RANT

TODAY’S RANT

You know how when you go to the mailbox (snail mail) and there’s nothing in it but junk mail, it’s kind of a disappointment? Now suppose that junk mail had a return address from someone you hadn’t heard from for a while. Then you opened it up and it really wasn’t personally for you, you’d be more disappointed. Kind of like getting a “Lower you mortgage rate now!” from a friend.

That’s kind of the way I feel when I get an email from someone I haven’t heard from in a while and the content is some “forward” and it’s not really addressed to me alone. Sure, if you’re my kids or friends that write to me often, feel free to send something along with a note. But, not just out of the blue without a “hi, how are you? Here’s what’s new with me.” No, usually it is something to do with how to protect myself from the ax murderer who wants to stuff me in the trunk of my car or some right-wing political statement.

I think maybe it’s because of this blog that people feel empowered to send me stuff. The difference here is that I don’t deliver my blog to your mailbox. If you want to look at my blog, fine. It will contain my thoughts, experiences and opinions. You can read it if you choose. You can comment if you want to. I’ll probably comment back.

But don’t disappointment me with your personal spam.

OVERHEARD

TODAY’S WORRY

Have you ever been in a restaurant and noticed the conversations going on at other tables? I don’t mean exactly eavesdropping but just overhearing because maybe you’re not having a conversation and the other people are talking loudly. What interesting things other people talk about!

When we ate at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville a while ago there was a table of landscapers sitting next to us. They talked about pesticides opining that a product called “Common Sense Pest Control” was the best to use. Then they went on to talk about gophers. It was their feeling that your gophers get to know you. And the gophers can tell who is in the garden by the sound of their footfalls. Interesting.

The best conversation I ever overheard was years ago in Boston at a little restaurant called The English Room. Lots of students ate there because you got a starter, main course, two vegetable selections and dessert for $3.00. When I say years ago, I am talking about around 1970. Well, anyway, the tables were really packed in and it was extremely difficult not to hear what the people at the next table were talking about. This one day we were sitting next to a couple and they were discussing the purchase of a bed. But apparently they were part of a ménage a trois and they were debating the merits of different size beds that the three of them could fit in. Interesting.

Maybe I should start bringing a list of topics to talk about when we go out to eat so I won’t be tempted to listen to other peoples’ conversations. Or, more fun, maybe I’ll make up outrageous stuff and give the next table an earful.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RYAN!!

TODAY’S CELEBRATION

Today is Ryan’s birthday. She is our very special daughter-in-law. And this is an extra-special birthday. Why is Ryan getting the extra-special treatment? Lots of reasons. She makes Jon happy. And she is so accomplished in many ways. She is an Applications Software Developer at Stanford’s Highwire Press, a reviewer of horror movies at her site www.theyrecoming.com, an expert cake decorator and she gave me this blog. Let’s see what, else? Oh yeah, she’s going to be a mother!!!!!!!

Yes, Ryan and Jon are going to have a baby in February. I have hugged this tasty little morsel of news to myself for a few months. It seemed too exciting to write in a post. But on this day, Ryan’s birthday, they found out they are going to have a baby boy!!! WooWoo and BooBoo (silly grandparenting names John and I call ourselves in honor of Woodward and Bernstein) are just over the top. Having referred to the baby as Little Bruno or Brunella (which is what we called Jon before he was born) for these past few months, we are now ready to indulge in the real baby naming race. We ran Xerxes by them today. They didn’t seem impressed although calling him X-boy seemed a good nickname. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the days to come.

So happy, happy birthday, Ryan. Thank you for making our family kinder, happier, more curly headed and bigger!

Love from your Marymom.

ST. GEORGE GROWTH

TODAY’S WORRY

Recently the Census Bureau released a report saying that St. George is the second-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country. I can attest to the fact that there is building going on everywhere here. While there still is inexpensive housing, the market has heated up some and locals are complaining about the increasing difficulty for families to buy homes.

The pluses for living in the St. George area –

Still relatively inexpensive housing.
Incredible scenery.
Within 3 hours of 3 National parks and Lake Powell.
Home to Snow Canyon State Park.
Nearby skiing.
Nearby rafting and fishing.
Great hiking.
A lot of golf courses and tennis courts.
Within 2 hours of Las Vegas and 45 minutes from Mesquite, NV.
Nice people.
Fall, winter and spring have excellent weather.

The minuses for living in the St. George area-

Unattractive downtown.
Limited shopping.
Liquor laws that inhibit restaurant growth.
Few good restaurants.
Mostly eveything is closed on Sunday.
No nightlife at all.
Near polygamist towns.
Dominant religion is very powerful.
Quite right-wing.
Very, very hot in the summer.
Second homes are taxed at double rate.

A PATRIOT’S TAX

TODAY’S WORRY

With one destructive hurricane behind us, one on the way, and who knows how many more possible, it may be time to consider some way to pay for all the rebuilding necessary. I understand that the administration does not want to raise taxes and that “Operation Offset” is a way that some in Congress are proposing to try to pay for reconstruction. Some of their ideas are to freeze funding for the Peace Corps, the Global AIDS Initiative, and U.N. peacekeeping operations. They would eliminate the EnergyStar program, grants for state and local energy conservation, federal subsidies for Amtrak, funding for new light-rail programs and the hydrogen fuel initiative. Also eliminated are grants for safe and drug-free schools, and teen contraceptive programs. They’d probably also cut funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.

I agree that it is time to take a good hard look at where we are spending our current tax dollars but rather than just take a bludgeon to programs that help people, don’t you think that the American people would agree to a one time surtax to help their fellow citizens? If individuals and corporations paid this one time surtax, we could rebuild people’s lives and businesses without increasing an already bursting federal deficit. I would think that Congress could find out how much tax revenue was expected for this year, get a good estimate of reconstruction costs, and pass a bill for the percentage of surtax needed. 1%, 2%, 4%? Americans have shown that they are incredibly generous and caring. Perhaps it is Congress that is being small-minded.

QUEST

TODAY’S QUEST

I like having a quest. You know, when you look endlessly for something? Here in Utah searching for the quest item is much more challenging than finding it in California. It really makes it more fun. And truly, the searching is a lot more entertaining than the finding.

Some of our recent quest items include:

Tamarind pulp – we looked everywhere for this to make pad Thai. We found some pods in a grocery store here in St. George and found a block of it in a store in Concord, CA. They also have it at Sigona’s in Redwood City, CA.

Wustof paring knife – now this is an easy item but not if you are unwilling to pay full price. Sarah and I found a couple of these at Marshall’s and I am still looking for one more. $4.99, you can’t beat that price!

Rice papers – These are becoming much more popular and thus easier to find. You can always find them at an Asian grocery but, guess what, no Asian grocery in St. George. We found them at Dixie Nutrition which has all sorts of odd things. (Aside: this part of Utah is called Dixie because it was originally settled as a place to grow cotton due to its mild climate year round.)

Fish spatula – John really likes fish spatulas. They have a diagonal, bendable blade. Once again we are looking for one that is off-price. They carry them at Williams-Sonoma but for more than we want to pay.

Fried calamari – this is part of our restaurant quest. We originally had the best calamari ever at Starz in Oakville, CA. It has since gone out of business. I think we hit the jackpot a week ago on our trip to wine country. Mustard’s Grill in Yountville has some mighty fine fried calamari. See review below.

Mustard’s Grill, Yountville, CA

Last week when we were visiting Sonoma and Napa , we stopped at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville for lunch. We’ve been there many times over the years and we’ve never been disappointed.

Since we were both having seafood, we ordered the Viognier flight, three half glasses from Praxis, Saddleback and Miner wineries. This is a fun way to try and compare different varietals.

We started out by sharing Crispy Calamari with curried slaw and Fresno chilies. THIS IS THE REAL DEAL! THE BEST FRIED CALAMARI ! One caveat, these are delivered to your table with the slaw on top. Remove it immediately so the calamari don’t get soggy. The calamari were tender and perfect with a light tempura type batter. The slaw was really tasty and included pieces of arugula and cilantro.

John had Mahi-mahi Tostada with jicama slaw, black beans and feta. This was much like a fish taco with perfectly cooked fish but with perhaps a bit too much slaw on top.

I had risotto with scallops. It was pretty good although the dish came very hot and the scallops which were perfect when the dish was set down became a little done in the hot rice during the meal. The rice was creamy but had a very firm center.

John’s overall grade – A-
Mary’s overall grade – A-

Crispy Calamari grade – A+

A FABLE: THE BIRD AND THE FRY

TODAY’S TALE

Once upon a time there was a sparrow named Sparrow. Sparrow lived in the city of Las Vegas. He (let’s pretend it is a boy sparrow) had become familiar with the ways of man. “Where’s a good place for breakfast?” the Sparrow wondered. Now by careful observation, he realized that humans, especially young humans, often drop bits of food. So he decided to look for his breakfast at the outdoor play area of McDonalds.

“What do I spy?” exclaimed Sparrow bobbing and looking carefully at the ground, first with one eye and then the other. “It looks like a french fry!” Over he hopped and picked up the fry carefully in his beak. But it was too big. By careful manipulation he managed to grab the end of the fry and shake it back and forth until a tiny bit broke off. “It’s a little cold but still good,” he chirped as he shook and ate his fry.

“Oh, no! Who is this but my mean friend, Other Sparrow, who has come to take my fry away. I must run and hop and flutter holding on to my fry and try to get away from Other Sparrow.”

So off around and around the playground they hopped, Other Sparrow in hot pursuit. Finally, since Other Sparrow was somewhat bigger, Sparrow gave up and dropped the fry.

The moral of this story could be 1) that I am easily amused; 2) that sometimes birds are more interesting than people first thing in the morning; or 3) that if this bird had lived in the Galapagos Islands and there were a McDonalds there, it would have evolved so that it had the kind of beak that could eat a french fry fast enough to keep it away from other birds and this type of bird would ultimately have been called the McDonalds sparrow.

TIVO OR NOT TIVO, THAT’S NOT A QUESTION

TODAY’S ENDORSEMENT

Are you the only kid on your block without a TiVo (DVR)? Is there no happy little TV icon inhabiting your set? I know your excuses, “I don’t really watch much TV,” you say loftily. Or, “I only watch PBS.” Yeah, I bet. Because, really, if you watch anything at all, if your TV is not just a repository for holding a flower vase, you need to rethink your position.

I was once like you. I disdained the new media electronics. I held myself above the common man in my sense of TV-watchingness. No, I needed no DVD player, no digital video recorder. My children came to the rescue.

Two years ago at Christmas, after urging us to join modern times, they took matters into their own hands. We received both a DVD and a TiVo. Of course, our TV was so antiquated that it couldn’t handle the new technology so we had to go out and buy a new one. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the kids and not use their gifts! Once we were all connected we could start setting up our season passes. Pick a show, push a button and the TiVo records all the showings. Well, what did we usually watch? Lots of cooking shows. Stuff from the History Channel, some A & E things, endless tennis. And, yes, I admit it, some sit-coms: Scrubs, Arrested Development. But it was all very hit or miss because we couldn’t remember what night they were on or the networks kept moving them about. Now they are all neatly recorded and categorized on our “Now Playing” page.

Once you have TiVo, it’s like the garage door opener, the garbage disposal and the myriad other things that you didn’t know you needed but now cannot imagine living without. If you watch anything on TV, even if you only watch PBS, a DVR should definitely be on your wishlist this year. No more commercials, promos, or boring parts. You get to back up, go forward or play slo-mo. You get to watch what you want, when you want.

Seriously, you should get one. (I do not work for TiVo or any DVR manufacturer.)

Safe Trip

Rose and John who are Ryan’s parents are about to embark on a tour to Egypt.

Have a good time and tell the pilot to drive safely. (Our family’s safety mantra)

Cyrus, Hotel Les Mars, Healdsburg, CA

The people who used to live in our apartment did not forward their magazines so we are receiving their Food and Wine. Just by chance, while flipping through, John noticed a review for Cyrus, the restaurant in the pricey Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg. We decided to try it for his birthday dinner.

This is a fabulous restaurant. The décor and service are terrific. When you are seated a champagne and caviar cart arrives followed by amuse bouche. The three tidbits included a spoonful of beef tartar, a polenta diamond and a shrimp on a bed of slivered marinated carrot. All were delicious.

The menu is broken down into various components; vegetables, lobster, fish and shellfish, risotto, foie gras, poultry and meat. There is also a cheese and dessert category. Each category has a number of selections. The price of your meal depends on how many courses you choose. So you can mix and match whatever you like and have it in any order.

We settled on three courses with a wine pairing for each course. It was more than enough. Here are our choices.

John

Chilled cucumber soup with glazed shrimp and mint. Paired with an Austrian Gruener Veltiner. The soup was surprisingly pungent and tart, not watery and bland.

Stone bass with black eyed peas, corn, bacon and mustard greens. This was paired with a California Pinot Noir. The creaminess of the perfectly cooked fish played off the intense smokey/bitter flavors of the accompaniments. It could stand up easily to a red wine.

Lamb loin with Italian butter beans, merguez sausage and tomato confit. This was paired with a cab franc/merlot from Tuscany. Again the dish was perfectly cooked and the lamb sausage was really good.

Mary

Thai marinated lobster, avocado, melon and freash hearts of palm paired with a just off-dry riesling. This was the biggest star of the meal. I wanted to lick the plate. Yum.

Seared foie with fig compote and crispy potato, balsamic reduction. Instead of serving it with the usual sauterne, it was paired with tokai. Although this was really delicious, the foie had a really different texture from ones I’ve had in Europe, more meaty in consistency.

Filet of beef tenderloin, chanterelles, haricot vert and gnocchi paired with a Sonoma cabernet sauvignon. Tender, medium rare and I loved the gnocchi.

The cheese cart and desserts looked amazing but we were just too full. We were served small complimentary dessert bites and sent on our way with small boxes of treats. The whole dinner was a huge success and, although not cheap, it was not outlandishly expensive and we felt we got good value for our money.

John’s grade – A
Mary’s grade – A

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!

TOMORROW’S CELEBRATION

Today we are going up to wine country in celebration of John’s birthday. Since I might not be able to write tomorrow (no, not because of over-imbibing but because I am not bringing my trusty computer along), I thought I’d wish him a happy birthday today.

I met John when we were both 19. It always happens these last few months of the year when he catches up to me and we are the same age. He was a junior at M.I.T. and I was sophomore at Douglass College (Rutgers University.) How come he’s younger than I but I was behind him in school? No, it’s not because I got left back! When John was born, he hit the brain jackpot. So he skipped a grade and actually started going to college when he was 16. Couldn’t even drive yet. Anyway, even though my boyfriend who also went to M.I.T. was smart, I was pretty much blown away by John. He and became friends, later more than friends and we got married when he was only 22. It seems so young now.

Our kids have gotten some really great genes from him. They are smart, witty, tall, good-looking and have great hair. Actually, the great hair is a combination of my really fine straight hair and John’s brillo hair. John’s dad is 93 and is still sharp as a tack so hopefully they’ll inherit the longevity gene as well.

John has aged gracefully and well. Men are lucky that way and he is luckier than most. He still remembers almost everything he ever knew. In fact, before there was Google, there was John, my personal database. I still rely on him when I need an answer. He’s a great tennis player, a good cook, a caring father, a wonderful husband. I’ve known him for 37 years and he’s the best friend I’ve ever had.

Happy Birthday!

THE BLAME GAME

TODAY’S WORRY

After the 1972 election of Richard Nixon and subsequent Watergate scandal, bumper stickers appeared in Massachusetts saying, “Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts.” Only the citizens of Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. had cast the majority of their ballots for George McGovern. Americans were, however, able to get rid of this corrupt administration. Although the Bush administration would prefer us not to play the “blame game,” it might be a good idea to look at the events of the past 5 years.

Arguably, the administration might have taken intelligence warnings more seriously before 9/11.

The Iraq war that has killed thousands of Iraqis and Americans was perpetrated on non-existent WMDs and that Iraq posed an imminent threat.

There has been increased polarization between Muslims and Christians.

More Muslims have been radicalized.

Iran is flexing its potential nuclear muscle.

North Korea has nuclear capability.

The United States has made enemies around the world.

Fuel is at an all-time high and there is no intelligent energy plan in place.

Forests are threatened.

The National Debt is at an all-time high.

Rational thought is under attack.

Incompetent cronies are being placed in critical positions.

Sweetheart deals are made with friends of the administration both in regards to Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

A greater divide is occurring between Americans, socially and economically.

Given the failure of government in the Hurricane Katrina disaster, it doesn’t seem that we are any more capable of responding, even to an event we knew was coming, than we were four years ago.

It seems a lot of people who voted in the last election voted for President Bush because he was such a moral leader. It was very important to them that gays not be allowed to marry, that the Ten Commandments could be displayed in a court house, that federal funds could be used for faith-based initiatives, and that women’s rights could be limited. I see little moral in the leadership of the current administration.

IS A CRUISE FOR YOUSE – PART TOOZ

TODAY’S WORRY

I want to finish up my comments about taking a cruise.

Reasons for going on a cruise –

  • You want to go someplace remote like Alaska or the Greek islands that you can’t get to otherwise.
  • You want someone else to organize your trip for you. You don’t want to be involved in the nitty gritty of planning.
  • You like the fact that the hotel room goes with you. There’s no unpacking and repacking.
  • You want to be able to eat often and a lot.
  • You want a whole bunch of your friends to vacation with you.
  • You are gregarious.
  • Reasons for not going on a cruise –

  • It is really expensive. There are a lot of extras over and above the quoted price.
  • You don’t want to vacation with so many other people.
  • You like the ability to go off the beaten path, have a more intimate experience with the place you are visiting.
  • You like the idea of something happening spontaneously.
  • You are interested in fine cuisine.
  • You find that planning a trip is almost as much fun as taking it.
  • That all being said, we had a really good time. The staff on the boat was excellent. I also think your experience depends on which cruise line you book with. Some cruises have a smaller number of people on them, some emphasize the cuisine, and others have celebrities. A lot of people think that cruising is the best way to vacation. It really all depends on your own personality and expectations.

    CONTRARY

    TODAY’S WORRY

    You can’t grow up having been named Mary without someone saying, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary.” It becomes ingrained. As a result, I guess I am a little contrary. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. So when a whole lot of people like something and recommend it highly, I am more than likely to take a different path, especially in television watching. It’s a big hit? Then I won’t watch it. I’ve never watched a single episode of Dallas or Knot’s Landing. I never watched the show about becoming a millionaire with its lifelines. “It’s a Wonderful Life?” I just can’t bring myself to view a movie that plays over and over every Christmas. Like I said, I’m just a little contrary.

    I’ve never watched Survivor or American Idol. I don’t watch reality shows. Uh-oh, my kids have called me out on this one. Even though I tried to explain how it’s not one of those shows. But it is and I must admit it, I watch So You Think You Can Dance. The worst of the worst, so I’m told. I’ve tried to explain it away by saying that you just don’t find dance on TV so I am supporting the arts. Or that I use TiVo to zip through all the annoying parts so I just see the dancing. But the truth is, in addition to the dancing, I’ve enjoyed the dancer’s little bios, the savage criticism by the judges and even engaged in a little armchair criticism myself.

    I’m so lame.

    Cruise – Day Six, Ketchikan

    We arrive in Ketchikan early and have about four hours to explore this city. You really get a sense of how sparsely populated Alaska is when you find out that Ketchikan is in the top five population-wise. One thing it does have is a lot of is rain. It rains 90% of the time. With all the rain and there not being a whole lot of sunshine this far north in the winter anyway, it’s not surprising that there’s a high degree of alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide.

    We don our raingear and go out to explore. There are houses built on stilts and a rushing stream that flows through town. The water is teeming with salmon that are trying to go upstream to spawn. Apparently there hasn’t been enough rain in the last week so the water is not quite deep enough for the king salmon to make the journey. They won’t use the fish ladder because they are too big. So they are gill to gill waiting for the water to rise.

    There are also a ton of stores in Ketchikan. Selling stuff to tourists is a big industry. I’m not a good shopper but Karen and Peggy both got some pretty jewelry here.

    Later, back on the boat, we play trivia for a second time and win in a tie breaker. Most of us are afraid to stick with our answers if they disagree with John’s. We need to be braver.

    Dinner, show, bar, bed.

    RETRIBUTION

    TODAY’S WORRY

    I guess I am living in a reality fantasy world, but I thought weather, such as hurricanes, did not come straight from God. But I am reading on the internet and hearing on the news that everyone from anti-womens’ rights groups to al-Qaeda thinks that God is up in heaven at the controls deciding that we are sinners and need a hurricane. New Orleans is a godless place and needs its come-uppance. Maybe Las Vegas will get a hurricane next because that’s a pretty godless place too. Strangely enough, I don’t think that will happen. Only sinners on coasts, especially coasts near warm water from June through November get this type of retribution.

    Of course, if we blame this whole debacle on divine intervention then we don’t have to be responsible for our actions. Levees not being strengthened, bad emergency planning and worse response and maybe even global warming could not have had anything to do with it.

    There were hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods before there were humans. I guess God was punishing evil ferns and dinosaurs.

    DISASTER

    TODAY’S WORRY

    I hardly know what to say about the disaster in New Orleans. At first I thought, why didn’t all those people leave? That’s so easy to say when you have enough resources to do so. But what if you are poor or infirm? Then I thought, how horrible it is that people are looting stores. And while I still think it’s terrible for people to be looting stores, I can totally understand why these poor victims might loot a place where they could get food and water. Many Americans are complaining about high gas prices. And I know that once again it’s so much easier if you have the money to pay the price, but aren’t high gas prices diminished when you know that your burden is so much less than the people who are suffering in New Orleans?

    I look at the pictures and read the reports on the internet and it looks like something I’d learn about happening in some third world nation. With all the resources we have, you’d think we could have done a better job. Hearing our President say for the umpteenth time that we will be stronger because of the current disaster be it war, terror or hurricane, doesn’t change the nation’s and the world’s impression of a thoroughly inept response. Americans, white and wealthy or poor, minority, and infirm, all deserve better.