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  • Thanksgiving 2009 Recap

    November 30, 2009

    In Texas, Thanksgiving weather is anyone’s guess.  There have been some years that we had ice and sleet and other years that were warm enough to go swimming.  This year it was about 70 and sunny and intensely beautiful.

    Here’s what I will remember of Thanksgiving 2009:

    – Hanging out at Cousin Jimmy’s place in the country, where we

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    trekked through a winding creekbed and then a pasture of needle grass with Sean playing the part of Bear Grylls and me playing the part of the woman who carries all the cool rocks and leaves that he found along the way.  I wonder if Bear’s mom had to carry all the rocks.  We also found some dinosaur bones which look remarkably like cow bones.  I refused to carry the cow dinosaur bones.  That’s where I draw the line.

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    – Watching Sean toss bread to 30-pound catfish. The fish would silently rise from the murky depths like a shark, devour an entire piece of bread in one bite and then disappear into the dark.  I did not squeal even one time.  I have pictures of the Amazon catfish but they are terribly unattractive creatures.

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    – And my favorite memory of all, watching Sean sit in the same chair with Aunt Jean showing her how to play a game on my iTouch.

    * * *

    Things I Won’t Remember about Thanksgiving 2009:

    – Who won the football game.

    – The parade floats.

    – That I made the dessert and left it at home.

    So then, how was your Thanksgiving?  Tell me one thing you will remember and one thing you won’t.

    Frenchy Type Toast

    November 28, 2009

    With just three in the family and one us not terribly fond of food, it seems like when I open a can of biscuits, I always end up with one or two left over.  Recently I discovered that left over biscuits make really yummy crunchy French toast, so I started freezing them instead of throwing them out for the birds.

    Frenchy Type Toast

    2 beaten eggs

    1/2 cup (more or less) of  Half and Half  (any milk will work as well)

    1/4 cup or more of cinnamon and sugar mixture (easiest to use in a container that will sprinkle)

    3 or 4 frozen left over canned biscuits – previously baked (any kind, flakey or country style, will do)

    2T (more or less) vegetable oil

    Beat the eggs well and then add in milk and about 2T of cinnamon and sugar mixture and mix thoroughly.

    Slice frozen left-over biscuits into 1/4 inch rounds. Each biscuit will make 2 or 3 slices.

    Dip the biscuit slices in the egg mixture and then sprinkle one side liberally with cinnamon sugar.  Place sugar side down in a pan of hot oil (not smoking hot, but good and hot) then sprinkle the top with more cinnamon and sugar.

    When the bottom is brown and carmelly, turn the biscuit over and brown the other side.

    Serve hot with a dab of syrup or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

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    Big Things

    November 25, 2009

    The turkey is not even on the table yet and most of us are already thinking about Christmas.  For the past week or more, the retailers have been relentless in reminding us about Black Friday, the high holy day of materialism.  Getting up at dark thirty and going to a crazy crowded store and fighting over the “it” toy of the season is just not my thing. If it is yours, please have at it. Have my share. Enjoy.

    Yesterday Sean and I were at the grocery store and we ran into a friend of ours.  As we chatted, she mentioned that she had all of her Christmas shopping done for her children except for the big things.  Without thinking, I said “I don’t think there will be any big things under our tree this year.”

    That was a really dumb thing to say.

    I didn’t really mean to say it out loud.  I probably made her feel badly for saying it, which was not my intention.  Her statement was completely innocuous and nearly everyone I know utters that sentence sooner or later during the holidays.

    But the fact of the matter is, there will not be big things under our Christmas tree this year — partly out of necessity and partly out of design.

    And in an odd sort of way the necessity facilitates the design.  In an odd sort of way the tremendous love we have for our boy inspires in us a desire to give him more than is good for him. In an odd sort of way having less than he wants will make him more.  In an odd sort of way,  in the dearth of excess there is abundance and in excess there is emptiness. And all of these things conflict, confuse and claw at the heart.

    Earlier in the year, we read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series with Sean.  We loved the books, but in many places they were hard to read. Laura’s life was charming and simple, but not at all easy.

    There was one winter in particular where her family faced the very real possibility of either freezing or starving to death.  It seemed only a matter of which would come first.  What has been wonderful about reading the Little House stories with Sean is that he can then look around and see his nice warm house with a full pantry and see how blessed he is.  He is able to come to this conclusion on his own which is much more effective than his parents haranguing at him, “You don’t know how good you have it. You have everything. You should be grateful. Blah. Blah. Grateful. Blah.”

    In one of the Little House books, it is Christmastime and it has been a typically challenging winter.  Laura and her sister are expecting nothing, certainly nothing big, but on Christmas morning they each receive a tin cup, a peppermint, a little heart-shaped cake Ma had made, and a penny. And the only reason they got those things is because a neighbor risked his life to get across an icy river to bring it to them.

    There was such beauty in that scene – in the selflessness of the neighbor, in the absence of expectation and entitlement, in the smallness of the gifts, in the delight of the children.  I have since wondered if we don’t deny ourselves that beauty in our quest for big things.

    So this year there will be some nice things for Sean under our tree, if not big things.

    But also this year, and every year after, there will be a box with a tin cup, little heart-shaped cake, a peppermint and a penny.

    Martha, Self-Restraint, Best Business Practices

    November 23, 2009

    Whatever your feelings are about Martha Stewart, you have to admit she’s a good business woman. She built a media empire and became a zillionaire in the process, although not entirely by playing by the same rules as the rest of us middle-class schmucks, but that’s another story.

    So then the other day, I passed through the living room where AD was flipping through the channels and there was Martha on the television speaking to someone in her usual snotty and condescending tone.

    It didn’t really catch my attention because Martha always speaks that way, even when she is talking about turnips. But then I heard her trashing Rachael Ray and I just had to stop and find out what crime Rachael had committed against Martha.  Were Rachael’s bed sheets not Egyptian cotton?  Had she used canned green beans in a recipe? No. It turns out that Rachael does not even have a garden!  What kind of low life does not even have a garden?  Show of hands?

    Now I’m not Rachael’s PR lady and neither am I her detractor, I’m just saying Rachael is very popular.  Lots of people buy her books and magazines and watch her TV shows. My point is that she is loved by millions and my guess is that most of those people are the same people who buy Martha’s crap stuff.

    Then last night as I was dozing off, there was Martha again on my television, this time going off on Sarah Palin.  Martha was dripping with contempt and saying some really ugly things. And again, I’m not here to sing the praises of Sarah or tell you why she is the devil, because everyone seems to have already made up their minds on that.  I’m just saying that millions of people love her.  And wouldn’t you agree that a lot Sarah’s fans are probably K-Mart shoppers? Or Sears shoppers or wherever Martha is hawking her wares these days. Obviously, I don’t keep up with Martha.

    For a woman with a head for business, Martha’s lack of  self-restraint mystifies me. I fail to see what benefit it was to Martha to vomit the feelings she has towards Sarah and Rachael all over middle America, thus alienating most of the very people who fill her coffers.  Were those thoughts that simply could not go unexpressed?  Did it endear her to her customer base? No.  I think it made her look really small and sad.

    Whatever your feelings are about any of the three women mentioned heretofore, from a purely business standpoint, Martha’s self-indulgent behavior seems to me like a really bad business move and terribly unsavvy.

    Martha your lack of restraint surprises me. I thought you were more calculating than that.

    Pumpkin Dessert

    November 21, 2009

    I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie, but I love this pumpkin dessert.  I’ve had this recipe since 1984 and have never once had to put away leftovers.

    I heard earlier in the week that there is a pumpkin shortage and it may not be possible to get canned pumpkin, so run as fast as you can to the store and pick up a couple of cans. Then again, maybe the pumpkin farmers started that rumor.

    At any rate, here’s a dessert that is always a big hit.

    Pumpkin Dessert

    You will need one yellow cake mix, three eggs, 1 1/2 sticks of butter (margarine will do), 3 cups of canned pumkin pie mix, 1 can of evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon.

    Three easy steps:  crust, filling and topping

    Crust

    1 package of yellow cake mix (reserving 1 cup for topping)

    1 stick of butter, softened

    1 egg

    Mix together and pat into a greased 9×13 pan

    Filling

    3 cups of canned pumpkin pie mix (approximately one large can)

    2/3 cups of evaporated milk  (I use Pet Milk but any brand will do.)*

    2 eggs

    Mix together thoroughly and pour over crust.

    Topping

    1 cup of reserved cake mix

    ¼ cup of sugar

    1 teaspoon of cinnamon

    ½ stick of butter, softened

    Mix together and sprinkle over top of filling.  Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes for a glass pan, up to 50 for a metal pan.

    This recipe doesn’t call for chopped pecans on top, but I think they make a nice addition.

    Enjoy!

    * Evaporated milk that comes in a can, which you can find in the baking aisle. Don’t get it confused with condensed milk. Condensed milk is thick and sugary; evaporated milk is thin and milky – like milk!

    The New Bed

    November 19, 2009

    Recently I acquired a twin bed for Sean.  Heretofore, the poor giraffe-legged child had been sleeping in a toddler bed.  Toddler bed, we all know, is code for “crib on the ground”.

    I know what you are thinking. “What is wrong with y’all? Can you not even manage to get your six-year-old child a decent bed?”

    And the answer to that is apparently not, at least not in a timely manner.

    Several times when we’ve had other children at the house, I have overheard them laughing at Sean’s itty bitty bed. And although it didn’t bother him, it made me realize that it was probably time to get him out of the toddler bed.

    But finding a new bed wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be.

    It took me a while to find the bed I wanted. For one thing, I wanted an old-fashioned 1950s Beaver Cleaver kind of twin bed.  For months, I searched Craig’s List and eBay and garage sales to no avail.

    As it turns out, the Catholic grade school that I attended closed a year or so back and they sold off all the furniture in the convent and my mother bought one of the twin beds. When she found out we were looking for an old fashioned twin bed, she offered it to us.  There is great irony to think that my son is now sleeping in the bed of a now-dead nun who used to routinely whack the holy snot out of me.

    At any rate it is a really nice bed, solid maple and just as old-fashioned as it can be.  And the best part – free!

    So when my parents came to visit recently, they brought the bed with them and joyful sounds were heard throughout the kingdom upon its arrival.

    The next day when AD left for work, I dropped Sean off at school and then my parents and I high tailed it to Sam’s and bought a mattress and box springs.  When we got home, I quickly disassembled the crib-on-the-floor and hauled it up to the attic while my dad set up the “new” bed.

    Mom and I put on the brand new sheets, fluffed the pillows and then stood back to gaze upon the marvelous new bed.  And we felt much happiness and no sadness. None.   We did however feel tiredness.  We had been working at a feverish pace because we knew we had to get the job done before AD got home and put the skids to our merry making.

    AD does not like change. AD would not want to take the toddler bed down.  AD would have to rend his garments and cry into the crib sheets. He would have to kneel by the tiny bed and hang his head in sorrow. He would have to weep as he tenderly ran his fingers over the rough patches on the frame where tiny teeth once gnawed.  He would have a goodbye ceremony. He would write the bed a little letter and tape it to the bed frame. And this could take weeks, maybe even months.   All while I stood quietly and respectfully off to the side tapping my foot and looking at my watch. All while Sean asked over and over and over when he was going to get to sleep in his new bed.

    When Sean got home from school, he took a flying leap into his new bed and declared it awesome. He loved it.

    When AD got home from work, he did not declare the new bed awesome, but rather said, “Oh. A new bed.”

    And I could see what he was thinking:   “I didn’t know that last night was the last night I would get to tuck him in the little bed.”  And while I have sympathies for his sentimentalities… no wait, I really don’t.

    So later that day AD asked me, he said, “Do you not even feel a little bit of sadness that the old bed is gone?”

    “No.”

    “Not even a little? Not just a teeny tiny tinge of sadness?”

    “No.”

    “None?”

    “No. I feel glee.”

    He half smiled at me.

    I half smiled back.

    AD weeps at what he leaves behind.

    I look forward to what lies ahead.

    It all works out, for at long last, our six-year-old sleeps in a proper bed.

    The Red Sofa

    November 16, 2009

    About 14 years ago, I bought a huge, down-filled, ridiculously expensive Henredon sofa. I had it made in this exquisite blood red damask fabric and it was a vision of beauty for all who laid eyes or butts upon it.

    Luckily, I bought the sofa before I met AD because he would never authorize that kind of spending.  Not so lucky is that it never occurred to me that once you spend that kind of money on a sofa, you are loath to ever get rid of it. And trust me on this:  There is not a sofa on the planet that you will want to keep your entire life.

    Well why not just get it recovered you might ask? And that is a reasonable question. The problem is that I could buy a brand new sofa and maybe even a few other things for what it will cost me to have it recovered.  It will require a substantial outlay of cash and outlaying of cash is just not in our immediate or foreseeable future.

    So then, right now I have a formerly glorious red sofa that has turned a sad shade of pink from the sun and suffers a terminal case of thread rot. And if I may be honest, the giant expensive, formerly glorious, now ugly sofa is really getting on my nerves.  Every time I walk through my living room, it pains me to look at it.  It is the Norma Desmond of the sofa world.

    Last week, as I was pulling into the neighborhood I saw a Thomasville truck in front of my neighbor’s house and two men were hauling in a houseful of brand new furniture. I slowed to gawk at the spectacle of it all.  And I may have pressed my nose against the car window and drooled just a little.  I coveted. Oh yes I did. I coveted with a vengeance.

    With a heart drenched in envy, I continued around the block towards home, driving past the house of a woman whom I only knew in passing. But she doesn’t live there anymore. She lost her battle to cancer about this time last year leaving behind a husband and a ten-year-old boy.

    Maybe she left behind a really nice sofa.  Or maybe hers had thread rot too. I don’t know.  But either way, it didn’t matter.  She left it all behind.

    * * *

    Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   Matthew 6:19~21

    A Study In Orange

    November 14, 2009

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    Mexican Chicken Soup

    November 12, 2009

    Another soup recipe from my big brown envelope for your fanatabulously awesome weekend ahead.

    This one is called Mexican Chicken soup. Here’s what you’ll need and how to make it:

    2 or 3 grilled chicken breasts, cubed.  You can also use the pre-grilled fajita chicken from the freezer case or you can use baked chicken, whatever works for you.  A lot of times I’ll use left over baked chicken.

    1 onion, diced – I like the Mayan Sweets

    1 poblano pepper, grilled, steamed and diced

    2 T of butter + 1T of olive oil

    1 clove of garlic (garlic powder works fine too)

    1 package of fresh sliced mushrooms, cleaned

    1 can of corn, drained

    ½ quart of chicken broth

    ½ quart of water, more or less

    1 16-oz. block of Velveeta, cubed

    3 tablespoons of corn starch mixed with 1 cup of warm water

    ¼ tsp of cumin + ¼ tsp of chili powder

    If you have a grill and it’s no trouble to fire it up, then grill two or three chicken breasts, one onion and a poblano pepper.  When the skin on the poblano is good and black, put it in a zip lock bag, seal it up and let it steam for about 20 minutes. Then peel away the charred skin, remove the seeds with a knife and dice.

    If you don’t want to mess with grilling and steaming a poblano pepper, a can of green chilis and a drop or two of liquid smoke is a nice substitute, but I don’t think you can beat the smokey flavor of a grilled poblano – worth the trouble in my opinion.

    If you are like me and don’t want to mess with the grill, then in a large pan, sauté the onion and mushrooms and garlic in the butter and olive oil until the onions are brown and carmel-y.

    Add the chopped chicken, diced peppers, corn and the chicken broth and heat to a simmer.

    Add the Velveeta, but do not let it come to a boil or bad things will happen to your soup, your pan and the ambience of your house.

    When the cheese has melted, mix the cornstarch in with the 1 cup of warm water and add to the soup to thicken, stirring frequently.

    Add as much of the ½ quart of water to get the consistency that you want.

    Season with cumin and chili powder and maybe a little salt or whatever else suits you.

    There is a lot of room for variation/substitution with this soup. If you aren’t opposed to beer, a half a can would probably add a nice flavor as would a 1/2 cup or so of cooking sherry.

    I would serve this with a pan-grilled focaccia bread.  You can get a loaf of focaccia bread for about $1.50 at the grocery store in the bakery department.  I slice it in half horizontally, slather the inside with butter and garlic powder and then put it face down in a hot pan until good and brown.

    Have a yummy weekend y’all!

    An American Hero

    November 11, 2009

    Uncle Claude was already in his late 70s when I came into the family about 13 years ago.  He passed away about a year or so before Sean was born.  Many things bring Uncle Claude to mind, but nothing more so than Veteran’s Day.

    The first time I met him was on a warm November afternoon.  AD had taken me to Tuna to meet the family for the first time and one of the first people he wanted me to meet was his Uncle Claude, the man who had been like a father to him after his own father died when he was a young boy.

    That afternoon, the three of us took off and played a round of golf and what I learned about him that day was that he was a quiet man loathe to draw attention to himself, that he played a mean game of golf and that he had a razor sharp dry wit to the delight of those agile enough to keep pace.

    What I didn’t know about him on that particular day was that he had hoped to play professional baseball before he was called away to serve in World War II when he was eighteen.

    I didn’t know that as a 19-year-old boy, he had survived the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach at Normandy and then later the Battle of the Bulge – two of the most horrifically bloody and casualty-laden battles in American military history.

    I didn’t know that later he had ridden through the streets of Paris with de Gaulle as Parisians cheered for her liberators. I didn’t know that he had received a Purple Heart after an enemy’s bullet left him with a shattered elbow and unable to fully extend his right arm for the rest of his life.

    And I will never know the horror and hardship he suffered without complaint for my freedom.

    Claude lived his life in such a way that very few people knew that he had served America with such honor and valor. He returned home and quietly carried on.

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    Uncle Claude was not just a hero to a young fatherless boy, but he was a genuine American hero, and remains so to all who enjoy her freedoms.