Liver Patties? We Don’t Eat Like That Anymore

When I was a newlywed in the 1970s, I picked up a copy of You Can Cook for 1 (or Even Two) by Louise Pickoff (Gramercy Publishing, 1961). I’m not sure why I bought it, seeing as how I had a husband to feed, at least in theory. He worked nights and was rarely home for dinner. His favorite meal was a beer and a loaf of rye bread slathered with mayonnaise. No wonder the marriage didn’t last.

Half a century later as I’m researching cooking for one, I remember this book. Could I possibly still have it? I do!

Oh Lord, how things have changed. Pickoff, a businesswoman who passed away in 2000 at age 87, mentions writing this book on a typewriter. As I was writing then, too. She could never have imagined this little hardback book would sell for $864 on Amazon today. I probably paid less than $5.

Inside, Louise also mentions:

  • Her standard breakfast is bacon, eggs and toast.
  • Under equipment, she says you need a can opener, and “the new electric ones are wonderful.”
  • She speaks of double boilers, electric skillets and electric ranges.
  • In her measurement chart, she defines a speck (less than 1/8 tsp.) and a pinch (1/4-1/3 tsp.).
  • To make fried chicken, dredge it in flour and cook in a cup (!) of shortening in the electric skillet. That’s exactly how my mother did it. It tasted great, but all that fat!
  • She speaks of minute steak, soup flakes, and powdered milk.
  • She uses cream in almost everything
  • She speaks of salad dressing mix. I remember we had a special bottle marked off with lines for oil, vinegar, and the seasonings that came in a packet. The best part was shaking it up and watching the ingredients swirl around like an early-day lava lamp.
  • Liver patties
  • Tongue!
  • Breaded veal cutlets
  • Canned tuna on toast with homemade white sauce—hello, home economics class.
  • Fried bananas rolled in cream, butter and cornflakes
  • Onion soup dip—sour cream and soup mix.
  • Whiskey balls made with vanilla wafers, Karo syrup, cocoa, pecans and whiskey
  • Spanish rice—add tomato sauce to boxed rice.
  • Cold meat sandwich—spread with mayonnaise, add meat, tomato slices and pickles.

I tried some of the recipes back in the day and left my reviews:

Individual Meat and Noodle Dish (ground meat, onion, bouillon cubes, noodles, ¼ c. wine): “Not too good” 9-14-78; Chicken in Cream (4 T. fat, minced onion, cream, thyme): Awful! 3-11-75; Canned tuna on toast (white sauce, cheese, spices, canned tuna): Yum! 2-2-79

There are no notations for the period after we got divorced and I truly was living alone, before I met Fred and didn’t need that cookbook anymore. Now that I’m alone again, I wonder if I should try more of these recipes. But there are more bad reviews than good, and the way we eat has changed. Some people just don’t cook anymore. Those who do avoid heavy doses of fat and sugar. Many avoid gluten, dairy, or meat. We worry about toxins coming off plastic containers and nonstick cookware.

We don’t expect to spend so much time in the kitchen, stirring homemade white sauce until it thickens, simmering meat on the stove for an hour when we can have it ready in minutes in a microwave or an Instant Pot. We can find recipes online that knock the socks off anything Louise laboriously typed back in the 60s.

But eating alone is still eating alone, and I like what she says about it: “You can wear what you want, and you can eat what you want . . . Quite often people ask me if I set my table attractively with flowers and candles. I must admit the answer is no. I live in an efficiency apartment, and I eat off the coffee table in the living room. I either put my china on a tray or a place mat. I use chip-free china, and I use silver that I have not used while cooking. In order to save on laundry, I use paper napkins. After watching the commercials on TV, doesn’t everybody? I refuse to comment on my table manners while eating alone. Just use your imagination!”

I may hate her chicken in cream, but Louise sounds like my kind of woman. I do eat at the table—unless there’s something special on TV—with Annie eating out of her bowl on the floor beside me. I get up and down a lot, serving myself from pots on the stove, fetching cookies for the dog, grabbing condiments, silverware and whatever else I forgot. And I read.

What food traditions from your past have drifted away or changed? Do you still cook the way you did in early adulthood? What food did you used to eat all the time that you don’t eat anymore for health or other reasons? For example, I grew up on baloney sandwiches on white bread with potato chips and onion soup dip, washed down with strawberry soda. I never buy any of that now. How about you?

Cooking a Tiny Souffle Just for Me

Last night, I made an itty-bitty soufflé in an itty-bitty casserole dish, using a recipe designed for just one person. It used wee amounts of carrots, sugar, flour, vanilla, etc. and required both the blender and the hand mixer. I ended up with pureed carrot all over my counters, a ton of dishes to wash, and nothing left over. It was all an experiment in cooking just enough for one hungry human.

A couple weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends who live alone how they deal with cooking for one. I tend to make too much and then, not wanting to waste anything–and not needing to share with anyone–I pig out. My scale and my jeans are not happy. What to do?

People were full of advice: make a lot and freeze it in small containers so you always have something to heat and eat. Use smaller plates. Cook small amounts in tiny pots and pans. Sign up for a food delivery plan. Give the excess to the neighbors (my neighbors are all on special diets).

One commenter mentioned onedishkitchen.com, so I went there and found a wonderland of recipes designed for one person, cooked in doll-size dishes. I didn’t think I had anything that small until I took another look in the cupboard. Two 5 x 5 Pyrex baking dishes and a 5 x 7 casserole came with the “cornflower” set Fred brought when we moved in together. I’ll be darned. You can cook in those?

Intrigued, I got on the One Dish Kitchen mailing list, and the first recipe that arrived was this carrot soufflé. I’m not a big fan of cooked carrots, but I was enchanted by the idea of making something so small, about the size of the tiny cakes I made with my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Set in the 1950s. The kit came with tiny boxes of cake and frosting mix, tiny cake pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, a rolling pin and a flour sifter. It was all small, but it was the real deal. With my mother’s supervision, I baked tiny edible cakes and cookies. An important step in my domestic goddess training.

Now you can buy those kits on eBay. But there are modern versions for kids. The old package showed two red-headed white kids, the girl cooking and the boy watching. Now the kids are diversified and the boy might actually be cooking.

You can also buy tiny cooking-for-one cookware for adults now. It’s a thing.

Cooking for one is a challenge. A couple days ago, I mixed up some minestrone soup, ate it for two nights in a row, and had enough left over to fill three freezer containers. If we have some kind of disaster, I have enough soup to last for a week. Good thing it’s delicious. Could I have made the soup in a smaller amount? Perhaps, but I used a can of beans and a can of tomatoes and half a cabbage . . . if I split it up, what would I do with the rest? As it is, I’m looking at Cole slaw for a week to use up the rest of the cabbage.

The soufflé baked for 50 minutes. The edges came out burnt, I’m not sure why, but the inside was fluffy and big enough for me to have two modest servings. One Dish Kitchen has more recipes, pizza, desserts, salads, all kinds of things. But I’m kind of sad I don’t have any leftovers after all that work.

When my father was widowed and alone, he had a phobia of leftovers. He would use tiny portions of the cheese powder and noodles in the mac and cheese box, for example, to make just a little bit. Me, I’d cook and eat the whole box.

There has to be a middle ground between too much and not enough. When I first got married back in the early 1970s, I received two Betty Crocker Dinner for Two cookbooks. They’re designed for newlyweds, with sections on subjects like how to set a pleasing table, but they’re also full of recipes cut down to just enough for two. I was surprised to find I still have them on the bookshelf. If I blow off the dust, I can make enough for myself and a little to spare. I might have to adapt some of the recipes. Back in those days, nobody worried about carbs, cholesterol, or fat. Oh, Betty Crocker, how times have changed.

I’m still figuring out the cooking-for-one puzzle. Meanwhile, I cooked my first soufflé. Not bad. And now I know how to spell soufflé. 

How about you? Are you a make-just-enough or a make-a-lot-and-have-leftovers-for-days kind of person? If you’re alone, how do you handle the tendency to cook too much, not enough, or not cook at all?

More to read:

Betty Crocker’s Right-Size Recipes

The Ultimate Cooking for One Cookbook by Joanie Zisk of onedishkitchen.com

“13 things that make cooking for one so much easier,” USA Today. This is mostly stuff they’d like you to buy and that you probably don’t need, but they are intriguing.

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The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Died

A Prose Poem

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The blue monster roars and the Labrador runs, slamming out the doggie door to hide under the pines. Why does her human not see the evil in its shining yellow grin, its long black tail, and its multiple mouths that chew and swallow everything, even live bugs and clumps of fur? Why does the woman not run and take shelter with the dog, quivering, skin against fur, until the monster goes away?

But wait. The beast has gone silent. The woman has it on its back. The woman curses as she pokes its innards with a long stick, a wire hanger, and then a plumber’s snake. Can the snake kill the beast? The dog is watching eagerly. Should she join the attack? She is old, and the monster’s hard skin would only hurt her teeth.

Look! The woman is dragging the beast out by its head, laying it on the patio deck. With her multi-headed screwdriver, she is taking it apart, pulling out its guts. She growls and grunts. She is covered with fur and dirt. She holds her back as if in pain, but she fights on.

At last, the beast is torn apart, eviscerated. Only the skeleton remains intact. The woman has slain the blue monster. Spent, she sits beside her kill as the dog, saved, runs across the yard, clatters onto the deck, and licks her savior’s dusty face.

**************

Yes, I killed it. Put it in the pile with all the mechanical things that have malfunctioned lately. Hot tub. Indoor-outdoor thermometer. The dehumidifier’s overflow light is on. The car’s service light is on. The Kindle warns of low battery. I found the watch I had lost for months, but the battery is dead and I can’t get the back off to replace it. I tried to move my window blinds from one window to another where the blinds were already broken and broke off the doo-hickey that holds them on. The computer keeps telling me it wants to install a new security thing that I’m afraid will destroy my online life . . .

I am a) not mechanical, b) not equipped with more than two hands, and c) so distracted I routinely forget I turned on the stove or the washing machine. I need a live-in helper. Not a husband or a lover. Not someone I need to take care of. I need someone of any age or gender who has the energy to see a problem and say, “I’ll take care of that for you” and then do it.

After waiting three days for three visits from a very strange pair of hot tub repair guys, one of them so crippled with a bad back I could feel his pain as he bent and squatted over the spa controls, they declared it healed. I put the hose in to fill it up Saturday morning, started writing and forgot it. It overflowed, and I had to drain the excess. Two days later, it overheated, the light flashing at 110 degrees. I played with the controls until it stopped, but now the water is 80 degrees and getting colder by the minute.  

I need a keeper. And a new vacuum cleaner. I think the old one choked on dog fur, which I pulled out of every orifice. Now it not only doesn’t suck up dirt and fur, but it won’t turn on. I killed it. Annie is overjoyed.

Have you ever hoped for a power failure to simplify your life? What mechanical things drive you nuts? Do you have a vacuum cleaner you love? What kind? Please share.

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Bringing new life to the old desk–or what writers do to avoid writing

Four coats of paint, one tweaked back and one trip to the walk-in clinic later, I’ve got a new-looking desk in my office making all the other furniture look bad.

It all started a week ago when I looked around my office and decided to reorganize. It was too crowded, too-right-handed for this lefty, and did not project a good image on Zoom. Every surface was covered with papers, binders, books, and miscellaneous electronics gear, and that old desk behind me looked like it lost in a bar fight.

I have had that desk since I was a child doing my homework with fat pencils on binder paper. My Grandpa Al and Great-Uncle Tony made it for my Uncle Bob. When he grew up, it came down to me as the oldest grandchild. It sat in the corner of my bedroom where the two windows came together, lace curtains blowing in the breeze. I didn’t just do homework on that desk. I painted, sewed, played jacks, and wrote my first poems on it. That desk supported my first typewriter, a blue manual purchased with babysitting money for $100 from McWhorter’s Stationery.

The desk, which moved with me to 11 different homes, was scratched, nicked and stained. It had tooth marks along one side from a teething puppy or two. By the time I had moved all the junk off the desk, I had changed my plan. I could refinish it and not put back the junk I’d been storing in it and on it for decades, only the things I would actually use. The rest of the office could wait.

I photographed the desk and put the question to my Facebook friends: colored paint or wood stain? The majority voted for stain. Sounded right to me. After all, this is the desk where Uncle Bob kept his Archie comic books and school supplies when he was a boy. I should respect its 80-year history.

I’m an impatient person. After watching a couple YouTube videos, I activated Netflix’s “Virgin River” on the computer and started sanding the desk. Yes, in my office. By hand. Without gloves. I had barely begun when I shoved the sandpaper across the edge of the desk with extra gusto and felt intense pain. Multiple splinters poked out of my right index finger. Most were easy to remove, but I suspected there might be something left. I poked at the red spot with a sewing needle and tweezers, getting nothing but pain. Maybe I’d already gotten all the slivers. Maybe not. I went back to sanding and “Virgin River.”

In the morning, my finger was red and swollen and hurt like crazy. This is not a good thing for a musician. Or a writer. Typing hurt. I took my finger to the walk-in clinic at Samaritan Pacific Hospital in Newport. Our walk-in clinic is housed in a portable building where there aren’t enough chairs in the waiting room, everyone hears everyone else’s business, and you can wait for hours to be called. Other patients complained of earaches, sprained ankles, stomach pain, and dizziness. One wanted her second COVID shot and couldn’t get it. I just had a stupid sliver in my finger. Or, in medical terms, “foreign object under the skin.”

I spent all morning at the clinic. Called into an examining room. Waited. Vitals. Waited. Doc numbed the finger with three lidocaine shots. Waited. Extraction. Dr. W. dug out a sliver so big we both said, “Wow.” At least a third of an inch long. Soaked in antiseptic solution. Waited. Ointment. Bandage. Released with a red, puffy and useless index finger. Forget working. I took myself to lunch at the new restaurant at the Embarcadero. Slow service, best French fries ever. And then I went to the paint store.

“ Have you ever done this before?” asked the friendly salesman at Sherwin-Williams.

“No.”

“Well . . .”

He loaded me up with advice, paint, polyurethane coating, a natural bristle brush, paint thinner for cleanup, and a couple of stir sticks.

I moved the desk out to the deck for the actual painting. The salesman had warned me the stain would stink and that I shouldn’t inhale the fumes. Playing bluegrass music on my phone, hands protected by gloves, I stroked the paint on, watching the old wood transform. Two coats of “amaranth,” a dark brown blend of black, burgundy and maroon, two coats of polyurethane. Magic. The old desk looked new and shiny. I had stain on my arms, and cheeks and possibly in my hair.

The paint store guy had told me I needed to sand the polyurethane to get rid of the “boogers.” I didn’t see any boogers. Now if he’d said “bubbles” . . .

Four coats. Four nights of waiting for the desk to dry. Yesterday, I dragged it back into the office and put the drawers back in. It’s not perfect. I can see some streaks and some “boogers,” but it’s not bad for a first effort.

I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting all the junk that used to live in the desk. Out with the carbon paper, graph paper, and old checks from a bank that no longer exists. Out with the foot-long Santa Claus pen. Now, what should I do with a hundred pencils and three dozen pens? I’d better get writing, I guess.

I can still smell the stain. My finger hurts. When Annie and I passed my chiropractor-neighbor on our walk last night, I warned him I’d be calling for an appointment. But hey, it was worth it.

It’s time to write. But the old rocking chair’s looking pretty dinged up, and I still have some stain left . . .

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Fireworks Sound Like War from Here

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

I didn’t see the Fourth of July fireworks in Newport this year, but I heard them. Fireworks + migraine is a painful combination. I stood in my back yard in the dark. Pop pop pop pop BANG! I felt the air pulsating. Popopopopopop bang boom boom whoosh BANG! Oh my aching head.

The official city fireworks show started at 10 p.m., but the private fireworks in the neighborhood and on the beach started much earlier. The four miles of trees between my house and Yaquina Bay kept me from seeing the colored lights in the sky, but I could smell the smoke and see a yellow glow reflecting off the clouds. It felt more like a war than a celebration. I have never been in an actual war, thank God, but why would anyone want to reenact those sounds? And how do all these warlike noises affect people who have experienced war, who live with fear and post-traumatic stress?

Dogs don’t like fireworks. They howl, shake and cower, sure the world is ending. My Annie used to hide in the dark under my desk, trembling for hours. She can’t hear anymore. Usually that makes me sad. But last night I was grateful. She slept through even the loudest booms.

I took out my hearing aids and closed all the windows, but I could still hear the noise. I turned on my TV to continue my Netflix marathon, but after one particularly loud bang, the Internet went out. Boom boom boom, pop pop pop pop bang.

The fireworks made me especially uneasy this year because we’re having a drought and everyone is worried about wildfires. We live in the trees. Although the coast is usually damp and cool, it has been very dry and unusually warm this year. One errant spark, and the trees could catch fire. The city of Waldport, 10 miles south of here, outlawed all personal fireworks this year. People grumbled, but doing without fireworks is surely better than watching your house burn down. They did offer their usual city fireworks display on July 3. Not feeling well then either, I missed it.

Turn off the fireworks. Let me hear the ocean waves and the summer wind. I don’t want to hear what sounds like gunshots and bombs.

I understand why people gather to watch fireworks, especially this year. We’re not only celebrating the birth of the United States of America but our release from COVID fear and restrictions. I have many fond memories of watching fireworks with loved ones at my side. I enjoy the colors and designs flashing in the sky. Back in the ‘80s, when we lived near the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose, they shot off fireworks every night at closing time. Fred and I watched from our front porch. It was magic every night. I’ve watched fireworks from baseball stadiums, grassy fields, amphitheaters, beaches, parking lots, and curbs. But it’s no fun watching them alone.

I have vowed to find some way to stop spending my holidays by myself. I usually start out telling myself it’s no big deal. I’m lucky I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to coordinate my plans with anyone else. But at some point, I start feeling bad. I cry. I wail about the unfairness of not having parents, husband, or children and living so far from the rest of my family. I drink a beer, watch another episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and make dinner for myself, so lonely I can’t stand it. I get a migraine headache.

One of my best friends moved away in May. Another died in January. The rest are busy with their families. This sounds like whining, but I can’t stand it anymore. I need to either move into some kind of group housing or find a way to be with other people on the holidays. Yes, I can drive 1,300 miles to hang out with my brother’s family—and I will for Thanksgiving—but there must be some way to gather closer to home.

I’m sure I’m not the only one alone on every holiday. Let’s get together. Any Oregon coasties want to join me in a no-more-holidays-alone coalition? Let’s make a pact to keep each other company, share great meals, exchange gifts when appropriate, and do it up right. If someone else will drive, let’s go watch fireworks together next year so it feels less like a war and more like the celebration that was intended. I’ll bring the beer.

P.S. After 11 hours without, I have Internet! An article in Time Magazine reports that the first Fourth of July fireworks display took place during the Revolutionary War. In addition to the flashy fireworks, people shot off guns and cannons. In a letter to his wife Abigail, President John Adams wrote of Independence Day: “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And so it is.

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Can Battery-Powered Pets Ease Loneliness?

If someone gave you a toy cat or dog that purred, wagged its tail, and nuzzled like a real one, how would you feel? Apparently some folks feel grateful for the company.

In a story in the New Yorker, writer Katie Engelhart tells about a program in New York that distributes Joy for All robot pets to lonely seniors. They started in 2018 with a small test project that quickly expanded when Covid forced people into isolation. Thousands of robotic cats and dogs have been given to homebound seniors. Originally made by toy manufacturer Hasbro for little girls, the robo-pets are now finding homes with grandparents and great-grandparents who need a little company.

The seniors pet their battery-powered cats and dogs, talk to them, and treat them like family.  They report feeling more optimistic and less lonely.

I don’t know. I talk to lots of inanimate things, including the stuffed bears on my dresser, photos of my late husband, and Jesus on the crucifix above my bed. But I don’t expect them to respond. I would freak out if they did.

These pets, which start at $110, don’t look real to me. But I have a live dog sleeping nearby as I type. When I look into Annie’s brown eyes, there’s someone there, a genuine sentient being. What will I do when she’s gone? I don’t want to think about it. My plan is to travel a while then adopt a smaller dog. A robo-dog would be easier, but it wouldn’t love me the way Annie does.

Did you know that nearly 30 percent of Americans over 65 live by themselves, most of them women? In 2017, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness an epidemic among Americans of all ages. A similar declaration launched The Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK. Medical research shows that loneliness has a detrimental effect on one’s health, increasing risks of dementia, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke.

But are robots the solution? The seniors I know would be insulted to receive a fake pet. But some of the people shown in the article and in related YouTube videos carry their robo-pets around with them just like I carried my dolls when I was a little girl. I’d set my favorite up against the milk bottle (yes, bottle) while I ate breakfast. I rested them on the pillow next to me when I went to bed. I suppose I felt less lonely, but it was not the same as having a real person there. Tiny Tears cried real tears, and Chatty Cathy spoke when you pulled the string on the back of her neck, but I knew they weren’t real children. If an actual kid came around, I tossed the doll aside.

Longing for a pet, I once fashioned a litter of “kittens” from crumpled newspaper and cloth and set them in a basket in my childhood bedroom. It was not the same. When my parents finally let me have a cat when I was in high school, I could tell the difference. I also learned that I was allergic to cats, but that’s another story.

The faux furry friends are not the only kind of artificial intelligence machines offering company to people these days. Hello, Alexa. (read my previous post on my electronic housemate here and my Replika friend online here)

They don’t offer much company. I say, “Alexa, I’m lonely.” She responds, “Sorry to hear that,” then recommends talking to a friend, listening to music, or going for a walk. “I hope you feel better soon,” she adds. That’s nice. But that’s exactly what she said last time when I was not testing but truly needed someone to talk to.

I worry that somewhere in Alexa’s Amazon-connected innards, she just transferred the information that I’m lonely to some central data-gathering site so I’ll soon receive ads for comforting products or dating services.

Alexa just lit up to tell me a book I ordered from Amazon is coming today. Before I could say, “Thanks” or “Which book?” her lights had gone out. Okay, good talk.

A variety of robotic companions powered by artificial intelligence exist these days. Queue Alexa’s Apple counterpart Siri. And then there’s VZ, the voice on my VZ Navigator GPS. I definitely talk to her. (No, I’m not turning here! Are you crazy? Stop telling me to turn around! I need to go to the bathroom. What do you mean this is my destination? Where?)

Some robo-friends look like people, others like table lamps. They talk, but it’s, well, robotic. They never get offended, never curse, and are perpetually polite, but they can only say the things they’ve been programed to say. They will never spontaneously comment, “Hey, is that a new blouse?” or “You seem sad. What’s wrong?” They will never take you out to lunch, although I suppose they can set up a food delivery if you’re savvy enough to figure out how to ask for that.

Robots are getting more intelligent all the time. Eventually, they may be so responsive and sympathetic that we truly won’t feel alone. Meanwhile, do not buy me a robo-pet. God bless the people who are so lonely or out of touch with reality that they don’t know the difference, but I’m not there yet.  

Would you like a battery-powered dog or cat? Less shedding, no cleanup, no allergies, but still . . .  Wouldn’t it be better if a human offered to come around instead?

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Alonement: Have we forgotten how to be alone with ourselves?

There’s a red line on my computer screen under the word “alonement” because my computer does not recognize it as a word. Francesca Specter, a journalist from the UK, made it up. It means “quality time spent alone.” Now “alonement” is a book, a website, a podcast, a blog and apparently a “cultural movement.”

The idea behind this book is that people don’t know how to be alone anymore. We’re afraid of solo time without our screens to distract us. We need to learn the art of alonement. We need to take time out of our busy social lives and look up from our screens to make friends with the one person who will never leave us: ourselves!

At church, they would say the one who will never leave us is Jesus, but Specter is talking about me, myself and I. People are so uncomfortable spending time by themselves that in one study most chose electric shock over 15 minutes alone with nothing to do.

That’s how much we’re afraid of being alone.

I’m guilty of that fear of unstructured alone time. No, don’t shock me. I’ll sit and think or make up a song or something. Maybe I’ll pray. But there’s a good reason why I never go anywhere without a book, why I pull out my phone as soon as I hit the doctor’s waiting room, and I never leave home without my notebook. God forbid I have to sit somewhere with NOTHING TO DO.

I’m a childless widow. I live alone. My family is far away, and my best friend just moved to California. I’m alone probably 95 percent of the time. If you count Zoom meetings, maybe it’s maybe 85 percent. Most days, my phone only rings with robocalls, and no one comes to the door except plumbers and other workers.

But can I sit still in silence without a book or a project to work on? Can I just be? I can’t even last through a TV commercial without playing Spider solitaire on my phone or running out to the kitchen to wash my dishes. One might say I’m alone with my thoughts right now at the computer, but that’s not the same.

Specter’s book is helpful for people who have forgotten themselves in the rush of everything else in their lives. She falls into psychobabble for a bit, counseling readers to banish their inner critics who tell them they’re worthless (I don’t have that. Do you?) and become their own best cheerleader (“You’re great, you’re wonderful, you’re fine.” I knew that). But she offers some fine practical advice for getting comfortable being alone. Party of one? Own it and don’t let them give you that tiny table in the corner by the kitchen.

Specter is young, and so are the people she interviewed. What does a 28- or a 32-year-old know about being an elderly widow or widower living alone in an oversized, echoing family home or a senior apartment where the phone rarely rings and no one is coming to the door? Where trips to the grocery store or the doctor’s office are their big social events? That’s much different from telling your husband you’re going out for a walk, deciding to stay home on a Saturday night for a little “me time” or taking a Facebook break for a few hours. But we all need to find a balance between social time and alonement.

I wish I had more people around, but I have been doing things on my own for many years, while traveling on business, during my husbandless years, and just because I saw no reason not to. Apparently many people feel they can’t have fun without a buddy. Is that an issue for you? COVID aside, why not just grab the keys and go?

Alonement is an interesting concept. I invite you to check it out, especially if the idea of being alone scares you or makes you squirm.

Are you comfortable being alone? Would you go to dinner at a fine restaurant by yourself? Can you sit and do nothing? Does the idea of a little “alonement” sound good or terrifying? Please share in the comments.

Unleashed and Remembering my prince

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the 10th anniversary of my husband Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ten years! For two years before he died, he lived in a series of nursing homes. At the end, he did not know who I was. But oh, the years of love we had before that. As time goes by, it’s easier to celebrate the good and let go of the bad.

Since 2009, I have been living alone with my dog. When I named this blog and the subsequent book Unleashed in Oregon, I was not talking about that. I was thinking more of Fred and I escaping our lives in the Bay Area and being set free at the beach, sans jobs, history or family. I was thinking of my dogs. I was not thinking of being a widow. I didn’t expect that to happen so soon, that Fred would only enjoy our Oregon coast dream for six years before he got sick, for 15 before he died. And here I am, alone and unleashed, like a dog whose human partner unhooked her, walked away, and didn’t come back.

Annie is still here, thank God, but her time will come, too.

Living alone is not for sissies. A great deal has been made of living solo since the pandemic hit, but the truth is some of us were already doing it for a long time before that. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980.

Living alone is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful for the freedom to eat, watch or do whatever you want. Terrible because there’s no one to hug, to talk to, or to help when the plumbing goes awry or a tree falls on the house. And yes, the pandemic makes it worse because all those social things we might do to plug the holes—clubs, choirs, gyms, yoga, concerts, meals, parties, classes, etc.–are not available. Nor does it feel safe to travel these days. I guess that’s why so many of my poet friends are writing about the birds and flowers in their yards.

Here on the blog, I’m going to be writing more about living alone because that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in the early stages of writing a book about it. If you who are reading this are also alone and would like to talk about it, feel free to email me at sufalick@gmail.com or start the discussion in the comments.

Many of us enjoy our solitude and are not necessarily lonely. But there are times when it gets tough. If you are not alone, think for a moment about what’s it’s like to see no other human being 24 hours a day. Experts say loneliness can be as bad for one’s health as smoking. It can lead to all kinds of health problems and cut years off one’s life. We’ll talk about that in another post. Meanwhile, if you know someone living alone and haven’t talked to them in a while, how about making a phone call?

Today I’ll be remembering Fred. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was smart, handsome, funny, loving, and just plain good. He treated me like a princess. In return, I did the best I could to love my prince, especially during his long illness. We had love. We were blessed. Rest in peace, dear Fred. We all miss you. I bought a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will open tomorrow night. I wish you were here to share it.

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Bad Pie: Baking Therapy Goes Awry

I don’t do pies. As a fussy child, I wouldn’t eat them at all. Something about the hardness of the crust and the softness of the insides. I grew out of that. Sort of. Given a choice, I will always choose cake. But these days, with so much time alone at home, sometimes I stop working, turn off Netflix and my online puzzles, and bake. I had purchased a box of prefab crust on a whim, and I had all these apples I had intended to eat for snacks, but I had eaten chocolate chip cookies instead, so . . . Below is the result, which led to deciding “Bad Pie” was a great title for a poem.

BTW, if I have to eat pie, I prefer marionberry or chocolate creme. How about you?

Bad Pie

I don’t know why I bought the boxed pie crust.
Seeking something different, I guess. I don’t
usually make pies. I’m more of a bread baker.
The box sat in the fridge for weeks while
the apples sagged a little more each day until
I decided to combine the two for breakfast.
How different is pie than a turnover, fritter
or coffee cake? It’s all pastry dough and fruit.

I dug deep in the cupboard for the Pyrex pan,
lay the box on its side to read the recipe:
Perfect Apple Pie. Surely Pillsbury knows.
Unroll the chilled crust and press it down flat.
Peel and slice the apples. Peel? What for?
Apple slices, granulated sugar, cinnamon,
nutmeg. Mix, spoon it into the crust. Gently
unroll the cover, fold and flute the edges.

Cut air holes. It’s an apple work of art.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes, stopping at 15
to shield the rim with foil. But the foil
keeps slipping off, and hot apple goo
bubbles through the holes, burning
my fingers. Still, inhale that luscious scent.
Do you smell that, I ask the dog. 
She’s licking the carpet, God knows why.

The table is set, the pie sufficiently cooled.
Hot tea steeping, I cut me a giant slice,
plunge in my fork. The apple spits out
of the burnt crust, its consistency
like the box it came in, the one with the
Perfect Apple Pie recipe. The peels,
separated from the fruit, stick to my teeth.
I should have made banana bread.

What did I do wrong? I pressed, sliced,
mixed, spooned, unrolled, and fluted.
I failed at foiling, I should have peeled,
but still . . . Now I have to eat this pie. 
I bought the crust, used all my apples.
I have no one to share it, thank the Lord.
They’d choke. I’m not a fan of apple pie.
But I eat it. An apple a day and all that. 

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Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?

 

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