LAND OF THE FREE AND HOME OF THE BRAVE

My parents were not wealthy nor were they poor; I suppose they were somewhere in between when I was growing up. They both grew up poor though…as pertaining to material things. They were both very patriotic, they loved our country, and they were as honest as the day is long. My father and all three of my brothers served in the military. They taught us to love our country, our home, and our God, and revere our flag as a symbol of our many freedoms. And they taught us to respect the President of these United States. I can’t help but wonder if they would still feel that way if they were alive today; I can’t help but wonder when we, as a nation, lost respect for our President as well as for the office itself. And I can’t help but wonder how we allowed ourselves to be caught between two such unworthy presidential candidates.

Are these things just a symptom of the times we’re living in with full media exposure, or does it speak to something more fundamentally wrong? We seem to be more divided as a people than I ever remember. We seem to be more selfish, more insensitive to those around us. Could it be…could it possibly be because we have taken God out of our homes, schools, workplace, and even government buildings? Could it be because most of us no longer have Christian values, seeing those values as ‘old fashioned’ or restrictive? The new mantra of ‘more is better’ at all cost, of fitting in with our enlightened times and discarding anything our parents held dear is like a sickness…a sickness that will ultimately lead to our demise as a nation.

The dismissal of the pledge of allegiance, the burning and trampling of our American flag, the derision of public prayer, the move to delete our National Anthem, the wanton killing of innocent people, the freedoms that we are losing every day, through bliss or ignorance, will soon be so great that we will no longer be able to say that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But we will certainly live with the consequences we are now creating, however unknowingly.

I don’t fear for myself but I do fear for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I do fear the new world that seems to be materializing right in front of us. I hope the rising generations will be strong enough to stand fast and make order and sense out of the chaos now surrounding us. Where there is a will there is a way, and with God’s help and blessing it can be done. Hope springs eternal in the human breast and each new day brings renewed hope…for our country, and for ourselves. 

CHECK YOUR OIL!

I never exactly thought of myself as being a wimp but recent developments have solidified the fact that I am, and glad of it. I remember an incident in my childhood when I was captivated with the beautiful red peppers in my mothers kitchen. They were going into town for something and she specifically instructed me not to touch the peppers. I was old enough to stay alone with my older brother for a short period of time and certainly old enough to follow her instructions.  However when someone is told the paint on the picnic table is wet, the response is to touch it to see if it actually is. If a waiter in a restaurant brings your food on a smoking hot iron skillet and tells you not to touch it because it’s hot, the natural human response is to see if it really is. I guess that’s why I not only touched those peppers but determined to line them up just so and play with them. By the time my parents returned home I was screaming and crying in agony, my hands and arms swollen and as red as the peppers. I don’t recall her scolding me but why bother for I’d already learned my lesson….the hard way. For the rest of the day my hands were immersed in ice water which gave me some measure of relief. That was a lesson I learned well and took to heart.

I never had much to do with hot peppers after that, except for pepper sauce.  Fast forward many years to the time when I had a kitchen of my own and was preserving and canning food by the bushel full for my ravenous family. I did like to have pepper sauce for the mustard and turnip greens that I so loved to eat with my cornbread, so I’d put on rubber gloves before packing hot peppers tightly into jars and filling with boiling vinegar. Just a jar or two were sufficient because when the vinegar was gone a refill of boiling vinegar resulted in another jar of fiery liquid.

At some point I realized that the peppers were disappearing faster than the liquid covering them. That’s when I discovered my boys were eating them right out of the jar…even having contests to see who could consume the most. For some reason they loved them and all but the two youngest had iron mouths and stomachs. I soon decided that if I wanted to keep pepper sauce for myself I’d have to keep hot peppers for them as well. I like a little heat with my food, a very  little so I’ve never tried to develope that taste, for obvious psychological reasons.

 This brings me to an unexpected culinary experience I had over the weekend. One of my sons took me to dinner at a popular Italian restaurant. My dinner came with a salad and I asked for vinegar and oil on the side as my dressing of choice, as I always do. It came to the table quickly and I proceeded to pour some of both on that lovely looking salad. One large bite took my breath away; my mouth, throat and stomach were on fire and my heart was beating overtime. I seriously thought I would throw up right where I sat, or black out….or both.

My son recognized something was wrong and checked what I was eating. He called our waiter over who confirmed the suspicion that the oil was not as innocent as it looked. The manager was soon on the scene, apologizing profusely. It turns out that the oil they brought me was a special habanero oil they only use for hot wings…and only a drop at a time. What, a drop at a time?!!! He also said that particular oil was expensive and was kept in a special bottle on an out of the way shelf. Humm, what does that suggest, someone did it on purpose as a prank? The manager offered to give me anything I thought would help, perhaps milk or cheesecake? Someone else suggested I eat some bread with olive oil which was already on our table. I did this and slowly my stomach began to settle down, although my mouth was still on fire. When I woke the next morning my lips were red and swollen and even the corners of my mouth were fiery red. I looked a sight going to church with what looked like a bad lipstick job. In fact I could have worn no lipstick and looked like I’d put some on in my sleep. As the day wore on slight scabs formed at the corners of my mouth. Today my mouth isn’t as sore and the redness has faded to a dull pink….still not pretty but a definite improvement.

Needless to say our meal was on the house that night, along with the desert of our choice. I eventually managed to eat a portion of fettuccine Alfredo but wasn’t able to finish my wonderful scallops. I really wonder what would have happened to me if I’d had a heart condition; someone might now be working on my eulogy. Even though the food was good….I think, I won’t be patronizing that restaurant again and I may just stick to the soup instead of the salad from now on. Here’s a bit of free advice for those of you who like oil and vinegar on your salad…..check your oil!

WORD GAMES ANYONE?

I’m another year older and I’d like to say ‘wiser’ as well, but I don’t think that statement will hold water. I mean I may be wiser but I’ve forgotten so much that I can’t say with any certainty that what I’ve learned this year makes up for what I’ve forgotten. The information I acquire slowly ebbs out as from a leaky bucket, in fact, many times it’s gone almost instantaneously. I may soon be left an empty shell of a person with only marbles rolling around in an otherwise empty head.

I’ve tried to compensate for my failing memory by writing notes to myself about things I want to remember. The trouble with that is unless I have the notes properly labeled I forget what the note referred to….or where I put said note. My memory isn’t so bad that I can’t function, it’s just bad enough to cause frustration and headaches because of those marbles that have started to loosen and roll around in my noggin.

I don’t think technology helps either. On the one hand it’s amazing to have dozens of phone numbers standing ready on our cell phones waiting only for the touch of a finger; but the flip side is that because of this I don’t have to remember a single one except for my own. If I lost my phone I wouldn’t be able to call anyone for help…and that’s a scary feeling.

Then of course everything is now computerized. We do our banking on line, even depositing checks with the click of a button if they aren’t automatically deposited. We pay all our bills online; we shop on line; we make Doctor appointments and order our medicine online; we order food online; we make airline and hotel reservations on line. The list goes on and on but the point is this, we must have user identities and passwords for each of these sites which of course must periodically be changed. There is no way on this green earth that I can remember each ID and password for these different sites or even which one goes with each site. So the solution is a small book with all this information written inside. If I lose this book my life is…OVER, and that’s a very stressful thought.

I have another small book with addresses and a GPS with pertinent addresses inserted as well. The GPS certainly makes life easier but before my husbands demise he stopped using it because he understood that using it stunted his brain. Relying only on technology to find our way around robs us of much of our independence and brain power. (Unless, like me, you are directionally impaired). In our older years especially, we must use and stretch our minds to keep them pliable and working well. That becomes even more important when you don’t have much of a mind to begin with.

I suppose a birthday is a good time for self reflection as long as we don’t become filled with self pity. So happy birthday to me; I sincerely hope the coming year will not to be too hard on my remaining memory and that I will find ways of keeping it from completely atrophying. Word games anyone?

SUCH IS MY LIFE

The bulldozers and earth movers have been busy changing the landscape across the street. Gone are the gently rolling hills and fields of bluebonnets. Gone is the peaceful green interlude in this concrete urban setting. Gone, gone in the name of progress. It’s not clear yet just what form progress is taking; perhaps more apartments, or maybe another shopping center, or even another fitness gym or gas station.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, a change was inevitable. I mean I knew that choice street front property, just hanging out doing nothing was bound to attract someone’s attention eventually but I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner. My peaceful quiet life has disappeared. I can’t sit on my patio now early or late because of the noise generated by heavy equipment making the most of these long days; it’s even too noisy to leave my patio door open for fresh air. I can’t help feeling my life has taken an unpleasant turn.

If all that isn’t enough I haven’t even been able to find peace and quiet at night for a couple of weeks. After the hailstorms pummeled us the electric meters located on the outside of my bedroom wall started buzzing along about dark and continued until daylight when they magically became quiet…just in time for the activity to begin across the street again. Most nights the buzzing has been bearable but a few times it has been so loud that I’ve almost been driven insane and have strongly considered taking a hammer to the whole wall of meters. One night I tried sleeping in my living room recliner. I quickly decided that while a recliner is great for a nap it’s sadly lacking for an all night sojourn. I then tried sleeping on my love seat which made my body hurt from the contortions required to fit on it lying down; the floor also turned out to be a no go. The second time this exact scenario played out, which was mercifully several nights after the first, I talked to the apartment manager about my predicament. She called the electric company and a serviceman came out and replaced some broken meter covers and worked his magic. I’ve now been ‘buzz’ free for three nights. They say silence is golden and I’ll happily concur with that. I may just give that serviceman a big kiss when I see him again…I sure hope he doesn’t press charges.

Well such is my life now. I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to sit on the deck in my country home and watch horses, cows and sheep run and frolic; to gaze at the stars on a warm, dark night; to watch dozens and dozens of dragonflies and butterflies flitting through the air; to hear the lulling call of peepers and bullfrogs. And sadly, I may never get to taste Polk salad again. All those things, along with many others, are part of a past life. My new reality is one of apartments and houses, businesses and stores all jumbled closely together with the few green belts quickly disappearing…and for now, the ever present noise of construction work. I just hope the end result of all that activity will be something of true benefit, although I find it hard to visualize something of more benefit than a lovely field of bluebonnets.

THE TRAVELING BOOKCASE

The literary gene runs deep in my family coming through my mother’s  line and including such notables as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Clemens, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.

My mother was a prolific writer and many of us not so famous or talented have the same inherent desire to write and the all-consuming love of reading. My aunt Ollie was one blessed [or was it cursed] with the love of reading as was evidenced by her collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed books. Many of us in that particular time period acquired them through a membership in a book club, getting each new one as it was released.

My aunt, while in her eighties, [she being the second oldest child of my grand parents twelve children and 20 years older than my mother who was the youngest] devised a way to contain  her growing number of those books by building a bookcase to house them made to the exact dimensions of said books. In this way dozens could be corralled in the same location. I admire her for her carpentry skills especially in light of her age at the time. She was never a shrinking violet and never let anything, certainly not age, deter her from her goals. The bookcase itself is not fancy, being constructed of simple two by fours stained a dark brown, sturdy and serviceable.

When my aunt left this earth for her heavenly reward my mother inherited that bookcase and soon made good use of it filling it with her own collection of the same sort of books. I remember that each time I visited her I’d browse through them to see if there were any new ones I wanted to borrow and usually without exception, there was one or two.

After my own mother left this mortal realm, I in turn, inherited my aunts bookcase along with all of my mother’s books. By this time I had quite a collection of books myself including a growing number of Reader’s Digest Condensed books I had acquired on my own. But I also had a large home with many bookshelves and as they say “You can never have too many books.” I used  my aunts bookcase to hold my favorites and placed it in my bedroom where I could easily choose one for nighttime reading. Thus many happy seasons of reading passed.

Fast forward several years to my husband’s retirement and our drastic downsizing. I didn’t have room for that bookcase in our new retirement home so I reluctantly gave it to one of my sons with the admonition that he keep it in the family for by that time it was a family heirloom. He moved it from Arkansas to Texas and has proudly displayed it for many years although it was filled with knack knacks instead of books.

Now he’s moving and will have his furniture in storage for a while and, as circumstances would have it, I find myself in need of a bookcase of just that size with the perfect spot for it in my apartment. This time the main purpose for it will be my CD and DVD collection which I’ve had no place for since my move to Texas. How happy I’ll be to finally unpack them and put them out where I can see and use them. And how special to display them in “The” bookcase because my son is graciously allowing me to use it again with the understanding that it will go back to him when I no longer need or want it.

Who would have thought this elderly aunt’s action, born of necessity,  would have helped so many people for such a long time? Who would have thought that a simple bookcase would be so widely traveled and used? I’m certain my aunt had no such thoughts. It’s a tribute to her fortitude and strength and the times from which she came; frail though she seemed, she was made of stern stuff and when she wanted something done she did it herself. This bookcase is still as stable and strong as when first built and barring fire or tornado damage it will live to bless other generations. I hope its future remains bright and the one lucky enough to inherit it from my son will appreciate and treasure it as more than a place to keep books or other objects, for my aunts legacy lives on in its solid construction. Who knows, perhaps it will continue traveling around the country for years to come.

The fury of Mother Nature 

The mother of all hailstorms rolled through tonight and it was the fiercest I’ve ever seen. I was in bed asleep when it hit in all it’s fury but woke in an instant from the loud pounding noise. It left devastation in it’s wake, breaking my bedroom windows, shredding my blinds and covering my bed with glass, pieces of broken blinds and hail. This debris was driven all the way across my apartment into the kitchen while I took refuge in my bathroom. This morning I even found shredded leaves blown into my kitchen sink.

Those deadly ice balls were piled up in front of my living room door three inches deep and after my daughter in law came over and had cleaned up the mess in my apartment [mostly by herself because she’s so efficient] she then shoveled the hail away from my door with the only implement we had that would do the job….a dustpan and plenty of elbow grease.

The whole area was hit and much damage was sustained by many individuals….luckily my car was was in a carport and seemed to be fine but in the light of day I’ve noticed that it has suffered damage on the back portion. My grandson was camping with friends in tents on the lake and after my son checked on them [thankfully they were safe and had the adventure of a lifetime] and brought them home he came over and taped cardboard and a tarp on the inside of my broken windows.Hooray for duct tape!

I don’t know how long it will be before my windows are repaired since quite a few others in my building and the adjacent buildings have damage too. I do hope it won’t be too long though as it makes me feel somewhat unsafe to have nothing substantial between me and the outside world….not to mention the wind that still manages to seep through the cracks.

The rain and hail always seem to come from that direction and I’ve never worried about it even though those same windows are lashed by the storms each time. However tonight before I retired I had the distinct thought that I should lay out clothing I could put on quickly, so I did. And boy am I glad I did! After getting dressed though, I received a chilly shock as I slipped my feet into shoes only to discover they were filled with ice pellets even though they had been nowhere near the window. Oh the fury of Mother Nature! It could have been so much worse. I feel fortunate considering the damage others have had from storms and tornadoes. I have no reason to complain…..someone continues to watch over me, even giving me a heads up that I needed to have clothes ready to slip on tonight. And I feel fortunate that my son and daughter in law are so diligent about checking on me and coming to my aid.

BISCUITS THIS MORNING

I’ve been in Texas almost two years now and you can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve made homemade biscuits. Once a daily occurrence for a husband who’s favorite meal was breakfast and who must have them, I no longer make them for myself; actually , I no longer want them. Perhaps it’s all psychological, or maybe after making them for 53 years I’m just tired of them. Anyway, a number of circumstances caused me to make biscuits this morning along with good ole southern ‘thickning gravy’. I have to admit by the time I got it ready my mouth was watering, but I also have to admit that my taste buds weren’t impressed. Even though my husband would have been enormously happy, I won’t be making this breakfast for myself again anytime soon….if ever.  But at least I know I haven’t lost my ‘magic touch’.

When I was a new bride I wanted desperately to please my husband with my cooking skills, which were very few unless we wanted to dine only on pies, cakes and cookies. So I watched my mother-in-law make biscuits and practiced her method often. At first the results were less than desirable since they could have been used as hockey pucks. But my husband appreciated my efforts and gallantly ate them without complaint and I knowing how bad they were doubled my efforts to make edible ones. Somewhere along the way my biscuits went from awful to edible to good to fantastic. The highest compliment my children’s friends could offer me was that they tasted like the Kentucky Fried Chicken biscuits. I accepted their compliments sweetly knowing that my biscuits were in reality, much much better, and I actually became famous locally for them.

My other cooking skills improved too and since I had six boys to feed I got lots of practice. I often wonder whether I would have persisted in learning to cook if my husband had been snippy and hateful about the meals I set before him in those early days. I attribute much of my success to his good nature and fortitude in chockeing down my first attempts. Unfortunately, as I became a better cook he became a more picky eater until in his later years he was extremely picky. But he never, never turned down my biscuits….or gravy. Sometimes I could skip a day making biscuits if we had leftovers for if there was anything he liked better than a biscuit fresh from the oven, it was a warmed over one…made crispy and brown in the oven by the warming process. That particular culinary delight was, for him, pure heaven.

So the biscuits this morning were for you Bruce. Our granddaughter mentioned a memory of you in a Facebook post which brought you to the forefront of my consciousness. I know you would have enjoyed them and I’m sorry that you are not here for me to cook for…even at six a.m. I promise I’d not sigh about making biscuits day after day. It’s become clear that we must never take for granted those precious times we have with our loved ones for they won’t last forever. I only have memories left of you, but as luck will have it, they are good memories and will sustain me until we meet again. I hope somewhere in heaven you can find a good biscuit to enjoy, if not, just wait till I arrive and I’ll fix you right up!

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