Thursday, January 10, 2013

For Better, For Worse, For Lunch

Sometime in the last couple of years I saw a young standup comic, a guy, riffing on relationships, which is a pretty reliable comic vein to mine. He said that no one he knew looked at people who had been together for 30 years and thought, “Man, I gotta get me some of that.” That is the perspective of a young person, for whom sexy appearance is all. Yep, when we’re young we all want to have the zip and appeal of a 1958 Porsche Speedster, although in fact most of us could be more aptly compared to a 1958 Nash Metropolitan. By the time you’ve been married for over 30 years you’re more like a 1959 Cadillac – you’re wide, you have tail fins, your mileage is pretty high and your miles per gallon are pretty low, and the repairs and maintenance are murder. You know what else you are after thirty years? A really comfortable ride. Rick and I have been married for going on thirty-four years now, and I have to say I’m pretty happy I’ve got me some of that. It’s after thirty years, when attrition has set in to your physical being and you have to do what my spiritual director calls the “spiritual heavy lifting of later life,” that you are glad if you are fortunate enough to have your one true friend by your side. We are currently in that period of adjustment that takes place whenever one of us goes through a major change. In this case, he is now retired and is at home full time. That’s a pretty big change. For most of our married life, he was gone at work. There is an old joke that goes like this: the wife of a retired man says, “I married him for better or for worse, not for lunch.” This joke dates from the days when the traditional roles were more defined and adhered to. The man went to work and the woman stayed home. When he retired he came home and started sticking his nose into what had been her well-oiled and organized life. Resentment ensued. It’s no mystery why retired guys get part-time jobs, or play a lot of golf, or spend a lot of time out in the shop, or are otherwise processed out of the house. Their marriages depend on them getting out from underfoot. I am not criticizing this paradigm. We all make our bargains with life, and live with the consequences. I am glad that Rick and I don’t have that situation. We were friends for years before we became romantically involved, and that bedrock friendship has been a saving grace over the years. It was always there, no matter what happened. The friendship and the smart ass remarks – that’s what we’ve always had. It may not be Paris, but it’s worked for us. So now that he’s home, it turns out we still enjoy each other’s company, and we’re returning to the comedy that was our friendship back at the beginning. For example, when I get out of bed to go down the hall and return to find that the dog has slithered into my warm spot, Rick suggests we should have named her “401K,” because I have to roll her over. Rick and I are blessed in each other, we think. Still, it is weird having him at home all the time, probably more for him than for me. Our friend John once explained to me that this is how it is, especially for men. The job is your identity, it’s what you do and it’s who you are, and your whole life is centered on it. I started laughing as John explained this, and told him that I have never, not once in my life, felt that way about a job. For me a job was a way to pay bills so I could go on singing and writing, and buy some shoes for the kids. I abhorred workplace politics. I wanted to do my job and go home, where my real life is. Now real life is at home for both of us. It’s a change. Last night I called a friend whom I was going to visit today. I asked if her husband would be home, because if he was, I’d bring Rick along so the two of them could meet. I know that Rick and my friend’s husband have some things in common, starting with growing up as military brats. As I waited on the phone while my friend talked to her husband about my bringing Rick to visit, I suddenly had this thought: I feel like I am arranging a play date for my husband. When I told him that, he laughed. I’m going to have to watch that tendency to arrange things for him, though. I know we’ll both be happier if I mind my own business and let him mind his. That’s the kind of thing you realize after the first thirty years together, and if you’re fortunate, you’ll get yourself some of that.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Our Own Personal Fiscal Cliff (with a Segue into Chicken Heart Stew)

This year, on top of the holiday stress, we are looking at my husband’s being laid off from his job. He plans to make the best of the cards he has been dealt by calling himself retired. The man is 67, after all, and on dialysis. People have retired with less justification. Over the years I’ve heard many people talk about how they wished they could live and work on the island. This is the dream – not to have to commute, but to live here in paradise all day, every day, and only leave when absolutely necessary. Rick and I have lived that dream. The only fly in the “live and work on the island” ointment is that most jobs pay lower wages than you’d get on the mainland for the same work, and most jobs do not have benefits or pension plans. You accept those conditions because you’re so gosh darned lucky to have a job on the island, and most island businesses can’t afford benefits and pensions, anyway. Like some others who have lived the dream, we will now have an income from Social Security and nothing else. I keep crunching the numbers and it looks like we’ll be fine, except for not having any money in the budget for food. I’m not sure how we’re going to roll with this. I am thinking lentils, peas, and beans. This is okay. Lots of people become unintentional vegetarians after they become unintentionally retired. We’re okay. We have a home, and good friends and family, and it turns out that all those platitudes about friends, family, and love being the things that really count are true. The one about having your health is true, too, but that ship has sailed for us, so, eh. The non-vegetarian recipe I’ll be making a lot is chicken heart stew. In November of 1977 I did a folk concert tour in the interior of British Columbia. While I was there winter set in. I learned the joy of using an outhouse at -20 Celsius, which in Fahrenheit terms is, “really really cold.” I arrived for my last concert in Prince George, B.C. and took a taxi to the house where I was being put up. When I got there, I found a note from my absent hostess welcoming me, saying she’d be back later and to help myself to some chicken heart stew that was simmering on the wood stove. It was the first time I’d ever heard of chicken heart stew. I was a little worried. There was an “eeyew” factor. I dipped up a bowl and ate it and liked it a lot. When I got home to the island I tried to re-create it, and it became a family staple over the years. Even the kids liked it. It’s a great warm cheap stew for a January night. Here it is: Chicken Heart Stew, a la Casa Tuel Take a package of chicken hearts and rinse the hearts in cold water, then throw them in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer them on medium for 45 minutes or so, skimming any foamy sludge that forms on the top and throwing it away, unless you’re one of those creative people who has a good use for boiling chicken heart sludge. While the hearts boil, chop up: One green pepper, seeds and membrane removed One onion One large carrot Two stalks of celery Add them to the stew after that first 45 minutes. Let the stew simmer for a further 15 minutes. Drain the vegetables and hearts, reserving the stock. While they’re draining, make gravy.
Here's a picture of my gravy whisk. My mom had one. By the end of her life, the metal on the bottom was worn thin from decades of whisking. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet, add 2 tablespoons of flour, and let the flour cook in the butter until it turns light brown, stirring constantly, 3 or 4 minutes of so. Mix in one cup of the stock you reserved, and you can throw in a little white wine if you’d like, to make your gravy. Add the drained hearts and vegetables to the gravy and season to taste. We eat it with a savory blend – Italian seasoning for example. If it’s not wet enough to suit you, or if you need to stretch the recipe to go around to more bowls, add as much of the stock as you wish. You can eat it on its own, or add toast, corn bread, and/or a salad if you like, same as any other stew or soup. So there you go, a good cheap winter meal if you’re not quite committed to that vegetarian diet, which I’m not. Enjoy.