Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tryptophan, Trees, and Thankfulness

I must begin by confessing that Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite holidays - not because of its intention, but because of the way we go about "celebrating."

Most of us run ourselves ragged preparing a meal that amounts to enough food for a week or two but is consumed in one afternoon in a time span that is probably equal to one tenth of the time it takes to make it all. We tried to keep it simple this year. Our gathering was small, only five of us and everyone made their own favorite dish. Weber smoked the turkey and made bread, Mike made sweet potatoes and pies, Erin made the green beans and gravy, and I was left with mashed potatoes and dressing. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is definitely not vegan friendly so Brooke sautéed some spinach, had mashed potatoes that I had made with soy milk. We all had plenty to eat and plenty of leftovers for the days to come.

As I was waiting for various things to make their way in and out of the oven, I took a moment to look out the window. All of the sudden, it looked like fall. The grass is brown; many of the trees are bare and the ones that have not lost their leaves don vibrant shades of orange and red. I must say, I was a little startled by this observation. The day before Thanksgiving it had been 80 degrees. In fact, Brooke got off the plane from Chicago and the first words out of her mouth were, "Why is it so F@#$ hot here?" By the time we awoke Thursday morning, the temperature had dropped by more than half of its previous day's reading. It truly felt like we had skipped fall and moved directly to winter. Add to that all of the Christmas ads in the newspaper and the carols on all the TV commercials and you have all the makings of the early stages of a winter wonderland.

In a lull between culinary responsibilities, I took a walk around the yard looking at the trees.

These images don't compare to the majesty of snow capped mountains or seagulls soaring over ocean waves or forests that have been around for generations.; they are snapshots of the everyday, the simple beauty that resides literally in our own backyard. They remind me of how quickly things change. They are also evidence that things must change to continue to grow. And, that there is beauty and something for which to be thankful at every stage during the process of change.

No matter how bare things may seem, a glimpse of beauty is always possible.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Baby Picture

It has been awhile since I posted a picture of the newest member of our family. Here is the latest picture of Frankie. She moves quickly, as kittens do, so I never hae time to get my "real" camera out. Usually the best I can do is to snatch my phone from my pocket, which is the case here.
Don't mind the fact that she has made herself comfortable in the middle of the coffee table. This is an improvement over the kitchen table or counter that are also favorite lounging spots.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday 11/20/2010

There are lots of things that I could have, and maybe even should have done today.
  • Make a shopping list of all the necessary items for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Go grocery shopping so that I can purchese all the necessary items and get a head start on the preparations for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Dig out and then iron the table linens so that I have a worthy place to serve a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal.
  • Find a loving new home for the two dogs and two cats that have turned nocturnal. FYI, we have not joined them in this new lifestyle.
  • Fluffed the girls’ beds and swept their rooms so that, when they come home this week, home will have that special kind of feeling.
  • Cleaned the rest of the house to insure that home would indeed have that special kind of feeling.
  • Started writing my final exams so that I can spend next weekend Christmas shopping with everyone else on the face of the earth.
  • Made a Christmas gift list so that if I had written my final exams and was going shopping next weekend I would know what gifts I was going to buy.
  • Slept all day because I was awake most of the night as a result of the newly nocturnal animals that did not find a new home today and that did not sleep last night.

I didn’t do any of these things. Today was the first day in many days, weeks, maybe even months that we have not had something that we had to do. It was a strange feeling not to have to set the alarm at all. It was odd to read the paper over morning coffee rather than evening tea.

While reading the paper, I saw an ad for something called ICE at the Gaylord Texan Resort. ICE is a display of carved ice sculptures that, this year, depicts scenes from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Going to see that sounded like fun. We logged on to the website and sorted out details like times, admission cost, etc. Decision made. That’s what we were going to do today. In fact, we decided to have an entire “date day.”

Before beginning our day of frivolous teen-aged behavior, we did accomplish one thing on the To-Do List; we went to Lowes and bought bathroom faucets and transition pieces to compliment the eighty boxes of hardwood flooring that are sitting in the middle of the den floor acclimating to their new environment before being laid in their permanent position. After that brief moment of responsible adult behavior, we were off for a day of fun.

We had lunch at our favorite pizza place – chicken and spinach pizza with bacon, tomatoes, and lots of cheese. I suspect that this may be the absolute best pizza on the planet! Once we devoured almost the entire pizza, we headed to the Gaylord Texan Resort to see ICE.

We purchased our tickets. (Here the cashier asked us politely if we were eligible for the senior discount. We gave an honest response of “not quite yet, but thanks for asking.” The show begins with a short video explaining the process of creating all of these scenes from ice. It included statistics such as how many tons of ice, what temperatures are necessary, how much refrigeration and how many people it takes to create and maintain these amazing ice sculptures. The whole concept of ICE was inspired by huge ice sculptures that are created each winter in the northern part of China. In fact, it is the skills of a group of Chinese artists that are flown to Texas and spend many hours carving these magnificent ice sculptures of Charles Schultz’s iconic characters.

After the video, everyone is given a parka to wear into the 12 degree area where the Peanuts Gang is waiting. The sights were pretty amazing!

The Peanuts Gang

A familiar image of poor Charlie Brown

And the classic image of Lucy.


Pigpen singing his heart out.


Linus and his blanket

The beloved beagle Snoopy and a happy ending
Not quite ready for our date to be over, we decided to stop for dessert and coffee. To double the pleasure, we opted to have this nightcap at Barnes and Noble. Caffeine, sweets, and books! Life doesn’t get much better than when these three elements converge.

And what better way to bring a wonderful date day to close than by . . . .writing a blog post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Late Night Dilemma

I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like to eat out at restaurants unless it is for a specific occasion or because my taste buds yearn for something whose preparatory process exceeds my culinary skills. I really hate the notion of “having” to eat out because there is not enough time to prepare a meal at home. Most food in restaurants these days seems to be primarily variations on a fried theme; little variety exists from one place to the next except in details like whether their fried pickles are chips or spears.

The other thing I loathe about eating out is the dreaded, “So where do you want to eat?” Does it really matter? Everything tastes the same anyway. Sometimes the answer to this question is based on whether the restaurant serves Pepsi or Coke. Often the choice is made depending on where we have coupons. Other times where we eat is simply determined by opting to take the path of least resistance – what is closest? In cases of eating out due to necessity rather than desire, rarely is the restaurant chosen based on wanting something specific to eat.

The other night after the Resounding Harmony concert we were starved and it was late, at least it was late by U.S. weeknight dinnertime standards; it was about 10:30. By this time at night, the already slim food selections become even slimmer because many eating establishments have already closed for the day. We began the dreaded conversation about where to eat. Much to my surprise, when I asked Weber what he wanted he did not respond with the typical, “I don’t care;” he said that he wanted chicken tenders. From this point a conversation about where one could get chicken tenders at 10:30 on a Wednesday night ensued.

Most fast food drive-thru windows were still open, but McNuggets don’t really count as chicken tenders. They barely count as chicken. We entertained the idea of Dairy Queen, but I really didn’t want an entirely fried meal. After running through the gamut of possibilities, we finally settled on IHOP. They are open 24 hours. They were on the way home. They have chicken tenders. You can have something that resembles real vegetables with your chicken tenders. And, they have Diet Coke and bottomless pots of coffee. We were set.

In case you are wondering, IHOP has really good chicken tenders. They are served with mashed potatoes (made from real potatoes not some tasteless white flakes from a box) and steamed broccoli. We ended up eating a rather tasty meal served on a breakable plate and eaten with real utensils instead of what we thought we would be eating - fried something wrapped in paper and eaten with our hands.

When Weber picked up our check he got this funny look on his face though he didn’t say anything. I knew how much our meals were so it shouldn’t have been “sticker shock.” Our server didn’t look like the type who would sign the check with a personal message claiming “for a good time call . . .” Finally I inquired as to what the cause for Weber’s strange facial expression. He said that the total bill was way less than it should have been. We looked at it carefully. At the bottom it said BOGO SD. BOGO, buy one get one, we understood. But SD? We looked around and finally saw a large sign in the window advertising the buy one get one senior discount – SD. In small print it said that this discount was “for our guests 55 and older.” Neither of us is 55. One of us is closer then the other. Nonetheless, we were not deserving of the discount.

Here began our dilemma.

Weber’s first instinct was that we should tell the server that we were not eligible for this discount and ask him to re-calculate our bill and charge us for both meals. My reaction was that we can’t do that because it would embarrass the young server. As we contemplated what the right thing to do was, I realized that part of our difference in opinion over how to handle this situation was due to conflicting views on the whole concept of aging.

My thinking that correcting the server would embarrass him is rooted in the idea that in our culture aging is viewed as a negative process. To assume someone to be older than they actually are is considered an insult. I didn’t want the server to think that he had insulted us and therefore we were upset. From that regard, it didn’t bother me at all that he thought one or both of us was over 55.

In other cultures, with age comes wisdom and with that wisdom comes respect. One earns that position of respect in society by reaching a certain age. Another way to look at our late night dilemma is that we have not yet reached that age of wisdom and were therefore not worthy of the respect shown to us in the gift of the senior discount.

Despite our somewhat lengthy conversation on the morally and ethically correct thing to do in this situation, we decided not to embarrass the server and kept quiet as to our actual ages. The money that we saved on this meal went to feed those who otherwise may have gone hungry.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday Chills

This first Saturday in November was a day, for me, that was marked by chills, all kinds of chills.

The chills began at 7:30 am this morning when the alarm went off the first time. I was huddled under the covers, but I could feel the chill in the morning air. Harley and the kitten were strategically positioned under the covers as well. Harley was pushed up against me and the kitten found a warm spot between me and Weber. We were all warm and comfy. I thought to myself how nice it would be to stay in this position for a few more days, or at least a few more hours, or even just a few more minutes.

Wasn't happening. We had to get going because we needed to be in downtown Dallas for a rehearsal at 10:15. We all reluctantly rolled ourselves out of bed and quickly made the bed so that none of us would be the least bit tempted to crawl back under those covers where at this point it was still quite toasty.

I opened the door to let the dogs out and the two acres beyond our backdoor were covered by a thin layer of frost that glistened in the morning sunlight. Looking back on this first glimpse of today's morn, I can say that it really was beautiful but at that very moment, I was overcome by the 33 degree blast of air rushing through the door rather than this vision of nature's beauty. So, no picture. Sorry!

We dressed and had a warm breakfast and a few cups of coffee before heading out. I am singing with Resounding Harmony, a philanthropic chorus, in Dallas. This year's fall concert is Wednesday at the Meyerson Symphony Center, the home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I am almost embarrassed to admit that this was my first visit to the Meyerson; as one who proclaims to be a musician, I should have been to many symphony concerts, but I haven't. After many years of spending my evenings at volleyball, basketball, and soccer games, which by the way I don't regret at all, I now have the opportunity to spend my evenings at the symphony if I choose. But, my first experience at the Meyerson will be from the stage rather than the audience. But first . . .

This was the first thing that caught my attention after parking downtown.
I was OK until I saw that there was a human being up in the cage of this massive construction crane.
Here marks today's second experience of chills, chills that were very different from the first. I am scared of heights. As I stood in the crisp morning air, I thought to myself, I am so glad that it is not me up there. I may not be warm in my bed, but I am not hundreds of feet up in the air looking down on the Dallas' Arts District. Perspective is everything!
I'm not sure whether these three members of the construction crew are, like me, counting their blessings because their feet are firmly planted on the ground or if they are envious of their co-worker who is sky high - literally.

Once the heart palpitations stopped and my legs felt more like human legs than Jell-O, we headed across the street to the Meyerson, an architectural piece of art. The angular lines of this building create fascinating structural illusions.

After checking in with security, we made our way through the belly of this hall eventually being spit out backstage after passing the mailboxes and lockers of the great musicians who make up the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In some ways, being backstage was kind of magical and in other ways it was confirmation that at our root, we are all the same. Some of the orchestra members' lockers were covered with drawings obviously given to them by special children in their lives; some had newspaper reviews; still others had cartoons and stickers. - these momentos were much like those things we all have on our desks and/or refrigerators.
Here are a few images from backstage.
This is a sound proof practice room for musicians to warm up. Presumably it is reserved for soloists. This little cubicle would be a wonderful candidate for "If These Walls Could Talk."

Scattered behind the stage are cases containing . . .I'm not sure what. Large instrument of some kind, probably.
This is the green room, the place where performers come to relax before making their way on stage.
Resounding Harmony did a complete technical run-through of our upcoming performance. Being in the hall was amazing. Listening in the hall was breath taking. Singing in the hall brought head-to-toe chills - third time for chills today. And again, very different from the first two instances.
Our concert is to benefit the North Texas Food Bank. All of the pieces on the concert are emotionally charged works whose lyrics address the many aspects of food in our lives. These passionate words and the hall's acoustic majesty combine to bring chills that result from both physical and emotional stimuli.
Here is a view of the house taken from my vantage point on stage. (I snapped all of these pictures on the sly with my phone so please don't judge their photographic merit.)
I can only imagine that the goose bumps I experienced today while singing to an empty house will be magnified ten-fold when it is faces rather than rows of empty chairs staring back at us.

After rehearsal, we had a nice lunch with a fellow singer and student of mine before returning to the tasks of everyday life, grocery shopping and laundry. As we were making our way through the last few aisles of the grocery store, I suddenly realized that I didn't feel very well. I was tired, my body ached, and I was freezing. These are not good signs.
By the time we got home, I was trembling with chills, the kind of chills that only accompany a fever. The thermometer confirmed that I do indeed have an elevated temperature. These chills are my least favorite of the day. So, I am going to end this here and get some rest so that I am feeling well for Wednesday's concert.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time Change

I am getting to that age where I find myself saying, “Times sure have changed!” I am learning to live happily with some of these changes.

Like .. .

  • Grocery sacks that have moved from paper to plastic to reusable
  • Paying all my bills without licking a single stamp or envelope
  • The ability to carry every music recording I own with me at all times thanks to my iPod
  • Pets can be micro chipped so that should they get lost, they can be reunited with their rightful owner
  • Google, Amazon, and
  • Blogs
  • Debit cards
  • Post-it notes
  • K-cups

Then there are those things that I really don’t like . . .

  • Pre-packaged food
  • The fact that it is nearly impossible to reach a human being when telephoning a business
  • Email and texting as a primary means of communication
  • Online textbooks and college classes that are 100% online
  • The opinion that making things yourself is an anomaly
  • The notion that bigger is always better
  • Multitasking
  • Web-cams
  • Junk mail

As we would expect, many of these “advancements” have caused changes in our educational process. Kids just don’t need to be taught the same things that we were taught “back in the olden days.” Girls don’t need to take home economics anymore because they don’t need to know how to sew or cook. As far as they are concerned, cakes come from boxes and bread comes from a plastic sack. Fried chicken comes from KFC and vegetables are transported frozen from the North Pole by the Jolly Green Giant.

And make clothing? That requires knowing things like the difference between lycra and linen, what is fusible interfacing, and the meaning of bias. It also means accepting the fact that the tape measure never lies. Why spend time teaching these things when some form of clothing is available almost everywhere you go and for much less money than it would cost to make it from scratch.

Schools don’t teach typing anymore; they teach keyboarding, a skill that is a little different. Typing on the computer, or keyboarding, doesn’t carry with it a love-hate relationship with carbon paper and correction tape or the hard fact that some mistakes can’t be corrected and you may just have to start over.

And then there’s penmanship . . .Does anyone learn penmanship anymore? Based on what I have seen from my own students, I don’t think so. Children no longer learn how to form all those perfectly proportioned loops and lines that result in cursive handwriting. No more do they have to work to perfect their writing skills to achieve the honor of being allowed to write with an ink pen in class. These days we are lucky if students come to class with any kind of writing utensil.

The prevailing wisdom is that students don’t need to worry about legible handwriting because everything is now typed – or is that keyboarded? Very rarely do people send handwritten notes or letters or even invitations. With texting, email and Evites at our fingertips, why waste time and energy to write a letter and then have to wait for it to be delivered via snail mail? In an era where our motto is “time is money,” such a means of communication is obviously inefficient and old fashioned.

I wonder what the study of historical documents will look like two hundred years from now. Will the rare book rooms in libraries just be walls of encased hard drives that can’t be accessed because their technology is antiquated? For that matter, will libraries as we know them even exist? Research skills that require using a card catalog and actually putting your hands on a real book are another thing that is disappearing from the educational process thanks to the Internet. The Internet is a primary source, right?

And here’s another question. Is it really necessary for children to learn how to read a clock, one with hands and a face? Aren’t most of our time telling devices now digital – our microwaves, DVD players, computers, cell phones, cars, oven timers, and alarm clocks? Every now and then you will see an “old-time” (no pun intended) clock in a public place, but how many people really look at them? We are all looking at our cell phones and iPads, which, in this digital age, will supply us with the time – digitally.

The ability to tell time by reading the hands on a clock used to be an integral part of our human knowledge. I can remember all through elementary school doing worksheets to hone this essential skill. Such is not the case any longer. Many children view hands on a clock in the same light in which they view a dial on a telephone – “What in the world are you talking about?”

Recently I was talking with a friend whose mother is in her seventies and is experiencing problems with memory loss. He took her to the doctor to be evaluated to see if she is entering the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of the tasks that the doctor asked her to perform in this evaluation was to draw the numbers on a clock, presumably because this is a deeply ingrained skill. There is perhaps only one or two more generations for whom this is truly the case. What will Alzheimer’s tests look like for the children of today?

When today's youth has become senior citizens and are being tested for memory issues will they be asked to draw the layout of a TV remote? Respond to questions using only text speak? Give instructions for how to use the microwave to make popcorn? Recite their credit card number – including the 3-digit security code? Articulate how to order properly a medium café mocha with an extra shot, skim milk, and no whipped cream at Starbuck’s?

There are some scary times ahead!

Right now, I have until the big hand is on the three and the little hand is on the four to use my favorite fountain pen to write a heartfelt letter to the one I love while sitting in the library amidst shelves of books. I am going to take advantage of this situation before it is too late!