Running Free

Running Free

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers


We as parents work hard to set our children on a path strewn more with green grass than cobbles, and we as parents try hard to feed and nourish their souls and bodies with good things: good food, good thoughts, good Karma.

And so, when something less than wonderful happens, we ache, if not for the downfall and disappointment of the child, then for the inability to spare the child from the actual cause of such disappointment.

And alternatively, when we have done all that we can, nourished small bodies and souls with all of the necessary ingredients that we believe necessary, and something good happens and we can share with our child the exhilaration of such a moment then, then we give thanks.
This evening I was able to experience with my son just such a moment.

You see, recently my young lad attended an away swim meet- the one mentioned in the “Rites of Passage” blog from several days back. Well, upon returning from this incredible experience without the presence and hovering of Mom or Dad, our son came home proud and happy. For he had won the 9-10 boys division of the swim meet. How proud was he!!

He beamed for several days. This despite his disappointment in himself at having lost the bag that contained all of his electronic devises, the charger for his phone, the charger for his handheld Nintendo DS as well as four video games including his newest and currently most favorite Guitar Hero along with associated finger playing device.

“Don’t give up hope honey,” I told him with my Pollyanna belief that most people are good. “It may turn up yet.”

“Don’t hold your breath Mom,” was the tart reply from my too young to be jaded son. “Kids were telling me horror stories of things they have lost on bus trips. It’s gone for good.”

I sighed and proceeded to send mother messages electronically to the coaches pleading for the name of the bus company in order to give them a call – just in case just anyone were to find and turn in a small yellow zipper case lovingly labeled with my son’s initials.

The man who answered the phone to the bus company sounded tired, but pleasant, worn from life, yet decent with a warm voice like - buttered toast. Hard to explain, really.

He didn’t dismiss what was by most standards I admit, a trivial request – a yellow bag with a few games and electronic devices. It wasn’t a missing kid, it wasn’t a critical medicine. It was simply- a bag full of – things.

“Was you son on the Irvine Novaquatics trip to Arizona?” The man asked in his warm toast with butter voice.

“He was,” I said.

“Well, let me have your phone number. There were two buses that made that trip and I will ask the drivers to go through them. But it may take me a couple of days.”

“Oh thank you,” I told the man whose name I neglected to ask.

We ended the call and I told my son to have faith and not give up hope.

He smiled at me as he finished his math homework and said, "Mom, I love you for always trying to see the bright side of things.”
I reminded him of how many times the brighter side had revealed itself to me. Like the time I had left my wallet in the cart at Target. And hadn’t realized it was missing until an hour after I got home and went looking for some money. I called up the store and sure enough, a store clerk who had been collecting carts from the parking lot had found my wallet and turned it into the lost and found department.

I of course jumped in my car praying that a cop wouldn’t decide that this was the day where he was one ticket short of quota and I would be his mark – since trying to explain that my license was in my wallet which wasn’t at the moment with me, but that if he cared to escort me to Target where some nice young person had turned it in…well, luckily, I made it there without incidence.

I reminded my son of this story and of the time we were on a family trip to San Francisco. We had brought rain coats because it was supposed to be rainy that week. And it wasn’t until we had gotten out of the plane in SF that I realized I had left my black London Fog coat that I had gotten on sale at Macy’s for a great price years back on the back of the chair 600 miles away. Of course it was raining. It rained much of the week now that I think about it- and I ended up buying a cheap water coat in a drugstore. Raincoat or no raincoat we had a great trip loaded with laughs and raindrops and memories.

I of course called the airlines when we had settled ourselves in the hotel. They said they would keep an eye out and call me if it turned up.

My husband and son were both convinced that it was long gone never to be seen again. And so imagine their surprise and my happiness when the day before we were to depart to come back home from SF the phone rang. It was the airlines: they had found my coat- it had been turned in by a passenger and would be waiting for me in the Lost and Found area when I got to the airport.

The number of times I have left my prescription sunglasses either at a friend’s house, our favorite Italian restaurant who actually opened early for me one Sunday morning so I could have them for a planned trip to San Diego, in a bookstore, at the dentist, at the doctor’s office...

If these glasses could talk….I mean, I have been blessed by the gods and angels of good fortune. And now I hope that my son and husband will believe me when I say, there are many good people in this world that do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. They do it without looking for anything other than it’s the right thing to do. It’s very simple really.

Which is why a man who takes a bus to work from Irvine to Placentia every day was willing to meet at the library near his bus stop at 9:10 p.m. this evening to deliver my son’s yellow bag which had been found by one of his colleagues named Luis.

He had called me around 7:00 p.m. letting me know it had just been turned in. He let me know that he too lived in Irvine and would be happy to have me meet him at the library if convenient.
And so I sat on a bench outside the library waiting and listening to the hum of cars and the now and then meow of a cat somewhere nearby.

At 9:10 p.m. I saw man of average build carrying a plastic bag and a small lunch pail.
"Are you the bus driver?" I asked with a smile.
The man with the warm as toast with butter voice had eyes the color of the bluest sky and a white trim beard nodded.
I shook his hand, thanking him for his kind gesture. He opened his lunch pail and pulled out the all too familiar yellow zipper bag trimmed with black that had been the source of a bit of grief this past week.

I handed a card to him and asked if he would be so kind as to pass it along to Luis, the man who had actually found my son’s electronic bag. He said he would.
I handed him an envelope and said, “And this is for you. For being so kind and once more rekindling my faith and belief in human goodness.”

He gratefully accepted the small token and smiled.

I offered to drive him home; he declined thanking me saying he lived nearby. He turned back from the direction in which he had just come.

And I walked back to my car, cradling the small yellow bag, silly thing that it was.
It was what it had come to represent. A disappointment now turned to the belief that decency and humanity are not dead.

I hummed a song, got in my car and realized that I had not asked the man with a voice like warm toast with butter for his name.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rite of Passage

I am undergoing a rite of passage- that of a parent letting her child travel for a sport event in a bus with some 40 other children without me there to protect him; wipe his nose, keep him warm, make sure he drinks enough liquid; eats a balanced meal; brushes his teeth, gets to bed on time, gets up on time, eats a good breakfast, keeps warm between swim events …the list is endless.

It is part of my unwritten list of duties as a parent, as a mother and a caregiver to insure the health and well being of all my wards- big and small are fully executed.

And thus I sit here on a sunny Friday afternoon wondering if my little guy is okay. Is he having fun in the five and half hour bus trip? Does he have enough of the right clothes to keep him warm and dry? Did I give him enough spending money? Did I remember to tell him where I put his books?

Who will give him a kiss goodnight and tell him, “I Love you”? Who will sit with him while he says his prayers – an extra big one for Grandpa Joe who is his role model for all thing sport related and for Papa Marvin- his guardian angel who has prevented many an unfortunate accident from ever happening. Who will make sure that he hadn’t tossed off the covers in one of his night time battles with the evil orcs?

Who I wonder? Who? And as I muse and ponder this new state of existence in my temporarily diminished capacity as mother and caregiver, I realize that he will be fine. He knows he is loved unconditionally. He has plenty of clothes in his suitcase and will have coaches and team mates to keep him plied with humor and food. He is a solid swimmer and handles pressure well. He will be fine; I pat myself on the shoulder, as if it were him here telling me all is okay.

I think back to the truly momentous moments that for me were rites of passage: the utter feeling of being airborne while taking my first spin around an ice skating rink on a pair of skates; the first time I went to the movie theater to see “Oliver” with my Aunt Mary Jo. How big and grown up I felt. I remember my first kiss from Jimmy Eaton, the preppie blonde from Andover who just wanted to sail and live off the coast of Maine in some lobster shack. How romantic and exciting it sounded to an impressionable adolescent.

The truth is, that while this trip may be a rite of passage for my son, the adventures and sights and sounds to which he will be exposed from older boys and girls wiser and more worldly than my little one, are just the beginning in his hopefully long and fulfilling life. But I know he is wise in so many ways beyond where I was at his tender age. And I know that the experiences he will take away from this first of many away sport team trips is a good thing. It is good for him. And it is good for me.

And so I sigh once more, the pit of my stomach tightening and kneading itself into a ball of glop that says to me, “relax, he will be fine.” It is you who needs to relax.

And so I shall. After all, I still can play caregiver and domestic diva to the other man in my life, my dear Husband (DH). And as a matter of fact, I believe he has made dinner reservations for this evening. A date – just the two of us.
Maybe this rite of passage stuff isn’t so hard after all. It’s all in the how you handle it….

Monday, February 16, 2009

Peanut Gallery


“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, on advice of my counsel, I respectively decline to answer your questions based on the protections afforded me under the U.S. Constitution"
- Stewart Parnell, president, Peanut Corporation of America, February 11, 2009

Seldom do I get riled up enough to share publicly my thoughts on too much outside the realm of my own safe cocoon. This is one of those times when I am just befuddled by the lack of ownership and sense of responsibility.

An Open Letter to Mr. Stewart Parnell, president of Peanut Corporation of America

Dear Mr. Parnell,

As you have probably heard, peanuts are not in good standing these days. As a matter of fact, the very word is enough to make a parent or caregiver cringe. Why is this you might ask?

Well, in a nutshell (no pun intended) it is largely due to your ignorance and apathy that peanuts, peanut butter and other related food sources are the source of salmonella that has intentionally been shared with the millions of residents of the United States of America – so thank you Mr. Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America.

Listening to your testimony on Capitol Hill I could not help but cringe and shake my head. You took the fifth when a congressman asked you whether you would eat the salmonella-tainted peanuts sold to customers; you took the 5th Amendment, citing their right not to incriminate yourself in testimony. What?! What were you thinking? How vapid can you be? To quote my gal Eliza Doolittle, “Gawd!!!”

Written documentations have indicated that you complained in emails about losing money and saying that you were frustrated by the delay in shipping products.

Do you realize Mr. Parnell that your greed and utter lack of any concern for anyone but yourself has led to a salmonella outbreak that has resulted in 600 illnesses and eight deaths in the U.S. and federal criminal investigation is underway? This was a number from last week. It may be higher as I type.

How, I ask you, can you even look yourself in the mirror? Now I know I am far from a lovely morning sight, but at least I can look at myself and know that what I see is what I get. You on the other hand, you actually urged your workers to ship tainted products after receiving test results identifying salmonella. You Mr. Parnell actually implored your employees to "turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money," according to internal company e-mails disclosed Wednesday by a House committee.

The company e-mails obtained by the House panel showed that you Mr. Parnell, you the owner of Peanut Corp. of America ordered the shipments tainted with the bacteria to be sent because he was worried about lost sales. One word: UNBELIEVABLE.

As you well know, these disclosures came in correspondence released by a House Energy and Commerce.

Well, I hope you are happy; your greed has led to one of the largest recalls in history with more than 1,800 products pulled in the U.S. and more than 200 products in Canada. Imagine that. Just look what the miracle mile has led to Mr. Parnell.

You need to wake up and take responsibility for your mistake. Get busy making amends. I would suggest by saying you are sorry. It is the least you can do. Stewart Parnell, what do you say to your family when they ask: Are you happy now?

Sincerely,

C.A. Thorson
_________________________________________________________________________________
http://briefingroom.thehill.com/2009/02/11/peanut-execs-withdraw-into-shells-in-congress/
February 11, 2009


Peanut Execs Withdraw into Shells in Testimony
@ 4:42 pm by Michael O'Brien
When asked by a lawmaker today in Congressional testimony whether they would eat the salmonella-tainted peanuts sold to customers, executives of the Peanut Corporation of America pled the 5th Amendment, citing their right not to incriminate themselves in testimony.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), holding up a jar of peanuts wrapped in police caution tape, asked peanut executives: "Would either of you be willing to take the lid off and eat any of these products right now, like the people on the panel ahead of you, their relatives, their loved ones did?"

Citing the advice of counsel Peanut Corporation of America Stewart Parnell invoked his constitutional right to not testify against himself. Sammy Lightsey, the manager of one of the company's plants, similarly invoked his 5th Amendment rights.

Lawmakers summoned the company's leaders to the Hill today to grill them on the processing that led to a salmonella outbreak in peanut products resulting in eight deaths and an estimated 600 illnesses

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090211/peanut_emails_090211/20090211?hub=World

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The owner of a peanut company blamed for a salmonella outbreak in the U.S. has appeared before a House subcommittee, but is refusing to testify.
Legislators ordered Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell to appear at the hearing today.

He showed up, but refused to answer questions, invoking his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
Earlier, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released the company's internal correspondence showing that Parnell was ordering tainted products to be sold even after confirmation of salmonella.

Parnell complains in emails about losing money and says he's frustrated by the delay in shipping products.

The salmonella outbreak has resulted in 600 illnesses and eight deaths in the U.S. and federal criminal investigation is underway.

The owner of a peanut company urged his workers to ship tainted products after receiving test results identifying salmonella, imploring employees to "turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money," according to internal company e-mails disclosed Wednesday by a House committee.
The company e-mails obtained by the House panel showed that Peanut Corp. of America owner Stewart Parnell ordered the shipments tainted with the bacteria to be sent because he was worried about lost sales.

At one point, Parnell said his workers "desperately at least need to turn the raw peanuts on our floor into money" and at another point told his plant manager to "turn them loose" after learning some peanuts were contaminated with salmonella.

The disclosures came in correspondence released by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Wednesday during a hearing on the salmonella outbreak that has sickened 600 people in the U.S., may be linked to eight deaths and has led to one of the largest recalls in history with more than 1,800 products pulled in the U.S. and more than 200 products in Canada.
A federal criminal investigation is underway.

"We appear to have a total systemic breakdown," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the committee's investigations panel.

Parnell was ordered by subpoena to appear before the U.S. Congress on Wednesday to discuss `the outbreak blamed in large part on his Georgia plant.

In prepared testimony, a laboratory owner told the House panel that the peanut company's disregard for tests identifying salmonella in its product is "virtually unheard of" in the country's food industry and should prompt efforts to increase federal oversight of product safety.
Charles Deibel, president of Deibel Laboratories Inc., said his company was among those that tested Peanut Corp. of America's products and notified the Georgia plant that salmonella was found in some of its peanut stock. Peanut Corp. sold the products anyway, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspection report.

"It is not unusual for Deibel Labs or other food testing laboratories to find that samples clients submit do test positive for salmonella and other pathogens, nor is it unusual that clients request that samples be retested," Deibel said in prepared testimony to a House subcommittee. "What is virtually unheard of is for an entity to disregard those results and place potentially contaminated products into the stream of commerce."

Deibel said he hopes the crisis leads to a greater role for FDA in overseeing food safety and providing more guidance to food makers.

The investigation is starting to zero in on the question of who was responsible.
Stupak says he wants know how Peanut Corp. managed to sell allegedly tainted goods month after month without triggering action by state and federal health authorities.
The company, now under FBI investigation, makes only about one per cent of U.S. peanut products. But its ingredients are used by dozens of other food companies.
Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could harm consumers' health.

Peanut Corp.'s troubles mounted this week as the FBI raided corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., as well as the Georgia plant. On Monday night, the company closed a second facility, in Plainview, Texas, after test results earlier in the day indicated salmonella was present in samples taken at the Texas plant. None of the products had been distributed to consumers, but the finding raised the prospect of a broader recall.

Further testing is needed to confirm the results, said Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

After the results came back Monday, the FDA sent inspectors back to the Texas plant to check more thoroughly for signs of problems similar to those found at the Georgia plant, which has been identified as the source of the salmonella outbreak.

The company has said it is still investigating what happened and has expressed regret and concern for people who became ill. It is not clear whether Parnell will testify Wednesday or assert his constitutional right to not answer questions that may incriminate him.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Love Buns

Driving to work this morning I had the radio tuned to NPR. I was listening to Renee Montagne chat with Nigella Lawson.

Ms. Lawson loves to bake. She is a goddess in the kitchen and I admire and respect anyone who can set out with a task in mind and follow a recipe and have it turn out as it should. She loves cupcakes and embraces them wholeheartedly. Listening to her digress about the creation and decoration was like listening to a painter describe his creative process. Truly mind boggling and beautiful to hear.

But I had to chuckle- more than once. For example, Lawson refers to cupcakes for Valentine’s Day as ‘love buns.’ For Lawson, part of creating recipes is the sheer joy of being able to define and provide their nomenclature - thus – Valentine’s Day cupcakes in the generic sense become none other than: love buns.

Now listening to the lively chatter between Lawson and Renee Montaigne was well, fascinating. Take for example her description of an ‘easy whip meringue’ topping for cupcakes:
Her casual use of the word ‘easy’ is a bit daunting to the likes of someone of my culinary limitations. For me, the kitchen in any fashion does not equate with the word ‘easy.’ ‘Difficult, challenging, messy,’ these are the words more apt to describe my experience in the throes of pots and pans and any attempt at cooking never mind baking.

Lawson breezily goes on to describe in her throaty British accent how she makes the topping with a touch of this and a dab of that. It sounded more like make up application but who am I to judge.

I listened to this love bun exercise while driving on a crowded road with anxious mothers scurrying to get children to school. The surreal commentary was combined with the day being a Friday the 13th, making the topic all that more entertaining. When stuck in traffic, listening to good humor is a cure all for much.

According to Lawson’s instructions for creating the so-called easy topping included: egg whites, sugar and corn syrup, along with a touch of salt and cream of tartar to help it maintain its shape. I must digress and explain that the Lawson makes an assumption that obtaining egg whites is a given.

However, in my few experiences at attempting to obtain said egg whites- - without the yellow, mucky yellow goop – requires a serious lesson in egg white capture 101.

So as I continued listening to the lady of love buns, I realized that Lawson was addressing that domestic part of the culture that had bypassed me when the good spirits of life were handing out home economics materials. I must have been busy chatting with the sparrows or something.
One of the highlights of Lawson’s description of her love bun making came with the following as she recreates for the listener the shape and design of the cupcakes.

After the egg white foam is swirled atop the cupcakes, she adds these rather fantastic little heart-shaped sprinkles, which she lets fall flutteringly onto the cloudy peaks. According to Lawson, “they almost look like prop cakes, they're so perfect."

And that perfection doesn't have to be stressful, she reminds the listener.

Hah! She has never been in the kitchen with me. I bet she would sing a different tune.
Valentine's Day recipes “can get so fussy and fernickity," Lawson says, "that actually you do not feel loving toward your loved ones – you just feel vaguely hostile, that you've been doing something so complicated and challenging." I must agree.

Lawson goes on to share with the listener her recipe for cherry cupcakes and that the assembly is easy, as all the ingredients are stirred together in a saucepan before being poured into a cupcake tin. Again the word ‘stirred’ is one of these actions verbs that causes me pause. Somehow my ability to stir ingredients often ends up with a patchy chance of glue like materials stuck to the bottom of a pan angrily staring back at me.

"If you can get those candied cherries, that haven't been dyed rather an alarming bright red, and you can get the ones that are a natural dark red, you've got something rather sultry and enchanting, rather than cute." Cute? In my kitchen? Cute?!!! I am speechless here.

Lawson enthusiastically tells the listener that with a topping of heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate, the cupcakes can let anyone join in the recent surge in cupcakes' popularity. Anyone…uh huh…anyone…indeed she has not met the likes of me…

"I think that adults have some sort of yearning for childish things, childish foods," Lawson said. "And I don't mean that disparagingly." According to Lawson these cupcakes help satisfy that desire. The only desire I have when it comes to baking or anything in the kitchen is to win the lottery so I can have a Nanny McPhee come to my rescue and whip up miracles in no time flat sans eggshells…

Lawson sums up her light and chatty menu du jour with how little fretting there is- that eating a cupcake is so much safer than the eating entire cake. Now here use of the word fretting – this is a word with which I agree- there is much fretting on my part as I cross my fingers hoping that my intended guests don’t get the cupcake or piece of cake with the rogue eggshell who refused to leave the batter upon command.

Fretting, now this is a word I can understand.

Below for the brave of heart are the recipes shared with listeners on the NPR website.

Enjoy- and let me know how the peaks of the love buns come out….

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Reprinted from How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Cupcake Ingredients
Makes 12 cupcakes
· 12-cup muffin pan and paper baking cups
· 1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
· 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
· 1 1/3 cups morello cherry jam
· 1/2 cup sugar
· Pinch of salt
· 2 large eggs, beaten
· 1 cup self-rising cake flour

Icing Ingredients
· 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
· 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
· 12 natural-colored glace cherries


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan on the heat to melt. When nearly completely melted, stir in the chocolate. Leave for a moment to begin softening, then take the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are smooth and melted. Now add the cherry jam, sugar, salt, and eggs. Stir with a wooden spoon and when all is pretty well amalgamated, stir in the flour.
3. Scrape and pour into the muffin baking cups in their pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out.
4. When the cupcakes are cool, break the chocolate for the icing into little pieces and add them to the cream in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and then whisk — by hand or electrically — till thick and smooth. Ice the cupcakes, smoothing the tops with the back of a spoon, and stand a cherry in the center of each.
Butterfly Cakes

Reprinted from Nigella Express: Good Food, Fast. This recipe has not been tested by NPR.

Ingredients
Makes 12 cupcakes.
· 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon soft butter
· 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
· 2 eggs
· 3/4 cup flour
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
· 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
· 1 tablespoon milk
· 1 cup heavy cream
· food coloring of your choice

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar either in a bowl by hand or with an electric mixer.
3. Once light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour, beating as you go.
4. Fold in the rest of the flour, the baking powder and baking soda, and the vanilla, and finally the milk.
5. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, dividing equally.
6. Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cupcakes are cooked and golden on top. Take the cupcakes in their paper liners out of the pan and let cool on a wire rack.
7. Once they're cool, cut off the mounded peak (if your cakes have obliged), cutting it in half to make the butterfly wings. Dig down a little with your knife. This will also leave a small hole to put the cream to hold the wings. If your cakes haven't peaked much, you will just have to cut out a slightly wider circle after the top, digging in as you do so.
8. Whip the cream until thick, coloring with food coloring if you wish, and dollop about 2 teaspoonfuls of cream on top of each cake.
9. Stick on your butterfly wings, using the cream as the glue.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valet


This morning I drove my son to school. We had to be there ten minutes earlier than usual because he is a valet. Which simply means he opens doors to cars for parents dropping off students. He says “good morning” and “have a nice day.”

Thus, in my quest to multitask, make beds, lunches, get a load of laundry started and empty trash bins, time ran out and before I knew it the clock yelled “7:45 a.m.” We needed to be there at 7:50 a.m. The drive to school luckily was five minutes away.
“Come on Mom, we gotta go,” stated by drill sergeant DS as he stood with lunch pail in one hand and back pack slung over his shoulder. “I can’t be late.”

“Okay, okay, here I come.”

I grabbed my keys and sunglasses and wallet and threw on a pair of flip flops.

“Mom, you are still in your pajamas,” DS reminded me.

I looked down to see big white polar bears engaged in a variety of snow antics
having a jolly time across the sleeves of my very well worn flannels.

“No worries,” said I the optimist. I grabbed a jacket from the mud closet, threw it over myself and scurried to the car.

We got to school in record time right up until the turn into the school parking lot. That’s where car number one had deployed its air bag as it careened into car number two complete with a little girl of maybe two in the back seat. Mom was getting out of her car and opening the back door to get her baby who was crying. The black Acura with the deployed air bag had a young girl of maybe twenty. She was standing outside her car looking at the hood and talking to someone on a cell phone. All parties seemed to be standing and walking and shaking heads and waving fingers.

Sighing with relief that no one appeared to be seriously hurt I began to wonder exactly how I was to get into the school parking lot since this bumper crash took up most of the road directly in front of the driveway.

Several teachers were scurrying over to the scene and helped direct me around the mess.
I was glad for once to be extra early to school. I did not want to imagine what this scene would be in five minutes with all of the harried parents trying to drop kids off and get to work on time.

“I’m glad everyone is okay Mom,” DS said.

I nodded as I turned into the parking lot.

“Me too,” I added.

“The little girl is probably scared,” DS noted.

“Probably, but she looks okay,” I stated.

My son gave me a smile and as he got out of the car and added, “Just be glad it wasn’t us Mom. I mean, after all you are in your flannel polar bear pajamas. You look like Lucy from I Love Lucy.” And with a grin he bounded off to his civic responsibility.

I gave him a half grin and made my way out of the parking lot, hoping to get back before anyone I knew saw me in my most attractive get up.

I tried to imagine having to get out of the car in my fashion du jour: flip flops, faded flannel polar bear pajamas, uncombed hair, and unwashed sleepy crypt face….the very thought was enough to make me shudder. The police officer would probably arrest me for public indecency..

This morning I learned a valuable lesson – never go out unprepared. In this case, always have on clean suitable clothes- just in case….

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Knock Knock It's the Plumber


The plumber came for a visit yesterday. Not a friendly” how are ya, come in and have a cup of coffee” visit. More like a “Please help fix my clogged drain as quickly as possible. There is water backing up in the shower” kind of visit.

And how I wish we had a plumber in the family. I mean, part of me thinks that if I can get over my fear of slime that I just might take up the cause of learning about pipes and drains and bits and pieces going here and there.

Maybe. I mean, I could probably wear gloves and a mask. And well, it would save a lot of money not having to hire a plumber to come and declog drains.

And this drain was indeed unable to drain. He had to use this long hose-like device that coiled around and around on one of these portable rollaway scooters. And stuck to the end of it was what I thought appeared at first to be a shrunken head.

Actually it turned out to just be a clump of hair. My hair to be exact.

And that is when the visit turned nasty as in three feet of mucky yucky goop covered hair nasty. My hair – all mine lay in a forlorn heap inside the shower stall. The plumber frankly was surprised to learn I was able to shed so much hair in six months. Looking at my head of grey but still full hair one would never think me the culprit.

And since it was mostly darker in color there was no way to pin the blame on DH for this escapade.

And so the $225 visit from the plumber to declog our master bath shower and my sink (which was still usable BTW) was a much needed visit from a very nice and courteous young man whose services I would highly recommend- but as I mentioned, there is a great deal of money to be made from anyone willing to pull off the gloves and get a bit, um dirty.

And come to think about it, much of my daily job involves pulling off the gloves in terms of cleaning toilets, sorting out the bales of laundry from an active sweaty ten year old, vacuuming into the farthest crevices of mankind to seek out new and unexplored dust bunnies of various shapes, sizes and colors.

I wonder if UCLA by chance offers online extension courses in plumbing 101.

I have a few spare hours…

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bear Claws, Saws and Wood

Dinner at our house is usually a fun and often funny affair. If not for one reason than definitely for another.

Oftentimes what it is I have attempted to make for the evening meal becomes fodder (no pun intended) for hungry mouths. Sometimes their disappointment is tantamount- especially the expressions of DS when he queries me, “What’s for dinner Mom?”

Me: “Steamed broccoli and baked salmon.”

DS: “Oh” with a long drawn out sigh and a face like a red balloon.

Me: “I hope that is okay?!”

DS: “Oh it’s fine, I was just really hoping for tacos or a burger or macaroni and cheese.” (Followed by another deep sigh).

Me: “Well, you can save those thoughts for another night or an evening out with your Dad.”

DS: “You’re right.”

After we settle down, give thanks and begin attacking the fuel enriched food in front of us, what usually happens is that one of us will bring up a topic and that topic will then take off on tangents so unrelated that one wonders how to ever get back to the beginning.

Take for example last night. We somehow got onto the topic of high school and electives. DH was delivering his version of what electives should comprise- as when he was in school taking honors everything from A-Z pretty much. He decided to take things like home economics and woodworking as a soothing balm to his otherwise GPA-enriching workload.

I was fine with the conversation until DS asked DH to explain woodworking. As my DH detailed what was involved in the act of working with wood he added that DS should consider taking such a course in either junior high or high school.

And this is where I dropped my fork, letting it fall ungracefully onto my salad which caused a chain reaction of rolling tomatoes and jittery romaine strips to slide here and there. It was as if they too were alarmed at the sudden turn the conversation had taken.

“Over my dead and buried body will any son of mine be in a woodworking class,” said I in a very high and mighty tone of voice – it surprised me too I must admit- but well, motherly preservation or whatnot just kicked in I guess.

“I learned incredible things in woodworking dear,” my husband said in his most pacifying voice- the one that makes my eyebrows shoot straight up.

“Indeed,” said I.

“Like what Dad?” inquired my very curious son.

“Oh I learned how to use a band saw to cut steaks off a slab of frozen meat bear.”

I looked at my DH to see if he was serious (his dad was known to have killed a skunk and even had it mounted someplace so I wasn’t sure what to think other than appalling thoughts of sadness for the poor bruin.)

He added that he learned to use a lathe, a device that rotates a piece of wood at high speed and allows the user to cut with tools (e.g. you use it to make chair legs). Somehow I can’t envision my engineer exacting husband as the Home Improvement kinda guy.

But I was still back on bear and saw and shuddering uncontrollably and thinking that this conversation was way off the track when my DH added more information about the many benefits of wood working class.

“There’s the great use of a planer –a device for feeding wood through, and grinding one surface completely smooth and flat, always a good skill to know,” my husband proudly added.

I just stared at him, at my son and back again at said Home Improvement master- the Grand Poohbah himself- Grizzly Adams sans bushy beard and hair. Who knew that the king of sawing bear steaks was sitting across from me this very evening? In fact, we had been living under the same roof all these years…and I had no idea. Come to think about had I known my DH had such fondness for woodworking and saws I could have put in a request for a handmade vanity and a set of side tables and…

“Dad, how does the bear get frozen? And what do you do with the claws?” my son asked.

My dear dear husband was chuckling and chortling and he and dear dear son were really getting into the whole conversation- probably getting a chuckle out of my complexion turning from red to green and back again - like a Christmas ornament.

Except that this ornament was about to crack.

But I had a trick up my sleeve- little did my DS and DH know that they were being enrolled in a Fred Astaire dance class…and it would be starting sooner than either of them could say one more word about saws and bears and lathes.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hail Mother Nature

Driving in hail is an interesting and intense experience. Especially with two inches of water on the road and slurping sloshing cars driving as if they are on surfboards. I was on the road with them and I can attest that surfing and rain and hail do not make a good concoction.

I recently had a hail-full experience. And it was just that - an experience. I cannot say whether it was pleasant or unpleasant. It was just what it was. A hail raising experience complete with rumbles from the sky that made me wonder if what I was seeing, these white roundish crystalline bits popping off the hood of my car and windshield were actually hail. Indeed they were.

And so I say, “hail to the almighty gifts of nature.” Here in California – at least in my town, drivers pretend that rain is something they encounter every day. Thus, they drive crazy—zigging here and zagging there- even crazier in rain than in dry sunny weather. The conditions with which most ‘southerncalies’ are used to driving and living become circumspect in anything less than 70 degrees and balmy.
I
know a bit about hail formation from my good friend wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail).

Hail forms in storm
clouds when supercooled water droplets freeze on contact with condensation nuclei, such as dust or dirt. The storm's updraft blows the hailstones to the upper part of the cloud. The updraft dissipates and the hailstones fall down, back into the updraft, and are lifted up again. The hailstone gains an ice layer and grows increasingly larger with each ascent. Once a hailstone becomes too heavy to be supported by the storm's updraft, it falls from the cloud.

In large hailstones,
latent heat released by further freezing may melt the outer shell of the hailstone. The hailstone then may undergo 'wet growth', where the liquid outer shell collects other smaller hailstones. Imagine that!

The sun was out while the rain poured itself down upon the ground in little miniature rounds of ice. Plunk! Plink! Plunk! Gdunk! These were the noises surrounding me as I gripped the wheel trying to stay safe and sane.

I tried to steer with one hand and when I got to a stop light I tried to snap a photo of this amazing sight. Above me the cloud formation was amazing - to my left there was a rainbow that reflected iridescent colors of sherbet along the perimeter of the sky.

If only I could get the windshield wipers timed to stay down while I took a picture.
Hail is one of those pieces of nature that has always fascinated me.

And now, three days after the initial interaction with the said hail I find myself trying to get some errands done and find myself unexpectedly being pummeled with shards of glass - no actually – shards of ice- ouch!

Hail to the almighty gifts of nature-is it possible to return this particular cadeau of Mother Nature and receive a credit on say, another rainbow?

Forget the errands; I am going back inside the house. My fascination with hail is ended….

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lost...in a Parking Garage

“I'm all lost in the supermarket

I can no longer shop happily

I came in here for that special offer

A guaranteed personality”

It is this refrain by The Clash running through my brain as I wander aimlessly through this huge parking structure trying to remember which C2 it is exactly where I left my car.

I am in the Irvine Spectrum. It is 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. I decided to park someplace different from where I normally park. Why you might ask?

I am asking myself that very same question as I plod with heavy plastic bags from Target, the world’s friendliest department store to someplace half a world away it would seem. Of course Target would happen to be at the exact opposite end of this sprawling complex of rectangles and squares and hexagonal buildings all in shades of mocha, slate and riveting white foam.

And I have no idea which structure exactly it is in which I have parked my car. Lucky for me it is early morning and I don’t have to be back to pick up my son from school for several hours. By that time I should have managed to find said vehicle. Or if not, at least a security person to chauffer me around.

I didn’t pay attention really to much more than the big blue C and the number 2 indicating the level on which I had parked my car. I had a sneaking thought deep in my mind though that what happens if there is more than one Level C2. The Irvine Spectrum is a massive place and frankly a place I usually avoid.

But I was in need of efficiency since I knew I had to get to work in the afternoon and thus was limited in the amount of time I had to acquire Valentine’s Day gifts, throat lozenges for an ailing husband pining away at home (I am taking poetic license here since it sounds better than saying my husband was home from work with a head cold) and a wedding shower gift of which I was at wit’s end on what to get and decided that I would go into Anthropologie and not come out empty handed one way or the other.

Thus, in my quest to take care of the household item I parked and made my way to Target hoping to get those errands done and then at least try and enjoy the process of what to pick out for the bride to be amongst the layers of lovely fiddley bits and gizmos at Anthropologie.

And it was in this state of mind that I found myself when I realized that my car was not in the C2 level in which I found myself. So back down the stairs I went and walked to the next structure which seemed to be at least a quarter mile away- but when one is buried under five heavy plastic bags five steps can often seem like miles.

Up the stairs I went. Luckily the structures were mostly empty so determining if my car was there or not was an easy matter. It wasn’t.

Down the stairs I went and around the backside to yet another dimension of this endless parking maze. Ups the stairs again (at least I had the brains to park on the second level and not the sixth!) and voila, there was my car- in a spot that I have no idea how it got there.

I will pay more attention next time to words like West and East. Or better yet, maybe I will park in my usual spot for those rare trips to this unwelcoming mall.

But after dropping off said packages I still wasn’t done and had to venture forth to acquire wedding shower gift. I paid close attention to where I parked and which entrance I came in and which store I was closest to.

So, after an hour in Anthropologie (Did I mention that the store is known as “a sensory shopping experience for connoisseurs of unique beauty” and I concur.) So many choices! I came out with what I hope the bride to be will enjoy – a motley collection of things – since I just couldn’t make up my mind…soaps, and perfumes and candles and cups and saucers and lingerie bags and notebooks and the list goes on and on…

The good news- I found the car!

Now I just have to find my keys….

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Circus Valentine


Stuffing Valentine’s bag on a sunny Tuesday afternoon waiting for my ten year old to return home from school I sit here listening to Britney’s (she who needs no last name) newest album – Circus. I must admit it is great for completing a mindless task of making sure each bag gets the same allotment of kiddy crack in the form of fruit roll ups and gum drops and lollipops…

I find myself dropping dollops of golden dew into each bag in tune to the mesmerizing beat of the drums and the background vocals of Britney. The lyrics make me stop and sit up - like a mother meerkat- thinking to myself this is the music of my Dear Son’s generation? Aye aye aye. And here I sit, half lotus, listening to the lyrics while my head nods and my hand keeps time with the beat.

And then I remind myself my generation spawned Madonna – truly the world’s greatest marketer and chameleon- she too who needs only one name and is recalled for writhing across the floor at the Grammys many years aback- in a wedding no less.

I suppose the more things change the more they stay the same. With the exception of Madonna who truly was flaunting a brand new generation of sex appeal and feminine might, the likes of Cyndi Lauper and the B-52’s and others of that generation were more of the’ let’s dance and have fun’ – or those at least are my na├»ve memories of the ‘80’s – a great time for music and laughter.

Wham! , Bow Wow Wow, Dead or Alive, Kajagoo, Bronski Beat, Split Enz, Kajagoogoo, John Mellencamp, the Go-Gos, a-ha, Duran Duran, Thomas Dolby, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Blondie, Bobby Brown, The Innocence Mission, The Cure, Prefab Sprout, ABC, The Church, Echo and the Bunnyman, Oingo Boingo, Ministry, Michael Sembello, The Smiths, Romeo Void…the list goes on and on.

I find myself straying from the task at hand of stuffing Valentine’s Day bags and instead going on a hunt for some of my favorite music from the ‘80s. All thanks to Britney.
I listen to the lyrics:

“All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus….”

“Don’t stand there watching me follow me…show me what you can do…Everybody’s let’s go we can make a dance floor…”

“I’m a performer the dance floor is my stage…”

“There’s only two types of people in the world- those who entertain and those who serve.”

“There’s only two types of guys out there those who can hang with me and those who can’t…”

“When I put in a show...I can feel the adrenaline funneling through my veins….better be ready…”

“When I crack that whip everybody don’t trip…”

I have a feeling that Britney read a good deal of Dr. Seuss when she was young.

Maybe that explains a lot.

Now, where did I put that Devo CD…..?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Intimate Tale of a Tennis Ball


Tennis balls and I have never been the best of friends. Several years back I took a tennis clinic to try and improve my game. For me this meant keeping the ball in the court and remember that I wasn’t playing baseball. I have learned to buy these bouncy bundles of spongy foam by the bucketful.

I will say that I have been told that I have a pretty good forehand but when it comes to speed or power forget it. I “play” the game – much as little kids play pickup sticks. I am definitely not the stuff of which legends are made.

But hey, it is fun and good exercise- especially as I spend much of my time chasing the tennis balls all around the court. Which brings me back to my most recent and by far most intimate experience with a tennis ball. And to be honest, I never knew that the devil could be found in such a small 2.7 inch diameter yellow ball – until today.

I finished my Monday routine of playing with three year olds, helping them assemble building bricks, fitting puzzle pieces into the right spot, washing hands after snack and giving lots of smiles and hugs to little open arms. At 12:00 p.m. I waved goodbye to my pint sized friends and ran off to run a few errands and decided to squeeze in an early afternoon workout.

I looked at my watch and realized I had a bit of time between when my son would arrive home from school and we would have to make our way to swimming and the beginning of the afternoon ritual. So, I decided to try and squeeze in an hour and a half workout. I made my way to the neighborhood gym and checked out the class schedule posted near the entrance.

I noticed that there was a one o’clock stretch class. “Sounds good” I thought to myself. Typically I take the one o’clock Yoga and Pilates classes offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A stretch class sounded like it would much of the same thing. So I thought.

I trotted in with my yoga mat and found a spot in the middle- close enough for me to see but not close enough for me to become a spectacle. Soon the class was filled with men and women of all ages, sizes and shapes.

“This is going to be great,” I told myself.

Hah!

I soon found myself lying supine on my mat with a tennis ball wedged between the backside of my right hip bone and the right upper half of my pelvic plate. Now I will admit that I was a bio and psych major a hundred years ago in college. I will also admit that I had done some grad work in physiology and body alignment. But this was well, this was shall we say a different experience?
“Breathe deeply and find your pressure point and let the weight of your body give into the sensation,” crooned the voice of the instructor. She was a raven haired wrinkle free woman with a voice soft and velvet and smooth.

Sensation?!! Oh I was giving into the sensation alright. Pressure point. Understatement. I highly suggest that if any of you have ever undergone a deep tissue massage, Rolfing or other neck crunching experiments in massage, then you might have an inkling of what childbirth is like.

“What am I doing in this stretching class?” I asked myself as I tried to breathe, give into the sensation of the tennis ball hugging my pressure points tightly and trying to think how many wriggles of the buttocks it would take to make it to the exit.

The tennis ball was used by my toes to act as a rolling pin for the underside of my foot. Catwalks I would not be doing any time soon. The little yellow ball was used in so many places that I had no idea just how versatile such a small ball could be.

Now I know. The tennis ball and I- we are very close. Whether we shall stay close remains to be seen.