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....

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.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Rekindling Kinship...Loving a Literary Life

Selfie with Molly Jo Realy, cookbook author
On April 23 I spent the afternoon with 35 other writers and artists at the annual "Meet the Authors" event at San Bernardino's Feldheym Central Library. Though I had a stack of books for sale with my stories, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back, and Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel, I didn't sell many. For me, that wasn't the point.

Large gatherings of local writers offer opportunities to network, exchange marketing tips, and make new connections in the literary world. They give us an opportunity to flock together with our own kind, other creative spirits who identify as artists. For me, that is an infusion of pure energy.

Molly Jo Realy's The Unemployment Cookbook caught my eye, and I paused to chat with her. I leafed through the book, smiling at the recipes similar to the ones I used for guidelines as a young wife back in the '50s and '60s, the kind of economical comfort food we all used to subsist on, in the days before we worried so much about gluten and calories. I bought a copy for a young engaged couple who might like to sample the dishes their grandmas made...but I'm not mailing it off until I have a chance to look through it more thoroughly.

Once again I had a display table adjacent to Beth Winokur, who writes enchanting books, and also is an artist. I traded books with
Beth...she chose my travel book and I picked
Beth Winokur
The Adventures of Abby and Sofia, The Willing Stone, perfect, I think, for my granddaughter. Though the girls in this book are in fourth grade, and my granddaughter is just finishing first, it will be perfect for her. Little girls like to read about girls about three  years older than themselves. Maybe this is why I fell in love with Jo March of Little Women when I was around 11 or 12.  Bet I read about Beth's classmates before it gets to the intended recipient.

Godfather of the Graphic Novel, Phil Yeh
Linda and Phil Yeh
It's always entertaining to reconnect with Phil Yeh, a friend since the late '70s when I  lived down the street and around the corner from the Cobblestone Gallery, early home of Uncle Jam, an arts magazine.
Phil continues to promote literacy with his murals and books...he's still working on finishing the Route 66 mural on the original McDonald's, now a museum, in downtown San Bernardino. His wife, Linda Adams Yeh, is the programs librarian for the San Bernardino library system, and always a gracious hostess at this event.

At the close of the day, I was happy to contribute several copies of a number of my books to the library. After a great meal at a local Vietnamese eatery, the Lotus, I headed back to Orange County, happy again to be living and loving a literary life.