Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Plumbing: Now It's WAR!

I offer the following musical interlude to both buoy my current mood, and to affirm my ongoing commitment to this property, as one of most enduring relationships of my life since 1964:

My FB friends have been following my plumbing saga since last Saturday. Well, it appears it's not over yet. Silly me, I thought this would be quick, if not painless (financially).

To bring the rest of the world up to speed, it began last Saturday, about 5:30 AM. I came out to find both my kitchen sinks backed up with nasty-looking water. What a sight I must have been, in my jammies, taking desperate-but-sadly-futile measures with my rubber plunger.

I'd had a heads-up on this about two weeks before, when my son and his father-in-law came out with the heavy-duty snake to unplug the shower drain. Hal (the elder, and whose technical knowledge I trust and respect), told me that my house pipes were not draining properly, and were living on borrowed time. No surprise, since they are the originals that came with this 1922 house. Hal said I "might" be able to defer the repairs till spring.

Turns out "spring" has come early to this house...

The plumbing company Hal recommended came out and did a patch job so my household could use the facilities until Monday, when the real work would begin. Of course, you all know about Murphy's Law. It covers the inevitable fact that plumbing emergencies don't happen, say, on Tuesday at 10 AM. I'm just grateful this didn't occur during my upcoming family gathering at Thanksgiving. Maybe I should include that in my table grace at that meal, huh? ("We also give thanks for sound plumbing...")

Two days of digging and banging, and then the supervisor came out this morning to give me MORE news. Perhaps the fact that the small six-by-three-foot hole was not yet covered over by anything but a plywood board should have tipped me off...

Apparently, this battle (nice, new black pipe under the house) was only "Phase One." The supervisor gave me the "good news-bad news." The good news was that the pipe installed so far will last, but the remaining pipes leading back out to the alley, ending at the city line were impacted with roots, etc., going back to the life of this premises (ninety years, old than my mother). The only way to ensure proper drainage was "major surgery."

So, as I downloaded the above sweet song, the jackhammer was tearing up a bit of old pathway. The supervisor swore they would leave my landscaping (newer walkway, flowers and trees) alone, so I have that as consolation, at least.

The parts and labor is under a 25-year warranty. The pipes, supposedly, are going to last, per the supervisor "at least twice that long."

Since I intend to be around 50 + years, we'll see about that. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Time to Build ANOTHER Kind of Portfolio

This post has been a long time brewing in my mind, spurred on by something I recently appropriated from a friend's FB post:

Go to any online site addressing midlife-to-senior issues, and one finds a plethora of articles about finances, health, relationships, and family. Those are necessary things, but not the whole story.

The biggest asset in my own portfolio on which I now plan to focus is boundless curiosity, about anything and everything.

I find it sad when anyone ceases to explore new experiences. The nose-to-the-grindstone routine till one retires/dies is okay, but does one live to work, or work to live? After one clocks out for the last time, and is feted at a party given by one's coworkers, then what? I've seen this void contribute to scenarios such as depression or divorce.

I've made my views known, emphatically and often, about people being able to work far past 65, provided they wish to, and continue to be sufficiently physically healthy and cognitively sound. Continued recreation (read that as re-creation) replenishes that vitality.

In order to keep the libido (an energy force NOT limited to sex, by the way!) alive, I propose that each individual find something to question and be curious about--everyday. One doesn't always have to look far; often one's existing interests can contain kernels of new, unexpected exploration. Here are a few personal examples:

1. I've been a classical music fan and KUSC listener for decades. Recently, in the middle of the night, I began wondering just how someone would become a professional orchestra conductor. Viola--a new, pleasant train of thought.

2. Having a Latino gentleman friend and a newly-kindled interest in cooking, I'm planning to explore the local Mexican markets for authentic ingredients. Soon, for a Saturday night dinner, I plan to serve up a traditional pot of menudo, complete with the tripe and pigs' feet. (I'll get back to you as to how this was received at the table!)

3. Long a lover of provocative art and the Hammer Museum, I'd never heard of Llyn Foulkes until I read the piece about him in today's Los Angeles Times' "Arts & Books" section. He has an exhibit coming up in February 2013, and I'm making it my business to know more about this artist and his back story.

4. My love of pleasure reading and exploring the dark side of the psyche led me to pick up a book called At Home with the Marquis de Sade, by Francine du Plessix Gray, while my gentleman friend and I meandered through Brand Bookshop last Sunday. Nearly 500 pages thick, well-researched and artfully written, it takes the reader on a journey of Donatien de Sade's life from personal, social-religious, and historical contexts. It shifts this man's biography from that of being merely a sadist, to a product of a turbulent era that has parallels to our own. It also makes me want to explore, if I can, the life of Pelagie, the Marquis' long-devoted (and complex) wife.

Those are a few of my new wonders and explorations. I'll keep you advised about more as they come up, and where they take me...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cerebral Sunday--Good for the Brain and Lots of Other Things

Aside from seeing some clients in the afternoon, Sundays have become precious days for my gentleman friend and me.

Busy people that we are, it's tough to scrounge out the time to do things that we both enjoy. Bless his heart, my dearie shuffles around his schedule and drives quite a distance to be with me. We are also looking, like many Americans, to be economical and also creative. Breaking the bank isn't as worrisome to me as the risk of falling into a rut of "same ol'" leisure activities. How many of us know--or are ourselves--older couples whose conversations have become painfully stale over time?

Aesop warned, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I would also say it builds up boredom, a corrosive element in individuals' lives and couples' relationships. Sexy lingerie and weekends trips are indeed provocative and wonderful tools to keep the fires stoked--for awhile. But what about when one is catching one's breath after the intense heat? Boredom is one of the reasons many of my clients cite for occurrences of infidelity, impulsive behaviors, and depression.

I've lost count of how many I've seen professionally, who say that they've flat-out lost interest in a partner who can't hold an adult conversation, or whose fund of knowledge stopped expanding beyond the eighth-grade level. Perhaps something about this should be incorporated into modern wedding vows, such as "to love, honor, and to always endeavor to intrigue and amaze...". Just a thought.

In some of my recent alone-time, I was amused to read in the latest (November 2012) issue of Mental Floss Magazine about "penny stinkers" in the Old Globe Theater--theatergoers who paid a penny for admission, and whose hygiene was less than adequate. Grab a copy and have a read of this short piece on page 24. On the next page is the history of the American institution known as the green bean casserole (or GBCs for short), including how it came to incorporate those wonderfully unhealthy French's Onions. This article states that "an estimated 30,000,000 GBCs are served each Thanksgiving" (and, yes, at my house, too).

Many scholars I know, including my dearie, sniff at this publication as "research-lite." My view is that Mental Floss is pure fun; if I want to read a weighty, peer-reviewed tome, I have my resources for that.

Yesterday, we strolled through Brand Park in Glendale for some fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, two of my favorite haunts, the library and the art gallery, are closed for renovations into 2014. We made up for this by a visit to Brand Bookshop, a venerable store on Brand Boulevard that's a refreshing departure from the cookie-cutter mega-booksellers of recent decades. There are few things more stimulating than floor-to-ceiling shelves of volumes exuding that comforting old-paper aroma. They should bottle that smell as a cologne!

We were able to snag a few discounted books, and my usually-unflappable gentleman friend's eyebrows shot up when he saw my selections. That's the topic of my next post, but it made for wonderful conversations for the rest of the weekend!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tomorrow's Culinary Adventure

Okay, I'm turning into a regular little chef. Maybe I should have my own reality show. Hey, everyone else gets theirs, why not me??

After my day at the office, I went to the market, spending an unprecedented hour-plus and about $134 + some change for ingredients, including some I'd never heard of before. This item called "Liquid Smoke" certainly sounds intriguing!

Tomorrow morning, I'll begin by baking some Mexican cornbread (mixing some chopped jalapenos into the dough), and placing a stern "hands-off till dinner" sign on the serving plate. Instead of my usual green-salad mix, I'm serving up grape tomatoes, daintily-diced hunks of mozzarella cheese, and red and orange pepper bits arranged colorfully on skewers. The same "keep away" message will be posted on its plate in the refrigerator.

The piece de resistance, the turkey chili, will be in the crock pot until dinner is served at 6:30 PM, giving me ample time to drive home after my afternoon's work, and drop my briefcase. Besides the meat, there is the following in the mix: yellow onion, red onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato sauce, this mysterious Liquid Smoke, thyme, cumin, chili powder, a crumbled, dried New Mexico chili, and "hot red chili flakes."

I'm counting on some beckoning aromas when I get home.

For toppings, I'll have green peppers, scallions, sour cream, grated cheese, and guacamole on the table.

I found a nice Cabernet to hold its own with the strong flavors, and my selection seemed to be seconded by what I read on

Besides the simple vanilla ice cream for dessert, perhaps I should keep some Tums handy, and my large pitcher of ice water on the dinner table.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Whee!! This cooking is gonna be fun!

It's only Monday, 7:30 AM, and I've got next Saturday night's dinner party all planned.

Here's another fun site I found:

I paid special attention to the Mexican cornbread recipe, and the article, "Toppings: How to Make Chili Taste Even Better."

If this is my post-midlife crisis taking shape, it's all good!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Becoming a Later-in-Life Cook

Switching gears from my recent, rather grim posts, I wanted to report on a new, and unexpected passion of mine -- cooking! Wow! No one is more surprised than I, as I have been a proudly, defiantly non-domestic woman throughout my late teens and adult life.

All the men in my life have quickly picked up on this inclination, including my late husband and current gentleman friend. Somehow, I have always managed to attract men who love to putter around in the kitchen, and who produce entrees that put my best efforts to shame. They have said they love to assist me, but I have a strong suspicion that there is a defensive aspect to their motives. If they can get the recipe right, why risk anything under-done, over-done, or totally screwed up from Valarie's hands? I can't say that I've blamed them.

My mom has owned a crock pot since the 1970's. It has been mostly consigned to the back hall cupboard, getting used maybe once or twice per year. I got it out two weekends ago, and it's now going to be a regular fixture in my kitchen. You read that right -- my kitchen! In my gradual assumption of the role of "lady of the house," I have been using the "good china" more often, and gathering folks around the dinner table.

Just as Amy Adams' character Julie in the 2009 film Julie & Juliainspired me to begin this blog, her finding relief from everyday stress in cooking is inspiring me now. For me, mastery in the kitchen will represent another credential as being "lady of the house." Also, it's a way to strengthen bonds by breaking "bread" made with my own hands.

Last night, I outdid myself for the first time. Using a recipe for "Italian Pot Roast and Potatoes and Carrots" I'd spied in a Rachel Ray's magazine, I dove in. What's not to love about a big chuck roast with baby red potatoes, chucks of carrots, mushrooms, garlic, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and onions, filling the house with homey aromas as it slow-cooks for six hours? Since Saturdays are also a work day for me, I appreciate the convenience without sacrificing meal quality.

In addition to pleasing my gentleman friend and guests, it's also another way to encourage my mom out of her room and to the table, to eat and socialize. There were decades in which Mom produced good food for all; now, rightfully, it's my turn.

Everyone ate second helpings, and their praise was gratifying. And even I was proud of my dinner!

Emboldened by last night's success, I have signed up for participation on's site, and have found the following recipes to try in the coming weeks:

Crock Pot Turkey Chili, Crock Pot Chicken with Black Beans and Cream Cheese, and To Die For Crock Pot Roast.

Sucker than I am for anything historic, I also pulled out more long-forgotten cookbooks from a drawer, and plan to see what I can do. Here are images from two of the books:

I remember getting this "Cooking with Soup" cookbook while I was a single 21-year-old in my studio apartment in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. My intention was to find ways to "cook for one," rather than subsisting on TV dinners. I felt I deserved better than that. Unfortunately, my ambitions lay elsewhere at the time, so cooking did not continue to be a priority.

Check out the next two images, and see if any nostalgia comes up for you. Take special note of the price of this publication and the contest deadline:

I'm going to host Thanksgiving for a total of nine people, and will take people up on their kind offers to "bring something." Still, I'm going to create a Pumpkin Surprise Pie, complete with its companion Peanut Crunch Whipped Cream. Not to be reckless, I will try this recipe out first several weeks ahead of time.

Fingers crossed, I'll keep you apprised of my new adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Whom to Trust -- The Doctor, or My Instincts?

Update: According to Mom's doctor, she "looks good." Okay, that's fine, but I'm still unsettled.

Mom, like many a "sweet little old lady," presented well at her appointment this morning. According to what I've learned from seminars on dementia, a person's social skills can remain intact for a long time, which can confound health care professionals and family. Despite my gentle rebuttals to her "Oh, I can do (whatever) with no assistance," and my candid reports of my concerns, I felt dismissed. What I heard today was the long-held message that "Well, your mom is almost 88." This flies in the face of findings that dementia is not a normal part of aging. Yes, he's the doctor, but it's an inherently limited relationship with Mom. Mine goes back for a lifetime. So, my observations of changes are worth serious consideration.

It's time for me to expand my role as Mom's advocate. When she has her follow-up appointment in a few months, I want to have her sign a HIPAA release, so I can be privy to the findings. Even though I've been reading both professional and lay literature about aging (and dementia as one of the possible issues), I guess I just have to read more, and question more. I need to do internet researches on anything concerning Mom's healthcare, and come better prepared to her appointments. If that earns me a reputation as a pain-in-the-butt daughter, so be it. What we're talking about is my mom's quality of life, for however long that may be.

I look at Mom, and see what my own future might hold. Maybe with some muscle from my generation (which always wanted to revolutionize things), geriatric issues will be given as much urgent attention as those of younger age groups. To do any less is blatant ageism and a tragic waste of human potential.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Faced With Having the "Talk" Tomorrow

I've said it, repeatedly. My son has said it, just as many times. And Mom blew it off for a long time.

Mom's compassionate, trusted, longtime doctor called the other day, and insisted she come in. To not do so was not an option. No office visit, no more medication refills...period.

So, of course, I stepped up. The appointment has been made for tomorrow, a friend has been engaged to assist with the wheelchair transport...and per the doctor's orders, I am to be present and fully participating at this appointment.

When told of the arrangements, my mom became upset, until I reminded her that she had asked me to make them on her behalf. Her stunned response was, "Yes, but I didn't think you'd actually DO it!"

In previous posts, I've alluded to my mom's steadily increasing physical and mental frailties, and how they've affected me. There's an aspect of me that cringes at "sharing family business" online. I come from a lineage that has, for generations, promoted privacy and stoicism, no matter what the issue, or how lonely it caused the individuals to feel. One simply put on a brave face, carried on, and said nothing, even to one's friends.

There's also the part of me that is a member of the baby-boomers, the so-called "sandwich generation." We continue to be involved and concerned with the welfare of our adult children, even after they are grown and gone from home. At the same time, vast numbers of us are caring for elderly loved ones, day by day, and making up the procedures and coping mechanisms as we go along. We all need to talk, to share, to step out from the shadows, to draw strength from each other.

And yet -- it stuns me to consider how many of us don't. Or don't know about the Alzheimer's Association, or AARP, or any of the vast number of caregiver resources. We try to be solitary warriors, with great cost to ourselves, and no benefit to anyone.

Tomorrow will be difficult, and I try to hope I'll be prepared enough for it. If I whitewash my input to the doctor, I will be doing Mom no favor in the long haul. I know, though, if I'm as candid as I am capable of being, Mom will be furious...for a little while. She needs me. I'm all she's got on a day-to-day basis, and "brutal" honesty will be, in the end, the kindest intervention. When Mom was my age, and faced with her own caregiver roles, she would have agreed with me. In fact, she has been my role model for having the strength to travel her future path with her.

I can't presume to know what the doctor's diagnosis (likely some form of moderate dementia) will be, nor his recommendations, but I have an instinctive sense of them, so it won't be a total shock for me. Although it will be painful for Mom, I strongly suspect she already knows, in her heart, and it's a frightening prospect. At this stage in my own life, I can't even begin to imagine how vulnerable she feels.

We'll face this together.