Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Sir (Madam) Are No Davy Crockett!

Although I grew up in upstate New York spending my summers swimming, fishing and boating in a spring fed lake,  I am basically now a city girl.  I have lived in Los Angeles for almost 35 years and am pretty good about navigating the issues of a major international city.  Traffic, parking, crime, car chases, lines at Starbucks I can handle.  What I do not expect to handle is confronting wild life at my front door. 

A few months ago my son opened the front door to a skunk. The critter had moved into our neighborhood and apparently was the origin of the middle of the night smell which I thought was someone's espresso machine.  I heard the skunk sprayed one of our neighbor's dogs.  So far we have been lucky since our old Aussie mix has lived outside for his 14 1/2 years.  

Last night, however, our cockalier, Novella, who stays inside, went crazy barking at the front door  around 9 p.m.   My husband and I both looked out but no one was there.  After about a half hour of Novella's incessant yapping, I looked outside and saw what I first thought was our tabby cat.  Then I saw another larger animal.  I figured the skunk had returned and the cat was getting away.  So I turned on the light to discover a huge raccoon.  This raccoon was as big as, if not bigger than, Novella, who weighs about 25 pounds.  I yelled at it to scare it away and then another huge raccoon appeared.  And then a third, all as big as each other and running amok around the cat dishes.  I yelled again and banged on the window.  They moved away for a nanosecond and then came right back as bold as can be, all the while looking at me as if to say "What? What?".  Then I opened the door and tried to shoo them with a broom and they came right up to the broom and started to charge the front door.  I slammed the door and they started pounding their clawy paws on our door.  I felt like we were under siege by a local gang --fearless and bent on retaliating for any gesture we took against them.

Until now my experience with raccoons has been limited to the cartoon kind and the virtual kind.  These guys were not like the ones in Off the Mark and they certainly did not go away with a few clicks of a mouse like the ones chewing up your neighbors' crops in Farmville.  These guys were thugs who dared us to try to come after them.

Poor Novella was so spooked by the raccoon experience that she barked at regular intervals all night--about every 15 minutes--even though the marauders had moved on to scavenge other environs.  We put her in a room as far away from the front door as we could and she still barked and yapped every 15 minutes.  It was as if she could still smell them and was upset every time she re-experienced their presence.

Today, after getting suggestions from friends that included firearms, tanning and raccoon en papillote, I called the city to find out if they would do something about these critters.  Animal control left me a message that their trapping expert was out until tomorrow so I am hoping we get through tonight without any more raccoon drama.  I had visions of coming home tonight after dark and having the gang of 3 waiting for me at the front door, demanding food or other vigorish.

Instead I turned the corner to see first a city employee of some type in an unmarked car which gave me pause.  Had our neighbors from hell called the city about Novella's raccoon-induced barking fit last night?  Then I realized all the street lights were out--for blocks.  We are having a bad wind storm and I had already played dodge ball in my car with large branches or palm fronds on the way home.  I walked into the house to find my poor mother in law alone and disoriented in the pitch dark.  Luckily I had just bought some new flash lights this weekend at Costco (so I had a lot of them) and was able to give her one while I lit candles throughout the house.  

Raccoons and no electricity.  I felt a bit like a frontier woman who had no idea what to do in the frontier. How would I heat up dinner? Luckily the lights came back on in a half hour and I am reminded of how far we have come from the frontier as I threw my Whole Foods turkey meatloaf in the microwave.   And no, I am not interested in a raccoon coat or hat!

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Goes Around

I am a "fan" of Smith College on Facebook.  Many days there are very interesting articles and news for us alums.   A few weeks ago, however, I got embroiled in a discussion with other Smithies about the propriety of Smith having cheerleaders.  I am not opposed to the cheerleaders although I still cringe at the thought of girls cheering on those who are actually doing the sports.  I went through this issue already with my daughter who wanted to cheer in middle school and high school even though I preferred she play soccer, a sport she played well for many years.  She did cheer for a while but eventually gave it up.

The problem I had with the discourse about cheerleading on the Smith fanpage was a comment by someone who said in substance how can anyone object to women cheering on women.  Get out of the 1970s.  I had to reply that young women enjoy the rights and equalities they do because of those of us who in the 70s insisted that we needed to do it differently from our mothers' generation.  We would work and have families.  We would get "real" professional jobs, not jobs like secretary and teacher.  We would insist that we be treated equally.  And it was not always easy.  We were underpaid.  We were not given childcare leave. We were treated with disdain if we got pregnant because we obviously did not take our careers seriously.  I lost my secretary and almost lost my office when I gave birth to my daughter because of the belief that I clearly would not come back to work, even though I already was a working mother.

So I found it annoying to be treated like a fossil of the 70s because I would rather see girls play than cheer others playing.  Girls did not play sports when I was growing up so those of us who worked to ensure our daughters would have that choice should be celebrated, not denigrated.

Then I read a passage in Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women that pointed out that before the 60s a professional woman could not be described in the media without making a feminine reference such as female doctor or lawyer and grandmother.   I use that description for myself on this blog and it did not even occur to me that in years before I came of age, such a description was ultimately denigrating to a woman who could not be seen solely as a professional.  I chose the description because I have the luxury of having both the career and the family--even grandchildren--that others fought for me to have.  I am proud to be able to have both.  I also hope I appreciate the frame of mind of those who made it possible for me to have both, just as I would like the young women today to understand the viewpoint of those of us from the 70s.

Did I Get it Wrong?

Last night while I was watching the end of the Angels-Yankees series, desperately rooting for a decent play by the California team, I saw what I thought was my "favorite" Cialis commercial.  A somewhat good looking old guy was talking to himself in the window about his erectile dysfunction problem.  I was in the room with a number of people and therefore was only paying partial attention to the commercial.  Something seemed off though.  The guy was older and suddenly there was dialogue I did not remember.  The coup de grace was the end where the Viagra logo came up.

What?   Viagra has a commercial with a guy talking to himself in the window?  (An issue, I might add, that may also require medical attention.)  I thought it was the Cialis commercial that did that!  Did I get it wrong about the brand those many times I saw the commercial earlier in the playoff series?  Or did one of those drug companies rip off the other's idea for the commercial?

HMMM.  If the two drugs are indistinguishable and the commercials are the same, how will I know what to buy?  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Now You're Really Cooking

For most of my adult life I have had fantasies of cooking gourmet meals.  I buy cookbooks and magazines with the intent of fixing various culinary treats but usually I do not whip up anything from those books and magazines.  I always have an excuse for not cooking, similar to those that I and others concoct for not exercising--too tired, not enough time, not really interested at the moment it must happen.

I am fascinated by someone like Julie Powell who spent a year cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I am just about done with Powell's book on the experience and find her tolerance for the chore of cooking amazing, notwithstanding her many emotional breakdowns.  I am familiar with the breakdowns while cooking.  And I am not a connoisseur of French cooking in any event so her particular task does not tempt me in the least.  (Although it must be tempting others given that the sales of Child's cookbook have skyrocketed since the movie came out).

I am however tempted by the notion of taking a cookbook and systematically working through it.  So I keep buying cookbooks, many times while on vacation because when I am more relaxed cooking seems more feasible.  Last spring it was Hungry Girl's tome, purchased after our trip to Santa Fe.  I have not cooked anything from that book yet, but several times I have bought the ingredients for one or more of the recipes.  On this last vacation I picked up in one of the National Park bookstores, of all places, a cookbook called Southwest Slow Cooking.  The title has a sensual sound to it.  And the best part about it is the promise that the recipes can all be accomplished in a slow cooker, aka crockpot.

I own two crockpots of slightly different shapes.  I make stews, tagines (aka stews) and soupy type dishes in them.  I have tried roasts and they turn out like stews.  This new cookbook seems to suggest that dishes other than stews are possible in the slow cooker.  So today I put together something called Southwest Chicken and Rice.  I spent about two hours going to three different stores to get the ingredients, which I thought I could just throw in the pot--set it and forget it.  Unfortunately, there was more chopping and cutting and screaming about where my various utensils have gone than I had expected even though I typically read recipes looking for the hidden work so I can avoid it.  It took me a half hour to assemble the materials in the pot, more than I expected but less than any self-respecting cook would expect to spend fixing a meal.  

You see, I do not want my cooking to take any time or involve any work.

While reading Julie and Julia I keep saying ,"Why are you doing that?  Couldn't a butcher do that for you?".  Many of her vignettes concern cutting up various animals or crustaceans.  Others involve sauces which  I have always found inscrutable--except for basic white sauce and cheese sauce as taught to me by my mother.  Again, all of these tasks require time, patience and a fundamental interest in the process.  I just want to eat good food, not live with it.

One interesting thing that happened today in my assembling the ingredients of the dish, which is now slow cooking away in the kitchen, is the discovery that my hands truly do not work anymore as they once did.  I had tremendous trouble using the hand can opener and I had to open six cans of vegetables for this dish. (See why I was lulled into thinking it was easy.  It called for canned goods as ingredients.  How hard can that be?)  I have come to the sad conclusion that I must purchase an electric can opener.  Thirty five years of living in apartments or houses and I have never owned an electric can opener.  But after today's experience I think the time has come.  Luckily my hands still work well enough to type or I will be acquiring voice recognition software, like one of my friends, to write this blog.

Three more hours until the dish is done.  Cross your fingers.  I would mine but they are getting too gnarled to cross!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vacation 2009 Part 2

I finally got around this evening to downloading my pictures to my computer from the second half of the vacation and enjoyed the memories of that part of the trip.  We got some good shots even with the stormy weather of Canyonlands from Grand View Point Overlook.  The formations have three layers -- with basins and rims.  The lowest basin contains the Colorado River which we had hoped to be on in a jet boat until the wind caused our trip to be canceled shortly after we left the dock.  The view from above was spectacular nonetheless.

That night we ate at the Moab Brewery where I had a surprisingly good greek salad.  Paul
 tested the fall brew--I only had a sip due to persistent stomach problems that pestered me throughout the trip but I did my best to ignore.  When we got back to the B & B it started pouring.  I was sitting in the living room of the main building and saw a large buck and a doe walk right by the window between that building and the one where we were staying.  The deer are very accustomed to people at the B & B and will even look at you when you take their picture.  I did not have my camera handy that evening but was able to get a herd of doe in my camera sights the next morning as we were getting ready to leave.

We took the road through Blanding, Utah with the plan to have lunch at the new hotel and restaurant in Monument Valley called the View.   We decided to look for an advertised Dinosaur Museum in Blanding because my grandson requested dinosaurs for his gift (probably indeed expecting us to bring back real dinosaurs).  We took a wrong turn and wound up at a state park called Edge of the Cedars Park which sported its own museum of ancient pueblo artifacts including a very interesting ancient pueblo dwelling.  Then we found the Dinosaur Museum which I had planned to skip except for the shop but Paul decided to pay for our entry.  It turns out that I qualified for a senior discount for the first time at this Museum.  We were the only ones visiting and the display/collection was surprisingly good.  That area of southwestern Utah is a treasure trove of dinosaur and very old artifacts.  The museum was started by archeologists who work in that "triangle" area.

Unfortunately these two stops put us on track to miss lunch at the View restaurant.
We walked in a few minutes after 2 p.m. and they had stopped serving. So we grabbed a to-go sandwich and looked at the view and the nicely decorated interior lobby of the View hotel. I was particularly fascinated by a floor to ceiling post which had large kachinas displayed on ledges.  I also liked the dishes holding cacti and tried unsuccessfully to purchase one in several different stores.

Finally we arrived at the Grand Canyon just before sunset from an eastern approach which was different from what we took the last time.  We stopped at a lighthouse type structure and saw the sunset over the Canyon.  I forgot my camera but Paul had his point and shoot so we got a few pictures of that particular view point of the Canyon.  We then moved on to the Thunderbird Lodge on the Rim where our room had a partial view of the Canyon.  The next morning we took a walk along the Rim to El Tovar to have breakfast and then returned the same way, capturing the Canyon at different points of the morning light.  

Next:  Sedona:  Land of the Red Rocks and Sweat Houses.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who Watches the Baseball Playoffs on TV?

Apparently only old guys who cannot get it up or who have prostrate "problems".  Or so the advertisers must believe.  I have never seen so many commercials for Cialis and drugs for prostrate enlargement etc. as I have in the past few days watching baseball playoffs with my favorite old guy.  The Cialis commercial is particularly irritating.  The man is walking to the doctor's and his mirror image is encouraging him to talk to their doctor about their erectile dysfunction problem.  The guy who is walking says "Shhh.  I don't want to talk about it."  To which I reply, "I don't want to HEAR about it!"

Perhaps all the money the drug companies spend advertising these medicines for erectile dysfunction could be better spent.  I'm just saying.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Yesterday at the Grand Canyon, my husband took the above picture and sent to a friend with the title "Perspective".  Traveling through the American Southwest with its geological wonders does tend to make you think about perspective.  We stopped in a dinosaur museum in Blanding, Utah run by archeologists who have found,  in the triangle area near the Four Corners, evidence of life hundreds of millions years old.  One petrified tree we saw was 275 million years old. When you realize how long the rocks we see and even life has been on this planet, you understand that human history is de minimus in comparison.  All those problems we have in our lives should be put in perspective.

I have been suffering from some minor physical discomforts on this trip which I will not describe (TMI) but which are unfortunately distracting me. While feeling sorry for myself this morning,  I got hit with another dose of perspective.  I just found out that another friend of mine is gravely ill.  He is on life support having suffered a heart attack during chemotherapy.  This man was a brilliant chemist and a very active member of our community.  He got me involved in the board of the youth soccer league and I ultimately took over his job as regional commissioner.  He was also very active in his church, which I attended for a while, largely to sing in the choir but also to search for some spirituality that I never found but my friend had in abundance.  His life was steeped in service.  His family intends to take him off life support tonight and I am so sad that I have not had the opportunity to spend more time with him.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vacation 2009 Part 1

A bad day on vacation is better than a good day at the office. 

So far our vacation has been better than the office but has not been as fantastic as we had hoped.

The first day out went well.  We stopped at a few outlet malls on the drive to St. George.  At the one in Barstow, which is in the middle of nowhere, we were amused that we were the only customers speaking English.  Love to see those euros and yen flowing into the California economy.  I managed to find some Skecher walking shoes that are supposed to enhance your workout while walking.  At the outlet mall in Nevada, we found new dishes at the Williams Sonoma outlet.  We made it to St. George at a reasonable hour and had a decent night's sleep in the Ramada, which I choose because it is next to the only Starbucks in town. (Unlike in Los Angeles, the Starbucks in Utah are few and far between.

The next day, unfortunately, started with bad news for Paul involving his work.  He spent many hours that day on his iPhone trying to cope.  We headed out to Moab after a hearty breakfast at Bear Paw Cafe.  Most of the day went fine until I was stopped for speeding on I-70 not too far from the turnoff for Moab.  Luckily for me I got a warning instead of a ticket.  But it is always annoying and frightening to be stopped by the State Police and asked questions about where you are going and what you are doing in Utah.  

Saturday we headed out to Arches for a beautiful morning of hiking and taking pictures.   I started to feel like Gumby so we went back to our B&B after a late lunch.  I fell asleep for 3 hours and Paul discovered that his expensive Nikon was broken and none of the Arches pictures he took were recorded on the memory card, including ones I did not take because I did not climb everywhere he did.  He spent time trying to figure out what was wrong but apparently the problem is in the camera and not the memory card. Needless to say my photography nut husband is not happy.

Today we went to take a jet boat trip down the Colorado River.  We had been worried about the rain which was forecasted and had threatened all morning.  We get on the boat and head down the river about 5-10 minutes and suddenly the boat turns perpendicular to the direction we should be going.  Since it is a flat boat, the current and wind made it impossible to make even the first turn on the river so we headed back to the dock for a refund.  Paul and I were lucky we had a car to drive to Canyonlands but not as lucky with the weather.  Between wind and rain, the views were spectacular but hard to capture on the point and shoot cameras we have as backups to Paul's spiffy Nikon.  We ended the day luckily with a very good meal and our proprietors' home made chocolate chip cookies.

I really am having a great time.  Bad days on vacation are better than a good day at the office.  It's not even close.