Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I didn't know you had a cat

"I didn't know you had a cat."

People said that to us all the time.  But we did.

He wasn't much for parties.  He was more of a hang out on the pillow watching Netflix kind of guy.

If we needed the carpet systematically shredded at every doorway to expose fiendishly sharp nails to bare feet in the night, he had us covered. Likewise if our laptops were somehow devoid of cat hair and the keyboard required some random paw strokes to complete that Powerpoint presentation? Fiki to the rescue.

God forbid you should actually want to read a book.

It was futile to think he would use a scratching post when there was upholstery available in all kinds of expensive fabrics and formats.

When we first brought him home, almost seventeen years ago, he made a beeline for my overstuffed office and disappeared for three days. We found him hidden behind my CFA notebooks, skinny and scared.  Later, it would still sometimes take us hours to locate him, purring in a nest of cables and wires behind the television, or daintily tucked into a basket of bills that was seemingly far to small to hold him.

He was wild for the scent of strawberries.

"Ra-FI-ki!" I would yell into the darkened yard, after he madly made a break through the side door we'd foolishly left cracked open.  All I could hear was the tinkle of the bell around his collar as he headed out for all the adventure freedom could bring. Most of the time, he wound up howling at the door to our bedroom, grumpy and damp, a few hours later.  Once, though, I found a raw notch in his ear from a knock-down, drag-out ear-splitting* battle he had on the lawn at 2 am.

He rocked that notch.

He was wary of strangers, but not unfriendly. Regulars earned a stroll-by and pause for a rub down the back. My niece earned a special gift** placed under her bed in exchange for all the Pounce and bedtime stories when she visited.

He was not fond of closed doors.

But he could be extremely "helpful" with Christmas wrapping.

After years of avoiding my daughter because of her childhood tendency to either grab him and carry him everywhere or run up to him and yell, they finally reached a truce as one of them matured.

He was completely devoted to my son, as they both made the same lifestyle choices of remaining prone in comfortable places with entertaining things to watch.

He tolerated and then taunted Blackjack, sauntering through the kitchen and claiming the couch as soon as the dog retired to the porch, one eye open to watch the cat preening contentedly in his just-vacated spot on the rug. It was almost as though they took shifts being the family pet, and Rafiki had nights.

Night was really our time, his and mine.  He'd walk over my husband's legs to sit on me and watch TV, and then wait patiently as I sat at the kitchen counter and answered email or drafted blog posts after everyone else had gone to bed.

Mostly he was nearby, in companionable silence.  More recently, with the puppy refusing to politely excuse herself from the kitchen like her predecessor, I'd head down the hall and hear the bell following me as he emerged from a chair or under the bed. Teeth brushed, I'd carefully climb under the covers only to find a solid form taking up all the foot room. Inevitably, he would migrate and nestle down right on top of my head, kneading blissfully away with his claws, snarling my hair and purring so loudly I was sure he'd wake the rest of the family.

Then, we would sleep.

Yes, we had a cat.

I wish with all my heart we still did.

Rest in peace, Rafiki

* Literally, he split his ear.
** Dead mouse. He was also an ace lizard tail remover.

Friday, October 30, 2015

K's last day

Los Angeles, like many sprawling cities, has a lot of residential areas that run smack into major business thoroughfares.  Our house, for example, is on a quiet curving street without sidewalks, full of huge trees and long driveways, but it is also a block and a half from a busy car wash, a bus stop, my office building, and two grocery stores.  It is conveniently located for mass murderers and the dog park.

K's Donuts and Burgers | Cheesy Pennies

Right at the corner, tucked into the same parking lot as that car wash and an auto repair place, is K's Donuts and Burgers. I think we picked up doughnuts for the movers the day our van pulled into the driveway, and it's been a part of our lives ever since.

It's a total hole in the wall, with dingy formica counters and a brusque couple working the register. It's cash only. On weekdays, they make burgers and sandwiches, and the lunch special of a quarter-pound cheeseburger, fries and a soda for $6.50 is a steal. Can you get a grilled cheese sandwich? No. Is it the greatest burger ever? Nah. But it's grilled fresh, the fries are piping hot and perfectly salted, and it's $6.50 with a drink, for heaven's sake.

K's Lunch Special | Cheesy Pennies

When we first allowed the kids to leave the house on their own, it was to walk to K's with the dog and get their own lunch. They'd return home, clutching the brown paper bag, supremely proud of themselves not only for the solo outing, but for managing the wad of seven ones we'd given them so proficiently.  Later, when they were starving after school, it was always a rush to try and get there before the grill closed at 4 o'clock.

K's Glazed Old Fashioned | Cheesy Pennies

The lunch special is a deal, but the doughnuts are magic.  The glazed old fashioneds, shown here, are my gold standard for what that doughnut should be.  Slightly tangy from the buttermilk, tender on the inside, crispy on the outside.  Man! So great. Rumor has it they use the original Stan's recipe, which makes it even more of a miracle for us to have them here in this nondescript strip of Encino.

I've talked about K's doughnuts here on the blog more than once. Leaving early for Disneyland? Stop at K's. First day of a new school year? Stop at K's. My son even ran into the headmaster early one morning as they both lined up for fresh doughnuts.  Our office countertop was graced with a bright pink box on more mornings than I can count over the past four years, and we were all the happier (if a little heavier) for it.

About a month ago, the car wash suddenly closed, and a chain link fence appeared around the driveway.  The auto shop, never all that busy, shuttered.  A developer had purchased the lot, and was rapidly pushing the tenants out to make room for yet another cookie cutter apartment complex on a street already riddled with them.  The owners at K's vowed to stay put, and we cheered, hopeful and glad that the little guy was going to win the day.

But then they didn't. Today was K's last day.

The shop was packed. Firemen, employees from the grocery store, nurses and doctors, plumbers and practically our entire office all made the pilgrimage to grab a burger, a tuna sandwich, a box of fries, and the last maple bars.  Everyone shook hands with the owners, who were still hustling and frantically calling out numbers. "Number 2? Double burger with jalapenos? It's ready!" One woman pressed her card into the cashier's hand. "When you get a new place, you CALL me. I will tell EVERYONE. You hear me? I can't believe this."

I can't believe it either. Yes, it's LA. Change is part of the fabric of the city. There are many other great , great doughnut stores in town, some quite close by. But none of them are our doughnut store. None of them are K's.*

* Technically, there is actually another K's Donuts two miles away, but it's not the same K's.
All photos from this post were taken with my phone on my own last day pilgrimage.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The only crisp thing about Fall around here

It's midnight, and the temperature in my kitchen right now is 82 degrees.  Yes, that is correct. The absolute coolest it has been today is 82 degrees, and I had to stay awake until now to experience it.

I've been "glistening" for weeks, along with the rest of LA, as Fall has apparently been kicked to the curb so that summer can just hang out here for a bit while the rest of the country gets to have soup and break out the flattering knitwear.

Toffee Bars | Cheesy Pennies

Not that I'm bitter or anything.  I just want to want to get under the covers sometime soon, that's all.

In lieu of the elusive crisp autumn days, I had to settle for these crisp shortbread bars. Mind you, my idea of settling involves brown sugar, pecans, and chocolate.

Toffee Bars | Cheesy Pennies

Glistening burns a ton of calories.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fast Food for Grown Ups

I spent the past few days with my son, doing the Parents' Weekend thing at his school. Officially, there were campus tours, a football game to watch, long lines at the bookstore where everyone had some variety of sweatshirt in hand, a speech by the university president to be inspired by, not-so-subtle references to upcoming capital campaigns, opportunities to chat with professors and sit in on classes, and a slew of other activities designed to reinforce the wisdom of entrusting this place with our children.  

Unofficially, we were there to get an extra large pizza for leftover purposes, provide transportation to the haircut place, and go to Target and pay*.  

Cart full of college staples | Cheesy Pennies
Taken last year, but literally, we just bought this exact same stuff yesterday.

I totally get the idea that sometimes you need food, fast**.

I just have a very different idea about what that should look like.

Swordfish with Cracked Pepper | Cheesy Pennies

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Birthday Present for Mom

Dear Mom,

I have a big surprise for your birthday today. For the first time ever, I think I found the perfect gift. Are you ready?

Remember when I was away at school, and you'd send me boxes full of Dudley's fruit bars and a massive pack of Bic pens from the Price Club? There would always be a note inside, in your perfect cursive handwriting, with a tidbit about the guinea pigs or the cat or something funny about Mrs. Schneiders next door.  Advice and a prayer were usually included, too.

Remember how you invented your own version of Red Envelope when your grandkids were born and living a thousand miles away from you?  We unwrapped outfits, bought on sale, with the extra senior discount and free gift wrapping. Each one was topped with a bright red envelope with the grandchild's name spelled out in colorful stickers, and another handwritten note, this time in clear block letters for them to "read".

You even befriended the lady at the Burbank Post Office, convinced that your packages full of diaper coupons and nubby crocheted blankets heading out to new moms would get special expedited treatment*.

I loved getting those packages, and so did all the many, many other people who were lucky enough to find one of your priority mail boxes on their front stoop.  But now, I finally understand that sending them meant even more to you.

You were alone, but your heart was full of us. Of your children no longer under foot. Of your grandchildren babbling and walking without you. So you took all that caring and worry and pride and pure aching wish to be near them and boxed it up and put it in the mail, with cookies. You taped it with care, and walked the few blocks to the Post Office. You probably felt immensely better immediately, picturing the faces when the package was opened, knowing the love inside was from you.

When Jasper left for college last year, I wanted nothing more than to call you and say, "I get it! I barely thought of you the whole time I was at school and you just accepted it and sent cookies? I'm so sorry. Oh my God! How did you survive this?!? "

But it was me on my own this time. I couldn't call you. You were gone, too.

So I started baking. I took all my caring and worry and pride and aching to be near him and boxed it up and put it in the mail, with cookies. I taped it with care and drove the few blocks to the Post Office.**

I felt immensely better. I survived.

It turned out you knew exactly what to do, Mom. And now I do, too.

Mom in the Mail: Best Care Packages Ever

I started a care package company, and I named it after you.

It's called Mom in the Mail.***

Happy Birthday, Mom.

One of the many thank you notes that Mom saved from recipients of her care packages.  

* Based on personal experience, I think they probably did get sent out just a tiny bit faster than everyone else's.
** It is LA.  No way I walk to the post office.
*** In honor of Mom, use the coupon code "LOVEMOM" and get 10% off any order placed for my inaugural shipment.  She would have loved that.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Two lists

Things I am doing wrong*, according to my daughter:
  1. Hashtags
  2. Instagram
  3. Using Android instead of an iPhone
  4. Presuming to check in and see how the summer reading is going
  5. Cheering out loud at her soccer games
  6. Wanting the empty fruit snack wrappers to be in the trash
  7. Making friends with her friends' parents
  8. Asking her to speak to waiters 
  9. Singing along to the radio when it is on her station
  10. Breathing
Things I am doing right, according to me:
  1. Raising my daughter.
Summer Tomato Risotto | Cheesy Pennies

Also, risotto.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Growing Up

I am sitting in the airport in North Carolina, waiting for my solo flight home.  I check Facebook and my feed is filled with bittersweet photos of my friends, backseats full of suitcases and bedding, grinning, slightly anxious teenagers in front of brick buildings, or snapshots of dorm rooms neatly organized for perhaps the first and last time all year. People are reposting cartoons of mothers clinging to trees and wonderful articles about letting go of your orbiting little planets.

The thing is, it doesn't get any easier the second time around. It's different, because they are rushing back to a known universe, without the t-shirted volunteers and established institutional agendas for entry. They have things in storage and roommates they chose. I was there almost strictly for logistical support...a last good meal, the Target run, the rental car with a big trunk.  The need for me clearly receded with every load hauled up the stairs*.

Yes, this is as it should be. Yes, I accept and understand and, in unselfish moments, rejoice in this grown person who does not look back when I drive away**.

But I should still have brought my dark sunglasses to wear on the flight home. Especially because this song was on the radio as I dropped him off.

I'll be patient, one more month 
You'll wrap your fingers round my thumb 
Times are changing, I know, but who am I if 
I'm the person you become 
If I'm still growing up, up, up, up 
I'm still growing up, up, up, up...

I still feel those tiny fingers, round my thumb.

* In case I missed any of his subtle exit cues, there were several actual glares yesterday before I left for my hotel.  This is why I should not be allowed to do this alone.  Last year my husband forcibly removed me from his room.  I did redeem myself today by singlehandedly setting up a dual band wireless networkin 15 minutes flat, and buying him a large Mighty Meat pizza for late night leftover purposes.

** Of course. parents' weekend is a month away, so I'll be right back, full of resolve to be mature and independent.  Like my kid.