Monday, February 1, 2016

Reader Suggestions

I came up short of a topic for February. I gave some thought to writing about food again since it's one of my favorite things to write about.  If I wrote about it, I would probably comment on some of the things I learned from watching "In Defense Of Food," another masterly piece of writing by Michael Pollan.  He has enlightening things to say about the Western diet and if you want to learn a bit more about why you like french fries, google him. Here's one of his famous quotes:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plant based.
That's not exactly how he says it, but those words work. What he means is that we should eat mostly fruits and vegetables.

There's nothing new about eating fruits and vegetables. But there's a lot new about the relationship of our bodies and the consumption of natural foods.  The biggest new thing is that we should really eat MOSTLY fruits and vegetables, very little red meat, and as little sugar as possible. He asks us to take a careful look at what we eat in the USA. Uh-oh. Lots of sugar (as in high fructose corn syrup which is nothing more than another way to say "sugar"), lots of processed foods that contain sugar, fat, and way too many calories. That last sentence pretty much sums up what the Western diet consists of. Because we consume many of the wrong things, we get diabetes which is starting to show up in children at an alarming rate.  We also develop heart disease earlier than we used to.  Other scary health things happen when we eat too much of the wrong things.  We should only eat things our grandmothers would recognize.

That all makes some sense but its application is not simple for me.  I am addicted to sugar, mostly in the form of chocolate.  I eat other awful things but I think if I could get clean and sober of sugar, I might take more pleasure in eating fruit. Some people think fruit is a dessert which I think is ridiculous even though we were served fruit as a dessert item in the school cafeteria when I was a kid. Fruit is definitely not dessert.  Hershey bars, fudge cake, See's Candy (Bordeaux Bars are my absolute best favorite next to my mom's birthday cake) or any kind of ice cream that features chocolate make up real desserts.

So that's what I might have used as a topic for February. Special thanks to my readers who came up with good ideas to write about:  Love, Leap Year, Presidents' Day, and Carnavale around the world were some of the suggestions. I spent some time trying to come up with a way to write about all of them using a common theme, but I got stuck.  I could probably create an essay using food as a common thread tying all those topics together, but the outcome would be a big and probably unbelievable stretch.  I'll conclude by wishing you all a Happy Valentine's Day.  Maybe you could celebrate that special day by eating a red pepper with someone you love.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Resolutions v. Approaches

It's the New Year so here's to a happy one for all of us.  As we merge into 2016, maybe we're thinking about resolutions in regard to the glitches in our lives.  I tend to be very suspicious about resolutions because I invariably fail at them except for the time I really did lose many pounds in order to "look good and feel better" when we took a trip to the East Coast with our friends. So, guess what? I ate everything in sight from Boston to Maine and back through several of those little states that make up the original colonies.  It took a year or so more but the pounds are back.

So instead of resolutions, I am going to take different approaches to my own life glitches.  Let me describe an example.  Take food (which I do every chance I get).  I'm going to approach the eating part of my life from a different angle.  Instead of trying to understand why my craving for chocolate has some sort of psychological connection to my relationship with my mother when I was an infant, I will approach my next encounter with chocolate by remembering the nearly unreal portion of a large holiday wrapped candy bar that I ate last night. I'll remember how I snapped it into rows of four pieces and piled them into the candy tin.  I'll recall how satisfying the rows looked as they fell into random position on top of the kettle korn pieces still left in the tin. I probably should have taken a picture of it it to help my memory.  Then I'll think about maybe allowing myself just one row per day.  I'll try to focus on how quickly I rejected that thought and plowed right into two rows to eat as I headed for the TV.

Then I concentrated on the program I was watching. It was that Bourdain man who was on a sensuous boat trip somewhere in South America where the people don't wear many clothes and the water is unbelievably clear.  The people on the sandy white beach toss cans of beer to the swimmers and they drink it while bobbing around in the warm water.  Anthony sits beneath a palm tree eating crab and describing his experience with sexual overtones no doubt induced by watching the hard brown bodies frolicking in the sand in front of him.  How could anyone resist being caught up in such a visual pleasantry?  I could and did.  That warm sea breeze that I could almost feel turned into a giant wind that blew me back into the kitchen for another row of holiday chocolate and since there was an odd row of only two pieces, I grabbed that to eat on my back to my chair before I crammed the other row into my mouth. So after two (okay, three) rows plus a partial one, I decided I could stop.

So my new approach to chocolate frenzies will involve the deciding when to stop part.  Even as write this, I am thinking about  the rows that are left in the candy tin.  I'm thinking about eating just one row after lunch.  And speaking of lunch, I wonder what's in the frig. . . . Maybe my new approach will accommodate other areas of food eating where I lack control.

See? I'm not resolving to do anything; I'm changing my approach to my shortcomings. Think it will work????

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Cooking

It's that time of year again when I find myself alone in the kitchen with recipes taped up  here and there of all the special foods that my long gone Mom passed along to me.  It's a heavy responsibility to try to keep up all the traditional food practices all by myself. I say this because my own sister and daughter are non-cooks for complicated reasons. So they're no help. Here's an example:  my sister sent me a text of an actual cake that she baked herself.  It was only the kind that takes a cake mix and one or two other ingredients but it was the first time EVER in her 57 years that she produced a cake all by herself.  See what I mean?  And, to be brief, my daughter considers her kitchen to be a rarely used portion of her house.

I am no longer permitted to host holiday meals. Apparently, my usual sunny disposition goes awry at such times and I turn into an overwrought militaristic director of who should sit where, what can be touched and not touched by grandchildren, grammar correcting monster (insert the b-word here just like my family members do). Thanksgiving is held elsewhere and the family sees my decorated house for about 20 minutes sometime or another in the month of December. And, mind you, my decorations and lights go up the day after Thanksgiving so there's plenty of time to come over and sit around admiring my festive creations.

So even though I'm no longer a holiday hostess, I am still obliged to bring certain traditional dishes to wherever the holiday meals will be served. Dressing, gravy, pies, sugar cookies are the usual requests. And they're all supposed to taste just like my Mom's.  Sadly, Mom didn't write down her recipes for these menu items.  She simply talked about how to make them while I was standing alongside her in the kitchen acting as sous chef. Chop this, slice that, boil this, roll this out, use just this brand of whatever.  I confess that many of those years spent at her side were years of daydreaming youth when I didn't really listen to much of what she said at all.

Now that Mom is longer with us, it is up to me to provide these "easy" meal additions.  So I am left literally wracking my old brain for mental visions of the two of us in her kitchen preparing those meals.  Since my memory is fuzzy about just about everything now that I'm no longer 28, the visions are blurred and lack much reason and order.  Hence, the recipes taped to my counters and kitchen cabinets.  I'm constantly on the lookout for recipes that seem to reproduce my Mom's tricks. Magazines, little seen cousins, and quiet meditation all work together to magically help me come up with the ways and means to keep the family food traditions alive.

And guess what.  I have come close.  Just close.  I get kudos for my pies and I think that's because Mom was not too good at pies.  Crust making made her nervous while I'm not bothered by that activity.  Aside from good pies, nothing else is a replica of her culinary creations.  But all the plates at the table are so loaded down with holiday food that there is little reason for the diners to notice that the traditional foods that my Mom made taste any different. But I know they do. And let me be so unpolitically correct as to say, "Merry Christmas" to all of you.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

What To Do With the Pumpkin Now That Halloween Is Over

The pumpkins are drying out and the candy is almost all gone so now is the month to be thankful.I propose we spend part of our thankful money on being kind to the earth. Whether or not you believe the notion of climate change, you can still have gratitude for this gorgeous planet.  Here are a few ways we can pay back some of the stunning sunsets, sparkly rivers, fir trees swaying in the breeze, calm oceans, interesting rocks we find and every other little bit of beauty we freely enjoy in our earthly home:

1.  Stop buying water in bottles!  People, it's WATER.  You have the very same thing in your taps at home. The water manufacturers are simply using their taps to fill plastic that costs an amazing amount of money to make and is difficult to dispose of.  Buy yourself an attractive bottle that's safe for both you and the earth and fill it with water from home.  If you think your own water is not that good, then buy a big container of distilled water and use that in your attractive bottle. (Remember to recycle the big plastic jug of distilled water.)

2.  Pick up litter. If you like, you can curse whoever left it and then feel smug as you recycle it.

3.  Speaking of recycling, DO it.  If it seems awkward or hard to get used to, choose just one thing to learn on.  Try chucking junk mail into a special container and then recycle it at the most convenient place.  That might be in your very own RECYCLING BIN that you can put out with the garbage. Or maybe you could sneak it into your office and use the bin there.  Once you get used to one type of recycling, add another type and so on until you can declare your title of RECYCLER.

4.  Drive the speed limit.  This is a tough one. Lots of us feel entitled to travel at least five and maybe ten or more miles faster than the posted limit.  And people do give you nasty looks when you are in the right lane and they are zipping past you. Remember, the rule is that you're supposed to use the left lane only for passing.  I challenge you to just try this. It's not easy. But notice as you're chugging lawfully along that the red car that zoomed past you a few minutes ago is only waiting at the light longer than you are.

5.  This is a small one and is easy for women to do but men don't usually touch tissue paper so they're off the hook here. Save that colorful tissue and the cool bags that your gifts come in.  Use them again. If the tissue is all smushy and wrinkled, press it with a coolish iron.  And don't worry if you give a nice gift bag back to the original giver.  They loved it first and will be glad to see it again.

And so on.  You can pat yourself on the back every time you do something kind to the earth.  And if you teach kids to do the same thing, you get double pats.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Donald Trump

Really? Donald Trump for President? It's still early days for the 2016 election but Trump continues to raise interest in one way or another. What happens next year at this time is still mostly a guess but we should all probably admit that this man has raised our personal interest in his candidacy whether we like him or not. I confess that I just simply fail when it comes to figuring him out.

Take his hair for example. Does he really think it looks good? My guess is that he doesn't have time for a stylist to see to his coif so he takes care of it himself late at night in the privacy of his own super expensive and over luxurious hotel room.  He uses the top brand of hair cutting scissors to trim his obviously thinning locks and then applies his favorite home coloring solution which was delivered to his bathroom by a trusted and well-paid staff member. He finishes by using a secret comb-out method that he himself invented and is in the process of being patented.  He doesn't want your stylist to copy it sort of like the idea that you can be heavily fined if you copy video tapes.  I'm just guessing, but my theory regarding the Trumpster's hair works as well as any other.

His hair not withstanding, Trump is a "looks funny" candidate, as my teaching partner Sheila used to wonder about anyone who subbed for her. Our private theory was that a sub who "looks funny" probably accounted at least in part for poor student behavior in our rare absences. And Trump "looks funny."  Once you tear your study away from his hair, you discover that his suit doesn't do anything for him.  It should if he paid $1000.00 for it and had it carefully tailored to fit, but again I think he's just too busy flying from Manhattan to Texas to share  his innovative ideas about how to manage the influx of all those people who want the jobs that none of us want. Hence, his wearing of suits brought to him by the staff member in charge of Wal-Mart purchases.

Consider his face. Focus on his mouth as he speaks.  It shapes itself into a replica of an over-oxygenated fish. . .gulp, gulp, gulp. In only a short time, I find myself becoming fascinated by how his mouth moves and I lapse into forgetfulness about his hair let alone what he's saying. With all the money that he has, why doesn't he hire himself a special coach to help him more attractively present his pronunciating?

I cannot imagine Trump making a Presidential trip to, say, a developing country in the eastern hemisphere. We'd need to send out an unbelievable amount of disclaimers to convince the host country to take him seriously.

Can he really do all the things he says he can do?  Can he really convince the not so dumb voters that he will?  I'm just saying.  And the days are early.  I wonder what our thoughts will be a year from now?  Maybe I will have changed my mind altogether. But for now, I'm not disrespecting him. I'm just sharing my personal observations.

Monday, August 31, 2015

How To Start The School Year

1.  Wear something you really like on the first day even if it's not new.
2.  Listen better the first week than you ever have before.  It's the key to success in the new classroom.
3.  Know that you can learn from your teacher even if you don't like her.
4.  Figure out where your friends are even if they're not in your class.  Then make at least one new friend per class and try to do so the first week.
5.  Learn where the nearest bathroom is.  Pay attention to your teacher's bathroom rules but know that you can always go if you need to.
6.  Be nice to the lunchroom ladies no matter how much you hate the food.
7.  Keep your i-pod or cell phone OFF and IN YOUR BACKPACK.  Your teacher should never see or hear it.
8.  On your way home, think of a couple of things to tell your parents when they ask how your day was.
9.  Wash your hands really well as soon as you get home.
10. Have a special place to put your backpack. Empty it as soon as you set it down.

1.  Make sure your kids have an edible breakfast before they leave.  This is not the time to have them try guava jelly.
2.  Do a quick inspection to make sure there's no toilet paper sticking to their shoes or anything else that might look funny.
3.  Assure them that they'll have a good day even if they think they won't.  That doesn't mean that the whole day has to be good, just some of it.
4.  Remind them to smile at the teacher even if that teacher has whips hanging on the walls.
5.  Tell them not to talk to strangers even if they're seniors in high school.
6.  Ask them if they are carrying any money. If they are, ask how much and what it's for.
7.  Caution them about appropriate use of their i-pods or cell phones at school.
8.  Tell them to be good listeners.
9.  Remind them that going to school is their job.
10. Say "I love you" in a special way every morning.


1.  Make sure your classroom looks good.
2.  Erase and/or obliterate any and every form of the f-word from desks and walls.
3.  Be ready to hear the f-word in the hallway and even in the classroom.
4.  Have an Expectation (rules) handout for every student.  Post one on the wall and go over it soon after class starts.
5.  Word your expectations positively.  For example, say something like, "Save your gum chewing for break and lunch" rather than, "No gum chewing allowed."  Clearly let them know what happens if a rule is broken and follow up on that consequence without fail.
6.  Don't eat in front of students.
7.  Be really, REALLY strict the first week.  You can lighten up later.
8.  Display a seating chart and let the students find their own places first thing.
9.  Have meaningful first day activities.  Do something academic right away rather than play too many ice-breaking games.
10. Remember:  Every day has a 3 o'clock; every week has a Friday; and every school year has a June.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dead Wrong

    Our bald coach friend, Ed, and our almost bald coach friend, Greg, have spent years and years on various ball fields and in countless classrooms in Oregon.  Their network of former players and students extends to the point that no matter where we all go together, they are approached by someone who used to play for them or was a former student or both.  And, on the rare occasion when no one approaches, they introduce themselves and make instant friends with the people around us whether we are sharing a bus ride, a plane seat, a meal at a restaurant or just hanging at the beach.  That beach could be on either coast or even in another country.  They have friends everywhere.
     One of their friends was Flying Biff Childers who coached football and baseball with them for a number of years.  They never found out why he was called Flying Biff but they've had lots of fun trying to imagine why.  Maybe the reason they never found out was because Biff was one of those guys who kept his personal life away from the practice field. He didn't really say anything revealing even when the coaches had their after game celebrations at the local bar.  Here they reviewed every play of the game two or three times and pledged eternal  allegiance to one another in the traditional male way of raising glasses and pounding each other on the back harder and harder as the night wore on.
     So they were especially saddened to read the short obituary of their old coaching pal, Biff, in the paper not too many weeks ago. Typical of Biff, there was little personal information other than his birth and death date and the announcement of the funeral day and time. Elbows on the kitchen counter, Ed and Greg reminisced about ol' Biff and traded stories about good plays and good games they'd shared with him. Finally, they decided to attend his funeral and would bring along a decent supply of beer which  could be poured onto or maybe even into the casket and the rest could be consumed with an appropriate audience. They'd decide who that audience was once they'd had the opportunity to study the response to their impromptu funeral remarks about what a good ol' boy Biff was.
     They set out in Ed's pick-up early on the day of the funeral.  The 18 cans of assorted brands of beer was handily stashed in the back where they could get to it easily or throw a blue tarp over it if the funeral attendees seemed a little sketchy about drinking with strangers. It would take several hours to get far enough up the Gorge to get even sort of close to the funeral site.  Even at that, they'd need to wheel south several miles before they got to the actual cemetery. So they pleasantly entertained each other with yet more reviews of past games, a few loudly sung renditions of some favorite country songs, and the re-telling of some of their favorite jokes.
     Ed suddenly grew seriously silent and pulled the pick-up onto the dusty side of the now Eastern Oregon road.
     "Greg,"  he started, " what if there's more than one Biff Childers in Oregon? "
     "Why didn't we think of that?  I don't get it.  We're smarter than that, aren't we?" responded Greg.
     Several quiet moments passed.  Ed decided to call his wife and Greg decided to call his daughter. When they compared notes, they discovered that Biff Childers was, in fact, one of two residents in Oregon.  Oh hell, they'd come this far, they'd go to the funeral anyway. There was still a 50/50 chance that this funeral was for Flying Biff.  They stopped one more time at a Les Schwab in a town only a little smaller than Mayberry to ask for directions.  The attendant wasn't very friendly.  Greg didn't like that.  Les Schwab's employees were supposed to be running out to them with energetic smiles on their faces.  He might turn this guy in even if he did give good directions.
     Once they found the right place, they spotted the tent covered casket on the side of a hot, wind-blown hill. They wondered where everybody was until they spotted a group of black clad folks gathered down the hill a little ways.  They parked the pick-up and got out to join the group. They were greeted with an awkward silence.  Then a scowling woman walked slowly up to Ed staring at him intently.
     "Coach Ed?  Aren't you Coach Ed? You are! Remember the time when the English teacher died and you took over our class for the rest of the term?  Sure you do.  And just WHY did you give me an F for the quarter?! she wanted to know.
     Another woman walked up to Greg holding out her hand and grasping his firmly when she got to him.
     "And you're Coach Greg! I never got a chance to thank you for the help you gave my son in your reading class.  You have no idea how much that helped!  I finally have a chance to give you a proper thanks!"
     And so it went. They made friendly connections with the two women and were introduced to other folks who knew them by reputation as fans in the stadium. They told their stories about their own Biff Childers, poured some beer into the hole of the casket with permission, then asked the group to join them at the back of the pick-up where they cracked open the Olys, Pabsts, and Hamms that they'd assembled earlier in the day. Toasts were made to both Biffs and the two coaches had yet another chance to tell some of their game stories to a  group of  new friends who'd never heard any of them. The life of Flying Biff was appropriately celebrated and he would become a star character in future stories about players and coaches in the not too distant past. After declining the invitation to continue the celebration at the local bar, Ed and Greg drove back home going over the unforgettable events of the day and rehearsing the story they'd tell about it.