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Sweary Mommy (#369)

It might shock some of you long-time readers to know that I did not actually swear in my youth. (Yes, I have been making up for lost time. Also, smart people are the sweariest.)

Pretentious white Anglo Saxon protestant families like my own don’t do anything that draws attention in public (très gauche!). And while my mom thought of herself as a liberated woman, she was also a recovering debutante. Losing your temper in public was unacceptable, especially if you were a girl. Swearing? Beyond the pale.

I also always had a bunch of baby siblings around. My father—master of emotional deregulation—averaged at least one profane eruption at the washing machine or vacuum cleaner a week. But if the elevator in Barbie’s Dreamhouse malfunctioned and a squeaky little soprano sang out, “Get your shit together, you goddamned sonuvabitch!” it was us tweens and teens who got smacked.

In college, my roommate was a Southern Baptist, which meant I self-censored for several more years.

Once I was in grad school and then working in the entertainment industry, I was free to indulge in all the swears. And I did. And it was fucking glorious.

And then I had a kid.

Damn it.

I mean, darn it. Or drat. Or some other very unsatisfying word.

Even though I don’t have a problem with cussing, plenty of other moms do.

Child scowling, but at least not swearing

Plus, I had a kid with the Ashbough temper who talked early. Baby D might be super popular with other kids if he shot out swear words like Nerf bullets, but he definitely wouldn’t be deemed playmate material by the moms. And my exhausting, super social child needed All The Playdates.

So I dug out phrases from my years as an English major. I borrowed words from or Baby D’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine.” I went from being “pissed” to being “cross.” When a pet misbehaved, they were dubbed a “foul beast” or a “wretched creature.” (My husband had it easier. He’d learned very bad Cantonese words when he was younger and muttered a lot of those. No one else in our house could replicate the tones.)

I don’t think I realized how much Shakespeare had permeated my son’s vocabulary until the day Baby D waved his hand imperiously and said, “Let’s away, Mother.”

There was still some swearing, but I thought I’d kept it to a minimum, either under my breath or only letting loose when the kid wasn’t around. I was proud of my sweary self.

Until the day when we were starting a long road trip and the DVR in the car stopped working. I wanted to swear, of course, as I pulled the car over. I did not.

And neither did my husband.

But as I dashed around the car and climbed into the back seat, three-year-old Baby D shook his head and said,

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

 

(Author’s Note: Just saw the post below on social media and am wondering why the hell I moderated my language for so many years.)

 

Tanked (#368)

We spent several months depressed and dog-less before I spotted a video of a gray bully mix named Tank on Petfinder. The video showed Tank playing fetch with a young boy. Tank even sat nicely with a cat.

I showed the video to Andy. “Look! He’s great with kids and cats! He’s trained. And he’s under eighty pounds!”

Andy agreed. I called the rescue and arranged a time to meet Tank. We showed our son the video. Dalton promptly dubbed the dog “Tankie De Jong” after watching Tank chase a ball into a pool, a couch, and the bushes.  Dalton, who was all about soccer, told us that Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong always had to have the ball.

It turned out to be an accurate comparison. Tankie was friendly when we met him, accepting pets and giving sniffs, but the second a ball appeared? Nothing else existed. He barreled through any obstacle to get a thrown ball, then raced back to the closest human, dropped the ball, and waited for it to be thrown again. (This was novel. Getting the ball back from some dogs could be…difficult.) Tankie would sit and stay on command, lie down, high-five, and go to his crate. He even had perfect recall off leash.

There are, at any given time, between 26,000 and 44,000 stray dogs in Los Angeles. The majority are chihuahuas, followed by American pit bull mixes and American Staffordshire Terrier mixes. Tankie looked like thousands of other stray, gray bully mixes. He was found on the streets of Moreno Valley, unaltered, at age 2-4.  Months later, he was pulled from the shelter by a rescue.

A picture Tank’s foster mom took soon after she got him.

Tank spent at least a year in foster care, overlooked in favor of younger dogs.

His foster mom had been working with him for months, hoping that a someone would value training enough to opt for an older dog instead of a cute puppy.

And here we were, smitten, taking Tankie home for a two-week trial period. We just needed to make sure he was a good fit and that the boss was okay with our choice.

 And no, Dalton was not the boss.

This was the boss.

The Boss

Boss Cat was her full name, and she ran the household. She loved dogs—especially hitting them in the face—but she had refused to be in the same room as the last dog we’d brought home for a few days.

I warned Tankie’s foster mom that if Boss Cat didn’t like Tankie, we couldn’t keep him. She gave me a can of compressed air and said, “Use this if he acts up. He really, really hates it.”

Once he arrived, Tankie immediately made himself at home. He played with Dalton and a dog-proof soccer ball. He crashed on his outdoor bed on our sunny patio. He was a dream on our walk up to the park. Since no one was around, I let Tankie off leash.

Tank and his newfound football

He promptly found a discarded football and brought it to me for the inevitable game of fetch.

When we got home, I put him in his crate. Boss Cat walked by, stopped, and glared at Tankie. I grabbed the can of compressed air.

Tankie sat up on his haunches, ears perking into an alert. And barked a single, angry bark.

“NO!” I shouted, shooting compressed air into his face. Tank dropped immediately into a submissive pose. “Absolutely NOT!”

Boss Cat stalked away.

Tankie never barked at her again. He did his best not to even look at her. Boss would come sit within a foot of Tankie and glare, her tail lashing back and forth. Tankie would stare resolutely at the wall, or put his back to her.

Then she’d move until she was right up in his face, as if to say, “Come at me, bro. I got five daggers on each paw and I will CUT YOU.”  And still Tankie would look away. Sometimes he would look at me, checking to see if I noticed what a Very Good Boy he was being in the face of such outrageous feline provocation.

Tankie’s last test was three small children. My Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister came to visit with her kids—none of whom were known for having impulse control. I gave them all a very firm lecture on how to behave with Tankie.

“We’ll be very good with your dog,” they promised.

“Well, he’s actually not our dog yet,” I explained. “We’re still seeing if we’re a good fit.”

I introduced them to Tankie and showed them how much he loved to fetch. Then I watched them like hawks. I needn’t have bothered. Tankie was thrilled to share his yard with them. If they weren’t playing ball, he followed those kiddos around as they picked lemons, shot Nerf guns, and wrestled.

Such a good boy

When the youngest patted him on the head, he licked her face.

Tankie had been trained not to go on the furniture. But at one point, he came over to my chair and tried to climb into my lap.

“Tankie!” I said, laughing. “Down!”

My sister snapped a picture and said, “I don’t care what you say, he’s definitely your dog.”

And so he was.

 

Wicked Weather Witchery (#367)

I usually like rain.

I mean, aside from the time it stormed during what was supposed to my outdoor wedding–with lightning and hail.  Or that time the out-of-season atmospheric river hit during Baby D’s outdoor baby shower. Or when my new car was destroyed by a hailstorm while driving across the country.

And no, I did not love the surprising hail (AGAIN) that hit us in southern England during our one vacation that didn’t involve visiting family.

Ominous hail clouds approach St. Mary’s

While we were sheltering in a church in Thornbury, we chatted with some locals.

“We expect rain,” one man told us. “Hail is rather…odd,”

“I’ve not seen hail before,” another agreed.

Andy nudged me and said, “It’s her. If she has an event or vacation, there will be rain, hail, or snow.”

“Shhh, honey, they used to burn witches around here,” I joked.

My Lawyer Sis, on the other hand, is the good weather witch. The day of her wedding, in Washington, D.C., (notorious for summer afternoon thunderstorms) not a drop of rain fell until she slipped indoors at midnight. Then it poured.

But just as my (admittedly imaginary) rain witchery is ultimately no match for Southern California’s dry climate, Lawyer Sis is stuck with D.C.’s cold and gray winters. In an effort to combat seasonal depression, she sometimes flies to SoCal for a visit in the winter. She spends days sitting on our south-facing patio, yelling, “No! Get away!” at me when I offer her hats, umbrellas, and sunblock.

This year, her trip was from last Thursday through the weekend. I had warned her about the incoming atmospheric rivers: one was scheduled for Wednesday-Thursday, the other for Sunday-Wednesday.

On Wednesday, as the rain fell, Andy asked, “Is she still coming?”

“Yep.”

“She’s counting on her sunshine witchery?”

“Yep. It’s a solid gamble. I don’t have any events and it’s not my vacation.”

But what we did have, hidden under the asphalt shingles on our roof, was a problem.

The rain was much heavier than expected on Wednesday. We got two inches overnight. As soon as Andy left for work on Thursday morning, I heard dripping. Water was falling on the hall bookcase, coming from an HVAC vent in the ceiling. I headed into our unfinished attic with my phone and a flashlight.

Sure enough, water dripped from the roof, splattering insulation around the ducts. I rigged a bucket to catch the water and dried up the wood and insulation as best I could. Then I set up a fan and called my husband.

“It’s leaking where they put in metal flashing and vent for the new furnace and AC three years ago,” I reported.

“Shit. Want me to come home?”

“Nah, nothing else to do here and you have to pick up Lawyer Sis. Her flight is early and I have to get back to cleaning while I file an insurance claim and call the roofer. But I’m behind schedule so DRIVE SLOW and pick up something for lunch!”

Since the rain, of course, stopped the second my sister’s plane touched down and Andy is firmly committed to breaking the “slow Asian driver” stereotype, they made it home while I was still cleaning. By afternoon the sun was breaking through the clouds when we walked the dog.

“Sorry it’s not as sunny as usual,” I apologized.

Lawyer Sis waved my apology away. “It’s just nice to be where the air doesn’t hurt my face. We had a whole week of twenty degrees or less!”

It rained again that night, but Friday was gloriously sunny. Saturday was also unexpectedly sunny.

“Looks like your sister’s weather witchery is stronger than yours,” Andy chuckled, after he’d climbed on the roof and applied some roofing patch to the flashing. (We have yet to hear back from the roofer and insurance companies are currently as inundated with claims as California is with water.) “I think we can get rid of the bucket!”

“Not for long,” I countered grimly. “Now that I have a hole in the roof, just wait…”

Sure enough, meteorologists began predicting even more rain, starting Sunday. Maybe more rain than SoCal normally gets in an entire year—in 2 days. They also predicted wind gusts of up to 40 mph.

Andy grudgingly put the bucket back. It was filling up again Sunday evening.

I sent Baby D into the wind and rain to take out the trash. Upon his return, he announced, “There’s a plant in our backyard.”

I envisioned someone’s airborne potted palm landing our yard. “Wind must’ve blown it there.”

I grabbed the flashlight, headed outside, and discovered…

…that my son is a master of understatement.

Our twenty-foot Ficus tree had been uprooted and lay across the backyard. Next to it was my beautiful fuchsia bougainvillea, its trellis ripped off our cinderblock wall.

The downed tree Dalton casually described as “a plant” in daylight.

Later, after Andy checked out the damage, he asked, “What kind of replacement tree do you want?”

“I don’t want a replacement,” I grumbled. “They had matured to the perfect height to block the view of Cop Neighbor’s ugly, oversized Chino Hills tract house. Plus, I wanted the bougainvillea to continue dumping leaves in his yard because it pisses him off.”

I glowered out the window, where the wind was driving sheets of rain nearly horizontal. “Stupid rain.”

Andy patted my shoulder and said, “At least your perverse weather witchery is stronger than your sister’s?”

“More like, at least there’s no hail.”

Yet.

Uprooted and de-trellised.

 

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.

Dogless (#365)

We had never lived in our house without a dog. The night the owners of our current house accepted our offer, we got our first dog. Woofie came with us to the housing inspection. In less than six months, we’d gotten Woofie a buddy named Fey. Dogs were incorporated into our lifestyle from the start.

They prewashed our dishes, which was especially handy with egg yolk.

They made sure we got exercise: 2-6 miles daily.

They helped us meet our neighbors. (To this day, I generally know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Their owners’ names? No idea.)

They guarded our house and saved us money on alarms and utility bills. If the dogs were home, we could leave the windows open when we were out.

They gave us a handy excuse to leave awkward dinners or parties: “Gotta get home and let out the dogs before Bad Things Happen.”

The dogs helped entertain and raise Baby D, as well as ensuring he had a very robust immune system.

Even in Los Angeles, I could walk those dogs at any hour without an ounce of fear. Only the most desperate, hopeful dog-lovers would approach me and my 160 pounds of canines. (When they did approach, it always made Woofie’s day.)

No TV show was ever as funny as watching their battles over water bottles or tug toys (which generally ended in Woofie dragging Fey around the yard as she hung onto said toy). We spent many summer evenings on our swing in the backyard laughing over their antics.

They were family, whether snuggling with us on the couch at night or counter surfing relentlessly during the day.

And we lost them both to different cancers within a year-and-a-half of each other.

I took losing Woofie hard. So did our Boss Cat. While Fey had guarded her yard all day, Woofie spent much of the day inside, playing with Boss Cat or getting attention from me. I kept expecting to hear his claws on the hardwood floor, or feel his muzzle lift my arm when I paid too much attention to the computer screen.

Boss Cat tried to play with Fey, but Fey was a sensitive German Shepherd mix. When Boss Cat batted her in the face, Fey barked and snapped. A normal cat would have fled. Boss Cat glared and hit Fey with her right paw so hard that the WHAP reverberated through the house. Fey—who had vanquished multiple loose pit bulls, a Tibetan Shepherd mix, and a Rhodesian ridgeback—winced and slunk away. Without a canine playmate, Boss Cat consoled herself with food, gaining a pound after Woofie’s demise.

Andy took Fey’s death hardest. She was his obedient girl who loved to jump on the couch and have him pet her face after he got home from work. Andy consoled himself with Boss Cat, who allowed cuddles and head bunting nightly.

*****

Our dogless house was a quieter place. Less mess. Less money spent at the vet. No need to hurry home from Baby D’s soccer tournaments. It was much easier (and cheaper!) to hire the girls down the block to feed Boss Cat than to find a reliable dog sitter to stay in our house when we traveled.

We closed and locked all our windows up when we left, returning to a house that was a veritable SoCal sauna.

We had to throw out leftover food and waste water rinsing away egg yolks.

I still went for early morning walks, but my only companion was Pokemon Go. Sometimes I would see a big dog and run over, cooing, “Oh my GOD! She’s so cute! Can I say hi?! I have a venison treat in my pocket in case she had allergies is that okay?!”

I had become the desperate dog stalker.

We took care of a friend of a friend’s dog for a few days. Boss Cat hated that dog on sight. She nearly tore out a window screen trying to escape the house and refused to come into the living room until the dog went home.

I told Andy, “I guess if we want another dog, it would have to have Boss Cat’s approval.”

“You want another dog? You’re the one that always goes on about how you have to train it and do all the work.”

“Yeah, but…our house doesn’t feel right. Every morning, going up the hill, I think, ‘This is such a waste of a walk. Some rescue dog out there would be loving this.'”

“We’d have to find a dog that is good with cats and kids.”

“But it has to be a rescue dog that needs a home. A big dog.”

“Not over eighty pounds,” Andy declared. “I need be able to carry the dog ten years from now when it’s old and sick.”

“It’ll have to be trained. And not a puppy. I am not up for spending hours on dog training again.”

“So we’re looking for a dog that’s good with cats, good with kids, is big but under 80 pounds, is young, but not a puppy and fully trained?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “We’re probably not getting another dog for a while, are we?”

And we didn’t.

Until I found the Tank.

The Coffee Maker (#364)

I did not grow up drinking caffeine. At my dad’s house, there was only hot tea (usually Bigelows, usually herbal) on cold game nights. At my mom’s house, there was coffee every morning, made on the stove in a cheap, old fashioned percolator. That coffee smelled so good that I would occasionally try a sip, only to gag at the bitterness.

Back then, when the world was so new and all, we didn’t have fancy Peppermint Mocha Crème Brulé Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccinos to make coffee palatable. Since I was an insomniac, I never needed coffee to stay awake. Tea remained my drink of choice (except when laced with lead in misogynistic ceremonies).

Andy, my Chinese American husband, grew up with tea during dim sum, hot tea with meals (even in Hawaii!), and the devil’s brew known as foo chai when he was sick. The he went to Starbucks—I mean, Seattle for a semester of college.

By the time I met Andy, he brewed a ten cup carafe of very strong coffee every morning. He also had his own coffee and coffee maker at work.

In grad school, I worked in a restaurant. While staff wasn’t allowed to have food, we were allowed as much coffee we wanted—including milk and cream. So I’d have a tablespoon of coffee and a mug of cream while working (don’t judge, in my hungry family, we NEVER turned down free food).

By the time Andy and I moved in together, I could manage a mug of Andy’s coffee in the morning…as long half of the mug was half-and-half.

Then we had Baby D and I was up at 4:30 AM. Sometimes I needed a second serving of coffee.

Eventually, Andy started making my coffee milk and leaving it on the counter. I thought it was very nice of him, though I was constantly reminding him to use a coffee mug, rather than my favorite teacups. My friend M sent me a hand-thrown mug with a fall leaf, but Andy rarely used it. Instead, he’d pick the smallest mug available.

I finally caught on: “Hey! You’re hoarding the coffee! That’s why you tried to use my little teacups and you won’t use the big mug!”

“What? No, of course not, honey. I know you like the little mugs and you do have a little mouth and you don’t want to spill,” he protested. UNCONVINCINGLY.

“But it’s fall and I want the coffee in my big fall mug that has the rim I like!”

“But when I give you that mug you never drink it all!”

“That’s because I can’t before Baby D needs something, or the cat throws up, or a dog has to go out, or there’s a racoon in the yard, or whatever! And then my coffee gets cold and it gets a skin.”

“If you just drank coffee black, you could reheat it, like me.”

“Oh my God, I get, at most, 2 cups of coffee. That means you get eight. HOW IS EIGHT CUPS OF COFFEE NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?!”

Andy’s coffee from Costco

Andy had no response…besides finding the darkest, bitterest roast on the planet and grinding more of it to make his coffee even stronger.

 Since we’ve been married, he’s gone through four coffee makers and five grinders. The knob of the last grinder fell off, but since the grinder still worked, my frugal husband used pliers in place of the knob.

For our anniversary this year, I printed out reviews of the best combination grinder/coffee makers—all with 12 cup coffee carafes— and put them in his birthday card. I told Andy to treat himself to his favorite. It sounds lazy, but while I’m fairly ignorant about making coffee, I’m not stupid enough to pick out coffee equipment for a coffee snob.  Also, our kitchen was being repaired after water damage and there was nowhere to actually put a coffee maker. (Andy was living on Starbucks.)

When the kitchen was finished, Andy ignored all my reviews and bought himself a new grinder and an expensive De’Longhi coffeemaker.

“It looks fancy,” I told him. “But the carafe only holds ten cups! You sure you didn’t want a twelve cup one?”

“The De’longhi only comes with a ten cup carafe. But look! It has a milk steamer. You can have cappuccinos or lattes.”

“But I wanted YOU to have the coffee maker that that would give you all the coffee you wanted. It’s not supposed to be about me!”

Andy shrugged. “It’ll be fine.”

My cappuccino with one of Andy’s mochi doughnuts.

The next morning, after a lot of noise in the kitchen, Andy presented me with a frothy cappuccino—in my big fall mug. It was deliciously mellow, not at all like his usual bitter brew.

“This is amazing! Thank you, honey.” Andy beamed, but I still felt badly that he’d gotten me a gift with his gift. “Listen, you don’t have to do this all the time. Just leave the instruction manual out and I’ll figure out how to use the frother and steam my own milk.”

Andy did not leave out the manual. When I called him at work, he said it was in his file cabinet. It was not.

I searched up videos and instructions online. The next time I got up before Andy, I frothed up my milk and added it to some coffee from the carafe.

It was bitter as all hell. Stronger than the coffee from our previous coffee maker for sure. I was still making faces when Andy hurried into the kitchen.

“This is bad, honey,” I told him. “I dunno why it doesn’t taste like your cappuccinos.”

“You used MY coffee?!” Andy looked both outraged…and guilty.

My espresso bag.

“What do you—what coffee have you been making ME?” I whipped open a cabinet. “Is there a can of instant or General Foods International Coffees in here?”

“I would never! This new coffee maker also does espressos, so I make you your own shot for your cappuccino.” He pulled down a brown bag and showed it to me.

“You mean you’ve been secretly making me different coffee? So you can have all ten cups to yourself? While I was feeling bad you got a smaller carafe in order to get the machine with the milk frother?!”

“But don’t you like the cappuccinos better than my coffee?”

“That is…not the point!” I stalked off to walk the dog. And also to complain to my Lawyer Sister about Andy’s duplicitous coffee-switching.

After she quit laughing, Lawyer Sis said, “I don’t know why you’re complaining. Your husband makes you your own special cappuccino every morning. Take the win.”

“Yes, but if I get up first, then I have to wait for my coffee.”

“Oh, boo-hoo. Other people have to pay money and drive to Starbucks for cappuccinos. My husband doesn’t even know how to make coffee. He drinks Dr. Pepper. FOR BREAKFAST.”

I shuddered and conceded.

Andy promised to show me how to make my own shot of espresso. I have yet to take him up on his offer.

Perhaps because I am also enjoying my new coffee maker.

Cappuccino holiday style!

Man Without a Plan (#363)

My husband is good at living in the moment.

Planning? Not really his forte. Maybe this is because he lacks an internal monologue.

Sometimes I think it must be very restful in his head. He falls asleep much faster than I do. He plays on his phone in the morning and drinks coffee.

Meanwhile, I’m at my desk, writing out the day’s “To-Do” list amidst constant mental chatter:

If I can get through emails in ten minutes then the dog and I should start our walk where I can call Lawyer Sis and ask how to handle the insurance adjuster from hell and we will be back in time for me to do yoga so my back doesn’t go out again while doing laser pointer with the cat so I can wear cat out before locking cat up when the water mitigation guys arrive which will hopefully mean no more ripped curtains in the bedroom and I’ll make the kid breakfast in a to-go container because we will have no sink to do dishes and damn it, Andy still hasn’t talked to his family about Thanksgiving which I asked him about weeks ago maybe I should text his cousins myself—

As you can tell from the above monologue, it’s mostly sometimes irritating for a planner to live with a non-planner.

Andy drives the same way to the same destination every time he goes. He listens to podcasts.

I drive in silence, lest the noise interfere with the shifting efficiency flowchart in my head: If the light is red at Sepulveda, make a right and take it all the way to Maple before turning, but if it’s green, turn at Carson, unless that light is also green in which case turn at Torrance Blvd…

Andy does do a vague mental outline on projects that are important to him, like stealth building his garage gym. Or stealth landscaping half of the backyard into a vegetable garden. But the execution invariably reveals the limitations of said outline—as evinced by either a week-long trickle of supplemental Amazon boxes and/ or multiple trips to Home Depot.

Seems like, I dunno, creating a detailed list in advance might make the process more efficient?

Yet Andy doesn’t seem to mind. He sees multiple trips to Home Depot as part of the process.

I see wasted time.

The efficiency taskmaster in my head undoubtedly honed her skills when I worked as an executive assistant in Hollywood. She went into overdrive when I became a mom. Baby D hardly napped and had a ton of energy. Every day was a campaign to get household tasks done, pets cared for, a shower, and carve out scraps of personal time—all while teaching/parenting/feeding/playing with a tiny, irrational tyrant. If I got a half-hour to read or completed a workout, it was a victory.

Once Baby D went to school, I gained enough time to write again…only to lose chunks of it as Dalton’s soccer coach, school volunteer, etc. I had an agent—a white man, of course—who moaned about how long it was taking me to write the second book in a series and then asked, “What do you do all day?!”

Pretty sure I spent that day plotting his murder.

Anyway, while it’s sometimes frustrating to be a planner in the passenger seat, it’s probably not much fun to be the driver when your wife constantly offers alternate routes on long drives back from soccer games.

Or at least that’s what I figured when Andy told me to take the wheel one weekend. After checking both Google and Apple and getting us on the fastest route home, I asked, “Was I making too many suggestions?”

“You don’t make suggestions. You give orders,” Andy answered absently, scrolling through his phone. “Nah, I just wanted to check on my pension.”

Since I ‘d finally gotten into the carpool lane and we were cruising along at 70 mph, I did not slam on the brake and scream, “You have a pension?! Since WHEN?!”

I merely said, “So. You have a pension.”

Dalton called out from the backseat, “What’s a pension? Why is mom yelling?”

“It’s getting a regular paycheck after you retire,” I called back. “Usually only available to teachers, cops, and other government workers. Which your father isn’t. Which is why I never thought to ask him if he had one.”

Andy, in an Oscar-worthy performance, said, “I’m sure I told you I had a pension.”

“No, honey. You did not. How on earth do you have a pension?!”

“I got hired just before the current company merged with the old company,” Andy explained. “The current company doesn’t offer pensions, but the old company did. It was one of the reasons I took the job—a pension after 30 years. The new company had to promise to honor the old pension plan before the merger could go through.”

“So…you have a pension. All this time, and I never knew.”

I bit back all the comments I could have made about how much I’d stressed, for more than a decade, about not contributing to my 401k anymore, or how we would manage retirement.

Because, all along, the man actually had a plan.

Or at least an outline.

The Red Demon: A Short Story (#362)

The orange dog refused to fade.

She still trotted her guard route across the yard and patio, though her black claws no longer clicked against the brick.

Her humans couldn’t see her.

The little boy ran right through her once, waving his giant stick.

Worst of all, her once ferocious bark made no noise.

And it was nearly time for the red demon.

The orange dog had protected her yard, her people, and even the dog-smacking cat for years. Once a week, just after the sun rose, the red demon approached the house, growling. She could smell its oily scent long before she heard it—a combination of metal blades, minerals, and death.

Every week, the orange dog raced along the fence, warning the demon off with her deep, fierce bark. The red demon would draw close, but turn away at the last minute—unwilling to challenge her.

If there hadn’t been a six-foot fence between the orange dog and the demon, she’d have killed it long ago. Instead, she could only drive it away weekly.

Now, without her fierce bark, how could she scare it away? Without her fighting claws and strong jaws, how could she protect her people? Her packmate had died years before, but that dog had been useless even in his prime. If she hadn’t been around, he’d have invited the demon in to play ball and been slashed to bits by its blades.

Labradors were stupid like that.

The orange dog was both German Shepherd and Chinese Shar-pei. Nothing came in her yard without her permission. Burglars, basset hounds, utility men—they all fled from her.

Even the red demon never tried to breach the fence.

But would the red demon turn away this week? Or would it realize, without her barking, that the yard was unprotected?

Would it try and get her humans?

*****

The red demon’s day dawned cloudy. The mother and the little boy were eating when the orange dog scented the demon. She raced along the fence, chest heaving, her jaws opening and closing.

But the only sound was the red demon’s growl.

Growing louder.

The orange dog raced into the house, around the table, frantically trying to warn the humans.

They didn’t see her.

The red demon drew closer.

The humans kept eating.

How did they not hear its growling? Or smell its sharp metal blades?

The red demon was nearly at the house when the woman cocked her head and said to the little boy, “It’s the mower for the school field.” She sniffled and said, “I keep expecting to hear Fey barking at it. Remember? She really hated that thing.”

Then the woman barked. Just a small, “Roof-roof-roof!” Nothing at all like the orange dog’s powerful, “ROOF-ROOF-ROOF! MOVE ON OR DIE, RED DEMON!

The little boy began barking, too: “Roof! Roof-roof-roof!!”

Crying and laughing, the humans barked. Joyously, Fey barked with them, though they could not hear her.

The red demon turned away. Just as it had for the orange dog for eleven years.

The humans understood. The yard was protected.

Content, she slipped back out to her patio. A stray shaft of sunlight had warmed the brick. Fey curled up in the light.

And faded away.

 

Faux Noodles (#361)

For decades, my neighborhood has held an annual cooking contest. Ever since Andy and I moved into the neighborhood, one of us has won it. Sometimes, both of us win it.

I can’t decide if the hostess loves or hates us.

For a few years, she was happy that the rest of the neighborhood would “up their game” to compete with Andy’s appetizers and my cakes. But then my desserts became so dominant that no one else would go up against me in the “Sweet” category.

Last year my cookies were one of two desserts. I won for both taste and appearance (though the hostess refused to give me both prizes because neighborhood goodwill or some other bullshit).

This year, the hostess decided to make it extra challenging for the contestants making desserts. The main ingredient?

Noodles.

Andy declared that he would make chocolate ravioli—probably because I’d repeatedly told him chocolate is always a winner.

He asked, “What are you gonna make, honey?”

I shot him a dirty look and said, “Nothing, because there’s only one decent pasta dessert and even pastia has NOTHING on chocolate ravioli, duh.” (Also, the last time Andy veered out of the “Savory” category, he demolished my miniature eclairs with his caramel pear ice-cream in homemade sugar cone spoons. I learned my lesson.)

Andy’s chocolate ravioli

Andy spent the two weeks before the contest experimenting with mascarpone cheese and all my frozen frostings as fillings.

I told Andy this meant that it would have to be a joint dish where we shared the credit.

Horrified, Andy went back to regular noodles. (Andy insists this is a lie. He says the real reason is that none of my frostings worked. Even when he froze the filling in advance, the fat would separate during the boiling of the ravioli. I told him to inject a filling afterwards. He refused.) He decided on homemade pappardelle noodles, with he would serve with his pork ragu.

This meant that I had a chance after all. If I could just find something in the “Sweet” category with noodles and chocolate.

Gen X childhood to the rescue! The most popular cookies back then were the ones kids could make themselves–without using an oven and starting a fire. One of my stepsisters taught us to melt chocolate chips and butterscotch chips together, stir in dried chow mein noodles, dump them on a cookie sheet, and call them haystacks.

I did some googling and found that folks now toss just about anything in a haystack. I went with two recipes: white chocolate/ cashews/ chopped up caramels, and butterscotch/peanuts/ pretzels/ peanut butter (with the bottoms dipped into dark chocolate).

Finding the so-called chow mein noodles in an area with a large Asian American population was trickiest part of these cookies…because those dried noodles aren’t actually used in real Chinese cuisine. Even Kroger knows this:

“Chinese Inspiration” noodles sounds much nicer than “Lazy White People Stereotype” noodles. Nice spin, Kroger.

In multiple grocery stores, I found pho noodles but no faux noodles. It wasn’t until store #4 in the old white people neighborhood that I hit the jackpot. I bought out all the faux noodles (five packs!) that had probably been shelved last century and got to work.

I finished 70 haystack cookies in under an hour. Cutting up the caramels took more time than anything else. Another reason haystacks were popular back in the day.

Meanwhile, Andy spent 5 hours making his noodles and ragu.

At the party, his dish went up against macaroni salad, pesto noodles, rotini and red sauce,  and multiple pasta salads. All the pasta was store bought except Andy’s.

Meanwhile, the dessert table should have been disqualified. There was a blackberry crumble, Rice Krispie treats, lemon bars, and two cakes. I was literally the only person with noodles or pasta in their dessert.

The hostess opted not to DQ the cheaters. After the votes were tallied, my haystacks took first in appearance. The Rice Krispie treats won for taste (highly sus).

The Savory contest was not sus: Andy’s homemade pasta won for taste, while the pasta salad in the pretty bowl won for appearance.

When the hostess handed out prizes, the other winners got wine. Andy and I got identical boxes.

Off my quizzical look, the hostess said, “These two go together.”

At home, I unpacked three colorful pasta bowls from my box. Andy unpacked another three from his box.

A set of six colorful bowls in different patterns.

“These are really nice,” Andy said.

“Way better than wine,” I agreed. “And a very fitting prize.”

No way did those Rice Krispie treats deserve a bowl awarded for noodles.

Or even faux noodles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”