Thursday, November 16, 2017

COMFORT FOOD--AUTUMN STYLE

If it's rainy/damp/chilling/windy where you hang out, you'll feel right at home with today's visit from Thursday's Child.

Yesterday I had lunch at a favorite local restaurant, where they serve what a friend of mine calls "tavern food," like Swiss Steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans/corn/broccoli, and then there's a blue million sides you can choose from, and another dozen or so pies (or apple dumplings, now that the weather has changed).

One of my favorite meals there is chili--homemade, not too spicy, full of beef and beans and thick, and stove-hot. I even ate a couple of saltines (not gluten-free, but the only thing I'd put in such a heavenly chili.

To help you plan your shopping list or menus for the next few days, consider some of the following choices. They'll warm the cockles of your heart! (Whatever those are!)

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5-INGREDIENT CHILI
(probably serves 6, if you add corn muffins on the side)

2 pounds ground beef, or whatever you have
1 32-ounce can chili beans
      3 6.5-ounce cans tomato sauce
      1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
      1 package chili seasoning

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir beef in the hot skillet until browned and crumbly, 5 to 7 minutes; drain.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Ready to serve.
You can add extra chili powder, if your taste demands it. But that makes 6 ingredients!

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MY FAVORITE WHITE CHILI (4 INGREDIENTS)
(serves 4-6, depending on appetites and how cold the day is)

2 c. (or more) leftover cooked chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
2 cans Bush's Beans for White Chili
Chicken broth, as needed for thickness you like
Small can (about 4 oz.) green chilis

The most work you have to do is cutting the chicken into little pieces. If you don't have leftover chicken, you can use canned. Or you can cook some chicken breasts and cut them up later.

The Bush's Beans contain all the seasonings--read the label; Bush's makes something for every taste!

Put all the ingredients in a soup pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer a while. Stir whenever you think of it. Since everything is cooked, it doesn't take long.

This one is great in a slow cooker, on LOW. Great to come home to....

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CHICKEN-VEGETABLE-RICE SOUP
(serves 6 or more--depending on how much you use of everything)

1 large can chicken (27-oz. size)
1 or 2 bags frozen mixed vegetables for soup
Seasonings: chopped onion/celery, minced garlic; salt and pepper to taste; herbs, if you like them
Quart of chicken broth or stock
Rice

This is another one for the slow cooker. Start it on HIGH in the morning, reduce to LOW if you're leaving the house, and it's ready for supper. For the above size can of chicken, add 1 c. uncooked white rice. Check later to see if more broth is needed.

If you prefer brown rice, cook it before adding to the soup.

If you don't want the rice, try quinoa or small pieces of pasta.

After several hours in a slow cooker, the rice or pasta may disintegrate; that's okay, because it thickens the soup.

You can also add frozen spinach or kale late in the cooking process for extra nutrition.

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All three of these soups freeze well. I make one batch per month, then freeze in serving size boxes.

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And as a plus, you can always substitute leftover turkey (light or dark) for the chicken. Saves you trying to figure out what to do with all the turkey people didn't eat at the holiday dinner. I recall getting tired of turkey sandwiches day after day.

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By this time next week you'll either be back in bed after getting that monster turkey in the oven at some stupid hour of the night or you'll be enjoying a lazy late breakfast. See you then!






Thursday, November 9, 2017

THE MESSAGE IN THE HEALING QUILT
Brick quilt in
horizontal arrangement

I've long been a fan of the Tony Hillerman Navajo mysteries, featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. The setting is the U.S. Southwest area known as the Four Corners--where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. 

One of the attractions of these stories is the interweaving of Navajo culture. Jim Chee yearns to be a hataalii or medicine man. Yet he understands that his job as a policeman is philosophically opposed to the beliefs and practices of a shaman. Chee is a traditional Navajo.

Joe Leaphorn, somewhat older than Chee, is sometimes described as a pragmatic Navajo or an agnostic. His wife was traditional; and though Leaphorn knows the culture's mythology and beliefs, he cannot completely embrace them.

An ongoing theme in the series is Chee's desire to be a shaman--also called a singer--who performs healing ceremonies. Here is the important part of the concept: HEALING is understood to be a restoring of the patient to harmony--returning him/her to the beauty of the Navajo way. In the case of terminal illnesses, restoring the patient to harmony before death can bring peace.

[As an aside: Other ceremonies performed by the shamans are indeed for the curing of certain conditions, such as traumas experienced by military personnel who return to their lives in the Navajo culture; others are for blessing.]

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Many years ago I was introduced to another kind of healing service in the church. It was explained to us that this is not about curing a disease or condition; it is about reconciling the person to God.
Brick quilt in
vertical arrangement

Much as the Navajo longs for a return to harmony, to beauty, the healing service in the church where I worship now achieves the same sense of returning to one's original relationship with God. We might call that harmony. Or beauty.

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About the same time I understood the difference between healing and curing, I discovered people I knew who were facing surgeries or treatments for cancer. And in the convoluted way that our own experiences meet and transform each other and intertwine, the concept of a healing quilt was born.

During my recovery at the hospital after my own surgery for cancer, my youngest daughter brought a quilt she had purchased at an estate sale, and placed it on my bed, to keep me company. She knew my interest in making quilts. She knew my grandmother had made many, many quilts in times past. 

I don't remember what that healing quilt looked like--it seems to live in memory as a blue and white quilt, with some red squares here and there. It had been well-used by its former owner, and had the softness of age.

But I do remember the sense of that quilt being there in the hospital with me for a purpose--just for me--no one else had one like it.

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Since that time, I have made many healing quilts. They're made with love and prayer. They're made especially for one person, often in the colors they love or with which they decorate their homes. If possible, I make the quilt before the person has surgery.

Healing quilts are larger than lap size--usually 50x60 inches. I use three different patterns--a brick design in horizontal rows; a larger brick design in vertical rows; and two-inch strips. 

The healing quilts make no claims to cure illness; rather, they carry a message of love and good wishes and comfort and caring by the maker.



Recent healing quilt for a
friend at church






Thursday, November 2, 2017

THIS 'N' THAT



Another week of variety . . . some things cancelled, others rescheduled for someone else's convenience; changes I could do nothing about, some I initiated myself.

For example:

Yesterday I changed my calendars (8 altogether) to a new month. Did you? Of course you did. So now we're all on the same calendar page, into the 11th month of the year. The joy for me in keeping 8 calendars (one in each room, basically) is seeing a new picture--sometimes nature, sometimes barns, sometimes family faces. One is based on Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters and there's a 4-block strip at the bottom of each month's page. November reports Woodstock, Snoopy's buddy, has decided to fly south for the winter--Woodstock then flies up and over Snoopy, lands on the other end of the dog house, and Snoopy says, "two and a half feet south."

Also yesterday I drove my friend Jane to the hospital for her colonoscopy; that turned into an all-morning event, as I waited for her to wake up after the procedure. While I waited, I wrote notes in two get-well cards and one (belated) birthday card; and I started a letter to my Arizona daughter. My current book reading is a nearly-500-pager from the library, hardback, newly minted in September this year, so I didn't want to risk spilling coffee on it or (gasp!) leaving it at the hospital. (More on the book below.)

Another of my self-initiated events, ongoing, is changing clothes--not just taking off nighttime clothes and putting on daytime clothes, but changing what's in the closet I use most. Little by little, corduroy slacks, heavy jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and sweaters/jackets/lined sweatshirts are front and center. Spring and summer wear migrates to the out-of-season closet. I know there are a few days of Indian Summer coming soon; I can suffer through that 60-degree temp easily--just take off a layer.

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Reading: My current book is called The Woman Who Smashed Codes, by Jason Fagone. The subtitle reads: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies.



The "unlikely heroine" is Elizebeth Smith Friedman--9th child of a Quaker couple, who went on to become one of the first codebreakers to work for the government. In 1917, she and her new husband, William Friedman, began codebreaking, and went on to decode messages for various government departments. Eventually Elizebeth worked for the Coast Guard and William for the Army. (And yes, Elizebeth is the correct spelling.)

If you like true stories about how our country survived during wartime, this is a book you might want to look for. The time span is 1917 into the 1950s. And the story could only be written at the present time because much of the information has been declassified recently, some of it within the past few years.

Another book you might like: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a novel, told in letters and telegrams. It has a light-hearted appeal, but is definitely a serious story. Time frame: 1946, just after the end of WW II; Guernsey was occupied by German troops for 5 years prior to war's end. (If your geographic knowledge is about like mine, I'll tell you--Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands, between England and France.)

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I've settled the burning question of what to do about Christmas gifts this year. Since some of my family read this blog, I'm revealing no details. I mention it only to celebrate the removal of one thing from my always-full plate!

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Hope your days are happy and filled with good things to do. As our season winds down and more hours of darkness show up, try to keep yourself from hibernating. Turn on more lights, if that helps you. Read some good books. Have a cup of tea or coffee with a friend. Or--if you really want to go retro--write a letter, by hand! Quite liberating!





Thursday, October 26, 2017

AUTUMN, FINALLY

We're one month into our three-month season of Autumn, and in my neck of the woods, we're only just now getting real fall color in the leaves.

There are plenty of naked trees already; they lost their leaves early in the month. My back yard is filling up, but I'm sad to say they aren't the usual lovely gold, bigger-than-my-hand maple leaves that I've had year after year. On a cloudy day, I could look out and be tricked into thinking the sun was shining--those leaves reflected such brilliant light.

Last night's low was at or near 31 degrees, and tonight's won't be much higher. A quilt on the bed makes for a good night's sleep. Hot soup makes a substantial lunch, especially the thick kind with plenty of chicken, veggies, and rice. In a few days, I'll think about baking again--those banana brownies from last year are calling my name.

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Here's a poem for you--not an autumn poem, exactly--but one I've always liked. Hope you do, too.


THE ROAD NOT TAKEN


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.

                                                             --Robert Frost




Thursday, October 19, 2017

A WEEK OF GOOD THINGS

Some weeks are in the Super class. Some weeks are, let's face it, the pits. And some are just in-between/okay/nothing special.

In the week since our last visit, I've had several good things happen. Such as:

Last Saturday I drove to Ohio to make strawberry jam with my daughter. We had a delicious time! There was--amazingly!--a little left in the pan after we filled all the jars, so we sampled it with toast with our lunch. Homemade strawberry jam--to die for!

The Tree Man, Dan, came with his helpers and trimmed back several large limbs on one of my big maples. The operation removed some already pulpy limbs; others had overgrown their boundaries and were threatening cars parked nearby. The best news was that what's left (it's a very big tree, obviously old) is quite healthy and should withstand further storms.

An email notified me that some gluten-free cookies I'd ordered will be shipped tomorrow, a good two-to-three weeks early! [Note: They came yesterday! I sampled them this morning while I wrote in my journal. Gluten-free shortbread--excellent with coffee.]

Yesterday, my quilting buddy, Jane, and I took a road trip; we went to Shipshewana, in the middle of Amish country, for a look-around at Yoder's Department Store (definitely department store--lots of everything, including plenty of our favorite thing--fabric). I found exactly the colors of flannel I needed for more NICU blankets. Jane picked out great print fabrics for pillow cases that will go to Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis.
A Tiffany's special--Tues & Thurs

Our road trip included lunch at Tiffany's, a home-cooking, family style, mostly Amish restaurant in Topeka, Indiana. My grilled chicken salad (the chicken is grilled, not the lettuce, you understand) was so large, I didn't eat much supper last night. I won't say we go to Shipshewana (only a few miles from Topeka) in order to eat at Tiffany's, but the two go together like a horse and carriage.

Work on a healing quilt is nearly at an end. Only a few more finishing touches and I can deliver it to a church friend who had a cancerous kidney removed. After it goes to its new home, I'll post a photo of the quilt.

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I've now made some decisions about Christmas gifting in my family. This has been a frustrating subject for several weeks, mainly because no ideas rose up and demanded to be The One Best Gift for whoever. 

Another deciding factor--besides time slipping away rather quickly--is that I've been asked to sub on the organ for the Christmas Day service. I couldn't say yes quick enough--that's my all-time favorite service to play. Now I have a few weeks to go through Christmas music from years gone by and pick out the piecesI want to play during the service, in addition to the hymns and carols already chosen.



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Outside my window as I write this, the sun is making long shadows in my neighbor's yard; trees are dancing a little in the breeze. The temp made it into the upper 60s by late afternoon. Grass is still green, and, alas, so are the leaves. We haven't had enough cold weather or a hard enough frost to color the leaves (so I've been told) and the ones that are falling are either all brown or still green.

But the sky is that pure October blue I love. 

Life is still good.





Thursday, October 12, 2017

CHECKING IN...



 I'm a little late reporting my reading for the past three months, so here's the score:

JULY:
16 mysteries (all re-reads)
  1 non-fiction (a new quilting book)

AUGUST:
12 mysteries (again, re-reads)
  3 non-fiction (another new quilting book and two memoirs)

SEPTEMBER:
  6 mysteries (yes, re-reads)
  1 sci-fi
  1 non-fiction


Total for 3 months: 40

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The two memoirs are: 

What Comes Next and How to Like It, by Abigail Thomas
  Abigail Thomas would not be everybody's cup of tea, but I was entertained by her rapid-fire short pieces that chronicled a long friendship.

Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor
 Taylor is an Episcopal priest who left parish work for a different kind of ministry. I'm told that she later returns to parish ministry so I'm looking forward to the next volume. She's another one who doesn't pull any punches--her life is not always exemplary, and she doesn't gloss over any of it.

The non-fiction in September was The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown
 There's a lot of information about rowing, but if you can plow through it, you'll hit gold yourself when you practically sit in the boat during the Olympics. The story follows all nine boys in the boat from their early years to college, through their training, and on to the Olympics, then afterward. Lots of good photos. And if you know anything at all about history, you'll appreciate what they did in a difficult time. Olympics in 1936 Berlin? 

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Mysteries are from my own bookshelves: W. J. Burley (Supt. Wycliffe series); Agatha Christie (Miss Marple); L. A. Taylor (various stand-alones); Josephine Tey (also various titles); Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs series).

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Here's an update on our local library, damaged by fire on July 2nd:

Restoration has begun. Restorers have estimated 95% of the furniture can be restored. Paintings also. Books will be treated in special rooms of ozone (there may be other treatment as well).

In the meantime, a temporary library location is now operating out of a retail store area recently vacated. All new purchases by the library (they are constantly purchasing new materials in all media) will be catalogued and then available at the temp library.

In addition, Evergreen Indiana--God bless them!--makes it possible for patrons to visit other nearby libraries who are also in the Evergreen program--to browse, check out, and then return either to the library where the material originated or--easy-peasy--to our own library system! What I miss most of all is browsing--actually picking up a book, reading the covers, the inside flaps, starting the first page (if the author doesn't catch me by page 3, I'm probably not going to be caught later on). Now--browsing is back!

Last I heard, estimates for restoration of the original facility extend to around 12 months. That's next summer. Something to look forward to!

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Autumn is slowly arriving in all its usual garb--not so colorful this year, at least not yet, so there's hope for a little while longer. We're hovering around the 50-degree mark, with frequent periods of rain--then whole days of sunshine and wind--then back to clouds and, eventually, rain. The last of the summer flowers are having a final fling, and the chrysanthemums are taking up the slack. In the meantime, the rain keeps the grass green.

Have a blessed week!

Last year's beauty


Thursday, October 5, 2017

HOME AGAIN . . .

Returning from vacation--arrived at the airport about 7 PM, was picked up by my driver, and 45 minutes later I was home. Luggage inside, door shut, shoes off . . . .

I was hungry--had good meals the day I left my daughter's house (and every day prior to that); she fixed a generous bag of cheddar cheese slices and apple chunks to go with my rice crackers so I wouldn't faint from hunger on the trip home. Didn't get to eat anything until after 4:30 while I waited for my connecting flight in Chicago. And then I could eat only half, not because of any time crunch, but because a few crackers, a couple slices of cheese, and half the apple chunks satisfied me. After all, I wasn't getting real exercise flying in planes. I don't count getting from one gate to another as exercise.

But walking through an airport can be tiring, especially when pulling or carrying luggage. And because I'd had breathing problems on the outward bound trip while schlepping my carry-on through the endless corridors of Chicago's O'Hare, I made up my mind to ride in one of the carts.



And what a ride it was!

Our driver was fairly young, Hispanic (I christened him Ricardo), and apparently his pick-up schedule was over-booked. He kept getting requests from his dispatcher to go to Gate __ to pick up one or more passengers. It would have been comical in a movie--we in the passenger seats of the cart, practically glued in, definitely not moving out of that cart. Looking at each other. Give up my seat? Absolutely not! What a suggestion!

Meanwhile, Ricardo is rapidly rising to greater heights of emotion--he's batting along at a great rate, calling out, "Excuse us! Excuse us!" to get walkers out of the  way. He runs down a dog, a whale, and a giraffe (all stuffed) and sideswipes pink kiddie luggage, sending it skidding to the far walls. I expect to hear him scream, "Incoming!" any moment. But I am disappointed.

Back to reality . . . . We start at Gate K with four people--go to Gate H to leave one and pick up two more--back to K to leave one we should have delivered previously--again to H for three more the dispatcher has conned Ricardo into (by this time we are at full capacity). My expectation is that we'll begin shedding our load at K, then H, then on to G (my gate, and that of two of my fellow riders). However, one of us is delivered somewhere else, so now we're down to two--both of us panting for G Gate. 

Then--not in the script--Ricardo is flagged down by a gaggle of women just off a plane and looking for baggage claim. (Little do they know they have a 3/4-mile hike ahead of them.) Ricardo explains he has passengers he has to get to their planes (still me and a woman headed for Springfield, MO). Finally he consents to take one woman who claims to be ill and about to pass out; and he explains, as we careen down the concourse ("Excuse us!") that he can take her only as far as an escalator down to baggage claim. Which he does. 

My seatmate and I are gallantly hanging on, not complaining (we are both seasoned women with enough sense to conserve our energy for travel--complaining might relieve our feelings and keep us from boiling over, but it wouldn't change the situation--except, most likely, to fan the flames).

So we sit quietly, talking from time to time. We share info: books we are reading--hers is sci-fi, mine historical mystery. Dogs--TSA K9 personnel walk ahead of us for a time, sans dogs); she tells me her little dog, never a cuddler, began jumping up on her and licking her neck under her chin; when she told her doctor (or was it the vet?) about it, she learned the dog was responding to changes/drops in her insulin levels, and thus saved her life.

We pass a Starbucks and she says, wistfully, "I could use a Starbucks right now." We both inhale deeply as Ricardo weaves through the crowd. She tells me she has lost 100 pounds over some period of time, maybe a year.

Our conversation is in snippets, small paragraphs, until we reach Gate G--I am first off, wish her safe travel, and check with the gate agent to see if I have time to go to the restroom. Learn that the plane is just arriving--I have loads of time. So I get to eat some of my crackers and cheese and apple slices.

And that's where you came in.

I still think it would make a good movie.