Sunday, September 26, 2010

I love Zatarain’s

Two days ago, on Friday, at the height of evening rush hour, I went to the grocery store. Since I have the luxury of much unscheduled time, usually I go grocery shopping in the middle of the day when things are less frantic. But on Friday I had to wait at home all day for a plumber to come and unclog my basement floor drain. (The good news is the drain has been fixed.) So there I was in the crowded grocery store with all the single guys getting frozen pizzas and the poor harried working moms gathering provisions for the weekend.

There was a woman, in her late 30s or so, pushing an empty cart down the aisle, looking a little forlorn. She picked me out of the crowd and said to me in a tired voice with a slight Spanish accent, “Excuse me, madam, but could you tell me how to make fried chicken?”

Do I look like an old redneck white woman who has been cooking greasy fried food for most of the past century? I guess so.

So I told her about my shortcut that’s really delicious, less fatty, and much less messy than frying chicken. I told her to get some chicken. Then I walked with her to find the crushed cornflakes. I scanned the shelves with her until we found my beloved Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning. A dozen containers were on the top shelf beyond our reach, bound together by a large sheet of plastic. The forlorn woman found her preteen son and got him to jump up until he could reach the seasoning on the top shelf. She pulled out one container, smiled wearily, thanked me profusely, and headed for the check-out line. I went to the frozen food aisle and bought one diet macaroni and cheese and a bag of frozen petite broccoli florets. I wished I had offered to follow her home. I had a sudden craving for my fake fried chicken.

So, here’s a rough idea of how I make the chicken. I forgot to tell her to add parmesan cheese. Do you think I can find her?

Oven-Fried Zatarain’s Chicken

Cornflake crumbs, about 1 cup
2 – 3 teaspoons Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning (I like a lot of it, but you use it to taste)
About ¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
Chicken (I use 3-4 boneless, skinless breasts, but you can use whatever you like)
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Mix cornflake crumbs, seasoning, and parmesan in a shallow plate.
Dip chicken pieces in butter and roll in crumb mixture until evenly coated.

Place on baking sheet and bake in 375 degree oven for about 35 – 45 minutes, depending on size of chicken breasts.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Triumphant unhappiness

Recently I was reading a newspaper column where a person wrote for advice on dealing with a friend with a very negative attitude, what the advice seeker termed her friend’s “triumphant unhappiness.”

I love that phrase—triumphant unhappiness—and I totally understand it. I’ve used the term “righteous indignation” before for similar behavior. But triumphant unhappiness and righteous indignation really are not the same thing. Both terms imply a legitimate reason for unhappiness or anger, but I think triumphant unhappiness is more pervasive, more deeply rooted. We all know people who have this trait and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there too. It hasn’t been pretty recognizing it in myself and it’s not easy to stop it. But I’m trying.

It all boils down to changing my attitude, basic cognitive therapy in psychotherapeutic terminology, positive thinking in more pop-psych terminology. Yes, I’ve been wronged in the past. People have mistreated me; life hasn’t always been fair. So what? I’m sick of hearing my own internal tape on rewind. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past because it has been done, over, written in the book of time. It doesn’t even matter if any of it was unjust. Maybe I’ve earned the right to be unhappy or angry, but so what? Would my unhappiness or anger change anything? Of course not. Would it make anyone feel sympathy for me? Even if it does, it doesn’t matter because the worst thing that happens when I replay the triumphant unhappiness tape is that it hurts me. It keeps me stuck in that downward negative loop.

I’m reminding myself that my own personal joy is a choice. It’s how I choose to look at my past and my present. It’s how I want to walk into my future. I don’t care how righteous or triumphant my unhappiness has been because it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. I’m optimistically kicking it to the curb.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

God dances

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I would only believe in a god that knows how to dance.” This is the same man who said he abhorred Christianity and who declared that God is dead. What a sad way to live one's life. Nietzsche’s dead god doesn’t dance, but the living God of Christianity surely dances.

And I’ll bet Jesus danced when he walked the Earth. Jesus loved his family and friends and he rejoiced in their joy and wept with them in sorrow. We know that he changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, but don’t you think he also danced at the celebration? And maybe he danced when he was visiting with friends Mary and Martha and other followers. He’s probably dancing still in heaven.

I think perhaps we Christians could learn something from the whirling Dervishes. Dervishes are a particular group of Muslim ascetics in Turkey who dance in order to attain religious ecstasy. Maybe we can dance to express the joy that we feel in our faith in God. Maybe dancing can be a form of prayer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010



Karen Hesse, "Out of the Dust" p. 153.

“The hard part is in spite of everything if I had any boy court me it’d be Mad Dog Craddock.”

Ollie was annoying the bejeebers out of me and I told him so. But he said that he couldn’t annoy the bejeebers out of me because bejeebers can only be scared out of a person, not annoyed. He was annoying me only more by his silly talk. I have known Ollie almost since the day I was born since he has always lived next door to my cousin Wanda. I was hanging out down at Wanda’s house, waiting for her hound Moose to have another batch of puppies. I thought Moose would have been puppied out since she had had about five litters before but for some reason she kept getting herself knocked up. I just didn’t understand the appeal of having all those puppies, but Moose never listened to anyone, especially to me. Moose was loveable on occasion, but not often. Apparently some wandering male dog must have thought Moose was loveable enough. So Wanda, Ollie, and I were keeping an eye on Moose who had crawled off into the corner of the garage. Wanda and Ollie pulled out a big piece of plywood and they were practicing the tap dance routine they were doing next week at the end of the year performance at Miss Rolanda’s School of Dance. I never got the appeal of dance classes and never understood why a certain group of people in our town thought Miss Rolanda was so sophisticated. In the front room of her school Miss Rolanda had a bunch of pictures of herself dancing at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She was about 100 years younger in the pictures. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she was a lot younger.) I guess the professional dancer thing impressed some people. Others (you can guess who they were) thought Miss Rolanda was so beautiful with her dyed black hair and her sparkly tops and high heeled shoes. I never got the appeal. I just thought she was stuck-up and used too much hair spray. I especially couldn’t understand why Ollie wanted to take tap dancing lessons with Miss Rolanda. What a weirdo. He and Miss Rolanda’s son Raymond were the only boys at the dance school. Raymond specialized in ballet and modern dance but Ollie was the tap specialist. I didn’t get why Ollie wanted to be clomping around in taps shoes and doing routines with Wanda while the cool boys like Mad Dog and Willie and Bucky were playing baseball and pulling engines out of cars. Ollie strutted across the plywood clicking his taps as loud as he could, waving his arms, and teasing me because I wouldn’t dance. Wanda said that Ollie acted all goofy around me because he had a crush on me, but her exact words were, “Ollie’s got a notion to come a courtin’ and he’s a gonna come a courtin’ you, little miss.” She was teasing me and copying the way our Gramma talked. Gramma was always interested in whether we were attracting boys or not and she had this way of looking at some boy in town, then looking at Wanda or me, saying, “He just might be the one,” like she was some sort of old-time matchmaker who thought we should be hitched before we were 16. And trouble was Gramma liked Ollie. She liked his silly tap dancing and his show-off ways and she probably thought he was “the one” for me and she would be thrilled if he wanted to court me. So when Wanda told me that Ollie wanted to court me, I said I just wasn’t interested in courting and I especially wasn’t interested in Ollie. But that was only half true and I hated getting attention from the wrong boy. The hard part is in spite of everything if I had any boy court me it’d be Mad Dog Craddock.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

RIP Part Time

In a rather morbid sense of community connection, I like to read obituaries in The Washington Post. I grew up here and have lived here all my life so it’s likely I’ll see that someone I know or a family member of someone I know has passed on. The obits are my version of a society column except the parties generally aren’t as festive. (The Irish notwithstanding.)

Today’s obits didn’t feature any names I recognized. However let me express my condolences to the family of Frederick Paul “Part Time” Dyson, age 58, of Washington, who died last week. Part Time is survived by three children and an ex-wife. I can’t explain why the ex-wife is listed as survivor. Part Time must have believed in Jesus because his funeral service is being held at Union Temple Baptist Church. Part Time died too young and I’m guessing that he was a great guy and his children (and perhaps his former wife) will miss him. But permit me to ask the obvious question—how did someone who was named Frederick Paul at birth ever get the name Part Time?

Does this imply that Mr. Dyson was himself only on random occasions? I can relate because there are times when I don’t want to be myself and would be pleased to assume another identity. Does it imply that he only worked part time? I can totally relate to something less than full-time employment, especially since it has been five years since I worked full time and over a year since I worked any time at all. (Sigh.)

I figure Part Time must have been well loved by his friends and he probably was the life of the party. How else could he have been honored by such a great nickname? Now I wanna be Part Time too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lord, ha’ mercy

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath . . .

In the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy . . .

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1, 185

I was walking outside this morning, thinking about being saved/unsaved, thinking about the nature of God, and thinking about mercy. I know that Christian theology holds that a person must believe in Jesus Christ in order to spend eternity in heaven, but I’m having a really hard time with that concept.

Because I’m a parent, I can relate to God as the ultimate parent, the father of us all. And I know that I always will forgive my children and want them to be in my life. God loves all of us equally. (You know how people say that mere mortal parents cannot truly love their children equally? That although parents may deny it, they have a favorite? God’s not like that.) So if God can love that nasty man at the fish market who beats his dog just as much as He loves Mother Theresa, then God is indeed the perfect father.

Undoubtedly people will go to their death not accepting Jesus, either because they refused to believe or they were never exposed to Christianity. Since God is the ultimate father, won’t He forgive them? I know that in biblical terms it may be just to deny eternal bliss to a non-believer but isn’t mercy a higher quality than justice? Won’t God cut them a break because of His ultimate mercy?

In the Old Testament, Habakkuk prayed to God, saying, “. . . in wrath remember mercy.”
Hab 3:2

God loves all of His creation, so I figure He wants all of us to be with Him for eternity, whether we’ve toed the line or not. If my teenage son flunked physics and came home past his curfew and was growing marijuana in his room, eventually I would forgive him. And if he flunked physics and came home past his curfew and was growing marijuana in his room and pleaded with me to let him go to the family reunion in Altoona, I’d let him go. Because I love my son and I want him with me, even if he has been a jerk.

I want to believe that God’s mercy trumps His justice. I want to believe, although I will never merit salvation, that God’s mercy will get me through the pearly gates. And I want to believe that His mercy extends even to those who don’t believe in Him.

Jesus’s own words: Blessed are the merciful. Matthew 5:7

Friday, September 10, 2010

Granddaddy and the dead man

Freewriting . . . .

Haven Kimmel—“A Girl Named Zippy,” p. 38

“I thanked her for rescuing me by bringing her her favorite lunch: MoonPie and a Pepsi, and she wasn’t mad at me at all.”

Granddaddy was old and blind when he told us the story for the first time. He was old and blind but his brain was just fine and he remembered things way back to when he was a boy. Mama said that sometimes old people get a bit tetched and they forget what happened a few minutes ago but they remember everything from when they were little. But Granddaddy wasn’t like that at all. Mama said he just saved the story until the time was right. Granddaddy said it was summer and he was about 11 or 12 years old. Bubbie Link, the county sheriff, came by Granddaddy’s house early in the morning and asked him for his help with a hard job. Granddaddy said he was feeling strong and grown-up and thought there was no job too hard for him until he heard what the job was. There was a dead man down at the inlet and Bubbie needed his help bringing in the body. It was foggy at first light. Bubbie and Granddaddy went down to the beach and got Bessie, Granddaddy’s rowboat. They pulled the boat into the Bay and Bubbie rowed down the shore and up the inlet that separated Granddaddy’s beach from Breezy Point. Down the inlet, before the marshes, there was a rickety wooden bridge that crossed the inlet from one side to the other. There was a man’s body hanging upside down from the bridge—one foot caught between the wooden slats of the bridge and his head in the water. Bubbie said he thought the man was a drifter, probably drunk, who had tried to cross the bridge during the night, fell through the bridge, got his foot caught, and drowned in the brackish water trying to free himself. Granddaddy said the man was wearing a soggy woolen coat, brown pants, and lace-up boots with holes in the bottom. His long hair was flowing in the water. Bubbie got up on the bridge while Granddaddy kept the rowboat under the body. When Bubbie released the man’s foot from between the wooden slats, the body fell with a thud into the rowboat. Bubbie rowed the boat back to shore and they laid the man’s body on the sand. Granddaddy said he never knew the man’s name or where he was from, but remembered seeing his body through the fog and remembered the man’s hair flowing in the water. Early one morning last week I needed to row old Bessie down the inlet to pick up some crab pots. As I rowed down the inlet I thought about Granddaddy’s story and I was grateful that the old wooden bridge was gone so I didn’t have to picture the drifter with his foot stuck in the bridge and his head in the water. Still, it was foggy like the morning Granddaddy got the body and I knew that the inlet would always make me think of the dead man. I got the crab pots and was rowing back when the wood around the oar lock split and somehow I managed to drop one of the oars in the water and it floated away in the current. The harder I tried to reach it, rowing with one oar, the faster it moved from my reach until it was gone. I couldn’t get the dead man out of my head and with one oar I couldn’t row out of the inlet fast enough. I heard the putt-putt of a small outboard engine and big fat crazy old Miss Dixon came through the fog up the inlet. Miss Dixon scared all of us kids because she could be mean as a snake and I thought she’d be mad to have to rescue me, but she just chuckled when she saw the fix I was in. She said nothing and attached a line to old Bessie and towed me back to shore. I thanked her for rescuing me by bringing her her favorite lunch: MoonPie and a Pepsi, and she wasn’t mad at me at all.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Leaving home

“This is my home, this is my only home
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known”
—Dave Carter

Home has been on my mind. I just returned from Washington state where I spent 10 glorious days in Seattle and on San Juan Island with my children and grandchildren. I can’t recall ever being in a place as beautiful as San Juan Island. Yes, Mom, including Hawaii. I awoke in the morning at first light to a breathtaking view outside my bedroom window—green grass and lavender in full bloom and Griffin Bay and osprey and bald eagles and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. I loved it and I loved being with the people on this Earth whom I love most. But still, it wasn’t home.

I flew home on that long flight to the other Washington, reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel entitled Home, and thinking about what home means to me. I have always lived in the Washington, DC, area. Maybe I always will. I haven’t left home, but in a sense I feel that my home has left me. The town where I grew up no longer exists. The metropolitan area used to be a city where we could drive from one end to the other in less than an hour. Rolling hills and farmland were just beyond our neighborhood. Although I lived in a suburb, I could have walked three blocks from my house to a full-time running farm with cows and chickens and fresh summer corn. Now high-rise apartments have been built on the farm land. We rode the trolley into the downtown part of the city to go to department stores. Ladies wearing white gloves operated the elevators and announced what was on each floor of the department stores: ladies lingerie, shoes, linens. We knew who lived in every house in our neighborhood—everyone’s name, their religion, their dog’s name, and what color bike they rode. I beat up Danny Corridon down by the mail box because he hurt my little brother. I got hundreds of bee stings. It felt like home.

Now my little house feels comforting to me, but my neighborhood is just one small dot in a huge sprawling metropolitan area that extends for 50 miles in any direction. Traffic is horrendous. Little remains of the sense of belonging, the familiarity that once existed. People are rude. It seems that many people move to Washington for work, perhaps to advance their careers, but they never intend to make it their home. They treat one another like strangers and they intend to keep it that way.

So, what do I do when my home town has slipped away? I’m beginning to revamp my sense of what home means to me. I can’t make time stand still. I can’t make all these “newcomers” who have moved here since 1960 move away. I can’t take away the Metro and highways and bring back the chickens.

What does home mean to you?