Monday, December 22, 2008

Bit Players at Christmas

I am sure the challenge each Christmas is to find a newness in the story that we have heard or told time after time.

And I am also sure there are times that we get so caught up in the demands of the season that we completely miss the arrival of the Christ child, albeit in a guise that we were not expecting.

When my husband and I first moved to our city, we went church hunting and shopping. We settled (for a time) on a church within the city limits. We liked the minister and his thoughtful challenging sermons. We were not overwhelmed with the congregation’s friendliness, but figured maybe it would just take a bit of time.

One Sunday during Advent, a small crisis occurred. This church was some 20 blocks from the center of town, but it was on a main street, and as all churches are, it was a magnet for people in need.

That Sunday, a seedy looking man came wandering in. He asked one of the greeters for help. She pushed him aside, intent on her duties of welcoming and greeting people coming to church. Next, the seedy man encountered one of the more senior church members. That member pushed the man aside, saying—you’ll have to see the pastor, but he’s busy
right now.

(photo from the BBC)

Finally, the man in need encountered the pastor. Now, it was just time for church to begin. SO, the pastor who was donning his robe temporized and asked the man to wait around until after church. With that last brush off, the seedy needy man left the church and went back out into the winter cold.

Something about the pathos of that moment struck the pastor. As it happened one of the carols for the service that day was “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”. Whatever the pastor had planned to preach got shelved, and instead he spent the time musing on the well-known words of the carol.

He slowly read through the first verse. . .

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

As he concluded those words, he just paused and then he said—yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. . .OR DOES IT?

Well, the church sat in complete silence. And it was a guilty silence.

Then when as a congregation we sang the carol, it was all we could do to choke out the words:

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav'n.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
painting of Nativity by Gerrit van Honthorst

Sometimes we encounter the Christ Child just as we are rushing around getting ready to announce his coming. Or just as we are greeting members and friends of the church, or just as we are getting ready to preach the word about the good news.

The moment of grace that Sunday was that the pastor redirected his words to make us connect the words we sang with our actions. Of course, we would much rather focus on a helpless newborn baby. We would much rather listen to singing angels. We would much rather ogle mysterious visitors bearing gifts than deal with just one of the bit players of Christmas.

At this time of year, remember the bit players--they have far more need of our attention than angels, or shepherds, or wise men. It may be that in the bit players, we encounter the Christ Child.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Soups-- # 8 Winter, 2008

Tomorrow, which it almost is, ushers in winter. Hee hee--some of you are already deeply mired in winter. Snow up to where?

Anyway, I'll keep the soup recipe REAL simple this time--not one from my church bistro which, I admit, can be arduous at times to prepare. This recipe is so easy, even a caveman. . .oops. I don't want to be guilty of specism.

We have snow forecast for tonight, and somehow on a snowy evening nothing pleases me more than honest to goodness simple potato soup. So, here it is--this is pretty much the recipe my mother followed when making potato soup. . .

Potato Cheese Soup

Serves 4 (please note, this is less than the usual recipes I post)

4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
3 Tbsp. butter (or margarine) melted
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Dash of white pepper
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or cheddar)

1. In a saucepan, bring potatoes, onion,water and salt to a boil.

2. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender. DO NOT DRAIN.

3. Mash potatoes slightly.

4. Stir in milk.

5. In a small bowl, blend melted butter, flour, parsley and pepper. Stir into potato mixture.

6. Cook and stir over medium heat until soup is thickened and bubbly.

7. Remove from heat; add cheese and stir until almost melted.

Stay warm, and enjoy.

I will suspend posting soup recipes for a couple of weeks--I send Seasons' Greeting to you all and wish for you a Joyous Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa--whatever you celebrate.

And I pray for a better New Year than we have seen for a while.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Fought the Law. . .

OK--here's # 97.

We have lived in our house since 1980. My son and I actually found this house when we took a bike ride one day (from our old neighborhood). We cycled into this neighborhood which was just being built. The houses had been built on speculation as the 1970s wound down--and here they sat. A down time in house sales (hmmmm--this has a sense of deja vu).

Anyway, there were just a dozen homes that had been built by a partnership between a real estate guy and a local builder. Among the features of the neighborhood that attracted us was an open space that was set to become a small park. We liked the thought of a small park where kids could play.

We moved in during the fall of 1980, had a swimming pool built in the spring of 1981, and our daughter was born in the fall of 1981. NO no, there is no attempt to suggest any causal relationship here, just a bit of chronology. About half the houses were occupied, and over time the other houses were eventually sold. Soon, the remaining lots were sold and houses built.

In the meantime, the partnership between real estate guy and local builder went sour. They broke up their partnership, each taking some of the remaining lots. This detail will feature in the story of how we all got sued.

Also, in the meantime, the township where we live was no longer interested in small parks. So the guy who owned the empty lots destined to be the small park decided he could build more houses there. BUT--wait--the property deeds of those of us who were original buyers referenced the small park. What to do? What to do? Now, if I were that business man, I would have gone around to each neighbor, explained the situation, offered a small cash sum, and said--please could you sign to release any claim you might have on this land you don't really own. Would have been simple. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

But no! Being a tough business man, he decided to file a "quit claim" deed on each of us. Now, even that might have been fine, had he come to us and asked us to sign. Instead--this tough business man had the deputy sheriff come to our door (actually to all of our doors) with the quit claim deed in hand, serving us.

Now, my husband and I didn't blink--we were savvy enough to understand what this action meant--and we had attorney friends who could help us understand. But not all the neighbors were so savvy. One neighbor even thought he was going to lose his home.

CLICK--that got my Irish up. . .and I'm not even Irish.

Not everyone in the neighborhood had been sued. Only those home owners whose original deeds referred to the small park got sued. So, I walked around to all of those named, and invited them to our house for a meeting. Then, an attorney who my husband knew through his work came and met with us. He gave us the option of retaining him on a contingency fee basis and proposed that we counter-sue. Our counter-suit said--we will gladly quit any claim we have on the small park land, in exchange for some money, since we all must have paid something for it when we bought our property.

Then things got messy. The real estate guy said--well, you all must be a neighborhood association, and since you want this small park, I will charge you a fee to maintain it. So, after that letter went out to everyone, I rushed around and said--DON'T PAY THE FEE. There is no neighborhood association--he's just trying to jerk us around.

Then several years of silence ensued. No answer from the real estate guy on the counter-claim. But, just as we all thought this issue had gone away, a new letter came. This letter contained a dollar, and a form to sign. The form was essentially a repeat of the quit claim. Any neighbor who accepted the dollar and signed the form would be DROPPED from his original suit. (HUH?) So again, I rushed around and said--if you sign this form then you won't get any financial settlement beyond the $1. I think one guy signed--he was tired of the haggling.

Then a few more months of silence.

And then finally an offer. The real estate guy said--he would award each of us $1,000 if we would sign the quit claim deeds. DONE and done. We all signed our quit claim deeds, got our checks. The attorney got his small contingency fee (believe me, it was small). And I had the satisfaction of saying--I fought the law. . .and I won.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lucy--you got some 'splaining to do!

OK--I knew there just might be a need to "tell the story behind the story."

# 89 (see Meme, too if the numbers mystify you .)

When my parents returned to their mission work in Africa, I was fifteen going on sixteen. I stayed with first my mother's sister, my Aunt Kay, and then after a year with my father's brother, Uncle Arthur. When summers came, I thought it necessary to find work. Nothing too unusual about that, except for me work meant going to Canada. My dad had a cousin there who lived in Ridgeway, Ontario, and did work in homes of wealthy Americans who had summer homes along Lake Erie.

The first summer I worked for the Rich family--as in Coffee Rich (and as in Rich Stadium in Buffalo, NY). The patriarch of the family had come up with a non-dairy creamer and whip topping (long before Cool Whip). Anyway, they had a summer home along Lake Erie where I, along with 2 other young women, worked. I was the cleaning "girl"; another young woman was the cook, and the third took care of the children of the daughter.

When the second summer rolled around, I had hoped to return to work for that family, but I was persona non grata, having been deemed too attractive and the cause of some of the young son's friends wanting to flirt too much. Actually, what I remember is one of those young men--while in a drunken fit--trying to break down the door to the room all of us slept in. But, as usual, blame the woman for being the lure! Anyway, I was not asked to return--maybe make that--asked NOT to return. The matriarch's behavior was so haughty toward the hired help that I vowed, were I ever to have enough money to hire people to help me, NEVER to treat help so shabbily. The only good thing to come out of the experience was I learned to make a good meatloaf--when the cook had off, I was always asked to "make meatloaf."

So, the second summer, I got a job, still on Lake Erie, but this time working for a single woman and her aging father. She was the head of the Buffalo Association for the Blind, and he was a long retired physician who had specialized in allergies. He had actually attended medical school for a time in Germany and had witnessed a duel. No, not fencing or any such--but an ACTUAL duel. He would regale me with tales of dueling in medical school. Maybe that inspired him to go into a specialty other than surgery.

It was here that I learned to make a perfect martini! Every day the Miss of the house would come home from a hard day's work, and want a martini. So, I made martinis for her and her father. Sweet people.

The father had the same lunch EVERY day--an omelet and toast. Each week his daughter would bring him a bag of books from the library--mostly mysteries. And he would sit in the front room, which faced Lake Erie, and read away.

While I was the only maid in the house, doing all the duties from cleaning to cooking to laundry to martini making, I did have lots of free time. So I would pad down the path to Lake Erie daily. Nearby were other summer homes and I became friends with several of the other girls working there.

One day, we were out swimming, and got a bit out of our standing depth. I was fine with that, but the girl with me suddenly realized she could no longer stand. And she panicked. I mean, PANICKED. She began grabbing at me, pulling me hard and under. I am not a trained lifeguard--and have never been a really good swimmer. But I had the presence of mind to shove her away. Then I swam a bit toward shore, reached out, grabbed and yanked her toward me. Then swam another bit, another grab and yank. I did that all the way, until she got her footing. Afterwards, she was so ashamed, that she simply wouldn't talk to me. She didn't thank me--no need, as far as I was concerned. But she was mortified, I suppose, for panicking.

So, that's the story. Wait, you say? What about the dog? Oh, yes, the dog.

A different day, and a different story. This dog was a lab owned by the son of my physician employer. The son's house was next door. As we went down to the lake each day, this dog and another dog, a lovely Irish setter, would trot along. There was a raft anchored about 100 feet from the shore. We would swim out to the raft, haul ourselves up on it and just soak up the warmth. The dogs would swim out, and then around the raft. One day, the lab just stayed there swimming. She didn't go back to shore, but insisted on "guarding" us--I guess that's what she was doing. She swam around and around and around. Suddenly, it was clear she was getting way too tired. She began going under the surface a bit, and coming up too too slowly. I jumped off the raft, and managed to grab her enough to get back to shore. I don't really remember exactly how I did it. Maybe she wouldn't have drowned, but she was so goofy, she just wouldn't give up on circling the raft until it was too late.

So, there you have it--I saved a person and a dog. End of story!

Next installment--# 97.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Soups-- # 7 Fall, 2008

Our church's Soup Bistro is over for another year.

The setting is our Fellowship Hall which is magically transformed into a friendly bistro.

As promised, this week's recipe comes from the event. I tried two soups (eating, not making). This week's recipe is most unusual, but I can vouch for the soup being wonderfully tasty.
So, here it is!

Serves 12


4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1-1/2 lb. thawed, peeled, and deveined medium shrimp (reserve the shells!!!)
1-1/2 cup chopped onion
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup carrot, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. brandy
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 4-inch piece of lemongrass, diced
2 cups cold water
1 qt. seafood stock
1 14-oz can. lite coconut milk
8 oz. water
1 cup
½ Tbsp. salt
1 cup cubed zucchini

1. Melt butter in large saucepan. Add 1 Tbsp. canola oil. Add shrimp shells to the pan and saute for a few minutes until shrimp shells become fragrant. Add onions, carrots, and celery to saucepan and stir to coat. Sauté until vegetables start to soften, about 3 minutes.

2. Add ½ cup dry white wine and 2 Tbsp. brandy and cook until liquid is nearly evaporated.

3. Add 2 cups cold water, cover pan, and simmer ½ hour. You should have about 1-1/2 cups very fragrant broth.

4. Strain broth carefully to remove shells and other solids. Reserve this broth.

5. In a large saucepan, sauté ½ cup chopped onion in 1 Tbsp. canola oil. Add lemon grass and ginger and sauté briefly. Add shrimp broth to pot and simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Add seafood stock, coconut milk and water to pot. Bring to a gentle boil.

7. Add quinoa and reduce to simmer. Cook 3 minutes. Add zucchini cubes and cook for about 1 minute. Add shrimp to pot. Add salt to taste.
To serve the soup, cook shrimp until finished. You may garnish with chopped scallion, toasted coconut, or cilantro.

*You will need to wash your quinoa before using by gently rubbing the grains between your fingers while running it under cold water.
This is one tasty soup. But since I haven't made it, I can't predict for its ease of preparation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meme (too)

Laura "shamelessly" copied from Lynne. . .so, meme too.

After all, finals are over; now begins the grading. Make that g-r-a-d-i-n-g. A few sorry students didn't finish the exam (ran out of time) and because of other missing work are unlikely to pass the course.

Add to that, the rain (actually the RAIN) of yesterday--2 + inches--and I just don't have anything perking in my brain.

So, here goes--meme too! (the ones I have done in LIVING COLOR.)

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (actually hiked up a mountain)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang/played a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person

41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (actually two--a young woman in Lake Erie, and a DOG!)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Made a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit (would you believe our whole neighborhood was sued!)
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Gotten a speeding ticket

Almost all of these things that I have done would prompt their own stories.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Down, One to Go. . .

This is final exams week, and today I gave my first final exam. And (woooo hooooo) I already have this section of exams graded.

I also returned research papers that I had spent too many days grading. In one of those research papers, I found an entirely NEW homophone error. A student had written about "soap Oprahs." I sat there scratching my head and puzzling. What on earth. . .and THEN it hit me: the student meant soap OPERAS. I just had to laugh. I can't imagine what absurd mistake I will encounter next.

Also in those research papers, I uncovered two instances of plagiarism. So, after the exam was over, as I was returning research papers, I had to confront these students. As soon as I pointed out the purloined paragraph in the one student's paper--he immediately said--oh, I just forgot to put in the quotation marks. (Yeah, right!) Then he said, when I asked where the source was listed (it wasn't)--oh, I must have had that on the OTHER piece of paper. Really?

And, the final insult came when I returned to my office. The phone rang--it was a student who was to have been in that exam. He missed it--and so when he called he said--there's no point in me taking the final exam, is there? Well, I pointed out, you MISSED the exam, so your question is moot. Huh, he said. I am not sure if he didn't know what "moot" meant, or if he just didn't catch my sarcasm.

Well, at any rate, one down, one to go.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saturday Soups-- # 6 Fall, 2008

Sorry for my relative silence the past several days. I am g-r-a-d-i-n-g research papers, and grading and grading and grading. Yeccchhhh.

Now, normally, reading research papers should be interesting--all that free expansion of knowledge. But, remember, these are freshman papers. And, mostly, they are sorry excuses for research. The requirement is to research a topic and then write a 10 page paper, complete with in text cites and a Works Cited list. The topic should relate to the essays we read over the past semester. Simple? You think! Apparently too many students don't (think, that is).

Anyway, I have so far found TWO students who plagiarized whole chunks of their papers--automatic zeros for them. And one student turned in a three (yup--3) page paper. Add to these irritations the usual number of misspelled words (aloud for allowed; crouches for crutches; fronds for friends) and I am right grouchy.

I realized how bad it is for me when I read the opening line of an obituary today: "Sadly and peacefully, So and so died"--and I catch myself muttering misplaced modifier.

Anyway--SOUP. A vegetarian one as promised!


The pesto recipe may be served as a bread-spread or on hot pasta as well as a delightful topping for this soup.
Serves 12


2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 head cabbage, preferably Savoy, chopped
1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
1 bunch fresh basil stems (leaves removed), tied together with string
1-1/2 tsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
12 cups canned vegetable broth or homemade vegetable stock
1 butternut squash (about 1-1/2 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 red skinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 Tbsps. tomato paste
1 (3-inch) piece Parmesan cheese rind
1-1/2 cups uncooked radiatore or any spiral pasta
1 cup basil pesto (see recipe below)

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sweat for 4 minutes, until tender.

2. Add the cabbage and sweat for 4 minutes, until wilted.

3. Add the thyme, basil stems, salt, and pepper and stir to coat the vegetables.

4. Add the stock, squash, potatoes, tomato paste, and Parmesan rind and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes (for Bistro recipe, only cook pasta for 1 minute).

6. To serve, remove basil stems and Parmesan rind, ladle the soup into bowls, and top with a dollop of pesto and some chopped scallions.


1-1/2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup olive oil

1. Combine the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and salt in a blender or food processor.

2. Process until finely chopped.

3. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil and process until a smooth paste forms.
Tomorrow is our church's Bistro--so next week, I will feature one of the soups from that event. And maybe a charming photo or two.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In Praise of Giving

Now you might think this post will be about the coming season of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. And you would only be half correct. Yes, this is the season of giving, but my thoughts are directed toward giving in other ways than gift exchanging.

For several years, I have been an active participant in Freecycling. As its website explains, this voluntary network, which now extends all around the world, is made up entirely of " people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills."

I first began Freecycling when I headed into my somewhat involuntary retirement from full time work. I was raring to tackle several projects--including that ever popular CLEAN OUT THE BASEMENT. For fun (?), I began keeping a list of items I have given away. You see--I have only ever offered items on Freecycle--I have never asked for or taken anything. That list has now grown to over 140 items I have given away.

One would think some of the items I have listed would get no takers. But, you'd be surprised how many people want--

  • old sleeping bags

  • coin holders
  • a kerosene heater

  • an electric typewriter

  • old books (I mean OLD)

  • children's battery operated games

  • Penn State mugs

  • stuffed animals

  • no longer working used computers

  • paper doll books

  • a Polaroid camera (!)

  • a non-working leaf blower

  • a non-working electric heater

  • a big Panasonic TV

  • too many paper bags

And the list goes on.

Most touching is when I list something, and the eventual taker overflows with gratitude. I gave the bedspread from the single bed that had been in our daughter's bedroom (now the guest room) to a woman who was decorating her daughter's bedroom. She was THRILLED with the bedspread and matching curtains. And there was the man who took our defunct gas grill, saying he had never HAD a gas grill. There was the woman who took an old manual typewriter saying she wanted to write a novel, and thought the typewriter would provide her with just the inspiration she needed. And one unforgettable recipient was a father who got an old Palm that I had--he wanted it to keep track of his children's diabetic medications.

Just yesterday, I listed a vase I had received as a gift many years ago. I never displayed it anywhere in the house, because it simply didn't match my color or decor style. The woman who took it sent me a thank you note, remarking how beautiful it is and how generous I am.

Well, no, I don't feel generous. I just feel as though this kind of sharing makes sense. Why would I keep "stuff" that is really no longer functional for me, when so many people can use these items and use them gratefully? It takes a bit of time for me to list items, and then pick who will get them. Actually, that is the one time I struggle--sometimes so many people have such incredible need.

I am not alone in my giving. There is one man on the local Freecycle list who gets old computers that no longer work. He then refurbishes them, cobbling systems together out of what he has received. He then loads the rebuilt computers with operating software, and puts them on Freecycle for people who have no computers. I have given him an old computer I had that no longer worked.

What a great feeling--giving just for its own sake. Why not check out the Freecycle group in your area. And get that giving feeling.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Job Description for Cats

I cannot claim to be the author of the entry below. It came to me via an email from my husband--no doubt he got it as one of those many humorous emails that float around the Internet and get sent from person to person in an office.

As we have two cats now, and have had a half a dozen cats over the past 30 years, I can attest to the accuracy of the information.

BATHROOMS - Always accompany guests to the bathroom. It is not necessary to do anything. Just sit & stare.

DOORS - Do not allow any closed any room. To get the door opened, stand on hind legs & hammer with forepaws. Once door is opened,it's not necessary to use it. After you have ordered an outside door opened, stand half-way in & out & think about several things. This is particularly important during very cold weather, rain, snow, or mosquito season.

CHAIRS AND RUGS - If you have to throw up get to a white chair quickly.If you cannot manage in time, get to an Oriental rug. If there is no Oriental rug, shag is good. When throwing up on the carpet, make sure you back up while barfing so it's as long as a human's bare foot.

HAMPERING - If one of your humans is engaged in any activity, and the other is idle, stay with the busy one. This is called helping, otherwise known as hampering. Following are the rules for hampering: When supervising cooking, sit just behind the left heel of the cook. You cannot be seen and thereby stand a better chance of being stepped on and then picked up and comforted.For book readers, get in close under the chin, between eyes and book--unless you can lie across the book itself. When human is working at computer, jump up on desk, walk across keyboard, bat at mouse pointer onscreen, and then lay in human's lap across arms, hampering typing in progress.

WALKING - As often as possible, dart quickly & as close as possible in front of the human, especially on stairs, when they have something in their arms, in the dark & when they first get up in the morning. This will help them practice their co-ordination skills.

BEDTIME - Always sleep on the human at night so he/she cannot move around.

LITTER BOX - When using the litter box, be sure to kick as much litter out of the box as possible. Humans love the feel of kitty litter between their toes.

HIDING - Every now and then, hide in a place where the humans cannot find you and do NOT come out for three to four hours under any circumstances. This will cause the humans to panic (which they love) thinking that you have run away or are lost. Once you do come out. . .the humans will cover you with love & kisses, and you probably will get a treat.

ONE LAST THOUGHT - Whenever possible, get close to a human, especially their face, then turn around and present your butt to them. . . .humans love this, so do it often !

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Soups-- # 5 Fall, 2008

Thanksgiving is over--did you notice it was just about the latest it could be? Since Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November (here in the U.S.), only one day could be later--November 27. So if you feel as though Christmas is rushing toward you --assuming you observe Christmas--you would be right.

Thanksgiving is such an enjoyable holiday. The emphasis is on food, fellowship, family and friends. Oh, yes, and football.

On the off chance you eat meat--not everyone does (as Delia's
thoughtful post reminds us)--and also on the off chance you aren't sick to death of turkey, here's a turkey soup recipe. Sadly, it does NOT feature using left-over turkey, which many of you may have in your refrigerators. Maybe you can adapt the recipe to use some.

Serves 12

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2-1/2 lbs. ground turkey breast
1-1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon each of: ground cinnamon, dried basil, chili powder, freshly ground pepper,
and ground sage
2 cans (19-3/4 oz. each) black beans, rinsed, drained and divided
2 cans (13-3/4 oz. each) fat-free, low sodium chicken broth
1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chilies, drained
2 cups frozen white shoepeg corn kernels

Cumin Yogurt garnish (see recipe below)

1. In large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed stock pot, heat 2 Tablespoons of oil. Add ground turkey in batches and brown. Drain fat from pan and set turkey aside.

2. Add remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil to the pan. Stir in onion and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and the spices; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. In a blender, puree 1 can of beans with 1 can of chicken broth until smooth. Add to the pot with the remaining beans, the chilies, and the corn.

4. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Return turkey to the pot and heat through 2 minutes. Add up to one additional can of chicken broth if chili seems too thick.

Garnish each serving with cumin yogurt.

Cumin Yogurt Garnish:

1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Place 1 Tablespoon on each chili serving.

In honor of non-meat eaters, next week--a vegetarian recipe.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That is so '90s

One of the reasons I love teaching is that I am constantly learning from my students.

In English 101, I emphasize teaching rhetoric and formal writing. I also try to help the students increase their critical thinking skills. To accomplish this latter goal, I use a reader full of contemporary essays that the students are assigned to read. Then each day, I give them an in class exercise--a writing assignment to respond in a paragraph or so to a prompt I give.

A recent prompt was this question--Who has an iconic status today equal to Elvis’? Why?

I have always encouraged my students to answer in whatever way they will, as long as they back up their responses. This particular question has been the instigator of my learning. Several years ago a student responded to this prompt by saying--50 cents. Only, I heard --FITTY cent. So, I said--what? And eventually learned the name of a rapper. Let me be the first to say--I don't know rap; I don't like rap; I don't think rap is "music"--but the students like rap.

So I went home and looked up
50 cent and learned a bit about contemporary culture. I still don't like rap.

Using this same prompt, I have also learned about Lil Wayne and sure that I am necessarily better off knowing about these people, but at least I am not totally hopelessly befuddled standing in front of my class.

So, it was with great humor--and an actual guffaw--that I read a student response to yet another prompt. In an essay unit on "Entertainment" (which is also where the Elvis question gets asked), I posed this writing prompt-- Do you think children watch too much television? How much did you watch as a child? Did you have rules limiting how much to watch?

Having collected the students' response, I was reading along in one young man's answers when I read this opening sentence--That is so '90s.

I re-read it, and then burst out laughing. His point was, I think, that someone of my generation would focus only on television and the excesses of watching it. His generation, however, has multiple electronic diversions. There is the internet, there are video games, there is X-box games or Wii.

In some ways, my question would be like someone asking me, when I was a student--do you think the radio is harming our young people.

Well, I got his point. Next year, the question will be rephrased--probably I will say--do children today spend too much time on the Internet or too much time playing electronic games?

Heaven forbid that I should be so '90s.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Soups-- # 4 Fall, 2008

How about a nice seafood chowder for this week? Apropos of nothing in particular, unless you think that the first Thanksgiving meal had a seafood chowder. It may very well have--given the location on Cape Cod, no doubt seafood featured prominently in the diet of the early Pilgrims.

Here's a History channel site that suggest what might have been on that first meal. I don't know--it's not a Thanksgiving meal without cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.

Enjoy the chowder.

New England Seafood Chowder
Makes 12 servings.

8 bacon slices, chopped
2 large yellow onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 T. curry powder
4 8-oz. bottles clam juice
4 cups 1/2-inch dice peeled white potatoes (about 3 lbs.)
4 cups 1/2-inch dice peeled butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
2 bay leaves
2 cups chopped kale leaves
5 cups milk
1 cup half and half
2 tsp. dried, crumbled thyme (or 2 T. minced fresh thyme)
3 lbs. mixed fresh fish (cod, halibut, haddock, and/or scrod) cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1) In a large heavy-bottomed pot, place bacon and saute over medium heat until thoroughly
cooked. Drain approximately 1/2 of the fat from the pan (leave 1-2 T.) in the pan along with the bacon. Add chopped onions and saute for two minutes. Add curry powder and cook mixture until very fragrant (about 5 minutes).

2) Stir clam juice into the pot and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, butternut squash, bay leaves, and chopped kale. Cook for 15 minutes until all vegetables are just soft.

3) Add milk, half and half, and thyme to the pot. Warm gently, being careful not to boil after
adding the dairy products.

4) Add the fish pieces and cook for 3-5 minutes, until fish is just cooked through.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Light to Light

When my husband took a recent business trip, that meant that all the dog walking duties fell to me. Of course, that's what happens any time either of us goes out of town.

Since Thursday is a class day, I set the alarm for 5:45 a.m. (I know, I know--some of you think that's sleeping in). Anyway, I bounded out of bed--really--and very soon set about walking the dog around the block. At that time of the morning, now in November, it is still quite dark. I found myself walking along, going from light to light.

Our neighborhood only has a few street lights--and none of those is on our actual street. We have a pole light, and leave it on all night every night. It is one of the few spots of light on our street. The trip around the block can be marked by watching for each light, and then the final destination light of our pole light.

This morning's walk struck me as a kind of metaphor for life. In some ways, we all proceed from light to light. Of course, we pass through dark times--we have all had them. And even in the middle of that darkness, we are looking, hoping for the light.

I suspect my affinity for light just now is heightened by some minor eye surgery I recently had. While not major surgery, it did require that for a day, I have my damaged eye sheathed by an eye patch. What an inconvenience. I really minded my sudden monocular vision. It is nearly impossible to read for any extent with only one eye. And, of course, anything requiring depth perception is out of the question. I couldn't wait to get that patch off--to reclaim full light.

One of my favorite hymns celebrates the power of light. Written by John Henry Cardinal Newman, the words were inspired by his being unable to get home in an age of sailing when his ship was becalmed. He was frustrated and sat down and wrote out the first verse.

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet;
I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Occasionally, our church choir sings this hymn as its benedictory piece. It is a lovely quiet plea for the light.

No wonder that light symbolizes guidance and safe-keeping. Go from light to light.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hello, My Name is. . .

As each new semester approaches, I speculate what names will be the double-up names. You see, each semester that I have taught at my community college, I always have two students who share a first name. And almost always, this occurs among the young women in class. From this doubling up on first names, I can tell what were the trendy names the year they were born.

  • Megan

  • Jessica

  • Desiree

  • Ashley

  • Karen

  • Brittany

  • Amber

These are but some of the double up names I have had. So, I peeked at the advance registration for the spring semester—and, sure enough, I have a double up name: Amanda.

This business of naming does fascinate me. I wrote about it a while back,
here. At that time, I looked at the Social Security Administration’s listing of most popular first names over the decades. I found another spiffy site that shows the same thing, with a bit more pizzazz.

A year ago, I read the highly interesting book Freakonomics. The authors suggest that some first names that are super-trendy or super-ethnic may not serve their charges well. You can see some of what they have to say
here. It would certainly be interesting to hear their take, now that we have elected our first African-American president with a decidedly un-presidential first name of Barack.

To this point in our history, we have had 2 presidents first named Andrew, 2 named Franklin; 3 named George; 4 named John; 4 named William; and the most popular first name with 6—James. Prior to Barack, probably the previous most unusual first name was Ulysses.

I wonder how long it will be until we have a U.S. President with a first name of Amanda, or Ashley, or Karen, or Kristen, or. . .?

Maybe part of the mental block that Americans have for envisioning a woman as president has to do with the lack of strength too many first names for women hold these days. When our daughter was born, and we pondered a strong first name for her, we naturally turned to family first names. While I dearly love the women in my family life, I was not prepared to give our daughter some of the old-fashioned names. So I eschewed names like Dorcas, Mary, Ada, Kathryn, Leoda, Emma, Cora, Lillian and Ida. Even though we didn't pick a family name, I like the strong name my husband and I agreed on for our daughter’s name.

Several years ago, I remember that Garrison Keillor read a poem about strong women names—so I went looking for it. Here it is: what a wonderful way to celebrate the strong names of women.

Mourning the Dying of American Female Names

Hunt Hawkins

In the Altha Diner in the Florida panhandle
a stocky white-haired woman
with a plastic nameplate “Mildred”
gently turns my burger, and I fall into grief.
I remember the long, hot drives to North Carolina
to visit Aunt Alma, who puts up quarts of peaches,
and my grandmother Gladys with her pieced quilts
Many names are almost gone: Gertrude, Myrtle,
Agnes, Bernice, Hortense, Edna, Doris, and Hilda.
They were wide women, cotton-clothed, early rising.
You have to move your mouth to say their names,
and they meant strength, spear, battle, and victory.
When did women stop being Saxons and Goths?
What fate frog turned them into Alison, Melissa,
Valeria, Natalie, Adrienne, and Lucinda,
diminished them to Wendy, Cindy, Susy, and Vicky?
I look at these young women and hope
they are headed for the Presidency,
but I fear America has other plans in mind,
that they be no longer at war
but subdued instead in amorphous corporate work,
somebody’s assistant, something in a bank,
single parent with word processing skills.
They must have been made French
so they could be cheap foreign labor.
Well, all I can say is
good luck to you
Kimberly, Darlene, Cheryl, Heather, and Amy.
Good luck April, Melanie, Becky, and Kelly.
I hope it goes well for you.
But for a moment let us mourn.
Now it is time to say goodbye
to Florence, Muriel, Ethel, and Thelma.
Goodbye Minnie, Ada, Bertha, and Edith.

Published in The Domestic Life, 1994.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saturday Soups -- # 3, Fall 2008

It occurs to me that as I start into a fall season of soups, I need to give credit where it is due. These recipes are NOT my invention in any way, shape or form. But, they have all been vetted. The recipes come from the annual fund raiser that my church has--we call it our soup Bistro.

On the first Sunday of Advent, my church hosts two seatings at Bistro. All the soups are made by members (and friends) of the congregation. In addition, people make breads, muffins, cookies and other Christmas goodies. For the seatings, we sell tickets. Everything is donated, and all the proceeds go to a local inter-church group that provides assistance to people in need.

The source of the recipes is a woman in our church, Alice Anne--she has professional training in cooking, and has worked in various food endeavors. So, all the portions have been carefully assessed for accuracy. She makes all the soups before she decides to include them in our soup offering.

Anyone have any requests for a particular kind of soup? Let me know, and I will search to see if we have ever made it.
Next up in rotation--a chicken soup. Perfect for fall evenings, and hearty too with the barley.

Chicken Soup with Barley
Makes 12 servings.

8 cups water
48 oz. canned low-fat chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried rosemary
3 pounds chicken pieces, skinned
1 bay leaf
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup potato, peeled and diced
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley

1) Combine water, broth, salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, chicken pieces and bay leaf in a large stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Adjust heat to medium and cook 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove chicken and cool slightly. Remove chicken from bones and shred with two forks. Reserve shredded chicken. Skim all visible fat from the top of the broth.

2) Stir vegetables and barley into broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add shredded chicken to the pot. Discard bay leaf. If not serving immediately, cool and refrigerate.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And You Thought Squirrels Were Entertaining?

It's a rainy day here in central PA--and so it was with gratitude that I received an email from someone special that had a link in it. . .I followed the link and then I just smiled and smiled.

If you need a smile, watch this.

cat n box

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Squirrel - 2/ KGMom - 0

Remember my match with the squirrel on Valentine's Day? I tossed a small snowball at a squirrel, trying to dissuade him from stealing all my bird seeds--and he CAUGHT it?

Well, today was a rematch.

The bird feeders have gotten a bit fancier and diverse; we now have 4 feeders out offering niger, safflower, a seed mix, and sunflower seeds. The sunflower seeds have got to go. The squirrels find them way too tempting.

We have filled the peanut wreath and hung it out--but the squirrels empty that in one day. Then they turn to the feeder with sunflowers.

All day, it seemed, I kept shooing them away. They are such piggies; no birds can get in while the squirrels are raiding.
Finally, I got a water bottle, and began trying to squirt the offending squirrels. The first several times it genuinely surprised them--off they ran. After several squirts, though, one particular squirrel caught on. He hopped back to the tree trunk, then just edge behind the trunk, out of range from my squirt bottle.

As I said--squirrel - 2/ KGMom - 0.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This, Too, Shall Pass

Quite a few years ago (before the birth of my son), I needed to have a medical test that involved inserting a needle into my abdomen, pumping me full of a gas that allowed my internal organs to "float" so they could be x-rayed. I had no anesthesia for the procedure--none was needed--but to steel myself for whatever discomfort I would experience, I kept saying--this, too, shall pass. For a while, that little expression was a personal mantra--and, perhaps, still is.

Now, the expression takes on a slightly different cast. While I said it then to help me know I could withstand temporary pain, I say it now in recognition of the fleeting aspects of life.

News comes today that Miriam Makeba has died. She was a great South African singer, who I loved to hear as she sang sometimes in Zulu, with all its wonderful clicks. Upon learning the news of her death, a friend of mine sent me an email--wherein she recalled sitting in my office 20 years ago as I explained and pronounced Zulu clicks to her. Zulu, and its offspring language of Sindebele, makes a clicking sound on the Q, X, and C. Put your tongue to the roof of your mouth and make a pop, or make a noise as though to move a horse, or suck your tongue against your teeth in a sound of tsk tsk--and you have the approximate sounds of clicks.

Anyway, Miriam Makeba died. I heard her sing years ago when Paul Simon had his Graceland tour. My husband, son, and I went to Philadelphia and heard Paul Simon sing with
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, along with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. If you want to hear a bit of Miriam's wonderful singing, watch the rendition of "Under African Skies" with Paul Simon.

Since I don't always get up in time to hear Garrison Keillor's "The Daily Almanac" I have it sent to me by email. That's how I learned that today is the birthday of
Padraic Pearse, an Irish poet who took part in the failed Irish Easter uprising of 1916 and for his troubles was shot dead by the British.

Pearse wrote a sweet poem that matches my thoughts today.

The Wayfarer

by Padraic Pearse

The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way

Ah, perhaps it is an autumn day with stormy skies that inspires these thoughts of ephemerality in me. Who knows--or perhaps it is the death of a lovely lady.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Saturday Soups -- # 2 Fall 2008

I will try to remember this fall, as I post soup recipes, that I need to be mindful of rotating the soup type. Last week was a vegetable soup (and an orange one at that!). So this week, I will feature a meat based soup.

I hear tell that some places on the North American continent are having snow. Lucky. This hearty soup would go great on a snowy evening. And it has enough "other stuff" in it, should you not fancy meat too much. Oh, and it is mmm mmm good.

Serves 12

¾ lb. loose sweet Italian sausage
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 10 oz. packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 large can chicken broth (approx. 49 oz.)
1 15 or 16 oz. can Cannellini Beans
1 15 or 16 oz. can Light Red Kidney Beans
1 15 or 16 oz. can Dark Red Kidney Beans
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt to taste, if you wish

1) Brown sausage in large stockpot, breaking into fine pieces. Sausage should be completely cooked through. Drain all but one Tbsp. fat off sausage. Add garlic and onion to pot and sauté 6 minutes.

2) Add thawed, drained spinach to pot and sauté 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, dried basil and pepper flakes to pot and simmer 10 minutes.

3) After thoroughly draining and rinsing each of the cans of beans, add beans to soup and remove from heat.

Garnish with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, We can!

So, we watched election returns beginning at 7 p.m.

We watched to see how Pennsylvania voted.

We talked with our daughter who was having an election returns party in London, with her fiance and some American friends.

We were awake at 11 p.m. when all the networks announced the results--President Elect Obama.

And we watched at midnight when President Elect Obama challenged us all to remember that we can overcome the problems that face us, that we can work together, that we can change history.
"Yes, we can."

Monday, November 03, 2008


Tomorrow is the big day. . .unless you live in a state that has early voting (I don't). . .or unless you voted by absentee ballot (lucky).

Why vote?

Why vote?

Why vote?

Why vote?

Because all around the world there are people who, when first given the opportunity to vote, take that opportunity seriously.

the lines for voting in South Africa during first nationwide vote

I will be at my precinct voting--as I have for 42 years--in every election, both primary and general! I have voted for losers and I have voted for winners. I much prefer the latter, but the former has never dissuaded me from voting.