Sunday, November 29, 2009

and now from Tucson

We pulled away from our very comfy hotel at 7 AM and drove down the quiet streets of Palm Springs through a light drizzle. The hotel provided us with a rather strange breakfast; an omelet made with, I think, one egg mixed with about a cup of water to stretch it out. Totally tasteless but hot. Back onto I-10 ~ a freeway to be avoided at any cost ~ through the barren, drab California desert, heading for Blythe and the Arizona border. The CHP was out in force; we saw many drivers who had been pulled over for speeding. For heaven's sake; the speed limit out there is 70 MPH! How fast do you have to go, anyway?

We crossed the border into Arizona (sorry about the quality of this photo but it's hard to get a really good shot at 70 MPH)about 10 AM, which was actually 11 AM because of the 1-hour time difference. Then we picked up 1-8, a much better road, then the 85 connector back to the congested I-10. This takes us through Gila Bend, not a garden spot by any means, but there's a funky motel there that we always stay in as we are heading back to California. Anyway, we are now tucked up in our hotel in Tucson, have made a provisions run to the local Trader Joe's and are well stocked with snacks and wine for the long trip down the Mexican coast. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will not get stopped and inspected and have all our treasures (liquid) confiscated. So tomorrow morning we head a bit east, then hang a right on Highway 19 to Nogales and try our luck.

This is the photo I should have put up yesterday of the snow on the Grapevine. It covered the eastern end and the summit, but at about Gorman it disappeared. Too warm as we headed down into the LA basin.

Next stop will be San Carlos or Alamos, both in the state of Sonora, MX. Maybe a message from there.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

greetings from Palm Springs

There's much to report about this totally uneventful drive from the Valley to Palm Springs. What we saw, where we went wrong, and mainly the weather. It's a good thing I took that photo of the Chinese pistache tree yesterday. In the night, a fierce wind came up and this morning that lovely orange fire had been stripped from its limbs and it was completely starkers! And the wind was blowing hard all the way down I-5, stirring up tolveneras through the parched orchard lands of the San Juaquin Valley.

Over the Grapevine, SNOW! Yes, the temperature dropped to about 34º and the hillsides were dusted with snow. It was gorgeous. We pulled in to our usual Rest Stop (Thank you, Arnold, for not closing all of them) to have "breakfast" and what do I see? A red Smart Car, the drivers asleep in their seats, perhaps waiting for the wind to die down. It was a red one with a black cabriolet top (convertible). It was a boy car, I'm sure. It had black trim, sort of like sideburns. Dorothy, on the other hand, has silver trim, like silver earrings. Now I realize that in these interesting times sideburns and earrings are no longer gender-specific. But I still think it was a boy car. Attitude, perhaps. Then on the next leg of the trip, YIKES! Another Smart Car! So they are beginning to take over. These sighting represent a 200% increase from the early August trip we took (we saw none) and a 100% increase from the late August trip. Before you know it, everyone will want one of these little beauties.

We only got "lost" twice ~ missed the cut off to the Pasadena freeway from I-5 and the !-10 connector later. But we finally made it into the heart of this desert oasis mid-afternoon. It's been many years since I was here, and it's now a bustling chic town, the streets lined with trendy shops and restaurants. But since we started getting things together this morning at 3 AM we are not going out on the town tonight but instead are having turkey sandwiches, cold grilled shrimp, left-over pie and a good bottle of Murphey-Goode before calling it a day at, probably 7:30 tonight. Tomorrow we are off to Tucson after a promised breakfast at this hotel. Hope to write from there tomorrow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

the street where I live

Remember the garden re-do across the street? Here's how it looks today, almost complete.

I think there will be some sort of vine over the front door trellis. Don't know what the ground cover will be. I'll have to wait until spring to see it.

Then there is this gorgeous Chinese pistache tree outside our fence. There are two of them; one is absolutely bare, having deposited a gazillion little yellow leaves everywhere. But this one is hanging on, glowing like an ember.

Over in the next door garden, the paperwhites are in full bloom and their sweet scent is detectable as you walk by. I used to grow these indoors at this time of year and thought their timing ~ coming into delicate bloom in the cold of winter ~ was a stroke of genius on someone's part.

These are the things we will be leaving in the morning. I think we've gotten everything in that we hoped to take. I can't think of a single thing I've forgotten, although it will occur to me as we take the cut-off from I-5 and head for Palm Springs! Like all my underwear that I left behind last year, neatly packaged for travel, in the top drawer of my closet! Right now, however, I can't worry about it. Time to get a good night's sleep in anticipation of the start of another grand adventure. ¡Hasta luego!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Turkey Has Risen!

This may be a new expression to some of you. But in my house, both growing up and grown up, it was the Thanksgiving morning greeting. It is based, of course, on the Easter greeting," The Lord is Risen!" "He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!" We devised the birthday greeting, as well. "Your age has risen! etc. . . " Well, last night the gorgeous turkey prepared by Gina certainly rose to the occasion.

Along with this beautiful bird we had all the usual trimmings; dressing, mashed potatoes and mashed yams, a rich and tasty gravy, green beans, kohl vegetables, a nice refreshing salad, all followed by Mr. C's yummy pies. Several delicious wines were served, much good talk, and to top it off, "To Catch a Thief" rolled by on the TV.

Here is the lovely table where we all shared in this bounty. There was quite a bit of turkey left over; the hostess promised to bring some over to us today so we can make turkey sandwiches to take on the road tomorrow.

Ah yes, tomorrow. I asked the pilot what time we were going to get this circus on the road. "Six AM, I hope." We'll be lucky to get out of here by 7 AM, I bet. I'll take a picture of the loaded car and put it up later. We'll probably have internet in Palm Springs, but after that, the blog will be silent until we make it to the beach. Oh, perhaps in Mazatlan? We'll see. Meanwhile, last minute packing, the search for one square inch in the car to tuck in something forgotten (good luck), and then it's on our way to our other life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks giving

I have much for which to give thanks, not the least of which is that my toe seems to be healed. No longer discolored or swollen. One more week in the little bootie and "I'm back in the sandal again". And we have a lovely beach house to go to, 2400 miles south of the cold valley, for which I am very grateful. And the weather here is holding clear and crisp, the leaves have turned orange, gold and red, and we found Seven Deadly Zins on sale. Talk about blessings!

On the down side, of course, is the fact that this will be the first Thanksgiving in 10 years that I have not spent with my sister. We would pack up and drive to San Diego on Wednesday for 4 days, then head off to Mexico on Sunday. There was great cooking by her husband Tom and by Mr. C, lots of music and laughter, and the sense that we had all made it through another year and Thank God for that! She set a beautiful table with lovely linens, our parents' exquisite silver (now in my custody), place cards for the various guests, hand calligraphied in her perfect script. She was one to shop for holiday-specific accessories and her Thanksgiving finds were displayed on the table.

But this year we will mosey across the street to share bounty and blessings with our neighbors. I am taking a dynamite hors d'oeuvre, a stir-fry of kohl veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts), and Mr. C will grace the meal with his outstanding pumpkin pie and a less famous but just as tasty apple pie. We will finish up readying the house on Friday and head to Palm Springs on Saturday morning. Tucson on Sunday, then cross the border Monday morning in Nogales. We decided to avoid any drug war mayhem we might have run into in Cuidad Juarez. We anticipate having dinner ~ shrimp sautéed in garlic ~ at Dago's on Friday night!

For tomorrow, I wish you all a delicious, lovely, laughter-filled reunion with family and friends.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

this is just the hallway

There's also what's in the living room and what's already in the car. Three days and counting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

remembering Venice

While tidying up my desk in preparation for my departure, I came across an envelope in which I found two programs from concerts we attended while in Vicenza in 2007 at this time of year. They were held in a huge, drafty Palladian pile in the middle of town. We walked from our apartment through the dark, narrow streets for these free, 7 PM musicales to join a predominantly blue-haired crowd. It was absolutely wonderful.

Found also, in my efforts to tidy up a couple of year's worth of detritus, the following poem that I had copied from somewhere after one of our trips to Venice during our 2007 stay.

A Dying Glory

In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore
And music meets not always now the ear;
Those days are gone ~ but Beauty still is here.
Statues fall, arts fade ~ but Nature doth not die.
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

George Gordon, Lord Byron
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV

It was just cold and foggy enough here to remind one of Venice. But as soon as the fog lifted and the sun came out, I looked around and knew I was no where near the place.

Friday, November 20, 2009

old friends

I went into San Francisco yesterday and met a wonderful group of old friends. They included, among others, Truman Capote, Salman Rushdie, Brigit Bardot, Kate Hepburn, Twiggy, Verushka, Janice Joplin, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and the astonishing Marian Anderson.

It was quite a gathering. Oh, and also that genius with a Brownie, Richard Avedon. In fact, he's the one who got us all together. At the SFMOMA until November 29.

Monday, November 16, 2009

opening night of flannel season

Last night was the official opening of Flannel Season at our house here in the valley. Nighttime temperatures are dropping a bit more every evening and we've been piling on the blankets to stay cozy. I decided it was time to break out the warm and fuzzies for the remaining 2 weeks we're here. The above picture is not actually my bed, but the grey flannels are quite handsome, I think. I have two weights of sheets; one is for the early season, like now. The other is much heavier and, frankly, I haven't slept under them in several years. By the time the valley is deep into Flannel Season we are sleeping under only a sheet with the doors and windows wide open to the warm Mexican night.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

the surprise of grief

Paris, 1985

When Vicky was living here with me one of the most enjoyable and hilarious things we would do was take a trip to IKEA to check out the room settings and all the really great cheap goodies. The pots and pans, the bedding and towels, the funky rugs, and of course the "Last Chance for Tea Lights" signs throughout the store. We would go early, have a $3 breakfast, including the wonderful coffee, then wander through the store for a couple of hours, commenting along the way at the brilliance of the Scandinavian gift for using space, color and plastic. We'd pick up an item or two, including Lingonberry jam, and head home completely satisfied by our outing.

On Friday, on my way back from seeing the foot doc, I stopped in at our store to pick up some items for the beach house; tea lights and a new glass lamp just like the one I broke before we left in May. I walked through the housewares, checked out the dishes, pots and pans, then through the soft goods ~ sheets, towels, rugs ~ and into the storage items ~ boxes and files. Suddenly I utterly lost it. I burst into tears and had to sit down for a bit to recover. Why this place? Why amid the various filing and storage boxes? It took me about 20 minutes to recover my composure. A very kind IKEA employee leaned over and said, "Are you OK?" No, I sobbed, but I will be. "I just miss my sister." She was somewhat confused by my response, as was I. Vic loved this particular section of the store. She was one to buy all sorts of boxes and files, thinking it would help her get organized. There was no system for sale in any store in the universe to accomplish that. She was hopelessly disorganized, but her attempts to get a grip on the ephemera of her life were heroic.

One of the treasures I brought home after the memorial was a box filled with various cards. I remember when she bought the box and fashioned the dividers from manila folders. There are birthday, congratulation, sympathy, holiday and blank cards, all neatly filed away. The only problem is that she was a terrible correspondent. Weeks would go by and I wouldn't hear from her. I have no idea how long all these cards have been filed so neatly, awaiting only a personal message to be sent on their way. I think she just liked collecting them, knowing that if she ever wanted to send one she would have it close at hand. But they are now in my custody and I will use them as the occasions arise, thinking of her every time I lift the box's lid.

Oh Vicky, what times we had.

Friday, November 13, 2009

winter in the kitchen

I love winter food, the soups, stews, casseroles and roasts that keep us warm and satisfied. Meat loaf, pot pie, pot roast ~ all those rich, comforting tastes. Not that I don't also love the grilling season. But winter menus are my favorite and as it has gotten appreciably colder here in the Valley, I was spurred on on to consult my winter menu files for good things to eat. We don't cook this way at the beach; too hot. So I have about 6 weeks to get a winter's worth of rich, filling dishes.

Last weekend a local market was having a sale of seafoods, so I bought one crab and a 50-count bag of mussels.

The first menu was mussels in cream, one of my all-time favorite dishes. They turned out perfectly, even though they weren't Penn Cove mussels, the best in the world. The cream sauce was very flavorful and not too terribly rich since it is diluted with wine and some vegetable broth. Meat was plump and sweet. Lots of crusty baguette to sop up the juice.

Next I had to decide what to do with the crab. I had been browsing Pinch My Salt, my favorite food blog, when I came across a recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin. I'm a big fan of that squash, love gratin dishes, so decided to put them together and see what I came up with. It ended up being a Spaghetti Squash Gratin with Wilted Chard, Mushrooms and Crab.

The squash was slightly crunchy, the crab flavorful, the chard gave it a great look. Very delicious.

And finally, the local grocer had lamb shanks on sale, also a favorite. I cooked the meat half done on Tuesday, then added the veggies ~ mushrooms, carrots, brussel sprouts, potatoes ~ the next night to finish the cooking. Heavenly.

Meanwhile, Mr. C made a big pot of bean soup with a somewhat tired ham hock he found in the freezer. It turned out to be a bit sweet, for some reason. So to counteract that he put the left-over shank broth into the soup to liven things up. Perfect solution.

The rest of the news of the past week centers, still, on preparations for departure. More boxes packed, more drawers cleaned out and tidied up ~ if we didn't take this trip every year I would hate to think of the state of my cabinets ~ for our tenants. I was supposed to go to the hospital on Monday for another x-ray of my toe. But the doc called yesterday to see if I could make it today instead. Yes indeed I could. Good news. Healing nicely, thank you, and no more big boot. I have graduated into a tasteful "surgical shoe" which is not quite Jimmy Choo but much closer.

I have to wear that for 3 more weeks and then I can wear "real" shoes. Can't wait.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

happy anniversary

Do you think he's still having fun?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

today's reward

I didn't really earn this but I thought it looked pretty good anyway. When I got to the DMV this morning they informed me that I didn't have to take the written test after all. But I still have to take the driving test, even though I took it in June. How bad could it get in 4 months, I asked, to no avail. Next opening is two weeks after we arrive at the beach. I'm negotiating but probably will not have any luck. I don't like the idea of driving in Mexico without a license because of the insurance issues.

As a reward for nothing, I watched Raise the Red Lantern this afternoon. I saw this exquisitely beautiful movie years ago and wanted to see if it holds up. It does. I usually watch daytime movies on my big-screen computer monitor. Since this film has subtitles I had to sit nose-to-nose with it to read. But one nice thing is that I can pause the film to really read what's frequently just flashed at the bottom in which case I miss it. Sad story; no good can come of such misery. But a visual feast.

Monday, November 2, 2009

afternoon encounter

After I did my chores, fetched the mail, paid some bills and generally made myself useful ~ or as useful as possible while clomping around in this wretched boot ~ I settled down to watch David Lean's 1945 version of Brief Encounter. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as the doomed lovers Alec and Laura. Only one Kleenex®. I've seen this before although not with this cast. The sad, secretive and painful affair between the rather stuffy middle class couple is contrasted brilliantly with the open, lively, sexually charged banter between Myrtle and Albert, the canteen owner and the railroad man. Terrific performances all around.

Tomorrow I tackle the DMV to get my new driver's license. This year I have to take the written test, probably the first time in 25 years. I've read the Driver Handbook, taken all of the practice tests and think I can probably pass on the first try. Then I have to start negotiating to take the driving test before we leave. My license expires on my birthday in April and I will be in Mexico. Yes, I know, I just did this in June, but my license is only good for one year because of the vision thing, even though the DMV handbook itself says you only need to be able to pass the eye test with ONE EYE. I need to "see" about that requirement.