Friday, July 20, 2018

Late to the game of loving the local farmers markets.

It has never been that I disliked farmers markets. The fact is that for the past ten years I normally worked on the weekend and therefore had no chance to go to farmers markets. Grocery store produce was fine with me.

But things have changed!  My work week is Saturday through Tuesday but my Saturday shift doesn't start until 3:00 pm so I now regularly visit the Santa Rosa Farmers Market a couple of miles from my house.  Yes it is more expensive than grocery stores but oh, my goodness, how great is the produce!

Stone fruit this summer, peaches and nectarines and plums, have been outstanding. Eating a peach out of hand, the juice runs down your arm. The plums have been black inside and amazing! And the lettuces, all different kinds, and they all have great taste, none of the bland "I will eat this because it's good for me" salads any more. The lettuce actually has flavor! Carrots, small summer squashes, green beans, all of them are so good.  Peppers are just now coming in and I will be roasting a lot of those and eating them on a piece of grilled bread!

Some items at the FM are a little over my budget, like the gourmet coffee beans at $20 per pound!  That's a little much. I can almost see paying $8 for a dozen local eggs but I can't see paying $12 for them. And one purveyor was selling greens like kale and chard off the bunch, mixed up at $18 per pound!  No thanks.

I pay the same amount of money for a loaf of the multi-grained battard as I would at the bakery from which it came.  Same with tamales and salsa, the prices on those are very reasonable.

So there you have it, my journey into local produce and I am loving it. It isn't going to make me a "loca-vore" however, I don't adhere to that idea of only eating things that were raised or grown within five miles of where I live.  I will still buy coffee from South America and beef that might have been raised outside of California.   Heck, even the peaches were grown in Brentwood, much farther than five miles from Santa Rosa.  But as long as the produce is so damned tasty, I will be a fan.

Image result for pictures of produce

"Beartown" by Fredrick Backman

Knowing nothing about this novel except a shout-out from my penpal Sam Sifton from the New York Times cooking column, I had zero expectations.  I just know that when Sam mentions something to read it is usually a very good recommendation.

"Beartown" is a very good book and one that made me smile, frown and cry more than once.  The story is simple and familiar: a small town invests all its hopes and dreams in the fortunes of their sports team and when one of the team members commits a violent act the town must either come together for the victim or against the perpetrator or else face a huge crisis of conscience. Good vs evil, right vs wrong.

The thing that sets Backman's book apart from the tedium of the tale is, of course, the reality of his characters. They are flawed, every single one of them and many of them behave badly. But some overcome their personal angst-ridden excuses for that bad behavior and choose to do what's right.  Many do not.  That's the crucial tipping point for me:  not everyone gets redemption.

I cried many times, especially when Backman paints a portrait of emotions. His understanding of a parent's love of a child is stunning.  His detailing the everyday mundane boredom of a small town is spot-on: "The town wakes early, like it does every day.  The rows of cars in the parking lot are already covered with snow; people are standing in silent lines with their eyes half-open and their minds half-closed, waiting for their electronic punch cards to verify their existence to the clocking-in machine. They stamp the slush off their boots with autopilot eyes and answering-machine voices while they wait for their drug of choice - caffeine or nicotine or sugar - to kick in and render their bodies at least tolerably functional until the first break."

He writes about rejection from a sixteen year old's point of view: "He turns sixteen today and all his life he has been teased and rejected. About everything. His looks, thoughts, manner of speech, home address. Everywhere.  At school, in the locker room, online. That wears a person down in the end. It's not always obvious, because the people around a bullied child assume that he or she must get used to it after a while. Never. You never get used to it. It burns like fire the whole time. It's just that no one knows how long the fuse is, not even you."

There were times when I thought some editing could have been done, sometimes Backman was too wordy for me but then I read this book from start to finish in two days, so I certainly liked it.  The sport the small Canadian town focuses on is ice hockey, of course, and I learned a lot about hockey, not a bad thing to understand. Hockey could stand in for any sport in any small town, of course, like football in "Friday Night Lights" and it is a good vehicle to move the story along.

"There are few words that are harder to explain than "loyalty." It's always regarded as a positive characteristic because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty. The only problem is that many of the very worse things we do to each other occur because of the same thing."

In the end "Beartown" is a universal story about values, love, moral failures, honesty and betrayal. (And hockey.)  Basically it's about human nature with all its flaws and triumphs, as small and large, as beautiful and as ugly as they always are.  


Friday, July 13, 2018

Back to the basics: Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane

It's clear I read a lot and I read different genres. Fiction, non-fiction. Mystery, police procedure, historical novels, novels.  When a book takes me away, when a story grabs me and sings to me, I tell you about it. There are few things I like more than trying to foist a good book on fellow readers. And at the same time, I am careful to tell you the truth about the books I read: if I don't like a book, I tell you that as well.

Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane are two iconic writers that I have revisited.  On one of the little free bookshelves in my neighborhood, I recently found four Christie novels bound into one book. Two Poirot and two Marple stories.  I had forgotten how well Christie wrote, what sociological and psychological mysteries she wanted to unveil. Within her contrived murder stories she wanted the reader to see and understand that class structure of society had a huge impact on behavior and thought.  We, of the current 21st century, know that. But Christie was writing more than 70 years ago and that idea wasn't prevalent at that time. It's astounding that she could weave an enjoyable written tapestry which was part curious mystery, part character study and part societal commentary.

Mickey Spillane was a writer of a different font. His most famous character was Mike Hammer, a tough private eye with his own sense of justice. Hammer took the law into his own hands most of the time, which usually meant he shot the bad guys and got away with it.  Spillane was always irreverent, often crude and had no problem grossly stereotyping women, foreigners, anyone who didn't fit into his conservative mindset. But the books are eminently readable, even if they do piss you off now and then. You can read one in an afternoon and I promise that you will have forgotten all about it by bedtime. Spillane's novels are quick, forgetful and totally enjoyable.

One other note about Spillane:  because of his marketing department, his novels were instrumental in getting fiction published in a very inexpensive format.  He was ahead of his time and his "dime novels" were just that: paperbacks with sleazy front cover illustrations that sold for a dime. Not only were they affordable but it set the stage for other writers to forgo the hardcover edition of a new book and aim straight for the paperback market. Like movies that go straight to streaming, this opens up the product to so many more readers/viewers.  Good for Spillane for going this route, although many viewed it as "low-brow" at the time.  We currently benefit still from that paperback buzz.

But Christie and Spillane are popsicles: easy to read and digest but never as satisfying as a piece of homemade cherry pie.  You can enjoy them but you won't be touting them to your friends.


Allergies R Us!

OMG, for the first 68 years of my life I suffered zero allergies. None, nada, zip.  But this year, WTF?  Starting in May my eyes began to water and itch. Then they were puffy in the morning. Beginning in early June my eyes were not just puffy, they were swollen and red and they wouldn't stop running. Then my nose decided to join the party!  I would sneeze ten times in a row, my nose would either be so stuffed I couldn't breathe through it, or it would compete with my eyes to see which could produce the most streaming liquid.  I would wake up in the morning with my eyes crusted shut and my nose feeling like it was packed with shards of granite.

Allergies. What a joy. What a surprise!

I work in an office that has basically one and a half solid walls.  The other two and a half walls are open, only closed off at night by movable canvas panels. The front desk is between two open walls and a breeze is created that blows past the front desk. On the grounds we have everything:  redwoods, oaks, ghastly privet, flowering trees and bushes, tons of native (or non-native, who knows) grasses, ashes from the fire pits, dirt and dust.  All that crap produces molecules that get in your nose and eyes and either exacerbate your allergies or simply cause them.  There is no way to avoid the trees and grasses and dust and dirt because that's sort of the point of Autocamp, it's a campground of sorts so people can pretend to be in the great outdoors (to the tune of $400 a night) and the building in which I work is the Clubhouse, complete with an indoor fire pit.

Part of our job is walking the property often, going in and out of the Airstreams and tents, breathing in that great outdoor air with all its molecules of crud. Thus, allergies.

Finally I made an appointment with a GP doc to see what can be done. The advice she gave me was to use simple OTC products for the next two weeks and see if there is improvement.  If not, we will move on to prescription cures.  This has, to say the least, given me a much more empathetic feeling towards those who have had allergies their entire lives. Just two months of this situation has made me even more cranky than I usually am, plus tired and weary and quite appalling to look at.  Thankfully my eyeglasses are the progressive kind so the tint of sunglasses pretty much keeps my pathetic eyes away from public view.

I know and I acknowledge that this is nothing compared to what else is happening in the world and with other people, and I am trying to be philosophical about it all and I complain only when no one is listening.  Irritating as they are, my allergies are not life-threatening and they will subside, hopefully.

Here is a photo of the inside of the Clubhouse, where you can see the indoor fire pit and the open walls. 

And the grounds.

Photo of AutoCamp - Guerneville, CA, United States. The  air reeked of redwoods - so refreshing!

Photo of AutoCamp - Guerneville, CA, United States. View of some of the grounds

Nothing but plants and trees and all that stuff.

Thanks for letting me whine a bit.


Friday, June 29, 2018

My Farmer's Tan, on my ankles!!!

It is sadly true: I have white ankles and white feet.  This was not apparent to me until today when I went shopping for some short, light-weight pants to wear to work.  We can wear jeans to work but in this 95 degree weather jeans are just too heavy.

Standing in that depressingly unflattering dressing room, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to see that my legs from the knees down are tannish until the area where my short socks would be.  Then my feet are as white as mayonnaise! 

Since my knee surgery five months ago, I have been very careful about wearing good walking shoes and  those shoes need socks. Short socks, but socks nonetheless and socks and shoes obviously prevent skin from tanning. It looks very silly, but there's not much to do for it other than begin wearing flip-flops more often when I walk the dog.

Sigh. The things you notice in department store dressing rooms. 


"Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

Just a quick review: this is Towles first novel. His second, "A Gentleman in Moscow," is a book I devoured and one which I totally enjoyed.

"Rules of Civility" takes place in New York in 1938, just as America is beginning to climb out of the terrible dungeon of the Great Depression.  The story follows a young woman, Katey Content, as she makes her way through the web of friendships, jobs, romance and disappointment.  It is a very good story, told well. Yes, there is similarity with "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "The Great Gatsby" but not enough to put one off.  (And those two novels take place in different time frames as well.)  Towles often has a glimmering turn of phrase, wry observations and poignant details that all converge to give the reader (or the listener in this case) a wonderful portal into the characters' emotional lives as well as their day-to-day experiences.

Towles is a great teller of stories. In the end, whether it's a gentleman in Moscow or a young woman in Manhattan, he weaves a story of many threads and creates a fabric of rich characters, locations and situations. I hope he writes many more books.

If you find this at the library, read it.  You will enjoy it.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Kids in Grown-up Places

Yes, I am a curmudgeon, I admit it. But I sincerely believe that there are places where small, noisy, bratty children are not meant to be. The place I work is one such location. 

Billed as a quiet retreat, this summer it has become a kind of unsupervised summer camp for all manner of kids under the age of ten.  Screaming at the top of their lungs, running through the property waving sticks they find on the grounds, (this morning one kid had a stick on fire!), throwing rocks and pine needles into the outside fire pit, stomping on the sprinklers, tossing trash on the ground instead of in a trash receptacle, basically acting like a young cast of "Lord of the Flies", the kids we have had lately have been awful.

And the parents are worse. While the kids are doing all of the above and more, parents are either totally absent (in their tents or Airstreams, oblivious of their offsprings' whereabouts) or sitting on lawn chairs furiously working their social media contacts on their phones.  These parents have zero contact with their children until we, the front desk or housekeeping or maintenance staff confront them about their out-of-control kids. And even then, they look up with a blank face, as if they have completely forgotten those kids belong to them.

It is a sad commentary on so much of the current realm of what's appropriate. The abdication of responsibility, whether in parenting or in the workplace or in our world, is rampant. Telling a kid over and over to not throw any kind of material (paper, leaves, pine needles, rocks, balloons, potato chips, etc) into the fire pit and getting no backup from the parental units is infuriating. For the other guests, those trying to have a peaceful stay in the redwoods without kids, it is annoying, frustrating and anything but peaceful.

Children do not have the right to ruin anyone's vacation weekend.  I don't care how cute a parent thinks his/her kid is, if that kid is out of control then that kid needs to be controlled. Kids do not belong everywhere.

So sue me for being politically incorrect.  Kids do not belong everywhere.