Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Sound of a Happy Heart

The Sound of a Happy Heart
Why is it that some relationships can go the distance, while others crumble along the path and dissolve?  Or even worse, why do people stay together, when there is no affection left between them?  For two people to make it ten, fifteen, or twenty or more years, and then go separate ways, defies logic.  What is it that is present in successful relationships that is missing in the rest?
I can only speak for me and Annie, and it starts with liking one another.  She is not a glamour girl, eschewing makeup much of the time, which works fine for me, because I prefer all things natural.  I know she feels the same, or else she would never have dated a man who drove a calico-colored VW bus, which had to be push-started the first night I first took her out to dinner, at Lou’s Village, on January 21, 1981.  She makes her own dresses, preferring to use the material she likes and a style with which she is comfortable.
We have been walking daily together on Bell Springs Road since 1985, and that has given us a spell each day, to touch base and find out how the other half thinks.  She is comfortable with her body, and does not wish to look like a twenty-something person.  That works for me, because I wouldn’t know what to say to her, if she were twenty-something.

We both spent careers working in the school district, and we now collaborate to keep the financial picture focused, so that the bills get paid, including health insurance. She spends much of her time grappling with quilts that are either out-of-square, or have issues with the backing, but she always gits ‘er done.  We like to play cribbage in the evening, maybe shoot a game of nine-ball, or watch a film, or even fiddle with our respective laptops, and rarely do either of us see nine o’clock.
That doesn’t mean we haven’t had difficulties.  It just means that we have managed to overcome the problems by staying focused on the game at hand.  I have experienced some profound changes in my emotional makeup this past year, based on ridding myself of my panic attacks, and the accompanying anxiety issues.  Annie feels I still need to work out a few wrinkles, and that’s fine.  I’m good at talking, and I want things to keep going on our current path.
We have been together 31 years, come the middle of January, and she still makes my heart go pitter-patter.  Whereas fluttering hearts can be problematic, not so when it comes to love.  For many couples sex can be a real deal breaker in so many ways, and we are lucky to have found what works for us.  As with much of life, timing enters into the picture a lot.  As long as we keep things in perspective, namely our ages, we seem to be able to make a go of it.  
I have a lot of respect for Annie as a mother, as a teacher of special needs kids, who learned critical life skills with her, and of her as an artist.  You can go a long way with respect as a cornerstone of your foundation, and you don’t need any cement to keep it firm, just affection.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Original Radio Shack

The Original Radio Shack
The metamorphosis of communication fascinates me.  Back in the mid-sixties, two of my older brothers got interested in ham radio.  This was the original internet, only so much  more primitive.  The rules required that before you could actually talk via the microphone, you had to first communicate via Morse Code.

That pretty much wiped me out, because as a boy scout, I could send Morse Code (memorizing the dots and dashes that comprised the code was elementary), but being able to process the sounds coming at me was impossible.  For the same reason that I could never succeed at either math or science, I could not process the information coming at me aurally.

By not being successful, I mean that anything to do with reading and words was simple (in eight years of elementary education, I never missed a spelling word on a test, after never having spent one iota of my precious time studying.) but anything to with math or science produced the obligatory C-.  So much of high school math involved explanation, and I just could not access the information.  Science was all about oral instruction in how to conduct the experiment.  I didn’t know it at the time; it was only after going through the teacher credentialing program, and discovering that there are three styles of learning, visual, aural, and tactile, that I realized what the problem was.

When my brothers each got their “novice licenses” to operate the ham radio, the rest of us in the family were fascinated.  They were able to “talk” to people in Japan and Australia routinely, via code and they exchanged post cards that had their license numbers emblazoned across, with any other feature they wished to include.  Eric’s moniker was WB6-RVL and Noel’s was WB6-PVI (Papa, Victor, Ivy).  They plastered the post-cards all over the wall of the Radio Shack, the name given to the old shed out back of the house, where the boys set up the whole ham radio operation.

After they had been communicating for a probationary period of time, they were allowed to apply for and acquire a license that would then let them talk via the microphone.  We even erected a 65 foot tower that had an effective antenna, for being able to access distant regions of the globe.  This was pretty sophisticated technology.  I spent sixteen months overseas in Korea, with only one phone call being made home, and that was only made because I was getting married on leave and taking my wife back to Korea with me, for the second half of my tour.  

The boys, however, routinely talked to people in that same geographical region, not unlike what the net can do today, only not so sophisticated.   Considering television only entered our household in the late fifties, this was only seven or eight years down the line.

Now with the blogging scene, communication has taken another leap forward, and we are better off for it.  I am learning about protocol and process, and JT is helping me.  She credits me with leading her into the world of blogging, and I say poppycock.  In either case, we are both following in the footsteps of some familial pioneers, who blazed a trail back in the sixties that promoted communication.  

We don’t plaster the walls with postcards, but we do leave comments all over the “walls” of our fellow bloggers, and that’s more fun, because others get to then share them.  I am still a “novice” but I expect that will change.  After all, no one’s talking at me, cause I can’t hear a word they say; they all use words I can see, and I wrote the book on words.

"Let Us Be Happy in Our Work" Robertisms

"Let Us Be Happy in Our Work"
This post won’t mean anything to non-family members, but it is a tribute to my father.  The words or expressions will always conjure up the sight of Robert, and the memory of his unique vocabulary.  Additional entries that any of you remember, can be inserted in the comments.
“For two cents I would...”  The famous words which inevitably led to an abrupt change in plans, in any direction Papa wanted.
“Let us be happy in our work.”  Originally entering the house via The Bridge on the River Kwai and immortally preserved on a tiny reel to reel tape recorder, prior to a weekend excursion to Baja, these words reflect the man who went to work every day of his life, regardless of whether or not he was sick.  “If I have to be sick anyway, I may as well go to work and get paid for it.  I’ll save my sick days for going photing.”  *
“Do you know where you’re at?”  One of many standard greetings from my father, and an easy one for this small boy.  “Yes, Papa.  I’m right here.”  His response?  “Well. see that you don’t forget it.”
“That’s the way the old mop flops.”  Possibly the way he would address the fact that, while he was shaving at the sink in the only bathroom in our house, I was utilizing the toilet to empty the contents of my stomach.  :(
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”   (See above  :) 
“You fetcha, you betcha,”  and “You better believe it,” were interchangeable.

"Jabonie," a word coined by Papa to describe a guy or a dude.
"Promangulated,"  as in, “Who promangulated the atmosphere?” when he encountered some foul odor.
“Them thar wheels is going round and round.”  A multitude of applications.
“You need to go out and cut a peach switch and, Mister, if it isn’t big enough, I will go out and cut one, and if I do, you will wish that I hadn’t.”  He only spanked me when I placed myself in danger, such as going out into the street, or riding my bike recklessly.  (If I could have ridden it wreck-lessly, then I would have been OK.)  By the way he never had to go out and cut a switch.

“I’ll play a tune on your moon [with a peach switch].”  A threat that one could interpret to mean that he meant business, but that he was not angry.
“I don’t care what Bobby and Suzie do, Mister.  If you so much a look at me crooked, you will spend the rest of the night in the car.  Is that understood?” This prior to going to Auntie Anne and Grandpa’s house; they were not only my grandparents, they were my godparents.  One of the hydrogen light bulbs of my childhood.
“[Fill-in-the-blank] can’t help the way his mother dresses him in the morning.”  Used any time anyone in his arena did anything that lurched his boat.
“Shall we adjourn to the other room?” Most notably on Christmas morning, but any time he was expressing the desire for Mama and him to exit, stage left.
“When you are an ADD-ult, you may do such and such...”   He emphasized that first syllable of the word, adult.
“Beer is for pigs and peasants...”  Notwithstanding, he did indulge in beer upon occasion, though his druthers dictated Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey.  His druthers may have dictated Bushmill’s, but his wallet dictated Old Crow.  Sigh.
“I better not hear about the white fathers beating you, because if I find out that you got smacked at school, you’re going to get double from me.”  My father never spanked me for behavior at school, because too many of his tales included his own educational indiscretions. (All nine of his children have attained at least a BA, with a couple of doctorates, a passel of masters degrees, and overall, a collective mass of learning.) 
“Strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand.”  There was always a twinkle accompanying these words, as he raised his shot glass heavenwards, and downed his libation.
“When Papa goes on vacation, everyone goes on vacation.”  Famous words uttered to Augie, Brian’s boss at Sunrize market, when he told Brian that he could not have time off to go down to Baja with the family.
“Hey, Brian, Matt, Mark, whatever you’re name is...”  Well, there were nine of us for him to keep track of.
“Some day I’m going to open a restaurant.”  He did love to cook.
“Ummmm.  This is mighty fine wall-paper paste we’re having this evening.”  I never felt that Mama fully appreciated the wit he presented when editorializing about the pudding served for dessert.
“It’s a poor dealer who can’t deal himself a good hand.”  The master at poker, he taught us well.
“Never win the first pot.”  He believed it was bad luck to sprint out the gate, but I never saw him put the loot back into the center of the table.
“Did you ever hear the story about Peter?  Poor Peter, zigged when he should have zagged...”  When getting a haircut, he was not a fan of wriggling.  He told us about poor Peter, who lost his head, when he zigged, instead of zagging.  I knew exactly what he meant.
“It is better to give than to receive.”  Inevitably uttered on the way to the dump.
“Willie Mays is a gentleman.”  In a household of Dodger fans, he bucked the trend by being a fan of a San Francisco Giant, treasonous behavior if ever there was such.
“Pipe down back there.”  The noise level in the back seat of the car, would produce this admonishment.
“What did you learn in school today?” and “What was the gospel about,” were two frequently asked questions, that I tried to have ready responses for, especially the one about the gospel.
“This ain’t no kitchen, and I don’t need no soup.”  His response when a wheel-barrow of concrete was brought to him that was too loose.
“Throw the *&%*#*  level away.  We don’t need no stinkin levels.”  When laying brick or block, after setting up the corners, he used a string.  Only.
(The correct pronunciation of “photing” is fishing).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata
The definition of  dedicated  is:   (of a person) devoted to a task or purpose; having single-minded loyalty or integrity;  (of a thing) exclusively allocated to or intended for a particular service or purpose.
A “dedicated kitchen” is one in which exists an awareness that gluten is persona non grata.  Gluten is an element found in wheat, oats, and countless other ingredients, which creates the elastic quality of dough.  Annie is a celiac, as is my oldest son, Casey.  Actually, we think the other two boys are also celiacs, but the jury is still out on that.  A celiac is a person who cannot digest gluten, and therefore must closely monitor everything which is consumed, in order to make sure that no gluten is included.
Being a dedicated kitchen means that I, as the only non-celiac, have to be very careful about how I conduct business.  If I make a sandwich out of my sourdough bread, I must be aware that I cannot just slap those slices of bread on the counter, and build myself a sandwich.  The presence, now, of gluten on the counter top, could impact others in a very negative manner.
When I bake, I use gluten-free flour, because if I used regular flour, the particles of gluten that are set loose to float around the kitchen, hang in the air for many hours, and will be ingested through breathing, causing digestive problems down the line for those affected.
When I get out the gluten-free mayonnaise, I must be zealous about not double-dipping the knife, after spreading the mayo on the bread.  If I dip the knife back into the jar, I will be distributing particles of gluten into what remains of the mayonnaise in the jar.  It’s not hard to follow the rules; it’s just that the rules require that you be aware of your actions, lest they cause another discomfort.
As if our dietary restrictions were not already challenging enough, I am not able to digest meat.  So I exist in my own realm, as far as food preparation is concerned.  I have gone meatless (and dairy-free) for as long as five years at a stretch, so it is not a new concept, but now, it would mean that if Annie were going to have to cook for me also, that she would have to concoct a menu that was very challenging.
Therefore, we have parallel purposes in the kitchen, but work around one another, so that we can each follow the path which works best.  Now we are trying to collaborate so that we can find a happy medium, sharing meals that are either meatless, and appealing to her, or that have chunks of meat that I can eat around.
With an organic garden on the premises, we are in great shape for much of the year, but in the dead of winter, it can be challenging.  Nothing comes easy, but with effort does come success.  It helps to be dedicated to the celiacs in the house.  It would also help if I could give up sourdough bread, but my options are already thin, unlike me, who is starting to resemble one of those pears that s staus was talking about.  She was talking about a small, tenacious one, and though I am not small, I am tenacious.  That’s batting five hundred, and I’ll take that any day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gone Photing

  Gone Photing
Can you pronounce this word?  photi.  If you said fish, then you are point on.  I used this example in language classes as one which featured a couple of the intricacies of the English language.  When students would protest that photi did not resemble fish, I would point out that the “ph” is obvious, but that the “o” was pronounced the way it is in “women” and the “ti” pronounced like that of the “ti” in “vacation.”
I also used this example in opening day introductions, when I taught Spanish as an elective.  Spanish is a language that is the opposite of English, in that there is only one way to pronounce the letters.  “A” by itself is going to be pronounced “ah” now and forever.  Next, I would ask students, how do you pronounce the letters, “ou” in English?  First there is the long “o” as in “soul;”  second, there is the “ow” sound made by the word “out.”  Third, there is the “uh” sound made by the word,“rough;”  fourth, there is the “oo” sound made in “through.”  Fifth, there is the “aw” sound in “cough”;  and finally, there is the short double o sound of “wood.”  I am so glad I never had to learn English, as a second language.
The kids loved this kind of thing.  I used to work with an overhead projector, so that information appeared on the white board, but I never had to turn my back on them, while writing something on the board.  Any time I could present information that intrigued them, I could be better sure of having their attention.  
My point in discussing the nuances of English, is that for kids to tune in to what I was saying, there had to be a “hook,” something that snagged their attention, and allowed for information to be conveyed to ears that were at least willing to listen.  One thing they universally complained about, was any effort to get them interested in dictionaries.  So I turned it into a competition.  
I partnered up an academically strong kid, with one who was not as strong, and conducted speed drills, where each pair of students attempted to locate the given word in the dictionary.  We had a class set, so everyone was working with the same tool.  Having the first set of kids find the magic word, did not let the others off the hook, it just meant that the first to locate it got five units of our classroom currency.  (Simply finding the correct page was not enough, because it just wasn’t that hard to use a little finger action to convey page number 141 across the class.)
I just wanted the students to recognize that the study of English could be viewed as a drudgery, or as a game.  As with many things in the game of life, it is what you make of it.  Right now, for me, and I suspect for you, playing with words provides a great deal of enjoyment.  It’s funny, because we all must have been introduced to English from the time we crossed the threshold of kindergarten, and we all had to have studied grammar and usage.
Somehow, we managed to get past the drudgery, and into the game.  It’s too bad that we can’t do the same thing at our respective occupations, and reach that point where it is no longer demoralizing to walk though the front door.  I have an idea.  Let’s find jobs that allow us to sit at home and write.  Maybe we can get paid by the hour.  Then our respective families would have to back off from their demands, that we stop spending so much time on our computers.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Same Only Different

I like to think of life as a magazine, a Time/Life-Line if you like.  Mine has always seemed rather ordinary to me, because I am the prototypical, carpe diem kind of guy and just how exciting is a school teacher, anyway?  If it seems like the right thing to do, then I do it.  I am a product of my father in this regard.  One of his life’s many slogans, was that of, “For two cents, I would...”(fill in the blank), whereupon Mama would fish the two metaphorical coins out of her apron, and thrust them in his direction.  Immediately, we would be packing up the camping gear at Shady Oaks, and heading home, to enjoy the treat of seeing PT 109, the summer prior to JFK being assassinated.

Of the three calculated actions I ever took in my life, two were done in conjunction with other people.  In 1974 I moved to the Bay Area, with two of my siblings and their respective spouses. We rented a four-bedroom house, and applied for admission at San Jose State.  We used this home as a base of operations, while we began to scour Northern California for parcels of available land.

Eventually, after looking at opportunities within driving distance of San Francisco, two of my brothers, my parents, and I, each bought 20 acre parcels of land, up in Northern Mendocino County.  We moved up to an off-the-grid lifestyle, which required that we forge every day of our lives for the basic necessities, before we could then consider the luxuries. 

The third calculated action was the acquisition of my teaching credential to keep the two-room Wellspring Education Collective afloat, back in 1989.  Whereas the original reason for getting the Credential was to prolong the lifespan of the little school, when local politics forced the closure of the school, I went to work for the Laytonville Unified School District in the middle school.

I set out to write a post this morning, substantiating my life-long belief that I live moment to moment, with little or no thought to the big picture, and I found that I was so far out in left field, that the game was over, and the teams gone home, before I figured out what was happening.

JT says I have had a more interesting life than hers, and I always protest.  I say we're the same, only different.   Maybe interesting is not the best word; maybe less predictable might be better.  When the power system shut down the other morning, at 1:30, due to prolonged lack of enough sunlight to power the solar panels, I had to go out and start the generator.  When the water abruptly ran out, due to lack of rain, I had to flip a valve on the tank up top to replenish our water, and when the temperature dropped below freezing, I had to start both wood stoves, but other than that, we have lived the same basic itinerary.
I taught for sixteen years, immersed myself in education and raising kids, and made my way to the present.  She has worked sixteen years for the same district in Sebastopol, has raised her kids and now is looking toward the future, when she hopes to gain some more control over how she spends her time.  I don’t see us as being that different, but then again, I can’t walk to the Starbucks to get a latte, up on Bell Springs Road, the way we did this morning, here in Sebasketball. 

On the other hand, I have only two neighbors within the sound of my generator (that’s a standard of linear measurement up here), and I would have to travel 63 miles to Ukiah in one direction, and 110 in the other to Eureka, to find a Starbucks.

So I have to stifle my daily urge to drink a Starbucks latte.  It’s a good thing I brew the best percolated coffee on the mountain.  At least Annie think so, and that’s all that counts.  As far as Time/Life Magazines go, I AM having the Time of my Life, and that’s the bottom Line. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Music to My Eyes

Music to My Eyes
I used to think that people who spent free time on computers, were either “surfing” or “chatting” and never the twain shall meet.  I would be lying if I said that members of my family were as pleased at the amount of time I spend on Terra Jean, my computer, as they would like, but such is my life: International Blogster, Esquire.  International?  OK, I know Maine is in our country, but it’s so far north.  
Earlier, I posted onto my blog with the awareness that it was there for ANYBODY, regardless of whether or not anyone was reading it.  Made no difference, I assured myself [smugly], I write for myself.  I have been doing it all my life, only now I am relocating it from my brain to my blog.
I write partly because I view the English language as one of the most fascinating “jigsaw puzzles” available, and partly because I have never been able to make music with instruments, so I have to rely on words.  I heard music the other day in “Ross and Costco” (thanks, Lynda) and I heard it tonight in “The Reason for the Season” (thanks, Judy).  
After all, I hear it all over in my travels, as though it were an 808 drum, setting the beat for my listening pleasure.  I liken it to shooting pool.  If I make one really stylish shot, at any point during my game, I feel as though I have achieved great success.  The outcome of the game need not rely on the eight ball for definition.  
In writing a piece, regardless of length, one particularly pleasing turn of words, is all that I require, to seal the deal.  So just as JT is always in search of a title, I am always in search of a phrase.  If I come up short, it’s always nice to know, I am only a click away from my dash, for some music to my eyes.  Right now my eyes are scanning the band for the latest hits, and the hits just keep on coming.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night Before Christmas

This is the seventh in a series of twelve posts I did, beginning in October, all on Christmas reflections.  All of this prattling up to this point has been about what led up to Christmas Day.  There is still one more step to take, and that is The Night Before Christmas.
The Night Before Christmas
I Couldn't Sleep
Twas the night before Christmas, and I couldn’t sleep.
My mind filled with Santa, my thoughts in a heap.
Mama had told me, “Just lie down and rest,
The last thing I need is a ten-year-old pest.”
But sleep wouldn’t come, I know cause I tried;
I drank some fresh water, lay on my left side.
I thought to myself, I’ll just count to a million.
If that doesn’t work, I’ll go on to a billion.
I got out my flashlight and took a long look,
At The Prince and the Pauper, my favorite book.
I got it for last year and like it a lot;
Whenever we’re driving, it sure hits the spot.
I could hear Mama talking and moving around, 
And she said she’d tell Santa if I made a sound.
"But Mama,” I said, again and again,
“I never will sleep till I’ve read Little Men.”
“Well, finish tomorrow, and go to sleep now, 
Or you will be sorry, cause I’ll have a cow.
Then you’ll know better than ever before,
How to close up your eyelids and learn how to snore.
There’s simply no reason to still be awake;
It’s way past your bedtime, for Bob Cratchitt’s sake.
And here we both stand, when you should be asleep; 
Under the covers, with nary a peep.
Well, listen up Mister, and listen up well.
Or you’re going to find that I’m ready to yell.
And if that occurs and your father appears,
You'd better be quiet, until the dust clears.
He told me to tell you should you need to know,
That the time will go quickly, so go with the flow.
He’s bound to be worried that you’re still awake,
So stop all this nonsense, for Tiny Tim’s sake.
Look if you will at the good girls and boys;
All sleeping so soundly awaiting their toys.
Can you not see that you’re making a mess?
Are you trying to tell me you're doing your best?.”
I thought to myself this is getting quite serious. 
My mind won’t stop spinning; I’m feeling delirious.
If I don’t start napping my strength will soon fail; 
The cops will be called, I’ll end up in jail.
And all because I just could not sleep;
It’s happened before and you didn’t say bleep.
Just cause it’s Christmas and Santa’s nearby;
I’m supposed to sleep-I’m asking you, why?
I think when I’m older and wiser by far,
That I will have access to some local bar.
I won’t care about Santa and all of his deer,
Cause I will be sleeping from too much cold beer.  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sensory Redux or Sensory Ducks

Sensory Redux
Sensory Ducks
The Holiday Season is the time of the year when events unfolding in front of our eyes, sometimes dwarf the other senses right out of the picture.  But if I pretend that the light is out, and there is no picture, what are some of the other sensory impressions that remain? 
From our record player, reverberating church bells, proclaiming the arrival of Christmas, and the rich warm words of "O Tanenbaum," permeating the house.
The fragrance of cinnamon, blending with that of the rising coffee cake, invading our nostrils, and tickling our collective fancy.
Tasting the iced orange juice on Christmas morning, a rare treat in our household, the sharp citrus bite, tingling on its way down my throat.
The coldness of the frosty window pane, as I press my face against it, hoping to catch a glimpse of antlers silhouetted against the night sky.
Tissue paper rustling, juxtaposed with the ripping and tearing of Christmas wrapping; appreciative oohs and ahs.
A blend of sage, oregano, thyme and marjoram, heralding the upcoming stuffing, with its onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, turkey giblets, bread bits and black pepper.
The taste of cranberries, tangy and exotic, complementing the salt-dipped celery, the neat little salt-pile to the side of my plate.
The rich smooth texture of pumpkin pie, matched in its consistency by the smog, Papa’s word for the whipped cream (Cool Whip, but a small boy could not differentiate.)
Silver-ware, as opposed to silver bells, clinking and snicking, efficiently or otherwise, conveying the feast to gaping jaws ( I was required to sit on the left side of my father, all of the years our family ate together at the big, homemade picnic-style kitchen table.  He could only have two of us right next to him, and I was one.  I mention it, because it was a natural deterrent to galloping mandibles.)
I could have put the scent of the pine needles at the top of the list.  If there were no scent of pine needles, I considered it my mandate to snick (new word to me, obviously  :) a palmful of needles to crush, from the back of the tree, thereby infusing my immediate world with their aura.  By circulating through the house, flailing my arms, I spread the wealth around.
The taste of mincemeat pie, served only on Christmas, sweet and tangy.
The resistance of a Brazil nut, juxtaposed with baked butternut squash.
The omnipresent sound of laughter, be it chuckling, chortling, snickering, giggling, guffawing, tittering or just smiling, the assumption being that the act of smiling, speaks volumes, pun intended.
The perfume of the German Christmas cookies that Auntie Anne used to bake.
The taste of green olives, biting, compared to its smooth cousin, the black olive.
The cooling refreshment of peppermint.
The sighs of contentment; the feeling of family; the taste of happiness; the smell of success.

ABC's of Christmas

ABC’s of Christmas
* allspice, applesauce, anything apple, A Christmas Story
* bells, butter, Bing Crosby, bon-bons
* coffee cake, celery, Christmas Carol (I watched nine different versions last Christmas, and would be happy to itemize.) Charlie Brown Christmas, caroling, 
* deviled eggs, dark meat, door decorating
* eggnog, E’clairs, Ella Fitzgerald, elephants (they're everywhere…)
* figs, forks, feeding frenzy, "Four Christmases," family
* ground pepper, gravy, garlic, gifts, Grandma, 
* hot apple cider, half & half, Harry Simone, Home Alone, Herald angels, harking
* icing on the coffee cake, iced coffee, It’s a wonderful Life,  icicles, Irish coffee (without actually putting the, uh, well, you know, the coffee part of the Irish coffee in the glass, er, uh, sorry, mug.)
* jello, “Joy to the World,"  
* King crab, kitchen, kaleidoscopes, Kodak moments, and  kindness, random acts of 
* lemon cookies, limes, love, lists (sorry, JT)
* mincemeat pie, marshmallows, "Misa Creole" (Argentinan Christmas music), Miracle on 34th Street
mixed nuts, Nutcracker Ballet, Nat King Cole
* orange juice, onions, "O Tanenbaum"
* peppermint, peach pies, persimmon cake, mashed potatoes, Perry Como
*quince pie (if not in our house, others)
* rhubarb pie, raisins, 
* sausage, stuffing, sugar, sugar and just for good measure, some more sugar
* turkey, tinsel, truffles, toys, turbulence (see under f-family)
* uplifting, unflappable Mama, uncouth belches, unity of purpose
* creamed veggies, victorious diners
*  wassailing (Wassail is Old English, dating back prior to 1066.  It means be thou hale or be you healthy; an old tradition of ours, no?) 
* xylophone-I got one for Christmas one year.
* yams, Yorkshire Pudding
* zippers, bursting

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Applause-Just the Money

No Applause, Just the Money
How better to get to know someone, than finding out all of the dipsy-doodle sorts of things he’s done?  I mean, I could start off with all of the hot stuff, (I’m thinking, I’m thinking) but then I would have no where to go but down.  So here I go with five embarrassing moments of my life, in reverse order.  Note that I did not say the five incidents; no, sadly, there are lots more.
5) Red lights: I have received one motor vehicle, moving violation in my life, and that was in 1974.  Moving?  If we had been moving, I would have been all right.  I was driving in San Francisco (if you have ever driven in San Francisco, then this will sound normal) and I came up to a red signal.  It was four in the morning.   There was absolutely no cross-traffic.  I was perched on the edge of the intersection, waiting for that red light to turn green, and I waited.  Had I timed the signal, from the moment it turned red, until it turned green, it probably was not an obscene amount of time.  Whatever.  My passenger was using the headlights of the cars behind us to read a map.  All we wanted was to get through to the Golden Gate Bridge, and on up to NorCal.  Inexplicably, after waiting for what seemed forever, I decided to go for it, and just drove right through that intersection.  When that spinning red light, immediately behind me went off, I was mortified.  I could just imagine all of the people in the vehicles behind me, as I up and crossed the empty intersection, with a police ossifer sitting right behind me.  Achtung, Chuckles.
4) Whiny knee: Before I had my left knee reconstructed, in 1994, lack of an ACL left me apt to suddenly find myself prone on the ground, if I varied from placing one foot, directly in front of the other.  On an afternoon, when I was uncharacteristically late for a K-8 staff meeting, I came rushing in the back door of the staff room, and made a quick left, and fell splat on my face.  When the applause died down, I took my seat.
3) Language acquisition: We were sitting around in 4th period religion in our assigned seats, my freshman year of high school, and the priest teaching us had told us to just chill the last ten minutes of class.  The guy to one side of me was one of the popular kids (only boys on our side of the campus) and he delighted in tormenting me.  I was trying to avoid his sarcasm, which was deadlier to me than the check on check shirt and pants I chose to wear to school one day, when at one point he punctuated his comment by adding, “Blow me, O’Neill.”  The rest of the guys thought that was pretty funny.  I didn’t know one way or the other if it was funny or not, because I didn’t, at age 13, know what it meant.  I was embarrassed as all get out, and said the first thing I could think of, ”You’d like that, wouldn’t you Tom?”  The reaction was swift and hilarious.  No one expected that to come from me, and they directed their laughter-for once-at Tom and not at me.
2) I was driving my ’64 Nova, the year after I graduated from high school, and socializing at an unprecedented rate, when I did a cruise past a rambunctious neighborhood party, where the action spilled out on all sides of the house, so there was a good crowd out front.  In my pre-VW bus days, this little Nova was kind of fun.  My older brother had done a few tricks to the engine (no boring details about “bored out engine blocks” and Mickey Thompson Pop-up Pistons) so it was frisky.  I decided to light ‘em up, which entailed coming to a halt about a block shy of the party, red-lining that engine and letting up the clutch gradually, allowing the back wheels to spin.  It’s appealing because it is loud, pure and simple, and I was trying to break the loud barrier.  At the peak of all that noise, I was directly in front of the party.  All was one with the universe.  And then there was silence, deafening silence, as I was suddenly floating with the gas pedal useless to move forward and the car already beginning to drift to the side of the road.  Deadly silence.  It turned out that the universal joint, which held the drive shaft in place, and allowed it to function properly, had just exploded, and that drive shaft was lying in the middle of the street.  More applause from the peanut gallery.
1) I was at one of those same parties, eyeballing a certain sweet young thing, entertaining notions of sugarplums, when I actually got up the courage to approach her and make with the palaver.  Everything seemed to be progressing nicely, when an unknown commodity approached, giving “Sally” the once-over.  She greeted him warmly, but was careful not to diss on me.  Taking my arm, she turned to her friend and said, “Marty, I would like you to meet my good friend, Larry Palinkus.”  Larry Palinkus?  He wasn’t even at the party.  Where is that handle you pull, when you just want to fall through the floor?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Omelet You Have it

Omelet You Have it
My posts are beginning to alarm me, because I seem to have developed some sort of baffling ability to produce an ongoing list of topics that cry out for me to address.  I have never been at a shortage for words; that’s patently obvious.  I have been plugging away at a number of self-centered projects, which I have found to be most rewarding.
However, out of the blue, topics are assailing my little pea-brain at a rapidly accelerating pace.  This morning, while cooking up a Spanish rice omelet, I suddenly fixated on the notion of writing about cooking the perfect omelet.  I should say it’s the perfect omelet for me.  I am not going to insult anyone out there who is already quite comfortable in his or her own ability to create the perfect omelet, by suggesting that my omelet is a better version than your omelet, or even that my method is better, because that’s not where I’m coming from.  I think it’s probably more for the reason that I am a self-taught male cooker, who got lucky and wants to crow about it.  
The first thing to establish is that I never had an omelet, until I was in the army, overseas, when I was introduced to chili omelets, at a base cafe.  I loved eggs and I loved chili, so I figured, why not?  Up until that point, I had always thought of an omelet, if I thought of it at all, as a partial threat, as in, “Watch out, Clownie, or omelet you have it.”  When we had eggs, we had eggs, and we didn’t mix mushrooms, onions or threats in with the eggs. 
Then, when I came home from Korea, I experimented with making omelets on my own.  I had limited success, except for the redeeming factor, that even the resultant mess, as unappealing as it may have looked, was usually edible.  I either burned the eggs or they were runny.  Well, you might ask, if they were runny, why didn’t you cook them longer?  The answer is that then they would end up burned.  Says so in the manual, page twelve, paragraph four, subsection c.
It stems from my tendency, when I was a small boy, to do everything at warp speed, including cooking.  My father was a very talented cook, and got lots of practice working with my mom, to prepare meals for the nine of us kids, and them.  I got lots of OJT peeling potatoes, dicing onions, cutting up the green peppers and taking out the compost.  It was always deemed acceptable by the management for us to be able to cook up a little something for ourselves to eat at breakfast or lunch, when we were home.  I guess the rationale was twofold: one less mouth for Mom to have to feed, and I was going to end up doing the dishes anyway, so I was not creating more work for her. 
However, to slow down enough to cook eggs properly, even if we are only talking about the difference between five minutes and seven, was always impossible.  It never even came up for discussion.  So I would turn the heat up too high on the burner, and the eggs would burn, or I would turn the fire on too low, and get impatient, and eat the eggs while they were still runny.  Any attempt to try and distract myself, to give the eggs adequate time to cook properly-you guessed it-resulted in burned eggs.
Somewhere along the line, as I both got older and less impatient, I figured out that the problem was in the setting of the flame.  I never grasped the concept that there was something between full blast and simmer, so I took the flame to the halfway point, decided it was still too high, and turned it down to about a fourth of the way up, at the most.  Preheating the pan is nice, maybe not so important as pre-heating the oven when baking, but still keeps the eggs from sitting in olive oil that is still heating up.  I put in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, and then add an extra tablespoon or so.  It’s hard to put too much in,but too little can result in a minor scorch.
So the flame is adjusted correctly, the oil is heated and you have a lid for the pan.  I have strangled those eggs vigorously with a whisk, or if I’m feeling jaunty, an egg beater, to create fluffy eggs.  I don’t add half and half or anything, but I have seen it done.  The rest is the same as I used to imagine it would be like when I was a kid, only different, because the eggs cook gently and correctly, every time.  I remove the lid after a reasonable amount of time, and lift up the edge of the omelet here and there to allow a little of the runny stuff to slip under the rest of the omelet, where it doesn’t stand a chance.   If I have not already done so, I add salt and black pepper, crucial for eggs.
If the flame is adequately low, then the oil will prevent the eggs from browning, and you can use the widest spatula you have to do the quick flip, being then ready to add your Spanish rice, or chile, or onions/mushrooms, et al.  The fire under the pan only needs to stay on another minute or two, before it can be shut off, while the pan remains on the stove long enough for the cheese to melt.  With the flame turned off, there’s no fear of burning.  No cheese?  Have at it.