Saturday Smile: I Heart Vermont

Bill and I have nine grandchildren. Seven of them live near us in Denver, so we see one or more of them nearly every day. Two, however, live far away in Vermont. Though FaceTime brings us closer than we would be without technology, we still feel far away, especially on birthdays.

Our two Vermont boys couldn’t be more different in many ways, but you don’t have to be around them long to recognize they are brothers. It’s the love and the loyalty they feel for one another.

Joseph is 8, but is as smart as a kid twice his age. He told me the other night that he is now interested in Greek mythology. Good, I told him. You can teach me about it. But he went on to explain that he is actually interested in two things – Greek gods and Pokémon. Whew, I thought. Underneath all of that incredible intelligence, he is just a kid. He’s the kid who would get tears in his eyes if I told him I didn’t feel good.

Now Micah, well, he’s a spark plug. Plain and simple. He has a smile on his face all of the time, and is always on the go. He loves music – all kinds of music. He doesn’t hold still until he finds something that grabs his attention, and then he will be attentive. He’s always ready for a bike ride or a run with their dog Merlin.

And Micah had a birthday this week. He turned 5….

Happy birthday Micah!

Our Vermont boys make me smile.

 

Friday Book Whimsy: The Spider and the Fly

Before I review this book, I have to tell you a deep, dark secret. I sort of, kind of, like to read about real-life murder and real-life murderers. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t intend to embark upon a killing spree ala Natural Born Killer, a movie I’ve never even seen. And what’s more, though I may be unique in that I admit it, many people are interested in murder. (I wish I could say it like the British do: muuuurdah.)

Anyway, I know I’m not the only one because podcasts about murders and murderers are wildly popular these days. My Favorite Murder is one of the more popular podcasts out there nowadays. (I don’t recommend it for everyone. Language, people.)

Anyway, The Spider and the Fly, by journalist Claudia Rowe, showed up on Book Bub, recommended for those who like nonfiction books that read like novels. As I am not a huge fan of nonfiction, this caught my eye, and I looked at the list of books. This one appealed to me because in the publisher’s description, it highlights this letter from real-life serial murderer Kendall Francois to the author:

Well, well, Claudia. Can I call you Claudia? I’ll have to give it to you, when confronted at least you’re honest, as honest as any reporter….You want to go into the depths of my mind and into my past. I want a peek into yours. It is only fair, isn’t it?

Oh my heavens. Doesn’t that sound like Hannibal Lector of Silence of the Lambs fame? I was hooked, and got my hands on the book as soon as possible.

Kendall Francois was convicted of killing eight women in Poughkeepsie, New York, between 1996 and 1998. What’s more, he kept these eight women in the attic of the home he shared with his mother, father, and a sister, who took no offense at the putrid smell coming from the attic and the appearance of maggots on their ceiling. Seems odd, doesn’t it?

Francois eventually confessed to the inept police (who had also visited the home, and it hadn’t raised any concerns), pleaded guilty, and was sent to live out most of the rest of his life at Attica prison. He eventually died of cancer at another prison in his 40s.

It was shortly after his confession that Ms. Rowe became interested in the murder and Francois himself. What, she wondered, could make a person become a serial murderer.

The book, however, is as much about the author and her messed-up life as it is about Kendall Francois. So if you embark on this reading journey thinking you will gain an understanding of why a person murders, you will be disappointed. Rowe becomes obsessed with the murderer because she thinks it might give her some insight into her own weird life.

By the way, despite the fact that Francois was a real-life murderer, he wasn’t as scary as Hannibal Lector because who could be?

This book is certainly not for everyone. The details are disturbing, and the fact that it is real stuff makes you want to not go out at night. Still, I admit that I enjoyed reading this book, though I might stick to murder mysteries from here on.

Here is a link to the book.

 

Thursday Thoughts

Not Quite School Daze
I mentioned in a recent blog that all of my Denver grandkids are back in school, but I was wrong. I got a call Tuesday from Maggie Faith. “Can I come over for a little bit?” she asked. I told her of course, but I thought she was in school. Not until this upcoming Monday, she informed me. I was relieved she wasn’t playing hooky. When she arrived, she immediately asked me, “What do you want to do?” as she always does. “Let’s cook something,” she went on to say, and started rooting through my pantry. Maggie likes to take random ingredients she finds in the pantry and “create” a masterpiece. The so-called masterpiece might include pieces of beef jerky cut up into some peanut butter, add a few pepper flakes and a handful of marshmallows, bake for 10 minutes, and then consume. I wasn’t quite up for that, so I suggested instead that we check out Pinterest and find something to make using existing ingredients. We landed on some simple Danish rolls using canned crescent rolls. I actually didn’t have the rolls, so I made a quick run to the grocery store. When I returned, Maggie had persuaded Google Home to play top 40 hits. She was dancing around the kitchen, and had used instant lemonade, instant ice tea, and instant fruit punch (which I didn’t even know I had, so it must have been older than she) to make a punch. “Want some?” she asked. I declined. We set to work on our Danish, and just about the time we got the dough laid out and the cream cheese mixed with the sugar, she got a better offer. Her friend Molly wanted her to come out and play. “Bye Nana,” she said as she hopped on her bike and left me with a dozen-and-a-half almost-put-together Danish rolls. No worries. Papa Bill ate them……

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye
As I was out on my morning walk the other day, I observed two women standing in front of a car with the back opened. The car was packed to the gills with suitcases and other travel paraphernalia. They were tearfully hugging one another, and I teared up myself. I remember the days when my sister Bec and her family would travel from the East Coast, or my brother Dave and his family would travel to Denver from AZ. We would always have such fun while they were here, and it was so sad to say goodbye. We would all cry.  Say what you will about technology, but with all its flaws, it certainly has made the world smaller and communication easier. What with email and Facetime, I never feel very far away from my family and friends. I hope the woman has a safe trip to wherever she is going.

More Beesness
I telephoned Dagny yesterday to try and ascertain the status of the beehive. You might recall that my last update told you that the queen bee had died and the two apiarists had purchased a new queen. That queen was in a little box that they set inside the hive, the idea being that the drones and workers would get used to her before letting her loose in the hive. According to Dagny, that queen escaped her little box on her own. Apparently it was a bad decision, because she was quickly killed by the worker bees. But alas, all is not yet lost. There is a glimmer of hope. Dagny said that when she and her father checked the other day, it looked like there might have been some eggs that had been laid recently, indicating the existence of another queen. It would be one that the other bees chose, I guess. Or, said Dagny sadly, it might just be the glare of the sun and not eggs at all. Time will tell. I believe Camilla Parker-Bowles Windsor is watching carefully to see how one becomes queen when one is tired of waiting.

Twinkly Citrus
I crocheted these adorable citrus scrubbies this week, and posted them on my Etsy page. They worked up really quickly, and I think they are cute and cheerful-looking. Kaiya was surprised when she checked them out. “I like the way these feel,” she said. Check them out on my Etsy page (link above).

Rapunzel
When Mylee was over at my house the other day, for the first time in a very long time, she didn’t have her hair in pony tails or in a bun. In fact, it was completely loose. I was taken aback at just how long her hair is….

Ciao.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Soup?

If my mother would have ever plopped down a bowl of soup in front of my dad for dinner, well, she just wouldn’t have done it. Pork chops, yes; fried chicken, definitely. Cream of broccoli soup? Rethink it, Marg. Rethink it.

I, on the other hand, occasionally plunk down a bowl of soup in front of Bill for dinner, and he doesn’t complain. I’m sure he doesn’t think to himself Wow, in all of my hopes and dreams, I didn’t allow myself to imagine that we would have cream of broccoli soup tonight for dinner. But he doesn’t complain. He simply eats his mandatory one bowl, and then looks longingly at the freezer, hoping there is ice cream. There almost always is, by the way.

I, on the other hand, love soup. I love it for lunch or dinner. I especially love soup if it includes noodles or potatoes. Best yet, both. If my options for a starter at a restaurant are either soup or salad, and if the soup is homemade, I will almost always choose soup. My favorite lunch among all lunch choices is pho – Vietnamese noodle soup. Someday I’m going to get up my nerve and try preparing pho. Someday.

But back to Bill for a minute. There is a restaurant in our Denver neighborhood that is a Jewish deli. In fact, it’s cleverly called New York Deli News. Though their menu is chock full of good, homemade and hearty options such as beef brisket and stuffed cabbage (and a corned beef and tongue sandwich if you are so inclined), we rarely go there except on Fridays. On Fridays they serve a delicious and affordable prime rib, along with boiled potatoes and steamed mixed fresh vegetables. It really is very good. I want it right now.

Their starter options are — predictably — salad or soup, and their soups are homemade. On their busy Fridays, they offer mushroom beef barley and chicken noodle. I always get the beef barley and Bill gets the chicken noodle. And he always raves, nearly weeps with joy, over the chicken noodle soup. He has gone so far as to proclaim it the best he’s ever eaten, and I’m pretty sure he has said these words: IT’S TO DIE FOR.

Well. As a person who prides herself on her soup-making skills, and who is pretty darn sure has never heard IT’S TO DIE FOR as it relates to any of the meals I have prepared for him, I bristled the first time. Really, I said to him, settle down; it’s only chicken noodle soup. Lots of people make chicken noodle soup. I, for example, make chicken noodle soup.

And so I recently decided I would prove to him that I could make chicken noodle soup that is as good as that served at New York Deli News. I immediately chose to use a recipe I’ve had for a long time from Paula Deen.

Why did I choose Paula Deen? Two reasons, really. The first reason is that she is (to put it bluntly if quite inconsiderately) plump. Fat, really. Or at least, she used to be. I can’t say for sure anymore because she was sent packing after she admitted that she had once used the N word. Which brings me to my second reason. I relate to Paula Deen because there have been a number of occasions in which I’ve said something that I wish I could take back almost immediately. I’m pretty sure she wishes she had kept her past mistake to herself. And as for her being overweight being a reason to use her recipe, I go with the philosophy that you should never trust a skinny cook. I’m looking at you, Giada.

Anyway, I made my soup, and I thought it tasted delicious. Bill ate his mandatory bowl, sheepishly asking for some salt, and looked longingly at the freezer. But I’m pretty sure he will show a bit more restraint when praising the chicken noodle soup at New York Deli News.

Look for yourself…..

And here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup. While I used Paula Deen’s recipe as my guide, I made quite a few changes. She adds cream, which is perhaps why she’s plump. I find cream unnecessary. Deceased Jewish grandmothers world-wide rolled over in their graves at the thought of cream in their chicken noodle soup…..

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
2-3 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-3 lb. whole chicken, cut up
1-1/2 t. Italian seasoning
3-1/2 quarts water
2 c. carrots, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. sliced mushrooms
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
2-3 c. uncooked egg noodles
2 T. dry marsala wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Process
To make the chicken stock: Add bay leaves, bouillon, onion, garlic, chicken pieces, Italian seasoning, water, and salt and pepper to a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Remove chicken and bay leaves. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Allow chicken to cool, and then remove the meat from the chicken, tossing away the bones and the skin, and set aside.

To make the soup: Bring the stock back to a boil. Add carrots and celery to the stock. When they are soft (15 to 20 minutes), add the noodles and cook according to package directions. When noodles are done, add the chicken back to the stock, along with the mushrooms and the parsley. Drizzle in the marsala or sherry. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.

Black-Eyed Peas: It’s What’s for Dinner and Better Than a Funeral

Sunday afternoon, I was watching an episode of Father Brown on Netflix, once again wondering why anyone would hang out with the good Catholic priest when his friends and parishioners are constantly getting knocked off by one murderer or another despite the fact that there are only 250 people in the quiet English village. The way I figure it, anytime Father Brown calls and asks if you want to hang out, you should say you would love to but you are busy washing your hair that afternoon. And, by the way, I’m leaving your church and becoming Anglican like everyone else in England. Oy vey.  Between Father Brown’s Kembleford, England and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine, no wonder young people are fleeing from small towns throughout the world!

Suddenly I heard poppity pop pop, the cheerful sound my cell phone makes when I get a text message. I glanced over and saw that it was from my nephew Erik who lives with his family in AZ. Erik rarely texts me, and I immediately began thinking about what I have in my closet that would be appropriate to wear to a funeral in AZ where the temperature remains in the range of 104 to 106 degrees in the shade. My mother would be proud that I went there so quickly.

Anyway, I read the text and it turns out my sister wasn’t dead, nor was anyone else in our family. Instead, Erik was asking me how I made the black-eyed peas I offer every New Year’s Day so that we can all have great luck in the year ahead. Given several cancer scares, a sister-in-law’s broken back, a couple of surgeries, and several hip failures so far in 2017, I am going to go out on a limb and say that relying on legumes for luck isn’t working. I can’t go out on MY limb, however, as my hip is one of them that is failing.

I responded by telling him how I make my black-eyed peas, wondering all the while how he can be planning on making black-eyed peas when 1) It’s 108 degrees outside where he lives; and 2) His wife and his kids can barely be in the same room with a legume, so he would be on his own eating the massive amount of beans the recipe makes. Perhaps he was planning on feeding an entire flatulent village. Who was I to judge?

I called my sister Bec the next day to let her know that Erik had contacted me looking for the recipe. I called her for two reasons (and I must be in a listing mood today): 1) I wanted her to tell me why Erik was seeking to cook something as, well, hearty as beans in unbearably hot weather; and 2) I wanted to tell her that 10 minutes after I communicated with Erik, I lackadaisically logged onto my Pinterest site only to find recipes for black-eyed peas on my feed.  This is the truth, hand to God. Pinterest is reading my text messages.

The answer to (1) is that no matter where you live, sometime in mid-August, your thoughts turn to autumn. And if you like to cook (as does Erik), you begin thinking about cooking things on top of the stove for a very long time. Autumn/winter cooking is all about braising. It turns out that when Erik was in college, his roommate would go home for the weekend, and the boy’s father would always send him back with a big pot of beans. The young men would eat delicious beans for a week. Erik was feeling nostalgic. Our taste buds have more muscle memory than anything else.

The answer to (2), by the way, is that we are fooling ourselves if we think we have even the littlest bit of privacy left in our lives. So really, when people start getting bent out of shape because they fear a loss of privacy, they might as well realize that the horse has already left the barn. No privacy. None.

Anyway,what this all tells me is that since Erik is jonesing  for a pot of beans and the majority of my grandkids are back in school (the Vermonters don’t start until after Labor Day), the deluge of All Things Pumpkin is about to begin. Lord, make me strong.

Here, by the way, are the instructions I gave Erik (and Pinterest) regarding my black-eyed peas…..

Soak the black-eyed peas overnight (or do a quick-soak ). Place beans, some carrots and celery diced small, a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, some diced garlic, a bay leaf, a couple of ham hocks or a ham bone, and enough water to cover into a slow cooker and cook all night long. Don’t add salt until the end.

Enjoy, but don’t expect good luck. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

No Magic Tricks

I honestly don’t know what happens to my time. I’m retired. I don’t volunteer (except with my grandkids). I belong to virtually no clubs or organizations that take up my time. And yet, the days go by and I find I haven’t done a single one of the things that I have committed to myself that I would do. For example, two weeks ago, I ran into a friend whom I haven’t seen for a while, and promised her with great confidence that I would call her in a few days to arrange for us to have lunch or coffee. Haven’t done it. Nope.  Sure haven’t.

Unfortunately, the same is true of my prayer life. Or perhaps I should say my so-called prayer life, as it is one of the things that gets pushed aside way more than it should. I know you’re all thinking right now, for heaven’s sake, the woman is constantly talking about her prayer life and how it should be better. Poop, or get off the pot. (That is what my dad would have said, although he wouldn’t have used the word poop in the sentence. In fact, he probably never used the word poop in his life.)

Praying kind of confuses me, I will admit that freely. I will ask God for something, and then I am unsure if I should ask again. I remind myself about the gospel reading in which Jesus says that we should nag God (my words, not his) like the woman who nagged the judge for the favor. I wonder why God should listen to me when others might be praying for the exact opposite. I used to wonder about this when I was in high school and we would pray for a victory in the football game. Was God a Scotus Shamrock fan?

The fact is I’m probably overthinking the whole thing. While miracles do happen, most of the time when we ask for something specific – winning the lottery or curing an illness – there isn’t a flash of light and subsequent wealth or health. I guess that’s because prayer isn’t a magic trick. It’s a conversation with God. And good conversations take time and develop slowly. They also require both talking and listening.

Yesterday, our Mass celebrant told us something that resonated with me. So much so, in fact, that I dug around to find a pencil and write what he said in the margin of my prayer book. He said when you find yourself distracted from listening to, say, his sermon, perhaps that distraction is God talking to you. Pay attention to your distractions, he told us.

I gave that a lot of thought after he said that, during which time I was distracted from his homily, I’m afraid. Maybe that was God’s wish, however. Maybe thinking about a conversation with God was more important that listening to the sermon.

I tend to obsess about things, especially when they are things that relate to my family. While I don’t think God wants me to obsess about things over which I have no control, maybe my distractions and worries are just God’s way of reminding me that he is not only listening, but actually is handling things, thank you very much.

Just like when Peter was comfortably walking on the water, following Jesus’ example in St. Matthew’s gospel, but started overthinking it all (like I tend to do) and began to sink. Save me Lord, he said, and Jesus reached out his hand.

Perhaps that should be the prayer I say, not once, but over and over every day: Save me Lord. Maybe that’s the way to start my conversation with God.

And this week, I PROMISE I’m going to give my friend a call.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Saturday Smile: He’s a Player

Cole, age 3, is our youngest grandchild. He is smart as a whip, but his language skills have been a bit slow to develop. Doctors finally figured out that his ears were not draining properly, and he therefore was unable to hear. He recently had surgery to insert tubes into his ears, thereby allowing the ears to drain propertly, and more important, to allow Cole to hear. Since then, his language skills have been improving rapidly.

Thursday was his first day at preschool. When I went to visit them on Thursday evening, he barely slowed down from his busy activities to even say hello. As he raced by, I asked him if he liked his first day of preschool. Yes, he said, as he raced by me. Then his dad asked him if he had a girlfriend. Without even slowing down, he replied, not yet.

Even at 3, the boy’s a playah! And he constantly makes me smile…..

Have a good weekend.