Monday, February 2, 2015

Thumbing Pages

I have always liked to read magazines.  I've subscribed to The New Yorker for over 45 years and find something to think about in each weekly issue if only to laugh at the cartoons.  Sometimes the lead articles are too obscure to have any meaning for me.  They must be intended for smart readers who live on the East Coast.  This last week, just for example, there was an article about Jeb Bush that I've been over twice in a mostly futile attempt to figure out how he represents his interest in education and what that might have to do with his candidacy for President.

Good Housekeeping has intrigued me since I was young.  I used to read it for its recipes and the yellow pages toward the end of each issue that used to contain good hints and advice about what to buy or wear or do about seasonal illnesses. I always enjoyed the book condensations at the end.  That magazine is very different now.  The recipes are still there but they're too trendy for me.  I liked the old ones that highlighted comfort food prepared in easy, new ways that the whole family might enjoy.  I'd be laughed out of the kitchen if I served "parsnip chips" or "baked pepper jack quinoa skillet." The sections called "YOUR LOOK" and "YOUR BODY" don't work for me in any way at all. In years past,there weren't sections so blatantly presented to pique the interest of the self-absorbed; articles about appearance were more inclined to offer suggestions about looking clean, fresh and well put together. And never mind a magazine called Self.  Good grief.

I've tried to enjoy the Oprah magazine called simply O since its inception, but I'm always put off right away by the cover that features Oprah herself in glamorous, expensive clothes wrapped around an air-brushed photo-shopped body that relieves her of the extra roundness that she really has.  And there's too much self promotion that even includes highlighting the activities of her best friend, Gail,who wouldn't be in the celebrity circle at all if it weren't for her famous friend.  In between all the ads for skin care, hair products, and what will be featured in the next issue, you can study some of Oprah's favorite things to buy (and then market to others) that include jewelry pieces or jaunty tee shirts or maybe nifty gift ideas that are so exorbitantly priced that I wonder how many readers actually choose them to give.  Sandwiched in between these subtle advertisements are the serious articles that address our fears, cares and other ego problems that the modern woman must be struggling with on a moment to moment basis.  Everything is presented in colorful, intricate graphics that are mostly just difficult to understand in terms of how they relate to the subject. But don't get me wrong; if Oprah were to run for President, I might seriously consider voting for her.

My guess is that magazines are fighting a desperate and losing battle against the digital age.  Why read a magazine when you can consult an app or view Pinterest about your female concerns? But if they disappear all together, what will we look at in the dentist's office besides the aquarium?  Actually, I recommend studying the fish and their small but real environment.  A small connection to nature is probably a better way to wait than reading magazines that feature articles about the advantages of this neck cream over that one.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Points South

Our travel plans for 2015 are firming up.  Our special friend Sarah is getting married May 31 in Clarksville, Tennessee so we'll head there to help her celebrate and also spend a bit of time in Nashville.  All I know about Nashville is the airport and that it is a country music mecca.  I also know that Pat's best work friend lives there so he wants to meet up with him.  So what would be the best way for me to spend some time on my own in Nashville since I know almost nothing about it?

Then we'll head south to New Orleans with a night's stopover in Meridian.  We could make the trip in a day's time but we both get bored, restless and cranky after three or four hours in the car.  We can only chat, listen to music or work crossword puzzles only so long before we start taking verbal pot shots at the tedium of the drive which escalates into bashing life in general.  Not a healthy situation so we'll rest a night in Meridian.  I don't know one single solitary thing about Meridian except that I  once read a book of the same title.  It had something to do with civil rights in the 60's, I think. If you know of something not to be missed in Meridian, Alabama, let us know.

We should arrive in New Orleans in the early afternoon.  There are many, many things we want to do and see in this famous city.  We'll have to decide within the next few months so we can cut down our list. We'll be there for four or five days and want to eat the best local food, see the most interesting architecture, and otherwise soak up the local southern hospitality and culture in an orderly and time saving manner.  I want to take a steamboat ride on the Mississippi and for sure see Magazine Street, the French Quarter and hear some jazz.  I don't like the heat so how should I prepare myself for that?And what are  must-sees and -dos for New Orleans, Readers?

We're still thinking about a fall trip along with our usual week at Black Butte and a couple of weekends here and there.  I wouldn't mind another bus tour.  The one we took in New England was fabulous.  Maybe it's time to see something in the middle of the country?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Holidays at my Mom and Dad's house were exactly like you would picture a scene from life in the 50's.  Dad was at the head of the table, Mom at the foot and several relatives and friends in between. The feast was the traditional one that is featured in Good Housekeeping magazine and we ate until we could barely move ourselves off our chairs.

What you didn't see was the sweat on Mom's brow, the kitchen counters full of dirty dishes, the relatives who were not speaking to us that year, and "friends" of my Mom and Dad who looked like people whose next abode would probably be under the Marion Street Bridge. I figured it out when I got older that these folks were people my parents felt sorry for because they didn't have a holiday dinner destination for various interesting reasons.  Over time, these guests included the checkout girl at Safeway, Mom's hairdresser, Larry from  the night shift at work, and my Dad's cousin Frammy who used to be married to my aunt and so on.  I learned over time not to feel uneasy around these strangers even if some of them did make several trips out the their cars to "check" on something and came back smelling funny.

No matter the company, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were traditional warm gatherings where the hostess served wonderful holiday food that was lovingly and perfectly prepared. Mom and Dad have both been gone for a long time now and try as I may, I can't replicate the scene. For one thing, I am not allowed to host either event because, as my daughter puts it, I "turn into a bitch." Well, so what?  So did my own mom but she still had the gracious smile on her face when she sat down at the table (last one to sit, of course). Apparently, my true feelings after the kitchen marathon are not of the "gracious smile" type.

Nowadays, my daughter and her family go to the other Gramma's house for Thanksgiving but we do get to go to her house for Christmas.  We each bring an appetizer and dinner's ready.  My husband, sister and I go to my son's house for Thanksgiving where the turkey has been prepared on a Traeger. We are instructed that we can arrive any time after 4 and must be gone by 8:30.

My sister had a stern talk with me a few years ago letting me on the news that no matter what, we cannot replicate holiday meals from the past.  "Accept them for what they are now and let the rest turn into special memories of times past," she told me.  I'm still working on that and it's becoming easier since my daughter-in-law (the vegan) lets me bring the dressing, the gravy, and the pumpkin pie.  And even though I'm a good cook and watched and helped my mother cook many a holiday meal, my current dinner contributions don't cut the mustard, so to speak.  Even though I read up on how to prepare my assigned items and talk to experienced cooks, my dressing tastes like somebody tried to resurrect a dish from stale bread and funny tasting broth.  The gravy is either too thin or too thick and tasted one year like wine you can buy at the outlet grocery store for a couple of bucks.  The only thing that really turns out well is the pumpkin pie which unfailingly comes out looking like a magazine ad and tasting even better.  My pie crust is superb.

So what I take away from all this (thank you, Sister) is that each holiday is its own special event and needs to be enjoyed for what it holds THIS year and not for what it was like in 1959.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

This and That

I'm having trouble settling on one topic for this month's entry so I'll offer up some thoughts on random subjects.

First is ebola.  I can't figure out how much to worry about this. The media is really putting lots of energy into dramatizing the horror that is occurring in parts of Africa and following the stray bugs that have made it to the USA.  Am I supposed to be reassured by the photos of medical personnel wearing those hazmat suits or should I try to find one of my own?  I'm almost certain we could go online and order our own suits from Amazon or some other random site. Should I put a lot of focus on hoping the CDC will influence big pharmaceutical companies to pound out a vaccine?  But maybe we should just rely on the notion that more people will die of influenza than will die of ebola.  I am really anxious for good information about this.

Second is parties.  As far as I'm concerned, the holiday season is HERE.  Anybody can tell that since Costco has moved its Christmas decorations from the fringes of the store where they've been since August to the center of the store.  And Halloween is just over and with it the first parties of the season, right?  Soon to follow will be Thanksgiving parties with a quick transition to the party central time of Christmas.  I'm not all that comfortable at parties.  These events make me more conscious of how I look than at any other time of the year. No matter what I might buy to wear, I am not going to look like a Chanel model and not a single person will comment on how much weight I have or have not lost.  And what should I talk about?  I wish someone would come up with a short list of topics for what to talk about at any party.  That would really help.

Third is ants. We are experiencing a strange invasion.  We've lived in this house for seven years without a single sighting but now all of a sudden these little black irritants have chosen our kitchen for a new campsite. I can't tell you how many times I've Cloroxed the counters.  And now with the help from our neighbor Chris, there are "ant balls" resting in plain sight in the kitchen.  He had extras and was glad to share.  Pat thinks their presence can somehow be tied to the coming of Standard time and the change of light. WHAT???  So let me know your favorite remedy.

Fourth (and last) is Boobs Clea and her sister Boobs.  I don't think I reported on their doings last summer so here's the scoop:  Mrs. Clea lost her head due to the overenthusiastic behavior of a play date friend and the Clea girls have pretty much been out of action since.  As a matter of fact, the whole Barbie population is aging and are far less active than they used to be now that Mary is entrenched in middle school. They only rev up when Alicia's friend Emily is over and only sometimes with Mary.  We all went out to dinner a week or so ago but I had to carry the Barbies into and out of the restaurant so nobody would see Mary holding one.  It's sad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's True!

Beginning in the early 80's I taught college prep English and eventually a college credit class called Humanities.  My goal was to present the arts, especially literature, as they evolved through time focusing on Western civilization. It was a special challenge to figure out how to present the future through a literary selection, and I decided to use Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.  

Copyrighted in 1976, this amazing piece of science fiction featured a plot revolving around the collapse of civilization as we know it.  Members of the Sumner family residing somewhere on the East Coast try to cope with global challenges such as protecting the environment from pollution, world famine, climate change, computer technology, wilderness survival and, most pressing, how to manage the growing power of human clones.  It is a startling well-written look into the future as Wilhelm imagined it from her long ago vantage point.

None of those topics seem outlandish today, but as we studied the book in the early 80's we were astounded to even think about the problems as being real.  Within a few years, though, Dolly the sheep was cloned, climate change began to be noticed, computers arrived in the classroom and diseases such as ebola are now showing up in countries where just feeding the populace is a struggle.  In other words, the events in the novel have come true.

Scary. I remember wondering if I should discontinue teaching the book as a look into the future presented by science fiction when everything in it was becoming part of our reality.  The students said, "YES" so I kept it in the curriculum.  As I moved toward retirement in 2001, I saw that the book continued to be meaningful to students simply because it did envision our modern day life so accurately from so long ago.

Kate Wilhelm is (was? I don't know if she's still alive) an Oregonian who had teaching connections to the U of O and this book was the winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in its time.  I think it's been reprinted and might be available on-line.  Read it if you can get your hands on it. You'll be surprised at how accurately the future was foretold.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

First Day of School

Labor Day weekend still brings the back-to-school jitters even though it's been two and half years since I last had one.  I still feel the excitement, nerves, apprehensions and joy that knots up my stomach only I feel it vicariously through my family members who are headed off to different first days in different schools.  Amy is in a new classroom in a school that is trying to "reconstitute" its effectiveness with a population that's 80% free lunch.  Half the staff and the principal are new.  I can only imagine.  She's been fidgeting and fiddling with her classroom and her lessons all summer long and reported a good first day; in fact, she said, it was better than any good day she had last year.

Pat and I had the pleasure of walking Alicia right in to her 3rd grade room, seeing where she sits and receiving a warm greeting from her teacher.  We also enjoyed driving Mary to her first day in 7th grade keeping our fingers crossed that she wouldn't stumble over the locker combination, the room locations, and the social whirl that is so demanding of middle-schoolers. Both girls had excellent first days.

I spent the rest of the morning getting a wellness check.  My blood pressure and pulse were far more regulated than they probably were when I was doing my first days of all those years in school.  My doctor and I chatted and laughed in between talking about medical things.  He told me the story of his fishing trip to the Metolius River last September.  Out on an early morning jog, he spotted a woman leaning up against the side of the bridge there with another woman at her side.  He introduced himself as an MD and offered his help.  The injured woman's companion was an RN so between  the two of them they began to minister to what might have been a severe sprained ankle or possibly a break.  Then along came three fishermen one of which approached and introduced himself as an orthopedist.  So there at 8:00 in the morning an injured woman is helped by three different medical professionals.  How lucky was she?  I loved hearing that story on the first day of school.  Thank you, Dr. M.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

From Costco to Barnes and Noble

My entry is early this month because we had a "Costco Experience" combined with a bonus trip to Barnes and Noble today that needs to be reported. You probably know what I mean about the Costco visit.  I have to gather an odd sort of energy to make that trip; don't you? The first thing that makes me anxiously competitive is finding a place to park. Shallow breathing begins as soon as we turn into the lot and start the line up for the "best" parking spot. Then there's the weird rush to get a cart and be the first one to show our card.  This is followed by the sudden and very weird need that arises to get to the sample tables first. Then I try not to lose patience with the people who are rude about making their way around the book tables. After all, I was there first and I'm traveling in the correct clockwise direction. I finger several books including the one I want to find at Barnes and Noble although I'm sure the price here is much cheaper.  Of course it is, but I can read it on my Nook for even less if it weren't for the fact that I still need to hold a book in my hands once in awhile for that true organic reading experience. Then it was off to find the shortest check-out line, if there ever is such a thing.

I did find the exact book at B and N but it was too expensive compared to the Nook price so I sighed and turned my attention to the cook books in the Bargain Books section.  I LOVE cookbooks and have owned hundreds of them in my lifetime.  I try to limit my current collection to just one long shelf in my pantry but that is getting pretty full.  I'll soon need to recycle or give some away. (Let me know if you'd like one or ten.)

My very first cookbook was The I Hate to Cook Book. My old friend Lee used it and she truly hated to cook although I really enjoyed fussing around in the kitchen even at the newly married age of 21. Still, Peg Bracken's lasagna recipe was hard to beat. I have added so many books since that first one.  I even have my Aunt Gracie's original The Joy of Cooking and have read Julia Child from cover to cover.  I don't do fancy cooking but I like to read those haute cuisine books because they teach me so much about food.  I'd just rather serve something traditionally American rather than a wedge of exotic fish plated over a squiggle of orange sauce and adorned with a sprig of arugula. I'm fascinated by crock pot cookery and acquired probably half of dozen cookbooks featuring that kind of food preparation until I realized that those recipes just imitate each other from book to book so I stopped buying them.  I like easy to fix recipes but don't like those four ingredient cookbooks.  They include too many recipes based on cream of mushroom soup.

The book I bought today is from the Taste of Home publishers called Country Cooking. I will read it at least two times from cover to cover if not three times.  I will promise myself to make at least one recipe from each section. If I don't, oh well, I got the reading's worth out of it. And just let me say that you can purchase cookbooks in the bargain section at B and N for less than the purchase price of magazines at the grocery store.

These all seem like strange musings from someone whose dinner menus are usually built around Dream Dinners.