Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Things Change. Of Panera and UPS, People and ATMs and Divine Peaches

Things change. My Wednesday mornings are changing, after seven delighting years.

Today is my last Wednesday morning to rise early and, come pelting rain or warmest sunshine, pick-up our weekly carton of freshly farmed organic produce from a small, refrigerated truck in the Big Lots parking lot.

Today is my last morning to chat with Tammy, the pastor's wife who distributes produce as a second job and personal ministry. She and her husband planted a new church a couple years ago in San Juan Capistrano.  Her husband and parents substitute for her when she's ill or visiting her sister. 

Today is my last morning to make small talk with Juan, the truck driver and family farmer who packs the company truck the night before, sleeps a few hours, then drives nearly 300 miles each way on Wednesdays to deliver the latest crops to Placentia and Irvine. Juan's parents are buried in the same country cemetery as my grandparents, who also farmed in the San Joaquin Valley.

Today is my last morning to amiably chat with others picking up their weekly farming allotment.  Others also clad in hastily pulled-on clothes and barely combed hair, nursing the day's first cup of coffee. My last morning to smile at and greet the plainly garbed black woman who smiles shyly, but never speaks. My last morning to observe the perfectly-coiffed women in spandex leggings, pricey running shoes, and gigantic SUVs as they gossip about the latest church doings. My last morning to admire from afar the 70-something couple who buy a large produce carton each week, to distribute to homeless shelters. My last morning to exchange cooking tips for last week's produce. (Try tossing broccoli with olive oil and kosher salt, then roasting for 20 minutes.  My husband and son can't get enough. Those divine peaches...those grapes! ) 

Today is my last morning for my seven-year post-produce ritual.  Driving past a Christmas tree farm and miles of glinty-green soccer fields to Panera Bread for a spinach-laden breakfast sandwich and more coffee.  Watching suited real estate agents on Panera's front patio listening to a marketing guru and laboring to impress each other. 

Enjoying my veggie sandwich at the local park. Watching ducks, assorted geese, and a lone egret or two. Watching young mothers push strollers. Watching retired couples stroll in unison. Watching dogs being walked, carried, and also pushed in strollers. Watching a clutch of elderly men sail elaborate model boats in the lake. 

Sipping coffee while meditating on trees and sky and reflective water. While praying to our God. While listening to soft music. While admittedly checking my phone. 

But things change. Our carton of organic produce will be delivered by UPS, starting after Thanksgiving. No more need for contact with any of these people. No need to leave my home.

This morning, Wells Fargo's ATM was the first to wish me a happy birthday, one week in advance. My phone assistant, the one I didn't ask for, wants me to ask questions of her.  But I can't think of any questions that I can't answer using my own resources. I certainly don't need an ordering assistant. I order too much stuff already. 

We used to chuckle when my father-in-law refused to use a debit card or ATM machine for years. He said he wanted to walk into a bank, and talk to a teller who knows him. He wanted human contact.  He wanted to be known. I understand that impulse. 

Things change, often for the best.  But these changes that remove and replace human connection, I don't think they're for the best. 

But still, things change and ebb and flow.That's modern life, I guess. I deeply miss the people and people-watching that efficient technology has replaced in my life. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"The Year of Pleasures" by Elizabeth Berg: Charm with a Bite

"The buzzer on the stove sounded. I took the pie out and put it on a cooking rack, closed my eyes, and leaned in to smell. Then I headed upstairs to find something to wear tonight. I would bathe, rest, dress, and go to search out the company of others, bearing the gift of fruit in pastry. 

"What did we do here but pull ourselves along in this fashion? Never mind our various life circumstances, what I believed was that we had all been flung into the water without having been taught to swim. We ate, we slept, we formed our kaleidoscopic relationships and marched ever forward.


"We licked chocolate from our fingers. We arranged flowers in vases.  We inspected our backsides when tried on new clothes.  We gave ourselves over to art.  We elected officials and complained. We stood up for home runs.


"We marked life passages in ceremonies we attended with impatience and pride... We felt at times that perhaps we really were visitors from another planet. We occasionally wondered if it was true that each of us was making everything up.


"But this was a wobbly saucer; this was thinking we could not endure; we went back to our elegant denial of unbreachable isolation, to refusing the lesson of being born alone and dying that way, too.


"We went back to loving, to eating, to sleeping, to marching and marching and marching along."   


This passage is from  the novel "The Year of Pleasures" by Elizabeth Berg, the September 2017 book selection for my local public library book club.

I hadn't looked forward much to reading this slim volume, and regarded it as fluff, aimed women of a certain age. And it is, for the most part.  I usually read literary classics and current best-sellers, and non-fiction, often biographies or related to environmental or political topics. 

But I liked this charming novel more than I expected, largely because the author appeals often to the senses... taste, smell, sight, hearing, touch.  Reading "The Year of Pleasures" was a relaxing, sensory experience.

Elizabeth Berg can also dazzle with descriptions, such as this paragraph on page 78:
"The mantel clock struck five, startling me from my reverie... I moved to the kitchen window and watched the movement of clouds across the sky, then the lazy revolutions of a falling maple seed just outside the glass. It looked like a tiny pair of discarded angels wings, browned with age."
Like a squeeze of sour lemon in a hot cup of soothing tea, though, author Berg also startles the reader, from time to time, with sharply acidic notes... the bitchy girlfriend of a lovely young man; bitter disappointment when her late husband's written legacies are meaningless mumbo-jumbo; the passage above that belies puzzlement at the meaning of life. 

Just beneath the pretty words and images of this book float anxiety, bite, and a touch of bile.  That is what makes "The Year of Pleasures" interesting.  Not just the sensory experience...Life is not merely a freshly baked pie, "the gift of fruit in pastry."

Clever book. Clever author and very smart editor. Don't judge this book only by its delicious cover. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Roasted Corn and Cucumber Summer Salad

Despite my extensive cookbook collection, both vintage and current, I often create my own dishes based on the contents of our over-filled refrigerator. 

I'm enamored of the lettuce-free salad I concocted for my lunch today. (I'm tired of salad greens lately for no particular reason.) Using organic veggies from this week's CSA produce delivery, my delicious summer salad is also simple.

Roasted Corn and Cucumber Summer Salad
  • 1 whole cucumber, peeled and diced into large bites
  • 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2 ears of grilled corn, chilled and cut from the cobs
  • 2 ounces of jack cheese, cut into bite-sized cubes

Next time, I'll add a quarter cup of chopped red onions, and maybe a small handful of chopped walnuts. The grilled corn ears were leftovers from last night's dinner. 

I tossed this refreshing summer salad with a very small amount of ranch dressing.

Enjoy!  Thanks to my sister, Teri, for inspiring me to eat even more veggies. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mourning My Five Favorite Movies on VHS

We recently donated what might be the last functioning TV with a built-in VHS player. Our thirty-something sons both snickered in astonishment that we owned anything electronic that ancient...

Lest you believe we're tech-dinosaurs, it was a rarely used second TV, gathering dust in a corner of our bedroom.  I watched it when using the treadmill.  And perhaps for only 15 or 20 minutes late at night since Jon Stewart departed "The Daily Show."  

We have three other TVs, all flat screens.  A 46" Panasonic in our family room, and two small LG TVs, one in my office and one in the garage/man cave. We replaced the relic with an LG 4K "smart" TV, whatever that might mean.

But what to do with the 32 movies remaining in my VHS collection?  We donated our extensive Disney VHS collection a few years ago when cleaning out Andrea's room.  Obviously, we have no use for movies in VHS format.  

I treasure those movies, though, like I treasure cherished books.  I treasure memories connected to many of these movies.  My dilemma?  Do I replace them with DVDs, thus rebuilding my film library?  I believe firmly in the value of libraries, including film libraries.  Or do I simply keep a list, and watch them on Netflix or Amazon Prime, the two services we use?

Truthfully, I'm torn.  I may collect a few of the films on DVD because I so savor them.  Others, well, maybe not. Among the five movies on VHS I most mourn and may replace are...

"Lawrence of Arabia," released in 1962, starring Peter O'Toole.  The movie that caused me to fall deeply in love with movies.  I vividly recall watching it on a gigantic screen as an 11 year old, swooning at scenes of heroism, gallantry, drama, and gorgeous expanses of blue skies and sparkling desert.  Found out years later, when I attended UCLA film school, that many movie makers, including Steven Spielberg, regard Lawrence as the best film ever made, and seminal to their careers in the film industry.

"Coming Home," released in 1978, starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, directed by Hal Ashby.  I detested the Vietnam War, and shed tears of sadness during this movie.  I viscerally understood their pain, their passions, their alienation.  Most gut-wrenching scene: Jon Voight, a Vietnam vet in a wheelchair, tearfully addressing high school students... 

"Reds," released in 1981, starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.  At over three hours, the movie was too long.  In the director Beatty's defense, it was a large-scale epic about Russia's Bolshevik Revolution. Greatest single scene ever filmed of a loving embrace... Beatty and Keaton reunited after years apart.  Their expressions of raw need, vulnerability, relief were searing with heat. The movie tagline was "Not since Gone With The Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it!"

"A River Runs Through It," released in 1992, directed by Robert Redford, and starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.  Set in Missoula, Montana, the plot follows the two sons of a Presbyterian pastor in the early 1900s.  The narrator reminds me of my beloved grandfather, a forest ranger and later, rancher.  A sentimental, yet tough film about the vagaries of life and passage of time.  The cinematography is breathtaking and the music sweetly haunting.

"Being There,"  released in 1979, starring Peter Sellers, also directed by Hal Ashby, based on a book by acclaimed writer Jerzy Kosinski.  Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. About a simpleminded man in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.  Everything he knows, he learned from television.  He rises in prominence completely by a series of misunderstandings, and ends as a senior advisor to the President of the United States.  Dear God... I never once imagined this dark satire could come true.

My VHS film collection contained requisite baby-boomer classics, including:
  • "The Big Chill," released in 1983
  • "The Graduate," released in 1967
  • "Annie Hall," released in 1977
  • "On Golden Pond," released in 1981
  • "The Accidental Tourist," released in 1988
  • "Bull Durham," released in 1988
My collection included a few bona fide old-time classics:
  • "It Happened One Night"
  • "Casablanca"
  • "Fritz Lang's Metropolis"
  • "Macbeth" starring Orson Welles
I defy anyone reading this to tell me they've also seen these obscure film gems  from my collection:
  • "One from the Heart," released in 1982, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Teri Garr, Raul Julia, featuring the bluesy music of Tom Waits.  A film version of an impressionist painting, each frame, each scene was lush with color and abstraction. 
  • "They All Laughed," released in 1981, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a madcap comedy starring John Ritter, Ben Gazzara, Audrey Hepburn. and  Playboy Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten in her only film before she was tragically murdered. 
  • "Prelude to a Kiss," released in 1992, starring Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan.  A thoughtful comic treatise on true love, based on a Broadway play. 

The Goodwill has been graced with donations of my 32 VHS-format movies.  And they took them, which means someone somewhere still watches movies on VHS players.  I dearly hope they enjoy these magic masterpieces.

As for me, I plan to watch each again.  Soon. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Of Pizza and Collecting Human Souls: Parenting in 2017

Pizza restaurant talk with my nine-year-old grandson this past weekend. A light, casual conversation...  or so I thought.

Me: So tell me about the videos games you like...

Ian: I really like "Unturned."

Me: What's that about?

Ian: It's a pixelated zombie apocalypse game. (Said with sweet, slight condescension, obviously simplifying his explanation for me).

Me:  What's pixelated? 

Ian:  The picture is in little boxes, Grandma.

Me: Got it!  Uh... what other games do you like? (Asked thinking the next must be more understandable to a baby boomer.  About sports, maybe. Or dogs.) 

Ian: I like "Undertale" a lot.

Me: What's "Undertale" about?

Ian: Well, it's monsters vs. humans.  (Again simplifying for me.)

Me: Monsters vs humans?  How do you play? (Attempting to dig deeper. Show interest. Spark connection.)

Ian: Asgore is the monster. The game is he collects human souls so he can become a god.
(He responds excitedly.)

Me: Uhhhhh... (Stunned pause. Maybe I misheard? What???)

Me:  Hey, your extra-pepperoni pizza is here!  (Relieved... Collecting human souls? This is a game?.) 

Ian: Oh cool! 

Me: How's school? (Safer topic. I have new respect for parenting in 2017. How do they do it?) 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Of Treadmills and Foolishness: Breaking the Family Pattern

Sports and exercise were simply not done by women in my family. Mothers and grandmothers model our first, and lasting, examples of femininity. The idea seemed far-fetched to them that physical activity was important, much less feasible.  Other than leisurely golf, tennis, badminton, or backyard croquet. 

I can't imagine my grandmother ever exercised for her health, and she lived to age 89.  Grandma was a hearty, lifelong farmer's wife, a busy occupation during her era (1897 to 1987), at least until Grandpa retired from small-time farming and beef ranching.

The idea of Grandma on a treadmill is a hilarious vision of cheeriness and her trademark impatience. Bundle of restless energy that she was, I don't recall her sitting except at the meal table.  And then only for 20 minutes before pushing seconds, clearing the table, washing dishes, stoking her prized wood-burning stove. And sitting, absorbed in her favorite TV program, "The Lawrence Welk Program.

Yet, without formal exercise, Grandma remained mobile and lived nine decades with nary a trace of heart disease or cancer, although those last few years were spent in a fog of what we then called senility.   

As a young girl, my outdoorsy mother camped summers in nearby Sequoia and Kings' Canyon Parks, bonded with the family dogs, and rode her beloved horse Dolly everywhere. 

Mother's 1948 community college yearbook featured four full pages devoted to "Girl's Sports," including archery, badminton, volleyball, square dancing, jumping jacks, and lots of tennis. Oddly, she was in none of those photos.

As an adult, my mother never exercised for health, and paid a terrible price of arthritic pain, inflammation, and immobility later in life.  For 15 years, she didn't walk more than a dozen yards at a time, and rarely ventured outside. But still, she lived to age 86, also without a trace of heart disease or cancer.   

My sister exercises and exercises and exercises. Teri walks. A lot.  She walks for miles every possible day, usually on beautiful southern Oregon beaches. She ponders as she walks. She finds peace of mind when walking. But mainly, my sister, a nurse for 30-plus years, walks and hikes for good health.  

Since childhood, I've been a reluctant exerciser. As an exasperating teenager, I would rather be in my room, my head in a book or listening to music. In junior high, Mother pushed me into tennis and archery in summers to get me out of the house. 

I detested P.E., and was mortified when I once fainted while running the high school track.  During my senior year of high school, Mother did what I thought finally qualified her as very cool: she often called me in sick for first-period P.E., and made excuses why I would be well by second period English.  She didn't see the point of exercise or sports for a 17 year old girl. Neither did I. 

Today, though, osteoarthritic pain and stiffness threaten the richness of my life.  Exactly like my mother at sixtysomething. 

Seems our tricked-out recumbent bike has harmed my right hip more than helped over the last two years, so we dumped it last month. But not exercising yields unpleasant results for me... stiffness, pain, inflammation. 

I took a bold (for my family) step recently to do things differently. To break the mold. I bought a treadmill.  And I'm using it. Daily. Comfortably, to my surprise...  

Grandma would be bewildered at our foolishness.  Why do we sit so much today?  When would we find time to to "exercise," when meals need to be created, crops grown, produce canned, farm animals tended, people cared for, laundry done, socks mended, letters to loved ones written? I can hear her: "For heaven's sake, why would you need a machine to walk?" 

Mother would be stubborn.  Two years before she passed, she lamented that had she known more about nutrition and health, she wouldn't have "ended up like this."   Which was utter nonsense. About health, she was hard-headed as an annoyed mule. Unteachable. Pain was pain, and it meant to her that you slow down, not bear down. 


Mother wanted better for me, though.  She beseeched me to handle my health differently then her. She told me, with urgency, innumerable times in those last years.  My sister is proud and supportive, but understandably skeptical. 

Why exercise?  Family genetics aren't everything, of course, and neither my sister or I are particularly predisposed to cancer or heart disease.  But I don't plan to sit for the next 15 years. I don't choose to live in pained isolation or dwell in pain. I choose to follow my sister's good example. 

I also committed to a treadmill to demonstrate to myself that I remain teachable.  I want better for my life, family patterns be damned.  God willing.  

(Note - First two photos were taken from "The Tiger" yearbook of Reedley College in Reedley, California, 1948, my parents' alma mater.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

My Shared Pain: No One Wants Family Heirlooms Anymore

I have a plethora of pretty things from my mother that no one wants. I'm paralyzed with procrastination... too pained to donate fragile, lovely homewares cherished by my mother, yet burdened with dust-catching items I rarely, if ever, use.   

Seems I'm not alone in feeling discouraged that our adult children are uninterested in enjoying, then passing finely crafted family heirlooms down to their children.  

The Greatest Generation, raised in scarcity during the Depression, treasured stuff. The generations before them collected stuff for use or as mementos of distant or deceased family or ancestral lands.

Last month, Next Avenue, a PBS newsletter for those over-50, published its most popular article ever, "Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents' Stuff."

Reports PBS:
"This post about a heartbreaking, pervasive problem struck a minor chord in a major way: It was the most viewed article in Next Avenue’s history, garnering more than 1.5 million views, 32,000 Facebook shares and 5,500 comments, and was printed over 3,100 times."
Comments to the Next Avenue blog post fell into five categories:
  • "I so relate"
  • "This is so sad and difficult"
  • "I feel guilty about what I had to do"
  • I won't let this happen to my kids"
  • "You're wrong. People want these possessions." 
Here's a few of the comments that touched a heartbroken nerve in me... 

"My children have already told me they don’t want any of our antiques because they don’t care for ‘brown furniture.’ Drives me crazy that they prefer cheap furniture made of pressed sawdust and glue, but what’s a mom to do?"
"My mother was a serious collector of imported English Victorian antique furniture and spent her weekends throughout my life polishing it to an inch of its life … I cried when her table and chairs were loaded onto a trailer- I hated them but I loved them as well!"

"It’s a good thing our deceased loved ones can’t see what’s happening to their prized possessions. Many of them struggled through financial woes and 'made do' during hard times. To see their things pitched and tossed would be heartbreaking for them."

"My mother… always preached to me the 'value' of this or that…. Well, I’ve learned that nothing is worth anything if no one wants it... I couldn’t even find buyers for her genuine gold and gem stone jewelry and had to liquidate it for pennies at one of those 'we buy gold' places. I still have a storage unit full of stuff 20 years after her death because in her memory I can’t bring myself to just give it away."

One particular comment rings painfully true... " My mother made me promise to never get rid of certain items so now they sit in the basement because I would feel guilty selling or giving them away."  

You see, months before she passed away in April 2016, I told Mother that I have her 68-year-old white satin wedding dress.  And I asked her, my unsentimental mother stricken with Alzheimer's, what she wanted me to do with it.   She paused for a long moment, then slowly responded, "Keep it.  Please keep it." 

I'll likely keep my mother's crumpled wedding dress until the day I die. She considered her 1948 wedding day to be the best day of her 86-year-long life, and she asked me to keep it.  I can't bear to give it away to strangers. I could have her dress made into charming decorative pillows for my two daughters, niece, and granddaughter.  But sadly, I don't think they care that I long for them to value something of my mother... It's just more stuff that doesn't match their taste. 

Among other family heirlooms gathering dust in our cupboards and two china cabinets:  two punch bowls, one crystal with 18 matching handled punch glasses and two crystal punch ladles. A demitasse set of eight porcelain cups and saucers, hand-painted with Audubon-like birds. English and French bone china teacups and saucers. Tiny wine glasses.  Some cool 1950s pyrex and melmac bowls. Plus an exquisitely embellished linen tablecloth gifted to me 40 years ago by my maternal grandmother. And much more. 

Two distinct types of parting thoughts were reflected among comments to the Next Avenue post:

Despair... "In the future there will be no personal history … only ‘in the moment’ … no graves, no personal letters, no hard copies of long-lasting photographs, no heirlooms …. no footprints in the sand." 

Laissez-faire... "Personally when I die if someone enjoys something of mine great but it’s not me!! Do whatever you want with my stuff after I die, but keep a good memory of me in your heart!!"   

... and "It doesn’t bother me that my girls are not interested in our stuff. It’s just stuff, really."

I'm working on the latter.  And looking for a seamstress to make heirloom pillows from Mother's wedding dress, including a special pillow for me.