A Few Thank You’s along with A Trip to Ojai

Dear Friends,

I wanted to thank those of you who reached out to me after my post yesterday about my trials with daily blogging.  Here are just a few of the responses that came to me:

“Do what you need to do.”

“Do what makes you happy.”

“Don’t push the river.”

“Think about how you want to spend your time.”

“I trust you to find your way.”

Thank you.  I feel lucky to have people in my life who offer such loving support.  Much appreciated indeed!

Last night, Ray and I went to Ojai and spent the night in our Airstream.  We haven’t done that in several weeks.  The temperature got down to 38 degrees, but we were snug in our bed with lots of covers plus Cordelia and Frankie to keep us warm.

Today, we hung out with Liz and Ron and their new doggie, Ruby, a six-year-old Shar-pei, pitbull mix who came from a kill shelter after being dumped there by owners who almost bred her to death in their puppy mill.  She is a little tired and a bit worse for wear, but very sweet. I would say she got very lucky that Liz and Ron fell in love at first sight with her. She is being showered with attention, home-made food and lots of tummy rubs. I expect she’ll perk right up after she understands that she is safe and with people who are going to just love her, no performance on her part required.  I guess that’s what we all want when you get right down to it.

We returned from Ojai late this afternoon via Highway 1. The sky was blue and the ocean was turquoise.  I felt so rested, I couldn’t believe it had been less than 24 hours since we left home.  Two of my favorite places in the world are the orange grove and that stretch of Highway 1 between Santa Monica and Oxnard where we drive right alongside the Pacific Ocean.  I find it awe-inspiring that we are right on the edge of the continent on that road and that the ocean stretches out for thousands of miles beyond the coastline. I find myself breathing deeply there, drinking in all that fresh ocean air.

Tomorrow in the late afternoon, we head back to Texas for a few days for what we hope is our final push to get the condo in Fort Worth finished. We’ll have our noses to the grindstone, wrapping up the last details, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  We are both happy about that.  While we love Texas, three trips in 6 weeks is a bit much.  However, we are almost done with the renovation and it looks great.  I will take pictures and post them after we get everything in place.

Again, thank you all for your kind support.  I will just take life one step at a time and see where those steps take me.

Wishing you a good evening.

Ruby

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Liz and Ron

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A Few Thoughts on Restarting My Daily Blog

Dear Friends,

I am writing this as a letter because I just need to get my thoughts on the page. I haven’t written a blog post in at least a week. I have been off my daily practice for well over two months now and I need to explore more clearly why. This is for me, but I know that a few of my more steadfast readers have reached out to me to ask why I’m not blogging regularly anymore.  Let’s see if I can get some of those thoughts and/or reasons on the page.

First, let me say that it’s always a bit of a push to write daily on a blog. I guess we all know that.  The problem is not getting the words on the page, but rather finding a topic worthy of writing about. I often get stuck with the thought, “This is just too boring for anyone to care about,” and then I’m there staring with nothing coming to mind. However, I recognize that small pieces of life are worthwhile to describe and that it’s often those tiny slices that ultimately create more meaning than any single giant piece.

Second, I got struck dumb with all the political opinions that has been in the air since the Presidential election. I am a Democrat, but have lots of Republican friends. The last thing I have wanted to do was to create a division with those friends and yet there have been times that I’ve had to bite my tongue – or not use my typing fingers – in order not to go off on a rant. I have justified this by telling myself that it’s more important to focus on unity versus division and tolerance versus partisanship. I have wanted instead to accentuate the vast number of similarities we all share as human beings rather than to get caught up with differences in opinion. However, I have not always felt good about my silence.  So I clearly have to learn how to strike a balance when it comes to this.

Third, I have found myself feeling less willing to be open about my life over these past months.  Maybe it is the current paranoia that comes from the political climate or maybe it’s just me feeling more vulnerable. I know that many people write blogs about particular subjects or passions rather than their personal life precisely because they want more privacy. I have not felt compelled to do that until lately. I personally love reading about someone’s life, getting that window into their world. I also love having a chronicle of my life for me to enjoy years from now when I am revisiting these days. I guess I just have to toughen up and not worry about others’ opinions.

Fourth, I have found myself assessing the pros and cons of blogging versus other kinds of writing. When will I work on pieces for publication or longer projects if blogging takes up the only time I seem to carve out for writing every day? Shouldn’t I be more serious? Take on bigger or better subjects?  Is this the best I can do with my writing skill?  Unfortunately, while mulling over these questions, I’ve managed not to do any writing at all. Perhaps I need to notice that big red flag waving in the wind.

Finally, of course, we had the Thomas fire near Ojai, the Getty fire that affected one of Ray’s major clients, a fire in our condo in Fort Worth, along with a couple of other big issues that have contributed to this turbulent (and fiery) past few months. Everything is on its way to resolution, but in the meantime, good grief!  So, I will give myself a little leeway for major disasters.

The other night I woke up with the realization that my life feels more chaotic when I don’t blog daily because that 20 minutes a day is my time for meditation.  That’s the time that I sit down, focus on something small that happened and sort out my thoughts and feelings. 

I can breathe deeper right this moment just getting that recognition down on the page.

Okay, here’s Day One of my resurrected blog. I believe I have stumbled upon a renewed purpose. Hooray.

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Returning from Another Trip to Texas

We are back from Texas after working there a few days on the condo renovation, post laundry room fire.  It’s coming along with new sheetrock, scrubbed and painted walls and ceilings, new fridge ordered, new washing machine installed, new dryer coming soon along with new carpet for the bedrooms.  I swear, I think God patted my little rear end when I was born and said, “This one was put on this earth to clean.” I can not describe how much time in my life I have been on hands and knees with a sponge in my hand and a bucket of warm, sudsy water next to me.  I will admit I am good at it. I can wield a sponge with focus and purpose and some real zest.  But, I don’t need to do that much longer in the condo.  We are moving beyond that need at this point, thank you, Jesus. The end is slowly coming into sight.

As always, we had a good trip.  I sleep like a baby in Lyon House.  It is quiet and solid and that train whistle off in the distance at 3 am adds a level of charm that is hard to beat.  We also stayed at the condo for two nights.  One, our air mattress deflated and we were nose to nose with the smokey carpet, and last night we slept on the donated bed frame of our now ex-renter (aka he who never cleaned out the lint trap) with a mattress topper we bought. That was a good, albeit short night, since we left this morning at 3:30 to make our 6 am flight.

Now we are back in California and it is cold for here – 41 degrees when we arrived.  However, the sky was its usual beautiful shade of blue, the palm trees waved in the wind and the temperature edged up to 60 before the day was done.  I saw a few students upon my return, took a good, long nap and now feel almost as good as new.  I am happy the condo is coming along and I am also happy to be back home.  Our little doggies were very pleased to see us this morning and the feeling was quite mutual.  Also, we have some kids and grandkids to see soon.

But right now, I am headed up to bed.  I am looking forward to an early night.

I’ll be checking in again soon.

spirit howdy

 

 

From My 5-Year-Old “Classroom” to Now

You know how sometimes you read that if you go back to what you loved doing when you were a little kid – 4, 5, or 6 – then that will tell you what your ideal occupation should be? Well, in my case, this is exactly true since when I was a little girl, my favorite thing in the world was to teach my imaginary students all about reading and writing.

When I was a little girl, I had my own schoolroom (the south porch) where I “taught” my students. I went to Woolworth’s Five and Dime and bought not only writing and phonics workbooks but also grade books in which I kept meticulous records of my students’ attendance and grades. I made up names for all of my students and each had marks for participation, as well as homework and test grades. I stood up at the front of my imaginary class and used my little chalkboard to go over grammar concepts. I called on students, reprimanded them for talking, and praised them for trying their best. Clearly, I was a child with an active imagination and a deep love of teaching.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was getting my Master’s degree in Counseling and starting off in the field of Mental Health. Lord knows, I really wanted to teach, but counseling was a close second and paid a bit more. Then my husband came along and lured me into the world of antiques and off I went on the adventure of learning about art, antiques, history, buying and selling, and small business ownership. That was an education in itself, but I must say as much as I enjoyed all of that, I still longed to teach. I wanted my students and my classroom back in my life. I couldn’t shake the allure of chalk dust on my fingertips.

Then, I came to LA and after my brother died and we were trying to figure out a way to survive here, I answered five blind ads for teaching jobs in the LA Times, got five interviews and five job offers. I must admit that it was mid-summer and these schools were desperate for teachers, but somehow I landed a job at one of the top private elementary schools in LA, the movie industry school. I saw Jack Nicholson bringing his children to school and Jamie Lee Curtis walking through the halls. I was hired to teach 4th grade Language Arts and, of course, I was in heaven. No longer imaginary students, but real ones and they were smart and excited and loved to write.

The problem came in the form of money – or lack of it – since even though that school charged a hefty tuition, I was down at the bottom of the totem pole and my salary was hardly enough to help support our family in rural Texas, much less Los Angeles. So, after one year and a long talk with my husband, I decided to go look for a job out in the “real world,” hopefully with a higher salary attached. In the meantime, I had a few deep-pocketed parents who approached me to work with their kids during the summer while I looked for a job. Was I willing to teach writing to their kids privately? They would be happy to pay me well if I would.

That was 18 years ago. Those students turned into more students and here I am sitting in my den where I sometimes actually pull out a chalkboard and go over grammar. I don’t have to have a grade book, but I do have a stream of students coming in for small group lessons and one-on-one. They range from 4th grade all the way to adults. I praise them when they do well, shush them when they’re too talkative, and generally recreate my 5-year-old classroom almost every day. And I couldn’t be happier.

There clearly is wisdom in looking at what you loved when you were a kid to help you gain clarity about your career. It certainly has worked for me. I could never shake that love I felt for teaching when I was five. I hope I’ll get to continue until I’m seventy-five!

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A Great Recipe: Pumpkin Lasagna

My daughter Rachael occasionally asks me when I’m going to make pumpkin lasagna again. I made it several years ago and couldn’t find the recipe to repeat it even though it was very tasty.  Tonight I happen to run across the recipe again and wanted to post it so I could remind myself to make it.

This may sound like an odd combo of flavors, but it was a hit when I made it.  You may want to try it just for its sheer variety.

Whatever the case, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the result.

Be sure and let me know if you try it!

Here’s the recipe from Food and Wine Magazine:

Pumpkin Lasagna with Ricotta and Swiss Chard

ACTIVE: 45 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 45 MIN
SERVINGS: 8 TO 10

This super-creamy lasagna is perfect for a vegetarian main course. What makes it especially unusual is that it’s made without tomato sauce.

1 pound lasagna noodles
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
1 onion, finely chopped
2 pounds Swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Three 15-ounce cans pumpkin puree
1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 cups fresh ricotta (32 ounces)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 6 ounces)
2 cups shredded imported Fontina cheese (about 8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the lasagna noodles until just starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Drain well and transfer the noodles to a baking sheet. Toss the noodles with olive oil to prevent them from sticking together.

In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until wilted and no more liquid remains, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season the chard with salt and pepper. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, mix together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, nutmeg and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix the ricotta with the eggs, 1 1/2 cups of the Parmigiano, 1 cup of the fontina and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

In a well-buttered, 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish, spoon 1/2 cup of the pumpkin mixture in an even layer. Arrange 3 or 4 lasagna noodles in the dish, overlapping them slightly. Spread half of the remaining pumpkin mixture over the noodles in an even layer. Top with half of the Swiss chard and another layer of noodles. Cover with half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat the layering with lasagna noodles, pumpkin, Swiss chard, another layer of noodles and finish with the ricotta mixture.

Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for about 40 minutes, until heated through and slightly firm. Remove from the oven and uncover. Preheat the broiler.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmigiano and 1 cup of fontina on top of the lasagna and broil about 4 inches from the heat until golden brown and crisp on top, about 4 minutes. Let the lasagna rest for 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pumpkin-lasagna-ricotta-and-swiss-chard

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A Valentine’s Day Memory

When I was growing up, there was a Sweetheart Banquet at the 7th and Main Baptist Church every Valentine’s Day. I never had the occasion to attend since I was an Episcopalian, but it was considered quite an event in our little town. When I was in 8th grade, I was invited to go with one of my classmates, Kenneth Carroll, who was one of the smartest boys I knew.  I was thrilled that Kenneth invited me because he and I had gotten to know each other very well working on the debate team in our English class. We had researched facts, developed arguments and counter-arguments, joked and laughed and I was as infatuated as a junior high girl could be with this boy who I’d known all of my life but never with any of “those” thoughts in mind. 

I remember exactly what I wore to the Sweetheart Banquet: a two-piece red suit (skirt and top) that I had bought at The Smart Shop in my little hometown. This was 1967 and I’m sure I was wearing stockings and white pumps. Kenneth arrived at my door with a corsage in a box, a white carnation that looked very pretty against the bright red of my outfit. He was wearing a dark suit, a tie, and dress shoes. We walked out into the chilly February night and he opened the door for me as I slid into the backseat of his daddy’s car.  His father was in the front seat, serving as our chauffeur for the short drove over to the church and back.

I wish I could say this was one of those wonderful evenings where young love blossomed while we danced in the half-light of the church hall after dinner. Instead, I recall it as being one of the most awkward evenings of my life. I was so taken with Kenneth – he looked so handsome in that suit – that I was struck dumb. I literally couldn’t put two words together all night long. Gone was all that ease that had come without a thought while we prepared for our debates, replaced with me sitting there, wracking my brain for conversation topics to no good end. I sat silently in that decorated banquet hall, red and white hearts covering the walls, and danced wordlessly after the meal was over. I remember the drive there and back and the silence in the car. I mostly remember me sitting there thinking, “Oh, no. This sweet friendship will never be the same after tonight. If only I could come up with one sentence to say.” At the end of the evening, Kenneth walked me to my front door, gave me a stiff hug, then turned and fled to the awaiting car.

After that Valentine’s Day fiasco, I learned to have a few go-to topics when I went on dates with boys. I generally had a list of five conversation starters so that I would never again find myself so nervous that I couldn’t say a word. I still feel a twinge of nostalgic regret about that evening and the subsequent loss of our sweet friendship. Kenneth’s invitation to the banquet had shifted us from “just friends” to potential romantic partners and our friendship just couldn’t survive that flood of adolescent hormones (at least on my part). 

Years later, I would see Kenneth again on my first day of graduate school. I had just returned from a year in Italy teaching English as a foreign language and I was full of stories to tell. His eyes lit up when he saw me and I thought, “Oh, Kenneth, handsome as ever. What a sweet surprise!” Five minutes later, as we were catching up, he told me he’d just gotten married two weeks before. I couldn’t help but note that unfortunate timing.  Alas, we were clearly never meant to be.

All these years later, I can only smile over the awkwardness of that Valentine’s night.  Two innocent teenagers embarking into unknown territory with no map to lead the way. I still am happy I bought and wore that red suit. I might not have said anything, but I looked all grown up and pretty for my new adventure. It would just take a couple of more years before I could find words to help me along the way.

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Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) on Sunday: Our Pre-Lenten Pancake Breakfast Today at Church

Today, I was up bright and early with three other intrepid “Breakfast Club” cooks (that’s the name of our homeless breakfast).  We met at the church at 7 am (we were there at 6 am yesterday for our official Breakfast Club). Today, we had an abbreviated menu of pancakes, turkey and pork sausage, breakfast burritos, bagels and cream cheese and a breakfast frittata provided by Michelle, another St. Thomas parishioner.  We served our Mardi Gras pancake breakfast on Sunday instead of on “Fat Tuesday” because we wanted more of our parishioners to enjoy it. We are celebrating a couple of days early, but what the heck?  Why not start the fun as soon as possible?

Here are pictures of our food, our volunteers and our patrons.

Bob, Ben and Nora, my fellow cooks

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James in our Decorated Mardi Gras hall

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Our First St.Thomas patrons and me

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More happy parishioners

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Michelle and her family

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Nora and Chris, our decorator!

 

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