Tuesday, May 28, 2013


This morning I couldn’t drag myself out from under the covers. It was a grey and damp and I faced a wall of discouragement. So I finally got out of bed, made a pot of coffee, and opened my Bible.

Isaiah 42:4: He (the Lord’s servant) will not grow faint or be discouraged.  . .  (on to verse 6) I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.
Colossians 3:2 (and more): Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. . . Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . be thankful. . . Let the word of Christ dwell in you.
So when I am discouraged—as I am now—I should go to God’s word for comfort and encouragement. I need to go to His word rather than attaching any value to earthly things or accomplishments. I rest in the peace of knowing that my righteousness, my worth, comes from God, not from anything I have done. There is nothing of value I own, nothing of value I can accomplish that compares to God’s love for me. Without my trinkets, without doing amazing things in this world, I have everything I could ever need because I am a child of God. Can I grasp the significance of that, hold on that ultimate, all-encompassing peace and freedom? I love that the answers are always right there under my fingertips.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The fool kept trying

About a year or more ago, I was at a Keb’ Mo’ concert at the Birchmere when some mouthy, seemingly drunk woman up front called out, “I love you, Keb’ Mo’.” He laughed and replied, “You sure wouldn’t if you knew me.”

You wouldn’t love me if you knew me . . . isn’t that something we all think? While I may wonder what I’ve done to deserve someone’s distain, I equally wonder what I’ve done to deserve anyone’s love or admiration. Maybe both distain and admiration are unmerited.

And I’m not easy on myself, see my glaring failures in bright lights. Failed at the marriage big time. Failed to forge a real career path. Failed to find any success in the lucrative writing-for-fun-and-profit world. Failed in the furniture redo market—I sand and paint and reupholster, get lots of praise, yet end up donating the furniture because I can’t sell it. Failed in the concert promotion business—just this past week, I had a great performer, did all the PR, contacted everyone I know multiple times, yet could not sell seats. I’m tired of trying so doggone hard, working until my fingers are bleeding (not kidding) with little success to show for all the effort. Is all of this perceived failure God’s way of keeping me humble? It’s working really well, Lord. Trust me. I could be veering toward humiliation. Perhaps I should just stop trying.

But no, I’m not smart enough to stop trying. If I fail, I just try again, like a demented energizer bunny without a lick of sense. Winston Churchill said: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” I forge ahead naively, thinking it will be different next time. I give a batch of furniture away and then go to the flea market and buy more, believing somehow this next batch will sell like hotcakes. I write and write and start formulating a plan for a book that’s a collection of short stories, unified by theme of a small town on the Bay in the 1960s, and it becomes a novel in the style of Olive Kitteridge. Occasionally I’m distracted by thoughts that maybe, somewhere, there really is a guy out there for me and maybe marriage could work the next time.

So I try, I fail, and foolishly I try again. Perhaps, in the end, all of these defeats will add up to one stupendous victory—the fool kept trying. That's what I want on my tombstone—the fool kept trying. And exactly what does stupendous mean? Does it have something to do with stupid?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tangled Thai salad

I’ve made various versions of this a couple of times in the past year, inspired by a salad my daughter makes and everyone loves. Probably I should be a little more exact about what I do and quantities, but it’s a work in progress and it’s subject to many variations. So this is approximately what I did yesterday to take to a pot luck dinner. Several people have asked me for the recipe and this is the concept. Next time I'll remember to take a photo.

Tangled Thai salad

1 package Pad Thai noodles, broken in half
Spicy peanut vinaigrette (bottled in refrigerated section at Trader Joe’s)
Steamed pea pods
Julienned yellow bell pepper
Diced mango
1 package broccoli slaw mix
Handful of shredded carrot
1 package pea shoots
About 3-4 chopped green onions
Dash of hot curry powder (to taste)
Healthy dose of chopped fresh cilantro
Handful of salted peanuts
One lime, cut into wedges

Cook noodles according to directions, rinse with cold water, and let cool.

Add peanut vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.

Add all other ingredients except peanuts and lime. Toss gently and let it sit in refrigerator for about an hour.

Just before serving sprinkle top with peanuts and arrange lime wedges on top.

Makes a big bowl of salad—enough for about 10-12 servings as a side dish. Also works great as a main dish salad if you add precooked shrimp or chicken.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Billy Bugasky

On Mother’s Day, something comes up in conversation about Mike. My mother asks me how long it has been since Mike died. “A little over a year, Ma. He died in late February last year.”

“Well,” she says, “I’m awful upset. My high school boyfriend Billy Bugasky died. I still can’t believe it. Billy Bugasky. Awful upset.”
Please note that Billy Bugasky died about a year ago at the age of 90. But he was her high school boyfriend. She graduated from high school in 1943 and in the intervening years she was married to my father for nearly 65 years. But she’s awful upset about Billy Bugasky. I guess she just wasn’t expecting it—maybe in her mind he’s still a teenage boy.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Piña colada cupcakes for Mama

Tomorrow I’m going to see my mama for Mother’s Day. I’m still trying to earn her favor so I’m bringing her homemade piña colada cupcakes. I cobbled together several recipes and came up with this. I was avoiding rum but next time I might use a little rum for the glaze. I cheated and ate one just to make sure they are edible. Hopefully she won’t notice that I’m bringing one short of a dozen.

Piña Colada Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Frosting

For the cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup cream of coconut
½ cup finely crushed pineapple (fresh or canned, reserve juice)

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons pineapple juice
¼ cup brown sugar

For the icing:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature
½ stick unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup cream of coconut
½ teaspoon coconut extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (may need more) confectioner’s sugar
½ cup shredded coconut
Additional shredded coconut to top cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put cupcake liners in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat eggs, one at a time. Add cream of coconut and mix. Add dry ingredients, half at a time, mixing and scraping down bowl between additions. Mix only until flour is just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold in bits of pineapple.

Spoon batter evenly into cupcake tin. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. While the cupcakes are still hot, brush them with the pineapple juice/brown sugar glaze.

Cool completely at room temperature. Once completely cool, put cream cheese and butter in bowl and cream until smooth. Add cream of coconut, extract, and vanilla. Add confectioner’s sugar and blend until consistency is thick but spreadable. Fold in ½ cup coconut. Ice cupcakes and top with additional shredded coconut. Makes one dozen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Aging girls

Georgia O'Keeffe at Abiquiu
We’ve discussed this before, we aging girls, friends since high school who call ourselves “the group”. It’s hard to accept the phenomenon that is happening to all of us simultaneously—we’re getting older. We’ve got various chronic illnesses, joint ailments, decreasing physical stamina, and faces that are developing ripples and puddles. Yes, aging is a bitch, but I can’t imagine I could ever find better women to share this next phase of our lives. It was these women—then girls—who made my high school years memorable so I’m counting on them again.

When we were young I suppose we thought everyone had this kind of friends. But over the years we have learned that we were unique, privileged to have bonded to one another in our girlhood, and blessed to have continued that deep friendship for all of our days.
In the past few years we have discussed what we’re going to do when we can no longer live independently. We’ve toyed around with various ideas—getting a purple house on the water, finding a place in Arizona, all living in the same senior living community somewhere. We talk about having on call a full-time massage therapist and an excellent chef. We need good medical facilities nearby and an airport. The climate must be temperate and the cost of living reasonable. Those of us who have children wonder what role our kids will play. Those who have husbands (in the minority, I must mention) might be encouraged to dump the men—men will simply complicate things much too much. Just as they have for the past 50 years.

Over the weekend I had an extended conversation with one of these women, the one I’ve known the longest, since elementary school. She swears that we’ll figure out some way to be together in our waning years. And she said we must have a real plan by the time we’re 70. Shocking—that’s less than five years away. I have no idea how to plan this. It took us two years to find a date and a location for a weekend together. How will we ever agree on our living arrangements for the rest of our lives? Difficult but not impossible.
I thought about how we were together in Catholic girls’ school, how the lives of the nuns in the convent connected to our school seemed so foreign to us. Recently we’ve seen photos of the nun—Mother St. Louis—who was the principal of our high school. I understand Mother Louis is nearly 100 years old now and she is in hospice care, living in a convent for retired nuns. In the photos, Mother Louis is bed-ridden, but alert and smiling peacefully. So when we were young high school girls, we thought the communal life of these nuns was strange. But now we’re moving toward creating a life like that for ourselves.
I imagine myself living like Georgia O’Keeffe. In a sense she lived her later years like a nun—simply, quietly, dressed in black. (My favorite Georgia O’Keeffe story is what she did when her husband, the photographer Alfred Stiegliz, died. Before he was to be buried she stayed up all night, tearing out the satin lining in his coffin and replacing it with simple white linen. I totally get it.) So I can live with these other women who are so dear to me, in a community. I can wear simple black clothes, like nuns and Georgia O’Keeffe. I can live with the others who never thought they would be living in a community, never to be compared to nuns. To the best of my ability, I’ll walk in the sunshine, read my Bible, eat bread, drink wine, and grow old with the girls. Lord willing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Enough about me!

You know the line: “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”

I write a blog so probably I would fail to convince anyone that I don’t have a fairly high level of self-absorption. But then, since no one really reads the blog, it’s fair to say that I write it for myself. Blogs like this one are the epitome of a navel-gazing obsession with the details of one’s own life. Well, I do cook too, and write about cooking, but my food obsession is self-serving as well. I cook so I can eat and I love good food.

I am a writer who feels compelled to write personal essays. I dig through the fossilized remains of my life—past and present—trying to figure it out, trying to make meaning. It’s just what I do. But I realize that this whole blog thing can be tedious for the unwary reader who stumbles on this “body of work” of mine. Snore . . . . Who cares?

Today at worship service Pastor Mark was speaking from Galatians 3 about faith and the law. He talked about how, in today’s prevalent culture, we don’t want to submit to God’s law, that in our arrogance we set ourselves above God, that we become our own god. (Isn’t this what led Adam and Eve to the Fall?) And I thought, yes, convicted, I often set my own wants and needs above God. It made me think about sin—when I sin often it is my ego that makes me sin. Someone has damaged my pride and I strike back. Something seems not fair to me (don’t they know who I am? I don’t deserve this treatment!) and I will tighten my grip on resentment and anger. I’m greedy; I want stuff. Pastor Mark asked, “Are your trinkets the source of your joy?” Yes, I like my trinkets. I’ve worked hard, I’m a good person, I deserve the trinkets. I want other people to value me more than I want to please my God. Will they value me because I’ve got the best trinkets? Will they value me because I’m smart or witty or I’ve got the prettiest house on the block? This sin-ridden self of mine becomes an idol, replacing God who should be at the center of my life. This self-centered thinking is not leading me closer to God. I’m on the wrong path. He deserves the adoration—I don’t.

To mature as a Christian I need to grow in an understanding of my own sinfulness as I grow in an understanding of God’s holiness. I’ve got a long way to go.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Minimum shrinkage

Since I'm on the topic of psychiatrists . . . Before I saw the charming, disarming man shrink--whom I liked--I saw another psychiatrist, a woman I'm calling Dr. Kruger. I'm re-posting this story. It's a piece I wrote that Texas Monthly published a while back. It's all true and it's just part of the conversation we're having about psychiatrists.

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.