Wishing all of you a miracle

I woke up this morning feeling a crown of icy air on my head. I pulled the covers over my ears and tried to go back to sleep – what’s the use of  getting up when it’s so cold and dark?

And then I remembered what day it is!

I’ve got most of my chores done, dinner is in bags of brine in the fridge. We made one last sweep of the grocery store to stock up on greens, and the relatives have supplied the lebkuchen, baklava and candied nuts. 

Yesterday while my husband and sons were busy in Santa’s work shop, I gave the whole apartment the old One-Two – vacuumed up as high as I could reach and then brought in the Swiffer. First I did the apartment stairs, because it’s too easy to talk myself out of that after I’ve done all the rest. Once up the stairs, I swept and mopped the fake plastic/wood floor in the living room, cleaned the baseboards – sheesh, I hate dirty baseboards.  Then I got up on my step stool and cleaned all the ceiling lights and fans. I wiped down the windows around the dining table and cleaned the blinds.

And then I went after the knick knacks. OMG I got knick knacks. Nothing worse than dusty knick knacks.

A 3:30 I put away my cleaning stuff and I got myself a cup of coffee. I sat at my glistening dining table and stared out my clean windows. I realized I had no plans for last night’s dinner – all that food in the house, and no immediate plans for dinner, isn’t that just the way it goes? Luckily I just made a fresh loaf of bread, and there was a pack of bacon in the fridge. There’s almost always a giant bag of lettuce from Cash and Carry in our fridge. 

No tomato! Damn the torpedos, we went full steam ahead on BL’s without the T’s. I ate mine so fast I decided to lie to myself and say there was a tomato on it. Oh it was so good. Dinner tastes better when you are so tired you can hardly chew it.

Today we cook and continue to make Christmas gifts and wait for the miracle.

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

Stories are nice, whether they are “true” or not, they can make people feel good and do nice things.

That’s the miracle.

 

 

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Flu season is here – stock up your pantry and your reading table!

My husband and I have been doing more than than the usual amount of running around town lately, getting those last minute gifts, mailing packages, etc. Sunday morning we did a marathon food shopping trip, trying to stay ahead of the mobs. People were already out there, but it wasn’t hectic yet.

Monday morning I woke up feeling weird, my husband felt weird – we realized pretty quickly we had The Freaking Flu.

Sheesh I feel stupid when I get sick, I wonder – have I really been washing my hands? Didn’t I just rub my nose  and eyes while standing in the check out line? Oh, SHIT!

I immediately recalled the Big Flu of 2007. My older son was attending his second semester at Butte, it was February, and almost exactly on his birthday he got sick. Within a couple of days my younger son was sick, my husband was sick, and then I got it. Each of my family got sick for three or four days, and seemed to “sweat it out.” I got sick and I went down like an old Slinky – seven days in the sack, and seven more after that hanging onto furniture to get around the house.  I couldn’t get rid of the fever, it hung on like that last party guest.

I remember drawing a bead on a part of the room, and making it for that spot. It was like being drunk.

Laying in bed was no comfort – I couldn’t sleep, the body aches and the nausea didn’t let up even in a nice warm bed.  The worst thing – watching tv or reading made me nauseous too! So I laid there cursing and staring at the wall.

I had thought I was so smart – when I knew what was coming and still felt okay, I had gone grocery shopping and picked up two huge volumes at the library – “Cinderella Man”, by Jeremy Schaap, and “Boys of Summer” by Roger Kahn. My younger son was about 13 and has always been a sports fan, so I thought I’d be reading these books with him. “Cinderella Man” had just been a big hit at the box office, and “Boys of Summer” was one of those books I had heard of all my life but never read. Baseball was something my son and I could enjoy talking about – we’re both Giants fans. No matter what.

I am a reader, always have been – I can even read speeches by Ralph Nader, I’ll read anything. So those books laid next to my bed and I’d reach out and open one and read a few pages at a time before I had to put an ice bag back on my head. Both were almost impossible to put down. “Cinderella Man” is the story of James Braddock – a guy who is portrayed as a sort of Depression Era Super Hero. I didn’t watch the movie, so I was able to see it in my head the way Jeremy Schaap (son of Dick Schaap) wrote it. My family was working class, so I knew guys like Braddock – grown up in a working family, during the Great Depression (in  my case, a crapped out town), couldn’t stay in school because of a hot temper and quick fists – in those days, boys like him were kicked out of school and expected to go to work. It was when he ran away from home at 15, arrested and returned to his angry and worried parents, that his older brother tried to give him a whipping and found out – Braddock actually had a talent for fighting.  His brother, already an amateur boxer, became his first  trainer and manager.

I am not a boxing fan. I remember the old fights between Ali and Frazier, it was on tv, but it didn’t appeal to me. Ali was a colorful character, but I couldn’t care less about the fights. It was Braddock himself that appealed to me, his stubborn determination – he didn’t really want to fight, but once he got a little money, and got a wife and kids, he found himself forced again and again by the economy to go into the ring. When his over anxious manager hatched an idea to toughen him up for an important fight by hiring some big guys to spar with him, Braddock ended up with broken ribs. But he was so desperate to fight, they shut down his training camp to outsiders and kept the injury a secret lest the officials should call off the fight while he nursed himself back to shape.

The other character I learned about was Max Baer Sr., an  important opponent of Braddock, who was a hugely popular figure of the 1930’s. My dad was a boy then, and used to tell us stories about Max Baer Sr as we watched his son Max Baer Jr cut it up on “The Beverly Hillbillies”. My dad never mentioned Braddock, I suppose because Braddock was a working guy who also happened to fight, compared to the almost pimp-like character of Baer, a guy who loved flashy suits and dated Hollywood  starlets before his retirement, marriage, and children.

“Cinderella Man” is what most people would consider voluminous, a regular door stop of a book, but I was caught up so much in the story of this man I only put it down when my head started to swim with nausea.

I hate finishing a book like that, you feel you know these people, and now they’re gone. So I immediately picked up “Boys of Summer”. Starting with sketches of Kahn’s childhood in 1930’s New York, this book is also fascinating. Kahn’s life growing up in an apartment house is completely foreign to me, his dad taking afternoons off to ride the bus to Ebbet’s and the Polo Grounds to watch the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Later Kahn tracks down former players and follows up on their lives since those days – including his friend Jackie Robinson.

The best part of this book is Kahn’s childhood, but he also presents us with the golden era of baseball and players who were only legends to me until I read this book.

By the time I finished these books, I had my family interested, coming in for updates.  I was up and tottering around the house, eating better meals, feeling like myself again.

This time around, I, like my husband, was able to “sweat it out” over about three days. I didn’t take anything, I just tried to rest with my feet up and drink a lot of water.  I wrapped myself up like a mummy and slept in front of the tv set.   Although I was tired, I was still hungry. The worst part of eating was having to make something to eat.  Luckily we had just gone out and bought food, I was afraid to call our older kid over and pass it along to him and his wife.

After staying inside most of Monday and Tuesday, walking out to the mail box and back to entertain the dogs,  I woke up in the middle of the night, soaking wet, my pillow and hair were wet, my pajamas were wet, and my feet were slimy with sweat and colder than a pair of mackerels. I was shivering, so changed my pajamas, toweled my hair, and dug out a fresh pillow case and an extra blanket. My husband had a similar experience Monday night. By Wednesday morning I was feeling a lot better, able to go to the post office, and my husband set some pork ribs in the smoker for dinner. 

I hope that was the end of flu season in our house, but it’s out there people – take care of yourselves! Get a good book or two!

 

 

I know, it’s old – but nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven!

I bet everybody has plenty of days when they work so hard dinnertime comes around like a big surprise. You try to plan ahead, sure, but life happens. My husband and I like to eat and we like to cook, but there are days when we get so busy we just forget about dinner.

When we know what’s ahead, a project that will take all day, or a few busy days in a row, we make a casserole. A casserole is like money in the bank. Sure you think you would get bored eating the same thing every night, but when 6 pm rolls around and your head is confused and your stomach is talking smack (Taco Wagon! Taco Wagon!), it’s nice to have that old mystery pie sitting in the fridge.

One of our favorite casserole meals is lasagna – flat noodles layered with meat and cheese and tomato sauce.  One batch makes two big casserole pans full, at least four meals and some quick snacks.

Lasagna is one of the easiest things to make with homemade pasta because the pasta only has to be rolled out into strips, no cutting into noodles.

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I think I used too much whole wheat flour, these were a little tough to roll out, the edges are ragged. But who cares?

I don’t mind if my noodles are rough and inconsistent sizes, we just lay them down over the filling, it all bakes together.

For a two pan batch I use about three cups of flour, 4 eggs, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a teaspoon or two of salt. I say “about” because the more whole wheat flour I add the less flour I use overall. If I add a cup of whole wheat flour then I only use about 2 and ¾ cup of flour total.

A big batch like this is hard to get together, and I might have used too much whole wheat flour, so my husband helps me roll it out. He cuts a little ball of dough and rolls it between his hands into a little rope, then flattens it with our wooden rolling pin. I roll those out with the pasta press as neatly as possible. They come out in different lengths but we just cut them with the kitchen scissors.

For filling this time we used boneless chicken thighs. My husband sautes them in a cast iron frying pan with garlic and onions, etc, cutting them into bite size pieces as they cook. He adds white wine, and throws in some chunky pieces of mushroom.

Our tomato patch didn’t amount to much this year, the heat frying the flowers so they would not pollinate. We had sandwich and salad tomatoes, but never a single pint of sauce. I knew this Winter would be tough without homemade tomato sauce.

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Start with a splash of sauce on the bottom of the pan, lay some noodles over that – homemade noodles don’t have to be cooked ahead.

We find canned sauce tastes like the can, so we looked at various brands in glass jars. There were some pricey brands, we chose the cheapest (Safeway Select) and were disappointed.  It tasted watery and flat, as though they had   cracked a can of tomatoes, boiled them down and sluiced them into the jars. We finally found Classico to be both within our budget – at about $2.50 a can – and palatable enough to get us through Winter.

Wow – we use two jars, that adds $5 to the price of the meal. Now we know!

I like the jars for storage too – I use them for pickled green beans and/or asparagus. The lids screw back on tight.

Dairy makes my stomach hurt sometimes, but this dish needs a little cream in the sauce, so we use cottage cheese, sparingly. We spoon it in with the meat filling – this time chicken sauteed with garlic and onions, pretty simple.

 

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We used chicken this time, but we like to use meatballs when we have them. You brown those a little and then lay them in a layer over the noodles just like the chicken.

This batch was a little extra work because I didn’t pay attention when I was mixing the dough for the noodles, it was dry and hard to work. But three days and three meals later, that is a distant memory. We have another portion for lunch today, and when we get home tomorrow, there will be a whole pan waiting in the refrigerator.

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No, I never get tired of eating this stuff.

We cover the top with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese and bake it at 350 under a foil cover for about 30 minutes, get that sauce good and bubbling. Then the foil comes off for about 10 minutes. You might want to put a cookie sheet under it so it doesn’t get all over the bottom of your stove.

We’ve been working so hard lately, by dinner time, I’m ready to be scooped up in a bucket and set by the trash bin. Having something that can just be wrapped in foil and set on the wood stove is very comforting.  I make a couple of days’ worth of salad ahead too, and right now, Cash and Carry has a fantastic deal on asparagus. We can wrap that in foil and put it on the wood stove too, delicious within a half hour.

Take care of yourselves.

Who let an old dog paint the house?

The weather has been spectacular here lately, with bright sunny days and highs in the 60’s. It should be raining here and snowing in the mountains, but instead of worrying about drought my husband and I have been “making hay while the sun shines.”

Our house and our rentals are in constant need of repairs. Right now everything could use a coat of paint.  This is perfect weather for painting.

Have I complained enough about being an “empty nester”? Here’s a big sticker – my kids were both taller than me by the time they were 15 years old, had long, monkey arms, big strong hands, and endless amounts of energy. I’ll never forget the time, for fun, they had a contest to see who could turn over my compost pile faster. They stood on either side of the pile with flat shovels and started scooping it up, throwing it on top. It was gorgeous, “black gold”, steaming in the winter sun. They had the whole 6′ x 10′ pile turned over in about 15 minutes, laughing all the way.

They also tagged along with Dad to do the rentals. The little guy is exceptionally adept at puttying nail holes, and the big one is good with a paint brush.

The last time we turned over our big rental, I told our younger son I was going to let the windows go dirty. They were old storm windows, had to be removed once in a while to clean the tracks, and I just don’t have that kind of strength anymore. The kid took that as a challenge – he went to the rental the next day and cleaned every damned window, tracks and all. They hadn’t been that clean for years, and they ran over those tracks so fast we had to tell the new tenants to be careful opening and shutting.

So now the big one has his own house and a commute to work. This is the first year he has not had time to mount a ladder with a bucket of soapy water and clean my upstairs windows. I can do it, but the sight of me on a ladder gives my husband high blood pressure, so I been waiting for an opportunity when he’s not home. Just because a person kicks a ladder down and falls off a roof trying to get down – one time! And nobody trusts you on a ladder anymore! What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

Anyway, as I was saying, we don’t have those kids at home to do our chores anymore, so my husband has shown me how to use a paint brush. He used to be so picky about stuff like that, now he’s desperate enough to put up with a few brush marks and a drippy-drip once in a while.

So yesterday I painted whatever I could reach without a ladder. He seems to be fine with my work, he stopped pointing out the drippy-drips.

We found out, last time we painted our apartment, we never put the second coat on the back. Sheesh – I know why – it’s the biggest side of the building, we were probably butt tired by that time and thought we’d finish up the next day.

Yes, my hands feel like somebody smashed them off at the wrists, but I’m pretty happy with myself – Old Dog can still learn a new trick!

We’ve got to get the public back into public meetings

Well, I went to the meeting Downtown, I asked some pointy questions, and found out things are worse than I ever could have imagined. It’s Mutiny on the Bounty, our public “servants” are on a neverending holiday.

I was locking up my bicycle when Mayor Sean Morgan and city clerk Debbie Presson came strolling out of the city building. They tried to ignore me but I ran to catch up – my kid’s college had just handed the mayor’s kid’s college their lunch bucket in a football game, and I  wanted to rub it in good, since the mayor made such a big deal about his kid being picked up to play on a football scholarship.   Mayor Morgan can be a real jackass at times, and I like to get my knuckles into his scalp whenever I get the chance. He who dishes it out, can just take it.  All good fun!

But then back to city business – I reminded Ms. Presson that I was still waiting for a response to the e-mail I’d sent her and her staff a month ago, asking why she had referenced a document involving a deal made with CalPERS last March in a recent agenda, but had not provided the document. It said, “attached” in the agenda report, so I had to wonder – why wasn’t it attached? She started to babble about it, very nervous – it  was supposed to be attached to the agenda, but golly-gee-whiz, this $140,000/year employee who just got a raise to cover her 12 percent share of her 70 percent pension couldn’t seem to figure out how to use her computer.  She was flustered, and I realized my husband was right – she had done something bad (incompetence or insubordination?), and she didn’t answer me via e-mail because she hadn’t wanted to incriminate herself in writing. But she stood there at the door of city hall and told me, essentially, that she was unable (unwilling?) to do her job.

These people just kill me. That document was a  release, signed by our full city council, of any damages that come about as a result of CalPERS failure to provide the pensions they had promised. 

Hey, did you hear about this?

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/article6473781.html

That is just one story about the corruption and bribery that ran the California Public Retirement System into deficit over the last 10 – 20 years. But we’re not allowed to hold them responsible for our current situation because our council just signed a release.  We’re on the hook for 80 – 90 percent of these pensions, which CalPERS said they’d pay with stock market returns. Except they allowed people like Villalobos to act without oversight or accountability, and he and his friends did what bad people always do when they are handed a pile of unwatched money – they spent it on themselves, and left us holding the bag.

But Debbie Presson tells me as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth that she just couldn’t figure out how to load that document onto the agenda to which it was supposed to be attached. 

And you wonder why I go to these meetings – we hadn’t even got into the building yet, and she handed me that steaming pile.

The meeting was a discussion of why our streets are so shot  to pieces and whether developers should have to pay more in fees to fix them. Finance department staffer Scott Dowell explained that every project carries “overhead” – he admitted, that’s pensions – and that currently, “overhead” amounts to 15 percent of the cost of any project. He also announced it would go up every year – next year 16%, in a few years, 18%, and more and more. Yeah, just like our CalPERS payments.

Public works staffers said of 14 projects which had been identified as “funded” in 2009, nine had to be dropped from the list, because there is no longer any funding.

Where you ‘spose that money went? I’ll tell you what – we need to put a mousetrap in the city cookie jar!

Woody had it right when he said, “California is a  garden of Eden, yes it’s a paradise to live in or see.  But, believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot,  if you ain’t got the Do Re Mi!”

 

 

 

 

Go to a meeting, raise a fist once in a while

Today I will get on my 1956 Raleigh Superbe roadster and trundle through the muck of Bidwell Park in 38 degrees to attend a city of Chico Finance Committee meeting.  I’m just guessing on the temperature, that’s what it was on my patio yesterday at 8 am.

I’ll tell you why I do it – I hate surprises. Discussions are had at these morning meetings – by the time an issue gets to the full council meeting – sometimes years later – it’s been decided, and there’s a very small window for running any type of referendum. Council meetings are little more than rubber stamp sessions. Every now and then a councilor takes a stand – usually because he/she knows an unpopular motion is going to pass, and they can make a show for the peanut gallery.

I’m giving up a morning’s work for this, and I always go back and forth on attending these meetings. I know my husband would like me to quit and pay more attention to our private affairs, but he’s intelligent enough to know – these people make decisions that land like monkey wrenches in our personal lives and business.  Decisions they’ve made over the last five to ten years have taken Chico down quite a notch – you just had to be here to watch the bums roll in, the streets crack up, our premier park – one of the largest city parks in the continental United States  – turn into a rambling bum camp full of invasive non-native species and rot. Meanwhile the cost of housing has tripled. Ten years ago we  talked about Economic Development – now whole meetings are devoted to worsening crime, financial deficit, and giving of raises to city management. I know – that last one doesn’t make sense, does it?

Today they will put the stick to local developers, telling them they need to pay drastically higher fees – or, start building higher densities.  Real developers – people who build homes – know the buyers want a bigger house with a yard.  But $taff tells us these high density subdivisions will bring lower impacts (and out of the other side of their mouth, they remind council more housing brings more property taxes…)

So I  get on my old ‘cycle and head Downtown – for what? To be a witness? Surely nothing I do will make any change. Or will it? Never know until you try.

 

 

 

 

Focus on the food

I’m conflicted on Thanksgiving. For one thing, it’s so forced, so frantic – like, Release the Lemmings!  Looking at the tv news, I see people lined up in airports, cars lined up on the roads. On the home front, I try to get my groceries by the Tuesday before, shop for at least three or four days, because something really weird happens to the average shopper on Wednesday, and the desperation makes me nervous. I’m afraid somebody’s going to carjack me over a can of cranberries.

I mean, I’ve seen full grown men, pushing a shopping cart full of kids, none of whom have been in a grocery store more than three times a year, wandering the aisles of Safeway with this frightened expression, a tiny slip of paper in hand.  That either means, Mom is at home getting ready for company, and she’s sent the pack of them out of the house on some fool’s errand so she can have 5 minutes peace, or it means, Mom didn’t have time to shop, God help us.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – this holiday largely falls on the backs of women, who feel some sort of weird pressure to show the world that while they work 40+ hours a week they still know how to put a gourmet meal on the table for a family of 10.

On the other hand, it’s a food holiday, and you all know how I love to eat! And I love to see my kids sitting across the table. So we start early and enjoy ourselves at home. 

We haven’t done a turkey for years, too much work, but the best turkey we ever did was on the bbq with indirect heat. Here’s a good blog for bbq:

http://juanchosbbq.blogspot.com/search?q=turkey

We do most of our meat on the bbq or smoker these days – with the smoker, we can cook a big quantity of meat ahead, relax the rest of the holiday weekend. We already had an enormous chicken we’d bought at Safeway – we watch for whole chickens to go on sale at 99 cents a pound and we usually buy at least two.  But we needed something else to make it worth firing up the smoker, so Tuesday we went out, hunting and gathering. At Cash and Carry we found a pork shoulder roast for about $11, just the right size.

My husband had the meat in the smoker by 10 am. The chicken only takes a few hours, but the pork had to be on for 10 hours, and then foil wrapped and loaded into the oven for the finish. My husband explained to me, taking the meat up to 200 degrees breaks down the fats and proteins and gives it that stringy texture we all love – pulled pork!

My son pulled into town about 2 pm, the smell of smoked chicken greeted him in the driveway.  We carved the chicken Tuesday night and over half is sitting in the fridge for tacos tomorrow night. The pork was ready for sandwiches yesterday at lunch and tacos for dinner last night, we’ll finish off the rest over breakfast, maybe have another sandwich for lunch. 

We asked our kids last week what they wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner and without a pause they answered “steak.”

We get meat from Grandpa once a year when he butchers a steer, and when we’ve eaten all that we go to Cash and  Carry for a big boneless rib roast.  This time we bought a real whopper, cause we wanted steaks to send home with our kids. My husband cuts them with his super sharp filet knife, and I stand by with a box of plastic film wrap and a big freezer bag. I wrap each steak and stack it in the bag – when we want a steak I can separate them with a spatula. I’ve done the calculations, and depending on the price, it has worked out between $5 – 6 for a steak big enough to feed two adults, with leftovers for breakfast.

A steak dinner really takes the stress out of Thanksgiving. 

Cash and Carry also has a good deal on asparagus, and they have bags of small potatoes for about $4.

So what am I grateful for this year? 

It’s always good to have swell kids and a great spouse. It’s good to have a home that you love. It’s good to live in California – as much as I gripe about The Moonbeam. I’m thankful for the family that raised me to be tough and mean, while also showing me how to enjoy the little things that make life great.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you spend it, whatever you eat with whomever, I hope it’s a good day for you.