When SoCal Gives You Lemons (#366)

If you have a square foot of land in Southern California, you probably have citrus tree. If you don’t, you might have one in a pot. If you don’t have one in a pot, all your friends with lemon trees are currently offering you free lemons (the oranges aren’t quite ripe yet).

Tis the season in SoCal.

Our lemon tree is loaded this year. Andy has made lemon pancakes and crepes with lemon curd multiple times in the last month.

Andy’s crepes with lemon curd

When Baby D had dental work done, Andy made him a lemon posset. (I thought possets died out in Victorian times, but apparently there’s a resurgence.)

When a friend asked me to bring a dessert for a New Year’s party, I figured I’d better use up some lemons. But what to make?

Then I remembered Lawyer Sis raving about her daughter’s addictive lemon cookies. Kickass Niece (who kicks ass in school, social justice, taekwondo, soccer, and baking) was apparently forbidden from making those cookies too often when the rest of the household stopped fitting into their clothes.

I hit Kickass Niece up for the recipe. She told me it was basically any sugar cookie recipe modified with extra sugar and two lemons. (My version of this recipe is at the end of this post.) I got to work.

The cookies came out super lemony (I suspect East Coast lemons are puny compared to ours).

Andy and Baby D tested them for me. They both shrugged.

Andy: “They’re good.”

Baby D: “They’re okay.”

I asked, “Where do they rank compared to my other cookies?”

Baby D said, “My cookies are the best, then chocolate chip, then maple rugelach, then chocolate cookies with white chips, then the cream cheese sugar cookies, then the candy cane and chocolate meringues, then these.”

Andy said, “The chocolate cookies are first, then D’s cookies, then chocolate chip, sugar cookies, then maple rugelach, then these.”

“So they’re last?!”

Baby D shook his head and said, “No, the oatmeal cookies with cranberries or raisins are last. Or the Berger cookies.”

Andy said, “No, the candy cane and chocolate meringues are last. DEAD LAST.” (Andy thinks chocolate and mint together are the devil.)

I sighed and wondered if I should have made different cookies—until I realized that Baby D was stealing the just “okay” lemon cookies off the cooling rack every chance he got. Cookie casualties reached the double digits before I started squirting him with the cat’s water bottle.

The lemon cookies didn’t look very impressive (even though I picked the prettiest ones for the party platter). But only a handful remained at the end of the evening. As we were leaving, I offered the remainder to the mom of one of Baby D’s classmates.

The mom said, “Actually, I think I will. Olivia’s got a cold and these might cheer her up.”

Her friend piped up with, “Oh, and I’ll take some for Janet.”

Olivia’s mom eyed her friend skeptically and said, “Janet?”

“You know, my imaginary friend who will get just as many cookies as your daughter.”

Olivia’s mom gasped in outrage and said, “I really am taking these for Olivia!”

“Suuuuuure,” said the friend.

We laughed and made our exit with an empty platter—which outraged Baby D, especially when he learned that we’d sent the last of the cookies home to Olivia.

He may even have sent Olivia an angry text about her eating the last of “his” cookies.

To which she responded: “What cookies?”

Olivia’s mom is so busted.

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies

Since folks on Instagram asked for the recipe:

Lemony SoCal Sugar Cookies (aka Kickass Niece’s Cookies)

  • 2½ cups (318 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt (I used kosher salt ground finer with mortar and pestle)
  • 2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar, plus ½ cup (100 grams) for rolling
  • Zest and juice of 2 large lemons (maybe 3 if you are using puny East Coast lemons)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed to beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and beat an additional minute. Add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, and beat until combined. Gradually beat in the flour mixture.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup sugar into a shallow pan or bowl. Using a small (1 tbsp) spring loaded ice-cream scoop, scoop out individual pieces of dough, drop them into the sugar, and roll them around until they are coated with sugar and roughly ball shaped. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing at least 2 inches apart—these cookies will spread and flatten considerably as they bake.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges brown. (If you like softer, chewy cookies, cook less. Spouse prefers more caramelized and wanted them even browner on the edges.) Cool for cookies for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, assuming you don’t have a ravenous child who eats them all off the rack.

Hurriquake (#360)

We had a little excitement over the weekend. Historic excitement, even.

Southern California has its share of disasters. When I moved west, I knew I was trading in hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards, and locusts (or at least cicadas) for earthquakes and wildfires. (My son Dalton thinks this was a shit trade; he is green with envy every winter, when his cousins get “snow days” and have no school.)

My partner Andy thought he was leaving hurricanes when he moved from Hawaii. You know why? Because meteorologists have long said Southern California’s coastal waters were too cold for a hurricane to survive and the winds send storms back out to the Pacific.

Last week, Hurricane Hilary made a beeline for us. Thanks to the fossil fuel industry’s greed, the Pacific Ocean has warmed up quite a bit.

Now, technically, Hilary was downgraded to a tropical storm before crossing over from Mexico into the United States. So, yes, we still haven’t officially had a hurricane (let me get that out before white bros start “well actually-ing” the crap out of my comments section). But SoCal and its Maine-like water temperatures were supposed to be relatively safe from tropical storms, too.

Fuck you, Exxon.

Next up on our bingo card: ice-storm, probably. Courtesy of Shell and all the white men insisting on driving jacked up pickup trucks to prove their toxic masculinity. May all y’all drive those trucks into the rising waters and get swept away in a rush of double irony.

Even though meteorologists were always very clear that Hilary would only be a tropical storm by the time she reached us, a tropical storm still meant way more rainfall than SoCal usually gets. 4 inches of rain is a pittance on the East Coast. In SoCal, we get maybe 10 inches a year—4 inches is a DELUGE! In our inland deserts? Death Valley gets 2 inches annually.

So on Friday, Dalton and I cleaned out the rain gutters. (He’s young enough that climbing on the roof is exciting, plus he’s lighter than his parents and less likely to damage the shingles, plus didn’t you know conservatives are bringing back child labor?) After the city cut down the seven trees around our house, gutter-cleaning was far easier than in past years, but in the rain gutters Dalton discovered dirt, 3 drill bits, one entire rusted drill nose/ bit, and several metal cylinders (probably from our solar installation last year).

Meanwhile, Andy reapplied caulk around the roof vents. He tucked away all his pots and gardening supplies in the garage and shed. Any light furniture, yard signs, and cushions went into the garage.

We were ready for the worst, even as we watched Hilary’s projected storm track move further and further from the coast.

Normally, we get strong afternoon winds blowing in from the ocean. Saturday, those winds died. Andy informed me that this was typical pre-hurricane weather: hot, humid, and still.

SoCal’s nighttime temperatures normally drop as much as 20 degrees, thanks to our lack of humidity.

Sunday morning, as Hilary approached, was even hotter than Saturday afternoon. When I checked the doppler, the majority of the rain was passing to the east of us.

Occasionally the sky would spit, but we didn’t get light rain until about 11 AM.

It didn’t cool off a darn thing.

This was my phone yesterday.

At about 2:40 PM, the rainfall got heavier. As I shifted in my chair to look out the window, the house seemed to move. I had a split second to wonder if the barometric pressure changes were giving me vertigo before my phone started screaming “Emergency Alert!”

One flooding alert for Hilary.

And one for a 5.5 earthquake.

As SoCal social media alternated between gleeful “#Hurriquake” and gloomy “#FML,” thankfully someone in Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service quickly tweeted that a tsunami was NOT expected, post-earthquake.

Alas for #Hurriquanami.

The quake did no damage to us, since the epicenter was far to the north. (No injuries or serious damage, just a lot of broken glass in Ojai.) The worst storm systems went around us on both sides of the Los Angeles basin, proving once again that geography has an impact on weather. We finally got some cooler winds and heavier rain by about 7 PM.

Our area got about 2.5″ of rain in exchange for a few tree limbs down and loss of power. I invited neighbors to come by and recharge at our house (thanks to our powerwall), but power was restored before anyone got that desperate.

Palm Springs and Coachella Valley were far less fortunate.

Several school districts canceled classes today.

Our school district, however, is still on summer break.

Dalton is rather bitter about this: “That was probably the best chance to have school canceled for weather!”

“Give it time, dude. Our climate is heading for extremes. You could still get a snow day.”

“That will NEVER happen in LA, Mom.”

“They said the same thing about hurricanes once, buddy.”

The Wrangler (#358)

Save the monarchs!

King Charles in a huge crown.

No, not that one.

This one:

Orange and black monarch butterfly

Most Americans are familiar with the monarch, the most photogenic of the butterflies.

The caterpillar is distinctive:

The monarch chrysalis looks like jewelry, complete with droplets of gold. (It’s not really gold, it’s a cool illusion—possibly one that makes other creatures think it’s a dew-covered leaf.) The monarch’s annual, multigenerational migration from Mexico to Canada and back again is a staggering achievement for such a small creature.

Mercury News

There are two groups of monarch butterflies: the eastern monarch and the western monarch. There might be some comingling at the Mexican wintering grounds, but mostly each group stays on its side of the continental divide.

I didn’t think much about monarchs until my niece in the east did a Boy Scout project giving out milkweed seeds to help increase the population. Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on the milkweed plant (though there many, many types of milkweed). Once the eggs hatch, the monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed leaves. Milkweed is, according to most other species, nasty. Toxic, even. It makes monarchs more vibrantly orange, as well as unappetizing to predators.

The milkweed seeds my niece distributed probably wouldn’t thrive in Southern California, but her project got me googling. I learned that a) SoCal is part of the overwintering grounds for western monarchs, and b) western monarchs aren’t doing so well, either.

Since my husband’s garden had taken over the center of our backyard, I suggested we put a butterfly garden in next to the garage, where the vegetable garden used to be. Andy agreed and ordered some native milkweed.

Milkweed is known as a weed for a reason. Milkweed cannot be contained. Milkweed popped up all over our back and front yard. I potted extra plants and gave them away.

But it wasn’t until Christmas a few years ago that I found chrysalises all over our back patio. Chrysalises on our planters, our table, our bench, and even under the back step. Why so many? Why then?

Maybe it was because that particular Christmas was very cold, with snowstorms closing the freeways around Los Angeles. The tachinid flies, parasitoids who prey on monarch caterpillars, survive best in temperate weather; cold might have wiped them out before they could lay eggs on the milkweed.

Or it could have been because we had lost our remaining dog that fall (I’ll write that post when I can do it without crying so probably never). Without a big dog with big paws running around, the caterpillars could safely cross the patio and find more visible spots for their metamorphosis.

And so began my life as a caterpillar wrangler. I put wooden trellises in on the edges of the butterfly garden. From December to March, if I spotted a caterpillar motoring across The Patio of Death, I put the caterpillar on the trellis, lecturing said caterpillar: “The trellis is a safe place! Make your chrysalis HERE.” I often saved the same damned caterpillar repeatedly.

Sometimes I wondered if saving terminally stupid caterpillars would be detrimental to the species as a whole. Unfortunately, the western monarch population was decreasing precipitously. In the 1980s 4.5 million monarchs overwintered on the California coast. Overwintering monarchs declined to 1.2 million in 1997, which dropped to 293,000 in 2015. In 2019, the numbers fell to 30,000.

In 2020, less than 2,000 monarchs were counted.

So yeah, every caterpillar mattered. Even the idiots.

Despite my wrangling, I still found caterpillars building chrysalises in Very Bad Places.

Seriously, Mx Monarch Caterpillar, does this seem like a safe place?!
Chrysalis relocation in progress

I learned how to carefully scrape off the silk holding the chrysalis to the rocker (or the door, or the bench). The silk is incredibly strong; if I could scrape off enough, I could run a needle and thread through the silk and tie the chrysalis to a trellis. My sewing kit became a chrysalis-transplanting kit.

Not every monarch could be saved. Some caterpillars got stepped on. Some chrysalis stems or silk broke. Parasites were always a problem. Butterflies often fell while their wings were drying—either into a spiderweb, or on their backs where they were helpless. If I spotted them in time, I might be able to help them safely to a flower or trellis. Sometimes butterflies emerged with deformities. Then all I could do was get them to a patch of milkweed or a marigold and hope they enjoyed their short lives.

In December 2021, the western monarch overwintering population rebounded to an astounding count of 250,000. It’s not possible for the 2,000 butterflies counted in 2020 to have created such a population explosion; biologists speculate that uncounted monarchs must have found many different overwintering sites, perhaps created deliberately by newly aware, backyard conservationists (and some created accidentally by milkweed doing its weed on speed thing).

In 2022, the winter monarch butterfly count climbed to 335,449.

I like to think some of those monarchs had ancestors that survived The Patio of Death and emerged from a chrysalis in my backyard.

 

For the Birds (#356)

Birds flock to my yard. I don’t put out feeders, but fountain brings in birds by the dozens in dry SoCal (also skunks, which is another, stinkier post). Andy’s insect-attracting compost pile attracts the black Phoebe fly catcher.

Small bird with bright orange chest
Allen’s Hummingbird, photographer Dean LaTray, Cornell Macaulay Library

The rufous hummingbirds and Allen’s hummingbirds dogfight over orange blossoms. Mocking birds have claimed the neighbor’s shrubbery and defend it against all comers—including hawks.

Bright yellowish orange bird with black wing
Fred Forssell, Macaulay Library

My personal favorite is the hooded oriole. He’s the most colorful bird, sporting bright orangish-yellow plummage. He arrives in late March, signaling that The Worst Month is almost over. The male hooded oriole fusses in the fountain before preening relentlessly for the less colorful female orioles. The females are much harder to spot, being the perfect shades of green and yellow for blending in with foliage. They also do far less preening and far more foraging for insects in trees and my rose bushes.

Recently, though, I caught the elusive female oriole on camera. She spent days ripping at the tissue box on the patio—either nest-building or auditioning for a Kleenex commercial. I’m dubious about the tensile strength of tissues, but she was determined. The orioles nest in very, very tall palm trees across the street. Fingers crossed the nest holds this year. (I’m all out of Kleenex, orioles. Don’t make me cry over your downed nest.)

Finch at a fountain, courtesy of a neighbor mom friend with a good camera.

Of all the birds, finches are the most numerous—and problematic. Every year there’s at least one pair determined to nest in my outdoor hanging baskets. When we first moved in, they successfully raised all their fledglings (and I cleaned a lot of poop of the patio). But once Baby D was a toddler, we went in and out and played in the yard so much the next finch parents abandoned their nest. Once it was clear the finches were never coming back, I took the nest and eggs to show Baby D’s preschool class. The kids were awed. I was sad.

After that, I started running off the finches as soon I spotted them in the baskets. Those finches were tenacious and sneaky. More than once, they managed to frame (with twigs) and drywall (with dog fur) while I was out on the morning walk.

That’s when I brought out the big guns: Boss Cat. The finches invariably fled to as I carried her outside. Raising Boss Cat over my head, (her Lion King moment!) I’d let her paw at the basket and rub her jaw against it. Then I’d yell, “Now do you see? This NOT a safe place!”

Sometimes, I’d throw in a song: “It’s the circle of life/ And she’ll eat you all/ Rip off your head/ Make sure your babies are all dead…”

I don’t know if it was the macabre lyrics or my singing voice, but Boss Cat and I successfully deterred basket nest building for years.

One of us was happy about this.

Eventually the wicker baskets fell apart. I replaced them with wrought iron baskets lined with coconut matting. The finches left them alone, allowing to freesia bloom in the spring, and marigolds to bloom in the fall. In the shadiest areas, the fuchsia geraniums bloomed year-round.

Until the scrub jays discovered them. Apparently coconut matting is even better than dog fur for avian drywalling. Those scrub jays tore out matting out by the handful, then flew off with it to their unknown nesting site. When I brought out Boss, they merely retreated to the telephone wire. And when I sang? They squawked back at me.

Blue and white bird on a post.
Marauding Scrub Jay, courtesy of mom friend

Like they were laughing.

As soon as I went in, those jays resumed ripping at the basket. I took my laptop outside and set up a chair under one of the baskets because I’m ornery like that.

The scrub jays went for the other basket. I moved my chair in between the baskets. The scrub jays disappeared. I was victorious.

Or so I thought.

Only later did I discover the holes in the coconut matting of front porch geranium.

Marauded matting!

I had to buy three new sheets of coconut matting before scrub jay nesting season was over.

This year, the scrub jays ripped out so much matting in just one morning that potting soil covered the patio and dog bed.

I took down the mauled baskets, telling myself they were rusting anyway. I transplanted the surviving flowers into my front garden.

And then I tossed the remnants of the coconut matting into the compost pile, yelling, “Fine! Have at it!”

The scrub jays were victorious.

Or so they thought.

I still have one hanging basket with pristine coconut matting on the front porch. The scrub jays, busy savaging the sacrificial matting in the compost, never touched the last basket.

Probably they’re saving it for next year.

Bright fuchsia geranium in a hanging basket of wrought iron.

A Sporting Chance (#354)

The first year I coached my son’s recreational soccer team we lost almost every game.

Undoubtedly due to the shitty coach who had never played soccer.

The second year I coached AYSO, I had all the boys from Dalton’s elementary school. They were smart, Dalton was fast, and there was no offsides rule. The boys quickly learned to send it out to Dalton on the run—he would get to it first, they would sprint for the goal, and he’d pass it back to them for a score. They won most games. We were only crushed by two teams, both stacked with good players—players with dads who had started them young and/ or also had them playing on “club teams.” Club teams are known as “travel ball” teams outside of California, where apparently you have to travel a long way to play other good teams. In a huge city like Los Angeles, with millions of Latino kids (who got soccer balls before they could walk) and Japanese American kids (who got soccer balls as soon as they could walk), no teams had to travel far for good competition.

Club teams played all year.  They had licensed, professional coaches. They were also thousands of dollars annually. AYSO was $165.00.

Dalton at British Soccer Camp

Every summer break, winter break, and Spring Break, I put Dalton in whatever soccer camps were available: AYSO, British, or local club camps. He had a blast and I got a break. Even those camps were a fraction of the cost of club soccer. That was as close as Dalton got to a club team.

Until our worst AYSO season. Once the kids hit U8, AYSO coaches rank their players at the end of each season. The age group coordinators are supposed to use those rankings to make sure the teams are fair. In Dalton’s age group, the coordinator claimed the previous year’s rankings had “disappeared.” She stacked her son’s team with good players, including the great player with the dad who had played soccer in college and now coached. I had three players who had never played soccer before. All Dalton’s prior teammates wound up on other teams.

We were the Panthers, and we were pathetic. In our first game, we were slaughtered 9:0. In our second game, the Crushing Red Typhoon crushed us 11:2, with repeated goal-scoring breakaways from a club player named Jacob. Our one bright spot—aside from snacks bags with brownies—was Dalton chasing Jacob down. Face red and furious, Dalton came diagonally from one goal all the way to the other to deny Jacob a last point.

Then I had to bribe Dalton, who hated injustice even more than losing, with ice-cream to get him to go through the post-game handshake.

But with every practice, and with every game, the Panthers improved. (Probably because getting worse wasn’t possible.) I kept the practices as fun as I could, using games like “Target the Coach” to improve passing or “Simon Says” to work on ball handling. Every week I handed out a little black panther statuette to one player for doing something great…or just following directions. When we managed to tie the Agent Orange team, we celebrated like it was a win.

By the time we played the age group coordinator’s stacked team, we only lost 5:0. At that point, I was almost as angry as Dalton over the disparity in the skill levels among teams. After the handshake line, I told Andy, “Don’t let Edwin get two snacks and don’t let Dalton see the other team celebrating. I’m going to go give the coordinator a piece of my mind.”

“Do you think that will help?”

“Of course not. But it’s the only consequence I can give.”

“Okay. Same deal as Dalton. You get an ice-cream if you don’t hit.”

I did not hit her. I told her I’d watched her stack her son’s team for years, against the AYSO mandate for fair teams in order to build a love for the sport. I told her it discouraged players and that all the kids deserved better. I told her she sucked as a coordinator, a parent, and a human. I refused to accept a single weak excuse and then I left.

For the Panthers’ last game, we again faced the Crushing Red Typhoon. And do you know what?

WE WON. Despite the amazing Jacob (who eventually moved on to the LAFC Academy team). Despite our inexperience. And despite our Goal Keeper getting knocked over and falling into dog poop. When the last whistle blew, it was Panthers: 3, Crushing Red Typhoon: 2.

The jubilation of Panther parents, Panther players, and, yes, the Panther coach rivaled that of any World Cup Champions. (Nobody hoisted our keeper on their shoulders, though.)

During the next Christmas break soccer camp, a coach from a local club team asked Dalton to try out for his team.

Eyes shining, Dalton asked, “Can I do it, Mom? They play ALL YEAR. And it’s a REAL coach, not a parent.”

Andy said, “Ouch.”

I laughed and said, “Sure. You need an actual soccer coach. And I’m gonna retire while I’m still on top.”

“On top? We didn’t win AYSO,” Dalton scoffed.

“Oh, I think we did, buddy. I think we did.”

And I always will.

The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

A Doggie Story (#339)

Our rescue dogs were very different in temperament. Woofie, the Labrador mix, saw every creature as a potential playmate. If he could have, that dog would have opened the door to any stranger with a ball…or a knife, or a gun.

Fey, our German shepherd and shar-pei mix, saw every stranger as a potential threat, unless they were a white male over six feet tall who smelled like In-n-Out burgers. (You can probably guess who rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles and what food they used to gain a starving dog’s trust.) Fey refused to let the gas meter man near the house, which was a pain in the ass, but she also refused to let burglars break into the house, which everyone except Woofie found heroic.

Woofie shook off criticism like water. “Bad dog!” meant nothing to him. So did “no!” and even, “Jesus fucking Christ, Woofie, how did you dig up an entire bougainvillea in two minutes?!” Continue reading A Doggie Story (#339)

What Bugs (#338)

My Chinese American husband doesn’t see dirt. At least, not in our house. He’s got a whole dirt manufacturing thing going on in our yard with multiple compost piles, but can he spot an errant leaf or Lego on the floor and pick it up? Haha, no. Not even after he’s experienced multiple late-night Lego fire walks into our son’s bedroom.

Back when we were dating, Andy would get mad about his roommate leaving crumbs on the kitchen counter.

Now that we’re married? Andy leaves crumbs on the kitchen counter. Continue reading What Bugs (#338)

Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking contest the Sunday before Labor Day.

The stakes? Bragging rights and cheese knives.

The contestants? Everyone on the block.

The outcome? My Chinese American husband dominated for years. Then I started entering chocolate baked goods and crushed him. The hostess finally created two categories, one for “Savory” and one for “Sweet.” Andy vengefully jumped categories and destroyed me with caramel pear ice-cream.

Two years ago, we tied. Last year, the contest was canceled because of COVID.

Two weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

Continue reading Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)

I am not a fan of car culture. I believe in public transportation: trains, the subway, buses. Do not get me started on the lost and lamented Los Angeles Red Car.

But damn, cars came in handy during COVID-19. Cars were a way to maintain social distancing in drive-thru testing sites. There were Ubers and Lyfts for those who didn’t dare brave buses, even with masks. There was Instacart for those who didn’t dare brave the grocery stores. With restaurant dining off-limits, at least you could still pick up a pizza or have it delivered.

Drive-in Theaters became a thing again. Fast-food restaurants brought back carhop service. We went from Escape Rooms to Stranger Things: the Drive-Into Experience. The majority of Americans opted for road trips this Spring Break, rather than risk flying.

Aside from take out, Andy and I mostly skipped the resurgence of car culture.

Until it was our turn for vaccinations. Continue reading When the Drive-Thru Will Save You (#318)