Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mucous train like a snail

Inspired by the last day of August, a freewriting exercise . . . choose a line from a book, eyes closed, and just write, working up to the line.

The Dog of the South—Charles Portis, p. 124

“The old man left a mucous train behind him like a snail.”

“Maveen! Maveen!” he shouted, “get down here and find me a switch so I can beat your scrawny ass.” Maveen and I were sitting on the roof again, trying to see if we could get a glimpse of the big cargo ships sailing up the channel toward the port in Baltimore. Maveen didn’t have a scrawny ass and soon as her daddy hollered for her to find a switch he’d forget what he was mad about. Everyone called her daddy Young Chester or Big C but he was neither young nor big. He was a runt of a man, old as the hills, and purely mean, but in his old age Big C forgot what made him so mean. Still, out of habit, he yelled and threatened Maveen just so he could blow off steam. Maveen said she wasn’t sure how old her daddy was but he lost his arm fighting in the big war and was a widower twice over when he married Maveen’s mother, Ada, who was only 16 at the time. We figured he had to be at least 50 years older than his teenaged bride. It was a big town scandal when Big C and Ada got married—a shotgun wedding no less. Big C gained the loud disapproval of the town’s women and the unspoken esteem of the town’s men. In a small town like that no one’s sins were kept secret. Maveen had a crush on a merchant marine who called himself Ace. Ace was working a big cargo ship out of Baltimore. Maveen had met him down at the beach early in the summer. She gave Ace a huge shark’s tooth—the pride of her daddy’s collection—just because he admired it so. He told her he would hang it on a chain around his neck, that it would be near his heart to keep remind him of her. Maveen ate up that sweet talk. She was sure she was in love. Ace sent her occasional postcards from ports in Africa and he promised he was going to see her as soon as he got back to Baltimore. He wrote that he would be back sometime in late summer, so around about the first of August she made me sit with her for hours, scanning the bay for the cargo ship that she was certain she would recognize. Just before Labor Day I was sure that all the waiting and pacing and sitting on the roof had finally made her crazy. She swore that one of those big ships—the one with the big orange stripe on the hull—was Ace’s ship. She said he flashed her some sort of signal from the deck. I couldn’t talk any sense into her and I couldn’t convince her to wait until she heard from Ace. She insisted that he was in port and she was going to get to him before she had to wait one minute longer. She grabbed a six-pack of National Bohemians and a bucket of ice and sat them at the feet of her daddy who was sitting on the back porch. He chuckled and said, “You do something wrong, Maveen? You trying to make up to me for something?” She said, “No, Daddy, not at all. I just thought you looked thirsty.” He drained one after the other and his head began to nod just as the sun slipped behind the pine trees. She grabbed the keys off the hook in the kitchen and headed for her daddy’s truck in the side yard. Big C was old and drunk and had just one arm but he caught up with her before she could get the truck into drive. He jumped off the porch and reached through the truck window and grabbed the steering wheel. “Just where you think you’re going, missy?” Big C didn’t know that Maveen was as strong as he was and nearly as mean. She pushed the door open as hard as she could, smashing her daddy in the face and knocking him to the ground. She floored the ignition and flew down the driveway, spewing gravel in her wake. He pulled himself out of the dirt and hobbled after the truck in vain. The old man left a mucous train behind him like a snail.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


My children have made me proud in so many ways. But the best thing they have ever done for me is to give me grandchildren. I have five now and I've spent most of August visiting with them in Telluride and Seattle. Here they are in order of birth.

This is Scarlet. She is five years old, she lives in Seattle, and she just started school today!

This is Lucy. She lives in Austin and she is going to be five years old on September 10th.

This is Harper. She lives in Austin and she's going to be five years old on September 10th also. Isn't that an amazing coincidence?

This is Theo and he lives in Seattle. Theo just turned three a few days ago and we had a birthday picnic for him on Lake Washington.

This is Ignatius, born two months ago, the newest addition to the Seattle contingent of grandbabies. Aren't they fabulous?

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I’m feeling bad for parsnips. Parsnips are America’s least favorite vegetable. I don’t detest parsnips, but truthfully I haven’t paid much attention to them and don’t think they’ve ever been on my shopping list. So now I feel like I’m part of the problem. Parsnips aren’t pretty; they’re not the sexy darlings of trend-setting foodies; they’re just lowly root vegetables.

This information about the popularity of vegetables came out in a poll by Consumer Reports this year. Here’s a summary of the vegetables American like and dislike.

The most popular vegetables were:
§          lettuce
§          tomatoes
§          carrots
§          potatoes (not sweet potatoes)
§          broccoli
§          corn
§          peppers

By contrast, the least popular vegetables were:
§          parsnips
§          Swiss chard
§          bok choy
§          turnips and rutabagas
§          artichokes
§          eggplant
§          okra

Parsnips were the biggest loser—87 percent said they rarely or never ate them. Parsnips lost out to okra? I thought the slime factor would have put okra at the top of the least popular list. I've cooked with everything else on the unpopular list, and lest you think I'm prejudiced against unattractive root vegetables, I must confess that I'm a bit of a rutabaga fanatic. I guess I just don’t understand my fellow countrymen and their vegetable preferences. Frankly, I thought potatoes would be on the top of the popular list. Isn’t this the supersized nation that eats a ton of French fries per capita each year?

I’m trying to do my part to rescue the humble parsnip from the top of the hated vegetable list. So I found a recipe for a parsnip side dish that sounds delish. Please note that I haven’t made this dish yet, but I’m going to look for parsnips at the farmers market and try it. Soon, I promise. (I have not been compensated by the National Parsnip Advisory Board for this product endorsement.)

Sauteed Parsnips and Carrots with Honey and Rosemary
(source Bon Appetit, November 2007)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound carrots (about 4 large), peeled, cut into 3¼ by ¼ inch pieces
1 pound large parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise, cored, cut into 3¼ by ¼ inch pieces
Coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 ½ tablespoons honey (such as heather, chestnut, or wildflower)
3 ounces sliced pancetta (optional)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and parsnips. Sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown at edges, about 12 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Add butter, rosemary, and honey to vegetables. Toss over medium heat until heated through and vegetables are glazed, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. 

Optional: To add richness, sauté three ounces sliced pancetta until crisp; crumble over before serving.

NOTE: Carrots can take a bit longer to cook than parsnips, so if the carrots are large and mature, sauté them for a minute or two to soften slightly before adding the parsnips.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Truth, fairy tales, belief, and unbelief

She asked me if I ever doubted the existence of God. “Yes, I often have doubts,” I admitted, “but I prefer belief to unbelief.”

She said, “But I just don’t get it—the whole thing about Adam and Eve, the predictions about the birth of Jesus, his miracles, his death on the cross to save us, and his rising from the dead. Doesn’t it seem like a fairy tale to you?”

No, it’s not a fairy tale. To me, the difference between truth and a fairy tale is that the truth changes your life and a fairy tale is just a story. So whenever I have doubts I remind myself of the passage from the Gospel of Mark where a father asks if Jesus can cast out a demon from his son:

And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

Although this father’s natural inclination was to be a skeptic, he saw that indeed Jesus was able to heal his afflicted son. His skepticism dissolved when he saw tangible results of the existence of God.

Like the troubled father, I see tangible results of the existence of God. The most powerful result I see is when lives are changed because of belief—the lives of others and my own life. Belief gives my life focus, a grounding that I could never find in unbelief. And because of that belief I know all things are possible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

3 new ways to fat

A couple of weeks ago I had a lovely birthday lunch with two of my dearest friends. All three of us were born in the same week, same year, same time zone. We went to a restaurant and made rather restrained, sensible lunch choices as befitted women who make restrained, sensible lunch choices. I honestly can’t remember what I had for lunch—as I said, it was restrained and sensible. And apparently it was completely forgettable. Dessert? A shared piece of deep-fried cheesecake. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to its promise. It was okay, not worthy of the lard factor—some sort of marbleized cheesecake, coated in a crusty thing and deep fried. It’s a shame that it wasn’t a dessert to die for because I was hoping it would be something so delicious that it wouldn’t matter about the calories, grams of fat, or days subtracted from my life. Oh, well. Life is full of disappointments.

Then I heard about the newest, hottest food at the Iowa State Fair this year. In honor of the butter cow’s 100th birthday, food vendors at the fair were serving deep-fried butter on a stick. (Imagine my naiveté—I never even knew there was a specific cow that produces butter and I’m amazed to know that a cow could live 100 years.) Someone needs to explain to me how they get the butter on a stick and why it doesn’t just melt when it’s deep fried. If I put a lot of butter in a pan, melt it, and insert a stick in the pan isn’t that the same thing? That’s what I had for dinner tonight. And I've never knowingly gone to Iowa.

Paula Deen wouldn’t be surprised by any of this. After all, Paula Deen is the one who has a recipe for deep-fried butter balls. (You can see for yourself at The recipe is basically butter, cream cheese, and a pinch of flour, deep fried. Paula Deen is probably going to live to be 100 years old, like that butter cow, and we’re all going to feel like fools when we spend our lives eating transubstantiated fats. (Don’t write a letter to the editor to correct me—I know that I wrote transubstantiated but it’s a theological concept that I don’t have time to explain.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Standing in my gospel shoes

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:14-15

I need to get me some gospel shoes. You probably think you really can’t buy gospel shoes. You’re wrong. I found them online. They look like high-top black Chucks with a cross on the tongue and the verse from Ephesians—"and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace"—written on the side. Of course these man-made gospel shoes that can be bought aren’t the kind I need.

For the past few weeks Pastor Mark has been preaching on the Whole Armor of God passage in Ephesians. He has stressed Paul’s exhortation to us to stand firm, to stand our ground, to stand with steady confidence rooted in the gospel.

Life has been hard lately. Death, illness, violence, sadness, and fear have been coming at me like darts, from all angles. But I keep reminding myself to stand firm. I realize that nothing I do on my own is enough to help me to stand in the midst of this onslaught. I need faith. It is faith, the complete reliance on God, that will give me the strength and peace to stand firm. I’ve got to put on my gospel shoes.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Colorado fish lips

I just got back from being in Colorado for nearly two weeks—in Aspen and Telluride. Both towns are in stunning locations. The feeling of standing on the heights of the Rocky Mountains at nearly 14,000 feet, inhaling clean air, seeing meadows of wildflowers and rushing mountain streams is breathtaking.

And both towns, particularly Aspen, are dripping in money. The rich aren’t stupid—they know where to go and where to be seen by other rich people.

But I’ve got the feeling the women of Aspen and Telluride aren’t representative of the average women of Colorado. For example, I drove from Aspen to Telluride and stopped in Paonia, Colorado, a small town surrounded by mines and fruit orchards. In Paonia the women wear beehive hairdos and false teeth. In Paonia the women wear polyester clothes left over from the last century. But at least the women in Paonia don’t look alike.

In Aspen there are a bunch of women who seem to have been punched out of a cookie cutter, like an updated version of Stepford wives. They all have Jennifer Anniston hair. They are all rail thin. Beyond rail thin. (It’s useful to be rail thin in Aspen because all the uber-expensive clothing stores carry clothes sizes that range from size 000 to size 4. Those of us who shop in the “women’s” section at Target might as well wrap ourselves in a table cloth.)

But here’s the thing that startled me most about the women in Aspen (and the non-hippie women in Telluride)—they all have those fish lips that you see in the plastic-surgery-gone-wrong photos. They walk around town with frozen faces and glossy lips way out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. I swear I just don’t get it. When did it become fashionable to look like a domestic abuse victim?