Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out with a whimper...

Our Christmas holiday staggered to an end when we were visited, not by Dickens' Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, but instead by the Ghost of Projectile Vomiting and Diarrhea.

Our boy saw it first, on Friday; then me late Saturday, and finally the LOML on Sunday morning.

Yes indeed.

And, by Sunday, our boy was back to normal and had gone off on to practice shooting arrows with his friend, but we spent most of Sunday in bed in misery listening to the strange symphony playing out in our guts. Fortunately, we were mostly back to normal by Monday, but even as this week draws to a close, all of us are still feeling occasional twinges in that long tube where the food goes in one end, is processed, and what is left comes out the other end.

Our bathroom is small enough that one can sit on the toilet, and with just a little effort, wash their hands in the bathroom sink at the same time. A bathroom that small reduces the options for remodeling in any meaningful way (which is what needs to be done but we are at a loss to figure how to do it), but in this instance, this is a good thing because I found myself in an awful predicament that became rather funny at the telling. After fighting the urge to vomit for several hours, I finally faced the toilet and gave in. I thought I was finished loosing my dinner, and then realized I had to pee, so I turned around and sat down, only to realize there was, in fact another wave coming, and so I was forced to sort of hoist my self up over the sink to finish loosing my dinner before I was quite done with the other end.

I could provide more details, but aide from a general statement "there was some clean-up involved," I think this will do for now.

The episode gave pause for thought. How desperate does one become to loose weight to resort to deliberately making themselves vomit by sticking a finger down their throat or drinking an emetic, or to abuse laxatives to create diarrhea? Whew.

I didn't start off intending to write about this. What I wanted to do was share one last Christmas scene.

My sister married into an Italian family, and eventually the traditional Italian village Christmas scene - my sister calls it the "brezeb" -- that was set up as part of the holiday tradition in his home as he was growing up came to him. One year he set it up early enough in December so that I was able to see it when I came to Los Angeles to celebrate my mother's birthday at the beginning of the month. Best way to describe it was a large village setting with many buildings, people, animals, and vehicles. Quite something to see.

My sister sent me a photo of this year's display (do click on the photo, it will enlarge and some of the details of the figures can be seen), which is quite a bit smaller than the one I saw, possibly because they have since gotten two cats. Curious cats and hundreds of small objects don't mix very well. My sister wrote before Christmas:

Calee is humming "O Little Town in Italy, how I love to jump on thee!" Poor ole Jer set up a mini version of his Italian Nativity Village scene and Calee has jumped a very LONG distance from the arm of the couch, and gotten up on the TV hutch to explore. I tell you. It's kind of funny, but it's not funny. Calee knows exactly what she's doing, too, and that it's a big "no-no." She likes being a bad kitty for some reason....

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twas the Day After Christmas...

Cleverer people than I have written poems about the day after Christmas, so I am not even going to attempt it. I know I ate too much yesterday; in fact, we all ate too much yesterday - way too much - and not helped at all by our lack of control when faced with the beautiful box of Sees candy my father sent us.

Mentally, I wouldn't mind just going a day without food, but already my stomach is saying, "FEED ME!" I woke up intending to make good food choices, and the first test comes: I open the refrigerator and there is the leftover layered cake dessert (chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, whipped topping, with Heath Bar brickle on top). I gird my loins and reach for the yogurt, quickly scoop out a half-cup, and return the container to the refrigerator without eating any of the dessert. A minor victory early in the morning.

There were a few surprises connected with Christmas this year.

The first surprise came when I was able to successfully make a braided, sweet Christmas bread to give as presents to the people at church. Earlier in the week my friend Judy brought me a braided Christmas bread which was beautiful to behold - and I cut it in thirds and ate my portion before she ever left the house. If she is looking at this, she will of course, not recognize that this is the same recipe she gave me...

because I did not do the second small braid on top, I substituted finely diced prunes for the raisins, and I did not decorate with pecan halves or sliced cherries. I did, however, put add the icing after it cooled a bit.

Another surprise was a Charlie Brown tree from my younger brother. We laughed when we saw it. When our boy was little, father and son would go out to the field and chop down a cedar tree for us to decorate, but in the intervening years, we have expanded to fill the spaces in our house, and since our son moved back in with us, we literally have no space to put a tree, so we have not had one for a few years.

Now we do.

Earlier in the month there was an interview on National Public Radio with British cook Nigella Lawson, who said
Sometimes if you cook in a complicated way, your tension translates to your guests. They'll have a much better time having chili and baked potatoes than they would if you did roast duck with a wild cherry sauce and then had to lie down and cry for a while.

I was very amused by this statement, in a rueful sort of way, because I have had several very disastrous Christmas day dinners. Roast duck would not be a problem for me because we used to raise ducks for meat and so I cooked plenty of them over the years. But an attempt to roast a larger cousin - a goose - was probably the worst tasting dinner I have ever made in my life. And then I spilled nearly a cup of liquid goose grease all over the floor, which our dog began licking up before I could stop him and get it cleaned up, and he became extremely sick from all the fat.

And I always laugh when I hear the lyric "Chestnuts roasting on the open fire" because I did indeed attempt to roast chestnuts one Christmas year in the oven, only I did not know what I was doing and they exploded all over the inside of the oven and I had a horrific mess to clean up.

Taking to heart Lawson's comments, especially remember past stressful dinners on Christmas day, I decided this year we should have something simple - comfort food, if you will - and we settled on ham, which was already cooked (in fact, it was meat I cut off a bone that a friend gave me when she cleaned out her freezer) and macaroni and cheese, and green beans, and the dessert I already mentioned, which is a family favorite.

Now the other big surprise was this cookbook.

My sister said she went to see PW when the book tour made a stop in Los Angeles, but I had no clue, no clue at all, that she was going to buy one of the cookbooks for me - and no, it is not signed, the crowd was too huge.

Now it happens that PW offers a recipe for macaroni and cheese that is just a bit different than the one I was planning to use, so I did her version and it turned out very well indeed.

And a good time was had by all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here Comes Santa Claus....

Yesterday, while the items we were able to find in the large store that-shall-not-be-named were being passed over the scanner (funny how we are increasingly unable to find items on our list when shopping there), I overheard another customer and the clerk who was passing her items over the scanner complaining about the commercialization of Christmas and how Christ was being taken out of Christmas and being replaced with Santa Claus in our culture, and how evil was that? And on and on.... It bothers me some too, but I dunno....

My brothers and sister and I were born to parents who were committed Christians who loved God and who tried to live their lives by Biblical principles all the time  -- even at home when no one else was watching except us. We went to church, we knew about the Christmas story from the Bible from the beginning; in fact back then, we even did the Biblical Christmas story at the public school. I got to be one of the Wise Men in the 5th grade Christmas program, one of the most exciting things I remember about the elementary school.

We also did all of the other Christmas things. We got a tree and decorated it. We were told about Santa Claus when we were little. We went to the department store downtown and saw Santa. We left cookies and milk out for Santa, and there was always one unwrapped gift under the tree on Christmas morning that Santa had left the night before.

Eventually, of course, we realized that there was no actual Santa. Yep, we were told an elaborate lie, and nope, it didn’t do us any damage that I can see.

When our boy was little, we taught him the Christmas story from the Bible. But we also did Santa Claus, and I had the first two verses of the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” memorized from having read it to him so many times. Eventually, he realized there was no Santa. It was not a big deal.

Some groups get really upset about the celebration of Christmas, and the traditions associated with it. Some don’t celebrate it all. I recognize that many things we do in connection with Christmas have their origins in pagan traditions and the Winter Solstice. But unlike the Church Lady a hilarious character on Saturday Night Live, and others I have come into contact with, I do not think Santa is really “Satan.”

Because I don’t have a grandchild and I am likely to not have one, and I do not even have contact with any little kids, I do not have to make a decision now about whether I am going to “do Santa Claus” with a child and perpetuate the lie. But, I think it is really very cool that my younger brother has bought himself a Santa Claus suit and has decided to play Santa Claus for their grandson and for other small children (and adults too!) in his wife’s family.

My older brother and his family sent us a jar of cookie mix in the Christmas box, and tomorrow morning I believe I am going to make those cookies and leave a few out on my best plate with a glass of milk. Just in case.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dressing Appropriately for the Occasion

Neither of us are slaves to fashion, but we do know how to clean ourselves up for occasions when we must present ourselves in public; well, at least both of us have mostly stopped going to town looking like a bag lady and her homeless companion. At any rate, we know how to dress fairly appropriately for whatever occasion we might be attending so that we don’t embarrass the other person. Frequently he will ask me “Is it OK if I wear my bib overalls? ” And I usually say yes, even though he has lost so much weight that they hang on him like an oversized clown outfit. This does not bother me. His clothes are clean and he does not smell, which we have noticed is not always the case when we are out and about. We have also noted that “appropriate” in the Ozarks can mean bib overalls at a funeral or the grandfather of the bride showing up to the wedding wearing Dickie work pants and a shirt, and a seed cap.

And we have discovered the secret of dressing appropriately when the occasion is taking a walk on a rather cold day. The LOML seldom lets anything deter him from his daily walk – much like the beleaguered letter carrier. I admire him very much for soldiering on. I am little less committed and use the treadmill.

The local state police frequently drive the highway that parallels where he walks and I do worry about him getting stopped. I mean, I don’t think he looks like a terrorist or somebody up to no good but there is a convenience store-gas station-McDonald’s on one of the routes where he walks.

Of course, one’s idea of  “cold” is somewhat relative. I laugh when we go back to Los Angeles and they complain about it being “cold” and it feels barely cold enough to us for a long-sleeved shirt. My friend Judy, who moved here from Michigan, laughs when she hears us complain about the cold. “This isn’t cold!” she says. I know another woman who moved here from Alaska. She makes funny noises through her nose and just goes “P-f-f-f-f-f-b-b-t-t-t-t” when we whine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting the Wrinkles Out

I never really aspired to be a domestic goddess. One of my favorite pictures is of me at 10 years old sitting in the dirt with my best friend, who was a boy, playing with our pet rats. My mother was, I think, a very wise woman in that she mostly let me alone to become the sort of person my genes were telling me to become, but she did make an effort to instill some level of skill in homemaking. I did the dishes, I helped her clean the house, and I occasionally helped her prepare food. She used to simmer ground beef in tomato sauce to pour over spaghetti, for hours and hours it would bubble slowly on the stove, and there would be pools of reddish fat floating on the top which I loved to skim off.

She taught me to iron. Back then, steam irons had not yet been invented, or if they had, we certainly didn't have one. I was taught to dip my fingers in a bowl of water and then flick the water on the clothes and then roll them up so the water could permeate better and then commence ironing.

Thanks to the sorts of fabrics available today and our personal lifestyle that does not require us to dress in business attire to go out to work, I don't have to do too much ironing. But given that I am obsessive about not throwing anything way, I do on occasion have to iron the wrapping paper I have saved from previous holiday events to get the wrinkles out. Which I did some of last week so I could get the gifts we had bought for the relatives in the West wrapped. As it happened, I only had to actually wrap one present, because gift bags have also been invented in recent years. This is such a blessing to challenged people such as myself who are horrible at wrapping presents. Just horrible.

So now I'm wondering when someone will get around to developing an iron to remove facial wrinkles. People have come up with all sorts of procedures to help women keep wrinkles at bay and many over the counter concoctions that may or may not also help. On occasions over the years when I was a janitor for the local post office, I acquired expensive bottles of stuff that had been thrown away. One such little bottle, which I still have, has a list price of $80 and promises to reduce wrinkles with daily use for 14 to 21 days. The bottle is about 90% gone, and only recently did I bother to look at the ingredients; among them: marine collagen, numerous chemicals (some of which I am familiar with from my work on a dermatology journal), amniotic fluid, placental protein, calfskin extract. Hunnnh? Amniotic fluid? Placental protein? Alrighty then.

I don't think it works, but I did not do a scientific test. And I am no longer sure I want to put this stuff on my face. Perhaps I will just let nature take its course...

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mobile Nightmares

Just like there are a handful of basic plots around which most film and fiction is based, so there are certain basic categories of "bad dreams" that people in our Western culture seem to have in common. Well, I have not taken a poll and I have not spent hours researching this so conversations with other people lead to believe this is probably fairly representative. And when I mean a bad dream, I don't mean a truly terrifying nightmare, just a "bad dream", and it usually involves one of these things:

  1. Suddenly finding myself in public naked, or partly naked.
  2. Being lost and not being to find my way home, or I am trying to get back to my car and I can't find it.
  3. Being chased by something, and the harder I try to run, the slower I am able to move.
  4. Falling (as opposed to flying, which is wonderfully fun)
  5. Teeth falling out. 
The other night, however, I had a brand new bad dream involving modern technology. My dreams have finally caught up with the explosion in personal communication devices. In this dream, I was trying to use a cellular phone in an emergency and was not able to get the thing to work and the more frantically I tried to punch in the numbers to complete the call, the worse it got. This experience in my dream paralleled one I had in real life not too very long ago when I took off in the truck and really did need to use the cellular phone the LOML had given me in case I needed it and I could not figure out how to turn the thing on.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Charles By Any Other Name Would Be a Walter

I suppose everyone at some point has had the embarrassing situation of meeting someone whose name they should know but suddenly can’t remember. The situation I find myself in now takes this scenario to a new level of embarrassment.

Tomorrow morning at about 10 a.m, I will stand before the adult Sunday school class at church and expound further on the interesting story of Hosea. The biggest challenge will not be explaining the parallels between Hosea’s relationship with his unfaithful wife Gomer and God’s relationship with his spiritually unfaithful people. Oh no. My challenge will come when it is time to call on various people to read and then respond to things they might say. The challenge I face will be to look at our pastor’s husband, Charles, and not call him Walter.

Charles is a lovely man. He is soft-spoken, very personable, and very easy to talk to. I admire Charles very much because of the way he is coping with a big problem: He has a degenerative neuromuscular movement disorder that affects his coordination but which defies diagnosis. He has undergone extensive testing at the Mayo Clinic, he regularly sees a neurologist, but exactly what is wrong with him remains a mystery. He does not carry the gene for Huntington’s disease, his symptoms don’t quite match Lou Gehrig’s disease... or muscular dystrophy... or multiple sclerosis.

I know Charles is Charles, but somehow the wires got tangled in my brain when I started teaching the class a few months ago. For some strange reason I began calling Charles Walter. And I don’t know why. My mother’s father was named Walter, but he died when my mom was 10 years old, and from the pictures I have of him I can see that Charles looks nothing whatsoever like my dead grandfather. Charles has dark hair and a mustache and perhaps in my subconscious mind I see him as Walter Cronkite. Or perhaps the actor Walter Pidgeon...

who in his later years was a somewhat fatter version of what Charles looks like.Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure.

Everyone at church – and at home – thinks this is just hilarious and they too have started calling Charles “Walter” as a way of teasing me, which of course just makes the problem worse. Charles even thinks it is funny -- or appears to at any rate. At some point though, it is going to stop being amusing and become annoying – I am already annoyed – and I need to get a grip on it and solve the problem before that happens.

My first plan of attack will be to print the name CHARLES in block letters on a small card and clip it to the notes I use for the class. If that doesn’t work, I will make a sign and hang it around his neck! I’m going to lick this problem!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pollock Pants

Jackson Pollock made quite a stir in the art world with his large, bold canvases of splatters, drips, and blobs of paint. Anyone so inclined can go to a Web site, click on the "Enter" link and create their very own virtual version of a Jackson Pollock painting, just as I did here...

Another one of those mysteries: Why were his paintings worth so much money? One tends to think -

Gee whiz, how much talent does that take? I mean, I could do that! My 5-year-old could do that!

Once when I was a kid and we were at the Natural History Museum and my Dad and I had climbed stairs and came into a gallery with a number of sculptures, including a large collection of scrap metal that had been welded together. There were lots of large and small car parts in the creation--tail pipes, mufflers, engine parts, transmission parts, that sort of thing. Now my Dad had a finely tuned sense of what was "art" and what was "not art," and being that he was an automobile mechanic and handled many of the objects in this sculpture day in and day out, he had an opinion about this particular piece of art:

What a piece of junk!
And he wasn't exactly whispering when he said it, either. I didn't agree with him, I loved it, but as the cliche goes, one man's junk is another man's treasure...

But back to Pollock. One of our yearly routines is to put away the summer clothes and haul out the winter clothes, which involves rooting around in storage tubs that are in various spots - the garage, the fruit cellar, under the bed, beside the bed, in the space we dub the "closet," but which is not really a proper closet at all.

Being the pack rat that I am, during the recent Getting Out the Winter Clothes, I found my painting clothes, an old pair of jeans and an old pair of tennis shoes that I wore when we added another room to the house some years back and I was required to perch on a scaffold the LOML had erected....

and paint Victorian Garnet on the second story eves.

I got quite a bit of paint on myself...

And I sat in quite a bit of paint as well...

and I figured there was no point in ruining any more clothes if I could get by with ruining just one pair.

Had I been a celebrity type and wearing these jeans on a high-profile street in New York City, there is a possibility I could have created a fashion craze, wherein everybody would want to pay lots of money so they too could wear paint-splattered pants and I would be very wealthy now.

Well, I decided not to save the pants or the tennis shoes for another year and they have been permanently retired. I have several good candidates waiting in the wings that will serve me well when painting time rolls around again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Perfect Pie Crust

I have made two pie crusts that were perfect. The first time was perhaps 15 years ago, when I was feeling adventurous and reckless. Uhhh.... make that 20 years ago.

A friend had raised a couple of pigs. We bought one and they hauled the pigs to the meat processor and a week or so later we picked up the wrapped meat and brought it home. Including the head and all of the fat.

At that time Carla Emery’s “Encyclopedia of Country Living”was my go-to source for learning how to live in the country. The book was incredibly useful for learning how to do country stuff. I followed her instructions for making head cheese. It was quite good. And then I rendered the fat, which I was going to use to make soap, also following her directions. 

By then we had already made the decision to stop using shortening to cook with, and so any pie crust I made was either with oil--which was usually a disaster--or I just bought it pre-made from the store; of course, these pie shells were made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, but at least I didn’t have to keep a can of the nasty stuff around the house.

After a couple of days of bubbling fat in the pots, I had all of this creamy white lard and Thanksgiving was approaching and it was time to make the annual pie, and I thought, oh what the heck, it’s not going to kill us....

So I used a glop of the homemade lard to make the pie. I was stunned a how wonderful that crust was. But, I never used lard or shortening again.... until yesterday. We weren’t going to have pie at all – just “pumpkin custard” but then at the last minute we changed our minds and so I used some of the lard I had bought to make suet cakes for the birds.

And so the second time one of my homemade pie crusts came out perfect. The temptation to use the lard the next time a pie is requested is overwhelming. It is probably a good thing we don’t have pie very often.

The soap was not entirely successful, by the way. Although I tried hard to follow the directions, I failed to do something right, and some of the cakes of soap retained bubbles of liquid lye, which caused some excitement during a shower. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


One of the things I am most thankful for this year is the wonderful people my younger brothers and sister grew up to be. 

The oldest boy frequently amazes me. I had always thought of him as being a rather sober serious person, but I am now realizing how very funny he really is.

And indeed he can be serious - he gave a powerful eulogy at our mother's memorial service, dropping names like Augustine and Blaise Pascal into his speech as he painted a verbal portrait of her in his summary of her life and what she meant to us.

And then, well, there is the goofy side....

Just about every time we have gathered for a family photograph, at least one of the shots has me with my mouth wide open, laughing hysterically....

at something he is doing....

And here we are again, with a cousin who I have not seen in a very long time who came for the service.

I am so thankful for the younger boy. He has a tender, compassionate heart. I am so thankful for all the things he has done for dad and mom over the years, how he continues to look after our dad now that he is alone, and how often he uses his skills as a plumber and maintenance man to take care of things for him around the house.

And here he is making a funny face while doing the dishes at the recent party he and his wife hosted at their house for our father's 85th birthday. Sulking, apparently, because he has to do all the work. 

When it comes to my sister, well.... I can hardly come up with the words to describe how much I love this woman and how much she means to me, and how thankful I am she arrived on the scene. I forgave her a long time ago for getting into my nail polish and Evening in Paris perfume when she 4 years old and I was 13. She helps my father keep the house clean, she plants flowers in the yard and takes care of them, and she helps him with paying the bills and other little jobs around the house. She did an amazing job organizing our mother's memorial service.

But my thankfulness goes beyond just my brothers and sister. I am acutely aware of the people they married and brought into our family, and how important these people have become, and I am most thankful for the choices my brothers and sisters made. 

One friend I used to have married a man who was a member of a large family of sons, and she often shared stories of unpleasant things that happened at these large family gatherings where enmity was rife among the brothers and their various spouses and occasionally resulting fistfights. And just last Sunday, our pastor asked for special prayers for their safety on Thanksgiving day because they were going to her daughter's house for dinner, and she was afraid of one of the in-law's who is really an out-law - emotionally volatile, violent, abusive to his wife and children, and a drug user.

I am thankful my extended family is not like that. My mother was acutely aware of the trouble that can brew between children and their spouses, and when a bit of trouble seemed to be brewing, she would say, "We are not having that in our family." None of these people are perfect, but they have all worked very hard to maintain harmonious relationships. There is no sense of impending dread at the thought of being at a family gathering.

I have two amazing sisters-in-law....

and here they are sitting on each side of my sister and me.

And there is a wonderful brother in law as well, here whining because we wouldn't let him pretend to cheat at Kings in the Corner.

All of these relatives by marriage showed their true mettle when our mother became ill. They treated her as they would their own mother, and were an immense blessing to her and my dad.

Finally, of course, I am thankful for the life my mother. About 4 weeks before she died, she wrote to a woman she has known for at least 50 years...

I'm glad that God has created a variety of everything and He wants me to be like He created me to be. I don't have to try to be like somebody else to please Him! There is a variety of seasons in our lives, and in each one we grow, learn, and change. I'm preparing to "move on" into the first step of heavenly and eternal life! Some of the earthly treasures I've collected have already gone on ahead of me and will be there to greet me. Others, like you, will be arriving a little later and what a time of rejoicing that will be!!

Yes indeed, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Deer camp

Before the Europeans came and ruined everything for them, various groups of Native Americans used this area of the state as a common hunting ground. The Osage from mid-Northern Missouri was a large and powerful tribe that had great influence here, but tribes from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and East Texas also used the area. Deer, turkey, and other wild game were very plentiful. The Indians set up temporary camps, hunted the animals, and preserved the meat before returning home. Just as important were the rocks here -- just ask any one who tries to farm this land or plant a garden—which they fashioned into tools and weapons.

The tradition of setting up a deer camp for hunting continues. The opening weekend of the all-comers deer hunt in Missouri was probably, at least in this area, the warmest weekend on record. For the first time in his life, our son was invited to go hunting. Some of my uncles hunted, and the LOML’s father hunted in Colorado, but the men in my immediate family and the LOML do not hunt, and so our son never had the father-child hunting experience that is so common in this area. The hunting tradition here is not male-dominated. Many women and their daughters also hunt, but he lucked out again. I have no problem killing a farm animal to eat it, but I am not a hunter of wild game, so I never took him into the woods either.

Earlier in the Fall he was invited to go hunting with a friend. He went to the Hunter Safety Course, he bought his hunting license and a deer tag, and he arranged to buy a gun. Several times in early Fall, they went to the site where they would be hunting and cleaned up the camp. Finally, last weekend he went on his first deer hunt with the friend and Tony, our neighbor who also brought his young teenaged son. He left very early on Saturday morning and came home Sunday morning.

I was very excited for him to be able to go. I did not expect that he would actually shoot a deer and kill it, I was just happy for him to have the experience of bonding with these other men at the deer camp.

What actually happened was that his friend went for a short walk in the woods, got our boy situated where he was to wait for deer to walk by, then returned to the camp and began drinking. He mostly drank the entire time. Tony drank a little too, but not like the other man. I can’t think of anything more lethal than semi-drunk men staggering around the wood with high-powered rifles.

Our son does not drink, so he did not have a very good time with his beer-guzzling hunting friend. Our son had never been hunting before, so he did a few things that deer hunters are not supposed to do. Instead of being educated then about proper hunting techniques, he got a telephone call the next day and was criticized after the fact for all these mistakes.

Two men from church were supposed to take him hunting today, but they both shot deer and used their deer tags; however, they graciously allowed our son to hunt on the land their land and bring another person with him. He has no one to go with him today, but tomorrow, he will go out with another man from his work who will not be drinking and who will treat him with a bit more kindness.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Memory Rollover

Every once in a while a certain song, or a picture, or a current event will illuminate a memory that is not forgotten, just not thought about very often. I got such a flashback when I was visiting with my dad.

In the summer of 1962, when I was shortly to become 13 years old, my father's sisters Vera (Uncle Bud) and Theresa (Uncle Bob) decided to take their children (Vera's, 3, Theresa's, 2) on a road trip from northern California to Seattle to see the World's Fair. Vera invited me to come because her oldest daughter Teri is a little more a year older then me (aaahh, what's a few months between cousins). We had a very good cousin relationship then and indeed, even now, she is one of the dearest people in my life, all these many years later.

I believe the airplane ticket for me to fly from Los Angeles to Sacramento, the nearest airport, was about $40 (which seemed a staggering amount back then). I had saved a bunch of money in my piggy bank, and so I was able to go.

I remember bits and pieces of that trip. I remember we visited a cheese factory and a brewery, and sand dunes on the Oregon coast. While we were camped outside of Seattle, we saw big slugs in the rainforest, and I fell into some stinging nettles, and yep, they really did sting. We went up on the Space Needle, I ate a Belgian waffle, which was an amazing treat, bought from a vendor at the World's Fair. I remember my Uncle Bud buying a malt at a restaurant in which he instructed the waitress to add cherry to it as well. I think it was a chocolate cherry malt. Or may be it was a "cherry soda." (help me Teri!) Regardless, no one in my family had ever done anything so bold. I also remember falling asleep in the back seat of Uncle Bud's new car, which cousin Richard (son of Bob and Theresa) says was a gorgeous Mercury station wagon, with gum in my mouth. It fell out of my mouth, and got all over the seat and he was furious with me.

I remember riding on a ferry through the islands off the coast of Washington and British Columbia, and getting a little seasick.

The song "Monster Mash" was popular that summer and we heard it over and over and over on the radio as we travelled -- at least Teri and I did, not sure about what they were listening to in Theresa's car.

But one of the things that I remember being the most fun was when the odometer in Aunt Theresa and Uncle Bob's car turned over from 99999 to 100,000. My cousin Richard, their oldest son and cousin I am becoming reacquainted with after a very long time, says it was a 1956 Mercury, and he remembers that event too. That's because the caravan stopped, and everybody in Aunt Vera's car who could cram into Aunt Theresa's car did so, and we crept down the highway laughing hysterically and all of us trying to see the exact moment when the odometer changed.

It was such fun.

Things were a bit quieter a few weeks ago in my dad's car as we were driving along on our way to eat lunch. Before we left the house, he said, "The odometer should turn to 100,000 today." And indeed it was about to. It conveniently began inching toward 100,000 while we were stopped...

And closer.....

And it then finally tipped over while we were in the midst of traffic on the busy thoroughfare....


This time  there weren't 6 giggling children and four adults crammed into a car. Just me and him.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Journey of 1000 Miles

I am a member of Bookcrossings,  an organization that promotes recycling paperback books by leaving them in public places for other people to pick up and read.

A few weeks ago, my cousin in Washington, DC, sent me a Bookcrossings book that he had received, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, by Lilian Jackson Braun, complete with the appropriate Bookcrossing stickers. I knew I was going to write about Bookcrossings and getting this book and liberating it, but I neglected to photograph the book, not thinking too clearly at the time.

I read it just before I left for California, and I knew I definitely did not want to keep it, so I decided to take it along with me and leave it at one of the airports. At that point, the book's journey had taken it at least 2300 miles; who knows where it had been before then.

Aside from giving books to the Thrift Store to sell, I have liberated books before -- the last time I traveled in July, I left a copy of the paperback, Dr Metzger's Dog, by Thomas Perry at the Orange County airport.

After I reached the gate at Los Angeles International for the return trip flight to Dallas Ft/Worth, I sat the book the "end table" next to where I was sitting (once again forgetting to take a picture of it) and then got up to put some water in my bottle. When I returned to the seat, a woman was reading the book.

The book came to me in the Midwest from the East, then travelled to the West Coast, and now I wonder where it will end up. Where was her home? I almost approached her to find out - in fact, I am not usually shy at all about talking to strangers, But for some reason I let inertia take over, and before I could talk myself into an interview with her...

she got up and walked away, the book peeking out of the top of her bag.

I didn't see her again. I don't know if she was on the flight to Dallas/Ft Worth, but I think I would remember that bright purple outfit.

So, book where are you? Back East again? North, South? I did not like the book very much, but even so, I wish it well on its journey.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Luggage That Moves Itself

Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has created a most amazing character - a wooden box called the Luggage - which appears several times in the Discworld novels that feature Rincewind the Wizard. The Luggage is alive, it has hundreds of little legs, it is slavishly dedicated to its owner, and it follows Rincewind wherever he goes, even to hell and back.

Modern travelers can buy luggage with wheels so that they can pull it behind or push it in front, but they don't have quite as much luck keeping their luggage with them. It can and does often go missing.

But the last two people to board the commuter jet at Dallas/Ft Worth on Wednesday for the trip to Springfield, who sat behind me at the very back of the plane, each had a carry-on that carried itself on. They caused quite a stir among the passengers as they came down the aisle and arranged the carry-ons under their seats. 

"They can't bring them on the plane!" one said. "Oh yes they can," said the flight attendant.

These carry-ons were two drug-sniffing dogs on their way home from the Dominican Republic with their handlers for more training.

One was a chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever, and this dog, Kito, a Golden Retriever mix..

They were excellent passengers, although the handler explained they had been given sedatives to help keep them calm. Even so, toward the end of the flight, I felt a tail hitting my foot.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Wall Came Tumblin' Down...

According to a program I was watching the other night about chocolate, pirates once seized a ship headed for Spain expecting to find gold or silver in the hold. Instead they found what looked like dried rabbit droppings. They burned the cargo, not realizing that they were burning cocoa beans that were worth their weight in silver back in Spain.

Sometimes I wonder if a stranger coming into my house would recognize one of the most valuable things that I own, which is sitting in plain sight on one my bookshelves.

For Christmas in 1989 I received in the mail a small package from Germany. It came from Elli, a woman who started out as a customer of our mail order business, morphed into a translator of our materials into German, and in the process became a friend.

She sent some wonderful chocolate, a cassette tape of German Christmas carols, and in a small box nestled in cotton, a small piece of concrete painted orange on one side. I was somewhat puzzled by this painted concrete, until I read the note.

A piece of the Berlin Wall.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall ceased to be an official barrier between East and West Berlin, a prelude to the reunification a year later of the country that had been divided since the close of WW II.

The images of German citizens on the wall celebrating their freedom stick in the mind similar to the image of Nelson Mandela leaving prison in South Africa. They began attacking the wall, and eventually crews came to dismantle it. Not quite as neat and efficient a Joshua marching the Israelites around the walls of Jericho, but to me every bit as much a miracle.

For Elli this piece of concrete had deep symbolic meaning, because it was her country in which history was being made. I was deeply touched that she thought to send it to me.

Since 1989 it has sat on the bookshelf, propped up against my battered collection paperback books.

To the casual eye, just a bit of rubble that likely would quickly be thrown away; for me, a small symbol of freedom of immense value.

Sometimes people are confined by internal prisons of their own making, sometimes they are victimized by external prisons of concrete erected by others; and sometimes--just sometimes--those prisons are dismantled.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Twosie Balls

My folks id not feel comfortable using in front of their children the words other people used to talk about bodily functions involving the toilet. They did not say urinate or defecate, or pee or poop, and most definitely none of coarser or the even worse four-letter words.

Instead, we went "number one" - or "onsies" -- or "number two" - "twosies". And of course, in our minds, those words became the equivalent of the four-letter variety and our response was usually furtive giggling when anyone innocently said those words in another context, such as hopscotch.

Our folks have an old-fashioned metal food grinder that clamps to the counter, with a hopper in the top and an auger and discs with different sized holes. When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was help dad grind cranberries, oranges, and apples for the Thanksgiving Day dinner relish. The cranberries made a wonderful popping sound.

Then he found a recipe for a very healthy confection consisting of dried dates, figs, prunes, and walnuts, mixed with a little orange juice and rolled into balls, and then the balls were rolled into powdered sugar. They looked a lot like... you know what... and we all called them twosie balls.

I hadn't thought about twosie balls for a long time until I happened across a similar sounding recipe on A Vision Splendid, another blog I enojy.

I made her recipe, except I fashioned it into balls rather than square slices. I agree with her assessment: very tasty indeed.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I'll fly away.... this morning

In a few minutes we will be leaving in the pre-dawn darkness for the trip to the airport in Springfield and I will be flying away to Los Angeles to celebrate the life of my mother, who symbolically flew away on Oct. 13. This time I will only have to negotiate the Dallas/Ft Worth airport.

I won't have internet access to the blog from my dad's house, but thanks to the magic of "scheduled posting," there will be a few installments here over the next week.

I'll be back!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I do strange things when trying to multitask

One of several things I have noticed about getting older is that I cannot so easily do more than one thing at a time without messing one or more of those things up somehow. I have recently been exchanging e-mails with these two women, Rhonda and Sue, who came to visit my father...

and had their photo taken standing in front of his truck.

That truck has quite a history. I began to learn to drive in it, learning how to operate a clutch and the gears, with my dad teaching me, but I think I made him a little crazy -- I know I made him a little crazy (and we were just in the parking lot of a big factory). Eventually my mother took over, bless her heart.

But the best memories are that when we were younger, in high school, these two were often among the group of kids my dad would invite to hop in the back of the truck on a Saturday for a trip to the beach.

Sue passed on to me a recipe for wonderful pumpkin soup that she says her boss gave her. I guess reading about soup on his blog is perhaps a bit tiresome, but just one more soup recipe for a while and I'll give it a rest. Promise.

Pumpkin Ginger Soup

2 lbs of pumpkin or other winter squash
2 tbsp of unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic minced
6 inches of ginger peeled and minced (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 stalk of celery finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopper
1 yellow onion finely chopped
4 cups of chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a soup pot and add the onion, garlic, ginger, celery and the carrot. Saute for about ten minutes or until the onion becomes translucent.
2. Skin the pumpkin (or squash) and cut into cubes about 1 inch square.
3. Add the cut pumpkin and chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer until the pumpkin is soft.
5. Let the mixture cool and then put in a blender or food process to puree.
6. Re-heat to serve.

So, there I was at the kitchen counter dishing up my lunch and ladling pumpkin soup into my bowl -- and at the same time talking to the LOML who was sitting at the table eating his lunch -- and I reached in the pot, got a scoop of soup, turned to say something to him, and then dumped it into the dishwater that he had prepared to wash the dishes after lunch.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cup of tea, anyone?

Yet another very rainy day in the Ozarks, and I return home from town after having run some errands, without an umbrella,  feeling rather damp. Time to get into something warm and settle down with a cup of tea.

Would you care to join me? Not too long ago, I went nuts in the salvage store and I can offer you many varieties of tea. What kinds?

I am not supposed to drink a lot of caffeine, so the The "California Orange" can contains caffeine-free orange pekoe, if just regular type tea is what you want... 

And this is not even all of them, which I am somewhat embarrassed to admit (I am in good company, the LOML once accumulated 42 tubes of toothpaste that he found on sale)..

And I have a lovely teapot.

I can offer a variety of cups to drink it from....

And some Honey-Lavender biscotti, which is perfect for dipping if you're a "dunker"...

which I found out about at the food  blog written by Sidewalk Shoes (and I even copied the way she took her photograph) who had a link to it. And she is right, it is about the best biscotti I have ever made. Biscotti is a wonderful form of cookie for eating with something hot and fluid, because it can be made without any added fat, which helps to keep the calorie count down.

So, shall we have a tea party?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magic Under the Cedars

After what seems like days and days of rain (have we magically been transported back to Oregon? I think to myself) ...

enough rain that even the most cheerful people are beginning to complain just a little bit about it,

even though we are probably in a drought, and need every drop....

the clouds finally blow away and the beautiful blue sky of fall returns.

We take a walk through the field to see if our little pond is full (and it is!),

and there at our feet, springing up under the cedar trees,

are these amazing jewels of mushrooms, rivaling the most beautiful fall colors...


on the trees around the house...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I become a geezer?

Upon awaking this morning, I realized that I have turned another year older and I may now be a geezer. Possibly. The LOML says I won't officially be a geezer for another 5 years, and he may be right, but most of the commercial establishments in these here parts offer a discount to people my age. It is now cheaper for me to see a movie. Today (or tomorrow) I believe I will take our boy to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which is playing at a cinema in the next town down the road. He remembers me reading that story to him when he was a little kid.

I have not made up my mind about what I want for my birthday dinner. Either homemade macaroni and cheese, or meatloaf with mashed potatoes. I am also wrestling with what sort of dessert I will feed myself and the men to honor me on my special day. Either an apple pie with ice cream, or a chocolate cake layered with pudding, whipped topping, and Heath bar bits.

I know at least two of the presents that I will get--the CD Dreamboat Annie by Heart and a lavender-scented diffuser with a nice pottery bottle--because I picked them out myself. A package from my sister sits waiting to be opened, and there are some cards, too.

The first birthday I remember celebrating was when I was 3 years old. My mom and dad got me a child-sized fishing pole that came in a metal tube.

 This enabled me to go fishing with my father.

 I remember turning 16 and 21, but the rest of them are sort of a blur. I think I will no doubt remember turning 60 because of its association with our family's recent bereavement. But, I have made the decision that this will be happy day, and so it will.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mixing It Up

For many years we have purchased certain spice mixtures from Penzey's, among them, jerk and Herbes de Provence.

And then I came upon a wonderful recipe on a blog for homemade tomato soup - Provence Tomato Soup. I would send you to the original source but I am not able to find it again, for some reason. We were buying some rather expensive commercial tomato soup, but this tastes far better, with the additional benefit of no additives, except for sodium, which is impossible to escape if one uses canned tomatoes.

Provence Tomato Soup

Olive oil for sauteeing
1 large onion, medium diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely diced
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 tbsp Herbes de Provence
1/2 cup white wine
4 14-oz cans diced tomatoes (with liquid)
2 quarts chicken broth (home made, canned low-sodium, or bouillon cubes)
Salt and pepper to taste
Soft goat cheese for each bowl.

Heat a few tbsp of olive oil in a large soup pot, add the onion and garlic, and saute until nearly translucent. Add the tomato paste and the Herbes de Provence, and wine. Stir. Add the tomatoes, including the liquid. Cover and bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors, you don't need to cook it to death. The LOML says adding a bit of brown sugar to the soup improves the taste.

This makes 8-10 serving. The soup freezes well.

Penzey's is a good company to deal with - when we first began ordering from them, they always included a sample of another spice along with the order -- but their spices are rather expensive. The recipe requires quite a bit of Herbes de Provence, and we were going through it at a remarkably fast clip after the LOML decided to begin making this soup and eating it for a bedtime snack every night. So, I decided to see if I could make my own. In past years, before the Internet took off, it wasn't so easy to track down recipes for spice blends, now there are many to choose from.

So we took a trip to the bulk food store....

and came home with bags of spices and I began to assemble a version of Herbes de Provence as close to the Penzey's blend as I could find.

So I measured out the herbs...

And ground them up....

And here they are...

And at about the same time, we also ran out of jerk, so I went looking for a recipe for that. There must be 15 or 20 different jerks out there, all with mostly the same ingredients, but with slightly different proportoins.

And now we are good to go...