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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Summer Vacation or How I Ate My Way Up the California Coast

It asll began in Las Vegas. We flew out to attend the wedding our our own best man from 41 years ago. Our friend Karen offered to put us up. Karen not only gave us shelter, she loaned us her car. She not only loaned us her car, she fed us. There was breakfast every morning. She made English Toffee to take to our son (most of it made it); she made us a lemon meringue pie. On our last evening, she prepared an amazing crab-stuffed white fish smothered in a white-cheese sauce. It was matched with homemade French bread and garlic asparagus. Because somehow, magically, the pie had already disappeared, she whipped up a cheese cake served with ripe raspberries.
The next day saw us driving from the San Francisco Airport towards Monterey. Midway and hungry for lunch, we pulled off the highway. There we were facing a Subway. No, I don’t think so. Then we saw Lieu’s, a little, independently-owned Chinese place. We know you’re in a good ethnic restaurant when we have the only white faces in the place. Inside were round tables where families wer enjoying a succession of beautifully presented dishes. It was all I could do not to spear samples as the waiters passed by. The owner explained that they were serving their Father’s Day meal. Steve decided on prawns with peppers, and I enjoyed simple chicken with vegetables. This place served notable food but was, in my mind, more noted for the attention of the owner and the congeniality of the other patrons who told us it was the best Chinese restaurant within 100 miles. We rolled out of there and continued down the coast.

Steve’s sister, Judi, is a world class Italian cook. World Class. Also, she likes to cook large breakfasts for people. While I was able to restrain myself at breakfast time, I totally broke down at a dinner party where she served salad, pasta with marinara sauce, chicken cacciatore and an unbelievable scrumptious eggplant casserole involving ricotta cheese and half and half. (She rationalized to me that it was okay because she used non-fat half and half.) (recipe from The Barefoot Countessa) She wouldn’t be caught dead having a dinner party without dessert, so she put out two, yes, two kinds of chocolate cake as well as Oliallieberry Pie, a local delicacy using a blackberry-like fruit. (You were jealous at two chocolate cakes, and now you can hardly stand it, can you?) After a couple of dinners out and a final morning involving steak and eggs, we waddled to our car and headed up to Davis.

We began to starve to death around noontime and veered off one of the Pleasanton exits. I was looking forward to a salad, but all we found was Jim’s Country Café. Who knew we’d get amazing hamburgers and more amazing French fires? I know I should be embarrassed to mention that I almost finished the French fries, but I’m not editorializing here; I’m just reporting.

ur son and daughter-in-law live in Davis. We were only spending one night there before going to Sonoma for the weekend, so we went to my favorite little café. I can happily report that there I got salad at last, a beet, goat cheese and butter leaf lettuce salad. Man, it made me feel like I could almost fit into my clothes again.

Saturday morning, the four of us drove to Bodega Beach. We stopped at a little fish place, and what do you order at a fish place? David and I split our orders of fish and chips, and prawns and chips. Yes, it was fried, and at this point, I’m saying it with my chin (and my belly) jutting forward.
We stopped to look at the ocean, drove to the redwood forest and took a walk, flooded with the aroma and with the trunks spiring up like giant stalks. That worked off at least 100 calories, right? It’s good thing because when we arrived at the B&B, the hostess served us tea and homemade scones with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. That evening she recommended a restaurant within the grocery store Fresh. All I could put into my tummy was a basil-chicken salad with pine nuts accompanied by a glass of un-oaked chardonnay. Pretty darned tasty and not too filling, leaving room for the homemade shortbread left on the B&B's sideboard.

Saturday morning was wine exploration time. Lunch in the park at Healdsberg consisted of left-overs from the Fresh plus a piece of asparagus quiche, a slice of bacon, bakery bread and a cinnamon cake in the baggie the hostess gave us at breakfast. Sadly, the morning’s yogurt, honey and granola torte wouldn’t go into the take-away bag. It was amazing, and you can find that and other of Jackie’s recipes at www.melittastationinn.com . Jackie trained as a chef, and the price of the B&B was more than worth her kitchen miracles.

A couple of more wineries led us to Somoma’s city square. We’d made dinner reservations at Le Solette, aa Portuguese restaurant. I’d never had Portuguese food before, and I may never have Portuguese food that matches this. David and Dana had the Portuguese caldera, a fish stew very like paella with large prawns, clams and mussels. Steve had the evening’s special, a Mediterranean sea bass with olives and potatoes. I had the most delicious baked sea bass served over kale and sweet corn. OMG, that’s all I have to say about that.

A final breakfast of oranges in caramel sauce (ooooh, so much better than it sounds), an egg casserole made with cake crumbs served with poached, organic pears and zucchini bread. I pondered the reality of returning home to breakfasts of plain yogurt and a banana.

After breakfast, we drove back to Davis and the following morning packed up our 3 pounds of Las Vegas, Ethel M chocolates and flew home.

Oh, gods, I love vacation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Submit to, Yikes, What?

Submit -- Makes me think of the dog whisperer teaching that the master’s job is to keep the dog in a state of calm submission. The dog will be happier that way and well behaved. The people around it will obviously be happier, although not necessarily well behaved. That seems right, that an animal be submissive to a human, doesn’t it?
Submit -- Makes me think of submitting my Jaguar Sees manuscript to agents and the rejections, oh, the rejections I got back. Some of them were simple form e-mails. Some were more difficult to interpret, like, your writing is really good; the characters are well-developed and the dialog believable; the plot moves well, but I don’t want to represent your book. What was I supposed to make of that? And what’s the good of submitting if people like it but still don’t want it?

Submit --  Makes me think of myself in whip, shiny black boots and my 25-year-old body, tapping shiny black boots and . . . hmmm, never mind.

Let’s face it, the word Submit is a little intimidating. It means you have to give something up, allow someone to dominate you, have control. Now explain to me why it is that what they chose to write to the top right of my Blog screen?

I remember a couple of weeks ago filling out a dialog box that would allow my readers (those are lovely words; let me write them again: “my readers”) to receive an e-mail notification when I blogged. Some of them (my readers, that is – see? I got it in again.) had requested such notification. I filled out the form and then, well, as far as I could tell, nothing.

Last week I noticed that word up on the right, Submit. I thought it a little strange. Where did it come from? What did it mean? What was I supposed to submit to? I took a deep breath and grew bold. I pointed and clicked.

Surprise! It was the result of the form I’d filled out. Readers can click on it and subscribe to receive a notification e-mail when I post. How simple. How easy. How confusing. Couldn’t it have read, “E-mail notification”? or “Sign up”? or anything less scary? I guess not.

So if you enjoy what you read here, or know me and like me, or would like to stroke my ego, just go to the top right of the screen here and click on Submit. I promise to keep the boots in the closet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Cat Came Back

Our cat Elaine is 16 (and a half) years old. She’s on thyroid medication which prevents the starvation that follows hyperthyroidism. She’s got severe arthritis, and she’s in the beginning stages of kidney failure. There’s the lethargy, the bits of feline senility (although, let’s face it, the line between senility and sanity in a cat is a dotted one), the occasional pasley in her head. There’s the unattractive butt scrunching along the floor.
I’ve had a lot of angst over Elaine because there’s also been the limping onto my lap in the evenings, the occasional pat at my ankle as I pass by her special spot in the hall. She’s not in pain, even with the the hobbling up the stairs or occasional buckling of her leg when she leans on it. There’s been angst and, yes, a few tabs of klonipin and ambien. Finally, though, I took a breath, called the vet. The receptionist was well trained, or, you know, truly kind and compassionate when she made the appointment for last Monday.
My husband, who has a big, soft, squishy heart, and to whom, I might add, this cat has never shown one ounce of affection, insisted on coming with me. He really thought she was only a little dead (remember the Princess Bride?), wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything precipitous but was too nice to come right out and tell me I was murdering my cat I pointed out that we were going to be gone for 12 days, 12 days when she would have no company (she likes to lie near us in the evenings or steal Steve’s chair on the porch when he’s about to sit down). Once a day, the neighbor kids will over to slop food in her bowl, and she’ll probably hide from them. I pointed out that kidney failure does not get better.
A major symptom of feline kidney failure is urinating outside the litter box. Now, to be fair to Elaine, she has so far been fastidious in her non-compliant litter behavior. Poop is always buried in the litter, and pee is, well peed just outside the box. I put an aluminum cookie tin half under the box with folded newspaper on it (no, not puppy pads, thanks for the suggestion, folks: she needs to be able to scratch). She goes on the paper, and I replace it every morning. I know, I know, too much information. The litter box issue greatly contributed to Elaine’s appointment.
Three thirty, Monday afternoon was the vet’s last appointment of the day. I didn’t have time for emotional upheaval on Tuesday, and Steve was right, that we shouldn’t do this on the fly Wednesday before we took off on vacation. Monday it was. Besides, I harbored this tiny spark of hope that Dr. Voell (pronounced Vole. Heck of a name for a vet, right? But he’s REALLY caring, and, this not being a J.K. Rowling novel, not at all vole-like). I harbored a hope that he would have some magic medicine (not a pill, though, because Elaine WILL NOT take them, and don’t get me started on that – it’s not a pretty picture.) that would, duh, what? Heal kidneys? Well, something.
I was edgy all day, and Elaine picked up on my anxiety and paced through the house and on and off the porch. Neither of us could settle down. The veterinary office is only 10 minutes away from our house, but a 3:30 appointment means I have to being stuffing Elaine into her carrier at 3:00 which can take more or less time depending on the accuracy of my first attempt at loading. If I miss with the first aim of struggling, spitting cat, we’re doomed.
At 2:45 Monday, Steve called his sister. At 2:50, while I was listening to the arrangements for our up-coming visit. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as Elaine strolled out of the house onto the screened-in porch toward the pet door. A thought flashed through my mind that a smart person would have closed the pet door, and apparently I was not a smart person. I wasn’t overly concerned, though, because she only stretches out on the deck or, at most, on the moss at the bottom of the steps. At 3:00, Steve hung up, and I went to collect the cat.

What cat?

She was nowhere. Not on the porch, not on the deck, not UNDER the deck. Not in the yard. Not in the strip of woods behind the house. Not on the driveway. I looked on the pink chair in the living room. I looked in her special hidey-hole behind the suitcases in the storage room. Nope. Not under the beds. Not under the dining room table.

I walked through the house, calling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” I walked around the house, calling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!” It’s 3:45 and the cat has vanished.

I call and cancel the appointment.

Fifteen minutes later, 3:30 on the dot, Elaine strolls into the house, giving me the sassiest look a furry face can manage. She turns back to the porch, climbs up the arced footstool and curls up in Steve’s Adirondack chair.

I call the office again (we’re practically on a first name basis by now), explain what happened. The receptionist checks with the doctor who hasn’t left yet. He agrees to wait, and we pack Elaine up and take off. We’re shown right into an exam room and are asked if we want to pay for the euthanasia up front (nicely – this wasn’t as crass as it sounds – more along the lines of, you may be really upset afterwards.) But I say, no, let’s let the doctor look at her first.
In walks Dr. Voell, so sweetly concerned. He examines her. Now, I mean this in the nicest possible way, but this was just like my mother. I mean, except for this one, okay, two horrible things wrong with her, Elaine was in great shape. Her knees are wobbly, but she gets around. Her eyes are bright. The thyroid meds have allowed her to gain weight. Let’s just say an extraordinary amount of weight. She’s curious and alert. The doctor is just as ambivalent as we are. His conclusion is, hey, let’s see how she does with 12 days of the kids next door feeding her. If she’s at death’s door when you get back, well, we’ll know what to do. Meanwhile, here’s some really strong pain medicine for her, we’ll do some blood tests. She goes peacefully into the carrier for him.

We bring Elaine back home. In the past two days, she’s been walking better, sleeping better and been much calmer. She hasn’t peed outside the box once. Maybe she’s just more comfortable because the weather’s cooled down, that and the kitty narcotics. All I know for sure is that damned cat is laughing at me.

(There may be a picture of Elaine here at some point.  Right now, blogger won't let me import one.  Why?  Why, I ask you?  What have I ever done to it?)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pharaoh Chipmunhotep

I’ve been to the pyramids. Huge, massive things, each with the footprint of a New York city block. No matter how much beer the ancient Egyptians poured down the slaves’ throats, I can’t imagine how one pyramid was ever built, let alone multiples.

I’ve climbed down a laddder into one (just ahead of -- or below -- a woman in a full abaya.) And down. And down. There was something almost magical about the little room in the bottom in the deep dark lit by wavering torches in the still, dry air..
Because, as we know, Egypt is dry. While the mummies place in the pyramids were eviscerated and wrapped, the Egyptian desert is dry enough that, even untreated, bodily remains often naturally desiccate, leaving preserved, leathery skin wrapped around an assembled bone structure.

Virginia weather is the opposite of that.Virginia is humid. In the summer, it’s even more humid. However, it seems mummification conditions exist in our garage. No, really. About a year ago, while lifting a wastebasket  so I could sweep out the garage, I came across the dried out bodies of two – not one but TWO – chipmunks. I guess maybe they ran into the garage last winter during a snow storm and starved to death, poor things. It was pretty interesting, though. Their fur was a dull brown, the stripes faded into one dull brown. The bodies were flat, like sad, furry versions of Flat Stanley. At first I thought they were, I don’t know, some kind of cardboard cutout or strange, lost doll, but closer inspection (whoops! Not too close!) proved them to be naturally mummified chipmunks.

A couple of months ago, I was stumbling out to retrieve the morning newspaper. When I pushed the button to open the garage door, something plopped down from the guide rail, four inches from my face. I jumped back (you would, too, if huge, wild animal tried to jump on your head. It might be a Celery Root attacking!) Then thwump! and scurrying feet on the cement. A chipmunk (sure, it seemed little as it ran away) raced across the garage floor. It looked like it had avoided being run down by the heavy door along its track. Turns out, it didn’t.

When the contractors had all but finished with our kitchen make-over, I again swept the garage. (Man, I’ sounding like a really tidy, organized person. Trust me, these are the two times I swept the garage in the last two years.) I was pushing the new molding over to the wall and bent down to remove a piece of the old molding that was mixed in. Underneath that was a – you guessed it – pancake flat chipmunk mummy.
What’s up with this? Is my garage the current Temple of Chipenhotep, dead chimpmunk Pharaoh of small rodents? In the dark of night, when I can’t see, do the rodent residents of Oakton gather under my car for vigil and prayer? A thousand years from now, will their dirty, little rodent feet scuttle in and wonder (the chipmunks, not the feet) at the amazing structure that housed their dead?

What can I say? This is the kind of thing that occupies my mind.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Beautiful Kitchen

You'd never recognize our kitchen now.  Well, that is, of course you would.  There was no room to change the blueprint, so the lay-out is exactly the same.  And the cabinets are the colored the same base stain.  But otherwise, you'd never recognize it.
The house is 30 years old, and the original cabinet doors, a rather attractive if soft knotty pine, had long since seen better days. They were gouged. They had lost whatever finish I put on when I sanded and restained them them 10 years ago. The door to the end cabinet, broken into two ragged pieces when we moved in, still looked pretty good from the Elmer’s Glue (I have a deep, abiding belief in the powers of Elmer’s Glue) and staples that I used to repair it when we moved in 20 year ago, but still . . . . I also loved our faux green granite laminate counter tops, but again . . . . The time had come.

 We chose new cabinets (with those lovely drawers and a corner door that allow you to actually access your cupboard space). The wooden floors stayed, of course.  A few pieces didn't make it in yet.  The vent grill, the leaded glass door to two cabinets (ones with the wrong pttern were sent), the wheels to the extra pantry drawer: these are all on order and coming soon. There’s bound to be a glitch or two in a job like this, and as snafus go, these are tiny ones that are easily endured.

The kitchen is now glorious. Well, it will be when those last final touches are complete. Meanwhile, I have to confess it's an enormous convenience to reach through the empty insets directly and directly take out my dishes. I wonder how many times I’ll bang my hands against the glass when the doors are finally installed. The cabinets are a medium cherry with a black wash (sounds awful but looks lovely). The granite – real this time – is called Typhoon Bordeaux. The background is white marble with gray and amber waved striations. It is so beautiful, it takes my breath away. Because we ran the new cabinets to the ceiling, we’ve added a lot of storage which translates into things being put away. This means there is more work space on the countertops, and better lighting with the under-cabinet lights. It is almost, almost perfect.
All that is required to make it completely perfect is to find someone to cook in it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

We Came, We Cooked, We Conquered

Look at this. 

Did you ever see anything so hideous? Scariest damn thing I ever saw. At first I thought an alien monster from outer space had attached itself to my husband in the grocery store. See the bulging body? See the mouthful of scary tentacles ready to pull you in and devour you in its enormous maw? I swear, if you held it up in front of small children, they would run screaming. The damage would last a lifetime.

My fears were (somewhat) allayed when Steve told me the bulging monstrosity was a celery root. But, wait -- what a great way to terrify the kiddies into good behavior. “Get into bed right now, or the Celery Root will get you!” “Eat your vegetables or the Celery Root will eat YOU!” Yikes.
Now, why, you may wonder, would someone pay good money for something like this? Is the taste appreciably different from mundane celery? (Lest the suspense kill you (heh,heh): taste: no; texture: yes.) We’re participating in a communal gourmet dinner, and after we julienne this thing and soak it and smother it in a mustard sauce a la Julia Child, it is going to form a (hopefully) delicious appetizer with the unsurprising name of Celery Root in Mustard Sauce.
It had better taste good because a  celery root is a horrific object to contemplate. (Hey, isn’t this where I send my photos to an art museum and become acclaimed for my unusual still lifes?) The thought of getting near this thing is daunting. I see great possibilities for empowerment in triumphing over the bulbous beast, but equally enormous ego-reduction should it get me instead. I’m headed in after it now, large kitchen knife in hand. *shivers* If you hear from me no more, you’ll know I died bravely, fighting the good fight.

(Monday morning: obviously I prevailed. The dinner was delightful; the celery root tasted exactly like mustard.)


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Cozy Author's Den

It’s been a bit over three months since I uploaded by baby, my darling, my little poochie-coo onto the Kindle site, and a bit less than three months since I’ve tried to learn the ropes of marketing that ethereal object, an e-book. With my total lack of foundation in marketing, publishing or social media, well, let’s just say the words "completely lost" come to mind..
I was fortunate to be invited to write several guest blogs either about Jaguar Sees or about creative writing, and I’ve since needed real self-discipline (not something I’m overly full of) to continue to look for arenas (the official word is “expand my platform”) to play the town crier with my book.

I was in J.C. Penney’s buying, ahem, unmentionables, and while I was checking out, a long-lost friend came up to the clerk declaring, “Hello, Claire.”  I channeled my author friend, Austin Comacho – the most happily extroverted person I know – and said, “I wrote a book, and the heroine’s name is Claire.”

Do you know she was interested? Actually interested! I gave her one of my Jaguar Sees cards, and, well, you never know where a sale will come from.
Last week I read through my things-to-do list and saw there was an Amazon group site that I hadn’t investigated. I had gone on their bulletin board, but, frankly, I find bulletin boards completely confusing and have never been able to figure out how to use them. This site, however, is Amazon’s Author’s Den. Author's list their books on the site, and readers search it for books they'd enjoy.  You register your book on it with a short description, a little biography and personal picture.

Ugh, a picture. Let’s face it, I take a terrible picture. Or, more accurately, I can take pictures fine, but pictures of me are terrible – either that, or I’m a lot uglier than I think I am. Either way, I used a picture Steve took of me at the shore so if I’m not beautiful, at least I look relaxed.

The site also provides a space to list all the tag words that might relate to your book so when people search, for, say, Shamonic thriller (‘cause, you know, there’s a huge audience clamoring for that), or, more likely, international thriller or nuclear mystery, Jaguar will be on the list.

I uploaded all the information, and you know what? There are actual hits on the page. Hits that aren’t me. Hits that are one-time hits because the site doesn’t count multiple hits. From those hits on the page (I think of them more as inquisitive taps), there have been a few hits on the book’s site at Kindle (http://amzn.to/hUuFdS -- in case you wanted it). With luck, out of all those, there will be a sale or two.

Ah, if I’d only known. I would have registered on the Author’s Den in the very beginning. (For all you nescient authors, now YOU know.) Now I wonder what else it is that I don’t know. Oh, so much!