Family, Friends and Neighbors

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Politics

Memories and a Recipe for the Fourth of July

Fourth of July, Me and Hector
Me and my neighbor, Hector

Dear Reader:

On this morning last year, I was sipping mimosas, eating “breakfast crack” and mingling with friends in my neighbor Cathy‘s backyard. I hadn’t really felt good about America since the 2016 election, but I love brunch and I was wearing my protest t-shirt, so I felt okay about celebrating.

I live in a home that’s almost one hundred years old in a well-established neighborhood in East Sacramento. It’s a holiday-loving neighborhood. Real estate documents disclose this fact to anyone looking to buy a home here. Large crowds gather for Halloween, Christmas and the Fourth. Last year’s parade was the 89th annual event and it brought residents out into their yards and visitors from all over the city into the streets.

Our beloved Governor Gavin Newsom made an appearance! I was absolutely devastated that I missed him. I’d wandered off with a group of ladies to meet the former newswoman and acclaimed author who lives right around the corner from me when  my husband spotted him walking down the middle of the street.

“There must have been security,” he reported to me, “but it wasn’t obvious. And, yes, he’s just as good looking in person.”

Well, that was 2019. Today, I’m wearing my navy joggers from Target, but I’ve got a new t-shirt: Biden for President it reads. The outfit amuses my daughter, because “You don’t even like him, Mother!” Let’s just say, he’s growing on me.

I wish there was a parade this year; I’d like to visit with Gavin.  I hope that next year’s parade is just as grand as last’s years and that I’m feeling proud of my country again.

Michele

“Breakfast Crack” is slang for Creme Brûlée French Toast…you’re going to love it!

Creme Brûlée French Toast

 

Ingredients:    

                                            

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 (8 to 9) inch round loaf Challah bread

5 large eggs

1 1/2 cups half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Directions:

  1. In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Cut 6 (1-inch) thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit. In a bowl whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bring bread mixture to room temperature. Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes.

 

Family, Friends and Neighbors

Wonderful Dads Make For Wonderful Daughters

 

Dad and daughter on the beach

Dear Reader:

Twenty fours years ago I called my husband to ask him to pick up ice-cream on his way home from work. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but still he didn’t have a clue that I had a bigger treat for him when he arrived home. That’s the night he got the news:

You’re going to be a dad!

Our daughter is a wonder and that is mostly a tribute to her own hard work and good heart. But, she’s a lot like her Dad. He’s an intellectually curious person with varied interests and those traits became evident in Natalie very early in her life.

I need only to tell you about my daughter’s favorite outfit at the age of four. She wore, nearly everyday, a green t-shirt with a picture of her favorite dinosaur, the Brachiosaurus, purchased by her Dad at the Field Museum gift store on a business trip to Chicago. She paired it with a pale pink (from the pink shed pink) sparkling tutu and tennis shoes that lit up when she jumped.

My husband used to say: “I want her to be well-rounded.” And, he made sure that she was. He read to her often…books about nature, space, travel, heroines and adventures.

It would be years later that the two of them took a National Geographic sponsored trip together to dig for dinosaur bones in the mountains of Colorado. Natalie returned having decided that perhaps paleontology was not the best career choice for her. They came home with sunburns, but also found treasures and vivid stories of the desolate terrain,  intense heat and thick chocolate milkshakes in the hotel room at the end of each day.

During the school years, my husband provided well so that I could choose to become a stay-at-home mom. Work was hectic but family was unquestionably his priority. We especially treasured time spent on the beach in California or Maui. He and Natalie were expert sand castle builders.

One of my favorite family stories took place on Natalie’s first trip to Hawaii. She and her Dad were completing a fabulous sand structure, when suddenly Natalie jumped up screaming. I could see her from the water running along the beach with a crab dangling from her finger. She had evidently upset one of the beach residents with her digging and he’d bit her in protest. My husband came to her rescue as I made my way to the shore. The next day he encouraged her to return to her work on the beach…with her finger properly bandaged.

He also nurtured an appreciation for art in our daughter. Although, she hated it at the time, her father commissioned a portrait artist and she had to sit for him for several hours so that he could capture her image on a huge canvas that hangs in our living room. She enjoyed much more the many trips to the theater in San Francisco and the museums in London.

When it came time for Natalie to pick a college, it was her Dad who accompanied her on the tours. It seemed only fitting to give him that pleasure as I had been the one to shuttle Natalie between home and school and the dentist and volleyball practice in the early years. Their father/daughter road trips to universities were a final bonding experience before Natalie became a self-sufficient adult.

Now that self-sufficient adult is riding out the pandemic at home with Mom and Dad. I feel so blessed to be able to skip the news articles about troublesome family dynamics in pandemic times. Natalie and her Dad are happy together watching a nature documentary or driving in the convertible or just shooting the breeze on a hot lazy day.

I am so grateful to the man at the center of my happy little family. He’s a remarkable husband and father.

Michele

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Inspirational Women

Bloggers Make the Best Friends!

 

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Art by Tamara Jare

 

Dear Reader:

I made the decision to start my blog after reading Joy Cho’s book, Blog Inc., on vacation over three years ago. One of the many things the author promised I’d discover as a blogger was a thriving, creative, supportive community. The thought of that warmed my heart.

I have been blessed to find many friends in the blogosphere. My first friend, Tamara Jare of My Botanical Garden, visited my site when it was only two days old and became one of my first subscribers and a loyal reader.

But, beyond that, we became pen pals. I’ve never met Tamara, but I’m sure I’d recognize her if she came walking into my living room right now. We’d hug and I’d ask her to sit down in my incredibly comfy velvet club chair while I poured her a glass of champagne. And, then you’d know what would happen? We’d talk for hours.

First, I’d thank her for the incredibly generous gift she sent to my home. It was just another day, until I heard the dogs announce a delivery truck and then my daughter called upstairs to me.

“Mom, you’ve got an envelope from your friend in Slovenia!”

I have a friend who lives 6,000 miles away! That delights me so much!

Thank you Tamara for the lovely gift. The watercolor is simply exquisite. It will be a delight to take it to the frame shop…someday. I’ll frame it in gold to complement my first piece of your art. You’ve made my life and my space fuller and more beautiful.

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Dear Reader:

I’ve collected quotations since I was a teenager…the wise words of others who seem to know exactly how I feel. There are bits of paper, handmade notebooks and beautifully printed books scattered among the shelves and drawers in my pink room. And, there’s an entire category of my blog devoted to the brilliantly pithy thoughts of others.

There are a few quotations that are so special that I can recite them verbatim. There’s one that I can still recall reading for the first time. It’s also the first words to appear when one googles “quotes about motherhood,” so it must resonate with many other parents.

“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Elizabeth Stone

I encountered that quotation for the first time a few days after my only child, my lovely daughter, was born. A friend had given me a journal for mothers that included space for my own entries along with the wise words of other parents. I’ve still got that gift, 23 years later! I never wrote a word of my own in the book, but I read all the entries.

Certainly, I didn’t have a lot of time for writing in those early days, but I think the pages were left blank for another reason, too. My feelings about my baby were too deep to convey. Initially, I fell in love with her tiny toes and chubby thighs. I cherished the moments the two of us shared in the dark of the night in the rocking chair in the corner of her nursery. I marveled that my husband and I could create such a beautiful little thing.

And, then my baby grew. It was still hard to put into words the depth of my joy and awe. She kept me busy. She was quick and curious and into everything. One night after she’d gone to bed, my husband and I child-proofed all the cabinets. The next morning she screamed in protest when she found she couldn’t open them.

It was about that time that I went back to work leaving her at a day care center run from a small family home in my neighborhood. The mother/daughter team who looked after her had been in business for more than 20 years. I could see the surprise in their faces the day they told me that they had to take extra measures to keep my daughter from getting out of the playroom. Apparently, no other child had challenged their security system in the same way.

Shortly after that, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to miss a single one of her escapades! I quit my job and never looked back. I was a feminist and a stay-at-home mom and I knew that I was blessed.

It’s still hard to put into words how I feel about my daughter. I feel inadequate to the task. But, I’ll try. My daughter is a capable, accomplished adult with a college degree and a job. But, it is her personal attributes that are most impressive. The curiosity she displayed as a baby and toddler are still evident, but she is a composed, quiet and thoughtful woman. She is, most of all, the kindest person I know and for that I could not be more grateful.

In years past, I visited my daughter in San Luis Obispo to celebrate Mother’s Day. She was attending Cal Poly University and those trips were such fun. We celebrated with donuts at SLODOCO, walks around downtown and conversations about her future as she approached the end of her college education. We never could have imagined what this year would bring. I’m so happy my heart is under my roof this Mother’s Day.

Hugs,

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

I’m Grateful for My Neighbors!

sweet peas
Sweet peas, grown by my neighbor and friend Rebecca. I found them when I opened the door this morning and popped them into my favorite vase.

Dear Reader:

It’s been a year and a half,  since we drove our packed cars out of the blanket of fog in Carmel to rendezvous with the moving trucks in sunny Sacramento. The move came as a bit of a surprise to both acquaintances and friends. It was generally received with a puzzled expression that was predictably followed with an adamant query: WHY?!

If you’re not familiar with the geography of my beloved state, I’ll explain. It’s easy to find adjectives to describe Carmel:  picturesque, enchanting, and even inspirational. Carmel sits on the Pacific Coast and it’s known for its stunning natural beauty, mild Mediterranean climate and charming homes and shops. Sacramento is the capital of California and though it has a great deal to offer, there are no ocean views…and it gets very HOT in the summertime.

I remember the day I received an email from Trip Advisor entitled: “Visit the Place of Storybooks!” I eagerly clicked on the link only to find that, according to the author, I was living in storybook land! This was shortly before my husband and I decided to explore the idea of moving.

We had a very good life in our tiny home (there aren’t many big houses in Carmel), but there were good reasons to find another residence. As it goes in marriage, one spouse is usually the driving force for major change and the other agrees to jump on board. It was  my husband’s idea, but I was persuaded out of respect for him, the logic of his arguments and, most significantly, the anticipation of having neighbors again.

When we moved into our home in Carmel Woods, we were blessed to find good friends. We enjoyed their company and felt the comfort of knowing that we could walk across the street or down the block for the proverbial “cup of sugar.” The camaraderie of a close-knit neighborhood is very important to us as we do not have extensive, close family ties. In fact, many of our previous neighbors have become life-long friends. (Cheers to you…Beth and Malcolm, Marietta and Frank and Courtney and Chris!)

But, over time our neighbors moved on. And, unfortunately, a pattern developed. Their homes were purchased, as vacation homes, by mid-westerners seeking to escape the cold and snow. The first thing that each and every one of them did was to embark upon a major house remodel. The week after our closest neighborhood friends left, we woke up to find our driveway blocked by a fleet of contractor’s vehicles and a port a potty. We hadn’t even met the new owners. They came and left without a handshake. We were left to negotiate terms with their hired help who were not always cooperative or considerate. By the time we moved, there were four remodels in progress on non-owner occupied homes in close proximity to ours. This is the reality of living in a tourist town.

During the day it was noisy and at night it was dark. I had the feeling that I was living on a deserted island, despite the fact that I had friends only 5, 10, 15 miles away. It was not the stuff fairy tales are made of!

Our new neighborhood could not be any more different. My husband noticed even before we moved in that the streets were active. Google maps showed people walking dogs, pushing strollers and riding bikes. We met neighbors before we moved. We visited several times to view the property and to walk the street and found a friendly group of people who did not hesitate to tell us how good it is to live in East Sacramento.

It’s practically impossible to step outside our door without seeing someone (and some dog)! The everyday smiles and greetings made me feel welcome from the beginning, but now they have become essential to my mental health.

I am so grateful that we are sheltering in place in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood filled with warm and generous people who are reaching out to one another during this difficult time. I am blessed with neighbors who have become friends. I hope you are, too.

Hugs,

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Ciao Paisano!

 

Ciao!

 

Dear Reader:

I’m a Californian, born and bred. And, I couldn’t be prouder of that, especially since the 2016 election. But, my blood is half German and half Italian. I am clearly a reflection of the stereotypical attributes of each nationality. I’m stubborn, proud and vocal. However, I look Italian (see the nose and the hips) and, growing up, I spent more time with my mother’s side of the family, the Bartucccis.

My Nonnie, Rose Carmela Bartucci, was so dear to me. She gave me enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Visions, undimmed by the years, of her busy kitchen, verdant garden and expressive face. She also taught me a bit of Italian. She’d toss out the occasional word…just here and there. And, so I know a few. A few I cannot repeat!

It is not unusual for me to greet a friend with Ciao! and so it’s not surprising to find that I own the t-shirt. Yesterday, I put on a bra (one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that a bra is optional!) and took a stroll down the street to change my scenery.

 

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At the end of the block, I heard someone yell, “Is that YOU?!”

I looked up to see my dear friend, Cathy, calling out from her upstairs window.

“Ciao!” I answered.

And so began our impromptu conversation. Cathy is one of my favorite people in the neighborhood. We bonded early over shared interests and a common view of the world. And, we’ve done our best to make time to nurture our friendship over the past year and a half, but life is busy. And, so I don’t see or talk to her as much as I would really like.

We had a fairly long conversation with many people walking by and either pretending not to hear us or chiming into the conversation. It was so satisfying to just stand in her yard and chat. The funny thing is that we actually had a visit on the calendar already. We had scheduled a FaceTime cocktail hour for the next day.

As it turned out, I spent more time with my friend this week than I have in a long time. Life continues to offer beautiful moments.

Arrivederci,

Michele

 

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

An Unforgettable Birthday

Dear Reader:

For weeks my friends admonished me in strong tones that I simply must do something for my birthday this year.

“It’s a milestone birthday,” they reminded me. “You need a party!”

I enjoy gatherings with bubbly and cake and music. But, for some reason, I held back. It wasn’t because of the dread of turning 60! I have a rather unique way of dealing with the decades. It has puzzled my daughter for years.

“You are the only person I know who rounds UP your age!”

It’s true. It started when I was 28; I’d tell people that I was 30. And, so 38 became 40, 48 became 50 and well, I’ve been saying that I’m 60 for two years now. I’m not sure why I’ve done this. Maybe I felt it would help me adjust to the swift moving decades or protect my fragile ego. (My ego’s not that fragile, though!) In any case, I was prepared to celebrate another birthday, but I could never have guessed how I’d be celebrating it.

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been instructed to stay home to control the spread of coronavirus. But, as you can see, I left my house…safely! My neighbors all joined me for a toast, from our respective front yards, at 5:30 p.m.

I was in by 6 p.m. filling my glass with Cal Poly student made Pinot Noir to pair with my cheese pizza. And, we did have cake…three tiny cakes! I won’t forget this birthday. And, for a good long while, I’ll remember to be grateful for the simple things. Here’s to health, family and friends!

May you all remain well,

Michele

Dogs, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Hugs…the safe kind

 

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Dear Reader:

I am a homebody, so perhaps it’s easier for me to deal with the day to day issues of protecting myself and my family from coronavirus. I’ve been staying home for the past two weeks…voluntarily. My friends in Monterey and Santa Clara County have been placed on Shelter in Place Orders. I’m grateful for that, as I am also a worrier.

Hoping that you are healthy and that you can appreciate the small pleasures that come from being at home:

  • dogs sleeping in your lap
  • hot cups of tea
  •  good books
  • pajamas…all day
  • and time to bake, clean, organize, relax and reflect.

I will conclude, as I always do, with “HUGS.” I am a hugger and, I must admit, I’m missing those.

Michele

 

Family, Friends and Neighbors

I’m Proud of My Friends

Waterford baby block

Dear Reader:

Today ends Pride Month and I’m thinking of all the gay men I’ve known, but particularly the first one I met twenty five years ago and the one I met only 8 months ago. Shopping and fashion are part of my DNA and that interest served as the foundation for all of my friendships with gay men.

Before I had my daughter, I shared a cubicle wall with Carlos. We worked in a high testosterone environment at a Silicon Valley start-up. Neither of us were destined for great success at the company, but we earned enough to dine well and shop well on shared lunch breaks.

One day, I visited him in the hospital during my lunch hour in the middle of a dramatic rain storm. He joked that he always provided plenty of drama. Thankfully, he’s an AIDS survivor. He was my first friend to give me a gift when I announced my pregnancy. The tiny crystal baby block came with a note: “Here’s your girl’s first piece of Waterford.”

He really went above and beyond throughout my pregnancy accompanying me to maternity shops to apply his critical eye to my selections. One day about seven months along, I came into work with a new purchase I’d made on my own. I’ll never forget his reaction…uh, open mouth, “That’s a whole lotta denim!” I’ve got the pictures in my photo album and, of course, he was right. Every time I look at that dress now, I can hear his voice.

I haven’t seen Carlos in years, but he was the first of several gay friends. I feel so fortunate to have made another close friend when I moved eight months ago. One of my neighbors has become particularly dear to me. He and his partner go out of their way to help everyone on the street. They are the guys who take out and bring in the trash bins of elderly widows. They can be found on the street often walking their tiny dog and they’re always ready with a pleasant greeting. When their trees give them too much fruit, they leave bags of lemons and oranges on their neighbors’ doorsteps.

One night, early in our friendship, my friend shared that he’d always known he was gay. He remembered watching the Donny and Marie Show with his buddies. While they appreciated the attributes of Marie Osmond, he found himself admiring Donny. Well, we had that in common!

“But, I wouldn’t have chosen to be this way,” he concluded.

I haven’t been able to get that moment out of my mind. It is so sad to me that someone I find simply wonderful would want to change an integral part of himself. It is, of course, understandable. I do hope for continued progress and acceptance of those in the LBGTQ community. If only everyone had friends as good as mine, society would surely change.

Hugs,

Michele