Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gourmet Texas on a Budget

There are certain delicacies without which a trip to Texas is just not a trip to Texas. Here are a few of them.

1. Good Mexican food made with fresh ingredients from scratch.
You can find plenty of that here in Austin, and don't forget to order The Bob. Or the Guacamole. I'd better stop there.


2. Forget Krispy Kreme. It's Shipleys Donuts or none at all. You can find these in most major Texas cities, for sure Houston and San Antonio.


3. My favorite hamburger used to be at Prince's Drive-In on Main Street in Houston, with a tall, frosted mug of root beer. My current fave these last thirtysomething years was introduced to me by my Dear Professor down in South Texas. They are now everywhere.


4. Mexican Coca Cola. Bottled in Mexico in REAL bottles, and made with pure cane sugar, not that high fructose stuff that they use in the States. It has a wonderful bouquet and a smooth finish. Currently appearing at your local HEB. (Texas grocery chain)

5. I saved the best for last. (Drum roll please.) It just ain't a trip to Texas without bluebonnets or Blue Bell Ice Cream. After hearing DP wax eloquent about it in class, one of his students, after graduation, had two gallons shipped to us in western PA. Wherever that student is, God Bless him!!

blue bell

I'm salivating just remembering it all.

My Worst nightmare

I have a recurring dream that strikes terror in my heart. Magically I am transported back to high school. Keep in mind that must be some major time machine voodoo to take a sixtysomething back fortysomething years. I walk into class and there is a final exam for which I did not prepare. In the immortal words of Buck Owens and Roy Clark, Hee Haw characters and songwriters, "gloom, despair and agony on me."


This is always followed by waking up in a sweat, then a sense of relief as I regain some semblance of reality. At least, that's how the nightmare has played itself out.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I accompanied my beautiful Principessa to her school for the final two periods of the day. Principessa is a social studies teacher in a humongous high school in a large Texas city. May I brag? Our little Principessa is the new chairwoman of the social studies department. Way to go, Principessa!


Seventh period began harmlessly enough. The initial students entering class were momentarily taken aback by my presence (fearing I was a substitute teacher). Some were excited to see that Principessa was indeed the result of normal human reproduction. I think they viewed her as springing fully formed from the History Channel, or perhaps an alien. Teachers have normal human lives?


Principessa led her students through a rapid review of the last twenty chapters of study and then handed out a 25 question test. As the kids were quietly working away at sharpening their pencils and answering the questions, my darling daughter, the joy of my life next to my computer, grandchildren, and grandkitties, nonchalantly turned in my direction and said, "Mom, would you like to take the test?" How else could I respond but, "OK".

She handed me the innocent piece of paper and then it hit me. (Dun dun duh!!!!!)

It was my worst nightmare. Only it was REAL! Here I was taking a test for which I had not prepared, even though Principessa had gone over the questions beforehand. I vainly went down the list, trying desperately to remember what she had said. I did pretty well until the final eight. It was then my sixtysomething brain ran screaming from the room, leaving me to sit there blankly staring out the window.

When I mumbled a pathetic "I just can't remember this", Principessa retorted, "but Mom, you LIVED through this period of history."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I paid ATTENTION to what was going on!" I replied.

Have you any idea what it's like to have your DAUGHTER make you stay after school and write 500 times, I WILL pay attention in class?

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Want to take as many with me as I can

One of the incredible people I inherited in my marriage to my Dear Professor is his 85 year old Aunt Mellie.  Aunt Mellie is a role model for more people than you can shake a stick at.  (Something about being in Texas brings out my background in southern colloquialisms).  She was born in Mexia, a little town between Houston and Dallas, a tad west of the interstate.


There's an old groaner of a joke about Mexia (pronounced Mu-hay-uh).  A salesman comes to town and, wanting to check his facts, inquires as to how to pronounce the town's name.  One person tells him Mex-ee-uh, another Mu-hay-uh.  Just a little confused, he goes to the local ice cream store and asks the clerk, "would you please pronounce the name of this place very slowly for me?"  The clerk responds, speaking slowly and enunciating clearly,  "Da-ree Queen".  (I warned you it was a groaner!)

Perhaps I should get back to Aunt Mellie.  Despite her 85 years, she is vibrant, active, and has much less grey hair than I do.  MUCH less.  She attributes her stubborn hair color to her Cherokee lineage.  All I know is I want to be like her when I grow up.

Last summer she went swinging on ropes through the jungle canopy of Costa Rica, then caught a huge swordfish in the Gulf.  Should you doubt, she has pictures to prove it.


But her  most outstanding characteristic is her love for family and her love for Jesus.  Principessa and I stopped by to visit her a couple of days ago on our way from iPodite's home in one major Texas city to Principessa's in another.  Although Texas is pretty big, our family members have somehow managed to settle along one of the major highways, which makes it convenient to visit them.

Aunt Mellie, who moved from her home of 55 years to her current home only 7 years ago, brought us up to speed on her family, including grandkids, and spoke of heaven.  She loves parties and family reunions, and I think that's how she envisions eternity.  Her words are still ringing in my ears.

"I want to take as many with me as I can."


I can say from personal experience these thirtysomething years,  anything Aunt Mellie sets her mind on is pretty much a done deal.

Where it's always 9 o'clock

My dear sister iPodite loves clocks.  Her guest bedroom is the clock repository.  Sleeping in a room with 21 clocks is not as difficult as it might appear because not all of them are functional-- 18 of  them exist in a world where it is always 9 o'clock.  It is, however, just a tad unsettling to have that many faces watch you as you sleep.


I asked her about the setting.  Was it aesthetic?  iPodite is an enormously creative person with an artistic eye.  Actually she has two of them.  Is it possible for one eye to be artistic and the other not?  If so, would they be constantly arguing over aesthetics?  Sorry, I digress.


iPodite's response was that she just became wearied of resetting 21 clocks every time Daylight Savings sprang forward or fell back, and so 18 of the clocks were frozen in time.  My sister and I grew up in a land BEFORE Daylight Savings time was initiated, so I can understand the weariness.  I remember being VERY disconcerted about having to go to bed while there was still daylight to burn in play.  When my Dear Professor, ALL his books, our three children and I moved to the Frozen North, where in the fall and winter the sun hides after 3PM, I became grateful for the sacrifice of thousands of boys and girls in later time zones going to bed with daylight to burn so that our three didn't have to walk home from school in the dark!

I also discovered that I have been living on slow Amish time for most of my life.  But I have discussed that before.

iPodite has several wonderful clocks.  My favorite two are the cat with the wagging tail and what iPodite calls "jazz hands Mickey."


I believe the novelist Thomas Wolfe is responsible for the phrase, "you can't go home again".  I know that is indeed true because things change within you and within the familiar surroundings you left behind.

Yet, for a few days every summer, I can visit my sister, and while I sleep in that room where 18 clocks are frozen in time,  my dreams  transport me back to the simpler days of our shared childhood. I  "go  home again" in the room where it's always 9 o'clock.

marjorie & judy

The Grandkitties

Since I have bored you senseless with talk of our fabulous grandkids (the Sprittles), I thought it time to introduce you to my grandkitties (Chester and CC).

Here is Chester, the thoughful one.


And this is CC, the shy one.


Chester and CC belong to Principessa.  Principessa loves kitties.  She loves them so much she talked my Dear Professor into getting one and letting it live in the house.  Our first cat, the legendary Mittens, proved much smarter than our Springer Spaniel, Bandit.  Mittens went out of his way to endear himself to DP.  Bandit bit him.

When Principessa found Chester and CC (who are brother and sister) as kittens, she just could not bear the thought of breaking up their kitty family, and so she took home both of them.  I blame all of this on the Hello Kitty phenomena that continues to take young females by storm just like Godzilla took Tokyo.

Chester is the model of what big brothers should be (protective and caring of their female siblings), much like Son 1 has become.  Only I cannot imagine Son 1 flushing the toilet for Principessa with the same attention to detail as Chester who lovingly covers his sister's, ahem, litter box deposits.  CC appears to be a tad litter box challenged.  She tries to cover her, ahem, deposits by pawing the floor after making the afore mentioned, ahem, deposit in the litter box.

The importance of all this is that Chester and CC are my grandkitties and the loving and pretty much well behaved companions of our Principessa.

And worthy of a grandmother's love, even if they have four legs and long tails.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Where am i?

Where am I?  I'll give you a hint.  It's not the Frozen North.


Nope, it's not DC. You're getting warmer, though.  Take a good look at that little flag flying just below the Stars and Stripes.

big flag

Uh uh.  I'm not in Chile.  But there's plenty of REALLY good Mexican food here.  Try this place and order a Bob.  You'll thank me.


OK.  This should be a dead giveaway.  In what US state where EVERYTHING is bigger, do you find these in the spring?


That's right.  I'm deep in the heart of Texas, enjoying warm weather, Mexican food (you should REALLY go to Matt's and try a Bob), and the bluebonnets. 

Bluebonnet 2

I just love bluebonnets.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't play with your food

"Don't play with your food".

I can't say how many times Mom told me that when I was a child.  Yet I said the same thing to my kids. 

In the United States we seem to do that with much more abandon than people in other cultures.  We are obssessed with food on a large scale, its production and consumption specifically.  Recently a french woman wrote a "diet" book about why french women are not as hefty as their american counterparts.  The book was all about eating to live rather than living to eat.  Oprah has given us a parade of psychologists, dieticians, and medical doctors to explain the danger of emotional, non-nutritional, and high carb/fat eating.  The slow food movement was created to inform us of the social and healthful aspects of growing and cooking our own food as well as the importance of biodiversity.

I visited our local grocery store the other day to buy a few things and found this in the produce department:

fake tomatoes

Plastic tomatoes and bell peppers.  In the PRODUCE department.  Okay, they are promoted as containers to insure your peppers or tomatoes keep fresh, but really, is this more efficient than plastic wrap or tupperware? 

Or does it feed our fascination with food play?

For a long time the US was faulted as being a small fraction of the world's populace, yet consuming most of the world's goods.  China outpaced is in 2005 and, I assume, continues to do so.  Sometimes being number 2 or 3 is truly better than being number 1.  But that does not answer the question of why we are so obsessed with playing with our food.

One of my hobbies is making hand soap in exotic scents.  I once gifted a friend with a chocolate colored and fragranced bar.  On her trip home she took a bite out of the unlabeled soap bar thinking it was a brownie!  A current trend is creating candles in edible themes.  I am sure Kathy is a wonderful lady, but why pie shaped candles

What does it say about a culture that is so awash with goods we can afford to consider a vital life component as a plaything?  It reminds me of the excesses of Roman civilization, decadent prewar Germany, or Marie Antoinette.  Perhaps we are in danger of losing the meaning of nourishment and instead promoting entertainment. 

Or maybe, just to be safe, we all need to go outside and reacquaint ourselves with the miracle of planting a seed and growing our own tomato

Homegrown tomatoes taste better anyway.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

People With Fur

Please do not misunderstand me. I love cats. But dogs have a certain mythos. They have that "man's best friend" and "a boy and his dog" thing going for them. I was out the other day driving down one of the many country roads near Iron Acres, and caught a glimpse of something. In the middle of a driveway was a truck with tools and lumber, a makeshift cutting platform, and a carpenter hard at work. Laying near the platform was a dog. That picture touched something warm and fuzzy inside me.

Why? If it had been a cat it would have been an altogether different feeling. What is it about dogs?

We had a succession of them when I was growing up. The most memorable was a Chihuahua named Teensy. And she was. My first real experience with grief was the day 13 years later that she died. That little mutt really became a part of our family.

Our freecycle dog Misty is the current Iron Acres dog. She is smart, a little attention deficit, and all nose.

all nose

Misty can go for an hour walk and her nose never leave the ground. When she first came here, she was a year old, and not at all socialized to people or dogs. She was in her own world. My friend, the farmer with 12 plus dogs, assured me that all Misty needed was some attention and a good old dog to teach her the ropes. My farmer friend was right. After only a month, Beau taught Misty not only how to go for a walk with another dog, but also to be friendly. Beau led by example and patience.


He's a good old soul.


Now Misty has a new friend, Toby. We went for our first walk together today. Toby is cute, furry, and friendly, but not quite ready for the freedom Misty enjoys.

misty park

I believe we are all a bit like Misty and Toby. We need someone older and wiser to mentor us in life's journey. Someone to show us how to act around others, how to get along. Whether it be a parent, a teacher, or a good friend, we all need someone to look up to, someone to represent for us the kind of person we want to grow up to be, a model of what a responsible human being looks like.

A wise person once said we need three types of people in our lives: those older and wiser to give us counsel, those in the same life situation to give comfort, and someone younger to mentor.

Perhaps Beau, Misty, and Toby are just people with fur.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Like Cemeteries

pacem 2

Call me contrary, call me perverse, or call me contrary AND perverse, but I like cemeteries. Perhaps it's because when younger I spent weekends with Grandmother. Grandfather died when I was four years old. I don't remember his voice, just the hospital bed in the formal dining room where he had once entertained the who's who of a large Texas city, and a nurse who visited him. She drove a Nash Rambler Coupe, and gave me a kitten.

On Sunday afternoons, Grandmother and I would drive to the cemetery. We would bring a bag of old bread to feed the ducks that frequented the pond across from the site where Grandfather was buried. And Grandmother taught me a solemn incantation that caused the grass over the grave to fold its leaves, "sleepy grass, sleepy grass, go to sleep, go to sleep." I think the "grass" was something called mimosa sensitiva, whose tiny fronds fold when touched. I was instructed to say the "magic words" while stroking the leaves.

For a young child who had not known the sorrows of loss, a cemetery was like a playground. Now that I am older, I can appreciate the beauty of the well manicured lawns and the history behind the stone memorials. Each one represents a mystery. Who were these people? What did they look like? What was their experience of the human journey?


In New York, we lived a block from from an old cemetery. The children and I were fond of riding our bikes onto the narrow, graveled cemetery roads and reading the old tombstones. The epitaphs on the older stones were poetic and often religious, the ones on the newer stones, informational. A particularly memorable one read, "Here lies (name). She bore 3 sons and many grudges." What kind of a mother was this woman to elicit an epitaph like that?


For me, cemeteries are oases of quiet, serene natural beauty in the face of an increasingly manic world. And they are full of history. My Dear Professor's favorite cemetery is off the beaten path near a small Texas town. It is the final resting place of a Texas Ranger name Leander McNelly, the captain of a special forces unit of the Texas Rangers in the late 1800s. McNelly was given the task of cleaning up the illegal shenanigans and stopping the cattle raids transpiring on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border along the Rio Grande River. Although his methods were sometimes questioned, they were always effective.


McNelly's gravesite, and those of a few more humble folk, are cared for by one man who is approaching retirement age. For him it is a labor of love--love of Texas history, and love for his son who is buried in a newer section near the old Methodist church on the grounds.

On a small country road in the heart of Texas is a special plot of earth where sorrow and history, mortality and immortality meet to offer, under the shade of liveoak trees, a place of solace and reflection.

I like cemeteries.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Henri Nouwen's Hope

If ever a place could steal my heart away from my Texas homeland, it is the mountain range opposite the Windegg Inn, in the countryside high above Innsbruck, Austria. Last summer in the middle of the college tour we chaperoned, after experiencing London's Tower, Shakespeare's cottage, Paris' Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, our tour bus climbed the quiet hills and negotiated the narrow hairpin turns into the Austrian countryside that led to the inn. We were transported from the marvels of man to the marvels of God that sunny afternoon.

Across from the inn was a small chapel, above the inn a pasture with belled sheep. Across the way was a mountainside chalet. Uniting everything was the lush green carpet of grass interspersed with wildflowers.

And the mountains.

My eyes and my soul were drawn to the mountains. I wanted to drink in the ever changing display of light and clouds. I just could not get enough. It was difficult to close my eyes to sleep that night. My soul was overwhelmed with delight.

My hope Nouwen

"I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2 New International Version

It was such a gift to be there, I wanted to share it with you.

Have a refreshing day of rest.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's Alive, It's Alive!!!!

After what has seemed like an interminably harsh winter, Spring has finally arrived at Iron Acres. How do I know? Well, there are certain signs to look for, our own regional harbingers of new life.

The first sign of Spring

The absolutely first thing to bloom in our part of the Frozen North is snowdrops. Our neighbor catty corner to us (southern directional term meaning her house is diagonal to ours and across the street) has snowdrops planted around her mailbox. Dear Miss Alice is gone now, but these clusters of delicate, tiny drops of white at her ancestral home are a fitting and hope filled memorial.

Then there are the new shoots of daffodils emerging, promising a second wave of blooms. The ones planted close to our concrete foundation on the south side seem to burst through ground and bloom first. I think the concrete holds and reflects the sun's warmth. This is the perfect place for the modest greenhouse of my dreams. I just haven't had the heart to dig up the peonies behind the daffies to make way for the greenhouse.

Today we experienced the warm bracing high of thiry-nine degrees fahrenheit, (we're having a heat wave!!) accompanied by blue skies and cottony white clouds.


Quite a contrast from the dreary dull grey of a few weeks ago.

fog of winter

The maple branches in the front yard are pregnant with swelling buds that will soon turn into green leaves.


Last but not least is the sound of peepers. Peepers (also called pinkletinks on Martha's Vineyard and tinkeltoes in New Brunswick, Canada according to Wikipedia) are tiny frogs whose breeding season begins in March. The saying around here is that winter is officially over once peepers have been heard three successive evenings. The mating call of the male frogs can be both delightful and cacophonous, depending on their concentration in the area.

My Dear Professor and I went out for our weekly date night last night and were talking about how much we both enjoyed the sunshine and relative warmth of today. I wondered if the hope and joy that Spring brings can be as fully appreciated by "sunrise-ers" (younger folks whose future lies before them) as it is by "sunset-ers" (older folks whose retirement lies before them).

This I do know. Spring is a good thing. And I am so grateful it is finally here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Holy Grail of 1956

News flash!!! The Godzilla like rubber monster of economic crisis is threatening Girl Scout cookie sales!!!

Iron Acres is a Girl Scout free zone. Not by choice, I just don't think the local scouts venture very far outside of Hooterville, even though Iron Acres is only 5 minutes from town. Hmmm. I haven't thought about Girl Scout cookies in a long time.
I really enjoyed my Girl Scout years, especially one certain cookie campaign. . .


The year was 1956. Every girl scout worth her weight in sandwich cookies was out to fill her sales quota to win the prize of a lifetime: an innocuous round green and white button with the numerals 56. Many a sleepless creative night must have gone into that idea. But it was a winner. At least in 1956. Try that today and you would get laughed out of your green and whites. This was an older, simpler time. A round tin button looked like the holy grail to a shy, awkward, tall 9 year old girl.

Keep in mind that if I had my dna tested it would come up completely void of the competition marker. I am genetically competition challenged, pathologically apathetic.

But this was different. It called forth something hidden deep in the abyss of my soul. I don't know why or how, but I wanted that button. Bad. REALLY bad. So bad that before the time was up I had palmed off 56 stinking boxes of stinking Girl Scout cookies to every relative, neighbor, or stranger who would answer the door and gaze down through my cat's eye glasses into my imploring dark brown eyes.

With pity. Lots and LOTS of pity.

My reward for which I worked so feverishly, that round piece of tin and paint, is still in my possession. And my competition challenged genes quickly reestablished themselves in the decision making pecking order. That button taught me something about myself and life.

For one brief shining moment, I took on the impossible and made it happen. Okay, the neighbors and strangers and family made it happen. But I committed myself to something big, for me, and saw it through successfully.

It also taught me that I didn't want to be a door to door sales person when I grew up--an important fact I forgot until AFTER my Junior Achievement experience in high school. But that is a story for another day.

Gourmet Chefs and Girl Scout Cookies , Girl Scout Cookie Sales in Jeopardy, Vintage Girl Scout

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Iron Acres Got Its Name

It truly amazes me how life imitates art. Take for example Iron Acres. It was named after the 60s sitcom Green Acres, which was about a couple from the city who long for the peace and quiet of the country only to find chaos. I never watched the tv show when it was on the air. I was in my high school intellectual stage and above formulaic physical comedy. I really wish I had paid attention.

I was raised in a big city in Texas. Now, when I say big city I really mean it. Population was about 2 MILLION. A BIG city. With freeways and rush hour traffic and all that.

My Dear Professor was raised in a small south Texas town. Population about 3 HUNDRED. By small I mean everyone knew everyone. You were not allowed the extravagance of anonymity.

We met, fell in love, and married in the big city. But when I was in that intellectual phase in high school I longed for country life. I had a picture of the country as bucolic bliss, that is, until Truman Capote wrote that book about the two guys who murdered a whole family on a Kansas farm. After that I decided the big city was fine, thank you very much.

Shortly after we had purchased our country paradise in the Frozen North, but before we moved here, I had the chance to watch an episode of Green Acres. My eyes were opened. I had a sense of dull forboding about the move. Then we unpacked and that foreboding became a reality.

Iron Acres
(that's me on the porch, and my Dear Professor showing off the mule)

Everything was fine until the night I drew a bath and to my horror saw the tub fill up with tomato soup. The tip off should have come when we were shown the small array of tanks and filters and pumps and injection systems that stood between the water as it came into the house from the well and the spigot in the kitchen. But I was young, relatively speaking, and inexperienced and didn't realize that the presence of a miniature municipal water treatment plant in the basement translated to something was SERIOUSLY wrong with the water coming out of the well.

Since then I have had a crash course in water treatment and we have dug a new well, which is a trip in itself--have you ever had a conversation with someone who does "water witching" for green fees at the local municipal golf course? We have also made peace with the, ahem, eccentricities of country living. One of the annual rituals of Spring is skunk breeding season.

Anyway, just for grins and nostalgia's sake, I was surfing the net the other day and caught bits and pieces of an old Green Acres episode. I was stunned by the comparisons between that series and the life we now live:

Green Acres Cast of Characters vs Iron Acres Cast of Characters
a highly educated lawyer--check (in his former big city life, my Dear Professor was a lawyer)

a domestically challenged exotic and fashionable wife--check(well, at least the domestically challenged part)

eccentric neighbors--check(I guess I haven't told you yet about the woman at the end of our road who unsuccessfully tried to electrocute her husband by rewiring the washing machine)

locals wary of anyone with a college education--check(this is coal country, anyone who has a white collar is automatically suspect)

a highly evolved pig--check(a friend has a highly evolved sow named Spots whom I have attended in birth twice--the sow, not the friend. Baby piggies are SO cute!)

comp ia ga

The resemblance is uncanny. I never realized we were living in Hooterville!

(Is it just me, or do you hear the theme from Twilight Zone playing softly in the background?)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Dear Professor

Remember Tolstoy's three questions? Did you take on the challenge?

The one closest to me that day was my Dear Professor. My favorite photograph of him is this 30 year old portrait with his Dad and his firstborn son. Three generations of men. It's my favorite because my Dear Professor tends to get very self conscious in front of a camera. He says it is PTSD from too many Christmases trying to shield his eyes from the glare of the stadium lights his mother used to take silent movies of her precious son and daughter. He understands, along with Brangelina and all the other famous couples, how worrisome the paparazzi can be.

Only in his case it was the mamarazzi.

And she could be every bit as determined to get the shot as the camera wielding madmen on the hunt for a photographic pound of celebrity flesh!

3gensprad copy

I truly love this photo for my Dear Professor's total lack of his own self awareness, his emotional nakedness, a glimpse of his soul through the perfect alignment of his eyes, the camera lens, and my eyes. His tenderness for his firstborn.

It will always be a special moment for me.

A few days ago we were enjoying a deep conversation. Deep conversations are a new experience for us both. We lived together far too many years, each immersed in our own concerns, living parallel lives. The story of how that changed I will save for another day. But change it did, about four years ago. We are only now beginning to understand ourselves and each other and discovering a treasure there.

This is a recent picture of my Dear Professor, book in hand.

dp book

I love this picture just as much as I love the other one, but for a different reason. My Dear Professor loves reading as much as I love watching movies. For many years I did not understand how his quest for truth and understanding are an important part of who he is; that in dismissing that, I was failing to appreciate the man he is.

There was a time when I could truthfully say that this man, this partner of many years, my anchor, my love, would have a difficult time having to choose which to save first out of a burning building, his books or his wife.

I can say that no more. In the newness of our 31 year relationship I know that he loves me more than his books. And I love him, his mind and his desire for truth more than . . .


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wearin' O' the Green

Spring is tentatively advancing on the Frozen North, so it seems rather appropriate to celebrate a holiday whose traditional color is green at a time in which Yankees begin to see that color again on the landscape.

Although I am not Irish, nor have a desire to don a green 'fro or flashing green necklace or down some green beer, I am grateful for the influence of St. Patrick on the spiritual traditions of western civilization.

I've never been to Ireland, but that hasn't stopped me from appreciating that wonderful country's music. It began early in my life. My mother sang the "Irish Lullaby" to me as an infant. It was the only lullaby she ever sang.

In the 60s at the height of the folk music craze I discovered the music of the Clancy Brothers in the beautiful love song, "Will Ye Go Lassie, Go?"

Lucky Charms cereal and Irish Spring soap aside, Ireland has always fascinated me. Its people have managed to weave beauty out of sorrow, and still maintain a healthy sense of humor. My current favorite music from the Emerald Isle comes from Robin Mark, a worship leader and songwriter from Belfast.

Of course, I would be remiss for leaving out the Muppets version of Danny Boy;

or an old Gaelic Blessing:

Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the smiling stars to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you

or a glimpse of the magical green country that inspires the poet's rhyme and the singer's tune:

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Because I Wheeze

My mother wheezed when she laughed. My sister iPodite and I took great delight in pointing that out. Actually, the sound of her laughter would produce even louder, unrestrained cackles from us. Sometimes the hilarity reached such a high that it produced a mad dash for the special room in the house with porcelain fixtures.

That was back in the day when only one special room with porcelain fixtures was considered necessary in a house. (hmmmmm--interesting choice of words.)

I say that to say this. I now wheeze when I laugh. I don't know if it's due to cleaning out the chicken coop once too often without a face mask, or mixing caustic soda and bleach for the water system, or just a natural part of, ahem, aging. I wheeze.

And my dear Principessa takes great delight in pointing it out. In fact, she enjoys producing it. Often. At least once a week she calls me and asks, "have you checked out icanhascheezburger lately?" (note: for those who may be reading this from Mars, icanhascheezburger is a mindless website full of mildly to hysterically funny, captioned pictures of various and sundry animals.)

Thereupon the usual answer is no, and we are off to the computer to view an endless number of cute kitty pictures with often humorously misspelled quotes. She says it's funnier when she views it with me.

That's because I wheeze.

I dare you not to.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back in the Day

We will forever be indebted to the creators of the Star Wars films for giving us a new storytelling cliche, "a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . "

When I was a little girl growing up on the cutting edge technology of television, we still listened to radio. I remember one big event that brought them both together. One night the Walt Disney Show held a simulcast on radio and tv. That was really ahead of its time--BEFORE stereo, even!

Mom had a wonderful old RCA victrola cabinet that contained a record player, an am radio, speakers, and space on the bottom to store her 78rpm record albums. Her favorites were Jose Iturbi, Judy Garland, and classical music. I listened to all of it as a child, and loved every minute.

What I REALLY enjoyed were the Sunday morning broadcasts of the local newspaper comic strips. I can almost hear the announcer's voice as he gave the page number and began reading Red Ryder. Even after I learned to read for myself I still tuned in.

If you are feeling nostalgic, you can go to this website and create your own comic page which you can view on their site, by email, or rss feed. Here's a sample.

Moderately Confused


Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's in a Name?

(NOTE: www.wordle.net generates literal word pictures from your text input. It's fun!)

Names are important. They tell us something about the namee. As young parents my Dear Professor
and I took great care in the choice of appellation for our 3 children. We didn't want the little scudders to end up with a name too easily mocked. Son 2 proved himself so adept at the practice that he never called our cat the same name twice. For 15 years. (The poor thing went to its grave suffering from extreme identity confusion.) And this was the child who officially named the animal in the first place. [ed. note: Upon reading this, Principessa informed me that it was SHE who named the cat , NOT Son 2, although there are a host of other things for which he can take the blame.]

I "enjoyed" a succession of nicknames in my childhood. In elementary school it was Geronimo and Giraffe, the former being based on
alliteration with my first name, the latter on the former as well as my 3 inch growth over one summer that left me towering over everyone. (if you are as confused as I am about the use of former and latter in a sentence see this.)

There must have been a fire sale on the name Judy the year I was born because in my high school class there were at least 3 and sometimes 4 of us. It was very confusing until some doofus singled me out to have the rare privilege of being referred to by my last name. That was my first year in high school. The second year my name became Queenie, based on my "regal bearing" rather than the fact that I was a supporting character in a Frank Capra movie about gangsters in New York City (Pocketful of Miracles).

When we moved to the Frozen North, all of our first names (with the exception of our firstborn whose name was comprised of only 4 letters) were reduced to the first syllable. Regardless of what that syllable was. Why do Yankees do that? Are they in too great a hurry to use the whole name?

The TV series Lost has raised nicknaming to a new art. One of the main characters has so distinguished himself by his expertise in this field that the series website offers a Sawyer nickname generator.

But the major crisis in naming comes the day your first grandchild arrives. What do you want that wonderful bundle of preciousness to call you? For the rest of your life. In PUBLIC. My confusion and indecision ended that day Beatiful Mommy came up with a good suggestion. She had noted my signature on emails and asked why not use that? Mommo it was.

And how on earth did I end up with the one nickname I actually picked out for myself, sort of?

As a joke. Our early computer games came with a short list of high scorers named after the Marx brothers. All their names ended with "o". The rest is history.

And for the record, as any grandparent will attest, it really doesn't matter WHAT your grandchild calls you. It is enough that they call.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See

161163114_8dcef9a40eI never cease to be amazed at what can be found on the internet. After writing about Uncle Wiggily the other day, I did a search on Howard Garis, the author, which led to a wonderful website full of old illustrations and cartoons. How old? Well, certainly older than ME!

Of course, one thing ALWAYS leads to another, and I ended up at a flickr page devoted to my other favorite children's book:

My copy is just as lovingly worn as this one, and I remember every picture. While watching the slideshow of the book, I suddenly became aware of the how its illustrations have shaped my idea of the perfect home and the perfect life. Kinda scary, isn't it?

Here I am fiftysomething years later in the country on a small farm that has been home to many of the animals with whom Mr. Flibberty-Jib held conversation. My desire for that lifestyle can be traced back to Mr. Flibberty-Jib. A glimpse of his white house with green shutters and climbing pink roses still touches something deep within me. It beckons me into the story and through that front door. I can smell Mrs. Flibberty-Jib's roast beef right now!

How many of my foundational assumptions about life and happiness were planted by something I saw as a child? A picture is a very powerful thing. Even now. Especially on the internet. We can see anything and EVERYTHING . . . instantly. Every now and then a search goes terribly wrong and we are thrust into the presence of something that gives new meaning to the term graphic violence.

What happens in the mind of a child who views internet images that their mind is incapable of understanding? What stories are they being beckoned into? How do we protect them? How do we protect that child still within ourselves?

"O be careful little eyes what you see."

Picture(c) 1947 By Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Eloise Wilkins, www.pigeonderby.blogspot.com/2006/06/stinky-kids-books.html

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Three Answers

I am becoming increasingly aware that life in the most complete sense of the word is found in the little moments that are so easy to overlook--a child's request to have his picture taken, a glance at the stirrings of Spring outside my window, a walk in the park, the still small voice of my Creator as he persistently and lovingly pursues my heart.

Leo Tolstoy, the same Russian novelist who gave us Anna Karenina and War and Peace, also wrote several collections of short stories. One is entitled "The Three Questions". In that story, a king determines that he can cope with anything in life if he can answer three critical questions:

What is the best time to begin everything?
Who are the best people to listen to?
What is the most important thing to do?

After seeking and being disappointed by the wisdom of many scholars, the King turns to a nearby hermit. He comes to the hermit disguised as a poor man and spends the day helping in the garden. After a long silence, the hermit finally responds:

The most important time is now.
The most important person is whoever you are with.
The most important thing is to do that person good.

I have hopes of spending today in the awareness of these three answers.

Won't you join me?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dear Aunt Gussie Plus Aunt Susie's Kittens Meet Uncle Wiggily

It's interesting how we each view our experience as normative. But to quote George Gershwin in Porgy and Bess, it ain't necessarily so. There is a Grand Canyon of differences in world view, culture, and language understanding lying (laying?) between my mouth and your ear. Or my monitor and yours.

As I may have mentioned before (wink, wink) , I grew up in Texas surrounded by two generations of the deep south (Mother and Grandmother, both Georgia gals). Their speech and that of my Dad, a native Texan, was peppered with all sorts of phrases that became commonplace to me. I used them often growing up but to this day, I must admit, I don't really know what half of them mean. If you can shed some light on this, please feel free to comment.

By the way, the comment section below is always open. Feel free to jump into the conversation anytime. I would love to hear from you. (hint, hint)

Mom's favorite phrase was a statement of commitment to a plan of action--"if it hair lips every dog in Georgia". I always figured (hmmm, I suppose the word figure is a figure of speech?) that meant there must be a passel(a whole lot) of dogs in Georgia, but as a child was uncertain that a bunch of hairy lipped dogs would matter all that much.

Grandmother was partial to (fond of) "bless your heart" and "ugly as home made sin". If someone was as ugly as home made sin, I suppose their heart needed to be blessed. Of course, because of my tender years I never was educated as to what home made sin was in particular. I could only guess. And did that mean that manufactured sin was nicer looking?

I neither had an Aunt Gussie, nor an Aunt Susie, but they were always addressed when a stressful situation arose, as in, "dear Aunt Gussie plus Aunt Susie's kittens!". If I heard "Katie bar the door", I knew someone was in BIG trouble, hopefully my sister (hi, iPodite :) and not me.

My Dad, although of kind and gentle nature, gravitated toward the more violent phrases. I wish I had a nickel for every time he said, "for Pete's sake". Even in THIS economy I would be wealthy! I asked him once who Pete was, and why Pete should be so honored. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. When Dad was really perturbed about something he would query,"what in the Sam hill?" Again, we, or at least I, was neither acquainted with a Sam nor the location of his mystical hill.

Dad worked hard for a living repairing commercial laundry equipment and boilers. When the day's work was particularly difficult, he would describe his fatigue as "I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet". That's a cowboy term(I think) for a well exercised, sweaty horse. If the horse is not properly cooled down, brushed, and blanketed before being stabled for the night it can develop some serious respiratory problems.

Take one imaginative child, give her a colorful language void of the raunchiness and violence of modern expletives, add a sprinkling of bedtime stories filled with Uncle Wiggily's Travels, a collection of the adventures of an elderly rabbit gentleman and the fanciful names of the creatures he encountered, and you end up with an adult that STILL thinks literally, and gently.

In case you did not have the privilege of accompanying the elderly rabbit gentleman in your youth, here is an excerpt from the end of one of his tales (no pun intended, really!)

"So that's all for the present, if you please, but in case my fur hat doesn't sleep out in the hammock all night, and catch cold in the head so that it sneezes and wakes up the alarm clock, I'll tell you next about Uncle Wiggily and the water lillies."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Any Questions?

Last summer my Dear Professor and I, along with other members of the faculty, had the privilege of chaperoning some 50 college students on a trip to Europe. It was a COLLEGE trip. There is a big difference in pace between a COLLEGE trip and a regular trip . . . for OLDER people . . . like my Dear Professor and I.


It sounded like such a wonderful idea, and it was. But as in most things, the devil was hidden in the details. What they failed to tell us was that this was a WALKING trip. It should have been described as a FORCED MARCH through Europe. My pedometer died the first day. Literally. It ran out of numbers.


The shear strength of will required to survive each day reminded me of our family trip to Disneyworld a few years ago. The Zombie like gaze and shuffle of the adults as we boarded the monorail to leave the park after a day of Walt's wonderful worlds is permanently seared into my visual memory, and not unlike how we must have appeared at the end of each day on that college trip.


The students were a delightful group of young people, the European countryside was gorgeous. I'm glad we went while we had the endurance to do so (and I will probably bore you to tears with the details on another day.) But what I really want to share with you now is the secret that helped fortify us for a day of foot torture and visual delight---Nutella.

Nutella is full of creamy, chocolaty, hazel nutty goodness. It is served as part of a continental breakfast, along with tea, wonderful hearty breads, and sometimes cheese and sandwich like meats. And I will admit to slipping a small packet or two into my backpack for our day trips. It was for survival.

Nutella has the power of the Aztecs to revive a faint maiden, er, matron in times of stress. When my steps would falter later in the day, Dear Professor would wave it under my nose much like the ammonia vials of old were used to revive the fainted.

Imagine my delight to discover this precious commodity can be found in your local supermarket (or at Amazon.com if you are into major acquisitions of the stuff.)

In gratitude for this wonderful chocolaty elixir of the European, and as a contrite act of repentance for not appropriately celebrating World Nutella Day on February 9, I offer the following public service announcement:

This is Nutella.
This is Nutella on bread.

Any questions?

Nutella picture couresy of Wikimedia Commons, © Christophe Jacquet, 2004