FIVE-Minute Wonder

timer, time, five minutesI only have five minutes to bake.

Now, who can make scrumptious, tasty chocolate chip butterscotch oatmeal bars in five minutes? Not I, but that fact has never stopped me. Because I always try to fit in too many things in too little time. And then I whine, “Why can’t I get everything done?”

Nice, the way I psychoanalyze myself, I decide, as I soften the butter and pour in 1½ cups of white sugar, mix, then add ½ cup of brown sugar. The purple mixer, a sweet Christmas gift from my son and his wife, whirrs along like the hummingbirds outside our window. hummingbird, time, baking

Until we moved back here to the temperate climate of the bay area, I’d never heard the soft buzz of the hummingbirds’ wings as they compete for the sugar water in our feeder. Hard to replicate in words or even human sounds. How to describe? Like a hundred bees racing by my ear, only without the buzz. No, that doesn’t do it. It’s a hum as indescribable as the sound of a mixer’s beaters swooshing in the creamy butter/sugar blend.

I watch another hummer whiz past as I crack in one egg, then the other. Of course, I cogitate; my son had ulterior motives for giving me a new beater for Christmas. He loves my cookies. And he’s smart, I’ll hand it to him. He moans with delight and appreciation every time I bring him a new batch of chocolate cookies or, his favorite, my ‘forgotten cookies.’

Shoot! Speaking of forgotten, I am now 2 minutes late for my yoga class. I add another egg and a teaspoon of vanilla. The smell of the extract gives me a sense of serenity usually experienced after an hour of yogic gyrations. Total nirvana. Funny, how one of the synonyms for vanilla is ‘bland” or ‘plain.” Vanilla is one of the finest aromas in the world – up there with honeysuckle or the ocean. ocean, time, yoga

Ocean! Oh no, I promised my brother I’d send him the pictures from our summer seashore vacation. Has it really been a month since then? Where’d the time go? I almost sent those photos two weeks ago, but I got immersed in writing some new chapters of my book, and visiting our Berkeley grandkids, and my ‘day job,’ and our four out-of-town visitors in the past month.

I measure 2 ¼ cups of flour and slowly add it into the bowl, attempting to not sneeze as the white powder tries to escape the impending merger.

Speaking of merging, my daughter calls, interrupting the cookie making, and talks about the latest ultrasound. She and her husband merged again, and a third child is on the way. How the hell did I become a grandmother of five, soon six? Last time I looked, I was tucking our children to bed after reading them the fourth chapter of The Witch, the Lion and the Wardrobe.

Oh damn. I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning again. My wardrobe is suffering for it – will I need to wear the same blouse from three days ago? Horrors.

The mixer moans and I remember that I’m beating the hell out of my concoction. Quickly, I add the oatmeal and the chips. I’ve missed yoga, I’ll have to add a load of clothes to the washing machine now, and the potatoes are bubbling for the casserole tonight. Where was I?

Ah yes, five minutes to get everything done. I glance up at the clock. Well, I only have five minutes now before I need to….The dog hits his head against my arm. “Feed me,” he says, “Now.”

“Henry, it’s too early!” I tell him with a twinge of sympathy. But I glance up at the clock. Twenty minutes past his dinner time. Where oh where did those five minutes go?

cookies, chocolate chip bars, time, baking


Traveling to the Ocean

I am here again, traveling along the same flat road, watching the tall green maples and oaks turn to scrubby, smaller bush and pine. What is it about my primordial need to return to the ocean – the Atlantic Ocean – every summer?

As I breathe in the hot humid New Jersey air, a mixture of dirt, gas, grass, asphalt and salt water, I wonder if it’s just a childhood memory that needs to be rewritten and retold yearly.  After all, as a child I crossed the southern hemisphere of New Jersey, traveling from the little town of Pitman to Ocean City at least four or five times a summer.  At 1½ hours one-way, that was 15 hours round trip each summer, for 18 years: 270 hours of my childhood spent traveling to and from the Atlantic Ocean.

But it is more than that.  It is . . .

“Why is he traveling so closely behind you?  How fast are you going?” my mother interrupts my slow, careful thoughts.

“I’m going 70 miles per hour,” I answer defensively.  Actually, the speedometer reads 69, but I know that will not satisfy her.  On this particular trip, we are traveling alone, my 80-something mother and me, to Ocean City on a gorgeous sparkling 93º Saturday morning.  We’re on our way to meet 12 other family members for our annual week-long sojourn.

“That’s too slow,” she responds.  “The speed limit is 65. I go at least 75.”

I allow my eyes to leave the road to give my mom a small smile.  She is younger than me in so many ways.  Always has been, and I’ve always been older than she.

“You convinced me to let you drive my car,” she continues, “so don’t give me that look that says I can’t be a ‘front seat driver.’ ”

I just smile a little wider.  We’re enjoying ourselves in her little white convertible. The top is down; the wind is in our hair.  I decide to bite my tongue and not tell her I am driving particularly because she insists on driving 80 miles per hour when the speed limit is 65.

I look in the rear view mirror. A big black SUV is barely a foot away from my bumper.  I’m in the fast lane and can’t move over to the right lane because of a string of slower cars.

“Back off,” I mumble.  I tap my brake lightly, but he doesn’t decelerate.

“Go faster,” my dear mother says.  Her short white hair is whipped against her head like a cap.  Her tanned legs are crossed comfortably in front of her, showing off light blue short shorts. Her white tank top accentuates toned arms.

“Mom, I can’t go faster, then I’d be right on the bumper of the person in front of me.  Besides, I don’t want to go faster.”  Why do I feel like the prim and proper old aunt?

She sighs and fidgets for a few more minutes.  Finally, I find an opening in the right hand lane, turn on the blinker, and begin to move over.

“Give ‘em the finger,” she demands.

 “What? Mom!” I respond in shock.

 “Come on, give ‘em the finger,” my pretty, demure mother, great-grandmother of four, insists.

 “No, I won’t.” I’m afraid she is going to make me.  At my age, I don’t need to give in like I did at 6, or 16, or even 26.  I smooth into the right lane and begin to relax until I see my mother push toward me and lean over my lap. She holds her face up high, as high as her five foot two inch frame allows, and she yells to the driver of the SUV passing us, “J   E   R  K,” in a long, loud, reverberating scream.  I stare at this woman and then look at the face of the driver as he stares, too, mouth open.  He looks hurt, that this small, cute, but older, woman is chastising him so harshly. As he lifts his arms and hands in supplication, I begin to laugh, first gently so I make no sound, and only my stomach rises quickly in and out; then I release myself and laugh until it hurts.

“Why didn’t you give him the finger?” she asks when I finally stop.

 “Mom, you are too much,” I answer.

 Her expression is surprised, like ‘what did I do?’

 I think of the times our differences used to bother me: she was always short, cute, and feminine; I felt too tall, awkward, big.  She was the social one; I was the loner.  She was assertive; I stood in the background, watching.

 “Love you mom,” I say just as a big wheeler passes us noisily. I’m not sure she hears me, but she has a small, secretive smile on her elfin face.

A Walk on the Beach

The sun is hot, hotter than it’s been all week. But I’ve lazed around; I’ve read fun sexy beach books; I’ve slathered on the lotion and sat like a beached whale; and I’ve swum with the jellyfish. Finally, I am ready. “Mom, let’s go for a long walk,” I suggest. My slim, petite mother looks at me hesitantly.

“What about lunch?” she asks.

I laugh. She’s 5’2” and 100 pounds soaking wet, yet she eats like an elephant. Can’t take a walk in the early morning unless she’s had a banana and two bowls of cereal. Can’t walk mid-morning unless she’s had a peanut butter sandwich. Can’t walk at 1 unless she’s had two sandwiches, three cookies, an apple, and a tall glass of milk.

“Mom, it’s 12:30. We’ll walk on the beach to 32nd Street and eat there.”

“That’s 9 blocks,” she whines. She’s more limber than a football player and has more energy than a ballerina, but she’s worried about how long it will take us to reach the snack bar.

“We’ll walk fast,” I answer, and we smile at each other as we feel the wet sand squoosh between our toes, hear the roar of the waves just feet away, and watch the children scream and race back and forth among the froth.

We are ocean people, my mom and I, and we love our time at the New Jersey beach. We talk little during our fast-paced walk. I think of the gritty sand; the gloriously long, non-rushed day ahead; the hot hot sun on our backs. She probably thinks about food and how soon we’ll be at the 32nd Street snack bar.

Finally, 30 minutes later, the lifeguard stand appears. All we have to do now is walk up the beach to the street and the hamburger stand. I glance at my mom, who’s staring at something with a frown on her face. The hot air is waving like a mirage in the desert.  The distance to the snack bar looks like a mile. I know in actuality that it’s less than a 3-minute walk, but I also notice the children and adults hopping up and down as they walk toward the street.

“Carry me?” Mom asks hopefully.

“In your dreams,” I laugh back. I begin to walk fast, then I run. The sand is hotter than Hades. It’s burning my feet. I feel like Lawrence of Arabia, only he wore white robes and thick sandals.

I turn to look for my mom. She’s disappeared. Oh My God. Did she get sucked into the burning sand? Where is she? I can’t stand and look. I am seriously getting second- degree burns. I run to the hamburger stand and stop on the small wooden board “walk” they have placed for people in dire straights, like me.

“Mom!” I shout over the roar of people and ocean waves. I see a tiny spot, a shadow, move. Then I see her more clearly. She is standing next to a lone trashcan in the middle of the hot sand.

“There’s shade here! I’m not moving,” she screams at me.

I sigh and run back over the sand to rescue my stranded mother. As I suspect, when she sees me coming toward her, she sucks in a deep breath and races toward me, tears of pain in her eyes. We run together toward the snack bar, and I worry
about her lungs and her heart. I’m almost 30 years younger, and I walk every day for sport. Her face is hot and sweaty and squints in discomfort.

Finally, we reach the boardwalk and hobble toward the snack bar.

“I think my feet are burned,” she says to me, breathing hard.

“I think mine are too,” I answer. We look at each other and start laughing. Two fools are we.  I walk gingerly toward the teenager behind the counter to ask for a bucket of cold water for our feet, but first, I have to stop our giggles.

Ah, how we love the beach.