Archive for September, 2012

How I met Jer

September 30, 2012

My husband’s dinner news last night was that They Might Be Giants has made a science teaching DVD. Just now he put it in my hand.

I have a connection to this band. They’re how I met one of the best friends of my life so far, Jer.

Immediately after I moved to Boulder My Boyfriend and I were getting hippie groceries at the hippie grocery store, and a hippie friend of My Boyfriend was out front wanting a ride. He had two non-hippie friends with him.

In the back seat, the blond friend picked up my collection of cassettes. “Hey! They Might Be Giants! I met them today.”

Jer is a cyclist. At the time, he worked at The Spoke, repairing and selling bicycles.

He was in Boulder Central Park doing a thing to his bike, when the band went by on rented cycles. The members were in town for a concert at The Boulder Theater.

Right in front of Jer, the frontman’s chain fell off. That’s serendipity if I ever knew of it. My advice to anyone in general: if you’re gonna drop a bike chain, do it in front of Jer.

He rescued them and was given two free tickets to that night’s show.

That’s even serendipitouser. Readers, if you’re ever going to pick up a stranger at a hippie grocery, pick up someone who just got two free tickets to a They Might Be Giants concert.

My Boyfriend sent me off with his blessing. He sent Jer off warning him not to touch my butt.

I put on a tie-dye sundress and lace-up-to-the-knee boots, and Jer picked me up at 7 p.m.

I was suspicious early on that the band was lip syncing. Toward the end of the concert they gave up the ruse and stopped strumming for a moment. The music went uninterrupted. Who could complain? My tickets were free and I had met a lifelong friend.

To this day he has never touched my butt.

Chicken breasts

September 29, 2012

I was sitting here trying to choose a story for today’s post when my e-mail dinged with a recipe from a friend of mine.

This is an act of generosity I can’t relate to. I’m terrible stingy with my recipes. I know they’re why I have friends. If everyone could make my Caribbean Jerk Chicken, no one would ever come over.

Miss Julia’s recipe gift uses chicken breasts, which gives me another opportunity to betray how linguistically anal retentive I am.

I don’t understand why we call them breasts. Chickens are birds. Only mammals have breasts…, and mermaids, but that rant has been made already.

Could we not call them chicken pecs?

My poor family has been hearing me whine about this for years. One day at my mom’s from the across the house I get this, “Mom! Mom! You gotta see this commercial. MOOOMMMMM!” They were all a-dither.

The TV liars said, “Chickens have thighs. Chickens have breasts.” Oh they did not just say that. “Chickens do not have nuggets.” Now they’re dissing nuggets? There is so much to hate about this commercial.

I just tried to hunt down this ad to link it to my post. The top six search results were arguments over whether chickens have nipples. People wrote: Of course they do, they have breasts don’t they? Duh!

Duh indeed.

Miss Julia, please know that when I print out your recipe, I’m crossing off the word ‘breasts’ and writing ‘pecs.’ But the term artichoke hearts can stay as is.

I will send you my Caribbean Jerk Chicken recipe.

I am an imp

September 28, 2012

At my house, country music is not considered cool.

I don’t even know if I hate it. I just know there’s a stigma. If it comes on, we rush to push a new station.

One night my husband and I were shuffling cars around in the driveway. I was in his new car. It has a touch screen.

There are three FM screens, with six preset buttons each. He didn’t know how to manipulate them, but I did.

While I was moving his car, I set all his presets to KFROG.

The next morning just after he left for work, the phone rang.

I knew it would. 

All I heard was “AAAAAAAHHHHHHH.”

Throwing people in the pool

September 27, 2012

Last night at a party a girl came at my son to throw him in the pool. I know this girl. She is a perfect girl, and she was being playful.

My son is strong, and he is a capable wrestler. She didn’t stand  a chance.

He spun around and threw her in instead. He does not understand his strength, I think, or when to temper it. She got hurt.

I wasn’t there, but I’m understanding she slapped the water flat, and face down.

This reminds me of yet another moment from my childhood I have never gotten over.

We used to celebrate Easter every year at my Uncle Junior’s house. I don’t know why we call him Junior. His name is Bill, and his father was a Korean immigrant, whose name sounded nothing like Bill.

I wore my suit, but only to sit on the step. I never learned how to swim, and was afraid of the water. Specifically, I was afraid of putting my head under.

One year my Uncle Hot Shot grabbed me from the lawn area and started running toward the water. I screamed for all I was worth. He laughed and hurled my tiny flailing body into the deep end.

Chlorinated water burns when you gulp and inhale it. I remember not knowing which direction was up, and feeling my hands go numb. They do that when I panic.

At some point I made it to the edge of the pool. When I got my lungs working, I yelled at Hot Shot. “I hate you! I hate you so much!”

My mother, who was on a lounge chair poolside, fully clothed, turned beet red and started yelling at me.

I got in big trouble.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m more upset with her than Hot Shot. In fact, knowing Hot Shot, I’m sure he saw I was on my own, and was making an effort to include me in the antics. He may have thought my screaming and kicking was part of the game, but my mother knew I couldn’t swim. A word from her to stop him would have carried some weight.

And afterward, a little understanding toward me would not have come amiss.

Cherri’s motorcyclist story

September 26, 2012

Today my husband and I went out to our favorite breakfast cafe for a morning date. Sometimes we wake up thinking about Carolyn’s coffee cake, and we’ve just gotta go.

My husband got off the freeway at an unexpected place. When he stopped he said, “That was a strange feeling. I suddenly wanted to be off the freeway.”

He unwittingly avoided the half-mile stretch involved in a story my girlfriend Cherri tells.

She had just passed the offramp we took, considering the suffocating list of responsibilities she had with her home and kids and job, when a young man zoomed past on a motorcycle.

She was jealous of him. “He looked so free. His hair was blowing behind him.”

She looked at his hand. He opened it in a stretch and re-gripped the handlebar before he was out of her sight.

“I thought about how good it must feel to be him.”

Before the next offramp traffic stopped. As she sat trapped in her hot minivan, she says she imagined the motorcycle guy zipping off ahead with the wind on his fingers, undeterred by the freeway congestion.

Finally she inched past the reason for the jam. The motorcyclist had been struck. The bike lay acrumple near his body, which someone had sloppily covered.

His hand was poking out, exposed — the one Cherri had focused on.

Cherri said she must have seen him seconds before he died.

This morning his ghost chased my husband off the freeway.

An impulse toward kindness

September 22, 2012

In October of 2000 I walked from Santa Barbara to Malibu, raising more than $2,000 in my Auntie Elsie’s memory for breast cancer education, research and treatment.

The event organizer was I’mpossible. On Day Zero all of the walkers had to watch the I’mpossible training video. This struck me as stupid. I had been training since April. Who shows up to trek 60 miles through pouring rain untrained?

It turned out to have nothing to do with walking. It was about attitude.

The rule for the next three days was this: You know that impulse toward kindness that you talk yourself out of? Don’t talk yourself out of it.

The video accused us of having the idea of buying a meal for the homeless guy in the park, or stopping for the car on the side of the freeway to lend a hand. It accused us of waiting one second too long to act, and thinking better of it.

I’m guilty of this.

Just last week I was in the grocery store with a heaping cartful, and the lady in front of me told the cashier it was her 80th birthday.

I immediately was inclined to tell the cashier to put her groceries on my tab. Instead, I kept my head down, made no indication that I had heard, and unloaded pasta, eggs, peanut butter.

My mind was all over this woman’s day. She was alone at the grocery store. She was shopping for ingredients on a day she shouldn’t be worrying about cooking.

I unloaded garlic, yogurt, parmesan and remembered Nana‘s 80th a few years ago. Family flew in. We wrote her a song, which all of her children and grandchildren joined in performing. Friends came. My mom presented her with a scrapbook.

There was a karaoke jockey and a feast. At no point did the day accommodate a lonely trip to Albertsons.

I unloaded cat food and chicken breasts and told myself I would only embarrass her.

Then it was too late. I didn’t even say happy birthday.

That’s why I didn’t deserve yesterday. The karma god is all mixed up.

Yesterday I had to go to a seminar in Claremont after an interview in my office. I made the 45-minute drive on fumes, but noted the gas station between the event and the freeway. I could fill up before I went back.

I parked and reached for my purse. Nothing. I had left it at the office.

At least I had my cell phone. The cartoon battery was flashing red, but I only needed one call.

At a break in the event, I went in front of the building and called Mom.

You may remember she was sick yesterday from the stress of speaking in public. She was in no state to drive an hour each way to give me money. On top of that, she was busy with things, like taking Nana to her Scrabble club.

While she was telling me to call Dad, a woman who had been digging in her car walked over to me and pressed $10 in my hand.

I so didn’t deserve that.


My mother’s nerves

September 21, 2012

I’ve just come home from an International Day of Peace banquet, at which my mother received the annual Citizen’s Action for Peace award.

She was so nervous she made herself sick, starting Friday.

Her award was presented after a three-and-a-half-hour program of speakers, music and dining.

She sat trembling in her seat, trying not to look at her plate of food, until her introduction, presentation and acceptance speech were behind her.

Then she grabbed a fork, relaxed and dug in.

She has always been like this. I’ve tried various methods of calming her over the years.

Once she was to sing a duet in church. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu.

She like to died waiting for the scripture reading to end.

Just as she was about to approach the microphone I said, “Hey Mom, do you know how to tell if a man is ticklish?”

“What? No.” She stood up. It was time.

“You give him a test tickle.”

I’m helpful.

click here for photo

An anniversary

September 20, 2012

Today is my parents’ anniversary. They married in a private ceremony in the living room of our new home just after I turned 6.

I was in Boulder on this date 14 years ago. My son was 2 and my daughter was 9 months old.

As I did every few days, I called to visit with Nana. My grampa said she couldn’t come to the phone. She was sick.

From 1,000 miles away, I worried all the time. Too sick to talk on the phone was awfully sick.

I had to drag it out of him, but I learned that she had thrown up black and bloody stuff, and then collapsed.

My call interrupted his trying to scrub the stain out of the white bathroom carpet. It never did come out. I will withhold my comments about having a white bathroom carpet in the first place.

I hung up and called mom at work. She left immediately.

Auntie Martha, whom Mom had called, had gotten to my grandparents’ house in five minutes and called an ambulance.

I grabbed the kids and got on the next flight to California. I was there by 5 p.m.

My poor parents spent their 20th anniversary with me and babies all over their house.

Nana was OK. She had taken an aspirin and made a hole in her stomach.

Happy anniversary Mom and Dad.

My jury duty

September 19, 2012

I waited for my kids after practice today with another parent. He was my jury foreman. We reminisced about the case.

His son went through elementary school with my daughter, and his nephew with my son. I know his wife well, and knew him for years — as long as he was with her.

My jury summons came last fall. I used to love a jury summons.

It may have said, “Report to serve, as is your duty as a citizen of the United States,” but I read, “Come and spend several hours reading your novel in peace before being dismissed.”

I reported for my day of heaven, took my seat among 300 strangers and opened my book.

A man was looking at me, smiling. I smiled back, nodded and made my best effort to look absorbed in my story.

He kept with the giant smile, and when I looked up — because who could resist looking up? — he threw in an upward chin jerk.

Now I was getting a little scared.

He stood up and walked over to me. He was 7 feet tall if he was an inch. The lady next to me took a powder and he took her seat. Thanks, Lady.

Then he said hi to me by name. Ah. We knew each other. That’s a horse of a different color. I would have to play pretend-to-recognize-while-frantically-thinking-through-all-the-places-I-know-people-from.

I suck at this game. I made him identify himself.

I ended up grateful to have a friend sharing the experience. The trial tried my emotions.

The defendant was a paranoid schizophrenic drug addict who completed his sentence in a mental hospital after robbing a bank. He did this by lying that he had a bomb in his backpack.

Ours was to determine whether he should be released in the face of his total lack of rehabilitation.

To extend his sentence, it had to be proven beyond doubt that he was seriously mentally ill and a danger to others.

The rub was that he was the gentlest person I’d ever heard of. It came down to the gray area of what danger meant.

He was unstable and unpredictable. He believed he received messages from the CIA, sent through household electronics to the chip in his eye. They told him they controlled tsunamis and earthquakes.

He robbed the bank because he needed money to save people from the tsunamis. He was awfully sweet.

It was argued he would never hurt anybody. It was argued he created dangerous situations.

His mother cried. I stayed strong.

But when his father cried it was too much. After the verdict, I scurried to the elevator and let flow when the doors closed.

I’m still bothered by it, mostly for the loss of looking forward to a jury summons.

The studying story

September 18, 2012

Tonight I went to my kids’ high school open house.

Afterward, some of us parents were sharing our opinions of the teachers. Mine are all positive.

One of our friends was telling us his daughter’s history teacher will give each child an index card the day before the test. Students are allowed to have the cards on their desks during the exam.

We agreed this was a good idea. He said, “By the time they’ve rewritten all their notes real tiny on that thing, they’ve learned the material.” 

I had an experience just like that.

It seemed to me as a child that I could study more easily by listening to the material while I slept. I thought it would soak in.

In my mind, this was some form of cheaterpantsery. It wasn’t.

I sat down on my bedroom’s orange carpet with my cassette recorder and my study guide, hit record and read.

This was quick and easy.

And short.

It occurred to me that I would hit play and climb in bed, and the notes would be finished before I fell asleep. I would have to make it last longer.

So I read them over and over, to fill up the half-hour side of the tape.

To this day I don’t know if sleep studying works. I had memorized the stupid study sheet before I executed the experiment.

I felt like an idiot, despite the A.

The purse

September 17, 2012

My daughter lost her wallet after we went to Big Bear last weekend to eat at Saucy Mama’s.

This morning on the way to school she said she found it, and I told her about the time I lost mine.

For Christmas my senior year in high school one of my girlfriends gave me a beach-bag size blue vinyl purse. My sister gave me a make-up bag.

I tucked my dark green mascara and liquid glitter eye shadow in the bag in the purse and went out for ribs and a movie with the peeps.

At dinner my mom passed me $20 for lunch for the week. That was a ton of money then.

Then we were off to see Platoon.

Not too far into the film it was clear I didn’t have the emotional strength to watch Platoon. I told my parents I’d wait in the lobby and slipped out.

When they came out later, they didn’t have my purse. I ran in.

It wasn’t there.

My driver license, school ID, photos of friends — all gone.

It turned out I also lacked the emotional strength to lose my best make-up.

I, on the other hand….

September 16, 2012

Each of my children has gotten lost once. I used to get lost a lot.

My mom likes to tell this story. I remember when it happened.

We were at a large mall, at the Sears department store, when I looked up from whatever clothes rack my mind had wandered in and realized I didn’t know where my mom had gone.

I found a saleswoman and asked where customer service was. I told her I couldn’t find my mommy.

She took me down the escalator to the basement level. The walls and floor were shiny and white. She held my hand and made kid talk.

She led me to a counter where I gave my name and my mom’s name. I was articulate at 4, and comfortable speaking with adults.

They paged my mom.

When she came to collect me, the saleswoman was effusive. She told Mom she waited to tell her how impressed she was.

She said I knew where to go and what information to give. She said I was calm and friendly.

Shoot, for me it was just part of going shopping.

It was a fabulous experience, because my mom seemed so proud.

The time my daughter went missing

September 15, 2012

The story of Jaycee Lee Dugard is tormenting me.

I must watch or listen to every drip of news coverage I can find. My husband seems to be avoiding it.

Once we were in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and a woman went past us in the hall looking frantic and calling a child’s name. My husband took in a steadying breath, went glassy eyed and dropped my hand to join the search.

He was emotional when he came back. He told me he can’t handle seeing a parent looking for a lost kid. He said it puts him right back in the moment when he lost our daughter.

She was 2.

I had gone to a party at Kevin’s house. Kevin had been one of my closest friends before I left the Sink and had a baby. We ran into each other in town after my plans to move back to California were set.

He told me he was having a to-do at his parents’ house. It was a reunion for us, and an unusual kid-free afternoon for me.

I came home before evening. Everything seemed normal.

Later my husband and I were watching TV. He hit the mute button suddenly, and told me he had had to look for the baby while I was gone.

He said he had tried to call me on Jer’s cell phone, which I had taken with me for some reason.

I hadn’t kept close to my purse at Kevin’s. This was before caller ID and cellular voicemail. This is one of two times I had had Jer’s cell.

My husband put the sound back on the TV and the night went on.

When it was time to go upstairs, he turned the set off and put his forehead on my shoulder. “My God, I was so scared,” he said. He started sobbing.

This was uncharacteristic. I became scared.

He told me he had realized the baby wasn’t there, and checked around the house. The yard was empty, so he walked our quiet block calling for her. Ultimately people all over the neighborhood were searching.

She had wandered next door and was trying on another little girl’s roller skates in a garage.

It was the worst suffering my husband has ever known.

Hail talk

September 14, 2012

We used to get hail in Boulder.

The day after a storm was the best day to go car shopping. The inventory was all dented and discounted.

On the news, they always say the same thing. “There were golf-ball size hailstones.”

Jer used to say he was going to open a sports store that sold hail-size golfballs.

Pets are nasty

September 13, 2012

My dogs got skunked this morning.

This is a boon for my cat Newsie, who for the first time is not the stinkiest animal in the house.

My son’s friend said her teacher’s dog got skunked and then climbed into the bed.

That reminds me of a story.

Before we were married, my husband and I shared a dog, Ozone.

My then boyfriend woke up one morning feeling something wet in the bed. He scooted from it at first, but later woke enough to realize it was probably bad.

It was. It was a gift from Ozone.

It was half a opossum.

My dad cracks me up

September 12, 2012

Today is my dad’s birthday, so I’ll share my favorite example of his sass.

Whenever I drove home from Boulder for a visit, my dad would sprinkle kitty litter in the driveway and give my car an oil change.

I went out to keep him company one of these times. He had just finished my car, and was doing Mom’s.

I tilted my head at the gooey clay litter remnants whose wetness prevented them from coming up in the first go-over with the broom.

“This litter spot is shaped like Africa,” I said.

My dad froze.

He stared at me agape.

“What?” I sounded so Valley Girl.

“You’ve been looking at maps!”

I am so sure.

I panicked

September 11, 2012

Just as I said about being in a big earthquake, everybody’s got a Sept. 11 experience to share. Mine is embarrassing.

I woke up that morning when my husband came in the bedroom and turned the news on.

He said, “This is it. This is war. The shit’s hitting the fan.”

But I heard, “This is the day we’re going to have that nuclear war you’ve worried about your whole life.”

This is a terrible way to wake up.

I looked at the screen and started firing questions. The second plane had just hit the second tower. My Adrenalin was rushing, and I couldn’t process the information.

I climbed out of bed to see the TV better, and Jim Miklashevski said with a tremble, “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we just felt and heard what seemed like an explosion at the Pentagon.”

That was the turning point for me. I thought bombs were dropping, leadership would be wiped out, and we’d be living the end verse of Nena’s 99 Luftballons.

I had two lucid thoughts: I regretted having children, and my bowels were turning to water.

I started to beg my husband to stay home. He raised his eyebrows and told me no as he knotted his necktie.

It was the second day of school. My kids were in first and third grade. My husband’s students were freshmen.

He put a cassette in the VCR, hit record and left. The children were just getting up.

This was bad. I was panicking, no one was helping me and I was in charge of people.

Let me back up a day, to explain my son’s state of mind.

On the playground after school he scaled the top of the new tube slide. The new principal, who was scary and mean, scolded him. He scowled and defended himself.

I told him that we were going to school early the next morning so he could go in her office and apologize for being disrespectful. He was so nervous about this his stomach was sick.

My daughter, as always, was just chill.

I took them to school and called in at work. They were not pleased. I worked in a newsroom, after all.

I went to Mama’s house. Nana showed up too. After about an hour I couldn’t stand it; I pulled my children out of school. I figured if it was our last day alive, we were going to spend it together, laughing. We got ice cream and rented Back to the Future.

I was so stressed out, I was wishing I had what I used to consider real trouble — money, kids, conflicting obligations. I told my mom, “I would give anything to have my old problems back.”

It took me months to come down from the panic. I was at the top of the short list for counseling at work.

I learned about nukes and international relations and terrorism. I learned how ignorant I was. Ignorance isn’t bliss; it’s fright.

I let my son wait a week before apologizing to his principal, who was a bitch about it.

It was a horrible time all around.


September 10, 2012

Years ago my Unca Rob started a football pool. He invited Uncle Chauncey, Mike, my husband, my biological father, my sister’s husband, more of my uncles and a couple of other people.

My husband hadn’t watched football since I’d known him, and he doesn’t like betting on stuff, but I’m game for anything, so I asked Unca Rob if I could join in his stead.

Unca Rob never tells me no.

In the beginning he had set up a non-existent player named ‘Dumbass.’ Dumbass was going to generate random picks. It was an experiment to see if studying statistics did any good.

I pointed out that I had never seen football, and would be voting for teams based on colors, mascots and whether I had good memories in the towns they played for.

My husband told me with exasperation that I was not influencing the game, and to please stop calling it voting. 

It was unanimously decided that I would suffice as the team’s Dumbass.

I did very well that year. Apparently nobody else was as savvy as I  about dolphins’ being cuter than rams, or pirates’ being more fun at a party than saints.

But the best part was the banter.

It was smart, razzy and hilarious. I saved every posting.

One of my cousins was quiet — and got hounded for it — before he quit the pool at the end of the season with the comment that he didn’t know there was a minimum SAT score required for participation.

My husband said, “I can see how being in a chat with you, Rob, Chauncey and Jan would be intimitating.”

He was clever to include me in that list, even though we both know I’m not in that league.

No one considered putting Mike on that list.

Mike is our whipping boy. (Watch the comments for Mike’s two cents. He will point out that he wins the pool every year. As if that matters.)

The next year Rob kicked everyone out who wasn’t chatty — even his son, whose sole posting, after a round of ‘What the hell is a seahawk, anyway?’, was “You people are clogging up my inbox. P.S., a seahawk is a breed of osprey.”

Last year my birthday goal was to start watching the games.

Now I’m addicted.

Though we had a teaser game on Thursday, tomorrow is the meaty beginning of the 2011 season. I’ve waited 9 months. It was agony.

Don’t call the house. I’ll be wearing my Chargers jersey and cheering my dumbass head off.

The mysterious mail story

September 9, 2012

Shortly after John Lennon was killed I came in from school with an envelope from the mailbox.

It was for me, and the address was handwritten.

I gripped it in my little kid hand all the way to the kitchen. I wanted an audience, and found Mom making dinner. Dad was at the table with the paper. I sat across from him and opened my letter.

There was no letter.

It was a newspaper clipping. I didn’t know which side was relevant. It was either an announcement about a toy drive or a sketch of the late Lennon, who was four days gone.

I flipped the clipping over several times, looking for a clue.

The sketch was an elaborate line drawing of his face with tight spirals in the glasses lenses.

The bit had been cut out with pinking scissors and folded in half.

I didn’t think of anything other than puzzlement until my mom said, “Why would someone send you a picture of a dead man?”

Great. Now it’s threatening.

My dad gave her his you’re-so-dramatic-about-everything eye roll he had lots of opportunity to master. “He’s not dead in the picture.”

Well that’s some comfort.

I said, “Mom! Somebody sent me a picture of a dead guy!”

She rolled her eyes at me. Team switcher.

“He’s not dead in the picture,” she said, as if I were unreasonable.

I think she thought I couldn’t hear Dad, who I was actually closer to me than to her.

I never learned who sent it to me or why, or which side of the clipping I was meant to care about.

And I didn’t contribute anything to the toy drive.

The ditching story

September 8, 2012

I have to write something that makes me smile tonight, as therapy. I am so angry with the employees of Barnes & Noble in Riverside that I feel violent. They have no kind of concern for their customers.

So here is one of my favorite stories. Even in my fuming state, I’m chuckling thinking about it.

One day in high school I played hooky. I had no choice. I had cut school the day before, and the Laverne & Shirley episode I watched was to-be-continued.

At the end of the episode I called Mike to chat.

He scolded me. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

I lied. “I’m in the library. We’re here for the whole period. My English class is supposed to be picking out a monologue, but I already picked mine out.”

There really was a pay phone in the school library. I really had already picked out my monologue.

We talked about whatever we used to talk about. Then I feigned distracted.

In the middle of one of his sentences I said, “Hold on. Dude, hand me that book. I’m sorry, go ahead.”

He started cracking up.

I’m no kind of liar.


September 7, 2012

Sheila Lukins died last Sunday. She was diagnosed with brain cancer three months ago.

She’s the author of The Silver Palate cookbook, which was one of my mother’s can’t-live-withouts; and Celebrate!, which is one of my can’t-live-withouts.

In honor of her life, my mother made chicken marbella, Lukins’ signature dish, last night. We went over and raised a glass to her memory.

The Silver Palate was one of the first cookbooks my mother gave me when I married and had a lifetime behind me of failed dinners, save the one delicious lasagne my date dropped on the floor.

My mother likes to tell about my attempts to make cookies as a child. Her favorite of the batch is when instead of 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, I once put 3/4 cup baking soda in the dough.

I have come so far. Thanks, Sheila, and rest in peace.

A riddle

September 6, 2012

Today my son found a kids’ riddle book in the glove compartment. I don’t know where it came from.

He read us the riddles, and some of them were funny, but many were groaners.

My daughter and I took it as a challenge to come up with better punch lines than the book offered.

Then we abandoned the book and the three of us  invented our own.

Here’s our favorite, made from scratch, for your entertainment:

What is the  favorite sandwich of common people?

A Plebian J.

The road trip fight

September 5, 2012

In the summer of 2001 we drove up the west coast for vacation.

It was two weeks of heaven, with one day of hell tacked on the end.

Our last stop was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. By then we had seen Hearst Castle, Carmel Beach, the California Redwoods, The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the Rogue River, Seattle, Victoria Canada and San Francisco.

We were tired. The kids were 6 and 8.

Several hours from home they started this:

“Stop saying OK!” “OK!”

They didn’t stop until they fell asleep 40 miles from our driveway.

They did this naturally, but only because I didn’t have access to chloroform.

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Breaking up

September 4, 2012

My daughter announced a couple of weeks ago that she was getting close with my son’s girlfriend.

I went where mothers should never go. I started imagining a future of girls’ days with all of us giggling over new shoes and facials. I imagined holidays and new babies and all of us a big happy family of love and a long history of togetherness.

I jinxed it.

He got in the car the other day and said he was going to break up.

He was physically ill over the decision. He said there was nothing specifically wrong; he just didn’t want to be there anymore. “It would be so much easier if she would do something wrong.”

I totally get it.

I have dumped and been dumped because of a mysterious and sudden feeling of detachment.

When my high school boyfriend dumped me, I had pain in my heart that was so great I thought I needed an ambulance — not my figurative heart, the organ in  my chest.

I cried until I was cried out, and then I moped.

My son knows she’s wonderful; he knows he made her sad; and he’s in pain knowing he can’t offer comfort.

Maybe he’ll feel better in 15 years, when she, my daughter and I are out getting facials and buying shoes.

Another copy editor miss that wasn’t my fault

September 2, 2012

When we put a newspaper page together, we rarely have all the pieces. Photos, headlines, captions and even stories can still be in the production process while the page is built.

Page designers fill these spots with place holders. For photos this is easy. You need to know only whether you’ll be using a vertical or a horizontal photo.

Under there you write something like “Caption goes here. Caption goes here. Caption goes here and blah blah for three lines.”

I gave you this journalism lesson to explain why when I started working at the Daily Camera, I found the following clipping taped to my desk, left by my predecessor:

“Correction: The headline ‘Abby needs head’ was erroneous….”

The wildfire story

September 1, 2012

From my house, I can see the flames in Oak Glen.

The fire started Sunday.

My husband called me from out. “I see smoke bad. It might be Forest Falls.”

I went out and looked toward the mountains. It was a familiar sight, a beautiful sky with a big brown plume of seemingly still, billowy smoke pushing up from one spot.

Yesterday when I drove the kids to school the smell was strong. It was sickening. There’s a smothering feeling to heavy fire air. It makes me a little panicky. It makes my son nauseated.

In the evening my husband and I drove home separately on the freeway. We spoke in unison as we got out of the cars in the drive: Did you freak out when you turned the corner toward town?

The orange was striking. It made me gasp.

This seems to happen every fall, but the first time was the worst: The Old Fire. On my way to work from the elementary school’s Fall Festival, there were flames on both sides of the freeway, almost the whole way. Two fires on my right were beginning to merge.

The newsroom TV was tuned to live coverage of people being evacuated, homes being destroyed. The numbers of people and homes rolled higher while we watched.

My friends and colleagues were outfitted in yellow suits and sent into harm’s way, taking the places of those coming back with full notebooks. They smelled so strong they had to go onto the roof to change out of their gear.

Then I got a terrible call. My Uncle Sonny’s house was gone. Not his neighbors’, just his. The fire followed an odd and narrow path that led to his back porch.

Oh man, he doesn’t even live in the mountains.

He was on his computer when he looked back and saw his awning was aflame. He grabbed his paper files and ran out.

He said there was a somber parade of people with armfuls of belongings walking down the street. Ultimately the fire hopscotched around the neighborhood, leaving piles of ash between unharmed houses, as it did with Sonny’s.

He lost the mementos of his life as a father — the art projects his three girls had made, photos, letters, abandoned instruments, his daughters’ ballet costumes.

My kids were 8 and 10.

After work we all drove over to Auntie Martha’s to give him a ‘there there’ and a ‘that sucks.’ 

En route home from Martha’s we could see the fire working its way over the mountains of Highland. It was coming down fast, and in the dark of night we could see the path growing longer, toward us.

My children were frightened. I drove them to the wash, a rocky swath of riverbed between us and Old, to reassure them.

You would have thought it was the 4th of July. Cars were parked all along the edge, and people had set up lawn chairs and brought sodas.

We looked down our nose at this, but went home and set up lawn chairs in the picture window on our second-floor landing. We had a great view.

Even as I explained to the children how safe we were, I put my wedding album, my  home videos and Grampa’s paintings in the back of the van.

My husband shook his head with an I’m-not-saying-anything look, but the evacuation line edged closer to town by the hour.

I made a videotape of each room, cabinets open, in case I had to list our possessions to an insurance company.

On the third day, it was like dusk all day long. The schools were closed, and it was difficult to breathe outdoors.

When I went to my car to go to work, I stood for a moment and thought it was snowing. Ashes were falling in graceful flakes, laying an even coat on my arms and hair.

Now it seems like we go through this every fall — the smell, the orange glow, the what-to-grab-first list — but I’m still shocked at first sight, whiff and breath.