Is This Heaven? No It’s Iowa

Late yesterday morning, Bill was out in the garage working on his car and I was reading a book. It occurred to me that it was a holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Holidays used to be pretty meaningful to me back in the days when I worked hard for a living and got paid to write. When Court was little, a holiday meant a day off to spend hanging out with him. After he was grown and on his own, a holiday still meant that I got to get up when I felt like it and spend the day with Bill doing whatever I wanted.

If we’re in Colorado when a holiday occurs, my grandkids might stop by our house and we may watch a movie or or go geocaching or make some cookies. But when we are in AZ, I pretty much need to be reminded of a holiday as one day is kind of like the next, in a good way.

As it happened, however, I was unwilling to spend the entire day – holiday or not – sitting in my easy chair even though the latest Longmire novel is quite enjoyable and more important, due back soon to the library. So I asked Bill if he wanted to celebrate the amazing civil rights activist Martin Luther King by getting an Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s.

Well, duh. Of course he did. How better to honor a great man than with a sloppy, juicy beef sandwich?

While driving to the Chicago-based eatery, we passed Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs’ spring training. You might recall that many baseball clubs west of the Mississippi train in the Valley of the Sun in the spring, and play spring baseball games. It’s the only time that I pay much attention to baseball, I’m afraid.

Seeing Sloan Park made me start thinking about baseball. Which further led me to spend the afternoon watching a movie that I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years – Field of Dreams. I’ve only seen Field of Dreams one time, and that was at the movie theater, likely with Court, who would have been 9 years old when it was released. If you had asked me what it was about yesterday morning before I saw the movie, I would have said it was about baseball. That, of course, is true. But the movie is also about making peace with your past. It isn’t until literally the end of the movie that you realize that everything that happened led up to Ray Kinsella (played by a very young Kevin Costner) playing catch with his father, long dead. Ray’s biggest regret was that he had, in anger, said something hurtful to his father, and then never saw him again before his father died. Here was a chance to make peace for a past hurt.

Oh, if only this could happen to all of us, right?

But enough of that. Let’s talk about the beef sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the onion rings.……

Italian beef sandwiches have had to grow on me. The first time I ever ate an Italian beef, I found it to be, well, ordinary. Haters, don’t hate. Because I came around. I learned to order hot peppers instead of sweet. I discovered the benefits of having my sandwich dipped instead of wet. Wet means they pour the juice over the sandwich; dipped means they fill up your sandwich and then, using a tong, dip the entire sandwich in the juice. This practice, of course, results in a drippy mess that requires a multitude of napkins and a willingness to sacrifice a clean shirt. There’s an art to eating a dipped Italian beef sandwich, my friends. After 25 years of marriage to a Chicagoan, I have learned the art.……

My late mother-in-law loved herself a Chicago hot dog. I never saw her eat an Italian beef sandwich, but up until her final couple of years, she was always eager to go to the Portillo’s near her house where she would order a hot dog and French fries. She saved her chocolate shake for Steak N Shake…..

Arizona is required by state law to post the calorie count for all restaurant foods. Party poopers. Each Italian beef sandwich was 530 calories. Of drippy goodness and, unlike Ray Kinsella, no regrets.

What Are You Looking For?

Sometimes I will see Bill walking around the house, and it’s clear he’s on the hunt for something. What are you looking for, I’m liable to ask him. My glasses, he might say, or or I left my can of Diet Coke somewhere and I can’t find it.

As for me, if I’m looking for something, it’s almost always going to be my cell phone. I seem to be completely unable to keep track of the darn thing. Always keep it in the same place, I’ll tell myself, just about the time I set it down on the patio table or on the side of the bathtub.

What are you looking for?

After weeks of hearing the lovely Christmas stories at Mass about the birth of Jesus and the visits from the shepherds and the magi and King Herod’s evil plan for the baby Jesus that was thwarted by a dream courtesy of angels, we finally got to hear Jesus speak to us once more in this weekend’s gospel. What does he say to us after all of these weeks? What are you looking for are the words that St. John tells us were spoken by Jesus.

I know how I would answer if Jesus was to appear to me (probably rolling his eyes and handing me my misplaced cell phone) and ask me what are you looking for. I’m looking for easy answers. I’m looking for you to solve my problems, and be quick about it. I’m looking for arrows to point me in the direction I’m supposed to go. I’m looking for a list of things I’m supposed to do and things I’m not supposed to do.  I’m looking for all of those other people to make correct choices and make my life easier.

There is something right now in my otherwise good life with which I’m struggling. It’s largely outside my control which, of course, makes it frustrating and doesn’t stop me from trying my best to control it anyhow. I pray and pray about it, and God seems to be turning a deaf ear to me.

Except that I know he isn’t. A long time ago, I came across this quote: God answers prayers in one of three ways: Yes; Not now; I have a better idea. I remind myself of that when it seems like God isn’t listening.

I also remind myself that I am also not listening to God. I try. I really do. I wish he would speak to me in a dream the way that he spoke to Joseph and the three magi. I wish I could come across a burning bush. I wish a miracle would occur. That would make it easy to listen to God. Alas, the only fire I generally see is when my grill gets too hot and my steaks are aflame.

I love the story in the first Book of Samuel in which Samuel hears a voice in the night calling for him. He runs and wakes up Eli and asks him what he wants. Eli, likely pretty cranky from being awakened in the middle of the night, tells Samuel he didn’t call him and go back to bed. That happens a couple more time times before Eli finally tells him, listen Bud, it isn’t me calling you; it’s the Lord. So the next time Samuel hears the cry, he says, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Boom. It goes on to say that Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him.

I know that every single minute of every single day, God listens to me, speaks to me, and gives me what I’m looking for, which is grace. He doesn’t need to speak any louder. I just need to listen more carefully.

Saturday Smile: Light It Up!

For years, I have wanted to visit Zoo Lights. There are Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo (where I am a member) and Zoo Lights at the Phoenix Zoo (where I am also a member). But I never could quite get it to work.

And then, sometime in mid- to late-December, I got an email from the Phoenix Zoo with an offer I couldn’t refuse: renew my membership early, and get two free Zoo Lights tickets.

Sold.

Thursday night, Bill and I put on jeans and sweaters, called an Uber so that we didn’t have to worry about driving, and rode to the Phoenix Zoo to enjoy Zoo Lights. What a super treat. The temperature was in the low 50s, so it was pleasant to walk around and see the pretty lights. Here are some of what we saw…..

Christmas lights make me smile.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Unquiet Grave

The best thing about most of author Sharyn McCrumb’s books are the ghosts. They’re never scary or murderous. They’re not generally out to do anyone harm. The ghosts are just a part of Appalachian mythology. Like Cole in The Sixth Sense, Nora Bonesteel, featured in many of the books in McCrumb’s Ballad series, sees dead people. She has the sight.

Nora Bonesteel is not in McCrumb’s newest offering, The Unquiet Grave, but a ghost does play a key role. The book, unbelievably enough, is based on a true story in which an accused murderer is brought to trial based on evidence supplied by a ghost. The Greenbriar ghost, to be exact. The murder took place in West Virginia in 1897.

The reader first meets James P.D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer who has been confined to a segregated insane asylum since attempting suicide following the death of his wife. He begins to be treated by Dr. James Boozer, who is trying out the newfangled practice of treating mental illness by conversation rather than lobotomy or electric shock treatment. In the course of their conversation, which is woven in and out of the novel, we learn that Gardner was involved as an attorney in the Greenbriar murder case. The story is told through these conversations.

Back in 1897, beautiful and willful Zona Heaster marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a blacksmith who has been married twice before. His second wife died under mysterious circumstances. It isn’t long before Zona’s family starts to notice that things aren’t as they should be in the Shue marriage. Zona rarely sees her family, she is skin and bones, and she is isolated from the entire community. Within a short period of time, she dies from a fall down the steps. The fall is determined to be an accident.

Zona’s mother Mary Jane is suspicious from the get go. Though not a bit superstitious and deeply religious, she claims to see the ghost of her daughter, who tells her that she was murdered by her husband Trout Shue. Despite Mary Jane’s husband’s misgivings, Mary Jane pleas her case to the county prosecutor, who agrees to have the body exhumed. Upon examination, the doctor determines that Zona was indeed killed, likely by being strangled and then pushed down the stairs. Unlikely though it would seem, Mary Jane manages to convince him to bring the case to trial. Even more unlikely, Shue is found guilty.

All of the above characters are apparently real, and the case is genuine.

While The Unquiet Grave is nowhere near the best McCrumb novel, the story was fascinating nevertheless. The book is relatively short and the ending was extremely unexpected (and unable to be verified in any way as fact). It satisfied this reader. I also enjoyed learning the story through the conversations of a very interesting character, Mr. Gardner. It was a clever story-telling technique on McCrumb’s part.

The Unquiet Grave is not a scary ghost story. Instead, it’s more of a history lesson.  The Unquiet Grave is not part of McCrumb’s Ballad series, a series, by the way, I highly recommend.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts


Munching
I’ve been bragging about my herbs and lettuce that I have been nursing since we arrive in AZ in late December. Yesterday afternoon, I glanced out and noticed that the lettuce looked different. I went to check it out and noticed that there has been something EATING it. I’m looking at you, Birds…..

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Seeing my little lettuce stubs does not make me a happy person. It is true that I love the sounds of the mockingbirds in the morning. However, should I witness one of those darling little birds dining on my precious greens, St. Francis of Assisi will quickly turn into the Incredible Hulk. Where’s my slingshot? Tweet tweet, indeed.

Marvelous, Indeed
I guiltily admitted recently that I had binge-watched the second season of Broadchurch on Netflix. That was the first time I had ever binge-watched anything. It is with great embarrassment that I have to admit that I have once again binge-watched something. I spent last Sunday watching EVERY EPISODE of the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is certainly one of the best programs I have watched in years. It features a cast of whom I have scarcely heard (Tony Shalhoub was one exception, as Bill and I used to love him as the detective Monk), though others more in tune with contemporary movies and television may know every last one of the cast members. Midge Maisel is adorable, and her story is absolutely delightful. The series streams on Amazon, and is free to those of us on Amazon Prime (thank you Lauren!). The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won best comedy series at the Golden Globes (which I decidedly DID NOT watch), and that made me feel very smug as I had already watched every episode. If you are able, watch it. Seriously, watch it.

Seasonal Weather
At last, the East Valley had a bit of more seasonal weather yesterday and it looks to continue into today. And by seasonal weather, I’m talking a high of 62 and sunny. It can’t be compared to the minus 24 experienced in Vermont and other states last week. Still, for the first time since we’ve been here, it actually felt a bit like – well, if not winter, at least fall! It will soon be back in the 70s, but the folks I talked to yesterday were acting like it was plum cold.

Zooey
For renewing my Phoenix Zoo membership early, I got two free tickets to Zoo Lights. Neither Bill nor I have ever seen Zoo Lights, so we are excited. Saturday is the final night, and I think Bill and I are going to don sweaters and head over this evening. Up past 8 o’clock like grown-ups.

Ciao.

The Perfect Day

It’s January – that time when 87.882 percent of the U.S. population begins to think about losing weight. Of course, nowadays nobody says they want to “lose weight.” Instead, they say they want to “get healthy.” Which is code for I want to lose 15 lbs. so that I don’t pop the final button on my jeans and no one thinks they are looking at the Titanic when they see me from behind. You know. Healthy.

Since January 1, my email inbox has been filling up with message after message about exercise and healthy eating. I got really excited recently when I got an email from Silver Sneakers, which is a free fitness program for seniors with which I am truly impressed. They actually send useful information for people my age. The email was entitled A Perfect Day of Eating.

AWESOME, I thought. Breakfast: A Cinnabon cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee, followed by a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal; Lunch: A hot dog all the way, French fries, and a Diet Coke; Dinner: A grilled bone-in ribeye steak, Brussel sprouts with bacon, a baked potato topped with a generous helping of butter and some more bacon, a dry Tanqueray martini, up with two bleu cheese-stuffed olives, and a dish of toffee fudge ice cream for dessert.

A perfect day of eating.

Alas, that wasn’t their idea of a perfect day of eating. Their recommendation — Breakfast: a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of raw almonds, and some oatmeal; Lunch: steamed vegetables with olive oil MISTED on top, a bowl of vegetable or bean soup, and fresh fruit; Dinner: a raw salad (obviously dreamed up prior to Romaine lettuce being DANGER DANGER DANGER), more vegetables on top of brown rice, 1-2 oz. of animal protein (Seriously? 1-2 oz.? Who are they kidding?), and yes, you guessed it, fruit for dessert.

How is that a perfect day of eating? Sigh.

The other day I was making our bed. Bed making, my friends, is not a strenuous task. Suddenly a spasm in my back sent me reeling to my knees. I was able to relax, and with some ice applied to the area of the spasm and a couple of ibuprofen, I managed to avert a spend-the-day-on-the-couch crisis. Still, I gave myself a stern lecture. In fact, I heard both of my sisters’ voices in my ear saying, Kris, you must exercise to strengthen your core.

Turns out I listen to myself better than I listen to my sisters. Go figure. I have, indeed, begun doing core exercises, as well as walking. It seems those Nordic walking sticks that I bought this past fall are good for more than retrieving items that roll under the couch……

Though I poke fun at the term get healthy, the fact is I really have no desire to return to the weight I was on my wedding day. That ship (not the same one for which people mistake my rear end) sailed quite some time ago. I do, however, want to be able to make a bed without having to call paramedics.

I won’t, however, call steamed vegetables with a MIST of olive oil a perfect lunch. Nope. Not gonna happen.

I did make a relatively healthy dinner last night, however. Healthy if you call a meal made with five eggs, cream, bacon and cheese healthy, and I do. It’s got spinach, people. I got Bill to agree to eat quiche by bribing him with Dairy Queen for dessert….

 

Bacon and Spinach Quiche

Ingredients:
1 (9 inch) pie crust
5 eggs, beaten
1 c. heavy cream
1 -1/2 c. spinach, chopped
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk eggs until well blended. Add cream, onion powder, salt, and pepper. In the bottom of your pie crust layer chopped spinach, bacon, and shredded cheese. Pour egg and cream mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until egg mixture is firm and the top is golden. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Nana’s Notes: I used a frozen pie crust. You can use any kind of cheese you prefer. I just happened to have cheddar cheese in my refrigerator. Bribe your spouse with Dairy Queen.

Baggin’ It

I’ve never owned an expensive purse. No $300 Michael Kors bag. Not even a $150 Kate Spade bag. I did once own a Coach bag, but since I bought it from a street vendor in New York City and it cost $12, I don’t think it was genuine…..

 

I’ve owned many a purse in my life, but the sum total of all of the purses I’ve owned probably doesn’t equal the cost of a Prada bag from Neiman Marcus.

I’m not criticizing anyone who owns and loves an expensive purse. We all have our things for which we will spend money. One of the first things I bought when we began wintering in AZ was a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. For what it cost me, I could have bought an expensive Marc Jacobs bag that didn’t come from China.

And, by the way, I’ve noticed that nobody who spends a couple of hundred dollars or more on a purse actually calls it a purse. They call it a bag. I carry purses.

Many people get their expensive bags as gifts from their husband. My husband wouldn’t be able to tell you what color purse I carry. That doesn’t bother me, because frankly, I probably would have to look down at what’s around my neck to be sure what color it was. I care very little about what my purse looks like, and more about whether it meets my needs.

The thing is, my needs change.  In 1993, I graduated from the University of Denver with a master’s degree and arthritis in my neck from having spent all those hours at the computer writing paper after paper after paper as required by the Communications Department. I found that carrying a purse over my shoulder was very uncomfortable. So for a while, I carried a professional-looking backpack. (I’m calling it professional-looking to convince myself that I looked, well, professional. I probably didn’t.)

After a while, I went back to a regular purse, and I chose one that was large enough to carry a small service animal. Seriously, back in those days we weren’t able to have access to our entire world on a cell phone. So my bag needed to hold my billfold, my daytimer, my address book, my business card holder, any files necessary for whatever meeting I was attending, my cell phone, a makeup bag, my lunch, and probably Court’s cleats so that he could change in the car when I took him to soccer practice.

Out of habit, I kept a large purse for a long time, even after I retired. I remember carrying juice boxes and diapers and diaper wipes and bags of soggy fruit and crumbling bars when I would take grandkids to the zoo. I could have been one of those women on Let’s Make a Deal.

Until finally one day I realized that my grandkids no longer wore diapers and my cavernous purse contained only a small billfold and my cell phone, and it still hurt my shoulder. That’s when I decided I would downsize to a small purse with a long strap that would fit over my head, thereby leaving my hands free to do whatever I wanted to do with free hands. There must be something good to do with two hands.

All of this rambling about purses is because yesterday I once again bought a new purse. Actually, in all honesty, I bought two new purses – one to carry my lone billfold every day and a large backpack to carry on an airplane that will fit under my seat. The total cost for both? $57.00

Target, my friends.

By the way, Bill did actually buy me a purse one time. I went through a period where I kept leaving my purse wherever we dined. By the grace of God and a very busy St. Anthony, I always got my purse back with nothing missing. One day Bill spotted a little purse that clipped onto one’s belt. He reasoned that if the purse was connected to my body, I may not leave it behind. It was a reasonable thought.

However, there were a couple of flaws. First, the bag was too small to carry much of anything except a credit card. Second, when I sat down wearing the purse, it would jab me in my side. As a result, I would remove the purse, thereby negating its benefits. And third, I don’t wear a belt, so I had to hook it onto the waistband of my pants. The bag pulled my pants down on one side. It was such a nice thought, though, wasn’t it?

It was better than him buying me this Louis Vuitton bag which they call an urban satchel. It’s priced at a mere $150,000. It must be the cigarette pack. You know how expensive smokes have gotten…..

But, see above. Fifty-seven dollars for two bags at Target.

I win.