Friday Randomness


I’ve taken the week off from work, to correspond with Maya’s Spring Break. One thing that we did with our time was to go to the Legion of Honor in SF, to see the current exhibit of Impressionist Art. I do love impressionism, and Maya has to see one exhibit a semester for her art class. So we went, and we saw beautiful art. We got through the exhibit fairly quickly, and decided to skip the rest of the museum, as we’ve seen it several times, most recently in November. One nice thing about the Legion of Honor is that if you pay your admission there, you also get same day admission at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. As this was a Wednesday, parking was manageable, and the museum wasn’t crowded. We saw a couple of exhibits there, and had an over priced lunch.

Then we went to look at USF, one of the schools Maya has been accepted to. (Side note, that while I did not attend USF, my first 3 years in SF were spent about 2 blocks from the campus. It’s beautiful. It’s a Catholic University, and that beautiful church was almost enough to change me from atheist to Catholic. God got in the way.) We started out at their financial aid office, where the news was depressing. It’s looking more and more like Maya will be attending our local Community college. Really, it’s a smart idea. First 2 years, general ed, very affordable. But it’s not at all what she wants,and she’s worked so very hard in HS, so of course we wish that she could go to a 4 year right away. At this point, it’s looking less and less likely. Frustrating, and we do wish we had done better for her, earlier, to perhaps save more by now. I’m not sure how we could have, given the jobs we’ve had, but I do wish it had worked out. We were disheartened by this news, and skipped the rest of the tour and came home.

This American Life this week had a story about a boy who said he wanted to be spanked, rather than the alternative punishments doled out by his parents. Rather than being spanked, which would get it over with, he had to pull weeds. My story is very different than his, my reasons vary greatly from his, but as a girl who was raised without spanking, I’ll confess that there were times when I wished I could just be spanked and get it over with. If I broke something, I often had to pay to replace it. Since my tiny allowance would not pay for such things, I would have to do chores for many days. Ugh. JUST SPANK ME! Of course, never having been spanked,or worse let, beaten, it was clearly a case of “The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence”, right? Someone getting hit with a wooden spoon or a hairbrush may not have agreed with me. And though I may have occasionally wished to just get spanked and move on, I did not take that mentality into parenthood, and prefered to make my child suffer through time outs, replacing items if required, that kind of thing. We’ve both turned out well.

Ted and I went to the movies on Tuesday. We saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was a lot of fun. Just a silly movie, but well done and sometimes gorgeous. I recommend it. We haven’t been to a movie in the theater in awhile, but this one was worth the trip and money.

One thing I like about having time off from work is sleeping in. I don’t sleep like I did in my 20s, and on an everyday basis I don’t have to get showered and fed and out the door in order to get to an office on time, but still, not having to think about being online by 8:00 has been nice. That’s one reason I like to take time off when Maya is out of school. Of course, I enjoy having some time with her. But I also enjoy the feeling of sleeping until I wake up, rather than until her alarm goes off.

Now that Maya’s 18, the rules change a bit around here. I mean, she still has her chores, she still gets an allowance, she still has to follow our household rules of common courtesy and so on. But at the same time, things that were once forbidden are now Her Business. Such as, getting a piercing or a tattoo. Oh please god, not a tattoo. She has wanted a nose piercing for about 5 years now, and I have said no. I am not fond of them, no matter how cultural they may be to her Indian half. But now she’s 18, and if she wants to spend her money to get a piercing, I cannot control that, so I will not try. Well, guess what. (I’ll bet you’ve guessed already) She got her nose pierced the other day. It’s a very delicate, tiny little nose ring. Very tasteful, if such a thing can be said about something that I find distasteful. I find myself understanding my mother more, when she did not like a haircut I came home with (shaved on the sides) or my double ear piercing. She tried to be supportive, and yet still would not lie and say she liked it. So that’s me. It’s her nose, and I will respect that. It does her no physical or mental harm to have it pierced. But still, I think I liked her little nose better the other way. I kissed it goodbye before she went to the piercing/tattoo parlor. And thankfully, she did not come home with any tattoos.

Back in February, my blog friend Nance came for a visit. She has a good friend in SF, who is younger and enjoys shocking her a bit. So I went to visit her in the City, and he planned our evening tour, which turned out to be a porn studio housed in an historic building, The Armory. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it was still interesting. Anyway, I thought of Nance and Mike when I saw this article in yesterday’s paper. Looks like the safety regulations around porn are getting more serious, making it likely that Kink.com will be moving out of state. So what to do with the building? Perhaps office space. It is a cool building.

So now there are three days left of my little vacation from work. I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do with my time. Sleep in. Go for another swim (went earlier this week). I’m not sure what else. Today, Maya is going for a birthday lunch and shopping with her Grandma (Ted’s mom), and Ted has to work. I have a library book lying around that I’m not sure what to do about. It’s due today, and I’m only 1/2 way through. I like it, but I don’t love it. We’ll see what happens. I may give it a try and then decide whether I’m ready to pay fines or not.

So that’s what’s new around here. I hope you’re well.

Birthday Girl

Mayas Cake
Isn’t this a pretty cake? Gah, it’s sideways. I’ve decided to ignore that for now. I love the little brown branches, and the cherry blossoms. I’m afraid to say that the butter cream frosting was just too sweet. Should have tried for a cream cheese frosting, I think. The cake itself was chocolate with a fudge chocolate filling. It was very nice, except perhaps for the too sweet frosting.
Maya and her Cake
Maya and her cake. My darling BFF sent her a tiara for her birthday, an appropriate gift indeed. She wore it all day.

It’s hard to believe that my baby is 18 already. Our little row in the condo complex is full of young couples with young children, and when I see them, it takes me back to when Maya was so little and young. Of course, there’s something about a child’s birthday that takes one back to when your baby was born. I remember when Maya was a toddler, or a pre-schooler, doing all of the cute things that our neighbors’ children are doing. I did love that time. One of the wonderful things about children, though, is that (contrary to popular culture), every age is wonderful if you’re lucky. Maya has been a joy from the moment she was born (aside from those many horrid hours of colic when she was a baby), and we’ve enjoyed every stage she’s gone through since then.

Happy (belated) birthday, my darling girl. You are my dream come true.

Friday Randomness


I’ve been off almost all week. Tuesday I thought it was Wednesday, Wednesday I thought it was Thursday, and Thursday I thought it was Friday. But finally, Friday is here. Yay Friday! This will be a busy weekend for us, because…

Tomorrow is Maya’s birthday! She turns 18, which is INSANE. I cannot believe my baby will legally be an adult. She can gamble, see R rated movies, whatever she wants to do. Every year I find myself reminiscing about those early days…so 18 years ago today, I was going into the hospital. I spent the night, and was induced in the morning. Gross, but effective. OK, gross is not the right word. The right word is pain inducing, which is, I guess, the entire point. So 18 years ago, the whole thing was starting to hit me, that I was going to have to go through this, that I was going to have to get my baby safely out of my body. Terrifying.

So tonight is her birthday party with her school friends. They’re going to dinner without an adult to accompany them. Symbolic I guess. I hope they have a great time.

Tomorrow will be the family party. Maya loves Ted’s lamb curry, so we’re having lamb curry, chickpea curry, curried pumpkin, roti (aka, naan), rice, and appetizers. It will be a lot of fun, as always.

Yesterday was Meals-on-Wheels. One of the couples on my route has a big bush out front, with lovely birds of paradise. They let me cut some blooms to decorate the house for Maya’s birthday party. I love the vibrant orange, with the hint of purple. I was thinking I would buy some irises to put with it, and how that might look nice. Guess what? Maya came home from school with a bouquet of irises. She has NEVER come home with flowers for no reason before. Synchronicity! They’re lovely.

Before the flowers, yesterday was kind of a crummy day. I can’t point to anything specific…just kind of work wasn’t going great, I was tired, I don’t know. But then Ted’s mom called and said, “I have some crab for you, still alive it’s so fresh”, and she appeared with crab. YUM. We had delicious crab with ciabatta bread, chardonnay, and salad for dinner. I got flowers from my MoW folks, and then from Maya. I had two things I wanted to get done for work before the end of the day, things that have been hanging over me and bugging me. I am taking next week off from work, and I wanted to get things done before going. Happily enough, it worked, I got the chores done, and now they are off of my plate before my week off. Right when I was getting ready to put dinner together (very quick, as I had already cooked and chilled the crab), Maya said she was going to go for a walk. After she left, I considered sitting down and having a glass of wine and reading my book. Then I thought, “No, I’m going for a walk too.” So I did, which felt good and took away that tired feeling. So the day started out kind of bleh, and came out really nice.

What else…well, Maya has been accepted into 4 good colleges. She didn’t get into one (very competitive) school, and is wait listed at another. I’m SO proud of her. She has worked so hard on all of this, with her AP classes and volunteer work and so on, and now it has paid off. The frustrating part is that, so far, there isn’t enough financial aid coming in, so she may end up going to a community college for the first two years. I was fine with that for me, and Ted was fine with that for him, but neither of us were so focused or hard working as she is. We SO wish that we could afford to send her to a 4-year right out the door. There’s still a chance…she has applied for a couple of scholarships, we haven’t gotten financial aid offers from 2 schools, what if she lives at home, etc. Chances are it will be community college, and if that’s the case, she will do well there. But we’re holding out hope still for a 4-year to work out in the next month.

I took next week off, because I haven’t really had any time off since December, and I like to take a couple off weeks off every year. OK, more than a couple. A few. This will be spring break for Maya. She is taking an art class, and one thing they have to do is to go to either a museum or a gallery, and report on a work of art. The SF Legion of Honor has an exhibit starting today, Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art. It’s stupid expensive, but I’d like to see it anyway. The first Tuesday of the month is free (not for this exhibit, but at least the general museum admission), so I’d like to go do this on Tuesday. I’m not sure what else we’ll do…maybe go to the ocean, though it’s colder now than it was in February. Not cold, but colder. It’s been raining off and on over the last week, which is delicious and lovely. Not really enough to end the drought, by any means, but every bit helps.

Speaking of which, I described the crummy showers we’re taking, right? It has paid off. Governor Brown asked that everyone cut their water use by 20%. We already have low flow toilets and a high efficiency front load washing machine, and we don’t have a lawn or any trees, so that’s kind of all we can do. We received our first bill since cutting back the other day, and our water use has been cut by 21%. Yay us!

I’ve been reading about this drought, and how difficult it is going to be on farmers. California has really taken advantage of the demand for almonds, and a lot of fields that used to grow other produce now have almond orchards and grape vines. All very well and good when there’s enough water, but one thing about orchards and vineyards is that you can’t leave the fields fallow in dry years. The trees take years to grow and become productive. With tomatoes or lettuce or whatever, you can leave the field fallow and not grow anything during a drought. But with trees and vines, they need water, no matter what. So look for your California products to get pricey this summer and so on. Careers are falling apart, people are losing their farms, trees are dying, cattle are dying. It’s ugly. So yeah, I’m enjoying the rain, and I wish that it could somehow be enough to solve a few problems.

Lastly, on a lighter note, did anyone watch ‘True Detectives’ on HBO? We binge watched after the season ended. I really liked it a lot. Ted was a little disappointed by the finale, but I liked it. Really interesting storytelling, really good acting, all of that.

Air Pollution Hits Home


I was looking at the news today and one article in particular made me sad, and for some reason I decided to bring that sadness here. Bad idea, probably.

Here’s the article. It is about the 7 million people every year who die from air pollution, 1/2 of whom die from complications of indoor pollution.

“One of the main risks of pollution is that tiny particles can get deep into the lungs, causing irritation. Scientists also suspect air pollution may be to blame for inflammation in the heart, leading to chronic problems or a heart attack.”

Indoor pollution comes from coal and wood-burning stoves, leaky furnaces, etc. It’s that leaky furnace that gets me. Because that was a huge contributing factor in my mom’s death. She had a stupid leaky furnace in her apartment, and she was never the best at noticing things. So she didn’t realize that her furnace was leaky until the walls were grey with it. Her pictures that hung on the walls were ruined. Her clothes were covered in soot. Everything. As soon as she woke up and noticed what was going on, she called her landlord, and they replaced the furnace. But the damage was done. When she had her bypass surgery, the doctor said that her lungs were in terrible shape, and looked like those of a heavy smoker. Without healthy lungs, it’s difficult for your heart to function properly.

I don’t know how things would be different without that stupid furnace polluting the hell out of her lungs. Maybe she would still have needed the surgery. Maybe she still wouldn’t have been strong enough to recover from it. Maybe nothing at all would be different. And maybe, everything would be different. Perhaps she wouldn’t have had a heart attack in the first place. There’s no way to know. But it makes me sad to think about, and even sadder to think about more than 3 million people in the world dying from similar situations, and there’s no calling the landlord and getting a new furnace for them. Sigh.

Spanish Spaghetti with Olives

2014-03-09 17.42.06
Speaking of cooking, check out this recipe Ted found yesterday. I mainly cook during the week, and Ted mainly cooks on weekends, a habit leftover from when he had a more 9-5 schedule and didn’t get home until late. Now he sometimes works on weekends, sometimes works very early mornings, so I guess it doesn’t matter when we cook what, but we’ve stuck with the schedule, and it works for us.

One thing Ted likes to do when he’s trying to decide what to make is to ask his phone. He says, “What’s for dinner?” and google gives him some ideas. I’m not tech savvy like that, so I don’t know whether that’s an app, or whether it’s because he follows food stuff on google+, but anyway, it works. Last night he asked, and this recipe came up, after artichoke dip. Artichoke dip for dinner doesn’t sound so great, does it? (Oh hell, it does sound good, who am I kidding?)

So he whipped this up for dinner last night, while I was watching a badly edited ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ on TV. Wow, really tasty. Maybe not if you don’t like olives and capers, but we like both quite a bit, so it was a winner for us. This one will be printed and put in my recipe book. I liked the mellow flavor of the sauce, with the bit of heat from the red pepper flakes, and the saltiness from the olives and capers. Give it a try, it’s good.

Spanish Spaghetti with Olives
Ingredients

  • 8 ounces thin spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt*
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads (optional)**
  • 8 ounces extra-lean ground beef
  • 1 2/3 cups lower-sodium marinara sauce (such as Amy’s)
  • 2 ounces pimiento-stuffed olives, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided

Preparation
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in oregano, celery salt, red pepper, black pepper, and saffron, if desired. Crumble beef into pan; cook 5 minutes or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in marinara sauce, olives, sherry, capers, and 3 tablespoons parsley. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

3. Add spaghetti to sauce mixture. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

* We didn’t have any celery salt, and it seemed a small difference and not worth purchasing just for one recipe, so Ted ignored this.

** We did have a bit of saffron, but Ted omitted it from the recipe, and I’m glad, because saffron is expensive, and I doubt you’d taste it with the red pepper flakes, capers, olives, and marinara sauce. I’m more a fan of saffron when I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

Cooking

My friend Nance has been tagged in a meme, and she has taken it and twisted it in her own way.  The meme is a series of questions, and instead of popping them all into one long list with quick answers, she is using each question as a blog post of its own, and telling an entire story around that question.

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much lately.  I’ve noticed.  I don’t know why, but I do know that when I get out of the habit of blogging daily, or at least a couple of times a week, my mindset changes, and I forget all about my poor blog, and I stop looking at the world as blog post material.  So, in an effort to blog more, and since I don’t have any ideas of my own right now, and because I like the questions Nance is answering, I’m going to grab some of them and answer them here.

Here goes:  Is there anything you don’t or won’t cook?

There are different ways to look at this question.  Things I don’t cook, but might if I lived a different life.  And things I won’t cook, because I refuse.

For example, I (generally) don’t cook pork chops, because neither Ted nor Maya like them, and I can always order them at a restaurant if I so choose.  I (generally) don’t cook Brussels sprouts, for the same reason.  Last week, however, I decided I really wanted pork chops and Brussels sprouts for dinner, so I made them for myself, and I made hamburgers and onion rings for Ted and Maya.  Everyone was happy.  I may revise this don’t and make it a do, and repeat this method of getting what I want.

Another thing I don’t cook often is dishes with raisins.  Ted doesn’t like any dried fruit, so why torture him?  I don’t cook zucchini very often because Maya doesn’t like it, and why torture her?  I am sometimeish about zucchini myself.  Once in awhile I’ll have it and it’s very good, and other times it just tastes bitter to me.  I don’t cook bok choy very often, because I don’t like it, and why torture myself?  Sometimes Ted has it and Maya and I have something else that we enjoy.

Neither Ted nor Maya are big fans of pork.  They’ll make an exception for sausage, and sometimes I’ll make a soup that includes bacon, but that’s about as far as they want to go.  They’re weird that way.

I won’t cook liver, because, duh.  Gross.  Same with other organ meats.  Too gross.

My weirdest won’t cook thing is probably that I refuse to cook with a crock pot or slow cooker or whatever else one might call that contraption.  We had one when I was a kid, and I never liked the food that came out of it.  Perhaps it was cheap.  Perhaps we did something wrong.  But it seems to me that all too often, the dish would scorch at the bottom, and perfume the entire meal with that nasty scorched flavor.  Nasty.  I’ve heard that crock pots have come a long way in the last 30 years, and perhaps this is true.  I am unlikely to ever find out.  Never say never.  I could find myself working at a job where I don’t get home until 6:30, and the idea of having a crock pot simmering away my meal throughout the day sounds heavenly to me.  I’ve never had that life.  I’ve been fortunate enough that I have always had somewhat flexible schedules, and at the present, I work from home.  So I can easily cook whenever and whatever I desire.  I’ve found a few crock pot type recipes in my day that I just have to try, and I just put them in my dutch oven, double cover it (cover with foil, and then the lid), and put it in the oven on a low heat for hours.  This is not economical, as running the oven for hours SURELY takes a lot more energy than a crock pot.  So if I were to fall in love with enough of these recipes, I guess I would break down and buy one.  But I doubt it.

Aside from not wanting to cook with a crock pot, and not often making things that we don’t like, I really enjoy cooking.  It’s relaxing to me, and I enjoy the time in the kitchen listening to my iPod and drinking a glass of wine while preparing a meal for my family.  I’m not an intuitive cook, so I tend to go by recipes.  But sometimes that’s half the fun, going out and finding a recipe that looks interesting, and giving it a try.

Jury Duty


Wednesday I was summoned to another part of my county to perform my civic duty and report for the dreaded Jury Duty. Jury Duty can be horribly boring, sitting in the Jury room for hours on end, and then perhaps dismissed. Bring a book. I once brought a notepad and wrote my friend a 6 page letter before being dismissed, then went to lunch and then some light shopping. It can be a nice diversion from your regular routine, provided that your company pays you for the time. I wonder if the reason so many people hate it is because they are losing pay or income by being there.

I generally don’t mind Jury Duty. (I feel that Jury Duty has earned the capitalization. I just do.) I like the break from work, I like reading books and writing letters to friends. If called, the process is interesting. But I wasn’t too thrilled about driving in heavy rush hour traffic, and hoped that when I phoned on Tuesday evening, I would be excused. Nope. Please present yourself at 8am, and leave your knitting needles (and other weapons) at home.

Happily, the drive wasn’t too bad on Wednesday morning. It took me about 40 minutes to go 30 miles, which in the scope of things is not too shabby. Then there was the sign in process, which involved answering a fairly detailed questionnaire. Right when we were preparing to watch the boring video about serving your country and what to expect, the deputy came in and called 60 names, and asked us to follow him. The 60 of us who had been called went upstairs to the courtroom, where we heard a bit about the case, and went through the process of voir dire, when the lawyers asked us questions to determine whether they want us to serve on the jury or not. The case was an auto break-in, where the suspect was on parole from serving time for other cases of auto burglary. So the questions tended towards, “if the suspect is proven to be guilty, will you have a problem declaring him guilty?”, and “can you set aside the suspect’s previous convictions and not assume that if he committed the crimes previously, he must have committed this one?” They went through almost 40 jurors this way, and by the end of the day, they had 12 jurors and 1 alternate. I found the process really interesting. I liked hearing the stories of the potential jurors, hearing where they were from and what they did for a living. What experiences they had had in the past that might prejudice them, what excuses they might come up with to try to get out of serving. One younger potential juror said he didn’t believe in the system at all, didn’t think the courts were useful, didn’t believe the police are useful, etc. He works as a security guard. The judge gave him a lecture about our civic duties and so on, and then sent him downstairs to start the entire process over again. (Ha ha!)

If Wednesday was a day of people hoping to get out of their civic duty, Thursday was a day of people who knew this was a serious job, and who were there to do their very best to provide a fair verdict.  It was interesting to me to notice the difference in how people dressed on Wednesday vs. Thursday.  Wednesday was very casual, maybe a sports team shirt, maybe a hat or a hoodie.  Thursday was business casual.  The jurors knew their job, and they dressed the part.

Thursday was opening arguments and the presentation of evidence. The police officer was driving by at 3:30 am, and saw the defendant standing behind the truck (next to a recycling bin) that had been broken into. The officer looked in his rear view mirror and saw the defendant crouching down next to the car. He thought that was strange, so he turned around at the end of the block and returned. Now the defendant was standing on the lawn. When questioned, he said he wasn’t doing anything, but refused to sit on the curb when asked. Then he took off down the street in a sprint. A chase ensued, other officers were called in, he was captured the next street over. He lied about who he was, hoping that they wouldn’t put 2 + 2 together and connect him with the warrant that was out for his arrest, due to him breaking parole.  After he was taken to the police station by the other officers, the original officer came back to the truck, and found that the recycling bin (the only one on the street) had tools in it, and that there were a few more tools on the ground where the officer had seen the suspect crouching.

The crux of the defense was that he did not break into the car, that he was walking down the street on the way to catch a bus, saw the police officer, and hid because he didn’t want to be brought in on parole violation. He ran from the police and lied about his identity for the same reason. No fingerprints were taken of the crime scene, he did not have any of the tools on his person, there’s no hard and fast evidence that he did the crime. We heard from the arresting officer, the people whose tools were (almost) stolen, the defendant, and the defendant’s girlfriend’s daughter. Again, the process was really interesting. The detail was much different than what you see on TV. Excruciating detail on what tools were in the truck, what they were for, blah blah blah. Lawyers objecting, judge overruling objections, differing and conflicting explanations for the same time frame. That was Thursday.

Friday we heard jury instruction, then closing arguments. We were reminded again that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. That the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. That we must not consider the possible punishment and consequences of our decision while determining guilt or innocence. That circumstantial evidence is admissible, and should be considered if reasonable. The bit that finally made the difference for us was this:

224. Circumstantial Evidence: Sufficiency of Evidence

Before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to conclude that a fact necessary to find the defendant guilty has been proved, you must be convinced that the People have proved each fact essential to that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.

Also, before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to find the defendant guilty, you must be convinced that the only reasonable conclusion supported by the circumstantial evidence is that the defendant is guilty. If you can draw two or more reasonable conclusions from the circumstantial evidence, and one of those reasonable conclusions points to innocence and another to guilt, you must accept the one that points to innocence. However, when considering circumstantial evidence, you must accept only reasonable conclusions and reject any that are unreasonable.

Then we were sent off to deliberate. First thing (after electing our foreman) was to take a quick vote. 8 guilty, 3 not-guilty, 1 undecided. I was one of the not-guilty, because while I did think he likely was in the process of robbing the truck, I wasn’t convinced that the prosecution had proven their case. I was worried by some tools that had gone missing and not been found. Why? How? The prosecution had a possible solution, which was that the defendant had broken into the truck, taken the tools that were still missing, taken them elsewhere (perhaps his girlfriend’s house, a block away), and then come back to finish the job. We talked about it some more…about how the defendant said he was walking to the bus (though he went the wrong way for that), but he didn’t have bus fair in his wallet (according to the officer, the defendant said he did). About how if he were walking along as he had said, he would not have been seen by the officer. About how the officer’s story was much more reasonable. On and on and on.

And in the middle of this, we are not supposed to consider the punishment. Not supposed to consider that this is the defendant’s 3rd conviction, not supposed to worry about California’s “3 strikes, you’re out” law. Not supposed to worry about sending a man to prison. I mean, he may have earned it, but somehow, now we’ve been pulled into the equation. So of course we’re thinking about it, though we have been instructed not to.

In the end, we decided that the circumstantial evidence led to guilt. That it was our job as jurors to follow the stupid rules, and declare the man guilty. So we did. I’ll admit, I felt a little sick. I was not alone. We were all upset by the fact that we were pulled into this situation, that we had to be a part of sending a man to prison. That we had to follow the rules, whether we agreed with them or not. I think we all agreed with the rules in principal, actually, but the reality of our part in the process was upsetting. And really, shouldn’t it be? If you are part of the process that sends a man to prison, shouldn’t it weigh at least a bit upon your heart? I don’t think we did the wrong thing. I think we did the right thing. But while the whole process was really interesting, in the end, it wasn’t fun.

Friday Randomness

rain.
Isn’t that a beautiful graphic? It’s been raining here, a bit, and I’m hopeful that the high pressure system that has been over California for the last few months may have broken apart, and we may get some relief from our drought conditions. I don’t know what this means to the Coho Salmon, which may go extinct in much of California, because the rivers have been too dry for them to swim to their spawning ground. I hope the rain doesn’t come too late for them.

We’re still taking drought showers, until there is enough rain that the official drought conditions are lifted. Which of course, 2 or 3 little storms is unlikely to change. But I’m hoping for more more more.

I’ll not even complain that this weekend’s storm will likely come as I am picking up Girl Scout cookies on Saturday morning, driving to visit friends Saturday afternoon, while Maya is touring a local college on Sunday, and while I am with the rest of the GS troop selling cookies in front of a grocery store on Sunday. I mean, one could WISH that it would rain plenty, but really only when it’s convenient for me, but that’s not too likely, is it?

Do you ever suffer from brown guacamole? You’ve made or purchased some, but you can’t eat it all (or perhaps you could, but you somehow don’t, and then it goes in the fridge, and within a matter of hours, it’s got a thin brown film on top? Gross, right? So you skim off the film, regretting the waste of such deliciousness, and then you finally manage to just get over it, because hey, there’s still good guacamole under there. Well, I have the solution to your problem. No, it’s not to leave an avocado pit in the guac, because while that helps a bit, not all of the guac is touching the pit, so it doesn’t work. No, it’s not squeezing lime juice on the guac. No, it’s not cling wrap (which maybe used to work, but today’s cling wrap is not your mother’s cling wrap, and is more porous, so lets in air). Instead, put your leftover guacamole into an airtight container, smash it down to get rid of air pockets, then gently pour in just enough water to cover the guac. Perhaps 1/8 of an inch over the top. THEN, squeeze a bit of lime into the water. Seal the container, and put it in your fridge. By golly, it works! When you are ready for more guacamole, just pour off the water, give a stir, and you’re in business. For best results, put your guacamole in a container that is deeper than it is wide. Like maybe a mason jar. This limits surface area, so you don’t need to use as much water. I’ll admit, I thought the guacamole might get watery, but it really doesn’t. We had quesadillas for dinner one night this week. Quesadillas are good, but for me, they’re really an excuse to eat guacamole. So I opened the package of pre-made guacamole that I had purchased (considered making my own, but this was on sale, buy one get one free, and it’s a brand that I like a lot), ate some with my quesadillas, and put the method to the test. 3 days later, still as green as the day it was born. So glad I could help you with my problem. I read something about the water part somewhere, and then I happened upon this post, which adds the second step of lime juice. Brilliant.

Happy, rainy Friday everyone! I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

“Me” Weekend

2014-01-24 17.17.38My job has a big rush right before and then again right after the year-end, and then it slows down a bit. I know, I take a week off between Christmas and New Year’s, but that’s but a brief lull. Now, after all of the states and cities and provinces have announced their tax changes for the year, now things slow down for a few minutes. Now is the time when I can, and do, take a few minutes for me. So…

  • I made some lovely bread the other day, from a recipe that I snagged from my friend Carla. Delicious. We had it with some split pea soup that I had frozen from New Year’s Day. That’s a picture up above. Isn’t it pretty?
  • Friday was my annual exam. You know the one. No? Pap. There, now you know. It’s my least favorite exam of the year, because it’s so invasive. There’s absolutely no privacy left at that one. But doing it makes me feel like a responsible adult, because I’m taking care of my health, blah blah blah.
  • Saturday I’m going to get my hair done.  I have a new method I’m trying.  I used to pay a ridiculous amount to get my hair done…over $150…for color and cut.  I’ve cut back on costs quite a bit by going to a local Paul Mitchell beauty school, which takes a long time, but saves a lot of money.  Now I’ve decided to try to save even more.  I like to get lowlights and highlights.  So I colored my hair a bit darker with a bottle from the drug store, and then I’ll go in and get highlights.  The drug store color wasn’t fabulous.  I think my hair has gotten too long, and I needed two bottles, but only had one.  Also, it’s a bit dull.  However, with a professional highlight on top, I think it will be nice, and perhaps even better than the students can do on their own.
  • Sunday, I’m going for a truly luxurious appointment.  One of my birthday (Christmas?  They run together for me) gifts was a massage appointment at the spa down the street.  Thanks to my wonderful husband, I’ll be getting my stress rubbed away.  The spa is attached to a health club, so if I can manage it, I’ll go sit in the hot tub ahead of time and make it extra yummy.
  • Monday, I’m playing hookey from work and going with Maya and the Human Rights Club at her school to serve meals to the homeless and poor at Glide Memorial in S.F.  I’m proud of her warm heart, and that she has belonged to this club for all 4 years of her high school, and worked with a similar club at her middle school, plus donates time to similar organizations with Girl Scouts.

So that’s my lovely weekend.  I’m looking very much forward to it.

Other good news, Maya has applied to 7 colleges.  She received her first letter on Thursday, a letter of acceptance from Mills College in Oakland, CA, just on the other side of the tunnel from us.  It’s a great school, and she’ll have a wonderful education there, if she goes.  It depends on the other schools, of course, and also upon what kind of financial aid offers she gets.  Mills is quite expensive.  She did get a merit based scholarship, but it’s not nearly enough.  So we’ll see.  But for now, I’m thrilled that she was accepted, and that all of her hard work these last many years is paying off.

It’s Official

Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, left, leads his group out to measure snow levels near Echo Summit, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The readings Friday showed the water content in the statewide snowpack at just 20 percent of average for this time of year.
Photo: Steve Yeater, Associated Press

Friday, Governor Brown declared that we are officially in a drought, making way for federal relief efforts and initiatives to move water from areas that are still well supplied to more parched areas. (Jerry Brown was also governor in the 70s when we had another extremely serious drought. Should we blame him, perhaps?)

We are asked to reduce our water use by 20%, though at this point it’s still voluntary, meaning no fines if we fail to do so. We don’t have grass, and I’m stingy with the water anyway, so our plants only get watered maybe once a week if they’re lucky. We already have a high efficiency washing machine, I’m pretty sure our dishwasher is more water efficient than the one we used to have (though I couldn’t swear to that…I’m not sure how water efficient dish washers can get), and we bought low flow toilets 4 or 5 years ago, when we discovered ours both had slow leaks. We can wash things like towels less often, try not to wash our clothes quite as often (like a sweater maybe could be worn twice before being washed, that kind of thing). The main change is my least favorite. Drought-showers. I doubt we’ll get to the point of keeping a bucket in the shower to gather water, and then bring it downstairs to water the plants (too messy), but still. For those of you in wetter states who may not know, here’s how to take a drought shower.

  • Turn on water. Get in shower.
  • Get wet. Shampoo hair. If you’re REALLY good, you turn off the water while washing hair, but I don’t.
  • Rinse hair. Now you turn off the water. Brrr, that air is kind of chilly. You know, California chilly…it’s been lovely and 70 degrees most days, hence the drought.
  • Apply hair conditioner.
  • Soap up your body.
  • If you are going to shave your legs, now is the time to do so. You may turn the water back on, but not the shower, just a trickle from the spout to rinse the razor.
  • After you’ve finished shaving, you may turn the shower back on, rinse your body, your hair, and wash your face.
  • Forget standing there in the glorious warm water and letting it relax your muscles. This is a drought, and times are tough. Suck it up, turn off the water, and get out.

Blech. I hate drought. Usually our hills are lush and green this time of year. Now they’re brown and dead, as though it were summer. Stupid summer.

There’s still time to turn it around…a few really good soakers would help a lot. A few good storms and a generally wet spring would save our bacon. The ski resorts are having a hell of a time keeping people up in the mountains, because man made snow just doesn’t really cut it when it’s all there is. The farmers are worried because they are going to be really short on water, which affects crops (obviously) and grain prices to feed their livestock, etc. I used to have a friend whose father was a farmer, and in dry years, he would sometimes sit it out, and just sell his water rights to other farmers.

Have I mentioned that I love rain, and I hate drought? If you know any rain dances, please hop to it, because I’d love for this to just be OVER already.

The Invention of Wings


Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, The Invention of Wings, starts with Sarah Grimké’s 11th birthday in 1805 South Carolina. As a gift from her mother, Sarah receives 10 year old Hetty (Handful) to be her handmaid. Sarah doesn’t want a handmaid, has been scarred at an early age by the cruelties of slavery, so she decides to set Hetty free. It doesn’t take. So Sarah instead befriends Hetty, tries to be as kind as possible, and endeavors to teach Hetty to read. Unfortunately, teaching slaves to read is illegal, and both Hetty and Sarah suffer for their crime.

Sarah is a bright girl who loves to read, and her beloved older brother spends time teaching her Latin and so on. Her dream is to become a lawyer like her father when she grows up. When her family discovers her dream, they ridicule her and inform her that a woman lawyer is an impossibility. Her future should be to try to find a suitable husband and live a respectable life.

Hetty is a bright girl who watches her mother, Charlotte, suffer for her small defiance. Charlotte is a gifted seamstress, and asserts her humanity in small ways…stealing thread, making a story quilt, selling her creations outside of the family and keeping the money. Hetty also bristles under the yoke of slavery, and while Sarah feels that she is a kind master, Hetty feels their inequality and the difference in their limits keenly.

The story follows Sarah and Hetty for about 35 years. I don’t want to tell too much about the story, because I’d rather you discover it for yourself. I will say that I loved the voices of both Hetty and Sarah. It was sometimes frustrating, looking from 2014, to see the cruelty and brutality of slavery, and wanting to slap them and tell them to just DO SOMETHING to get out of this horrid situation. As if it were that easy.

I hadn’t heard much about the book, but I heard a quick part of a review on NPR while in the car the other day. I had some Amazon credit available left over from my birthday, so I bought it for my Kindle right away. GAH! I had purchased a horrid version, with links throughout taking me to Oprah’s personal notes. Nothing like seeing a page half underlined and blue on the screen to make you want to scream. I don’t CARE what Oprah has to say. So I returned the book and exchanged it for a no-Oprah edition. I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I really loved this book.

August: Osage County


August: Osage County is the story of a brutally toxic family brought together for the funeral of the patriarch. This family is so dysfunctional it’s painful to watch. Based on the play by Tracy Letts, and starring Maryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, and Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County begins with Sam Shepard explaining the lay of the land to a new caretaker (Misty Upham, who plays the only sane person in the house). The lay of the land is that he drinks all day, and his wife takes pills all day, and they barely tolerate each other.

Meryl Streep is Violet, the matriarch of the family, addicted to pills (taken at least partially to kill the pain of mouth cancer she is suffering), addicted to cruelty, wasp tongued and perhaps even evil.

Julia Roberts is Barbara, the oldest daughter, who looks at her mother and sees a possible future self, one that she fears and does not want to acknowledge, but one that looms nonetheless.

Margo Martindale is Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, who has a kinder persona than her sister, but underneath is just about as cruel.

Rounding out the tale are Barbara’s husband and daughter, Mattie Fae’s husband and son, and Violet’s other daughters. The mood in the house is dark, about as dark as it can be. The walls are painted black (or at least seemed to be to me…we watched on the computer. Perhaps on the big screen they’re merely dark dark red or something), the drapes are taped shut, lest any light intrude on the torture the family is spreading around like a virus.

We were able to view the movie before its release due to Ted’s SAG/AFTRA union membership, as it is nominated for several awards. Maya and I really liked it a lot, but Ted wasn’t quite so sure. I think I’d like to see it again, actually.

Jacques’s Pommes de Terre mont d’Or

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Last night was the season premier of season 4 of Downton Abbey. I’d spent the last few days getting caught up and ready, re-watching season 3. Gah, the stories, the clothes, the scenery, and…the food. The food is oftentimes gorgeous. So Ted decided that in honor of our season premier, we should have a somewhat extravagant dinner. He chose roast beef, caramelized carrots, and Pommes de Terre Mont d’Or, which he found in our cookbook, ‘Julia and Jacques’. I made the Pommes de Terre Mont d’Or (mountain of gold potatoes). It’s made of potatoes, eggs, and cheese, and is light and fluffy, much like a souffle. Truly elegant, and truly delicious. Not difficult at all, and worth a bit of time.
2014-01-06 19.09.03

Jacques’s Pommes de Terre Mont d’Or
Ingredients

  • 4 cups Mashed Potatoes, left over or fresh
  • 3 large eggs*
  • 2/3 cups grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese**
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter a shallow baking dish or casserole. Put the potatoes in the work bowl of a food processor, then add the eggs, about 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and salt and pepper. Process briefly, about 10 seconds, to whip all the ingredients together.

Scoop the potatoes into the prepared gratin dish and smooth with a rubber spatula. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and place on a baking dish (in case of spills) in the lower part of the oven.

Bake about 30 to 35 minutes, until the top of the gratin is crusty and golden***.

* Jacques says that to make the dish raise extra high, use an extra egg. So I used 4 instead of 3. Delicious and very fluffy.
** We went Gruyere, which is, in my opinion, nicer than Swiss.
*** This step took more like 40 to 45 minutes, but that may be my baking dish, as I don’t have a smaller one.

What I did on my Christmas Vacation


I took a bit of a vacation from work (and, apparently, from blogging), which was relaxing and delightful.  We didn’t do any traveling this year, and mostly kept ourselves home bound.  So, what did I do with myself?

Christmas was lovely, spending time with family, a delicious feast, wonderful gifts.

Then my favorite week, the week between Christmas and New Year, which is mighty relaxing.   So, what did I do with this week of grace?  Let’s see…

  1. Delivered Meals on Wheels.  I considered taking the time off from this activity, but discovered that many regular drivers do, so they were looking for volunteers.  So I drove both on the 26th and the 2nd, both of which I enjoyed.  I do love driving this route.  One of the old ladies (she’s 98) asked me whether I have some people on my route who are grumpy.  I can see why she would ask.  Getting old isn’t fun.  But truthfully, they’re all grateful and happy to see me.  Perhaps that’s the difference between volunteering and being paid for a job, I don’t know.
  2. Gave blood.  Blech, I do hate this job.  I hate it.  I try to convince myself that I don’t, but I do.  But you know what?  I only hate it until the moment they take that goddamned needle out of my arm.  Then it’s the best feeling ever, knowing that I’ve truly saved someone’s life.  Really, it’s the best thing ever, and it doesn’t cost me a penny.
  3. Maya and I went to return a sweater that I bought her for Christmas.  She said she already has another that looks exactly like it (perhaps why I bought it…it just LOOKED like something she would wear).  It was a longish drive, and then the return/exchange, and then lunch.  Lovely afternoon with her.  Of course, the store didn’t have a single thing she could possibly want (Ann Taylor), so she had me use the exchange to get something for myself.  Love that kid.
  4. Did some shopping with Ted as well.  He was returning a sweater I bought him (wrong size) (clearly my shopping skills are lacking), and also buying me some birthday gifts.  So I accompanied him for the return, then found a quiet place to eat a pretzel and read my book while he shopped for me.  Nice feeling.
  5. Watched a few movies.  I told you about Ted’s SAG awards voting, so we were able to watch a few.  We saw “12 Years a Slave” (depressing);  “Dallas Buyers Club” (depressing);  “American Hustle” (great performances, not so sure the story was fabulous…Amy Adams should win much, though); “August: Osage County (Maya and I really liked this, Ted wasn’t so sure); “Captain Phillips” (boring to me, sorry, though excellent performances).
  6. Celebrated my birthday…went for a hike around a local reservoir (picture above), which was lovely.  Had a picnic of sandwiches from our favorite local sandwich shop, and then later had a feast of cracked crab, garlic noodles, french bread, salad, and chardonnay for dinner.  Some people say chardonnay is not the right wine for Dungeness crab, that Sauvignon Blanc is truly the way to go.   Fie to them, they know not what they speak.  Though of course, champagne would be good, wouldn’t it?
  7. Accomplished chores around the house.  There are times when I look around and am reminded of lyrics from an old(ish) song by The Wallflowers.
      “Well this place is old
      It feels just like a beat up truck
      I turn the engine, but the engine doesn’t turn
      Well it smells of cheap wine & cigarettes
      This place is always such a mess
      Sometimes I think I’d like to watch it burn”

    That’s how I feel when things are getting on my nerves around here, and I want to fix them, but there’s no time or money or energy or whatever.  So, with my time off, I tackled a few that were within my means.  I cleaned out and reorganized a kitchen cupboard full of metal bowls, cupcake tins, fake Tupperware, baking dishes, etc.  That task seemed huge (because it was so annoying), but didn’t take very long.  That got me started cleaning the kitchen, clearing and wiping down the counters, cleaning out the refrigerator, all of that.  Which motivated Maya to vacuum the house, and to clean up the back yard of the horrid Eucalyptus leaves from our neighbor’s stupid tree.  Cleaned the mirrored closet doors in our bedrooms, which I do NOT love, but we installed to make our rooms look bigger and more modern when we were trying to sell lo those many years ago.  Removed the annoying and squeaky bed frame from our bed.  I don’t like the look of a mattress on the floor, it looks poor to me.  But I like it more than I like waking up 6 times a night, every time one of us turns over in our sleep, because of the noise.  We’ll figure out a long term solution later, but for now, we’re sleeping much more peacefully, and our pillowtop mattress is so thick, we’re not right down on the ground anyway.  Then I took on the most mighty task of all.  Cleaning and re-grouting the bathtub.  What a horrid task.  Bending over that long makes my back ache, and cleaning the old grout out is a huge task.  I hate it.  But not as much as I hate the look of the old clear grout that was there before, looking dirty and horrid.  So I did it.  Does it look good?  Yes!  As long as you don’t wear your contact lenses, so you don’t see where I was crooked or smeared silicone with my application.  But it looks SO much better than it did, so I’m happy.

  8. Put away the Christmas decorations.  I miss them a bit, but I do like how clean and light the house looks with them put away.  We still have the wreath on the door…I’m not ready to throw that away yet.  Maybe I’ll wait until Epiphany.  Or June.  We’ll see.
  9. Most auspiciously, Maya and I (I put in the checking account number, so I get to be included) sent in her applications to college.  Gah, when did she get so grown up?  It’s a little horrid.  And very beautiful.  I love having a teen, an almost adult.  It’s a poignant time.  Not always fun, not always sad, but poignant.  She’s applying to 6 very good private colleges, where she hopes to study English.  Money is tight, so if she doesn’t get a full ride, she’ll be home with us for 2 more years, at our local community college.  I don’t know what to hope for.  There are pluses and minuses either way.   I guess I just want whatever is best for her.  The fact that her first choice college is 3,000 miles away sucks, but that’s what we get for living on the West Coast.  There are so many more opportunities back East, I fear.

Those were my adventures and accomplishments.  I hope you had relaxing holidays.  Yesterday was back to work, which was fine by me.  I enjoyed my time off, but it was OK getting back into the swing of things, too.  I guess that’s the mood of January, isn’t it?  Getting back into the swing of things?