Who Was Dirty Harry?

mom's room

Mom’s room (photo by me)

Mom and I had our Easter visit on Saturday afternoon. I brought her a card, potted daffodils, a thermos of chai tea and her favorite Choco Leibniz cookies—she calls them “chocolate grahams”—the ones with dark chocolate. Our weekly ritual is sharing tea and cookies, taking “spins” around the floor and watching an episode of ER on the DVD player—it’s her favorite TV show. Sometimes we’ll watch a program on PBS, like the Judy Garland documentary that aired a couple weeks ago. This time it was ER. We’re on season 2, disk 3.

After ER, Mom and I took a spin around the floor.

She said, “Mark . . . who?”

“Mark Greene,” I said. “What about John? What’s his last name?”

“Carter,” she said, proudly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Mark Greene and John Carter are two of the characters..

“You always liked Carter,” I said.

“Yes, he’s so earnest.”

“He’s very good with the patients. He cares about them,” I said.


We continued our journey up and down the halls. The activities director was coloring eggs with the residents in the dining room.

“Do you want to color an egg?” I said.

“No, maybe later,” she said. “Mark . . .”

“Greene,” I said. “John . . .”

“Carter,” she said, with pride.


The last time this happened was after we watched the film The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin when she was still living in her apartment, about four years ago.

She called me twice one day at the office to ask who the British actor in the movie was, and I said, “Anthony Hopkins.”

“Anthony Hopkins, of course. Thank you, dear,” she said, and hung up.

Ten minutes later, she called. “Quick, tell me the name of the actor.”

“Anthony Hopkins. Maybe you should write it down.”

“Good idea,” she said and hung up the phone.

A couple days later, when I was at her apartment, she said, “Who was the actor in that movie?”

“Alec Baldwin.”

“Right, and Anthony Hopkins,” she said.

“I’ll write it down on the napkin under ‘Anthony Hopkins’ so you remember,” I said.

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

“Do you remember the name of the movie, Mom?”

“Yes, of course. The Edge.”

Then she said, “Who was Dirty Harry?”

“Clint Eastwood.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Do you want me to write it down?” I said.

“Yes, might as well, before I forget that too.”

Now the white napkin read in blue ink:

Anthony Hopkins

Alec Baldwin

Clint Eastwood

I guess I should have written “Mark Greene” and “John Carter” on a piece of paper for Mom so she can remember those names too. When I call her tonight, I’ll see if she does.

When I was ready to leave, Mom waited at the elevator with me.  One of the aides had to buzz me out. This is a locked ward, so you can’t board the elevator without the assistance of a staff member. I kissed Mom on the forehead.

“Mark Greene,” she said, scrunching up her face, as if it took all her might.

“Yes, and John Carter.”

“I’ll see you soon, Mom. Happy Easter.”

“Thank you for everything,” she said.

I smiled and took her in once more, the elevator door sliding until her face was no longer in view.

Zen and the Art of Oven Cleaning

photo: Erica Herd

I’ve been meaning to clean the stove for six years. We moved into the house seven years ago. Every time I’m about to clean the oven, it seems something comes up or I think of something more important to do. This afternoon I was filled with the spirit of the oven. I had to do it, no excuses. There were 2 cans of oven cleaner under the kitchen sink—CVS brand and a name brand. I asked my husband Lorin which to use and he said, “The one with the blue top.” That was the name brand. Opening the top revealed a nest of fuzzy crud that didn’t bode well, so I opted for the CVS brand cleaner. Cleaning an oven is not a task to be taken lightly. You have to abide by the rules:

  1. make sure the oven is cold
  2. do not spray cleaner near an open flame
  3. lay newspapers or paper towels on floor to catch the drippings
  4. wear “long” rubber gloves
  5. open the windows
  6. shake well and spray 8 to 10 inches from surface
  7. close the oven door and wait 2 hours
  8. after 2 hours, wipe with paper towels, a rag or sponge and lots of warm water

In addition to the rubber gloves, I wore an apron and covered my nose and mouth with a bandana. The “domestic outlaw” look is popular this year. It was also necessary to move the pet food dishes and water bowl into the dining room and keep the cats out of the kitchen. I waited the requisite 2 hours—enough time to watch the entirety of August, Osage County on cable—and began Phase 2: the wiping down. Buckets of water and a sponge and scads of paper towels later, this phase was complete. It was a very satisfying experience, seriously. The results were tangible. Before: caked on mess, grime, oven grease. After: smooth, clean surfaces, not sparkling, but noticeably improved. If only all of life could be so simple. Why did I wait so long to clean the oven? Were there really so many more important things to do, or I was simply being lazy? I love baking and enjoy cooking, so a clean oven is a source of pride.

Right now we don’t have the cash for home improvements, but that doesn’t mean simple, concrete tasks can’t be accomplished, tasks that improve our surroundings and how we feel about our environment and ourselves. I can’t control Congress, but I can control my kitchen. It all starts with an oven.