Sunday, January 26, 2014


We're getting snowed in again...Friday's 2-4 inches drifted around to create a little havoc. Then the wind really got going and sculpted a few avant garde structures, mostly in my driveway. So this is another Sunday at home--the 20-mile drive to church is daunting when I think of the steep hills that may be slippery with packed snow, long empty stretches where drifting escalates to white-outs. Better to stay home and pray for my friends and family in a reasonably warm house.

Another snowed-in Sunday activity that I love is Soup Making. I love nearly every kind of soup; today I'll share one that appeals especially in cold weather. It's a slow-cooker recipe, but you can make it stove-top for a quicker meal in a pot.

So here goes!



13-oz. can cooked chicken
1 can (14.5 oz.) tomatoes--whatever flavor you like; I'm using Italian
2-lb. pkg. frozen mixed vegetables
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1-qt. box chicken broth
fresh veggies for flavor: onion, garlic, sweet peppers, celery
olive oil
seasoning: salt, pepper, dried herbs (I'm using Herbes de Provence)

  1. Chop fresh veggies.
  2. Heat olive oil in large skillet below medium-high heat. Saute onion till soft, adding rest of fresh veggies in batches. Stir occasionally. When nearly done, turn off heat and put lid on skillet.
  3. While fresh veggies rest, microwave frozen vegetables, in two batches, about 3 minutes each, to thaw and partially cook. Put in slow cooker and turn to high. Add broth. Put lid on to start heating.
  4. As onion mixture is finished, add to the cooker along with can of chicken, tomatoes, and cooked rice.
  5. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Turn to LOW and let it cook 4 hours or more.
  6. Add seasoning when soup is almost done.

If you don't have rice, or don't care for it, use pasta or noodles. If you add them near the start, they'll help thicken the broth. You can leave them out altogether, if you prefer.
Canned tomatoes aren't essential. I use one can to give more flavor and color.
And if you're a purist, don't have a slow cooker, or just want to fool around in the kitchen longer, put the whole works in a big stock pot, set it on the stovetop, and after everything heats up, lower heat to medium-low; stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.
Serve with crusty bread, toast, toasted tortillas, cornbread, or your favorite savory muffin.
Yield: LOTS!
You can serve 8-12 people with the above recipe, depending on appetites and what else you serve.
This freezes well, so if you're a small family or don't want to eat it all week long, put in freezer-safe boxes or jars and freeze. Keeps well for several months.

Prep Time: About 25-30 minutes
(Took me nearly an hour, but I spent time setting up shots and snapping photos.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014


January is birthday month for me, so I'm pretty interested in the mailbox. Is that a package the carrier is delivering here? What about that sheaf of envelopes--birthday cards, maybe?

It's too early, but I can't help myself. My attraction to and fascination with the postal service have been ongoing ever since I felt the excitement of holding a piece of mail addressed to me.

The story really begins back in...well, back several years. Decades, really. I was 10 years old, had just moved to another state away from family and friends, and was living out in the country on a gravel road at least five miles from the nearest town. This was in the foothills of the Ozarks, so no road went straight anywhere--as the crow flew, distances weren't so great; as the car trudged along, it took forever, to my 10-year-old mind, to get to the town where there was a library. The library was, from that day to this, the mecca toward which I bowed and prayed. (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.) But that's another story.

Okay, I'm ten years old, just ready to have another birthday. And I know there'll be a birthday card or two from my aunts back in Illinois. But I never expected something else I got--a subscription to Silver Screen movie magazine! My stepgrandmother knew what this 11-year-old girl would want to read. The magazine came addressed to me. Every single month. I lost myself in the stories of the stars and their lives, memorizing photos of the ones I knew from the few movies I had seen. Those magazines piled up in my room. I treated them kindly so they didn't get bent or wrinkled, and I reread them till I knew them forward and backward.

After that first exhilaration of receiving mail, I looked forward to having pen pals. Those experiences were never as great as I'd thought they would be. Either the pal or I lost interest because we ran out of things to say. Hard to get a letter out to the box if nothing is going on in your life; or worse--if what is going on is better left unsaid, especially to an outsider.

A couple of years later I went to live with my dad and stepmother, and my mother wrote me every week from where she and my stepfather lived. Most of her writings were postcards--not the picture kind, but the ones bought from the post office that had acres of room on the back for messages. My mom could scrunch her handwriting down into really small script to get lots of information on the back. She had beautiful cursive writing--I read and reread those cards that whole year that we were apart. They were like having her there, talking to me. And she always reminded me that she loved me. That was best of all.

By that time I was in junior high--now called middle school--so I learned about ordering things through the mail. First came photos of my favorite movie stars--I wrote asking for an autographed picture and most of them sent one. Within a few years I was earning a little money working part time, so my correspondence escalated to orders for phonograph records--LPs from The Columbia Club. (Somebody in this audience has to remember LPs.) Jazz, both vocal and instrumental, was my category. Then I added show tunes, groups like The HiLos, and finally some piano soloists playing classical music. (In those days I called all the "serious" music classical; later I would learn about the different periods and styles. Didn't bother me that I wasn't 100% correct--ignorance never stopped me from enjoying the music.)

Despite forays into merchandise-by-mail, I never lost the attraction of personal letters. When friends graduated from high school before me, I asked them to write. Some of them did. After I married, I gained a whole new family of letter writers--in-laws (after we moved to Michigan), plus my husband's grandparents and aunt and uncle in Iowa. Because we moved around in the first years of our marriage, some of my relatives kept in touch by mail--my dad and stepmother, aunts, and a couple of cousins. In addition there were always birthday cards to receive and send--and they had to have a message inside, naturally.

To this day, my favorite mail delivery includes letters, cards with messages hand-written inside, a magazine I love to read, or a package. Sometimes I strike it lucky and get all of the above. Bonanza indeed!

I'm a pretty good pen pal these days--I've learned to write on and on about practically anything. Blogs are ideal for that talent. And maybe--just maybe--age has something to do with it. After all, several decades of experiences have to count for something, right?

Yes, I've learned to appreciate the Internet and its electronic mail that has captivated me along with millions of other folks. Yes, I do use texting. These quick corresponders keep me in touch with folks when I need to let them know something or ask a question and can't--or won't--wait for slower processes. Sometimes it's just to say hi. But it's not quite the same as a letter I can hold in my hand, knowing it's been in my cousin's or friend's hand just a few days ago, the wobbly writing signifying the labor of love of an arthritic hand. I know that person and she wrote me a letter.

The power of the mailbox--it's the great connector in an age where so much is instantaneous. "Snail" mail gives us something better than instant gratification: Anticipation. Today just might be the day for a letter or card or package. And if not today, well, there's hope for tomorrow.

That's the power of the mailbox.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Winter in Northeastern Indiana

Bad weather in the past several weeks--temps 'way below zero, high winds, snow (all three together sometimes)--made me thankful for some of our current technological advances.

Less than a year old but already obsolete
--thus doth technology advance.
all the services and information I could recruit with my laptop computer:
  • order Christmas and birthday gifts online
  • check my daughter's flight itinerary
  • check the weather every few hours to see if I might get out to a local store
  • check the weather to see what was closed or delayed
  • check the weather and news to see what our level of danger was--mostly emergency vehicles only--that let me out
So I took the dog out for brief periods; thirty seconds was one of our shortest, setting a record. But that day the high was -3 degrees, so it was perfectly reasonable.

Otherwise I stayed indoors, wrapped gifts I already had, worked on the ones I was knitting or sewing, and listened to Christmas carols or watched White Christmas for the 359th time in 2013.

And it occurred to me how easily I could become a recluse--a person who, according to my Webster's 10th Edition, leads a secluded or solitary life. (Note: Recluse is similar to Hermit; however, a hermit often, but not always, chooses the solitary life for religious reasons.)
Let's look at this recluse business in a practical manner.

Take, for example, the services available for the homebound:
  • chain grocery stores have websites on which you can order your groceries and have them delivered locally
  • pharmacies advertise delivery service
  • some companies send refrigerated trucks around town to deliver frozen foods--especially meats and desserts--to individuals who have regular or once-in-a-while accounts
  • bookmobiles are a boon to the reader, or video viewer--just call and have the materials put on the van (you have to be a library patron)
  • in our county, a local area transport (not a taxi service) is available through the senior center/Council on Aging to take patients to the doctor, or seniors without vehicles to shop at our grocery and discount stores; the cost is minimal
I'm getting the feeling that my car is I ask myself: why pay high prices at the pump, keep up insurance premiums, schedule regular maintenance, and fix everything that's starting to go wrong on my 14-year-old vehicle? I can save tons of money (gas, insurance, maintenance, and repairs add up) and use my savings to pay a modest fee to the local transport to get me to shopping, doctor appointments, and yoga  or T'ai Chi classes at the senior center.

Clearly, a senior citizen can get by with (1) a cell phone, (2) a computer with Internet access, and (3) friends or family to take up the slack.

The letter carriers on my route take my bill payments and personal notes and letters. They'd probably pick up my numerous Christmas cards. And I know they'll pick up packages if I want to mail them--just log on to the USPS site and print out a label. I can even request stamps from the carrier--next-day delivery.

If I need someone to clear my driveway of snow, I can phone. Same for leaf raking. And gutter cleaning. My cell calls their cell.

If I get nervous about a physical condition, I can look it up on the 'web first, then call a doctor.

The downside: There always is one, it seems:
  • I can't see fabrics in person, when I order them from the Internet or a catalog.
  • I can't feel yarn and gauge the softness to determine if it would be good for a baby hat.
  • I can't look over the produce, if I order online, and see spots on a yellow pepper that would make me reject it.
  • I don't get to see my children or friends face to face
  • sometimes I don't even get to church, if roads are bad and snow is drifting dangerously
Partial view of my fabric stash
Greatgranddaughter's hat (r.)
and her doll's hat (l.)
But--I think I'm okay with the downside. I've already stockpiled enough fabric and yarn to last me through the next eight to ten years, even if I make something new every week. The spots on the yellow pepper? I'll cut them out. The pepper will probably end up in veggie soup or a pot of ratatouille anyway.

I haven't yet activated the camera on my laptop or set up a Skype account. As soon as I do that I can visit with the far-flung members of our clan--see them face to face. And I keep in touch with other church members via email and phone. (Yes, a whole raft of senior citizens with cell phones and laptops. Gotta love that group.)

So if you don't see me around town or wonder if I'm traveling out and about, remember that I might be trying out the reclusive life. And if I do give it a go, I'll report back.

I have a sneaking suspicion though--once spring arrives (May, June, whenever) I'll be out in my yard, walking the dog around the block, stopping to speak to neighbors...guess it's easier to be a recluse when the weather is nasty.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Part 1 - Comfort Food

After my recent influx of children and visitors through the Christmas and New Year holidays, I found myself with odds and ends in the refrigerator. One day we had chicken breasts simmered all day in the slow cooker, which yielded a quantity of homemade stock or broth. We'd eaten all but one portion of the chicken in various guises--chunked up with rice and steamed veggies was a favorite.

Last night I discovered the remains of the broth and the last portion of cooked chicken, plus a few steamed carrots that somehow escaped being eaten. There was no leftover rice, but--in the pantry, I had packets of instant mashed potatoes, all flavors, that cook in three and a half minutes and are creamier and tastier than any I can make when I start with raw potatoes and good intentions.

The chicken and cooked carrots were easy to heat up. The potatoes did their 3 1/2-minute turn in the microwave. And the broth--heated to boiling with the addition of a little cornstarch, salt, and pepper--became gravy. It's been ages, maybe years, since I've had mashed potatoes with real gravy.

But, back in the days of my youth, I recall simple meals, well-seasoned, hot and tasty, that were what we now call comfort food. Potatoes and gravy would have been one of the easiest. Once the potatoes (from scratch in those days, naturally) were cooked and mashed with butter and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served for supper, we always hoped for leftovers for potato pancakes another day.

We used no convenience foods, except canned tuna and salmon, Spam (which I actually ate and liked, I'm sorry to say), and canned soups from the Campbell Soup Company. And if there were other things available, my mother never bought them. She could make the best meatloaf and baked potatoes I ever ate. I have no idea what she did to her meatloaf, but mine never tasted as good.

I remember starches figured in most of the meals--macaroni with cheese (baked, not cooked on top of the stove); spaghetti with a mouth-watering meat sauce made the same day, or my personal favorite, meatballs--they took longer so that's probably why we seldom had them; fried potatoes with hamburgers, mashed potatoes with fried chicken, boiled potatoes with pot roast; sweet potatoes for special occasions, like Thanksgiving, though I don't remember turkey was a regular on the holiday table--probably a roasted chicken.

These are fond memories--food has always been one of my favorite things--and I'm glad my mother and her sisters were such good cooks. They've inspired me down through the decades of my own  planning, preparing, cooking, serving, and (of course) eating. For years I used only fresh ingredients, but as life got more hectic--four children in six years, going back to college to finish my degree, getting a job once the children were in school full time--yes, life became hectic, so I learned to use some prepared foods to supplement what I cooked from scratch.

All of my children cook--some like it more than others, but they all know how. My son and middle daughter like to experiment to come up with new things or twists on old faves. They all like to eat, as well, so our family gatherings are gastronomic delights.

At times when we don't have a big meal, we enjoy simple things: one of the evening meals I shared with my daughter last week was scrambled eggs, bacon, and gluten-free pancakes with real maple syrup. We both agreed breakfast foods could be eaten any time of day.

Although my childhood memories of food are good ones, I don't yearn for those times. I've cooked on a wood burning stove, a one-burner camp stove, a campfire, gas ranges, electric ranges...but I don't need to return to homesteading days. They're romantic to read about, I'll grant you, and we can learn a lot from the trials, tribulations, and triumphs our forebears went through. I'll stick with my modern range and refrigerator, cook veggies and poultry or fish from scratch, and once in a while whomp up a batch of gluten-free pancakes. Then I can eat a meal like those from my childhood while I read that book about homesteading.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


During the recent holiday season I had two of my daughters visiting. The oldest went off to spend a few days with another sister in Ohio, so the youngest, Lis, and I did some little chores--what a friend of mine calls knicky-knacky stuff. In fact, Lis insisted on helping me--she likes doing little stuff around the house. (Really.)

One of the tasks on my never-ending list was changing light bulbs. Over a period of several months I've noticed some rooms seem quite a bit dimmer when I press the wall switch. Obviously bulbs had burned out.

Now Lis is several inches taller than I (not because she's grown taller lately, but because I've shrunk--that's another story), so she could reach the center ceiling fixtures from a two-step stool. If I'd been doing this job alone, I'd have brought in my six-foot stepladder. But I had a helper this time, and I smiled at the thought of leaving the stepladder in the garage.

Here's the setting: My house was built in the 1950s--remember that time? Nice middle-class 3-bedroom ranch houses, arranged in groups. This was undoubtedly an upscale type area: every house is different. There's no trouble finding mine--its the one with limestone on the front and a faux gas light beside the driveway. Only one like it on the one-block-long street.

For those readers not familiar with a typical 50s ranch-style house, the architecture has certain distinguishing features fairly common across the genre:
  • plastered walls, often with swirls or other creative shapes worked by the plasterer
  • big picture windows in front
  • carpeted floors; if no carpet, then tile floors (especially in kitchens and baths)
  • carports or attached garages (mine is attached)
  • patios on the back
  • centered ceiling light fixtures in most rooms
Those centered ceiling light fixtures are the main character in this post. The fixtures are also circa 1950-something. They require a well-balanced person who can raise two strong hands above shoulder level: one hand holds the big round (or square) heavy glass fixture while the other hand unscrews the knob that holds the whole thing together while it's suspended above a table or bed or badly placed chair.

So we developed our procedure:
  • move whatever piece of furniture is directly below the ceiling fixture
  • place stepstool under fixture
  • Lis climbs on the stool, removes the knob and hands Mom the glass fixture
  • Mom washes the fixture and dries it, lays it aside
  • Lis requests Mom turn on the light so dead bulbs can be located
  • Lis requests Mom turn off the light so daughter doesn't go blind while trying to remove dead bulb(s)
  • Lis hands dead bulb(s) to Mom
  • Mom receives dead bulb(s) and hands up new one(s)
  • new bulb(s) inserted in sockets
  • Mom hands up clean, dried fixture
  • Lis installs fixture and replaces the knob that holds everything in place
  • Lis comes down from stepstool, furniture returned to its former place
  • move on to next room and repeat previous 12 steps
I count 13 steps in that process. I may have lumped a few together and probably forgot something important. Oh, yes--turn on the light switch and admire the blinding light from the formerly dim ceiling fixture.

Remember the old joke? How many _____ does it take to change a light bulb? In my house, it takes one Mom, one daughter, and 13 (or more) steps.

That's for one room. We had four to go.

You'll recall Lis said she likes doing little stuff around the house. I'm afraid our all-day session of little stuff has probably caused her to reconsider her casual remark.

I'm sorry if she now finds little stuff around the house not quite her thing. For my part, rooms are well-lit and my eyes aren't straining to read small print. (Though the dust does show up really well. Hmm.) Then I remember, this one "small" task on my list would have taken me at least four days, one day per room. A lot of effort goes into those 13 steps when done alone--breaks for tea, coffee, or a glass of wine (usually about room 3); dog out, dog in, dog fed, dog petted; and a little creative cussing when I almost drop the glass shade for the light or take out the wrong bulb or forget to turn the light switch to OFF before I climb the ladder. (Remember the 6-foot ladder? For short people?)

So if Lis decides to mark bulb changing off her list for the future, I know I can manage by myself. But I have several dozen boxes of books and other miscellany in the garage just begging to be sorted. I'll invite her for a visit this summer.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Today when Joy and I went outside for her morning walk, I was awestruck by the simple beauty of snow-clad trees on our street. They made me think of this psalm:
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
     sing the glory of his name;
     give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!"
(NRSV--vs. 1-3)

Dozens of churches have cancelled services and activities today because of ice under the snow. But we can "ascribe to the Lord the honor due his name" in his creation and the beauty he has given us.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Looking forward to a new year? Anything special on your horizon?

Everybody needs something to look forward to--our human nature seems to respond well to anticipated events or activities.

If you're one of those people who prefer a warmer season, you might try some forward planning.

In my little world, I anticipate the start of an intermediate class in yoga. Twelve years ago I started learning yoga and have been a practitioner for most of those years. When my instructor dropped her classic class (students work on floor mats), she concentrated on therapeutic yoga for seniors. This class is taught at the local senior center two mornings a week, students do most of the poses from a seated position, in chairs, and it has been very popular. But some of the students have gone beyond the simpler poses and have developed strength and endurance to allow them to advance to a more challenging class. Next week we'll take it for a test drive.

Last month our yoga instructor took vacation, so a local sifu in T'ai Chi taught classes at the senior center. I was able to attend only one class but that was enough to reel me in. After this month gets going I'll investigate what classes will fit my schedule.

In a few days the Heart and Hands group of knitting, crocheting, and sewing ladies at my church will celebrate a year of creating and having fun at the same time. (Food also helps keep us happy.) Our goal for 2014 is to make even more items to donate to local organizations who aid homeless and other needy folks, young and not-so-young.

My friend Liz Flaherty has a new book out (December 27 on Kindle--this spring in print) so I'm waiting for that blessed event. More on that when the pub date approaches.

Just listing these lovely things in my future keeps me on an even keel. The snow outside is nearing eight inches depth--but inside, I'm warm and dry, and have much to be thankful for. Not least is the fact that I have good things coming up.

Make your own list. Even if you love winter and can get out in the snow for fun, you can always think ahead. It just might help the time pass till spring comes your way.