Going to the Y

To begin with, I truly admire anybody who gets themselves out of bed and works out whether at a gym, or riding a bike, or going for a hike, or doing laps at the pool. I set what I thought was an attainable goal — 6 mornings a week for 40 minutes. Amazing how many things can interfere from a phone call that changes my focus to a one-day-class that breaks my routine to simply not wanting to get out of bed. Still, I’m pretty faithful. And I find the people at the Y intriguing.

YMCAThe one who puzzles me most is the woman who carries her purse with her everywhere. She doesn’t do the treadmill — she walks the track lugging her handbag. There are small cubbies and even new lockers right there on the workout floor where people can stash their stuff, but she apparently feels the need to have her handbag with her. Perhaps it’s like carrying weights — except there’s only one.

A couple of the women come in full makeup — blush, lipstick, mascarra — the whole bit. Why? I wonder as I wipe sweat out of my eyes. Surely they’re going to go home and jump in the shower when they’re done here. I mean, this is the Y for pity sake — it’s full of old people, not like 24 Hour Fitness where the Spandex-wrapped hot bods go to see and be seen and perhaps hook up. This is the place for people who are simply doing what they can to keep those moving parts moving, hoping to keep arthritis at bay.

I find it rather discouraging, however, that nobody seems to change. I’ve seen the same two fat women (okay, that’s not PC — so sue me) for a long time and in spite of their religious trot around the track and their faithful attendance at the aerobics class, they’re still fat. Maybe coming here and burning calories allows them to enjoy a guilt-free bowl of ice cream every night.     aerobics class

Then there are the people who take the elevator to the second floor workout room and head for the stair-stepper. I will never figure that one out.

George, who has been there ever since I originally signed up 10 years ago (and no, I haven’t been going for 10 years!) is still doing the same routine. He is a good-looking man who doesn’t seem to age — must be somewhere in his mid-70s. (But that’s what I thought 10 years ago.) His routine is the same except he used to come in and put his foot up on the barre and touch his head to his knee. He now puts his foot up on a chair and leans toward it. If he’s been doing this faithfully for 10 years and he’s losing ground, what hope is there for me who only does this every few years for a couple of months at a time?

I am most impressed by the man who has evidently had a stroke. Not an old man, either; maybe middle-aged. He leans on a cane as he makes his slow progress across the floor. He has a smile and cheerful “hello” for everyone. He works the machines and I often hear people encouraging him.

I’ve only been here 25 minutes and I’m ready to leave, impatient at how long 40 minutes can be. Camille shows up — haven’t seen her in weeks. She steps on the elliptical next to me. “How’ve you been?” I ask. “Well, the surgery went okay. I’m taking it slow.”

I’m ashamed to realize I didn’t remember her telling me she was going to have surgery. Now I can hardly ask about it.

“What have you been up to?” she asks, adjusting her stride and bumping the level up to 4. I glance at my machine — I’m at level 1.

“Oh, not much. Trying to keep cool. I planted some little plants last week when it had sort of cooled down, but when it got hot again, the poor little things just fried.”

“I wish I had a garden,”  she sighs. I’m instantly ashamed. I have so much — a nice home, friends, time and money to do whatever pleases me, a strong healthy body that lets me do whatever I want — and here I am whining about spending a few minutes at the Y. I look around at all the people pumping, striding, bending and pushing, and I feel like an imposter.

We chat for a few more minutes until she says, “Well, that’s it for me.” She slows down and steps gingerly off the machine. A friend comes up and says, “you ready to work on your abs?” Camille laughs. “Not today — it’s too soon. How about a walk around the track?” She gives me a wave and they set off.

I look down at my timer. 50 minutes! I’m ten minutes over. Bonus!

I trot down the stairs, pleased with myself. Now I can start my day with a clear conscience — and tomorrow I’ll only have to do half an hour!


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The hazards of coffee

“Robin, do you have a leak in your roof?” Susie had come by to collect me for lunch and was staring at my dining room ceiling.

“No, not that I know of. Why?”

Silently she pointed upward.  There on the ceiling were a couple of dozen dark spots of various sizes. We have been having some rain lately and I suppose it’s possible but surely I would have noticed. I stared for a minute. “Oh, I know,” I said. “I spilled coffee yesterday.”

“You spilled coffee on the ceiling?

Is it time to eat?

Is it time to eat?

“Apparently so.” Drat. How am I going to get that off of there? “I spent all morning on my hands-and-knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, but I never thought about the ceiling.”

We both stared some more. “Just tell me how you did it.”

I sighed, remembering. “You know how you reach for something when you’re really not looking and mis-judge it?” Susie nodded. “I was reading the paper and reached for the coffee cup and instead of grabbing it, I knocked into it and it went flying.” I took a tentative step and winced when I felt the slight squish in the carpet. Still not dry.

“Yes, but how did it get up there?”

“It was really quite remarkable — I probably couldn’t duplicate it if I tried. When I knocked the cup, it didn’t tip, it just sort of jumped onto the floor and landed right side up with such a thud that the coffee sprayed out like a geyser. I was drenched. Everything on the table was soaked. Thank goodness I hadn’t yet showered and dressed for the day. The only thing that didn’t get wet was Lop Ear because he was under the table.”

Lop Ear, hearing his name and assuming that meant it was time to eat, perked right up, his bad ear twitching.

“No, you big lunk, it is not dinner time. Go eat that dry food that’s in your dish.” With a sigh of great long-suffering, he turned around and laid back down under the chair.

Later that afternoon I dragged out the step stool, grabbed my bottle of vinegar water and a sponge and set to work. The vinegar water barely made a dent. It’s hard work scrubbing a ceiling, by-the-way. Okay, let’s try something else — I fished under the sink and came up with 409. Not all that much better and let me tell you, that stuff stings when it gets in your eyes.

Okay, next to try — hmmm… spray Clorox. Okay, that must be it. You know, standing on a ladder spraying something over your head and trying to keep your eyes closed at the same time is NOT easy. But I think I’ve got it. Well, pretty much anyway.

So now my dining room smells like bleach, two-day old coffee and the rug is still slightly squishy — I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

Besides, who looks at ceilings anyway? Well, besides Susie.






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Bargain Day !

Don’t you just love when you find a great bargain? A couple of weeks ago I got that Rosenblum zinfandel at about 1/3 the price it was going for elsewhere and yesterday I found some more bargains — and I wasn’t even looking. Not wine, though, other stuff. Let’s start with the plants!

Mexican Bird of Paradise

Mexican Bird of Paradise

First of all, I finally grabbed the trowel and clippers, pulled on my gardening gloves and removed the dead snapdragons from the little space under the kitchen window. I love to have flowers there because it makes the entrance festive — but not when it’s a bunch of dead stalks. So now, what to replace them with? It’s a bit of a problem because the area is small and right up against the stucco wall so it gets plenty of heat, but it is also north-facing so only gets direct sunshine for a few hours in mid-summer. Flowers need sunshine to bloom. I don’t know if that’s a scientific fact, but I’ve discovered it’s true as I’ve tried a variety of flowers there — mums and snapdragons and impatiens. So, off to the nursery.

Texas Sage

Texas Sage

I’ve found that Lowe’s has a pretty good selection of plants, so headed there. The one farthest from me — but easiest to get to because it’s just off the freeway — always has some good bargains and unusual plants. Today, they had something called a “Potato bush” which wouldn’t fit in that space, but maybe could replace my now-dead butterfly bush. When I re-landscaped a few years ago, I chose plants that were orange and purple — sounds ghastly, but really it’s a striking combination. Beautiful purple “Texas Sage” and Mexican bird-of-paradise which is bright orange. I’m not carrying that color-scheme through to the little planter, but am determined to keep it in the front yard. But I digress …

I looked at all the plants and discovered that almost all of them said, “full sun,” which ordinarily in our climate would be ideal. But not in the shaded flower bed. I did a couple of circuits around the garden center just to be sure, and as I was getting ready to leave, noticed a bright yellow tag over by the plant food. “Clearance — 73 cents.” Really? Big bags of plant food for flowers. “Originally $12.97.” Really?? There were only two bags and I grabbed them both. “Are these really 73 cents?” I asked the cashier. She scanned them quickly. “You bet.” “Wow! I’ll take them both.” That’s enough plant food to last a couple of years even if I do remember to use it every 3 months.

I left sans flowers, but feeling quite pleased. Now on to the other Lowe’s. but first, a quick run into K Mart to check out their garden center, only to find it totally devoid of flowers. Nothing — nada — zilch. Well, boo. On the way out, however, I passed a big bin of notebook paper marked 50 cents. Terrific! I needed some notebook paper to put in the backpacks I’m putting together for the church’s “back-to-school-backpack” drive. I’d meant to go to the Dollar Store, but here it was marked 50 cents a pack! Wow! I scooped up 6 packs and was astonished when the cashier said, “that’s $1.89.” “No, I told her, they’re 50 cents each — it should be $3.24″ (8% tax). She checked the cash register receipt, she counted the number of packs of paper. “No, for some reason it deducted another $1.25. It’s $1.89.” I put two dollars in her hand and grabbed my paper, not even bothering with a bag. Such a deal!

And as I was heading to Lowe’s I remembered, “Hey, this is the day that Long John Silver’s is giving away fish and fries!” I’d seen the ad for free fish and fries — no purchase necessary — between noon and 3:00 p.m. It was close to 2:00 by this time and I figured I’d missed the bulk of the crowd. Only a few people waiting to pick up their orders and one woman ahead of me in line. She had a handful of coupons and was evidently ordering for an entire tribe.

“… and the shrimp basket,” she said as she shuffled through her papers, “and, uh, one of the fish-chicken-combo, and, uh, let me see … oh, yes, a two piece with fries, and … how much is that now?” Oh my gosh, just as  I was about ready to grab the coupons out of her hand and yell at her, she said, “I guess that’s enough.” “More than enough,” I wanted to add, eyeing her massive girth. Of course, who am I to talk — I’m not a size 10 myself.

I got my fish and fries which were actually pretty good — at least the fish. Fries are fries.

On to Lowe’s where I was not surprised to find that their selection of plants was meager and of no interest whatsoever. I took a quick peek at their plant food section and spotted the exact same bag of plant food that was 73 cents at the other Lowe’s and here it was marked $1.79. Feeling very smug, I smiled at the cashier and walked out empty-handed.

I still have to find some plants to go under the kitchen window, and now I have enough plant food to last for the next three years. And oh yes, when I got home, I discovered it was the same as the plant food I’d bought earlier this year at the nursery and paid $13 for the bag. Am I good, or what?

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Verdict on the two Rosenblums

bottles with glasses and grapes

Okay, because I wanted my bargain Rosenblum zinfandel to have every opportunity to show at its best, we did have a nice steak dinner. You know, it’s sort of like putting on your Sunday best when you’re trying to make a good impression. If the wine showed poorly, I didn’t want to think it was because I didn’t give it my best shot.

So I chose the Sonoma Valley Maggie’s Reserve to go with the grilled T-Bones and Susie brought sauteed mushrooms. The dinner was delicious and the wine was a good complement although it quickly became apparent that most of the fruit was gone. No question that there was plenty of sharp pepper and spice and maybe a hint of licorice.(The label said a burst of eucalpytus but none of us detected any.)  Not bad, but I do like fruit in my zinfandel. However, as it opened up in the glass, it became more mellow. It certainly  did complement the hot red meat. No matter how well barbecued, there was still some nice fat — oops, I mean marbeling — in those steaks and the rich spice and pepper did a good job of cleansing the palate.

The label says the wine offers aromas of “wild raspberry, blackberry and a touch of vanilla.” Do you think wild raspberries smell different from cultivated raspberries?And how wild do those raspberries have to get, anyway? Do you suppose they go to parties and wear little lampshades on their heads? Hey, wild or tamed doesn’t matter — I love raspberries any way I can get them. And if there is a hint of raspberry aroma in a glass of wine, so much the better

A couple of nights later, I opened the other Rosenblum — the Harris Kratka Vineyard from the Alexander Valley which is at the north end of Sonoma. Now this one definitely had fruit on the palate. The label says “rich plum and cherry with flavors of ripe raspberry, currant, vanilla and spice,” and it all came through. Wow!

As soon as I walked into Marche Bacchus the week after I had picked up my four bottles of 2006 Rosenblum Zinfandel at the bargain price of $12.99, Tex sauntered up to me.

“Let me show you something.”  He guided me to the “discount table” that the owner, Jeff, has by the door. There was the Rosenblum zinfandel marked down (it said) from $29.99 to $19.99. “Good thing we got it when we did,” Tex said with a laugh.

That’s one of those times where you wish you’d bought a few more bottles. But on the other hand, I’m just happy to have the ones I got. You never know about those bargain wines!



My friends had brought an Italian wine

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The 3 Rs of Zinfandel

It was several years ago that a wine buyer for a market told me I could not go wrong with zinfandel if I stuck to the Three R’s: Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum. I think there might be a 4th R and there are many excellent zinfandels that don’t start with R — but it was a handy, quick guide.

I thought of that a couple of weeks ago at the wine tasting at Marche Bacchus. We were tasting wines from Hahn Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The Santa Lucia AVA is on the backside of the mountains that face Monterey Bay. I’ve been there several times and loved the Hahn tasting room and always ended up buying a couple of bottles. In fact, just the night before I had opened a Hahn Syrah with my friend Susan.

Good Hahn wines that don't cost a fortune.

Good Hahn wines that don’t cost a fortune.

So at Marche Bacchus, we were listening to the merits of the various wines when Tex sidled up to me and said, “you’re a zin fan, aren’t you?” “You bet!” I’d been to several wine tastings with that group and I guess I’d made my love for zinfandel pretty well-known.

“Look at this,” Tex continued in a soft voice — the tone suggesting he had found a hidden treasure and was trying to keep it under wraps. “Jeff [the owner of Marche Bacchus] just got it in.” A small stack of boxes was standing to one side. They all said Rosenblum.

This” turned out to be a case of Rosenblum Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley — Maggie’s Reserve.

“It’s a 2006,” Tex went on. “Needs to be drunk right now.”

“So do I!” I replied — an old and terribly corny joke.

“There’s more,” Tex continued, giving me a pass on my feeble attempt to be witty. “Look.” He pointed to one of the other Rosenblum boxes: “2006 Alexander Valley. Harris Kratka Vineyard. Jeff’s selling them for $13. I’m going to get some of this and some of the Hahn. There’s a discount on 12 bottles or more.”

You just can't go wrong with Rosenblum zinfandel!

You just can’t go wrong with Rosenblum zinfandel!

Tom had sidled up, glass of Hahn Chenin Blanc in hand, his IPhone in the other. “You gonna order some?” he asked Tex.

“Yeah. I was just showing Robin this Rosenblum Zinfandel. Jeff’s selling it at $13 a bottle.”

Tom fiddled with his IPhone a couple of minutes then said, “That’s a bargain. Everyplace else has it listed for $30.”

“I want four bottles,” I said quickly, “two of each.”  Tex scribbled on the back of his tasting sheet.

“Yeah, I want some, too. And some of this Hahn,” Tom told him. Everyone loved the Hahn, and it didn’t hurt that the prices were all less than $20. In spite of that, I resisted the Hahn. Outside of the Cabernet, the others were whites or Pinot Noirs. Perfect for summer, but I was a lot more interested in getting in on the bargain zinfandel.

The next week I went back with cash in my purse I’d no sooner walked into the restaurant when Tex spotted me, “Got your stuff in the car,” he said. “Don’t worry, It’s in a cooler.”

I happily took my wine home and checked the on-line reviews. Some were less than enthusiastic citing that the wine was 8 years old, which is a lot for a zin, and saying it was mostly spice, having lost its fruit. Others said it was a wonderful wine with a perfect balance of fruit and spice. But being a zinfandel, I really couldn’t judge without a nice juicy steak to pair it with. So I’ll do that this weekend and letcha know.

All I can say is that it’s rare for me to meet a zinfandel I don’t like. And I’m pretty darn sure this one isn’t going to be the exception.


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Berkeley re-visited

Even walking past all those tubs of flowers makes the heart glad.

Tubs of flowers at the Monterey Market. Even walking past them makes the heart glad.

I’m trying to think of how this fits in with either Phyllis Diller or wine, but it doesn’t. Rats. But it’s too much fun to let it go.

Berkeley has a lot of fun, unusual places. I’m wondering if all University towns are this eclectic. Or maybe it’s just cause it’s California. Probably a combination. In any case …

I have many “favorite places” in Berkeley: There’s Fourth Street, a shopping street with the cutest little boutiques you’ve ever seen in your entire life (insert teenage squeal here). Papyrus — a favorite card and stationery store — is sandwiched between Z Gallerie and a furniture store where you can buy a lovely $850 sofa, although it costs ten times that much. There’s a garden store with imaginative little statues and fountains and wrought iron patio furniture, none of which will fit in my suitcase — or my budget. But fun to look. And, of course, restaurants and shoe stores and baby clothes and …

Back on Shattuck Avenue is The Cheese Board, a cheese co-op/bakery which reminds me of the old butcher shop with the long counter and all the wares on display behind the shiny curved glass. The Cheese Board has hundred of cheeses and they give samples. For those of us who have a hard time making decisions, it’s a little bite of heaven.

“What would you like to try?” the man behind the counter asks.

“Um … a blue cheese.”

We walk 8 feet down to where the blue cheeses are displayed. “Something not too sharp,” I add. He cuts a tiny sliver off one of the scores of cheeses. “A little salty,” I say, and he says, “try this one,” and slivers off another tiny taste of a cheese wedge.

Of course, I never ask the price of any of the cheese and walk out with four or five little hunks of cheese and a baguette of French bread still hot from the oven, and a LOT less money in my purse. (When I was in Berkeley last time, my friend Lonnie paid for all those cheeses and I felt sorta bad when I heard the total for less than a pound of cheese. Shoulda just bought caviar — it couldn’t have cost much more!)

Now on to the Monterey Market to gather some mushrooms!

The Monterey Market is far and away my favorite haunt in Berkeley. It’s actually, I think, in Albany — slightly farther north. Never mind — it’s an adventure and I love it. They have the most unusual, divine food ever, mainly produce from local farms. And the mushrooms! Oh. My. Gosh. Mushrooms of a sort that most people have never heard of. At least not people who live where I live. Perhaps people who live in a university town are used to these multiple choices.

And are they expensive? Um, yes. BUT, mushrooms don’t weigh much so even the ones that are $15 or more a pound really aren’t all that expensive considering you’re only going to buy a couple of ounces. And now you’re going to ask me what KIND of mushrooms these are. I can only tell you they are delicious. Whoever heard of these black elephant ear thingies? Or the cute little hen-and-chicks. You know they’re going to be great.

“Oooh, fresh morels!” The lady next to me grabs a bag and gently begins loading it with the small black mushrooms. “They’re picked locally, you know,” she confides in me, (I didn’t) and you can only get the fresh ones in May.” Well, I gotta have some of those for sure.

“Lucinda,” she calls out to a friend, “Come quick. It’s morel season!”

don't these look like fun?

don’t these look like fun?

The rest of these, I’m clueless. Sure I’ve heard of Shitake and even Oyster mushrooms, but the rest of these are all new to me.

I think I could move to Berkeley just to be near the Monterey Market. When I got home, I sauteed them in butter and put them over omelets. With mushrooms like these, who needs bacon?

As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appetit!”


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Phyllis could always make them laugh

This morning I was at the Y doing the treadmill — dreadfully boring but now that summer’s here it’s too hot to walk outside even early in the morning. And of course at the Y they have the bank of TV screens to distract from the plodding — or even trotting — along the moving belt.

Bob Hope With Phyllis Diller

Bob Hope with Phyllis Diller and a furry friend

Usually the screens are full of talking heads solemnly pontificating about the meaning of the latest (fill in the blank) …, but this morning the screen in front of me was showing a Dean Martin Roast. Well, more accurately, a promo for the roasts — snippets of various stars saying funny things about the guest “roastee.” I suppose Saturday is not a big news day.

There were the cream of the crop of funny men and women — Bob Hope, George Burns, Don Rickles, Rich Little, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, and many others. As I plodded along, watching the numbers on the treadmill — the distance, the time elapsed, the calories — crawl slowly upward, I kept glancing at the TV.

A man on his way out paused and stood watching as Nipsey Russell (remember him?) turned the microphone over to Lily Tomlin. After a few remarks, George Burns took her place. The man smiled at some of the jokes, then came Phyllis Diller.

She stepped up to the podium looking quite spectacular. I must say these roasts bring out the best in everyone’s wardrobe. The gentlemen wear tuxedos, the ladies are decked out in evening dresses and sparking jewels. Phyllis looked quite glamorous. None of the “flat-chested, skinny-legged housewife” here.

I didn’t catch everything she said — was watching the mile-tracker sluggishly turn over another tenth of a mile — but when I looked up, she was in the middle of a joke about her face lift and a moment later she delivered the punch line and at that point, the man who had been standing watching laughed out loud. Yes!

There’s a lot of information on the internet about women comedians and what they have to do to be funny. Usually that means looking funny as well as being funny. Phyllis herself said, “Grace Kelly could never be a comedienne.”

Grace Kelly - beautiful, sophisticated, elegant, but NOT funny.

Grace Kelly – beautiful, sophisticated, elegant, but NOT funny.

It also has something to do with attitude and being willing to expose your shortcomings to the world.

As I watched the man watching Phyllis, I was laughing, too — not at Phyllis but at the man who was enjoying himself as she rattled off a string of one-liners. She always could make them laugh. And as he walked away chuckling, I looked down at the little numbers on the treadmill mileage gauge and discovered I had reached my goal! Wa-hoo!

Thank you, Phyllis Diller!



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