Friday, June 21, 2013

From the trenches

I haven't posted for a while, but I wanted to share a fun story that I initially told my friend Kim

So Ollie gets on the phone from Ohio to announce, "I go shake, shake shake. Only girls go dab, dab, dab."
at issue: the world of toilet training a boy is much more difficult than toilet training a little girl. with little girls, you plop them on the potty, tell them to go, wipe, flush and wash their hands. Done.
for little boys the whole potty thing is far more complex. First the little winkie squirts everywhere if they don't aim, so it takes some doing to "point and drain that lizard." (Something that's never fully mastered as those of us who have been married can attest) then there's the drop of pee-pee that always ends up dribbling off the end (for those of us who only raised girls and are girls, this is all a revelation). Lindsay told Ollie that to get rid of that last drop, grab some toilet tissue and dab dab dab. Apparently that was a HUGE mistake in the guy world, where anyone who dab dab dabs would be considered a huge pussy in the toilet-paperless men's rooms. boys "shake, shake, shake" Rob told Lindsay in disgust, a sentiment that was echoed by every male we encountered. Lindsay of course, deferred "what do I know?" But Ollie would have none of it. If mommy said dab dab dab then it is dab dab dab and no amount of back-tracking would dissuade him, even on her part.
Apparently the trip to Ohio, where he has been hanging out with his manly cousins, age 7 and 6, has convinced him -- it's shake shake shake.
Phew! Glad that's settled.  ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rest in peace Mythos Kallas

Today was was my 57th birthday. It was also the day I put my beautiful cat Mythos down. I've had better days.
    Mythos came to the back door of our old place on Saticoy Avneue, where we lived for years before we decided to buy our own home. Our landlord had three rottweilers that lived in his half of the backyard and one day the dogs were acting even more crazy than usual. They were actually very sweet dogs, but something was in their backyard and they wanted to get to it.
    We never used the back door off of  my daughter Lindsay's room, or even went into the backyard there. There was something temporary about our residency in that tiny, dingy duplex, so the yard didn't interest us. When I opened the door to the back there was a tiny little white and orange kitten screaming to be let in. Considering his options -- the ever more insistent rottweilers, our house seemed a great refuge.
     The next hurdle was our cat, Orixa, who we called Kitti. She didn't take kindly to little animals and at 18-plus pounds she was a formidable opponent. So we had the new kitty stay in Lindsay's room for a few days, so that Kitti could get used to the idea of him and then we would introduce him to Kitti and Jersey, our cocker spaniel, who loved cats.
     We named the cat Mythos from the Highlander series because Rob said it would sound good with Kallas. He was a really funny looking little guy -- all jaw and ears. He was also spastic. As soon as he got out of the room he went wild. He would attack Kitti mercilessly. We got him neutered at 6 months because he was tormenting Kitti by trying to hump her even though he was half her length and would just basically bounce around on her back.
     Mythos quickly became Meepee, the Meep or Monsiour Le Meep because of the meep sound his meow made after being neutered so young, but he was insane. We couldn't keep pictures on the walls because he would run up the wall and tear them down. He chewed his way through electrical wire on the Christmas tree and singed his whiskers. There was a small burn mark on the carpet. He crashed the computer by running on the keyboard, costing $35 to get it unlocked. We ate with one arm guarding our meals because he would run through the room and grab food off our plates and take it into Lindsay's room where he would hide it in the corners until it smelled so bad she would have to dig it out.
     Mythos had  a death wish and would taunt the rottweilers through the screens. One day he got out and went after them and they him. It was an ugly affair, with Mythos drawing blood on everyone including the landlord who was holding his dogs back and Rob who was trying to wrangle Mythos to put him inside. Meepee was always trying to get out, but once he jumped the fence, he would panic and start screaming in fear because he was lost. On one such occasion he attacked Rob so ferociously, Mythos bit completely through Rob's thumb pad. Rob said he was going to kill Mythos, but Kitti, who by now had adopted Meepee as her very own, stood guard and wouldn't let him. Kitti bit me on my leg, drawing blood, when I scolded Mythos for running at the screens in the windows to taunt the rottweilers; he was her baby to raise, she said.
     Soon after, Kitti became very ill with liver cancer. As she got weaker Meepee would attack her and she would cry, but eventually Mythos seemed to understand and he stopped bothering her. We finally got around to getting our own house and after we moved, Mythos was nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere. We put out food. We cried. We called. We made posters and got ready to put them up when someone said, "Isn't that Mythos in the kitchen?"
     By now Mythos had grown into his chin and ears and was a big, beautiful, long-haired cat. But he hated any kind of change, so after we moved he managed to curl his 17 pound self into a small kitchen drawer. He loved his new house and he would hang through the top banister perched on his haunches during special events and watch over his house. When Kitti died of her cancer, he knew and cried all that night as Kitti's life slipped away.
     A few months later, there was a meowing at the front door. I opened to see a tabby cat out in the rain, crying to be let in. I kept turning it out, hoping it would find its way home, but when our neighbor came over to ask whether it was ours, I realized it was a stray, so we let her in. Mythos was ecstatic. He wanted another cat and even though she was afraid and hissing, he made himself small and kept his distance until she could get used to our house. Lily isn't really much of a cuddler, but she and Meepee loved each other, even though they were constantly fighting. Even in his older age, Meepee could get a touch of the crazies and he would go after Lily, who gives as good as she gets.
     Along the way Jersey the cocker spaniel died and we ended up adopting five dogs, each of whom needed a home. Meepee loved his dogs, even through they did their best to try to dominate him. My little chihuahua Fuser always tried to bite Mythos, but only got a mouthful of hair for his trouble. Meepee had turned into a real cool cat in his old age. Rob called him a "dog cat" because he would come when he was called. Meepee watched over the house and wasn't fazed by much of anything.
     He seemed healthy up until the end when he started drinking huge amounts of water and vomiting. He would have these spells, but then seem better. Over the weekend, he was in bad shape. When I took him to the vet, she said he was near death and suffering. So as I petted him and kissed him and told him I love him, feeling for his faint purr in his throat, she administered the sedative and he died, his brilliant blue/green eyes watching me.
    I love you Mythos. I will miss you terribly. Say hi to Kitti, Jersey, Lucy and Dennis for me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wayback machine

I have been pondering the direction of this blog for a while. I initially wanted to make it a cooking blog, but, dang, me and about half of North America write food blogs. And I really am not interested in my commentary on life or my braggadocio & hubris. I could probably just post clips of Ollie, the grandson who lives nearby. In fact, I'm sure I will. But I've been at a loss.

So the other day Rob and I were revisiting one of our favorite topics: How things have changed since we were growing up. As kids, we were tossed in the back of cars for long trips, where our only entertainment was beating up our siblings. These days, children are strapped in with entire video/game systems devoted to keep them occupied. I marvel at the precious cocooning.

My parents divorced long before it was popular. I've come to the conclusion many years later that it boiled down to the fact that there was simply not enough air in the house for both of their egos to survive. But basically they married way too young, and my mom, who has always had a flair for the dramatic, decided my father's temper tantrums were inexcusable, and struck out on her own with three small children, little education and pretentious tastes. I was always the little girl whose parents were  hushed tones -- (divorced). Other kids were told to be nice to me, which netted me my best friend Margaret Seiler, whose house became a second home, and refuge, for me.

My dad, to his credit, was adamant about staying in our lives. Even though such concepts as fathers' rights were years away, dad insisted on seeing us for his visitation. Looking back, I realize my mom and grandparents' claims that it was somehow an ego trip for dad to stop his life every few weeks to spend time with his kids were really unfair.

It was actually pretty amazing that every three weeks, almost without fail, dad would come to get us in Princeton NJ from Binghamton, NY, a trip that is still three and a half hour each way, and at the time, was largely on back roads, winding up through the Poconos, across the Delaware Water Gap, through Scranton Pa and its stinky coal slag piles. It was a long trip. Back in those days, a profusion of billboards lined the roads obscuring the world beyond. Sometimes people bemoan the kitschy old boards, but I remember the ugliness of the wall-to-wall advertisements and thank Lady Bird Johnson and her Keep America Beautiful campaign, which transformed American highways from the junkyards they had come to resemble into scenic routes.

When dad got married to Joyce, who had two girls of her own, his new wife would often make the trip to collect us on Fridays after school. I realize that a seven-plus hour trip to collect three hyperactive brats must have been torturous, but Joyce never seemed to complain to us, although she did have to have a stiff cocktail waiting for her when she got home.

In the old days, we didn't use seatbelts. Kids were thrown in the car and it was every man for himself. There was no entertainment, other than the always popular beat-up-the-brothers game, which I especially loved because I was the biggest and strongest and could take them both on -- I proved over and over . For the most part, we knew the rules: keep the bloodshed to a minimum and watch for flailing limbs. An errant foot to the back of dad's head could guarantee the dreaded roadside stop, which never went well. Dad was a belt man. The minutes dad started to apply the brakes, i knew we had crossed the line and we were done for. And there was no amount of "I'm sorrys" that would avert the incipient beatdown.

Back when we were kids corporal punishment was de rigueur. Parents not only smacked at will with hands and fists, but when they wanted to make a point, they resorted to objects to really drive the lesson home. Mom favored hairbrushes -- bristle side down and willow switches. She had the especially sadistuic practice of having us pick our own branches, which was a tough choice because with willows, the thinner the branch, the more likely it was to actually cut the flesh. Dad enjoyed the belt, which he yielded efficiently, often able to nail all three of us with one sweeping blow, often to the sad surprise of my youngest brother, who was then dubbed Lowey, and who was mostly sleeping when my brother Rodger and I duked it out.
Rodger and I spent our childhood beating the crap out of each other. We were in a constant battle for supremacy, which I found especially irksome because there was really no contest, in my mind, and I never could figure out why he was so stupid not to realize it. The long trips were a perfect opportunity for us to really have at it, which meant we were rarely allowed to sit together.

At one point, I'm not exactly sure when, dad bought himself a two-seat sports car. It was a Datsun, I think. He would still come and get us, and in the summer, two of us would perch on the back ledge -- it wasn't actually  a seat -- and one of us would rotate into the front seat. In the winter, we'd have to fold ourselves over each other in the back seat, and rotate for the coveted front seat. I still cringe at being cold and cramped in that small back seat, with my brothers limbs jammed up against me.

When I was around 12, my dad decided that at almost 5'8" that I was just too big to essentially sitting on the back of the little sports car -- worried I would just fall out, and w/a Ph.D. in physics from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, I'm guessing he knew it was only a matter to time before a well-timed bump in the road sent me flying. So I got the front seat full time.

I loved the front seat. The front seat was where I could talk to my dad or Joyce. Radio transmission through the Poconos was pretty much nonexistent, and there was no such thing as CDs, nor God forbid, video players. My brothers and I fantasized about having a TV in the car. I would chatter endlessly about my life and my friends, and because it was a very long trip dad and Joyce would talk about themselves. It was during those trips that my dad impressed on me how important it is for women to develop their intellects and skills because they would not be beautiful forever -- a message I internalized early and made sure I impressed on my daughters.

I would talk to Joyce, whom I idolized, for hours. Often I would get her to tell me the story of "Gypsy" again. I was obsessed with "Gypsy," could sing all the songs and was in awe of the fact that Joyce had played the front end of the cow before being demoted to the back end in the local Princeton production. Joyce would also bring my stepsisters along, which provided a welcome break from wrestling with my brothers, and we wold have lots of giggling fun. Later Joyce was pregnant with my little sisters. I'm still in awe of her the seven hour trip with a two-year old Sarah, while eight months pregnant with Amanda. I still remember her having the windows rolled completely down in the winter because her metabolism was so jacked that she was hot constantly. Looking back, my sympathies are not with the children huddled, shivering, but with the pregnant woman ferrying three hyperactive kids to her already crowded apartment for a weekend.

When my dad and Joyce first married, they were broke and they lived in a small three-bedroom apartment in Vestal NY. When we came to visit on weekends, there were five very energetic children all within a five-year age range. My brothers and I would dismantle each piece of furniture in the apartment. Finally, in desperation my dad would kick us out of the apartment. Winters in upstate New York and bitterly cold, so we would end up begging people for dimes so we could run the dryers and get warm. More than one kind-hearted woman would knock on my dad's door angrily demanding him to let his children back in. He would offer to have us go visit their house for an hour or two.

Looking back, it is amazing that my dad spent so much time and effort to remain connected with his children, something that was actually discouraged. But my life was so much richer for it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Size deflation

This has absolutely nothing to do with the post, but the picture is soooo cute, how can I resist? Ollie in his first Halloween costume
Yesterday Rob and I had a near-perfect day. We spent a fun day eating out, shopping, taking the dogs to the beach and eating out again. I had a chance to do a little clothes shopping at the Newbury Park Loehmanns, which is closing, sadly, and I had the wonderful experience of realizing that size 10 pants are too loose. I've outgrown all of my pants, which are starting to look clown-like, and I wanted to find a couple of pairs of pants to take me through the last leg of my weight loss.

What I'm finding so weird is that womens' clothings sizes have changed since the last time I was in the neighborhood. When I was a teen, I generally wore a size 10, which was good for my 5'9" frame. Size 10s were more or less cut to accommodate a 37-38-inch butt. These days, according to the sizing charts a size 10 accommodates a 40-41 inch butt. They've also added size 0 and 00, which would be necessary to take the place of the slots formerly occupied by 2s and 4s. So basically my 8 is an old 12, the 10 is a 14, 12 are 16s and 14s are 18s. What's weird is that because men's pants are based on inches, and they haven't changed last I checked -- you won't be able to take your size 8 butt and stuff it into 28-inch jeans. The old rule of thumb was that a 30 waist approximated a size 10. No more, I guess.

How odd. Have we gotten so fat, that clothing manufacturers have had to adjust their sizing charts to make us feel better? Women's clothing manufacturer Chico's has taken the entire concept even further, having plus sizes labeled 1, 2, and 3 with half-step increments. And then there's the practice of adding a W to the size, so you have a size 12W, which is what? A delusional 16?

Sadly, unless I switch to the metric system, the bathroom scale isn't enabling me, so the number remains, while ever-smaller, still big enough to keep me working. Until then my pants size is an 8. Wooo! Woooo! Next step: nudging the scale into the "normal" BMI range ...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Rosy hopes for tomatoes

This could be our year ...

While I brag endlessly about our wonderful weather here in Ventura where it's rarely too hot or cold and the most we can complain about is fog, the one thing I've never been able to do is grow tomatoes. It only gets really hot here a few times a year, if that. We actually haven't had temperatures above 90 for years now, which is great for me, but not so muhc for tomatoes.

I've tried various varieties, even those advertised as being better in warmer climates, and I get a few tomatoes, but the plants tend to be prone to wilting and they die off easily. I've moved them all around the yard in the hopes that there would be a perfect spot for them, but no dice.

Eventually I put them by the back fence because it was one of the sunniest spots int he yard and as they matured, I noticed that they seemed to be being eaten from the bottom up. We moved them again and tried putting them in the middle of the year, but we discovered we had tomato worms, which are big green caterpillar looking bugs that eat the whole plant.

Last year we bought one of those upside-down planters. We didn't get the cheap Topsy-Turvy kinds. Oh no. we went and bought the expensive plastic dealie that said we could grow four plants. We planted them and then on the top part, we planted some other small peppers and basil plants, just like in the picture.

This is what we learned: Tomatoes don't LIKE to grow upside down. They get wet all the time, which promotes more wilting and fungus and they weren't very prolific.

This year we were feeling pretty defeated about the whole issue. We didn't even bother to buy plants until late June and then we only bought two. This time I tired something radical. One of the best tomato crops I ever grew was in Ohio the first year I ever grew them and I just dumped a bunch of topsoil down and grew them in that. I figures why not try the same concept and we piled a bunch of bags of garden soil, top soil and some compost in the middle of the sand pit we have leftover from our dismantled swimming pool.

We stuck them in, put the cages around them and waited. And they did absolutely nothing. they would blossom, but each and every blossom would fall off the plants. By th end of July, we'd resigned ourselves to another year of tomato failure. I noticed that a bunch of leaves were yellowing suddenly and stripped them all off because if I had to look at barren plants, they didn't have to look all yellow and ugly.

Then we noticed something. There appeared to be a tiny tomato coming out on one of the plants. Soon there was another little baby tomato on the other plant. Pretty soon they were busting out all over. Now we have more tomatoes -- more than 40 -- than we ever have before. I compulsively pick off any yellowing leaves, which is keeping the plants happy, and Rob has been putting eggshells around the plants. We cut back the loquat branches so now there doesn't seem to be anything around to eat the tomatoes.

We've got our hopes up, but we've been burned before. There are numerous critters out there more than willing to cash in on our crop. But maybe, just maybe this is the year of the tomato.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

More CSA

I've been terribly busy, so for now will list what we've picked up by week:

Week 2
avocado, potatoes, onion, garlic, collard greens, cucumber, flowers, tomatoes, basil, cherry tomatoes

Week 3
collard greens, eggplant, flowers, peppers, squash, tomatoes, basil, cherry tomatoes, an apple, shallot, cucumber, flowers, carrots, bell peppers, assorted peppers

Week 4
potatoes, collard greens, garlic, cucumber, flowers, carrots, bell peppers, assorted peppers, including hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, basil, apples

So far I've been making lots of gazpacho, pesto, tomato sauce. I used the first apple in a curried chicken salad with pecans. I've also been making watermelon salad with basil, feta, cucumber and tomato, which has been dinner for a few nights. I just love the tastes of summer. I have yet to tackle the peppers, which I'll roast and freeze, although a few are crying to be turned into chile rellenos.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CSA -- Week 1

Inside the bins there were potatoes, a bag of tomatoes and beans, cucumbers, a big bag of basil leaves, onions, green peppers, chard, collard greens and an assortment of squash.

Food ready to go at the Farmer & the Cook. You get the contents of a bin and then some peaches, zinnias, garlic and a basket of cherry tomatoes.

We split the bounty in half, except for the basil and tomatoes, which I used to make sauces we'll divide.