Saturday, November 6, 2021

November brrrrr

     Ideally, relief. The autumn chill removes the growling sound of the feisty ground level AC compressor that my California neighbors use most of the year. The autumn leaves turn red and gold for the longest time - right outside my door, on one of the busiest streets in town. (Meaning, my part of town, a sort of village known as Easter Market.)

    And I no longer fret about cooking recipes ideally served warm or more.  So at 50 plus degrees, a group could sit outside near a charcoal grill and take an long length of time to prepare paella while gradually forgetting that night is coming on....

    And I find it no problem to enjoy mixing and matching a round of stuffed peppers done with custom blends of no-beans, no-wheat, no-carbs etc. Suiting tastes of my neighbor family whose parents are either lactose intolerant and keto happy. 

    Thus, the upside of oncoming return to regular 'standard time' with an extra hour along with the downside of adjusting to nightfall at 5 pm. onward...

    So what did you do during the pandemic, grandma? The question I expect my two granddaughters one day to ask. Expect and hope they will be curious enough even though their own lives will (god hope etc.) not be touched by the most dangerous virus in their own world to date. How to answer? Well, I read 64 books in 2020 and am working on my 2021 list, now about 40. It's not likely I will get to finish 20-some more in six weeks to match my old record. What have the books taught me, now that's a question to avoid. I can also tell them I was busy translating New York Times  Cooking columns into a fake copy that might pass as food.

    'Explain please:'   So when I download a recipe such as Roasted Salmon With Miso Rice and Ginger-Scallion Vinaigrette ( 8 words), I must account for 11 ingredients that are given for 4 people. I am only a one with no hope of sharing since the outcome will be muddled even if I do follow exact instructions. Do I do a dance in the kitchen, open a bottle of wine, pretend to divide the four into one number - and take my chances. Likely I fail since I'm impatient. I want to hurry up the process, argue with the suggested time involved of 30 minutes - presumably the total between assembly and finale. It's a game, I tell myself. Just produce something that is colorful enough so I want to eat it: cabbage and  sweet miso flavored rice atop a skinny salmon filet. Usually I'll manage a few bites, depending on whether the radio offers me a program worth chewing to...

Friday, October 15, 2021

blogger woes

 okay, so no more photos to go along with my blathering, or at least until I can find out what is upsetting the system...

Sunday, October 10, 2021

October's Odds


    Could there be any such thing as an ordinary day?  That may depend on how a person regards 'ordinary.' So when I go early to a local garden center, thinking about possible plantings for my patio (not an ordinary phrase!), I  wander through greenery observed by a store clerk who is watering greens around me. "I like the color of your hair," he says out of the blue with a smile. "What color is it?" I reply in a teasing mode. "Burgundy," he tells me. 

A win for spontaneity perhaps. 

    And leaving another more distant garden center with friends, I witness them arguing in the car over whose memory of the site where the wife had recently found herself rear ended on a highway that ended the life of their other secondhand car. Neither would give in to the other though both were involved, the husband arriving on site later after a few frustrating conversations with 911 and his wife about the name of the place. The wife had thought her directions to him to come to a certain plaza was the correct name, when it turns out (or seems to have been) she was mistaken. The only way the couple could connect physically that day was by having the wife's daughter  several hundred miles away trace the accident scene  (and her mother's  not totaled car) on an iPhone and send the photo to the husband.

This sleight of hand is taken for granted as a common sense solution in these confusing times.

At the garden center itself, we three had met a woman loading into her car a substantially heavy cypresss  - "a native," said the woman, noticing our interest. Her car was parked in the loading zone where I stood by my new purchases on another trolley . She couldn't be stopped from  giving us more information about the deliciously graceful looking green plant. There was no stopping her. She was no longer working professionally, she said, though she was 'a master gardener, ' thereby all-knowing about such things. An entire education for us, freely procured, in only ten minutes time.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

September Sneaks In

 there should be a photo here that is 'worth a thousand words' - probably more.

Namely: my favorite T-shirt that reads in black gothic script:


Until I can find out why the system prevents this, I'll just wave goodbye to the month that now seems gone for a year.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

August in the Treasure State.... unlike anywhere else, in my experience. I mean THIS August that came in with ))blistering heat and no thought of rain. The first sizable bit of water to fall since the last (skimpy) snow in late April poured down on August 2 in a reckless thunderstorm that dumped minimal wet stuff but could take out electricity in a  Western part of  town. 

Town or city? Billings, of course, is 'the magic city' ( a motto of its own making, proof of which has yet to be revealed). Long live the imagination. 

Where all heat records were broken  this year I'm told. Way high - 105.

Thankfully, I could dash out of rain into Golden Nails salon to meet with Jun for a full blown pedicure, all action and little fuss. Whereby I intrude upon public manners by asking 'the dirty question', as the good-humored proprietor called it: Are you vaccinated? He wore a mask ('have to,' he said - local law or custom, I assumed). In reply he said 'where are you from?' I said that was 'a dirty question.' Two women getting a manicure at his desk laughed, as did he. 

I had sensed some hesitation as I entered - obviously a stranger but one who had thought to make an appointment ahead. A young man and woman plus the owner (I assumed) who, I found,  could also act as 'surgeon' correcting the troublesome feet of clients.

He answered with a chuckle and broad smile: "If you are from California, you have to wait longer."   California is understood to be the brazen outsiders coming to town exploiting the place. Or so I assume since by then I was in the massage chair, ready to be pampered without further talk.


Walking along the Dude Rancher Motel ("Historic Site'), I see a sign on the front door that warns that no one with a local address will be allowed to rent a room. Thank you, etc. The reason must have to do with some criminal dealings of late, possibly buying and selling. but who knows? The coffee shop was closed. Nobody was around. 


Auto licenses here come in 50 different designs - apparently the right of locals to pay extra for decorative adornment and colors on the required metal plate. "God's Country" is one of them. Horses and bulls.  

Cruising along the Interstate between Missoula and Billings, through isolated farm country, we spy a lone man on a ski board being pulled through the water by a small motorboat. Shades of summer! Way out in nowhere is a long stretch of water of no special design or location. A water skier in the middle of a field...

Up up and away we move on and over the Continental Divide ('6393' feet it says, along with a mysterious sign warning that "all watercraft must be inspected before launching after crossing the Continental Divide). We are moving around and above what is purportedly 'The Richest Hill on Earth" (try proving that) which is Butte, which also claims to be  the"Largest Historic District in the Country."  It all depends on what you judge as historic and probably on how you measure. Few places, I'll wager, can brag of being ' a mile high and a mile deep.'

Why then, in the land of surprises, should it be a surprise to discover a business in a way-out industrial space that deals in "Seafoods of the World" - both fresh and frozen. Apologies are offered for not having fresh Maryland crab available: too costly says the clerk.

Now for a bright light surprise and tragedy of sorts.  Think 'Swanky Roots' and you might think - wrongly - of hair styling for men and women worried about what is happening on their head. To get swanky, you get color. Not so in this little conversation with an ongoing college freshman working behind the counter of a family-owned hydroponic vegetable farm way outside  Billings - yet not so far that it can't be reached for an all-too-wonderful collection of homegrown greens, etc. (Think zucchini, onions, herbs, etcccc as well). Sold in house but also downtown at a Farm Hub for those who pledge head. The place is sweltering on this August day but the retail shop at least has freezer and cold shelves. Bless the plastic covered greenhouses next door - and in the area where tanks of fish (yes,) whose excreta I am told help enhance the water that enchants the microbes that make the mighty vegetables, etc. grow.

Tours are offered but today is too hot to imagine one, and there are complications. Some teenage boys from a local high school not long ago broke in and ran off with the expensive ($500) register-safe holding the cash, which of course they took. They mangled and dumped the safe in a nearby field. Videos identified the culprits, who are known by all - locals being aware of a teenage coven of sorts causing havoc for fun (or for drugs?). Recently, this gang had put red flags on cars around town and then went back to break into the cars that had not taken away the flags. What sense is this?


A piquant experience: To be a relative stranger in a strange place and be able to introduce residents to some of their special attractions ('Swanky Roots" - who could believe it?)about which  they might never  have known. Or share with someone local the pleasures of some off-beat unfairly described ones, such as Zoo Montana, a combination zoo and arboretum. Plus, of course, an education all its own.

Town/city - which is which?  Maybe a town like Billings (pop. re 110,000 last census)  can only claim to be a city when the freight tracks  that run through the center of what passes for a 'downtown' are moved or bypassed to allow a free flow of traffic on north-south streets.

For a change of pace and presumptions: August 14-21 at the Chautauqua Institution, where the week's theme (one of nine topics chosen for this brave semi-open summer season) was the human brain.  Heavy subject indeed, lightened much by some of the scenes on the grounds. 

A stuffed lion leans out of the library window facing the 'village green.'

And this more concrete image of a philosophy embraced by many who call themselves Chautauquans: 

What does that mean, exactly? No explanation should be required in a community that purports to uphold a sort of declaration of universal human rights to examine life spiritually, physically, intellectually, etc.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Why July

  The month of woe in many places, with heat and smoke interrupting life in many ways.

Still the suffering  can seem limited, depending on a person's location. Escaping Washington, D.C., humidity to  Billings in southeastern Montana can be a blessing since the record high temps here aren't matched  by exorbitant rises on the humidity scale. It's possible to sit outside in the shade and not feel encumbered by a hot cloth. To date the only inconvenience wrought by unusual weather patterns has been a city order to reduce times that residents can water lawns. A minimal order: no watering on Mondays.

Does that amount to sacrifice? Maybe only if you are in charge of keeping the golf course green.

The subject is a good 'safe' one for conversation. Not so a visitor's questioning store employees about why the rule to wear masks has been dropped - well, everywhere else, too, it seems. The Albertson's clerk comes out from behind the fish counter with an offer of help while I look over the selection. That alone - the gesture - was striking but not as much as the sight of the man in a blue stretch fabric covering the entire lower half of his face. I start to question him when he says "I"m growing a beard" - as if that explained much. (How many men are vain about hair growth on their face?) He plainly wasn't fearful of a virus and didn't want me to think so or else he was lying. I can't resist asking in turn that if the public he serves close up aren't concerned about the Delta variant, especially in unvaccinated people, infecting others? A non sequitur maybe.  He  turns away and goes on to the next customer. That's a blunt contrast to the young woman  (unmasked like everyone else but one old-old couple I spied) with the wild black hair at the checkout counter who is ever solicitous that one of the eggs in the carton is cracked. She goes immediately to get a new one at the far side of the store, ignoring customers waiting in line behind me. 

Over drinks an emergency room physician says nearly all victims coming her way these days are unvaccinated but the hospital does not make it mandatory to give such people a shot...even when she explains the likelihood that all of them have the Covid virus that could lead to an early death. Invariably, the sickest - almost all - ask for the vaccine in hopes it will 'save them.' Whoops.Too late. Should have thought about that a few weeks earlier. Do they really believe vaccine is a medicine?

Attitudes are everything. Heaven help the unwary and unwise. Drink up and forget what can't be changed.

A young mother of two, another physician whose husband also is one, says she has almost given up relations with her parents over their misguided belief that vaccines are the result of a government conspiracy. The parents can give no logical reason other than someone (no reliable medical authority) convinced them likely on social media or Fox TV. Such defiance may have its roots in other regions too deep to dive.

A long summer weekend in a family-centered world where, as one resident ( a Billings native who is a young female CEO of a major trucking firm begun by her father) describes the place as "a suburb looking for a city." Hence, an outdoor birthday party for the six year old  featuring an enormous  colorful blown-up slide and fun house almost as large as a 'regular house' that covers a minimum of the entire lawn. The father is a corporate executive with Dunkin Donuts, the mother works closely with the founder of Oracle. A Tesla - owned by a relative from Boston - is parked in the driveway. So much for 'rural Montana.'

These are observations/recollections - better, diversions - to avoid a dual crisis in the West (western Montana included) that is linked in many ways: draught and fires resulting in water shortage (see above) and tremendous terrifying poisonous smoke. All of which impacts  people in very intimidating ways. Think: loss of income, health, etc. 

But to date neither impacts the plan I originally conceived to try being a 'downtown girl' in a city that is mainly a suburb. Where the center of town so-called is a canvas flap resembling a sail hanging over a certain not very distinguished intersection. This involves rental of a tiny well-worn cottage that describes itself as sunny though letting in the sun requires raising all blinds and exposure to a parking lot and a massage parlor. No trees of distinction. My earliest visitors at dawn the first night: a noisy Waste Management vehicle scooping up with a robotic arm the large cans outside my back door and, in the front yard, a black rabbit seemingly frozen in place. 


Thursday, June 3, 2021

June Spoon

What is most obscure in this photo may be the most significant. See one left foot  with silver toenail on a second floor balcony. Idyll idle illustrated: the tenor of the days when heat is abundant and time is a mirage. So what did you do mama during that terrible time called the pandemic, other than sit close to a dogwood tree and watch a neighbor across the way (which is across a small brick walk separating our houses) sort his laundry? Does it really matter - the 'doing' of anything?' I said. Taking life as it comes, learning to live up to those long-ago unreal and often unspoken goals: To read whatever I please, in whatever fashion. Never to complain again that I can't find the time...
And also time for reflection: how the past few months have influenced behavior, memory, ambition, friendships, etc. How much so-called social life do I really need? What is the nature of friendship anyway?  Is my incessant reading encouraging insights into these questions or merely deflecting answers?
My neighbor (pictured below), deep into his two-sided garden (a corner house), tells me about some of the odd behavior of casual onlookers passing by him deep into the ivy and flowers that make up his plot. There is no particular design involved, but, even so,  some people feel the need to vent an opinion. One woman went on a rampage and beat to death (with a stick or such) one lone plant near the waist-high fence where she was standing. My neighbor waited before making a move, deciding whether this was a 'mental case', which likely she was. Venting her frustrating on an innocent (possibly invasive) species, for god knows what reason. And  another woman suddenly began berating him for watering the garden at all. Given news about water crises everywhere (it seems), she challenged him to care for the planet. He wasn't disturbed: You may take a half-hour shower and never think about it, he reminded her. Which of us is guilty? Why did she feel the need to use him as an example of  how individual behavior can affect the universe? Her own guilty, her own frustration?

  Yes, by all Covid counts, cases are dropping in the US while rising most places elsewhere. The transition period is a relative concept. I dare not think 'freedom'  - suspension of anxiety, worry, etc. - without remembering my state of mind many long months ago when the prospect of a vaccine- imminent injection - was possible. How it took some finagling to find time, place, date for that first one. Then  such was the subconscious insanity that I could pretend to know what I was doing when I was way off the rails in some way. I had imagined a place to go one January morning that was totally wrong. I set out on foot to a CVS only to discover I was due at a Safeway instead. In spite of having the name and address written down on paper in my hand. What happened in my mind that I didn't connect with reality that day?  And the nervousness: not being able to find the right place, not being able to get there on time, to be refused -that first shot. So I'm now very aware of my mental state, to understand it may be operating on two levels. I live in the present as a shield, having to be cognizant of alternate universes around me: people who may or may  not be  concerned with Covid, or fearful of vaccines, unwilling to hear other voices.

June, in theory, we are over the hump with more people than not going unmasked since more have now had one dose than not. Still, insecurities remain. I find myself still a captive of the New York Times Cooking pages - the visual appeal of the recipes excites the gustatory senses. Somehow the ability to print out any and all can be a substitute for not even trying most of them - it is easy escapism. To have 'digested' the ingredients and instructions becomes tantamount to a meal. And owning them allows me to discard them at will, as though I have had the experience of trying them. Such are the wayward habits of a somewhat sequestered life.

Not so sequestered that I can't extend my turtle head in pursuit of a USPS package that never arrived at its destination. Our folly and illusion to believe tracking every single thing through their service is possible. I have gone full into the strange recesses of this organization's ways of not quite admitting when something is 'lost.'  Does anybody out there have a similar experience?  Somehow I'm getting lost in the terrain, one district distribution center to the next and no answer to my query.

Keeping up by keeping going: Even such a simple appointment as a hair cut/color allows me some insight into the outside world. The trick is to exchange an everyday routine for an entirely different one - and stay aware of what the difference is about. Today (6/11) Walter told me he has seen people, clients, who never have left their rooms in the Westchester enclave in two years. Perhaps they have strayed into the corridor, come down for a haircut in the salon on the lobby floor - but not gone outside. Is that possible? Walter can tell me about dinner in an upscale Virginia restaurant with his wife - Argentinian, though he always orders salmon not the meat - and is charged $32 for a class of red wine. Why didn't he ask the price ahead of time? He doesn't say, only that now he has a story to tell - which may justify the price since he can't recall how good was the wine - probably only his wife tasted it -and that gives him satisfaction.  The client before me gives him homemade pumpkin bread; I give him $20 over and above his ridiculously low charge for the session. He wants stories, he admits; he is here to collect other people's experiences with no ulterior motive that I can see. He says he will one day open a house for older people to live together who might otherwise have to stay and burden their children. How sincere is he?  I can't trace his true allegiances. Peruvian and worldly, what does he call home?  A brother back in Peru he won't visit because of quarantine rules (four weeks at your own expense, entering and then what does the US want?). He can vent his ire at the price of the wine. He laughs exuberantly when I say that the charge took care of the linen tablecloth.

Tricky, entering a world semi-maskless. At my local Trader Joe's (masked as required), the checkout clerk remarks that my hair has a different shade today. Indeed, Walter has given me a trendy shade, he says: Red Wine, buy a German company Wells. (He also says the same chemical in that dye has probably given younger people cancer but the rot works more slowly in older ones... So should I assume safely?) How would she even remember me? "It was a brighter red before," she says - no notion of how she would know me at all, except that may not be the way the store tracks customers - by their obvious physical differences. We both are masked, and I am flustered. Does the store keep notes on customers? I'm stupefied, caught, not for the first time.

Washington on a sublime prime late June day with colors crisp and the air calm. A positive feel, just taking in the view from the Navy Yard leading to Yards Park (several romping grounds, with restaurants, grass, etc.) bordered above by the Anacostia  straddled by the new about-to-be-finished Frederick Douglass bridge. Elegant arches are consoling in some way.