Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rolling cookie dough before dawn

First time I ever set my alarm for 5:45 so I could bake cookies, but it worked. The kitchen was cold, except for the preheating oven. The dough rolled easily without getting sticky.

Dad has requested cut-out sugar cookies like his mother used to make. He wants them thin and brown, the way we both prefer.

I'd hoped to make cookies for Dad when I was in Lincoln over Thanksgiving. Even if I had found Mom's cookie cutters, I could hear her warning the kitchen was too warm to roll cookies.

In December Mom would also be frustrated when the kitchen was too cold to bake houska or cardamon braid, our traditional Christmas breads. The yeast needs a warm winter day to rise -- a steamed kitchen.

Found my cookie cutter collection odd. The butterfly, hearts, squirrel, and roller skate cutters went for clay art projects long ago. The bell and other Christmas forms must have gotten too rusty.

Dad will be getting a package with a few reindeer, helicopters, brontosaurus, and one ghost (of Christmas past). There will be boots and pine trees, and several states of Texas. And there will be lots and lots of owl cookies. He should just pretend they are arctic snowy owls.

My grandma would arrive for the holiday on the Greyhound bus. She would climb down carrying two cardboard shirt boxes tied with string. One would be full of sugar cookies. The other would hold prune and apricot kolaches. I hope my little mailed tub of cookies gives Dad some taste memories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Packing tape

I'm hearing a continuous loop of my mom enumerating her instructions for trip preparation. Fritzi seems quite nearby this week. The little gray-green bird has been in the playground shade tree at recess. A pair of hawks sat on the utility pole today. A slate gray junco has been calling attention to itself at my patio feeder. The birds all want to know the next plan for my dad.

Dad is still calling most of his own shots, but he's getting frail. We have to discuss options for assisted living this holiday visit.

Fritzi would have things more planned and organized. She would have a clear solution to Dad's living arrangements. There would be no doubt as to her opinion, but the birds just suggest she's on the premises while I must try to find my own preferences and negotiate an arrangement.

Thanks to new airline restrictions on baggage, I'm breaking Fritzi's first rule of travel:

Always, ALWAYS, take a spare pair of shoes.

Some of Mom's other travel rules follow.

Rule #2:

Have "a little something" in your purse in case you get too hungry. Fritzi's "little something" was usually a butterscotch candy or lemon drop.

Rule #3:

Take salty snacks in case you get queasy. Fritzi never traveled without saltines, Fritos, or pretzels.

Rule #4:

Cover the toilet seat with bathroom tissue before you sit down!

Rule #5:

Loading the car trunk is an an art form best not left to mere mortals.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Food pyramid topples in Red Willow County

A good story by Prairie Bluestem about her Grandma Violet cooking for farmhands in Gordon, Nebraska, unleashed a vivid childhood memory. My grandmother also cooked for farmhands when my mom was a little girl down by Marion, Nebraska. As far as I know, my mom kept her clothes on, although Genevieve's mom thought clothes should be optional in the hot kitchen.

I always found it difficult to reconcile the grandmother I knew with family stories of her cooking for the farm hands. To me, she lived with my granddad in an hotter-than-hell one-bedroom apartment in McCook, and never did more in the kitchen than set out a "Dutch lunch."

One Sixties summertime visit to McCook our family of five tried to sleep on the fold-out sofa and air mattresses in my grandparents' living room. The sweltering apartment was filled with the smell of overripe cantaloupe and very little sleep.

Last night while I was tossing and turning and worrying that I might have strep throat while hoping it was just a sinus infection, I kept thanking my lucky stars that I wasn't sofa-surfing with cantaloupe in McCook. Some things are worse than strep in August, but not many.

The next day, Grandmother set out the spread of pickled herring, pickled pigs feet, pickled miniature corn, sweet pickles, bread & butter pickles, watermelon pickles, cucumbers and onions in sour cream, sardines in olive oil, sardines in mustard, Club crackers, overripe cantaloupe, salami, summer sausage, cheddar, toothpicks, Fritos, chip dip, and 7-Up. Oh, and some chocolate mints and macaroons for dessert!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Let's call the whole thing off!

You say TOO ber cles,
I say too BUR kles

We're talking about the bumps on the almost translucent, velvety skin of Mediterranean geckos, a non-native species. The preschoolers are learning about diurnal green anole lizards, and nocturnal geckos. How to pronounce the bumps? Either way, the preschool class got the giggles:

Po TAT to, PO tat oh
TOO ber cles, too BURK les

Let's call the whole thing off!

I'm real self-conscious about em-PHAS-is on the wrong syl-LAH-ble (aggravated in situations compelling my mangled Nebraska pronunciation of foreign composers' names like RICH-erd WAG-ner). I'm accent-challenged, and it's definitely an inherited condition on my mother's side. Nature or nurture.

Back in 1937 when George and Ira Gershwin were struggling with vegetables for the musical, "Shall We Dance?," my mom was learning to read chapter books. A young reader who hasn't heard a word will sound it out and say it in her head. That's why Fritzi believed she was reading stories about De-BOR-ah and AG-knees. Shhh! Don't tell Deborah and Agnes! Fred and Ginger danced their way into the dictionary.

The big controversy growing up was whether those seventy-six sliding instruments were TROM-bones or trom-BONES. I leaned toward TROM-bones because of that capital T that rhymes with P.

My grandmother met Ebenezer Scrooge on a tropical vacation in the BAH-ha-mas, but never met Captain Jack Sparrow in the CAR-ib-be-ann, or the care-uh-BEE-an.

Seventy six trombones led the big parade

With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand

They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos;

the cream of every famous band.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dreaming of his dad

Sometime after 4:30 a.m. Howie dreamt he was taking his dad to McDonald's for a filet-o-fish sandwich, a small chocolate milkshake, and maybe some fries. It had been so many years since Adolf appeared in a dream. It got Dad's full attention.

His dad, he commented, had strong opinions about teachers, especially music teachers. No common sense. Completely impractical.

His dad played marbles with him just that once. The day in memory's neon red letters--that one evening outshining everything. Adolf outside in the dust after sunset, shooting marbles with Howard this one time. The dust. Just.

1935. Adolf died when Dad was twelve. Late getting to glee club practice because his father died. The music teacher unsympathetic at this excuse.

They used to walk on down together. Downtown on Saturday night. All the farmers and the townspeople eventually gathering around Anderson's Ford Garage to exchange thoughts about the crops, the prices. Howard with Adolf. Walking the three blocks downtown. The crops and the dust.

Dust and marbles and common sense. We went on over to McDonald's for a filet-o-fish sandwich and a small shake. What did his dad order in the dream? They never got to McDonald's, Dad says.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Does this skin make me look fat?

The swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on the dill plant would have intrigued Fritzi. They are so strikingly beautiful, and getting fatter by the minute! I'm sure she would agree their graphic colors and patterns would make fabulous swimsuit designs, and never mind the thighs!

Last Sunday's Dillard's swimwear ad looked a bit like a sensuous full-bodied swallowtail caterpillar frolicking in the dill. Frolicking capers inside the adjustable three-panel mirrors in department store fitting rooms were a favorite childhood diversion in the Sixties. It helped pass the time while Mom was trying on girdles, swimsuits, or casual Koret mix-and-match casuals at Miller and Paine or Ben Simons. Mirror amusements were less likely to rile the shopclerks than playing hide'n'seek under the garment display racks.

Realizing the comic strip "Cathy" first appeared in 1976 newspapers, I feel mighty old and irritable today. Maybe my skin is too tight with a full tummy of dill, and it's time to make my chrysalis. Fritzi and I got disgusted with Cathy, her annual swimsuit shopping, her frumpy salesclerk, and her fitting room melt-downs over two decades ago. That was about the same time we both booted Dagwood, Garfield, Ziggy, and Mary Worth off the island, and sent Mark Trail up the creek without his paddle!

If your skin splits, wear it. Molting might be the next major fashion statement. Eat, drink, be merry, and hang your swimsuit out to dry.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Girdle shopping

Yikes! This two inch insect is between the glass and screen of my sliding patio door. It's doing some moves I haven't seen since about 1962. Yes, this nymph-stage* insect seems to be trying on girdles in the fitting room of the downtown Miller and Paine store.

Flashback to the true full-service department store of the early Sixties before barcodes were invented. Mom is trying on girdles in the fitting room. I wish I could remember if the lingerie department was on the second or the third floor. I'm pushing the stroller back and forth in that small space to keep my little sister from fussing. My lucky brother is at pre-K summer class in the lab school of the dark, old university building, Bancroft Hall.

Mom is struggling into "living" girdles, panty girdles, Formfit, Playtex, and Maidenform girdles in front of the adjustable three-part mirror. Struggling on that muggy June morning for want of talcum powder to ease the squeeze. The saleslady pops in often to check on Mom's progress, and to bring different sizes.

We must get back to campus to collect my brother. No girdle is perfect, but Mom chooses one. The saleslady asks for Mom's charge-a-plate. She sets the credit card between the teeth in the lower jaw of some cross between an alligator and a three-hole punch. After aligning the sales forms and multiple carbon sheets, the saleslady woohvumps the handle of the alligator punch.

Why today's insect is struggling with its orange legs all akimbo is anybody's guess. I haven't worn a girdle since junior high myself when I weighed all of seventy-five pounds. I was skinnier than this insect!

*I'm just guessing it is the nymph stage of an insect. Please comment with any identification suggestions!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Norton is playing in the snow"

The class rabbit was absent Friday, playing hookie. Norton stayed at the lead teacher's house to drink hot cocoa with mini-marshmallows. He probably watched "Oprah" and a few soaps when he wasn't outside rolling snowballs and making angel bunnies.

We needed a sign on the rabbit's cage to let the children know that Norton would be absent for the day. Norton has an excellent attendance record. He is never tardy. This was going to be a strange day. The first student to arrive drew an imaginative picture of a rabbit in the snow to tape on the cage.

What a weird week! Two separate snowstorms in North Texas in one week is about as likely as hell freezing over. I'm sure this was a commentary on our primary election options. I wouldn't vote for ____ even if hell froze over.... Fill in the blank/multiple choice! E. None of the above.

A worried parent asked in hushed tones if our rabbit had gone to the big cosmic none of the above. "Is Norton playing in the snow at the end of the white light tunnel?" Absolutely not. The rabbit is just taking a mental health day.

A dear friend studies the local obituaries as a comparative literature exercise. I glance over those obits a couple times a week, as I am not a serious scholar of the genre. Still, I'm impressed with the twists of words our culture uses to euphemize death.

So if you happen to read on that local news back page about someone who has "gone out to play with the rabbit in the snow", just thank me that this obit wasn't "after a long courageous battle".

I'm hoping my sons will remember to write that I "slid on down that long, long Eternal Hill on my Celestial Flexible Flyer". And I sure hope I meet Norton inside the Pearly Gates with mugs of melty marshmallows.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My morning visitor


This morning there's a little junco sitting on my patio fence. I've been sitting very still to enjoy it, and not rushing away to find my camera.

Juncos are perfect tiny winter birds. They seem to be wearing black hooded parkas over their white tummies. Mother loved juncos, and we marveled often about how such tiny creatures were equipped to survive a harsh Nebraska January.

After Fritzi passed away, I brought a load of her clothes back to Texas. Emptying her closets had to be done, partly as a physical outlet for our grief. Some items were too nice or new to go to Goodwill. Trying on coats, I was surprised to find that some fit me. In my mind at least, Fritzi and I were never the same size.

It was a long time before I was comfortable wearing any of the clothes, although I enjoyed wearing certain pieces of her jewelry. Some things I realized I could never wear, but I saved Fritzi's junco parka. It is black and hooded, and longer than most, a very sensible coat for watching birds in winter. It makes me happy to wear it.

Click here for a nice Northern junco photo.