me in the grocery store? I can’t imagine giving up the distinctive draw of YoYo Ma’s bow or the warble of McCartney’s latest love song.
As a society, we are erasing the sound of the cricket in the backyard and the coo of the Morning Dove in the park. As an individual, I help to accelerate the process by clinging to my louder devices which include one Bluetooth headset stuck in my ear.
Over time the density of sounds in our country will decrease the ability of our ears to hear the soft babble of a newborn and the symphonies written by our ancestors. The alarms will get louder, more jarring, and more demand prominence in our lives.

My music will be only what I have committed to the library in my head.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shoot ‘em Dead

A recent conversation with an acquaintance wrapped around the subject of the assault of the innocent bystanders as a gang initiation.  A violent game “knockout” is happening across the country. Teenagers are sucker punching adults forty to eighty-seven years of age. A few of the victims in some cases dying.
“Would not have happened in Florida,” said the woman across from me. “Those old ladies are packing. Gangs do not go near them.” She smiled then nodded for emphasis as if I should take that information as fact.
An image of an octogenarian trying to pull a gun from her handbag while holding on to her walker flashed before my eyes. Having been in hand to hand combat, I understood the term sucker punch. It means you do not see the fist coming towards you. However, if I did suspect someone might be thinking about hitting me would my first reaction be to shoot an unarmed teenager? These images spun around my brain like fireflies in a hot August night.
I was so stunned by her remark I took several moments to realize that the speaker had moved to her second point.
“…the best way to handle these gangs is to give them what they want. Build an arena, sell tickets, and let them kill each other on live TV. Gladiators fighting to the death. It would be popular.”
After a couple gulps of oxygen removed from the heated air, I responded. “I see we are on opposite sides of this issue.”
“So what would be your solution to end these gangs?”
“Well…the problem does not start with the gangs. It starts with neglected children alone on the streets.” I watched her eyes roll and head shake. Clearly, the village approach to the discussion had already fallen flat. “I worked in Oakland after our economy crashed. I saw neighborhoods of poor kids standing in the street mid-day with nothing to do. No jobs. No activities. No hope. It’s a formula for problems.”
“People were out of work in the valley too.”
“I didn’t say they weren’t.”
Someone had the intelligence to change the subject. I got up for a cup of coffee. 

The next day it hit me that the conversation had been about killing people as a solution to solving problems. I am surprised that anyone believes that the death of a human being is the correct resolution to a complex social issue. That this belief system exists in my state in the year 2013 saddens me. As our world fills with more people in tighter spaces, shouldn’t we look for some way to be a bit kinder to each other? Perhaps then others would not be so angry and ready to lash out at the world or more specifically an old woman with a walker. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Silver and Gold

The last thirty days of 2013, will hold for many of us, meet and greets of family, acquaintances, new friends, and dear old friends. There is not another time of year where we can mix with this many people that have claim on some part of our hearts. 
Recently, I met with a friend that I have not seen in close to ten or twelve years. With a hug and a smile that time disappeared. We talked as if we had lunch last week. All the reasons I loved her as a friend remained, so that I can love her as a friend today.
I find this type of occurrence truly remarkable. It’s like the video of the soldier that came home from war and her dog greeted her with overwhelming wags, whines, and licks. I watch that stuff over and over because it touches me the same way seeing that friend of mine. As a proper human, I couldn’t lick Rosanne but I sure hugged the stuffing out of her. We caught up on past decades, made plans for the future, and parted feeling uplifted—there’s someone who knows and loves a bit of me.
In the next, thirty days I will attend twelve holiday functions that will include people I love. Last year at this time, I was ill and limited the number and types of events I could attend. Although there were some chances to hug the stuffing out of loved ones. This reminds me of those who are shut-in, overseas in combat, people too financially strapped to get home, and the few that just do not have anyone at all.
I, for one, attend holiday services to connect with people—to touch, to talk, and to love. I have heard many jokes about churches’ attendance being up at Christmas. The implication being that it is for show. A religious venue gives us connection when we really need it—the dark cold month of December.
As a former Brownie Scout, I recall the song, “…make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” For the next thirty days, call someone you knew but haven’t seen in a long time. Drop by the rest home a give a Christmas cactus to Cousin Ginny. Attend the office party at your new job. Deliver cookies to the old woman next door. Stop by an evening service at the local church or synagogue, on a cold rainy night.

Make a new friend and be as happy as that dog welcoming home her master.