Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Industrious people, those glorious early risers are starting to get up. Not me, I haven't even gone to sleep yet. It's nearly 5 a.m. Let me state that I am not a night owl by choice. I want to sleep but I'm having a really bad night. Drugs didn't help. (Sleeping pills, not recreational drugs, but I'm beginning to think that illicit drugs might be a solution. Can I go stand behind the 7-11 and see if anyone can sell me some reefer? What a nerd.)

I suspect the culprit was that innocent little pitcher of iced tea I got at the Tortilla Factory tonight. I tried to water it down with lots of ice. I'm trying to lay off of beer on general priniciples and also because I was performing tonight. I should have just given in and drank beer. Had it been beer instead of iced tea, I'd be asleep by now. By the way, that's a real photo of me. My eyes are a little bloodshot and the blue lipstick is not very attractive.

I'd like to develop a group of fellow midnight ramblers. I can only do so much reading in the wee hours of the morning. It might be nice to find other kindred spirits to discuss current events, zombie support groups. There's a whole new world out there. I need fashion advice, maybe swap recipes, go on some field trips.

Maybe not. . . I think I'll make one more attempt of living the conventional life. Asleep by 5 a.m., up at noon to take on the day. I already know tomorrow is going to be a mess. Caffeine was the culprit, caffeine will be the cure. Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I feel like I’m back in high school. I’m cramming, doing homework that I should have done days ago. I’m taking two classes—a French class and a 10-week church class on the topic of discernment. For the French class I have to write something, anything really, but it has to be written in a combination of tenses. Incidentally, it’s supposed to be written in French—the teacher is picky that way. I can’t just write: Bonjour, je m’appelle la reine de France. (Translation: Hello, my name is the queen of France.) The French writing assignment is due on Monday evening and I haven’t done anything yet. Oh, well.

Then there’s the homework for the discernment class that's due on Wednesday. The weekly discernment assignments were designed to get us to read both the textbook and Scripture throughout the week and to take time to consider carefully the readings and write our thoughts in a journal. I’m over halfway through the week and I have barely started. I’m going to have to do all the readings and make notes in my journal over the period of a couple of hours instead of a week. So much for careful consideration. Oh, well.

You might ask why I’m writing (in English!) on my blog when I should be doing the class assignments. It’s because I have a short attention span and I got distracted by the paraclete. I was reading the discernment class book, a discussion of the Gospel of John that recounts how Jesus promises to send his followers the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). John uses the word paraclete in reference to the Holy Spirit. Paraclete is a Greek word (παράκλητος—I love writing in Greek) meaning advocate or helper. But here’s the thing—I hadn’t thought about the word for decades but as soon as I read it I had a flashback. I remembered being in St. Camillus and one of the nuns was telling us that the paraclete was represented by a dove and I thought she was talking about a parakeet. I was in second grade, I didn’t speak Greek, and I had a yellowish-green parakeet named Chiffon. Paraclete, parakeet—hence the confusion that endured for half a century. Oh, well.

Stop distracting me—I need to do my homework.

Texas Monthly

I am so grateful for the folks at Texas Monthly who have taken a chance on me. In the current online edition of Texas Monthly you can find the eighth story of mine that they have published. It's a true story of a frightening event that I experienced as a teenager. And they published my crabcake recipe.

To make things even more perfect, this edition of Texas Monthly honors the 25th anniversary of Lonesome Dove.

You can find my story at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cannellini artichoke hummus

A couple of weeks ago I was at Costco and bought a huge jar of marinated artichoke hearts. I really don't know why, as I had no specific plans for them. A couple of days ago I made a yummy potato salad with fingerling potatoes, artichoke hearts, fat-free Greek yogurt, and a creamy peppercorn spice mix. I didn't pay attention to what I did and didn't write down the proportions so I'm going to have to re-create the potato salad recipe before I post it. However, in an effort to find uses for the vast amount of artichoke hearts in my refrigerator, I came up with this hummus recipe. It's nice--tastes like tuna salad without the tuna. See what you think.

White Bean Artichoke Hummus

1 15 oz. can cannellini beans (white beans)
½ cup artichoke hearts in oil
½ teaspoon lemon pepper
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon capers

Drain beans in colander. Put artichoke hearts in food processor and pulse 2-3 times. Add drained beans, lemon pepper, and Tabasco sauce and pulse just until mixture is lightly blended. Stir in capers and chill.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blues and gazpacho

Whoa, it’s really hot outside—getting into the high 90s again today. All the metaphors are true . . . you know them. Like an oven, asphalt bubbling, frying an egg on the hood of the car.

Drove into the city yesterday, got caught in road construction, horns honking, exhaust fumes, people losing their minds. But it was worth it. My friend Mary Flower is staying with me for a few days. Mary is an incredible guitar player with a deep repertoire of old blues and ragtime tunes. Yesterday I took her into DC where she co-hosted Bill Wax’s blues show on XM Radio. Lucky me—I got to sit there (very quietly) in the room with them for two hours while they did the live broadcast. The XM Radio offices are amazing. Serene, brick and glass, warmly contemporary building with glass-enclosed studios, vast electronic gizmos like some futuristic cosmic mother ship, giant photos of BB King and Elvis and Bonnie Raitt. Conference room called simply Hendrix. Meanwhile I got free coffee, a great parking space, and two hours listening to blues and stories about the music and musicians. I was in blues heaven.

So in deference to the heat outside and the blues buzz going in my brain, I’m giving you my gazpacho recipe. My daughter loves gazpacho, even lived in Spain for a while, and this is her new favorite.


1 can (46 ounces) tomato juice
5 beef (or vegetable) bouillon cubes
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup unpeeled cucumber, chopped
¾ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped scallions, with tops
8 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon (or more, to taste) Tabasco sauce
1 large clove garlic, crushed

Heat tomato juice, add bouillon cubes, and stir until bouillon dissolves. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and chill for at least 12 hours. (Best if made a day in advance of serving.)

Serve cold with seasoned croutons (homemade if possible) and a wedge of fresh lime.

8 large servings

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chicken tikka masala

It’s the perfect summer day—hot, breezy, blue sky. It’s the way I remember my childhood summer days—not the airless, humid summer days that we have here so often now. Maybe time is merciful and my memories are better than reality.

Because it’s the quintessential summer day I’m in the mood for Indian food. I’m cooking dinner for a friend’s birthday tomorrow night and experimenting with variations on a recipe for chicken tikka masala. I’ve taken three different recipes and done a mix-and-match to come up with this version. The marinade is ready for the chicken tomorrow. Today I made the sauce and I’ll simmer the grilled chicken in it before serving. I’ve cooked other versions before and it has always turned out well. I’m still not sure how this one will turn out when it’s all assembled tomorrow but I tasted the sauce and it’s really, really good.

Chicken Tikka Masala

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cooked Basmati rice

For marinade, combine all ingredients except chicken and rice. Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate for one hour. Grill or broil chicken 5-7 minutes per side. It should have slightly blackened edges. Discard marinade.

1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 14-oz can petite-cut tomatoes with jalapenos
1 cup half and half
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté garlic for one minute, then stir in cumin, turmeric, and garam masala and sauté for one minute. Stir in canned tomatoes and half and half. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

Add grilled chicken to sauce (whole pieces or cut into chunks if desired) and simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve over hot rice.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Suspending disbelief

Lord, I do believe; help me in my disbelief!” Mark 9:24

Today I was having coffee with my friend Lynne. I was telling her how I felt the Holy Spirit was present in my life and I was making a feeble effort to explain to her the concept of the Holy Trinity. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth I realized how the concept sounds like fantasy—there’s God the Father, Jesus who is God the son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are not separate, but one God with three separate parts. I felt so inadequate and wished that I had remembered what I memorized in third grade from the Baltimore Catechism #2.

Thank you, Lord, for creating the Internet because now I can look up these things. Even though I hear the Catholic Church is now on to Baltimore #3 or #4, here’s what I learned from Baltimore #2:

21. Q. Is there but one God?
A. Yes; there is but one God.
22. Q. Why can there be but one God?
A. There can be but one God, because God, being supreme and infinite, cannot have an equal.
23. Q. How many Persons are there in God?
A. In God there are three Divine Persons, really distinct, and equal in all things-the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
24. Q. Is the Father God?
A. The Father is God and the first Person of the Blessed Trinity.
25. Q. Is the Son God?
A. The Son is God and the second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
26. Q. Is the Holy Ghost God?
A. The Holy Ghost is God and the third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
27. Q. What do you mean by the Blessed Trinity?
A. By the Blessed Trinity I mean one God in three Divine Persons.
28. Q. Are the three Divine Persons equal in all things?
A. The three Divine Persons are equal in all things.
29. Q. Are the three Divine Persons one and the same God?
A. The three Divine Persons are one and the same God, having one and the same Divine nature and substance.
30. Q. Can we fully understand how the three Divine Persons are one and the same God?
A. We cannot fully understand how the three Divine Persons are one and the same God, because this is a mystery.
31. Q. What is a mystery?
A. A mystery is a truth which we cannot fully understand.

But now that I read these questions and answers again for the first time in 50 years, I appreciate that the Trinity is a difficult concept that could sound like the subplot of a Star Wars movie to a non-believer. I don’t think reciting these answers to my friend would have made one bit of difference in her understanding because I don’t understand it either. It is a difficult concept, but I believe it without understanding it. No, it doesn’t make sense in the rational way that we humans think. That’s the limitation—we mere mortals don’t get it and can’t ever get it because it’s not our nature. Baltimore #2 calls it a mystery, but I prefer to think of it as a leap of faith.

When I’m finished figuring out the Holy Trinity (i.e., never) then I’ll start working on the mystery of eternity. Last night in an idle moment of light-hearted thinking, I remembered that when I was a kid it used to make me dizzy to think about eternity. I wondered how it would feel to go on and on and on . . . ad infinitum. And just thinking about it again made me dizzy again and then I began having a panic attack thinking about it. I just can’t cope with eternity. One day at a time is enough. I suppose it’s a great concept but it sounds tedious. Guess I’ll have to make a leap of faith to accept eternity too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blue Mac

Agghhhh . . . I'm having one of those really bad comfort food moments. I opened my antique pine cupboard to get out my little food processor to chop some fresh parsley and I noticed my big blue LeCreuset Dutch oven. It is a fine piece of cookware. I love it and I haven't used it for weeks. I think it's feeling a little neglected. Purely by accident, earlier today I was at Penzey's with my daughter and saw a mouth-watering photograph of the ultimate comfort food--macaroni and cheese--perfectly crusty and oozing butter in a blue casserole dish that looked similar to mine. I could almost smell it. My own big beautiful Dutch oven is just crying out for a huge batch of macaroni and cheese while I'm craving comfort food and feeling a little obsessive, like I won't be able think straight until I get it. It's like a drug. To make matters worse, I have my sister's recipe for macaroni and cheese, a recipe that I consider the benchmark for perfect macaroni and cheese.

Is there a patron saint whom I can beseech to overcome the macaroni and cheese obsession? Is there a 12-step program? Help me! I'm going to be very, very cranky now.

Make your own damned macaroni and cheese.

3 Cheeses and Macaroni

1 pound elbow macaroni
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup flour
12 ounces grated Gruyere cheese (4 cups)
8 ounces grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups)
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1 ½ cup bread crumbs (use good quality white bread)
½ cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the macaroni according to package directions and drain in colander.
Heat the milk to scalding in a small saucepan.
Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan and add the flour.
Cook the flour in butter for about 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
Whisk in the hot milk and cook until thick, about 1-2 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Add Gruyere, cheddar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Add the drained macaroni and sun-dried tomatoes and stir well.
Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with bread crumbs.
Put crumb mixture on top of macaroni/cheese mixture and top with Parmesan cheese.
Bake in 375 degree for 30 to 35 minutes, until brown on top.

Note: You can assemble this ahead (except for bread crumb topping) and refrigerate. Add the bread crumbs and Parmesan before placing in oven and bake for 45 minutes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gus McCrae

On my bulletin board I have a vintage photo of a cowboy wearing chaps and playing an old banjo for a woman who is sitting on a crate, beaming at the cowboy. The cowboy looks like Elvis. It’s probably not an original photo of Elvis in cowboy gear playing a banjo because I bought it at a flea market for three dollars or something. And besides, the names Dutch and Georg [sic] are written on the back of the photo. Can there be any more perfect man than a cowboy in chaps who’s playing an old banjo? Oh, heart be still. (My cat just jumped up on my desk and puked real puke, not a hairball, on my pile of paperwork. Thanks.)

Anyway, back to the cowboy. I’ve got a thing for cowboys. I think it goes back to Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove. Last week on NPR someone was interviewing Robert Duvall and he said that one of his two favorite roles was Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove. There has never been a man, real or imagined, more charming than Gus McCrae. In my mind Robert Duvall is Gus McCrae. I've read Larry McMurtry's epic novel several times and always saw Robert Duvall oozing from the pages. No one else could ever be Gus. I met Robert Duvall once. I actually sat directly behind him at a local musical-comedy performance. There I was, sitting behind him, thinking how I just wanted to be Lori Darlin’ and play cards with Gus for a poke. I almost slipped and asked Robert Duvall if he wanted to go for a poke, but reality overtook me. Why the blazes she preferred Jake Spoon to Gus I’ll never understand. Lori Darlin’ was so young and foolish.

I'm going to go cook up a pot of beans and watch Lonesome Dove. Here's the baked bean recipe.

Norinne’s Baked Beans

2 pounds canned pork and beans in tomato sauce
4 slices bacon, chopped
½ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon prepared mustard

Cook bacon until crisp and set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon grease and sauté onion in grease until tender. Put baked beans in an oven-proof casserole with bacon and cooked onion. Add brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bonita and Joe

A brief explanation . . . I've been asked about this writing exercise I do. It's freewriting. I close my eyes, take a book off my bookshelves, and with eyes still closed open the book to a page and put my finger down. Whatever sentence is there is the prompt for what I write. I just write, don't do paragraphs, don't go back and rewrite. The sentence I find becomes the last sentence in whatever I write. It's just an exercise in creativity. Here's what I did today.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, p. 55:

“Joe bit down hard on his cigar and beamed all around, but he never said a word.”

Bonita Mae said that Mr. Joe B. Easterday satisfies her every need but she failed to provide details on exactly what those every needs might be. Bonita Mae’s hair had just been curled and tinted the color of carrots and she walked with a wiggle in a baby blue dress with white polka dots, a low neckline, and row of ruffles. She was leaving Luanne’s House of Beauty and she handed Luanne a 50 dollar bill and told her to keep the change. As Bonita Mae walked toward the door, Luanne spotted Joe Easterday standing outside. He was leaning against the rear fin of his big shiny new white Cadillac, smoking a cigar, wearing white pants, white shoes, and a baby blue sports jacket that exactly matched the blue of Bonita’s dress. Luanne said, “Well, Miss Bonita Mae, is that Joe Easterday waiting outside for you?” That’s when Bonita looked back over her shoulder and waved like a beauty queen at the girls in the beauty parlor and made the pronouncement about Mr. Joe B. Easterday taking care of her every need. Then she giggled and said, “He’s such a lovely man.” The door closed behind Bonita Mae. Ethel Franklin, who was getting a permanent wave, said, “He might be a lovely man but I do believe her every need is C-A-S-H, cash dollars.” The ladies had held a grudge against Bonita Mae Tucker for years and years, even before Bonita landed the first of her four husbands. The grudge went way back to the time Bonita did that modeling and they all saw her in the magazine ad for the bum booster panty girdle. No one ever verified that it was Bonita in the ad, but it sure looked like her from behind, even though her face was barely visible in the photograph. And they were certain that she had a lifetime supply of the infamous panty girdles and she used them to her advantage. Mr. Joe B. Easterday had no idea that he was walking right in to her trap. Joe Easterday had recently retired from the family funeral business. His sister, the former Esther Easterday, met Mr. Leroy Jenkins at a conference on the crematory business and married him at the tender age of 56 after a brief whirlwind romance. Joe didn’t agree with Esther and Leroy about moving into the cremation business so he sold his share of the family business to the newlyweds and retired. Joe had driven black cars and he had worn black suits nearly every day for the past 60 years. The day he sold his share of the business he bought all new clothes and a white Cadillac. And he started courting Bonita Mae Tucker. He felt like his life was just beginning. He opened the car door for Bonita Mae and patted her on the bottom as she slid into the front seat. Joe bit down hard on his cigar and beamed all around, but he never said a word.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Restaurant review

I’ve never written a restaurant review before but I feel compelled now. It’s a one word review—horrendous! Can I give it negative stars? The restaurant is in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a dirty restaurant-tavern in a strip mall. The only thing I can say positive about it is that the band was great. That was pure dumb luck. I hope the band never plays there again.

When I arrived, 8:30 Saturday night, there was one person sitting at a table in the dining section and two people in the bar area. Obviously not a hot restaurant for reasons I would soon discover. They had two choices of beer on draft—Bud and Bud Light. Woohoo! As an alternative they had a selection of about 12 bottled beers but they were out of almost everything on the list. Also turns out the beer was almost lukewarm. I didn’t bother to complain. When my friends arrived and tried to order wine, we found out that they had two wine choices—some kind of red wine and some kind of white wine. The server wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem unreasonable to expect a bar to have at least a modest selection of alcohol. It was an unreasonable expectation.

The food was as bad as the drink selection. My friends ordered the mozzarella sticks. Awful, over-cooked, and greasy with genuine ketchup dipping sauce. One of the reviews I read beforehand actually said that the French fries were good so we took a chance and got an order of fries. Wrong—they were awful, limp, undercooked, frozen fries. There was some sort of chicken salsa salad on the menu so I asked the server if they had chips and salsa. She looked at me like I had three heads.

At 9 o’clock the band came on. The band was fabulous but at 9:30 the restaurant owner asked them to take a break. A handful of people had come in and sat in the bar area after we arrived, including a couple wearing hockey shirts. The man in the orange hockey shirt was really, really drunk and was creating a commotion. The hockey shirt woman explained to us that he had been drinking all day, “Beer, then liquor, more beer, more liquor, more beer . . .” She assured us that she was driving. When the band stopped playing only a half hour into their set, the hockey shirt man selected music from the jukebox and was playing air guitar with stick from the pool table. Apparently the owner had asked the band to stop playing until the hockey shirt guy wore himself down. My friends and I wanted to hear the band instead of the jukebox so we asked to speak to the owner. The conversation went something like this.

I said: We don’t think it’s fair that you’re not letting the band play because you’re accommodating this drunk guy.

Owner said: Well, you’re going to have to suffer the consequences if I let the band start playing again. (Drunk guy in hockey shirt) is here all the time and I know he’s going to act up.

I said: Okay, guess we don’t need to stay any longer. We came to hear the band.

Owner said: How many times have you been married?

I said: Once. (But why did I even bother to answer him?)

Owner said: Did he die?

I said: Yes, he did.

Owner said: I figured as much.

At which point my friends are in shock, the owner turns off the jukebox, the band starts playing again, and drunk guy in hockey shirt defies the owner’s prediction and sits quietly and watches the band.

But that’s not all. When the band started playing again, hockey shirt woman started dancing with another woman who came into the bar. The other woman looked like a washed-out stripper. She had a humungous bosom that was amply exposed and she and hockey shirt woman were dirty dancing. The grungy guys hanging out in the bar were getting quite a show to go with their warm Bud Light and greasy cheese sticks. Who ever would have thought seemingly upscale, stuffy Bethesda could be so raunchy?

You just can’t make up this stuff.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wait Until It Stops

Glen Echo Park is absolutely one of my favorite places and--lucky me--it's only about 10 minutes from my house. It's an old amusement park that was taken over by the National Park Service a few years ago and preserved. My parents used to take the trolley there when they were young and they danced in the Spanish Ballroom. And when I was a kid, we used to go there, often with groups from church. All of the rides except for the beautiful Dentzel carousel are gone now. The Crystal Pool is gone, so is the cuddle-up and the bumper cars and the roller coaster where I surely was going to die one day in a freak accident. In place of the rides there are now performance spaces and art studios. The Spanish Ballroom has been restored and is the site for dancing almost every night of the week. I've taken many classes at the park and especially love being there when it's quiet. It's such a magical place.

I love this old photo of the carousel at Glen Echo and I'm amused by the warning painted on the base of the carousel: "WAIT UNTIL IT STOPS." Good adage to consider about life in general--don't dismount until it stops.

There's a piece in my draft book about dancing at Glen Echo that hopefully captures some of my feelings about being in that magical place. Here it is.

A prayer of joy . . .

Dancing Fool

The Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo has been closed for renovation for months and it will be many months before it reopens. I loved dancing on that old wooden floor, in the room with no heat or air conditioning, the same room where my parents danced in 1940 before the war. In the early days after my husband left me, I desperately sought something to keep me busy every night of the week, anything to escape the intense loneliness. I first took Irish set dance lessons in the Spanish Ballroom, taught oddly enough by a Japanese man.

I got inspired to dance Cajun and zydeco a couple of years ago when I saw Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie at the Kennedy Center. Geno, a drop-dead gorgeous young black man in a cowboy hat, plays the accordion. People at the Kennedy Center performance danced in the aisles under the chandeliers when he played. It was infectious—I just had to dance. So I signed up for Cajun and zydeco dance classes in the Spanish Ballroom. Now that the old ballroom in being renovated, the class has been moved to the bumper car pavilion, on makeshift concrete dance floor reconstructed of old wood. The protective plastic curtains that normally protect the dance floor from the weather are rolled up during class to let the breeze float through and we dance outside while mosquitoes jitterbug on us and the rats waltz around the shadows.

The instructors put on a recording, a Cajun waltz in a minor key, sung in French. I know enough French to understand—she is too young, her father won’t let her marry, and it’s breaking her heart. The breeze seems cool when we start dancing but we dance for one hour, past two hours, and start to sweat. I wear my red cowboy boots and know that after two hours my feet will be killing me, but still the cowboy boots are perfect because they have leather soles that slide when I am dancing. Often there are more women than men in a class and I sometimes dance alone, imagining I am dancing with a partner. But on this night, dancing on the old wooden floor, there are more men than women. I feel like the belle of the ball.

It sometimes seems awkward to have such intimacy with a complete stranger, to be in the arms of a man whose name I can’t remember. We sweat together. Rich’s shirt is wet with perspiration, Jim wears too much cologne, and Roland is handsome but reeks of garlic. But when I’m dancing with one of them and we coordinate our dancing in perfect rhythm with the music, it’s sweet magic. It seems strange when they just walk away after class, never saying anything, like having a lover get out of my bed and leave without a word. But while I am dancing the music just washes over me and for a time I forget everything else that happened that day. I just dance.

When I’m dancing I don’t feel a little too old or a little too fat or a little too clumsy. I’m part of the music. I don’t feel tired and my feet don’t hurt until I have stopped dancing, then I realize that everything hurts and I’m exhausted. But as long as the music is playing and I’m dancing, it’s all there is.

No sleep

You see, I have this giant issue with sleep. It is now past one a.m. Two and a half hours ago I took a bath, one Excedrin PM, and read a boring book until I felt sleepy. Got the ceiling fan on the right speed, fluffed my favorite pillows, and assumed the position. Then another position and yet another. For an hour. Then I relented and took half of an Ambien. That didn't work so I got my corn husk comfort pillow. That didn't work either. Then after another hour I took another half Ambien. And I remember how much I resented that damned psychiatrist of mine who was able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. So, in honor of my inability to sleep--ever--I'm reprinting here from my yet unpublished book a story about my sleeping psychiatrist. This story and recipe got printed in Texas Monthly a few months ago. I love Texas Monthly and they love me too, but not lately. I'm going to have to send them something new to love. I'll work on that, but in the meantime here's the story with a recipe for addictive ginger snaps. Addictive like those sleeping pills that don't work. Yawn . . . are you getting sleepy? Here's the whole thing . . .

A prayer for healers . . .

Minimum Shrinkage

Lord knows I needed help. My husband had just left me and I was barely functioning. I was desperate for something to pull me through. A physician I knew referred me to Dr. Kruger, a psychiatrist with an excellent reputation.

Dr. Kruger’s office was on the first floor of a tired 1950s-era apartment building in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington. The narrow, dark hallway smelled like cabbage cooking. I imagined gypsies and withered old Hungarian women living behind the metal doors. Dr. Kruger had a small apartment that served as her office—a small windowless waiting area, a larger room where she saw patients, and a dingy bathroom with cracked tiles and a grimy bathtub. I wondered if any of her patients ever felt compelled to bathe before or after their therapy sessions. The wall-to-wall carpet, formerly beige, was stained and had ripples big enough to trip an unwary patient. Old copies of Readers Digest and Ladies Home Journal with large sections torn out were tossed around the waiting area. The cover of a magazine caught my attention—“How to Tell if Your Man is Cheating”—supposedly on page 38, but when I looked inside the pages stopped at 37 and began again at 45. I guess I wasn’t the only one with troubles

Dr. Kruger was in her 60s, a kindly plump woman with a short black pageboy hairstyle, gray roots, and no fashion sense. Her entire wardrobe was polyester. A typical outfit was a pink print top with a black knit insert in the v-neck, an elastic-waist print skirt, and knee-high sheer hose that showed the top elastic when she was seated. She wore white shoes after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. I had no respect for her fashion sense or her décor, but I wasn’t there for either. I needed emotional help.

It’s hard to establish a relationship with a therapist. Most people don’t begin therapy until they are in a desperate situation, hurting badly. So you drag your sorry self to the therapist and start spilling out your pain. The problem is, if after several sessions you decide you aren’t connecting with the therapist, you have to search for another one and start the process all over again. And you’re doing this at a time when you have few emotional resources—otherwise you wouldn’t need a therapist.

Week after week I showed up at Dr. Kruger’s office at four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. When I arrived often she would be in session with another patient and I could hear what they were saying while I waited. I hated that—if it had been the least bit interesting, I might have enjoyed eavesdropping on the intimate details of someone else’s life. The other patients would leave—always awkward, especially if they suspected I heard part of their session. “Just quit your whining and get over it, for God’s sake, don’t be such a wimp,” is what I often was tempted to say. But I avoided eye contact and said nothing.

Then I got my chance with Dr. Kruger. I only can imagine now what we talked about then. I suppose I did my own whining and blabbering about my husband leaving and what was I going to do with my life. She should have told me to get over it. But Dr. Kruger didn’t really care. Regularly, she fell asleep in our sessions. Not just once, or twice, but probably in half of our sessions. She sat in her special psychiatrist chair, nodding, saying, “Yes. I see. And how did that make you feel?” and her head would begin to fall. I just kept talking, perhaps raised my voice a bit. Eventually she would jerk up her head, with a barely noticeable startle, and like a tape on a replay loop, continued saying, “Yes. I see. And how did that make you feel?” I pretended nothing happened. The last thing I needed in my wounded state was to have a confrontation with my psychiatrist. She was supposed to be my refuge, my support, and I lacked the courage to challenge her. So for several months I tried to ignore her catnaps.

I must have been getting stronger because on one Wednesday afternoon, at about 4:30, she started nodding off again. But this time I just stopped talking. She fell into a deeper sleep and started snoring. My shrink, the one who was supposed to be helping me find some self-esteem, was snoring during our session. This was like something out of a cartoon in the New Yorker. I just sat there, getting angry, watching her sleep. Finally she awoke with a little jump and I said in my best ice-queen voice, “You were asleep.”

“But you stopped talking,” she responded.

I wish I had found the presence to say, “I didn’t know it was my job to keep you awake,” but I barely stifled an unamused chuckle, quickly finished the session, and walked down that dark, narrow, cabbage-scented hall of metal doors, seething.

That was my last session with Dr. Kruger; I left a message on her answering machine saying that I would not be returning. When she sent me a bill for the final session, I wrote her a letter, telling her that I wasn’t going to pay her. “I am offended by your unprofessional behavior,” I wrote, “I deserved better from you. I deserved some respect."

Maybe, in her own way, she was a great therapist—she helped me find some courage.

I don’t know why I chose this recipe to accompany my piece on the snoring psychiatrist. Maybe it’s because I wish I had come back to her with a brilliant snappish retort. I’m a ginger lover and developed this recipe because I needed a delivery system that would give me a huge hit of ginger. Warning—they’re addictive and I’ve yet to hear of a support group for ginger addicts.

Triple Ginger Snaps

¾ cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoon dry ginger
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon minced candied ginger

Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating medium speed with mixer. Add egg and molasses, mix well. Combine flour and dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients gradually to creamed mixture. Stir in candied ginger.

Chill dough 1 hour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar.

Bake 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets or on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

En français

Crazy old woman that I am, I'm taking a French class. I have no plans to go to France and there is no one outside of my class to whom I can speak French. Mes devoirs (my homework) for this week is to write something, anything, in passé composé (past tense). So I wrote a little story about my grandmother who grew up speaking French. (My grandmother and my mother are in the photo and I'm the baby.) My French needs beaucoup de work. I hope this makes sense.

Quand j’étais une jeune fille j’ai aime bien ma grand-mère. Elle s’est appelée Rose Blain et elle est née à Holyoke, Massachusetts. Bien qu'elle a habite aux États-Unis toute sa vie, elle a parle français en famille. Ses parents, Henri et Marie Langlois Blain, sont nés au Québec. Son père a été laitier qui a eu une petite ferme, mais quand certains de ses vaches ont eu la tuberculose, toutes ses vaches ont été tuées. Depuis grand-père Henri a travaille dans une usine de papier. C’était une vie misérable. Ils étaient pauvres et ils avaient douze enfants dans la famille.

Ma grand-mère a épousé mon grand-père qui n’a parle pas français et ils ont déménagé à Maryland. Je me souviens que ma grand-mère était très douce à moi. Elle avait un petit moule à tarte et elle m’a aidé faire une petite tarte aux pommes seulement pour moi.

Ah, je me souviens bien ma grand-mère mais elle est morte quand j’avais cinq ans. C'est triste n'est-ce pas? Elle serait fière de savoir que j’ai écrit de sa vie en français.