Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life Through Coffee

Used to be you boiled tap water, added a couple tablespoons of instant freeze-dried coffee, and voila! You had a cuppa joe. 

In the 1970s, this is what my parents drank. They'd boil a large pot in the wee hours of the morning for my dad to fill his thermos before leaving the house at 5am for his hour-long commute to San Francisco. Whatever didn't make it to the thermos would sit in the carafe all the live-long day. And then, when dad returned home from work around 6pm, he'd take that same bitter brew that had been sitting cold on the stove top for 13 hours and nuke it in the microwave for he and mom to enjoy in the evening. 

I took a sip of their coffee. Once. It tasted like battery acid with cream. My taste buds were traumatized, which is probably why I didn't start drinking coffee until well into my late twenties. Right around the time that coffee shops started cropping up with specialty drinks, like lattes and cafe mochas  and cappuccinos, and --you know--the good stuff. And I realized wow, coffee could actually be a tasty drink if made properly.

These days it's impossible not to make good coffee at home.  All you need is the right machine, like a Nespresso, Keurig, or Bosch. Plug it in, insert a pod, press a button, and before you can say, "The next best thing to waking up...." there you have it: a gourmet cuppa joe complete with frothy foam.  The only finger you have to lift is the one holding the mug to your lips. 

In 1986, when my salt-of-the-earth parents learned that I was spending $1.75 every single day to buy a latte, they said, "Enough throwing away your money. Make your own lattes!" And, as a Christmas present, they plunked down $100 to buy me a Krups Espresso Maker. The first, and maybe the second and third and fourth times I tried steaming the milk, the hot liquid exploded, spraying milk all over the ceiling and walls. But over the past 28 years I've mastered the craft to perfection. And using the same Krups Espresso Maker, I might add, three times a week no less.

No buttons to push. No pods to insert. I grind my own coffee, measure the water, and steam the milk, with nary a drop on the ceiling. Sure, I could buy one of those fancy new machines where all I have to do is insert, press, wait. 

But there's something about my ritual that I like, especially on weekend mornings. I listen to the hissing steam as I watch the sun rise, monitor the cresting foam as it nears the rim of my cup, and then sit down to enjoy my hard-earned drink, enhanced with maybe a little almond syrup or coconut sugar, and cinnamon sprinkled on top. 

Today's sophisticated coffee makers probably render my Krups method a bit archaic. Just as I thought of my parents' method for boiling tap water and adding coffee crystals. But I think of my mom and dad, who both died far too young, every single time I use that Krups machine. 

And that alone makes for a perfect cup of coffee. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

This Little Piggie Went to Kaiser

I just wanted pretty toes. That’s all.

Which is why I got a pedicure the day before I left on my cruise to Hawaii. I mean, who’s not going to wear sandals in Hawaii, right? Pretty toes are a must.

I’d been to this salon a couple times before, one of those in-and-out cattle-call places, and they had done a decent job. Quick, seemingly clean, and efficient.  

Not so much this time.

The young girl attacked my tootsies like a starving wolverine on a fallen lamb. I have neuropathy in both feet and therefore lack about 75% feeling, but the remaining 25% felt every jab, poke, and stab. During the painful process, I even posted on Facebook, “Are pedicures supposed to hurt this much?”

And is blood letting a part of the process?

Apparently not. So what’s with those drops around my big toe? When I winced and pointed out that she had cut the side of my foot with her overzealous use of the pumice stone, she applied antiseptic and made direct contact with the torn skin. 

So much for sterilization.

But I was in a hurry with a ton of errands to run before my 15 day vacation. And so, I let the aspiring Samurai finish and paid with the thought, “never again.” When I got home, I cleaned the wound, applied more antiseptic, and didn’t give it another thought.

Not until six days later onboard ship, when this guy approached me and my pretty toes in my new sandals.  “I hope you don’t mind me interfering,” he said, “but I’m a retired paramedic and that cut on the side of your foot looks bad. You should see a doctor.”  

Not the pickup line I was hoping for.

But I guess neuropathy can come in handy because I wasn’t feeling any pain. Or maybe those endless cruise cocktails had something to do with it. Anyway, I hadn’t noticed the wound since it entailed twisting my foot at an unnatural angle.  When I did, oh wow, it was looking pretty nasty. So I saw the ship doctor, a kindly South African who reminded me of Dr. Bombay from Bewitched. He confirmed an infection. Big time. He treated the wound and prescribed antibiotics. Problem solved, right?

Uh, not quite.

When I returned home two weeks later, not only was the wound still infected, but an abscess had formed underneath it.  Which meant another doctor visit, more bandages, and stronger antibiotics, both oral and topical.

By week three, the wound was still red, swollen, and angry looking. My doctor was concerned that the infection had gone into the bone and ordered X-rays. Thank goodness, it hadn’t, but now the pain was bypassing the neuropathy and hurting like hell.

By week four, there was still was no improvement so I was referred to a podiatrist. He excavated the infected, walnut-sized abscess, bandaged my foot, and prescribed one of those dork medical shoes to be worn over the next week coupled with twice-daily 15-minute foot soaks in a special antiseptic bath. This was to be followed with another topical antibiotic ointment and finished with enough gauze, wrap, and surgical tape to mummify the entire entourage of King Tut.

That night I could barely sleep. My aching foot throbbed like a migraine with toes. 

Hopefully, my follow-up appointment next week will put this saga to rest.  In the meantime, I’ve alerted the nail salon with a detailed letter outlining visits, costs and procedures to date.  You know, in case I lose a foot or something. 


All this for pretty toes. Which, by the way, looked great in those new sandals.    

Monday, February 17, 2014

A 15 Day Blast to the Past

Last week I returned from a 15-day cruise to Hawaii.  Sailing out of San Francisco, we spent five days at sea, four days in Hawaii, and five days back at sea, including a quick pit stop in Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. 

But what I liked best about this trip wasn’t mentioned in any of the cruise line’s marketing collateral. It wasn’t the endless supply of cruise cuisine like Eggs Benedict, shrimp cocktail and buttery lobster. It wasn’t the entertainment, shopping, or shore excursions. It wasn’t even the ideal weather, good company, and endless laughs.

It was being offline. Disconnected.  Unplugged. At sea there wasn't online access unless I wanted to spend a dollar a minute tethered to the ship’s designated computers, which uh, no, I didn’t.   

And so, for 15 unprecedented days I didn’t check emails or peruse Facebook for crazy dog videos, cute kid photos, or “I just pigged out on a quart of coffee Hagen Daz ice cream” laments. I didn’t play Words with Friends or Candy Crush, didn’t surf YouTube for music videos, didn’t text friends, and didn’t monitor my weather app for the latest temperatures. I already knew what the temperature was because I was outside feeling it for myself. I wasn’t wasting time reading about the polar vortex on the east coast or the unprecedented flooding in England.

It was on this cruise that I realized just what an insidious intrusion smart phones have become, packaged as an essential need. We can’t put them down, not for one second: we eat, walk, talk and live with our phones as if they were a bodily extension like our hand or foot. In elevators, stores, restaurants, and coffee shops, waiting in lines, driving cars, crossing the street, meeting with colleagues, talking with friends and shopping, dining and exercising, we are constantly, simultaneously, forever checking our phones and responding to “pings” like Pavlov’s dogs. 

Never mind the time or place. Nowhere is immune.

Such as the dark winter evening I was walking my greyhound, Olivia and using a flashlight to navigate the pitch black streets. Turning a corner, I plowed into a woman who was also walking her dog, but didn’t see me because she was busy texting on her phone. Last August, my good friend Mark, who’s a local DJ, invited me to join him for a concert that he was emceeing for one of my favorite bands, Chicago. In our front row seats we were so close to the brass section I could actually smell their sweat. Not that the young woman next to me noticed. She was too busy watching the entire performance through the video she was making on her phone. At the gym, I see people lifting 50 pound weights with one hand while reading their phone in the other. And what about that recent photo in the Chronicle of the newly-wed couple dancing at their reception? The bride was checking her phone and the groom was holding his. 

Really? It’s that important?

On my cruise I read four books, including two massive novels that were over 400 pages.  I forgot how much I love diving into a good book without simultaneously playing Words with Friends, losing myself so thoroughly and completely that when I look up from the pages, hours later, I experience a temporary disorientation. You mean I’m not hanging out with an orphan in New York who is harboring a stolen painting?  

Shipboard life included conversations where I didn’t keep an eyeball peeled for texts, emails or alerts. I wasn’t privy to the personal and often inane one-sided blither of people barking about their laundry stains, idiot co-worker, or rash that just won’t go away. For 15 days it was just like old times, when people lived in the present without posting every thought on Facebook or photo on Instagram; when eye contact was made with people instead of screens. We gave our full attention to conversations without sneaking that sidewards glance we’re all too familiar with. Best was when we just relished the silent beauty of a sunset or serene stillness of the smooth seas. 

It was unexpectedly wonderful.

And then we docked in San Francisco and phones were whipped out like we’d just landed on Mars and were gasping for air and those little devices in our desperate clenched fists were oxygen tanks.

But for 15 glorious days we were unplugged and offline; disconnected with our phones and connected with the present. 

That was the real vacation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Parking Lot

It was a nice day. That is, until I took Olivia to the park on my afternoon break.

My pup and I were enjoying a peaceful, relaxing walk, relishing the warm California sun while the rest of the country was suffering through a polar vortex. But the warm glow quickly wore off when we returned to my car and were greeted by approximately one trillion parents who were picking up their kids from the school next door. They were cutting through the park parking lot and creating a nightmare logjam of traffic because children can no longer walk home. You see, there are kidnappers lurking behind every single bush, therefore every single SUV-driving parent has to pick up and escort home every single child.

Okay, fine. But that’s not what got me.

In my efforts to exit the parking lot, I bumped the car in front of me. And when I say “bumped,” I mean I was at a dead stop when I prematurely released my foot on the brake and rolled into the car two feet in front of me, resulting in my rubber bumper tapping its rubber bumper. It was so soft that I wasn’t even sure I’d touched the car. I thought I’d hit my brakes hard enough to create the gentle jolt and was going to drive on until the driver pulled over to the side. She exited her car and started screaming, “YOU HIT ME, YOU HIT ME!!!” 

Uh, okay.

I pulled over and looked at her rubber bumper. There was a tiny piece of scratched rubber--roughly the size of an eyelash coated in Maybelline mascara--that the screw on my license plate had caught. I flicked it off with my fingernail.

“This is a new car!” she huffed. “Give me your driver’s license! And your insurance.” 

When a police car drove by, she waved at it frantically but he didn’t see her. I just stood there looking at her with a bemused expression, not quite believing her reaction.  I’ve been hit harder by Tonka Trucks.

“No disrespect,” I finally said, “But I really don’t think this is anything. I wasn’t even sure I’d touched you.”

“Yeah, but it’s a new car,” she repeated. “I’ve had it two weeks!”  And yes, I understood that. She’d made that very clear. This was a NEW CAR. But honestly, there were bigger pimples on the tweens milling about than the nick she kept pointing at. She photographed my license and insurance information and, as an afterthought, I asked her name, but only because I felt like I should show some level of interest. Not that I really cared. Her name was Maura.

We parted ways and I returned home, perturbed over the experience. Not because of the incident itself, but because of her reaction. It was an unpleasant reminder that there are people who interpret skin tags as tumors, raindrops as monsoons, and splinters as stab wounds.  

God help the first bird that baptizes Maura's new car. The hunt for Osama bin Laden will pale in comparison to the efforts she’ll use to hunt down the feathered felon. I have a feeling rocket launchers may be involved. Because in case you didn’t get it…

THIS IS A NEW CAR.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Memory of an Animal Lover

Over the past couple weeks I've been emailing a Pet Tales contributor to let her know her story would run next month and to send photos, but --odd -- she hasn't responded. Most people are thrilled to hear their story will be used and their beloved pet immortalized in print and online. 

Finally, I called the number she provided. When I asked for Laurie Campbell,  the stranger at the other end hesitated, then told me that Laurie passed away. Just last week. It was unexpected, she told me.  I didn't ask any more because it wasn't my business. 

But I feel so bad for this stranger I've never met, this lover of dogs who wanted to share her pups with Chronicle readers. And I've been wondering about her dogs--what's happened to them with her sudden demise? I've also been kicking myself for not using her essay earlier. It would have been one nice thing for her to experience before her untimely death. 

But I can share it here. Laurie wanted her story told and that's the least I can do for this stranger I never met, this lover of dogs.

Needle Nose Love


Years ago, Laurie Campbell read an article about a group of greyhounds that had been rescued from Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio. The dogs had been used by military doctors to experiment with limb amputation and replacement. She was transfixed by the "before and after" pictures of one of the hounds: in the first picture, he was the canine personification of misery, and in the second photo, he was a laughing, relaxed, happy dog. Campbell thought, “If any breed of dog is this resilient, I’m definitely interested.”

Honey was a 55-pound brindle female that had spent the first eighteen months of her life in abusive circumstances. She was afraid of everyone.  She didn't know how to go up or down stairs and wasn't housebroken.  To top it all off, she was terrified of being left alone.  It was an understatement to say that Honey was different from the other dogs I'd had.

I abandoned what I thought I knew about dogs, and focused on what she was trying to teach me. The most heartwarming milestone came after about a month when she first wagged her tail. That motion, however slight, marked her delightful awakening. Her only fault was that she was an inveterate food thief. I remember her once walking daintily past someone and very calmly, with the utmost delicacy, swiping the sandwich from their hand while they were busy talking.

When Honey was 13 she became incontinent, a common problem with older spade females. I always thought that this would be my line in the sand; when I'd make the hard decision to let her go. Instead, I found myself washing dog beds on a daily basis and hoping that when I got old, no one would dismiss me for the same reason.

However, that day did come, a pain that is understood by all who have walked that path with their beloved companions. I sat on the floor, holding Honey and talking to her so that she would take my scent and voice with her across the Rainbow Bridge.

Five months later, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Golden State Greyhound Adoption and soon found myself in the living room of the group’s founders. There were two available greyhounds to choose from.

I selected Kaze, a 3-year old brindle female. My gentle girl came with a fear of open drawers, trucks, and plastic bags, but she soon evolved into a loving companion.  We moved to Texas several years ago and lived for a while near the Franklin Mountains.  Often I was transfixed by the eerie howl of nearby coyotes, but Kaze seemed unconcerned about their proximity; after all, at 45 mph, my ex-racer could certainly outrun them!

Eventually I adopted a companion for Kaze, a spunky three year-old blue brindle female named Luna.  Today “The Girls” are inseparable, trotting shoulder to shoulder when we take our walks. Kaze, now 10, has blossomed with her younger companion and is experiencing a second puppyhood.

With each new dog, I can't say that I knew what I was doing. All I know is that I extended my heart and each greyhound took it gently, I promised to make their lives as safe and happy as I could, and in return they've given me a life of needle-nose love. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fresh New Year

Finally, a year that I can look back on and say, "Hey, that wasn't so bad."  In fact, compared with previous years, 2013 could almost be called stellar. 

Because for the first time since 2009, I didn't lose any loved ones, be they two legged or four. No deaths, diseases, or disasters. Biopsies came back negative, paychecks arrived every two weeks, and I found myself smiling a genuine smile again--inside and out. 

Nice. 

Here's hoping 2014 is just as uneventful. I no longer care about losing weight, winning the lottery, or finding Mr. Right. Exercise keeps me fit, I make enough money to keep a roof over my head, and if I need someone to gaze upon me with adoring eyes, I've got my lovely little tiger, Olivia

May you be just as blessed. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Greetings from Santa Paws

"With a dog in your life, Christmas is going to be that much better."
                       ~Author unknown

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to all my friends, be they two-legged or four.

Love, Eileen and Olivia the Greyhound 

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