Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's all about the butter...

When I was younger (much younger) I never understood why people got into drugs when they could get into food and sex instead. Sadly, that was decades ago, before we had to worry so much about the safety of such what we eat. What spurred this soul-searching and reminiscing? My husband just returned from having a long-overdue physical, which involved numerous diet and life-style changes; and as a result, I've had to come to terms with some of my own behavior and beliefs. I've had to ask myself some serious questions- like, why do I go into a panic mode if I have fewer than 5 lbs. of butter on hand at any given time? (don't's logical, because- you don't understand...I might need to bake something major. My niece lives across the street and she might need to bake something serious at the same time and have to borrow a few lbs.; the grocery store closes at 9:00 PM; my sister lives on the next block- she might have a baking emergency at the same moment and need to augment her butter supply. Hey, it could happen. It has happened. What if we all decide to make a triple-threat chocolate cake with caramel frosting on the same night, after City Market is closed? Then what would we do?) Yikes, I'd better up that minimum safety butter level to 8 lbs. Just to be sure.
OK- I digress...what I wanted to mention was that this past week we had an amazing experience at the VA in Grand Junction. Never, ever have I come in contact with a group of more well-equipped, kind, capable, or respectful doctors or health care providers- but that's a story for another day. The take away is that we can no longer behave like we did when we were 30 years younger and 30 lbs. lighter. I'm sure the transition won't be a piece of cake... maybe it's more like the proverbial carrot and the stick- just not nearly as much fun.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

They tell me it's just cabin fever...

It's been snowing on and off for a few days, and it's cold outside. It's not like a full-blown storm; the kind where you wake up to find the dullness and lack of foliage has been magically converted to a winter wonderland...oh no. It's just cold enough to make folks cranky. Midday, the sun peeks out long enough to morph the dingy piles of snow that line the street into gutter Popsicles that send you skidding ass-over-teakettle if you don't step carefully. I find it best to stay inside, encased in flannel pajamas, eating anything withing reach, as long as it's chock full of fat and sugar. Eventually I'll put a dent in my snack supply and have to venture out to the only grocery store in town to forage for cheese puffs and cookies that have little or no nutritional value.

I'm starting to grasp the concept of light deprivation, and have been indulging in a little California dreamin'.

Forget that California has been drenched lately-I'm using selective memory. I'm recalling that this time of year it had been my habit to dash out to any number of shopping destinations, needing only a light sweater for warmth. (I'm choosing not to remember that I had to sit in a lot of traffic to get to my destination, or circle a gigantic lot several times in order to find a place to park... that goes along with the 'selective' part) The other part of this self-observation- my California dreamin' always revolves around food.

My dreary mood deepened when it hit me that I can't do what I used to do...walk a couple of blocks for a quick lunch of linguine with clams at La Veranda or the best enchiladas in the civilized world at the New Mecca Cafe. Then there's the shopping. I want to go to Trader Joes. And where in hell can I find a Costco? Whole Foods? (You're right, it's a full-blown whine) Why can't we have BevMo here? Just their malted milk balls alone would be reason enough to want that retailer close by. I just wonder: Exactly how long can a person stay sane without a fresh loaf of real sourdough bread? (sourdough is NOT the same unless it's from SF...) The harsh reality that I'm not a quick drive from all the conveniences I had my entire adult life feels like a knock to the head.

This whining-pathetic-I've-got-the-ick-mood doesn't come around all that often, (and may has a little something to do with the funky weather) but when it does- no amount of on-line shopping as a substitute will help. It's just not the same as the hands-on-face-to-face-brick-and-mortar-experience.

I think of my friends and son in CA and imagine how different their days are...and all that they still have within easy reach. I talk to my youngest son in NY while he's on the train, heading into Manhattan, and realize how dissimilar his world looks to mine...(yes, of course I'm envious of his access to good Chinese food and the wealth of other ethnic restaurants) and I feel like the kid who had to leave a party while it's still in full swing.
In the quiet of the evening that presents itself whenever there is a light snow falling, I hear a wise voice and a little bit of 'Grandma Wisdom' coming at me. "This too shall pass" I know that refers not just to the bleak weather, but the bleak attitude as well. Wait a bit and it will change.

I knew the moodiness wouldn't last...this time around all it took was a trip to Grand Junction and exposure to a collection of big box stores and chain restaurants to snap out of it. I got to come home with the knowledge that there's a Best Buy, Target, Borders and Starbucks that exist within the same area code, and if I want to go there badly enough to sit in the car for an hour and a half, I can. Truthfully, it was comforting to return to a town that does not have a fast food franchise within its city limits. To a place where chances are, if you go out for a meal, the food you're eating came from a few miles away rather than a few thousand miles. A place where if you stop and chat with the clerk at the one and only grocery store, the person behind you won't get angry and impatient, and want you to hurry up and get out of the way. Maybe there's something to be said for coming in from the cold- perhaps it's just a matter of perspective.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dogs in Paradise...

Up until a few months ago, I had not been to a movie theater since leaving California. It's not that I don't love movies; I do- I just don't have big feelings about having to see things immediately...except when it's a subject matter close to my heart; like struggling writers, passionate cooks, and copious amounts of butter. So when they started running trailers for Julie and Julia, I knew I couldn't wait for the DVD. I better back up. Hotchkiss does not have a movie theater- but nine miles down the road, in the town of Paonia is the Paradise theater- which is now on my top ten list of the coolest places ever. Forget those multi-plex numbers...this is a community theater in every sense of the word. Besides showing movies, the Paradise has a stage for live performances, shows art films, football games, holds special events for kids, and even has first run movies. Wait... it gets better.
So maybe we didn't get to see Julie and Julia right away...and maybe first run movies don't have the extended run schedules they do in larger markets (you'd better catch something the first week it's out, because most likely, there won't be a second week) But the experience watching a movie in a small theatre where the owner welcomes you, sells you a ticket, serves refreshments (real popcorn with real butter and also they have a liquor license so you can have a glass of wine or a beer!) completely outshines the super-major-cineplex-experience any day of the week.
We were getting settled in our seats when I looked around and discovered the guy behind us had his dog on his lap. "Wow, you can bring your dog here!" I exclaimed to my husband, not realizing I was loud enough for dog-guy to hear. The guy with the dog shrugged his shoulders and nodded to the dog, explaining, "Zack has separation issues."
All I can say is that Zack-the-dog exhibited better manners than 50% of the movie-goers I remember from my cineplex experiences. Zack didn't talk through the movie. Zack obviously turned off his cell phone, and he didn't spend two hours texting his dog-girlfriend, he refrained from throwing popcorn in my hair, kicking the back of my seat, and he didn't barf on my shoes- all of which have happened at big suburban theater complexes over the years. (maybe that's why I prefer DVD's) But seriously- how cool is it that a guy can bring a well-behaved dog to the movie with him, and no one has a problem with it?
Dogs do occupy a special place in the culture here. You won't see foofy little dogs parked in pink handbags much in Hotchkiss-(don't get me wrong- I am madly in love with a foofy little dog) but folks here hold their dogs in very high regard. Example: if you go to the drive-through bank line with your dog in your car, when the teller completes your transaction, you'll also find a dog treat coming at you through the pneumatic tube. Dogs here tend to be working dogs, in fact one of the annual events that draws crowds into town are the Sheep Dog Trials, where working sheep dogs demonstrate that they are, in fact, smarter than most of the members of Congress.
My mother has long maintained that when residents of Delta County purchase new pick-up trucks, they are offered Golden Retrievers as part of an option package. (Power steering, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, golden retriever, premium sound package....)
And this is a good thing. You can tell a lot about a society by the way animals are treated. The animals here may work hard, but they have lots of treats and are very, very well entertained.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Things I never heard in California...

I've heard some things...OK, it's not like I was eavesdropping, but come on, sometimes you just can't help but overhear snippets of other people's conversations. A few of the verbal exchanges I've heard here that serve as reminders that I remain a stranger in paradise...
(In the Paonia True Value) "Hey, Bob- did your cows get out again?"
(At the vet's office) "That medication is going to run $5.00- is that OK for you?"
(At the hairdresser) "We're really busy, can you wait like 3 minutes?"
(At the convenience store) "This isn't my real job. My real job is blowing up beaver dams. With dynamite." To which I replied, "Ummm, I have to go home now."

The other thing about living in a small town is that everyone really does know what's going on with everyone else. My mother's house is on a corner lot with some very large, very old willow trees. The day she had the tree service out to trim the branches, my sister was out running errands for her. It went something like this...
First stop was the bank. Our favorite teller, who happens to live a few doors down the street, remarked, "Oh, I see your mother got her trees trimmed!" My sister nodded, not quite sure of the proper response.
Next stop, Post Office. (By the way, at the Hotchkiss Post Office there is rarely a line, and everyone who works there is so nice I want to invite them home to dinner.) While she's getting stamps the small talk turns to "Hey, I heard your mom got her trees trimmed." Do you think they heard it at the bank?
So the last errand to run is the grocery store. You guessed it...the grocery clerk knew, and commented to my sister that she's heard my mother's trees in the front yard just got trimmed.
What I don't get is not just that it's kind of a mundane thing to mention-it's how does word get out so fast?
What I don't hear around town....anyone blasting music from their car stereo. When I asked my niece about it, she explained that there is a noise ordinance in town. "So?" I responded, "We had noise ordinances in California, and that never made a difference to anyone- they'd blast their music so loud that the car in the next lane would vibrate." She just looked at me for a while and said, "Well, that would be awfully rude."
Plus...when the cows get out, it would drive them wild.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why being in a square state trumps being in a small snotty state...

This was never going to be about politics....and hey, it still isn't. But that said, I'm done being a political junkie. Joining a 12 step. Quitting cold turkey. I've had it. If I could kick the state of Massachusetts in it's tiny-little-snotty-state-ass, I would. But I can't and anyway, reality tells me that the Dems were just stupid, and stepped in it, but on the flip side, I wouldn't trust the Republican party to clean the hair out of my bathtub drain. So I'm mad at MA over the Senate loss.
For me; the other reason the feeling of pain and loss has attached itself heavily to Massachusetts is that Robert B. Parker has passed away. He was one of my favorite authors.
Spenser and Jesse Stone felt like real guys...because so much of Parker (and his affection for all things Boston) were deeply embedded in the characters. I can't shake the feeling that they are kind of stuck now in some sort of literary limbo. Yes- it's selfish, because reading his novels was such a pleasure...but it just seems like in the last 48 hours a lot has happened to make MA a sad place to be. Here in Hotchkiss, it's snowing outside right now. If I squint my eyes and look out the front of the house where the old stone church is, I can imagine I'm somewhere in Spenser's world. Think I'll dig up the recipe for Durgin Park Indian Pudding, and find a bottle of Johnny Walker. The 12 step was for politics....remember?
Back to Colorado thoughts tomorrow.

It's just 1000 miles, but it feels like a different universe

There used to be a lot of stuff in my life I thought I couldn't live without. Living in central Contra Costa County, CA would have topped the list, along with a sales job that included lots of travel, company vehicle, generous entertainment budget and various perks that made 15 hour work days and six day work weeks acceptable...until the reality, the economy, and some unexpected health issues brought life as I knew it to an abrupt end. Things went well for a while, and treading water, I downsized, trying to reinvent myself as a freelance writer and community columnist for the local newspaper. It worked for a few years; I rediscovered the wonderful city and population of Pittsburg, CA. The town and I were me, the diverse waterfront community was trying to re-create me, she was often misunderstood. Also like me, she couldn't quite keep her engine running without the appropriate re-fuel.
Bottom line- a tri-fecta of events have converged to bring my life as a California girl to an end.
I need to clarify this. I am a California native. I love my state. I still get misty at the sight of the State Flag, would never, ever consider picking a California Poppy on the side of the road, and regularly observe Admission Day (September 9, 1850). I'm not one of the Californians that got disillusioned with the Golden State and just took a hike.
That said, I am no longer a resident of a master-planned Contra Costa suburb. I'm not even a California resident at all. I've been transplanted to the rural community of Hotchkiss, Colorado. Elevation 5351. Population 1006 at last count. I'm guessing the livestock population is more than triple the human population. This place could not stand in sharper contrast to where I come from. Zoning? Building Codes? Orderly neighborhoods with parking enforcement? Ha!
You will find rustic log cabins nestled next to modular homes, tucked in behind spectacular 6000 ft. custom ranch homes on multi-acre parcels, which border trailers with lean-to storage sheds.
Go figure. And here's the thing...contrary to what my old home owner's association told me- no one has died. Sure, stuff looks kind of clutter-y and eclectic- OK sometimes like a trash bin, but Satan has not taken up residence, people still lead decent lives, take care of their kids (at least as well as they do in CA) and just because a resident is permitted to do car repairs in his or her own driveway; it has not hastened the end of civilization. Looking back, I'm ashamed to admit that I spent the first few months of my stay here mocking the apparent lack of zoning, and the fact that there were no HOA 'police' keeping things 'pretty'. Recently, I've come to have a deeper understanding of what pretty is. Of what's real. I'd like to share my observations from the perspective of a suburban CA girl who's been dropped into another world. No malls, no traffic (unless you count those cows and sheep).
The challenges of survival in a place where there are few shopping options, one grocery store, and zero fast food. Discovering the beauty of living in a place where you don't have to lock your car or your home, and organic farming is bountiful, and ultra liberals co-exist with staunch conservatives and libertarians. Learning about the mixed blessing of a community where everyone knows their neighbors; people look out for each other, but the gossip tends to run higher than the Gunnison River.
I've got stories I can't wait to share...and survival advice I'll be asking for. So far I've learned that no matter how settled you are in life, you're never too old for an adventure.