Ballet Season 2021, Ballet On-Demand

It’s that time again, ballet season. Only this year is a ballet season like no other. This year ballet season has gone virtual. Rather than trekking up to the bay area, this year I am enjoying ballet on-demand at home.

Last spring we went ahead and renewed our tickets for this year; optimism being the best antidote to quarantine doomscrolling. Unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic continues. To their credit, San Francisco Ballet decided fairly early last fall that they would not have a live season this year and pivoted to produce their first digital ballet season.

There is no denying that I am disappointed to miss my weekend visits, spending time with my mom and sister, getting dressed up, going out to dinner, and especially dissecting the performance on the car ride home. It turns out there is something to be said for ballet on-demand from the comfort of my living room. Especially since I finally got to see Midsummer Night’s Dream!

San Francisco Ballet was able to film one performance of Midsummer last March after the shutdown. One moment in particular almost seemed creepy: in the second act divertissement there was one very flashy pas de deux danced by Francis Chung and Ulrik Birkkjaer. It had all the leaps and turns and lifts that would normally receive a bunch of applause. At the end, when went to take their bows there was silence. Up until that point I had just been enjoying the dancing, suddenly I was thinking about what a different place the world was in March of 2020, how none of those dancers would have ever guessed how they would be spending the ensuing months.

Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the ballet.

I won’t go into a whole recap of the libretto; you can find that on the SF Ballet website here. Basically, the whole play takes place in the first act and then the second act is a big divertissement. I love how the action moves quickly and the emphasis on telling the story through the dancing rather than injecting a bunch of pantomime (very Balanchine).

One of my favorite elements of the performance are the bugs who were danced by children from the San Francisco Ballet School. Children in story ballets are often just there to sell tickets but the role of bugs really added a lot to this production. The choreography was suitable yet challenging and their expressions were great. I can’t imagine having to flutter my hands for what seemed like endless minutes, those kids were real troupers.

The star of the show is of course Puck who was danced by soloist Cavan Conley.  This guy kind-of stole the show as far as I’m concerned. The role is both very athletic and comedic and he was dynamic and expressive in his portrayal.

Another excellent soloist was Sasha Mukhamedov who danced the role of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She is a very powerful dancer, perfectly cast for the role.

Watching the ballet on-demand in my living room, I was able to notice a lot of things that I would have missed if we had been at the opera house. Even so, I’m still hopeful that I will get to see this production live at some point in the future.

The second performance of the San Francisco Ballet digital season, COLORFORMS by Myles Thatcher, has launched. I am looking forward to checking it out and reporting back soon.

Soup Season, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Soup Season Diaries. Did you make any soup in the past week? Just in case you are looking for more inspiration, here are a couple more soups that we’ve made recently.

Butternut Squash Soup

The produce box decided to bring me a butternut squash the other week. I was delighted and intimidated and decided that the best way to put it to use was something that wouldn’t rely on my knife skills to succeed. It was another perfect victim for soup season.

  • Step one: dispatch the squash. I cut off the ends, cut it in half across the middle and used the potato peeler to peel it. Then I split each section, removed the seeds, and roughly chopped the whole thing into reasonable-sized bits.
  • Next, dice an onion, sauté in olive oil, sprinkle with salt.
  • Once the onion starts to get soft, add two cloves of garlic. When the garlic starts to get aromatic, add a good splash (maybe more of a pour) of white wine. Let that reduce a bit.
  • At this point switch to your slow cooker (or slow cooker mode if you have an all-in-one).
  • Add the chopped/peeled butternut squash and four cups of liquid. Go do something else for a few hours.
  • For a while it will smell like you are making chicken soup (if you use chicken stock). Don’t panic, just ignore it until you begin to smell the squash. Then go check it and if the squash is tender it’s time to blitz it with the immersion blender (or transfer to the blender).
  • Once you have a fairly smooth puree, check your seasoning. We decided that we needed to add a good blast of Cayenne pepper, some black pepper, and more salt.

My serving suggestion for this is to add a nice dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkle of chopped parsley/scallions.

photo by Monica Grabkowska on Unsplash
Split Pea Soup

This is Mr. Man’s specialty. He bought a five-pound bag of split peas off of the internet almost as soon as we got the fancy slow cooker. The only reason that he doesn’t make split pea soup all the time is that we don’t tend to have smoked ham hock sitting around all the time.

There really aren’t steps for this one. Mr. Man doesn’t bother with sautéing the onion, celery, and carrots, he just throws them right in the pot with the split peas, ham hock, and liquid. He does chop the onions and celery rather fine; they seem to disappear into the split peas, leaving just big chunks of carrots and hopefully little bits of smoked ham.

He recommends starting the slow cooker on high until everything gets going, the split peas start to soften and you smell the smoky ham hock. Then switch to low and let it go a while longer.

Before serving, he will pull out the ham hock and use a fork to pull the meat off the bone. If it doesn’t look particularly delicious, skip this step and just throw it out. You can always dice some breakfast ham or even sandwich ham if you want.

Soup season is a fun time to make something delicious with whatever you happen to have on hand. I hope I have inspired you to undertake a bit of careless cookery.

Soup Season, Part 1

Well winter has finally found her way to southern California. I don’t know why cold weather seems to be a particularly good reason to make soup, but Mr. Man and I have been souping up a storm around these parts. I suppose it is finally soup season.

Our favorite way to make soup is in the slow cooker. We have a fancy one with a sear setting that I use to sauté the onions and whatever other aromatics before switching to low and slow. I love using the slow cooker because I can throw everything together and then go off to do other things. Another great thing about making soup in the slow cooker is that there are plenty of opportunities to make adjustments if things aren’t turning out the way you want them to (a little Cayenne pepper can fix a lot). Here are some soups that we’ve made recently. *

*these aren’t actually proper recipes with measurements and specific ingredients; they are more like suggestions of things that you can throw in a pot.

Cream of Broccoli soup

Soup season started because my farm box delivery came with a big bunch of broccoli. I decided that a nice cream of broccoli soup would be a great way to use the stalks as well as the florets. It also allows a lot of leeway for you to decide where you want to fall on the healthy to indulgent continuum.

Here is how I’ve been making broccoli soup:

  • Dice one onion.
  • Roughly chop the broccoli stalks and remove the florets.
  • Sauté the onion and broccoli stalks in a good amount of butter until softened. Add a bit of salt and maybe a splash of white wine.
  • In a slow cooker combine sauteed vegetables with liquid (I like to use one carton of low-sodium chicken stock, but you can use four cups of water, some combination of any kind of broth/stock and water … whatever works for you), and the broccoli florets. Let it all cook for a while.
  • When everything is soft and starting to smell good, carefully go to work with your immersion blender. Or transfer to your blender and then back to the slow cooker. You should wind up with a creamy-ish puree. At this point, you have a fairly healthy soup but if you want to kick up the creaminess, you can add:
    • A cup of whole milk or cream (this is enough to give the soup a rich taste/texture).
    • OR … a bit of cream cheese,
    • OR … more butter,
    • OR … shredded cheese,
    • … you get the gist.

photo by Samee Anderson on Unsplash.
Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Soup

We had a package of boneless chicken thighs in the freezer that were just waiting for their moment of greatness as the centerpiece of a slow cooker meal and I finally decided to fake something up. Here is my completely made-up version of Thai Coconut Curry Chicken soup:

  • Seasoned the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and ginger (I just used dried, powdered ginger).
  • Seared them (in the slow cooker or a pan) for about 5 minutes on each side. Put them on a plate to rest.
  • In whatever you used to sear the chicken: add some olive oil and sauté one onion and about an equal amount of chopped celery and carrots. Sauté for 5-10 minutes. Once it gets going it should pick up all the crusted-on chicken bits.
  • In your slow cooker, combine the softened veggies, the chicken, one jar of Trader Joes Thai Red Curry Sauce, and up to four cups of liquid. Let that cook for a while. Maybe add a chopped sweet potato (I love sweet with spicy, don’t you?). Eventually it should start smelling mostly like chicken soup with a bit of a kick. The longer you let it go, the more the flavors meld.
  • At some point, you are going to want to pull out the chicken and either chop or shred it.
  • When you get close to serving time (maybe an hour before, maybe less) add one can of coconut milk. This completely changes the complexion of the soup in a wonderful way.
  • If the liquid seems thin, don’t hesitate to add a bit of cornstarch dissolved in warm water, you want that thick, stew-style broth.

Serving suggestion: serve over rice.

The only problem with all the soup-making we’ve been doing this soup season is that I haven’t managed to make up a loaf of crusty bread to go with any of it! Thankfully, there is still time. I’ll share a couple more soup recipes next week. Do you have a favorite soup that you like to make? Do you use a slow cooker or the stovetop?

A Question of Cat’s

Cats are highly curious creatures. When they are awake, they do seem to spend a lot of time examining things when they aren’t just contemplating their fabulousness. Mr. Man and I spend a lot of time wondering what our cats are thinking about and making up dialogue, but we don’t generally tend to phrase it in the form of a question – except Sally wondering, “Mom, why are you bothering me again?”

Well, it turns out that Ruth Roy and Thomas Roy of wellcat.com thought that cats have questions that should be answered and they decided to make up National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, which is this Friday, January 22. Their idea was that it would give people an opportunity to understand cats better by finding answers to the questions their cat has.

I wondered what the internet would say a cat’s questions are and found some websites with “Your Cat’s Top 5 Questions” or some such thing. These listicles had questions that don’t really apply to Anabel and Sally. They would never ask “Why do you get mad when I scratch the furniture (or fill in the blank bad behavior)?” because they don’t do that.

When I tried to think of questions that Anabel and Sally would have for me, I could only come up with a few:

  • Why haven’t you fed me yet? (Sally)
  • Why don’t you give me more crunchy food? (Anabel)
  • Why are you bothering me? (either of them at any time)
  • Why don’t you come over here and pay attention to me? (either of them at any time)
  • Why did you wake me up? (at 2pm)
  • Why don’t you get up right MEOW? (at 2am)
  • How can I get my paws on that birdie?
I wonder if that bird is as tasty as crunchy food?

Then I started wondering what questions I would want Anabel and Sally to answer about being a cat. I came up with:

  • What is the line between warm enough and too warm? *I feel like it is around 80-85 degrees.
  • How annoyed are you really by that collar? *Not much, I like to be accessorized.
  • How hard is it to actually leap 6’ in the air? How fun is it? *It feels AMAZING. I am a graceful and powerful creature and I love all the ways that I can move and manipulate my body.
  • Does it hurt when you land on the ground from a 5’ height? *Not really, my paw pads and the way that my body is put together does a good job at absorbing the shock.
Why are you always taking my picture?

So, what I thought might be fun this week is for you to post your questions and I will attempt to answer them. Either a question you have about cats, or you can pretend that you are a cat with a question about people.  I’ll send an email on Friday morning to remind you to check back at this post and to see the answers to your cat questions.

Wintertime Gardening

Living in southern California means that winter isn’t really a reason to stop gardening. In some ways, it is the best time for it – the cooler days and occasional rain can help to make yardwork a little less strenuous. I was working on a story for my community association newsletter about wintertime gardening and in the process found myself falling down the rabbit hole of my own wintertime garden project.

The person I was interviewing about wintertime gardening likes to spend this time of year moving dirt around, creating new garden beds and such, but she calls it terraforming which makes it sound so much more serious. I realized that I was terraforming too – taking advantage of the one rainstorm that we’ve had to dig up some things while the dirt was soft. Of course, that one chore created a chain reaction and now there is a whole project happening.

You see, the people next door recently completed some work on their property. The payoff for putting up with two months of incessant construction noise and nuisance was that they built a fence along our shared property line (this has been at the top of my wish list since forever).

Look at that beautiful fence! Now I just have to get my rose bush to cover it.

Once the fence was up, the mounds of overgrown day lilies had to go. With the help of our so far only winter rainstorm, I filled two trashcans with shoots, roots, bulbs, and other bits. This was the first phase of my terraforming – digging up the mounds and then filling in the resulting holes.

With the day lilies cleared, my dream of creating a little patio on that side of the house finally seemed possible and I was eager to get to work. My enthusiasm for this patio endeavor was contagious enough to convince Mr. Man to get on board. His first assignment is to build a fence to separate the front and back yards.

Until now, the only thing screening that side of the yard from the street was an overgrown bush. We probably would have just left it, but it was in the way of where the fence needs to go. After I began hacking at it with my hedge clippers, I discovered that it was a job for power tools. Since our nice gardener has a chainsaw, I asked him to help. This bush was the size of a small car and I don’t even want to tell you the kinds of things we found inside of it, fortunately the gardener hauled it all away.

Once Mr. Man gets the fence up, we are going to reroute some irrigation, then it is time for patio building! The ground over there is lumpy and not level so there will be more terraforming in order to prep the space, but when we’re done our wintertime gardening project will be ideal for summertime sitting. I can’t wait to show you how it turns out!

National Cat Herders Day

Sally Gellis

I’ve been trying to take a break from National/International This-or-That day, but this one is too good to skip. Yes folks, today is National Cat Herders Day.

As a semi-retired professional cat herder, I can attest to the lack of appreciation there is for this highly skilled avocation. But in spite of this famous commercial, cat herding isn’t really about keeping your cats on the trail.

In fact, I can name numerous times that I wished I had been herding actual cats. After all, I can always at least get my cats to run away from me (like when it’s time for their flea medicine). But when it comes to wrangling a group of people in order to accomplish a goal, it doesn’t matter if they are highly paid or volunteers, motivated or just along for the ride – it’s going to be a long, dusty trail and you’re bound to wind up with at least a few scratches.

Being a cat mom can directly be applied to cat herding. If you go back to my Unsolicited Kitten Advice post, it turns out that you can apply many of those tips to dealing with people.

Much in the same way that you want your new kittens to feel secure and comfortable in a defined space, as a cat herder it is important to clearly define the boundaries for your team. Try to make sure that you have provided for their needs in terms of materials and information and then keep the lightest touch possible on whatever it is you are trying to accomplish – let individuals have freedom within their sphere of responsibilities. Keeping everyone’s claws trimmed from the beginning will improve the odds that you won’t get scratched up as badly in the long run.

Speaking of claws, when I was just starting out in my career, I worked for this wonderful cat lady. She really embodied the cat-lover lifestyle. When she had a nail appointment, she was going to get her claws retreaded. When she was going on vacation, she called it our mouse time. And even though she was the queen cat, she was also a boss cat herder.

To all those cat herders out there, keep fighting the good fight. When you finally get those cats where they’re going, a few of them might appreciate your effort. And don’t forget to wear long sleeves!

Anabel after I asked her to stop chewing on the Christmas tree
Anabel after I asked her to stop chewing on the Christmas tree

Flash Fiction Friday – Dangerous Ideas

Recently, we had a writing exercise about danger. It gave me all sorts of dangerous ideas. Here was the prompt:

Danger is an important ingredient when we write our stories. We are hardwired to anticipate it because it is of primal concern to our lives.

  • Natural Danger – Floods, hurricanes, a tree falls on your house.
  • Physical Danger – Threat of harm or death, like you work in a dynamite factory.
  • Emotional or psychological – Like a mind game, abuse, loss of a child or a love.

GIVE me 400 words MAX of a story with DANGER in it. Make me feel it!

Remember that scene in Men In Black where Will Smith shoots the cartoon little girl instead of all the scary-looking monsters? One of the reasons she was dangerous was all those books she was carrying. I just love that scene. What if that cute little girl wasn’t in a rough-looking neighborhood in the middle of the night?  Could a pigtail wearing, book-reading girl be dangerous in any-old context? Afterall, there’s a reason that women weren’t educated for so much of history. What is more dangerous than a woman with her own ideas?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dangerous Ideas

I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. We had a white picket fence and a two-car garage. Dad wore a suit and drove to his office job every day. Mom was the queen of the neighborhood homemakers. She was as impeccable as June Cleaver and would send my sister Katie and me off to school every day with a kiss on the forehead and a reminder to “be good girls.”

As Katie and I walked together to school every morning, we talked about the challenges that we encountered in trying to live up to our mom’s expectations. Because what she meant when she said that was she wanted us to be quite and polite, to always do our very best, but to never, ever accomplish enough to stand out.

When I was in fifth grade and Katie was in third, she started to rebel. I kept finding her in the library, stacks of books on the table in front of her. Sure, she could check them out, but then our mom might realize what was going on. Katie was getting ideas.

The next year Katie decided to enter the spelling bee. I tried to talk her out of it, but she had gotten ideas from reading all of those books and she knew that she could out-spell anyone in the school. I have to admit, it was thrilling to watch. Finally, it was down to just her and Billy Jarvis.

Katie’s word was antediluvian. Really? But Katie didn’t hesitate, she didn’t ask for a definition or anything.  Then, it was Billy’s turn.  His word was libraries. And he got it wrong! In front of everyone! My sister was the Warren G. Harding Elementary School Spelling Bee champion!

Mom was waiting for us when we got home.

“I got a call from the school today.”

Katie and I froze.

“It seems as if Katie darling, you won the spelling bee. And now you are to go to the district competition.”

“Oh mother, you should have seen it! They gave me antediluvian and they gave Billy Jarvis libraries and he tried to spell it with ‘yz’!”

“Katherina Minola. I don’t know where you got the idea that you should go win a spelling bee. You don’t find your sister Bianca embarrassing boys in front of the whole school do you? That kind of behavior is dangerous!”

Holiday Gratitude Practice

Since Thanksgiving is this week, of course I thought I would do a post about holiday gratitude. Not the most original idea, but something that I think is appropriate to take a moment for. Of course, I did write a post about gratitude last year, so the challenge is to see if I have something new to share with y’all.

In some ways, it might be harder to find things to be grateful for this year. Not being able to travel to visit family or hold big holiday get-togethers might be a real bummer. It has been a tough year for everyone and the anxiety that goes along with this global pandemic is no joke.

But in some ways, maybe all of this turmoil makes it easier to be grateful for all sorts of things that we may have taken for granted before.

When I was reading the post that I wrote last year, one of the things that I noted being grateful for was our local yoga on the bluff. And one of the elements of yoga on the bluff that I particularly enjoyed was being around all the different people from all different walks of life. I’ll tell you what, I would not be grateful to find myself in a crowd of all sorts of people these days. But I do feel grateful that I have been able to cultivate a home yoga practice. In some ways it has been a great privilege to take responsibility for my own yoga practice. I can be very mindful of the way that I move through all the postures; I take more time than I used to in some positions and I am gentle with myself in ways that I wasn’t before. I might not be grateful for all of the new aches and twinges that I seem to be uncovering, but I am grateful for my ability to discern between a discomfort that needs to be worked through and one that needs to be moved away from.

In June, I did a gratitude practice of listing at least ten things every day. The challenge was to not repeat as much as possible. I mean you can imagine what my list would have looked like without that challenge: cats, coffee, sunshine, repeat. Some days were easier than others that’s for sure, but the whole exercise was very centering. Actually, now I’m starting to think that I should take it back up again …

Ok, I’ve just given myself an idea for a holiday gratitude practice and I’m going to invite you to play along with me at home.

Let’s look toward Thanksgiving and this whole holiday season in front of us and find ten things to be grateful for. Maybe write them down. Maybe put them in a gratitude jar and see if you can add one new thing from now until the end of the year. Then on New Year’s Day why not pull them out and read them? Start the new year from a place of love and gratitude.

If you’re not ready to write down ten things, how about just one? Leave it in the comments below and we can help each other to jump start a holiday gratitude practice.

I’ll start: I’m grateful for you reading this and playing along!

P.S. I will follow up with everyone who commented about the book giveaway this week!

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology

rough writers 2020 anthology

I have an exciting announcement for y’all today: we have just published the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology: A Field Day for Creativity. This is the third Rough Writers Anthology (they published a collection in 2017, before I joined the club) and I think we’re really starting to get the hang of it.

You may remember last year’s post about the 2019 Anthology. Well, as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished and I agreed to serve as Editor for this year’s anthology as well. At least this way, I was able to apply some of the lessons that I learned the hard way putting together the 2019 book.

The subtitle, A Field Day for Creativity, was proposed by one of our members as a response to the prompt and our club’s innovative way of applying Toastmaster’s curriculum to our creative writing pursuits.

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology writing prompt
This image was our writing prompt. Photo by Branislav Belko on Unsplash.

Intrigued? 

Good. Here’s an excerpt from my story:

Mrs. Bistone’s perfectly rendered exterior was her armor. It was a barrier both invisible and impenetrable. People were so taken with the apparition in front of them that they didn’t even notice what she was getting them to do, or say, or agree to. Her directives tended to be delivered in the form of questions, those kinds of small requests that would be rude to decline. She wouldn’t say she was manipulative. She just understood that by exercising absolute control over how she presented herself, she could exercise the same control over that to which she presented herself.

Everyone who had met her would say that they knew her, that they were dear friends. They would describe her poise and immaculate appearance in detail, but no one could ever recall one personal thing about her – where she grew up, what her interests were beyond the banal hobbies of any woman of means, or even the date of her birthday.  Moreover, no one ever seemed to notice, which was the way that Mrs. Bistone preferred it.

Aren’t you dying to know how that has anything to do with the photo?

Well guess what? I’m giving away several copies of the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology!

All you have to do is be a subscriber to this blog and leave a comment below by 5:00pm on Friday, November 20.

I only have a limited number of author copies, so depending on the response, I’ll come up with some random way to select winners.

If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can order your own copy on Amazon (and if you don’t want to use the hyperlink, just put “Rough Writers 2020 Anthology” in your Amazon search bar). There is even a Kindle version if you prefer.

Monday, November 23 at 7:00 pm is our official book launch on Zoom. If you would like to find out more about the diverse voices who contributed stories to this volume, please join us – just leave a comment below and I will send you the sign-in details.

Kindness Today and Every Day

For this edition of Health and Wellness Monday, I thought we could consider kindness.  

This Friday, November 13th is World Kindness Day, a holiday established in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an international consortium of NGOs, for the purpose of encouraging people to create a kinder world. I’m not really clear on what they mean by that, but it seems to have something to do with supporting projects that align with the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Did you know that there is also a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation? I didn’t either. The organization’s mission is to, “Make Kindness the Norm.” They suggest that an individual can celebrate World Kindness Day by intentionally engaging in random acts of kindness such as buying someone a cup of coffee or giving someone a compliment. I tend to think of these things more as “random acts of niceness” but that’s alright. One of my favorite random acts of niceness is sending someone a card in the mail for no reason. I mean, isn’t it exciting to get mail from an actual person! But phone calls and texts are nice too.

I thought it would be interesting would be to examine the distinction between being ‘kind’ and being ‘nice,’ so I went to the dictionary. While ‘nice’ is defined as, “polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable, appropriate, fitting,” the word ‘kind’ is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as, “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

I like to think about kindness as being a little bit more than just doing something nice for someone. For me, an act of kindness is a compassion exercise in which I separate a person from their beliefs and/or actions in my heart. I may disagree with someone or not like their behavior, but still have sympathy (and sometimes even empathy or compassion) for them as a person. By doing so, I am better able to interact with that person in a kind manner.

Remember that story, The Box that I published last month? I would say that kindness kind-of ties into the ideas expressed in that story. It is an act of kindness to not put someone in a box based on one facet of their personality but to acknowledge that people are complex creatures who may not necessarily be defined by one element of their beliefs and/or actions. It’s like that thing about not defining yourself by your feelings (ex: I am angry) but acknowledging that you are a person having a feeling (I feel angry) applied to someone else.

This doesn’t mean that an act of kindness requires you to be a pushover or condone someone’s behavior. It’s like Brené Brown says, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.” Know who you are and what you believe. Then be willing to accept other people for who they are and what they believe.

Here’s the thing: there will still be people who you just don’t agree with. You might plain old just not like someone. But what if you chose to face them with kindness rather than confrontation? Maybe your strong back, soft front, wild heart will inspire the same in someone else. You could start a chain reaction of kindness.

World Kindness day is Friday, but why not start today? You could even throw in a random act of niceness or two while you’re at it.