27 08 2009

la1This week between the end of August and Labor Day seems to be a turning point in my life year after year.   It was particularly tough marking time between Billy’s death and the actual funeral Labor Day weekend a year ago.  But for decades prior to that, it was back to school time.

Time for routine – and it was a welcomed change after unstructured hazy hot days of summer especially in Spain when the heat really seems to crank and brush fires leave that acrid smell hanging in the air.  The first weeks back in books was welcomed as life settled into a certain rhythm were I could count on a few uninterrupted hours of quiet.

This morning there is a certain crisp chill in the air reminding me of clock watching, hurry up breakfasts, a mad dash for backpacks and the rumble of yellow buses pausing at pre-determined spots along streets.

Of all the seasons, I seem to be most productive in the Fall.  Almost a decade past the decades spent tied to the academic calendar, I still feel my internal motors revving up.  Today, after a two day adventure in Maytag repairman school, I have things to do for sure.  There is laundry (with my fingers crossed that the $250 repair plus another $50 invested in things that broke after he left – will hold).  There is a suitcase to pack.  A plane to catch tomorrow morning.

Best Boy called me on Monday mid-day to say that the trip planned for LA (which I knew nothing about) was going to be a month long rather than a week.  We all know this is the trip.  He may come back for a visit after a month but this is the “move”.  It’s been planned for and talked about for over a year but made all the sweeter knowing his Mimi is THERE and not here.

It wasn’t until a news story remembering the events of Hurricane Katrina during these days in 2005 that I realized that Shop Girl and I were settling her in LA four years ago right now.  Without a TV or a radio during those days and feeling cut off from world events yet thrown into the world of Ikea and unpacking – we “missed” Katrina.  I didn’t see images or get brought up to speed until weeks later.

Four years later – lots of water under lots of bridges – lots of changes.  I will settle into a new quiet around here -at least until The Awaited One decides to make his entrance in 6 weeks or so.  I embrace this new chapter of quiet and chaos in juxtaposition.  The Dr. and I can always escape to the land where a stop at the corner can get you Chinese food and Donuts at once.  You gotta love the City of Angels!

a real page turner

25 08 2009


From C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:

And as he spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

You can read more about the events of a year ago here.

Foodie? Schmoodie!

24 08 2009

smshrFoodie.  I don’t mind at all when the word is used to refer to people who really like to eat but those people who put a pretentious spin on it – gag me.  It seems to be such a trendy word to me even though it was coined in 1981.

Yes, I’m guilty.  I make sure you know when we are eating great culinary delights. One of my first after school jobs during high school was in a restaurant kitchen followed by many years working for many chefs.  I don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen making special meals for people I love – or even strangers for that matter.  The first meal I made a week after I got married was an early (May) Thanksgiving meal with all the fixins for 13 people.

Going out to eat and paying big money for a great meal has never been a problem in this house.  We don’t skimp and will order appetizers and dessert when we want to.  However, my inner food snob kicks in if I have to eat at most chain restaurants.  I’d rather go to a Ma & Pa greasy spoon for anything off the menu than most prefab foods found in those other places.  It’s not so much about the ambience as it is whether or not the food seems “real”.  I can be just as happy with a well made pie at my brother-in-law’s pizza parlor as I can finishing every delectable bite of a multi-course meal at a AAA rated 5 diamond restaurant like the 1913 Room.  I like to eat.

Is it just me or is there an obsession in the entertainment industry revolving around food lately?  (Eat, Pray, Love…now being made into a movie starring  Julia Roberts and the new movie that I will see next week and have to come home and make the Dr. something really tasty, Julie & Julia.) Countless blogs and websites talk up menus and ingredients, sauces and souffles because there are people whose love of the Food Network rivals my addiction to HGTV.  I just get put out with all the highfalutin gourmet hype sometimes.

I’d like to see a reality show where ORDINARY people compete by cooking ORDINARY food.

Cue theme song.

Camera one: tight close-up on contestants.

Voice over: host (with enthusiasm):

Home Cooker!…today’s challenge is…(wait for it…) MASHED POTATOES! You can use nothing more than one 2-quart pot, water, potatoes, salt, butter and milk or for some extravagance:  half & half or cream.  Each station is equipped with a hand masher.  No special electrical gadgets – no double baked – no garlic.  Your 30 minutes start  NOW!

I would win.  “Smashed” as they are called in my house with appropriate lumps to prove they are genuine.  I once peeled 100 lbs. of potatoes (by hand) working for a chef preparing a banquet for an association of lamb growers.  I do mashed potatoes.

And, what about fried chicken?  Yes, I know we are all health conscious now and fried animal flesh is really taboo…but what if we have simple, well cooked, not heart healthy, treats a few times a month?

Yes, this whole subject came up because of what I made yesterday.  After a particularly busy week, I left the Dr. alone with the Beast and the Mouser for about 2 and a half days while I was at the Mrs.’ place.  In my absence, he’d had his fill of left-overs (Spanish tapas…which by the way I was making long before they were all the rage here in the States).  His request: an old-fashioned Sunday dinner – a simple home-cooked meal.  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and sweet corn on the cob.  My standard menu calls for green beans but we are at the point in the growing season when we can count on one hand the times to get those tender ears of golden goodness.

Best Boy peered over my shoulder for yet another tutorial with interest.  “That’s all there is to fried chicken?  I thought it was really complicated.”  No, making things that taste good for the ones we love is not complicated…it just takes time, effort and a little know how.

But more importantly I was reminded again last week during Mimi’s visit that it really isn’t about what is ON the table that makes it inviting. The first night was a couple of JB’s pizzas and the next was the Spanish tapas menu that takes me about two full days of prep. The conversation and laughter was just as delightful regardless of what we were eating.  You can be a gourmet chef and not be hospitable…they are different things.

Next time she’s in town, I’m gonna pull out all the stops and serve grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


22 08 2009

kyAfter a hard week of soundtrack work in Nashville for Shop Girl, her swelling belly brought about a rabid desire for nesting.  Homeward bound – nothing was going to stop my Fast for a minute longer than a necessary pee and some peanut butter crackers for sustenance.  Early morning fog softened the vistas through Tennessee and Kentucky taking me to places long forgotten but dreamy in the recesses of my memory.

Vacations for Billy were generally spent close to home doing the things to keep the house in repair…painting inside and out.  Finances never allowed those fantasy vacays to Disney.  But somewhere along the line, I don’t suppose I was more than 7 or 8 (sibling memories could help here), we headed South.

One of our stops was at the famous stables of the Kentucky Downs racetrack.  I was thoroughly entrenched in that love-of-horse phase that so many pigtailed girls go through and I still remember the marvel of the sleek chestnut bodies and silky black manes towering over me.  The wonder of wonder was being allowed to stop in the souvenir shop and three items were purchased specifically for me.  Somehow I recall some whining from the bro/sis combo to the tune of, “She’s a spoiled brat!” and “Who cares about dumb horses anyway! I just want to get home!”… if I was about a 3rd grader – that made them tweens and what is worse than being stuck in the backseat of a family car with no air conditioning, dvd player, radio or space for that matter.  This was sometime before 1965 or so, people!

mmthBut the pièce de résistance of that trip was a tour of the Mammoth Cave.  I am not even sure if that was actually our final destination or just another stop along the way.  Regardless, it marked me for life.  Fear gripped me as we began the steep descent into the bowels of the earth.  Shivers worked up my spine not just from the change of temperature but from the mere fact that I was being held captive by tons of limestone.

Eyes wide open, peering down crevices that could swallow me whole – my heart pounding so loudly in my chest it buzzed in my ears…once all senses adjusted, it became the most spectacularly magical space.  Colored lights highlighted the stalactites and stalagmites.  Underground rivers flowed silently by into inky black. Musty, dank air hung thick.

When Best Boy and Shop Girl were about that same age we read George MacDonald’s children’s fantasy novel  The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel The Princess and Curdie out loud around the dinner table.  MacDonald launches into his ideas of mountains and caves within the first pages of the second book:

A mountain is a strange and awful thing.  In old times, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains.  But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them – and what people hate they must fear.  Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough to them.  To me they are beautiful terrors.

He continues a few paragraphs later,

All this outside the mountain!  But the inside, who shall tell what lies there!  Caves of awfullest solitude, their walls miles thick, sparkling with ores of gold or silver, copper or iron, tin or mercury, studded perhaps with precious stones – perhaps a brook, with eyeless fish in it, running, running ceaselessly, cold and babbling, through banks crusted with carbuncles and golden topazes, or over a gravel of which some of the stones arc rubies and emeralds, perhaps diamonds and sapphires – who can tell? – and whoever can’t tell is free to think – all waiting to flash, waiting for millions of ages – ever since the earth flew off from the sun, a great blot of fire, and began to cool.

Not too many months later, we found ourselves on a sweltering day under a blistering Washington D.C. sun, queuing up at the Smithsonian with Shop Girl and Best Boy in a full melt down.  Once inside we mapped out our visit including my one MUST SEE.

We were ushered into a room where all the lights were turned off and told to stand in the center and wait.  Suddenly, the recessed display cases set deep into the walls like mini caverns were set ablaze and sparkled with the most gorgeous display of gems in every color of the rainbow – exposed from where they had been hidden miles below the earth’s surface for centuries.  Suddenly the deep underworld of Curdie, the miner’s son, was brilliantly brought to reality.

Caves.  Me.  Facing fear.  Getting choked by the demons of claustrophobia or delighting in spelunking to discover precious veins buried deep within?  That is where my mind has taken me in the last few days.  Sparked by a conversation on the porch with Shop Girl and Mimi about facing our greatest fears and finding buried deep within ourselves those treasures – valuable resources – veins of gold and silver that steel our souls and weave through us – belying the hard, gray exterior that can seem cold to the touch.  Who are we really – deep in the core?

During my treks back and forth to Indiana over the weekends of the last few years, I had spent a good deal of time fearing the death of my father.  How was I going to face that?  What would it look like?  Feel like?  I planned the funeral in my head.  I talked through eulogies.  I wrote in notebooks while I drove.  What would his face look like when the real Billy was headed through the ceiling of the room that confined his physical body?  How would the Mrs. survive?

We have crawled through some dark twisty passageways this year.  The Mrs.’ voice echos off the walls.  But the thrill of every caver’s life is finding yet another tunnel, another underground waterway, another secret grotto – slogging through the mud and muck to chart new passages. These twelve months have been that journey for me.  Sometimes coming out into a wide space – a chamber – where standing upright I blindly pat the perimeters of the hard space. Other days I find myself crawling on my belly – squeezing through impossibly tight spaces.

So here’s to facing fears and finding the gemstones hidden deep within.  New adventures, new discoveries, new pains, new joys await. It takes hours of tumbling in the grit for the shine of those stones to come to light. Keeping my headlamp burning bright and forging ahead – daring fear to block my way.

After weeks of spelunking in Billy’s basement with all its similarities to the Mammoth Cave, I feel like yesterday my eyes had become so adjusted to the filtered gray light that I finally looked up and could almost see three of the four walls.  I have dug deep this year – quite literally – and as each layer is uncovered, I am in awe of the precious gems I keep unearthing.  Do you still have all your marbles?  I sure don’t.

Just in case you are lying around today with nothing better to do and you’ve never read MacDonald’s books you can read them here and here for free on line.  No need to even get off the couch.  Thank you Google.



19 08 2009

snflwrWhen we were in Nashville two weeks ago, there were three pretty sunflowers standing tall in a white vase on the dining room table.  Somewhere in the boxes and boxes of old slides that I have that are waiting to be digitized (yeah, right!) there is a great picture that I took in a huge field of sunflowers in Spain.  August – was their month to stand tall and shine.

Heliotropism is the word that describes how in a certain stage of their growth, the heads follow the sun from east to west each day – sun up and sun down…until a certain point in their maturing process when they “freeze” in the easterly direction.  In Spanish – they are called girasoles.  To girar is to turn around, to revolve, to spin – and sol means sun.  They turn to the sun.

I was running through the grocery store yesterday afternoon doing a final prep for a very special meal and grabbed a bunch.  I don’t normally buy flowers or plant for that matter because our stupid mouser seems to like to nibble on all things living – thus ruining arrangements, knocking over vases and generally wrecking havoc to beautiful split leaf philodendrons I bought to make my living room look exotic.  So much for that.

Yesterday there was a feast of Spanish tapas.  Membrillo (quince paste) and manchego cheese.  Tortilla.  Roasted red peppers in vinagrette.  Albondigas caseras (meatballs).  Two kinds of olives.  Paté.  A big fresh romaine salad with roma tomatoes.  Croquetas (little chicken and serrano ham fried nuggets of pure goodness).

It wasn’t what was ON the table that was so good.  It was WHO was around the table that made it such an occasion.  Six chairs were pulled up close.  Best Boy’s Mimi was finally here to experience what we call home.  Our table was complete with the exception of the awaited one in October.  Our hearts are full even as we enter into the week of memories of a year ago.  My head has been there most of the month as I remember the journey.

But the lovely little girasoles reminded me to keep looking at the Sun.  If my head is going to freeze – I want it to be head up and facing THAT direction.  Even after darkness – years and years of darkness and waiting – things can bloom.  There is life even after death.  Another August…another year…a new journey.

gifts that keep on giving

12 08 2009

calibamSo for the last number of years my birthday gifts keep getting more and more creative.  I’ve reached that point in my life where I don’t really need things.  After all, I buy a pair of shoes every couple of years and make a trip to Marshall’s or TJMaxx before any important events when I need a look a bit more chic than my five year old jeans and the t-shirts that I’ve been “recycling” for that many years.  I’m not a girlie girl – no perfume or mani-pedi gift certificates for me.

I’ve got tchotchkes galore from all over the globe.  Some things are really nice and expensive and some barely more than trinkets.  I like them all – but there are rarely things that I see in shops that are must haves.  There is, however, a never ending list of things that the Money Pit is in desparate need of.

About four years ago this trend started with a great seagrass rug I had been dreaming about for under the dining room table.  Just something to put down to cover the 100 year old wood floors that we say we’re going to refinish year after year and never get around to.  I came home from work and found that the Dr. surprised me and there it was for my birthday.

Three years ago we were starting to have problems with a newest toilet in the house which had probably been installed in the 1950’s.  Couldn’t wait for the whole bathroom re-do (I’ll probably be in my 80’s when we can afford that!) but there are things we can do until such time.  What better way to say “I love you” than to get TWO of them – really great ones I might add – that are handicap height, elongated bowls, self-closing lids, 1.6 gallon flush that really work…the whole nine yards.  Not every girl gets to use her birthday gifts on a daily basis.

Last year, I got a new roof.  Oh, it is a fine roof.  They even let me pick out the color of the shingles.  The other one had been leaking and making a huge mess of plaster ceilings on the second floor.  No more buckets – no more drips.  Just lots of repair and painting for another year’s gift list.

This year…oh this year.  I really really really hit the jack pot.  We’ve been watching our backyard fence take on some major degrees of tilt over the last few winters.  Since we have to look at this fence everyday – a few gazillion times a day letting the beast out – it had to be something that we wanted to look at.  That is what happens when you work from home.  You really see things and realize how much you tolerate, love or hate them.

We’d gotten a few estimates on designs in cedar but I decided to go out on a limb and wow the Dr. with my incredible internet savvy research skills and show him something “green” – something sustainable – an investment piece if you will.

I had actually started with looking for alternatives that were considered neighbor friendly fences – the kind that look good from both sides.  Why should I spend the money to put up a fence and have to look at all the bracing when the neighbor’s rug rats enjoyed a great view from their new fort?  No way!  It was my birthday present and I deserve to enjoy it from my side too.

So a little heaven on earth – Cali in Michigan…my new bamboo fence.  Notice the mud pit…the landscapers are coming on Friday to start talking about how we can put some more zen into this space.  Did you know it was the Dr.’s bday in a couple of days?  Fence for me – mulch and pea gravel for him.

P.S.  I failed to link you to the genius fence makers from Outback Casual Living & Fence

because i can

5 08 2009


half notes and quarter rests

4 08 2009


As Shop Girl and I stood on the back deck before leaving the wild North, our neighbor stopped by to inspect the new fence that was put up in honor of my birthday (a whole blog post dedicated to that story to follow soon).  He knew that we were soon to embark on our road trip to Nashvegas and he and the wife had been discussing the nature of our artsy fartsy children and asked where the musical DNA came from that is Shop Girl’s forte.

Anyone who has known us for longer than 10 minutes knows the answer to that query – the Dr. of course.  As I recall the blurry facts of my childhood, I believe I was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement seated before the ivories.  Neither of my parents played the piano but Charlie (my maternal grandfather) could play a pretty mean honky tonk – after which he’d ask forgiveness of the heavens above for letting himself get so carried away with worldly delights.  Those occasions were few and far between but as I recall he was the only other person beside the sibling trio that would ever sit at the keyboard.

Billy did appreciate good music and the Mrs. could carry a tune enough to be part of the church choir for years.  Somewhere in there,  it was motivation enough for them to prioritize their meager funds enough to spring for years of lessons for the three of us. And by junior high, we were all bi-instrumental – so there were cases lugged back and forth on the school bus, ham dinner fundraisers to attend, uniforms to purchase, parades to march in and concerts to tape on portable cassette records with internal mics.  Just months ago I gifted one of these stellar Christmas concerts to my oldest friend.   She was a real musician – she played the bassoon.

I wonder if I could read music if someone threatened my life with a metronome stuck in my back.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of whatever gray matter is left, that information is stored. Within the first hours of our trip I got to thinking about how music becomes more than the notes on a one dimensional page.  It becomes something that we hang lots of memories on.  All I have to do is punch the button for the 70’s station on my satellite radio in the car to be transported to another dimension as each song evokes the specific soundtrack of my life.

I know enough about music to understand that it isn’t just the notes on the page – it’s the tempo, the rhythm, the lyrics, the instrumental solos – the mood.  During the recording of Shop Girl’s second CD her producer suggested changing up the tempo of a song and it magically became something totally different than how it had all started.  On our most recent trek to LA someone who makes huge chunks of change writing pop songs that you’d all recognize mused outloud that he wished he could bring more space into his songs like hers have. He wanted her to teach him how she makes “the quiet” work in her songs – not filling up every bar with words – letting the music speak for itself and to each individual listener.  Sorry, it won’t play in Peoria.  Her’s is a different kind of music all together.

Tricky business this of song writing.  It’s not just top lining and catchy hooks. It’s about the rests and silence between the notes. Gaps on a page that speak.  I marvel at her craft.  I wonder what it is like to hear things that no one else does.  To create like this. To hear a song and know it isn’t fully fleshed out yet.

And here is where this came full circle for me again.  These trips aren’t just about making music.  There is always more to the timing of the bigger score that I become aware of.  This trip was particularly tricky to pull off with re-scheduling and shifting responsibilities.  But I knew I had to be here.  I knew we had to do this THIS week and had no idea WHY.

Its the conversations had with fellow musicians, producers, sound engineers – all friends – that happen between creating music that is the real beauty behind it all.  The timing – the spaces – the rests – the sustained notes that fade – the tempo.  We had no idea how important it would be to be here right now.