Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doin' up some fall

It is fall. It is fall. It is fall.

I'm trying. B and I have taken to eating fall-ish dinners--stews and soups--despite 80-degree temps.

I brought a small pumpkin over to some friends' house Saturday night as a hostess gift. It didn't really seem to go with the bright yellow and pink flowers decorating her table (mums, people, where are the mums?!), but whatever. I liked it.

Yesterday afternoon I made a batch of pumpkin scones, and the smell of warm cinnamon and nutmeg was amazing. I just tried a random recipe I found online and would recommend. I made them slightly healthier by reducing the butter from 1 stick to 3/4 of a stick. And I'm enjoying one right now--no problemo. 3/4 is just fine. Maybe you could even go a little less!

Guess what was for dinner? Pumpkin pasta. Following another recipe found online, I made penne with mushrooms and arugula in a pumpkin cheese sauce. Nummy!

And I start a fall class tomorrow. I'm thinking of wearing a sweater, even though school's in Pasadena--inland about 40 minutes--which means hot. But the air conditioner will be cranked, so a sweater or scarf will probably work! I'll take first-day-of-school picture for you, mama!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Worthy Headline

I spent a lot of time with grandpa at the nursing home center on my recent trip to Arkansas. We’d sit in grandma’s room and talk while she slept. Or we’d walk the halls and he’d introduce me to all the nurses, who adore him and actually already knew that his granddaughter was coming out to visit. He’d already told them all about me.

The center is depressing though, in my opinion. It’s everything a nursing home always is. The smell of urine and poop waft through the hallway every now and then. Processed food is being rolled on carts under blue plastic domes. TVs are turned up super-duper loud and play the news or some out-of-season ice-skating competition. Random outbursts from alzheimered patients sometimes break the monotony. Loud beeps alert nurses that someone needs help. Healthy spouses push sick spouses around in wheelchairs. One husband pushing his wife came up by me and said he had some advice: never get old. (Thanks. Very helpful.) On the bulletin board in the “activity room” are old black and white photographs of the current residents from when they were in high school, the military, college. Old John Wayne VHS movies line one whole shelf. Board games from a long time ago are stacked up on another one, dusty. For nursing homes, I have to admit, this one is very nice, but I had a difficult time seeing the people behind the age. I couldn’t reconcile the high school photos on the wall with the hurting, broken people lining the hallways. For everyone except my grandma, I saw the age, and I felt bad. As I watched three nurses take grandma to the bathroom and get her dressed, I was overcome with gratitude for those who take good care of the sick and elderly in a way I can’t.

On a break to step outside and check in with B, I ran into Nurse Karen. She likes my grandparents a lot. She asked how long they’d been married because the love they demonstrate—mainly the love my grandpa demonstrates with his vigilance—is pretty amazing. She said she knew grandma was in good hands and being taken care of, but she asked how grandpa was doing at home alone. Did I think he was taking good care of himself? During this conversation, she shared that she’s actually left the nursing home center a few times, gotten into her car, and driven over to my grandparents’ house (about a mile and a half away) to check on my grandpa when he hasn’t arrived at the center at his usual time in the morning—6:45am—with donuts for grandma. Each time it turned out he had merely overslept. But her kindness took my breath away. To go so far out of her way, to leave work, to check on my grandpa… I came to three quick conclusions. It takes a special person to be a caregiver—a good one who sees the person first, not the age—in a nursing home center. Second, we should all question how we can show that kind of kindness and go that far out of our way for others. And third, Karen deserves a headline. Sometimes the work B is involved with makes headlines in the newspapers. My friends and I joke about what the headlines would say about our jobs. For me perhaps “Female Editor Discovers Misplaced Comma” or “Split Infinitives Reunite.” Karen’s? Maybe “Nurse Leaves Work To Do Her Job Well” or “Caregivers’ Hearts Determined to be Huge!”

“Editor Greatly Appreciates Nurse”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fly much?

“Do our suitcases come on a different plane?”
This was the question the 23-year-old girl next to me on the flight from L.A. to Bentonville, Arkansas, asked me as we landed.
“Mmmm, nope. They’re on this plane,” I answered, trying to keep my eyebrows from going up.
Next question: “Do we have to go through customs?”
“Mmmm, nope. I mean Arkansas does feel like another country, but no.”
“Can they see us?”
"Who’s they?"
"Oh, the people picking us up."
"Can they see us right now?" (I don't understand.)
"No, I mean, when we’re getting off the plane can they see us?"
"Is it dark here right now? Should I wear my sunglasses?"

It was an interesting flight to be sure. The open, free-for-all seating Allegiant provides for the cheap-os who won’t pay for an assigned seat rendered me in the middle seat, aisle 40, between a 19-year-old girl who had never flown before and a 23-year-old girl who had flown before and still asked me if her suitcase was on a separate plane.

When I sat down the 19-year-old by the window was visibly anxious. She reeked of cigarette smoke. She had short, short cut-offs on and her mid-section showed below a short, short, loose-fitting tank top revealing her zebra-print bra. She asked me if I had flown before. I said yes and asked "you?" "Nope," she told me. She’d only driven between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. My first thought was…NIGHTMARE. L.A. and Vegas? Could it be any worse? And then my myriad, global travels began playing through my mind, and I couldn’t imagine having never been on a plane before. What would that feel like? I suddenly felt really lucky and caught myself taking for granted the opportunity to fly! On the aisle seat on the other side of me was a 23-year-old girl who resembled the deceased Amy Winehouse. She wore black, heeled boots that went above her knees to mid thigh (Julia-Roberts-pretty-woman style!) and she kept her cell phone between her boot and thigh. Her eyelids were rainbows…five perfectly drawn stripes of different-colored eye shadows. Her carry-on? One large Louis Vuitton bag containing all makeup. In fact, there was even a separate trifold wallet of sorts containing just makeup brushes!

Upon reaching the desired altitude and making sure the virgin flier next to me was OK, I put my iPod on and began to doze, until the girls struck up a conversation with me in the middle. Come to find out…the 19-year-old virgin flier was heading to Oklahoma to visit her friend indefinitely. She had bought a one-way ticket and only knew she was going to get drunk the second she got off the plane. Her mom is in prison. She doesn’t know where her dad is. She’s been on her own since she was 13. She goes to raves all the time and does hair for money. The 23-year-old is Mexican, going to school to become a nurse and told her parents she was going to a nursing conference (in Arkansas?) when in reality she was going to visit a guy she recently started dating from a distance. It was the guy who she was concerned may see her as she was getting off the plane.

They turned to me and asked me what I was doing—me in my comfy travel outfit of leggings and flip flops (all body parts covered), my iPod in a little ankle sock because I’m too cheap to buy a fancy case for it, and chapstick and a little mascara for makeup (the eye shadow I do have comes in one small case and has two options, beige and a darker beige). "I’m visiting my grandparents," I say. "And no, no. I've never really frequented the L.A. rave scene, nor the reggae bars in Hollywood, but thanks for the heads up on the big rave taking place on New Year’s behind the coliseum."

The contrasts of our lives seemed to create expansive divides between the seats of aisle 40. But apparently I was still cool—cool-ass to be more precise. Upon landing, the 19-year-old called her boyfriend to tell him she had survived her first flight. That she was nervous but thankfully she had some pretty cool-ass people sitting next to her.

I got off the plane, walked to baggage claim, and began descending the escalator and there…standing at the bottom, both arms outstretched and waving was my grandpa, beaming.

I turned and waved goodbye to my cool-ass flight buddies and went to hug grandpa. He asked how the plane ride was; I just answered "fine."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Chasin' waterfalls

With friends who were in town over Labor Day weekend, B and I went hiking up in Topanga Canyon—L.A. County guidebook in hand. We chose the Santa Ynez Waterfall trail. When it's pushing 90 degrees and dry and deserty, who wouldn’t choose the option featuring water? We got started and slowly made our way down.

Odd. I questioned how we’d hit a waterfall if we were going down…don’t you normally go up for that?

About 25 minutes in, we pass a young family towing a two or three year old. They’re sweaty and squinting into the sun. We asked how the waterfall was. The dad doesn’t make eye contact, only grumbles, shakes his hand and rolls his eyes, mumbles there’s no water. Committed, we continue on anyways. Another 20 minutes in, it seems like we should be there by now. We pass two more hikers. We ask how much further to the waterfall. The guy actually laughs. "Uh, there’s no waterfall." (Like duh! Why would you think there’s a waterfall?!) He continued that there’s no water, but the fall is just up and around the corner and if it were raining we may be able to see something.

I’m thinking ok, when does it ever rain in L.A., and when it does, why would I be hiking in Topanga Canyon?

We continue on, now fully convinced we’re searching after a make-believe waterfall, and I’m wondering why our guidebook says "waterfall!" We go up and around the corner and…nothing. Just more dry creekbed. No hint of a place where water may fall if there was water to fall. B, the ultimate Eagle Scout, is floored. We cannot go on a hike without a destination! There must be a point at which we say "We’ve arrived… And now we go back." The trail we're on seems to stop and start in fits now, but B presses on. Trailing behind our friend says, "anyone else find it ironic that we’re in search of a waterfall that has no water in the first place?" I start singing TLC: “Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…”

We never found a waterfall or anything that resembled the site of a waterfall, and ultimately turned around sweaty and squinting into the sun. That’s so life though. You always think you’ll hit a point of arrival. Once that happens… When we get this or that… After we’ve accomplished that… But the trail never ends. It may turn, but then you’re just in search of yet another point of arrival.

Even though we didn’t find a waterfall, we had a great time in each other’s company and enjoying a break from the oppressive L.A. congestion. We smelled warm eucalyptus and wildflowers, saw quick lizards zigzagging in front of us, and watched birds soar high above us…

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.”
Matthew 5:5 (The Message)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Where the fall has no leaves...

It’s September 1, and I’ve been throwing an internal tantrum the past week or so. Facebook posts from friends and family (who don’t live in Cali) talk about the onslaught of all things fall—cinnamon, leaves changing, cooler temps for sweaters, pumpkins, fresh pens and pencils for school. Oh, they’re so excited for the change of seasons. I want to cry. Food blogs are now apple ciders, soups, hearty stews, breads—“autumn delights.” I want to cry some more.

I look outside and see pavement. The sun glares 85 degrees. People are in their swimsuits and flip flops. And southern Californians will try to tell you that we do get fall out here. But don’t believe them. I’ve been through this before. People walk to the beach barefoot to surf on Thanksgiving day. It ain’t right! Temps that are 10 degrees cooler don’t cut it. And just because you wear your scarf doesn’t mean the weather requires it! In some places it’s a necessity, not an accessory.

I’m not joking when I say I’m crabby about it. Fall has always been my favorite time of year, but living in California renders it a sad, homesick time of year (experience has told me this!). I’ve tried to think of creative ways B and I can round up some fall around these here parts, but everything seems a bit superficial against the backdrop of palm trees and blinking L.A. billboards.

Last fall though B and I had to send pics to each other of our respective falls—Virginia and Minnesota. Newly married and miles and a timezone apart, the autumn months passed by in a lonely blur as we spent hours on Skype and mailed each other endless packages. So, despite this whining post, I must tell you that a fall-less autumn with B brings more color to the season than an autumn without B. And to help us weather our lack of fall this month—dear friends arrive this evening for a visit over Labor Day weekend, and our three sibs fly in together in a couple of weeks for what will most assuredly be a raucous, laugh-filled weekend. And with these thoughts…my internal tantrum subsides as the colors of love and comfort outshine the colors of changing leaves.

Sigh. I suppose I’ll pull out my scarves anyways.