A Persnickety Man

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“Mama said there’d be days like this, days like this, my mama said”. The song writer who penned this must have had a mate like mine.

I wonder if hyper sensitivity is the flip side of the genius coin. Yesterday, he told me he didn’t like the unusually large raisins that I bought (they were on special at the same price as the Thompson seedless).  This morning, he said he didn’t like the smidgen of cinnamon I’d put in his oatmeal, after a conversation we had had about the health benefits of cinnamon (he says he likes cinnamon desserts but not for breakfast, though yesterday, he loved the fried bananas WITH lots of cinnamon and cheese blintzes I made for breakfast). So, I’m going back to the original recipe: one cup steel-cut oats, four cups water. It’s better to dump it into boiling water, cover, and let it sit overnight because the slightest overcooking renders it inedible. I’m not complaining; it’s far simpler than the cereal I cook for myself.

My conglomeration begins with a nine-grain mix and gets more interesting with each ingredient that follows. Into the pot goes flax seed, salt, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and hemp seeds. Then it’s topped with walnuts or pecans, raisins, craisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, and any suitable fresh fruit I have ripe in the kitchen.

God forbid this man ever goes to prison or experiences being stranded on a desert island! He would starve to death in three days. And don’t even THINK about hiding him in an attic to evade detection by the Nazis. His stream of consciousness flows through his vocal chords spontaneously and he snores like a freight train. The Gestapo would hear him a block away.

We joke about the pea under the mattress because the slightest irregularity in a seam, a fragrance, a spice, is unbearable. And yet, he rarely complains about my farts, wet dogs, burnt toast, or mismatched linens. Go figure.

Food Snobbery or Tightwaddery?

Reading Murisopsis’ “Looking At Souper Bowl”, I couldn’t help but wonder how I became such a food snob. She posted a recipe for wild rice soup that included the ingredients bacon and Velveeta “cheese”, two items I don’t consider food. Oh, I’ll grant you that bacon is probably in the top three, no make that THE very best of dead animal flesh, but if we are talking nutritional value it sinks like the Titanic to the very bottom of the list. I mean, if you like salt and fat, fried to a crisp perfection, bacon is absolutely the creme de la creme of taste sensations. But nutritionally speaking, your heart actually skips a beat at the thought of turning it into something useful for life. Or perhaps it’s skipping a beat because your brain is anticipating the pure joy of the mastication of it.

The road to good eating habits hasn’t been difficult but it has been a long journey (66 years), and it still includes side roads into temptation. As Oscar Wilde put it, “I can resist everything but temptation.” As a kid, I think my mom despaired of ever getting me to eat anything but potato chips and raisins. She wasn’t an adventurous cook because my dad was, like many men and children, scared to death to try something unrecognizable. When we moved to California from Michigan, he stoutly refused to try any “Mexican garbage”. So, while mom, my sister, and I dove into tacos, tostadas, burritos, and quesadillas, Dad ate hamburgers. To this day, at 95, he still eats, with great gusto and kechup, the comfort food served in the dining room of his senior facility.

And that may be the crux of the whole “healthy diet” argument. For ninety-five years, my dad has eaten salt, fat, and sugar in copious quantities. My mom, at 94, is beset by peripheral neuropathy and memory loss, despite her relatively healthy diet. Granted, Dad has been hospitalized numerous times for various ailments (mostly blood pressure related but including gout) and takes dozens of medications daily, while Mom vegetates in her recliner, taking nothing more potent than a baby aspirin.

So, my question is, how important is good nutrition? I mean, if you are willing to spend a big portion of your discretionary income on pharmaceuticals, and you don’t mind being handicapped by layers of energy-sapping fat, is nutrition even an issue? If the ethical treatment of animals never crosses your mind, and you have the time to linger over a bowel movement, why even include vegetables in your diet?

Fatso on Toilet

I’m not going to weigh in on this argument because it’s too late for me to change. My brain is irrevocably wired to prefer a plant-based diet. My self-brainwashing has ruined the pleasures of a perfectly cooked prime rib or a bratwurst on a crisp roll. But you, my friends, still have a choice.

 

Best Tomato Soup Recipe

I’m going to share with you the absolute BEST tomato soup recipe in the world and it’s really simple. First, buy a box of Trader Joe’s organic creamy tomato soup. Set the soup on the kitchen counter (unopened). Then take your dogs for a hike up Morton Peak.

MFN Tara and I hiked from the bottom of the Santa Ana River Trail to Morton Peak, as far as Cougar Rock.

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The lookout tower was in sight when we decided to retrace our path back to the car, knowing that the descent would be punishing to our knees and feet.

Morton Peak Lookout Tower
View of tower from Cougar Rock
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Super dog, Sadie and me…and MFN Tara’s finger (lower left)

Noting the snail-paced line of cars making their way up the highway below, we felt quite smug about our view from above.

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The entire hike was about ten miles with nearly 1,700 feet of elevation gain and loss. I realize that, for real hikers, that’s not much of a hike; but for this mountain biker it was significant.

Once you have completed the hike, dump the box of soup into a bowl and microwave for a couple of minutes. I guarantee you will think it’s the best tomato soup you have ever eaten.

Familiar Dangers

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This morning my chubby, little kitty gobbled down her breakfast, made the rounds of the other cats’ plates to check for leftovers, then sat at the back door, plaintively mewing to be let out. I couldn’t help but marvel at her seeming disregard for the dangers that lurk outside the safety of the house. When I opened the door, she blithely bounded into the domain of  neighborhood tom cats, stray dogs, hungry coyotes, and calmly sat in plain view to groom herself. Does she not realize what a tasty meal her rotund body represents, what great sport she poses to playful dogs and horny tom cats?

I remember reading somewhere that we are comfortable with the familiar, even familiar dangers.

Wondering at the courage of my little kitty, I waved to my next door neighbor who lit a cigarette as he slid behind the wheel of a car for his morning commute on Southern California freeways.

A Nod to Just Joan

My favorite blog du jour is https://justjoan42.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/spotlight-on-bodily-functions/comment-page-1/#comment-2590 . Her uncanny ability to make virtually anything funny, including poetry, makes me a fan. Today, she wrote about an inopportune call of nature which, of course, reminded me (and probably everyone who read it) of similar calls.

My story is more a lesson in Karma than a rib tickler. While on vacation in my hometown in Michigan, I’d gone for an evening walk. If you have never been to Holland, you are in for a Dutch treat when you get around to crossing a visit to this charming town off your bucket list. Holland consists of lovely old neighborhoods, with immaculately landscaped yards and a church within walking distance, almost anywhere you wander. So, I set off for a walk to enjoy the long summer evening and the aromas of home-cooked supper wafting from open windows. I was about two miles from home when I felt an unsettling twinge. I ignored it as it was totally the wrong time of day for anything solid to be coming down the pipe. But within a few blocks, it became increasingly obvious that simply releasing a bit of air pressure wasn’t going to be sufficient. I made a bee line for home with the cold realization that walking faster was going to be counter productive…or perhaps more productive in this case. By this time it was growing dark and there was no question of disturbing some pious family’s post-dinner Bible study with a request to use their powder room. Just when my situation looked hopeless, I spotted a church a block away and I nearly sprinted towards it. I was almost within calling distance when I saw a man come out, close the doors, and turn off the lights. All hope dashed, I looked wildly around for any private place to do the unspeakable. Behind the church, there was a hedge that afforded complete and utter darkness and there, to my shame, I left a nasty surprise for the gardener, who was probably a church member volunteer. My cheeks burn at the memory.

As you may recall, I happen to work at a church which is in a downtown area where occasionally homeless folks find sheltered space to bed down. So it came as no surprise when I found a tidy pile next to the wheelie bins when I put them back in place this morning. The custodian wondered aloud what kind of a degenerate would do such a disgusting thing. Without explanation, I told him I would clean it up. She who poops in the road will find flies on her return.

Oh, by the way, I passed that church on my last visit home and they had removed that bit of hedge. I can’t say that I blame them, you know it was an attractive nuisance.

More Age-related Agonizing Reappraisals

Looking back at previous posts, I realized that I might need to reconsider my “Mountain Bike Musings” title. I haven’t posted anything about mountain biking since September! That’s not to say that I’m not riding, Sally and I ride almost every weekend; but, as I tap ever so gently at the door to septuagenarianism (yes, I will turn 66 in a few days), I find that the thrilling, rutted, rock-strewn, precipitous descents that once lured me into tongue-numbing fits of euphoria, just don’t. I still like to remember how it felt to defy gravity and harness it to my own need for speed, how absolutely alive I felt, sliding to a reckless sideways stop at the bottom. But now, when I look over the edge, contemplating the coordinated focus of mind and muscle it takes to navigate such a trail safely, my peripheral mental vision sees the inconvenience of self-induced, paraplegic retirement. My mantra, “Damn the rocks, full speed ahead” has been amended to, “Well, there’s always golf”.

The other factor in the taming of the desire for downhill fun, is the cost of gaining the requisite elevation. My mature legs complain when I try to push the higher gears of my new bike up the steeper grades. By the time I’ve climbed a couple of thousand feet, my legs are too spent to enjoy crouching over my back wheel as I slide down a roller-coaster steep trail.

Yesterday, we ran into a couple of old cycling acquaintances, one of whom had recently purchased an e-bike. An e-bike is a battery powered bicycle that basically turns any rider into Lance Armstrong. This chubby woman boasted that she was the only one in her group who could keep up with the fastest young guy in the pack. She extolled the benefits of this “bicycle” with such enthusiasm that Sally and I could not help but consider it as we pedaled home.

I had to confess that there were two factors preventing me from seriously considering purchasing what I think of as a lightweight motorcycle. The first is the cost: $5,500, which is $2,000 more than the beautiful, motor-less Intense Carbine I purchased just two years ago.

The second, and maybe the more compelling, is that I’m an elitist snob. There is something about self-propulsion that builds self-confidence. When I watch dystopian movies (seldom) and I see people desperately scavenging for gasoline, I think quite smugly, “I don’t need fuel; I have legs”. Also, all of the people I know who have e-bikes are overweight. Mountain biking is inherently a competitive sport, and when an out-of-shape, couch potato cruises next to me, chatting blithely while I gasp for breath like a decked fish, I am not thinking about how much I enjoy her company. I’m thinking how much I’m going to enjoy dropping her like a hot potato on the descent!

But then, I start thinking about the trails I could ride, ones I haven’t been able to climb in years. With a little assistance, I could get to the gonzo-abusive downhill that awaits at the top of those exhausting climbs! Maybe when I turn seventy…

The Art of the Insult

Years ago, I booked a flight on Delta Airlines that took me through Atlanta, the closest I’ve ever gotten to visiting the South. I’ve read enough to have an understanding of the basic tenets of Southern manners, but I was still impressed when I was the brunt of the famous Southern insult.

I’d been on a few European airlines on trips, Paris, Madrid, and Dublin and had appreciated the little amenities provided on these longer flights. And so, when I boarded my Delta flight, I was delighted to find that they had adopted the practice of providing little pillows. Making my way to my coach accommodations at the back of the plane, I spotted an unclaimed pillow on an empty seat and, in an impulsive moment, snatched it up, oblivious to the startled looks of the passengers in the surrounding seats.

The belle who set me straight, bless her heart.

I was just nicely settled into my seat when a beautifully coiffed woman, wearing a diamond ring that was visible from space, approached me with a stiff smile. “Did y’all pick up a pilla back thayer?” she asked, which was clearly a rhetorical question, as the purloined pillow was sitting in plain view on my lap. Immediately realizing my mistake, I apologized explaining that I had thought that Delta provided pillows for the comfort of their guests. Smiling disingenuously, she cooed, “Y’all don’t travel very much, do you.”

Now, if I hadn’t been so mortified, and if I had been raised in polite Southern society, I would have responded, “Well, not in coach anyway.” But instead, I sat red-faced and horrified that everyone from my seat forward viewed me as a thief. That incident, when recalled more than twenty years later, still makes me blush.

While I’m sure I’ve made other more serious gaffs in my life, this one remains the most embarrassing. I come from a long and proud line of scofflaws. In my family it’s considered honorable to skirt the onerous scrutiny of the building inspector; I seldom make a complete stop at empty intersections; I THINK about turning left on a red arrow when there is no oncoming traffic in sight; there are even those in my immediate family, who shall remain unnamed, who have admitted to petty theft, but I am NOT one of them. So, to have to sit on a plane for hours, with a dozen or more people who saw me as a thief, well, you can imagine my discomfort!


A Plausible Explanation

From the article I read online about Temporary Global Amnesia (TGA) there’s no real explanation for it. Sudden immersion in hot or cold water, vigorous exercise, or robust sexual activity could be triggers. Which leads me to the following hypothesis:

While riding vigorously down Mountain Home Canyon, I caught a flash of sunlight reflecting on something metallic out of the corner of my eye. Pausing to investigate, thinking perhaps one of my companions had overshot the turn and gone over the side, I discovered a poorly camouflaged, disabled alien space craft, probably a ship to surface shuttle by the size of it. My attention was observed by a creature lurking inside, who beckoned me come hither. At first he was strangely put together, a mishmash of recognizable forest animals, bear, deer, woodpecker, squirrel; but as I scrutinized him, trying to make out what I was looking at, he took the identifiable form of an attractive male human. The Most Interesting MITW

Exuding old-world charm, and smelling of green copy paper, he extended a hand, offering a tour of his “camper” which now did look like an Aliner.

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The touch of his hand made me flush with unaccustomed excitement and I made no protest as he led me through the trees into his “camper”. Without further introduction, he began removing my stinky, sweaty bike clothes and initiated a most languid, unhurried foreplay. I was helpless to resist. Robust sex ensued.

Clearly, I could not be allowed to return to my people in this newly enlightened and totally  satiated condition; so my memory was wiped clean and I was sent down the hill with the taste of his Dos Equis kiss still on my lips.

Seems as plausible as a stroke with no symptoms to me.

…Culminating With a Violent Death

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“You didn’t have a stroke;
you had a CT scan in a tube (you’ve asked me before);
you have an infection (they drew blood);
I called Greg, he said to come here;
we went home and dropped the bikes off;
you said something was wrong, so we came here.
[I] Went home to take care of the dogs – be back shortly.”

This is the note I found beside me in my hospital bed Saturday afternoon. Allegedly, I had read it previously but I still found it fascinating news. The details of Saturday morning remain lost to me but it appears that I began forming new memories again only a few hours after “the event”.

The drawing of the spinal fluid was the first memory that took root in the blank page of Saturday, November 10, 2018 (a date that eluded me at the time), followed by the MRI. Mike had called my sister who dropped her plans for the weekend and remained at my bedside for the entire two days and two nights, suffering the privations of hospital food without complaint.

As the results of the tests came in, the ER doctor would think of new and more creative (spelled “expensive”) ways to exploit my newly acquired health insurance. An ultrasound of the carotid arteries and an abdominal CT scan seemed to satisfy the hospital’s quota of billable procedures, though the ER doctor showed some chagrin when I declined a colonoscopy. Did he suspect I had my head up my ass?  Then came the drug peddler: potassium supplements, a pill to ensure I didn’t get heartburn from the IV antibiotic, and an injection in the abdomen of something else prophylactic (I now recall it was a blood thinner). The nurse was gracious at my refusal of a flu shot but the ER doctor harrumphed away when I firmly refused his offer. I think they were scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find something to prescribe when they could find almost nothing to target.

I must brag just a bit: The Greg mentioned in Mike’s note is one of our mountain biking companions and, more importantly for this telling,  he is also my primary care doctor. He had called ahead to his colleague, the ER Doctor inordinately fond of the colonoscopy, and advised him not to treat me like an old lady as I was uncommonly strong and fit. You’re beginning to understand my fondness for the man, aren’t you.

So, where was I? The brain is still having some issues with short term memory. Oh, let’s just go with stream of consciousness for now; it may be amusing someday.

Well, eventually they gave up and decided it was simply a case of TGA (transient global amnesia) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/transient-global-amnesia/symptoms-causes/syc-20378531 which isn’t that uncommon among people over 50. It’s thought to be triggered by vigorous exercise, vigorous sex, and I can’t remember anything beyond that. Sadly, in my case, it evidently wasn’t the second as we were on a bike ride.

I’m told that we had gone for a ride with our regular group of friends, on a trail we ride frequently; in fact, I’d ridden it the last two Saturdays in a row, making it more difficult to know which memories belonged to which day. According to Mike, we arrived a bit late and I pushed the pace to catch up to the group (here’s the vigorous exercise). Included in the group was Greg, my primary care physician, and an orthopedic surgeon. Comforting, eh? We ate breakfast at the restaurant at the top of the climb; I’m told I ate part of Greg’s pancake, a few bites of Mike’s potatoes, and coffee.  Then we donned our downhill gear and raced the seven miles downhill back to the truck. Being a pretty nimble descender, I wasn’t far behind Mike at the usual regrouping places. We always pause at the waterfall, and then again at the place we call the hike-a-bike, which is about a mile from the parking area. Mike tells me I rode down the lower portion of the hike-a-bike normally. When he arrived at the truck, he was concerned when I didn’t slide in sideways behind him. He waited, growing increasingly concerned, as the possibility of a wreck is always the first thing that comes to mind when a normally good rider fails to show up. He was relieved to see me approach the truck sedately with nary a scratch and no visible sign of a fall. His relief evaporated when I told him, “Something is wrong.” His alarm grew when I kept repeating myself and asked the same questions every few minutes as we drove home. Hence the note, written in the ER before he left to feed the animals and Mum.

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My blurry memory of my sister at my side

The subsequent two days in the unfamiliar, sometimes frightening environs of the hospital, were made almost pleasant thanks to the considerate and competent staff and the constant, reassuring company of my big sister. Her unfailing calm, her attention to my every wish (without hovering or hand-wringing), and her ability to feign amusement at my heightened use of humor to keep fear at bay, strengthened the bonds of sisterly love.

At last, having adequately assured themselves that no test had been overlooked in the CYA checklist, I was discharged. I’m home, feeling a little light-headed but essentially normal, albeit five pounds lighter than I was when I left the house Saturday morning. Hospital food is not a diet regimen I would recommend, but nonetheless effective.

Oh, yes, the violent death that lured you in! Once home, (go ahead, settle in, this could take a while) I went back to check on my mom. In my absence, Mike had tended her and when she asked where I was, he had told her I’d gone camping. Her dementia doesn’t allow her to form new memories unless it’s something that scares her. Then she perseverates about it until it’s all she can think about. When I got home, she asked if I’d been gone but she didn’t remember that I’d gone camping (funny, neither did I).  On my way back to her granny flat, I noticed an enormous gopher sitting in plain sight above ground, in my garden! Galled by its hubris, I pointed it out to Molly who dispassionately dispatched it with two quick crunches of the skull…culminating in a violent death.

Homeward Bound

The final day dawned with clouds spilling over the top of the mountains and a chill wind pushing down the canyon. 20181002_072522_Burst01 (1)

With sore knees and a reluctant heart, I broke camp to try to make it home before the reported storm settled in. I took the more scenic route, traveling south on Horseshoe Meadows Road for a few miles before turning east down Lubken Canyon Road. Scrub brush stretched for miles across the alluvial fan and it felt like I was alone on the planet until I spotted a large dog on the side of the road. I slowed and he began chasing the car and barking excitedly. Then I spotted his companion, another good sized golden retriever type. I couldn’t help but think of my dogs that someone had dumped on the side of the road two years ago. I stopped the car and got out, not sure of what to do. Could I just leave them out there in the middle of nowhere? They both appeared friendly, though the one kept barking something about Timmy having fallen down the well. Just when I had decided that I would have to turn back to the last human habitation I’d seen to report their whereabouts, a jovial looking man, wearing shorts, and carrying a long stick popped out of the bushes across the road. He launched into an explanation of how he took his wife, who had Parkinson’s, out for a walk every morning, and all I could do was gush about how relieved I was to see him. We each thought the other a bit odd, I’m sure.

I thought that Lubken Canyon Road connected with Highway 395 but as it grew narrower and more deteriorated, I began to worry that it would dead end with no place wide enough to turn around with a trailer. The road was hemmed in on both sides by weedy ditches and a fence. Then I came to a sign saying, “road narrows”.  Oh, crap! Now it was one lane wide with no room to meet an oncoming vehicle, much less turn around. Backing in a straight line with a trailer is not my strong suit so I continued down the track, praying I didn’t meet anyone coming up.20181002_100658 (1)

As luck would have it, I had this lovely lane to myself. Ahead it looked as if the road either ended or turned and then voila! It turned over a cattle guard and immediately became a perfectly paved, two-lane road heading directly east. My little adventure had been mostly in my head but sometimes one has to find thrills where one can.