Thursday, September 30, 2010

Talking about Traveling

The end of September. Since the pain in my left arm ended, it is as if the beginning of October is also the beginning of a new phase in my life. I feel like New Year’s Eve and a time again to write about my travels.

With dialysis three days a week I can’t go anyplace anymore. My trips are limited to walking to the bookcase and looking at my scrapbooks. I call up memories and give programs to a half dozen old ladies who live with me in this retirement home. Some of them have never been out of Texas. I try to entertain them with tales of my adventures.

It’s difficult to describe places that are different from what people are accustomed to. I remember my mother’s surprise on a trip to Arkansas in October and seeing the hills covered with colorful fall foliage. In Texas the leaves don’t turn until November. No matter how much I’ve read or how many magazine pictures I’ve seen, or movies I’ve watched, when I go to a new place, it is always different from what I imagined.

It is also difficult to get to know ordinary people in a foreign country. On an organized tour it is impossible. The only time I felt I knew what it is to live in a foreign country was the summer John and I exchanged our house in Albuquerque for one in Ipswich, England. I also am fortunate in having friends in the Netherlands and Germany. My daughter was an exchange student in Norway, and I was able to visit her Norwegian family. Other than that, although I’ve been to Italy many times, most of what I know about how people live in Italy is from hearsay.

But I’m going to write about it. Are you ready? In October we are going to England.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

McVeigh vs. Muslims

Yes, I know I promised to avoid writing about politics, but I can’t resist after what I read in TIME Magazine this week while sitting in my recliner during dialysis. Here’s a quote of a quote:

Stanley Fish, writing on the New York Times Opinion blog about how someone like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is viewed differently from a Muslim terrorist:

“If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on . . . and characterize him as a one-off, nongeneralizable, sui generis phenomemenon.”

The key phrase is “a group you wish to demonize.” Ten years after 9/11, Blogs attacking all Muslims continue to circulate on the internet. People seem to forget what happened in Oklahoma City.

The New York Times blog was published on August 30. It was quoted in the TIME issue dated September 13. Am I the only one copying it? Did anyone forward it to you in an e.mail?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time Flies

Remember when you were little and it seemed forever for Christmas to come? As I get older, the body slows, while time flies faster and faster. I creep into the bathroom each morning for the pill I need to take an hour before breakfast. I have a little box with as row of compartments, one for each day of the week. Is this Tuesday? No, it’s Thursday. Somehow Wednesday disappeared.

And can it be September already? What happened to August?

I lost August. On August 2, I had surgery on my arm. I spent the whole month sitting in my recliner with my left arm propped up on a pillow. The arm ached constantly until after Labor Day. I watched a lot of dumb things on television, including repeat broadcasts of Larry King at 2:00 a.m.

Like a miracle, ten days ago I woke up free of pain. I feel good. Really good. Now I have stacks of mail piled up on my dining table, including some checks I must write and date properly.

I have not yet lost it completely. In Albuquerque I went with Louis Rice for him to be evaluated by a psychiatrist at the VA hospital. The doctor asked, “What year is it?” Lou hesitated before saying, “1986?” The year was 2000.

At least I remember to date my checks 2010.

Besides putting the paperwork in order, I must reorder my life. I live in this retirement home where all the basic things are taken care of, including cable TV. So why is life so stressful? A month of sitting in the recliner gave me time to think about lots of things.

I continue to be interested in life outside my apartment. I watch CNN and Charlie Rose. During dialysis I read TIME Magazine and The New Yorker. For entertainment I order old movies from Netflex, plus films to supplement the travel talks I do for ten or so old ladies who live here at Montclair. Then, in preparing my talks, as I recall my trips, I write blogs about my adventures. .
In the future I will try to resist writing about politics. I am disgusted with both the Republicans and the Democrats, the Republicans because they vote “No” without offering any alternatives, the Democrats for failing to take action. I suggested an income cap of $2,000.000 a year with a 50% tax rate. Who needs more than a million a year? The excess could go on the deficit. Nancy Pelosi did not answer my letter.

As for the Tea Party, they are fools to talk about lower taxes and less government. Anyone who wants less government should move to a place down a dirt road in the hills of Arkansas and try living with an outhouse and a well and no electricity – and all the other things our taxes pay for.

My promise: Less politics, more travel tales.

Meanwhile, today I ordered Christmas cards. The holidays will be here before I turn off my computer.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Fragrance of Lilacs

September has brought cooler weather, even to Texas. The high each afternoon in now only in the 90's. In August we endured 24 days of over 100.

Thank God for air-conditioning!

Most of the people who live in this retirement home have lived in Texas all their lives. They are accustomed to the weather, including the violent thunderstorms which sometimes bring tornados. Last week a twister picked up a northbound semi-truck, spun it around until it was headed south and slammed it into the side of a warehouse. That was on the other side of Dallas. No damage here in Garland, but the furious rain caused the ceiling to collapse in our dining room.

Enough to make Mariam wish she was back in Illinois. She grew up in Bloomington and came to Texas 30 years ago when her husband was transferred here by Allstate Insurance Company. Asked what she missed most about Illinois, Mariam said, “Lilacs.”

I, too, remember springtime in Illinois and the beauty of lilacs in bloom all over town, mostly in that lovely light shade of purple that Sears catalog calls after their flowers, “lilac”. One time my family went with friends to the lilac festival in Lombard where lilac bushes as tall as trees were umbrellas of delicate pastel blooms in many shades, including whites, as pretty and fluffy as a the summer dresses young girls used to wear.

Lilacs do not do well in Texas. Too hot? Not cold enough? I’m not a horticulturist.

Instead of lilacs, we have crepe myrtles. They grow into tall bushes, similar to lilacs. Beside Ilene Timmerman’s house was a crepe myrtle tree, as tall as the second-story windows and covered with at the end of every branch with a canopy of pink blossoms.

In summer crepe myrtles add color to every street in North Texas. I remember the white crepe myrtle behind our house in Irving in the 1960's and a dark red one at the corner of my house in Garland, which I sold last year. Now from my third-floor balcony I see a pink one behind the house on the other side of the parking lot.

Crepe myrtles bloom all summer long. They are still in bloom here in the middle of September. Driving to the doctor’s today, they nodded to me over fences in the back yards of houses along the roadway, added color to front lawns, and stood in rows along the parkway. They made even going to the doctor a pleasurable drive.

Unfortunately, crepe myrtles do not have the fragrance of lilacs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Television Critic

On Sunday our local PBS station changed its programing. I was caught by a boring pledge drive and didn’t get to see the Inspector Lewis mystery originally scheduled.

So what difference did it make? I could have changed channels and watched something else. But what? Football? I’m not a rabid sports fan. Besides, the people I talked to at breakfast the next morning were dejected. They watched for hours as the Cowboys went down to a dismal defeat. They felt almost as frustrated by sports as I was by PBS.

What do I like to watch for entertainment? The programs our local PBS station imports from England. “Masterpiece Mysteries” are better than all the CSI, Law & Order, Dateline, 48 Hours, or anything else on American television. As for comedy, “As Time Goes By”, “Keeping Up Appearances”, “Are You Being Served?”, or half a dozen other series are so entertaining that I watch reruns until I can quote the dialog. Only when nothing else is worth watching do I turn to “Two and a Half Men” or “Everybody Loves Raymond” to give me an antidote to the daily news before I go to bed.

The only good dramas on American television are the old movies on Turner Classic Television. Now and then KERA, our local PBS station, presents a British drama as a “Masterpiece Classic”. On the various times I was in England, I saw excellent dramas that have never made it “across the pond.” The BBC has companies throughout the U.K. that produce their own shows. If you look at the credits after a BBC import, you will find programs produced in Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and other places besides London.

For many years Mobil Oil sponsored “Masterpiece Theater”. When we lived in Illinois I watched it every Sunday night. My husband’s insurance company began to phase out his department. Worried that he might lose his job, I went back to work. Then he got a better job and much higher pay with a consulting firm.

I decided to continue working and use my earnings for things my highly-paid husband refused to buy. I bought 25 shares of Mobil Oil stock and gave it to my son David under the “Illinois Gift to Minors” act.

When my husband and I were divorced, David was still in high school. His father signed the divorce agreement specifying that he was to pay for David’s college, “four years at a state university, tuition, room, board, books, and fees.” The Cad paid for two years. David was marooned at the University of Illinois without any money – and couldn’t qualify for financial aid because his father was rich. With dividend reinvestment and stock splits, Mobil Oil proved a good investment. David, now an adult, sold it. That paid for his third year at the university.

Who could have predicted that? “Experts” always recommend investigate before investing. I bought that stock because Mobil sponsored a TV program that I liked. Dumb? Yes. Dumb luck. That’s not the only time I’ve done something rash or just plain stupid, and afterwords it has surprised me by bringing into my life a joyful experience. So I keep ranting about things that annoy me, hoping that somehow or other it will have a good outcome – if only in giving one or two of my friends a chance to say, “I feel that way, too.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trusting Televsion

Whom can you trust? When most people say something, they truly believe what they are saying. I am skeptical. People often base their opinions on prejudice and misinformation. I don’t trust anything I get forwarded to me over the internet. I want reliable sources, like TIME magazine, television news programs, and the newspaper. I worked for newspapers; they are supposed to check facts before publishing.

Now I don’t know whether to trust the Dallas Morning News or our local PBS station. It is a trivial thing, but small matters may indicate larger problems.

The television program printed in the Sunday Dallas Morning News showed KERA, our local PBS station, scheduling a pledge drive “special” from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., with a regular program (a mystery with Inspector Lewis) 8:00 to 9:30, a TBA from 9:30 to 10:00, with British comedies starting at l0:00. I never watch during pledge drives. I can’t stand the long, boring non-commercials.

I waited until 8:00 to turn on PBS. The 50's music thing was still going on. I thought, “KERA is extending this program from 8:00 to 8:30, switching to fill in the 9:30 to 10:00 time slot. Then they can run the mystery I want to see from 8:30 to 10:00.” That seemed logical. I was wrong.

At 8:30 I watched old gals decked out with black eyes and sequins. Then at 8:30 KERA started a 30 minute commercial. “Surely this thing will be over at 9:00,” I thought. And it did! But instead of Inspector Lewis, a guy started promoting his tax videos. This was “non-commercial” television?
At 9:02 I switched to AMC and watched “Mad Men”.

At 10:00 I switched back to KERA. The tax man was still promoting himself. I turned off the tv in the living room and turned on the one in the bedroom. I let the man rave while I got ready for bed. He did advise people to “Get a good CPA.” I have a good CPA. My daughter is the tax accountant for an international corporation. At 10:30 I snuggled comfortably under the covers and finally got to see one of the PBS programs I had been looking forward to all evening: the British comedy “As Time Goes By”.

At last, after an evening of frustration, I had something entertaining to enjoy. I fell asleep during “Keeping Up Appearances”.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Food Critic

The retirement community where I live claims to serve meals “as in a four-star restaurant.” When we go to lunch, we sit at tables covered with white cloths, unfold our linen napkins, and open leather menu covers to select the entree. Our waitress, in her uniform of white shirt and dark tie, writes down our choices among the dismal offerings.

Often the combinations are – well, strange – and things that sound “gourmet” on the printed menu turn out to be – well -- disappointing to the palate.

I go to the office and complain. Am I a crank? What gives me the authority to be a food critic?

My development as a connoisseur of food came in three phases: my childhood in Texas, my years as a suburban housewife in Chicago, and as a retiree traveling and enjoying the cuisine in other countries.

(1) Growing Up in Texas

My ancestors came to Texas in covered wagons. My grandmother and mother cooked like typical Texans: fried eggs, fried bacon, fried chicken, and chicken-fried steak. Cornbread was made in a skillet on top of the stove. Beans and peas were boiled in a big pot. Before I was five years old, I ate enough black-eyed-peas and turnip greens to last me the rest of my life.

My mother’s best friend, Ilene Timmerman, came from a prominent Dallas family. From the time I was old enough to be put on the interurban trolley, I made the 30-mile “journey” from Fort Worth to spend a week at a time with Ilene and her grandmother in their home, a big cream brick house, half a block from Turtle Creek in North Dallas.

Ilene’s grandmother, Mrs. G. D. Smith, had a cook who prepared wonderful meals. When World War II came, the cook disappeared, and Ilene gained control of the kitchen. She was a gourmet cook. She also loved to dine in fine restaurants, and she took me to the best places in Dallas.

(2)Married Woman

I met a young airman stationed at Carswell Air Force Base. We married, and I moved with him to Chicago. My mother-in-law was convinced that the only way to prepare meals was the way they did in Denmark. She never heard of cornbread stuffing. At Thanksgiving she stuffed her turkey with prunes and apples. That’s when I realized that most people form their food preferences by what they ate as children.

My husband and I sampled many ethnic restaurants in the Chicago area. I loved open-faced Danish sandwiches with their variety of toppings, and I especially enjoyed Chinese dishes, chop suey in brown sauce, chow mein on crispy noodles, and thick patties of egg foo yong.

After my son Karl was born, each morning at 10 a.m. I turned on the television and let Francois Pope teach me how to cook. I managed to take notes even as I cradled my baby in my arms. Pope was Chicago’s Julia Child. I learned all the basics of French cooking.

I made daily trips to the neighborhood bakery for freshly baked bread and pastries. Once a week I drove to Irving Park Road to buy fresh produce and to watch “our” butcher cut pork chops off the pig’s carcass.
I tried new dishes from recipes I clipped from the Chicago Tribune and American Home Magazine. I developed a repertoire of favorite dishes, but never served the same dinner menu twice in one month. For 27 years my husband and family enjoyed my “gourmet” cooking.

Then I was divorced.


I always wanted to go to Europe. After the divorce I sold my house in Illinois and went to Europe for six months. I thought I would never be able to afford to travel again. But five years later I married my second husband. John took me to Europe on a month-long honeymoon. After he died, he left me enough income to make at least one overseas trip a year for the next twenty years.

In Russia I learned that borscht can be prepared in many different ways, and I liked all of them. In Paris I thrilled at what I saw in museums, but for dining, rather than Paris, I enjoyed more marvelous dinners in small towns in the French countryside.

I enjoyed Hungarian food in Hungary, Greek food in Greece, Italian food in Italy, Spanish food in Spain, and Chinese food in Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, and even in China.

From my travels in the U.S., I knew that Chinese food was prepared differently in New York, Illinois, and California, but I was surprised in Copenhagen when egg foo yong was scrambled eggs. After going to China, my traveling companion said, “The Chinese should send to Chicago for a chef to teach them how to prepare Chinese food.”

Never order spaghetti in Germany.

4) The Critic

Many of my friends in this retirement community have lived in Texas all their lives and have never traveled. They think the only way to eat seafood is fried catfish. We have it every Friday.

What a bore!

Then our cook tries to go gourmet. He comes out with strange concoctions. Every day the menu says “mixed vegetables.” One week we had squash four times, each time combined with something different. One day “mixed vegetables” was yellow summer squash and zucchini. Squash and mushrooms? Please!

I wish I could give our chef tips on menu planning and food preparation. I know good food and the variety of ways it can be prepared. But the administration does not want a mere resident interfering in the kitchen.

The nice thing is that I can go to the dining room, sit down, unfold my napkin, and give my order to Linda. It may not be like a dinner in Arles or Nice, but I don’t have to cook.