Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Egg Nog Cookies, Christmas baking, Charlie Brown trees...

I love the week before Christmas, even more than the day, I think.  When my kids were little I liked the feeling in the room after everything was opened and it was quiet.  That's an awesome memory.  Now I enjoy the festivities of the time leading up to that day.  I've been baking in the early hours of the morning before I leave for the office.  Cookies, candy, cinnamon almonds, cheesecakes.  Fun things to go in fun bakery boxes with Tiny Prints labels and bakers' twine. 

The Las Vegas Review Journal has a cookie contest every year around Christmas.  I credit them with that fabulous recipe for Snickers Cookies, so when the results were announced this year I decided to give one cookie a try.  One in particular.  I'm glad I did.  I am officially adding this to my Christmas cookie repertoire.

Eggnog Thumbprints

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/4 t. salt

Filling (I doubled this recipe):

1/4 cup butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 T. rum
1 pinch ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make cookies, cream together butter and white and brown sugars until smooth.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Combine flour and salt and stir into creamed mixture by hand to form a soft dough.  Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place them 2" apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Make an indentation in the center of each cookie using your finger or your thumb.  Bake 12 minutes and cool completely.

For filling, mix butter, sugar and rum.  Spoon rounded teaspoonfuls of filling into cookies and sprinkle with nutmeg.

I put the filling in a ziploc bag and snipped off the corner, then piped the filling into the indentation.  These cookies are good. 

A few other random things: 
  • My Christmas tree is a little sad this year.  I think it has cured me of my break from extra large Christmas trees in my living room.  I think.
  • There is no reason for dieting this week.
  • I loved all the Christmas ideas on Pinterest - collecting all my Christmas cards and punching a  hole in the corner, threading them onto a silver ring and tying a Christmas ribbon on the ring.  I have a fun 2012 stack.  Or the Christmas lights in an extra large vase . . . tying Christmas stockings to the back of the kitchen chairs.  Fun.
  • We took some grandchildren to our Ward Christmas party.  I feel the need to share the hilarity.  Ready?
"My mom wants another baby."
"We had donuts this morning and my Dad hid them from my Mom."
"A lot of people in our family are dying."
"Did you KNOW some people think it's almost the end of the world?"
"I've heard of a dog who died of depressment."
And overheard (one sibling to another whispering):  "Remember not to talk about that around them."

We are still laughing and my car smells like maple syrup.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas.  Slainte', Marian. 

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Till We Meet Again

We love you.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Anatomy of a renovation, or how to (very slowly) lose your mind

There are some things in life you just have to learn from experience.  I'm late to this party, I think, when it comes to doing work inside the home.  Right now I consider that a blessing.

I lived through a major home renovation a few years ago.  New floors, ripping out an island (he managed to get that out of the house in one piece), replacing a sliding glass door, new baseboards, paint - the whole nine yards.  The most I can say about that experience is that I lived through it.  I didn't like it, but I did it.  There was whining.  Lots of whining.

A few months ago I knew a guy who knew a guy who did "all the marble and granite work for Aria". Awesome.  The old tile countertops needed replacing.  We met him, we'd seen his work and he had good references.  A STEAL.  Just a stellar deal.  The quote included a new kitchen sink, also badly needed.  Every day that little job turned into a nightmare.  Have the shutter guys come out and take off the shutter over the sink.  Wait two weeks for that to happen and pay them.  New faucets?  Well, if we're going to do all this, sure.  Then there was that plumbing issue.  I can't be any more specific because I have a tendency to bury my head in the sand when things go wrong.  Best I can do is say this - something broke.  One day I came home from the office and plumbing trucks were out front.  The next day I was leaving for the office and a crane was lowering a man onto my roof.  That bargain granite?  Not so much.  Now I just know it's always going to cost more.  In the granite case, close to five times more.  Not joking.

At the time of "the granite fiasco" I was considering new paint inside.  It wasn't so much that the inside of my house necessarily needed to be painted...but every design blog was telling me beige was so last year and no longer the neutral of choice.  I had to have Aloof Gray.  But I couldn't face the upset in my life...I need order.  I crave order.  So I put it on the back burner.

Fast forward to a peek into the "kids' bathroom".  What looked like a loose tile, upon inspection, well it just fell right through the wall.  I'd rather never put another single penny into this house.  I know how this works doesn't matter what I've done, when it comes time to sell (I'm never moving)  they just pull the comps.  All that hype ten years ago about curb appeal and landscaping?  Means nothing.  My home might sell faster than any other house on the street, but it isn't worth more.  Another tidbit learned from experience.  I digress.  Bathrooms upstairs now became an emergent project.  And that's what we are in the middle of.  Has it been a repeat of renovations gone by?  YES.  Have things gone wrong?  YES.  Spending more than that worthless piece of paper, non-contract estimate?  YES.  Did I decide to go all Aloof Gray because order was out the window for "5 to 9 days" (the time they estimated to do both bathrooms)?  I did.  Is it taking longer than 5 to 9 days?   Of course

The picture?  That's my new rug.  It looks great with Aloof Gray (I think).  I'm not certain because it's backordered until November 30th.  That means one, I get it around Christmas and two, my life is a walking Murphy's Law.

I want to be the "chill" girl.  The one who goes with the flow.  It's time to give in.  I'm never going to be her. 

Also, the tile guy is afraid of me.  This does not make me feel good about myself.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Strawberry Jam

I finally did it.  I bit the bullet and made jam.  I followed a recipe Bridget sent me, a treasured one from a family who converted her to the goodness that is homemade jam.  It isn't fancy.  There's no pectin, no skimming of foam . . . just a simple recipe that makes just enough for two people, so no canning is necessary.

In a large saucepan, toss 1 pound halved and hulled strawberries with 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Let sit, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved, 1 hour.  Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until berries are soft, 8-10 minutes. Add 1/2 pound each raspberries and blueberries and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and secure lid, cool to room temperature. 

Makes approximately 1 pint.

P.S.  I substituted raspberries and blueberries with more strawberries.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Cinnamon Almonds

We try not to have red light foods in our house.  Donuts - not in control.  So we don't buy them.  We happen to be true candy faces, which means we raised candy faces.  Not proud. 

There is this little aisle in Fresh & Easy . . . I try hard to avoid that aisle because that's where the cinnamon almonds reside.  We lie to ourselves - let's just buy these and put them away for another time.  Uh huh...

Red light food.

I saw a homemade version made in a skillet.  The first batch I made in the cast iron skillet.  The second batch I made in the wok.  You won't believe how good these are.  There's enough room on the lid of that mason jar for a label from Tiny Prints, too.

1 cup sugar
3 cups raw almonds (or any other nut)
1/2 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup water
Directions: In a large skillet combine the sugar, cinnamon and water. Add the almonds and stir constantly with a spoon over medium heat, coating the almonds with the syrupy mixture. Keep stirring until the sugar crystallizes. Remove the pan from heat and scoop the almonds onto wax or parchment paper. Let the cinnamon almonds cool before serving. These can be made a few days ahead.

Pinterest find, original recipe found here.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

birthday notes with web addresses...

Double click on the photos to see the creative team.

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Happy Birthday Papa...

Today he holds 65 letters from his children, their spouses and his grandchildren, one for every year.  Eight kids, eight letters each . . . and one from me.  It's like a dream come true for him.  Happy 65th birthday!  Love you so much...

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ceviche de Camaron: Shrimp Ceviche "Cocktail"

Have you been to Los Tacos?  No?  Run.  As fast as you can.  And this is why:
Just ask for the coctel, all shrimp.  Large.

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound unpeeled smallish shrimp (I prefer the ones that are 41/50 count to a pound)
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce (such as Tamazula, Valentina or Búfalo, the latter being on the sweet side)
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jícama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
Several lime slices for garnish
Tostadas or tortilla chips, store-bought or homemade or saltine crackers for serving

1. Cooking and Marinating the Shrimp. Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein the shrimp if you wish: One by one lay the shrimp on your work surface, make a shallow incision down the back and scrape out the (usually) dark intestinal tract. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

2. The flavorings. In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

3. Serving the ceviche. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

And their carne asada quesadilla isn't too shabby, either.

Recipe courtesy Mexico One Plate at a Time, October 2000 by Rick Bayless

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blueberry Cobbler

I usually have a beef with a recipe like this one.  If the list of ingredients says 1 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon, well, it feels almost pretentious to me.  A little more difficult than is really necessary.  But blueberries - well, it's the season.  And a fruit dessert . . . nothing is better.

So here is the August Bon Appetit's Blueberry-Drop Biscuit Cobbler.  Serve with ice cream.  It's easier than pie.

1 1/2 cups plus 3 T. Flour
3 T. plus 1 cup Sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. kosher salt
6 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 T. sour cream (or creme fraiche)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 2 lbs)
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. finely grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375.  Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 T. sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.  Add butter; using your fingertips incorporate until only pea-size lumps remain.  Gently mix in sour cream.  Knead in bowl until a biscuit-like dough forms, 5-7 turns. 

Combine remaining 1 cup sugar, remaining 3 T. flour, berries, juice and zest in large bowl.  Toss to coat.  Pour into an 8 x 8 glass baking dish or divide among six 6 oz. ramekins.  Tear biscuit topping into quarter-size crumbles; scatter over berries.

Bake cobbler until juices are thick and bubbling and topping is cooked through and deep golden brown, 20-25 minutes for ramekins or 45-50 minutes for baking dish.  Let cool for at least 1 hour.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

winding down...

I woke up to the sound of rain this morning.  I reached for my Blackberry to check the forecast . . . the picture from my deck did not match the optimism of the day's outlook, as you can see.  I took the morning to walk to the village for a manicure and then back to the deck to finish my book.  By the time I arrived "home" I could see the sun trying to work some magic for me on my last full day of vacation.  Vacation in paradise.

On my walk back I did my best to show you the men in The Chocolate Soldier hand dipping candies they'd just made in the tiny kitchen adjacent to the chocolate shop.  Closed.

Across the way a cheese store with the familiar "cheese cave", no doubt more interesting to me after having just finished Bourdain's book. 

I saw dolphins today, a steady stream of pelicans in formation and the regular terrific dog population here in pup-friendly Laguna.  Why I tortured myself by agreeing to visit a pet shop this week I will never know . . . that little beagle's face is making me sad just thinking about him (despite the fact that I know [without question] he would dig holes in my backyard).  Sigh...

It's time to go home and I feel ready.  Ten days here makes it easier to leave, seven means you spill some tears as you approach the freeway.  I hope I come back someday.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

rain rain go away

Today's haze turned to rain.  It does not alter a surfing enthusiast's agenda.  They are out there waiting for the wave, early morning until late.  There are large clusters of surfers all along this beachfront, with surf schools on every corner.  Waiting.
Today was coconut cupcake day at Sprinkles, not to be confused with the chocolate coconut cupcake day.  Right now their special cupcake is salted caramel . . . and tomorrow a week of cherry cupcakes begins.  This picture was taken after my spouse ate the banana cupcake, before he ate the carrot cupcake and the two coconut cupcakes.  If you know him you know I'm not joking.  Did you really think I was going to skip blogging about Sprinkles?
How about we talk consignment shops? Like Corona Del Mar consignment shops, home of used Louis Vuitton and Prada and Oscar de la Renta?  I have a couple of favorite shops I pop into when I come to Laguna Beach.  These high end consignment shops line Pacific Coast Highway and they're fascinating.  I once visited a shop where a woman liked a certain bag so much she bought it in every color and print.  After never carrying some of them, using some a few times . . . she was just bored with them.  Consignment shop.  Used Gucci glasses, Tory Burch flats, Christian Louboutin red bottom shoes, Chanel suits (the pink one today was a steal at $2200) and Hermes scarves.  It's a study in hoarding of the rich I tell you - many items have the original tags on them.  Once I passed on a pair of black patent Chanel flats.  They were well worn, but with lots of life left in them, and the price was right - something like $40.  I ended up telling myself I didn't need them.  That still haunts me because not only were they spectacular, they were comfortable.  Reverse of buyer's remorse.  I've only ever bought one thing in all my visits to these shops, a $20 purchase.  Visiting these shops, well, it's sort of like an academic study of humanity.  I'm not even joking.

By the way, I'm usually in my favorite consignment shop when my spouse is in his favorite New York pizza place, a mere half a block away.  The proprietor claims he uses New York water to make the dough (supposedly the secret to New York pizza) and my spouse bought it hook, line and sinker.  He's rabid for this place and I rarely eat pizza, so it sort of works perfectly.

I'm reading Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw.  After reading Kitchen Confidential I was happy I added this book to my library queue.  He takes no prisoners.  It's funny and a foodie's delight.  Love it.

Forecast is for sun tomorrow.  I'm counting on it.

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C'est si bon and a few other random things....

Yep, we wear hats on the beach.  We're old.
There is no sun today.  Yesterday was much like this . . . thick haze that doesn't deter people from sitting on the beach.  Who can complain, you know?  It's lovely.
. . . . . . . . . .

I am almost done with Ninety Days by Bill Clegg.  Ah, the honesty.  I think I blogged about his first book, Portrait of An Addict as a Young Man because, well, this is a world that is so mystifying to me (and hard to understand) that I just really couldn't believe what I was reading.
. . . . . . . . . .

We went to the movies last night.  Last time we were at the beach the Island Cinema at Fashion Island was closed for renovations.  We bought our tickets and realized it was $17.50 to see a movie there.  You're kidding, right?  Turns out it's an over-21 theater with over-sized leather seats . . . they were serving beer and wine.  As in waiters - during the movie!  And hummus.  Was it worth it?  No.  Because we're old.
. . . . . . . . . .

When I vacation at the beach I like to take home something to decorate my house from one of two of my favorite shops in Laguna.  I take my time deciding on my special purchase, sometimes days.  Last year it was a beautiful beachy throw with starfish on it.  It's draped over a nice chair in my living room and (full disclosure) I really don't want anyone to touch it.  When I look at it I am reminded of the Manzanita Cottages and the fun time we had.  This year I bought a black linen lumbar pillow at Cottage Furnishings.  I'm kind of crazy about it.  The other place I adore is Tuvalu in Laguna Village, even if I have a moral objection to a pillow with a $175 price tag.
. . . . . . . . . .

This tart, oh this tart.  It deserves a dedicated blog post.  The bakery is in Newport Beach, C'est Si Bon.  What's so special about this particular apple tart?  If I knew I'd be baking them every single day.  The filling isn't typical pastry cream, but a sturdy almond filling.  I know there's almond paste in there . . . if only I knew the proportions.  I have a suspicion the apple slices are dried when they put them on top of the tart because they have a chewiness to them that isn't typical. The glaze is like a deliciously reduced and homemade apple jelly.  I would go to great lengths to have the recipe for this tart . . . maybe that Bon Appetit column might convince them to share?

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

morning haze (in more ways than one)...

I believe my camera bit the dust.  Timing is everything.

I don't think you can call it "sleep disturbance" when you didn't shut your eyes until 5 a.m.  Too much needless worrying, too many racing thoughts, just too much thinking.  At about 3 a.m. I made the commitment (in my head) to buy a good mattress this year.  That isn't an expenditure that should seem like a luxury, right?  To me it's almost like a car repair.  That mattress is HOW MUCH?  Remember in Prelude to a Kiss when the old man says "Floss?"  He was right, but I would like to add "invest in a good mattress" to that. It's hazy here outside my bungalow and inside my head.

I have been extra careful this year (the vacation isn't over yet) with the sunscreen.  The only Irish tan I have is on the top of both ears.  How is it I forget those every time?  They are crispy.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  I read "heartbreaking and funny" in the reviews of this novel . . . there is nothing funny about this book.  I read nonstop to the last page and felt as if I could/should burst into tears.  I was close.  If you're prone to whining about your childhood in the way people do with things like, "He never had to lift a finger" or "She was the favorite" or "He was the baby" (you get the idea) read, oh read this book.  You will thank your lucky stars.  It's going to take a lot of work to Ctrl-Alt-Del this book from the recesses of my brain, but I'm going to try.  Have you read The Glass Castle?  Why Be Happy reminded me of this book.  Unfathomable sadness, you guys.

Time for some lighter fare.

If you dare, read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  This crusty guy is like a magnet for me.  Most times I am mystified by his palate - the guys smokes three packs of cigarettes a day - how sophisticated can it BE?  But he knows his food and he's a fun read.  Just like life, you have to take the good with the bad, so yes, a fun book, but swordfish is forever ruined for me now.  I like you so I'm not going to tell you why.

Yesterday my cousin Cathy sent me an email about the little old nun in the wheelchair I blogged about yesterday or whenever that was. . . the days are blending together.  Turns out her name was Sr. Mary Catherine (I sort of remember that now) and she was transferred to my Notre Dame in Tyngsboro from Cathy's Notre Dame in Hingham where she ran the candy store there, too.  Her nickname in Hingham was Sister Granny, which just seems a lot less offensive than Lumpy or Chicken or Fat Pat.  The girls must have been nicer in Hingham.  Admittedly her nickname came from the Beach Boys' song, "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" which was changed to "the little old nun from Hingham . . . go Granny, go Granny, go."  Like I said, they were nicer.

Shouldn't love be reliable?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

walking an unfamiliar boardwalk...

Mostly I know Laguna Beach like the back of my hand.  I love that.  It reminds me of New Englanders and their vacations.  Some people only wanted to vacation in Maine, others on the Cape, some went to Rye.  They knew their vacation spots, the best places to get fried clams and where to go to find the best lobster roll.  That's what this place is to us.  Want swordfish?  Go to Cafe Zoolu.  A cupcake?  I don't even need to say more.  I prefer knowing where I am.  It's just me.

Also just me?  My reading list.  I don't publish the entire thing because, let's face it, we're all human and we just want to be liked.  I surely don't want to be judged based on a book I'm reading.  And no, I'm not reading any Nicholas Sparks.  See how I just did what I don't like other people to do?  My own worst enemy, I am.

It's a well-documented fact I have a love/hate relationship with my blog.  I try to visit it only when I'm vacationing now.  Sometimes some holiday memory will propel me toward the keyboard.  The thing is, I like to write.  I'm not particularly good at it, but it feels almost therapeutic to me.  Until I hit 'publish'.  Then the angst takes over and I want to go back and erase everything.  Not save it to draft so I can revisit it.  Delete it like I never thought it.

The neuroses works something like this... what if someone thinks I was the mean girl at Notre Dame Academy?  It gains momentum.  Is it okay to tell them I wasn't, or should I just leave well enough alone?  Snowballing now.  Can I tell them I was just like everyone else (which is more often than not what happens in small private schools, particularly ones with only boys or only girls)?  (Read Skippy Dies.)  Because after all, that's all you really wanted in the halls of Notre Dame.  Weren't we dressed identically, right down to the same Bonnie Doon navy blue knee socks and Weejuns loafers?  Yep, we were.  Now it's 2 a.m.  It just never ends.

Did I mention I'm staring at the ocean right now?  It's hazy and the surf is crashing.  I'm not sure what happened here last night but there's a big opened package of Pinwheels and I had nothing to do with it.

No segue.

I read about Nora Ephron's funeral.  I loved that she shared some of her favorite recipes in her "program".  It made me remember this blog post.  Can you imagine Nora telling Ina she had a better pound cake recipe?  I think that's fantastic, which is why I will not part with that December, 2010 Town and Country Magazine with them both on the cover.

I wrote 'no segue' but there really was a segue.  Over analyzing kept me up last night.  I hate my blog, delete my blog, who do you think you are, anyway?  Who cares what you think?  Blah, blah, blah.  Then I read an interview with Delia Ephron.  About her sister she said, "Was there anyone in the world with more opinions?, "  Delia said later, "The world is practically opinionless now."  That slayed me.

So shoot me.  Hopefully some day I will have the luxury of looking back at this narcissistic whatever this is and remembering the day I received the phone call letting me know my daughter had seizures that morning, the year Ruby came to join our family (how we love this little baby) and all that it entailed, the year they put $50,000 worth of hardware in my youngest daughter's spine . . . and anything else that happens to come our way.  I want to remember the blessings, all the good and even some of the bad.  This is, after all, life.

And just to prove the karma thing is real and how I really feel remembering the nicknames we had for those devoted nuns at Notre Dame Academy, take a gander...

Waddle.  That neck reminds me of a nun I used to know.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Sister Patricia, "Fat Pat" and karma...

I finished the John Irving book this morning.  I can't call it torture because I was sitting on my deck facing the sea while devouring it, but it was so close.  Around page 400 is when some of the pieces started to come together.  Nothing about this is unusual for Mr. Irving, but this book was just really out there.  He's always been at the top of my list of favorite contemporary authors.  He still is.  But I just can't tell you to read this book.  Typically his novels are perfect for vacation.  Picking up a John Irving book for an hour and then going back to it in a day, or two days . . . it really doesn't work.  You need some dedicated time.  He crafts a novel so beautifully.  I was too stubborn to put this one down - I was in a contest against myself. I'm not sorry - I just wish it could have been different.  See how I made that sound like relationship angst?  That was purposeful.

Once I saw him (I want to call him John, probably because he comes from New Hampshire and I feel entitled) as part of the Barrick Lecture Series at UNLV.  He read a chapter from a book he was working on, Until I Find You, and then took questions.  I loved every minute of it.  I won't abandon him. Just skip this one if you happen to like the books I read.

Now I'm reading Skippy Dies.  I like it.  It's smart and witty.  In between chapters (and because I'm at the ocean) the novel has caused my mind to wander back to the halls of one Notre Dame Academy in Massachusetts, and not in the most flattering way.  I was reminded of the nicknames we had for most of the nuns who lived on that scary third floor convent.  Sister Patricia was "Fat Pat" (karma, maybe?), the dedicated librarian who seemed to be 100 years old.  Fun was keeping a library book out past the due date and returning it to Sister Patricia.  When she told us we owed 30 cents we would tell her we had no money (weren't we so funny?) and she would just melt down.  "Of COURSE you don't have any money."  Sometimes our tiny study hall had no novice watching over mischief in the room.  That study hall was next to the Reference Room, something Sister Patricia took great pride in.  Maybe a few girls threw themselves up against the common wall to rattle her encyclopedias.  By the time she raced into the room each student was engrossed in whatever busy work needed to be done in study hall.  Nobody ever looked up when she walked into the room.

I read some more of Skippy Dies and then I remembered "Chicken", also known as Sister Katherine.  Here was a woman who dedicated her life to God and we called her "Chicken".  Wasn't her wedding band enough evidence of that?  Does that seem right?  No it doesn't.  But she was very tall and very lanky.  The only thing small about her was her head.  It was extra small.  And her skin was yellow, like a pale yellow that resembled the skin on a chicken breast.  Now I only buy skinless chicken breasts (fat pat, karma anyone?), but you just don't forget that.  Nor could I forget her waddle, and I'm not talking about the way she walked.  She had that flapping neck skin thing.  I'll say it again... karma?

Lumpy was just Lumpy.  I don't even remember her real "sister name", but I think I remember she was in charge of making sure nothing shady was going on during our lunch break.  She once stood at the back door near our locker room about to open it when Mary Ellen Murphy quickly beat her to it from the other side and hit her with a hard and slushy snowball to the face that was meant for someone else.  It was meant for me.  I can still see Lumpy standing there with wet snow dripping off her face onto her chest  That was also the first time I ever saw someone laugh and cry at the same time.  To clarify, it was Mary Ellen who was laughing and crying at the same time.  Hard.

If we had a nickname for the ancient (see a theme here?) nun in the electric wheelchair (nobody had those in 1970) who ran the little candy store in the basement, well, I don't remember it.  For that I am grateful, because at this point I'm feeling pretty lousy about myself.

Maybe Skippy Dies needs to wait.  There's just so much time to reflect at the beach.

If you think I've told you the entire story . . . you'd be wrong.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

husbands, dogs and unconditional love

Full disclosure - the sea causes me to reflect regarding some very serious topics.   Also, not so serious, I caved and had a diet coke.  I'm a weak creature and I'd rather not talk about this right now.

Yesterday I had a very specific recollection of walking the beach with my spouse many years ago. We were alone and we were talking about our future, as we were known to do fairly frequently. Despite the fact that my spouse was a successful engineer, we had a blended family, our first home together and barely two nickels to rub together. Nevada Power's regular monthly invoice could send us into a tailspin, a car repair, a medical expense (and there were many back then) and we had kids in college who needed help. We weren't complaining and we weren't whining. We had faith all would be well. One day on this solitary walk he looked up to these stunning beachfront properties and said, "Someday I will take you here."

It reminded me of our honeymoon, if you want to call it that. One Monday morning we drove to Washington, D.C. in a beat up orange VW bus to be married at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.  My sweet sister in law was with us all the way from Calgary, as was with my mother-in-law and father-in-law from Texas.

That very next Wednesday we drove back to that beautiful Temple and spent a few hours in there before driving the 500 miles home again to Boston, alone this time. We had a few days off and walked the streets of Boston and Cambridge together with barely enough cash to buy ourselves a plate of fried clams at Bishop's. We walked by the newest furniture store in Cambridge nobody had ever heard of, Crate & Barrel, and he said it again. "Someday I will buy you this furniture." And he did. Now I know it isn't important. A tiny bit of wisdom comes with being 56 years old. I've given away every diamond I've ever owned, happy to see my children enjoy them. Do I love this oceanfront bungalow? YES. But it isn't things that make me happy. Yes, I love a nice bag and a good suit to wear to church. More than anything I love making a life with a companion who accepts me (and loves me) for the damaged soul that I am, unconditionally. You usually only get that from a dog. My life is far from perfect ...but my spouse is that close.

 P.S. I still might like that Volvo station wagon we talked about in 1983.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

the pro to the BYU sweatshirt

An overcast morning sent me up and out the door to the corner for that cinnamon roll for my spouse at The Orange Inn.  The overcast and hazy start to the day didn't stop me from making myself comfortable on the balcony with my book and a fleece blanket.  Later the sun appeared and I thought, well, if I could sleep on a hospital room floor (bought you some pink shoes today, Ruby) I can sleep anywhere.

So I made myself a bed of pillows on my beautiful deck and dozed in the sun for an hour.  It was about as perfect as you could imagine.  Next thing we knew it was 7p.m.  Time and vacation is a funny thing.

Off we walked down to LaSirena (on Mermaid) for some guacamole and chips and some carne asada tacos and pork habanero slow cooked carnitas.

Later to La Rue du Chocolate (where I met a golden retriever I wanted to take home with me.)  Instead I took a cashew turtle and some milk chocolate covered marzipan, my spouse a mallo cup and a milk chocolate krispee.
Two doors down was the gelato store.  This is sort of vacation for us, this gelato vice, shall we say.  We walked in and an adorable blonde surfer boy lit up when he saw my sweatshirt.  "BYU!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm.  He was very animated when he told us about applying and how he only had a year to wait to put in his mission papers. People were listening.  He mentioned the church building and we let him know we were familiar with the location since we usually stay at Manzanita Cottages.  When I asked him if he ever saw the church video about the boy who chose Seminary over surfing he said, "That's my cousin!"  Then I had to ask about his Seminary experience.  It was good and positive and a sweet exchange.  When I told him I was a Seminary teacher he said what they all say.  "I'm sorry."  I felt a longing I hadn't felt in a long time.  It was sweet and memorable.

This sweatshirt isn't all that bad.  Except for maybe that time in the Bed and Breakfast in La Jolla.  Let's just call it an experiment.

The beach is heaven right now.  Even accusatory (and off base) office phone calls this morning can't ruin heaven on earth.  There is just nothing like this.

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saved by the bell

This beach house is two doors away, the one with the long while staircase to the sand.  We rented that place in 1995 and had all eight children with us at one point, including our first brand new son-in-law.  That year the rent for Saturday to Saturday was $2500.  It was steep back then... but now?  $10,000!

One of my favorite memories of this place?  Bridget discovered early on sand in her bathing suit just wasn't for her.  She stayed inside for a week drinking root beer from a wine glass and watching Saved by the Bell.  I love that memory, Bridie.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

beachy arrested development, bluth bananas and overcast skies

Still no sun in Laguna.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really don't care right now.  We had a laid back day and never left the beach house until 2:30.  From there we headed up to Ho Sum Bistro in Newport for some seaside non-traditional Asian cuisine.  I know it's hard to believe one might choose a salad in this place, but they're known for it, and with good reason.  This "combo" salad looked better before I decided to share the top third.  They mix it right in front of you.  Delicious.
Next came the Kung Pao Noodles with some sweet and spicy chicken tossed with an array of Chinese vegetables, peppers and peanuts.  The only thing better than the aroma was the taste.
Here are the Crispy Crab Bellies, Ho Sum's version of Crab Rangoon.  The sauce they serve is a citrus ginger marmalade.  Wish I knew how to make that one.
Believe it or not, the next dish is the reason my spouse likes to frequent Ho Sum.  Simple pork fried rice is what he loves there.  Doesn't it look fabulous?
Still no sun at the beach, so we took a drive down to Balboa Island.  I don't know why we haven't explored that tiny downtown village street - it has that quaint vibe that keeps us coming back to this part of California.  I popped into one baby store after another, spying little tiny shoes and Florence Eisman navy blue sweater dresses.  So fun.  Later I saw this place and had to document it for the Arrested Development fans in my family.

I watched.  I studied.  And then I gave in.  I ordered that frozen banana dipped in warm chocolate.  I was skeptical.  They rolled it in toffee bits (there were many other choices).  I paid my $3.25 and took my first bite.  I am not exaggerating for emphasis (or for any other earthly reason) . . . I had to sit down to eat it.  It was heaven and I needed to concentrate.  Remember I was skeptical.  And I can hardly wait to go back. 
Gee it was a nice day, even sans sun.  We are now reading while listening to the beating of the ocean waves directly in front of us, a raging fire lit in our cozy little bungalow.  It's chilly and heavenly.  I'll say it again.  Life is good...

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