A Tale of Two Beds or Goldilocks Doesn’t Know Where to Sleep

I’ve been bed-hopping a lot lately. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I’m in there all by myself.

I have been switching from master bedroom to guest room and back, trying to get comfortable with my broken rib. When you live alone in a four-bedroom house, all the rooms are yours to sleep in. I have slept on the couch, too. Also the hot tub, but you can’t do that for eight hours.

If you don’t remember the story, which I told in detail last week, a board in my deck collapsed under my foot, my leg plunged in and the rest of me went backwards. I wound up with a severely bruised leg and a broken rib. It could have been so much worse.

Back to bed-hopping. The master bedroom is probably the nicest room in the house. It’s pretty, color-coordinated in pinks and blues, with my stuffed bear collection there to keep me company and my shrine to my late husband next to his side of the bed. Everything I need is close by. But the queen-sized pillowtop mattress my husband talked me into years ago is more firm than soft. There is a school of thought that a firm mattress is better for your health, but when you’re nursing a broken rib, it’s like sleeping on a slab of wood, and no position feels good.

The mattress in the guest room is soft. It feels like sinking into a marshmallow. Too soft, some might say, but after a couple nights of pain, I decided to try it. My bones liked it. That room is not as pretty. Goodwill dresser, random art, needs new paint. Plus there’s too much light. Despite the blinds and curtains, the new hyper-white street light pours in. Blue and green lights shine from my Internet and cable TV boxes. I prefer a dark room. But the bed is so soft.

I spent the last week and a half sleeping in the guest room. Now the rib is better. I still feel some soreness, but I can sneeze without dying, and I don’t need pain medication anymore. I moved across the hall again. Last night, I slept in the master bedroom. I dreamed my brother won the Olympics. At age 69. What sport? I think it was speed walking, which I’m not sure is a real event, but it was a fun dream, and our parents were still alive in it.

Now I wonder if maybe I have lived with the harder bed long enough and should switch beds or buy a new one. The queen-sized bed won’t fit in the guest room, so . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just keep the neighbors confused with different lights in different rooms. Does she have company? There are no cars in the driveway . . .

Like Goldilocks, I’m still seeking the bed that feels just right. And no, I’m not buying a “Sleep Number” bed. I have tried them. That much technology keeps me awake.

How about you? Are you a fan of soft beds, firm beds, or something in the middle? Does your partner feel the same way? Where was the best bed you ever slept in?

Some sleepy reading:

https://www.mattressclarity.com/blog/firm-vs-soft-mattress/  “Firm vs. Soft Mattress: Which is Best for You?”

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mattress-information/firm-vs-soft-mattress  Sleep Foundation: “Do I Need a Firm or Soft Mattress?”

https://www.sleepjunkie.com/firm-vs-soft-mattress/ Sleep Junkie: “Firm vs. Soft Mattress”

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Beware of Rotting Boards Underfoot

The weather on the Oregon coast is . . . wet. The wetness eats wood. The carpenter ants probably don’t help.

On Oct. 6, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees looking kind of romantic in the fog, a rotting board collapsed underneath my foot. My leg went through, and I fell backwards across the edge of the deck onto the wet lawn with my leg still stuck between the boards.

I live alone. There were no neighbors within shouting distance, the young ones at work and the older ones too far away to hear me. I had been holding my phone, but it flew out of my hand and onto the grass when I fell. I had no choice but to push myself up and pull my leg out. If I couldn’t push myself out, I don’t know what I would have done.

Thank God the leg was not broken, but it hurt, and I had this weird pain in my back. I told myself I’d go to Urgent Care the next day if it wasn’t better. I had work to do.

I was watching TV that night when I turned slightly and something in my side popped. Uh-oh. A minute later, I sneezed, felt agonizing pain, and couldn’t catch my breath. I have to go to the hospital, I thought. Something is really wrong. Carefully I put on my shoes.

Unlike the time when I drove to the ER at midnight with chest pains, which was stupid, I knew I should not drive myself. I was shaking all over and couldn’t stand up straight. I called a neighbor. She was out of town and so sorry she couldn’t help. Screw it, I thought, and dialed 911. After my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, X-rays showed a broken rib and contusions from hip to ankle. All they could really offer was painkillers. Everything will heal in time.

“Do you have anyone to be with you?” the nurse asked as I lay on the hospital bed in my green gown and yellow Covid mask.

“No,” I said, holding back tears.

“Do you have anyone to drive you home?”

“I thought I’d take a taxi,” I said.

She shook her head. “Since Covid, taxis are hard to get around here.” We live in a small town with no Ubers and sparse bus runs. “You’d better try to find a friend or family member to come get you.” She handed me my phone.

I wanted to cry so hard, but I held it in. I had to find a ride. It was midnight. Most people I knew were asleep. I called a church friend who stays up late. It was a bit of drive, but she said she was happy to do it. I waited by the door in a wheelchair. I was so glad to see her.

Then I was alone with my dog again. I couldn’t sleep, my brain reliving the fall, thinking about what could have happened. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the bed. I’m not a fan of recliner chairs, but I wished I had one. I wished I had someone to bring me my pills. I wondered how I would change the Lidocaine patch over my ribs by myself (turns out it’s not that difficult).

The next couple days brought me a lot of attention as the word spread. Friends brought medicine, dog food, flowers and dinner. They prayed over me and assured me I am not alone, that they care. My family lives too far away to be of any immediate help, but I am blessed with great friends.

Now I’m taking care of myself. Some things are difficult, but I’m managing. The pain is easing. I am so grateful that this was not the event that would send me out of my independent life and into a nursing home.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. When I do replace it, I will not use wood. There are new products that can handle the moisture much better.

I have been looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one. Boy, do they do the hard sell. Pushy! I’m not ready to wear a device around my neck. I am considering a “smart watch” that includes an emergency call function. For now, I’ll keep my phone handy.

Meanwhile, this incident has shown me that I need a better emergency plan. I need a team of friends who are ready to go if I need help. The people are there. We just need to make it more formal, so I have names and numbers ready for me—and the hospital—if/when this happens again. In return, I will do the same for them.

Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have family nearby; some don’t. We all need a plan for when things go wrong.

We also need to watch out for rotten boards. I never dreamed the deck would break under me. It must have been the weight of that extra chocolate chip cookie I ate the night before.

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Where Can an Old Lady Get a Safe Non-Sexual Hug?

Did that question make you laugh? I get it, but I’m serious. For those of us who live alone, hugs are few and far between. Covid didn’t help. Now when I meet up with a hugger, they tend to ask first. “Do you do hugs?” What am I going to say? No! Don’t touch me? We wrap our arms around each other and hope our vaccines and immune systems are working.

Have you heard that people need hugs like they need food and air? No matter how old we are, we still need to be touched, to be held, just like we did when we were babies. In fact, I have read that we need at least four hugs a day. Some experts say we need 12. Show of hands: How many of us have had zero hugs today?

A Psychology Today article on the benefits of hugging says that hugging reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune systems, and releases a pleasure hormone called oxytocin.

It’s no wonder so many of us long for a real hug, the kind where you both hold each other, no one holding back, no hurry to end it. You hug long enough to smell a hint of deodorant, soap or sweat, the mint on their breath. Even if their belt buckle is pushing into your stomach and your breasts feel squashed, you hold on because it feels so good.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

People are suspicious of hugs these days. With Covid, it makes sense. But even before Covid, full-out hugs were outlawed in the workplace, between teachers and students, or in any situation where someone might cry, “Sexual abuse!” That’s a valid concern, even if the teacher just wants to cheer up a little kid who’s crying because his turtle died. Nope, at best, all they can give is a quick sideways squeeze. Or a fist bump, like a priest I used to know. We can’t blame any priest for wanting to avoid any suspicious touching after all the clergy abuse that has happened in the past.

But we need hugs. While being hugged, you feel held, loved, safe. It feels like home. My late husband Fred was famous for his hugs. When he hugged you, you knew you’d been truly hugged. My friend Terry does that, too. But Fred is gone, and I don’t see Terry very often.

So where is a girl supposed to get a hug? Maybe we should find the people who embrace with abandon and ask for hugs. We can also offer hugs to people who seem to need them, asking, “May I hug you?” But yes, these days, it’s not a simple question, and is a hug as good if you have to ask for it?

Wikihow has a post on how to hug in various situations. Do we really need instructions? Maybe after all this pandemic time, we do.

There are some hug substitutes one can try, such as weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and body pillows. You can wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, but it’s not the same.

In some locations, you can hire a professional hugger. Read about it here: https://www.eatthis.com/professional-hugger/ And here: https://cuddlist.com/ and here: https://www.cuddlecomfort.com/ Is that weird? Would you ever hire a pro? Isn’t this a little like prostitution?

Check out this video of a little boy hugging residents at a nursing home. “Boy offers hugs to lonely senior citizens.” It will make you cry. You know those old people don’t get a lot of hugs.

Maybe the best way to get hugs is to give them. To a human. I hug my dog Annie all the time. She looks at me like what are you doing? She does not hug back.

In this time when Covid is still happening, we need to be careful. If you are blessed with a romantic partner, you have a built-in hug dispenser. Likewise with your children, except maybe for their teenage years. But if you live alone? All I can recommend is to hug where you feel comfortable. Offer a hug and you will usually get one back. It’s okay to say, “I need a hug.” We never outgrow the need to be touched.

Where do you get your hugs these days? Are you someone who initiates hugs or do you shy away from hugs? Who is the best hugger you know?

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

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Am I the Only One Who Still Eats Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

Photo by Rania alhamed on Pexels.com

I’m a dinosaur. I eat three meals a day at approximately 7 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m., just like my parents did. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If any of those meals does not happen, I am not happy. And it drives me nuts that groups I belong to keep scheduling activities at meal times. Clearly I’m out of sync with the rest of the world. 

According to numerous sources, including this article from the New York Post–“Nobody Eats Three Meals a Day Anymore”–my habits are passe. I’m so old, I still want three square meals. Get over it, some might say. But I like my three squares, and I’m old enough to declare that I refuse to give them up. I also thank God I am able to buy all the food I want in a world where that’s not true for everyone. 

Do you know how the term “square meal” came about? It comes from the British and American Navy sailors back in the 1700s and 1800s. They were served their meals on square trays, hence three squares. I’ll bet there was some serious complaining if they didn’t get those meals. 

In my house growing up, you could set your clock by breakfast, lunch and dinner, same time every day, never skipped and always together. In his later years after my mother died, my father spent half his time preparing meals. When I was visiting, he’d look at the clock. “4:30? Aren’t you gonna start dinner?” Later, in the nursing home, meals were the main event of the day. People wheeled up to their tables early.They didn’t have much else to look forward to.

But nowadays, somewhere between half and three-quarters of Americans don’t go by the three-meal plan. Instead they eat one or two big meals at some point and snack the rest of the time.The Post article explains that they’re too busy for extensive meal preparation or to sit down with family and eat. The meal most likely to be skipped is lunch. Instead, people snack in the afternoon. Many eat while running errands, even while driving their car. How is that satisfying? 

Lunch is my favorite thing! I need that break and that boost of calories and caffeine. 

I don’t do snacks. As a compulsive overeater whose snacks can quickly get out of hand, I need to eat my scheduled meals then get away from the kitchen. When people host events that include brunch or eating in the middle of the afternoon, I don’t know how to fit that into my schedule. Is it a late breakfast? An early dinner? I’m confused.

Dieticians tell us it’s best to spread our eating throughout the day. Breakfast is essential, but then if we could do four or five smaller meals, it might be better than three big meals, but those meals can’t be chips or a burrito devoured on the run. 

I’m beginning to understand why so many activities take place at noon or 6 p.m., times I normally reserve for eating. Sometimes I eat during Zoom meetings, but I keep my camera off because watching people chew on Zoom is disgusting. How is everyone else content to meet when it’s time to eat? 

In this, as in many other aspects of life, I think dogs make more sense. I got home a little late on Saturday, delaying dinner, and my Annie followed me around the house barking until she got fed. It’s chow time. No excuses.

How about you? Do you eat three meals a day at approximately the same times? Why or why not? When do you eat? If you used to eat “three squares” and stopped, what caused you to change? If you have grown children, is their eating schedule different from yours? I look forward to some meaty comments. 

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Sometimes You Just Need Another Set of Hands

After our walk last Saturday, I unleashed the dog and left her alone while I sprinted to the restroom. Normal, right? Not when the dog is recovering from surgery and can NEVER be without her big plastic collar when she’s off the leash. For a moment, I forgot.

When I came out, she was twisted around in position to lick whatever she could reach on her back end, including the conglomeration of stitches, drains and healing cuts I had been carefully guarding for 10 days. In a second, it could all be destroyed, and we’d have to start over.

I lost my mind, running down the hall, shouting, “No, no, no!”

It was okay. Maybe she didn’t get to it, or maybe she saw her incision for the first time and paused, thinking, “Holy cow. What happened here?” Maybe God grabbed her and said, “No!” I don’t know. I put the collar on and burst into tears, hugging Annie’s plastic-shrouded face. “It’s hard. It’s so hard,” I sobbed as the dog sniffed my wet cheeks.

As I calmed down, I discovered my new mascara is not waterproof. I had black stuff all over my hands and face. I didn’t check when I bought it. Why would they even sell mascara that melts when you cry? (Here’s why).

Why was I wearing mascara during Covid? Before our walk, I was on Zoom for a four-hour workshop, and when you have to look at your own face for that long, you do the best you can to make it tolerable.

After I calmed down, I left Annie alone while I went to the grocery store and the pharmacy, but I still felt the weight of being the only human in the house. I have only felt comfortable leaving her for short trips for a few days, and I pray hard that her wound will be okay when I get back. If someone else were here, they could watch the dog while I take care of other things. But it’s just me and Annie.

Thinking about it later, I decided it’s okay if sometimes I cry or curse or even throw things because being alone is difficult. Ask any widow living by herself, especially if she has no adult children nearby. You’re responsible for everything, whether it’s fixing the car or cooking dinner, figuring out the health insurance or cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn or walking the dog. I love my independence, but some things are just easier with other people around.

After I finish the novel I’m working on, I plan to write a book about living alone. I want it to be upbeat, with more emphasis on what we can do alone than what we can’t. I hope it will make people laugh.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for ways to make living alone easier. Should I rent a room, move to a senior community, try online dating or what? I love my home in the forest, but it’s a bit much for one person who would rather be writing, playing music, reading, or enjoying nature than doing 101 chores.

If anyone knows a handyman (or woman) in the Newport area who is skilled, dependable, and doesn’t make me afraid to let them in the house, let me know. I have tried several who were worse than no one.

If you live alone, please share in the comments what you find the most difficult to handle. Let’s see if we can help each other figure it out.

Back to Annie. She is doing fine. We go back to the doctor on Thursday to remove her stitches. Annie being Annie, she will still have to wear the cone for a while to keep her from licking the area, but relief is coming. The tumor was not cancer, just a really ugly benign fatty lipoma, so she should live to drive me crazy well past her 14th birthday next week.

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We Survive January’s Storms and Carry On

No shame in wearing the cone of shame

It’s the last day of January. The holidays are already a fuzzy memory. What did I do for Christmas? New Years? Um . . .  

So far, 2022, despite the mellifluous sound of its numbers, has been a rotten SOB. 

  • Storms, storms, storms, with wind damage, roads collapsing, landslides and a lot of wet feet and wiping off the soggy dog. See earlier post.
  • Much worse storms elsewhere in the country causing destruction from which it may take years to recover. 
  • Insane Covid numbers and some people still refusing to get vaccinated. 
  • My brother-in-law died. My friend’s sister died. My sister-in-law’s uncle died of Covid after that branch of the family’s  Christmas celebration sent him and two others to the hospital. The others are okay now. 
  • Eight writing submissions have been rejected. (But two were accepted, so maybe that’s okay).
  • A tumor on my dog’s hip was diagnosed as cancer and then not and then maybe. After a month of blood and ooze from the ugliest-looking bump ever–think blood sausage–it was surgically removed. Her heart nearly stopped under the anesthesia, but the doctor was able to bring her back to a safe pulse rate. Now she has a huge, oozy incision with drains and smaller cuts around it. She has been wearing the big collar, aka cone of shame, for over a month and will continue for at least two more weeks. We are $3,000 into this now, but she’s worth it. Annie will be 14 on Feb. 16. That’s 98 in dog years.
  • My hot tub cover slipped while I was closing it one icy night and clobbered me in the head, giving me a headache and a two-inch cut from my hairline to my nose that just missed my eye. This led me into all kinds of dark thoughts about the danger of living alone. 
  • My annual doctor visit resulted in another pill to take and referrals to three different specialists. None of it is life-threatening, but it is all annoying and takes away from my writing time. Getting older is a drag, but there are still so many great things to do that I am not ready for the alternative.

So January has sucked, BUT there are good things. 

  • The cut on my forehead is healed and fading away. I did NOT get badly hurt by the hot tub cover. Since that incident, I have taken steps to make the cover much safer to deal with.
  • Post-surgery, Annie and I may finally see the end of this oozy mess and get rid of the cone of shame.
  • I have not gotten Covid. So far. With all my shots, if I do get it, I believe it won’t be too bad.
  • My new air fryer arrived on Thursday and I’m having fun trying new things in it. It’s pretty slick. I welcome your recipes and suggestions.
  • I am making great progress on my new novel, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek. Dare I confess that I love this book? I think you will, too. 
  • The bulbs are sprouting in my garden, which means spring is coming. 
  • I have wonderful friends, in-person and online. Annie does, too. She has more Facebook fans than I do, with over 100 reactions to my post about her surgery. 
  • A new episode of “The Gilded Age” will appear on HBOmax tonight. 
  • The tsunami that drifted over from Tonga Jan. 15 did not damage the Oregon Coast.
  • I’m still here, writing by the fireplace, dog at my side, guitar and piano nearby, forest out the window. Two hummingbirds just hovered at the window. God is good. 

Enough of me and mine. How has January been for you? 

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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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