Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Partners" : Masterpieces in Artistry

"Butterfly Brooch," an Art Nouveau gem by Gaston Lafitte

 Around 30 years have elapsed since I experienced art coming to life "right before my eyes," as the flyer for the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters proclaims. I vaguely remember how impressed I'd been with the tableaux I'd seen...but I don't recall those earlier presentations drawing together so many different forms of art.

Brilliantly staged, this year's "Partners" highlights how art emerges from partnerships of all kinds: spouses, siblings, artists and models, even artists and their patrons.  My favorite segments include Lewis and Clark (aided by Sacajawea and her husband), the Wright Brothers, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and even Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. And, of course, the magnificent duo, Astaire and Rogers.

I particularly like the backstage glimpse of how the models were selected and outfitted for "The Perfect Match." We watched how that painting come to life to the tune of "It Had To Be You,"  as the chosen two were garbed and groomed and led to their positions.
The Kiss on the Hand, Gerolamo Induno

Perhaps the most surprising story for me involved the complex partnership that developed between Antoine Lavoisier and his wife, Marie-Anne. During the 18th century and before Lavoisier's breakthroughs in modern chemistry, many natural philosophers still viewed the four elements of Greek natural philosophy—earth, air, fire, and water—as the primary substances of all matter.

Marie-Anne! What a helpmate!
The Lavoisiers
This young woman, though not formally educated, helped her husband in his research and soon became widely regarded as a valuable laboratory assistant and hostess. She recorded his lab research in her drawings and prepared engravings for publication. She promoted his work everywhere.

All day today I've thought of personal partnerships, and what makes them work. How do two individuals become a compatible "us"? Is it because they have similar values and goals, like the Wright brothers? Is it because one leads masterfully and one follows gracefully, like Rogers and Astaire? Is it because both share a passion for exploring together, like Lewis and Clark? 

Do we even recognize when we've found the ideal partnership that we've been destined for? The only sad aspect in last night's celebration of wondrous partnerships was when the narrator, Richard Doyle, cited Rivera's words during the segment on his tempestuous relationship with Kahlo: “I did not know it then, but Frida had already become the most important fact in my life. And would continue to be, up to the moment she died, 27 years later.”

Consequently, I've renewed my awareness that my habit of fully savoring the moments that spell magic in my life have enabled me to lay claim to an contented old age. Last night I absorbed how the Pageant's magnificent setting, combining those ancient elements, took center stage:
the evening air, sultry so close to the sea;
the fiery descent across a hazy sky of one of the last of the Persiads; 
the adobe earthen walls of of Laguna Canyon, incorporated into many of the displays (Lewis and Clark with their spyglasses high up the hill toward the left);
and always the water...the omnipresent Pacific Ocean ambience of Laguna Beach. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Setting Sail in the Summer of '16

Viking's Lif on a Grand European Cruise

If you'd asked me this past May what I'd envisioned for the last summer of my seventies, I certainly would not have predicted another miracle.  I've already benefited from so many. Death-defying recoveries from accidents, attacks and ailments. Life-enhancing jobs in Belize, Seychelles, Washington DC and Washington State. Unexpected honors and heartwarming celebrations. My life actually can be defined as a long series of miracles. I've already had far more than my fair share.

Sue leads the Amazing Gray Yoga Group in a rowing skit
So at this summer's start I'd only anticipated continuing to enjoy the yoga and aerobic classes at my apartment complex, lead by Sue Burchfiel, of Amazing Grays Fitness. And I do, attending one session or another nearly daily, if only for the discipline of being forced to wiggle my arthritic ankles, and to pretzel myself into a forward fold. Sure, I long for the days when I could execute butterfly bends on a drum and one-handed walkovers. Now, at 79, I'm content that I can not only lean down to touch the floor without bending my knees, but can flatten my palms on that floor. Also I credit Sue's gentle flexibility classes for my ability to have soared through 2016 so far without a major attack of sciatica. Another miracle.

Though my late husband, Ken Wilson, and I had taken Holland America cruises to Alaska and across the Mediterranean and Baltic seas, I'd never floated down a river, except on a kayak on the Saline south of Little Rock one afternoon with a friend. But this summer, after watching Viking longships sail at the opening of season after season of "Downton Abbey," I embarked on a fifteen-night Grand European Cruise, down the
New friends from Alabama and New Zealand enjoying Mozart.
Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers, from Budapest to Amsterdam. Highlights aboard our "Lif" included a Mozart concert in Vienna and a German night aboard the boat, where we feasted on seven kinds of sausages, plus pork loin and schnitzels. Our staff dressed in lederhosen in honor of the occasion. We ended the evening discoing to the tunes of Abba...and I shook my booty for an entire half hour without collapsing on the postage-stamp-size floor...another minor miracle. Again, all the credit for my continued stamina goes to my low impact aerobic classes.

All these summertime diversions have kept me away from updating my blog. July is my first non-entry month since I began to log my literary and travel adventures back in 2010.

These have been busy and engrossing weeks, with AAUW activities, with learning my responsibilities in my new appointment as 47th District Liaison for California AARP, and participating in my book, film and travel discussion groups. I even put the final touches on two or three stories that will be published in books in time for the holiday season.

And it's been a summer of nonstop fun. There've been excursions for starlight concerts during the last season of the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows, frequent treks to the movies...special favorites include The Free State of Jones, The Music of Strangers, Genius, Cafe Society and theater presentations, including "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," dining at old favorites like Mimi's and El Torito, and new favorites like The Galley in Newport and Hercules in Orange.

My 6/28 birthday at Hotel Laguna with a friendly author.
Best of all...this summer I met a friendly author. A university professor, he's published a scholarly book and has been working on polishing his skills at fiction. In his youth he greatly admired Hemingway, but is patient as I rant about why I consider Fitzgerald a better novelist. It's been an unexpected treat to trade ideas for future literary projects. He also shares my passion for classical music and Broadway show tunes.

We've planned more summertime fun...the Laguna Pageant of the Masters next weekend, and a trip to Pismo Beach in September, as well as a Catalina voyage for his December birthday. Maybe even London, Oxford and the Isle of Wight next summer.

Nearly daily we find new common (and sometimes uncommon) interests. You might call if serendipity that we met one another at all, given the population density of Southern California. Or synchronicity, or simply happy circumstance. He claims we're riding the same wavelength of the universe. I'm convinced it's yet another miracle.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Pair of Merry Mollusks

Pasta Amore

My husband from 1955 to 1980, Bob Elders, was born on June 9, 1931. He would have turned 85 today. I still think of him on his birthday, and remember those early days of our marriage when we had so little money but so much fun. Here's one of my favorite stories of those newlywed days when we were both students at what was then Long Beach State College. Bob had not yet joined the Long Beach Police Department, and this was two years before our son, Steve, was born.

A Pair of Merry Mollusks

“A man taking basil from a woman will love her always.” - Sir Thomas Moore

February 14 fell on a Tuesday in 1956, not a good news day for us. Bob and I had hoped to spend our first Valentine’s Day evening as a married couple at the Villa Nova, our favorite Italian restaurant. But I wouldn’t get a paycheck until Friday, and we’d already spent Bob’s GI Bill allowance on the rent and utilities for our tiny apartment.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Bob said that noon as we munched on our bologna sandwiches and apples on the shady patio of the cafeteria at Long Beach State College. “We’ll celebrate tonight somehow.”

An eternal optimist, Bob kept up the chatter as he drove me to the valve manufacturing firm atop Signal Hill. I’d been lucky in landing a part time job there, editing the company newspaper, a glossy monthly.

“I’ll pick you up at 5. We’ll have a cozy supper at home tonight. I think I’ll have enough left after I fill up this old Pontiac’s tank to buy a bottle of Chianti, and you can cook me up a Valentine’s surprise.”

It would be a surprise all right, I thought, trying to recall what remained in the pantry that I could make a meal of. Nonetheless, I forced a smile. At least we had each other, and we wouldn’t be paupers forever. Bob intended to take the local police department exam in a couple of months, with the goal of joining the force by summer. We were certain he’d be assigned a swing shift, which would enable him to continue his police science studies at the college. He still had another year to complete for his degree.

At the office I conferred with Alisa, who worked in accounting.

“What can I make for a special supper tonight when I don’t even have any meat?”

“Have you got any canned clams?”

“I think so, but that’s hardly festive. Besides Bob doesn’t like chowder.”

Alisa grinned. “I’m talking pasta, baby. Pasta means amore…trust me, I’m Italian. Men love pasta. I’ll give you my mom’s recipe. And remember, if you don’t have one thing on hand, just substitute another.  Santo Valentino would approve!”

“Saint Valentine’s Italian?” I cocked my head and furrowed my forehead. Somehow I’d vaguely thought of him as English, but realized I might have been thinking of a photo I’d seen of the statue of Eros in Trafalgar Square.

“Of course he’s Italian! He’s buried just north of Rome, near where my mom grew up.”

Alisa scribbled down her recipe and I tucked the folded paper into my pocket.

That evening Bob dropped me off at our place.

“OK, honey. You see what you can conjure up, and I’ll go get gas and some wine.”

I opened the recipe as I checked its ingredients against the few cans and jars remaining on the kitchen shelf.

Canned tomatoes, canned clams, olive oil, parsley, oregano and my favorite basil. Si certo, I had them all. Plus a package of linguini. I always kept onions and garlic on hand, and still had half a loaf of sour dough in the breadbox.  I even had a shaker of grated Parmesan. We’d have a feast. I rummaged around and found a red and white checked tablecloth and a couple of candles to make our kitchen table even more festive.

We ate every bite, and Alisa was right. It indeed was the food of love. Bob sopped up the last of the sauce with the last of the bread and sighed.

“My compliments to the chef. But I can’t keep eating all this pasta if I want to get in shape for the police exam,” he said, with a rueful shake of his head. He’d been running on the beach several evenings a week to prepare for the upcoming physical. “But tonight’s special, so I think Saint Valentine will work his magic and make these calories not count.”

“Did you know he’s Italian?” I always liked to share my new knowledge with my amiable husband.

He looked at me as if I were demented. “What else would he be? What did you think?”

“Never mind.” I sipped the last of my wine and smiled. “I’m just happy as a clam that you liked our dinner.”

“And why are clams so happy?”

I was relieved he’d asked. I always enjoyed sharing such tidbits.

“People forget the second half of that saying. It’s really ‘happy as a clam at high tide.’ I guess at high tide they are out there swimming around and not floundering on the sand where people dig them up.”

“You’re so smart,” Bob said, laughing. “Wait right here while I get your Valentine’s present.”

He went into the bedroom and I heard him open a drawer. He came back with a homemade Valentine…a heart cut from the Sunday funnies, and a Hershey bar with almonds.

“Next year I promise a two-pound box of See’s and a real Valentine,” he said, giving me a hug.

“What do you mean? This is a real Valentine!” I opened it and read the verse he’d scribbled in crayon. Bob never had been noted for his poetic skill.

I read it aloud: “I will be your Valentine, if you will be my clementine.”

I gave my husband a puzzled glance. “Clementine?  Didn’t she drown?”

“Clementine’s the name for those little mandarin oranges we saw at the Piggly Wiggly last Christmas. Remember how juicy and sweet and squeezable they were?” He squashed my hand to make sure I got the picture.

“And it’s the only rhyme I could come up with at the moment for Valentine.”

“I can think of another,” I said, grinning.

“What’s that?”

I giggled. “Frankenstein.”

Bob hooted. “How about concubine? Or Palestine?”

We cleared away the supper dishes, merry as a pair of mollusks…at high tide. 

Alisa’s Mom’s Pasta Amore

1 pound package linguini                                l tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion                                      l tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper                       2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14.5 can tomatoes                                        2 6.5 ounce cans minced clams, undrained
1 tablespoon dried parsley                              1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil                                  salt, pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper and sauté 3 minutes or until onion is browned. Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Stir in clams, parsley, oregano and basil. Stir until heated through. Serve atop drained pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.










Monday, May 16, 2016

Another Offhanded Day

 Last week I had open carpal tunnel release surgery on my left hand. I'm not playing favorites, though. My right hand gets to share the experience on June 7. In the meantime, in between times, I'm taking it easy, no slight task for somebody who is used to be up and doing.

This week I watched an eight-episode 2007 Masterpiece series, Lilies, set in 1920 Liverpool. I also read Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, by Kate Clifford Larson. I'm now several chapters into David McCullough's The Wright Brothers. So I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how we existed in far less technologically-advanced times.

I've also enjoyed walking around the flowered grounds of my apartment complex, admiring the roses, marigolds and pansies. It's been a cool May for Southern California, a break after a warm winter and a hot summer to come.

Perhaps not so oddly, I have been remembering another time when I was without the full use of my left hand...and had to cope with Christmas! I'll always remember this particular Christmas.

The Offhand Christmas

Though it was still a week until Christmas, I’d already addressed and mailed the cards, bought the tree, and hidden away family presents in a closet that my husband never looked in.

“For once it’s under control,” I’d congratulated myself, as Ken and I headed for bed. On Saturday I’d shop for a turkey, pick up oranges and cranberries for relish, and bake pecan tassies. Ken enjoyed the tasty tarts, and I could squish together margarine, cream cheese and flour and press it into the mini-muffin tins a lot more easily than I could roll out a perfect pie crust.

Ken’s son, Rick, and his wife Angela, would arrive Christmas Eve, and we’d spend the holiday walking the dogs in the snow, playing hearts, and listening to holiday music, enjoying what we deemed our traditional family fest.

I’d hoped to fall asleep quickly, but winds whistled around the windows, and I covered my head with my pillow. I heard banging, and remembered that I hadn’t checked if all the doors had been locked before we came to bed, nor had I counted cats. We had three, and in winter we sometimes experienced menacing overnight temperature drops.

I crept out of bed, and started down the stairs. About the third step down my right foot landed on Harpo, my marmalade cat. Before I could grab the railing, I tumbled, head first, throwing out my left arm to break my fall. I landed, stunned, at the foot of the stairs, but when I finally struggled to my feet I suspected I’d sustained a serious injury. My left arm hung limply by my side and my shoulder felt lumpy.

I dragged back upstairs and woke Ken.

“I doubt anything’s broken,” he said. “It’s probably a sprain. What were you doing wandering around in the dark?”

“I thought I heard the screen door banging. I wanted to make sure the cats were all inside. Then I stepped on Harpo. He blended in with the carpet.”
Harpo, the villain feline.

“If you still think something’s wrong when the sun comes up, I’ll drive you to the hospital. Try to get some sleep. I wish the winds would die down.”

I flopped down on my right side and drifted off, despite my throbbing arm and the howling winds.

By dawn my arm had swollen to twice its normal size. Ken drove me to the hospital. The ER doctor said x-rays revealed that the ball of my shoulder had been knocked out of its socket and sustained multiple fractures. He'd schedule surgery. My arm would be immobilized in a sling for several weeks. If no complications developed, I possibly could return home by Christmas Eve

Ken listened patiently to my concerns prior to the operation. He’d undergone a quadruple bypass himself eight months earlier, so knew I worried about the strain on him of trying to take care of the cats, dogs…and me.

I nattered on about Christmas, how I still had gifts to wrap, groceries to buy, tarts to bake, floors to mop, and tables to dust. With an immobilized arm, how would I even bathe, dress and feed myself? I’d heard the old joke about people who broke a hand, wrist or shoulder the week or so before Christmas in order to avoid kitchen duty. Not funny.

“Calm down,” Ken finally said. “I’ll take care of everything. I’m not incapable, you know.”

The surgery went well, so on Christmas Eve the doctor discharged me with a long list of do’s and don’ts, heavy on the latter.

Once at home, I again peppered Ken with my worries:

“How will I wrap the presents? What about tinsel? The tassies? Oh, no, we didn’t buy a turkey. There might not be any fresh ones left at the market and it’s too late to thaw one.”

“All taken care of,” Ken said, with an assertive nod. “We’ve got ribeyes in the freezer and I’ll barbecue. I’ll stick some potatoes in the oven, along with a frozen apple pie, and we’ve got plenty of salad makings. Now stop worrying.”

“The tinsel? The presents?”

“The tree has plenty of ornaments. It doesn’t need any tinsel. Stuff the gifts in bags and stick a label on the outside. We don’t need ribbons and foil.”

I glowered, but grabbed a fistful of grocery sacks and a pad of labels and headed to the closet where I’d stashed the gifts. I’d ordered most of the presents online, since we lived far from any department stores. Luckily, I'd opened the boxes as they’d arrived. I never could have managed now with just one hand. My forehead wrinkled with regret as I plopped each gift into a plastic carrier bag. I hoped the recipients would forgive their appearance. I scrawled names on stickers and slapped them on the sacks. Thank heavens my right hand worked all right.

They sure don’t look like Christmas presents, I thought, as I dragged the bags to the tree.

On Christmas morning Ken helped me open the fancy packages that Rick and Angela had brought. We joked about the grocery bags but agreed this was an environmentally green effort, since we’d recycle the bags, rather than shove them in the rubbish bin.

Natty and Nami in the snow.
It indeed had snowed and we took the dogs for their morning frisk. This time Ken held the Akita’s leash. Later we played our traditional hearts game, even though it took some time for me to sort out my cards and arrange them in order with only one hand. When it was my turn to deal, Rick dealt for me.

In the late afternoon as the sun began its descent, Ken and Rick fired up the barbecue and set the table. Angela tossed a salad and chopped green onions to top the baked potatoes. Then we took our usual seats and Ken carried in his ribbies from the grill. Everybody else dug in. I picked up my fork and stared at my plate.

I decided to adopt a light note.

“How am I going to eat this? Do I pick up the whole thing in my hand and start to gnaw? Do I lean down like the dogs and nibble around the edges?”

After they all shared a hearty laugh at my quandary and Rick had said Grace, Ken cut my steak into bite-sized chunks, added a dollop of sour cream to my potato, and filled my salad plate. He did everything but spoon-feed me my slice of pie.

The trio even cleared the table and washed the dishes while I sat in the living room in front of the tinsel-free tree, reviewing the day as I sipped a nightcap of mulled wine.

The snowy stroll, free from a two-handed struggle to restrain a 115-pound Akita, the slower-paced card game which provided more time to chat, the novelty of a Christmas barbecue, and watching my capable Ken take charge...I’d been delighted by it all.

I soon went to bed, still weak from trauma and surgery, but glowing with contentment. Ken was right. Christmas needs neither flashily wrapped gifts nor the shimmer of a tinseled tree…not even the tang of cranberry relish, nor the scent of a roasting turkey. Christmas just needed us, willing to share its timeless message of peace.