Monday, November 26, 2007

Oh, Tannenbaum, how lovely are your branches!

Trees for Troops is an organization that got off the ground three years ago. This year AmEx is assisting. Contrary to the name, most of the trees are not going to the troops, but to their families, who have very little money to pay for fresh trees.
The growers are donating much of their expense, and Amex as well. Here's the thing--they need you-or someone like you--to buy a tree or two. You can do this on-line this weekend or get a list of places you can go by to make a donation.

This is no big, huge mega organization. Three years ago they distributed 4,700 trees. This year they plan to distribute 17,000 to 20,000 trees. In Texas, most of the trees will go to families at Fort Hood or Lackand.

What does a tree mean to someone? I don't know. I only know as an adult, my sons and I went out one holiday year to pick out the tree and here was this white pine. The tree of my childhood. And very pretty. My dad liked them because he said the branches were far enough apart to really see the individual ornaments. Oh, but that tree was so much more than pretty. It was a whole childhood. Both my parents were gone. I had an uncle who sent us $150 each year. He didn't know it, but his annual gift paid for the tree, the food, and any gifts I could eke out (one was always a paperback book.) But that tree. It was twice the price of the regular trees. I looked and looked at that tree, but I couldn't justify paying for that tree. So I started to turn around to leave when my older son grabbed my arm. "Mom," he said, "get it Let that be your gift to yourself this Christmas."

And so I did. And it WAS my Christmas gift. It spread our home with the scent of balsom, sparkled beautifully, shimmered as I played Christmas carols and listened to my children laugh. A tree can be mighty special.

I can't remember most of the Chrismas presents I've gotten in my life, but I'll never forget that tree.

So this weekend, consider a donation to Trees for Troops. You might just put in a little magic for some kids missing their parents at Christmas.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Countcher blessings and quitcher bitching

Some years back, I was making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. I was using an old, glass pie plate that certainly was inexpensive, but old enough it was deeper than its counterpoints today. The crust was already rolled out and lying in the pan as I combined the ingredients for the filling. The oven was heating.

Suddenly, I had one of those moments where I felt so connected to the generations before this present moment. My grandmother, who married in the 1890's, had bought this plate--I don't know when--and used it. My mother had made pies in this plate. And here was I, making my filling from my mother's recipe in a 1935 church cookbook, before stoves had thermostats. Recipes called for a hot oven or a moderate oven or a warm oven. My mother's recipe differed from most modern pumpkin pie recipes in its use of ginger. It always seemed to me her pumpkin pie was just a little better, but that may simply have been love and tradition. But there I was, at the kitchen counter, making a pie as my mother had, as my grandmother had, using the same dish. And for that moment, we were connected. I wasn't a lone woman standing there but a link in a chain of women, each of whom had loved the next generation and cooked for them. And, I feel quite sure, giving thanks for what they had. Because I DID know those women.

When I was growing up, there was always seven for dinner--my three grandparents, my uncle, my parents and me. We raised turkeys, so the bird was very fresh. Dad made the dressing the night before. (As I've blogged, I've come to wonder where he learned to cook, because he did, quite a bit. And he always made the stuffing and cooked the turkey.) As I got older, he delighted in showing me how he made the stuffing. The secret, he said, was to go by the smell. He cooked and stirred until it SMELLED right.Celery and onions, and he always added a finely diced apple. Fresh cornbread, still hot from the pan. Stale bread that had been bought a week before and sat on the refrigerator getting stale. Less bread, I think, than cornbread. Salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and a little sage. Smelling right had to do with the spices. A can of chicken broth,maybe, or more likely or he would boil the neck for broth, to provide the flavorful moisture to bind it together.Then refrigerated overnight to ripen the flavors.

The next morning he would waken at 4:30 a.m. to stuff the turkey with the dressing, saving enough for an 8X8 pan for my mother, who preferred a dryer stuffing with giblet gravy. It went in a large roaster and into the oven. In those days before infusion, he was pulling it out every 15 minutes or half hour to baste it again. His turkeys were always juicy and flavorful. I would awaken to the wonderful aroma of baking turkey and stuffing throughout the house, in addition to the possible breakfast smells like frying bacon. Since the turkey had to stand for awhile when he pulled the finished bird out before he could cut it, there was plenty of time to cook mother's stuffing and the Hubbard or acorn squash, each with their pat of butter and salt and pepper. They weren't SO bad, just not my favorites, but my history buff parents insisted that at the first Thanksgiving, the Indians brought squash and maybe succotash. THAT I really liked. Mashed potatoes, and no, we didn't do gravy, unless someone wanted to use the giblet gravy, and I think some did. Mother always made a sweet potato casserole, too, which we ate on the day, and she mostly threw away a few days later. A relish plate full of cut celery stalks, black and stuffed olives and maybe sliced dills. Mother served store-bought rolls, but always put out a compote of cherry preserves. Cranberry sauce.And then, while I carefully cleared the table, Mom would go whip the whipping cream to go on our slices of pumpkin pie.

Grandaddy was a Methodist minister, and we always asked the blessing before meals anyway. The Thanksging prayer was longer, but, I think, pretty interesting as he thanked the Lord for stuff I had just taken for granted during the year.Much conversation and laughter. A lot of love at that table.

The first time my husband took me to his grandmother's in Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, I realized how different holiday customs can be. Here, too, was custom and tradition. The same white tablecloth. But my word. First, his cousin and her husband and his aunt and uncle were there, as well as his mother and brother and us and his great-aunt. Secondly, there was a turkey and a ham and was there a roast? maybe. Dressing, and her recipe required eggs and was baked outside the turkey and was delicious. Giblet gravy and regular gravy, and yep, the same store-bought rolls, and at least three kinds of congealed salads and green bean casserole and...I can't possibly remember. Fruit salad with marshmallows, melt in your mouth pound cake and at least three kinds of pie. I think it was more like five kinds. And again, a lot of laughter and conversation. There was a lot of love at THAT table, too.

As I like to think there was at my own. I never provided the bounty his grandmother did, but I added ham to the turkey and extra dishes. One year, instead of turkey or ham, we had fried quail breasts and grilled sirloin steak. And I made more than one dessert. Some years, we invited friends to join us, and my late brother-in-law and his children were regulars at the table for several years after his wife was killed in a traffic accident. I have not cooked such a meal since the arthritis hit about 10 years ago. I am struggling to get back some of my coping skills to do more than simple cooking now, but it will be awhile. But in my whole life, I have never sat at table for Thanksgiving with anyone but people I really liked and enjoyed. Something to be thankful for.

Friday, on the radio, several persons were sharing stories of Duty Gatherings, where at least some if not all the persons dislike or feel contentious about the others and someone always takes umbrage, grabs their family and storms out. A friend told me she had a Duty Thanksgiving which wasn't so bad because they mostly got along and the food was good. But there was no question of her spending the holidays with her parents. It Wasn't Allowed. And this doesn't even get into the nasty drunk family member who destroys the peace. I guess, maybe after a few years, you get used to it? But how horrible to say, "I have to go" rather than "I want to go."

But this is the holidays, the time of illusion, where fantasy is in full force. Someone was saying recently that this is no longer a period of truth, but of image. So many of us care more about the appearance of how things are to the reality. (Huh. wonder how holiday dinners are for members of Congress.) There are as many expectations and traditions as there are families.

I simply give thanks this year for the many, many happy holidays I have shared and the love my family has shared. How lucky, lucky I have been.

One man on the radio said his family, he and siblings all grown, were simply having more and more trouble with a traditional dinner since his mother's death. She had always done it. Getting together wasn't the problem, they all really like each other. But a few years ago, they said the heck with it, pulled out the grill and had a delicious holiday meal of grilled hamburgers and French fries. It was, he said, a great relief. Makes sense to me.

Well, next week is round one. The easy one. Just a meal and family. The big, complicated doozy of a holiday is ahead. I'll probably run into you at Walmart sooner or later. (Did I mention I really hate to shop, almost ANYtime?) But at some time, maybe not till Christmas Eve but sometime, I will get to awe and wonder. And then all will be well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Cheerleader Drugs in Modern Medicine

Somehow, a cookie must have followed me home, because now almost every time I open e-mail, I've got three offerings for Viagra.Other than deleting, I don't know what to do, but it is mildly irritating. Before the Viagra showed up, it was offers for mail order drug programs. At least there was some logical chance I could use those.

When I read a magazine, there are always several pages advertising drugs ranging from antihistimines to heartburn remedies,and antidepressants,to hormone therapy to rather mysterious ads that advertise drugs whose use I can't figure out.

The radio also abounds with drug ads.

I understand there is a plethora of drug advertising on television as well. When I moved into my current home six years ago, there was no aerial and I refuse to get cable,so I seldom watch television. But plenty of ads are out there. People with tivo tell me they escape the deluge by simply deleting the advertising on the shows they watch.

Is the advertising effective?

At the same time all this advertising is hitting the public, drug company reps are hitting the doctors, leaving boxes of samples for the doctors to try on their patients. Or refill orders when the doctors have started using them.
Patients show up with a wish list of drugs they want to try and discuss it with their doctors. Sometimes they have conditions that contraindicate what they want to try, sometimes not. Sometimes the doctors have a good supply of what the patient wants to try and there seems no harm, so off they go with a handful of samples to try before coming back for a prescription. So yes, use of those drugs is up. ca-ching!

Then let us not forget the surgical ads. Knee replacements with specific brands is a frequent one I hear. Now a partial knee replacement. Lap-band surgery to control weight. I read in a national news magazine recently (don't remember which one) that an increasing number of parents are getting the surgery for their teenagers, even when they are not morbidly obese. And (shudder) that creepy facelift surgery where they don't really cut but thread string through the muscle and suture it at the sides of the face to lift the desired area. (I did see some video on this and it gave me the creeps). And, of course, laysic(sic) surgery for better vision.

The surgical ads are effective, too.

Apparently, we consumers who are howling about the high price of our meds, mean only those meds that basically keep us alive, like blood pressure, heart and vascular meds, diabetes, etc. No ads for those. Maybe it's the fact we don't get to choose. I just know the American public is asking for more medical drugs and procedures than ever before. And I marvel at the effects of the advertising, because that has to be a factor.

Now consider the kid watching cartoons who asks for the toys advertised during the commercials. And we chuckle indulgently at the susceptibility of our children to tv advertising.

Well, folks, you are all grown up. And you see an ad for this medication or that medical procedure, and you say, ooooh, gotta have it. You don't even listen to the possible side effects.

To me, the kids make more sense.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Warming of Bank Customer Service

Had a visit at the bank recently. I've had an account forever in one of the large, mega-size banks (partly because they have ATMs all over the place.) After all these years, never once have they offered a service that would save me money. So I was intrigued when they said something about coming in to cut my service charges. I made an appointment to be there.

The day of my appointment, I overslept and had an earlier appointment. I threw on some clothes and dashed out the door. After that appointment, I stopped at a restaurant for some soup, then moseyed over to the bank, getting there on the dot.
I ran my hand over my clothing, automatically smoothing and tucking any tags that had come out.

Whoops. That's when I learned I had my shirt on wrong side out. I hate when that happens.

Well, I was on time, so I went in. And indeed, the bank wanted to change the designations on my accounts, leaving the account numbers alone. I shouldn't be paying ANY charges, the young man said. Click. It was done. Anything else he could help me with? he asked. I asked if there was anything he could do about the over-frequent promotional materials the bank was sending me? All I wanted each month was my statements. He said he believed he could do that, went somewhere else on the computer and clicked. We'll see, but I'm pleased overall. He tried to sell me a bank credit card, which I refused. Then I asked for info on how to go online to check my accounts and make payments. He set up my user password and gave me three pages of instructions to utilize it. So now, maybe, I won't be quite as much a disosaur as previously.

We parted most amicably, me having rather warm feelings for my bank for the first time in oh, 13 years.

I brought this up at Yahzee later that week, and the others agreed: banks have had a sea change. They are warmer, friendlier, offering actual services. A financial friend we all know says it's because of the competition among too many banks, and a bunch of those banks are going to go under in the next few years. Oh, well.

In the meantime, the season of bank warming towards the customer feels very nice.