Spicy Food, Eh?

I grew up without the benefit of Mexican food. We didn’t even eat tacos when I was a kid. It might have been worth it to see the look on Dad’s face if he sat down at the dinner table looking for pot roast and potatoes and Mom plopped down a plate of crunchy tacos in front of him. It’s actually not worth imaging because it would never have happened, not the least of which was because none of us had probably ever even heard of tacos.

Sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, Taco John’s moved into town. You have to understand that having a fast food joint in Columbus in 1970 was a big deal. There were very few chain restaurants. We had a Godfather’s Pizza, a Dairy Queen, a Pizza Hut, but no Burger King or McDonalds or Arby’s. So you would think that we would have flocked to Taco John’s. Perhaps others were flocking. There was no flocking by me. I don’t think I went a single time, because MEXICAN FOOD. I knew nothing about Mexican food.

In fact, I knew nothing about Mexican food until my folks moved to Leadville, Colorado, in 1973. I spent the summer with them in Leadville before returning to Lincoln to complete my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. Leadville might as well have been Mars. The people looked, talked, acted, and certainly ate differently than that to which we were familiar.

What was different about the way they ate? MEXICAN FOOD. My first bite, and I was in love. My whole family was in love. I have been in love with Mexican food ever since, the spicier, the better. In fact, following my colon resection surgery in 2011, I met with the doctor who had done the surgery to find out if/how my life would be different. We talked a bit, and then I swallowed hard and asked him the question that was troubling me the most: Can I still eat spicy Mexican food? He assured me I could. His name was Dr. Lopez, so there’s that…..

Anyway, Sunday night, Bill and I had our neighbors over for dinner. They are snowbirds like us, and are from Alberta, Canada. They like to cook and enjoy good food. It became clear that he in particular likes to cook. So I was a bit stressed about what to make for dinner.

I decided on Mexican food. Specifically, I decided to make pollo asado, using Ree Drummond’s fabulous recipe. It involves marinating boneless chicken breasts or thighs in a mixture of olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, onions, and seasonings. It’s delicious and so, so pretty (what with all the citrus fruits).

It always takes me so long to get to the point. I wonder how many of you just give up about 2/3 of the way through my blogs when they seemingly have no point. Anyway, my point is that it turns out they had never tasted Mexican food. I mentioned that to Jen over the phone, and she responded as though I had said they have second spouses back in Edmonton. How can they live four months of the year in AZ and not have ever tried Mexican food, she asked. A fair question; however, they had not.

But they were game, and it was a win, my friends. I had to literally show them how to wrap the meat into a burrito-like a package, but they nailed the art of wrapping, and seemed to enjoy every single bite.

By the way, during Bill’s illustrious acting career, one of his gigs was playing the father of a small family eating Taco John’s tacos. None of the actors had speaking parts, so the commercial, which never ran in Colorado, apparently had voice over. What Bill remembers is that the four of them – he, his show biz wife, and his show biz kids – sat at a picnic table and a fan was blowing leaves underneath the table. I asked him if he had to actually eat the tacos.

“They tasted awful, so we had the kids eat them and we drank Taco John sodas,” he said.

I’m thankful our Canadian neighbors’ first bite of Mexican food wasn’t Taco John’s.

Cart Race

The grocery store near our house that I probably go to a minimum of six times a week has added small grocery carts to their grocery cart offerings. Nestled in between the normal-sized carts, the electric scooter carts, and the carts with the little area for kids to sit and pretend to drive — designed to torture young mothers and fathers given that their design makes them about the size of a 1968 Cadillac – sit these tiny little carts.

I love these carts. In fact, I will choose a grocery store that has these little carts over another store that doesn’t. They are easy to maneuver. I don’t run into the back of people’s legs when using one of them. Most important, they are so darn cute. The problem is, lots of people love them. In fact, I’m pretty sure ALL OF THE PEOPLE love them. This grocery store, and seemingly all of the stores that offer these little carts, only have about 10 of them.

This is problematic. Why? Well, picture this scenario. I am walking towards the entrance of the grocery store. I see that there is one of these little carts remaining, looking adorable next to the regular carts. I pick up my pace. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another woman who has also spotted the cart. She looks at me. I look at her. I start to trot. She starts to trot. Pretty soon I’m at a dead run, as is she. Happily, I have watched my nephew Austin slide into home plate often enough that I have an advantage. I win, though my clothing is dirty.

One sad day when even my slide into the carts didn’t work, I said to Bill (who happened to be with me, and frankly, doesn’t understand my love for these carts), “Everybody loves these little carts. I don’t understand why grocery stores don’t buy a whole bunch of these carts so that ALL THE PEOPLE can have them.”

He didn’t hesitate. He explained that it was likely that grocery stores preferred that patrons use the bigger carts because they are more liable to buy more groceries if their cart is bigger. Dang. He is probably right. Sometimes I hate consumerism. Mostly I am a tried-and-true believer in our Capitalistic system. I love that I have countless choices in produce, for example…..

But maybe not when it comes to grocery carts.

After Easter, the Catholic Church sets aside the Old Testament reading we generally hear during the Liturgy of the Word, and instead we listen to the Acts of the Apostles. This is my favorite time of the year for our liturgy readings because I love to read Acts. Here was yesterdays’ reading:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. – Acts 4:32-35

I had heard these words before, obviously, but this time they really struck me. I leaned over to Bill. “Basically, the disciples were socialists, weren’t they?” I said.

And then I spent the entire homily trying to figure out why Socialism doesn’t seem to work now like it did for the followers of Jesus. I am not going to provide the answer to that question, as my name isn’t John Stuart Mill, but I suspect that it has to do with basic human greed. Most socialist or communist societies have been unsuccessful because they don’t really follow true socialist teachings. There is always a winner, and he’s usually the leader.

But I reminded myself that the followers of Jesus had just spent the recent past three years with a man who lived his preaching, which was to love God and love each other. Maybe it was easier to share all you have with others when your very best friend had just given his life for you with only one instruction: Love everyone.

Plus they didn’t have to worry about sharing cute little shopping carts. That’s a game changer, my friends.

Saturday Smile: Monumental

Dave and Jll and the kids took their RV out for the first time last week as a test run for their upcoming tour of the western part of the United States over the entire summer. Five years ago they toured east of the Mississippi River. For this test run, they visited the Black Hills of South Dakota. Since they will be taking off from Colorado, it would have been one of the only significant tourist attractions they would miss since they don’t want to head east before they head west. Hence, a Spring Break adventure.

They took many pictures, but this is the one that gave me my laugh for the week…..

It took me a moment to understand the photo, but once I did, it became apparent that Maggie Faith needs to work on her mustache.

They will see lots of things this summer, but I don’t think they’ll come up with a more clever photo.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Our Year at War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided

I graduated from high school in May 1972. By that time, the Vietnam conflict was winding down. In fact, the draft ended in January 1973. The timing was such that I wasn’t directly impacted by the war. I remember seeing images every night on television – both images of the war and images of the protests. But I was not personally acquainted with anyone who was drafted into the military or went to Vietnam as a soldier.

The impact of the Vietnam War was much different for my sister who is five years older than I. She knew people who were drafted. She knew people who went to Vietnam. My only experience was hearing my friends talk about the draft lottery number of their brothers or cousins or acquaintances. Nevertheless, I remember it was a scary time.

Our Year at War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and a Nation Divided, by Daniel Bolger, is the true story of two brothers from a small town in Nebraska who fought the war side-by-side, surviving, but leaving Vietnam with two different opinions. I’m not normally a reader of nonfiction, and a book about war would certainly not be of any interest to me. However, the two brothers featured in Bolger’s book – Chuck and Tom Hagel — happened to be from the town where I spent the first 18 years of my life. In fact, both of the boys attended the same small Catholic high school as I, though several years before me. Tom Hagel went to school with my sister.

This six degrees of separation caused me to read the fascinating – if horrifying – account of one of the most difficult times in U.S. history. Not only are the stories about the two young men from my home town interesting, but the details about the war itself are riveting. Since the war was still going on, I didn’t study it in school. Film depictions of the war are mostly one-sided and extremely troubling. Bolger provides mostly nonopinionated background as well as very detailed accounts of what brought about the war – which actually started much earlier than I had ever imagined — as well as the battles themselves.

The two brothers received extensive military recognition, including purple hearts and the bronze star. They literally served side-by-side, despite the laws which are supposed to prohibit brothers fighting in the same units. They were both injured, and narrowly escaped death on several occasions. They were courageous and dedicated. They, like all of the military men and women who fought in Vietnam, came home to a divided nation. And they were, themselves, divided.

One of the brothers went on to become a judge; the other went on to become a United States Senator from Nebraska and eventually the Secretary of Defense in the Obama Administration.

I will admit to a fair amount of skimming when it came to some of the details of the war planning. Still, I enjoyed the book very much and strongly recommend it, particularly for anyone interested in this period in US history.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Time For Another Meal
I overheard a couple of businessmen talking in the café at the Aloft Hotel where Bill and I spent Monday night (seeings as he had to be on an airplane at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday morning). One man was preparing to order his breakfast. He asked the other fellow what he was getting. “Oh, I’m not getting anything,” he told his friend. “I’ve heard of this great new diet where you don’t eat anything before noon.” Hmmm, I thought to myself. That diet would be completely ineffectual for me. I am perfectly capable of eating three full meals plus two in-between-meal snacks between noon and 6. Hope it works for him.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Coop?
We all fret about our apparent loss of privacy. I can no longer complain about looking something up on Google and then being bombarded five minutes later with ads on Facebook or Amazon. Let’s face it; Google knows where we are at all times. Pinterest is the same way. If I look for a particular recipe on Pinterest, it isn’t more than the blink of an eye before Pinterest starts pinning one recipe after another for whatever it is I looked at whether or not I pinned it. But Pinterest, I have a question. Why-oh-why do you think I have the least bit of interest in chicken coops? For the past two weeks, my Pinterest feed has included everything anyone would want to know about building, cleaning, or fixing chicken coops. While I like chicken, and while I eat a lot of eggs, and while I appreciate the fact that both our Vermont family and Jen’s son BJ happily raise chickens, I do not. I have never even been interested enough in the idea of raising my own chickens to look it up on any source whatsoever. So Pinterest – PLEASE STOP WITH THE CHICKEN COOP INFORMATION. And, while you’re at it, you can also stop pinning Plus Women clothing. Just sayin’…..

It’s All About the Crunch
Yesterday, I was cleaning house and had the television on for background. It was morning, and one of the numerous talk shows was playing. It was of the programs that features three or four women behind a table discussing random stuff. I didn’t recognize a single woman, but it didn’t matter because I was just looking for noise. That is, until I heard them say that Frito-Lay is considering creating Doritos especially for women. What would make them different than those Doritos made for men is that they wouldn’t crunch, they wouldn’t leave residue on fingers, and the package would be small enough to fit in a little purse. These women were up in arms about the whole notion, and I was in total solidarity with them. I want my chips to crunch, and to crunch BIG. Furthermore, licking my fingers after eating Doritos or Cheetos is half the fun. And a bag small enough to fit in my little purse?  What? A bag with maybe four chips in it? Nope. I’m sitting out the protests for teachers’ pay increases and gun control, but don’t mess with Doritos. No crunch, indeed.

All Booked Up
What do I do when Bill is out of town? Eat Chinese food for lunch, and read a whole book in one day. I will be glad when he walks in the door.

Ciao.

What Time is It? Time to Get a New Clock

As we get older, it becomes harder and harder to travel by airplane – or by any means of transportation, really – early in the morning. So we were disgruntled to learn that the only flight available for Bill to travel to Denver yesterday for a business meeting left at 5:15. Sadly, that would be A.M., my friends. While it’s not unusual for me to be awake at 5:15, I’m generally still snug in my bed, saying my morning prayers if I’ve remembered to do so. As for Bill, he is more likely to sleep until 7. You’ll have to ask him about morning prayers.

Since the plane left at 5:15, it was going to be necessary to be at the airport sometime in the neighborhood of 4 o’clock. Usually, Bill and I are dutifully at the airport a full two hours before our flight time, but even we thought it probably wouldn’t be necessary when you’re leaving before even the birds are awake. We are TSA pre-approved, and the Frontier presence in Phoenix is small. Still, if he left from our house, a wake-up call sometime around 2 would be in order.

Nope.

So we decided instead to stay at a hotel near the airport where he could sleep in until 3:30 and take a hotel shuttle to the airport, while I could continue getting my beauty sleep, arising completely rested at 8 o’clock, and call it a mini-staycation.

He booked us a room at a hotel called the Aloft Hotel that is a stone’s throw from the airport. I mean, click on the link. If that’s not Bill and me, I don’t know who it is. We weren’t really concerned about wearing flowery sundresses or tight white shirts with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows; Bill found us a deal, friends. You can’t turn down a deal.

The hotel was very nice, and very hip. Just as the hotel we stayed at the last time we were in New York City, the shower was visible from the bedroom. Apparently hip people like that. Bill took two showers just to see what the deal is. He was largely unimpressed both times. As for me, I didn’t look.

Unlike the other hotel guests – most who appeared to be 30-something professional men and women – we walked to the Ruby Tuesday that was next door. That, in itself, wasn’t remarkable; the fact that we walked in the door at 4:15 was what labeled us as OLD. I will tell you, however, that the place was actually quite busy. And since we had taken an Uber to the hotel, our options were limited. Besides, the salad bar was quite delicious.

After dinner, we had a drink or two at the hotel bar and then headed up to the room so Bill could take his first shower. He was tucked into bed around 7:45. As for me, I took an Ambian around 8:30 and fell asleep around 9. Being psycho, we had set three – count ‘em – three alarms for 3:15 to give him enough time to catch the 4 o’clock shuttle.

Suddenly, what felt like only a very short time later, Bill was up, wildly dressing himself, and hollering at me: Kris, it’s 3:30. We slept through the alarm!

Two things quickly went through my head: 1) Who’s we? Do you have a mouse in your pajama pocket? You see, I am not flying to Denver on a 5:15 flight; and 2) It certainly doesn’t feel as though I have been asleep for six-and-a-half hours.

And, as it turns out, I was right. Because I looked at my watch and it was 9:30 p.m.

“It’s 9:30 p.m.,” I said.

He looked stunned, and sheepishly told me he had awakened and looked at the bedside clock, which, being a hip hotel, was analog and not digital, and from whatever position he was lying, it appeared to him that the little hand was on the 3 and the big hand was on the 6. It doesn’t help that he’s dyslexic.

 

Aloft Hotel designers, we seniors had enough trouble moving from analog to digital clocks. Why-oh-why are you making us move backwards?

The question of why he felt the need to awaken me remains unanswered. I, of course, never went back to sleep, because that’s how I roll. While he undoubtedly slept soundly on the airplane, I played solitaire mahjong.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ, Superstar first was released as an album in 1970. I bought the album almost immediately, and I’m certain that my family got sick of hearing the music coming from my record player day after day. I knew all of the words by heart. I still do.

I was a sophomore or junior at a Catholic High School when the album – which indeed was an album before it was performed on Broadway – was released. While there was then – and still apparently is – a lot of controversy about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s interpretation of the last days of Jesus Christ’s life, not only was it not forbidden at our school, but our religion teacher – a Catholic priest – used it in our class as an educational tool. Perhaps he was wise enough to know that rock music was a good way to reach 16- and 17-year olds. Clarification could come along the way. Anything that can bring about open discussion seems like a positive teaching tool.

Being such a fan, I was excited to learn that Jesus Christ Superstar was going to be performed as one of those new, cool live shows on NBC on Easter Sunday. I never had the opportunity to see it performed live, and this was probably going to be as close as I would get.

The show overall got good reviews. Some more conservative Christians took umbrage – as they did back in 1970 – at the perspective, which is that of Judas Iscariot. And it’s admittedly a sympathetic perspective which creates angst among more traditional Christians. As I watched the show, I felt the same way that I felt when I was 16 years old and listening to the album for the first time. Part of God’s plan for saving us from original sin required that Jesus suffer immense pain, die on the cross, and eventually rise again. Someone had to turn Jesus over to the authorities in order to set these events in motion. So I always wondered, was Judas a victim? Wasn’t he part of God’s plan?

Believe me, I am carefully studying my ceiling looking for the lightning bolt.

Jesus Christ Superstar presents Judas as being a good guy who loved the message being taught by Jesus, but who was becoming concerned that the message was being overlooked because of the charisma of Jesus the Man. He didn’t believe that Jesus was God.

Friends, I hesitantly put forward the notion that there is some biblical support for the idea that Judas loved Jesus but felt he was going astray. Judas did, after all, throw back the coins once he saw what was happening to his friend. He clearly immediately regretted what he had done, as indicated by his suicide. The fact of the matter is that while I believe every word of the Gospels, there is a lot of stuff that is left out.

Take Mary Magdalene, for example, who, by the way, WASN’T A PROSTITUTE, a misrepresentation of her that was furthered in this opera. Jesus Christ Superstar clearly offers the perspective that she loved Jesus romantically. I guess you could, if you wished, look at Webber’s portrayal of their relationship as insinuating that Jesus loved her back romantically. I watched it carefully and took it completely differently. Jesus loved her because she was kind to him and asked nothing in return for her kindness. Period. Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John mention a love affair between the two, but the gospels are clear that she dearly loved him, even if only as a friend and that he loved her as much as he loved all of his disciples.

I’m no great art critic, but I thought the performances were amazing. John Legend did an awfully good job as Jesus. His voice is so good and he has such a broad range. The music seemed perfect for him. I literally sobbed during the scene in Gethsemane. I have always believed that Jesus – being human as well as divine — was so afraid that night, more afraid than the gospel writers ever led us to believe. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Judas Iscariot, has the kind of voice that nearly knocked me out of my chair when he began to sing. Wow. I had to look him up as I’d never heard of him. And I just have no words for the cleverness of making Alice Cooper sing King Herod’s zippy song. It was genius.

It’s true that the story ends with the crucifixion, but Webber always indicated it was about the last seven days of Jesus’ life. Perhaps it was a bit odd to feature it on Easter Sunday which is the celebration of the resurrection, but really people? I think we tend to overthink sometimes.

I, for one, was a fan.