Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in the Day

Recently the Rural Life Museum held its Harvest Days weekend. The Rural Life Museum is a museum of rural buildings and artifacts from the local area, dating from the early 1800’s to early 1900’s. Several times a year they have special events in which volunteers in period costume demonstrate skills such as weaving, blacksmithing, making cane syrup, cooking over an open fire, and woodworking with 19th century tools. Children demonstrate how to roll hoops. There are wagon rides and occasionally a reenactment of the Battle of Baton Rouge by local Civil War buffs. At Christmas there are choirs.
Musicians at Christmas time
Gospel quartet from Southern University, December 2008

Reenacting the Battle of Baton Rouge

For years when we went to the Rural Life Christmas event I wanted to take a wagon ride but the lines were always too long. Three years ago I finally decided I was going to take the wagon ride first no matter how long I had to wait on line. It was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on. I couldn’t wait for it to end. As my late mother-in-law used to say, “The good old days - you can keep them.”

Wagon of the type used for wagon rides

There are a number of old buildings to see, including an old church from St. James Parish and several buildings from Welborn Plantation. There’s an overseer’s cottage, which was actually lived in until 1960, a general store, a small post office, a dogtrot cottage, two barns, some slave cabins, some Acadian cabins, a blacksmith’s shop, and a kitchen with a large hearth for cooking. New acquisitions are made from time to time. Now that the museum has a new display and office building, it seems to have acquired a dozen or so quilts to hang from the high ceiling and a display of funerary items to keep the old hearse company. The gift shop has expanded, too.

Cottage with bousillage walls

Old barn, before Hurricane Gustav

As much as I enjoy the Rural Life Museum, Magnolia Mound Plantation, and other attractions devoted to teaching about local life back in the old days, good or otherwise, I never feel like I they give a realistic picture of life back then. The problem is, all these buildings and artifacts are old, and consequently dilapidated. The people who lived and worked with them 100 or more years ago saw them brand  new. The barn was not about to fall down, it was a snug home for the family’s livestock. The treadle sewing machine and steam powered saw blade weren’t old and quaint, they were new and high tech. The floors the overseer’s cottage weren’t worn and sagging, they were glossy and as clean as slave labor could make them. The old hearse was shiny black with plush green velvet fittings, not worn and faded. I don’t have the imagination to picture these items new, so I am always left with a picture of the original owners, rich, poor or middle class, living surrounded by rust, dust, and squalor.

Steam powered saw, still runs

I suspect even if I could see the dwellings brand new and furnished straight from the general store, I wouldn’t choose to live back then. I like my home comforts. Hundreds of years from now, though, archeologists will pick over the remains of our homes and technology and put them on display in museums. People will come see, and then say, “The good old days - you can keep them.” 

Food cooked in the old kitchen. I made a pumpkin stuffed with apples
like the one in the picture in my oven at home. It was good.

Pineapple growing in the kitchen garden

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

(S)hell of a Good Time

On our way back from the zoo Saturday we stopped at Tony’s Seafood Market. There are seafood markets closer to home, but none like Tony’s. Tony’s is where we take guests when we are running out of things to do. We even let them pick out their own dinner.

You can buy fish so fresh it’s still swimming at Tony’s. When you walk in the front door, on your right, running the depth of the store from front to back is a large tank with catfish swimming in it. You can pick the one you want and have it dressed on the spot. The day we were there, I think some of the customers watching the fish swim around were placing bets on which one would get to the end of the tank first.

Across the back of the store is the counter where you can buy shrimp, fish (the already dressed kind), oysters, picked crabmeat, turtle meat, whole crabs and crawfish in season, hogshead cheese, and the day we were there, octopus and seaweed salads.

Down on the left end of the store is where they sell cooked seafood and sides. You can get a lunch there or buy in bulk for party trays. You can also buy sides like boiled corn and potatoes, French bread, and desserts. Tony’s even sells its own seasoning mixes under the name of Louisiana Fish Fry Products.

The day we were there, we were picking up catfish for catfish etouffee and shrimp for barbecued shrimp. Despite the name, “barbecued shrimp” are not really barbecued. They’re broiled (unpeeled and the heads still on) in a lot of melted butter and seasonings, then served with a loaf of French bread to soak up the sauce while you wait for the shrimp to cool enough to peel. 

Looking around Tony’s reminds me of how we entertain here in Louisiana. You round up several dozen of your best friends, buy a sack of crawfish to boil along with potatoes and corn, cover the folding tables with plastic and newspaper, and put out lots of rolls of paper towels. That’s it. Everybody serves themselves and peels their own. It’s customary to have jambalaya on hand for those who don’t eat crawfish, and maybe some boudin balls and other nibbles. If crawfish is not in season, you can have a crab boil or a shrimp boil, or use those big pots to fry up big batches of catfish and fries.

If you are really ambitious and have friends who will shuck for beer, you can buy a sack of oysters, and serve them several ways. Raw on the half shell of course, fried served along with French bread, mayonnaise, sliced lettuce and tomatoes to make your own po’boys, and as Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville. You need more people pitching in to help than you do with crawfish, but that’s what beer is for.

If you have sufficient property to dig a big pit in the ground, or build a cooking shed, you can have a cochon de’lait. If you have friends who play Cajun fiddle and room for dancing, even better. I haven’t been to a cochon de’lait in a long time. I need to make more friends.

We don’t have a large enough yard to dig a pit, but we do have large pots for crawfish, and we are long overdue for holding a party. Next spring, when the crawfish are running good, our house. I’ll even teach you how to peel.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Zuri Turns Two

Two years ago our local zoo made the national news with the birth of a baby black rhino. Eventually named Zuri, Swahili for "beautiful", the female rhino weighed in at 75 pounds and was one of three baby rhinos born that year. 

The black rhinoceros, also known as the hook-lipped rhinoceros, is endangered in the wild. The Baton Rouge Zoo bred Zuri as part of its participation in the Species Survival Plan (SSP). Organized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the SSP began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. 

Zuri became an instant hit at the zoo. She made her public debut around the time of Boo at the Zoo in 2009 and was not shy about posing for the adoring public.

Zuri at one month

Baby Zuri profile

Following Mama

This year the zoo celebrated Zuri’s second birthday. Since John has a zoo membership and I get in for free as his guest, we decided to go see what the fuss was about. Zuri was not posing for pictures, at least not while we were there. I tried to grab a shot of her sleeping in the distance with her mother, Gemstone, but it was too blurry to see anything. We did sign a happy birthday banner for her. The docent also told us Zuri now weighs 1000 pounds, more than half as much as her mother, who weighs 1800. I wonder if they are having mother-daughter squabbles now that Zuri is older. “Why can’t I pierce my horns, mom? All the other rhinos are doing it. You are so old fashioned!” Probably not.

We missed them serving her special birthday cake, with the carrots for candles.

While I didn’t get any shots of Zuri, I did get a few of the tigers in the zoo’s Realm of the Tiger exhibit. It opened last year.
Sumatran Tigers

Malaysian Tiger

Next on the list for upgrading is a new elephant pavillion, with shaded resting spots for both the elephants and the humans. Back in the 1960’s, a local children’s television personality known as Buckskin Bill urged the community to build a zoo. When Baton Rouge voted in the funding for the zoo, he led a penny drive to raise money to buy the first two elephants for the zoo. The elephants, one of whom was named Penny, were there when the zoo opened in 1970. The new zoo had what were spacious animal habitats for its day, but it is continuously being updated to provide more naturalistic homes for its residents. The elephants are long overdue for nicer digs.

I know a lot of people don’t like zoos. When we were on our Antarctic cruise, John and I were eating dinner with two of the naturalists one night when one of them asked us about Baton Rouge. Since we had been looking at a lot of wildlife, I unthinkingly said, “It has a nice zoo.” I got a strained smile in response, along with the comment that, “You really shouldn’t mention zoos to a naturalist.”

I can understand that, but at the same time, if you had never seen a lion or a tiger or a hook-lipped rhinoceros, would you care if they went extinct? Zuri puts a face on a sad problem. She also serves as a shot at a solution.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birds of a Feather

I didn't used to pay much attention to birds.  I could identify the obvious ones, like robins, cardinals, and blue jays, and the exotic ones, like flamingos. I wouldn't know a purple martin from Purple Rain, or an indigo bunting from the Indigo Girls.

When I became a home owner, I began to be a little more familiar with the birds in our neighborhood. There was a woodpecker who used to peck on the attic of my first house. Cardinals eat the seeds off our magnolia tree. Then of course there are the mockingbirds, who dive bomb our cats. Mockingbirds are little terrorists. I've seen crows that are more than twice their size winging away from mockingbirds for dear life. 

Since Hurricane Gustav came to town three years ago, there are birds living in our neighborhood that I did not used to see. I'm not sure whether the storm caused birds to seek out new habitats or whether I'm just paying more attention to the skies around me, but I'm fairly certain we did not have egrets living at the lake down past the school when I moved into the neighborhood. I never noticed the mourning doves prior to the storm, either, and they are almost as numerous as the mocking birds now. Red-winged blackbirds are scarcer, but I've only seen them in the last three years, too.

Rufous sided towhee at the Bluebonnet Swamp. The only reason I know what it's called is because the nice gentleman who called it to my attention told me.

Two years ago, I came home to find a sharp-shinned hawk sitting on my back fence. I had my camera with me and got a blurry shot through the windshield. As soon as I got out of the car it flew away.

Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk on my back fence

In the past few days, I've been seeing a pair of red-tail hawks around the neighborhood. For years, I have seen hawks high up in the air overhead all around the city, but these two were flying low over the road to the lake.  The next day, I saw one circling the highway next to the Target parking lot, and when I got to the lake, the other one was sunning itself on the fence. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera, because I was perfectly positioned to roll down the window and get a clear shot.

I wonder if these birds are the beneficiaries of the recent recession. Back in the 1970's and 80's, several subdivisions around town were built around country clubs with golf courses. Ownership of the golf courses, however, did not rest with the homeowners/club members, and when interest rates dropped, several of the golf courses were sold off for further housing development, or in the case of two that backed up to main roads, business development. One of those is opposite Target. It was scheduled to become an upscale shopping center with boutiques, a Whole Foods, a bookstore and other small shops, but that was pre-2009. Now it sits abandoned, returning to the swamp it used to be back when the brothers Iberville and Bienville first set foot in the Delta mud. 

I'm pretty sure that egrets are living there. I see the egrets flying over the interstate almost every day. I have brief, humorous imaginings of some local TV station strapping video cameras on them. "Let's go to our live egret cam for a look at your 5 PM traffic. You can see that traffic is already slow on I-12 at Millerville due to construction on the Amite Bridge."  I wouldn't be surprised if alligators were living there, too. 

Heron at the lake near the drugstore

I think we need a word for that subset of animal life that is not domesticated, but does live in suburban backyards. It's hard for me to think of the raccoons and mockingbirds that eat our cat's food or the cardinals that nest in our magnolia tree as "wildlife", but they aren't tame, either. It's easier for me to think of the hawks and egrets as truly wild, but if they are going to set up shop in my backyard, I may have to rethink that as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


There are different degrees of misplaced blame. There's the kind where an accident gets misattributed as an avoidable action. Say, for instance, the cat runs in front of you as you are heading to the door, and you step on the cat's foot. Or some part of the cat, it's hard to be sure, since it all happened so fast. It's also hard to be sure that blame is in this case misattributed.  That cat has been under your feet all day long. Shouldn't you have been watching out for him?

Then there's the kind where you get blamed for something someone else did. There was the time several years ago when my husband blamed me for paying some personal bills online out of the joint checking account, causing checks for household bills to bounce. Actually, they didn't bounce. The reason we knew about the whole snafu was that we got a letter from the bank telling us they had paid the bills anyway, and charged the amount to his Visa. Reason enough for him to be irate, but I was puzzled, since I remembered setting up my bills to be paid out of my account, not the household account.

When I looked online at the transaction history, I discovered that it showed I had set up the payments to come out of my account, and that the error was the bank's. As I found out when I called them, their computers had been down in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, so they keyed in the upcoming bill pay transactions themselves, using the default account that they had on file. They assured me they would transfer the money appropriately and cancel all fees. I informed my husband of this conversation calmly and politely, for those definitions of "calmly and politely" meaning that no actual weapons were used.

The worst kind of misattributed blame, however, is the kind in which you get blamed  for doing something that never actually happened. The day that I stepped on D'Artagnan, I let my husband know what had happened so that we could keep an eye on the cat to see if it started limping. The cat meanwhile was climbing the six foot tall bookcase, but Truffle hadn't shown any signs of his broken bone until it got infected, so I didn't want to take chances. Hubby looked D'Artagnan over and noticed a claw that was poking up perpendicular to his paw, and promptly concluded that the bone was broken and the digit would have to be removed and it was All My Fault, even if the cat did run under my feet. 

When the vet saw the cat the next day, she told me the broken claw would grow back and added, "Sometimes they develop a husk that sheds." She assured me that there were no broken bones and that D'Artagnan was in great health otherwise.

Keep in mind, this was two days after I had been accused of letting the cat out of the house when the cat was actually in the house all along. So you can imagine how cheery I felt about being blamed for the broken bone that wasn't broken. Fortunately for hubby, he was at a workshop on professional ethics and did not return until I had had some time to calm down. I even was calm and polite (see above) when I pointed out to him that he tends to make decisions without having all the facts, or even recognizing that he doesn't have all the facts.

I realize that my husband isn't the only person who thinks all the facts he has are all the facts there are. That's pretty standard human behavior, including my pretty standard human behavior. Something of the sort has been displayed on the local sports message board, Tiger Droppings, now that the two football players accused of battery in a local bar fight are being brought before the grand jury.

A few days ago, it was announced that no traces of the victim's DNA were found on any of 49 pairs of shoes belonging to the accused that had been seized on a warrant last month. The DA described the DNA results as "inconclusive", but they were actually conclusive: there was no match, not even a partial one, to the victim's DNA on any of the shoes. What the DA meant by "inconclusive" was that the lack of DNA does not clear the suspect, because they don't know if the shoes he was wearing were among the ones confiscated. Apparently there are witnesses who say the accused is the one who kicked the victim while he was down on the ground and others who say they saw the accused at the time of the fight and he was not involved. So now the DA is bringing all the witnesses before the grand jury, where they will be under oath and facing perjury charges for lying.

Reading the messages on TD reminds me that there is yet another, more pernicious form of blame: blaming the victim. Much is being made of the victim's behavior prior to his being kicked while on the ground: he allegedly stalked his ex-girlfriend, who ultimately got a restraining order on him, he is shown on videotape arguing with one of her friends at the bar and eventually pushing her, he is alleged to have thrown the first punch in another altercation, causing him to be thrown out of the bar before the fight in the parking lot. He's not much of a role model for today's youth, but once he was on the ground, helpless, he did not deserve to be kicked in the head.

At least the criticism directed at the victim, however, is directed at his pugnacious behavior, known and alleged.  It is not of the "this would never have happened if he hadn't been in a bar at that hour of the night to begin with" variety. The criticism directed at the accused, however, is. When asked to reflect on the possibility that he may be innocent, being blamed for a crime that someone else committed, many posters are responding with variations of, "If he hadn't broken curfew and been in a bar at that hour of the night, this would never have happened to him." That's an argument that sounds eerily familiar. If you're charged with a crime you didn't commit, it's not because eye witness testimony is faulty; it's not because you were the most recognizable face in the crowd; it's not because of racial prejudice (that never happens here in the South); no, it's because bad things never happen to people who weren't asking for it by being where they shouldn't be and when. Never mind that you have no way of knowing "where you shouldn't be and when" until the bad things happen.  Never mind that bad things happen to people at two in the afternoon.

I understand the desire to learn from other people's mistakes. No one wants to be the victim of a crime. No one wants to be falsely accused of a crime. If you can trace the sequence of events that led to another person's predicament, you can figure out where to break the chain before it leads to your being in the same predicament. It's a short step from there to "He shouldn't have been so pugnacious". "He shouldn't have been out late drinking." 

We never know the entire sequence of events. The facts we have aren't all the facts there are. Given that we are human and limited, the facts we have are never going to be all the facts there are.  That's something to think about before placing blame.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Couldn't Resist

When I saw this sign at the public library, I couldn't resist getting a picture of it. Why can't they just say, "By entering these premises you agree to be searched for weapons" like everybody else?

Things to Do with Leftovers that Create More Leftovers

As I have written before, I hate to serve leftovers by just heating them up and putting them on a plate. I know, that's the time saving way to do it, but I figure, they were left over because no one was too crazy about them in their original state. Of course, the fact that my husband cooks as if he were cooking for six people instead of two is a factor also, but one I prefer to ignore in the quest to make life harder for myself.

The problem is, re-imagining leftovers always seems to involve  a few fresh ingredients, thereby increasing the volume of the original leftovers, and creating - more leftovers.

Take hash, for instance. The basic ingredients, meat and potatoes, are usually already cooked because whenever hubby makes a steak or a roast, he bakes potatoes. He doesn't just bake two potatoes, he bakes four or five. So I have meat and potatoes on hand for the basics, but I have to add chopped, sauteed onions, celery, and bell peppers and then mushrooms if we have some that are looking peaked. Finally, I add Hungarian paprika cream for some color and flavor, and just before the final browning, a little sour cream. By this time, I have enough hash to feed four to six people easily.

Then there's my faux risotto. I make real risotto on occasion, but when we have leftover rice, I make my faux version. That involves dicing up onion and browning it, chopping and adding whatever leftover vegetables we have on hand, adding the cooked rice and enough chicken stock to cover the ingredients by half an inch or so. If I have white wine I use it for some of the liquid. Then I cook it down until it's still a little soupy and stir in Parmesan cheese to thicken it all up. By then, I've at least doubled the volume of the rice, but it tastes better than plain rice that's been drying out in the refrigerator for a week. Besides, this is the only way hubby will eat brown rice.

Of course, making soup is a wonderful way to make sure leftovers for two turn into leftovers for half a dozen. Whenever we have a chicken carcass, I try to get to it before hubby does, because I prefer my soup making methods to his. Hubby throws the carcass, skin and all in with onions, celery, carrots and bouillon, and when it's done, he removes the skin and bones and serves the rest, mushy celery and onions, chicken fat, and all. 

I remove as much of the skin as possible to keep the fat content down, and cook the chicken in canned broth with onions, celery, and whatever fresh herbs are around (and salt and pepper to taste). The last twenty minutes or so I squeeze in two small lemons ( a trick I learned from Anne Burrell's cooking show) and throw in the rinds. Twenty minutes later I strain the broth into a bowl, and pick the meat off the bones. I keep the chicken meat and broth, but everything else, celery, onion, herbs, bones etc, gets tossed out. I allow the broth to stand in the refrigerator until the fat rises and solidifies enough to be skimmed off. Then I cook some carrots in the broth, and add any leftover cooked vegetables that are appropriate when I add the chicken. If we have frozen peas I put them in, but if not I add canned garbanzo beans. I cook noodles or pasta separately to add to the individual soup bowls, so the broth doesn't get all starchy and the pasta doesn't get soggy and slimy.

My final recipe for wasting your time with leftovers is Sloppy Joes. Usually I make Sloppy Joes by taking my leftover homemade pasta sauce (which contains ground beef and bulk sausage), adding a little brown sugar and cider vinegar and cooking the sauce (which is already very meaty) down to Sloppy Joe consistency. Today, however, I used leftover meat loaf, which had become very crumbly, plus  the chopped up remains of a hamburger John brought back from a restaurant. To the sauteed onion and garlic, I added the last quarter cup of  Italian dressing John had made with tomato soup (great recipe), a small can of tomato sauce and the sauce can full of water, then let it cook down slowly while I dealt with the soup. The bread crumbs in the meat loaf thickened the sauce as the water evaporated, and the salad dressing gave it the appropriate tang. I froze the inevitable leftovers.

So there you have it. Why save yourself time with leftovers, a plate, and a microwave when with a little time and effort (okay, a lot of time and effort), you can make yourself even more leftovers?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Accessory After the Fact

I have been on a major clothes buying spree since I retired. Some of it has been because once I got rid of all my T-shirts with work logos, I needed new tops, and some of it has been because when I started my ambitious exercise program, I needed workout clothes. Then there were the three trips we went on this summer, one of which called for some dress-up clothes. Mostly, though, I tend to respond to major life transitions by buying new clothes.

Now that I have all these new clothes, I have to give some thought to accessories. I am not a good accessorizer. At one time in my youth I heard the advice that before you go anywhere, you should look at the jewelry you are wearing and remove one piece. As a result, I usually can be seen wearing my wedding and engagement rings and a watch. On most days, if I followed the advice strictly, I'd have to take off either the watch or the engagement ring. I don't think that helpful hint was really intended for people like me, who don't wear much jewelry, but I have it stuck in my head anyway. 

Of course, the most basic accessories are shoes and purses. I have bad feet and have to wear orthopedic shoes, and bad organizational skills, so I prefer to stick to one purse. My choices here are limited.

Then there are scarves. I love scarves. I have lots of scarves. I have scarves in just the right shades to go with my clothes. A scarf I bought last year in Paris to go with my old coat now is the perfect match for a new sweater. A scarf my son bought me at Harrod's matches a sundress I bought at Talbot's. I just don't know how to wear scarves. Whatever scarf I have on always seems to be the wrong size or the wrong shape.   I usually wind up tying them in the shape of the Girl Scout Triangle, the Old Country Shawl, or the I Have a Sore Throat Wrap.

What that leaves are hats. I love hats. I have a "hat face". Almost any kind of hat looks good with my face*, including the big brimmed hats that women of my generation think of as "Coty Girl" hats. I also have a short body, so big brimmed hats make me look like a mushroom, but I wear them anyway. I used to have a navy blue felt hat with gold mesh covering the crown and a large gold half-circle rosette above the brim and a matching half below, so it looked like the wide brim was bisecting the full rosette. I wore it to a friend's son's wedding, where the only other guest wearing something on her head was a nun in a modified habit. Years later, I'd run into people who had been at the wedding and they'd say, "Oh, I remember you. You had that hat." I began thinking of it as THE HAT.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many places you can wear hats, which is probably the only reason that I still go to church. Even there I am usually the only person wearing a hat, because we don't have Methodist nuns. I have a lot of sun hats, since I can wear them at the beach, the zoo, on picnics, and while gardening. I have winter hats, too, but they aren't as practical as earmuffs. My lovely dress hats, however, sit in my closet most of the time collecting dust and feeling unappreciated. I'd wear them out for afternoon tea, but here in the US the only places that serve afternoon tea are few, far between and way overpriced.

I bought a new hat anyway. It's a red newsboy cap which is casual enough to wear on our upcoming trip to Branson. It also matches a red and pink Argyle sweater vest and a red ballerina neck T-shirt that I already own, but just to be on the safe side, I bought a red, gray, purple and black plaid scarf to go with it, too. If I get charged with a major fashion crime, at least I have accessories.

*Except the Amelia Earhart aviator cap with ear flaps that I bought to wear in Antarctica. That looks hideous on me, but I'm fairly sure it only looks good on Amelia Earhart.

Friday, September 16, 2011


My doctor has finally okayed some exercise for me, but limited it to bike riding and an elliptical machine. I have an uneasy relationship with elliptical machines. I can't get both sides to move evenly with two good feet, so I can't imagine it working any better with one good foot and one that still tires easily. That leaves the bike. I have rejoined the Y so that I can use their exercise bikes in the hot, muggy weather, but now that it has gotten cooler outside (89 is cooler than 99) I've been riding around outside as well.

I'm surprised that I have not been able to find a comparison of stationary exercise bikes versus regular bikes as a means of exercise in all my Google searching. I have found comparisons of recumbent exercise bikes and upright exercise bikes and of exercise bikes versus elliptical machines, but the only comparison of exercise bikes versus regular bikes I could find was a discussion on a forum that included a lot of opinion and speculation and nothing resembling scientific input. Discussion centered mostly on which one you were likely to stick with and use longer rather than which one gives you a better workout.

The problem I have with bike riding as a form of exercise is that it is not weight bearing. I can understand why my foot doctor sees non-weight bearing as a good thing at the moment, but I also get the impression that his goal for my exercise program is weight loss, while my goal is strengthening my thinning bones. Not that I am averse to losing weight; I have lost over ten pounds since the beginning of the summer. I just don't want any of that lost weight to come from lost bone density. I think the discussion about how much weight I can lift at the grocery store is going to have to come before how much I can deadlift, but someday I am going to have to tell him I like lifting weights. 

The other problem with bike riding as a form of exercise is that it is boring. Exercise bikes are boring even when I sit there reading my Kindle while pedaling along going nowhere. Riding my Schwinn around the subdivision is boring because I know the territory. When I can get to new and different places to ride, I really enjoy it, but right now I'm boxed in because almost every main road in the area is being torn up and widened, and while sheer terror might do a lot to raise my heart rate, that's not the good kind of raise my heart rate. The one road that is not being ripped up scares me because right where I'd cross it, traffic is coming across an overpass and visibility sucks. Once the weather cools down a little I can probably persuade hubby to drive us and the bikes to nearby parks with bike trails. 

Then I can save the Y for when it's raining.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Clean Up Your Room

One of the bright spots of having a lightly trafficked blog is that I can explore how the readers I do have got here. Yesterday I noticed that some hapless soul arrived at my post Modesty Forbids by googling the words "should Christian girls wear low-rise jeans". I suspect the Googler read only a few words before fleeing to a more congenial blog. Just for fun, I searched for "should Christian girls wear low-rise jeans" myself, and found this post, Should Your Teen Daughter Wear Thong Underwear?

As Christian modesty posts go, it really wasn't so bad. The writer considered the pros and cons of thong underwear, and concluded, "The answer is up to you", "you" in this case being the parent, not the daughter.

The post did, of course, contain the obligatory "But what about teh menz?" component. Christian modesty writers are the flip side of Cosmopolitan editors: they believe women's clothing decisions should be made chiefly on the basis of "What effect will this have on a man?" as opposed to, "What's the weather like today?" or "What do people wear to job interviews?" Until I had read this post, I thought that "whale tails" were those things I had seen above the waterline down in Antarctica.  The mom writing the underwear post is a firm believer, as am I, that underwear should remain under. Only in my case, it's because I believe no one needs to see grimy bra straps and fraying elastic, and in the writer's view it's because "seeing a thong . . . is sexual". And that thought lead to the prize sentence in the entire post,  

[M]any a guy has stumbled over a girl’s underwear.

So the moral of the story is, "Young ladies, get your room picked up before your boyfriend comes over to, uhm, study. Yeah, that's it, study. Because otherwise he might stumble over your underwear and fall on the bed."

Or maybe she meant, "Many a guy has stumbled over a girl’s underwear, and still not concluded that he should do the laundry."

I missed a lot not having a daughter of my own. I had several foreign exchange student daughters, two who stayed the full year each and one who opted to go to another home after a month, but I certainly never concerned myself with the kind of underwear they had on. I'm pretty sure that my son was buying his own underwear by the time he was in high school, so I expect if I had a daughter she would have been, also. I think I would have saved my firepower for more serious discussions, such as "how old do you need to be before you have your first bikini wax" or "you are so not getting a boob job for graduation". Not having been in that position, I shouldn't criticize women who have to deal with guiding their daughters to a positive view of their own sexuality in a world where people are willing to treat it as a commodity, a disgrace, or a little of both. 

But, really, "Many a guy has stumbled over a girl’s underwear"? What is she going to say when we get to the discussion of 4 inch platform heels?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Round Two

Ever since we got our new cat, Licorice, he's been struggling with digestive issues. We weren't told about his diarrhea (in fact, we were told he was in good health) by the people at the animal shelter until after we filled out the paperwork and paid for him. We were given a bottle of two days worth of medicine to give him as we were getting ready to go. 

It turned out that whatever he has is a whole lot more serious than what they thought and led us to believe. Despite our feeding him a hypoallergenic diet, and giving him various treatments prescribed by our vet, there has been no improvement in the last month. So Monday we took him back to the animal shelter. I know it sounds harsh, but the animal shelter is a no-kill shelter with a veterinary clinic on-site. The cattery, where the older cats are housed, is a bright, open space with chairs and toys and individual cages for night time or when kitty needs a break. With Licorice being there, he can be monitored by the vet and shelter staff on a regular basis and maybe they can help him better than we've been able to. Still, it was a sad moment. He's a nice little cat.

When hubby left with Licorice, he had decided he was not going to get another cat from the shelter. I wasn't surprised, though, when I got a call from him at the shelter saying they had a cute little tabby cat and did I want it? Of course, I said. 

Twenty minutes later, I get a second call. The tabby, it turns out, has a health problem of some kind, but they don't know what because no one is there who can read the note.

"I don't think this is a good idea," I warned.

"I don't either," said my husband, "But there is a black and white cat that looks like Squeaky."

"You mean D'Artagnan?" I ask. I love D'Artagnan. D'Artagnan is the cat that followed me all around the first time we went to the shelter. I am all in favor of D'Artagnan as our new cat. Apparently, D'Artagnan is all in favor of being our new cat, too, because while John and the shelter personnel were trying to decipher the vet note on the tabby, D'Artagnan jumped up on the clipboard and made his presence known. 

So D'Artagnan came home with John and promptly lost all his swagger. "What is this place?" appeared to be his first thought. He dashed around the mudroom, leaped from the sink into the cat food bowl, scattering cat food everywhere, then dashed into the next room and found a hiding spot under the printer stand in the corner. Every so often, a plaintive "meow" could be heard, but that was about it.

At this point Truffle returned from his morning stroll and noticed the carrier. He sniffed it all over, probably detecting a new smell, and then explored the faint "meow" coming from the corner. He seemed to decide it wasn't worth his while to mess with the newcomer and went off for his afternoon nap.

Two hours later,  D'Artagnan was nowhere to be found. John was sure he had escaped from the house, which meant that we needed to change his name to Houdini, because the only person who had been in and out of the house in that time was John, and he was equally convinced he hadn't let the cat out. Truffle, tired of pointless bickering on the part of his household staff, settled the issue by crouching in front of the oak armoire in his "watching the mouse hole" position until he was sure we got the message. This gave John a use for his new flashlight, checking under the armoire, where, sure enough, D'Artagnan had taken refuge.  He finally emerged at 8PM.

After that unpromising beginning, D'Artagnan has made himself at home. It took him a false start or two to figure out where the litter was, but other than that we haven't had any problems. He and Truffle mostly ignore each other, with a hiss or growl when they happen to cross paths. We haven't had to close off the bedroom wing, though.

We're still holding out hope the shelter vets can figure out what is wrong with Licorice and either cure it or get it under control. John told them we'd be happy to take him back if they do. We've had five cats before. We can certainly deal with three.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Are You Busy?

My husband and I have season tickets to our local little theater. This is the fourth season that we've had tickets, and we rarely miss a show.

Saturday we attended the first show of the season, Crazy for You, the 1992 Broadway musical roughly based on the 1930 musical Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, but containing Gershwin songs from other productions as well. The performance was preceded by a somber announcement. The day before, one of the cast members, a 16 year old chorus member named Phillip, died in an accident.

I had time to read the program during intermission. Phillip was a junior in high school, and had been acting for five years with other amateur theater groups around town. The program stated, "Phillip is very excited to be working with BRLT." When I got home, I looked up the details of the accident. He had died in a car wreck on his way to the opening performance. 

Friday's show had been halted when word got to the theater of Phillip's death.  The cast discussed the loss of Phillip and decided the show must go on.  They resumed performances the next day and dedicated them to Phillip's memory. The show went well until the actress playing Polly, the female lead, had to sing Someone to Watch Over Me. Every time she came to the line "someone to watch over me", she could not sing it. At one point she began crying so much I was afraid she couldn't continue, but she made it through the song. The audience clapped loudly in support.

The rest of the performance went smoothly, including an elaborately and impressively choreographed version of I've Got Rhythm. Our local little theater has some impressive talent, and while no one would mistake their productions for professional ones, they are worth the cost of admission.

When it came time for curtain calls, I could see the actors faces clearly. Their eyes looked sad and some of them were tearing up. The people who had put on a lively comedy for us were suffering from their own recent tragedy. The two leads brought a large picture of Phillip out with them, and asked the audience to stay while the actor who had played Bobby read a statement. He was able to read it, but the rest of the cast was in tears.

When death comes, it never asks you, "Are you busy?" "Is this a good time?" "Did you get your homework done?" The teenage years are a time of wanting so badly to grow up, to try on adult responsibilities, and to throw off parental supervision. We tell our teens, as we had been told ourselves, "Don't be in such a rush. You have your whole life in front of you," and for the overwhelming majority of them, it's true. If we knew which ones were marked for early death, would we encourage them differently? Would we tell them to go ahead and be 16 at twelve, 21 at sixteen and 30 at eighteen? They can't, really. They are supposed to have their whole lives ahead of them.

I'm glad for Phillip that he didn't put off acting until a distant someday, and I'm sorry that he missed his BRLT debut, not to mention the rest of his life, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the point in my post when I'm supposed to come up with some comforting moral to the story, and I don't have one. People are grieving because Phillip is gone, and he wasn't supposed to be. Death never asks you, "Are you busy?"

There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me

Friday, September 9, 2011

Boys and Their Toys

To my amazement, my husband has recently replaced our almost 25 year old gas barbecue grill with a new one. I say "to my amazement" because he had been nursing the old grill along since I first gave it to him for Christmas a few months before our marriage.  When he was unable to find a part, he'd make do with something else, as when he replaced the broken handles on the hood with blocks of wood.

I'd like to think that his attachment was sentimental because the grill was a gift from me, but hubby is this way with practically everything. Cars, bikes, lawnmowers, washing machines, all get nursed along along they finally give up the ghost. It's not a bad way to be, especially since he seems to apply the same way of thinking towards wives, but the grill was getting to be the bane of my life. It seemed downright unsanitary, because birds apparently perched on its redwood side shelves and did what birds do, and the wood was hard to clean. Since the grill sat outside the back door, those shelves made a handy resting spot for anything hubby had in his hands while unlocking the door, and what was in his hands was frequently food related, like his travel coffee mug or restaurant leftovers.

Every birthday, Christmas, anniversary and Father's Day for the last five years, I offered to buy him a new grill (we don't usually give surprises, we check first) and he would say the old one was fine. And then one day a month or so ago he astonished me by saying he had seen a Webber grill that he was thinking about getting. Oh, and that it cost around $700.

I did a quick mental calculation of $700 divided by 24 years and decided he really deserved it. We waited to buy it until a tax-free holiday (no state sales tax). We had to special order it to get the color he wanted, so we also ordered an extra feature - a burner on the side that you can put a pot on. It's not that we are likely to use it under ordinary circumstances, but if the power goes out we can heat canned food on the burner as well as grilling. When you live along the Gulf Coast, power going out is not an unlikely occurrence.

The new grill, with a spare propane tank, and a burner for pots on the right.

The grill arrived and for awhile everything was cooked on it, except maybe pancakes. Meantime, our hot water heater developed a mysterious problem. The pilot light kept going out. Fortunately it's under warrantee, so we called the company that installed it and soon had a service call. I was in my office right next to the attic stairs when I heard the following conversation:

Hubby: Wow, that's a big flashlight. Where did you get that?

Repairman: Yeah, I really like it. It throws a lot of light. You can get them just about anyplace. They're expensive, though.

(After the repairman left) Hubby: I'm thinking of getting a new flashlight. Want to come with me?

Since he does almost all the home maintenance around here himself, I'm not about to begrudge hubby a new flashlight to add to the six or so we already have. Anyway, Lowe's is right next to the Pet Smart store and I have been wanting to get new water bowls for the cats. Two new flashlights later ("If the power goes out, you're going to want this one, so I need one, too") we found new bowls for the cats and were looking at toys for them.

Suddenly Thrifty Husband fought his way out of whatever basement he had been locked in all this time. "I can make one of these, " he said, looking at a toy that was basically a string on the end of a plastic wand. I had to agree that it was overpriced junk. So we went home and he drilled a hole in some narrow PVC pipe, tied on a piece of thin rope, and now plays with the cats by flicking the rope around the room for them to chase. 

It keeps them all out of my way. I'm not going to complain.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On My Feet

My foot finally feels back to normal. As of two weeks ago, X-rays showed the fracture had "fused" and my doctor said they looked "very good", but was cagey when asked if my foot had healed. "It takes a year for us to consider it completely healed", he said.

I have noticed a change since then, however. My foot no longer feels inflamed. It sometimes feels sore at the end of the day, but mostly it just feels like a foot, not like a trouble spot. It makes me wonder how I could not have known it was fractured in the first place, given the difference between how it feels now and how it felt for the six weeks or so before I finally saw a doctor about it.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time on my feet. I started the day on an exercise bike at the Y, strictly speaking not on my feet since I was sitting on the bike but I was pedaling. For now, my exercise choices are limited to bike riding and the elliptical machine, no Little Old Lady Exercise Class. I didn't even ask about deadlifting. After errand running I fixed lunch, then accompanied hubby to the grocery store. I still don't go grocery shopping on my own since I'm not sure I should be lifting heavy bags, but I was able to put items into the cart and load and unload lighter bags from the car. Putting away the groceries involved preparing a meatloaf to freeze, marinating a roast, and other prep work that kept me on my feet.

After that we left for Members Night at the Zoo. Hubby has an individual zoo membership that also allows me in free as his guest. We walked around the zoo listening to lectures and petting ferrets and iguanas in company with a few hundred young parents with very loud and sometimes crying children. One of the lectures was in the amphitheater, which allowed me to sit down. The amphitheater was obviously designed with children in mind: the seats were at the height of Kindergarten chairs and my achy, arthritic knees were under my chin. The weather was perfect, though, cool and clear.

While doing all this walking around, what do I call what's on my feet? I keep wanting to say "sneakers" but the $200 footwear with the arch supports and rollbar to prevent me from pronating is as far from the sneakers of my youth as my iPhone is from the first Princess phone Mom had in her bedroom. I could call them running shoes, but according to New Balance, who manufactures them, they are walking shoes. "Walking shoes" to me conjures up images of leather brogues with heavy leather soles, not canvas shoes with rubber soles. We also used to call our sneakers Keds, because that's what brand they were.  If I wore Nikes or Reeboks I could call them Nikes or Reeboks, but New Balances just sounds weird. Can I call them NB's? I suspect consonant harmony, that phonological process that gives us the words "immodest" and "impossible" would turn NB's to "Embee's" and no one would know what I was talking about.

The other thing that's on my feet these days are my trusty Adda sandals, for wearing around the house in the morning and before bed. Adda is a brand made in Thailand and not available in the US. I bought them because in Thailand you do not wear shoes in houses or temples and after two days of taking my lace up shoes off and putting them back on a half dozen times a day, I needed something easier to get on and off. These have sturdy rubber soles, like athletic shoes, and leather straps that Velcro shut. They cost a whole $8.99. 

Wait a minute. "Athletic shoes", that's what I can call what's on my feet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


What with my son living abroad, he occasionally gets mail at our house. What with him being on the hop this month, from London to Austin to Vegas to Austin to Delhi and eventually, I hope, to Baton Rouge before heading off to London, it's difficult to know whether to hold on to the mail or forward it on. It's also hard to know whether to forward it to Austin or London.

Why couldn't I have had a child who stays put?

He got a wedding invitation in the mail today. I haven't opened it, but it says, "Wedding of N--- and S-----" on the front, so I assume it's a wedding invitation and not a warning to stay away. The return address is "U______ and V____ families,  Camino Esquina, Tuscon, AZ". I only mention this information because the names are obviously Indian (Asian, not Native American) and the street name is of course Spanish. That is one of the many reasons why I love this country. 

The invitation (or death threat, we really haven't established which yet) is in a 6" by 10.5" cardboard envelope embellished with silver and gold leaves, sealed with a sticker monogrammed "NS", and then sealed in cellophane, so I can't steam it open. Is this the newest thing in wedding excess? On the one hand, I'm happy these friends are doing their best to bolster the economy. On the other hand, my son and his friends seem to issue invitations to all the other events of their lives via Facebook. Perhaps that's how they save up the money for extra large wedding invitations.

The address on the front, however, was obviously printed on a computer onto a standard Avery mailing label and stuck onto the cellophane wrapper. I don't know whether the families ran out of money for calligraphy or ran into Postal Service rules. My hunch is the latter.

I note it also cost two "Forever" stamps plus an additional 1 cent stamp to send. The "Forever" stamps have a wedding motif - white roses sitting atop a traditional looking invitation. I like the idea of "Forever" stamps of any kind for a wedding invitation.

I have notified my son of this invitation through all the channels I use to contact him with important news, in hopes that one sticks. The usual channels are Facebook message, email (work and personal), text message, and leaving a message on his voicemail. One of them usually gets through. If they all get through at once, I'm nagging. I'm a mama; any communication from me is automatically dubbed nagging.

That will be true forever.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In Stride

I have been continuing my major shopping spree, this time with the planned purchase of a pair of black pants and the unplanned purchase of a dressy black top.  The pants are the tailored wool crepe kind that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. The top is the sort of thing you can dress them up with. I have a jacket in a copper metallic fabric to complete the outfit.

Pants and I have an uneasy relationship. If I buy pants according to my waist measurement, the hips are much too wide. If  I want pants that fit in the hips, they have to have elastic waists, which severely limits my style choices. Additionally, one of my legs is longer then the other, making one hip rounder than the other, causing the center seam to pull to the side. One of my arches used to be higher than the other, making my pants legs look uneven despite having identical inseams. But what causes the most problems with getting a good fit is that despite being short overall, I am what sales people call "long in the stride".

I used to solve these problems by making my own clothes. If you sew your own, you can make the necessary adjustments on the pattern before even cutting the fabric. If you are persnickety, you can then make a version in muslin, make further adjustments to it, and use the muslin as a pattern for the final version. For the even more persnickety, or people who like to design their own clothes, you can use a dressmaker's dummy.

I never went that far, but I got to where I knew automatically knew how to adjust each hip and more importantly, how much longer to make the pattern between the waist and the crotch. That's what the "stride" is:  pattern makers, being much less prissy than sales people, call it the crotch depth. It is the key measurement in getting pants to fit. Get it right and all those other disparities are less noticeable and can even be ignored. Get it wrong, and your pants give you a wedgie and people giggle about your camel toe, or your pants are too low in the crotch and it annoys the heck out of you all day long.

My one experience with having a too low crotch is a bittersweet one. When I went up north for my mom's funeral, I forgot to bring black pantyhose. I borrowed a pair from my sister, and they worked okay, but the crotch was just too low. I pulled them up as high as I could, and then they'd spring back to where they wanted to be. All during the funeral and graveside service, they were a low level distraction. I finally took them off at my sister's house before we went to see my dad, bedridden with a broken hip, at the VA nursing home. He asked how the funeral had been, and then looked over at a postcard hanging on a bulletin board opposite the foot of his bed. "You know, I kept looking at that all night long," he said. "That was the longest night."

"I know, Daddy," I said. I hadn't called him Daddy since I was ten. I brought the post card over to him. It was one I had sent him. He kept turning it over in his hands and it suddenly hit me - he no longer knew how to read. Since I couldn't reach him on the phone, either, I no longer had a way to communicate with him once I left.

Three weeks later he was gone.

One week later I attended a workshop on powered wheelchairs, sponsored by my place of employment. The presenter started out by discussing some sensory issues that affect fitting someone for a wheelchair. In discussing the tactile system, she looked out at her mostly female audience and decided to use the example of low crotch pantyhose. She described all the gyrations woman go through to try to adjust pantyhose, in the process miming brushing up against a table while trying to look nonchalant. 

It was one of those moments where you either laugh or you cry, and left to its own devices, my limbic system immediately chose laughing. Loudly. And longer than anyone else in the room.

Later at lunch, a coworker told me that it was good to hear me laugh again. That's what her words said, but her face said, "Didn't your mom just die last week?" I decided not to explain. I was afraid if I did, I'd start crying and not be able to stop until the end of the day, or the week.

Back to my shopping trip. I tried on both the average and short lengths of the pants I wanted.  The short version fit in the legs, but was definitely too short in the stride. The average length fit in the stride, but needed hemming. Fortunately I know a reasonably priced tailor. As I tried on the pants, the memory of the low crotch panty hose came back to me.  This time I just smiled.