Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hate Mail!

Is that a shocking picture or what? It is government hate mail reminding me that I'm about to turn a big corner straight into the hell of "hospital" and "medical." Or is it a love letter offering almost-free healthcare forever? This card from the U.S. government and a cheery "welcome to Medicare!" greeting arrived in the mail a few days ago, nearly three months before my 65th birthday. (Always beware when the government uses an exclamation point. I will, however, use them with impunity following words that warrant shock or excitement.)

Sixty-five!!! The letter from Uncle—and the age— aren't surprises, of course, as I have noted previous birthdays with dismay and disbelief ever since turning 17. ( I know that's sick, but even in the fullness of youth I was already mourning youth's passing.)

Now it is surreal to suddenly be this un, advanced, and to be looking at 70 as the next milestone. Didn't I just hike the Grand Canyon and ride my bike around Crater Lake? Didn't I just walk 20 miles on the Rogue River trail? Didn't I last week do an advanced Yoga balancing pose? Aren't I perennially strong and energetic? Can life really be winding down, and must I face physical and mental decline? Yes. I'm afraid so.

However, looking on the bright side, as I am wont to do: As of Dec. 1, I will get a $500 monthly "raise" because as a Medicare recipient, I will no longer have to pay that amount per month for private health insurance. PK and I now shell out around $12,000 annually for health care. Despite that significant expenditure, I recently paid a $750 deductible to have a painful bone spur removed, and the same amount a couple years ago for my first colonoscopy during which a precancerous polyp was removed. (Definitely $750 well spent.)

As of Dec. 1 those types of procedures, should they be necessary, will suck significantly less from our bank account while, unfortunately, will further strain the bloated national health care budget. Go Barack! And please keep some sort of "public option."

But back to the question: Can it be that the primary benefit of old age in America is that getting adequate healthcare can no longer plunge us into debt and throw us onto the streets? Or that we can begin collecting on the Social Security we've been paying into for all those years?

Our culture doesn't revere age. Legions of people, mostly women over 40 (40 is SO young!), spend suitcases of $$$$ to have their faces lifted, eyelid folds removed, chins excised, and belly fat sucked out. I'm not going there. I can't justify the money, and besides, I know it's futile and I think it's sad. Gravity and biology win. ALWAYS. I will wage my own battle against decline with exercise and diet, proven ways to improve the quality of life no matter what age.

So I'm quietly working on the transition to elder. I'm trying to embrace "seasoned," "experienced," and "venerable" as opposed to "ancient," "over the hill," and "crone."
I'm looking at the reality of my life, which is pretty damn good, compared with the associations & words my culture has taught me regarding "65."

A doctor friend says that if I were his patient, he would write "younger than stated age" or something like that, in my chart. For now, I'll ignore the mirror and go with that.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Eggplants to burn

The garden overfloweth, and the six eggplant factories in row two between the Brandeywines and the basil just keep pumping out purple/black shiny things. I marinate. I grill. I stir fry. But mostly, I make eggplant Parmesan, which is so much easier when you skip the salting-the-sliced-eggplant-then-rinsing-and-drying steps and also the dredging-in- flour-or-crumbs part.

I omitted the flour/crumbs step because of my carb-avoidance behavior, but discovered that dipping the slices in a beaten egg and frying in olive oil is just as good, if not better, than the carb-dredging routine. Oh joy! I left out the salting part when I was in a big rush and discovered THAT doesn't matter either. So right there you lop off 15 or 20 minutes and all those evil carb calories.

My eggplant Parmesan recipe is simple:
2-4 eggplants depending on size
olive oil for frying
2 beaten eggs
grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, as much as you like
salt & pepper to taste
a quart or more of good marinara (I make my own. Another topic, another day. But here's part of what goes in it.)

Slice the eggplants about 1/2 inch thick. Dip slices in the beaten egg and fry on both sides til soft and golden. Don't throw away leftover egg; fry it and add to the casserole. Spoon a layer of sauce in a 13x9 inch pan. Layer the eggplant on the sauce, top with a mix of cheeses. Put the next layer of eggplant on the cheese, then top generously with sauce. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and top with cheese, mostly Parmesan, and return to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, til cheese is melted.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There you have it - the mighty Rogue!

This is the Rogue at Horseshoe Bend, just around the corner from where PK and I camped earlier this month on the first night of a three-day trip down the Wild & Scenic section. The Rogue is known as a "family river" because it has just two Class 4 rapids but the rest of it is easy Class 2 and a little tougher Class 3, and much of its 33 miles looks a lot like this - flat, green, and gorgeous. Isn't it weird and terrible that I'm bored with it?

Because it was just the two of us, as opposed to the group thing we've done on approximately 150 other Lower Rogue trips over the past 30 years (Is that why it no longer thrills?), we tucked in behind a shade rock on a patch of sand not previously considered camp-able beneath a wide bench that's the popular Horseshoe Bend camp. On this afternoon, it was swarmed by a diverse commercial group, by which I mean that there were black people! The first I've seen on the Rogue ever!

One sorry thing about Southern Oregon is that we're racially/culturally homogeneous. We do have a growing Hispanic population, but our gradations are more along the lines of white trash, whiter trash, Rushbots, and right-wingnut conservative NRA "we don't like them other news organizations" types, in addition to all of all us other really big, cool, and excited white people.

We waved at our neighbors en route to the potty, which is on the far side of their camp and a major benefit in hunkering down within walking distance (but not earshot) of another group. Without the potty, we're honor-bound to pack out our crap. And we have what we need to do it, thanks to the "checkers" at the Rand permit check-in office.

I remember the pre-permit and pre-regulation days—the late 1970s— when i was rowing an old yellow Maravia raft while PK kayaked his blue Perception Dancer, and we always went with groups of 6-16. We dug fire pits and toilet holes. We cleaned up after ourselves in those days without BLM regulators, but we were greeted at numerous camps by stinky toilet paper gardens and firepits studded with trash.

Because anybody could go on the river at any time and do anything (we heard gunshots, saw fireworks), we jockeyed for camps and once ended up settling after 8 p.m. for a patch of sand stinking of dead salmon and with the warning "BEARS!!" scratched into the sand. We heard them all night—we all slept together around the fire for protection—and in the morning a mama and two cubs rambled through our breakfast en route to the salmon. We clanged pots and pans and yelled to no avail, and finally settled on rock-top observation posts and enjoyed the wildlife show. It was one of my best river trips. But that was then.....

Even through I abandoned an 18-year tradition of annual women-only raft trips and have somewhat grudgingly agreed to go with PK at least once a year, here's what I still love about the Lower Rogue.
  • The color of the water and the diamond-y sparkle of it in early morning, late afternoon.
  • The way the river smells - rich & musty, yet fresh, especially going through rapids.
  • The osprey, eagles, bears, fish, and even the rattlesnakes. I don't really LIKE seeing the snakes, but when I do, it is always a big surprise and it doesn't hurt to scream like that every now and then.
  • Camping. I like camping almost no matter where. I like cooking outside and I don't even care if it's windy or raining, so long as there's a kitchen tarp.
  • Being in the wilderness. The Rogue is designated as such, even though you'll see people, including huge commercial boatloads of them below Blossom Bar jetting up from the coast.
  • It's mostly quiet, though, except for the wind and the water and the birds.
  • It's familiar. It's our backyard. Our sons grew up here. Well, one grew up. The other is still either on a river somewhere or thinking about it.
What I don't like and why I gave it up, much to the consternation of my former women's trip raft passengers, Laurie & Jeanne, and PK:
  • Sitting for five or six hours a day, even if I'm rowing. So it isn't just the Rogue that's off my list, but almost any river. This is the most important reason, and why I now hike much of the Rogue River trail while the rest of my group is rafting.
  • The sun and excessive heat. I don't like it anymore and never was a sun worshipper.
  • Schlepping heavy coolers and gear over rocks and up steep banks, and the bruises and dings I invariably get doing so.
Ok. I'm done whining. Here's a look at the two class 4 rapids.
This is the entry to the mile-long Mule Creek Canyon. Those rocks are ominously named The Jaws, and the upper part of the rapid is The White Snake.

This is where you don't want to swim. Bad as it looks, it's pretty easy rafting and the only people who've drowned here are idiots without lifejackets who, incidentally, are often drunk.
More of the narrows.

Here's a boil in the infamous, at least to Rogue rafters, Coffee Pot, a surging piece of water that can suck down a raft tube and gives driftboaters a thrill. And some dents. Years ago Paul flipped his kayak here and when he tried to pull off the spray skirt while upside down, the ball came off in his hand. He was underwater a long time prying off the skirt, and I was sitting in an eddy with my heart in my throat, wondering how I'd raise Quinn alone. (pre-Chris days)

This is the top of Blossom Bar, the second Class 4 of the trip and about one mile downstream from Mule Creek. When entering Blossom at lower flows (around 2,000 CFS), this is what you see. Those rocks where the water is piling up are called the Pickett Fence. They're not terribly difficult to avoid, especially at this water level, but this is the exact spot that most people drown on the Lower Rogue. Don't freak out. A tiny percentage has any problem whatsoever. But sometimes boats flip or get pinned on the Pickett Fence, and people can get trapped in the rocks. For safe passage, you head straight for the unseen-in-this-photo narrow passage on the right, although the route can change at higher water.
Looking back upstream in Blossom, there's the Pickett Fence with the pour-off on the left that you want to get a boat through. Sure looks easy, huh? According to my son the extreme and crazy kayaker, this is SO nothing. But to most rafters, driftboaters, and kayakers, Blossom Bar is a significant challenge. It scared me every time I rowed it—at least 100 times—but now that I've given up the river except for maybe once a year as a special favor to PK, I can enjoy it for the adrenalin boost.
And finally, here's a salmon gulping cool fresh water where Rum Creek flows into the Rogue. It's a hot August day, the river is low, and even though fish are jumping, there are a lot of belly-up salmon. They don't go to waste. We saw a bear taking a huge fish up the bank into the woods across from Horseshoe Bend, and a bald eagle carrying one high above the river. I can't argue with the wonder of such sights.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tomato & corn extravaganza

That’s my mom Lavone, age 92-and 7-months old, salivating over a slightly under-ripe Brandywine weighing in at one pound 9 ounces. (LaVone insists that after age 90, the number of months should be added to one’s age because 90 is when the months start counting a lot again, just like when it was a big deal if you were one year or 18-months old. More about that another time.)

Anyway, the garden is pumping out tomatoes like crazy. CRAZY. Paul picked about 70 pounds of tomatoes Sunday (Gee - wonder what I'll be doing today....) and that's just the beginning. I'm already feeling rich with tomatoes for winter and will soon be firing up the food dryer and hauling out the veggie roasting pan, and maybe even the pressure cooker. In the meantime, we have all the fixens for the best summer salads, like this extravagant delight.
It's called "tomatoes and marinated veggies with corn-raft garnish," and is from writer/artist Jan Roberts-Dominguez's syndicated food column, which I read in the Medford Mail Tribune. I rarely follow a recipe to the T, so here's Jan's renamed and abbreviated recipe with the modifications that saved me a trip to the grocery store and let me use one of those monster tomatoes plus a bunch of fresh sweet stuff from the garden.

Hot damn tomato/corn salad with marinated veggies

1 medium-sized cuke, sliced. No need to peel a fresh burpless cuke.
8-10 sweet small peppers, any color, cut into pieces, seeds removed. (Jimmy Nardello's sweet Italian is what I used. An Italian heirloom and sooooo good.)
1 med-sized sweet onion, chopped
3 ears corn, cooked, cooled & cut off the cob
1-2 large Brandywine or other heirloom tomatoes, sliced. (Jan's recipe calls for4 large tomatoes, but maybe her's didn't weigh nearly 2 pounds each.)
4-6 ounces crumbled blue cheese (good, but next time I'll use feta.)

Combine the cukes, peppers, and onion toss with a liberal amount of vinaigrette. Marinate for about 3 hours. (Use a bottled Italian-type dressing, or make your own like I did from Jan's recipe for dilled vinaigrette. Either way, add some fresh dill and/or a dollop of pesto. )

Boil the corn for a couple minutes, cool, then slice off the cob in chunks, like in the photo.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange in a single layer on a large plate. Use a slotted spoon to dish the marinated veggies over the tomatoes, then carefully place the corn on top of all. Crumble some blue or feta cheese on there and prepare to dazzle those lucky enough to be around your summer-harvest table.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Why Blog? Then and Now.

           Writing in my head during a 2009 bike ride.
The following is the second blog post I ever published. It was July 14, 2009, and four people read it! 
My first post a couple weeks earlier drew zero attention, and revisiting it, I see why. DELETE!  But this post is still relevant because every bit of the angst and obsession I described then is still true! My present day thoughts are in italics. I wonder if I've learned anything.

Why Blog? July 2009

I wrestle with this question. I think about it while riding my bike, chopping onions for marina sauce, and doing downward facing dog in yoga class. I think about it while wrestling weeds from the garden, buying wine at Grocery Outlet, and mowing what passes for grass in our so-called lawn. I think about it while doing these things because they are all on my ever-growing subjects-for-writing list. In fact, I think about writing multiple times every single day, so the fact that I rarely DO it weighs upon me. All still true.

Not that I haven't tried. I called my first blog attempt New Ventures, and the next one Part 3. These attempts were nearly three years ago, (now nearly 10 years)  but I was paralyzed with doubt and performance anxiety. Who gives a crap what I think? I'm not the snappy tweeter or the quipping commentator or among the swarming and excited political people. Some things never change

But I've been writing since age seven, and for most of my adult life, I wrote for pay. About 25 years ago, I left journalism and a weekly personal column, to start a writing and editing business, which has been nifty and even renumerative. I wrote business profiles, annual reports, magazine articles, company newsletters, executive speeches, clever ad copy and more. Except for a few columns for the local public radio station, I didn't write anything personal for publication. In the meantime, I've kept a private journal accompanied by photos that's bloating my hard drive. Now I journal only while traveling, mostly as notes for blog posts.

All this begs the question: Does writing require an audience? Obviously not, since most journal-keepers write privately with no desire for readers. But blogging? That's another story.

That's the question about blogging and what's been hanging me up. There are millions of writers and bloggers, all vying for attention and wanting and waiting to be loved! Who cares if there's another one putting herself out there? And what is it with this need to communicate?

But I've decided that it doesn't matter. Blogging isn't just about the reader. It's about the writer. It's about me. I've been writing since childhood and I'm not going to stop. I can't stop. For some unfathomable reason, it's what I have to do. If I connect with somebody, that's great. Hello, out there! I shake your hand and pat you on the hind, man or woman. If no connection occurs, oh well! Compulsive writing, whether in my head or on the page, is my curse or blessing. Anyway, I just freaking have to do it. And so I am.

December 2015
And so I still do, 246 published posts later, PLUS 112 in draft. 
My first year of blogging, readership rarely broke into double digits. Yes, it was discouraging to have four or five "regular readers", mostly family!  Now most posts break three digits, and some have climbed past four.  These are ones that recirculate, finding new readers year after year. Beloved Birkenstocks Bite the Dust, for example, has a life of its own, as do a few others. 

As you can see, I have not gone viral in any sense of the word. Still, I no longer fear, when I post something, that no one will read it.  Over the years, I've learned that I do care about having readers and feeling that a connection has been made. Comments are a bonus, even though the majority occur on Facebook, where I usually create a link to my blog.
If you're a regular reader, thank you from the very bottom of my trembling little heart. It means a lot that you've stuck with me.