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August 2009

Comfort Food

Years ago, when Peter and I often had dinner parties, we would always cook something new without trying it first. Although we took some chances, and no one went home hungry, these were not the kind of meals I grew up with.

My mother was the queen of comfort food. Every night she served three course meals on our large mahogany dining room table, set with a freshly ironed table cloth.  She always included an appetizer and a homemade dessert.

Mother was a superb pie baker.  Her flaky, buttery piecrust, was at its best in her apple pie.  My father always claimed he needed to even off the edges of whatever was left in the pie plate, but we all knew he was just getting some extra for himself.  Every dinner we had growing up was comfort food.

Lately, I find myself craving those meals.  Nothing is more satisfying to me these days than a whole roasted chicken with thick buttery gravy made from its drippings.   Or meatloaf and baked potato.  Or good ole mac’ and cheese.

If Mother could come to dinner now, she would feel right at home at our table as long as she wasn’t expecting a tablecloth, three courses and a to-die-for apple pie..

Laughing ‘til It Hurts

I didn't take a vacation this summer, and I was regretting it. But just twenty-four hours with my cousins and their children and grandchild in a beach house last weekend almost made up for it. There were eight of us plus Ruby, their mixed breed some-kind-of-terrier dog who was constantly at my side once she discovered how tasty the moisturizer on my legs was. Licking my cream-laden legs became her raison d'être.


Over lunch we got to talking about how we would make our fortunes. Our most entrepreneurial family member suggested that fast fortunes could be made with TV infomercials. So we began to think up product ideas, and came up with some zany possibilities. One of my personal favorites was the solar-powered flashlight. This was my chance, however to propose something I've longed dreamed about-- a slanted cereal bowl that keeps my Corn Chex from getting soggy. It could also double as a soup bowl to get to the last drop.


After lunch we did some normal weekend things like swim and walk along the beach. We returned to our infomercial idea fest on and off after dinner. It must have been about 10 p.m. when we were talking about an encounter Ruby had recently had with a skunk. And, of course, that led to the potential invention of a skunk-o-lator, a detector of skunks in the neighborhood.


Within moments of this discussion, Ruby needed to go outside. It had begun to rain. She was gone two minutes, just enough time for her to scare a skunk. This was apparent the second she trotted into the house and plopped down next to me.


Before the kids could grab her and get her outside to wash her with a peroxide and baking powder mix and hose her down, she had deposited some skunk liquid on two rugs. Getting the smell out of her and the house was quite an adventure.


We really need to get to work on the skunk-a-lator. We know we have at least one customer.


Laughing 'til your belly aches is almost like taking a vacation.


Resolutions as I Grow Older

On the 372nd page of a book I don’t have, and maybe never did have, there is a list of “Resolutions As I Grow Older”, written by someone with the initials R.N.B.  I have kept a copy of that page for years because I thought it might come in handy some day.

Here is an edited version of R.N.B.’s five resolutions for keeping friends as you grow older.

1.    I promise that I will not contact the same person every day so that no one ever will say “It’s her again.”


2.    If my memory isn’t what it used to be, I will keep a note of the things I talk about with each person.  “It’s not that we forget our stories; we just forget to whom we have told them.”


3.    I promise that I will make sure that in each conversation I let the other person talk at least half the time, and when I do talk about me, it will be about the positive things in my life rather than about my aches and pains.


4.    I promise that I will take time to respond to the stories and feelings of others, and not just rush on to talk about me.


5.    I  promise that I will live in the present and not go on about how great life used to be. I will read, watch and learn to have new opinions about new subjects so that young and old alike will enjoy being with me as much as I enjoy being with them.


My copy of R.N.B.’s resolutions has been tucked in a drawer for years. The print is quite faded.


But the message is ageless. 

The Vacation-less Summer

As I pedal my bicycle to work in the second half of the last month of summer, I am struck by the number of empty parking spaces I pass. Considering that this was a summer-less summer, at least until last week, the whole world seems to be out of town right now, except us.

Sure, we were in Brazil for ten hectic days in April, but there's something about a summer vacation that recharges batteries, and that is just not happening for me this year.

I love my full time job. And I love my boss's job which I have also been doing since the first of July when he took early retirement. That is why I'll be here working and riding my bicycle past empty parking spaces next week while one close colleague is in Peru climbing to Machu Picchu and other colleagues are off to the beach with family or friends.

Oh well, there's always Netflix.

How Could I?

On the rare occasions when I am really annoyed with Peter, I think of Ann Landers who in her famous advice column always asked complaining wives, "Are you better off with him or without him?" Of course I am better off with him. But that doesn't stop me from being annoyed at times.

For example, he's a keeper and I'm a throw awayer. I am always asking him if he's finished with the newspaper, a half-empty can of soda water, or a sweater he has owned for forty years but hasn't worn for thirty-nine.

Those pack-rat habits of Peter's don't really bother me, but here's one that does, and that got me into trouble on Friday. Peter will regularly buy things that we already have, or open a new package of something that we have a started package of. Or use the new apples before the old ones are gone.

This time he took a special trip to the grocery store while I was at work to buy gluten-free oats, now safe for people who, like me, are gluten-intolerant because they are grown in fields where wheat had never been planted. Peter is wonderful about trying to make my celiac disease restrictions less painful. He wanted to make granola, a favorite food I hadn't been able to eat for ten years. And he did.

But after I thanked him, I asked him if he had used the open package of gluten-free oats we had in our cupboard. He had not.

So, I said, "You are so bad about checking to see if we already have things." And he responded, "I thought you would think I was so good for making you granola."

He was so right, and I was so wrong. How could I?

Julia, Julie and Judy

The first time Peter made dinner for me back in 1965, I noticed that his copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and her friends was more worn than my copy. I thought this meant I was dating a very good cook. Later, I realized that it was worn because he was a sloppy (but very good) cook. When we married three years later, we kept my copy and tossed his.

Thanks to the1961publication of Julia's book, Americans learned the secret of French cooking, i.e., cream and butter. In 1963, "The French Chef" was the first cooking show on television, and Julia Child taught her enchanted audience the basics of classic French cuisine. Each show ended with her booming voice declaring "I'm Julia Child, Bon Appetit!"

So naturally, Peter and I were in line to watch Meryl Streep re-incarnate Julia in "Julia and Julie" on its opening weekend. This delicious movie brings Child back to life and also tells the story of a young woman determined to, and successful at, cooking every recipe in Julia's classic cookbook.

Of course, we got out our copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and thought about making fish à la Julia. Even in her honor, we couldn't bring ourselves to follow her recipe.

Too much cream and butter

For Better or for Worse, But Not for Lunch

It was my husband Peter who recently reminded me of that wise saying. Although I am not about to retire, it's bound to happen eventually. And when it does, who knows how often we'll both be home at lunchtime. I know that I will be busy doing things I don't have time for now, but do I want to be hanging around with Peter more?

He and I have had a marvelous marriage for forty-one years and ten days. Peter has been retired for four years and, although he misses teaching, he has filled his time with activities that suit him, but don't always take him out of the house for lunch.

My friend Susie and her husband, both retired, seem to manage being together very well. For years they worked together daily in their business. For some couples, that would be the kiss of death. But Susie and her husband both have a great sense of humor, a very active social and community life, and grandchildren to dote on. It sounds as though they never get too much of one another.

So the other night, I asked Susie how they managed to pull off this 24/7-together thing so well. She answered quickly with the story of what had happened that very day. It seems she was on her way to do some errands. Her husband said, "I'll come with you." "OH NO YOU WON'T." said Susie.

Sounds right to me.

Keeping in Touch

Ten years ago, I learned that I had a half-sister who was 21years older than I.

I welcomed her into my life and now I know her daughter, her son and her grown grandchildren. It's like having a whole new family, and I am only sorry that we didn't meet sooner.

On Sunday, I caught up with another relative, a niece who has been pretty much out of touch with her father for a long time. It has been years since she and I last talked. She is now fifty-two, and she found me through Facebook.

I can't help but think about how much we lose by not being in touch with people we share so much history with. I couldn't do anything about my half-sister because I didn't know she existed, but how could I not be in touch with my niece?

She was born when I was a sophomore in college. I was so excited to be an aunt. Her father and mother had married in college and became parents at 22. I loved my sister-in-law and I thought she and my brother were the ideal couple. But at 22, you're really not who you are going to be and their marriage didn't last very long. I kept in touch with my sister-in-law, but as the years passed, we became less close, and when she was dying of lung cancer thirteen years ago, I wasn't there for her.

Now my niece is a happily-married successful professional businesswoman who has written two books. She and I talked on the phone for more than an hour on Sunday. Then we emailed back and forth a few times before the end of the day. We will find a way to see each other before 2009 ends.

When I told people about my newly discovered half-sister ten years ago, most had heard of a similar situation involving newly discovered siblings or other relatives. I think that in my parents' generation, there were a lot of secrets. People didn't talk about divorces and lots of other things.

Things have changed for the better.

Love in the Olden Days

When we visited my ninety-seven-year old Aunt Ruth in Buffalo two weeks ago, I asked her to talk about the olden days. She told us some great stories about life then, but the one about how she met my Uncle Milton is my favorite.

Aunt Ruth was born in Denver, Colorado in 1912. Her parents had moved there from Connecticut because her older brother had tuberculosis and his doctor recommended Denver air for his health. So how did Aunt Ruth end up in Buffalo?

It seems she was working in an entry-level job at the May Company, a venerable chain of department stores, where she developed a love of fashion. Sent on a buying trip to New York City when the regular buyer became ill, she heard about an opening for a buyer at a Buffalo department store that would more than double her salary (from $35 to $75 per week). Aunt Ruth applied for the job, got it, checked with her parents who said why not, and, at age twenty-five, moved to Buffalo.

When she arrived in Buffalo, she called the only contact she had, the cousin of a friend, who graciously invited her to dinner. The cousin suggested that she join the Business and Professional Women's Group of Buffalo, and arranged for her to be picked up to attend the next meeting.

At the meeting, Aunt Ruth met two of my mother's sisters who told her that they had three single brothers. When asked, Uncle Herman, allegedly the most handsome, wasn't interested. Uncle Sidney didn't like blind dates. Uncle Milton said, "What can I lose?"

Uncle Milton was a newly-minted gynecologist/obstetrician, and for reasons I don't know, brought along a urologist friend when he took Aunt Ruth to dinner. Coincidentally, both men got called for emergencies (they had left the phone numbers of the restaurant with their hospital -- no cell phones then). They left Aunt Ruth with the bill and no way to get home. That was on January 27, 1938.

Four months later, on May 30, 1938, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Milton were married. They lived together happily for 49 years until Uncle Milton died. She is still meeting people he brought into the world in his long and successful obstetrics practice.