Monday, March 30, 2015

R.I.P., l'empress

People who read Funny the World may not be familiar with Harriet Vachss Harris who used the nom de plume "l'empress" for her journal, A Place of My Own, and for writing comments on blogs, but for those who read these entries on my mirror blog, Airy Persiflage, her name will be familiar, as she frequently commented on entries there.  In fact she was almost the only one who ever commented there.

Harriet lost her battle with lymphoma yesterday.  Always cautious about revealing too much about her personal life, we knew that she had battled cancer, but did not know that she had recently been given "six months, if you're lucky."  Sadly, she was not lucky.

She was such a loyal commenter, always one to hold my feet to the fire in the way that the late Jim Lawrence used to do that when I noticed in February that she had not commented on anything in a long while, nor had she updated her own blog, which she usually updated several times a week, I dropped a note to her daughter, who is on Facebook.

"It hurts my heart every time I have to type this," she wrote, "but my mom's time is more finite than most. We're going to offer her one more option but her steady response is that she simply cannot undergo treatment."

Even then I didn't understand that she was in the hospital.  Her daughter talked about her returning to the assisted living home where she had recently moved and where she seemed to incredibly happy to finally really have "a place of her own."

But that was not to be.  In short order she was in a nursing home and it was clear that the family was on a death watch. People all over the internet sent messages of love and support to her daughter, who spent Harriet's last days reading them to her.  In fact, she was reading them to her shortly before she died.

"I have said since the beginning that you and my mom are so alike that I feel you're more like her than her sister is," her daughter wrote to me.  Harriet and I never really had much in the way of direct exchanges.  Mostly our interactions were comments made on each other's blogs or comments that we both made on That's My Answer each day and we did seem to have an awful lot of things in common.

Harriet had a hard life.  She lived in a house with her daughter and son-in-law.  Her husband had been moved to a nursing home awhile ago.  I never could figure out what his mental state was and whether he had dementia along with his many physical problems, but it was clear that she was devoted to him and just had reached the point where it was physically impossible for her to care for him any longer.  And she wanted desperately to move into her own place, when she could afford it.  I gathered things were cramped in the place she always called "the cracker box."

I know it didn't help when the basement flooded a few years ago.

But she is finally at peace.  She was not a good friend, but she was a presence nearly every day and I will miss her.  I suspect that if we had been neighbors, we might have become good friends.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Stealing

The Dirty Dozen Meme
Stolen from: The Archives

1. This weather is really.....
Well, beautiful right now...mid 80s, sunny, clear.  But like the record snow in Boston, this, too, is worrisome because we have had so little rain and they say California will run out of water in a year.

2. You think you've seen it all, you should see me....
Try to dance.  Not a pretty sight.

3. I'm sure you would still love me even if....
I were in a home with dementia wondering if I was going to live to be a "hunnert."

4. I think I have finally realized...
...that I'm gong to have to learn PhotoShop Elements since it doesn't seem that I'm going to get the full PhotoShop again.

5. Since the last time we linked up...
I have shaved my head and am now bald-ish (though it is starting to grow back).  I am very proud of the fact that Ned and I raised more than $3,500 for children's cancer research.

6. I get super embarrassed... so many things.  If I say the wrong thing, If I'm put on the spot to express an opinion, if I have to speak in public, if I am at a party where I don't know anybody.  The list is very long.

7. I really thought by now...
...I'd be dead (my father was)

8. If I thought no one would read it, I would write about...
...what's really going on in my head ... and you would be amazed!

9. I knew I was in the wrong place...
...when I walked into the Shakespeare book club.  I thought it would get better and that I would feel I fit in...but it didn't.

10. I am so not above...

11. Let's pretend...
...Paul and David are alive again and Lawsuit is having a grand reunion. One more time...thank God we'll be doin' fine!

12. Just you wait...
Until we see what the history books have to say about this period of our country's history.  I wish I could come back in 50 years (assuming the world hasn't burned up by then) and find out how the politicians of today are viewed.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

My Rising Up ... or Not

I had lunch at Atria on Wednesday.  I realized I was dragging my feet about going there again.  Just didn't want to get back to that world right away, and it was as I suspected.  I answered the question  "what are you doing for the rest of the day" a hundred times and she told me a hundred time that everything was very quiet there.  That is pretty much our visits lately. 

But lunch is a nice distraction and we ate with a lovely woman, whose name I did not get.  She was telling me that there is (another) new chef at Atria and the lunch was really good.  I still remember the totally inedible "Chef's platter" I had a few weeks a go.  This day it was a shrimp salad on avocado with a louie dressing.  And it was good.  Very good.  It was big enough for a meal, especially when paired with little slices of dark raisin bread.

So good, in fact, that I decided to have it for dinner at home in the next day or two.

I bought a package of frozen little shrimp at the store, brought them home and divided the bag into two portions, one of which went into the freezer, the other into the fridge to thaw.  We had leftovers for dinner that night.

I was looking forward to the shrimp salad and when I was at Logos, I found the book "Bread Machine Magic, Book 2," the sequel to my bread making bible, "Bread Machine Magic."  That has been my bread guide for decades.  There was a time when all of us in he Women's Discussion forum on Compuserve got bread makers and we were all experimenting with bread, and we all decided that Bread Machine Magic was the best of the bread recipe books.

So I was happy to see Book 2.  I read cookbooks the way I read novels and sat there happily perusing recipes, thinking what kind of bread I could make to accompany my shrimp salad, when I decided to make it.

On Logos night, there would not be enough time to make focaccia unless we wanted to eat dinner at 10 p.m. I had some hamburger to use up, so I left the shrimp for tonight and made my old standard, "Joe Special" (hamburger browned and mixed with a package of chopped spinach, cooked, about 6 eggs, and some Parmesan cheese).  It goes together quickly and it's probably the dinner I make the most.

But today I had nothing to do and it was time to use the shrimp.  I was going to get the focaccia into the bread machine to make the dough at 4 p.m.  Before that, I whipped up some louie dressing, kind of making my own mixture of mayo, catsup, chili powder, Worcestershire, and a dash of Sriracha to give it a kick (that's a phrase I learned from the Food Network).

At 4, I got the ingredients into the new bread machine, given me by a Facebook friend who doesn't use it any more.  The timing would be perfect.  The dough would come out around 6 and I'd get it rolled out and rising before the final bake.  I'm never sure if this machine is going to work or not because it takes about 15 minutes before it starts, but it does work and it works well.

I was sitting there reading my latest Ruth Rendell book and listening to the bread machine mixing, then noticing when the mixing stopped and figured it would take about an hour to rise and then beep to let me know it was done.

All of a sudden, I leaped out of the chair.  SHIT!!!  The dough was beautiful, nicely formed, felt good...and I had forgotten to add the yeast.  How could I have forgotten the yeast?

Nothing to be done at that point.  I could either just throw this beautiful ball of dough out, or I could try to salvage it.

I decided to cook it anyway as a flatbread and figured that anything with a topping of butter and garlic couldn't be all that bad.  It looked fine in the oven except for the huge blister it developed in the last 15 minutes of baking.

But it was awful, in fact.  It was heavy and tasteless, despite the garlic. All it was, really, was flour, water and olive oil. Walt took a bite and agreed with me.

I'm not sure if I'll give it to the dogs with their morning kibble or just throw it out.  I suspect I'll just throw it out.  No need to make the dogs suffer too.

Fortunately the salad was a big hit and big enough that it filled Walt up without needing the focaccia after all.

My lovely, inedible flatbread

Friday, March 27, 2015

Imponderables and Logos

Before the lighthearted account of my day at Logos, I can't not mention things I don't understand.  How in God's name does a young man get on a plane knowing he plans to kill himself and more than 100 people?  Such a terrible, terrible tragedy.

I also can't wrap my head around two police officers, married or in a relationship, who beat their 3 month old baby so badly the child is now in a vegetative state and not expected to live.  What sort of monsters do something like that?

And it is beyond belief that the governor of Indiana has now signed legislation which makes discrimination legal in the state.  Businesses are now legally permitted to discriminate against gay people.  What's next?  Gay and straight water fountains?  Anybody gay must ride at the back of the bus?

These are the things that make me want to cry, even though I can do nothing about them. I almost wish I had a trip planned to Indiana just so I could cancel it.

But I can report on the fairly quiet day at Logos yesterday.  The most exciting thing that happened for the first half hour was a guy walking by the place outside playing a drum and the crowd of people, munching ice cream cones, standing around looking in the window at the display table.

A couple came in who was noteworthy.  She definitely should not wear a clinging shirt if she is going to go bra-less.  It's OK if you have perky breasts, but if your breasts tend to reach to you waist, wear something else!  As for him he was wearing those earrings that go in huge holes in your ear.
This isn't him, but this is what I'm talking about.  I had to look it up and found out they are called "gauges."  Reminds me of a Bozo the Clown record I had as a kid and the Ubangi warriors who stretched their lower lips to impossible sizes.  As I watched him walk around the store, I was trying to imagine him old enough to live at Atria and wondering what he would look like at "almost hunnert."

There was a very thin young Chinese woman with her UCD hat worn backwards on her head and her arms crossed tightly across her chest as she browsed.  She ended up buying a book called "You're Less Dumb than you Think" and her friend bought Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns."

A young man was carrying a large piece of abstract artwork in pastel colors that, from a distance, looked like a visualization of an audio recording.  His arms were covered in tattoos.  I wonder, too, what he will feel like at Atria with the gouge guy!

A young woman needed a bathroom, but ours is not for customers so I sent her across the street.  Usually customers like that don't return, but she did later.

A father and son (looked kind of like Harry Potter in his glasses) were looking for a specific series of kids' books, which we did not have, so I sent him to the new bookstore down the street.

A woman wearing an eye-blinding combination of a very bright tie dyed shirt and a short cream and black colored skirt with a busy leaf pattern on it came in to donate a book about crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.  She wanted to know if we would be interested or not, since he had been dead for so long.

A couple came in.  She was looking for a book on hair braiding, but didn't find one.  Her companion bought three books on playing chess.

The next couple was a study in denim, as they were both dressed in denim from head to toe.  Her jacket and pants were heavily embroidered with a lovely design and she wore tall leather boots, also with a design cut into them.  She had platinum colored hair and dripped silver, from the 3 earrings on each ear to the multiple necklaces, bracelets and rings that she wore.  

Her partner, whose brown hair was twice as long as hers, was also in heavily embroidered denim, but his was more raggedy than hers.  He had many rings with very large stones.  The two of them sat at the front table and he read to her for awhile.  He finally bought "Le Mot Juste," a dictionary of foreign words and phrases, and a cowboy dictionary (didn't realize there were enough words specific to cowboys to warrant a whole dictionary!)

My friend arrived at 4:30 and bought a coffee table type book on the Tower of London.

The next interesting looking couple (who did not buy anything) was a guy wearing a shirt that said "The enemy's gate is down."  She wore an ankle-length skirt made of some sort of lightweight grey jersey material and a black camisole.  She had a tattoo on her back, below her shoulder and aqua flip flops.

The last customer was a grandma with her granddaughter, who looked to be about a year old, in a stroller.  She bought four kids' books while the little girl was gleefully saying 'Mama, Mama' over and over again, like it was a new word she had just learned and wanted to try out.

There was a poetry reading scheduled for the night so Susan arrived early with munchies and did some book shelving of donated books while I worked the last half hour.

It was not a big money day, but there was a goodly share of people of interest, and I made a big dent in the book that I'm reading.  This is the third week for this Ruth Rendell mystery and I should finish it before my next day at Logos.  I finished my last book, "Trousering Your Weasel" yesterday.  One of the funniest books of essays you'll ever want to read. I so wish I could write like that!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Creatures of Habit

Some folks have a regular routine that they follow every day -- breakfast at the same time, lunch at the same time, dinner at the same time, washing on Monday, ironing (ironing? on Tuesday), dusting on Wednesday, etc.

I have never been that kind of a person, and more's the pity for it.  But I do have a nighttime routine, one perhaps I wish I did not have.

The night starts out with the dog sandwich.  I settle myself on the couch like the patty in a hamburger.  Lizzie, who lies on the table behind the couch is the top part of the bun.  Sheila, after she walks, first west, and then east in front of my prone figure so I can skritch first her backside and then her head and chest, lies down on the floor alongside the couch and is the bottom part of the bun.  Polly, who immediately crawls under my blanket and curls herself into a ball on about my waist, is the "pickle."

We all fall asleep like this.  At some point, Lizzie moves to a chair, Sheila may or may not crawl under a table, and Polly may or may not move to either a chair or the table that Lizzie has left.

At some point midway through the night I wake up.  I'm wide awake.  I sit up and Polly moves to the spot I vacated and I cover her with the blanket.  I sit on the side of the couch and try to determine if I'm wide awake-awake, or if I'm just sorta wide awake.  If I decide I'm sorta wide awake and could really fall back asleep, I move my pillow to the opposite end of the couch and lie down there stealing a little corner of the blanket from Polly.

However, if I'm wide awake-awake (or if I have to visit the bathroom), I then move to the recliner in the family room, passing en route through the kitchen so I can see what time it is (hoping for 4 a.m., fearing for 2 a.m.), where I cover up with a quilt and try to go back to sleep.  After awhile I hear the pitter patter of little feet and there is Polly.  She's weird, this little dog.  If I'm asleep (or feigning sleep) she leaps right up onto the chair.  If she knows I'm awake, she sits there and whines and whines until I encourage her to jump up and then she makes half a dozen 'practice' jumps before she actually gets onto the chair, as if she's not sure she can really make it that high.

Once in the chair, she digs her way under the quilt and squirms and squirms and squirms until she finds the place she wants to sleep and the comfortable position she wants to sleep in.  Sometimes this involves walking across my stomach and settling on the right side instead of the left.

If I am not asleep, I am aware that within half an hour, Lizzie has come in from the living room and settled herself in the other recliner (If I am asleep, I don't notice this until morning). Sheila may or may not arrive wanting to go outside.  I open the door for her and then she, too, settles in the family room, on the Chihuahua-sized bed there (I really must buy a bigger dog bed for that spot!).   We are, after all, a "pack" and the pack sleeps together.

As for me, it's a toss-up whether I go back to sleep or not.  Sometimes I have the TV off but if an hour has passed and I'm not asleep, I may turn on the Hallmark Channel, with reruns of Golden Girls, Frasier and Cheers.  When I Love Lucy comes on, I know it's 5 a.m. and I change the channel.  For some reason I just can't stand that show.  I know it's the most popular show in television history, but I'm not into either slapstick or put down humor and Lucy's voice is so irritating it's like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.  So after 5 a.m., it's the local news up until The Today Show.

Sometimes, like last night when I went to sleep early, I may watch something that was recorded during the night instead of the Hallmark line-up.  Or I may choose something that I know is boring in the hope it will put me to sleep (any Jane Austen movie is sure to do that)

If I'm lucky, at some point during all this TV, I will fall asleep.  But on nights like tonight, when I've tried to sleep for 3 hours, I end up writing blog entries at 5 a.m., disappointing Sheila who was sure that when I stood up, I was headed back to the couch (poor Sheila is so attentive and gets so frustrated with my nocturnal habits!)

When morning comes, the dogs are incredibly polite.  They don't move until I do.  With my iPad at my elbow, I can check e-mail, Facebook, and That's My Answer all without them realizing I'm awake.  I can (and have) gotten away with that for as late as 9 a.m., if Walt doesn't come downstairs.
But the second my hand hits the lever that lowers the leg rest of the recliner, Polly starts her "she's awake! she's awake!" bark, Sheila and Lizzie come running for morning loving and when I stand up I practically get knocked over by joyous dogs leaping on me, knowing that breakfast is about to be served.

Once dog breakfast has been served, all semblance of routine and order around here end and it's all random, except for Walt and me settling in to watch Jeopardy every night.

I guess this is what it is to be old and set in your ways, whether human or canine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Do Nuns Eat?

The first nun I ever met was Sister Mary St. Patrice, my kindergarten teacher.  She was a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order which I believe originated in Ireland, though the sisters I had for grammar school were not Irish.  I was four years old and I don't remember what my first impression of her was, so I guess I wasn't too traumatized.  I recall she was a very nice, gentle lady.

You wonder what sadist decided that the holy women who do God's work, whether teaching or nursing, should wear such outlandish costumes.

I don't have a clue what the significance of this habit was, but it had that hard tightly pleated/stiffly starched piece that went around the face, with a strap that fit under the chin, and a tight starched collar around the neck and the big stiff box over it all and a veil on top of that.  Then there was the black dress that went down to the ankles, a kind of a long bib that went over the top, and the rosaries around the waist.  There were tales of nuns bonking kids on the head with the large crucifix, but I don't think I knew of any such event personally.

They were all bald, of course.  We didn't know that for a fact, but we assumed that taking the veil meant shaving your head.  It was a shock years later when I saw The Nun's Story and realized the hair was just clipped very, very short.  We weren't sure if they had ears or not, but since some wore glasses and the earpieces hid behind the headgear, we assumed they probably rested on hidden ears.

When I got to high school, we were taught by Daughters of Charity, "God's geese," as they were affectionately known. Anybody who remembers Sister Bertrile, "the flying nun" has encountered the Daughters.

Different costume, same problem.  Only it was worse for the Daughters because it was difficult to know how close you were to a wall or a door or another sister (these were "sisters," not "nuns" we were taught, but I have long ago forgotten the difference). I suppose if you wore the habit for any length of time you got your own sense of radar for spatial situations, but I wore the habit for a career day one year and I could see neither to the right nor to the left and if I hadn't had someone to guide me along, I don't know that I ever would have gotten anywhere.

The headpieces were called "cornettes" and they were washed, starched and folded in the laundry at the school I attended.  But I don't think that as a grammar school child I ever gave a thought to how the nuns kept their clothes clean.  I think I thought the angels probably did it.

In fact, you couldn't imagine holy women doing anything that us mere mortals did.  I know for a fact that they never went to the bathroom. There was no nuns' bathroom in the school and we certainly never saw them in any of our own bathrooms.  (I didn't know about such things in grammar school, but I'm sure that no nun ever had a menstrual period!)

I remember being scandalized once when I saw a black stocking-covered ankle on a nun whose skirt was just  tad shorter than the others, so that there was actual flesh--covered flesh, to be sure--between her hem and her shoe.

The Daughters wore heavy woolen habits and it was probably a clue that I didn't really have a vocation when the only thing that worried me about leaving home and joining the convent was how I would cope with a hot, humid St. Louis summer in wool.

I'm sure the BVMs drove a car, but I never saw it.  The Daughters had a car, a large station wagon, and  they had clips they used to bring both tips of the cornette together and clip them so they could fit inside the car.  Lord only knows how they saw anything behind them, especially if there were a gaggle of geese inside the car!

In San Francisco, there was a benefit to wearing habits.  Out of gratitude for the work nuns did during the 1906 earthquake and fire, they were given free bus rides forever.  All a nun or sister had to do was board pubic transportation and they never paid a dime.

We never saw nuns eat, but given the size of a couple of my teachers, I'm sure they got their share of food.  But we knew it was a sin if we ever saw them putting food into their mouths.

In my senior year in high school, my plan had been to enter the convent but I needed to prepare for college.  To do that, I needed to take Algebra II, which the school didn't offer, so dear little Sister Benedicta tutored me every afternoon after regular class (I was a terrible student....still can't understand the math concepts she tried so patiently to teach me), but my make-shift classroom was right by the door that led into the sisters' living quarters and I got to glimpse a bit of their non-school lives, not enough to see anything (still never saw them eat), but enough to wonder if I was sinning by seeing what I was seeing. 

It was quite a change when I was an adult sometime in the 1980s and was in St. Louis for a meeting.  My typing teacher and lifelong friend was retired by then and living in a retirement house a few hours away.  She drove in to St. Louis to get me and bring me back to the house to spend the night, so we could get caught up.  What a revelation!  By now the cornettes were gone and the hems were shorter (but still below the knee) and the sisters had more physical freedom in their clothing.  They had a swimming pool.  (Nuns swim? Who knew?)  But the thing that got me was visiting the convent BREWERY and learning that Sister Anne was the brewmaster.  In fact, after dinner that night (yes, I ate with the sisters and can attest that they do eat) she came back to the guest house with a couple of bottles of her special beer and we sat there drinking and visiting.  It was surreal.

She's gone now and I miss her.  She died about 20 years ago.  But I still have fond memories of my time at the retirement home and feeling like a little kid getting a peek at all that forbidden stuff that I knew was sinful when I was in school.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sunday Stealing

The I Meme

Stolen from: The Archives

I am...
A woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother

I want...
World peace and a clean house
I have...
overcome a lot of loss in my life...and I'm still here

I wish...
Congresscritters could return to the days of bipartesan agreement on anything

I hate...
Homophobia, Bigotry, Stupidity, liver, and Donald Trump

I fear...
becoming incapable of caring for myself

I hear...
The sound of coffee brewing

I search...
for the mates to all my unmatched socks

I wonder...
If Congress will ever do anything substantive

I regret...
not finishing college

I love...
spending time with our granddaughters

I never...
sleep the whole night through

I ache...
all over when I first get up in the morning

I always...
think there's a band, kid

I usually...
read whenever I have any empty time

I am not...
a good housekeeper

I dance...
like the hippos in Fantasia

I sing...
not nearly as well as I did when I was younger

I sometimes...
wonder what life would be like if I had gone into the convent

I cry...
at the least little thing

I am not always...
as patient as I should be

I lose...
lots of things all the time

I am confused...
By what in the world is in the mind of some politicians
I need...
positive reinforcement

I should...
get packed up for the long drive home.