A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remembering Mom’s Cooking—A Holiday Reverie

I'd just been sifting through the New Yorker—the Thanksgiving food issue had been adorning our kitchen counter for a while. Finished with E.L Doctrow's fiction "Assimilation", I read some of the food stories Thanksgiving morning. First, I consumed Allegra Goodman’s story about trying to reproduce her mother's “elegiac” Linzer torte. Next, I digested Jane Kramer’s homage to root vegetables. And lastly, I partook of David Bezmozgis’ sentimental how-to piece on pickled cabbage featuring his deceased grandfather. The pieces were poignant and evoked a sense of "Gosh, that’s interesting.” and "Gee, I can really relate to that." and “I may need a tissue."

Since then I’ve been thinking about my own culinary upbringing and what I would write should I ever evolve the talent to join the ranks of esteemed contributors to The New Yorker. I’m sorry to say “elegiac” is not a word that sprang to mind as I accessed the memory banks of my childhood food experiences. Aside from my sister, Beth, I doubt there are very many folks out there who can relate. And while I’m quite certain no tissues will be required unless a cold has grabbed hold, I thought I’d give it a go anyway.

Mom was all about teaching her daughters to cook. Partially, her motive was normal mothering instinct, but I’m pretty sure her prime objective was to get her two daughters cook-capable in order to pick up some of the work load. She worked full time and as a result, for our ages, we were charged with some fairly hefty responsibilities. By the time I was in 5th grade, and my sister in 7th, we were each cooking dinner two nights a week. Beth, a natural-born homemaker, was much more game for the idea than I. She would spend time, follow recipes, take pride, and put something together that could generally qualify as cuisine. Her chicken and rice casserole was everybody’s favorite. I, on the other hand, had no designs on mastering the domestic arts, and tended to fall back on box meals, mac and cheese and tuna casserole. I viewed cooking as just one more chore on the list. Scrub toilet—check. Vacuum carpet—done. Make dinner—well, if I must. Ho hum—the drudgery!

As a thrift measure, we’d buy half a side of beef at a time and when the huge freezer truck pulled up in front of the house, my sister, mom and I would form a sort of bucket brigade with meat so the butcher-paper parcels could be loaded quickly into the garage freezer. The white wrapped packages would sit dutifully on the shelves, like nutritive soldiers, awaiting their fate in the oven or fry pan. The steaks and more interesting cuts would always be consumed first. By the time we’d get to the last of the packages—ranks of ground beef—many months or perhaps a year later, the remaining militia would have succumbed to some fairly serious freezer burn. We’d amputate the frost-bitten appendages and put the aged recruits out of their misery in the form of spaghetti sauce, meat loaf or if I was cooking, ‘70s-innovation-run-amok, Hamburger Helper. To my childish palate, Hamburger Helper tasted just dandy, but in my adulthood, I’d never touch the stuff. In fact, as a direct result of eating so much ground beef, I've developed a lifetime aversion to hamburger. Time will tell what such meaty consumption has done to my veins and arteries.

Vegetables were tricky. Salad was a rare treat and fresh vegetables were not done for the most part. This would have involved too much reliance on timely shopping. Frozen was the vegetable method of choice. Little wonder that my sister despised vegetables for the most part. Beth had a very short list of acceptable veggies that didn’t result in tears when Mom insisted we eat everything on our plates. Born in the 1933 depression years, Mom would turn harpy if your plate wasn’t clean. For me, as long as it wasn’t Brussels sprouts or lima beans, I’d eat it. I may not have liked it but I’d do just about anything to avoid a set to.

Mom’s method to get the frozen bricks thawed and cooked as quickly as possible was to put the burner on high, dump the ice-blocked vegetables in the pan, add a little water and walk away to do something else. Usually this included refreshing her 16 ounce screwdriver with a shockingly high ratio of vodka to OJ—the seed of another story all together. A good percentage of the time this would result not only in burned vegetables, but a saucepan that required SOS soap pads, overnight soaking, and plenty of elbow grease to remove the charring. We had blackened pan scouring down to a science. If Mom was cooking, you had an 80-20 chance of being required to expunge the cremated remains of some unsuspecting food item off the cookware.

Indeed, high heat and carbonized food was a recurring theme. Steaks at our house were regularly cooked flambé. I believe this was unintentional but I could be wrong. Mom would set the oven rack so close to the broiler coil the grease would catch fire. It apparently never occurred to her that lowering the rack might avoid this issue. Steak night almost always erupted into a flaming circus act with fire licking the upper cupboard and flour flying in order smother the flames. I was never sure if it was better to be in the kitchen nervously watching the pyrotechnics or hiding in my room and waiting to hear “Hey, the meat’s on fire!” from down the hall. It’s true we never had to call the fire department, but when I was younger, I found these burnt offerings more than a little disturbing. I silently vowed never to cook steaks in my own house when I grew up—far too dangerous. It wasn’t until I got out more that I realized ours was the only family to cook their prime cuts by immolation.

For company and holidays Mom’s traditional, East Coast, Welsh/German sensibilities would momentarily prevail and we’d dispense with combustible comestibles—except by design. A roast of some sort—beef, lamb, pork or turkey—was always in the offing and, amazingly enough, was always cooked to perfection. On these special occasions, salad and fresh, unscorched vegetables would grace the table having been purchased with the fest in mind. Mashed potatoes and gravy prepared in a conventional manner were welcome additions to the main course which was served with pomp and circumstance on china, accompanied by silver and proper linens in the dining room.

Dessert for these formals affairs was usually a Mrs. Smith’s pie of some sort. You could almost pretend you made it yourself since it had to be baked in the oven. (An aside: My sister managed to master pies in her late teens, whereas I am still in awe and want of pie-making skills. I trust Whole Foods or Costco for pie unless it’s pecan. Pecan, I can manage with the aid of a store-prepped shell. Pastry seriously intimidates me.) In the event of Christmas, persimmon pudding was our traditional dessert and because old habits die hard, the brown mound was treated to a dousing of flaming brandy. The display was always impressive but nerve-wracking. I’d hold my breath and try to decide if water or napkins might be best in case I had to spring into fire-fighting mode. Looking back, it’s surprising I hadn’t become somewhat inured to the idea of blazing food. To Mom’s credit, the pudding always burned itself out without emergency intervention and the delicious, raisiny cake was devoured with hard sauce. Right-o. The alcohol was never forgotten.

Aside from formal meals, Mom’s other culinary forte was weekend breakfast. During the week cold cereal was de rigueur. But on weekends Mom would sometimes pull out the stops and make French toast or pancakes and bacon. Reliably, these would be mornings when Beth or I would have had friends sleep over. I think it was mom’s way of waking us up and getting us going on the weekend so there weren’t two or three teenage girls sprawled over the living room fold-out until 11 or noon. She’d also take the opportunity to hang out and get whatever info she could from our friends about her daughters' for the most part unexciting “private lives”.

These special mornings, much to our annoyance, Mom would start making a ruckus in the kitchen around 9. As soon as the bacon aroma teased our olfactory bulbs, we’d give up our futile attempts at sleep and stumble into the kitchen. It’s true, sometimes the pancakes were a bit darker and oil-smoked than ideal but we weren’t picky. I never told my friends this was not typical weekend treatment. I think they thought every weekend was one, long morning pancake party. Good thing they didn't stick around for steak night.

The antithesis to formal meals and morning pancakes was Mom's most creative and least delectable contribution to our nutritional history—homemade TV dinners. You remember TV dinners—right? When you’re a kid, they actually seem exotic or exciting in spite of what they actually are—an entire meal frozen in a sectioned-off aluminum tray. Mom would save the trays and when we had leftovers, we’d segregate the food—meat in the middle, veggies on the sides—wrap the tray in foil and freeze it. Weeks or months later the food would be resurrected in the oven.

Not surprisingly, these were not appetizing meals. My sister was fairly certain we’d die young because of them. The food didn’t survive the storage well and upon the great foil unveiling you’d find desiccated meat and overcooked veggies. Reconstituted freezer burn reigned supreme. To avoid the dryness we tried adding a bit of water to the sections before heating which only succeeded making a runny mess of everything that nothing could possibly help anyway—unless it was the miraculous appearance of Meals on Wheels.

Maybe it was mom’s way of assuring us these were “real” TV dinners, because more often than not we’d eat them in front of the TV when usually we ate at the kitchen table. My sister, older and wiser, had the good sense to merely pretend to eat—choking down a few bites and pushing the vitiated vittles around with her fork. Younger and hungrier, I ate the ersatz TV dinners despite their unappetizing essence. I don’t think it ever resulted in actual illness, but the thought of this desecration to leftovers does arouse a certain, vague nausea to this day.

In spite of the burnt offerings, TV dinners gone wrong, and over indulgence in beef, Beth and I grew up healthy. I have not retained many of Mom’s lessons in haute cuisine although it’s widely agreed that my mac and cheese—a noodle or two short of being elegiac—is the bomb. I’ve modified the recipe significantly since my girlhood and my half-Italian husband informs me it’s more akin to baked ziti. Beth has cleaved to her homemaker roots and continues to carry on and improve many of Mom’s food traditions. She is the only person I know who makes Yorkshire pudding for the holidays, a carryover from Mom’s Welsh side of the family.

Mom passed nearly six years ago. We never really spoke of it, but I assume she was happy in the knowledge that her oldest daughter was and is doing much improved and less flammable versions of many of her recipes. And her youngest daughter, never big on domesticity, has not set anything in the kitchen on fire for at least a decade, and has become a respectable cook herself. Even her discriminating, foodie husband agrees.

Mom, I applaud you on  job well done. I do hope at some point you gave yourself a pat on the back. It's a shame I never did. Now I wish I had. On second thought, maybe I’ll need that tissue after all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frisee: Salad's most obnoxious ingredient

Lettuce gone haywire.
You know what frisee is, right? That ridiculous excuse for lettuce that has some sort of bizarre, genetic afro? The leafy green that got its fronds stuck in an electric socket? The salad component most likely to tickle your nostrils, and embarrass you by behaving badly in a fine dining establishment?  The tumbleweed of the tossed? The beasty boy of the bowl? Yeah. Come on. You know the buggary bush I'm talking about.

Show of hands. How many of you out there like frisee? And when I say "like," I mean you really think it brings something to the salad bowl that would otherwise be missing, i.e., the salad would not be a "real" salad without frisee. Any hands? Any at all? Yeah. I didn't think so.

So why do they put it in salad mix as if it's something that really needs to be there? Would we miss it if they left it out? No. And when did this weed become proper salad form? Growing up, I don't remember receiving regular assaults from frisee.  These days, for whatever reason, it's a regular component of the melee. And to iceberg lettuce, R.I.P., I can only say as boring and hum-drum as it is, at least it takes its job seriously and doesn't try to fight you on the way down. Frisee could take a lesson or two from iceberg or butter or romaine or mesclun or mache or arugula for that matter.

I used to think it was just me. But I brought it up at dinner one night and my son emphatically agreed.
"I hate frisee. What good is this stuff? It's completely obnoxious."
While Theo munched his frisee as a cow would a cud, he concurred.
"Yeah. It's no good. Who needs it? They should take it out."
My husband, however, acted as if we'd both gone loopy.

Some months passed and a work friend, Natasha, brought it up during lunch.
With a faintly concealed look of disgust she asked,
"What do you think about frisee?"
"I hate the stuff. It's annoying as hell."
"Me too. What's the point?"
"Hey! I totally agree with you and so does Theo. But, Tim thinks we're crazy."

A few months went by and Tim and I were preparing salad. The frisee subject once again reared its ugly, frizzy head. Only this time, the conversation was more specific.
Tim:  "I just don't like that it's so springy. It's hard to get into your mouth."
Me:  "Right. I agree. That's exactly the problem!"
Tim:  "Oh. I thought you were saying you didn't like the flavor."
Me:  "It's not the flavor, it's the obnoxiousness I don't like."
Tim:  "Oh. Well in that case, yes I agree. It's a pain."
Ah. Someone please call NATO. We have detent.

Here is what having frisee in your salad accomplishes: In addition to fighting you on the way in and down you get dressing splattered--
  1. over your face.
  2. onto your shirt.
  3. across the table.
  4. into your eye.
  5. into someone else's eye,
In order to avoid the splattering issue, one must hack the SOB (salad of belligerence) into submission. My approach of late has been to remove the springy pieces from the salad mix, place them gently on the cutting board and slash them into submission with a sharp knife. This, I've decided, is the only way the two of us can get along. Oh, yes, you kinky kook of salad infamy. You WILL be assimilated.

What it boils down to is that frisee, leaf of hostility, is high maintenance. In order to properly choke it down it must be cleaved, mutilated and properly subjugated by blade. Unless your name is Attila, who wants to have such acts of violence as part of their salad making ritual? Certainly not I.

OK. Show of hands. How many out there would like it if they took frisee out of the line-up of usual salad suspects? Thank you. Just as I thought. It's unanimous.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Less White Christmas--Integrating the Nutcracker Corps

Leopold holds down the fort on the floor while his shorter brethren keep things in order on the mantle.

We have what could easily be called nutcracker obsession at our house. I take the blame for its inception, but having two male household members has certainly resulted in a bolstering of the militia. What started as a sentimental legacy of one wooden, nut cracking soldier has blossomed into a growing army of Christmas cadets seizing the mantles and guarding our two fireplaces. Our seasonal deer décor and one token Santa icon have all taken a back seat to the many bellicose figures derived from Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."  Nutcrackers dominate our domicile during the holidaysa childhood affection gone grown-up and passed on to both my men.

When I was a little, my Grandma Val would put out a nutcracker—the Nutcracker—during the holidays. I was beyond smitten with him. He stood tall and proud with soft, white, rabbit fur hair and beard, safeguarding a bowl of nuts in a corner of her dining room. After securing the proper permission, I'd spend at least an hour or two with my ligneous beau, petting his hair, cracking nuts (yes, he was useful that way), and either eating them myself or passing them off to other guests so I could operate his jaw over and over, allowing him to disgorge more and more nut meats. He was mesmerizing. He was stoic. He was weirdly, woodenly romantic in a way that still makes sense to me today but is hard to explain. I never named him but as I write this, I believe his name is Yuri—the Dr. Zhivago of nutcrackers.

Yuri presides over a bowl of ornaments, his nutcracking days long gone, as Vladimir looks on.
For many years Yuri was my one and only nutcracker, always a lone soldier, perhaps his job to remind us that even though it’s Christmas there’s a war going on somewhere. Then I had a son. Selfishly, I suppose, I wouldn’t let Theo crack nuts with Yuri. Too many years had passed and I worried Yuri’s overused jaw couldn’t stand the strain of another childish onslaught of abuse. Theo loved Yuri even though he couldn’t enjoy his full talents. When Theo was about two and a half, he saw a large display of nutcrackers at Macy’s and went gaga. That next year he got his own nutcracker and we advanced the troops to a duet. In a couple more years our situation changed. When I divorced, Yuri and his underling were two of the very few Christmas decorations I took with me.

A few years after that, Tim entered the scene. In the beginning he was all blustery bah-humbug about Christmas. Years later he still has some remnants of that but for my sake he manages to keep the volume down on his inner, ever-shrinking Grinch. The things he likes best about our holiday decorations are the nutcrackers.

His fetish began on a small scale. From a post-Christmas sale he brought home a set of four short, fat nutcracker ornaments. For the next season I got him another set of six miniature men with movable mandibles to hang on the tree.

The mania heightened after we married. A few years ago a shop downtown closed its doors and offered steals on holiday décor. We bought a three-foot nutcracker with a tall black fur hat and cape and named him Leopold. Another after-Christmas sale a year or two later produced Vladimir—as large as Leo but with auburn curls, a crown and a scepter—nutcracker nobility, apparently. This year Tim came home with a mouth-moving, timbered trooper of the drum-playing variety. “We didn’t have one that was playing a drum.” he told me. Now we do.

I hadn't noticed what a biased sampling of the population is represented by nutcrackers. I guess generally they’re supposed to be from Teutonic or Slavic stock. Being your average variety, U.S.-born, European mutt , it never struck me as odd that all the nutcrackers you usually see are white—until yesterday. Yesterday I found a dark-skinned nutcracker. He has what appears to be sun-bleached hair and rides a trusty white rocking horse. Without hesitation I scooped him into my cart, whisked him through the checkout line, brought him home and presented him to the troops.

My new dusky hero now flanks the living room mantle with Vladimir and Santa while Yuri keeps his prime location on the coffee table. I’m still working on a name for the dark prince. I haven’t heard any mumbling from the rest of the corps about the difference of his skin color which leads me to believe that either nutcrackers are colorblind or they just don’t care. Isn’t that refreshing?

Yuri, Vladimir, Santa and the newest corps member.

Now I’m keeping my eye out for more ethnically diverse nutcrackers because I think it’s well past time to integrate the battalion. And if ever I see a female nutcracker, she’s coming home too. Oh, I know, and I agree—there are plenty of female nutcrackers out there (perhaps you’ve even dated one or God forbid, married one) but those are all walking, talking human beings.

So in the face of this change I can’t help but wonder: What do nutcrackers think about “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? What will the brigade say should I ever bring home a nutcracker dressed in a pink tutu? Because believe me, I’m looking. I’m looking.

Any suggestions for a name?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

College Apps and All That

November 30th--the deadline for entering college freshmen to submit applications for the 2011 fall school year. ::Play Jaws shark music.:: Many of you out there have been there and done that. Your kids are through the "getting into college" shtick and no doubt you are so glad those days are over. SO glad. Some of you still have this tortuous event to look forward to. And to you I say, Good luck my friends! No doubt you'll be glad to see it pass. And for those of you who didn't go the kid route, here's another data point to put on your "pro" list of reasons not to have kids. You've spared yourself some grey hairs, antacid swilling and restless nights.

My one and only got his applications filed Sunday--a day when apparently multitudes of college freshmen hopefuls were also filing their applications. Many of the school websites weren't processing information quickly or were unavailable on the last Sunday of Thanksgiving vacation when every self-respecting, king or queen of procrastination, college-wannabe was sending in their pleas for admissions. And all I have to say is, Hallelujah, Lord! It's done. Now we do a combination of waiting, hoping, breathing evenly, staying on track and waiting until--is it April?--when the decisions are mailed.

With one acceptance in his back pocket (Montana State--a place where he could both ski and major in biology--dream come true, right?) my son's California line-up is: CSU Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Cal Poly SLO, and Humbolt and UC Davis and Santa Cruz. UC Merced was a realistic option but as I told him, there's no sense applying if you know you don't want to go there and he really doesn't want to go there despite the fact that he'd likely be accepted.

Every CSU application is 55$ and every UC application is 60$. Zoiks! It adds up quickly! This would be somewhat more palatable if I were currently employed but I am currently, most definitely not employed. No worries about boredom, but the lack of cash is extremely, uh...disconcerting? Yes. It's that. Disconcerting in extremis. As my credit card number flew far and wide over the internet I tried to remain calm. As much as his father, no longer my husband, doesn't enjoy hearing from me, I'll have to let him know he's on the hook for half the tab. Fair's fair, right? HE actually IS working.

I've been asking about my son about his personal essay--the thing that's supposed to accompany his applications--for literal months. I read one version of it in the summer--which needed some pretty ::cough, cough:: serious work--and never saw the final product. It's not that I didn't ask, it just never materialized. It's like that when your kid is half the time between the 'rents. He's here, he's there, he's bobbing and weaving as Mom tries (not hard enough) to get a bead on things. At least that's what I tell myself.  Then I chide myself that I should nag harder, louder and longer. But then I think--if I have to nag so hard maybe he doesn't want it that badly. Or should I push, muscle, propel, impel and proxy my concern onto him? Sadly, that's just not me. At some point, we'll find out if he appreciates me for that or resents me for it. My money's on the latter. Sigh.

Anyway, it's done. The applications are in. Theo's future weighs precariously and momentously in the balance. More grey hairs, antacids and restless nights to come. But let's be real, that goes with the territory--kids, or no kids.

I've got my fingers crossed and my hopes high. He is after all--my one and only baby.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Letter to Michael Vick on Thanksgiving Eve

I apologize. I cannot start this letter with "Dear Mr. Vick". The "Dear" part of the greeting would be completely disingenous.

Happy Thanksgiving, Michael! You certainly have a LOT to be thankful for, don't you?

Let's see...
You've served your time. (Isn't plea bargaining a wonderful thing? It got you out in less than two years.) You've admitted your guilt--some of it, not all of it. (Again, plea bargaining. It's like they invented it just for you.)
You've apologized--again, for some but not all of your crimes.
On your journey you say you've found Jesus.
You're talking the talk and walking the walk.
And you're in back in action, QB-ing for the Eagles, and looking great on the field.
Lots of folks are rooting for you.

I want to root for you too. But here's what's stopping me: that stuff you did.

It wasn't widely publicized (That the NFL managed to muzzle the media is yet another thing you can be thankful for.) and the excruciating details were largely omitted. The truth is you were involved in the execution and TORTURE of the dogs you exploited and abused for fighting. I've promised my husband not to divulge the gruesome specifics because it's horrendous to think about and it's not something most of us care to dwell upon. But I've read some accounts. You did unthinkable, unspeakable things to those dogs--things that I've tried to block out of my mind but the images persist. What you did to those dogs makes me think you are NOT OK. Anyone who could do what you did is fucked up in a way that is likely unfixable.

What happened to you, Michael, that allowed you to do such monstrous things? Did you feel anything when you slowly, deliberately, tortured the life out of these animals? Did you enjoy it while they whimpered, cried and howled in agony? Did seeing them bleed and suffer excite you? It must have. Why else would you have taken the time and creative thought to devise such horrific ways to kill them? Really what I want to know is this: How could you? How could you stand what you did? How can you stand yourself now?

Have you read the book about your dogs? (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/09/michael-vicks-lost-dogs.html)
Like you, they've received a second chance--most of them. A few had to be put down because there was no hope for rehabilition. If you read the book now, after your big redemption, would you feel shocked and horrified at the things you did?

I know that forgiveness is an essential part of being an evolved human--something I aspire to be on most days. And no doubt it means nothing to you if I do or don't forgive you. But here's the thing--I want to forgive you. I want to trust that regardless of future circumstances you would  never do anything like that again. But the truth is I'm worried that if something happens that shortens your career or further embitters you against the world, you would again take it out on other living creatures. Michael, how can you be trusted?

I know you won't read this. Even if you did your response would be, "I owe you nothing, bitch. NOTHING!" True. But as a human being you owe this much to everyone: To do your best in spite of the bad that's happened in your life. To act as a good world citizen. We all owe everybody that. We all make choices every day about how we're going to live our lives. We all have opportunities screw it up or do the right thing. I hope your turn around is permanent. For the sake of dogs everywhere, please let it be a lasting change.

I'm offering a deal:  Live your life like you deserve all the adoration being showered upon you, now and in the future, no matter what happens.While you're doing that, I'll work on forgiving you.

Michael, enjoy your Thanksgiving. You're a twisted, sadistic, sociopathic criminal who's had the rare privilege to turn football superstar. Let's be honest. You should be the most thankful person on earth.

Most sincerely,
Lyn Nave

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blogging the Globe/Globbing the Bloge

I'm going to be brutally honest and admit it. Blogging is a supremely onanistic pursuit. My goal is to engage, connect and here or there impart a kernel of truth or, if I'm lucky, something that might loosely be construed as wisdom. But I can't deny there's a buzz I get from seeing how many page views I receive when I post a new entry. Even more endorphin-producing, I can see from where in the world people are accessing my blog. Unfortunately, within the US, I don't get a breakdown by state, but I can see where people log in by country. And this is where my imagination starts to jingle.

Marin country, Novato California. My town.
 Some of the countries checking in make sense. In Italy and New Zealand we have family and friends. (These are in-laws living in such covetous destinations. My own family is quite domestic.) And we have a few friends and acquaintances in Austraila. Thank you for stopping by family and friends! Some countries have appeared on the audience list when friends have traveled and logged on. I know for a fact that Mozambique and Argentina hit the list thanks to Kim C. and Sergio P. Thanks guys! In some countries I assume I know the folks accessing but am merely guessing that from Denmark, Amelia R. and from Belgium, Tom B. are checking my blogress. If I'm right, thanks so much for taking an interest!

Novato gets smaller and smaller as we pull back.

But there are a number of countries on my audience list where I know no one. Imagine. Perfect strangers from Russia, Canada, UK, Germany, Israel, and Romania have all checked in to read my blog. True, Romania only connected once, but the other countries have visited more than twice. This means to me that I have written something interesting/entertaining enough to get a repeat visit OR other folks from the same country have accessed the blog.

And smaller...

I think this is incredibly cool. I wonder if someone is sitting down to tea and marmite sandwiches in the UK while checking out The Girl Can't Help It thinking, "Bloody Yank. She's right balmy, that one!" Is a reader in Germany drinking beer and munching pretzels while he or she reads about my experiences living in an all male--except for me--household? Does the Russian reader scoff at my introspective clap trap while knocking back a vodka shot and think this American bimbo has too much time on her hands? Are there Israelis slapping their foreheads and exclaiming "Oy vey!" while reading my weak attempts at poetry? Has the Canadian reader had enough of my self indulgence and vowed never to stumble upon my blog again? Or maybe they're thinking they like it enough that they should tell a friend. (That would be lovely.) And what happened with that one reader in Romania? What did they encounter that made them never log on again? (My money's on the Dirty Trimes. Although, via email I know that entry has a few fans, only one of them left a supportive comment. Thank you, Jeff K.)

On a global scale Novato becomes comparatively microscopic.

It's fascinating to ponder. And while it's fun to parse through the possiblities, it would be even more fun and enlightening if people left comments so I'd know what they thought and from whence they hailed. But really, I'm just happy that anyone's taking the time to read. Thank you. Thank you very much. (That was my Elvis impersonation. Whadya think?) And Romania, if you're still checking in, I promise no more Dirty Trimes unless specifically requested. As mentioned, there was certain fan base. They know who they are.

This week The Girl Can't Help It broke 1000 page views. I know it's not exactly a record for a bit over two months but it made me happy. Thank you so much if you're still reading.  It means so much to me and I'm so grateful that you've given me your time. And, hey! If you know anyone in Romania, please let them know I'd like to get better acquainted.

Did I offend someone in Transylvania with my True Blood posting?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Passport Picture

Yesterday I had a passport photo taken. My old passport has expired and the Huzby wants me to be ready to be whisked away to foreign destinations at a moment's notice. Romantic, no? But don't get carried away. This is the same guy who is having conniptions over me being in the house as an unemployed while he works from his home study. It's not the unemployed part that's bothering him, it's the fact that he can only handle sharing the house with the dogs while he's working. So I ambled over to Costco after having spent the past four days in an intensive writing workshop with Tom Jenks--the iconic oracle of literature, editor-in-chief and founder of Narrative magazine--and 11 other workshop warriors (worriers?).

A snap. A flash. An outlay of 5.44$. I came back 45 minutes later to see the result.

It must be in a rule book somewhere. There is an edict that reads: All passport photos must make the bearer look criminal, downtrodden or significantly worse than they do in real life.

The face staring back at me looks haggard. As the lens captures her, this woman whom I sadly identify as myself, should be thinking of trips to Italy. She should be daydreaming of white sand beaches and azure seas, or traveling to Tanzania to photograph exotic creatures, or diving in the Maldives and seeing the wonders under the warm water, or hiking in British Columbia and watching grizzlies scoop salmon out of streams. She should be imagining sipping Malbec in Buenos Aires while watching a couple dance a smoldering tango in the heat of December. She should be envisioning making love to her travel addicted husband on a sun drenched bed with the curtains open wide as the ocean flips and flails in the vista, mirroring their own gymnastics.

But she doesn't seem to be thinking any of those things. What she's thinking is that she's tired and she'd like to take a nap. She's wondering if she'll ever succeed, really succeed, at story telling. This bothers her quite a bit because it's something she really wants to achieve. She knows there's a certain amount of belief in one's self that's required but there's also a certain amount of natural talent needed as well. She wonders if she has either thing going for her on this Monday because she's had four consecutive days of up and down, back and forth, moments of epiphany and moments of density--her own thick skull. She's also wondering when she's going to find gainful employment again and how she will survive the irritation and surliness her husband is flogging her with in the interim.

On the up side, here's what she doesn't look: beaten. She hasn't given up. She has hope; she'll keep going and working in what she believes is a forward path. But she needs to rest and absorb, to allow Jenks' judgements to trickle down, percolate and intercollate. And she needs to find a job so her husband can sink back into his normal level of grumpiness and ditch the testy truculence that has lately been steamrolling her.

For the coming decade, I'll have this picture on my passport to remind me of how it feels to be on the brink. Understanding it is one thing, successfully executing as a result of understanding is another thing all together. Half of me is hopeful while the other half despairs. In a sense, I'm a human pushmi-pullyu. But regardless of my success or lack thereof at creative writing, I'm thinking a job can't be too far off in the future. Right?

For more information on Tom Jenks' most excellent workshops:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review of Sonoma Chicken Coop

In March the Huzby and I attended a little soiree for my sis-in-law, Amy, at the Sonoma Chicken Coop. I did a Yelp write-up to which the owner replied in full agreement. The place is a sociological wonder.

If you're interested in reading more reviews you can find me by clicking on this link to Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=VrVBC9Sni1JluW9FlrAERA&ref=fb&post_type=review&ref=nf

Sonoma Chicken Coop  

Category: American (New)
Food ~ 3 stars
Beer ~ 4 stars
Atmosphere on a Saturday night ~ 5 twinkling lights...or perhaps they were disco balls.

Mr. Grumpy and I were the token oldies-but-goodies attending my sister-in-law's birthday this weekend at the Campbell Sonoma Chicken Coop.

There is no better way to get a sense for how old and out of it you really are than hanging with a crowd about 20 years your junior. Carousing with youngsters is an excellent reality check. No doubt you're as young as you feel so long as you have no one young with whom to compare yourself. Luckily, the lighting was dim. Also luckily, everyone in our party was drinking fairly heavily.  We may have passed as being only a decade past the freshness date stamped on the dewy faces at our table. Regardless, we had a great time despite our soon-to-be-hardened arteries.

The people watching was most superb. Talk about a cross section of humanity! It was generally a more or less thirties kind of crowd but there also seemed to be some high school class of 70-something-or-others there as well. The cover band, Redwood, was fun and dance-inspiring allowing unsurpassed wildlife viewing. While the cougars danced with each other, the wolf pack watched and waited for a drunk or overly exerted feline to cull from the crush. Oh! And there was a bear there just coming to from his long hibernation. You may be familiar with this subspecies: Ursus Urbanus. They are prone to  effusive inebriation and inappropriate maulings of the glutteus maximus (si, il culo de mia). Was I outraged? No. Given said bear was not quite thirty, I chose to take a more humorous view of the groping. Good Lord. Does that cub realize I'm old enough to be his mother?

Basically the night was a Campbell version of Wild Kingdom meets The Dating Game. Great stuff and powerful story fodder.

Happy birthday Amy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where They Come From

My son, Theo, was seven when he requested a sibling. Specifically, he requested a brother, but I think he'd have been happy either way. He was only three when the baby I was carrying suffered fetal demise at 32 weeks along. He'd been primed to expect a brother because we knew what was coming--a boy we'd named Connor. After the fact, we discussed the baby's death, his ashes and their home in a planter with a statue of a baby in our backyard, white letters memorializing: Connor Jules Garrett and the date. Theo, only three, had  questions and we did our best to answer them. In my grief, I'm not sure how helpful I was but I did my best.

Four years after losing his brother, plus enduring his parents' divorce, Theo decided the time had come. A sibling is a reasonable expectation and Theo was always a reasonable child. However, I had nothing planned on that front. My main priority was figuring out how best to negotiate single, part-time motherhood and not be too depressed about it.

One night after dinner, and perhaps hoping to stall the homework brigade, Theo asked--"Can I have a brother?" It seemed somewhat random. We hadn't talked about brothers, sisters or babies in years and it caught me off guard. I countered with: "Well, Honey. I can't have a baby. I'm not married right now."
He parried with: "Mom.You don't need to be married to have a baby!" (You never know what they know until they're flogging you with it. I couldn't argue since he was right.)
Me: "OK. You're right. How about this: There's no one I want to have a baby with right now."
Theo: "Oh Mom! Why don't you just get it over with and kiss Daddy?"
Me: "Kiss Daddy? Is that how you think you make a baby?"
Theo: "Yeah. You know, it has to be a tongue kiss."
Me: "Well, that's not how it works."
Theo: Hesitant silence. He had no questions because he thought he knew the answers.

I paused to ask myself: Do I really want to do this? I took some calm breaths while I went through the mental calisthenics: Seven years old was not too young to know. Boys are more circumspect than girls and I'd never get the direct question: "Where do babies come from?" It wasn't going to happen or it would have by now. He was already under the misguided notion of "French kiss procreation"--it could get only worse, I speculated, with playground propaganda. I decided to seize the moment.
Me:  "Do you want to know how a baby gets made?"
Theo: "Yeah."

The poor kid. Let's face it--tongue kissing doesn't even begin to do it justice. I started the discussion with something he already knew about--what happens in the morning to boys and their apparatus--and went from there. I did not go into potentially scary and confusing detail but got the basic points across in short order. In fact, I knew he knew exactly what was involved when he had this reaction:
"Ewwww! That's digusting!"
About 30 seconds went by before he added:
"I'm never getting married, and if I do, not to a girl!"

I didn't laugh. At seven, it's a perfectly lucid sentiment. I told him I understood why he felt that way but made the point that there was something beyond the gross-out factor that made people want to engage. I told him that people did it because it felt good. Of course I worried this might be send him even deeper into shock but somehow, it seemed like an important thing to include along with the obligatory "It should only happen between two people who are really in love." I also made it clear that ours was a very private and personal conversation that he should probably not have with his friends at school. It should be something their parents talked to them about. Given his reaction, I had no fear that he'd be itching to get into school the next day and tell everyone. He just wanted to forget I ever told him. The horror!

It's now ten years later. The past decade included no more broaching of the question of brothers or sisters. A few years back we advanced our topics to include birth control, safe sex (I'm an advocate of condoms and oral contraceptives for burgeoning, lustful Romeos and Juliettes) and the squalling, money-sucking, life-altering consequences of being lackadaisical. As much as I look forward to being a grandmother, I'm hoping that joyful event is at least another decade from now. Theo has kept to his habit of not asking questions and acting as if he knows everything already. In spite of this, I try to offer information wherever it seems appropriate. In my now middle-aged-ness, I'm not sure how helpful I've been but I'm still doing my best.

Timing is everything. Children can be a blessing or a comeuppance and the circumstances surrounding their conception all too often dictate the outcome. I'm too young to be a grandma and he's too young to be a dad. So far it's something we both agree upon. When the time comes I'm hoping for a blessing.

My blessing and I.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Hunter and the Hooker Cook it Up.

Once upon a time Guido, a hunter (cacciatore), was out in the wilds of the Tuscan hills trying to roust up some dinner. He was wily. He was intrepid. He was a good shot. But this day he was unlucky. The rabbit (coniglio) made a run for it. The deer (cervo) dashed away, and the wild boar (cinghiali) bolted wildly upon his approach. The ducks (anatra) had all ducked and, having heard report of his gun, the pheasants (fagiani) were no longer present. And for all Guido knew the woodcocks (beccaccia) were attending Woodstock-- there were none to be seen. He returned to Montecatini Val de Cecina tired, hungry and miffed that his hunt had gone so badly. He stopped at the grocery and got chicken, onions, tomatoes, red peppers and a nice bottle of primitivo. Even though he'd bagged no game, he'd set his mind on having Chicken Cacciatore. After all, he was a hunter and therefore he'd dine like one. Screw (cazzo) stereotypes!

While Guido had been out blasting up the countryside to no avail, his neighbor, Carmen, had slept the day away. Although it was early evening, she was just sipping her cappuccino, having only recently awakened. Naturally enough, this is how it goes when you're a hooker (puttana). She had just been thinking about breakfast--which would really be dinner--and thinking that she may have to succumb to that stupid, old cliche since all she had in the house was some garlic, olives, capers, canned tomatoes and spaghetti. Apparently, Pasta Puttanesca (whore's pasta) was the only thing she was stocked to make. Sick and tired of living the stereotype, she sighed and looked out her window just in time to see Guido coming home with groceries. Seeing an opportunity, she adjusted her red silk robe to allow him a gander at her fine Tuscan cleavage (scollatura). She opened her front door to let the cat (gatto) out making sure her leg widened the short hem of her gown enough to stop Guido in his tracks.

"Ciao, bello! What's in the bag?" She grabbed at the shoulder of her robe just as it slipped to her breast (seno) and pulled it up.
"Ciao, Carmen. Chicken Cacciatore." Guido tried to act naturally but he was stressed. Seeing Carmen always made him stressed and seeing her in her red silk robe with her breast (mamella)  momentarlly exposed made him much more stressed than usual.
"No luck on the hunt?" She smiled her most beguiling smile and leaned into him.
"Not today."
There was an awkward pause while Carmen waited for Guido to help the conversation along but he seemed to have nothing else to say and was intent on staring at the toes of his boots.
"The hunting was good last night for me." she said.

Carmen winked, tilted her head from side to side and put her hands on her slightly swaying hips causing the clingy fabric to highlight her Sophia Loren-like form. Guido's boots lost the battle for his attention and he tried very hard not to stare at her. He knew for sure she was wearing nothing at all under her silk. He tried not to think about how many men she'd been with the night before. Instinctively, he could tell she was very good at her job. Not wanting to think about her expertise or hear anymore about her hunt Guido tried to end the conversation.

"Well, I gotta go." He began to turn away.
"Guido! What's the rush?" She put her hand on his bicep, kneading it slightly.
"I... just..." Eyes back to his boots, he turned towards her again.
"Come in. Have a coffee." She slipped her finger through his belt loop and tugged.

Guido, having had a disappointing day, had no will to fight and allowed himself to be pulled into her flat. Maybe, he thought, it wouldn't be so bad to be the one who was hunted for a change.

In addition to her other courtesanly talents Carmen was charmin'. Carmen was also a gal who knew what she wanted and Chicken Cacciatore sounded like just the ticket. And truth be told, she'd always thought Guido had a certain something--maybe an odd mix of Roberto Begnini and Marcello Mastroianni--quirky but handsome. She decided tonight might be the night to look into it a bit further. It didn't take long before she persuaded Guido to unload his groceries onto her kitchen counter. And being a girl who had her own things to bring to the table she contributed olives, capers, garlic, olive oil, thyme, basil, spaghetti and a little sweet vinegar to the fixings.

They cooked.

Together they made Chicken Cacciatore Puttanesca. And it was good. It was indeed so good and the wine so powerful that they decided to make a night of it. Carmen did not go out for her evening hunt so that she and Guido could continue to cook--really cook. After they cooked in the kitchen, they cooked in the parlor and after the parlor, they cooked in the bedroom and when they'd worn the sheets off the bed they cooked in the shower. In fact, they cooked so well together Carmen ended up with two buns in the oven. Now that's what you call cooking.

So they decided to go with the cosmic flow. They married, had their two buns (Franco and Francesca) and opened a restaurant. Carmen gave up hooking for cooking. Guido never once regretted being the prey instead of the predator.  They continued to cook more sensibly and use precautions because with a restaurant and two babies, they had more than enough on their plates. Their special house dish was Chicken Cacciatore Puttanesca.

Chicken Cacciatore Puttanesca

  • Chicken breast, 1 large boned, skinned. Cut in half, and halves cut longitudinally into 4 pieces to equal 8 strips.
  • Red peppers, 3, seeded and sliced into  1/4" strips
  • Onion,1 medium, chopped
  • Basil, 1/2-1 cup, chopped
  • Thyme, as much as you like
  • Garlic, 2 cloves, minced or pressed
  • Capers, 2-3 TBSP
  • Black, pitted kalmata olives cut into halves, 1 cup or more
  • Heirloom tomatoes, 2 medium chopped
  • Sweet vinegar--scant TBSP--fig vinegar, balsalmic or something along those lines. If you don't have anything else, add a little sugar instead.
  • Red wine
  • Olive oil
  • Flour, seasoned with salt and pepper for dredging chicken.
Dredge chicken in seasoned flour, and cook in hot olive oil (med.-med. hot) about 3 minutes on each side, until chicken is cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan and saute onions, then add peppers and garlic. Cook until soft, about 4 mins. Add some red wine to help deglaze the pan and add tomatoes, thyme, capers, vinegar and olives. Let that cook down for a little bit, 5 mins. at most, and add back the chicken and basil. Keep at medium heat until the chicken has rewarmed. You can add some more red wine if you think it looks dry. It should be a chunky, thick sauce.

Serve over pasta or rice, as desired.

P.S. To say they lived happily ever after would be over simplifying. 18 years went by before they were able to use the parlor or kitchen table for cooking. But when the twins went off to university, they were able to once again cook all over the house.

A poem for Katherine. Turning 40 and getting divorced is better than you'd think. Been there. Done that.


A dollop of this, and a jigger more that
All go into making our fine feathered Kat.
You once were a Porth but now back to Brovont.
This decade you’ll master life just as you want.

At 40 your journey is not at all fated.
With work and two sons your life’s been updated
To include no more husband, but of men, there’ll be plenty.
‘Cause let’s face it, my darling, you’re no innocenti.

You’re hot and you know it-- don’t have to be nice.
You’ve got it, so flaunt it. Yeah! Bring on the spice!
On Charlie, on David, on Joe, Frank and Max
The dudes to be conquered! No time to relax.

You’re out there and stirring it up with the men.
You’re groove is so on you can rival cayenne.
With Tom, Dick and Harry you just shrug and say “Next!”
You’re calling the roll, and rewriting the text,

About how to rock it. You’ve got it all wired.
No rush. You’re at peace and at 40 inspired
To show what you know about older and wiser.
And your friends have your back; we can help as advisor.

Dear Katherine, cheers! as you start toward the middle
Of life.  You’re the bomb, girl. You’re no second fiddle.
Ten years goes by quickly, you can take it from me.
And I see in your future the best yet to be.                       

                                                                                                ~For Katherine from Lyn October 23, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sister Skirmish

This is the retelling of a classic story of sibling strife. We were about 14 and 16 when this fracas occurred. The moral of the story: Old clashes die hard or sometimes not at all.

My sister, Beth, and I were seventeen months apart in age, two years apart in school, eons apart in temperament and light years apart in dispute settlement capabilities. Hitting was absolutely forbidden in our house. Our mom insisted that we use words instead of physical violence to solve our differences. This explains why there was always quite a bit of yelling at home; we were never short on conflict. The no-hitting rule was instituted early on and was very rarely broken. Very rarely, however, does not mean never.
I had something Beth wanted and I didn’t feel like sharing. She was pestering me, big time.  Righteousness personified, her customary state of being, she barged into my room to ask me again; it seemed like the billionth time. “Please. I really want to try it. I just want to use it once. Please!” I could tell by the whiny edge of her voice that she was tired of asking. I was tired of it too.
I’d been turning her down for days. Being the youngest in the family, it seemed to me that I rarely wielded any power in household dynamics. This was an unusual, heady moment for me; I had my sister begging. I felt fully justified in saying no. I bought the stuff with my own money and it was expensive. I didn’t want to share it, and I didn’t have to share it. So, I didn’t.
The coveted item in dispute was a goopy, apple-green, apple-smelling facial mask. You applied it with a synthetic brush mounted to a screw cap. It tingled for a few minutes while it squeezed your pores down to invisibility and dried into a gluey sheet. After ten minutes, you pulled off the ghastly, rubbery shroud and … Voilá! Your skin was youthful and blemish free. (Of course, my skin was youthful. I was only fourteen at the time.) 
Beth was dying to try it. I figured that if she wanted to try it so badly, she should get her own. Certainly, she had plenty of stuff she refused to share with me. This was day five of her campaign. I wondered what made her think I’d made any sudden strides in the generosity department since she asked the day before and the day before and the day before that.
     “No!” I said, for probably the fourth time in this particular exchange, finally starting to lose my cool. I went back to practicing my flute. Lord knows, I needed the practice. I played the flute for four years in school and never really got very good at it. Just the two of us were home since our mom worked full-time as a secretary.
Beth would not give up. “Hey! I asked nicely! I just want to try it. Why can’t you just let me try it?”
“I don’t feel like it. If you want some, go get your own. It was expensive.”
“How do I know if I want to buy it if I haven’t tried it?”
“You heard me. I said no and I’m saying it again. No! Now get out of my room. I’m practicing!” Both our voices were getting louder and edgier.
“You are a spoiled brat!” Her voice escalated; I could tell she was reaching the level of red alert. She had an easily breached tipping point and I sensed that she was teetering on the edge of going to the dark side. When this happened, there was no reasoning with her; she got unpredictable, scary, and crazy. I knew I needed to get her out of my room before something bad happened but I had no idea how to make her leave. Looking back, I can see that the easiest thing to do would have been to let her use the green goo just to get rid of her, but my fourteen-year-old mind didn’t always work toward the most peaceful means to an end. I stood my ground.
“I told you to get out of my room! If you don’t get out of here now I’m gonna call mom at work!”
“If you call mom at work you’re gonna get her mad at both of us.”
“So then why don’t you leave me alone and no one will get in trouble?”
Strangely, logic always seemed to undo her. This last comment provided just the nudge she needed. Her face turned red and scrunched and she started to cry. She entered the zone of fury.
“You are such a little bitch!” She said it in a wailing screech. At the exact moment she said the word, “bitch,” she gave my metal music stand a hard shove. The stand and all the books and pages of music that were on it came flying at me.
Feeling I was under attack, I suddenly entered my own zone of fury. For a change, I was the one who got scary and crazy. I bolted up from my bed where I’d been sitting. The music hadn’t yet settled after the first violent assault and it subsequently went fluttering around me in frenzied anticipation as I went after my sister.
Beth was not fast. In all my memories, I can never remember her being faster than I, even though she was older. There must have been some point when we were younger that she could beat me in a race. Not that it mattered at this point; we both knew there was no way she could outrun me. I was the faster girl.
Unfortunately, for her, she had not fared as well as I in her genetic roll of the dice. She was shorter, rounder, less coordinated, and less athletic, factors which, no doubt, contributed to her constant irritation with me. In truth, neither one of us was particularly athletic but when it came right down to it, I was the stronger girl.
Unfortunately, for both of us, I had not relinquished my flute when I came for vengeance. Because of this oversight, (Whether it was deliberate or accidental is debatable, I suppose.) I was also the better-armed girl.
     She made the wrong turn down the hall. It might have gone differently had she made a left instead of a right. Left would have taken us down the hall and into the living room. In the seconds that would have ticked past it’s possible that I might have come back to my senses … or not. However, she took a right turn coming out my room and immediately came smack against Mom’s closed, bedroom door.
It all happened quite quickly. I can assure you that I didn’t actually premeditate the blow. There was a brief scuffle, while she tried to push me away and then, with one quick whack to the eye, it was over.
A major cry-fest ensued. My sister, not known to be particularly stoic, let loose with a stream of indignant, morally outraged howling. (For the record, this was how she spent a good percentage of her childhood and adolescence.) As soon as I connected my flute with her eye, I came back to a state of sanity.  As I recall, by that point I was crying too. It wasn’t just from the emotion of the confrontation, although that was part of it. It was obvious I would be fingered as the evildoer in this situation and it seemed entirely unfair. But I knew that a plea of, “She started it!” wasn’t going to pull me out of the hole that I’d dug for myself. She had shoved my music stand at me and, in return, I’d given her a black eye. There was no question about it. I was in big, big trouble.

Mom listened to both sides of the story when she came home. She was mad. She was mad that the entire, ridiculous incident occurred over teenybopper cosmetics. She was mad that we were fourteen and sixteen and unable to figure out how to get along together without coming to blows. She was mad about Beth’s black eye but was madder still when I told her that as a result of the fisticuffs, I’d damaged my flute.  I imagine she was mad that she came home without fortifying herself with a stiff drink before she walked in the front door.
I can’t really blame her. My sister and I were tolerable, possibly even endearing, when we were apart. Together, we were beyond exasperating; we were hateful, incorrigible, mismatched bookends.
     I was grounded for a month and I had to use my allowance to get my flute fixed. My sister’s eye went from bruised back to normal in a couple weeks. I never knew if Mom thought Beth didn’t deserve punishment or if she thought the black eye was punishment enough.

The story has become part of our family lore. Dad brought it up just a few months ago. “You and your sister. You two never could get along. Remember that time you hit her with your flute?”
Yeah, I remember. I’d like to call her up and share a laugh about that story since we’re older and with our middle-aged perspectives we should be at peace with that kind of thing. It happened over three decades ago. I’d call and make the attempt but … well … she’s not speaking to me at the moment.

"Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life."
            Charles M Schulz

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's All About the Attitude

This is a review of "Attitudes," a clothing store in Calistoga. It is also an expose Tim's attitude, or perhaps the better phrase is madditude. Known as Mr. G. (Mr. Grumpy, a self-inflicted moniker), the Huzby, and my stylist, his mood is easily turned to the dark side by wardrobe infractions and/or me forgetting to put a specifically requested article of clothing in the luggage when we travel. In this review we discover footware is a fulcrum for Mr. G.'s mood swings. It begs the question: Does Prozac treat shoe fetishes?

(Pictures included below.)

Pre-post script:
1) Since the writing of this review I have instituted a new rule. From here on out if I have to wear sandals, so does Mr. G. You know what they say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."  Honk, honk.

2) Mr. G. owes Ozzie, the mad masticator of mayhem, a huge debt of gratitude.  During his puppyhood, The Oz opted to chew only one pair of shoes and it just so happened to be the offending pair described below. An accident? Doubtful.

So here goes...

My stylist/Huzby and I are headed to Calistoga for a one night stay at Solage. We're 20 minutes into the drive when he asks what shoes I brought to wear for dinner. To be clear, Mr. Grumpy has already specified what skirt and sweater I should wear and I have dutifully packed both.

"You're not planning to wear those horrible elf boots" Mr. Grumpy says while giving me the hairiest hairy eyeball he can give and still stay in his lane.

"Yes. And they're not elf boots. They're closed-toed heels. It's supposed to be pouring tonight." I cross my arms, battening down the hatches; I can see I'm in for a tirade.

Mr. G: "I hate those shoes. You said you were bringing the sandals I got you for Christmas."

ME: "Oh, right. Well I wasn't going to wear those to dinner. I was just going to wear them in the room. Anyway, I forgot the sandals. I'm not wearing sandals in the rain. "

Mr. G: "I HATE those shoes."

ME: "Well, hopefully it won't ruin the night. You're a big boy."

Mr. G: Glowering silence.

ME: "What do you want to do, turn around and go back for the sandals?"

Mr. G: "You KNOW I hate those shoes. I can't believe you forgot the sandals!"

ME: "Well it is what it is. If you really can't stand the shoes we can probably get something else in Calistoga."

Mr. G: "We'd better be able to find something. God! I HATE elf boots!"

Clearly--the pressure is on.

We get to Lincoln Ave., the main street in Calistoga and park. We've been told there is one shoe store in town--Bella Tootsie, which we find and the shoes in the window look promising. Unfortunately it closed at 3:00, ten minutes before we show up.

Sensing the possibility of a major fail on my part from which Mr. G may suffer irreversible upset, I grasp at the possibility that the clothing store we're passing--Attitudes--may sell shoes. We go inside and (There MUST be a God.) there is a small wall space devoted to shoes. Mr. G looks the 12 or 15 styles over and declares there is only one acceptable pair --sandals, naturally. Unfortunately they only have them in a 6 or a 10. Thinking the 6 is likely too small (usually I'm a 6.5 or 7), it's still the closest to my size. So I try them on, willing my feet to think small. Lo and behold, a Cinderella moment occurs. They fit exactly with no room to spare and on the very last strap hole. Not only that, they're comfortable! Not only that, they're on sale! Not only that, I notice a pair of elf boots (which I AM permitted to wear when we're not dining out) and try them on and they fit! (Size 6 again: Born brand must run slightly big.) Not only that, they're on sale, too! So, Mr. G springs for the sandals and I spring for the elf boots. End result: two very satisfied customers and one evening disaster averted.

It is, of course, pouring down rain when we WALK the block and a half to dinner (SolBar) under a shared umbrella. My feet are soaked when we get there, but we sit next to the fire and my feet and sandals are dry in about 10 minutes. I do a cursory inventory. I am the only fool in the place wearing sandals. The upside? Mr. Grumpy is looking pretty happy.

Thanks to Attitudes! You saved the evening! I thank you from the bottom of my toes.
The offending footware has been Ozzified and gone to the great shoe closet in the sky.
The new elf boots
The shoes that saved dinner--not exactly rainware.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

True Blood: Shameless and Shirtless

The Huzby and I have recently become fans of True Blood. This is an HBO show featuring vampires, telepaths, werewolves, shape-shifters, maenads, zombies and various and sundry other creatures you probably thought were mythical. Not so in the land of True Blood. All "imaginary" beings are alive and kicking--at least for a show or two. There's an alarmingly high death rate for True Blood characters which shouldn't be at all surprising given how vampires, werewolves and zombies tend to treat "normal" people and how "normal" people tend to treat them. Let's just say the show's theme song "Bad Things"--sung by Jace Everett--explains a lot. The refrain--"I wanna do bad things with you" is a recurring theme.

Part of True Blood's allure (aside from the supernatural storyline and boatloads of blood)--at least for us--is that it's pornography without the graphy. Well, not too much graphy, anyway. You get to view some boobs, the occasional tush, some distant and indistinct frontal shots but that's it. The implied sex is pretty significant, however. Between zombie orgies (Eww. Those zombies look so weird and creepy with entirely black eyes, but they do like their sex.), Jason Stackhouse's jonesing Johhson (Talk about eye-candy, this guy is perfexcellence-- see below), and kinky, chained-up vampire sex (Would you like it here or there? Vampires like it anywhere. Torture wheel? You've got a deal.) you can really soak up some vicarious carnal knowledge. Gets a nice flow going to the old spongiosum if you know what I mean.

I give you Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten)--a modern day David. Oh, so yummy! But please, Jason, just don't speak.

In this purely prurient pursuit we are catching up. Currently we're in the middle of season 2 while the rest of the True Blood collective/coven is watching season 3. We aren't supposed to know that Sookie (the female lead) is telepathic due to the fact that she's really a fairy--but someone  let that naughty kitty out of the bag. Somehow I can't imagine this revelation went over well. A fairy? A FAIRY? I don't know. It just seems lame. Why can't she just be telepathic and that's it? Given the story is already over the top far-fetched, why launch it into true fairy-tale land? I'm sure the writers have something in mind but I've never thought of putting fairies and vampires in the same story. It just seems wrong somehow--like mixing milk with lemonade. You just wouldn't do it.

My favorite character is Lafayette. As far as I can tell at this point, he's a "normal" person. He's a buffed, street savvy, drug-dealing, cross-dressing, grill-working king of snappy verbiage. The dude has heart coupled with a certain charmingly tarnished morality. He used to deal "V"--vampire blood--which, based on the reaction of the trippers, has a similar effect to an ectasty meets LSD hybrid. As a result of dealing "V" he got locked in a vampire dungeon for 3 weeks and then fed upon. I'm so glad they didn't kill him. His pet name for his near and dear cousin,Tara, is "Hooker". Is it twisted of me to find this totally endearing? I want to hang with Lafayette in the hope that some of his uber-coolness will rub off on me. The sad reality is, I'm forever destined to be a goofy groupie from afar and as close to cool I'll ever get is chilly. Lafayette, I love you, man!
Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) Admit it. You want him. But he only loves the boys.

As much as I love Lafayette, the character I'd most like to take home is Sam. He's a shape-shifter and the animal he most often changes into is a dog. His human persona is fairly dog-like too. He remains loyal no matter how badly he's treated and has an innate sense of who's good and who's not. Not only is he a dog, he's a good dog. Sam is a good, good boy. I'd just love to put Sam in my car, let him hang his head out the window, drive him home, feed him some biscuits, scratch his belly, give him a nice bath and a trim (he seems to prefer a shaggy look) and have him keep my feet warm or perhaps lick my toes while I type, read or watch movies. And as long as Sam stays in dog form I don't think the Huzby will mind too much. Sam would fit right in with our mutts, Ozzie and Willie. C'mon home with me puppy! We've got a place for you in our pack.
Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) Woof, woof! Did I forget to mention he's easy on the eyes?
And because it IS ultimately all about the vampire and you have to pick a side, I have to go with team Eric. He's hot--scaldingly so, in fact. With vampires like Eric roaming the land of True Blood it's no wonder there are so many fangbangers. He's darkly dangerous. He's ancient and powerful. He's even sentimental and emotionally vulnerable, believe it or not. He thinks Sookie with her high fallutin' morality is cute but naive and pesky (she is pesky)--although, unfortunately I do believe I see a love story brewing there. Honestly, Sookie's holier-than-thou 'tude is hard to take and hopefully exposure to Eric will even her out a little--make her easier to like. She's always going off on some "the right and the only way" spiel. Blah, blah, blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Maybe a little vampire sex with Eric (instead of the mild-mannered Bill --::yawn::)will knock her off her high horse and put her on the same level as the rest of us "normal" people--except, oh yeah, she's a fairy. Who knew fairies were so obnoxiously righteous? Sic 'er Eric!

Eric Northman, giving new meaning to the phrase, "Bite me."

By now you've realized I left out a very important and obvious draw of True Blood. It's packed with beautiful bods. In my opinion, the male works of art outnumber the females but if, as am I, you are an equal opportunity enjoyer, all you need to do is watch and salivate. Don't forget your drool bucket. There's a fount of fine flesh to feast your eyes upon.

Amy (Lizzy Caplan) was only in 6 episodes but garnered our votes for best breasts...so far. And yes, you get to see them for real in the show--numerous times.

In our quest to catch up we enjoyed a 3 episode marathon a few weeks ago. It was late when the shows finished and I was tired and therefore only joking when I asked the Huzby if he wanted to do bad things with me. I know--such a tease. Instead, we went to sleep.

A few hours later Huzby started whining and moaning--a nightmare. I woke him up. He went back to sleep and in seconds started up again. I woke him up again. A minute later I had to wake him again.
"What's going on?" I asked. "What's the dream?"
"Well it's over now. No more bad dreams."
Another round and I woke him again.
"Dream that you have a wooden stake so you can kill them." I suggested.
"NO! I'm ONE of them!" he growled back.
Oh, brother.
It took 6 go arounds of rousing before he finally gave it up.

Luckily we haven't had a repeat performance of "I'm ONE of them!" nightmares. I'd hate to have to give up True Blood due to hyper vampire sensitivity. We've both confessed to being banned from watching from "Dark Shadows" as little kids for the same reason. The nightmares inspired by that sinister serial I can still vividly recall. But True Blood offers more than just scary vampires and their partnering preternatural personalities. Along with the gratuitous fright and gore you get access to some salaciously steamy spectacles. It's a truly phantasmagoric and fleshy phenom--if you're into that kind of thing.

This cover from Rolling Stone pretty much sums it all up: