Sweet talk.

Valentine’s Day crept on me, but I decided not to rush out to buy a card for my husband. Instead we’d go to our favorite spot for coffee. Oh, yes, I did cut a big heart out of newspaper and put it in his chair this morning and, yes, I did leave a message on his little white board. He didn’t notice either of them.

When I suggested we go to Our Daily Bread, his eyes lit up. We walked so I could justify one of their beautifully decorated heart-shaped sugar cookies. The place was bustling, as always, and even at 9:30 we were too late to get Valentine cookies. Peter eyed a strawberry-studded chocolate gateau, but in the end, we settled on our favorite apple turnovers.

After repeating his usual questions several times — “any news from upstate? ” and “how’s the big guy?” — he wanted to know what he could say that wasn’t the same old thing.

“How about ‘Happy Valentine’s Day?'” I said.

“When is it?”

“Today.”

“I didn’t know,” he said. He patted my hand and shook his head.

“Oh well, this is better than a card anyway. Two apple turnovers and two coffees for only eight dollars and forty-six cents.”

“Cheaper than a card,” he said.

“You’re a cheap date,” I told him.

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Header photo: My mom’s heart-shaped dish always holds “sweethearts” in February.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

We soldier on.

One of my husband’s culinary successes has always been perfect fried eggs. And one of his favorite meals is egg and chips. Nowdays it’s my fall-back meal when I’m too tired to cook, even though I’ve never been able to fry an egg. Take last night.

I got out the eggs, skillet, oil, plates for him. I put the frozen chips in the oven and called Peter to fix the eggs when the chips were nearly done.

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Egg and soldier.

I sat down to read for a few minutes, but his grumbling got me up to see what was wrong. “These eggs are no good,” he growled. “I can’t get them out.” He had an egg in his left hand and was trying to peel it with his right, as if it had been soft-boiled for soldiers.

“Shall I do it?” I asked and cracked another against the skillet. In the meantime, he dumped the raw egg he’d scrambled in its shell into the skillet too. Except for that one, my eggs were done perfectly — first time ever! — and the chips were as good as frozen ones ever are.

Afterwards he thanked me and said he enjoyed our little snack. “What’s for afters?” he asked.

“Applesauce.” He was blank. “Stewed apple,” I translated.

Lately I’ve been helping him clear up after we eat. He just can’t seem to manage the task anymore. But this was a simple meal, with just plates and silverware for the dishwasher and cookie sheet and skillet for the sink. I went to watch the news.

“How am I going to get this stuff off?” he yelled. He was poking at the submerged cookie sheet which appeared to be floating on an oil slick.

“What did you put in the water?” I asked. He didn’t know, but I suspect he either dumped in the canola oil out of the skillet, or poured some straight from the bottle in lieu of dishwashing liquid. “Did you put the Dawn in?”

“Didn’t know I was supposed to,” he said.

Deep breath. “You go have your tea. I’ll take care of this.” I sopped up as much as I could and hoped all that oil wouldn’t glom up the drain.

It didn’t, but this morning when I came downstairs, the eggs in the refrigerator were soft boiled. The fridge had gone on the fritz in the night and warmed to 70°.  Not a laughing matter.

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Glossary of English vs American terms:
His chips are our French fries (Crisps, btw, are potato chips)
His stewed apple is our applesauce
Soldiers are strips of crustless buttered toast, dunked into soft-boiled eggs, (pointy ends removed neatly), that are placed in an egg cup. Why “soldiers?” Don’t ask me, I’m an American.

Header photo: Frambled eggs, photo courtesy Epicurious.

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There’s always something worse.

Peter asked his usual question, “What do I order here?” I gave my usual answer, “Beef.” We were at Lefty’s, a favorite restaurant, and we were hungry. I wasted no time ordering steak au poivre for him, Asian chicken salad for me.

He gazed out the big windows. “Looks like afternoon,” he said. “The sky is so blue.” Cloudless skies delight him.

“Technically, it is afternoon,” I said. “It’s not even five-thirty.”

“I never know what time it is anymore.” He looked at his watch. “Looks like daytime,” he said.

“It is daytime,” I said.

He followed the script engraved on his brain. “Any news from ‘upstate,’ or have I already asked?”

“Well, yes, you have, and, no, no news.”

“Any good movies on?” He realized that was another routine question and he smiled when I shook my head.

He looked at me, eyes questioning, mouth downturned. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, just thinking how I am now and how I used to be. I can’t even talk anymore.”

“You never talked,” I reminded him, “and besides, you’re doing OK, a lot better than some. There are worse things.”

“Worse for you maybe,” he said, with a teasing smile, “but not for me.” For some reason, that made us laugh and his downcast moment was erased. Forgotten.

When our meal arrived, he reached for the salt and pepper. As always, he salted and peppered liberally without first tasting his food. One of my pet peeves.

“You are peppering your steak au poivre,” I said.

He shrugged. “So?”

“It is pepper steak,” I said.

He laughed, I sneezed, we laughed together.


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Header photo: Willow glows at dawn.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

‘Forget about your worries and your strife…’

“Any good movies on?” is one of my husband’s litany of questions. Usually I shake my head. He no longer wants to see the kinds of movies I never liked — “Silence of the lambs,” “Godfather,” “Psycho,” “Rocky” — so I look for lighter choices. We’ve watched a lot of children’s movies lately — “Nanny McPhee,” “Babe,” “Charlotte’s Web” — light, laugh-inducing films.

Recently, I surprised him. “‘Jungle Book’ is getting good ratings,” I said. “We’ll go at 4:00, then eat out after.” His eyes lit up like a child’s.

We enjoyed the movie, even though Kaa, the snake, made me cringe. Throughout, Peter asked over and over how “they got the animals to do that?”

“They aren’t real,” I said again and again, “that’s special computer animation combined with real animals’ movements…””How do…?”

“I dunno’ how…it’s magic,” I said.

Afterwards, as promised, we went to our favorite restaurant. Peter ordered his usual, and me, mine. “That looks good,” he said of my suguk wrap, as I knew he would. “I’ll order that the next time,” he added as he tucked into his kebab.

“You say that every time,” I laughed. “You ordered this once and liked it.”

He nodded. “I remember,” he said. “But, I’m not going to say, ‘any good movies on’, because we just saw one, didn’t we?” His eyes twinkled. “See, I remembered.” He was quite pleased with himself.

“Wow, I’m amazed. And what was the movie?”

“HA! ‘Jungle Book’,” he said proudly. That moment, a tiny glimmer of clarity, made us chuckle. “But, how did they get the animals to do that?” he asked. Again.

Well, the briefest flash of light through fog is better than no light at all.

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Header photo: Mowgli and Bagheera in a scene from “Jungle Book” (2016)
Animation example: Screen Slam on YouTube (2016)

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

 

It was a date.

“I know what the date it,” Peter said suddenly, “but I don’t know the day.”  We were having coffee at our favorite bakery. We go there fairly often, but this was a special day.

“Mmm,” I said, “what is the date then?”

He nodded towards the large hanging blackboard that had specials listed. February 26, 2016 was written across the top. His birthday.

Version 2

I laughed. “That’s why we’re here. It’s your birthday. And it’s Friday by the way.”

Version 2

“My birthday? I didn’t know…”

“You didn’t know even when I said ‘Happy Birthday’ when you got up, nor from the message I put on your board…?”

“When was that?”

“First thing this morning,” I said.

“Oh, that was a long time ago.” Thirty seconds is a long time ago for him these days.

It turned out to be one of his best birthdays ever, I think. We went to see the newly released “Eddie the Eagle” followed by fish and chips at Red Robin. I figured the movie — about the young Englishman who decided to compete as a ski jumper in the 1988 Calgary Olympics — would be a sure bet. And it was. Most films with English overtones catch Peter’s fancy, and this one laugh-out-loud funny and punctuated with Olympian excitement and hope. We laughed at Eddy who had no fear, and groaned and yelped at his spectacular crashes. We trained and strained with him as he worked toward his goal. The movie was the perfect antidote for the week I’d had, and a perfect birthday treat  for my husband.

Later, he pronounced his fish and chips “good as always.” We even shared Chocolate “Fruffles”™ to drench in fruit “ketchup” and whipped creme. What’s not to love?

“So you liked the movie, then?” I said. “Good, wasn’t it?”

“What movie?” he asked, then shook his head disgustedly. “Sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t remember.” I gave him clues — “English…skiing…Olympics…Eagle” — but nothing sparked his memory.

He noticed his message board for the first time when we got home. Later, he jotted a note to me: THANK YOU.

Even if he couldn’t recall what he was thanking me for, that made my day.

Header photo: Chairs at our favorite bakery, Our Daily Bread.

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Lefty’s is all right.

Our favorite restaurant, Lefty’s, recently moved to another location further along Main Street. I was eager to see it, and to eat there. The food is always good.

images-1When our friends Jerry and Shelia visited last week, I suggested we try the new place, but the men wanted a Guinness and fish and chips so they went to Red Robin. We ladies went shopping first, then to Lefty’s. While we chatted, a favorite waiter walked by. I was impressed,  I said. “Oh, is this the first time you’ve been here? Your husband was in last week,” he said. “He was with…”

“Bill,” I said “his companion. He didn’t say they’d been here, but then he doesn’t even remember what he’s eaten when they go out, much less where.”

He chuckled. “We always like to see him. He keeps us laughing.”

“That’s Pete,” Shelia said. “He’s been like that as long as I’ve known him.”

“He’s a good customer. We don’t even mind if he doesn’t pay…”

What? He leaves without paying?” I squeaked. “You do chase him and get the money, don’t you?” (Until a few months ago, Peter walked to Lefty’s by himself occasionally so I could see how it happened without Bill or me to watch him.)

“Nah, we love him, and it doesn’t matter. Evens out anyway because a couple of times he managed to pay twice somehow.”

I thanked him for the kindnesses. Shelia and I laughed, but really, I was embarrassed! Peter gets special service when he goes to Red Robin with Bill or me and now, obviously, he gets special treatment at Lefty’s, too.

As his ol’ granny would have said, “A bit of all right, that.”

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2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Chips, a food group unto itself.

Fish ‘n’ chips. Egg ‘n’ chips. Sausage ‘n’ chips.

I could rotate those three meals every night of the week and get no complaints from my English husband. Not only are they are his favorite meals, but he forgets from one meal to the next what he ate the day before. If I added in bangers and mash, bubble and squeak, and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, I’d be a star.

Screen shot 2014-09-13 at 11.16.35 AMIn England, chips (French fries) are as iconic as a nice cuppa tea. Brits eat chips with anything. We’ve even had them served with pizza and a spicy Indian meal.

Around here, Red Robin has the best fish and chips, Peter says. We went there for lunch recently and sat at the bar, as always. The bartender, a sweet young woman and one of his favorites, asked, “The usual?”
Peter turned to me. “What beer do I have?”
I said Guinness, but the barmaid shook her head slightly. “Only in bottles.”
“What do you have then?” he asked as he got up to look at the taps.
She was already drawing a sample of another beer. “This is the one you like,” she said, as she handed it to him to taste.
“Yes! A pint of that,” he agreed, licking his lips.
I whispered to her, “Do you do that every time he’s here?” (Peter and companion Bill have lunch there at least twice a month.) She nodded yes, but flapped her hand as if to say, that’s OK.
images-1But then he confounded both of us when he ordered a burger and chips, instead of fish and chips.

While we were eating, a waitress came by and tapped him on the shoulder. “You haven’t been in for a while,” she said with a giggle. “We’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too, darlin’,” he said, as I knew he would. “Why aren’t you behind the bar today?”
They were short a waitress, she explained, so she had to fill in.

Then along came the manager. “Whad you doin’ to me, man?” he asked. “I don’ know who you are when you don’ order fish and chips!”
“Oh, I’ve got ‘the wife’ with me this time,” he said, as if I forced him to have a burger instead of marginally better-for-him fried fish. He knows how it riles me to be called the wife, and he does it to see my eyes shoot sparks. Of all the things he’s forgotten in recent years, he hasn’t forgotten that.

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Header photo: Holly Exley Illustration, London, UK.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

Friday the thirteenth wasn’t bad at all.

A spur o’moment lunch out was just what we needed yesterday after a tumultuous week. The day was bright, excitingly windy, and there was an invigorating nip in the air.

“Want to go out for lunch?” I called to Peter. He was holed up in the basement as usual.

“Yes!” He was ready in spirit instantly, but another half hour passed before he was ready physically. Oh, it’s not that he can’t do it, no, it’s that he changes his clothes more often than a high school girl getting ready for her first date.

Finally, I corralled him into the car. We headed to Salem, a short trip down the mountain. The scenic route, I’d decided — less trucks, fewer wind gusts, less taxing drive — but I entered the Interstate automatically. “Ah-h, forgot where I was going,” I grumbled.

“Now you know why I don’t drive anymore,” Peter said. I whipped off at the first exit and got back onto the quieter, prettier road.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 1.44.29 PMPeter was as excited as a kid at Christmas when he realized we were headed to The Blue Apron. We were no sooner seated than he said, “Well, I see they still haven’t fixed the wall.” I turned to see what he meant, then noticed his twinkling eyes. I groaned at his worn joke. The walls are original old brick and they are lovely.

When the server came to take our drinks order, Peter said, “What beer do you have?” He listened carefully as she recited a long list of beers with inventive and mostly unrecognizable names. “I’ll have an IPA…I just wanted to hear you say all of them.” My apologetic glance said I-can’t-do-anything-with-him. She laughed.

Peter ordered the swordfish entree, not the luncheon serving, as she suggested, rather the dinner one. “Good,” I said, “I won’t have to fix dinner.” It was nearly 2:00 by then.

When she returned to ask how everything was, Peter said, “Oh, terrible…” He always does that, then waits to see if the server has heard what he’s said. She heard, but she already had his number and laughed. Some time later she returned, noted Peter’s near-empty beer and asked if he’d like another. “Yes, but not today, thank you,” he said.

I sat back, shocked, not that he’d said no, but because I’d never heard that one before. “I can’t believe you came up with a new line,” I said.

“I always say that when I’m out on me own. You’re never there when I’m out with me mates,” he insisted.

“Well, no-o, but you haven’t been out with them in years. Anyway, it’s new to me.”

We ordered desserts, lavender pistachio chiffon for Peter, espresso panna cotta for me. Peter was taken aback at how purple his was, but ate every bite. I could’ve eaten two more panna cottas. “Two more,” Peter said, nodding toward my empty cup when the server came back.

“Really?” she asked. I shook my head and rolled my eyes towards my husband. “You really have your hands full, don’t you? she asked.

She got a big tip.

Header photo: The Blue Apron’s brick wall.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

 

Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Peter loves the stringy vegetable that is served as a dessert: in rhubarb pie,   rhubarb Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.39.50 AMcrumble, Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.31.15 AMrhubarb coffee cakes, rhubarb compote and rhubarb sauce, to name just a few. And, if you’re English, like my husband, you like your rhubarb sauce with Bird’s Custard.

I love rhubarb too. Our neighbors keep us supplied throughout the season. The final bunch Jeff delivered was last evening’s dessert. Peter ate his right after dinner. When he offered to serve mine, I said I’d wait a while.

After the evening news I went upstairs to take a shower. The shower didn’t take long, but I fiddled around straightening my closet and folding the last of the laundry. When I came back down, ready to watch “The Great British Bake-Off,” I was ready for my dessert. Peter was washing the pan I’d left it in.

“Where’s my rhubarb?” I asked. “Did you eat my rhubarb?”

“Don’t remember,” he said. “Sorry.” Humph, I don’t think he was sorry — he was licking his lips — but I know he didn’t remember!

I can forgive a lot of things, but eating my rhubarb isn’t one of them. From now on, I’ll have to camouflage my portion somehow. I already write our names on bananas, and mark the McVitie’s Digestive biscuit packages “his” and “hers.”

Rhubarb is often paired with strawberries in pies, though there are those rhubarb purists who consider the combination a “rather unhappy marriage.” Peter and I agree with the purists.

Header photo: Local Roots Food Tours, Sacramento, CA
Rhubarb pie photo: Nubi, Heidi Murphy 6/4/15
Other photos: webcam grab

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

‘The stuff that dreams are made of.’

“Any good movies on?” Peter asked. That’s one of several questions he repeats every single day. “No” is my usual answer because most movies these days, especially summer releases, aren’t our cups of tea. We watch Netflix a lot which suits me — the popcorn is better at home. Recently though, after a stressful week, I surprised him. “Let’s go see ‘Jurassic World’,” I said.

We headed to the huge new movie/bowling alley/arcade/restaurant hub with a stop at Wendy’s first. We snuck into the complex, chocolate Frostys tucked close, and huddled in the gloomy lobby to eat them. The place was a madhouse. And we had to choose seats and buy tickets on a touch screen computer thingie. Ack.

When we entered the theater I burst out laughing. News of summer’s blockbuster hadn’t reached our little burg — only one other couple was there. As the lights dimmed, piercing music jarred us upright in our reclining seats. We plugged our ears and wished we could mute the previews for movies we’d never go see.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.43.30 AMWe’d liked the original “Jurassic Park,” but this fourth iteration was at least two too many. The story line was weak and the characters were shallow. “Claire,” the park’s operations manager, raced from one catastrophe to the next wearing a white linen suit and pumps — no dirt, no muck, not even a wrinkle. If the wardrobe designer had any Oscar dreams the white shoes helped dash them.

The evening was the stuff of nightmares.

 

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Sam Elliott and Blythe Danner dream.

“I’ll see you in my dreams” was playing at our lovely restored Lyric theater downtown last week. We had chicken kebabs at a favorite restaurant, got frozen yogurt up the street, then walked to the Lyric. In its pleasant, well-lit lobby, we exchanged hellos and hugs with several friends. Civilized. Perfect.

I asked Peter to hold my yogurt cup while I bought the tickets at the quaint old kiosk. Charming.

The refreshments stand often has homemade baked goods, but theater management doesn’t mind outside treats brought in. I was looking forward to my frozen yogurt. I savor it slowly; Peter finished his before we walked in the door. Tickets purchased, I looked around and saw him leaning against the wall scraping out…wait…my cup!  I knocked people aside to grab it. It was two spoonfuls away from empty.

“That’s mine, you bugger,” I yelped. Heads swiveled in my direction. Oops. There were enough Brits in the lobby to have heard my naughty “B” word. Poor Peter’d forgotten he’d finished his yogurt and that he was holding mine. He was bewildered by my carrying on, but he suggested sweetly that we run back to the shop to get another. “Not enough time,” I grumbled. “I’ll get one on the way home.”

When the movie started — absolutely delightful, by the way — I stopped whining. Nothing better than a romantic comedy to encourage sweet dreams.

My husband is the one with the failing memory, but I’m the one who forgot all about a replacement frozen yogurt after the credits rolled. In the end, Peter had the last laugh.

Header photo: Jurassic Park memory.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.