The Weekend Dish

Pritzker Pavilion Millenium Park

One of the many things I have learned from my visits to Chicago is that when the weather  warms up the slightest bit, people come outside. They will be out walking, riding bikes, roller skating and running. So in summer, it goes to reason, they are out in droves. This past week, I was one of them enjoying many of the outdoor activities that city has to offer. As my daughters and I sat on the lawn of Millenium Park on a Friday evening relaxing, enjoying a picnic and listening to the sweet sounds of the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, it struck me how nice it is to just be outside. When the concert ended, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. So we sat there being entertained by all the other lingerers, not yet ready to move on, until it was almost dark.

Pritzker Pavilion Millenium Park

Another night we went to a movie in one of the many parks. Nothing makes it feel like summer, to me, more than getting outside and watching a movie or experiencing a concert. Now that summer is officially here, the opportunities to get out and play are numerous in many, if not most, cities. Chicago has parks galore. Several of them are the sites of events during the summer such as movies in the park. There are festivals, parades and markets and the Chicago tourism website is a wonderful resource for locating an activity.

My hometown of Los Angeles offers many opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities during the summer months as well. Saturday night is movie night throughout summer in Exposition Park. Street Food Cinema, features food trucks, a band and a movie. The Getty museum hosts music on certain Saturday evenings through their Saturdays off the 405 series. Jazz at the LA County Museum of Art  can be found on Friday nights as well. Of course, one can’t forget the quintessential outdoor venue in LA, the Hollywood Bowl. Or, check out the lesser known Ford Theatre, right across the freeway from the Hollywood Bowl, for a smaller venue and eclectic mix of events featuring acts from Los Angeles County based artists. To find many al fresco activities all around LA try the Eye Spy LA website. I bet you can discover outdoor activities in your city too. Let us know maybe we will stop by for a visit.

Now go outside and play! Happy Summer!
~ Sue

…and dog will have his day

The house was shrouded in fur yesterday so I pulled out the vacuum and shooed Chester onto the balcony where he could loll in the sun. Imagine my surprise when I found an envelope stuffed beneath the sofa cushions where he likes to nap. Scrawled on the outside it said, “Just in case I ever get bitten by a rattlesnake you should read this.”  Of course I couldn’t wait for a day like that, one I hope will never come, so I tore the envelope open immediately.

Who knew Chester could write a letter?  It took me a while to recognize the italicized lines were poached from Hamlet.  It remains a mystery how that dog learned Shakespeare.

Dearest Lady,

To prove my sense of decorum is as intact as my facile ears and handsome nose, and to assure you of my faith in full recovery, I insist you read this in that lovely Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet voice you always attribute to me.

To be a dog, or not to be.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the Ticks and Fangs of outrageous Wilderness
Or to take arms against a sea of boredom
And by opposing, maybe end me

There, there, now, you mustn’t cry. Do stop.

Certainly I will recover from this dreadful rattlesnake bite with all due gratefulness for your exquisite emergency first aid procedures and your superior foresight in vaccinating me against the wicked venom even though I grumbled about that shot at the time.

You mustn’t blame yourself my dear.  It was I wasn’t it? It was my maddening insistence upon chasing those rabbits and quail and roadrunners through scrub and brush, over hill and dale and burying my nose in bush for the thrill of the flush. Oh! Even now I feel the wind in my fur and the pebbles digging into the soft spots of my paw pads and the thrill, the thrill, the thrill of the hunt! It’s utterly breathtaking sport, dear Lady. You know it was the thing I loved, not above you of course, but more than dinner.

We knew the risks.

Frailty, thy name is woman did not apply to you. Nay, you’d put on those lovely boots which heralded freedom, sunshine and adventure.  Every single day as you snapped me onto that miserable leash you stroked my head in the kindest way possible and reminded me that this, this chain was for my own good.  And then, dear lady we both knew your fine understanding of the nature of the canine spirit would triumph and though you vowed to rein me in you could not, nay you would not deprive this dog his pride and pure unbridled bliss.

Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the laws delay

I don’t blame you much for that wretched Rattlesnake Aversion Training Class though it did me no good for who might see a snake coiled silent out of sight? Remember that poor family we met at class who told of Huck the Black Retriever bitten right upon the nose in his own front yard? You murmured, “if it could happen in the front yard it could happen anywhere” and I thumped my tail on the tile and said, Yes! Yes! I’ll take my chances. Yes!

To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.

I remember like yesterday the day I heard you on the phone with your mother right after spring’s first rattler surprised us on the road, the road! where you said we’d be safer.  You said, “Geez, Mom, I may as well hike. Chester loves the trail and I hate to squelch the essence of his dogginess.” My heart leapt! Lady. The pith and marrow of my essence you do most certainly comprehend.

…nature cannot choose his origin and I, my Lady, was bred and born a dog with all the instincts and needs therein.

Did I ever thank you for our post hike custom?  Do you know how much I love to lie upon my back as you croon and murmur pulling ticks and cactus quills from my belly and disentangle foxtails from my fur?  Life would have been easier for you, wouldn’t it, if I were but a sidewalk pet, a lap dog, a dullard.  Do you ever wish you’d never brought me home?

I do so hope you’ll never need to read this and for that I would be most grateful, for myself, tis true, but also for you dear Lady. Do you know I worry about you too when I see you pay no mind to where you step as you photograph the deer across our path or stoop to loosen me from branches, low and dense.

Why is there no rattlesnake vaccine for humans?

Are you feeling any better yet, dear Lady?  I know that cheering you is one of my most special attributes.  Surely I’ll be better soon.  But one thing troubles me when that time comes.

Be all my sins remembered.

Will you let me still bound free, as that is all I wish for?

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
With undying love,

Chesterfield Henry Huggins Keefe

I stuffed the note back into its envelope and scratched my head.  I guess you never really know what a dog is thinking behind all that silence and wiggle.

~C

Passing Through and Going On

Sometimes, I like to go out in the backyard with my camera and wait to see what develops. I choose a location, set-up and wait. If I’m lucky a hummingbird or another type of bird will pass through. Other times, I see something happening and run out to capture it. This week, I have a little bit of both. . . A bushtit and hummingbird both made an appearance.

We have been trying our best to manage a squirrel and our apricot tree so that we are able to harvest at least some of the apricots. Whenever we catch the squirrel approaching, we run out to discourage foraging. However, we can’t be on guard every minute and they do get their way with the tree from time to time. Occasionally, one will take up watch on a telephone pole waiting and watching to make sure the coast is clear.

This year, they have begun leaving remnants of their marauding on display.

Lastly, I like to capture the eco warrior at work.

There is much to engage one’s lens; right in one’s own backyard.

~ Sue

I waited all winter to tell you

under the ancient oak
an empty picnic table

I wrote those lines late last December after a walk with Chester, the big white dog. I remember well the afternoon we wandered in the gloaming, he with all the bounce and romp of a puppy and I with some elegiac tang induced by another year’s looming end.

fog swirling mist
descends upon the night
chill

the stars are crying.

Why so sad? I wonder now in summer’s glare.

summer afternoon shade
untied my shoes

I wanted to tell you how the table surprised me that afternoon when I turned left on the path instead of right. There were no tables anywhere else in sight, just this one simple wooden stopping place.  I waited through January, February, the bluster of March to give it to you, not from the vantage point of the path which ran past it, but with the solidity of its worn wooden bench beneath me, with the joy of describing the summer solstice meal I ate from atop its uneven surface, with the fervent vow to eat al fresco more this summer than last.

So much depends upon a wooden picnic table in a winter afternoon.  I felt a new comprehension of William Carlos William’s 1923 poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

I wanted to tell you how my table seemed embedded in the grass, as if it had roots like the oak above it, how it was the soft brown of shadow on bark with bright orange streaks where a kind of moss grew upon it as if it were a living thing.

By April I vowed to eat at a different picnic table each week this entire summer. I would dine under the sky! Describe parks and beaches and campgrounds! Find new vantage points!

Then I wondered; would that plan celebrate the novel and restless over the warm familiar? Maybe instead, I should resolve to meet this table and this table alone with my basket all summer.

so much depends
upon

I think of Monet’s Haystacks, the artist’s study of light upon a common object.

I think of Antonio Porchia‘s slim volume, Voices, the writer’s light fixed on common man.

I have scarcely touched the clay and I am made of it.

I think of something as solid as wood in a world which feels more like a river than stone.  Anticipation is delicious.

under the ancient oak
an empty picnic table
summer afternoon shade

Summer begins yesterday.  I wait as long as I can.  Noon turns to afternoon turns to almost twilight. I’m ready with camera and Chester and a brown paper bag full of first peaches because it’s the kind of day where I don’t have time to cook.

We go the long way, take the path which curves first left, then right, then around the bend of the seasonal creek, the path which places the setting sun behind my shoulders which casts my shadow long and makes me look as if I’m always arriving.

Chester pulls on the leash.
And there under the ancient oak.

It’s demolished. The table top now lies at the bottom of the creek bed.

“Certainties are arrived at only on foot,” Antonio Porchia writes in Voices.

Past tense and future crumble the present I was given and never received. As I walk home, I know. I waited too long to whisper my secret wish to picnic with you, but I will tell you now.

~ With high hopes for surprises along your own path, C

360º (or so) inspiration

I headed into the hills again. This time Will Rogers State Park in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood is the stomping ground. The trail marked Inspiration Point piqued my curiosity. So up I went. After climbing one hill, I looked back and took this shot. The polo grounds are visible in the foreground.

view towards Century City

It was a patchy cloud, partly sunny type of morning with some fog burning off. Onward up the hill I go. Around a bend the Santa Monica mountains come into view. I am surprised by the lack of evidence of people on this side of the hill.

view towards Santa Monica mountains

After rounding a few more bends and climbing a few more hills, I reach my destination of Inspiration Point.

view of Century City from Inspiration Point

Next, I turn towards the ocean which is also visible from this vantage point.

view towards Santa Monica beach

The fog is obscuring the ocean view this morning so I zoom in to see what I can capture.

shoreline Santa Monica

I can just make out the shoreline through the haze. The view of the city from Inspiration Point is impressive and the LA sprawl becomes apparent. I am inspired to return with a tripod and try to capture a true 360° view. About 270 of those degrees are urban sprawl and about 90 are wilderness. On my way down, I encountered a sign pointing the way to the Backbone Trail, a ridgeline trail in the Santa Monica Mountains running from Will Rogers State park to Point Mugu. I started down the path a few steps and a sign warning about mountain lions came into view. With the recent appearance of a mountain lion in downtown Santa Monica and the fact that I was alone on my mind, I performed a 180. I will save that for another day.

Click on the highlighted text for further information about Will Rogers State Park and the many activities available there, and the Backbone Trail.

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish – Snickerdoodles

The summer I was nine years old our family embarked on a cross country driving trip. We were mixing touring the United States with meeting our mother and father’s extended families. Piling into the the large, brown Pontiac station wagon along with the ensuing daily “discussion” over who would get to sit in the rear-facing back seats became the routine. The anticipation of getting to St Louis, where our mother’s cousin and her family lived, was growing by the day. Following the introductions, a bit of awkwardness developed as we attempted to become acquainted. A snack of snickerdoodles and a drink was offered. We were unfamiliar with snickerdoodles but soon learned they are delicious cinnamon sugar cookies. There is nothing quite like cookies to put a slightly awkward crowd at ease. That afternoon, we shared stories and jokes getting to know each other better while nibbling snickerdoodles.  Our delight with the cookies during our visit  prompted our mother to request the recipe. The snickerdoodle has now made it’s place in my recipe box and it has become a regular on the annual Christmas cookie platter. The sweetness of the cinnamon and sugar along with a slight tartness from the cream of tartar mix together to create a perfectly delectable blend of flavors.  

Snickerdoodles

1 cup shortening   (I use butter)

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon sugar:  to make cinnamon sugar, mix 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (or to taste) with a quarter cup of granulated sugar.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add to the shortening mixture, beating well. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Tear off walnut-size pieces of dough and roll each into a ball. Roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Cookies can be pressed with a fork in a criss-cross pattern if you want. Bake until the cookies are light brown and firm on top, 10 to 15 minutes.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to finish. Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

~Sue

Give the people a love story

What are you writing?
Everyone wants to know.
Wretchedly miserable love poems, I say.
The poems or the love?
You, of all people, must know.
(from beach bag journal, 2005)

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Kauai is a study in couples.

Yesterday’s bride perches poolside, feet dangling in the water.  A fraternity-size of group of men surrounds her, holding out icy cups of beer.

“Drink!”
“Drink!”
“Drink!”

“No more!” she insists and jumps to her feet.

Newlywed

As she sashays away the rhinestone word scripted across her bikini bottom sparkles in the afternoon sun. The man wearing the white Groom hat downs his beer and doesn’t follow.

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Fewer people will look you in the eye and say, I could be your lover than the number who will say they’re thinking about becoming a writer too.

Which one of these is the harder thing to do?
(from beach bag journal 2006)

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The friends who join us on this trip point out The Feral Pig, a restaurant that used to be a breakfast place.  “We ate there on our honeymoon. ”

These are the kind of friends we’ve had since before we both married that hot summer of 1980, D and I trading bridesmaid duties.

Today they giggle, then tell us a honeymoon story.

One morning, we saw a couple eating breakfast there.

They just sat at a table, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper.  They never even talked to each other.

We think of that couple all the time.  We don’t to be like them.

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Repeat after me: Give the people a love story.

Los viejitos sólo deben salir para ser amables.  Old people should only go out in public to be sweet.

This quote is attributed to Leopoldo, the uncle of Aura Estrada, Aura, the muse and amor of author Franciso Goldman, Aura, the woman who died in a freak body surfing accident and then Francisco wrote about her in the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.  In Say Her Name, Francisco says,

“Hold her tight, if you have her; hold her tight, I thought, that’s my advice to the living. Breathe her in, put your nose in her hair, breather her in deeply. Say her name…”

He can write about love like that because he doesn’t have it anymore and no one can accuse him of being sentimental.

I read Say Her Name on the beach and remember a question I once asked an entire class at the end of a semester when I was a literature grad student.

“Where, where is the happy love story, the great literature happy love story?”

Titles peppered me like small darts. Love in the Time of Cholera.  Anna Karenina. Lolita.

So I start with Lolita. I find love in a million masks: obsessiveness, possessiveness, irrationality, kindness, tenderness, anger, illness, forgiveness, relief and release, madness. Is this the only kind of love that makes great books? I really need to know the answer to this. I really need to find a happy love literary feat.

My friend who’s never been to grad school but loves to read suggests Rebecca.   I look it up, it’s a romance novel. I don’t read it.

Maybe love and literature are like the raindrops in a storm.  Who can write well about one small droplet of water without evoking thunder and floods and the loss of sun behind clouds?  One small drop of fresh water. Where’s the miracle in that?

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“We’re on our honeymoon.”

I tell this to my husband, (isn’t that a glorious word?), I tell my husband this as we stand at Gate 45 in LAX preparing to board our flight to Kauai.

“Our honeymoon. Yes. I like the sound of that.”

In truth, we’ve been married almost 32 years.

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Writers block only happens when you stop telling the truth.
(Scribbled in my Theory of Fiction Class Notes)

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The Gray Divorcés

The divorce rate for people 50 and over has doubled in the past two decades. Why baby boomers are breaking up late in life like no generation before.
Wall Street Journal headline, March 2012.

One small drop of fresh water. Where’s the miracle in that?
Repeat after me:
Give the people a love story.

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You don’t brick over the hearth if the fire burns out.  You gather kindling and tinder. You haul in logs from the woods.  Hell, you cut down the whole damn forest  if you must.

You hold a long-stemmed match to crumpled paper of your past and breathe and blow to fan the flame. You swear to tend this fire as if your life depends upon it.

You don’t want to be that couple that doesn’t hold hands on the beach, nor the one who doesn’t talk at dinner.  You want to be that one over there, the one laughing in the surf, holding hands.  I wonder if they’re on their honeymoon?

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“Write love stories. I benefit when you write love stories. I’ll be your research.”
J says this to me one day when I say I’m only writing sad stories.
(From my journal, March, 2007)

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Just don’t lie to me says the writer to the heart. It makes the work turn out badly.

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I tell J I’m sorry. I can’t write a happy love story. I wonder though: can I write you a life instead?

~With love, C