Wednesday, March 31, 2010

To sleep perchance to dream

Today I awoke as the sun was rising—such a luxury. For the past few days I have been awake before dawn, tending to the matters of my father who had open-heart surgery this week. I awoke thinking about yesterday’s events and laughed in retrospect because it seemed so much like a dream. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

Everything is a bit blurred in terms of the timing, but at some point late yesterday my father was being moved from one intensive care unit to another. The nurse instructed me to go upstairs to the new unit where my father was being transported. So I went through the rat-maze hallways to find the correct elevator to get me to the correct floor in the correct wing and the correct unit. I walked through the doorway and could see my father on a gurney. The unit nurse told me to go away and wait in the family waiting room until she called me. So I dutifully found the family waiting room, which was housing an entire tribe from one of the tribal regions of Pakistan. They had sleeping pallets on the floor and they were cooking a goat on a grill. I think Osama bin Laden was in the group. (Now wouldn’t that just be the ultimate irony? Osama bin Laden is hiding in a waiting room at the Washington Hospital Center.) So I sat on the floor in the hallway beside a window where I could see in the distance the spires of the National Cathedral. And I cried. Various hospital staff walked past me to go into the adjacent stairway. Some made eye contact, some didn’t. I’ll bet they see crying people sitting on the floor all the time.

Meanwhile, several floors below my sister-in-law was bringing my mother into the hospital emergency room. My mother was having difficulty breathing. The day before, while we were waiting during my father’s surgery, my brother and I kept thinking our pager was going off—we heard rhythmic errwww errwww sounds. It was not the pager; it was my mother wheezing.

So after my father got settled in to the intensive care unit, I saw him and headed down to the emergency room to check in with my mother. I got on the elevator with two EMS guys from Fairfax County. Don’t ask me why they were at the Washington Hospital Center, far from their jurisdiction. They said to follow them and they would direct me to the emergency room. After another rat maze of hallways and double doors, we were deep into a patient treatment area. There were people with bloody heads and tubes coming out of them and all manner of human misery. The EMS guys went one way and told me to go straight ahead and turn right. I think I walked through an MRI scanner somewhere in there and I’m wondering if I’ll get test results. A big burly woman security guard stopped me and asked me for my visitor sticker. Yes, I had one. I could see my mother, just a couple of yards away, sitting in a chair. The security guard said my mother was in a patient holding area and I couldn’t go there. So I shouted to her that my father had been moved and he was doing okay. My sister-in-law, bless her heart, was going to handle my mother’s situation. I went home to sleep.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Tried cooking something new today and it turned out great. I bought a beautiful bundle of rapini, also called broccoli rabe, although I understand it's not really related to broccoli but more a leafy green. It was so beautiful I wanted to figure out what to do with it. I did a little research and used what I had on hand to create a new recipe. Love it!

Rapini in Hot Sauce with Ginger and Garlic

1 bunch rapini (cut off tough ends and rinse thoroughly)
1 tablespoon hot pepper oil (my local grocery store sells olive oil with hot peppers that is intended to be a dipping oil)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add rapini, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Drain rapini in colander, chop coarsely and set aside. Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add garlic and ginger just until they sizzle. Add chopped rapini and stir fry for about 2 minutes.

Makes about two servings.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Coconut cake

This month's Better Homes and Gardens has a picture of a coconut cake on the cover. Coconut cake symbolizes spring to me, but I'll bet my coconut cake is better than their coconut cake. I got this recipe from my cousin who is a great cook. However, this recipe is so far from gourmet I should be embarrassed even to post it. But I'm not. If you take it to the spring church picnic you're going to have to give it another name.

Orgasmic Coconut Cake

1 box yellow cake mix (no pudding in the mix or butter recipe cake mix)
1½ cups water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 14 ounce bag shredded coconut
1 can Coco Lopez cream of coconut (find in drink mix section of grocery store)
1 regular size container (12 oz.) Cool Whip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix cake mix, water, eggs, and coconut extract in large mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer for two minutes at medium speed. Add 1 cup shredded coconut to batter and beat until blended. (Reserve remaining coconut for topping.)

Pour cake into a 13 x 9 inch pan coated flour/shortening spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 32 to 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack. When cool, punch holes all over cake with a sharp pointed object. Pour cream of coconut into a small bowl, stir to blend thoroughly, then pour over cake very slowly, starting in the middle, filling all the holes. Spread thawed Cool Whip over whole cake and top with coconut. Refrigerate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Carry my head

Today I went to visit my friend Lynne. We sat outside in the glorious sunshine, drinking tea and catching up. The winter seemed especially long and brutal, even more so for Lynne who in the past year has had a loss too deep to comprehend. Yet despite her own pain, Lynne offered to do Reiki and massage on me to heal the injury I have from shoveling six feet of snow in the past few weeks.

Lynne held the weight of my head in her hands and I felt the stress drain out of my head, neck, and shoulders. I’ve never personally weighed my head and I suppose it’s difficult to get an accurate measurement of its weight without detaching it from the body. (And I fear it would be difficult to reattach a head that has been severed from the body.) However, I’ve heard that an adult human head weighs about 10 pounds. Imagine walking around with a 10 pound bowling ball attached to your neck and you’ll know what it feels like to have a head. You probably already know what it’s like to have a head—you don’t need me to describe it to you.

It was such a relief to have Lynne support the weight of my head that I got to thinking—what if I could hire someone to carry my head for me? I would instantly be 10 pounds lighter. My neck and shoulder pains probably would go away. I could sleep comfortably. It might be a bit cumbersome to have my head-carrying assistant with me all the time but I think I could get used to it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Yes, meatloaf. I recently overheard a woman say that a good meatloaf is the secret to a happy marriage. One of the stories in my draft book includes my meatloaf recipe. No one ever accused me of being a food snob. Here's the story and the recipe.


Last night I watched the film Tender Mercies for about the 43rd time and felt the same attachment to the character Mac Sledge as when I watched it the first time. And I still cry every time Gus McCrae dies in Lonesome Dove. It used to be Paul Newman. Then I had a brief fling with Daniel Day-Lewis (“I will return” from Last of the Mohicans) and I flirted with Johnny Depp—he’s the quirky sort that I like, but too young for me and a little too cute. The only man who can keep me forever is Robert Duvall, who played both Mac and Gus. He lives in rural Virginia, down the road from my best friend Toni. She sees him all the time in town, chats with him in the bookstore. Don’t think I haven’t considered moving there. Would Toni believe that I just wanted to be near her? But I’m not going off on a true confessions rampage about the man I love but can never have.

I found the VHS tape of Tender Mercies on sale a few years back in the previously viewed section of my local Blockbuster. Last night when loading it, I noticed an old sticker on the case that says BE KIND REWIND. And I wondered if there was some way I could insert myself into the old video player and rewind my life. Maybe attach a portal into my big toe, stick my toe in the machine, maneuver around so I could reach the controls, and hit rewind, sort of like a budget time machine. Come on—how hard can it be?

Rewind to pre-conception. I would be born a cowgirl in the western United States, maybe Colorado, in 1907. My family would be third generation ranchers who raised some of the most sought-after horses in the West. And I would have been the best horsewoman they ever saw, fearless and beautiful, riding throughout my life until I died peacefully in my sleep at 101.

Rewind to birth. I would have been born a dancer, limber with long strong legs, dancing almost before I walked. Throughout my childhood and into my teens, I would learn and grow and eventually work my way through the ranks to be the premier dancer on Broadway, and later a Tony-winning choreographer.

Rewind to age eight. I would have become a musician, learned to play guitar, banjo, and fiddle. By my teens, I would have been at the forefront of the resurgence of American roots music, would have played fiddle and banjo with the old timers in Appalachia, played blues guitar with Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis, been at Woodstock in 1969, in New York with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, in San Francisco with Janis Joplin. Now I’m trying to catch up. I have heard all of these musicians, saw Dylan live in the early days in a small venue, but it could have been so much more. Imagine the stories I would have had!

Rewind to age eighteen. I would have studied architecture. I would have been in a trailblazer in efforts to build green, to save natural resources. And I also would have specialized in restoring historic homes. My own home, a historic house on a western-facing slope in the Shenandoah Valley, would be a model of simplicity and charm, with a perfect garden and a stunning view.

VHS is being phased out and, call me a pessimist, but I think my VHS-rigged life rewind machine isn’t going to work for me. I’m not going to be a cowgirl, dancer, musician, and/or architect. What I am going to do it work on acceptance, serenity in what life has dealt to me, no regrets. And if that doesn’t work, I’m doing to start searching for a more powerful rewind machine.


Newsflash: I have discovered that meatloaf is the secret to a man’s heart. Don’t mess it up by adding exotic things like mushrooms or green peppers. Real men don’t like mushrooms and green peppers. Look at this—it’s basically ground beef and catsup. Another requirement is that you serve it with mashed potatoes. Some think it even improves when eaten cold the next day. So, do you think Robert Duvall would have me if I showed up at his door with meatloaf?

Secret Meatloaf Recipe

2 pounds ground beef
2 eggs beaten
½ cup chili sauce (or ketchup)
1 cup seasoned croutons (Caesar or something zesty)
4 slices bacon

Mix the ground beef, eggs, chili sauce, and croutons in a large bowl.
Shape the mixture into a loaf and place in a shallow roasting pan or loaf pan.
Top with slices of bacon.
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 60-75 minutes.
Remove from oven and let set for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Forget forgiveness. Send help!

A few days ago I heard a radio interview about a new film entitled Brooklyn’s Finest. In the dialogue, one of the characters says to a priest in confession, “I don't want God's forgiveness, I want his f*****g help."

Although I don’t think I’d dare use the f-word in the confessional, I totally understand the character’s line of reasoning. At the moment I’m beyond the forgiveness thing. Yes, I’m grateful, very grateful that Jesus died for my sins and that all has been forgiven. And I trust that I surely will fail again and will be forgiven again and again. I know I take forgiveness for granted and hope that He can even forgive that assumption.

But sometimes (now would be one of those times) I need God to have a more hands-on, direct approach. I’ve got questions and I need answers. I don’t have the patience to sit and wait for God to reveal the answers to me in time. I feel like a bratty little snot-nosed girl whining for the Lord’s attention. It’s like a bad case of spiritual ADD. For maybe five minutes I can sit in prayer or meditation and then I expect a concrete answer. I want an angel to appear in my living room. I want a burning bush in the backyard. I want to hear the voice of God in English with clear instructions. It’s probably not going to happen that way, is it?

Please Lord, send help! I’ll ask for forgiveness next time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Oh, the perils that lurk out there in the cruel world! And apparently among these perils the previously unknown dangers of potluck.

I belong to Weight Watchers. Surely I’m the difficult one, the worst one in the meeting, like the alcoholic who leaves her AA meeting and picks up a six-pack on the way home. But I keep going to meetings despite my lack of success. So this week in Weight Watchers the weekly hand-out was about strategies for eating at events like family gatherings, including on page 5, a list of potluck survival strategies. These strategies include things like staying far from the cocktail nuts and close to the raw veggies. Why bother to go out if you have to stand near the raw veggies through the entire event?

The phrase “potluck survival” struck me as a bit ominous, a touch of fear-mongering. It reminded me of the Cuban missle crisis back in the 60s when we kept "survival kits" in our school lockers and people built bomb shelters in their backyards. Back then we were expecting the Russians to drop an atomic bomb on us at any minute. Is there really so much to fear at a family potluck? Truthfully, for me there’s more fear of wacky family members than there is of the food. So I’ve developed my own more realistic list of potluck survival tips:

  • Don’t bring a plate of raw veggies to a potluck or people will hate you. Instead bring a big bag of potato chips and that horrible dip that you make with the dry onion soup.
  • If you really are concerned about consuming too many calories, don’t use a turkey platter as your dinner plate and don’t refill it more than five times.
  • Remember to step away from the buffet table occasionally. Constant inhalation of fumes could render you senseless.
  • If your cousin’s weird husband Bert traps you in the corner, turn green and run to the bathroom like you’re going to barf.
  • It may be wise to pack a potluck survival kit. This would include items like a Swiss Army knife, a plastic tablecloth, water purification tablets, 9 volt batteries (don’t ask me to explain), and a comfortable pair of shoes.
  • Whatever you do, don’t bring either a jello mold or anything with marshmallows. It would be considered bad form and an insult to Aunt Ruthie who is the only one deigned worthy to bring such items.
  • Don’t eat the “roast beef”—it’s really not part of a cow and whatever it is has been in you brother’s freezer since 1972 when he went on that ill-fated hunting trip.

It's a jungle out there. Be careful and there and remember you gotta do what you gotta do to survive.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I’m trying to be detached. Really, I am. For nearly two weeks I’ve had spotty Internet service. About a week ago I called Verizon to ask them why. They showed me what happens when a customer complains about service—for a week now I’ve had no Internet service at all. Let me just state, for the record, I HATE VERIZON. In all my calls to their people in the US, people in India, people in the Philippines, I got nothing but contradictions and false promises. But I’m not going to rehash the ugly, nerve-wracking conversations I had with Verizon people on the phone or with the technicians who came to my house. Perhaps I should be grateful to Verizon. This time that I’ve had in near-isolation has taught me a few lessons:

(1) I have learned that it's okay to be away from the Internet for days and days. So what if I can't do online research or order a book from Amazon? So what if I can't check my e-mail? Most of the time there's not much happening. I get the same spam e-mail, I get the same information about upcoming events, I get an occasional e-mail from a friend asking me where I am, nothing that can’t wait a few days for a response from me. Anyone who has something urgent to communicate with me will call me. At least I hope they’ll call me and not presume I don’t care. Breathe in, breathe out.

(2) I have learned that I can go to Plan B. Plan B is using the public library for my Internet connection. The trouble with Plan B is that my local library closed down for renovations late last week. So I went to Plan C, going to the regional library. However, the library has a wait list for available computers and a 30-minute use limit. It’s okay—I can get a lot done in 30 minutes. Remember to breathe.

(3) The detachment issue. I don’t need to be one of those people in meaningless constant communication with the universe. Maybe I needed to be unplugged for a while to stop my own growing obsessive-compulsive cycle of cyber connection. Maybe I need to remember what it was like only a few years ago when I didn’t have so much available. Shush . . . . be still and just breathe.

Perhaps I've had enough time unplugged to detach from the Internet a bit. The computer guy I hired just fixed everything. He had to talk to the guy in India too but at least they both spoke computer geek. He had to change settings and I think he spanked my computer but it had it coming. It’s working now but I’m going to try to remember the detachment thing. And I'm breathing a sigh of relief.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Oh, no! I'm not ready for this. For years and years I've been saying I can't move away because I have a great dentist. A great dentist is hard to find and I've had one for over 30 years. I first went to him when he was a young dentist in a small practice near my home. Twenty-some years ago I moved across the county, miles away from him, but continued to drive to his office for routine visits and non-routine visits. When I first moved across the county, I briefly used a dentist near my new home but quit the new dentist when he dropped a crown down my throat. I fled back to the old dentist, vowing that I would never leave him again.

Last night I broke a tooth. I thought, okay, no big deal--my dentist is an artist, a genius in his field, no fear, he'll fix it. So I called his office first thing this morning and Valerie, who works at the front desk and has become like a member of my family, broke the news to me. The master guru best dentist in the world retired two weeks ago on short notice. He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Until today I claimed that I stayed here because I love my dentist. Now what do I do?