Thursday, August 28, 2014

J S Bach

(Boredom Alert! If you aren’t interested in technology in any way, shape, or form, you better surf somewhere else. Today’s post is about technology. Sort of.)

In my low-tech youth, we were considered fortunate to have a telephone at home. The first one I remember was in the country, and we had a three-party line. That meant two other homes had phones that would ring when someone called us. And, obviously, ours would ring if someone else on the line received a call. Each ring was distinctive: one long, one short; or one long, two shorts; and so on. The temptation was to pick up even when our own ring wasn’t the one we heard—to hear what other people were saying. I was only six or seven and too young to submit to temptation. I can’t vouch for other members of my family.

At that time we had a rather nice radio, big floor model, on which I listened to The Long Ranger every evening at 6:30. It was my bedtime (the prevailing childrearing wisdom in that long-ago era decreed 12 hours of sleep for children—which I never got because I couldn’t go to sleep at 6:30 PM and sleep till 6:30 AM. But that’s another story). I loved listening to the radio while lying on the living room rug, staring into the cloth-covered speaker. (Sorry, I don’t remember the brand.)

For other entertainment, we had movies, both Technicolor and black and white; live bands for dancing; and homemade music—guitars, fiddles, and accordions, along with singers of varying homegrown talent.

Television was in our future, as were fax machines, home computers, and laser technology in medicine.

In the 1970s and 1980s I began to notice what I now call mid-tech events. The law office that hired me had a Mag-Card typewriter that recorded boilerplate paragraphs on flexible plastic “cards” the size of a cashier’s check. The boilerplate was coded with stops—the machine would stop and the operator could insert information, perhaps the name of the person making the will, deed, or affidavit, or the names of legatees.

In a short time we had one personal computer in the office for the real estate secretary—she typed long legal descriptions, and having once proofread it with another person, she could save it for future use on a number of documents for a transaction. A big time saver.

Next came the word processors, stand-alone machines that did primarily text, but had a couple of bells and whistles, such as calculations—adding up a column of figures being one I recall because I used it often. And loved that feature, math not being my greatest talent.

As is often the case, one computer led to another, and before we knew where we were, we had a small mainframe. This was nothing like room size, more like a two-suiter suitcase standing on end. From that one little server, we could operate three or four other workstations.

Ah, as you see, we’re getting into modern terms.

During all this technology advancement, we learned that we could do a whole lots more work with less effort. No one was out of a job, but we could take on more business because the documents could be prepared more quickly.

So—if technology changed the workplace—no, I really should say “when” it changed the workplace—what happened out in the rest of the world?

My observation is this: technology didn’t change people. That is, not their emotions, their relationships, their challenges in life. We still fell in love, lost friends or made new ones, saw our family members die and mourned their passing. The death rate, the divorce rate, the disinheriting of heirs—none of that was affected by technology.
Stories, stories, stories...

The universal truths that have come down to us through literature, visual art, music—all these have continued. If they had not, how could we, in our 21st Century lives, appreciate the literature of the Bible? The Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo? Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos?

Love found and love lost . . . betrayal . . . forgiveness . . . redemption . . . sacrifice . . . they’re all found in the Bible, in the ancient literatures of other cultures--they're always with us, as they were then, and, I suspect, as they always will be.

We can see and feel and hear them through the books we hold in our hands or read on our e-reader; through a concert in Lincoln Center or on an iPod; on a gallery tour by foot at the Metropolitan or sitting at home, online.

Low-tech, mid-tech, high-tech—does it matter? I doubt it. What matters is that we continue to celebrate all the facets of life, in whatever century we live, with whatever tools we have at hand.

They’re all gifts. Give thanks for them.

Portion of Michelangelo's painting
on the Sistine Chapel ceiling


Thursday, August 21, 2014


Know who said that?

Pliny the Elder, Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher. Born 1st Century AD.

I don't know the occasion of his pronouncement, but it's become a cliché in our time. Like most clichés, it's true.

Consider the following:
  • In my first 20 years on Earth, I moved from one abode to another 17 times.
  • During those moves, I lived in houses, apartments, and one time a remodeled gas station.
  • Our moves took us from small town to country, to larger town, to city, to country again, and back to small town.
  • I lived in five different states of the Union, all of them in the Midwest
For a number of years, during these moves, my home was where my mother was. When I was 15, my mother died--so that anchor was gone from my life.

After that my sense of home--not as a place but as an attachment--underwent several incarnations. I married, had children, and began making a home for them. (In those days, wives/moms were able to stay home and be with the children, being homemakers in the literal sense of the word.) Like many new parents, I tried to give my children what I didn't have as a kid--a house they could call home, freedom to explore, and permission to keep every blessed thing they wanted to. It helped that the first house we bought was a four-bedroom, two-story square frame house, with large rooms, a basement, and an airing porch on the back. Plus a big yard, fenced in, and room for a dog and a cat (or two--they don't seem to come in singles for this family), plus a neighborhood full of friends to play with, go to school with, and get in trouble with.

When the children were in school and I had free time during the day, I went back to college to finish my degree. I made friends there who have lasted through the years into retirement. They've become part of my family--and though we aren't close geographically, we are close in the best way of all--we're at home with each other whenever we meet.

I love grocery shopping when I'm home. That's what makes me feel totally normal. I love both the idea of home as in being with my family and friends, and also the idea of exploration. I think those two are probably my great interests.
Yo-Yo Ma
I can't show you pictures of my homes--there were too many down through the years. The one I live in now is a three-bedroom ranch, like the houses my father built most of his life. My town's population is around 12,000, and it's the county seat.
For a number of years my oldest daughter and I went back to our hometown to visit my aunt and several first cousins. One year we attended a family reunion, on the 100th anniversary of my maternal grandparents' wedding. After a life of nearly perpetual moving around, I felt quite grounded in the park that day--I was related to all these people, and so was my daughter. We belonged.

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The most important thing is this: I've been in this house, in my small city, for 30 years. I've found a physical place to call home. But if I had to leave, I could. Home is a concept--and I carry its picture in my heart.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Not only Nature is generous--so are family, friends, and neighbors.

I didn't get to the Farmer's Market last week--neither Wednesday nor Saturday--where local folks sell their vegetables and fruit during the season. In autumn, when the fresh produce is finished, you can find honey, jelly/preserves, dried herbs, cider, and sometimes handmade crafts.

So since I didn't make it to the market, the veggies in the photo above came from three other sources: eggplant from my neighbor across the alley; potatoes and zucchini from my yoga instructor; and summer squash, tomatoes, and cukes from my Ohio daughter. (The green/yellow/purple/Dragon Tongue beans were already cooked and cooling when I took the picture.)

Fresh produce always makes me want to cook--and eat. Last week's Ratatouille is almost gone, so the eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash above will find their way into another Mediterranean Vegetable Stew.

A short walk in my neighborhood reveals more bounty--flowers, shrubs, trees. We are at the height of the summer season, when a couple of good rains revive the grass and wash the shrubs and tree leaves and make them green again. (If they were green to begin with.)

These nasturtiums grow on the alley side of my neighbor's fence (the eggplant lady). I get to enjoy them every day when I'm out picking up sticks in the yard.

Some people call these Mallows--they're also known as Hibiscus. Another neighbor has dark, dark red ones, nearly black. The sheer size of Hibiscus is stunning. Larger than my open outstretched hand.

These roses are so fragrant! They belong to my next-door neighbor, Iola, who recently went to live with her daughter and son-in-law. The Hibiscus are hers also. She must miss them a great deal.

Although I'm not in summer's fan club, I will miss her sights and sounds: flowers in their glory, green everywhere, the aroma of the backyard grill filling the air, the song of the John Deere tractor heard far and wide.... We are in a season of sensory delights.

Yesterday I noticed signs of autumn's advent. A carpet of leaves in mid-town, and a tree with one branch of red-red leaves.

The time is coming...already nights are cooler, and daytime temps reach only into the mid-to-upper-70s. Mornings are dark when I walk at six o'clock. Evenings draw in a little sooner.

So today, I celebrate not only Nature's bounty, but her variety as well. Season follows season--each brings her own delights--and we know not one of them lasts forever (however long winter may seem).

I wish you joy of the season--every season.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Pronounced: Rat' uh TOO ee

Nothing about rats, or movies, or mispronounced French.

This is about Ratatouille, a Mediterranean vegetable stew. And how to make it.

Now is the time of year to indulge in one of the greatest stir frys to come down the pike. It's cheap (garden produce at roadside stands, farmer's market, friends with surplus) and it makes a lot. Not quick, but not all day, either.

Here we go:

1 medium-to-large eggplant *(see below for substitutions)
1 or 2 small-to-medium zucchinis
1 or 2 small-to-medium summer squash
Sweet peppers to taste (I use the bright-colored because green don't agree with me)
Onion or Shallots
Garlic (if you like it)
Can of stewed tomatoes (or fresh ones if you have them)
Chicken broth, about 3/4 cup
Spices (I like Italian blend or Herbes de Provence)
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 ribs celery, strings removed

Here's what I start with

Finely chop onion/shallot and garlic. Also chop the peppers.
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over Medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add onion/shallot, garlic, and peppers. Stir to distribute and let them sauté.

While the sauté is working, cut the eggplant into bigger dice--about 1/2-inch cubes:


Same with the squash--if you have smaller ones, slice them into coins:

Once the peppers, et al. are soft enough, empty the skillet and store the sauté in a big bowl. Then add another Tbsp. or two of olive oil to the skillet, let it heat through, and add the eggplant. Stir and sauté. When the cubes are browned, remove them from the skillet and add to the pepper bowl.

Saute the squash, adding a little more oil, if needed. The squash may take a little longer to cook, so check them often, stirring to give them a chance to cook consistently. Add 1/2 cup of the broth to keep them steaming and prevent sticking.

When you're satisfied that the squash are nearly cooked through, add back the eggplant and pepper mixture. Mix thoroughly. Add the stewed tomatoes, plus a little more broth (I used the remainder of the broth to rinse out the tomato can). If you're using spices, now's the time to put them in. Salt and pepper to taste, either now or when you serve the dish.

Turn the heat to Medium Low, cover the skillet, and let the ratatouille cook for about 5 minutes. Check to see if all veggies are cooked by sticking a few with a paring knife.

Meanwhile, finely chop the celery. When the 5 minutes have elapsed and you're happy with the state of the stew, add the celery on top--just sprinkle it on--put the lid back on. Turn off the heat. (The celery doesn't need to cook much--it's to give the dish a little crunch.)

Make rice, if you plan to serve the stew over the rice. When the rice is done--or 15 minutes later if you're eschewing rice--serve ratatouille.


The above recipe is an adaptation of one by Jean Nidetch, in what I think was the first Weight Watchers cookbook.
One of her suggestions was to add protein to your meal with cottage cheese or folding the (drained) ratatouille into an omelet.
I've added olive oil and other items not in the original recipe. If you want a totally fat-free and low-sodium dish, make sure you get that type of chicken broth and skip the oil. Saute the veggies in broth. (I know, it's not the same, but you don't overload on fats that way.)

Substitution: If you're not an eggplant fan, try potatoes--dice a couple of potatoes and boil them 10 minutes, with or without peel, and add those to the mix. They won't need to cook long if you've cooked them ahead of time; just brown a little.
My recipe serves 4-8 people, depending on their appetites. And don't be surprised if you find yourself eating ratatouille cold out of the fridge just before bedtime. If you like the veggies in ratatouille, you'll find it addictive.
This dish is also naturally gluten-free; no substitutions needed. You can modify it further any way you please--if you have a few broccoli crowns leftover, or a couple of mushrooms languishing in the crisper (not a good place to keep them), chop and add them to ratatouille.
Hope you enjoy it!