Good humor makes all things possible.
-Charles Schultz-

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
-Shakespeare-The Merchant of Venice-

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Slouching toward Bethlehem

Last year, after having one of those great ideas that later backfire somewhat, fifty twelve-foot-long, two-by-fours, which were free and thus seemed like a potential income source, came to rest in my garage.  We stacked them along the rear wall so our cars could park in front of them.  There are three sets of Rubbermaid shelves [filled with heavy crap] between the wall and the lumber. Fast forward to December:  of course,  trapped on the bottom shelf was a bin filled with Christmas decorations.  It was like one of those logic problems we used to get in school.  Ultimately, Lillie and I unloaded the top three shelves, lifted it straight up, and slid the bin out like a drawer.  I'll make one more announcement to any locals who need two-by-fours, and then they're up for bid.  

Maybe they'll help me afford a new fence, because one really ridiculous  and virtually useless gate blew down in a big windstorm.  I may have mentioned that my fence was built by some perpetually stoned pals of my contractor, who neglected to assemble functional gates and whom I had to call and beg for weeks to return and fix them.  The Dorito-eating pals eventually wandered back and attached hinges, but never installed posts or anything to latch the gates TO; they just lean sleepily against the stucco walls of the house.  Almost immediately the gates  sagged, so that we've had to open them by lifting and dragging them through the dirt. 

Reefer madness!  Anyway, I need a new fence.

To be fair, better fences than mine blew down.  This one didn't stand a chance.

Sunday, Lillian and I bought a Christmas tree from our favorite local merchant, Simonis Family Christmas Trees.  They always have lots of smaller silver tips, which is our favorite, and their prices for these bright fresh trees are excellent: we paid just twenty dollars for this four-foot-tall baby.  Lillie prefers a real tree, so our unreal tree spent another holiday in the box.  By Christmas day I definitely appreciate how Faux Bois doesn't sag or shed and is always symmetrical, but I like the real ones, too.

The Santa on top is a little too menacing; he might have to get back in the box.

Yes, two of the cookies have "No" painted on them.  Christmastime can be stressful for some people.

Today we made sugar cookies and painted them with colored icing.  The idea was straight out of Martha Stewart, but in practice, painting cookies is guaranteed to make you feel like a stroke patient in rehab, and I genuinely mean no disrespect toward stroke patients, but I assume that one of their struggles is being unable to do simple tasks that used to seem easy. Folk art, we'll call this. We also made Red Cross Fudge (a variation of Fantasy Fudge) and my specialty, almond toffee.  Lillie made Oreo cake balls, almond and peanut clusters, and dipped apricots, and they'll be in the mail shortly. Except for the little kids, nobody gets gifts anymore.  We've chosen to donate [what we can afford, which is precious little this year] to the Shasta County Women's Refuge.

Cooks Illustrated Soft & Chewy Sugar Cookies: (They won't share their recipes online!)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking POWDER
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter (not margarine, of course)
1 cup granulated sugar (plus more for rolling)
1 tablespoon brown sugar  (secret magic ingredient!)
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

You know the rest: Cream wet ingredients and sugar, stir in dry ingredients, roll 1" balls of dough in granulated sugar and flatten with a glass.  Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes.  Decorate however you want.

Carson loves Holmes On Homes because Mike always busts up lots of stuff

My birthday present arrived and is as big as Sam wanted.  The  new   "old" television is now installed in my room so I can watch the news in the morning and at night while snug in my wonderful bed.  I've decided this is a message from the cosmos that I should stay home and watch cable seven days a week.

I think that's entirely reasonable.

And I won't have to steal  so many  any lemons  this year.
There are about two dozen beautiful fruit on my Meyer Lemon tree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No fear, sit here

I have four very old oak dining room chairs.  When I was first married and living in San Jose, about thirty years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a charming vintage oak dining room table with spiral legs and two cunning little extensions.  Someone had given it to her but she didn't want it, and I did.  Match made in heaven.  Unfortunately, when you sit at the table you can't cross your legs because it has some kind of fascia-board around the top (to hide the extensions, I suppose); but that's a small thing.  Anyway, all I had were some metal-and-vinyl chairs from the now defunct Ski's Royal Furniture in Campbell which was a delightful emporium of new, old, and peculiar items at rock-bottom prices.  But my lovely little table deserved better dinner companions, and one day we saw four chairs for sale in someone's driveway.  I'm so good at this.


The original chair seats were covered in leather so scrofulous that if you sat on one you'd shed brown leather flakes for the rest of the day.  I must have imagined that someday I'd have a blog where I occasionally posted my thrifty DIY projects, so I scraped off the original cotton-and-horsehair padding underneath, which, although repulsive to look at, was not terrible to sit on [when covered], and re-used it.  The seat bottoms were saggy and creaky woven slats so I convinced my husband to make four new plywood ones.  I hadn't discovered yet that he was no good at being married, but he could sure cut shapes out of plywood.

Mister Carson thinks everything in the house is just fabulous

On top of that, I stapled forest green chenille (it was 1980), which proceeded to absorb the sticky spills and greasy drips of thirty years of  dining with children.  Somewhere along the line I stopped looking at them altogether because they were so intensely gross.  The chairs, not the children.

From left: Vile seat cover; disgusting padding; serviceable seat bottom; very old cat.

On Veterans Day, JoAnn had a great 50% off sale, so I bought some bouncy new 2" foam and two yards of dark brown leatherette that we used to call Naugahyde.  It was simple to cut four seat-size foam shapes, and that lulled us into thinking the whole project would be a snap.  The old padding was mostly flat and last time I reupholstered the seats, it was almost effortless. (Or maybe it was hard and I've just forgotten.)

The easy part.

At first Lillian and I pretended that I could do this by myself.
After we stopped laughing, she held everything while I stapled.
Thank you to everyone who offered instructions on how to properly miter corners.
With all due respect, you are wrong.

Lillian and I struggled with my big staple gun which, although a useful and powerful tool, is unwieldy at best and aggressive to boot. (Hello, it's a gun.) The foam was quite springy and hard to press down enough to evenly attach the leatherette, and folding down the corners nearly made me cry,  but I did it when I was a clueless twenty-something and by God,  I would do it now. If you are wondering, I didn't use a layer of batting, since the chair seats drop into a little tray area on the chair's frame, and batting would make them too thick to fit.  For the type of seat that screws atop the frame, batting is recommended to soften the sharp edge of the plywood.  I also might drill a few holes in the plywood so that the air can poof out when someone first sits down.  The leatherette prevents poofing, so it's a bit like sitting on an exercise ball.

I'm surprised we finished all four chairs with our fingers intact.  (Well, I did get a few painful snags from all the wretched staples I pried out, but I've had a recent tetanus shot, so don't you worry about me contracting lockjaw.)  The next day my wrists were so wobbly I could barely lift my coffee cup.

Mister Carson fearlessly sitting upon a newly reupholstered chair.

I still need to refinish the table and chairs, but they look markedly better, and anyone may safely and cheerfully sit on them.  I think next we'll tackle the head-and-footboard  lurking in my garage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Annmarie Jane

It was a cold night twenty-nine years ago, after I spent the weekend fielding Braxton-Hicks contractions every few minutes, already three centimeters dilated, ten days until my due date with my first baby. We got Chinese food down the street and went to bed early.   But in a few hours my water broke started to drool, and I sat on a towel in a rocking chair near the wood stove, rocking and timing my contractions. Before long, they were three minutes apart so I woke up my husband  and we went to the hospital, by six-thirty I was pushing, and at eight-thirty I delivered a six and a half pound girl with a headful of black curls and as hairy as a monkey.  I named her Annmarie Jane.   Don't hate me for having easy deliveries.  I'm sure you're really good at something, too.  It's not like a talent I can use too much these days.

I realize now what an easy baby Annie really was.  She nursed all the time, which was fine because I didn't have anything else to do.  Sometimes she'd spit it all up and come back for more, but I had a washing machine in my house so I didn't care.  This was the heyday of natural childbirth and no-worries childrearing.  There was no internet, no mommy bloggers, and I already had fifteen nieces and nephews.  There was practically no way to get it wrong.

Annie started talking at one year old, but was so shy in kindergarten that her teachers thought she couldn't speak.  At home, though,  she chattered like a parakeet, especially once Sam was born and she had a captive audience. She danced and acted her way through highschool [which wasn't all sunshine and lollipops], and then lit out for the bright lights of Sacramento, where she met and married my stellar son-in-law.  She gave me three perfect grandsons, about whom she frets constantly.  I was not a much of a fretter.

Because she was born on the twenty-first, her birthday will never be on Thanksgiving, and it seldom comes as close as the day before, like this year.  But I am so very thankful for this child. She changed my life forever when she made me a mother.  Those of you with children know what I mean--no matter what else happens in your life; there is before and there is after.

Happy twenty-ninth birthday, child of my heart.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' in the oven

So recently I ran across a new recipe for chocolate chip cookies to try.  I estimate that I've made about four hundred batches of Tollhouse Cookies over the years, and Tollhouse Cookies are pretty darn wonderful.   It was the first recipe I ever memorized (other than, say, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.)

But this one got rave reviews.  I was too lazy to copy-and-paste and I was also out of printer ink,  so I found a sheet of notebook paper and wrote it down.  I baked up a batch and they were, indeed, superb.  A few days ago I pulled out the as-yet-unmemorized recipe to whip up another batch and noticed this:

Noticed what?


No, I have no idea.

Unless the cat is gaslighting me.

He does look kind of sneaky back there.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mister Carson. (Not that Mister Carson.)

I'm uncomfortable with surprises at the best of times

This place is incredible

I've had a number of cats in my lifetime, but I haven't actually selected a cat in seventeen years. This time is no different.  An adolescent tomcat named Mister Beast recently found himself on the short end of the pet-ownership commitment stick, and suddenly he had nowhere to live.  Oh wait--yes he did.  My house.

One look at his exotic eyebrows and fancy black tailcoat, and it was clear that  Mister Beast demanded a title upgrade.  He is now Mister Carson.  He arrived late yesterday and spent the night under house arrest in the hall bathroom while the resident cats decide how they feel about the new kid.  He slipped out of the bathroom this morning and met Chase nose-to-nose.  That encounter actually went fine because Chase evidently cannot see, hear, or smell much of anything these days and wasn't particularly concerned about this dark shape wavering in front of him.   Mister Carson is young enough that he instantly rolled over in submission.  It was a draw.  Chase has already forgotten how many cats live here.

Huh? meets Gaaaaah!

Because all of his basic kitten medical care has been neglected, next week he has to go to the clinic salon and have the veterinary special deluxe spa treatment, which will reduce the name "Mister" to honorary status.

You may not believe this, but there are trees inside this house

So far so good, but Lottie spied him through the slider and now refuses to come inside.  I'm hoping that since he's (a) still basically a kitten, and (b) a boy, they will be able to work out an amicable hierarchy.  Girls, and especially that girl, run the world, you know.

(drag-and-drop cats that stop bouncing, refresh, and don't forget to make it rain!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fifty five

So last week I had another birthday, my fifty-fifth.  And no, I'm not fishing for comments wishing me many happy returns of the day, in fact, I'm uncomfortable with birthday attention in general. The mailman brought three birthday cards: from my sister, my step-mom,  and my insurance man.  I guess if I had a significant other I'd appreciate a nice dinner out but, as I do not, I'd just as soon let the passing of another year go unnoticed.  I don't mind getting older, particularly--it beats the alternative, as they say--but it reminds me that time is marching on and I probably should have made a little more hay while the sun shone, so to speak.

It's just a little smaller than it looked in the ad, but I don't mind.

Sam and Lillian are getting me another television.  My heavy awkward ones became extinct, one by one, and the electronics recyclers cheerfully hauled them away and threw them into the LaBrea Tarpits or some such place.  Last Mother's Day they got me my first new Sony.  I love it!  Sam wasn't happy enough with that one--because he is a boy and of course is sure bigger means better--so he determined that the 32" one would be exiled to my bedroom and he'd get a 42" for my living room.  

I'm extremely grateful; I'm terribly proud that he's doing well enough to indulge me; but I'm sure that besides wanting to order new toys from Best Buy he's probably a little embarrassed that Ma Ingalls his obstinate mother insisted that her old televisions were perfectly fine.  Fortunately for everyone, those all died.

A picture of a boy wishing there were even bigger  fossils

My mother has a rusty old electric wall heater from the fifties that provides all her heat.  It costs hundreds of dollars every month to run because it is so inefficient.  So my sister and I picked out a sleek new oil-filled radiator which fits neatly on the hearth and will keep her house cozy for a fraction of the cost of the wall heater.  The first time I visited to check on the radiator she had unplugged it, and the last time I went there she had dragged it into the garage because it was an eyesore that was in her way and she liked her old heater better. 

Fine, I get it.  The new television, which is so up-to-date it hasn't been invented yet, will be here soon. Happy birthday to me!

Post-test: How many dinosaurs do you see?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I'll take that challenge!

No sooner did I announce that Lillian would never clean up her room and make space for the new pink nightstand, than she did it!  She put her lamp with it's funky yardsale lampshade on top, temporarily relocated some cute accessories and books, and even snapped the picture with her iPhone.

But in the spirit of truth in reporting, she backed up a step and took another picture.  Lillian is a saver--and she has a lot of things to save, because she also collects a variety of treasures--from books to vintage accessories.  Her room is small with a lot of furniture in it, so it's difficult to keep tidy.  She also telecommutes to one of her jobs, in there--on the phone and her laptop.

When she was little and would leave for a weekend to visit her dad, I'd go in and clean it all up because the cluttered mess was so frustrating for both of us, and she was always sincerely determined to keep it nice.  Now, though, Lillian is an adult and I have to accept that it's her decision to have her room however she can stand it, even though she (like most of us) appreciates a neat room, and often cleans it [most of the way] up.  I only ask that no leftovers or dirty dishes stay in there, and we agree to disagree on the rest.

She certainly won't live here forever, and although she will eventually move away, I'm not in a hurry to see her leave.  She's good company and we have a lot of fun together.  When she's gone, will I be happier because that room is empty and clean?  Hardly.

It's just stuff.  Who cares?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The tale of two pink nightstands

For a long time Lillian has been looking for an old bar-cart or AV stand to use as a bedside table. Her IKEA bed frame is a little higher off the floor than is standard, which is great for stowing suitcases full of sweaters and shoes, but means that the usual nightstand is lower than the edge of the bed, which decorators frown upon.  It also makes Lillian feel like the Princess And The Pea atop a stack of twenty mattresses, unable to reach her lamp, her book, or her tea without tumbling head first out of bed.

Mom!  Mom?  Mom! Mom!  Will you bring me a drink of water?  Mom? Mom!  Mom!

Then I remembered that Grandma Ruth (my mother), who lives nearby, had this old metal utility cart in her garage.

When I was growing up it lived in our kitchen, but it got evicted when Mom finally agreed to replace her forty year old, "coppertone" (sixties-speak for dark brown with darker brown ombre edges--so fine!)  refrigerator.  I don't remember where it came from originally, but I do recall Mom spray painting the cart brown.  (Everything old is new again: brown!) I also remember that our previous, very old, refrigerator expired one summer when we were out of state and we came home to find a big white coffin full of warm food which had thawed and leaked out all over the kitchen floor.  Mom used to be a fearless DIYer back in the day,  and also spray painted the original turquoise range hood and oven door.  For decades the stovetop (not a good candidate for spray paint) remained turquoise as a reminder of a more colorful era.  It recently got the heave-ho when she bought all new appliances (almond, which, although already out of date and which had to be special ordered, was as modern as she was willing to go.)

Anyway, I crammed the cart into my trunk and brought it home, and today I cleaned it up with sandpaper and denatured alcohol, and spray painted it with Rustoleum Ultra Cover in Gloss Berry Pink.

Orchard Supply Hardware sent me a $5 off coupon for my birthday this month, making Lillian's new nightstand free, which is my favorite price.

Of course I ran out of paint before I was entirely done with the last coat. Back to OSH!

Lottie is fearlessly watching for lizards and rats.
She fools them into thinking she is asleep and the coast is clear.  So sneaky.

Chase  is not interested in DIY projects, unless it involves turning on the bathroom faucet (not that much!--just a dribble--there now leave it for ten minutes while I drink), which he would like me to do about twenty nine times a day.
And also at night.

And there it is!

Yes, we do both have [slightly different] pink night stands, but it really was the right color in both rooms. If Lillian ever gets her room clean enough to show this little table neatly arranged beside her bed, I will take a picture and post it.  That, however, could take a long long long time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chasing the clouds away

How to have a really fine weekend: Get some very positive news, take a few deep breaths, and smile.  We received an update from my friend J's wife, B:

. . .Four days into his gene therapy and he is feeling much, much better! A huge difference. His appetite is getting better with each day (need to make up the 20 pounds he has lost). We were told that these new drugs have very fast and robust responses, and it is true. He will eventually develop tolerance (6 months to a year) and then he will have to be in a drug trial at MD Anderson for the 2nd generation drug which is currently in phase 3 trials. But, we are all set up to go there. We changed local oncologists to a Dr. who has a bedside manner more suited to J's personality and who is willing to coordinate care with MD Anderson in Houston. We are feeling much more hopeful and encouraged! J was even doing his Susan Hayward impression when asking me to get his "dolls" (pain pills). He is actually cutting back on the "dolls" because his pain is not as great. So three cheers for medical science, thanks to all those praying, and Praise to our merciful God. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hope is a waking dream


Against all odds and the Sunset Garden Book, those plumeria are thriving in Austin

For the last few nights I've sat on my porch in the cool, quiet, early fall evening, and looked at the moon and thought about life.  Or more specifically, death.  The terrible specter of death has crept into my life. My beloved friend J is gravely ill.  Maybe.  Of course not.  I don't know.

Just two months ago, we all spent a wonderful weekend laughing and cooking and eating and feeling immortal, or as immortal as middle-aged people have any right to feel.  If you had asked us to vote on who seemed the healthiest, ate the best, exercised the most, and led the godliest life, J would probably win.  He was coughing a little, perhaps, but this has been a harsh year for allergies, and the smoke has been constant.

We didn't know.  

He is so clever, so funny, and so dear.

J and his sweet wife went home to Texas and he drove his daughter back to college.  Then he  went on a cross-country road trip, relocating his Navy son from San Diego to Maine.  But when he got back, he suddenly started to feel awful.  So he went to the doctor for a check-up.

He got the news nobody wants.  He has a very rare, aggressive lung cancer.  It has already spread to his liver and bones, although not his brain.  His pain is unbearable.  Life is suddenly very different, precious, and frightening.

J and B--two halves of a perfect whole

In  truth, this is not my story to tell.  I feel greedy claiming pain and fear because his family has cornered the market on pain and fear.  I have no right to expect constant updates or medical information.  Would I feel better if I had that?   Does carrying some of the anxiety help to bear it, or just duplicate it? Am I exploiting them by posting about it?

I feel compelled to be brave and optimistic, but it's hard.  I suppose the correct path is to presume that medical science will throw everything they have at this and J will rally.  That he'll recover.  That this will be a dark chapter in their fine, long marriage, but he will see his grandchildren, yet unborn, grow up.  I made a little bracelet with his initial, which we share, to wear every day until he is well again, because I can't keep my fingers crossed that long.  There is literally nothing else for me to do.

My tears won't help at all.  If they did, he'd be better already.

Everyone he knows wants him to get well, not just me.  J is my old friend--not my husband, my dad, or my son.  I don't presume to want it more than they do because that's impossible.

But make no mistake:  I want it so much.  So much.

 J was a snappy dresser even  in 1975, and he made sure I had a proper white orchid for our senior prom.
He wore his cool Johnny Carson suit, and I wore a black tee and a long black silk skirt, which I made.
He was not responsible for my matching black eye.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

If I knew then

Today is Lillian's birthday.  She is twenty three.

She is the baby I didn't think I'd ever have.  My surprise third child; born a month too soon into a sad and crumbling marriage, just one year after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Her dad left soon after she was born.  I was lost: I hadn't quite graduated from college, I had three little children, an uncertain medical future, and was alone in a city hours from family and friends.

But I had a funny little baby to hold onto when I cried, and she was with me while I threw all my husband's things into the street and packed up and moved into a smaller house.  I found a job, and together we drove around the city delivering medical transcripts to doctors' offices so we could all eat. She was in my arms while I made the decision that if I was going to be poor, I might as well be poor surrounded by people who loved me, and the four of us moved back to my hometown.

We all went to school--I went back to community college to learn a marketable skill, Sam and Annie went to first and third grade at my old elementary school, and Lillie went to preschool.  Things went from really grim to just difficult, but we scrimped and thrift-shopped and eight years later, we bought a little house for all of us to live in.  One by one my kids grew up and moved away, as it should be.

When the going got tough in Chicago, Lillian did what I did twenty years before--she moved home.  And as it was for me, I know she'll get back on her pegs and fly away again.

But at least for now, she's once again my partner in crime, driving around with me just like we did all those years ago in Sacramento, singing along to the radio.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh, rats

I have long been aware that Prince Charming isn't coming to my house anytime soon.

But imagine my horror when I glanced up at the porch light this afternoon to see what Lottie was hollering about.  I am so naive, I thought I'd see one of her idiot lizards.

It was definitely not Prince Charming.
It was not a lizard.  
It was a mouse.

 Lottie had apparently chased it up the wall onto the light fixture, and from there it tried (and failed, thank my stars) to squeeze into my attic.  Nightmare alert: mice can climb stucco walls, did you know that?  Lillie and I brought the cat inside and jumped up and down and screamed tried to decide what to do.  I posted its creepy crawly picture on Facebook and asked the team for their best advice.

Among the comments was this unpleasant news.  My furry intruder is not a mouse.  
It is a rat.  

A baby rat.
Baby rats most definitely have parents, siblings and cousins.  
Google agreed that I probably have entire families of rats running around my property.  There is a lot of that nasty ivy nearby, and rats LOVE ivy.  Google says it is only a matter of time before I have rats in my walls and attic.  I recently noticed what I thought were mole hills around my house but are, apparently, rat burrows.  Maybe I'll stuff snail bait down the busiest-looking holes--I recall, way back when I lived in an old house in San Jose, whenever I scattered Snarol there would always be a few dead roof rats lying around in a day or so.   I'll go to OSH and figure out which kind of actual rat poison seems the safest for every non-rat creature in the vicinity.

I would love to imagine that this little rodent lives alone and has no friends or relations. 
Well,  I wasn't born last night. 
 Looks like there's some pest control on my agenda.

Rats are sort of the herpes of home-ownership.  
You might control them; you might not see a rat for years; but they're never really gone forever.

Have you ever had rats?