Thursday Thoughts

Good Shot
Bill is the first in our family to receive the COVID vaccine. Yesterday we drove to Chandler Gilbert Community College, about 25 minutes south of our house. We were not alone. There were some hundred other old people, all with the same goal: beating COVID. While getting Bill’s appointment wasn’t a piece of cake, once we got there, everything was very organized. Though Bill said the needle was long, (and he doesn’t like shots) he said it was painless. I will admit that I teared up when he got the shot. It’s been such a long year for us all.

White House
Our house was built in 2005, and it has 2005 colors. 2005 Arizona colors. That is, browns and greens and golds, almost like being back in the 60s. When we got our new bed, I decided I was ready for a change, at least in our bedroom. Jen helped me select the color, with the help of Instagram. We chose Sherman Williams Alabaster White. I was afraid it was going to be too stark, but instead it’s a very soft white. Our room looks completely different — bright and friendly. I’m very happy. Now I just have to get things set up again, and find some art for the wall.

Shivers
Yesterday was a chilly one, my friends. I know, I know. I watched Jll and Alastair shoveling our walks Monday on our Ring doorbell app. They looked very cold, and there appeared to be plenty of snow. Still, we got a bit of snow Monday as well, enough to write the kids’ names on the sidewalk at Maggie’s house. Yesterday morning it was barely above freezing, though it warmed up to the high 50s and the sun was out. Bill complained about being cold Monday night, so I’m working on getting him a warmer blanket.

And At the Movies
We have been on a Tom Hanks kick the past couple of weeks. We watched Bridge of Spies and Sully last week. This week so far we’ve watched Apollo 13 and Big. I hadn’t seen Big in a long while, and forgot how adorable he was in that role. I believe that all four movies made me cry at some point. Man, that guy can act.

Ciao.

Gluten

Monday, after my French bread came out of the oven, I called my brother Dave, who is a professional baker, to ask him a question. The recipe I had used (and most of the recipes for French bread that I perused) was different from most bread recipes. After the bread had been kneaded, instead of putting it in a bowl and allowing it to rise to double its size, the recipe had you leave the bread to rest for 10 minutes under a damp cloth, and then punch it down. You did this a total of five times. Why do it this way, I asked him.

He agreed that it is an unusual style, but said doing it that way really got the gluten going, making the bread yeasty and with a larger crumb than a regular white or wheat bread. Interesting, and good to know.

My brother went on to talk a bit about our father’s bread when he owned Gloor’s Bakery in Columbus. Dad’s bread was renowned, or at least as renowned as anything can be in Columbus, Nebraska. He sold so much of his white bread that it was hard to keep up. On weekends, the farmers would come into town, and Gloor’s Bakery was one of their stops. They bought enough bread to freeze and last a few weeks.

The bread was sliced in an electric slicing machine. Its blades went up and down, and the loaves of bread were placed on the slide. We would push the loaves of bread down through the slicers. When it got to the final loaf, we would use one of the other loaves to push it through. “Never use your hands,” my mother firmly instructed us. She had a way of instilling the fear of God.

My brother told me a few things that I didn’t know. Every night, Dad would go down to the bakery and “set sponge.” The so-called sponge consisted of flour, salt, water, and yeast. It was mixed and dumped into a large trough to rise overnight. “The trough seemed huge to me,” said Dave, who was only 11 or 12 when my family sold the bakery and moved to Colorado. “I would love to see it now. I’ll bet it isn’t nearly as large as I imagine.”

The next morning, Dad would arrive early at the bakery. One of the first things he would do would be to punch down the dough. Bread makers know that deflating the dough — or “punching it down” — is a step in all bread making. Imagine punching down a dough that size. Then, according to Dave, throughout the day as Dad made his various kinds of bread — white, cottage, vienna, buns, etc. — he would take some of that dough and put it in with the other bread ingredients. “Like a starter dough for sourdough?” I asked Dave. “Yep, except it wasn’t sour,” he answered.

Dave also told me that when Dad and Mom bought the bakery in Leadville, Dad tried like the dickens to recreate that sponge dough. To this day, Dave doesn’t understand why he was unsuccessful, but try as he might, Dad wasn’t able to make sponge dough. Probably something to do with the altitude.

I’m always amused at myself when I make bread. To get the water temperature just so, I heat it up, take the temperature, cool it down if necessary, take the temperature, heat it more if necessary. It takes time for me to get the temperature JUST RIGHT for the yeast. I am pretty darn sure that Dad knew the temperature without ever touching a thermometer, just as he could measure out enough dough for hamburger buns without weighing.

“You know what?” my brother asked me. “I would give anything to go back in time and be able to watch Dad bake again.”…..

So would I.

Gone With the Wind

My brother Dave, who has lived in AZ for 30-some years now, has often commented that he thinks the weather forecasters in the Phoenix market just throw a cloud into their five-day forecast photo graphic to make one day look a little different than the other days. A reprieve from sheer boredom.

So when there is actually a weather event, it is a phenomenon. A cause for excitement. A reason for lovers of weather to stand down at the end of their driveways and say things like, “E-yup. I think thar’s somethin’ blowin’ in from the west.” Or maybe, “I ain’t seen this much wind since a tornado blew down the drive-in theater sign when Gone With the Wind was playin’!” Or maybe, “I knew we had some moisture comin’ because the bunion on my left foot was achin’ like crazy.”

(I’m not sure why I think weather-lovers don’t pronounce the Gs at the end of their words.)

Anyhoo, we have had us some kind of weather these past couple of days, and that’s the truth. It started Sunday when I was awakened by the sound of pouring rain. Like the-heavens-had-opened-up rain. The temperature Sunday morning was in the high 40s, so not too chilly. The heavy rain didn’t last long, and the sun came popping out shortly thereafter. A short storm, I thought.

Much to my surprise, however, on and off all day Sunday, those kind of rainstorms would happen. Heavy downpours that lasted maybe 15 minutes, followed by the sun. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we needed to do any outdoor chores during the breaks. RAIN. RAIN STOPS. TAKE THE GARBAGE CAN DOWN TO THE STREET. RAIN. RAIN STOPS. RUN TO THE GROCERY STORE. RAIN. And so on.

At one point Sunday, it hailed. Not Colorado hail that could (and does) damage cars and roofs. Little pearls of hail. But that was the first time I had seen hail in AZ…..

And it was followed literally minutes later by the sun…..

Yesterday was much the same, though it didn’t start until afternoon. Interestingly, at one point what appeared to be snow was coming from the sky. Snow in Phoenix isn’t unheard of. I have even witnessed it myself. But the temperature was 46 at the time, which seemed warm for snow. The snow only lasted a few minutes and nothing stuck, even on the grass.

It seemed to me, however, that it was a good day to bake bread. And so that’s what I did.

My bread baking has vastly improved when I convinced myself to be patient. Yesterday I made French bread for the first time. The bread I made had a softer crust than baguettes, and that was my preference. When my dad had the bakery in Columbus, he made Vienna bread, a loaf that looked much like French bread. I thought about making Vienna loaves, and I found recipes. The bread sounded too sweet for my purpose, which was to have with dinner last night.

The bread turned out perfectly which made me very happy…..

The good news, however, is that this “weather event” is scheduled to be finished by tomorrow. AZ desperately needed the moisture, but it’s nice that we won’t be driving or standing in pouring rain while we wait for Bill’s vaccine.

And by the way, it’s a true story that many years ago, a tornado blew down the sign at the Drive-In Theater, and Gone With the Wind was the featured movie.

A Little Pizza Peace

Yesterday Jen and I watched Cardinal Dolan say Mass streaming from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. Having watched the Cardinal say Mass more than anyone else since we stopped being able to regularly attend live Mass in March, I’ve gotten as familiar with his homilies as most of his regular parishioners. They are always amazing, always hit home, and always make me understand why he has made it so far in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. I wish I could live to see him named Pope some day.

Anyway, yesterday’s homily was no exception. The message was simple. Don’t worry about the everyday things of life, even those as serious and dramatic as a worldwide pandemics. All things of earth are temporary and will go away eventually. As an example, he pointed out that President Trump provided temporary anguish for some people. President Biden will provide temporary anguish for others. Both tribulations will end. COVID will go away at some point. Instead, look ahead to those things that won’t go away. While that might not hit home for nonbelievers, it really hit home for me. Only God is permanent.

Anyhoo, it made me think about enjoying the things around us as much as we can. And my family works really hard at making the best of things. As an example, last weekend, Jen invited Bec and Dave over for a pizza party. She set up a pizza bar. I made the crust. Dave rolled out the crusts. (Well, the truth is his talent as a baker allowed him to form the crusts without even taking the rolling pin out of the drawer)…..

We all took turns and chose our own toppings for the pizzas…..

Jen preheated the oven — and the cast iron pans — to 500 degrees. The little pizzas baked quickly, and they were delicious.

Our gathering and the sharing of laughter and love provided a shot of peace during a stressful time. Though even family isn’t permanent — at least not how we know it — it is good to be around love and relaxation, and to know that we are there for one another.

Saturday Smile: Take a Shot

While there is stress and confusion about where, when, and if many of us will get our vaccine, I am greatly relieved that my two favorite over-70 people are signed up and ready to get their initial COVID vaccine shots. My husband Bill gets his on Wednesday and my sister Bec gets hers in a few weeks.

I’m very happy for both of them. I hope the rest of us are not far behind.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Pretty as a Picture

Marissa Dahl is a talented movie editor. Her OCD personality and her devotion to motion pictures makes her particularly good at her job. She is asked to edit a movie being directed by a well-known and well-respected director who is also known to be difficult and extremely demanding. Still, the picture is being filmed on a small island off the coast of Delaware, which makes it intriguing but also frightening given her OCD personality.

I’m not a movie buff. I do, however, like movies. I have enjoyed going to the movies my whole life. And I’ve always been drawn to books that deal with the movie industry, particularly historical novels based on real actors. Pretty as a Picture, a new novel by Elizabeth Little, looks at the movie business from a bit of a different angle, namely the behind the camera aspect.

The film is based on an unsolved murder that took place on the island. Even more troubling is the fact that she is replacing a person who was fired by the demanding director for reasons unknown to her or anyone else.

When she arrives, she learns that things are not going well at the movie production studio and people are frightened. There have been strange accidents and many people besides her predecessor have been fired. She also learns that she is being guarded by a handsome former military man, and has no idea why she needs security.

Details are revealed as the book moves along, making readers wonder if the person responsible for the unsolved murder might still be around and unhappy that the film is being made.

I found the book amusing and interesting. Marissa’s character is cynical and sarcastic and funny and perhaps a bit autistic, making her an interesting character. She made me laugh out loud on several occasions. Also, throughout the book, she drops lines from famous movies, and it was fun for me to try and recall from which movie I had heard the line.

All-in-all, I found the book highly satisfying and readable.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

No Success
I sat down yesterday at my computer again yesterday to try and make an appointment to get the COVID vaccination. News sources told me there were still 10,000 openings at State Farm Stadium in Glendale (the Cardinals’ football stadium). That is very far away from our house, but to get the vaccine, I would drive many miles. Alas, I could not get an appointment, no matter how hard I tried. Again, I’m relying on the possibility of getting the vaccine when Bill gets his next week. Fingers crossed.

Painted Skies
Almost every morning when I’m at our home in Denver, I wake up to the most beautiful sunrises. It helps that my kitchen window faces east. Still, I have to give Colorado credit in the sunrise category. However, generally speaking, I have to do the same for Arizona sunsets. We are able to see the beautiful sunsets as we sit out in evening with our adult beverages, and marvel at God’s hand…..

Doggy Fun
The other day Jen and I were at our Fry’s buying some groceries for dinner. We split up, and she did her shopping and I did mine. I didn’t have much to get, but I enjoyed wandering around the store, as it’s one of the big stores with lots of interesting things. I stumbled into the dog toy aisle, and decided Jen’s dog Winston needed a new toy. I spent all of $3.99 on a toy that squeaked, as Jen said those are his favorites. I gave it to him when I got home, and he ran off with great excitement. A bit later, Jen went back to our den where she works and took Winston and his toy with her. Maybe a half hour later, she called to me, “Kris, come and see what you created.” …..

Bad doggy. Two pieces of good news: I didn’t have to clean it up and he sleeps with it every night…..

Let’s All Go to the Movies
Well, we can’t actually go the movies these days, but I’m grateful at least some of them are coming to us. We rented News of the World last night, and the three of us enjoyed it very much. I swear, Tom Hanks can play any role he wants. It was very good and I recommend it highly.

Ciao.

No Worries

Bill and I bought our home with Jen as our equal partner in 2010, when the housing market was tanking. We got a smokin’ deal, and haven’t regretted it a bit. Because Bill and I are both retired, we have been able to spend more time here than Jen, who is still working hard for her money. She never complains. She knows her time will come.

Because Bill and I were here by ourselves so much of the time, I set up the kitchen as I liked it. When Jen would come stay for a week or so, she would simply ask me, “Where is the skillet?” or “Where do you keep the can opener?” It worked, but it probably made her feel as though she was a stranger in her own home.

We bought a house that — though it’s small — has a split master bedroom. This way we each get our privacy. Bill and I have the master bedroom and Jen has a bedroom and bath away from ours. It is very private, and both Bill and I work hard to respect her privacy, as she does ours.

One thing that used to niggle in the back of my mind (because GOD KNOWS I can’t go for any length of time where I’m not worrying about something) is how we all will get along when she, too, is retired and spending her winters here. In particular, I simply couldn’t imagine how we would make cooking work for us. Would I buy groceries? Would she buy groceries? Would we set aside a grocery budget? And how would the cooking part go? Would I cook for Bill and me and let Jen fend for herself? That seemed unwieldy and a waste of time. Would one of us cook and the other clean?

Wow. And Biden thinks HE has things to worry about.

As it turns out, Jen has spent the bulk of the past two winters (this one included) here in AZ because she is working on becoming a robot (or so her grandson Austin tells her). She had a knee replaced in January 2020 and a shoulder replaced in November 2020. We call her the Tin Man. If she only had a heart.

Guess what? My worries have been for nothing. We simply fell into a routine. She buys groceries sometimes and I buy groceries sometimes. We take turns cooking. Whoever doesn’t cook that day cleans up the kitchen. We each decide on what we’re going to cook, and mostly agree.

We worked out any differences we had on Festivus during the Feats of Strength. (By the way, I kicked butt since she was still healing from her shoulder surgery.)

Every year, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to not worry about things over which I have no control. It never lasts for more than a week, because worrying is what I do. I even worry about how much worrying is affecting my health.

The good thing about worrying is that when it turns out that I had nothing to worry about, I’m so glad.

Sunny Side Up

As you will recall, we came to the desert in November to escape the climbing COVID numbers in Colorado. We subsequently got stuck here as the numbers in Arizona began to skyrocket and the numbers in Colorado began to even off, and even go down. We were simply afraid to travel. Perhaps it was bad planning, but I prefer to think that it was the hand of the Holy Ghost.

Neither Bill nor I are fond of winter. Cold and dreary weather literally brings on some depression in me. Of course, the good news about Colorado is that the weather rarely stays dreary for long. Having said that, Bill is not a fan of cold weather, and Colorado can be cold even when the sun is shining. Despite having grown up in Chicago, he has always disliked the cold. Now his Parkinson’s intensifies his reaction. As soon as the temperatures drop, his hands are cold enough to chill my martini. The warm weather is good for both of us.

I thought about this as I planted my herb garden here yesterday. I planted chives, thyme, dill, and Italian parsley. Those are the herbs I use the most. I occasionally use rosemary, and we have a very large rosemary bush just outside our back door. I will do the same thing in Denver of course, but that won’t be possible until May, and the weather can be below freezing even as late as May. Springtime in the Rockies.

The temperature hovered in the mid- to-high 70s today. The weather folks are predicting cooler temperatures by the end of the week, “plunging” to low- to mid-60s. The good news is that the cooler weather might bring some much-needed rain. Even desert plants need some moisture.

Speaking of moisture, the other day I noticed that a blooming bush in our front yard was not only not blooming, but the leaves were turning yellow. Since our watering is done with a very quiet drip system, I began to wonder if perhaps it was being a bit TOO quiet. Bill checked, and sure enough, the water hasn’t been on at all since we got here. We’re blaming it on a mischievous roadrunner who visits our yard nearly every day. We had a roadrunner last winter as well. There is, of course, no way of knowing if it is the same fellow, but word travels quickly in the roadrunner world. Our first sighting was last week, when Bill was working on his car in the garage with the door open. He looked up from his work to see Mr. Roadrunner sashay into the garage. Here is a terrible photo of him on our neighbor’s roof…..

As you can see, there is neither an anvil or a coyote. Nor have we heard a single meep meep.

By the way, here is a great photo of one of Arizona’s ironies…..

I still have my poinsettia as well as my herbs. All sitting on our outdoor bar where we can enjoy our afternoon cocktails.

Cheers.