Be Prepared

My friend Rachel and I have done a fair amount of traveling together over the last ten years.  Mostly we’ve gone to dog shows, with occasional side trips thrown in.  We like a lot of the same things—deerhounds, horses, art, jewelry, and husbands who stay home with the animals while we jaunt around the country. Rachel had a military career before settling down in Sierra Vista, AZ, and I know it drives her crazy that I am ALWAYS late because she’s always buttoned up early and squared away.  She has a big cargo van, which is even more spacious than my Ford passenger van, so occasionally she helps me out when I need to transport things. In exchange for putting up with my tardiness, Rachel gets to observe my idiosyncrasies and provide our other friends with endless entertainment by telling stories about me.

In August Rachel agreed to meet me in Colorado at my parent’s condominium there, which had just been sold, to help me transport my father’s artwork and my mother’s “collectibles” (yes, Mom loved tschotkes too!) back to San Diego.  Our mission was to sort through twenty years of belongings in twenty four hours from Friday evening to Saturday night, then hightail it back home 976 miles on Sunday morning to be back at work by Monday.  It was a tall order, but we managed.  Most of the furniture was to remain behind to be picked up and donated to Habitat for Humanity, including an almost new and very large television set.  Rachel’s tv at home had just gone on the blink, so I offered her the behemoth in the living room.  She said, “Let’s see how much room we have in the van.”  I said, “Let’s put it in soon, then.”  She said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to get it down the stairs—it’s heavy!” When all was said and done and oil paintings and antiques were sandwiched safely between multiple dog beds, space was at a premium and the television stayed in the living room.

At nine am on Sunday morning, Rachel was seated in the driver’s seat, ready to roll.  In true obsessive compulsive fashion, I told her that I needed to make one more “pass-through”, just to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything important. She sighed and watched the minutes tick away while I ran back into the house.  I realized I had forgotten the closet in the master bathroom.  And that’s when I discovered the treasure trove!  Packaged up neatly into one gallon Zip Lock bags, were dozens of complete first aid kits—the remnants of my father’s many overseas travels.  Each bag was perfect—alcohol wipes, benzoin, gloves, suture material, gauze, dressings, steroid and antibiotic creams, and band-aids.  Many, many band-aids.  My heart was aflutter—I saw a first aid kit for every family car, for the barn, for the spare suitcase, for the dog grooming bag.  While Rachel waited patiently in the car, I stuffed the first aid kits into garbage bags, laundry bags, grocery bags—anything that would hold them. She watched in dismay as I ran to the car and tucked my treasures into every spare nook and cranny.  I was very proud of my resourcefulness, and I offered her some of the take.

Four months later, she still enjoys telling the story.  She regaled the guests who had come to her home a few weeks ago to pick up their new deerhound puppies with the tale of her crazy friend, who walked away from a brand new big screen tv, not to mention crystal and porcelain and her mother’s mink coat (which incidentally made her look like the Michelin tire man) in order to stuff BAGS OF BANDAIDS IN THE CAR!  I let her have her moment of hilarity.  But I know, in my heart, that those band-aids will prove to be far more useful than the mink coat.  The next time someone calls out—at a dog show, on an airplane, at the gas station—“Is there a doctor in the house??!!!”—like a good Boy Scout, I will be prepared.

What Is It With Kitchens?

The original title of this blog piece was CLEANING OUT THE KITCHEN.  I started it before I went to Colorado to clean out my mother’s house, and specifically her kitchen.  It began: You know those old circus acts where a tiny car pulls up on the stage and then people and dogs start coming out and they just keep coming and coming and you keep thinking, “There is NO way all of those dogs and people could have fit in that tiny car!”   Apparently that is my kitchen.  And my mother’s kitchen, and probably the kitchens of a whole lot of other people I know.  As it turns out, there seems to be a universal appeal of kitchenware and gadgets acquired, but not truly needed.

I found enough material in my mother’s kitchen to completely outfit at least three kitchens.  There were two sets of everyday china, two sets of stainless steel utensils, two sets of pots and pans, and multiples of nearly every baking dish and tray known to man.  There were two Cuisinarts, a large old one and a small new one, entirely unused. An ancient and lonely MixMaster was tucked into a corner cabinet and extra bowls for it were curiously stored in the guest bedroom.  Two Osterizer blenders stood ready for service and there were hors d’oeurvres trays of every size and shape, Tupperware beyond reason, and a lovely set of glasses emblazoned with ground glass butterflies that I had never seen before, tucked in a cabinet above the cook range.  There were two sets of fine china, both of which I remember from Thanksgivings as a child, and an additional set, a curious sky blue patterned with tiny gold stars that I had never seen.  Good knives were in conspicuously short supply, lending credence to the idea that my mother did not actually COOK, at least not in recent memory, confirmed by a new rolling pin sheathed in its original cardboard wrapper. My grandmother’s silver, monogrammed and polished, resided next to my mother’s Grand Baroque service for twelve, including ice tea spoons.  Who actually uses ice tea spoons?  The silver tea service perched on the buffet was a relic from a bygone era, more genteel, more civilized, when folks actually had sit down dinner parties, and real conversations while seated uncomfortably next to someone other than their spouse.

Before I left for Colorado, I had the entire interior of my house painted for the first time in fifteen years.  I decided to paint the old stained and worn oak kitchen cabinets a light cream color, which necessitated removing all of the kitchenware from them.  In cleaning out my own cabinets, I gave away a brand new Crock Pot, never used, a juicer, also never used since I can buy fresh squeezed orange juice at my local market, a Quesadilla maker (yes, they exist), a George Foreman grill, a toaster abandoned in favor of the panini maker, and what was left of the cracked and chipped everyday dishes I’ve used since getting married over thirty years ago.  Everything else was loaded into boxes, to be lovingly replaced in an organized fashion upon my return.  Tonight we grilled salmon and steak and served them up on a set of my mother’s old china.  The boxes are still packed and seem likely to remain so.  Four boxes were mailed from Colorado to my son and his girlfriend setting up house in Washington DC.

I am continuously amazed at truly, how little we actually need of all of the things that we have accumulated.

Back at the Ranch

“The sun is riz, the sun is set, and we ain’t outta Texas yet!”

It takes a full day to waltz across Texas.  I’ve been reminded of this twice in the last four years—once in July of 2009 when I drove my daughter from California out to Houston to start medical school, and the second time eighteen months ago when we drove my mother’s barely used Subaru from Colorado to Houston to replace the now ancient Volvo we had bought my daughter for her sixteenth birthday.  A girl’s got to have wheels, you know. Both of these trips reminded me of the long charter bus rides that I used to take as a child competing for the Dad’s Club YMCA swim team at out-of-town meets all across the state.  My favorite ride was through the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio in the spring, when thousands of bluebonnets carpeted the roadsides, punctuated by red dots of Indian paintbrush.  Back in those days, I would gaze out the window at the Herefords and Black Angus and I would imagine that one day, some day, I would have my own ranch.  Others would complain about the endless stretch of highway between San Antonio and El Paso, but not me.  I could easily imagine myself owning a thousand barren acres in west Texas, where I would have all of the dogs and horses I could ever want, and not have to talk to anybody, nope, never.   How I would make a living out of that ranch never crossed my mind.

That fantasy came to an abrupt end a few years ago as both of my parents faced major health crises.  Twenty five years back, they had retired from Houston to live out their dream in the Aspen/Snowmass area of Colorado. Well, perhaps “retired” is not quite the right word, since my mother never worked outside the home and my father never stopped working—he  likes to call himself “the oldest practicing plastic surgeon in the United States”, to which I rejoin, “Perhaps you shouldn’t brag about that, Dad.” But I am digressing.  They became avid skiers in the winter, and enthusiastic hikers in the summer, and they played golf and tennis and rode horses on the mountain trails.  They did that until my mother became ill in the spring of 2005, gradually losing her ability to walk, and to think clearly, and I discovered that while Aspen is a glorious place to have a cruciate ligament repaired, or to fix a compound fracture fresh off the slopes, it is no place to come down with a lymphoma of the central nervous system requiring chemotherapy to be instilled directly into the ventricles of the brain.  They don’t do that at Aspen Valley Hospital, or likely anywhere in the middle of that stretch of Interstate 10 between El Paso or San Antonio.  My father’s recent bout with pneumonia and a touch of heart failure confirmed my suspicions that, cowardly as it sounds, I want to be near good doctors and good hospitals as I age.

I never did get that ranch in Texas, but fifteen years ago we bought three level acres smartly outfitted with a four stall portable barn and a couple of grass paddocks here in San Diego County, on a street which was originally named Caballo Rojo.  My first Quarter Horse, and the first tenant here was a little red gelding named Lucky, so with a sly smile and tongue firmly in cheek we called our new place Rancho del Caballo Rojo and the name has stuck. And when I fall off my horse, as I have on occasion, I am deeply grateful that some of the best hospitals in the country are less than twenty five minutes away.  Dad, for the meantime, is living with us.  But he held on to a hundred acres or so that he bought years ago in Pleat, Texas, southwest of Houston, with its own working oil well on the property.  On a good day, that old well pumps out five barrels of oil a day.  Sometimes I dream about retiring there, so last time I was in Houston we went out to see the old farmstead.  Say what you will but I was very glad to see that a large and very modern appearing hospital has been built very, very nearby!