Efficiency Expert

writerwebI gaze out the window in that dreamy way one does when slipping into a new day, soft memories of night still clinging warm and welcome against my skin.

My assignment is to make a schedule and stick to it, to make the wide open spaces in my life boxed and labeled in order to be more productive. It’s not who I am or who I’ve been, but I’m determined to be happier at the end of the day because of all I’ve accomplished.

I sit to do it now as tea fills my nose with the scent of peppermint, and another radiant blue sky washes over the emerald expanse of the Topa Topa Mountains.

So, what shall I put in this morning between 8 and 10? I think about going back to bed with a heating pad, but return instead to the task at hand, dutifully making boxes with a ruler.  I draw Monday thru Sunday, dividing each day into morning, afternoon and evening.

Resistance creeps in slowly, like incoming fog.  There are so many what-if’s to consider. But my words won’t be set in stone, right? I get up to turn on my computer but it won’t start. Hum?  Must call the repair man. Unless of course it magically repairs itself, as it often does, like some cranky old man, agreeing to show up for work on some days but not others.

The Ojai Valley News waits in the driveway.  I saunter out in my favorite over sized shirt, flatten the paper’s curl to full attention and plop in an Adirondack chair beneath towering sunflowers. Twenty minutes later I know what’s happening in the valley and head back inside.

It’s 8.30.  I’m not doing too well with my calendar making. I’ll get back to it after oatmeal and a brief cleanup of the kitchen.

9.00. I study the lines, hours and days trying to imagine myself the kind of person who keeps a schedule, no matter what.  I usually swim between 7 and 10, unless I’m too tired, like today, then I might wait until 11. How do I write that in? How about swim sometime, does that count? I search for the answer staring into nothing, my eyes finally settling on remnants from a small battlefield to the right of the curtain, where corpses of smashed bugs still cling to the wall, their bloody little bodies adhered.  I remember the victory and my haste in running out the door before cleaning up.

I put down my tea, spic and span the mop and begin to scrub, which leads to multiple cobwebs in multiple corners all around the house, the grand finale happening in the bathroom, where drops of ceiling moisture above the shower have turned to orange stalactites.

Oops.  Off task again.  Since I don’t seem to be doing my scheduling, I vow to appease the Organizational Gods by making one difficult phone call before noon.

9.30  Is the computer ready yet? Maybe if I push the start button with something hard like the end of my pen. Nope.  Skype client at 3, computer must be repaired by then.

Ohhhh… I’ve left my red pen uncapped near the monitor and ink has bled into the Amish patchwork my now-dead mother bought me.

Big breath in.  Remain calm. Big breath out.

Okay, sorry mom.  I cover the stain with a wicker basket and begin making a list. 1. Drop a packet to Dennis on the way to the gym.  (Is it too late to go swimming?)  2.  Buy more stamps.  3. Call the computer repair man. 4. Pick lemons on the way home, oh, and we’re out of bread again.

It’s cool enough now, maybe I’ll forget scheduling and make an apple pie, or go back to bed with a heating pad. I really want to do that and pick this up in the afternoon.

10 o’clock. I’m in bed with welcome heat on my back. Birds are singing out the window and life is good.  I’ll do better tomorrow.

A Jumble

The way I mess with food, it’s amazing I’m still alive.

I just downloaded a recipe for a warm winter soup which called for an onion, so I went to the frig. Nope, no onion, how about a leek? Mace was a required spice but sadly missing, so I left it out, using cinnamon and ginger instead. I needed to cube 6 cups of butternut squash and only had one acorn squash, so used that, adding yams to make up the difference. No turnip, so that didn’t go in and I replaced chicken broth with vegetable broth. Coconut milk was added instead of skim milk and a splash of orange-mango juice just because. I always add more spices and herbs than required because most of mine have dulled from a long shelf life. The result? Surprisingly good. I am sure the writer of the recipe would not recognize the finished product as her own, but it made a great dinner.

 When I was 19 and first married, (I know- a mere babe in arms) I asked my husband what his favorite meal was. “Chicken, corn and mashed potatoes,” he replied. I learned to please his palate through no small effort on my part, then served the same meal every night for two months. When he complained I was dumbfounded. “What do you mean? I thought those were your favorites.”  Poor guy. “Not anymore,” he moaned, a little blue in the face. “I may never want to eat this meal again.”

 I grew up above my parent’s restaurant which was one of the finest in the area. Dinner meant a trip through the steam table to pick out prime rib, seafood, fresh veggies, and potatoes. Homemade pies waited in racks next to coolers of ice cream, strawberries and chocolates. I miss those days, those days of being cooked for with no thought to allergies, weight or waistline.

My friend Kim sang and played the harp at a concert last Sunday, accompanied by her husband Bob on mandolin and her son Dylan on guitar. The sound was magical. The director spoke of the evil Oliver Cromwell who banned Christmas in 1649. I was with my daughter, Kristen, who leaned toward me and whispered, “I wish somebody would ban Christmas here. It would save so much time, money and trouble.”

When the concert was over we moved downstairs to the refreshment table, where I eagerly ate every single item that is bad for me. I started with brownies, moved on to truffles, ginger cookies, a strawberry crisp and then started all over again, elbowing innocent children aside. By the time I left I couldn’t breathe and my vision has doubled, but hey, what’s a holiday for? 

This blog post is so out of focus. I’m writing about winter soup and my early marriage, my growing up years and last Sunday’s concert. What a jumble, all headed for the same pot. Is it better than nothing at all?

Home Economics 1950

This is not my usual offering, so I apologize to those of you looking for originality, but when I stumbled on this text from a home economics book printed in 1950, I couldn’t resist sharing. I was reminded of a few lines from the B.B.C Comedy, Doc Martin, when he asked an old lover if she had ever been married. “Not long enough to do any permanent damage,” she replied.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against marriage. God knows I’ve tried it often enough.

As challenging as this is to read, (you may need a vomit bag) reading it gives me hope that the unchangeable really does change given enough time and intelligence.

Ready? Got your bag handy?


Instruction for future wives: 

1. Have dinner ready: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him, and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospects of a good meal are part of the warm welcome needed.

2. Prepare yourself: Take 15 minutes to rest so you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work- weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

3. Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

4. Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces if they are small, comb their hair, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

5. Minimize the noise: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

6. Things to avoid: Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner. Count this as minor compared with what he might have gone through that day.

7. Make him comfortable: Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

8. Listen to him: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

9. Make the evening his: Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment; instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

10. The goal: Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax.

Waiting for Mr. Right

autumn-roadWe ate lazily, a sun warmed strawberry bursting with flavor for me, a sip of ginger tea for Kim.

Here he is again, she said, placing the chariot card in the center of my tarot reading.

He is still coming, getting closer.

Kim doesn’t read cards for anyone but me, believing she can’t really do it, but Kim can’t read tarot cards the way Michelangelo can’t paint the Sistine Chapel. Her readings have always been spot-on.

I listened getting a little angry. This guy’s been showing up for the past two years. Whoever he is, he’s taking his good sweet time. I wiped strawberry juice from the corner of my mouth, staining my napkin red. Don’t you think it’s odd he’s been showing up in the cards and not showing up in my life…at all?

She didn’t look up, busy placing a second card against golden patterns of grain on the coffee table. Patience is not your strong point Karen, he’s on his way or the cards wouldn’t be so consistent. You know that, you were my teacher!

The two of pentacles was the next card down, followed by the king, then the lovers. 

Seconds ticked, quiet moments as the cards lit in her eyes, revealed themselves and invited us forward. A gaping stretch of unhurried time.

He holds your dreams, she continued. He’s a traveler, well-educated, confident but weary. Looks like there is an entanglement he needs to free himself from first, perhaps another marriage but the two of pentacles, the change card, means he is close now, very close.

There it was, the image of the snake wearing a golden crown, making a figure eight by holding his tail against a purple and blue background. The word change printed boldly at the bottom.

Do you think he’s only a business man and not a partner? I asked, afraid of the answer.

She didn’t hesitate. No, not just a businessman. He is your husband, this will be good for you. Life changing. 

She drained the last drops of tea from her Staffordshire cup, the one I save just for her, wiped crumbs of chocolate from her lap, rose and carried her dishes to the sink.

My shift at the hosptial starts at 5 tonight, she said gathering her ample purse and notepad. I still have to get Dylan from school, so I’d better be off. 

She flung her arms around my waist, gathering me into her feminine presence, the same loving warmth offered to the babies on the lactation unit more than sixty hours a week.

My readings for Kim have been about working fewer hours, resting and the need to integrate her gifts as a singer and harpist into the fabric of her life. You must do more than work, I lecture through the medium of the cards.

Her readings for me have been about patience and good things coming in career and romance. Success is coming, believe it!

Kim and I have both made strides. I’ve had my man tucked into my life for five years now. He makes me crazy, but we’re well-suited. What does that say about me? I’ve given up my ideas of how marriage should be and have learned to embrace how it is.

 Kim is weaving a tapestry with voice and harp these days, as she becomes a medical music-thanatologist. That means she sings and plays for dying patients and their loved ones. Kim is a saint among us. She consistently turns toward the face of suffering and not away, as she opens her big compassionate heart to all of us lucky enough to know her.