Who’s That in the Kitchen with Julia?

I just received another slew of catalogs from the home decorating and cooking stores, you know, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn. These to welcome Spring, as previous ones have fall and winter holidays, summer and Fourth of July celebrations.

Their purpose is not just to showcase individual items, from tables, lamps and rugs to coffeemakers and Cuisinarts. No, they are selling a lifestyle based on using these items in full-page, bleeding-edge color. It isn’t good enough that the coffeemaker can make 100 kinds of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, it sits on a sideboard surrounded by a sumptuous brunch, including the electric griddle for pancakes and sausages, the panini squisher for ham and cheese sandwiches, the waffle maker, the sherbert maker, the automatic melon baller and the citrus extractor. These require so much room they spread out from the breakfast nook to the dining table.

As for dinners, well they resemble a sort of modern, hip Downton Abbey without the servants. Wait! The servants are all the handy machines. We have crockpots for stew, a deep fryer for homemade dumplings and fritters, an electric wok for stir fry, a rotisserie oven for chicken, a convection oven for what I’m not sure, and a $1,000 outdoor grill for steaks, chops, fish, kebobs. And don’t forget the margarita blender, the soda machine, the turquoise or lime green mixer, and the red velvet cupcake mix and cute little baking pans.Gadgets

How many people actually entertain like this? Not many I know. Overall, dinner parties are on the decline, according to an article in the New York Times (11/29/12). People are busier, more inclined to cozy up at home or hold spontaneous potlucks when they do have free time. The few friends I have who enjoy cooking and entertaining are a rarity and receiving an invitation to their homes is something I look forward to. According to another recent NY Times article (2/12/13), many are now ordering the ingredients of meals close to ready made, so they can appear to be cooking.

In addition to the entertaining fantasies these catalogs promote, they also promote fantasies about day-to-day life. For example, the machine that allows mothers to make their own baby food. (I say mothers here because I can’t imagine any man having the patience for this.) Why? Why? Why? When in the midst of a sleep-deprived stupor, you can easily pull out a breast or a little jar of applesauce.

Again, they are trying to sell us an image that doesn’t exist in real life, perfect baby-mother bond, perfect health.

MixersJuicers and smoothie makers are also used to promote this idea of perfect health. If we squeeze 10 apples, six carrots and a beet into this machine with hungry blades and drink what the hungry blades create, we’ll look 10 years younger and live 10 years longer. Well, we’ll need those 10 years just to pull apart the machine, clean up all the peels and pulp, and reassemble the machine. And while I enjoy an occasional smoothie, I’d rather have something substantial for breakfast, like whole fruit, cereal or an egg that I can fix in half the time it takes to assemble and clean my Bella Cuchina Rocket Blender. (No, I didn’t buy it. It was a gift.)

When not in use, where do all these magical machines reside? Even the most sweeping marble-countered kitchens do no have anough room for them all. I suspect they are off in a secret room – with Dr. Oz, celebrity chefs, and the ghost of Julia Child, rattling her basic pots and pans.

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Stop Talking

I saw a great business/calling card recently. It said, simply, Stop Talking.

I can’t stop thinking about it, may go back to the store and buy it. How perfect for me, and people like me, the listeners of the world who would sometimes like to speak and be heard. Or to hear nothing.

I can think of so many people I could hand it to. The boorish bore at a party. The acquaintance painfully describing her latest divorce or operation. The office mate who takes personal calls all day long. The know-it-all in meetings or classes. The clerk who gabs with everyone in line about their health, vacation or children. My neighbor in his hot tub at Midnight. Anyone gabbing nearby on a cell phone or in a theater.

Come to think of it, if I could go back in time, the school wierdo who followed me home when I was 10 because I was the only one who would listen to him.

The world is divided into talkers and listeners, just as it’s divided into neat freaks and slobs, morning larks and night owls, and those who are punctual and those who are always late (perhaps subjects of future posts). We are all put on earth to drive each other crazy.

My own listening skills have served me well as a professional writer. It’s no accident I was drawn to journalism. My curiosity about people always overcame my shyness and I’ve been able to interview anyone from cute boys in high school to famous authors and infamous mayors. And not just ask questions, but listen to the answers!

Bench by the OceanSocially, my ability to listen sometimes helps and sometimes hinders me. It helps if a friend or relative needs comfort. It enriches my life and my writing to hear conversations and nuances many miss. But it hinders if I’m surrounded by boisterous talkers who won’t let up for a minute.

I’ve gotten better at cultivating friendships with those who also listen and avoiding those who don’t. Paradoxically, I’ve developed more tolerance for humans in general, but less so one-on-one. Yet it’s still surprisng to me how little curiosity many people have about others or how unable they are to simply acknowledge a comment without changing the subject or giving unneeded advice. In other words, to Stop Talking! For just a few minutes even!

So would this card really do any good? Probably not. For us listeners, it’s a pleasant fantasy.

Pass them out on the street. People might think we are deaf mutes asking for money. No, we can hear quite well, thank you, we just want a little silence – and maybe the chance to speak. For just a few minutes even!

A p.s. about my photosgarden bench

I like to take my own photos for my blog. Sometimes the photos find me and spark an idea. Sometimes I write my essay first and have to go searching for my photos. As with these. As I sat and looked quietly out at the ocean, people on their cell phones were walking/talking behind me. If I were sitting here with a friend, I would want us both to stop talking and let the view speak.

 

Good Intentions or Take a Seat

The road to fitness heaven is littered with bad exercise machines. – Linda Hutchison

So what is going on here? Is this exercycle being trashed or recycled? Is it ready for the graveyard, or for a second life with a new exerciser?

And what about the old exerciser? Has he or she traded up to a bigger and better bike, or moved on to another form of exercise, or decided to give the body a rest?Exercise Bike

As far as I’m concerned, good riddance to exercise machines. I’ve never been able to run on a treadmill without feeling like a hamster or a gerbil running in a cage. And going up and down on a stairmaster, back and forth on a rowing machine, or pedaling nowhere on an exercise bike make me want to scream. Visualizing toned legs, arms and abs does nothing to calm down my inner screamer or help my motivation.

I much prefer to be outdoors or in a class. I used to run and take aerobic dance classes and in recent years have evolved into walking and yoga classes, with some weight hoisting for good measure(ments). I like feeling as if I’m moving in my own body, whether along a sidewalk or path or from pose to pose. Outdoors, I like the fresh air, the sky, the ocean, the trees, the birds, the flowers, the nodding hello to neighbors and dogs. Even in the rain, I enjoy walking with an umbrella as long as it’s not hurricane-force stormy.

But I’m fortunate to live in a moderate climate where we can walk outdoors comfortably most of the year. One of my friends who lives in the Midwest loves her exercise bike, especially in the bitterly cold winter. There may be a blizzard outside, but there she sits, cozy by the fire, pedaling away, watching foreign movies, getting both her physical and her mental workout at the same time. In the spring, summer and fall, she enjoys walking and swimming, but she doesn’t like classes. Too many people, too many smelly feet.Chair under tree

Well, it’s great we have such variety and choices. If we all crowded into the same classes, we really would have an odor problem beyond the fix of lavender spritzes. It’s good to know that we can keep our joints moving in a way that works for us and that we can recycle ourselves when we feel like trying something new. Or when we feel like doing nothing under a tree.

A Sore Sight for Some Eyes

Some people in our town want to ban all sidewalk signs – the kind that business owners place outside their doors to advertise.

They’re a blight, tacky, something you’d see in a strip mall, an obstacle course, a safety hazard, complain the letters to the editor of the local paper. They’re illegal, take them down, wrote the editor, agreeing with the nay-saying no-signers.

But are they illegal? I happen to like the signs, so I went online and tried to make sense of dense city ordinances. I didn’t succeed. Whether these A-framed signs that sit near curbs are legal or not in our city is still a mystery to me. I think they must be because they are all still standing several months after the barrage of complaints.

To me the signs add colorful visual interest as I’m walking along. Close to the curb, they’re usually not in the way, unless people jaywalk. Without them, the sidewalks would be bare, bare, bare. Too plain and stark.Welcome sign

Not only are the signs decorative, they convey useful information. We’re open! We’re new! Come on in! Walk-ins welcome! Free parking in back. Even better! Especially when I’m circling the block in my car with 25 other parking spot hunters on my tail.

No Parking signs are helpful in our little community too. The meter readers are relentless and unforgiving and ready to whip out their ticket books if we’re 30 seconds over the 2-hour limit.

I really like the signs with balloons tied to them. Sale today! Two for the price of one! Two whats? It can be two pedicures, two massages, two pairs of shoes, two bed pillows, two beers, or two bottles of wine. Or buy a cup of coffee and get a free bagel. Or sign up for a spinning class and get free CPR. Afterwards, join our Happy Hour! Stuff yourself with free appetizers, from tapas to sushi, and listen to people mumble all night long.

It’s also helpful to know that the local pharmacies, including the one in the grocery store, offer flu shots, that Verizon and AT&T can tempt us with the newest phones and related gizmos, that the hardware store sells an automatic key locator (whatever that is) and that the running club meets at the local workout gym at 8 on Saturday mornings (just so I can avoid them).

Friends shopping signIn addition to announcing hours and specials, some sidewalk signs try to send funny messages, such as the two-sided one in front of a kitchen design showroom. On one side, a woman on the phone: I told him, “I’m not waiting another year to remodel this kitchen.” On the other side, a man on the phone: So I told her … “If we’re going to fix the kitchen, we should have them do an outdoor bar-b-cue area too.”

Or one of my favorites: “Friends don’t let friends shop at chain stores.”

Yes, if I want bland, I’ll go to the nearest big shopping center. If I want perfect, I’ll go to a town that bans deviation, where everything looks the same. In the meantime, and I hope our sidewalk signs are here for awhile, I’ll enjoy the colorful clutter while I can. Even the moving signs that jumping people hold up and wave around.

 

Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine

Blue Moon / You saw me standing alone / Without a song in my heart / Without a love of my own — Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, 1934

All these romantic songs assume it’s terrible to be alone. That we can’t dream alone and that we must be unhappy and lonely if we live alone.

Well, they’re misleading us down the wrong garden path. The one strewn with rose petals where only romantically linked couples are welcome. Or the one lined with party hats and noisemakers for large groups and families.Blue Moon

For some of us, the shared path does not last, or lead anywhere, or suit our nature, or our lifestyle at a particular point in time. More and more people around the world are choosing to live alone, according to sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single. Today, more than 50 percent are. People who live alone in the United States (31 million) make up 28 percent of all American households, making them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family.

It’s hard to believe that all 31 million Americans who live alone are looking up at the moon and feeling empty. According to Klinenberg, those who live alone are more likely than couples to have active social lives, taking the initiative to reach out and get together regularly with friends.

From my own experience, I know it’s possible to be happy alone. In the past, I’ve felt lonelier in the wrong relationships or surrounded by people not on my wavelength. But I believed all the romantic songs that the path alone was too dark and I felt sorry for those who went down it. To end up there would be awful, I feared.

But, guess what? Here I am and it’s not dark at all. It is fun and full of adventure. I’m not saying it’s better than being with someone, but it’s just as good, just as worthwhile a path to take. I wish I’d been able to realize this earlier. I could be a famous novelist or Pulitzer-prize winning journalist by now, instead of spending time caring for unhappy men or trying to make ill-fated relationships work. Just kidding, of course. But I certainly could have saved myself hours of wishing I were on another path, under another moon. Maybe someday I will be, maybe not. Either way, I’ll be okay.

A few months ago I was looking up at the Blue Moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, had just died and we were encouraged to wink at the moon and remember him on his memorial day.

So by the light of his Blue Moon, with a song in my heart, I go for a walk, I take a photograph, I write, and I am in good company.

Aloha

Such a friendly woman once I got her to smile. I pass her for weeks in the morning, she walking two dogs and I carrying my mat to yoga. She is tall, with a limp in one leg, but she doesn’t let it slow her down, walks briskly and for miles she tells me, after we say hello and introduce ourselves. On Valentine’s Day, she surprises me with a chocolate bar, passing it to me like a baton in a relay as we move along. I eventually learn that she also swims and I tell her I write for the local paper and give her my card.

HibiscusOne morning I am headed in a different direction and I don’t recognize her as she pulls up in a black SUV and parks in front of my neighbor’s house. “You’re early this morning,” she says as she gets out. It takes me a few seconds to see who she is in this different location. And another few to realize she is not stopping to say hello or give me another candy bar.

She walks in front of her SUV and over to my neighbor’s hibiscus trees and starts yanking off the pink flowers. Handfuls of them. “I need these for my tortoise,” she says. “I hope whoever lives here doesn’t mind.”

I don’t know what to say.

Now, the hibiscus trees and flowers surround my neighbor’s corner house and flow over the sidewalk on two sides, so there are probably enough to feed a bale of turtles.

My neighbor is a yoga teacher, a kind and gentle man, and the hibiscus is the state flower of Hawaii, so it seems entirely possible that he wouldn’t mind sharing his bountiful blossoms with a hungry tortoise. I might be tempted myself to pluck one for my hair, just as I’m sometimes tempted to grab a lemon from another nearby front yard. But in the spirit of aloha, I think I would ask first before plucking. Or I like to think I would.

Doggie Don’t Do

I’m a moderate when it comes to dogs pooping on my lawn. I’m not conservative – let’s ban all dogs from going to the bathroom anywhere outside, make them wear diapers. Nor am I a liberal – let them poop and pee merrily away and run around in restaurants, Parisian-style.

Curb Your DogNo, I don’t mind if a dog poops on my lawn, as long as the owner picks it up. It’s not as if I’m out there rolling around on my grass, or even walking barefoot. I’m not as squeamish as some who even hate the idea of dogs on bike paths, the idea of walking where dogs have done their business, although I do admit that walking through a dog beach bothered me a bit.

Now that my son and his wife have adopted a dog and I see what they go through encouraging little Ruby to squat quickly and quietly, whipping out the teeny plastic bags and bending over and deftly scooping and tying the end and making sure nothing is left behind, I’m even more sympathetic to dog owners. Most, I think, are conscientious, and don’t have room in their homes for dog litter boxes, assuming dogs would even know what they are, unless a fire hydrant or a tree could be planted next to it.

Not everyone agrees with me. One of my neighbors glares from under her gardening hat at dog owners as they amble by. One morning, I point to a man in front of me with a dog the size of a horse. “How would you like to pick up after that?” I joke. She turns red. “The other day I caught him,” she said. “I wasNo! Dog up on my roof and he couldn’t see me. It’s amazing what people will try to get away with when they think no one is watching.” I try to imagine what she saw. Then she adds, “If you see anyone letting their dog on my lawn, tell them to get off.”

So the next time I’m out walking with my daughter-in-law and Ruby starts sniffing my neighbor’s pristine lawn, I explain that it’s not dog-friendly and the owner may be up on the roof watching us. “It’s almost too perfect, isn’t it?” I say. There’s not a blade out of place or sullied by soil. We look closer – and both realize that it is too perfect, because it’s not real! It’s fake grass.