Office Music: Oscar on Cole

My office music today is Oscar Peterson Playing the Cole Porter Songbook.

Sublime, rhythmic, magical… Whatever did I do for afternoon background before Google Music?

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Perfect Dinner Date

Porch balcony, facing the ocean, at La Valencia, a venerated old Spanish-style hotel in La Jolla.

Friday evening, just after sunset. Crescent moon. Bright stars. Sweet sea breezes. Casual elegant menu. Duck confit fettucine for me. Lamb shank pot pie for him.

Candles twinkle. Acoustic guitarist strums and softly croons in hotel bar behind us. A young woman quietly stands, saunters around table, and kisses her man passionately. Twice.

We murmur and laugh. Touch knees. Count stars.

And wonder why we rarely make time to mindfully enjoy our journey…

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Of Android Smart Watches and Timex Analog Watches

Google introduced Android Wear “smart watches” this week, its first product in a future array of wearable computers. This new Android smart watch, made by Korea-based LG, uses software focused on personal health, but can also remotely control other devices.

Per the New York Times, “Google said it was also already working on watches with Asus, HTC, Motorola and Samsung.”

In response, I bought for myself a $30 Timex “weekender” watch with an analog face and lime-green canvas band. And two other brightly-hued, interchangeable bands, in lavender and white-with-red-stripe.

I’m not exactly sure why… but I think I bought my first Timex in, say, four decades, because it’s simple. Blessedly simple.

Because it’s fun and casual, not technologically serious or smugly fashion-forward or screaming of status-symbol-itis.

Because it would be enchanting relief to check the time without pulling out my Galaxy Note 3 smart phone. And inevitably checking two email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, Google News, and playing a quick round of Candy Crush or Solitaire.

Because Timex is famously reliable. If you drop it or drown it, a Timex often keeps on ticking. And if it doesn’t, well, it’s easily and inexpensively replaceable.

Because Timex is an American classic, and the first watch most of us received as children from our parents.

Funny, I used to think of a watch as a weighty tether to schedules and punctuality. I felt freer without a timepiece on my wrist.

Today, in this era of smart watches more powerful than 1990s super-computers, a simple watch ironically seems like a key to greater spontaneity, and not a stressful shackle to the information super-highway.

I’m suddenly aware of time ticking far too swiftly away. I want to use my allotment wisely. I want to wear a watch again.

And besides, I’ve always loved the Timex slogan “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” I hope to always say the same about my life.

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Aging Parents Break for Freedom and the Open Road, to My Horror

My parents. My parents. My aging, restless, unpredictable parents…

They’re at it again. Upsetting the normal order of things. Bucking normalcy. Stealth loose cannons, doing things their way, even in their mid-80s. Even after 65 years of marriage.

My eyes are tearing as I write these words. If not your parents, they sound like a romantic pair. Walk in my shoes, though, and caring about these two feels like parenting a pair of itchy teenagers with too much imagination, zero common sense, and just enough money in their pocket..

During our weekly call this morning, my mother brightly exuded that they’re “moving.”

Me: “To where?”
Mom: “I don’t know.”
Me: “What? (pause) Well. when?”
Mom: “By the end of March. Maybe earlier.”
Me: “Is it money? Just tell me. We can help.”
Mom: “No. We don’t want any money. We took money out yesterday, and bought a new car. Bright blue. Dad says it’s a Suzuki. Has four seats.”
Me: “Uh, OK…”
Mom: “We’re going to travel. We can’t do this anymore. We want to wander. We want to see the ocean again.”
Me: “What???”
Mom: “No one can tell us what to do. We’re like that. You know that… ”
Me: “Oh Mother… ”
Mom: “Debi, if we die on the road, well there you go… That’s it. We can’t stay in this little place.”
Me: Sighs… I recognize the tone in her voice, that unstoppable train wreck of certitude and stubborness. I feel familiar defeat.
Mom: (pause) “If we come by, can we stay with you a little while?”
Me: “YES! Yes, yes yes. Please stay. We have an extra room, Andrea’s room. YES!”
Mom: “Oh no. We never want to live just one place again. Never. Not ever.”

They live in Colorado, just north of Denver. Mother hasn’t driven in decades, and hasn’t seen a doctor since the last time she drove herself to an appointment. She has osteoporosis, crippling arthritis, and progressive memory loss. She barely moves with a walker. Father walks with a cane, has fallen several times, and has grown mildly confused in recent years. They have a special horror, though, of assisted living. (An unfounded horror in my view…)

They desire to travel north to see forested mountains in Montana and Idaho, then west to the coast. “We want to drive the Coast Highway again,” which presumably means Highway 1, one of the nation’s most treacherous roads.

Their lifelong best friends, Alice and Bill, died in 2006 in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver, on Bill’s 80th birthday while family waited for them in a restaurant. They never took a last trip. Never bid farewell to their favorite places and people. Never again enjoyed their beloved annual family vacation on California’s central coast, on Highway 1. I get it.

Ron and I have offered to:

  • Fly to Colorado and drive them back here to our Southern California home
  • Fly there to help them sort this all out
  • Take them into our home permanently Even offered to move to a bigger place.
  • Settle them in Reno, where Ron has family. Where we spend lots of time. Where they honeymooned in 1948.

No dice. Today, they sound like two teenagers goofy at the glorious prospect of freedom and the open road.

I’m afraid for them. This won’t end well. Ron thinks this might blow over. It won’t. Trust me, it won’t. I hear her defiant tone. His boundless joy.

Told them I love them. That we’ll be there if they run into problems or run out of funds. Mother repeatedly warned me… begged me… not to worry about them. They’re fine. They’re happy. They have to do this, she said. We can’t keep sitting here.

I’m horrified, and feel so sad and helpless, much like I often did as their ultra-responsible oldest child. In real life, this isn’t romantic. It’s foolish, and it’s heartbreaking for family. Nobody wants Thelma and Louise for parents…

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A Winter Weekend and Ten Pounds of Oranges

I bought a 10 pound bag of organic navel oranges this week. Ordered them, actually, as an add-on to our weekly produce carton from Abundant Harvest.

Seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a boatload of oranges. Sweet, deliciously juicy oranges. We don’t own a juicer, though, manual or otherwise.

I’ll gift some to our next door neighbors on both sides. Maybe drive a bag to my son and two grandkids.

That still leaves a passel of oranges.

So this cool winter weekend (OK, cool by Southern California standards), I’ll happily indulge in my “hobby” or “craft” of learning a couple new recipes. Orange marmalade. Orange upside-down cake. I’m intrigued by this gorgeous orange tart.

Yes, I know I could make potpourri. Sachets. Soaps. Even Christmas ornaments. But I’m a cook.

I’ll keep you posted. If you have recipes suggestions, email me at If you live nearby and hanker for a taste, let me know. There’ll be extra for you.

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Bad Pancakes and Mrs. America at Second Glance

The older I get, the more I appreciate the patient fortitude of women in my mother’s post-Depression to World War II era generation….

The recipes in this yellowed 1967 cooking booklet of 51 pancake recipes by Mrs. America Pageant participants are detestable, yet quaintly fun, at first glance. Most them, anyway.

Sponsored by the Aunt Jemima division of Quaker Oats Company, “The exciting 1967 Mrs. America Pageant included a special ‘Aunt Jemima Pancake Variety Event’… Each state winner prepared her original pancake recipe for the distinguished judges.”

Among the “tempting recipes” are…

Tippler Pancakes by Mrs. Joseph E. Arace, Jr., Mrs. New Jersey – Ingredients include a can of boned chicken meat, condensed cream of mushroom soup, and a jar of “process cheese spread, heated,” mixed, then rolled into pancakes made with beer and “melted liquid shortening.” Garnish with parsley.

Tomato Pancakes by Mrs. Arthur F.H. Von, Mrs. Hawaii – Ingredients added to Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake Mix are two cups of tomato juice, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, two eggs, and melted butter. Topped with peaches.

Grandma’s Pancakes A-Go-Go by Mrs. Robert L. McBride, Mrs. Iowa – Pancakes are concocted from mix, milk, egg yolks, syrup, and liquid shortening, and served with sausage links. Two sauces accompany the plate, a cherry sauce and a mushroom cheese sauce, created from cream of mushroom soup, cheddar cheese, cooking sherry, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder, and black and cayenne peppers.

And the 1967 Recipe Contest Winner, by Mrs. James Francomacaro, Mrs. Virginia, Old Glory Pancakes (see front cover photo, above), a more traditional breakfast pancake festooned with stripes of red (canned cherry pie filling), white (sour cream), and blue (blueberry preserves).

At second glance, though, the recipes are the least detestable elements in this five-decade old pamphlet. From the perspective of this 21st-century woman, there’s nothing fun or sweetly quaint about…

  • All 50 states and District of Columbia being represented only by white women (with frozen, forced smiles and primly lacquered helmet-hair)
  • Women known only by their husbands’ names, as if they were chattel owned by men
  • The implicit message that all women should be married
  • Sponsor Aunt Jemima’s logo, a jolly, fat black woman with a head kerchief, modeled on a racial caricature taken from an 1875 minstrels/vaudeville song, “Old Aunt Jemima.”

Most of these pancake recipes are astoundingly distasteful (and heavily reliant on processed and fake foods).

But the distastefulness of gender and racial stereotypes foisted on my mother’s generation far exceeds the short-term nausea induced by bad pancakes.

Indeed, the older I get, the more I appreciate the patient fortitude of women in my mother’s post-Depression to World War II era generation. It’s a wonder they survived both the pancakes and the stereotypes.

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