Friday, April 19, 2019

Months pass...

"What the f---? Are they out of their friggin minds? Where did the trees go?" said Pink, disgusted, as he peeked out the door. He stood, half-in and half-out, moving forward and then backing up. He stuck his nose out and sniffed. "Charlie wasn't here last night." Charlie, a big homeless Tom, visited regularly, attempting to claim ownership of the patio, spraying the pillars and sometimes even the door—the very door Pink and Cashew claimed as their own. The one they used to go in and out, and in and out, and in and out and in and out. And that's just the morning. ...

Cashew bobbed around behind, trying to see past Pink. "Thank God, that freeloader's gone," he said. "At least something good's come out of all that chain-saw noise and people shouting. Uh oh--look at that lizard. Let me out!!"

Pink turned around and hissed. "Will you stop crowding me? There's no place to hide out there now. Geez...all I can see are stumps. The grove looks like a scarecrow convention. Why didn't they warn us? My favorite spot by the oak tree is totally exposed now. Where am I going to sit?"

"Don't speak to them anymore!" said Cashew. "I'm not going to. Eat and sleep. That's it from now on!" He backed into the house, indignant. He was frightened but as cats are wont to do, he raised his back leg as high as it would go and licked his arse, glancing around casually to see if anyone was noticing his gymnastic moves. He made another attempt to push past Pink and get out, but Pink wasn't budging—he stood his ground, half-way through the door, muttering to himself.

"Do you mean––are you suggesting—no making biscuits?" said Pink, incredulous at the mean streak in his brother. "You can't mean we're giving up on purring? And curling up in their laps?"

"Yes, that's what I mean. Nada. Nothing. See how they like it." Cashew walked out of the room, tail swishing and continued his venomous diatribe. "Punish 'em. Double up in the annoying department -- bother them in the bathroom and run ahead of them into the closet to hide and walk on their computer keyboards and scratch our claws on the carpet, don't come when called and jump up on the kitchen counter and drink out of the toilet and fight with each other and all that kind of human-annoying stuff."

"...but, but...they have the can opener," said Pink, astonished at the stupidity of his sibling. No wonder they call him the Idiot, he thought. 

Our avocado trees have been stumped and today the surgeons began painting them white and re-establishing our irrigation system. Although I miss living in a green bubble, it's refreshing to get
light in the house and recover some of the views hidden for years behind the huge trees. The cats, used to sneaking around as cats do, under the leafy cover, are a bit shell-shocked. They stick close to the house and crouch under the deck, muttering to themselves.  

Cookbooks and Conversation at the Bottom Shelf

Someone in our small town has hung up their apron for the last time—probably a well-heeled and enthusiastic cook. I’m sure of this because ten boxes of good cookbooks are piled up in the workroom. Cooks don’t donate their cookbooks to the Bottom Shelf bookstore just because they’ve moved. It takes more than a change of address to separate them from their collections.

The best cookbooks we get, in my opinion, are dog-eared and rich with marginalia. Often a flutter of magazine clippings and cook’s notes will fall out of the pages.They reveal more about the donors than the book choices. On a recipe for sweet potatoes—”Thanksgiving—everyone liked it. Add one tsp. vanilla.” The author/cook cannot leave well enough alone.

“I don’t like shiny food,” says Jean, our shift manager, as she scans a couple of the photos and thumbs through recipes. She has a keen and discriminating eye. She shows me more photos. A slab of unidentifiable meat bathed in maroon sauce glistens under the light. She shudders and marks the book $.10. The book sold for $29.95 when it was new. Now it has the same value as a tissue-thin plastic bag from Walmart.

Jean looks over the five boxes on our work table. “Set aside anything with gelatin in the title,” she says.

“Here’s one—Jello Jigglers,” Miranda says plucking a thin volume from the pile. At twenty-eight, Miranda is the youngest of us. “How did you all survive eating this stuff? It’s so obviously devoid of any nutrition. What’s in it? Chemicals, food coloring and sugar?” Jean at eighty-six is the oldest of our managers. She and Miranda share a love for The New Yorker and James Thurber. Somehow, the conversation has drifted to a discussion of favorite Thurber works. I enjoy listening to the intergenerational discussion which includes details about Thurber’s height (short) and temperament (mean). Both Jean and Miranda like Thurber’s dominant women and spineless men. Although I don’t join in, I think about Walter Mitty, my favorite Thurber creation and his made-up medical jargon like “obsteosis of the ductal tract.” My own father suffered from a number of such illnesses which would strike without fail just before mass on Sunday morning and require immediate bed rest.

“Where’s your father this morning?” the priest, Father McIlhenny, would ask us after mass as my sister and I filled by.

“He’s got hypotocusis in the hoodinacapap,” I would answer. My older sister, by then wise to my father’s jokes, let me tell the priest. The words came easily and fast to me because I said/sang them while I skipped rope.

“Again?” Father McIlhenny would smile. I suspect he was a Thurber fan too.

Back in the workroom, I look through the jiggly book. The jello photography is disastrous—plates crowded with clashing colors and shapes, vegetables frozen in aspic like tortured souls in hell. The color separations are poor and the printing is fuzzy enough to make me think my freshly de-cataracted eyes are failing. Miranda, wicked smart and energetic, eats only organic vegetarian foods—a living testimony to the health benefits of kale. She makes me feel like rushing home to eat a bag of carrots.

I ask her opinion about the political correctness of the word “jiggler” which sounds vaguely offensive to my ear. I think of big round Santa Claus bellies, massive ungirdled asses, the handles of running toilets. There were no recipe sensitivity readers when these were printed. I wonder if there are now?

Years ago, I used “prick” in the instructions on a package of frozen pie dough. My boss reddened with embarrassment from his collar to his hairline, as he read my instructions and told me I could not use the word in print. EVER.

“But that’s what you do,” I said, in disbelief. “You prick a pie crust before you bake it. It’s a culinary term.” My arguments fell on deaf ears. “Pierce with the times of a fork,” was the expression we used instead. Pierce was much more tolerable for my straight-laced Swedish boss but still bothers me forty years later. I wonder what he’d say today now that the word pierce, hijacked by the body-art business, conjures up different thoughts. People pierce body parts I didn’t even know existed like the frenulum and ampallang. My niece talks about her industrial and tragus jewelry. God only knows where they are. If I was still writing instructions, Ole, my boss, might now prefer “prick” over “pierce.”

Jean picks up a non-cookbook volume which reminds her of her small Iowa town’s daily newspaper, The Eagletown Echo and the “What’s happening” column which contained all the local news. “They talk about Facebook disclosing too much now,” she laughs. “That’s crazier than a fart in a skillet. You didn’t have any secrets back then. If you traveled all the way to Des Moines, fifty miles away, the Eagleton Echo would have a reporter on your doorstep asking for details. And before nightfall, everyone in town would have read the story and judged everything you did.”

A customer interrupts. “What’s that?” She points to a handwritten note on the counter.

“Oh, probably something somebody found in a book,” I say. “We keep those. They’re amusing. This looks like a shopping list: one-half pound ground lamb,”…

“Hey,” she says. “That sounds like what I’m off to buy. I need lamb for the meatballs I'm making.” She gropes around in her big floral tote, looks up at me and back at the list. “Hey, that’s my list! I must have dropped it.” We laugh that we were both oblivious, thinking it a coincidence.

“So, what are you making?”  I say.

“An Alton Brown recipe for meatballs you put in paper egg cartons and bake in the oven. The grease is absorbed and the meatballs get crispy.”

I suggest she add a fire extinguisher to the list of ingredients.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas 2018

“Java?” he asked, simply wanting another cup of coffee.
“Why not,” she replied and left the room to pack. “And Bali too,” she
added from the closet, from where bathing suits and sandals and sun hats 
were piling up in a heap.

And so we set off on our Christmas trip 2018 for the temples Borobudur and Prambanan in Java near Yogyakarta. And now we’re lounging around in Bali.              

The avocado grove has been seriously pruned and needs little attention for the next year. We’re footloose, fancy free and still able to get around—a little slower during the day perhaps; bed time is earlier and we run our checklists on the road carefully.

“Back up glasses?”
“Didn’t we just do that?”

As of this writing, we don’t need trusses, adult Kimbies, pain killers, anti-psychotics, denture adhesive, canes, walkers or braces but as we know at our age, they could be part of our lives any day now. We don’t special request a wheelchair at the gate, nor do we need advance boarding. Security checks have become easier because after age seventy-five you don’t have to remove your shoes or jackets, probably because it takes too much time to get all the stuff off and get out of the way. We have no metal replacement parts yet so special hand baton checks aren’t necessary.

Reading airport signs will be easier for me on our next trip, Richard’s birthday request,  to Moscow and on to Vladivostok by train across six time zones, because I’m scheduled for cataract surgery in late January. Fortunately, Richard has excellent eyes, but four fully functioning eyes at our age will be a big bonus. I’ll be able to see clearly, in the Cyrillic alphabet, words I don’t understand, but Richard does. On the hearing front, the score currently is Richard-two operating ears, me-one. As a bonus for the hearing loss, I developed tinnitus and am celebrating my ninth year of continuous buzz, clang and hiss. Conversation goes as it did at breakfast this morning:

“Why is she asking if we want a’s breakfast,” I say, puzzled.
Richard explains, smiling patiently, “She’s asking if you want sugar.”

Here in Indonesia, Richard is addressed as Pak and I am Ibu, terms of respect for grandparents.  Not many older people were “on the road” on Java, so we found ourselves a bit of a curiosity. Kids stared. Groups asked us to pose with them and arranged and rearranged themselves in lines putting us in the middle, then on the ends. The photos were taken on five or six phones at a time.

When back in Fallbrook we’ll be using What’s App to stay connected to our new Javanese friends, adding them to the world-spanning list of wonderful folks we’ve met over the years. 

Life, when at home in Fallbrook is peaceful and this year, thankfully, fire free. After a week to recover from jet lag, we’ll start seriously organizing our next adventures. We putter around the rancho between trips and to kill time we volunteer at the library and pursue our hobbies and long list of projects. Like everyone our age we approach the New Year with much resolve to divest ourselves of our junk. Maybe this year, 2019, Yearof the Pig will be our magical year of tidying up. 

As we say here in Bali,
Selemat Malan  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Florence 2

Homeaway rentals are usually pretty good once you’re settled in. Sometimes settling can be unsettling. We were instructed to call from the train station when we arrived. The damn phone with it’s new Vodaphone SiM card decided to ask for a pass code. Of course, the code was packed away. In the train station, I had to open up my suitcase and rummage through it to find the card and get it operable again. Then, the phone went to an answering machine that no doubt gave a witty reply. I didn’t understand a word, in fact, I thought the disembodied voice was advising that the phone had been disconnected. I left a message after the growly noise. Not a beep, a growly sort of noise. With no other options, we got into a cab and went to the apartment office.

As we expected, on Saturday, the office was closed. I checked the phone, just in case, and found seventeen messages from our greeter. She came from around the corner and brought us into our apartment. Happy ending.

The accommodation is perfectly located and comfortable although chilly. Even though it’s warm outside, these marble and stone buildings trap cold air at night and are hard to warm up. I remembered freezing in October in Italy and we brought thick socks and sweaters to wear inside.
The clothing we had wasn't enough and we ended up going to H&M where I bought heavy sweats and a black knit cap to wear indoors.

This morning we’re having toast. The “Jolly” toast machine looks like a kind of catapult. Sometimes Italian design is clownish. Don’t you think this toaster is a bit much? The blue handles lift the toast in and out of the slots. Form dominates function.

As expected, the streets are mobbed in Florence. Yesterday, a beautiful sunny day, about 75 degrees brought everyone out into the squares, the restaurants, and the shops. We wandered around getting familiar with our location on Belledonna steps away from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
For lunch, we ate yet another panini, this time on foccacia. These sandwiches are always good, with salty meat and cheeses - hearty and flavorful. We ate dinner at Osteria Belledonna, right next door to us - a salad, tagliatelle with porcini for me and a pork and white bean dish for Richard. When we ordered Aperol Spritzes, our waiter said, “Why not?” I guess you don’t order these to drink with dinner.

We were surprised to have two plates loaded with crostini topped with tomatoes and chicken livers placed in front of us. The waiter told us, “Yes, your appetizer.” We shrugged and ate a little thinking perhaps it was a free appetizer, offered by some of the tourist joints. Finally, another waiter noticed us looking perplexed. It was someone else’s order.

Two close calls during the day. A motorcycle almost clipped me. A overly vigorous, reckless runner almost topped Richard over. Plowed right on by without so much a glance.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Florence 1


In Milan recovering from jet lag and enjoying glorious warm days. The city is recovering from Fashion Week; the beautiful people linger—people watching scores ten out of ten. The roof of the duomo offers stunning views of the roof itself covered with buttresses, statues, corbels. Breath taking.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Sepia Saturday 388: Snowy Days

The prompt photo was taken in Halifax, a minster town in the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. 

I borrowed this photo from the City of Winnipeg photo archive to get a rough match for the prompt...a street scene in winter.

The other photos from my albums depict surprises or unusual items in the snow.

The chairs should have been stored for the winter.  The snow-covered Adirondack Chair is a hackneyed image, but one my father took every year to memorialize the snowfall. The two spruce trees in our neighbor's yard looked beautiful covered in snow. Even though in art, groups of three are aesthetically preferred to pairs, I like the twin chairs, twin lilac bushes, and twin trees, snow obscuring some details but highlighting others.
Skiing on the endless flats. The height of optimism is planning to ski on the prairies. Snowshoeing was more suited to the terrain . . . no pesky inclines to slow you down. My sister was a very flexible child as you can see by the way her torso is contorted to face the camera. The poles are too long for her. Later in life when we all relocated to California and took up serious skiing, she was never very good; nor was I. Her son and husband were excellent. We suffered from hesitation and a fear of speed. Observers used to marvel at how slowly we could glide down the slopes.

A government surplus? In the late summer, in this corner of our yard, we pulled tomatoes off the vines and ate them, soaking up the sun. During the winter, snow drifted into that corner. My sister's face is barely visible above a mountain of snow. My father's white pen tells us it's February 20th, 1949. The province was sitting on a mountain of cash. Right about then, they announced a surplus of funds of $4,425,000. They were doing something right.

Should a kid be put outdoors to play in snow piles over his head?My sister's son is dwarfed by the snow piles in this photo. Like all little kids in that era, he's so wrapped up in heavy winter gear, he can barely move. I doubt if he could use his little arms to save himself. Or run onto those little sausage legs.

Pitching a tent in the snow? Poor Canadians. We didn't get much opportunity to pitch a tent without mosquitos—perhaps this was a last-ditch attempt.  The tent was in our neighbor's yard. Winnie, the lady of the house, may have thrown Harry out for the hundredth time and perhaps this was a temporary solution for their marital anguish. As kids, we preferred to build igloos in the snow; I'm sure we sneered at this tent.

And to end on a high note . . . this is me, perched up on a snowbank with my shovel. As a kid, I loved the snow. My father never missed a teaching moment and he must have thought I was ready to learn how to deal with winter's most onerous task—cleaning the sidewalks. 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Sepia Saturday #435: Seeing Things

"Wedding on the Steps," from Alan's collection
This photo from my family album was taken in June 1959. My mother holds a beautiful bouquet of lilacs in our backyard. This blossom bounty was probably divided into a couple of smaller bouquets for my grandmothers.
Everyone cherished these flowers because they were so fragrant and so fleeting. As a grade schooler, I took the flowers to my teachers. By 1959 I'd given up the notion of buttering-up the teachers and instead, like most teens, preferred to bug them. None of my gang would have been caught dead, kissing up like that. No, we preferred to slouch around in the local hangout, "Welcome Inn," where we crammed eight kids in a booth, sharing one cigarette and one coke and pumping the jukebox with quarters(?) to play our favorite songs. Below is the big hit list from 1959. Why can I still recall most, well— some of these lyrics (never heard of number 100, "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat") but can't remember where my car keys are? 

Curiosity got the better of me. Here's a music video of #100, Seven Little Girls. The video is fun and brings back memories. Is Fred in a lab coat in the back seat? I can almost smell Paul Evan's Brylcreem. My own hair in those years was shellacked into place with AquaNet hairspray. This would make a fabulous retro PSA for distracted driving. 

1"The Battle of New Orleans"Johnny Horton
2"Mack the Knife"Bobby Darin
3"Personality"Lloyd Price
4"Venus"Frankie Avalon
5"Lonely Boy"Paul Anka
6"Dream Lover"Bobby Darin
7"The Three Bells"The Browns
8"Come Softly to Me"The Fleetwoods
9"Kansas City"Wilbert Harrison
10"Mr. Blue"The Fleetwoods
11"Sleep Walk"Santo & Johnny
12"Put Your Head on My Shoulder"Paul Anka
13"Stagger Lee"Lloyd Price
14"Donna"Ritchie Valens
15"Pink Shoe Laces"Dodie Stevens
16"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"The Platters
17"Charlie Brown"The Coasters
18"Quiet Village"Martin Denny
19"My Heart Is an Open Book"Carl Dobkins Jr.
20"(Till) I Kissed You"The Everly Brothers
21"Sea of Love"Phil Phillips
22"The Happy Organ"Dave "Baby" Cortez
23"I'm Gonna Get Married"Lloyd Price
24"Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)"The Impalas
25"A Teenager in Love"Dion and the Belmonts
26"16 Candles"The Crests
27"It's Just a Matter of Time"Brook Benton
28"Lipstick on Your Collar"Connie Francis
29"There Goes My Baby"The Drifters
30"A Big Hunk o' Love"Elvis Presley
31"Red River Rock"Johnny and the Hurricanes
32"Waterloo"Stonewall Jackson
33"Lavender Blue"Sammy Turner
34"(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I"Elvis Presley
35"Guitar Boogie Shuffle"The Virtues
36"Teen Beat"Sandy Nelson
37"Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)"Edd Byrnes & Connie Stevens
38"Tragedy"Thomas Wayne
39"My Happiness"Connie Francis
40"Tallahassee Lassie"Freddy Cannon
42"Never Be Anyone Else But You"Ricky Nelson
43"Don't You Know?"Della Reese
44"I Need Your Love Tonight"Elvis Presley
45"What a Diff'rence a Day Makes"Dinah Washington
46"The All American Boy"Bill Parsons
47"Primrose Lane"Jerry Wallace
48"Alvin's Harmonica"The Chipmunks
49"Lonely Street"Andy Williams
50"What'd I Say"Ray Charles
51"Broken Hearted Melody"Sarah Vaughan
52"Only You (And You Alone)"Franck Pourcel
53"Gotta Travel On"Billy Grammer
54"Poison Ivy"The Coasters
55"Turn Me Loose"Fabian
56"Lonely Teardrops"Jackie Wilson
57"Hawaiian Wedding Song"Andy Williams
58"Forty Miles of Bad Road"Duane Eddy
59"Just Ask Your Heart"Frankie Avalon
60"Tell Him No"Travis and Bob
61"Frankie"Connie Francis
62"I've Had It"The Bell Notes
63"I Cried a Tear"LaVern Baker
64"Enchanted"The Platters
65"Since I Don't Have You"The Skyliners
66"Peter Gunn Theme"Ray Anthony
67"The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)"The Chipmunks
68"I Want to Walk You Home"Fats Domino
69"So Fine"The Fiestas
70"Bobby Sox to Stockings"Frankie Avalon
71"The Deck of Cards"Wink Martindale
72"A Lover's Question"Clyde McPhatter
73"I Only Have Eyes for You"The Flamingos
74"It's Late"Ricky Nelson
75"Petite Fleur"Chris Barber's Jazz Band
76"Tall Paul"Annette Funicello
77"The Tijuana Jail"The Kingston Trio
78"Just a Little Too Much"Ricky Nelson
79"Goodbye Baby"Jack Scott
80"Along Came Jones"The Coasters
81"Three Stars"Tommy Dee & Carol Kay
82"A Boy Without a Girl"Frankie Avalon
83"Sweeter Than You"Ricky Nelson
84"It Was I"Skip & Flip
85"Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye"Kathy Linden
86"Manhattan Spiritual"Reg Owen Orchestra
87"Endlessly"Brook Benton
88"Heartaches by the Number"Guy Mitchell
89"Sea Cruise"Frankie Ford
90"That's Why (I Love You So)"Jackie Wilson
91"You're So Fine"The Falcons
92"Kissin' Time"Bobby Rydell
93"My Wish Came True"Elvis Presley
94"Morgen"Ivo Robić
95"Baby Talk"Jan and Dean
96"Take a Message to Mary"The Everly Brothers
97"The Battle Hymn of the Republic"Mormon Tabernacle Choir
98"Bongo Rock"Preston Epps
99"In the Mood"Ernie Fields
100"Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat"Paul Evans

Studying my photo as we do for Sepia Saturday, I was surprised at what I saw that I overlooked for years. Like this man's face nestled/hidden in the bouquet.

Okay, when you get closer up you really have to use your imagination.

I'm currently writing, er....trying to write fiction. I should clarify and say I'm learning about writing fiction. Every second week, I swear to quit because it takes so much time. But then I get an idea and start all over again. I feel a scary story coming on— "The Devil in the Bouquet." Or maybe a tale about those Seven Little Girls or Fred. Or a story about having a song rise to #100 and then stall there?

I think the reason I saw the image stems back to my days growing up in Canada. In 1954, the Canadian one dollar bill was issued. Here's the picture of the Queen on the bill:

And here's a close-up of her image:

As you can see (or not) there seems to be a devil's image in the Queen's curls. A huge controversy ensued over the bill; nut cases came out of the woodwork with bizarre conspiracy theories and the mint had to reissue the bill with the curls altered and the so-called image obliterated. 

Googling the matter, I found mention of a memoir of the Royal photographer who took this picture during that time period. It turns out he was gay and involved with the Queen's male hairdresser. Maybe there was some sort of covert statement being made after all? Here's the reference if anyone is interested.

Devils Face in Queens hair

Almost every day, there's some article in "News of the Weird" about a holy image in a fallen ice cream cone or on a stained wall or a baby's diaper. The most bizarre ghostly and holy image I can remember hearing about was the Virgin Mary's image on toast. The holy toast was a decade old when it was auctioned on ebay in 2004 for $28,000. Personally ,I think the image looks more like Marlene Dietrich than I imagined the Virgin Mary might look.

Check out Sepia Saturday for stories from saner people with more organized minds.