Empty Nest – HA!

Remember how sad I was when I thought I was going to be an empty nester?  Then how I instantly adjusted due to the cleanliness factor?

Milena and Andy on plane.cropped JPG.JPG

Kids — they never really leave. But you love them anyway. (My kids never take normal pictures.)

Well, things change pretty quickly around here. Now it’s my son, who is here temporarily while he finds the right place to live. Since this is southern California, where homes are totally out of reach for anyone making less than 200,000 a year, and rents are sky high, a move takes serious consideration and research.

I’m totally OK with it.  First of all my son leaves less hair in the bathroom than my daughter, leaves no beauty products on the counter, has the dishes done when I get home, and only borrows my socks occasionally, but, sadly, they’re never the same afterward.

On the down side, he offers absolutely no beauty tips, has no earrings I want to borrow, has completely different taste in music than I do, goes through espresso and coffee like water, and could probably eat an amount equal to his own body weight if money was no object. They’re tied in the leaving lights on department, but it’s a small price to pay for having kids you like, as well as love.

This is parenting in 2017 and I’m OK with it. As my parents used to say, “As long as we can help, we’ll do whatever we can,” and God knows my parents helped me! So, I’ll always do the same for my kids.

The other perk of my son being here was his stuff was all over my living room, I mean really all over it.  After my initial horror, I found a silver lining — all the crap in the room rendered it unclean-able!  It was the perfect excuse to spend the last two weeks binge-watching, Stranger Things, which is like a fabulous combination of X Files and E.T. with some ’80s video games thrown in.  I was totally hypnotized, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s worth paying the 9.99 to Netflix, per month, for two seasons of that one show.  Normally, I try to iron while watching TV, but it was so engrossing, that I could hardly iron for fear I’d miss something. That’s a pretty big statement from a woman who generally loves English period dramas.

The other things I’ve been doing are:  getting back to the gym, writing, and cooking — not in that order though, which is why I needed the gym.

Mushroom soup

This soup is as good as it looks.

 

I just made some wonderful Cream of Mushroom soup that I haven’t made in years! And it’s as good today as the first time I made it more than 20 years ago. I got the recipe from the LA Times, back when they used to have a great Food Section.  Now, you’re lucky if you get one or two recipes in their Saturday section. I am including the recipe at the end of this post, it’s perfect with leftover turkey sandwiches.

But first, take a good look at that bowl of soup. Notice the cool table runner it’s on?  It was made by my friend Dawn, a Key West artist, who was lucky to have a home left after Hurricane Irma.  She returned to a find a place she hardly recognized. The roof was partially torn off, the walls covered in mold, the enclosed porch gone and all the landscaping they’d worked so hard on, all gone. In fact most of the trees in the neighborhood that made it such a lovely place were gone too.

I asked her how I could help her,  and since she is not one to request charitable help, she said I could ask you to like her Facebook page. Here’ a link to it:  Heliographics Facebook Page so, please, click on the link and like it.

And if you have a moment, (and she didn’t say I could do this but I’m doing it anyway — hey, what are friends for?) Please check out her website: Heliographics.com.

Good table runner.JPG

My Autumnal table runner- I’ve washed this thing dozens of times and it still looks great!

Her stuff is really gorgeous, hand drawn, and perfect, for  a home in a tropical climate like Florida, California, or Hawaii. She also does temperate prints of beautiful ferns and wildlife she finds in the Adirondacks in the summer. She’s done art for:  Ocean’s Edge Hotel in Key West, the Jupiter Island Club Spa in Hobe Sound, Florida, the Marker Hotel in Key West, and her designs there were featured in Forbes Magazine. She gives kayak tours in the Keys, and is one of the most thoughtful, talented, adventurous souls I know.

So, please check Heliographics out, or like her Facebook page, or order something and help out someone who is recovering from a hurricane. I know she’ll appreciate it and you’ll get some gorgeous art in return.

Now, finally, here’s the Cream of Mushroom soup recipe.

good close up.JPGCream of Mushroom Soup from the Los Angeles Times

1 pound of mushrooms

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 to 3/4 cup flour

5 cups hot chicken stock

Chopped fresh thyme

1/2 cup dry or sweet Sherry or Port wine

1/2 cup whipping cream

Salt, pepper

Finely chop 1/2 of the mushrooms. Slice remaining 1/2 mushrooms. Saute shallots in 1/4 cup butter, until tender, but now browned.  Add chopped mushrooms and saute until tender. Do not brown.

Add flour 3/4 cup for a thicker soup. (I just used a heaping 1/2 cup) and stir with wooden spoon until a smooth paste has formed. (This is never a smooth paste for me because it tries to stick to the pan and the mushrooms don’t leave it smooth. Just keep scraping the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn and stick. Reduce heat and cook, stirring 3 minutes. (I actually turned on the timer for this part.)

Gradually stir in the hot chicken stock, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Bring it to a boil and simmer ten minutes.

Saute sliced mushrooms in the remaining 1/4 cup of butter in a separate pan. Season to taste with thyme (I used about 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh thyme) and add Sherry. I used 1/2 Sherry and 1/2 port wine. Cook until liquid is reduced by 1/2.

Add sliced mushrooms to simmering soup and continue to simmer 10 minutes. Add cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Ahead, Call Out Your Sexual Harasser – For All of Us Who Didn’t

me and company car

Me and my last company car.

Right out of college, I got a job as a Retail Sales Representative for the Warner Lambert Company. I sold Listerine, Listermint, Efferdent, Effergrip, Schick Razor Blades and Sinutabs. The products weren’t glamorous, but it was considered a very good job. There was about a 10,000 dollar difference between the package I would have gotten as a teacher,  and this job, so I went with the better salary, bonuses, great benefits, and a company car.

I called on drug stores and grocery stores. I learned to talk to people and give a presentation without breaking a sweat. I learned to get people to like me, or at the very least, tolerate me. I learned that getting thrown out of a store was something I should not take personally.  I learned to navigate western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio with no GPS, just a map and determination.

And I learned to put up with men making unwanted advances.

Of course, I’m thinking of this because of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and whoever the next sex scandal will involve. When I looked on Facebook a while back and saw all the, “Me too’s,” from women who were sexually harassed one way or another, I wasn’t surprised. Then I added my name to the list.

I never really thought about it at the time, it was just part of being a woman in the 70’s.

I was 22 to 26 years old during my sales years of 1977 to 1981. With make up on, hair blown dry and dressed nicely, I was considered attractive. I’d dealt with boys coming on to me in college because college boys are just a vat of raging hormones. I thought it would be different once I became a professional, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some men overtly flirted with me when I walked in their store, but I was fairly good at deflecting them and nothing ever came of it.  I only ever dated one guy from one of my stores for about a month.

Then one night, an older, married man, who I didn’t find attractive at all, actually called me at home. I know I didn’t give him my number for any personal reason. I’m sure I gave it to him thinking it was for business.

He was the assistant manager of a grocery store on Market Street in Boardman, Ohio. He actually just straight out asked me to have sex with him. I was shocked and reminded him that he was married and he said, “I’m not asking you to marry me, just have sex.”

I needed to maintain a good relationship with him because it was my job to go into his store every few weeks and make sure it was well stocked with our products. So, I laughed and joked with him because I really didn’t know how else to handle it.  There was no one to tell back then, and part of the problem was, like most of us, I was raised to believe that men were just being men when they propositioned you.

But a more consistent harasser was a married district manager of a chain of drug stores in Ohio. He was very nice and friendly and always took the time to listen to my Listerine presentation, then he’d say, “I’ll order as much Listerine as you want, if you’ll go to bed with me.”

Again, here was a guy who had the power to throw me out of his stores (and he was in charge of a lot of them) so I knew I had to stay on his good side. I’d playfully punch him in the arm and tell him how funny he was. He’d come back totally serious and say, “I’m not kidding.” And I’d say, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” And he’d say, “Well then I won’t buy your Listerine display.” And that would be that.

I used to take him to lunch, hoping he could be persuaded by kindness and friendship, but he always had the same answer, and so did I. But, I have to believe it must have worked for him sometime.

This man had two little girls who were both toddlers at that time. He never mentioned them, I only discovered that fact when I happened to drive past him as he was pushing their stroller down a street one day. I was totally disgusted that this married man with two young daughters would behave so horribly toward women. To this day, I remember his name.

I never even thought of telling my boss at Warner Lambert. Back then, companies were just starting to hire women in a sales capacity. I was the only woman in my region for years. I didn’t want to spoil it by acting like I couldn’t handle it.

And I wonder if the company would have done anything. They needed to maintain a good relationship with the stores too. That’s partly why they hired me. I was young, female, personable and, in addition to filling a quota, they probably figured an attractive female could generate sales.

It made me wonder if any other female sales representatives put up with harassment back then, so a couple days ago, I called a fellow sales woman I’m still friends with named Susan. She said she was never harassed, but Susan is not the kind of woman you mess with. She could fire back a snappy response that could shrink a man in seconds. I wasn’t quite that self-possessed.

So, today I did a little digging.  I wondered if my harasser still  worked for the same company. I looked him up.  He doesn’t. He’s in his 60’s now and lives in Florida. His Linked in profile shows him on a boat, on a turquoise ocean under a beautiful Florida sun, with a self-satisfied expression on his face. He has his own business now, and I hesitate to give any more details because he’s not hard to find. With very little effort, not only did his Linked in profile come up, but so did his home address from VoterRecords.com.

I fantasized about outing him and wrecking whatever home life he may still have. But I would never do that to another woman. And besides, he was never aggressive with me, just repeatedly asked me to have sex, and always took no for an answer. He was always cordial to me and let me do my job, so was my experience so terrible? Not compared to some women, I’m sure.

So I decided to connect with him via linked in with this invitation:

Dear _____,
I worked for Warner Lambert back in the 70’s. I called on your _______ area  _______ stores. You always used to say you’d put up a Listerine display if I’d go to bed with you. I forgive you and would never out you, but would love a belated apology. I think you owe me that.
Best,
Fran Tunno

I wondered if he’d respond. I doubted he’d even remember me. But last night I was surprised by this response:

“Fran, I apologize for my behavior in _________. I’m embarrassed. I was very immature back then. I think I did put up displays for you though. Hope you are doing well in California.”

So, I guess there’s hope. At least he apologized — he could have just ignored me. Maybe the fact that he has daughters helped.   (But I can tell you this: I KNOW he never put up any extra displays for me!)

And I don’t know what happened to him after I left. Maybe someone reported him. Maybe he was reprimanded. Maybe he changed his ways. Maybe he just grew up.

I was all ready to hate him for getting to live this comfortable, seemingly carefree, affluent life, after behaving badly, in upper management, for who knows how long, but I don’t.

I’m glad times have changed though, because if my daughter was going through the same thing today, I’d have no qualms about telling her to report it. Hollywood actors are not the only ones who get sexually harassed. Sales representatives in small towns deal with it too, as do many others. No one should have to put up with that crap when they’re just trying to do their job…and immaturity is no excuse.

 

Centodue Anni!

Bernie's Lemoncello.JPG

Bernie’s Limoncello

 

My brother Bernie called me last night. He said he was making Limoncello. I love that he and my brother Bob still do that kind of thing. It’s proof they haven’t lost their Italian-ness. The label with my dad’s photo on it is one of Bob’s wine labels.

Bernie was peeling lemons as we talked, and I wanted to watch, so we Face-timed, and it was almost as good as being there. I watched his big hands peeling the lemons and it was like sitting in the kitchen with both of my parents at once. My dad’s strong bricklayer hands combined with my mom always making something in the kitchen.

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Lemon Cheesecake Squares

 

He asked me if I remembered that today was my dad’s birthday, and, of course, I did. My dad would have been 102 today. We always used to say Cent’anni when we toasted, hoping he would make 100 years…but, sadly he did not.  But, I’ll toast to 102 (Centodue) today in his honor.

I’ll bet Bernie was making Limoncello to honor dad, because my dad loved lemony things. Bernie and I got talking about lemons and Limoncello and recipes (we cannot talk without recipes coming up)  and how Lemon  Meringue Pie, Lemon Cake, Lemon Squares, Lemon Ricotta Cookies, and all things lemon were my dad’s favorites. Then we veered toward Chicken Piccata…and that’s when I realized I was going to have to share some lemony recipes and a story of torture you may not have heard yet.

I was an expert at tormenting my dad when I was a child. He loved lemony things but couldn’t eat an actual lemon. If you asked him to, his face would pucker up in such a sour expression.  I used enjoy torturing him by fishing lemons out of the iced tea and eating them in front of him just to get him to pucker up. He always did it, as if on cue and I would laugh hysterically.

Children are evil that way.

I miss that sweet man every day, and even though our conversations toward the end were mostly repetition, there was something reassuring about hearing him say the same things he said time and again like, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through it,” or “Stay tough,” or “Keep your nose to the grindstone, you can do it.”

My dad was the taskmaster. When there was work to be done, you did it until it was finished. Period. Not even a discussion.

Mom was fun personified, which is why I am such a mess. Half the time I’m disciplined and half the time I just want to have fun.  This does not make for a simple career path. But it’s good for blog writing, which I consider 99 percent fun.

So, Happy Birthday Dad. You are always with me in my thoughts, actions, and DNA. You’ve made me at least half of what I am today and I am so grateful for you. You are the reason anything ever gets accomplished in my life. I love you forever.

Mom, I love you forever too, but for very different reasons.

Single Lemon ricotta

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

To honor Dad, here is Bernie’s Limoncello Recipe – (if you make it – just remember one ounce will knock you out like a prizefighter). Also a link to my Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares Recipe, a link to my Lemon Ricotta Cookies Recipe, and a link to a Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata Recipe, which is absolutely delicious! I used it when I catered a wedding last January and it was a huge hit.

Bernie’s Limoncello

Peel only the yellow off 14 lemons

Place the peels in a large glass container

Add 2 liters of grain alcohol

Add two cinnamon sticks (these are optional)

Let the mixture sit for 30 days.

Then strain it into a clear container and add 2 liters of distilled water and sugar to taste.  put a cork in it and put it in the freezer before serving it.

Fran’s Really Good and Easy Lemon Cheesecake Squares

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Williams Sonoma Chicken Piccata

 

 

Alone, After 30 Years

Dishes

Dirty dishes, her legacy.

I just calculated the last time I lived alone and it was somewhere around 30 years ago. So, once I finish the dishes that my daughter lovingly left me as a parting gift (so I wouldn’t miss her too much) and get the house cleaned, then get rid of all the furniture she left in my living room, (anybody need a nice dark brown desk?)  I am going to love relaxing here!

 

I won’t know what to do with all the extra time I won’t spend cleaning.  What a thrill! Maybe I’ll actually get this blog out on time for a change.

Of course I’ll miss her, because even though her cleanliness gene seems to have mutated into something unspeakable, she’s a lovely companion.  Some nights we’d have dinner together and talk like a couple of old friends. It was really sweet. Then she’d snap out of it and realize I’m her mom, but I always enjoyed it while it lasted. Continue reading

Singing My Loudest — Why I Love My Car

I went to the movies last week and saw Baby Driver,  a movie so full of amazing action, romance, sweetness, fast cars, evil, and the most fantastic sound track, it has me thinking about cars and music, and how sometimes the combination can be life-changing.

I also now understand why people get so attached to their cars.

My car is not flashy. It’s a 2006 dark gray/blue Honda Pilot. I didn’t like that color, my ex picked it, but since I’d made all the payments on the car, I got it in the divorce and it’s grown on me. It’s only broken down on me a couple of times in over 150,000 miles, which is a pretty decent record. My Pilot drove me out of California with a couple of El Sauz burritos, two horchatas, Brandon, my step-son-co-pilot,  and two dogs in the back — after a divorce that shredded romance for me and left my soul gasping for air.

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The driver’s seat of my Pilot

I took turns with Brandon driving across the country, almost 2500 miles. I wish I’d taken photos of our journey — but I have none. It was a great trip for me, and the most time alone I’d ever spent with Brandon.  He’d originally agreed, thinking the kids would be along too. When he found out it was just me, he could have backed out, but he didn’t. I’m still so grateful he went.

We walked the dogs, talked a lot, practiced Italian, went to Prairie Dog Town — a place that claimed to have the world’s largest Prairie Dog, got a ticket in Kansas (I was driving) and arrived at my brother’s home in Ohio after four days.

Kids with Bernie and dogs

I never noticed how worried Bernie looked in this photo until now. I think I know why.

Brandon got a flight back to New York — he had to be back for work — and I finally landed on my dad’s doorstep. I knocked on the door of the house where I grew up, and when my father opened the door, I broke down in tears.  We hugged for a long time, just standing in the doorway and finally made our way, up the three steps into the kitchen.

I felt like a pathetic loser. How lucky I was to have a dad who loved us enough to take me, my two kids and even the two pooping dogs in.  I stayed there for two years,  unable to buy a house because of stricter loan requirements. I worked on re-inventing myself, helping my dad while he helped us, and trying to stay sane.

Having my family there was wonderful, but getting divorced, losing my job two weeks later, then having to sell the home we painstakingly remodeled for 13 years, and losing with my entire way of life and lots of friends, was a challenge. In the wide scope of things, and compared to serious life and death situations some people endure, I know it was definitely a first world problem. But being career-less and moving my family into my childhood home, with my 95 year-old father with worsening dementia, was not what I imagined I’d be doing at 55.

My escape road

My escape route

So, at night, after I tucked him into bed, sometimes I’d run an errand, just for a ride alone in my Pilot. I’d drive down the roads I used to drive on when I was a teenager looking for fun, only now I was driving to escape.

I’d put one of the CD’s in the car that my daughter painstakingly made for me, roll down all the windows, even in the dead of winter, and sing at the top of my lungs. A couple of favorites were “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, Diego Garcia’s, “You Were Never There,” Bon Iver’s, “Holocene,” and a song by Cults called “Bad Things,” that had this line in it: “I’m gonna run, run away, run, run, away…” you get the idea.

I’m quite certain, I looked like a lunatic, but it kept me sane.  Screaming those lyrics was pretty cathartic, but I couldn’t run away. I had my dad to think of, kids and dogs and a career to resurrect. I had to stay and figure out what the hell I was going to do.

But those moments, when it was just me, my car, my sadness and frustration, loud music and country roads in front of me, made that Pilot more than just a car. It was a friend, who carried me away and let me sing at the top of my lungs when I needed it.

Two years later, I drove back across the country so my daughter could finish high school in the same town she started kindergarten, get a better education, get to know the cute boy she’d met on summer vacation, and I could figure out how to start over in California, the place I had contacts and a track record. It took a few  starts, but at least I’m on a path now and have more of a plan than I ever did before. I’ve heard the saying, God laughs at plans, but you have to start somewhere.

I still have my Honda Pilot. I can’t imagine ever getting rid of the car that carried me out of California and brought me back in, a stronger, more whole person still singing at the top of her lungs.

The Academy Awards of Cleaning

“And the Oscar goes to (your name here) for the cleanest house in the world.”

You’ll never hear those words in your life, so for God’s sake, put down the Swiffer and go have some fun while there’s still some summer left. Or better yet, write that book/screenplay/blog post, take that class, dance in the kitchen, or climb a mountain because no one is ever going to say, “Wow didn’t we have fun at (your name here)’s house last summer. It was so clean – I could have admired her floors all day long!”

I’m really writing this to myself.  I make mental notes of things that are dirty as I walk past, then they weigh on me until I take care of them.  What kind of crap is that? Who is responsible for this ridiculous behavior?

Apparently it’s hereditary because my father’s grandmother, Carolina was over the top about a clean house. It’s somewhat comforting to know heredity’s to blame although you couldn’t tell by my kids rooms.

In my observations,  Italian women come in two types, Clean and surgically clean.  The surgically clean ones cover every conceivable surface in plastic. It was a nightmare in the 60’s. Your skin peeled  off on the plastic, if you dared sit on the living room couch of a surgically clean woman

The bottom line is, I won’t make more money if I’m clean.  I won’t have more friends, neither my kids nor my dog will love me more, and statues won’t be erected memorializing my amazing cleaning arm — dust cloth in hand — raised to get that last cobweb. I will have wasted precious time that I could have spent doing more important things than cleaning.

I’ve never dumped a true friend over cleanliness, and I have to believe people don’t care about mine either.  So I’m trying to stop worrying about it. It doesn’t matter. I have yet to see a talk show host ask to interview someone because she or he has great cleaning habits. And I’ve never seen a tombstone that said, “Here lies Sponge Girl, she won the Academy Award for the cleanest house in the universe.”

As my mom once said, “Da hell witta da houza work.  Wenna you’re dead, da houze willa still be dirty.” And she was so right. Enjoy your summer, there’s only one month left!

 

 

Life’s Magic

I spent the Fourth of July having lunch with a friend, then responsibly cleaning, doing laundry, and ironing the fat pile of clothes that sits in my room staring at me every day. I could have gone to a party, but decided to stay home and get things accomplished.

If I was any more boring, I would have to be dead. Going out would have been fun, but I told myself the same thing my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “Oh, I’ve seen lots of fireworks in my life, I don’t have to see them tonight.”

As the evening wore on, I ironed, watched a movie and a few episodes of Frankie and Grace, then heard the boom of fireworks  and regretted not going out because no matter how old I get, I never get over the thrill of seeing those cascading sparkles against the navy sky. To let in some cool night air, I flung open the short casement window at the top of the stairs and noticed, that if I stood on my tiptoes, I could see flashes and sparkles in the distance. Continue reading

The Audacity to Bloom

Jamal:name.JPGA few months ago, we had some really windy days –the kind that knock down power lines and blow my casement windows open — and a tragic thing happened. Jamal got knocked off our back stairs.

Jamal is a cactus my daughter bought years ago at Ikea. He’s one hell of a cactus. He sat ignored in my daughter’s room for about a year, then got moved to the outside stairs, where he was even more ignored. Occasionally I watered him when I remembered he was even there. But mostly he was forgotten.

Jamal's first bloomJPG.JPG

Jamal’s first bloom!

Until one day when I walked past and he had a glorious yellow bloom bursting from the top of his prickly little head. I couldn’t believe it. I took a picture, told my daughter and we were in awe of him for a few days. Then Jamal’s bloom faded and we went back to forgetting him. Continue reading

The Days of Spatula Licking are Almost Over

This week, I baked cookies because someone at work asked me to. I’m pretty easy. All you have to do is flatter me by telling me my cookies are the best you’ve ever had and I’ll bake for you too.

I also baked because one of my young co-workers lost his dad to a sudden heart attack a few weeks ago and the pain is still so raw for him that it breaks my heart. So, baking his favorite chocolate chip cookies couldn’t hurt.

Miss Milena

She had the whole thing licked clean before I could even take the picture.

As I was in the kitchen baking, my daughter was on the comfy, sage colored couch in the living room working on a paper for school. I was cleaning off the beater, wondering if she’d want to lick it like she used to when she was a kid. I hesitated, thinking she might not go for it, then offered it to her. She happily took it like she did when she was three. Continue reading

Women Always Find the Good in Each Other — Garlic helps

Theresa is the first wife of my ex-husband.

Theresa and Fran.JPG

Fran and Theresa the only two members of a very exclusive club.

She rocks.

But for years I didn’t realize that because I was married to my then husband, and his characterizations may not have been completely accurate because pesky emotion was involved.

I should have known better because the son she and my ex had together is absolutely wonderful. You don’t turn out that great if there isn’t someone molding you, and the master molder was Theresa. We only got Brandon a few weekends a month, so we were assistant molders. And I have to say, that my ex was a good dad to Brandon. He loved him completely, Brandon knew it, and that makes a big difference.

But now that my ex is my ex, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Theresa much better. It all started around the time I was getting divorced. I had the massive realization that there were going to be stories out there about me that might be one-sided, colored by emotion and, therefore possibly, not completely true.

I realized then, that for decades, I’d only been getting half the story about her and their relationship.  Much of it was factual, but much was colored by emotion, and we all know emotion is a lousy gauge for accuracy. Continue reading