Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Doodling and Noodling

Tonight I had some fried peppers with my dinner.  I love fried peppers!  Sauteed in a little olive oil with a sprinkle of salt, the onion rings tinged with gold and the peppers crisply tender.  Surely there is no culinary image more beautiful than a panful of bell peppers, the scarlet and emerald green of the peppers contrasting with the white of the onion slices.  Almost too pretty to eat.  Almost!

Of course, bell peppers come in other colors, as well, yellow, orange, even purple, but they do not vary significantly in taste and and are often very pricey, so I used to buy them only when I wanted to make a presentation.  No problem these days.  I no longer make "presentations".

I also love stuffed peppers.  One of my favorites is a recipe given to me many years ago by a Swedish friend in Stockholm.  It is essentially a creamed chicken filling and she used to throw in a can of crabmeat for good measure.  Very delicious. 

My Lakeport grandsons are big pepper eaters.  Raw.  They nibble  the peppers out of the salad, or steal bits before the salad is assembled, or slice them up for school lunches.  One of them won't eat squash in any form, the other one can find the tiniest sliver of mushroom in his casserole, which he picks out and discards, but they really like peppers.  Among many other things, of course.

(As you can tell, this discussion concerns bell peppers.  Hot peppers are another subject. )
"I like the way you walk!  Some of the old ladies are so SLOW!"   A take-out boy at the supermarket once said this to me while helping me carry out my groceries.  I was pushing 80 at the time and he looked to be about 16.   One of the best compliments I have ever received!


Pianos I Have Known......I have never lived far from a piano.  The first one was my mother's, a big bulky upright of the sort that graced American living rooms throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  This was the piano on which I learned to play.  It had a beautiful shiny case, kept gleaming by my mother who loved the look and feel of the satiny wood.  Itinerant tuners who passed through the countryside from time to time kept it tuned and regulated.  When my grandfather, who suffered from dementia,  came to live with us we moved the piano into a spare bedroom so as to disturb him as little as possible with my hours of practice.  Of course it was not possible to shut it out completely and one day he said to my mother, "Does that girl read music?"  When assured that I did, he muttered darkly, "I thought so!"

 The first piano that I owned on my own, was a pretty little studio upright in a dark case with a lovely rich tone.  I can't remember the make, but it was far superior to the parlor "spinets" that came later after WWll and were often just additions to the decor.  These were the pianos that I  encountered in the bars, lounges and dancehalls where I played during those years.  They were mostly scarred-up veterans of the night-club scene, covered with rings from highball glasses and burns from neglected cigarettes.  Likely not tuned regularly.  I often had to transpose to another key to be in harmony with the sax or trumpet or the arrangements of the current guest singer.

 When Erik and I married, he owned a small spinet, Kohler and Campbell,  I think.  Not a good piano, but it accompanied us on our various journeys and served the purpose for several years.  All the kids practiced on this little piano.  After we settled down in Alamo,  I purchased two Mason and Hamlin pianos which I still have.  An excellent studio upright, which I used in my studio, and a beautiful smallish grand, just the right size for our living room.  These pianos have given me much pleasure and I hope will live long and useful lives after I am gone.  Electronic keyboards are versatile and produce some exciting music, but no other instrument can ever supplant the sonorous, pure and brilliant sound of a good piano.  Alexander Liebermann, my wonderful teacher, thought of his piano as an old and good friend.   I do, too.


It sometimes seems to me that the world is divided into two parts: There's the dog lovers.  And there's the rest of us.

 Now, don't get me wrong,  I am not a dog hater.  I am just not a "dog lover."  I have known several dogs in my life that I liked a lot and I admire many things about this wonderful creature.  I admire his liquid eyes, his beauty (or not), his wagging tail, his silly grin and his undying devotion and loyalty to the people he loves.  I do not admire his shedding coat, his poop, his personal hygiene habits, his snarl and bared teeth.  I do not appreciate his vocal sounds, ranging from the basso profundo "woof" to the falsetto "yip-yip- yip".

I have the same reservations about cats. I like other people's cats and I admire their beauty (no "or not" here, you seldom see a cat who is not beautiful), their playfulness,  the inscrutable eyes, the comfortable  coziness of a sleeping cat, their aloofness, the mystery that seems to surround them.  I do not like them drooling in my lap, kneading their claws into my leg, twining around my ankles so walking is difficult.  I do not like them prowling the counters, licking the butter dish.  While I appreciate the thought, I do not enjoy having gifts of mice, frogs and moths (mostly still mostly alive) deposited on my doorstep when I step out to retrieve the morning paper.

I do not like personal contact with animals and where this aversion came from, I do not know. But I don't want to pet, rub, stroke, cuddle, or otherwise interact with them and I sure as heck don't want them licking my face or sharing my food.

While I do not understand the personal interaction between people and their pets,  I don't have any quarrel with it as long as I am not asked to participate.  You snuggle with Tiger and Fido and I will sit over here and enjoy them from a distance.  I realize this puts me in a distinct minority of the population, but as I have said before, we are what we are.  Somewhere along the road to my development I picked up this prejudice and it has remained with me.  I don't especially like it but it is too late to change now!

(My apologies to Barney, Juice, Hazel, Duffy, Nureyev, Chico, Rags, Old Dane, Winkie and the other pets who have shared my life.  I really was fond of you all even if I didn't want to rub your tummies.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

For My Valentines

I have lost so many people that I have loved.  Sometimes at night or on quiet afternoons, I think of them.  I no longer grieve for them.....believe it or not, grief does fade.....but memories do not.  I remember them all,  the good times and bad, the fun and sorrows.   I can remember mostly  how they looked and sounded, although those things also fade with time.  But the essence, the personality, the person that they were,  remains as clear as when last we met.  They are the dear ghosts peopling my past with love and laughs and songs and tears.

Today, they have been not replaced, but followed,  by other people whom I love.  Such a bounty!  My children,  each a joy from the day of their births, so different, so alike, so thoughtful and loving and precious in every way.  Children do not get old to their mother.....in her mind they are always the same. My beloved Valentines, David, Lisa, Erika.

My grandchildren!   The girls so beautiful, the boys so handsome.  All of them sweet and loving and kind.  My darling Valentines, Anna and Elizabeth and Erik, Tyler, Jack and Jamie.

Erin and Scott, special Valentines.  How is it possible to have a better son- and daughter-in-law?

These are the people  that I love with all my heart.  They have enriched my life and made living to 92 a pleasant journey.   I often wish that all the people I love and all the people I have loved, could meet and get to know each other.  (I mean in the here- and -now and not in an afterlife, in which I do not believe.)  There is so much of them in each other!

Now, let's see if I can figure out how to add all those little hearts to this Valentine........Nope.  All I get is a line of <<<<<33333333.   Oh, well.... Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

I have just about quit donating to the big national charities.  There is one that I contribute to and another couple that I sometimes support in a small way, but I have found that for every check I send to any of them, I get ten fancy mailings asking for more.  I are deluged with appeals for various causes, all worthy of my support. But every response, not matter how small, results in a avalanche of pleas for additional contributions.  So I figure that everything I donate goes to promotion and not to research, or alleviation of hunger, or veteran's care.   Of course, I understand that all the money goes into a large pot and that every little bit helps, and so on.  But I have  come to to a point where I want a  more direct line from me to the recipient of whatever help I can offer.   Like most of us, I would to like to feel that my contributions are being applied directly to the needs of real humans, touching someone's life in a personal way.

So I have begun upping the bonuses I give my housekeeper, my gardener, and others who  make my life easier and who do so by work that is mostly underpaid and burdensome.  Our County is one of the poorest in the State and the local paper often publishes stories of neighbors  in trouble through accident, illness, home fires, or other tribulations.  I send a check to to the  bank account listed in the paper.  I do not know these people and they do not know me, but I do know that my contribution goes directly to them and their needs and not into a giant fund to get lost among all the others.

 I do not know if this is the best way to to go about it.   My contributions are (necessarily) modest and charity, even the word, is a touchy thing.  It must be very satisfying to be in control of large foundations that are able to make huge contributions for research,  education, provision of drugs and food,  and other worthy causes.  But $25 or $50 or $100 can make a difference to a family burned out of its home, whereas those amounts sent to a large charitable fund often only pay for the cost of sending requests for more.

Jon Carroll, the SF Chronicle columnist, writes a column every Christmas touting what he call the "Untied Way."  His system is  for you to go to your bank and draw out as many $20 bills as you can afford, plus maybe a few more, and then go down to the Skid Row in your town and hand them out to whoever looks needy, until they are gone.  No questions asked.  No conditions imposed.  Whether the twenty goes for drugs and cheap booze or food and a night's lodging, it has filled a need for a human being.  And what else is charity meant to do?

I do not go down to Skid Row at Christmas with my pockets filled with $20 bills.  But I do want to help as much as I can in my limited way.  Charity begins at home, as the old saying goes. And I do sometimes wish I was filthy rich, so I could help a lot!

I know that I am blessed that I  have this dilemma.  That I am not shivering on a street corner on Christmas Eve.  That I have a small cushion to spare for people who have nothing.  It is not much but it is something.

P.S.  Let me just say here that I have no shame at all about keeping the various notepads, calendars, and other "free gifts"  that accompany many of  these charity fund-raising pitches.  Things like pocket calculators, cheap jewelry and watches and other trinkets, I give to the local thrift shop.  They can do with them whatever conscience dictates.  It seems better than throwing it all in the trash.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Older Than Dirt

I have heard many people express the hope that they have inherited good genes and will live to an
advanced old age.  This is a very human and understandable desire and I hope they do, too.

But we must be very careful what we wish for.

Living a long life is rewarding and a cause for great gratitude.  But there are downsides.

When people visualize themselves living beyond the average age of most of their peers, they see themselves as relatively healthy, relatively free from financial worries and relatively happy. Sadly, this is not always the case.  I have never seen the advantage in outliving your resources or suffering through health problems and loneliness.  Quality is surely the thing, not just quantity.

One of the saddest things about old age is the loss of those we have loved.  In my case, I am the last surviving member of my generation on my father's side and on my mother's side, only four cousins remain, all well into their 80's.  Being the last man standing is not always much fun.  It means the loss of your parents, your siblings and other cherished relatives, and all your beloved friends.  This last summer, my two oldest and dearest friends left me.  One avidly followed Tiger Woods and the SF Giants through their triumphs and failures and kept a lively email correspondence going.  ( She never quite got the hang of Facebook.)  She went on a shopping spree for her summer wardrobe a few weeks before she died.  She was 98 years old.  The other, one of the most special people I ever knew, suffered from blindness, ill health and dementia for several years before her death at 96.  Both left holes in my heart that can never be repaired.

Given the premise....and without these conditions you do NOT want to live to an advanced old age....but given the premise that the health problems you have accumulated over the years are manageable and that your brain is in reasonably good shape....there are of course, wonderful pluses to getting old, as well.

I was quite well along before my grandchildren were born,  64 before the first one and 75 before the last one came along.  If I had moved on in my 80's, like many people, I would not have seen them evolve from adorable babies to the fine young men and women that they have become. Full of promise.  Bright.  Loving.  Good-looking?  Oh, my!   I have lived to see the first black president of the United States and if I hang on long enough, maybe I will see our first woman president!  (Or maybe not.  I don't want to live forever.)  I have seen many fabulous advances in medicine and science and technology.  I have learned to use a computer.  All exciting stuff and well worth living long for.

Of course, living into the 90's is not really much of an achievement anymore.  The age-span has gotten increasingly longer and if society holds together, it will get longer still.  I saw a picture of a lovely lady in our local paper last month whom I took to be in her 80's, maybe.  Reading the caption, it turned out she was celebrating her 102nd birthday!

I think the thing that we all wish for is not so much a long, long life as one filled with joy, achievement  and satisfaction.  If the added years come with it, all the better.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is not the length of life but the depth of life."