Granulatin’ Bad

Sure. I look pretty harmless. I’m polite to the neighbors, fairly unobtrusive when I leave the house, as middle aged ladies often are. No one could look at me and know that in August, within the confines of my home, I’ve got skills, mad skills. Because when boiling sun and steamy air turn the tiny green figs into golden orbs, I’m Granulatin’. Granulatin’ Bad.


You’re no doubt familiar with someone else who may appear mild in the outside world,  but who  leads a whole other life right under his neighbor’s noses. That’s right –  Walter White.

Don’t think I have anything in common with Walter, or Walter with me?  We’ll just see about that! Here are some similarities:

Photo Source: IMDB

Photo Source: IMDB


Obviously we’re both bad you know whats.

1)  Highly desirable product:  Walter’ s blue meth is apparently the stuff of dreams. OK, fine. But you should  see the eyes widen when I walk into the yoga studio with a box of twelve gleaming jars of fig preserves.  Excited murmurs float across the studio. When class is over they make a beeline for every last jar. Unconditional acceptance of your product by a yoga class says only one thing: 99.1 % pure, total quality.


2) Large amount of raw materials needed:  Walter buys his in more than one location to avoid suspicion. But I HAVE to buy mine in multiple locations because no one stocks as many jars or as many boxes of pectin as I need. And unlike Walter, because I deal with a live ingredient, I  can never predict the exact amount of supplies I need. They may suspect me of something at the grocery store when I dash in wearing sticky shoes and a stained T shirt and buy ALL of their eight ounce  canning jars,  but they know not to question me. I dare them to. 

3)  Specialized work environment and equipment:  We each need to set up a pristine, industrial workspace. Mine is the kitchen. Walter  may have a gas chromatograph while I use a spoon and my own mouth for quality control, but the concept is the same.

My lab.

My lab.

Walter's lab. Photo courtesy of

Walter’s lab. Photo courtesy of

4) Total concentration: We can’t do anything else while cooking.  We’re basically unreachable. When my harvest begins, I am in a flurry of picking, washing, cutting, cooking, sterilizing. My hands get too sticky to even think of touching a phone. So don’t call me. Walter and I agree that production stops when we say it stops.

5) Hazards:  Yes, it is hazardous work. You are familiar with what Walter has faced through the years: beatings, torture, kidnapping, and even death. But what about me? I’ve bravely faced my share of challenges. Here is a short list:

a) Balancing on the part of an eight ladder where it says not to standDSC_0736

b) While keeping up with a bag of figs over one shoulder

These babies aren't light.

These babies aren’t light.

c) While grasping at leaves and branches and clutching them to your chest so you can pull off the figs with the other hand, sweat dripping off your brow,

d) And a swarm of mosquitoes gets close and personal with your armpits,

e) And getting down from said perch,

f) Dealing with the crazy violence that seems ubiquitous in the fig tree world

Nobody saw nothin'.

Nobody saw nothin’.

g) And even having to hide some ominous, foreshadowing symbols from my family, like this.DSC_0718

Inside the house, once I have gathered my figs I  still have to endure deep, deep stickiness from spilled sugar and gooey figs, boiling water, hot pans, an extended cleanup, and last but not least, the sick feeling that comes from tasting preserves fifteen times. Let me tell you, I’ve paid my dues!

I'm tough enough to take the heat.

I’m tough enough to take the heat.

Walter and I, we’re a pair. We may threaten, cajole, and intimidate, but we get the product out.  Still, we have our differences. First he sells his product for top dollar while mine is  free of charge. Maybe I could sell mine, but unlike Walter I have no partner to handle the distribution end. Second, he can’t taste his product, but I can. Mr. White always uses the   same recipe, while I  I experiment with new flavors. This year I’ve added a little something different in every batch. Walter never divulges his recipes, but I can. I’m not trying to corner the market.

Walter in his work clothes

Walter in his work clothes. Photo:

As fig season winds up, so does Walter’s last season. I don’t have a good feeling about his prospects, but he may surprise me yet. While we wait to learn his fate, won’t you try some of my  fig preserves? Really. They’re free, and you won’t have to worry about going to jail!DSC_0710 Postscript: This years flavors: cinnamon, cinnamon and ginger, rosemary and port, pepper, basil, amaretto, and that’s all I can remember. Tell that to the D.E.A.

Trading Blue for Yellow

A couple of Sundays ago I woke up feeling a little blue.  My problems were the usual stuff of those who have no real problems. I had now been living with my belongings dispersed through the house as if by a maniac for many weeks. Since my bedroom floor was now rough concrete, I was stepping in little grains of cement every time I went in my bathroom. Between the workmen tramping in and out and having our extant bedroom furniture  placed willy nilly in other rooms, trying to clean or organize was out of the question. I felt cheated because I had slept late and now my husband thought it was too late to ride bikes. Also, I had determined that only about five people were reading my blog. That was the real rub.

I contemplated this last opinion while I sat outside with my coffee. There was no doubt that I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was up to me to change the situation. Had I written what I wanted? Yes. Had I been satisfied with it? Yes. If a blogger writes a post in the forest, and the animals can’t read, is it a real blog post? I didn’t know, but I did know this mood was not going to fly. What could I do, I mused, to take care of myself right now and avoid the steaming morass of self pity that was lurking just over my left shoulder?

I knew! I knew! I was going to take my own self on an adventure! Quickly, before my brain could give me instructions otherwise, I threw on some bicycling clothes and smeared  sunscreen on my face. “You’re going all by yourself to Shelby Farms?” inquired my husband as he checked my bicycle tires. “Yep,” I replied, sliding my cell phone into my sports bra. “Maybe it would be easier to leave the phone at home,” he suggested. “Nope,” I replied.

I knew why he’d  said that. A few years ago while we were riding together I had tried to fish my phone out of my bra while riding. I wasn’t having any trouble until he came up behind me offering suggestions while I tried to answer the phone and stop the bike at the same time. Thanks to his “help” I pulled on only one brake, causing me to be thrown over the handlebars and onto the pavement, watching my cell phone clatter down the street.

Today I wasn’t going to get caught up into his fears that I would again answer the phone while biking. His fears were going to have to be his own problem. This bike ride was going to  be all about me, Baby.

In five minutes I was pedaling down  my driveway, free as I had felt on a Saturday morning in second grade after I had dusted the piano and been allowed outside to play. As a child  I  regularly biked for hours around our neighborhood. It was the same now except I had a helmet and could go as far as I wanted. How could it be that I rode my bike so seldom? Well, for one thing it is often hotter than Hades where I live, I reminded myself,  making it necessary that bike riders, along with walkers, runners, and gardeners , start their activities at dawn or not at all. Today, however, the temperature was tolerable and the humidity low.

My general destination was Shelby Farms, a 4500 urban park close to our home. In recent years a conservancy has made major improvements in the park including  turning an  unused railroad track into a Greenline to help connect citizens to the pleasures within. The part that will extend to my neighborhood is not yet built, so, alone with my thoughts , I took backroads for about 6 miles until I crossed into the park.

The park is split by a major thoroughfare. I rode into the south side which contains, among other things, a farmer’s market and an RV park. I rode beside the RV park, wondering what it would be like to have one, and to pull up to a campsite in the middle of the city to spend the night. After reading a mystery series in which the heroine drove an RV, I mentioned it would be fun for me to tool around in  one. This idea was just too much for the man who is afraid for me to take my phone on a bike ride. He sputtered about how hard it would be for me to maneuver, how I lack depth perception ( which is true) and the costs of gas. Mostly I think he was afraid he would come home and find an RV in our driveway. What does he think I am, I asked myself as I cleared the RV area. Impulsive?

Beyond the Rv area I rode on some narrow and some wide trails past the solar farm area and an enormous mulch making facility before cutting up closer to the road. I was close to my specific destination: the sunflowers.DSC_0714

Every year  the park plants a large field of tall sunflowers  which can be seen from the major thoroughfare. Countless children are taken there by their parents to pose for pictures among the flowers.  Engagement photos are taken there as well. Maybe some people even cut some  flowers to take home. I had always wanted to visit the sunflowers during their brief season, but until today I never had.DSC_0724

I dismounted and took out my camera. Rows and rows of sunflowers stood before me, just like a corn maze. I found an opening  and tromped in, taking care not to get too close to some families nearby who were photographing their children. As I admired all the yellow and  gold loveliness, I overheard parents admonishing their children to stop crying and smile for the camera. A Labrador Retriever was being urged to stand beside a recalcitrant child.DSC_0727

DSC_0716Nevertheless, it was a peaceful place. I could hear but not really see the traffic. And within the rows was a a magical feast of golds, yellows and greens. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the colors shimmered for me. Deep within the rows, unseen by any human eye, I stood perfectly still. All around me the bees buzzed and lit on flowers, while butterflies chased  one another from bloom to bloom.DSC_0744 DSC_0734 DSC_0739Everywhere I looked a sea of sunflowers faced the sun. DSC_0730Even the backs of their necks were beautiful to me.

How long did I stay? I stayed until I decided to leave. Somehow the warmth and simplicity of the sunflowers restored my equilibrium.  As I eventually pedaled away, I heard myself say to me, “You may have just five readers, but they’re QUALITY readers!” That made me laugh out loud. Yes, I was out on an adventure that day, and I wasn’t going by the specifications of others. I would follow the sun in my own way.

The Opposing Path, or Kerfluffle and Flow

Over thirty years ago, I married my complete opposite. I was a young, foolish extrovert who made decisions based on feelings and intuitions. He was equally  young and foolish, but  was an introvert who made his decisions with facts and evidence. When he wanted to make decisions quickly I felt pressured. But I had been raised in the South to please my man, so at least early in the marriage, I tended to go along with his ideas for the sake of harmony. On his part he was often stunned that there could be any opposition to his ideas, because they were so logical. Of course, too much going along for the sake of harmony makes for a cranky spouse, so through the years we  have had to learn to respect and even celebrate our differences.

I understand now that my detail oriented husband may actually have a heart attack if he cannot read the EXACT amount a check has been written for. For me, “about $70.00” is close enough. So I write checks out of another account he never even sees. Problem solved! He doesn’t like clutter, so I try to cheerfully hang up my clothes at least twice a week. On his part, he tries not to pressure me to make decisions quickly, because I have to know I have looked at all possibilities first. He is kind to me about things I don’t notice, like whether or not a car needs gas. He knows that is  way too boring for me to be involved with.

We have worked through the power struggles and communication problems of the earlier years and have emerged into the bliss of the empty nesting world. But a recurring challenge is how to come to mutual decisions.  Things always come up. When we have conflicting  ideas on how to handle a situation, what do we do? Does one partner capitulate to please the other, and deal with the resentment later? Does one partner doubt his or her own judgement and wonder if they’re just too controlling? Or do the partners keep working and keep talking until an agreeable decision is made? Where is the line between our individual selves and our partnership?

As I look back over the  last three decades, I see that we have always done our best when we have been  honest with ourselves and each other and have stuck to the work of working it out. Because we are constantly in the push/pull of being individuals and partners simultaneously, it is draining. Because we are opposites in personality styles, it is messy. But in the end it has brought us to the  best emotional places in our marriage.

Recently a new “thing”( meaning an  incident we will laugh about later but not yet)  came up that reinforced the importance for me of listening to myself. Here it is: In the process of preparing our pied a terre, we moved our bed from our home to the condo. This meant we would be purchasing a new bed for our home. But first our bedroom needed to be painted. In the interim, we had  been sleeping in another bedroom in our home.  When we moved our bed, I  gave away an armoire that had held many of my clothes, so my clothes were all over the place in plastic bags and various boxes.

Finally we picked a bedroom paint color and new bed linen.  As soon as my husband painted the room we could get new bedroom furniture. But no, first my husband wanted to do something about our laminate floor. Some of the boards had been pulling away from each other, in approximately the same place where I had used a space heater for several winters. My husband didn’t like the look of it. I thought we had bigger fish to fry, as the hardly anyone could even see the place. See Exhibit A.

Would anyone really notice this?

Would anyone really notice this?

My husband proposed that he (which I thought would surely also mean me) would pull up the  existing laminate while the room was empty, and lay an engineered hardwood floor. Although I am always happy to improve my home,  I did not like this idea. First, we had been neck deep in renovations at the condo for almost a year, and were so close to getting it furnished. I thought our efforts should go there. Second, all projects take longer than people  think they will, especially if either of the two of us is involved. Third, I had been without a bedroom or place to put my belongings for six weeks now, and I wasn’t interested in extending the time. I was tired of all this left brain decision making. I even wrote a post about it! I told my husband that if he must have a floor, that I would rather someone else put it in. No, no, no, he replied. That would be too expensive. He could do it himself for much less money. ( And five times the effort, I said to myself. I’ve matured over the years, so I don’t have to say everything I think.)

The next couple of weeks were excruciating for me. Every time the subject of the floors came up, my husband gave me his very logical reasons why we should follow his idea. I gave him my very valid reasons why we should not. I went to a flooring company  just to get estimates, hoping there would be little price difference between having someone put in the floor or doing it ourselves. My husband saw the estimates  and said they were too expensive.

I stewed. I did not want to be a poor sport, but I did not want to pull up  a floor and lay another one  right now. Why couldn’t he just listen to me? We didn’t (and don’t)  even have a car big enough to bring laminate home in! And what would we do with the old laminate? How many weekends would this take? I wondered if this  could be  just  a rare instance on my part of being stubborn. Surely not. But my husband was so stuck on this idea. Could I just give in? And readers, I could not. I had to listen to myself. We were going to have to go through the messy process of working it out. It made my stomach ache to think about it.

To the Moon Alice!

To the Moon Alice!

I brought it up one last time on a Thursday night. Sparks flew. We both defended our positions. I had tried giving my husband lots of facts, since I thought he could hear those better.  But finally I told him that if he proceeded the way he proposed it was going to cause more trouble than a few boards gone awry. What was his actual problem with the floor, and could we solve it using less drastic means? Since my husband could not live with the  appearance of the floor, we tried to order more laminate on the internet to repair it. But of course it was discontinued. Then he reluctantly agreed to try to glue the drifting parts down. Crisis averted, I hoped. My anxiety went down by one thousand points. I had taken care of my individual self, and the relationship had survived.

That Saturday he glued down the boards. On Sunday he began to replace the quarter rounds he had taken down to repaint the bedroom. We were just about ready for our new bed! Oh, I was so glad I had not just given in to what he wanted. I celebrated by spending an hour or so in my swimming pool. After a refreshing dip, I went into my bathroom for a shower. But…. the threshold to the bathroom was pulled up, and the laminate seemed … damp. What had happened?

My husband walked in at that time and said that yes, water seemed to be coming from somewhere in our bedroom, but where? And why? For the next hour we ran the wet /dry vac and tried to locate the source of the  ice cold water, which we had found seeping out from under the wall. Reluctantly my husband began to pull up pieces of laminate to see where the water was coming from. Things kept getting curiouser, and in the end we turned off the water  and put in a call to a plumber.

Oh No!

Oh No!

I was planning to attend a Ramadan dinner  that night with a friend, so I had to leave before the plumber arrived. Dinner was later than I thought, for I had failed to take in account that food could not be served until after dusk. As I listened to a speaker expound on working for the common good of all, I  received a text from my husband. The plumber found that my husband had driven a nail through the wall into a  water pipe coming in from under the slab of the house. He would have to jackhammer into our bedroom floor in order to fix the pipe. Water had seeped under the laminate, so our floor was of course, ruined.

On the way to the condo, where we had to sleep because we had no water at our home, my husband was so upset with himself. How could he have done this, he asked. How much was it going to cost to fix it? And why was I not angry with him? Why should I be angry with you? I asked him. It was just a mistake. Anyone could have done it. It’s not the end of the world. I meant that. At that moment I felt fully available to be a partner. That didn’t make my stomach hurt at all.

The next day a plumber came and fixed the pipe, and we were able to wash the 23 or so wet towels we had from the leak.  My husband called the insurance man, and someone came to patch the hole in the wall from the repair. Sometime during that week my husband said in a quiet  voice that when we got a new floor he no longer thought he had to install it himself. Oh, O.K., I said in a nonchalant tone.

That same day that the plumber fixed the slab, I attended my usual yoga class. Before we began, our teacher wanted to discuss two Sanskrit words, paksa, (roughly , going with the flow, ) and prati paksa (roughly, going against the flow). She related the terms to our yoga practice, saying that sometimes in order to properly do a pose we go the way the body wants to go, but at other times the best way to achieve balance is  to take  an opposite path. We must always assess which is the better choice: going with the flow, or going against the flow. Indeed.