Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life Is Wonderful - oh yes it is

The Royal Wedding has come and gone along with another one of my birthdays. 

It is so true what they say, that old "in the blink of an eye" - but like everything else you never believe what you are told until you see it for yourself, at least that's the way it works for me.  I've been seeing it lately in the bathroom mirror, in the especially harsh light of a Monday morning after a restless and failed Excedrin PM nights sleep. 

Time is like a long distance marathon, an Olympic event, it feels like it will go on and on, like you have all the time in the world to train, to practice, to work out.  During the race you seem to be keeping pace, have your timing strategy all planned out, when all of a sudden, Father Time, like Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter and three time World and Gold Medalist, whips by you, without warning, leaving you to wonder how in the world he caught up to you so fast, passing you by and leaving you dusty and in a state of disbelief.

With every year that goes by I always say I will try harder next time. "By this time next year I will ..."  sort of like those many failed New Year's resolutions.  The only resolution I am going to make, ever again in my life, is to never make resolutions again.  I intend to appreciate the good and bad of living. While the celebration of birthdays is always something to look forward to, even if just to appreciate that you've managed to survive on the planet this long, we should be celebrating being alive everyday.  I found that yesterday on my birthday, cleaning out my closets and snacking on Baked Lay's can be just as pleasurable as a fine dining experience at the French Laundry in Yountville.  It is just a matter of attitude. Attitude and good music. Whenever I feel myself starting to sink down, even a little, I can squelch it if I want to. All I have to do is put on music, something like Jason Mraz (and Toca) to perk me right back up and realize how silly it is that I would even waste another minute fretting about things that will either resolve themselves shortly or things I just plain can't do anything about.

But I'll admit, at times it can be damn hard to do. We all start feeling a bit ragged and rough around the edges and truthfully it is necessary to have a good cry, to feel a bit sorry for ourselves, to feel sad, to feel uneasy, to hurt. The challenge here is to appreciate that we get to feel these things. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to spend this many years here on earth, with my friends and family.  It makes me look at each year as an honor instead of an "oh my God, I am getting so old!"  Even though I tend to say and think that every now and again, it is something I plan to work on, to eradicate from my thoughts and vocabulary.

So I am making not a resolution, but a simple plan.  I am starting with the month of May. Just for this month I am going to make a point to savour every minute, and if that doesn't work, at least to consciously appreciate a part of each day.  Then after a month hopefully it will naturally roll over into June, then July and then into my forever. One thing I know for sure, nothing is more consistent than the ticking of time, there are no time outs, no do overs, no pause button.  I want to make a point of being present, paying attention to all the ordinary (and usually most splendid) of things, like my morning cup of coffee, the sound of my daughter's voice, the flowers blooming out my front door, the fresh clean smell of my just washed laundry, opening the windows in the morning and hearing the birds sing, a hug from a loved one, coming home from the store and putting all the groceries away.  I want to make time to return phone calls, answer emails, visit friends, take my vitamins, wash my face at night, and remember to smile.  Whether I want to or not.  I am going to smile. Louis Armstrong sang that "when you're smiling,, the whole world smiles with you."  And that has to be a wonderful way to live.

Mainly, I want to appreciate and enjoy my life before I hear myself saying what Sidonie Gabrielle Colette is quoted as saying;
"What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner" -

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cream of the Crop

I've been collecting small glass bottles lately, mainly to use for bud vases.  I've saved bottles that once contained balsamic vinegar, perfume, olive oil, wine and any others that possess that certain "je ne sais quoi". But when it came to Easter Sunday and I wanted to take a few little gifts for my family, I just couldn't find the right bottle.  I wanted to keep it small and simple, creating one of those sweet tilt your head "aah" moments.

So while I was talking with my sister on the phone she suggested using the Strauss family dairy milk bottles, or to be more specific, the smaller bottles that they use for their half and half and their whipping cream.  Great idea!  I love those bottles.  So off to Whole Foods I go.  I ended up just buying three of the half and half bottles (complete with half and half), brought them home, emptied the cream into a mason jar and went on to assemble my little arrangements.

My flower of choice was the ranunculus.  I thought about tulips, in their pastel pinks, purples, yellows, so traditional, so Easter Sundayish.  I though about sneaking over to the old JAL (Japanese Airline) housing apartments that have since been vacated and are sitting empty but apparently someone is still keeping up the grounds.  They have beautiful roses growing and it seems a shame to let them bloom there unnoticed.  But the truth is I've never been fond of roses.  They are a bit too stuffy, too predictable, too prickly and possibly the idea of "stealing" my gift just made me a tad uncomfortable. The ranunculus, on the other hand, remind me of the beautiful, younger and wilder sister of the rose. They don't behave properly, get unwieldy, move like Elaine Benes on the dance floor, don't always have the best of manners, but they do have personality. Take note; the ranunculus flower is extremely toxic. They are native to South America and are known to be fatal to cattle and other livestock if they are consumed, which I guess they are when other food options are scarce. So you won't want to be adding any of these pretty petals to your Sunday brunch salad.
Admiring my arrangements

Strauss Dairy half and half bottles

So now, what to do with all the half and half.  I do drink a lot of coffee, but this amount needs to be utilized in another manner.  I need a recipe that will take 3-4 cups instead of my daily few tablespoons. Enter Ina Garten and her shrimp bisque recipe. But before the soup, a bit about my favorite contessa.  I love her, love her life, her house, her little BMW, even her funny little husband Jeffrey who it seems only shows up in time to partake in whatever meal she has prepared and manages to smile and mingle perfectly with her already arrived guests.

I thought she got a bad rap recently with the whole "Make a wish" story.  I've included a link if you'd like to read it - if you have any animosity towards her for what you think her actions might have been, this might warm you back up to her, just like a cup of her steaming hot cocoa.

But back to the bisque. Delicious, creamy, shrimpy bisque. I figured not only do I need to use up my half and half, but it looks like today is more than likely going to be our last rain for the year. A perfect day for a bowl of soup. Hmm Hmm good.

Shrimp Bisque
(by Ina Garten)

1 lb.large shrimp, peeled, deveined, reserve shells
4 cups seafood stock
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (3 leeks)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (3 cloves)
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the shrimp shells and seafood stock in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve the stock. Add enough water to make 3 3/4 cups.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the leeks and cook them for 10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until the leeks are tender but not browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the cayenne pepper and shrimp and cook over medium to low heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the Cognac and cook for 1 minute, then the sherry and cook for 3 minutes longer. Transfer the shrimp and leeks to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until coarsely pureed. 

In the same pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the half-and-half and cook, stirring with a whisk, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pureed shrimp, the stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and heat gently until hot but not boiling. Season, to taste, and serve hot.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Driving me mad

My idea of enjoying nature is driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on a glorious spring day.  Or visiting the local garden nursery with all the new tomato seedlings sprouting.  Driving up the Silverado Trail where the strawberry stands have opened is always a treat.  Seeing the hydrangeas in bloom and ready to purchase out in front of Whole Foods gets me excited.  While driving along Rutherford Road where one of the wineries competes with Holland by displaying a rainbow of tulips as their ground cover is nothing short of spectacular.  Some might say sad, but true, most of my escapades into nature are with me safely behind the wheel of my beloved BMW.

I would have to rank driving on the top of my "things to do for fun" list.  I absolutely love being in the car.  I have noted before that there are exceptions to this.  Driving with a car full of people, driving a U-Haul truck, driving without music or if in the dead of summer, without air conditioning, and getting stuck in bay area traffic can be a real buzz kill.  But other than that, to me the car represents freedom-  as obviously it does for so many other Americans.  No wonder the car pool line has a meager few cars zipping by the standstill lines of solo drivers.

For me it is the one place I can be completely alone.  Free of all obligations and time away from what someone else feels I probably really "should" be doing. I don't have to answer the phone, my door, to anyone, unless I get pulled over by the CHP which happens every now and then.  But that usually only lasts for a few cordial minutes, and then I'm back out merging into traffic.

I do have other activities that I enjoy, such as reading a book, baking the occasional cake, working on an art piece, writing a blog - but I get restless being inside. I get claustrophobic - even in my own house.  Sometimes I get all worked up if I start thinking about the fact that I am contained inside 4 major walls.  I can even drive my own self crazy if I start thinking about how I am contained inside my own body, behind my own face!  I can't stand seeing anything in a cage, an enclosure.  I feel sorry for little hamsters, kills me to see a chicken or a rabbit, and moving on up to the larger creatures on earth, it gets even harder to take.  I believe it stems from a past life experience. I have been told by not one, but two, psychics that I was a prisoner at one time in a past life.  Seems like I am still trying to stage the perfect escape.

So because of this past life karma, I am now destined to feel anxious, restless, and sometimes almost frantic to get out and get away .  The exact opposite of the agoraphobic - I have to leave the house.  And drive.  So with the current price of gas it has become an expensive joy ride.  While others have their expensive addictions or hobbies, like heroin, skiing, alcohol, golfing, gambling, shopping, mine is an addiction to fuel - for my car, for my sanity. 

One of the benefits of living in the Napa Valley is that we can drive through some gorgeous country - through the vineyards, over to Marin and Mt. Tamalpais, through Sausalito and over the magnificent and always impressive Golden Gate Bridge.  There is nothing like driving on Hwy 101, past Sausalito, going through the Waldo Tunnel and seeing the Golden Gate emerge. Breathtaking.  My equivalent of skydiving. 

Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County
Silverado Trail

The Golden Gate Bridge through the Waldo Tunnel

I am not ready to give it up.  They say before you can give up an addiction you must admit you have a problem.  I don't see a problem yet - maybe when gas reaches 6 or 7 dollars a gallon I'll have to rethink my spending.  And I don't want a lecture on what I am doing to the environment, I know, I know.  I give where I can give, recycling, using cloth grocery bags, but don't ask me to give up the car - I can't give up the car.

Let's see, I could give up the daily latte, that will buy me 1/2 gallon, give up some items at Target (did I really need to buy that root touch up? Going gray could be a good thing. That will give me another gallon).  Somethings gotta give.  As important as the air I breathe, is the ability to drive, to see things I might never see, to get my daily fix of freedom and that wondrous feeling of being alive.  With my music blasting, my cell phone off, and a full tank, I am one happy camper.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dead Ringer

Whenever we see someone who strongly resembles someone else we always act like it is so surprising.  "Have you ever been told you look just like so and so", or "Oh my gosh, you look just like . . . "

It's always risky to tell someone, "you look just like . . .".  On the one hand, if the person you are talking to likes or admires the person that you think they look just like, then all is good, you have just given them a great ego boost.  But if you tell them they look just like someone they can't stand, or don't like the looks of, well then you have them spinning for days, sometimes for eternity, examining themselves in the mirror, rushing off to get a consultation with a plastic surgeon, and always left to wonder how you could make that comparison.

I don't know the reason we do it, but we all do it.  We like to find similarities between people.  Especially linking up celebrity looks with the everyday Joe.  And no doubt, at times the resemblance is undeniable.  But it seems to me that a lot of people only see the obvious, skin color, hair color or gender.  Apparently we don't spend much time paying attention to detail, looking beyond the black and white and seeing into the gray. Case in point, the recent statement made by reporters on Tiger Wood's new girlfriend.  They proclaimed her a "dead ringer" for his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren.  Really? I don't see any resemblance between the two women.  They are both young, white and blonde and the similarities end there.

Tiger's ex-wife Elin
The new "dead-ringer" girlfriend
(OMG, she looks just like my  niece Missy!)
When you stop to think about it, there are approximately 6.91 billion people on the planet.  With only 5 major facial features that can be mixed and matched, like Mr.Potato Head, it's really even more remarkable when we find a face that doesn't look anything like anyone we've ever seen before.  We should be more amazed at every unique face we encounter.  "Wow, I have never seen anyone that looks like you before!" Because, truly, that is to me, amazing.

(Not sure if it's just me, but with the exception of the gap between the front teeth, I think the American Idol contestant, Scotty McCreery is a dead ringer for Mad magazines' Alfred E. Neuman.  What do you think?)

Scotty McCreery
Alfred E. Neuman

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ellie gets to live

My cat has been on death row for the past week.  I put her there.  Granted, she is 18 years old, twitches more than Daulton Lee, the drug addicted character played by Sean Pean in Falcon and the Snowman , is partly blind, partly deaf, probably some kind of diabetes or kidney disease going on, but overall, she looks content.  She does nothing with her day but sleep, stretch, and lounge on the daybed I purchased for my human guests, but it has now become the cat bed.  She occasionally gets up, flops on the floor, gets all of her energy out in about 2 minutes, then off for a little food and water, back to sleep and dreamland.  No harm done to anyone.

So why was I almost frantically trying to have her put down?  I'll say it again.  She is 18.  She has lived with me longer than my own daughter.  The cat was actually bought for my daughter when she was six years old.  It was one of those trips mistakenly taken to Petco on a Saturday.  The day they have the adoption animals available for purchase from the animal shelter.  There she was.  A strikingly pretty kitty with eyeliner blacker than Kim Kardashian's, dramatically circling both of her eyes.

Perfect little round face.  Soft grey and white fur.  And then the words no mother wants to hear, "Mommy, can I have her, I have to have her, I love her."  No amount of the "no explanation" can convince or console a child, at least my child, when she has her mind set on something.  We left Petco only to drive away with my daughter sobbing, "she loved me too, did you see the way she looked at me, she loves me." Guilt, guilt, guilt.  I have always been a pushover for tears.  And her.  So a couple hours later back to Petco we go.

When I got divorced six years ago and had to leave our home, one of our "possessions" that I got to take with me was the cat.  Actually I was ordered to take the cat.  My ex -husband never liked cats, never wanted us to have cats, so for him, if there was a bright spot at all to the divorce, this would be it, me taking the cat. Over the years we had owned many pets, and of all of them, this cat was the one I never really bonded with, never felt any connection with.  But still, she has been with me through the difficult times in my life for the past six years.  Right by my side, whether I wanted her there or not.  I owed her something.

The past month has been a tough one for me, more life changing decisions being made, confusion, where to go, what to do.  I started to panic.  I need to move, I will go to Portland or Santa Barbara.  Ah, but this cat.  This damn cat is such a drag.  Such a burden.  I can't even go away for a couple of days without getting someone to come over and feed her, clean up after her.  And, to make matters even worse, I am not even allowed to have pets in this apartment.  I have kept her hidden better than a man keeps his mistress .  But now I am tired.  Tired of hiding, tired of taking care of anything or anyone other than myself.  So, selfishly I thought, I want her gone.

I went to my own vet, who after a thorough examination, said she looked very healthy.  Oh great.  What to do now.  He won't put her down.  I contacted another vet, who by law, would need to examine her before he could do anything like that.  The cost for all that I needed would be about $250.  Might not sound like much to you, but I just lost my job, so that is a substantial amount.

I checked with the local Human Society only to discover that my landlord is the Veterinarian there!  Who knew? Two things came to mind.  I can't take her there, and why would a vet not allow pets at his apartments?  Whatever.  Then my girlfriend called from Sacramento.  "Come up and visit, put that cat in a carrier and we'll drop her off at the animal shelter here."  Wow - I felt a cold chill run up my spine.  I felt criminal, my head adding up the enormous amount of bad karma points I would be accumulating.  We were contemplating murder!  I felt like this was an episode of "the mob wives" or something similar.  "No, Virginia.  I can't do that.  This cat has been with me for 18 years.  I owe her something.  I at least owe her to die with as little stress and pain as possible."

So all of you animal lovers and people with a heart will be happy to know, Ellie gets a reprieve.  I awoke the other morning feeling a bit of calm.  It had come to me in the night.  It dawned on me that I didn't have to move, in fact, it would be a stupid time to move.  What I needed was to take some time for myself, lick my wounds, read, get out in the sunshine, write, enjoy my life, make something of it and quit running.  "No matter where you go, you have to take you with you" sounded off in my head.  And it is so true.  I need to make peace with myself, find peace wherever I place myself.  I have the magnet on my refrigerator.  I have always loved it, but failed to live it.

it does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble
or hard work.  It means to be in the 
midst of those things and still
be calm in your heart. 

So the good news for me is that I am feeling at peace with the idea that to make any decision right now would be a bad decision, knowing that all I really need right now is time and that things will unfold as they should, they do not need to be forced.  And the good news for Ellie is, that she had been granted a pardon.  I get to retain my clean conscious and Ellie, well, Ellie gets to live.

(P.S.  I love you Mom)