Online Dating a/k/a “So, You Wanna Date?”

A few friends of mine and I were chatting over dinner the other night. Several told the group their experiences in the online dating scene. After many stories, laughs, a couple of bottles of wine and a round of hugs, I walked to my car silently cheering that I am happily married. Thank God I don’t have to handle the online dating angst; I don’t think I could do it!

For starters, my friends exclaimed that people in the dating pool absolutely do respond to their profiles and bios. Nine times out of ten, they told me, interested persons write scintillating missives such as: “Are you interested in me?” and “Do you want to date?”

Wait a minute. “Do you want to date?” This is the response you get to the bio that you took great pains to write after engaging in months of deep soul-searching? What, are we in first grade? The best conversation starter a person looking for love can wrap his or her little typing fingers around is, “Let’s go out.”? This is the way to woo a potential special someone? Now, perhaps I’m wrong, but I thought the point of posting a little bio is to provide discerning souls an opportunity to see if there is a commonality of interests. Does the profile author show a sense of humor? Is exercise, or music, or movies or travel important to this person? Do they like books? It doesn’t seem to be that difficult. How can individuals looking to share their life with someone be so bereft of the gift of gab that they can’t respond to any of these points? It’s not like they’re showing up at somebody’s doorstep with flowers for crying out loud.

Or perhaps these responders’ MO is a blanket reply; it’s easy to “Control ‘V’” a “Do you want to date?” one-liner and see where that lands you. I suppose there are calculated odds as to how many of these missives a person looking for a date needs to send out to garner a response. Think of all the time saved when you don’t have to read the bios! Just click on one, reply with your zinger, and move on to the next. It’s not a strategy that embraces discernment, but maybe it will work for a night at the movies, someday. Plus there’s no rejection. Maybe one of my friends should add, “I like to calculate the odds!” on a bio. It might lead to an interesting conversation. Well, whether or not one of my friends might want to start a conversation with anyone who chooses to honor her with a first grade sentence is another thing.

But it wasn’t just the replies to the biographies that got us going. The biggest roars came when people started to open up and state their own personal desires that would make for perfect relationships — but didn’t have the guts to state. Over more laughter, a list of non-negotiables began to appear.

I’m looking forward to sharing a glass of wine with my Sweetie who loves being handy in the kitchen! In fact, I hope my Sweetie is so handy in the kitchen that I’ll never have to step in that room again.

I’m looking forward to wrapping my arms around my special someone who embraces invigorating winter mornings and enthusiastically plunges into the morning chill to collect the paper from a snowy lawn and lovingly scrape ice off both our cars.

I’m looking forward to spending quality time with my true love, a good-natured and caring soul who is not afraid to apply a prescription medicinal cream to my dog’s backside.

I’m looking forward to living my life with my soul mate, that loving someone who is adept at unclogging relationships and toilets.

Kathy Galgano

January 24, 2015

Advertisements

SOBERING, TROUBLING, and LASTING IMPRESSIONS

Aboard BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to San Francisco from the East Bay city of Fremont, a 20 mile drive north of my home in San José, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the rails. While driving to the station, I have to admit that even the usual aggravating sloth-paced Friday afternoon commuter lane crawl was enjoyable, all because my upbeat, recent college-grad niece accompanied me. I hugged my niece goodbye at the station, and we headed for separate trains. I was excited to hop on anything that would move gloriously faster than what we had just endured. If that thought wasn’t enough to keep my mood elevated, I was thrilled knowing that my vehicle was parked in a well-lit and patrolled lot in front of the station and, as I had timed my trip purposefully for a post-3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon departure, parking overnight for 24 hours into Saturday would be free. So not only was I spared the painfully slow freeway commute to the City, I also would not have to fork over big bucks to park there. BART would bring me very close to the Moscone Convention Center, so things were working out perfectly. Well, I believed that until I walked through the Powell Street Station in San Francisco.

I had not ridden BART in a long time, although weekly I look forward to my niece visiting us for a day or two from her place in the East Bay. I meet her outside the Fremont station; she sits on a bench if I’m running a few minutes late. My niece has never told me she has felt unsafe, and I have not witnessed people who make me worry about my niece’s safety. I see folks of all ages rushing in and out of the station and waiting for rides. However, after my walk through the Powell Street Station last Friday, I vowed to myself that I will not ride BART again into San Francisco as long as I have other available options.

I don’t think of myself as a “head in the sand” person, so my shock at seeing homeless person after homeless person, body after body, sleeping on the floor throughout the large Powell Street Station surprised me. No, that’s not accurate. It stunned me. Some people, men mostly, slept on flat pieces of corrugated cardboard. Others slept on the floor with a rolled-up sweatshirt under their head, with no cardboard separating themselves from the floor. Throughout the long underground station, many people had chosen to sleep next to a wall, but others had positioned themselves with their heads against the wall and their feet jutting into the corridor. As it is a wide corridor, at least I didn’t have to step over anybody. Some people sat propped up, and a few were eating. One man was talking to no one in particular, but overall, it was eerily quiet. Walking through the station I noticed two separate empty squares of cardboard, one set in a corner with a blanket on it, and the other against a wall. I figured these “beds” were already claimed. I looked at my watch; it was just after 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on a bright and relatively warm day without precipitation. What would this place look like in a few hours when it grew dark? I consider myself a compassionate person, but honestly, I did not want to walk through the station at that time to get my answer. I was in shock.

My city, San Jose, has a large homeless population and I’m not immune to it. No one is, really. I choose to live in an urban neighborhood, so I see more homeless people than I would were I to live in a suburban or rural area. My neighbors and I do not turn a blind eye to people near us who are in need. Sometimes meals, clothing, and sleeping bags are accepted, and other times, they are not. Some of the homeless in my neighborhood are very kind people, though neighbors have not been able to engage them in lengthy conversation. At the park where I walk my dog, there is a constant discussion among neighbors as to what can be done, especially since people have been known to sleep on the school grounds. One man has called the school his home now for months and months. I was told that the school administrators have asked him to vacate the grounds when classes are in session, and he obliges. This gentleman uses a small space. There is always evidence that someone inhabits this space, as he may leave food containers or wrappers, trash, there, or some clothing that neighbors have given him. And there is always a rounded depression left in the tan bark where he sleeps.

Can a person live at a school? Other than asking him to leave the grounds during class time, the school does not take responsibility. They say they can’t. But isn’t the school responsible for the health and safety of its students and staff? This homeless man is not a safety threat; he has a gentle disposition and acknowledges us. However, there are other homeless people who have lived in the yard, or who have spent time there, and not all of them have been kind. One is belligerent, and I feel threatened when he is near. There may also be a health threat, even from the pleasant man.

When neighbors arrive to enjoy the park after school hours, conversations frequently progress from noticing if the homeless gentleman is in his usual spot, to asking if other homeless individuals have been seen at or near the school that day, and if anyone knows if they have eaten or accepted recent offers to help. We wonder what can be done when someone is living on the school grounds, as it just seems wrong. Neighbors discuss what obligation the school has to step in. We wonder how this man survived the bitter winter this year. We recognize that while there are more homeless in our neighborhood now, it is still a drop in the bucket compared to the large-scale homeless problem in San José. We discuss just how little the police can do, especially on a long-term basis, even when a person becomes belligerent and throws rocks at us (we do call the police for situations like that). We wish out loud that the long-term school resident would change from his tattered, filthy rags to the clothing that neighbors have given him, and we also wish that he would avail himself of neighborhood services for the homeless. If the man who lives at the school uses bathroom facilities in local businesses during the day, what about after hours? We wonder if local restaurant owners ask the homeless man to leave if he has been standing or sitting outside a business for a long period of time, though we don’t think they have done this. We ask ourselves if there is anything more that we can do. There must be city or county services available. However, just like refusing to wear new clothing, what happens if help is refused? Again, can people live at a school? We acknowledge that we shouldn’t always feel obligated to buy a coffee or a meal every time we walk by a homeless person. The problem is overwhelming and our frustration escalates. One of the neighbors described how one morning, when he was in line at a local coffee shop, a homeless man created a minor scene, talking loudly in the shop, and after he was asked to leave and was standing outside the premises, a patron handed him a hot cup of coffee. That worked; sometimes we see the humor in experiences. We talk about the future, the importance of a stellar education for our youth so they can live and work in society and make good decisions to help end the perpetuation of a cycle of living on the margins. We discuss it all as our dogs run back and forth in the side yard, chasing balls and having fun. And we make a decision as to how we exit the school grounds, which border two streets, depending on which homeless person is stationed where.

As a result of my experience at the Powell Street Station, I opted to take Caltrain to San Francisco and back each day to attend a convention. Not only is the San Jose Diridon train station only a mile from home, the San Francisco Caltrain station is even closer to the Moscone Center, and I did not have to file past dozens and dozens of homeless individuals in either of the stations. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was going to work for me.

While walking to the Diridon station very early one morning, I had to sidestep a man sleeping on the sidewalk of the underpass as I neared the station. I am fairly certain he was just sleeping, although I wasn’t sure; he looked very still. I’m assuming it was his hypodermic needle that I stepped over in the middle of the sidewalk. When I told this story to a colleague at the convention, she said that the night before, when she was walking through the Powell Street BART station and past the many, many homeless people, one homeless man was vomiting. She said it was bad. She didn’t know who was going to take care of it, and she was upset by it.

Sadly, that’s two of us now who are going to elect to start driving again to the City.

Kathy Galgano

June 7, 2014

I Woke Up Wanting to Write Again

I woke up wanting to write again. It has been a long time, and I dearly missed my old friend, that part of me that on earlier occasions had multiple pieces all whirling around my head at the same time, taking shape with each spin.  As themes and descriptions and story lines brightened with each mind lap, the hardest part was choosing what not to write. Some pieces would just have to swirl a little longer.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took a matter of weeks and the ideas slowed and I felt tired. I jotted several things down, but didn’t publish. Then I just stopped writing. I even stopped looking at my blog’s Stats page where I follow how many readers look at my site, and from which country they hail. I didn’t have interest in knowing which themes my readers preferred. Yes, I still had a few ideas swirling, but they weren’t taking form.

This lapse, something like a little death, came after a dear friend of mine passed. She had been ill for years, but referred to her illness as “an inconvenience” and stated numerous times, “I don’t do ‘sick’ well.” We saw a lot of each other, including spending a good deal of time in the car driving to and from the hospital. We hung out in clinic rooms together when she received treatments. We laughed a lot, and once in a while grew testy at each other, as good friends sometimes do. We shared stories of our families, our kids, and her grandbabies. How she adored her grandchildren.  After settling into a treatment room, and after a tech had taken vitals and a nurse had visited, my friend would pull out her iPad and we’d watch a new entertaining video of her grandkids. Boy did this make her smile!

At treatments, she and I caught up on TV shows about fashion, and usually we provided our own commentary, verbally ripping apart the garments on the runway and laughing a lot. One time we elected to stay in the clinic an extra ten minutes, after a grueling seven hour treatment day, just so we could see exactly which “whadding dress” (we used to emulate Martin Short’s character, Franck Eggelhoffer, in “Father of the Bride”) the bride-to-be finally chose. We talked about new recipes we cooked up or wanted to try. She brought me up to speed on who is working where and who just moved and who is doing what; it is no surprise that she had more, true, good friends than anyone I have ever known.

We enjoyed the tastiest chocolate chip cookies the hospital bistro served, and in true form, my dainty petite friend savored hers I while I wolfed down mine. We listened to Bill Cosby CDs in the car, and “Noah” and “Ice Cream” and “The Buck Buck Championship of the World” really had us roaring. The nurses and staff looked forward to her appointments and her smile and banter and quick wit. I knew she was well liked; the nurses even hugged me for bringing her.

Recently she had expressed sadness that she couldn’t see some long-time high school friends who were getting together; she had to receive a transfusion that day. She was annoyed. Yet she still acknowledged that while plans for that day weren’t going to gel, she did appreciate that we had become closer friends as a result of all our time in the car and treatment rooms. That was a gift.

And now she has passed and so I grieve. Some days are better than others. That’s normal. Death is a part of life, and what a life! Even on my toughest days I can still smile when I picture my friend laughing, or playing with her grandkids. Her petite frame and giant spirit celebrated life to the fullest. It has been several weeks now since she has passed, and of course, life goes on, although I admit I haven’t felt like participating fully.

But today I woke up wanting to write again. And in so doing, I welcome back a piece of myself that I have sorely missed and truly hoped I would find again soon. In finding this spark, this impulse that I had lost, with the beginnings of a few potential topics starting to swirl in my mind, I hope to bring to my writing the energy, creativity and zest for life my friend brought to her life. I hope to connect with my readers in the way she connected with those in her large circle of family and friends who held her dear. I dedicate this piece to her memory, her spirit, and am grateful for this renewal and connection with my readers again.

Kathy Galgano

February 15, 2014

Human Park Minutes (Following “Dog Park Minutes”)

  1. It was agreed upon yesterday evening by the quorum-plus assemblage that members and accompanying two-legged human companions (although no human companions present propelled themselves on one or zero appendages, they would be most welcome nonetheless, as we have noticed that our human companions make note of one of our kind who propels herself aptly with three appendages, and even with that handicap we cannot retrieve our playthings from her) (and any human companion who arrives at the Human Park with tasty morsels in pocket is particularly welcome, followed by playthings, and for one of our members, a laser pointer light for chasing) were enjoying a bit of pleasant weather and that none of our numbers was reduced to ridicule for the donning of a tweed, fisherman knit, or waterproof article of apparel.
  2. It was also generally agreed upon by all members that the addition of the new human companions to the Human Park was most welcome. These first-time visiting human companions immediately engaged in conversation with the other human companions in attendance. It was noted that the well-documented interaction of a human pawshake, while considered among our ranks an activity of questionable value, satisfied the human companions, along with visible non-aggressive teeth showings. The human companions did not, however, offer each other edible treats, nor did any of them sit or roll over at any time. Also, while the new human companions were being welcomed, all members of our quorum-plus assemblage customarily performed the accepted ritual of sniff, and energetically and agreeably accepted the new member within our ranks.
  3. It was also agreed upon by all members that while our personal playthings in our own domiciles are enjoyable, it is far better to promote group activity and personal health and utilize only one, or perhaps two of these playthings offered during our daily post-dinner gatherings at the Human Park. Most importantly, all members unanimously affirmed that human companions would be best served if any playthings held in reserve during these late afternoon meetings were offered for their enjoyment. It was therefore agreed upon that each member temporarily would discharge their personal ownership of their plaything held in reserve for the duration of the time they choose to remain at the Human Park each evening, and offer that plaything to the human companions, so they may feel the warmth and inclusion of the human pack, and engage in liberating running, tumbling, and general physical activity. Members have noted that human companions display more non-aggressive teeth showings when at play. It is for the welfare of the human companions that our members have voluntarily and unselfishly agreed to offer whichever playthings the humans desire during each particular meeting.
  4. It was also noted by one member that his human companion consumes a healthy meal and sleeps most soundly after being fully engaged in physical activity and human conversation with his human pack while at the Human Park.
  5. It was reported that while the human companions tend to become significantly more vocal, using heightened tones and greater decibel-producing sounds, when those among our membership engage in activity in the water-retaining grass and earth area of the Human Park, we do not share their concerns, and have been known to ignore the remarks of said human companions. In fact, the human companions take great pains to avoid these bog-like areas, all the while maintaining clean paws, and clean paw coverings. Unlike the human companions, we find that these areas provide for numerous pleasant activities, such as the rolling in cool watery earth, the burial and retrieval of playthings in this watery earth, and the deep excavation of these geographic areas. In addition, these regions are replete with tasty morsels, and so as the human companions do not enjoy engaging in these areas, we accept their decision and will continue to participate, and actively engage each other in these areas, thereby keeping them for our ranks alone. We accept the human companions’ offering of these areas for our use, and thank them for their consideration and generosity. We consider their offering of these areas for our use to be a lovely gift in exchange for our offer of our playthings for their amusement and physical health. And finally on this matter, the human companions tend to engage in more vibrant and urgent conversation with each other when they witness our happiness in these watery earth areas of the Human Park, and we know that as they are in need of these conversations and connections with members of their own pack, it is a positive experience for all.
  6. It has been observed by multiple members of our group that human companions exhibit signs of stress when one of our playthings is missing. We are thrilled that they take responsibility for the playthings offered to them for their enjoyment, but we are in agreement that it would be best for all involved if they were to observe and practice the art of relaxation. We are resolved to act as role models, and in so doing the human companions may observe, and then emulate our behaviors. It was decided that we need to model key behaviors to help the human companions on their road to relaxation fulfillment, such as rolling in scented regions of the Human Park, and searching for the delectable treats left by students. No human companion would be stressed were they to come upon a gift of beef taco or ham sandwich; however, it is doubtful that any human companion would be able to find them as quickly as any within our membership. Still, if the human companions are up to the challenge, they are welcome to participate in this stress-reducing activity with us.
  7. All members agreed to meet each other and their accompanying human companions on the following afternoon/ early evening. They implored each other to request that their human companions provide savory snacks, to be transported in their pockets, and also to continue to provide playthings during these outings so that the human companions could have an outlet for conversation, exercise and non-aggressive teeth showings. After all, this is their park and their time to socialize.

This account was barked to, and translated by, Kathy Galgano

January 8, 2014

HAVE YOURSELF A MESSY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

It’s Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!

If you’re not feeling it, however, I understand. The holidays are rough.

Painful rifts mean family members aren’t talking. Traveling is miserable. Christmas carols are ridiculously cheerful. People can’t find work. Parts of the country are slammed with storms. Christmas just isn’t the same without family and friends who have passed. A mid-week Christmas means lots of people can’t travel home. Actively deployed service members are in harm’s way. Firefighters and police officers respond to fires and domestic disputes. Loved ones are sick, and hospitalized. If today or tomorrow is your day to receive chemo treatment, then you go to the clinic. Chronic pain sufferers wake up feeling lousy, as usual. Homeless people wake up homeless. People suffering from mental illness don’t get a reprieve. Christmas is messy.

Well, life is messy for 364 days of the year. It’s just not supposed to be messy on Christmas, right? We’ve bought into this myth big time; it’s what the ads show, and the Christmas movies, the cards, and the Christmas carols. But here’s the real news: Christmas day is messy, too. The tradition started off that way; Mary was an unwed, pregnant teen. She could have been stoned for this. Joseph married her, probably enduring ridicule. They traveled to Bethlehem. Now, all you moms out there, surely you remember what doing anything is like in your eighth and ninth month of pregnancy? It’s miserable. Whether or not the couple settled in a stable, or in somebody’s house, the point remains that they had to find somewhere to stay, and Mary gave birth away from home. It’s the Christmas story, and we are celebrating Christmas. And it’s messy.

The weather is crummy in some parts of the country, but nice in others. It’s summer south of the equator. Not all traveling compatriots make you want to scream; some people trade seats on the plane so you and your kids can sit together. The hospital and clinic staffs are cheerful. Transportation crews are working extended hours in lousy conditions, plowing, and re-wiring power lines. You don’t have to listen to chipper carols if you don’t want to, there’s plenty of Christmas music performed in the Blues style. Or you can choose to listen to Christmas music from another culture. Family members can pick up the phone, or email, Skype, or write a note, or light a candle in memory of a loved one, or just think about someone.

It’s Christmas. Mary nursed her baby, and she and Joseph provided the best home they could for their infant. They relied on strangers for help. They persevered, were resourceful, and probably found some humor in the situation. While “tenacity” may not be the word you hear in carols, it’s the real deal. Messy, but real.

Sending you my very best on this Messy Christmas, everybody.

Kathy Galgano

December 24, 2013

HOMEWARD BOUND (THANKSGIVING PART III of III)

This piece is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend, Patrice.

I needed two shopping carts to collect everything on my list, and this didn’t even include the turkey. I had ordered a beautiful bird at the mom and pop grocery store near my job; years ago only a handful of markets sold turkeys raised without hormones. That wasn’t the main reason I selected what I now call my “Save the Whale” turkey, however. These birds were fresh, not frozen for weeks on end, and my guests said they could taste the difference. That’s all that mattered.

Looking for ideas in my cookbooks, I landed on this one recipe for stuffing (we had never called it “dressing”), and immediately stopped turning the pages. It’s true that aromas can trigger very powerful memories, but I was instantly transported to another place and time merely by perusing a list of ingredients. Immediately, I was a kid with my family visiting Manhattan for the day. We’d see the sights and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in December, and then would stop to buy a wonderfully warm pretzel from a street vendor. On freezing days, I found these carts a bit of inviting warmth. I can recall the enticing aroma wafting from that stand. It was the chestnuts. Vendors scooped the warm nuts into little paper bags before handing them over to the customers, and I breathed in this drifting essence. I looked down at my page; I would recreate this memory. Roasted chestnut stuffing was on the menu.

Friends began to arrive early Wednesday evening. They brought cheese, crackers and chips, and wine, tossed their coats in the bedroom, rolled up their sleeves, some donning aprons, and grabbed peelers, knives and cutting boards. They were eager to get to work. Throughout the evening, the “Slicers and Dicers” peppered me with questions. “How far down do we need to peel the acorn squashes?” I answered, “You want to peel down to the bright orange.” “Got it.”

Next question: “What do I do with these chestnuts?” “We’re supposed to prick them with a knife before roasting them in the oven.” “Like this?” “That looks about right,” I said. Then I added, “Here, I’ll help you.” I was looking forward to working with the chestnuts. I had even called my dad about preparing them. In response to my question, Dad had said, “Prick them with a sharp knife.” That corresponded with the recipe’s description.

Next I heard, “Are you sure you want us to do two bags of potatoes?” “Sure, just peel ‘em all.” “Okay! You’re the boss.” I figured people would want seconds, right?*

“Do you want the bread for the stuffing cubed like this?” “That looks great,” I answered. We played music, sipped wine, and conversations filled the kitchen, dining and living rooms. There was the inviting expectation of a holiday in the air, and it just felt right.

With this group toiling away, I prepared the standard pre-Thanksgiving fare. When I gave the word, we quickly cleared the table and sat down to a dinner of pasta and meatballs, salad and garlic bread, just like all those times years ago with our friends who had moved to Germany. One time, a neighbor’s cat had wandered in our partially open patio door; the kitchen was so cozy and warm. Hours later, when only a few of the Slicers and Dicers remained, and we began to rearrange furniture for the next-day’s feast, a surprised, long-forgotten sleeping cat jumped down from his perch on a kitchen chair, hidden by the tablecloth. We had truly extended our family of friends that year.

So I had the chestnuts in the oven. The potato “KP” team was on a roll; I grew up believing that “KP” meant “keep peeling.” I was stirring the large skillet of sizzling sausage, diced celery and onion, and at some point would add the diced apple and fresh herbs. The chestnuts would be shelled, chopped and added, too. Early on Thursday morning, I would toss this savory blend in with the bread and eggs, and then stuff the enormous bird. While from year to year I may have changed recipes for stuffing or side dishes, there are a few established components of my turkey prep that I will never alter. An entire bottle of chardonnay gets poured into the bottom of the roasting pan, and I choose from fresh herbs, rosemary, sage, thyme, growing in my garden. Very early on, my visiting cousin had explained to me the value of draping bacon over the bird. The bacon drippings baste the main course. When our guest list included people who didn’t eat pork, I switched to turkey bacon. As I was stirring away that night, making one mental note after another, I glanced at the clock. It was time. Grabbing a potholder, I opened the oven door and began to smile. Just as I had hoped, I was back in New York City, next to a little cart filled with warm pretzels and chestnuts. What heaven. I knew the aroma was starting to drift because I heard a few others murmur “MMMMM.” Not bad for a first-timer, I thought. As I began to draw the tray out of the oven, it happened.

POP! POP! Chestnuts exploded in the oven. What a show! My dad had warned me that if they weren’t pricked deeply enough, the steam inside would cause them to erupt. I smiled again. Dad was 3,000 miles away and right again. I lingered in front of the oven. After a few seconds of all quiet, I withdrew the tray. More POPS! There were a few shrieks; I think they were mine. Bits of chestnut hung from the ceiling. They clung to the refrigerator, the walls, the floor, a few guests, and me. Nobody was burnt, thank Goodness, but what a mess! We were all laughing hard now, but I had gotten my wish! In all the years that I have been making Thanksgiving dinners, I have never lived that moment down.

Dinner was delicious, and there was good reason for this. Over the years, so many friends and visiting family members have pitched in, not only to complete the Wednesday night prep work, but to cook entire dishes, and to stir, mash vegetables, season foods, create desserts, prepare the cranberry sauce from scratch, make roux for the gravy, heroically attempt to keep up with the growing mound of pots and pans, and most importantly, remember to add charcoals to the grill each hour. And as carving is not my strongpoint, yearly I have relied on one guest in particular to help me. As the turkey rests on the counter, and I spoon the stuffing from it into a bowl, we all stop to enjoy the crisp smoky bacon that basted the turkey. Now that’s a fitting hors d’oeuvre.

Some years, we’ve rented tables and chairs and extra linens, even chafing dishes. With the extra tables, we have formed a giant “H” configuration in the living and dining rooms so everybody can be seated. The largest group was 34 people. Sometimes, I’ve knocked on neighbors’ doors requesting oven space because the briquettes weren’t catching in either grill (one grill for each bird.) A few times, the turkeys were done ahead of schedule, and my electric warming tray came to the rescue. The year we hosted 34 people proved to be one of those “Help! They just aren’t cooking!” years. My sister and her family were visiting. When my sister asked what she could do to assist, I quickly responded: “Play! Please play.”

My niece calls her mom a “human jukebox.” What a fitting description. While I was frantically checking my watch and chanting, “Cook, Turkeys, Cook,” my sis was leading the guests in an impromptu sing-along on our yard-sale-purchased upright piano. Who knew two opera singers would be in the crowd that year? The crew in the kitchen started to hum, too. After playing popular show and movie tunes, my sister segued into Beatles’ songs. The animated group was really into their pre-dinner show now. When I heard, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” I couldn’t even imagine the appetite this gang had worked up. The place erupted in cheers when I delivered my sing-song, long-awaited message: “The turkeys are done!”

Every year there comes a time when several of my returning guests approach me individually, and whisper, “Are we going to do it again this year?” I smile. My response is always the same. “Yes!”

Returning guests can’t wait to see the faces of new guests as they experience this time-honored tradition. It is the moment we have long awaited, or dreaded, perhaps. It is our signature Thanksgiving experience, and so we crank up the volume, loud. As the bowls of heavy cream make their way around the table along with the whisks and my ancient frilly pink apron or my moo cow apron with little cloth bovine ears on the bib, guests are inspired to work by the appropriate, mood-setting tunes. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Booming is the Devo classic, “Whip it.” Guests recite, “Whip it. Whip it good.” The bowl gets passed to a newcomer. Someone places the apron on their neck. While whisking away, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” comes up next on our personal Thanksgiving hit parade, again played at eye-popping decibels. It’s likely that not everyone has had a chance to whisk, and the bowls of cream aren’t quite ready. Now people are dancing to Weird Al Yankovic’s wonderful spoof, “Eat it.” Guests clap and groove to the beat. It’s a raucous affair.

Imagine this scenario as experienced by quite an elderly woman who spoke not a word of English. Our dear friend’s daughter brought her boyfriend and his grandmother for dinner. We had never met. A little unsure of what she would think, I went ahead with the tradition and just kept my fingers crossed. As the music rocked the room, she was the life of the party. Another time, a friend brought a guest whom we were excited to meet, but as I was behind schedule, I hugged each of them and handed over a large bunch of freshly washed parsley. “I’m so happy you came,” I told them. “Now, can you garnish all the plates with a sprig, please?” Another year a friend brought a colleague from Japan to our home. Experiencing his first Thanksgiving, this engineer settled in at the piano and played magnificent jazz. Somehow, guests found just enough room between tables and chairs to dance before dinner. It was a thrill.

Other years, it wasn’t just unlit charcoals that created drama. When the kitchen sink stopped up, we couldn’t run the water without catching it in pans lest we’d need to call out the rowboats. That year my husband’s family was here. Not only were my sister-in-law and brother-in-law fabulous cooks, they were quite handy with tools, too! Another time we had a small flood in our basement. No little plumbing issue is going to put a damper on Thanksgiving. One year I had to set-up a booth at a crafts fair I was participating in, to be held on Friday. Our family of friends took care of everything!

One neighbor really jazzed things up one time. Guests watched him as he walked back and forth in his yard outside our dining and living room windows. First, he wore a red wig. The next time he walked by, he modeled a different one. I don’t know how many wigs he owned, but he sported a different one with each pass. We were dining on seconds before somebody finally said something. Then, everyone howled. While they were perplexed, guests figured they should be polite, so they had said nothing. At my urging, my sport of a neighbor had advised me that he would “come up with something” for us that day.

Just like the Thanksgivings of years ago, everyone here always inquires about each other’s family living in other parts of the country. Over the years, many of us have lost loved ones back home, and sadly, we have lost one of our own, a dear friend with whom we shared every holiday and who always graced us with her presence, her spirit, her smile, her sense of humor, her great conversation, her friendship, and her incredible desserts. While we miss her, we feel her presence through time spent with old friends.

Unlike the Thanksgivings of years ago, we no longer think of ourselves as “transplants,” or “orphans.” We no longer play “Homeward Bound” with each meal. Each year, when our house is brimming and the living room windows are steamed up because of all the cooking, we build on the treasured memories of years past, and know that we are home.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

*Note to self: Making 20 lbs. of mashed potatoes is ridiculous.

Kathy Galgano

November 18, 2013

HOMEWARD BOUND – Thanksgiving Part II of III

I enjoyed inviting friends over to dinner, and my confidence level had grown dramatically having sliced and diced for our chef turned engineer friend so many times over the years. I grew up in a family that shared regional cuisines of Eastern and Southern Europe, and I gravitated to the Italian recipes.

Cooking was never scary. Well, not in the way you think. My mom and dad were adept in the kitchen and dad especially enjoyed the process, and we kids were expected to pitch in and help. Dad loved to play-up a mannerism that my mother and I found maddening. Dad talked while holding a knife. He would be telling us a story, and inevitably my dad would stop slicing or dicing or carving and start walking around the kitchen, swinging his arms and making his point, drawing circles in the air with the small razor sharp paring knife, or full-sized carving knife. I knew Dad used keen-edged blades; I watched him sharpen them on a stone before every cooking session.

“Carl,” my mother would call with exasperation. “Put down the knife!” Dad would be wandering around the kitchen, fully engaged in his story. My mother and I focused our eyes on his dominant, knife-wielding right hand as it cut through the air like a magician’s wand. He gesticulated wildly while nonchalantly forging ahead with his humorous story. He reacted to his own yarn, and smiled and laughed all the while seemingly unaware of the momentary kitchen angst he created. How Dad loved to tease! In his defense I have to say he never once dropped the knife; Dad’s grip was too strong to let that happen. My mother and I would look at each other and shake our heads as Dad wandered over to the sink, where I might be rinsing iceberg lettuce, or strolled the few steps to the stove to check out the pots my mother was stirring, still talking and waving his hands. At the conclusion of his story, Dad would return to his thick wooden cutting board wearing a broad smile, and dive into his work with great skill. We’d still be shaking our heads and he always pleaded innocence. Dad would look up at us and say, “What?” “What did I do?” My mother and I would sigh, maybe even roll our eyes in exaggerated exasperation, and then Dad would pull out his signature expression, contorting his mouth downwards to reveal his ridiculous “look ashamed” visage. Laughter erupted.

So while I’ve never been afraid to dive into a culinary project, I don’t remember recreating our friend’s fabulous Coquiles St. Jacques, those sumptuous scallops he made for us one Sunday night years ago. It was the first time I had ever eaten scallops, but I wasn’t going to confess that to our friend as I washed and cut vegetables. Nor did I tell our host and hostess that I had never before tasted barbecued ribs, let alone purchased them at the supermarket. I worked on the salad that night. The ribs were great and I became a fan. My comfort zone was in roasts and pastas and meatballs and chicken and fresh water fish and potatoes and vegetables in season and soups and stews. My mother was allergic to seafood, and we just never ate ribs; barbecues were for hamburgers and hot dogs and sausages. Pesto was a dish new to me, as well. My Italian grandparents hailed from Southern Italy, and pesto, traditionally a Northern Italian recipe, was not part of my family’s legacy. But I liked cooking and I liked my food processor and my gadgets, and so I dove into new recipes with enthusiasm.

I prepared dishes for our family of friends, and for loved ones who visited from the East Coast. I remember making homemade linguine for pasta Carbonara. One evening I spent a long while at a bookstore, searching for just the right cookbook. I purchased it and a paella pan and tried my hand at the dish I had enjoyed while living in Spain for a summer when I was in college. That book also taught me how to make Spanish tortillas; those potato and egg skillet dishes that can be eaten alone, or put between two slices of fresh bread for a great sandwich. When my study-abroad group took weekend bus excursions to tour different parts of Spain, the kitchen staff in our dormitory made these tortilla sandwiches for the ride. I loved them. I also tried my hand at my dad’s fabulous rolled steak, an Italian dish that takes a fair amount of prep time. The results were satisfying.

Frequently I called home and chatted with my folks, asking them how they seasoned or cooked different things. When I called for clarification of my father’s recipe for potatoes (all these recipes are passed to us by doing and watching – nobody writes them down), my mother bristled at my request. I wasn’t surprised. Dad made these roasted potatoes with fresh parsley and garlic and cheese. “The Good Kind Of Potatoes,” we called them. The cheese would crust on the edges of the roasting pan and we’d love picking out the charred pieces. How tasty! Mom used to ask, “What about all the other kinds of potatoes?” She made delicious cabbage with boiled potatoes, and dumplings stuffed with a potato mixture, and fried potatoes and yams and roasted ones. And she made tasty mashed potatoes. “Are those the ‘Bad Kinds’?” Again, there was the familiar head shake back and forth and accompanying sigh. Dad did his playful best to keep this recipe name game alive. “Kids,” he’d yell upstairs to us in the house on Sundays, “Do you want me to make ‘The Good Kind of Potatoes?’”  Naturally, the phrase, “The Good Kind of Potatoes” received particular emphasis. Our response was always an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” I just knew my mother was wincing. If Dad or we kids said the phrase “The Good Kind of Potatoes” more than a couple of times, inevitably, Dad would catch my mother shaking her head or sighing, and then would don his trademark expression, and we’d all laugh as he looked ashamed again.

The California chef turned engineer friend taught us how to make roux. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom that this technique was better than hers for making gravy. No more stirring and stirring the pan drippings, trying to attack each little lump of corn starch or flour with the back of a spoon. This was a revelation, as was white pepper. A bowl of mashed potatoes seasoned with white pepper was beautiful.

So it just seemed natural that I would host Thanksgiving dinner for however many friends and family would be joining that day. What was the big deal?

Stayed Tuned for the third and final part of Homeward Bound!

Kathy Galgano

November 13, 2013

Homeward Bound – Thanksgiving Part I

The tradition started years ago, when we were out of college and making our way in the world. On that special Thursday in late November, with so many of us 3,000 miles away from family and home, it was the one holiday that proved a bit tough. Yet we had established a network of friends – our new family of friends — and one among us was a chef.

We spent many a Sunday afternoon at the chef turned engineer’s home, first in Silicon Valley and later in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains. Always on the menu was a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit which we played in teams, and some California wine, cheeses, crackers and bread, and fruit. Wine was a new foray for many of us and it was sitting around the board game table or stretching in front of the fire with the cat on cool, rainy winter afternoons listening to music that we began to appreciate the nuances of the varietals and blends. White zinfandel was a favored choice at first; the sweet, crisp taste was perfect for wine tasting neophytes, but in time, we uncorked bottles that were less sweet and more complex. Buttery chardonnays were in vogue and that became a favorite.

Sometimes we took a little hike, not always successfully avoiding the poison oak on the hillside, or visited one or two of the many wineries tucked in the steep hills of the local coastal redwoods. Or we could complete the drive in the Santa Cruz mountains “over the hill” and check out the sea lions in the pilings of the wharf in Santa Cruz. The sea lions barked that loud, deep, raspy call of theirs, and we playfully called back to them. Mostly, though, we enjoyed the company of good friends, and spent Sunday afternoons just relaxing together.

There was never any question as to where everybody would go for Thanksgiving. We all showed up at the chef turned engineer’s house on Wednesday evening after work and the process would begin. As more friends arrived, we would spread out from the kitchen into the dining room and even head to the coffee table in the living room, setting up shop, mincing onions and celery and parsley, slicing and cubing bread for stuffing, dicing carrots and preparing turnips and butternut squashes, and peeling potatoes, stroking downwards, so that the peels would drop directly into the brown paper bag placed under our hands. We would sip wines we brought to share, and work and talk and listen to albums while our host and hostess prepared a pasta feast for the crew. When word from the kitchen came, we’d clear the dining room table and enjoy a wonderful spaghetti dinner with homemade rolls and salad. After dinner, we’d wash up and put the final touches on our peeling, slicing and dicing, and lastly prepare the pumpkin pies. It might be close to midnight when we pulled the pies from the oven, but dinner prep was in great shape.

Early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, as we walked through the front door, the aromas from the kitchen welcomed us. The scent of turkey and stuffing and vegetables and rolls brought each of us back home for a moment. There were smiles and waves and hugs as we made our way in and tossed our jackets in the bedroom and uncorked our wines, donned aprons and rolled up our sleeves to get to work. Many of us had already telephoned home and spoken to our families who were dining or preparing to dine at home three hours ahead of us. We all shared a similar story; family members were always happy to hear that their Silicon Valley “transplants” each had someplace to go for Thanksgiving. We understood. While it would have been nice to share the holiday with our families, there was something very special about embracing our own tradition.

Back then, we called ourselves “homeless.” That phrase hadn’t been coined yet to mean what it means today. Sometime during dinner our host would play “Homeward Bound,” by Simon and Garfunkel. While a bit melancholy, it was a fitting acknowledgment of our families back East. That mood didn’t last, however, as we enjoyed seconds of this amazing meal, and another glass of wine and great conversation with dear friends. Dinner was never hurried, and we laughed a lot. After a long while, we would gather up the plates and carry everything back to the kitchen. Somebody would make coffee and our hostess poured heavy cream into a stainless steel bowl. We’d unveil the desserts we had brought and the pumpkin pies we had baked just hours earlier, and again sat down at the long table. As we stirred cream and sugar into our cups, our hostess clasped a whisk and expertly turned the cream in the bowl. After a spurt of high-powered whisking, she turned, smiling broadly to the guest sitting next to her and hung her apron around his neck announcing it was his turn. As the bowl and whisk and apron made its way around the table, we cheered as each person worked a little whisking magic, and we each posed for the camera with that frilly apron wrapped around our necks. When the stainless bowl returned to our hostess, it was filled with perfectly whipped cream. Then, people sitting nearest to the pies and cakes began to cut slices, and we passed dessert plates around, filling each one with the tastes of the season, apple and sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and always something chocolate, with our hostess adding a heaping dollop of fresh cream onto each plate. It was fabulous.

One day, however, our dear friend, our host, told us that his job was taking him to Europe.  This was a great career move and of course, we were very happy for him, and offered our heartiest congratulations. Still, how could we not be saddened?  We were a tight group and our friendship was strong, so we knew that staying in touch would not be a problem, but this nearly weekly tradition was coming to an end. And then there was that big unanswered question hanging in the air … What about Thanksgiving?

End of Part One

When Your Best Friend Moves, TRAVEL!

When a family member or friend moves away, saying goodbye can be heartbreaking. However, there is one positive piece to take away from the teary experience; a new vacation prospect emerges. Suffice it to say, I have taken full advantage of these opportunities over the years to reunite with loved ones, and to tour, tour, tour. I hope you enjoy reading the vignettes that follow, each one capturing a different aspect of travel and sight-seeing.

We were in the Green Mountain State for a wedding, and which chocoholic can waive an invitation for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory tour? There were two highlights on that hot summer’s day: Savoring my luscious ice cream flavor that was only available there at the factory, and delighting when another chocoholic, someone considerably younger, valiantly struggled in the “battle of the drips.” In this case, the chocolate cone was winning but the little girl was all smiles as she worked on it. Grabbing my camera, I asked the mother for permission to photograph this happy child. She consented. As I pressed the camera to my eye, the mom pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped her child’s face clean. I don’t know who was more crestfallen, the little girl or I. I didn’t want to show disappointment, so I smiled, took the photo, thanked them both, and walked back in line as the tour began.

With family in Southern California, the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum quickly earned a spot on the “Must See” list. I’ve toured this gallery of Ice Age fossils several times, and the grounds and museum always strike me as other worldly. If you’re not impressed by the million-plus fossils like the mammoth and saber-toothed cat in their collection, then I suggest you take a walk around the perimeter of the building. To this day, “tar” or asphalt bubbles and oozes to the surface of what is now Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. It’s a working excavation site. These animals lived in Los Angeles!

There have been trips to Europe when friends and family lived there. I could list marvel after marvel, the castles and cathedrals and ancient ruins and museums, but what leaps to the forefront of my memory are specific vistas and tastes. On a crisp but sunny January day in the mountainous area of my Italian forebears, the sight of an old man as he collected firewood from the steep grassy and tree-lined incline comes to my mind’s eye. This man gathered sticks and small branches and arranged them on a pack that dropped to the sides of his donkey. Sheep and goats kept the grassy hill sheared. Most hikers would have found this trek rigorous. There were no power lines, no buildings, no billboards, nothing but this man and his work beast, the hills and trees and grass and brilliant sky and an occasional hand-fashioned hay bale.

Also on that same trip to visit Italian family, my cousins roasted a steak on the open hearth in their kitchen. The Italian tile floor near the hearth had been charred from years of extending the coals closer to the table. This was my first time tasting goat, and it was an animal my family had raised. It took very little pressure on my knife to cut through the perfectly cooked piece of steak that had been placed on my plate with a flourish. It was warm, juicy, melted in my mouth, and was the most delicious and memorable morsel I had ever tasted. What made it even more memorable was that when my father translated the conversation building up to this moment, relaying to me that this was “goat” steak, I thought he meant it was lamb or mutton. The only way I could resolve the mix-up I caused was to mimic the calls of sheep, only to be told “No” by my cousins’ shaking heads. This was not the product of a “Baaaa Baaaa.” So I tried my best goat call. “Mehhh-eh-eh-eh-eh.”  Laughing, everyone nodded their heads in agreement, repeating “Si! Capra”! “Yes! Goat”!

When my daughter completed her semester abroad, I headed south of the equator, to Santiago, Chile to see her and meet her host family. There were two things on my agenda, one playful and one serious. First, I had to check if the water drained clockwise in the southern hemisphere, so I opened the tap in the hotel bathroom, put a little water in the basin and drained it. Of course then I couldn’t remember which direction it was supposed to drain and so came to no conclusions. Good thing, because I have learned since that while the Coriolis force is real, it does not impact the direction of water draining in sinks. So with that fun non-experiment out of the way, I turned my eyes to the heavens. Literally.  On a tour originating in the Elqui Valley, we drove to an observatory in the mountains. Most Chilean observatories are research facilities and closed to the public, so this was a gift. Being that Santiago is such a large city, the lights make for a lovely vista from the nearby mountain communities. However, it also means it is difficult to go star-gazing from the city proper. But there on this cold cloudless night at the observatory, my dream came true. I couldn’t stop staring at the Magellanic Clouds, the irregular galaxies that really do look like clouds in the sky. These dwarf spiral galaxies just aren’t visible to us in the northern hemisphere. They are neighbors to our Milky Way, and since reading about them years ago, I have yearned to see them. A docent took us on a “star tour” using a laser pointer, and described the constellations of the Southern hemisphere. Then we looked through the telescope at different heavenly bodies. It was thrilling. But tilting my head back and just staring at constellations and the Clouds I had not seen before was the best part.

My cousins in Florida took me to their nearby state park in Homosassa and I grew more excited by the minute. Once there, you couldn’t budge me from my perch. Here were the manatees, those giant gray and brown water mammals that dwell in the Floridian rivers, estuaries and coasts. Some may find it difficult to call them “beautiful,” but I had no trouble doing so.  I knew that manatees are cousins to the elephant, but still was surprised to see that same wrinkly skin. These creatures fascinated me. They have an interesting tail that is shaped like a paddle. One docent I spoke to told me that people call them “sea cows.” These slow swimmers are endangered, and this park is a rehabilitation and refuge center for injured manatees; boat propellers are the main reason for their endangerment. Unlike seeing animals in facsimile habitats in zoos and parks thousands of miles away from their home, we were in the midst of their natural habitat.

En route to family and friends in New Mexico, an unplanned roadside stop led to a discovery so profound that I have cherished that moment ever since. Needing to stretch my legs, I noticed a small sign on the highway and turned down the unpaved drive, parked the car, and walked several yards on a trail. I didn’t expect the enormity of what lay before me. Boulders and cliffs surrounding a field provided a treasure trove of rock carvings created by ancient people. There were a few other interested folks there, walking, studying the carvings, stretching their legs, photographing and reflecting in this large, quiet area. I was impelled to see more. In a recent visit to the state, I toured the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque. As it was summer, monsoon rains and a lightning storm had turned back all visitors the previous day. The weather cleared overnight and we tried again. This time the parking lot was full and crowds of history buffs, tourists, hikers, and people looking for something to do on a nice Sunday afternoon took to the trails. The National Park Service provided maps to the petroglyphs that also explained the many carved symbols.  With other people walking up the trail behind me, I tried not to linger too long at any one petroglyph while studying and photographing it. Once we arrived at the top of this large hill, the views of Albuquerque in warm sunlight were remarkable. So many people were clicking their camera shutters to capture the city from this vantage point. A few times, however, I found myself reminiscing about that roadside “find” years back, when hundreds of petroglyphs came into view, and I wandered through the field in solitude.

Next week, I will explore the memories of one city, one place, where I never expected to visit more than a few times. However, once again, a family member moved there.  While it offers a wealth of things to do, it will be the link to loved ones and history and culture and isolated everyday moments that I will describe. I am looking forward to continuing my journey and hope you accompany me by reading along. See you next week.

Kathy Galgano