Monday, June 25, 2007

Food for thought uses no calories

Yesterday, I finished the last of my quartered chicken breast. I bought it already deboned and skinned, brought it home, dipped the meat in bottled lemon juice, drizzled a little teriyaki sauce over it,powdered it liberally with garlic, and simmered in a little chicken broth made with Wyler's bouillon granules. I scrubbed a large potato, cut it in half and stored one-half in a plastic bag for another meal and refrigerated it. Then I nuked the other half. cut it up and seasoned with sour cream and chopped green onions. Sliced one of the vine ripened tomatoes a friend gave me. Great meal. No effort, and as I finished it, I laughed to myself. I'm sure others have said it first, but I thought this my ownself and amused me. When I was growing up, we almost always ate the chicken skin and we peeled the potatoes. Times have changed.

When I was a girl, dad would buy about two dozen baby chicks from the feed store in March and bring them home to the incubator set up in the shed. A light bulb behind a cloth curtain in the back half of the incubator provided warmth, and the baby chicks would crowd in together behind the curtain and snuggle down. They were so cute. I loved to watch them drink. Make no mistake about it--cute as they were, I realized most of them sooner or later were going to be Dinner. By the end of May, maybe earlier, they would have grown to be pullets. Pullets are the small, half-grown chickens that make the best fried chicken. A baking hen is just that; you don't fry a big chicken. (But now we fry turkeys. Weird, that.) So summertime was fried chicken time. As usual, Dad would heat his galvanized bucket full of water on the stove then carry it out to the the chicken pen. A long wire with a hook on one end would snare his choice by the leg. A sharp hatchet decapitated it, and he drained the blood into the feed. (Chickens really like chicken blood.) He would douse the carcass in the hot water. Then it was my job to help him pull all the wet feathers off. There are many worse smells than wet chicken feathers, but they do not smell good. I was used to it, and we made short work of the plucking. Then back to the house, where Mom laid out newspapers on the counter, sliced the chicken open and removed the organs, setting the liver aside and handing me the lungs to feed the cats.(Cats love raw chicken lungs.) Then she soaked the chicken in salted water, refrigerated it overnight if cooking the next day. Jointed the chicken, dipped the pieces first in milk, then seasoned flour and fried the chicken in a mixture of bacon grease and Crisco. Frying chicken smells great. Compare the two meal preparation stories.

No wonder Americans are getting fatter. All three of us expended some calories for the privelege of eating that chicken. Once the chickens outgrew pullet size, we didn't fry them any more till the next year. We occasionally ate fried chicken when we went out to eat, or at church suppers when someone else brought store-boughten chicken they had fried.

After that,at my house, it was baking hens. Sometimes the hen would hold 2-3 developing eggs that hadn't yet been laid. Just the yolks, really, each the size of a jawbreaker. I loved those baked yolks as a special treat.

I like to read old recipes, where they instruct, "take a lump of butter the size of a hen egg...." or the old punch recipes before sodas were invented and the main ingredient was tea, flavored with various juices and sometimes spices, mints and sugar. The stoves didn't have thermostats, so instructions would recommend a hot oven, a moderate oven, a temperate one. No doubt about it, good cooking was a lot harder.

I remember the game of 20 Questions, and we would ask, "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" and we all knew what one was. When I was a girl, we had one. I didn't use one when rearing my boys, and I doubt my granddaughters have ever seen one. When I was packing up my 80 years-plus grandmother's kitchen, we found several kitchen implements we could only guess the use for. One puzzler for the future might be the meat grinder. I regret the demise of meat grinders which clamped on the edge of the counter, and you could make the best pimiento cheese, or turkey salad with ground meat. Sure. Food processors. Very nice. Can do more. Are electric. Modern kitchens are not made with counters where you can clamp anything. I miss my meat grinder. I don't necessarily WANNA do all this other stuff.

Like the ink bottle with the little inkwell in it where I filled my fountain pen every day through seventh or eighth grades, we have items we use today that our children will someday look at and say, "what's that? what did you use it for?" We have routines and customs we take for granted that are already changing, that in 10 years we will say, "Oh, yeh, I remember that."

Meanwhile, getting food to my mouth is virtually no effort, and I am one of those fatter Americans. (sigh) so I guess I better get to the gym. Gotta work off some calories somewhere. And I'll continue to peel my chicken, not the potatoes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blogging and Site Meters

Site meters.

Some of us have them, some of us don't. Our needs for them differ.

I just finished a novel. The blurb about the author included info that 150 million books are in print. Another new author I read recently said 3 million. Another old pro said 350 million. That's a LOT of books.

For me, the site metert is affirmation that I am being read. I think a few years ago, I would have been more ambitious than that, but today, that's where I am. Writers write. Hopefully not into the ether. If I wanted to journal, I could do that, but I do want the human interaction of conversation, per se. Every so often, I get a comment back. Delightful.

I really do like the world of blogging. I've always enjoyed talking to strangers, picking up ideas and facts as a gift of the day, unlooked for. One of my most enjoyable experiences was about 30 years ago, in line to pay for Christmas toys at Toys R Us. My sons are seven years apart. The woman ahead of me looked in my cart, noted the disparate ages of the toys' suitability, and without further ado, said, "My husband and I have been thinking about having another baby, but our firstborn is (8? 9? 10?) How's that going?" We began an engrossed conversation, joined by the father behind us who was noticing the lack of violent toys in my cart as well , and we discussed that, too. I think it took 30 minutes to reach the counter, and I was actually disappointed when the time was over. One of the best conversations I can ever remember. Have no idea who either of them are.

Blogging is much the same. Over time, I am learning the actual names of a few of the responders. Those are the ones who are slowly becoming friends of a sort, because we have frequent exchanges. The site meter tells me several regulars from different parts of the country check in. I want to say, "welcome, welcome." It comforts me. Wish I could serve hot tea and cookies.

With the recent flurry of blog nominations, I copied several of the entries to read. Most have blown me away. One of the most popular, however, just leaves me puzzled with its popularity. Kind of like Caesar salad, I guess. Everyone likes it but me. That's okay, both with me and probably the writer. Can't please everyone, and shouldn't try.

In the last 15 years, I worked with professional colleagues, some of whom could not write a coherant sentence despite advanced degrees. Most could do competent work, they just couldn't write. So I am delighted to find out how many actually talented writers are out there.

Is one a better person if one can write well? It would be pretty to think so. Is it a power thing? For some, I'm sure it is. Popularity? probably, for some. For others, a professional avenue that may lead to a book, or more books, and a new career. A voice, I like to think. A friend today sent me a YouTube clip of a mobile phone salesman from South Wales singing opera. Now, I am not a big opera fan, but this man opened his mouth and this absolutely glorious tenor welled out. The audience, and the judges, went wild. I suppose this is from the British prototype that became American Idol. The Welshman was an ordinary person with an extraordinary voice. So many of you are out there, and I am so happy when I discover another one of you.

I know there are a lot of Bad People out there, and I've worked with a number of them. (I remember a grandmother in particular who once told me, "I don't know why you think I am such a bad person." "I know," I replied.) It makes me appreciate goodness even more. In the last week, two strangers came to my aid entirely unexpectedly, one reducing an emergency to an inconvenience, the other making the trial of shopping (my arthritis is rather painful) more comfortable by insisting on carrying a heavy package to my car. He was the salesman, but he surely didn't have any obligation to do that, and I was startled. He got nothing out of it but the satisfaction of helping. As I have said, I believe in passing on acts of random kindness. I will be on the alert--I have at least two to pass on.

In the same way, I am refreshed by most of the blogs I am reading. Good People are not yet an endangered specie, as I have sometimes worried. Oh, I know the ranting, raving, hate-filled blogs are out there, all right, but I don't have to read them, do I? ;)

Before there were blogs, there were letters to the editor in newspapers. An old man from a small Texas town took to sending regular observations into the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was a retired farmer, and he would write about the changing seasons and, I remember particularly, "sassy blue jays." His site meter would have been huge, since the Star-Telegram was distributed at that time into West Texas as well as the Metroplex. The editors weren't fools, they printed everything the old man wrote.

Not long before he died, he wrote a letter I will never forget. He said, "I sit on my porch and watch the young man I once was walk across the furrows. He stands, arms akimbo, and nods in satisfaction at the man I have become." What a wonderful life he had. Not splashy. Not rich. No kings or Presidents. I'm sure I am not the only reader who remembers him. He wrote, he shared, and we benefitted.

Blogging is much the same. Site meters simply affirm we are read.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Cat Came Back

and what are some of the nefarious verses of that old song? See previous entry. Yes, it's still raining, and last night I found (sigh) new pawprints. Not too muddy so not too, too visible. Which cat? No idea. If there really is a cat street gang on my street, maybe walking all over my car has become one of the 'hood's initiation practices.

I heard that cats hate the smell of citrus, so I was thinking about spraying the car with citrus room spray, but someone said it might hurt the metallic red paint job. Guess I can check the dealership. I have this picture of my hanging bobbing lemons link fringe all the way around the car. Would that work? It would probably smell pretty good in high summer--wouldn't it?

I don't want to kill the darned cats. Beyond being someone's pets and this being the middle of a city, for me it's just not a killing offense. A sigh over, cuss under my breath over, but not killing or even throwing things at the cats which would probably miss and shatter a window.

I just want the cats to leave me alone. Of course they won't. I learned a long time ago I don't make a trainable pet for cats at all, but most of them find me mildly amusing and worth tolerating. Well, Fluffy, the feeling is mutual. If you will JUST.STAY.OFF.MY.DAMN.CAR.

Any solutions short of moving to a house with a garage or buying a (snarl) canvas car cover will be appreciated.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

All Things Clean And Wonderful

Got my car washed day before yesterday, mats vacuumed, insides of windows washed, exterior wiped down to a smooth shininess. I looked at all that gleaming metallic red, pristine shininess, and a swell of pure happy went through me. Damn! I thought. That feels good.
I know many, many people who wash their cars weekly. I'm not one of them. It has been really rainy for months. I kept hoping the gullywashers would wash off the cat pawprints, but no luck--just diluted them. See, my car has been catbait this spring for some unknown reason. Three large, well-fed neighborhood cats. Grady, the black cat with the purple collar with his name on it, has been around off and on for a year. We speak, we do not otherwise relate. There was a black cat with a white chest and white paws I nicknamed "Tux." There was a skittish grey striped cat I never named. They would perch on my trash bin (securely closed). They would jump on my car when it was covered with rain and cold. They walked all over it. I think they took turns. It was muddy so the pawprints were clearly visible. Good cat-meter. People who love cats were charmed. I don't love cats. I don't hate them. I was not charmed. But the rain seemed to be coming if not daily then every 2-3 days and I was too frugal to wash it when I knew the car was going to get all muddy again immediately, probably with more catpaw prints. Finally, I was sitting in the car one day listening to the end of some NPR program when one cat jumped on the hood. He (sic) peered through the windshield at me and appeared startled. Then another cat landed on the roof and looked through the glass, equally startled. Both hesitated a moment, then exited the car. And I quit finding cats in the carport, except when Grady trotted by on his busy way to somewhere else.

A week or so ago, I came out to find at least 5 cats lounging or standing in the empty half of the carport, looking at me arrogantly as if to say, "What are YOU doing here? This is our place." Didn't recognize the faces except for Grady. Reminded me remarkably of a street gang hanging on the corner, except no one was smoking. Grady, exactly like some gang leader, growled irritably and herded the whole bunch off my port and around the corner of the house. Later that night I heard some cats yowling outside the window (again, why MY window?) and I think I've figured out the gathering. They haven't been back. The weatherman predicted a slackening of the rain. So I finally got it washed. Ahhhhh! You anal people who do this like clockwork will never know how wonderful it felt.

So I got to thinking about other cleaning or neatening rituals that feel as good. I don't get regular haircuts, either, and I am usually approaching bag lady coiffure when I finally decide I can't stand it another minute and race for a haircut. After which I am respectable. My hair is tidy. I feel so-o-o good.

Shaggy lawn, neatly mowed and edged. Ahhh!.With all the rain, it's been hard to get it done, and it doesn't stay done nearly as long, but it looks so good for a few days. (Need to get some more fire ant bait--the wet soil plus weed-eating has invited several new mounds of the hellish critters into my grass.) Except for the discreet little dirt mounds here and there, it looks great.

Getting my teeth cleaned. That slicky, clean feel to the mouth afterward.

Cleaning the house? Well, I like the effects, but I KNOW they won't last long, knowing me. So for me, it's transient satisfaction.

We overlook the daily joy of getting dirty and sweaty, taking a good shower and dressing in fresh clothes. That's creature comfort. Don't you know, when people bathed monthly or yearly or so, they itched? If they had only known. And clean sheets. When I was in social services, when neglect and/or abuse was severe enough to remove the children, one of the first things they noticed in the foster home was clean sheets, even the little bitty kids. I once met a millionaire who decided one thing he could change in his life when he became wealthy was to get a daily housekeeper and have the sheets changed every day. I thought the idea had real merit.

(sigh) yesterday it rained. Misted, really, but the car got splattered. Still looks pretty good, though. I'll wait a bit before the next wash job. Meanwhile, it's been a couple weeks since I washed the sheets. Think I'll go wash a load. Then maybe get a haircut. And buy some dark chocolate.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A little Foolery

You are Deanna TroiDeanna Troi
Jean-Luc Picard
Will Riker
Beverly Crusher
Geordi LaForge
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Mr. Scott
Mr. Sulu
You are a caring and loving individual.
You understand people's emotions and
you are able to comfort and counsel them.

Click here to take the "Which startrek character are you?" quiz...

To email this quiz and your results to your friends highlight and copy the results above and paste in an email.

To put the results of this survey on your website, highlight and copy the contents of the textbox belo


This is fun. (sigh) to take it, click on "Wandering Thoughts" on my links, and you will get a much more colorful display. Jean Luc. (Sigh) I always knew we could be soulmates. It's pretty close. DragonWatch seems such a kinder, gentler person these days. A little scary that he comes out Worf. Even John, just back from Afganistan, is Worf second, Deanna Troi first.

I guess I'm a pretty historically loyal Trekkie. I was surprised I remembered all the characters after all this time.

Summertime pre AC, and the Living Was Easy

Hmmmm. Warming up around here. Rain's finally stopping, but the humidity isn't, and the grass is growing almost visibly. Pretty, though. Mornings still cool. Some cooling off in the evenings. It's only days from the first 100-degree day.

I've raised the thermostat on the ac to something I can more possibly afford for the summer. And I think back to childhood again.

We didn't get a swamp cooler (window unit) which works extremely well in the New Mexico low humidity, until I was about eight or nine. A few years after that, we put in central air and heat.

But when I was a young girl, we had no airconditioning at all. What we did have was three big cottonwoods over the house and yard and the occasional breeze. And, of course, the fresh, cooler air in the mornings after the desert had cooled down overnight. Cool curled lazily in the shadows as the sun rose, even in the lacy shade of mesquite. The birds sang incredibly, ending with the "coo-coo, cooo-coo" of mourning doves. Their call is what I remember best about waking in the summer.

Mom and Dad let me sleep later in the summer. It was a treat for me, and I was aware even at the time, a treat for them. Dad ALWAYS woke at 6 a.m--poor guy couldn't sleep later even on vacations--and he would rouse and make the coffee. He would pour his cup, then later my mother's, doctoring it the way she liked with milk and surar, and set it on her bedside table when he woke her. My mother loved this bit of pampering--it was one of her favorite parts of their loving each other. She could then rise and sit, slowly waking up while drinking her perfect cup of coffee. In the summers when she didn't teach, they might go out on the porch to watch the sun rise over the mountains and just visit. They always had plenty to say. Sometimes I would rouse briefly to the rumble of my father's voice and my mother's laughter, then his. And I would subside back to sleep, secure in the music of my home.

And yeah, it really was that good. I was so very lucky.

I would wake while the morning was still cool and the mourning doves were calling, and walk barefoot to the kitchen, where Mom would be doing the morning dishes. A lot of time, breakfast was simply cereal and fruit, but I remember mornings when she had made French toast, coating each finished slice with butter, sugar and cinnamon. Not need for syrup. And bacon, and usually sliced cantalope. Dad planted a lot, so we ate a lot. And figs, and peaches and apricots. We were dirt poor about then, but I didn't know it for years. Kids with full bellies don't.

And I would play. This was necessarily alone, because we lived out from town and the nearest neighbors were at least a half-mile away. Dad had planted Four-O-Clocks along the irrigation ditch, and I had set up my imaginary community there, setting up little cardboard houses and roads, And yes, I had a couple of little die-cast cars. Sometimes the irrigation water would be running and I could wade. And I could climb the trees. One tree was a lot harder to master than the other, but I finally did, and found a fork that gave a perfect view of the hanging nest of Baltimore Orioles about 50 feet away. I spent hours one summer watching them build the nest then raise their chicks. Mother would come outside every few minutes and call me. "Here", I would call, and she would see I was still in the tree, then go back inside. Sometimes she would fix the two of us a Coca Cola over ice and we would sit on the lawn chairs and talk while we drank the special treat.

After I was about 3, I don't ever remember playing with dolls, except the ones with real hair I could comb, and I would make up stories for them to act out, doing all the voices myself, of course. I probably would have loved Barbies.

The kitchen was on the west side of the house. We ate our big meal at noon, so it wasn't unusual for mother to get a jump on meat loaf and vegetables by 10 or 11, to dissipate the kitchen heat before the afternoon sun came in.

One of my favorite meals was her simple summertime supper. We would stop by the butcher's counter and she would get two slices each of all the cold cuts--balogna, salami, olive loaf, chopped ham, liverwurst, that I remember definitely. Then she would get some cucumbers and onions from the garden, peel the cucumbers and slice them in salt water with ice cubes she stuck in the refrigerator a half-hour or so.
Then she dumped the saltwater and mixed apple cider vinegar and sugar in a little more ice water, slicing in the onions, and leaving the whole to marinate till supper.
She would slice garden ripe tomatoes and fix whatever fruit was ripe. We had wholewheat bread and I might make a sandwhich with Miracle Whip, fresh tomato and the meat of my choice, with a big helping, probably seconds, of the cucumbers. No heat. Not one burner on. Smart. And still one of my favorite memories. I think some of that was with the cold cuts, I actually had a choice. I loved it all.

In New Mexico, it is so dry you don't often have sweat rolling very far. It dries first. I was 18 and in Dallas when sweat rolled all the way down my back for the first time, and I thought it was a bug. I didn't "glow." I sweat like a horse that has been steeple chasing. The plus is, that's also when I learned my hair was naturally curly.

Mom would always put me in the tub about 4 p.m., so I would be fresh and clean when my daddy came home. First she had to drag me in, then she had to drag me out. But after having curtailed my fun in the dirt one day, I was enraged to hear my father say, "You need a bath. Just look at you. You're dusty all over." Well, I informed him, I had so had my bath and this was (sadly, I realized) the color of my suntan--dust brown. He apologized.

Later I never could stand to lie in the sun over 10 minutes or so to suntan, so I never tried the baby oil and iodine of my childhood. I was stuck with a smooth, but dust brown tan.

Meantime, I remember the years without air conditioning, but without the misery they were in so many other climates. Most nights it cooled off enough to open the windows and pull a sheet, or even the bedspread over. And cold fresh vegetables and fruits out of the garden were a great way to beat the heat.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Nobody Wants To Be Chicken Little

I was listening to a woman talk about her book, written in 2004, called "Flight of Terror." Eight Middle-Eastern men boarded a domestic flight separately but were obviously together. They performed several maneuvers, iincluding patrolling the aisles, spending up to 15 minutes in the bathrooms, one time leaving a phone there. The apparent leader rushed the cockpit door, then shied away at the last moment. Two air marshals were on board but did nothing. She said the leader finally made a slashing motion over his throat and they all sat down again. She said passengers were praying and crying. But no one did anything. They weren't quite sure what was going on. She reported what she saw and was labeled an alarmist. The reason for the news interview now was that a Homeland Security report has come out verifying what she reported. She said apparently one of the air marshals was fired.

What I find interesting is that the passengers were afraid, but they did nothing. They knew something frightening was going on but they weren't quite sure what. They didn't know what to do, and they didn't act. After all, there were two marshals on board and they weren't doing anything so what---? I think we are often like that, that beyond the "don't get involved" syndrome we often attribute to community crimes is the literal fact we will die--or let someone else die--rather than be embarrassed. What if we are wrong? We will look like idiots.We might be impolite.

I think it was last week a nurse called 911 in Dallas and reported seeing a man with an assault rifle entering the hospital premises. Police responded and a search revealed the reported individual was actually carrying a prosthetic leg over his shoulder. Everyone had a good chuckle. I bet the nurse felt like a doofus.I wonder how quickly that individual will make another call?

I've made three 911 calls. The first was years ago when the college girls upstairs were having an apparently very fine party and they all went out on the balcony about 3 a.m. It sounded like they had all moved into my living room. They were still partying hearty when the police arrived., which I knew by the BAM, BAM, BAM police knock I could hear even downstairs in my bedroom. And yes, I could have gotten up, dressed, and gone upstairs and asked them to quiet down myself, but I didn't want to.

The second was three years ago. Got a new neighbor who seemed like a nice young woman with a good job history (I talked later with the manager). About a month after she moved in, she quit going to work. The car disappeared soon after that. She played mood music *BOOM da-da- BOOM) rather loud at all times until about 9 or 10 p.m. whiile various men came by singly for an hour or so at a time every day. There were signs of drug use. One night I came home and she was having a party in her carport with about 30 people in the carport. Everyone looked at me drive in. All had stony faces which I found somewhat intimidating. Later that night, she was arguing loudly with a man in the front yard. Both voices were heated and escalating. I listened a few minutes, then called 911. It sounded like she was about to get hurt. After I called, however, they went inside, and when the police came, the couple didn't answer the door. A sergeant and two patrolmen came. And yes, I felt like a doofus. I have no idea if she was hurt. I hadn't heard any sound of blows from inside my home. I will admit I wanted them to know police were called in this neighborhood for altercations like that. We have not had another.

The last was about a month ago, and again, I almost didn't call out of embarrassment. This time, I heard a big bore rifle shot somewhere north of my place late at night. Five minutes later I heard another shot, then another gun. Nothing else. Call? Don't call? I explained to the operator that I had been around quite a few guns and knew what I was hearing, but not where, except north of my home in the middle of the city. Confessed to Law Son, telling him I had doubts about making the call. He told me cheerfully he was glad I did. I have to wonder how many folks waver on that call/do't call dilemma and choose don't call out of embarassment and doubt. And I'm still curious who was shooting and why late at night.

Maybe it's just as well most of us decide not to call. Too many nosy parkers could jam the phone lines. Sometimes, though, it's the call made before someone gets injured or killed that makes the difference.