Monday, June 18, 2012

Christmas in June

After our Christmas service, the beautiful poinsettias that were bought earlier in the month to decorate the church were handed out to the congregation. I brought mine home and sat it in the living room for week or so and then moved it to the “cold room” where most of my plants live during the winter – it is heated, but not very much.

And so it was that about midway into January, we were encouraged by the author of the gardening column in the local newspaper to not bother with the Christmas poinsettias we had been given or purchased during the holiday season because there was no point in keeping them around. Just go ahead and toss them in the trash, she said. They would eventually die, and in any event, would never again develop the red leaves that make them such an attractive decoration during the holiday season.

I did not throw mine away. It endured the benign neglect suffered by most of my house plants during the winter. Much to my surprise, it not only did not die, but most definitely survived the winter.  And thus it was that Spring arrived, the last danger of frost passed, and it joined the yearly migration out to the back porch along with the Boston fern, and the Christmas cactus, and the rest of them.

OK, yeah, some of the bigger red leaves don’t look all that great, but on the other hand, unless my eyes deceive me, are those new red leaves?

Ya just never know…

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


 I have always been fairly confident in my ability to remember things accurately. At least I was. And then Judy said I just had to read “the gorilla book.” 

 The book has startling things to say about us humans and the way our minds work. We can look right at something and not see it at all. We can remember something that never happened. It was a hard book to deal with, and I have talked about it with Richard probably more than he would like. Our brains play tricks on sometimes, and I no longer trust very much my memories of the past. Judy and I refer to these as “gorilla moments.” 
The book presents two very public people who had “gorilla moments” with their memories. One was Hilary Clinton, who got off a plane having been to Bosnia and talked about things that she experienced at the airport that video footage showed never happened. Another was President George W. Bush, who said he remembered seeing some of the events of 911 that he could not possibly have seen in real-time because he was reading a story to some children in an elementary school (this, of course, played right into the hands of conspiracy theorists). Neither person was telling a deliberate lie. Their brains had played tricks on them. They were having “gorilla moments.”

And I came right up against my very own “gorilla moment” a few days ago.

The tumor in our son’s brain was removed on June 7, 2010. On June 8 at noon they moved him from the neurology ICU to the ward. Late in the day on June 8, the radiologist came into the room and said “melanoma… spread from somewhere else….” I left the hospital in the early evening and drove home with those horrible words ringing in my head and heart. Knowing now what I know about the gorilla and the problem of "distracted driving," that I was able to make it home without killing myself or someone else is something of a miracle.

The next morning, June 9, Richard left and drove to the hospital and spent the day with our boy. While he was there, the neurosurgeon came to check on our son. Richard and the surgeon went out in the hall to talk so that our son could not hear them. He said to Richard:
This is a very aggressive cancer. We will throw everything we have at it, and we will lose.
And two years later, as I was thinking back on that week, I thought that the surgeon had told us that when he came to see us immediately after the operation was over. I was convinced of it, until Richard assured me that I definitely was wrong. He was by himself with the surgeon in the hall. I was not there.

A gorilla moment.

But then in that blessed way that He has, another memory scuttled in to give me something else to think about.

Parts of the wood scaffold that Richard built against the side of the house several years ago have started to drop off. And at about the same time 2 years ago that Richard was hearing that dreadful prophecy in the corridor of the hospital, I happened to walk by the fallen board and I saw this fellow basking in the sun. 

A fence lizard, who very patiently sat still for me while I went in the house and got the camera and fumbled with it trying to get it to turn on and focus and get close enough to take his picture.

Yes indeed. Seeing this little fence lizard sent me on another much more pleasant trip into the past… 
A memory I absolutely trust. Or most of it. I think. It was summer and our family was visiting my father’s sister, Betty, and her husband, John in Carmel Valley. He had to go tag fence lizards for a project he was working on as part of his job as the director of the Hastings Natural History Reservation run by UC Berkeley. I have no idea what the project was about. I am sure he told me, but I don’t remember. It may have been simply counting them to see if the population was healthy. In any event, he let me come with him.

He had slick technique for catching the lizards. He had a fishing pole with fine line and a noose tied at the end, and he would slip the invisible noose over the head of the unsuspecting lizard and jerk, and the lizard was his. I am not sure how he marked the lizards he had already caught and tagged, but I am almost sure he used nail polish (go away, gorilla).

If I were keeping score, I’d guess the gorilla is slightly ahead.

Monday, June 04, 2012

A very nearly perfect day…

I have found myself on more than one occasion being invited into a home that has every appearance of having just been photographed for a Better Homes and Gardens spread and being warned by the lady of the house “Oh don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.”

Which of course prompts me to look around to see what the mess is; and of course, there is no mess anywhere. The woman is obviously lying. These sorts of self-deprecating remarks that fly in the face of reality have puzzled me greatly. True, one doesn’t want to be thought of as a person who brags on herself or himself, but why say anything at all?

On the rare occasions when people show up at my house unexpectedly or, since January, when I have on purpose invited them for lunch, I never ever say “don’t mind the house, it’s a mess.” Even when I do a good job of cleaning the house, I do not want to encourage people to look around to see what ever the mess might be that they haven’t noticed already.

Late last week I sent an e-mail to my next lunch victim, asking if she was allergic to anything, and was there anything she particularly did not like. She mentioned “mole,” which happened to be somewhat similar to the Buckaroo beans recipe I was planning to make. I sent her the recipe, and she said, “go ahead.” So I did.

I fixed it on Sunday and it was horrible. I made several mistakes. The recipe called for “strong coffee.” And the coffee was too strong. The recipe called for a one-ounce square of unsweetened chocolate. I didn’t have any so I used 1 ounce of baking cocoa. Some versions of the recipe use powdered cocoa, but between the cocoa and the coffee, the sauce had a bitter taste to it, despite the brown sugar.

The main mistake was that I had way too few beans for the amount of sauce.

So after several samplings, hoping that the taste would improve, I decided it had not improved. Richard agreed.

So I decided Plan B would be some vegetarian chili I have that has barley in it. I started cooking the barley and in the meantime I washed all of the bitter mole sauce off the beans and added canned tomatoes and cooked it some more.

It tasted much better, but still not good enough for company. I packed it away in freezer containers and will eat it later. So, there sat the cooked barley

I happen to have a recipe for a barley-vegetable salad, so I put that together, and Richard found some frozen Szechuan carrot soup, which I thawed, and my guest bought beet greens she had cooked with butter, so we had a rather odd lunch, that I think turned out OK…

I was assured that the more I did this -- the house and the food -- the easier it would get. So I ask myself: Is having people over for lunch getting any easier? In some ways, yes. I feel more relaxed now as we sit at the table visiting. I accept that people are coming to see me, not the house. I can forget that part of the ceiling looks like it is ready to all down. I can let my eye slide over the cobweb drape in the corner that I forgot to knock down and pretend I don’t see it….

And despite dithering for days about what I am going to fix, as long as I continue to prepare the food a day in advance and have a back-up plan so that I can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, then "yes" to that question too….

And when she walked out the door, I felt that special sort of joy that come when one has spent some time with a kindred spirit.