6 January 2018

My son chose the first book for us to read together as a family in 2018:  Pee-Wee Harris on the Trail, by Percy Keese Fitzhugh.

Pee Wee Harris On the Trail

Back in November, after finishing Samuel Clemens’ The Prince and the Pauper, my son chose the first book in the series, Pee-Wee Harris, for Bedtime Story Time.  The first of three 1920s era Pee-Wee Harris books that I purchased from the auction site Everything But the House , it told the story of a Boy Scout, Pee Wee Harris, and his summertime adventures in rural New Jersey with his adopted girl-cousin Pepsy.  And while the book didn’t focus as much on scouting as I thought it would, since it was published with approval of the B.S.A. and featured the very boy scout that had starred for years in his own comic strip in the Boys’ Life magazine, it was still a worthwhile read, namely because it was humorous to my own thirteen-year-old boy scout.

The second book in the series, which we are reading now, appears to be a bit better written and the humor a bit less forced and a little less dated than that found in the first volume.  And although it continues to make much about Pee-Wee’s  insatiable appetite, vivid imagination and capacity for thoroughly bungling any situation, it is clear that the virtues of the scouts (trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness, courteousness, kindness, obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness, bravery, cleanness and  reverence) and of good citizens, in general, are being championed throughout.

So while the book isn’t an award-winner and in many ways is a relic of days long past, I think it is shaping up to be a real fine comedy of errors with a message for children that should never go out of style.  A good place to start in 2018.

 

5 January 2018

Are you looking for some cheap winter entertainment?  Something fun to do outdoors?  Something that you can do when the temperature is in the thirties, with nary a flurry in sight and no snow piled on the ground?

Then you should try Ice Chunk Chunking.
“What is this?” you ask.  “Is it really a THING?  A new extreme sport, perhaps; or, is it simply a case of a southerner gone ‘mad as a hatter?'”

Now I’m not admitting insanity, but cold like heat can lead to unusual and erratic behavior, especially if you are not used to it.  AND I AM NOT USED TO IT!   But I’m telling you right now that if Ice Chunk Chunking is not a THING, it should be!  Moreover, you should do it.
Here is what you need:

  • An Ice Chunk (or a big chunk, slab, hunk, or gob of ice, if you prefer another term)
  • A frozen pond, river, stream, creek, or other such body of water (This is necessary. I’ll tell you why in a minute.)
  • Time on your hands and a good pair of gloves.  (You will be picking up ice with your hands and believe me you’ll want to have them covered.)
  • A funny, hand-knitted hat (Because if you are going to look like a fool in front of your neighbors, you should absolutely wear the hat!)

This activity is not simply about cleaving ice and tossing it, well not entirely about cleaving and tossing.  It is about the unexpected, the mysterious, the enchanted, the mere magic in the world around us.

Listen.

Did you hear that amazing sound?

Those of you who are accustomed to ice and living life in a deep freezer probably already know about this mesmerizing sound–hollow, reverberating, round-rattling, other-worldly.  But for those of us whose life has been mostly lived in warmer climes, it is truly intriguing, an unexpected discovery that all began with two children who felt the uncontrollable urge to touch the ice, shatter it, and skip chunks of it  across a frozen pond.

Which reminds me, I promised to tell you why the frozen pond is necessary; but I’m not, because I could never explain it any better than www.livescience.com.  Besides, I’m not even sure I understand it myself!  But, honestly, I don’t feel the need to; the magic is enough for me.

4 January 2018

Did you know that January was National Soup Month?  I certainly didn’t until I happened to see a Campbell’s Soup commercial  the other day that said so.  I googled it and apparently it is a “thing”  in this country that is seemingly gaining steam, although I couldn’t find any other information about it except for that, which means it must have been cooked up by soup-industry lobbyists for the purpose of increasing sales.  (All puns intended!)

Regardless of the month, soup has always been a staple meal in my family.  My sisters and I grew up on the stuff.  Practically everyday after school we ate a bowl of Campbell’s heated in the microwave and served with crackers, either Ritz or Saltines.  My favorite was Chicken Noodle, Sister the First and Sister the Fourth preferred Chicken with Rice,  and Sister the Third ate Cream of Mushroom doused in milk and mixed in the blender.

These days I don’t eat as much Campbell’s anymore, preferring instead to make my own.  I still eat a lot of soup though, albeit not everyday and not just Chicken Noodle.  And in celebration of the month of soup, I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

The first one I’d like to share and the one on my own table this week, is Potato.   Why?  Because it is BONE-CHILLINGLY COLD here in Alabama and nothing sticks to the bones better than potato soup.  For the record, this recipe isn’t one of those gloopy milk-based varieties billed these days as Chunky, Hearty, Comforting or Loaded.  It is rather a smoother, thinner, soupier kind like that served by McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida, from which I took inspiration.  But don’t let the consistency fool you, it is very much filling and MM! MM! Good!

Potato SoupINGREDIENTS

1/2 cup butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 large stalks of celery, thinly sliced
3 large potatoes, 5 medium potatoes, or 7 small potatoes of your favorite variety, peeled or not, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
7 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Melt butter in a stockpot over low heat.
  2. Add the onion and celery.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately twenty minutes.
  3. Add the potatoes and cook for a further fifteen minutes, covered and occasionally stirred as before.
  4. Add the chicken broth, salt and pepper. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer, covered or not, for thirty minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Process soup in batches in a blender until smooth or alternatively mash with a potato masher directly in the pot.
  8. Serve with the topping of your choice, like cheese, bacon, green onions, chives, and/or sour cream, and
  9.  Enjoy!

 

3 January 2018

Today’s Wednesday Word is humbug.

In the days before Christmas, I chose to read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for Bedtime Story Time.  And just so you know, in case you haven’t read the book and were wondering, Ebenezer Scrooge really does exclaim “Bah! Humbug!”  among the pages.  Actually, he says it several times.

But what exactly is humbug?  According to Merriam-Webster, it is “something designed to deceive or mislead;”

Example:  Botox.  (Mine, not Merriam-Webster’s)

“a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person.”

Example:  Anyone who claims they’ve aged naturally, but secretly receives Botox injections.  (Again, my example.)

So, in context, when Scrooge is wished a Merry Christmas by his light-hearted nephew, his reply is humbug, meaning a) the holiday itself is a fraud, b) the idea of  having a MERRY Christmas is a deception, c) the nephew is being disingenuous, or d) all three.

I really don’t have to wonder what Scrooge would think of our modern take on Christmas, he really would exclaim Humbug!

Now you know.

By the way, I really don’t have anything against Botox or its users, but a seventy-year old without wrinkles just isn’t natural and we all know it!

2 January 2018

image

Exploding Kittens

Yep, you read that right!  Exploding Kittens.

Every year the jolly elf brings a member or two of my family a new game to add to our Family Game Night repertoire.   This year it was the card game with the CRAZY name and the FUNNY packaging.  I guess Santa has a bit of a twisted sense of humor…just like me.  (Giggle.  Giggle.  Wink.)  But honestly, who could resist a game billed as “a card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats”?

First, let me state emphatically: NO KITTENS WERE HARMED DURING THE COURSE OF GAMEPLAY, including our own dear calico Gracie.  However, many tears were shed and at least one of us was left doubled over.  Me!  With cards like these, wouldn’t you?

image

Some of my favorite cards in the deck!

Now when I was a senior in high school my first semester physics teacher always used a cat on a fence post and a bullet travelling through the air toward said feline to illustrate such principles as force and energy.  He was a despicable man but he got the point across, and in that class, as here, no actual cats were harmed, although several students including myself were tortured nearly to death.  I relate this gem of information in the full spirit of disclosure, to disclaim that my game-play mirth and enthusiasm for Exploding Kittens may be due, in part, to the ghost of physics past and the memory of all those cat-killing equations;  because, really, maniacal laughter to the point of pain often accompanies the memory of trauma.  At least for me it does.

So if your sense of humor is like mine and Santa’s, or your trying to confront your physics’ demons, you should get this game and play it, although probably not on the second of January, the unluckiest day of the year in ancient Saxon tradition (presumably because it was the day when 99.9% of all New Year’s resolutions were and still are broken), UNLESS you like to lose.   And if you are one of the poor unfortunate souls who were born on January second, you should probably just steer clear of this game altogether since you are fated to die an unpleasant death and should always avoid anything with explosions, laser beams or goats.

Especially goats!

 

1 January 2018

 

January 1 (2)

Raphael Tuck and Sons’ “New Year Post Cards” Series No. 745.

365 days of 2017 are finished and the new year, 2018, has begun.  We’ve circled the Sun and now we are right back in the same place we were this time last year.    Did we stick to our 2017 resolutions? Did we change anything about ourselves in the last year?  Did we fail miserably?  Did we succeed at all?

At this time last year, sitting at the long table at my maternal grandmother’s cabin in the woods, I wrote this.  I jotted down a few things that I wanted to remember, to do better at,  and to fill my days with in 2017.  So how did I do?  I’d say fair to middling, and I’m good with that.

Perhaps I, we, all of us, would do better if the new year actually was a clean slate.  The old year ending like the linear thread cut by the scissors of the Fates, with all of the old life falling away.  All of the attachments, cares, worries, pounds, habits and the innumerable other stuff we don’t want following us into the new year and the new life we envision for ourselves left unceremoniously behind, trapped in the pages of last year’s calendars.

Oh that would be easy.  But would it be worth it?  If I let go of all of my failures in 2017  wouldn’t all of the successes follow suit?  Sure I’d like to shed all of the pounds I put on, but I wouldn’t want to lose all of the meals with my family, the coffee and cake, the camaraderie and conversation over broken bread, the time spent teaching my children, the extra slumber in a cozy bed.  And while this example might be simplified and probably could have been remedied somewhere along the way by simply choosing better food options or eating less of whatever scrum-didly-umptious was on the plate, the reality for me is that life in 2017 wasn’t so bad that I would want to forget it much less leave it behind.

So here is my new year resolution inspired by Psalms 118:24:

To rejoice and be glad for every day that I am given in the new year and for everyday that I’ve been given up until now.

I start my new year with a dusty slate.  Written on, erased, past work visible under the present.  I hope you do too.

Happy New Year!

 

 

17 November 2017

Today brings another long road trip and a quarter of a day held captive in the car.  Therefore, today I am thankful, very, very thankful for Audible and Audiobooks.

*   *   *

Years ago our local library began stocking books-on-tape.  Mostly they were produced by Recorded Books.  Mostly they were classics.  And mostly they were not my cup of tea.

From the first my daddy was a fan, a BIG fan.  He listened to them in his car blaringly loud practically every time he went anywhere, much to the chagrin of his daughter-passengers who preferred to listen to WABB on the radio and the latest pop music offerings.  He listened to them on his walk-man with his headphones on, oblivious to the world around him, while mowing the grass, cleaning the pool, or working in his garden.  He listened voraciously and still does, even though the books are no longer on cassette tapes and the walk-man has been retired to a desk drawer once the iPhone came into his life.

Now that I’m no longer a teeny-bopper and concerned with keeping up with the teenage Joneses, I’ve come to appreciate listening to a good book.  As a bibliophile who has lost a great deal of the time once occupied  by reading a title of my own choosing to the demands of middle-age adulthood, it is a way to fill the weekly wasted hours spent sitting in a car or standing at the ironing board and get a few more books checked off of my To Read list on Goodreads.  But the allure isn’t merely time-saving. I’ve found that some books were simply meant to be heard, like Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories narrated by Flo Gibson, although the book should be kept handy to view the illustrations referred to at the end of each story.

So as I prepare to embark on another road trip in the failing light of a Friday afternoon, I’ve charged up the iPad, queued up the Audible app and selected the title, Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Perhaps I’ll arrive with my sanity.  The chances are much improved since I’ve saved myself hours of nothing-do, listening to the same one-hour pop music playlist over and over and OVER ad nauseum and the grating sound of the inevitable back and forth bicker of the children trapped together in the backseat.

Hmmm. . . perhaps I should find my daddy’s walk-man.

 

 

16 November 2017

Watching a movie on the big screen, sitting in a reclining chair, eating popcorn, drinking a fizzy drink, going deaf…what could be better on a Thursday in November?  Not one thing.

Going to see a moving picture in a theater has never gotten old for me.  The sights: posters plastered on walls, vanity lights and velvety curtains; the sounds: the shlush of a soda fountain, the plop-popping of a popcorn popper, the ding-a-ling-ring of arcade games and the hum-drumming of a projector; the smells: salt, soda and electricity; all help build anticipation for the imagination destination to follow.

In some ways movie-going has gotten much better over the years.  Seating is one of those ways.  I don’t know who first decided to use recliners or replace those small cloth-covered straight-backed auditorium chairs with spacious leatheresque lounging ones, but I’m grateful to whoever it was.  It’s hard to enjoy a journey when one is squinched into an uncomfortable seat or take a nap when you take your children to see the umpteenth cartoon movie of the year.

Today’s offering for our viewing pleasure is Thor: Ragnarok, which is apropos since Thursday literally means Thor’s Day in Old English.  (Just so you know, I didn’t make the connection until after I planned to take the children to see it, but I’ll take credit for the fortunate stroke of serendipity.)  Of course, I scored BIG TIME with my son, who is crazy about all things related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or as he calls it, the M.C.U.

Thor.jpg

I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who have not seen the latest Marvel offering, but suffice it to say that we all thought this was the best of the Thor movies to date.  It was comical, it was exciting, and it had a great soundtrack.  Plus after a grueling last few weeks of school assignments, it was a fun diversion requiring little thought.  Just what we all needed to kick off the Thanksgiving break.

For movie theaters with recliners, for popcorn and soda, for a trip with my family to the mythical Asgard, for a Thor’s Day Thursday, I am thankful.

15 November 2017

Cookies, chocolate-chip cookies, are what I’m most grateful for on this the mid-way day of November.  For years now, they have been my “go to” treat for holiday baking, having donned every plate for Santa that I’ve ever helped my children make, gift-giving baking, and plain old just-because baking.    They are simple to make, difficult to mess up, and always delicious.

Therefore, when my children wanted to thank their teachers with a little token of appreciation before the Thanksgiving Break, I knew just what to bake.  I grabbed my handy-dandy bag of Nestlé morsels and within an hour had a few dozen cookies cooling on the counter waiting to be wrapped in festive paper and hand-delivered to the deserving adults who help educate our youth, my two in particular. Of course, there were a few left over for sampling,  which my children gladly assisted me with, reminding me that quality control is very important.

I must admit that I tinker with most recipes, changing the quantities or ingredients to suit my particular palette or to use what’s already on hand in my home.  That being said, however, I have never tampered with the chocolate chip cookie recipe I use.  Found on the back of the bag of Nestlé Toll House morsels more than a decade ago, I have never been tempted to change a single ingredient, quantity, or direction.

Nestle

ORIGINAL NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® DARK CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 2/3 cups (10 ounce package) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Dark Chocolate Morsels

1 cup chopped nuts*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bow.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in morsels and nuts.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.

*  If omitting nuts, add 1 to 2  more tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the opportunity to bake up a little love for some special people and to taste a bit of love myself I am truly thankful.

 

14 November 2017

Radishes

radish from our garden

I didn’t always like radishes.  I tolerated them, ingesting itty-bitty bitter slivers in my salads over and over and over again throughout the years.  In truth, with a good dollop of dressing, they were hardly even noticeable.

Then one spring we grew our own.  They weren’t bitter, they were peppery, crisp and flavorful.  Spicy.  Yummy.  I ate them whole, undressed.  My daughter did too; barely waiting for them to be washed before she ate them by the handfuls.  Thankfully, they were quick growers, going from seed to sup in as little as a month.

It has been a few years since we’ve had a place where we could grow our own anything, and boy how we’ve missed home-grown veggies, especially radishes.  So when our potager was finally complete, radishes, Sparkler White Tips, were one of the first plants we planted and for the past two months we’ve been enjoying the little white-tipped, red-headed orbs with the fiery kick.  On salads, on soups, on the raw, we’ve eaten them.

In a week or two, depending on the weather, we will be harvesting our last radishes of the year.  I’m thankful for them while they last and thankful that we have a place where we can grow them again in the Spring.