How an Old Chihuahua Stole My Heart

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Just this past winter our buddy Norm asked if we could feed his three cats while he and his daughter went away for 12 days. Sure, no problem, have a great time. Then the day before they left, Norm called to ask if we could also feed his ex-wife’s dog. Otherwise, as Norm put it, “I’ll have to leave him in the garage all day with the cats.” Animal abuse was the first thing that came to my mind. Cats are one thing, they’re kind of naturally independent, whereas dogs are more like people; they can’t be fed and then left alone all day, they need human companionship too much. “Oh yeah,” Norm continued, “We also have a parrot and two fish tanks.” “Oh, okay,” was my husband’s kind reply. “The more the merrier!” I’m afraid my response to the situation was less gracious.

You see, I would be doing the feeding and the watering and the walking and the visiting, not my sweetie. He has a job, while I have become a homemaker by proxy. This makes me available for all sorts of odd tasks. It’s all good, the dog’s name is PT, he’s an ancient Chihuahua with a 2.54 centimeter black tumor in-between his eyes and foul breath. When we arrived the first morning and opened the kitchen door that led to the garage, PT sprang out rather stiffly with his feline brothers and sisters thinking we were his family. After realizing we were strangers, he showed us his yellow fangs and stood his ground near the front door. I tried talking to him sweetly but he snapped at me, twice. When he did this my husband picked him up, held him close and tugged his neck skin while saying, “Hey, PT, it’s okay,” in a kind, but very alpha-male tone of voice. Just like that, PT was fine. While he was doing his “business” out back, Tony and I straightened up the garage (I forgot how rank cat boxes are!), fed the cats, the parrot and the fishes, then we let PT back in, fed him and left. Later that afternoon I was to come by to take PT for a walk, but to be honest, my first impression of him was not great.

When I opened the front door at around noon everyone greeted me: The parrot screeched like crazy, the cats meowed and swirled around my feet, even the fish splashed about at the tops of their tanks. PT, however, was sitting in the middle of the living room looking away nervously. “Hi PT!” I chirped. He didn’t move. As I approached him I heard a guttural growl, much stronger than I ever imagined could come from such a little dog. I tried my husband’s trick – using an alpha-male tone of voice, but it came out too deep and he lunged towards me with all his might. Shocked by his response, I fell over one of the cats and landed on my butt. “PT!” I protested, but instead of keeping his distance, he came in for the kill. As I sat there holding myself up with my hands, watching to see what he’d do, I started laughing. Then he bit my finger. It wasn’t a very hard bite, but it surprised me. That’s when I pulled the bacon out of my pocket.

For lunch I’d made a BLTA sandwich and saved the bacon crumbs in a paper towel, specifically for PT. I had a feeling the lack of Tony’s presence was going to give him airs, and it did. The power of bacon never ceases to amaze me. It can awaken a snoring household from the deepest slumber, bring a smile to a hungry man’s face, and appease the most disgruntled animal. Within minutes PT was my best friend, and we were to have the greatest 12 days together.

On our first walk PT showed me all his haunts, which were many, but the best was an abandoned field about three blocks from his domicile. This field had fewer trees than the rest of the neighborhood, which gave one a birds-eye view of the Pacific Ocean and the tiny houses below. After a long pause at this spot I tried to continue our walk, but PT’s little skeletal frame fought my tug relentlessly. He must have liked the sunshine, or perhaps the view, so I sat down on the grass and put PT in my lap. Together we watched the fishing boats float past and various wild animals do their routine. All the while, the sun’s rays beat down on us and we soaked it in graciously. We were to perform this little ritual every day, unless it was raining. On those days PT didn’t really want to walk, so he’d do his “biz” out back, then we’d sit together in a heavily padded swivel chair. I would either read my book or write in my laptop and he would curl up next to my hip and groom himself. That’s when I noticed how stinky he was.

Unfortunately PT’s missing several teeth, and the ones he has are on their way out, so his breath is pretty foul. Grooming himself merely spreads the funk all over this coat like butter. When Tony came home from work, I asked him to assist me in giving PT a bath. After all, I wasn’t sure how the old dude would react, but I was pretty sure soap and water were a foreign concept to him. I needed Tony to hold while I lathered. Surprisingly, PT took it well. It probably felt good! After we blow-dried him completely (Didn’t want him to catch cold), we set him down on the floor and to our surprise he danced around as if to Haircut 100’s Boy Meets Girl! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2cat4kykzI It was awesome.

Since Norm doesn’t live too far from us, I stopped by to visit PT and his siblings quite a bit – three, sometimes four times a day. It was kind of fun over there with all those creatures. I didn’t know the names of the cats, so I gave them my own: There was Cry Baby, a corpulent, light orange tabby with a tear duct issue. Fats, a podgy black cat with tiny eyes and a skittish nature, and Tiger, a silver tabby who ran from Tony as if from the Plague, but loved me. Every night Tiger cleverly eluded us by hiding behind one of the gigantic fish tanks, which meant he never had to sleep in the garage with the others. PT and Cry Baby were very simpatico. They rolled around together a lot, and PT would let the cat bite him rather hard on his neck. Fats didn’t like anyone, and she was always hungry (of course); she’d even eat PT’s food if I didn’t watch her. The fishes were…fishy, not a lot of personality there, and their tanks made the whole house swampy, which I think pleased the parrot.

The parrot was the only creature that drove me nuts. He was loud, he bit, and he repetitively “dominated” his wooden ladder while I was there. It was disturbing. Plus, he liked the door to his iron cage open, so he could jump down amongst the cats. That was a bit nerve-wracking, watching three felines circle him like prey, but Norm said not to worry about it, so I didn’t. Actually, I was secretly hoping they’d eat him while I was gone, but each morning he screeched at me at the top of his lungs until I fed him or sprayed him with water. He liked that.

Through it all, PT remained his same congenial self, and I honestly began looking forward to our time together each day. It was like hanging out with a seasoned, elderly man – they always make you feel welcome and the conversation is great. When the day came for me to relinquish my duties it was with a sad heart. What started out as a burden had become a complete joy. It’s funny how attached we become to these furry little creatures, and I don’t even like Chihuahuas.

About three weeks after Norm returned from his trip, Tony stopped by his house to fix something on his motorcycle. I thought I’d tag along. Of course Tony knew that I wanted to see PT. As we walked into the open garage, and before Norm could say a word, I asked, “Where’s PT?”

“Who? Oh, Petey? Uh, he’s outside in his house I guess.” Norm said. Petey! Oops. I gave Tony a reproachful glance and he shrugged innocently – PT/Peetie, same thing. After saying hello to Norm’s daughter, I opened the back door to see the little dude. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but the moment we clamped eyes on each other he did his little Boy Meets Girl dance and ran towards me. It goes to show, you can’t always trust first impressions.

Sleeping With Electronics

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Just…one…more…search.
photo courtesy of foxnomad.com

I’m going to admit something that I’m not very proud of. For the past three nights I’ve been sleeping with my laptop, and my cellular phone.  Both items have been accompanying me to bed every night while I’m away from home and my sweet husband. I guess you can say these two electronic devices are similar to those very special friends that you don’t see very often, but when you do, you easily pick-up where you left off. Usually when I’m home my laptop sits coldly on the kitchen table, and my cell phone is dead somewhere in a long forgotten jacket. The moment I leave home however, I treat them with the utmost respect, making sure they are properly charged and sleeping snugly on the pillow next to me. Fickle woman.

My cousin LOVES her iPhone possibly more than good wine, good conversation, and our Elvis Christmas album. Could this happen to me?

Now, perhaps if I had an iPhone, I wouldn’t be so hot and cold, but I’m terrified of getting one. I think I’m afraid I’ll become obsessed with it and turn into one of those people who are constantly taking pictures of humorous labels at the grocery store. Gasp. Still, deep down inside I know that one day I’ll cave. I did with the DVD player. Of course, it took me years to accept this electronic device, because I was happy with VHS, still am. I see very little difference in picture quality and sound, and we watch a lot of movies. A good story is a good story, no matter how you dress it up or present it on the screen. For example, I can watch The Maltese Falcon on VHS and I’m instantly enthralled. Watch it on DVD and I’m just as caught-up by the story, not the clarity. Then again, I am due to have my eyes checked. It’s been three years.

Remember those 80s mixed tapes? Yes, I still listen to mine. photo courtesy of broken20.com

Frankly, I’m grateful to be with a man who doesn’t take stock in such things as DVDs and gigantic TVs. Still, I’ll never forget my husband’s face when he opened his Christmas present in 2001 – a new Sony DVD/VHS player and a Sony 19” screen TV – he was ecstatic. Little did I realize the consequences of my actions, as ever so slowly we started replacing our perfectly good VHS tapes with DVDs. Next thing we’ll be expected to replace our DVDs with BluRay, then BluRay will be replaced by something else. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t give, but takes: your time, your money and the environment by storm.

A mountain of VHS tapes. Photo courtesy of treehugger.com.

Landfill – which once swallowed up vinyl records, then 8-track tapes, then cassette tapes – is sighing, as it swallows up VHS players, VHS tapes and CDs. And what about Don Johnson’s cell phone and the millions like it? Or Samsung phones. Landfill. Wow, I’m ranting now. What’s my point? Oh yeah, that one day I’ll cave in and get an iPhone, and truthfully? I can’t wait! Gasp.

Will Work For Butter

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In my very first post I mentioned how the transition from working girl to housewife/artist/property manager has been a strange, yet surprisingly easy one. Well, it’s still a bit strange. I think perhaps it’s because the farmer’s market is closed for the winter, so I’m not busy creating culinary delights for my townsfolk anymore. I miss my customers and the amazing people I worked alongside with – Julie, Sylvia, Michael, Linda, and Virgil. But mostly I miss the learning. Baking for the market was a bit like attending my very own private culinary school. Days before the market, I would read and re-read complex recipes, pour over countless cookbooks, including Linda Dannenberg’s fabulous book – Paris Boulangerie Patisserie – Recipes from Thirteen Outstanding French Bakeries, and plan-out my menu.

When I was living in the city and working 9-5, I never had the time to sharpen my gastronomic skills nor the proclivity to master such delicacies as Bouchons (chocolate “corks”), Croissants aux Amandes (almond-filled croissants), Tarte Normande (apple and custart tart), Gougeres (giant gruyere cheese puffs), Sables a’ l’Orange et Raisins (orange and raisin cookies), Tartes aux Framboises (raspberry tartletts with pastry cream), Coco au Miel (coconut-honey cakes), pizza dough, ham and Gruyere bread, my grandma Davis’s apple pie – or piecrust for that matter. The five months I spent working for the market has been an invaluable education that has not only opened the door to my culinary imagination, and shown me tangible ways in which I can make a little cash. It has made me realize how very blessed I am to have such opportunities as these.

Women gardening. Courtesy of oldpictures.com

Another blessing the transition from city life to rural bliss has uncovered is the opportunity to volunteer. For a few months after the market ended, I was volunteering for my friend Linda on her farm. What a joy! I’m looking forward to helping her harvest potatoes, garlic and more when spring approaches. Then, these past few months I’ve been volunteering at St. Timothy soup kitchen. Curiously it was my sweet, unbelieving friend Linda who told me about St. Tim’s. When I asked her if she knew of ways in which the community was helping its low income and homeless population, she said that St. Timothy’s was the first church (out of ~27 in town) to start a soup kitchen. Then shortly thereafter, six other churches stepped-up to the plate and started their own programs. So now the city of Brookings, OR offers one good meal every day of the week for those in need. It’s a good start.

My buddy Linda also told me about The Gospel Outreach Mission, which is where people may buy donated clothing and small pieces of furniture – for cheap. Growing up, I remember my mom and grandma used to shop at St. Vincent de Paul’s in Oakland, procuring a lamp, a couch, end tables. Then when I was a teenager my friends and I used to hit St. Vincent’s, for vintage dresses and men’s wool pants to wear with our Doc Martins. I never realized it was generational, but for the past 20 years I’ve been donating to St. Vincent de Paul’s. Then we moved to this little seaside town.

So now it’s The Mission on HWY 101 that gets all our stuff. When I dropped-off my first donation I asked the man there, Mario, if he knew about St. Timothy’s. “They have THE BEST meals.” He said, straight-faced. “How does one go about volunteering?” I had no idea how to get in the door, and couldn’t imagine they would “hire” me based on my enthusiasm. He told me to ask for Carla. The next week I did just that, my husband came with me and we scoped it out.

What an amazing smile Carla has, it’s so big and welcoming, I knew I was on the right path. My first day volunteering I arrived at 9am sharp. I think Ron, the director of the soup kitchen, could see I was very eager to help, so he didn’t have the heart to turn me away, even though I couldn’t remember Carla’s name and I called Mario, Martin. Still, he gave me the rundown, then he gave me the task of setting up tables and chairs, “Which is normally Rich’s job.” When Rich arrived he quietly fixed what I’d done, then I got to work on the salad, “Which is normally Angell’s job.” When Angell arrived she kindly let me continue making the salad, even though I asked, “Where are the band-aids?” After I bandaged my finger as discretely as possible and put on a plastic glove for good measure, I blurted out, “You know if you want I can bake. I bake for the farmer’s market.” What was I thinking? “Oh really!” Rich said excitedly. Ron looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I would like to use-up the frozen pears and peaches that I have in the storeroom. How about you make something next week?” “Great!” I chirped. Talk about exciting, my hands were itching to be covered in butter and flour once again.

1912 photo courtesy of thesisterproject.com

When I left the soup kitchen that day I came straight home and perused my cookbooks for a good fruit crisp recipe, but only came up with pie recipes. Two days later, I found an old crumpled up card in my recipe box for a fruit crisp that sounded good because it used freshly grated lemon and orange rind, only it served 8. I needed a recipe for 100! I’ll just multiply everything by twelve I thought, that makes sense. Ha!

The morning I was to make my crisp for the soup kitchen, I felt like I did on finals day at UC Berkeley, scared but hopeful. “Today I’m going to make the biggest dessert I’ve ever attempted, so step back, and say a prayer!” I told my husband. When I arrived at St. Tim’s, Ron had faithfully purchased everything I asked for, except I brought the old-fashioned oats. I wanted to make a small donation just in case it was a flop. Plus, I grated the lemon and orange rind at home to save time since I wasn’t sure how long this dish was going to take from start to finish.

After I’d opened and drained ten gigantic cans of sliced peaches and thawed about ten cups of chopped pear, I realized this project was bigger than I’d imagined. Still, I kept my cool and continued working, even when Rich, John and Ira began needling me about the gargantuan mound of chopped butter I was enthusiastically trying to incorporate into the topping ingredients. “Julia would be proud!” Rich said, patting me on the back, “You should have a sign on your back – Will Work For Butter. HA HA HA!” I had to laugh. It was a ridiculous amount of animal fat. “I only use butter when baking.” I informed them. “It’s easier to digest, it’s better for you than margarine, plus butter makes everything taste good!” I said, half-joking. Thing is, six pounds of cold butter is hard to handle, so Ron came over and helped me with the final mixing, and then I spooned the fruit into the three metal pans I was given. After sprinkling each dish with the topping, I noticed two of the pans were shallow indeed. I’m sure you can guess what happened.

photo courtesy of vrchristensen.com

As the topping began to melt in the ovens, the pans began to overflow, and burning butter = smoke, lots and lots of smoke.  Before you could say, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, all the kitchen staff were outside coughing and gasping for breath, and I was left virtually alone to ladle off the excess butter, which floated on top of each pan like a golden pool. When Angell arrived I told her what had happened and she miraculously fitted higher sides to the pans using tinfoil. Ingenious woman! Once the excess butter was removed and the higher sides were in place, I went to put the pans back into the ovens to continue baking. When I opened the oven door, I got hit in the face with so much smoke it scorched my eyeballs in their sockets. I almost dropped the pan but somehow slid it in safely. That’s when the ovens plotted their revenge against me.

Due to high heat, the ill-fitted racks began to shrink and fall down. Each time I pulled out the pans to spoon or blot off the excess butter I had to very gingerly place the pans back on the racks, otherwise they would fall. Talk about nerve wracking. On top of this, I had to endure a Monday morning quarterback from another soup kitchen, whose remarks were rather trying. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? How long have you been volunteering here? You should have known better than multiplying the quantity of butter.” It went on and on. All I kept thinking was, “What would Jesus do, what would Jesus do,” so I took it on the cheek and kept working. He went away eventually, when he did Ron said, “Lady, you’ve got rhinoceros skin.” “I can take it,” I said feigning a smile. “My pride is completely squashed, and I just want you to know that it was really nice knowing you all, since after today you’re no longer going to want me here.” He just laughed and patted me on the shoulder. Luckily, by the time our patrons started to arrive, the smoke had cleared and people began commenting, “Wow, that smells good.” Carla said it smelled like caramel, which makes sense as the ovens had just burned off enough butter and sugar to make a pound of caramels.

This is not the actual crisp, but it looks a lot like it! Photo courtesy of fromsmilerwithlove.com

It’s amazing how something so catastrophic can turn out ok. God was merciful; my crisp was a hit. My husband, who came to see me on his day off (he got a BIG hug from me), sat with Ron for a bit and all he heard from our patrons was, “Great dessert.” “The best dessert they’ve ever served.” “It’s called a crisp, a crisp! Amazing.” Praise indeed. A woman who works in the free clinic even asked me to e-mail her the recipe, so she could make it for her family.

Can you believe that even after this drama, Ron still wants me to volunteer? Of course I get the occasional poke from my fellow kitchen staff, “Got Butter Katherine?” “This needs more butter, don’t you think Katherine?” “Don’t forget the unsalted butter!” But it’s always followed-up with praise for my “amazing crisp.”

I feel so blessed to be volunteering at St. Timothy’s. Not only do I get to help those in need; I get to wet my culinary whistle every week, and I’ve found an amazing group of people who enjoy volunteering as much as I do. Let’s see, I’ve made chicken pot pie, spaghetti Bolognese, rice pudding, tapioca, herbed hard rolls, lots of salad; and this week I will be making bread pudding, which will require the ovens, so cross your fingers!

Flying in the Millennium, Scotland and England and France OH MY! Part II

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Photo courtesy of favim.com

When I was a teenager I used to drive to the Oakland airport with my best friend, Mama Dog. She and I would sit in the hatchback of my Ford Fiesta and watch the planes take-off for hours. It was a great escape, dreaming of all the places we would go and all the wonderful things we would see. To this day I still find it thrilling to go to the airport, even if it’s just to pick-up a friend. Of course the rules have changed considerably over the years. I’m not sure if it’s allowed to watch the planes take off from the airport anymore, with all the added security risks. Prior to this trip three years ago, the last time Tony and I flew the friendly skies was in 1996, pre 9/11/01 (God rest their souls). In ’96, it took less than one hour to board an international flight, and the thought of taking your shoes off at check-in was unconscionable.

To be sure, flying was much more dignified back then. For one thing, it was all about YOUR comfort. I remember after being in France for two weeks we were so excited to be going home, that we arrived at the airport in Paris two hours earlier than expected. We were told the x-ray machines were not yet heated up so…they didn’t bother x-raying our bags. Why make us wait? My husband was especially glad this happened since he secretly stashed a bunch of “novelty” switchblades in my luggage. “After all, they’re less likely to check your bags than mine,” he reasoned.

No wonder. Now it was 2009 and things have changed A LOT. For one thing, I was told to pack all of my toiletries inside of my checked luggage and not my carry-on bag. “But I always wash-up before I land.” I protested. I’ll need my Neutrogena face soap, toner, face cream, eye cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, and then there’s my hair smoothing cream. “Whatever happened to looking glamorous on the plane?” I asked. I was told to forgo all that and to be prepared to strip for security.

The day before we left for Scotland, I nervously perused the TSA website (Transportation Security Administration), and became vaguely familiar with a confusing concept, simply named 3-1-1. In short, every (1) passenger is allowed to bring a (1) quart-size zip-top bag stuffed with containers that hold (3) ounces or less. So really it should be called 1-1-3, but that’s just me. Actually, I was happy to finally use the dozens of adorable little bottles I’d saved over the years.

Still, there were certain aspects of air travel that I was not prepared for in the millennium, namely the smell of fear and foot odor. Not to mention walking though various metal detectors barefoot is just gross. Plus, I’ll admit that I slowed down the line more than a little, when the TSA girl told me I was not allowed to bring my Cal water bottle onboard. And I’ll further admit that I let out a rather audible moan escape my lips when I was told to throw it in the trash. Other than that however, I breezed through the metal detector virtually unscathed.

My husband was another story. The man is a harbinger of metal. After several failed attempts to walk through the metal detector, a serious-looking man in a red suit told him to stand still while he slowly ran a wand all over his body, and finally to his neck, where his Saint Christopher hung. I could see my husband’s hands shaking slightly, as he pulled the chain over his head and placed it into the receptacle provided. My poor honey! I thought, and instinctually wanted to run to his side, but I was being pushed forward by the lady with stinky feet behind me; she could care less about anyone’s feelings.

Surviving check-in was nothing compared to our flight, which lasted roughly 26 hours. Our engine warmer failed, so we were forced to change planes twice in New Jersey. Fine with me I thought, better that than plunging into the sea at 500mph. Walking around the airport at 2am was eerie, with all the concession stands closed and the lights at half power, but it was fun too. As the other passengers walked around each other in circles like zombies, Tony and I explored. We found a nice restroom where we could freshen-up, and then we looked at overpriced sunglasses through brightly lit cases and laughed about our trip thus far. Re-boarding was also comical because everyone was cranky and looked a fright, except the flight attendants. They were very patient and treated us like kind zookeepers, giving us an extra meal and free drink tickets. Hooray! Normally, I’d rather starve than eat airplane food, but on this occasion I found myself willingly eating a curious chicken dish and washing it down with Jameson. Within minutes, I was a happy little monkey.

Photo courtesy of damncoolpictures.com

After the lights dimmed and the same movie came on for the third time, my husband, who’s been trained to sleep standing, was snoring while I gabbed with a lady across the isle. She was on her way home and gladly told me where to go and what to see in Scotland. She even drew me a map! We were to encounter this several times in the Land of Tartan. The Scots are very helpful, friendly people. Later, I was to discover they also had one of the most generous breakfasts in the world: eggs, gigantic pieces of bacon, a variety of freshly made breads to make toast, steel-cut oats, coffees, teas, orange juice and of course haggis – something I had to try but ended up avoiding like the plague. Everywhere we stayed, in both Scotland and England offered an amazing spread. This was especially appreciated by me since I wake up so hungry, I could eat a wagon wheel. When we finally landed in Scotland’s capital, I was aching from head to toe and starving, of course. But as usual, excitement overrode my basis instincts, and I bounded off the plane after giving a hearty “thank you” to our flight attendants.

They say life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Even thought this trip was to be an unplanned extravaganza, I did plan for our first night in Edinburgh. I really didn’t want to roam around the city looking like Día de los Muertos trying to find a place to rest my frizzy head. I wish I’d planned our first night in Paris too, but that gruesome story comes later. When we arrived in Edinburgh and at the Old Waverley Hotel (great place in the heart of downtown, but not for you light sleepers), I wanted to sleep so badly, but we’d learned our lesson years ago to adapt to the new time zone AT ALL COST. So, after cleaning up we tripped around the Royal Mile, where I saw my very first red telephone booth. Maybe I was delirious from lack of sleep, but it was thrilling.

After eating Italian (odd choice), and a full day exploring Edinburgh on foot, we finally collapsed in our hotel room and slept like babies. Until around midnight. Sometimes jet-lag isn’t all that bad…

A Man of the World and a Woman Who Can Pull Her Own Weight – Scotland and England and France Oh My! Part I

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Courtesy of peteswickedtravels.com

Three years ago, my sweet husband and I decided to save our dough and take a big trip. I’m talking huge. Unlike the time we flew out of OAK (Oakland, CA) to Charles de Gaulle (Paris), then CDG back to OAK; I wanted a real planes, trains and automobiles vacation. So, after months of discussion we decided to fly into Edinburgh, Scotland and out of the most romantic city in the world, Paris. Everything in-between would be an adventure, no plans whatsoever. A tall order to be sure, but we had almost three weeks to roam and the money to do it this time.

The last time we vacationed in Europe was in 1996. We were just two crazy kids flitting around France for our 1-year wedding anniversary. And although the exchange rate was 5 francs to the dollar, as newlyweds, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together and ended up running out of money halfway through our trip. Of course a big chunk went towards the Corsair charter, but upon arrival we were shocked to discover that we had roughly 400 francs a day to live on, about 80 bucks American. After finding a cheap hotel at 250f a night we survived solely on crepes, spaghetti Bolognese at Don Vito’s, and love. Luckily Tony’s father, my new father-in-law, was kind enough to pay for our stay at the Hotel Studia, a great find on 51 Boulevard Saint-Germain (it’s still there; a little run-down now). Without his help it would have been another kind of trip indeed. Now we were able to afford the Metro, a day at the Louvre Museum, Monet’s Gardens in Genevieve and the extravagant train ride to Rouen, in northern France, where my husband spent lonely summers as a boy.

My husband in Rouen, France circa 1987.

What a life changing trip that was for me, not to mention my first experience outside of Les États-Unis. My husband on the other hand is a man of the world. As a young lad he lived with his mother nine months out of the year, and his father during the summer. He was just seven years old when he first took a plane all by himself, to see his dad in Santa Barbara. By the time he was fourteen he was taking trips to Rouen, France, making eyes at the stewardesses, getting free Coca-Colas and peanuts.

Traveling at a young age certainly has lasting effects on a person. One thing I have always admired about my husband is his confidence. He is truly comfortable in his own skin. We can be anywhere, from the shadiest barbecue joint in Oakland to the swankiest restaurant in Paris, and he blends. While I’m awkwardly figuring out which fork to use for my salad, Tony is sitting with his back to the wall, gazing around, taking it all in. Then he’ll flash me a look and say something that melts my backbone, putting me at complete ease.

The ability to enjoy the moment and go with the flow is a wonderful trait to adopt in life, and when traveling it’s a necessity. Three weeks before our daring trip Tony, my girlfriend Evelyn and I went out to dinner at Lanesplitter’s. Over pizza and beer Ev announced that she too was going to be in Paris around the same week as us, and wanted to know if we could meet-up with her before we flew home. She had just ended an eleven-year relationship with a man I never really liked, except he had good taste in music and was a good dancer. Unfortunately, their break-up was more akin to a divorce. When it was officially over Ev was exhausted, emotionally, and wanted to do something spontaneous and fun. I warned her that our plans were not set in stone, but of course we would meet her! It was thrilling to think of the three of us in Paris, even if it was for only one or two nights.

Edinburgh Train Station. Heading to Inverness, Scotland.

Sometimes when you plan a big trip, it all seems so far away and dream-like. With Ev’s announcement things were starting to become exciting, and REAL. Two weeks before leaving, Tony and I had a serious discussion about luggage. In the softest, most democratic way he told me his one fear; that he would be left to carry the bags, or all of MY bags. Normally, I take three: my purse, an extra large duffle bag for my clothes, and a backpack for our arsenal of toiletries. Since we were planning to jump on and off trains, possibly travel by car through England, then take the Eurail from London to Paris, we needed to strategize. He opted for a long, OD green Army duffle bag from the surplus store. I, on the other hand, strategically chose a red roller by Sherpani that had secret zippers on the sides. When unzipped, it resembled a pregnant ladybug. C’est parfait!

The night before we left Alameda, California for Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bur-ah), Scotland I spent two hours packing and unpacking to no avail. I was new at putting everything in one bag! I called Ev, and she came over and showed me how to roll-up everything. By the end, my ladybug looked like she was smuggling colorful tortillas from Ramiro’s, but everything fit. “Won’t the inspection people just undo our rolls and throw everything back?” I was proud of our pack job, and yet resented the amount of time it took. “Who cares.” Ev said, “You’re going to Europe!” “See you in Paris.” I said, then we both screamed like 12-year-old girls.

Sensible shoes and a not so sensible bag. Lesson learned. Inverness, Scotland.

Right before we hit the hay, Tony and I made a practice run – he with his bag and me with mine. I must admit it was difficult. After clumsily rolling my suitcase down 40 stairs, out to the car, then swinging it into the trunk without any assistance from Tony, I was sweating bricks. I decided I needed to lighten the load. So, I went back inside the house and removed 6 sweaters, 5 pairs of pants, 2 jackets, 4 skirts, 9 shirts and one pair of boots.

As I drifted off to sleep, I remembered how I almost froze to death the first time I was in France, in October circa 1996. “Maybe it won’t be so…cold…this time in October.” I yawned. “No matter.” Tony whispered back. “We’re going to have a great adventure…together.” Boy was he right.

Pretty Feet

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As I get older, I’m noticing more and more physical similarities between my immediate family and myself. Our feet for example. We all have almost the exact same feet: Toes evenly proportioned, our second toe is not longer than our big toe, our nails are thin and delicate and perfectly cover the tip of each phalange. Our feet, when properly manicured (which rarely happens) could quite possibly be model feet for a lovely pair of open toe heels, or flip-flops on the beach. There are no webbed toes among us, which is one of the attributes I adore about my husband’s own feet. (I secretly think they have something to do with why he’s such a good swimmer.)

It was my husband who first said I had pretty feet. I was 25 years old, and on the phone with my sister. While jabbering away Tony was playing with my feet and toes. As I playfully kicked him off he said, “You have beautiful feet.” I smiled at him and then intentionally looked at my feet, perhaps for the first time. Hmmm, I shook my head and shrugged. I saw nothing special. So what did he do? He gently placed a match between my toes and lit it. Smilingly, we both watched it burn. As I listened to my sister on the phone, I half-thought, “He’ll blow it out.” But when the flame reached my skin I reflexively flung the phone and kicked up my foot. He jumped in surprise as much as I did. “Why?!” I asked him – half shocked, half laughing. Hot Foot was the term I think he used. He honestly thought I’d shakeout the match before it burned me. Some joke. I was laughing when I told my sister what had happened. She was quiet. Silly newlyweds, she probably thought.

When my sister and I were growing up, our mother always walked around barefoot, she still does. In fact, I remember my mom more out of shoes than in them, and she has a lot of shoes. I think because it was so normal to see our maternal figure walk in and out of the house barefoot, my siblings and I did the same. In fact, our whole clan walks around barefoot. “Bunch of Okies,” my grandma would say, then she’d fling off her own shoes. She was after all, the original Okie who migrated from Chickasaw, Oklahoma to Oakland, California in 1944.

More recently, I was at my brother’s house to meet his new baby – my niece, Julia. While admiring petit Julia’s adorable little smile, she dropped her blanket. Stooping down to pick it up, I saw my brother’s bare feet casually resting on the sandstone of his pool area. As I nonchalantly gazed at his feet and then mine, I realized for the first time that we have the same feet – only his are bigger and male. Where my feet are soft and supple his are a bit rougher, harrier and more tanned. Let me tell you – he has got some handsome feet! I almost laughed out loud, but resumed admiring Julia instead. Right now you’re probably thing, what in the world are you talking about!?

Honestly, I think over the years I have become so different from my family that I am unconsciously looking for similarities. This may sound sad, but it’s not. I love my family, each and every one. They’re a special bunch and I can appreciate all of their peccadilloes. But it seems the more we live our own lives, the less alike we become.

Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and when I was making good money at UC Berkeley, I often treated my mother and myself to a day at the spa. Casa Madrona in Sausalito, O-Spa in Alameda. Once, we both got pedicures – a first for both of us, and we just so happened to choose the same color nail polish for our toes. When we were outside we both stopped to admire each other’s freshly polished tootsies, and then we laughed. “To think, some people do this all the time.” My mother mused. “Man it tickles!” I said, shivering. Then we walked together arm-in-arm, in matching flip-flops, with matching feet, wearing almost-matching black outfits.

For fun, I’m thinking the next time we’re all together, I’d like for us to strip off our footwear and pose our feet for a photo-op. I’m sure they’ll think it’s a bizarre request, but they’ll acquiesce. After all, we’re family.

Something Borrowed

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I’ve mentioned my favorite cousin Vanessa before in one of my posts. Well, she’s getting married this year on April Fools’ Day. She swears it’s no joke, but something deep inside me thinks she’s secretly planning her revenge on the world. It may sound crazy, but she has just the temperament to pull it off. Is this really going to be her blessed wedding day? Or the best western-themed party of the century. We shall see.

One inducement that makes me believe she may be telling the truth about her coming nuptial is the fact that she’s going to wear my wedding dress and veil. Yes, the very dress I wore on the happiest day of my life, sixteen years ago to the sweetest, sexiest man alive. How did this come about?

We would need to go way back to 1987, when I was a sixteen-year-old New Waver and she a wicked slip of a girl nine years my junior. I can still see her on a particular New Year’s Eve at Aunt Pam’s house on Baker Street in San Francisco. She was wearing an oversized men’s t-shirt with a wide belt, slightly pushed down and to the right, no shoes and wild hair; her eyes were everywhere. I thought she was the closest thing to an elf or an Irish fairy. Elusive, laughing all the time, surviving her childhood best she could. I used to try to hold her, like I did all my cousins, nieces and nephews, but she’d always squirm her way out of my arms, and run away screaming and laughing.

Little did I know, as the years passed she sort of looked up to me. She would secretly go into my bedroom, look through my things, put on my perfume and steal my favorite sweater. All without a trace that she’d ever been there. At one point she lived with us and I had the little sister I’d always wanted, but she remained elusive.

It was years – a near death car accident, the birth of her son and believe-it-or-not Facebook, before Vanessa and I became friends. I’d just been laid-off from UC Berkeley due to budget cuts, when she invited me to the premier of New Moon and on a road trip to Forks, WA right after the movie. A real bona fide “TwiHard” adventure. How could I resist?

On that trip, while her buddy slept in the backseat, Vanessa and I talked about our lives and how we’d got to the point where we could forgive our pasts, and more importantly, how our faith in God has been our saving grace. It was so nice to catch up with her after years of brief encounters at baby showers, bridal showers, birthdays and weddings. As I listened to her talk about her mother and being a mom herself, I realized that she was all grown up, and more. I was the one who admired her now.

Not only has she survived her childhood, but she is the most amazing mother I’ve ever known. I remember as a girl she loved babies. She always wanted to hold them, feed them, speak tenderly to them – she was a real natural. Her son Joshua Tiger has very special needs, and yet he’s the happiest boy in the world. A big part of that is because of Vanessa’s love. She’s amazing with him, and works very hard to make sure he feels secure and loved. Her energy is effortless and her selfless dedication, well, she inspires me to be a better person. I’m always singing her praises to my friends and family.

Then, when Vanessa was here with her fiancé for Christmas, I had an epiphany. She still didn’t have a wedding dress, barely four months before her wedding, so why not offer mine? It took her a long time to believe I really meant it. But as she stood in my bedroom with the entire ensemble on, she positively glowed. It was one of the most precious moments of my life.

The day I married my sweet husband, my cousin was only sixteen years old. It has always been a point of sadness for me that she and her mom and our grandma couldn’t attend. Now Vanessa is thirty-two and she’s getting married. Sadly, her mother and our grandma have since passed away, but I’ll be there. I am a part of Vanessa and she is a part of me. Our bond started long ago. I can’t wait to watch her sweep down the isle on my husband’s arm, towards her future life. That is if this isn’t all an elaborate hoax. April Fools!

While the Husbands Away the Wife Will Play

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It’s not what you think. I haven’t been out drinking at the Pine Cone with the locals until 2am. Instead, while my husband has been on a much needed two-day motorcycle ride, I’ve been staying up until the wee hours of the morning widening my culinary horizons, or facing my fears if you like. You see, for many years I’ve had this terrible anxiety of making piecrust, of all things. Believe it or not, I’m not alone. I know many people intimidated by the thought of making their own pie dough from scratch, but I think my own insecurity stems from way back when I was newly married and learning how to cook, before my sweet sister Lisa gifted me with The Joy of Cooking, for my one year wedding anniversary.

photo courtesy of mirandafern.com

My first attempt at making a pie from scratch was for work. It was Thanksgiving season and my office was having a potluck – I was to make the pumpkin pie. As a kid, I grew up watching my mom make pumpkin and cherry pie from scratch with confident ease. Watch mind you, which is not the same as doing. Now I was 25 years old and I’d never even attempted piecrust. So, after obtaining her award-winning pumpkin pie recipe, I got to work with borrowed confidence. Of course everything went wrong. The dough refused to form into a ball, therefore I simply added more water, but when I rolled it out the dough stuck to the counter, so I added more flour, then rolled it out again and again until it was a perfect 9″ round.

As many of you know, all this water and flour and manhandling merely made the crust as hard as cement, which I discovered at the potluck. When I ate my first bite I nearly cracked a tooth. Plus, the pumpkin filling was a bit runny. Sigh. It was not my finest culinary moment. To their credit, my bosses and colleagues never complained, but I noticed many of them had left uneaten pie on their paper plates. All except Dr. Watanabe, who sweetly ate two pieces when he saw my face, as I tossed the plates into the trash. “No! It’s very good.” He said, smiling in that kind way that always made me feel special.

Ever since that one failed attempt and all these years I have been skirting around making piecrusts, sneakily purchasing them in the freezer section at the local supermarket and filling them with my own concoctions. When I began to notice many store-bought pie crusts are made with the dreaded partially-hydrogenated oil, something my husband and I have vowed to cut from our diets, I switched to phyllo dough, but phyllo can’t compare to a tender, crunchy, buttery pie crust.

In truth, it was Julia Child who changed my opinion of making piecrust from scratch. I’m fortunate to have grown up watching J.C. on TV – her curly red bob, happy eyes and big teeth – and that voice! I remember feeling sad when she passed away in 2004 at 91 years of age, but I’d honestly never fully understood how important she was to American cooking, nor did I realize how COOL she was, until I saw the film Julie and Julia. Something about that movie brought back fond childhood memories for me, and filled my heart with a desire to make Sole Dore, much to my husband’s delight, Gruyere cheese puffs for my fellow UCB workers, French chocolate mouse (made with Scharffen Berger chocolate of course), and comforting potato-leek soup.

Years ago, my husband gave me Julia Child’s cookbook – Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday, but it’s not until this past Spring, when I started selling my organic baked goods at the farmer’s market, that I really began using her recipes: Pate Sablee (Sugar Crust) for my lemony Pots of Gold, Pate Brisee (Pie Crust) for my Apple Pie and Pate Brise Sucree (Sweet Short Paste) for my English Tea Cookies. It was her technique for blending the butter and flour with my fingers, NOT my $40 pastry blending tool from Williams-Sonoma, that enlightened me. This hands-on approach, along with the fraisage – or final blending of the butter and flour – has made my piecrust ventures a complete joy. After chilling the dough overnight in the refrigerator, and then allowing it to sit at room temperature for a bit, I pound it with my rolling pin then roll, spin – roll, spin (which eliminates sticking). Then I gently fold and lay the pie dough into the lovely, blue Le Creuset pie dish my mother-in-love gave me. Et voila!

I am so grateful to Julia for her advice: “A pastry blender may be used if you wish, but a necessary part of learning how to cook is to get the feel of the dough in your fingers. Il faut mettre la main a la pate!” Thanks to J.C. I swiftly make piecrusts with genuine confidence and ease, leaving time to do other things…

Happy the Man

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Highway 101 runs straight through my little town of Brookings, Oregon. As you approach, the speed limit goes from 55mph to 35 mph all in a stretch of about five miles. When you hit downtown it’s 25mph, then after passing Sacks Thrift Avenue, Modele Salon, Mo Joe’s, Sweet Pea Tea Room and Vista Pub, the speed limit quickly jumps up to 35 then 55 all over again.

If you just so happen to be driving along this lovely stretch of road at around 3:30 in the afternoon, you’ll see him: A tiny piece of walking joy. He’s a small bearded man who faintly resembles Popeye dressed for a walkabout – complete with pith hat. When you spot him, you’ll see him waving to a car and think, “Oh that’s nice, he must know those people.” Then suddenly, he’ll turn his full attention on you and give you the most sincere smile and wave. Better still, he waits for your response. If you’re like me – not used to public displays of friendliness, you’ll politely nod and sort of smile his way, while keeping your gaze on the straight and narrow. To that he touches the tip of his hat and bows, very debonair-like.

Photo courtesy of Curry Coastal Pilot

The next time I saw our Waving Man, I was driving with my husband in his truck. I had no idea Tony had seen him before and watched in amazement as he rolled down the window and yelled, “Alright Buddy!!!” While boisterously waving and smiling. Feeling a little ashamed of my first response, I joined in. To this Mr. Happy stopped walking, bent his knees, pointed our way and shouted, “Alright!!! Thank you!!!”

“Do you know him?!” I asked my husband. Of course not, but they acted like they knew each other, and in a way they do. They’re two human beings acknowledging each other in a revolutionary act of brotherly love, via waving. It’s very beautiful in it’s simplicity. Knights used to wave to one another. The raising of their hand meant, “I am not armed, I come in peace.” In the same spirit, Mr. Spread-Joy is boldly walking along HWY 101, facing traffic, waving like a modern day knight. Without speaking, he’s saying, “I come in peace, and I want you to know, you do matter!” It touches my heart to have such a great person living in our town.

He has been spreading the love for many years now: http://www.currypilot.com/20050205103710/News/Local-News/THE-WAVING-WALKING-MAN

Women Who Inspire Me While I Crochete

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Kathleen always has the upper hand with her boss and love, Brad, but in the end she proves that she's playing for keeps. The Dark Corner, 1946.

With all of the dissolving marriages out there, I sometimes find more answers on what it means to be an exceptional woman and wife, not from family and friends, but fictional characters in film. Of course I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not the only one who has learned valuable lessons through the passive act of watching movies. As a boy, my husband learned the art of being sexy (think young Mickey Rourke) and how to shave, from watching men on the big screen. Just as I learned it was ok to want more out of life than what I was taught, by watching Anne of Green Gables (with Megan Follows, as Anne). Happily, I know women who are amazing wives, and women who are amazing mothers; some of them thrive at both (you know who you are), so I’ll add their names to my three, silver screen examples of women who inspire me.

Nora Charles, the ultimate Wife Friday has fun with her husband and doesn't sweat the small stuff. The Thin Man movies, 1934-1947

First, there’s Kathleen in The Dark Corner. This is a Girl Friday who knows the power of her legs, but uses her head to help solve the mystery behind her man’s misery. Kathleen is played by a Lucille Ball many people have never seen before – no goofball here; she’s confident and street-smart. Second, and quite possibly my favorite, is Nora Charles of The Thin Man movie series. She comes from money, but married “beneath her,” to a man who solves crimes for a living. Nora may appear very casual about it all, but really she’s the one who feeds her husband the right questions, that help him succeed. Last, we have Carol in The Phantom Lady. Carol or “Kansas,” as she is affectionately (or annoyingly) called by her boss, is perhaps the most daring of the three women, and since she takes more risks with her life than the others – in truth she’s the real sleuth.

Carol, "Kansas" taps into her Doppelganger without loosing herself, in order to help the man she loves. The Phantom Lady, 1944

If you haven’t seen these women at work, do so ASAP, you will not be sorry. I just finished watching The Dark Corner for the 10th time, while hand-sewing zippers into several crocheted bags I made. Hey, some people enjoy listening to music while they work; I like listening to movies. Tomorrow I’ll listen to The Phantom Lady, while I finish knitting my last scarf of the season.

Over the years, I like to think that I am somehow putting the strong, adventurous spirit of a Girl Friday into each piece I create. This can be done with cooking – remember Like Water for Chocolate? So why not with woolen materials?