Archive for the 'Home' Category

Take a seat

Monday, May 27th, 2013

If I were a psychologist, I would study what motivates people to take action. Something along the lines of “Why does someone – who has thought about exercising for years – finally get motivated to start going to the gym?” Or why does someone finally quit smoking? I would love to know what pushes someone over the edge of knowing something would be good for them to actually taking steps to make it happen.

I suppose the reason that I’ve thought about motivation – in between the usual logistical questions that occupy my brain such as “what are we going to have for dinner” and “when can I squeeze in a trip to Target” – is because in the month since we moved across the street, I have taken action about some of the small issues of life that have annoyed me for years, yet I could never find the motivation to do anything about them.

Let me give you an example: for probably the last five years, I’ve looked at the holes in the upholstery on the chairs of our kitchen table and thought, “That really looks bad. I wouldn’t want any guests to see that; I should really replace that fabric.” The reason the cushions were shredded in the first place was because the orange devil that we call Nigel, our cat, decided one day that he hated that blue plaid fabric and went after it with his claws.

I looked at those ugly cushions for years – but did I do anything about them? Nope – at least not until this weekend. All it took was a trip to JoAnn’s, $18 worth of fabric, a screwdriver and staple gun, and a couple of hours to cut and cover over the stained and slit seats. It made me so happy when the first thing that caught my eye in the room this morning was the fresh, red-and-white checked seat cushions.

If you could only see how bad they really were

So back to my original question of motivation. I can’t help but wonder about myself, what motivated me to finally take action to do something that I knew would make me feel better once I did it?

I don’t have a really good answer – the best I can come up with is that our move earlier this month to a better townhouse has shaken loose some of the stress that we lived under ever since the recession hit. Maybe I’m finally over the trauma of moving out of our house 18 months ago and ready to tackle making where we live feel like a home again. Pictures on the walls are next.

Moved to happiness

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

Although our new condo has exactly the same floor plan as our old condo, Steve and I keep marveling at how different and better this place feels to us. Where we were living before always felt temporary and a little precarious – perhaps that explains the reason or at least I can use it as an excuse – for why we never really made it a home. We hung a few pictures on the walls but we never unpacked our photo albums and mementos – they stayed taped up in moving boxes for the 18 months that we lived there.

However, in the short time that we’ve been in our new place, I’ve already undertaken some very small projects that I wasn’t motivated to do in the old place. Small details though they are, they make me happy every time I come across them.

For instance, in our old place, whenever I opened the cabinet door, the cat poop scooper and dustpan fell out. I’d get annoyed but did I do anything about it? Nope. But after just a new days in our new home, I finally bought some Command hooks so I could hang them on the inside of the cabinet door. Happiness.

I have a lovely Italian Majolica ceramic platter that Steve bought me at Haus Fortuna back when times weremore flush for us. Yet I had never had it on display. On my way home last Friday, I stopped at Pier 1 and for $7, I got a stand for it. I get pleasure from it every time I glance across the living room.

Another benefit of moving is having a fresh start. You know that top drawer in the kitchen that everybody has – the one that has pens and paper clips and coupons and batteries and all the other bits and pieces of life shoved into it? I know it probably won’t stay this way but for now, all the little containers are free of pencil shavings and crumbs and there’s clean, white Contact paper lining the drawer and it’s all organized like a Tetris game. It makes me happy every time I open it to reach for the scissors.

The only negative that we’ve encountered so far in our new place is that one of our cats sticks to the carpet. Our little gray kitty, Blossom – she was adopted when the Powerpuff Girls was at its peak of popularity – somehow never learned to retract her claws when she walks. Our new home has loopy Berber carpeting so with every step she takes, we hear pluck, pluck….pluck, pluck, pluck. Always kind of a skittish cat, at least now we can hear her coming.

Deja Move

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

It turns out that not ever unpacking all the boxes of books from our move 18 months ago paid off – it saved us having to pack them all up again in preparation for our move last week.

I think we’re done moving for a while – and just when we were getting good at it. We’ve pared down our belongings by at least 50 percent since our first move. Who needs five frying pans when I always use the same one anyway? If we take many more trips to Goodwill to eliminate redundancy in our stuff, Steve and I will be taking turns using the same fork.

As chaotic and stressful as moving is, this move was about as easy as it gets because we were just moving across a narrow street within the same condo complex.  We could practically throw the throw pillows from our old front door to the new one.

However, there was a point about midway through the move on Wednesday when we were neck-high in boxes that I wondered if moving to a place that is virtually identical in layout and square footage was really worth the disruption. Because the master bathrooms look exactly the same, I kept getting confused about which condo I was in. “How come these drawers are empty? I don’t recall packing them up.” And then I would realize that I was standing in the bathroom in our new place. Moving is hell…remind me why we’re doing this?

But now that we are in and mostly unpacked, I can say without a doubt, it was worth it and I’m so grateful that our gracious neighbor made it possible for us to rent her home. In the short time we’ve been here, I keeping wondering why this place feel so different and so much more like a home than the other condo. We never had any motivation to personalize the other place yet Steve has already hung more art on the walls in his office in the four days that we’ve been here than the entire year-and-a-half that we were in the other condo.

Everywhere I look, there are touches that make me happy. I now have a window over the kitchen sink so when I’m loading the dishwasher I can enjoy the contrast of the burgundy leaves on the Japanese maple with the shiny green jasmine behind it. My computer sits on the desk that is part of a lovely built in office with cute little cubbies for envelopes and folders. There’s berber carpeting throughout that makes it feel clean and spacious. And a lovely little patio outside the sliding glass door with a small urn fountain.  

Now for us, we just need to unpack the rest of the boxes, perhaps replace our lumpy brown couches with something more fitting our brighter outlook and enjoy the gift our new home.

Faux Dough

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Our youngest daughter, Jennifer who is 16 years old, likes to try new things – and thankfully, her desire to experiment hasn’t ventured into dangerous and illegal things that would give her dad and me a heart attack. So far, she has expressed her adventurous nature by trying new sports, schools, musical instruments and recipes.

Oftentimes on the weekend, when Jennifer is procrastinating doing her calculus homework, she falls into the black hole of Pinterest and the millions of food bloggers who post enticing photos of interesting new dishes.

This weekend, she found a recipe that intrigued her; it was for Dessert Hummus. I really like hummus, in fact, I regularly buy the twin pack drums of it at Costco; and I really like dessert – I haven’t ever met one I haven’t liked – but Dessert Hummus seemed like an oxymoron.

According to Jennifer, the recipe promised to be a healthy version of chocolate chip cookie dough. It could be used as a dip for graham crackers…or eat the whole bowl yourself guilt-free because it’s gluten free (of course that cancels out the chocolate chips) and high in protein.

The recipe was simple enough – just throw everything into the Cuisinart – chick peas, some peanut butter, a little baking soda (not sure why), and some sweetener – blend it all together and stir in the chocolate chips and voila! You’ve got a dip that will have guests begging for the recipe.

Guess what…the recipe tasted like we had taken the Sabra hummus from Costco and stirred in peanut butter and chocolate chips. Jennifer even added some butterscotch chips that we had to no avail. There’s just no way that ground up chick peas are going to ever taste like butter and brown sugar.

It reminded me to beware of recipes that purport to be healthy versions of not-so-healthy foods. I can remember back to when I was about Jennifer’s age and the Atkins diet was all the rage. My friends came over while I attempted making the Atkins version of pancakes. The recipe was basically pureed cauliflower that somehow was supposed to hold together in a frying pan. Good thing we had a box of Aunt Jemima mix in the cupboard.

I certainly applaud Jennifer’s experimentation in the kitchen. There was one good thing about the Dessert Hummus recipe, it started my craving for real cookie dough. The internet didn’t fail us this time; the New York Times recipe for chocolate cookies is absolutely killer.

Downsizing: Part 2

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since we downsized from our house in Petaluma to our condo in Cotati. The move reduced our living space by half and the size of our yard went from a third of an acre to a single potted plant by our front door. Do I miss it the house and the maintenance that went with it? Not at all, especially at this time of the year when I can breeze past the aisles of Round-Up, Preen, deck stain, fertilizer, hoses, clippers, gloves, and all other sorts of garden necessities at Costco and know that I’m not going to have to spend time or money on any of it.

When we moved in 2011, we got rid of literally a ton of books, sold off a couple of rooms of furniture and emptied out a three-car garage. And now we are in the process of getting even leaner and meaner when it comes to the amount of stuff we have because in a little more than a month, we’re going to be moving again.

This move isn’t going to be as traumatic or dramatic as moving out of a house that we lived in for 18 years and raised our three children in. Also, this is a move that we’re very happy about because unlike selling our house, the move isn’t being forced by circumstances.

We’re going to move to the condo directly across the driveway from us. The owner is moving back to her home country of New Zealand; she’s happy to have renters who she knows are nose-to-the-grindstone types and we’re delighted because we’re going to lighten up, in several ways.

The condo that we live in now is cave-like because it only has windows on the west-facing walls similar to a hotel room that only has windows on one side. It’s no wonder Steve says it feels like we live at “Extended Stay Cotati.” I really didn’t notice the darkness when we first considered renting it; probably because it was a cloudy day in November and with the faux fireplace on, it seemed cozy rather and claustrophobic. But as we’ve lived here, I’ve really missed the light that came streaming through the banks of windows in our old house. All those arched windows were a pain to buy window coverings for, but they certainly prevented Seasonal Affective Disorder from setting in.

The condo that we’re moving to has a sliding glass door out to a little patio area and a window over the kitchen sink. The whole place seems bright and cheery. In contrast, our 16 year-old daughter says our current condo seems like a place where people have given up…she stopped short of saying “where they go to die.” But she’s right, it does feel very dark and heavy.

Our upcoming move is another chance for a new beginning and a fresher, lighter outlook. I can’t wait.

When you’ve got worries, you can always go…Downton

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

The Sunday before the first day back to school after a two week break that has included Christmas, trips into San Francisco and lots of fudge and caramel, can look pretty bleak. But for our 16 year-old daughter Jennifer, there is one bright spot in what could otherwise be a pretty depressing day: the third season of Downton Abbey starts tonight. Thank goodness, reason to live!

Not surprisingly, PBS is capitalizing on the huge success of the series by running an all day Downton Abbey marathon peppered with numerous pledge breaks and Jennifer is glued to the TV watching it. I guess that explains why she has started calling me “mum.” I’m just glad that she doesn’t have $200 in her checking account or we would probably be the owners of the full series on DVD with 45 minutes of bonus footage.

Our family all agrees that Downton is really just a soap opera dressed up with British accents and tea sandwiches. But that’s what makes it so much fun to watch. We can enjoy the beautiful production values and make fun of it at the same time. Illicit love affairs, back-stabbing, eaves dropping, melodramatic illnesses, miraculous recoveries – it’s got it all, and it all happens with such angst-filled music playing in the background that it could be the soundtrack to “PMS: The Miniseries.”

I also have a fondness for the series because it reminds me of when I was exactly Jennifer’s age and I looked forward to Sunday nights so I could watch “Upstairs Downstairs.” Instead of Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, it was Mrs. Bridges and Ruby but the fun of watching much ado about nothing when disaster befalls the kitchen staff – “How will we ever recover from the shame of a failed pudding?” – hasn’t changed since I was watching 40 years ago.

So you’ll find us Sunday night at 9:00, huddled around the TV to find out what new highs and lows will befall the Crawleys and their staff. It will get us through the dark days of winter. By the time we’ve watched all seven episodes of Season 3, it will almost be spring!

That’s a wrap for 2012

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

By December 26, I was itching to take down the Christmas tree and pack up the garlands and bows. I have always been amazed when I talk with someone who chooses to keep their Christmas decorations up into January as a way to brighten the dreary, dark days of winter. For me, what seemed cheery on December 1st now seems depressing. The branches on the Christmas tree are drooping so badly that every so often I hear another ornament slide off and hit the floor. Instead of seeing the white lights and ornaments on the branches, what jumps out at me are the cords. I find myself picking pine needles out of the cushions – how they got there I have no idea. Everything looks they way I feel…tired.

Plus, with five adults in a condo meant for three people, one of us was always bumping into the Christmas tree; we need every square inch of floor space in the living room to accommodate the 26 pairs of shoes that are spilling out from the postage stamp-sized entry way.

Another reason I was eager to see the boxes labeled “Xmas nutcrackers and candles” back on the top shelf in the garage was because as much as the holidays represent time to spend with our family, this year some of the glow was taken off the Christmas decorations by the Sandy Hook tragedy and relentless media messages about the seemingly inevitable fiscal cliff. Couldn’t I just put that all that bad news in a box, tape it shut, and set it high on a shelf where I could forget about all of it?

So on Friday morning, I was up before daylight, dismantling the mantel and wrapping up the ornaments in layers of tissue paper.  The news wasn’t getting any better but at least by putting the decorations away, vacuuming up the pine needles, and giving the room some breathing room, it felt like the new year was off to a fresh start. Like the Bible says, God’s mercies are new every morning. I’m ready for a new morning and new year.

Please don’t put the pedal to the metal

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Now that Jennifer Lynn has turned 16, we have moved into the phase of parenting a teenager that is one of my least favorite based on my experience with her older two siblings.

She made it smoothly through the oftentimes difficult junior high years so what is it that has my stomach in knots? It’s riding with her while she learns to drive. While sitting in the passenger seat with my foot pressed so hard into the floor that it has turned white, I often fantasize about how wonderful it would be to be able to afford to pay someone else $80 an hour to rack up the 50 hours of driving experience she needs in order to take the driving test to get her license.

Teaching your child to drive seems like a task better left to a trained professional. It’s one thing as a parent to teach your child how to cook or play tennis because if their inexperience causes them to make a mistake, nobody dies. The only thing that happens is the cake doesn’t rise or they have to chase down a few balls. But when it’s 4,000 pounds of metal moving toward a pedestrian, the stakes are a lot higher.

One thing I have never understood is why the DMV doesn’t issue a “Student Driver” sign that parents can put in the window of the car while their kids are getting their behind-the-wheel experience. Would the jerks who honked, illegally passed her, and tailgated her have been a little more forgiving if they knew this was her second time on the road?

When we’re in the car, in an effort not to have comments about the mere six inches between us and the parked cars come out in a shout of absolute panic, I find myself tacking on terms of endearment that I never otherwise use with her. “Start putting on the brakes NOW, honey.” Or, “YOU NEED TO LOOK BEFORE YOU CHANGE LANES, sweetie.” Unfortunately, I don’t think these overly affectionate nicknames are masking my terror.

After turning into the lane of oncoming traffic in an apartment complex, I could tell her confidence needed a boost so I reminded her that I’m sure she has sufficient brain power to become the 22,657,289th licensed driver in California. It’s just going to take a little practice.

Basic Exercises

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Ethan, our 24 year-old son who recently enlisted in the army, is continuing to surprise me with the changes he is making. Perhaps none of these changes is more shocking than his sudden and determined effort to get in shape. With the exception of PE classes in school and a short-lived career on the high school tennis team, the only part of his body that got regular exercise was his thumbs from playing video games.

However, now he calls me up update me on how many push-ups he can do and to discuss his training regimen. He was obviously very proud when he told me that while he is waiting for the microwave to beep, he’ll drop and knock off 10 or 20 push-ups. Who is this child and what have you done with my inert son?

The motivation behind his newfound interest in exercise is the humiliation he imagines he will feel if he doesn’t pass the physical fitness test at the start of basic training. Incoming soldiers must have a certain level of physical fitness which includes doing pushups, sit ups and a two-mile run in 13 minutes or else they will get put into the so-called “fat class.” For a skinny kid like Ethan, the fear having to do remedial PT (physical training) is already kicking his butt.

He has also told us how he is really looking forward to getting buff in basic training. He has realized that he could look really awesome with defined abs and guns (of the bicep variety) but he hasn’t had the motivation to do it on his own. I guess a drill sergeant is the ultimate personal trainer.

Until recently, we thought his younger sister had gotten all the physical exercise genes in the family. It didn’t matter that she was born without a left hand; she has always sought out challenging physical activities. Whether it was doing rhythmic gymnastics, martial arts, or acrobatics, she has always had the need to sweat. She’s like me in that sense.

She thought it was pretty amusing when we told her that after Ethan completes basic training, she would no longer be able to take him down in a fight. Actually, she’s very proud that he is finally seeing what his physical potential is. I know her respect for him has grown.

Ethan’s biggest concern right now is a sore knee that is preventing him from keeping up his training schedule for running. Soreness is a new experience for him. Even when you’re in your twenties, if you go from zero to 60 in a short amount of time, you’re bound to pay the price.

So as someone who used to run a lot and still loves going to the gym everyday, I told him to take a couple of ibuprofen and let it rest for a day or two. A little bit of discomfort? He should get used to it. Basic training will be nine weeks of intense discomfort.

Making macarons

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

I’m sure you’ve noticed that certain foods that become trendy just like there are items of clothing that come in and out of style.

I’ve been surprised that cupcakes are still popular (thanks primarily to the Food Network), bacon seems to be showing up in everything these days including ice cream, and then of course, there’s quinoa which seems to have real staying power. Gluten-free, hard to pronounce name, and high protein. That’s like a trifecta of trendy food.

But recently, I’ve been seeing a food that I wasn’t familiar with start showing up in random places leading me to think it has hit the trendy list. Are macarons are the new cupcake?

These aren’t the American macaroons (spelled with two “o”s) that are a clump of shredded coconut held together with egg whites and sugar that when eaten, drop like a stone to the bottom of your stomach. These are a light, delicate, French sandwich cookie made from ground almonds, egg whites and sugar and filled with butter cream, ganache, or jam.


I first heard about macarons one night when we were flipping channels and stopped on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” show long enough to hear Wolfgang Puck describe how he had eaten one macaron from some famous bakery and then because they were so good, had eaten about 12 more of them. Really? Show some restraint, Wolfgang. That was until I tasted one and then I was in the same boat as Wolfie.

The next time I encountered macarons was on a goofy Food Network show that Jennifer and I are hooked on called “Sweet Genius.” It’s the pastry chef version of “Iron Chef” hosted by Ron Ben-Israel, the Food Network version of Dr. Evil. The contestants have to make a chocolate dessert, candy and cake using often bizarre mandatory ingredients such as aloe vera and black beans. Several contestants have made macarons to show their skill in the candy competition.

And then Jennifer Lynn told me that there were macarons at the prom which was held at the St. Francis in San Francisco. That clinched it; it won’t be long before what was once trendy hits the mass market and we’ll be able to buy a tub of macarons at Costco.

Inspired by all the macaron-ness going on around her, Jennifer decided to try making them and followed the 15 step recipe for traditional French macarons filled with buttercream.

Sure, they aren’t as spherical as the ones made by the professionals on “Sweet Genius” and next time she’s going to add some food coloring so they aren’t so pale, but they are one of the more delicious morsels that I have ever eaten. Crunchy on the outside, melt in your mouth and small enough that I don’t feel horribly guilty eating one, or two or six.

Yep, I think it won’t be long before we see “Macaron Wars” on the Food Network. Mango Coriander Macarons with Mascarpone Chutney Filling. It could happen.