Monday, December 30, 2019

The Winter of My Discombobulation

Do you remember the Mary Tyler Moore Show? It's an oldie, it aired back in the 70's. Ms. Moore played career woman Mary Richards, who was super stylish, always pulled together, had an awesome apartment and wardrobe. Her life wasn't perfect, but her outfits and hair certainly were.

Yes, always so polished, except for that one episode when Mary was up for an award. She had a nasty head cold, stuffy red nose and all, she'd had a disaster with her typically perfect hair, hurt her ankle and at the last minute a wardrobe malfunction forced her to borrow a dress from her funky-hip neighbor Rhoda. As Mary limped up to the podium to receive her award, the first thing she said was "I usually look so much better than this!"

I'm no Mary, either Tyler Moore or Richards, but I'm having that moment played over and over lately. I want to wear a sign that says "I usually look better than this."

2019 was my Year of Going Silver. While I thought there'd be more of it (grey) and it would be hard to get used to, letting go of the dye was one of the best decisions I've ever made, looks-wise. I'm so thrilled I got through it without either buying a wig, bailing and going back to the boxed color or pulling my hair out, strand by strand. It turned out so cool, really cool. And therein lies the only problem with my decision. It's thrown this former warm-toned Autumn into a multi-seasonal tizzy!

None of my tried-and-true colors look good on me anymore. Orange is a lemon, lime green is queasy and brown is downright poopy. My face looks pink and suddenly looks great with silver jewelry, while the rest of me is still rocking gold rings. How can the simple act of finding something to pull over one's head and not look like something the cat dragged in be so hard? The numerous trips to the thrift store - the numerous sweaters I've purchased for $5 trying to find any color that works - the donation pile in the garage stacked up with $5 sweaters to redonate - it's a circle of futility that is only benefiting charities at this point.

I believe I've stumbled onto the answer, though. Picking the brains of my friends Mr. Google and Sara from New York, my dilemma may be nearing its badly colored end. It appears I'm a Soft Summer who has neutral coloring, can wear both gold and silver, but must must must wear muted colors near my face. Muted, Jess. No vibrant oranges, no tomato reds, and slap yourself if you wear a heavy brown near your hair that's no longer brown. "Suited for Muted" is the new catch phrase for 2020. Goodwill pile in the garage, prepare for a wardrobe dump of Autumn colors.

Because of some shifting molars that were causing some gum issues, I opted to get Invisalign trays this October. The thing they don't tell you about Invisalign is that you won't just be wearing clear liners. They will also be gluing "attachments" to your teeth to get things to move more easily. What do the attachments look like? A bit like tiny pieces of broken Tic Tacs. But on my eye teeth, more like the entire Tic Tac has been affixed. My eye teeth appear pregnant and ready to give birth any day. My lips catch on these attachments while the liners are off. When they are in my mouth? Then my lips look puffy and awkward, a bit like Meg Ryan after her ill-advised lip job, but without Ms. Ryan's adorable hair, figure and obvious knowledge of the perfect colors to wear. Soon I'll be done with this treatment and the ability to smile like a normal person will return, maybe around the same time I learn what "muted" means.

Winter is hard on skin. The air inside is dry, and lots of ooey gooey moisturizer is necessary. It was probably not the best season to start a strong exfoliating process. One minute my skin is fine, the next minute it looks like a snake when it slithers out of its skin. Or rather, it looks like what the snake left behind. Not pretty. And on top of that, what else happened to this 57 year-old, recently grey-revealed woman wearing the wrong colors, the one with the awkward smile? Pimples. Yep, I have been getting break outs. Go. Figure.


Wait, you say, "She's happy with her hair, right? She has to be happy about something!" Yes, I'm so very happy about my hair color and that I don't have to think about it any more. I really love the color. I even made my "Memoji" grey-haired. But see that hair style? That is what I was warned about, the ever-so-joyful time spent trying to grow out a pixie cut. I heard it was hard. I heard it was awkward. I heard you either had to get it cut often or just often be annoyed with it. Maybe if I wasn't spending so much money at the thrift store buying wrong colored sweaters, I could be getting it cut more frequently. But just like I had to be patient and let my roots reveal funky style will grow out soon. I just have to get thru Winter and wait for Spring and my dry skin to Fall off and soon I'll find my Summer self. Muted, of course.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

No Waste November 2019? Sadly, no.

Last year, November 2018, my husband and I (mostly me) decided to take on No Waste November. The goal was to not buy, and therefore not discard, any unrecyclable packaging. It was a challenge, but with a lot of thought, ingenuity and reusable mesh produce bags, we did it. It meant giving up many beloved products from my "can shop there without a brain" favorite store, Trader Joe's. While TJ's has lots of unpackaged produce, their pre-washed items in plastic bags are so easy to use, it's hard to resist them.

So for last year's challenge, I bought lots of loose produce from the bigger stores I normally avoid when I'm busy, namely Raley's, WinCo Foods and Sprouts Farmers Market. It felt good to fill our bellies with healthful food while not topping out the garbage can with packaging headed for the landfill. No Waste November 2018 was a success!

This year as November approached I geared up mentally to repeat last year. No sweat, this challenge isn't that hard. It was amazing to see how little waste we produced last year by simply refusing to purchase "one-use only" packaging.

And then November came, on the heels of the sudden death of a lovely woman we worked with for years on volunteer building projects. She was much too young, much too vibrant, much too full of life to even imagine her now dead. I stumbled into the eleventh month of the year, feeling like someone punched me hard in the middle of everything that counts.

A week after Mindy's memorial service, which was attended by 480 people who were equally stunned to the core, our dear friend Dal died. He was about the kindest, most soft-hearted man I've ever met, with a melodious voice that matched his well-chosen words of support and love. Any corner of me that didn't feel devastated, well Dal's death found it and set up camp. This was a hard month. Very hard.

And so our No Waste November became a Just Get Through November. I'm sure our buying habits and garbage production rates still are well below the average for our area, but yep, I caved and bought some treats. Treats in plastic. Salad kits from Trader Joe's with innumerable little bags of add-ins, in even more plastic. One shot eating, with the trash to prove it. Maybe next year, November, maybe next year.

So while we weren't perfect, and November pretty much stank, I'm going to count up the victories, which surprisingly were quiet orange and came in their own compostable packages.

A needed trip to Yosemite was squeezed in early November.

Soup is good for the saddest of souls.

Ginger Bear did his best to cheer me up.

Persimmons did their thing, looking all perky and cute.

Trader Joe's ingredients, every last one.

Sweet Potato Chocolate Pie!
At least the sweet potatoes weren't packaged. 

A free pumpkin from my husband's work.
Comes in its own wrapper!

I invented Pumpkin Rice Porridge.
Baked in the shell.
Looks awful, tasted great.

Thus ends November 2019.
Eat well.
Tell your friends you love them.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Old photos - a sometimes blurry window on our world

When I was young we kept most of our photos in a big brown striped suitcase in our linen closet. We weren't big on photo albums as family, they existed for only certain occasions. Finding a photo meant digging through the big brown suitcase until you found the one you were looking for, plus twenty others you weren't. The brown suitcase went back East when my Mom moved to Connecticut, and after she died my sister in Portland became the keeper of the brown suitcase photos.

Along the way, I'm not sure how, but I came to have quite a few of the photos that technically belonged in the suitcase. I had a plan at one point to make an album for each of my four siblings of their family history, and I only got to my oldest brother Jim's project. That left me with lots of odds and ends of old family photos, going back to my Dad's family in Sweden. Lots of really amazing pictures of people who we're are related to, we just don't know exactly how. The women all have incredibly long wavy hair, so that might throw a wrench in the belief that they're blood relations. Other family photos contain well-dressed people at holiday parties, and other occasions, some quite mundane. People have come a long way, and unfortunately they are now traveling in yoga pants.

While my fashion sense has changed over the years too, my history of keeping photos organized can be summed up in two words. Hit and Miss. While I have several epic trips documented in amazing detail, and I'd created albums for the first seven years of our marriage, the remaining 21 years plus all the family photos I had went into photo boxes.

Photo boxes are a procrastinator's best friend, or enemy, depending on what you're focusing on. If hiding things away in a pleasant and stackable manner is the goal, they are great. If what you're looking for is your photos stored in a way you can find them, the more boxes you buy, the less likely you'll ever find that precious picture you're searching for.

Our photo organization, or lack of it, came to a head this past month. It's a whole other post I'm not ready to compose, but this summer while in Romania we received the news that my brother Jim was very ill. Upon our return, we were able to spend a few intense but very meaningful days with him before he passed away. With plans for a celebration of life in the works, my sister-in-law asked us for some photos of our family, with photos of young Jim in particular.

Out came the boxes and the photo shuffling started. Of course I couldn't find the ones I was looking for, who could in all those boxes of mixed-up photos? Old Swedish relatives, school photos, letters from my Grandma, get well cards, sympathy cards, camping trip after camping trip and way too many photos of the Pudgy Years, before we became plant-based. For every third photo there was a duplicate, even the really bad blurry ones.

I did my best to go through them all, and I found some family pictures I didn't even know I had. But to really do this right, we had to get rid of our couches. Yes, the couches had to go and here's why.

While sitting down one night contemplating life, I got the sense that our big green couch and love seat were not producing one spark of joy in me. We got them used, they were now even more used, they were too big for the room, they were losing their ability to properly hold up a human form in a comfortable manner and they were emanating the smell of Golden Retriever. Our friend Dan was over for dinner and without much thought I had Dan and Ernst move the couches to the garage. That weekend they went bye-bye via Craigslist.

What does this have to do with photos? Well, we moved the futon from the guest room into the living room as a temporary solution for the missing couches, and then grabbed the IKEA chairs from the tv room to add more seating. That made the rug look like it needed cleaning so it got one. Then the table in the corner looked out of place and bulky so we moved it to the tv room. All this furniture moving gave me a nice wide open space in the guest room to really tackle the photo project. Thank you big green couches, you really did serve us well until you didn't.

On a folding table in the guest room with no bed, I set out every single thing that contained photos or memories. This was the project I never got to when we Konmaried the house a few years ago. The amount didn't seem too daunting, then I remembered my husband must have some more to add. Yes he did, and at that point we had ourselves a photo-declutter-a-rama. Boxes and boxes, framed photos that had been packed away, lots of photo albums with those awful sticky backed pages with shiny plastic film, the ones that were so easy to overload with really bad blurry photos of people with their eyes closed and someone's finger halfway across the lens.

Why did we save so many of these photos? Because those were the days you paid for film, took photos hoping you got the right shot, so you took a few just in case and then you brought them to be developed and you paid for the prints - only to see closed eyes, blurry images and someone's finger halfway across the lens. We saved them because there were no do-overs. The moment had passed and all you had left was the really bad photo. So you put them in your sticky albums. And a funny thing happened. You forgave the photos for being of poor quality and you came to adore them. You didn't see the flaws, you saw the memory. And that's why it's so hard to part with these, they are old flawed friends and you can't just toss them away without a bit of guilt.

There was no way I was going to make chronological sense of any of these. This project isn't for passing down memories to generations to come, this is for us. It's so we can find that special photo when we need to. It's so we can toss the scenery photos and concentrate on the people pictures. I know what Half Dome looks like and I don't need a shot of it from 2004, but I do want that photo of our friends from Germany standing with the amazing granite peak in the background. OK, maybe we can toss the one where all four of them have their eyes closed, but that good one is a keeper!

Instead of by year, we separated them by categories. Places we've lived, friends from each place, dogs we've owned, kids we've known and loved, weddings (even the ones which ended in divorce because it's history) and many many trips. Lots and lots of people photos, and when you're looking at ten photos of a couple or family who mean a lot to you, it's easier to find a few good ones that flatter everyone if not most. If not, then we kept the blurry closed eyes photo. It's a reminder of simpler times.

While we aren't pared down as much as I would like to be, the mountain of photo boxes is now of a reasonable size. I know where all the photos of my brother Jim are, and that's very comforting. I have little tabs separating the categories of our life. The pictures of my childhood dogs are no longer barking up against that trip to Frankfurt, and New York photos aren't bobbing for space with trips to Apple Hill. It's not picture perfect, but I'm calling it almost there. Once we get the picture table down we can get the guest room back in order and bring in a new couch. I'll be sure to post some photos.

First these had to go.

And temporary items were borrowed from other rooms.

Which opened up this spot for a photo table.

Eeks, found more!

Things got delayed with a plumbing problem.

Had to take a photo of that.

The photo I was searching for that started this whole thing.
My brother Jim with his puppy Bantu and my puppy Holly.

Things got serious.

And I found more treasures.

It got a bit better.

Using the game table in the tv room was a home run.

Categories. We have categories.

Whittled down to this, plus some boxes of memories.
And a few albums.
Was it worth it?

When you rediscover that photo of your friend standing on the Twin Towers...

...and that trip to Windows on the World where I ate sushi for the first time?
Even some of the "Why Did I Save This?" photos were worth saving after all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

I was in stitches, but it wasn't funny

That Friday started out so well. I did some volunteer work in the morning, stopped for groceries on the way home and was now preparing a salad for some guests that night. It was our first little pool party of the summer, a summer that came late for pool parties. The house was reasonably clean, the yard was reasonably in order and our young guests were reasonably excited about being the first to take a swim at our place in 2019.

Our guests were bringing the bulk of the meal, they are just that way and I've stopped fighting it. But I wanted to add a simple salad - canned garbanzo beans, halved cherry tomatoes, black olives, chopped parsley and some seasonings. Oh yes, we can't forget the diced red onion. The onion gives it that little bit of punch, that pop of flavor that says you cared enough to dice up something extra. A bit of red onion is perfect for that.

"Almost done here, just have to dice up this onion and the salad is done, hmm, this knife probably needs sharpening again, I just had it sharpened, we sure go through a lot of produce, oh well I'm just about finished..."

And just about then the knife slipped off the onion and right into the tip of my left index finger. The finger that according to instructional videos on how to safely and quickly dice an onion should have been bent in such a way that makes slicing it with the knife next to impossible. The same finger that still bore the slight scar a bit further down from another slip of the same knife from a few weeks before.

In my defense I would like to add that I process lots and lots of fresh produce with that combination of knife and fingers. Barrels of produce both bulky and thick, and heaps of herbs - fine and delicate. I still have all my fingers. For now.

After slicing into my finger I gasped and grabbed a semi-clean, semi-dirty dish towel. It's not like it was covered in chicken juice or anything, but later I did make a mental note to reach for a completely clean dish towel in the future event I cut myself again and there is blood.

After the shivers raced up my spine and into the far reaches of my head, I ran some water under my finger to see what was up. The skin opened up in such a way as to cue up the theme for Jaws, so I knew I had to get my husband involved at this point. I called him in, but was a bit afraid to take the clean/dirty towel off my finger. I decided to try rinsing it again. Jaws 2.

A decision had to be made. Head to the ER for stitches, a visit that would cost $500 in a copay? Or pay out of pocket to visit an Urgent Care not connected to our health plan, which by now seemed like not much of plan. I called the advice nurse and found out Sacramento has an Urgent Care again, located in the south area. My dirty-from-yard-work husband cleaned up my finger and wrapped it enough for me to drive to Urgent Care. He was way too dirty to think of coming, so I drove myself, finger sticking straight up the whole way. Index finger, which is better for driving in traffic.

I arrived and took a number like I was about to order ice cream or make a return at IKEA. I sat down. My knees went weak for a second. But then I began to convince myself maybe it wasn't that bad, "I bet they can just glue this old shark flap shut."

No-go on the super glue, it needed stiches and the most painful shot I've ever had ever ever ever - straight down the center of my finger from the tip. I usually like to look when I get a shot, but the MA said not to look, so I trusted him. I'd like to say I made no noises whatsoever while receiving this shot, but I tell the truth always, so I'll say maybe I groaned a few times. To distract me, the assistant asked what I was making when I cut my finger. Garbanzo salad with tomatoes and herbs. And some red onion. He asked if I was vegan. Why yes, I am plant-based. So was he, and that might have been the first Plant-based High Five (with my other hand) while receiving a shot on the other hand in the history of that particular Urgent Care. We talked recipes while the man with the shot sewed me up with three stitches. He said it was pretty deep. Um, yes, deep is a good word.

I got home with my finger wrapped up, still blissfully numb. We decided not to disappoint our little guests and went on with our little swim party and marshmallow toasting bonfire. I sat there with my finger sticking out like a sore thumb, a position it would stay in for many weeks to come.

First, I must comment on how amazing the human body is. It took longer than I thought, but now at almost eight weeks later I just feel the slightest numbness and loss of sensation on one bit of my finger. I'm sure it will continue to go away and I'll be fine, because it's already 99.998% better.

Second, the body is very adaptable. At first I couldn't do anything right with only nine fingers, I kept bumping it on everything within bumping distance, and all tasks were clumsy and slow. Then I got used to it and when I healed up I had to remind myself that I had 10 fingers. Slowly I got back to typing and crocheting and picking stuff up without wincing. And yes, very carefully, with added skill and technique, I chop onions like a Food Network Star, with less speed. No more slipped knives, no more stiches, just lots of shark-like precision.

Here is the progression of amazingness, our bodies really are amazing.

Ick. Ouch. Stupid onion.

Still ouch.

No yard work for me!

Can't wait to get the stitches out!

Stiches out, Steri strips on.
Ah, the relief.

Go finger go!

Almost there!

I love you non-dominate-hand index finger.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Cottage Creek Iris Farm?

People are often surprised when they step into our house for the first time and see our yard. It's on a street with other modest houses built in the late 1950's. Hardwood floors, one small bathroom, no insulation in the walls. People were made of tougher stuff back then, didn't spend hours in the bathroom and wore more sweaters it seems. They wanted small houses and big yards, a bit opposite of the trend of late with McMansions on postage stamp-sized lots. I don't understand the big house trend, but on many a hot summer day when our yard needs attention, I long for a stamp-sized yard.

That's because right here in the suburbs of Sacramento we have 1/3 of an acre of property. That's a lot of maintenance, even when we've been trying for five years to make it maintenance free. I've come to appreciate that only giant slabs of concrete are maintenance free. So we keep chipping away at our yard, section by section, mostly with wood chips, sweat and blistered hands. We have made progress, but there are still areas to be tackled.

The Redwood Grove 

Yes, we have a grove of redwoods. Well, actually just three really tall ones that freak me out when they sway in a big winter storm. Under them is a super cute nursery of baby redwoods. The little guys don't scare me when they wave in the wind, they aren't tall enough to bring the house down yet. We want to plant some ferns in the redwood grove, but it's not high on the list right now. Only the swaying redwoods are high.

Dudley's Fence Area

We have a cool neighbor named Dudley, and I'm convinced that everyone should have such a neighbor. He keeps his yard nice, he has a garden, he gives us plants and I just love to see my husband way out in the back chatting with Dudley over the fence. The fence is very old, and Ernst and Dudley are determined to keep it going because they are those kinds of people. Good old fences that require cooperation to keep up make for good neighbors. On our side of the fence we have a nectarine and fig tree, a sycamore that looks like a dragon, a few iris bulbs I planted last fall and a weed farm I didn't plant. It needs some attention and lots of wood chips.

The Mound of Dirt

The big mound of dirt came from when we put in the Basketball Court/Dance Floor. The big mound of dirt used to make me upset because you can't just have a big mound of dirt in your yard and just leave it there. But now I know you can. It eventually starts shrinking and growing clover and probably would look like we planned it if we just covered it with chips.

The Garbage Area

Ugh, what can you say about a garbage area? This is the place that no matter what we do with the rest of the yard - the pool area, a covered patio, a grassy area, the little orchard, Dudley's fence, the fernless redwoods, the vegetable garden, the dance floor/basketball court, and other random places that we make pretty for a party - no, no, no, some people end up eating their food, while standing, in our garbage area. I have seen male guests standing up eating using our recycle bin as a table. I'll never get it. I just walk over to the redwood grove and scream to the ferns that aren't there yet.

The Old Dog Kennel

Way in the back corner of our yard is a sad little area that used to be a dog kennel. The first owner put it in. Dogs should not be put in kennels as far from their people as possible. Neither should vegetable gardens, so I have wisely decided to keep ours closer to the house. This has left the kennel area to be quite neglected. It still has the weed barrier down that the previous owners installed when they thought it would be a good garden spot. They too learned that gardens should be closer to the house. The weed barrier is coming up in giant hunks, the weeds ignored the barrier. We keep our compost bins there, our wood and random branches that fall from the redwood trees.

But I'm going to turn things around for the old dog kennel. I love irises. They love me. They love this soil. You can ignore them. They're drought tolerant. You can dig them up and sell the rhizomes. I love them, or did I mention that? Did I also mention they are the lazy gardener's dream plant? And that you can SELL them? So when I dig up some of our iris bulbs this Fall to sell them, I'm also going to plant a bunch back in this sad corner of the yard, hopefully making it a happy profitable spot. The redwoods are so jealous.

Yellow Submarines
Touch of Green

Purple Periscope

Ice Cream Sherbet

Prom Dress

Future home of Cottage Creek Iris Farm!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jessica Bear in Yosemite!

Upper Falls
Lower Falls
Jessica Bear

It had been a very very long time since I'd been to Yosemite. We used to go all the time, when we camped with friends who were dedicated enough back in the day to get camping reservations there. It used to be really hard and involved waking up early exactly 3 months beforehand and calling the parks people and promising them a kidney or some other vital organ in exchange for a camping spot. To get a spot on the valley floor you practically had to come up with two kidneys. These friends were good at playing the Yosemite camping game, and we were happy beneficiaries of their diligence. Now you just go online and there are no kidney donations required. And yet we still don't go.

There have been occasions over the years that my husband has brought visiting guests down to see Yosemite, in one big long day trip. I've always had to work, or there wasn't room in the car for all of us, and hence a huge lapse in my visiting this most amazing place. I had tried to convince myself that maybe it wasn't that great, after all Lake Tahoe is pretty cool and who can look down their nose at the California coastline? Certainly not me. So Yosemite sat there, unvisited for years and years.

And then some friends visited, raved about seeing it all in winter and something clicked and I suddenly had to get back to Yosemite. My sister was coming for a visit, she loves Tahoe and the ocean, but I put a trip to see Half Dome on the Must See, Must See, I Really Must See List. The forecast changed about a dozen times, but I was still determined and we kept our options open for a day that had no clouds. Zero clouds, not a one, that's what I was looking for on my Weather Channel app and that came two Thursdays ago. Temperature was no factor for me, it was all about the clouds ma'am.

We hit a pleasantly brisk, absolutely cloudless day with very few people. In fact, there were so few people we nodded at those we had already seen and did the "We'll take your picture if you'll take ours" routine. With so many roads and trails still closed due to snow, it was amazing how uncrowded it was. Definitely a plus to not going in summer.

The park has been through it with all the storms this winter. My sister asked a ranger at Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) if there had been a microburst or something that had come through, we saw so many downed trees. No, he said, just so much snow and stormy conditions, many trees were down everywhere. The entrance from Merced looked like a beaver convention, trees felled in an unbelievable amount. They had crews working to get the park in shape for its spring opening season, which is April 1st.

What is it about Yosemite that makes it so awe inspiring? Half Dome is iconic of course, and El Capitan takes your breath away. But it occurred to me while there with so few people, and a chance to walk so much of the valley because other parts were closed, is that the valley itself is the most incredible part of Yosemite. Gigantic cliffs surrounding a huge flat expanse, the flatness in complete contrast to the soaring heights.

Yosemite Valley is like an EKG of a person's wildly beating heart. Then it flatlines, Then it starts up again at full speed. The valley is the flatline, and it makes the rock faces of El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point and the other sheer granite mountains that much more impressive. I'm super glad we went and I certainly hope my Yosemite drought is over.

"And the skies were not cloudy all day."

Any road trip has to begin with a stop at Trader Joes!
Yippee, Half Dome didn't go anywhere!

All those cliffs make you dizzy.

Jessica Bear wants you to know she fell off this giant mound
of snow onto the dirty street and lived to 'tell the tail".
Hiking can be dangerous in winter.

No crowds, no clouds. 

Half Dome and El Capitan in one day.
What a bear!

Standing on flat ground.
Staring up at sheer granite.
It's what makes Yosemite such a special place.