Tuesday, December 31, 2013

GLITTERY CHAPEAU INTO THE AIR!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Sixty is a big number.  It is nowhere near my age, thank you very much.  But it does make seconds into minutes and minutes into hours and then just a general snowball of the passage of time like the "Days of Our Lives" egg-timer turned upside down, flooshing sand away. But my egg timer is very big and still full of sand.

You are now reading Post #60 of the stupendously successful blog, RANDOMONIUM otherwise known as tocatchathought.blogpot.com.  This time last year I had no idea that I would actually sit down and begin this process.  The thought had crossed my mind, barely.  I was always the one who would jump in the pool (fully clothed) in September or March or November just to get the attention and as long as someone was there to pull me out.  Finally, I decided that attempting to write a blog was just like jumping in the green pool water.  Couldn't hurt and might be an adventure just waiting to happen.  And if it didn't work, I could just pull the plug.

So that is the story of this page.  Other than the daily habits required to maintain a healthy person like eating, sleeping and watching t.v., sixty has been a hard number to come up with.  Other great non-accomplishments not numbering sixty in the past year.  I know I haven't cleaned the house sixty times this year or ironed sixty garments thanks to my steamer and no-iron fabric and the cleaners.  I haven't read sixty books but I have been reading much more and know I have read for more than sixty hours.  Horrible confession: I haven't danced or exercised for more than sixty hours so obviously I could stand to lose sixty pounds. 

I have spent more than sixty hours figuring out this piece of tile, and grout colors, and paint colors and drawer pulls and towels colors and this loo and that loo and mirrors and glass and quartz samples and entertaining and supervising the myriad of workmen involved in the process.  I know I have sat at the piano for more than sixty hours and plied my needle and thread into linen like butter for over sixty hours.  Fortunately, I have been able to travel for more than sixty hours.  And I have easily eaten more than sixty ounces of fresh Maine seafood - lobster, haddock, clams, oysters, scallops and halibut.

I was nine years old the first New Year's Eve I was allowed to stay up until midnight.  The other grandchildren were snug in their beds.  My Uncle Johnny had filled my receptive mind with every detail of the ball drop in Times Square, the tradition originally beginning at midnight in 1907.  Fitted out with party hats and noise blowers, Grandmama and I waited for the festivities to begin in the Library/TV Room.

Located on the front of the house, a room with a full wall of shelves became the library.  Besides books, the shelves held valuable family heirlooms and sentimental items like the hotel bell which had become dormant in the last year as they retired after years of  providing a comfortable hotel for locals and traveling celebrities.  In their new spare time, they had renovated a seventy year old falling down house into a  home that would be loved for many, many years.

Three large window seats held every book owned by the well-read families of three generations.  Thousands of conversations hung like spider webs on the forty-four plates leaning against the plate rail at the top of the ten foot ceiling.  A new green Naugahyde sleeper sofa faced the t.v.  A large braided rug made by Grannie, using wool suits and skirts, to waste not - want not, covered the painted floor. 

We were watching Guy Lombardo bring in the New Year on the new color television set which was a very new item at the time.  Grandmama and I were counting down the seconds.  Happy New Year!  I've been known to get a little excited in most situations and being that this was my first celebration to ring in the New Year, I did give it all my gusto.  Woo Hoo!  I flung my party hat up in the air.  And then I couldn't find it because it didn't come back down.  Because I had perfectly tossed my glittery chapeau like a ring at the carney games right on top of a small Majolica monkey vase that was probably already an antique belonging to a great grandmother.  YALAW!  That made the evening more exciting, of course.  Nothing was broken but I do think the little monkey was moved up to some higher shelves along with stern grandparent warnings. 

But it was still a great celebration with my grandmother.  And that also happened to be the year she turned sixty.  I've always liked this picture of her in school, dressed as a clown because it does capture her fun loving spirit and her beautiful dimples.  She is maybe 90 pounds dry but I have the sneaky suspicion she could also be 95 pounds soaking wet after a jump in a tempting pool.  I don't have proof but it does run in the genes.  Or it could just as easily be my grandfather's genes.  What's a girl to do?

One thing is for certain, I have invested over sixty hours since I began this blog August 12.  For me, it has been a great investment in learning and stretching my talent.  It has become a habit, for good and bad.  It is like a new person in my life that I am always wanting to talk to and catch up with.  It has given me a new viewpoint and a point of jumping off from. 

For the new year, a whole new experience I didn't have last January or February.  I do try to do my very best but there is always room for improvement.  You always hear artists say "this is a gift for me."  But it is not corny.  It is true.  This has been a tremendous gift for me.  Writing can make my head hurt or make me stand up and dance.  I take whichever.

To think that someone reads this and enjoys a word or thinks about something new or triggers an old memory, is humbling from my heart.  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I'm getting ready to throw my glittery chapeau into the air and shout  Woo Hoo!  Here's to sixty more!


Thank you!     Wishing you the most wonderful new year of all, 2014!


        




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

MIRACLE EYES

Sarah and Ezekiel caught my eye this Christmas season.  They were in two very different places.  But the gift these little children gave me this season has stayed with me.

I met Ezekiel at the grocery store.  On a day when grocery store lines were running about ten carts deep and every available bagger and checker were in position and working hard.  Everyone had milk and bread and eggs and frozen pizza and chips and Ravioli and tunafish and Vienna sausage and marshmallows and peanut butter.  Rations for an ice storm.  Or power outage or both.

Ezekiel did not bounce off the walls or swing on the basket or run back and forth begging for another item.  He stood politely and talked to his grandmother about the frozen pizza in their basket and how much fun they were going to have making it for supper.  I started chatting with her because I always chat with anyone within hearing distance or non-hearing distance.  I do not live in a solemn world. 

Then I began talking to Ezekiel.  He was also a willing chatter.  He was five.  He told me about school and the pizza.  I asked him if he had been a good boy.  Have you ever met a child who wasn't?  Yes, he had been good.  I asked him what he wanted for Christmas.  He said he wanted Santa to bring him paints.  And some kind of toy I have no knowledge of - maybe a game.  He said he was an artist.  And he was pleased that I was pleased that he was one.  He had done six pictures of his family and he liked to just sit and draw.  Smiling, I asked him if he would go home with me.  He smiled without hesitation and asked if he could bring his games with him.  His grandmother laughed and said she could loan him out.  I leaned down and told him that would be fun.  Then looking out from under his hood somberly, his bright eyes looked up at me and he whispered in the reverence only reserved for the most special things in a child's life.  "I love candy."  A smile broke across his face.  "But not too much."  Chocolate.  We agreed that was the best.  I told him since he was an artist he could draw pictures of candy.  His eyes shot sideways in the new thought.  I told him that people have jobs drawing candy packages and cookie and pizza packages.  The wheels were spinning.  I left there with a little soft spot in my heart for a delightful young man named Ezekiel.

Sarah caught my eye at church.  She was standing at the Advent Table with her family as they lit the first candle of the season.  She and her brother were a little more than eye level with the velvet covered table holding five candles.  Her mother lit one candle.  Our pastor began to lead us in prayer.  Sarah bowed her head and then looked up.  She wasn't looking at the crowd or at her parents or her brother.  She was looking straight into the candle as the spark burned on the candle's wick.  Her face glowed, reflected in the light of the candle so close to her.  The childlike amazement was in her eyes.  She barely smiled.  I went away from church that morning with a fresh view of the amazement of Christmas.

I have probably never talked to Sarah.  I do know her parents.  She has certainly not spent time telling me what she wants for Christmas.  I don't know if she likes frozen pizza or the color pink or chocolate candy.  I do know Sarah walks.  But in the fall, with school just starting, she suffered a very rare stroke and her precious young life was almost lost.  But now, both sides of her body work like a little girl's body should and she can almost run again.

I think of Mary, barely a young woman.  Making a journey to a new land of great difficulty.  On a donkey.  Better than walking, maybe.  Young, with only a new, inexperienced husband for support.  No mother or sisters to ease her path.  I see her eyes with tears, in excitement, fear and pain.  But her husband is steady and confident and protective.

Ezekiel and his talent.  His bright eyes smiling.  A whisper in his ears - you have the miracle.
Sarah smiling, running.  A whisper in her ears - you are a miracle.
Mary, riding into a new life.  A whisper in her ears - you carry The Miracle.

May you hear the whisper.




 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

THE LOST PERFECT CORNBREAD DRESSING PICS

I know Thanksgiving was dizzying enough without the added stress of worrying about the missing cornbread dressing photos in my post, http://tocatchathought.blogspot.com/2013/11/perfect-cornbread-dressing-turkey-day.html.   Especially when you were trying to get your mixture to sizzle at the two critical steps for awesomely perfect cornbread.  I guess there were no cornbread failures because I haven't heard otherwise. 

Just the other day, from out of the wonder of my computer world, I discovered the pictures of the finished chicken and dressing which created quite a bit of excitement in my little office environment.  While not of great importance at this time of the year, except that dressing knows no season in my way of thinking, I was happy to find I had not created a big glitch. 

Perfect cornbread dressing is possible and I now have the pictures to prove it!

Dry cornbread and sautéed veggies ready to mix


Everything well crumbled and stock added but not enough


More broth added, perfect consistency - a good hand


Cooked shredded chicken has been added to raw dressing and ready to bake


Hot from the oven, baked to perfection


Plated for your eating enjoyment
OceanSpray canned cranberry used for convenience



ENJOY!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

TRUCKING JOY ACROSS EIGHT STATES

I don't know about you but my tree came with a yellow ribbon, all the way from Oregon.  Maybe on a truck or maybe on a train.  But not on a ship or a bus or a bike.  What a wonderful place to be, in a truck or on a train filled with fir trees.  The garage smells delicious. 

Probably on a truck because there is not a train station near the tree store (big box, sorry local favorite florist but your trees are out of my price point, even though you know my name.)  The truck has made the 2,241 mile journey, which according to Google Maps should take thirty-two hours.

We hope our Christmas Tree Trucker was not expected to make the trip in such a fashion but he couldn't lollygag.  His trailer was full of woods, "lovely, dark and deep."  In a different journey but like Robert Frost's traveler in "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," our trucker couldn't stop and relax but a moment because
                   "I have promises to keep,
                       and miles to go before I sleep,
                         and miles to go before I sleep."                                 

Wow.  Can you imagine a 53' trailer, full of tons and tons of scratchy fir trees?  Maybe they were piled in boxes and then loaded.  Thousands of needles scratching the boxes with the slightest bump in the road.  Such a long road to travel.  Would it make him merry to carry his load, anxious to be such a bearer of joy?

From capital to capital, from the Willamette Valley to a dip in geography between the Ozarks and the Delta.  From a lush pacific region boasting Strawberry Festivals, Peony Festivals, a Wine, Pear and Cheese Jubilee, a Bluebird Day, a Jefferson Mint and Frog Jump Festival, Dahlia Festivals and a Pumpkin Merriment Party, to name a few.  Eight states away to another world of fests:  Watermelon Festivals, the Wye Mountain Daffodil Festival, Jewish Food Festival, Sixth Annual Elvis Haircut Day, Toad Suck Daze, Riverfest, Purplehull Pea and World Championship Rotary Tiller Race, and Bikes, Blues and BBQ.

Portland.  Boise.  Ogden.  Laramie.  Skirting Denver.  Salina.  Wichita.  Just barely missing Tonkawa.  Heading on down to Tulsa Town.  Passing Fort Smith.  Leaving London.  Cruising through Conway.  Crossing the Arkansas River.

The 6 -7 foot Douglas Fir is still supple and fresh.  Our batch of winter weather has certainly helped keep the tree supply winterized for all of us folks who just looked up and realized Christmas was around the corner.  And the winter weather has not helped my procrastinating preparation. 

I love Christmas.  Joy to the World was written just for me.  Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  I have learned a lot about angels this year while teaching my new favorite thing, my Ladies Sunday School Class, a dozen fun girls about my mother's age.  I don't teach, I just steer and occasionally throw a wild card into the mix.

But for a lot of people, this is a hard season.  Chronic illness can make merriment difficult.  Even good stress can add to chemical depressions.  People dealing with addictions.  The death of a beloved father, whether a month ago or three years ago.  Hunger for love, for food, for a warm, peaceful day.  We all want to feel merry in our hearts, complete with wrapped presents and a table full of home cooked favorites, surrounded by people who love us.




For me, two great truths are found on this ribbon.  First of all, this tree was planted and grown in the U.S.A.  The yellow ribbon or tag was attached to the tree manually.  Can you imagine doing that job over and over and over, and again?  My tree was a perfect tiny little green polka dot in a large tree farm where acres and acres are filled with trees to be harvested in different years.   

.......This tree was grown expressly to bring the joy of Christmas into your home.

They didn't have to include those words.  Sure, it is their business but it is also their statement.  This tree was grown expressly, on purpose, to stand in my study in the front window shimmering with white lights, covered with shiny ornaments made all over the world and a few made with the hands of a little girl.  A tree for my home.

......to bring the joy of Christmas.   Christians didn't begin to consider winter evergreens as symbolic until Medieval times and even then, because of the origins in ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures it was not accepted.  The Puritans had laws against Christmas decorations.  German immigrants are credited with bringing many Christian Christmas traditions to America.  The British Victorian tree greatly popularized the American decorated tree we enjoy today.  This is the historical viewpoint. 

I don't know the religious leanings of this noble tree farm, but for me, when I see the Christmas tree I see hope.  How wonderful to look out on acres of trees and know the joy they will bring.   I know the joy that gives me strength on the cold day.  The hope that gets me through the hard times of the season.  Love that knows my name.

May this Christmas be full of  joy, hope and love for you and those you love.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God,
and saying,
Glory to God in the highest.  And on earth, peace and goodwill to all men." 
 
Luke 2:13-14

              





 

Friday, December 13, 2013

SHIMMER OF THE SHINE

After taking off from ATL, I waited until the okay was issued for electronic devices.  I have my doubts as to why an IPOD would be detrimental to the computers flying the plane, but since my flying faith rests in the computer systems and the hands of the pilots, I would stand on my head the entire flight if such a request were made to ensure safety 37,000 feet up into the heavens.  And I do get by with a little help from my flying angels.

Adjusting my ear buds, I pulled the shade down and settled off to sleep listening to a classical piano track.  When I pulled up the shade, I found I had dozed all the way to NYC.  I am simple.  Seeing the city always excites me.  Or just seeing a highway sign pointing to the city.  I've only visited once, too long ago, but I was an impressionable seventeen and it was love at first sight. 

The autumn sun was shining on Manhattan and Central Park.  I smiled to think of all the lives being lived as I flew over, reminding me of my post, http://tocatchathought.blogspot.com/2013/09/count-leaves.html     The plane's route hugged the eastern seaboard until about Boston.  It looked as if a narrow white pencil had been used to outline where the sea touched the land.  We were still too high to distinguish more than what was already perceived as a building or small blips in the water that had to be ships. 

The plane edged out over the Atlantic, heading towards Maine but still in easy sight of the coastline.  As the plane descended, the faint white lines begin to show movement.  A few scattered islands begin to appear out from the land as if rocks had been skipped out from the beach, glancing the water eight or nine times before sinking into the water, done over and over by a meticulous hand in another time.  In descent, lighthouses began to be visible on top of the tiny islands and the white wash of waves grew broader against the gray stones.

Sun on the water revealed the rhythm of uncapped waves floating at the surface, rolling slowly towards the land like a blue lined page of paper but with broken places.  A darker, silvery blue color of water, currents, skimmed below in a second layer, in various widths like veins traveling across the first legs of the seafaring journey,  rivulets of rain following a random path down a cobalt mirror or tatted threads being pulled out to sea while the currents shuttle weave in pattern.

The gold of the sun.  The silvery blue.  The shimmer of the shine.   

My music man had already captured the moment.  The line came to mind.  From the air or from his sailboat, he had seen the magic in this water.  Now the wonder of those same Maine waters had caught my breath and my vision blurred.  For a few seconds, everything in my being rejoiced and worshipped, perfectly.

"On a high and windy island I was gazing out to sea
When a long forgotten feeling came and took control of me
It was then the clouds burst open and the sun came pouring through
When it hit those dancing waters in an instant all eternity I knew ."


Dan Fogelberg, Magic Every Moment from River of Souls  1993

****

All those years ago, the very first notes of his music captured my heart.  For something different, check out his Christmas Album on YouTube, The First Christmas Morning. 

          
 

 
This is my Dan Fogelberg homage on the bulletin board by my desk.  That is me on a long ago Christmas morning, holding my first album, his second release, Souvenirs.  I'm listening on my new Sony headphones.

Daniel Grayling Fogelberg    August 13, 1951 - December 16, 2007










Tuesday, December 10, 2013

THE CORNER IS THE DOG'S

You can't even turn your back on a nine year-old Australian Shepherd.  I did for about five minutes as I stepped back to my office to perform an awesomely important ritual in my little world - makeup application.  The barn needed painting. 

First layer of pencils
I've wracked my English Major education to come up with the origin of that quote, thinking my twin green Norton Anthology books would hold the answer.  But alas, this was before sticky notes and barely into highlighting markers.  My good Christian upbringing will hardly allow me to highlight a Bible verse let alone make a bright mark in a textbook.  Nothing but a good pencil for this girl's notes.  So who knows where the quote is hidden, maybe perhaps with Alexander Pope or Samuel
Johnson.  If anyone can give me the correct answer and end this agony I will send you a package of my favorite item to hoard, the best mechanical pencil known to me.  As you can see by the picture, I have a few to choose from.  Send me a gmail.

I had just sat down at my vanity (makeup place for vain women and when more extensive caulking is necessary) and jumped back up, running into the kitchen.  "Don't you touch that turkey," expecting to round the counter and find Oreo with half a roasted turkey breast down his throat.  This same sweet dog once availed himself of a newly replenished bowl of peppermints, gingerly procured from Aunt Eleanor's beautiful crystal candy dish on the coffee table.  The study carpet was littered with dozens of little wrappings but not a whiff of peppermint in the air by the time I returned home.

Paw marks in the right corner
 
He stood looking sheepishly at me but the turkey breast was untouched and the cookie sheet full of recently dressed nuts appeared unblemished.  I took a second look.  Oreo is not a big nut eater unless it is buttered and on bread with jelly or the tip of a cracker.  But on the corner of this well-used sheet there were scratch marks that only a curious dog paw could make.  Needless to say, this batch of nuts will not leave the house.

When I was growing up, we had a cat named Toogie.  One night my mother fixed a delicious pot roast, just one item in her arsenal of culinary taste treats.  If you cook, you know that on occasion a pot roast will exceed beyond what is expected and you could sit down and eat the whole thing, it is that good.  Such was the case with this exquisite meal.  My sister and I were in charge of the dishes and decided to lollygag in front of our new colored television.  We began to hear this very delicate sound like a drip but more like a fine licking. In the next instant, a little black cat head peered around the door facing, at countertop level.  Toogie's whiskers were completely coated in the pot roast gravy my mother had made just before supper.  We had left it sitting out on the counter for just a minute.

To my mother's credit, all she said was "Don't tell your Daddy."  Don't worry.  We didn't.  At dinner the next night, he poured the well-boiled gravy across his meat and veggie plate and declared, "This taste even better than last night."  Sister and I just about sputtered the potatoes right out of our mouths.

So if you do get some tasty nuts from the Taylors this season, don't doubt our quality control section.  Oreo is in charge of the corners.

                                           Nut dressing still in tweaking phase, ADG 12-4-13

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A GOOD SPIT IS ALL IT TAKES

Officially, as of this minute, the winter storm has begun.  "The precipitation has just exploded," according to the local weatherman.  Thank goodness, not in my corner of the world just yet.  I still need to go buy my extra gallon of milk. 

I did not grow up with snow although other parts of my wonderful state of birth regularly enjoyed the white stuff.  Occasionally, maybe an inch or two or a dusting of ice so thick we could handle it in chunks like a piece of steak (the thought of a child raised in a meat centric state.)

Now that I officially know that the precipitation has officially exploded about three hours to my north, I can relax.  After all, they will get all the inches of snow that everyone else would love to
Iced trees Christmas 2012
have.  In comparison, those of us lucky enough to live south of the interstate crossing the top of the state and dipping down and back up again into the attached eastern state, can only expect ice.  Ice is never fun even if it does remind you of a steak.

A quarter of an inch of ice coating will meld to the leftover leaves still attached and weigh down any limb.  There is hope that after last year's excessive Christmas Evening snowfall, the weak duds have been pared down by nature or the power company.  Fortunately, I have evergreens on one side and in the front of the house.  The front ones are taller than my house is deep, if you know what I mean.  Ice just loves pine needles.  It looks so pretty, all frosted and hanging low. 

My plan of action is as follows. The firewood is being delivered this afternoon so I have to go to the bank for a loan.  While I am out, I am going to run to the old-fashioned bookstore to pick up a self-help book on living with your spouse during an ice event.  Walking out the door to work, he remembered to tell me about his potluck with the Scouts, tonight.  He was very appreciative when I said I would fix Party Carrots.  I don't know if this is Party Carrots Recipe day but when it does occur, don't miss out.  It has changed lives for the better.  It is that good. 

I'm going to be productive as long as the electricity holds out.  I find myself wondering why we don't buy a generator in the summer.  We are not desperately in need though.  I do remember when a family member needed oxygen, worrying about electricity then.  I'm sure there are no gens left anywhere today, in anticipation of the exploding precipitation which is only going to spit in our part of the state.  But a good spit is all it takes.

Christmas is around the corner but I am not prepared to move in that direction. No tree, yet. Instead, I am going to cook up some goodies to give as gifts, the kind you don't have to wait until Christmas to give.  Another run to the grocery.  Burt came home with another pound of butter and another dozen eggs.  Bless his heart, I didn't have the heart to tell him I now had five pounds of butter and two dozen eggs but I still needed cereals, nuts, heavy cream, buttermilk and a chicken (for dumplings).  The one nice thing about the deep freeze of nature is that you can put your food outside or in the garage.

One of my favorite stores' catalogs came yesterday.  The best section was in the back - the winter vacation section and I don't mean the ski slopes.  All these lovely models in swimwear, sunning on nice boats and strolling sunny beaches.  A trip to somewhere sunny and beachy would be a great Christmas present.  I already have a new suit. 
http://tocatchathought.blogspot.com/2013/08/boys-of-summer.html

Of course, a person could travel to an African oasis and still not find enough warmth for swimming.  But I bet those Palm Trees never bend to even a wisp of spit!

Monday, December 2, 2013

ROLL ME IN GLITTER

Just spray me with glue and roll me in gold glitter but be sure and start the process around the end of July.  This will give the glued glitter time to set up because it has to last until almost December 31.  I will be ready to go with just a little feather dust up. 
Christmas Night 2012

I have a nice comfortable house which has been in the renovation process since April.  Today I came home bearing four new framed pieces for freshly painted walls.  Kind of like the icing on the cake, one would imagine.  More like the sprinkles.  Except the frosting is in sad shape.

Over the months, any and everything has been moved out of the old bathrooms and into the hall in preparation for sledge hammers, old fractured tiles, wall board, pulled up vinyl floors, buckets of grout, the fine dust of new plaster.  About half of the towels in our married life are residing on the dining room table along with every old bottle of hand lotion and every half-used bar of Safeguard in our family's existence.  We could open a Recycled Objects de' Room de' Nessessarie Shoppe.  Mismatch used linens (but really just mostly cotton).   Even a soft monogramed blanket from my childhood bed (my Father was in the business.) A good monogramed blanket is hard to find. 

At my core being, I am a very organized person, if I can stop long enough to finish each task.  So we live in a world of little things undone until we throw a party or serious company is coming to stay overnight.  Serious company would be anyone not listed in the will by reason of their distant relationship.  But a good party is always a good excuse to fix things up. 

Starting in the spring, one would think that everything would be finished and a distant memory.  And to some extent, most things are except for those little undone things like the towels and the ancient bed linens and the toiletries of undetermined origination date.  But nothing moves until I say so which is ridiculous I know.  But I don't want to put anything back unless it is put back in perfect order in perfectly sized baskets or whatever.  Which are already purchased and just waiting.

At first, when something is out of place, it can be mildly annoying.  But if it is just placed there and not in a tripping zone, the annoyance becomes less and less and the object begins to look like a piece of the landscape with occasional flare-ups of annoyance.  If great amounts of time pass, it can become invisible, almost, and totally lose the power it once held.

The box full of old towels just becomes commonplace to me and I begin to function nicely without needing it or even seeing it.  Just like rolling me in glitter and leaving me up against the wall.  Walking around the store throwing every color-coordinated holiday decoration into my basket so every year can be about the newest color and sparkle.  Those are holiday decorations.

My rebellious bent is on a streak.  I love others' decorations and stylized versions of holiday fare.  I do love color.  But I am just so old-fashioned when it comes to Christmas.  I don't want to listen to Bing Crosby sing White Christmas three times a day or hear O Holy Night every night on the radio.  Sometimes I feel that everything has just been sprayed with glue and rolled in glitter about three months too soon. 

Wanting my new baths to be perfect has delayed my progress.  I am stymied by the paralysis of "nothing will be acceptable but perfection."  So I am missing out on enjoying the newness because I'm so focused on the perfect process.  But no process is ever perfect.  As Rosanne Rosanna Danna would say, "It's always something."  She is right.  There are a few "somethings" I need to go work on, while listening to my favorite Christmas CDs.





Monday, November 25, 2013

RIGHTEOUS PATIENCE

I was walking around, thinking about being thankful, which is not a problem.  But this is my first Thanksgiving since becoming an official blogger and I wanted to think of something original.  Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year to stop and take measure of all the good in our lives.  Of course, it is even better if we do that daily.
                                                        Happy Thanksgiving!

When we sit down at the table around the turkey or the ham or the hen, we can't eat until we have said what we are thankful for in the last year.  And then we pray and start passing the dressing and cranberry sauce, eyeing the pecan and pumpkin pies on the buffet before the plate in front of us has even been filled.  Look, there is even more over there.  I better hurry and eat so I can get to the pie first.

The thought of the pecan pie dolloped in real whipped cream dangles like a carrot on an imaginary string hanging from the light fixture, barely at eye level but never out of sight.  You take a bite of the delicious cornbread sage dressing which took Mama hours to prepare.  Cut a bit of tender white meat and catch a smidge of cranberry jelly on the shiny silver fork which lives in dark seclusion with a family of silver, wrapped in soft blue silver cloths tied with grosgrain ribbon tucked in the drawer of the mahogany breakfront where treasured heirlooms sparkle on shelves just waiting to break out in holiday merriment.  She spent two hours standing at the kitchen counter polishing that very morning.

The pecan pie catches your eye, averting your eyes from sweet Grannie sitting across the table who loves nothing better than to hear every single word that comes from your mouth because we are special and well loved and almost perfect, to hear her tell it.  Her Sunday School class knows every time you won a spelling bee and when you graduated Magna Cum Laude from college and the color scheme of your new kitchen when you got married and moved away.  And she knows about their granddaughters, too. 

The smell of the clove in the pumpkin pie is calling out to Nathan and so is Josh as the phone in his lap lights up and the story Daddy is telling about winning the state football championship,which he tells every year on this weekend, is once again lost on Nate because some of the guys are going down to the river and he is immediately trying to figure out a swift exit from this family holiday meal but not before dessert.

Of course, Daddy is telling the story to gently remind everyone that football is being played as he speaks, without directly coming out with the words but he is bothered by the television hanging on a string from the light fixture wondering if it will hold before it drops in his lap or worse, in his plate of food because he did stand around outside in his L.L. Bean jacket to make sure the turkey was deep fried, assuring he would be in control of the situation.

Now a splendid shiny Disco ball is hanging on a string from the light fixture because Aunt Kimberly is practicing new dance steps under the table in preparation for the Dancing with the Stars Finale tomorrow night.  She is wearing her new Jessica Simpson shoes and the strappy sandals need to be worn a few times before she can actually stand upright but then she remembers her toes, wondering if they can fit her in at Hairspray Heaven this afternoon but only after she picks off all of the pecans on her piece of pie because she doesn't like nuts, just the goop and crust which her second cousin rolled out yesterday on a kitchen counter the day before Kim would come through the door with "her" homemade pie, claiming she had spent all day picking the pecans out of the shell and it just wore her out.

Uncle Jack is filling up on seconds of the green bean casserole his sister makes only for him because no one else in the family likes it.  But that is the way his sister is to everybody, always thinking of everyone first which does get tiresome to hear some folks tell it.  He cannot find fault with her because she is his only sister and has always been nothing but kind, even when he had to marry Kimberly who is really not like anyone they had ever known but she was still welcomed with open arms.  Now a baby crib is hanging by a string from the light fixture because Jack thinks he hears a creaking from the bouncy springs in the closest bedroom which Sister outfitted with a used baby bed she painted aqua before they knew if it was a boy or girl.  It was a boy.

Mama reaches for the olives.  She just loves olives.  They are her midnight secret.  When she gets up in the middle of the night to let Pepper out, she goes to get a glass of milk but when she opens the fridge and sees the jar of green olives stuffed with pimentos she pulls the pickle fork from the every day cutlery and spears three olives, at first.  Olive oil is good for you so she will stick the fork back into the brine a couple more times but she doesn't eat the olives from the fork because of germs.  She is very careful that way.  While she is munching on a black olive from the green depression glass pickle dish she pulled from the breakfront earlier in the morning before she polished the silver, she remembers the dog.

And she looks up.  There is the family dog hanging on a string from the light fixture.  Pepper, the Aussie mix, scratching his head as dog hair floats down and lands on the carcass of the half-eaten deep fried turkey which is next to the pan of cornbread sage dressing that looks like it has been attacked by an angry serving fork which was originally used for a slice of cranberry jelly and got his feelings hurt because he wasn't assigned to the dressing. 

She shakes her head and then opens her mouth in shock as the whole light fixture with a pecan and pumpkin pie, a television set, a shiny Disco ball, a baby crib and an Aussie mix Pepper each hanging on a string, cracks off the ceiling, falling apart onto the dining table, breaking stemware and food splattered plates.

"Well I never.  If everyone hadn't been so impatient, this never would have happened."  She takes off her copper colored Williams' Sonoma apron purchased just for Thanksgivings, folds it and puts it in her chair.  "You can eat pie without me.  The coffeepot is ready, just turn it on.  Robert Redford has a new movie out today.  Be sure and clean up, please."
  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

PERFECT CORNBREAD DRESSING - A TURKEY DAY POSTCARD

I don't think this will ruin my culinary reputation because we are a small, intimate group of folks.  Do you ever get a postcard (some people do still use the postal service to make personal connections while vacationing in Maine, delightful little PO on the island) that reads "Wish You Were Here!"?

And you think, "oh yeah, they really wish I was there with them, eating a Fish Sandwich (Haddock) while watching the waves breakdance on the rocks below at the foggy Pemaquid Point."  "I wish," you think, "but some of us have to work for a living."

                                            Rocky Pemaquid Point, Maine

Consider this my Thanksgiving postcard, only it reads "Wish You Had Been Here."  What that really means in postcard language is "I forgot to remove the lens cap" and there are no tantalizing pictures of the chicken and dressing I spent all day Saturday preparing.  Or the picture of the plate piled with dressing and the canned jellied condiment, all you can eat.

I did have the radio blaring (Florida/Georgia Line or Roar) and was probably dancing around the dog who velcros himself to the stove, sitting patiently waiting for chicken bits to fall from my fingers.  Burt, the amazing factoid machine, recently found an article claiming chicken is a dog's favorite food. I believe it because a stewing chicken would attract a whole neighborhood of dogs if I let them in the house. 

I will continue with the recipe because it will still work.  Of course, I have to go look for the blue sticky note I used to write down the recipe as I cooked.  When I am making dressing for just us, I don't follow a recipe and taste as I go.  But I promise, this time I wrote it down.  I did hold off on more sage because I know that sage is a personal preference.  I always use more than most folks.

I mix this up in my 8 qt. pot.  If the pictures had been available, you would see me wearing non-latex gloves but in truth, I usually use the best tools: very, very clean hands.

PERFECT CORNBREAD DRESSING

2 batches of perfect cornbread
1 stick of butter
2 cups each of celery and onion, sliced and diced
4 cups of homemade broth*
4 eggs
5 tsp rubbed sage
salt and pepper to taste

Add celery, onion and butter to skillet.  Cook on low until veggies are softened but not mushy.  Turn off heat.  In large pot, add cornbread and crumble up, smooshing it well with your fingers.  Think of this as playing with your food.  This will take a few minutes if done properly.  Next, add butter and cooked veggies to the cornbread mash and mix well.  Add cooled broth (not straight from the pot, too hot) and mix.  Add four beaten eggs and mix.  Add sage and mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  This should have a consistency between cake dough and cookie dough but not stiff. 

Pour into prepared pan but don't fill to the very top.  This will more than fill up a 9 X 13 stainless baking pan. I just don't have one pan big enough.  The more dressing there is in the pan the longer it will take to cook (which I have learned the hard way, waiting and waiting). Just use a another smaller pan.  Cook at 350 for one hour.  Insert fork in the middle to test for doneness.  Let it set for a few minutes before serving.

Don't even think of throwing a few crumbs of light bread into the mix.  However, I have known of cooks who have added dry cornmeal to reduce the mix if too much broth is added.  The nice thing about dressing is that you can make it the day before and take your time to get it right.  I had never even made dressing until about ten years ago and never with a recipe.  Good luck.

VARIATION:  To make Chicken and Dressing, used cooked meat from Chicken Broth.  Skin and bone breasts well.  Shred meat and toss into the uncooked dressing.  You can also spread the meat on top and press it down into the uncooked dressing before cooking.

We love fresh cranberries in my house but do keep canned on the shelf for convenience between times. 


***CHICKEN BROTH

4-5 large chicken breasts -
      WITH skin and bones still intact
3-4 stalks of celery and celery leafs
2-3 carrots
1 onion, quartered
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken breasts in pot and pour enough water to cover completely.  Add vegetables and salt and pepper.  Stew on stovetop for about an hour but depends on size of meat.  I always check my chicken with a meat thermometer to test doneness.  Keep on a low boil until cooked thoroughly.  Makes good broth, better than canned!


The pot pictured on the right came from The Elk Hotel kitchen, my grandparents' hotel, once located on the corner of the square in the county seat, when the county square was the center of all commerce and communication. 



#SIZZLE - PERFECT CORNBREAD - NO STICK GUARANTEE

 
Butter melting on a slice of Perfect Cornbread

Any good Southern cook worth her weight in Crisco can stir up a fitting pan of cornbread, worthy of all the purple hull peas, fried okra, butter beans, sliced tomatoes, fried eggplant, cooked squash and new potatoes that might have the honor of residing on the same plate with this crispy delicacy.  But there are new cooks rattling the pots and pans every day.  This recipe is for the new cook of any region seeking an authentic quick bread to serve with soup, beans or meat and three.  Or maybe the experienced cook who can't get the cornbread to pop out of the skillet without sticking.  If it starts out in a packet or a little blue box, it is only an imitator hoping to achieve greatness.

I have mentioned Perfect Cornbread previously, Pea Salad for a True Southern Repast 9-1-13.  The original recipe came from a cookbook that looks like a checkerboard tablecloth which was a wedding present of my Mother's.  This is the only recipe I ever use.  I don't mess with perfection.  I learned the secret to good cornbread at my Mamaw's knee.  It's all about the sizzle, two sizzles to be exact.

1 cup of flour                                                     
1/4 cup of sugar                                        
1 tsp salt                                                   
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup yellow cornmeal                             
2 eggs
1 cup of milk    
1/4 cup of shortening


Yes, this recipe does have sugar in it.  Now I am a die-hard Southern cook, except in this case, but a little bit of sugar only sweetens the pie and will get you lots of compliments.  Infact, I have never made it without.

Add flour, sugar, salt and baking powder to a mixing bowl and mix up.  Put your cast iron skillet on the stove over a good heat, a bit more than medium.  Add the shortening to the skillet so it can get melt and get hot.  Add cornmeal to the flour mixture and mix.  Add two eggs and 1 cup of milk to the dry mixture, mixing everything together very well with a fork. 

Watch your grease. (Do not ever walk away from a stove when heating shortening.)  When it is hot (just learn by doing) pour the hot grease from the skillet into the wet mixture.  You should hear a sizzle (1).  The picture to the right is just after pouring the hot grease into the mix. 

Put the skillet back on the hot stove and add a good dollop of shortening.  This will melt while you are stirring the hot shortening into the wet cornbread mixture. When the second round of shortening is hot, pour the cornbread mix into the skillet, still on the stove.  You should hear a sizzle (2).

Using a mitt, put the skillet of cornbread into the oven at 425 for 20 minutes.  It will be done but you might want to check it and turn down oven (5-10 degrees) if too brown on top.  Using a mitt, remove from the oven and flip the skillet of cornbread onto a cutting board or heavy plate.  And then using another plate, flip it back to the desired side.  You can play with that.  If you have done all of this correctly or even mostly correct, it will jump out of the skillet for you!  Enjoy!

Now that you can make Perfect Cornbread you can move to Lesson 2, Perfect Cornbread Dressing. 

Perfect Cornbread hot from the oven!
 
The backside of Perfect Cornbread
 
 
 
For even more background on Cornbread, check out my post,                                          
The Nascar Cornmeal Conspiracy 11-11-13


                                                                                  








Friday, November 22, 2013

THANK-YOU MR. PRESIDENT

My earliest memory is running down a street hanging onto my mother's hand and my sister in her arms.  Mama is in tears.  The neighbor lady opens her door and we walk into the house.  The mothers put down their children and collapse into each other's arms, crying, crying and crying.  I just remember I didn't understand why.

How could I understand?  How could anyone understand?  I recognized confusion and anguish about what was going on in my world and an even bigger world.  I do remember sitting down in front of a borrowed black and white television and watching a funeral where there were children just like me, except they were with their mother and I was at my house with my mother and father.  I could feel the world stop even if I didn't know why.  I remember the weighted nothingness of those days and the immense sadness of whatever had happened. 

I doubt I had any idea about a President of the United States until that horrible day in Dallas.  But because of that day and from that time forward, I was raised with a true reverence for the President.  My interest in all things presidential has been a lifelong endeavor.  Growing up, we stopped at every Presidential birthplace and Presidential home along our travels.  I loved to read books about the presidents, their wives and families.  I was a wealth of information.  I might not understand the politics but I knew a lot of background information.   

When I was a baby in the fall of 1961, President Kennedy came to town to visit House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who was dying of cancer.  Mama, and her friend, Rosemary, bundled up their two babies and went to Baylor Hospital to see the President.  Mama said there were about fifty to sixty people also waiting.  When Kennedy stepped out, the young mothers held up their babes in arms.  Although he was only about fifteen feet away, he didn't stop to kiss any babies on that day.  But my Mother was amazed at the auburn color of his hair which didn't show up in the black and white era of the time.

My first encounter with a President was maybe a glimpse.  But through the years of my life, Presidential sightings have been a very real thing.  I have seen all the Presidents in my lifetime except for Dwight Eisenhower #34 and Gerald Ford #38.  Before, during and after.  Nothing beats the thrill for a patriotic heart to hear "Ruffles and Flourishes" followed by "Hail to the Chief" and the presentation of the President.  Politics aside, it is a tremendous honor to be in the same place with the leader of our nation.

Nixon was the first President I was interested in, along with my classmates.  We had a mock election at school.  For some reason, he was like a hero to me.  I did get to see him twice and I even received a personal letter from him in response to a handmade get well card when he was hospitalized.  Growing up in Texas, my family made a trip to Austin to see LBJ and Ladybird at the Johnson Library.  He gave a speech and I was standing nearby.  When you make eye contact with someone, you know it.  It was an exciting trip.

I was only fourteen when Gerald Ford was sworn into office.  Like the rest of the country, I had followed the Watergate Hearings and Nixon's resulting resignation.  This would not be the last time I was disappointed by a President.  I liked Ford because he reminded me of my Daddy, in a certain way.  Only weeks into office, the Fords dealt openly about Betty Ford's Breast cancer in a time when personal health issues were not discussed publicly.  This willingness to be forthright opened the door for womens' health.

Carter was President when I graduated from high school and into my college years.  As an adult, I have come to respect him and his endeavors for world peace.  I imagine he won't be teaching Sunday School much longer but I would love to be able to go to Plains and be a student for one class.  Rosalyn Carter's leadership in the fight against the stigma of mental illness has been remarkable.

Ronald Regan and I "met" as we were walking in opposite directions down a hall.  He was in town for a pre-candidate press conference which I was covering as a high school reporter.  He nodded his head and said "hello."  It was just the two of us hurrying along.  He turned out to be the first President who got my vote.

Burt and I headed downtown in the fall of 1988 to see George H. W. Bush campaigning for votes.  This election would be my last foray into the Republican arena. 

I remember clearly the first time I met Bill Clinton.  He was running for Attorney General of Arkansas.  Headquarters was in an old house downtown and my handbell choir was painting offices to raise money for a choir trip.  He was leaning up against the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee in his hands, talking to friends.  The next time was at a meeting of Young Democrats in my high school.  I remember coming home and telling my mother that he was going to be President someday.  At the time, I never could have imagined my words would prove true and the impact his political career would have on my life and those related to me.  The thrill of victory and the crushing blow of human failings.

Barak Obama came to town the weekend before a big state election.  We arrived early and were able to get a seat on the steps just feet below the microphone.  No podium.  Very casual.  When he spoke, Obama looked about at the audience.  For a few seconds, eye contact is made with an individual.  For me it is not a feeling of "oh, he looked at me" but instead, a feeling of one to one conversation, a real connection.

I hoped to see Ford at the Opening of the Clinton Presidential Library but he was too ill to attend.  Presidents Carter and George W. Bush were added to my list of those I've seen.   

Fifty years ago today, the motorcade route was lined with people, the windows of the buildings facing the street were full of people looking out to catch a glimpse of President Kennedy.  My father watched from a window as the motorcade passed the store.  He had seen the President.  Everyone was excited.  In just minutes, their elation turned to shock and disbelief to hear that the President had been shot.  Dallas would shut down at the news of his death.  The nation fell into a deep mourning.

The next day my family drove back downtown and placed flowers at Dealey Plaza.  On Sunday, we went to church.  My mother remembers a note being passed up to our minister during the worship service.  At the end of his sermon, Dr. Herbert Howard prayed for the soul of Lee Harvey Oswald.

As a girl growing up in Dallas, the assassination would often shadow my thoughts.  It set a pall on the city for many, many years.  Driving to my aunts and uncles we would drive the exact lanes followed by the motorcade.  I would know where we were passing.  Life could not be stopped.  A major thoroughfare could not be closed.  Coming back home on the opposite side, I would look up and see the Book Depository.  I poured over the books full of photographs and words, trying to fill in the parts I did not have memory of.  Later, watching news reports in the following years, over and over hoping the film would not show the President falling forward and the First Lady jumping up.  I know that sounds crazy but that somehow history could be changed.

Of course, that is something everyone would wish for, history changing.  My parents had not voted for Kennedy.  Under the blue Texas sky, a thief in the daylight had murdered our nation's leader.  The President belongs to all of us, whether we think of ourselves as Democrat, Republican, Independent or just don't care.  Red state.  Blue state.  Purple house.  It doesn't matter.  We are all red, white and blue.  I'm tired of all of our division.  We are the worst threat to our beloved nation.  We have more freedoms than any nation and yet all we seem to focus on is "you shouldn't do that" or "we won't do this."   

We have seen what hate can do when homegrown ideology twists souls into inhuman shapes.  When self becomes more important than the whole.  Ford's Theater.  Dallas.  Birmingham.  Memphis.  It is always out there but we are the ones who feed that dark voice.  Throw a floodlight of thanksgiving across the states, turn it into thanks for all that is good about this country and what it means to be able to live a life free and able.  Be thankful for men (and women) willing to take on the office of the President of the United States of America.  I love Texas.  I love Dallas.  I love the United States of America.
    


 







    

Monday, November 18, 2013

KUDZU

Tonight, fries and chicken strips from the bar.  Last night's dinner had been a fresh caught Maine lobster with drawn butter.  Now I was hundreds of miles down the road and nowhere near the rocky Maine shore where I had stood watching two lobstermen clean their boat in the early afternoon, as buoys bobbed in the bay, marking the traps submerged beneath the water.  Each buoy was a different set of colors much like a signal flag shouting instructions without a sound but without a doubt. 
Southport, Maine
Occasionally, violent lobster wars would erupt over trap placement.

Otherwise, the Maine coast was as peaceful as a postcard.  Thick black-green seaweed moss glistened in its tidal exposure, clinging to the seawall, every exposed rock and the underside of the floating piers, reminding me of the smothering kudzu along the highways in the South, turning woods and abandoned country homes into green fairylands.  Objects which are so totally transformed by the encroaching nature that they look unnatural at first glance.

The last morning in Maine was ending in a late afternoon in New Jersey.  After driving all day in heavy turnpike and interstate traffic mixed with construction and rain, I was ready to stop.  The October afternoon was dwindling down.  There reaches a certain atmosphere in a car of tired people when now becomes the absolute.  As we pulled under the covered drive of a large motel, an older couple with keys in hand, stepped from the lobby and got into a parked car and drove around the back of the motel.  With all of his energy, Daddy went inside, returning with a map and directions to our room.

Driving past a side entrance, I noticed a young, blonde woman wearing shorts and a halter top standing with the door partially opened.  She was on her phone, leaning out the door as if looking for someone.  I didn't mention it.  Truck cabs lined the back lot at our entrance.  A nice trucker held the door open as I brought in the bags.  Thankfully, the room was just around the corner as my traveling companions didn't have many steps left to spare.

The room looked lovely, twenty five years ago.  The shiny, polyester spreads were rust colored, coordinating nicely with grey accents in the room.  They had worn well, but not out, during that time period.  The bathroom looked clean enough, which can be deceiving but sometimes that's all you can go by.

The only requirements for this way station were its immediate location in time of need and the proper news station for the last weeks of an election year.  And a couple of beds.  Too tired to venture into town, Mama and Daddy unpacked the picnic bag which was beginning to run low on the cocktail hour feast of good mixed nuts and Vienna sausages.  Add crackers and condiments and dinner was complete.  With the t.v. blaring, they were set for the evening.

The front desk recommended I try the chicken strips at the motel bar.  As I turned towards the bar, a woman, trying to look younger than her years in a fur trimmed jacket and tight jeans, walked into the lobby.  A pattern was developing.

In its halcyon days, this motel had offered the best accommodations along with a large two story lobby, a restaurant with meeting rooms, the bar, and an indoor pool.  A Rotary International circle hung by the restaurant door which was closed for the night.  The place was not seedy or dirty, just past its prime but still fulfilling the purpose of welcoming the weary traveler.  Everyone was helpful and happy.

The disco era was over.  I had never walked into a bar unescorted but there is a first time for everything.  Everyone was gathered at the bar.  Every piece of furniture in the room was constructed from oak and soaked in a heavy coat of polyurethane.  It was clean and tidy.  A Budweiser beer light hung on the wall, spotlighting the famous Clydesdales.  Various crews and OTR truckers had stopped for the night but were not loud and rowdy.

I climbed up on a glossy stool to assess the situation.  The couple I had seen earlier coming out of the motel, walked in and took seats at the end of the bar.  They looked older than my parents.  My immediate read was New England Prim and Proper but not too proper for a glass of wine before dinner.  The gentleman was not remarkable except for the fact he was the only one present wearing a coat and tie, an informal khaki.

His wife could have been related to Katherine Hepburn in her carriage and peculiar hairstyle.  I don't remember what she was wearing because I was trying not to stare at her hair.  Every bit of her grey blonde hair was pulled up onto her head and secured in four or five places, each with a small narrow barrette with green velvet bows.  Although odd, it was neatly done and there were no strays.  This was a style of many years practice and I'm sure a wide assortment of coordinating bows.  She was a graduate of the "Get Your Hair Out of Your Face" school of thought.

Standing next to Prim and Proper was another interesting couple.  I saw them greet each other by sight but there was awkwardness in their conversation.  Both were dressed as if they had taken the time to freshen up after work, before meeting at this bar for their date.  Going on past observations, I suspected an affair or a high class working date.  She was very attractive in dress and makeup and her well-enhanced endowment.

I ordered a Coke and chicken strips.  A woman's laughter turned my attention back to my side of the bar.  She was seated five seats away, surrounded my men.  Once again, her youth and beautiful suede halter top seemed to indicate she might be working for a living.

The young man sitting next to me was probably my daughter's age.  When he spoke, I knew he was from New York City.  He asked me if I was from the South because of my accent.  He and his cousin had saved up money to take their family to Memphis, the home of Elvis.  Touring Graceland had been his personal highlight.  He loved talking to someone about the jungle room and the huge room containing Elvis artifacts, treasures that represented a lifetime of fame and fortune, Presley under glass.  Presentations of jeweled jumpsuits with matching belts and scarves, arranged as if Elvis had just stepped away.  A wealth of things he had possessed with no mention of things that had possessed him in the end.

For my new buddy, Memphis was a dream destination.  From the Beale Street Blues to Barbeque, he loved the South.  While I lived a couple of hours west of Memphis, New York City was one of my favorite places.  I was there when I heard Elvis had died.

Buddy talked about his grandmother.  He probably thought we were contemporaries.  He seemed like a good guy and a hard worker, delivering rolls of paper to newspaper presses which kept him on the road three nights a week.

I told Buddy I had been on the road with my parents for over a week but we traveled well together and I loved to drive.  Our goal had been to see my father's sister and now we were heading home.  Daddy had been a trooper but he was worn out.  You don't know what you don't know.  This would be our last road trip.

We were headed back to the South, where the kudzu disguised trees with smothering vines and green leaves.   Branches, trunks and the surrounding grounds were draped in a brilliant verdant green like a rhinestone jumpsuit reflecting light, hiding the limbs now weakening under the blanketing weight.  The cruel beauty of nature was destroying the surest and the strongest in the woods, felled by weight and lack of sun, at random.  Once an emerald emblem of the South planted for erosion control, kudzu was now an invasive, hardy weed.  Growing a foot a day, it was best not to tarry by these tangled woods where life was slipping away.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

CROSSING THE BRIDGE, MODERATO

(not too fast, like a spiritual)

I had to hunt for the piece of sheet music.  For eons, it had hung out within easy reach of my grasp.  But on this day I had to stand up and lift the upholstered seat.  Overplay had banished it to the dark inner box of the lid of the piano bench. 

My view
I was in the middle of washing the dishes when I heard the news on the radio.  Not that I was surprised.  Who hasn't used music to soothe the beast of pain and disappointment?  And now a real study had been conducted to prove this works.  The number one pain reducer is "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the very music I had hunted for that afternoon.    That's the way my life lives.  Things in my life are constantly bumping into one another.  Recently, I was looking at leftover construction paper thinking it would make bright confetti pieces.  A radio ad begins to play about a party business with the same name of the thought I had just had in my head.  Weird.  I had not played that song in over a year, I am certain.

Piano came into my life when I was eight.  Practice, practice, practice.  My BIL is the exception to the rule, a child prodigy discovered at the age of three.  At some point, he did decide to take lessons.  Music is his life and career.  For the rest of us, more practice.  Experts now say that 10,000 hours of practice will make you an expert.  And others disagree.  I think you have to learn the basics and invest in the time to build on those basics.  The joy of playing the piano is not instant gratification for anyone involved: the student, the teacher or the innocent bystander caught in the practice shots of missed notes and the frustrations of a struggling novice.

Popular sheet music was my measure of success.  Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head and The Theme to Love Story are like the chicken and the egg.  I don't know which came first.  Once I could play something I heard on the radio, it increased my incentive to be able to play better but only for myself and a very tiny, privileged audience.  With the music in front of me.

A new piano teacher (see Exquisite Virtuoso 9-3-13) in a new town demanded more of my lazy talent.  Her rigorous program of classical music extracted more practice of my mind and hands in the unchartered territory of Chopin, Grieg, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Paderewski to name a few.  And amazingly, at least to me, my ability to play and enjoy the popular music zoomed across the keyboard.  Except for recital pieces in my early years, memorization was not important, until my new teacher glued me to her piano bench.  Once my fingers learned their path and the timing, I put them through the paces. 

When I am playing the piano, my emotions can be cooled in the concentration of reading a piece of music.  If I know the piece by memory, my fingers can hardly keep up with the outpouring of emotion.  Good, bad, ugly, sad.  I can sit down at the piano and reach for a familiar song to find comfort like someone sitting down at a bar.  Maybe that is why piano bars are popular?  For me, the music doesn't disappoint.

Truthfully, that is the way I have used music since I was young.  Along comes Simon and Garfunkel.  If I am a sad teenager, BOTW.  Someone is sick, BOTW.  Friend tried to commit suicide, BOTW.  A young friend's mother dies, BOTW.    My band aid for life.  If I can just get home and get to the piano.  That's how I feel sometimes.   

10,000 hours later, I can play BOTW with my eyes closed, almost.  However I am feeling at the moment.  Of course, Stairway to Heaven and anything Dan Fogelberg are very much present in the list of my go-to ivory ticklers.  And I do pull out the classical pieces.  They have their own place and ability to sooth or pep me up.  I am so glad my parents "encouraged" me to take piano lessons.

One of my favorite verses from BOTW: 

"Sail on silver girl, Sail on by, Your time has come to shine,  
 All your dreams are on their way.  See how they shine."

Wow.  We are going to get through this.  Stretch out your hand and see what is out there, it is good and waiting just for you.

Really.  The song delivers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

THE NASCAR CORNMEAL CONSPIRACY

This is a conspiracy that nobody knows about because nobody is talking.  I tell you it is all being burned away in engines every day but most notably in the auto racing industry.  There is no sense whatsoever in thirty-two cars going around a track or a track that twists and turns on a course.  That is a lot of gasoline for five hundred miles and all of those cars are burning, burning, burning.  And there is only one women they let race.  But to look at her, I don't think she eats much so it is of little concern to her that the very essence of Thanksgiving and Christmas meals is going up in the air as all those little cars race their tires off.

This is serious.  Without cornmeal, there can be no cornbread.  And you have to have cornbread to make Dressing for Thanksgiving.  Cornbread is to the South like a popover to Menomonie, Wisconsin and Melba Toast to Beverly Hills, California, and Crackers to Fort Meyers, Florida and a flour tortilla to San Antonio, Texas and a lobster roll to Boothbay, Maine.  A shortage of cornmeal could disrupt the usual beautiful holiday tradition of steaming sage dressing full of onions and celery and that little jelled roll of cranberry sauce.

Thank goodness this nonsense will soon be shed.  And they say that boy may win for the sixth time.  I say that just proves it is rigged.  Just because Daryl Earnhardt and Richard Petty did it seven times, doesn't mean this little scrawny fellow from California will make number six.  I wonder what his Mama thinks of him racing.

Course she probably lives in California and I don't know if they give a fig about dressing over there, sitting on that fault line.  This is true because I wouldn't make it up.  Thanksgiving dinner is threatened.  Dressing, as we Southerners know it, may be at stake.  Corn continues to be a bumper crop.  That should be a good thing but they are growing it to make fuel instead of for eating.  Corn is being grown every summer and it is going to make ethanol.  I think it comes from corn oil.

But with all of that corn going for fuel, especially the racing kind, the eating kind is getting scarce.  No one will say anything because corn has always been so very important to the American diet, right from the first step out of the boat.  They don't want a corn panic like the spinach panic of 1843.


I am having trouble sleeping at night because I am worried about finding enough cornmeal to make my dressing for Thanksgiving.  It is the perfect dressing.  Course, a perfect dressing is only doable with a perfect cornbread.  You have to have a Mamaw to teach you to make perfect cornbread and I'm not giving that secret away for nothing.  But it is a real secret, I promise.  And there are good southern cooks who can't make a mean dressing.  Bless their heart.  Cornbread is the backbone.     

 Fixing dressing in my family requires nerves of cast iron.  Iron chef is nothing.  We have so many good cooks we can't fit all the food on the table.

Stuffing is not dressing.  Little pieces of “light bread” do not make up a southern dressing.  Let’s face it.  What success can you hope for by saving bread scraps for two weeks?  They get dry.  Did you ever hear of someone taking Chicken and Stuffing to a grieving family?  They’d mourn all over again. 

I have stuffed those little chickens but I will never stuff a turkey.  I know folks can't help where they are raised but the thought of stuffing makes me lose my appetite for a couple of weeks.  Millions of them are raised on white bread stuffing.  White bread is good for toast and a peanut butter sandwich and a fried baloney sandwich. 

I've got to put my mighty pen down and find out more about this conspiracy.  Maybe they are just trying to put us on a diet by taking away corn.  I'll be glad when all of this silly racing is over.  It is not healthy to sit out there in all of that dust, noise and smells.  A person must really be empty on the inside to try and fill it up with all of that stuff.  Course, I can't be too harsh because a lot of those folks are good southern Christians rooting on their favorites.  And they don't know about this Nascar Cornmeal Conspiracy.  It hasn't even been on Fox news yet.    I don't dislike him as a person, but I hope that boy doesn't get number 6.  That is just piggy.





At the annual National Association of Convenience Stores Show in Las Vegas, Growth Energy announced that NASCAR has run more than three million miles on Sunoco Green E15.  green.nascar.com

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=3391&picture=nascar-race
 

 

Friday, November 8, 2013

BEETHOVEN WORE RED BOOTS: MUST BE 2SDAY

Maybe.  Who knows what color boots he wore!  I wonder if he cared.  Sometimes genius folk are very picky about the whole package and sometimes they can hardly comb their hair.  Come to think of it, when I see paintings of Mr. Ludwig he does have a lot of hair.  Seldom, if ever do I listen to music while I am writing except for an occasional piece of classical music.  Today is one of those exceptions.  And it is Friday and I do have two favorite things today.  Tomorrow is Beethoven and Blue Jeans.  I love going to the symphony and I love wearing my blue jeans with my red boots. 

My red boots are special.  Sometimes you are walking by an item and it flings itself into your arms.  I do love good shoes but I am not a boot hog.  I would rather have one pair of awesome than four pairs of okay.  I'll be hobbling down the hall at the nursing home in these red DJP boots.  They are not for everyday wear because I want them to last.  They have never seen a cloudy day.  And I never have to ask if they make me look cute because they are sassy.

Now you know what I will be wearing to the symphony tomorrow night.  My love of big music came early in my grade school years.  In the 60's and 70's, going to public school in Dallas offered endless opportunities.  Music education was a regular part of my school day. 

Once a year, we celebrated Symphony Day.  Late in the fall, we would bundle up in our coats, stand in straight lines and march out to the shiny silver city buses lined up along the curbs of our school property.  Texas sunshine filled the limitless blue sky, turning the early morning frost on the front lawn into lacy silver. 

Students in our school walked, biked or were driven to our neighborhood school.  The ride to Music Hall was a part of the day's excitement.  The bus windows were still cold from being parked overnight.  Slipping into the window seat, a child could press their cheek to the cold glass and feel warm air rise from a tiny vent just below the window.  Driving through Dallas in the morning, seeing people coming out of apartment buildings, others standing at bus stops waiting, grocery carts lined up outside of the market waiting for a new day, men in caps and jackets filling up cars and cleaning windshields. 
 
 After weeks of listening to music while our teacher held up cardboard pictures of instruments, we had arrived at The Dallas Music Hall at Fair Park.  Thousands of students from the city schools filed into the expansive concert hall, filling all of the seats.  We strained our necks to see the ceiling so far above our heads.  Heavy velvet curtains rose, revealing a stark white shell full of people holding real instruments. 

The conductor was now our teacher, directing each section of the woodwinds, the brass, and the strings to play individually, to teach our ears the sounds of live music.  Then everything stopped and the orchestra played as one.   Even though I was young, I remember losing my sense of self and becoming a silent partner in the anticipation of where the music would go next.  

From the darkened hall, we exited into the noon sun where hundreds of silver buses pooled through our squinting eyes.  On the way back to school, we ate sack lunches.  When we arrived, the lawn was green again and our wool coats warm and scratchy.    

I've been listening to the ASO performance of Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 during Philip Mann's inaugural season 2010.  He has never missed a beat but he has come close to conducting himself into a flying leap backwards onto the front seats.  His enthusiasm is fun to watch.  And come to think of it, he has lots of red hair! 




The ASO has programs available for the state's schoolchildren.  See arkansassymphony,org