Friday, December 18, 2009


Almost the end of the year but not the end of this year’s novel. Yes, I reached the 50K mark by end of November but that isn’t the end of the story. Nope. Still at least three chapters to go before I can type “The End”. To make matters worse I decided it wasn’t working in first person so this morning I started converting it to third - which is like having nearly finished knitting a ski sweater when you decide you should have used another pattern entirely. Sure, I’m going to use the same yarn but I have to unravel the whole dang thing and start over. Ugggggh!

To make matters worse, here comes “the holidays”. Over the years I have made peace with the fact that I am not a sender of greeting cards or Christmas letters (I leave that to Mom who enjoys it). Our house is too small for a tree so I string lights on the house plants (see above), getting me to some extent off of the decorating juggernaught - plus I’m gluten intolerant which exempts me from the seasonal pressure to bake cookies and fruitcake. Since I’m retired and therefore poorer than Bob Cratchet’s pantry, shopping is a thing of Christmas past. And as a retired plant lady I wouldn’t let a poinsettia in my door if it came with a diamond necklace and a date with Brad Pitt. All in all I pretty much have a hall pass to skip the whole deck-the-halls rigamarole.

That being said, every time I turn on the tv this time of year I feel keenly how far I fall short of expectations. I try to spread cheer as best I can in my own way - stuff the red kettle with a fist full of ones, roast some meat, pour the Yellowtail, light candles and watch "It’s a Wonderful Life" with loved ones at least three times before New Years. It doesn’t measure up to the make-the-season-bright standard of excellence. It’s too little and pathetic and colorless and doesn’t have enough LED lights to qualify me for holiday hostess of 2009. So I’ll end this year knowing that I failed miserably yet again but vowing to do better next year. And since I hear the world will end in 2012 I have a few more tries to get it right. May you do better than I did - or have fun trying! Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 30, 2009


Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month. Yesterday I came over the 50K finish line a whole day early! Not that the story has wrapped up - still may have a chapter or two to write before I can type "The End" but it's a good feeling to be this close. Thanks NaNoWriMo! It was great fun.

This year's novel is a fantasy - nice departure from the mysteries I've written in the past. This year three of my friends participated which really inspired me to pour on the coal. Thanks MiKi, Kate, and Chris. Strangely all four of us wrote fantasies. Could that be a reflection of how attractive reality is right now??? We'll have to do this again next November.

So now what? Become rich and famous novelists of course. (Speaking of fantasy.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Happy Samhain, folks! Today I made a batch of peanut butter cookies to share at Senior Writers Workshop tomorrow.(Hope we don't have any allergies!)

This is the simplest cookie recipe I've ever discovered (Thanks go out to Jennifer of Symantec for this gem), plus it's GLUTEN FREE! Try it:

Mix 1 egg with 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of peanut butter. Stir in some chocolate chips and/or nuts if you so desire. Mark the cookies with those cute little fork marks if you are feeling artistic. Bake at 350 degrees (for approx 7 minutes).

I know it sounds weird but that's it, the entire recipe. Truly! No, REALLY that's all there is to it. Seriously! No, I didn't forget anything. Honestly, would I trick you???

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It's that time again - trees are coloring up, mornings are cooling down - time to start thinking about this November's NaNoWriMo novel! So I put my home improvement projects to one side until I've crossed the finish line on November 30th, my new 50,000 word novel set free upon an unsuspecting world. As excuses go it's as good as any to get me out of finishing the garage sort-out!

For the next few weeks I'll be trying out plot ideas and sketching possible characters. So far I have a 16 year old girl named Sylvia (Sylvie) Bee who, when her mom is sent off to prison leaving her daughter to the tender mercies of the foster care system, sets out to find a grandfather she's never met - a grandfather who has just completed a reunion tour with his geriatric rock band, a one-hit wonder from the early 70s that has recently been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Could produce some interesting conflicts and interactions. Especially when the band buys a decommissioned convent on the coast in which to retire - a convent that comes complete with three ancient nuns who may be more than they seem. What else could I throw into the mix? Hmmm. Will give it some thought. Have no idea where this will go but that's part of the fun. Visit the National Novel Writing Month site and cheer me on (search for Salt Cellar under "authors" - that's me!) NaNoWriMo

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


On the DIY and HG channels home renovations seem so focused, so straight forward and organized. Need a bathroom redo? Gather some samples, a construction crew, building materials and let the sledge hammers fly! From personal experience I can tell you that’s as close to the reality of home improvement as Iron Chef is to the fry baskets at Mickey D’s.

Also, there is no such thing as an isolated improvement project. My most recent foray into Home Depot Land started when Mom bought six fluffy white bath towels. They looked lovely hanging on their towel bars. So much so that I decided we needed matching hand towels and washcloths (Fred Meyer’s had a 20 percent off sale which didn’t hurt the motivation). I came home with an armload of terry and a cute new cabinet to hang above the toilet - which inspired me to weed out the shabbier items in the linen closet. Now, next to my nice neat linen closet and snowy white towels the bathroom looked grungy and dated. I started peeling wallpaper and thumbing through paint samples.

Weeks later the bathroom was freshly painted and lookin’ good - except for the ugly, cracked 60s lighting fixture over the medicine cabinet. This realization caused me to take a fresh look at the other lighting fixtures in the house (see previous post entitled “Let there be (porch) light”.) I bought a new porch light as well as a new light fixture for each of our three bedrooms. BUT there was a hitch in the bathroom lighting issue: the only electrical outlet in the room is part of the lighting fixture. If I replaced the lighting I would have no place to plug in a hair dryer. There are also no grounded outlets anywhere in the house, much less the bathroom. I started collecting estimates for running a new line into the bathroom (cannot afford to rewire the whole house though I’m terrified an electrician will take one look and decide I need a brand new breaker box - where is that Lotto ticket???).

But before that can be done I have to clean out the attic so that the electrician can access the area directly above the bathroom. And before I can do that I have to clean out the garage so that I have someplace to put the junk I haul out of the attic. Cleaning out the garage will entail sorting through two filing cabinets containing decades of dusty documents. It’s sure to take weeks to sort and shred that mess. Then there are all the tools to organize . . . and where do I put the deck furniture now that Fall is here?

And what of the kitchen? How can I possibly fix up the bathroom without addressing the totally out of date and unworkable kitchen? I haven’t an inch of counter space (note photo at left) and the cabinets need to be striped and repainted. And If I do that wouldn’t that be a good time to install a back splash? But since there are no grounded outlets . . . plus what of the horribly inadequate lighting? Oh no, here we go again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


They are back, this year wriggling up from beneath the fragrant thyme bushes like a purple and green hydra. I can never predict where they’re going to surface. Last year they emerged from behind the birdbath, the year before that it was smack dab in the center of the bean patch. They are sneaky, perhaps suspecting that if I knew where they had wintered I’d ruthlessly dig up every last scrap before they could weasel up from the soil in the spring.

Years ago a well-meaning friend presented me with a trio of grape-sized, grape-colored potatoes. Purple. What does one do with a purple potato, I wondered. Who had ever even heard of purple potatoes? My Irish ancestors cringed in their crypts. Potatoes were meant to be fat brown lovelies that turned into fluffy white mountains flowing with fresh creamery butter. But purple??!! Purple was for egg plant and the shoulders of turnips, for grapes and red cabbages, lilac flowers and summer shadows.

Unsure I wanted such a monstrosity in my vegetable garden, I buried the tiny nubbins in my compost heap. That was the beginning. Before I knew it they had sprouted out the top of the pile. I should have gone after them right then but I have to admit I was curious. What would they become? What would I do if they produced actual potatoes? So I let them sprawl all over the compost pile. By the end of summer they were covered with rather pretty mauve flowers. As winter neared I lifted the tired vines out of the heap. Hanging from the roots were dozens of gorgeous amethyst globes! Digging around in the compost, I unearthed a treasure trove - a bushel basket full. What had I gotten myself into?

I started experimenting. First disaster was when I boiled them too long and they totally disintegrated into an ugly grey soup. From that I learned that purples are more delicate and cook faster than white, yellow, or red potatoes - they don’t play well with others, needing to be boiled or sautéed separately. Gentry treated they turn an attractive blue - over do it and they lose all color and texture. Another thing, they don’t bake worth a darn so forget it. They also don’t have much in the way of flavor by themselves.

So are they worth it? You bet! I have since learned that these little sweeties pack quite a nutritional wallop - more so than their pallid cousins. They are chock full of super antioxidants, nummy vitamins and minerals. Plus they have the advantage of freaking out your guests - the “blue plate special” for sure! (I make a red, white, and blue potato salad for 4th of July.) My favorite recipe though is to simply sauté sliced purples with onion and garlic, then add them to steamed zucchini or green beans. Gorgeous as well as delicious! (Always nice to have something to do with the boatloads of zukes coming off this time of year too.)

And I might add that it’s a darn good thing I’ve come to love my weird purple potatoes because they, like vampires, are immortal. That first season I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to dig every last potato from the compost and thus limit the adventure to one season. Did I mention the purples are sneaky? They are nearly impossible to see against dark soil so the moment I innocently spread the compost out over my garden I created a monster. Now, every spring they return. Of course I’m delighted to see them but where oh where will they show up next year??? I’ll let you know when I know.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Traveling through my second month of retirement to-do lists (yes, there's more than one) I've finished restaining the deck, painting the deck chairs, redecorating our bathroom, and a dozen lesser projects. Notable this week was installation of a brand new shiny front porch light to replace the scary, spider infested rust-lantern I've been cussing out for the last fifteen years - can't believe I suffered in semi-silence all that time! Given any amount of wet weather (note that in Seattle that's pretty much every week), moisture inevitably seeped into the socket, blowing the bulb like the climax of a New Years Eve fireworks display. Don't know how many dead light bulbs I contributed to the landfill but I'm wracked with guilt. Never mind, I shall sin no more in that regard.

Learned many things in the process of installing my pretty new porch light. At the top of the list: it's wonderful to have a tall son who can be coerced into assisting. Even with a step ladder I was still below the cascade of dessicated bug parts that came pouring out of the old fixture. Bluck, ptui. Another thing learned: it's wise to notify all the members of the household BEFORE you throw the circuit breakers! Mom thought she'd finally inflicted permanent damage to her computer. In addition, remember that it's a silly idea that all your fingernails need to be all the same length. And make sure that before you launch into a similar project you are current on your tetanus shots and you have a complete first aid kit. Have fun.

Monday, August 24, 2009



Fresh off the truck from Yakima,
they arrive - flat brown boxes of velvet Clings
yellow and pink as mountain mornings,
days on end, weeks even, steaming
the kitchen days on end - Mom bending
over the water water bath, gleaming Mason jars,
a snowy dish towel tied around her
like a sarong, sweat rolling down her neck
days on end - golden rings like pirate booty
piled on the white enamel table -
she pushes wisps of hair out of her eyes
with the back of her wrist, screws the jar
lids tight - morning til night, days on end
blanching the skins off, paring slick
globes in half, pulling wrinkled pits
from red centers until her finger tips
are old and the last peach slides
round side up into the last jar
and the day ends and the memories begin.

This weekend I worked at my local Fred Meyer's giving out samples of iced tea and nut clusters. It's a gig I enjoy and it gets me out of the house into the heart of our neighborhood. Where better to take the pulse of a community than where everyone shops? And everyone in Burien seems to shop Freddie's. I see all the same people each weekend. Lately I've started observing what folks are purchasing, taking an informal inventory of their shopping carts as they stop at my table. This weekend I noticed that Burien is canning! Their carts are overflowing with boxes of Mason Jars, canning lids, pickling salt, sacks of sugar and packets of pectin. A nearly lost art rediscovered in these tough times. I imagine all over town people are clearing space in their garages for gleaming jars of fruit and vegetables.

One of my most cherished childhood memories is of Mom's late Summer canning frenzies, every surface of our farmhouse kitchen covered with cooling jars of peaches, pears, jams and jellies. Mom stored them in the cellar on neatly labeled shelves. How beautiful they were in the dim light of the single bulb that dangled from the ceiling. Yellow, red, white, green treasures. All through Fall and Winter we enjoyed peaches or pears with every supper. A few years ago Mom and I revisited the farm, meeting its third owner since we sold it in the seventies - touring the renovations, marveling at the changes - then down the remembered stairs into the basement were the concrete walls of the cellar were still lined with shelves my mother had so long ago carefully labeled "PEACHES", "PEARS", "BLACKBERRY JAM", "PEAS" . . . empty and covered with dust. But are they empty now? Or have the present owners been laboring in the farm kitchen all month filling sparkling new jars with bright fruit? I sincerely hope so.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Setting Sail into Retirement

Westport Morning

Past driftwood benches
dedicated to dead men
a rusty Ford pickup,
splashes toward the marina
through seas of ice rain.
Over the breakwater
rocks a thin mist moves
like a memory of past
catches lost in the wake.

Beating myself up that I haven’t been writing more since I gave up the day job a few weeks ago. I figured by this time I’d be well on my way to a stellar career as the next hotshot literary flash-in-the-pan. Find it’s taking a bit longer than I thought to reorganize my entire adult life - go figure, after 20-something years slogging around Geekatopia with a brown water bucket in one hand and pruning shears in the other.

I’m finding that the first lesson of retirement is it’s not what any of us imagined - not that golden carrot at the end of the stick making sense of all the nonsense we’ve been putting up with since our eyes were bright and our stomachs flat. Nope, it’s a whole new set of carrots and sticks. Only trouble is we are the ones tying the root crop to the apple bough these days - without which we grow mycelium into the couch before reruns of NCIS (How many homicidal Petty Officers can there possibly be?).

Not that I’ve been idle. I’ve redecorated the bathroom (see previous post), painted the west wall of the kitchen, reorganized the spice cabinet, cleaned the fish pond, processed a whole bunch of green beans for the freezer, baked two loaves of zucchini bread, and bought a whole new wardrobe (no longer have company uniform to wear so it’s either shop or go bare), (Hmm, nice rhyme.) Today I’ll bake some oatmeal cookies. Tomorrow I’ll pick up some brown stain and tackle the back deck. Seems like all those tasks I put off for years by saying: “Can’t start that. Gotta go to work in the morning” have caught me excuse-less at last. But next week, yep, I’ll start that vampire novel I’ve been meaning to write.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


As delightful
as the blossoms were,
who would wish
to miss this
lush and fragrant fruiting?

After months of living the half-life of half retirement, working half a route while the boss tried to figure out how to do without me I am as of last Wednesday a lady of leisure! No way of knowing just how long I will be content puttering around the house but for a few weeks I intend to putter indeed. Been a long time since I had the luxury.

I just finished painting the bathroom and have moved on into the kitchen with the idea that before midnight tonight the West wall will have a fresh coat of pale sky blue. Many retired friends warned me there is no busier time than retirement - I’m beginning to understand how true that is. Without the day job I have no excuse for not tackling the household projects that have up until now been caught in planning-stage limbo.

Of course having been technically “laid off” means I’ll need to cast around for another job so as not to run afoul of the system - but since it is no doubt fairly unlikely in this economy that I’ll be snapped up any time soon I feel confident there will be a few coats of paint on the walls before the work world intrudes once more (if ever). With that in mind I will put my feet up while the sky blue dries and count myself the most fortunate of mortals. And if it indeed turns out that plant ladies are as in demand as typewriter repair technicians, who knows?, could have the whole house spruced up by Fall!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


My small, shady garden has a delicious secret this year. Tucked behind the lavender hedge, below the mountain ash tree is a patch of bush beans - green, yellow, purple. The purple are a glistening deep regal color that glows with the shifting sun like the color of grape juice. They are by far my favorite. Crisp, shiny, tasty - and surprising in that I really had little hope I'd get a crop - too shady I thought. This is one of the times I'm glad to be proven wrong about something.

Aren't they spectacular? I've been picking a fist full of lovely fresh beans twice a day all week. We've enjoyed them stir fried with garlic and Walla Walla Sweet onions, made into bean salad, and today as a key participant in chicken vegetable soup. I'm feeling quite the farmer. When will we begin to tire of beans every meal? Hard to tell but should that unlikely thing come to pass my freezer will fill up with bright beans to enjoy on dark winter days.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Pleasure Dome

(son Paul and cousin Eric "skin" the dome)
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

During the past month while I continued to struggle with computer/internet problems a second major project was in the works around here - the creation of my poetic get-away, The Pleasure Dome (son Paul christened it). Years ago my friend Rick gave me the makin's of a geodesic dome, a wooden framework we bolted together at the bottom of my back garden. We stapled greenhouse plastic over the frame and for 3 or 4 years I used the dome to grow bushels of sweet tomatoes and spicy peppers. But the plastic eventually started to disintegrate - after I stripped it off, the dome was a rather odd sculpture for the next few years.

Then this spring, with retirement looming and visions of glorious produce firing my imagination, I decided it was time to set up the greenhouse once again. Unfortunately I hadn't taken into consideration how my garden had changed over the intervening years. The trees had closed over the top of the dome, making it too shady to grow much beyond ferns and moss. To grow sun-lovers like tomatoes I'd have to remove two Western hemlock trees, limb up the English oak and the Chinese juniper, chop down the neighbor's sick old apple tree. Major forestry. None of which was going to happen. What to do?

Change plans, of course! My greenhouse would transform into a place of peaceful refuge where I can sit and write (as well as surf the internet if I can ever manage to get the wireless thingy up and running), listen to birds in the sheltering branches, decompress! I've run a long extension cord from the house, hung Chinese lanterns, arranged furniture, plugged in a fan. There is one tomato plant just because. Oh, the comfort! Tonight as fireworks light up the sky I'll be in the Pleasure Dome writing a poem to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Techno-conspiracy Theory

14 June 2009
I have come to believe that tech writers deliberately leave out important instructions in order to stymie non-techies who foolishly think they can upgrade their technological appliances all on their lonesome. Perhaps it’s in retaliation for childhood bullying inflicted by “normals”. Who knows, perhaps their are just intrinsically evil. Whatever may be the cause, I’ve again been the victim of techno sabotage.

It all started months ago when my internet browser suddenly went senile. A newer version of Firefox popped into existence and refused to play nicely with my two fairly mature computers. I tried to download the new browser to my laptop and ended up deep-sixing the previous version, at the same time that I learned that I didn’t have the right stuff after all to upgrade - new browser didn’t browse so much as just sat there in the dock like a lump. My operating system was too old, I didn’t have enough RAM, bla-bla-bla. This was coincidentally (or not) about the same week I decided to switch from my dial-up modem to something speedier and called Comcast to “bundle” me. A month later when they had finished the installation, I no longer could access the internet from my laptop but had to use my antique iMac, “Blueberry”, which cannot be upgraded in any way since it is destined to become a key exhibit at the Smithsonian.

This was the same week my 401K plan’s web site stopped functioning with the previously mentioned earlier version of Firefox (and Safari for that matter) and I could no longer check my net worth (a mixed blessing). Since I couldn’t upgrade the browser on either computer because of the elderly operating systems I sprung for OSX.5 to the tune of . . . well, you don’t want to know. Suffice it to say, there went the lunch money for awhile. I also bought an Airport Express thingy that theoretically would let me use my laptop wirelessly, my notion being I’d upgrade all the bells and whistles on the laptop (the iMac being firmly stuck in the 20th century like an ant in amber) and be blazing away on the keyboard in no time, writing great novels, blogging, poetizing . . .

That was the vision. Understand that the Airport Express needs OSX.4 or higher to operate - so my new OSX.5 would do the trick, right? Wouldn’t you think? The instructions were so clear: stick disk in the slot and follow the prompts. Piece-a-cake. Even I could do this, I thought. I slid the disk into the slot, whereupon several prompts moved me toward my goal - I hesitated only briefly before pressing “install” - the computer made loud grinding noises and started to sweat. Two hours later the little swirlything-of-death was still swirling in the upper left hand corner of the screen. I tried to abort using every combination of deletes/escapes/ejects that I could think of to no avail. It would not spit out the dang disk. I was ready to reach for a can opener. Finally I just turned off the computer and wept like a baby.

First chance I got I took the laptop to the Apple store for a disk-ectomy. The twelve-year-old at the help desk had the disk out in two seconds flat but delivered the news that, no, I couldn’t possibly install OSX.5 on my laptop because it needed twice the RAM available. He recommended I go up to 1G to be on the safe side. And no, he didn’t have any RAM to sell me at that location. And no, even if he had some they didn’t install at the store - he wrote down the numbers to several Mac guys who could do the upgrade for me (You better believe I wasn’t dumb enough to start taking my laptop apart by myself!).

I have to wonder why the guys (and it’s always guys) who work in these places feel they have to make their customers feel like complete idiots. I toted “Pippin”, my poor little laptop, off to the repair joint to get its memory augmented and the first thing the guy said to me was: “Why do you want OSX.5 on this machine anyway? You really should be going to OSX.4. You got a late 2004 G4 here. OSX.5s goin’ to be slow.”

“But I already bought the OSX.5, so what do I do? Are you saying it won’t work?” I was beginning to panic.

“Oh, it’ll work but it’s going to be slow.” I wondered what that meant. What would “slow” prevent me from doing?

“Well, if you have a .4 could I trade my .5 for it?” I asked.

“Sorry, I don’t have an OSX.4. You could try Amazon.” I didn’t tell him that was where I bought the OSX.5 which was the only one they offered.

“But you’ll install the 1G stick for me?”

“Sure, no prob. Just so you know, OSX.5 is goin’ to be slow.” He looked at me as if I had just asked him to install a turbocharger on a tricycle.

I get it, it’s going to be slow.

Update: When I got “Pippin” home I managed to install the OSX.5 without any problem - though I can’t see a bit of difference aside from two new icons on my dock, the function of which is a mystery. This morning I set about installing the Airport Express so I can go wireless. You can guess where this is going. I plugged in the proper plugs, inserted the install utility disk thingy, followed all the instructions to the letter. Nothing. To post this blog at the end of this paragraph I will have to save it to thumb drive, move it to “Blueberry” (which still has a functioning internet connection albeit with an earlier version of Safari), paste it to my blogger account and PRAY it posts! Now do you understand why my posts have been sporadic of late? I had no idea my computers would retire before I did!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


My fixed income prompts me to examine expenses from fresh angles. Do I need this item? How might I reduce the cost of this service? It seems on the surface to be an austere and negative stance yet as I go back to basics I’ve been finding that the “belt tightening” process is producing unexpected joys.

This week as the weather revs up toward summer, reaching for record temperatures I gaze with longing over the backyard fence at my neighbor’s clothesline - to the crisp fragrant sheets and bright shirts. A few years ago her husband had scaled a fir tree at the property line and attached a pulley half way up in a horizontal line from the back porch. Soon laundry was flapping cheerily in the breezes forty feet across the yard. If I gave it any thought at the time it was to wonder if it would adversely affect our property values!

But heck, in an economy when property values are in free fall anyway there are other values to consider - energy conservation for one. (And consequently saving a buck or two on the electric bill!) So I dragged my antique wooden drying rack out of storage. How it had escaped becoming kindling decades ago I’ll never know - could have something to do with being buried under boxes of Christmas ornaments and a selection of dusty mouse traps. I washed off the spider webs and grime and set the rack on the deck in the sunshine.

As I write, my third load of wash clings to the rack in the heat - jeans, underwear, towels, polo shirts. At twilight I’ll fold each stiff, sun bleached item, proud of my enterprise and frugality. I’ll bury my face in the towels luscious with the scent of fresh air and lavender - while being alert to the possibility of hitchhiking honey bees. I have no idea how much money I’ve saved by giving the electric dryer a rest this week - probably no more than a few cents - but I have taken an enjoyable trip back in time, have resurrected memories of my mother’s double clothesline from our back porch to the apple orchard.

Memories of the womanly lore of wash day - which as I remember was usually Monday. Remember that there was a particular order in which the wash was hung. Supposedly every woman knew from birth the proper way to hang a load of laundry - though beyond the importance of hanging like items together, the vast storehouse of hereditary knowledge seems to have passed me by. Mom tells me her Irish grandmother’s laundry line was a masterpiece, a legend in the land - but then Great-grandma Tierney was a pro, doing laundry for the mansions “up on the hill” in Cincinnati in the days when rich ladies wore starched white cotton gowns dripping with lace to afternoon tea parties. Great-grandma Tierney would be utterly horrified if she could see how ineptly I’ve managed the ancient art - not to mention how scandalized she’d be by the items themselves! Jeans and polo shirts for women! Horrors!!

Monday, May 25, 2009


A mere three working days left until retirement! And I’ve never worked so hard - stocking the shelves for the long fixed income fast, tidying the garden, preparing instruction books for the three women who will be replacing me on the route. (I like to think it takes three people to replace me but it’s just that the boss can’t hire anyone new just yet so she’s divvying my clients up between three existing routes.)
Enough about that - I promised to tell you the story of the “Dandelion Lunch”.
It was the mid-seventies. I was the divorced mom of a seven-year-old son - unemployed, barely surviving on Welfare and Food Stamps. One day in early April I was down to pocket change. It was time for desperate measures if I was to feed my hungry kid. I took to the streets (No, it’s not what you think! Shame on you!). I walked up to the store, bought a few chicken wings and on the way home I foraged along the roadside for dandelion greens.
“What’s this weird stuff?” asked my sweet son pointing to his supper plate.
“It’s gourmet,” I said. “They pay big bucks for this in fancy restaurants downtown.”
He stared at the mound of greens as if it had tentacles.
“But what is it?”
Here it comes, I thought, no way out now.
“Fresh Spring greens sautéed with shallots and chicken wings, topped with grated parmesan cheese.”
“Looks like weeds,” he said, prodding his lunch with one fork tine.
Having been backed into a corner I pulled the mother card.
“Just eat it or go hungry!” I almost added the bit about starving children in Africa - my mom’s particular favorite - but I’d pushed things too far as it was.
I can’t remember how much of that lunch my darling son actually ate - after all it’s been in excess of thirty years - yet I do remember enjoying it myself. Pretty tasty to my way of thinking - not to mention creative! But then I also believed he bought the “Spring greens” description. He was a grown man when he finally revealed he’d been wise to me all along.
“Jeez Mom, kids know a dandelion when they see one,” he said. “Even without the fluffy foofies.” I smiled at the use of his childhood term for the seed heads.
“I’ll have you know dandelion greens are extremely high in calcium and all sorts of other vitamins and minerals,” I countered, sinking fast.
“Sure, Mom,” he said with a smile.
Every April since, I’ve asked him over for lunch as soon as the first succulent dandelion greens sprout in the back garden. Most of the time he shows up. Laughing.
With retirement only a few days away I recall those long ago hardscrabble times - recall the lessons learned and how good it felt to survive on my wits. I was proud to be self-sufficient and resourceful in a desperate time - just as my parents were to have survived the Great Depression. In this new blog, “Dandelion Lunch”, I’ll explore nearly forgotten skills I am going to need to marshall once more as I learn to live well on a fixed income. But no more foraging on the side of the road - YUCK!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Retirement: Creative Frugality Rediscovered

In a few weeks I'll be retired from Geekatopia (see old blog: It's turning out to be much more work than I expected. So many considerations - Social Security paperwork, Medicare paperwork, budgets to hone, bills to pay off ahead of impending poverty - that sort of stuff and much more. Cutting ties with my employer is not something done lightly or easily. I'm up in the middle of the night wondering how my route will get done without me - wondering what I may have forgotten to pass on to the people taking over my work. I've given them many months notice but there is still so much to be done before I can make a clean break.

But it's a great adventure. Kind of like setting off into a vast wilderness with a daypack filled with granola bars. Scary. And exciting. I couldn't have picked a weirder time in which to give up the day job - imploded economy etc. When I tell people I'm retiring they inevitably say, "Oh, I'd love to retire but I can't afford it right now." Well, who can??? But did we wait until we could afford it before we: bought our new car, had a baby, went back to school, signed the mortgage? Nah. We're the children of the generation who survived the Great Depression - we're exhippies who lived on Food Stamps and airy illusions - we muddled through. Our idealism is boundless. Along the way we learned some valuable lessons about our own creativity and stamina. Wisdom and skills that we must now revisit as we set off in the unknown.

What's with the geodesic dome in the above photo, you ask. It's part of my retirement plan. Remember back in the 70s when people were "growing their own"? Now the term means something slightly different. It means raising a few organic vegies to stretch the Social Security check. In this new blog I'll chronical my rediscovery and recycling of nearly forgotten Hippie values and skills - ideas that are coming back around to serve me once more - things like repairing, reusing, recycling - rethinking how I live my life. In the next post I'll explain the name of this blog: Dandelion Lunch