Saturday, December 19, 2009

Just Tell Me How Many Times to Hit "Popcorn"

Thanks to comedian John Caparulo for my new word for simplifying life. He was talking about his frustration when a frozen dinner instruction adds steps to what should be a one-step process. He said, "Just tell me how many times to hit 'POPCORN.'" Can't you identify? I sure can.

When I'm trimming the Christmas tree, I'm thinking, In two weeks, it will take me four hours to get all this stuff packed up again, and I sure won't be in the mood. Wait, I'll just hit POPCORN. No strands of lights and only a third of all the ornaments later, I'm on my way to other things. And the tree still looks gorgeous.

When I'm wrapping packages, I'm thinking, When will I find time to buy the rest of the gifts and groceries I need to have in a week? I hit POPCORN once, pretty-up the packages with colorful paper, but don't even consider using ribbon, and hop in the Honda to get those errands run.

This time of year, my e-mail inbox clogs with five to seven advertising e-mails every half-day or so. Following my new POPCORN approach to simplifying life, I decide not to be even a little curious about 10% off or free shipping, and I press DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, then UNSUBSCRIBE, UNSUBSCRIBE,

Sometimes the popcorn approach doesn't work, like the other day when I thought hey, why dirty a dish and a whisk? I'll just prepare the egg for my omelet by vigorously shaking the egg in the shell.
But other times, extra steps just aren't necessary.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Life, As Seen From the Examining Table

So I'm sitting up on the examining table in my doctor's office. I'm waiting ... and waiting. Antsy, I try exercising by twisting my torso for a few reps, then raising my legs one at a time. The stiff white paper the nurse rolled out for me (medical version of a red carpet welcome?) crinkles and pops loudly, so I abandon my pursuit of vigor in favor of quieter looking-around-the-room exercise.

The mechanical roars and back-up beeps just outside the window prompt an obligatory peek through the blinds behind me. That noise is just too hard to ignore; when the doctor comes in, she and I will be shouting at each other, I worry. Sure enough, the rumbling, gouging, and scraping machine-creatures are moving enough earth to make a new hospital wing.

Turning back from the big brown mess outside, I study two framed watercolors hanging across from my perch. In contrast to the cacophony of progress, the watercolors hum an old-fashioned lullaby to quiet productivity. Natural birch wood frames meadows of greens and golds gently rolling past sleepy farm houses tinted rose by the setting sun. The clouds are roiling and riotous, tinged with lavender and rose. In one scene, I imagine the curling clouds to be two French poodles having a tete-a-tete. Nose to nose, they appear to be smiling and chatting, perhaps about the French food.

On the third wall, above the sink, are closed cabinets flanked by three open cubicles. The top shelf is empty, and the bottom shelf is cluttered with small boxes covered no doubt with usage instructions for the contents, indications, contraindications, and disclaimers stating no one is legally responsible for mishaps. From atop the examining table, I can't say for sure what the boxes are; I'd have to go over and look, but who wants to read that stuff anyway unless you have to?

The middle shelf is more interesting, in a bland way. This cubbyhole contains someone's decorating attempt, or holding area for items destined for their next garage sale: four clear glass bottles. One is a short, squat empty one; one is an empty Pepsi bottle whose glass ridges spiral up the bottle like a barber pole. Corks stop the other two, one of which is filled with black beans with beige spots on them, the other with beige beans with black spots on them.

Beneath the blank box, the boring boxes, and the bland bottles ~ in the shadow of the shadowboxes, so to speak ~ is a tissue dispenser mounted on the wall. It reminds me of a stone Easter Island head, except a white tissue unfolds from the nostrils like sneeze spray. I smile imagining the noses of the actual Easter Island heads sneezing out huge white sheets to billow in the breeze.

Lastly, the fourth wall. From a molded plastic brochure rack, twelve apparently deliriously happy people beam at me. Do they know they have DIABETES, REFLUX DISEASE, HIGH CHOLESTEROL, OSTEOPOROSIS, and eight other serious problems printed right above their heads? Apparently not. Just behind my head are the blood pressure apparatus and another rack for practical things like cotton balls and gagging sticks that make saying "aaahhh" sound like "agckgck."

It occurs to me my surroundings here are a lot like life ~ some chaos, some placid beauty, some sameness, some change, some emptiness, some fullness, some truth, some lying, some health, some sickness, some aaahhhs, some agckgcks, some just doing what needs to be done, some trying to figure out what to do with the beans.

Well, so far, I've been doing all the examining in this room. The doctor still hasn't shown up to examine me.
I glance at my watch. It has stopped. So I make the rounds again. Wall number one ... I lean back to peek through the blinds ...

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Fiberoptic tinsel twinkles rainbows in our Christmas tree, bedecked with ornaments, each a special memory from Christmases past. I'm already making lists for this Christmas ~ the menu, gifts for each guest, centerpieces, the short devotional to honor Jesus, the reason for the season, and the carol we'll sing together.

Webster's defines a carol as a song of joy or mirth, a popular song or ballad of religious joy. "Oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel." "He rules the world with truth and grace." These are just a few carol lyrics that make true peace dance in my soul.

Since I'm into Christmas, I went to see A Christmas Carol yesterday thinking I would not have much in common with grouchy old Ebenezer Scrooge. But an unexpected moment brought my handkerchief out to dry my cheeks. During the spectre of Christmas present, old Ebenezer lost himself for a moment and joined the children dancing in a circle. His white nightgown flapped and his long nightcap flopped as he skipped and pranced. Then he eagerly lined up with the other wildly chattering children to receive a small gift. He held the tiny, shiny red box close to his heart as though it were a treasure. Then when he returned to his viewing spot at the edge of the festive scene, he noticed a small girl sitting alone. She had not gotten up to get a present. Slowly, tentatively, Ebenezer gave her his shiny red box. His face registered sadness for his loss until he saw how happy it made the girl. As he returned to invisibility on the outskirts of subsequent scenes, he remembered this joy of giving, which contributed to his grand generosity of spirit at the end of the play.

Since I've had joy in giving for as long as I remember, I didn't expect to identify with Scrooge. But I have to admit, my heart is not all that childlike any more. I seem to be dragging a sack of sadness and responsibility as big and bulgy as Santa's bag of toys. Would I lose myself in undignified dance? Would I squeal in unintelligible delight? Would I line up eagerly to get a gift, or would I hang back pretending it didn't matter? Would a simple gift thrill me? Would I give
away my only treasure?

My tears during this scene surprised me enough to ponder these questions of cynicism, hope, sophistication, simplicity, keeping, and giving. If I were musically inclined, I'd write a carol about a little girl shyly giving the humbuggy parts of her heart to Jesus and then closing her eyes and holding out her hands to receive whatever He might put there. Lo and behold, He puts His own hands in hers. The best gift of all.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?

I first encountered the "community stylus" at a Walgreens pharmacy counter. I prefer swiping my credit card through the brown magic box, then signing a paper receipt with my own pen. But that day when the pharmacist pointed to the little Etch-A-Sketch screen on which only their stylus would write, I thought eeuuww. Every hand that has signed with this stylus belonged to a sick person. What is Walgreens thinking???

Now the community stylus is everywhere. Okay, I'm used to it now, and it's no big deal. Except these days every newspaper contains at least one article about flu AND H1N1 flu. Newscasters yammer on about flu pandemic. Most grocery stores provide antibacterial wipes for the handle of your cart, though I've yet to use one. We commonly see people wearing surgical masks in stores. I have no idea if it's because they don't want to infect others or don't want to become infected themselves. But seeing a mask on the person who precedes me through the checkout line makes me wonder if after using the same stylus, I will be moaning like the Ghostbusters, "I've been slimed." Then, who ya gonna call?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Things I Learned When I Was Supposed To Be Learning Something Else

Tonight our book group met to discuss The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows. Five of the six of us found the book delightful; one thought it was "feevty-feevty," a reference to a past read, The Geography of Bliss. Our book tonight was a series of 1946 letters that wove a story into accounts of the German occupation of the island of Guernsey during World War II. We met for almost three hours, but our book discussion occupied probably only half an hour.

Our first tangent was actually related to the book. One of our members had researched and written a paper on the German POWs who picked fruit at farms in Michigan after the war. The farmer she interviewed spoke German to the POWs who worked for him and corresponded with them after they were sent back to Europe. She told stories of how devastated and poor and hungry Europeans were for years after the war ended. She said rationing in England didn't end until the sixties.

One thread in the book was love of literature, so I suppose our meanderings into The Iliad, The Odyssey, Charles Lamb, The Gift, Nicholson Baker, Richard the Third, Barbara Pym, Beowulf, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, (and authors and books and reviews I can't begin to remember) were just more threads woven around that theme. Seamus Heaney and James Joyce came up because one of our members is spending five months in Ireland, where we all thought we should also visit on our group trip to Guernsey, which now seems like a pretty attractive destination. Someone quoted someone as saying Ireland is narrow and deep, and the U.S. is broad and shallow. The shallowness is our relative lack of history, but also the naivete of not having experienced the devastation and poverty and hunger following world war on our soil.

Oh, and tonight I also learned that there are mythology geeks; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were named after Renaissance artists because their creators were artists; e-mail is for old people, which four of us apparently are, because we don't send text messages; none of us would read a book on a Kindle; you can make your dog lie down by pointing at him and saying "pow"; one recipe for food-allergic children resembles potato-peel pie; and salt-and-pepper potato chips are the new "in" snack. Okay, maybe our meeting wasn't as hilarious as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society meetings were, but it was certainly as engaging and eclectic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who Pays?

When my husband has to undergo three root canals on the same tooth because the endodontist missed getting all the root during the first TWO root canals, who pays? Knowing we don't have dental insurance, he did not charge us for the second two procedures, but my poor husband still had to go through two extra ordeals. This doctor showed integrity toward us, but I wonder: How often across America, when patients have insurance, does a triple play due to doctor error generate triple insurance claims?

Last Friday my dad got prepped for surgery, then waited at the hospital for three hours before the cardiac surgeon came in to announce postponement of the surgery due to a urinary infection. Funny, his nurse had told my mom on the phone two days earlier that Dad might not have to go to the hospital Friday since the presurgery urinalysis showed infection. Too bad no one told us not to show up. My sister took off work to be there. I took off work to be there. Mom got Dad up and ready and to the hospital at the crack of dawn Friday. A dear, patient O.R. nurse got Dad all duded out in front and back hospital gowns, inserted an IV, shuttled him to the washroom any number of times, and made smalltalk with the four of us as we waited ... and waited ... and waited. After the doctor made his two-minute appearance to tell us what he had known two DAYS before, the nurse took out the IV, shuttled Dad to the washroom some more, got him back into his street clothes, and sent us off.

So who pays for this fiasco? The American taxpayer through Medicare? With all the current talk of health care reform, and the complex roles of insurance carriers, I don't even know who might bill whom for what in this scenario. But I do know who I could bill for our time and my sister's and my lost income ~ but only AFTER he eventually successfully performs my precious dad's surgery. (Perhaps this surgeon will act with integrity too; but since he didn't apologize to us, I doubt he understands the problem was a communication gap in his own office.)

But then I wonder if it's fair to expect doctors to be perfect. For decades, we bristled under the societal expectation to bow down to doctors as gods. Now they are human, and many take time to explain things to us, including the thinking behind their care strategies. We do seem to still operate in a culture that says a doctor's time is more important than a patient's time; hopefully, that can change too. But I love this "new humanity" and don't want to suggest we expect doctors to be superhuman again. Yet ~ who pays when a doctor does make a mistake?

In my personal scenarios above, the consequences to the patients were not grave. For that, we are all grateful. My husband's endodontist did the right thing; he ate the costs of the second and third root canals. We'll see what bills come for my dad's fiasco. Situations like this make me wish for a time when insurance companies do not stand between providers and customers. This would give doctors and patients opportunities to act honestly and rightly with each other ~ a free market. Sure would be simpler to figure out who pays.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Late Bloomers

A single scalloped yellow pansy amid a sea of spiky, spent, brown coneflower heads cheers me on this chilly autumn day. So does the lone cherry-red sweet pea that has somehow sprung from dry, tan vines to climb the trellis in summer's last hurrah. Feisty red geraniums raise victorious fists above the garden's browning greens. After weeks of winding down, one more rose has decided this is the year. Late bloomers are bright, wonder-filled surprises of life.

Yesterday I made perfect creme brulee quickly and easily. Ten years ago, at a sidewalk table on the Ile de Re when Robert and I tasted our first creme brulee, we couldn't even imagine how it was made. My path to yesterday's victory included passive times of anticipated failure and active times of real failure~rich, sweet scrambled eggs~a class, and just-okay results. Yesterday's triumph was a lovely surprise.

Fifteen years ago I wrote strictly nonfiction and could not imagine writing a story. Truly, I couldn't imagine myself imagining anything. To bring nonfiction concepts home to readers, I needed to learn how to tell true stories though, so I decided to practice by making up a story. One thing led to another, and last year I published my first women's fiction novel, with the sequel in progress. Never would I have predicted that blossom in October's breeze.

Last weekend I gave a workshop at our church's women's retreat. I don't do public speaking. It scares me. I'm most comfortable talking to my dog and have mixed success talking with my husband and everyone else. My topic was to be: If Only They Would Change. What do we do when another person's sinful at-worst, uncooperative at-best, behaviors hold us hostage? How do we step into the promise of Jesus to set us free? I didn't think I had answers or a delivery dynamic enough to impact anyone. But I sensed the Lord wanted me to say yes, even though I couldn't imagine talking for a whole hour. From the moment I agreed to speak, God changed my heart and sweetly brought me material and helped me put words together on paper. Paper I do. Podiums I don't. So I thought this would be a peace-to-panic process. I worship an amazing God.

Whipping up creme brulee? Playfully crafting fiction? Feeling peace at the podium? in my repertoire? Ephesians 3:20 gives glory to "... him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us ..." In these three examples, I love that God didn't wait for me to imagine the flowers; He grew seeds I didn't even know were there and now here they are, blooming in the autumn of my life.

I've often said I can't draw, and I can't paint. And I can't. But I just had my first drawing lesson a few weeks ago. Standing on the stepping-stone path through the garden ... tipping the watering can forward ...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quiche Cooking Goodbye?

How many decades has it been since I made quiche? Three? Four? Well, yesterday I made spinach quiche, which is the creamy quiche I remember, and a Mediterranean quiche, new to me. It has cheese but no cream ~ rather, tomato paste, fresh tomatoes, anchovies, and Kalamata olives. It's brick-red in color, studded with olive halves in a flowerlike pattern.

Since I don't eat wheat, I made my quiche in a buttered dish with no pastry crust. Julia tells me when you do that, it's now called a gratin, not a quiche. Another thing I learned in this process is how to seed and juice a tomato. All my life, I've painstakingly scraped each section free of its seeds and watery pulp. Not Julia. She slices the peeled tomato horizontally, palms a half and squeezes with her hand. Splat ~ the stuff shoots right out. How simple is that?

Quiche was to be the swan song of my month of celebrating Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. However, I just learned that Barnes and Noble has just shipped my backordered French Chef 2 DVDs. Oh-oh. I will need a break to quiche these four-hour, forty-utensil recipes goodbye. My waistline needs time to quiche the cream and butter inches goodbye. And I need time to practice my newly learned skills. But I'll have further culinary adventures with Julia in the future.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Omelette Ta-Da! Voila! and La-Di-Dah!

Finally, an omelette a la Julia that ended up on my plate, not on the stove. It was nicely folded like a little silk evening purse; and it tasted really fresh and fluffy and moist. Ta-da! My trick? One egg instead of two and a fearless jerk upward at the end.

Omelettes ~ Again

Saturday omelettes. Sunday omelettes. Monday omelettes. I'm practicing. And cleaning yellow puddles off the stove.

Julia's shake-shake-shake motion reminded me of popping corn. Today I had better success with a shake-shake-roll motion, which coated the sides of the pan. Covering more of the pan's surface allowed more of the egg to cook. The jerk at the end needs to fold the omelette onto itself. I didn't quite accomplish that, but today's omelette was lighter and fluffier than my weekend ones.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Almost Done

Almost done with my 2009 Julia Child craze ~ I think.

Made creme brulee for my husband's birthday last week. This dessert is one we like so much at restaurants, I really want to get good at making it. Who better than Julia Child to teach me how? For years, however, I confused it with creme anglaise and was disappointed when it came out runny. (But oh, the fresh vanilla bean-y taste was divine.) Then I learned creme anglaise is supposed to be runny ~ it's a sauce. Not creme brulee though.

Anyway, I decided it was high time I owned a kitchen torch, so bought one last week, along with an omelette pan (more on that later). When it came time to brulee the creme, I couldn't figure out how to put the torch parts together. Gadget Guy did it in about five seconds and announced the necessary butane did not come with the torch kit. At that point, we were ready to eat the dessert, so decided to brulee under the oven broiler, which worked okay, but cooked the egg mixture ever so slightly. Next evening, armed with butane, we took turns torching the next two ramekins. What fun! The brown sugar bubbled and glistened, without the egg mixture getting heated. Yay! And yum! The third evening, we reprised our act with the final two ramekins. As an added bonus, when I Googled what to do with the creme brulee's leftover egg whites, the answer was mousse au chocolat. Aw shucks.

Today, omelettes a la Julia. I had bought an 8-inch pan with gently curved sides. In retrospect, taller, more squared-off sides, might be preferable, since Julia's method is to shake the pan and at the end, jerk it enough to fold the omelette over on itself. My first attempt was good, not great. In my second attempt, the liquid cascaded over the sides into a yellow puddle on the stove, and I ended up with quite a bit of uncooked egg on my plate. For our third two-egg omelette and Robert's first attempt, he got the motion down. I'll have to practice more to get a reliable result. But what we loved about Julia's method is that it yields a light, fluffy, moist omelette.

About that mousse au chocolat ... Let me just say that (1) if you use Julia's method, you'll end up with most of your kitchen utensils spread all over your countertops; and (2) it is worth the prep and cleanup time. We were so blissed out (and full) from licking the beaters, spatulas, spoons, bowls, and the countertops themselves, that we didn't even want dinner.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

J+J Squared

Yep, saw Julie and Julia movie again. Can't believe how "new" it seemed. Of course I remembered the basic story from two-and-a-half weeks ago when I first saw it. But I had forgotten fun moments, like the red-and-white sight of raspberry Bavarian creme swirling in a bowl, like Julia thoroughly charming and being charmed by French market vendors, like the various Valentine postcards Julia and Paul sent, like loving toasts to supportive spouses in both stories.

Even having watched the REAL French Chef DVDs of mousse au chocolat and omelettes as recently as last night, I had a little trouble telling whether Julie was watching one of those or a do-over by Meryl Streep for the movie.

I'm not inclined to debone a duck (sorry, Julia and Julie), but omelettes, mousse au chocolat, and raspberry Bavararian creme a la Julia may be calling my name.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Signs of the Time (Flying)

My wonderful husband planned and brilliantly executed a surprise birthday party for me Sunday. The meal was provided by Le Titi de Paris, which seems to be a frequent mention in this blog. What can I say? Le Titi is always a highlight of life.

The wine, some of the best I've ever tasted, has unfortunately given me a headache. When did that start happening?

In today's paper's birthday column, both Adam Samberg's and Christian Slater's photos appear. Feeling very hip to actually recognize familiar celebrity names in this column, I now feel very unhip to realize I don't know whose picture is who.

Am still chuckling over the stupidest Jim Carrey quip in the movie Yes Man. He's dangling from a bungee cord under a bridge when his cell phone rings. "Oh, just hanging around," he tells the caller. Oh so predictable, oh so lame is what any sharp critic would say. I find this hysterical, however. The older I get, the sillier I like.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

J+J+J+J = Joie de Vivre

Judy and Jane enjoyed the much ballyhooed Julie and Julia movie today. The Julia part hit highlights of My Life in France, though the book is well worth reading for the rest of the details. Though I haven't read Julie's blog, I suspect its main points were also well represented in the movie. The acting in all roles was fabulous. Humor and real-life sad/glad/mad/scared moments abounded. People in our theater showing cheered and hooted at several points in the film. And they sat around afterward talking about it, I suspect because they can identify with both Julie and Julia.

The link I was most touched by was both women's perseverance. The movie showed more of Julie's meltdowns, but Julia spent eight years ~ that's EIGHT YEARS ~ creating, testing, typing, mailing, and retesting recipes for a book she envisioned before she knew there'd be an outlet or demand for it. She followed her passion. She didn't just like the idea of sharing French cooking with American cooks, she did what needed to be done to accomplish her dream. And she did it with excellence.

I love Julia Child's elan, panache, joie de vivre.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ta-Da! Today's opening day.

Finally, the big day dawns. Today, homage to my heroine Julia Child will be watching some of her French Chef videos. I believe I'll choose Queen of Sheba Cake, Mousse au Chocolat, and The Omelette Show. The Spinach Twins intrigues me, so I may watch that too. My sister Judy called; she got the tickets for the movie tomorrow!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

One, But Who's Counting?

Big big buzz at Borders today. Racks and racks of Julie & Julia books, My Life in France books, different editions, a package of white cloth with cute black French designs on it ~ maybe an apron, although oddly, the package didn't say. Also gift sets of MtAoFC, as Julie abbreviates it in her blog/book. I watched a video trailer for the movie on a small television. I laughed a lot. Then I watched it again. I'm even more eager for the whole movie on Saturday. [My other belly-laugh at Borders today was a New Yorker cartoon of a guy on his cell phone: "Can you hold on a sec? I think I just took another picture of my ear." I can identify!]

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Two, But Who's Counting?

There's something so satisfying about seeing my air-drying mixer bowl and food processor bowl and blades in the sink.

First, I have a sense of accomplishment. Sure, I forgot to add the brown sugar to the applesauce oat muffins, but a little dish of cherry-peach jam at the table will rescue the muffins. They're tasty, otherwise. And sure, I haven't actually baked the broccoli timbale yet since that's for tomorrow's dinner, but Julia Child would have been proud ~ I tasted the mixture as I progressed through her steps, and it is awesome. I spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen, but I did it! I'll be able to feed my hubby a tasty treat. AND, the equipment drying in the sink means I've cleaned up. My mom always said you're not done cooking till you're done cleaning up. Guess I'm done then.

Second, I have a sense of anticipation of the aforementioned timbale a la Julia at tomorrow's dinner.

Third is the satisfaction of addition. I hope I've added something delicious to my repertoire. I'm grateful I can add one more tribute to Julia Child's legacy in my life.

P.S. Two days till opening day for the movie!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Three, But Who's Counting?

Now only three more days till Julie and Julia opens. Four till I see it. This week I'm making something from Julia Child's groundbreaking cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking ~ a timbale. I was going to pick something I'd actually heard of before, but this appealed to me. Webster's defines timbale as a creamy mixture baked in a mold. I've eaten these little molded mousses in French restaurants, most recently at Le Titi de Paris. So smooth and flavorful, so subtly flavored, such a decadent way to get my greens, oh my. Julia's recipe is for asparagus, but I'm going to use broccoli.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Four, But Who's Counting?

Just four days till the Julie and Julia movie opens. I don't remember ever in my life counting down to a movie opening ~ or even knowing the date a movie would be released. But I have had August 7 on the brain since the buzz began. My Life in France is one of my very favorite books.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Harvest Report

Looks like our 19 tomato plants will produce as least a dozen tomatoes. Gee, the garden is coming along slowly this year. My planting my seedlings late may be the reason the plants are leafing rather than tomato-ing at this point. The sugar snap peas also seemed to sink more energy into vining than pea-ing this year. They were a sweet luxury while they lasted.

Can't complain about the pumpkins though; the elephant-eared leaves snake across our plot as though chasing a mouse AND hover over smooth green globes, soon to wrinkle into orange ribs. Also can't complain about the abundant garlic harvest. I dug up a dozen or so bulbs yesterday and hung them to dry. They should be ready right about the time I collect basil for pesto. Yum. Our beets are sweet with striped flesh as luscious to roll on the tongue as their name: chioggia.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Been thinking about enjoyment lately. Good summer subject, eh? The only thing better than thinking about enjoyment might be lounging on a quiet Lake Michigan beach enjoying enjoyment ~ an engaging novel, minted iced tea, cool waves lapping my toes. Or beurre blanc sauce from my entree at a favorite French restaurant, a lovely Cotes du Rhone, dark chocolate mousse with mango coulis ... mmmm. Or even rounding a bend in the road to happen upon a field of sunflowers stretching to the horizon or hundreds of brown sheep with white heads bleating roadside.

Everyone can list his or her delights. Even people who have forgotten how to enjoy life can strain their brains to find former delights. Although they may wonder if they still enjoy those things, with time, their fun-muscle memory kicks in. I'm convinced of this. I will not rhapsodize here about the importance of pleasure in our lives.

I was ju
st wondering why I don't want to take my watercolor paint stuff off the dining table and stash it back in the basement. It's been four days since my niece Bethany and I watercolored a rose and some lemons at that table. Her rose painting is frame-worthy. My lemons are well, lemons ~ literally and figuratively ~ useful for avoiding future mistakes. But every time I pass the table and see the brushes, palettes, and pale violet droplet stains on our water pots, my heart warms to remember sitting at that table with Bethany, playing and painting, creating something, hoping it would be pretty, seeing new colors emerge from swishing other colors together. It's as though the pile of pots, paints, and paper is a postcard we sent home to remind me of our trip last Thursday to a pleasurable place in time. I'm just not yet ready to put the postcard away.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ear's to Afterthought

I'd like to propose a toast to afterthought ~ you know, the moment you mull what was just said and finally "get it." In the spirit of Philippians 4:8 advice to dwell on what is excellent and praiseworthy and its popularized Johnny Mercer lyric "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative," I'd like to officially stop grousing about my failing hearing and laugh about the humor in it. Of course it's frustrating, but it's also often funny. Consider my conversation with a dear neighbor I encountered yesterday as he walked home from the train:

Me: Robert is dying to know how the Indy 500 was.
John: Great ~ there was a crash not far from where we were sitting.
Me: They still had a creche up from Christmas?
John: A car hit the wall and went up in flames. The driver jumped out and waved to the crowd while the fire trucks put out the fire.
Me: Oh ... crash.

If John heard my creche question, he and his wife will have a good chuckle. And Robert was indeed excited to hear about the crash; I didn't mention the creche to him. Guess there's a Mars-Venus element to this story I still need to learn to laugh at!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Here's my oh-so imaginatively titled poem about Cantigny Gardens:

Cantigny Gardens
by Jane Hoppe

out of the overflow
of vision and wealth ...

flowering chestnuts
like pillars ...

grape arbors
arching above ...

yellow hello, blue angel,
purple petals ...

Here's my takeaway from the First Division War Museum at Cantigny:
A World War II-era poster with the beginning date of 1778 and ending date of 1943 said "Americans will ALWAYS fight for liberty."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal

Twenty-nine days (but who's counting?) after our eight inches of snow fell, I'm still carrying my new spring purse and wearing my parka, which I've washed and put away for the season twice now. Guess the new spring purse was wishful thinking. Hope springs eternal in a Midwestern heart.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Eight Inches of Springtime

At left: the new spring purse I got ready to use because hey, it's spring! At least, I thought it was.

At right: what I woke up to the morning I first planned to carry my spring purse

Three days later, we're back to spring. Purple crocuses are visible again; bright green garlic shoots push upward; big fat buds along tree branches promise green leaves; and yellow forsythia brighten views everywhere in the neighborhood. Whoohoo ~ spring! Time for flowers, even on a purse.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mirrors, Mirrors Everywhere

On a sunny day last month, a neighbor and I wheeled her infant around a few blocks. We encountered another young mom, who after goo-gooing the baby, looked up from the stroller and wondered (unfortunately, aloud) if I was my friend's mother. In the white light of the sun, my graying hair ~ pulled back in a chic, funky aqua barrette; didn't she see the youthful barrette? ~ probably shone like Granny's frumpy bun on the Beverly Hillbillies.

A few months earlier, I was asked by a new neighbor, a middle-aged man, if I was my husband's mother. I envisioned a snappy comeback, "Haven't you ever known anyone who was prematurely gray?" Alas, when you're pushing sixty, you are not prematurely gray ~ you are right-on-time gray. What I actually said was, "Nice to meet you"; then I ran full-speed home and hoped he'd hear "How many old ladies do you know who can run this fast, Buster?" instead.

The other morning, my dog pulled me toward another young neighbor's dog and toddler on the sidewalk. During our chat about their recent family vacation, she mentioned, "A lot of people in your generation go there." Two days later, it occurs to me I could have then asked if the people in my generation go there for the mountain climbing, the parasailing, or the bungee jumping into active volcanoes. Oh, does my resentment show?

Sigh. The facts of life are sometimes hard to face. This gray-hair business is a tough transition for me. Coloring my hair is no longer an option for health reasons. When the jarring images were just between me and my mute bathroom mirror, they were easier. Now outside mirrors are speaking up. Their perceptions seem to be "goosing" me toward an old-age attitude. But I think I still have other choices, like remembering my value to God doesn't diminish as I age. Like remembering Proverbs 20:29, The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old. So now, whenever I can muster the energy in my sagging arms to squeeze the bellows toward the smoldering ashes of my gray-haired life, I'll be a new woman.

Well, I'm going out now to buy some collagen cream and look up splendor in the dictionary. When I get back, I think I'll phone a colleague to ask if we can be LindedIn contacts. Then I'll probably have to ask her how to extend the invitation via the computer, which is of course the intended way to do this. Oh, yeah, then there's the digital-age transition. At least that doesn't involve mirrors.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comfort Food

Today was going to be tough for my husband, so I planned comfort food for dinner. So, how does this menu sound: black cherry Jell-O, topped with cottage cheese and mandarin oranges, pot roast, and baked peach/blueberry crumble? Right out of the 50s, I know. Oh well, he liked it.

Next rough day, I'm thinking macaroni and cheese.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Bowl

Okay, I guess we didn’t really need an excuse to have guacamole and chips for dinner, but we decided the Super Bowl was one. (Friday night, we thought a DVD from the library was a good excuse to have popcorn and pecans for dinner, too.) The dining table seems better suited for steamed spinach, garlic mashed potatoes, pork loin roast, and tossed salad. The TV room, especially on Super Bowl Sunday, is strictly yoo-hoo-dippity-doo. Robert made yummy guacamole, and we kicked (no pun intended) back for our annual foray into football. Since we don’t follow football, pregame chatter was the sole basis for who I’d root for, and I chose the Steelers team—and Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals.

Most of the commercials were creative and fun. Some were a bit edgy and in poor taste, I thought. After a few commercials, Robert and I looked at each other and said, “Did you understand that?” and we both shrugged.

During the fourth quarter, my attention wandered to the last half hour of My Big Fat Greek Wedding on another channel, where I wished a mob of caring women waving blush brushes would crowd into my bathroom to make me look beautiful, too. Back to the Super Bowl, with three minutes left in the game, I considered toddling off to bed. Robert had crashed right after Bruce Springsteen (hey, boss, didn't you get the memo? a goatee goes at the bottom of your chin.) finished screaming, leaving me to cheer both Larry Fitzgerald and the Steelers’ Holmes into touchdown territory in those precious final three minutes. What a whoop-worthy game!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Taste Bud Bits

Sadly, I placed my two warmth-craving, bushy basil plants in the zero-temps of the garage this week. I had dug them up during our exuberant harvest season to winter over in our sunny bay window and provide piquant tastes of summer until next season’s harvest. Their paraglider-canopy leaves summer-scented the whole room. I noticed the spider mites in December and kept washing them off. But this week, the pests had spread to the point that I knew I would no longer eat a basil leaf from these plants. Goodbye, basil. Ironically, some of my warmth-craving basil from last summer is preserved for winter enjoyment in pesto batches—in our freezer.

Several weeks ago I got blissed out by the butternut squash and pumpkin soup at Le Titi de Paris restaurant. The rest of the meal was exquisite, as always, but this silken soup, I simply don’t have words for. Every spoonful produced tears of joy. You just can’t imagine food can taste like this. If you’re anywhere in the Midwest and can get to the Chicagoland area, Le Titi is a worthy destination.

Some friends gave me a little bow-tied package of Chewy Choco Wally Bites, gluten-free cookies which turned out to be both chocolate-y rich and softly cakelike. My new favorite is by Whole Bakers.

Another friend invited me to an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting by The Olive Tap at a local library this week. Not only did we learn helpful culinary facts, but we also had an education in how to taste olive oil—tip of the tongue first, then back of the tongue, and finally, the don't-try-this-at-home professional loud slurp-and-cough method. I came away with a small bottle of garlic-infused olive oil, which I’ve already used to decrease the amount of butter I put on macaroni, and I’ve got garlic mashed potatoes on the menu for tomorrow. Can’t wait to try my new blood-orange olive oil on vanilla ice cream; it’s supposed to taste like a Creamsicle. Who would’ve guessed?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tricks of the Tradeoffs

Here’s my tip for a healthier 2009: Avoid perfectionism, refined sugar, and dairy.

Although I've not experienced the yo-yo weight issue, I've had my ups and downs, especially reaching a truce with my sweet tooth. Who knows? Perhaps 2009 will be the year we actually become friends.

Here are my tried-and-true tricks of the tradeoffs:

If you can walk only 10 minutes a day, don’t worry about the fact that you’re not walking 30 to 60 minutes a day. Try to walk more, but whatever you do, do not abandon your 10 minutes because it’s not the ideal. Same goes if you can work out only one session a month instead of three a week, or swim two laps instead of ten. Bravo! You're doing a wonderful thing for your health!

Buy some honey and stevia and use them. Don’t use refined sugar if you can help it. Experiment. Laugh at your experiments. Experiment again. Your triumphs will shine in your recipe repertoire.

If trying to avoid desserts, end your dinner with a loaded (chopped carrots, zucchini, pecans, tomato, dried cranberries) green salad topped with a high-quality poppy seed (or other sweet) dressing. Ending the meal with filling fiber in your stomach and a sweet taste in your mouth will squelch your desire for a high-calorie dessert. (One tablespoon of my faves, Brianna's Honey Mustard and Poppy Seed dressings, contain 75 and 80 calories, respectively. That's about 15 minutes on the treadmill. Compare this with one ~ just one ~ Oreo cookie: 160 calories, or 30 minutes on the treadmill.)

Besides sweet salad dressing, another low-cal “cheater dessert” is a fruit-juice-only frozen pop, fresh fruit, or a piece of candied ginger, which has the added benefit of aiding digestion. Once you’ve been off refined sugar for awhile, you won’t crave desserts at all.

If you suspect that emotional eating is the issue, there are no shortcuts. Get a book like Love Hunger (by Minirth, Meier, et al); join a support group; do whatever homework it takes to free yourself.

Unless your doctor tells you to absolutely avoid sweets, allow yourself some. Figure out a system. For example, buy a small bag of your favorite cookie and make that bag last a month. Or don’t eat desserts at home, but let yourself look forward to ordering dessert when you go out to eat every few months. Or read package labels until you’re cross-eyed to find the least caloric packaged desserts. Or learn to make fun desserts sweetened with only honey, stevia, or fruit. Whatever your system, ask: Does it make a significant difference from my old habit? Be honest.

It’s easier to think of vegetables as part of lunch or dinner. To add another veggie to your day, toss a few baby spinach leaves (or broccoli floret left over from last night’s dinner) into the pan with your breakfast egg.

Dairy is the number one food allergen, but even if you tolerate it okay, I’d limit dairy foods if you’re trying to lose weight. (You may need to include other sources of calcium in your diet.) This is my completely unscientific opinion, based on personal anecdotal evidence, but I think dairy gunks up the walls of your intestines with mucus and who knows what else. If nutrients can’t get through the gunk into your bloodstream, you feel hungrier and will eat more. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Here’s to a healthier new year for all of us!