Peeling the Onion

Peeling the onion.  Someone I admired (as in someone cool- they had their act together) used that phrase a long time ago. It was at EST.  Yes; I was an EST-hole.  I grew up in SoCali back in the 60s-70s. EST was big in the 70s. 

EST stood for Erhard Seminar Training.  You weren’t really “training” as much as you were purging.  You and 249 other trainee’s would meet in a hotel conference room set up with row after row of straight backed chairs.  You’d park your ass in the chair from morning to night for two consecutive weekends.  Breaks for food or bathrooms were only allowed at the discretion of the “Trainor”.  Rumors about people being tortured for hours with no food or potty breaks didn’t scare me.  OK- maybe a little. But when I was offered a new set of luggage, or the EST training for my 18th birthday, I jumped at the training.  How could I resist?

The Trainor started each day by talking about life.  Life brings hard, painful things and we don’t always get time to deal with it; we are expected to suck it up and move on.  Every insult from a kid on the playground, the time your friend turned on you.  The cheating boyfriend.  The disappointments, the losses. We just carry it around like a burden, adding layer upon layer until we are choking on the sorrow.   That’s where the onion comes in.  As you reexamine, experience and move past these ghosts from the past, you leave them behind.  Each experience is peeled off like another layer of the onion.  This leaves you lighter, relieved of the burden.  So, the Trainor talked and healed.  He’d talk of love, sorrow, disappointment, guilt, sadness, fears.  It wasn’t always easy.  Every time he got to a hard part, heads would nod.  You see- we all have this bizarre sleep signal that helps us avoid things we really don’t want to hear.Jaws went slack, snorers would snore, droolers would drool.    Then, the Trainor would casually throw out a comment about either sex or food.  In every case the whole room woulld instantly be awake.  Myself included. 

I was 18 years old, and in a room full of strangers.  We listened to the people- the brave ones who stood and shared their stories.  This went on for 15-18 hours each day.  Each story brought old memories to the surface of my mind.  Old wounds became painful again.  Old memories came back, bittersweet.  Through it all, every time someone stood to share, they spoke for me. I recognized the stories as if I’d lived them.  Who doesn’t know the pain of betrayal and loss?  We left each weekend feeling connected; like blood brothers to these other 249 people.  My soul knew theirs. 

At the end of the training I walked out the doors lighter.  I left behind most of the unresolved issues, hurts and angers.  I felt shiny clean with a new start.  

That was many years ago.  The years have been very, very.  Very good, very hard. The same as other people, I suppose.  Years where I’ve tried to relish the joy, and have been denying and absorbing the joyless moments.  The feelings of sadness, worry, pain and disappointment have been pushed to the back burner.  Now, I see that I’ve done it again.  Worse- I see it happening in children.  Not just my own.  I’ve seen kids be unspeakably mean to each other.  Their vile words just take my breath away.  I’ve seen grownups talking with kids in a way that makes my own stomach hurt.  I want to cry for them- but I see them choke back the tears and force a smile.  I can’t do this anymore.  I’ve grown accustomed to the burdens, but I don’t want my kids to carry them.  

There is no EST for them.  I’m not sure what to offer them, except my love and and guidance.  I can’t keep setting this example- I need to let go of the past and set the right example. I can’t do that here-it isn’t fair to expose the other players in this venue.  I need to vent- and scream and cry.  I need to write another blog that allows me to rant about all the bad things I’ve been pushing to the back corners of my mind.  If I can just do that, with one layer at a time, I can be free. 

I need to peel the onion.  One layer at a time.

Photo Albums: A Wedding and A Divorce

Why is it that photo albums are so deceptive?  Not as in “the camera adds 10 pounds” , although that truth is bad enough.

I mean the images of life.  In our wedding albums we look younger, but not “too young”.  The reception was at the local “yacht club”.  Great place- a big old rustic barn-like building.  Massive room with open wooden rafters, old piano that the kids would bang on until we couldn’t take the noise.  Wrap around porch and steps leading down to the pier.  The pier was unadorned by fencing, safety gaits or concerned adults.  There was a bar at one end that was always filled with people who met there regularly; chatting, smoking and watching the games on TV.

In the wedding album it’s a beautiful day, we’re wearing fancy clothes in a relaxed place.  Wedding gown and Raybans.  Happy couples dancing on the porch.  Lobster clambake and pretty tables set in a ramshackle old barn by the sea.   It looks like the kind of life I’d wish to have.

There are never any photo albums of Divorce.  Many happy photos, over the years of marriage.  It’s deceptive.  So many happy moments are caught on film (well, that was then. Now its digital).  The chronicle of various births, christenings, ballet recitals, school milestones and vacations.The ones I love the most are not those.  They are the photos of the baby being fed spaghetti by his adoring sister (before he had any teeth). Pictures of the girls when they’d decorated each other (head to toe) with colored markers. The sandy bodies.  The toothless grins.

These photos only represent half the real picture. There aren’t any that catalogue the arguments.  The frustration, disappointments.  Hurtful words.  Angry stares.  The tension that goes on for days, weeks, months until it becomes the tone of the household.

Then…it’s over.  Finito.  Ended. People offer condolences.  “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?”.  Am I okay???  How do I tell them that I’m fine?  That it’s a relief not seeing the car in the drive when I pull in from work.  That it’s easier to shoulder the burden yourself than to risk counting on someone else?   That the tension is gone (almost). Should I be sadder?  Afraid? Ashamed?

Then I find the photo albums.  As I look at the photos of happy times, the sadness suddenly hits.  It’s a bittersweet sadness.  The family in the album looks so happy.  Was that ever really us?  There is sadness for what could have been, more than what was.  I’m sad for Grumpy, aware that my response took him by surprise.  His actions brought it on, but, he’ll have some lonely days.  He’s not the only guilty party.  I could have stopped this thing- we’ve teetered many times before.  Why now? Why not just placate him again?

Somehow, it’s just time to let it happen.  To let him go.  He gave me an ultimatum of sorts, and instead of doing xyz to prove I still could…I declined.  I’m not regretting the decision. I’m sad for what was lost, but the photo album isnt fooling me today.  If the albums were true to life, they’d show all the past.  The good days, and the bad.  Like our old minivan.  I cleaned it out one day, discovering “roadtrip cd’s” from days past, trinkets that were treasure  are now trash under the seat.  The carpet in the 3rd row is a swirl of pale yellow and robins egg blue from the paint that tipped over (thanks Home Depot paint man).  The scrapes and scratches are a testament to teenage drivers.  There’s also a big dent in the fender from the woman who lost her equilibrium and drove into me one day.  She seemed not right-  I urged her to see a doctor.  She later had a non-malignant tumor removed from her brain. I’ve kept the dent as a reminder to me.  LIfe is precious.  Cars are not.

So we’re moving on. The albums will be put away for now.  I’m sure later we’ll need to divide them, make duplicates of photos so 2 homes can commemorate the (partially depicted) good old days.  Instead of living in the  past, it’s time I live in the present.  The future will sort itself out.

I love the family, each and every one, from those pictures.  To Sue, Jen, Paula, Alan, Hylton and all the other in-laws who will be out-laws, I will always identify you as family.  You are kin to my kin, and bonds stronger than laws still apply.

To the Boys at the APCC: CHEERS!

In any marriage, there are things that you might “borrow” which rightfully belong to your spouse.  Sometimes it’s a well worn shirt.  Or a jacket.  Or a hat.  Or perhaps, sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes, you might just want to steal their relatives instead.

I grew up with a few cousins, mostly older, a few younger.  We moved, they moved. In the “pre-facebook” days of the 60s and 70s, I never felt like I really knew those cousins.  Some I haven’t seen or spoken to since I was a kid.

Grumpy grew up without any first cousins.  None at all.  His father was an only child, his mother’s only sibling died young.  Really small family.  His grandmother (mother’s mother), however, came from a big family.  She left them behind in Newcastle, England.  She, and then her daughter (my mother in law), were good about keeping in touch.  Mary (my MIL) went over for a visit, and met some of her cousins and their children.  This is how Grumpy and I came to know his (2cd…3rd???) cousins in the UK.  And I stole them.

I didn’t set out to steal them.  It started out with a visit from Hylton and his (new) bride Yve. They were great- the kind of people you have fun with right off.  Then we stayed in touch through FB.  This is where I met Allen.  Allen and Hylton are brothers; and also very competitive, in a friendly way (ahem- right?).

Somehow or other, we started having intercontinental challenges.Kelly's yorky pudd I’m not sure who started it, or even what the first one was.  It might have been the Yorkshire pudding challenge.  This one was the entry from Kelly, Allen’s daughter who lives down in Australia.  My own entry was not so pretty.  There was also the “Toad in the Hole” contest.  This is basically a nice yorky pudd with sausages in the middle. toad in hole

This here is the Toad in the Hole that I made.  The toads (sausages) were burnt nearly to a crisp!  It’s a sad thing compared to Kelly’s- all high here/ flat there, but  it does pull off a neat height of 5 inches on the high corners(that’s more than 10cm there Kell!).

marrsy's mud pieThen, there was the Mud Pie.  We used a recipe from the Hairy Biker’s.  Know of them?  Those guys can really cook! This is Allen’s entry.  

Here is a link to the official recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie from the Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure.  It’s not like the ice cream one.  It’s a decadent, rich, chocolaty treat.mud pie 5

My own entry into the contest is pictured here, but I’m clearly not going to win the award for best photo!  Not sure what the problem was that day- must have been the camera, surely!

Somewhere along the way I really started looking forward to these food challenges.  In between those times we found plenty to communicate about, getting to know each other as well as sharing jokes.  I think Allen shares my fondness for jokes.  I love a good laugh- life is just to precious to take seriously! Allen is a regular attendee at “Church on Sunday“.   Click on the link there to read about it in his own words at  On Sunday’s the guys get together at the Annfield Plain Cricket Club to watch the games.  There’s probably a great deal of cricket (or football) cheering going on, but there is a bit of pint pulling in the club on a Sunday as well.    The boys at the club have been bringing in a variety of foods (at one time Thursday was “cheese night”), following the goings on with the Hairy Bikers and the international foodie competitions among the cousins as well.  I’m not sure they are all on Allen’s side, either! ;-)

Recently I was made an honorary member of the Annfield Plain Cricket Club.  Me.  Not Grumpy.DSCF2070  And I couldn’t be happier.  In fact, just today I received a gift from Allen: a memorial cup from the APCC centennial.    I’m absolutely tickled pink!  I’d like nothing more than to hop a plane out there and join them on a Sunday.  I know less than nothing about cricket, but I’ll cheer for Newcastle United, or Sunderland (If they’re ever the underdogs) and I’ll bring my cup. I know it’s meant for tea- but it’s an official cup lads! It won’t hold a pint all at once, but it seems to have a promise of 2000 refills stated in the handle.  It may take me a while to get through soDSCF2073 DSCF2077 DSCF2081many, but I’ll have a great time coming to know you all in person while I’m getting there!  Thanks so much Allen and you fellas, for making me a part of the club and a fine gift of the cup.  I’m aware it’s a limited edition (and commemorative of the championship) and I’ll treasure it.  Thank you for the cup, and the honor.

Cheers Boys! XXX

“What’s in a Name…

That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Have you ever been in a name-horror situation?  So… a friend/family member is expecting a baby.  Whether or not they know the gender, they usually have spent some time pondering a name.

Image by Thorina Rose

Or several.  Where they reveal to you that name, which after weeks or months of serious debate (sans cocktails), has finally been chosen?  And all you can say is “WHAT the…”.

I don’t mean the tired, name of the year or decade thing.  These people who choose the name “most often” used are understandable.  Lemmings, maybe, but I get it.  I don’t mean those who don’t know any better, and christen their daughter with a stripper name (what? You think Bambi Rose is going to Med School?).  I don’t even mean the “made up name that we’ll claim is from our ancestral homeland” BS.  I’m talking about the people who actually come up with something so bad that you can’t wait to tell someone else about the whopper.

I hear them all the time.   I work in Labor and Delivery, where people have usually defined that absolute “best” name after months of deliberation.

This weeks best bloopers?

I had a couple who decided on Lenora.  Or Leonora.   Until I asked, however, they didn’t know that they weren’t on the same page with the spelling.  Last I heard, they were still duking it out.

One patient told me they had narrowed it down to “either Sarah”…a good, old fashioned (if lemming) name…or “Eunice”.  Yep.  I looked her right in the eye and said… “I just Love Eunice”.

The best one, though, was from a patient that I barely met.  The other nurse told me what their choice was….I had to go in and verify it for myself.  It’s okay- I was discrete.  I brought in a meal tray and made a bit of small talk.  Then they told me that, yes indeed, they knew what they were having (a boy).  And, yes, they had a name all picked out.  First choice for the name of the week goes to:…..


That’s right folks!   I couldn’t wait to share it with you. And thank you to that couple.  In the middle of a busy, stressful day, you gave us nurses quite a chuckle.  Maybe these crazy names aren’t such a bad idea!

On the Nightshift

“At the end of a long day
It’s gonna be okay
On the nightshift
You found
another home
I know you’re not alone
On the nightshift”

I’m sorry, guys…but the nightshift is not my “another home”.  I’ve been meaning to write.  Really, I have.But, you see, I’ve been working the overnight shift at the hospital.  It’s just exhausting.  The nights are long, and sometimes we are busy nonstop with babies who just can’t wait another day to join this world.

Then, there are those other nights.  When we aren’t busy the night just drags.  We all sit together, trying to keep those eyes open.  Sometimes we eat stuff you’d never, ever eat during the daylight hours.  It’s “anything goes” time with food.  Other times we talk in an effort to stay awake.  There are usually 6 or so of us women, hanging around a table in the middle of the nurses station.  The things we talk about…well it seems that the only stories that keep us awake are not printable.  Some because they are too personal, and I can’t share other peoples lives in that way.  Other stories are just too…graphic.  Nurses on labor & delivery are a rare breed of women.  These girls, my coworkers, have strong stomachs and my own sick sense of humor.  I’m not able to think of a single story that was fit to repeat…so I’m just checking in, and letting you know that I’m here, and surviving, and that I’ll be back at it later in the week when I catch up on sleep!

Gnite all!

Great Escape 2012…30 years and going strong

There may be the tiniest discrepancy between what the Great Escape is and what I’ve put it out as to Grumpy.  For instance, for the past decade or so, I might have allowed Grumpy to believe that we are camping in pathetic tents, while Mother Nature howls and rain splashes our gear.  That might have been the case with the first Escape, but I’ve learned since then to choose wisely.  No more tents for me; not on a chilly October night in New England!

This year we were lucky enough to stay in Christa’s house.  It’s lovely- a snug little cabin in the woods.  Christa McAuliffe camped here as a girl.  There is a display which includes photos and her scout uniform.  The building is heated, with a modern kithcen and bath as well as a working fireplace.  A big improvement over the leaky tents!

All of our meals were served in the Dining Hall.  Served, as in someone else did the cooking and cleaning.  Oh yeah!

There is a huge fireplace at one end of the dining hall, kind of a gathering place to sing, socialize or just cozy up for a cat nap.

The activities are varied.  You could choose to enjoy a 7 hour trail hike.  My friend Barb did this.  In the RAIN!  She even suggested that I might want to join them.  Silly Barb.  She should know better.  You could also plan a morning of canoeing on the lake.  Ann was planning to go canoeing.  Sadly, it was sooo rainy all weekend that they canceled canoeing (I don’t think Ann was very sad at all).

I chose to participate in a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, as it was presented by Mel, another old friend.  She led a brief (thank you!) foraging hike in the wet woods followed by a traditional tea party.  We learned the various things to avoid (poison ivy,etc) and what to watch for: we mainly found wood sorrel, wintergreen and indian cucumbers.  I’ve never even heard of indian cucumbers before.  They have star shaped leaves(Mel is holding one in the photo), and a tiny white grub shaped crunchy bit attached to the root.  Sounds appealing, right?  I did try them, they taste like what you’d get if a cucumber and a daikon radish got married and had babies. Not bad, and while I won’t be serving them at my next royal banquet, if I were ever lost in a boggy wet woodland, then I would probably not starve.

The educational classes included (but not limited to) stained glass (been there, done that), jewelry making (put together some nice earrings), and various classes where you make things you didn’t even know you needed out of duct tape/old calendars/ bits of dryer lint, etc.  Once class that I missed out on was quilling.  It looked interesting and my friend Ann really enjoyed this one.  Here is a photo of the things she put together.  Not sure when I need to use quilling in my life, but it looks cool.

On Saturday there was a bit of entertainment.  In addition to the usual (auctions, skits) there was an amazing display of synchronized swimming.  I’m not sure how they managed to pull that off indoors, but where there’s a will…

Finally, I tip my hat to the ladies who cook.  They managed to put out food that was healthy, tasty and at each meal they provided vegetarian/gluten free/ nut free options galore.  I don’t go in for those choices myself, but it was a big undertaking.  In addition to the meals, they put out snacks (I try to skip those) and desserts (I did allow myself one- and only one!).   While these little “campfire cupcakes” were really cute, I was just taken instead by vanilla.  That one, right there(3rd from the right), that’s mine!

One other thing they had there- morning, noon and night- my dear old (at least among non-alcoholic) beverage of choice:Sigh.  What a lovely welcome,  and a lovely weekend as well.  Just between us, that is.  As far as Grumpy knows, it was an all-out torential rainstorm all weekend, and we camped in the thick of it.  ;-)

“Más vale tarde que nunca” and Green Tomato Mincemeat

I grew up in an increasingly bilingual area of Southern California. I had 6 years of Spanish classes in public school.  I was profoundly unilingual.  My friends would speak to me in Spanish, and I could follow most of what was spoken.  I did well on tests, so my grades weren’t a problem. To translate my own words into Spanish while conversing was pure Hell.  My teacher, in the Brea-Olinda Unified School District, finally gave up on my language barrier and decided to focus on my relaxed attitude towards attendance.  She decided that if I could learn just that one phrase and use it upon entering the classroom she would forgive my tardiness, no matter how much of the class I had missed.  I learned it immediatly, and never forgot those magic words.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  It was 2 weeks ago today when I last wrote anything. I was exhausted.  I promised to write about our memorable weekend journey within a day or so.  I didn’t appreciate how exhausting the next 2 weeks would be.  I started a new job.  Since the “new” job is at the hospital I worked at from 1992-2003, it feels like coming home.  Long days, and still a shift or two to fill at the “old” job.  Besides work I am still coping with the lingering effects of whooping cough.  Then, out of nowhere my  computer flashes the “blue screen of death”.  Hour after hour spent on the phone with people who promised to rescucitate the poor thing.  People from America, India and Sri Lanka.  None of whom could bring it back to life.  I knew this would be the case, deep down inside.  It seemed so wasteful to just go out and buy a new one.  So not in the budget as well.  Now, I’m just glad to be back online.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  I will write about that weekend…later.  First, I want to write about time off.  Today, I have the third of 5 days off… a row.  This is my reward for working all manner of hours during the first 4 days of the week.  Day one was a blur.  I had sooo many things to do.  I was in the middle of at least 4 tasks, and running in circles, when I noticed the green tomatoes.  My poor, bedraggled garden, had been neglected for weeks.  In the meantime it grew a nice crop of green tomatoes.  It dawned on me that we would soon have a freeze.  Sometimes, nature dictates change.  This day, nature would change my priorities and my schedule.  All else must be put on a back burner, I was harvesting my green tomatoes.  I don’t care to wait for them to ripen, they are never as good as ripe off the vine.  I can’t eat that many fried green tomatoes either.  A good crop of green tomatoes equals: green tomato mincemeat.

Not everyone likes mincemeat  My own family won’t eat it with raisins ( I don’t know what’s wrong with them, either.  If I hadn’t been there at the welcome, I’d wonder myself whose kids they were).

I do apologize for the lack of “production” photos, and specific measurements.  I wasn’t thinking about writing this down when I started.  Just in a green tomato frenzy, I suppose.  This mincemeat starts with chopped green tomatoes (about 9 cups), and maybe 4- 5 cups of chopped peeled apples.  I put both in a heavy dutch oven.  Then added 1 peeled, chopped orange and 1 large chopped lemon (peels and all).  It might have been easier to remove the seeds from lemon before than to try picking them out after- there’s your warning.  Now add 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup suet or oil (I used vegetable oil), 1 pound light brown sugar, 1 heaping teason each of cinnamon, ground allspice and ground cloves.  Since my family won’t eat the raisins, I snuck in 2 cups of dried cranberries and 1 cup dried cherries.  Heat the mixture at a simmer for about 45 minutes.  It will still have a lot of texture, but I prefer that over the mushiness of some canned mincemeats.   This is the one photo I managed to take once I remembered that I like to do that sort of thing.

After you’ve cooked it down a bit, transfer into pint jars and process by boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  This yeilded 7 pints plus a little left over for nibbling.

And nibbling…and nibbling…

Sometimes you need to escape, and sometimes you need the Great Escape

There is a retreat held in New England every fall called the Great Escape.  It was started as a weekend event for Girl Scout leaders (it’s now open to all adults, even those who aren’t girls or scouts).  Woman would all meet to share stories, teach each other skills and just “escape”.  When I became a Girl Scout leader, about a decade (ok- more) ago, I told Grumpy about the “Great Escape”.  I didn’t tell him what it was called, however.  Just that it was some “required” event where we had to go for the weekend to get the training needed to be leaders.  He patted my shoulder, said he was glad it was a “mom” thing, he appreciated how devoted a mother I was to put up with these requirements for my girls.

The first event I went to was on Cape Cod.  Picture warm sunny beaches.  It wasn’t like that.  It is a beautiful camp built around a big lake.  Only, in the fall, it’s not always warm and sunny.  In fact, that year, we camped in a hurricane.  Yeah, really.  We were in “platform tents”; a raised platform, with a canvas tent stretched over the frame.  Friday night wasn’t so bad, just a little rainy and windy.  Saturday was really wet.  And windy.  We were huddled in the dining hall learning basket weaving, doing silk screening and drinking wine.  Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, they don’t usually allow ( ;-) )wine at girl scout camps, but it was a Hurricane!  The day was long.  I don’t remember how we filled all those hours, really.  A lot of laughing, and a lot of pouring.  At one point my friend, and fellow leader, Sue went out into the hurricane under the guise of searching for plants that she might use in a terrarium.  She was feeling pent up and wanted some outdoors time.  I helped her for a bit, but left her to sort things on her own.  NOT a good idea, as you should always have a “buddy” when you’re roaming the woods.  She was adamant, however, about needing to be on her own.  She did find some plants that day.  One of them was wintergreen.  This can be found all over the woods of New England.  The other plant she found was “a pretty little thing”.  That’s how she described it.  I laughed and laughed when she tried to hand it to me.  It was poison ivy.  Yup, really!  As at all of these retreats, the evening ended in front of a fire, with at least one guitar and a lot of voices raised in song.

I do remember two events from later that night.  First, I apologize to my friend Barb for what I’m about to tell you.  She may or may not have been celebrating that evening with her friend Jack (as in Mr Daniel’s).  She was all tucked in and snoring softly at about 2 in the morning.  I was tossing and turning, almost asleep in spite of the high winds.  Suddenly, Barb sat up screaming.  Like in the movies screaming.  She couldn’t even speak clearly at first, but eventually we figured out that she saw something in our tent, and felt it run under her cot.  I’m a loving and supportive friend.  I laughed so hard I snorted.  Some creature, in a wet, windy hurricane was out for a stroll and crawled under the cot of the snoring lady.  To this day, that’s Barb’s story.  We try to stay in the lodges or cabins with Barb now.

The next thing that happened, was my fault.  On account of all that tossing and turning I do.  The hurricane made the platform wet and slippery.  I woke from a sound sleep after dreaming I was falling.  When I opened my eyes, I was totally confused.  I didn’t know where I  was at first, and was disoriented.  My cot had slid off the platform, and was dangling over a crevice, one leg of the cot stuck inside the tent and I was more out than in myself.  I was getting soaked in the rain, and scrambling for all I was worth not to fall completely out.  My tent mates were woken for a second time to my hollering for help.  They dragged me and my cot back into the tent.  For some reason, I lay there soaking wet and laughed until I snorted again.  I seem to do a lot of snorting at these things!

That trip, the first of my “Escapes”, was certainly memorable.  I’ll try get around to telling you about this year’s retreat tomorrow.  G’nite all!

Homeland Security has Crabapples, and they WON’T Share!

The walk from North Station to my job is just over a mile.  At about the halfway point I pass the offices of Homeland Security.  They are impressive; tall, clean building and immaculately manicured walkways.  The walkway at the street level has grass of crayola green, and is lined with perfectly shaped crabapple trees.  Not only are they perfectly shaped, they grow purple fruit!  I’ve seen plenty of the red variety, and know of some trees that produce lots of golden yellow crabapples, but I’ve never seen purple before.

I decided last year that I would approach the guards to request picking privileges, rather than apply for official permission from this gi-normous agency.   It never seemed like the right time, however.  As the summer went into fall I saw the bounty from those trees drop onto the green carpet and get vacuumed away with the grass clippings.  What a waste!  I was determined that this year would be different.  I watched carefully until I felt they were just about ripe enough, then approached the guard.

It went like this:  “Hi there! So listen, every year I see these crabapples just fall to the ground and get sent out with the grass clippings. That’s sinful.  I’ve decided to take charge of the situation.  Here’s what we’ll do… I’m going to stop by after work, around 2:15, and pick all the fruit I can reach.  Do you have a step-stool? No? Well maybe I’ll just spread a sheet and shake those limbs a bit….Uh- yes, I do mean on the other side of the fence.  Don’t worry, that tiny fence won’t even slow me down.  I’ll just…What?…Well that doesn’t seem right.  This is ridiculous.  Listen friend…here’s what we’ll do…you help me pick these crabapples, I’ll take them home and bring you back some jelly.  Yes I will- I’ll give you my contact info.  We could be crabapple friends on facebook…that was a joke homie.  No, I know you’re not my homeboy…I said “homie”, that is short for homeland security-security guard. Kind of a long handle, you know?”

There are 3 things that I learned that day:  #1- Not to bother wasting time with the security.  Next year I’m going straight to the top.  As soon as the elections are over I’ll send a request.  #2- Security guards at Homeland certainly do not profile.  I am not on anyone’s shortlist of suspects for any crime, ever (unless it’s a crime to shave a few pounds off on your license).  #3- Security guards at Homeland Security carry both a walkie talkie and a weapon.  It’s a good idea to move on if they reach for either one.

So I explained my dilemma to Grumpy, and asked if (A) he knew anyone at Homeland Security or (B) he would be willing to help me pick those golden crabapples,  He wouldn’t comment on who he might or might not know (he knows a lot of people), but he agreed to help me with my foraging. What a guy!

MAKING CRABAPPLE JELLY AND BUTTER:  These are the crabapples we started with.  I wanted more…but someone (ahem) got tired of picking!  Notice that I’ve included lots of “not-quite-ripe” ones.  They have more pectin in them, so I’ll probably get good gel without adding any.  They’re not very large and perfect, but there were no threatening guards!  Some of them are fairly unattractive, although I found this one to be kind of cute–>

You need to take away the stems and deflower any that still have a lot of brown blossom stuff at the other end.  I find it easier to slice them all in half, then pulling away the stem is easy.  You also get a good look inside to make sure they aren’t occupied.  Now you need to add some liquid and start simmering.  I prefer to add apple juice, as I can use less sugar later to make the jelly. This pot is a huge dutch oven (the size is worn off the bottom), I’d say about 20 cups.  I added just enough apple juice so that it was about 1/2 filled.  Cover, let simmer for about an hour.  Then strain, save the apples aside for later.  This is the juice that was strained off.  Bring it to a boil, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar (I had about 8 cups of juice and added about 6 cups of sugar).  Crabapples are VERY tart, but there is about 1 Qt of apple juice in here too.  Return to a boil, boil one minute and process in BWB ***.  You can add more sugar if you want it to be sweeter, and try clicking here for instructions on how to test to see if the pectin is gelling enough before you can it.  If you don’t test, and it fails to gel, you can always reprocess with added pectin.

Now for the “Butter”.  In the past I’ve made crabapple “butter” and my kids don’t want to eat it.  This year I called it “crabapple sauce” and they loved it- kids!  You can make this with the cooked remains of the jelly making.  I have tried food mills and other ways of getting the crabapple flesh out, the only one that works well for me is the ricer.  It’s tedious, but worthwhile. You just keep filling the ricer with more of the little apples, and squeeze it out over another big bowl.  When I’m done, I squeeze it again through a fine strainer.  Those little seeds and cores can make it unpleasant.  When you are done, you’ll have a smooth-as-silk basis for the butter.  I add sugar and cinnamon.  I didn’t measure, so add it a little at a time until it seems “there”.   Add enough liquid to make it a runny consistency (I added about 2 cups of apple juice). Bring it back to a boil, boil for about 5 minutes and process in a BWB.  Here is the finished product: on the right, with the rosy tint, are 4 pints and 3 1/2 pints of jelly.  On the left are 7 pints of crabapple “sauce”.

Complete instructions for canning available *** here from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

I’m actually still recovering.  I started writing this post before I got sick, and today had just enough energy left to get it done.  I’m still coughing up a storm, but breathing is a lot easier than on previous days. Thanks for reading folks!

Mom Flu IS Worse Than Man Flu

This is the worst! I don’t care what all you guys say- mom flu is worse.

Technically, it’s not “flu” that I have.  It’s officially (in doctor talk) “acute bronchitis with right side pneumonia”.  That translates to wheezing and a constant hacking, barking coughing that makes you see stars for the first day, then rapidly progresses to pulling muscles all over your body.  The worst part is the diapers.  Okay- technically they are “overnight pads”.  Anyone who has pushed out 4 kids, or one over 9 pounds, knows what I’m talking about.  Normally, I get through life just fine.  After 6 days and nights of this Hell, I’m just spent.  Tell me guys, when was the last time “man flu” put you in a diaper??? Yeah, I thought not.

This is, fortunately, not accurate.  Grumpy has stood up to the challenge.  He’s at home himself, and unable to lift anything due to an injury (he ripped something in his back lifting at work).  He has managed to make sandwiches, subs and even pack lunches for the kids while I’m recuperating.  I got an invite to come forage wild concord grapes in the next town over and tried to con him into going in my place…well I guess he has his limits.  I hope there will still be some grapes left when I recover.  But just writing this wore me out.  Back to bed…

OhhhMrrrGrrrd…I have the man flu!

I feel like such a wuss.  All those years of eye rolling, patiently picking up other peoples disgusting tissues and empty tea cups.  Backing away from the annoying hacking, sniffling and moans.  Now it’s my turn.  Ugh…. I hate this.  I woke up yesterday in the wrong body, and I don’t have the strength to move these limbs. Barking coughs make my brain knock around in there until I see stars.  This is awful.  I foolishly went to work. I spent the day doing mostly computer stuff, and clearing files.  And wiping everything around me with disinfectant, including me hands every few minutes.   I left a few minutes earlier than usual (I actually went in and started early).  As soon as I got home I raided the med cabinet and went to bed.  At 6 I wandered downstairs, got more medicine and told Grumpy “tag. You’re it.  Fajitas for dinner”.  Then I went back to bed.  I just got out of bed again and feel…sore.  But more alert.  I’m going to spend the day taking it easy, and indulging in my flu treatment.

I was planning to post about my foodie pen pal.  Somewhere I have a cute button you could click on…but I’m tired.  If you click on “foodie pen pal”, the blue one, you’ll get there.  I received a  lovely box filled with treats from this months pen pal Kathy.  In it were a bag of plantain chips (yummy! tried these before but they are a nice treat anytime.  I shared them of course).  There was a jar of fancy strawberry-rhubarb jam,a bottle of “Southern Style grill and cooking sauce” that looks like it will be a nice bbq.  What really caught my eye, and came in handy, was the honey.  I’m partial to raw honey, but never noticed one tasting much different from another around here.  The honey she sent was “orange blossum” honey from DePlanta’s honey in Lakeland Fl.  It has a different flavor from any honey I’ve tried.  Really nice.  Just right for my throat remedy.  Just in time.

So I have man-flu-brain today and can’t remember who I got this recipe from.  If anyone knows, or if I remember I’ll update with the name ….I found it! Here it is: it’s from (aka a little life) via one of my favorite sites:frugally sustainable.

I’m not well.  Here’s there recipe, I’m going back to bed!

Thinly slice one lemon
.  Peel and slice ginger; I like a bit less of this than the lemon. Place it all in a pint sized jar, pour honey over until it just barely covers.  Leave it in the refrigerator about a month before using, unless you are sick like me.  If that’s the case use it now.  Like me.  I feel so lousy.  Anyway, take a good tablespoon of the stuff (it will gel eventually in the fridge), put it into a huge mug (mine holds about 12 oz) and fill with hot water.  It helps to add a slug of bourbon,directly to the cup as well.  Up to you. I’m going back to bed anyway.  I’ll check back in when I’m human.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…part 2…”The Benefits of Teenage Drivers” (or Running With Scissors- still happening)

Some people bring a parent along on vacations to help keep an eye on the kids.  We brought teenaged kids along to keep an eye on the grownups!  Who knew that only 15 years ago when we were bribing them to pee in the potty, and keep their clothes on in public, that they’d be our designated drivers someday?  Just for the record…we all kept our clothes on in public!

We pulled into K-Vegas around 7pm.  After the hello’s, the unpacking, the catching up, it was revealed that our dear Puckett was sitting and waiting for us at the Village Tavern.  The VT is a lovely place, great food and they have a huge pub room that is “breathing-is-only-possible-if-you-tip-your-chin-up” tight on Wednesdays as they have a “1/2 price wine” special every week.  When we got there we helped Puckett finish a bottle or so of Merlot.  I also met my new friend Carol, who Avery describes as “really pretty and “fancy”.  Avery is correct.  Puckett and Carol were attracting a lot of attention in that place, as full as it was.  There was a lot of wine on that table still waiting to be sipped when we arrived.  I can’t really remember if I drove home that night, or if we were rescued by my dear daughter-by-another-mother Bailey.  Have I mentioned  how nice it is to have a teenaged DD?

The next day was mostly playing in the pool, but we had to watch the clock because (my other new friend) Kathy had secured us tickets to a very fancy party! The PGA tournament was going on in Greensboro, and they were throwing a big shindig at the country club.  There was a really great band named Sleeping Booty.

There were lots of people, which isn’t surprising because they also had an Open Bar all night long!!!Who even does that? It was crazy fun though.  We danced like the pathetic white girls that we are, and loved every minute.

The next day, (and NO, I don’t know for sure who drove us home, but it could have been me.  I actually think it was…) we had to get up and head out in the morning.  My dear new friend Carol had obtained some swanky box seats at the PGA tournament for the 16th hole.  Now, I’m no big golf person.  It strikes me as being a bit slow going anyway, but when some nerdy guy walks around with a big sign telling you to hush up…I’m not having it!  These seats, however, were in a big, air conditioned, indoor room, right at the 16th hole.  I’m talking big round dining tables (with tablecloths), full on buffet and….you guessed it…OPEN BAR!!! And yes, I believe we did dive in face first.  It was still a golf tournament.  With an open bar, a full on buffet and some of the fanciest trailer potties I’ve seen in a long time…well who couldn’t enjoy all that?!!!

As I don’t usually have so much time away from the kids, I was seriously missing them already.  We all agreed that for the rest of the trip we would spend all…or most… of the time indulging enjoying our children.  After all, having teen drivers who are willing and able to pick up your drunk butt when you’ve been out carousing is not something to take for granted!

Tomorrow, assuming that someone kindly sends me photos ( I am sooo bad about remembering to take pics!) I’ll vent…rant…share some treasured moments with the tribe.  Including…my dear…darling…designated driver daughters!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…part 1: GPS stinks!

GPS is ridiculous.  We used to do just fine with an atlas.  Or a map.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could have AAA make you up a “triptik”, with play by play instructions that any imbecile could manage.  We have 2 of those GPS suckers, as well as a navigation feature on our “smart” phones.  You know what? They all operate on ghetto mode.  It doesn’t matter if you’re driving to Paris or the local corner market, they route us through the ghetto.  I had a fab  Christmas party that I tried to get to last winter; it was only about a mile from my job.  That GPS drove me all around the greater Boston area, including a place where the buildings were burned out/ boarded up and there were people drinking and dancing in the streets.  That was as close as I got to celebrating, I missed the party and gave up when I was still circling the city about 2 hours later.  Seriously!

But back to the trip…We left Boston at 2pm after I scooted out of work.  I had a google-planned trip all laid out (these plans were, of course, nowhere to be found once we left).  It was planned so that we’d go over the Tappan Zee bridge.  I don’t like bridges.  The only thing worse than bridges are tunnels that go underwater…but that came much later.  The Tappan Zee is a nice bridge, as bridges go.  It’s lovely, actually.  Our GPS doesn’t understand this.  It refused to take me to anything but the George Washington Bridge.  When I realized that this was the plan, I tried to thwart this evil tool.  I left the route and drove up to White Plains.  Twice.  From two different locations.  Each time the b@xt$d would reroute me until finally, in exhaustion, I gave up and went over the George Washington Bridge.  It’s not all bad.  It’s been standing a long time, and I’m sure it’s really safe…but when you approach from the NY side you don’t want to see the structure underneath.  It looks like it’s held together by some scrap lumber and duck tape.  Seriously.  Even the kids said “this can’t really be a legit bridge”.  Some parts look really ramshackle.  To be fair, it held up long enough to allow our passage, and as far as I know hasn’t collapsed.  Yet.  (***Okay…apologies to fans of NY or the GWB.  This is not the real bridge.  We were moving too fast to get a photo- this fine pic is from

We then drove through scenic NJ, and farm country in PA (with the kids all staring out the window on ” Amish alert”).  There was some drama with the weather.  We had a lot of radio “emergency announcements” about winds, hail, 40 days and build an Ark” stuff.  The first day ended at an extremely nice “La Quinta” in Chambersburg PA.  The GPS was unable to locate a ghetto in Chambersburg.  It either grew tired of the games, or just gave up and brought us safely to our temporary abode.  Strong work, GPS.  We forgive you.  Almost.

50 Shades of Brown

You know that joke...Woman: “I love you my darling…you are what makes my life worth living”…Man: ” Is that you talking, or the wine?”…Woman: “It is me talking…to the wine”.   That is how I feel about coffee. 

Well, also about wine.  But today I’m inspired to hijack repost some ecards about coffee from one of my favorite sites : Little White Lion.  This site is actually a group of writers and they are literally responsible for about a gazillion little tiny coffee-snort stains on my shirts.  I really shouldn’t read their stuff while I’m drinking!And here are a few more while we’re at it…

And just look at that…someone brought me a cup.  Sigh… :-)

And today I received another…the truest of truths and worth revisiting and updating this topic.

ALL Girls are Princesses

Yesterday was one of those days.  Work started out okay, but as the day went on it just plain sucked.  I was scheduled to work in the clinic and supposed to be done at 2.  I had a call the night before asking if there was any I could fill in at labor and delivery from 3-7 as they were “really desperate”.  How could I say no? I had Syd and her friend at the hospital with me, because they were volunteering from 9-3.  We had planned to go to the haymarket together afterwards…and you know how I love that haymarket…but “desperate”.    Okay.  And they were desperate.  The girls went to the haymarket without me and I stayed.  Everyone was stressed, I tried to help and probably only made things worse half the time.  Then, when someone needed a C section (like “now”) I offered to be the scrub nurse, which at least got me out of the frenzy of the nurses station.  The shift changed at 7.  They were increasing by one nurse, so they should be in better shape than the day shift.  Still, by 7:30pm no one came in to check on us.  We finished the case and wheeled the patient into a room to recover around 7:40pm.  The charge nurse asked if I would be willing to stay until 11pm.  After thinking about it for a second, I realized that those young girls had been in the waiting room for over 2 hours already.  How could I do that?  So I said no, that I couldn’t do it tonight.  I then heard someone who had been a friend say “Well that’s too bad.  She has to stay.  She doesn’t get to choose.  Just tell her that she can’t leave”.  I took a deep breath, and asked if she was referring to me.  She was.  And, she didn’t hesitate to tell me so.  Also threatened that she would complain, I could lose my license, etc.  Now technically, if there were fewer nurses coming than leaving, she might have a point.  We aren’t allowed to abandon patients if there aren’t “enough” to manage.  They had one more nurse than we’d managed with for the last 4 hours, and she was serious.  After pointing out that I had no such obligation to stay, I told her that as she was about to see my shapely ass walking out the door she might just want to pucker up and kiss it.

On the way home I was still feeling somewhat unappreciated.  I had a flashback to a scene in a movie.  It’s what I do…fair warning to those who drive in Boston, but when I’m upset I drive around daydreaming.

Growing up, I loved the film “A Little Princess” with Shirley Temple.  It was a very old movie but I loved it.  When my girls were growing up they were more enamored of the 1995 version of the film.  I’m going to admit here, that for once the remake was better than the original.

This is the story of Sara Crewe.  After living in exotic India with her doting father, Sara was sent to a strict boarding school in New York while he went to war.  Her father was believed to have died in the war, and their fortune confiscated.  She was then kept on by the abusive, stern headmistress as a maid.  Sara infuriated the woman with her ability to cope, and even thrive no matter what hardships the woman through her way. Sara was living in an unheated attic at the school, with only rags to wear, when a man next door and his servant intervened with a bit of magic.  This is what Sara and her friend woke to in the attic one morning (all cleverly arranged by those magical fellows).

A favorite scene was one in which the headmistress confronts Sara with the reality of her life. “Don’t tell me you still fancy yourself a princess! Good God child, look around you…look in the mirror!”   Sara replies with these words:  ” I am a princess…All girls are…even if they live in a tiny old attic…even if they dress in rags…even if they aren’t pretty or smart or young…They are still princesses, all of us”.

 I am a princess…all girls are!

This movie was one of many that we watched again and again.  My kids were just that way, when they liked a movie they just wore it out.

The memory that really cheered me up, though only partly involved the movie.  Did you ever take your kids to Disneyworld?   We really couldn’t afford it, but I’m so very glad we did.  The best of times.  We were staying at The Beachclub.  The whole trip was magical.  Matt and his friend were old enough for us to give them some freedom.  They still wound up chasing our tails the whole trip, but having a choice made them happy.  We scheduled a couple of those character meals.  One of them was a breakfast in  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (aka Norway) at Epcot.  Epcot is filled with vibrant young people who are lured over here from their own countries with dreams of working at Disneyworld.  I’m not sure what they are really dreaming of, but slinging breakfast to whiny kids and demanding parents was certainly not part of  those dreams.  There were some “characters” in princess costumes, walking around signing autographs and posing for pictures.  The chaos they created was amazing.  Our waitress was a very sweet, lovely young girl who was working her butt off, running in circles and all in a long, hot costume.  When she finally had a moment to stop at our table, smile and ask if there was anything else she could get for us, my girls saw their chance.  They whipped out their autograph books and asked “could we please have your autograph?”.  The waitress was flustered.  She apologized, said “I’m sorry, but I’m not anyone important.  I’m not a princess or anything”.   Sydney indignantly told her “Of course you are! All girls are princesses!”   Our waitress stood tall for a moment, then bent forward to sign their autographs.  She hugged them, smiled and told me that she really needed to hear that.

That memory is what cheered me up.  Maybe it’s remembering the movie, too.  I just know that I’m feeling a little bit better, when I remember that I, too, am a princess.  And that biatch… well she can still just pucker up and kiss my royal ass.

Life lessons from the sandbox…thank you Syd!

I always tried to keep a diary growing up so I’d have those priceless memories and be able to accurately write a memoir of how I grew to become the world famous…yeah.  And instead it was probably full of  “I like Steve Weber, he’s so cute…but Richie Salchunas is so fun.  And he’s cute too, even if he’s a ginger with freckles”.  And trying out my “Mrs Weber, Mrs Salchunas” all over the covers.  Meanwhile, they probably didn’t notice me once I went out for a “Twiggy” haircut” and came back as a boy.  If ever.

Once I became Mom, I really meant to write down all those special mom moments in a book.  I got the baby book for #1 son.  Dutifully recorded firsts.  Solid food (walked in on my mom stuffing mashed bananas into his 2 week old mouth), first tooth (at 3 weeks of age. NOT funny!).  First “meal” out…Uncle Nelson took my 3 month old baby out for a walk, and fed him  “white chocolate macadamia nut ice cream” at Emack & Bolio’s. Seriously.  It’s great ice cream, and all, but it’s not baby food.  Anyway…somehow things got hectic, and the years between “baby’s first” and puberty disappeared in a blur.  I scribbled notes on scraps of paper to remind myself of the things the kids would ask about later. They’re here somewhere…

Then, in 1999, I started to write them in a real journal.  I bought a book of about 100 blank pages.  Even labeled it “journal #1″.  So ambitious!  I wrote a lengthy entry, then set it aside.  A few months later, I did the same.  I found it again today.  There were a total of 8 entries, the book is still half empty.  My final entry was in June of 2004.  I wrote that shortly after loosing both of my parents to cancer.  It looks like at least 6-8 pages in that entry.  I’m not going to read it right now.  It promises to be a difficult read when I get around to it.  In the meantime, I read the first 2 entries.  I am soooo glad that I wrote them.  In the midst of all the unimportant stuff, I wrote down something that I’d clean forgotten.

My daughter Syd, was a handful.  No need to write that…there are many people with tales to tell about my wild child.  What I’d forgotten, was how at 3-4 years of age, in the midst of her own personal cyclone, she had a way of communicating that was uniquely Syd.  If she needed something, instead of asking directly, she wanted it to be offered.  She would stop what she was doing and come to me, placing a hand on each side of my face, and request ” Please say ‘Let’s have a snack, sweetheart'”.  Or it would be “Tell me ‘Would you like to paint the fence, honey?'”.  Oh Syd! Always, always, you gave me my lines.  And they would always end with terms of endearment.  You reminded me that, even though you seemed to be fearless at times, you wanted mothering.

Who knew that a 3 year old could have such wisdom?  Why don’t we just give people their script?  Why do we wait endlessly for them to say the words we want to hear?  There’s a message in there for me.   Maybe tonight I’ll try telling my Grumpy “tell me ‘you’ve done enough, put your feet up and have some wine, dear'”.  Or, “please say ‘you know honey, you should treat yourself more often. Why don’t you go get a pedicure?'”.  Do you hear me Grumpy???


Random photo of Syd today- no longer on a leash, but still going at full speed ahead.

Inspiring Women Part 2: My Aunt Kay Diane (Johnson)

If you have an Aunt in your life, you are blessed.  It’s a gift that you might not appreciate right away.  An adult female, who is of the same generation as your parents and even grew up with (at least) one of them.  They have all the dirt, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to hear some of those stories.  If you’re truly lucky, you’ll have an extraordinary aunt.  I am truly lucky in having my Aunt Kay Diane.

Kay Diane and my Dad grew up on a ranch in Long Beach, California.  Their parents divorced, and in those days (the early 50s) women didn’t get treated fairly.  My Grandma Mary got to take her kids and not much else.  They moved to a much smaller home in a kind of sketchy neighborhood.  I don’t know a lot about those years.  I heard a rumor that she dated the drummer of The Silhouettes, a local band headed by Richie Valenzuela who was soon to be known as Ritchie Valens.  Rumor had it that Dad and Ritchie were friends, and he would go along to make sure Ritchie got paid for some of the gigs.

We’ve never discussed those years, because that’s not what she’s about.  For the past 50+ years Aunt Kay Diane has been married to my Uncle Dick.  Their marriage has always seemed to be magical.  I only mention her earlier life to provide contrast for her married life.  In the early 1960s, when other women were fighting for independence, going off to forge bright careers, my aunt agreed to move away from all that.  They bought a large piece of land up in a place called Kennedy Meadows, CA.  It was high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The area is popular now with campers/hikers who want to get away; a big open plateau and lots of forested areas.  At the time that they moved there, more than 50 years ago, it was seriously remote. Not much had changed in the prior 100 years.  There were just a few families living up there.  My uncle built a one room cabin.  I don’t remember if there was any running water, but there was no indoor plumbing.  They had a beautiful old wood burning stove, an Aga.  My first visit there was in the winter (or as I recollect).   They had a blanket hanging down the middle of the cabin, probably to give us privacy.  A trip to the bathroom at night meant putting on a coat, and trudging through the snow.  To the outhouse.  There was no electricity, no gas.  My Aunt raised two babies in that cabin, before disposable diapers.  No “washing machine”.   My best memory of that visit was the food.  Aunt Kay D made sourdough bread.  And sourdough pancakes.  She probably made a lot of other things, but the fabulous things she managed to bake on a wood burning oven were beyond wonderful.

Over the next few years we only got to visit rarely.  I’m not sure if my mother was more offended by the pioneer lifestyle or by the fact that My Uncle Dick taught us all how to shoot.  For myself, I’m not sure which thrilled me more.  The years brought some changes to the area.  A few more families moved in. My uncle dug a reservoir, which provided running water to the new home he built for his family.  We went up one summer to help connect the (indoor!) plumbing.  My Dad also brought up a hot water heater, although I don’t believe it was ever put to use.  There were 3 bedrooms.  There were no the walls between the bedrooms; only studs.  The need for privacy was not evident. The entertainment was a treat: there was a beautiful old player piano, and at least 300 music scrolls to choose from.   There was also an antique operator switchboard in the kitchen.  My uncle had strung telephone wire from one homestead to the next.  It was meant to be in place for emergency contacts.  At the time they were growing frustrated that it was becoming a tool for gossips and had become a nuisance.  They also felt that the mountain was becoming too crowded, almost civilized. 

That led to the next phase of their lives.  Once my cousins had gotten through high school (which entailed a hair raising ride down the mountain to the nearest town every day in the school year), they were ready to move on.  My uncle also became certified as a pilot at some point in his life.  He built his own plane (Oh yeah, he did!), and would fly it up and down the mountain.  They decided to move to the real frontier, up to Alaska, where he would work as a pilot for the next few years.  They sold there homestead, keeping the player piano and stove, and flew themselves up to Fairbanks.  They rented a place in Fairbanks while they scouted out the area for a new home.  They bought a large area on the Salcha river.  There was no road to their property.  They could get back and forth to Fairbanks by plane, or boat.  In the winter, with enough snow pack they make the trip by snow cat in about 6 hours.  They cut down enough trees to build an 1800 sq foot home.  That was all they needed.  Until they had guests.  Because it was so far away, guests tended to stay awhile.  So they cut down more trees, and built a 3000 sq foot home.  The smaller one was now a guest house.  And they had all that they needed.  Until they started to evaluate their lives.

Now, after retiring on their frontier homestead in the wilderness of Alaska, they felt like another adventure was due.  They went to Seattle, where they bought a used sailboat.  They restored the boat and taught themselves to sail.  They then set out to explore the world.  They would travel all over the globe in the next 7 years.  Mostly by sail, although they did put the boat into dry dock in Australia.  They decided that it was worthy of a longer visit, bought a used Land Rover and drove all over that country for the next 16 months.  They then sold the car, retrieved their boat and continued to sail around the world.  There were many dangerous and frightening episodes, but they were not put off.  Throughout this time, really inspiring to me, was my aunt’s determination to continue as a homemaker.  Every time they pulled into a port, she’d head off to buy provisions.  She would then can all the fresh meat, vegetables and fruit that they’d have on the next excursion.  She would do this in the galley of a small sailboat.  Also, as disinterested as they had been with overpopulated spaces, they were amazingly social.  They developed a large group of friends in each port as well as a network of fellow sailors.  They would engage in potluck meals and parties with this group in each stop.

Finally they returned home to Alaska.  Their home there is equipped with the same wood burning Aga, but they also have a conventional stove there as well now.  They have a wood fueled hot tub under the stars.  The piano coexists with their generator powered laptops.  They took some time off to write and publish a memoir of their journey.  Also to battle some serious health problems.  After a go ahead to return home from the doctors, they did this briefly.  Until the adventure bug hit again.  They bought an RV this time, and decided that they would alternate periods of “rest” at home with traveling the continent on extended road trips.  In Alaska, they continue to hunt, fish and grow most of their food supply.  When they are not in Alaska they are traveling the road.  My Aunt Kay D continues to feed them from the confines of a tiny kitchen.  This is an image that has always stayed with me.  Anywhere, anytime, they are self-sufficient.  She is inspired me to learn to cook, to bake, and most of all to preserve.  She also inspires me to emulate the best part of herself; to face life as an adventure.

I was inspired also to write this, as I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately.  I’m overdue for my own road trip.  It’s time to feel that enthusiasm for life again myself.

Photo by Brenda Ordway; previously published in NY Daily News

Inspiring women in my life…Like my Nana and Great Grandmother

People think I’m crazy sometimes for trying to “do it all”.  To be fair, I don’t do it all.  No one can… or at least not the women of my generation.  I’m inspired to do the things that other women did when I was growing up (and before).  Not everything- I don’t want to live without the cell phone, never mind without modern washing machines, etc.  I’ve been inspired by different women, for different reasons.  Like my Nana…

My Nana, Violet Frances Striegel, was born in 1904.  Her mother, Dorothy Von Lisk,  married “unwisely” (she said he was a nasty drinker), later regretted her choice.  She left her husband in St. Louis and returned to the family farm in Iowa after my Nana, her only child, was born.  In those days, you didn’t have much of a choice. No woman wants to move back home with a baby, but it was just not okay to divorce.  Four years later her estranged husband conveniantly died in an accident and made her an independent woman.

Grandma Striegel and my Nana went on a cruise through Alaska, where she met a fellow.  My Nana wanted no part of a step-father, and her mother decided to say goodbye to the man, and continue on her way.  They then bought up some land in the Ozarks and tried farming.  This only lasted a few years, as they had one mishap after another.  My Nana survived Typhoid Fever, after drinking tainted water.  Her mom suspected there was foul play involved ( or fowl play- as in someone may have thrown a dead chicken in the well).  The locals weren’t so happy with a single woman farming, and especially since they’d used her property for distillation (moonshine)  purposes for a generation or two.  My great grandmother was a teetotaler and  godly woman, she chased them right out.  Finally, when the locals burned their barn down they threw in the towel.

Grandma Striegel gathered up her assets, and bought tickets to LA.  It was 1916, and Southern California was still relatively small, but the movie industry was exploding already. In 1915, David Wark Griffith’s epic “The Birth of A Nation” was released.  Hollywood was up in arms, as the film was both a moving portrayal of the war of the states, and scandalous in it’s positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan.  Grandma Striegel wasn’t interested in all that, she just wanted to farm.  They headed out to LA by train, all their worldly goods in tow.  In Cheyenne WY, however, they were robbed of their belongings.  All the trunks just vanished.  Grandma Striegel got over it, sold up the jewelry she was wearing, and some fancy things.  She used the money to buy supplies and camping equipment. She and my Nana then left on foot, walking by night and camping by day.  There were no great roads in those days, and no roadside inns who “left the light on”.  This photo is of a road in 1916, in the San Bernadino desert area.  They would have been almost to LA before they reached that road.  In those days the roads were still being surveyed, and the American Automobile Club was just beginning to instal signs for travelers.  These photos are of actual places that they walked through on their journey.  They stopped every so often, built a fire, cooked some coffee when there was enough water and whatever they managed to catch on the trail.  They finally reached LA late in 1916.  My Nana lived at a boarding house so she could attend school in downtown LA.  Grandma Striegel liked the San Bernadino Desert area, and bought up some land out there where she lived and farmed on her own.

So, while they were neither one of them great cooks, fashionistas or suffragettes (as was my grandfather’s relation and another inspiration,  Florence Jaffray Harriman ), these ladies were a huge source of pride and inspiration to me.  Because when the going got tough, they didn’t whine or give up.  They just gathered up their things and kept on going.  Every time.  They were, to quote my daughter Syd, “tough as balls”.


Part 3: Tales of the Uncool…Putting the Goodies on the Table

You’d think that nurses would be fairly cool about having our own body parts examined.  Nope.  Not this nurse.  I’m still trying.  Take a deep breath, try to act casual…and make a big fool of myself.  Always.

Back in the dark ages of the late 80s, I was a fairly new nurse.  I was also pregnant.  Being pregnant is a whole new lesson in humility.  Your so called “privates” are no longer that.  I’d been working as a nurse for about a few months, but I worked at a Children’s Hospital.  No pregnancy stuff, as a rule.  It was all about pediatrics for me then.  I worked all night, carrying two babies around, one on each hip.  Not counting the little guy inside.  Slept little or none during the days, eventually it just wore me out.  I wound up calling the doctor for advice on my “stomach bug”.   It turned out to be labor, at 25 weeks.  At the hospital, someone didn’t have their thinking cap on right.  He wrote the order wrong, and the nurses insisted on following the orders.  The short story- they gave me many, many more doses of a medication (terbutaline) than is safe, as well as way to much IV fluid.  I developed pulmonary edema, which is where your heart can’t deal with the faster rate and sudden increase in fluids and is just letting it pile up in your lungs.  Your lungs don’t do well filled up with fluids, and it can be lethal.  They did rally to fix their mistakes, giving me tons of IV lasix and morphine.  The morphine hit me like a ton of bricks (I’m a cheap date).  There were doctors in and out of the room.  Over the next 24 hours I had dozens of people  listening to my lungs and reaching up from my privates to check my tonsils (or so it seemed).  Finally, they let me sleep.

The next day I was woken by a knock on the door, then in came some foreign doctor guy with a posse of mini-me doctor-in-training types behind him.  “Excuse me, please, by my name is Dr Whassis and I am here to examine you.  Would it be permissible for my students to be present?”.  Well, I just died a little inside.  It’s bad enough for the docs to be crawling up my privates but with a cheering squad, no longer under the haze of morphine and first thing in the morning was a little awkward.  I hadn’t even brushed my teeth!  Well, then my “act cool” thing took over.  Not wanting to appear modest, oh no, not the newly minted RN.  So I smiled, through my covers off and pulled my nightgown up around my waste.  I had not a stitch on under there, my girlie parts were in full view.  I even showed off my ballet experience and did a little plie.  “Go right ahead”  I told him.  There was a little throat clearing, and a few smothered giggles.  I looked over at him, and he stuck his hand out to shake mine, saying “I am sorry.  Please allow my to introduce myself properly.  I am Dr Whassis, and I am a Cardiologist”.  What I did then, was real.  As in, this is the real me.  I pulled the nightgown all the way over my head, hiding my face, and said “just kill me now”.  But I do sooooo wish I could have been cool.  As in funny and cool.  Like my dear friend Sue.  When she heard about it, she said I should have told him that ” you might as well cop a feel since I’ve got the goodies out on the table”.  That is just so Sue.  Maybe next time…

More Tales of the Uncool…Showing off my tatas in Europe

“When in Rome” is a great excuse for the stupid things people do when they travel.  That’s the mantra that was going through my head when I when I put my girls out there for the world to see.  It was back in the 80s.  Before kids.  The “before kids” me was skinny, and didn’t have a lot of girlie goodies hiding under my shirt.  Like- almost none.  I was a lot more modest then, too.

In 1985 I was going back to school for nursing. No more corporate suits or panty hose. I would wear pajamas scrubs and sneakers to work.  I’d saved money, quit my job.  All set to start in September.  I was going to waitress all summer and save up more money.  Then, Mom called.  Somehow, she convinced me to take off for Europe instead.  Just for the summer.  “But school”…I said.  “Helen and Jen are going too”.  My rescue mom and her younger daughter.  I knew I couldn’t afford it.  She pointed out that we’d be taking the train a lot.  On the train, we play cards for money.  I win.  A lot.  We played for whatever the smallest denomination in each country we visited.  Francs and gulden’s, mostly.  By the end of the trip, my costs totaled $250.  That was including a buying spree at NafNaf on the Champs-Élysées. 

One thing I didn’t buy there was a bathing suit. I’d packed one, and it would be fine.  Sure.  It was a white one-piece suit with a big cartoon Minnie Mouse on the front.  I wore it down to the pool in Monaco.  As I was sitting down, I noticed some heads turning my way.  A lot of them.  I had on the only one piece suit at the pool.  It was fairly crowded too.  Sun glasses on, I safely spied on the other sunbathers.  There were people from all age groups around the pool.  Every single one of them, the toddlers to the ancient crones, were topless.  They had sun browned tatas hanging (high and low) all over the pool.  And here I was, all self conscious, in a one piece.  Ugh.  Why hadn’t I packed a bikini?  I’ve never gone topless in public, and now I feel like the odd one here.  I decided that I’d slowly just remove the straps, roll them down and get a little sun on my pale, anemic looking chest.  A little at a time, slowly, casually I exposed my upper half.  Finally, I had a little sun on my body.  I picked up my book and started reading.  I could tune out the people around me and get lost in a book.  I was enjoying the feeling.  The warmth of the sun, the freedom, the slight breeze.  Then it got dark.  I noticed this first.  It was a shadow. The I heard a rustle, right by my feet.  “Mi scusi”.  It was a little boy.  Actually, it was a whole heard of little kids, and behind them, a couple of men.  What the!…They were holding out papers, and pens.  A couple had autograph books.  And my girls were all out there for those little beady eyes.  Ugh!  I realized fairly quickly that they thought I was someone else.  I’ve no idea who I was meant to be.  All I could think was to sign something quickly and get them away.  I took the first paper and scribbled a name.  Then another, and another.  Only thing is, by doing so it seemed that I made things worse.  It confirmed that I was “someone”.  More people noticed.  A couple of people took pictures.  Without my permission.  Like paparazzi.  I felt kind of violated.  And also, kind of scared.  What if they realized I was a fraud? So as quickly as I could, I signed all the autographs, gathered up my things and ran.  I never went back to that pool.  In fact, I decided it was a little uncomfortable being there at all.  We left that evening, returned to Nice and from there went to Switzerland.  It was more comfortable there, as in not as hot.  Also as in “people cover their tatas at the pool”.  And nobody recognized me.  I was the briefly famous, tata bearing glamorous girl in the Minnie Mouse one piece bathing suit, and they didn’t even notice.  Hmph.