Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cat entrance

The laundry room cabinets arrived complete with cat entrance cut into one door where the cat box will reside. The carpenters did a great job cutting it and the edges have all been sanded smooth. The design was copied from Barbara's friend's door.

Now for paint.

Goodbye Mr. Mettler

I've had a Mettler balance for almost 30 years. Years ago, having become a technological dinosaur, it was retired and replaced by a lighter, simpler version which has more and better features.  Mr. Mettler and I worked together on many projects all over the country and he was a reliable and useful tool. In fact, he was indispensable. As a couple, we had some exciting times working for the likes of Lawry's, Burger King, the Tabasco people and Ore Ida, and were frequently mistaken for drug dealers!  When people came to the door with deliveries and saw us set up with lots of white powders - starches and gums, salt and flour, we'd get those quizzical looks.  He did double duty at different points in his career - for instance friends who were avid mountain biker racers used to come over to weigh parts - Mr. Mettler being accurate to 1/1000ths of a gram. He never complained.

As we divest ourselves of accumulata, it's time for us to go our separate ways. Mr. Mettler, now bashed and battered, I hope will find a place in technoheaven. May he rest in peace.

A 10 minute walk from the pus station

Packing up for Syria and Jordan. The usual stuff - black clothes and jeans - the international travel outfit. I can squeeze everything for a couple of weeks into a carry-on with one extra bag for books, earphones, the computer and cameras - playthings for the long plane rides.  Most days it will just be Richard and me plus Abdul who we're paying to be nice, so what matter our looks? Nevertheless my natty husband will iron his jeans before packing - he does it every time -because those creases down the front are really important to him. He is the neastest packer I've ever seen. The few times we've been security checked at the airport, when they look in his suitcase, they double take. It looks like a paper insert to show how a suitcase should look. Mine, on the other hand, is a heap and a jumble. I stuff everything in and slam it shut.

We fly to New York and then directly from New York to Amman, Jordan. Upgrading with our ff miles, we'll be up front.  From LA to NYC we'll catch up on the movies we wouldn't bother with at home - the "20 something market" movies. All discretion and taste is laid aside in the silver tube.  Flying time is 12 - 13 hours from NYC. Nice dinner, glass of wine, half an ambien and we wake up in Amman - a construction free zone!

Our hotel in Palmyra is boasting that it's only a 10 minute walk from the "pus station". Is this a good or bad thing? This spelling error rates way up there with the "fried crap" we see frequently in Asia. 

Today I heard that vandals smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the glass doors of the state capital building in Sacramento. Such an interesting political statement! I wonder if the stores will have to lock up the refried beans henceforth and handle them like spray paint? Guess we'd better buy a case and hoard it just in case they become a restricted material. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today we enjoyed "butt crack" day...the highlight of any construction project. We have excellent plumbers but they wear the storied sagging pants outfits and suffer from exposed butts. In their defense, when you have to be twisted like a pretzel with your head squished between a garbage disposal and a heat pump, it's hard to look good!

Quickly and with little fuss or whining they installed faucets and garbage disposals in the kitchen, hooked up the gas for the cook top and almost finished the master bath faucets. 

If all our trades had worked like this we would have been finished last November!

Ask for cash, you get ash

Another great email from my friend Len about the volcano in Iceland.
The attached photo is of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull ... pronounced "eh-ya-fyudla-you-could-l" (Yes, that's correct!  Now say it quickly!) This is an original water color painting that has been my family since I can remember and now graces our dining room.  It was painted by the owner of the farm in the foreground which was also a bed and breakfast for generations and until fairly recently.  It was where my Mother, Lottie's, parents met in the late 1890's, fell in love, got married and lived until shortly before their emigration to Canada.
Marc Cantor of Fallbrook's observations happen to coincide with mine.  When the privatized Icelandic banks started to tank, Gordon Brown froze their assets pursuant to British anti-terrorist  legislation and proceeded to hold all the citizens of Iceland responsible.  Subsequent negotiations resulted in the Brits demanding repayment of  lost savings over time at unconscionably high interest rates. Negotiations continue and the proud citizens of Iceland will , in the end, not renage on their duty.   In the meantime, they have regained a modicum of their renowned sense of humor and, tapping the enduring power of the old Norse Gods, are sending the first down payment in the form of (c)ash.  That's the joke going around Reykjavik these days.  Ask for cash, you get ash.  The reason it's funny is because the letter "c" does not exist in the Icelandic alphabet.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Caught red handed!

Book Club meeting last Wednesday night was fun as always. The book, "The Hummingbird's Daughter" by Luis Urrea about his great great aunt (?) Teresita got mixed reviews. Urrea has a fun blog and is currently describing his writing progress on Hiummingbird's Daughter 2. Just as I enjoyed his talk in person, I found his blog funny and interesting:


Beth gave the book a 9 because it brought back a flood of memories to her of experiences she had in Mexico. Nancy gave it a 7. I agree with Nancy and would rate it at 7.  Beth offered the provocative idea that Terisita's life mirrored the life of Jesus: death and resurrection, persecution, healing, miracles and her death at 33. We discussed Huila as one of the principal characters  and how interesting a figure she was. Teresita's healing abilities and her resurrection were discussed and the fact that she didn't seem concerned about being left by her mother. My lack of hearing prevents me from hearing more than one end of the table, so I caught little about what was said at the other end from me. Everyone enjoyed the colorful descriptions of life on the ranch and the local customs and culture.

Beth and Barb enlightened us about the red color from cochineal, insect poop. We learned that being caught "red-handed" derived from the custom of covering gold or other precious items with the red dye powder; also that "the red coats" jackets were died with cochineal. I looked up the word origin and found out they also put red dye on Queens and other nobility when the Kingie and other guys were out of town. When they came home, anyone who had red dye on his hands was in big trouble. Guess it never occurred to anyone to wash it off. Red handed also meant murderous.

A peyote cactus , for educational purposes only, was another part of the centerpiece arrangement.  From Wikipedia:

"The top of the cactus that grows above ground, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut above the roots and sometimes dried. When done properly, the top of the root will form a callus and the root will not rot.[5] When poor harvesting techniques are used, however, the entire plant dies. Currently in South Texas, peyote grows naturally but has been over-harvested, to the point that the state has listed it as an endangered species.[citation needed] The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. Peyote is extremely bitter, and most people are nauseated before they feel the onset of the psychoactive effect."

We passed on chewing peyote buttons although this was not a foreign concept to some of our group. 

The food spread stuck very close to the theme. We had little pork tacos - like street tacos, chile rellenos stuffed with cactus, squash and cheese; a ham salad, mango cole slaw and for dessert Mexican Wedding Cookies. Beth made tamarindo from boiling the pods. The resulting beverage was crisp and delicious.
She also provided the centerpiece, a very dramatic hummingbird. 

Bummer of the evening was the news that Vicki has withdrawn from the club. We will miss her.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Moving the House

My grandparents farmed in Letellier, Manitoba in a French Canadian area.  When they bought a new farm nearby in the "English" area they moved all the buildings including the house, across the river. Horse power really meant something in those days!

The move was scary as my mom remembered. The family spoke little English and in some respects it was like a move to a foreign country. The new farm was bigger and better and their standard of living improved.  My grandfather accumulated horses  - plow horses, a couple of "teams" and riding horses.  Grandpa was apparently a good horse trader and made money buying and selling the animals.

Many years later, my grandparents moved into the city and my grandfather, left with little to do, kept a vegetable garden in the summer and whittled odd little wooden figures in the winter. He was deaf and couldn't see very well by then so the painting is primitive. I have some of the figures - the red one was a mounted policeman? with a black eye, a red nose and a gnarly grimace- he's meant to be astride a horse, but alas the horse is gone;  the one in front is "Hector in the Sky with Diamonds"....because the figure has rhinestone eyes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dress up Dolls for Grown-Ups

One of my younger friends suggested I visit H&M for travel clothes. It's a hip store with very youthful styles -  too young for me, but the point is that they are dirt cheap. She told me to take a look at their web site where you can play dress up (pin the clothes on the model) and then with ideas in hand, go buy some pieces to pack. So cheap, they can almost be considered disposable - 2 t-shirts for $12 for example. Nothing is made to last (who cares with a t-shirt?) but the site is sure fun. The actual store is less youthful in feeling than Forever 21 but the marketing is similar. Racks and racks of clothes - lots of annoying music. After shopping here when you go into Nordstrom's where a -T-shirt costs $50.00, the ambience feels funereal and you want to exclaim, "What??", when you look at the price tags. 


While at the mall, I had a gelato at Nathan's. They've become a hodge-podge foster home for all kinds of concepts. They sell Arthur Treacher fish and chips, extruded fries, the hot dog of course, Phillie Cheese Steaks, Pretzel Dogs, Hot Dogs on a Stick and Hot Dog Nuggets - ugh. I wonder if they have a lawyer grilling the nuggets and the instructions for the Heimlich manouever nearby. The gelato was not bad.  I wouldn't go out of my way for it - it looked far better than it tasted. All these orphan concepts plastered up against each other detract from the appeal of Nathan's which used to be a juicy hot dog. Period. That was good enough. 

The annual hot dog eating contest is about to occur again. The current record is 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Pass the bicarb.

Clever landscaping

I visited Day Lilly Hill the other day. South of Fallbrook, on Old Highway 395, they have acres of succulents and very clever landscape designers. The designer set up the grasses in the fountain below so that they would look like splashing water. Clever. 

The inch is a cinch

Helen and the Angry Inch! 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a 2001 American musical film based on the stage musical of the same title about a fictional rock and roll band fronted by an East German transsexual singer. 

My angry inch is slightly different. Everything we tried to install today was off by just about an inch. There's an old adage about measuring once and cutting twice. Well, in our neck of the woods, we cut three or four times and then we measure. But this can all be fixed with a half day visit from the cabinet guys, who declare the inch a cinch; they've scheduled to come back after one has a baby, the other's mother dies and the dog who ate all the homework, comes home. Then and only then will it be our turn.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jilly Bears

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is famous for very cold winters. It's not uncommon to see 40 or 50 below zero in January. In fact it's affectionately called Winterpeg. My mother Jill, owned two prized fur coats and wore them for warmth first and fashion second. They were beautifully made, with soft silk linings and her name on an embroidered tag inside. In the fall, they'd be pulled out of moth balls and placed in the front closet. I can remember sitting on her lap and feeling the soft fur against my face. A fond childhood memory.

After mother died my dear friend Linda had mother's coats made into" Jilly" Bears which have been passed along to the nieces and grandnieces as mementos of their great, great, grandmother.

Friday, April 09, 2010

IPad and Asperger's Syndrome

Who needs an IPad? I do, for one. I spent 1 hour in the Apple store today playing with the things and even enjoyed the Ibooks app...I never thought I'd see the day. The Ipad displays two pages at once and feels just like an open book. For travel, it would replace a lap top, Ipod, travel books, regular books and a note book.
I think it's an incredible bargain for $499. Came home and looked at Apple stock and it's up to 240. Should have snapped it up at 90 last year.

While most of the stores at the mall are doing a modest business, the Apple store is aswarm with people.
They've left everybody in the dust again. What's happening at Microsoft? They can afford to hire the smartest people in the world. They simply don't have the formula for innovation that Apple has. According to a documentary I saw the other day, Microsoft should be hiring more people with Asperger's Syndrome, who are capable of thinking differently.

Dead Stick Road

We ran out of tile today and I drove down to the border - to Dead Stick Road to pick up some more.
We're putting the Mexican tiles around a window in the kitchen. Nothing exceeds like excess!!
I haven't been on that road for at least a dozen years. On both sides, there are huge car lots, auto parts places, Father Joe's auction yard, stations that say they will "smog anything".  There are also plenty of storage yards, ships containers in yards used for storage and construction equipment rental places. I remember that the Mexican house wreckers who tore our house down rented equipment down there. They live in Tijuana, cross every day, rent equipment or use equipment that they keep in those storage units in Chula Vista. They didn't think it was particularly stressful or unusual to be driving that distance. One fellow who made a delivery to the house lived in Rosarita Beach. He'd drive to the DixieLine yard everyday and then get dispatched in his truck to any and all points in the County - ended up at our place one day at about 6 pm delivering doors and windows.

Dead Stick Road! What were they thinking when they named that street? It sounds so ominous my stomach was in a clench driving up to it. At the tile store, all was sunshine, smiles and good service. Pretty Mexican girls with high heels, wonderful perfume, eye make-up - the whole enchilada - were at the ready to help you find things and check you out. It was a pleasant retail experience despite the drive, the street name and the ride down Otay Mesa surrounded by huge, roaring, diesel belching trucks.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Facebook and Granite

The Facebook entries today from various young friends and family were posted in abundance.My grand nephew posts his workout times: "10K today with 8.13 negative splits". I comment: "Congratulations". I have no idea what he's talking about. However, I would know almost nothing about him if it weren't for these Facebook notes - be they ever so technical. Another friend's young son is graduating from high school and has joined the marines. My grandniece is packing up her four kids and taking them to a famous kid's museum in Las Vegas. Another niece and nephew are tweeting and Iphoning photos from their vacation in Hawaii - we've enjoyed their breakfast, lunch and dinner, snorkeling and car riding pictures. I looked at photos of a cousin-by= marriage's new baby girl and was able to comment on how beautiful she is. Our Australian friend who makes antique fringe (as in curtain fringe, drapery fringe) is in New York buying fabrics. Finally another family friend, an excellent chef, posted something interesting about dandelion greens and south african red wine. I love being able to peek into all these people's lives. I'm interested in them all, but you can't phone this many people - and they don't have time to talk to anyone individually. Facebook give you a chance for a little connection - just enough.

Our granite guy (on the left in the photo) in the middle of huffing and puffing the slabs around revealed that he is an aspiring haute couture designer. He is waiting to hear if he has been accepted at a clothing design school in Barcelona, where he interned last year - for St. John Knits. I was watching him working and marveled about the contrast between his current work material - granite, one of the heaviest substance imaginable - to feathers and silk, some of the lightest materials on the planet. Any spare time he has is spent accumulating class credits towards a BA which he hopes to acquire along with the design degree from Spain. Apparently CAD is important in that business and he is working on his skills with the program. I suppose now you can input a design and a computer will pump out the pattern in 12 sizes?? They do that with closets...you input the configuration and then feed boards into a computerized saw which cuts everything out in the most economical way.

Our island granite was installed, the sinks placed and the backsplash laid in the bathrooms. More to come tomorrow.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Boy Cats at home

The cats enjoy a rainy day once in a while. They were sharing my desk top earlier, watching the wind blowing in the trees and grooming each other. The grooming usually morphs into a tussle of some kind - it starts out as a sleepy, sweet kind of licking at each other's faces and then one bites the other's ear or pulls on a bit of hair and the battle is on. Away they fly charging up and down the stairs, ears folded back, eyes wild; they run back and forth in the long hallway so vigorously that I can hear their feet pounding. After a few minutes,  they collapse in satisfied exhaustion, just like little boys.

The clouds are moving off and blue sky is peeking through the gray.  We'll have a beautiful day tomorrow.


Earthquake!! 7.2 near Mexicali. I ran out of the house onto the deck and watched the windows rattling in their frames. My heart rate jumped up and the regrets began about having cancelled the earthquake insurance. I'm terrible in the "being prepared" department.

My sister told me to put a couple of hundred dollars in a glass jar and bury it in the yard somewhere - just in case ATM's don't work - if you have a bit of money you can get by in most situations.

Decades ago, I worked with an accountant who'd survived a prison camp in Poland. He'd been snatched off a University campus and swept up with dissidents, then languished in the camp for months. Because of this experience, he had gold coins sewn into his belt which he wore everyday to the job in Santa Fe Springs and he advised all of his co-workers that we should have a personal stash on ourselves at all times  - perhaps a piece of valuable jewelry.  He knew personally the difference a few shekels could make.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Clapshot or Minus the Haggis

My husband does the grocery shopping. He likes his daily trip to the market and enjoys bringing home the bacon. Like a contest on one of the TV cooking shows, he brings home stuff and I figure out what to do with it. Sometimes the combinations he selects are splendid; other times more challenging. Today in a surge of Scottishness, he bought chicken thighs and rutabagas. Hmmm.

We eat rutabaga mashed with a little cream every once in a while but I don't know much about it. I thought I'd look up it's CV.

The rutabaga is a root vegetable that originated as a cross between the cabbage and the turnip. Prior to pumpkins being readily available in the UK and Ireland, swedes, as they were called were hollowed out and carved with faces to make lanterns for Halloween. Often called “jack o’lanterns”, or “tumshie lanterns” in Scotland, they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul!

In Germany, they were the food of last resort in the winter of 1916-17. Large parts of the population lived on rutabaga and little else. They came to be known as famine food and have still retained this bad reputation. In France, they are enjoying a moment in the sun and being used in inventive ways - such as cream soups, french fries and the like. The Scots have traditionally used them with potatoes in something called Clapshot which is originally from the Orkney Islands. They serve it with all kinds of foods, but it is a traditional accompaniment to the dreaded Haggis.

A mouth-watering excerpt from a recipe for Haggis and Clapshot:

"To serve, slit the haggis down the middle and spoon the gushing entrails on to warmed plates with the clapshot and a wee dram or two." From a recipe by Sue Lawrence in Scots Cooking

A wee dram?? - are they kidding. I'd have to drink until brain-dead and starve for a week, before "gushing entrails" had any appeal.

Even though Clapshot sounds suspiciously like a venereal disease, we'll try it minus the Haggis.

The thighs we can bake with onions, a bit of wine and some mushrooms I have left over.

A Haggis-inspired poem:

What's on the menu 
at this special venue?
 He asked his dear wife
at the risk of his life.

"It's 'Minus the Haggis'
I don't want to gag us."
 She said with a choke
back to her Scottish bloke.

What wine to drink with the Clapshot?

Postscript: The Clapshot was excellent - not a bit disease-like and the grilled chicken thighs with mushrooms, while not an optimum accompaniment, were serviceable - particularly when you keep in mind the gushing entrails they replaced on the plate. 

Sepia Saturday April 3rd- The Bridesmaid and the Brat

A weekday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley (a suburb of Los Angeles) and my mother-in-law was cleaning her house. The doorbell rang; it was a door-to-door photo salesman. The year was 1940 and the streets were crawling with door-to-door salesmen peddling vacuum cleaners, Fuller brushes, encyclopedias, Avon products, cookware and household gadgets. The fruit man, ice man, milk man and dry cleaners had regular routes.  Most housewives didn't have cars so the stores travelled to the customers. People weren't afraid to open their doors to strangers and invite them in.

Patty changed into the dress she'd recently worn as bridesmaid at her sister's wedding and tried to pose glamorously for her portrait but my husband, a pesky toddler, wouldn't leave her alone. Frustrated, she plunked him on her lap and the photographer took this shot. The photographer didn't care about how goofy Richard looked - he was focused on Patty. That's how they became the bridesmaid and the brat.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dinner with Fran

Visited Fran last night over at the Elder Housing place where she lives in Carlsbad. The facility is gorgeous and the views magnificent. She can walk out the door and wander around Carlsbad which is not a bad place for wandering. Everything is at her fingertips and she's right on the beach. As she has a 2 bedroom 2 bath place with 1800 square feet, she's hardly crowded. She invited us to dine with her in the dining room where the specials of the evening included swordfish, balsamic glazed chicken thighs, Cobb salad, and every night, if the specials don't interest you, you can order a filet or a piece of salmon, done any way. The dining room is nicely appointed with linens, excellent china and glassware. It's a class act.

We talked with the dining room manager who spoke about managing food in that kind of environment. He can really offer anything he wants, he says, because the budget is so generous. A huge waste factor is built in because they can't predict dining room attendance on any given night except then they offer hot dogs, fried chicken or roast turkey - then it's "wall to wall" as he described it. I wonder why they don't have them on the menu as alternates all the time? Last night he said they would have 20 portions of the balsamic chicken thighs left over  and they would go to a battered women's shelter nearby. Very smart. I'm sure the wealthy residents like that fact and certainly the battered women would appreciate it. A great strategy for locating such a home - next to an upscale senior living complex. The only complaint I had with the meal we were served is the dismal salad bar. In all fairness I don't like salad bars and this one has a particularly school- lunch- like-feeling to it, jammed up against the wall with wierd lighting. That could be changed by putting a round station mid-room for the thing and lighting it correctly.

The food service manager told us that 20% of the residents eat take-out food - as he put it, they eat out of a styrofoam box, so the dining room appointments are completely lost on them. I wonder if they get more complaints per capita from this segment of the residents than from those who dress up, get moving and experience the dining room china, linen and service. What would it be like to sit eating alone in that room? Fran doesn't do it - she goes with a group or eats in her place, which has a full kitchen and dining room. She orders the soup with her meals but has it to go and eats if for lunch the next day. They serve the cookies wrapped up in plastic wrap - probably most of the residents eat this treat a little later in the evening.

Because the dining room is almost funereal - we could hear (even me) an odd squeaking sound near the end of our meal. It was the lonely sound of a bus boy operating a crumb machine on the other side of the room. The room emptied out by 8 pm, the lights had dimmed and I guess you'd say we closed the joint,
laughing too loud,swilling two bottles of wine, one of which was a Two Buck Chuck, 2001 Shiraz which Fran pulled out of a closet and dusted off. Pre-dinner, she served us a plate of Nick's favorite Graber Olives and gave me a can as a door prize. She always apologizes that it's Flossie's night off and so we'll have to make do without someone to pick up our olive pits and refill the wine. It's her old joke and we always enjoy it.

The place has a great pool and a marvelous gym. Interesting classes are offered and there are clubs organized for bridge and various hobbies, like model airplane building. We met one of her neighbors, bent over double with Paget's disease, who was on his way to bowling (WIFI) and another  nice lady walking the halls with her tiny teacup dog, who had a prime spot on the top of the walker which he'd hop on and off of. Nice people who seemed very complimentary of Fran.

But, it's still, in the final analysis, an old fogies place with a feeling that the credits are going start rolling any minute; an aura of  "the end" hanging heavy in the air. You "fly up" in the place, starting out on your own; when you need it you move "up" to assisted living and you move to the top floor when you
need full time nursing care. All the heads are white or grey, the ladies have cardigans buttoned up to the neck with kleenex stuffed up the sleeves; half the people are using walkers and the other half are shuffling; none of the lipstick is on straight. No mothball and denture glue smells - but there's a multiplier mood effect of some kind in an environment like this. If you have one neighbor in a walker and another going to kindergarten, things even out. When everyone's in kindergarten or everyone's in walkers, things change. The karma tips. Both situations are artificial. People are meant to be mixed up together with the old benefiting from the enthusiasm and energy of the young and the young benefiting from the maturity and steadiness of the old. Our Philippino relatives have this kind of arrangement - grandparents take care of the kids and I guess it'll be vice-versa when the GP's need it - not on the horizon for a long time. I grew up with lots of aged relatives in my life - the nest of aunts I saw every Sunday and my grandparents who lived within walking distance of our home. These quiet, musty old homes (everything in it's place - doilies on the chair backs, a rocking chair, grandfather clock, bible on the mantle) were havens from my school yard squabbles, hormone swings, teenage angst; they were also cheering sections for the little successes of life.

April Fools Day with Elton John?

Looking over some old pictures with my friend Len, we were plumbing the depths of our memories to come up with names for this "kids on the street" photo taken in Winnipeg, Canada. Len realized like a bolt from the blue that the second kid, is Elton John! Apparently even at a young age, he wore his trademark glasses. What in the world was he doing in Winnipeg? It must have been an April Fools day