Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Cutest Couple in the World

Can you be cute if you're 6'4" and you're wife is 5'9"? My brother-in-law Paul and my sister Kathy are not an elderly couple so we're not talking cute in that longevity sense. They are not silly people who wear odd colorful clothing or have unusual hobbies. They are Evangelical Christian, Republican, grandparents, loving and hard working people who have a sense of humor. And it's a good thing they do. Things happen. Things have always happened in their lives, home, orbit. And the sense of humor gets them through - no that's not fair. The sense of humor helps them be in their life and not standing outside it, whining about what might not be going well. So this little example of how they relate is not anything original out of my head. It's something my sis shared with me in an email the other day and I find it too good to keep to myself.

She wrote that Paul had taken the day off work because he had not slept at all the night before. When she woke up he confessed to her that he had tossed and turned all night long because he could hear a woodpecker that had previously drilled a hole in their house, sitting in the cavity, repeatedly fluffing its feathers. The head of their bed is on an outside wall and they have always had trouble with woodpeckers working on the wooden clapboard siding on their saltbox set in the Pennsylvania woods. I'm sure Kath understood and empathized with Paul's dilemma. Then he said: "Yeah, it was driving  me crazy, this woodpecker just fluffing its feathers over and over. Then I realized that wasn't what I was hearing. What I was hearing was you snoring."

Fluffing its feathers. Snoring. What kind of mind and imagination comes up with that as an explanation for a mysterious sound in the night? It was an "aaaaaaaaaaah" moment for me when I read it. And then Kath signed off her email saying: "So he's home napping now. Either that or he's moving his stuff into the guest room."

Monday, January 25, 2010


I keep trying to take myself seriously. It’s a process. I’m at that point where I’m staying conscious that writing is the most important thing, for me, that I do. Yet I don’t give it nearly enough of my time. So today I remembered that Monday is the day that local poets gather at Lehani’s from 5-6pm and put their names in a hat to get time to read aloud to one another. It’s been months, if not a year, since I last went down to try out new material and see how it’s working. Today seemed the ideal time to push myself towards being more present and diligent as a writer. I pulled out the poems I’d written over the past four months and read them through to see which might be most ready to read. I was only looking at those I felt were my best of the recent efforts and wow did that bring home how easy it is to start congratulating oneself on new work. Poems I thought were done, polished, as near-to-perfect as I could make them, all seemed suddenly slight. Then, I wrote a new one, based on things that came up as I took a long walk in the woods today. I worked it and liked where it landed on the page. It looked good, sounded good, too. But if poems I’d been working on for 1-4 months seemed less desirable after a little time out of sight, how could I trust a new one? Still, it’s important as an artist to stand and deliver. I find that I know better how well a poem is working when I read to an audience, rather than just to myself at home. It’s not just whether and how that audience reacts, but the fact that my own awareness is heightened by risking the reading of my work to people I know are discerning and thoughtful writers themselves. 

So I printed out half a dozen that I thought, for various reasons, might be my strongest choices, punched them, put them in a notebook and drove downtown. (I'd likely read three but I prefer to have choices even in this situation.) When I got to the door I saw no familiar faces inside. In fact there was almost no one there and it was 4:50. The owner confirmed that they had indeed changed to Friday evenings at 5. I deflated. I was not relieved, but disappointed. It was like standing on the edge of the dock with my toes hanging over, bent into first-dive position; or taking my paddle firmly in hand to push off the bank of the Nantahala River and into the rapids. When you’re ready, you’re ready. Not necessarily ready to succeed but ready to try. Maybe this is just a reminder to me, like the title of that song by Madeleine Peyroux that I’ve been listening to so much lately: Don’t Wait Too Long.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Come to Mama! I've still got it - cooking a fabulous sauce.

Maybe it was because I lay on the couch last week, sick with a cold, and watched some Julia Child episodes on a public TV fundraiser. Or maybe it was just my kitchen-womanly pride, but I wanted to cook this week. I mean really cook. So I did. Thursday evening my friend David was stopping by upon his return from a trip. I'd offered a homecoming dinner. I felt lousy at that point but figured I had to eat, too, so I made a risotto and wow did it taste good. Just a classic arborio rice, glazed in some hot oil and garlic, then a cup of white wine cooked into that, followed by the long simmering to absorb, cup by cup, about a quart of broth. The result? Hot, creamy, flavorful risotto. I made a side dish of acorn squash halves, baked with some butter melted in the cavities, and then filled those with peas which had simmered with finely chopped onion and dill. Talk about comfort food!

Then Sunday, while visiting with  my friend Denise, I roasted some parsnips, onions and pears (after tossing them in olive oil) and blended half of that with broth and half with cream and then simmered it all together while reducing a cup of balsamic vinegar to a thick drizzling garnish. WOW! What a success. Actually I worried that after coring the parsnips (which I've never done before and am not at all sure is necessary) that they were not enough, so we added some carrots to the roasting mix. This soup was a savory, delicious treat, far exceeding my expectations. I would not have known there were pears in it but I surely won't try making it without them. Something very right was going on in that roasting pan and soup pot. I've already bought more parsnips and pears to try it again without the carrots. I accompanied the soup with my favorite corn bread, which is made with sour cream and is corny enough while also being moist and tender. It worked but I think I'd prefer the soup paired with a yeast bread or chebe bread.

I guess I was feeling my oats at this point, because I invited another friend to dinner on Monday night. I had an unexpectedly busy day Monday so found I was very tired by mid afternoon. But as the dinner hour approached I decided I did not want to compromise the meal or choose some easy old standby to make. I'd been thinking all afternoon about what I'd like to have and at about 4:30 it came to me. Pasta with Vodka sauce. My friend Shari shared the recipe with me years ago and I could not find it to save my soul Monday night. So I made it from memory. First I sliced some tiny carrots julienne style and sliced up some baby zucchini, green pepper, then sauteed all that in some olive oil with herbs and crushed garlic until just tender. Then I turned off the heat and put a lid over the veggies to keep them warm. For the sauce, as Julia would say "first you make a roux:" 2tbsp. butter/melted then 2tbsp. flour stirred quickly in; then add a cup of cream, slowly whisked into the roux until smooth. Stir in, a bit at a time, a cup of white wine - I make this recipe with white wine because I prefer the flavor of wine to vodka. I used a full bodied chardonnay. [Now is a good time to start the pasta cooking.] When the wine you've added to the initial cream sauce has smoothed into a velvety texture, gradually add more cream until you have about 2 1/2 -3 cups of it. Then, stir in a couple of big handfuls of fresh, finely-grated Parmesan. Fresh Parmesan melts in nearly instantly. The "fresh" grated stuff we buy in the store takes too long and leaves the sauce vulnerable to separating. I hadn't made that pasta sauce in years. Sometimes Alfredo is disappointing to me - bland. But I love this.  I laid the pretty melange of veggies over the pasta which I'd tossed with about 2/3 of the sauce. (Next time I might saute mushrooms until brown and have just those with more pasta and the leftover sauce.)  I did scratch the idea of making hot chebe bread. I felt the pasta was enough starch for this meal. Such a rich entree, though, demands a salad. I had some good green leaf lettuce and added to that a cut up fresh pear, some toasted walnuts and a few shavings of Asiago cheese. I shook up a quick dressing of finely chopped leek with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The balsamic and leek made a great flavor contrast to the pear and Asiago.

Honestly, I surprised myself. Like a lot of single people living alone, I'm pretty out of practice at putting actual meals on the table. I take a lot of short cuts but try not to compromise myself nutritionally. It's just easy to bake a potato and steam some broccoli or make a quick omelet. But a meal like this one makes me wonder why this gluten free vegetarian ever goes out to a restaurant. Plus, I'd been feeling worn out and yet I did this. Not just any old meal, but this. Telling about it, I'm reminded of my Aunt Van, who was maybe my age now (nearly 62) when I saw her leaving my Mom and Dad's house one day by the back door in the kitchen. She paused at the round mirror over the radiator where my  mom kept a hairbrush and always checked her hair and make-up before going out. Aunt Van, a statuesque woman with dyed chestnut hair and I Love Lucy red lipstick, thrust out her chest like a pin-up and said aloud to the mirror: "Uh! Van, you still got it!" As I floated around the kitchen and felt myself near accomplishing my vision of a lovely meal, I felt a little like my spunky Aunt Van. Come to think of it, I don't think Auntie, fabulous as she was, would ever have pulled that off.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday in Seattle

When I moved here someone told me that Port Townsend is one of those places where it's easy to stay put. They say we're at "the end of the line" which practically means our postal estimated delivery times (for mail going off the peninsulas) are usually off by a day - or a week. It also means The City of Dreams that PT was supposed to become did not materialize. The train ultimately didn't come here but went, instead, to Seattle. I believe most people who live here still think of PT as The City of Dreams but in a more personal sense than was originally imagined. So yes, indeed, I found myself settling in and appreciating the fact that I live in an environment which other people save up and pay money to visit on vacation. But in the back of my mind the little voice reminded me "if you want to stay happy here, get out of Dodge once in a while!"

My first thought when I consider getting out of town is to go to Seattle. I love the city and figured, when I decided to live out here, that Seattle would still be my city since I'd chosen to live in a small town. Every small town needs a city to claim as its own.

So last weekend I took Sunday in Seattle with a friend. First stop was the Calder exhibit at SAM (Seattle Art Museum). Alexander Calder caught my eye first at The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. [The Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the U.S., established in 1842.] I remember my joy at showing my children, nieces and nephew the Calder sculptures in the courtyard, including one of the red dinosaurs, and my own joy at being greeted by a new Calder mobile on the sidewalk outside the entrance one day. Having grown up in a town that was isolated, and in circumstances where it was unaffordable to travel to museums, I was excited to be raising my sons where we had access to this wonderful place.

So it was a joy to see Calder's work, and a lot of it, in SAM last Sunday. We were a little disappointed that despite fans installed on one ceiling over a very large mobile, none of them moved much. The air was just too still. A large circle on the floor quietly warned us away from the mobile's space. Once, later in the day, I wandered back to look at it again and saw a guard make a sudden shift in movement toward me. Looking quickly down at my feet, I danced away from the line, raising a hand and smiling at him. He smiled and nodded back and returned to his position but I saw him do this dance with several other mesmerized viewers.

The small pieces of work, both mobile and stationary, were delightful. The alligator, a piece of colorful, carefully folded metal is perfect and one of those items I'd never tire of seeing. There was also some flashy jewelry, or as Calder described it "swell joolery." A woman could not blend into a crowd wearing his spokey, flaring earrings, that's for sure. The photographs of him at work and in studio were not terribly captivating. There was a video running of his circus that did seem to have people mesmerized. I was taken with his mechanical/artistic meldings for entertainment's sake but more-so with his pure joy and the loss of all artifice as he made crude but ebullient sound effects and played like a giant child with his tiny and complex creations. It was very like watching my young son play with his plastic dinosaur village or his older brother at play with legos or toy cars. In the end it was more engaging to me to watch Calder's face and listen to his vocalizations and take in his pleasure than to be entertained by his circus. It was good to see Calder again, like an old, not very close, but admired friend.

Next was Michaelangelo. Normally I only try to take in one show each visit and perhaps wander the other exhibits before leaving. This time we both wanted to see these two so we dug in and spent some time. Most interesting to me was getting an overview of Michelangelo's life and time, with a time line and quotes placed throughout the exhibit. I was stunned to learn that he carved his Madonna of the Steps at fifteen years old, two years into his apprenticeship. He dedicated all of his youthful energy to perfecting his art. Late in life he burned most of his drawings so that history would only know him for the perfection he accomplished. Fortunately a few remain and it was fascinating to see the changes he made between drawing and finished painting, in one showing the Virgin Mary as accepting Jesus' judgement on the sinners suffering below them. Whereas in the drawing Mary was shown in her role as interceder, pleading with him for mercy on the sinners. The quotes on the walls revealed a man at times suffering for art and greatly disheartened and at other times arrogant in his accomplishment. And then there was the one that said he was sorry that he would die soon when he was only at the stage of having learned the alphabet of his art and had so much more to accomplish.

We could not leave the museum without visiting a piece we had seen last visit, which I fondly refer to as "The Head." It is that. Or appears to be one wrapped in moire silk, all brown. On close examination it is one piece carved of wood and the texture achieved is amazing. So after seeing that again we passed the larger than human black rat sculpture, made it past the stupid stupid cars hanging from the ceiling (I know, "One man's meat...") and got out onto the street again. We walked up to Belltown and caught a cab, as the bus would have been 15 more minutes wait, to Seattle Center. This gave us just enough time to find lunch in the food court before the matinee performance of Electra. I'd never seen the show and I was mesmerized start to finish. I will admit to thinking at first blush "oh, dear, I'm going to tire of this girl's suffering." But I did not. The entire cast was perfect. And they seemed to me a viable ensemble who had worked out their relationships among the characters and knew how to bring them true. The set was just right with interesting use of chain link fencing among a few pillars and tiers. There was tension and physical play between the players throughout, even to taking the murders "inside" the castle, then dragging out the bodies with great effect. The contrast in costuming for the commoners and struggling oppressed with the styled queen was very effective. She represented regal and sensual and the line between passion and perversion beautifully in a classical one shouldered draped formal white gown. He, Aegeius, came on in the final scene to a laugh because he entered in a white suit, hair slicked, looking like a smarmy wise guy. And yet. His sorrow on viewing his wife's body was incredibly moving and brought us to the point of looking at all sides of the story at a perfect moment to do just that. The other men were ragged warriors and convincing in that, and the women wore various shades of white, layered, passing for ancient Greek draped dress. The nun and servants were clean and simple and the sister was pure and innocent and Electra was a hot mess. Not hot as in sexy but as in energy. She was filthy and didn't give a damn, which added tremendously to her character. When it was done we were on our feet instantly applauding the professionalism and achievement and our own fortunate experience as witnesses to the play. I'm very grateful that my friend chose this show. I probably would not have. Which is why smart people sometimes choose challenging friends.

Our favorite Indian restaurant was closed. Second choice was not to open for another hour plus. So off we walked toward downtown and the ferry. I cannot tell you how wonderful it felt to be walking from the Center to the ferry on a balmy January day. I remembered how two years ago when I was ill I felt the acute loss of that ability and how limiting it was. I could not even go into Seattle by car for fun. And now, here I was, swinging along again, a friend at my side, though my favorite, well-loved city, Seattle. I stopped to show my friend an architectural feature I liked: triangular wedges that were balconies - so refreshing after seeing thousands of tiny rectangles hanging in the air. Then I noticed the wedge complimenting those, or vice versa, hanging over the main entrance to the building as a marqui/entry roof. He then explained to me that this is the sort of design they are looking for in the uptown business district in PT, where larger buildings are broken up this way, with a variety (as this one had, going from rectangular features to triangular and then with a globe atop one end) and not just big flat facades. Then my friend was kind enough to guide me to some bridges and walkways which pedestrians can use to get closer to the waterfront so we had a beautiful walk down to the ferry. A ferry wait is not so bad when you have good company and a nice drink to talk over in the bar at the terminal.

When we got to the other side I remembered a new Indian place in Bainbridge so we popped in there and ate well before coming along home. That one day, to me, was a vacation and a lift. The advice I was given to "get out of Dodge" still proves true today. May we all have these options. I did not, growing up. I'm grateful that I do now.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Have a Code Id My Doze or What I am Learning from a Cat and a Dog While Lounging on the Couch

I asked for it, really. I've been bragging for months that I have not had a cold or flu in four years. Tuesday morning I thought I has having an allergy attack so I got up at 6:30 a.m. and changed the furnace filter. I'd checked it a week before and thought it was fine but my incredibly painful and narrowed throat suggested otherwise. Indeed, it was fuzzy. Not black or grossly dirty but, well, fuzzy with dust. So I switched it out. Usually a few hours later my throat would be fine. Not so this time. So I may have to acknowledge, after several days suffering in the headache, sore throat, earache, sinus pain department, that I have a cold. You can be sure if I'm lucky enough to have a long hiatus between colds again, I will not be bragging about it. Because clearly this is karma, yes? Or I'm just due.

So this is how I found myself lounging on the couch, feeling grumpy and miserable and alone. But wait. I'm not alone. I have Gracie and Smokey and PJ, the cats, and Shadow, the dog, to keep me company. Far as they're concerned, prayers have been answered. I am finally where I belong, all the time, except for when I creep into the bedroom to try and sleep at night. Gracie and Smokey are relatively well balanced cats, emotionally speaking. They like attention, but like most cats, they do not need attention. Their dignity is in tact. Fine examples for an independent woman of a certain age.

On the other hand, PJ is a cat I often describe as "the neediest cat in the world." I have also noted before that he is the best example to me of why neediness is not an attractive quality. Everyone who loves cats loves a lap cat, surely. I do too. But this cat gives me no time without his considerable weight balanced in some way on my body. Laying on my side on the couch, watching tv? No problem. He curls up on my hip. Not next to it, not snuggled behind in the crook of my legs like Gracie likes to do. This fellow perches on my hip, which is less than comfortable for me. It makes me feel, too, that I am his slave because any sudden move could roughly dislodge him and send him tumbling. Try to sit up and read? Good luck. Reading, to PJ, is an invitation to lay on the paper. Or to keep scrunching above it as I wiggle to try to insinuate my discomfort and discourage him from his position, until finally he is effectively resting on my bosom, fur in my face, as I try to turn pages.

And then there is the question of food. Being sick gives one license to eat while sitting in front of the tv, yes? It is also an invitation and challenge to PJ and Shadow to join me in case I want to share, or maybe drop a morsel or two. Typically, PJ is at my right hand, once moved from my lap, and Shadow sits at my left, one eye on PJ, one on me, as if to say: "Do you not see that cat there? Wouldn't you like me to move him for you? You're not thinking of giving him anything, are you?"

Naturally I want them to respect my space and that this is my food and so I have been trying to ignore them both while eating. PJ doesn't give a rats ass. He just continues to wait at my side. Shadow, on the other hand, has lately taken exception to the fact that this cat is spending so much time on the couch with me. And Shadow is doing something a friend told me her cats would do when she had offended them. Shadow is giving me the back. Yes. She looks at me imploringly. Shows me that she is being very polite in not chasing the cat and not stealing food from my lap. And then she simply turns her back on me and waits. Head high. Regal. None of the slumping and sighing she's done in the past when I deny her requests. She is working me, people. And next to those moody eyes, this is her best tactic. So far it's not paying off, but it does make me feel that I have offended her terribly and threatened her status.

That's my little report from the infirmary today. Right now it's time to warm up some leftovers and see what psychological ploy the fur family will use on me this time.