Notes to Younger Self

Recently, I stood in an exercise class next to a thirty-something-year old woman. While waiting for the instructor to arrive, we quipped about how even though the class kicked our butts, we kept coming back. Somehow the topic of age came up and I proclaimed that at the age of sixty-one I feel in the best shape of my life.

A look of horror melting into pity darkened her unwrinkled face. She took a step away. I believe she stopped breathing. I decided right then and there to out burpee her in the upcoming session. I did, too—even as stars flashed at the black edges of my peripheral vision and I felt dangerously close to a heart attack.

Driving home, still bitter about the young woman’s reaction to my age, I got to thinking how I wasn’t much different when I was young.

When I was four and my friend Mrs. Biklen told me she was forty-five, I couldn’t fathom such a number. I imagined it to be the infinity concept my first grade brother and his friends talked about. Twenty years later, she delighted in turning sixty-five because it made her eligible for Medicare. I wondered how anyone of such an advanced age could be the least bit happy. How could she possibly focus on anything besides looming death?

Now that I’m rotating towards Medicare eligibility and note the looks of revulsion when I confess my age to youngsters, I realize I’m only getting back what I once gave out. I still have a vague memory of what it was like to be young. While some things about growing older are downright ridiculous, many are beneficial. With this in mind, I’d like to send a few notes to my younger self.

You’ll wear shoes like this. The good news is that you’ll consider them stylish.shoes

You’ll be repaid for all the times you impatiently honked and cursed at older drivers by being honked and cursed at by impatient youth. The good news is that you won’t care.

You’ll stop going out to parties at ten at night because you’ll be asleep. The good news is that you no longer have friends who stay awake past ten.

Ninja2You’ll have a twenty-five-year window—from the ages of fifteen to forty—until you become invisible to the public eye. Before your feminine wiles and creamy good looks disappear, use them often to get your way. The good news is that once you’re invisible, you’ll realize your lifelong dream of becoming a ninja.

You’ll stop fighting your hair, cut it super short, get up each morning to run your man-comb through it, and let it have its way. The good news is that crappy hair or not, nobody notices you anyway.

You’ll take fewer things for granted—sleeping through the night, an iron-clad digestive system, and bladder control. The good news is that there are drugs to take care of all of this.

You’ll have kids who grow up and accuse you of needing hearing aids. You’ll accuse them of mumbling. The good news is that they no longer live with you so you don’t have to talk to them.

lemonsYou’ll issue proclamations to fruit in the produce section of the grocery store. “If you think I’m going to pay a dollar for you, you’ve got another think coming.” The good news is that you’ll find the act of shaming produce highly satisfying.

You’ll consider housekeeping a task done only to impress company. The good news is you don’t have to be too thorough because you’ll have stopped associating with people who complain about leaving your house covered in dog and cat hair.

You’ll look back and see that you wasted far too much time worrying about the future—your health, financial security, whether you’ll have a date for the carnival. The good news is that everything works out just fine.youngself

Parking Lot Grace

mycarI exit The Purity and walk across the parking lot towards my car. An eighties-style mini-van with patches of missing blue paint whips around a line of parked cars and screeches to a halt as if to avoid hitting me. It is several feet from making actual body contact, but screeches nonetheless. Burning cigarettes dangle from the corners of the lips of both the driver and his passenger.

The passenger jumps out like he’s late for an important interview. He takes a few sprinting steps and stops in front of me. With his thumb and forefinger, he pulls the cigarette from of his mouth. His face is bright, lit by a smile of anticipation.

Perhaps he’s a fan of It Happened at Purity.

I’m on my way home from the veterinarian where I’ve learned the sad news that our dog Lucy has to have another Luxating patella surgery. I’m in no mood to sign autographs.

He’s of slight build, about my height, short blonde hair, wears a camo T-shirt, and looks vaguely familiar. He pauses and opens his mouth. Perhaps he’ll say My buddy wanted to run you over, but I told him not to.

Instead, he says, “Ma’am?”

I’m thinking here it is—he’s going to ask for money. A couple months ago, I found a dollar in The Purity parking lot. It’s in a cup holder in my car. I keep waiting for someone to ask so I can give it away. This could be the day.

“Yes?” I say.

“Have a nice day.”

This makes me smile. “Thank you. And you, too.” I start to walk past.

He takes a drag off his cigarette and with smoke exiting his nose and mouth, says, “I really like your blouse.”

My heart fills with gratitude for him. He has lightened a very dark day.

I get into my car and pat Lucy on the head. “It’s amazing how little it takes to keep us going, isn’t it girl?” She wags her tail, looking out the front window, excited about where we might go next.1385952_10152162649041844_1036009523_n

How to bottle beer—in 22 easy steps

beer71. On a visit home, your son brings a beer making kit. His fiancé, who gave it to him a year ago, has threatened to re-gift it if he doesn’t use it soon.

beer52. Son and fiancé boil up the brew, pour it into a large jug, and top with a thingy. The instructions say to store in cool, dark place. They wrap it in a sheet and put in the downstairs shower.

3. The morning of their departure, four days later, remind son of the hooch. He’ll review the instructions and read aloud that it’s not to be disturbed for two weeks. (Two weeks!)

4. Maintain a calm, even tone while you suggest he pour it down the drain. Straighten your spine, shoulders back, head held high in defiance as he places a hand on your shoulder and uses his hostage negotiator tone (one he perfected during his teen years to defuse your bat-crap-crazy reactions to some of his antics)—“Come on Mom, you and Dad can do it.”

5. Begrudgingly admit that you can as you review the things you are no longer capable of doing—the splits, staying awake past ten p.m., recalling your mother’s maiden name. Embrace this opportunity to impress your adult child.

6. The night before bottling, son calls to remind you. It’s a good thing because you want to pretend you forgot, let it expire beyond the two-week deadline, and toss it out.

beer67. Read the instructions. Read again—and again. One more time. Learn a fun fact: the sludge at the bottom of the jug is called trub. Think about watching the suggested online instructional video.

8. Sleep fitfully.

9. In the morning, take a Lorazepam to reduce anxiety over your fear of accidentally siphoning trub into the bottles. In the meantime, sanitize the bottles and review the instructions. Think again about watching the online video.

beerinstructions10. Once the medication kicks in, enlist the assistance of your Baby Daddy. Give him the job of sucking on the end of the siphon tubing to get the flow going and inserting it into a bottle.

11. With one hand, hold the racking cane in the jug, ever vigilant to keep it away from the trub. With your other, place your thumb and finger on the tubing clamp to stop the flow when a bottle is full.

12. Baby Daddy yells, “Stop! It’s almost full! I said stop!”

13. In a panic, pull the racking cane from the liquid.

14. Baby Daddy sighs, “Damn, we lost the suction.”

15. After a couple of filled bottles, begin to enjoy the process—that is, until you start on the capping. How much pressure is too much pressure? Maybe you should watch the video.

16. Let Baby Daddy take over as you stand back and wring your hands. “You’re going to break the bottle. You’re going to….”

beerlucy17. Before you know it, you’ve got 10 bottles of beer. Let Lucy (or whatever you call your dog) sniff for quality control. Feel proud that you accomplished your task with a minimum of bickering and trub in the bottles.

18. Store the beer in a box. Place on the back porch in case one explodes. (Thank friend Larry for this tip).

19. On your next trip to see son, deliver the beer. Watch a smile cross his face as he praises you in much the same way you have always praised his successes. See that smile fade after he takes his first sip. “I don’t really like it.”

20. It’s Pecan Pie Amber Ale. Must be an acquired taste.

21. Give yourselves pats on the back. You did something you never imagined—something you’ll never do again.

22. Make son buy you dinner.

The reluctant brewmeisters.

The reluctant brewmeisters.

Life Inspires Art Inspires Life

Guest blog post by Jennifer Hotes
Author of “Four Rubbings”

DSC02589Stopping by “It Happened at Purity” is akin to walking around Fort Bragg with Kate, perhaps on the way to pick up groceries for dinner. As we wander the streets with her, we come to understand the soul of this special place and its residents.

Though seemingly tough and nonplussed on the outside, the people of Fort Bragg are tender, sentimental, proud, modest beyond belief and honest, oh God they are honest. If Fort Bragg were a presidential candidate, it’d have my vote.

There is a special woman behind those stories, someone who watches and cares for this community, then takes her observations and coaxes the details into stories—ones that make us laugh, or bawl to the point of ruining our computer keyboards and most powerfully, make us feel like residents of Fort Bragg, too. Like the groceries at Purity—cans, loaves, and bottles—they are merely ingredients until a cook lovingly crafts them into a meal. Kate is that chef.

jenn@6For decades, Kate has been feeding me. My first memory is of a bowl of split‐pea soup. It was summer in Sherman Oaks, California and we were in the midst of a record‐breaking drought. Residents were instructed to flush toilets sparingly and the grass outside was yellow and brittle.

I lived most of the year with my mom in Washington State. Even though Sherman Oaks was hot and dry, I was delighted to be visiting Kate and my dad. But I was not happy to eat that bowl of thick green soup sitting in front of me on the kitchen table. I was six at the time and green food wasn’t my thing. The soup smelled like sweaty feet and looked lumpy and odd. The water bureau would’ve certainly approved of me flushing that down the toilet.

There were countless visits after that, all tethered to Kate’s amazing cooking. At Christmas time in Fresno, she made homemade lefse filled with a pat of butter, steamed potatoes and fresh halibut. Oh golly, it was delicious the first night, but even better the next day. Homemade pastas, ice creams, salads—there was always something decadent and savory at the table. It was understood that if Kate cooked, then my dad, brother and I cleaned up. I was never happier to do dishes than after enjoying one of her meals.

Every visit I’ve made to Fort Bragg is consistent in one detail—Kate makes me feel like the only person in the world. After driving the twisty Willits road, I am shepherded into the kitchen with hugs and conversation, handed a cookie and told to sit and rest while she finishes dinner. No matter how delicious the meal, she never takes credit for the end result. Yes, she’ll concede that it was a good recipe, but she’ll not admit that she has exceptional skill in the kitchen.

If I watch Kate like she watches Fort Bragg, I notice she savors having company around the table. She delights in watching her guests enjoy her food and though it makes the tips of her ears blush red, she relishes in compliments.

fourrubbingsHer way of caring for people through food made its way into my first book, “Four Rubbings.” Don’t tell my lawyers, but Kate is the person behind Grace, the cemetery caretaker who nurtures her loved ones with food and stories. Grace bakes brownies and cookies when people feel low. She cooks meals that fill the air with heavenly scents and cause people to linger over conversation as they try to make room for seconds.

Kate is Grace, stronger than she knows, squeamish about compliments, nurturing, and profoundly wise. She is the reason we all gather around the table. She is the thing we are hungry for—the meals are simply a bonus.

There is one recipe in “Four Rubbings” that readers constantly ask for—Pioneer Cranberry Pie, a recipe clipped from The Fresno Bee by her mom Donna. Kate made it a few years ago for my daughter Ellie and me. It is as good as it sounds. pierecipe

She’ll never tell you, but I will. There is a special person behind “It Happened at Purity.” I am honored to know her and call her Mom. The character she inspired—Grace—will be in my second book. Look for it in Spring 2015.

Visit Jennifer’s website: www.jenniferlhotes.com

jennnow

Us & Them

1924362_10103430412757143_4183416246044040538_nOur daughter Laine lives in Oakland; son Harrison in San Francisco. One of the ways we stay close is through frequent phone calls.

Laine: Nitro treated us to high tea at the Fairmont.
Me: What fun! Little Mister [the cat] got another abscess from fighting and I had to drain it.
Laine: That’s gross! I don’t want to hear about it.
Me: Then you shouldn’t have asked.
Laine: I didn’t.

1620594_10103430411918823_3624933991290096877_nMe: I pulled what I thought was one beet from the garden and it was actually three that had been planted too close together and grew into a monster three-headed beet!
Harrison: I can’t talk right now. Kasi and I are about to get on a boat. We’re taking a brunch cruise on the bay.
Me: (sigh) I should have taken a picture before cutting it up.

Laine: I’m at Coachella. What’s up?
Me: I was just wondering what you were doing.
Laine: I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.
Me: That’s music? It sounds like a disaster preparedness test.
Laine: I’ve gotta go.

Harrison: Last night, I met up with some guys I used to work with and had dinner at Plouf. It’s a restaurant wedged between two buildings in the Financial District. The food is delicious. What’d you and Dad do last night?
Me: I don’t remember.
Harrison: Liar.
Me: Okay, we got takeout from Los Gallitos and watched three back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy.
Harrison: Isn’t that what you do every night?
Me: We don’t eat Los Gallitos food every night.

10850178_10152612650162478_7497662941202048975_nLaine: I just got back from the Keith Haring exhibit at the De Young. It was amazing.
Me: That’s wonderful, sweetie. Little Mister left us some guts on the back porch this morning. No carcass, just a little pile of what looked like a stomach and intestines.
Laine: Gross! Why do you always tell me disgusting stories about the cat?
Me: I thought you liked cats.

Harrison: I’m going to Cirque du Soleil tonight. What are you guys doing?
Me: “Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

Purified

It’s the end of the workday and I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow. I remember drinking the last of the almond milk with my morning snack.

DSC02939I hate to admit shortcomings, but confess I have some quirky rituals surrounding food. For example, I must have a latte and a treat around ten o’clock each workday morning or I get more than a little fussy.

Another food ritual involves the refrigerator. It must contain only the bare necessities. I become disturbed when it gets packed during the holidays or when we have visiting guests. The requirement to eat all that food is overwhelming. I feel the need to quickly rotate food in and out like a cafeteria vending machine. My comfort zone lies in seeing the glow of the light bulb through the empty spaces of glass shelves.

So I’m out of almond milk and won’t have time to buy any in the morning to prevent a guaranteed no-latte-meltdown at ten.

mycarTime to hit The Purity.

The almond and other faux milks are located opposite the entrance on the far wall of the store. It’s five pm with a rush of people who need to replenish their cache of bread, cereal, and beer.

As I leave the car, I brace myself to navigate the obstacle course of dawdling old people, candy-begging children, short-tempered mothers, and itchy alcoholics.

Just inside the entrance I encounter a man standing behind a card table wedged between the doors and a refrigerator case.

Hark! What is this?

My first thought is that he’s a petition signature gatherer. In Fort Bragg, there are always controversial issues that spur people to erect tables and ask for your autograph.

mendosoupBut this guy is offering samples of soup. In 22 years of being a Purity patron, I’ve never encountered a food tasting.

His name is Dan and he owns Mendocino Soups. As I toss back a shot of Thai Fish Stew, he explains that each variety is gluten free and made from organic ingredients. It’s super yummy. I grab a quart jar from his table and head for the almond milk.

After going through the checkout line, I walk towards the door. A scruffy-looking young fella wearing a black hoodie topped by a worn jean jacket and draped with an impressive number of heavy metal chains enters the store. Trailing behind is a mid-size black pit bull mix.

The fella pauses to give Dan an inquisitive look. Dan offers a sample which is declined as the fella moves past. Dan then says, “I don’t think your dog is allowed in the store.”

beercornerBy this time the fella is about five feet away, heading towards Beer Corner. He turns his head, cocks it slightly, and narrows his eyes with a look of you’re not the boss of me. “I know the owners,” he says and continues on, the dog by his side.

Dan chuckles and shakes his head.

He’s been Purified.soup

A Charlie Brown Christmas

a-charlie-brown-christmas-16A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired 49 years ago when I was eleven. It was a special evening for my younger sister and me. We had been invited to watch at the Biklen’s house (they had a color television).

68aee84bcc9bd0c7469a97d97b2d22f6The Biklen’s were our next-door neighbors on South Mount Vernon in Spokane, Washington.  Geography caused the street to slope upwards, which perched their Swiss chalet on a hill above our house. Our properties were separated by a stone fence. Trees and shrubbery planted behind the wall shielded their house from view. A long red brick driveway curved into their property and stopped at a small garage nestled beneath the house.

L, K, M, & Tommy Earsley 1959

One spontaneous visit where we dragged along a couple of neighborhood kids.

When we were barely more than toddlers, my sister and I wandered into their property on a warm summer day and made Mrs. Biklen our friend. We stood outside her paned kitchen window, open to the fresh air, and hollered our hellos.

She said her name was Ellamae. I asked how old she was and she said, “Forty-five.” Outside of our grandmother, she was the oldest woman I’d ever met. Her voice carried the soft lilt of contentment, but her eyes held a tinge of sadness at the edges. She had graying chestnut hair and wore a flowered shirt-waist dress.

Mrs. Bilken & dogShe escorted us home that day, but on those rare occasions when our mother lost sight of us while we were playing in the yard, we’d wander to the Biklen kitchen window and call, “Ellamaid, Ellamaid.” (This was before we were fully indoctrinated to address adults by Mr. or Mrs.—never by first names.)

It was the late 1950’s and the two Biklen daughters were in high school. Mr. Biklen worked as the accountant/treasurer at the Spokesman-Review. Mrs. Biklen was a housewife.

My family consisted of a father who was a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, and three children. Within a few years, we’d balloon to five kids, crammed into a small three bedroom, one bath house. By comparison, the Biklens were aristocrats.

Years later—when I was eight—I was in our front yard playing with neighborhood friends when Mrs. Biklen drove her Nash Metropolitan past. I paused to wave and when she waved back, I again noticed her sad eyes. The next day, I told my sister that Mrs. Biklen was lonely and we should visit her. (I was too shy to go alone.)

L & K 1965She didn’t let us in, but invited us to return the following day after school. Thus began a series of weekly visits where we sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listened to our stories and offered gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me. Our hearts intertwined to create a bond that lasted more than forty years.

The night of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” my sister and I dressed in our good clothes—skirts and blouses, tights and Mary Janes. We donned winter coats. It had snowed the day before, but a slight rise in temperature had turned it to slush. We navigated puddles, careful not to get our shoes wet on our way to the Biklen’s.

The specialness of the program’s premiere allowed us to go to the front door (we usually entered through the back). We climbed the steps to the wide veranda and rang the bell. Mrs. Biklen opened the door wearing a dark green shirtwaist dress and black heels. Mr. Biklen stood from his smoking chair to greet us—another treat for the evening. We rarely spent time with him, always leaving our visits with Mrs. Biklen before he arrived home from work.

My sister and I sat on the antique Empire sofa upholstered in gray silk and nestled into a shallow alcove. A Christmas tree covered in colored lights and tinsel stood in a corner. The massive fireplace held a crackling fire. We crossed our feet at the ankles and straightened our spines. An assortment of cookies on a Christmas plate and paper napkins printed with poinsettias sat on the coffee table.

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes.  (Here celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes. (Celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen, in his highly spirited way, offered to make us Manhattans—his favorite drink. He left the room and returned with two elegantly-stemmed glasses filled with Coke and a sunken maraschino cherry. He proposed a toast to the Christmas season. I felt like a sophisticate.

The television—inside a dark wood console—was on, all warmed up so we wouldn’t miss a moment of the program. The opening chords of the soundtrack gave me the shivers. For the very first time, one of my favorite comic strips had come to life. I marveled how the voices perfectly fit the characters—Charlie Brown’s forlorn tone, Lucy’s crabby edginess, and Linus’s thick-tongued toddler sweetness.

My sister and I left that night high on Manhattan Cokes and sugar cookies—infused with the Yuletide spirit of Charlie Brown and the gang. Every year since then, come Christmastime, I’m carried back to the Biklen’s sofa where I’m surrounded by warmth and elegance, and reminded how the loving attention of adults stays with a child forever.

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”